Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Munchies For Lunches, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is a cash-only place, no debit cards, so be warned. It is a small establishment, with no indoor seating except for a couple of aluminium chair and table sets outside. It is very much snacks and sandwiches, no-frills stuff like jacket potatoes, sandwiches and baguettes toasted or otherwise, plenty of take away cold drinks (what my mother would call 'pop'), coffee, crisps and cakes.

As you have probably gathered I am slightly dazzled by this place. You do get an awful lot of bang for your buck. Ask for a large baguette and expect an eye-popping lump of bread generously loaded with filling. Unlike certain other sandwich outlets one could mention, no one here uses a scoop to dole out exactly two small domes of tuna on your Hearty Italian. Or handle two tiny triangles of cheese as if they were flapping a picnic rug in a stiff breeze. I usually have a large baguette, white bread, egg mayo, no-salad-thank-you and have been presented with a doorstep size stonking great sandwich. Smooth and glossy egg mayo, not very chunky, hard, crisp crust on the bread. The only disadvantage is that it is impossible to eat it delicately, so don't even try. It comes wrapped in greaseproof paper so cram that in your collar, open wide and get going. You can always wash your face afterward.

Drew has the jacket potato, the chilli con carne filling being good for a hangover. Very meaty, not particularly spicy filling but fluffy potato in a crispy skin, butter and salt and pepper optional. The tuna mayo and sweetcorn is also a favourite, very creamy, very full of sweetcorn. The mayo-based concoctions are slightly boggy in texture, not the rough coarseness of laboriously hand-chopped artisan fare; but you won't mind that. You can always wash your face afterward.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Your Handy Guide To Eating Out in Stratford-upon-Avon this Christmas

Best Bacon Butty: Box Brownie. Good teeth-tearing bread and rashers of molten, salty bacon.

Best Latte: Boston Tea Party. A thick and slightly nutty concoction. Just like me.

Best Tea: Henley Street Tearooms for variety, Emporium Tea Rooms in the Antiques Centre for sheer class

Best Scrambled Egg on Toast: Emporium Tea Rooms in the Antiques Centre.

Best Fried Breakfast: Henley Street Tearooms serves an enormous plateful of food, a mere fiver, an excellent way of fuelling the shopping spree. Try the champagne breakfast to start the day with Christmas joy and bonhomie. Just make sure to get someone else to carry your oxygen tank.

Best Sunday Roast: The One Elm for tasty gourmet food in gastrochic surroundings

Best Cream Cakes: Vienna Patisserie for sheer eye-boggling proportions

Best Fish and Chips: The Kingfisher. If it is outside chip shop hours, or too cold for takeout, the Garrick does a respectable, if somewhat generic, alternative.

Best Place To Take Your Mum and Dad: Emporium Tea Rooms - pot of tea served in a proper teapot, china cups and saucers and dainty spoons

Best Place To Take Guests: If your visitors are unfamiliar with Stratford then Hathaways for lunches. Better still, advertise your local 'in the know' credentials by taking them to Halls Croft Café, flashing your Trust card and talking knowledgeably about Tudor Knot Bread. Best place for dinner is the Old Thatch - think Shakespeare's Birthplace with Wi-Fi.

Best Defence Against Zombie Attack: Halls Croft café would be a good place to hunker down since the entrances can be closed off. Plenty of furniture for weapons and access to food. Most places in town are not good, particularly if crowded and your movement is limited. In which case, if you find yourself, say, in McDonalds at the point of the outbreak, make sure you're sitting in front of those large smashable windows.

Best Takeout Coffee Cups: Costas, without a doubt. Starbucks red cups will do if you want to advertise your live-in-Stratford-but-am-really-metrosexual-urban-sophisticate credentials. Go for the new modishly Expressionist tree trunk etchings, carried with ironic insouciance, or 'art is dead' round-shouldered weltschmertz. Costas provides a better balance between being a Stratfordian, lamenting the creeping globalization of the town centre, but not above treating the fact with humour. Bright, cheesy designs modelling ever-so-trendy crafting hobby chic.

Best Place to Escape the Cold: As a rule of thumb, if you are cold, then anywhere will do. For sheer ambience though, the White Swan Hotel does an unbeatable number in cosy armchairs, dim and flickering candlelight, rosy-cheeked content and soporific comfort. And there's a rather brilliant chair that is just begging for you and your mates to perform a tipsy rendition of the scene between Hal and Falstaff ('There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat man-')

Best Place to Take the Grandkids/Nieces/Nephews: The Deli Cafe which offers a suitable array of foodstuffs best loved by the young in the form of chips and burgers and its extensive menu will account for the fussiest dietary requirement and the faddiest eaters. As an added bonus you get a great reputation as the grandparent/aunt/uncle who 'takes them out' rather than defaulting to MacDonalds.

Best Place To Hide: If the crowds in town getting to you or your shopping companions are stressing you out get to the Kingfisher in Ely Street and head for the cafe at the back. No one will know where the hell you are. Since its opening is limited to the takeaway hours, as an alternative head for the Emporium Tea Rooms in the Antique Centre just across the road.

Best Place To Cheat On a Diet: If you are dieting, or simply under instruction to Take Care of Yourself, the plethora of Christmas treats available in the town can be agonising. If you cannot get away to any of the places above for an illicit latte with full fat milk and chocolate brownie, find an excuse to get to the Marks and Spencer café. It is a way of hiding in plain sight. By the time someone has cottoned on where you have sneaked off to, you will still have plenty of time to cram the last of your food into your mouth and swallow hurriedly. Be sure to have a bottle of water with you at all times. A quick swig gives you the excuse to blot your lips, at the same time cunningly disposing of any crumbs of evidence.

Best Place To Start Writing The Great British Novel: The larger the establishment, the more likely you are to have the necessary peace and quiet for creative composition. Hathaways is fairly quiet and has a few places to hide away and make a coffee last three hours. If, however, you want to Be Seen, then your best bet is the more recognised coffee shops such as Starbucks or Costas. There will be moments when you can barely hear yourself think over the clacking keyboards of a thousand budding J. K. Rowlings.

Best Place For Fomenting Political Unrest: The Boston Tea Party which has the right hipster credentials and plenty of space for large groups where you can sit in a circle, discuss renegade politics, found new and subversive art movements that will shake the foundations of establishments, not forgetting to outline all this in the publication of a radical journal full of firebrand rhetoric and avant garde artwork. And with a title ending in '-- werke'.

Best Place If You Are Not Really a 'Christmas' Person: If you are one of those unfortunate souls who feels ill at the thought of the turkey and mince pies, get to El Greco. Though they do have the trappings of Christmas, the menu alone will waft you to emerald green oceans, and hot white sands. Stuffed to the gills with souvlaki, kalamari and stifados, washed down with Mythos beer or ouzo, you can wallow in the memories of summer. Which is really, when you think about it, not all that far away.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Countess of Evesham Restaurant Cruiser, Stratford-upon-Avon

The key to this experience is to line up the limitations in your mind - if you are not bothered by them, then dismiss them. Due to the nature of boats there is not much room. Which means crammed tables and a small kitchen; which, in turn, means a restricted menu. So this is not high-end, gourmet fare. The menu always has a choice of two starters and two mains with a dessert. Cheese and biscuits are included on a Saturday, but otherwise are extra, as is the coffee.

If your mobility is limited then as long as you can be helped down steps it is not really a problem and staff obligingly store wheelchairs and walkers for you at the front of the boat. The real tussle comes from getting to your seats. Guests sit back to back and the chairs do not tuck under the tables so if there are people seated behind you it can be very difficult to clamber into your seat. Very difficult indeed; and especially so if you are not exactly sylph-like. And the people occupying the seats behind you will. Not. Move. If caught this way an accidental elbow jab to the neck of the offending recumbent helps. Apologise profusely as you use the leverage of their jolt forward to get comfortable.

During our visit the menu was a choice between mackerel pate and French onion soup and the main was chicken breast or cod. The pate was tasty, smooth and creamy but ultimately unmemorable. Served with a heavily dressed rocket salad and bread from the bread basket. The latter is the gem of the experience. One of the few places to fill a basket generously with thick-cut, doorstep triangles of bread, although stingy on the butter - a mere Dairylea-sized triangle apiece. The chicken breast was of generous proportions if a little dry. The accompanying vegetables were sweetcorn, carrots, courgettes and new potatoes, the latter garnished with rosemary. It is not bad. Considering the limited space in the kitchen it is all piping hot, tasty enough and served quickly. Dessert is served after the 15 minute stop over at Luddington, when the boat is returning to Stratford. In this case it was a chocolate mousse; a very thick, glutinous slice of milk and white chocolate, garnished with a strawberry. This being a Saturday we had the cheese and biscuits. A good mix of crackers, with cheddar, brie, and a blue cheese roulade with grapes and celery.

The food, of course, is not the highlight of the experience. It is being on the river and seeing just how pretty Stratford is with water and grass and swans and moorhens. The Theatre looks better from the water and you get to see the Church at a height that shows what a grand old bunch of bricks it really is. Plus, as you glide past the gardens of the houses on the Tiddington Road, you get to play 'If I Won The Lottery I'd Have That One'.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Slug and Lettuce, Worcester

Access can be difficult as there are some seriously steep stone steps at the entrance. A more access-friendly door is round the back. I did not find this out until, with the assistance of the elder sib, I had staggered and dragged myself and the oxygen up the steps; and then a helpful member of staff mentioned the alternative entrance, which is the fire exit. There is no obvious signage to tell you this.

