The Gloucester Old Spot – near Cheltenham

The Gloucester Old SpotWhen asked about Gloucestershire, people from outside of our county would probably think of farms, big green open spaces and cosy pubs. They might even know about the history of Gloucester and the elegance of Cheltenham.

The Gloucester Old Spot is the epitome of a traditional Gloucestershire pub – warm, inviting and offering fantastic food and drink.

I have a friend from Worcester and with its close access to the M5, this is the perfect meeting place for us. It’s half hour away from her and I. There is ample on-site parking too.

The pub is inviting and warm for a cold January afternoon and its neutral interior bar area is elegant and charming. In fact, Gloucester Old Spot is one of two pubs in Cheltenham featured in The Good Pub Guide. The bar area is to the right of the entrance and the dining room to the left.

The dining room is striking. Deep purple walls are complemented by exposed stone, original antique oil paintings and taxidermy stags’ heads. On this occasion we sat near the wood burner in the room.

Gloucester Old Spot - caramelised red onion tart with Goats cheeseThe waitress handed us the lunch menu, which is full of British dishes with imaginative concoctions. There are crusty cob sandwiches, fish dishes, vegetarian options and steaks.

I ordered the Balsamic Red Onion and Goats Cheese Crottin Tartlet with Chargrilled Romesco Salsa and Rocket Salad. As it is January I thought just this as a main would be healthy enough!

When it arrived it was beautifully  presented. The goats cheese and balsamic red onion worked really well together – the red onion was really sweet. The tartlet shortcrust pastry was crisp around the edges but unfortunately soggy underneath. I would have preferred it crispy all around and I’m assuming that it should have been.

What I was really impressed with was the Romesco Salsa. Romesco is a nut and red pepper sauce and this particular salsa had a sun-dried, Mediterranean taste to it. Extremely moreish.

This dish was lovely for a light lunch, regardless of the pastry, as the flavours worked really well and even though it was tasty, not too unhealthy.

I recommend a visit to the Gloucester Old Spot, whether you live in or outside of the county. It’s one of the places that make you love Gloucestershire even more.

I’ll be back for dinner some time.


 

The Gloucester Old Spot, Piffs Elm, Tewkesbury Road, Cheltenham. GL51 9SY. Tel: 01242 680321

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The Suffolk Kitchen, Cheltenham

The Suffolk Kitchen

The Suffolk Kitchen

This dinner had been booked for well over a month, as I’d planned to take out three special people in my life as a treat.

Another friend, who is a foodie thanks to his time owning his own deli and during a different chapter of his life managed the food hall at Selfridges, had recommended The Suffolk Kitchen in Cheltenham to me. I know the restaurant has previously won the Taste of Gloucestershire awards for its commitment to locally-sourced and seasonal food with as it describes, ‘a good honest British menu.’

We arrived just before 7.30pm and were seated at our table directly in the window, which was perfect for our group to people-watch the passersby. I would describe the interior as clean, contemporary and cosy – a lovely environment to enjoy a sociable meal. It also seemed to be pretty busy – but not so much that disturbed the ambiance but enough for a good Saturday night buzz.

 

The Suffolk Kitchen - seasonal asparagus, with poached egg and hollandaise sauce

The Suffolk Kitchen – seasonal asparagus, with poached egg and hollandaise sauce

Our friendly waitress placed a jug of water and some bread – not sure whether it was homemade but I guess it was – on our table. The white bread had sun-dried tomato in it and the brown was red cabbage. My favourite was the sun-dried tomato option as it was sweet and delicious and the butter rich, creamy and salty. The red cabbage bread tasted like, well, bread with red cabbage in it.

Us ladies opted for a bottle of Principato Vigneti Pinot Grigio 2013, and the boys, beer. The wine was very good, and quite a mellow taste as far as Pinot Grigio goes. As we were served our drinks we were told of the specials – the main was a lamb dish, and the starter, an asparagus option with a poached egg and hollandaise sauce.  Just over the past week had asparagus officially come into season, thanks to our warm mid-April and only a few days before our meal had I been saying that I’d like to make asparagus with hollandaise sauce and a dippy egg. And yes I do realise I’ve just used the phrase ‘dippy egg’ and that I’m over eight years old.

 

 

The Suffolk Kitchen - pork belly with salted caramel sauce

The Suffolk Kitchen – pork belly with salted caramel sauce

I opted for the asparagus starter, and my other half chose the smoked haddock and prawn fishcake with coriander and red pepper harissa. The others chose an asparagus plus a baked goats cheese and caramalised walnuts first course.

