“Beer, rock music, friendship, community, charity, what’s not to like?”
Newton-le-Willows Beer Festival has been an annual event in the local calendar for quite a few years now, and yet, despite liking my beer I’ve never really given it a serious thought. A bubble in my mind has likeable, bearded chaps with rucksacks, leaning on a makeshift bar giving marks for ‘hoppage’, aroma and citrus notes while sucking on a half pint glass of mead. The reality was somewhat different. In fairness I dare say there was a few of these hardy coves, but there was probably about another nine hundred souls, young, old and female to make up the rest. It was an uplifting experience to witness my home town community spirit in full, thriving action.
As you would imagine the beer is the centrepiece of the scheme. Over one hundred examples were on offer, including dark beers, stouts, pale ales, milds and some strong ciders. Sixty odd of them were marshalled on two rows of scaffolding in the huge outdoor marquee. A further forty odd were set up inside the historic sports clubs main function room. Joining the two camps were some steps, some loos and the Red Bank Farm Shop tent selling pulled pork, beef burgers and chips to help soak up the alcohol and stave off the pangs of ‘peckishness’.
I went with some like minded chums. We met on the local high street mid afternoon to sample a pint from one of the sponsors ‘The Firkin Bar’. We then strolled the final lap to pay our fiver and gain access to the event via a commemorative glass and a handsome volume detailing the brews on offer. We then each swapped a tenner for our beer tokens. A fine currency constructed from discs of yellow and red plastic. Each disc was dutifully exchanged for a half of your chosen brew. If you were fortunate a plucky volunteer would struggle to shut the tap off fully and a further 1/4 pint could dribble into your glass. This never happened to me but I heard rumours of others it happened to!
As well as the beer, The Rotary Club of Newton-le-Willows organised some live music. Local hot shots Chicken Run had entertained the throng on the Friday night. Being Saturday afternoon we happened upon a cherubic bunch of chaps called Salamander. They had a nifty knack of turning stompy old rock favourites into full blown heavy metal anthems. They went down a storm. I reckon many of the locals also thought there was a storm coming, my ears are still ringing!
By 8.30 I’d spent my tenner. I’d had some Lonesome pine, a blonde witch, a citra, a campfire, a cheeky pheasant and a few others. Thankfully I missed out on my Wobbly Bob! Despite the maddening crowds in the marquee and the main hall it was brilliantly organised. The merry throng of blue shirted volunteers ensured you didn’t wait long for your next fix.
The high spirited crowd performed there role with dignified drunkenness. As far as I was aware with no trouble at all. It was a superb event and one I shall be marking down in my calendar. I suggest you mark it in yours. It’s always on the same weekend as The Grand National. When you add in the fact that this is an event for charity it really does make sense. Sponsors and organisers take a bow.
Difficult to believe but somehow it seems to work. The Millstone is a small hostelry offering International tapas. It is on Mill lane heading out of Newton. It’s a little bit out of the way to be part of the standard High Street pub crawl. It’s niche really is its small and friendly bar offering decent cask ales for its merry band of regulars. It doubles up as a pit stop for our Sunday stroll. The pub is only small, square in shape, symmetrical set in two. You walk through the central door to be greeted by the small well kept, ‘U’ shaped bar to the right. The small, ‘thirtyish’ covers dining area is set behind a partition to the left. Cream and navy paint allied to neat signage and oak furnishings present the gaff in a smart, contemporary manner.
A couple of big tellys in the bar side mean its a favourite with the sports fans. When we ventured in for a romantic trist we had not factored in the Rugby League Grand final. It was wonderful to be reminded throughout our meal that the Warrington Barmy Army were in and in fine fettle! Still such is the way the dining area is set off from the bar side you can enjoy your meal in relative seclusion. It was a little unusual on this occasion for it to be quite so raucous! Newton is a rugby town after all.
Head chef Paul uses quality local and international ingredients to produce the goods. His mediterranean influence sparked by a seven year stint running a restaurant in Portugal. He prepares all the dishes to order on his trusty six burner stove and his huge collection of IKEA pans! This ensures the food is hot, tasty and perfectly cooked. Some dishes work, some don’t work quite so well. As well as the international tapas they do a steak on a stone, a traditional Sunday lunch and a first rate paella.
Platter, salmon kebab, bury tapas, Panko cod
Our opening platter of feta, anchovies, peppers and olives with warm bread was delightful. As were the spicy kidneys. My bury black pudding tapas in mustard cream was less so. The garish yellow sauce being a bit thin and sweet for me. The wine is good and well priced and my Thwaites Wainwright set the scene nicely.