We both opted for the breakfast, an absolute bargain at £4.95. That included coffee and toast and the breakfast itself was a respectable portion size: fried egg, two bacon, two sausages, baked beans, half a tomato and a portion of mushrooms that were steamed rather than fried or griddled. The sausages were suitably fat and juicy and the bacon crisp. Decent sized wedge of butter for the toast, and real butter too, not margarine. The coffee was a large mug of filter served with a jug of hot milk. It is a pretty strong roast for the latte lover so both milk portions were required to create a white coffee of drinkable taste and texture.

This is another establishment that does not have gourmet or bistro credentials but is plain fare and cheap booze. Not that I am complaining - the food is all half price on a Monday and, based on this experience, £2.48 is a superb bargain. The ambience of the fun pub is slightly at odds with the building, though. This is housed in what was formerly St Nicholas Church and the building still maintains quite a lot of original churchy features such as the pulpit. Which did not disconcert me in the least. As you well know, oh faithful bloggee, food is church.

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

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Pasty Presto, Stratford-upon-Avon

I have always thought of this place as a sort of posh Greggs as it is essentially a purveyor of pasties. It is only ever a stop off point for me as the seating inside is the ubiquitous high stool and table combo and, for someone my size, there is no elegant or graceful means to ascend what are, in fact, higher seats than normal. Outside is better with the standard aluminium chairs and tables; but be warned. That far down Henley Street it is not quite so comfortable to sit outside as it is at the establishments nearer the Birthplace. Its proximity to the Post Office and Lakeland mean that the flow of human traffic on either side of you can be a little intense. Crawling cars and taxi drop-offs can cause the pedestrians to funnel through the space between you and the shop - and, trust me, it can be damned irritating.

Think of it then, as a place that lives up to its name as a quick stop. Everything is freshly baked and the smell is always inviting, one of the few places in town where you can smell the coffee brewing in there from the street. It certainly serves a decent coffee. My latte was robust, very strong with an intense aftertaste. They also do the best croissants in town. Most of the places that offer croissants tend to serve ones that are more like bread in their texture, a dense mixture that is chewy and slightly dry. These are made of proper flaky pastry, very crumbly inside with a crisp, ever so slight crunch on the outside. Unfortunately, the price is a whopping £1.50 for eat in, and an unacceptable £1.10 to take away. That's half the price of your coffee.

This place should also claim the prize for the best conversation I ever overheard. Two elderly ladies seated behind me and the opening banter ran as follows:

'So how's it going with you then, m'duck?'


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

Monday, 1 October 2012

River Cafe, The Old Mill Museum, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire

This is located in the Proper Countryside. You can tell this by the usual methods: you have to get there via a long, winding route; there is a plethora of Hunters wellies and low level, approach and trekking boots; the toilets, though scrupulously clean, are outdoors with no radiators; there are an inordinate amount of country artefacts on display; and, there are people from Cheltenham dressed like Sherpa Tenzing.

This, indeed, a place for the hardier soul in the winter. Access with a wheelchair is damned near impossible. To reach the cafe you have to weave your way via a tortuous route through the shop, where everything is stacked high and crammed in a sort of artful trying-not-to-be-touristy way. Once out of the shop access to the cafe entrance and terrace is up a flight of steep steps. Not good for wheels but fine if your new tablets are having a positive effect with a Drew following close behind in case of emergency. The effort is worth it. The setting is glorious, right next to the mill pond with requisite ducks and swans, view of fields that is so textbook Cotswolds, down to the red telephone box, your eyes actually hurt. Seating is concrete moulded benches and chairs although cushions are available on request.

As it was cold we went inside. As befits its status as Proper Countryside, there is no central heating and the seating is pine benches and chairs. The food, however, makes up for everything. I had an egg mayonnaise sandwich. Not the usual chunky egg-and-mayo combo, but slices of boiled egg drizzled with mayonnaise. I was so dazzled I forgot myself temporarily and said yes to the watercress and forgot to refuse the salad. That was a decent portion of leaves, fragments of pepper, cherry tomato and cucumber heavily drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Drew wanted the roast beef and horseradish sandwich but, as is the wont of the small, independent establishments there was no beef left. He opted for the soup, which was tomato. This was fantastic and I missed out by not having it. Served in a deep crock pot and of a consistency and texture that best deserves the appellation 'broth', this was packed with vegetables and flavour. We identified peas, carrots, butterbeans and there was an aftertaste of aniseed suggesting fennel as the herb of choice. The accompanying bread was, appropriately, chunks of brown granary with two generous triangles of butter, not margarine. For £5.25, this was a meal in itself and, if you are of the rambling/hiking persuasion would be ideal. Coffee was pleasant, thirst-quenching but we may have missed out by not opting for a pot of tea which looked to be served in a large pot with a decent amount of milk.
Whilst in Lower Slaughter, visit the Church of St Mary's if you can. It has everything you could possibly ask of a small village church. Cavernous vaulted ceiling? Check. Imposing stone pillars? Check. Penetrating, bone-chilling cold? Check. Dust motes drizzling in subdued autumn sunlight? Check. Subliminal feelings of guilt? Uneasy reflections on mortality? Check. And check.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Cafe, Stratford Garden Centre, Clifford Chambers

This is the small cafe attached to the Lime Tree Restaurant which serves the ubiquitous light lunch fare - sandwiches, baguettes, paninis, jacket potatoes and cakes. The setting is quite eclectic. The seating area is bordered by a fake box hedge and one wall has a mural of a misty house and garden, all drooping greenery and soft focus. Access is superb, plenty of room to move and even the restaurant has a nifty little ramp.

The food is fine but nothing spectacular. I had a toasted cheese and ham baguette. This was quite a small baguette but did contain thick slices of ham and is the only establishment I have been to that serves a mature cheddar - you can clearly taste and smell the sharp tang of it, even when melted. Side salad is a reasonable portion, but is only heavily drizzled leaves and half a tomato. Drew had the jacket potato with tuna. Not the largest of potatoes - about palm-sized or a tiny bit bigger but generously filled. My latte was served in a cup and saucer clearly modelled on the Villeroy and Boch New Wave design*. The saucer had an artful uptilt and the handle of the mug a curious Mobius twist. The latte was lovely - hot, creamy and plenty of it.

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

* But it isn't actually Villeroy and Boch. Yes, faithful bloggee, I turned over the saucer and looked. And everyone saw me do it. Drew is still in shock from my unspeakable bad manners.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Yew Tree Cafe, Yew Tree Craft Centre, Wootton Wawen

This is a small place hidden away in the Craft Centre, in Wootton Wawen. Which is a nice village but one of those places which always sounds like you are mispronouncing it; like 'Wapping'. Judging by the vaulted ceiling and the plethora of wood, I would guess a converted barn, very rustic interior with wooden tables and chairs and the menu written across several blackboards near the serving counter. It is not an unpleasant place but surprisingly claustrophobic. Access is limited as there is a narrow entrance and doorway.

The menu is sandwiches, salads, paninis - all light lunch stuff, and has recently won some prestigious awards. My latte was excellent. Served in a mug, lava-hot, topped with a thick, viscous foam and ferociously strong. However, the reason for our visit was the Rachel's Cupcake concession. These are gloriously self-indulgent, icky, crumby, sugary and gooey - everything you want a cupcake to be. The real problem is deciding which one to have. First choice was a strawberry milkshake, a vanilla sponge topped with strawberry buttercream and garnished with marshmallows. Second choice, a cookies and cream one was designated 'amazeballs' by Drew. A chocolate sponge with vanilla buttercream, decorated with a tiny Oreo biscuit. It is also filled with miniature broken Oreos. I recommend divvying up the contents beforehand to avoid unseemly public squabbles. In both cases the sponge is satisfyingly dense but still crumby and the buttercream is cloying, with a gritty texture. The only quibble is that the sponge adheres very closely to the case - peel it off as carefully as you can. Otherwise you end up being told off for scraping at the wrapper with your front teeth.

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

Friday, 7 September 2012

Cottage Restaurant and Tea Garden, Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the establishment opposite the Cottage in the Rose Garden and next to a stream where, on one memorable bus tour many years ago a young and carefree future blogger informed the guide that, no, that wasn't what Shakespeare had in mind as the setting for Ophelia's death scene even if a willow does grow aslant that particular brook. Ah! Youthful brio, reckless self-confidence and eternal sunshine dappling the bonny face with visible cheekbones.

Thus also, presumably, was the future Mrs Shakespeare enticed by the charms of a local glover's son. The theme surrounding the cottage is always slanted toward the love affair and a hell of a lot of effort is put into the cottage and its surroundings in creating an atmosphere conducive to the secret tryst, and as a destination for 'courting'. The Tea Gardens are no exception to this, sheltered in what looks like a large gazebo and surrounded by greenery that included a rose garden, bowers with benches  and tall, overhanging trees.

The menu is small - sandwiches, toasties, cakes and pastries. I opted for a ham and cheese toasted baguette. It has to be said, it was nothing exceptional, apart from the accompanying salad which, as Drew pointed out, shows a little more imagination having not only peppers but a lemony rice making it a more substantial side dish than the usual two-leaves-and-half-a-tomato; but this is another place where the surroundings are more important that the menu. Which really does not excuse the ubiquitous B & Q white plastic garden furniture used outside, the really cheap and nasty stuff that you are always seeing people fall off on episodes of You've Been Framed.

