Cheltenham was once flooded with burger restaurants. They were literally popping up on every corner. However, within a year, most of them have disappeared. Real Burger has gone. Moody's lasted about two months, sadly it was far too big and in the wrong place and has returned to being The Bierkeller. The Tavern changed their menu for the umpteenth time and moved away from a full American diner menu to a more grown up offering which is really good. Five Guys arrived and will do alright as it's in The Brewery, but it's massively overrated which leaves us just two places, The Bottle of Sauce and Holee Cow.
The latter opened in 2017 and like most new places, I usually give them a few weeks to settle in before trying them. I never intended to leave it a year. It's in quite a good spot right next to Superdry and near the highly controversial Boots Corner and the incredibly new tacky artificial grass outside Starbucks. What's that about?
The interior is stripped back industrial with exposed brick and wood walls. There's a mix of tables, chairs stools and a long sofa down one f the walls. Hanging bulbs light the place nicely but very much like the menu, it isn't over complicated.
On the back of your paper place mat you will find six burgers, eight sides with a couple of monthly specials on a board on the wall. You can double up on each burger if you're that way inclined. The Holee Cow is the house burger, then you have Smokey Bacon & Cheese which is self explanatory, P.I.T.M (Piggy in the Middle) with smoked pulled pork, The Lamburghini, yep you've got it, a lamb kofte patty, The Spicy Clucker, a buttermilk marinated & dredged chicken breast with buffalo hot sauce and their vegetarian option The Bean Bag. All (as singles) are £9 or under and all the ones with a beef patty contains locally sourced West Gloucestershire beef.
We both chose the Smokey Bacon and cheese (one single and one double) with a side of both Truffle Cheese fries and Loaded Pulled Pork and Jalapeño sweet potato fries. Bacon Cheese Fries, Macaroni Cheese Bites and Chicken Wings are also available.
The brioche buns were lightly toasted, cheese was dripping out over the pattys and the bacon was properly crispy and as smokey as described. The fries were both superb with generous amounts of toppings. I can't remember lunch ever tasting so good.
It's like survival of the fittest for burger restaurants in Cheltenham and these guys are in fine physical shape. Find me a better burger in town... I'll wait.
Look out for their new Holee Clucker restaurant launching in November!
‘On the final day of 2017, I had not just the best mouthful of the year, but the best mouthful of my life’ claimed Giles Coren of a pub that had only been back open for five weeks after a couple of years in the wilderness. It was high praise indeed and something that appears on flyers on each table, but was also a lot of pressure for the new bosses Tom Noest and Peter Creed who's covers grew from twenty a night to over sixty with visitors looking for their 'mouthful of a lifetime'.
The pub is small and snug with painted walls, exposed beams and stone, mismatched art and furniture and flagstones throughout. We headed to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and discovered Wood Brothers Gin for the first time, created by brothers Ed and Charlie on a farm just down the road. We sat at a barrel that doubles as a table and enjoyed some Padron Peppers and Rock Salt before moving into the dining room.
The menu mixes modern and classic with simple and seasonal and includes an abundance of dishes large and small. The beautifully blistered garlic, parsley and bone marrow flat bread is delivered straight from the pizza oven, that you catch a glimpse of every time the kitchen door opens, is a must and is perfect for sharing. This was followed by Salt Cod Fritters and Buttermilk Fried Chicken to officially start although we had definitely started two courses ago. Both were served with aioli, the latter with a choice of garlic or chilli. We opted for chilli which generated a kick of heat in every bite.
The mains soon followed (Lamb Neck Fillet and Rainbow Chard and the Cheese Burger and fries) along with the extensive wine list that was heavily French and European with the addition of a few from the New World, a red, two whites and a sparkling from the Poulton Hill Estate that's just 20 minutes away and one from Lebanon. While she opted for a large glass of red which arrived in a carafe, I went for Bobby's Beer that was on tap behind the bar.
I had had my eye on the Lamb Neck Fillet while looking at the sample menu a few days in advance of our visit. It didn't disappoint, in fact, it was possibly the best dish I have eaten this year. The pink tender meat with an incredible salty crumb exploding with garlic and anchovy and the beautifully cooked chard blew me away. A dish you would expect to find at over £20 in most other places was just £14. The side of mash I ordered worked very well too. The Cheese Burger was recommended by Pete. A meal once looked upon as dull and pointless is now a mainstay on every good menu. The meat in this one perfectly cooked, the sauce was similar to what you might find in a Big Mac (completely intentional as Pete's favourite burger) yet nicer and it arrived under an avalanche of fries.
There wasn't enough room for pudding but it was hard to resist the Chocolate Nemesis. There were Maldon Salt flakes sprinkled on top and crème fraîche on the side. It was as rich as its name suggests and however much you will try not finish it, the saltiness and sweetness will make sure you do.
