These days, opening a hotel is a little passé – what you really want is a “restaurant with rooms”. Such is the sweaty-palmed fetishisation of food in popular culture right now, a nice high thread count can only get you so far; but offer a menu peppered with the spoils of an onsite vegetable garden and juicy creatures that, pre-plate, grazed in the field next door and they’ll be queuing out the door faster than you can say “no reservations policy”. (Actually, I’m pretty sure hotels still take reservations these days, but it can only be a matter of time.)
The Dog & Badger is a worthy addition to this unabashedly belly-centric scene, no mere coat-tail hitcher but a proper contender in the realm of The Pig or The Hambrough (before it so-very-sadly stopped serving dinner). Owners Nick and Jane Robinson have taken a nice old pub in the upmarket Chiltern village of Medmenham, installed a chef who used to work at London’s “consistently excellent” Bibendum, and thoughtfully renovated the Grade II-listed, 14th-century cottage next door to offer six self-contained, en-suite bedrooms, so there’s not far to fall when you pass out post-feast.
Sounds simple enough, but the reason The Dog & Badger works so well is the huge amount of thought that has gone into getting it right. So while the rooms retain all those cosy cottage hallmarks (ceilings so low they bear “please mind your head” warnings, proper wood doors), they are also a masterclass in contemporary luxury (in-bathroom hammam, fancy toiletries from local brand Bramley, opulent splashes of purple and, most important of all, no draughts). Think of it as an up-to-date take on “quintessentially British”, which might also explain why the rooms are all named after gin botanicals – a drink at once traditional and currently undergoing a modern, youthful revolution. Very au courant.
There’s also bags of personality to set it apart from your average country gastropub. The dining room, though filled with period features like wood beams and a vaulted ceiling, pops to life courtesy of the owners’ eclectic art collection, which I’m told is sourced and commissioned during frequent trips across Europe – the unusual subjects include primary-coloured robots. It gives what could have been a snooty set-up a generous dose of gaiety that effortlessly turns the temperature of the room to “... and relax”.
And, of course, there’s the menu – Chilterns-sourced, with a few home-grown ingredients, and all cooked up by Bibendum alumnus Sam Walton. Dishes are ever-changing but my outstanding venison tartare, followed by a rich pile of bacon and chestnut-flecked cavolo nero sitting under plump roast chicken, rounded off with rhubarb crème brulee, should give you a flavour. The unexpectedly creamy pinot noir picked out for me by the waitress was also a revelation.
The Dog & Badger sits in what could be termed a bit of a foodie triangle emerging in the affluent villages west of Maidenhead; it’s mere minutes from two-Michelin-starred pub The Hand & Flowers in Marlow, and also close by is brand-new upstart the Hurley House Hotel, serving food from Michelin-spangled chef Michael Chapman and a lengthy gin menu paired with exciting garnishes. If a bracing breath of country air followed by a five-star feed is what you want from a weekend, the Chilterns deserves your attention and then some.
Ideally positioned for admiring the sundry landscapes of the Chilterns’ idyll, a couple of hours’ circular walk straight from The Dog & Badger’s front door takes you along the Thames, through open fields, into the flagrantly quaint village of Hambleden and deep into Binfields Wood. But there are lots of satisfying rambles to choose from in the local area, and The Dog & Badger’s staff are on hand to supply recommendations and maps.
Given that there’s so much to do outside of The Dog & Badger, it’s unfortunate they’ve conjured rooms that are so difficult to leave. From the impossibly squishy king-size beds to the personal steam rooms (available in rooms Juniper, Honeysuckle and Cassia), plus an Apple TV on which you can happily stream your Netflix and Amazon picks, it’s one hell of a cosy hideaway. Though I imagine some may choose not to use the optional “mood lighting” system for the bathroom (I came to refer to my standalone tub as the “disco bath”).
But as well as easily matching the sort of luxurious cushiness I’ve experienced in top hotels the world over, what really made the difference at The Dog & Badger were the little things – like actually providing an explanation as to what the different colours on the Nespresso coffee pods represent, and having the sense to install fool-proof light switches. So not only is this a stay that’s brave enough to be bright and brimming with character – eschewing the more muted style typical of many a boutique bolthole – you can also easily turn your blimmin’ bedside lamp off.
The Dog & Badger, Medmenham, Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2HE (01491 579944; thedogandbadger.com). Double rooms start at £175 per night, including breakfast, depending on season.
Pets: Well-behaved dogs are welcome in the Juniper and Angelica rooms.
Access: The three downstairs rooms (Juniper, Angelica and Honeysuckle) are wheelchair accessible, but there are steps within the rooms.