Tim Hughes heads to the wild west of the county to experience one of the best Sunday roasts of his life, in a picture postcard setting
TUCKED away in the furthest reaches of our county, on the edge of the Cotswolds, Filkins seems a world away from the bustle of everyday life.
Rustic cottages built of mellow limestone, and topped with mossy slate roofs, line a quite street across a babbling brook and leading down to a working woollen mill. If Hollywood was searching for the perfect English village, they’d need look no further.
Fortunately, and unlike some of its more celebrated and insufferably twee Cotswold neighbours, Filkins is no touristy museum piece. For proof, look no further than the odd-titled local pub.
With its stone walls, flagstone floors, roses around the door and ivy-clad front, The Five Alls may come across like a film set from a Sunday evening period drama, but it is a real locals’ boozer. Its bar crackles with lively banter from villagers perched on stools at the stone-built bar – all on first name terms with its cheery barman.
But the real reason this 18th century coaching inn – and, indeed, Filkins – is on the map is its restaurant, with head chef Sebastian Snow at the helm.
The list of accolades is impressive. It was last year named Best Pub in the Southwest region and Best Pub in Gloucestershire by the National Pub & Bar Awards – doubly impressive as it is solidly in Oxfordshire. As if that wasn’t enough, it came 38th out of the best 50 pubs in the UK in the Good Food Guide and was crowned Luxury Traditional Hotel of the Year by The Luxury Travel Guide Awards.
For a remote spot, it certainly has pulling power, as I discovered on a recent Sunday, while hankering for a decent roast and a blast of fresh country air.
Missing the road sign – if indeed there was one – we initially flew straight past the village, ending up in Lechlade. Backtracking with more care, we turned off the main road – and back 200 years, crossing Entering the village over a picture postcard bridge, there was not a soul in sight – but the Five All’s car park was full. Clearly the secret was out – if, indeed, it was ever ‘in’.
Passing an impressive meat slicer containing an enormous, delicious-looking Serrano ham, we took a table in the corner and instantly fell in love with the place.
On other tables families ate and gently laughed; children, when not eating, busied themselves with colouring in, and couples held hands. The place had an air of refinement but was also relaxed; no stuffiness here despite its gastro reputation.
Unable to resist that supersized ham (‘Imagine the size of the rest of the beast!’ we wondered), I started with a few slices (£5). It was deep, rich, complex and super-salty – setting tastebuds alight. Too sophisticated for the children, who are used to blander fare, I ended up polishing off the lot – along with a good few glugs of the magnificent draught Five Alls Ale.
For a pub priding itself on its gastro reputation, the menu is refreshingly long, with plenty of choice. Standing out among the starters was skillet roast foie gras with fried egg (£12). This was sublime and cooked to absolute perfection – the foie gras served warm and melting in the mouth in a creamy explosion of flavour. It went well with a toasted slice of brioche – which was both sweet and not too heavy – and a balsamic reduction to lend it a welcome shot of ‘tang’. I was in taste heaven.
The others tried a healthier mozzarella, orange, pomegranate, avocado and rocket salad (£7.50) which was bursting with fresh flavours, and tiger prawn tempura with sweet chilli jam (£7.25). This I was sceptical of, having been bludgeoned with the stodgy supermarket variety at countless social gatherings, but these were quite lovely – ever so lightly fried with a pleasing crumb texture and oodles of fresh prawny flavour. A delight.
Then it was on to the main event: the roast. We went, between us, for beef and pork (both £16.50), having drooled over the hefty servings arriving at other tables. The beef was a tender, pink roast rump and came with a Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, root vegetables and a tangy, palate – and nasal cavity – cleansing horseradish sauce. The pork, a slice of belly, came with the same, though with apple sauce and fabulous crackling.
Both were beautifully presented – the meat tender, extraordinarily high quality and local too; the vegetables sweetly caramelised and with just enough bite. The puddings could have been a little fluffier (but then I was raised on my Yorkshire mum’s own creations, against which nothing compares), but it was all pretty close to perfect – and well worth the price.
There was also a lot of it. Suffice to say, we couldn’t finish – though did make room for puddings in the shape of a sticky toffee and date pudding with toffee sauce and honeycomb ice cream (£6.95) which was every bit as good as it sounds – and a chocolate fondant with Baileys and milk chocolate ice cream (£7) – plus a couple of scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream.
I declared the sticky toffee the winner, being just sweet and sticky enough and bursting with warm caramel notes – cut through with the cooling ice cream.
After that I needed to lie down. Fortunately I’d planned ahead and booked a room.
There are four en-suite rooms above the pub (£170 a night B&B), but we checked into a cottage-style family room out the back (£170 a night B&B) – turning a perfect Sunday roast into a spirit-raising, stress busting mini-break – and an excuse to join the villagers in the bar for another pint of that lovely Five Alls Ale.
High fives all round!
The five Alls, Filkins, near Carterton 01367 860875
- The other four en-suite bedrooms above the pub cost £115 per night on a B&B basis. Families welcome. Extra beds (for children aged 10 and under only) are free of charge; no baby cots are available, but you can bring your own travel cot.
- Call reservations on 01367 860875 or visit thefiveallsfilkins.co.uk