Christmas Films Advent Calendar

One of the debates that comes around at this time of year, is that of top Christmas films, and it is a discussion of which I will probably never tire. There are plenty of discussions to be had around what is and is not – Die Hard, anyone – a Christmas film. Whether the aforementioned is better than The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, and of course which film should hold the coveted title of Best Christmas Film. The discussions will never be settled, and nor should they be; what matters is enjoying them all, or at least, as many as possible.  To that end we have decided to take the advent calendar approach, lining up 25 films to see us into Christmas Day. What follows is our order and though some date/film combinations are flexible for us, others e.g. The Polar Express, is immovable from its Christmas Eve slot.

Dec. 1st Christmas in Connecticut: new to some, perhaps, but a frothy, not to mention bonkers, start to December.
Dec 2nd Home Alone: enough said.
Dec 3rdThe Bishop’s Wife: Cary Grant and David Niven: two classic gents of the silver screen for the price of one in a simply charming film.
Dec 4thThe Man Who Invented Christmas: The story about most people’s favourite Christmas story.
Dec 5thHow the Grinch Stole Christmas: Jim Carrey in green fur. Good fun, though perhaps more for the kids.
Dec 6thNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: chaos descends, in the shape of Chevy Chase, on a family Christmas vacation.
Dec 7thNarnia: snowy, frozen landscapes, ice queens and talking wolves and lions. Proper fairytale charm.
Dec 8thJoyeux Noël: the story of the Christmas truce football match in 1914. Sombre, but worth it, and a reminder to be thankful for what you have.
Dec 9thBridget Jones’ Diary: you know, Colin Firth in a Christmas jumper.
Dec 10thDie Hard: for some the best Christmas film ever, if indeed it is a Christmas film.
Dec 11thScrooge: for my money the actual best Christmas film ever, with Alastair Sim – a much underrated actor – in a definitive portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Dec 12thMiracle on 34th Street: pick your version – the black and white one for me – and enjoy a fine example of the “child reminding the adults what Christmas is all about” trope.
Dec 13thThe Nightmare before Christmas: the folks behind Halloween try to do Christmas for a change. Brilliant animated musical.
Dec 14thIt’s a Wonderful Life: Jimmy Stewart nearly loses it all, before Clarence comes to his rescue and earns his wings. “Atta boy, Clarence!”

Dec 15thHome Alone 2: Lost in New York: a sequel that is nearly up to the standard of the original. Excellent fun.
Dec 16thThe Santa Clause: Tim Allen reluctantly and haplessly becomes Santa Clause after doing in the old one.
Dec 17thElf: sometimes cringeworthy, but sometimes utterly hilarious. Something for everyone.
Dec 18thDie Hard 2: the same stuff (well, not “stuff”, but you know what I mean) happening to the same guy twice – in an airport.
Dec 19thLove Actually: complete with dancing Hugh Grant and a nativity lobster.
Dec 20thTrading Places: riches-to-rags-to-riches/rags-to-riches classic. And of course, the Mozart overture is unmistakable.
Dec 21stThe Snowman: only half an hour or so, but such a wonderful story, with Aled Jones doing his stuff.
Dec 22ndThe Muppets’ Christmas Carol: Miss Piggy reins it in as Mrs Bob Cratchit, and the rest of the muppets cast are perfect too. Beautifully judged take on the Christmas story.
Dec 23rdThe Holiday: unashamedly romantic with a nice side order of cinema nostalgia.
Dec 24thThe Polar Express: get home from the carol service, get a cuppa, get cosy, and get ready for Christmas: that’s our routine.
Dec 25thWhite Christmas: (after a re-watch of Home Alone, if our household is anything to go by): a remake that is more famous than its original and contains a couple of Christmas classics.

Seasonal Recipes: Cream of Spring Vegetables

img_7725-1Recipe of the month.

#healthy #delicious #quick #seasonal

15 mins prep and 30 mins cooking time.

Why a cream of vegetables? With the abundance of luscious fresh vegetables available right now, it would be rude not to!

