Friday, 22 June 2012

Riverside Cafe, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

This is certainly an improvement on the old café with its permanently sticky tables. Access is much improved by the open plan design of the coffee shop; the tables and chairs are generously spaced so there is plenty of room to manoeuvre.

There are, however, some bad bits. Along with the Bancroft Gardens there seems to have been an effort to create a Continental bistro-style outdoor ambience, using the newly paved surroundings as a kind of plaza. If that is the case, it does not work. The crowd-management style warehouse built around the playing space of the new theatre means there is an endless background buzzing and booming indoors; and the Bancroft in summer means your coffee is accompanied by a chorus of shrieking families and over excited dogs. Outside overlooking the river the set up is that of tall tables and stools and benches with gigantic parasols, presumably to add to the aforementioned bistro style ambience. Impossible if your movement is limited but co-ordinating oxygen and the sholley is making me clumsy enough without struggling onto a high stool. A shame, as the view toward the church is one of the best in the town.

The food is expensive, the range is limited and is nothing special. The cheapest sandwich was £3.50, there are some Starbucks-style boxed salads and a selection of small cakes: and I mean it that way. Not a small selection of cakes - a selection of small cakes. A new addition to the repertoire is bottled water labelled with the RSC logo, supplied by Tarka, a brand that specialises in custom made labels. Shame that this means the bottled water is from Devon and not a local supplier. My latte was £2.00, quite foamy, not particularly hot, but the Americano apparently staying piping hot throughout and is a good, smooth taste. The muffins were slightly different to the normal bog-standard coffee-house variety. The usual chocolate cake but with melted chocolate in the centre, meaning an ever present risk of being covered in a gloopy mess of crumbs and chocolate for the second half.

Your best bet is to take the lift to the Rooftop Restaurant. When you emerge you will see some chairs and tables where you sit and wait to be led to your table. Very few people have cottoned to the fact that you can just stop off here for a drink -- and it is a smashing spot for a coffee. The latte is acceptable, served in a cup and saucer, perhaps a bit too full of creamy foam. But the pleasure here is from the location - access is easy, its table service and the staff do not hurry you. The view is over the rooftops of Stratford, it is a fine spot for meditation, being quieter, or for having a quiet chat with a good mate about the important issues in life (Global Economic Meltdown, Kirk vs Picard*).

The café itself is not a total loss. If you are alone, it is good for peoplewatching. There is always someone reading one of the plays, someone with a backpack and a lovely couple over from Solihull. Think of it more as a place to Be Seen. Exploit your credentials either as a local or as a knowledgeable Shakespearean. Adopt a suitable posture -- the casually flung crossed legs, the absent scratch at invisible marks on your jeans, the nonchalant sip and faintly distracted moue of the lips over coffee. 'I don't need to visit', you are saying, 'I live this stuff.'

Latte: *****
Access: *****

* Picard. Obviously.

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