The pub has only been open for 10 months but you would never know it. They have just finished eight stylish newly renovated rooms, all with king size double beds and en-suite walk in showers and again you will be shocked at the prices that start from just over £70 a night B&B. Their ethos is all about offering people good food, good wine, good beer and a good experience and they do it in droves. The manner in which they cater for everyone; young and old, local and further afield and deliver it with such quality, ease and value is simply outstanding.
There are a few things in life that I'm very sceptical about and chain pubs are pretty high up on my list.
The Frogmill, which is now owned by Brakspear, has recently undergone a huge renovation which has transformed what was a tired country inn into a beautiful looking pub with 28 boutique rooms. The patio is one of the best places to sink a drink in the sunshine, I for one enjoyed a few afternoons on the sun loungers during the recent heatwave.
My only other experiences of Brakspear establishments have been The Porch House and The Sheep, both in Stow on the Wold. The food is always pretty good but the service in both can be a little trying to say the least so I was intrigued (slightly concerned) to see what it would be like at The Frogmill.
We were greeted three times by three different members of staff, the third of which showed us to our table in the restaurant that was full to the brim which is very good for a Thursday. We shouldn't ignore the fact that it took nearly an hour for our food order to be taken, however, I would hazard a guess that it was delaying tactics enabling the kitchen to cope. This doesn't really bother me as I'm out for the evening and would always much prefer to be sat in a restaurant that's buzzing than an empty one with no atmosphere.
Our starters arrived, Smoked King Scallops with summer pea velouté, pancetta and nasturtium oil (£11.95) and Summer Lobster Ceviche, BBQ’d watermelon, sweetcorn & jalapeño succotash (£14.50). Both were simply delicious and were generous in size. The scallops were the fattest juiciest we've had away from the coast and the freshness of the BBQ's fruit with the lobster was truly delightful.
All day leading up to the meal I was craving a good chunk of meat. Luckily there is an extensive grill menu that includes three steaks, whisky glazed pork belly ribs, tuna, lobster and the 16oz pork tomahawk (£16.50) that we ordered along with a medium-rare (it arrived with a stick in it telling us it was medium-rare too just in case we had forgotten what we ordered) 8oz ribeye steak (£20). None of the dishes from the grill menu come with any sides which, as I have mentioned before, is a pet hate of mine. The menu recommends three sides between two people but two was enough. There are heaps to choose from and we opted for Lobster Bisque Macaroni Cheese (£6.50) and some incredible Parmesan & Truffle fries (£5). The steak was perfectly cooked and you could tell that it was a real quality piece of meat, as was the pork. Both were seasoned well and the sides, and a pot of Béarnaise sauce, worked really well and again were generous in size.
Like with the meat craving, I really fancied some cheese too so followed this with The Frogmill Cheeseboard (£8) which included a blue, a creamy goats cheese, a cheddar, some wonderful crab apple jelly and crackers.
The food was faultless. The service was really good and the staff all extremely attentive and wonderfully friendly hosts. There were a few teething problems as you would expect but nothing major and certainly nothing that couldn't easily be ironed out quickly.
What Brakspear have done to The Frogmill is truly outstanding. They have created a country inn for all seasons that has the potential of becoming one of the most popular venues in the Cotswolds.
The Cotswolds has been crying out for a decent fish restaurant for years. We have been relying on Purslane in Cheltenham for far too long for our seafood fix so when The Farncombe Estate announced that they were creating a seafood inspired restaurant by Culinary Director Martin Burge in the newly refurbished Fish Hotel, it was music to my ears.
First stop was the bar for a couple of pre-dinner drinks. This has been transformed into a stylish space with lots of fine spirits and a cocktail menu that included a Cotswolds Gin Martini... when in Rome! The bar has its own lunch and dinner menu and is also dog friendly. If you have your pooch in tow, you can also enjoy the Hook à la carte menu in the bar which is pretty cool.
The dining room follows the laid-back Scandinavian style with an open kitchen and plenty of soft furnishings. The menu offers, in their words, " the finest, freshest responsibly sourced fish, sustainable shellfish and a few timeless classics from the land" and I couldn't agree more so don't be put off if you're not the biggest seafood fan.
The Fowey Mussels with smoked bacon, garlic & Cotswold cider were absolute monsters and one of the best starters I have had for a while. If you love mussels then this is a must. They are also available with white wine and parsley, and as a main course which includes fries, but the bacon, garlic and cider is definitely the way forward and there are lots of them too!
I rarely order Lemon Sole due do the bones and my lack of patience when having to work for my meal but this was recommended to me and served with shrimp and capers, and it looked amazing on a picture I saw on Instagram (see below), so I couldn't really back out. The bones were a pain, they're always a pain, but it's worth it in the end. The extra side of fries is highly recommended too! Would I order it again when I go back?, probably not as I saw a picture of the Bouillabaisse on twitter this week which looked incredible and tells me that I probably need to spend less time on social media.