Sure, you can buy it ready-made or frozen, but it does not deliver a fraction of the flavour, nutrition and aroma that the fresh version offers.

Pick your favourite selection of seasonal vegetables – any variation of the following is good (serves 2): 3 courgettes, 2 leeks, 250 gr peas, 2 red peppers, 4 or 5 celery stalks, a bag of swiss chard (spinach is fine too), fresh herbs like basil or parsley and a clove of garlic. You will need a tin of chick peas or butter beans, a carton of passata or a tin of tomatoes, some good olive oil (extra virgin is best), salt and pepper. For the garnish I suggest crème fraiche and pesto.

Method: wash, chop and slice the vegetables (more fun if done to the tune of your favourite music; Beethoven’s pastoral symphony works for me!). Soften the chopped leeks and garlic in some olive oil. Add the veg selection and stir fry for a few minutes. Add a spoonful of tomato paste and a tin of tomatoes or a carton of passata, salt and pepper to taste and some fresh herbs – basil or parsley are perfect. Add hot water to cover the veg and lower the heat, simmer gently with a lid on for 20 minutes to half an hour, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon and adding a little water if the soup gets too dry.

Once cooked through, you can puree with an immersion mixer and serve with an elegant swirl of crème fraiche, a few drops of pesto/flavoured oil, a sprinkle of parmesan, a few basil leaves as a garnish, alongside some freshly toasted croutons or just a couple of slices of toasted and buttered sourdough. So nice it ought to be naughty – but it isn’t!! Easy.

Bon appetit!

PS See our Instagram video

Spring Days Out in the Cotswolds

img_7549Five fabulous Cotswold gardens to visit this spring

The first sunshine of the year warming your skin, birdsong in the morning and at dusk, the smell of cut grass filling the air (if you could smell the colour green, that’s how it would smell) and colour lighting up the landscape. That is spring, a season you can enjoy in all its glory in the Cotswolds, where the landscape seems tailor-made to take the pastoral symphony to a virtuoso performance.

With the weather improving and the May bank holidays looming closer, the excitement is building; ahead of us are sunny days out in the countryside, to enjoy with our nearest and dearest. There are plenty of options, but if you are into nature and truly idyllic locations, the following destinations are not to be missed.

  1. Highgrove Gardens.  The Garden tours at Highgrove, the official residence of HRH the Prince of Wales, just outside Tetbury, are a truly delightful way to spend a morning or an afternoon. They are informative and entertaining and they give you a real glimpse of the man and inspiration behind the gardens. The gardens are varied and full of surprising and charming elements and reflect a personal touch and love of nature. You need to book in advance and you can finish your visit with a lovely afternoon tea in the garden restaurant.
  2. North Cerney House Gardens. A little hidden gem in North Cerney, between Cirencester and Cheltenham, North Cerney House Gardens are an enchanting example of a walled garden. Set on the hillside, the garden is eclectic in style, and reminiscent of a cottage garden. Ornamental plants and fruit trees, woodland and vegetable garden make for an eclectic and varied landscape and an interesting walk through the meandering paths. You can make a cup of tea and help yourself to biscuits for a small donation. It feels like visiting the home of a long-lost relative, it is homely and picturesque and entirely unique!
  3. Sudely Castle Gardens. Sudeley castle is a major attraction in its own right, having played host to kings and queens, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, and most notably, having been the residence of Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s wives. A tip for those of you who want to capture the true spirit of this historic jewel: come on a weekday, outside of the school holidays. I did, and had the exclusive pleasure of wandering alone along the atmospheric corridors of the castle, hearing only the creaking of the floorboards under my footsteps. The gardens though, merit a special mention in their own right, delivering on a grand scale in spring when tulips and roses bring a vibrant burst of colour to the hedged lawns. The garden is as intriguing as the castle and steeped in its rich history. Queen Katherine used to cross it daily to the church, where she is now buried, accompanied by the ill-fated Lady Grey. Two topiary silhouettes have been erected in the garden to commemorate this. Take time to learn about the White Garden, the Secret Garden, the Queen’s Garden, the Tudor Physic Garden and many more.
  4. Westonbirt Arboretum. Always a great destination to feast in the glory of nature, no matter what the season. We have written before about how amazing this venue is. I have been a member for almost 20 years and can’t imagine life without it. It is a proper haven for the soul. In spring, it is a feast of azaleas, magnolias, rhododendrons and tender green buds signalling the awakening of the great woodland collection. There is a bird observatory too for your little ones to enjoy watching some nest building in progress. Take a picnic or feast on the lovely food at the Restaurant if you build up an appetite!
  5.  Painswick Rococo Gardens. Between Stroud and Cheltenham, Painswick is a small, sleepy village on the hillside, playing host to some rather spectacular gardens. The Rococo gardens, from the mid 1700s, are not about neat geometric patterns but about bucolic splendour, fairy-tale woodland with unexpected follies, chattering brooks amid valleys of wild garlic and meandering paths in dappled shade. At every turn, you are treated to another breath-taking, picturesque vista, punctuated by an Indian pavilion here, a Moorish temple there, a Bavarian castle over yonder. Quite extraordinary. . The valley must be echoing with oohs and aahs of past visitors. Imagine the fun this venue must have provided the illustrious guests of the lavish parties back in the 1700s. Apparently, they selected special plants with foliage that would help reflect the moonlight! Picture the ladies wearing flowing crinoline dresses, gently brushing against the ground, the sweet smelling evening breeze playing with their elegantly gathered locks.  It is a fantastic spot for a woodland walk and a period drama. And it has a maze where you can loose…I mean, keep your kids entertained for a while!

