Thursday, 27 June 2013

Devonshire Arms, Baslow, Derbyshire

I've been pretty underwhelmed with the dining options since moving to a small town in Derbyshire. This wasn't entirely unexpected, the more rural areas of the country just can't match the offer of the cities at the budget end of the market, the end where my eating out firmly rests at the moment. 

The big northern city combo of bargain Asian restaurants and a highly competitive casual drinking and dining market mean that it's easy to eat well for under twenty quid, all in, including a drink or two. Down here there are plenty of good options in the high end pub category, but when the average main course is upwards of fifteen quid alone, you're no longer in the cheap and cheerful range.

It would be daft, of course, to criticise the Peak District for not being Sheffield or Manchester. I'm not expecting to get Vietnamese food, but what has so far been disappointing is the pub food. There are loads of non-chain pubs in the vicinity, but sadly a lot of them aren't really serving anything better than a chain, and in some cases are dishing up something far worse. Rule of thumb: if the only chicken you have is in the freezer, and it's been there for god knows how long and has gone all grey and fibrous looking, then maybe take it off the menu. Just a suggestion.

So Sunday lunch at the Devonshire Arms in Baslow came as something of a surprise. Very nice food, served by some nice people who actually seemed to give a shit. Well done them.

The Sunday roast wasn't perfect, because they never are in pubs, but it was a good effort. Thick slices of pink beef rump, good gravy, a Yorkshire pudding that was fresh and pliable rather than ancient and fractured, and accurately cooked veggies. Only the roasts were a bit of a let down, being almost devoid of roasty brown goodness.

Pudding actually was perfect, at least it was as far as I'm concerned. Lemon posset, lemon sorbet and ginger biscuits. I thought the double lemon approach might have been citrus overkill, but it wasn't, it was divine, rich and creamy offset wonderfully by sweet and sharp. And anything can be improved by the addition of ginger biscuits.

Including service we paid exactly twenty quid each for two courses and a drink or two, great value for the quality and locale. I liked it here, but I'll still have to dock them half a point for the lacklustre roast potatoes.


Nether End
DE45 1SR

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Bold Street Coffee, Liverpool

Of all the coffee shops in northern cities I've been working my way around, Bold Street Coffee might just be the best yet.

The flat white was faultless. Beautifully crafted, perfectly textured, the espresso blend packing a punch but with a subtle fruitiness and hints of smoke too. A joy to drink.

A Monterey Jack, cheddar and onion toastie was also on the money. Generously proportioned and oozing loads of molten cheesy goodness, the sweet, sauteed onions were a nice touch, improving on a classic combination by avoiding the overpowering raw onion reek. The only thing I'd change would be to swap out the Monterey Jack for something with a bit more character, it melts well but doesn't taste of much.

£2.60 for the coffee, a little bit more expensive than the other independents I like, but still passes the 'cheaper than a shit version from a chain test' easily, and £2.95 for the huge sandwich seemed like a bargain. Also worth pointing out that the service was lovely, no hipster aloofness here.

Highly recommended. I'll be returning.


89 Bold Street
L1 4HF

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Pinche Pinche, Chapel Allerton, Leeds

Pinche Pinche is probably your best bet for Mexican food in Leeds. I didn't love everything we ate but the good stuff was really very good, and it was all a significant cut above your average Tex-Mex chain fodder. If it was one of my local restaurants I could definitely see myself stopping in from time to time for a few tacos and a beer.

We started with an impressive mountain of guacamole and some pork nachos. Both of these went down a treat, the fresh, bright guacamole being particularly fine, a world away from the luminous processed green paste versions. I want to describe it as zingy, but I hate that word.

Of the good stuff the meaty things were the highlight. The aforementioned nachos were piled with shards of tasty pork (tasty - another rubbish word. Sorry.) and I could have eaten a dozen of the excellent lamb or pork tacos.

The lamb was slow braised to moist shreds with a gentle, fruity chilli heat, the pork the opposite; small pieces in a garlicky adobo marinade, quickly flash-fried until just done. The result was beautifully tender meat, not easy to do with lean cuts of pork.

I was less enamoured with the flautas from the specials board. I can't remember exactly but I'm sure they were supposed to involve pork scratchings, but just seemed like slightly greasy deep-fried guacamole filled tubes. Others liked them though so what do I know.

Getting the negatives out of the way all at once the fish tacos were also a bit dull. Tasteless fish on a bland and not at all spicy as advertised coleslaw.

Finishing off on a positive note a portion of fries were properly fried, and the refried beans were great. All comforting and savoury and mushy in a very satisfying way.

Service was friendly. Very friendly. Exceedingly happy verging on scary. I shan't complain though, that's just my British cynicism at play, which makes me automatically consider American style service to be false, deranged or both. The fact is everyone was lovely, and they brought us the food we ordered in a reasonable amount of time, and cleared up after us. What more do you want?

We paid £20 each for a good spread of food and a couple of drinks apiece. A good quality local restaurant that's well worth a visit. You probably need to book at weekends as it's small and clearly very popular.


