Sunday, 26 May 2013

Good things to eat [volume 15]: Bakewell farmers' market

Bakewell has one of the best farmers' markets I've been to anywhere. It's big, with over seventy stalls selling pretty much anything you could wish for, so much so that you could realistically do a big shop there.

That's not something you could say about many of its competitors which although worthwhile can tend to have too narrow a focus (usually sausages, mediocre cheese and ostrich burgers galore, all of which you'll find at Bakewell too if that's what tickles your fancy). Another plus point is that the prices here don't seem as inflated as at some others.

We bought a big bag full of goodies there yesterday, proof of the variety on offer is the fact that I bought no pies, no meat and only one piece of cheese! Next time around I'll be having some Stichelton (which has its very own dedicated stall), a pie or two from one of several good looking options and perhaps something smoked from the gorgeous smelling everything-you-could-possibly imagine bunging in the smoker stall.

Here's what we bought: pink fir potatoes, a rye loaf, beers from Staffordshire Brewery and Thornbridge, flour from a working windmill, potted beef, rhubarb, radishes, Lincolnshire poacher cheese, an assortment of mushrooms and a black pudding pickled scotch egg.

If what I've eaten so far is anything to go by there's some damn fine stuff on sale at Bakewell, everything has been excellent.

Lunch yesterday was the scotch egg from a Staffordshire based company alongside a handful of radishes (peppery! Yes they taste of something) and tomatoes, with a thick slice of rye spread with potted beef.

The egg was a revelation. Make a scotch egg with a pickled egg and it's like putting the acidity you need from sauce or relish INSIDE THE EGG. Oh yes. It just works, especially with the iron-y richness of some good black pud. Well worth two of your pounds.

I knew the potted beef was good, as I'd already eaten about three free samples while we were still at the market. It's just everything it should be; well-seasoned, great texture (mix of meaty shreds and smoother bits) and actually tastes of beef. Good work Granny Mary. They're pushing it a bit charging three quid for a small jar though.

Finally, the rye bread (£1.95) was from the Loaf, a bakery based in Crich with a second outlet in Matlock. It's an open textured loaf with a proper bit of heft and chew to the crust. I've also tried their fruit teacakes, which were excellent; dense, soft and chewy in a good way, the exact opposite of the rye loaf. These guys can bake.

I was well chuffed to see the mushroom stall, I don't think I've seen such an extensive mushroom selection anywhere outside London, where the stall on Borough market is brilliant but stonkingly expensive. Here a 200g assortment was a very reasonable £2.50.

The 'shrooms showed up in last night's tea, a platter of superior stuff on toast to accompany beer and football. Mushrooms fried in olive oil with garlic and thyme; grilled asparagus and anchovy butter; and more of the potted beef with sliced radishes.

I've yet to open it, but I already know Lincolnshire poacher is a very good cheese. Think of a fine, nutty mature cheddar in flavour, maybe a little sweeter, but with a smoother texture. Excellent for toasting or to go with beer.

Next up: beer, cheese on toast and baking bread with my locally milled flour.

Bakewell farmers' market is held on the last Saturday of every month. Details here:

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Two easy Asian ways with pork

As is often the case the best things I've cooked recently have been a happy accident; one a meal involving creative use of leftovers and another a last minute change of heart.

What was left of a slow roasted leg of pork was going to be sliced thinly and flash fried with garlic and ginger, but the joint wasn't as fatty as I'd anticipated and so the remaining meat was overdone. Moisture was needed. 

The cooked pork was suffused with a fairly strong whack of fennel, so I thought the anise notes would work well with a sticky soy marinade. Something sort of Thai in style, which of course led me to thoughts of Thai Aroy Dee and the little chewy nuggets of caramel pork that make up one of the accompaniments on their shrimp paste fried rice.

Turns it out it couldn't be simpler to make your own caramel pork. This has that addictive blend of sugar, salt and meat that's impossible not to enjoy. Mixed up with a big pile of vegetable fried rice and a generous squirt of Sriracha it was about ten times better than the original roast pork dinner. 

Here's what I used and how to do it:

Caramel pork

Enough for 2 or 3 people, served with veggie fried rice and hot sauce

300g cooked pork, cut into small chunks (mine were a bit big, no more than 1cm cubed is the way to go)
1 fat clove garlic
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 dessertspoon palm sugar
2 dessertspoons white sugar
2-3 spring onions

Crush the garlic then put it in a bowl with the pork pieces and the soy sauce, then mix everything up well. Finely chop the green ends of the spring onions and set aside.