A day at the hospital

Yes, I know – it hardly sounds like a programme. A day at the hospital invokes images of drab, sterile interiors, grey, featureless buildings surrounded by large, monotonous car parks. Not in Cirencester. If you are unlucky enough to have twisted an ankle while dismounting from your horse at the Sunday polo or slipped outside Waitrose on a rainy day, you can count on a welcoming, comforting and yes, picturesque environment at the local hospital.

I became an assiduous visitor when my kids were little; as a new parent, I was a little over-anxious and needed regular reassuring from the medical experts that my kids were behaving normally, even when they exhibited what I interpreted as near-death symptoms. We took many a trip to Cirencester hospital and were met, every time, with helpful staff and delightful facilities. Now that they are teenagers, I am past seeking reassurance on their normality and keener on checking on my own remaining sanity.

And so for years, we never went, only ever driving past it, barely giving it a glance, much less any brain time.

And then, just the other day – and entirely out of the blue – I had cause to be reminded of what a gem our local hospital is. My teenage son contrived to acquire yet another sports injury (and they say sports are good for you), injuring his foot while playing football. (That’s what he told the school nurse, anyway.) So there we were, my daughter and I, maladroitly but enthusiastically carrying him through the doors to the minor injuries unit, where we were mercifully relieved of our porter duties thanks to the prompt delivery of a wheelchair. Cue the embarrassing display of wheelchair driving skills – seriously, it’s not as easy as it looks – as we negotiated the narrow, twisting corridor to the waiting area. Here we were finally able to relax and enjoy the views out of the large bay windows onto the beautiful landscaped gardens, and admire the other hospital wing facing us: a beautiful Victorian manor house.

Cirencester hospital is set on a hilltop, in a central position in the town. The manor house we spent those couple of hours admiring is actually Querns House, a grade II listed building, built in 1825 in the Tudor style. Being a converted manor house and a period building, it features the traditional mellow Cotswold stone (now pleasingly mottled with lichen), church-style windows,  and rolling landscaped gardens. There’s even an internal garden that you can enjoy through the glass panels lining the corridors around it.

Being a market town hospital, it exists on a smaller scale than other, more modern hospitals and as such appears less forbidding and more human in scale. It has little charming traits: take the tiny shop that sells refreshments (sandwiches, pens, toys and a therapeutic cup of tea), run by a sweet elderly lady, the sort who could easily feature in a children’s storybook as the archetypal spoiling grandmother. We have made several attempts to adopt her during our visits to the hospital – yes, she’s been there a while –  but  it turns out she has enough grandchildren already. Such a pity.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I enjoyed my ante-natal appointments there and was really saddened to learn the maternity ward had been just closed; what a serene place it would have been to enjoy the miracle of motherhood! (Although, with hindsight, the screams accompanying childbirth might have spoiled the relaxed atmosphere of the place.)

