Properly good burgers have been hard to find in the North Cotswolds. There are pubs (The Chequers at Churchill) and restaurants (The Old Butchers) who have exceptional patties on their menu, but, until now, nowhere has ever offered a dedicated menu.
Smiths of Bourton (on the Water) is run by brothers Seb and Theo Smith. Seb fell in love with burgers while living out in America and Theo's passion for food saw him enjoy an inspiring stint at the much-acclaimed Mash Inn at Radnage. However, like all other restaurants, they've had to adapt to the COVID times in which we live and adapt they have.
They open every evening for takeaway, from 5pm - 9pm. The "Lockdown" menu features eight burgers with an extra unique special each week. There's everything from a classic cheeseburger, with extra pickles and bacon as optional extras, to the lively Chimichurri Burger and Triple B with goats’ cheese, blueberry BBQ sauce, bacon and crispy onions
On top of that there are 4 types of fries, including their incredible crispy bacon, house sauce and spring onion-donned Dirty Fries, truffle aoili, parmesan and crispy sage fries and Rosemary and Parmesan, as well as your regular fries which each burger comes with. You can up grade to any of the others which is most definitely worth doing.
We ordered last weekend for a Sunday night treat. The food was still hot after the 7-minute drive home and the 2-minute photo shoot for the gram... and this post.
The burgers were big, fat and juicy... and delightfully messy, the types where you walk to wash your hands with your arms in the air to avoid touching anything on your way to the taps, which you try turning on with your elbow.
The fries were equally incredible. The sauce on the "Dirty" ones tasted like it had just come out of a Big Mac and the Truffle ones disappeared before a bite of a burger was taken... they were that good.
The whole lot surpassed our expectations, although we had only heard very good things. Perhaps we're just not used to this kind of thing being available in the North Cotswolds. Let's just hope they're here to stay.
Now all we need is Deliveroo.
Heat after drive and photo shoot 8
Expectations surpassed 10
I doubt I'm the only one who has realised that one of their main hobbies was eating out. I love food and the novelty of trying to cook restaurant style (it was nowhere near) food at home has more or less worn off completely and we're back to cooking the same five meals a week that we had before the pandemic.
I got overly excited last Tuesday when I saw The Old Butchers in Stow on the Wold were offering a takeaway menu on the Friday and Saturday... "They do a whole Dover Sole for Christ's sake!"
They were also offering Healing Chicken Broth, Fritto Misto and a Prawn Cocktail for starters, Tempura Crab Roll & Chips, a Prawn Po'boy & Chips and a Rump Steak Burger & Chips for mains, and 1/2 Cold Lobster, Mayo & chips and 1/2 Lobster Thermidor & Chips.
This is incredible, but what the hell is a po'boy?
I googled it. They look amazing. But I really want a burger.
I ordered both (well who needs a summer body?). Over Instagram. And paid via bank transfer. Up yours Deliveroo.
My collection time (which I chose) was at 7pm. There were probably 10 people outside the restaurant waiting. We all kept our distance and nodded a hello, apart from one guy who really wanted a chat from about a metre and a half.
People went up to collect their bags like a university graduation, each getting judged on the amount of food they bought.
My name was finally called and I proudly marched up to the door. "Thank you" I muttered with my hand over my mouth. I realised that she was the fourth person I had spoken to all week.
I got home and presented the bag like a new puppy. We got overly excited once again when we saw The Old Butchers branding on the box. There's a moment of trepidation before opening them as you don't really know what to expect as these place don't normally dabble in takeaways.
The burger looked amazing, as did the po'boy. If it were a film, there would have been fairy dust as each box was opened.
I stole a prawn from the po'boy with my fingers as I eat with my hands now on a Friday, and never on a plate. It had a kick that I wasn't expecting but was incredibly good.
The burger was fat and ridiculously juicy. My white t-shirt looked like Onslow's vest. I didn't care. It was immense. Possibly the best burger I have eaten, ever, and I know that is a huge statement.
Thank you The Old Butchers.
Ordering via Instagram 10
Conversation while waiting 1
**Follow The Old Butchers' Instagram and Facebook for the menus and how to order**
Let's be brutally honest, everything is a little bit crap right now. It's OK to admit that. I was quite enthusiastic at the start, lots of places were offering takeaway and delivery and then within a week, most of them had stopped offering this through absolutely no fault of their own. However, there are a few still going and we'll do our utmost to support them!
