In autumn, our minds turn to thoughts of eating fresh game. So I took a trip to Wiltshire to check out the Potting Shed Pub
I think the weather gods must have got mixed up with their dates. The sun was shining as we drove down to Wiltshire on the Thursday evening before the August Bank Holiday weekend – and the weather continued to do the right thing for the next few days. Not a speck of rain in sight.
So what with the weather forecast and anticipating something delicious for supper, it was a very good start to a long weekend. The Potting Shed near Malmesbury is a country pub offering a menu of “… food made from the finest locally sourced ingredients”.
Judging by the bountiful kitchen garden I noticed as we parked, locally sourced was certainly accurate. Leaves spilled over raised beds, overhead apples clustered on trees and some late raspberries glowed pinkly in the evening sun. In the garden, locals were enjoying a pint or two whilst the sun went down.
We walked straight into the bar, skirting a couple of exhausted-looking terriers lying dutifully by a table (a bar that welcomes dogs is always a good sign in my opinion).
Definitely gin o’clock time and we decided on a local, Ramsbury Gin (in fact there was a choice surfeit of 15 different gins). There’s nothing quite like that welcome clinking ice, and our gins arrived with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of orange, which was delicious, albeit a bit different. I asked barman Calum why rosemary and orange.
“Well, we have gin tasting afternoons here with the staff and play around with different flavours. Some gins are served with fresh basil and strawberries, others with pink grapefruit.” Sounds like a good place to work.
In fact, as the evening went on, the Potting Shed showed that it is an establishment built around flavour and taste.
The dining area was pretty busy for a Thursday evening, with a comprehensive age range of diners, from youngish children right through to oldies. I got the feeling that several were locals, and regulars.
Service was attentive but not “in your face” which is just the way I like it.
What we ate
I wanted to keep it light to start, so opted for radishes and carrots served with mayonnaise and celery salt. (Radishes picked from the kitchen garden at the back of course.)
My brother Rick is on a bit of a goat’s cheese mission at the moment, so he opted for Cerney goat cheese with heritage beetroot (kitchen garden again), walnuts and wild rocket. He didn’t say much whilst eating it (which said everything).
Next up was the grouse, which I’d checked to see was on the menu before making the booking. It didn’t disappoint either. Beautifully roasted young moist Yorkshire grouse with bread sauce, roasted carrots, game chips and a blackberry sauce.
To drink, we opted for an Italian Syrah, which had just the right degree of spiciness to accompany grouse.
If a dessert menu is particularly tempting, I have been known to choose my pudding before deciding on a main course. As I’d already planned to try the grouse, I hadn’t done that this time however. But to finish off, I checked some more flavours out by opting for the raspberry crème brûlée served with lavender shortbread, which was like a shortbread version of eating violet creams. Very good.
My brother wanted to finish off the wine, so opted for a local cheese – Wookey Hole cheddar. A delicious red with a good cheese, what’s not to like.
Changing game cookery
With the number of diners, the kitchen was going to be busy. However, I did get a quick chat with executive chef Anthony Ely. Before working at the Potting Shed Anthony worked for a while cooking at U2’s hotel in Dublin, The Clarence, the Lucky Onion group in the Cotswolds and the Wheatsheaf in Northleach.
I asked him how he thought game cookery had changed in the last 25 years.
“I think we’re much more adventurous in the way we cook it and it’s not seen as such an ‘elitist’ option these days. Also, nowadays we hang game for much less time which makes people more inclined to try it.
“I like to mix game into contemporary recipes. For example I often make hare with papadelle noodles, which goes down a treat. I also make a pheasant tagine, which offers a North African take and makes a change from roast pheasant.”
What about the kitchen garden?
“We use the vegetables from the kitchen garden all the time. I’ll just wander out and see what’s there before deciding what to cook. The blackberries that came with your grouse were picked late this afternoon, I thought I’d do something savoury with them.
“We make chutney from the apples in the garden – that was served with the cheese. There’s generally game on the menu and I have a very good pigeon source.”
I’d recommend the Potting Shed to anyone looking for an informal place to eat, with a great menu. It’s not just off the M4, but it’s not far either, and worth a detour if you’re on the way somewhere west. It’s not pretentious and it’s not super expensive either. If you fancy making a night of it, you can treat yourself to an overnight stay at sister establishment The Rectory Hotel over the road.
The Potting Shed Pub, The Street, Crudwell, SN16 9EW
+44 (0)166 657 7833
Three courses, including wine about £45-£50 per person.