Published May 17, 2011
Our Guide to the best of British pubs.
This week: The King’s Head Inn, Bledington
I have no scientific or statistical proof, but, on the evidence of my own eyes, I believe that the blows barmaid is, like the spotted flycatcher, corn bunting and skylark, one of a vanishing species of British birds.
Once, she was to be found fluttering behind every saloon bar in the shires, her cleavage puffed prominently as she dished up keg and consolation beneath a plume of peroxide and mascara. Nowadays, a toff with a polite cough seems to be the obligatory replacement for the pint-pulling tart-with-a-heart in our newly renovated backwoodsmen’s boozers.
Nowhere is this more true than on the Oxfordshire/Gloucestershire border, where Archire Orr-Ewing, the impossibly good-looking landlord of the King’s Head Inn, can be found holding forth on the merits or otherwise of his Australian Shiraz and Hook Norton bitter. Meanwhile, his elegant wife, Nicola, tends to fuss about the sun-blushed tomatoes and saffron boullion, rather than spooning on the blusher and listening to regulars crying into their beer.
The picturesque 16th-century stone-built free house overlooks the village green, with its babbling brook and noisy ducks. At Sunday lunch last week, the inside of the very low-ceilinged flagstone bar, with its fine settles and polished brass bed-plates from disbanded regiments, was full of very tall people in canary-coloured cords braying for pints of Hooky and spicy Bloody Mary’s.
By one o’clock, the Orr-Ewings were running a sit-down Sunday lunch as if it were a private party. The roast beef was rare and hot. The Yorkshire pudding was home-made, the horseradish was freshly mixed and the roast potatoes were crunchy and, rather charmingly, a bit burnt. The volume of conversation never flagged and the Orr-Ewings never stopped.
Only when the rush was over did I notice the Gucci-clad Sloane tanked up on New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc leaning dreamily against the bar trying to engage the stoic young Archie, much as a caricature drunk might have once accosted a traditional barmaid. It may of course have been my imagination, but I swear I heard her whisper: “My husband doesn’t understand me.”
Saturday , February 21, 2004