LOST among that gentle patchwork of gentle country on the very edge of the Cotswolds, Clanfield is a sleepy place of weathered stone cottages not on the way to anywhere. The last place, then you'd expect to find one of the country's hippest new hotels and restaurants.

Since gently creaking open its solid oaken doors, The Double Red Duke has been drawing in a steady stream of enchanted admirers, attracted by exceptional but unprententious open fire cooking, and stylish rooms in a gorgeous 17th century coaching inn. In its bars and dining rooms, a chummy mix of locals, couples on romantic breaks, food enthusiasts and the odd famous face, enjoy first class seafood and meat in a setting which combines oppulence with rustic West Oxfordshire charm.

"It's a real delight how people have taken us to their hearts," says general manager Sion Hamilton, sitting in the cosy bar of the county's hippest boutique hotels.

"It's been extremely busy," says the cheery Welshman,

Sion, who hails from Pembrokeshire, can't hide his passion for the place. After a glittering career which has taken in the Michelin-starred Ynyshyr in Mid-Wales, Gordon Ramsey's eponymous three-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant in Royal Hospital Road, Mews of Mayfair, Tom Aikens' Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea, and a smattering of achingly hip establishments in London and Paris, he is enjoying Clanfield's more civilized pace of life, and its friendly villagers who have been quick to take the place to their hearts.

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"I have worked for 20 odd years in some of best and busiest hotels London," he says. "It has put me in good stead. But my roots are in the country and I have no plans to move on."

Food is the very soul of the place and at its heart is a row of open fire grills blazing in an open plan kitchen created by Richard Turner of London’s meat-lovers’ paradise, Hawksmoor. He even brought Hawksmoor chef Richard Sandiford to Oxfordshire to spark up the flames and get the embers glowing. The kitchen is now in the hands of Swede Henrik Ritzén, formerly of Bluebird and Aquavit, London

“We cook on apple and cherry wood,” says Sion. “There’s no gas... just meat, fish and vegetables cooked how they should be cooked. And Henrik takes cooking to the next level.”

Witney Gazette: The Double Red Duke in Clanfield, West Oxfordshire.
Picture by Ed Nix

Part of the small Country Creatures family of smart pubs, its siblings include the acclaimed Chequers in Churchill and The Swan, in Ascott-under-Wychwood. The group is the vision of Sam and Georgie Pearman who made their name with Cheltenham’s achingly stylish Lucky Onion group.

Diners can take their pick from a delightfully disorientating choice of restaurant areas and a cosy bar, radiating from the kitchen along narrow low-ceilinged passages which reveal its heritage.

You can get stuck into board games with a pint in front of the fire, sink into a nook with a glass of wine and plate of oysters, enjoy superb steak, lovingly prepared fish and excellent wines on a candle-lit table, or relax among flowing plants in a bright, airy garden room.

Witney Gazette: Double Red Duke. By Tim Hughes

It’s impressive, but there’s none of the pristine stuffiness of some of its over-designed near neighbours. You never feel like you are messing the place up. “We want it to feel like a home from home,” says Sion. “It’s interesting how varied the different areas of the building are - that’s what makes it a real destination. You can do what you want, whenever you want.”

Sion hopes to keep things interesting with guest chef events and even jazz on Sundays.

Attention to detail is maintained by Home Manager Steven Poole, who has worked in hotels from Bangkok to Kathmandu and Ibiza, and started as a butler at the Ritz and Lanesborough, recently managing the lovely Eastbury Hotel in Sherborne.

The Double Red Duke’s mix of understated British style, exceptional food and premium service has ensured a loyal clientele, which has inevitably attracted the attentions of the Cotswold set. Locals Kate Moss, Jeremy Clarkson, Premiership footballers and assorted celebs have been seen gracing its bars, though Sion is far too discrete to name names. And, anyway, it is regular local guests he says he really cares about, not hitting gossip columns or society pages.

“From the first day I started, the focus was not just on guests from afar but on locals. If I was coming from London to a place like this, I’d want a pub full of locals. Our prices are accessible and not extortionate. There is a lot of competition and we do want local people to feel welcome and use us like a community hub. And many love what we are doing here and have very positive comments.