I am extremely pleased that I decided on asparagus, which I was told the easygoing owner on front-of-house told me it was grown in Cirencester. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, al dente, and season, with a slight char from the griddle pan. The hollandaise sauce was tangy and creamy and the poached egg was cooked to immaculate precision. I really enjoyed dipping my asparagus into the saucy mess on the plate and to be honest I felt a bit disappointed that the whole thing was over too soon. The fish cake was what could be expected and was tasty – but didn’t blow my mind, or mouth rather.

 

 

The Suffolk Kitchen - roasted duck with confit orange

The Suffolk Kitchen – roasted duck with confit orange

For main I decided on braised West End Farm (a family-run farm in Wiltshire) pork belly, served with salted caramel sauce, parsley olive oil mash and crackling, and finished with spiced carrot compote, green beans and kale. My significant other decided on roasted duck served with confit orange, potato rosti and sautéed broccoli, accompanied with roasted beetroot and swede finished with a rich orange jus. Our dining companions opted for steak.

My main was immense. The little strips of crackling on top of the meat was golden, salted and crispy. The pork belly was seriously good – braised and the fat literally melted in my mouth. The salted caramel sauce was equally delicious – a fantastic accompaniment to the pork. The parsley olive oil mash was tasty and worked very well. The greens also held a deserving patch on the plate – you needed to crunch on some foliage to feel like you were replenishing your body from the oh so naughtiness of the sauce.  This rich and meaty dish is not for the faint-hearted and if I had one criticism it would be that there was a little too much meat for me, considering the richness of the flavour.

A mouthful of my partner’s duck with a roasted beet proved that this also was a delicious concoction – although I think pork won hands down on the flavour. The steaks seemed to go down well too.

The Suffolk Kitchen - cheese board for one

The Suffolk Kitchen – cheese board for one

After our sweet-savoury main courses we didn’t fancy a typical pudding so we decided on a cheese board for one to share between two. When it arrived on its wooden platter, the cheese was joined by grapes, a red onion chutney, an apple so beautifully sliced it almost looked like origami and some kind of homemade cracker to break apart by hand.

I didn’t ask about all of the cheese varieties but of course there was a brie and a stilton. The red onion chutney was delicious but unfortunately I found the cracker very unusual. It had some curry-type flavouring and my tastebuds did not enjoy it with the cheese. Although just because it did not suit me, does not mean it would not suit anyone else. It really annoys me when food critics say the food is bad because they don’t like the taste – namely that arrogant idiot that writes for The Times – I refuse to be one of those.

The other two that joined us for our meal opted for the peanut butter cheesecake and before I could try any, it had gone. I am assuming top marks for that deliciously-looking pud.

The Suffolk Kitchen is absolutely worth a visit. The food, setting and service could not be faulted and I had a fantastic evening. The entire meal for four courses, four mains, two desserts and drinks came to just under £165 – not including the tip.

The Suffolk Kitchen, Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham. GL50 2AB. Tel: 01242 237057.

Boston Tea Party, Cheltenham

Boston Tea Party Cheltenham exterior

Boston Tea Party, Cheltenham. Image owned by Boston Tea Party and taken from the video on its website.

On a lovely Saturday morning, we thought we’d head into Cheltenham for a spot of shopping. Cheltenham is good for this. You’ve got one-off boutiques in Montpellier and premium brands/ retailers along the Promenade, plus your usual high street shops along, well, the High Street, as well ones as spilling in the two shopping centres, Regent Arcade and the Beechwood Shopping Centre.

I’d heard of Boston Tea Party‘s cafes in Bristol and knew that one had recently opened in Cheltenham, on Clarence Street, near to the newly-refurbished The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum (something else I need to check out when I have time).  I’m slightly bending the rules of my blog, as in the ‘About Me‘ section I vow not to review big chains.  There’s nothing more boring when you open your local newspaper to read a review of a newly-opened Pizza Express in your area.  As if we don’t know what these places are like already!  Boston Tea Party is a relatively small chain and has 15 branches in west and central England, and because of this I think it warrants a review.  We decided to give it a try for a spot of breakfast.

The interior is very urban and you can expect a lot of wood, and splashes of chalky, dusky colours. Expect lots of shabby-chic style seating and tables.

The order area/ bar is to the right of the main entrance, piled high with slabs of brownies, rocky-road and other intriguing tray bakes.  Little charms of egg and bacon muffins in glass cases ornament.  You need to order at the bar and give your table number if you want food.

The great thing about Boston Tea Party is that it supports West Country suppliers, uses free range meat and eggs, and organic milk.  You can tell this is a chain that cares about serving good food.  Plus it has been awarded the top three star mark rating and membership of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.  Basically this means that Boston Tea Party cares about the way it runs its cafes and the food it serves.  As a diner, this makes me happy.  I like to go to places that give a shit about what they’re doing.

Water at Boston Tea Party is free and you can help yourself to a bottle flavoured by a little mint or citrus fruit if you wish.

