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.