Top 14 best cosy restaurants that feel like home | by Tony Naylor
Autumn is upon us, folks. The temperature is plummeting and the nights are drawing in. It’s time to retreat to a cosy pub with a toasty log fire or a restaurant where the food is so sunny it feels like summer never ended. Here’s our pick of the best…
1) (Not quite) Home from home
The Parlour, London NW10
Chef Jesse Dunford Wood made his name at the Mall Tavern, where his reinvention of 1970s classics such as chicken kiev and arctic roll made us all grin like big kids. Now at the Parlour, a family-friendly all-day dining pub, Jesse still does a cow pie and Wagon Wheel desserts, while – in dishes such as steak tartare with pickled carrots – also shows that his food is about more than just ‘noshtalgia’.
Starters from £6, mains from £6; parlourkensal.com
2) Hot steaks and cool rooms
The Red Pump Inn, Ribble Valley, Lancashire
This remote inn (complete with roaring fire in the bar) is one of only three places outside London to serve 40 day-aged steaks from the mighty Ginger Pig. It also has terrific bedrooms (from £90). Opt for a French antique-dressed room in the inn or head outside into one of its natty, surprisingly cosy heated yurts – complete with en-suite bathrooms.
Starters from £5.75, mains from £12.95; theredpumpinn.co.uk
3) The path to happiness
Galvin HOP, London E1
The Galvin brothers come from the world of Michelin dining (see La Chapelle next door), but this swanky Spitalfields ‘pub deluxe‘ shows they can do informal, too. Any dark thoughts about the onset of winter will be dispelled by pints of tank-fresh, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell lager and a menu brimming with painstakingly prepared, porky crowd-pleasers; scotch eggs, gourmet hot dogs, gala pies, aged Saddleback pork T-bone steaks. These Essex natives have also just opened a pub in Chelmsford, the Green Man.
Starters from £6, mains from £12.50; galvinrestaurants.com
4) The best cure for S.A.D.
General Merchants 361, Belfast
When General Merchants’ chef and co-owner Tim Fetherston first visited Australia, its brunch scene blew him away: “I fell in love with the coffee and café culture. Lots of fine-dining chefs were opening breakfast places. It was an epiphany.” That inspired the original East Belfast General Merchants and its second branch, 361 Ormeau Road, which opened this year. Its sunny all-day fusion breakfasts range from huevos rancheros to mashed avocado on Zac’s Bakehouse sourdough with Vegemite, popped quinoa, mustard cress and optional eggs and bacon. Of course, General Merchants’ coffee is excellent. It’s sourced from Bailies in Belfast and guest roasters such as Berlin’s hip The Barn.
Brunch £2 - £10; @GenMerch361
5) Top family excursion
Ancrum Cross Keys, Ancrum, nr. Jedburgh
Do the kids need to let off steam? Head to Ancrum in the Scottish Borders where there’s countryside to explore (including river walks along the Ale Water, a tributary of the Teviot), and the Ancrum Cross Keys, a characterful village pub that’s both family- and dog-friendly. The kitchen uses local beef, lamb and game to produce full-flavoured pub classics, such as calamari, burgers, hotpots and a seasonal rabbit pie. Energy restored by plates of pasta and fish ‘n’ chips, the kids can run around in the pub garden while the dog gnaws a free bone from the bar and the adults enjoy a pint. The Keys is owned by Born In The Borders brewery.
Starters from £4, mains from £11; ancrumcrosskeys.com
6) Ultimate bolt-hole
Café St Honoré, Edinburgh
Hidden behind net curtains on a cobbled side-street, Café St Honoré feels like a 1920s Parisian bistro. Its dark, candlelit art nouveau interior is a portal into another era. However, while you may find coq au vin or crème brûlée on the menu (Gartmorn Farm confit duck leg with a lentil salad is one of Honoré’s classic dishes) its food is much more than a mere Gallic homage. “The menu is changing all the time. French? Scottish? Brexit? Who knows?” says chef-owner Neil Forbes. In fact, his determination to celebrate organic and Scottish produce while preserving traditional kitchen skills in baking and butchery makes this a very special restaurant indeed.
Three quarters of Honoré’s ingredients are organic and it’s the first UK restaurant to achieve three-star Soil Association status. “We believe in those artisans who get up early to feed the pigs and water the courgettes.” says Neil.
Starters from £9, mains from £16; cafesthonore.com
7) Instant good vibes
St Kew Inn, St Kew, Cornwall
This ancient pub in impossibly pretty St Kew is one of those inns – fire blazing in a 15th-century range, hops and tankards dangling from the bar – in which, immediately, you feel everything is going to be alright. On a wet or snowbound day, its various warm rooms are alive with infectious chatter as folk tuck into gutsy, traditional dishes such as sausage and mash, fish ‘n’ chips or confit duck leg with flageolet beans, red wine gravy and that West Country favourite, hog’s pudding.
Starters from £5.50, mains from £12.50; stkewinn.co.uk
8) Food for the soul
Three Hares, Sedbergh, Cumbria
Sandwiched between the Lakes and Yorkshire Dales in Sedbergh, this simple bakery-café with its stripped floorboards and mismatched wooden furniture serves food (Shorthorn beef pie; venison hash; lambs’ kidneys on toast; braised ox cheeks) that would warm the marrow of even the most rain-sodden walker’s bones. “We take whole beasts straight from the farmer – it’s proper nose-to-tail cooking,” says chef and co-owner James Ratcliffe, who makes even his own serrano-like mutton ham. You can drink one of 50 craft beers from brewing aces such as Fell, Blackjack and Northern Monk with it, while German-born baking whizz, Nina Matsunaga, provides an array of amazing cakes for afters.
