WE all love the rolling countryside and gorgeous honey-coloured villages of the Cotswolds. It is no surprise that the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty attracts tourists by the coach-load and is high on many people’s list of the most desirable places to live or, at least, buy second homes.

The downside, though, is that some of the loveliest villages are all a bit, who do I put this diplomatically... rarefied.

No visitor to the western fringes of Oxfordshire and the honey pots of Gloucestershire can be aware of the smug satisfaction which characterises the prettiest spots.

Holiday cottages and second homes bring in money, but sky-high property prices kill real rural life and give villages a fake manicured feel.

Creaky old pubs are turned into restaurants which delight weekenders and well-heeled diners, but villagers are cheated out of the ‘locals’ where their parents and grandparents drank, threw darts or played Aunt Sally after a hard day in the fields or at the quarry.

While we love a chance to eat out in a gorgeous Cotswold restaurant, it is so refreshing to find a pub which has escaped gentrification. But it is almost unheard of to find a pub which has gone upmarket, but then given a fresh lease of life by being opened back up to villagers. So let’s raise a pint of Old Hooky to the Kingham Plough.

At the heart of Kingham – a hamlet made famous by its annual Big Feastival, hosted by Blur bassist, fanatical 'fromager' and gentleman farmer Alex James – the Plough is a classic Cotswold inn – quaint and solid with its thick 17th century limestone walls, snug bar and cosy fireplace and all overlooking a quintessentially English village green.

In recent years it has been a high end foodie destination under the captaincy of the outrageously talented Emily Watkins – formerly of Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and a winner of TV’s Great British Menu. It was lovely but was very much a restaurant in a pub.

With Emily’s departure for Dorset, the Plough has been taken over by Matt and Katie Beamish who have refurbished the pub and adjoining rooms, and in a practically unheard of move, have maintained Emily’s standards while making the whole thing a little less stuffy and a lot more ‘pubby’.

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It became an instant hit with locals, who, on our visit before lockdown, crammed the lively bar, playing boardgames, and, importantly, tucking into homely, seasonal food.

Lockdown was a blow, as it was everywhere, but Matt and Katie kept spirits high with takeaways. Now it has fully reopened and once again delighting locals and clued-up out-of-towners, with socially distanced tables indoors and out – some shielded from the the weather in a little marquee.

Matt and Katie’s pedigree is faultless, having worked with Raymond Blanc, Jamie Oliver and Fergus Henderson, while new head chef, Jonny Ponds will be known to Cotswold regulars from stints at Slaughters Country Inn in Lower Slaughter, Ellenborough Park Hotel and The Feathered Nest in Nether Westcote.

Looking for a break not too far from home for my son and I, we booked in for a night, staying in one of the lovely rooms upstairs in a converted outhouse, reached by a fun outdoor wooden staircase which doubled as a little balcony from which to admire the sunset.

Light and airy, the rooms are minimally stylish in that cosy country way, but almost too comfortable to leave. The bathroom had Tardis-like proportions so perfect for a long soak in the bath, and, as well as a new TV, the room had a vintage Roberts radio and espresso machine with fresh milk from a neighbouring dairy farm in cute little bottles.

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Dinner began with an obligatory pint of Hook Norton, before taking our seat in the bar. The starters needed no debate, with a pint of prawns (in pint glass!) for me and a charcuterie board for the lad.

The shell-on prawns (£8) were perfect: sweet and juicy, fun to eat with the fingers and served with good homemade mayo. The ‘Salt Pig’ charcuterie board (£12) was a fancy affair with rich dry-cured ham, salami and pate, with olives, pickled chilli and satisfying Sourdough.

Being in a meaty frame of mind after an afternoon of walking in the surrounding fields, towards posh people’s grocer’s Daylesford, we both went for steaks – there’s a good choice, but we went for chargrilled aged 8oz Longhorn flat irons (£19) – cooked rare as they should be). They were plump, juicy, extremely tasty and very satisfying indeed.

They were so big I couldn’t eat my house fries –but fortunately the lad obliged. Neither of us can abide waste! They were served with a tasty Béarnaise and fresh tangy watercress.

Pudding was also a simple affair: a traditional, but still elegant, Eton mess with strawberry sorbet (£8) – the sharp sorbet proving the perfect foil for that steak and all that cream. Heaven!

After that, there was time for another pint of Hooky, before taking our pick of the boardgames, and retiring, full and happy, up the stairs to our room.

We woke to a stunning sunrise, the sky a vibrant swirl of pink and orange above the little village green outside. I opened the skylight, took in the sweet air... and listened... and listened. Nothing. No traffic, nor any sound of human life - just the warm burr of woodpigeons and the light background chorus of songbirds.

A solitary horse and rider plodded along, they had the road to themselves.

Breakfast was served in a dining room to the side of the bar. As expected, it was a cut above the usual hotel buffet, with good cereals, thick yoghurt, sharp tangy fruit fruit compote, fresh orange juice and more of that rich village milk from across the field.

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It would have been a crime not to have tried the full English - an assemblage of quality local products. A pair of poached free range eggs with yolks so rich they were practically orange; sausages so plump and meaty they were almost as wide as they were long, deeply flavoursome black pudding: crisped on the outside and moist and nutty within; fat juicy mushrooms; and bacon so thick, lean and meaty they were more like steaks – a world apart from the limp, bright pink, fatty, over-salted specimens served almost everywhere else.

After another pair of coffees We hit the trail to Stow-on-the-Wold, fuelled-up, happy, and wishing more of these pretty, but sterile, Cotswold villages were lucky enough to have their own honest, pubby versions of The Plough.

  • The Plough, Kingham, The Green, Kingham, Chipping Norton OX7 6YD
  • thekinghamplough.co.uk