The top 50 gastropubs in Great Britain 2015

The Sportsman Pub, Kent
Winning pub: The Sportsman in Kent

This piece was originally published on September 9, 2015.

Celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit of the great British gastropub – the food-led phenomenon that saved the humble boozer from outright millennial slump – the Budweiser Budvar Top 50 Gastropub Awards took place in Hertfordshire this week.

Foaming pints of Adnams were raised to toast the winner, The Sportsman near Whitstable in Kent, plus the highest new entry, Maida Vale’s Truscott Arms, and a handful of Ones To Watch, including Nathan Outlaw’s Mariners in Rock, Cornwall.

Organised by the Publican's Morning Advertiser, the top 50 is voted for by industry insiders, which goes some way to explaining why a decidedly jolie-laide Shepherd Neame pub in a nondescript spot by the chilly North Sea pipped its peers to the post.

Click through for a gallery of the top 15 best gastropubs in Britain

Self-taught Stephen Harris, who took on the seaside spot in 1999 with his brother Philip, is very much a chef’s chef, admired by top pan-shakers from Claude Bosi of super-smart Hibiscus in Mayfair to James Lowe, chef/owner of Lyle’s in East London.

“It’s incredible what Steve Harris has achieved at The Sportsman,” says James Lowe. “It’s not that easy to get to, and it’s not the prettiest of pubs nor the prettiest of places. He has just worked really hard, with a small team, for years and years. It’s great to see him recognised, because what he does is nothing to do with obsessions over new openings, hype, trends or social media. His food is incredibly simple, but not easy.”


Hake with cabbage; There are always three meat and three fish main course options


Albeit it a “grotty pub by the sea” (its Twitter bio is characteristically modest), with fans like these, the Sportsman has become a gastronomic cult hero; the same gourmet pilgrims desperate to tick off Noma or Michel Bras get up early to ring for reservations.

Yet it is also the kind of place where you can walk in wearing muddy wellingtons and order a pint of bitter. No Nik-Naks, though, rather oysters with home-made chorizo, and bread with home-churned butter, flecked with sea salt. Roast pheasant or partridge comes on a “risotto” of celeriac, and turbot is braised in vin jaune, in classical French style.

"I suppose the building is a bit rough and ready, but I quite like that," says Harris. "We are basically on a salt marsh in the middle of nowhere, with the wind blowing in from the sea, so it’s hard to keep it looking pristine. The first time people come they are a bit wary, but it’s the kind of place that really grows on you.

"And the food we have on our doorstep is amazing. The salt marsh lamb, the shellfish, the fish, the farms. It’s what the French call a real terroire. So I just try to bring that together, not do anything too complicated or poncey, and this is the result."

The pared-back dining room at The Sportsman

<br> The Sportsman's three rooms are unflashy, even plain, and far less gentrified than your usual garlanded gastropub. Louboutins would look a bit daft here.

Tales from the top 50

Stosie Madi is co-owner of and chef at Parker's Arms near Clitheroe, which is equally unpretentious, though it’s located in one of Lancashire’s prettiest villages. She was delighted to see her pub move up seven places from last year, at number 41. “The awards are amazing,” she says. “It is so helpful for a small business like ours, with no PR budget, to be recognised among our peers in the industry, and by people like Elizabeth Carter of the Good Food Guide, who is on the voting panel.”

Stosie has been cooking at the Parkers since 2007, deploying top-drawer technical skills to make “simple things like gammon and eggs – only it’s house-cured bacon taken from a whole pig we’ve bought from a local farmer, and the eggs are from one mile away.” People come from miles away to eat her hand-raised pie. Stosie believes pub lovers want simple cooking, “but you’ve got to get it spot-on.”

For Andrew Fishwick, owner of North London’s Truscott Arms, a handsomely restored Victorian corner pub, this year’s highest new entry at number ten, the country pub is the model he feels inspired by. “The ideal of the landlord welcoming you with a pint and a comfortable place to sit at the end of a long day – that’s what people want in a neighbourhood pub in London, too. Food has to be a part of it now – the days of four old men propping up the bar, their pints paying the bills, are long gone.”

Andrew believes the Great British pub will always be with us, thanks to its capacity to evolve. He puts on art shows, and music nights, for which his chef Aidan McGee collaborates with a contemporary classical composer.

<br> Many pubs on the list double as boutique inns: the Gurnard’s Head in Cornwall, Gunton Arms in Norfolk, and the Star at Harome in North Yorkshire, all in the top ten, are among the UK’s most stylish small hotels. The boom in craft beer and microbreweries has seen the return of “real ale” to the gastropub, while even the Michelin-starred winners – including runners-up the The Pony & Trap in Somerset, and the The Pipe and Glass near Beverley, have checked any restaurant aspirations and embraced their identities as top-drawer British boozers.


The Sportsman, Seasalter, Kent
Pony & Trap, Chew Magna, Somerset
The Pipe and Glass Inn, South Dalton, East Yorkshire
The Plough Inn, Longparish, Hampshire
The Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire
Freemasons, Wiswell, Lancashire
The Royal Oak, Paley Street, Berkshire
Gunton Arms, Thorpe Market, Norfolk
The Gurnards Head , Zennor, Cornwall
Truscott Arms, Maida Vale, London
Harwood Arms, Fulham, London
The Hardwick, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire
The Bull and Last, Highgate, London
The Hinds Head, Bray, Berkshire
The Kingham Plough, Kingham, Oxfordshire
The Canton Arms, Stockwell, London
The Anchor & Hope, Waterloo, London
The Scran and Scallie, Edinburgh
Treby Arms, Sparkwell, Devon
British Larder, Bromeswell, Suffolk
The Cornish Arms, Tavistock, Devon
The Beckford Arms, Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire
The Greyhound, Stockbridge, Hampshire
The Vintage, Leith, Scotland
Red Lion, Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire
Jack in the Green, Rockbeare, Devon
Felin Fach Griffin, Brecon, Wales
The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott, Oxon
Lady Ottoline, London
The Wellington Arms, Baughurst, Hampshire
The Cross, Kenilworth, Warwickshire
The Longs Arms, South Wraxall, Wiltshire
Smokehouse, Islington, London
The Butchers Arms, Eldersfield, Gloucestershire
The Olive Branch, Clipsham, Rutland
Broad Chare, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Anchor, Walberswick, Suffolk
The Rat Inn, Anick, Northumberland
The Masons Arms, Knowstone, Devon
The Eagle, Farringdon, London
The Parkers Arms, Newton-In-Bowland, Lancashire
The Three Daggers, Edington, Wiltshire
The Angel Inn, Hetton, North Yorkshire
The Glynne Arms, Hawarden, Flintshire
Friends of Ham, Leeds
The Swan, Wedmore, Somerset
The Fox Inn, Willian, Hertfordshire
Old School Bar & Kitchen, Mount Hawke, Cornwall
The Wild Rabbit Inn, Kingham, Oxfordshire
Parlour Kensal, London NW10