George’s ‘Pipi’ Fritters

To explain, George is the handsome cove who demonstrated this fabulous, fresh, seafood recipe to me. He (along with his wonderful wife Carol) had just happened to have built a stunning beach side villa in a place called Opoutere in The Coromandel area of New Zealand’s north island. I would urge anyone who hasn’t been to visit this incredible area of the world to do so forthwith. By some strange quirk of good fortune, I got to spend three days in this paradise.

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Collecting on the beach, collecting in the bucket and hand

Paphies australis or pipi (from the Māori language) is a bivalve mollusc (so it says here!) which is endemic to New Zealand. The pipi is a shellfish with a solid white, elongated symmetrical shell with the apex at the middle. (To me it was a big clam).
The pipi is abundant on flat sandy beaches, where there is considerable water flow (or in other words just at the back of George’s beach villa!)
By releasing a thread of mucus, which makes them more buoyant, they can move about a bit by floating. They can get up to more than 1000 individuals per square metre. (I can vouch for that! There was loads of them just under us!). You simply rummage around in the sand with your hand at low tide and pick them out. Then throw into George’s bucket! (Mind you don’t get nipped by the crabs though! There’s tons of them too…)

Ingredients (makes around 12 fritters)

Half a bucket of freshly picked Pipis from the low outgoing tide of the Pacific Ocean, preferably in New Zealand. Ours weighed in at about 500g. I reckon you could use a ton of clams or even mussels instead.
2 eggs
Tablespoon of flour
Splash of fish sauce
Pinch of sugar
Pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder and/or chilli powder (to taste. Chopped jalapenos could work well too I reckon)
Oil for frying

1) Leave overnight in clean water. The tentacles will come out and spit all the sand and waste out.
2) Clean and rinse.
3) In a shallow pan, bring an inch of water to a gentle boil. Place the Pipis in batches into the water and wait a few minutes for them to open. Remove with tongs as they open and place in a separate bowl. Repeat until all open.

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The tentacles, steaming, opening up, removing the meat

4) Remove all the meat and discard the shells. This is easy using a your finger thumb. Take care not to eat too many while doing this. They taste wonderful and sweet even at this stage!
5) Finely chop, or ideally mince into a rough paste. (George has a fine old hand mincer)
6) Mix in a bowl with the eggs, flour, fish sauce, pepper, sugar and spices to create a sloppy paste

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Mincing, mixing, dolloping in the pan

7) Cover the bottom of the pan with oil for shallow frying. Heat until smoking.
8) Spoon a good dollop into the pan and flatten down to create a patty around 6-8mm thick. You should be able to do 4 at a time. Fry 3-4 mins on one side until golden brown underneath. Flip carefully with a spatula and repeat.
9) Place on kitchen paper and keep warm.
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We served with sweet chilli sauce, but I’m sure other dips would work too…
I ate mine with my hands.

The Roebuck Inn at Mobberley, Cheshire

“Im not sure its possible to get more ‘country pub’ than this. Mobberley in Cheshire seems to have ‘rustic’ and ‘quintessentially english’ completely wrapped up!’

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The Flame and I used up a days holiday just before Christmas. A little scoot round Knutsford for last minute presents saw us heading out a couple of miles to The Roebuck Inn in Mobberley for a lazy lunch. It has been restored to an astonishing level of glory by the Cheshire Cat Pubs and Bars. Apparently they have done the same to several others including its super neighbour The Bulls Head (reviewed here) and the A49’s The Cholmondeley Arms (reviewed here). You could say they are a sort of Alan Titchmarsh of pubs, transforming weedy patches of backyard into lush, vibrant plumage!

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The Roebuck is a small hotel too. One can presume the rooms are pretty smart as the pub itself is a riot of homely comforts, red leather sofas, hanging plants, eclectic tables and chairs, log fires and a wonderful bar decanting local ales and fine wines. It even boasts a stunning mock ‘twitchers’ lair that leads on to a beautiful terraced garden.

We took a wonderful old table by the window and ordered up a local pint of ‘Buck’ bitter. Super stuff. We pondered the lunchtime menu. I suspect the plan is to get you to share? Sharing plates do feature as well as small plates, middle plates, main plates and sides. Theres quite a mix in terms of cuisine. Head chef Lloyd is Italian and so the sunnier European areas feature. If any help is needed in choosing, the artistic blackboard gives you all the pointers you need.

