Lunch in the Cotswolds?
Well, if you insist! Muddy heads to Asthall near Burford to chow down three courses in a bucolic, brilliantly-priced, dog-friendly inn. Definitely one to add to your list.
Asthall is the village that time forgot. Easily reachable for London weekenders but with an off-the-beaten-track feel, it supplies instant bucolic bliss as soon as you skirt down from the Burford high road. The approach is charming, with the road narrowing to a single lane and stone walls, the meandering Windrush River, and the only sign of life the occasional walker and a few sheep.
The Maytime Inn is Asthall’s crowning glory of a pub. Originally called the Three Horse Shoes and part of the building was the blacksmith’s shop, it was taken over by present owners, Ken and Dominic Wood (and dog Alfie) and refurbished in 2012 and most recently again in January this year, with a paint job, new carpets, fixtures and fittings in the bedrooms plus, importantly, increased shelving to hold the ever-increasing gin brand tally (140 to date!).
As you’d want (and probably expect) a Cotswolds pub to be. The decor is a pleasing mix of muted whites and greys, wooden floors and flagstones, tweedy cushions, lots of natural wood and mirrors.The main eating/bar area is open plan and attractive – a large sweeping bar area, a mezzanine with a lovely private room beyond it (great for a private party) , then a large informal pubby eating area split into two areas by a large inglenook fireplace.
There’s a snug sofa area to play the Monopoloy or Trivial Pursuit lying around. It all feels well thought through, and unpretentious – it’s just as easy for a dog-walker to come in for a restorative pint and doggy biscuit (for the dog, in case you were wondering) as large party for dinner.
They day I ate there was a mix of customers, from family groups (be relaxed about bringing your kids, the large garden is perfect for them to let off steam) to couples to small groups of friends, all well looked after by the staff.
Although I visited in February, this is a place that will really into its own in Spring and Summer, with the doors at the back opening out onto a glorious patio and garden, bordered by unbridled lavender and cat mint with rose beds and the river just beyond. There is a pétanque pitch with an oversized umpire chair which children love climbing on, and an outdoor bar. All good fun. They serve up to 120 people lunch on a Sunday in the summer.
There are six rooms – the largest of which is the Hunting Room if you want to nab it specifically! You’ll be happy to rest your head here – the rooms are well-appointed, with supercomfy beds (Hero tells me – she’s stayed here before!), with country-chic styling that reminds me a little of Soho Farmhouse (the bathrooms have Cowshed products as it happens), and gorgeous bathrooms. The rooms are pretty snug – no space for a sofa – but if you’re looking for a place to rest your head and get out the next day to explore the Cotswolds it’s ideal.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The menu is inventive and playful. I started with moules, a generous portion heaped on the plate with a compellingly creamy sauce.
Here they move basic ingredients on to the next level – so corn on the cob is charred, the curly kale is fried, and the chunky chips taste of truffle and parmesan.
My partridge dish was unxious and delicious (perfect for a cool February, maybe not going into Summer!), and my pudding was like a chocolate-encrusted whoopee cushion with glorious goo oozing out. It was too large to finish and made me glad I hadn’t gone for the baked Camembert as a starter.
By the way, don’t expect a massive menu at The Maytime Inn (I’m not a fan of pages and pages of options anyway) but there’s still enough choice to suit veggies – three specifically vegetarian dishes plus daily specials, and the option to upscale your starter dishes to a main.
And now to the quaff, which is a big deal here. They are big on local producers and this extends to the drinks menu with its asterisked local makers, groves, brewers and distillers. The gin menu has been turned into a book featuring 140 varieties, each paired with a particular tonic and garnish. Owner Dominic particularly recommends the Cotswold Distillery gin (the word has spread as far as New York apparently but ner-ner, we knew it first!) and out of the 140 on offer there are at least 20 local-ish options.
Beyond gin, the cocktails looked fantastic – make mine a Rhubarb Crumble please (rhubarb vodka, cinnamon powder and a glug of cloudy apple juice), and the inn also offers an impressive 40 wines (including the fine wines) by the glass.
By the way, if you get a chance you should try the Wine Club – more of a quarterly banquet style evening than a club as such, it offers a 3-5 course set tasting menu, each course paired with wines, where head wine supplier Alberto talks you through the vino and then you can buy your favourite tipples at trade prices. Bonza!
OUT & ABOUT
In Asthall itself you will be making your own fun, the beautiful 12th century church is worth a meander, but if you crave the shops you’re 10 minutes from Burford which is ideal browsing territory, and there is always the chichi Burford Garden Company, where you could lose yourself for a good afternoon. There are great walks on your doorstep and the pub will give you a map of a five-mile circuit which takes you through neighbouring Swinbrook and Widford. It would also be a great place to go after visiting the biannual On Form exhibition at Asthall Manor, just up the hill which returns this year from 14 June.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Couples looking for an escape weekend in an idyllic area, Sunday lunchers, dog walkers, local drop-inners, gin lovers, families (especially in the summer when kids can run around outside). The garden area and patio is lovely for those hot summer days when you’re desperate for al fresco dining – coincide your visit with The Maytime Inn’s seventh summer festival, running from 26-28 July.
Not for: If you’re not into Cotswold-style interior charm it might not be for you (but then why are you in the Cotswolds?). The small bedrooms might not suit those with young ‘clambering’ kids.
The damage: Reasonable for the Cotswolds I’d say. A straightforward pie of the day with mash, veg and gravy is £16 whilst a more elaborate dish such as fresh pan-fried scallops, black pudding, ‘Njuda, tempura cauliflower and cauliflower puree costs £10.50 as a starter or £19 as a main. Sunday lunch costs £21.95 for two courses, or £24.95 for three courses.
The Maytime Inn, Asthall, Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4HW. Tel: 01993 822 068
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Words: Claire Garner