The Feathers Hotel
Market Street, Woodstock. OX20 1SX
01993 812291


Fully three decades have passed since I sat with Gordon Campbell Gray amid a plethora of antique furnishings and stuffed birds in the bar of The Feathers in Woodstock and heard of his plans to set new standards for style and excellence at this, his first, hotel, previously a somewhat humdrum establishment amusingly known as The Dorchester. Just five months later, the champagne corks popped when I broke the news to the delighted hotelier that the place had been named best in the county in Egon Ronay’s Lucas Guide.

This was in 1983, the year before Raymond Blanc raised the bar to near impossible levels for competitors at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. Gordon, for his part, went on to greater things, building a formidable national — indeed, international — reputation at London’s One Aldwych and Dukes Hotel, and more recently at Carlisle Bay, Antigua, and Le Gray in Beirut, both of which he still owns.

Meanwhile The Feathers has maintained its good name — though not entirely consistently — in the hands of private owners. Today it shares a proprietor with The Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter, a hotel synonymous with Cotswold comfort.

In the course of many visits to The Feathers over 30 years I have always been impressed by the warmth of welcome, though this has declined just a little since the departure of the African grey parrot who used to greet so cheerfully — if, in vocabulary, sometimes rather shockingly — beside the reception desk.

While once any dining customer might have headed straight from there towards the restaurant, this has not been easy for me over the past couple of years since the opening of the hotel’s wonderful gin bar. Ever a fan of this finest of spirits, I was privileged to be present in June of last year when an official from the Guinness Book of Records judged its stock of 162 different varieties on sale to qualify for inclusion. Since then, the number has grown to 179. But Portuguese barman Nuno knows of another establishment working to secure the laurel for itself, and he will not feel comfortable, he says, until the 200 mark is reached.

As he speaks he is pouring me a gin and tonic made with Langton’s No 1, a new arrival that very morning. Though citrussy and tasting strongly of juniper, this Lakeland gin, from Skiddaw, was not out of the ordinary.

Rosemarie’s Harrington Dry Gin from Warner Edwards was much more interesting, with its delicious hints of coriander, turmeric, saffron and cumin. What’s more, at 44 per cent, it packed more of a punch. We both had the excellent Fever-tree tonic, creating long drinks which we carried through to finish at our table.

Complimentary nibbles, including a delicious goat’s cheese mousse, had already been polished off.

Though the hotel was full, there were only two other groups in the dining room. The large party of tourists who made up the bulk of guests had headed into Oxford. At least this made for markedly attentive service from the waiting staff on duty.

Their first task was the delivery to each of us of a further complimentary item, a coffee cup of creamy cauliflower soup. This amuse bouche, with warm bread rolls, was quickly followed by our starters proper.

Mine was a lightly cured fillet of Cornish mackerel attractively presented  on a slate with curls of French sand carrot, cubes of daikon root (a white radish), candy beetroot and compressed apple.

More fish followed. “This looks DELICIOUS!!”, enthused our sub-editor Liz when I sent Rosemarie’s photograph of my chunk of day boat turbot. It tasted great, too, though perhaps had been cooked slightly too long to a point where its opalescence was vanishing. With it were half-a-dozen or more Cotswold crayfish, a velouté made in part with their shells and crunchy English asparagus.

Our wine, Bordeaux Blanc, L’Orangerie, went well with both, and with Rosemarie’s starter, if not her main course. She began with a pair of juicy diver-caught scallops, flavoured with almond, cumin and little cubes of pork, which were styled ‘scratchings’. The Longhorn beef that followed was a thick slice of deep purple pink fillet and another of salt beef. These came came with bone marrow, tiny chanterelle mushrooms (or similar) and creamy mashed potato. She finished with chef Kevin’s take on lemon meringue pie, which featured a roulade of lemon curd, a creamy lemon mousse and small buttons of meringue.

I finished with a plate (actually slate) of well-kept cheeses — Stilton, Cotswold Blue, Isle of Mull smoked cheddar and Stinking Bishop —with chutney, celery and home-made biscuits. A glass of Churchill’s 20-year-old tawny port set the seal on my pleasure.


Opening times:

Restaurant lunch noon-2.30pm daily; dinner, 7-9pm daily. Gin bar menu noon-7pm
Parking: No dedicated car park but free spaces in surrounding streets
Key personnel: Manager Pete Saunders and chef Kevin Barrett
 Make sure you try the... starters of Cornish mackerel with daikon root, sand carrot, candy beetroot and compressed apple (£8.75) and Evenlode wood pigeon with celeriac, toffee apple and parsley gel (£9.25); main courses of Newlyn monkfish with olive crumble (£24.50) and baked celeriac root with ratte potato, Sharpham Rustic, Roscoff onions and garden roots (£19); puddings of compressed Cox’s apple with date samosa (£8.50) and tasting of Valrhona chocolate (£8.50).
In ten words:
Food of imagination and flair in a luxurious, unfussy ambience.