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I wanted to start with Toulouse sausage cassoulet, but as the sausages were off I went for the French onion soup with gruyere croute (£5.95). After the initial disappointment I was soon back up to speed, the soup was delicious, sweet caramelised onion in a rich broth with melted cheese dripping all round. Glorious. The Flame had (at my request!) the warm crab and kalamata olive cakes with red pepper mayonnaise (£6.95). They also, were rather splendid. The taste of crab there in abundance.

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We then had the Roebuck sharing board (£14.95) featuring fennel salami, Toulouse sausage (replaced with a copper pan of pulled pork), duck liver and wild mushroom parfait, home cured ham served with coronations, sundried tomatoes, olives and crusty bread. This was all quality stuff. I also had an unusual dish of slow cooked curried lamb shank, rice, Dahl and coriander yoghurt (£16.95). As you would expect the lamb fell off the bone. Bucking my usual mantra to not have curry in a pub, it wasn’t quite spicy enough for me, but most rewarding all the same.

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I then had probably the best tarte au citron (£5.50) I can remember. Homemade, as are all the desserts by Lloyd and his team, it was simply historic. It had the right ‘wobble’ and the right lemony tartness. matched with a blob of creme fraiche it was a complete must have.

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With it’s sister The Bulls Head over the road it too features the idea of nipping for a brisk Cheshire country walk either before or after a sumptuous snack. A route map is provided. The meal for two came in at £54. Decent value for fresh, local produce cooked with style. It’s gone pretty close to the top of our list…….we’ll try the brunch on a sunday next.

The Roebuck Inn,
Mill Lane,
Mobberley,
Knutsford,
Cheshire,
WA16 7HX
Telephone 01565 873939
www.roebuckinnmobberley.co.uk

Top Dishes of 2016

Its that time of year when all the old repeats come on the telly. All that airtime to fill, the TV bosses know its easy to just throw a few extra editions of ‘Morecambe and Wise’ (or some Peter Kay!) on and its job done. Well it’s the same with any self respecting food blogger, this is the time we can scan the laptop and dust off a few food pics and get another post in before the end of the year without leaving the house!

2016 from a food perspective has been another decent one for me. Plenty of new places opening, particularly in my adopted city of Manchester. That said, quite a few shut down too. Proving it’s still a tough gig keeping us fed. Competition, food trends and urban redevelopment just some of the bullets an honest restauranteur needs to dodge to keep afloat.

The images and references below are just a brief round up of what was great this year for me. Ive probably missed out loads, but, in no particular order, here goes…..

The Granddaughter wanted a swanky Indian to celebrate her 21st. Tattu in Manchester worked a treat. Had my first (of now quite a few) skate wings. Poor image but it is dark in there!

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We went to Florida for our hols early on in the year. On Key West I had my best meal over there ,’Stoned’ Crab claws at The Stoned Crab! with seafood and a broth. Historic. A special mention to Key Lime Pie. I had one every night for 14 days!!

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Had a memorable night alone in Newcastle. Social media led me to The Broad Chare by the Tyne. Super little ‘gastropub,’ had a simple but utterly gratifying ‘bubble and squeak’ with homemade brown sauce.

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A definite highlight the magnificent ‘mariscada’ (festival of seafood) by Ramsbottom’s very own slice of Spain ‘Baratxuri’.

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As you may know, I like a sunday roast. I’ve had some belters this year. A toss up between The White Swan at Fence with their dexter beef and The Church Green’s version (with Aiden Byrne back on the tools the day we were there). Both absolutely sensational, but I should mention totally honourable efforts by The Star Inn the City, The Yew Tree and Burnt Truffle all mere specks of beef fat behind.

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TL White Swan, TR Star Inn The City, BL Church Green, Middle R The Yew Tree, BR Burnt Truffle

Loved the short rib and peas dish at Andrew Nutters latest The Bird at Birtle.

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Our one foray into Michelin star territory this year brought us to Alimentum in Cambridge. Possibly the single best dish of the year for me the cannon of venison, stunning.

