I was recently invited to visit an historic eighteenth century village pub in the picturesque village of Wendlebury in Oxfordshire. The village is surrounded by leafy, green countryside situated just two miles southwest of the ever expanding Bicester Village Outlet Shopping Centre.
Previously known simply as The Lion, the pub had been operating as the village inn since 1732. The small stream running outside the front door of the pub, was originally used for harvesting watercress, I was reliably informed!
I was staying in one of thirteen individually-decorated double en-suite bedrooms, located within a newly built, L-shaped, Cotswold stone building at the rear of the pub. Built by its new owners, Brakspear, The Lion at Wendlebury is the latest addition to its managed estate of eleven pubs across the country.
Brakspear chief executive Tom Davies said: “We’re delighted to be adding the Lion to our managed estate. Our focus on top-quality food and outstanding service in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere makes it a perfect fit with this popular village pub. The bedrooms look absolutely stunning and we’re confident they will be in demand from overnight and weekend visitors to the area, including shoppers at Bicester Village just a couple of miles from the pub.”
My room was one of eight rooms on the ground floor, which includes one with disabled access, and five rooms on the first floor. The room was spacious, bright and airy with full-height glazed patio doors leading onto a small garden at the rear.
The five rooms on the first floor had full-height glazed doors leading onto clear-glazed Juliet balconies or had dual aspect windows with views over the new landscaped courtyard edged by Cotswold stone walling. The two largest rooms include sofa beds, making them ideal for families.
My room was finished in a relaxing and pleasant palette of French Grey and Old White complementing the floral wallpapers in grey and pale blue. The room was comfortably furnished with a large king size beds and velvet headboard. The bed was covered with a feather down filled duvets, soft pillows and woollen throws.
There was a also a small comfortable sofa which was much appreciated, it is important to have somewhere else to sit other than the bed. There was also a small wicker chair and console desk with chair and bedside tables with bottles of sparkling water. The walk in wardrobe included an automatic on/off light as you approached and also contained real clothing hangers which my wife appreciated and a real hand held receiver and circular dials telephone, as I remember them! The complimentary Buttery Rum & Raisin Fudge went down well with the first cup of tea too!
A flat screen TV, thick wool carpets, the obligatory free Wi-Fi, Nespresso coffee machines and tea-making facilities, much appreciated home-made shortbread and blackout velvet curtains all helped to add a touch of five-star luxury to my room. The room also had a luxurious, high-pressure walk-in rain shower with crackle glaze tiles, traditional chrome fixtures & fittings plus several complimentary Temple Spa toiletries and several large & small fluffy soft towels.
After relaxing in our room we walked across the walled courtyard into the main pub for our evening meal in the restaurant. The light and airy, green oak Barn-style conservatory dining room was where we ate in the evening and for breakfast. The area has rough-hewn Cotswold stone walls and green oak frames supporting a sky – high, vaulted ceiling and dried lavender strung along the central beam. There is also direct access to the rear terrace patio. A very pleasant place in which to dine.
We selected from the Sunday Menu.
Instead of a starter my wife chose from the selection of three Morsels, which are described as `perfect to nibble while you decide` from the main menu! The Morsel was much more of a full starter than a morsel! She chose the Potted Sun – Blushed Tomato & Oregano Houmous with Lebanese Flatbread.
There was enough for two! I went for the Smoked Ham & Chicken Terrine, Tarragon, Capers, Damson & Gin Compote and a warm Brioche from the six choices on the starter menu. The terrine was beautifully presented, it looked great and was full of flavour.
For the main meal I decided against the roast of the day which I was told was chicken and plumped for a pie! The Venison, Swede & Carrot Pie was wonderful. You cannot go wrong choosing a Home – made pie? The venison was tender and the crust firm but flaky. The vegetables came tumbling out onto the warm house gravy and there was a firm piece of grilled Broccoli too! It was a perfect meal, in my opinion. I loved it!
My wife chose the Pan – Roasted Sea Bass Fillet accompanied by Grilled courgette, Samphire, sautéed spinach and Salsa Verde. She said the fish was very tasty and perfectly cooked. She loved mixed samphire and spinach and described the salsa Verde as like a home-made pesto sauce! A delightful, tasty meal.
For Dessert my wife chose the Lemon Bavarois, a touch of lemon, praline & crushed meringue pieces and blackberries. We failed to spot the Basil, but it was not missed! It was a refreshing light dessert after the Sea Bass.
I chose my favourite dessert, a warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch sauce and a scoop of milk ice cream. A great way to end a wonderful meal.