Fortunately, while the maternity unit is no more, other units remained – and remain – open, though the shadow of closure seems to have hung over the place for some time. Every few months, rumours seems to surface about a potential closure of this cherished establishment; happily, this has not happened yet, even if there has been some down-scaling of services. We need our hospital to survive; it serves a large network of surrounding villages as well as Cirencester itself, and offers prompt assistance for injuries that need attending to as a matter of urgency and would otherwise require a long trip to Gloucester on a busy dual carriageway.

So as a call to action, I urge you to support our local hospital, keep an eye on its status and voice your appreciation for it. Be more adventurous and incur the odd sprain, dislocation or break.  My son  – collar bone fracture and this latest sprain – should be an example to us all. His self-sacrifices on the playing fields of Deer Park have been our family’s contribution to keeping it in business! If there is to be a silver lining to the new, extensive housing construction planned for our town, it ought to be that it justifies better facilities for our community and more investment in this undervalued town institution. One can hope.

The Burford Garden Company

The first thing you should know about the Burford Garden Company is that it is not a garden centre. I feel I would be misleading you to call it so. It is so much more. An art gallery and a home furnishings shop, a gift shop and a delicatessen, a toy shop, a toiletries shop, a kitchenalia emporium, a fine clothing and hat outlet – all under one roof. Perhaps the term ’emporium’ is best suited to give an idea of the wide array of goods and items you can find at the Burford Garden Company. The feeling of abundance you get by walking around, taking in the wonderful displays – not least in the food section – is bound to enduce euphoria. In a way, I’d say it’s like the Harrods of the Cotswolds, the rural, approachable version of the urban, upmarket, has-everything store.

The second thing to note is that everything you will find here can be guaranteed to be top quality, the best of the best. Sometimes, with a price tag to match. But if your coffers are not overflowing or you are on an austerity drive, this place is still for you. You can still spend a delightful couple of hours here without spending anything. It is a visual delight, a journey of discovery every time we visit this place; beautiful ornaments for your home you are unlikely to find elsewhere, that speak of style and refinement and inspire you to think up a whole new theme for your dwelling. From candles and carpets to sofas and lamps, throws and rugs, in a variety of opulent hues and styles to delight your senses, there is enough here to turn anyone into a wannabe interior designer. Even the basics like greetings cards, stationery and wrapping paper are different and unusual.

My favourite is the food and kitchenalia section though. With its cornucopia of quality ingredients and treats from all over the world and colourful utensils – it inspires me to embark on a new cooking or baking adventure every time. Talk about transporting. Whether it is the range of mediterranean olive oils or the substantial breads  – from the sourdough to the focaccias or the middle eastern inspired cakes, it is difficult not to end up salivating at the prospect of such a feast. Beautiful olive wood chopping boards and bright crockery and tableware are there too: a great place to pick up a gift for your cheffy friends!

And we have not event mentioned the garden section: that which gives the place its official and perhaps initial raison d’être.  The impressive selection of plants and shrubs and vases and garden ornaments – including garden furniture and paving – mean that all bases are covered, whether you’re merely after a new Cyclamen to sit on the kitchen windowsill or brand new patio complete with shed and conservatory. Me, I love the orchid section: shelves covered with a tumbling display of these plants once considered achingly rare, now so abundant they sit batched together by colour, making you feel like you are in the tropics. And you can pick the best branded wellington boots, gloves and hats, should you wish to look the part while you are communing with nature.

When I was last there, I heard beautiful piano music emanating from the home furnishings section; as I followed it humming to myself, I discovered it came from a real live performance, a lady pianist was delighting us all with her improvisation. What a great initiative! We stopped and chatted for a while, and I dreamt of finding the time to take lessons and learn to play that great instrument. Another one for the retirement list.

