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