The Woolpack, Slad, Gloucestershire: ‘Fancy but hearty food’ – restaurant review
One of the several million reasons I love Great Britain, and can never truly join in with giving it a kicking, is our place names. Nobody doles them out like we do. Take Slad in the Cotswolds. Yes, it’s a charming village on the side of a valley, but it has the name of a Brutalist architect or a 15th-century Romanian warlord. Just the word Slad evokes arduous winters and that bit in An American Werewolf in London when the doomed walkers drop in at the terrifying local pub on darts night.
But Slad, in fact, has a very welcoming pub called the Woolpack, which several folk have mentioned to me over the years, although I’ve eschewed it because people always recommend their local, plus how many of them really want to see a restaurant reviewer in there? The Woolpack, however, has coped with far more celebrated writers than me. For one thing, this used to be Laurie Lee’s local, and he didn’t just describe salad; he wrote the much-adored Cider With Rosie, which has sold more than six million copies and haunted many a school syllabus. A Slad resident until his death in 1997, Lee was often seen at The Woolpack, which still has about it a literary feel, and even has its own minuscule bookshop. It is little more than a shelf really, but it’s still charming, because, in most other ways, this 300-year-old watering hole is decidedly higgledy-piggledy and has outside toilets down a set of stone stairs – back in chilly January, when I went to spend a penny there, I quietly thanked whoever had turned on the radiator.
The pub has certainly been, cough, a little tarted up over the years, but thoughtfully so and with an eye on keeping it cosy. There are built-in, dark wooden settles and a long, fixed table outside that serves both as a smoking area and a place for local gossip. I could have lingered there all day finding out who is frankly no better than they ought to be. There’s a patio for sunnier days, too. The place is also delightfully dog-friendly, which pleases me no end, because I’d always rather be with dogs than most drinkers.
But the main event, these days, is the cooking of Adam Glover, who hails from Glasgow and used to work at the Ubiquitous Chip there before taking over as the Woolpack’s head chef in 2015. His menu is, of course, led by local, seasonal, organic and heritage veg, much of it grown at Lypiatt Park over in the neighbouring valley, and his food is fancy, but ultimately hearty, with, among the starters, plump, earthy chicken livers with persillade on hot, buttered sourdough toast and fearsome slabs of duck paté served with brandied prunes.
The diners next to our table told us they’d been walking all morning just to work up an appetite for these rich treats, though we plumped for a wobbly burrata with zesty blood orange and monk’s beard and, my favourite, a plate of dark red beetroot with almonds and a most generous portion of incredibly hot horseradish; I’m sure I felt my tastebuds retract and scream for mercy before I went back for more.
This is confident, swaggering cooking that almost doesn’t care whether you like it. That’s your loss. If you want healthy, incidentally, the day we went they had on a neatly prepared globe artichoke with mustard vinaigrette, which is a dish billionaires order in posh places when they’re on doctor’s orders after their third bypass. Working your way through a globe artichoke petal by petal is like miming eating, and not a lot of bang for your buck.
The menu changes daily, and the day we were there featured a large, luscious pork chop with creamy polenta, sea bass with turnip tops and tapenade, and onglet with pickled walnut, fries and a salad of bitter leaves, lemon and ricotta. I left room for pudding, because my heart was set on the tarte de Capri, a lush, chocolate-and-almond cake that I’d seen being ferried to other tables. Yes, there was prune and armagnac ice-cream, too, but my posterior had only recently thawed. And tarte tartin, but I felt that no one had time for me to order that. Service is prompt, and they’d asked us to vacate our table just after we ordered dessert, because someone was waiting for the seat.
The Woolpack is well worth driving out of your way for, not least because it would delight any visitor to Britain to whom you wanted to prove that we’re delightfully weird and wonderful. And you’ll get fed until you can barely walk back to your car. Life can be complex, but this was all too easy.
The Woolpack Slad Road, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 01452 813429. Open lunch Tues-Sun, noon-2.30pm (3pm Sun), dinner Tues-Sat, 6-9pm. From about £45 a head, plus drinks and service.