The Eyston Arms, East Hendred had become a cult pub well before it had officially opened. Enormous interest had been generated when it was known that George Dailey, former landlord of the Boot at Barnard's Gate and the Harcourt Arms at Stanton Harcourt, had got together with Edward Eyston to completely renovate the pub on the Hendred Estate. George, of course, was under the impression that he had really retired from the pub game but he couldn't resist one more challenge!
This delightful 17th Century pub is in the heart of the village and boasts great charm and character as well as offering a superb menu, decent beer and an interesting and well-balanced wine list. But this was not always the case. The pub had become very run down and finally closed in 2002. The old lino and formica was ripped out and George set about waiving the magic Dailey wand. George opened up the fireplaces, put in flagstones, exposed the beams and built a small kitchen extension. With the help of his wife Cargie he added the finishing touches and the result is a stunning 'local', which entered the 'Good Pub Guide' at the first attempt.
There is a huge local following but significantly it is not far from the atomic research station at Harwell and the busy Milton Park. The pub regularly does 50-60 lunches and it is always advisable to book in advance.
You feel equally at home supping a real ale at the bar (Adnams, Wadworth 6x and draft Budweiser Budvar) as you do sitting in one of the many small eating rooms that make up the dining area. If you need privacy you can get it but you can equally enjoy the hubbub and activity in the heart of the pub. The pub is characterised by caricatures of the regular drinkers. Currently there are 25 adorning the walls of the main bar and more are on the way.. if your vanity gets the better of you, you had better go and sit and drink for a week. You might then persuade George to reserve you a place in the portrait gallery!
George is a great believer in supporting local businesses; lamb comes from the Estate and the venison is butchered locally too. Game is served in season and there is a wide range of fish on the menu too. He is noted for his signature dish of grilled King Prawns.
I went along with some friends on a glorious summer's evening and drank copious quantities of Le Mage Rosé before ordering my meal. I was persuaded to have the salt and pepper squid, which was served with a chilli and lime dip. Despite my reservations this was really tasty.
It was followed by the famous skewer of prawns which lived up to its reputation and I finished with a plate of Shropshire blue cheese washed down with a heavy red, the Grant Burge Old Vine Shiraz from Australia.
I was finally pushed into the back of a car having discovered that my friends picked up the bill. What better way to spend a perfect evening? You simply must go along the Eyston Arms and find out for yourself.