Monday, 11 November 2013

Barnaby's Fish and Chip Restaurant, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is not an establishment designed for comfort or leisurely enjoyment of a meal. Think of it as a kind of Ryanair of fish and chip places - it is a lot more expensive than you think and you need to be alert to add ons. Ask for sauces and you are directed to a display of condiment sachets and charged for the privilege. This is a place made to shift large groups of people, very, very quickly. Queue, serve, pay, eat, out. No debit cards are accepted, which I suspect has less to do with the bank charges imposed upon the business and more to do with cash being quicker. Service is perfunctory; staff are not there to wait on you but to clear the tables quickly when you leave.

The whole layout of the place is akin to that of the seaside chippy, all shining tiles and formica, tables and chairs bolted to the floor, with an ice cream franchise and pictures of fish on the walls. There are tables and chairs outside, the cheap aluminium stuff. Access inside and out is impossible. Of course it is - wheelchairs are far too slow. There is a step up into the place and the seating plan means that the aisles are too narrow to negotiate and the fixed furniture means you cannot create a through route by shifting some chairs. Your best bet, if mobility is limited, is to look through the doors to the right. There is a table for four flush against the right hand window where a wheelchair can be placed on the end of the table. The outside area is no good either. The tables and chairs have been crammed onto a raised platform, and, assuming you could negotiate that step, there is simply not enough room to manoeuvre.

It is not the best fish and chips in Stratford, but by no means the worst. The cod is not substantial as the portions tend to be covered with a thick layer of batter. It is quite tasty and with a satisfying gravelly crunch. The chips are very thick cut, not always crispy, but golden brown and fluffy on the inside. Hot, too. And by that I mean not snatch-and-swallow hot but hoohoohoohoohoo hot.

The best option is to eschew the restaurant altogether and opt for the takeaway if you are not put off by the queue - or send Drew. Find a spot on the Bancroft Gardens and eat there. There is not a lot that can beat sitting on a bench together eating too-hot, salty chips with the ever present threat of rain, the drifts of pungent wet leaves, the sting of cold mucky river water in your nostrils, and fat, greedy animals vying for your attention.*

*And that's just the kids. The geese are a pain in the bum, too

Access: *****

Monday, 2 September 2013

Quicklys, Stratford-upon-Avon

This establishment had only been here for five years when I arrived in Stratford, named then as 'Mistress Quicklys'. When it changed hands it was referred to as 'MistressQuicklysaswas'. Now, having returned to a version of the original and calling itself 'Quicklys' I am determined that it should be known as 'MistressQuicklysaswasandnowisagain'. And there is still no apostrophe.

Access is not too bad, the place is fairly large, although when it is full you may need some help in shifting the furniture. This is one of the few places in town that offers full table service. There are some booths to sit in that offer a lovely view of the Bard's Walk arcade, especially the Scholl shop and its chiropody services.

I had a ham and cheese panini which was pleasant enough. One thick slice of ham and some fairly mature cheese, and a small salad consisting of leaves, a quarter of a tomato and a tablespoon of catering tub coleslaw, with a few ready salted crisps. Drew had the tandoori chicken and mushroom. He found it hot, and not too spicy, but with a rather small portion of chicken chunks. He couldn't really taste the mushroom. The latte was good, not very strong but a smooth flavour with a thick but silky foam.

The outside tables here are the only ones on Henley Street that can accommodate all weathers. During the day, if it is absolutely boiling in the sunshine these are the only chairs and tables in the shade. Conversely, in the morning they have the sunshine when all other Henley Street establishments are shrouded in moody gloominess. You are still likely to be encroached upon by the noise and stink of delivery traffic and down here they can park on the opposite pavement and so sometimes hang around for a while longer. Still, don your shades and watch the business of tourism stocking up and preparing for the onslaught of visitors. Or nod off and bang your head on the table.

