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: *****