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.

Abbey Home Farm, Cirencester

Sometimes you feel the need to go somewhere unfussy and cheerful, where the values that inspire the business transpire into what you see and what you buy. The love for nature and respect for the environment inform how Abbey Home Farm shop and coffee shop are run. It is the very essence of the place. It is a calm yet joyful milieu, with an abundance of seasonal produce grown on the land around the farm or sourced from other organic growers. The flavour of the fruit and vegetables you acquire here is such that it will take your dishes to a whole new level. Beyond veg, you can buy meat, grains, pulses, cakes and confectionery here, all of which taste great. As a keen cook I am a strong believer in letting the natural flavours of quality ingredients speak for themselves; I remember getting a leg of lamb here for Easter lunch and my guests were hugely complimentary about how it tasted – it really made all the difference!

I love coming here even if it’s just to hang out. Whatever the season, you always have a sense of it by the produce on the shelves and the surrounding countryside, whether it’s pumpkin and mushroom-laden shelves in the autumn or gorgeous bunches of assorted field flowers and an abundance of tomatoes and courgettes in the summer. There is a lovely area out front with some wooden chairs and tables where you can enjoy your drinks and food from the coffee shop and restaurant, under the trees, and let the kids play free-range on the climbing frame and swings.

Inside, the restaurant is a light and airy place with lovely views over the surrounding countryside. It’s not fancy, but it’s not meant to be. They do a mean roast dinner on a Sunday and great trays of succulent roast vegetables during the week as well as colourful, scrumptious, nutritious salads. The cakes are not elaborate or refined either but they positively burst with flavour. The lemon drizzle, polenta and orange or flapjacks are all robust and satisfying.

The farm runs seasonal events too: I once came here for a cookery course, invited by a friend of mine who had received it as a Christmas present. It was a one-dayer on their house salads – and it was a thoroughly pleasant experience. I picked up some great tips, too. There is normally a farm day in the summer, with tractor rides and access to the animals on the farm for the amusement of kids and adults alike. Out at the back of the shop there is an area devoted to furniture and gifts, as well as some natural cosmetic ranges and some books too. Enough to keep you interested and amused for a good half hour.

With all that is on offer in town, it is so easy to overlook Abbey Home Farm (or the Organic Farm, as we call it at home). But it is an oversight that is easily corrected if you just want to pick up a few groceries and maybe get a bite to eat. We have made a promise to ourselves that we will make the effort to get there more often, and we think that you should too. And as it’s autumn with all the fantastic flavour the season offers, there’s probably no better time.


Bank Holiday Special

On One of My Favourite Shops in Cirencester

Following on from my midweek withering a few weeks back on the unintended consequences of the Market Place refurbishment, I am taking this opportunity – and what better time than on a Bank Holiday weekend – to turn to the positive in penning this  paean to one of my favourite shops in Cirencester. You’re going to have to go with me on this, as it is perhaps a trifle unexpected, but for years now, it has been – and still is – one of those places where I will almost go looking for an excuse to go and buy something. I realise that may say more about me than I should perhaps be comfortable with, but let’s give me the benefit of the doubt, and take a moment to appreciate the wonder that is Gardiner Haskins. Like I said: go with me on this.

I don’t know about you, but thinking back to my childhood, I seem to remember that nearly every Sunday morning was spent not in Church (despite my parents’ best efforts) but in the DIY superstores that began to spring up on the edge of towns around the UK. While I know such trip were unremittingly dull for some, perhaps even most, kids, I have to admit to liking them. Perhaps it was the size of the likes of Sandford’s, – remember them? – Texas, and the others whose names I forget, that impressed me, or perhaps it was the thought that this trip marked the starting point for the creation of something exciting at home; to this day I retain fond memories of those places, which may go some way to explaining my liking for Gardiner’s.

But this not just pure nostalgia we are talking here.

