Cheltenham Spa – Well Walk Tea Room, the Tavern and the Best of Blogging:
It probably wasn’t the ideal weekend for me. Just back from a month or so of press trips and longing for my first few days at home, I was looking forward to cuddling the cats in front of the TV. But, when some of my fellow bloggers suggested an away-day to Cheltenham Spa, I just couldn’t say no. Actually I DID say no to staying overnight although the others all booked themselves into hotels – after travelling from York, Edinburgh Kent and Cornwall, wouldn’t you? And as the group’s party pooper, I felt obliged to sort out where we should have tea and supper. As much as anything because I had visions of missing my train home while we roamed the streets of Cheltenham Spa looking for somewhere to eat.
In any case, a couple of years of writing restaurant reviews has made me overly fussy at times and when I am unhappy somewhere I get grumpy – so, at least if I picked the venues, I only had myself to blame. Then, of course, I panicked in case the others didn’t like what I’d chosen!
This particular little group tweets using the #smuts hashtag (don’t ask me why, I’m completely innocent and any smutty comments have just gone over my head) – and there are normally eight of us (the others are Janice from Farmers Girl Kitchen, Karen from Lavender and Lovage, Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog, Ros of The more than occasional baker, Sue from Heaven on a Plate, Dom from Belleau Kitchen and Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes. For various reasons the last three people ended up not being able to make it but it was still great to meet Janice and Ros, who I hadn’t ever met ‘in real life’ and to catch up with the others.
The Well Walk Tea Room is the oldest shop in Cheltenham Spa and a vintage cornucopia. Friendly staff showed us upstairs to a quirky room with a few tables laid out with pretty china. The shelves were piled high. We later discovered that the owners have a second business providing props for films and TV shows. Our china could well have been on Downton Abbey.
We ordered tea. Probably WAY too much food since we were planning to eat not so much later, but the idea of Gentleman’s Relish tempted me and of course we had to have scones. And then, there were cakes. I particularly enjoyed the salty Gentleman’s relish (a kind of anchovy paste) and the scones were SO much better than I can make myself.
My original plan had been to find one of Cheltenham’s boutique hotels that served tea. But the two I tried were fully booked (it is wedding season). On reflection, the Well Walk Tea Room turned out to be a much better option with an extremely reasonably priced tea and a friendly vintage and home-made feel that had us all at ease very quickly.
Now, my train home was at 9.20pm – I was actually just a little horrified to find that if I didn’t catch that particular train, I wouldn’t arrive in London until early the next morning. So, I’d booked dinner for 7pm at the Tavern. And that meant once we’d finished tea, there was only just enough time to wander around Cheltenham briefly getting lost before we headed off to The Tavern. I’d really struggled to find somewhere for supper that wasn’t going to wreck our budgets. Blogging DOES give me a great quality of life – I do some fantastic things that I’d never otherwise have the chance to experience – but, unless I’m missing a trick, it’s not a way to get rich quick. I was trying to avoid going to somewhere that we could all find in our own home towns, but a lot of the restaurants only offered full tasting menus on Saturday evenings. The Tavern looked interesting.
We arrived to a warm welcome and the offer of a complimentary cocktail. Well who would refuse that? Particularly when there were some fabulous fizzy drinks on offer. My Saint-Germain Fizz with prosecco and elderflower was just right and I loved the little tin cups of popcorn that we had to nibble on.
On to food – we ordered a whole variety of dishes. Chickpea chips were a particular favourite of everyone to start. The samphire, crispy parma ham and poached egg looked wonderful. There are times when I think I could easily convert to liking eggs…and from the reaction across the table this might have been a good time to pick!
My own whole roasted sea bass was fabulous. It came in a big serving dish with tomato, anchovies and new potatoes and was beautifully cooked.
I’m not a great fan of ribs but the massive pile of sticky meat disappeared quickly
There were rave reviews for the chermoula, aubergine and bulgar salad and for the special vegetarian burger. Although my instinct would have given this place limited vegetarian options, the reality is that there are plenty of menu dishes for vegetarians and pescatorians – and apparently even more choice if you ask.
Upstairs we all took the chance to meet the kitchen. The Tavern has its own take on chef’s table, with a bar space where you can sit and sample dishes as they are cooked. Apparently it’s very popular – I’m guessing as much due to the cheerful friendly staff as anything.
In theory we’d all eaten enough, but a hot chocolate mousse with pistachio ice-cream to share couldn’t be THAT bad, could it…
I’d thoroughly recommend the Tavern. I haven’t found anywhere quite like it in London – it seems to have a unique style and menu structure that seamlessly fuses a top class burger joint with Ottelenghi. Very delicious.
My taxi was waiting. It seemed like all too short a meeting and it felt as if we were old friends. And it made me think. I write my blog because I love writing. The blog continues because I love the experiences I get through it. But, I also write my blog because it makes me part of a community. A community that is very special, with we have shared interests, passions and (in some cases) ambitions. It is two years since I started writing London Unattached and I’ve met some wonderful and inspiring people both online and in real life. So this is a thank-you to everyone else who blogs for being such an inspiration.
Well Walk Tea Room
5-6 Well Walk, Cheltenham GL50 3JX,
5 Royal Well Place
Cheltenham, UK GL50 3DN