116a Harrogate Road
Chapel Allerton

Friday, 14 June 2013

This and That, Manchester

I had to trawl through the archives to work out whether I'd ever written a review of This and That before. It turns out that I haven't, which is something of an oversight.

If you don't know already it's perhaps Manchester's most renowned curry caff. I'm not really sure why it's fame exceeds that of the others, as the formula is identical whichever one you choose. Rice and any three curries, in a room you might politely call basic, for not very much money.

Here we have chick peas, spinach and potato, and lamb and okra. The curries aren't the most vibrant or exciting you'll ever taste, but they are all at least distinct from one another, and more than satisfying when perked up a bit with the self service condiment selection. This and That is one of the best on this front. As well as coriander and chillies there are yoghurt and mint sauces to be had.

£4.80 with a decent, freshly cooked chapatti. They even have a website, on which they make the dubious claim that their rice and three is unique. It isn't, but it's still worth having.


3 Soap Street
M4 1EW 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


It was time to put my locally windmilled flour to the test with a batch of pizza dough, the first I've made in ages. I was impressed, it made a good strong dough with plenty of elasticity and a crust with a noticeably more pronounced bready flavour than you get with a mainstream commercial flour.


The tricky thing with home made pizza is how best to bake it. I've had the most success with a pizza stone heated in an oven on the highest setting for a good half hour, but I've mislaid the bloody thing so had to make do with a thick baking sheet.

English summer pizza bianco - Jersey Royals, asparagus, Lincolnshire Poacher

The results weren't half bad, a few nice bubbles in the crusts and even a hint of charring in parts. Crunchy edges but a little bit soft and chewy inside. Perfect pizza is pretty much impossible with a domestic oven, but these were still far better than a bought in supermarket effort.

Spicy pork (leftover meatball mix), peppers, chillies

Photos of my topping choices are scattered through this post. I usually keep it simple with pizza but don't mind getting slightly experimental on occasion, as long as I don't break the three golden rules:

1. Don't overdo it.There is such thing as too much cheese. Soggy pizza is not a good thing.
2. Don't go Asian. Duck and hoi sin sauce is not a pizza topping.
3. No pineapple.

This is a fairly standard pizza dough recipe, essentially basic white bread plus a little olive oil and sugar.

For the dough
500g strong white bread flour
1 x 7g sachet of fast action yeast
1 scant teaspoon salt
2 level tablespoons olive oil
1 dessertspoon sugar
a pint of lukewarm water

Thyme butter flatbread

What to do
Mix the yeast, olive oil and sugar in a jug with the water and leave it for a few minutes. Sieve the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour the wet stuff into the flour well then steadily mix it all together with a fork or spoon to form a dough. You might need more water or more flour depending on whether it's too wet or too dry.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface then knead it for at least ten minutes. Put the dough into a bowl, cover it with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave somewhere warm for at least an hour. After an hour it should have doubled in size.

Pull off chunks of dough and roll or stretch out into thin pizza-ish shapes, about 2 or 3 millimetres thick. Top with whatever tickles your fancy and bake in your super-hot oven. They were taking around 7 minutes in mine.

This much dough should make around 5-7 pizzas depending on how big they are. It will keep in the fridge for a day or two if you don't use it all at once.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Northern Food on tour: Munchin' in München

Firstly an apology: I know the title of this post is atrocious, but I couldn't resist it. Sorry.

Munich, in common with every other German city I've had the pleasure of visiting, is great. Sausages, beer, attractive parks and squares, a super-efficient transport system with a kiosk selling Jägermeister in every station, friendly locals, and generally pleasant weather. What more could you want from a weekend break?

I was lying about one of the above. The weather. Rarely have I seen so much rain. It chucked it down almost constantly from our arrival on Thursday afternoon to our departure on Sunday night. I'm not talking drizzle here, but genuine soaked through in minutes pissing rain. So a stag weekend of loafing around in biergarten swiftly became a stag weekend loafing around in bierhallen. Not a great deal of difference really, and the news pictures of major flooding in cities less than an hour away made us realise that the persistent damp was little more than a minor inconvenience to our weekend of boozing.

This was my fifth visit to Germany, and let's just say it wasn't the first to have a rather beery focus. As a consequence I haven't got the slightest clue about more refined dining in the country, but I can tell you a thing or two about cheap eats, booze and fast food. Before I waffle on about Munich for a bit, here are my top five tips for cheap eats in Germany:

1) Eat in pubs (or beer gardens, halls or cellars). Entirely stereotypical I know, but you can't beat a good sausage and sauerkraut-fest. The quality is generally high and the prices low.

2) Go Turkish. There are at least 2.5 million people of Turkish origin in Germany, meaning that Turkish is by far the most prevalent non-native cuisine. Turkish food is everywhere, and usually good.

3) If you've risen too late our your lodgings don't provide one, look out for bars or cafes specialising in breakfast. Many of them serve set breakfasts of some generosity. If you go for the works you could be looking at juice, coffee and a colossal basket full of ham, salami, cheeses, bread rolls, pastries, jam, fruit, honey, yoghurt, smoked salmon, rye bread and whatever the hell else they can shoehorn in there.

