No-frills food of high quality at one of the UK’s ‘poshest’ pubs
JUDGING by the appalling house price guessing game we had when we arrived in Charlbury, Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer will be relieved to know that their jobs as hosts of Location, Location, Location are well and truly safe.
“It’s all about the OX7 postcode, mate,” whispered J with a certain degree of confidence as we approached a modest terraced property with a ‘for sale’ board outside.
“This is prime Chipping Norton territory with your Beckhams, Camerons, Clarksons and Soho Farmhouse – I bet this place is on for at least £450k.”
A few minutes later, we came across the estate agents’ window with the picture and details of the small house we had just walked past and our jaws soon dropped when we saw a ‘sold’ sign next to the £750,000 price tag for what was only a threebedroom property.
But then Charlbury is one of the most sought-after gems of the Cotswolds and one of the few towns with a railway station and direct trains to London Paddington.
It also has three pubs within short walking distance of each other, the best known of which is The Bull Inn on Sheep Street.
When society magazine Tatler ran a story about the ‘poshest pubs in Britain’, The Bull Inn – and its sibling The Swan at Ascott-under-Wychwood ten minutes away – were both featured. This pair of well-manicured pubs are run by Charlie and Willow Crossley, who Tatler described as looking ‘as though they should be in a Ralph Lauren advert’.
Willow used to be a model and fashion journalist who is now a florist, stylist and designer. One of her close friends is model Chloe Delevingne, who has apparently visited The Bull with her model sisters Cara and Poppy.
Before arriving in the Cotswolds with their three children, Charlie ran posh Chelsea pub the Hollywood Arms and the couple also had a beach restaurant in St Tropez, close to where Charlie’s property developer father owns a vineyard.
It took the Crossleys just six weeks to transform The Bull from a stickycarpeted old boozer into the stylish and fragrant pub-with-rooms it is today.
A 16th century pub that even predates Charlbury’s fame as a town known for its glovemaking, the different areas for drinkers and diners wrap around a central bar.
With its real fires, rug-strewn floorboards, sumptuous armchairs and low beams, it’s immediately welcoming.
Just after 12.30pm, the space in the bar was pretty much taken up by local yummy mummies with gurgling babies and tractor-sized buggies, so we headed for the restaurant, although you can eat anywhere you like.
Diners at The Bull are clearly too posh to peel prawns. The ice-cold, firm and sweet Atlantic prawns (£5) had already been peeled for us and draped around the top of the glass before being dipped in the spicy Bull Marie Rose sauce.
The food at The Bull is familiar and not trying too hard to reinvent the gastronomic wheel. It’s clearly a pub that knows that its customers want no-frills comfort food done well.
A starter of gin and beetroot cured salmon (£7.50) was faultless – three thick slices of muscular, earthy cured fish with a perky pea shoot salad, dill-flecked cream cheese and toasted sourdough bread.
My mate is still talking about his warm potted smoked haddock, Gruyère cheese, spring onion and chive (£5.50), which he rightly hailed as being like ‘the offspring of a classic omelette Arnold Bennett’. High praise indeed.
He was equally gushing about his short rib of beef, garlic mash, kale and truffle red wine sauce (£17) – the tender meat literally collapsed into the sauce and the truffle scent wafted across the table with each forkful.
My 21-day aged ribeye steak (£26) was spot-on – perfectly cooked medium-rare as requested with a properly seasoned crust, warm and herby béarnaise sauce, crisp and salty fries and a generous rocket and tomato salad.
As J tackled the £10 board of local cheeses with onion chutney, grapes and quince jelly, I negotiated my dark chocolate fondant (£8) – a molten puck of rich chocolate paired with salted caramel ice cream.
Before drinks and service, that not inconsiderable lunch cost around the £80 mark, which for such a pleasurable meal in what has been described as one of the ‘poshest pubs in Britain’ seemed more than reasonable, especially considering the quality of the cooking and service.
If only our property valuations were more dependable than this pitch-perfect Cotswolds pub.
The Bull has been frequented by the likes of model Chloe Delevingne