People have sometimes criticised this blog for its negative tone, although in a sense that’s the point. However, I’ve always highlighted things that I feel positive about, and one pub that is richly deserving of praise is the Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano in North Somerset. I’ve reviewed this on my Real Pubs blog, and said that “I don’t think I’ve been in any other that comes closer to my personal vision of the ideal pub.” A recent visit only served to confirm this opinion.
I’m not saying that this is the best pub in the UK, or even the best pub in Somerset. But it’s hard to think of any other than more suits my personal taste. So what are the reasons for this?
- It’s an unashamedly old-fashioned, historic pub, with dark wood, slate and tiled floors, old settles, a massive inglenook fireplace, horse brasses and old sporting guns on the walls. I don’t care how authentic it is – it just oozes tradition. Not surprisingly, it eschews piped music and television.
- It has a sensible approach to beer range tailored to customer preference. Currently it has Courage Best, Butcombe Bitter, Otter Bitter and Bath Ales Gem as permanent beers, plus one rotating guest, often a bit stronger. All eminently drinkable local favourites, not weird experimental stuff. The Courage and Butcombe, which I assume are the best sellers, are on gravity, the others on handpump. I always like to come across well-kept, fresh beer dispensed directly from the cask. It’s good to see a nod to the pub’s brewery ownership heritage by continuing to serve Courage. And the Charles Wells version comfortably equals the one-time Bristol brew.
- It serves food, but doesn’t allow it to dominate. Food is only available at lunchtimes, and not on Sundays. The menu mainly comprises sandwiches and snacks, with a couple of daily specials. It’s also good value for money, with rolls with hot fillings around £4.50, and paninis £5.95. I always like to see that kind of informal, snacky food in pubs. £4.50 for a lavishly-filled black pudding and mushroom roll was very reasonable!
- It’s unashamedly a genteel pub. While I may extol the virtues of Sam Smith’s down-to-earth urban boozers, I always feel slightly out of place there. This is somewhere that I, as a middle-class gent, feel at home. Not full of pretentious, money-obsessed tossers, just normal middle-of-the-road country people. The South of England seems to do this kind of middle-class village or rural wet-led pub far better than the north – see also the Queen’s Head at Newton. This is what I used to love about the Nursery, my local pub, before it was ruined by food, TV sport and piped music. On the other hand, in the evenings, when all the eaters are long gone, I’d bet there’s some robust country conversation. And it’s always good to see a couple of old boys chewing the fat in a cosy corner.
So, a maximum number of Mudgie boxes ticked.
Astonishingly, according to WhatPub, it’s owned by Enterprise Inns. That just goes to prove that being in pub company hands is no bar to excellence. If you’re anywhere near, and have the opportunity to make a visit, please do. You won’t be disappointed. It’s known locally as “The Kicker” and its website can be found here.