If you have a sweet tooth then the pudding menu offers some treats as well as some dessert cocktails. An espresso martini was enough for us but were were very tempted by Banana caramel cheesecake.
Farncombe Estate have a knack of getting things right. The Dormy House and Foxhill Manor both offer brilliant dining experiences and now The Fish Hotel, after failing to reach its full potential in its first few years, has now created a superb celebration of seafood and something the Cotswolds should really embrace.
À la carte
Let's face it, the weather is pretty crap at the moment and the only thing that cheers us up is food and alcohol, correct?
Last Wednesday was no different, rain in the morning, grey skies in the afternoon. The only thing keeping us sane was an evening with the Cotswolds Distillery taking place that night at The Churchill Arms in Paxford. If you are familiar with the pub then you will know that the food is always of the highest quality. If you have never been then we suggest you try it soon.
Chef and proprietor Nick Deverell-Smith had created a menu featuring some of the distillery's finest tipples. For starter there was Cornish Pollock cured in Cotswolds Dry Gin, grapefruit and black pepper salad and some grapefruit bitters. I really don't like grapefruit. I thought it was just it was just my immature palate as a child but I have tried and tried and still find it utterly repulsive. Luckily there were some orange segments on the plate whose sweetness worked perfectly with the slight sharpness of the fish. There was also a slug of the gin to wash it down with which again, if you have yet to try it you are really missing out. You can always tell a good gin when you can drink it on its own over some ice. This is one of those gins.
The fact I love beef meant that I was looking forward to the main course. Local Todenham Farm beef, local broccoli, broccoli puree, Cotswolds single malt whisky oat crumb. The beef was perfectly pink (unless you wanted it a little more well done) and the crumb was packed with whisky notes. This was "The Cotswolds" on a plate with all the ingredients being sourced within a 10 minute drive of the pub. The whisky is the first ever single malt made here in the Cotswolds and if you don't think you like whisky then give this one a go. With notes of butterscotch, apricot and a hint of treacle, it is a fabulous introductory dram and truly exceptional for a 3 year-old.
For dessert there was The Churchill's take on an Affogato served with the distillery's Figgy Liquor. Now this stuff is the difference between remembering your night and not. It's made in small batches and sold exclusively at the distillery, apart from 4 bottles that are at The Churchill. It's 41% ABV and absolutely delicious. It literally is, as described, a "figgy fruitcake in a bottle". It should however have a warning on the bottle like you get when you go on long-haul flights to take a lap of the pub every now and again to make sure your legs still work. The dessert was light with one scoop of ice cream. We were recommended to pour our figgy liquor into it but that would have been a waste!
When you're passionate about supporting local, it is wonderful when two fantastic businesses come together to create something special. The Churchill Arms is the only pub to stock a full range of Cotswolds Distillery spirits and liquors. You can also try these on a tour of the distillery that you can book on their website. If you are thinking about doing either of these, we highly recommend getting somebody else to drive!
For a month or so now it seems that all anyone has spoken about in Cheltenham is The Ivy Montpelier Brasserie and with good reason too. The interior, which you would have probably already drooled over if you have been following The Ivy's progress is ultra impressive and the menus that serve food from 8am to a refreshing 11.30pm in the week and 12.30am on a Saturday make this a fitting place to kick off our reviews for 2018.
After a slow journey in fog we arrived in time for our table but sadly not in time for our planned drink at the splendid circular bar that occupies the middle of the main restaurant. We were pleasantly greeted on entering, offloaded our jackets to the cloakroom and were shown to a small table for two on the inner circle. The way the restaurant is designed means there is no bad tables and it doesn't actually matter where you sit.
Being the hottest place in town, it was unsurprisingly full and buzzing with a inviting vibe. The interior most definitely helps as the beautiful domed ceiling and the horse and jockey covered walls are great conversation topics.
Starters arrived after a couple of glasses of fizz. Atlantic Sea Scallops, Truffle risoni, shaved Parmesan, black truffle and sweet potato crisps was one of the most splendid dishes I have tasted for a long time while the wonderfully fresh Crispy Duck Salad, with five spice dressing, toasted cashews, watermelon, beansprouts, coriander and ginger was packed with many flavours.
