TOM PARKER BOWLES reviews Wiltshire haunt The Castle Inn

I’ll stick to a pork pie and a pint, says TOM PARKER BOWLES after visiting a Wiltshire haunt that is a great pub but an average restaurant


This Wiltshire haunt is a great pub, says Tom – but as a restaurant it needs to turn up the dial

When it comes to reviewing restaurants, give me bad, give me good, but please don’t give me average. Because the language of disgust is far and away the most fertile, a festering quagmire of vile ordure and fetid, stinking filth. 

And while we critics certainly don’t go looking for bilious victuals and scrofulous service, it sure makes things a lot more fun to write.

As for those places of joyous, transcendental delight – where gastronomic angels weep rapturous tears of unfiltered bliss upon one’s base and undeserving tongue – the vocabulary may be more limited, but the elation should burn mighty bright. 

Cured ChalkStream trout with wasabi has a ‘Japanese burr’, says Tom, while a salad of pickled peach with roasted fennel and chicory melds the sweet, sharp and gently bitter

Which brings us, then, to the middle of the road; workaday, passable and uninspired. Nothing to frighten the horses, or anything to really remember.

OK, so the Castle Inn, in the ridiculously pretty Wiltshire village of Castle Combe, is a very decent pub. Ramsbury Gold on draught; service as warm and sweet as their chocolate brownies; and a magnificent slice of home-made pork pie, glittering with luscious jelly.

But I’m here for dinner with the children, and perhaps we’re all afflicted with that end-of-holidays ennui.

The kitchen certainly doesn’t lack talent – cured ChalkStream trout is clean and delicate, with a subtle Japanese burr.

A salad of pickled peach with roasted fennel and chicory melds the sweet, sharp and gently bitter. And a glorious main course of cauliflower ‘satay’ is lustily spiced and seasoned, with chilli, peanuts and courgettes. Although £19 does seem a little steep for a brassica, however exalted.

So why, then, do I feel so unmoved? Maybe it’s the slightly soggy padron peppers, topped with a few beige curls of fried chicken skin. Not exactly the chilli chicken salt that was promised.

Grilled hispi cabbage with chimichurri is a great idea badly executed, needing another minute under the heat and rather more of the inedible core removed. Pork belly with scallops is OK. But so it bloody should be for £28. 

Tomato penne, from the kids’ menu, is downright awful, the pasta so overcooked that it falls apart, the sauce wan and watery. Not so much dinner as a disgrace.

The Castle is a great pub but an average restaurant, despite a couple of cracking dishes. Next time, if there is one, I’ll stick to pork pie and a pint.

  • About £40 per head. The Castle Inn, Castle Combe, Wiltshire;

DRINKS: Charlotte’s ‘no’ and ‘low’ choice

The ‘no & low ABV’ category continues to boom, as ever more enticing libations are launched. 

I’m all for unwinding of an evening with something delicious – but with sober October upon us, it needn’t be a stiff one. 

These lovely light alternatives really tipple my fancy. 

‘No’ and ‘low’: Sea Arch Rose Sea & T (0%), £2.35,; Bolle Rosa alcohol-free sparkling wine (<0.5%), £7.99,; and Martini Vibrante Non-Alcoholic Aperitif (<0.5%), £10, Tesco

Sea Arch Rose Sea & T (0%), £2.35,

My canned pick of the year is this sophisticated 0% cocktail, which delivers thirst-quenching sea freshness and a satisfying quinine hit on the finish.

Bolle Rosa alcohol-free sparkling wine (<0.5%), £7.99,

This gently fizzy rosé bursts with strawberries, minus the high sugar content. A citrussy finish keeps it balanced.

Martini Vibrante Non-Alcoholic Aperitif (<0.5%), £10, Tesco. 

Vermouth fans will adore this apéritif, with its sweet citrus fruit infused with florals, botanicals and bitter herbs. Serve over ice with tonic.

Wednesday’s Domaine Piquant (<0.04%), twin pack £25.99, and LeCap Rosé, South Africa (5%), £14.99,

Wednesday’s Domaine Piquant (<0.04%), twin pack £25.99,

This crisp white, in its stylish bottle, is brimming with delicate florals, peach and lemon notes.

LeCap Rosé, South Africa (5%), £14.99,

It’s delicious, with wild berry fruit, a hint of dried herbs and a refreshing finish – and I can’t believe that it’s just 5% ABV.

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