Steering away from the charms of more familiar Cotswold hotspots, AMANDA ROBINSON takes a look at the newly refurbished Maytime Inn at Asthall
The A40 zips tirelessly back and forward across the Cotswolds from Cheltenham to Oxford, but next time you’re in the vicinity of Burford, slow down a little. Less than half a mile off this busy route you step into another world of picture-postcard stone-built villages dotted along the meandering curves of the River Windrush. One of these is Asthall; family home of the infamous Mitford sisters, it has a fine country church, its own manor house, and our lunch destination – in the shape of the 17th-century Maytime Inn.
Once a coaching inn with its own smithy, it’s now got a herb garden and outside dining area alongside the bar and restaurant, as well as six boutique en-suite rooms.
It was a dismal February day when we arrived but, even through the driving rain, this mellow stone inn showed plenty of promise, with a warm welcome from owner Dominic – and an even warmer one from Alfie, his shiny-nosed, bright-eyed right-hand dog. Possibly the friendliest front-of-house you’ll ever meet, he turns a neat trick with a doggy treat to keep guests amused. (This pooch even has his own Twitter feed, @alfiemaytime: go on, check him out…)
Flagged floors, natural wood, stone walls and a big log burner chugging out a lot of heat: this place has a stripped-back, cosy feel, even on the drabbest of days. A long drive home meant we passed on the wine – this time – although Dom tells us that he is planning to offer fine wines by the glass alongside his current list. And don’t get me started on the raft of gins we didn’t even have a sniff at: there are over 60. Most of the clientele come by car from the surrounds – Witney, Burford and beyond – so can enjoy just the one excellent glass and “you can always buy the rest of the bottle to take home,” Dom says. Sound like a plan…
On to lunch: we chose from the main menu, but there’s also a list of pub classics to consider, with the likes of wild boar burger, fish and chips and rib-eye steak. Companion K went for the pig’s head terrine which sat easily alongside a piquant pile of exquisitely diced pickled veg and granary toast (£6.50), while I got stuck into a plate of grilled mussels, topped with a punchy chorizo gratin (£7), each half-shell a savoury mouthful of soft, salty mollusc and spicy sausage.
Appetite whetted, I was ready to tackle my generous portion of braised lamb with garlic mash and gorgeously buttery, earthy kale (£15.50). It was fork-only from this point in, as the slow-cooked meat was beyond tender, coated in a rich syrupy jus. K’s pan-fried sea trout was a sophisticated plate, with sea beet and samphire on the side, and crab bisque in a tiny copper pan; each apricot-coloured drop infused with the flavours of crab and ocean.
So far so full, but this lunch wasn’t over yet: not when the small, tempting dessert menu offered delights like
rum pineapple and cardamom cream (£6.50) and chocolate fondant with blood orange sorbet (£7). K pronounced her pineapple sweet and sharp, well- matched by the fragrant cream. Hats off to the chef for my fondant: with a crisp outer edge, hot sponge and a molten centre, it was chocolate-rich without the cloy. What can be a heavy end to a meal wasn’t, thanks to the citrussy notes of the fruit sorbet adding a zippy palate- cleansing finish to this indulgent pud.
The Maytime is definitely a destination pub – but so worth the trip. And remember, their suite of super- comfy rooms are only a flight of stairs away, so you can always stay over, feed your face well and get stuck into those 60-plus gins…
THE MAYTIME, Asthall, Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4HW; 01993 822 068; themaytime.com