The Olive Branch, Main Street, Clipsham, Rutland

 

Around 100 miles up the A1, the hunger pangs begin in earnest. Regularly toiling north on this thoroughfare, I have become only too familiar with the meagre fare offered at the noisome Peterborough Services and craved more substantial replenishment. After some research into halfway houses, I discovered the near-perfect solution. Just two miles off the A1, the Olive Branch in the Rutland village of Clipsham is one of only 13 UK pubs to hold a Michelin star.

I say 'near perfect', because there is a slight problem for the casual caller. You can't. When I rang on a Thursday to reserve a table for two on Saturday lunch, normally a tranquil time in rural boozers, I was told that we could only be accommodated in "the barn" (presumably converted, but not quite what I wanted). Sunday lunch was, of course, fully booked. How about Friday? "Sorry, sir." So we postponed our trip to Monday.

On a rain-lashed lunchtime, the car park was packed and so, it appeared, was the picturesque pub. Originally created from three farm cottages in 1890 by the local squire as a placatory replacement following his closure of a more raucous establishment (hence the curious name), it was refurbished in 1999 by three alumni of the nearby gastronomic palace, Hambleton Hall.

Initial signs suggested that our protracted wait was worthwhile. A neighbouring table told the waiter that their meal was "absolutely gorgeous". The overture to our meal took the form of a warm half-loaf of brown bread. You're given a whacking big bread knife and 'olive and herb butter' to slather on. The demi-loaf lasted us approximately three minutes.

Though the owners also have an elegant hotel across the road, they evidently adhere to the maxim 'Clutter is Good' where pub décor is concerned. Every surface is laden with empty wine bottles from grand chateaux and well-thumbed cookbooks (Larousse rubs shoulders with volumes on Australian and Portuguese cuisine) from the collection of cook and co-owner Sean Hope.

My dainty risotto starter displayed a similar lack of restraint. Perfectly cooked, the saffron-tinged rice was augmented with nuggets of lobster, skinned broad beans, minuscule mushrooms, fragments of crispy fried onion and Parmesan curls. Though the combination runs contrary to the Italian preference for simplicity in risotto, my wife pooh-poohed such purism. "It's lovely and summery."

Opting for the set lunch (£16.95 for two courses), Alison kicked off with cured trout from Rutland Water, an inappropriately vast reservoir. The dark-pink fillet, warm, dense and saline, was happily accompanied by a 'carpaccio' of beetroot (could we go back to 'thin-sliced'?), peashoots, homemade crisps and blobs of balsamic reduction. Little white cubes proved a surprise: horseradish jelly. "And there's a dusting of something pink," pondered Alison. "Beetroot powder!" announced our waiter.

Her meal continued with an impressive lump of pan-fried cod. Topped with salsa, the plump, gleaming flakes were partnered with saffron rice and slivers of buttery courgette. My companion expressed great contentment with the economic option: "Fantastic value for money."

My plutocratic turbot (£20.50) arrived shrouded in pink foam. Surely a culinary accoutrement whose day has passed, this turned out to be a frothed-up tomato and fish stock. If the Olive Branch has a failing, it is that of trying too hard. When the tide subsided, there emerged a nice square of fish, sweet, firm and delicate, on a bed of peas and chopped green beans. Surrounding jetsam included clams, mussels, crayfish and thumbnail-sized potatoes infused with yet more saffron. The pub's daily consumption must require a field of crocuses.

Ignoring the hint from the empties that once held Lynch Bages and Puligny Montrachet, I went for a pint of Olive Oil beer, a blonde bitter made for the pub by Davis'es [sic] Brewery in Oakham, far better at beer than apostrophes. Alison lapped up her 500ml bottle of Scrambler Cider, which celebrates one of the weird contests enjoyed in these parts: 'Three barrels across two streams'.

The puds looked fine (especially vanilla panna cotta with Rutland Water strawberries) and the seven cheeses for £10.50 would be a treat for sharing. However, we were en route and cappuccino sufficed. Since the Olive Branch utilises the celebrated foodstuffs of Melton Mowbray and environs, we may aim for more meaty sustenance next time – the pub must be one of the few Michelin-starred eateries that sells take-away jars of beef dripping (£3.50) – but our fishy feast from a land-locked county was the perfect mid-journey reviver. The next 150 miles flew by – and the sun came out.

The Olive Branch, Main Street, Clipsham, Rutland (01780 410355). £50-60 for two, for two courses with beer or cider

Food ****
Ambiance ***
Service ****

Tipping policy: 'All tips are up to the customer and go to the staff'

Side orders: Star pub grub

The Sir Charles Napier

This year, three pubs were awarded a Michelin star for the first time, including this 'godfather of the gastropub revolution', overlooking beautiful gardens.

Sprigg's Alley, Chinnor, Oxon (01494 483011)

The Butchers Arms

Next up is this cosy little pub specialising in seasonal produce, such as this starter: Wye Valley asparagus with fried hen's egg and wild garlic sauce (£8.95).

Lime Street, Eldersfield, Gloucester (01452 840 381)

The Black Swan

Finally, a star went to this 16th-century inn, where dishes include 'Loin & Scrag End of Lamb with Ratatouille, Basil, Pine Nuts and Parmesan Gnocchi' (£25).

Oldstead, York, North Yorkshire (01347 868 387)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - major leisure brand

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Partner

    £25000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Partner is required to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003