Friday, October 29, 2010
The village of Bibury, which lies 22 miles southwest of Cheltenham, is about as idyllic as English villages get. There's Arlington Row. A row of weavers cottages built from the local stone. The Bibury Trout Farm on the River Coln. And, nestled into the woods stands one of the prettiest hotels I've ever seen. The Bibury Court Hotel. This former monastery was built in the 16th century, but fell into disrepair before being bought for a family home in the 1920s and converted into a hotel in 1968.
Like most old English hotels it felt cold and aloof. However, the brasserie, a conservatory built in 1998 is another story. The all glass building is cozy and warm. With picturesque views of the garden. Two types of bread were presented to us, however only one of them stuck in my mind. The Guinness bread. It was tremendous. The roasted barley that came through on my palate was staggering. I felt like an Irish goat herder leaning into a hearty meal in my thatched roof cottage on the Dingle Peninsula.
And it only got better as the meal wore on. Our Salmon and Herb Fishcake with Pea Puree and a Poached Egg was an amorous starter. However, my main was something I still think about often. Bacon has become this thinly cut piece of fatty, sad meat. Not at the Bibury Court Hotel. My Pan Fried Calves Liver with Real Bacon, Mashed Potatoes and Caramelised Onion Sauce was the real deal. Monolithic in both size and taste. The Bacon must have been at least 18 inches long. It was a meal in itself. The entire dish was extremely well done. Caution, do not attempt to try this if you have high cholesterol, or heart trouble. If I had to guess I would say this was probably one of the most calorie laden meals I've ever had. But well worth it.
My wife, however, was not quite so daring to her waistline. Her Braised Shoulder of Lleyn Lamb, with Champ Potatoes, Green Beans, Glazed Carrots, Tomato and Rosemary was tasty, but I wouldn't go out of my way to have it again. It had the look of a shiny, posh school lunch meal, or a mid-week suburban family dinner. It gave me the creeps. Reruns of The Andy Griffith Show popped into my head and suddenly I was dining with Opie, Andy and Aunt Bea. Barnie was in the kitchen rustling up some more Guinness bread.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
How many restaurants have I been to which warranted a return visit? Moreover, how many of those were worth driving two hours to get to? The answer, not many. But, The Swan at Southrop is one of those restaurants. Tucked into a small hamlet on the southern end of the Cotswolds, this 17th century inn has now been taken over by Sebastian and Lana Snow. The Snow's moved to this Elysian village from London in 2008. Before coming to Southrop they owned another revered restaurant, Snows on the Green, located in West London. Sebastian Snow is the head chef. His philosophy is simple, Turf to Table. A sentiment very close to my heart.
On our first visit we were greeted by a friendly, attractive woman in a very short black mini-skirt. Actually, on both occasions we were greeted by alluring women in black mini-skirts. Clearly, this being Kate Moss' local had rubbed off onto some of the staff. Whatever the reason, I can't say I was horribly offended. She lead us to our table, skirt clutching to her upper thighs for dear life. Nestled into our corner, we scrutinized the menu thoroughly before deciding on the two course, set menu. Accompanied by a pint of Cornish Ale for me and a glass of house red for my wife.
The food was ordered and in no time we were nose deep into Carpaccio of Tuna, Ginger and Avocado, with a Soy and Lime Dressing. The flavors were pristine. The Soy and Lime Dressing lending a little acid and salt to the fresh Avocado and Tuna. The Goat's Cheese Tart with Saffron, Pear Chutney and Hazelnut was equally creative and tasty. A short break followed, but it wasn't long until I was confronted with the best Fish and Chips this foodie has ever tasted. I'm not going to try and romanticize Fish and Chips into something it isn't. What it was, was delicious and a classic example of what fresh produce and meat does when incorporated into even simple dishes. Continuing in the Asian theme that had begun with our starters, we were presented with a Marinated Duck Breast in a sauce of Soy and Honey with a Warm Salad of Couscous, Mango, Cucumber and Coriander Salsa. The Duck was done beautifully, the crispiness of the charred fat and the freshness of the Mango and Cucumber married nicely.
After that meal, we decided we needed to go back. And soon. We thought that perhaps they just got lucky and created four dishes that were all delectable, or they may have made the set menu extra tasty that day. There was some other factor here, which we were determined to get to the bottom of. Or, we simply wanted another day in the Cotswolds and used that as a good excuse to take a day trip.
The second time around was a very similar story. Same restaurant, same parking space, same weather, same ultra compact, black mini-skirt on ultra compact, arresting young women. This time we did things slightly different. No starter. Nope, straight in for the kill.
I love pie. Chicken and Ham Pie, Steak and Mushroom Pie, Horse Liver Pie, Brain Pie. Ok, I've never had a Brain Pie, or a Horse Liver Pie. But I would. So when my Steak and Kidney Pie came out looking like something out of The Louvre, statuesque, crowned with Rosemary, I took a deep breath and tried to remain neutral and unbiased. "A Pie doesn't make a restaurant great. There are other factors involved." I reminded myself. Bullocks! This Pie exemplified what this restaurant is in full. It was absolutely stunning. A shining example to all Pies around. The Meat was tender and juicy and absolutely stuffed to the crust. The Kidney was big, bold and awe inspiring. And the Caramelized Root Vegetables tasted like they had been taken from the garden across the road that morning. Awesome stuff!
I decided to be fair and try the offerings presented by the other diners. My wife's Crisp Confit of Kelmscott Pork Belly with Fennel, Mushrooms and Confit Potatoes put up a good fight for best of class. Beating out the Pork Belly at the George and Dragon. Not an easy task. But the flavors were just that much better. The crispness of the fat, that much crispier. The Potatoes and Veg were just that much more fresh and flavorful. Yup, I'm afraid the G and D has slipped a notch. And finally, my best friend's Roast Rump of Cotswolds Beef with Yorkshire Pudding, Roast Potatoes, Root Vegetables and Homemade Horseradish. An authoritative example of this classic Sunday Lunch dish. Wonderful.
I stand here, totally humbled and awe struck. The Snow's have impressed this foodie and left an indelible impression on me. The Swan at Southrop has no Michelin Stars and the food doesn't carry a lavish price tag. It simply does great, local, classic food, for people who love to eat. I give them my highest marks.
My professional photography website: Taylor Young Photography