In love with the Butchers
PUBLISHED: 15:31 01 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:40 20 February 2013
My then-boyfriend once wrote me a letter beginning, "Dear Aunty Mary". When I questioned him, he paled. "Oh my God," he said. "What did I write to Aunty Mary?"
In love with the Butchers
My then-boyfriend once wrote me a letter beginning, Dear Aunty Mary. When I questioned him, he paled. Oh my God, he said. What did I write to Aunty Mary?
I went from the green of naivety and Cotswold hills to the red of daring reactionaries at the age of 19. Id shunned the idea of university until the only prospectuses languishing in the empty school library were St Andrews too far and no apostrophe and Warwick, most modern of the moderns. Its equivalence of an Oxford quad was a vast concrete space, dotted with contemporary sculptures that, under other circumstances, youd put out with the bins on a Friday. The lecturers had the kind of long hair and beards that meant theyd look the same whichever way up you held them. At Freshers Fair, I dallied at the stall of the Revolutionary Communist Society.
Into this maelstrom of geometric, primary-coloured thinking stepped Nick and Ros. She, white-blond and elfin; he, set apart as older than us probably no more than 22. Hed spent his gap years with a troop of touring actors; every time he read a book, he said, he imagined playing the lead character on stage. He spoke fluent French; so did I, as it happened, but his somehow seemed an exotic accomplishment. I was the girl who spoke to the campus dealer about coke for a good five minutes, and we both might have survived the crossed wires had I not mentioned the bubbles.
I, with my geeky friends, was a million miles even when in the same seminars from Nick and Ros: always together; perfectly matched; garbed in black; cigarettes louchely in one hand; a shot in the other. They seemed, to me in my bright pink jeans, the epitome of avant-garde romance; the love affair against which to judge all others, and find them wanting.
I still think of them occasionally, on days such as Valentines; at moments such as this, when Ian and I are sitting in companionable quiet in the Butchers Arms at Oakridge. Nick would probably be asking whether you could admire a work of art in the same way as you could a butterfly. Ian, by contrast, spills his glass of wine all over me. Sorry, he says, as I sit emitting a rich, fruity bouquet. I knocked it with my nose.
The Butchers pretty but self-effacing has achieved what others tried and failed to do over long ages: to lure Michael and Sarah Bedford (as in The Chefs Table, Tetbury) back to the land of pubs. We loved them at the Trouble House, which they transformed into a beacon of innovation and excellence that shone on an otherwise barren road.
The local wine society, which, being Oakridge, seems to consist most of the village, is packed into a room alongside us. Theyre having six courses, the waitress confides, as she mops quantities of wine from the table and floor. We gird our loins, expecting a Bacchanalia, with cloven-hoofed satyrs appearing at intervals. But theyre beautifully behaved; whats more, even though the waiting staff dont seem numerous, were served calmly and promptly, with relaxed chat.
The food bar Ians chips is very good. Its a succinct and not-particularly exotic menu such as fish pie, shoulder of lamb with spiced couscous, crispy duck confit with green lentils but classy and perfectly executed.
I follow a gorgeously balanced curried parsnip and apple soup with pan-fried fish of the day: cod delicate, satisfying, gauzed in garlic and butter and suspended on fluffy mash. Ian tops a pork belly rillette (with fascinating pickled grapes) with an excellent steak (weedy chips). The sweeteners are a good and fulsome dark chocolate pave and a crme brulee, both garnished with thoughtful sides. Its a lovely meal, not at all badly priced; average-ish cost for a highly-above-average spread.
I think, for a moment, back to Warwick food, where the height of sophistication was a veggie restaurant in Leamington Spa (one of the few we could afford) because the campus canteen served food only identifiable by the menu or the chemistry department. The one uni culinary highlight was the never-surpassed arts caf cheesecake, which Id share with my then-boyfriend, a Northern classics student who once wrote me a letter beginning, Dear Aunty Mary. When I questioned him, he paled. Oh my God, he said. What did I write to Aunty Mary? A Benny Hill world in a Brechtian universe that contained Nick and Ros.
Did I ever tell you the end of that story? I ask Ian, as we sip our coffees by the Butchers open fire. A friend of mine happened to revisit uni cant remember why some years later. Oddly, Nick was still hanging about there. He couldnt have been lecturing; he ended up with a third.
She said he was with some other girl, but she went over and spoke to him. And during the conversation, he started talking about Ros.
Ah! I said to her. Thank goodness for that. So what did he say?
Thats the thing, she replied. He was trying to remember her name.
The Butchers Arms, Oakridge Lynch, Stroud GL6 7NZ, 01285 760371; www.butchersarmsoakridge.com
Value for money 8