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.