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

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Coffee Mill Restaurant, Lynmouth, Devon

This place is very deceptive. Drew picked it out because it had an almost Greek ambience, an outdoor covered space with trellises and plants. From a distance it certainly looks that way. However, on closer inspection, the area is quite shabby. I am not a fan of cheap outdoor furniture, but I do understand the necessity in terms of saving money. However, this was really cheap stuff, all quite unloved.
Still, the menu is reasonably priced and, it has to be said, when you are in the holiday mood, you tend to be more forgiving. I had a tuna mayo sandwich and Drew ordered himself a Ploughman's Platter. I was slightly taken aback to be served - a sandwich. I mean, just two slices of generic pre-sliced white loaf and a catering tub spread of tuna mayo. No salad, no crisps. Now I realize, oh faithful bloggee, that I make a fuss about accompanying salads of varying qualities and sometimes - dare I say it - I don't even eat the green stuff, having a pathological aversion to anything designated healthy. But, nothing? At all? For £3.95?

Drew fared better with his Ploughman's Lunch. Two slices of ham, mini baguette with accompanying pack of Lakeland butter, five slices of cucumber, three thin slices of apple, giant pickled onion, a pot of apple chutney, a pot of tiny gherkins and five or six grapes called a 'garnish'. I sound sarcastic, I know. Drew thought it was all good stuff, very filling with a good mix of textures - crunchy onion, sweet smooth chutney, oily gherkins and sharp apples.

If you are hungry and tired, having dragged your oxygen tank from the beach, it will do.

The Bell Inn, Watchet, Somerset

The real reason for going to this place is, of course, the legend that Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed there and began to write 'The Ancient Mariner'. Having said that, Watchet is so titchy and all the eating establishments close relatively early, there is a limited choice. This place boasts of being a 16th century coaching inn - so access is impossible. The place is set slightly below ground level with narrow corridors and doorways. You will need a Drew to help with steering and shift some furniture to clear a path for you.

The layout is bog-standard pub with uneven chairs and scratched, wobbly tables. The food is quite standard pub fare too, but cheap and filling. I had the ham, egg and chips. A tasty, dark ham with two well-cooked fried eggs, golden and thick yolks. Drew had the chilli con carne which arrived on a long plate laid out in thirds with chilli, rice and Doritos. The chilli was thick, plenty of meat very, very hot and spicy. I sampled Exmoor Fox ale - lovely, almost chewable malt texture, the tiniest hint of citrus fizz on the tongue, smooth roll down a thirsty throat.

I liked this place simply because I like Watchet. Tell you what, though. I am never going to a wedding there.

White Horse Inn, Washford, Somerset

This is the kind of place that should exist in Stratford, or even just around it. Somewhere rural, not touristy but not ignoring the fact that tourists exist; and local. You know what I mean: local. You sit in the dining area with your wine and sea bass and you can hear them at the bar sitting in vests and jogging bottoms, with a laugh that sounds like 'RAhahaha RAhahahar!'.

This place is textbook rural, but not because it has been set up that way. It really is that rural - low, squatting building, frontage obscured by all sorts of climbing plants, low ceilings, uneven steps, beams. The interior smelt beery, and was slightly dark and festooned with agricultural paraphernalia, in this case related to sheep, so shears, combs and funny looking hinged things with chains*. Carpets were red and gold, seating banquette style, or what appeared to be someone's kitchen chairs. Access was, of course, limited, if not impossible. There is a garden across the lane which has plenty of access, but food and drinks are not brought to the outside tables.

The food was superb. The menu was gastropub quality. We had the sea bass fishcakes with lime and ginger. Crunchy coating with a smooth texture and tangy aftertaste, subtle aroma of fish, small kick of lime in the back of the throat. Chips were fairly chunky, golden brown, piping hot, not especially crunchy but a generous portion. Large salad consisting of leaves, cubes of red and yellow peppers, about three quarters of a tomato and two or three red onion rings. All of which was heavily drizzled with a pungent French dressing. Drew had the scampi on our second visit which had the chips and salad and an eye-popping sixteen nuggets of scampi. Let's be honest - you don't get that around here.

Something else that does not happen around here - two generous meals, large glass of wine and water was a mere £21.

