The Wheatsheaf, Northleach - Restaurant Review

There's plenty of experience being brought to bear on turning the Wheatshead back into a 'local' pub.

After running country house hotels in the past, Sam Pearman said he didn't want anything to do with bedrooms again, but he changed his tune as soon as he saw the potential in The Wheatsheaf at Northleach.

Sam took over The Wheatsheaf in December. It's a pub with nine bedrooms, all of which are already booked for the next Cheltenham races and many of which are occupied by escapees from London most weekends.

Sam is no stranger to the food pages in Cotswold Life. Last year, he opened The Royal Well Tavern in Cheltenham, a French-inspired bistro near the town's bus station. In its first few months of opening, it attracted rave reviews and scooped an award or two at the end of 2008.

It may come as something of a surprise to see him launching a second business so soon after The Royal Well Tavern, especially in a recession, but he says The Wheatsheaf is a pub he knows well as it's where he used to meet his family for weekend lunches when he was working in London.

Sam went to boarding school in Cheltenham and briefly played rugby for Gloucester before working in London restaurants such as Langans and The Glasshouse, both as a chef and front-of-house.

He went on to work at Bibury Court Hotel and was the consultant for the launch of The Kingham Plough, the Oxfordshire gastropub run by former Heston Blumenthal chef Emily Watkins which went on to become one of the hottest openings of 2007.

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With The Royal Well Tavern, Sam's idea was "to bring high quality food to Cheltenham, but in a relaxed, informal setting", and that's pretty much the mantra for The Wheatsheaf.

A man known for his warm hospitality and for not compromising when it comes to good service, he makes running a smart pub with rooms look effortless, but then he has found an experienced chef to share the workload.

Matt Dare has spent the last ten years working at some of the best pubs and restaurants in the Cotswolds.

He spent five years as the head chef at the Wyck Hill House Hotel and was also head chef at the Royalist Hotel in Stow-on-the-Wold. Most recently, he cooked at Westcote Inn at Nether Westcote.

Matt is known for cooking delicious, simple, no-frills food and his commitment to using fresh, seasonal and local produce is a philosophy shared by Sam.

Sam and his team took over this splendid 17th century Cotswold stone coaching inn in late November and after a few cosmetic changes and a lick of paint, the new-look Wheatsheaf was reopened only a week after the previous owners handed back the keys.

Inside the inn there are three wood fires, original flagstone floors and smart antique furniture. There's a private dining room at the back, which can be hired out during the day or evening.

The pub has nine double bedrooms all with en-suite bathrooms (with power showers). A standard room costs �80 and a large double is �100 - highly competitive rates for somewhere so close to Cheltenham.

Although it is attracting people from all over, Sam is keen to get locals involved with some of the regular events. In January, there was a special dinner for Burns Night complete with bagpiper, haggis and whisky. A clay pigeon shooting weekend is planned for February 27/28 (�120 for two nights including breakfast).

As for the food, chef Mat Dare uses a number of the region's best suppliers, including Hobbs House Bakery, New Wave Seafood, Jesse Smith butchers, Watermoor Meats and Great Farm - the free-range poultry producers who won Producer of The Year in Cotswold Life's 2008 Food and Drink Awards.

The menu changes every day depending on what's available from suppliers and it is written as one long list of dishes, rather than divided into starters and main courses.

This is something Sam picked up from award-winning London gastropub The Anchor and Hope and he likes the informality of it as it means people can just pop in for a plate of food and pay anything from �4 for wild mushrooms on toast to �16 for steak and chips.

Popular dishes on the menu include Barnsley chop with bubble and squeak; beef, Guinness and root vegetable pie and John Dory with seashore vegetables, cockles and mussels.

Shellfish plays a large part in the menu, with North Atlantic prawns available in half-pints or pints and rock oysters from Falmouth jostling for attention next to the Helford natives from the Duchy of Cornwall oyster beds at Port Navas, Cornwall.

"We've tried for a 'greatest hits' menu," says Sam. "We change it every day, depending on what's in season and what's good locally, but we always have dishes like fish and chips or sausage and mash. I think it's a very important thing for a pub to have these dishes on the menu.

"The previous owners marketed it more as a hotel than a pub which meant the locals didn't use it for drinking. Talking to some of the locals who now use the pub again, they say the first question used to be 'are you eating with us?'.

"I just want to make it feel more like a proper pub again, albeit one with great food and the bonus of comfortable bedrooms for those guests who want to stay a bit longer."

The Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach. Tel: 01451 860 244.


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