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: *****