Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A thousand curses on Jay Rayner

Or words to that effect. (I know how sensitive he can be!)

It’s Sunday morning and he’s reviewed the restaurant I was hoping to take Mrs. C to the following day. I had been working on the assumption that Monday lunchtime in sleepy Suffolk would be sufficiently quiet that a reservation would not be required. This was due to be a celebratory birthday treat so although the excellent marks awarded by Jay Rayner were reassuring, would it make getting a table difficult? I must admit I panicked and was on the telephone before I had a chance to don my waistcoat and was reassured by Ross, one of the owners of The British Larder, that they could indeed accommodate us and that marauding hordes of Rayner groupies had not as yet descended upon them.

And so it was that the new Cravat mobile (a long story involving an elderly gentleman, Waitrose carpark, and confusion between the brake and the accelerator) set fair for Woodbridge and a late morning shuffle around the excellent cook shop before crossing the river to Bromeswell and The British Larder. Now I knew the place as the Cherry Tree pub in the early 1980s, when I used to hurtle around Suffolk on my motorcycles, and I must admit it did appear to have been spruced up a bit. There remains a bar, with stools for perching upon, but the surroundings are very definitely slanted towards the food side of the business, as their website quite rightly suggests. Stripped floors, muted earth colours, comfortable leather chairs in the bar area, and well spaced tables for dining do follow the current trend with my normal criticism of the lack of sound deadening. Fine for talking (and listening to other peoples’ conversations if you are that way inclined) but when Mrs C’s knife made contact with her plate at one stage I could have sworn my ears bled!

We were greeted by the other half of the ownership team, Maddy, who proved to be friendly, attentive, and very knowledgeable of both the food and the drinks on offer. Other staff were also well trained in the niceties of service and were very pleasant. We settled down with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and an excellent pint of Woodford’s Wherry while we perused the menu. Mrs. C is not one for large lunches and as it was her unofficial birthday, I suggested we share the Dingley Dell Pork tasting platter as a first course on the grounds that a) she could eat as much as she wanted, and b) I could hoover the rest. Mains chosen we settled back and chatted about things foody until Maddy escorted us through to our table.

The shared platter was excellent. Even the Pea and Ham soup met with my approval (I have no time for vegetables that require you to expend more energy trying to eat them than they provide during digestion) with the other elements demonstrating skill and sympathetic treatment of the ingredients. Star of the platter for me was the Scotch Egg, perfectly cooked runny yolked egg and with the addition of shards of ham in the coating. Very toothsome. The terrine was dense and full flavoured whilst the warm, slow braised, pork and lentils gave a good earthy kick to the platter. Accompaniments of picallili, celeriac remoulade and beautifully crusted bread from the Orford bakery with salted butter were exactly right and complemented the meats perfectly. My only slight disappointment was the gherkins, neither home-made or inventive – I would have preferred some pickled vegetables but that is a very personal choice.

The restaurant started to fill as we enjoyed a nicely judged gap between courses before we took up the eating irons once more. Mrs. C had chosen the slow cooked duck leg with roasted beets which was presented well, not too fussy, and ate even better. The different beets were tender, sweet and earthy, with the duck was beautifully cooked, moist and full of flavour. The accompanying kale was also deemed acceptable although definitely not one of Mrs C’s favourites! The portion proved to be too large for the bird-like Mrs C, so I was obliged to assist and was duly impressed.

My main course was locally caught Skate wing with cockles, kale, and sautéed potatoes. A very decent sized wing ha been faultlessly cooked, the sticky translucent flesh easily parting from the bone and nicely complimented by the intense cockles. Excellent sautéed new potatoes and the kale (not my favourite either but a good contrast of texture in this case) completed the dish. My only slight criticism is that it was all a bit buttery, definitely not a dish a cardiologist would recommend, but in the interests of research I was willing to take the risk.

Having eaten royally, we declined desserts but watching dishes being delivered to our fellow diners they appeared accomplished and were certainly enjoyed. The bill for the aforesaid, and an additional pint of Wherry to aid digestion, was a not unreasonable £57.  Definitely The Best rating!

Pictures are courtesy of Mrs C's phone. I am greatly indebted.
Toodle Pip Once More!

Feeling Peaky

I have sadly neglected this web-log for far too long, and I apologise for that sad omission. As an easing back into the swing of things I present to you a round–up of my previous week or so’s foody forays. Sticking well within my remit of finding decent food outside the M25, the following micro reviews are as a result of my recent foray to the Peak District.

The newly-acquired Cravat jalopy was loaded, passports packed, vaccinations checked, and the Good Lady Wife provided with map books and Sat Nav as we left civilisation and headed for a week’s break in the Peak District. Our journey had been planned with military precision with a lunch stop identified after much deliberation from the Good Pub Guide, the Cravat favoured bible for decent stops when travelling.

