The Langton Arms
An award-winning country pub in the heart of the Dorset countryside
This beautiful, thatched, seventeenth-century pub is reached through a ford running alongside a handsome arched stone bridge and thence through a picture-perfect chocolate-box Dorset village of ancient thatched cottages. The Langton Arms (in Tarrant Monkton, near Blandford Forum) has been a public house for centuries, although the current owners, the Cossins family, have been here for twenty-five years. They own a farm as well, so the pub serves up their own meat in a special grill menu of steaks, burgers, lasagne, faggots and the like (and the meat can also be purchased from their butchery). The standard, swift-changing, menu features a good variety of other meat as well, including local game in season, fish from a small local firm based in Poole and vegetarian dishes – many of the vegetables being grown on site.
The pub is broken up into a variety of different spaces, including a functions room (an old Army Nissan hut), and several small and cosy bar and restaurant areas. We entered to find locals crowded round the light wood bar enjoying pints of ale; while residents (there are several guest rooms) and diners enjoyed more formal meals. We were seated in the Stables Restaurant (so-called because it was, of course, once the stables), by a well-tended log fire of great ferocity – perfect given the chilly night outside. The room is decorated so as to reflect its origins, with bare and cream-painted bricks and decorative sticks of willow over the arched entrance. Tables are properly dressed with white linen and appropriate cutlery and glasses, while seating is on farmhouse-style chairs. The few pictures and sculpture again reflect the rusticity of the pub and its location – a bronze pheasant; paintings of cows. The single element which we found was not conducive to a relaxing environment was the popular music – soppy teenage boys wailing unhappily into microphones most of the time, although it sometimes thankfully (but all too rarely) gave way to more acceptable jazz.
As soon as we were seated we were presented with the menus, while tap water was also brought and poured. The menus required not inconsiderable perusal, full, as they were, of tempting items (and we noted also that the children’s menu was particularly imaginative and interesting). The taking of our orders was followed shortly by an amuse bouche of vegetable soup of generous portion. Heading towards being a velouté, this was a perfect and very welcome start to the meal – warming, creamy and delicious, especially accompanied by the fresh, soft, white bread beautifully spiced with caraway seeds.
The wine list is a little on the short side, but is good, with more American / South American and Italian wines than one often finds. I chose a Pauletts Polish Hill River Shiraz, 2010, in which a very unfussy bottle belies quite a complex wine. I was immediately impressed by the opulent, thick appearance of the dark purple beverage, and the lovely rich and deep nose of bramble fruits. This full-bodied wine had an initial taste of higher red berry fruits, leading later to lower tones of brambles and ash and a hint of tar. An excellent wine and that suited our meal very well indeed.
I started with the smoked duck, served with crunchy hazelnuts – which worked well to provide a contrast of texture and flavour, and a beautifully fresh, crisp salad. Although I found the duck itself a little on the dry side and the smoked flavour slightly retiring, this was nevertheless a dish in which all elements combined and complemented to produce a pleasing whole.
Mr Marshall-Luck’s gravadlax was richly yet delicately flavoured, and was a sensibly-sized portion for a starter. He found plenty of substance to the slices of fish, which were piled high with a dollop of crème fraiche on top, lending a creaminess to the dish without imparting unwanted heaviness. The accompanying leaves were clean and crisp, producing another fine starter.
The Langton Arms Steak Pie had immediately cried out to me from the menu, and I wasn’t disappointed. The meat is braised for 24 hours in port, tomatoes and wine – which leads to a fabulous depth of flavour and a beautifully tender texture. The shortcrust pastry is crunchy rather than crumbly as I would have preferred, but the base soaked up the wonderful sauce beautifully. It was served with chips and vegetables, which resulted in one rather full restaurant-critic by the end of the course!
The steak (the Cossins’ own) was gloriously flavoursome and extremely tender: the 21 days of hanging obviously produces an excellent effect, with the meat having a deliciously old-fashioned flavour. It was served with onion rings that were, perhaps, just a little diffident for our taste (the batter rather too soft, delicate and tender and the onions themselves not as piquant as they might have been), chips (with a well-rounded flavour and impeccable texture) and an aioli sauce, which had just the right degree of bite to register satisfactorily against the richness of the meat.
Young Master Tristan had been sharing our courses thus far, but really came into his own as a dessert-taster, leaving little for us to share and comment upon. However, a sticky toffee pudding was maybe just a little on the dense side, but nevertheless had a well-focused flavour and a springy texture and was complemented by strawberries (upon which I cannot comment as they were all snaffled by a certain two-year-old), whilst the rich toffee sauce mingled delightfully with the pouring cream that was brought (upon request, instead of ice cream). The chocolate torte was, contrastingly, quite a light chocolate dessert, very smooth but with a slight kick to the flavour that lifted it. The biscuit base was perhaps just a fraction on the tough side, but its crunchiness complemented the texture of the torte itself very well.
We finished with tea, coffee and rather decadently rich petit-fours. The tea was fine, and the coffee was of acceptable strength and flavour; a little middle-of-the-road in both respects perhaps, but then the establishment is catering for the British taste, which, in my husband’s view, veers towards the weak end of the spectrum. We were rather delighted to be presented also with some sausages from their butchery at the end of the meal, which were duly cooked and greatly enjoyed a few days later – and can be highly recommended as splendidly traditional in flavour and texture.
The service throughout the meal had been excellent – attentive, without being intrusive. As we were (delightfully) the only customers in that part of the restaurant, the waitress would pop out regularly to check what stage of supping we had reached. Often, seeing that we were still eating, she would use it as an opportunity to stoke up the fire, or – more frequently – as an excuse to play with Tristan, which helped to keep him engaged and occupied and made us a family feel welcome.
On the whole, it was a tremendously relaxing and enjoyable meal; as evidenced by the fact that we spanned it out to last quite some several hours. Indeed, the meal evoked such a pleasant atmosphere that we returned only a week or so later for a last meal in the area.