Desport's Restaurant, Stratford-upon-Avon

Richard Johnson fights off flu with the help of some characterful fare, and entertaining fellow diners, at Desport's restaurant in Stratford-on-Avon
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Feed a cold, starve a fever? Pah. Feed them both. I'm not going to be put off my dinner by a bout of the sweats. Which meant ignoring the advice of my Chinese herbalist (thin soup, followed by soft rice porridge with sliced root ginger) when I journeyed to Desport's in Stratford-on-Avon. But I did manage to drink plenty of liquids. Which is to say a full (rather than a half) bottle of the St Emilion.

Feed a cold, starve a fever? Pah. Feed them both. I'm not going to be put off my dinner by a bout of the sweats. Which meant ignoring the advice of my Chinese herbalist (thin soup, followed by soft rice porridge with sliced root ginger) when I journeyed to Desport's in Stratford-on-Avon. But I did manage to drink plenty of liquids. Which is to say a full (rather than a half) bottle of the St Emilion.

I needed it. There had been a tailback on the M6. But when I rang Desport's to apologise for any delay, the man at the other end of the phone couldn't have been nicer. I had never been to Shakespeare's Stratford, and started to imagine Desport's where the wild thyme still grew and the mallards still played. But the charming man told me to park near the taxi rank. Opposite NatWest.

Desport's is in an unprepossessing street in what used to be the red-light district. So there's nothing stage-set about it. Although the building is, technically, 16th century, it doesn't feel like it. Writing the menu up on a blackboard in neon felt-tips doesn't help. Nor does covering the front door in stickers, like a backpackers' hostel. But I made my way into this oasis of calm. Even if it was painted primrose yellow.

The charming man greeted me like an old friend (to the point where I wondered if we really had met before), and he handed me the menu. It was divided into four sections – from the earth, from the land, from the sea, and from heaven. The desserts came from heaven. Considering I was meant to be eating thin soup, followed by soft rice porridge with sliced root ginger, it all came from heaven as far as I was concerned.

As I contemplated my order, I decided something was missing. A downstairs – that's what. You see, Desport's is on the first floor. Some people like apartment living, but I don't. I find it unsettling that my emotional well-being is dependent on strangers above and below. So I felt odd at Desport's. There will be people out there – a little damaged, maybe – who understand what I mean. To those I say simply, hello friends.

I liked the charming man's enthusiastic noises when I ordered my food. And when I went for St Emilion, he squealed like a boy at Christmas opening his first Scalextric. I know that the merlot grape, which gives St Emilion its concentrated flavours, is unfashionable. It's been unfashionable since it was name-checked on Seinfeld. But I don't care. The fad just drove winemakers to make more quality wines at prices more people could afford.

I picked out sea scallops for my starter. The surprise was to have them delivered in four minutes. That's 240 seconds. Before I had even loosened my belt. But that's why they were perfect. You didn't need teeth for these babies, which, by the look of table four, was no bad thing. They melted between tongue and palate. Unfortunately, the croutons tasted stale, and the strips of bacon were too thick and dry. Pancetta might have been an improvement.

I passed the time before the arrival of my fragrant duck breast in five spice with sesame greens and mandarin chilli marmalade by listening to the next table. They were frightfully awfully, so it made me smile that they didn't know how to pronounce bouillabaisse. Or maybe they did – and the "l" really is hard in authentic français de paysan. Then I ate my slice of bread, which had arrived neatly cut into two. Like it does in chip shops.

It was at this point that a drunkard with "runner" written all across his face struggled up the stairs. His shirt was untucked, and he had one black eye. The charming man sat him at a table for four (which allowed him the space to rock back and forth, free and unfettered) while he thought about his order. "A nice glass wine would be lovely," he said. "And a duck." Evidently you get a nicer class of drunk in Stratford-on-Avon.

The charming man handled the situation brilliantly. It transpired that the drunkard, who smelt strongly of continental lager and kebab grease, had been cataloguing for a household goods sale. "General miscellaneous," he said, checking his legs were still there. He downed his nice "glass wine" before running out as quickly as he could. Which wasn't very quick at all.

I don't eat a great deal of Chinese food, but I had never tasted duck like this. I realise that originality is nothing but judicious imitation, but this felt different. It wasn't fatty, and it melted like the scallops. The vegetables were crisp, creating an interesting mix of textures. Plus, the greens helped my cold. As I remember one influential character (a Mr P Eye) telling me as a child, "Ya gets strenk from what ya eats. Arf arf arf."

I misbehaved with my desserts. I had been coveting what the party at the frightfully awful table were ordering – which was fatal, because there were four of them. I ended up ordering everything. The highlight was the tiramisu – which tasted of fresh coffee rather than coffee essence – and the brioche used to make the summer pudding, which smelt of parties on the lawn. Once the smell of kebab grease had died away. E

Desport's Restaurant, 13-14 Meer Street, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire (01789 269304). To read a selection of Richard Johnson's work, visit www.rjsj.demon.co.uk

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