Saturday, July 04, 2009

Modern Stratford-Upon-Avon

I chose the Curtain Call Guest House because of the name and somewhat because of the price (£35 a night). It’s about fifteen minutes outside the town centre, which meant I had the daily anticipation of going to Stratford. Having not stayed in a guest house before, I wasn’t sure what to expect but this was exactly what I needed – a comfy bed. The landlords, Cheryl and David were very friendly, accommodating and thoughtful; on the nights I was going to be out late at the theatre they left the light on in the dining room. All of the other guests I met were regulars – regular enough to be able to chat about family – so this is the kind of place that people like to return to and feel safe.

Most mornings I kept to muselli and croissants but on the Friday I treated myself to a fry up and it was very, very nice indeed and I could tell it was local sourced – whilst I was eating the delivery from the local farm arrived. I needed a good breakfast because in general I’m horrible about keeping to lunch time whenever I’m away from home, even on day trips and this was no exception. The best lunch I had was at The Posh Corner Shop, a café/delicatessen not too far up from Shakespeare’s original school, where I sat in the window and ate a coffee and giant apricot Danish pastry and wrote my parents a postcard saying as much. I never know what to say on those things.

Evening mealtimes can be the strangest parts of the day when you’re travelling alone. Restaurants tend to be geared towards groups, the event of the meal playing slowly across an evening, whereas us singletons, even if we try and pace ourselves, can be in and out in half an hour and if we’re not careful the process is reduced to the function it really is rather than the entertainment it should be. Most of the streets in Stratford town consist of restaurants, chains and independents so there’s lots of choice, too much choice probably, so I tried to go for the ‘interesting’ options:


The Garrick Inn is reputed to be the oldest pub in Stratford; the building dates from the Elizabethan era and it became a drinking hole in the early 1700s. It was renamed for the actor in mid-late 18th century after he held a three day jubilee for his favourite playwright in the town which is seen as one of the attempts to confirm his legendary status in the modern era. The interior has clearly been remodelled a few times since then, so there’s a proper restaurant section at the back and waitress service.

The chicken and bacon salad was alright; the mix of two different dressings gave it an odd smell but the poultry was succulent enough. But the real entertainment came from watching the serving staff as they negotiated the order of an American couple who were sitting at the back who from what I could gather had given all of the necessary impressions that they hadn’t decided what they were having yet then strolled up to the counter wondering why their food hadn’t arrived yet.

The two waitresses thought through events and compared notes like detectives working over a witness statement and concluded that in fact the couple hadn’t ordered – there was no paper evidence – but then it became apparent that even after the man had appeared and complained they still weren’t sure what it was he wanted to be eating (was it fish and chips?) and that one of them was going to have to go to customer and get a clarification. I didn’t envy them.

The Chain

The “Godfather of Italian gastronomy” (according to his website) Antonio Carluccio has a string of restaurants and cafes across the country; blue and white trimmed interior is split between a well stocked shop and eating area. I think this was the worst experience of the week, but that probably had more to do with me being alone and not being able to work out what I’d be doing with the rest of the evening than the food, the Insalata Di Primaver a “sautéed pancetta, gorgonzola cheese and walnuts with rocket, spinach and radicchio leaves” (the menu is online) or the environment – it was early in the evening and there was only me and a large family group and as much as I enjoy my own company, sitting next to a mirror isn’t the same thing.

The Theatre

The Courtyard Theatre has a restaurant café which like the Everyman in Liverpool offers a mix of standard, regular menu items and specials. Reaching the theatre two hours before the performance I decided to try and spread the meal out so had all three courses (somehow managing the next thing half an hour after the last). Having watched people eating outside the previous couple of nights, I decided to take my soup near the entrance, but of course it was far too windy that and as I’m desperately trying to spoon the mushrooms into my mouth one hand I’m variously holding down my book and some paper napkins with the other.

The interior looks as you’d hope it would, with proper café style furniture with tables in RSC red the walls covered in posters advertising the latest productions. Being awkward and admittedly slightly ironic, I asked the waitress if I could have half of a Warwickshire share-board, a sort of ploughman’s lunch for two people. The question was passed through many mouths until it reached the kitchen then back again in the positive. It turned out to be a breadboard covered in chicken, ham, cheese, salad and bread and turned out to be the most filling meal of the week, so I can’t imagine what the full one was like.

As ever I hummed and hahared over the desert, eventually coming down on the side of a victoria sponge after the waitress suggested it because I was clearly going to miss the start of the play if she didn’t point me in a direction. I maintain I would have got there in the end, but given I was the sitting next to stage its probably best that I wasn’t trolling in, cake crumbs across my front, just as Caesar got the sharp end of Brutus’s knife. I told them as I left that this had been my best meal of the week. Which it had. Then.


Banjaxed for reasons I’ll get to some other time (this holiday will be good for a fair few more blog posts I’m sure) I was looking for something easy but also interesting for my final night. I did consider something with a Shakespearean theme – Othello’s perhaps? Mistress Quickly’s? But stopped instead at Edward Moons. The penny farthing on the sign makes it stand out as does the mission statement printed in the window and also appearing on the website, describing who Mr. Moon was and why he deserved to have a restaurant named after him:
”Edward Moon was a travelling chef working in the British Colonial service in the early nineteen hundreds. […] Edward was also a creative cook, enthusiastic and excited by the local ingredients, cooking styles and methods he encountered on his exotic travels.[…] He retired to England in 1940 and recorded his experiences, philosophy and recipes in a book “The Travelling Cook’s Companion” It is the spirit described in this book that has helped us inspire our restaurants. “
I’ve trimmed it a bit but you get the message. I was intrigued. Then the specials board drew me even closer to the door. Game pie. Game pie!?! I’ve always wanted to try that, properly cooked, not the soggy relic you find in some supermarkets. Inside the restaurant a group of people had spotted me looking in and were grinning and waving, two empty wine bottles nearby. I asked for a review. My thumb went up. Three thrumbs up was the reply. Good enough.

Inside looks like an Edwardian working men’s club. I sat next to a fireplace in which it looked like Phyllius Fogg had stacked his luggage whilst he to took repose and there was a general atmosphere of comfortable sophistication totally unlike anywhere else in Stratford. Some of that had to do with the waitresses; for the first time that week I felt like I was talking to a human being as they greeted me, sat me down, took my order, but all in such a way that made me feel welcome, like a regular. After each course they asked me if I’d enjoyed what I’d been presented with but in such a way that sounded like it actually mattered.

The tomato soup was light and a good appetiser but the Game Pie was something else. An oval dish filled with birds of a flavour I couldn’t identify, gravy and topped with a mountain of mashed potato but unlike similar dishes even when I thought I’d decimated the flesh, another piece appeared from underneath an onion. It tasted familiar and yet not at the same time and I was glad I was only drinking water with it so that my tastebuds could savour the culinary vacation they were experiencing. When asked all I could muster was “Lovely, thanks” which was understating things a little bit. In the donchyouknow parts of the world this is probably average, but for a mouth used to a frozen shepherd’s pie from Asda this was paradise.

But here’s why I’d return to Edward Moon’s again, and it’s a very small thing. At the end of the first two course I needed a break but knew I wanted to try one of the deserts which I’ve seen floating by. The waitress said that they closed at about 8:30 or 9:00 and after spending an hour at the RSC again I returned. They remembered who I was, remembered I was back for my desert and seemed genuinely pleased to see me, none of which sounds too special and should be standard but often isn’t. After I’d ordered the strawberry Crème-Brule (another new experience) she asked if I’d like another glass of water. She’d remembered that too and I hadn’t had to ask. Oh how I tipped …

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