Anyone aged around 50 will remember exactly what pub grub used to be like. A ploughman’s lunch graced with a near-plastic slab of something purporting to be cheddar sitting sadly next to a stale hunk of bread; a steak and ale pie hovering more in the world of gastroenteritis than gastronomy.
Fortunately, in the last couple of decades more enlightened hostelries upped their game and now there’s a glorious selection of attractive rural pubs that offer exceptional food and tip top accommodation.
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, here’s a selection of some of the best gastropubs around:
The Richard Onslow, Surrey
When I tried the lamb souvlaki in the Richard Onslow restaurant of this splendidly modernised pub steeped in history, it was so good I felt I was in a taverna in Greece.
It has ten simple, stylishly decorated guest rooms, boasting features such as original fireplaces, antique furniture, ancient beams and low doorways.
More contemporary facilities include power showers, flat-screen TVs and wifi.
Surrey is England’s most wooded county and the nearby Surrey Hills are ideal for walking and cycling.
Double rooms start from £59.00 and there’s a Special Valentine’s Day menu of three courses plus amouse bouche and pre-desert Mojito ice for £40.
Blue Lion Hotel, Inn and Restaurant, Yorkshire
The Blue Lion is an ivy-clad, picture-postcard 18th century coaching inn, set in beautiful surroundings within the Yorkshire Dales.
It has very pleasant accommodation, but even better is the lovely traditional pub atmosphere and the incredible food.
Its antique tables and chairs, flagstone floors and a roaring fire on colder days make it particularly cosy and welcoming, there’s a great selection of draught ales and a good wine list, whilst food could include goat’s cheese and beetroot blini, seared duck breast in an orange and port sauce, or whole roast grouse.
Double rooms from £94.00, including breakfast.
Felin Fach Griffin, Powys
This pretty pub is tucked in between the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, and near to Hay on Wye and the market town of Brecon.
Felin Fach Griffin has seven comfortable bedrooms, with fancy accoutrements like ViSpring beds, fresh flowers, homemade biscuits, Roberts radios, and not a television in sight.
Many ingredients are locally sourced. Vegetables come from the pub’s own garden, sourdough bread from an artisan baker in the village and rare-breed pigs from a local smallholder.
It has received numerous awards, including being named Dining Pub of the Year for Wales in the Good Pub Guide for four consecutive years.
Double rooms from £125.00 including breakfast.
The Pheasant Inn, Cheshire
Nestled within a peaceful corner of rural Cheshire, yet sitting high atop the Peckforton Hills, The Pheasant enjoys some magnificent panoramic views.
The inn and 12 guest rooms are housed in delightful 300-year old Cheshire sandstone buildings, the cosiness augmented by the wealth of old wooden beams, paneled walls and antique furniture.
During winter months, you can enjoy cosy meals around open fires, whilst in the summer you can dine al fresco in the flower-filled courtyard.
Double rooms from £110.00, including breakfast; special Valentine’s Day menu between 13-15 February.
White Star Tavern, Southampton
The White Star is a smart pub, with swish contemporary guest rooms dotted with swanky features like roll-top baths and over-sized showers, is located in the heart of the bustling Oxford Street district of the city.
There’s a choice of local draught ales, a solid wine list and sparkling cocktails in the bar, whilst the restaurant’s seasonal menus have a delicious range of British classics with a modern twist.
In a previous life, the pub hosted guests set to board the ill-fated Titanic on its maiden voyage, hence the name: White Star Line was the name of the company owning the Titanic.
Double rooms from £95; special Valentine’s menu, £30 for three courses.
The Ship, Dunwich
Once a smugglers’ haunt, The Ship at Dunwich, sandwiched between Southwold and Aldeburgh, is an ideal base for walks in the adjacent nature reserves, heathland and beach.
In winter, relax by the open log fires, and when it’s warmer, outside in the large garden filled with fruit trees – including a 300-year old fig tree.
The ten comfortable rooms feature iron bedsteads and feather pillows and duvets, and some have views across the sea or marshes.
Double rooms are £112.50, including breakfast.