The Tollemache Arms at Harrington

Much has been made of the demise of high street restaurant chains in recent months. With dozens of closures at Jamie’s Italian, Byron and Prezzo among others, I’ve seen it suggested that people are no longer willing to pay for the privilege of being cooked for. As someone who has a keen interest in food and the food industry, I hope it signals that people are instead supporting local businesses in greater numbers.

After years of their own struggles, perhaps it’s time for the honest country pub to retake its crown as the place to catch up with friends over a well priced, home cooked meal. With this in mind and keen to reconnect with our local pubs, we book a table at The Tollemache Arms at Harrington, not far from where we live in the north east of the county.

Harrington is a small, pretty village near Rothwell. In addition to The Tolly, Harrington is also home to Warner Edwards, the award-winning gin distillery currently enjoying incredible growth and success. We featured Warner Edwards back in the second edition of All Things Business, and with the Tolly being located just a few hundred feet away, I’m looking forward to sampling some gin cocktails.

The Tollemache Arms is a handsome thatched pub, full of quirk and character. A good sized car park to the rear leads on to a large garden with plenty of outdoor dining space. Dreaming of warmer, sunnier days to come, we make our way through the rear entrance and straight into a bustling bar.

It’s a Tuesday night and the bar and restaurant both feel busy. For a place that bills itself as “The Perfect Country Pub”, it’s clear that the restaurant brings people to the village in addition to being popular with locals. A good indicator for the long term success of any pub.

The tasteful decoration and mismatched furniture give a modern twist to the exposed stonework and traditional low ceilings throughout the restaurant and bar. Fireplaces, rugs and chunky tableware make the place feel homely.

After a warm welcome from the young and enthusiastic waiting staff, we are seated at one of a handful of tables located near the bar. It wouldn’t have been our first choice to sit in the bar, but we assume it’s a result of booking at short notice. We do ask to move, but only to the table next to ours; a smaller table for two nestled in a cozy nook. Our helpful waiter moves us without a fuss, making sure to take our drink orders first.

I mentioned that Warner Edwards distillery is just down the road, so we both opt to try out the local gin; my partner with a sloe gin and bitter lemon, while I indulge with a boozy double of elder ower gin and prosecco. The drinks arrive in goblets, generously proportioned and big enough to last us the night without a refill. It is a school night after all.

The menu boasts hearty, honest dishes. Burgers and hand rolled pizzas, plus dishes from the grill and a few pub classics. This is true comfort food with plenty of opportunities to indulge - the perfect antidote for a blast of cold weather we’ve been suffering through. The options tempting, the sides excessive in all the best ways.

Planning ahead for a filling burger main, I choose a light starter of buffalo mozzarella with squash, clementine, pecan and rocket salad. Orange and cheese is not a combination I’ve had outside of a cheesecake, but here it works. The squash is roasted beautifully and the mozzarella hand torn and clearly fresh. Pleased with my sensible choice, I’m still a little envious at my partner’s triple cheese mac’n’cheese fritters with chilli jam and rocket salad. He wishes the dip had more of a chilli kick, but finds them cheesy as you would expect and satisfying as a starter.

While the team waiting on us are friendly, professional and clearly trying hard to please, we do find the speed of service to be a touch slow at times, possibly because we’re sat away from the main dining area. This pace would be fine if we were old friends catching up, or a couple on a hot date, but alas, he’s only my husband so we spend more time on our phones than we’d like. Eventually our starters are cleared and our wait for mains begins. We’re feeling peckish and keen to get stuck in.

My burger arrives, tall and majestic, cheese flowing down the side like a burst dam. I’ve ordered el Pablo, which combines a moreish beef patty with mexican flavours of avocado, pulled pork, nacho sauce and chipotle mayo. Not content with the already excessive calorie count, I also upgrade to chavvy chips, soaking the chips in yet another cheese sauce. An undressed rocket salad doesn’t get a look in, but pickled cabbage and fine onion rings add tang and crunch.

The brioche bun does an admirable job of holding together long enough to get a good few bites in before I need to resort to a knife and fork. The burger patty is advertised as beef chuck, short rib and bone marrow. Roughly shaped and clearly hand-made, it’s easily the best part, with the additional toppings seeming somewhat superfluous.

I really should leave it there, but feeling greedy and unable to resist, I order a cabbage and bacon side. The bacon pieces are generous and delicious and the cabbage buttery perfection. I fail to eat even half which is a crying shame.

My partner sticks with vegetarian and opts for the Wild Thing, a pizza of baked mushrooms, truffle oil, stilton and caramelised onions buried underneath another mountain of rocket. The base is hand rolled and far superior to many pub pizzas we’ve tried. The sweet onions dominate a touch too much with blue cheese a distant second. Despite the base being crispy and delicious around the edges, it succumbs to the moisture in the veg and flops into a soggy centre. It’s a good sized pizza, and our waiter offers to box up any leftover slices which is a nice touch.

While we wait to order dessert, we can’t help but indulge in a spot of people watching. Despite some colourful language coming from the bar at times, there’s a nice relaxed atmosphere, with laughter and good vibes. Couples with young children are catching up over a gin and pint, and a family is celebrating a birthday (they goad the waiter into trying to guess the ladies age, which is just mean!)

At this point we both feel full to bursting but push on to the next course. We want to give a full account of three courses, so really it’s your fault dear reader. Being a weekday, we’re keen to get home at a reasonable hour, so we ask for the bill at the same time as ordering our puds. The bill doesn’t materialise, which is a shame but just an honest mistake.

My partner, clearly sozzled after just one gin, fumbles the name of his italian donut dessert. Our waiter corrects him with a shared smirk and it’s a nice moment. The cinnamon dusted tocchetti arrive sealed in a brown paper bag. I usually wouldn’t trust any dessert served in a bag, but it works! They’re toasty warm and smell delicious when the bag is opened. We love it in the US where cinnamon is worshipped like a deity, but here it’s rarer to see, and these moreish fried donut pieces (which are smaller than they appear on the menu) are coated generously in spice and sugar. What they lack in size they make up for in quantity, the glossy nutella dip proving irresistible.

I’m sorely tempted by the Colton Basset Stilton with Sloe Gin and biscuits, but with little room to spare I instead go for the smallest dessert I can find; a dark chocolate & Bailey’s pot. Or so I think. The ‘pot’ is actually a large glass and the dark chocolate which I thought would be rich but petite, is massive and milky from the Bailey’s. I was expecting the ‘hot chocolate cream’ to be a warm sauce, but it’s literally the cream that’s served on a hot chocolate. While tasty, it’s too much and I’m quickly defeated.

Aside from a few niggles, we enjoyed our experience at The Tollemache Arms and will come back again. The food was hearty and comforting, a big tasty hug in generous portions. I mentioned at the start that a large garden area sits to the rear with plenty of open space and seats for al fresco dining, and it’s here I feel that The Tolly will really stand out. I can easily picture us enjoying a pizza and a pint on a sunny day, watching the world go by or meeting up with friends.

Our three course meal for two, with one side and two large drinks came to £67.50.

Find the Tollemache Arms at Harrington at 49 High St, Harrington, Northampton, NN6 9NU, call 01536 711770 or visit:

www.thetolly.co.uk