I spent a few days in the Cotswolds with my family this past week, going from one small village to the next in search of elusive traditional British pub grub, cozy Bed and Breakfasts with quintessentially English breakfast fry ups and the best ale this side of the Thames.
Before delving into my British adventure, it’s important to explain a little about the Cotswolds, as I had honestly never heard of this region before moving to London last year. The Cotswolds is an area in south central England, a few hours drive from London, or if taking the train from the city, an hour and fifteen minutes journey from Paddington Station. Making up the Cotswolds are many small towns and villages, stretching across approximately 25 miles (40 km) horizontally and 90 miles (145 km) vertically. Made up of rolling hills, this region is known for its Jurassic limestone which has created a “grassland habitat rare in the UK“, and which also lends a hand to the local stone, the yellow Cotswold stone. In many of the pictures here you will be able to see the yellow brick houses made up of this golden mineral.
Day 1: Painswick
We visited on a long weekend, and only made it to a few villages in Gloucestershire, namely Painswick, Fairford, Rodmarton and Cirencester. Taking the train to Stroud, my family came to pick me up in from the station and we drove directly to Painswick as it was raining, to check into a very cute B&B, The Falcon Hotel Painswick.
Complete with a resident cat.
As evening was upon us, and the weather a tad disagreeable we decided to go straight to dinner at the restaurant within the Inn, and what a treat it turned out to be! The menu was innovative, with traditional, seasonal English ingredients served with a modern twist, and at extremely reasonable prices to boot. The dining hall was pretty full, but we had booked a table with the receptionist / bartender and were brought straight to our table, with a bottle of Grey Goose vodka as the reserved sign.
I was a little disappointed when the waitress took away the bottle as we sat down, but this was probably for the best. Wait scratch that, it was for the best.
We decided to split two starters between the three of us, settling on one of the specials of the day, a salad of melon served with coconut, pecan nuts, raspberry sorbet and chili sauce. This was absolutely divine, and the young fresh coconut and fresh sorbet made the appetizer seem almost dessert like, with the chili pushing it towards a savory dish nonetheless (picture below). The other starter we chose was a parsnip and potato soup, served with warm baguette, which was also very tasty, but nothing out of the usual.
My dad decided to have a chicken and corn pie, which he said was good, but nothing to write home about. I had a bite and thought it was just perfect, as it is only fair to note that a traditional English pie is not something oozing with spice and tangy flavours, but rather a warm, comfort food type of meal which goes perfectly with an ice cold brew.
My mom settled on one of the a’la carte choices, a delectable pan fried sea bream served with tomato ratatouille. Fresh, light and with a whole load of flavour, she was definitely a happy camper throughout dinner.
I chose one of the specials, which as a salmon lover I couldn’t resist: Salmon with horseradish and smoked salmon crust with asparagus and tarragon cream.
Excuse my French, but ooh la’ la’!!!
It was, in three words:
We rounded off dinner with a glass of red wine and some scotch and before I knew it magical Cotswold elves were dancing in my head, singing songs of spectacularly quaint and cozy English inns and food that would put Gordon Ramsey to shame.
We woke up to one of the most hyggelige (cozy, cute, quaint, snuggly, warm, delightful) breakfasts I’ve had in a long time with a small table set up for guests to serve themselves yoghurt, fruit and berries, granola and a variety of cereals, milk, and orange as well as blackcurrant juice (my favorite)!
Next to the breakfast buffet was a black board with various warm breakfast dishes that could be made to order, including a traditional English fry up and scrambled eggs with salmon.
Oh and a French press of coffee for each guest, might I add. What more could anyone ask for?
We meandered around Painswick for a few hours after breakfast, taking in the views and the old town feel this village has to offer. Having been on Trip Advisor to see if there were any restaurants in the town that had been recommended, we stumbled upon two, the Patchwork Mouse cafe and Oliva’s. Deciding we wanted a little more than coffee and cake we settled on the latter, an Italian style bistro and deli.
I had a prawn salad which, to be honest, had so many prawns I could barely eat them all (although…. I did), and my parents split a ham and cheese panini with oregano, served with a side salad. We were all content and pleasantly full after our quick lunch, and ready to take on Fairford, another Cotswold town where we would spend the night.
Day 2: Fairford and Cirencester
Having moved on from one small town to the next, we settled in at The Bull Hotel in Fairford for two nights of R&E (rest and exploration). The first evening we went to a country pub for steak night, which, as you can probably guess, consisted of steak with chips (fries to all you yanks) and peas. Classic, standard, British pub grub. I, needless to say, washed down my 5 star meal with a pint of Carling, one of my go to beers after having settled in the UK.
We woke in the morning to another English breakfast fry up, which, to be honest wasn’t what I was really in the mood for. I never thought I’d say this but all I really wanted was a bit of fruit and some yoghurt.
First world problems ey?
The day took us out of Fairford and to Rodmarton, a small town in the Cotswolds where my father’s ancestors, the Prouty’s descended from. We went to see the local church and poked around the village a bit, with my dad oohing and aahing at the fact that his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather had lived there. I must say his excitement was contagious and I also found myself dreaming back to yonder times.
Cirencester: Cornish pastys, cider and a classic English town!
Cirencester, also known as the Queen of the Cotswalds, is larger than Painswick, with a whopping 19,000 residents and 84 restaurants on Trip Advisor! Based on those two facts alone it really should be on everyone’s to see list when visiting the Cotswolds.
Nestled between a medieval church (which looks just like what you would imagine Cinderella’s castle to look like like) and brick tea houses lie cute little boutique shops, galleries, restaurants, coffee shops and the like. Seeing as we were spending a few days in Fairford, we drove to Cirencester twice, giving us a chance to really explore the high street and surrounding area, as well as try out two local restaurants for lunch.
The first day we dined at The Fleece restaurant, which serves traditional English food, with a twist (see a theme here?). I opted for a chicken caesar salad with a poached egg, and my parents both had open faced smoked salmon sandwiches with boiled eggs and avocado, and both options were light, delicious, and just what the local Cotswolds doctor would have ordered, I’m sure.
On the second day we went to the Bear Inn restaurant, right at the start of Cirencester High Street. The food here was tasty, but service was slow and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking to consume a meal within an hour of ordering it. Yes, it was that slow.
I ordered a chicken breast with truffle oil mashed potatoes and mushroom cream sauce, while my partner had a vegetarian lasagne with wild mushrooms and spinach. Both meals were better looking on paper than in real life. Shame.
The ultimate British nibbles n’tipples: Cider and cornish pasty
What would a trip to the English countryside be without tasting a local cider or two? An embarrassment at best! Although I didn’t take pictures of the different ciders I had on tap, the two bottled ciders below were truly divine!
We bought a few variations of cider to try at home and both were dry, easy to drink, and had a really nice fresh apple flavour. I truly do prefer these ciders to the sweeter, almost juice-like concoctions often sold on the mainstream drinks market.
Seeing as my parents were visiting from Asia, we couldn’t really drive all the way to the Cotswolds for a real English break without having some traditional nibbles n’ tipples from the region, now could we?
Having never tried a Cornish pasty, my dad and I ventured into buying a few mini ones and sharing them. We tried an onion and cheese pasty, a traditional beef one, and a pork and apple pasty to round out our tasting platter. I must say the cheese and onion one was the one that I will remember with most fondness.
Quintessentially English. Quintessentially divine.
Where meat and savory fillings meet the ultimate pastry, in a mouth watering convergence of traditional flavours.
Our trip was a short, but sweet one, and the Cotswolds has definitely earned itself a spot on my ‘already-visited-but-still-on-the-bucket-list’ list.