Review: Brace of Pheasants, Dorset

For those of you who like a nice day out, I would like to propose Dorset. But dismiss images of Bournemouth, Sandbanks, Lulworth Cove and Kimmeridge Bay from your mind; there is a lot of pleasure and beauty to be found inland in the county.

Shoot along the A303 past Salisbury and the tourist-riddled building blocks of Stonehenge, then drop down the A350 to Shaftesbury. This attractive little market town perhaps only warrants an hour or so exploring, but it does include one unmissable site: “that hill from the Hovis advert.” If you now have Dvorák’s 9th going in your head then you know the one I mean. You may not know that the Hovis advert was directed by Ridley Scott, a few years before he had an Alien explode out of John Hurt’s chest. QI.

I had assumed the hill in question was somewhere up north, but here it is in Dorset. And Ridley didn’t use any camera trickery; it really is one of the most picturesque spots you could imagine.

Rambling west from Shaftesbury you’ll come to Sherborne, for my money the star in Dorset’s crown. This is a town steeped in history, including surely one of the oldest schools in the country (King Alfred the Great was a student). It has the most alluring architecture of warm red-golden limestone, as well as a stunning abbey that remains at the very heart of the town and two castles out in the fields nearby. The high street is a pleasure to wander, and great for foodies with artisan bakers, traditional butchers, delis, independent cafes and characterful pubs. The abbey is splendid, inside and out.

Keep going west past Yeovil (a bigger and distinctly less characterful town) and you’ll find Montacute House, alongside the idyllic village of the same name. The house looks amazing from the outside, but on this occasion we ran out of time to visit. That’s because we detoured south from Sherborne, half an hour on winding country lanes, to have Sunday lunch at the Brace of Pheasants in the unlikely sounding village of Plush. This is Dorset, though: you’ll find Plush among the nearby villages of Melcombe Horsey, Piddletrenthide, Droop and White Lackington.

The village, and the pub, lie at the end of a narrow lane in their own little private valley. This is definitely huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ country, your genuine rural idyll. There are a brace of stuffed pheasants in a glass case hanging over the door of the pub. Inside the bar is abuzz and it’s clear that most of the people here for lunch are local. With just a tad of misfortune, the bar room is only just full and so we are banished (in the nicest possible way) to the empty dining room next door. C’est la vie, it’s comfortable enough and we can still hear the buzz.

Despite the prospect of a full-on roast, I have a starter anyway. Pan-fried partridge breast is cooked pink and thus jolly moist and chewsome. The sauce is lemon and honey, a surprisingly good accompaniment for the delicate gamebird. I’m happy, even if the sauce could have been reduced just a touch more.

The roast is haunch of venison, and on reflection I’m not sure I’ve ever been offered venison as a Sunday pub roast before. The meat is in great condition and perfectly cooked; pink, tender and with a rich livery taste. Great gravy, nice roast roots, good Yorkshire pud, but although the potatoes are crisp outside they’re rather too floury within. Wrong variety, I reckon, though I’m not expert enough to spot which. I enjoy my roast a lot, enough to want to come back here one evening to try their game-heavy dinner menu.

This is good pub grub, the more so at £11 for the roast and £6 the starter. If you’re having a wander around rural Dorset, the Brace is definitely worth a bit of a detour.