It is best to go here in the autumn - the substantial summer crowds have died down and the full-on prettiness is mellowed a little. It is an area conducive to reflection, being quiet and, unless there is a family, the conversations are generally kept to quite a low hum. There is a superb view of the cottage and the passing tour buses. Like Mrs Shakespeare, you can think about how you now live in a nice house in the town; and wish that he were home from work.

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

Knights Fish and Chip Restaurant, Glastonbury

Bear with me, O faithful bloggee, regarding the lateness of this post. I have been up to my chins in medical matters.

This is an odd place. One of its selling points is its longevity which seems appropriate for Glastonbury. Not quite as old as the Abbey, perhaps, but one's credibility in this town does seem to be enhanced by connections with age, if not necessarily antiquity. This might explain why the interior appears to have been unchanged since the 1970s, all pine and formica with bench and booth-style seating at the front. Through a sliding door are bolted metal tables and small wooden chairs. Is it just me or do places that serve unhealthy food lay out their establishments as if the regular clientele were whip-thin?

The menu is comprehensive and, in true Glastonbury style, you can make some rather eclectic choices. Such as opting for sausage and chips followed by apple pie and ice cream with a glass of orange squash. Or smoked eel with a crisp and tasty pinot grigio and coffee ice cream. I opted for the cod and chips, pricey at £6.55, but a generous portion. The chips were thick, glutinous and salty, but not greasy and the cod portion was shaped into a flattened, rounded form coated with a dark, crunchy batter. There is no speciality coffee here, no lattes or cappucinos, so I opted for a bog-standard coke.

Access is reasonable. There is a step down into the place which might be problematic but it is waitress service which is always helpful. This being Glastonbury, every aspect is sustainable and recyclable, including the joke 'wanted' ads on the noticeboard.

Access: *****
Chips: *****

Friday, 31 August 2012

Brethren's Kitchen, Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

This is a perfect place for revelling in history. Properly, I mean. Not the kind of crowd-management-and-gift-shop style of tourism to which Warwickshire is prone; but where you can sit in the chapel, or the Guildhall and revel in the sheer oldness of the place. You can sit for ages and listen, to paraphrase the Welsh bloke, feeling that time passes.

Access is not too bad - mostly the usual problem with historical buildings of narrow doorways and tight corners. You can get in via the garden without visiting the Hospital but that entrance does involve steps. The cafe serves light lunches and teas, sandwiches and cakes. We had spiced ginger cake and lavender cake as we couldn't decide. The former was moist and tasty, dense and rich, not too strong an aftertaste with a gritty, sweet buttercream icing. The lavender cake was a slice of crumby cake, like a Victoria sponge, mottled with lavender seeds. Quite a subtle taste, more experienced in the aroma than in the tastebuds. Both served, noted an approving Drew, with proper cake forks. My latte was strong, not too foamy, piping hot, served in a glass mug on a saucer. Drew went for a black filter coffee which was accompanied by a generous jug of milk.

The tea rooms are not a polished-to-perfection cream tea establishment; but that doesn't matter. For a proper leaf tea and scones experience there are plenty of other places. What matters here is the location. Where else can you be in the same room where there is embroidery by Amy Robsart and the signature of the old rogue himself, Dudley? We sat outside by the colonnade overlooking the courtyard and leaned on a structure intact since the fifteenth-century with a view of the emblematic blue porcupine of Philip Sidney (steady, ladies).

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

Thursday, 30 August 2012

McDonalds, Shires Retail Park, Leamington Spa/Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the food equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey - pulpy, superficial yet unaccountably popular. Having vouchers and suffering from an attack of penury was what brought us here, but I don't avoid the place as a rule, although it certainly provokes strong feelings: Metonymic for insidious capitalism of globalization? Most ironic sponsor of sports events ever? Or the Great Leveller answering a perennial demand for cheap food?

Either way, I don't tend to go and not out of adherence to any particular ideology. It is just that the place is always too loud and too crowded; but access in both branches is fine. The thing that holds you up or makes it difficult to manoeuvre is not the seating arrangement but the number of people and the incessant meandering around looking for somewhere to sit. There is always at least one small child careering out of control and inevitably crashing into you and at least one grandad with an over-laden tray that can't properly see where he is going.

The decor in the Shires store is still bright white, while the Stratford one is greens and browns, presumably to invoke within you thoughts of earthy, organic, wholesome foodstuffs. Which it isn't. Of course it isn't. It never was and it never will be. You don't have to make a film about eating nothing but supersize portions to realize that this stuff will harm you in the long term. I had the cheeseburger, Drew had the Big Mac. The portion sizes are not large - the burger is about the size of the palm of your hand, as is the box containing six chicken McNuggets. The burger itself is served in a flat, doughy roll and the actual meat portion in both our meals was not substantial. The cheese had the consistency of melted plastic. The whole thing is drenched in tomato sauce with two gherkin slices that rendered the top bread portion rather soggy. On the second visit I went for the McNuggets, a portion of six with a nice crunchy coating. These were quite tasy, though titchy. The fries were crisp and super salty.

And I scoffed the lot. Did all the unpleasant terms associated with greed - gorged, rammed, bolted, gobbled, gorged. Partly, I suspect because there's nothing like being told something is unwholesome to make it irresistible. Partly because there is clearly some complicated biochemistry going on with whatever they do to the food that zings your taste receptors or serotonin levels. Yet it doesn't actually taste of anything. The best I can describe it is, it tastes of hungry.

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

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Blue Note Cafe, Glastonbury

Access might be problematic as the doorway is quite narrow with steps and the chairs and tables closely stacked. There isn't much room between tables so the wheelchair-tied should use the courtyard which is accessible via the entrance to the shops in the Glastonbury Experience on Market Place. On the other hand, this is Glastonbury. Good will and amiability pervade the place. You won't have to ask.

This is a vegetarian place with a decent menu of light snacky stuff to main meals - sandwiches, soups, lasagne. They also offer chips and wedges, as well as burgers with a meat substitute to appeal to a junk food clientele. I had the egg mayo sandwich at £4.25. Seriously impressive. Clearly made from scratch, thick doorstop-sliced bread, nice chunky, chopped egg in a thick glutonous mayo. I would more properly refer to it as 'chow'. Drew had optimistically provided me with a knife and fork, hinting at the more ladylike means to eat; but the portion is of such rough-cut quality the only appropriate mode is 'chomp'. The accompaniment was salad leaves with crisps that looked like Doritos. Drew opted for the jacket potato with beetroot (they had run out of coleslaw) which had the same chunky, coarse-chopped appearance. He was disappointed in one way - there were no adornments by way of stuff drizzled or glooped over the potato, no dressing on the salad and none offered. In all, the food was quite basic in the way it was served. The couple on the table next to us were feasting on a substantial repast of soup, lasagne and a beanburger; and they were quite contentedly trawling the tables for various condiments.

Since the walking would have been too much for me, Drew decide to go alone to pay his respects at the Chalice Well.

I, meanwhile, went on a pilgrimage of my own.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

St Edwards Cafe, Stow on the Wold

Oh dear. After only a short time in this establishment you won't really care that it is housed in a building from the 1700s. Time in this tea room clearly froze in the 1970s; and whereas that might sometimes give a place a charm, or unique ambience that is not the case here. In encapsulating the seventies it brings with it all the features you thought - or hoped - were long gone. Ask for a filter coffee and receive a rough-edged, cheap concotion, slightly stewed. Ask for a coke and for £2 you are given a can, and a glass. It has cost you two quid for something you could have picked up in the newsagents less that two minute's shuffle away. Still, Drew liked the coffee cake and my toasted teacake was covered in real butter.

Incidentally, he liked the place and has told me I am being unfair. For him this place is old-fashioned, rather than olde-worlde, an entirely suitable desination for an elderly relative not au fait with the world of the espresso con panna.

Access is impossible as there are steep steps up to the entrance. Not to worry.

Latte: ***** (that's 'zero')
Access: *****

Frankie and Benny's, Shires Retail Park, Leamington Spa

Although access is fine, the seating is set at right angles which makes for a rather small turning circle. Interesting that the seating consists of booths that are rather narrow. The Great Gutsby here could barely fit into the place we were offered; which is odd when you consider the menu - burgers, fries, steaks, pizza, cajun chicken.

We opted for the specials menu which is £10.95 for two courses. I had a latte which was passable, not particularly rich or strong and not very foamy; but thirst-quenching. We had garlic bread as a starter which was served as a round flatbread, sliced in triangles and consumed slice by slice, pizza-style. Certainly tasty. I had the southern-fried chicken breasts on a sesame seed bun with fries. The chicken was fine but not exceptional and the slice of tomato and lettuce was clearly only a token, which is fine. The chips were bog standard, fries-style and not particularly crispy.

The merit of this menu is the desserts. From the specials menu we had the pancakes in a toffee sauce. This consisted of a gut-busting two scoops of vanilla ice cream, two sweet pancakes, chocolate covered honeycomb, toffee crumbs and a sticky toffee fudge sauce. This is the reason why I don't get the narrow booths. It was all the major food groups - calories, sugar, and fat - and, as we all know, that's three of your five a day. This place is well worth a visit for the desserts alone. Even if you do leave with blood type A Rhesus Caramel and type 2 diabetes.

