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Review: The Duncombe Arms near Alton Towers serves upscale food but feels like a proper village pub

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“Ooh, chic!” says the taxi driver who picks me up from Uttoxeter train station when I tell him where I’m going.

The Duncombe Arms in Ellastone clearly has a local reputation as the place for a special meal, and it’s well deserved.

Unusual for a place serving upscale food, it still has the feel of a proper village pub. When you step into the bar, you get the impression that if you were to return in a year, or even ten years, the same patrons would occupy the same spots.

Neil Armstrong checks in at The Duncombe Arms (above), a 19th-century pub with rooms in the charming Staffordshire village of Ellastone

'Unusual for a place serving upscale food, it still has the feel of a proper village pub', says Neil

‘Unusual for a place serving upscale food, it still has the feel of a proper village pub’, says Neil

The restaurant's reputation for fine dining is 'well-deserved'

The restaurant’s reputation for fine dining is ‘well-deserved’

The Duncombe, a 19th century coaching inn, was closed for many years until it was renovated and reopened a decade ago by Johnny and Laura Greenall. A successful former amateur jockey, Johnny is a scion of the Greenall brewing dynasty and Laura is a former chef – a pretty good combination for a pub.

Intimate and atmospheric is the centrally located dining room, in which bold, modern paintings of cows and sheep hang from the exposed brickwork.

There is a cheaper bar menu with staples such as ploughman’s, burgers and fish and chips, but the a la carte dinner menu changes regularly. On my visit the main courses consisted of dry aged Cumbria pork chop, charred cos lettuce and Nduja salami and Staffordshire leg of lamb, sea beet, curried mussels and lamb bacon.

Neil dines on creamy chicken liver parfait and fennel crackers followed by hand-rolled nettle fazzoletti with young peas and nasturtiums

Neil dines on creamy chicken liver parfait and fennel crackers followed by hand-rolled nettle fazzoletti with young peas and nasturtiums

The centrally located dining room is 'intimate and atmospheric', says Neil

The centrally located dining room is ‘intimate and atmospheric’, says Neil

I started with creamy chicken liver parfait and fennel crackers and for main I had hand rolled nettle fazzoletti with young peas and nasturtiums. I followed up on the cheese selection, which included some unusual and delicious Spanish varieties. In the dining room there was a group of very grateful Americans visiting British friends – I couldn’t help but think how disappointed they would be to find out that not all British restaurants are that good.

The full English breakfast the next morning was excellent too – bacon, sausage, a meaty field mushroom, perfectly poached eggs and both black and white pudding. It came with (and it’s surprising how unusual this is) really good coffee.

There are ten bedrooms in Walnut House, a stylishly decorated building next to the pub itself. The rooms, all different, are elegant and cosy, with artisan wallpaper, Egyptian cotton bed linen, Roberts radios and Nespresso machines.

There are ten bedrooms in Walnut House, a stylishly decorated building next to the pub

There are ten bedrooms in Walnut House, a stylishly decorated building next to the pub

The bedrooms are all different, says Neil, with artisan wallpapers and Egyptian cotton bed linen

The bedrooms are all different, says Neil, with artisan wallpapers and Egyptian cotton bed linen

“At night the only sound was an owl and the occasional friendly boss,” Neil says of his stay

There are beautiful walks to be had from the pub, and the area is also a renowned center for climbing and caving

There are beautiful walks to be had from the pub, and the area is also a renowned center for climbing and caving

Chatsworth House in the Peak District, pictured above, and Kedleston Hall are less than an hour away from the pub by car

Chatsworth House in the Peak District, pictured above, and Kedleston Hall are less than an hour away from the pub by car

Neil writes: 'The Duncombe was closed for many years until it was renovated and reopened ten years ago by Johnny and Laura Greenall.  Johnny is a scion of the Greenall brewing dynasty and Laura is a former chef - quite a good combination for a pub'

Neil writes: ‘The Duncombe was closed for many years until it was renovated and reopened ten years ago by Johnny and Laura Greenall. Johnny is a scion of the Greenall brewing dynasty and Laura is a former chef – quite a good combination for a pub’

TRAVEL FACTS

The Duncombe Arms, Ellastone, Staffordshire. Bed and breakfast costs from £195 per night (duncombearms.co.uk).

My room looked out over grazing sheep and a stream toward the verdant Dove Valley.

Although the Duncombe Arms is next to a B road, at night the only sound was of an owl and the occasional friendly boss. Ellastone is a charming village on the edge of the Peak District, with Chatsworth and Kedleston Hall less than an hour away by car. There are beautiful walks from the pub, and the area is also a renowned center for climbing and caving.

Ellastone has two main literary connections: novelist George Eliot’s father lived there and it is the setting for some scenes in her novel Adam Bede; and the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau worked on The Confessions while staying there in 1766.

And if you can’t get a room in Greenalls excellent pub, there is a luxury three bedroom cottage to rent in the grounds of their nearby home, Wootton Lodge.

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