The start of another road trip and, with world cup interest at fever pitch, there may be some passing references to football in this blog. The first stop for the tour bus is The Bear’s Paw in Warmingham. The Bear’s Paw is a 19th century Victorian Inn in the farming village of Warmingham that was completely refurbished about 10 years ago, following a major fire.
I always kick-off with a beer and I’m having a pint of Southern Cross from Cheshire brewers Weetwood Ales. Described as a New World Pale Ale, it is zesty and carries some hints of lemon and pine from the New Zealand hops that are used to make it. Rock is passing on alcohol but teams together an apple juice with a good measure of soda.
The pan-fried fillet of sea trout is my next goal. It is served with a creative midfield of potato, herb & garlic gnocchi, green beans, broad beans, sundried tomato, parmesan and sauce vierge. Everything tastes good though I find the gnocchi a bit heavy. Rock shoots for the loin of rabbit wrapped in smoked bacon and playing alongside a crispy leg rillette, butter poached potato, carrot puree, summer vegetables and a red wine jus. Rock thinks the sticky jus is a touch too strong for the delicate rabbit.
Great teamwork from Jack, Bria and Holly out front and Ben in the kitchen. Now, I think there may be an England match on tonight. C’mon England!
Abbey Home Farm has an organic shop and cafe near Cirencester and it is one of our favourite places for lunch. I was not planning another blog about this place…so there are no photos of Rock’s lunch. But my meal is so extraordinary that, while I would not be prepared to share the food with you, I’m very happy to share some pictures and commentary.
As usual I begin with a Tom Long – an amber bitter from the Stroud Brewery. Always good.
I have chosen the summer vegetable and cheddar pasty with a selection of salads and a homemade chutney. The pasty contains courgette, carrot, potato, onion and cheddar all wrapped in beautiful pastry. The salads include: green bean, broccoli and sesame seeds in a peanut satay sauce; rice with parsley and tamari soy sauce; apple, strawberry, orange and nectarine; salad leaves, tomato, beetroot and fennel; an edible nasturtium; and there’s mung beans, radish and sprouts in the coleslaw. I may have missed a few ingredients but it feels like I have a bit of every home grown organic vegetable or fruit that is currently available. And, is it possible to have your five a day in one meal?
Fabulous relaxed dining, good beer and great food…
Tierra & Mar is a relatively new tapas restaurant in Cirencester. It is owned by Brett and Silvia who met while working in a variety of Michelin starred restaurants across England, Australia and Spain. They have brought their skills to the Cotswolds and today is our chance to see what they can do.
It all starts very well. Rock has sparkling elderflower, while I try a Spanish beer. Inet Damm is described as an award winning malt & wheat beer brewed with spice – it is extraordinary. Created by the El Bulli chef, Ferran Adria, and the Damm brewers – it manages to incorporate the flavours of coriander, liquorice and orange peel in a way that is completely harmonious. More importantly, it seems to work with a very wide variety of food and thus perfect for tapas.
Rosemary & brown rolls
Excellent canapés of empanada with mediterranean vegetables and crackers topped with marinated sardine & yoghurt arrive next. These are followed by freshly baked bread rolls in two varieties, rosemary and brown, and served with extra virgin olive oil. This is so good and we haven’t even started our tapas yet!
The first dish is a smoked duck breast & confit duck leg terrine served with pistachio, poached plums and red onion marmalade. But it’s not that simple – there are also small cubes of jelly, dashes of cream and herb sprigs (see featured image). The combination of flavours is just outstanding.
Next is monkfish wrapped in Serrano ham with pea and mint puree, chorizo jam, sauteed potatoes and an almond & garlic sauce. The monkfish is soft and almost melts against the crispy ham wrapping, again the complexity of flavours and textures is amazing.
The tuna tartare follows – raw marinated tuna served with avocado, grated horseradish, slivers of radish and tiny pieces of finely toasted bread. It is very clever – the use of marination and the highly skilled balancing of quality ingredients creates a refreshing and vibrant dish.
