We present an efficient approach for doing approximate Bayesian inference when only a limited number of noisy likelihood evaluations can be obtained due to computational constraints, which is becoming increasingly common for applications of complex models. Our main methodological innovation is to model the log-likelihood function using a Gaussian process (GP) in a local fashion and apply this model to emulate the progression that an exact Metropolis-Hastings (MH) algorithm would take if it was applicable. New log-likelihood evaluation locations are selected using sequential experimental design strategies such that each MH accept/reject decision is done within a pre-specified error tolerance. The resulting approach is conceptually simple and sample-efficient as it takes full advantage of the GP model. It is also more robust to violations of GP modelling assumptions and better suited for the typical situation where the posterior is substantially more concentrated than the prior, compared with various existing inference methods based on global GP surrogate modelling. We discuss the probabilistic interpretations and central theoretical aspects of our approach, and we then demonstrate the benefits of the resulting algorithm in the context of likelihood-free inference for simulator-based statistical models.