Earlier this year, Sam and Georgie Pearman took over The Swan, a rustic 16th-century inn in Ascott-under-Wychwood in the Cotswolds. Co-founders of The Lucky Onion Hotel Group – which includes No 131 in Cheltenham and The Wheatsheaf in the Cotswolds – the pair’s takeover of The Swan forms part of their new collection of pubs, hotels and restaurants, Country Creatures, which features The Chequers in the Cotswolds and The Talbot, a North Yorkshire coaching inn and restaurant. With a bold new look and a menu to match, we were keen to explore how the duo had transformed this traditional coaching house.
Since relaunching the restaurant with rooms in May, Country Creatures has overhauled The Swan’s dishes and redecorated everything from the beer garden to the bedrooms. The inn’s traditional Cotswolds honey stone exterior and wooden beamed interiors have been given a new lease of life via eclectic wallpapers, bright textiles and smatterings of modern art. We especially liked the on-trend forest green accents, which extend from the banquette seating through to the bold patterned wallpaper in the dining room. Outside, the spacious garden has been redesigned by Rachel Murphy and is filled with fire pits, painted wooden planters and more hits of vivid green, which extend to the metal tables and chairs. The al fresco spot also features a wisteria-covered oak pergola and a Cotswold stone outdoor dining space for groups. For larger parties, the oak-beamed feasting room is an atmospheric space which seats 18 around a long, banquet-style table.
Sam Pearman, alongside head chef Adam Abbott – who previously worked at local favourites The Wild Rabbit and The Slaughters Manor House – has designed a new menu filled with local produce and seasonal ingredients. We suggest kicking things off in the suntrap garden with a local ale or Bobby Beer (brewed in Chipping Norton) and a ‘Bit of Everything’ platter, which contains three types of local sourdoughs and rye with a selection of spreads including gochujang, whipped horseradish, toffee apple sauce crowned with crackling, and dripping butter. We’re hard pressed to pick a favourite among them.
Next, we order BBQ native prawns – ready to break open with our hands – served alongside English peas, Chipping Norton ‘nduja and garlic butter. A slice of crisp spelt toast is provided to mop up all the garlicky goodness. A further highlight is the chopped raw hanger steak, served with tomato dressing, capers, parsley, croutons and fresh horseradish. The overall effect is an explosion of Bloody Mary flavours.
If you’re in a group, we suggest ordering from the menu’s feasting section. It’s here that the team really capitalises on its homely, family style of cooking. Guests can choose between double bone-in rib of shorthorn beef with hand-cut chips, treacle bacon and asparagus, or baked potatoes with Paddock Farm beef cheeks, onions, mushrooms, bacon and foie gras. Simple, but delicious.
When it comes to dessert, we’re impressed with the Gold Top custard tart. The homemade rum and raisin ice-cream served alongside it is made with Ron Zacapa and really packs a punch – it’s one of the nicest we’ve ever tried. Elsewhere, a jaffa cake chocolate pudding with pistachio ice-cream and candied pistachios is designed to be shared between two. For those wanting a taste of summer, the Pimm’s poached peaches and lemon cream and Amaretto crumble is a sure-fire hit.
We imagine this would make a great place for a relaxed Sunday lunch with friends, whether taking over the outdoor snug or, come autumn, booking a table next to one of the inn’s inglewood fireplaces. Go as a group and you’ll also be able to tuck into a round of sharing snacks, such as Blue Monday cheese gougeres; black truffle, wild mushroom and roasted garlic tarte flambee; and hung local yoghurt with olive oil, toasted seeds and sourdough. These tasty morsels are among the menu’s highlights, so we suggest ordering the lot.
For those wanting to escape the city, the picturesque village of Ascott-under-Wychwood offers a real countryside experience, surrounded by fields of horses and views over the Cotswolds. The inn also makes an affordable base for those wanting to explore Oxfordshire’s highlights such as Blenheim Palace, Kingham, Daylesford Organic and Soho Farmhouse, all of which are under 30 minutes away by car.
Where to stay…
The inn offers eight modern rooms: six in the old inn and two in a converted cottage outside, which includes a family suite with a twin, double and shared living room. Within, each bedroom’s design is influenced by the surrounding countryside, and all feature natural linens and velvets from Lewis & Wood and Parker & Jules, plus printed fabrics from Fermoie. The bathrooms are filled with owner Georgie’s 100 Acre Apothecary products, which use natural botanicals from the Cotswolds. Rooms start at £90 per night on a bed and breakfast basis.
How to get there…
From London: The Swan is a 10-minute taxi ride from Charlbury train station. Journey times from Paddington start from 1 hour and 30 minutes. Car journeys from west London take around the same time with no traffic.
From Bristol: Journey times from Bristol Parkway start from 1 hour and 37 minutes. Car journeys via the M5 take around 1 hour and 30 minutes with no traffic.
From Oxford: Journey times from Oxford start at 18 minutes. Car journeys take around 36 minutes with no traffic.
4 Shipton Road, Chipping Norton, OX7 6AY