The Duncombe Arms, Staffordshire: pub and cottage review
Read our review of The Duncombe Arms, a country pub in Staffordshire with a a self-catering cottage
What is the Duncombe Arms’ USP?
A cosy pub in a quintessential English village, with a self-catering cottage available for overnighters, the Duncombe Arms is the place to escape to for classy British food, drams of whisky and country walks.
And the general vibe?
Dating back to the 19th century, the pub has maintained its rustic charm while updating for modern times. Locals huddle with pints of ale in cosy nooks and crannies enclosed by wood-panelled walls – or by roaring fires – while the dining-room, furnished with grey linen chairs and faux-fur blankets, caters to a smart lunch and dinner crowd.
Owners Laura and Jonny Greenall welcome regulars with enthusiastic waves while those paying their first visit are embraced with equal warmth.
Which room should I book at the Duncombe Arms?
A five-minute drive from the Duncombe Arms, in the grounds of the Wootton Hall estate, the pub’s picture-perfect Garden Cottage (originally a pump house) makes a peaceful self-catering retreat. Head off on a walk around the estate, wandering down to its lake (surrounded by vibrant rhododendrons if you time it right), then return to pick a paperback off the cottage’s shelves and relax in the garden, lulled by the sound of bleating sheep and birdsong.
The three-bedroom cottage comes with a kitchen, dining room and snug living room as well as that garden. Cream walls peppered with watercolour paintings, pastel-pink gingham sofas and floral curtains give it a traditional vibe, while beamed ceilings and log fires generate a homely atmosphere. Shortbread biscuits and bottles of milk from the local Wells Farm Dairy are welcome gifts.
What’s good to drink?
Before taking over the Duncombe Arms, landlord Johnny worked as a brewer so the pub’s succinct but impressive beer menu is little surprise – look out for Marston’s Pedigree (brewed in nearby Burton upon Trent), Duncombe Ale and interesting guest brews on rotation. If you’re in the mood for a tipple, whisky is a must; there are 26 on offer, spanning light Speyside single malts to spicy Japanese drams.
And to eat?
The menu – curated and cooked by head chef Stuart Langdell (previously of Michelin-starred The Cross in Kenilworth) – ratchets pub food well into fifth gear. Hearty classics and lighter dishes are all executed delicately and with great attention.
We started our meal with chunks of toasted sourdough topped with creamy salmon rillettes, slithers of peppery radish and dainty cubes of fresh cucumber. A bowl of watercress soup was the standout: rich and creamy with a strong peppery kick, gratings of Lincolnshire Poacher giving it light, nutty notes.
Mains are meaty – a tender Gloucestershire old spot pork chop served with creamy mash, a puddle of sweet apple sauce and hispi cabbage with just the right amount of bite. If you’re in the mood for a classic, order the chicken and ham pie, generously packed with meat and encased in rich, buttery pastry.
For a refreshing dessert the sweet-sharp green apple soufflé is a winner, served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Sticky toffee pudding is also hard to resist, soaked in rich sauce with crunchy caramelised pecans on top and a dollop of lightly spiced ginger ice cream.
Is the Duncombe Arms family-friendly?
Yes. With three bedrooms the cottage has plenty of space for visiting families, and it comes equipped with DVDs and board games to keep little ones entertained. The pub itself welcomes all ages.
What can I do while I’m there?
Sitting along the Derbyshire and Staffordshire border, the cottage is a great base camp for visits to several National Trust houses and outdoor spaces. Chatsworth House is also close by. If you want to make the most of the area, lace up your walking boots and explore the Peak District on one of the many walks listed in the cottage’s guest book. For something a little closer to home, drive 10 minutes down the road to Ashbourne for great coffee (roasted by Nottingham's Outpost Coffee, one of our baristas' top choices in the UK here) and brunch at Jack Rabbits Kitchen (jackrabbitskitchen.com).
The owner says...
Ten cosy bedrooms are currently being built on land next to the pub, so keep an eye out for more accommodation coming soon.
In summer, make the most of the outdoor space at the pub with an al fresco gin and tonic sipped while gazing out over rolling hills. If there’s a chill in the air, wrap yourself up in one of the woollen blankets kept in the pub’s entrance.
Garden Cottage rental costs from £800 for four nights; duncombearms.co.uk
Words by Ellie Edwards