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

Snowshill Arms, Snowshill, Broadway

I thought at first that this place would be the Prancing Pony. I mean Snowshill itself is a ringer for the village of Bree in Lord of the Rings. I thought we might have happened upon a tourist haven with plush sofas and leather tub chairs. Not so. This place is a local. There are clearly concessions to visitors in the enormous sloping garden with outdoor picnic tables that teeter on the edge of the car park. Last refurbished sometime in the '80s, it has patterned carpets, bench and banquette seating with low tables. In addition, the toilets are outside. If the thought of all that down home rural ambience has caused your caramel macchiato to slip from your nerveless fingers then this place might not be for you. Not that you need worry as the food is up to scratch. Ask for a menu at the bar and you get a pad and pen to fill out your order. I had the sausage egg and chips and the portion size was certainly generous - so much so that I could not finish it. Lovely chips, crisp and golden, lightly fried egg; but the sausages. Thick, piping hot, slight crunch at the ends, real juicers. Best deserving of the name 'bangers'. Drew had the gammon with pineapple which he declared delicious. He has complained in the past that gammon can have a plastic texture but certainly not in this case. I had a latte which was perfectly acceptable, rich and foamy.

Access is not bad - there is a ramp; but the doors at the entrance are not the heavy, double swing doors you tend to get at pubs. Here they are more like conservatory doors, rather narrow and you might have a limited turning circle. But Snowshill itself is no terrain for the faint hearted. This is the countryside proper. Even the playground equipment at the bottom of the garden was robust climbing frames more suited to the hardy country physique; but with patience and effort, you can make it from the car park to the pub. Just mind the ramblers. And don't trip over a hobbit.

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

Stratford Kebab House, Stratford-upon-Avon

This does what you expect it to. Serves chips, kebabs, burgers, wedges all very cheap, served in polystyrene boxes, cash only, stays open til 3am at the weekend. It is principally green, formica, wipe clean surfaces with no seating except a park bench. Food is cooked on a griddle while you wait, staring at the display of pre-prepared stuff, half wishing that you had chosen something else.

My default meal is the cheeseburger with chips. White roll, decent-sized burger with a thin, near-transparent slice of processed cheese. Yes, it does cook to a texture like melted plastic but it does not taste that way. The chips are thin-cut, fries style, quite heavily salted, but golden and crispy. A recommended alternative are the wedges. Sizes can vary from quarters to halves of potatoes, soft and fluffy on the inside, coated crisp and crunchy on the outside. There are plenty of add-ons offered including a selection of salad items. When your other half remembers that you never have the salad, greatness is his. That's when you know you picked a good 'un.

This is all the stuff you are not supposed to eat, that causes outrage and sneering at fat people, in a culture where food is an easy scapegoat for moral decline. All the more reason to enjoy this food for the sinful, antisocial indulgence that it is. Don't be polite or modest. Order, then gorge unceasingly. Upset the food fascists - cram and wedge and stuff your face in an unrelenting orgy of gluttony. Do this in public whilst stone cold sober.

Access: *****
Chips: *****

Friday, 27 July 2012

Marlowe's, Stratford-upon-Avon

Named, I assume, for the playwright and not for my cat that possesess his namesake's bad temper and penchant for brawling, this could also benefit from more attention paid to its output. Access, however, is via a staircase with no alternative so unless you have available a Drew willing to shove from behind you will, like the man himself, be forever on the margins.

The decor veers dangerously close to the McTudor with all oak panelling, oak beams, diamond-paned windows and floorboards probably pre-creaked. The bar area has plenty of sofas and chairs and a slightly shabby carpet, plenty of comfort in which you can peruse the menu and choose your fare. We had olives and breads while we tried to decide what to have. The dining area is not large, of a size that can be labelled 'intimate', wooden tables and chairs, same slightly shabby carpet.

The food is amazing. Slightly more sophisticated fare for my pedestrian palate - variations on a bistro theme of steaks and burgers, posh fish and chips, even posher pasta; and gourmet offerings of sea bass, medallions of beef, pork tenderloin and duck. My thai fishcake starter from the specials menu was spicy, melt-in-the-mouth tasty. The salmon with new potatoes and hollandaise sauce was light and  not too cloying. The vegetables to accompany the salmon were piping hot carrots, courgettes and broccoli. Drew had lemon chicken on noodles and I am instructed to convey its beauties. The lemon chicken did not come with a tangy sauce but with a delicate hint of lemon fried into the batter. The noodles were not greasy or oily, best Chinese noodles outside of China (from the man who has been there). 

This place is never busy, not whenever I have been there. Though that is a shame as it offers good food at good prices, on the other hand it means the place is quiet, excellent for having a conversation and guarantees you the attentions of the staff.

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

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Little Harp, Clevedon, Somerset

There is something special about fish and chips by the seaside. Rough sea breezes abrading your face; the assault on your nostrils of salt and wet sand; the almost unbearable heat of the chips through the paper on your lap; soggy, oily fingers;  that first bite when it is all way, way too hot; the giant wedge of batter that separates from the fish that you try to fold into your mouth; scrunching up the empy wrapper with icky fingers in a warm, euphoric haze.

Well, you won't get that here. Don't get me wrong, this is a very acceptable and inexpensive haddock and chips at £8.49, served with peas or mushy peas. I had the latter but they had clearly run out and resorted to mulching the ordinary peas in a blender. Generous portion of fresh fish, thick cut and crispy chips. In good weather the extensive garden would allow you to enjoy this in full view of the ocean but there's a conservatory attached that provides the same view in the warm and the dry. Good access provided. Though there are lower and upper floors there was enough room on the ground floor for wheels, decent turning circles and tables with plenty of space.

But this is not in any way a seaside experience. This is a chain - Old English Inns - with all the expected accoutrements of slightly gourmet offerings, no table service (except when they bring you the food), and the vague feeling that you should get a move on. If you are forced in here because it is too chilly to go elsewhere, entertain yourself by counting how many times you can use the adjective 'generic' in conversation.

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

Monday, 9 July 2012

Deli Cafe, Stratford-upon-Avon

Access can be a problem here. The doorways are quite narrow and if the place is full it can be damned near impossible to get in. Have a look before you enter and see if you can suss out a clear route to a table. If not, it is best not to bother unless the weather is good enough for you to sit outdoors.

This is a place frequented by locals - despite the decor. The walls are practically papered with leaflets and posters advertising what-to-dos and where-to-gos; but the first time I went here the staff knew everyone by their first name and asked a couple of them if they wanted 'the usual'. This second visit there were a couple of families also clearly familiar to the staff. Makes for a nice atmosphere, though. My waitress remembered that I preferred white bread and a latte. The latter was piping hot and creamy, served in a tall glass a la Costas.The fried eggs on toast was perfect, not too greasy, just ever so slightly runny yolk, and crunchy, crusty toast.

The selection is huge. You are handed a menu the size of a novella with colour-coded pages for the differing food group, ie breakfasts, pastries. Like a lot of places in Stratford aiming to attract custom, this place does everything - fish and chips, lasagne, soups, sandwiches and baguettes, desserts. Reasonably priced too. For the budget conscious they also offer a Nescafe or Nescafe with milk for just over a quid if you aren't too fussed about speciality coffee.

That is what it is I like about this place. It is a hair's breadth from being a greasy spoon - big breakfasts and unpretentious coffee - but rises above it. It even smells of fried food; not the noxious, greasy miasma you sometimes get in the less reputable establishments; but that piquant bouquet that promises crispy edges, plump yolks, crumby toast with actual butter and bacon butties with just the right amount of chin-drip. If it's a rotten day outside grab a table by the kitchen - which is not behind closed doors - and envelop yourself in a warm fug of comfort eating.

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

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Apple Barn Restaurant, Evesham Country Park,

I have been putting off writing this entry as I could not think of anything to say when it occured to me that that in itself is a review. This place is fine. There is nothing really wrong with it. Neither does it stand out. Access is no problem, as the place is huge. It postitively screams 'family-friendly' with a sizeable play area, flat screen showing cartoons on a loop and an abundance of high chairs.

It has the kind of décor that reminded Drew of places in the States, all colonial tongue-and-groove panelling and high-backed chairs. The effect is surprisingly cosy, considering how big the place is; on a rotten, rainy day, the atmosphere of the place is full of warmth and conviviality.

Food is served from several counters - one for sandwiches, salads, paninis, another for coffee and cake and there is also a carvery if you are so inclined. It has to be said that the food isn't of the highest standard. I have only ever had paninis or sandwiches and they can be a little hit and miss. The baguettes are rather thin with a very thick, crunchy crust and the fillings can be a little basic. I had tuna, which is not served with sweetcorn or mayonnaise. Not that I am bothered by this, but it does make for a rather basic serving at £5.95. Still, it did the job and there was a reasonable helping of salad (if you like that sort of thing). Drew opted for a jacket potato served with bacon and mushrooms. It is normally served with cheese which he didn't want and the deficit was made up by an extra helping of the mushrooms. He was perfectly satisfied with his lot.

The largest queue was at the cake counter so I may have missed a trick here.

Access: *****

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Food of Love, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is not going to be an unbiased review as this establishment is our nearest neighbour. Besides, when you do visit and a handsome young man offers you a complementary crepe with ice cream and maple syrup it is simply churlish and unneighbourly to refuse.

The food here is varied, the menu large, from all-day breakfasts to paninis, toasted sandwiches, jacket potatoes, pizza and pasta dishes. My ham and cheese sandwich was served with a generous side salad (meh). Drew's particular favourite at this establishment is the Mediterranean chicken which I am instructed to recommend. He has had it both in a baguette and on a jacket potato and sings the praises of both. This is the only place on Henley Street to serve sweet and savoury crepes and this stuffed cloak-bag finds them irresistible.