4) Drink beer on the go. There's no stigma attached to drinking beer anywhere and everywhere in Germany. On the tube, in the streets, at the swimming baths (I kid ye not). May as well get a round in then. Just remember there's probably no stigma attached to it as people tend to behave themselves. High spirits and good cheer are fine. Fighting and puking are not.

5) Of other foreign foodstuffs commonly found, south-east Asian is worth a look (I've had decent Thai and Vietnamese) as is African (Ethiopian seems quite popular). As for Indian, if my sole experience is anything to go by, don't do it. Wait until you get home.

So what of Munich? It generally holds true to the five tips above, though there are clearly some local differences. Beer and sausages are even more popular here than in northern Germany.

The whole Bavarian oompah bands, litres of beer and lederhosen thing isn't just tourist schtick, the locals really seem to love this stuff too. On the weekend that Bayern sealed the treble the city's traditional boozers were heaving, so we kicked things off in true style with bratwurst, sauerkraut (around 7 euros) and a few litres of finest. 

As an aside, don't expect Munich to be full of currywurst, that's more of a Berlin thing, and is certainly more popular in other northern cities than down south. This very closed stall in the Olympic park was the only evidence I saw of the infamous dish.

With your sausages, you'll be needing beer, served here by the half or full litre (6-8 euros for the full, known as ein mass). A litre seems like far too much at first, but you soon get into the swing of things. These were snapped in the Hofbrauhaus, tourist central for all things Bavarian, and home to probably my least favourite of the local beers we tried. My vote goes to Augustiner, whose classic pale lager (Helles) is a thing of crisp, clean beauty.

Munich sells itself as the beer capital of the world (amongst other claimants including Prague and Huddersfield), which may be fair if we're talking in terms of volumes of the stuff drunk, but is rubbish if you're into variety and innovation. There are six breweries in the city, all of whom have been brewing the same four beers (in accordance with the purity laws, the Reinheitsgebot) for the last thousand years, and who between them control the entire drinking market in the city. 

I may have some of the detail wrong there, but you get the gist of it. The ethos is very much 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', so don't come here expecting to drink third pints of super-hopped black IPA. Order up a litre of top quality lager and go with the flow. 

Beer snacks of a non-sausage variety are also available; I'd go for a platter of meats, cheeses and a few giant dough pretzels (around 9 euros a platter, 90 cents a pretzel). If you're lucky the meat platter will include something I can only describe as black pudding haslet. The pretzels are possibly the saltiest thing you'll ever eat, but don't worry you'll have a litre of beer at hand to refresh the palate.

On Friday night we dined at the also touristy but surprisingly good Ratskeller, a huge warren of a place under the Town Hall. This being the full blown traditional German meal of the trip, it had to be Schweinshaxe, or pork knuckle, an enormous great hunk of slow roasted pig, replete with tender meat and crackling (around 18 euros). 

Meat and gravy were splendid, separately served kraut cut the fat a little, but the potato dumplings were the most pointless food stuff ever. Why you'd take some nice mash-able potatoes and work them into something more suited to a round of golf I have no idea.

Fast food time! The döner kebabs in Germany are really quite nice. Honest! Usually served on thicker Turkish bread rather than pitta, and with actual shreds of meat rather than foot long strands of processed elephant leg, you could almost eat one sober. Almost. 3 or 4 euros a pop in Munich.

A pizza and pasta place fifty yards from our hotel proved to be a lifesaver, being near enough to obtain sustenance without getting wet again if you legged it. The quality was genuinely high for the ridiculously low prices. This mushroom stuffed calzone, with a proper chew and char to the dough, cost a mere 3 euros.

Sunday afternoon, almost time for home and the excess is starting to bite. Is there a cuisine better suited to soothing sore heads than Vietnamese? Salty broths, herbs, chilli heat; it's all pure tonic. This little place down the road from the Hauptbahnhof did us proud. Pots of jasmine tea all round.

Vietnamese spring rolls and a couple of salads to start. This shrimp salad was the pick of the bunch, bright and balanced.

Noodle soups to follow. Bun bo was absolutely unbeatable hangover fodder. Savoury broth with some depth, springy noodles, herbal notes. A platter of herbs wouldn't have gone amiss, but at less than 15 euros each for tea, noodles and a bunch of shared starters this was great.

That was Munich, a successful send off for Mr Farrar who weds in July. In summary, the historic beer places are well worth a visit. Go to the Hofbrauhaus once for the experience then head elsewhere. I liked the Augustiner places best. The pubs close early, after which time it's clubs and bars (mostly quite dodgy sports bars on the face of it). The area around Hauptbahnhof (central station) is where most of the cheap hotels are, and is where you'll find good fast food and ethnic eats. I've heard that the parks, squares and beer gardens are delightful, but can't verify this as it never stopped raining. If you suffer the same fate and all else fails you can always go drink Jägermeister on the tube. Prost!

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