Dan Splarn enjoys a roaringly good stay at The Lion at Wendlebury, Oxfordshire
These are exciting times for The Lion at Wendlebury – a charming inn located a couple of miles south-west of Bicester, Oxfordshire.
While the pub itself is steeped in history – The Lion has been trading as a village inn since 1732 – a recent takeover and subsequent investment from Brakspear has seen the launch of a new a-la-carte menu, the appointment of a new GM and, most significantly, the opening of 13 beautiful, bespoke hotel rooms. We couldn’t wait to check out the new-look Lion for ourselves…
The Lion is a centrepiece of the tiny village of Wendlebury, located amongst sweeping countryside and just off the A34 which links Oxford with Bicester – a town renowned for its designer shopping centre.
The first aspect of The Lion you’ll encounter will be the pub, with its low wooden beams, mismatched furniture and snug, intimate vibe.
Every inch of the pub is well put-together; there are shelves decked with books and plants and various other trinkets, plenty of exposed brickwork and lots of photo frames lining the walls.
Though we were visiting at the start of summer, it’s easy to think of The Lion as a wonderfully cosy retreat come the cooler months, largely thanks to its three fireplaces and a wood-burning stove.
The Lion’s dining space is located towards the rear, and it’s completed with a conservatory which was also renovated by Brakspear when they took over late in 2017. There’s a spacious patio which was well populated with friends and families enjoy drinks in the sunshine upon our visit.
It’s just beyond this al fresco space that you’ll find The Lion’s brand new cottage accommodation, which saw eight ground-floor and five first-floor boutique B&B rooms launch in the middle of May this year.
Each of the 13 rooms have been individually designed, although all are double-beds complete with an en-suite.
Our room was one of two that features its own sofa bed. It was spacious and inviting, with lots of little touches of luxury to boot. Decked out in calming hues of navy blue and grey, the vibe here was stylish and restful, so it’s ideal for relaxing upon arrival if you have travelled from afar.
Additional features of the room included its floral Cole & Son wallpapers, large velvet cushions and a welcoming hamper of bottled water, snazzy crisps and shortbread. The bed (which is enormous, by the way) includes a feather and down duvet. It is fair to say that you are assured of a decent night’s rest here.
Our room at The Lion boasted ample storage space, a large TV to catch up on the events of the day and the bathroom – which comes flooded with natural light – also had a high-pressure, walk-in rain shower. It’s pretty challenging to lure yourself away from it once you’ve hopped in to freshen up.
If you were considering The Lion for a countryside getaway with the kids and the pooch there’s great news in store – both families and dogs are welcome.
As dreamy as this new cottage accommodation is, there’s plenty more to discover of The Lion when it’s time to eat.
I’d definitely recommend heading down slightly before you dine to enjoy the patio. It’s perfect for a pre-dinner drink and it certainly seemed to be a favourite of Wendlebury’s locals, who had claimed most of the outside tables by around 6pm.
Inside, the restaurant also had a good buzz to it, as hotel guests and visitors dining out for the evening surveyed a menu created by Brakspear head chef, Conal Boyle.
Starters, which cost from £5.50, cover everything from the soup of the day to BBQ glazed pork ribs, and our pan-roasted king scallops (£11) were deliciously balanced with Parmesan, pea puree and a lemon gel.
The main menu is diverse and interesting, with vegan options like the spiced chickpea, feta & mint burger (£12) and gluten-free roasted guinea fowl (£15) slotting in next to classic British staples like haddock & chips (£13.50) and steak & ale pie (£14.50).
My rump of spring lamb (£17) was deliciously tender and flavourful, while my guest’s egg fettucine (£15) was a fresh dish served with plump cherry tomatoes, asparagus and Ticklemore goats cheese. We opted for some garlic bread to share on the side – a move that I can heartily recommend!
Portions are generous and filling, although I was never going to turn down a rich chocolate torte (£6) for pudding, which was a great way to round off a delicious three-course meal.
It’s clear to see that food is massively important to The Lion and this place is well worth a visit on the strength of its restaurant alone.
The Lion’s restaurant also serves breakfast (until 10am weekdays, and 11am on weekends) where hotel guests can set themselves up for the day with something hearty like their Full English (£10) or tuck into lighter brunch favourites like smashed avocado with poached eggs (£8) or Belgian Waffles (£8).
The Wordrobe verdict
Next time work stress is getting a bit much and you need a countryside escape, definitely consider a trip to The Lion.
The village of Wendlebury is a quiet community with just a handful of neatly-presented streets – it’s a good place to come and clear your thoughts before returning to The Lion, which combines its quirky bar area, conservatory restaurant and brand new boutique hotel rooms to great effect.
It’s pretty easy to get to as well. Trains from London depart from Marylebone and are in Bicester Village 50 minutes later, and from there it’s around 10 minutes in a taxi.
Make it happen
Where: The Lion at Wendlebury, Wendlebury Road, Wendlebury, Bicester, Oxfordshire, OX25 2PW.
Price: Rooms start from £130 a night on a B&B basis. Click here to book.
Words by Dan Splarn