A trip over to Stratford-Upon-Avon had been on the cards for a while, with a promise of catching up with a friend we’d neglected to make arrangements with since the start of the New Year. When we received an invite to check out Union Cocktail Bar for drinks and pizza, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to stay over in Shakespeare’s town and make a night of it. Having lived in Stratford for a while in a previous life, Mr R had known of Union Cocktail Bar (formerly the Hole in the Wall, Slug and Lettuce and the Phoenix) and he’d recently heard good things about the new food on offer – in particular the pizzas.
The Union is located on Guild Street, which is very much in the centre of town, and just a short stroll from The Crown Plaza hotel – our home for the evening. Our plan was to arrive early so that we could take our time enjoying the cocktails and pizza we were there to sample, before things livened up a little later on and the Friday night crowds came rolling in. At 7pm we walked through the doors to be greeted at the bar by 2 friendly faces and within minutes we’d built up an enthusiastic rapport with mixologists Chris and Paul.
The cocktail list features many of the old favourites like; Pornstar Martini £8), Cosmopolitan (£7.50), Mojito (£7) and many more. A bonus cocktail was added in the mix named ‘Zombie’ (£8) with it’s ingredients kept a secret, and the only giveaway was that a bit of rum could be present. Get down to the Union between 5-7pm on any day of the week and it’s 2 for 1 on all cocktails.
I started off with one of the weekly specials – ‘British Smash’ (£7.50), made up with gin, rhubarb, elderflower, apple and mint. This was right up my street as it was fresh, a little sweet and it had gin! Next up was the Bellini (£6.50) for me which had a bit of a twist with the addition of lemon sherbet for a bit of extra fizz, and mixologist Chris’s own spin on the original syrup that can only be experienced in Harry’s Bar, Venice itself. Mr R went with a Mahou beer (£4.70) which I won’t pretend to know anything about, but he said it was very good. An immensely dirty Martini (£7.50) followed the beer, shaken not stirred. We got the feeling you could ask for pretty much anything and this duo would know the recipe. I started to realise I wanted this place to be good – I just liked it.
The food menu starts off with their signature sharing board aka ‘the board’ and is fully loaded with everything. Described as a feast for two, perfect for three and enough for four (£18), ‘the board’ comes with double mixed wings & sauces, roasted peppers & chilli hummus, beetroot hummus, garlic flatbread, sweet & smoked wedges, thyme & rosemary potato wedges, pulled pork mac n cheese. We’d have gone for this if we weren’t there to sample the pizzas as we’ve seen some amazing photos of their sharing boards on Instagram – next time. There’s a smaller meat board option too (£12) and a veggie board (£11), goats cheese salad (£7) and traditional Caprese salad (7). Unsuprisingly the menu has a very Italian influence due to chef Stefan having spent some time living in Italy before working at Union. He does like to put his own twist on things though as we discovered with one or two things a little later on.
Although we’d made our minds up on a couple of pizza choices, that didn’t stop us getting carried away and ordering some extras on the side. There classic mac n’ cheese comes as it states or you can have it topped with a mix of pulled beef & pork (£5), and what’s more the meat is pulled onsite. Classic cheese was enough for us, especially as we also fancied some of the ‘beast nachos’. Available in 3 sizes (£4|£6|£8), the nachos come with cheese sauce, chilli & coriander. Again you can add pulled beef, pulled pork or chicken for an extra £1.50 as well as some jalapenos (£0.50). Pizzas can be ordered in 3 sizes of 10″, 12″ or 14″ and prices range from a very reasonable £7 to £14.
We made ourselves comfortable on one of the sofas and watched chef Stefan roll out our pizza bases from freshly made dough before adding the toppings and cooking them in the open pizza oven. Meanwhile Paul brought over the plate of nachos and mac n’ cheese for us to get started on. I think if we’d ordered the nachos with some of the meat topping choices we may have considered them to be a little more interesting. The cheese sauce was the chefs own creation, and although very unique I can’t help feel that good old melted cheese is all that is really needed. The mac n’ cheese on the other hand was excellent. We were told when we ordered that we’d need to wait 15 minutes for it to be baked and it was worth waiting for. This dish could easily be ordered as a meal for one as it was plentiful, fulfilling and incredibly delicious.
The chefs time spent learning about cooking the Italian way absolutely paid off if his pizzas are anything to go by. We got the 12″ Capricciosa – prosciutto, artichokes, mushrooms, quail egg and rocket (£12). We ditched the rocket on ours and in hindsight should have replaced it with some chilli as that would have made it perfect for us. The dough was thin, crispy (not burnt) and had been made with a special combination of flours to give it an original flavour, and we loved it. This is the kind of pizza you’d expect to be served up in an upmarket Italian restaurant, not in a quirky cocktail bar, and this somehow made it even better. An unusual choice of toppings for us, but for some reason we were drawn to ‘The One’ – a white pizza with mozzarella, gorgonzola, pears, honey and walnuts (£10). Again we ordered the 12″ version which is a good sized pizza for one person as the toppings are very generous. Maybe I was feeling a little soppy with it being so close to Valentines Day, but it was Love at first bite and I knew I’d definitely found ‘the one’!
Our experience of the Union exceeded our expectations hugely. The staff literally couldn’t have been more friendly, welcoming and knowledgable. They genuinely seemed to want the business to move forward and to be a success. The Union is in a great central location in Stratford, just a stones throw from the main shopping area. It’s ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of tourists where you’ll find a gem of a lunch. The weekly Wednesday quiz night and live music on Fridays / Saturdays also add to the fun and lively vibe of this buzzing cocktail bar. Children are welcome too until 9pm, and there is a kid’s menu available (ask at the bar). Once the weather gets a bit warmer we plan to venture back to the Union and enjoy some Al fresco dining on roof top terrace, and I’m looking forward to reuniting with my pizza crush – the one!
Cost: £32.00 (food only)
2 sides, 2 pizzas
Union Cocktail Bar’s menus (change regularly)
Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom – last visited in February 2018
Food hygiene rating – 3/5 generally satisfactory – date of last inspection 9th August 2017.
*Although our food and some of our drinks were complimentary on this particular visit, as ever my words and photos are my own. Thank you again to Chris, Paul and Stefan at Union Cocktail Bar for hosting us and making us feel very welcome. Thank you also to Dave for inviting us along.