When your eyes are full and your legs are tired, you can do worse than to sample the very good food and beverages of the cafe/restaurant there; hot and cold food, roast meat and vegetables, sandwiches and delicious cakes. I do recommend the salads. I had a very tasty quinoa, cauliflower, herbs, fruit and nuts salad. It was both delicious and healthy. My husband and our little girl had roast dinner and the intent silence that descended on the table testified to the satisfaction of all concerned. The cafe is a very nice place to stop and watch the crowds mill around and chat; always lively and looking cheerfully decadent, like the rest of the place.

And as we enter into December and the Christmas season, I am excited to go discover the Christmas section. It is something to behold. The displays are on a grand scale and the range and quality of the decorations are exceptional. Pick your colour theme or your style  – red, white, silver, gold, woodland naif or elegant Liberty? The spectacle can’t fail to put you in the mood for singing Christmas carols all the way back home!

Kemble Station: railway Arcadia


Picture this: you are sitting at a station waiting for a train.

What can you see? I’d guess –  shades of grey, a mundane image of utilitarian travel, heavy with cement, metal, and perpendicular lines. Not so in Kemble. Kemble station is the antithesis of your average, functional, uninspiring railway station. It is tranquil, quaint, and fragrant – a place you can enjoy. From its beautiful landscaped garden to the brightly painted wooden trimmings edging the station building, to the delightful ‘Off the Rails’ café – I have never found a station so beguiling to the senses.

And customers seem to respond to the environment and mirror its quiet and kindly, relaxed mood. Set in deep Gloucestershire, Kemble is a busy little station – as busy as the bees that populate its garden – frequented as it is by the daily London commuters that live in the surrounding villages.

Travelling from Kemble takes the edge off commuting, with its comforting, human-size experience. It’s a station with personality, one that acknowledges its heritage and people’s need for amenable surroundings.

The station garden – created and maintained by the students at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, with donations from Dobbies Garden Centre, is a fantastic local initiative. It offers a little quiet haven where to gather yourself ahead of a busy commute – all lavender and lilies and buzzing with bumblebees. Starting your journey here, puts you in a positive frame of mind to face the day ahead.

Kemble keeps its charm all year round: in the summer, you can sit in the RAU garden and watch the trees gently sway in the breeze and in winter, the waiting room has a cosy, welcoming feel with its little heater you can turn on and people smiling and saying hello as you enter. You can take a seat on one of the two wooden benches and help yourself to one of the free papers. Makes you feel like you are waiting in someone’s front room!

The ‘Off the Rails’ café, a quaint, little Aladdin’s cave emanating tempting aromas of coffee and grilled bacon, oozes character and charm and despite its diminutive size, offers a great section of freshly prepared snacks and coffees, not to mention other items like newspapers, magazines, greetings cards and even features a book exchange! Delicious, the freshly grilled bacon baps and the Danish pastries! How refreshing to have a privately-run, local café rather than another faceless chain outlet!

As with all ointments though, the proverbial fly applies. Beware of parking your car in the station approach road. There have been several reports of damage to cars there, mine included, alas. Parking here, although perfectly legal, is not advisable. Car number-plates have gone missing and cars have been bashed. So, use the car park, at least it has CCTV cameras!

The Wednesday Whinge

The Cafe @Waitrose

I am all for being positive. In fact, I try to live my life always thinking that the best is ahead of us and that people have but the best intentions at heart. But sometimes the truth must out, if anything to ensure a gentle nudge towards improvement. Think of this as constructive criticism.

I have been a big fan of Waitrose for years and I think that we can consider ourselves fortunate to have one locally – to pop in and find all sorts of quality food and delicacies – it always does the trick of lifting the spirits of a foodie. Have an urgent need for lobster bisque, run out of tamari sauce or need to replenish your supply of quinoa? Waitrose will never disappoint. Its staff are helpful and courteous at all times. Its food fresh and top quality.

Rational, linear thought would lead you to expect its eponymous café would benefit from the same quality. Alas, that remains a dream rather than reality.

