I’m bored with Kings and Queens. Of Ships, Sails and Dinghies. Red Lions, Foxes, Goblins and Griffins. A pub name should not follow trend. We need more character taverns: Dirty Dicks in Bishopsgate, or how about Duck Butt in New York. The Gaggle of Geese is fine, named in the Telegraph and Famous Grouse Top 100 Famous Pubs and winner of The Taste of Dorset Award 2011 as well as Best Local Pub.
If pubs are closing at a rate of 39 a week (according to The British Beer & Pub Association) then Dorset is a county in good health. On our drive to The Gaggle we passed several pubs with sturdy reputations and mentions in the Good Pub Guide 2011: Hunters Moon, Brace of Pheasants, Thimble, Poachers…
Dorset is a rich demographic for its pubs. They’re up there with other tourist delights such as the Jurassic Coastline and Lulworth Cove. It has only one Michelin-starred restaurant though. For food you have to search the local pubs and restaurants and a good place to start is The Gaggle of Geese in Buckland Newton, operating as gastropub, skittle alley and auctioneer of poultry. There’s even a takeaway fish & chips option available for locals.
Mark Hammick is both landlord and poultry auctioneer. He is, by profession, a farmer. As we arrive, preparation is underway for a charity auction the next day, along with a hog roast for guests.
Roughly 1,500 people are expected to attend and bid on breeds from Buff Orpington chickens to Citrus Millefleur Sablepoots and Barred Plymouth Rocks, or there are standard chickens and geese, if that’s what you’re after.
And it’s bird on the menu for us with a concise menu of seven starters, seven mains. Pigeon was perfectly prepared, sitting on toasted bread with a fluffy poached egg on top, releasing a sunshine yolk.
The room is open floor. There’s a dining room at the back but you can sit and eat in the bar area in front of an open fire. It appears more of a living room and in the style of old fashioned taverns, rather than a strict separation between dining and drinking.
My Main of confit of duck with mash, braised red cabbage, and an exceptional spiced pear and pineapple chutney, was a generous portion and the finest confit duck I’ve eaten. The meat was soft, juicy and full of flavour and the crispy skin crunched and then melted in the mouth. The chutney is homemade, adding a fruity and welcomed lick to the plate. It’s available to purchase in small jam jars from the bar.
Being farmers, Mark and Emily Hammick understand the importance of good local produce and have helpful relationships with the abundance of local producers who supply the veg and shoot partridge, pigeon, venison and pheasant for the kitchen. Friends and locals also forage, and Mark tells me about the Amethyst Deceivers and Giant Parasols mushrooms that were recently delivered. Meat comes mainly from Simon Harvell at Irwerne Minster, who Mark calls ‘a classic old school butcher’, the rest from Mark’s family farm in Cattistock: goose leg hash and organic rump steak.
A few pints of Buscombe and we’ve settled in to the sitting room. As appetising as desserts sound – Orange & Cointreau Ice Cream, St Clements Meringue Pie, and the enticing cheese selection: Dorset Blue Vinny, Dorset Red, Coastal Cheddar & Somerset Brie with Gaggle Biscuits & Piddle Honey – we’ve had our fill and bellies are near explosion from good food and local pop. We decide to take coffee to the sofa and relax in front of the resting fire.
Mark entered and exited the bar finalising the poultry auction. Behind him plodded Summer and Minnie, two of their three cocker spaniels. In the paddock behind the pub livestock is kept: lambs, goats, chickens and geese. And to keep them extra busy, Mark’s wife Emily recently gave birth to Dotty to complete the family.
If you’re after high quality, local produce served by people who know what they’re doing, in a quaint corner of Dorset countryside, then you won’t do better than The Gaggle of Geese. And if you want to play skittles, fall asleep on a pub sofa or purchase some rare-breeds, well, then you can do that too.
The Gaggle of Geese, Buckland Newton, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7BS. Tel. 01300 345249. Website.