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Special mention to my streetfood heroes of the year. Working in Spinningfields, Manchester, for the first half of the year, I often frequented the streetfood pop up sensation ‘The Kitchens’. Particular favourites the chicken kharti rolls from ‘Chaat Cart,’ the pork belly bao rolls from ‘Dim Sum Su’ and the stupendous steak wraps from ‘Well Hung’ (now Beastro).

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Pulled pork bun, Well Hung wrap, Kati Roll

Having now moved further east in the city, brunch with eggs by Federal Cafe, deserve a mention. I think I’ve been through the card now. Halloumi and shrooms a particular favourite.

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If pizza’s your thing, Ive had a couple of very decent ones now at The Sand Bar, Manchester.  Last but not least you have to love and use your local restaurant. Ours is Ariete in Newton le Willows. It’s a smart Italian, and I love normally to try all the specials, but one day this year I had the basic spaghetti bolognese. Ive never looked back. Had it about five times since! You cant beat the classics…..

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Hispi – Didsbury, Manchester

“There cant be many better bistros in Didsbury named after a cabbage?”

Im probably a bit late. Gary Usher’s latest, crowdfunded eatery blistered onto the scene a few months back. Every dish has been ‘socially media’d’ and all the big reviewers (well the paying ones)! have been and gone. Glowing trails of foodie prose lies in their wake. We all loved ‘Sticky’ and ‘Burnt’ (click to read how much) and so it was expected that Hispi would follow suit.

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We romped in on a cold Sunday afternoon. We had booked, you have to it would seem. The place was packed when we got in. Set moments from the centre of Didsbury Village it cuts a startling dash in its boxy, sagey green exterior.

We were met enthusiastically and set into the lower room. The other two or three rooms move upwards a bit, one gets set in the roof. Decor is smart and uncluttered. Walls are either clean exposed brick or super smooth off white paint. Various shades of contemporary wood fill in the rest. The big crowdfunders get their own mirror. Nice touch.

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Our Sunday menu was printed (as ever) on one side of an A4 sheet. Three courses for £22, two for £18. You get four choices of start and dessert with five go’s at a main. As ever I could have had any. The Flame as ever, struggled a bit! The menus vary slightly depending on time of day, there’s an early doors menu and an evening dinner menu. It probably goes without saying that they then vary seasonally.

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For start The Flame edged into the Squash soup with curry oil, yoghurt and rye bread, though she requested that chef left out the curry. It turned out rather good. Velvety, hot and super tasty, she loved it. I went for the charred mackerel, Jerusalem artichoke, lemon tapenade and parsley. Im not too sure I got all that but it was presented rather nicely and the mackerel itself, with a touch of all the trimmings on each forkful, provided a good few mouthfuls of delight.

It was then a rather over long wait for the mains, as I said they were busy. I had selected my new favourite fish, pan roast skate wing, mace butter, saffron potatoes and spinach. The only downside was that i could have had about four wings rather than the one. The golden spuds were delish too.

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The Flame having furrowed her brow at the choice, mentioned in passing that she loves chicken! She ordered the beef, only for Ashley, our super waitress, to inform us that chef could rustle up a turkey dinner. The Flame was in raptures, and even more so when it turned up. A glorious chunk of moist, yes moist turkey, with a sausage meat patty and cranberry topping. Lovely jubbly.

We then had the cheese course, a Beenleigh blue, with rye crackers and chutney and a whipped fromage blanc with pear, meringue and almonds. The dessert whilst not looking too great and being over simple was actually flipping gorgeous, just up my street. Perhaps it may have looked a bit better in a dark bowl, but hey Im being super churlish here.

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All in all another great little outing at an Usher gaff and get this…ahem…the ‘cookery’ is always ‘on point’ (whose been watching Masterchef? – Ed) and always well presented using great local produce. The DNA set by owner Gary Usher washes through the place. As if to emphasise, we were wonderfully served by Gareth and the ever bubbly Ashley. Both bright and confident with the right tinge of humour.

As the late AA Gill commented, something along the lines of “Your local restaurant should be treasured, use it, cherish it and it will pay you back in spades”. Didsbury has been dealt a good hand with this smart little bistro. I reckon every town and village should have one. Maybe the city’s should have one too, perhaps even Liverpool? Think it should be called ‘Wreckfish’…..watch this space.