Then patatas bravas and marinated fried chicken wings with pickled carrot, carrot puree, parsnip, basil and a honey & orange chicken sauce. The patatas bravas are simple but you need some simple to go with the complexity of the other dishes. The chicken wings are part of another fabulous balance of flavour combinations.
You would think after canapes, bread, duck, monkfish, tuna, patatas bravas and chicken that those with modest appetites, like us, would not even contemplate dessert. However, the food here has been so exceptional…we have to try one. We go for the poached rhubarb with pistachio, ginger and cream cheese icing. It is yet another beautifully presented dish – soft rhubarb, crunchy pistachio both enhanced by expertly flavoured jellies and creams. Sensational!
We don’t have time to stop for coffee but Paco, who has looked after us fabulously throughout lunch, gives us some beautiful petit fours anyway. There have been a few contenders this year….. but so far this has been our best meal of 2018!
Today we are visiting the Kilver Court Gardens in Shepton Mallet and having our lunch at the nearby Sharpham Pantry. The Sharpham Pantry has a menu based almost entirely around organic spelt harvested at the Sharpham Park farm – should be interesting!
Beers are limited here – it’s cider country! I am limited to Peroni and I quickly recognise that I should have been more adventurous and tried one of the ciders on offer. We decide to share the spelt flatbread with garlic chicken, mushroom and rocket plus a side order of coleslaw. The flatbread is thin and crispy and the topping ingredients give it a pizza like quality without the cheese. It is very good indeed but it’s not the star of the show. The bright purple coleslaw, which I guess must contain red cabbage….also contains a helping of fresh horseradish. The zing of horseradish in the coleslaw brings the whole dish to life. Fabulous.
The spelt flatbread was so good we have to try a spelt based dessert. We share the spiced spelt waffle with banana, salted caramel sauce and whipped cream. It is everything we hoped it would be. We follow with coffee – and this is very good quality too.
Now to the gardens – originally created as a recreation area for the factory workforce – the Kilver Court gardens are tucked away, almost hidden, just outside the centre of Shepton Mallett. But they are worth seeking out. With a superb Victorian viaduct as a backdrop, the gardens are full of interesting trees, plants and flowers plus waterways, bridges and an ornamental lake.
Overall, the visit to Kilver Court has been a joy. Great food at the Sharpham Pantry and then a beautiful walk through the Kilver Court gardens.
The Eastbury Plough has been on our extensive list of places to eat for far too long! Rock and I are taking the opportunity to get over there for lunch and see if it is as good as some people seem to think it is.
It’s moderately busy when we arrive but nowhere near full. Yet, with only two staff serving, we have quite a wait to be served drinks and menus. I have a pint of Doombar and Rock has an apple juice & soda – nothing too exciting there. The specials board has crisp confit duck with black pudding and an orange & balsamic jam – which appeals to me. The duck is well cooked though not really crispy and works well with the black pudding. However, the bitterness of the orange in the jam is too harsh for me.
I move on to a pint of Deerstalker – a marked improvement on my previous pint. It is a traditional amber bitter from the Ramsbury Brewery and well worth trying.
Rock has the peasant pie as her main course. Her pie is filled with a mix of oxtail and venison and is rich with flavour. I have the 18 hour ox cheek, a fillet of beef with a bacon & black pudding crust, dauphinoise potatoes and an ox jus. The ox cheek and the fillet are both beautiful and a nice contrast in texture – the cheek is soft from slow cooking and the fillet both firm and tender. The dauphinoise is really good too and there is a little shredded cabbage. But, generally, there is a marked lack of fresh vegetables – there aren’t even any vegetable side dishes on the menu! The meal concept of meat and potatoes really belongs in the 1950s.
We finish by sharing the cheese board – pieces of Barkham blue, Witney cheddar and brie are served with crackers and a pickle. Nothing out of the ordinary but well kept cheese served at the right temperature (not straight out of the fridge).
Overall, the food has been good, the service has been friendly but at times a bit stretched. The lack of fresh vegetables is bizarre. I would come here again but it isn’t going to be at the top of our list.
