July 2 2018

Pig Guide review: The Lansdowne Strand, Calne

Now I can’t claim to know Calne very well at all. But while those who are familiar with this historic little market town around 20-ish miles east of Bath may think they know all there is to know about it, they might not. Do they know, for example, that the Cherhill White Horse (a chalk figure cut into the hillside just a short hop from the town centre) is the third oldest of its kind in Great Britain, or that the traditional English technique of curing ham and bacon (the ‘Wiltshire Cure’) was invented here back in the 18th century? And do they know that the Lansdowne Strand hotel, restaurant and bar – an imposing white-fronted building at the heart of the town, formerly a medieval brewery and 16th century coaching inn – has recently been scrubbed up, refurbished and given the full blast of tender loving care it deserves, earning it three AA Gold Stars overall and, for the kitchen, two AA Rosettes plus an entry into the prestigious Trencherman’s Guide? If you didn’t know that last fact, you need to get with the programme right now.

Head chef Joel Lear (Bathonians may remember him from his stint at the King William) runs the Lansdowne Strand with his wife Anna – and they’re doing a very, very good job of it too, supported by a staff team who each make you feel like you’re an old friend from the moment you set foot in the door. And when you do just that…

This is one of those places that offer an all-things-to-all-people-whatever-the-weather experience. We visited on a scorching, breathtakingly hot evening, so the chilled-out vibe that comes so naturally to any building featuring thick, ancient stone walls, flagged/wooden floors and uncluttered spaciousness was particularly appealing. And so would it be on a nippy autumn evening, or a freezing cold winter’s night… unlike people, those old buildings know how to cope with the British weather; they know how to keep heat out and cosy warmth in as appropriate. But the LS is far from being one of those ‘living museum’ kinda pubs because the recent refurb has brought history bang up-to-date: quirky contemporary design flourishes add an understated modern edge to proceedings (we’re particularly fond of the artwork on the walls in the restaurant) without detracting from the handsome Edwardian/Victorian aesthetic – clever.

At a corner table in the dining room, we started doing the Strand with a classic, luxurious combination of al dente asparagus topped with a perfectly poached egg, with parmesan and potato crisps adding bite to the oozy, soporific richness on the plate. Our second starter choice was an altogether more complex combination: meaty, lobster-esque monkfish cheeks, seared and drizzled with a tantalising chorizo vinaigrette and neat little uplifts of pine nuts, courgettes and spring onions. Both starters were beautifully presented, each showcasing the skills of a confident, chic chef from the off.

Our main courses further substantiated those first impressions. Neat little slabs of supremely tender pan-roasted lamb rump teamed with velvety, breadcrumb-coated parsnip; sweet mint jelly; silky, fruity spinach… and an absolutely adorable lamb suet pudding that was generous enough to share proved to be a skilful balance of bold flavours. Meanwhile, pan fried stone bass fillet accompanied by moist dressed crab that – hoorah! – hadn’t had the flavour-life sucked out of it by a recent refrigeration, a sublime crab sauce (almost a crab bisque, really), a clean, light fennel puree and fluffy baked Jersey Royals can only be described as heavenly.

The high-standard pace didn’t drop at dessert time, either: a delightfully not-too-creamy Earl Grey posset served with a spritzy elderflower and gin jelly, a tart gooseberry compote and generous fragments of the only honeycomb I’ve ever encountered that doesn’t threaten to pull your fillings out was sheer, summertime heaven in a (very large) bowl, while a dark yet distinctly delicate chocolate mousse intelligently matched up with ethereal orange curd, featherlight almond biscuit and an utterly divine, mesmerising tonka bean ice cream was just… oh look, just go to the LS and do this dessert while it’s still on the menu.

You’d have to move quickly, though; the a la carte menu is a strictly seasonal affair created with ingredients sourced as close to the kitchen as possible – dishes that are trending today may well be history tomorrow. I’d wager, though, that if I revisited for dinner here three times in the same week, I wouldn’t tire of Joel’s imaginative ways with that fresh, local produce. Having said that, I may well skip from a la carte to the Lounge Menu: I just know that the burgers will be boisterous, the fish and chips fab, the mussels marvellous. Sunday lunch? That’s on the Pig Guide plan for Very Soon.

So, you think you know all about Calne? Think again.

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