Hispi
1C School Lane
Didsbury Village
Manchester
M20 6RD.
Tel: 0161 445 3996
http://www.hispi.net

The Star Inn The City – York

“There can’t be a better setting in York to enjoy a scrumptious Sunday lunch”

We had the enviable task of meeting up with some fine old, Yorkshire folk in the beautiful city of York. Social media advice suggested ‘The Star Inn The City’, sister to Michelin starred ‘The Star Inn Harome’ would provide a suitable setting. Boy they were right. Located in the Old Engine House on the edge of York’s Museum Gardens in a riverside setting close to the historic Lendal Bridge, The Star Inn The City is superbly positioned overlooking the wonderful Ouse.

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Both ‘Stars’ (York and Harome) are headed up by celebrated and inimitable chef Andrew Pern. By pure coincidence the Star in York chef Michael Wilkinson featured on Masterchef days later. Humour and quirkiness lurks in the DNA, as depicted by the many cartoon images and fun menus. It’s a mixture of old and new. Half the place is a space age glass house which is welded onto the old engine tower. Its in the glass bit that you dine. It’s a lovely space overlooking what Im sure in summer would be a packed outdoor deck.

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As the place was packed out and we were thirty minutes early for our 3pm slot we downed a pint of hand pulled ‘two chefs’ ale in the old, wonderfully quaint river room, before moving across to the sleek, new bit and choosing from the colourful menu.

I started with the Posh Peeled Prawn Cocktail with Oak-smoked Salmon, Bloody Mary Sorbet, Green Pea Purée, Marinaded Tomatoes and Fresh Basil (£12). It came in a huge, glass goblet, packed to the gunnels with fishy goodness. There must have been a pound of salmon in there! It was a far cry from the bright pink 1970’s efforts I’ve had before. Glorious. The Yorkshire gent went for Deep-fried Devilled Whitebait with Lemon and Cracked Black Pepper Mayonnaise (£7). It arrived on a plank, the whitebait settled into a large bowl. Another corking portion.

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Enormous prawn cocktail, goats cheese, scallops en croute

The ladies went for Baked King Scallops ‘En Croûte’ with Fountains Gold Cheddar, Smoked Bacon & Creamed Leeks… cooked to order (at a fairly eye watering £15) along with the Deep-fried Breaded Lowna Dairy Goats Cheese with Stewed Fig Chutney, Candied Walnuts and Mulled Wine Syrup (£9). The scallops a triumph, the goats cheese (according the The Flame) a little less so.

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The fun menu, whitebait

For mains two of us went from the specials menu and had the roast waterford farm sirloin beef and all the trimmings (£19). One went for the rather stunning ’10oz’ Gammon ‘Rib Eye’ with Fried Free Range Egg, Honey’d Pineapple and chips (£15). The Flame unusually went for the ‘10oz’ Marbled Rib-eye served with ‘Viking Buttered’ Flat Mushroom, Chip Shop Chips, Bloody Mary Ketchup & House Salad £28). Bizarrely all were served on long, narrow plates and arranged sideways. Unusual, but it all still tasted great. The beef particularly good, cooked as god intended with a slightly pink hue. The gammon wonderfully thick and salty.

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As ever the sweet tooth took over, so I ordered up a rather stunning Baked Rice Pudding with English Toffee, Hedgerow Jam & Sugar’d Skin (£8). Came in its own skillet, really looked and tasted the part. Loved the crunchy top. One went Baked Ginger Parkin with Rhubarb, Ripple Ice Cream, Hot Spiced Syrup (£8) whilst one went for the dramatically presented Mulled wine baba, yorkshire honey granola, glazed figs, mascarpone and goats curd cream, with lime (£8).

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Rice pudding, mulled baba, parkin

The bill for four came in at just over £200. Possibly a touch weightier than a normal Sunday lunch? No doubt the extra is for the fine local produce and the famous locality and to be the fair there was plenty to go round. Either way we all agreed it had been a fabulous afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed. Will have to have a go at the Harome version….

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The Star Inn The City
Lendal Engine House
Museum Street
York
YO1 7DR

T: 01904 619208

Email us: info@starinnthecity.co.uk

Featherblade Steak Casserole – Hairy Bikers

”If youre looking for a decent cut of beef to make a great stew or casserole then look no further than this hunk of wonderfulness.”

