I couldn’t quite think of how to begin describing such a wonderful and diverse trip as the one from which I’ve recently returned (pardon the absence…), so I decided to begin as I usually do: with a restaurant review.
Most of my readers will probably be unfamiliar with the little town that Richard and I were staying in during the England leg of our journey. It’s a small village in rural Cheshire, only thirty minutes from Manchester by train. It’s called Alderley Edge, and it was perfect.
Alderley Edge has existed as a village since the 13th century and, while it has most definitely changed during that time– and even in just the past few decades — it’s retained an immense amount of charm, personality and warmth. Richard’s stepfather was born and bred in Alderley and still maintains a residence there, which were lucky enough to stay in during our vacation. The Alderley Edge of his youth was decidedly different from the Alderley of today, packed with Range Rovers and WAGs, but it’s still a beautiful village with a main street offering plenty of options for the intrepid diner and a glut of butchers and cheese shops for the intrepid cook.
The de Trafford family – one of the oldest families in England – has owned most of the land in the immediate area of Alderley Edge since the 15th century and, to this day, the brilliant pub at the end of the main street retains their name, the same name also given to The Theatre of Dreams: Old Trafford. The De Trafford Arms is everything that an American – like yours truly – imagines an authentic English pub to be: timbered ceilings, pleasantly worn carpets, shining bronze footrests at the bar, old paintings and crackling fires. In fact, the pub itself is only about 200 years old — fairly young by English standards — but you still feel as though you’ve slightly stepped back in time upon entering.
The first night that Richard and I visited The De Trafford, it was hovering around 34° outside and the smallest of snowflakes were slowly making their way down to the streets. Wearing a scarf and winter coat is always a novelty to me, living in a sauna as I do here in Houston, and the trip down The De Trafford through the biting cold was a welcome and enjoyable change. The twenty minute walk from his parents’ house led us through the quiet neighborhoods, past the train station and church, and finally down the brightly-lit main street to the pub. We had only just landed a few hours ago and were still full from airplane food (BMI serves absolutely brilliant airplane food, I kid you not — even in coach! — I had cheese and onion spaetzle on the trip over and butternut squash risotto on the trip back), so we had decided to just get an order of chips and some beer.
The new trend in England is the much ballyhooed “gastropub.” In nicer towns and villages, the gastropub seems to be the rule now, rather than the exception. This means no more ratty pub grub or sad, little bags of crisps behind the counter. Instead, the focus is on high-quality, fresh, seasonal, local food mixed with traditional favorites. The gastropubs boast of their on-site chefs and proudly display their specials on chalkboards as you enter. It’s a far cry from most of the pubs that we have here.
The De Trafford offers a limited selection of draft beer — just the standards, really (Carlsberg, Foster, Hoegaarden) – but they also offered something else I greatly enjoyed: a selection of rotating guest beers. I quickly found my niche with the Jenning’s Cumberland Ale. I am a huge fan of bitter, and England is truly the perfect place for me to indulge that preference. I placed my order at the bar, where the adorable bartenders started briefly at hearing an American accent before expertly pouring a half-pint for me and a large lager for Richard. My small nip of Cumberland Ale was the perfect nightcap and the perfect beginning to a long and wonderful journey through Cheshire.
The next day, we were back at the De Trafford, enjoying lunch with Richard’s friends from the neighboring village of Wilmslow. I opted for the scrumptious-sounding “Roasted Root Vegetable Tart with Melted Brie” and was not disappointed. The tart was full to bursting with roasted sweet potatoes, winter squash and carrots, topped with some delicious slivers of that sweet Brie. The plate also contained a large serving of steamed broccoli and cauliflower, a handful of crisp and refreshing watercress (although it may have been purely a garnish, I ate it anyway) along with some roasted red potatoes topped with a very mild pesto sauce. It was a highly satisfying lunch on a cold day. Richard apparently felt the same way about his lovely-looking Steak and Guinness Pie (steak, Guinness, bacon and lard inside a puff pastry – what’s not to love?), as it was inhaled before I could take a picture of it.
Overall, The De Trafford Arms couldn’t have been a more ideal start to our little tour around Cheshire. The staff were welcoming and friendly and the pub itself was charming. On the other hand, it also quickly reminded us that it wasn’t going to be cheap to eat in England, given both the terrible rate of exchange at the present and the fact that even pub food is now pricey. We weren’t going to escape England with full wallets, but at least we knew there was a lot of wondeful food waiting for us in return…