The Bolingbroke Arms
Hook St, near Wootton Bassett. SN4 8DZ
Tel: 01793 852357

Conversation was dominated by one thing only when MICHELLE TOMPKINS visited the Bolingbroke Arms 

I ALWAYS think it’s sad when you see a couple who’ve gone out for dinner together sitting in silence or gazing out of the window instead of talking.

At what point did their interest in one another wane to the point of having absolutely nothing left to say? Surely they’d be better off discussing the telly, what they need at the supermarket, house prices, anything... anything other than the agony of that heavy silence, hanging there waiting to be filled.

Three years into our relationship and I’m pleased/relieved to report that my other half and I have no such difficulty filling the gaps. We can talk for England at the best of times, but stick a large glass of shiraz in my hand and the concept of the awkward silence ceases to exist. Stick a pint of Peroni in his and the competition to get a word in edgeways really begins.

Except, that is, when we visited The Bolingbroke Arms at Hook, where we spent a good deal of our evening staring uncharacteristically out of the window into the dark car park beyond. Not as a result of boredom or a lovers’ tiff, you understand, but rather because it had started snowing. Really quite heavily. And as all Brits know, it only takes a few millimetres of snow for the entire country to grind to a halt.

What should have been a cosy little Friday night supper turned into a two-hour weather watch, as we gazed out of the window trying to decide whether a) the flakes were settling, and b) whether or not we’d make it home.

Still, there are worse places to be snowed in than this friendly pub tucked away off the Royal Wootton Bassett to Purton road.

We were surprised to find the large car park almost full when we arrived at 8pm, suggesting the bar was doing a roaring trade. I still don’t know where all those people were; inside there were maybe eight tables occupied, giving the place a welcoming buzz, but nothing like the huge numbers the car park had suggested.

Our little table was tucked in a corner right next to the bay window, giving us ample opportunity to watch the flakes of snow getting thicker and heavier by the minute.

“I think it’s settling,” he said worriedly, as we debated whether to have starters. “They’ve got garlic mushrooms,” I replied, and we committed ourselves to the YOLO school of thought.

Our eventual choice of creamy garlic mushrooms (£6.95) to share and a portion of cheesy garlic bread (£4.95) on the side were well worth throwing caution to the wind for. The velvety mushrooms were swimming in a bowl of thick, pungent sauce, which we greedily mopped up with the hunks of garlic granary bread. Double garlic, doubly delicious, and the portions were so huge that if I hadn’t been reviewing the menu I could have stopped there quite happily.

I love an interesting salad and there were some tempting choices, like avocado and bacon with croutons (£12.50) and seared sirloin with blue cheese and caramelised onion (£15.95), but a chilly night like that demanded something more than lettuce leaves, however well they were dressed up.

I could have eaten any one of the 16 main courses, but eventually my mind settled on the beer-braised steak in onion gravy with bubble and squeak (£13.50) – a hearty meal to fuel me for what was shaping up to be a long, snowy walk home.

The meat was tender to the point of disintegration and the bubble and squeak had those wonderfully crispy edges that are full of flavour. There was no need for extra vegetables because they were all mashed up into the mix. Comfort food all the way.

In a complete role reversal, my partner had gone for the smoked haddock and mozzarella fishcake with mashed potatoes and a cheese sauce (£13.50), which came with a side dish of broccoli and carrots.

The gooey fishcake oozed its stringy cheesiness into the mound of mash and he was especially enamoured with the rich sauce – more cheese – which was dripping over the top. It must have been satisfying as he didn’t even want to finish up the piece of braised steak I left on my plate when I couldn’t eat another bite.

Our weather watch (if not our conversation) was disrupted by the arrival of the dessert menu, but we were both too full to even give it a glance.

With some trepidation, we agreed we’d be better off braving the drive home before a search party was sent out.

As I paid the bill, he ventured outside, presumably to dig a path to the car. I fully expected to be pelted with snowballs when I caught up with him a few minutes later.

Instead he was... errrrr... wiping a thin layer of slush from the windscreen and looking disappointed, a bit like a small child whose snowman has melted.

Turns out the only thing that was settling was me, with the bill.

Parking: Yes, attached to the pub
Disabled access: Yes
Adver ratings: 
Food: 7/10; 
Choice: 8/10
Decor: 7/10
Customer service: 7/10
Main course prices: £11.50 to £20.95
TripAdvisor rating: 4/5


To ensure the integrity of our reviews, all our critics dine as paying customers without the restaurant’s knowledge (unless otherwise stated). Photographs are taken at a later date