Published June 30, 2011
HOTELGURU, by Fiona Duncan
THE KING’S HEAD, OXFORDSHIRE
It’s easy to see what tempted Nicola and Archie Orr-Ewing (known to all as Nic and Arch) away from London and into the wilds of the Labrador-and-Range Rover-infested Cotswolds. Casting around for a dream pub to run, they found the King’s Head, set on an unspoilt village green with swings for the children, a stream for the sicks and an old pub sign swaying in the breeze. “We just knew we could make something of it.”
They most certainly have. Nicola’s bedrooms – six above the low-slung pub and six across a pretty courtyard – are just the sort I love: simple and unpretentious, yet artfully decorated with junk-shop finds, painted furniture, the odd family heirloom, books and pictures, pretty fabrics, rugs, Lloyd Loom chairs and comforting throws on excellent, white-linen beds. Bathrooms are necessarily small, but attractive.
We had a few minor gripes. The televisions in the pub rooms could do with upgrading, the tea trays are meagre, and where, oh where is a radio? Even a request to borrow one by my friend Lui, frantic to listen to The Archers, could not be met. At least keep a couple of spares: there must be more Radio 4 freaks like us out there, especially in these parts.
The King’s Head wasn’t for sale when the Orr-Ewings first saw it, but the owners sold it anyway. “Over to you now,” they said, as they left the bar for the last time. “Don’t worry,” said the old boy, a village inhabitant and King’s Head regular for 40 years, who was propping up the bar, “I’ll still be here.”
As in so many of these former local watering holes, the clientele of the King’s Head is now here principally for the restaurant-quality food from Chef Andy Kilburn. Though most of them look as if they’ve come straight from the pages of Debrett’s, Archie has done what he can to keep the pub’s integrity alive, running a cricket team whose members must either drink or work in the pub.
So many old inns have the character ripped out of then when they are revamped, but not this one. The warren of rooms circling the central bar are all cosy, with home-grown hyacinths scenting the air. (Why don’t more hoteliers realise that simple, fresh flowers are magic ingredients?) Every inch of space is given over to dining because, at weekends especially, as many tables as possible are required.
That leaves a problem for the increasing numbers of people who are turning to inexpensive places like the King’s Head as alternatives to country house hotels: where to flop comfortably near a fire with a drink and a newspaper? Nicola took the point and tells me that a corner room will soon become a “sitting room where you can eat”. I look forward to seeing it – and the odd radio: then the King’s Head will be perfect.
HOW IT RATES
ROOMS: Rating: 5 Stars
Pub rooms have more character; all are charmingly decorated
SERVICE: Rating: 4.5 Stars
A friendly welcome from Arch and Nic; local, happy staff
CHARACTER: Rating: 4.5 Stars
Revamped pubs often lack character; this one has plenty, if too many tables
FOOD & DRINK: Rating: 4.5 Stars
VALUE FOR MONEY: Rating: 5 Stars
Quibbles aside, unimpeachable
The Sunday Telegraph, 28/02/2010