Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Borough Cafe, Downton

Downton sits on the northern edge of the New Forest and 4 miles south of Salisbury.  Pretty enough with its fair share of chocolate box cottages and views of the Avon as it leaves the water meadows and winds south to join the Stour at Christchurch but, neither being in Salisbury nor the New Forest, it’s somewhat lost on the traffic grinding past on the A338. Which is a shame, as a short detour in the village centre leads to the Borough Café, a new appearance on the local food scene but one that would sit well in either of these more visited tourist hotspots.
 
But then maybe it’s being slightly off the beaten track that makes the Borough Café try that little bit harder? Sure, the honeypot villages of the New Forest are chock-full of quaint little tea rooms but the regular coachloads of tourists being poured through their front doors means that beyond offering a clean tablecloth, a cup of tea and a toasted teacake they really don’t need to make much effort to draw in the crowds.
 
In Downton, without its tourist hordes, a little more work is required and that’s exactly what Caroline Bromilow and her team seem to be putting in. A building that was previously a dark and dreary village bank has been transformed into a light and airy café staffed by a friendly team serving food that makes a trip to Downton well worth considering.
 
I’ve made 3 trips in as many weeks now and each time there’s been a buzz about the place with a mix of the usual working lunchers, and daytime child-free mums combined with walkers, cyclists and locals interested to see what’s happening. The team seem to know their regulars and with prompt and friendly service that new openings often struggle to achieve at such an early stage, the Borough Café has clearly cracked the basics of getting the right food, to the right table at the right time!
 
Good service alone won’t bring the punters back though and this is where things get better still. On the surface, the menu doesn’t look hugely different to a hundred others but the difference is in the detail here. Coffee freshly ground to order, Teapigs teas, home-made soup changing every day and served with a huge chunk of bread from New Forest Bakeries down the road in Breamore, a bacon ciabatta served with tomato and pepper relish rather than the standard bacon sarnie with ketchup and a wide enough selection of sandwiches, wraps and panini to guarantee happiness to even the most difficult customer.
 
And as the New Forest Bakeries bread suggests, there’s a focus on sourcing food locally with a host of Dorset and Hampshire food producers listed as suppliers on www.theboroughcafe.co.uk including Dorset Tea, Pig & Pickles relishes and even Prices the local butcher supplying the bacon. Any suggestions? Hmmm….well Lyburn cheese is made only 10 mins up the road in Landford so it’d seem an obvious addition but after barely 3 months of business, this is a good start!
 
So yes, Downton, you may have lost a bank, (admittedly one that only seemed to open for about 25 minutes twice a week), but I think you’ve gained something far more valuable. A meeting place for the locals, a haven for those like me who want to grab a decent bite on a rare lunchbreak and somewhere that might even draw in a few newcomers to the village who would otherwise have continued their journey along the A338 without a second thought. Here’s to you, and here’s to the Borough Café!

Dear Majestic…..

Dear Majestic
I tweeted your Salisbury store recently to ask what ciders they stocked…….
I’ll skip the boring bit about how they didn’t reply even after a second tweet and how only a really geeky tweet to the big cheese at Majestic central solicited a response but when I finally heard from them, their best (and only) offer was a mixed case of Weston’s. I did ask if they had anything a bit more local and but was told this was out of their hands. Purchasing decisions are down to the big cheese apparently?
When I called in at the store to check for myself I found they also stocked Henney’s (Herefordshire), Aspall’s (Suffolk), Longueville (Normandy) and Rekorderlig (Sweden). But nothing from Wiltshire, Somerset, Hampshire or Dorset.
Now……forgive me if I’m sticking my oar in here but doesn’t something seem a little wrong when your store in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on the edge of the West Country doesn’t stock a single cider from the surrounding counties? Cider and the West Country are inseparable as far as most drinkers are concerned but not, it seems when it comes to the Majestic purchasing team.
Can you imagine living in Bavaria and the local off-licence not stocking a decent local beer? Living in Epernay and being offered Prosecco? Muscadet in Burgundy? Can’t imagine it somehow yet, here in the West Country, Majestic can’t offer a single local West Country cider.
And it’s clearly not for the lack of availability- off the top of my head I could suggest Wessex Cider- 15 mins up the road in Fifield Bavant, New Forest Cider- 20 mins in the other direction and good enough to go down a storm every week on Borough Market, Cider by Rosie over in Blandford and last but certainly not least, the superb Burrow Hill Cider an hour away in Somerset.
There are plenty of others that I could list but I don’t want to bore you. In fact if I really did want to bore you I’d mention how you seem to ignore some of the fantastic local brewers like Hopback and Downton Breweries too but I better not go on too long.
So, I’ll leave it up to you Majestic. Maybe you can explain this curious omission from your range of ciders? Or maybe you can show some commitment to the great local producers in the West Country by updating your stock to offer something a bit more reflective of our locality?
Go on, I dare you…….