Access is OK, the entrances at the front and side are a little narrow but manageable. The whole place is a housed in a long, narrow building so if the weather is conducive, wheelchair users are best outside. The chairs here are the most comfortable in town, high-backed and cushioned. The seating arrangement is the best in town for large groups as the smallest table setting is for three, with settings for groups of five or six.

Incidentally, debit cards are accepted but there is a 50p surcharge for any orders below £10 so cash-only if you just want coffee and a cake. There is a generous discount if you are part of the loyalty scheme available to locals.
Anyway, what more could you ask for in a place? I was torn between this - A Midsummer Nut's Dream - or 'To Be or Choc To Be' ...

Morris and Brown, Broadway Tower, Middle Hill, Broadway

This is a smart looking establishment. The association of the Tower with that bastion of the decorative arts, William Morris, gives an added frisson. The ubiquitous watered-down Medievalism that is Morris's modern incarnation suits what looks like a converted barn, all pale wood and high ceilings. It has that scrubbed look that suggests country living, but of the sort that the Cotswolds tourist spots do very well. The organic, rosy-cheeked presentation of country life; not the grubby kind that deals with cow's backsides, slaughtering lambs, floods and farming subsidies.

Access is fine once you have negotiated the gravel footpaths. If you have to park too far from the place you will need some help. Otherwise, it is fine: wide doors, plenty of room at the counter and wide enough aisles for wheels. The cafe serves a limited menu - sandwiches, paninis, cakes -- but looks good. My latte is served in a cup and saucer, decent size for a regular, rich and smooth. The accompanying banoffee cake was delicious. Rich, dense sponge and gritty, cloying buttercream icing. Some nice staff too, friendly but not obsequious.

There is a seating area outdoors but it is enclosed by the cafe and museum. This, at least, spares you from the elements. If you can get up the hillock just beyond it (or have available a willing Drew prepared to shove from behind) you can sit and drink coffee facing a view that is gloriously, life-affirmingly beautiful. Alternatively, drag yourself to the Tower; and if you are fit enough, climb the narrow steps for a really magnificent eyeful of landscape. Although the fee of £4.80 is a bit much.*

*a bit steep actually! Geddit?! Hahahahaha

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

Friday, 22 June 2012

Riverside Cafe, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is certainly an improvement on the old café with its permanently sticky tables. Access is much improved by the open plan design of the coffee shop; the tables and chairs are generously spaced so there is plenty of room to manoeuvre.

There are, however, some bad bits. Along with the Bancroft Gardens there seems to have been an effort to create a Continental bistro-style outdoor ambience, using the newly paved surroundings as a kind of plaza. If that is the case, it does not work. The crowd-management style warehouse built around the playing space of the new theatre means there is an endless background buzzing and booming indoors; and the Bancroft in summer means your coffee is accompanied by a chorus of shrieking families and over excited dogs. Outside overlooking the river the set up is that of tall tables and stools and benches with gigantic parasols, presumably to add to the aforementioned bistro style ambience. Impossible if your movement is limited but co-ordinating oxygen and the sholley is making me clumsy enough without struggling onto a high stool. A shame, as the view toward the church is one of the best in the town.

The food is expensive, the range is limited and is nothing special. The cheapest sandwich was £3.50, there are some Starbucks-style boxed salads and a selection of small cakes: and I mean it that way. Not a small selection of cakes - a selection of small cakes. A new addition to the repertoire is bottled water labelled with the RSC logo, supplied by Tarka, a brand that specialises in custom made labels. Shame that this means the bottled water is from Devon and not a local supplier. My latte was £2.00, quite foamy, not particularly hot, but the Americano apparently staying piping hot throughout and is a good, smooth taste. The muffins were slightly different to the normal bog-standard coffee-house variety. The usual chocolate cake but with melted chocolate in the centre, meaning an ever present risk of being covered in a gloopy mess of crumbs and chocolate for the second half.

Your best bet is to take the lift to the Rooftop Restaurant. When you emerge you will see some chairs and tables where you sit and wait to be led to your table. Very few people have cottoned to the fact that you can just stop off here for a drink -- and it is a smashing spot for a coffee. The latte is acceptable, served in a cup and saucer, perhaps a bit too full of creamy foam. But the pleasure here is from the location - access is easy, its table service and the staff do not hurry you. The view is over the rooftops of Stratford, it is a fine spot for meditation, being quieter, or for having a quiet chat with a good mate about the important issues in life (Global Economic Meltdown, Kirk vs Picard*).

The café itself is not a total loss. If you are alone, it is good for peoplewatching. There is always someone reading one of the plays, someone with a backpack and a lovely couple over from Solihull. Think of it more as a place to Be Seen. Exploit your credentials either as a local or as a knowledgeable Shakespearean. Adopt a suitable posture -- the casually flung crossed legs, the absent scratch at invisible marks on your jeans, the nonchalant sip and faintly distracted moue of the lips over coffee. 'I don't need to visit', you are saying, 'I live this stuff.'

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

* Picard. Obviously.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Hathaway Tea Rooms, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the only place in the town's High Street that can offer a tourist a sort-of Elizabethany, cod-historical environment. Old Stratfordians like myself remember the place in its original incarnation - slightly shabby, worn, threadbare carpets and scarred tables. This has changed to a smart, appealing interior, a counter at the entrance displaying cakes and pastries, with a refurbished tea room at the back. Access is a problem, though. If you are in a wheelchair, forget it. There are two steep steps up to the tea rooms at the back and the larger dining area is upstairs. I managed two steps with the sholley and oxygen but I did have Drew on hand in case of difficulties; and even if you can get in, the space is rather small downstairs.

Still, the place was clean, any historical features left uncluttered, unmarked by overly helpful signage to explain them as is the wont of these places sometimes. There are newspapers to read and a sofa as well as comfy high-backed chairs at the tables. I thought the lunch menu was rather limited. As if they had consolidated all their outstanding dishes into one manageable menu. The original fried-egg-on-toast appeal of the old replaced with the paninis and jacket potatoes of the new. There were only four options for a toasted panini so I settled for a jacket potato this time round. For £6.50 I got quite a large potato; not particularly fluffy on the inside. In fact, some of the interior required scything out with the knife. There were, at most about three tablespoons of beans, possibly less and only a sprinkling of cheddar on the top. The accompaniments were a small pot of coleslaw and a pinch of salad leaves - but who is bothered about that? In fairness, Drew sang the praises of his Mediterranean vegetable and goat's cheese filled potato. The filling certainly looked generous and he ate the lot. I was not allowed to have a taste.

The coffee is Lavazza, my latte a very acceptable £2.10 for a decent-sized regular. Nice and foamy, quite strong, left a frothy moustache. Drew always orders a black filter coffee and these invariably come with separate milk that he does not use. In this case, the accompanying milk portion was actually quite generous, a far cry from the not-quite-a-thimbleful that is usually issued.

If you are in town on your own then I would say do not bother. This is more for if you have visitors and you want to escape from the relentless array of bog-standard High Street shops and remind them that you live somewhere quite historical and touristy. They might get a vicarious thrill from the fact that it is Hathaways-if-not-actually-the-cottage and you get to make dreadful puns about how the place 'hath a way' with coffee.

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

Friday, 15 June 2012

Kingfisher, Stratford-upon-Avon

You have reached the truth, oh faithful bloggee, regarding my unsophisticated palate. I am, at heart a chips-with-everything woman served with a slightly too-hot, mildly stewed tea. This is the place which serves that very gastronomic delight. This restaurant is behind the chip shop, accessed via a long corridor to the left. Or possibly a wormhole given the sense of having gone back in time. Formica tables and red plastic chairs bolted to the floor, woodchip swirly wallpaper and cheap prints of local views.

The menu is basic but unashamedly so - cod and chips, sausage and chips, egg and chips, burger and chips, chips and chips. The chips are fine, but not the best ever.  Dark, fluffy but not too crispy. The fish is better. The cod is silky smooth with a flaky texture and the batter has an edge that gives a good gravelly crunch. Fried eggs are served with a pleasant non-gelatinous, solid white and a milky yellow, slightly runny yolk. Just about perfect if you are a yolk-dunker. I have not had the coffee here, but the tea is fine, made up in a pot beforehand and not the teabag-in-a-cup concoction you might expect. Ask for bread and butter and get the perfect side dish of thin generic white slices, liberally spread with margarine.

Just a head's up. This is a small, narrow place. There is very little room at the best of times and, when full, not crowded with a sympathetic clientele. Any kind of wheels, be they walker, buggy or sholley are viewed as obstructive and anyone struggling to get through the door is likely to meet with shrill requests to close the door. Despite your valiant attempts to hurry, if someone has to shuffle past you as you try to be seated and out of the way, expect a chorus of tutting. And no matter how helpful your nephew to expedite matters, resign yourself to the thick, martyred sighing from the table immediately behind you.

Access: *****
Chips: *****

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Starbucks, Leamington Shopping Park, Leamington Spa

There was less to distract me here than in the Stratford branch so I was able to concentrate more on the food and drink. This store is in the Sainsbury's so an open front means access is not a problem. My tuna and cheese melt was nothing spectacular, but tasty and filling. Drew had the falafel mezze bistro box but was disappointed. As he pointed out once you have wrestled everythng out of the packaging there is surprisingly little: two small pitta breads, a couple of tablespoonsful of bulgar wheat salad and three tiny chickpea falafels. Latte was nice, though and served in a mug. Of all the global coffee franchises at least this one serves it in a weighty, stocky mug which makes you feel like you are getting a real thirst-slaker and a cosy winter warmer. The decaf has an interesting taste and I have found this in any branch I have visited: there's a smoky aftertaste to it, sometimes bordering on ashy.

