Seven of the Top 50 British gastropubs …
... and they all happen to be in Bucks & Oxon! Look, admire and - yeah, why not? - book the lot of 'em.
The annual Top 50 gastropubs list is out and guess what? Bucks & Oxon had the biggest haul of any area! I’ve scoffed at all of them (I know, what a cochon) so here’s my lowdown on the what, when and why. (BTW, click here to see the Muddy Awards namechecked in this Top 50 – gotta be honest, that’s a bit of a thrill!).
The Coach, Marlow
Sitting at number five in the Top 50 is the The Coach in Marlow. I’m a massive fan of this small, stylish, unbookable inn (you have to just turn up and take your chance) The food was given its own Michelin star in 2017, but then what you expect? It’s owned by the chef wizard Tom Kerridge. Read my review from its launch in 2015.
The Nut Tree Inn, Murcott
This place strikes the perfect, and I think unusual balance of extraordinary gastro offering with a rural thatched pub vibe. The pretty 15th century inn has been awarded a Michelin star for 9 years in a row, so I think you can guarantee the quality of the food… A short distance from Bicester Village if you want to combine the pleasures of shopping and gluttony. There’s a lovely outside area for dining in the summer too.
The Hand & Flowers, Marlow
The second Tom Kerridge entry and the place that kicked off his ubiquity in Marlow (where he now has 3 restaurants, plus a butchery and his own Pub in the Park event) and on the telly, The Hand and Flowers opened in 2005 and is the only pub in the country to attain and hold two Michelin stars. It has four AA Rosettes features at number 19 in this years list, having topped the poll many times before. There is a brand new six months in advance booking system which tells you how popular – and hard to get into – it’s become from the days when it offered a two course set lunch for £16!
The Kingham Plough, Chipping Norton
The Oxfordshire Cotswolds is awash with classy rural pubs but this one takes the biccy. Owned by Emily Watkins and her husband and business partner Miles Lampson, the Kingham Plough in Oxfordshire combines gastronomic flare with regular crowd pleasers – I took the fam here a few years back for Sunday lunch and had a fantastic meal. The pub itself feels warm and inviting, and slightly quirky without upsetting the locals, and the lack of outdoor space doesn’t seem to put anyone off.
The Magdalen Arms, Oxford
Out of central Oxford and up the Iffley Road you’ll find students, trendy residents and the striking blue exterior of The Magdalen Arms. Mismatched tables, a locals pubby vibe and fantastic pub grub with, unusually, the menu changing twice a day and sometimes throughout the service. If you have teens or love dance, make sure you check out Pegasus Theatre around the corner. There’s a Supper Club between 5.30-6.30 Monday to Friday where you can pick up dinner and a drink for a tenner.
The Pointer, Brill
I’ve watched the quiet rise of this pub for some time, but 2017 was its breakthrough year, winning three AA Rosettes, The Muddy Award for Best Destination Pub 2017 and Michelin Pub of the Year 2018. The pub sits in the idyllic hilltop village of Brill, with its famous windmill. Choose a sunny day so you can make the most of the walking. There are now rooms where you can stay over. Read my pub review and more recently, my review of the accommodation.
The Hundred of Ashendon, Aylesbury
OTHER WINNERS NEARBY
No cigars for Herts, Northants, Warks or even Glos this year – come on cheffies! But Berkshire and several other county neighbours nailed it.
The Beehive, nestled the tiny village of White Waltham. Having worked at The Royal Oak Paley Street and Heston’s Fat Duck and Hind’s Head, chef Dom is passionate about creating beautiful food in a real English pub.
The Crown at Burchetts Green debuted in the Top 50 in 2016 and went on to be awarded a Michelin star . Simon Bonwick previously worked at Albert Roux’s Waterside Inn in Bray and Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers so he’s quite handy in the kitchen. The Crown maintains its status as a pub – with a resident ghost!
The Hind’s Head in Bray is a Muddy fave and sitting pretty in 23rd place. This one Michelin starred gastropub is more than Heston’s posh pub. Having undergone an expensive refurb the decor is as elegant and eclectic as the menu – merging classic British style and food with Heston’s Willy Wonka thinking. If you haven’t eaten here yet – try the 3-course £25 lunch menu. it’s a freaking bargain.
The Crown at Bray – another gastro entry, another Heston and actually where I find the atmosphere more relaxed. Coming in at 43, it’s a pub serving proper pub grub with the Heston pizazz we all know and love.
The Royal Oak Paley Street (a non mover at 45), located in leafy Littlefield Green near Maidenhead, is famously known as ‘Parky’s pub’. Although if you’re a Masterchef fan, you’ll also know it’s where winner Craig Johnston works his magic in the kitchen. This foodie destination’s picked up loads of awards including a Michelin star and three AA rosettes since it opened in 2001. Unpretentious with little glimpses of TV glamour – catch the pics of Parky interviewing some of his most famous guests along the walls.
The Wellington Arms – sitting on the border of Hants and Berks with a rustic, down to earth offering.
The Swan Inn at Chiddingfold – a great local reputation and rising nationally.