Just feet away from us the barman was creating some awesome looking cocktails on his circular stage as our main courses arrived. Mustard and herb crust shoulder of lamb and The Ivy Burger, the latter ordered more out of curiosity as we both wanted to know what a "Potato Bun" tasted like. To me it was just like a brioche bun yet perhaps a little fluffier, to her it was the best bun she had ever had. The lamb was tender and sat on a hill of creamy mash. The rosemary sauce (known to many as gravy) appeared in its own miniature saucepan loaded with carrots and parsnips and a teaspoon for decanting which was a nice touch as well as being a hazard to anyone with an unsteady hand. From the first bite (I had two bites) you could tell the meat in the burger was quality. It was served medium (we were offered well done too but surely nobody opts for that?) with a side of fries, a Bloody Mary ketchup and a complimentary stack of salad that never got disturbed.
Did we need a pudding? Of course we didn't but ordered the Chocolate bombe. It was sweet, like magically sweet with a vanilla ice cream and honeycomb centre that soon caved in from heat of the lava-esque salted caramel sauce which is sure to become one of the most boomeranged Instagram videos in Cheltenham. We managed to clear the plate and then somehow devoured a salted caramel espresso martini straight after.
I loved the Ivy but my only slight worry is that people will forget that its a brasserie and will pick holes because of the logo above the door and the stamp on the plates. In reality it is the finest looking, and busiest restaurant in town serving decent food at extremely reasonable prices and offers a very good dining experience which is more than can be said for many of the places that have rested on their laurels for a few years. Of course it's early days and yes it's the zeitgeist, but one thing is for sure, The Ivy has given Cheltenham a kick up the backside it never knew it needed.
Atlantic sea scallops 11.95
Crispy duck salad 7.95
Slow-roasted lamb shoulder 16.95
The Ivy hamburger 14.25
Chocolate bombe 8.50
It seems like I'm reviewing The Tavern all the time, which is true to a point because for the last couple of years it has been searching for the identity that it has seemed to have lost in the last year or so. I'm happy to say, I think it has found it again.
It's a year since The Tavern reopened after a fire heavily damaged the pub in May 2016. It was to be the perfect opportunity to rebrand and reinvent both the interior and the menu, and for a time there was a real buzz. The classic dishes of the past were replaced by many different burgers, chicken wings, sides and fries. It worked for a time and was the first diner-like restaurant in the town. The burgers were awesome (especially "The Hog" and "Chili Cheese") as was the chili fries and mac 'n'cheese. But that was it. They were serving food until midnight to try and capture some late night visitors. Again, this worked for a while.
Fast-forward a year and we have a brand new menu, one which comes with high expectations with former Soho Farmhouse's Ronnie Bonetti who is now the Lucky Onion's Executive Chef and The Tavern's Head Chef James de Jong.
Gone, are most of the burgers, some of the sides and all of the shakes. You could tell that their days were numbered when a new "undercounter" menu was introduced a couple of months ago. From that we were treated to the devine lamb, roast garlic and mint meatballs (£8) (pictured above) which have found a spot on the seafood-heavy list of starters which includes scallops, clams, tiger prawns (£9.50) (pictured), salt 'n' pepper squid and half a pint of prawns (ask your parents). Two vegetarian salads and a bavette tartare complete the line-up.
The size of the menu is impressive. There are four steak options including the 32oz Tomahawk, all served with fries and all from West Country cattle and dry aged for a minimum of 30 days. I went for the slow cooked Hereford beef blade off the mains which was beautifully tender and served with the smoothest celeriac puree, carrots and topped with more carrots that sat in vinaigrette and served cold with a delightful kick.
There are seven other main options with lamb rump, monkfish tail, Old Spot pork Milanese, Loch Duart Salmon, Ricotta dumplings and spatchcock poussin all featuring as well as the aforementioned "tavern classics" of burgers, wings, a caesar salad and sides.
If you had to ask your parents about the half pint of prawns then call them back over to talk you through the pudding menu which screams retro with its truly spectacular Banana Split (£6) (pictured), Sticky toffee ice cream sandwich, Caramel Burnt Cream, Tonka bean panna cotta and a decent selection of ice creams.
The service was very good and there is a bartender eager to create cocktails from the menu and any others that are not on there which is never a bad thing.
The Tavern has found it's mojo again mixing the best of the old and new and creating an outstanding menu while putting itself well and truly back on the ever-growing, and ever-improving, Cheltenham food map.
5 Royal Well Place, Cheltenham, GL50 3DN
Like a good old fashioned Brexit argument, the refurbishment of The Lygon Arms has been the talk of the Cotswolds and beyond for quite a while now with differing opinions; many all for the changes and others completely dead against it. Why would anyone be against it?
The refurbishment has seen a huge change in direction for the restaurant going from fine dining to a much more relaxed style and feel and a menu aimed at a wider audience. The linen covered tables have been replaced by marble top tables. The mirror-covered white walls and barrel-vaulted ceiling are now a tasteful grey(ish) blue and are filled with numerous framed portraits and landscape paintings. The dreary striped carpet is now a lovely wooden floor and the 1970s light shades have been replaced by some stunning antlers. They have created one of the finest looking dining rooms in the Cotswolds.
