Paxford has everything you could wish for in a Cotswolds village: a beautiful setting, delightful architecture and a pub whose owner and head chef learned from some of the best in the business. Vicki Gumbley paid a visit.
There isn’t a village in the land that wouldn’t look better bathed in sunshine framed against a cloudless sky. This was the delightful weather that greeted us at The Churchill Arms, but truth be told Paxford needs no such enhancement. It would look good in a bin liner.
This tiny Cotswold village in the heart of chocolate-box countryside is home to just 300 residents. It’s two miles east of Chipping Campden, 40 miles south of Birmingham and 100 north west of London. It’s idyllically rural with just a village hall, church and a pub. And not just any old pub: it’s a 17th century inn with flagstone floors, an inglenook fireplace and a chef-patron, Nick Deverell-Smith, who honed his craft working under Gordon Ramsay, Marcus Wareing and Marco Pierre-White.
Nick took the place over in 2015 and serves British and European classics from land and sea, all with an intensely fresh twist. The cosy bar boasts independent beers from the local breweries of Hook Norton, Purity and North Cotswold Brewery and champagne from independent producers Gratiot-Pilliere. And if all those sound too tempting you’ll be happy to hear that you needn’t drive home: the Churchill Arms has a couple of bedrooms, both tastefully-decorated doubles with original features, wooden beams and contemporary flourishes.
There’s space inside and out for dining – which was just as well as the pub was packed to the rafters the day we visited (needless to say, booking is advised). Inside or out, it very much still feels like the local pub: it’s family-friendly – even the dog is welcome and there’s a lack of pretension here that feels deliberate. Walkers in shorts and boots are made to feel as comfortable as those in their Sunday best by the genuinely lovely team.
To make the most of the sunny Sunday we dined outside in the shaded, comfortable and spacious courtyard, sustained by the delights of battered calamari with tartare sauce, and red, black and yellow heritage tomatoes and tasty local mozzarella, served with a piquant basil pesto.
To follow was Burford roast chicken breast with roast potatoes, gravy and bread sauce spiced with cinnamon, and pennoni rigati (complete with Italian pronunciation advice from our native waiter), wild mushrooms, peas and broad beans, again flavoured with pesto. The sides of creamed spinach and cauliflower cheese, while utterly delicious, were surplus to requirement, as the generous mains would leave few going hungry.
The puddings – should one have room – made good use of the bountiful berries growing on the pub’s doorstep and most had a summer theme. The sweetness of the delicate white chocolate cheesecake – deconstructed, as seems de rigueur these days – was beautifully balanced with sharp local raspberries.
The Eton mess was as tasty – as you’d expect from a failsafe classic – but also managed to look pretty, with tiny pink meringues sitting atop strawberry-speckled cream, rounded off with an elderflower-flavoured shard. Perhaps this was one of the many influences imparted by the Michelin-starred French chef Eric Chavot, whom Nick cites as his biggest influence. He worked with Chavot at the Capital Hotel in London, and again, as sous chef, at Le Chalet Blanc in France.
We weren’t surprised to learn that the pub holds a special place of historical significance for Nick, who, hailing from Warwickshire, used to visit regularly with his family. Apparently, it was here they shared their last meal with his grandfather, whose bell now hangs proudly behind the bar for calling last orders.
The Churchill Arms, Paxford, Gloucestershire, GL55 6XH. Tel: 01386 593159 or see www.churchillarms.co. The pub is open seven days a week; starters are priced from £4.50 to around £12, with mains from £14.50. Sunday lunch costs £25 for two courses and £29.50 for three. Rooms cost £120 per night, per room – click here to book.
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