A boutique masterpiece
The Artist Residence across the Warks border in the Oxfordshire hamlet of South Leigh with its slick styling and cleverly chosen art, is a welcome antidote to traditional Cotswolds inns. Muddy loves.
The quiet, unassuming village of South Leigh, close to Witney in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, is the lucky recipient of one of the coolest boutique hotels in the county. The original Artist Residence started in Brighton with a hotel just back from the sea-front that needed decorating on a tight budget – hence an invitation for local artists to stay for free in return for their visual input. The results were modern, quirky and fun and caught on immediately, resulting in sister hotels in London, Penzance, Bristol (opening in March) and our own Oxfordshire outpost – a 16th century thatched inn, with just five bedrooms and three suites, including a converted Shepherd’s Hut.
Ooooh it’s fun. The downstairs is a pub, The Mason’s Arms, but it’s probably one of the most instagrammable spaces I’ve been into – it’s a real traditional/modern mash up, with beautiful curved wood settles, heavy beams and fireplaces and William Morris wallpaper
teamed with neon and modern art and humour (anywhere where you enter the first room to see a crooked neon cross on a wall and a sign for No Riff Raff gets my vote). It’s like the punk younger sister of Soho Farmhouse.
The restaurant has a similar vibe, relaxed, stylish, fun, and it definitely feels like a local too – with only five bedrooms it’s never going to have that sometimes sterile atmosphere that comes with a whole bunch of strangers collected in a room.
I visited in winter so the outside space was all tented up (below), but there’s a large grassed area with outdoor lights, wooden bar and table football that I bet does a great trade in the summer and a paved patio at the front of the pub that will be a surefire stop off for mamils come springtime.
This is an easy one. The food was excellent and service friendly. The breakfast/dining space is a bit on the intimate side if you like utter privacy and space, but I didn’t mind it at all, it engendered atmosphere and cosiness which my plus one and I both liked. The area is ideal for twos and fours, whilst next door there’s another room for bigger parties. My ribeye steak was cooked exactly how I liked it – which is no mean feat when the poor waitress scribbles down ‘medium rare, but the rare side of medium rare. Kind of rare-medium-rare’. Hey, it’s a test!
The peppercorn sauce packed enough punch to interest, but was also velvety and rich, and the chips were large crispy, crunchy digits of joy. Food here is, I’d say, excellent quality crowd-pleasy gastropub fare. It also ticks boxes beyond those staying with breakfast, afternoon teas, Sunday lunches and bar snacky/sharey options available. Although its style aesthetic will appeal to couples, the pub caters well for kids who have their own menus, including veggie options.
COME TO BED
The best room in the house is the above Barn Suite – a gorgeous bohemian space (check out the barn door above the bed!) that was one of the original outbuildings, with wonky artisan wooden four poster bed, chunky floorboards, and a bathroom with freestanding tub. Lots of retro cool touches like the old fashioned dial phone and Roberts radio, William Morris curtains and heavy wooden door with turnkey lock, but there’s also a private terrace, superslouchy sofas and a log burner for colder nights so you’re never on the wrong side of luxe here. The Farmhouse Suite and Stable Suite both have free-standing bathtub in the bedroom, while the Farmhouse Loft and Stable rooms are entry point rooms with bathtub but less lounging space. If you have a dog (who hasn’t – apart from me?) there are with a four-leg-friendly rooms with doggy bed, bowl, and Lily’s Kitchen dog treats for £15 per night, per dog.
AROUND & ABOUT
South Leigh won’t keep you for long – it’s a small, neat hamlet worth an amble to the stunning local Norman church (above) that houses some extraordinary Medieval murals, only discovered in the 1869 when the local rev decided to renovate stripped the layers of old whitewash from the walls.
The pretty village of Eynsham is two miles away and there are bikes to ride and wellies to borrow if you fancy tootling around locally, but after that I’d hop in the car and drive to nearby Witney and Burford, for easy access to the Cotswolds, or head the other direction to Woodstock for Blenheim Palace and Oxford for city spires, both about 20 minutes away.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for the antidote to identikit Cotswold inns – this place hits the sweet spot of character and cool.
Not for: If you’re coming to Oxfordshire and want a traditional country stay, you might want to stick on the A40 to Burford. The quiet location might not suit tourists wanting to step straight onto a high street.
The damage: Prices start at £85 for the Shepherd’s Hut, £140 for the Farmhouse Loft, going up to £250 for the Barn Suite. Foodwise, Sunday lunch will set you back around £14.50 and dinner is £12 – £14.
Artist Residence, Station Road, South Leigh, Oxfordshire, OX29 6XN. Tel: 01993 656220.