The barometer of a great winter pub has to be exceptional food and an open fire to sit by. From a culinary hotspot in Berkshire to a pocket of the South Downs National Park, each of these inviting inns is just a short jaunt from London.
The Royal Standard of England, Buckinghamshire
With a history going back 800 years, The Royal Standard is thought to be England’s oldest free house. First mentioned in around 1213, when it was named The Ship, this inn claimed the identity it has today when Charles II renamed it The Royal Standard of Britain in recognition of the support the landlord had given to royalists.
Going back over the centuries, this free house has a history of being positioned on what was once a trade route, acting as a mustering place for Lord Westworth’s royalists and having landlords who acted as accomplices to highwaymen. In recent decades, this site has been transformed into a cosy inn with open fires to sit by and a focus on food and drink. Décor featuring reminders of the inn’s past makes it a popular film and TV setting.
The Hind’s Head, Berkshire
The Hind’s Head was first established in the 1400s as a hunting lodge and coaching inn. Now run by the legendary chef Heston Blumenthal, this historic pub in the village of Bray invites people in for a casual take on Blumenthal’s famously inventive food and drink — the pub also happens to lie alongside the chef’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant, The Fat Duck.
Boasting a Michelin star, the menus here aim to reflect the inn’s long history through updated versions of classic British dishes like ham hock terrine. If you come on a Sunday, you’re also able to get the weekend’s roast set menu. You can alternatively opt to stay by the bar to enjoy specialty drinks like Heston’s earl grey and lemon gin in a deeply cosy space with deep red and green colour scheme, soft seating, rugs and fireplaces.
The Crown at Bray, Berkshire
Also located in Bray, and another of Heston Blumenthal’s drinking and dining venues, The Crown at Bray consists of two attached cottages dating back to the 16th century when they acted as a hostelry supplying beer to other cottages in the area. This heritage-rich backdrop has now been renovated to combine the wooden beamed, brick-walled space warmed by a fireplace inside with more modern outdoor dining area featuring separate bar and its own open kitchen. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, all drinking and dining throughout the autumn will be in the pub’s heated garden area by the open kitchen. Seasonal dishes designed for this space include a côte de boeuf for two.
The Duke of Cumberland Arms, Sussex
The Duke of Cumberland Arms sits within the small village of Henley, just outside Fernhurst and close to the polo grounds of Cowdray and Goodwood Estate, in South Downs National Park. With this verdant setting, the exceptionally inviting pub suits anyone combining a walk along this area of natural beauty’s trails with warming dinner and drinks. Inside this pub surrounded by gardens is distinguished by its traditional flagstone floors, low ceilings, an open fire and décor that reflects its roots.
Due to the current health crisis, the pub is embracing its outdoor space for socially distanced dining. Here the pub’s head chef Simon Goodman cooks up dishes such as day-boat caught ale-battered haddock served with house-made tartare sauce and chunky chips using produce from the local area, vegetables from the pub’s garden and fresh fish from the south coast.
Fordwich Arms, Kent
The Fordwich Arms takes up a riverside site of Britain’s smallest town. This is where the crane-house of Cantebury’s Prior of Christ Church stood until it burnt down in the 1930s to later be rebuilt, becoming the structure it is today. The pub now benefits from a recent refurbishment and in 2019 it was named AA Restaurant of the Year.
In a space featuring oak-panelled dining room with three open fires, diners tuck into the culinary creations of chef-patron Daniel Smith, who was recently awarded Observer’s Young Chef of the Year, in seasonal menus focusing on provenance. A terrace and garden with views over the River Stour provide additional space for outdoor dining. Try dishes like poached Kelly Galway oyster with muscat grape and Cornish caviar and roast Stour Valley guinea fowl. You could opt for the five-course tasting menu and there’s also a menu of cheeses from the trolley.
The Lickfold Inn, Sussex
A striking façade of herringbone brickwork and black timber frame welcome visitors to The Lickfold Inn in West Sussex. This Grade-II listed former coaching inn—one that was previously owned by the presenter Chris Evans before being bought by the acclaimed chef Tom Sellers—combines its 16th century heritage and setting in South Downs National Park with inviting wooden beamed interiors where you can tuck into home-cooked food.
Here you can sit by the open fire or on the terrace for drinks such as West Sussex ales, before settling into the indoor and outdoor dining space for fish and chips or a Sunday lunch featuring roast loin of pork with crackling. The former MasterChef winner, Jane Devonshire, oversees the kitchen here.