Staycation: The Queen's Arms, Somerset
by Maureen Rice
You’re sure of a good night’s sleep in Somerset – especially when you’ve eaten at The Queen’s Arms…
About 10 years ago, something started happening in beautiful, sleepy Somerset. While it has always had its admirers, outside of festival time it was more of an insider secret than a hot-list destination. But then Bruton happened.
A few miles away from Glastonbury, this small market town started to buzz more loudly than the bees that hover over its famous cider orchards. Exciting new restaurants of all kinds, from rustic bistros to high-end dining, started to open, making the most of the area’s excellent local suppliers to create more sustainable, farm-to-fork menus.
All of this has helped make Somerset the foodie capital of England and made Bruton its hot-and-happening focal point. But if you like the sound of the bohemian country vibe, beautiful scenery, and delicious and innovative food, but are less keen on the fashionable part, good news: the Bruton effect is slowly spreading outwards.
Smaller towns and villages are offering the kind of quieter, charming country pubs and hotels they always have, but with the kind of elevated menus, service and upgraded interiors that raised expectations tend to inspire. One of the best of these is The Queen’s Arms, a beautiful old Georgian inn at Corton Denham, a picture-perfect village about 10 miles south of Bruton.
The pub has always been a central hub for the village, but, after it was taken over during lockdown by a local family with strong foodie credentials, it has gradually transformed into a destination restaurant and a charming boutique hotel.
It’s a wet afternoon when my husband and I arrive at The Queen’s Arms and, after dumping our bags, we settle into the bar – a pretty, comfortable room that manages to be both airy and cosy, and is painted a beautiful blue, with upholstered chairs, cosy nooks, rustic tables and wreaths of dried flowers that offset the rather grand fireplaces. After a happy, lazy afternoon, we opt for an early dinner.
I order mushroom parfait with pickled mushrooms, tarragon and grilled sourdough. I’ve had mushroom parfait many times in many places, and the quality varies from 1970s-style stodge to a delicious, highly flavoured dish that tastes of almost anything except mushrooms. In this case, the parfait is perfect – the wonderful umami mushroom flavour balanced by the pickles, and with a light, almost whipped texture.
My husband has buttermilk chicken – little nuggets of poultry in an irresistible crunchy, popcorn-textured batter, with a hot ginger-andchilli- infused honey drizzled over the top. For the main course, I go for salt-baked carrots with chickpea panise, chermoula, smoked almonds and kale crisps, a dish of big, big flavours and with exactly the right balance between creamy, crunchy and juicy. My husband’s fish and chips is just as it should be: generously portioned and perfectly cooked in a light, crispy cider batter.
After dinner, we take a walk through the village and up the nearby ridge for stunning views over the Somerset Levels. When we return to The Queen’s Arms, we are ready for an early night in the cosy bedroom decorated with pops of deep, rich colours and crisp white bed linen. Corton Denham is a famously pretty village, and it’s also incredibly quiet.
You’re in deep countryside here, so come with wellies and walking boots, and don’t expect bright lights or late nights. The excellent food, fresh air and deep quiet guarantees you a great night’s sleep.
How to book
Doubles at The Queen’s Arms start from £140, including a continental breakfast. A car is essential if you want to explore the area (there are two electric chargers on site). If you’re coming by train, Sherborne and Castle Cary stations are both about 20 minutes away; the pub can arrange taxis. For more information and to book, visit thequeensarms.com.