I think I have found the best restaurant in the country. Honestly. I'm quite fussy at times, and I do think it is important to be objective about restaurants - to analyse why you did or didn't like a place, what was good, what was bad, and so on. But I can not think of a single bad thing to say about this place. Everything about it was complete perfection.
I went for lunch with my Mum, sister and brother yesterday, and in a small way my life changed forever. After ordering a pint of Tribute at the bar we were shown to our table where we found, to my complete wonderment, a jug of iced water already waiting. I have never, ever seen that before. To boot, there was proper sea salt in a little bowl, and a pepper grinder - items that you seldom see in any restaurant. The real spank-my-arse-and-call-me-Charlie touch was the pot of cornichons (mini gherkins) on the table. Unbelievable! I bloody love cornichons - undoubtedly the best thing to nibble at with a drink. As we mulled over the menu (I am awful with menus - super indecisive) we were brought bread - not just plonked on the table, but offered to us from a basket that they were handing round to everyone - a lovely touch that showed you got well looked after without the service being invasive, which was how things went throughout lunch.
Sam, the Maitre d', was informative, funny (without trying to be a cruise-ship entertainer) and generally very helpful. Our crippling indecision over a menu that was making me froth at the mouth led to us asking for a surprise from the kitchen. Turned out to be the best bit of ordering I've ever done. The first surprise came before the starters in the shape of four bits of grilled chorizo (possibly my favourite sausage) on chickpea puree, which we yomped down. The surprise starters arrived soon afterwards - the Terrine de campagne with celeriac remoulade and (absolutely delicious) toast was what it said on the tin, and what else would you ask of it? Classics don't need faffing, it was cracking. We played musical plates with our starters, the next one coming to me being baked cherry tomatoes with goat's cheese and mint, the tomatoes popping in your mouth and oozing with the creaminess of the cheese, and then the cleansing minty finish; then a delightfully smoky taramasalata on toast followed by a simple, toothsome and very French green bean salad.
After the mayhem of the musical plates our mains arrived. My lamb cutlets were crisp and salty and a deep medium rare, and served with a smashing ratatouille and anchoide (an anchovy paste of sorts, anchovy and lamb being quite magnificent bed partners). Mum had a really lovely chicken dish that came with a sweetcorn pancake - an inspired idea and absolutely scrumptious. My sister's poached sea trout with brown shrimps, samphire and beurre noisette was so good that, having convinced herself that there was no more room at the inn, she picked the last bit of trout out of the waiter's hand as he walked away. And I don't think I have seen a better looking steak than the one my brother greedily devoured, that came with an enormous bowl of golden frites, the lucky bugger.
Everything possible has been thought of in this place - there is a smoking exit signed out the back, so that you don't arrive at the place and have to walk through a plume of cigarette smoke, and apparently there were lillies and proper towels in the ladies' loo. And who said French food was fussy? Humphrey Fletcher's cooking is simple, infinitely tasty and very, very clever. I can't wait to go back.
The Royal Well Tavern is, by the way, in Cheltenham, on Royal Well Place. The phone number is 01242221212, I suggest you give 'em a bell.