* I don't know. I'm not a farmer.

Cotswold Lavender Tearoom, Broadway

This is a small but elegant little place set in acres of lavender fields. The cafĂ© is fresh feeling, all scrubbed pine, large bright windows, pink cheeked young staff. The menu is a small one, but really perfectly formed. It is the kind of place that you would expect to sell home made stuff and it does. Lavender scones? Check. Teacakes with butter and optional jam? Check. Victoria sponge? Check. Selection of fruit and herbal teas? Check and check.

Access is OK - the car park and driveway are very gravelly, so expect a bumpy journey but as the shop and tearooms are in a converted barn there is enough room. There are also seats outside if the weather is conducive.

Sadly, though, the place is in danger of being wrecked. I don't mean physically. We have been visiting here fairly regularly, and it is has been busy but never overrun. Now it looks as though the coach firms have discovered it. On our last visit, the place was a sea of tourists. I suppose that makes me a snob, wanting to keep this particular discovery to myself; but the whole ambience of the place is ruined by Cotswolds tourism doing what it does best. That is, taking a small, attractive environment and unloading hordes people into it so that the charm of the place is stomped beneath pounding feet. Yes, the lavender farm is beautiful - the views are stunning, the smell intoxicating. It has an odd, very faint buttery vanilla scent, not at all what you would expect. But all you could see were people's hot, shiny faces and all you could smell was traffic fumes. The tearoom itself was swamped. Four cyclists were stretched out on chairs, regaling each other with their effing adventures, what an effing brilliant time they were having raising all this effing money. People clogged the queue wanting to know if there were any 'dinners', there were no seats inside or out - and it was just bloody awful.

Still, we Shakespeareans are hardy souls, able to weather the direst adversity. If you visit here and find coaches and crowds, I recommend foregoing the whimsy that is usually one's default position in times of crisis. Instead, adopt a stern demeanour and if anyone squeezes past you in a plastic cagoule and oversized, over-laced trainers, smack 'em one.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Snowshill Manor Restaurant, Snowshill

Wow! This place is great! Situated to the right of the ticket office and shop it is a stand alone house with a large terrace overlooking some quite magnificent views. And sheep.

Access was a little tricky as there were quite a few steps to negotiate. There is a path that you can use but it might be better to use the buggy services on offer. This is excellent. I mean, I was almost tempted to forget the house altogether in favour of being ferried about on a golf buggy free of charge.

The restaurant does not open until 11am and we were there quite early so they didn't seem to be quite ready. The only hot food was soup but they clearly offer more as the specials board was advertising the ubiquitous National Trust quiche-with-everything lunches. Or rather - and this is a new trend I have noticed - offering 'flan'. Drew had the soup and I had an egg mayo sandwich. The soup was a thick concoction, plenty of vegetables and served with a generous portion of granary bread. My sandwich was not bad, filling very creamy, fairly thick slice of bread. We shared a slice of gluten-free banana bread, a generous portion, iced with slices of banana on top. The cake was lovely - very dense in texture, not many crumbs, the sign of a good moist cake. My latte was mild, served in a cup and saucer although not so much foamy as frothed with bubbles. The surface looked as though someone had blown in the coffee through a straw.

Sit on the terrace if you can. Specifically, on the table to your right at the very end of the terrace. There you get the best view. This is a good place to take visitors - if you are members of the NT then it won't cost anything. Views like these are designed to be bragged about. Especially if you are entertaining visitors for whom the Cotswolds is new. Stand at the edge, point vaguely in the direction of a road in the distance and say 'There's a place over there called Loose Chippings. We should drive through it on the way back'.

Access: without buggy ***** with buggy *****
Latte: *****

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Milton's Head, Chalfont St Giles

I admit to a little bit of disappointment. I had secretly hoped that a place called the 'Milton's Head', just up the road from the A-lister poet Milton's Cottage would be a little more -- well, historical. Dark scratched tables, rough-hewn benches, pewter tankards on hooks, maybe a shady arborous roof, glozing tempters tuning their proems, angels eating copious quantities and then wafting it out in a sort of non-corporeal, radiant, transubstantial way.