Our table was booked for 8.30pm and we arrived at around 8.25pm (we got stuck behind a learner driver). We ideally wanted to be earlier to enjoy a cocktail in the bar before hand but decided to go straight to our table which happened to be next to the roaring open fire and perfect on a dank and dreary October evening. I had mentioned that it was my wife's birthday when booking and she was instantly greeted with a "happy birthday" and glass of fizz. I went for a bottle of Cotswold Brewing Company IPA.
The restaurant was almost full and there was a pleasant atmosphere. Before long our starters and main courses were taken. We opted for one Duck terrine, fruit chutney and sourdough (£9) and one Butternut squash and nutmeg ravioli and wild mushrooms (£8, or £13 if you want it as a main) followed by Venison loin, roasted roots and sloe jus (£24) and Welsh lamb cutlets (£24) both served pink. Sides are not included and are all priced at £4 and big enough to share if you order a main that suits the same side dish. We were recommended the thyme mash and the creamed leak and bacon so went for those.
A lovely small loaf of warm bread arrived before the starers with salt sprinkled butter. The ravioli was a real winter warmer with three filled pieces of pasta sat on a bed of spinach and under the delicious wild mushrooms with a broth like layer of goodness covering the bottom of the bowl. The terrine and chutney was a solid combination and equally as good.
After a quick game of "can you name any of the faces on the wall?" (we couldn't, but guessed that one must be Charles 1 and another Oliver Cromwell) our mains arrived. The venison, as described, was sat on a bed of roasted roots and sloe jus. The lamb was served with a vine of tomatoes. In all honestly I would have probably preferred it with some creamed spinach, or something similar, as it definitely warranted two side dishes. That aside (no pun intended), the meat on both plates was perfectly pink and all sourced locally. The thyme mash was incredible.
We were full but the Sticky date and toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream (£6) was highly recommended. How could we resist? A bowl was ordered, as was an espresso martini. The pudding defeated us but it was as good as we were told it would be.
I had noticed the dreaded 12.5% service charge hovering at the bottom of the menu throughout the meal. This is something that annoys many and I have got into the habit of asking where this charge goes and of course it is discretionary so can be removed if you like. The waitress informed me that it gets shared out to all the staff monthly which was good to hear and the staff were excellent and well worth their 12.5%, particularly Matt and Owen who looked after each table with confidence, knowledge and most importantly, enthusiasm.
Once a tired restaurant living off reputation rather than merit, The Lygon has a new lease of life and has all the ingredients of becoming an outstanding dining experience to both guests of the hotel and locals alike.
01386 852 255
High Street, Broadway, Worcestershire, WR12 7DU
The Maytime Inn is not a pub you will just stumble across but once you have you will be glad you did.
It had been on our radar for a while so we eventually booked in for a Sunday lunch. I knew it was in the village of Asthall which is somewhere near Burford. Any village within 5 miles of Burford is classed as "near Burford" but I actually had no idea where Asthall was.
We arrived 26 minutes later (the SatNav told us that) and discovered that it was actually just down the road from Swinbrook which is also "near Burford". I wouldn't have guessed it was there at all and even with the SatNav's help, we still managed to miss the first turning into the village but went down the next turning which was actually closer to the pub.
The pub is set on the side of the road near the grass triangle (i very much doubt that is the local term for it) and is surrounded by some beautiful Cotswold stone cottages. We parked in the spacious car park at the rear and for some reason (to take a photo while the sun was out) walked back to the front of the pub and entered through the main door.
It was very busy which is always a good sign. We had done some research before going which involved looking at the menus and pictures on their website (which is due to be updated very soon) but the interior looked different to how I imagined. It was bigger than it looks from the front and there were lots of different areas. The beautiful wooden bar is lined by some wooden topped bar stools under some wonderful oak beams. We naturally headed that way and ordered some pre-dinner drinks. "A Gin & Tonic please" was greeted with "Which Gin would you like?" as the barman handed us a book the size of a small novel with a description of the 104 gins stocked behind the bar. There were some wonderful sounding ones in there but we still opted for Cotswolds.
We were shown to our table next to the window and soon chose our food. Two courses for £21.95 or three for £24.95 which is different to what their website says but still very good value. We opted for Tempura Mussels and a Smoked Mackerel & Leek Tart to start and after hearing that it was cooked pink, two roast beefs for the main.
I had never had Tempura Mussels before but these were delicious especially when dipped in the chilli salt and aioli that accompanied it or the chilli dip that was served with the Mackerel Tart which was equally as good.
On each table there was a general drinks menu that was also like a small novel and full of wines, fine wines, beers, cocktails and anything else you needed to wet your whistle. You can sense the passion that had gone into these menus by landlord Dominic Wood who was just 23 (yes twenty-three!) when he took over the pub.
