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Old Butchers, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

02 March 2006

Just when a bunch of high-profile names are clambering rather belatedly on to the gastropub bandwagon, one couple who built their reputation at one of the Cotswolds' best foodie locals have happily skipped off it.

That couple are Peter and Louise Robinson, who used to run the Kings Arms in Stow-on-the-Wold. The pub held a Bib Gourmand from Michelin and was as popular with journalists in the national press as it was with locals. Their new place, just down the road, is a 50-cover restaurant. So why the change?

"The idea is that people will spend a lot more here," says Louise. "Although we might only get one walk-in compared to three at the Kings, that one table will have three courses and a bottle of wine. We've already found we're selling lots more Champagne as well."

If it sounds like they've swapped a casual drop-in for the kind of place locals go to celebrate birthdays, think again. "We purposefully called it a dining room instead of a restaurant, to make it less formal," says Louise, who runs the front of house. And, indeed, afternoons often see people coming in for tea, while on Thursday and Fridays even the tiny bar gets busy.

The menu, too, remains unaffected, in a gastropub kind of way. Peter, who runs the kitchen with three other chefs, composes simple dishes of two or three elements, described without fuss. You might have, say, steak tartare (£7.50) or herring roes on toast (£5.50) to start, followed by roast skate wing with capers (£12) or a robustly flavoured Tuscan hare casserole with pappardelle (£11.50).

He has also strengthened his ethos of supporting local food by becoming the proud owner of a small herd of Gloucester Old Spot pigs, bought from a local pig farmer.

"The cost of rearing each pig and getting it slaughtered is about £130," says Robinson. "If I bought all the meat each carcass provides, it would probably cost £230." A local butcher has even agreed to swap the odd Old Spot half-carcass for half a longhorn beef carcass - plus a few free meals.

With the Old Spot, Robinson will use all the animal. A very large chop is grilled with fennel, garlic and parsley as a main course (£12); shoulders and legs are cured to make coppa and prosciutto ham (served in a salad starter, £6); belly might be roasted with fennel; and livers are used for terrines, or flash-fried with onions, sherry and bacon.

For variety, the menu also includes some Oriental dishes, such as pork belly poached in Japanese stock, then panéd and refried and served with pak choi, chilli and noodles (£11). And if the daily changing menu (four starters and mains are swapped each day, and two desserts) features, for example, a Japanese main course, Robinson is careful to include a Japanese starter, "so that nothing sticks out".

He'll also put on a couple of dishes to share, such as côte de boeuf (£32), or even a whole line-caught sea bass (£26). "It creates a good atmosphere at the table and, with the fish, it's a cost-effective way to serve wild bass," he says. "You can use a pound-and-a-half fish which is not big enough to get two portions from, but is just right to share for two."

If the menu picks up everything from a Vietnamese-style squid to Venetian rice pudding, Robinson makes no excuses. He is an avid reader of cookery books and admits to being something of a recipe
magpie. "If it's food that I like the look of myself, then I'm happy to serve it," he says.

There's one other influence on the menu: the regulars who bring home-grown produce when they come in to eat. Garden lettuces, radishes and watercress, served perhaps as a
simple starter with a fresh salad cream, or rhubarb and damsons, to make puddings - all have been handed over. In return, the grower gets a glass of wine and a mention on the menu.

"In fact, it's got a bit competitive," Robinson says. "People have started growing stuff just so they can get on the menu." Proof that, with the right atmosphere, a restaurant can be just as much a local as a pub.

What's on the menu
  • Cornish scallops, chorizo, £8.50

  • Warm lentil, bacon, endive and goose egg salad, £6

  • Grilled marinated quail, French beans, cumin and yogurt, £6.50

  • Roast cod, tahini, chickpeas and spinach, £12

  • Rack of lamb, boulangère, garlic and parsley sauce, £15.50

  • Roast turbot, brown shrimps, £14

  • Turkish yogurt cake, passion fruit curd, £4.95

  • Affogato, £4.95

  • Burnt ginger creams, £4.95

The Old Butchers, Park Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1AG. Tel: 01451 831700

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