July 6 2016

Pig Guide review: The Long’s Arms – at long last!

And so it came to pass that, after around four long years of being told by scores of Piggies that I must visit the Longs Arms, I finally made the 15 minute car journey to the very pretty village of South Wraxall (a very short jaunt around 7 miles east of Bath) to meet a man who, thanks to the ‘wonders’ of social media, feels like an old friend.

Chef Rob Alcock and I have a lovely time on Twitter; we share banter, puns, gossip, tips and, of course, food pics on such a regular basis that if a witty salutation courtesy of @thelongsarms doesn’t appear on The Pig Guide timeline for 48 hours I start to panic a bit. Why, then, had I never actually met Rob in person? If sloth is to blame, then I’ve surely paid the price for my sins; it seems I’ve been missing out on what surely must be one of the best country pub food experiences for miles around. And yes (hoorah!), the Longs Arms is indeed a proper country pub, complete with bare beams, plenty of olde worlde memorabilia to peruse, comfortable chunky furniture, flagstone floors, a pretty little walled garden out back and super-smiley, friendly staff offering a genuinely authentic warm welcome. There are well-sourced real and artisan ales and beers on tap and a Pub Grub section on the menu, which on the evening we visited featured pie and chips, or ham, eggs and chips, or smoked salmon fishcakes and chips, or crispy chicken with coleslaw and chips, all for circa £11. There’s a bustle of cheerful locals at the bar, and dogs are made very welcome indeed; all in all, it’s the kind of traditional hostelry that makes you feel hugely grateful for the fact that a former hedge fund manager with his eyes firmly fixed on turning a fast buck in a “contempo-chic” atmosphere didn’t discover the pub before Rob did, and reminds us how quickly fifty shades of grey paintwork, chalkboards flaunting “street food” options and a fleet of waiters with beards and man-buns all referring to everybody as “guys” has come to feel so dated. Whatever fads might be dominating the Bath city centre scene, The Longs Arms makes the very most of today by respecting the history (both ancient and modern) that makes the pub so characterful… and fully utilising the glorious suppliers and producers on our doorstep.

Fruit and vegetables from Lovejoys; pork from Buttle Farm; meat from Aubrey Allen; spelt from Shipton Mill; sustainable fresh fish from boats who are not only personally namechecked (Bess; Benediction; Guiding Star – oh, the romance of the high seas!) but share their licence numbers too… and the eggs are from Bob, who lives four doors down from the pub – yup, the Longs Arms suppliers list is a paean to immaculate sourcing and an astute respect for ingredients in way that those aforementioned modern pubs who include lip service blarney about their ingredients being “locally sourced wherever possible” in tiny italics at the bottom of their menus could only ever dream of aspiring too. And when it comes to what Rob makes with all that good stuff – well, here we go:

An amuse bouche of truffle-infused, luxuriously flavoursome lobster soup. Dinky quail eggs scotched in a peanutty (yes, Rob?) (update: I was wrong! It was sesame dressing!) overcoat. Grilled oysters topped with Westcombe cheddar that complemented the uniquely piquant saltwater foundation at the heart of the dish with a sublimely comforting ambience. Velvety cushions of pork cheek teamed with muscular coppa salami and a punchy peanut and chilli pickle. Silky, succulent, creamy pork belly served with almost a metre of fresh crackling and black pudding infused potatoes, all tangled up with spring greens. Fat fingers of fresh goats’ cheese melting into a pile of soft, nutty risotto with jewels of beetroot adding a subtly sweet, almost jammy flavour and broad beans adding vibrant texture. Salted caramel fondant with an outer shell as firm and neat as a pork pie wrapped around a golden, molten lava of salty/sweet synthesis and fruity, spicy tonka bean ice cream.

Flavours are bold, but never foolhardy. Presentation is picturesque, but elegantly unfussy. Portions are generous (to say the least!), but perfectly balanced. Rob’s cooking style is intelligent without being arrogant, inventive without being provocative, exciting without being pretentious – so good that, halfway through the experience, Mr Pig and I started seriously discussing the prospect of renting the cottage next door to the pub.

From leaving it almost four years before finally meeting Rob to considering relocating just to be close to his kitchen: that’s how good the Longs Arms is. But nobody can say that I hadn’t been warned…

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