Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Edible Book Day

Did you know that the beginning of April sees the 15th annual Edible Book Day? No, not an April Fool. You heard right - edible. As in eating.

That's good isn't it? The very concept is A Tartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. You can spend Tuesday with Curry. Or invite your friends round and offer them a selection of Stephanie Meyer's 'Twiglet' series. Me, I'm more inclined to spend the day with the classics, like War and Peas. And if that doesn't fill me up, then I'll go for the three-course Remembrance of Things Mashed.
Apparently, Edible Book Day is to do with celebrating the work of Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of 'Physiology of Taste'. It involves baking something that represents a book to celebrate the essaying epicure. Personally, I think it's an excellent concept. In fact, I think its observance should be made compulsory in schools. At the very least, it would be a brilliant way of saving money. Finished with your school books? Polish 'em off with a little Fromage to Catalonia. For the lactose-intolerant there's always  Wheats, Fruits and Leaves. Accompany it with a side of Focaccia In The Rye. We could get Jamie Oliver involved and have him serve up the obesity-defeating Cod of Small Things (or the more sustainably sourced Titus Goan).
Mind you, Be Careful What Jus Wish For. The Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies rounded off March with an annual report that said we and our kids are all getting fatter and we don't know it. I don't think I will get through the cruellest month without Sex and the Ziti. Let alone wait until 6th May - National No Diet Day.
While I think about it, I'm off to p-p-p-p-pick up a Penguin.

Monday, 10 March 2014

KFC, Shires Retail Park, Warwick

This place looks like it should. By which I mean it's small, slightly shabby and the floors and tables are permanently sticky. Access is fine as long as the tables near the entrance are available, otherwise it involves a lot of moving of chairs and apologising to all and sundry.

I had the popcorn chicken with fries. Apparently this qualifies as a 'meal' - but that might be age talking. A teensy box of what are essentially chicken nuggets and the usual fast food fries. Still, it's cheap. And, apparently only 600 calories. It tasted the same as any fast food meal always does - that sort-of-salty meat taste that does something indefinable to your taste receptors and you are somehow convinced that what you are eating is wholesome and palatable and not at all bad for you, and by the way where's the rest can I have some more? Drew had the fillet burger meal which was served on a just-about-palm-sized bun with some rather flabby lettuce; but then this kind of stuff only has green stuff on it so you are duped into thinking there is something healthy in front of you.

Whatever you do, don't agree to tip both portions of fries onto the tray to 'share'. The resulting altercation is not pleasant. And memo to self: remember your glasses. Squinting is horribly ageing.

Access: *****

Monday, 17 February 2014

Broadway Deli, Broadway

This is a relatively new place on the High Street in Broadway. Its actually a deli shop that's also happens to be a café. Access is limited as there are a couple of steps and the space is quite small - vey little room to manoeuvre.

Interesting twist on the Cotswold tea shop though. This is not a ditzy place, all lace doilies and china teacups, fake flowers on the table, condiments kept on a Welsh dresser. The table was covered in a wipe clean cover with distinctive sixties shutterstock-style flowers. My earl grey tea was served in a Poole pottery twintone tea set, as was Drew's coffee. Slightly incongruous, given that the building is so very olde worlde with low beams, dark wood, crooked shelving and a plethora of dark wood.

All the better for it, though. My earl grey tea was Canton Tea company brand, extremely aromatic, pungent aftertaste. The Eccles cake was smashing, though so flaky I ended up wearing most of it.

Monday, 3 February 2014

The Stag at Redhill, Alcester

This is the sort of place that is on the way to everywhere. The kind of place you drive past quite often and say to each other 'Ooh, Christmas menu now available, we should really try it out'; or, 'its only ten minutes in the car, we should go'; or, 'you know, whatserface always goes there and says it's really nice, we should go'; even, 'you know, we've never been, have we? We should go.'

Three years later, we finally made it. This is a hotel and restaurant that sits in splendid isolation on the crest of a hill, although largely overlooking the car park. The décor is Modern Pub. Semi-rural, but not too rustic, just enough of an evocation of rosy-cheeked, twinkly-eyed country living to make you think of a bucolic idyll; but knowing there is the wi-fi and flushable, vigorously bleached toilets essential to modern living. Access is superb - alongside the steps to the entrance is the widest access ramp I have ever seen, not too steep with plenty of turning room at the top, unlike some of the hairpin bend obstacle courses of some establishments.*

There are three choices of menu. One is the day-to-day two meals for £9.99 offer, always a bargain. Although be careful, the menu presentation makes it seem that, at first glance, there is a starter, main and dessert included in the deal. Squint closely (or put your glasses on) and note that the starter or dessert is £2.50 extra and the list of available main courses includes some dishes that are a mere pound extra. Somewhere in there is ham, egg and chips, fish and chips and that perennial vegetarian favourite the three bean chilli. The second menu is specially prepared gastro-fare made exclusively by the in-house chef. Sadly, I can't remember the specifics but I'm pretty sure that scallops were involved somewhere.

We opted for a choice from the third menu, the standard Old English Inn franchise fare. As it was Sunday and lunchtime we did the only proper thing and ordered one of the '5 Fabulous Sunday Roasts'. I had turkey, Drew had the beef. This is all carvery style, so fresh cooked stuff, served with mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, a largeish Yorkshire pud, with a reasonable dollop of thick gravy. Drew had horseradish sauce - advertised as horseradish mayonnaise - with his beef, which looked like an awfully runny concoction, but I'm told tasted punchy and strong. Not as much meat as I would have liked, but what there was, was tender, with a very mild flavour. The taste of the potatoes was earthy, very homely. The carrots were Chantenay, always sweet flavoured and smooth textured. I refused, on principle, to touch the broccoli.