Featherblade doesnt seem to be a well-known cut. It comes from the shoulder blade, so there are only two in every cow. I first stumbled on this in my local butchers cabinet. The glorious marbling of fat really caught my eye. My butcher at Red Bank Farm Shop reckons it flies out when he puts it out. Snatch it up when you see it. It cost me about £8 for the 1kg hunk you see here.

The recipe is based loosely on one I got off the Hairy Bikers.

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Ingredients

1kg/2lb 2oz feather blade steak, trimmed and cut into big chunks
3 tbsp oil
3 bannana shallots or 1 medium onion, sliced
2 celery sticks, trimmed, sliced (I used a whole leek instead!)
2 carrots, thickly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250ml/10fl oz red wine
500ml/17fl oz beef stock
2 tbsp tomato purée
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme (I used a tsp of dried)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp English mustard
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/320F/Gas 3.

2 Season the beef with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. I used my large stock pot. Fry the steak pieces over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes on each sides, or until browned. Transfer the beef pieces to a bowl. (You may need to do this in batches.)

3 Return the pan to the hob and reduce the heat. Add the remaining oil and gently fry the shallots, celery (leek) and carrots for 6-8 minutes or until golden-brown and softened. Stir in the garlic, cook for a further minute.

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4 Deglaze the pan with wine and allow to bubble for a few seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in the tomato puree for a few mins and then add the stock. Strip the thyme leaves from the stalks and scatter into the pan, add the bay leaf and mustard and stir until well combined. Bring to the boil and remove the dish from the heat.

5 Add the meat back into the pot. Place a lid on top and cook in the oven for 3-3½ hours or until the beef is very tender. Skim any fat away from the surface that appears during cooking.

6 Transfer the meat to a plate. Strain the cooking liquor and vegetables through a sieve into a large non-stick frying pan. Press the vegetables with the bottom of a ladle to extract a rich purée and stir into the cooking liquor. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Alternatibvely I kept it going for over 5 hours, (which did break it down a bit too much. Stick to the 4 hours to keep the big chunks). Removing the lid with an hour to go to help reduce the liquid. I kept all the veg in without straining. Therefore ignore the next step and serve with mashed potato.

7 Bring the mixture to a simmer for 3-5 minutes, or until the sauce is well reduced, thick and glossy. Add the beef to the liquid and heat through for 3-4 minutes, spooning over the sauce to glaze. Serve with some green vegetables and mashed potatoes.

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The meat really is superb tasting and well worth seeking out.

Alimentum – Cambridge

“I haven’t been to many Michelin star restaurants in my life, but I think I need to start going to some more if this is what happens!”

It was a celebration, The Flame and I had notched up twenty-seven years of wedlock. A weekend in Cambridge seemed like a plan. I bagged a late spot at Alimentum, one of Cambridge’s Michelin starred restaurants. Its headed up by Mark Poynton, a celebrated chef who recently did a special stint in Manchester’s Iberica. I missed that one.

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We normally like to eat early, say seven, seven thirty but we could only get an eight thirty slot. A couple of ‘liveners’ in some of this beautiful city’s famous pubs and we set off with a gentle stroll to Hills Road. A touch to The Flame’s annoyance I hadn’t thought it fully through. It was a good half hour from the centre. Perhaps a taxi would have been a better idea!

Unlike much of the ancient city, Alimentum is set at the base of a modern tower block close to the railway station. We ventured in, fairly ravenous from an early lunch. We were warmly met, coats dispensed and placed at our table. Our table was set in front of a large envelope shaped window with a glorious view of the brigade preparing the nights food. I was totally thrilled.

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View from the table

The room is elegance personified, red is the featured hue giving a wonderful warmth to the modern room. Ivories were being tinkled. Just needed a pair of slippers to complete the relaxation process!

We settled on an aperitif of sherry to start before perusing the stark, black on white menu. A thing of graphical beauty. We decided to forego the seven course taster (£80 each) on account of the time and stick to the three course a la carte (£70 each). The choices are simply described using single words to highlight the main elements. No lyrical waxing here!

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Amouse bouche first, lancashire cheese bon bons (I think) and some incredible black cuttlefish things set in a box of architectural gravel. Seconds of aural pleasure. For the first course The Flame went for Mackerel (scorched, bolognese, celeriac and cuttlefish tagliatelle). It was a mere morsel really, set in a huge copper coloured bowl, it was thoroughly loved though.

