It’s all go at the 16th century Lamb in Shipton-Under-Wychwood. The roofer has just arrived while I’m talking to new landlords Peter Creed and Tom Noest, and builders can be heard at work all over the site.
But then there’s a lot to do. The kitchen is in complete disrepair, the loos are worse, the roof has fallen in and the bedrooms are uninhabitable, so with plans to reopen the pub by June 21, it’s a case of all hands on deck.
“there is real value in breathing life into neglected pubs that haven’t been loved for a long time”
“We have certainly hit the ground running,” Pete grins, “but we love pubs Tom and I, and we realised very quickly at The Bell that there is real value in breathing life into neglected pubs that haven’t been loved for a long time.
“And yes there is a lot to do, but we like a project and it gives us something to do,” he laughs. “Put it this way, when we do something we like to do it well.”
Which is the understatement of the century if The Bell at Langford is anything to go by. Opened in in December 2017, it received national acclaim within months and had the country’s foodies flocking in droves for a mouthful of its famous bone marrow flatbreads.
“It was like a firework going off but we like an eclectic mix of customers – your London foodies sat next to the old ladies from two doors down eating their fish and chips on a Friday. A pub should be a communal space for everyone, regardless of groups, class or age,” Peter adds.
“Either way, The Bell has surpassed all our expectations and it’s been great fun along the way. We are very proud of what we have achieved there,” Peter adds.
Bearing in mind The Bell stood empty for three years before Pete and Tom took it on, and you’ll get an inkling of what The Lamb has in store for us.
Not that lockdown has been particularly quiet for the pair either. On day one of the first lockdown they opened a village shop at The Bell, and have since turned it into a real farm shop with a butchery, pies, steaks, fruit and veg and freshly made meals, as well as running a successful takeaway.
Peter grew up in Shipton-Under-Wychwood and used to come to The Lamb as a boy, so it holds happy memories for him.
“The Lamb has been on our radar for a couple of years now and with light at the end of the tunnel in terms of pubs reopening, now seemed the right time to go for it,” he explains.
We were only given the keys on Friday but it’s such a great pub, and a great location, right on the main road between Burford and Chipping Norton, so it’s perfect for meeting people.
“It’s got a huge outside space with a garden and patio, and we intend to build another pizza oven in the garden and to make it really family friendly.”
As for the food, Pete says it will be similar to the Bell – “a simple menu – no foams and purees – but good British food – lots of game and offal. The menu will change but the classics will stay.
“Some people just want to go to the pub for their favourite meal whether that be The Lamb’s cheeseburger, buttermilk chicken or our bone marrow flatbread,” Pete says.
Ah yes the famous flatbread so revered by Times restaurant critic Giles Coren who gave it a 10/10 if I remember properly.
“Yes that was five weeks after we opened which was a bit of a baptism of fire,” Peter grinned. “Actually we think we might have improved the recipe since then, but it was a steep learning curve that put us firmly on the map.”
To accommodate out-of-towners, the Lamb’s 10 boutique bedrooms are currently being refurbished with rollmop baths and ensuite bathrooms. A private dining room is also on the cards.
But Peter says the old bar area itself needs minimal work. “We are redoing the actual bar, but other than that the bar area has got so much character with 3-4 fireplaces and a drinking room at the end which is rather nice.
Tom and Peter have also opened a subsidiary of The Bell at Soho Farmhouse – The Little Bell.
So is this the first of many pubs for the duo? “We don’t have any great ambitions to run a big pub group if that’s what you mean, but we always wanted two pubs,” he says.
“The Lamb has got as much potential as The Bell and Shipton-Under Wychwood is a great village, and we aim to really embrace village life and be a thriving part of the community. It’s all good.”
Watch this space for further updates.