FOOD & DRINK12 February 2024

Lunch@...The Ox Barn, Southrop

WORDS BY Melissa Ormiston

One of the most fabulous Cotswold culinary gems, The Ox Barn, can be found in the beautiful surroundings of Thyme in Southrop.

Something magical happens the moment you arrive at the  entrance of the long, crunching drive of this beautiful collection of restored historic buildings set in acres of manicured (but not overly) surroundings. Groundsmen wave as you pass, birds tweet and rabbits hop happily on the lawns. It exudes calm which, I admit, I was not expecting for such a popular location.

When you step into The Ox Barn itself, you are immediately transported to a world of timeless rustic elegance. Queen Elizabeth’s ‘eyes shut’ portrait by Chris Levine, hovers benevolently above the quirky sheep stools dotted about amongst the sturdy wooden tables and sumptuous velvet sofas that are perfect to sink into whilst you peruse the menu. Which, I might add, is near impossible to get through because although it’s not overwhelmingly long, the minute you get to the end of it you realise you would like literally everything and there’s a little wave of panic as you realise you may need an extra day or two just to place an order.

Above, this thoughtfully converted 19th-century stone bar, are exposed beams, vaulted ceilings, and huge windows that flood the space with natural light. The shiny, spaceship frame of the metallic open kitchen is bustling to the left, and the action from Head Chef Charlie Hibbert’s talented team is a joy to watch without being overbearing or pretentious.

The service is outstanding. As soon as you arrive, you’re given a genuine warm welcome and the team at Ox Barn is attentive and clearly passionate about the food you try without hovering. They don’t scoff when you ask in all seriousness which potato would be the better type to try and they’ll guide you with details of what’s been popular, what’s in season and what will suit your palate and appetite. They are knowledgeable about the finest local, sustainable ingredients that have been sourced by the chefs and gardeners. The menu, which changes regularly considering what’s sustainably available, really showcases a clever use of flavours that makes you want to sit for hours purely indulging. 

The starters are masterpieces, they seem simple at first glance but the first bite demonstrates how they are carefully thought out with each texture complimenting the other. Whether you are a vegetarian, pescetarian, or full-on carnivore you won’t be disappointed.

We tried crispy courgette flowers, filled with the most sumptuous pecorino cheese and delicately flavoured honey. I say ‘we’ even though I hadn’t planned on a starter however when my dining companion’s arrived, he obviously saw my eyes dart to his plate and kindly offered me one of the flowers. I hesitated, because quite frankly there is nothing more annoying than someone saying they don’t want a starter and then eating yours, but he insisted and I realised I would be mad to say no. It instantly transported me back to the time I lived in Italy, several years ago, and the mother of the family I was staying with over the summer in Grosetto made stuffed courgette flowers for us to have after a long day at the beach. The table full of sandy, tanned children devoured them instantly and you had to be quick as it was a frenzy of forks and could get a bit wild if you found someone had unwittingly eaten more than their share.

The courgette flower was followed by a very fresh burrata, which was the size of the moon (to my delight) and came with sweet melon with delicate parma ham alongside a delicious garden salad, with leaves no doubt picked from the Ox Barn grounds that morning. Other options on the menu included fresh sardines in breadcrumbs, a crispy roasted chicken with smoked chilli, and red mullet with tomato and celery. See…how are you supposed to choose?

The puddings are fabulous too including a range for all sweet teeth from rich, dense chocolate puddings to lighter-than-air lemon possets. The wine list is impressive, again with help from the team to enjoy something that works with your food choice. In fact, it seems a little mad to not ask their opinion about almost everything as they know what works perfectly together without second guessing.

Once you’ve had a chance to indulge in this glorious food and drink (and need a well-earned breather) I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to have a wander around the wonderful Bertioli shop on site that is brimming with hand-picked treasures.

From home décor, including those wonderful sheep seats you’ll find in the restaurant, to carefully made beauty products such as the water meadows breathing balm; you’ll find it hard not to take home a reminder of Thyme’s charm whether it be handmade soap or a beautifully flattering dress.

This is not a place to rush. If you’re dining inside or out, whatever the weather, it’s always a joy to be part of the slowed-down pace and take time to really appreciate Thyme’s stunning surroundings and attentive but laid-back feel.

The Ox Barn, Thyme, Southrop Manor Estate, Lechlade GL7 3NX

Ox Barn — Thyme