5 North Street
September 2011. Time for a trip to one of my favourite restaurants, the prosaically named, though not prosaic in any other respect: 5 North Street. First, a stroll round stunning Winchcombe at the base of a steep valley in the heart of beautiful Cotswold countryside. This is a town that still has independent shops including a butcher, baker and splendid little ironmonger that seems to stock everything. I struck lucky at Prichard’s, the antique shop in the middle of town, which had three plumber’s flares. Shaped like wooden spinning tops, these were the traditional device for opening up the end of a lead pipe, thereby facilitating connection with another pipe. They are now collectable ornaments (in common with much 'treen') and I managed to do a deal for one which will soon do duty as a birthday present. Expect to pay about £15-25 or $25-$40 depending on size, age and condition.
And so to lunch.
5 North Street, located exactly where you would expect it to be, occupies a building that can best be described as ‘quaint’. I guess the proprietors did not spend too much time thinking of a name. But it is appropriately unpretentious. The two small, partially divided dining areas are bijou and cosy. One step from the pavement and you are in the heart of the establishment. There are, to the best of my recollection, seven tables. A small bar (no draft beer) occupies one corner but, with no stools or seating area, is not a place to sit before proceeding to table. The kitchen, which I once had the chance to visit, is tiny. Marcus Ashenford, the chef and proprietor, performs wonders in conjuring splendid dishes from so small a working space.
When reserving a table be sure to request one with a street view. Then, as well as a meal, you’ll be able to enjoy watching the locals going about their business. It can be a diverting floorshow, depending on who provides the day’s entertainment. Unfortunately, the shop opposite the restaurant, which traded in ball gowns and wedding dresses, is gone--so one element of the urban scene is unavailable for perusal.
5 North Street offers a variety of both lunch time and dinner menus, including the option to mix and match , plus a set lunch that makes up in value for money what it lacks in choice. The options within the set lunch give you a choice between 2 appetisers, 2 entrees and 2 desserts (one might be cheese). Two courses are available for £22 ($35) or 3 for £26 ($42). Canapés (invariably Marcus’s speciality Welsh rabbit made with five types of cheese on a rhubarb chutney base) an amuse bouche, and a small loaf of homemade bread are included in the cover price. Coffee and truffles are extra at £3.75 pp ($6). These are terrific prices for wonderful food cooked by a serious chef with a string of awards (Ashenford was recently Gloucestershire chef of the year, beating the Champignon Sauvage’s estimable David Everitt-Matthias in the process). For dinner expect to pay from £37 ($43) to £70 ($81) (for the ten course gourmet menu), plus drinks.
So what did we eat? I opted for the local duck with apple chutney, peashoot salad and a violet mustard dressing. Our Education Correspondent, who in the absence of my wife was my dining companion, chose Cornish Brill accompanied by artichoke puree, leek cress, baby spinach and local asparagus with chive oil and balsamic. Our entrees were, on the one hand, longhorn sirloin of beef, shimji mushrooms, roasted parsley root, horseradish mash and thyme jus; and, on the other, black bream, seaweed, black pasta, crisp basil, and confit vine tomatoes with a pesto dressing. Unfortunately, neither of us could find the space for either the ginger & basil brulee with passion fruit sorbet or the cheese. We finished with one Assam tea and one coffee (no truffles). Oh, and as the eagle-eyed will have noticed, there were no flambéed pears--but I could not resist the symmetry.
5 North Street www.5northstreetrestaurant.co.uk opened for business in 2003. It has one Michelin star and three AA rosettes. The restaurant is open for lunch (12.00 - 1.30pm Wednesday to Sunday) and for dinner between 7.00 and 9.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday. The restaurant closes every January.