Heat some neutral oil in a wok until it's hot then throw in the pork, soy and garlic mix. Stir-fry for a minute or so then turn the heat down to medium and add the sugar. 

Keep stir-frying until the sugar dissolves to form a syrup (if it's too dry add a splash of water), then keep frying and stirring until your syrup starts to reduce and coats the pork. It's done when the sauce clings to the pork, almost like a sticky glaze. 

Turn out into a serving bowl and garnish with the spring onion tops. Serve immediately.


The last minute change of heart was meatball-related. The plan was Italian style, like this, but I just wasn't feeling it. I wanted something soupy and spicy, a lighter feeling way of using more or less the same ingredients.

The result: fragrant pork balls with noodles in broth. At least eighty percent the same meal (especially since I didn't have any actual noodles in the house so had to use linguine, but the Italians just copied off the Chinese so it's all the same really right?) but somehow completely different.

The meatball pan stickings lent a lovely deep brown colour to the stock, which in turn kept the noodles (linguine) all lovely and slippery and full of bite. The balls themselves were gently spiced and didn't dry out as they'd finished cooking in the broth. 

Fragrant pork balls with noodles in broth

Serves two

200-250g pork mince
small thumb of ginger
1 large clove garlic
1 heaped teaspoon sugar 
zest of half a lime (or a lemon if that's all you've got)
a good splash of fish sauce
a good squeeze of Sriracha (or other chilli sauce)
a tablespoon of finely chopped herbs (I used mint and basil, but coriander and Thai basil would probably have been better in place of regular basil)

Two blocks/strips of noodles (your choice, or use pasta if you're really desperate) 
400ml light chicken stock
more herbs and/or spring onions to garnish

Mix all of the meatball ingredients together in a bowl (that's everything except for the noodles, stock and extra herbs in case you were wondering), then put the mix in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up.

Remove the mix from the fridge and form into little meatballs, aim to make around twelve in total. Heat a little oil in a deep pan (deep enough to hold the stock) over a moderate heat, then add the meatballs. Leave them to colour a bit before turning. While the meatballs are cooking prepare your noodles (or pasta) as per the packet instructions.

Cook the balls for a few minutes on each side then pour in the stock, it should immediately turn a darker colour from the gooeyness at the bottom of the pot. Cook for a few minutes more to finish cooking the balls and heat the stock to a simmer then throw in the noodles. 

Stir to heat through the noodles then serve immediately with extra herbs as a garnish and any other condiments you fancy. Note: it's much easier to eat this with chopsticks and a spoon rather than a fork and a spoon!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Sandwich Quest [volume 2]

Sandwich Quest wasn't really supposed to be about mass produced motorway service station fodder. That wasn't the plan. The intention was to seek out and report upon the finest filled breads the North (and maybe the Midlands) has to offer. Well that's still the plan, but I quite enjoy whinging on about the rubbish stuff too, so here's a bit of both.

Rest assured I have some better sandwiches stored up for next time. I really do, honest.

Salmon, cucumber and watercress on oatmeal bread, Marks and Sparks, everywhere

I'm lucky enough to have begun my life on the open road (i.e. job that involves loads of travel) after the arrival of Marks and Spencer's Simply Food at motorway services. They are a lifesaver, in occasionally genuinely quite good but often crushingly mediocre form. Before they arrived it must have been nigh on impossible to avoid scurvy if you didn't remember to fetch a pack up, given that the non-M and S options consisted solely of the major fast food players and those utterly shite hot food counters.

That was a very roundabout way of saying that I eat M and S sandwiches far too often. I quite like this poached salmon one, the filling is decent enough, but two things grate. One; the bread is pappy rubbish, and two; they harp on about their exclusive to M & S Lochmuir salmon. Of course it's exclusive to M and S, they invented it. It's their own bloody trademark. It's like Mars showing off about their exclusive to Mars Mars bars. Twats.

Bread 4/10
Core filling 7/10
Secondary filling 2/5
Sauces/condiments 3/5
Value 2/5
Service 2/5
S-Factor 5/10

Total 25/50

Strange burger thing, Subway, everywhere

Ok, ok, I know I'm really scraping the barrel with this one. I admit it, sometimes I eat at Subway. I know it has a weird smell and all the meats will probably give you colon disease in later life, but surely there's some nutritional value in all that salad. It has to be a better garage option than a Ginster's pasty doesn't it?

I'd normally keep it simple with a turkey and ham, but this time I was lured into a special, the name escapes me but it was essentially an elongated burger. Imagine a microwaved Danepak beef grill on a salad roll. Yummy. Extra jalapenos were vital.

