Regally yours: The Crown at Woodstock
Author Clover Stroud heads to this Scandi-meets-heritage reworking of a 18th century inn - and has a right royal time of it.
The Crown is, rather appropriately, a jewel in the proverbial crown of landlord Julian Rosser, an Oxford stalwart who can be credited with having brought cocktails to the masses in Oxford, after he opened The Duke of Cambridge on Little Clarendon Street, an eye-watering 27 years ago. It’s testament to Julian’s skills as a landlord, gourmand and all round bon viveur that The DofC is still going strong, heaving with happy crowds swigging espresso martinis and arguing about whether Prince William really did once drop in, or whether it’s just one of Oxford’s urban myths.
He added The Crown, along with The Anchor and The House, to his winning hand in 2014, and sitting on a corner in twinkling, bustling Woodstock, it’s almost a gatehouse to the heart of the Cotswolds; reputed to once have provided stabling for Cromwell’s horses, there’s also a certain amount of historical mystery in this grade II listed building, which has been given a thorough but tasteful facelift by Julian’s wife, who runs interior design business Dexterous. I came to visit on a Tuesday night, bringing my two daughters, and was curious to see if Julian really did deserve his excellent reputation in the Oxford hospitality scene.
Dexterous has done a brilliant job, as inside The Crown is the very definition of relaxed rural glamour, with jewel-coloured sofas to snuggle up in, a beautiful Spanish tiled floor, wonderfully flattering lighting (as if my kids would notice) and restful muted colours.
There was a cake stand full of delicious looking treats (gingerbread whoopie pie, anyone?) on the end of the long bar and a wood-burning stove in one corner, so that the overall effect was cosy and thoroughly welcoming, rather than exhaustingly glitzy. Because it has to be said that nearby Soho Farmhouse, up the road at Great Tew, has had a profound effect on the Cotswolds, upping the ante considerably for many pubs in the area.
And while its brought A-list glamour razzle-dazzle to the sleepy, honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds, this sometimes come at the cost of local character. To put it mildly, there are now a spattering of pubs in this area that are so flashy and so smart, they are more like a Disney version of a rural theme park. Not so The Crown. It’s certainly not lacking in comfort and finish, but it feels very real, too.
In a world of Instagram imitation, it feels very authentic. At the bar there were a handful of locals swapping country gossip over golden pints, a high-spirited group of office colleagues enjoying an evening jolly, and a giggling group of women playing Jenga and drinking Prosecco by the fire. My girls were still in their school uniform and I’d come straight from the school run, in a bit of a hurry, in clean jeans and my (best) trainers but felt immediately at home and welcomed by the friendly and attentive staff.
Ah the rooms! Just five in total, they really are little jewels, the sort of rooms you want to snuggle up and escape from the world in. Making the most of the fact this is a historical building, each room incorporates endless gorgeous period details like heavy beams, (soundproofed) sash windows and sloping eaves.
Don’t expect uniformity as each room is completely different to the one before, with colourful original art work on the walls and the bright, jewel-like colours of Farrow and Ball paints. Combine that with Apple TV, Bose sound systems and some seriously comfortable beds made up with 300 thread count Egyptian cotton bed-sheets (what else?), and you have nights made in heaven.
There are some cute touches, too, like wooden toothbrushes and artisan toothpaste, as well as proper tea and coffee making facilities, including a little teapot and loose leaf tea. I loved the fact that fresh milk and cold water was delivered outside my room before I woke up, so there was no question of fiddling with horrible little plastic pots of UHT.
This sort of generosity extended to the bathroom, with big bottles of Cowshed products lined up beside the luxurious Lefroy Brooks baths and showers. I loved the fact that there were just five rooms: it was almost like staying in a private house.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The menu isn’t huge, but there’s a strong emphasis on quality, local ingredients where possible, and everything we tried, from our rather greedy ordering, was great. There’s a Mediterranean and Turkish influence on the menu, which gives the classic dishes a quirky and delicious twist.
We feasted on a huge plate of calamari with a spicy harissa mayo with beautifully cooked padron peppers, which combined just the right amount of salt, heat and oil. We also tried beetroot cured smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, fennel and horseradish, which was sweet, tart, creamy and sharp, and easily one of the most exciting things I have ever put in my mouth, which is saying something.
The Turkish influence came through in my main course, which was fluffy flatbread, cooked on their wood fired oven (usually used for good-looking pizzas) with lamb skewers finished with sumac, hummus and sumac. It was a characteristically generous portion, and I also tasted my daughters wood roast chicken with cannellini and lemon, which was juicy and rich.
My younger daughter romped through her plate of fish and chips. There were other nice touches characteristic of the generosity of The Crown, like complimentary pots of really good home-made hummus and crudités. My daughter’s had big plates of pudding, too, including crowd-pleasing classics like chocolate brownie and vanilla ice cream. Service throughout was extremely attentive, but at times a wee bit chaotic, although since I was with my kids, rather than, for example, on a nervy first date, this only added to the charm of the experience.
I was with my kids so wasn’t knocking back the cocktails, which I slightly regretted, as they looked tasty, so instead I just had to imagine myself drinking a sloe gin fizz, a ginger Tom and a French martini. There was an excellent and wide-ranging wine list, with regular specials bought in from The Oxford Wine Company.
I was rather pleased with my restraint the next morning, however, as it meant I could really enjoy breakfast before the school-run home. We had huge bowls of berries, home made granola and perfectly cooked poached eggs on sourdough. Finished with some first-class freshly squeezed orange juice, I just wish all my mornings started like this, rather than the usual kitchen bun fight over who has finished off the cornflakes (I have five kids, which explains the chaos of my life.)
OUT & ABOUT
The Crown is popular with couples down from London enjoying a romantic mini break, and Woodstock is small and quaint enough to fully indulge the fantasy you’ve stepped straight into a Richard Curtis movie. Nearby Blenheim Palace, with it’s butterfly house and expansive, Capability Brown designed landscape, is the perfect place for a walk. In Woodstock, check out the brilliant young jeweller and Muddy Award winner Libby Rak – turn left out of The Crown and she’s 100 metres down the road, along with some lovely indie shops like Gleide interior design, Dantzig gallery and Hampers deli.
If you want to venture further afield, Oxford is 2o minutes up the road, or continue towards towards Chipping Norton 20 minutes in the opposite direction for the Cotswolds.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s difficult to see who would not enjoy The Crown, and it’s a really great place for a cheerful family supper, or a romantic get away.
Not for: With it’s welcoming atmosphere, generous menu and bright colours, it’s possible that achingly trendy minimalist types on strict diets might not feel completely at home, but in that case they probably will find the Cotswolds too muddy, anyway, so best to stick to Shoreditch.
The damage: Rooms start at £175 which is on the pricey side, but not extortionate for boutique rooms in this part of the county. Cocktails started at a reasonable £4.25 and starters at £5 and main courses at £14. Pizzas were a tenner a pop, so while prices are on the upper side of average, it’s also possible to have a hearty meal without completely breaking the bank.
The Crown, 31 High Street, Woodstock, OX20 1TE. Tel: 01993 813339.
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