Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Fourteas, Stratford-upon-Avon

There are steps up to the doorway but, frankly, I found that in keeping with the entire ambience of the place. This is, after all, a time before door ramps and rails, more a time of bombs, rations, and blackouts.

Fortunately, this is not the side of wartime Britain on show here. This is very much the pack-up-your-troubles on your way to Tipperary to see your boogie woogie bugle boy from Company B aspect, where you are asked to keep calm and keep Mum. It is all designed to get you in the mood: windows are taped, staff are dressed in uniforms designed by Claire Dempsey, modelled on the headscarf-and-pinny-look familiar from even my own family photos. Tea is served in pale green Beryl Ware utility cups with the banding on the saucer and Deco curlicues on the handles.

And the only thing to do here is to truly accentuate the positive. This is not in the least bit gimmicky, or cheesy and, more importantly, not the least bit tourist-led. There is no sense that local people are sidelined in favour of visitors and the most telling evidence of this is the price of everything. A quick perusal of the menu, which is in the form of a ration book, shows a mere £13 for two rounds of eggs on toast and two pots of tea both of which served a minimum of four cups each*. I went for the Earl Grey. Sourced from the Golden Monkey Tea Company in Warwick, this is Sri Lankan in origin, super fragranced, very orangey aftertaste. The pot of leaf tea comes with a timer to ensure that the leaves are properly steeped to avoid the face-gurning stew so familiar to less sophisticated establishments.

Best poached eggs in town. No fancy schmancy boil-water-in-a-saucepan-and cross-your-fingers-you-don't-end-up-with-egg-soup malarkey. Just good old fashioned use of a poacher to make stunning eggs with the soft centre just perfect, and plump, glossy whites with the right amount of wobble. The scrambled eggs were creamy in texture on hot, buttery toast. Eat outdoors in the tea garden, or by the Anderson shelter, or just stay indoors and hum along to the Andrews Sisters.**

There is really only one way to properly describe this establishment: bei mir bist du schon. It means you're grand.

*You may have noticed, oh faithful bloggee, the lack of lattes these days and the profusion of tea . This is due to a combination of (a) age and (b) side effects of prescription drugs

** although you shouldn't sing along too loudly. They don't like that.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cafe, Chedworth Villa

This is a small place, part of the purpose-built entrance to the ruins of the Roman villa, but easily accessible. The Romans were great ones for flat surfaces and even though it's a modern building, all the straight lines, squares and terracotta shades evoke the history without anyone actually trashing the local wildlife and offering stuffed dormice.

The menu is supplied by Huffkins bakery from Cheltenham - sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, soups, jacket potatoes. I opted for the egg mayo sandwich and a cup of tea. The sandwich was white bread with a generous slug of free-range egg filling and rocket salad. Which is fine by me. Drew opted for the jacket potato with homemade coleslaw, meaning the filling was shredded with carrots, red cabbage, and onions, accompanied by salad leaves. My tea was the house blend, an aromatic, smooth Assam that tempered the sometimes astringent Darjeeling in the mix. Drew had the filter coffee, a hand roasted Cotswold blend with a slightly woody aftertaste.

As the café is served by spring water rather than mains, there is a limit to the supply and hence the amount of washing up. Everything is therefore served on or in disposable tableware, although, being the National Trust, the eco-credentials are impeccable. Where possible everything is recyclable and there are helpfully labelled bins; although if you are anything like me and have forgotten your glasses this can result in a lot of brow-furrowing and quizzical squinting.

Not a big fan of the Romans and never was; but it is tempting when faced with all the ruins to launch into some theatrics in the manner of I, Claudius, rolling and hooting and declaiming in proper old-school Blessedness.

Access: *****
Latte/Coffee: *****

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Cotswold Food Store and Cafe, Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh

This is a converted barn in the middle of nowhere with every sign indicating that the foodstuff is either fresh, sustainably-sourced, seasonal, regional, local, home-cooked, or all of the above. And you just know that they sell game and venison and things like greengages and tins of lobster bisque.

Access is excellent, plenty of room for wheels, parking virtually outside the entrance and moveable tables and chairs for ease of passage. The look is scrubbed pine, blonde wood, creams, biscuit-coloured Cotswold stone, with a pale blue flooring that looks - well, there is only one word for it really. It's lovely.

I opted for the salmon and cream cheese baguette, Drew for the quiche salad. The Earl Grey tea came in a gigantic pot making two cups each. The brand is the Wiltshire Tea Company is known as 'Earl Grey Light', so the result is a super-pungent drink, more aromatic and orangey-tasting. My baguette was warm, lots of salmon and no suspicious-looking brown-grey bits, accompanied by a few salted crisps and some leaves. Drew had the salmon and chive quiche, also served warm, creamy in texture with a crisp but firm base, not too crumby. The potato salad was served with a lemony-mayonnaise. He ate all of his salad.

Access: *****

Monday, 2 June 2014

Swan Hotel, Bibury, Gloucestershire

This is a village of such eye-popping gorgeousness that you feel slightly guilty for being there and sullying it with your human presence. Everywhere you turn is a vision of such ravishing beauty that your head hurts. The row of weaver's cottages at Arlington Row are positively begging to be the backdrop for your magnum opus murder mystery (think Agatha Raisin meets Agatha Christie).