I like the fact that is in the centre of town, rather than stuck out on the periphery of the town. I am not, in general, a fan of those out-of-town shopping centres. I know they have their place, but one of the things I like about Ciren is that the town centre is a proper nucleus that holds the rest of the town together, and so to have a town centre where nearly everything you might need is obtainable is a wonderful thing: it is to Cirencester’s great credit, that it houses a shop that you would, under normal circumstances expect to be relegated wallflower-like to the periphery.

Also, it has its own carpark. Again, I suspect that that is a fact that often goes unnoticed, but one that deserves at least a modicum of acknowledgment, not to mention appreciation. In my case it verges on the ridiculous that I drive there, but with the winter  – not to mention the recent downpours – we’ve had, I’ve even less compulsion to walk. I can’t help it but it is a facility I like to make use of when I have cause to shop there: even in a town where it’s relatively cheap and easy (most of the time) to park for any length of time, one feels as though it’d be madness not to use it.

Another thing I like is that it has a back entrance to add to the one out the front, something which, like the car park, may not be much to recommend anywhere, but how many stores in the town can actually boast that? Calling it a store rather than a shop is particularly apposite; it’s not just a place where we – yes, more of us than we might think – go to part with our money and walk out with something, it is that we know Gardiner’s is where things are kept for us when we most need to go an buy them. This is something one finds all too rarely. Granted, in the kitchen section for example, it has many items you’d be able to find in Steamer Trading a few salubrious metres up the road, but it has the more mundane stuff as well. Personally, I feel comforted that if ever I have an urgent need for a new frying pan and some kettle descaler, I can pop along to Gardiner’s and be able to find what I’m after, and even get a recommendation from one of the generally very knowledgeable staff as to what one is best.

I’m a big fan of the in-store recommendation; when one is in the market for something, even for such mundanities as caustic calcium removal products, it brightens one’s day to get not just a recommendation, but one with a pros versus cons summary as part of the package. It almost makes me want to go shopping for some lawn feed, and I don’t even have a lawn. We may be used to well-trained and knowledgeable staff in our town, possibly even overprovided for it, but here they take this to another, almost gloriously obsequious, level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about the attention – most of the time I heave a sigh of relief if left unbothered by in-store staff – but it is such a delight to see service and attention to detail still being seen as important. It makes a difference.

The minute you walk through the door (either one), you know that this is shopping that is slightly removed from the norm, but in a very good way. Whether it’s from the front into the midst of all the kitchenalia, or from the back where one is greeted by four-way gang plugs, coaxial cables – well, cables, anyway – and possibly even hanging baskets on special offer. From there you can go in many directions – time was when I used to lose my bearings in there – and end up in paint, the aforementioned GreenGro or whatever it’s called, even upstairs to lighting and furniture (both indoor occasional and outdoor): the world is your domestic necessities oyster.

So, there we have it. Next time you need some bin bags or some more clothes pegs, first make sure you actually go to Gardiner’s for them. Then take a moment and look around to discover what is actually in there and consider the sheer amount of useful and not-so-useful – who really wants a DVD of the London Midland Scottish Railway between the wars – stuff that they have: it really is remarkable. I, for one, am very happy that we have a shop like Gardiner’s in our town centre. I treasure its presence, and I think we all should.

Breakfast on Love Lane

Breakfast? On an industrial estate? Oh yes.

It may seem a trifle quixotic having just posted about some of the fabulous eating locations on offer in the Cotswolds – the sort of places that lay on a genuine visual feast as well as culinary delights – to suddenly switch modes and go for a place where the surroundings could not be more mundane if you tried. To top it off, it was raining, and raining hard when we went, turning down the potential visual interest, still further. So there we were, on Love Lane – could there be a more incongruously named industrial estate in the world – surrounded by builders’ merchants, plumbing stores and the like, about to have breakfast. And not from some roadside trailer either, but a farm shop: another oddity. (Call me a traditionalist, but I expect to find farm shops in the countryside, not right across the road from Travis Perkins.) The full car park, however, does give one a small clue as to what locals think of the place.

