Talking to strangers always has an enlivening effect on me. So much so, that I often wonder why I don't do it more, to initiate or participate in conversations that come out of the blue. Or to offer a simple willingness to answer a question. The buzz I get from it is amazing, so why don't I do it more often? An easy answer could boil down to the fact that I live in London. Well, Zone 6. Stop laughing at the back, it is still classed as London and the unwritten rule in this country's capital, is that we must not talk to each other. Ever. Except maybe to argue over personal space, to pour scorn on which side of the river you live, or to ask - 'Are you reading that?'
Amongst many, other, things.
A damning start to proceedings then and probably an unfair one at that. Someone is bound to pop up and say 'Oi, aaah dare you say that!? I talk to facking people all the time!' And OK, Mr Imaginary Mary Poppins Type Character in my head, it might not be all that bad. Yet, whenever I do get out of the city, I sometimes can't help but feel a sea change. Outside the M25, along with the fresh air and bracing walks, I don't know, people just seem friendlier. The dogs even more so. But you'll have to read right up to the end of this blog to hear that story.
In the meantime, here is a nifty review of a pub and restaurant we stayed at, as a family recently, called the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen; which is based in Oakham, in the county of Rutland. Small in size but not so diminutive in character, this county has come under attack from various invaders in the past. Namely from the Vikings, Leicestershire and Eric Idle. But Rutland has stood steadfast down the ages and having thwarted any attempts to blot out its heritage, is now carving out a reputation as a destination of choice in the UK. A bucolic alternative to Norfolk in the east and an excellent respite from the Midlands to the west. It is literally a 20 minute drive from Corby. So people of Corby, don't panic, you do have the chance to escape to somewhere nice if you want to.
This was the first time I've ever visited the area, so what do I really know, but having had a quick wander around Oakham, I was pleasantly surprised. As a hub, it is fairly lively, with lots of shops, pubs, restaurants and delicatessens and if I were to point out one place in particular, it would have to be the ramshackle Castle Cottage Cafe. They do a great sandwich, slice of cake and cup of tea. The actual castle next to the cafe is a slight misnomer. Insofar that it resembles a grand hall, rather than a castle with turrets, moat and drawbridge. But it is steeped in history and laden with horseshoes and the kids loved running inside and around the grounds, so I can forgive that. What I can't forgive is spotting a pack of halloumi going for £5.25 in one of the aforementioned deli's. That really is a scandalous price for a block of squeaky cheese.
Perhaps Oakham is aiming high, which brings me back to the Mill Street Pub and Kitchen. Squaring itself up as boutique retreat in the country, the pub does come with all the usual whistles and bells that accompany this brand of accommodation. Quirky, mismatched furniture, anthropomorphised animals in picture frames and a huge glass fronted cellar are just some of the ticks in the luxury box. But the pub doesn't suffer any less for it. I've stayed in places similar, thinking that I should really be wearing my best Gabicci and Sta Press Farahs, whilst lounging on a cow hide covered chaise lounge and supping a tobacco-infused, pine spritzed Daiquiri in the bar. And feeling totally out of place. Thankfully, the atmosphere at Mill Street is a lot warmer and convivial than most, which is down to the very friendly and attentive staff who work there and the fragrant whiff of wood smoke that permeates the building. That scent is so welcoming.
The room that we shared, unfortunately with our children, was also very comfortable, catering for all our needs with extremely fluffy pillows and glorious hot running water to bathe in. Speaking of scents, I was also very much taken with the range of toiletries that were sadly screwed the wall in the bathroom. No matter, I made sure that I used at least half a bottle of sexy shower gel every time I showered (about 3 times) and I certainly turned some heads and flared some nostrils when I approached the bar before dinner. Including that of my dear wife. Like I said, it was a shame we brought the kids along really.
By adding the word 'Kitchen' to the name above the door, I took this as a statement of intent that Mill Street are looking to push the beyond the pale with their food offering. Rather than delivering your basic pub fare. And for the most part, they succeeded. Set in the corner of their airy atrium or conservatory, we all first got stuck into some warm bread with whipped rapeseed oil and sunblush tomato butter and then swiftly followed onto our starters. I may well have mentioned this before but unfortunately my wife and I do often fall into what is known as 'competitive ordering.' And it peeves me to say on this occasion, she scored the first goal. With her choice of black pudding Scotch egg and apple ketchup.
|Black Pudding Scotch egg and apple ketchup|
|Dressed Brixham Crab, with Blood Orange and Rye Bread|
|Sizzler Hotdog, with Chorizo Relish, Mustard Mayo and Crispy Onions|
|Steak and Kidney Pie, with Horseradish Mash, Sprouting Broccoli and Gravy|
|Grey Mullet with Mussels, Samphire and Wild Mushroom Gnocchi|
|Shepherd's Pie, Spring Vegetables, Lamb Jus and Wild Garlic Mousse|
|Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Delice, with Cherry Ripple Ice-cream|
Which brings me back to that story. Because on the way home, we stopped by this huge lake for a quick look around, just to see what it was all about and we got chatting to this lovely old couple who were walking their dogs. They were local and had lived nearby all their lives and the chap in question took great lengths in telling us about the waters, the surrounding sights and the specifics of the reservoir. It was all very interesting. But then I became aware of a sort of nudging and shuffling on my foot, as if a shoe shine had suddenly appeared and wanted to buff one of my walking boots. A furry white shoe shine, in the form of a Bichon Freise, shaking, trembling.
'Um, I think your dog is up to something,' I whispered.
'Oh don't mind him. He's just being friendly,' the friendly man countered, before shooing the deviant ball of fluff away.
And I really didn't mind. It's just the sort of enlivening effect you can expect when talking to strangers. It's not a problem and it could well have been down to all that shower gel. It was probably my fault.
No, the real problem is trying to explain to your young children in the car, on the way back, why some dogs like to do that sort of thing. That's when conversation gets really tricky.
Big thanks to The Mill Street Pub and Kitchen for our stay and for their hospitality. For reservations, you can contact them on 01572 729 600 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Interiors and the basement|
|Logs, port, wine and flowers|
|Breakfast, hot chocolate and the 'Family Room'|
|Bread and whipped butter, menu and Schmicks by Rutland Water|