The beef arrived and was pink like they said it would be and was surrounded by roast potatoes, a parsnip, kale, a Yorkshire Pudding and sat on a pile of carrots, which were discovered after the first cut, and a sea of gravy. I'm no Joey off friends and enjoy sharing but it was refreshing to have a roast come out all on one plate. The beef (that is from WJ Castle's in Burford) was generously served and tender to cut. The horse radish that I had asked for was incredible. By that I mean it cleared my nasal cavities with every dip which is how you want your horse radish.
We had seen Eton Mess on the sample menu on the website but sadly that wasn't on our menu so for dessert we shared a Dark Chocolate Mousse with a brownie base and raspberry gel. It was as good, and less sickly, than it sounds and looks.
The Maytime Inn is a superbly run pub with young staff whose life is made easier by the quality of food being created in the kitchen by head chef Roger Williams. We were sat next to a table of eight so it's a perfect place for groups too.
If you are "near Burford" anytime soon, we highly recommend a visit to The Maytime Inn.
The Maytime Inn, Asthall, (near) Burford, OX18 4HW
In 2006, 21 year-old Justin Salisbury was studying Accounting and Finance at Leeds University when he discovered that his mother had been in a serious accident. He left university to help run the family business - a struggling B&B on the Brighton seafront known then as The Malvern Hotel.
With help from girlfriend Charlie, the hotel began to attract visitors but was in need of a revamp, the only problem was the lack of budget but Justin had a plan inspired by the Brighton art scene. He sent out an advert for artists to decorate rooms.. Artist Residence was born.
Fast forward eleven years with girlfriend Charlie now his wife and two further hotels in both London and Cornwall, Artist Residence has finally reached the Cotswolds and have transformed a 16th century farmhouse-turned pub that was in desperate need of a new lease of life, into a quite stunning country pub with a unique charm and a wonderfully untypical interior.
Nestled in the village of South Leigh in the Oxfordshire countryside, you will find the beautifully thatched Mr Hanbury's Mason Arms. The exterior offers no real insight to just how eccentric the inside is. Most of the walls, if not exposed or painted in a deep blue, are covered in floral or William Morris wallpaper and are covered in various prints from stags to sport and some more magnificently offbeat neon lights which unusually don't look out of place.
We were shown to our table in the corner of the dining room and given the bounded drinks menu which includes a full page dedicated to gin which is always a good sign. After a Cotswolds Distillery G&T we ordered our food. For starters we chose the perfectly crispy and slightly caramelised glazed pork belly with a smoked hock and fois gras bon bon, BBQ celeriac and cauliflower (£9.50) and venison tartare, confit egg yolk, red cabbage and truffled croutons (£8) which was by far and away the best tartare I had ever had.
For mains we opted for new season Yorkshire grouse, girolles (which I googled at the table to find out they were a yellow woodland mushroom) and savoy cabbage and Creedy Carver duck breast, a delightful leg hash, wild mushrooms and malt onions (both £25). Head Chef Leon Smith cooks all meat on a Robata Grill which adds a magical smoky, charcoaled and dare I say almost-burnt taste to the whole dish.
We left a little room for dessert and opted for chocolate mousse, blackberries, gingerbread and crumble (£8) with two spoons and an Espresso Martini from the Mr Hanbury Digestif section which I know isn't a dessert but is a must after dinner.
For those looking for a more laid-back meal, there is an all day pub menu "best served with a pint" including mussels on the starters and the Mason Arms burger on the mains.
Whatever you choose, it will be created using home-grown or locally sourced ingredients and served with a passion that runs through the whole of Mr Hanbury's team who seem as excited as we were for visiting the Mason Arms.
01993 656 238
Station Road, South Leigh, Oxfordshire. OX29 6XN
The Old Stocks has gone through some huge changes in the last few years - none greater than transforming a 17th-century coaching inn into an incredibly charming and unique venue to eat, sleep and drink. However, the most recent change has taken place in the kitchen with the arrival of Ian Percival as head chef and as a food loving local, this is probably the most important of all.
Stow on the Wold was recently recognised as a top food destination by users of a well known booking website, indeed there are a lot of places that serve food but not many that you would return to or actually recommend. There are a couple of pubs that serve decent grub, the Indian is pretty consistent with its hearty non-extravagant dishes and there's one other restaurant which is very good but apart from that, it is hard to find anywhere that offers an exceptional dining experience. That is until now of course.
Our table was next to the window in the far corner of the beautifully designed dining room, one seat on the sofa-seating that runs all the way along the exposed Cotswold stone wall and the one a stylish blue upholstered arm chairs that add a touch of colour against the wood and checked flooring.
