Feasting in Style at The Woodsman, Hotel Indigo.
Arrive at Hotel Indigo in Stratford upon Avon, whether by car or by train (it’s a 14-minute walk from the station) and you can’t miss the fact that you are in Shakespeare country. The hotel itself is directly opposite Shakespeare’s New Place – the site of The Bard’s family home from 1597 until his death there in 1616. Although the house was demolished in 1759, a special garden has been created to commemorate the importance of the site.
Next door is Shakespeare’s School Room and the Guildhall. Open to the public under normal circumstances, right now like many attractions across the UK, you can’t go in. But, the silver lining is that like everything in Stratford, you CAN enjoy seeing these important landmarks from the outside with far fewer than the normal number of visitors.
The hotel itself was first built as a townhouse in the 16th century, but not long after Shakespeare’s death, the stunning Tudor timber-framed building became an inn. Most recently it operated as the historic Falcon Hotel until the space was taken over and carefully refurbished by Hotel Indigo, the boutique hotel portfolio of the Intercontinental Hotels Group. Foodies will be glad to hear that the restaurant has been put in the more than capable hands of Executive Chef Mike Robinson, co-owner of London’s only Michelin starred pub, The Harwood Arms in Fulham.
Regular readers may remember that The Harwood Arms in Fulham was my local. I remember how it turned from a decent gastro-pub into what it is today – a space that is both elegant and informal serving excellent, British seasonal dishes with a focus on sustainable and wild ingredients. And I was keen to see how The Woodsman compared.
First impressions of the hotel at this time were very promising. The lobby has been adapted to reflect the current conditions with a one-way route clearly marked to help guests maintain social distancing. There were sanitisers on hand throughout the building and staff who carry your luggage to the room wearing a mask and gloves and leaving your bag just outside the door.
Once in your room, you might notice that decor pillows and throws have been removed and a discrete travel-sized hand sanitiser has been left on the desk. There’s nothing clinical in the way things have been adapted, rather a considered and common sense approach to keeping everyone safe and comfortable.
In a historic building like Hotel Indigo Stratford, that’s quite a challenge. There are three types of rooms in the property – Tudor rooms which are designed to reflect the traditional 16th-century building, Georgian Townhouse rooms which are luxurious and elegant, and contemporary rooms in the new wing (built in the 1960s) which have a real 20th century feel. That means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Yet, my own Georgian townhouse room was squeaky clean.
From a peak into one of the contemporary rooms it was clear that the same standard ran throughout the hotel. There are all sorts of protocols which help maintain what is known as the IHG ‘clean promise’. For me, Hotel Indigo offers the best of both worlds with a charming boutique feel yet with a guaranteed high level of cleanliness.
Dinner at the Woodsman was enough of a justification for the two-hour train journey from London. If you prefer to drive the hotel does have its own on-site car park but I found the train journey from Marylebone remarkably painless. Our cheery guard walked up and down the aisle handing out free facemasks to anyone who had forgotten and there was no need to worry about social distancing – the train simply wasn’t that busy with everyone having a double seat. I sat, as advised, next to the window wearing my mask and watching the rolling fields and hedgerows of England passing by.
Excited by the opportunity to check out the sister restaurant to the Harwood, I turned up early enough to enjoy a glass of prosecco in the pretty walled garden. Although the reduced size restaurant was fully booked, there was plenty of space for everyone and I sat happily people-watching.
A huge amount of thought has gone into ensuring that both staff and guests are safe and comfortable – around a third of the tables have been removed so that there’s space for just over 40 covers. Bookings need to be made by phone – there are no walk-in tables – and the restaurant is taking a deposit of £10 per person for lunch and £20 for dinner.
Light as a feather focaccia, sweet with honey and soft with oil arrived on a wooden board with a pat of butter. Then, while I waited for my order, a couple of muntjac lollipops (little spicy meatballs) on split liquorice sticks appeared, grilled over the open wood flame and served with homemade pickles and beetroot ketchup.
