I seem to have spent a lot of my summer in and around the Stratford-Upon-Avon area. When the sun is shining I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend a day than rowing its river, or nestled up on its banks supping on a cold glass of wine. When the sun is locked behind stormy clouds, such as on our last trip, we wind down our days by submerging in its rich history, visiting the home of some bloke called Shakespeare, who wasn’t in on our last trip but seems to be very popular judging by the queues. I have a lot to thank Shakespeare for, because it wasn’t for the hordes of tourists who come to pay tribute to the mans words in this wonderful part of the world, those lovely folk at the Shakespeare’s England would not have kindly arranged for this particular trip.
Our base on this occasion was The Arden, a fine boutique hotel directly opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. From the window of our spacious room we had a full view of the theatre, with the river Avon peeking out from both sides. Its a glorious place to be, opulent, and seemingly aimed at a more affluent traveller and theatre goer. The restaurant here is the Waterside Brasserie, a large dining room with hues of purples and brown which looked positively bustling pre Shakespearian show and far more lonely when we sat down at the exact time the room departed for some theatre.
From the off the talent in the kitchen is clear. Accurately seared scallops, milky white and medium rare in the centre, with ricotta and bacon wrapped in most delicate of ravioli. Moisture comes from a vivid green puree at the base which creates enough interest to not require a sauce. My girlfriend declares it her second favourite dish of the year, high praise from a lady who probably could find fault in the life of Mother Teresa.
And then there was butter poached chicken breast, supple and dotted with tarragon, paired with charred bits of sweetcorn and leek that added a subtle sweetness to the dish. At one side stood a croquette of the darker bits of the bird that offer a depth of flavour more attuned to working muscles. As with the scallops, it was a concise plate of food with not an ingredient wasted.
A lamb main course was generous in size, with thick cuts of rump and two rolled spirals of crispy breast. The rump was cooked correctly to medium and would have benefitted from another two minutes resting, whilst the breast was a lovely thing, all unctuous and sweet meat that offered little resistance to the knife. The accompaniments of dauphinois potato and a smokey aubergine puree helped along by a light lamb jus and garlic notes that underpinned the entire dish like a French dressmaker. It’s a proper bit of cooking, sizable in portion and price at just over £20.00. A tranche of cod cooked separately in a bamboo steamer was a minute overcooked, yet still ate well when added to the bowl of the mixture of glass noodles and various stir fried veg dressed loosely in a sauce heavy on soy. There was a nice lime acidity which cut through the deep umami notes of the dish.
We struggled to find room for dessert, plumping for a butter milk panacotta that looked to be the lightest option on the menu. The panacotta was well made; just set and quivering, with fresh blackberries, a coulis of the fruit, dainty rippled meringues, and more of those blackberries, this time poached in a balsamic. As the pan pipe version of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ threatens to spoil what has thus far been a lovely evening, we find that balsamic blackberries are far too sharp on their own and an absolute delight when taken with crunchy bits of egg white and a soothing set cream.
We never saw a bill on this occasion though we totalled up our food and wine to be around £80.00, both agreeing that the meal is good value for the quality served. Afterwards we sat at the curved bar which anchors the room and enjoyed a cocktail, soon to be joined by the throngs of theatre goers with similar ideas. In an area with such concentrated tourism it would be easy to make a quick buck serving low quality food at high prices, and others do, as we found out the following day. Instead The Waterside Brassie is intent on producing clever cooking, executed to a level well above the norm of other brasserie’s. It is the best food that I have eaten in Stratford and in a cracking location to boot.
My meal at the Waterside Brasserie and stay at The Arden was complimentary , organised through Shakespeares England, the official tourism guide for Warwickshire. For more information please see www.shakespeares–england.co.uk