On the occasion of a dear friend’s birthday last Sunday, we were invited to lunch at the Stapleton Arms in Buckhorn Weston, a pretty North Dorset village, just a stone’s throw from the Somerset border. Thirteen of us assembled in the open-plan, comfortably furnished bar and, after perusing the excellent selection of wines by the glass, we chose our aperitifs and installed ourselves at a long table in the dining room. I plumped for a glass of Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc, a crisp white wine which is often matched with oysters in France. As designated driver, it was to be my only glass of wine over lunch and the ‘crispy Lyme Bay squid with chorizo’ starter seemed to be just the dish to go with it.
Not daunted by the size of our party, our six excited children and our inability to make those final choices from the menu in any great hurry, the friendly waiting team were patient, helpful and, at the same time, discreet. The request for appropriate dishes for a gluten-free diet was handled quickly and with seriousness.
Our order for five squid starters proved to be two too many for the kitchen but, there were other tempting dishes on the menu and we had no problem revising our selections. The pork terrine from home-reared pigs looked divine and was reported to be stunningly good and the parsnip, honey and grain mustard soup was tasty, warming and filling.
The menu at The Stapleton Arms is commendably short – five starters, five mains and two Sunday roast options, six puddings and a cheeseboard. Everything is presented simply and clearly in the now fashionable format of a double-sided sheet of brown paper. The selection of five ‘Stickies and Fortifiers’ alongside the puddings would have been irresistible had I not been driving as it included a great favourite, Pedro Ximinez – the heavenly, dark, treacly sweet sherry – and the Marmesa Red Harvest Pinot Noir from California also caught my eye. In fact, the whole wine list was pretty impressive and offered a much broader and more unusual range of wines than many pub wine lists.
Roast dinners had been ordered by most of us, including the children whose smaller portions were ample, and rare roasted beef or Court Farm loin of pork with crispy crackling were on offer. Both came with generous bowls of steaming vegetables and I was starting to wonder whether, by opting for fish, I’d end up with a case of roast dinner envy. I needn’t have worried. The pan-fried skate wing with confit potatoes, spiced carrot puree and a caper & herb butter was perfectly cooked, meaty and flavoursome. My husband, whose attention had been drawn by the cupcake-style display of pork pies on the bar, had briefly contemplated the ploughman’s lunch with ham, Montgomery cheddar, pork pie and scotch egg but, it being Sunday, he decided to go down the more traditional route.
The rare roast beef was beautifully pink in the middle as promised and was served with enormous, fluffy Yorkshires. The glorious, crunchy crackling with the pork was just as billed. My 8-year-old went very quiet while he got on with his pork but, when he’d finished he looked up, waited for a break in the conversation and piped up: “That was the best dinner ever”.
After the main course, there were mumbles of “I shall have to walk home,” and “I can’t move,” so you will gather that portion sizes weren’t an issue. A friend had brought a chocolate cake to celebrate the birthday-girl’s day and the waitress quickly and happily whipped it away, returning with it after candles had been lit. Homemade vanilla ice cream was suggested to go with the cake and this was brought out in a big bowl and everyone helped themselves… quickly.
Lunch was rounded off with a breath of fresh air on the village football pitch at the back of the pub. Whilst Dads and kids rushed around in the wind, we girls looked on encouragingly and took bets on whose husband would be asleep on the sofa first!