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Eating Out with Freddie — The Langton Arms

The Stables Restaurant at The Langton Arms, Tarrant Monkton, Blandford DT11 8RX, 01258 830225

Imagine having to stand and watch while your life’s work goes up in flames. That is what Barbara Cossins had to endure when the Langton Arms caught fire in 2004. The damage was severe but Barbara’s energy ensured that the pub did an impression of a phoenix and, four years on, it is thriving as it was in pre-fire days.

Although most of the damage was at the other end of the building, the rebuilding was a chance to refurbish the à la carte Stables Restaurant. It really used to be the stables and retains bags of character, but it is cosy and comfortable and just what we needed on a miserably wet and windy Friday evening.

Our favourable first impression (give or take the superfluous piped music) was continued when we found a carafe of chilled tap water already on the table, along with a plate of olives and peppers and some deliciously garlicky hummus. Nor was the menu a disappointment: a choice of ten starters, including some unusual ones and no fewer than fifteen main courses, including six in a section called ‘traditional fare’ that included things like steak pie and liver and bacon. I think I’ve noticed a recent trend for menus to offer a more restricted selection; presumably the theory is that it is easier to keep the quality up if there are fewer dishes, but the Stables Restaurant is living proof that you can offer quality and a wide choice.

Two of the starters were to share: an assiette of charcuterie and a mixed mezze plate. It’s odd, but in all our years of dining out, I can’t remember Mrs Freddie and me ever agreeing that we wanted to eat the same thing, so we gave these a miss. Instead, Mrs Freddie chose marinated crispy beef, which looked at a glance rather like whitebait but was in fact strips of local beef that had been marinaded in nothing more than Worcester sauce, dipped in self-raising flour and deep-fried. We had never seen anything quite like it but hope we do again because both Mrs Freddie and I (from the two pieces she generously shared with me) found it delicious. It didn’t really need the chilli mayonnaise that accompanied it, good though it was.

I also went for one of the more unusual starters: a pork and pistachio nut terrine. The spiciness of the pork was well set-off by the sharpness of the accompanying plum chutney, yet the more delicate flavour of the whole pistachio nuts was not obscured and they made for an interesting texture. The toast, like the bread on offer, was particularly good. Both starters came with leaves with a citrus dressing that was most refreshing.

Mrs Freddie’s main course was a venison faggot perched on a dollop of mashed potato and surrounded by four medallions of rare loin of venison. It was an unusual choice for her but she thoroughly enjoyed it, reporting that the meat was tender and not too gamey, while the mash was flavoured by just the right amount of mustard. ‘I should try to make mash like this,’ she declared, and of the faggot: ‘I don’t know what’s in it but it’s jolly toothsome.’

After some hesitation, I opted for chicken breast: hesitation because I’m not a great fan of chicken as such, regarding it as usually just a carrier for whatever accompanies it. In this case I was attracted by the idea of the apricot and rosemary stuffing and cream sauce and certainly wasn’t disappointed.

There is also a good choice of puddings, from which I decided on a raspberry, meringue and Grand Marnier ice cream, which was a sort of refined Eton mess and very tasty. Mrs Freddie went for a duo of pears, one poached in vanilla and lemon, the other in red wine, star anise and cinnamon. She found each in its own way much to her liking and very refreshing, although the accompanying honey ice cream was a little cloying.

Not the least remarkable thing is that this excellent meal was prepared by a young head chef with no formal training. Siôn Harrison, originally from Brecon, was working as a washer-up in a restaurant in Cardiff when he started to take an interest in what else was going on in the kitchen and so found what was obviously his pre-ordained career. It was something of a family affair as his fiancée, Nikki, waited on us most competently.

On these occasions we often push the boat out a bit when it comes to the choice of wine, but we had both had a glass of the house red wine for our pre-meal drinks and liked it so much that we decided to carry on drinking it. It was a Terranoble merlot from Chile and, like so many Chilean merlots, extremely good value at £12.45 a bottle.

Three à la carte courses at the Stables Restaurant will cost you something like £28 a head. We reckoned that was a pretty fair price, taking into account the pleasant surroundings, the friendly atmosphere and the good and interesting menu.

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