Once you go inside however – and our entrance was rapid to avoid a soaking – all such notions of incongruity disappear, things all make sense, and you are transported rapidly back to all things food. At first glance, on entering, the Jesse Smith Farm shop just looks like a butcher’s shop – no surprise there, they have been selling meat in the Cotswolds for over 200 years – but look around and it is the genuine article. The thought of eating a meaty breakfast while confronted with the raw materials hanging full length behind panes of glass not far away may not sound terribly appealing, but once at table, this doesn’t figure. The range, by the way, goes beyond meat into dairy, bakery, fruit and veg and more besides, so if you need to do a spot of food shopping, there is plenty to tempt.

The restaurant is round the corner from the shop, and as we were exceeding hungry, we turned left, hardly giving the shop a glance and made a quick grab for a table – there are days when you need the reflexes of a German tourist on the Neapolitan Riviera to get a spot, so popular it can be.  Having made your choices, you order at the counter, giving your table number and trying to resist the siren call of the delicious cakes and pastries displayed alongside. There is something quite nice about ordering and paying all at once – it may just be me, but parting with money before you’ve eaten is preferable, as it means there is nothing to settle after your meal, except the meal itself. You choose, you pay, you eat and you’re done: perfect.

The menu, an A4 sheet decked out on both sides with colourful graphics depicting rather than listing the choices available, reads like part atlas (‘The Vegas’, ‘The Texas’), part bad joke (‘The Mexican’, ‘The Brit’, ‘The French’) and part humidor price list (‘The Monte Cristo’, ‘The Royale’.) And there is more than just the promise of exotic climes to tempt one: the sound of “coriander hash, spicy sausage, avocado, pineapple salsa, chorizo, poached egg” gets more tempting with each reading of it. And if you’re up for it at 10:30 in the morning (and I most certainly was) you can feel reassured that it looks as good as it sounds, and tastes even better. The smoky heat of the spicy sausage patty and the chorizo is tempered a little by the smoothness of the poached egg and avocado, while the sweet freshness of the pineapple sits on on top like a gilded flavour tiara.

img_1411-1My dining partner had the Spaniard (as it were). This is essentially a breakfast burger, although I confess I think I’d be happy eating it irrespective of time of day. The beef patty is served with crispy chorizo, avocado and topped with a fried egg and all in a brioche bun. The crispy chorizo is particularly good, like crunchy, spicy pennies, they offer a textural as well as a flavour lift to the dish, and if you have not tried a fried egg in a burger, then this might be a very good place to start. I came across the notion of fried eggs in a burger “stack’ many years ago on a trip to Portland in Oregon and have been a big fan ever since. The US may have many gastronomic faults, but they certainly – particularly in Portland – know how to do breakfast too. Try it: I don’t think you’ll regret it.

img_1414-1While I did not have the ‘Vegas’, I couple made their way out to others as I was ordering at the till and they did look every bit as colourful, decorous  and tasty as their hispanic cousins on the menu. The pancakes – not too thin, but not too thick – were perfectly dressed with yoghurt, fruit and granola. It looked so good, that were a smaller portion available, it would be a fine follow-up to the savoury splendour of the dishes above. Or you could fill any gaps with one of the glistening cakes or buns that are at the counter, ready to oblige should your will power fail you (and whose wouldn’t, frankly?) The full ‘English’ looks equally splendid, and having enjoyed food from Jesse Smith’s butchers shop, I feel I might be on pretty safe ground vouching for that as well.

