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The Fuzzy Duck, Armscote

A quacking good English country pub & Muddy Award-winning boutique B&B with lots of beautiful villages within waddling distance.

Photo Credit: Anthony Cullen

THE LOCATION

A handsome modern red-brick and grey boutique gastropub in the very pretty Warwickshire hamlet of Armscote, 3 miles north of Shipston-on-Stour and a 15-minute drive to Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s located on a quaint village road. You do feel like you’re definitely in the middle of the countryside –  a couple of tractors drove past the window as we were eating lunch.

The neighbouring ‘theatre cottage’ was once owned by the RSC and used as a retreat for playwrights and actors. Acting royalty Dame Judy Dench is one of the former cast members who used to perform recitals in the pub.

It’s close to the Gloucestershire and Oxon borders, and as such a Gateway to the Cotswolds with the beautiful villages of Broadway, Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden within easy driving distance.

THE VIBE

Baylis & Harding owners Tania Slater and brother Adrian Slater saved this Warwickshire village pub from closure and transformed it from an ‘ugly duckling’ into a relaxed rural boutique B&B with a luxurious home-from-home feel and ultra stylish restaurant. In a video on The Fuzzy Duck website Tania recounts the pub’s transformation to the soundtrack of Danny Kaye singing The Ugly Duckling from 1960’s film Hans Christian Anderson.

A former blacksmith’s, it offers excellent food, free Wi-Fi throughout, and free parking on site. It was voted Best Boutique Stay in Warwickshire’s Muddy Stilettos Awards 2017, was winner of the Les Routiers Bed and Breakfast of the Year 2016 and has been awarded two AA Rosette Awards for Culinary Excellence, 2017 – 2018.

Inside it feels a lot like visiting a fashionable friend who has an excellent taste in contemporary Cotswolds interiors, not to mention beautifully fragranced toiletries, and enticing log fires in chillier months. Traditional features include old wooden beams and flagstone floors.

As it was Tuesday Oct 31, Halloween, when we visited there were pumpkins outside the entrance with duck carvings; inside there’s lots of duck memorabilia too – carved sculptures, cushions and duck art (is that even a genre?).

The sophisticated dark grey dining room with its co-ordinating grey menus and serviettes, is one for grown-ups and romantic suppers. Touches include a stunning double-facing fireplace, gilded framed floral paintings on the wall – adding a splash of colour – and a huge ornate gilded mirror reflecting the light.

You can see directly through to the bar and from there a corridor takes you through to a funky family-friendly dining room and private function area called The Garage. It overlooks the back garden with sliding doors to the Pimm’s Garden.

Your Majesty sits on the wall between the Ladies and the Gents

The Garage has a more industrial feel. Painted white it’s a bright and breezier space with chunky wooden tables, wooden high chairs, vintage  black-and-white garage photos and some striking lighting which kids will be fascinated by, and adults hanker after.

I must give a quick mention to the super glitzy women’s loos with their eye-catching Audrey Hepburn and Madonna mirrors, and fab Baylis & Harding ‘Fuzzy Duck’ range, which includes a Black Pepper and Sage fragranced diffuser. Incidentally, you can buy products in-house.

Obviously, it’s autumn/winter now but in good weather this is the beach hut vibe out in the laid-back Pimm’s Garden. There’s also a spacious enclosed garden with an orchard, centrally positioned gazebo, wooden benches and cushioned seating.

Summer beach-hut vibe

Autumnal hues

SCOFF/QUAFF

As ‘early-birds’ we beat the lunchtime rush and could choose where to sit – we opted for a table-for-two by the window. While deciding what to eat from the Bar and Main Menus our very charming and polite Romanian waiter, Laurentiu, brought over Homemade mini-malted milk and oat loaf bread rolls with pork crackling butter (and normal butter). The home-marinated olives were amazing by-the-way!

There were 6 choices of starters and five mains on the Autumn 2017 Main Menu. Almost tempted by the Oxford blue & chicory jam tartlet, beetroot & pine salad, I, like most of the lunchtime diners to follow, was drawn to the seasonal Roasted Pumpkin soup starter  it being Halloween an’ all – and am glad I did as it was perfect warming autumn fare, tasty and as you’d expect a lovely vibrant orange. Mr Muddy ordered a healthy-looking Warm Salmon Fillet, Waldorf Salad (£10).

The most popular starter is Black Pudding Scotched Duck Egg with tomato ketchup (£8). As I don’t eat meat and Mr Muddy’s not a huge black pudding fan, he decided to check out the most popular main instead – Slow Roasted Lighthorne Lamb Shank, with Caramelised Shallot Creamed Potatoes, Cavolo Nero, Confit Garlic & Rosemary Gravy, (£18.50). He rarely eats lamb, but was curious to see what the fuss was all about! Not one for superlatives, he said it was very good.

Do you like my oriental Pan Fried Sea Bream Fillet, Rice Noodles and Malaysian Laska? I certainly did. You can see in the photograph below just how perfectly crisp the fish was and how attractively decorated, covered in edible dark pink flowers.