Instead what you get is a rather smart and chic Italian restaurant, a Greene King franchise. Which, while pleasant enough, is generic. I had an egg mayo sandwich, encouraged by the fact that it is served with chips and a salad. The sandwich was good, two slices of white bread cut into four triangles with a chunky, rough-chopped filling. The salad was heavily dressed with rocket leaves, a cherry tomato and some shreds of carrot and pepper. The chips were a disappointment. Fairly thin-cut, generic looking with no real fluffiness and only a serving of seven. Still, I plucked, I ate. Drew had a jacket potato with a bacon, mushroom and onion filling which looked much the better option. Glistening shards of bacon and plump looking pieces of mushroom, all draped with chargrilled shreds of onion. The latte was a disappointment - served in a cup and saucer but no foam to speak of, and the milk formed a skin on the surface quite quickly.

Access is problematic - there are a couple of steps to the entrance. I left Drew, still paying, and managed the dark descent; but there appeared to be no alternative entrance for wheelchair users. Beware, too - there is no car park and you are not allowed to park on the forecourt of the building either. The nearest car park is up the steep slope for Milton's Cottage, so, if possible, get someone to drop you off first.

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

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Orangery Restaurant, Charlecote Park, nr Wellesbourne

On a hot day, be warned. This establishment is, indeed, set in the Orangery with a lovely glass roof but gets greenhouse hot. Though there is plenty of seating indoors, it is best to try for the outdoors. There is a mix of ubiquitous National Trust wooden bench-and-tables, but also a few of the ironwork style chairs and tables dotted about. Uncomfortable though. Stick with the benches, even if it is an awful faff dragging your legs over the seat in the least ladylike way possible.

Access is fine although a long queue means that you can get quite boxed in. You tend to find that you are blocking the path of people to-ing and fro-ing and this can get frustrating. You are quite frequently bumped into, although, in fairness, people are very nice and very apologetic. If possible, just leave someone in the queue to get the food and aim for a table against a wall or outdoors, to avoid collisions.

We opted for jacket potatoes, Drew having chilli and I had tuna mayo. Both were served in a deep bowl with a small, undressed salad of lettuces leaves, a quarter slice of tomato and two slivers of red pepper. The tuna mayo was tasty. Very smooth, very, very creamy and blended well with the potato which didn't have a very crispy skin but was flaky and earthy in taste. Drew found the chilli to be very hot with a nice 'kick'. Neither potato, incidentally, had butter. This is a worrying trend we have noticed - no jacket potato served to us these days has butter. Presumably you are meant to get some from the same place that supplies knives, forks, sugar and sauces but we have found that this isn't always the case. Is this a money-saving ruse on the part of all eateries? Or nanny-state style intervention for the sake of our health? The rocky road cake we had to follow was good. Cloying and extra sweet. It was too hot for coffee so we opted for that National Trust favourite, the Fentimans brand Dandelion and Burdock and Victorian lemonade. The latter was is good on a hot day but so lemony as to suck your features inward, particularly if you try to down it quickly. Sipping it is best, if you don't want to spend the next five minutes gurning and going 'Yiiick'. The Dandelion and Burdock has a fragrant, herby flavour, much milder and more thirst-quenching. And it makes you come over all olde worlde.

The house and grounds are well worth exploring, by the way. I am not entirely sure that Shakespeare poached deer from the estate, or even whether he gave those animals any thought. For my part, on coming across those stick legs, goggle eyes and slack jaws, I wouldn't blame him for wanting to give them a slap.*

Access: *****

*No, of course, I wouldn't ACTUALLY do it. And anyway, William would have done what we would, in the event he fancied a bit of venison. He'd have gone to the shop.

McDonalds, Stadium MK, Milton Keynes

Yes, oh faithful bloggee, Travels With My Oxygen got its geek on and hotfooted it down to Milton Keynes for the occasion that is Collectormania.

