In ‘normal’ times, The Wellington Inn in the Malvern Hills is the kind of quintessentially British ‘ale and hearty pub you want to head to after a blowy countryside walk. Rustic beams, chunky open fires, unpretentious cosy style and a dog or two lolling by the fire. Hunkered down on the western face of the Malverns, just below ‘Herefordshire Beacon’, its beer garden overlooks the rolling countryside. Where better to quaff the county’s finest beery beverages?!
Of course, in the misty winter lockdown, things look slightly different. But The Wellington has put its best boot forwards – and offers a chunky ‘ye olde style’ takeaway menu with plenty of game.
We’re not sampling the Wellington fare in the ambience of the pub itself, so we create our own romantic aura. (By which, I mean we clear away the ‘working from home’ clutter and light candles. And candles really are the fast-track to creating an atmosphere. If you’re after candle inspo, then we used beeswax candles in my Cath Kidston candelabra and some gorgeous heart votives a la Sainsbury.)
One would think that The Wellington being a country pub I would scour the menu and opt for a starter that screamed ‘rural delight’. But no, I am still a seaside girl at heart. I opt for tiger prawns for starters. May I take a moment to congratulate myself on this fine choice?! These hills may be far from the sea, but you wouldn’t know from these pretty prawnies. Accompanied by a chilli jam dressing and what must surely be posh pink mayonnaise, my prawn babies are cradled in the lightest batter and cooked to perfection. They are a squeeze of lemon away from heaven. And thankfully, due to my lockdown love affair with gin, I have plenty of lemons. So, all is very well indeed.
Meanwhile, John, who spent many years in Spain and is very fishy, opts for Whitebait. Normally you get a few for a starter, but he ends up with a whole shoal on his plate! So naturally, I help him out. They are perfectly delicious although I think it’s just possible to detect that they had not been caught that very morning – but unlike most Midlanders, we have both been spoilt by having lived next to the sea.
“Stop! Wait! What?! While I have been carefully curating images of the food – the rest of the Prosecco has disappeared. John says it has ‘evaporated’. Due to me having the heating on too high. Hmmm.”
Ah, look at that little heart shaped candle! (#easilydistracted). Anyway, Prosecco frenzy is over and it’s time to move on to The Main Course.
I plate up two dishes: Pheasant ballotine for me and venison pie for John. After all the photography, we’re quite hungry and we tuck in. My pheasant is so incredibly delicious, I become a bit feral and don’t want to share despite the portion sizes being remarkably generous. John is similarly engaged with his venison pie when for some reason I start laughing…
“You’re eating Bambi?!” (chortle chortle). “No, I’m not eating Bambi!” “Yes, you are – you’re eating Bambi!” “No, I’m eating Bambi’s mother. She’s lovely. Squeezed nicely into this pie. She’s amazing.” Ah yes, there’s nothing like a little inane conversation to add a je ne sais quois to romantic meals… ahem. Essentially, this exchange can be interpreted as compliments to the chef, whose name, by the way, is Adam Talbot.
A brief interlude, some lovely music (“No, Alexa, that is NOT Einaudi”). And now we are ready for pudding. Parumpapum!
Hmmm. The puddings are looking a little sad. They look like they have endured unprecedented challenges – a bit like the rest of us. Context, context, context. These puddings have travelled 20 minutes by car, and have been sitting in the kitchen while I have been reinventing myself as a food photographer with the aid of my trusty phone (during which process I might add, I nearly fell off the chair in the attempt to capture the perfect ‘bird’s eye shot’ …)
When I tenderly fish my poached pears (in mulled wine, yum!) from its plastic travelling case and plop them into a bowl I can tell they breathe a sigh of relief. And I breathe a sigh of delight when I tuck in. It is glorious. All of the delicious adjectives can be applied. I want poached pear everyday – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
John’s sticky toffee pudding is harder to transition from box to bowl, and WAIT No! He is already eating before I have taken the photograph! How savage! I rap him on the knuckles with a spoon and rescue the pudding for its moment of photographic glory. I then decide I want to try a big spoonful, and there is a bit of a scuffle but we manage to restore calm.
We spoon blissful mouthfuls. And now our repast is ended and feeling full, we relax in front of our own fire.
Now that we’ve had this takeaway experience, we can’t wait for spring days, sunny skies and a chance to rock up at The Wellington after a long hike across the hills.
The Wellington is run by Giles Goodhew – a sixth generation publican. And head chef is Adam Talbot.
When I ring to find out more about The Wellington, Adam is “elbow deep in some game”. He is embracing the challenges of lockdown as a chance to get more hands-on. The pheasants are now plucked on-site and during Lockdown even Bambi’s mother arrives in one large, deer-sized piece – rather than coming neatly sliced and diced from the butchers.
Adam has been with The Wellington for two years although it’s home from home for him since his parents ran the joint many years ago – back when pubs were transitioning from grimy beer-and-crisps-only into the gastro wonders we enjoy nowadays.
“This was the first place I ever worked in a kitchen,” he says, “I was only washing up and peeling potatoes, but I fell in love with catering and later went away to work at The Cottage in the Wood, which at the time was the only place in the area with two rosettes.”
A versatile and well-travelled chef, Adam has created menus at restaurants, boats and private holiday chalets. He even cooked for Jamie Oliver and family and friends at a ski chalet.
“It was in the Alps they were skiing, and he wanted a lot of seafood – which was quite difficult,” says Adam.
“It’s nice to use ingredients we can get from around here – we use a lot of pheasant and game. There are so many shoots here so there’s a plentiful supply of pheasants. I’ve got some confiting in the oven right now. I put them in oil and season them and cook them on low heat for about eight hours.
“During lockdown, the challenge has been trying to offer something a little different but still maintaining the quality. Steak isn’t ideal but cassoulets are great. We scaled down the menu and we make sure we include new specials each week.
“I’m really proud of our game dishes. I like it when I look at a plate and realise that if I draw a mile circle around the pub – everything on that dish has come from this area.
“Sometimes I see a pheasant in the garden and I think to myself, I’ve probably got one of your cousins in the oven!”
The Wellington Inn
The Wellington Inn, Malvern WR13 6HW