All in all, there is little not to like about Jesse Smith’s Farm Shop. From the eclectic furniture choices to the cosmopolitan menu, this is a place where you can do breakfast properly and with a difference. With the usual gamut of hot drinks available it does have all you need. There is a small exception to this, and that is the coffee, which I find to be quite harsh and lacking in just a touch of care. The reason I call this out with Jesse Smith’s Farm Shop in particular (after all, they’re hardly alone as an eatery serving average-at-best coffee) is that Rave Coffee is just up the road where the beans are not only available,  they’re actually roasted there. The cognitive dissonance of this is something that jars. We are lucky to have two excellent coffee outlets in Cirencester, but as yet none come with breakfast, and while I hardly suffered through the pot of light and fragrant green tea, I can’t deny that I found myself wanting a nice clean hit of filtered coffee or an espresso chaser to be part of what was an excellent excellent breakfast.

The location may seem odd, the views uninspiring to anyone but a 90s brutalist architecture buff, there is plenty to recommend the Jesse Smith Farm Shop, firstly as a shop, but also – and most definitely – as a prime breakfast destination. Alongside Rave and Dolcetti just a few steps up the road, Jesse Smith’s makes quite a nice little gastronomic enclave in an area where you’d least expect it. It is certainly well off the tourist – or even the casual Saturday shopper -track, but if you happen to be visiting the town on a weekday or weekend and are in need of coffee, ice cream or a delicious breakfast or brunch, head on up to Love Lane (yes let’s call it that, rather than just the industrial estate).


Top seven for brunch in the Cotswolds

Brunch, what a great institution. It has become popular in recent years and it makes a lot of sense. If you get up too late for breakfast and too early for lunch at the weekend, and you are ready for some sustenance, you can enjoy a healthy feast and still virtuously declare you skipped a meal and you would not be lying. It has such a festive and convivial feel to it, and what better way to catch up with family and friends! Ensure the atmosphere is right for you – whether cosy and intimate, rural and picturesque or elegant and refined – the Cotswolds have something to offer to the hungry but discerned diner. I wish we could make brunch an official everyday tradition!

Enjoy the superb sourdough and stroll by the river at Lynnwood & Co in Lechlade, delight in the organic feast and the relaxed vibe at The Canteen in Nailsworth, pick yourself up with a super-hearty meal at Jesse Smith’s Farm Cafe in Cirencester, enjoy the elegant ambiance and excellent food at Made by Bob in Cirencester, join the genteel Cotswold folk in the bright & airy Lavender Bakehouse in Chalford or go boho and celebrate the weekend in a relaxed fashion at Blue Zucchini in Tetbury.


  1. The Canteen (Nailsworth)
  2. Lavender Bakehouse (Chalford)
  3. Lynwood & Co (Lechlade)
  4. Jesse Smith’s Farm Shop & Cafe (Cirencester)
  5. Cafe at the Gateway Centre (South Cerney)
  6. Blue Zucchini (Tetbury)
  7. Made by Bob (Cirencester)

The magnificent seven – for location


So you are not content with good food, quality coffee and luscious cakes. You want somewhere that will feed your eyes and soul too. Green pastures, shimmering water and verdant valleys dotted with cute stone cottages, plumes of blue smoke rising from their chimneys…Not a problem, in our picturesque region – all you need to do is know where to go – and we are glad to point you in the direction of a few beauty spots we treasure…

  1. The Crown at Frampton Mansell. A delightful traditional pub with excellent food and a lively atmosphere, perched on a beauty spot with remarkable views and a sunny terrace. True bucolic splendour.
  2. The Black Horse in Amberley. A pub full of character, just off the spectacular Minchinghampton common, set in the enchanting village of Amberley. the terraced garden has amazing views over the Stroud Valley. Well frequented by the local rural elite!
  3. The Upper Lock Cafe in Stroud. A charming, cosy hideaway cafe with personality, an organic vibe and a canal-side setting. Lovely cakes and healthy salads!
  4. The Campden Coffee Co in Chipping Campden. Set in lovely Chipping Campden, one of the jewels of the Cotswolds, Campden Coffee Co is light and bright – a lovely relaxed environment where you can relax over a decent coffee and some delicious cakes and snacks.
  5. The Bell at Sapperton. A refined pub and restaurant serving excellent food in a  charming village location with a delightful garden area. A top choice with the Cotswold elite!
  6. Gusto in Cheltenham. In fashionable Montpellier, the Italian inspired cafe serves tasty food in the leafy part of town, overlooking the park and next to some of the best boutiques for some choice shopping!
  7. The rooftop restaurant at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon. Fancy some refreshments before or after your Shakespeare fix in Stratford? The rooftop restaurant at the Royal Shakespeare Company affords great views over the river Avon and is perfect for your pre-theatre dining or indeed for a post-shopping treat! Elegant surroundings and food alike.

