We went to Cheltenham for a long weekend to escape the humid monotony of London. We're both country folk at heart who get very twitchy if we haven't seen a field or smelt a cow pat for a few days. We were treated to 3 glroious days of sunshine. Probably the only three consecutive days the sun has worn his baseball cap a la William Hague for the whole summer of 2008.
We stayed at 32 which is in the Mr and Mrs Smith guide. I'll leave you to look at it yourself, but needless to say it was very swish and very stylish. A nice change to frilly curtains and flowery pillow cases your normally get at BnBs. O... and the breakfast was perfect. Apart from the mindless chatter from some of the other guests. We uncovered a new truism. When given a rectangular table, layed with six places, the first couple will always choose the far end. The next couple will always choose the near end. And the last couple will land up gimping it up in the middle seats - sandwiched between two strange couples.
I'm pretty bad at small talk at the best of times, afterall this is Cowie's speciality. But I am atrocious in the morning. I'm perfectly capable of ordering tea and saying yes to all the different permuatations of the full English breakfast, but anything beyond that is not on. Breakfast should be silent. A chance to read the papers. A nice way to ease into the day whilst listening to the news. A chance to think about what the day has in store for you. The rest of the day is for talking.
I was one of 4 Jonathans staying at 32, with the other 2 Jonathans in charge of the place and the 4th being a guest. When we arrived on Friday we immediately interogated Jonathan 1 about our dinner options. He wholeheartedly recommeded a newly opened restaurant called The Royal Well Tavern. Impressed, we took the recommendation and strolled across Imperial Square to a very unlikely location next door to a dirty looking chip shop and opposite the National Tyre Centre and bus station.
With all the tables busy we sat at the bar and were talked into ordering some Breton oysters that had arrived earlier in the day that the front of house had tried for lunch. They didn't disappoint. Smaller than normal oysters they were deliciously fresh and flavoursome. Oozing with the essence of the sea they instantly rejuvinated us after our long journey from London. With a glass of house wine from a small caraffe I joked with the chap who was serving us that I felt like Simon Hopkinson should be sitting next to me. He laughed and pointed at a small library of cookery books that stood behind the bar - all of which I owned - including 2 by SH himself! And the others by the rest of his band of merry men.
The more got stuck in the more we realised that this was a very special place. Like a cross between the Anchor and Hope, Cafe Anglais, Riverford Farm and all of the other places that put their ingredients first and chefyness second.
Cowie had a lovely fillet of bream whilst I was completely bowled over by an expertly poached fillet of sea trout which came with some brown shrimp butter and a mound of vivid green samphire. Without doubt the finest trout or salmon dish I have ever had the good fortune to eat.
I had a sudden pang of greedy curiosity whilst waiting for my trout which resulted in a small plate of lambs tongue arriving just as the fish did. I've rarely tasted something so deep and meaty. Inadvertantly I had created my own surf and turf! Cowie the taste and texture of it... but it was the gassy after-effects that really turned her off!
We shared a vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert, which was perfect too.
The staff were brilliant. The best either of us have ever come across. The chap we had chatted to at the bar when we first arrived turned out to be the ridiculously young owner who we subsequently found out is called Sam Pearman. He was effortlessly charming in a very disarming way. We found ourselves discussing our next trip to La Champignon Sauvage with him. I won't write here what he said but can tell you he was right!
If you are ever in Cheltenham you simply have to visit Sam's restaurant. It's the best in town. If only all towns had a restaurant as good and straightforward as this.