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.