I haven’t yet had a chance to visit the new chop house on Wood Street in Old Town so what we have here dear listeners is a guest review from my friend Gill Thomas – otherwise known as Contemporary Botanicals.
We like to feed children. We don’t care what clothes or boots you are wearing. We’ll even take dogs. Our default response is ‘yes’. We very much look forward to welcoming you in. ‘
So far so good – so what does Gill have to say about the place? Read on!
“We arrived a few minutes before 7pm and it was already pretty full but thankfully – I’d say crucially – we had a reservation because people were piling in all the time, at one point forming a queue!
The decor and discreet lighting provide a subtle, warm ambiance which was matched by the warm welcome from the staff. The seating is a mix of dining tables and high cocktail tables – we had the latter which was turned around to give better access.
Nothing was too much trouble. The menu is small, offering a limited choice of meat, fish and veggie options which is more than enough choice, most accompanied by skinny chips and salad. There is no pretension here, just simply good food. We both went for the salads of the day which were large, fresh, full of textures and flavours that just filled the mouth. The meat meals that we saw were handsome steaks and nicely presented steak sandwiches held together with a “dagger”. The wine list is similarly brief but, again, we found it more than adequate and chose the house red, a very nice Merlot.
It was really busy and the manager and one waitress really had their work cut out in providing good service which they did with efficiency and good humour. To use an old phrase “the joint was really jumping” – diners were clearly happy and we were so impressed that we ended up making a reservation for next month.”
All of which sounds really fabulous and leaves me with only one question: is this small but delicious menu served on plates? I’m utterly bored with boards and browned off with baskets and saddened by slates. I simply want my food on a piece of plain, white china. It’s not much to ask surely?
Tucked away on a corner of Eastcott Hill this is a ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it establishment’.
As soon as I saw the green door the first thing I though of was the song of that name. And for those of a certain age the song is not associated with Shakin’ Stevens! I remember the Frankie Vaughn version from the 1960s from I think – but it was written in 1956:
“Don’t know what they’re doin’ but they laugh a lot behind the green door Wish they’d let me in so I could find out what’s behind the green door”
Well – what’s going on behind this green door is cooking up a Caribbean storm is what.
Me and a mural
Now don’t visit this place expecting ambiance. Unless it’s changed since I visited back in November you won’t find any. Now I won’t lie – I like a bit of ambiance, a bit of hygge, and some dimmer lighting and a T-light on the tables wouldn’t come amiss.
However I will sacrifice that for tasty food. And at least there’s a fun and funky sun, sea and sand muriel on the wall (yes – I know it’s ‘mural’- okay?) to add a cheery note.
It would have been nice too if they were licensed – a can of Jamaican Red Stripe would have gone down a treat. Hopefully in the future.
All of that said, I enjoyed my goat curry no end! It was filling and tasty.
Judging by the number of people coming and going either eating in or collecting take-aways it’s certainly popular. It’s also very reasonably priced and is definitely worth a try.
I absolutely intend to make a return visit and try something else on the menu next time.
Meanwhile, here’s the 1956 version of ‘The Green Door’:
Hello listeners! I’ve been ‘discovering’ again. This time a new bar on Victoria Hill in Old Town by the name of Gibson’s. That’s not Gibson as in the guitar but Gibson’s the bar. That said patently there’s an interest in music as there are guitars on the wall – though I didn’t notice a Gibson Les Paul about the place.
I was trotting up Vic Hill the other day in the pouring rain and spotted this place out of the corner of my eye. “Oooh” I thought, “that looks new and interesting” so I was pleased to get the chance to pop in the other night for a drink.
The place is very cosy and welcoming as indeed are Mein Host and Mrs Mein Host.
I understand the plan is to do Greek type meze before too long but that’s quite there yet. The drink prices seem to be reasonable enough anyway and they’ve got 4X on so that’s a plus point for a start eh?
“The Greeks’ fierce pride in their heritage has kept the basic culture intact. Whether a slave under Roman rule, a captive under Turkish domination, or a newly arrived immigrant, the Greek is always aware that he is the direct descendant of men like Plato, Homer, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Aristophanes. The Greek who begins life in a new land on the bottom step of society as a dishwasher needs only to remember how Aesop left a legacy of poetry while cooking as a slave.”
Theresa Yianilos, ‘The Complete Greek Cookbook’
Well, what a lovely way to pass a few hours on a dreek and dismal Bank Holiday Sunday that was!
