As quintessentially British as a bowler hat in the rain, the Maytime Inn sits proudly at the centre of the smallest village I’ve ever seen. It seems to be becoming a bit of a habit now that Mrs P and I are asked to go and offer our totally unwarranted opinion on the merits or lack-thereof of these little pockets of English heritage and so it was that we were called back to the Oxfordshire countryside for another testing evening, although why all these people want to hear what I think is still beyond me!
Still, never one to disappoint, I have to say that first impressions of the Maytime, were impeccable. I would not have asked for a better evening as the sun beamed down and winding our way down the absurdly small lane leading us into the village actually felt like we were driving into pub perfection – hills and fields on the right, quaint little cottages on the left and a beer garden that smelled of mint and rosemary in the afternoon heat.
But, once inside, it became very clear that this was not an establishment relying on the custom of the very limited number of residents in the village, instead this place had clearly been revived, refreshed and rejuvenated with a mission. It was clean, light and very polished – we had been to the Swan just the week before and the similarities in the design ideas were striking. Mrs P and I were puzzled, this surely wasn’t as independent as we had been led to believe. There is no way that a pub can look like this, in a place like this without the support of a larger corporate entity…is there? But that discussion had to wait as we took a closer look at the menu:
There were, in fact three menus – one food and two for drinks. The food menu was attractive and well presented but it was the drinks menu that occupied us for the longest time. The wine and soft drinks menu, was interesting because they sell fine wine by the glass – usually these bottles require you to dig out a good 60/70 quid but you can get a glass at a much more reasonable level here and please believe me when I say that life is far too short for bad wine. But while I was looking around and taking in the surrounds, remarking on the relaxed atmosphere and friendly service, I couldn’t help but feel Mrs P was being very quiet. In fact I would even say she was being suspiciously quiet; she was reading the gin menu. She doesn’t drink gin, so what was going on?
It turns out that the Maytime is starting to get a real reputation for it’s gin and the bar is stocked with more examples than you’ve ever heard of. Any menu that tries to corral that number of different tipples is heading for a tough time but the Maytime manages it with a huge amount of flair though. The gin descriptions are hugely interesting and entertaining with more than enough character to keep you eager to see if the gin lives up to them. Mrs P even claimed that it was more interesting than most of the novels she had recently read. She was also not shy in pointing out that because the Maytime Inn has rooms (details here) we could have easily stayed for an after dinner gin or three were it not for the babysitter at home. Message recieved and understood.
Food – Boar and more
Conversation turned back to the table however as we started with the homemade focaccia and the charcuterie board with the baked camembert.
The charcuterie was really tasty and very well selected, the camembert was oozey and delicious and I wouldn’t hesitate in ordering it all again but the focaccia was quite disappointing. You will see that we also received bread with the cheese (for dipping) and the difference between the two (one baked in-house, the other bought in), was minimal at best except that that in-house baked loaf suffered from a case of soggy bottom where it had been sat in oil before serving. The texture of both was almost identical and barring the difference in crust, you would be forgiven for thinking you were eating the same loaf.
The mains were good all round, with Mrs P’s Wild Boar burger being a real stand out winner. My cod loin was sprinkled with salty pancetta which went so well with the fennel and the perfectly cooked fish, I had no complaints and even when I asked the waitress for a bit of sauce the kitchen whipped up a small jug of cooking liquor so clearly there is skill in the back room. But it was the burger that stole the show – Andy, the manager of the Maytime, recommended it to us so Mrs P jumped in with both feet and was very pleased she did. Imagine a burger filled to the brim with intense pig flavour and then dusted with more concentrated porky essence. Needless to say, it was epic and we both loved it.
The puddings were another joy with special praise reserved for the gin and tonic sorbet. The lemon tart was delicious, set perfectly and each spoonful improved on the last as the combination of sweet, tart and bitter got better and better the more sorbet I piled up.
The Cotswold mess (or un-messy as we decided was more appropriate) didn’t quite equal those heady alcoholic heights but the jelly was super fruity and the meringue sticks were cute, tasty and just made for scooping out the custard/jelly combo.*
The final verdict
So after all that, I hope you can tell that we liked The Maytime Inn quite a lot actually, even though we were more convinced than ever that it was part of a larger chain or group that just pretended to care about things like local ingredients (the wild boar is local as is the fruit juice proudly offered by the barstaff among many other ingredients and produce) and bringing community back to the village (live music every other Sunday which is very popular by all accounts). But when we broached the subject with Andy the manager, he just looked at us with amusement as we pushed him for further details:
‘It’s just one guy.’
I’m sorry what? One owner, with one pub? You’re pulling my plonker. Well, this Damian bloke is clearly a chap to keep an eye on because if he can do this with one pub, then after he gets a couple under his belt things are really going to start to take off.
As I mentioned, we were guests of The Maytime on this occasion but with prices between 11 and 20 quid for a main and about 6 to 7 for a pud, these are skilled dishes put together at sensible prices and perfect for week day dinners, weekend retreats or lazy afternoons. Now, where’s the number for that babysitter?
*I can’t believe I just called a meringue cute – I blame Mrs P, she’s always doing it and if that sort of thing is contagious then God help us all.