Restaurant Review: The Vine Tree, Norton

The Vine Tree has a large and well ingredient-ed menu... just don't be tempted to feed the dog

The Vine Tree has a large and well ingredient-ed menu… just don’t be tempted to feed the dog

Outings are sent to try us, I feel. This seems to be patently true of all families, as Tolstoy sort of observed, but didn’t. I well remember, when I was aged around 13, my parents taking us to Weston in the car. Mum wanted to bring our dog; dad was against the idea. As we headed off, with the dog smugly seated between me and my brother in the back, my dad happened to brake suddenly, causing the dog to rear up. “She’s doing a wheelie,” said my brother, impressed. “She’s doing a WHAT?” bellowed my dad, coming to an emergency stop.

(Interestingly, it was on the same stretch of road – Spring Hill in Nailsworth – that our then-neighbour was speedily progressing along in his Cortina when our cat, Ginger, made a surprise appearance on the bonnet. Mr Wharf was most taken aback; as was Ginger, who’d been relaxing on the car roof. Both survived but both were inexorably changed by the experience.)

There are two types of outings in our house: those that Ian has arranged; and those that I’ve arranged. Ian’s go like this. Him: “Aren’t you ready yet? Come on, come on! I did say we were leaving at half past!” Me: “But it’s quarter past.” Ian: “Yes, but if I say half past, then you should clearly be ready to go by quarter past.” Mine go like this: Me: “Umm… I don’t want to hassle you but we did say we’d leave five minutes ago.” Ian: “Do we really need this kind of stress every time we go out?”

So we get ready to go to the Vine Tree at Norton (“Oughtn’t we to go? I did book for 7pm…” “I thought this was supposed to be enjoyable?”), taking Miles, our Official Remaining Child, with us. Ellie and Ed have left for university, leaving me clinging to my youngest with tenacious grip. “Would you like your face painted before we go?” I ask Miles. “Mum,” he says, “I’m 16.” “Oh yes,” I say... “Maybe just a few tiger stripes, then?” The dog is most upset by his siblings’ departure and follows me from room to room, in deep insecurity. “Look how sensitive he is,” I point out to Ian, admiringly. “Look what a complete pansy he is,” mutters Ian, who feels it’s high time the dog pulled himself together.

There’s a dog (unintentional theme) at the Vine Tree called Clementine, who – if she could write – would carry one of those banners stating, “Hungry and homeless”. Unfortunately for Clementine, her owners can write, and state on the menu not to feed her: “Contrary to her expectations, she is clearly not starving”. This is tragic in dog terms, for the menu would be right up her street. Especially the day’s specials, which include home-made local rabbit and root vegetable pie; and local estate pheasant (roast breast and confit leg). The Cornish Crab Thermidor is sold out, which doesn’t bother me but may well have been another nail in the coffin of Clementine’s day. She lies on the floor, trying to perfect a “too hungry to move much” pose that even she can see is unconvincing.

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The menu is (slightly alarmingly) large but that doesn’t stop it being fantastically well ingredient-ed: Simon Gaskell’s Real Boar charcuterie, local game, Old Spot pork and homemade dressings. There’s a love of food here that lifts the Vine Tree above the ordinary.

The breadboard is a bit sparse on bread for �4.50 but does come with a lovely whole roasted garlic and olive. We plough into the mixed saut�ed wild woodland mushrooms and a leek and potato soup, which are nice enough. Then the boys both have the Wiltshire farmers’ burgers – which they declare is exactly how real burgers should be. They’re made from 28-day hung beef steak, with smoked local bacon and cheddar cheese; fab. And I have the Old Spot tenderloin, which is beautifully cooked. We finish with great sticky toffee puddings and an OK apple and blackberry crumble (so not cheap at �6.15).

Make no mistake; this is a very friendly pub where the sourcing is excellent and the best of the dishes are thoughtful and well-above-average. Personally, I’d cut down the menus and tell the waitresses that life can be fun. Then the Vine Tree would truly blossom.

The Vine Tree, Foxley Road, Norton, near Malmesbury, SN16 0JP

Tel: 01666 837654

www.thevinetree.co.uk

Three of a kind: fruit of the vine (and other plants):

�–           The Manor House Hotel, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh  GL56 OLJ, 01608 650501;  www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk

            The hotel’s award-winning restaurant (which overlooks the Secret Garden) fits in beautifully with the town of Moreton. Both are timeless, perfectly proportioned and offer a sophisticated taste of the countryside.

�–           The Fig Tree, 99b Church Street, Malvern WR14 2AE 01684 569909; www.thefigtreemalvern.co.uk

            Perfect for a pre-show dinners, this restaurant is housed in a converted 19th century stables two minutes’ walk from Malvern Theatres. Expect Mediterranean food in a relaxed setting.

�–           Lime Lounge, 11 Margaret’s Buildings, Off Brock Street, Bath BA1 2LP Tel: 01225 421251;

            www.limeloungebath.co.uk

            Diners at the conveniently-situated Lime Lounge (between Royal Crescent and the Circus) love the contemporary food, the welcoming service – and the prices, too: fun dishes, well-sourced produce and some excellent offers.

Ambience 7

Service 7

Food 8

Value for money 7

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