There were plenty of snack bars within the shabby, rather dank stadium but even this iron constitution has its limits. Fond though we are around here of our Warwickshire truckle cheeses and artisan breads, not one of our little group is averse to the chips-with-everything mentality; but, really, there are limits. Flaccid looking bacon butties and grey coffee were not at all tempting. Also offputting was the presence in these places of a number of pale young men who, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, should really be getting out in the fresh air more often - maybe meeting some young ladies.

Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a small McDonalds. It was crowded, with a huge long queue. But the staff are clearly used to dealing with these numbers, so everything moved rather rapidly. Given the size of the venue there is very little seating indoors or out. There are, however, solid concrete cubes dotted around the perimeter of the stadium that provide a form of seating. The subsequent loss of feeling from the waist down is a minor inconvenience, and the leg tremor disappears after a while. I had the chicken McNuggets and fries and it was exactly what I expected. Hot, salty, hunger-quenching. It does the job too, providing just enough energy for the second round of merchandise-hunting. Which I didn't do, as I was too tired. Went to the M & S outside Gate 1 instead, and had a sandwich.

The Stables, Hughenden Manor, High Wycombe

There comes a time in the life of every Warwickshire lass when the sight of another thatched roof is too much to bear. When one more guide speaking in a cod-rural accent will just make you want to kick his teeth in. What you long for is red bricks and overstuffed rooms with heavy, dark curtains. Actual soft furnishings instead of yet another stupid hardwood 'settle'.

Such environments bring a different class of tea room, too. Gone are the Tudorbethan possets and thick crusty breads. More like 'all our foods are sourced from within the grounds' stuff, so jams and honeys and fruit pies. This establishment is in the old stables of Disraeli's manor with a big picnic area in the central courtyard. Lots of big, refectory-style wooden benches and tables.
Access was absolutely fine, although the ground is a little bit uneven.

This is a National Trust place so the food was good quality. A limited menu of sandwiches and light lunches with the specials which, as with all National Trust eateries, invariably involves quiche. We had the bread and butter pudding and the shortbread. The former was lovely. Smooth, not too chewy with a sugary crunch on the top. There didn't seem to be much dried fruit or raisins; but then I was hungry and the thing barely saw daylight. The shortbread was heavily sugared, broke with a satisfying snap, lots of crumbs that stick to your lips and end up mulched around your gums. Coffee was a latte but a little disappointing. Served in a small white mug, it was more of a 'flat white' with no foam or creaminess to speak of, and a tendency for the milk to start forming a skin, if you left it too long between sips. Still, for all that it was drinkable.

Friday, 5 April 2013

El Greco, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is, mercifully, not a kebabs-and-plate-smashing establishment where copious amounts of runny tzatziki are ladled on every dish. It is bright, fairly spacious with reasonable access, but furnished in a modern chrome, glass and black palette. Ambient Greek music but, thankfully, not Zorba on a loop. This is ideal if you are tiring of the endless cream-tea-and cupcake Cotswold offering, and feel ill at the prospect of another round of organic sausages and artisan cheeses. Also good to bring friends as a way of advertising your foodie credentials without worrying whether you actually like chipotle goat's cheese burgers, or what skordalia actually is. The menu is helpfully annotated for ignoramuses like me, to save the embarrassment of pretending you know what you are ordering. With the added bonus of comically mispronouncing Spanacopita as 'Spamopticka' and giggling hysterically at 'stifado'.