Before we start, let's make something clear. I will not make this about me and in no way be getting overly emotional over a portion of fish and chips, I promise.*
It was Friday, which felt the same as the day before, and the day before that and... you see where this is going. I saw on Facebook (where I now spend 25% of my days now, the other 75% is split between actual work, Instagram, Twitter and ringing people) that Greedy's, the local fish & chip shop in Stow on the Wold, was delivering. I'll be completely honest, I don't eat a huge amount of fish and chips but when I do, they usually come from Mermaids in Moreton in Marsh.
Anyway, where was I? I have never reviewed fish and chips before so bear with me.
I replied to their post on Facebook and asked if they deliver to my village 2 miles down the road. I kind of knew they would or it wouldn't be the best delivery service but it was a fantastic conversation starter. They actually deliver to a 4 mile radius that covers Bourton on the Water and Moreton in Marsh Wednesday - Saturday. You can collect still too as long as you call ahead.
Being a Friday (did I mention that?) I presumed they would be busy, and going by their phone being engaged for 27 minutes I was right. I finally got through and ordered cod and chips twice, a large curry sauce and three cans of coke to be used for mixers of any rum I could find around the house. I paid for it over the phone too. This is how far the Cotswolds has moved on in the last 2 weeks. The directions were probably the hardest thing "Go over the first cattle grid, follow the drive until the second cattle grid. Do not fork off (everyone forks off) until you go over the second cattle grid..." They didn't fork off. The food arrived in 20 minutes. I thought it was going to take at least an hour and had prepared for that. The handover was done by shouting into the darkness through the door. Them - "The receipt is in the bag". Me- "Thank you". That was it.
I carried the bag back into the living room like some kind of magic had just occurred. We don't get Deliveroo, or any other delivery services) out in the sticks, this type of thing just doesn't happen to people like us.
Opening them was like opening the first present at Christmas when you were 10. First the wrapping paper (it was the normal chip paper), then a box (I wasn't expecting a box), and there they were, the most amazing looking fish and chips.
They were incredible and I was grateful that I could actually taste them after losing my sense of taste and smell for a week. Always a bonus with food I find.
I know it's nothing huge but a local business thriving in these times is amazing, and they wouldn't know it but they actually made our day a lot better**
**They would know it as I plastered it over Facebook as apparently that's what I do now, I write statuses on Facebook about fish and chips.
Thank you Greedy's, you have a customer (probably about once a month, possibly 2 months) for life.
Conversation with delivery guys 2
Emotional warmth 10
* I failed on both accounts
Wednesday - Saturday. 4.30pm - 8.30pm
We live in a very weird world, and that's not to mention anything to do with politics. Just this week I found myself defending the presentation of The Swan's pie on twitter to a "chef" who told me that the mash should have been quenilled [sic] with a little jus around the plate and some fresh watercress. I told him he was very wrong, and it's not the 90s anymore. Nobody puts watercress on top of food nowadays do they?
It's been a couple of years since I visited The Swan and lots has changed in that time. Most importantly it has been taken over by Sam and Georgie Pearman, the original founders of The Lucky Onion, with pubs like the brilliant Chequers at Churchill which they still own and the delightful Wheatsheaf at Northleach which they don't.
The pub has changed a bit too. Thinking back it was slightly disjointed but certainly not unpleasant. There was an odd little room if you entered the pub through the door on the road. That has gone has become an extension to the bar area with a few nice tables. The dining room which once had outlandish green walls, green wallpaper, and lots of flowers (the former owner was an interior and floral stylist) now boasts more subtle blues and looks more like a restaurant than someone's living room. There was a roaring fire in the other bar surrounded by the best seats in the house and a lovely room, perfect for celebrations and shoot parties leading out onto the courtyard garden which I imagine would be a nice spot in the summer. The pub has a warmer feel throughout.
It's very rare I order bread, or ever bother to talk about it when I do. However, the Chipping Norton sourdough came with horseradish and dripping butter which is very much worth shouting about.
I'm always torn between dishes and usually leave up to the waiter or waitress to decide for me. It was between the BBQ native prawns, English peas, Chipping Norton nduja and mussels. Without any hesitation, the prawns won. They were huge, messy (the water bowl and napkin both turned the colour your fingers go after eating a packet of Wotsits) and brilliant. I've never had peas with prawns before but it worked, and the nduja-fueled juice at the bottom of the copper bowl was incredibly good to for dipping the spelt toast in.
