Review: The Duncombe Arms near Alton Towers serves fancy food but feels like a proper village pub

Review: The Duncombe Arms near Alton Towers serves fancy food but feels like a proper village pub 2
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‘Ooh, posh!’ says the taxi driver who picks me up from Uttoxeter railway station when I tell him where I’m going.

The Duncombe Arms in Ellastone clearly enjoys a reputation locally as the place to go for a special meal, and it’s well-deserved.

Unusually for somewhere serving fancy food, it still has the atmosphere of a proper village pub. Pop into the bar and you get the impression that were you to return in a year, or even ten, the same regulars would be occupying the same spots.

Neil Armstrong checks into The Duncombe Arms (above), a 19th Century pub with rooms in the charming little Staffordshire village of Ellastone

Neil Armstrong checks into The Duncombe Arms (above), a 19th Century pub with rooms in the charming little Staffordshire village of Ellastone 

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'Unusually for somewhere serving fancy food, it still has the atmosphere of a proper village pub,' says Neil

‘Unusually for somewhere serving fancy food, it still has the atmosphere of a proper village pub,’ says Neil 

The restaurant's reputation for fine food is 'well-deserved'

The restaurant’s reputation for fine food is ‘well-deserved’

The Duncombe, a 19th Century inn, had been shut for many years until it was renovated and reopened a decade ago by Johnny and Laura Greenall. Johnny, a successful former amateur jockey, is a scion of the Greenall brewing dynasty and Laura is a former chef – a pretty good combination for a pub.

The centrally situated dining room, in which bold, modern paintings of cows and sheep hang on the exposed brickwork, is intimate and atmospheric.

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There’s a cheaper bar menu with staples such as ploughman’s, burgers and fish and chips, but the a la carte dinner menu changes regularly. During my visit, main courses featured dry-aged Cumbrian pork chop, charred cos lettuce and Nduja salami and Staffordshire lamb rump, sea beet, curried mussels and lamb bacon.

Neil dines on creamy chicken liver parfait and fennel crackers followed by hand-rolled nettle fazzoletti with young peas and nasturtium flowers

Neil dines on creamy chicken liver parfait and fennel crackers followed by hand-rolled nettle fazzoletti with young peas and nasturtium flowers

The centrally situated dining room is 'intimate and atmospheric', says Neil

 The centrally situated dining room is ‘intimate and atmospheric’, says Neil 

I started with creamy chicken liver parfait and fennel crackers and, for my main course, I had hand-rolled nettle fazzoletti with young peas and nasturtium flowers. I followed up with the cheese selection, which included a couple of unusual and delicious Spanish varieties. In the dining room there was a party of very appreciative Americans visiting British friends – I couldn’t help thinking how disappointed they’d be when they discovered that not all British restaurants are this good.

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The full English breakfast the next morning was also excellent – bacon, sausage, a meaty field mushroom, perfectly poached eggs and both black and white pudding. It came with (and it’s surprising how unusual this is) really good coffee.

There are ten bedrooms in Walnut House, a stylishly decorated building adjacent to the pub itself. The rooms, all different, are elegant and cosy, with artisan wallpapers, Egyptian cotton bed linen, Roberts radios and Nespresso machines.

There are ten bedrooms in Walnut House, a stylishly decorated building adjacent to the pub

There are ten bedrooms in Walnut House, a stylishly decorated building adjacent to the pub

The bedrooms are all different, says Neil, with artisan wallpapers and Egyptian cotton bed linen

The bedrooms are all different, says Neil, with artisan wallpapers and Egyptian cotton bed linen 

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'At night the only sound was of an owl and occasional gentle baas,' Neil says of his stay

‘At night the only sound was of an owl and occasional gentle baas,’ Neil says of his stay 

There are beautiful walks that can be taken from the pub, and the area is also a renowned centre for climbing and caving

There are beautiful walks that can be taken from the pub, and the area is also a renowned centre for climbing and caving

The Peak District's Chatsworth House, pictured above, and Kedleston Hall are under an hour away from the pub by car

The Peak District’s Chatsworth House, pictured above, and Kedleston Hall are under an hour away from the pub by car

Neil writes: 'The Duncombe had been shut for many years until it was renovated and reopened a decade ago by Johnny and Laura Greenall. Johnny is a scion of the Greenall brewing dynasty and Laura is a former chef – a pretty good combination for a pub'

Neil writes: ‘The Duncombe had been shut for many years until it was renovated and reopened a decade ago by Johnny and Laura Greenall. Johnny is a scion of the Greenall brewing dynasty and Laura is a former chef – a pretty good combination for a pub’

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TRAVEL FACTS 

The Duncombe Arms, Ellastone, Staffordshire. Bed and breakfast costs from £195 a night (duncombearms.co.uk).

My room looked out across grazing sheep and a brook towards the verdant Dove Valley. 

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Although the Duncombe Arms is next to a B-road, at night the only sound was of an owl and occasional gentle baas. Ellastone is a charming little village on the edge of the Peak District, with Chatsworth and Kedleston Hall under an hour away by car. There are beautiful walks that can be taken from the pub, and the area is also a renowned centre for climbing and caving.

Ellastone has two major literary connections: novelist George Eliot’s father lived there and it is the setting for some scenes in her novel Adam Bede; and French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau worked on The Confessions while staying there in 1766.

And if you can’t get a room in the Greenalls’ excellent pub, there is a luxurious three-bedroom cottage available to rent in the grounds of their nearby home, Wootton Lodge.

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