Snow and Burgers

1/4 pound burger  made with Lye Cross Farm beef, with local mature Cheddar cheese and red onion marmalade (from Rose Farm in Wedmore, served in a fresh toasted bun baked by Pullins family bakery in Yatton. Accompanied by a half pint enamel mug of rock salt seasoned fries and slaw, made from vegetables from Chew Valley Farm.

Down in the Mendips (near to Churchill) is the Mendip Snowsport Centre. Here you can ski and snowboard. For the younger ones they can go tobogganing, and as the centre runs tobogganing parties, I sometimes find myself in the Alpine Lounge with an hour to kill. I usually take advantage of their free wifi with a coffee and catch up with stuff. Recently I was there for a late afternoon, so decided to peruse the menu and have something to eat. It’s quite a limited menu, burgers, paninis, and breakfast items. The menu uses a range of local produce, sourced from Mendip farms, Somerset suppliers and local breweries, all of which is clearly signposted on the menu.

I chose the 1/4 pound burger made with Lye Cross Farm beef, with local mature Cheddar cheese and red onion marmalade (from Rose Farm in Wedmore, served in a fresh toasted bun baked by Pullins family bakery in Yatton. Accompanied by a half pint enamel mug of rock salt seasoned fries and slaw, made from vegetables from Chew Valley Farm. I also ordered some extra onion rings.

It arrived on a wooden board, complete with a mug of chips! For those who campaign for real plates with food, they would be very disappointed with the presentation. Personally, though I prefer plates, I don’t mind it that much when they are “missing”.

The burger was nicely cooked, very fresh and full of flavour. The cheese and red onion marmalade added to the easting experience. The chips were nice and hot, crispy on the outside with a soft fluffy middle and tasting of potato. The roll was a slight disappointment, not quite the brioche style posh rolls you often get with your up market burgers, and neither a plastic white roll you would get from a burger van. The slaw was nice and fresh and very crunchy. It was nice to have a bottle of Butcombe Ale with the burger too.

Overall this was a nice burger with some tasty accompaniments. At £7.50 it is not a lot more than you would pay at Burger King on the motorway services (I believe) but this burger was much better value for money and certainly much tastier, as well as having a fair idea of what it was made from. You don’t need to ski or snowboard to go to the Alpine Lounge and with free wifi, it’s quite a nice place to stop for lunch or for a snack.

Dinner, wasn’t that good…

Despite a reputation, I don’t spend that much time travelling and staying away from home. However the other day I found myself in the Holiday Inn Express in Burnley. I hadn’t done my homework so I wasn’t sure what was available in the local area and it was quite late (due to big problems on the M6) as a result I decided that the “easy” solution would be to eat in the hotel. When I saw the menu my initial thought was to go and find somewhere else… however it was late so I took the plunge.

It was very apparent that most of the menu items would be prepared in the microwave, so I went with the special, which was a double BBQ burger with salad and chips.

a double BBQ burger with salad and chips

Please note that the menu said BBQ and not barbecue or barbeque. What it consisted of was two meat patties in a burger roll with onion rings and a BBQ sauce. It was served with some lettuce (no way could this be described as a salad) and chips. It was priced at £9.99 which was cheaper than many of the main menu options. When I looked at the menu, it was a combination of the choice and the price which made me think about going somewhere else.

The chips were typical mass catering chips, pre-cooked slightly and cooked to order. They were crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. There is a huge difference between the freshly cooked chips you get in a fish and chip shop and those that are cooked in places like pubs and hotels. The main difference is that with the chips I got that they are partly pre-cooked before been frozen. So when they cook them they fry much quicker than if they cooked them from freshly cut potatoes. I am aware that some places use these chips, cook them, and then reheat them in the fryer when the order comes in. As a result they are fried three times, which increases the fat content as well as making them more crunchy and less fluffy. It may be just me, but when I have a burger I prefer having smaller fries over chunky chips.

The less said about the lettuce, probably the better.

The burger was a real disappointment, I wasn’t convinced the burgers had even been grilled, they looked and tasted like they had been microwaved. The BBQ sauce was sticky and over sweetened.

Overall the meal was a real disappointment, but I wasn’t expecting anything special. The one thing it will make me do is do more research and find places in advance, so I don’t have to rely on this kind of place in the future.

Oxfordian French

I was recently invited for a meal out in, of all places, Oxford. The choice was Pierre Victoire, an independent family run French style restaurant. This is no way a regular haunt so was interested to see what the food was going to be like. What surprised me the most was how crowded the place was for a Wednesday evening. True there were a couple of big groups in, but it appeared to me that every table was taken. I don’t think I was the only one that was surprised, I got the feeling the staff were surprised too. They took our orders and then forty minutes later took them again as the original order had gone “missing”. Later on the desert choices went missing too! In the end we were in the restaurant for four hours, in reality I think it could have been much shorter. I did note though that other people weren’t getting forgotten as we were.

