Alison Smith swears an oath of allegiance to good food and fine ale in historic Tolpuddle
For the second time in a week, we find ourselves in this almost perfectly picturesque Dorset village. earlier, it was to enjoy the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival; the most idiosyncratic of weekends, a celebration of this place, which played such a key part in our industrial history. Today we find ourselves on a somewhat different assignment.
The Martyrs Inn sits proudly on the roadside, a mile or so from the festival site, past a impressive thatched agricultural barn positively creaking with centuries of history. The Inn itself was rebuilt in 1921. Well proportioned, with a pretty lanterned porch, lattice windows and proud chimney stacks, it need not be intimidated by the more timeworn village architecture. A pleasant walled terrace greets the passer by, offering the ideal spot from which to enjoy an afternoon pint of Hall and Woodhouse’s best.
Inside, diners enjoy a single, open plan, high ceilinged space. The bar area throngs with a hubbub of conviviality, not a seat unclaimed on this busy Friday evening. We are led to our table, nested in a curious alcove. Above us, an imposing curved chimney breast arches over our heads, serving a notable period fireplace of decorative brick tiling. Elsewhere, light unvarnished oak cladding and cream and terracotta walls create a clean, modern feel.
The drinks and food
Having skipped lunch, we arrive somewhat famished and greedily select a bowl of pork crackling with apple sauce from the bar snack’s menu. And a fine beginning they make to slender fingers of piping hot crackling, a generous sprinkle of chunky rock salt crystals and the perfect satisfying snap.
Torn between a starter of ham hock and pea terrine or a tomato bruschetta, I defer to the waitresses superior expertise and I am advised in favour of the later. My dinning partner selects a salad of smoked duck from the specials board. The salad dish is simple, fresh and light. Thin slices of lightly smoked duck, pink and melting on the tongue, with not a hint of chewiness, chunks of vivid purple beetroot and a vibrant salad of angry steamed red chard and bulls blood coalesce in a symphony of maroon.
Likewise the bruschetta is unfussy and satisfying slices of toasted garlic baguette topped with a generous blanket of molten mozzarella-creamy and with a hint of lactic sweetness, finished with a round of sunblush tomato-deep purple, with intense warmth.
The pub is bustling with locals eagerly devouring the Friday night deal- fish and chips and a small drink for £9.99. We however , are drawn to the Martyrs Inn steak hot pot and a dish of belly pork, braised cabbage and potato gratin, seeking some comfort and warmth on an unseasonably hostile evening. The hotpot, served tongue blisteringly hot in a deep crock pot, is homely and flavoursome. Tender hunks of beef sit in a flood of gravy, rich with bitter, earthy notes from the Hall and Woodhouse ale and a peppery heat, topped with a traditional herbed suet dumpling and alongside, a portion of seasonal vegetables glistening with lavish quantities of creamy butter.
Groaning under the weight of such plentiful, hearty food we brace ourselves for the final course-a slice of salted caramel chocolate tart and mango and passion fruit cheesecake, both served with Jude’s ice cream from Hampshire. The salted caramel ice cream is particularly worthy of a note, with deep treacle notes and a layer of salt clarity, so often absent in the current sea of mass produced salted caramel mediocrity.
The ambition at The Martyrs Inn is not for fine dining or gastronomic greatness but instead to provide good quality, tasty pub food at a reasonable price, accessible to locals and tourists alike. A single glace across the packed room is enough to confirm that they are indeed hitting the mark.