Wednesday : Pubs of Stratford, Cake Heaven and the Local Library

The morning started with the delightful 40 minute walk from the YHA into Stratford-upon-Avon town centre, once again through the village of Tiddington and the decadent housing on either side of the road.

The river Avon where there is a beautiful riverside walk, but unfortunately it’s on the other side to where I was walking with no place to cross further down.

After arriving into Stratford-upon-Avon, I popped into the town’s library and I liked this old map and an arrow showing where the library was located.

This is the local history room in Stratford-upon-Avon library, with its sole table, which isn’t ideal. However, there was power, wi-fi and it was all very comfortable for book reading.

It’s not the largest collection of local history books that I’ve seen in a library, but Leamington Spa library isn’t far away and they have a more substantial selection. I liked the library, which unusually is in a building which is some centuries old, but which also received funding from the great Andrew Carnegie. It’s positive when buildings used by the community have some heritage and interest to them, with the staff here being friendly and keen to help. Quite quiet though, it’s not the most used library that I’ve seen.

This is Honey Blue, a cafe with an excellent reputation and so I thought I’d pop there for lunch. I deliberately went there a little before 12:00 in the hope of getting a table, as I wasn’t going to sit outside in the rain.

Let’s just note here that this presentation is about as good as I think a cafe can get. I posted about this on Twitter and tagged Pret to help inspire them a bit, but they didn’t bother to reply. Since they managed to only half fill a cup of hot chocolate last week, I think that they might take some time to reach these levels.

What looks like something odd on the hot chocolate is a toasted marshmallow and that was quite decadent and beautiful, with the drink being an orange hot chocolate, a flavour that works well with craft beer as well (the orange and chocolate I mean, not being hot). I’d say that this was probably one of the best hot chocolates that I’ve had. The cake was a red velvet cake, and that was moist, flavourful, light and delicious. I’m not sure that this was the healthiest lunches that I’ve had, and I prefer savoury to sweet, but this was nonetheless really quite marvellous. The service was attentive, polite and engaging, so a visit here is definitely recommended, although there are only a few tables inside so it might take a few trips to get in during the busy tourist months.

With that it was off to the Garrick Inn for a drink, one of two pubs in the town listed in the Good Beer Guide. As I have a lovely new web-site just about my voyage around the country’s Good Beer Guide listed pubs, there’s more about my visit at https://404.org.uk/index.php/2022/03/04/garrick-inn-stratford-upon-avon-warwickshire/.

I won’t repeat in depth what I’ve written on my other site, but I’d note that it’s a well reviewed Greene King operated pub that seems competently managed, but the beer selection didn’t surprise and excite me.

It was then onto the Rose & Crown, which I’d say has as much history as the Garrick and also might have lost its original interior, but it retains an historic charm. I’ll give some credit to Greene King, who operate this pub as well, as they’ve made a bit of an effort with the history on their web-site:

“The original Rose & Crown was situated at no.1 Sheep Street, next to the town hall and is mentioned in Wheelers History as one of the town’s principle inns. It was in the late 1850s that the original hostelry closed and the name was transferred to an inn at the current site, formally called the Green Dragon. Records for this location go back as far as 1596 when a major fire burnt down most of the property in Sheep Street. By 1703, records indicate that a malthouse was established on the site. In 1858 Edmund Paine inherited the property from his father Edward and at least half of it was renamed the Rose & Crown.”

Quirky and long, there’s a modern decor inside the pub which stretches back some distance and there are plenty of quiet corners about the place. The service was engaging and the environment felt inviting, the sort of pub that I’d be happy to linger at.

I found a comfortable corner which also had a power point which was handy. It’s all quite formulaic, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but at least it’s functional and thought through as a design.

The pub had run out of all crisps other than these, so I just had to make do. The beer selection was bloody dreadful, I went for the Scrum Down from Greene King. This is the sort of junk that they pump out that does nothing for the brewing industry, an insipid and watery beer lacking in any real flavour. They call it “easy drinking” but how they’ve managed to make a 4.1% ABV beer so dull is a real art that few other breweries can compete with. This is another venue that would be quite exceptional with the right operator (this is a comment that I’m aware that I make about Greene King too regularly, but they make me do it), but it’s badly reviewed and clearly struggling under Greene King with the food being consistently rated down in on-line reviews.

I then went to the Stratford Alehouse as it was advertised as being open, but it was shut, which wasn’t ideal. Instead, I went to the Fuller’s operated Old Thatch Tavern to give the Alehouse a chance to open up. There were a lot of barrels visible outside the Alehouse and I suspected that they had just had a delivery and since I know how long they take to deal with, I understood that they were likely temporarily distracted with that.

I liked this pub and noticed that their food menu was making an effort to serve local ingredients, something that would horrify Greene King and their national distribution team who shuttle their bland and generic food about the country with some considerable enthusiasm. The beers were standard fare for Fuller’s, nothing exceptional, but they had Gale’s HSB which I don’t dislike and it was well kept. There was a problematic loud group in the pub that made me feel sorry for the staff, but the surroundings were otherwise comfortable and warm.

The Stratford Alehouse is the town’s other Good Beer Guide listed pub and I’ve written up more about my visit there at https://404.org.uk/index.php/2022/03/02/stratford-stratford-alehouse/.

In short, this was a friendly and welcoming pub and I can see why it is in the Good Beer Guide, it’s my sort of place and I’d like to see this set-up in more towns across the country. My only slight disappointment was that I didn’t think the keg beers were as clearly displayed as they could be, the real ale listings were more informative. That meant I ended up with a rather bland beer instead of the exciting keg beer I only noticed on the pub’s Facebook account after I had left. Recommended though and this is perhaps the first pub in the town that a visitor should head to if they want any sort of authenticity at all.

The Pen & Parchment is another Greene King operated pub, but I didn’t let that put me off going in. The staff were engaging and conversational, so the welcome felt authentic. The tables were set out for diners, but they didn’t see to mind me sitting there just with my drink and I liked the amount of power points that have been placed around the pub.

I went for half a pint of the Poet’s Ink from Greene King and it was well-kept and probably about as good as I’m likely to get from any beer produced by Greene King. This is another pub that could be exceptional with the right operator, but judging from the on-line reviews, they’re struggling a little bit here, especially with the food quality.

A nice touch for the dogs who visit the pub.

I thought that was probably enough pubs for the day, so it was time for the long march back to the YHA, although I had a £3 meal deal from Tesco to look forwards to when I arrived back. I thought that the pubs in Stratford-upon-Avon would be a little more decadent, there’s definitely potential for some more quirky and independent places, as at the moment there’s really just the Stratford Alehouse. I’m surprised at the number of national chains here, for pubs and restaurants, I had thought that people coming to Stratford might want something a little more unique and local.

Anyway, a very pleasant day, the staff in the pubs, cafe and library were all helpful and friendly, it felt a welcoming town and I felt I had explored a good number of the town’s pubs.