Gastropubs have been big news in London for the past few years, but the rest of England has been slow to catch on. Now these British dining spots, which combine the atmosphere of a pub with a menu that aims higher than chicken-and-chips and Scotch eggs, are making their way outside the capital. What's driving the trend in the countryside? City chefs sick of city rates (Americans aren't the only ones who find London costly) are decamping for taverns outside town, and country chefs, keen to keep up, are experimenting with more adventurous flavors. The best country gastropubs reflect the national obsession with fresh, local, organic ingredients. Because the places are informal, you can often eat in either the bar or the dining room, and sticker shock is usually low. Then there's the beer. Most gastropubs are "free houses," meaning that, unlike most pubs, which are owned by major breweries, they can serve any beer they wish. (Some have impressive wine cellars too.) Here, we've focused on the top gastropubs in three slices of the country, and while many offer lodging, we've suggested additional hotel options nearby.
Central England and the Cotswolds
This regionincluding much of Gloucestershire and parts of Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Warwickshireis as quaint as the Hobbits' Shire and only about a two-hour drive from London. Some of the prettiest of the centuries-old honey-stone villages, with their buildings topped by mossy slate roofs, are Stow-on-the-Wold, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Broadway, Bourton-on-the-Water and Chipping Camden. Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, is close by, as is one of the most important stately homes in England, Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. For the horticulturally inclined, there are two phenomenal gardens: plantings of old roses and rare shrubs in the Arts & Crafts Hidcote Manor Garden, near Chipping Camden, and the legendary Rosemary Verey's masterpiece at Barnsley House, near Cirencester.