I refer to the Greek Olive restaurant on Faringdon Road in Swindon. And my apologies to them for the slightly out of focus photographs below. I’m blaming Aphrodite. The wine we drank by that name, not the actual Greek goddess of love, desire and beauty. Though, being as how the food and service at this place are embodied in those things, it’s kinda appropriate.
What a wonderful addition to Swindon’s epicurean offerings this place is. Xenia is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality and certainly it’s much in evidence in the Greek Olive. From the complimentary amuse-bouche to the complimentary baklava to the complimentary shot of Metaxa knocked back as our taxi arrived – everything was wonderful.
Chatting to Stamades ( I hope I’ve got that right) I discovered that his mother is a Swindonian and his father is Greek. He’s been here for three months fresh from the island of Kos. Now as much as I love Britain and Swindon, he must be wondering where on earth he’s come to in this grim weather.
From the restaurant’s Facebook page: ‘Proudly bringing to you from Greece, @Greek Olive – A family run restaurant. As we Greeks are passionate about our food, we were disappointed to discover that mediterranean food was not available in Swindon, after moving here from the Greek Island of Kos. As we missed our beloved Greek traditional food and the nearest restaurant was over 37 miles away, we decided, after a long family discussion that we would love to share our Greek kitchen with you all………. Head chef, Michael Kalotinis has over 20 years experience running his own restaurant in Kos. He takes great pride in the meals served from his kitchen, serving only authentic, traditional Greek cuisine, a large amount of his ingredients will be direct from Greece, of course, to ensure you will experience the real Hellenic taste of the Mediterranean…..’
Well – Kos’ loss is certainly Swindon’s gain. It might lack a view of the Med or the Aegean but it has to be the next best thing to being there.
The place is pleasingly decorated in restful shades of (olive) green. The tables have actual linen tablecloths – a rare thing these days – and fresh roses on each table. A nice touch. The walls are adorned with lots of snaps of Greece – possibly Kos, I didn’t ask. I should have done. I’ll try and rectify that next time. And there’ll definitely be a next time – and soon I hope.
For a starter we settled on a hot meze platter for two people. This comprised a generously portioned selection of calamari, meatballs, gigante, grilled halloumi cheese, dolmades and three types of dip. It was all delicious.
Moving on to the main course we opted for fish. Sea bass for me and swordfish for my companion. Again all beautifully cooked.
We washed it all down with a bottle of Greek white wine that was dry and crisp and fresh. The Metaxa with which I rounded off my meal was smooth and lovely and slid down a treat.
So all in all great food, really great, friendly service and great value. The only real disappointment being the absence of plates being smashed. That said someone did break a glass while we were there… Yamas!
I’m a big believer in shopping locally where you can and supporting local coffee shopswhere you can.
In this post I write a little about the benefits to the local economy of shopping and eating in independently owned establishments.
So here’s a round up of six good independent coffee shops in Swindon and why you might want to go to them. There are many more I know. Old Town seems to have a coffee shop per capita of population. All of which I’m sure have their benefits and charms. But that’s a post on its own I feel. That said one Old Town establishment is on this list.
So, in no order of preference, simply independent coffee places I’ve visited and enjoyed:
Why go?: They sell great Italian coffee for £1. Yep – you heard that right – £1. And while you are there you can buy some delicious Italian wine, olives, biscuits, pasta…. you fill in the gaps.
2) @The Hub: Opened earlier this year, down on Fleet Street, this place is run by three ex-IT people.
@thehub coffee shop Swindon
Why go?: @theHub is not a mere coffee shop but a cycle retail and repair shop too. ““Whether you want a new bike, to fix or upgrade your bike or just want to meet with friends over a cup of excellent coffee, just call in for a warm welcome.” They have a big TV so you can have your coffee and watch the Tour De France in likeminded company and possibly wearing those cycling shorts that make you look like you didn’t get to the toilet in time.
I want to ride my bicycle!
3) Darkroom Espresso: We go to Faringdon Road for this speciality coffee shop. Now managed by the splendid @wozie_stevie (Twitter) previously of Chapters Coffee bar in the library, and Harris and Hoole in Tesco this is a popular hang-out for some of Swindon’s creative types – because the coffee shop has a great record for supporting local artists with displays of their work and what not.
Latte art Darkroom Espresso
Why go?: Apart from the coffee, they do good sandwiches, there’s a table you can chalk on, free WiFi I THINK and plenty of space to park a pushchair or bike.
Darkroom Espresso gaining ground.
4) Baila coffee and vinyl: In Old Town, this rather hipster joint buys and sells vinyl as well as coffee. It’s recently become a licensed premises though I suspect you won’t find a pint of Carling Black Label in there.
