London’s food scene can make city dwellers reluctant to roam outside the capital. But, with crisp Autumn days upon us, what could be more tempting than the idea of hopping on a train and cosying up in front of a roaring fire in the countryside? The good news is you no longer have to make gastronomical compromises when straying from the city. Pub grub has never been better. Here are the country pubs whose cuisine is blazing a trail and whose atmosphere and beautiful surrounds makes them well worth a day trip.
The Perch, Oxford
The Perch is one of Oxford’s oldest pubs with a history spanning 800 years. If it is English charm you are after, then this place has it in spades – from the thatched roof to the 17th century rooms. A stone’s throw from the Isis (Oxford’s stretch of the Thames) and Port Meadow, it boasts a sprawling garden, so it’s easy to find your own quiet drinking spot.
You may recognise The Perch as a favourite haunt of Inspector Morse while Lewis Carroll famously rowed there for a drink in 1862.
The menu certainly matches the location, mixing the best of local produce with creative flair: try everything from Ox cheeks to wild rabbit and smoked bacon terrine.
Nearest train station: Oxford Parkway (50 minutes from London Marylebone)
The Rupert Brooke, Grantchester, Cambridge
Leave behind the quiet quads and dreamy spires of Cambridge and punt upstream to nearby Grantchester. The village boasts Britain’s highest concentration of Nobel Prize winners and has been the subject of a Tom Sharpe novel, a song by Pink Floyd and features as the current setting for ITV drama, The Grantchester Mysteries. The much-celebrated war poet Rupert Brooke lived at The Old Vicarage (immortalised by the poem), which is now home to Lord Jeffrey and Dame Mary Archer.
Once you’ve lazed your way to the village along the river, treat yourself to lunch at The Rupert Brooke – the pasta is freshly made on site and the roof terrace is a must for summer diners.
Nearest station: Cambridge (40 minutes from King’s Cross)
The Swan at Swinbrook, Oxfordshire
Is this the UK’s poshest pub? When the landlady is the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – youngest of the Mitford sisters and chatelaine of Chatsworth House, quite possibly. Behind the wisteria-clad cotswold stone facade, you’ll find walls decked out in Mitford memorabilia, artisan beer and handmade soap.
Newly refurbished, the pub boasts river views, 11 luxury bedrooms and a restaurant that serves up freshly cooked seasonal food.
Nearest station: Shipton Under Wychwood (1 hour 20 minutes from London Paddington)
The Lion at Wendlebury, Bicester
For urbanites in search of a country fix who can’t quite shake off their shoppers’ instincts, this pub is a win win. Conveniently close to Bicester Village designer shopping outlet, The Lion at Wendlebury serves up top-notch food in an oak framed garden room with a chance to try your hand at the classic Oxfordshire pub game Aunt Sally while you enjoy the best local ales on tap. There can’t be many places where open fields and Chloé handbags are within equal reach.
Nearest station: Bicester Village (45 minutes from London Marylebone)
The Dorset Arms, Ashdown Forest, Kent
This village pub in the Sussex Weald dates back to the 16th century. The Buckhurst Estate where the pub is based is most famous for its connection to AA Milne who set his Winnie the Pooh stories in Ashdown Forest. A short walk through the Estate’s footpaths will take you to the real-life “100 Aker Wood”, so why not enjoy a spot of childhood nostalgia before sitting down to dine? Mouth-watering mains include whole Roast Grouse with Game Chips & Bread Sauce and Venison Steak with Quince Jelly & Blue Cheese Mashed Potato.
Nearest Station: Groombridge (59 minutes from London Bridge)
Fancy setting sail for your dinner? Look no further than Boulters in Maidenhead – this tiny islet on the Thames is just large enough to house a waterside Brasserie. Wander over the footbridge to reach the restaurant and enjoy panoramic river views as you tuck into cured sea trout followed by apricot & pistachio frangipane.
Nearest station: Maidenhead (19 minutes from London Paddington).
The Little Angel, Henley-on-Thames
The bright, airy interior of this pub makes it especially easy to while away an afternoon over a pint of local ale or with a glass of wine. From roasted mount grace lamb rump to vegan burgers, the menu is a crowd-pleasing one. Combine it with a stroll along the river in Henley and your weekend will soon be off to a flying start.
Nearest station: Henley, (46 minutes from London Paddington)