Bread 3/10
Core filling 2/10
Secondary filling 3/5
Sauces/condiments 3/5
Value 2/5
Service 3/5
S-Factor 3/10

Total 19/50

Tuna and rocket pesto on granary roll, Pickles and Potter, Leeds

Back on track with something a little higher in quality. I'm trying to find the best sandwich places in central Leeds and thus far it's proving tricky to find anywhere that's consistently first rate. I don't think Pickles and Potter is that place, sadly. 

Their tuna and pesto sandwich was just a but run of the mill for the £3.70 price tag. The bread was very good but other than that it barely stood out from a £2 tuna mayo.

Bread 7/10
Core filling 5/10
Secondary filling 2/5
Sauces/condiments 3/5
Value 2/5
Service 3/5
S-Factor 6/10

Total 28/50

Filet-o-Fish, McDonald's, everywhere

Behold this and believe me when I tell you it is actually food. Not a toy rendered in plastic for a child's play kitchen, but actual food. Shiny.

For some reason you only get half a cheese slice in one of these. Seems a bit cheap. There's not a great deal of fish in the filet either, and god knows what it actually is? Pollock? Cod? Coley? Vietnamese river fish? Not a clue. The bread needs burger grease to make it viable.

Bread 2/10
Core filling 4/10
Secondary filling 1/5
Sauces/condiments 2/5
Value 2/5
Service 3/5
S-Factor 5/10

Total 19/50

Friday, 17 May 2013

Cafe Madras London, Reading

Right, let's get this blog back on topic. What you northerners really want to read about is a South Indian restaurant in Reading, yes? Reading in Berkshire you say? That's the one.

Not interested you say? Oh well never mind. Should you ever have the good fortune to find yourself in Reading, and in need of sustenance, you could do a lot worse than a visit to Cafe Madras London. Which is nowhere near London, being in Reading. I can only assume they named it that to get further up google search listings or something.

Anyhow it's a basic South Indian canteen sort of place, in exactly the same mould of countless others dotted around the country. There are wipe clean menus and tables, stainless steel beakers and jugs, slightly grubby facilities, and the usual range of spicy delights: dosai, idli, kottu, vadai and some very good curries.

The plain dosa was on the limp and flabby side, a bit of a let down really, but the liveliness of the chutneys and a particularly good sambar (sour and earthy all at once) on the side meant I ploughed through the lot anyway.

Chicken chettinad was a blinder of a curry; hot pungent and peppery, the kind of thing I could mop up with rice or bread indefinitely, forgetting my full up mechanism. Which is what I did, with some excellent coconut rice and a greasy in a good way, multi-layered parotta (these remind me a little of how a croissant might end up if you fried one rather than baked one). Only dry chicken breast meat disappointed, but it was largely incidental to the dish anyway (veg or mutton would be better bets).

With a cup of salt lassi and a tip, the bill was still less than fifteen quid. Cheap, quick and in parts outstanding food. Next time you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill in Reading (happens all the time I know) you know where to go.


73 Whitley Street

Monday, 13 May 2013

Wellington Fish Bar, Matlock

I'm immensely chuffed to report that my new local chippy is really rather good. The odds weren't really stacked in its favour: it's not in Yorkshire, or by the seaside, I don't think they fry in dripping and they don't serve haddock. Given that a combination of at least two of those things equates to my dream chip shop, the Wellington had to come up with some otherwise impressive goods.

Which it did, with some style. There may be no haddock, but there's also no pre-cooked fish sat sweating under heat lamps. Every cod (or plaice) is fried to order. I watched as my medium cod was filleted, battered and dunked in the fryer while I waited. An extra five minutes or so to stand around, but very much worth it.

The fish, a hefty beast a good inch and more in girth, flaked beautifully under its extra thin casing. I ate every morsel of the batter, not something I do often as I tend to leave the soggy underside.

Chips were rather more-ish, a gargantuan 'couldn't possibly finish it portion' imperceptibly disappearing as I repeatedly just had one more. Chips and curry sauce: standard. Check.

It's safe to say I'll be going back. Probably too often for my own good. Medium cod, chips and peas costs about six quid. Small would satisfy most. Don't order large unless you're a giant or excessively greedy.


26 Wellington Street

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Coffee outside the core

Just remembered I have a blog. Once upon a time I used to update it several times a week, with [exciting and informative] [rambling and tedious] (*delete as applicable) reviews of all manner of drinking and dining establishments across the north.

That's gone slightly awry for two reasons; firstly I haven't been eating out much, and secondly I've just moved to Derbyshire, which in case you hadn't noticed isn't in the north. So my blog is now both inappropriately named and lacking in subject material, which isn't a great recipe for success.

