By John Coles – Food Writer
Expectations were high long before we went to the Pony & Trap, with many friends singing its praises. Then on the very day we finally got to go there a new poll was published rating it second among Britain’s Top 50 Gastropubs, so the juices were flowing well in advance.
This old snug country pub stands alone on a hillside overlooking Chew Valley Lake south of Bristol. We arrived on a bone cold January evening, unable to see the view from the darkened rear garden which is one of its many attractions. But inside the warm welcome, flawless service and superb food more than compensated.
The Pony & Trap is run by brother and sister Josh and Holly Eggleton who have held a coveted Michelin Star since 2011. While Josh runs the kitchen Holly is front of house and on the night we were there was in charge of an all-female team of waitresses who didn’t bat an eyelid when we arrived half an hour early.
The pub prides itself on its ‘field to fork’ ethos, serving food sourced as locally as possible, and it seemed only fitting to begin with a pint of one of my favourite beers – Rare Breed from the nearby Butcombe brewery – which was fairly priced at £3.50, the same as any local pub.
We had opted for the a la carte menu – which changes daily – although the pub also provides an eight-course tasting menu at £60 a head. On the evening we ate it included a dish of sea bass, ox tongue and Worcestershire sauce, one of rump, burnt onion and ox cheek and a dessert of sticky walnut ale cake with stout ice cream.
Instead, we had a choice of eight starters, including squid bolognese, chorizo and turnip risotto or beef tartare, shallots, parsley and smoked bone marrow. I went for the mussels steamed in Ashton Press (a local cider) with lovage (£9) and had a generous portion of the plumpest mussels I have had for years.
There were also eight on offer for the main courses – half of them meat, three fish and just one vegetarian, which my wife chose: sage gnocchi, king oyster mushroom, confit salsify and walnut and cavolo nero pesto (£16.00). As a vegetarian she may have preferred a choice but was more than delighted with the dish which she said was full of fantastic flavours.
I had the 31-day dry aged 10oz rib eye with ox cheek ragu, watercress, pickled shallot and chips (£23). The meat and ragu together was a wonderful combination of flavour and texture and superbly cooked.
I passed on the dessert but could not resist helping my wife with hers – the apple, white chocolate cheesecake and apple sorbet (£6) – which had her in raptures.
The food was helped on its way by a couple of large glasses of Malbec (£6) from the eclectic wine list which was neither overpriced or overbearing. A Remy Martin VSOP at a reasonable £3.60 and double espresso at £2.40 ended the meal perfectly.
Despite its popularity the service was unhurried and there was a pleasant hubbub throughout, with diners ranging from a handful of locals supping their pints at a table near the bar to a pair of retired couples who grew more Bristolian and raucous as the wine flowed.
The Pony & Trap is perhaps more for special occasions than your everyday pub, but we’ll definitely be booking soon for a return visit in the spring – this time so we can enjoy the view as well as the outstanding food.