In a sleepy village in rural Oxfordshire Justin and Charlie Salisbury, the duo behind quirky Artist Residence hotel group, have restored a 16th century Cotswold-stone farmhouse and opened it as their fourth property, Mr Hanbury’s Masons Arms.
A community-focused pub, with five perfectly put-together bedrooms upstairs, Mr Hanbury’s (the name is a fictional nod to colourful characters associated with the pub historically) is split into two areas – a cosy bar area with a classic pub menu (the heart of South Leigh village life) and a more sophisticated dining room where guests can enjoy a fine dining menu beneath up-cycled crystal decanter lamp shades.
Eccentric touches such as penguin statues to greet you at the door, funky fairground-style light installations and plenty of tongue-in-cheek art from Brighton artists, The Connor Brothers, ensure a fun and quirky welcome to this country inn.
If the sun is shining, there’s also an appropriately rustic beer garden with chunky timber tables overlooking a patch of lawn, a chicken coop and, at one end, a collection of raised beds planted with herbs, veg and gooseberry bushes.
After fine-tuning his skills in professional kitchens across the UK (most notably Michelin-starred gastropub, the Pony & Trap, in Somerset), young talented chef Leon Smith has taken the reigns at Mr Hanbury’s Masons Arms. Hyper-local produce from the Oxfordshire countryside is the order of the day, whether that’s lamb from just across the road or kohlrabi from Leon’s own allotment. And everything is homemade, from elderflower-infused Aperol to brighten up punchy negronis, and wild nettle puree folded into pan-fried homemade gnocchi to toasted marshmallows served with strawberries and lime curd for pud.
Other dishes of note include tiny squares of toast topped with heavenly whipped cod roe, perfectly pink lamb loin served with crisp courgette flower bhajis, violet artichokes and large caramelised roasted shallots, plus a silky elderflower cream hiding beneath roast peaches and a delicate puff pastry disc that begs to be cracked open, creme-brulée style.
Already punchy cocktails are livened up with homemade concoctions – Campari is infused for five days with coffee beans and homegrown strawberries to add sweetness to a seasonal negroni, and whisky is blended with liquorice syrup and Cornish pastis to create a smooth Old Fashioned-style digestif. There’s a succinct wine list – choose one of the very special bottles from the riddling rack if you fancy splashing out – plus plenty of craft beers to choose from, including English beetroot bitter, and ales from Churchan brewery in the neighbouring village.
In the original Artist Residence hotel, in Brighton (read our full review here), Justin and Charlie invited local artists to go free-style and decorate a room each in return for bed and board. Over the years the couple have developed their own style and they now run an interior design business. The focus on individuality remains the same, however. Each of the five bedrooms here has its own unique quirks. Room number 4 boasts a ginormous free-standing copper bath to sink into with Bramley bubble bath, while number 2 has Sri Lankan tea chests as bedside tables and a window that looks out onto the vegetable patch.
All is tied together with original exposed beams, funky pieces from Brighton’s artists (we loved the grocery shop-themed felt work by Lucy Sparrow), and a check-list of boutique hotel luxuries – JazzFM fluttering out of Roberts radios, white-tiled monsoon showers and minibars stoked with Rococo chocolates and more.
Full English breakfast in the morning is kept local: sausages and bacon come from a farm up the road, UE blend coffee is roasted in nearby Witney and Oxford’s Jeeves and Jericho provide looseleaf teas. Sip from ceramic mugs hand-spun by a Bristol potter while swotting up on foodie road trip ideas from South Leigh’s friendly villagers who come in to enjoy breakfast before setting out on country walks. Check out our foodie guide to Central Cotswolds for a foodie road trip while you’re in the area.