After studying the menus (there are 6 starters, 6 mains and 4 options on the grill including local longhorn steaks) and ordering our first drinks, a Cotswolds Distillery Gin and tonic, we ordered our food. Scallop and Smoked Ham Hock to start and Duck and the Pork Loin from the grill (recommended by the waiter as I was torn between that and the Plaice Risotto) for main. It wasn't long for the dishes to arrive. The perfectly tender scallops (£10) sat beneath a squid ink cracker surrounded by small balls of watermelon, citrus beads and a side of crab meat while the prism of Ham Hock (£8) was nestled against some beautifully sweet apricots, chutney and leaves. Both were fresh, light and presented beautifully.
The main courses soon followed with the perfectly pink (optional) Duck breast (£18) accompanied by chicory, greens, plum and confit leg croquettes that were a revelation and took the dish to another level.
There are two Pork Lion options. One on the main menu served with cider apple, heritage carrots, rosti and radish (£17) and one on the grill menu served with creamed potato, wholegrain mustard and pork crunch (£15). I went for the latter as well as some parmesan truffle fries (£3) on the side. These two dishes alone show the diversity of the menu with a nod to fine dining as well as hearty food at the same time.
We couldn't leave without trying a dessert (all £6.50) and opted for the strawberry mousse, elderflower granite and meringue with two spoons. If you haven't got a sweet tooth then there is a great selection of local cheeses to choose from. If that doesn't take your fancy either then you can always have and Espresso Martini or Fig and Chocolate Martini (both £8) on the after-dinner cocktails menu to turn to. We went for the Espresso Martini.. how else are you supposed to finish a meal?
There is often a perception about restaurants in hotels but this is completely different and should be recognised as a stand alone dining room. It simply offers outstanding cuisine without being pretentious or stuffy and is the best place to eat in Stow on the Wold.
Book a table today www.oldstocksinn.com
When there is a chance to celebrate lots of wonderful food and drink from our shores you would be a fool to miss it. So, when The White Spoon in Cheltenham created an evening to do just this, we couldn't resist going along to try the stunning 6-course pairing menu on offer.
The White Spoon is a delightful restaurant hidden just off Clarence Street and is led by Chris White, Chef, director and a graduate from Heston Blumenthal's prestigious Fat Duck group which offers outstanding food, incredible service and a memorable and relaxed dining experience in a relaxed and unpretentious environment.
Not part of the Best of British menu was the Gin and Tonic we enjoyed before dinner. It was their own gin and distilled locally by Brennen & Brown and you could tell that a lot of time had gone into the flavours.
After the Plant Pot Bread (yes it was served in a terracotta plant pot) and delightful Applewood Smoked butter we enjoyed some Squid Ink Crackers and Pulled Pork Balls followed closely by a plate sporting a bright mix of Heritage Tomatoes, Strawberries, BlackTtea and a Prawn nestled in the middle. This was paired with a crisp Surgue Pierre Brut from the South Downs that boasted a hint of apple and lemon and worked perfectly with the dish.
Next up was Scallop, Pork Belly, Quail Egg and Asparagus. It was a delicious as it sounds and was the first real nod to Mr Blumenthal as an asparagus foam made its way onto the plate. This was paired with a New Hall Bacchus from one of the oldest and largest English Vineyards located in Essex and filled your mouth with subtle citrus notes. This wine is available on The White Spoon wine list!
The menu was getting better as English Rose Veal, Turnip and Pearl Barley was next to arrive. Surprisingly, this was paired with a Rocky Head Pale Ale which smelt as strong as it tasted and was full of flavour with hops being sourced from New Zealand and the USA. Did it work with the Veal? I found it slightly overpowering but both on their own were incredible.
Could this get any better? Yes it could as that wasn't even the main event. The next dish was all about local with Cotswold Lamb Neck, Sweetbreads and a Pea Summer Truffle pairing up with Ravens Hill, a stunning light red wine from the brilliant 3 Choirs Vineyard in Newent full of berry notes and a magical hint of vanilla and complimented the lamb perfectly.
Before pudding, we were given a palate cleanser. A wonderful iced foam gin and tonic which looked like something straight our of a chemistry lesson but again just reminded you of Chris White's past.
To finish we enjoyed Toffee Apple Custard and Ginger and some wonderful Somerset Royal Cider Brandy. Now for all you, like myself, who thought you needed to be over 65 to enjoy a glass of Brandy, I urge you to try this with your desert. It too had a delicious vanilla flavour running through and the kick of ginger from the ice cream was the perfect way to finish this unbelievable menu.
Check out what we drank!
