There are many reasons why one would chose to flee from the hot, sunny, beachbar ridden January’s of Mojácar back to the rain swept, frosty and, indeed, icy streets of the Royal County: ie, Gloucester.
One might cite family ties (or, at the very least, a stern Mater who hands out addresses in the UK along with stern admonishments on how best to arrive, warnings about not making cheeky comments about levels when the elderly relatives pour the gin into ones G&T’s, and care about the rising flood waters of the Severn).
Possibly you could delve into the relative psychological needs of the true Brit to see at least some rain during the winter, something that in Almería is short and sweet.
Maybe the need to visit ones money before Cameron and his friends arrive, ensuring that it has a swift and happy trip to some fiscal paradise abroad, whilst you stand on the Portsmouth docks, tearful and waving a hankie. Well, not in my case, but you could.
In my case, it’s the gaping void of January here in the sun with very little going on. The usual gastronomic routine of Terraza Carmona, Juan Diego’s, Lua Playa, Felipe San Bernabe and Cortijo Albari simply doesn’t fill the void any more. A vast future of nothing interesting gapes beyond me. I read the gastronomic adventures in the UK press with envy. Giles Coren’s campaign to save the best pork pie shop in Britain takes on a new urgency when the thing just doesn’t exist in your area.
Plus, return flights for under 50 euros p,p,, and car rental that’s cheap beyond belief, helps. That, and the GF isn’t adverse to a sweep around the January sales in London, either.
The additional appeal of being able to talk to a police officer, safe in the knowledge that he or she will abide by the Law As It Is Wrote, instead of making it up as they go along; the fact that politicians are not your Supreme Masters; and the overall feeling that Justice can, if not be found, at the very least may be sought after, all brings one a happy feeling that Santa Claus failed to supply this year.
Once back in Gloucester, there are many watering holes to lure the happy expat hippopotamus into. Not in the actual city of Gloucester itself (the place is an hell-hole) but certainly in the ancient villages and towns around.
If one is in the ancestral pile the family maintains in Cirencester, then the best Thai in the UK is there in the high street. Or, we have Harry Hare’s just round the corner for the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall option. Or the Tunnel Inn for the scruffy upper class plate of soup and the opportunity to run into P. Harry, as my grandmother familiarly calls him after once stepping on his foot in the bar there.
The bars, inns, restaurants, pubs and generic waterholes that litter the area are beyond belief. For example, I’m looking forwards to seeing the latest incantation of the Old Passage, a place that supplies the best in Irish shellfish without having to visit my old haunts in Dublin.
Personally, one place that I refuse to miss visiting, and am in fact licking my lips in anticipation at the thought of going there, is Marinades, in the High street of Cheltenham Spa.
Marinades is a delicious place that used to be in the county town of Newent, otherwise famous for it’s onion market, and for being a town in which I lived for seven years of my early life. It’s a Caribbean-Mediterranean fusion joint, run by Clive and Wendy. Their menu is proud to boast that it is “great for you”, with a whole selection of gluten-free and pro-coeliac options. In so many places this is a pretentious attempt to add 2,50 to the menu; at Marinades, it’s a genuine effort to provide great food for people on a strict diet. The GF loves it, as she has an ulcer. Don’t believe me? Ask them for their very many volumes of guestbooks, all lovingly filled out over the years by happily stuffed clients.
And the best thing is that if, like me, you are a fat bloated gastropod who gets annoyed at the mere mention of “health foods”, these don’t get in the way of deliciously cooked home foods, beautifully presented on the plate. So I can eat, and the GF can eat, to our hearts content, without either of us feeling that the menu was designed for the other; but each feeling it was designed for us.
Clive and Wendy have personal knowledge of how different foods can affect a child of distinct temperament, and have applied this knowledge into providing a distinct, yet flavorsome, home crafted menu. Clive, who is also the chef, spends most of every morning out and about in the local markets sourcing organic local produce for his creations. Wendy, it seems, spends the same mornings memorizing the names, characteristics and likes of all of her clients, for as the front of house, she is a charming hostess who caters to every demand with a sunny smile, and who appears to faithfully remember, from visit to visit, your every like and whim. As someone who couldn’t remember his third name until the age of 16, I admire this photographic knowledge of her clientèle with envy.
The restaurant is surprising for an English watering hole. The open plan restaurant mixes in with the bar and kitchen in a natural way that still allows people to dine in peace, whilst drinkers at the bar can raise their glasses at Clive and his team in the kitchen. In the summer months (this is the UK, after all) a back terrace gives an intimate al fresco feeling for diners who wish to eat under the stars, surrounded by a Mediterranean patio garden.
As an additional bonus, almost in front of the restaurant is a public car park that, I am assured, is not checked after 8pm at night. Allowing you to leave the car for free. A deliciously naughty feeling that is only matched by accepting the offer of a second helping of the homemade puds.
The cuisine is unique for the region, but need not startle. As it’s all homemade and prepared to order, you can up or down the spiciness of the food to your palate. Clive’s soups are to die for – his jerk chicken is a rare treat that cannot be matched unless by a BA first class ticket to Jamaica.
So, if you want a different, delicious meal in a great town after a wonderful day shopping, and a satisfaction of happiness, self-content and fulfillment, it’s hard to beat Marinades and Cheltenham Spa.
And that’s why we’re back off to the UK for a few days next week.
Marinades Restaurant, Cheltenham Spa.
56 HIGH STREET, CHELTENHAM, GLOS, GL50 1EE
TLF: 01242 578811 or 07800 840555
PS: Neither the Cheltenham Spa tourist board, nor Marinades, paid me for this review. Although it would be nice if they did.