The Bear & Ragged Staff is a glorious old traditional pub in a building that dates back to Tudor times. The kitchen is run by head chef, James Durrant, who has worked with Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton in the past and has succeeded in getting his main course to the banquet of the Great British Menu. We are here today to meet our good friends Jasmine & Roland for lunch.
After studying the beer menu, I order a pint of the IPA, but it’s not available. Instead, I ask for a pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, but they don’t have that either. They do have my third choice – Abbot Ale. Roland is having the set lunch and his starter is roast chicken broth with butterbeans, leeks and pancetta. Jasmine and I both start with twice baked cheese soufflé with soused apples & balsamic pearls. The soufflé is beautifully light and works well with the apple, the balsamic pearls and a simple velouté. Rock chooses not to have a starter.
For her main course Jasmine is having the poached and smoked salmon fishcake with hollandaise and a watercress salad. Roland has the second part of his set lunch – the Cornish lamb shepherd’s pie filled with slow-cooked shoulder, sprinkled with crispy breast and served with red cabbage.
Rock is having the sea bream with bacon, peas and baby gem lettuce. The fish is perfectly cooked though the skin could be crispier. Unfortunately, the dish as a whole is quite greasy – something that Rock really tries to avoid. I have the 14 hour braised beef and ale pie with buttery mash and spring greens. The pie is superb, fabulous pastry and a rich beef filling.
The final part of Roland’s set menu should be ice cream profiteroles but, as the kitchen has none available, he has the opportunity to choose something else. He picks the banoffee Eton mess, served with banana, lime and caramelised pecans. This turns out to be a good choice – lots of cream, lots of banana, the crunch of pecans and the sweetness of toffee.
Some of the food here was very good but overall the place felt a bit out of sorts. It was strange to find several beers, and even one course off the set menu, were not available. Rock’s sea bream dish was far too greasy and none of the dishes would come close to making it to our Great British Menu. I’d like to think we were unlucky to visit when they weren’t at their best.
The Hardwick is either a pub with restaurant quality food or a restaurant with the feel, atmosphere and furnishings of a pub. Either way, it is the place to sample the food of one of Wales’ leading chefs – Stephen Terry. We are here for lunch and it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that our expectations are very high.
We are welcomed at the bar in the first room of The Hardwick – a room with deep leather sofas and wood panelling on the walls. Rock chooses an elderflower pressé from Belvoir while I decide to try the Sundown golden ale from the Untapped Brewing Company – a Welsh brewery based in Raglan. The Sundown is a refreshing golden ale with hints of sweetness and spice – very good indeed!
The sourdough bread here is made by award winning baker Alex Gooch and it is wonderfully light and has a fantastic flavour. I want to be adventurous and so I choose the panzanella (Italian style bread & tomato salad) & puntarelle (a variant of chicory) salad with grilled halloumi. The dish is a blockbuster of strong flavours that work wonderfully together – by the time I finish it I doubt that my tastebuds will ever be the same again.
Rock has the roast beetroot and heritage carrots with Neal’s Yard goat’s cheese, pine nuts, grilled castelfranco (aka edible rose) and tardivo ( a variety of radicchio). It is a beautiful dish, with texture from the pine nuts and the rich creaminess of the goat’s cheese. If anything, there is too much goat’s cheese and it slightly overpowers everything else.
Rock moves on to a starter size of the braised rabbit with deep fried polenta, soffrito (a braising liquor of finely chopped vegetables and olive oil) & parmesan. The rabbit is tender and the soffrito brings everything together. I have the pan fried mackerel with deep fried crushed new potatoes, watercress & anchovy mayonnaise, purple sprouting, chard & a lentil salsa. My tastebuds are brought back to life by the stunning mayonnaise and the salsa which both complement the perfectly cooked mackerel. Wow!
We’ve been overwhelmed by a myriad of flavour combinations and interesting quality ingredients. It looks like a pub, it feels like a pub ….but it tastes far better than most restaurants!