Restaurant Review: No5 North Street, Cheltenham

PUBLISHED: 16:47 22 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:19 26 February 2013

Restaurant Review: No5 North Street, Cheltenham

Restaurant Review: No5 North Street, Cheltenham

As the diet heads west, Katie and Ian head north to a favourite Winchcombe restaurant that excels in the quality of food and service

Restaurant Review: No5 North Street, Cheltenham

As the diet heads west, Katie and Ian head north to a favourite Winchcombe restaurant that excels in the quality of food and service

Diary of a diet

Day one:

After years of claiming that fasting will make your body balloon out to Hattie Jacques-type proportions (not that I ever noticed that happening to Gandhi), scientists are now backtracking. To the rest of us mere mortals, who cant see how fat can be manufactured purely by ingesting nitrogen, oxygen and argon (though the phrase inert gasses does raise suspicions of them sitting round watching Jeremy Kyle all day), it seems perfectly obvious that not eating probably doesnt make you obese. But very, very clever scientists seem to like spending a long time and a lot of money discovering, in a complex way, things we already knew instinctively. (Viz, genuine research project conclusions such as, Most people drive poorly while talking on the phone and Older people prefer happy memories.)

So I embark on the 5:2 diet, namely spending five days a week gorging and two days eating 500 calories or fewer (if the term eating can be employed in such a meagre capacity; you can practically snort 500 calories just opening the fridge to see whats inside).

Day eight:

One of the worst aspects is watching others eat while Im on a fast day, so I tell Ian hes very, very fat and must do the diet too.

Day 15:

Ian is traumatised by the diet, but has stuck to it rigidly. After the first week, he jumps on the scales, only to find hes shot up to 13st 6lb, the most hes ever weighed. I try to avoid him during the height of his ensuing bile. Not pleasant.

Day 18:

Ian and the dog are at loggerheads. Its hard to prove that, on fast days, the dog deliberately eats his biscuits with sensuous delight, licking his lips and staring purposefully at Ian as he savours them, but Ian feels he does. The dog and I exchange looks as Ian bitterly nibbles on his one onion Rivita, covered in strawberry yogurt. Its nice, he says, defensively. The dog and I exchange another look though, to be fair, the dogs is more of an affectation this time. He would be prepared to try it.

Day 28:

Meal review day. Youre lucky its on a non-diet day: its limiting to talk about a Satsuma and two eggs. Ian, weak and tearful, wants to go to his favourite restaurant Gus and Kate Ashenfords marvellous 5 North Street in Winchcombe. This is partly because we havent been for years; partly because Ian could turn violent, were he to waste an eating day on anywhere not-up-to-scratch. From now on, only Michelin stars stand a chance.

When Kate hands him the menu, Ian just says, Yes. I explain he has to choose between the various dishes. The USP of this place can be summed up with: small but perfectly formed. The menus might be succinct but you want to marry them. For 40, theres Tea Smoked Duck Breast, Confit Spiced Leg, Crisp Skin, Plum Chutney, Caramelised Hazelnut Dressing. (Im detailing because Im writing this on a fast day.); roasted halibut, Salcombe crab ravioli, leeks, red pepper, mango and watercress; ending with warm malt loaf, poached figs, toasted sesame honey and almond ice cream, mulled wine. Get the picture? On the 45 one, you get salmon, John Dory blinis, Winchcombe partridge, and a dark chocolate delice. And for 50, scallops, fillet of beef and a lemon-pud extravaganza.

But the Ashenfords are so obliging. You can mix and match the menus. As Im not mad on crab, Im offered the halibut, levitating on a bed of gossamer potato (indulge me). A young visitor (below 10-ish) is given home-made pasta in an impromptu childrens menu, while his parents (otherish side of the Atlantic) show off his intellect in pseudo-quiet voices. Who invented the iPad? Steve Jobs. What was his company called? Apple. The child is even a precocious weather expert - a fact we all enjoy. Sorry were so late. Fog on the road, his parents tell Kate. There was no fog, their son contradicts.

The food here is heaven. Its full of extras Welsh rarebit with tangy rhubarb; lightly-spiced squash soup and the bread comes in the form of a mini loaf (of two kinds, including the yummiest walnut) that you cut yourself. Detail is the essence. I have the duck beautifully cooked, delicately flavoured; the aforesaid fish (ditto); and then the dark chocolate delice, roasted pistachio, salted caramel, fennel and orange salad, fennel sorbet, a lesson in how deep, rich flavours can satisfy, not overwhelm. Ian (always expensive) wolfed scallops, beef and lemon (a gregarious mix of all the legal things you can do with citrus).

Ive had some good meals recently. I wish I could offer you an entertaining disaster. But never here. Always consistent. Always a touch of brilliance. Ever a warm welcome. Desk-gnawingly good sorry, didnt realise I was doing it.

5 North Street, Winchcombe GL54 5LH, 01242 604566;

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