After a pleasant drive through the frost clad lanes of West Wiltshire we arrived at the Compasses Inn, from the outside everyone's idea of an Olde Worlde English pub. Passing from the brightness of the sunlight into the bar it was impossible to see anything inside but the glow of the log fire, but as our eyes became accustomed to the gloom the interior revealed itself to be every bit as Olde Worlde as the outside. A bar, settles, tables, nooks and crannies, various agricultural and pastoral accoutrements hanging on the walls, everything looks exactly the part. It had been very cold (for West Wiltshire) over the past few days and there were electric heaters around the place however it was still not the warmest of venues; we were happy to keep our jumpers on and to move closer to the fire as the table became available.
The beer, made locally at the Keystone brewery as well as further afield (Bass) was well kept and tasted fine.
The menus were chalked on various boards about the place as well as on the hood of the open fire, and told of warming, hearty dishes.
I chose scallops on a purée of cauliflower with a crispy bacon salad as a starter. It was too cluttered; with a pile of purple and green salad leaves and three different dressings; an almost flavourless red wine reduction, some oil traced with something green and a mango coulis. It would have been better if the scallops (perfectly cooked with a well seared surface and almost, but not quite, raw inside) had been served with the purée, (lovely earthy flavours) and the crispy bacon with only the coulis to cut through the earthiness of the flavours. Mrs Riverdale had a smooth minced local game terrine (very good) accompanied by a similar handful of leaves, some red cabbage (nicely cooked but plain), a roasted fig and some slices of their own walnut bread toasted crisp. She considered that they should have made up their minds as to whether they wanted Melba toast or walnut bread rather than trying to achieve both in the same item.
To follow I had confit of duck with lentils, it seemed more like roasted to me rather than stewed in it's own fat, and not really for long enough, I feel that the meat in a confit should melt off the bone not have to be pulled, but the flavours were fine although the gravy appeared to be more of the red wine reduction. Mrs Riverdale had lamb shank on a bed of mashed root vegetables with a sweetish (redcurrant) spicy gravy. It was very good.
The accompanying vegetables were a bit of a disappointment, some roasted swede, overcooked cabbage and rather nice sweet glazed, aniseedy carrots.
It isn't often that there are puddings I can eat (due to my wheat allergy) but there were two or three suitable options, I decided on the chocolate and Grand Marnier mousse (whilst ducking the accompanying orange sorbet), which was excellent. Mrs Riverdale plumped for a selection from the cheese board of local and French cheeses, choosing Somerset brie, Ribblesdale (a hard sheeps cheese) and Wynn Green (camembert type) whilst I requested a slice of Savoie to be added. They came well presented and at a proper temperature (far too often cheeses are chilled beyond redemption) with apple and celery and a separate basket of biscuits.
With drinks beforehand and a £20+ bottle of South African Pinotage Viognier (which was excellent) and one coffee (not refilled although others in the pub had had theirs refilled without asking) it came, with a 10% tip, to the best part of £100 which was pricey in our estimation. It is really pub food trying to be restaurant and too finicky at that, with prices on the restaurant side and with service that was fine for a pub but not for a restaurant (and I hate small paper serviettes rather than proper napkins, even in a pub).
We will return, it was pleasant enough and the food was good enough to warrant it when we are passing, but we shan't go out of our way to get there.