The Stagg Inn @ Titley, Herefordshire

English: The Stagg Inn, Titley

The weeks preceding Christmas were a very frustrating time for myself last year, as Mike refused to offer any present suggestions…the truth being I suppose, that he didn’t really need anything! (This never seems to happen to me.) Anyhow I decided to buy him what I know he’ll always love: the gift of Food and Drink.

So I began the gratifying search (I love a good search) for a gastro-pub-with-rooms, within easy reach and a modest(ish) budget. It was surprisingly difficult. My top choice was The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, which has hit the foodie big time being the first pub to receive two Michelin stars in the 2012 Guide.  But alas, Fridays and Saturdays booked until May 2012 (probably later now). My next choice was The Swan at Swinbrook, a lunchtime favourite, which also has rooms but disappointingly these can only be booked for a minimum of 2 nights, so the search continued. 

A brisk look through,  ‘The Good Pub Guide’ narrowed down my options and The Stagg Inn at Titley seemed to be an exciting possibility. The first pub to be awarded a Michelin Star in 2001, it has continued to be placed in the Top-Ten National Gastro-Pubs and  has been awarded 2012 National Dining Pub of the Year by ‘The Good Pub Guide’. So I booked it.

And on a cold mid-January afternoon, kiddies packed off to the grandparents, we drove into the  crisp Herefordshire countryside to enjoy the gift that kept on giving!

Frosty January afternoon in Herefordshire

The journey alone was a treat and the weekend that followed equalled it. The Stagg Inn was a gem of a pub! An unpretentious local village Inn, it describes itself as part medieval, part Victorian with a bit of 70’s in the mix (but don’t let that put you off).  The front bar is a casual fire-lit arrangement, with comfortable dining rooms to the rear.

The sleeping arrangements are a little more unusual, with three bedrooms above the pub and three more in The Vicarage, five minutes walk down the road. We stayed at the latter, in The Greenly bedroom, complete with period features, en-suite bathroom (with slipper bath), church views and a torch swinging on the back of the door to light your way along the unlit road, to and from the pub.

Charming bedrooms at The Stagg Inn

The pub was heaving by 7.30 and we squeezed ourself against the bar to enjoy a pre-dinner pint of real ale and a paper bag of whitebait served with the most delicious spiced mayonnaise I’ve ever savoured.

Hot, crisp whitebait with spiced mayo

For dinner, I enjoyed a goats cheese and beetroot salad, followed by  pan-fried gnocchi served with chicory, jerusalem artichokes and a watercress sauce. Both dishes were from the vegetarian menu and were extremely delicious. Mike was overjoyed to see home-made black pudding on the menu and even more so to discover it was accompanied by belly pork,  which was a great success as was the fillet of Herefordshire beef served with a horseradish cream. For dessert we shared a deliciously vibrant lemon tart…probably the best I’ve ever eaten.

And finally we had the walk home to entertain us. It was a pitch black, star filled night with nothing but the wind-up torch to guide us home. Unfortunately, by that time, we lacked the vigour necessary to wind the torch into producing anything that resembled light but quite frankly we were beyond caring where (or what) we were walking or falling into, other than the king-size bed that awaited us back at the vicarage…heavenly!

The Vicarage accommodation at The Stagg Inn

Posted in Discoveries on my Doorstep | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Soushi, Cirencester

I’ve always thought of Cirencester as being rather like Cheltenham’s little sister, hidden behind the somewhat overbearing  shadow that the larger town casts. Cheltenham is generally considered the hub of the Cotswolds, with the racing, clubs, bars and restaurants and has always been rather showy-offy about it. But over the past 5 years or so, Cirencester has quietly stepped out and is confidently pushing forward to become the more appealing and enticing of the two Cotswolds destinations. Although the smaller of the towns, it seems that exciting businesses are willing to take a punt on Cirencester, which now hosts a growing selection of boutique clothes and interior shops (Parkinsons being the fore-runner covering both) and an impressive array of artisan food stops.

Its latest aquisition, ‘Soushi’ seems to be succeeding, where Cheltenham has yet to, with this fantastic Japanese eatery.

‘Soushi’ is a cafe-styled Japanese restaurant, with a  light and characteristically minimalist interior. Striking oriental details combine with rustic chunky-wood tables and framed paper-cuts depicting exotic destinations, hang on the walls. Its tables sit mainly at large glass conservatory windows with the child-friendly addition of banquette booths. And ‘Soushi’ really is both a ‘couples’ and ‘family’ destination. We visited with three young children and whilst welcomed by staff were happily inconspicuous in our booth.

The menu offers an excellent selection of Sushi, Sashimi, Tempura, Bento boxes and Udon soups and we sampled from most of these. After tasty vegetable Gyozas and chilli edamame beans, we shared a Vegetable Tempura with Udon Noodle Soup and a Spider Roll Sushi Platter (Soft Shell Crab and Masago) which was an absolutely delicious combination of soft salty crab with it’s crunchy coating and the slightly sweet, nori wrapped sushi rice!

fresh and crunchy veg tempura in a light udon broth

The only disappointing part of the lunch was the inevitable fact that we were going to have to leave and head back to Cheltenham, but not before I had attempted to talk the owner into relocating 30 miles up the road…in fact, I seem to remember offering to help find premises, I’m that desperate. Much as I love ‘Showy-Offy-Cheltenham’, I’ll not be happy until ‘Soushi’ is firmly established on my home turf!

