For a country pub, the Freke Arms is doing things a little differently.
JOSH LAYTON wholeheartedly approves
The Freke Arms
Swindon SN6 7RN
Tel: 01793 762297
THE pie has long been one of the most shunned items on British pub menus.
Microwaved, abandoned in counter-top cabinets and sidelined for butternut soup and gourmet falafel burgers, re-invention has been long in the tooth. The sight of the Freke Arms standing above a swathe of neatly-tended Wiltshire countryside gave little clue that we were about to rediscover this forgotten classic. The house on the hill has chucked away the country dining manual and instead offers up farmhouse-sized portions of its own takes on traditional favourites.
An Arkell’s sign takes pride of place above the entrance and the Freke seems to have caught the enthusiasm of youthful new brewer Alex Arkell.
His Jubilee tribute the Queen’s Tipple had long run dry by the time we strolled in but fortunately the drought hadn’t spread to the kitchen, which uses the brewery’s 3Bs staple for its beef, ale and wild mushroom pie. From an uncluttered but imaginative menu we started off with goat’s cheese and chargrilled chicken tikka skewers.
Diners don’t go away from the Freke Arms hungry and both dishes were about three times the size of what we have come to expect from typical countryside retreats.
My lump of goat’s cheese had a light, creamy taste and was bedded on a piece of garlic bread with sweet red onion chutney and mixed leaf salad.
The chicken skewers were well-seasoned with a hint of spice which didn’t overburden the tastebuds for later on. Starters cleared, I picked the chicken and mushroom short-crust from an overflowing specials board, while my companion summoned the Thai burger.
Both dishes continued in the hearty vein of the starters and came with a hefty portion of chips and a heap of salad.
The Freke Arms’ take on Thai was a burger housed in a cross-hatch bun, topped by three spring onion rolls and garnished with a mild sweet chilli sauce.
My dish was a large pie shaped like a prehistoric mud hut, with a crusty, wholemeal casing.
A thick, dark-brown sauce smothered the chicken and mushroom pieces, but nothing was lost in the mix. Wholesome, well-fired and generously filled, this was truly a pie for real ale lovers.
That said, my dining partner, who is more given to North London espresso rooms than Wiltshire pubs, extended a fork and declared it a winner.
With the pie – or short-crust – defeated, we launched a two-pronged assault on the Eastern-themed dish.
Despite the novelty value, the burger itself consisted of succulent and delicately-seasoned ground beef, while the crispy, fluffy medium-cut chips were worthy sidekicks.
A side of mixed veg was equally as generous, coming with a bed of peas resembling a green ball pond.
The Frekes’ homemade banoffee pie looked tempting but by the time our plates were whisked away we had long since waved the white flag.
The bill was another pleasant surprise, coming to £39 with drinks.
The overflowing specials board is evidence of an industrious and talented chef and we will be back to try some of the other creations.
On this occasion, however, pie equalled two happy diners.