In contrast to some tapas bars the morsels turn up together and are then dotted around your table. This gives me the chance to steal some of The Flames superior choice at will, much to her annoyance!
The menu is extensive and skirts around all walks of international cuisine. Spanish, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and many more all get a chance. I have witnessed a substantial paella in the past which I have yet to try. After our opening platter we ordered a further three dishes each (we were hungry!). The flame homed in on the fishy side of things which are thoughtfully listed separately. In no particular order we wolfed through a Cod in Panko breadcrumbs and a sweet chilli jam, salmon kebabs dusted in Cajun spices, Mini King Prawn fajitas, chicken and chorizo stew, bury black pudding in a mustard cream sauce and lamb cutlets. We washed this lot down with some spicy wedges and some warm bread.
The dishes are all around a fiver, plus or minus a quid if there’s some posh fish involved. For me the lamb cutlets won. Four beautifully cooked chops around eight millimetres thick (are you sure they weren’t 9mm? – Ed). Another highlight was the king prawn fajitas, well cooked prawns with a hint of heat. The flame reckoned the chicken and chorizo stew won and who am I to disagree? To be fair it was all pretty good. As I mentioned above the slight downer being the swimming sauce around Bury’s finest. Using my special dessert stomach I managed an apple Betty with three scoops of ice cream just to finish!
This lot all romped in at £60. We had quite a bit of grub and drink for that, after all we can both walk here! It was a crisp bright night so it was a pleasant walk home. So there you have it Newton has a few decent places to eat! We always nip to Ariete if we want Italian and Amans for Indian. If you want a flash of Spain, The Millstone is the one.
Like most provincial communities, my home town of Newton-le-Willows has succumbed to the rising influence of the great British curry. A veritable phalanx of spicy food emporiums have come and gone. That said a good number have been here a good while now. “The Fort of India”, “Balti Towers”, “Shajahan”, “Belash” to name but a few, have seemingly found a niche in the local gastronomic scene. However, theres a new kid in town, ‘Amans’ has rooted a dark almost satanic frontage smack bang in the middle of (a faintly resurgent) Newton High Street.
It has an even more imposing gaff a few miles away down the East Lancs at Astley. On that occasion the old “Queens Arms” succumbed, at Newton it was merely a solicitor that went pop! (I think!). Amans it seems is taking over the North West with Congleton, Lowton and Bramhall either fallen or next in line.
So what’s it like? It’s pretty good really. I could stop there but I won’t (groan – Ed). I feel I should set this review in context. Owing to The flames virtual intolerance of Indian food it is very rare The Cooktwit gets to indulge in the fruits of Indian cuisine. That said, out with the boys a few months back I had a glorious meal at Mughli on the curry mile in Manchester which was sensational and is reviewed here on the blog, Amans has a tough benchmark to match.
As I have mentioned black is the main colour, helped along by a purple neon edge. Long gone are the mismatched tables and paper tablecloths. New Indian restaurants nowadays endeavour to ooze sophistication. Amans is no different. As it’s new it is smart. A purple backed, fret cut, wall matrix serving as the feature backdrop. A bizarre wall of plaster ceiling roses forming the way up the stairs to the upper floor and the loos.
Believe it or not The Flame was here on this occasion. Along with six others we were celebrating the flight of leading nephew Ben as he bolts off to China on a teaching shindig. A ‘swifty’ in the Pied Bull across the road meant at least one decent pint could be had before I had to have Kingfisher! As is the norm in most Indian restaurants, Amans present us with a luxurious, metallic, golden tome. It takes hours to get through. In my eyes it presents the first negative comparison with Mughli. Their entire menu is presented on the side of one card. It is the work of a moment to select your meal.
With the miriad of dishes and sauces on offer I am reminded of the TV programme ‘The Restaurant Man’. If you are not familiar, the premise being that a handsome cove, well versed in what makes a successful foodie joint work, trots round to would be owners and tells them where it’s all going wrong. One episode featured some good natured Asian ladies who had the laudable idea of cooking and selling real Indian food, just as their grandma had taught them. The snag had been how they could create their wonderful dishes to the scale they needed to make some cash. A head chef was hired. He immediately purchased a huge vat and an industrial ‘whizzer’ in order to create huge quantities of the ‘base’ sauce. Every dish would therefore start off as this but then have a little something extra added just prior to service to create a ‘different’ dish. It was incredibly off putting for me. Im not saying Amans do this but I sense many Indian restaurants do this in order to service these vast offerings.
