A love letter to wild British food cooked over coal and fire, The Woodsman trumps Shakespearean history and trips to the theatre as the key reasons to visit Stratford-upon-Avon.
Framed by a roaring brick oven and iron charcoal grill, the open kitchen sits at the 15th-century heart of the meticulously restored Hotel Indigo, where the bulging wooden frontage stands out as gorgeously archaic even amongst The Bard’s ancient residences.
Within are a warren of rooms where deer pelts on gleaming wooden feasting tables or stuffed falcons and pheasants perched below vast sanded beams are offset by decidedly contemporary marble-topped bars and puffy, studded-leather chairs and banquettes.
Food, overseen by Mike Robinson of Michelin-starred Harwood Arms fame, walks a similar line between old and new. Robinson manages the hotel’s estate and has shot much of the venison personally, which explains why such care is taken in preparing it.
Our roasted pavé of fallow pricket came blushing pink and tasting of fire and field alongside butter-rich mash scattered with crisp roasted shoulder meat, smoked bone marrow and young cavolo nero. We’re now itching to return for the slow-cooked roe deer shoulder for two.
More game – hare – was slow braised and tossed through fine strands of pappardelle as a starter, although the unanimous top dish was a punchy terrine of wild duck, pork and pistachio served with precise little piles of gherkin, pickled walnut and ratatouille-like chutney for balance.
Fire is also applied to fish. Our modestly sized John Dory came licked with both flame and seaweed beurre blanc alongside a salty triple-header of samphire and brown shrimp that we soaked up with whole new potatoes roasted to crispness with garlic and parsley.
Mushrooms – girolles with Cornish cod, roast cep purée in a classic wood pigeon salad – are picked in the wild while other seasonal touches include quince paired with roast partridge or an autumnal, delicate pumpkin cheesecake with a wonderful cinnamon ice cream.
An ample wine list, serious cocktail menu (courtesy of The Woodsman’s super-slick Falcon Bar) and knowledgeable, committed staff are the stuff of destination dining but there’s a definite casual vibe thanks both to a front-of-house team that treats diners like humans and a bargain three-course set lunch perfect for locals or, heaven forbid, those not wishing to linger.