The Pointer has won all sorts of awards in the last few months, but does it justify all the acclaim? Toby Keel paid a visit to find out.
A few weeks ago, I ate the second-best steak of my life.
The best was over 20 years ago, and an experience that it would be impossible to replicate. Backpacking through Argentina in 1995, my travelling companion and I ordered – or tried to order – an omelette and a glass of orange juice each for breakfast at a greasy spoon cafe. Both arrived safely (to our relief – it was our first morning in the country, and neither of us spoke Spanish) but we were shocked when the omelettes were followed mere moments later by an enormous steak each, impossibly perfect, served up on an austere metal plate at least 14 inches across. Bodies and minds riddled by jetlag, we shrugged, chuckled and tucked in. It was divine.
My second-best steak is an experience which will be a lot easier to revisit since it was at The Pointer in Brill, a pub-slash-restaurant in Buckinghamshire that is on a wonderful roll of success at the moment. It was recently named Michelin’s ‘Pub of the Year’, while the Sunday Times named it ‘Hotel of the Year’ on account of the recently-opened rooms.
Country Life first popped along a few years ago, calling the food at this lovely Buckinghamshire pub “a fantastic showcase of British produce” and asserting that it is a “destination restaurant well worth the journey.”
That’s praise indeed for what was, until 2012, a humble village pub. Thankfully, the coming of such fine food hasn’t changed the delightful pub atmosphere. Charmingly-worn-in sofas and armchairs are arranged around roaring fires, low beamed ceilings are cleanly-finished and tastefully lit and the countryside-themed pictures on the wall have been painstakingly picked to tread the line between cosy and classy. But these places always move on, and with a new head chef (James Graham, formerly of Cowley Manor) and the rooms added since our last visit, we headed up the M40 to see how it’s been getting on.
Food and drink
The restaurant side of The Pointer occupies a restored barn, much less pubby than the bar but equally pleasant, and the food was magnificent. Our starters, confit of organic salmon and pigeon breast with cackle been egg, were respectively velvety-soft and daringly rare. Mains of lamb and the aforementioned steak – or ‘grilled Pointer Farm Longhorn beef ribeye steak’, to give it it’s full title – were both magically good.
Within that lengthy name for the steak you’ll have noticed ‘Pointer Farm’; the pub’s owners David and Fiona Howden also own and run their own organic farm, supplying their own kitchen with meat, fruit and vegetables. Much of the menu, in other words, offers the full field-to-fork experience.
As for dessert? The cheeseboard was excellent, and the treacle tart was very nearly as good as my mother’s. Which is about as high as treacle tart praise gets (and certainly as far as I can go down that road without risking her wrath.)
The whole experience was great. Service was friendly, drinks were spot-on: the local beers perfectly-conditioned, the wine list superb and very fairly-priced, and a pre-dinner cocktail suggestion from our waiter of a gin-and-grape cocktail was delicious. Simply put, if you have any interest at all in eating and drinking, and are anywhere near Brill, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.
If you don’t fulfil the ‘anywhere near Brill’ part of the equation in the preceding sentence, The Pointer offers a solution. Last year, they opened four guest rooms in a house right across the road from the pub itself. The rooms have been decorated by co-owner Fiona Howden in what she describes as a “rustic, Scandi-style”.
The rooms were lovely and very comfortable, though it feels like there’s a little bit of snagging still to do. Our under-floor heating developed a mind of its own during the night, ramping the temperature up so high that we had to get up in the small hours to see which of the windows we could open.
Then there was the bathroom: huge and spacious, boasting a fabulous shower cubicle with rainfall head that was among the most powerful and refreshing I’ve ever enjoyed anywhere in the world. The bathtub, though? Not so much. A stunningly pretty piece in its own right, I couldn’t wait to jump in; sadly, it was so short that I had to tuck my knees right up to fit in. Even my wife, at 5’1”, was unable to stretch out in it.
Breakfast the next morning was back in the main pub area, with a lovely spread of both continental and cooked options. The farm’s own bacon and sausages (which, like the steaks, you can buy to take home at The Pointer’s own on-site butcher in the shed next door) were delicious, and my inner nine-year-old was thrilled to see a jar of peanut butter on offer. Not that it was quite perfect, though. The restaurant’s own freshly-baked sourdough was lovely before dinner with their signature beef dripping butter (Marmite-flavour), but was far too hard to make decent toast… and when served with the full English as fried bread, turned out to be the hardest flour-based product I’ve ever attempted to eat.
Do such niggles matter? Not at all. When you come to a place so heavily-laurelled your expectations are raised, but what would an English country pub be without a few quirks? I’d wholeheartedly recommend The Pointer for a night away, and can’t wait until I can manufacture an excuse to pay a return visit. Apart from anything else, I need to give them a chance to see if next time they can top that steak I had in Argentina.
Menu choices and prices vary by season, but as a general rule starters and desserts are priced at £8-£11, main courses at £22-£30. There’s also a weekday lunchtime ‘farm menu’ at £18 for two courses or £22.50 for three. Rooms start at £130 a night for a double, including breakfast. See thepointerbrill.co.uk for more information.
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