Allium, Fairford - Restaurant Review
PUBLISHED: 09:03 26 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013
A very strange sequence of events leads Katie Jarvis to a rather lovely, but decidedly less eventful, meal in Fairford
Apocalyptic times. Strange times. Times foretold by the prophets of old.
Or maybe just a slightly odd day. Hard to tell, really.
Firstly, I stop in the middle of a Cotswold village I hardly ever visit and ask a random woman for directions. She stares at me oddly, and my obvious first thought is that I've used lipstick as eyeliner (again) under the non-existent light of the bathroom eco-bulb.
"Just a minute," she gasps. "Aren't you Katie Jarvis?" Turns out to be someone who lived next to my grandmother 20-odd years ago.
Actually, I must digress a moment here, because there's nothing like a coincidence story for starting a conversation. Everyone has a coincidence story - which is a coincidence. My favourite concerns a laconic male relation who was holidaying in Australia. He was on his way up an escalator in a Sydney shopping mall, when he happened to pass his English neighbour going down. Neither knew the other was away but, being male and laconic, they simply nodded at each other in passing.
My other only-slightly-less-favourite story involves my brother answering a phone call, also by coincidence from Australia. He and the caller happened to know enough people of the same name to eek the conversation out for a full five minutes before they realised it was a wrong number.
But back to my odd day.
Next, my GPS takes me directly to a road that ends in an uncrossable river and insists that's where I want to be. (If this isn't symbolic, I don't know what is.) Then I walk into a pub where a stranger begs for help as she's locked out of her car because the battery in her key-fob is flat. Also symbolic. (Although Nostradamus doesn't directly mention a key-fob, this is quite clearly foretold in:
"The contraption of flying fire,
Shall trouble so much the captain of the besieged,
And within shall be so much rioting,
That the besieged shall be in despair."
...Well, she was certainly cross.)
Finally, I put my coat down in said pub, go to the bar to get a drink, only to have a dog stroll in and relieve itself on my coat. Yes - you did hear correctly. It powdered its nose on my coat. The kindly pub landlady instantly insisted my meal was free, but there was still a private weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth as I wasn't paying for the meal in the first place and didn't feel I could ask the person treating me for 8 back.
All this and it's still only 2pm! What a fascinating life I lead.
Anyway, on to the evening, where we end up at Allium in Fairford for my second enormous meal of the day. (Cut to firemen using hoist to lift 55-stone woman out of bedroom window.)
The good thing is that Allium is not odd. Very not odd indeed. Everything is courteously and considerately done, from the moment they take your booking: "Vegetarian? Any food allergies?" That kind of thing.
Simply by walking in at the door, you can see this is no run-of-the-mill establishment. It's one of those 'finds' (if haven't already heard about it). In a similar vein to the Ashenfords' in Winchcombe, it's not the sort of place you'd routinely expect to stumble across in a small market town.
You can see the awards it's won as you sit, supping drinks, in the comfy little sofa corner/bar area - particularly 'Best British Cheeseboard' from the British Cheese Awards. That's a pretty tough one to crack nowadays because so many restaurants make such an effort. But seeing Allium's choice of cheese, spread out as a focal point in the restaurant, is one of the great sights of the Cotswolds: Charles Martell, Oxford's Isis; Liz Godsell from Leonard Stanley, Melissa Ravenhill's Birdwoods, and so on. It's up there with the Taj Mahal: the perfect bit of culture; pure emotion in cheese form.
On this weekday evening, there's a choice of menu: the Table D'hote at 22.50 for three courses (18.50 for two); or the more extravagant seasonal at 38.50 (32 for two). And you can even mix and match. It's hard to judge how well-priced it is simply by standing outside and reading the menu. You have to experience the atmosphere; be served by the attentive staff; see the way the food is lovingly presented; taste the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the cooking.
We order a twice-baked cheese souffl with watercress and pear salad from one menu and the Old Spot 'head to toe', with bits of meat from all over the body (all of the taste and none of the work); followed by Great Farm chicken and a winter vegetable casserole, and Stephen Hazel's Llyen hoggit with Moroccan spices. You could equally (from the posh menu) have enjoyed rabbit, salmon with frogs' legs Kiev, local venison, pollock, and confit pork belly. Loved everything about it, from the definite flavours and fantastic bread to the excellent wine list.
For desserts, we shared an apple tart fine (OK) and cinnamon ice cream (delicious) and a cheeseboard between us. Followed by coffee and chocolates we shouldn't have been able to eat but which no one in their right mind could refuse.
It's the kind of restaurant we're lucky to have in the Cotswolds. It's serious food, and the ambience is to match: that's not to say stuffy or unfriendly - Erica, front of house, is delightful. But equally, it's not a place to sprawl or to feel over-cosy. This chic place demands you to sit up and take rightful notice of thoughtfulness and hard work.
It should and will keep on winning awards. Or, as Nostradamus predicted: Beasts mad with hunger will swim across rivers. Clearly a reference to hoards of diners and the River Coln.
Value for money 7
Allium is at 1 London Street, Market Place, Fairford GL7 4AH; 01285 712200; www.allium.uk.net