We've been doing a bit of window shopping. The aspirational sort, where you walk through Cotswold villages at dusk, looking into other people's houses, coveting their leather armchairs and thinking that life would be perfect if only you owned an Aga and a pair of his and her's Barbours. It's the weather, of course. A hint of autumn in the air and I come down with acute countryside-itis and start fantasising about having dogs.
I mean - really - dogs? Me? Help me, Doctor. Next it will be tweeds and the Boden catalogue. Thankfully aversion therapy is at hand. A two hour drive up the M40 with car-sick kids and community singing to Coldplay and The Verve. If you didn't think you could join in the chorus of The drugs don't work, believe me, you can. With feeling.
You can see why people in the country wear uniforms. With two teenagers and two in waiting, If we moved 'out' I would spend all my time chauffeuring them around. But still, occasionally it's nice to indulge the fantasy, without being a slave to the urge. Be a recreational user, perhaps for weekends and special occasions *(birthdays, anniversaries and divorces as one of my readers puts it). Surely that's what country hotels are for?*
However, Georgina and Alan Thompson, are well and truly out and sorted. They've abandoned London's Fulham Road and their successful restaurant 755, for the bucolic life of Stow-on-the Wold. They've taken over The Royalist, Britain's oldest inn, and adjacent pub - The Eagle and Child. The comfy hotel has ten bedrooms, simply furnished with only a minimum of chintz and John Lewis lampshades - and a restaurant - 947AD - where there is a slight, but very polite, middle-class, disagreement between the blue tartan upholstery, the check blinds and the floral curtains.
Elsewhere, everything else gets along very nicely. The food is well executed, well-priced at £29 for 3 courses (or a £20 bargain supplement when included in the room price) and delicious. The pub grub is superior, though not cheap and ranges from truly great burgers and sausage and mash to confit Guinea fowl The staff are charming with just the right mix of friendliness, informality and efficient willingness to please. You could almost be weekending with friends who don't much care what you do with your time as long as you pitch up for meals. Just my sort of relaxed hostessing, really, except I don't do meals and I don't much care. Period.
The meal starts with a pea and ham soup, served in a coffee cup, a custom which must have all Cotswold hostesses mewling with pleasure. Now that no-one drinks coffee after dinner anymore, least of all expresso, finally, FINALLY, there's a use for all those dozens of demi-tasse things you get as wedding presents.
We had the lobster timbale with seafood salad, small but perfectly formed, and a wonderful brown, wintery dish of roast quail resting in a soupy bean cassoulet then draped with Parma ham. The menu promised the addition of foie gras but its presence was not particularly insistent. No matter.
The roast venison fillet, served plummy pink with pears and a wild mushroom jus was a good seasonal main course while the chicken, stuffed with a chestnut and sweet tarragon mouse and offset with melting comfit of Savoy cabbage was a pleasant alternative. Puddings were uncomplicated - apple tart tatin, a super-sweet sounding caramelised banana and passion fruit parfait and - my choice, a smooth hot berry soufflˇ with honey and ginger ice cream. Unfortunately, the latter reminded me rather strongly of throat lozenges and wasn't the best pairing for the delicacy of the soufflˇ.
Cheese was the only duff note of the evening. A mediocre selection of Red Leicester, feta of all things, Oxford Blue, 'Somerset' brie and Stinking Bishop - undoubtedly whiffy but named, I'm told, after a variety of pear and not a local clergyman. Surely a more interesting selection of local, or British cheeses could be found.
Sunday lunch is a fulsome, and a snip at £18 for 3 courses, though the cooked breakfast at £7.50 is steeper than the hill in nearby Burford where the whole of Japan seems to be buying fleece. What IS this obsession with fleece? You go on a coach tour of the Cotswolds and suddenly small Burberry-clad Japanese are gripped with a strange compulsion to buy day-glo brushed nylon. Whatever happened to wool - and do the sheep know they're being impersonated?
As you might expect the other customers in the restaurant, mostly residents, were notably not dressed in fleece. Most were fiercely coiffured fifty-somethings with a few Fulham imports and their edibly sweet children. At least I'm assuming India was the daughter and that her father, a handsome chap in mustard cords, didn't have a geographical form of Tourette's syndrome.
Otherwise, the dining room was lit by lots of sub-stroke red faces and dimmed by desultory, half-dead-marriage conversation.
As my beloved noted glumly: the thing about older people is that they don't laugh.
Umm, I agreed solemnly.
Not like us, eh?