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All’s Well That Eats Well

Stratford-upon-Avon is internationally renowned for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare and tourists flock by the coach load to visit the five museums associated with his family.

Although Shakespeare put Stratford on the tourist trail, the town itself was already on the foodie map when The Bard was but a boy. It was awarded market town status by King Richard 1 in 1196 since which time farmers have brought their produce from the surrounding area. A stroll around the old streets recalls times past when livestock had their designated areas – hence Sheep Street, Bull Street and Rother Street. I imagine Mrs Shakespeare sending young William down to the market to purchase a few carrots and a pound of meat for the pot and picture him nosing about the animals and the vegetables, imbibing the sights and sounds that would later spice up his dialogue.

The farmers’ market continues and now takes place on alternate Saturdays in Rother Street, named after the Anglo Saxon word for long-horned cattle (see Rother Street Market under Markets). Some of the cuts of meat would have been familiar to the Elizabethans and the hog roasting on a spit would not have felt out of place. I wonder what the Shakespeares would have made of the falafel wraps at the Moroccan food stall or the mushrooms, tomatoes and cavolo nero now for sale amongst the fruit and veg.

He would no doubt have revelled in the knowledge that the theatre company bearing his name, the Royal Shakespeare Company, takes centre stage at its Waterside venue and keeps contemporary audiences entertained as he intended. The theatre and 5 Shakespeare houses keep Stratford-upon-Avon a very busy town indeed. Catering for such large numbers takes some organisation and the town is stuffed full of eateries. Restaurant chains found up and down the country are here attractively housed in Tudor buildings. While Starbucks, Costa and Cafe Nero soullessly form their caffeine-fuelled triumvirate on the high street, there are plenty of tea rooms ranging from quaint to quirky.

That Shakespeare enjoyed his food seems certain. His plays are peppered with references to the pleasures of food, drink and gluttony. He would, I think, have appreciated the marrying of stage and food that two ex -stage managers from the Royal Shakespeare Company have achieved. Turning their theatrical experience into a tasty treat, they have created a stage set from the 1940s and named it The Fourteas, a delicious pun of which Shakespeare would certainly have approved.

Where better to take tea in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year than this newly opened establishment that is decked out in Union Jack flags and bunting? The 1940s is brought to life by the waitresses dressed in delightful dresses and headscarves in the style of the times and in the beautiful kitchen dresser on which cakes and silver tea canisters are displayed.

Lovely details include the 1940s green crockery and silver sugar tongs, newspapers and artefacts of the time.

The menu is designed as a wartime ration book and any leftovers are packed into cardboard boxes that were originally designed to carry gasmasks.

Fortunately the food on offer reflects modern tastes although the friendly waitress informed us that a group of schoolchildren dressed up in 1940s outfits had been fed on spam sandwiches and vinegar cake. Luckily for us, thick sliced ham had replaced the spam and carrot cake and iced cupcakes were the order of the day. The Ivor Novello Tea consists of sandwiches, scones and cakes, reasonably priced and prettily displayed. Tea lovers, like us, are spoilt for choice with 14 blends of loose leaf tea. We chose The Fourteas house blend which arrived in huge white Betty teapot along with a 5-minute timer so that it could steep perfectly. Along with a toasted fruitcake packed with fruit and spices, we were well fortified before setting off on a two hour guided walk around town (www.stratfordtownwalk.com ).

Being a great fan of small food businesses that are creative and pleasing, I hope that this tea room has a long reign. The owners have created a little jewel that adds a theatrical touch to the pleasure of taking tea. (The Fourteas, 2 Union Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, 01789293908, www.thefourteas.co.uk).

Copyright 2012, Madeleine Morrow

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