One aspect of the Starbucks experience does give me pause, though. I am not too sure about this business of the barista asking for your name and then yelling it across the store when your coffee is ready. Perhaps I am a bit too English for that. Given the tendency of this particular business to default on their taxes, follow the advice of Have I Got News For You and give your name as British Tax Payer.

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

Monday, 11 June 2012

Nandos, Touchwood Centre, Solihull

This is my first visit to a Nandos and in this particular outlet, I felt as though I had been smacked in the face by the 90s. A McMansion- style giant red chandelier, a waiter who was the living spit of Mark Owen, and world-eco-friendly block art on the walls. Drew clearly picked up on this subconsciously as he twice mentioned that someone or something was 'twisting his melon' (man).

The place was very crowded and we had to wait for a table but the backlog was dealt with efficiently and fairly. Everyone dealt with in strict order and led to a clean table. Chairs were damned uncomfortable though. Admittedly old 'fat and scant of breath' here has difficulty with small furnishings anyway, but these metallic back-crunchers were worse than usual. If you can, get one of the booths; they looked a little more comfortable.

Food was a disappointment. Admittedly, none of us were particularly adventurous, opting for the 'plain' over the spicier options. Drew declared his chicken to be 'spectacular', but my chicken-in-a-bun was a little 'meh'. The chips were fries-style, dull, not at all crispy, having the suspicious texture of the oven-cooked variety. I freely accept I may have missed the point here. You are constantly battened by references to the in-house speciality, the Peri-peri marinade. There is an enormous range of sauces and condiments that are offered as complementary to your meal, so perhaps the whole point of the blandness is to encourage you to douse everything in the special in-house sauces; and then dash to your nearest supermarket to purchase some for home. I did notice quite a number of people with several jars and bottles on the tables, liberally slopping out the contents on their meals.

This is another store, like Greggs, patronised and mocked by comedians to display their proletariat credentials, or, indeed, anyone middle class trying to be 'with it'. While it is certainly true that the place only really serves up jazzed up versions of chicken and chips, it was damned cheap and filling, they offer that rare thing - the free drinks refill - and the service was efficient and friendly. This was the most crowded place on the food concourse at Touchwood, so they must be getting something right. If you go here on your own, enjoy the lively atmosphere. Stick Pulp's 'Common People' on the iPod and sing along. You never know; they might all join in.

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

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Emporium Tea Rooms, Antiques Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The lovely thing about this place is that they do not have to fake the vintage look. All those clocks and plates and postcards? They are the real deal! Access through the side door is easiest rather than on the front facing the street. It can be a little awkward to negotiate around the tables, as there is not that much room.

Best scrambled eggs on toast in town. Two slices of granary bread, dripping with real butter. Three egg portion, creamy, not over-seasoned. And you get to eat it on a proper plate, heavy duty crockery with a floral or blue willow-style pattern; and a proper blunt-tipped knife and long-tined fork, hefty in the hand. My latte was lovely. Locals will remember when every tea shop in town served their beverages in a set of Sadler teapots illustrated with the Bard's most noted plays. This is the only place I have seen so far that still uses them, serving up tea in elegant, dainty little cups and saucers. So get flexing that pinky finger.

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

Monday, 4 June 2012

Greggs, Maybird Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon

I would have been useless in last year's summer riots. I would have been distracted from looting trainers and televisions if the route of the riot took me past a Greggs. While all around me was chaos and flames, I and my nasal cannula would be pressed against the window longing for a steak pasty.

This place comes in for a lot of stick as being palatable only to the working classes. the hoi polloi, the Great Unwashed, the chavs. If that means lower prices then all bloody credit to them. My latte was Fairtrade, an eye-bogglingly low £1.45, creamy and strong and the regular size was a hefty mugful. For £1.85 you can have coffee and a croissant which would fill you up just as effectively as a spinach and feta wrap. If you won't go because you have a 'thing' about Greggs, shame on you.

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

Carrot Cake Cafe, Millets Farm Shop, Evesham Country Park

I admit I initially misjudged this place. The decor aims at advertising the place's organic and wholesome credentials but done on the cheap - tongue and groove wood panelling, canvases showing food in close up, plastic chairs and tables with the formica in the fake wood style. All tastefully painted pale green and cream.

However, it does not matter. Good, hot Fairtrade latte, regular size a respectable £2.15. Drew had a jacket potato with coronation chicken which came served with a generous salad and was fairly priced at £4.95, the same price for all jacket potatoes no matter what filling. I had an egg mayo roll, which tasted great and had a kind of rough-cut feel that suggested a hand-made filling rather than the catering tub. For a decent £2.95 it came with coleslaw and a chunky salad garnish. I ignored the latter as a matter of course, but by all means, eat it yourself.

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

Bell Inn, Stow-on-the-Wold

When someone asks you what you thought of this place I guarantee you will shrug your shoulders a little, purse your lips and say 'S' alright'. That is exactly what it is. It is alright. The decor is nothing special, just pub-on-the-side-of-the-road ambience, pool table, giant flat screen TV, rough-hewn furniture, bit of bunting chucked up for the Jubilee.

After a very long wait, I was told that I could not have a latte as 'the milk would not foam'. I accepted the offer of a filter coffee in its place which tasted, frankly, appalling. Neither was Drew (who paid) offered a refund of the difference in price between latte and filter coffee. Everything was of a pub grub, everything-with-chips choice. After an even longer, almost interminable wait the food finally arrived. Credit where it is due the portion size was generous, my ham, egg and chips hot and well-cooked, if not terribly cheap at over eight quid. Both slices of ham at least half a centimetre thick, two large fried eggs, chips in the french-fries style and lots of them. Drew had the scampi and chips at £9.25, equally generous, served with peas; but the long wait for everything? Meh. It's alright.

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

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Box Brownie, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is at the top of Henley Street, next to the Magic Shop. Small, but indeed perfectly formed. My latte was a brand called Monmouth - fresh ground beans elegantly served in cup and saucer. Tastes like phone sex with Alan Rickman. Rich and dark with a caramel aftertaste.

The bacon roll was just right for this gluttonous gourmet. If I was writing for a tabloid newspaper I'd call it a 'thick rasher salty smasher'. Molten filling sizzling on my tongue, cool bread sticking to my lips. Love the illicit thrill of licking my crumby mouth and running my tongue along fat-gleaned teeth.

The open front of the shop makes access easy although the interior is claustrophobic. Sit outdoors if you possibly can. The layout and position of the furnishings make it one of the best people-watching spots in town. All the activity makes it a good spot for the writer in you. Especially if you're feeling - as I was at this point - slightly brooding and melancholy. I started drafting the first chapter of the Great British Novel; but somehow my pen dragged itself into an angsty meditation on lost love.

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

One Elm, Stratford-upon-Avon

This has always been a very chi-chi destination and the current décor endorses this. Last time I went there were tub chairs and tall stools and the colour scheme was shades of brown. Now there is a vintage feel - Windsor chairs, artfully mismatched crockery, slightly scarred tables and peeling paint on the pillars. I was slightly puzzled by the framed front covers of Private Eye. I am assuming the intent is to appeal to the blue collar, Guardian-reading clientele. Makes a change from Shakespeare, I suppose.

Still, my latte was nice. Served in a tall glass with the sugar presented in an old Tate & Lyle tin, in my case the red treacle tin. There is also a small dish of about 10-15 Smarties to accompany. For me, preferable to nuts or olives and a pleasant change from the biscotti. Or the ubiquitous individually wrapped malted biscuit that is passed off as one. Drew liked the wine, fairly chilled. Bottled still water was great - teeth-tinglingly cold which, it has to be said, is not always the case.

This is another expensive place, though. Nearly a tenner for large wine and a latte. Go on the special offer nights if you are on a budget. The chips are lovely - thick cut and crispy, mahogany on the outside, fluffy and white on the inside. Cod has a rich, quite dark batter but a melt in the mouth quality. All served with a generous quantity of garden peas and tartar sauce.

Access was fine but the front door is rather heavy so you will need assistance. It could be troublesome when crowded so stick to the tables near the entrance. It is also very 'echoey' due to the plethora of wood so it can be a very loud place even if no one is really raising their voice. Ideal for: taking someone you want to impress, your boss or your colleagues. Judging by the clientele there tonight it is - and has always been - the destination of the high-end office worker.

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

Monday, 21 May 2012

Ikea, Coventry

I admit it. I could not resist reading stuff out in a cod-Swedish chef accent. Immature, I know. For the layout of this restaurant think city centre department stores circa 1986/7. Start at one end, collect tray, slowly shuffle past cakes, sandwiches and cold drinks, inching forward ever hungrier, waiting for someone in front of you to make a decision, bounce up and down on heels every time you come to a standstill, until you finally get to the hot food. Then, as in the good old days, the till is by the drinks so you end up having walked in a U-shape. This is the kind of establishment where you have to know how it all works and then you can navigate food lines, drinks queues and seating with ease, as did many of the younger kids. In fact, if you get a bit stuck, I would advise asking a nearby eight year old how you do something. There aren't really any staff about and from what I could see of the baffled number at the drinks machines it was the kids sorting out the adults.