Kings Arms Lockerley and plans for a return trip…

Hidden away between Romsey and Salisbury, it’s not that long ago that the Kings Arms was another rural pub facing an uncertain future. An attractive 18th century building in a pretty location but with so much local competition and the temptation to take the easy option and get a drink closer to home, Lockerley’s local eventually closed and sat empty and unloved until early 2011.
At this point, I began to notice signs of life during my occasional passings-by and what was becoming the village ugly duckling started to transform into something with definite swan potential. A smartened up exterior, an interesting website and, throughout last winter, a temptingly warm glow radiating out of the front windows into the darkness that is Lockerley on a damp winter’s night make me wonder how I’ve not managed to find the time to stop off and see what was going on inside before now.
But anyway, with a wedding anniversary as an excuse for some midweek dining without children in tow, the time for wondering had passed and after a short but dark journey through the back roads of Tytherley and beyond, the glow from the Kings Arms drew us inside. And, yes, the inside lives up to expectations- roaring fire, warm welcome, friendly dog and smartly kitted out with a mix of vintage furniture, neutral shades, local art and the impression that someone’s gone to great effort to make it feel this effortless.
Wednesday nights are inevitably quiet and given the choice between eating in the dining room or at a table in the bar, the latter seems the better option and with a trickle of trick of treaters trying their luck at the bar throughout the evening, the Kings Arms suggests it’s a pub that’s still kept it’s place at the heart of the village despite the obvious “smartening-up” that’s gone on. With the barmaid doubling up as waitress this evening, the menu arrives along with our drinks and it clearly shows that the kitchen knows its strengths- local food, simply cooked and well presented. The menu doesn’t have any great surprises, but a choice of six starters and six mains offers enough variety to leave us considering our options before deciding on a shared starter of pan-fried pigeon breast, crushed peas and pancetta followed by the Hampshire rib-eye with roast tomato and chips and pork and honey sausages with mash and gravy.
The starter goes down well with the single strip of crisp, salty pancetta contrasting well with the pigeon breast and the bed of crushed peas providing a blast of colour on the plate. No complaints here and our empty plate is promptly collected by our friendly barmaid cum waitress.

Main courses soon follow and, as ever, much sharing of food takes place. Although we’re happy with our choices, we’re equally interested in what each other’s taste like and the second opinions confirm our initial feelings that everything is well at the Kings Head. My own choice is made even better by the fact that, on first bite, I recognise the sausages as coming from Greenfields Pork who keep their herd just up the road in the Wallops and sell their products through the Hampshire Farmers Markets. Feed me Greenfields sausages and I’m happy- it’s that simple! As an added bonus, I also receive a side of red cabbage (which wasn’t mentioned on the menu) but works well and has an interesting hint of what I first thought was fennel but I think was actually liquorice- yes, I know, I should’ve asked! And the rib-eye and chips? Well, if it’s done well there’s not much to say so I don’t have much to say other than the clearly chef knows what he’s doing.
The rule of six applies once again to the dessert menu with four choices plus ice cream or Lyburn cheeses with chutney. Being sweet-toothed we opt for lemon posset with home made shortbread and chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and salted caramel popcorn and once again, after some mutual sharing, neither last long. The posset makes for a refreshingly sharp and light end to the meal and the fondant a satisfying opposite. I’m not entirely sure the popcorn adds anything but then it doesn’t detract either and with Heston making an excellent salted popcorn ice cream, it was certainly worth a try!

Plates cleared and with a bill for barely over £50 including a drink each (good behaviour on a school night!) we agree that this is decent value for good local ingredients, well cooked in the sort of village pub that we’d be happy to spend a lot more time in. It looks like it’d be the perfect place for a winter Sunday Lunch in front of that open fire and we resolve to come back soon to give it a try.

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