I really liked the atmosphere and the design of the place, it felt rustic French to me, no pretentions, this was going to be good solid French cooking, no messing. There were no fancy tablecloths for example. I don’t go to France much these days (okay the last time was nearly twenty years ago) but my memories of the restaurants I use to eat at, were family run affairs with great food. They weren’t chains with system cooking, these places cooked their food from fresh and used good local ingredients.

The house wine was a rough and ready red wine that wasn’t unpleasant, but did lack finesse, however that didn’t really matter as this was rustic restaurant and the wine suited this environment just fine.

The menu wasn’t too short, but also wasn’t excessively long either. I always worry about huge menus, how on earth do they manage to keep the ingredients fresh for such a range of choices. If you have a huge kitchen with lots of chefs and lots of covers then fine, I understand, but a small place with not too many covers you sometimes think how? Well actually I know how, the places use tins and jars. I remember going to an Italian restaurant in London and they had one of these huge menus, I distinctly recall the tomato sauce I had on my pasta was from a jar, it certainly wasn’t fresh. So looking over the menu at Pierre Victoire I wasn’t disappointed with the number of choices I was inspired and looking forward to ordering and eating.

For my starter my immediate reaction was to go with the pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips. Upon reflection I did quite like the idea of the Moules or the Crab Salad. However in the end I went with my first choice of the pigeon.

pigeon breast, roasted pink and served with sweet potato, a red wine jus and parsnip chips

This was beautifully cooked, pink, tender and lots of flavour. The red win jus was just right and had the potential to be salty, but was seasoned perfectly. I did enjoy the parsnip chips and the sweet potato, but did think that there was slightly too much of the sweet potato. As a result for a starter it was quite a substantial dish. Having said that, it was beautifully cooked and I really enjoyed it.

For my main course I was torn between a range of dishes. I did like the sound of the chicken, Suprême de Volaille, a chicken breast roasted with a baby spinach & wild mushroom farce and served with gratin dauphinoise and a red wine reduction. However I always seem to be cooking chicken at home, so really wanted something other than chicken (but it did sound nice).

The steak and frites (chips) would have been the “boring” choice, so that was another item on the menu eliminated.

I really did quite like the idea of the roasted duck magret and confi’d duck leg served on a leek and potato rosti with a blackberry and ginger sauce, but as I had had the pigeon for a starter,I felt it would have been too similar a dish.

In the end I went with Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème.

Moules~Frites, the fresh Cornish mussels served marinières à la crème

The mussels were lovely and fresh, there was a good sized portion and they were delicious. Slight criticism was that the diced onion in the sauce was undercooked, but apart from that it was a dish full of flavour and very satisfying. I also really enjoyed the pommes frites that were the right size and texture.

I did like that the restaurant also served bread and unsalted President butter along with the meal, perfect as an appetiser and to mop up juices and sauce.

Desert for me was a no brainer, it was going to the cheese. Well so I thought, I did for a second or two consider the hazelnut desert however the thought of plate of cheese won out. Someone else did order the hazelnut dish and I didn’t think that much of it. I was expecting more of a pave, a slab of sweet terrine (or pate), but what they had was very different.

The cheese and accompaniments arrived on a wooden chopping board. Alongside the three portions of cheese consisting of Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan, was bread, biscuits, celery, grapes and chutney.

Saint Albray, Roquefort and Camembert Artisan

Didn’t eat the celery, don’t like celery, never liked it. Cheese was good, even the strong Roquefort was nice with the chutney.

Overall a delicious meal and some great company too. I finished my meal off with a single espresso which was perfect.

We chose from the “Party Menu” which was £21 for three courses.

Egg and Chips with a nice mug of tea

Egg and Chips with a nice mug of tea

Food and class. Great article from the BBC Magazine on Egg and Chips with a nice mug of tea!

For a lower-middle class boy from Liverpool, a plate of egg and chips at five o’clock was not the done thing.

Read more.

Being middle class I would never have tea at 5pm, more likely  we would have “supper” at 7pm. For me tea was a birthday tea with cakes, biscuits, crisps and sausages on cocktail sticks. I remember being very surprised when a working class friend invited me home for tea and we didn’t have a birthday tea, but had supper!

Photo source.

Resting on your laurels…

Aldeburgh Fish and Chips

If you read a comment like:

I still can’t visit the place without going to The Aldeburgh Fish and Chip shop. Best chippy in East Anglia, I reckon…

Then in my opinion having eaten recently fish and chips from the Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop, I hate to think how awful fish and chips is in the rest of East Anglia!

Now let me put this post in context. Lots of people rave about the fish and chips from the Aldeburgh Fish and Chip Shop.

The Observer named it their number one fish and chip shop.

