It has got to be nearly twenty years since my first visit to Michael's in Chipping Campden, shamelessly trying to impress my peers that my palate was familiar food from Greece and Cyprus although at that time I had never been to either.
Back then it was called Alexiou's and was one of, if not, the best restaurants in the Cotswolds. It was only ever open in the evenings and was mostly always full. To impress people even more, you would always book a second sitting on a Friday or Saturday as there was always a chance of smashing some plates in the restaurant.
Today it is much different, but still just as charming.
The large kitchen that used to serve the restaurant is now a delightful bedroom, part of the stunning Woolmarket House that Michael and Sarah own. The seating area at the back of the restaurant has also made way to an equally beautiful bedroom.
The front of the restaurant has had a makeover. It feels less "evening only" and more "daytime too" which it is with the recent addition of breakfast, brunch and lunch.
In these crazy and socially-distanced, curfew times, the restaurant now has only around 16 covers and waiting staff serving you in visors.
The menu is pretty much the same as it has always been; Stifado, Kleftico (which I think I have had every time I have been there) and their showstopper "Filleto Marathona", fillet steak served on a board with mushroom, tomato & French-fries, and it is always exceptionally good. After 35 years, Michael still goes and handpicks the hunks of meat that the restaurant serves.
Dinner is a race against time at the moment. I'm not sure how Chipping Campden would cope with 14 diners spilling out of Michael's and onto the streets.
I started with garlic mushrooms as I wanted something lighter as I always make the mistake of filling myself up on the pitta bread. Obviously I did so again as the oily, garlicky remains at the bottom of the cast iron dish couldn't be left.
Obviously I had the Kleftico for my main. It's the best way to eat lamb, especially when it falls off the bone like this has for the past two decades and is cooked in wine, washed down with a couple of Cotswolds Gins.
As if the pitta bread and half a lamb weren't enough, I also tried squeezing a chocolate brownie in too. I ultimately succeeded at tortoise speed but it was most definitely worth it.
Although the restaurant has over halved in size, it still has lots of its charm, a lovely relaxed atmosphere and two owners who are, after all this time, hugely passionate about the food they serve and experience they offer to their guests.
It's safe to say that it's still up there with the best restaurants in the Cotswolds.
It was the first Friday in June which can only mean one thing if you are a resident in the North Cotswolds - The Dover's Olimpick Games in Chipping Campden.
This tradition has been hailing back to 1612 (probably) and was first organised by Norfolk lawyer Robert Dover. He was born (probably) between 1575 and 1582 and was nephew of Baptist Hicks, a great benefactor of Chipping Campden. These hard facts are taken from www.olimpickgames.co.uk!
We made our way up to Dover's Hill (a natural amphitheatre situated about a mile north of the town) by shuttle bus from the town center along with our Australian friends who were here to see "real England". The journey, that lasted a mere 3 minutes was still, in its own way, a sign of things to come as fellow "shuttlers" started heckling the volunteers working on the gates. They were may just warming up for things to come! We joined the queue (in very English style) and were checked for any alcohol and again in true English style managed to smuggle in a couple of bottles of red wine, and two wine glasses that had been wrapped in flower paper in Tesco's just a minutes earlier!
We took our seats on the hill. The "team olimpicks" had already started - think Total Wipeout meets It's A Knockout and add a lot of Cotswolds and you will pretty much have an idea of what challenges were ahead for the competitors. A wheelbarrow relay race followed by the highlight and climax which was a fairy liquid strewn tarpaulin sheet placed in the middle where teams had to carry water in hole ridden buckets across which caused the expected amount of chaos! Sadly (for them) there was a tie so the contest was decided by a space-hopper race across the same sheet of tarpaulin and back. What else would you do to decide such a contest?
The "arena" was cleared to make way for the eagerly awaited, and most well known event of the evening, Shin-Kicking. If you have never seen or heard of shin-kicking the rules are pretty simple. Firstly you stuff as much straw up (or down) your trousers that is achievable. You then grab your opponent by the collar and wait for the stickler (a referee who is holding a stick. Surely this must mean that rugby referees should be referred to as "whistlers"?) to tell you to start try and then you boot your opponent as hard as you can in the shins until they fall to the floor in a 'best out of 3' contest. The rounds leading up to the final were quite subdued yet they did include a lad who looked like he had walked into the ring by accident where one kick was enough to finish his night. The final though was a contest between to former champions. Adam Miller - a very relaxed and confident looking fighter. This is nothing to do with the way he fought but the way he smoked a cigarette lent up against the scoreboard before the biggest fight of his life! He was a solid looking bloke complete with a beard and a man who wore proper shin-kicking footwear. His opponent was Zac (we never caught his surname!) He was wiry. Skinnier. Had an injury coming into the final and was wearing trainers and skinny jeans and looked like he was going for a pint and a game of pool rather than a "world championship" fight! He was by far and away the underdog! The fight started and the kicks got wilder every time the crowd got involved. It was just like the film Gladiator but on a £100 budget. At this point you are perhaps expecting us to tell you that Zac pulled off a shock win... He didn't! Adam won though not by knock-out, although that was inevitable, but by Zac withdrawing through said injury.
The night didn't end there.. no way.. it got a whole lot stranger. We went off to buy our antipodean friends a torch each for the procession down into the town. When I looked around they had disappeared. We followed some chanting in the distance that when we got closer we a) managed to see them and b) hear that the chants were "BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD". Two men were fighting in a ring with what looked like a sword your dad would make you when you were seven wearing what looked like bee-keeping headgear and a man who could have been Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball's identical twin geeing up the crowd to join him with the chanting.. Well.. when in Rome!
As that finished we turned around to watch 3 ladies breathing fire. This just seemed relatively normal after everything that had gone before. One did almost set her hair on fire but apart from that it was pretty good. The only way they could have bettered it was by lighting the beacon by breathing on it!
The said beacon was lit and a firework display wowed the torch wielding crowd ready for the walk down the hill and into the town. As we left the field we crossed a cross-road where cars were waiting for us to pass. We really hope that they were locals and not tourists who were lost or it would have scared the life out of them! We continued our march with torches aloft (more for health and safety reason than ready to hunt the local witch to burn!) and made our way into Chipping Campden. The sight of the torch procession down the hill is truly wonderful. If you didn't know that there was any (probable) history attached to the event you could have been mistaken in thinking you were a member of a Cotswolds cult similar to the one in Hot Fuzz (which was actually meant to have been filmed in the Stow on the Wold! #FilmFact), but what we were apart of was an incredible Cotswolds tradition that has been running for hundreds of years and organised by fantastic volunteers who don't just bring a whole town together for a weekend but thousands of people from all around the world to enjoy an unforgettable and enjoyable spectacle!