All four of us opted for the Prix Fixe menu, a bargain at £18.50 for three courses. I had the kalamari which came served with a generous portion of rocket salad. I might have been disappointed with the portion only being three rings; but since we had also ordered the tri-kala with pitta bread there was, in the end, almost too much food. The tri-kala itself was made up of taramasalata, hummus and tzatziki. Three dense, firm helpings - by which I mean not the usual claggy sludge sometimes offered. The kalamari were amazing. Breaded and deep fried with a satisfying crunch and a good chewy texture, though by no means rubbery. Drew opted for the dolmades, three portions of vine leaves stuffed with beef and rice. They tasted fresh and sharp, and were served warm with a tomato sauce. My main course was salmon with a dill and lemon sauce. The portions are certainly generous. The salmon was rose pink, glistening with a smooth, melt-in-the-mouth texture, slightly crisp at the edges. The vegetables were roasted, just ever-so-slightly chargrilled with loose skin and a soft crunch. The accompanying new potatoes were baked rather than boiled. Drew had the chicken souvlaki, of which he was full of praise - tender chicken, chargrilled on the outside but not so much as to overpower the marinade. We sampled someone else's chips, served thick cut and golden with an oregano coating, lending them some pungency, although that quickly dissipates. Good, spicy flavour, though, without the prickle on your tongue left by chilli-coated chips.  I opted for ice cream for dessert; Drew had the combination called 'Sugar and Spice' a trio of baklava, kataifi and honeycomb ice cream. All the requirements for a dessert - hot and cold, sticky and sweet, cloying on the palate and enough sugar to induce a fatal MI. Lovely.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Golden Bee (J. D. Wetherspoons), Stratford-upon-Avon

This establishment is one of the few that smells like a pub should. It smells of beer; a distinctive hopsy, yeasty fragrance with undertones of wet carpet. You would not be at all surprised if the smoking area was indoors and you could breathe the familiar yellow-blue haze of old lingering on the ceiling. Access is fine but there are three steps to the main part and the tables and chairs are packed tightly. This is a place that attracts large groups so it is not easy to manoeuvre yourself through table loads of families and students. Plus, the ordering procedure is no good if your mobility is limited. Find a table, choose food, memorize table number, go to bar and order. Getting back and forth to your table can be a bloody obstacle course.

With the real ale options on the menu, this place attracts the serious, the dedicated beer drinker, the sort that sup, rather than drink; but the cheaper options also attract the cash-strapped, so you may find your meal accompanied by a cacophony of schlurrrps. Then again, this is not a high class establishment and does not pretend to be. I am not normally a safe person to be with in these environments. A menu that consists almost entirely of food that is griddled or fried is likely to make me pass out from a sheer overload of joy - burgers, bacon, onion rings, batter, honey glazes, melts, grills, sauces, add a topping, choose from three, for an extra pound you can have this. And then they have the gall to recommend dishes for sharing. Sharing?! Over my dead, cholesterol-pounded body. As I was in respectable company, I opted for the ham, egg and chips from the 'two meals for £8.29' menu. Adopting the cunning ruse of helping my companion seek out vegetarian options, I perused the menu fully, marvelling that they add calorie values to all the choices. Oooh, what to go for? A portion of chips at 796 calories or a superfood wholewheat pasta dish, nut-free with soya at 770 calories? Ooooh, what to do?

The food itself is absolutely fine. The chips were thick-cut, golden and lightly crispy, with a fluffy hot centre. I had two slices of thick cut, slightly fatty Wiltshire ham, chosen presumably because it has a generic flavour, mild and slightly moist. The eggs were clean, bright firm whites, runny with orangey yolks, a good advert for the free range credentials. A decent-sized portion too. My friend went for the jacket potato with the five bean chilli, the only vegetarian option on the special menu. The chilli was filling, but not that spicy, chunky in texture with plenty of chew. The potato was a good size, slightly larger than the palm of your hand and the accompanying salad consisted of at least three cherry tomatoes, chunks rather than slices of cucumber and bright, fresh-looking leaves. The lattes were excellent. The brand is Lavazza so quality is pretty much guaranteed. Served in a mug with an optional chocolate topping, strong flavour with a thick creamy foam.

This place also does a decent fish and chips. The portion is a decent size - a large fresh-battered piece of cod. Slightly too soft batter over the fish, but the end pieces have a good, gravelly crunch. Thick cut chips, clean, lightish-yellow colour. Very fluffy in texture, but not crispy. I opted for the mushy peas, rather than garden ones, being in the mood for a glut of calories. They were very runny, and forming a slight puddle on the plate, but the taste was the distinctive salty and sweet associated with the classic mushy pea.