Posted in And along the way | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Matusel Ristorante: when restaurants test relationships

My other half and I have a double act we like to perform when visiting new and unfamiliar places. This usually involves a moonless night, unlit back streets in the wrong end of town, google maps and intermittent/no phone reception. What ensues is a lively duologue, wild gesticulation and a wary but amused audience of passers-by. This was the prologue to our evening at Ristorante Matusel so it was with some relief that we eventually found the narrow, unmarked doorway to a restaurant we had chosen, somewhat ironically, because it was fairly close to our apartment.

Irritated but still together, we entered the restaurant for the second stage of the relationship tester…the empty restaurant. Forgetting that no self-respecting Italian would enter a food establishment before 9pm, the staff met our sudden appearance with gasps and shocked faces. We were led to the table of our choice, (so many to choose from…all of them in fact) and our bottoms hovered over the seats: to stay or not to stay, that is the question. ‘Let’s just have a drink,’ and, ‘I bet it’ll be full by 9:30’, broke the silence and the decision was final, we were staying.

The next hurdle was the expansive menu written on a chalkboard, not only in Italian but with the addition of flamboyant handwriting. It does add a further barrier and all we recognised were the words ‘Carne’ and ‘Pesce’. Thankfully the waiter was very helpful and translated the entire menu word-for-word, very quickly. Inevitably it was still culinary lottery as there are only so many times you can say, ‘umm what did you say that one was again…the ttttonno..con…ummm…razzo…ummm, how do you say….?’ His patience had its limits so we ordered blindly and these were the results!

 Our starters arrived and were delicious. I had a velvety, fresh carpaccio of tuna, swordfish and fresh anchovy, sat atop a radiccio salad with a balsamic dressing and my other half had a clam and mussel saute, more of a soup really but full of fresh and perky mediterranean flavours and heavy on rich and fruity olive oil.

But the main course was a revelation! The most buttery, winey, richly flavoured lobster Pepponi pasta topped by the pieces of a whole lobster was our shared ‘secondi’. Thank goodness we both wanted the same dish (served only for two or more) as I would happily pull a stranger from the streets to share this with me.

Lobster Pennoni

We left Matusel and stumbled happily back towards the apartment, uncaring as to whether we’d ever find our way back. We could always go back and sleep in the restaurant doorway and wait for it to reopen for lunch tomorrow!

(And by the way, I was right, there was not an empty seat in the house by 9:15!)

Posted in Eating in Bologna | Leave a comment

Ristorante Anna Maria, Via Delle Belle Arti

It was a joyous moment when Carlos (the apartment landlord) casually remarked that, ‘ze beste chefe ine Bologna’, was simmering, stewing, baking and broiling below our very noses. It’s a dream come true really: You struggle to find the ‘right’ accommodation but when you eventually do, it is with great gratification that you discover it is the cheapest of the lot. But then of course there is the anxious anticipation of wondering what kind of den you’ve actually booked and were all the reviews written by him?

We were thrilled by the apartment and the fact that ‘Ristorante anna Maria’ was located below it (not directly, so no fear of clattering pans and kitchen fans lulling us to sleep) may just as well have been reason enough for staying there.

The eclectic decor of Ristorante Anna Maria

Walking into the restaurant was very much like walking into my late Grandmother-in-laws living room (albeit 10 times the size), all mid-brown highly varnished wood, an array of puzzling shelf ornaments and plastic flowers in ornate vases. This of course added to the charm and is so very different to ‘the look’ that every restaurant this side of the Channel is trying to achieve. The walls were covered with ‘famous guests’, all Italian and utterly unrecognisable.

I hope I’ve set the scene, but we all know it’s the pasta on the plate that matters and this was indeed wonderful. For ‘primi’, I demolished a dish of buttery, golden tortellini speckled with crunchy sage and my other half enjoyed his gnocci with sharp and creamy gorgonzola and pine nuts. The accompanying (3 Euro 1/4L!) house wine was perfectly good too. Apparently, Ristorante Anna Maria is renowned for its excellent homemade pasta and this is exactly what we got…simple and delicious, no frills, no fuss but ‘proper’ pasta.

Melt-in-the-mouth tortellini with butter and sage

Our late arrival (2:45pm) put pay to our thoughts of ‘secondi’ and so we moved straight to ‘dolci’ with a delicious rustic polenta cake accompanied by a double espresso. The bill for lunch came to a reasonable 48 Euros including a tip.

Light, sweet, delectable!

Posted in Eating in Bologna | 2 Comments

Beautiful Bologna

There’s something wonderful about an Autumn trip. As the days are shortening, leaves turning and chill beginning to bite in Blighty, a weekend in the mediterranean is just a tiny turn-back of the clock, the summer just passed and somehow an anticipation of the one to come (as a friend said yesterday, only 70 days until the nights start drawing out!) The crowds have all wandered back to their four corners and the bright sun is complimented by crisp air…mmmm.

And there is probably no better place to enjoy the luxury of the Autumn ‘long-weekend-away’,  than Bologna. The capital of Emilia Romangna, this richly historic, medieval city shares the museum-like feel and spirited nature of Rome, without the frenetic crowds and admittedly, the colossal sights. It’s a place to walk around without a plan, no itinery nagging at you, but endless mini-delights to absorb and observe and of course, savour!

I lie about the itinery…we did have one of sorts and that was to eat as much as was humanly possible in the space of 72 hours! And this is how we got on….

Posted in Eating in Bologna | 4 Comments