Restaurant review: A tale of two sittings
PUBLISHED: 17:12 09 May 2014 | UPDATED: 17:13 09 May 2014
From The Crown at Kemerton to William's Kitchen in Nailsworth, Katie Jarvis enjoyed two very good and thankfully weevil-free meals
Greg, Ellie’s boyfriend, looks shaken. “I put my hand in,” he explains, quietly, “and I touched it. It was…” A rush of emotion means it’s impossible for him to finish the sentence.
I’m not completely ignorant about trauma and ways to help overcome it. “Hey,” I coax gently. “Perhaps if you were to draw it, it might help. You know… my complete vegetable rack and – if you can manage it – the potato you actually touched.”
As the potato in question had passed the solid state, we both know this won’t be easy. I have form in these matters. I once found something in a plastic bag that I took to be raw liver. In fact, courageous investigation determined it to have once been a banana. God moves in mysterious ways.
“You needn’t be afraid of my cupboards. That was a one-off,” I reassure Greg.
He looks at me with distrust. “I’ve seen your spice rack,” he says. “One jar of oregano still has the price on it: 2 slaves.”
OK. Right. Well, frankly, this is disappointing. I had expected the respect-stage of our relationship to last longer. As a result, I won’t be telling him my best out-of-date story (AKA the ‘this-story-is-totally-unsuitable-for-a-meal-review-story’ story), which involved an acquaintance popping round while I was making an evening meal for Ian. “Brilliant!” she said, as I began on the white sauce. “I love seeing what other people cook; gives me new ideas.” It was as I was adding more flour that I noticed the marvellous amount of kinetic energy the mixture seemed to have. When I looked more closely, I realised the flour was alive in a way that truly celebrated Nature’s glorious ability to flourish in adverse conditions. “Pied Beauty”, as Gerald termed it.
It was hard to say whether or not my friend spotted the weevils, which were enthusiastically waving from the pan, but nothing I could do – a series of small explosions, running round the kitchen naked, setting fire to a small part of her: I considered them all – seemed to draw her eyes away. It got perilously close to me having to bite the bullet and serve it to Ian – he wouldn’t have known and it was a small pay-back for the many, many weevil-free meals I’ve made him – before she finally left.
And so we segue almost seamlessly onto the meals I have eaten out for you this month. It’s a bit of an odd one, this: both the restaurants I visited showed extreme promise… Look – it’s probably easier if I just describe them.
Firstly, we saunter up to The Crown at Kemerton, newly and gorgeously restored by Bill and Diana Herford. The girl who serves us is delight itself. When we falter over which ale to choose, she unpromptedly pours a bit of each for us to try. It’s Saturday lunchtime and the specials are up on the board – ham and chorizo bubble-and-squeak with fried egg, minestrone with borlotti beans, chard, and parsley pesto, and parmesan; cheese ploughman’s; and rhubarb Eton mess. “Lovely,” we say. “And the main menu?”
But that is, to our slight surprise, the full offering for this Saturday lunchtime. We eat most of what’s on offer, and it is extremely good: the bubble-and-squeak is a favourite. But, clearly, it’s insufficient for a full review. We make a note to return of an evening.
And so it is we head to William’s Oyster Bar in Nailsworth for a top-up. Now this is another cracker of a place. Such is the quality of its food emporia, the town has just made it into the top 101 places to live, as chosen by the Sunday Times. Yes, I know you know. But I bet you don’t know that in the 1990s, when former Mayor Norman Kay was despatched to pick up Jack Straw from Stroud station, the MP said, “I’ve been told I must stop by William’s Kitchen.”
It’s recently been sold by the eponymous William - and Rae - Beeston, who did such a cracking job for so long. And another local couple, Helen and Ed Playne, have taken it on. The utterly fantastic fish counter is reflected in the oyster bar’s lunchtime offerings: Fowey oysters, spicy squid stew, seared scallops, filo parcels of crab and lobster. For non-fishy diners, there are a few alternatives, such as coq au vin and – as Mike Lowe, our esteemed editor was thrilled to see during a superb editorial oyster-bar lunch - tripes a la mode de Caen. (It’s a Northern thing.)
I have a dish of fish with cream and Indian spices, served with rice; it’s delicate, gently rich and perfect. Ian has a robust cod and chips. They’re neither of them expensive, especially considering the sheer quality - £13.50 and £12.50 – though you might do well ordering a vegetable side. We have a £6 lemon tart for dessert, which is fine – but it’s the fish that wins the day.
It’s lunchtime only – although the bistro will be open on some evenings from this month – and more in the style of a French country restaurant than a posh diner, with occasionally idiosyncratic service. Nor can you reserve a table. But it’s none-the-less charming. If William’s high standards are maintained – and there’s every reason to believe they will be – then it’s worth the journey, wherever in the Cotswolds you might reside.
• Ambience: 6
• Service: 7
• Food: 8
• Value for money: 8
The Crown Inn, Kemerton GL20 7HP, 01386 725020; www.thecrownkemerton.co.uk
William’s Oyster Bar, 3 Fountain St, Nailsworth GL6 0BL 01453 832240; www.williamsfoodhall.co.uk
This article is from the May 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Katie Jarvis, follow her on Twitter: @katiejarvis