I’ve umm’d and aah’d about writing this post for quite some time now. It’s a bit of a tough one, and one that requires the disclosure bit to come first. That way, you can go into it with your eyes open and hopefully get where I’m coming from.
You see, as part of my day job as a journalist, I also provide PR services to small businesses. One of those just happens to be a restaurant. A pretty good restaurant and the kind of place I would ordinarily write about after one visit – let alone several.
But the fact that they pay me to help get them noticed makes this a bit of a tough one. How can I tell you all that it’s a place worth going to, when they’re my client? You might think I’m doing it for all the wrong reasons. And there you have the root of my procrastination.
However, after much mulling and musing, I’ve decided the time has come. You see, I’ve visited Loxleys in Stratford-upon-Avon more times now that I have plenty of the other places I’ve included on this blog. I’ve tried different kinds of food (and yes, I’ve paid for the majority of it), I’ve taken different people to see what they think, I’ve read about other people’s experiences, and I’ve decided that really they shouldn’t be missed off this blog purely because of my working relationship with them.
So here we are. You know the score, you know the background, and you can go into this post with your eyes open, but knowing that a lot of thought has gone into its inclusion.
If you’ve been to Stratford before, you’ll know there is a plethora of restaurants. From big chains to independents, and not forgetting Paul Foster’s Salt with its Michelin Star, there’s a lot to choose from. Loxleys is on Sheep Street, a short trot from the RSC and surrounded by other independents. I suppose some might say it’s a relative newcomer on the scene compared to some, having been around for about six years, but it certainly seems to have a decent following.
Inside the historic building, a recent refurb means it’s chic and glam without being too fussy. It’s fairly big but feels cosy at the same time. Downstairs there’s a bar area, a snug at the front, cosy area by the fire, and a covered courtyard complete with heaters and a roof so you can al fresco dine even in the middle of winter. Upstairs is more space, mixing exposed beams with funky upholstery and decor.
Loxleys is open breakfast, lunch and dinner, or just for drinks, so there’s plenty of options. I’ve tried both breakfast and lunch, though am yet to visit for dinner. There’s everything from sharing platters to classics like fish and chips and more fancy schmancy stuff like slow cooked pork belly or prawn linguine.
As I say, I’ve tried a few things. The Eggs Benedict was wonderful, smothered in a rich, silky hollandaise. No bought nonsense or curdled eggs here.
On another visit I take my mum for lunch. We dive into one of Loxleys’ sharing platters, the fish board. A clock face of fishy treats – salt and pepper squid, a crayfish cocktail, smoked haddock arancini, marinated anchovies, Nocellara Olives, Bloody Mary mayonnaise, and salted almonds.
It’s light, delicate and tasty. Everything is delightful, from the retro crayfish cocktail to the perfectly-executed salt and pepper squid encased in its light batter.
The arancini is to die for – formed into slightly smaller balls than I’ve seen before which means there is no chance of it turning into one of those dense spheres you get in some places that you could chuck through someone’s window and guarantee it would break the glass.
These are crispy on the outside, the light shell enveloping the rich, soft, yielding rice inside. My mum is lucky enough to have eaten the real thing in Sicily and declared these were the best arancini she’s had since her visit.
We finish with their 70% dark chocolate fondant, with the added flavour of cherry just in case it wasn’t decadent enough, plus a scoop of praline ice cream. It’s everything a fondant should be – light and spongey on the outside, with the reward of molten chocolatey goodness within.
Mum leaves happy and blown away by the food and wonderful service. Did she get special treatment because she was with me? I don’t think so, as a quick glance through reviews of Loxleys seems to suggest that everyone gets treated well.
On a third trip, I take Mr M and my mother-in-law for Sunday lunch. This is one of their most popular days – offering up quality roast dinners for the more-than-reasonable price of £12.95. It’s packed and slightly chaotic when we arrive but soon enough, everyone is manoeuvred to their tables by a staff who are clearly used to dealing with a busy service and we soon find ourselves ensconced in a corner upstairs.
I start with a mushroom and thyme veloute – a sexy bowlful of the taste of woodland and long walks, made more refined with the addition of distinctive truffle oil and creamy goat’s curd. Jamie has a generous slab of chicken liver parfait with sweet apricot chutney and ciabatta toast and declares it to be one of the nicest he’s had in some time.
The MiL goes for the Roasted Winter Squash and Stilton salad that proves to be the winner. A cacophony of colour, flavour and texture – sweet, soft roasted squash, savoury stilton, piquant balsamic, crunchy hazelnuts and a fragrant dressing. She’s pleased, and when she’s pleased, we’re all pleased.
Main course is a slap-up roast dinner. Rib of beef for me and Jamie, turkey for MiL (it’s usually chicken but it was the run-up to Christmas). It’s great. The roast beef is tender, full of flavour and perfectly pink – which in my view is exactly as it should be (the picture below, by the way, absolutely does not do it justice, but you can trust me that it was perfect).
It comes with a pillowy Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes crispened with the all-important addition of goose fat, and a tonne of veg that I pile high on to the plate, including a creamy cauliflower cheese that rivals even the mother-in-law’s, and hers is legendary. Extra gravy is provided in a jug before I can even ask for it, based on the understanding that yes, everyone always needs more gravy.
It’s a feast. It’s top quality. And it’s reasonably priced. I can see why it’s so popular. We can’t fit any pudding in on this occasion, but I already knows those are good thanks to my fondant experience. Again, we all leave happy and the mother-in-law raves about what a lovely experience she’s had.
So there you have it. A top-notch, family-run restaurant serving good food that combines the classic with the ambitious. A place where the decor and service reminds you that independents seem to ooze with a love and passion and that you don’t really tend to get in chains. And where the service reflects that.
I’m lucky enough that I get to pop into Loxleys on a relatively regular basis, but even if I didn’t work for them, I’d go anyway. So there.
As mentioned, I work on a freelance basis for Loxleys. They didn’t ask me to write this blog and as mentioned, I umm’d and aah’d over it for a while. On both lunch occasions I paid for our meals, but received a small discount.