So over, the country house hotel? Never fear. Apparently, the next big thing in weekend escapes for Londoners is the posh pub with rooms. The theory is that the reinvented ‘inn’ – not so much hotel, B&B or gastropub as a box-ticking amalgam of all three – will hit the sweet spot for funkapolitans who, frankly, might feel a little uneasy straying too far from their social, spiritual and aesthetic comfort zone.
My partner and I put it to the test at the Wheatsheaf in Northleach, Oxfordshire, and weren’t disappointed. Once in need of serious TLC, the Wheatsheaf is now a fabulously tasteful 14-room boutique affair. Since its opening last July, it has won travel gongs from the Times and Tatler.
It presents a traditional frontage to the world, demurely dressed in ivy from to doorsill to eaves, but at the back, eau de Nil shutters and square planting pots give the building a French provincial air. Inside, the same contrasts apply.
In our bedroom, the high-maintenance requests thatI had emailed ahead (iPod dock in room, unsweetened soya milk) were present and correct. The room was lovely: a harmonious combination of taupe walls, grey-green mohair throws and dusty blue paintwork.
I had some reservations. ‘Tea and coffee-making facilities’ may be a phrase of irredeemable naffness, but personally, I like to be able to make a cup of tea without ordering (and paying for) room service. Other sins of omission included: a full-length mirror, any mirror near a socket where I could plug in my hairdryer, and a reading lamp.
It was quite impossible, however, to carp about our dinner, which we ate in the comfortable and cosy dining room. Chefs Anthony Ely and Humphrey Fletcher boast an impressive collective pedigree featuring London’s River Café and Square. But there’s nothing finicky or tiresomely haute about their food, and with a menu this good (and this reasonably priced), it is no wonder The Wheatsheaf restaurant and bar is always heaving with locals.
Luckily, however, they can walk home. Otherwise, where could we refugees from the Smoke escape?
The Wheatsheaf Inn, West End, Northleach, Gloucestershire, GL54 3EZ. Phone: 01451 860244
FIVE MORE WE’D LEAVE TOWN FOR
The Hand and Flowers, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Chef-proprietor Tom Kerridge serves up two-Michelin-starred food in the shabby chic dining room of this attractive pub in the Georgian town of Marlow.
Four suites (named, fittingly, after varieties of cow) come with hip country house hotel accoutrements (copper bath with stargazer skylight, flatscreen TV, posh chocs, exposed beams, animal skins and Jacuzzi).
126 West Street, Marlow, SL7 2BP. Phone: +44 (0)1628 482 277
The Bell Inn, Ticehurst, East Sussex
Not content with merely serving food and drink, this funky pub with rooms also hosts talks, debates and entertainments of all varieties. (Think Lee Payne from off the telly dancing on a table.) The food is local and accomplished, and bedrooms are quirkily cool and come with a silver birch tree as standard.
High Street, Ticehurst, East Sussex, TN5 7AS. Phone 01580 200234
The Kingham Plough, Kingham, Oxfordshire
This establishment has won a bunch of awards from reputable guides (Michelin, Sawday) and plaudits from hard-to-please critics (AA Gill, Giles Coren). The fabulously pretty village of Kingham is the setting for Emily Watkins’ superlative food. Rooms are on the traditional, chintzy side. Children and dogs are welcome.
Kingham, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, OX7 6YD. Phone: 01608 658327
The Olde Bell, Hurley, Berkshire
Ilse Crawford designed the guest rooms at this “re-invented English inn” and they exude sexy industrial chic (animal skins, graphite throws and cushions, rough sisal rugs by the bed and oblong butcher’s tiles in the bathroom).
Food is of the impeccably sourced, traditional variety, and comes in generous helpings.
High Street, Hurley, Berkshire SL6 5LX. Phone: 01628 825881
The Lion and Pheasant, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
This elegant townhouse of a pub is stylishly decorated in a Nordic palette of white and grey-green with tongue and groove paneling, crisp bedlinen and exposed beams aplenty. Its fine dining menu (two AA rosettes) features exquisite morsels arranged across an expanse of white plate.
50 Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, SY1 1XJ. Phone: 01743 770345