I’d never been to Letcombe Regis before the warm late-summer’s evening I stopped at the Greyhound Inn.
In the 20-mile journey out of Oxford, the scenery becomes more and more Tolkien-esque; the roads narrowing and meandering ever tighter as the horizon spreads ahead. I was with an old friend, someone who I see criminally little of, and my pleasure in seeing him was compounded by the incremental abatement of the week’s tensions. We left the city behind and jettisoned all its noise, traffic, stress and strife along with it.
This is the situation that generations of folk would have found themselves in upon stopping at an inn. Though diluted in the modern vernacular, a proper inn exists to scoop you up as you reach the end of your tether; to set you right with sleep, sustenance and smiles. Before we left the Greyhound the following day, as we prepared to mount our trusty steed (a Peugeot 206), we shared a brief look of utter, resolute contentment.
Inside, the Greyhound does everything it can to facilitate that state of ease. The interior exudes that modern country house comfort. Eighteenth century features remain – including its beams and a fireplace you could park a 747 in – while ascending the stairs gives you that improbably wonky, mishmash collision of walls and doors that only such an enchantingly ancient building can provide.
Our room for the night, the Oxford Suite, was almost overbearingly, stubbornly comfortable. There’s faux fur, muted greys, a separate lounge with a pull-out bed, an en-suite with a free-standing bath, a king-size bed the size of Luxembourg and all the other accoutrements for which one could reasonably hope. We dumped our comparably non-luxurious possessions and made our way down to the bustling Friday night restaurant floor for an anxiously anticipated dinner. The stress and worry of the grindstone were nothing now but a rumour; whispers of angst drowned out by good company, atmosphere and, we were soon to discover, superb cooking.
If you took the menu at the Greyhound and drew down a vertical line about three inches from the right, it would list as follows: pickled blackberries, buffalo mozzarella ice cream, summer truffle custard, charcoal mayonnaise, elderflower vinaigrette. This is certainly not cooking by numbers, nor is it unhindered flamboyance or sous-vide over substance. The Greyhound’s humble a la carte menu is staffed by fundamentally robust flavours, each dish focusing on the quality of its protagonists. Technical prowess is not so self-conscious here that a spade should go by any other name. You’ll find fish and chips, a burger and a steak under ‘Pub Classics’ because – and here the Greyhound scored many points with me – it knows it’s still a pub.
The throng at the bar on that Friday night looked to be composed from every part of the village. The bartender knew everyone’s name and pints were refilled without conversation breaking to re-order. It was by no means loud in there – for the life of me I can’t escape the word ‘buzzing’ – but if that atmosphere might irk you, there are plenty of options further from the bar, and plenty of so-called gastropubs that might actively discourage the kind of good-humoured bonhomie to which we were privy. The Greyhound is a pub where you can have a memorable dinner, but, as their website plainly says, there’s ‘no pressure to eat anything’. Pressure, in this case, comes from your loyal correspondent. The food is exquisite and you really need to go, otherwise your hair will fall out and your partner will leave you.
A single octopus tentacle comes still seething from the grill, arranged dramatically against a ridge of cooling watermelon and tomato tartare. A dollop of charcoal mayonnaise marries the two, bridging the gap between the smoky mollusc limb and its refreshing counterpoint. My guinea fowl was cooked to absolute unquestionable perfection and came with an entourage of lemon and tarragon Dauphine potato, roast lettuce, mushrooms and a garlic puree that made me very, very happy indeed. A sort of deconstructed rocky road came last – rich but with chocolate’s bitterness and the sharp sweetness of cherry to carry me through to the final, arresting mouthful.
The final accolade I can heap up here is quite how keenly priced it all is. Starters and desserts hover around £7 while mains loiter between £13 and £20 – astoundingly affordable for what was some of the best food I’ve eaten all year. The Greyhound Inn is not just worth the trip out of town, it’s worth cancelling plans and going ASAP. Take an old friend, put the world to rights and let them do what an inn should: put you back on your feet with your soul intact.