Witney Gazette: The Double Red Duke in Clanfield, West Oxfordshire.
Picture by Ed Nix

“We are not focussed on birthdays and special occasions but just being a relaxed, open pub, and that’s all we are trying to achieve. The key to any pub and restaurant is not being that place just to come for a wedding, but to come day in, day out, knowing you’ll get great quality produce – and we do our best to find the best steak and fish every day. We have the benefit of having a head chef who can focus on getting the best supplies in the country, including the freshest fish in the area, from day boats in Brixham.”

And the place has been embraced by county folk – with Sion welcoming regulars, villagers from Clanfield and Bampton, as well as curious new guests interested in finding out what it’s all about.

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“I want people to see me as the face of The Double Red Duke, and any locals with concerns can always come to me,” he says. “We are not prissy or posh, and the atmosphere is relaxed.

"Come in for a pint!”

* The Double Red Duke is in Clanfield. Rooms start at £120 per night. Book tables and rooms at countrycreatures.com/double-red-duke

Witney Gazette: The Double Red Duke in Clanfield, West Oxfordshire.
Picture by Ed Nix


It was a grey and moody Sunday evening when I visited the Double Red Duke with my friend the art expert Marc West, but manager Sion found the perfect spot for us to soak up the atmosphere with glasses of crisp Sauvignon Blanc and, at Sion's recommendation, a couple of plates of oysters - one naturally raw and served with wedges of lemon and the other grilled with bone marrow (£3.75 each).

Beautifully presented, served on a bed of cockle shells, they were divine. They were so good, that when we later sat down for dinner we also took his advice on the deceptively simple looking menu. First up was scampi and Scallops with garlic breadcrumb to share.

Witney Gazette: Double Red Duke. By Tim Hughes

I thought I knew what scampi was. I was wrong. These specimens from Dublin Bay (£10) were a revelation – light, sweat, juicy and bursting with flavour and fried in the lightest of crisp crumb coatings ready to dip into lemon mayo, they were superb. The scallops (£5 each) were, if anything, even better, grilled over wood with garlic crumbs they were succulent little bombs of flavour, the grilling taking away none of their moreish, juicy tenderness.

The big ticket attraction is the steak, with an ever changing range of cuts on the blackboard with prices by weight.

We went for a ridiculously tender tomahawk, juicy wood smoke-scented slices of claret coloured meat made even more delicious with a tangy anchovy-laden Gentleman's Relish sauce. There were also plump, crisp salt and vinegar chips – too many to finish, though Marc had a noble stab at it – and heavenly creamed spinach – which vanished within seconds of landing.

Witney Gazette: Double Red Duke. By Tim Hughes

Flavours and textures that robust called for a special wine, which we found in the shape of a full-bodied, subtly spicy, Aussie McLaren Vale Cabernet Franc. While the food is excellent value, it would be easy to push the boat right out on the wine list, though there are some very reasonable excellent bottles starting at £27 - or just £6 a glass.

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After the protein overload, something sweet was essential. The pudding menu contains such grown up delights as cherries on the rocks and smoked peaches and Amaretto, but craving comfort, I went for that old stable sticky toffee pudding. Served with deeply satisfying clotted cream, it did not disappoint: light, springy but warmly flavoured, richly scented and very, very sticky (£9).

The climb up to our respective rooms was hard going, but my bed was soft and a Roberts radio was tuned into Radio 3, ensuring a quick sleep.

The morning gave a chance to try out the roll top bath which faced the foot of the bed from the large bathroom.

It was hard to leave, but the newsroom beckoned. After breakfast, of course. There was a buffet on the kitchen counter with cereals including good-looking homemade granola, sourdough bread, croissants, great cinnamon buns and DIY boiled eggs, but something else had caught my eye on the menu - a breakfast muffin (£10).

This was a wholesome and far healthier version of the guilty pleasure sold at McDonalds, and filled with thick bacon and a rich sausage patty topped with a

Fried Egg and Ogleshield cheese. It was a full English (almost) in a fresh springy muffin – and just enough.

Witney Gazette: Double Red Duke. By Tim Hughes

The morning was beautiful. Outside Clanfield was probably awake but there was no traffic on the road and just a solitary jogger to be seen as I wandered over to the war memorial on the green to take in the view of the worn homely stone of the hotel, a familiar friend for hundreds of years... but never before with such easy going style and quality.