Restaurant Review: No 131
PUBLISHED: 09:11 03 January 2017
© Thousand Word Media
The 'fab pub' in the North Cotswolds struggled to feed my coelic husband, but for Katie Jarvis and her husband, Cheltenham's star spot came up trumps
I promise not to keep on about coeliac. I honestly do. After this, I won’t mention it for at least, I dunno, another eight minutes. But I want you to see the lengths I now have to go to to eat extremely well at your expense. It’s OK – honestly.
So there’s this fab pub up in t’North (Cotswolds) that Giles Coren loved and that I’ve wanted to review for absolutely ages. They’ve got a table, and, when I ask, yes: they cater for coeliacs. Great! But then the angel on my right shoulder (the one with the BMI of over 30), whispers, “Check exactly what we can eat.”
“Well,” says the nice lady on the phone, clearly running her finger down a delicious menu. “You could have something from the fish board.”
“Right,” I say. “And if we didn’t want fish?”
“…Or the venison burger… Without the bun.”
There’s a pause, as her finger runs on.
“Or the salad. Without the dressing.”
Err… OK. So puddings?
“You could have the apple and blackberry crumble…”
“Fantastic,” I exclaim, truly happy. “A gluten-free crumble!”
“…without the crumble. And there’s the cheeseboard.”
“Wait a sec,” I say. “I think I can see how you’re doing this. Would that be without the biscuits?”
“…Without the biscuits.”
So we’re stuck in some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable: peckish and without a table booked at a really classy restaurant even a bit. I’m going to have to think on my feet: two of my least favourite positions.
“I know,” I say to Ian. “Let’s go to 131 the Prom. It’s the ‘in’ place to be, and packed with celebs. I know for a fact that Dom Joly lives beneath the clown picture in the dining room, and only leaves for the occasional lure of starving on a hostile tropical island. Ben Miller also lives under the table in the middle room. And I once bumped into Jeremy Wade on my way back from the ladies, where I’d let myself down by overusing the hand-cream to grip-zero status.
We run into 131, Cheltenham, from the bitter cold outside into the bitter cold inside. OK. Not quite as bitter, but pretty cold. (I strongly suspected disappointment loomed the second I seized the radiator in the lobby to find it not on.)
We grab a table and look round at all the celebrities, who seem to be restricted to an elderly couple, who either can’t hear the rap music currently playing, or who are massively and unexpectedly into hip-hop. On balance, though, neither yells, “Yo, *****” when summoning a waitress over to borrow her phone-torch to read the menu. They actually seem very pleasant.
So let’s get the gripes out of the way, because I’m about to say some extremely complimentary things about 131. The décor is designed so that any criticism you make reflects badly on you. I’d possibly term it minimalist-fussy. I rather like the ‘Sin will find you out’ lights, though Ian doesn’t, for reasons we don’t explore.
There are no gluten-free beers, so we order wine that takes many moons to arrive. One of our many serving visitors later explains that someone had to spend hours in the wine cellar to find it; though they don’t specifically attribute this to it being the least expensive on the slightly eyebrow-frightening list. And then – despite us performing a gluten-free song-and-dance – we’re brought a basketful of normal (evil) bread.
But. BUT. BUT. Things really perk up. Because the food is amazing. And thoughtful. And kind. I start with a delicious tuna tartar and Ian a devilled crab on g-f toast; and then mine is a fillet of sea bass with Asian style greens, garlic, ginger and chilli, and Ian’s a chop of Hampshire pork. The flavours are just gorgeous. And the waiter (one of many) says things like, “The chef says there are traces of gluten in the Dijon mustard so he’s using something else.” What a honeybun.
Like the décor, it’s hard to decide whether to be warmly impressed with the staff or slightly disappointed. It varies, but let’s go for warmly disappointed as a halfway house. The one I felt was a bit distant at first, appears, finally, to be engagingly shy – he’s new here; when he stops to chat, he’s charming. Some of the staff are so surprisingly dressed that, at one point, I nearly ask a customer for the bill.
Which is large. I’ll come onto that. We have extra roast salsify and sweet potato fries with our mains; I’d go all out and say you probably need ‘sides’, but they are pleasingly plentiful. And then, for pudding, we are offered a huge choice: we go for chocolate hazelnut and polenta cake, and a plum crumble which innovatively includes crumble.
So the bill (with its ‘discretionary’ 12.5 percent (which I’d say is pushing it, in this case)) is *whispers* £140-ish. We both weep with horror at this, though my tears are more fearfully abundant as it goes on my expenses.
But – my very large butt – as I say is that this is one of the utterly best meals I’ve stuffed myself with in a g-f of a long time. Ab Fab. I’d definitely return, though preferably to continue the trend of someone else paying.
Value for money: 6
131 The Promenade, Cheltenham GL50 1NW, 01242 822939; theluckyonion.com/property/no-131