This month we pay a visit to Bartlow’s cosy countryside hideaway with rooms and a renowned restaurant
Priding itself on offering guests ‘the warmest welcome in Cambridgeshire’, The Three Hills is found nestled on the Cambs-Essex border in Bartlow, a stone’s throw from Linton. It’s the only remaining pub in this tiny, history-steeped village, which is surrounded by pretty countryside and home to a small community of just over 100 residents. It’s also home to our area’s answer to the Pyramids, the Bartlow Hills: a series of huge ancient burial mounds that date back to early Roman times. It’s this historical claim to fame which inspired the name of The Three Hills pub – though the building has a rich and storied past in its own right, having been open as an alehouse since 1847.
The pub has experienced both huge success and dismal failure in its long history, but after waxing and waning in popularity for decades, the current trajectory is pointing determinedly upwards thanks to current owners Chris and Sarah Field, who took the reins in late 2015. Under their steer, The Three Hills has been restored to its former glory thanks to a tasteful makeover (including the doing away with of some unappealing post-war modern features) and the addition of chic new accommodation. The food offering, too, has had a fabulously successful overhaul, resulting in the pub receiving two AA Rosettes and a nod in the 2019 Michelin Guide.
But a cash injection and culinary ambition have not come at the expense of charm and community spirit. What greets you when you cross the threshold at The Three Hills is a welcoming, irresistibly cosy country pub with smiling staff, happy locals, roaring log fires, comfy armchairs and a book-lined snug that calls out to be relaxed in.
Come dinner time, we’re led through the bar area into a smart, oak-beamed orangery, which hums with happy diners on our Thursday evening visit. The food offering is divided into pub classics (including steaks and an excellent-sounding burger), and a small menu of elegant restaurant fare. We began with a ‘Hen of the Woods’ starter, which made a worthy centrepiece out of these deliciously earthy mushrooms, artfully served with girolles, caper berries, and a sweet and sour green bean salad. Equally beautifully presented was the Scottish salmon starter, which arrived adorned with edible flowers and a feisty wasabi cream and buttermilk dressing.
There were more Japanese flavours to come in my main course, the miso steak. A perfectly pink and rare sirloin cooked in an umami-rich miso marinade, the meat was taken to decadent new heights with a mound of truffle mash and lashings of rich caramelised onion broth.
Over on the other side of the table, a steamed venison pudding was being consumed with impressive speed. Perfect pastry, rich gravy and meltingly tender meat made this hearty plate of food a soul-warming winner: the venison’s gamey flavour a perfect match for its accompanying juniper sauce.
The desserts continued the high standards set for presentation, but while the caramelised pineapple with Szechuan pepper had wow-factor, the highlight was the velvety chocolate and caramel fondant, surrounded by a cornucopia of handmade confections including truffles and roasted white chocolate.
The Three Hills has six bedrooms, each with their own distinct character. Ours, the beautifully appointed Rosetta, was located on the ground floor of the plush B&B annex across the carpark. Tucked away from the bustle of the pub, it was peaceful and tastefully decorated: all Farrow and Ball paints, vases of fresh lavender, paperback-lined bookshelves and thick goose down duvets.
The luxurious bathroom – complete with rain shower and White Company toiletries – got a big thumbs up, as did the king-sized bed and array of mod cons including a dinky Roberts radio and fully-stocked Nespresso machine. These are rooms designed for hunkering down and cosying up in, which we happily did, enjoying a blissful night’s sleep in the ludicrously comfy bed before awaking to a crisp winter’s morning and crunching across the carpark for a hearty full English.
Combining village pub, fine dining restaurant and mini boutique hotel, The Three Hills succeeds in each category. The cosy, country-chic interiors make it a prime spot for a wintery feast, but with its charming terrace and large garden, extending all the way down to the river, it’s a pub for seasons. As smart as the place looks though, the food is the star attraction: stunningly presented throughout, it more than lives up to its visual promise. If you’re after an indulgent night away, surrounded by peaceful countryside, make The Three Hills top of your minibreak wish list.
What: A cosy pub offering both pub classics and elegant dining. Chic, newly refurbished rooms are also available
Where: Bartlow, Cambridgeshire, right on the Essex border
How Much: Two courses £27.50, three courses £35