The Howard Arms looks like it belongs in a film. The kind that involves a murder in a sleepy village. Or Hot Fuzz. Or worse, one involving Hugh Grant and a tenuous love story. The pubs sit one side of the village green in Ilmington, itself perched on the northern borders of the Cotswolds. Its a building of character, externally traditional and quaint and inside where it takes a new warmth of flagstones, deep leather seating and a roaring open fire. Each wall and corner tells a story of yesteryear, with pictures of equine and serious looking folk. The evening is settling in when we arrive and the place is buzzing with locals. It exudes a warmth far beyond that roaring fire.
We drop the bags off in our room and head back down for food in the raised dining area. Here the room feels more grand, more attuned to the buildings 400 year history. We order a decent bottle of new world sauvignon blanc and peruse a menu that has a mixture of safer pub classics with flashes of more elaborate offerings, all of which begs to be eaten. A starter of goats cheese soufflé has been baked twice so that it stands on its own with ease, topped with candied walnuts that add a softened nuttiness. Its mild mannered and needs the sweet and sour piquancy of the Cumberland sauce to cut right through it. Koftas are meaty skewers of lamb and cumin, tightly packed and just cooked through. They are a delight when piled on to soft cushions of flatbread and lightly dressed with a spicy red pepper salsa and soothing tzatziki.
They do things the traditional way here; indeed, if there ever has been a sous-vide machine in the kitchen it has long been hidden in the storing cupboard. Pork fillet is rolled in parma ham and roasted gently so that the outer layers are crisp and the centre of the loin blushing pink. It comes with a comforting puree of sweet potato, shitake mushrooms, and crab apples that provide the much needed acidity. It demonstrates considerable skill in the kitchen, in particular the sticky jus that holds everything together in one big autumnal hug. Also equally tasty was a slab of gammon, smokey and tender, with a fried egg that oozed and coated the meat. As with the pork fillet and the soufflé before that, one eye was firmly kept on acidic element, this time from a piccalilli full of crunch and vibrancy. The only slip were chips, under salted and flimsy.
Desserts were genuinely top notch in taste. A white and dark chocolate cheesecake could have easily been too heavy, yet managed to balance the flavour with a light texture that ran down to the buttery base. A bakewell tart was simply delicious; the frangipane not too sweet, the pastry crisp and thin. It doesn’t need the kitsch presentation or the out of season strawberries, its perfect enough on its own.
With both starters and desserts creeping in at just over a fiver and only steaks over fifteen quid for the mains, The Howard Arms is exceptional value for money. It also happens to be a lovely place to stay, a gateway from the north in to the utterly charming Cotswolds. The following morning we drive fifteen minutes away to Broadway where we burned off the previous evenings calories by walking the steep incline up to the tower. Its a simply beautiful part of the world with some of the countries best produce on its doorstep. Those looking to make the most of their trip could do far worse than staying and eating at The Howard Arms.
I was invited to stay and dine at The Howard Arms by Shakespeare’s England, the official board of tourism for Warwickshire. For more information please see http://www.shakespeares-England.co.uk