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The starts, bon bons, bread, veloute

I went for Eel (smoked, duck liver, apple, dandelion, truffle). The eel came set in cubes dotted about the plate around the liver of duck. The accompanying globules and shreds of flavour completing the stunning effect.  A veloute of mushroom washed it down.

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Mackerel, Eel

Our second course was halibut and venison. The flames Halibut (pumpkin, oxtail, savoy cabbage) was crushed in pumpkin seeds and pistachio. A croquette of ox tail complete with smears of green completed the picture. My saddle of Venison (prune, chestnut, blue cheese, girolles) was set on a glossy glaze of chestnut and prune. A cigar of ‘wonderfulness’ encased the blue cheese. Utterly tremendous dish. I was genuinely upset when the last morsel went in. A mouth cleansing dollop of ‘gin and tonic’ prepared us for the dessert.

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Venison, Halibut

I simply went Lemon (curd, white chocolate, fennel) whilst The Flame went for cheese. The lemon and chocolate was dolloped with precision, the fennel slice, perhaps arranged to represent the many university buildings in the town? Added a savoury touch. The cheese board was a classic and was beautifully described and presented. The Flame chose well. Smoked, blue, soft, hard and creamy, all English and superb.

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Cheese, gin and tonic, Lemon

Coffee, brandy and petit fours were delivered to round off. The bill with tip added came in at just over £200. A snip for this quality. It is sadly quite rare that we eat like this, so I can’t compare to many. The French (reviewed here) probably shades it and Ormer (reviewed here) are pretty much the only other dining experiences of this ilk. Alimentum delivered a superb evening, fully befitting the occasion. Go if you can….

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Alimentum
152-154 Hills Road
Cambridge
CB2 8PB
T  01223 413000
http://www.restaurantalimentum.co.uk

The Bird at Birtle – Heywood

“Nutters’ smart new eatery turns out some decent grub, but is it too loud?”

A rare day off, so it’s a drive out to lunch. The Flame and I decide on trying out Andrew Nutter’s recently re-opened gastropub The Bird at Birtle. It turns out Birtle is just to the right of Bury and a bit to the left of Rochdale. We plunder the dreaded M62 before settling nicely beside the wonderfully spruced up Bird. Nice plumage! The local stonework has been teased and sanded to a yellowish hue. Presumably, on account of the artistic masonry above the door it was once called ‘The Bird I’th Hand?”.

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We scuttle round the back to tie up the steed. Here we were greeted by a cathedral of glass! The old bird has had a big, square, contemporary block of architectural curtain walling grafted on the back. It’s a striking addition affording the diners inside a view of, well firstly the car park and then the wonderful green yonder.

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As it happened we had booked and we were warmly greeted and shown straight to our table upstairs via a huge bird mural. A touch of the Nutter humour me thinks! I reckon the place was half full. The tactic appears to be to secrete everyone, be it on the ground or first floor, in front of the aforementioned glass frontage. Our table indeed looked out to the rolling green hills, though not particularly well lit on this cloudy, drizzly day!

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We attempted to converse and select from the super lunchtime menu. Owing to the complete lack of soft furnishings coupled with the plethora of hard surfaces such as the glass, the tastefully stained panelling and black ash furniture we had difficulty hearing over the cacophony of clattering cutlery and people shouting at each other. A pint of Pride of Pendle calmed the shredded nerves!

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For starters The Flame selected the rather wonderful tomato and celeriac soup with rosemary focaccia (£5). Though she doesn’t go for the cream swirl it was in fact absolutely delicious. Noblets of pesto adding even more flavour. I went for the sticky slow cooked short rib beef and rochdale peas (£6.50). I rated this ‘historic’, one of the best starters I’ve had in a good while. The beef slipping effortlessly from its bone, the peas still having a bite set in a gorgeous ‘gravy’, describing it as a jus just wouldn’t do!

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For mains The Flame went for her (yawn!) standard fish pie (£13). In fairness, once again it was a good one. It looked good too, set in its own earthenware pot with a skillet of peas alongside on a wooden base board. As the skate special had just been sold, I went for the beer battered sole with mushy peas and hand cut chips (£12.50). Two delicately battered fillets set over each other, it looked super on the plate. The chips, so good they were close to Wiswell chefs and Hawksmoors!! such was the quality. A punchy homemade tartare sauce added extra points to the binge. All in all a corking lunch. Still the best was to come….

