Review: The Fuzzy Duck, Armscote
Dame Judy Dench is a fan of this modern, award-winning gastropub owned by the founders of Baylis & Harding - but what did Muddy think?
In the pretty hamlet of Armscote, 3 miles past Shipston-on-Stour, sits great country gastropub with five rooms The Fuzzy Duck. It’s built up a strong reputation locally since opening in in 2013 and in that time has scooped plenty of awards including 2 AA rosettes and a listing in the coveted Michelin Guide.
The pub is owned by Adrian and Tania Slater, founders of soap company Baylis and Harding, so unsurprisingly you can find its products throughout (and who doesn’t want to choose from 10 different varieties of soap when you visit the loo?).
Next door is the ‘theatre cottage’ – 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 – and if it’s good enough for Judy, it’s good enough for us.
We visited on a chilly Thursday evening in December, invited in by the warm glow and twinkly lights. Aside from some of the prettiest Christmas trees I’ve ever seen, there was a real fire and plenty of little nooks and crannies filled with squishy chairs and oak tables. There was a steady flow of diners with what seemed like a mix of locals and some like us from further afield.
Decor was rustic with a healthy dose of country glam. Fresh flowers throughout, low beamed ceilings, leather-look chairs, moody wall lighting and flickering candles in little duck holders. We had a lovely table right next to the fire tucked away from the main part of the pub. In summer you might want to venture outside to the spacious enclosed garden with an orchard, centrally positioned gazebo, wooden benches and cushioned seating.
We didn’t stay over but the pub has five rooms which I know are popular with out of towners and are quick to book up. Named after ducks found swimming on Armscote Pond and the lake of Armscote Manor – Buff Orpington, Mandarin, Indian Runner, Mallard, Muscovy – the rooms are decked out with Baylis & Harding toiletries and tea and Nespresso coffee on the landing. Here’s a sneaky peek… there’s lots of pale greys, whites and soft throws with luxurious touches.
SCOFF & QUAFF
I was expecting good things after hearing nothing but positives from friends and family who had visited, and I wasn’t disappointed. Staff were charming, attentive and knowledgeable, despite us ordering from the festive menu which launched just two days previous. They were quick to recommend dishes and more importantly, check we needed a refill when our glasses ran low.
While deciding what to eat our charming waiter brought over a smorgasbord of yummy nibbles. The fluffiest homemade granary bread with pork crackling butter (and normal butter), pork scratchings with apple sauce and some marinated olives. The olives were some of the best I’ve tasted and in a gorgeous lemony-oil. I could have just ate a vat of them for dinner, but on to the starter….
Read this and don’t drool – fried blue cheese. Yep. I can safely say no other blue cheese will ever compare. It accompanied a Balsamic Shallot Tarte Tatin balanced with a fresh walnut and pear salad. We also ordered the Roasted Chicken and Ham Hock Pressing with Tarragon Mayo which was also an absolute triumph.
Mains were a delicious Pan Fried Turbot, and a melt-in-the-mouth Butter Roasted Venison Loin with Game Consomme. The fish option was recommended by our waiter (I was torn between that and the Open Pumpkin and Wild Mushroom Ravioli) and I’m glad I followed his advice. It was perfectly cooked with the lightest prawn fritters peppered with wild mushrooms. Obviously we also had to order some of the Truffle and Parmesan fries, I mean, who wouldn’t?
If you are going along for a Christmas shindig, fear not, Roast Turkey with all the trimmings is on the menu.
For dessert they had my all-time favourite, Affogato which was accompanied by a choice of liquor. I went with the Cotswold’s Cream – as a drinker of Cotswolds Whiskey it was an obvious choice, and now I have something else to add to my groaning liquor cabinet. Pud came with homemade vanilla ice cream, honeycomb and a shot of espresso just ready to mix into one glorious messy puddle.
We also had the lightest Pear Frangipane Tart served with Amaretto Ice Cream and dusted with crumbs of honeycomb. The Fuzzy Duck Christmas Pudding looked delicious too though if you fancy the traditional route, as did the cheeseboard.
The wine menu had all the bottles you’d expect for a place of this calibre, from Champagne to Chenin Blanc, plus Sauvignon Blanc and Pouilly-Fume, and for reds, Shiraz, Fleurie and a Chateauneuf-de-Pape. I went for a Malbec which was a delicious deep, meaty red, perfect for a night next to the fire. If cocktails are more your thing though you could ruffle a few feathers and order a Pink Duck with rhubarb and raspberry apple gin, lemon juice, mint and soda; or the Sly Duck with Rum, Orange Juice and Angostura.
OUT & ABOUT
The village is also home to Armscote Manor, a 17th Century manor house and celebrated garden, or If you fancy flying the nest there are 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 a muddy dog walk you can borrow a pair of Hunter wellies and follow one of the many trials curated by the staff.
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
GOOD FOR: We visited to try the festive menu and it didn’t disappoint. It’s the perfect place to treat yourself to a delicious but informal dinner with family and friends, or for date night. If you can then stop for the night and head off on a leisurely walk 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 strolls in borrowed Hunter wellies. But do check out the rather splendid cocktail menu.
THE DAMAGE: The 3 course festive menu is a very reasonable £35, or £29 for 2 courses. There’s supplements for some dishes (the turbot will set you back an extra £7 – but yes, it’s worth it). If you’re stopping overnight you can expect to pay anywhere from £110 for a room.
The Fuzzy Duck, Ilmington Road, Armscote, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 8DD, fuzzyduckarmscote, Tel: 01608 682 635.