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: *****