I digress though. In order to make sure my experience of Amans is not tainted, the flame and I opt from the non standard half of the menu. It makes a pleasing change. I go for ‘Tahori Fish’ to start, pieces of seabass in a light batter (£4.95). Two pieces of beautifully cooked fish, marred slightly by the appalling effort of a garnish. Why restaurants think we diners appreciate scrags of limp lettuce, a shred of onion and an olive is beyond me, but it seems to be ‘de rigeur’ in some places. The flame trooped home in first place with some stunning pieces of chicken. Called ‘MalayTikka’ (£4.25) Tender pieces of chicken marinated with mayonnaise, ground almond, ground spices and natural yoghurt. I managed a morsel and have to say it was superb and moist. The salad was from the same pot as mine! Sadly I didn’t manage to get a pic as she had wolfed it in no time.
For mains we again went off beam and came up trumps. The flame probably won again ‘Pangash Biraan’ (£10.25) described as white fish fillet marinated with medium spices and lightly pan fried, served with sauteed onions, red and green peppers, spring onion and garnished with lemon and coriander. The fish was superb, beautifully cooked with a light spicy, seasoned coat. The flame had to shove the mound of onions off to one side (there was no peppers or spring onion garnish) but other than she said she would come again just for this. Can’t say fairer than that. The same scraggy garnish made it to the plate! I went for a ‘Lamb Chop Balti’ (a slightly whopping £11.45, but boy this was good. Five, tender chops wonderfully cooked in a rich tasty sauce. They were very pleasant. I left a mound of dry bones and mopped up the sauce with some boiled rice and a chapati. The desserts on offer were the usual freezer based ice creams, no ‘Rasmalai’ I’m afraid. At least the well turned out waiters laughed when I asked for it!
I’d have to say we all enjoyed it. The place was packed out. The service was efficient and friendly, giving us just the right amount of gap between courses. We certainly weren’t rushed. As a standard Indian restaurant it was very good. A few Indian pale ales wouldn’t go amiss to top up the Kingfisher and the cans of ‘Tetley Smooth!’
If you’re in Newton le Willows and want an Indian you really couldn’t beat it. It is probably the best Indian in Newton! But, if you want to try something a little different and have the time I would see if Mughli have a table and get the next train to Oxford Road, then a £5 taxi to Rusholme. Explore the simple menu and enjoy. It cost us £50 a couple at Amans. I reckon you wouldn’t spend much more going down the curry mile. A welcome addition to Newton though. We will go back (if they let me!).
The Cooktwit is blessed. No question, He is blessed. He lives near Red Bank Farm. Red Bank Farm is in Newton-le-Willows, a small industrial town, famous for locomotives, canals, arches, The Bulls Head and biscuit machinery! Sadly, all that has gone (including The Bulls Head!). It now has lots of houses, but, within a short scutch of its heart, rolling fields of grass and golf start to appear. Arguably the greatest use of this green bit of Newton-le-Willows is the provision of sheds and grazing pasture for an array of farm animals notably cattle, sheep and pigs. Red Bank Farm studiously manages the raising of these beasts and then rather thoughtfully, arranges to have them slaughtered and beautifully butchered for me to buy. I have tried many cuts over the years and never been less than stunned at the quality. So when a national initiative called ‘Open Farm Sunday’ breaks out it was the work of a moment to get down to Red Bank and see what happens.
Open Farm Sunday began in 2006. The idea quite simply is for participating farms to open up behind the scenes and allow visitors to wander round and see the animals and machinery that make it all happen. As you might expect the emphasis is on making all this appeal to families and in particular children. Whatever Red Bank Farm had laid on this year seemed to have worked. Newton was in gridlock as cars filled the makeshift carpark and lined the main A49 road into the town.
As myself and The Flame had walked it was a stress less entry to the hallowed grounds. I guess there was hundreds of people milling around the farm. Farm hands thoughtfully placed to explain to the children what the animals are and how they are managed. Shetland ponies gently sauntered, whilst all the remaining animals where caged but prominently displayed for the children to see and touch. Hefty, high tech machinery was strategically placed for child photo opportunities. I tried to get one myself but the flame wouldn’t let me! Birds of prey swooped in and out from up high, taking one child high up in the sky before letting him drop (no I made that up, just adding a bit of texture!!).