My dining companion goes for The Boss breakfast (yes, my dining companion is a man who needs his feed) and I go for Eggs Royale.  If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you may have noticed I am a lover of smoked salmon.  I love the stuff, can’t get enough of it.  The boss who’s about to eat The Boss has a double shot latte and I just stick with my free minty water.  It’s a hot day and I’m thirsty.

We sit down at a table in the corner and the cafe is rammed with geeks who look as though they work in digital marketing,  dishy dads and yummy mummys with cute kids, uni students with crop tops and scruffy buns, and couples like us who look like they’re fuelling up to shop.

Eggs Royal BTP

Eggs Royale

Considering the busyness of the joint, our food arrives in ample time, served in tin crockery that looks fit use for a weekend of camp stove dining.

My Eggs Royale was how I imagined.  The hollandaise sauce was buttercup yellow and tangy, the poached eggs cooked seriously to perfection (gooey but hard if that makes sense), both dolloped on top of the delicate pink smoky stuff.  Yum!  The muffin was pretty big and round, did not look that toasted and I would have preferred it to be thicker, but hey, I’m not going to let those small details ruin my breakfast.

The Boss breakfast looked equally as good.  The smoked bacon was cooked just right, and the scrambled eggs were delicious with pieces of tomato and basil mixed into it.  The sausages tasted nice and you could really tell that the meat they use is of a good standard.  What can I say other than it was a bloody good breakfast, ideal to start the day with.

The Boss BTP

The Boss breakfast

When you think of a traditional English breakfast, you think of some greasy fry up in a trucker’s cafe.  This was not one of those.  The Boss breakfast at Boston Tea Party had all of the good qualities of a cooked breakfast without the added slob feel you might have after eating a greasy fry up.

The bill for Eggs Royale, The Boss and a double-shot latte came to just under £19.

I would recommend it if you’re ever heading to Cheltenham.  In the evening Boston Tea Party serves alcohol too, and so with its urban feel I think it would make a nice spot for a drink.  Take a look at its menu here.

Boston Tea Party, 45-49 Clarence Street, Cheltenham, GL50 3JS.  Tel: 01242 576266

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The Parrot Bar and Grill, Cheltenham

I studied in Cheltenham and would often pass The Parrot Bar and Grill.  I was always intrigued by its warm Cotswold Stone exterior, wielding individual gold letters.  I’d also heard rumour that the Like a Prayer singer, Madonna, used to drink there.  There’s probably some truth in this Chinese whisper as the cone-breasted entertainer once checked out the Cheltenham Ladies College for her daughter.  As an impressionable student, with hardly any exposure to celebrities in those days, I thought it was pretty cool.

The Parrot Bar and Grill

The Parrot Bar and Grill, Cheltenham

A good few years later, and after learning The Parrot serves Kobe (possibly the best beef in the world) steak, my other half and I decided to give it a try.  It’s the only place in Gloucestershire that serves it.

We went on a cold evening and were drawn to the sandy, warm gleam of the building’s outer, like moths to a lightbulb.  Inside it was dark but in a strange way, cosy.  The interior was different to how I imagined; the bar was in the centre of the room, and looked like something from a film where people rock up to some isolated hotel in the middle of the countryside.  The restaurant was to the right of the entrance, on a slightly raised level, with walls painted with a burnt orange colour and furnished with black tables and chairs.

We had the trio of scallops to start.  It arrived nicely presented with three scallops wedged on a thick piece of black pudding, surrounded by a circle of pea puree.  The scallops were cooked well, slightly crispy with a soft centre.  Yet the scallop/ black pudding ratio was completely off-scale and I think it would be more appropriate to have it on the menu as ‘black pudding served with a trio of scallops and pea puree’.  Nevertheless, the flavour combinations were good.

Kobe beef

Kobe steak

Two 8oz Kobe fillet steaks with triple-cooked chips, salad and a side of port and stilton sauce were served as our main.  The plates came out hot which meant the salad garnish was warm, wilted and pathetic.  That aside, the chips were long, thick and golden; the steak glistening and beautifully charred.  When sawing the meat with the steak knife it was so tender that I wouldn’t be surprised if a butter knife could do the same damage.  Inside the meat was pink and cooked to perfection.  When I popped it into my mouth fireworks went off in my mind, I hardly had to chew and it tasted immense.  It is the best steak I have ever eaten.

I love a good sauce, especially if it has stilton in it, but the jug of deliciousness we had ordered remained practically untouched.  The steak spoke for itself, I would even go as far to to say it gave a rich and grandiose monologue of self-superiority.

The Parrot was definitely worth the trip for the Kobe fillet steak alone.

The Parrot Bar and Grill is now closed.

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