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Restaurant The Talbot Inn T

DERI ROBINS visits a ‘pub with rooms’ by which all others should be measured

here are a smattering of country inns that are worth driving to. Then there are those which

make you actively want to up-sticks and move to the area, just so you can call them your local. The Talbot Inn in Mells falls into

the latter category. With what almost sounds like false modesty, it bills itself as ‘a pub with rooms’, but the accommodation is so romantic and stylish that it could quite as easily be described as a boutique hotel with a bar that serves great food. It’s the latest project from the

team who gave the Beckford Arms a fresh shot in the arm in 2011, to huge acclaim; the new Talbot’s already chalked up numerous great reviews and accolades in its short incarnation. You park up along the sleepy main

drag, which is flanked with pretty cottages and grand homes behind high walls. The row of little houses directly opposite the inn have their ground floors below pavement level, with a deep unfenced gully separating them from the street; woe betide you if you step back too far to snap that picture- postcard shot of the Talbot’s old stone arch and fairylit cobbled courtyard. How the locals manage to reel from the pub on a starless night and not fall into this gully is quite beyond us. The interior of the Talbot is as beguiling as the exterior, with a warren of little rooms; there’s the cosy bar (Butcombe ale, Long Ashton cider, you know the sort of thing), dining rooms, a coach house grill room; passageways wiggle off to map rooms, snugs and a sitting room. Fresh and contemporary the décor may be, but the past is very much present, and most average-height guests will need

28 Frome Life

to duck their heads beneath some of the 15th-century lintels. We based ourselves in the smallest

dining room, opting to sit in the corner – just like Little Jack Horner, who moved into Mells Manor after finding title deeds in a pie given to him by the Abbot of Glastonbury. I tell you, somebody’s missing out big-time by not writing a poem or something about it. Talking of poets, Siegfried Sassoon is buried in the 15th-century church whose tower you can spy from the Talbot courtyard. We installed ourselves at our table

— bare wood to match wooden chairs set on terracotta flagstones. Travellers have been dining in this room for over 500 years — they, too, would have admired the panelled wainscoting, latticed windows, old prints on the wall, bookcases and wooden beams. The studenty staff – young, chipper,

posh and good-looking – brought us a trio of delights for our first course. There was sea trout, softly pink and barely seared, set off with a Scandi- flourish of sour cream, pickled red onions, horseradish and sorrel. A Castlemead chicken liver parfait was creamy and gamey with an apple compôte, big fat prunes and crunchy hazelnuts; Bromham sprouting broccoli had the fresh-tasting addition of fennel and blood orange, with

hazelnut purée – the latter clearly the nut du jour. For mains I went for the grilled pork

neck – big, meaty, juicy, tender and with a beguiling accompaniment of onion purée and anchovy dressing. Less twisty-imaginative, perhaps,

but just as ace was Your Man’s beer battered fish and chips with mushy peas. The thing about fish and chips, he pontificated, is that if it’s done properly, the fish isn’t fried. If the batter consistency is just right, and dunked into oil of exactly the right temperature, it seals the fish inside, and the fish is poached. This is precisely how his haddock was presented — pearly white flesh, moist and full of flavour. A note-perfect meal, after which

we staggered up the stone steps to our huge, note-perfect bedroom and tipped ourselves into our soft, note- perfect bed. The Talbot is everything the reinvented rural inn should be; every village should have one. In the meantime, you’re strongly advised to stop over. FL

Visiting details

Kitchen opening hours: 12pm – 2.30pm; 6pm – 9:30pm Rooms: £95-£150 We visited: Tuesday evening Prices: Starters £6-£7; mains £8.50-£17, puddings £6 Vegetarian choice: a good selection for herbivores Atmosphere: Historic meets contemporary, with a flourish Staff: Bright, chatty, helpful Drinks: A traditional pub bar with a range of local ales (including their own Talbot Ale) supplied by local breweries Butcombe and Keystone. Ciders too, plus a varied wine list, ranging from a Les Granges de Félines white from the Languedoc for £17.50, to a Chateau Perron red for £55.

The Talbot Inn, Selwood Street, Mells 01373 812254;

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