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Dessert! I went for the incredible blackberry, pear and almond frangipane tart with amaretto ice cream (£6.50) whilst The Flame went for Kirkhams Lancashire cheese, toffee apple puree and Eccles cakes, also £6.50. The frangipane came surrounded with dots of sweetness and oozed with glorious swabs of flavour and texture. The ice cream set on the chocolate cookie a particular highlight. The cheese supplemented by the apple and cakes of Eccles equally good.

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With decent coffees the whole lot came in at £62.50. A creditable fee for what was six excellent courses. The only slight downside for us was the noise. I think we got used to it after a while. It could be that things would have been a little quieter in the equally smart room away from the view? Still a minor quibble, but Im sure we’ll be giving the families other nearby restaurant ‘Nutters’ a go soon too. If the food is as good as this it should be reet!

The Bird at Birtle
239 Bury And Rochdale Old Rd,
Birtle,
OL10 4BQ
T: 01706 540 500
E: info@thebirdatbirtle.co.uk

Yew Tree Inn – Angelzarke, Chorley

“A drive out, hearty lunch and a pleasant stroll around Angelzarke reservoir. A perfect Sunday afternoon”

Its September, autumn is coming isn’t it? It’s a stunning Sunday afternoon, arguably one of summers finest, The Flame and I head up to The Yew Tree in Angelzarke. A chum has recommended it, he reckons this is classic Cooktwit territory. He’s not wrong. We bag the last spot in the car park and head inside through the happy throngs who are strewn over every table outside on the glorious sun kissed terrace. We have booked and are shown a table inside by the window. Bizarrely its rather cool inside, but we press on, assuming the clouds will come soon and that the outdoor revellers will soon be tripping back in. We assumed wrong.

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We settle to survey the menus. A Sunday one and the standard a la carte. An Angelzarke pale ale by Blackedge Brewery is set beside by one of the attentive, uniformed team. There are several cask ales to chose from but I go local.

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A quick glance round shows that the place has clearly had something of a spruce up. Stone floors and stone walls have all been suitably scrubbed, tables re-stained, re-lacquered, paintwork daubed in F&B’s finest heritage blue. Etched glasswork panels add even more of a contemporary edge. Its very smart. We can see head chef Oli Farrah (a Masterchef finalist) marshalling his kitchen in readiness.

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We select our lunch. We pick starters from the a la carte. The Flame selects the salt baked Lancashire heritage beetroot with homemade curd salad and walnuts (£6.95), I go for the salt and pepper squid with homemade sweet chilli sauce (£7.95). She drooled over the salad, loved it. Great colour and beautifully presented in a huge white bowl. My squid is equally terrific, hot, peppery, perfectly cooked. An extraordinary portion too, the salty bits offset by the acidic asian carrots and chilli jam. Super stuff.

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For mains, The Flame goes for her staple Fish Pie (£12.95). It comes with a soft poached egg, vegetables and lashing of buttery mash. In her words a match for her all time favourite at The Church Green (see review here). High praise indeed.

I plumb for the traditional Sunday roast, topside of Lancashire beef with seasonal veg (£15.95). As with most dishes, it came set in a huge bowl. The beef beautifully pink and lashings of it too. If anything probably too much! Whereas normaly the veg are a bit of a side issue to the main event , here they were worthy of special mention. They were fabulous, loved the way the carrots and courgette where ribboned and beautifully seasoned. The roasties and gravy equally impressive.

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As usual I had dessert, white chocolate and blueberry cheesecake (£5.95). A dream of a dessert. Exceedingly good.

Unusually the Sunday lunch isn’t a set price and ends up setting me back just shy of thirty quid. Even my current Sunday lunch fave The Freemasons at Wiswell (reviewed here) is £25 for three courses, but that’s a minor quibble. The bill came to £60. We then set off for a stroll around the magnificent nearby reservoir. Well, worth doing after the feed you’ll get at The Yew Tree. Give it a go…

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Yew Tree Inn
Dill Hall Brow
Heath Charnock,
Chorley
Lancashire PR6 9HA

T 01257 480344

http://www.yewtreeinnanglezarke.co.uk

Bowland Brewery Beer Hall – Holmes Mill, Clitheroe

“If you like eating off the piston of a steam engine surrounded by beer this is the place for you!”

