Tuesday, 4 October 2011

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.

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