Let’s begin with the space and its furnishings. The café benefits from a lovely aspect, with natural daylight streaming in, so why is it necessary to have that harsh, clinical lighting that gives the grey furniture, flooring and accessories that washed-out, anaemic look? I walk in and I am unsure whether to have a cappuccino or my appendix removed.

The tables are packed tightly – no doubt to create that conviviality amongst the customers (ahem) – leaving little room for any pleasing touches that could brighten and soften the ambiance. How about some potted plants, some warm lighting, some textural fabrics, some little colourful touches to bring it to life? And I bet you could get most of the stuff from Waitrose homeware department. It would make you want to linger and little longer, maybe even buy a second cuppa. Which brings me to the next topic – the beverages.

I have no doubt they are made with only the best ingredients, as that is what Waitrose sells after all, and yet, the final product is one of indistinct flavour – fitting in with the grey-tinged furniture and lighting. I’ve been back time and again – as my brain refuses to process the notion that quality drinks cannot be had there – and yet, I am left disappointed every time.

And finally. the food on offer could certainly enjoy wider variety and creative flair. Don’t get me wrong, we love a Ploughman’s and a choccy éclair, but sometimes you just fancy a change.

I just think the potential is so vast that it’s frustrating to see it unfulfilled. It’s like watching someone wasting a good hand at poker. Let’s hope they up their game!


The Crown, Frampton Mansell

Picture-perfect pub and food.

The window of decent weather was merely a stroke of luck. We’d booked to have Sunday lunch at The Crown in Frampton Mansell back in March some time, so the sun that bathed the recently showered the May countryside in a fabulous apple-green glow could not have worked out better. The Crown is perched precipitously on the side of the Stroud Valley and no matter where your gaze happens to land, it will be a sight not easily forgotten.

The beer garden, in this case out the front, is one of these welcome sights, defined by low stone walls, manicured flower beds, and your classic beer garden table, each marked out with proud red sun umbrellas. And when filled with people enjoying a drink in the sun, convivial does not come close. The building itself is solid stone and has no trouble making you think that it will be around a lot longer than you will. It is in no way forbidding, though, and as you stoop through the front door – there is no other way if you are my height – the bar is right in front of you, so you can order a drink even before you have any notion of where you plan to sit.

We had booked, though, and we went on down to what is becoming our usual – if accidentally so – table. The specials menu had a couple of excellent sounding fish dishes and the sausage-and-mash of the day option. Let me repeat that: a sausage-and-mash of the day. It might just be me, but I happen to think that is little short of genius. Forget soup, let’s have more sausages of the day! The menus here at The Crown are very good indeed, subject tor regular and refreshing change, though never losing their pub menu feel. This is hugely to be admired: there is no attempt at restaurant finery, and the foreign influences are largely kept at arms length and only deployed when suitable accents are needed. This food is pub food and also – largely – British food.

Of all the mains we ordered, it was the sea bass that either gave us food envy or had a couple of us looking very satisfied with their choice. It was pan fried, with garlic prawns, served with white asparagus, and some beautifully roasted silverskin onions and potatoes. The fish was perfectly cooked – crispy skin with firm and juicy flesh, and what really stood out – in a good way – was that there was no sauce to mess with the flavours; a brave choice but fully and triumphantly justified. Sometimes, you just need to let your ingredients do the talking. The burger was all you’d want: juicy and fully stacked with cheese, bacon and a full complement of salad. The stuffed roast chicken breast was equally well executed – succulent and served with a tomato sauce rather than gravy – a fresh change.

Dessert is hard to resist, whether you are full or not. Part of the reason for this is that the menu sits on your table on a blackboard daring you not to order. I capitulated instantly. It has pub classics such as sticky toffee pudding, crumble – currently apple and blackcurrant, but I have had pear and raisin and apple and raspberry on previous visits – as well as knickerbocker glory and a lemon meringue pie. This latter dish was delicious and served with apricot sorbet and fresh apricots. While the fresh apricots were a trifle firm, the sorbet was an inspired accompaniment to the dish and I could happily have devoured a large bowlful and been very happy indeed. All dishes are served with cream, custard or ice cream. And not a brownie in sight; this is a dessert menu particularly after my own heart – can you tell?