All dishes are freshly-made to order using the best seasonal and locally-sourced produce. There is a firm focus on using fresh local ingredients from The Cherwell Valley and surrounding areas.
A daily-changing Blackboard Specials menu, a Set Lunch menu of traditional British dishes plus a children’s menu and vegetarian, gluten and dairy-free options are also available. Specials include Pie Monday, Burger Club on Wednesday and Beast & Bordeaux Special on Saturday, if you have two people sharing and there are planned Vegan Nights. There is also a new Under 500 Calories Menu offering a range of Healthier Options, that will put a smile on your face and your calorie count!
The Lion has a cosy, low-ceilinged Bar so we decided to take coffee sitting quietly in the comfortable armchairs around the huge Inglenook fireplace. It was a pleasant place to sit and relax, reading the papers and checking our phones.
I noticed several locals calling in and enjoying a pint and some conversation. It is still quite clearly still a local pub as well as fine pub in which to dine and enjoy a la carte meals in superb surroundings.
Garlands of Hops and Lavender adorned the thick low beams of the bar in fierce competition with some unusual pieces of objet d’art on various shelves and walls, vying for our attention.. The cosy bar is the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink or morning coffee, afternoon tea or after meal coffee.
Many of the pubs original features have been retained, alongside the comfortable armchairs and upholstered window seats. Simple farmhouse-style tables and chairs contrast well with the original flagstone flooring, vintage rugs and three, traditional working fireplaces and a wood-burning stove to keep customers warm during the colder months.
The waiting staff were all very professional and helpful particularly a young man called Ollie who took the time to make genuine conversation with my wife and I. He also showed us across to our room and made us both feel very welcome on arrival. He was on present during breakfast and on our departure, making sure our stay was memorable. A Buffet style Breakfast was served in the restaurant until 11.00 at the weekend and there was also a Hot Breakfast Menu available too.
I chose the Full English Breakfast which included Cumberland sausage, smoked bacon, roasted flat cap mushroom, grilled plum tomato, black pudding, baked beans and two poached eggs, which more than set me up for the rest of the day. I made myself some crusty toast from the toaster machine and asked Ollie to exclude the fried bread from my breakfast. My wife decided on the Eggs Royale which included Poached Egg, Smoked Salmon and plenty of Hollandaise Sauce on Toast, instead of an English Toasted Muffin, which is what she requested. With plenty of tea and a couple of fruit juices the breakfast was the perfect start to our day.
It was a quiet Sunday evening in the restaurant and only a handful of guests were dining but it was a delightful meal in a warm, atmospheric pub with plenty of character.
The Lavender Room at the rear of the lounge bar is the perfect space for family gatherings, business meetings or local groups. This beautiful room is ideal as it is separated from the rest of the pub by a short corridor.
There is also a large, landscaped beer garden with slate paving, sturdy timber and rattan furniture, a fire pit and a separate barbecue on the patio terrace for some al fresco dining during those warmer days and evenings.
“The team are really excited about welcoming visitors to this beautiful 18th century village pub. The Lion is already a popular local, and the launch of the new rooms and the refurbishment only enhances what’s already here to create an even more comfortable and appealing place to drink, dine and stay.” General Manager
Whatever you want, whatever the season, The Lion is sure to have something on the menu to satisfy your appetite. For fabulous food, friendly service and quality ales, in a local friendly pub, The Lion at Wendlebury is a great choice. I enjoyed my stay at The Lion at Wendlebury, our room was spacious, clean and had everything we needed for a weekend break. The restaurant was very special, a wide ranging menu of top quality dishes, beautifully cooked and presented to table. A great local pub & top restaurant!
The Lion is in a prime location to benefit from visitors passing along the nearby M40 or visiting the nearby Bicester Shopping Village, looking for pleasing accommodation and a superb choice of top quality dining. They will not be disappointed.
For reservations call 01869 388228 or visit www.thelionwendlebury.co.uk
Note: Wendlebury is just off the A41 about two miles southwest of Bicester and Bicester Village Outlet Shopping Centre, and half a mile from Junction 9 of the M40. The Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace and the City of Oxford are all close by.
Nearest train station – Bicester Village – 3 miles from Wendlebury. Regular Chiltern Railway services from London Marylebone take 1 hour / 1hour 10mins.
Wendlebury is a 50-minute drive from London.
Photography Credit: Jim Davis
Disclosure: My stay was courtesy of The Lion at Wendlebury. The views and comments expressed are as usual my own.