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This traditional village pub, named after a simple dice game played in days gone by, has had a sympathetic refurbishment. With expert hands in the kitchen, it's now the perfect weekend destination, says Liz Hatherley.
Driving down the sunny lane into the village of Ham, we have to stop the car. A handful of stunning buzzards and kites are swooping all around us, demanding a closer look and seeming to escort us along to our rural weekend getaway.
As the drama of nature continued outside, we stepped into the calm and peace of the Crown & Anchor. It was clear immediately how much attention and care has been invested in this pub with eight rooms. Bought and renovated by two village families who wanted to save their local from becoming a housing development, it reopened after a major investment in 2019. And the freshness and quality of this phoenix-like rebirth is evident everywhere – from the tasteful design and décor to the kitchen team, led by ex-River Cottage head chef Phil Bayliss.
Our bedroom is tranquil and soothing, with original wooden beams framing a bed made up with plush linens. Little thoughtful touches make all the difference, like local botanical products in the pristine bathroom and a bottle of scotch for guests to help themselves to from a cubby hole on the landing. Every aspect of staying here has been considered – and it shows.
I start to wind down with a glass of wine from the bar’s impressive selection – one of the owners even adds to it from his own cellar – and for my husband, a pint of the pub’s own-label Ham 1840 best bitter. The spirits collection is well curated and a cocktail suddenly seems like a great wayto enter into ‘relax’ mode.
Moving to the dining room, we get settled at a table near the bustling, semi-open kitchen to review the dinner menu, which is based around traditional dishes with a subtle contemporary or international twist. The front of house team – who are warm and professional – have kindly marked up a version of the menu in advance with dishes to suit our pesky food intolerances, which makes ordering a breeze.
To start, we go for the sea bass tartare – smoky, fresh and light – and the local pigeon scotch egg with salad cream, where the firm, gamey meat is juxtaposed with soft egg yolk. Next, an innovative potato-wrapped fish and chips, and a knockout dish of dry-aged Hereford beef with tiny spaetzle dumplings, bone marrow, buttery leeks and an intensely savoury red wine sauce. After this we just about manage to polish off a delicate dessert of poached rhubarb with panna cotta and honeycomb, alongside a refreshing fino sherry.
Following a restorative sleep, we came downstairs the next morning to find sunlight pouring through every window, amazed to discover our appetites had returned enough to enjoy a faultless English breakfast in the cosy bar area. Eating where the locals and their dogs had socialised the night before, we reflected on the importance of pubs – and how the Crown & Anchor is a prime example of a true community asset. Its relaxed conviviality and sympathetic restoration seem to have brought people closer together; the team members all live locally, the Ham villagers now have a ‘Pub Tonight?’ WhatsApp group and pieces of the pub’s artwork that were rescued by villagers when it closed down have been proudly returned.
After browsing the newspapers over coffee, we eventually set off into the wild of the countryside again, revitalised by the Crown & Anchor’s style and excellent food and drink, and already start reflecting on how a lovely night at a traditional inn with the best of British service can be a revitalising tonic.
How to book
Rooms at the Crown & Anchor start from £110 per night; a one-bed cottage is available at £160 per night and a two-bed cottage at £200 per night. Prices are based on two people and include breakfast. Rooms are currently available Wednesday to Saturday. Visit crownandanchorham.co.uk for more information.