Highlight for me was the butchery demonstration. Scheduled for 1pm, big John, dressed in red in a red tent behind some red bunting stepped forward with a side of pig over his shoulder. The crowd went wild. Well the kids did anyway, I couldn’t get anywhere near. John started to hack, saw and slice his way through this wondrous pink carcass. The kids remained transfixed wondering why there wasn’t any blood! It was amazing to watch. The quality of the meat was clearly evident. John merely having to rest his knife on the flesh to create another saleable cut. After about twenty minutes the beast was left presented in trays. All yours for £100. A bargain.
The first Open Farm Sunday welcomed around 30,000 visitors. Since then, Open Farm Sunday has achieved visitor numbers of over 100,000 each year and on 9th June 2013 had a record 200,000 visitors! To date over one million people have attended Open Farm Sunday events since it began. I’m sure this year has been just as successful. The sun was shining and the cars kept coming even when we left.
Thankfully I can come back next week and keep on buying this amazing produce. I am immensely proud having been born in Newton that I can buy meat raised and butchered (by Nicola and Joanne) here in Newton as well. Having read Jay Rayner’s wonderful ‘Greedy man’ book, I accept that globally, communities cannot all sustain themselves and that I am extremely fortunate to be able to buy this produce locally and afford to buy it. At least I know by supporting local businesses I am helping in a small way for a local business to survive. Long may Red Bank Farm and all other farms continue. Use them or lose them, that’s what I say.
Spare a thought for my humble home town of Newton-le-Willows. A small lump of coal of maybe 20,000 souls, nestled between the great metropolis’ of Liverpool and Manchester. Famous for it’s has been rock star Rick Astley and having the first bloke ever to be killed on a railway.
As far as gastronome is concerned it’s all a bit flat. A few decent pubs, it’s own curry yard, a phalanx of kebab shops and that’s about you’re lot. It does however, have at least one beacon of hope in Ariete, an Italian restaurant set in the oldest building on the High Street. The High Street is part of the great North/South highway known as the A49. It’s one of my favourite roads! Ian Botham went through it once on a sponsored walk. This is how good this road is. Ariete is housed in the best building on the best road.
Formerly the grand entrance to the Haydock Park Estate it provides a rather splendid facade, particularly at night when some bulbs light it up. In case you wondered Ariete is Italian for ‘Ram’.
Inside things change a bit. Basically they have grafted a huge hangar on the back of this wonderous folly, complete with skylights and conservatory style windows. I reckon it could cope with 150 covers easy. As well as big it is high, which means the noise can bang on a bit. It’s not what you would call intimate. It sets up better for bigger parties really, but nonetheless the flame and I regularly walk down for a plate of pasta and a bottle of house red. Having said that, they have recently grafted on a ‘specials’ menu which changes pretty often, possibly weekly, so there is always something new to try.
We went in for Christmas Eve so we caught it this time on absolute top form. Completely full, the atmosphere and sense of occasion was bang on. A bottle of Italian Merlot oiled the pipes while the flame plundered a toasted muffin slathered in chicken livers, themselves spiked with chilli and herbs. She was well chuffed. I wafted into a spicy chorizo and squid stew, also set on a crouton with a wodge of rocket leaves. The squid was plentiful and well cooked, criss crossed and curling after a quick ‘shufty’ in a hot, oiled pan. It was a corking starter.
For mains the flame had another starter! But by hokey what a starter, she was stuffed as were the peppers, with beef mince, herbs and spices. She had a ‘small’ mixed salad to accompany. I had a spaghetti with spicy meatballs. Standard fayre I would agree, but if you do want a decent feed, you can’t really beat here. The portions are stupendous. Also worth a mention, is that the garlic bread is based on a massive pizza base. No couple of slices of baguette here, It’s a meal in itself so be warned if you order one with your starter!
I finished off with a creme caramel. A light delight to finish, very nice too, freshly made on the premises that day according to eccentric host Giovanni. We have had ‘a la carte’ here and enjoyed that too. The quality and value is hard to beat. £52 for two for three rollicking courses, wine and coffee on a Christmas Eve. Not bad in my eyes. I’m not saying you should all trek across from the foodie enclaves of Chorlton or Didsbury or any of the other Cheshire outfits that lead the way in food nearby. I would suggest however, if you ever come to the races, or find yourself trundling down the A49 when the M6 at Thelwall viaduct shuts down for a bit of wind, you could do a lot worse than check out Ariete, The Ram of Italy, you’ll get a decent feed for not much money.