Muddy Does Cool Pubs: The Vine Tree, Malmesbury
It’s the school hols, the Mudlets are out en masse and guess what? I’m going to take them with me to do a pub review. And so, on a sunny April day, off we schlep into deepest Wiltshire to stuff our faces.
Quite frankly, any pub that welcomes kids, especially the oh-so-delightfully behaved ones that I have to put up with, is bang on in my book. And The Vine Tree, tucked away on a gorgeous little lane in the hamlet of Norton outside Malmesbury, welcomed mine with open arms.
Whether you arrive on horseback, by bike, in a classic car, by balloon or helicopter (honestly, you can. It’s on their website), in Jimmy Choos or in wellies, this traditional inn is the perfect place for a family lunch with children, dogs, hell, even horses! I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the well-heeled locals rock up on the back of Red Rum and tether their beasts in the car park while they make their way through the 50 (yes, 50!) different varieties of gin. You won’t necessarily find salmon cooked three ways or skate wing with black trumpet and pancetta kraut (eh?) here but I promise you, you will come away with a massive smile on your face. (My kids certainly did after the sticky toffee pudding. Well, after they had an argument over who ordered the sticky toffee pudding because it was so blooming delicious.)
The Vine Tree has a fab sun trap terrace, 3 acres of garden, even an al fresco kitchen for those boiling summer months which I have no doubt are winging their way rapidly towards us. Plus, it has gorgeous walks bang on the doorstep. Formerly an old mill, serving beverages through the front windows to travellers in passing carriages (blooming good idea. Drive through pub, anyone? OK, maybe not…) the pub is packed with character from the flagstone floors and wealth of old beams to the large open fire in the bar. If you are particularly lucky you might spot one of the resident ghosts, said to appear as a small boy dressed in polo kit and an old lady in period costume. Gotta love that.
Talking of polo, what I loved most about The Vine Tree is the feeling that I had landed bang splat in the middle of Riders, half expecting Rupert Campbell Black to walk in the door and whisk me away (dear God, pleeeease). The atmosphere is fun, young and very, very jolly, led not least by gorgeous owner Tiggi (who gave us the most generous, friendly welcome) and her partner Charles. I would go as far to say as her personality, and the extension of it through the pub, is what makes The Vine Tree truly Muddy.
We started off with Moules Mariniere – for Mr Muddy at least – while the largest Mudlet managed to demolish the entire platter of crusty bread. I was left with the tomato and olive dip (which was utterly delicious) and the remains of the moules’ juice (again, divine. And I don’t even like fish).
Then onto burger and chips for middle Mudlet (of course. Never touches anything but), steak for the older one, chicken kiev with creamy mash for me and lamb steak for Mr Muddy. All declared delicious, all plates licked clean, and who knew my 11 year old could devour a 10oz rib eye (rare, may I add)?
Although by now we were all about to pass out from over eating, obviously we had to go for pud – Eton Mess with frozen berries, something lovely and Belgian-y and chocolate-y and, the piece de la resistance, sticky toffee pudding. I’m telling you, I’d take a second helping of that any day.
The nosh here might not be uber posh but The Vine Tree’s meat comes from neighbouring farms, there is local game when in season and fresh fish delivered from Cornwall every single day. Cheese is local too, and the extensive menus change every few weeks making use of seasonal produce. Just what we Muddy lot love. This watering hole is wonderfully quirky and whether you are rolling in for all-you-can eat moules on Tuesdays, to snort your way through the entire gin menu or if you’ve just lost the family fortune at the local races and need to commiserate, this place is for you. We didn’t manage a walk – obviously, kids in tow and all that, never gonna happen – but I fully intend to return as soon as possible, so perhaps then.
Charles and Tiggi also own and run The Barbury Inn at Broad Hinton – watch this space for a future review.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: A good value stuff up before a bracing walk. Or alternatively hunker down with a bottle or three until you can’t remember how you got home.
Not for: Those after really high end dining. This is good pub grub (in the way we expect it, of course. We are years beyond scampi in a basket).
££: Just below mid-range with starters from a fiver and mains from £11, although most are £14-£17. Puddings from £6. Great overall value.
The Vine Tree, Foxley Road, Norton, Nr Malmesbury, Wilts SN16 0JP. Tel: 01666 837654. thevinetree.co.uk.
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