The upshot is that I did consider retiring it, but only for about ten minutes. Who cares if it's increasingly off-topic, I like writing it. Onwards and upwards then (or at least sideways, hopefully), to the subject of coffee outside the larger cities.

I know I can get coffee that I really bloody love in Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and anywhere else you'd realistically term one of our major cities (London, Bristol, Glasgow etc). Beyond those? It seems to me to be more of a struggle. I can usually find somewhere good but not great.

Good is still a far better prospect than the chains though, whose general awfulness I was reminded of on my motorway travels this last week (boobie prize for utter shite goes to a Starbuck's flat white: burnt coffee, cheesy milk, wrong texture, almost three quid).

Here are two of the better places I've found. Both are good, neither are great. Suggestions welcome for great coffee away from the city?

Coffee Evolution, Huddersfield

A single shot cappuccino was a pleasingly small size and made with a dark, strong espresso blend. Bitter but not burnt. No flat whites on offer.

Coffee cake had properly buttery icing but was a bit dry. Good value at less than two quid for the coffee and around two quid for the cake.


9a Church Street

Peli Deli, Matlock

The sign above this place proclaims 'amazing coffee' which sadly isn't true. It's well-made, pleasant coffee but a couple of notches below amazing.

The flat white started with a good, velvety texture but reverted into latte territory before the too large cup was finished. Flavour-wise there's a hint of fruitiness, but it's too gentle and needs more oomph.

A mini Victoria sponge was a great little cake; moist sponge, fruit-packed jam and a generous wodge of buttercream. £2.40 for the coffee, £2 for the bun. Just realised I wrote about this place back in January, this time round it was better.


Crown Square

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Hanover Street Social, Liverpool

Liverpool gave me the runaround this time last week, or rather, I gave myself the runaround in Liverpool. I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to eat, so long as it was good.

A vague inkling that Asian and spicy might be the way to go led me to the Maharajah, but the enormous void of the restaurant with just two couples hiding away in one corner felt too dispiriting for a solo dining session. I walked in through the door and straight back out again.

Where next, I thought? How about that Japanese place that gets consistently good reviews? A bowl of noodles wouldn't go amiss. So I traipsed across town to Etsu, only to find the reverse situation.They were so busy they couldn't fit me in. At least the traipse across town was a fine one;- Liverpool is really growing on me so I need to spend more time there (and less time on Knowsley Industrial Estate, chance would be a fine thing).

By this stage I was getting weary, I'd been up since five thirty that morning and was craving sustenance, so I gave up on Asian food and ended up in the vicinity of Liverpool One. If all else failed there'd be Salt House or Lunya.

I chanced on Hanover Street Social and remembered reading that it was run by the people behind Salt House Tapas, which seemed like as good an endorsement as any for a quality operation.

Sadly it didn't really turn out that way. It wasn't so much bad, as just a bit slack. I suspect this is a quality operation, but it was as if the B team were on duty for the Tuesday night lull and either couldn't really be bothered or weren't quite up to it.

The good bit first: tiger prawns and Colchester oysters can be had for just £1.25 or £1.50 each (a bit less for the half or dozen), so I had a couple of each. The oysters were spot on; bright, saline and creamy. Properly shucked too so as not to lose the juices. The prawns were also sweet and fresh if a touch overcooked, but went down a treat with very well made aioli and house ketchup.

The cheeseburger, offered cooked medium or well, was where it all went wrong. The burger itself had been overcooked into pointlessness, several stages past medium. It was dry, mealy and not really worth the effort. Why not send it back, you might ask. Well, sometimes I just can't be bothered with the hassle. I'm sure they'd have replaced it with something better without question, but sometimes when you've had a long day the extra ten minutes of time and effort doesn't seem worth it. Get the calories, cut your losses and leave.

Everything served with the burger was what brought to mind the description 'a bit slack'. All of it was perfectly edible but didn't inspire much enthusiasm. Limp fries, tasteless onion rings, catering pack relish and a big pile of undressed rocket. Ho hum.

As I've said I made no complaint, I ate most of the burger to fill myself up before bedtime, not that anyone actually went so far as asking me if everything was ok. I didn't really mind, it saved me the bother of replying 'fine thanks'. Other than that service was perfectly amenable.

Prices are reasonable for this sort of thing, or at least would be if the thing in question were done well. I paid just over twenty quid for the two courses and a glass of wine. I'm sure there's a quality operation lurking here somewhere, and perhaps on another day I'd have found everything wonderful, but a burger meal that was wrong in pretty much every way suggests something's not quite right.


16-20 Hanover Street
L1 4AA

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...