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.