The Pointer, Brill, Buckinghamshire: hotel review | Travel
The Pointer takes “local” to the next level. The food comes from its own farm. The beer is brewed in the same village. And now punters have only to stumble over the road to bed. The pub’s owners recently bought the cottage opposite and have turned it into rooms.
The 18th-century two-up two-down now comprises four tasteful bedrooms. Ours was on the ground floor, and we were a little taken aback by the large windows giving directly on to the pavement – it’s not exactly private. Accidental exhibitionism aside, it is a lovely room: painted in shades of grey, with a sturdy sisal carpet and soft sheepskin rugs. A rough-hewn plank wardrobe and basket-weave lampshades add a rustic touch. Two little paintings of a cocker spaniel and a staffie echo the pub’s motif of a pointer dog (although actually the pub is named after the Pointer family that once owned it). The super-kingsize bed looked impressive, but was two singles pushed together – great if you want twin beds; annoying if you don’t.
The bathroom has a huge rain shower, slipper bath and dual sinks, and a view over the courtyard garden. The toiletries deserve special mention: fragrant Somerset brand Bramley, containing lavender, geranium and rosemary essential oils.
We nipped out for a pre-dinner pint at the Pheasant, the pub at the other end of the ridiculously pretty hilltop village (JRR Tolkien based the village of Bree on Brill). We were surprised by the rowdy atmosphere on a Wednesday night, and the preponderance of people in hats and wigs … turns out we were gatecrashing a wake. The deceased, clearly a much-loved character, was apparently a big fan of fancy headwear.
Things were more sedate back at the Pointer, but encouragingly busy. The bar, which dates from the 1700s, has nooks for lounging around the fire and stove, serves beer from Brill’s Vale and Long Crendon’s XT brewery, and has snacks such as mini scotch eggs (£5) and meat platters (£15). There are signs offering “pints for produce” – free beer in return for “homegrown or shot” food. The leafy beer garden backs on to the 12th-century village church.
The restaurant is in a converted barn past the open kitchen, with a vaulted ceiling, garlanded beams and exposed stone. The menu is short – three snacks, four starters, four mains – but almost impossible to choose from: everything sounds utterly delicious. The special threw us into further turmoil; could we turn down a 700g Longhorn rump steak for two?
A paper bag of sourdough with beef-dripping butter (posh Marmite) was an extremely welcome surprise, as was the pre-starter of radishes with walnuts and sherry. We finally plumped for monkfish scampi with “saffron emulsion” from the snacks, and pork terrine from the starters (both £8). Our only quibbles were the size of the tiny “beer muffin” served with the big slab of pork, and the advertised crackling, which was more like piggy popcorn. We resisted the giant rump in favour of a marginally less greedy rib-eye (£30), which left us room to try the lamb: neck and shoulder with baby aubergine, ratatouille vegetables and goat’s curd (£28).
Again, it was tough to find anything to criticise – the triple-cooked chips were a bit dry, but dunking them in the marrow gravy took care of that. Cheese (£11) was served with excellent caraway and fennel-seed flatbreads, and treacle tart (£8) was reminiscent of school-dinner cornflake pie, in a really good way.
OK, it’s not cheap. There is a more affordable set “farm menu” (£22.50 for three courses), but it comprises much simpler dishes – pea soup and sausage and mash.
The chef uses about 70 ingredients from the Pointer farm and kitchen garden, supplemented by other local producers and game estates, and fish from Brixham. In fact, owners Fiona and David Howden bought the pub in 2011 specifically to sell their farm’s produce. We tried more of it at breakfast, including middle white sausages, bacon and black pudding. There is a table of cold items, too, such as creamy milk and yoghurt, homemade bread and jams, and bloody mary mix.
Dining is not the only way to sample the wares: the outbuilding next to the pub was recently converted into a butcher’s shop selling meat, charcuterie, eggs and drinks (open Wednesday to Friday afternoons and Saturday morning; though the kitchen still gets first dibs). And there is a farmers’ market outside the pub on Saturdays, where villagers sell tomatoes, chutneys and cakes alongside the Pointer farm fare. It could just be the perfect local.
Ask a local
Beccy Roberts, the Pheasant Inn, Brill
The Brill Windmill dates from the 1680s and is one of the oldest in the country. It was beautifully restored in 2009, has views for miles around and is open on Sunday afternoons between Easter and the end of September (adult £2, child 50p).
The Bernwood Jubilee Way is a 61-mile trail within the ancient royal hunting forest of Bernwood. It is a wonderful way to explore the beautiful countryside on the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border.
The Hundred of Ashendon is a wonderful pub in a neighbouring village. The chef/owner is Matt Gill, who previously worked at St John in London and the Hand and Flowers in Marlow.
The beautiful house, wine cellars and gardens of Waddesdon Manor are just a few miles away. This eccentric house, designed in the style of a Loire Valley chateau, was built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870s, and is now owned and run by the National Trust.
Bicester Village, with all its luxury designer outlets, is seven miles from Brill. This summer it has pop-up British boutiques, such as one by Liberty London.