Obviously, London is and always will be our No.1 love, but sometimes a little break from the city is a tonic, particularly when it involves a cosy winter weekender. With so many gorgeous minibreak locations, country pubs and snug stays within a couple of hours of London, we’re throwing out a new segment every so often with a little weekend escape idea…
As you head out of London there’s no shortage of cute inns with great food, but towards the northern edge of Oxfordshire and into Warwickshire we’ve stumbled across a couple of new favourites. Part of the Freespirit Pubs group, a group of pubs all about creating unique and memorable drinking and dining experiences, each location has its own personality along with gorgeous food from local seasonal produce. The Bell Inn, in the tiny, quaint village of Ladbroke, is worth a diversion from any route and is exactly the foodie pitstop needed after a morning stomping about on cold country walks. The pub is renowned for its food, the work of Head Chef Gil Davies, who works closely with small independent farms like Carpenters Farm in nearby Warmington which provides The Bell with the stand-out of its British steakhouse menu, its cuts of dry-aged, Short Horn Beef. The seasonally changing menu combines modern British flavours alongside pub classics in its cosy dining room with roaring fire and cosy snug; it was reopened after a total refurbishment last spring.
We stopped in recently for lunch and boy, were we pleased we did. With a menu of Chef’s Specials including soup, fish, scallops, pies and dessert ‘of the day’, along with starters, sharers, home comforts, sandwiches and puddings, it’s a big menu, not to mention the Sunday roasts. We started off with a mushroom and gruyere soufflé, accompanied with dressed rocket and pine nuts, sitting in a beautiful sauce threaded with wholegrain mustard, a cosy, comforting dish. For the main, the Chef’s Pie of the Day was a hearty chicken and leek, with crisp golden pastry a mountain of creamy mash, vegetables and a healthy glug of gravy. Utterly delicious and just the ticket on a cold day. With puddings including spiced poached pear, churros and local cheeses, we decided on a warm slice of banana cake with spiced rum toffee sauce, Biscoff ice cream and custard; indulgent perfection.
A lunch certainly worth stopping in for, but less than 20 minutes down the road lies another Free Spirit Pub, The Castle Inn at Edgehill near Banbury, once again with a sterling seasonal menu of pub deliciousness, but this time with the added bonus of five cute and cosy rooms in its towers. With views of the Warwickshire countryside, en-suites, beautiful country-inspired décor and fridges filled with local goodies, it’s our top spot for a winter weekend, particularly given you can down tools on a Friday and be there by dinnertime.