The Falcon, Cirencester - Restaurant Review
PUBLISHED: 09:06 26 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:34 20 February 2013
"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." Pub critic, G. M. Ball, finds that two entrepreneurs have taken Emerson's wisdom to heart and are building the foundations of a great pub business
The Falcon could just as well rename itself The Phoenix, as it's not the first time this roadside hostelry has risen from the proverbial ashes. Back in 2004 it was flying high and winning more medals than Michael Phelps for its excellent food, then the owners cashed in their chips and sold it in 2007 to seemingly hapless proprietors who literally cut off the Falcon's wings and watched it crash back to earth.
Then along came John and Maggie Armstrong. Buoyed by the success of The Puesdown Inn, The Falcon bears some similarities to its sister pub in Compton Abdale. For a start it's a typical roadside inn on the A417 between Cirencester and Fairford, much in the same way as The Puesdown sits along the A40 between Oxford and Cheltenham.
Unsurprisingly the food at The Falcon is equally as good as John Armstrong overseas the menu and the cooking at both establishments. Maggie Armstrong told me that the fact The Falcon had been so successful in previous years made them know instinctively that they could work their magic and bring the pub back to its former glory.
I have long been a fan of John Armstrong's cooking and his wife's business like approach to getting the little things right. John likes to push food boundaries and most of the time it works well, but he also cooks the staples as well as anyone. Maggie brings her five star hotel experience to bear, which means she knows how to hire good staff, with good manners and turn them out well. No girls in low-cut jeans and excess flesh wobbling around the table here.
On the rainy and slightly chilly September Saturday that I dined here with my partner, on entrance I almost broke into a rendition of "come on baby light my fire" as alas; the great fireplace was unlit and cold with only a few people dotted around it. But we were early. A pleasant greeting moments later and menus offering simple originality and some firm favourites immediately banished the thought and brightened the mood.
Split into two areas, the decor is contemporary Cotswold: all stone walls and Farrow and Ball colours with big solid thick timber tables. If the strategy was to make it feel homely trustworthy and dependable, the interior designer understood the brief well.
The chalkboard offers two courses from 12.50 or three for 15. Starters include the usual suspects such as vegetable soup and prawn cocktail, main courses include stir fried pork with basmati rice, and, beer battered cod, homemade chips and pea puree (mushy peas to the unenlightened). For those affected by the sub-prime crisis there's also hot and cold sandwiches, priced at around a fiver.
The menu is compact and slightly less adventurous than The Puesdown, and I think that's a good thing. John still oversees cooking at both establishments and dashes back and forth to each pub to ensure his sous chef is dishing out high quality goods. Doing this with a safe menu means less room for things to wrong.
We skipped starters and ordered steak with peppercorn sauce, chips and tomatoes, and, beer battered cod with chips and peas. The steak was perfect, succulent and cooked to perfection. The cod was full of taste with a thin delicate batter, and oh the peas! We shared a chocolate brownie with blackberries, which was soft and bursting with flavour. The menu changes regularly here to reflect what's in season, so do check the website before making a booking.
By the time we had drained the last remnants of a pint of Hook Norton and a glass of Sauvignon we looked up to find the place much busier and warmer, with that little excitable buzz of energy in the air that makes eating out so pleasurable from time-to-time. As we savoured the green views of picturesque Poulton from the window I made a note in the diary to inform the Armstrong's if ever a pub comes onto the market in the village in which we live.
Typical Starters and Prices
Ham Hock Terrine with Chutney & Toast - 6.00
Warm Duck Confit with Pine Nuts & Honey - 6.95
Typical Main Courses
Grilled Rump Steak, Rocket Salad, Barnaise Sauce and Chips - 17.00
Fillet of Sea Bass, Julienne of Vegetables & Saffron Mash - 13.50
Getting there: On the A417 roughly half way between Cirencester and Fairford
Serving times: Lunch: Tuesday to Sunday
Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday
Bookings: 01285 850844
G. M. Ball's second edition of the best selling Forty Classic Cotswolds Pubs was released earlier this year and is available at all good bookstores, price at 7.95.