The Swan Hotel is in just as attractive a building but is still, thankfully, being a Cotswold Inns franchise kitted out for the twentieth-century as far as access goes. Plenty of flat surfaces and space, although if you choose to go to the bar via the main entrance and the reception, there are some tight corners to negotiate. There was, however, no mobile phone signal or wi fi. I gather that is not typical, but just a heads-up. This is the depths of nowhereville. While that means a passable, if somewhat lava-hot latte, there's nothing for it but to watch the swans and cygnets, listen to the babbling of the river, the splash of leaping trout, the haunting cries of birds, the lowing of cattle and the rush of wind in the trees. Just generally contemplate nature. In all its glory. And majesty. And stuff like that. As you do.


Access: *****
Latte: *****

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Act V, Stratford-upon-Avon

On the menus in this establishment there is a quotation from Hamlet, Act V, scene one, the 'Alas, poor Yorick' palaver that we all know so well. Far better would be a quotation from Act II of The Importance of Being Earnest; because this is the perfect place to go Bunburying.

Partly because it is an excellent place to hide, even if just to escape the crowds on Waterside. It is at the bottom of Sheep Street, just up from the chip shop, a small café/gift shop combo. And the recently refurbished outdoor space is the real gem here, with comfortable furniture squeezed into a tiny garden that is absolutely, positively the best place to sit in the sunshine writing in your diary, eating cucumber sandwiches and drinking Earl Grey tea in copious quantities. In fact, having ordered said cucumber sandwiches, it occurred to me that I know no other place in the town that sells them. For £2.50, you get two slices of bread, lightly moistened with margarine or butter and quite a few slices of crunchy-but-soft cucumber with a few leaves of salad and some crisps. The tea is the teapigs brand, popular in some of the more upmarket establishments in the town. Be warned - the combination of the two means that you will find your pinky finger creaks involuntarily outward  with every bite and sip.

Following this up with the cream tea is practically compulsory. One of the few places to serve the scones warm and use clotted cream. This all adds up to a delectable melt-in-your-mouth concoction, a heady combination for eschewing your German grammar in favour of starting your revoltingly sentimental three volume novel.

Access: *****

Thursday, 22 May 2014

White Horse Inn, Wroxton, Oxfordshire

This is exactly what a small country pub should be. It should recall the days of old when it was a stopping-off point for travellers - an old building, decent hunger-quenching fare. It should be halfway between places, in this case Banbury and Stratford-upon-Avon. It should feel local, not gastro-pub generic, or be full of ramblers and cyclists. It should hint at a chequered past (hasty repairs) and straitened finances (rusty barbecue). And it should have no less than two people sitting nursing a drink who do not take their eyes off you the whole time you are there, to the point of discomfort.

As this was only a refreshment stop, none of the food was sampled, although it certainly looked like a decent menu of chips, steaks and vegetarian options. I had a latte, decent enough, not too strong, half inch of foam, suitably thirst-quenching.

Access is not bad, considering the age of the building. There are a few too tight corners and small steps to negotiate especially to the garden. Ask the sunburnt local in the wife beater vest to give you a hand.

There is an additional bonus. To get to this place can mean driving through the village of Buckingham. And any Shakespearean worth their salt will not be able to resist the most amazing in-joke. On leaving the village, it is practically compulsory to turn to your companion(s) and say "So much for Buckingham".

Anyone who doesn't laugh, slap them hard.

Access: *****
Latte: *****

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Winthrop's Cafe, Hidcote, Gloucestershire

This place is not the sandwich and coffee bar just by the entrance, but the one in the garden itself. There is the right mix of history and modernity that the National Trust does so well. Parquet floors, wood-burning stoves, mock-Deco and Arts and Crafts furnishings, homely baking; but not so much that they do without a decent coffee machine, central heating and clean loos. The terrace outside is accessible, with a decent slope, flat paving and moveable furniture. It is also sheltered and accented with fairly picturesque plants and green, growing things. It is Nature just the way I like it, trimmed and pruned with no unseemly scruffs of overgrowth or wet slimy bits.

The menu is restricted but what is there is all speciality stuff. 'Lemon' and 'asparagus' were bandied about a lot, as were 'date', 'apple' and 'sultana'. You probably would not be surprised to know that 'lightly drizzled' was in there somewhere, along with 'balsamic'. It is the kind of the menu that stops just short of 'coulis' or 'jus'. I settled for an 'open sandwich' which turned out to be a generous portion of tuna mayo and six slices of cucumber laid on one slice of bloomer bread and loosely overlaid with a second slice of bread, accompanied by three cherry tomatoes, a few shreds of red onion and around five or six salad leaves. You have to start eating it with a knife and fork, such are its gargantuan proportions before you can resort to the traditional grab and gulp method. Tasty, very creamy, an ever-so-slightly sharp aftertaste and, interestingly enough, initially cold on the tongue and teeth. By which I mean, not fresh from the fridge but what a cold sandwich should be - not room temperature.

Drew opted for the gala pie, an oblong crusted portion, pale pink, almost Spam colour with a golden yellow egg all of which certified its fresh-made credentials. I was not allowed to taste it. The accompanying Earl Grey tea was just the way I like it, the scent being strong but the taste subtle.

Always worth having a walk around the gardens after lunch, designed by the reclusive, eccentric Laurence Johnson. Though if I was going to get rich and adopt an eccentricity it wouldn't be gardening. Something more me, perhaps. Like crisps. Or cheese.

Access: *****