Review by Fiona Duncan, published 8th February 2009.
It's morning in middle England and I'm tucked up in a pretty Georgian house attached to a charmingly rustic pub in a neat stone village. I don't want in the least to go back to London – and I can't.
We're snowed in, and it's happened in just the right place. Every time I review a toasty country inn I long for an excuse to linger – and now I have one. The Roberts radio in our fetching bedroom, one of six in a house converted to provide guest accommodation, tells us that the A1 is off limits. We send a prayer of thanks and go back to sleep.
We linger, unusually, over breakfast, served in a prettily decorated adjoining barn, rather than in the pub where we ate last night. Fortuntately, the owners of the Olive Branch know what I know: that pub eating and drinking areas, without the conviviality of evening, generally make beastly places in which to breakfast, smelling stale and looking worn.
I had the wrong impression of the Olive Branch. With that unusual name, I thought it would be a smart restaurant, not a pub; in fact it's very much the latter. The name originates from the 19th century, when an earlier, more central public house was closed down by the squire who complained of rowdiness, but who then gave his tenants a peace offering in the form of another watering hole, christened the Olive Branch, in a pair of workmen's cottages here on the edge of the village.
By 1999, when Sean (the chef), Ben and Mark bought it, the Olive Branch had been closed for two years. Its new owners couldn't have been more suitable: old friends who had worked together at the nearby luxury hotel, Hambleton Hall, and who wanted to revive it for modern times.
It ties with the Star at Harome in Yorkshire as the second only English pub to win a Michelin star (the first was the Stagg in Herefordshire). The food is good and wholesome (roast pumpkin bread, smoked haddock chowder, chicken and mushroom pie), though whether it's any better than that of several other inns without stars that I'm aware of, is debatable. Certainly, for me, the cooking at Harome is in another league.
Which is not to say we didn't enjoy dinner: we did, and we enjoyed the homely, slightly rickety mix of books, blackboards, wine bottles, settles, dressers, ceiling high logs, pine tables and standard lamps that surrounded us. If ever an eating place, Michelin starred or not, deserved to be called unpretentious, it's this.
Snow is still falling, so we're staying for lunch by the fire. In warmer weather we could have ordered one of the inn's imaginatively stocked picnic baskets and taken it to Rutland Water. Instead, we crunch our way to Clipsham Yew Tree Avenue, a joyous parade of topiary that ought to be better known. Its arboreal flights of fancy alone should make you book a night here – and not hurry home.
Main Street, Clipsham (01780 410355; www.theolivebranchpub.com) Doubles from £10 to £150, including breakfast. Adapted room for guests with disabilities.