I wasn't torn for my main. It was 3 degrees outside and I wanted a pie. Chicken and leek or ox cheek and smoked bacon, and choosing the latter wasn't a difficult choice. It arrived standing wonderfully unpretentious on a bed of mash and gravy. It was a thing of beauty and yes Mr Angry Twitter Chef stuck in a different decade, there was no need for spooned mash or watercress. If anything, it could have done with an extra small jug of gravy as the mashed soaked it up like a sponge. The side of squash and cavolo nero, curly kale to you and me, was a decent addition.
This was some of the best pub food I have eaten in quite a while. I have a lot of time for places who have a one main menu fits all for lunch and dinner too.
The Swan will lure locals (there's a special menu in the bar with a £10 dish on every day ) and Londeners alike (there's a station in Ascott where one train a day stops from The Big Smoke). There are also 8 rooms at the pub for anyone wanting to make a couple of days of it which we would obviously highly recommend.
Food pictured is;
Ox Cheek and Smoked Bacon Pie
Crispy Cacklebean Egg
Triple ‘Ham’ Burger, Savoy Slaw, Toffee Apple Sauce, Blue Affine, Tabacco Onions, Alabama Fries
It's very rare that food blows your mind. I'm always seeing that someone had "the best meal they have ever eaten" followed by an #ad in the hashtags, hidden enough that some people will miss it and mistakenly believe that they genuinely had their best ever meal.
After seeing much hype and happening to be in Cheltenham, I booked a table at Bhoomi Kitchen. It's the same old Bhoomi but with a much more relaxed feel, new Indian BBQ dishes and Thali to the menu and no white tablecloths. If I'm honest I wasn't a fan of the white tablecloths in the old style Bhoomi. If I'm even more honest, I'm not a fan of white tablecloths full stop. I find it a little uncomfortable in restaurants when someone in white gloves starts brushing the cloth in front of you between courses. I kind of get it, but I feel like those days have gone and it's something my grandparents would have would have appreciated. Anyway, they have gone. Also the walls have changed colour. You know that lovely bluey, greeny grey colour that everyone uses? It probably has a trendy name at Farrow and Ball. Evidently I'm no expert, I just know it looks nice.
The Thali is served between 6pm and 6.45pm every evening (bar Monday as the restaurant is closed) and lunch time on Friday, Saturday and Sundays. There was already a trickle of the after work crowd when we arrived just after 6. How bloody clever to capture that audience with a silver tray of pleasure for a tenner or £12 if you opt for the Butter Chicken or Kerala Lamb. Either way, it's a bargain.
I never eat at 6pm. I don't trust people who do. They must be the ones who go to bed at 10pm when I'm just about to sit down to eat my dinner. With a mix of naivety and fear of having to eat twice in a night, we treated the Thali as a starter and ordered three of the Indian BBQ dishes for our main; Tharavu (Duck breast, rubbed with south Indian
gunpowder spice blend then barbecued in charcoal tandoor), Chicken Reshmi Kebab (Marinated breast in hung yogurt, ginger, garlic, cream, ground peppercorn, ground cashew nuts, skewered and tandoor roasted) and Barbecued Prawns (marinated in lime juice, chilli, cumin, coriander tandoor baked).
Now we've all had duck chicken and prawns before but this was on a different level. The duck and the chicken more so than the prawns which were seriously good, just not as good or a memorable as the other two. The flavours were immense, compelling and fiery all at the same time, and the meat was like butter. It was simply brilliant.
I'm not here to say that my meal at Bhoomi Kitchen is the best I have ever eaten, but it was some of the most exciting food I have eaten for a very long time.
I always look forward to The Big Feastival. I have watched it grow since 2012 when Razorlight and Texas were topping the bill, Jamie Oliver and Valentine Warner were doing cooking demos , and Peppa Pig was the highlight in the Little Dude's Den.
Eight festivals on and all of the original foundations are still there. It's just got bigger and a whole lot better and this year was by far and away the best yet.
They got lucky with the weather. It was over 25 degrees all weekend and no matter what anyone says, it makes a massive difference. They also got a little bit lucky with Lewis Capaldi. When he was announced on the line-up he was nowhere near as big is he is today. I think many people there on Friday were purely there to see him.
In keeping with tradition, Friday was brought to a close with a DJ set. This year saw Rudimental turn Alex James' Farm into Ibiza Rocks with their 75-minute set.
