Holiday Munchies: The Stables, Cheltenham

A wedding anniversary road trip has numerous plus points, and undoubtedly, one of the most taste-tingling benefits is the opportunity to test out local food hot spots that are favoured by both locals and tourists alike. So, when my husband Dan and I found ourselves perusing the shopping haunts of Cheltenham, we thought it would be criminal if we didn’t also sample pizza and cider speciality restaurant The Stables, located in the heart of the city.

The Stables is everything a cool, hipster hangout should be. The general layout of the restaurant is across two levels, with typical dining chairs and tables thrown out in favour of long banquet style wooden benches and tables; subconsciously promoting the gathering of friends of family, the clustering of people for the traditional sharing of fodder. Pale clean lines of wood are accented with a palate of muted greys, the focus point of the room a long wooden bar where eager punters can order their food and beverages. White pillar candles and potted plants on the tables add an al-fresco dining vibe to the spacious restaurant; its informal casual attitude like a warm shrug of a greeting between old pals.

The reason we chose to have our dinner at The Stables was very simple really; it specialised in all of our favourite food and drinks. Italian style pizza is a tremendous fault line in my armour of will power, so seeing their pizza selection had me wetting my lips in anticipation. The Stables also specialise in a very decent line of pies, which certainly piques the interest. Dan on the other hand had zoned in completely on their specialist cider range, hungrily devouring the drinks menu and flavour notes with zeal. He decided to take this curiosity one step further by ordering the venue’s cider tasting platter. This consists of a wooden drinks holder showcasing five half pint glasses of different ciders, each one a completely different shade of amber, from dusky sunlight hues to melted honey darkness. Simply labelled one to five, the bar staff choose different ciders each week to feature in the platter, to cater for seasonal specialities or new treats that might have come in. The platter is accompanied by a tasting card, detailing the name and alcohol content of each cider you are sampling. Educational and fun methinks. While Dan starting sniffing and sipping ciders, I ordered myself a carafe of sauvignon blanc, instantly fawning over the vase-shaped carafe and wondering if I could possibly squeeze it into my clutch bag (answer: no).

Main course was an obvious choice for both of us as we ordered pizza. I opted for the Blazing Saddle, a pizza bejewelled with slow-roasted pulled beef, dry-cured bacon, caramelised onions, and roasted red peppers. I also chose to chuck in some extra chorizo too, as The Stables sources a unique local chorizo that I just had to try. Sour cream was then drizzled attractively across the top of the pizza. Served on a round pizza board and armed with a pizza cutter, it takes vast amounts of restraint to eat said pizza in a polite fashion. The base was typically Italian, so served thin with a puffed up narrow crust. There was enough dough to form a satisfying base yet not enough to venture into the land of soft American-style pizza. Dunking my crusts into the pools of sour cream on my pizza was a lovely bonus, although for me, the meat was the star attraction on my pizza. The pulled beef was rich and flavourful, while the spicy chorizo filled your mouth with full-bodied flavour. The bacon added an extra satisfying meatiness and a peppy saltiness, and since onions and peppers are two of my favourite vegetables, their addition to the pizza only made me happier. Pizza may be simple food, but it certainly allows the showcased ingredients to sing loud and proud.

Dan’s pizza was also devoured lustily; he had chosen the Longhorn Jim. This featured ground beef, the same famed chorizo that I added to my pizza, mushrooms, roasted red onion and smoked ham. One happy husband.

As if a pizza for main course wasn’t enough (is there really such a thing as too much pizza?!?) Dan and I unanimously also decided we had to sample the chocolate pizza for dessert; such a rare dessert menu item surely deserved to grace our table? Presented in the same way the main course pizzas were, the chocolate pizza base was a smidge thicker and a lot paler to ensure it was not as crispy, but instead retained an element of doughiness for squidge factor.  A chocolate and hazelnut spread was smeared unevenly across the pretty flat base, leaving plenty of space around the edges for that makeshift crust. Generous blobs of melted white chocolate were then haphazardly flung at random spots on the pizza before the whole thing was dusted with icing sugar. I really enjoyed this unique dessert and the flavour combinations were lovely – you simply cannot go wrong when it comes to chocolate and sweet dough. There wasn’t enough of the chocolate and hazelnut spread for my liking, as I prefer lashings of toppings on my meal, although I did spread my white chocolate blobs with my knife to compensate for any chocolate gaps I spotted. Very filling and something different.

Now I decided to continue the theme of chocolate even further by ordering myself a boozy chocolate orange hot chocolate featuring, you guessed it, Cointreau. Almost as decadent as a dessert itself, the hot chocolate was mounted with a swirl of soft squirty cream which was dusted with cocoa and adorned with big dark chocolate chips. A couple of decorative slices of orange completed the drink. Although the hot chocolate certainly looked the part, I can’t say I was overly blown away. The hot chocolate was rather thin which diminished the chocolate taste, and I didn’t really get too much of the Cointreau coming through. It was also lukewarm-ish by the time I got it, which also didn’t enhance the flavour.

All in all, I thought The Stables was really different as a venue. Ordering from the bar is quite unusual for restaurants that aren’t also pubs, but then again that could be a nod to its cider side. The bar staff were friendly and informative, even if they weren’t overly speedy, and our food was timely in coming to the table. The prices were also average so nothing too astronomical, although since Dan paid, he may wish to contradict me on that! For pizza, pie and ciders lovers, I would certainly recommend a visit for a laid-back evening with your mates.

