Sheep on Sheep Street
Day tripping across the borders? This Stow-on-the-Wold hotel, restaurant and bar looks like a period drama on the outside – and inside the scene is set for stylish, urbanite fun.
A super stylish makeover a couple of summers ago revamped the erstwhile Grapevine Hotel into the über chic offering that is today’s Sheep on Sheep Street. Transforming the knocked-through trio of 17th-century buildings into a funky inn with rooms that wouldn’t be out of place in André Balazs’s stable (he of Chiltern Firehouse fame) was bang on the money as Stow-on-the-Wold, one of the Cotswolds’ most Cotswoldy towns, grows its reputation for cool, indie shops and classy eateries.
While the outside is all quaint honey-stoned prettiness with tempting outdoor seating for sunny days, inside is another story. Bright pops of colour, blue velvet banquettes, eye-catching light fittings and funky artwork and posters make for a real feast for the eyes. It’s the kind of place that when you walk in, you get a little shiver of excitement because the scene is so perfectly set. I arrived in the evening on a Thursday and it was buzzing, with pretty much every table occupied by couples, girl gangs and foursomes.
The long bar looked mighty tempting, too, with a fabulous wood-fired pizza oven set into the yellow-tiled wall next to the heaving shelves of spirits just waiting to be mixed into cocktails (they do a mean Espresso Martini if you like that sort of thing – and I do!).
It’s hard to believe there are 22 rooms squirreled away here, but yes, higgledy-piggledy staircases take you to four varieties, from cosy (small but perfectly snuggly) to the Signature Room where I was lucky enough to slip off my stilettos. Located at the top of a staircase that anyone above toddler height will have to duck up, Room 6 is on its own floor and possesses all the charms of a secret attic hideaway. Vaulted ceilings, oak beams and exposed Cotswold stone walls are dreamily period living, and the décor – buttoned headboard, quirky painted bureau, retro yellow telephone – echoes the funky style notes of downstairs though with a more muted palette. The Feather & Black king-size bed which I flung myself onto had a super-soft landing with no squeaks *wink, wink*, while the en-suite, I noted excitedly, had a roomy corner bath just made for two. Note: next romantic escape I’m coming here!
SCOFF & QUAFF
The menu is a tempting mix of Italian American goodies with a modern British twist. The pizzas cooked in the aforementioned wood-fired oven look to die for – you can order a metre with any four toppings (!) and at lunch they bake their own sourdough bread in there to make what they call panuzzos, hot, fill-your-boots sandwiches stuffed with yummy fillings. My dining companion and I were there for dinner though, so opted for dishes from the mains after having hoovered up a couple of starters – squid fritto misto and steamed mussels of the day. So good were they that we got chomping straight away and I only remembered about taking a photo when our plates were well and truly licked clean.
I was on it with the mains though. For my partner in crime, a dry-aged rare breed Dexter beef burger. Verdict? Amazing beef (those little Dexters do taste good!!), perfectly crisp onion rings and fries, but if one was being picky the bun was a tad over toasted.
I opted for the 30-day dry-aged ribeye steak which, well, I almost didn’t get the shot again, I was so eager to dig in. Nothing to disappoint on this plate – the tenderest steak cooked to perfection, and all the trimmings ship shape and Bristol fashion. We ordered a side of sauté spinach with truffled butter & parmesan, too, which also tickled the taste buds.
We were both quite stuffed by the time it came to dessert (and also more than a little merry after two bottles of Provence Rosé), so we shared a rhubarb, rosehip & pistachio pavlova. You don’t often find pavlova on a menu and I was keen to get my chops on this one as it featured three of my favourite ingredients. It was so delish that I slightly regretted I didn’t have it all to myself, but I subtly made sure I got the lion’s share.
Breakfast was a hangover-soothing affair – there was a groaning table of fruit, pastries, cereals and breads that you could help yourself to, as well as full English (plus veggie option), fancy eggs – Benedict, Royale, Florentine – Belgian waffles with smoked bacon & maple syrup and smashed avocado with quinoa, tomatoes & poached eggs.
I went for the avocado option in the hope that it would counterbalance all the units of alcohol I’d ingested the night before. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d have definitely had the Bloody Mary with a cheeky dash of sherry which was thoughtfully on the breakfast menu.
While I was blissfully unencumbered and there were no enfants in the restaurant the night I visited, kids are positively encouraged. They have their own menu (or portion sizes can be adapted) and with pizzas that they can watch being made ringside you can’t really go wrong. There’s no big garden for them to romp in, but there is a courtyard out back or the front terrace to escape to if you find yourself with a tantruming child.
On the accommodation front, there’s a family room with a sofa bed in it and you can get extra beds or a cot put up in any of the larger rooms (in the cosy ones you’d be a bit pushed for space).
OUT & ABOUT
You’re perfectly positioned here for all manner of mooching. Stow itself has many charms, not least the pretty market square and 11th-century church. It’s definitely worth popping into the shops – Beetroot for nearly new designer gear (Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Diane Von Furstenburg to name just a few), Law & Company for cool clothes and gifts, and India Mahon for out-of-this-world jewellery. Day trips include Hidcote, Costwold Farm Park, Sezincote and Batsford Arboretum, and if you’re a bit of a foodie, you’re very near Daylesford Organic Farm, Upton Smokery and Cotswold Distillery which does tasting tours!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Weekenders with or without kids, couple escapees, visiting urbanites who you can’t put up but want to show off your ‘hood’s charms to. It would also be good for large groups, so if you’ve got a big birthday or anniversary coming up, this would be the perfect place to dine, imbibe and then flop into a Feather & Black bed.
Not for: You’d struggle to fit more than two kids into a room, so if you’re a large tribe you might prefer a more spacious overnight offering. Stow is a bustling little market town, so if it’s bucolic peace and quiet you’re after, I’d head to a more rural outpost.
The damage: B&B in a premium room costs from £155; adding on dinner takes it to £205, which I think is pretty damned reasonable considering the quality of the rooms, the food and the service. In the restaurant, starters are around £7, pizzas average out at £11, mains are around £14 and desserts only £5. Again a lot of bang for your buck.