A Sunday Feast at the Hollybush, Witney

Described by The Telegraph as the ‘pretty Cotswolds town that tourists haven’t discovered’, historic Witney is famous to many as the traditional centre of Oxfordshire’s wool industry.

Houses in Witney
Some houses, in Witney

We’ll side-step the fact that strictly speaking Witney isn’t actually in the Cotswolds AONB but just on the eastern edge (we only mention this, because if we don’t someone else will but if you really want to get into neither are lots of other places), and focus instead on our reasons for visiting.

The Hollybush, Corn Street, Witney
The Hollybush, Corn Street, Witney
The dining houses at the Hollybush, Witney
The view from our dining house

On a sunny Sunday in September we made good on a long-standing promise to visit the Hollybush; an independently run pub right in the heart of this bucolic market town.

In the invite we were teased with the chance to check out their ‘private dining houses’ in order to sample some 1 AA Rosette-awarded food.

Intrigued, we took the family, and so it came to pass that Five went to the Hollybush.

It’s at this point that we should maybe mention that the last time we did something similar, was just before lock down was announced in March.

This time around it was just before the 10pm curfew was introduced for hospitality venues. These events are entirely coincidental and we are in no way harbingers of doom. Honestly.

That’s what Sundays are for

Warmly greeted by Alex and his team we were lead through the pub, treading the flagstones into the garden and into one of four wooden dining houses.

Planned by the team long before lockdown, the enforced closure provided the opportunity to do something positive with the time out, so the Hollybush team set about converting the decked beer garden into something radically different.

Dining houses at the Hollybush, Witney
Take your pick

Swing tunes playing through the speakers created an ambience of calm in the courtyard on a day when summer returned, framed against a clear, September sky.

Boar burger from the Hollybush Witney
You won’t get ‘boared’ of this burger…

The dining houses, or ‘pods’ as we came to call them, can comfortably sit up to 10 people (although with the current rule of 6 that is a bit more limited) and the unexpected bonus for anyone with a family member who regularly forgets how to behave in public is the element of privacy. Even with the doors wide open there’s a home-from-home feel that confers just the right balance of being ‘out-out’ with the comfort required to create the perfect relaxed atmosphere.

A feast on a plate

The menu provided some challenging choices – do you go for the special or the Sunday roast? We shared a few nibbles, deciding to save ourselves for the main event and we were glad that we did. This is food to be savoured.

Sunday roast at the Hollybush Witney
Sunday roast, of course

The team at the Hollybush pride themselves on using high quality, locally sourced ingredients – it’s a commonly heard refrain, but the proof really is in the pudding (and every other course) here. Melt in the mouth Cotswolds lamb with seasonal veg and delicious cauliflower cheese was an absolute highlight, as was the Wild Boar Burger from the specials menu. Layered flavours combine perfectly in every dish, nothing over seasoned or underdone. This is food prepared and served by people who care.

Catering for even the most teenage of appetites

For most of us, nibbles followed by a main meant we had little room for dessert. A great shame considering the temptations on the menu.

We ignored the plaintive cries of the sticky toffee pudding in favour of teas and coffees. Luckily we’d brought a hungry teenager along for the ride who settled on the Chocolate Marquis, a dish as beautiful as it was tasty, that arrived with the addition of a couple of extra spoons ‘just in case we found room to share’.

Chocolate marquis from the Hollybush Witney
Oh hello, maybe we do have room for dessert…

Throughout our meal the Hollybush staff were impressively present without ever being invasive. No mean feat given the layout. And the relaxed atmosphere was such that we had to remind ourselves that we weren’t actually in a much nicer version of our own garden.

We were genuinely impressed with our visit, and we’ll happily return. It’s more than just the impressive nature of the food and the surroundings – the sense you get that the team love what they do makes it all the more special.

We can’t wait to see how things work out at the Hollybush – they deserve great things to come their way.

If this hasn’t done enough to whet your appetite then we don’t know what will but if you do want to find out more about the Hollybush, check out their website.

Post-lockdown treats await at The Porch House

Update: August 2020

The great news is that the Porch House is now open again after lockdown. Read on for what we thought after our visit on Friday the 13th in March…

We all seem to be drawing up lists of the things we’re going to do when we finally emerge from lock down, bleary-eyed and blinking.

Top three for most people seem to be centred around seeing friends and family, getting their roots done, and getting away for a break.

The Porch House in Stow on the Wold
Oldest pub in the county?

Whilst The Porch House probably can’t help much with your roots, they can definitely sort out the other two.

We were lucky enough to visit just before lock down began, on a brisk Friday night when it felt like Spring would never arrive.

Arriving early, we took the opportunity to have a drink in the newly refurbished bar.

When we say, ‘newly refurbished’, we actually mean restored to the perfect level of Olde Worldiness, where dried flowers hang from sand-blasted beams, and a maelstrom of textures combine with the common goal of ‘comfort’.

Porch House bar
New Olde stock

Sat in the window, watching the world go by, the gentle hum of chatter harmonises with background music that is never intrusive, occasionally serving up old favourites that successfully evoke fond memories.

