Any hunt for fine food in the Cotswolds will end happily at The Fox Inn, which cuts a dash among its country cousins

Our get-away-from-it-all weekend in the country was rapidly going bad. First the car journey out of London, which should have taken two hours, dragged on for nearly four. Then the restaurant I'd picked out for Saturday lunch turned out not to open for Saturday lunch. And the prospect of driving around until we serendipitously stumbled on a delightful country pub was made less than inviting by the heavy rain that had been sheeting down all day.

Our get-away-from-it-all weekend in the country was rapidly going bad. First the car journey out of London, which should have taken two hours, dragged on for nearly four. Then the restaurant I'd picked out for Saturday lunch turned out not to open for Saturday lunch. And the prospect of driving around until we serendipitously stumbled on a delightful country pub was made less than inviting by the heavy rain that had been sheeting down all day.

As we nosed the car down waterlogged country lanes, picturesque hamlets of buttery stone passed in an impressionistic grey slick. "I've always really loved the Cotswolds," sighed Harry. "Until this morning."

Finally, on the edge of an unspoilt village a few miles outside Stow-on- the-Wold, a low collection of buildings materialised through the rain. Steaming gently after the dash from the car park, we erupted into the oasis of The Fox Inn, feeling rather heroic - until we spied the row of walking boots lined up shamingly by the front door.

The place was heaving, but we managed to nab the last empty table, in front of a log fire roaring in an inglenook fireplace. Things were definitely starting to look up. The decor is standard issue for a cosy country pub - mismatched wooden furniture, a flagstone floor and low, beamed ceiling. But the stylish little extras show a loving attention to detail, from the vase of fresh flowers on each table and the alcoves stuffed with board games and vintage Penguin paperbacks, to a help-yourself selection of newspapers and magazines. There's no fruit machine and no piped music - just the creak of Barbour jackets and the susurration of many pairs of stout, corduroy-trousered thighs.

The menu was even more cheering. The hungry walker is catered for with beef stew and parsley dumplings, and the ever-popular salmon fishcakes, but dishes such as confit of duck with date and onion marmalade, wild mushroom stroganoff, or that day's special of pheasant stew, are more ambitious than regular pub fare.

It wasn't until we'd placed our order at the bar that we began to notice a certain distinctive decorative theme; The Fox is a temple to the obliteration of its namesake. The walls are covered in framed photos of huntsmen, there's a mounted fox's head by the bar, and the pub's logo is a fox-topped corkscrew. In fact, there are so many foxes around the place, it's surprising not to see one listed on the menu.

Maybe this devotion to bloodsports explained why there didn't seem to be too many locals in the place; they were all out killing things. There were no drinkers at the bar, apart from a solitary cove in a Viyella shirt leafing through a copy of the FT. To use a fictional analogy, the clientele was made up of plenty of Archers, and no Grundys.

Harry's starter, grandiosely billed as "a quad of Cotswold sausages", turned out to be daringly simple - four skinny, but great-tasting chipolatas and a ramekin of grainy Meaux mustard. My courgette soup was delicately but distinctly flavoured, and topped with parmesan-heaped croutons. Depth charges lurked in the bowl in the form of caramelised garlic cloves, powerful enough to ensure I wouldn't need the windscreen de-mister on the journey home.

In following on with chicken pie, I fell victim to the triumph of hope over experience - I should have remembered that you never seem to get a proper pie in pubs, just stew baked beneath a puff pastry hat. And so it proved at the Fox, although both the pastry and filling - juicy breast meat, ham and leek in a wine-enhanced cream sauce - were very good in their own ways. Harry's shoulder of lamb was a hefty joint of meat on the bone, rendered super-tender by slow-roasting, and served with an aromatic gravy flavoured with sage, garlic and cider.

Portions are generous, to the point of gluttony, but I felt it would have been churlish to leave without sampling something from the pudding menu. Despite his dismissal of sticky toffee pudding as a dish that only a Sloane Ranger would eat, Harry consented to share a moist slab, which came in a dark pool of buttery treacle sauce. "Good, wasn't it?" smiled a cheery waitress, as she cleared away the empty plate. "Only if you like gorgeous puddings," conceded Harry.

That The Fox Inn succeeds in cutting a dash in an area already well- served for foodie pubs is down to the hard work put in by its new owners, Kirk and Sally Ritchie, who took over in March. For 25 years, Mr Ritchie was the general manager of The Lygon Arms, one of the Cotswolds grandest and most luxurious hotels (and the place to which Salman Rushdie retreated immediately post-fatwa). The Ritchies have now downshifted, learned how to pull pints, and are very much in evidence, buzzing around the pub and chatting to their guests. Their interest in wine shows in the Fox's simple, well-chosen winelist, featuring few bottles priced at more than £20. For beer-lovers, there's a range of real ales on tap, including the scrumptious local brew Hook Norton. Two pints of that (plus ginger beer for the driver) brought our bill to just under £40, and we emerged from the Fox feeling much cheerier than when we'd arrived, to discover the sun shining.

The Fox Inn, Lower Oddington, nr Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire (01451 870555). Food is served 12-2pm, 6.30-10pm (7.30-9.30pm Sun). All cards except Diners and Amex. Limited disabled access

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