Like all meals here, anyone looking for a healthy meal should check the menu or website for the food credentials. This meal has whopping amounts of calories, salt, sat fat and carbs. Which, of course, is why I wanted it.

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

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Warwick Arts Centre Cafe, Warwick University

A university cafe is a destination fraught with nostalgia for me. Once these places were the hotbed of conflict, resounding with the clash of intellectual steel, a contention from which your rapacious blogger would emerge, replete both academically and gastronomically. Nothing left now but a heap of battle scarred bones and ignominious burial.

Access is fine, there is ample room for wheels or any kind of mobility problem. I went for an egg and cress sandwich which was certainly tasty. Despite it being pre-packaged the bread was thick-sliced and the filling a decent heft of chunky, fresh egg. Not too much cress either, which is usually a means of filling out a sandwich on the cheap. I deliberately avoided the 'egg salad' choice and was pleased to note that, in this egg-and-cress, there was no resort to sneaked-in slices of lettuce to make you think you are eating a little bit extra than you paid for. I was slightly disconcerted by the branding. The print design declares itself to be 'urban eat' and the lettering the kind of cod-street style so enamoured of organizations keen to show that they are 'down' with the kids. It is an interesting way of advertising that your ingredients are fresh and organic to describe them as 'real'; and an equally interesting slant to describe such artisan fare as, not 'hand made' but 'hand crafted'.

Drew opted for the soup, a thick lentil and bacon broth. Possibly a little overfilled with lentils, with portions of actual bacon somewhat minimal. I am instructed to convey that Drew did not mind in the least, as the bacon was 'just for taste'. The portion was generous and there was an choice of accompaniment. Drew rejected the traditional bread roll in favour of a pretzel. This was an oversized plait of bread, very dense in texture, almost smooth on the upper palate. Not the most absorbent composition, very much a dunk-and-drip arrangement; if you prefer to soak-and-sup, opt for the bread roll.

The coffee is, frankly, magnificent. I had a large latte which came adorned with a kind of starburst etched in chocolate on the foam, a variation on the traditional rosette. The flavour was rich, but not too strong with a smooth, if somewhat thin texture and chocolate aftertaste. Served in a large mug with saucer it was an excellent antidote for tiredness and made me feel fit to carry on - bloody but (unlike Richard) unbowed.

Here also, faithful bloggee, is the reason why there are so few photographs of food on this site. It rarely lasts long enough.
Access: *****
Latte: *****

Monday, 14 January 2013

The Lygon Arms, Broadway

This is another example of what the Cotswolds do so well, which is indulge the fancy that in a previous life you were an aristocrat. Or, at the very least, a well-kept person who did not eke out an unseemly, grubby existence in a mill or up a chimney. The layout of this establishment means that you can choose to eat and drink and play the aristo in vaguely historical surroundings. The ground floor is divided up into several lounges; in one, you can sit on a mock-Tudor 'settle' in front of a log fire. In some, you can enjoy what might be called a Victwardian ambience: high-backed chairs, small round tea tables and the obligatory log fire. For the modernists amongst you, slip off your gilet and sit on a tub chair or an enormous, squashy sofa. The fact that this place is table (or chair. Or sofa) service adds to that Downton Abbey feel. No queueing at a bar for food and drink, just find a place to sit and someone comes to you.

The selection of food is not cheap and neither are the drinks - £2.75 for a coffee is a lot. We had sandwiches and a bowl of chips (I'm a pleb). The sandwich was ham and mustard and was reasonably generous. Three slices of bloomer bread, two slices of fairly thick ham. Not a lot of mustard but what was there was strong - there was a pleasant burn on the tongue as an aftertaste. The accompanying salad was leaves and the crisps were Walkers ready salted. Chips were fine, but nothing special. Thick cut, but inconsistent in colour and crunch. There were some golden, with crisp edges, but mixed with some anaemic-looking examples, with a less fluffy, light texture. Rather too many of them had dark spots and eyes. Although that at least defines them as fresh or pre-cut chips from potatoes rather than oven-ready style, it was a let down. Latte was good though. Served in a very large glass, Costa-style with a shortbread biscuit, hot with a decent foam. Drew's Americano was also served in a decent sized cup, with saucer and he was offered a very generous portion of milk. The largest milk accompaniment I have yet seen, in fact. Drew had a second cup as the first was so good, and I pinched his biscuit because I am a common little oik.