The machine was broken so no latte; instead a filter coffee, served in a branded Illy cup and saucer. It was accompanied by an amaretto biscotti - surprising, given that Illy coffee is one of the slightly sweeter, more caramelly coffees. Still, it was drinkable and did the job, even if doused in milk by the unsteady hand of my favourite bill-payer.

*And, yes, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, I mean you.

Access: *****

Friday, 17 January 2014

Croome, High Green, Worcestershire

This restaurant is set in the one remaining RAF building from the days when the whole park was RAF Defford. It is somewhat disconcerting to realise that you are eating in what was the old hospital. On the other hand, the building is authentically 1940s, all cream and green, with some period furnishings dotted around the outside containing a smattering of forties paraphernalia. When we went there were remnants of forties style Christmas decorations in the form of crepe paper twists and paper chains.

All this, of course, makes it very chic and retro in these days of austerity and keeping calm and carrying on. Rest assured, where the food is concerned, they have taken the sensible decision that austerity can bugger the sod off. The menu is full of wholesome stuff, rich, thick soups with rough hunks of bread, roast dinners with plenty of juicy meats and gravies and Yorkshire puds, available between midday and 2pm. Since we are currently undergoing our own austerity measures we opted for sandwiches. Mine was cold roast beef with horseradish sauce, Drew had ham and mustard. We shared to avoid unseemly public squabbling over who had what. Good, thick slices quite tender meat. Mind the condiments at this place, though. The horseradish and mustard were short-barking-cough-on-the-first-bite hot. Coffee was fine, we opted for the filter stuff though, disappointingly, not served in forties style Woods Ware utility cups.

The menu fare reflects the venue which is very 'outdoorsy'. The park is huge and rather gorgeous, especially since that nice Mr Brown did for the gardens. Expect to be surrounded by lots of Hunter's wellies, North Face jackets and kids called Barnaby.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Barnaby's Fish and Chip Restaurant, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is not an establishment designed for comfort or leisurely enjoyment of a meal. Think of it as a kind of Ryanair of fish and chip places - it is a lot more expensive than you think and you need to be alert to add ons. Ask for sauces and you are directed to a display of condiment sachets and charged for the privilege. This is a place made to shift large groups of people, very, very quickly. Queue, serve, pay, eat, out. No debit cards are accepted, which I suspect has less to do with the bank charges imposed upon the business and more to do with cash being quicker. Service is perfunctory; staff are not there to wait on you but to clear the tables quickly when you leave.

The whole layout of the place is akin to that of the seaside chippy, all shining tiles and formica, tables and chairs bolted to the floor, with an ice cream franchise and pictures of fish on the walls. There are tables and chairs outside, the cheap aluminium stuff. Access inside and out is impossible. Of course it is - wheelchairs are far too slow. There is a step up into the place and the seating plan means that the aisles are too narrow to negotiate and the fixed furniture means you cannot create a through route by shifting some chairs. Your best bet, if mobility is limited, is to look through the doors to the right. There is a table for four flush against the right hand window where a wheelchair can be placed on the end of the table. The outside area is no good either. The tables and chairs have been crammed onto a raised platform, and, assuming you could negotiate that step, there is simply not enough room to manoeuvre.

It is not the best fish and chips in Stratford, but by no means the worst. The cod is not substantial as the portions tend to be covered with a thick layer of batter. It is quite tasty and with a satisfying gravelly crunch. The chips are very thick cut, not always crispy, but golden brown and fluffy on the inside. Hot, too. And by that I mean not snatch-and-swallow hot but hoohoohoohoohoo hot.

The best option is to eschew the restaurant altogether and opt for the takeaway if you are not put off by the queue - or send Drew. Find a spot on the Bancroft Gardens and eat there. There is not a lot that can beat sitting on a bench together eating too-hot, salty chips with the ever present threat of rain, the drifts of pungent wet leaves, the sting of cold mucky river water in your nostrils, and fat, greedy animals vying for your attention.*

*And that's just the kids. The geese are a pain in the bum, too

Access: *****

Monday, 2 September 2013

Quicklys, Stratford-upon-Avon

This establishment had only been here for five years when I arrived in Stratford, named then as 'Mistress Quicklys'. When it changed hands it was referred to as 'MistressQuicklysaswas'. Now, having returned to a version of the original and calling itself 'Quicklys' I am determined that it should be known as 'MistressQuicklysaswasandnowisagain'. And there is still no apostrophe.

Access is not too bad, the place is fairly large, although when it is full you may need some help in shifting the furniture. This is one of the few places in town that offers full table service. There are some booths to sit in that offer a lovely view of the Bard's Walk arcade, especially the Scholl shop and its chiropody services.

I had a ham and cheese panini which was pleasant enough. One thick slice of ham and some fairly mature cheese, and a small salad consisting of leaves, a quarter of a tomato and a tablespoon of catering tub coleslaw, with a few ready salted crisps. Drew had the tandoori chicken and mushroom. He found it hot, and not too spicy, but with a rather small portion of chicken chunks. He couldn't really taste the mushroom. The latte was good, not very strong but a smooth flavour with a thick but silky foam.

The outside tables here are the only ones on Henley Street that can accommodate all weathers. During the day, if it is absolutely boiling in the sunshine these are the only chairs and tables in the shade. Conversely, in the morning they have the sunshine when all other Henley Street establishments are shrouded in moody gloominess. You are still likely to be encroached upon by the noise and stink of delivery traffic and down here they can park on the opposite pavement and so sometimes hang around for a while longer. Still, don your shades and watch the business of tourism stocking up and preparing for the onslaught of visitors. Or nod off and bang your head on the table.

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