Daytime dishes £3.95 - £8.50; threeharescafe.co.uk
9) Winter sunshine
Pulpo Negro, Alresford, Hampshire
In Barcelona-born chef Andres Alemany’s Pulpo Negro, the sun is always shining. This intimate space is given a lively Catalan buzz by its open kitchen, jazzy Iberian tiling and elevated Spanish dishes such as baby black figs with mojama (air-dried tuna from Cadiz), or garlicky gypsy potatoes with winter chanterelles and a raw duck egg yolk. “We put three or four ingredients on a plate. No espumas, no silly garnishes,” says Andres. In Pulpo’s new basement bar, expect boquerones, jamón and, in a celebration of Spain’s gin explosion, artisan gins served with exotic garnishes.
Plates £2.50 - £7.80; pulponegro.co.uk
10) Real feel-good food
Cod’s Scallops, Nottingham
Fish ‘n’ chips is nature’s Prozac, a feel-good food that arguably reaches its pinnacle at Cod’s Scallops (regulars include chef Sat Bains, whose eponymous restaurant holds two Michelin stars). Customers can pick their catch from a wet fish counter of MSC-approved and day-boat seafood, before having it fried to order in beef dripping or baked with garlic and lemon. The menu takes in everything from sardines and dressed crab to, in winter, a bouillabaisse-style soup (made with soy and roasted salmon bones). The Cod’s newer site in leafy Sherwood includes a restaurant decorated in deckchair fabrics, lobster pots and cheeky seaside postcard art.
Takeaway from £6.40; codsscallops.com
11) Perfect place to get stranded
The Whitebrook, nr. Monmouth
Step outside this Michelin-starred restaurant-with-rooms and you’re in the middle-of-nowhere, on a steep hillside under a blanket of stars, overlooking a narrow country lane that’s apt to get icy in winter. All is warm and luxurious in its beautifully lit dining room. Despite its wooden beams and period features, it’s crisp and modish, and Chris Harrod wows guests with dishes that make creative use of hyper-local and foraged ingredients – everything from boletus mushrooms to pine (which is also used to infuse a house gin).
Expect seasonal dishes such as venison with celeriac and mugwort-smoked-beetroot and the return of Chris’s signature dish of roasted jerusalem artichokes with thickened goat’s curd, foraged mushrooms, aged parmesan, nuts, seeds and various forest herbs. “Thankfully, no one has been stranded since I’ve owned The Whitebrook, but it would be an idyllic place to be cut off from the world.” says Chris.
Overnight (including breakfast) with dinner for two, from £214; thewhitebrook.co.uk
12) Getting hygge with it
The Woodspeen, nr. Newbury, Berkshire
Using lots of glass, greenery and tactile natural finishes, the Scandinavians have mastered the art of creating living spaces that remain comfortable and refreshingly light-filled, no matter how bleak the weather outside. That was clearly the inspiration for architects Softroom in designing this splendid rural restaurant for John Campbell.
In a previous life as chef at the two Michelin-starred Vineyard at Stockcross, John was known for his ultra-modern food and his dazzling technical wizardry. With head chef Peter Eaton, John has developed a simpler, more ingredient-led style at the Woodspeen, one inspired by its kitchen gardens and, in autumn, local game, sometimes shot by John himself: “Being a country lad, I was shooting and fishing from the age of eight.” he says.
Seasonal dishes such as pumpkin soup with wild rabbit tortellini, venison loin and faggots with soft onions or a sharing pickled plum tart with fig leaf ice-cream are exacting in every detail, but less showy on the plate. “We use traditional methods and we understand each minute of the process to maintain the essence of the ingredient, but any wizardry is in the background; silent, allowing the dish to be honest and tasty.” says John.
Starters from £10, mains from £18; thewoodspeen.com
13) Big foodie blow-out
Moor Hall, Aughton, Lancashire
Nothing banishes the seasonal gloom like a big blow-out on incredible food and, this winter, Moor Hall will be the go-to restorative for ardent foodies. Due to open in December, it will be run by former L’Enclume chef, Mark Birchall, who’s promising food as ravishing as the transformation of this 16th-century manor house. “We’re doing it properly, no shortcuts. It’s got to look stunning in 15 or 20 years,” says Mark, of a building already blessed with oak beams, wood panelling and huge open fires. That Moor Hall will eventually include a walled produce garden, an on-site dairy and a meat-aging room, tells you everything. This is one serious gastronomic endeavour.
Dinner from £60; moor-hall.co.uk
14) Dream Sunday lunch
The Hole In The Wall, nr. Cambridge
Weekend plans rained-off? Treat yourself to Sunday lunch, preferably at the Hole in Little Wilbraham. Run by 2010 MasterChef finalist Alex Rushmer, this is a 16th-century dining pub that offers maximum comfort – sofas in the bar, open fires, unfiltered ales from Grain brewery – and real culinary dedication. “Everything is done from scratch using quality produce. We treat Sunday lunch with as much respect as we do more refined dishes.” says Alex. The table is yours for the afternoon, so take your time over bourbon-cured salmon with vanilla crème fraîche and a pepper tuile followed by organic beef with glazed carrots, charred onions and Alex’s legendary roasties.
Sunday lunch from £26; holeinthewallcambridge.com