There are plenty of contemporary-chic gastropubs in the Cotswolds but not all manage to retain the laid-back feel of a village boozer after their Farrow & Ball transformations. Happily The Bell, a 17th-century inn in pretty Langford, on the fringes of west Oxfordshire, does.
Its combination of rustic, wood-fired comfort food, stone-flagged dining rooms, and affable service, makes it a congenial space to unwind – not surprising when you learn the pedigrees of owners Peter Creed (front of house) and Tom Noest (chef). Both worked, previously, for the Cotswolds-based hotel and restaurant group Lucky Onion. Tom also trained at the much-loved Made by Bob restaurant in nearby Cirencester, so is well versed in honest home cooking.
Eight stylishly simple bedrooms mean you can settle down to sample that cooking, relaxed in the knowledge you don’t have to drive anywhere afterwards. Digest with a stroll to Langford’s pink-towered Saxon church across the fields, then enjoy an early night.
The pub’s ancient stone fireplaces and low, beamed ceilings are given a contemporary feel by broccoli-coloured walls hung with vibrant art (which you can buy). The left-hand bar is the main dining area, while the bar on the right, with its beer barrel tables, high stools, and Hamish (a hippy-haired mountain goat head) hung on the wall, is more laid-back.
Weekday lunchtimes tend to attract the local, red-trouser brigade, labradors in tow, while at evenings and weekends you could be joined by families, the local cricket team, cyclists and walkers, or folks from nearby Oxford or Cirencester enjoying a meal out.
Which room should I book?
All the bedrooms are comfortably chic, painted in bold Farrow & Ball tones and furnished with generous sink-into beds topped with luxurious down duvets and homely herringbone throws crafted at the woollen mill at nearby Filkins.
If you’ve been stomping through the Cotswolds, you’ll appreciate the feisty showers and locally-made 100 Acres toiletries. There’s a kettle to make your own tea or coffee and fresh milk in the fridge on the landing.
The upstairs rooms (1-5), directly above the pub, are comfy but cosy. If you want more space, go for ground-level 6 or 7 which have their own tiny secluded terrace, while 8 is the room with the countryside views.
What’s good to drink at The Bell at Langford?
It may be hidden in a dark nook below the pub’s spiral stone staircase, but the bar does a good line in local draught ales, including Pilsner-style Bobby Beer, brewed in nearby Chipping Norton, and Stroud Brewery’s organic pale ales.
The tipple they’re all talking about, though, is the single-estate gin and vodka made by the Wood Brothers (Ed and Charlie) from winter wheat and botanicals grown on their Oxfordshire farm – a rare thing.
The short but well-chosen wine list is biased towards France. Bottles start at £30 but there are three reds and three whites on sale by the glass.
What’s good to eat at The Bell at Langford?
Local, seasonal and homely are the mantras here, with most of the ingredients sourced direct from their producers – and, in the case of game, shot by Peter himself.
Tom and Peter’s hero is Fergus Henderson from London’s St John (stjohnrestaurant.com), so expect a good sprinkling of unusual cuts and offal (bone marrow is a favourite) on The Bell’s regularly-changing menu. The kitchen’s pride and joy is its wood-fired oven, used by Tom to deliver pillowy pizzas and flatbreads topped with garlic, parsley and, yes, bone marrow. Look out for wood-fired fish and vegetables too.
Kick off with bites (also offered as bar snacks), the star of which is the Kid Goat Scrumpet – like a giant fish finger but filled with succulent kid-goat meat sourced from Just Kidding nearby, which saves male dairy goat kids from slaughter and rears them for meat. Dip your scrumpet into Tom’s homemade ketchup – also ace with the pork and haggis sausage roll.
Starters, which hover between £6 and £8, might include Cotswold IPA rarebit with soldiers and pickles. For mains (mostly between £11 and £16), meat-eaters should head straight to the meatballs which are made from wild boar shot in the Forest of Dean and paired with Parmesan-rich polenta and crispy sage leaves. Tom’s pies are also winners – try the rabbit, bacon and prune. Veggies get a good look-in too, with dishes like wood-fired cauliflower with Neal’s Yard goat’s curd, mint and pine nuts. Puddings are homely classics like sticky toffee or Wye Valley rhubarb jelly with homemade ice-cream.
What’s the breakfast like at The Bell at Langford?
The Bell’s ‘keep it simple’ motto continues with the breakfast buffet, so expect mini cereal packets rather than fancy homemade granolas. Danni, the Bell’s breakfast supremo, will bring you Canton tea or freshly roasted Extract coffee.
The cooked options are worth paying extra for if only to marvel at the marigold yolks of the rare-breed eggs from Cacklebean near Stow-on-the-Wold. Enjoy them poached with smoked kipper or draped with Hollandaise in a Benedict, boiled with soldiers, or as part of the Full English. The latter’s use of inky flavour-packed Portobellos rather than humdrum buttons is a welcome touch. The other hot must-eat is the Devilled kidneys on toast (a smash hit imported from The Wheatsheaf) with just the right amount of devilish kick.
Any other food experiences I shouldn’t miss?
Sunday lunch means Sunday roast (here are our top roast recipes), with a choice between chicken, pork and beef sirloin with all the proper trimmings. The half-price pizza offer on Sunday evenings is popular with families, so get there sharp after six. Thursday evening is steak night, when for £16 you can dig into steak-frites and a large glass of wine.
Is The Bell at Langford family-friendly?
Children are well catered for with tailored dishes such as shepherd’s pie, sausages, pasta or sweetcorn ‘lollipops’.
What can I do in the local area?
Kelmscott Manor (sal.org.uk), the Cotswold retreat of William Morris, is just one mile away and open on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer months. If you have children in tow, try the Cotswold Wildlife Park (cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk) in Burford.
Another must-visit is Cotswold Woollen Weavers in the chocolate-box-pretty village of Filkins. It uses traditional looms and local sheepswool to weave woollen cloth into throws, rugs and cushions. There’s also a small wool museum and a cafe.