Set in rangy countryside on the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire border, The Castle at Edgehill is a striking landmark – in fact you’ll have no trouble finding it because it really is a whopping great castle on top of a hill – complete with two crenelated towers and a drawbridge no less.
It’s in a rural location surrounded by farmland but is well located for a pit stop for day trippers heading to or from Stratford-upon-Avon or as a rural escape from nearby Banbury or Leamington Spa.
When publicans Mark and Claire Higgs first took over the pub it was tired and unloved, but together with Hook Norton Brewery they gave it a serious once over and re-opened in April 2014.
The building is nearly 300 years old and has been an inn for 200 of those, although nowadays its an all-singing all-dancing pub, restaurant, hotel and events venue.
The feel is laid back and friendly, with kids and dogs equally welcome, which makes it popular with family groups as well as couples. There’s a large pub area (drinkers welcome!) though most come to eat in one of the three dining spaces – the library (wood panelled, Chesterfield sofas, log burner, cosy…), the dining room (bright and high ceilings) or my favourite, the glasshouse, with its phenomenal views across the Battle at Edgehill site.
There’s also an informal garden area in the shadow of the tower for alfresco eating and drinking with views to match the glasshouse.
SCOFF & QUAFF
There’s an emphasis on provenance here with monthly changing menus (though some firm favourites remain) and food sourced locally where possible or even grown on site. Suppliers include the nearby Carpenters Farm Shop, Ridgway Ice Cream (five miles away), Tysoe Allotments (four miles away) and artisan bakery, Boulangerie Valentine (nine miles away).
The menu is really broad with hearty, appetising dishes and plenty of seasonal produce. There was a good range of options for veggies and gluten-free though vegans were limited to one or two starters and mains to choose from.
For our starters we went for the seared scallops with humous (an intriguing combo) and black pudding bon bon (£14.95) and the king prawns with chilli, garlic, Sambucca (it’s been a while…) and sourdough bread (£12.25). Both were well presented and perfectly cooked, with the scallops succulent and the flavourful black pudding an effective balance to the humous. The chilli with the prawns gave the right amount of ‘zing’ without being overpowering and when lathered in melted garlic butter, tasted divine.
Our mains were on the heartier side of the menu though there was a fish dish and two salads for smaller appetites. Our steak and ale pie with creamy mash, greens and gravy (£16.25) was a proper homemade shortcrust pie, generally filled and served with plenty of gravy and fresh, well cooked vegetables.
My confit duck leg with roasted summer vegetables, fondant potatoes and jus (£18.25) was flavoursome without being overwhelming and came with perfectly roasted veg.
The pudding menu is another crowd pleaser and we were deligted with out sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream (£8) and berry and mascarpone tart £8. The former light rather than stodgy, which is just what we wanted after the filling mains, and the caramel sauce wasn’t sickly sweet – perfect. My tart was the perfect finish to the meal on a summer’s evening, with plenty of tangy fruit to balance the creaminess of the filling.
Alongside the grown-ups dishes there’s a reasonably priced children’s menu offering three mains – sausage and mash, battered cod, chips and peas, or gnocchi followed by a scoop of vanilla ice cream (£8).
The bar serves a variety of Hook Norton brews including Hooky – a bitter – and Off the Hook – an IPA, and the wine list was comprehensive with an impressive 13 wines offered by the glass so a chance to pair wine and food and taste around if you fancy it.
OUT & ABOUT
The Castle at Edgehill has its own Gin School (now that’s the kind of education for me!) which offers a three-hour gin experience where you learn how to distill your own bottle of gin to take home (from £99) or one-hour tastings (from £17.50 pp) – now there’s a fun way to start off a grown-up group get together before sitting down to a meal.
There’s five quirky bedrooms if you don’t fancy forking out for a cab or just want to live out your fairy tale fantasies, and the hotel is a licensed venue for weddings, where it can host receptions in the large marquee at the bottom of the garden.
Literally on the doorstep of The Castle is a one-hour Civil War Walk if you fancy a ramble or a pre-arranged guided tour of the Battlefield Trail through the woodlands and pretty village of Radway to see where the battle took place. Part of the battlefield remains in Ministry of Defence ownership and is inaccessible.
Just one-mile away is The National Trust’s Upton House and Gardens. Other local attractions close by include the family-friendly British Motor Museum at Gaydon which has the world’s largest collection of historic British cars; the canal-side Banbury Museum; overlooked hidden gem Broughton Castle, and award-winning art gallery and park, Compton Verney.
Warwick Castle and Racecourse, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Charlecote Park and Hatton Country World are also an easy drive away.
If you fancy going further with the gin theme or trying a whisky or ale tasting tour, the Cotswolds Distillery and Hook Norton Brewery are just up the road.
Good for: While groups are well catered to here with plenty of intimate spaces and a broad appeal menu, it’s a good spot for a date night too – I can imagine watching the sunset from the restaurant or pub garden in the summer or cosying up in the bar area in the winter with a crackling fire in the background.
Not for: Uber foodies may find the menu a too lacking in foams and frippery for their liking. Also, parking is limited so prepare to drop guests at the door before parking in the main road if there’s no space in the modest car park.
The damage: Starters cost £6-£15, mains £15-£30 and desserts £7.50-£11.
The Castle at Edgehill, Banbury, OX15 6DJ, 01295 670 255, castleatedgehill
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