The Wednesday Whinge

Bath Gate Place Retirement Flats

Remember the TH White garage opposite St. James’ Place? Weren’t you glad when the second hand car lot was vacated? At last, we all thought, something nice will be put up, and when it was announced it was to be retirement flats, it seemed perfect. Now however, having seen the edifice itself, one might be forgiven for thinking there may be a curse on that prime spot in Cirencester’s historical centre, that it is somehow in every architect’s blind spot. It is a stone’s throw from the pastoral beauty of Cirencester Park, yet sentenced to architectural inadequacy. The quasi Neo fascist architectural style is such that one half expects to find political insignia carved into some of the stonework.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the retirement flats.  In fact, I think there is something of a laid back, relaxed feeling about them, a contemplative aura that lends them an air of serenity. I have seen some great examples too: glass-fronted with wooden deck extensions, surrounded by well-tended gardens with flower borders and neatly-clipped hedges. I have to admit I looked at them with longing, poetic images of hazy, sunny days spent strolling across parks dancing in my head.

Yet, the recently unveiled edifice does not whet your appetite for early retirement. The artist’s impression that was on display there did a fine job of painting a serene picture of a modern, yes, but tasteful building that could conceivably have fitted in with its surroundings. The reality, alas, is different: a case of so near, but yet so far. The first time I caught sight of it as I drove past it on the one-way system, I was genuinely surprised to see a building so at odds with its environment and also with what seemed to have been promised. It appears washed out and soulless, and rather than retiring, makes one wish I were working in the building across the road.

A more congruous building could have been achieved by mimicking the local stone, colours and style, without impacting the cost much, surely. Instead, the pallid, grey, smooth surfaces don’t speak of rural setting or Roman heritage – despite the fact that the name – ‘Bath Gate Place’ – is an attempt to pay homage to Cirencester’s Roman ancestry. You may be thinking “but what about the office block opposite? Isn’t that just as bad? Well, no. The SJP building opposite Bath Gate Place retirement flats may be modern in style but it is at least a fine example of its type; the glass frontage reflects its surroundings, the stone is a much softer hue, and the landscaping softens its sharp contours so that despite there being two of them, they maintain a discretion that somehow works.

The retirement flats in the Abbey Grounds have a much more pleasing effect, as they blend in with their low profile and traditional materials, without jarring with their surroundings.

The one potential saving grace is that the landscaping is yet to be finished – maybe that will make the difference. We shall see. Let us hope this is not the start of a new trend of misguided additions to the town. While we may not like the edifice, we do still wish all who reside there nothing but the very best, and if new to the town we add a sincerely hearty welcome.

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!


Coffee in Cirencester

A Cirencester Coffee Scene?

Coffee is everywhere these days. Even the pokiest of villages probably has a coffee shop where you can get your regular fix of latte or cappuccino. Speciality or artisan coffee, takes this tree and adds a refinement and a level of taste that does proper justice to the infinite variety of aroma and flavour that an arabica coffee bean can offer.

I was in Swindon the other day in one of its speciality Coffee shops, Dark Room Espresso – a favourite haunt when I am in the vicinity. At Dark Room, they really care about coffee. It was rescued from closure by Will, owner of the delightful Brew in Oxford. Steve, was talking about how they had resurrected the coffee at Swindon’s other notable coffee shop, Baila Coffee and Vinyl.  Our conversation revolved around the fact that Dark Room had not trumpeted their involvement with Baila’s re-establishment of its coffee provision. What mattered to Will, it was explained to me, was not any notion of brand success or expansion; rather, it was the principle of Swindon having a viable speciality coffee scene. I found this hugely laudable, obviously, but it is also very astute.

