Annually nominating the best kept villages in Britain, the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England knows a thing or two about local pride. “Proud for Rowde” is the slogan for this pretty village’s Parish Council, and they have much to boast about, including its exemplary pub, The George and Dragon.
This handsome, Grade II Listed, 18th century fronted inn sits on the A342 that links the market towns of Devizes and Chippenham. You are not far from Lacock Abbey, Stonehenge and Bath.
It may seem like any ordinary village pub, but under its 14th and 15th Century core there lies a secret. A wide, long smugglers’ tunnel was bored right through its cellar walls all the way to Salisbury, so that liquor taxes could be avoided.
Presumably, on the ground floor, the innocent guests were none the wiser of the illegal trade of their landlord. This inn used to be the local village meeting point, and judging by the number of people enjoying the flowery garden and the busy bar, not a great deal has changed in the last five hundred years. This place is, above all, a drinking and eating community hub, despite its awards and accolades. It hides its light under a modest bushel.
The owners of The George and Dragon, Phil and Michelle Hale and Christopher Day (otherwise known as “Chippy”) have decorated the pub in a very appropriate manner, sympathetically referring to vernacular architecture and rural location. There are oak floorboards, pewter grey tongue and groove wooden panels, richly coloured Kilim rugs, brown furniture, blue and white English porcelain and window banquettes dressed with squashy cushions.
You can sit at the bar and read the papers whilst enjoying the local ales or move to the dining room, which comfortably seats 30 in a room that is light, rustic and informal. There are shelves of cookery books and games, vases of garden flowers, brass candlesticks and starched linen napkins. All along rough hewned wooden walls there are shelves of the homemade chutneys, jams and pickles that are made from the kitchen fruit and vegetable glut by Chef Mo, the mother of one of the owners. There are Cowshed lotions and potions in the pretty pink tiled loos. All “good taste” boxes are ticked and verified.
The service is excellent: there are lots of young, student girls who are friendly, chatty and extremely welcoming. Believe us, if this was our local pub we would be here several times a week. We have a sneaky suspicion that the George and Dragon comes into its own in winter: dark, painted beams, roaring log fires, cosy rooms, Mediterranean olives, hot garlic bread and plenty of magazines to keep you warm, comforted and occupied.
Very recently three upstairs rooms have been elegantly redecorated, in the event that you should find yourself enjoying the wine list a bit too much to drive home.
The food comes with few frills but plenty of thrills, and the Menu reads like a text book example of simplicity done well. On this particular Sunday lunch you could order from 5 starters and 5 main courses on the normal A la Carte Menu, or choose from an £18.50 per person three course set Menu that delivered excellence in abundance. This is not the sort of delicate, fiddly, artful food that looks artful and photogenic: it is robust, well cooked, delicately seasoned and carefully cooked.
Our baked figs with goats cheese and prosciutto was a precious, dark, caramelised bundle of soft, yieldingly sweet, ripe fig encasing a nugget of very creamy goat’s cheese, wrapped in a layer of salty, crisp cured ham. Spicy fishcakes with lemon mayonnaise were perfectly cooked, golden and firm, with very flaky, buttery mash potatoes and fish from Cornwall (daily deliveries are the norm).
And, knowing that fish is the speciality of the house, we stuck with fish for the main courses. Perfectly battered whiting came with tartare sauce and homemade chips to envy and the grilled skate wing came with a very well made caper sauce. This was a delicious lunch, to rival any Sunday roast, which, really, is best done at home.
The bread and butter pudding with Jersey cream was layered in thin bread strips that were embedded with rich, dark melted chocolate and sandwiched with thick cream. The cheese selection consisted of Shropshire Blue, Westcombe Vintage Cheddar and Cornish Brie. The cheese came with a selection of crackers and a particularly excellent runner bean chutney that ended far too soon. All were served on a beautiful Booths plate depicting a “Jacobean” blue and white flower pattern.
They serve very authentic double espresso which comes with dark and white chocolate fudge squares. The whole deal is honest, affordable, simple and unaffected. Anyone would be proud of this pub. Of course we need to protect rural England, but before we can do that we need to protect their central bastions, the village pubs. And the best way we can do that is to eat and drink there. What a pleasure it is to support this pub.
The George and Dragon
Devizes SN10 2PN
Telephone: 01380 723053