Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Garden Tea Rooms [formerly Act V], Stratford-upon-Avon

On the menus in this establishment there is a quotation from Hamlet, Act V, scene one, the 'Alas, poor Yorick' palaver that we all know so well. Far better would be a quotation from Act II of The Importance of Being Earnest; because this is the perfect place to go Bunburying.

Partly because it is an excellent place to hide, even if just to escape the crowds on Waterside. It is at the bottom of Sheep Street, just up from the chip shop, a small cafĂ©/gift shop combo. And the recently refurbished outdoor space is the real gem here, with comfortable furniture squeezed into a tiny garden that is absolutely, positively the best place to sit in the sunshine writing in your diary, eating cucumber sandwiches and drinking Earl Grey tea in copious quantities. In fact, having ordered said cucumber sandwiches, it occurred to me that I know no other place in the town that sells them. For £2.50, you get two slices of bread, lightly moistened with margarine or butter and quite a few slices of crunchy-but-soft cucumber with a few leaves of salad and some crisps. The tea is the teapigs brand, popular in some of the more upmarket establishments in the town. Be warned - the combination of the two means that you will find your pinky finger creaks involuntarily outward  with every bite and sip.

Following this up with the cream tea is practically compulsory. One of the few places to serve the scones warm and use clotted cream. This all adds up to a delectable melt-in-your-mouth concoction, a heady combination for eschewing your German grammar in favour of starting your revoltingly sentimental three volume novel.

Access: *****

Thursday, 22 May 2014

White Horse Inn, Wroxton, Oxfordshire

This is exactly what a small country pub should be. It should recall the days of old when it was a stopping-off point for travellers - an old building, decent hunger-quenching fare. It should be halfway between places, in this case Banbury and Stratford-upon-Avon. It should feel local, not gastro-pub generic, or be full of ramblers and cyclists. It should hint at a chequered past (hasty repairs) and straitened finances (rusty barbecue). And it should have no less than two people sitting nursing a drink who do not take their eyes off you the whole time you are there, to the point of discomfort.

As this was only a refreshment stop, none of the food was sampled, although it certainly looked like a decent menu of chips, steaks and vegetarian options. I had a latte, decent enough, not too strong, half inch of foam, suitably thirst-quenching.

Access is not bad, considering the age of the building. There are a few too tight corners and small steps to negotiate especially to the garden. Ask the sunburnt local in the wife beater vest to give you a hand.

There is an additional bonus. To get to this place can mean driving through the village of Buckingham. And any Shakespearean worth their salt will not be able to resist the most amazing in-joke. On leaving the village, it is practically compulsory to turn to your companion(s) and say "So much for Buckingham".

If no one laughs, maintain a rigid hauteur for the rest of the journey and refuse to speak.

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

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Winthrop's Cafe, Hidcote, Gloucestershire

This place is not the sandwich and coffee bar just by the entrance, but the one in the garden itself. There is the right mix of history and modernity that the National Trust does so well. Parquet floors, wood-burning stoves, mock-Deco and Arts and Crafts furnishings, homely baking; but not so much that they do without a decent coffee machine, central heating and clean loos. The terrace outside is accessible, with a decent slope, flat paving and moveable furniture. It is also sheltered and accented with fairly picturesque plants and green, growing things. It is Nature just the way I like it, trimmed and pruned with no unseemly scruffs of overgrowth or wet slimy bits.

The menu is restricted but what is there is all speciality stuff. 'Lemon' and 'asparagus' were bandied about a lot, as were 'date', 'apple' and 'sultana'. You probably would not be surprised to know that 'lightly drizzled' was in there somewhere, along with 'balsamic'. It is the kind of the menu that stops just short of 'coulis' or 'jus'. I settled for an 'open sandwich' which turned out to be a generous portion of tuna mayo and six slices of cucumber laid on one slice of bloomer bread and loosely overlaid with a second slice of bread, accompanied by three cherry tomatoes, a few shreds of red onion and around five or six salad leaves. You have to start eating it with a knife and fork, such are its gargantuan proportions before you can resort to the traditional grab and gulp method. Tasty, very creamy, an ever-so-slightly sharp aftertaste and, interestingly enough, initially cold on the tongue and teeth. By which I mean, not fresh from the fridge but what a cold sandwich should be - not room temperature.

Drew opted for the gala pie, an oblong crusted portion, pale pink, almost Spam colour with a golden yellow egg all of which certified its fresh-made credentials. I was not allowed to taste it. The accompanying Earl Grey tea was just the way I like it, the scent being strong but the taste subtle.

Always worth having a walk around the gardens after lunch, designed by the reclusive, eccentric Laurence Johnson. Though if I was going to get rich and adopt an eccentricity it wouldn't be gardening. Something more me, perhaps. Like crisps. Or cheese.

Access: *****