Why go? Other than the coffee? They do DJ vinyl-playing sessions on Sunday, ice-cream sandwiches in summer, and it’s licensed. Oh and there’s an upstairs play-area for the kids so no need to have your espresso, flat-white, moccachino enjoyment spoiled by a screaming toddler. And what IS a flat white anyway? Does that just mean a coffee with milk in it or what?
Get into the groove.
5) The 2Wins: This Portuguese establishment is down on Rodbourne Road next door to the racy lingerie shop. Whenever I’m in the proximity of the Outlet Village, from which it’s only a hundred yards, I try and visit.
Why go? As well as good Portuguese coffee they sell scrummy Portuguese cakes of several varieties – not just the natas. They also sell bread rolls stuffed with chorizo, and Portuguese beer. And it’s handy for the Outlet Centre. And lingerie…
6) Luso Cafe: On Havelock Street this is another Portuguese establishment. It used to be called the Piri Piri. The new owners of the place gave it a much-needed makeover and it looks much better now than it did. As well as cakes and chorizo-stuffed bread – love it – they do meals and are licensed. A pint of Sagres or Superbock can go down a treat.
Why go? Decent Portuguese coffee reasonably priced. They have an outdoor seating area which is unusual in that it actually gets the sun in the afternoons – most of the town centre is sun-deprived.
In my AA Editorial Servicescapacity I’ve been working with a client on web copy, press releases and marketing letters. My client’s business is called High Street Hero, the thrust of which is to give a superpower, or same-day delivery service, to independent retailers allowing them to offer a service that sets them apart on the high street.
When the client and I were working on the web copy we talked a lot about the whole shop local initiativeand how it fits in with what he is trying to achieve.
Everyone wants a vibrant high street that is a place for socialising as well as shopping. But that doesn’t happen by magic. We all have the choice between using independent retailers and food outlets or the national and global ‘big -boys’. Sometimes one has to go to the ‘big-boys’ – but if we always do that then we’ve only ourselves to blame for high streets full of pound stores and charity shops.
And of course, in shopping locally you are supporting British entrepreneurs in all manner of ways. As this article in The Guardian says: ‘Artisan markets help foster the talents of the next generation of British designers and retailers. “[They] are hotbeds of innovation,” says Mike Cooksedge, founder of SeeMyLocalMarket. “There is a constant turnover of new products, and sellers listen to customers’ demands. If a certain pie filling is popular, for example, a pie company will respond to that and quickly supply more of them – and you can suggest things too, so you can even have a bit of influence over the products on sale.”
So of late I’ve been trying to shop locally myself where ever possible and use Swindon’s many independent coffee shops every chance I get. In recent months I’ve bought gifts fromCatherine Jay and Pink & Green – two start-up artisan businesses in Swindon and even, to get to the main focus of this blog post – Da Paolo’s Eatalian delicatessen on Commercial Road in Swindon.
Exterior of Da Paolo
My favourite section
As well as being a lovely deli from where I purchase luscious olives and tasty cheeses among other things, they also serve the most delicious coffee and at a fantastic price – I visit quite a lot for that alone!
I’ve mentioned the place before in an overview post of Swindon’s coffee scenebut doing the research on shopping locally prompted me to put this post together as Da Paolo’s is an embodiment of many of the espoused benefits of supporting independents.
When using an independent you get specialist knowledge of their goods and you get personal service and a relaxed shopping experience. And you can even have a coffee while you do it. This past Christmas I decided to purchase a hamper of Italian goodies as a gift for a friend. So, with delicious coffee in hand, together with Debbie (partner of Paolo) I selected an assortment of goodies to fit my budget. Then, shortly before Christmas, I collected my hamper all beautifully arranged and packaged with red ribbon. Now THAT’S what I call shopping.
“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.” ― Erma Bombeck
The odds of going into Paolo’s for a coffee and buying only a coffee are similarly slim!
One of the many benefits of shopping locally is that our custom enables the businesses that we patronise to support the community in which they are based in various ways.
Darkroom Espresso, one of Swindon’s fabulous independent coffee shops for example, supports local artists by holding exhibitions of their work. Da Paolo’s does what it can for charity. Its current charity of choice is Brighter Futures: http://www.gwh.nhs.uk/support-us/about-brighter-futures/ which which supports the staff, patients and families of Great Western Hospital and community health services across Wiltshire. So if the fab coffee and the delicious Italian groceries are not good enough reasons in themselves to hot foot it to Da Paolo’s then this surely is?