There’s something to be said for a place that makes you feel so relaxed you feel you could eat your dinner in your PJs. Don’t worry, I didn’t sit in the bar at the White Horse Inn in Duns Tew with my nightwear on, but I felt that chilled out that I could have done.
Now we all know Mr M and I love a cheeky little break. It doesn’t have to be miles away, it doesn’t have to involve planes and passports, but the treat of hopping in the car and escaping – even if just for one night – never wears thin.
What’s particularly nice is taking a break from dashing around and being busy and going somewhere where the pace is just that little bit slower. You might remember we had a ball doing precisely nothing for an afternoon and evening at the Ragged Cot in Minchinhampton, so when we were invited to a similar style of place that was just a stone’s throw from home, we decided to do something rather similar and disappear from our lives for a night.
Our trip actually came at just the right time. We’d both had a mad few days working and, though we planned to tootle off down the road at lunchtime, didn’t end up leaving until 5pm after I got stuck madly tapping away. Luckily for us, the White Horse, near Banbury in Oxfordshire, is just down the road for us making it a perfect place for an easy getaway.
A quaint little building in a sleepy village, the White Horse is everything you’d hope. Your mind will boggle at the fact you’re just 20 minutes from Oxford and an hour from London yet feel like you’ve stepped a million miles away from modern-day life and maybe even a few decades (or centuries) back in time as you find yourself surrounded by 400 years of history.
Our visit came at that funny time when summer’s still trying to hang on but autumn is creeping in with its slightly damp, chilly air and cold nights. From stress and work and a mad dash across Banbury, we fell through the front door to a cosy country pub bar and one of the nicest welcomes I’ve had in a long time.
Eager to see our little hidey hole for the night, we were led back outside past a separate block (I say block as if it’s a prison, it most definitely isn’t!) and up a hidden staircase and across a gorgeous shared sun terrace back inside and to the brand new rooms that sit above the pub itself.
Ours was a King Superior, complete with a king-size bed that I’m sure felt far bigger than any king-size I’ve slept in before, en suite bathroom, and all the mod cons you’d expect from a country hotel. It wasn’t over-the-top on loads of luxury additions, but what I loved was how the historic building and its charm have been retained while the necessities have been brought into the 21st century.
What’s she going on about, I can hear you muttering. Well, along with the high end crisp white sheets and flat screen TV we’ve come to expect in hotels are the traditional windows, slightly wobbly floors and walls and an antique desk and chair that again transported you right back in time. It’s not super-duper fancy but well thought-out and exactly what I’d expect from a rural break from reality.
We’d been so bowled over by the welcoming cosy atmosphere – that feeling that makes you rue the fact you don’t live in a village with a local pub like this – that after we’d unpacked (for one night, I know, but I like to unpack) we trotted straight back down to the bar. The White Horse has got similar beautifully-kept outdoor spaces to the Ragged Cot, though perhaps slightly smaller, but the weather meant this time our winding-down drinks were taken indoors, against the snug backdrop of candles and a log fire.
We found ourselves a cosy corner in front of the fire and treated ourselves to a nice bottle of wine – chosen with the helpful assistance of our kind host Simon – and enjoyed being far far away from the chaos we’d left behind.
Busy days = hungry Mannings so we decided we couldn’t wait until the time we’d originally planned to have dinner and decided to get on with it. The menu at the White Horse is drawn up each day, putting full focus on fresh, local ingredients. That means you’ll most likely get a printed sheet of paper with the ‘supper’ selections on it rather than an embossed leather-bound document. But it also means you’ll get a mixture of new creations as well as firm favourites.
For starter I had to go for one of those firm favourites, because I’d heard a lot of great things about them – Korean Style Chicken Wings. Apparently the White Horse has formulated its own special ‘dredge’ for the wings, which produces a gorgeous crispy coating on top of the tender chicken inside.
The dish was an exercise in balance – crispy and tender and just the right element of spice. The wings packed a punch but weren’t the kind of harsh spicy that leaves you reaching for a glass of milk or ruins the rest of your meal, just a warmth note of chilli that gradually spreads round your tastebuds with a zippy zing.
Jamie opted for chicken liver pate with toast and cornichons (which, if you don’t know, are little French pickles). It may not be the most attractive dish on this blog, but the pate was deliciously soft and creamy and served up with decent quality bread and a rich, sweet chutney. The pickles were the right accompaniment to balance the rich and sweet with an acidic tang.
Jamie, ever the rebel, is continuing to break my ‘no steak’ rule and chose the 10oz ribeye with garlic butter and salad. Cooked simply with just Welsh salt, garlic and thyme, he said it was up there with some of the great steaks he’s had. No frills, no sauce, just good quality meat cooked just how he likes it. The fries and salad were a simple accompaniment but, in his view, all you need if the star of your show – the steak – is as good as this was.
In a slightly off-piste selection compared to my usual kind of choice, I went for the cheeseburger. Maybe it was the rave reviews, maybe it was the cool night and the need for some comfort food, or maybe it was just the fact I’d had two glasses of wine. Who knows. I’m no burger expert – that is Laura from Full to the Brum‘s territory – but I think this was a pretty good one. For starters, it was massive. An indulgent stack of meaty goodness slathered in melted cheese, all inside a slightly-toasted brioche bun.
Looks good, right? It tasted good too. Like Jamie’s steak, it was fuss-free and allowed the ingredients to do the talking without the need for elaborate extras. What that makes for is not only some simple but great-tasting food, but added to the ambience of the whole place as somewhere you can relax, kick back and enjoy a good feed.
While we were definitely full to bursting, the quality of the meal and the approach to the food at the White Horse made us intrigued to see if they could see it through to the end. We decided to share passion fruit pot, curd & shortbread dessert in the hope it wouldn’t be quite as much of a killer as the chocolate truffle with salted caramel that, while tempting, could well have done us in.
The fruit pot was, like its preceding courses, simple but well executed. Packed with flavour, creamy and right, with a delicious buttery shortbread that you only wish shop-bought shortbread could be like. It was a great culmination to an enjoyable meal and really did finish us off.
After dinner we could quite happily have stayed in our cosy corner but with the temptation of an enormous comfy bed upstairs and no alarm clock the next morning we sloped off to bed at 9pm for a blissfully peaceful night’s sleep. No worries about the road noise that had caused a few problem at the Ragged Cot – Duns Tew was stereotypically sleepy on a Wednesday night and we both slept like babies.
Possibly a little too well, as we didn’t crawl out of bed until gone 8am the next morning and enjoyed pottering around in our quaint little room. The night before we’d asked what time we should come down for breakfast and were told to come down whenever. Perhaps we took this a bit too literally because when we walked downstairs just after 9.30am we were told it was no longer being served.
Personally, I don’t think it was all that late for breakfast, especially in such a relaxing retreat, but hey, maybe we should have been more specific in pinning them down to the actual time they stopped serving as everyone’s views on what is late are different. I’m going to put it down to a breakdown in communication and scratch it up to experience but I’m afraid it means I can’t tell you much – well, anything – about the breakfast on offer at the White Horse. We were offered some takeaway coffee but declined and toddled off to find some brekkie on our way home.
That aside, we had a lovely relaxing night away at the White Horse. If it’s super-luxury and high end fussiness you’re after, then this probably isn’t the place for you. But if you want to chill out somewhere that feels like home from home and enjoy good quality food at what, if we’d paid, would have been pretty reasonably priced, then you should definitely pop in.
I was invited for a complimentary stay and dinner at the White Horse. We paid for our wine and all these views are my own honest opinion.
For more reviews of the White Horse Inn, Duns Tew, check out:-
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