Check out our guide to what makes the perfect pub, then read about the best gastro pubs with rooms as well as the best country pubs in the UK.

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olive loves all pubs, whether it’s a tiny micro stocked with stellar craft ales or a scrubbed-table gastro spot serving staggering food – and we’re particularly fond of those which deliver both under one roof. Democratic, relaxed, endlessly flexible, the best pubs are welcoming, self-contained worlds we can lose ourselves in. But what makes a great one? olive has been giving that some serious thought.


What makes a perfect pub?

A sense of place

Ideally, pubs embody their locality, and few chefs embrace Kent’s larder like Billy Stock at the historic Rose Inn. Daily blackboard menus accommodate a rich variety of local produce – some from neighbours around Wickhambreaux’s village green – in plates of violet artichoke and white bean gratin or crispy lamb and seaweed mayo. Many peripherals (bread from Gilda micro-bakery, wine from Simpsons and Westwell) originate in the Garden of England, too. theroseinn.pub.

The Rose’s historic bar

A proper landlord

Exeter’s Fat Pig is a back-street beer and food gem. The easy, chatty welcome of landlord Paul Timewell and his team stands out, too. You’ll leave feeling like a regular. It’s a rare skill. thefatpigexeter.co.uk.


Serious pies

Using an antique rolling pin and local meats (butchered in-house and cooked bone-in, fats rendered for the pastry), Stosie Madi and Kathy Smith at Lancashire’s Parkers Arms have forged a formidable reputation for their handmade pies, which include curried mutton and favourites such as creamy chicken and wild garlic. parkersarms.co.uk.

handmade pie perfection at Parkers Arms

Gorgeous interiors

This year, 11 pubs with extraordinary interiors were given updated listed status at Historic England’s recommendation. These include Whitelock’s in Leeds, a Grade II* beauty, now in the top 5.8% of protected buildings. Visiting all 11 is olives’s ultimate pub crawl. whitelocksleeds.com.

Tyler England, working behind the historic tiled bar at Whitelock's Ale House, opened in 1715. View from south west.

Kid-friendly menu

The children’s menu at The Unruly Pig (spag bol, burger, macaroni cheese), is a refreshingly common-sense crowd-pleaser, leaving relieved parents free to delve into this acclaimed Suffolk pub’s Britalian menu in peace. theunrulypig.co.uk.


Next-level snacks

Do bar snacks maketh the pub? Arguably. At Hayfield’s Pack Horse in Derbyshire (thepackhorsehayfield.uk), you can snaffle Lindisfarne oysters, whitebait with preserved lemon mayo and its take on the Manchester egg (black pudding, pickled egg). At Somerset’s Three Horseshoes, from November chef Margot Henderson is promising smoked cod’s roe and veal mince on toast. thethreehorseshoesbatcombe.co.uk.

light bites at the Three Horseshoes

Star power

A Michelin gong holder at Grasmere’s Forest Side, chef Kevin Tickle has, in Cumbria’s Heft, used his nous to create a pub which – like Dan and Natasha Smith’s Fordwich Arms or James Knappett’s Cadogan Arms – retains its soul, while shooting for the stars. Fell Brewery beers are served in the bar alongside cheese and jalapeño pasties and eggs pickled in Coniston Brewing’s Bluebird Bitter. But the restaurant menu now runs to cutting-edge creations (mussel kebab glazed in cucumber garum with savoury tzatziki), and next-level Sunday lunches of chicken schnitzel, whole Cornish sole grilled on-the-bone and sharing beef ribs. hefthighnewton.co.uk.

Sunday lunch at Heft

An uncompromising vision

For five years, atop the moors outside Halifax, The Moorcock has worked miracles. It remains a fuss-free local pub (dogs, neighbours and walkers in the bar; £3.80 pints of Vocation’s Bread & Butter on cask), yet in Alisdair Brooke-Taylor’s food it serves some of the most creative ultra-seasonal, live-fire cookery (and natural wines!) this side of Copenhagen. Think whey-roasted celeriac with mushrooms and hazelnuts; or whole flounder with brown butter and capers. The Moorcock is closing in January. Go now. Or regret it. themoorcock.co.uk.