There is very little not to love about The Crown. One might be tempted to call it a gastropub, but I’ll refrain, not just because it’s a term that personally I think should be outlawed, but because it makes it sound like the food is all it has to offer. This is a proper pub, used and loved by the locals, and by the not-so-locals, and all in a beautiful setting. For that alone The Crown deserves the praise and support it earns. The food is just a (huge) bonus.

Keith’s Coffee Shop

Follow the comforting aroma of roasting coffee beans and it will lead you to Keith’s – probably one of the oldest and most traditional coffee shops in Cirencester’s town centre. It’s a little Aladdin’s cave where you can purchase a wide variety of leaf teas and coffee – both sold loose, as well as top notch sweets and biscuits, jams and relishes.

When you walk into this little emporium in one of Cirencester’s most picturesque streets, you get a sense of history and tradition and you could keep yourself amused for a considerable amount of time just scanning the labels of the eclectic collection of delightful goodies piled up on the shelves, stacked all the way up to the ceiling. Chocolate liqueurs from Italy, Turkish delight, French bon-bons, Swiss and Belgian chocolate, British preserves, relishes and sweets. It’s an obligatory pit-stop on the yearly crusade to fill the Christmas stockings with a special kind of ‘pick & mix’.

There are a few stools around the oak bar where you can sip a decent cup of tea, cappuccino or hot chocolate whilst watching mesmerized customers gazing at the products on the shelves, or in the summer you could sit in the secret little courtyard heaven at the back and sip a refreshing lemonade whilst snacking on a slice of home-made quiche or a potato rosti. The lunch menu is limited but the quality is good.

If you need an injection of tradition and cosiness or if you want to give your international guests a flavour of British heritage, you should look no further.

The Cafe at The New Brewery Arts

Brewery Arts Cafe

Food, drink and arts and crafts in central Cirencester

Are you shopping in downtown Cirencester or simply strolling around the centre to take in the view and in need of a spot of lunch? If you fancy an unfussy yet wholesome lunch served by friendly staff in artsy surroundings, you should look no further than the Brewery Arts Café.
Situated in the very heart of Cirencester’s pedestrian area, this café is loved by the locals who visit regularly, not least because its price to quality ratio is so attractive. And on top of being centrally situated, the café is set within the charming Brewery Arts complex, a collection of delightful artists’ workshops, where you can witness local art in the making – from glass-blowing to watercolour painting, jewellery and textiles crafts. It’s a great place if you want to buy something unique and original or commission a bespoke piece of jewellery or artwork. And all without upsetting your accountant. I had a bespoke Christmas card made some years ago, for a special someone, and it did not go into the recycling bag!

When it comes to the food, you really can’t go wrong.  If you are an early riser and in town and peckish, the bacon and sausage sandwiches will surely satisfy. The bread is fresh, chunky and cushion-soft and the fillings definitely satisfying. Admirably, these are only available until 11:30am; no all-day breakfast here, which is something I applaud, not least because it makes room for the lunch fare which is even better.

Lunch at the New Brewery Arts does not really come more honest, fresh and generously portioned in the town. The salads, always crunchy, fresh and full of flavour – and presumably nutritious – are a delight, and definitely to be recommended. For something heartier, the piping hot soups – roasted tomato is virtually ever-present and ever-delicious – should hit the spot served with the delicious bread or a cheese scone. Another staple of the menu is the selection of quiches, again full of flavour and always creamy and satisfying and accompanied by a salad that is almost a meal in itself.

It doesn’t stop there either. If you need something sweet to really set off your lunch, or if you’re popping in for afternoon tea or coffee, there is a fine selection of tarts and cakes and other sweet treats that are just the thing. Try the apricot frangipane tart, the treacle tart or the espresso slice: all delicious.

So there it is: whether for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea, or anywhere in between, it’s hard to look past The New Brewery Arts Cafe. And it comes with a royal recommendation too – HRH, Prince Charles opened it officially after a refurbishment in 2008 (The café’s, not the Prince’s).