Lucy May Walker was the highlight from The Udder Stage which BBC Introducing took over each afternoon showcasing some rising talent from the UK.
Dodgy and The Zutons both played the main stage on Saturday before Jess Glynne brought the evening to a close.
The sun was beating down again on Sunday afternoon where Barns Courtney produced one of the best sets of the weekend. He was followed by Alex James' Orchestra and an awesome DJ Set by Jonas Blue that would probably have been suited being on a little later than his 4.30pm slot, but nobody seemed to mind. The sad loss of Jade Bird to illness meant that she was replaced by Abba Tribute Björn Again which is never a good thing, and triggered a quick escape back to the Cheese Hub.
Jack Savoretti is riding the wave of success from his hugely successful "Singing to Strangers" album and was perfect as the sun was setting behind the main stag, before Elbow, who I feel were lost on a lot of the younger generation, brought the Feastival 2019 to a close with a customary flawless set that concluded with Grounds For Divorce and One Day Like This from their number one album, The Seldom Seen Kid.
As the name of the festival suggests, food is a huge part of the weekend. You need more that 3 days to sample all of the incredible street food on offer and without doubt the best food ant any festival I have ever been to. The brisket bun, pickled red chilli from Smokstak and the steak from Carcass were both incredibly good. As was the meat from DJ BBQ where you can sing along to some classic rock with T-Bone Chops, not his real name, on air shovel. The fried chicken from Only Jerkin' and Burger and Beyond burgers were both exceptional, and the queue for Souvlaki Street suggests their amazing looking Greek wraps were hugely popular. Sadly I couldn't fit anymore in and have already noted them down for next year.
The Collaboration Kitchen returned for a second year serving up some special edition dishes from most innovative names on the UK street food scene. I tasted my first ever mac 'n' cheese pie thanks to My Pie x Anna Maes (Mac Not Crack) which was ridiculously good.
The NEFF Big Kitchen again played host to an array of demonstrations and Q&A sessions from some of the biggest names in food including Raymond Blanc, Mark Hix, Prue Leith and Gennaro Contaldo.
The thing I love is that the Feastival isn't trying to be edgy or cool in the slightest. In all fairness it would actually struggle if it was when Dick and Dom introduce Lewis Capaldi to the stage following a quick game of "Bogey".
It is just brilliantly British with outstanding food, heaps for families to see and do (under 12's go free) and music which is the aural equivalent of comfort eating.
If don't ever want to forget your wedding anniversary, get married on a day that will trigger your memory. It really works. St George's Day is her, sorry, our day. I actually need a reminder the day before as again I forgot to buy a card. She hadn't bothered either. Who said romance was dead?
"It's leather this year" as a picture of some riding boots was shoved in my face. Apparently we are supposed to buy each other something leathery for 3 years of marriage. Let's hope she'll be as enthusiastic with a few pieces fruit next year.
I had the day pretty much planned; a Veuve Clicquot Champagne brunch at The Lygon Arms followed by dinner at their new Back Garden Restaurant at Dormy House, albeit with an eight hour gap in between.
The brunch menu included pretty much everything you would expect to find from Eggs Benedict, Royale and Florentine to Avocado on toast, more eggs and chilli, with an optional glass (£14) or bottle (£75) of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label. I convinced her that 3 years of marriage didn't warrant a bottle, and the fact the sun was out and we could eat outside was more than enough.
What can you really write about a brunch? I love reading so called foodie bloggers' reviews of a free brunch they have been given thinking they have cracked the world of Instagram influencing with their 28 post likes. "The eggs were really runny" They actually were very runny. "The toast was cooked just right" It was. I would have been worried if it wasn't. "The avocado was perfectly smashed" Yep, that too. However, the additional chilli flakes did add a surprising, yet welcome fiery kick as I reached for my glass of fizz to stop my coughing.
It was 20 degrees and the courtyard terrace is a lovely place to spend a few hours. The fact that this brunch is served from 9.30am - 6pm is an added bonus as we enter the summer months.
The Back Garden is the latest restaurant to launch on the Farncombe Estate. This time at Dormy House, under the watchful eye of Culinary Director, Martin Burge.
The estate has pretty much covered all culinary bases now. Hook at The Fish Hotel is a splendid seafood restaurant, not forgetting the hotel's outdoor Feasting BBQ Deck for groups of 10-20. Guests at, Foxhill Manor, their private manor house, can choose what they eat, where they eat it and when they eat. A concept that I love as I often eat on impulse and regularly eat far too late.
