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: *****