JRool Bistro, Stroud - Restaurant Review

The atmosphere's lovely; you don't have to spend a fortune; and it's all as relaxed as can be, says Katie Jarvis

Let’s be serious for one moment.

I could regale you with light-hearted stories of my week, such as how I mysteriously shut my finger, very hard, in a chest of drawers and made such a fuss about it that no one in the family could bring themselves to examine the mangled remains. And then, when they finally did, all anyone could find was a small cut on the end of it. Eerie. But I won’t.

Or the fact that I’ve just escaped, by myself, to Malta for the weekend, leaving my poor family of three teenagers and abandoned husband unforgivably alone to pull delicious homemade meals out of the fridge and stick them into the oven without any help at all. Except for notes saying things like “Turn right at butcher’s block; walk three paces to shiny metal object; pull open door and lift gaze four inches to shelf with shepherd’s pie; walk with it to hot object, bend knees to open Aga door...” etc, etc. The dog turned out to be the most practical and helpful of the lot. But I won’t because I’ll sound twitter and bisted.

Or that the plane landed in such high crosswinds at Heathrow that the wings were doing bendy things; and neither the armrests on my seat, nor the pummelled hand of the unwitting stranger sitting next to me, will ever function properly again. But I won’t.

Instead, I’m going to be completely serious and dedicate this piece to a section of underpraised heroes: the Cotswolds food producers and caterers. Because I was strangely moved by my dining-out experience this month. It called to mind one of my first ever visits to an artisan producer – a cheesemaker, as it happens. What struck me was this: here was someone making a product that sold on the shelves of luxury shops, bought by people called Crispin and Quentin (nothing wrong with that) (and I’m not implying they’re a couple) who wouldn’t think twice about spending �10 or more on a single cheese course. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. But the life of the producer couldn’t be more different. They’re the ones building cheese rooms out of cardboard and string – to exacting health and safety standards, nonetheless; working untold hours a day; and returning home, in some cases, to draughty ancient farmhouses with not a touch of Farrow & Ball Wimborne White to be seen. And honestly, Crispin, there really are houses like that.

So why do they do it when they could probably earn more on the tills at Tesco, be eligible to buy all the only-just-in-date GU chocolate brownies at ridiculously low prices, and still be home for EastEnders. Especially as the last time I saw one particular food heroine of mine, she was in tears. Despite having worked all day, she had nothing to show for it because the milk separator (or some such mechanism) had broken down.

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I felt like this about JRooL Bistro in Stroud. It was recommended to me by several lots of friends, so we thought we’d give it a go. But, you know, we walked past several times, staring in at the window, wondering whether we ought to pass it by, after all. It’s not glitzy, though it’s not exactly dear, either.

And then we went in, and the really nice girl serving (possibly Rachel; or it could have been Leona; both are mentioned on the menu) told us to sit by the heater and turn it up if we were cold. And when we picked our glasses up for a pre-dinner drink, the table came up with them because it was sticky.

But, but, but. There was something so delightfully intimate about it; it was a bit like a dinner with friends (who happen to have a very large dining room filled with lots of small tables). Jason – I assume it’s Jason; he was also mentioned on the menu – was cooking in the open kitchen. By himself, as far as I could see. That could have been stressful, but it wasn’t; because I could hear that he and Rachel (Leona) were chatting and laughing. And the service from Leona (Rachel) was attentive and just the right sort of low-key-but-I’m-here-if-you-need-me stuff.

The food... Actually, my biggest criticism was the bread: tiny portion with lots (admittedly) of olives, for �4.50; a bit steep and a bit plain. But the saut� mushrooms on toasted brioche with poached egg was pleasant; and Ian nibbled delicately at the twice-baked smoked haddock souffl�. His slow roasted belly pork with braised red cabbage and honey roasted parsnip puree and my roast chicken breast with butternut squash and broad beans (a bit heavy on the gravy) were simple dishes at under �13; but they delivered taste and comfort on a cold night. And we both had the most spoon-licking sticky toffee pudding (I know we should have chosen differently from each other so we could give you more information, but it would have caused a simply dreadful row). And as we ate, a table of five in the corner opened gifts and celebrated a birthday. And everyone smiled.

I don’t know who you are Jason, Rachel and Leona; and I assume JRooL is a weird and, some might say, misguided combination of your names; but I love the fact that you’re putting your all into this bistro. It really shows. It may not be glam, but the result overrides the sum of its parts. The atmosphere’s lovely; you don’t have to spend a fortune; and it’s all as relaxed as can be.

Ambience  6, Service 7, Food 6, Value for money 7.

JRooL Bistro, 12 Union Street, Stroud GL5 2HE, 01453 767123; www.jrool.co.uk

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