Despite the best efforts of a lorry driver managing to close the A14, we arrived at the Wheatsheaf at Woodhouse Eaves in good time for a light luncheon. The pub appeared fairly food orientated, with a waitress service restaurant on the first floor, and an eclectic style of decoration. Drinks prices were a bit of a shock for a pub in the middle of nowhere - £3.50p for a pint of Marstons was particularly over-the-top I felt, but we settled down to peruse the menu. I chose the Ploughman’s, while Mrs C plumped for the Caesar Salad, neither of which should really tax a kitchen brigade. How wrong we were. The salad was strips of tired outer leaves of Romano, or similar, lettuce, large croutons that had been fried at too low a temperature in stale, poor quality oil, with shards of fridge cold incredibly salty bacon. There was plenty of parmesan shavings but the dressing, which Mrs .C had the foresight to ask for ‘on the side’, was suspiciously like it was from a supermarket bottle. At £10 we at least expected freshness and correct ingredients. My Ploughman’s was equally disappointing with salad that had been cut a long time previously, low grade cheese and indigestible bread. On the plus side, the waitress took note of our comments and removed the salad from the bill but the standard of food being passed from the kitchen on a quiet Friday lunchtime does not bode well. One to avoid, I’m afraid.

We fared somewhat better over the following week as we ambled around the southern fringes of the Peak District, certainly not experiencing anything quite so slapdash as on the journey up, and hot upon a couple of venues that delivered above our expectations.(and a couple that were ‘quirky’!). In no particular order, I’ll paint a pen picture of each:

The Devonshire Arms in Hartington (no website) is a no nonsense pub with a walkers bar, lounge and dining room (presided over by Head Waitress Janice) that delivered excellent value, good quality, pub food with the occasional ‘special’ using local ingredients cooked well. Welcoming landlord (Dave) and professional but friendly staff make for a relaxed atmosphere. The food is a bit ‘old school’ in that there is a lot of cream sauces on the menu but this is not meant to be ‘fine dining’. Dishes sampled included black pudding and bacon salad with mustard dressing, Chicken liver pate, grilled swordfish, griddled pork steaks with leek and mustard mash, steak mushroom and ale pie, and ginger pudding with sticky ginger sauce and ice cream. An excellent venue for lunch or dinner in a pretty village.

The Staffordshire Knot in Sheen was the scene of our best meal of our jaunt. Having popped in for a swift lunch on the Sunday and being impressed by the look of the food being enjoyed by fellow customers, we booked a table for the Tuesday evening – just as well as the owner doesn’t open unless she has bookings early in the week! As it turned out, we had the pub to ourselves but were entertained royally by Jacqui Allesbrook , the owner. The food was of good restaurant quality, locally sourced ingredients treated sympathetically and presented well. Star of the meal was the rack of lamb which was absolutely perfectly cooked for me although there was very little that we could criticise. The pub has lost trade in the last couple of years but Jacqui is trying to build the business back up and is offering excellent food at very reasonable prices. Highly recommended but make sure you book in advance! The Red Lion at Litton served a very decent lunch (particularly good chips) in a welcoming, old fashioned setting. A blazing log fire kept the chill at bay, the menu read very well, and if the food we saw was an indication then this would be a good evening destination if you were staying in the area. Appearances were deceptive at The Waterloo Inn at Biggin. (website could do with updating!) At the halfway point of one of our walks, we had low expectations of the slightly run-down looking pub but first impressions can prove to be incorrect and we had a very enjoyable lunch, again with good chips (once must keep one’s carbohydrate levels up when route marching around the dales), eaten in the sunshine wih glorious views, whilst being entertained by free roaming chickens. Very helpful , friendly, staff make this an enjoyable country pub.

Of the pubs that we visited that failed to make the grade The Royal Oak at Wetton was the biggest disappointment, particularly as it was our ‘local’ during our stay. A tired pub, run in a rather haphazard way, with very basic camp-site fodder, it really is not worth the trip. It would also help potential punters if there was some indication of when they were going to be open – it did seem down to the whim of the landlord.

Although we didn’t eat there, we were told that the food at the Watts Russell Arms in Hope is good so we popped in to have a look. An attractive small building from the outside, the bar was totally devoid of character, or sound, as the few customers stared blankly at the equally blank walls. Not the sort of place to go for a convivial evening but the food may be worth it.

We were going to try another pub on the way home but the A14 was closed once more so we were confined to the M1. I set the controls to Warp Factor 9 on the Starship Cravat and we headed straight for Cravat Towers so no further reports to be made I’m afraid.