Russell’s, an English country eatery, offers a heartfelt tribute to the comfort cuisine and the hearty souls of the Cotswolds region.
Author MATTHEW WEXLER
IN AN AGED BUILDING set in the town of Broadway, amid the rolling hills of west-central England, Russell’s feels a little bit like the setting of a pastoral novel from a century ago. The landscape is dotted with grazing sheep and honey-stoned cottages, and the keys to each of the property’s seven guest rooms are of the old-style skeleton variety. But the main attraction of this charming spot (the full name of which is actually “Russell’s, a restaurant with rooms”) is a dining experience, neither historical nor modern, in which local ingredients are used to provide a new perspective on countryside classics.
Russell’s is housed in the former workshop of one Sir Gordon Russell, a furniture designer of the Arts and Crafts school who was raised in this Cotswolds town more than a century ago, and who drew his aesthetic inspiration in part from his experiences on the front lines during World War I. He opened his workshop here in 1923. Years later, he recalled thinking that “my generation, which had destroyed so much lovely work, had a constructive duty to hand on to those coming after us good things of our own creation.”
It’s a charge Russell’s owner Barry Hancox and his business partner Andrew Riley took very seriously when they began refurbishing Russell’s derelict showrooms, workshops and offices in 2003. After more than a year of hard work, “we had a great feel for the property,” says Hancox. “It had a great vibe. Originally it was going to be a restaurant, but we had the rooms upstairs and it evolved into something greater than we ever anticipated.”
Hancox and Reilly enlisted the services of chef Matthew Laughton, described by Hancox as “a family chap who really loves food,” to oversee the menu, which features dishes like a roast Cornish pollock with clams and samphire emulsion, and beef and horseradish sausages with mustard mash and red onion gravy. Laughton also oversees the newly launched Workshop, a more casual venue offering decidedly throwback British culinary experiences. Menu items include a retro-style Canteen roast lunch, featuring a fish or meat of the day, a filet of haddock battered and fried and served on a bed of crispy chips, and vintage throwbacks like beef drippings and parsley on toast — a nod to resourceful men and women making the best of hard times. Laughton uses produce from nearby farms to create his dishes, along with tasty house-made condiments like spiced-apple chutney and chili jam presented plainly alongside local cheeses like Shropshire Blue and St. Oswald.
While the menu is stocked with nostalgic creations, the point of this so-called “comeback cuisine” goes well beyond the food itself. Russell once said of the Cotswolds, “I never cease to be grateful to the builders of these little towns and villages. They taught me to try to apply the searching test of honesty to all work and actions.” That’s a philosophy worthy of a comeback.
CASK ALE — or real ale, as it’s come to be known, thanks in part to the U.K.-wide Campaign for Real Ale — is brewed from traditional ingredients, conditioned in casks, unpasteurized and free from added bubble-producing carbon dioxide. Unsurprisingly, few places have adopted the Real Ale ethos as avidly as the Cotswolds.
In Gloucestershire, a push by an alliance of brewers to get pubs to serve local beer made in small batches from organic, local ingredients has paid off, resulting in what is now known as the Gloucestershire Ale Trail (see map). Visitors looking to get real can swing by Battledown Brewery, Cotswold Spring Brewery, Festival Brewery, Nailsworth Brewery, North Cotswold Brewery, Severn Vale Brewing Company, Stanway Brewery and/or Stroud Brewery to sample the good stuff. Bottoms up!
The cheesemakers of the Cotswolds, despite being few in number, have performed admirably at the annual British Cheese Awards.
Charles Martell, for instance, has ridden his Single and Double Gloucester, as well as his Stinking Bishop (a well-deserved name derived from the type of pear liquor used to wash the rind) to multiple honors. Martell has been instrumental in preserving the Gloucestershire heritage cattle used to make the cheeses, with the Single variety holding the coveted European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin.
Another local favorite, last year’s Supreme Champion, is Golden Cenarth, an organic soft cow’s milk cheese. This particular blend was an accident, discovered when cheesemaker Carwyn Adams found a mysterious culture growing on a wheel of Caerffili, a recipe passed down from his great-grandmother. Seductively pungent, the cheese ranges from soft in the summer months to firmer and more robust in the winter.
While these stinky newcomers are gaining ground, cheddar remains king, and visitors would be remiss not to try any of the local varieties, such as the Extra Mature Cheddar from JA & E Montgomery.
Wherever you go, make sure to bring sealable bags if you plan on taking some home, or the Bishop won’t be the only thing stinking.