It is barely possible to take a step in Stratford-upon-Avon without a whiff of Shakespeare cutting through the air. From eponymous hotels to tailored Bard-influenced afternoon teas, the 800 year-old market town has every angle covered. So as my friend and I drove through the streets in search of accommodation, we were equally amazed and daunted at the amount of Shakespearean entertainment that lay on offer.
However, having parked our car in one of several ridiculously expensive car parks in the town, and enjoyed a stroll around the many boutique shops and stalls on the town square market, we realised that there is a lot more to Shakespeare’s home town than one would first expect. Spurred on by our love of good food and drink, we went on search of an appropriate bed for the night, and fell upon The Townhouse, a beautiful 400 year old Grade II listed building situated right opposite Shakespeare’s former school. The 12-roomed hotel is a mere two minutes walk from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, five minutes from Shakespeare’s birthplace and a five minute stroll in the other direction to the Holy Trinity Church.
But while we were here to ingest some history and culture, we were also keen on ingesting some food and drink, so we were delighted to come across the house Gin List which boasts a selection of ten top class tipples to mix – or not – with your tonic.
The Townhouse bar is a cosy space wrapped around the main serving area, adjacent to the bright and airy dining room which has a view into the busy kitchen at the end. There is a small courtyard at the back, but the front windows allow you to people-watch to your heart’s delights as tourists and travellers dart from door to door, getting their Shakespeare fix from the buildings opposite.
Having refreshed ourselves with a G&T we headed up to our twin room to grab an hour’s rest before dinner.
Our room, No 12, was at the very top of the building, affording pleasant views across the rooftops and to the belfry of the Holy Trinity Church. Decorated tastefully it was home to two single beds, a dressing table and a beautiful oak wardrobe. The bathroom was huge and boasted a brilliant white standalone bath, deep enough to take a dip in, should you feel so inclined, and a large wetroom shower space. Being housed in an ancient, listed, building, you can expect creaky floorboards, wonky ceilings and stooped doorways, but that only adds to the character of the whole place.
We had booked in for dinner at the restaurant for 8 o’clock but were running slightly early, so were delighted to enjoy an aperitif in the bar beforehand while being serenaded by a pianist music student from the school opposite. As we took our seats at our table in the restaurant half an hour later, the sedate sounds of the piano were replaced by a lively rendition of Brown Eyed Girl by the evening’s entertainment in the form of a local band.
The restaurant is bustling and busy and because it isn’t separated from the bar it feels relaxed and welcoming. The menu changes regularly according to season and stock, but on the night we visited there were a variety of tempting dishes on offer, from curried mussels or a twice-baked souffle for starters, to slow cooked ox cheek, grilled hake, and lamb rump mains.
Being a cheese fiend I couldn’t resist the idea of the souffle, which was served on a bed of spinach and flavoured with wholegrain mustard. To this day I cannot stop drooling over the memory of the fluffy souffle assaulting my tastebuds at every bite. If I had one meal left on this earth – the Townhouse cheese souffle would certainly be it! My companion opted for the salmon and herb fishcake surrounded by a pea puree and topped with a perfectly poached egg. Both dishes were delicious and left expectations of our main courses high. But while my friend’s lemon and garlic chicken with chickpea puree left her speechless with delight, my caramelised onion, chicory and blue cheese tarte tatin left me somewhat underwhelmed as it was far too onion-heavy with not enough pear and pine nut salad to feel substantial enough as a main course. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise at it meant I had room enough to order from the extensive dessert menu, and I thoroughly enjoyed my rich and smooth creme brulee, and even managed to pilfer some chocolate fondant from my friend’s plate.
To round off our evening we both indulged in a cocktail, and settled back into our chairs, chatting as the band played on. By the time bedtime came around we were satisfied and sleepy and enjoyed a restful night’s sleep in the comfy beds of Room 12.
Breakfast at the Church Street Townhouse is a relaxed affair, served at the weekend from 8-11am, so no need to rush down for fear of missing out. There’s a cold continental buffet as well as a menu of healthy and cooked delights including eggs florentine or benedict, and a full English breakfast, with a vegetarian option for non-meat eaters. And once your finished you can leave your bags with reception after checking out, allowing for more exploring time before you depart Shakespeare’s England for home.
- To book a stay or meal atThe Townhouse, Straftford, see www.stratfordtownhouse.co.uk. Booking ahead gets you a decent discount and there are frequently offers available online to reduce the cost of your visit.
- To find out more about Shakespeare’s England and the sights to see in Stratford-upon-Avon, see shakespeares-england.co.uk