A white plate topped with juicy pink slices of deer, cavolo nero and bone marrow

The Woodsman, Stratford-upon-Avon: restaurant review

Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Critic Mark Taylor and olive reader Jean Lewis-Sanghera compare notes on this field-to-fork West Midlands restaurant

About The Woodsman, Stratford-upon-Avon

With chef Mike Robinson’s latest venture, in the heart of Shakespeare land, he’s a little bit closer to the field side of the field-to-fork ethos he’s become so well known for at The Harwood Arms (London’s only Michelin-starred pub).

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At The Woodsman, the new restaurant inside Stratford-upon-Avon’s Hotel Indigo, executive chef Mike and head chef Jon Coates have created a menu that ticks multiple trendy buzzword boxes. Sustainability, seasonality and locally sourced produce are key. Venison is sourced from Mike’s own business – Robinson Wild Foods – while wild boar, beef and Hebridean lamb come from farms and estates with the highest standards of husbandry. Fish is from Cornwall, while Evesham provides the larder when it comes to the veg. The hotel even has its own botanical and herb garden.

Ingredients meet their fate in a large wood-fired oven and charcoal grill, and there’s also an on-site butchery in the building, which dates back to 1500. Brick fireplaces and old oak beams in the main dining room set a rustic scene for ordering the likes of lamb faggot with white beans and mint, butterflied muntjac haunch (for two) with parmesan polenta and grilled brassicas, and whole sand sole with lemon and parsley.

thewoodsmanrestaurant.co.uk


The pro restaurant reviewer

Journalist and restaurant reviewer Mark Taylor has written for a number of publications in the past 20 years, including olive. @MarkTaylorFood


The punter restaurant reviewer

Jean Lewis-Sanghera lives in Stratford-uponAvon. Her favourite cuisine is Italian and she loves a frozen KitKat Chunky.


Our pro’s The Woodsman, Stratford-upon-Avon restaurant review…

Flanked by teetering piles of chopped logs below a skylight window, the open-view kitchen is very much the focal point here at The Woodsman, with high leather stools along the front encouraging diners to sit even closer to the action.

Service is upbeat and staff are relaxed but well drilled. When I complained that the red wine I ordered was corked, there was much consultation, frantic tasting and replacements apologetically proffered without any embarrassing stand-offs. *I wasn’t recognised.

Expect a few tried-and-tested dishes from The Harwood Arms. Grilled Wye Valley asparagus and Cackleberry Farm hen’s egg was a familiar and impressive opener. The spears were al dente and smoky from the grill, the plump poached egg precisely timed to ensure that a flood of golden yolk engulfed slices of peppery roe deer salami. Across the table, rosy pink wood pigeon was paired with smoked bacon and black pudding in a salad dressed with fruity aged balsamic.

Pavé of Cotswold fallow deer saw pink, velvety slices fanned out across buttery mash, squeaky cavolo nero, creamy smoked bone marrow, and a peppercorn sauce with plenty of heft. Fish also got the wood-fired treatment. A thick-flaked, juicy Cornish hake fillet cooked over the embers with grilled squid, piperade and a punchy aïoli was another arresting main.

A white plate topped with juicy pink slices of deer, cavolo nero and bone marrow
Cotswold fallow deer saw pink, velvety slices fanned out across buttery mash, squeaky cavolo nero, creamy smoked bone marrow, and a peppercorn sauce with plenty of heft

A towering and airy rice pudding soufflé came teamed with a delicate pear sorbet, raisins and mead adding a honeyed edge, while a dessert of s’mores presented an irresistible splodge of peanut butter ice cream and chewy popcorn.

Rice Pudding Souffle at The Woodsman Stratford upon Avon
A towering and airy rice pudding soufflé came teamed with a delicate pear sorbet, raisins and mead adding a honeyed edge

THE BOTTOM LINE

With his love of cooking wild food over real fire, Mike Robinson’s finely tuned, produce-driven menu is a perfect fit for a hotel set within a historic half-timbered building opposite Shakespeare’s family home.

Total bill for two, excluding service: £112.50

Food: 8/10

Service: 8/10

Vibe: 7/10

TOTAL: 23/30


Our punter’s The Woodsman, Stratford-upon-Avon restaurant review…

Entering the restaurant, we were greeted by the aroma of firewood and charcoal emanating from the wood-fired oven situated within the dining area. The décor was contemporary with a touch of country – a light and airy dining space had a view of the hotel’s courtyard garden; a more intimate and cosy corner lay to the rear.

Our waiter gave us a well-rehearsed introductory talk on the restaurant’s ethos and (fish- and game-heavy) menu. He enquired about preferences and allergies then disappeared, returning seconds later thrusting two large uncooked steaks at my husband to admire (rather unfortunate, as moments earlier he told him he did not eat beef).

The Hedgerow Sling, a long, fruit-infused gin with plenty of ice, was a refreshing accompaniment to our starter. A generously filled ramekin arrived containing a creamy, mousse-like chicken parfait, a good dollop of rhubarb chutney, but a rather small brioche loaf, meaning we had to request a second.

Smoked leeks cooked over embers were served with cool ricotta cheese and toasted hazelnuts. It was light and suited my sweet tooth but felt like I had eaten dessert before the main. Slow-cooked fallow deer came as pink slices served with jus, and a cast-iron cocotte was filled with creamy potatoes sprinkled with crispy diced venison.

A black cast iron pot filled with creamy mashed potato topped with diced venison
A cast-iron cocotte was filled with creamy potatoes sprinkled with crispy diced venison

Dessert was delayed as our rice pudding soufflé was not acceptable to chef, and the manager brought two chocolate desserts by way of apology to allow chef time to prepare another. Two new towering soufflés quickly appeared with a fluffy centre and creamy texture.

THE BOTTOM LINE

An expensive meal considering the manager waived the dessert charge, but The Woodsman offers something different in what is an overcrowded market in Stratford. I would recommend but not for vegetarians.

Total bill for two, excluding service: £91

Food: 9/10

Service: 8/10

Vibe: 8/10

TOTAL: 25/30


The Woodsman Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 7.5

Executive chef and owner Mike Robinson is on a mission to bring the very finest food from the fields and forests of England to the table at his new venture – The Woodsman. The signature venison dishes cooked over an open fire (fuelled with sustainably sourced local charcoal) come from one the 40,000 acres of woodland Mike’s business manages for farmers and landowners across Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Berkshire and Warwickshire.

Every scrap of the deer is used – including the hides which are salted and then sold. As a wild animal that’s exceptionally efficient at turning grass into protein and which produces little methane, deer is a great choice for conscious meat eaters. While meat does master the menu, there’s a wide selection of Cornish fish (although best to give the wild halibut a miss as its endangered).

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A farm just five miles away in the nearby Vale of Evesham grows all the restaurant’s veg and wild garlic and mushrooms are among the many menu treats that are foraged nearby. Aside from the almost immaculately sourced food, The Woodsman is looking to reduce its impact, working with a supplier to create a clingfilm that will biodegrade in water. Mike’s also hoping to create a training programme for ex-forces personnel – providing them with employment opportunities either in the restaurant, out in the forests or in the deer larder.