The White Spoon www.thewhitespoon.co.uk
Sugrue Pierre www.sugruepierre.co.uk
New Hall Vineyard www.newhallwines.co.uk
Rocky Head www.londonbrewers.org/members/rocky-head
3 Choirs Vineyard www.three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk
Somerset Royal www.ciderbrandy.co.uk
Book a table at The White Spoon today - 01242 228 555
Not much has changed at The Killingworth Castle in 400 or so years, people drive along the B4027 (it's modern day name) and stop at this beautiful coaching inn for a feed or a bed like they would have done when this was the main road from Worcester to Oxford in the 17th century.
What has changed in recent years are the landlords with the pub now under the watchful eye of Jim and Claire Alexander who brought it back from the brink in 2012 and, who also own the brilliant Ebrington Arms near Chipping Campden. What they have done in 5 years is simply outstanding picking up various awards including AA Rosettes for culinary excellence in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and Michelin Bib Gourmand Winners in 2015, 2016, 2017, when you visit you can see why.
It was a sunny late April Sunday and we had just enjoyed a walk around the magnificent Capability Brown inspired gardens at Blenheim Palace which is just a couple of miles down the road. We had booked ourselves in for lunch at 2pm and arrived shortly before and received a warm welcome from each member of staff who we passed on the way to the bar where we sat for the next half an hour with a Cotswolds Distillery gin and tonic chatting to Frank on the other side and choosing our meal. The menu was priced as a set menu although you can have a roast on its own for £17 but why would you when 2 courses are £22 and with the quality of food, is well worth it. We both opted for roast beef for main (after seeing the monster Yorkshire Puddings on twitter you couldn't really choose anything else) but chose different starters - cider steamed mussels, pancetta, parsley, garlic and cream and calamari. The mussels were huge, tasty and full of flavour from the garlic and pancetta. I was told that the calamari and garlic mayo was equally and delicious.
The mains arrived with perfectly pink beef sat in a rich pool of gravy, roast potatoes and an amazing cauliflower puree on the side and a the mighty Yorkshire sitting proudly like a tower on top of a hill. Then came the sides, firstly salted and buttered carrots and tender stemmed broccoli cooked perfectly with a bite, followed by the most incredible creamed leeks with a crumb top, followed by a jug of extra gravy and the glass of Malbec from the house reds.
Although nearly full, it is hard to deny yourself a pudding especially when Sticky Toffee is on the menu. We did however share and chose ice cream to accompany it. Once again it was perfect with the ice cream melting into the toffee sauce bringing the best of hot and cold together in each mouthful.
I love a good Sunday roast and there are too many places that just do a roast like it's a burden rather than an event that should be remembered, so when someone takes a roast to the next level it is hugely refreshing and you do start to wonder what everyone else is playing at.
Book a table at The Killingworth Castle by calling 01993 811401 or visit www.thekillingworthcastle.com
We highly recommend a trip to Blenheim Palace. Why not stay at The Killingworth Castle in one of their 8 delightful rooms in the converted stables. Click HERE for more information
There's no bad time to write about British beef but we thought during #BritishBeefWeek is the perfect time to talk about the incredible supper that we enjoyed at The Chequers in Churchill with Richard Turner.
As we arrived, the pub was already brimming with lots of people and we were greeted with Shakey Pete's Ginger Brew cocktail that also consisted of lemon and after the first few tentative sips, it actually got better further down the glass. After a little more mingling and idle chit-chat we were taken into the beautiful dining room which has dark walls and exposed beams and was laid out in a banquet style with three rows of tables which seemed quite fitting for what we were about to encounter.
We sat down and Richard was introduced to the dining party. We studied the menu. Beef Tea with Bread and Dripping was the thing that created much discussion and when the china tea pot arrived, and mugs were filled, the sips were even more uncertain than those of the cocktail but we needn't have worried as it was delicious and unfairly compared to Bovril more than once. It was a pleasant surprise to see scallop on the starter menu and that arrived proudly sat on a shell and covered in fennel butter and garlic crumb goodness and was a treat to the taste buds.
Also on the starters was a Beef Tomato Salad. And a tomato on a side plate duly arrived followed by a large plate of perfectly cooked beef, followed by some Creamed Spinach and some Trotter Mash which created a plate of food like this (see below)...
This was a delicious as it looks and I think another piece (or two) were added to my plate and then something happened. A huge oval plate of Charcoal grilled Poterhouse Steak was brought to our table. This, with its mammoth T-Bone, had been resting for 3 hours awaiting our arrival. Before I go on it is hard to get across the taste of something in words but this Ladies and Gentleman, was the greatest thing I have ever eaten. It was melt in your mouth tender, smoky, slightly burnt on the edges, much better than a fillet and simply sublime. Even those few words are not doing it justice.
The last thing I needed was anything else but it's hard to resist a Sticky Toffee Pudding with Clotted Cream that was served in a sundae glass and again was a delight.
Richard, I salute you.
Richard's book Prime: The Beef Cookbook is out now and is available to by HERE
For more upcoming Lucky Onion Events click HERE