When we’re first seated in the restaurant it’s not busy – that’s not altogether surprising, not only is it Friday the 13th, we’re also predicting the commencement of lock down, and navigating what that might mean.

By the time we leave, however, it’s buzzing and it’s clear that the changes made are already popular. At this stage, social distancing is something we’re still mulling over, not yet has it become normality.

We sit by the unlit fireplace, it’s warm enough without, and one imagines how cosy it will be when roaring. The décor is unforced, bordering on eclectic but never straying into cluttered. The chairs, vitally, are comfortable and remain so throughout the meal.

The menu is an accessible blend of choices, peppered with seasonal produce. We choose a wide array, sharing and tasting each other’s to ensure that the only regret we have is the limit of our appetites.

Brocolli and Stilton soup at the Porch House
Mmmmm soup

We treat ourselves to some salt and sage pork crackling and pear chutney, labelled as ‘Morsels’ on the menu, it’s a delicious kick-off dish.

From there we delve into three courses, all worth savouring, ranging from a broccoli and Stilton soup, through to a warm treacle tart with raspberry and milk ice-cream that we agree to share because, frankly, we’re stuffed. It’s all delicious.

A burger from the Porch House
That sure is a tasty burger

The service is friendly and understated, which aligns perfectly with the rest of the experience. The Porch House is the kind of place that you can take the entire family and know that they’ll all find something they like.

Dress up or down, even turn up with two months of root regrowth, and no one’s going to judge you. Take our advice and book a room – enjoy the local beer and kick back. You definitely deserve it.

If you’re interested in us featuring your Cotswolds business then get in touch with us to request a copy of our media pack and find out more about what we do.

A few must visit restaurants in the Cotswolds

No matter where you’re from in the world, food enthusiasts will find the Cotswolds a gourmet’s haven as nearly every street is lined up with delectable spots—from farm shop cafes to upmarket restaurants, to rustic country pubs and hole-in-the-wall local secrets.

This makes the rural countryside of England a capital for gastronomic adventures, especially since most hotspots thrive on colourfully varied local produce of the region.

The Cotswold’s aromatic palette is inspired by a fusion of different cultures.

Still, local staples indulge in favourites like a local lamb, Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, Gloucester cheese, fish, and a seasonal mix of fruits and vegetables.

The local cuisine loves to play around with fresh flavours—from sour and savoury to sweet, all presented with flair.

With so much to choose from, the (by no means exhaustive) list below is intended to just give you a flavour of what’s on offer as you taste your way around the Cotswolds:

1. The Wild Rabbit, Kingham

If you want to take a gentle trip back in time, The Wild Rabbit offers a rich slice of Cotswold’s history with its 18-century cottage establishment.

Think of it as an olde-world pub where guests can lodge after a heavy meal, which doesn’t fail to satisfy your taste buds with its menu of grilled meat and quality produce.

The Wild Rabbit is a well-mannered eatery and lodge, in the same village as Alex James (formerly of Blur) presents his annual Big Feastival.

Kingham village green
Kingham village green. This is not where they hold the Big Feastival

Lady Carole Bamford’s Daylesford farm shop, also nearby is the perfect accompanying enterprise, delivering organic fruits and vegetables to ensure each dish is made with a fresh touch.

Address: The Wild Rabbit, Church Street, Kingham, Chipping Norton OX7 6YA

Telephone: +44 1608 658389

Website: thewildrabbit.co.uk

2. Ox Barn at Thyme, Southrop Manor Estate

The Michelin Guide featured Ox Barn offers a mouth-watering world where fresh vegetables and fruits are picked from Chef Charlie Hibbert’s family garden.

Each dish is made with a touch of luxury, rustic charm, and sustainability, from the radicchio to garnish the roast pork or the fresh, wild garlic to give the chicken terrine a spicy kick.

The environment is a beautiful reinvention of a Cotswolds stone barn, which was once home to oxen, and is the inspiration behind its name.

A poured-concrete flooring adds a contemporary edge to the vintage look of the wooden beams, while leather chairs and an open fire ensure guests are eating in style and comfort with every hearty bite.

Address: Ox Barn at Thyme, Gloucestershire GL7 3PW

Telephone: +44 1367 850174

Website: https://www.thyme.co.uk/dining/ox-barn

3. Koj, Cheltenham

If you’re craving an exotic fusion of Asian and British cuisine, Koj is the best place to go for taking experimental bites.

British-Japanese chef Andrew Kojima aims to introduce Asian flavours like strong umami from sesame mayo and shiitake and marry British classics like curry, deep-fried crisps.

From ox-heart burger buns, miso roast cod, donburi, spicy pork mince, and curry noodles, this is the food joint to indulge in a meld of diverse flavours the Cotswolds has to offer.

Address: Koj, 3 Regent Street, Cheltenham GL50 1HE

Telephone: +44 1242 580455

Website: kojcheltenham.co.uk

Conclusion

As you can see from the list above, the Cotswolds boasts a melting pot of flavours, where every street offers different versions of local favourites.

Staples will take your taste buds in a culinary adventure, so if you’re craving for a taste of gastronomic delights, the Cotswolds is sure to fill you up.

If you’re looking to discover more about the Cotswolds, get in touch with us to see how we can help!