When I was growing up in the small Cotswolds market village of Fairford, Gloucestershire, the Bull Hotel was not a glamorous place. Despite its promising, ivy-covered exterior, 15th century beams and an excellent location at the heart of the market square, it was all horse brasses, pot pourri and pies in earthenware dishes. While we dined out on sightings of celebrities including Kate Moss and Johnny Depp in the local shops, there was no chance of bumping into any star-studded types at The Bull.
But late last year the hotel finally got the revamp it deserved, from a couple who know a thing or two about transforming sleepy country pubs. Award-winning chef and restaurateur Sebastian Snow and his wife Lana have already turned The Plough in nearby Kelmscott and the Five Alls in Filkins, into what Tatler recently referred to as some of the Cotswolds’ best pubs. Then last year they re-opened The Bull after an extensive refurbishment led by BAFTA-nominated TV and film set designer Corina Burrough, who does a nice line in jewel-toned velvet sofas, dramatic wallpaper and punky artwork.
The result? Well, Kate Moss isn’t actually here but I feel like she might arrive for last orders. The Bull at Fairford is unrecognisable from the pub where we used to chance our underage arms at the bar. Gone is the musty, stuffy atmosphere, replaced by indigo blue walls, a stripped wood bar and mounted animal heads that are more cool that country. The place is fizzing with family groups, friends and couples. There’s even a proper cocktail menu. My partner earmarks the Aperol Spritzes for later while we’re shown to our room – a further revelation.
Each of the hotel’s 21 bedrooms has been made-over and thankfully there’s no distressed paintwork or cutesy florals to be seen. Instead there’s a sober palette of blues and greys, shutters at the windows and an Indian bedspread on the (ridiculously high) double bed. The bathroom is small but designed so cleverly they have managed to fit in a walk-in shower alongside a sweet, spot-lit sink. I immediately spot the elegant lotions and potions by local company the Wold Garden, which are clearly a little too covetable; a printed sign advises guests to buy their own bottles at reception rather than pilfering the hotel’s. Damn.
At dinner, the menu is a far cry from the one of old. Snow, and co-head chef Piotr Skoczen, focus on earthy Mediterranean dishes and modern British cooking, so you can forget good old chicken-in-a-basket. Here the food arrives on slates, elegantly arranged but still satisfyingly hearty – think charcuterie boards, stuffed artichokes and pizza with figs, prosciutto and mozzarella. Just like the wild wallpaper in the room adjacent to the restaurant, it’s the unexpected twists that make the food stand out in its rural setting – the duck leg with an Asian slaw or the blackened cod fillet with bok choi and glass noodles that could have come from Nobu. That doesn’t mean they are too fancy to offer proper chips though, or an old-fashioned sticky toffee pudding. The Bull might have an impressive new look but it’s still a country pub, as the dog hairs on the sofas remind me.
When we wake the next morning, it’s with a renewed enthusiasm for a place that I’ve known for some 30 years and my partner has visited dozens of times. It turns out that The Bull isn’t the only place to have a new look. We drink flat whites at the new coffee shop, Lynwood & Co – a hipster feast of Reuben bagels and craft soft drinks in what was once the village chemist’s – before heading off for a potter around the nearby town of Cirencester, where we find artisan coffee company Rave; the Bib Gourmand-lauded Food Made by Bob in the historic Corn Hall and artists’ hub Brewery Arts, which showcases the work of various local artists and makers. Clearly, we’re going to have to pay my old stamping ground another visit and next time, I’ll race Kate Moss to the bar.
- Rooms at The Bull at Fairford start from £100 a night, including a continental breakfast. There is a two-night minimum stay on Fridays and Saturdays. www.thebullhotelfairford.co.uk.