Rising running costs, staff shortages and customers battling a cost of living crisis; it’s a tough time for the hospitality industry right now, that’s for sure.Up and down the country pubs and restaurants are caving to the economic pressures and closing their doors. And with diners and drinkers demanding to feel that their hard-earned pennies have been well spent, more so than ever, there’s little room for error for those that do keep soldiering on. The Talbot Inn in Mells seems to have captured the holy grail of hospitality however - being both a proper local boozer and a destination dining spot. The latter is undoubtedly helped by its location; Mells is frequently named as one of the prettiest villages in the UK, and it’s just a stone’s throw from Soho House’s members’ club and hotel, Babington House. But that’s not to take away from what the team at The Talbot have achieved, which is something really very, very lovely indeed.

Great British Life: The Talbot is classy and relaxed.The Talbot is classy and relaxed. (Image: Jake Eastham)

We enter and immediately find ourselves in the cosy bar. Most of the tables are full - even on a damp off-season afternoon - and it feels cheerful and buzzing. We shimmy our way through and into the dining area which is lighter and brighter and all Farrow and Ball tones. The welcome is warm - and not just because of the roaring log fire, and we’re shown to our table. There’s a great mix of people already there enjoying themselves, from families to muddy-booted dog walkers, to trendy out-of-towners on a weekend escape, and it makes for an atmosphere considerably brighter than the dull skies outside.

The menu has been cleverly split - with a selection of pub grub classics like a Ploughman’s, steak and chips, burgers and fish and chips, as well as some more fine dining-esque dishes. As my husband and I are on a rare child-free outing, (and can therefore eat at leisure without simultaneously trying to persuade an excitable toddler to sit still for more than a nanosecond) we decide to make the most of the opportunity and go for the fancier options. We are, however, almost swayed when we see plates loaded with towering burgers, oozing with cheese, being delivered to the family seated on the table next door.

I start with courgette fritters which are calm and comforting when eaten on their own, but which take on a new energy when paired with a fiery garlic aioli. Husband’s game terrine is butch and beguiling. The terrine is rich and dense, with a prune ketchup adding a welcome sweet note to the deeply savoury meat.

Great British Life: Cubes of succulent Creedy Carver DuckCubes of succulent Creedy Carver Duck (Image: Emma Dance)

My main course of Creedy Carver duck breast arrives and is a much prettier, more delicate affair than I had expected. Cubes of perfectly rested, succulent duck with golden, crispy skin are artfully arranged on the plate, along with a beguiling assortment of garnishes. There’s a silky smooth parsnip puree, a soft buttery fondant potato, a Stornoway bon bon that adds crunch and a deep earthiness, and pickled blackberries that are delightful little pops of sharp zinginess that set the palate alight. It’s a wonderful assortment of textures and flavours, and while each element on its own is in itself utterly delicious, it’s when they are combined that the real cleverness of the dish becomes apparent.

Pan-fried salmon with cuttlefish ink risotto, tiger prawn and octopus looks both simple and dramatic with a whole baby octopus sitting atop the black-as night risotto - its arms curling around a shining, pink prawn. It’s a fairly admin-heavy dish, with prawns to shell and an octopus to navigate, and we need to ask for a finger bowl to mitigate the mess. The effort is deemed worth it, however, with each element cooked just-so, and the flavours of the sea shining through.

Great British Life: Saffron poached pear and cardamom cake. Saffron poached pear and cardamom cake. (Image: Emma Dance)

The pudding menu makes great reading. It’s full of delicious-sounding things like sticky toffee pudding and raspberry trifle. On the advice of our charming waitress I plump for a saffron poached pear with cardamom cake, maple cream and candied pecans - and I don’t for a second regret my decision. It’s all kinds of brilliant - the heady spices of saffron and cardamom are almost savoury, the pecans unashamedly sweet. There’s crunch, and cream; there’s juiciness from the pear and a crumbly cake to soak it all up. I love it.Not as much, though, as my husband loves his raspberry steamed sponge with creme anglaise. He’s so enamored with his choice that the first bite elicits an actual little happy dance. It’s a real taste of nostalgia - but better. A hug in a bowl that can’t help but make you smile.

The whole place makes you smile, actually. It’s relaxed and welcoming, and the staff seem to genuinely enjoy being there and interacting with the customers. There’s a careful attention to detail that makes it feel like somewhere special, but without even a hint of erring into the pretentious. Prices aren’t cheap - but they’re far from outrageous either. At around the £25 mark our mains were at the pricier end of the menu - but it’s worth noting that they are complete dishes, and no-one will try to upsell you endless sides.

The Talbot Inn is the kind of pub that you wish you had just down the road from your house. And whatever challenges might be facing the hospitality industry right now, the team at The Talbot have made creating the perfect village pub look easy.


Great British Life: The bar is cosy and invitingThe bar is cosy and inviting (Image: Jake Eastham)