The Duncombe Arms has natural warmth lit by a lamp; it’s one of those places where, as soon as you enter, you feel better. In a circle of rooms there are open fires, eye-catching pictures and photographs (many of which are equine: Johnny is an avid equestrian), cozy nooks, cushions, shelves of books, and the prettiest of porcelains. I didn’t want to leave. If the Duncombe Arms reminds you of another superb Northern inn, the Star at Harome, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Yorkshire inn created by Andrew and Jacquie Pern – one of the first country pubs to offer a starred cuisine in a sophisticated setting – was a recognized influence, as its owners are great friends.
The two places are not the same, but they create the same atmosphere, two havens of rural well-being. If they were animals, they would be elegant, purring cats. How sad to learn of the recent devastating fire of the Star: it will come back for sure.
Rooms and food live up to expectations. The 10 magnificent bedrooms are located in a purpose-built building, the Walnut House, beyond the pub. Designed by Laura, they are superbly appointed, each different, with striking wallpapers, British photos from London’s Crane Kalman Gallery, heavenly beds, large table lamps, plenty of natural materials and Bamford toiletries. . They could spruce up any fancy hotel.
A clearly happy brigade in the kitchen is led by Jake Boyce and Scott Law, while Laura credits longtime general manager James Oddy with much of the pub’s success. My starter of roasted baby carrots, burnt eggplant, chervil and mustard and the beef cheek pie that followed were both excellent. On the pudding menu, a magnificent painting of Sidney the sheep. Sidney belongs to Johnny and the next day he came for a walk with us (honestly) in his master’s beautiful woodland garden.
While Laura works at the pub several days a week, and Johnny is responsible for both the finances and the varied playlist (a source of great pride), they have somehow found the time, in addition to raising their children , to replant 10 acres of spectacular wooded valley and creek, including many specimen trees. In spring and autumn, a special Garden Market menu is offered to customers wishing to visit the garden; the price includes a £5 entrance fee. Now there is a treat.
How to do
Doubles from £195 including breakfast. Read the full review.
Main Road, Ellastone, Ashbourne, Staffordshire DE6 2GZ (01335 324275; duncombearms.co.uk)