The Porch House, Stow on the Wold
If you were holding auditions for a pub-cum-sophisticated-eaterie, the kind of place that walking boots or stilettos (muddy or otherwise) would be equally welcome, where you could casually grab lunch or fine dine for a special occasion, then The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold would definitely stand out in casting. For this award-winning inn, restaurant and boutique hotel has all the good looks and charisma of a bona fide screen star. And it’s got history, dating back to the 10th century, no less, which makes it a contender for the oldest inn in England. Someone give it a part in an Anglo Saxon drama!
It certainly looks like a period dream inside and out. There are leaded windows, exposed oak beams, honey-coloured stone walls, even an inglenook fireplace with carved symbols in the stone to protect you from witches and evil spirits. Which could account for the happy and relaxed vibe. For while The Porch House is definitely upmarket from your pop-in-for-a-pint local, there’s no snootiness here and there’d be no shame in arriving a bit dishevelled with the kids in tow. Although it is rather special, so you might want to savour it unencumbered and a tart yourself up a bit. I certainly did.
And what a treat it was. There’s a cosy seating area by the entrance where you can slouch in a leather sofa with a pre-prandial and leaf through magazines before you go through to eat in the grand dining room, the airy conservatory or the intimate bar area. I chose the last for its incognito atmosphere – the conservatory, though, which leads onto a cute, courtyard garden, would make a great spot for a girls’ lunch out, while the dining room looked like a good, get-your-glad-rags on evening option. There’s also a private dining area that seats up to 12 with its own bar, lounge, garden seating and loos. So really, The Porch House covers every dining eventuality! You can even hire out the entire dining room, which seats 50, if you so wish. And there are 13 rooms you can stay in all exuding vintage country cool, one is even dog-friendly.
But to the food. Although the starters looked tempting (ham hock terrine and crispy quails eggs in particular), I skipped onto the main course as I wanted to ‘save’ myself for pudding (so glad I did, see below) and after much mulling opted for top blade steak with chips, peppercorn sauce and rocket. I wasn’t quite sure what top blade was (a particular cut, I’ve since discovered), but it tasted great. And the chips had the skins on, so that was healthy, right?
And then came the pudding – hot chocolate mousse with salted caramel ice cream – and I’m salivating just thinking about it again. As you can see from my photo, I dived straight in with my spoon before I remembered to take a picture of it. The marriage of hot, gooey chocolate and sweet, slightly salty ice cream was intoxicating. I literally did that thing the mindfulness gurus go on about, savouring every mouthful, living entirely in the moment. Now I know how to reach nirvana. I was in post-dessert bliss after that, fully open to staying there until it was suppertime, so I could try all the other puddings, which included sticky toffee pudding with honeycomb ice cream, treacle tart, and apple and raspberry crumble.
But when I did eventually prize myself out of there, I thoroughly enjoyed Stow’s ample charms. It was a sunny day, so the Cotswold stone was looking particularly pretty and there were a whole load of tempting boutiques to browse around. If you were to make a day trip of it, Hidcote, Kelmscott, Sudeley Castle, Blenheim Palace, Chastleton House, Sezincote and Batsford Arboretum are all nearby. So in fact you could stay for a week and mainline pudding for seven days and nights! Now there’s an idea.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A lunch with the girls, a romantic evening meal with him indoors, a blow-out special occasion. If your kids are fairly reliably well-behaved, there is an excellent children’s menu, including sweetcorn lolly pops (love the sound of those), baked beans on toast and shepherd’s pie, all VERY reasonably priced.
Not for: Popping in for a quick pint (you’d be a fool not to eat), a meal with squirmy toddlers, as there’s not much outdoor space to contain them and they might try and steal your pudding.
££: Prices are pretty reasonable for such high quality, with starters coming in at around £7, mains topping a very reasonable £14, even for the steak, and puddings all £6.50 except for the mousse, which is £7, and the cheeseboard, which is £7.50 for two British cheeses, £16 for five.
The Porch House, Digbeth Street, Stow on the Wold GL54 1BN. Tel: 01451 870048. porch-house.co.uk