The Saracen's Head, restaurant review: It's been around since the 17th century, but this English public house is as in demand as ever

Main Street, Little Brington, Northampton tel: 01604 770 640 £60 for two, with drinks

The Bringtons comprise one of the loveliest of all parishes in England, nestled between Northampton and Daventry, next to Althorp, home of Charles Spencer. There are three villages here – Great Brington, Little Brington and Nobottle – the last of them not named in honour of England's players at an ancient World Cup, despite what locals say.

You've also got, in Great Brington, my favourite church in the world, even ahead of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia or the Church of our Saviour in St Petersburg – though the faded mustard brickwork of St Mary the Virgin, which dates back to the 13th century, is more modest in ambition than those two giants of Christendom. No atheist could fail to be moved by the sacred ambience of this place, or indeed by the beauty of the Bringtons generally. And even if faith isn't your thing, there are some of the best village pubs in the country to raise the spirits.

There's the Althorp Coaching Inn, which does some stonking ales and has an open fire that could keep you going all winter. Then there's the Saracen's Head at Little Brington, one of the most enjoyable inns ever imagined, replete with red telephone booth, beer garden, and more stonking ales. The menu here, like most agreeable menus, is short; and – perhaps because we're a long way from the M25 – pretty affordable.

To start, I opt for the smoked haddock and Spanish chorizo fishcake on a salad of pickled cucumber, spring onions and broad beans with rocket in a lemon vinaigrette (£6.95). This vast offering is delicately put together: the spring onions are chopped just fine enough not to be offensive; the vinaigrette is thick without being gloopy; and the little chunks of chorizo are evenly spread inside a crisp, light batter. It sounds like a simple dish but there is a lot that could go wrong with it – yet nothing does.

There are soups of the day – again generous, and a vegetarian option at £4.95 – and a coarse duck liver and sage pâté with fruit chutney and warm bread (£5.95). Quite often with such dishes, the bread comes too thick, which causes it to dominate the dish and dent your appetite before you've got going. Here it is thin, crisp where it needs to be crisp, and fluffy where it needs to be fluffy. And the chutney is both spicy and sweet, when often such concoctions are only one of the two.

Today is a Sunday and all the traditional lunch options are here, with some fancy trimmings. There is a very good honey, apple and mustard-glazed ham with fried local eggs and thick-cut chips (£9.95), the apple cubes big enough to give some contrasting bite; and the wild mushroom, Roquefort and toasted hazelnut risotto, with fresh garden sage and shaved Grana Padano is superb. My aunt Felicity, who has ordered it, has high standards in these matters and is very impressed.

Two big and nutritious salads, again very decent value, are also available: either hot smoked mackerel and Jersey royal potatoes (£10.95), or grilled free-range chicken with Northamptonshire asparagus (£12.95). The theme here is fresh food, full of finesse at a decent price, and it continues in a dessert menu long on calories and short on modesty. I have an affogato – a shot of espresso over pistachio ice-cream (£5.95) – but rather wish I'd gone for my wife Charlie's triple-chocolate and caramel pot with langue de chat biscuit and chocolate soil (near-frozen milk chocolate), which at £5.95 may be the cheapest heart attack this side of the Spencer family estate. It is also completely irresistible and doesn't last long.

Which is not something that could be said about the Saracen's Head, built in the 17th century. It has been fashionable in recent years to say that the English public house is an endangered species, and I'm pretty sure I was one of those who said it too, not least on this page. But while it is true that the onslaught of health legislation, the rise of supermarket competition and the evil of pubcos (the companies that own about a third of our pubs) have made life hard for their landlords, there is a pleasing obstinacy about the best English pubs, which are always found in the best English villages. This one is a classic.

8/10

The Saracen's Head. Main Street, Little Brington, Northampton tel: 01604 770 640 £60 for two, with drinks

Four more foodie notes from the week

Granola

I'm slowly rediscovering the idea of this stuff, not least after a delicious helping at the new Ham Yard Hotel in the West End.

Sugar snaps

Of a summer's evening, and in need of a light and nutritious dinner, a bag of these dipped in hummus are perfection.

Marzipan Fruit cake with chocolate sauce

I've got 12 weddings this year, but won't taste a cake as scrumptious as my colleagues Emily and Oliver's.

Borscht

In Russia's far east recently, I had several variations on this beetroot-based soup, one of them an unusual green-spinach version.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £32,000 Uncapped

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £10,000 Uncapped - Part Time

    £7500 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness chai...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Marketing / Digital Marketing Executive (CRM, Eve...

    Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea