Sunday, 25 August 2013

A summer round-up

I've been too lazy/busy (delete as appropriate) over this summer to blog about everything liked I used to. This is probably a good thing in many respects, fewer boring posts about nothing much of interest being the outcome, although it does mean that I've tended to focus only on the positive, lacking the enthusiasm to write about the mediocre or downright bad experiences.

To redress the balance a bit, here's a round up of some recent eating and drinking. Some of it good, most of it not very. A theme if there is one: why put something on the menu if you don't know what it is or can't be bothered making it properly.

Stay tuned for the next thrilling instalment, in which I dine at Noma, go on a pintxo crawl around the backstreets of assorted small Basque towns, cook barbecue in Kentucky, hang out in Dalston's latest dens of vice/burgers, and buy a sausage roll from Gregg's in Stockport on the way home. Only some of this is true.

Baked, Derby

A bakery with café in Derby city centre. The bread is certainly worth another look....

..but the coffee was just ok. The flat white wasn't a flat white.

Soup, half a sandwich and slaw for about six quid. Half a sandwich isn't an unreasonable idea, but it seems a bit stingy to stick to it rigidly when it's cut from a very small loaf. a lovely nutty wholemeal loaf by the way, but nothing to write home about otherwise.


The Swan, West Malling, Kent

Hi friends from work, this one's for you! The Swan was the dinner venue for our team meeting at the end of June. As with the previous dinner back in April we chose from the early bird set menu, but unlike on that occasion it was evident throughout that we'd gone for the budget option.

An asparagus starter was notable only for having hardly any asparagus in it. Three spears or thereabouts. Of the mains neither cooked to grey burgers nor a dry pork dish impressed much.

And Eton Mess for pudding was fine but had blueberries in it. Why put the only non-native berry in a dish that's supposed to show off the best of the English summer?

On a more positive note they have Curious Brew lager on draft, which is a wonderful beer. Beautifully clean, crisp and balanced. A glance at the website suggests the people in charge of the Swan and the people brewing Curious are one and the same; their core business being the Chapel Down Winery that arguably produces Britain's finest wines.

Maybe we were just unlucky at the Swan, the undoubted booze pedigree of the business might suggest they know a thing or two about food as well.


Smythson's Deli, Nottingham

A load of old rubbish.

The espresso in the coffee was good, potent yet smooth. Shame the milk was a mess. And it wasn't a flat white either (it was supposed to be, I'm not laying into a latte for not being a flat white).

A poor excuse for a sandwich. One word sums it up: meagre. I can't be arsed elaborating.


Queen's Park Gelateria and Café, Chesterfield

This place is run by Frederick's, the dominant force in the ice cream world around these parts. Their vans are all over the place, which is no bad thing as their ice cream is good stuff.

They run the park caff in Chesterfield, which is also no bad thing. Instead of the tea and cakes set up you might expect in a park it's more of a pizza and ice cream and beer arrangement.

Pizza and ice cream and beer in the park? Don't mind if I do. A shared ham, pepperoni and mushroom (good chewy crust, surprisingly good pepperoni) and a double scoop pistachio sugar cone makes a very fine lunch. Pizzas 6-7 quid, ice creams 2-3.


Harvest Moon Espresso Bar, Chester

A coffee that meets its description! About bloody time.

The flat white here was properly made and properly proportioned, so I'll excuse them serving it in a glass (maybe they've been to Manchester, they do that there).

I'm not really sure what to say about the food though. I can't work out what they were thinking. A not really a Reuben sandwich was still quite nice in spite of not really being a Reuben. The bread was top notch and it was as stacked as you could reasonably expect for the modest price tag.

Why smearing the inside of very good bread with cheap sunflower spread seemed like a good plan is beyond me, and why serving it with stale tortilla chips and a completely undressed salad of lollo rosso, bits of cucumber and carrot and some damp cous cous seemed like a good plan is even further beyond me.


Cool River Cafe, Matlock

A recent opening in Matlock, could this be the local coffee shop of my dreams?

In a word, no. A moist, walnut-packed wodge of carrot cake with a pleasingly cheesy icing was spot on, but the coffee was crap, the advertised flat white turning out to be an oversized bucket of weak latte. 

They're still finding their feet so I'll give this one another try. The savouries looked on a par with the cakes, but the coffee needs some serious work.

6/10 (8 for the cake, 4 for the coffee)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Six of the best salads of summer

It's petered out somewhat over the last fortnight, but at least we can't moan that there's been no summer at all this year. July was a corker, and although August has been cooler and damper so far it's hardly been a monsoon style washout like some of those in recent years, and for that we should be thankful.

The return of prolonged warmth for the first time in a while has given me a new found interest in all things salad-y. If it's cold (or possibly warm, but definitely not hot) and you can mix it up and bung it on a plate with the minimum of fuss, that's the dish for me.

Easy, colourful, refreshing, no hot ovens necessary, only grilled meat needed by way of accompaniment, these are my six favourite salads of the summer.

Pickled carrots and beets, mozzarella. A Nigel Slater idea this, and a very good one. Give strips of root veg a light pickling in lemon juice and wine vinegar, then serve with mozzarella and dress with olive oil and the pickling juices. Quite subtle this, mild and tangy with a great contrast in textures.

Peas, cucumber, feta, mint, spring onion. Lovely mix of gently sweet and sharp in this one. Any fresh, lactic cheese would do the job. Fresh peas are essential, don't use frozen.

Bread Salad. Read about it here. Still my favourite discovery of the summer.

Watermelon, feta and mint. Make sure you chill the melon before making it and you'll end up with the sweetest, juiciest salad imaginable. Save this for a genuinely hot day.

Peaches and Parma ham. Discounting the black pepper and olive oil this only has two ingredients so I'm not sure it really counts as a salad. Is it just a meal? An assemblage? Who cares when it tastes this good. The contrasts here are the thing, so make sure your fruit is chilled and your meat isn't. Cold, sweet peach flesh and warm, salty pig flesh is a match made in heaven.

Grilled onions and pomegranate. More of a relish than a full blown salad, but an excellent accompaniment to any sort of barbecued lamb. Toss a thinly sliced red onion in a teaspoon of sugar and the same of sunflower oil, then sweat down under a hot grill until you get some lovely caramelised bits. Throw in the pips and any juices from half a pomegranate. Sweet, sharp and slightly bitter, it cuts through fatty meat beautifully.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Caudwell's Mill Café, Rowsley, Derbyshire

What a pleasant surprise to eat a meal, at a place chanced upon with no prior knowledge, where they've actually made an effort.

I'll spare you the lengthy rant about how eating in this country, brilliant though it certainly can be, is still rubbish if you don't plan ahead, about how you could travel the length and breadth of the country dining in wherever was obvious and looked nice, and not eat a single thing worth the money or calories. It's true though.

The particular speciality in this well-touristed part of the world is the 'doing just enough to get away with it café or tea room'. Your choice of mediocre panini served with a small pile of limp leaves? Six quid, thanks. 

So anyway, it's a refreshing change to end up somewhere like the café at Caudwell's Mill (the mill itself is worth a visit if like me, you like old industrial stuff with levers and pulleys and whatnot) where serving food that's worth bothering with is obviously of importance as well as keeping the bottom line ticking over.

They serve vegetarian food, which I only actually noticed after standing in the queue staring at the menu for at least five minutes. For me, it's always an indicator of appetising veggie food when the lack of meat isn't glaringly and instantly obvious.

As well as the usual sandwiches and jackets, there are daily specials served with salads. Homity pie was a cheesy, garlicky, comforting pile of goodness on a nutty wholemeal pastry base. In winter I could eat bowlfuls of this (probably swimming in a whole tin of beans), but it worked well as a summer dish too with all the associated greenery.

The salads were great; simple stuff done well. Amongst them a nice crunchy coleslaw; apple and beetroot; something vinegary with chickpeas; dressed leaves; and sweet carrot and corn given interest with seeds of some sort.

There are home made cakes galore for afters, the chocolate and coffee looked particularly good. We shared a slice of lemon which wasn't the best choice, being a bit overdone around the edges.

Service was quick and friendly, and you can sit by the window with a lovely view of the river that feeds the mill, then the Derbyshire countryside beyond. Meals are eight quid and a far better proposition than your aforementioned six pound panino, cakes £2-3 and a pot of tea a very reasonable £1.50. Worth a visit.


Caudwell's Mill

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Pieminister, Manchester

What's the big deal with Pieminister? Am I alone in failing to see the attraction? As far as I can tell they seem to garner almost universal acclaim for what are some pretty average pies and some pretty good marketing.

I've eaten them at festivals before and not been impressed, but when I spotted the branch that's opened in Manchester I'd thought I'd give them another try.

Sadly my opinion hasn't changed. The moo pie (beef, pepper and ale) was just alright. The pastry, curiously limp and tasteless, seemed to have been made with durability in mind rather than flavour or texture. Anyone ever had an Aussie garage pie? A bit like that.

The filling was better, but still unremarkable. On the plus side there were large pieces of beef bound in a dark, marmitey gravy but on the down side there were only three of them and they were a bit chewy. Mushy peas were proper mushy peas but there weren't enough of them. The gravy was nice enough.

Still don't get it. You can easily find better in any number of pubs, bakeries and butchers. Six quid (I think, unless it was seven?) for pie, peas and gravy.


53 Church Street
M4 1PD

Sandwich Quest {Volume 3}

Some sandwiches I've eaten recently.

Hot Roast beef cob, Hambridges, Matlock

A traditional butcher's shop effort. Thinly sliced beef, overcooked to dessication then redeemed with a generous slop of dark, lustrous gravy. Satisfying and messy. Sturdier bread would be better, reducing the mess and turning less rapidly to mush. I'd have another though. £2.60.

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

Total 30/50

Doner sandwich, Munich

German doner kebabs are ace. Even the cheapo ones are a far better proposition than their British counterparts. Better salad, better bread and better meat. We win on the chilli sauce front though, spice fiends that we are. About 3 euros. Maybe 4. Can't really remember.

Bread 7/10
Core filling 7/10
Secondary filling 3/5
Sauces/condiments 3/5
Value 4/5
Service 4/5
S-Factor 8/10

Total 36/50

Toasted cheese, Bold Street Coffee, Liverpool

An expertly crafted sandwich, I wrote about it here.

Bread 8/10
Core filling 6/10
Secondary filling 4/5
Sauces/condiments 3/5
Value 4/5
Service 4/5
S-Factor 8/10

Total 37/50

Roast ham and pea hummous, Smythson's Deli, Nottingham

Rubbish. There's nothing worse than somewhere that gets your hopes up then doesn't deliver. A ridiculously meagre effort for around four quid. Roast ham and pea hummous sounds good on paper, and the ingredients might have even been good,  but it's difficult to tell when they're present in such stingy quantities you can barely taste them.

And look at the accompanying crisps and salad. Limp and miniscule, a complete waste of time. If you're in the area there's a Subway next door.

Bread 6/10
Core filling 3/10
Secondary filling 2/5
Sauces/condiments 1/5
Value 1/5
Service 3/5
S-Factor 3/10

Total 19/50

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