A greener outlook

The set lunch at The Culpeper’s lush rooftop (kitchen) garden showcases suppliers that promote regenerative farming, such as The Ethical Butcher, across plates of beef kofta, mint yogurt and pickled chilli or lamb shoulder with broccoli and romesco. Meanwhile, its Little Family Farm, new in Deptford, will supply the Culpeper and its sister pubs. theculpeper.com.

A rooftop with a view at The Culpeper

Community engagement

In the Prince of Peckham, Clement Ogbonnaya has sought to create an inclusive hub which engages local people in events from DJ nights and art classes to tastings from Sweet Spice Wines, which promotes better representation of people of colour in wine. Clement has more pubs incoming which will likewise collaborate with community groups and neighbourhood indie businesses, such as the Prince’s Caribbean fusion food from White Men Can’t Jerk. princeofpeckham.co.uk.

Community beer garden at The Prince of Peckham

Glowing embers

On colder nights, Olive loves to curl up with a fireside pint at Ripponden’s Old Bridge Inn (theoldbridgeinn.co.uk) or Lancashire’s Inn at Whitewell (innatwhitewell.com). Essex’s cosy Sun Inn at Dedham has an inglenook woodburner in the snug – the place to hole up with a book or board game – an open fire in the bar and a third in the restaurant, where squash and aubergines are cooked in its embers. thesuninndedham.com.


BYO food?

We’re food geeks. But olive respects any landlord who aces the basics: local ales, great wine, Scampi Fries, and leaves the whipped feta to its gastro neighbours. Even better, at Sam Weller’s in Bath, you’re encouraged to bring in a takeaway from local hot spots such as Bosco Pizzeria. That same good sense prevails at Liverpool’s The Bridewell, a one-time Victorian gaol with a lovely walled beer garden. thebridewellpub.co.uk.

Sam Weller’s outdoor sign in Bath

Brilliant curry night (every night)

The new Tamil Prince platforms South Indian cooking (pulled beef uttapam, king prawn moilee) in a London pub – marrying two of olive’s favourite things. thetamilprince.com.

a south Indian feast at The Tamil Prince

Retro-modern skills

olive appreciates a vintage-looking, forward-thinking pub and Highgate’s Red Lion & Sun is no exception. It has neo-Victorian charm, but serves frozen margaritas, a chilled red (the Prophet’s Rock pinot noir, Infusion, from its unusually cool wine list) and Korean wings, among traditional options such as a mighty beef cheek and bone marrow pie for two. theredlionandsun.com.


Bun & games

Pub games get serious at Cambridge’s Tivoli, which houses two 22ft basement shuffleboards, a nine-hole, neon-lit crazy golf course and a boss burger outlet from Steak & Honour. thetivoli.co.uk.

Steak & Honour burgers at Tivol

A beer garden of eden

Notting Hill’s Princess Royal boasts both a Mediterranean-sun-kissed menu from chef Ben Tish and a walled garden designed by award-winning landscape architect, Jinny Blom. cubitthouse.co.uk.

Terrace chic at The Princess Royal

From locals to landmarks, pubs we love

When it comes to pubs, olives’s research never stops. Here are a few tips from the team.

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  • Food director, Cassie Best, loves the bar snacks at Harpenden’s Silver Cup (thesilvercup.co.uk): “The crispy cod cheeks with taramasalata are to die for!”
  • The Shepherd & Dog in Fulking, near Brighton (shepherdanddogpub.co.uk), is a destination for chief sub and production editor, Dom Martin: “Good walking stopover in the South Downs foothills. Fantastic Sunday roasts using Sussex produce.”
  • “James Blunt owns my local,” reports editor-in-chief, Christine Hayes, referring to Chelsea’s Fox & Pheasant (thefoxandpheasant.com), declaring, pun intended: “It’s beautiful!”
  • Writer Maga Flores-Trevino loves the beer garden, homey “cottage-like” feel and “great vegan food” at Oxford’s Gardener’s Arms (thegardenersarms.com).
  • Bristol’s Orchard Inn (orchardinn.co.uk) is, enthuses drinks writer Hannah Guinness: “A proper, traditional cider pub, serving around 20 ciders and perries.”

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