A Quiche or a Quad Bike? (the quiche won)

Sometimes you stumble over a gem of a place whether it’s a village, country house or, in this case, a shop. But it isn’t just any old shop for in it you can buy anything from a saddle and rugs for your horse, gifts for non-horsey friends, lunch or … a sofa (well, I very nearly did until common sense got in the way). Actually, I’d rather have bought the rather nifty looking quad bike but I wasn’t even allowed to consider that.004   copyright

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Harley Equestrian’s Lifestyle Shop can be found down winding Northamptonshire country lanes providing you have map, compass or a sat nav. Fortunately, the latter takes you to the door. Now anything with the name ‘lifestyle’ in the title tends to make me want to drive in the opposite direction but, fortunately, my wishes were overridden. I was bowled away by the treasure trove I found within. There is more than enough to delight both the rider as well as those with no love of things horse.003   copyright

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The way to a man’s heart is via his stomach and the lunch I ate at the café was delicious: the lightest of pastries with incredibly tasty savoury fillings were freshly prepared while we waited. The pudding was – as so often is the case – quite unnecessary and finished the meal perfectly. We were interested to discover that the café holds regular Friday night dinners, catered for by Eydon’s Pantry, a small local enterprise which also create meals for home eating.

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Although it’s a bit of a trek from the Cotswolds I shall certainly be visiting again if only for Christmas gift ideas. Somehow ‘though, I feel that I’ll be back a lot sooner – probably on a Friday night.

Links:

Harley Equestrian Country Lifestyle, Woodford Halse

Eydon’s Pantry

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Brasserie Blanc Cheltenham

Cheltenham, on the western edge of the Cotswolds, is full of historic Georgian buildings which make it an interesting place to visit if you are readily bored by the now characterless towns that have had their hearts ripped out in the interest of modernisation.  Although it has all the major chain stores there are still very many smaller, independent shops which help to make the centre busy and vibrant.  There are, however, plenty of opportunities to escape the throng of shoppers by relaxing in its parks and green spaces which are close to hand and beautifully maintained.  With so many positive attributes, it is not surprising to find that there are also numerous cafes, bistros and restaurants – great news if, like me, you prefer your relaxation to revolve around food and drink.

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One street that incorporates all of the above elements is The Promenade, a wide tree-lined boulevard.  We made our way to the top end of it, walking past the splendid Town Hall with its fountains, to reach Brasserie Blanc where we had booked a table for a Saturday lunch.  Set in a delightful Georgian townhouse, it has very recently been completely refurbished and, judging by the number of diners there, has retained its loyal clientele.

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Any culinary venture that has Raymond Blanc’s name attached to it is bound to be a good choice and Brasserie Blanc didn’t disappoint whether in its understated interior design, the friendliness and efficiency of the staff and, most important of all, the quality of the food.

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The huge arched windows and high ceilings give a feeling of space and natural light, both of which prevent the L-shaped marble bar, which runs almost the full length of the building, being too dominant.  It is visually impressive and imparts a delightfully informal atmosphere to the dining area.

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Our Italian waitress, Chiara, who was both charming and efficient, guided us through an extensive menu.  For the starter my partner selected the cheese soufflé with a rich cheese sauce which came with the most wonderful, crispy outer crust.  I went for the salt beef salad, chosen to test the chef’s expertise for, having a Jewish grandmother, I consider myself to be rather an expert when it comes to salt beef.  It didn’t disappoint, the combination of flavours being both subtle and mouth-watering.

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For our mains, I chose the slow-braised Scottish venison casserole.  I was impressed when Chiara advised me that it was both quite gamey and rich which wouldn’t suit everyone’s taste but was just perfect for me.  My partner had scallops with poached, smoked bacon.  In the interest of research, I insisted upon tasting and it was beautifully soft and tender.  Puddings also didn’t disappoint.  My pears with salted caramel would be worth a special trip to Cheltenham just for those and my partner’s meringues were just as they should be, soft and chewy.

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Brasserie Blanc Cheltenham is one of twenty mostly situated in London or the south of England.  This does, for me, create rather a problem: do I return to Cheltenham or do I try some of the other locations?  One thing is certain, I will definitely be returning!

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Brasserie Blanc Cheltenham is located at The Promenade, Cheltenham GL50 1NN

All photographs of Brasserie Blanc are taken from their website.  More information including booking details can be found here