British pubs are known for many things — great beer, cozy interiors and friendly locals to name a few — but until recently, food wasn’t one of them. If you were lucky, maybe you’d find a bag of Walkers salt and vinegar crisps or perhaps some pickled eggs, but rarely anything more. Fortunately, thanks to Britain’s gastropub revolution, things have changed. More than just pubs that serve food, the best gastropubs are a winning combination of authentic pub ambiance and traditional British cooking. Featuring fresh, local ingredients and highly trained chefs, these gastropubs are at the forefront of an exciting culinary movement.
Gastropubs can be found throughout Britain these days, but what we’re talking about here is the cream of the crop — elite establishments with serious kitchens run by some of the finest chefs in the world. Heston Blumenthal, famed owner of the Fat Duck restaurant, also runs the award-winning Hind’s Head pub in Berkshire, for example. Mark Sargeant, who worked alongside Gordon Ramsay, is now the proprietor of the much-celebrated Duke William in Canterbury. Stephen Terry, who won his first Michelin star at the ripe age of 25, today oversees the renowned Hardwick pub in Abergavenny, Wales. These are just a few of the culinary stars who are choosing to put their talents to work in pub kitchens.
For food lovers, top-notch gastropubs are worth seeking out, as they are some of the best places to find authentic British cooking. Sunday roasts and Yorkshire pudding, fish pies served with buttered peas, slow-cooked duck and big bowls of Eton mess, the focus is often on traditional foods made with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. The Scran & Scallie in Edinburgh, for instance, showcases traditional Scottish dishes in a cozy, tartan-decorated dining room. The brainchild of two Michelin-starred chefs, Tom Kitchin and Dominic Jack, the pub prides itself on serving beloved classics such as haggis and steak pie, and in 2019 won a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand for its efforts.
A few hundred miles south, halfway between London and Oxford, you’ll find the Hand & Flowers. Generally considered the best gastropub in England, and the first to be awarded two Michelin stars, the Hand & Flowers calls itself a proper pub, but with proper food. Housed in a 17th-century building, many of the ingredients on the menu would have been recognizable to the structure’s original owners. Pheasant and venison, swede and lovage, Bramley apples and smoked eel — these are the flavors of the English countryside. Remarkably unpretentious, the Hand & Flowers cultivates a warm, welcoming atmosphere and is popular as both a local haunt and destination pub.
As one of the more unique gastropubs in Britain, the Gunton Arms in Norfolk is also worth an excursion. Set in a spectacular 1,000-acre deer park, this country house pub has been magnificently restored to showcase the owner’s exceptional contemporary art collection. Although museum-worthy pieces by Damien Hirst, Lucian Freud and many other notable artists adorn the walls, make no mistake, the Gunton Arms prioritizes food. A carnivore’s paradise, the pub is renowned for its huge cuts of Aberdeen Angus grilled over an open fire, venison from the park grounds and potatoes roasted in goose fat. No one here is nostalgic for bags of crisps.
Pubs have been at the center of communal life in Britain for centuries, but many have never been more vibrant than they are today. The gastropub movement has breathed new life into these historic establishments, reshaping the traditional pub experience to include some truly exceptional food. The Sportsman in Kent, the Coach in Buckinghamshire, the Red Lion & Sun in London, the list of first-rate gastropubs is long and worth exploring. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant way to pass an evening, or an afternoon for that matter, than by finding your way to one of these fine establishments.