ELIZABETH MACKLEY finds little - actually, nothing at all - to gripe about when she visits a Cirencester restaurant The Coterie (that’s ‘coat-a-ree’, not ‘coh-ter-ree’)

WHEN the only complaint about a restaurant is the lack of a tea light, moments before the proprietor reassures they’d been ordered the day before, you know you’re clutching at the straws of criticism.

Even I, one of the greediest foodies I know, couldn’t fail to be wowed by Cirencester’s The Coterie, long before the almond stuffed dates wrapped in bacon (£2) arrived.

For much of our journey into the Roman market town, my friend and I debated precisely how one pronounces ‘coterie’, and what it means.

Even Angela, whose wide vocabulary and linguistic knowledge never ceases to astound me, was stumped as to whether ‘coterie’ - which means ‘a small group of people with shared interests or tastes’ and is of French and middle low German origin - was pronounced ‘coat-a-ree’ or ‘coh-ter-ree’.

After a conversation with owners Gaye Green and Lee Buchanan, it turns out it was originally the latter, but after customers and Cirencester locals began dubbing the eaterie with the posher, former pronunciation, they’ve given up correcting them and decided to go with the flow, meeting the humours of the cosy crowds they entertain.

Despite our tardiness making us half an hour late for our reservation, Angela and I were warmly welcomed into the homely confines of the Cricklade Street restaurant.

Minimalist but not simplistic, dark exposed beams offset by soft blue lighting and crisp light paintwork invited us into a space both old-world and new-age, in a welding of classic and contemporary.

While picking our way through home-made bread - baked fresh in-house that morning - we studied the menu. I soon realised this was no place to get me a re-heated pizza.

As an appetiser, we nibbled our way through the dates - a welcome explosion of meaty saltiness meets tingling sweetness - while we examined the options from the select and varied card.

With offerings like ham croquettes served with alioli (£6) to start and beef slow cooked in Corinium Ale (£17) or pan-fried fish on Morecombe Bay shrimp mash (£17), the menu was between the seasons with hearty aspects reminiscent of cold winter nights mixed with the fresh lightness of summer cuisine, ringing true to its fresh and local vision.

It also has an impressive array of vegetarian-friendly offerings. At least three plates in each course are suitable for vegetarians, offering a rare variety of tempting dishes, from mushroom rarebit caramelised on home-made bread (£6) to melanzana (£14), layers of aubergine, mushrooms, tomato and courgette topped cheese and baked.

I ultimately settled on crispy duck (£6) to start, while Angela tried the soup of the day (£5) - butternut squash and rosemary.

Served cold with home-made plum chutney on a bed of fresh and sweet peppers, cucumber, spring onion and leaf salad, the shredded roast duck gave a meaty fullness to the light appetiser.

Perfectly portion sized, the succulent duck was perfectly balanced by the chutney.

Angela enjoyed the soup, saying it was a robust and earthy start to whet the appetite.

To follow, Angela opted for the lamb rack (£18) while I decided to try the butternut squash and spinach roly poly (£14).

Out of the kitchen sizzled Angela’s three-bone rack of lamb, where it had been pan-fried just moments before.

The winter-warming dish came accompanied by crushed new potatoes with seasonal vegetables, rounded off with a light sauce.

Meanwhile the roly poly arrived with beautiful presentation, the earthy orange of the butternut squash offset by the bright green of the spinach and comforting hues of the red cabbage.

It came served with wholegrain mustard potato rissoles, which made a beautiful addition, bursting with flavour.

The roly poly was beautifully toasted on the outside, and soft in the centre, giving it the perfect crunch to crack open to the sweet taste of butternut squash.

Despite the array of desserts on offer - including orange frangipane, chocolate and pear tart; honeyed madeleines and poached peach with raspberry sauce; and coconut rice pudding with peach sherbet (alll £7) - we rounded off the evening with another glass of the organic red wine recommended to us.

Locally sourced, fairly priced, and hands-down delicious, this is one place I will certainly be returning to again and again. If I can still get a table.