Choice is limited and my usual lack of imagination meant that I had the fish and chips. Drew went native and had the meatballs, served with a slop of jam and gravy with a side of chips. My meal was nothing special, unspectacular fish and not very warm chips. The meatballs tasted exactly like a tin of Campbells meatballs - I kid you not. I had a strawberry tart which was perfectly edible although a little bit runny. We did not have coffee as I was slightly baffled by the system. It looks as though you pick the appropriate sized receptacle, pay at the till then shuffle forward to machines where you serve yourself.

This was a Saturday afternoon so it was about as crowded as it ever gets. Access is not too bad when getting the food, but the insistence on laying out tables and chairs in long refectory-style lines makes it difficult. People naturally gravitate toward the ends of these tables and if you are carrying oxygen - or in a wheelchair - you can't get to the middle section. Kudos though in that they supply a means of comfortably carrying more than one tray, a little trolley with wheels. Good for families, but also useful if you are a little unsteady on your feet.

Watch the pricing. Fish and chips is advertised at a reasonable £3.95 but on scrutinising the bill we had been charged £4.95. Drew opted for the large meatballs (insert own joke here) at £4.75 but was charged £5.75. Perhaps a charge is incurred when you say 'yes' to, say, gravy, jam, or tartare sauce.

I would say, only go here if you are intending to mooch around the store. It is not worth a special journey to have a meal. I should, however, point out that though the place was busy, chaotic and noisy most people seemed to be having a good time.

Access: *****
Chips: *****

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

White Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon

This had been refurbished and rejuvenated from a tired olde worlde 80s decor to a rather chic and smart gastro bistro. New bar, new reception entrance and plenty of tables and chairs outside including lining the side passageway which was previously rather a redundant space. The tables and chairs overlooking Rother Street and Wood Street are a sun trap. Admittedly the view is of traffic and shops but it is an excellent spot for people watching. This is a great spot, surprisingly quiet and perfect for a hot day and there is always a slight breeze. Access is easier through the Reception area at the side; if you just want the bar go in through the Rother Street entrance as there is a step down from the bar itself to the seating area. Alternatively, do what I do and dispatch handsome young men to get your refreshments. Indoors there are some magnificent chairs, big, sturdy and throne-like (think RSC History Plays circa 1960s). Some of them are crying out for re-enactments of scenes at the Boar's Head. Bagsy the largest chair by the front window for my showstopping Hal.

The chips are amazing. Crisp to a satisfying crunch, golden and piping hot. Chips of this calibre deserve unrestrained blissful guzzling. The sandwiches were good, served on a wooden platter for a pleasingly artisan feel. Accompanying salad was just leaves but a reasonable side of crisps.  There was no problem when one of us wanted to add cheese to the gammon sandwich - no extra charge was added - and the tomatoes on the gammon were considered by one of us to be generous.  Similarly, when of our number wanted a toasted teacake and the waitress told us they had run out - apparently they have their busiest time between about 10am and 12 when they serve mainly coffees and teacakes - she then went out of her way to try to provide an alternative.

The coffee, it has to be said, is not good. I have been on several occasions to have just a coffee and the standard has been low every time. Served in a glass with a saucer, it is a thin, rather sorry brew. Sometimes overly strong with no foam, sometimes served as half-coffee, half-foam. Service style also varies. It sometimes comes on a tray with a bowl of chunky sugar lumps and milk, sometimes on a tray with just sugar, sometimes no tray, sometimes a biscuit, sometimes two, sometimes none.

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

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Vigour Cafe [formerly McKechnie's], Stratford-upon-Avon

This is an independent coffee shop on Rother Street, one of the very few independent establishments in the town. Access is fine, especially in warmer weather where the front opens out, but you might need help when the doors are closed to keep out the cold.

We opted for the breakfast baps. I had sausage and egg, Drew went for sausage and bacon. This was certainly a good choice. This was a breakfast bap of magnificent proportions. A proper burger-sized roll with two sausages; the egg was fried in a ring so the texture of the white was dense and smooth, with a glossy just-about-runny-but-not-enough-to-make-a-puddle yolk. The sausages were compact, full of earthy rough-cut flavour. 

The meal comes accompanied with a salad - well, with three tiny rocket leaves which met with my approval. It shows a sense of humour; a witty riposte to the endless attempts by many places to serve breakfast rolls with a damp salad, in a vain attempt to make you think you are getting more for your money. Or to make you think that you have chosen a healthy option.

Coffee is not hot but I gather that is deliberate. Not a problem as it makes the coffee more sluggable, if you are after something to quench your thirst rather than savour. My latte was tasty and smooth, served in a mug and saucer. It's a brand called Formula 6, from the James' Gourmet Coffee Company, and has quite a dense texture and foam with a slightly nutty aftertaste. This makes it the perfect accompaniment for Drew's option, the seasonal pumpkin latte, adding a kind of nutmeggy aroma to the drink. This was a regular sized mug which was huge - would be designated a 'large' in a franchise establishment and priced accordingly.

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

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Asda Living Cafe, Stratford-upon-Avon

The sort of place you would not be surprised to hear the staff routinely call all customers 'm'luv'. This is the destination for elderly women bent over jacket potatoes and harassed teen moms and their hyperactive offspring.  It is invariably busy, quite a lot of clattering, chinking noises counterpointed by a pinging microwave, shouting children and the creak of aging bones. Food choice is basic - sandwiches, jacket potatoes all having a cheese or tomato base. Good cake choices both the muffin variety and sponge-filled. Coffee is a bargain, a mere £1.60 for an good-sized small Americano.

I have been here several times as I cannot complete a round trip of the store without a break and it is perfect for just that. More comfy chairs and sofas than most places. A good vantage point for people watching is the window but the view over the store is just as good.

Access is excellent. There is a lift to the first floor and the staff are sensitive to mobility problems. Whether in wheelchair or struggling with sholley I have always been offered assistance virtually before I realized I might need it. And always been called 'm'luv'.

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

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Old Thatch Tavern, Stratford-upon-Avon

The food is amazing. My haddock and chips was referred to as 'whale' and chips by the waiter and it is certainly a humungous whack of haddock. Crunchy, dark batter, chips were lovely but nothing special. Drew had the roast of the day and cleared his plate. Generous on the beef and the added novelty of gravy served in a separate boat. This is the first place I have been where staff know about the food they serve - Drew's roast of the day was deemed a 'good choice'; and I overheard staff recommending dishes to other customers which sounded like they had eaten the food themselves rather than simply offering a rote recitation of the 'specials'.

As the name suggests this is full on olde worlde, low-beams-and-real-ale decor with a small area for drinking and a separate space for 'diners only'. So, no access is not good. If you are in a wheelchair, forget it. I managed with the oxygen-tank-and-sholley combo but felt self-conscious and 'in the way' not by the the waiting staff I hasten to add; but if you are asked to move tables, as we were, it is a thorough bloody nuisance trying to manipulate the equipment in such a confined space.

This is not a summer place. Having been in autumn/winter it has a better ambience for the colder, darker months and is a fab stop off for the Mop. This is ideally where you bring guests on their first visit to Stratford to get a first hand Tudorish Elizabethany sort-of-Shakespearean ambience. Think Birthplace with wi-fi and chips.

Access: *****
Chips: *****

Monday, 30 April 2012

BHS Restaurant, Stratford-upon-Avon

You know what I am going to write, don't you? The very name has already conjured an image in your mind of plain fare and plastic chairs. All sorts of phrases are running through your mind like, 'family friendly', 'fish and chips', even 'slightly soggy lasagne'. You are right of course. This is a huge space on the second floor of the store, designed to cater for large numbers of hungry folk in search of cheap grub. It is a sort of 'does what it says on the tin' place - but I do not mean that as a criticism.  I was with my sisters and this is a perfect venue for that kind of catch-up occasion as a prelude to shopping. The sibs and I had breakfast, the six-item option which comes with toast. You choose from a bewildering array of beans, tomatoes, hash browns, fried bread, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms - and fried eggs are done on request. There is a £1.99 option where you don't choose the constituents of your meal and have to have a hot drink but that is a bargain. Toast is served with butter, all the food is what my Mum would call 'clean' - no gritty bits or brown crunchy edges - and the turnover is such that it is always piping hot.

Coffees come from a machine so the latte quality suffered - more of a slightly frothy milky coffee; but this is not a venue for the sophisticated coffee drinker. You get a decent mugful and besides, there are a multitude of soft drink alternatives.

Access is excellent, particularly around the food counter and I have always found staff helpful. It can get a little awkward manoeuvring around the tables and chairs as it gets busy.

Being such a large place the atmosphere is better conducive toward hectic, arm waving gossiping than say, a coffee shop. Even if you are on your own there are huge windows with a brilliant view down on the Bancroft Gardens. Sit with your back to the restaurant for some great people watching.

Useful venue for the oncoming zombie apocalypse, too. Good view of the oncoming hordes and plenty of furniture to fight off any incursions.

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

Strada, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is a pricey place, but has a two course menu for a mere £10.50 which was the option we chose. Our starter was mozzarella and basil on ciabatta.Tasty, although Drew thought it could have done with heating up a llittle. The portion was rather meagre, just one slice; but the main course was generous enough. We went for a chargrilled chicken with roast potatoes and vegetables. It did have a specific name  - pollo something - but I cannot remember. The chicken was delicious, smoky but melt-in-the-mouth and Drew waxed lyrical about the mushrooms. Wine is expensive by the way - £6.50 for a large glass. Stick to the complementary bottle of water for a super cheap night out.

