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
Ramblings from The Cotswolds Gentleman.