It got me thinking about Cirencester’s coffee scene, and what it is that our lovely town has to offer. The Cotswolds abounds with artisanal produce that is the equal of, and in some cases arguably better than, many other regions of the UK, and further afield, but what about the coffee?

Rave Coffee
Surely any town that can boast its own coffee roaster can rightfully claim to have a speciality coffee scene, and in Rave Coffee, tucked away in what is actually a little gastronomic enclave on the Love Lane Industrial estate that is also home to excellent ice cream and farm foods, we do have a coffee establishment of which we can be justifiably proud. Even better, is that they have their own cafe; rather than simply providing the raw ingredient, they demonstrate how to put it good use, and you are assured of a beautifully creamy and aromatic coffee that will give your day a kick, whether first thing in the morning or mid afternoon. And they are a great bunch in there, always with a friendly demeanour and the bit of odd banter. Tea and hot chocolate, as well as a variety of brownies and flapjacks are also on offer in the front-of-house cafe, but Rave is really all about the coffee, and it doesn’t even come with a price premium. If you haven’t been, go; you will not regret it.

Cotswold Artisan Coffee
So far, so good, then? Indeed so, and it stays in similar vein when one ventures in to town and Cotswold Artisan Coffee. It’s a place that hides its light under a bushel somewhat, tucked away as it is in Bishop’s Walk between Cricklade Street and the Brewery car park, but boy are we glad to have them! At Cotswold Artisan Coffee, no matter what you are drinking, it is impeccably sourced. The house coffee is always the same blend from Union, but the guest coffees could come from anywhere. The awards on the wall tell you all you need to know about the quality of what it is they offer here. The tea too, is chosen, brewed and served with precision and care, and even the hot chocolate is made from single origin real chocolate. There is also a greater variety of things to eat here: cakes, particularly the salted caramel brownie are to die for, and the banana bread is similarly excellent. Come to think of it, all the cakes here are first rate. Soup and sandwiches are also available if you need something for a genuine bite to eat, and all freshly made. Don’t tell me that a roast beef, roasted mushroom and blue cheese panini, and a dark chocolate tiffin slice sitting alongside your flat white does not have a mouthwatering ring to it – I simply won’t believe you!

 Jolly Nice

We’ve already reviewed Jolly Nice here at Cirencetera, and you can read our thoughts here. In terms of the Cirencester coffee “scene” it deserves an honourable mention, even though is it not in Cirencester itself. Excellent fresh organic food can be enjoyed along a well-made coffee made with good raw ingredients. It makes the list here mainly because it is open on a Sunday, it’s the closest place to Cirencester where you can get a good cup of coffee.

And so there we have it: perhaps not much of a scene, but enough of one to keep us going throughout the week, even if on Sunday it means jumping in the car or getting on your bike. As I write this I can foresee readers – assuming we have any – exclaiming about Coffee #1, and why it does not feature above. It is, after all, plumb central and even open on Sunday. It’s spacious, has a great selection of cakes – the Portuguese custard tarts are very good – and other things to eat, and its coffee seems to have been sourced with some care. The problem arises after this when, with expectations raised, you are presented with a cup so average, it leaves you feeling a touch let down. It is such a shame: the staff there are warm, friendly and welcoming that Coffee #1 has a pleasing energetic buzz to the place – one you might reasonably have expected to come from your coffee – but sadly it is apparent that not enough time has been invested in this energetic and willing bunch of would-be baristas, to really make the place somewhere special.

So there we have it: Cirencester’s coffee scene. We’re spoiled having resident roasters, but the feeling lingers that we could perhaps do with one or two more places that really put the emphasis on care and quality.

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).