Scene of the longest queues since the petrol crisis, this is rightly regarded as one of the UK’s premier chippies. Eulogised by the likes the of Rick Stein and OFM’s own Nigel Slater, its popularity is such that, come the summer, this small Suffolk fishing town resembles Rourke’s Drift, as thousands of salivating punters appear on the horizon and stampede their way to its door. But with cod and chips from just £2, and the not inconsiderable benefit of having the wonderful White Hart pub on hand while you wait, it’s not difficult to see why the Fish and Chip Shop commands such respect among fish fans. And the secret of their success? ‘I never add flour to my batter,’ insists owner Margaret Thompson, who’s been frying fish for over 30 years. ‘I fry in pure vegetable oil, never in beef dripping. I think vegetable oil lets the flavour of the fresh fish shine through.’

Number one in the UK…

Well that top ten was done back in 2002…

I use to use the fish and chip shop a lot twenty five odd years ago, so this was the first visit back in a long long time.

Well was I really disappointed.

These are suppose to be the best fish and chips in the country.

Well sorry that may have been the best, but the portion of cod and chips I had on a Saturday night were terrible and very poor.

Let’s start with the chips which really weren’t too bad, crisp, good size, however the oil they had been cooked in was either very old or rancid. Despite the quote from the Observer, they did taste like they were cooked in rancid beef dripping.

As for the fish, sorry if I want battered cod I expect the fish to be boneless and skinless. I know it’s fish, I don’t need the bones and skin to prove it’s a real fish. If I want that experience I’ll pop down to the proper fish stalls on the other end of the beach.

The reason you batter the fish is to protect the fish from the oil, so when coating in batter, ensure that the whole fish is coated. Mine wasn’t so as a result the fish was very greasy (and remember this was the rancid flavoured oil the chips were cooked in).

I was very disappointed, nothing like the reviews and a very bad experience. Next time must do better, but I doubt there will be a next time.

Finally when asked and I ask for no salt, I prefer not to have salt.

Dockyard Café Bar

Today I was in Bristol and after a walk on the Harbourside I went to the Dockyard Café Bar.

Dockyard Café Bar

From their website:

The Dockyard Café Bar is located alongside Brunel’s SS Great Britain and offers superb views on to the ship as well as across Bristol’s historic floating harbour.

Enjoy delicious light meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day; soak up the atmosphere on the waterfront terrace or inside literally watching the world sail by.

On offer daily are delicious soups, special dishes, Italian-style paninis and sandwiches freshly prepared on the premises.

Okay that’s the marketing spiel, what was the reality like?

The place is really quite nice and despite the fact it was a hot day, it was very cool inside. You could have chosen to sit outside  if you wanted to.

It’s nice and open inside with lots of space, so it never feels crowded.

That’s the good stuff, however overall it was a bit of a disappointment.

First service, we sat inside and went to the counter to order… Despite there been about six or seven staff at front of house, only two seemed to be working! They had two staff who were taking orders, money, making the drinks and getting the orders together. Moving around these two were other staff who seemed to be doing nothing more than getting in the way.

There was quite a queue and as a result quite a wait to get served. It would have made more sense to me to use some of the staff to speed up the service.

Secondly the quality of the food was quite poor.

I was going to get a coffee, however the cups seemed very small, and though I don’t mind small portions of coffee, these were very much on the small side – like large espresso cups!  So I went for a diet coke and it came in a glass bottle which is nice and I much prefer this over the post-mix you usually find in these kind of places.

I ordered sandwiches, a child’s meal and some chips.

The sandwiches were taken from the fridge, whilst we had to wait for the children’s meal.

These were not cheap at £3.50 each and were of a very poor standard. They tasted as though they were made with yesterday’s bread. Now that could be because they were made with yesterday’s bread, or had been left out for too long. Whatever the reason the bread did not taste fresh. Now if I make a sandwich from yesterday’s bread at home, that’s my choice, however when I go out to a cafe I expect my sandwich to be made with fresh bread.

The fillings were not generous, whilst the salad (if you can call five leaves and a slice of tomato a salad) looked as though it had seen better days.

It felt as though the manager doesn’t have children or understand that children don’t always like waiting, and like waiting even less if mum and dad have their food.

Though I felt overpriced, the children’s meal, at least the sandwich was fresh, though not quite sure what the balloon was doing in there!

So could they mess up the chips?

Yes they could.

They double-cooked them!

Basically the chips were cooked twice, so at some point the chips were cooked, left, and then when I placed my order, they were cooked again.

Overall I liked the ambience and the environment, however the food was plainly awful. I am glad I didn’t try the cooked meals.

This place has the potential to be so much better and I hope it can improve. Key steps are, use fresh ingredients and cook to order.

They should create and deliver a menu which reflects the legacy of Brunel and the SS Great Britain.

SS Great Britain