It’s a Friday and The Cooktwit has taken the day off work and has vowed to accrue some brownie points with The Flame on account of a forthcoming gentlemen’s trip to Portugal. I venture that a scoot to the Trough of Bowland is in order. We head north in wild anticipation. We slip gently through the lovely old town of Clitheroe, ‘hang on’ I proclaim, Im sure there’s an old mill being done up round here with a brewery attached! Lets stop briefly and check it out.

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We stumble upon a sign for The Bowland Brewery Beer Hall. A heavily scaffolded old pile called Holmes Mill is soon upon us. It’s a former textile mill thats being transformed into a hotel, leisure and food complex. We venture in. Much of the outside stonework is buffed and painted. Contemporary signage points the way. We venture past a shop selling Bowland bottled beers and a well stocked ‘Gelateria’, we then enter the ‘Beer Hall’. Its nothing short of breath taking.

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Inside, a huge oval bar, the size of a race track dominates, a platoon of uniformed bartenders gather us in. I didn’t count them but its claimed at least 24 cask ales are on tap. I looked on in awe. To the rear, via a huge glass wall, the huge Bowland Brewery beer tanks glisten. To the left more sections, the ‘chimney room’ and the ‘engine room’.

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The Engine room

In my excitement I suggest we hole up here for lunch. The Flame surprisingly agrees. We settle into ‘The Engine Room’. Not a quaint little moniker for a corner snug. This really is THE ENGINE ROOM. We settle on one of the high tables for two that are arranged around the huge mill engine that makes up the centre piece of the space. It, along with the room has been lovingly spruced up to replicate its Victorian industrial past. Huge comfy chairs are dotted round. Clearly someone has laid out some serious wedge here. Its a quality makeover. 

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So what about the food? Well, its basic stuff really, beer food. The menu is a huge A3 card, beers on the back, food to the front. Theres no jus, foams or micro herbs on here. Its chips or fries with pies, puds, nibbles, burgers and other British pub classics. They even have chicken in the basket (which I nearly had). We pressed on and ordered. I settled in with a Bowland Brewery ‘Buster’ IPA and a big smile on my face. We drunk in the wonderful ambience.

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Jerk Chicken, Brisket Burger, Scotch Egg

I started with a scotch egg, encased in black pudding (£5.95). It came warm on a tin plate and a slick of brown sauce with a watercress salad. No oozing yolk from the egg, but armed with the brown sauce it was all rather good. A totally satisfying start.

For mains I went from the ‘Buns’ section and had the pulled beef brisket with beerhouse gravy and horseradish (£10.95). Served in a tin again on a brioche bun the brisket was copious, hot and tasty, the tang of horseradish adding its usual bite. The fries, hot and salty, but enhanced to almost historic when dipped in the fabulous beerhouse gravy. It was again very good.

The Flame had Jamaican jerk spiced chicken pieces with salad, coleslaw and chips (£12.95). Several hunks of boneless chicken thigh meat drenched in a warm spicy goo. The Flame absolutely loved it (despite being served in a tin). The morsel I had was super moist and tasty.

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Sadly and somewhat bizarrely? They didn’t have a sweet menu. A nod one presumes to the fact that this is a beer hall after all. Sweets generally don’t go with beer in my experience. I suppose you could have had an ice cream from the ‘Gelateria’?

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We settled up for thirty-eight of your english pounds. We both thoroughly enjoyed our time here. It reminded me of eating at the National Rail Museum in York or on St Pancras station. The surroundings are truly spectacular. Trying to be objective, would we have enjoyed the food as much in a more mundane setting? Possibly not, but if you are looking for a little adventure and somewhere completely different to eat and drink I’d definitely give the Bowland Brewery Beer Hall a go. They deserve it, they’ve certainly put their money where their mouth is. And anyway, I nipped up to Booths after and got an eton mess slice. Who needs a sweet anyway?

Bowland Brewery Beer Hall
Holmes Mill
Greenacre Street,
Clitheroe
BB7 1EB
Tel: 01200 401035
http://www.holmesmill.co.uk

FOOD! Reviews and Recipes by an Enthusiast!