We savoured a couple of glass each of delicious Bellefontaine Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and a bottle of posh sparkling Blenheim Palace mineral water. Speaking of booze, there’s also a Wine of the Month recommendation – it was a Lebanese red on our visit. Choices include old and new world, specifically sourced and selected from family-run, award-winning estates, by the front of house team. You could ruffle up a few feathers and order a Ducks Fizz’ cocktail or weekend ‘Bloody Mary’s & Papers.

The puddings were sensational! The Fuzzy Duck holds very popular Pudding Nights and you can totally see why. Wow!

I thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetically-pleasing Muscovado Pannacotta, Poached Plums, with Ginger Biscuits (£6) and had a couple of spoonful’s of Mr Muddy’s naughty-but-very-very-nice Warm Dark Chocolate & Orange Fondant with Home-made Malt Ice cream (£7). Who could resist this duo?

Other seasonal autumnal choices included Toffee Apple Crumble Tart, Blackberry & Vanilla Ice-cream, a cheese selection or Affogato – Vanilla Ice-cream, Expresso & 25ml’s liqueur (Kahlua, Amaretto, Cointreau, Doorly’s dark rum or Baileys), £7. Impressively there’s also homemade-ice-cream & sorbets (flavours changing daily).

KID-FRIENDLY

The Pimm’s Garden & orchard

Yes absolutely – colouring books, pencils and a dressing-up box are provided for cooped up ‘little ducklings’ and if all else fails the family- dining room, The Garage at the back of the pub opens directly onto a wonderful decked area and enclosed garden, colourful painted sit-on toys for young children and an orchard. How good is that?

The Little Ducklings menu for ages 12 and under has free-range chicken breast & gravy with mash or chips (£7), little fish n’ chips with peas (£6.50) and two-free-range bangers & mash or chips (£5.50). Half portions at half price on most of the menu is another option. Other food requests or requirements can be accommodated to the best of their ability. For pudding 2 scoops of ice cream or fruit sorbet; Fruit salad & sorbet (both £2.50) or warm chocolate brownie and vanilla ice-cream (£3).

PILLOW TALK

If you’re planning on ‘nesting down’ for the night the four elegant bedrooms are named after ducks found swimming on Armscote pond and the lake of Armscote manor – the Buff Orpington, Mandarin, Indian Runner and Muscovy with all mod cons, Baylis & Harding toiletries and tea and coffee on the landing. Here’s a sneaky peek… there’s lots of pale greys, whites and soft throws with luxurious touches you’ll love.

OUT & ABOUT

The National Trust’s Snowshill Manor, WR12 7JU

The village is also home to Armscote Manor, a 17th Century manor house and celebrated garden. If you fancy flying the nest there’s dozens of beautiful, quaint Warwickshire and Cotswolds villages on your doorstep. They include Admington, Ilmington, Larkstoke, Blackwell, Newbold-on-Stour, Bourton-on-the-Water, Moreton-in-Marsh, Broadway, Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden. And if you fancy running through the corn fields with the wind running through your hair or a muddy dog walk you can borrow a pair of Hunter wellies! Staff at The Fuzzy Duck have curated various trails suitable for families, dog-owners, seasoned walkers and cyclists.

Culture-vultures will enjoy Stratford-upon-Avon with five of Shakespeare’s family homes, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and boating on the river to explore. Nearby Shipston-on-Stour, a former working wool town, still retains much of its traditional charm and is home to Cotwolds Distillery where you can go on gin and whisky tasting tours.

There’s lots for nature-loving families to do – Stratford Butterfly Farm, Hatton Adventure World nr Warwick, Birdland, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Cotswolds Farm Park, home of Countryfile presenter Adam Henson and Batsford Abortorium.  Heritage fans will love Warwick Castle, English Heritage-run Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Gardens, Ragley Hall and two nearby National Trust attractions  – Hidcote gardens and Snowshill Manor with its Arts and Crafts terraced garden.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

The Fuzzy Duck’s growing clutch of impressive achievements include the 2017 Muddy Stilettos Award for Best Boutique Stay; Les Routiers Bed & Breakfast of the Year 2016 and two AA Rosettes for Culinary Excellence!

Good for: Boutique stays in the Warwickshire/Cotswolds countryside; a relaxed family meal, Sunday roast, a Puddings Night with your girl friends or Christmas party (check out the festive party menu & New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner here). If you have the choice, I’d say come for a romantic, indulgent dinner and night away – and get stuck into the Bloody Mary’s the next day.

Not for: Anyone expecting a bustling nightlife. This is a quiet rural village, a great country escape – good for switching off and enjoying some ‘r and r’, sipping vino in front of a log fire and country walks in borrowed Hunter wellies. But do check out the rather splendid cocktail menu.

The damage: Bed and breakfast is from £130 – very reasonable given the quality of the rooms, food and service. In the restaurant starters: £6-£10; Mains: £13-£25.50 for an 8oz Todenham Manor Farm sirloin steak; Sides: £3 each and Puddings: £4.50 – £9. Very reasonable for food of such quality.

The Fuzzy Duck, Ilmington Road, Armscote, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 8DD, fuzzyduckarmscote, Tel: 01608 682 635.

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