While I try to keep much of my Offbeat Eating, well, “offbeat”, sometimes it’s good to go back to old favorites. And since a trip of our up to the RAF London museum had use out in the northwestern suburbs of London, that meant a side shopping trip for my brother to pick up bagels. You see, growing up in the Kaszeta household, one of the more holy culinary traditions is that Sunday mornings were typically celebrated with toasted bagels. So when my brother moved off to London, he found himself with the occasional craving for a good toasted bagel. Which actually is a bit of a challenge in London. Sure, those that are somewhat aware of the culinary scene in London are already going, “But there is Beigel Bake on Brick Lane!”, but, just like the spelling of “beigel” differs from “bagel”, the product itself varies, mostly due to the different culinary adventures the baked good has had along its various Yiddish voyages to New York, Montreal, or London. Don’t get me wrong, I rather like a good salt beef beigel from Beigel Bake, loaded up with delicious beef and hot English mustard. But the beigel itself is a bit more bready and less chewy than my expectations for a “bagel”…
One of the nice things about visiting London is that it is one of those metropolitan cities that still has a real Chinatown (well, like most any Chinatown, it is in constant flux and has a mixed history, like how it’s also the home of some of the French historical sites, like the Church of Notre Dame De France), and that means a chance for dim sum. This wasn’t our first London Chinatown dim sum foray (that being New World Chinese a few years back), but more than a few of London’s more reputable review sites all age that Imperial China is the ne plus ultra of London dim sum joints (hey, I can use French, it’s literally across the street from the French church!). So when my brother and I wanted to take my parents out for a Sunday dinner after church, we wandered over to Chinatown to check out Imperial China.
While my parents were still visiting in London, my brother decided it would be pleasant to take them on a day trip, so we all hopped on a train and headed down to West Sussex to visit the town of Chichester. Like York on one of our previous visits, Chichester is pretty neat since it dates back to Roman times, still maintaining the basic Roman-era street layout and outer walls. And, like most any English city of its size, it’s now got a cathedral (Chichester Cathedral is pretty unusual in that while it has a bell tower, the bell tower is a separate building) and a Market Cross. But after a morning roaming about checking out the cathedral, gardens, and the wall of the city, we met up with everyone and had a pleasant lunch at Amelie and Friends.
During our visit to the UK, my parents were also visiting as part of their 50th anniversary celebration (sorry it took so long to write this one up, folks…). My brother and I decided to take them (and our aunt) out for a nice family outing, so we opted for a trip to the Kew Gardens area, having a nice dinner at The Glasshouse followed by a walk in the Gardens.
One of the neater things about traveling is occasionally discovering completely-new-to-me food concepts, the “Things that I did not know where a ‘thing’”. Like learning that the Valencian Orxata is actually a pretty different item than the Mexican Horchata. Learning what a “Debris Po Boy” is in New Orleans. And learning that a Reunionnaise “Carri” is a splendidly different rendition of a “curry”. In this case, a walk through the streets of Bath had us come across Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House, “Home of the Original Bath Bun.”
Well, approximately 87 miles after starting our trek down the Cotswold Way, we finally arrived in Bath, pulling up to the end of the trail at Bath Abbey. Bath itself is actually a reasonably metropolitan city, and we were already feeling a bit out of place with our sweaty clothes and muddy boots (oh, the mud!), so our first order of business was finding our hotel (a nice little boutique hotel called the Bay Tree), followed by beer and dinner (one might have recommended, well, a Bath, but ironically, our hotel room didn’t have one. A proper Bath would have to wait until the next day’s trip to the Thermae Bath Spa Modern Roman Baths. Luckily, just down the way from our hotel was a fairly new restaurant that looked quite inviting: The Thief.
Our last night of hiking the Cotswold Way had us hike through some rather scenic areas, including Hawkesbury Upton, Little Sodbury (with another nice Iron Age fort: a “Bury”), and Old Sodbury. After stopping in Old Sodbury at the very pleasant Old Dog Inn for a pint of beer, we then crossed the splendidly beautiful and manicured Dodington Park, which is now owned by James Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame). And then we found ourselves pulling into one of the last towns on our walk, Tormarton. Tormarton is a very quant little village with stone buildings and a very impressive older church (St Mary Magdalene, which predates the Norman Conquest), and even a healthy selection of B&Bs, most of which caters to the Cotswold Way hiking crowd. What it doesn’t have is a lot of dining options: Our B&B didn’t offer dinner, and the town really has only two restaurants, one in the hotel just outside of town, and the pub. So, we took off our boots, put on our town shoes, and headed in to The Major’s Retreat, the local pub. The Major’s Retreat is not a fancy pub, and doesn’t aspire to be one of the trendy gastropubs, either.
Our next meal stop on the Cotswold Way was the town of Wotton-Under-Edge. Another town that’s been a Market Town for centuries, it draws its name from the fact that the town sits right under the Cotswold Escarpment, looking up at the limestone and hill edge of the escarpment. The town is pleasant enough, with a few nice historic sites (like an old Alms House), and for those hiking the Cotswold Way, offers up pretty much the last grocery store before Bath. When it comes to dining establishments, however, there are only a handful of options, but really, they did seem to make up in it in quality. The local Eagle Steakhouse looked quite excellent indeed, although our late lunch back at the The Old Spot Inn made us look around for some lighter fare. We were tempted by the pleasant smells coming out of the India Palace Tandoori, but, in the end, decided to check out the more modest Royal Oak Inn.
While in my previous review of Ben’s Takeaway I had mentioned some of the decline of Britain’s rural pubs, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the successes. As we continued our hike on the Cotswold Way, while the weather was a bit dreary, the pub situation got substantially better. After checking out some Iron age barrows and forts at Uley Long Barrow and Uley Bury, we descended into the village of Uley (home of the quite good Uley Brewery) and then headed into Dursley, which is one of the larger towns along our hike. Being a market town (complete with an impressive Market House in the center of town), Dursley also has quite the active beer scene, with several active pubs and a very active CAMRA group. So when we came across The Old Spot Inn right on the trail, we decided that we had walked enough during the day to warrant a late lunch.
With the assistance of the most-wonderful Contours Walking Tours, 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.