In an epic 24-hour foodie road trip, Helen Bownass tracked down the best grub in the Cotswolds.
With 24 hours to compile a travel piece where would you go? Well, you go on a mad dash of a road trip, of course. But with the memory of ill-advised teenage adventures to Cornwall in clapped out wrecks still fresh in my mind, I decided that this time I was going to do it properly. this time, I was going gourmet. and few places in Britain are as well-suited for food-based fun than the Cotswolds. So that’s how it came to pass that me and my friend Helen (let’s call her other Helen for ease) are stood outside Stylist’s pop-up office at 10am on a cold November morning. We have our new Stylist Ford Fiesta as our chariot and new iPhones. We have a basic idea of how to get out of the city. Now all we need to do is master the GPS and beat the traffic…
Distance: 60.4 miles And we’re off. After 18 hours of self-induced fasting, we’re starving by the time we reach the first stop, which bodes well as the menu at the Milk Shed (Weston on the green, oX25) on the edge of Oxford is full of good things to eat.
The first rule of a foodie trip: slow and steady wins the race. With that in mind I go for ricotta pancakes with bacon and honeycomb butter and other Helen keeps it classic with scrambled eggs and salmon. What we’re presented with is light yet ridiculously rich and delicious. Simple ingredients and cheap price tags (each cost less than a fiver). Perfect.
Distance: 83.4 miles Nearly 40 minutes later we’re on route to Daylesford organic Farm (Daylesford nr Kingham, gL56) and it couldn’t be more autumnal if it tried: there are pheasants soaring, alleyways of gold and red trees – and lashing rain. as we walk into the farm and see fairy lights and smell open fires, it feels like the greatest of all seasons.
Though it is a working farm, the atmosphere at the Daylesford cafe is one of relaxed luxury – reluxed if you will. It has lots of exposed brickwork, and pots of herbs on the table. today’s menu is seasonal and almost all grown organically on site – beef shin, butternut squash, blackberries and heritage apples – I opt for venison and cavelo nero lasagna, which was a thing of joy – familiar but with a deep gamey twang.
3.55pm: Coffee and cake
Distance: 117.3 miles As a big fan of the Fabulous Baker Brothers we decide to head to the Hobbs House Bakery in Tetbury – one of the four bakeries owned by the brothers’ family. Our luck is in. Oenry – younger FBB – is in the shop. Even better, within minutes he’s made us a cup of coffee and is giving us a lesson in growing the perfect sourdough starter yeast.
From the outside, the shop is a fairy-tale confection but refreshingly inside it’s just a really good cake and bread shop. Special mention must go to the salted caramel tart – crumbly and smooth, it was next level stuff.
Distance: 152.8 miles You might not have heard of Cotswolds mezze. Until today, neither had I. But now I’m thinking it’s what the rest of the country needs.
So what is this new delicacy, I hear you cry? Well, let me tell you; it’s a selection of pub snacks including delicious scotched quail’s eggs, home-cured venison, duck liver parfait, eel briande and pickles.
Served at the Kingham Plough (Chipping Norton, oX7), I can think of no nicer way to start a Friday evening. It’s the type of country pub you dream of stumbling across, with log fires, cosy nooks, and friendly staff. I would like to settle in for the evening but we have to move on for dinner.
Distance: 225.8 miles Tonight when we put wrong postcode in our sat nav and end up driving for an extra 30 miles, I couldn’t be happier, simply because it allows my stomach to recuperate before dinner at Michelin-starred pub the Charles Napier (Chinnor, oX39).
And thank goodness for the extra time as dinner is a total delight.
We head straight for our incredible shared starter – dressed Cornish crab with seared tuna and wasabi arancini. Beautifully cooked turbot with spinach, Lyonnaise potatoes and onion bhaji follows while oh’s roast Cornish cod with celeriac, potato boulangere and roast ceps was the most delicious fish I’ve ever eaten.
We eschew dessert remembering we still need to fit in a midnight feast.
11.10pm: Midnight snack and sleep
Distance: 250.8 miles And so to Malmaison Oxford to rest our weary heads. the hugely impressive hotel is housed in a former prison and though it’s total boutique chic, it’s refreshing to see all the original features are perfectly intact – down to the walkways outside the cells. It starts to feel rather appropriate. Someone lock us away from all the eating... Unlike our Stylist colleagues back in London we’re allowed to have a few hours’ sleep, but not before eating once more. We briefly flirt with the idea of ordering a local cheese board but terrified of the dreams, head towards the plate of brownies that have been left in our room. I have a bite of one – it’s gooey and rich. I could usually devour all three but tonight I can go no further. I make room for one glass of wine – driving has kept us booze free all day – just to help with digestion.
6am: Breakfast Take One
Distance: Still 250.8 miles “It’s 6.02am, I’ve had three hours’ sleep, I really fancy a massive breakfast,” said no-one ever. But eat we must and at least the morning offering looks super sexy, despite the deeply unsexy food-based insomnia I’ve just had in my crazy comfy bed.
A giant wicker basket the full length of my arm is divided up into little compartments containing fresh fruit, cornflakes – too retro for me at this hour – two French yoghurts, pastries served with three types of Bon Maman jam (it’s the little things), OJ and giant pots of really good tea.
All that coupled with a few minutes under the amazing monsoon shower and somehow we’re ready for the final stretch.
8.10am: Breakfast Take Two
Distance: 288.6 miles There’s time for one more stop as we head back home. We stumble across the amazing Benedict’s coffee shop in Beaconsfield (Hp9) and convince owners Ben and Victoria to fire up the coffee machine. the Monmouth coffee is great and the bread and pastries from organic London bakery Flour power are even better. I nibble on a rich almond croissant while a hungrier other Helen goes for a Portuguese custard tart which is just the right mix of flake plus wobble.
And, that’s it. time to get back in the car and head homewards. It’s been a gastronomic frenzy, although such extreme eating does make the thought of mealtimes rather more stressful. And I certainly won’t need to eat for at least another 24 hours.
- Miles: 313.4 (one tank of petrol)
- Meals: 8
- Michelin stars: 1
- Time: 23.5 hours
- Verdict: Tired and stuffed but well and truly satisfied