Set the SatNav and, whichever way you approach The Churchill Arms in Paxford, you’ll travel along winding roads, lined with thatched cottages, through sleepy Cotswold villages. Your destination is equally quaint – a honey-hued pub dating back to the 17th century but re-opened after a sympathetic refurbishment earlier this year.
You’re made to feel at home as soon as you step through the door of this family-friendly hostelry. Stand with the traditional inglenook fireplace on your right and choose from the bar, on your left, or a cosy dining room on your right (reached across a flagstone floor).
The pub’s owner and head chef, Nick Deverell-Smith, is a local boy and grew up eating here with his family. But while he is clearly passionate about this pub, Deverell-Smith also brings the kind of depth to his cooking that can only be won through stints in Michelin-starred kitchens (in his case, Marcus Wareing’s, Marco Pierre White’s and, most influentially, Eric Chavot’s of Brasserie Chavot).
Using local suppliers is important to the team here, which sources everything except fish from within a 10-mile radius. Refined dishes such as smoked haddock soufflé with a creamy chive velouté, pan-fried sea bream with crab beignets and seasonal greens, and smoked duck with textures of artichoke sit alongside elevated pub classics such as fish and chips, ham and leek pie and pork T-bone with apple, sage and shard-like crackling. If you’re really hungry (and a little ambitious), the mammoth (450g) sirloin steak on the bone, sourced locally from Todenham Farm, is a must-order.
For dessert, opt for the rich dark chocolate tart with orange sorbet or on-trend caramelised roast pineapple with rice pudding, rum panna cotta and a mango sorbet. Cheese is always a good way to get the measure on a place and the board at The Churchill Arms is impressive; on our visit a local selection of St Eadburgha, St Egwin, Oxford blue and a soft and creamy goats curd was accompanied with a homemade chutney.
A Freehouse, operating alongside principal supplier Wells & Young, The Churchill Arms also serves beers and ales from three local, independent breweries, including the Purity brewery company. These are regularly rotated but the pub always aims to include a session ale, a gold ale and a brown ale and even their own brew in the mix.
If beer’s not your thing, the impressive wine list spans all the big hitters alongside some more unusual, well-priced bottles such as a nutty pinot blanc d’Alsace. Fancy something a little stronger? The Cotswolds Distillery is right on the doorstep, so it’d be rude not to indulge in a G&T with gin made with botanicals including Cotswolds lavender, bay leaf and grapefruit.
Book into one of the pubs two, simply furnished, bedrooms and you’ll find walls painted in muted, chalky colours, original beams, hardwood floors and soft, white cotton sheets. Sit and take in the view over rolling fields from the cushioned window seats or relax in the bath after a long walk. The Churchill Arms might have all the charm of a sleepy Cotswold pub, but there are modern comforts, too: TVs, espresso machines (brownie points for the fresh local milk in the mini-bar) and free wifi.
With only two rooms breakfast is a peaceful start to the day; there’s no buffet and all dishes are made to order. Choices are kept simple with a range of eggs cooked to your liking or a Churchill Arms full English. The latter includes a few surprises, such as a sausage that tasted slightly boozy (it was good). Teamed with toast and jam, fresh juices and endless offerings of coffee, take it as given that you won’t leave hungry.
Make sure you pack your wellies. There are some beautiful walks in the surrounding area and the friendly staff will happily help you plan a day out. Chipping Campden is a 10-minute drive (or three-mile walk) away, with shops, tearooms, bakeries and country pubs a-plenty (Stratford on Avon’s about double that distance if you’re looking for a longer day’s tripping). And the Cotswolds Distillery is a must-visit – book a tour or enjoy a tasting session in the shop.
Double rooms at The Churchill Arms start from £120 per night, including breakfast (churchillarms.co).
Written by Nicki Smith, October 2016