The Woodsman has two open wood grills and it would have been churlish not to try the flame-seared Cornish mackerel.
Beautifully plated, the delicately charred, crisp skin of the mackerel fillet was served service side up, with a pretty garnish of homemade locally foraged elderflower and pickled gooseberries on fine slices of cucumber. The fish itself was moist, tender and perfectly cooked. I enjoyed a glass of chilled Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to complement the fish.
The Harwood produces some of the finest game dishes I’ve ever tried and I was keen to see if The Woodsman could continue the tradition. I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed with the perfectly cooked loin and rack of Cotswold Fallow deer with peas, girolles and smoked mushroom ketchup.
The meat was beautifully tender, light and the garnish of fresh peas, mushrooms and pea shoots made a dish which might otherwise have been a little heavy. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the rack and loin of venison, both visually and in terms of texture and flavour.
Dirty mash was a naughty and calorific but worthwhile indulgence of the softest buttery mash topped with rich gravy, toasted breadcrumbs and meat scrapings. Utterly delicious I think I could just have eaten a double portion!
The soft glass of Cahors that I enjoyed with the main course was a great pairing. The current menu has a limited wine by the glass offering for obvious reasons, but The Woodsman is well stocked and I look forward to visiting on another occasion for a more in depth exploration of the wine wall.
I’d originally planned to order the orange and olive oil cake from the dessert menu but had a last-minute change of heart which I certainly didn’t regret. Woodsman honey parfait with lavender shortbread, raspberries and honeycomb was a beautiful and delicate concoction. I loved the textural contrast between the crunchy honeycomb and the soft parfait – and the summery flavours of the shortbread, honey and raspberries made for a perfect seasonal mouthful.
And then to bed. There are 93 rooms in the hotel (including one fully accessible one). All the rooms have Hypnos beds with the softest white Egyptian cotton linen. Mine had an excellent shower – about half the rooms come with baths so if that’s your preference then ask on booking.
There are kettles, fresh milk in the fridge, Nespresso coffee machines and WiFi that works. Right now the normal robes, complimentary water and various other boutiquey things are not in the rooms as standard but can be added for no cost. And, although there’s no breakfast buffet, you can order from the a la carte to enjoy in your room or back in the restaurant
I went downstairs for breakfast simply because I wasn’t quite sure what time I wanted to eat or what I would feel like after such a feast. And, if I’m honest I still couldn’t decide.
I had some sourdough toast and the kind staff bought me plain yoghurt from the kitchen.
Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon was the best hot savoury option I could find for myself. I do wish more hotels would offer a hot savoury that didn’t involve eggs. Mushrooms on toast, a bacon butty or something similar. But, I don’t complain about perfectly scrambled eggs – especially with such a generous portion of smoked salmon.
After all that food, the best option seemed to be to go for a walk. Stratford upon Avon without the normal visitors to the theatre and international tourists seeking out The Bard is a blissful experience. Plenty of things are open – the riverboats are running and most of the cafes and restaurants are kicking back in now.
It’s a unique time when you can actually see the RSC theatres, the river, the canal and lock and the historic buildings in their glory without having to dodge the selfie takers
And, if you want to just relax, Hotel Indigo has a stunning courtyard garden with plenty of seating
Head Chef Jon Coates came out for a chat. I was genuinely impressed by the food – recognisably from the Harwood family but with its own identity and with plenty of seasonal and local ingredients. He told me that the restaurant was fully booked for the weekend.
And that they’d be serving a more casual Sunday barbecue option from the new set up you can see behind him.
I know that if I’m visiting Stratford upon Avon in the future for a theatre trip, I’ll be heading for Hotel Indigo. And booking my table at The Woodsman in advance. I’m looking forward to Stratford returning to normal, but in the meanwhile am grateful for the opportunity to see the town in a less frenetic mode.
Stratford upon Avon
0330 102 7244
Check our feature for more about Stratford upon Avon and Shakespeare, together with a few alternative places to stay
I was a guest of The Woodsman and Hotel Indigo but was not obliged to review. All content is editorially given.