Friday, 4 January 2013

The Mary Arden Inn, Wilmcote, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is not full of the Tudorbethan olde-worlde ambience you might expect. It has a slightly shambolic, dusty atmosphere that does not reflect the artful nonchalance of the current vintage or retro trends. It just looks shabby. The furnishings in the bar area were a mismatch - tub chairs, tall backed padded dining chairs, large dining tables. The chairs were comfortable enough, but the table we chose was very sticky.

We were only there for a light lunch and were tempted by the sandwiches menu although the choice was limited. I opted for tuna mayonnaise. There being no bloomer loaves left I chose white bread. Drew went for a ham salad baguette. It was not that good. We waited over twenty minutes and it was not honestly worth the wait or the £5.50 cost per sandwich, even from menus that boast the use of local produce. For an establishment that announces itself as a brasserie, I expected a leaning toward the more artisan content and presentation. Instead, I was presented with two slices of white sliced bread with the slightly doughy, stretchy feel of the pre-packaged loaf, cut into four triangles with a tuna mayo that had the suspiciously creamy, too-smooth texture of the catering tub. The salad accompaniment was leaves, shards of red and yellow peppers and just over a quarter of a tomato*, heavily drizzled in balsamic vinegar. To be fair, Drew quite enjoyed his salad, but we both agreed that the accompanying Doritos were the size and shape of the generic, supermarket own brand. His ham salad baguette contained a thick slice of ham, plain tasting and not too salty with a few squashed rocket leaves.

In fairness, we may have missed a trick. There were four people on a table next to us having the soup, which seemed to be served in huge shallow bowls and they seemed to be enjoying it. Access is limited, but not impossible. There is a single step into most rooms, but the staff were friendly enough, so assistance would be forthcoming.

* Yes, faithful blogee, I'm afraid I measured it.

Access: *****

Cafe Creme, Broad Street, Oxford

Sadly, age and an oxygen tank means that I have lost the ability to drape myself casually over furniture as is the wont of all students. No matter how high the stool or unyielding the banquette, as an undergraduate, I could always find the slouching position; and be both comfortable and look unbelievably cool. For this establishment such an ability would be a distinct advantage. It is a long narrow place with steep steps down to the dining area and additional steps down to the toilet. Seating is the aforementioned high chairs/stools or a long, buttock-numbing low bench with small, round tables. Access with any accompanying wheels is impossible.

On the other hand if your budget is as meagre as a student's, then this is perfect. Two toasted baguettes and two drinks was just over a tenner. The offerings are standard lunch fare - paninis, baguettes, wraps, flapjacks, cakes. There are some amazing options for vegetarians. I had a ham and cheese toastie (because I lack imagination) which was just right. One full slice of ham per half portion and cheese completely melted, molten-hot, glutinous in texture, slightly chargrilled baguette but loud, satisfying crunch and tear. No salad accompaniment: in fact, no accompaniment at all, not even a few crisps. I thought that was delightful. Drew had the artichoke, sundried tomato, halloumi and pesto on his baguette and declared it 'beautiful'. It tasted like a pasta dish, felt summery and indulgent. Crinkled, silky tomato, with fragrant, creamy pesto, soft bite on the baguette, not too tough on the teeth. I had the latte, fairtrade, served in a decent sized mug, creamy foam (though no moustache).

It is a good spot to sit and watch the students.  If this place is anything to go by, they are far more sensible about their eating habits than I ever was. I well remember nocturnal journeys to a supermarket to get cheap white bread, a can of beans and six eggs to see me through a couple of days. Then stuffed my face with Go Ahead bars all next day because I felt guilty I was not eating properly!

I'd do it all again. In a heartbeat.

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