[Disclosure – we paid in full at the Masons Arms. They didn’t know I was a blogger]
‘Hidden gem’ is a term that’s about as over-used – and nonsensicle – as ‘Get Brexit done’ these days. Some of these hidden gems have won awards, some feature on lists, and many have been reviewed by people far more esteemed than me, so how can they be hidden? Answer – they’re not.
That said, some places are less well-known than others and some are so far off the beaten track that whether they’re well known or not, if you weren’t looking for them or didn’t quite realise how good they were when you ended up visiting, you can’t help but feel that they just might be that elusive ‘hidden gem’.
Don’t worry, I won’t describe the Masons Arms in Meysey Hampton as a hidden gem. Nor will I pretend that I have made some epic discovery that others haven’t already made. But I want you to understand that part of my joy about finding this place is that we had absolutely no idea quite how good it would be when we first made plans to visit.
You see, my brother was getting married. In the Cotswolds. In a lovely barn in the middle of nowhere. So when we looked for somewhere to stay the night before and the night of the wedding, top of our list was geography. Not food (for once), not reviews, not price. Just where it was. We booked, ticked the task off the list and thought nothing more of it.
Fast forward six months and the moment we walked through the door on a cold, dark Thursday night after a nightmare journey through many a flooded road and what a surprise we were met with.
Meysey Hampton itself is tiny and The Masons Arms is the epitome of what we see as a brilliant village pub. Log fires roared, people were enjoying drinks at the bar, saliva-inducing smells came from the kitchen. We were barely through the door before we found ourselves receiving one of the friendliest, slickest welcomes I’ve ever received in a hotel – and that includes from the ones who have invited me for free so I’ll write a favourable review.
The rooms are exactly what you’d expect from a pub with rooms – but done well, with true attention to detail. Small, as they have to be for an old building, but kitted out with everything from fluffy dressing gowns to TV, toiletries and tea and coffee facilities. And by that, I mean a decent percolator and coffee grounds, as well as fresh milk in a fridge just outside the door.
They’re dog-friendly too – though I imagine with two as big as ours you might have to request the biggest room going, but for all you with small to medium-sized dogs, they’ll do just fine. The decor and furnishings create exactly the right vibe for a country pub with rooms, while the bathrooms was modern, bright and most importantly – had a blimin decent shower.
I’d love to tell you about dinner, but we didn’t manage to squeeze it in amid all the wedding fun. I had a gander at the menu though and it certainly looked good – coupled with the smells from the kitchen and the fact it’s won Best New Pub 2019 in the Good Pub Guide, I’d say it’s a safe assumption that dinner was good. What we did try was breakfast and I’m pleased to say it was a triumph. I’ve seen less impressive spreads in top hotels.
From a range of juices to fruit, granola, pastries and sourdough toast there was plenty to be starting off with. And that’s before you get to an excellent full English with some of the tastiest sausages I’ve tried in a while, along with bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms, baked beans (in a separate bowl, for all you who hate the bean juice seepage), saute potatoes and two eggs.
I swerved this option, along with a rather tempting Eggs Benedict, and instead opted for ‘Eggs on Sourdough’ with avocado, spinach and tomato salsa. Again, it’s testament to somewhere that gets good service that when a picky customer asks for the ‘Eggs on Sourdough’ without the sourdough, they don’t bat an eyelid.
We may have been at the Masons Arms for a wedding, but its location means you won’t be short of things to do. From taking yourself off for a yomp through the countryside to checking out nearby Cirencester and Bibury or even just curling up by the fire with a good book and a glass of something nice (I found myself a rather nice fireside armchair one morning to nurse my post-wedding hangover), you could easily amuse yourself for a few days here, or just escape for a night.
So I know, it’s not a hidden gem. It’s in the bloody Good Pub Guide so there’s nothing hidden about it. But it’s that feeling of stumbling on something with no expectations, no knowledge, and no preconceptions and finding that it’s actually a bit special that I think has led to the over-use of that lovely little phrase. Whatever you want to call it, the Masons Arms is good. And you might not find it unless you look for it. So I recommend you do.