As well as The Back Garden, The Dormy has also just launch MO, a unique, interactive 7-course tasting-menu experience to just 12 guests at a time. These both sit alongside the always consistent, relaxed, no-faff Potting Shed. I can highly recommend the belly pork.
The Back Garden is completely different to the others. It would be stupid if it wasn't. There is a huge focus on nature, local ingredients, high-welfare meats and sustainability. This might sound a little bit twee and pretentious. It really isn't.
We booked for 7.30 and were the first to arrive which is always a little bit strange. We were shown to a window seat that looked out towards the, errrrr, back garden. Of course it did.
The restaurant is beautiful with the fading evening sun offering some natural light. There are plants mixed with subtle coloured soft furnishings and wallpaper-covered walls with a print that neither of us could decipher.
Then menu arrived with a bottle of Merlot and a G&T. It's fixed-price at £49.50pp for 3-courses that would have my local pub-eating parents gasping for air. It's a special occasion type of place which works for both hotel guests and locals alike.
At the risk of choosing off the sample menu on the website, luckily our choices were on there. Stuffed saddle of rabbit, pickled spring vegetables, whole grain mustard, bitter leaves and Pearl barley & Worcestershire hop risotto, beer pickled onions to start, and Braised beef cheek, pointed cabbage, cauliflower purée, king oyster mushroom and Jonny’s fish of the day. I have know idea who Jonny is but it was Halibut with samphire so that was me sold.
She looked up from her risotto, like Goldilocks over a bowl of porridge, and declared that this is "the best starter I have ever had".
It was all exquisite. I'm not even sure if I have ever used that word before.
The flavours of the rabbit, pickled veg, mustard and bitter leaves was immense and I won't lie about having slight food envy when I saw her Braised beef cheek arrive although my fish was superb.
There was enough room for desert. We chose the apple tart with toffee sauce as the picture on the website looked so good and the local cheeses, bits and pieces.
With excellent service from our French waitress (I usually try and get a name if they are really good) and some incredible cooking by Head Chef Sam Bowser, the price becomes irrelevant. For the same meal in London you would definitely be looking to double, or even treble, the bill.
Surely food like this better than some leather riding boots, right?
We live in a weird world nowadays. Everyone with an Instagram account seems to be a blogger of some sort and feel entitled to free things everywhere they go. They bully businesses into believing that their 32 likes on a post and hyped up figures will get people flocking to their establishment. Believe me, they really don't. For businesses, this might be some cheap content to post on social media. A meal doesn't really cost that much and nobody will write anything bad if it's free so it's a win win.
Sadly for me the tide has turned. I am someone who loves eating out. A piece of me dies inside when I'm referred to as a "blogger" as that is the last thing I am. The Cotswolds Gentleman has taken 3 years to grow into what it is today and to gain the trust from my loyal readers. I now won't attend "launch events" who invite every Tom, Dick and Harry just to fill the place, most of whom will never return. I will no longer eat at restaurants that just throw free meals to "blaggers" (a term I stole from Koj). Why would you gift someone an event invite or meal who has no influence or following whatsoever? For me it dilutes your brand. I may be wrong.
Obviously in my line of work I am always offered complimentary meals, and yes I sometimes accept. However, I always pay for my meal with a tip of the value of my meal so the staff who worked so hard to produce my meal get something back.
Last weekend we returned to The Plough at Cold Aston for a roast purely for the fact that it was so good when we visited 3 weeks before.
"Please tell me you have the Truffle Cauliflower Cheese" was my only request. They did.
Cold Aston is one of those villages that you would never have any real reason to drive through unless you are going to the pub or to see the mechanic. It's about 3 miles from Bourton on the Water and the same from Northleach. But not really in the middle if that makes sense? Google it.
The pub is back to its best since Tom and Josie Hughes took it on (Tom was former manager at The Wheatsheaf in Northleach) and is quickly growing a big reputation. The busier the pub is, the more cars are dotted around the grass triangle out on the road forming a makeshift car park. Sunday was very busy. The sun obviously helped to with people eating outside. They are a lot braver than me.
Our table ordered Red Ruby roast beefs. It arrived under a Yorkshire and on top of orange and cinnamon carrots, a parsnip that could have done with another 5 minutes and 3 roast potatoes, along with the truffle cauliflower cheese, greens, extra gravy and horseradish cream on the side.