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Homeward Bound: Beefeater Liberty Bell, Romford, Essex

The Liberty Bell has always been a reliable source of British pub grub, a mere 15 minute walk from my flat, making it an ideal date night location where both my husband and I can enjoy a few drinks yet still get home with ease. Partnered with Romford’s Premier Inn, the gastro pub used to be part of the Table Table chain, yet a recent renovation has seen it transform into a Beefeater. Although I know the differences are probably quite subtle and more nuanced – after all, it still serves British pub fodder – I was still keen to see what they had done to the place.

As you walk in, the most striking difference is the new décor. Beefeater have really overhauled and updated the interior to give the restaurant a really open feel, featuring plenty of large rectangular and circular tables, large mustard or coffee coloured leather sofa style seating, and quirky red or brown upholstered dining chairs. Wood panelling provides a barn-like vibe. Fun cow-related sayings perch on the walls, as well as other themed art, such as a multi-coloured cow cut out labelling the relevant joints of meat. It’s a light, bright space, and it has a really fun and casual atmosphere; perfect for kicking back after a long week at work. The nooks and grannies that previously hid seating when Table Table was in management have all disappeared, and Beefeater has embraced a much more homely yet classy vibe.

My husband and I were sat on an end table by the wall, providing an element of privacy. I nabbed the dining chair as Dan slid onto the mustard sofa opposite me, behind our wooden, square table. As he ordered a berry flavoured cider, I checked out the wine menu. I decided to try something a little different – my usual favourites are also naturally the most expensive on most menus, so I was trying to be savvy too! One of the cheaper white wines, it was pale in colour and vaguely fruity. It didn’t pack the fruity punch I was expecting and while it was delicate and light, it wasn’t the best wine in the world. Kudos for trying something new though, right?

As Dan enjoys a starter, I was cohered into sharing some garlic flatbread strips. This came up a lot bigger than either of us expected, despite it being on the sharer menu. So many starters are designed to share yet they come up minuscule, so this was incredibly refreshing. The large flatbread was cut into three vertical strips and served with a little ramekin of melted garlic butter for us to dunk the bread in. It was an ideal thickness, with a soft and plump edge, yet a crisp and crunchy garlic infused centre with a thin base. We dove in with a rip and pull tactic to divide the bread as we chatted.

For my main course, I looked to the seasonal menu. I wanted to try the beef rib wellington, however this happened to be the one and only dish that the restaurant had run out of! Cursing my bad luck, I scanned the menu and ordered my second choice, also on the seasonal menu. I ordered the beef fillet stack, naturally medium rare. The 8oz steak would be topped with a slice of streaky bacon, a slice of Somerset brie and a slow roasted tomato. Sides wise, the dish came with creamed spinach and crispy potato slices. I love a good steak, and at a venue called Beefeater, you kind of expect the beef to be pretty top notch.

I wasn’t wrong. The steak was perfectly cooked, and although I have had more tender steaks in fancier restaurants, there was nothing wrong with this piece of meat. It was just the right level of pinkness and it cut very easily, with a great, slightly chargrilled flavour. Lovely and thick, it was a tasty chunk of meat. I also liked the fact that the toppings provided me with enough juicy options to eat with my steak, so Dan watched in horror as my tomato ketchup dish remained largely untouched. Granted, the brie came up as a rather shrivelled and small slice, although it was nicely melted over the meat. The bacon was the smallest and skinniest slice I have ever had the misfortune to glance upon, however as a component of the whole dish, it was still ok. The tomato was nice and big, the roasting process really drawing out the flavour and giving it a lovely soft texture too. Each element worked really nicely together. If the dish had had less components, then I would have been disappointed, however all together, it was very nice indeed. The crispy potato slices were thin and rather nice. The creamed spinach was more like a sauce than a vegetable in my opinion as it was so liquid. I’m not sure that is entirely a good thing, however it tasted nice and I was able to use it to dunk my potatoes in so it wasn’t too shabby. Although the dish wasn’t entirely perfect, or as I expected, weirdly, it still worked, and I still enjoyed it.

Dan ordered a mixed grill and then promptly got the meat sweats. Each piece of meat on his plate was very generously sized and of good quality, leading him to say it was one of the best mixed grills that he had ever had. He struggled to finish, yet he still delivered a clean plate to earn a thumbs up.

For dessert, I went back to the seasonal menu to order a gin and tonic lemon trifle. I love trifle and I love gin and tonic, so this was very much a must-try for me. Served in glass straight-sided dessert bowl, the base of the trifle was very much like a sponge pudding with the gin and tonic soaked sponge fingers at the bottom. The gin was a main flavour which was great, as so often the alcohol can get hidden among other ingredients. The lemon curd that was meant to top the sponge was rather non-existent, however there was more than enough of the light and silky whipped cream on top to compensate, so pairing this with the moreish sponge was really lovely. It was a nice sized dessert and not too heavy after my main meal, so I’m really glad I got to try this one.

I couldn’t leave without ordering a Bailey’s milkshake too. Served in a traditional tall glass and garnished with chocolate shavings, it was basically a vanilla based ice cream, blended with Bailey’s. As with the gin, the Bailey’s was certainly present and correct, although not dominant throughout the whole drink so I’m not sure what the balance of the blend was exactly. It was creamy, cool and very nice indeed. An extra treat!

The Beefeater menu has a great choice and range to pick from, and we both enjoyed our meal there. Oddly enough, although I had little niggles about a couple of the dishes, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the food, and I’m still pleased with the food choices I made. I’ve even picked out a few dishes I’d like to try from the seasonal menu for next time! The portion sizes are really good, which is definitely something I value, and the waiting staff were chatty and polite. We spent just over £60 on our meal which is pretty much par for the course, so I’m happy with the price range too. All in all, we had a lovely date night, and I’m looking forward to going to my new Beefeater again soon!