2nd September 2020
Outside areas are never more relevant than now, as we get back to eating out. Nicholas Rudd-Jones explores some favourites – fingers crossed for an Indian summer!
At the start of the summer, restaurant owners did not know when they might reopen, what the ‘new normal’ might look like and, indeed, for some, whether they would ever open their doors again. What has been remarkable is not just how incredibly hard they have worked to get things safe, but also how many have been able to create not just a ‘new normal’ but a ‘new special’ – in the process, creating new and different memories for diners. By the end of the meal we have usually forgotten that things are very different and just appreciate the good food and warm hospitality.
Always try and book ahead if you can – at the moment many establishments are not able to accept walk-ins. Book direct, so that restaurants do not have to pay commission to a third party, and never be a ‘no-show’ statistic.
The Barn Garden Café
Barnwell Road, Oundle PE8 5PB, 01832 273310, www.thebarngardencentre.co.uk
The spacious, purpose-built Box Café is popular for its homemade scones, tarts and cakes, as well as light lunches and paninis. They have lots of outdoor space, so a good choice, if the weather allows.
Bosworth’s Garden Centre
Elton Walled Garden, Elton PE8 6SH, 01832 343104, www.bosworthsgc.co.uk
We go here often for the plants and garden accoutrements, and never want to miss out on the brilliant café. There are plenty of well-spaced tables outside, spilling into the rows of trees and shrubs and affording a lovely view as you eat and drink.
The Bull & Swan
High Street St Martin’s, Stamford PE9 2LJ, 01780 766412, www.hillbrookehotels.co.uk/bull-swan
The Kitchen Garden is a beautifully converted area with a vegetable and herb garden. It offers Pizza Potting Shed fare. The beauty here is that there is no need to book a table, as they are opening on a first come, first served basis! Films are shown regularly too, check blackboard outside or call ahead.
Castle Cottage Café
Church Street, Oakham LE15 6DR, 01572 757952, www.castlecottagecafe.com
If you were trying to conjure up what the ‘secret garden’ looked like, it might not be far off this one, behind the castle in Oakham – a quaint spot to lounge away a warm afternoon in late summer/early autumn in the dappled shade. Take your mobile and you can use a QR code to bring the menu up on your phone – ingeniously negating the need for a paper menu.
The Chubby Castor
34 Peterborough Road, Castor PE5 7AX, 01733 380801, www.thechubbycastor.com
Refurbished by Chef-Patron Adebola Adeshina in 2018, The Chubby Castor offers amongst the best fare in our region. As one Trip Advisor (TA) diner commented: ‘We wanted a special meal for our first meal out since lockdown and The Chubby Castor did not disappoint. Lovely ambience outside on the terrace with lots of obvious measures to ensure social distancing and hand hygiene. The service was friendly and efficient as always and the food was perfect.’
Town Bridge Upper Deck Charters, Peterborough PE1 1FP, 01733 315702, www.east-restaurant.co.uk
Moored on the banks of the Nene, East offers a fusion of Oriental styles of cuisine. Dishes have been chosen from diverse cultures of South-East Asia. They have an additional new menu, called East Twist, offering you a selection of Mediterranean dishes with a Far Eastern twist. Following government guidelines, they can seat six per table and offer takeaway, but not the Sunday buffet. Open in the evenings.
The Exeter Arms
28 Main Street, Barrowden LE15 8EQ, 01572 747365, www.exeterarmsbarrowden.co.uk
This really is my ultimate favourite outdoor spot, sipping a beer on the terrace and looking out across the village duck pond to the Welland Valley beyond. When the weather is good, there is plenty of space to spill out into at this pub, and that makes dining here a natural choice.
TA comment: ‘We had our first meal out, after lockdown, in the garden at The Exeter Arms. We had a great night out. Fantastic atmosphere. Mark and his team could not do enough for us. Food was wonderful.’
Market Harborough LE16 9NP, 01858 464838, www.farndonfields.co.uk
Access to the Farmer’s Kitchen is now through the garden, which is at the left-hand side of the farm shop. The menu changes with the seasons and is inspired by the produce grown on the farm. The menu includes the very popular Farmer’s Breakfast, a selection of brunch and lunch dishes, bowl food and the famous afternoon tea.
Hambleton LE15 8TH, 01572 756991, www.hambletonhall.com
Hambleton Hall celebrated its 40th this year. I love the header on their recent newsletter: ‘Hambleton Hall opened July 1st, 1980 and re-opened July 5th, 2020.’
The south-facing terrace gives ample space on a sunny day, although it can’t be booked in advance. Perhaps call ahead if the weather looks set fair and no doubt something can be arranged.
12 Burley Road, Oakham LE15 6DH, 01572 722255, www.hitchensbarn.co.uk
Headed by Louise and Neil Hitchen, who previously ran The Berkeley Arms in Wymondham, Hitchen’s Barn has been winning acclaim left, right and centre since opening early last year, including a Michelin Bib Gourmand 2020.
In Louise’s words: ‘we are SO happy to re-open.’ It’s not surprising then to read this diner experience: ‘Our second visit last night for the first date night post lockdown. They certainly haven’t lost any of their excellent service, ambience and dining experience.’
The King’s Head
Wadenhoe PE8 5ST, 01832 720024, www.wadenhoekingshead.co.uk
Wadenhoe is a picture-postcard perfect village, and its pub, The King’s Head, looks out over the River Nene with its huge garden running down to the water’s edge. The pub was recently taken over by the owners of The Old Barn (now closed), who have incorporated the tea rooms, breakfasts etc into the pub. Reports suggest it’s going brilliantly.
Recent TA comment: ‘Came here yesterday afternoon to surprise my mum out from lockdown and take the doggies for a walk. The King’s Head was so clean, Covid safe, excellent service, 5-star fresh food, beautiful setting and the staff was so polite and efficient.’
The Olive Branch
Main Street, Clipsham LE15 7SH, 01780 410355, www.theolivebranchpub.com
We recently ate here under one of its new garden gazebos. The Olive Branch team have managed to create a dining experience that’s in some ways even more memorable than it was pre-Covid-19. Their classy gazebos work brilliantly, providing several self-contained outdoor spaces. And, if you are indoors, you get more space too.
As Ben Jones, owner, noted: ‘What an excellent first month back! It’s been a joy to see so many of you returning to enjoy your first meal out after lockdown. It’s been lovely to hear so much positive feedback. We wanted to create something very special for you to come back to and, judging by your comments, we’ve got close.’
The Slanted Door
43 St Mary’s Street, Stamford PE9 2DS, 01780 757773, www.theslanteddoor.co.uk
What can be braver than launching during Covid, which is what the Regus brothers have done, opening this classy establishment in August. It’s a wine and cocktail bar with a balcony out the back looking towards Stamford’s Meadows. Downstairs is a bar, where ‘small bites’ will be offered; upstairs is a restaurant with an à la carte menu from Dameon Clarke, renowned local chef (formerly of The Wicked Witch in Ryhall).
The Willow & Brook
Kings Cliffe Road, Apethorpe PE8 5DG, 01780 470509, www.thewillowandbrook.co.uk
Married couple Jim and Suzanne took over the pub this year, just before Covid-19 struck, but nothing would deter them, and they are now back to great acclaim. Jim has 25 years of culinary experience, and Suzanne has a passion for delivering excellent service and warm hospitality. TA review: ‘Popped in for a quick lunch. Fantastic service and food served in the lovely courtyard garden. Highly recommended.’