Cotswolds review: Thyme and The Swan at Southrop
28 May 2016
Hearty homemade sourdough bread kicks off the feast tonight, and sees me through to a starter of wild nettle soup with crème fraiche and nutmeg that’s verdant and flavoursome.
With Thyme opening its doors as a boutique hotel, we booked in for a stay, (plus dinner at attached pub, The Swan)
Summertime is coming, and it’s Southrop that’s first to hear the news. The Gloucestershire village is bathed in early evening sunlight, making the journey to Thyme – the ultimate “English country destination” that promises foraged, fair food and an idyllic stay – utterly sublime.
The road, though heavenly, has been long, mind you, so today we’re combining a dinner at The Swan with an overnight stay, and seeing as Thyme –having previously been available for private hire only – has just thrown open its doors to the public as a boutique hotel, it would be rude not to check out the facilities properly.
Not only is there now beautiful accommodation and The Swan gastro pub at Thyme, but there’s a first-rate cookery school too, and we’ve got wind of further developments, perhaps even a wellness facility. There’s definitely a new series of monthly food events that will see gurus teaming up with resident chefs to put on innovative dinners once a month. Yes, it’s all happening here.
Thyme is a 15th century manor house and estate, with acres and acres of land – a lot of which are given up to grazing cattle and growing vegetables. The derelict Cotswold-stone barns have been restored over the last 12 years to make beautiful accommodation and a renowned cookery school. It’s a family-owned business, where sustainability and a seasonal ethos run strong.
The estate as a whole is earthy and all-English – with crunchy gravel, herb borders and sanded-back wood at every turn. It’s thanks to Bunny Guinness and her impeccable garden design that you’ll feel despair when you eventually return to your own scruffy lawn and erratic planting (or maybe that’s just me).
The welcome here is flawless, and our foodie experience starts at The Baa in the main hotel. We’re treated to a gin buzz and a violet sour (both £14); they’re from the kitchen garden menu, the spirits infused with herbs picked not long before. So far, so foraged.
There is food served here – at special events held in the impressive Tithe Barn – but for most guests it’s down to The Swan for dinner.
The atmosphere here is less hushed than at the hotel – a good pub always needing this healthy air of boisterousness. There are cheery locals in the bar area, and families tucking into plates of food that look simultaneously refined yet filling.
Hearty homemade sourdough bread kicks off the feast tonight, and sees me through to a starter of wild nettle soup with crème fraiche and nutmeg (£5.50) that’s verdant and flavoursome.
Across the table he’s marvelling at paper-thin pappardelle, wafer-light and topped with braised rabbit ragout peppered with breaths of garden leeks and parsley (£8.50).
We order more bread – greedy, but how can you not when it’s as springy and tangy as this?
For mains there is a Cornish hake fillet beefed up with Serrano ham and mussels, a sprinkling of samphire (£18.50) giving one extra salty bite to a fine fish supper.
My veal saltimbocca with Marsala wine and garden greens (the cabbage was picked today, I’m told) is given a rich finish with crispy sage and salty capers (£21.50).
The meals are ample, meaning there’s more time to sit back and soak up the atmosphere of the pub while you digest before dessert.
I’ve got my eye on a fruit crème caramel (£7) that comes topped with a coconut tuile hat – elegant and delicious; over the other side of the table is a special ice cream sundae (£6.50), made deliciously British with a tangy layer of rhubarb at the bottom.
As closing time draws in we’re dispatched back to our rooms with a lantern to help light the way. Feeling part gleeful and part Wee Willy Winky, we swing it all the way home in ‘thyme’-honoured tradition.