Deep in the heart of the Cotswolds countryside sits The Churchill Arms in Paxford, a 17th century pub with a contemporary boutique flourish that is not to be missed. Rolling fields and astonishing views surround the local area, and as an enthusiastic photographer myself, I can certainly say that a camera is highly recommended.
After arriving slightly later than planned (thanks, M25) we were warmly greeted by owner and head chef Nick Deverell-Smith and shown to our cosy room to acquaint ourselves with our surroundings. With only two rooms available to book for an overnight stay, the hospitality offered by Nick and his team is charmingly personal. It’s a nice touch, one that is particularly welcomed after a long car journey.
If its exterior doesn’t endear you in to this exceedingly British pub, the rooms certainly will. Oak beams on the ceiling are in keeping with its 17th Century history. A bay window complete with window seat allows for relaxing views and the brick-walled en suite will have you pleasantly surprised by its size. All of this is before I even mention the bed.
This bed has to be one of the comfiest beds I have ever slept in. Often I struggle to enjoy a good night’s sleep when staying in a hotel or inn; no such problem here. The king-size with Egyptian cotton sheets and a duvet that you can really get lost in will leave you very well rested indeed.
The room was also equipped with an assortment of bath products, soft towels, tea and coffee, fresh locally-produced milk and bottled water from nearby Blenheim Palace. Needless to say, Nick and his team take very good care of their guests.
Spending an hour or so relaxing and getting ourselves ready to satisfy our appetites – admittedly said preparation involved perusing the Churchill Arms’ menu and the delicious-looking dishes on offer, only fuelling our anticipation – we could hear the restaurant downstairs filling up. A mixture of locals, regulars and visitors from further afield filled the tables, even on a midweek evening, demonstrating the appeal and popularity of the pub. One major factor in this popularity is Nick Deverell-Smith himself.
Since being crowned Junior Chef of the Year in 2000, Nick has honed his skills working alongside the likes of Marco Pierre-White, Gordon Ramsey, Marcus Waring and Eric Chavot. His passion for food and fresh locally sourced ingredients is clear; the three main sources of his produce all lay within a 10 mile radius. Equally impressive is the fact that the fish on the menu was in the sea a mere 48 hours before reaching your plate – you don’t get much fresher than that this far inland.
With Nick’s impressive reputation, I was genuinely excited by what the food would have to offer. I was not disappointed. To start we had smoked haddock soufflé – the perfect texture, and complemented by a tasty chive velouté sauce – and the leek and potato soup, which was served with delicious artisan bread.
I had long had the 450g sirloin steak in mind for my main course after seeing it on the menu. My other half went for the pork T-bone; a chance for us both to sample the meat supplied by Barry the Butcher from nearby Stratford upon-Avon. When it comes to steak I am ordinarily quite fussy, one of those people who keeps changing their preference like the weather. However, when I’ve tasted one that is to my taste buds’ satisfaction, I sure do remember it. This was one of those times; as the sizeable steak, seasoned to perfection and served with equally satisfying chips, was one of the best I have had in a long, long time. The pork T-bone went down just as well and was topped with an exceptional display of crackling. It really must be said that the food served here at The Churchill Arms is just as aesthetically pleasing as it is tasty. Bravo Nick Deverell-Smith and his kitchen team, bravo Bill the Butcher, bravo the Cotswolds.
For desert – me being of sweet tooth, one of my favourite meals of any dining experience – we indulged on a rich and delicious sticky toffee pudding and the apple and rhubarb crumble. These warm treats were complimented by vanilla ice cream and custard respectively, resulting in the perfect end to a really top-draw three course dining experience. Demonstrative of the personal touch Nick adds to his service was the way he made an effort to personally ensure everyone was enjoying themselves as the evening came to a close. It’s the little things such as this that lends such a relaxing, friendly atmosphere to this great little pub.
After enjoying the perfect night’s sleep we started the day with, quite frankly the only way we know how, a full English breakfast. As to be expected after the quality of the food the night before, the bacon, sausages and eggs were all locally sourced and absolutely perfect. Being the guests of one of only two rooms in the pub meant breakfast was a peaceful, relaxing and quiet affair with service that was second to none.
With plenty to see, do and explore around the Cotswolds – we spent a day getting cultured around Shakespeare’s home town in Stratford upon Avon – you will struggle to find a more pleasant, welcoming little pub that serves better food than The Churchill Arms. A visit will leave you well rested, well fed and telling tales of the comfiest bed in the Cotswolds for weeks to come.
Copy & Pictures by Jack Milam