Access is fine but the bench-like seating can be a bit off-putting.

9.5.12 A 30% voucher tempted us to return. Our starter was rosemary garlic bread which was delicious. Aromatic rosemary on a salty, slightly crunchy bread. Divvy up the portions beforehand though to avoid beneath-the-breath hissed conversations as to who has the last slice. For the main this time around Drew had Spaghetti Ragu (posh spag bol) which he enjoyed. I had the Rigatoni Speck which is a posh version of pasta with ham and a cheese sauce. It was tasty and filling with enough sauce to coat the pasta pieces. Personally I prefer a thicker, gloopier sauce with every pasta piece drenched in cheesy goo; but then, I'm quite common.

Access: *****

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Garden Restaurant, Wyevale Garden Centre, Black Hill, Stratford-upon-Avon

Quite a find, this. Access is excellent, plenty of space. Nice big windows where you can sit and discuss how this year the garden will be 'vintage boho'.  Knowing full well it will remain the same arid scrub-and-twigs look it has every season.

Food is excellent. It might even better deserve the appellation 'grub'. A basic menu - Fish and chips, jacket potatoes and sandwiches, cakes; but all made from local stuff and you can tell. My ham and cheese toastie was full of thick slices of ham and a generous wodge of cheese. Drew's jacket potato was overfilled with a creamy tuna mayo filling. Both had tiny salad accompaniments, consisting of a few leaves and a cherry tomato, but you won't care. Latte was mild and creamy, Fairtrade coffee, served in a good sized thirst quenching mugful. Join the Garden Club. Not because you can collect points but because it means you are eligible for some excellent meal deals. At one point earlier this year it was a mere fiver for two breakfasts if you had the Garden Club card. Ask for one as you order your food and on most occasions you are eligible for some sort of discount there and then.

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

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Debenhams Cafe, Stratford-upon-Avon

A small place, situated in a windowless room on the top floor. Not good on a sunny afternoon but perfect to shut out wind and rain. One of the few places to have a good selection of comfy seats and armchairs rather than a token couple of sofas. Coffee is a sustainable, organic brand. My latte was very rich, quite strong. Sandwich was disappointing. Not made on the premises and you can tell. Though the egg and cress filling was generous and tasty, for the best part of four quid I expect something more than limp white bread, clearly from a presliced, prepacked loaf.

In honour of the bard's birthday I had a cupcake liberally coated in appropriately bright partyshade-lemon with edible glitter and silently toasted the big man's big day. Tasty cake, decent tooth-coating swash of icing.

Access was fine with a lift that takes you directly to the cafe. Such a small place can get very crowded very quickly which can make it awkward for getting out.

29.6.12 Just a head's up - on a warm day this place is stiflingly hot. If there was air con I couldn't feel it.

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

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Caffe Nero, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is the nearest global coffee brand to Shakespeare's Birthplace; meaning that most of the other eateries on Henley Street might sell familiar brands like Lavazza but that does not form their raison d'etre. Consequently it can sometimes get full of younger tourists buying takeout and drinking in store. Not to say it is an objectionable practice but if you are concerned about access the clutter of people at the front of the store can be problematic. There are two steps to the back of the place that are not easily negotiable if you cannot get a table near the counter.

Staff are very helpful, though. And knowledgeable. Know all the regulars and their requests, know the music that is playing. My friend Kelley is right about one particular chair by the stairs. You are directly under the speakers so the music is loud in that spot. Check your mood and the music before you sit there. It is not a good spot if you are are feeling gloomy about the prospect of continued medication. Vivaldi's violin concerto in C, followed by Mozart's violin sonata in E Minor is not exactly conducive to a Patience on a monument mood.

But the staff are good. They even what the funny red bits were in my tuna melt panini. The latter was so-so; but then, we all know deep down that no matter what the advertised claims as to the artisan credentials of the food, if it is pre-packaged, it is not going to zing your taste buds. The coffee is too strong for me but I have a one shot and that is perfect. Creamy foam on the latte and one of the few places not to serve it in a tall glass. The cupcakes deserve a mention. They have the merit of being perfectly proportioned. Cake and icing are usually served in a ratio of CAKE: icing. In this case it is more cake: ICING. A small cake too; so at no point do you have to bite into plain cake without sweet sweet topping. It also serves the best cheesecake ever. The white and dark chocolate truffle cheesecake is truly magnificent. Marbled chocolate on a dense biscuit base that leaves very few crumbs and makes a satisfying clack when cut with a fork. A smooth, cloying topping with a firm texture. It is worth taking time over this. So dense is the topping that is retains its shape in your mouth. Resist the urge to plunge your teeth into it. Instead, hold it on your tongue for a while then compress it against the roof of your mouth. The cloying magnificence of it all might induce a fatal infarction; but what a way to go.

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

Monday, 16 April 2012

Bella Italia, Stratford-upon-Avon

I am not a fan of pasta as a rule and have to be coaxed into consuming it by the promise of creamy white sauces and puddles of garlic butter; both of which this place happily provides. The starter was mini garlic bastioni with a garlic butter dip. Only here would one experience the joys of dipping bread into a bowl of melted garlicky fat, utterly guilt-free. The only danger is the scrum for the bread. The best advice is to divvy it up beforehand in a civilized sharing-platter way and avoid unseemly scrambles and a butter-spattered face.

My main was the spaghetti carbonara which was just how I like it. Spaghetti positively drowned in creamy sauce and cubes of salty ham. Drew's dish I can't remember but I know it had chunks of red pepper in it and chicken and he loved it.

We discovered a dessert offer that serves coffee and a smaller portion of certain puds at a reasonable £3.95. I had the latte, served in a glass, small amount of foam and piping hot. Drew opted for black filter coffee and chocolate torte. A generous cupful and the dearest, dinkiest slice of torte you have ever seen. If you are the sort that insists on dieting, it is perfect. Good for budgeting too; but I am too fond of pudding to make such unnecessary compromises. I can't comment on the flavour as I was not allowed to taste it.

Access is a little tight. There's a steep step up into the place but the tables near the window, if free, are roomy.

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

The Cake Shop, Oxford

Once again the 'dreaming spires' of Oxford uplift the soul with unsurpassed beauty.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Costas, Stratford-upon-Avon/Maybird Centre

I can't really give an unbiased account of the coffee in this place as it is my favourite coffee shop. Latte is best suited to my tastes, creamy but not cloying; cup full to the top without losing half of the drink to a frothy head. The decaf version has a slight toffee aftertaste.

Sadly, access in this branch in town is difficult due to the nature of the building. There are a couple of wide-spaced steps to the entrance which do not make it easy. The corridor from the front door to the counter is reasonably clear, but the tables and chairs are so closely packed that access with a sholley is awkward and with a wheelchair impossible, unless the table nearest to the door is free. It is, in fact, impossible to be comfortable anywhere due to the furnishings being so densely packed. Manoeuvering the sholley and the tank is only possible if I have a companion. Wheelchair users would be best seated outdoors assuming the weather is conducive and the traffic around the island is calm.

For full access, the branch at the Maybird is best. The furniture is still crammed but there are more options for you if you are hampered by wheels of any sort. This store is used much more by families so on certain days you may find your lunch accompanied by the squall of infants. The heavy usage is taking its toll on the furnishings too, with some of the bigger chairs and cushions looking stained. Staff keep the store clean but overlords of Costa should note that in attempting to conquer the Universe by coffee shop cleanliness is next to Godliness.

Food-wise, the British cheese and ham toasted sandwich is nice enough. Of all the toasties in all of the places I have been, the cheese in this is the most likely to melt into a runny gloop when heated, so beware of puddles on your plate. Or lap. I also prefer the lack of garnish. No sneaked-in green bits. No trying to give it a chic Continental feel by introducing a teensy bit of sundried tomato. And no attempt to bulk it out with an accompanying salad and charging for the privilege.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Garrick, Stratford-upon-Avon

One of the few places you can go to in town where you get the 'olde worlde' feel without being kippered by smoking log fires. My haddock and chips was a generous portion of piping hot, crispy chips, crunchy batter, melt in your mouth fish, proper mushy peas. Drew had the chicken burger which was super spicy but he was disappointed that it was encased in a bog-standard bun. Latte was good, one of the few places to serve it with a small biscotti.

Just a heads up. This is the third time in a row we have been to the Garrick in the early evening and they have run out of something. The roast dinners there are to die for, but the last couple of times we went they had none left. This time we asked for a sharing platter of garlic and herb bread and were told that they did not have any.

Access can be difficult given the nature of the building. The entrance corridor is uneven and narrow so it is easier to let people pass rather than struggle on. The arrangement of chairs and tables can make the process of finding a table and getting seated a little awkward and if the place is crowded downright bloody difficult. There are suitable tables and chairs, such as where we were today where access is no problem, so I would advise going when the place is less busy. Staff go out of their way to help you, even, as they once did with us, clearing a route through to the only available table.

Update 15.4.12
The haddock and chips was as tasty as ever, full marks for consistency. Drew tried the gammon with pineapple this time and liked it a lot; a decent portion and well-cooked. In the interests of research we both had dessert. Mine was the banoffee tart, a tasty take on the usual pie. Crumbly pastry, sweet and sticky toffee sauce, generous on the banana. Drew's sticky toffee cheesecake was equally enjoyable according to him. I was not allowed to taste it.