Kingham Plough, Kingham
This renowned Cotswold inn has just been relaunched by its new owners - but is it still up to Kingham's relentlessly high foodie standards? Pass the napkin, we're going in.
Last time I found myself in Kingham, at the height of summer, I was sandwiched between 20,000 people jumping up and down hysterically in a muddy field to Sister Sledge. That was The Big Feastival. This week I was back (wearing heels this time – that’s more like it!) in the Cotswold village that’s a magnet for all things chic and stylish.
Not only is Kingham home to Blur bassist Alex James and his foodie festival, it has Daylesford on its doorstep and The Wild Rabbit gastro-pub just a bunny hop down the road.
Just 10 minutes from Chipping Norton, The Kingham Plough ticks all the essential Cotswold-bucket list boxes; a picture-perfect village green, quaint village shop and lanes dotted with honey-hued cottages. But this relaunched inn comes with impeccable credentials. New owners Matt and Katie Beamish took over in February, fresh from the dizzying, urban lights of Cheltenham, and bring with them a serious foodie reputation, having worked with the likes of Raymond Blanc and Jamie Oliver.
When a country pub gets it right, you’d rather chew your arm off than leave that squishy sofa, right? And from the moment we arrived, The Kingham Plough felt like one big, unrelenting hug. I sunk into one of the leather armchairs in the bar, next to a crackling open fire and barely moved all weekend, much to the dog’s annoyance. The bar is relaxing and is filled with comfy sofas, vintage finds, locally sourced old photos and prints by 20th century artists on the walls, which are all for sale.
I’d turned up early with Bowie, the Muddy dog, and was greeted by Matt himself who was pulling pints. Check-in is a humble affair at the bar, in keeping with the low-key atmosphere. Matt whipped out a pig’s ear for the dog, while explaining that he and his wife Katie like to be very hands on. This place feels like a real passion project and it’s clearly paying off – during our stay it was filled with locals popping in for a glass of wine alongside a scattering of American tourists, giving it a cosmopolitan feel.
There’s no chance of getting bored with more than 60 wines to try (I counted them, reader), 12 whiskies and a whole stash of local gins and local ales. Unusually for a country pub there’s background music too, but I liked this, and just at the right level to stop me a) shouting or b) nodding off.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The restaurant is a lovely space decked out with Cotswold green hues, botanical prints and rustic wood tables. Gluten-free and vegan options are all available and if you have the nippers in tow, the kids’ menu is seasonal too (fish and chips, pasta etc). Head chef Jonny Pons (often joined in the kitchen by Matt) serves up contemporary pub grub from locally sourced artisan suppliers and farms, which is a big thumbs up.
Dinner began with Nocellara olives (£3) and Mark’s sourdough bread with farmhouse butter (£3.50). Both winners, the butter came with a wickedly-tasty black salt garnish which had a fantastic kick.
For starters I had the Smokin’ Brothers salmon, avruga caviar, pink shallots and gherkins (£11) a dee-licious dish rocking a very funky Michelin-style look. My husband enjoyed half a pint of pink prawns with Marie Rose sauce (£6) which were very tasty, but he had surrendered by prawn number 22. Good as they were, the glass had tardis-like qualities and he was soon beaten.
The mains were real rustic showstoppers. Mine was a pan-fried halibut with savoy & leek, courgette, gnocchi and shellfish bisque (£27). Yes, on the pricy side but every mouthful was an absolute delight, whereas my husband went for the aged 8oz rib eye steak with house fries and Bernaise sauce (£27) a hearty dish with the most amazing caramelised vegetables.
For dessert I took a punt on the black forest gateau with tonka bean chantilly (£8), and oh my! A wonderfully updated slice of ’70s bliss, soft sponge with tipsy cherries and a hit of popping candy – my head didn’t stop ricocheting for half an hour afterwards, but what a treat.
Although sorely tempted by the big kids’ Sundae (£7) (I mean who wouldn’t be??) Mike chose the sticky toffee pud, spiced date puree with rum sauce and beurre noisette ice cream (7.50). Again a huge hit.
Our lovely New Zealand waitress was clued up and chatty and the house wine – a fruity and smooth Airen sauv blanc – is highly recommended.
The next morning breakfast also couldn’t be faulted, with a simple, rustic selection of granolas, fruits, yoghurts, breads and tasty (local) scrambled eggs. Plus a pan of two utterly delicious pancakes that came as a surprise touch when we sat down.
Our room was No. 6 which overlooked the courtyard. Matt tells me that the dog-friendly rooms are getting a lick of paint soon but you’d never guess they needed it. Expect a boutique hotel-luxe feel – with rustic, country chic furniture twinned with contemporary prints. Our super king bed was voluminous and the duck down duvet, Egyptian cotton sheets and mohair throw made it hard to get up at all.
The home-from-home feel was great, with piles of glossy mags, iPhone docking station, flatscreen TV, homemade biscuits and Tea Pigs teabags. My favourite bit? The hand-delivered mini bottle of milk left outside the door at 6am for that morning caffeine hit, plus the water bowl, treats and towel for muddy paws were also a fabulous touch.
Oh, and did I mention the freestanding roll top bath in the room? Twinned with an assortment of Bramley products, the in-room bathing experience felt wonderfully decadent (and pretty lazy – look, three steps to bed!).
OUT AND ABOUT
Daylesford Organic Farm Shop. Obvs. Book a ‘Make Your Own Wrapping Paper’ workshop or hang out at The Legbar, sipping on artisan cocktails with live music. The ever-gorgeous town of Burford with its galleries and independent shops is down the road (as is Soho Farmhouse if you can wing your way in). Take a jog around the National Trust’s Chastleton House in Moreton-in-Marsh or hit the Christmas light trails at Blenheim Palace (25 mins away).
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Couples in search of romance, weekend breakers, Sunday lunch seekers, boutique-pub aficionados, families with kids and/or dogs. It’s everything you’d hope a Cotswolds dining pub with rooms would be.
Not for: Anyone in a rush – this peaceful village is a sanctuary for the soul. Plus spa seekers (you’ll have to go further afield).
The damage: Doubles from £145 per room per night. Three courses will set you back around £40 a head, wine starts at £19 a bottle. Keep to the pub classics menu for great value – £14 for a main.
The Kingham Plough, The Green, Kingham, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, OX7 6YD.
Words: Sophie Tweedale