With the assistance of the most-wonderful Contours Walking Holidays, our hike from Painswick to Bath took us through some of the more charming towns of rural Gloucestershire, with us staying nights in Kings Stanley, Wotton-Under-Edge, and Tormarton before getting into Bath proper. So after a fairly long day of hiking, around dinner time we pulled into Kings Stanley. A former mill town, Kings Stanley is one of those little towns that, in the modern age of the automobile, is close enough to Stroud that it’s a bit hard for the town to maintain its own businesses. Indeed, there are basically two business establishments in Kings Stanley. The first is the Kings Head Pub.
Unfortunately, The Kings Head is one of those spots that introduced us to something we had heard about a lot in the media, the declining state of the Pub as an English institution. Our hiking guide, based upon the fairly famous UK Ordnance Survey Maps, identified all sorts of pubs along our hike, but the truth of the matter is that most of these pubs are no longer in business, and many that are still around aren’t exactly in their heyday. The Kings Head is one of these… it used to be a pretty popular establishment. It’s now open only a few nights of the week, and, despite what various guidebooks had told us, was no longer serving dinner. But the reluctant publican would go back into the kitchen and round up some plates and utensils if requested so that you could eat take-away with your pint.
So that left us in a bit of a conundrum. The owner of the B&B offered very kindly to arrange transport back to Stroud to check out the Fleece Inn, but after 14.5 miles of hiking, we decided to check out the other offering of Kings Stanley, Ben’s Take-away. Despite the distinctly anglicized name, Ben’s is actually a Chinese place. Indeed, with all my various visits to England, this was my first experience with an English-Chinese takeaway place, so I was actually interested in seeing how things went.
Basically, an English “Chinese” take-away is very similar to the American-Chinese equivalent, with mostly the same sort of dishes (spring rolls, battered bits of meat in sweet and sour sauce, etc). But a few things I noticed at Ben’s (and other Chinese places throughout our hike) showed that there’s occasionally a few cultural differences, even in ethnic food. Two notable examples:
- Prawn crackers seem to be a mandatory side item, and these aren’t even really all that Chinese, more of an Indonesian thing.
- Ben’s turned out to be another example of a pattern I had noticed, which is that pretty much every takeaway place is expected to have, and offer, chips to you. I was more than a little surprised to see that even extends to a lot of the Asian takeaway places, and was thus asked, basically, “Do you want fries with that”. Hmm. I may have to explore that combination at some point. General Tso’s Chips, anyone?
- Speaking of General Tso, that was one Americanized Chinese dish that I actually didn’t see in the UK. Do they have it? Is there a UK equivalent?
Okay, before you think I’m getting to be curmudgeonly…. I rather liked Ben’s. For a tiny takeway shop in the quiet suburb of Kings Stanley, they’ve got a pleasant, efficient staff that happily serve you up a veritable mountain of food for under 20 quid. In our case, that was the Number 2 special, spare ribs in in black bean sauce, chicken in garlic-chilli sauce (showing that the basics of the Sriracha craze are alive and well in the UK as well), and Kung Po Duck. We took our takeaway back to the Kings Arms, where, despite the lack of kitchen service, the publican was more than happy to bring us out actual plates and silverware, so we could enjoy our takeaway with a few nice pints.
You know what? Ben does some pretty good Chinese food. We actually enjoyed this meal quite a bit, although it was a huge meal despite our relatively high hunger. The chicken in garlic-chilli sauce was a little close to the standard “sweet and sour chicken” for my tastes, but was well executed, with nicely crisped little balls of chicken with a soft and juicy interior. The spare ribs were actually very nicely done, tender, and with a black bean sauce that wasn’t overly sweet or salty. And the kung po duck? Everything I like from duck: tender little morsels of duck in with a flavorful crispy skin, these were some of the best takeaway duck I’ve had. Round it all out with a nicely executed spring roll and a veritable mountain of prawn chips, and yes, there was no danger of us going hungry.
So you know what? While it indeed saddens me that yet another of England’s pubs is on the rocks, I have to hand it to Ben’s for filling in the niche very nicely (and they also have locations in Nailsworth and Dursley).