It was again very good and with a carafe of wine, a Guinness, a Cotswold Lager, Cotswolds Gin & Tonic, pint of coke and two lemonades our bill was a tiny bit over £100 which we all paid and we all also chipped in with the tip.
I have never been a "new year, new me" kind of person but I have been trying to eat less and get fitter in the last month or so. It's not nice, nor is it fun, it's more cutting down on any snacks so I can eat all the things I love without feeling any remorse. A Sunday roast is one of the things I love.
My previous two roasts out have both been in hotel restaurants. This isn't my usual style. I usually go in search of a cosy pub with with a log fire and all the other clichés associated with them. Turning down invites is also not my style and last week saw us head over Cleeve Hill to the beautiful Ellenborough Park.
The drive up to the hotel has the feel of entering a private country estate. The building is very grand as you would expect and a wire horse stands on the front lawn gazing out towards Cheltenham Racecourse which is just yards away. Inside is a cosy maze of stone, wood and soft furnishings and beautiful rooms at every turn. We were shown to our table in the corner of the lovely oak panelled dining room. It's the kind of room where my grandparents would have donned their Sunday best and visited on a special occasion and why the hell not?
It's customary before I go anywhere that I look at the menu online, and to my surprise the Sunday Lunch was £25 for two courses, the same price, if not cheaper, than some pubs in the northern reaches of the Cotswolds. I was expecting it to be more.
David, the Sommelier, introduced himself (The Ellenborough is well-known for the quality of its wine) and offered to pair our wine for each course. How could we possibly refuse? I'm used to a glass of house red to wash down my roast beef.
Our Rabbit and Duck starters arrived, beautifully presented along with a wonderfully fruity and light Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy Gevrey-Chambertin En Jouise and a New Zealand Dry River Gewürztraminer that got both thumbs up from the non white drinker the other side of the table.
In good time a man appeared holding a tray with two plates full of perfectly rare sirloin, roast potatoes, Jenga-style carrots and parsnips and a Yorkshire Pudding, along with two small pots of veg, a jug of extra gravy and incredible horseradish to knock your socks off. David paired a 2011 Clos du Val Merlot from Napa Valley which was a lot heavier than the first red but went down just as well.
We usually share a pudding but were torn between the Sticky Toffee Pudding and Apple Tarte Tatin so we ended up ordering both. I think David was pleased as he could pour us a glass of Patricius Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos from his native Hungary. I rarely eat pudding so rarely have dessert wine but this was heavenly sweet honey-finished golden nectar and the perfect way to end a meal.
Ellenborough Park is lovely in every way and although it may not be your usual setting for a Sunday Roast, it's the perfect place for a special occasion where the service is impeccable and everything is done brilliantly well.
Price: 2 courses £25. 3 courses £32
I'm not going to lie, a Sunday roast is one of my favourite things in the world and it annoys me when people start meddling with it. But, and it's a big but, this was until we experienced 'Wellington Sunday' at the Lygon Arms in Broadway.
I'm usually a roast beef kind of person when I'm out and a pork or chicken person when at home. I would be a beef person at home if I were more organised to go to the butchers and always struggle to find a nice joint at the supermarkets so chicken and pork it is. Although we were there for the Wellington, the Waghorne’s (a local butcher, not a type of cow) 30 day aged sirloin, beef dripping roast potatoes was still very tempting.
The dining room at The Lygon is beautiful not matter where you sit and at 2.30pm it was still relatively busy with people trickling in. I started forming a "most beautiful dining rooms in the Cotswolds" list in my head but could only think of another three as good.
Not knowing the size of the Beef Wellington we decided to share a twice baked cheese soufflé. I'm not sure there is a better starter when it's done well, and this one was pretty good.
With just a gravy jug as company, the showpiece arrived as red as the 1st Duke of Wellington's uniform and just how we imagine Arthur Wellesley would have wanted it two centuries ago. The beef dripping roast potatoes were very good too. In a world where everyone compares a restaurant or pub roast spud to ones they have at home, these were definitely better than mine and I could have easily had another one, or two... or three.
After another wine and anther gin it was time to leave. I'm not used to this lunchtime feeding but could definitely get used to it if it's as good as this.
I might just book again next Sunday.
Price: Twice baked cheese soufflé, garden salad, £11. Scottish beef Wellington, £27
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