The Wild Rabbit is a pub in the Cotswolds, that small corner of Britain full of evil grinning cottages; if the Cotswolds were a small dog it would always be mounting interior decorators and ripping out their throats. It is owned by Carole, Lady Bamford, the wife of the JCB billionaire Sir Anthony ‘Digger’ Bamford, which of course poses the question — does she have a toy one at home? And when she proved she could look after that one she got a real one?
In any case, the Wild Rabbit is a story because Lady Bamford is also the owner of Daylesford Organic, which obviously helps stock the kitchens at the Wild Rabbit; when the Daily Mail — which has an ambivalent relationship with organic food, because it is posh but hippies eat it, and hippies are disgusting — discovered the existence of the Wild Rabbit, they dispatched an investigative journalist (OK, it was Jan Moir) to investigate; she probed, as we all do, the meat, and then the class system. This is the poshest pub in Britain, Moir pronounced, because she does not understand the class system. The posh either own the pub outright, or shop at Tesco and eat at home, with dead animals hanging off them like hats, or both. It opened in the previously blameless village of Kingham last month.
The Wild Rabbit used to be called the Tollgate — but who wants to think about taxes, even old, Thomas Hardy–esque ones, while they eat? The building is huge, pale, square; it is a monumental dolls’ house — is Lady Bamford Nora? Outside there are chairs too neat to sit on, and well-behaved topiary, which I think has been terrorised into obedience by Lady Bamford or her agents. Inside, a sort of pub, in that it looks like a pub, with squashy chairs and a cheery fire and a pile of magazines, but you sense that the Wild Rabbit, like a sociopath in an ITV1 detective drama, is only impersonating a pub, and is actually something else entirely — possibly something sinister? An interloper, perhaps? A fashionable Knightsbridge hotel? The Bulgari, perhaps?
Consider the evidence. The female customers are blonde and ageing and dressed, in beige and mink and silk, as second wives who are good at sex and divorce and divorce sex. They have ironed brows and vast lips; they have been loathed, injected and cut. The male customers look like 1970s TV or music stars who collapsed and bought farms; rockers who turned from dust (metaphorical) to mud (actual).
Lady Bamford told the Sunday Times she wants the Wild Rabbit to be a ‘proper’ local which welcomes real, as opposed to fake, farmers with ‘muddy’ boots. I suspect this is unlikely, unless real farmers drive white Lamborghinis in tandem into car parks, and hum anxiously as the gravel snaps at their wheels. These possible ‘farmers’ are in leather and they are bald and they look happy, as the rich do when something meets, or even ‘exceeds’, their ‘expectations’. I do not think they are farmers; no, I am certain they are not farmers. Not farmers at all. They are too Judith Krantz for that.
It cost £1.4 million to turn the gate into a rabbit; the money works. The room is light, the tables wide, the staff, in check shirts, are charming; the best waiters, you should know, are never servile but are people who are simply better than you. They bring suave heritage food — rabbit, mackerel, lamb — all as perfectly executed and controlled as the stone rabbit, Lady Bamford, herself. The Wild Rabbit is entirely synthetic, like the valley of the evil cottages it lives it, and I like it, even if it is like going on holiday to Nicky Haslam’s brain; if you don’t want to leave the brain, there are bedrooms upstairs, and you can live in the valley of the evil cottages forever.
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The Wild Rabbit, Church Street, Kingham, Oxfordshire OX7 6YA, tel: 01608 658389.
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