Beer of the month, May 2015

There was tough competition for May’s beer of the month. Two camping trips, one of which included a polypin of Shardlow Cavendish Gold and a polypin of cider, another 50 beers across the month, a trip to a brewery, the fantastic Buxton Tap House and the Blenheim Palace food fair (lots of ales from Two Cocks brewery). So, there were a lot to choose from, and right up until yesterday, a Buxton brew was going to be the winner.

However, after a visit to The Wainwright, I had no choice. The Belgium Salted Dark Ale from Fell Brewery was fantastic, complementing my game pie perfectly. Malty, roasted, chocolatey, a touch of sweetness, a touch of saltiness, a great balance. A very unusual yet very drinkable beer. In fact, all three of the Fell Brewery ales yesterday were great (YOLO and Progressive Pale being the other two).

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I have no hesitation in awarding Fell Brewery Belgium Salted Dark Ale the beer of the month for May 2015. See you in the final!

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Pub of the month – May 2015 – Buxton Tap House

Our first entry this month is the Red Lion in Little Compton, Oxfordshire. A Red Lion? How surprising, since it is supposed to be the most common pub name in Britain. This one gave us a lot of laughs, and will be forever associated with the phrase “any mayonnaise for yourselves at all today?” It will become clear why that is shortly.

We were on a lovely long walk in the Bank Holiday sunshine, designed to take in this pub. It has a lovely big beer garden, but you have to duck your head when you go inside, as there are lots of low beams. Very nice to enjoy a pint of Donnington Gold in the sunshine.

And with triple pork nirvana at stake, it had to be the sausage baguette. The portion of chips was very stingy, as was the salad, but the sausage was very tasty, a perfect walking lunch.

However, the real highlight of our visit was the waitress. Have you ever seen this character from The Catherine Tate Show?

This was who we met at the Red Lion. Very entertaining!

In any other month, The Wainwright in Keswick would probably have won. We visited on the first night of our holiday, having been out on to the fells and up on the top of Latrigg by 4pm, looking down on glorious views of Keswick. It was around 7pm when we got back down into the town, so we decided to go straight to the pub (always a good decision).

The Wainwright was somewhere we had visited many years ago, when it was previously The Four in Hand. It was pretty busy despite being relatively early, but we grabbed some drinks and ordered some food and sat in the high stools near the door whilst waiting for a table to become free. To start off, a Yolo (but not #yolo) from Fell Brewery, who are only 2 years old. Three of their ales were on the bar tonight, and this was the perfect start, a great golden session ale to quench the thirst after a good walk, and while you are contemplating your soon-to-arrive game pie. And served in a dimple pot too!

What a pie it was. A proper effort, baked with lid on, not just some filling plopped in a dish and a separate lid dropped on afterwards. Very flavourful game filling, good thick gravy, accompanied by excellent chips and some nice peppery roasted vegetables. A cracking pie. Mrs MOFAD had the beef pie, which was also very good.

This was paired with another Fell Brewery ale, their Belgium Salted Dark Ale complemented the pie perfectly. Malty, roasted, chocolatey, a touch of sweetness, a touch of saltiness, a great balance for a game pie. And it won beer of the month too!

On to the winner, Buxton Tap House. After a morning of pottering around Buxton, I suggested the Buxton Tap House as a suitable lunch stop, as I’m a fan of their beers, and I’d heard that they do good food. I was right. We wandered in around 1pm and managed to find a table. On Sunday lunchtimes, they serve full roasts, or just a roast in a bap, with roast potatoes, parsnips and gravy. This was a perfect choice for all of us.

There was plenty of time for a drink or two whilst waiting for the lunch to arrive. For Mrs MOFAD it was a Pure North Fusion cider. I found it a touch on the vinegary side, but it did work well with the food. My first choice was a Moor Top, a lovely mixture of floral hoppy bitterness. And then some more bitterness. American Chinook hops and a hit of grapefruit. A great session pale.

After this came a Wild Boar, another floral and hoppy ale, with hints of mango. Very good indeed.

As this was going down with great ease, the food arrived, and it tasted as good as it looked. Very nice beef, a good and hot horseradish, good spuds and a really tasty gravy (if no-one else had been watching, I would have downed that too). A perfect Sunday lunch bap, if only more pubs did this on Sundays rather than the “full roast or nothing” option!

As we hadn’t got too much planned, there was just time for another, this time a Jaw Gate, an American IPA made with NZ hops. Very good indeed, another one that you could drink all day.

If that wasn’t good enough, you can make a quick stop at the bar on the way out, to buy a nice little selection to take away. These lovely people will also let you taste a few more if you’re trying to make up your mind, so there was an opportunity to have some Pic Tor, a passion fruit sour which was pretty amazing.

A worthy winner of pub of the month, and I’ll definintely be back the next time I’m in Buxton. That might be a while though 😦

Booths – Britain’s greatest supermarket

What? A food and drink blog singing the praises of a supermarket? Shouldn’t I be banging on about farmer’s markets and craft ales? Be a localvore. Go organic. Blah blah blah.

Well, in this case, the praise is fully deserved. E.H. Booth & Co. Ltd was founded in June 1847 by Edwin Henry Booth, a 19-year-old tea dealer no less. His first shop “The China House” was opened in Blackpool, and it went to to sell wines and spirits, and then further stores opened. And it is still owned by the same family today.

They win awards for responsible business practice, they pay farmers more for their milk than any other supermarket. They even have speciality food shops inside their main shops. And they stock excellent products. There’s all of the “normal stuff” that you’d expect to find, from Robinson’s squash to Kit Kats to Dairylea Dunkers (are they still a thing?) and plenty of fresh local produce, fruit and veg, meat and cheeses, bread and cakes.

Alongside this is a fantastic range of ales and ciders, without a doubt the best in the country. And this is one of the main reasons why I love them so. Again, they have the “big names” such as those of the Marston’s empire – Marston’s, Banks’s, Jennings, Ringwood and Wychwood, and then descending through the fame stakes until you find lots of little gems such as Beavertown, Camden Town brewery, local favourites like Barngates, Hawkshead brewery, Stringers, Ulverston brewery, Hardknott and Coniston as well as imports from the US craft ale scene such as Flying Dog and Founders.

Look at this little lot:-

What a great selection, and you probably won’t find any of them at another UK supermarket. Cheers to Booths!

Find it on the MOFAD map!

The Wainwright, Keswick

The first night out on a holiday is always something to look forward to. After a lovely lunch stop at Tebay, we arrived at our rented holiday destination in good time. After a bit of a palaver with our secret underground parking lair (ok, just a ground floor garage with a remote control door) we had soon unloaded and got ourselves out on to the fells. By 4pm we were on the top of Latrigg, and looking down on glorious views of Keswick.

We continued our walk, returning to Keswick along yet another old railway line (thanks Beeching). It was around 7pm when we got back down into the town, so we decided to go straight to the pub. Tonight’s choice was The Wainwright, previously The Four in Hand, somewhere we had visited many years ago. Having heard good things about the new pub on the web (as well as seeing lots of pictures of good food and drink on Twitter), it was always going to be our first night choice.

It was pretty busy despite being relatively early, but we grabbed some drinks and ordered some food and sat in the high stools near the door whilst waiting for a table to become free. To start off, a Yolo (but not #yolo) from Fell Brewery, who are only 2 years old. Three of their ales were on the bar tonight, and this was the perfect start, a great golden session ale to quench the thirst after a good walk, and while you are contemplating your soon-to-arrive game pie.

And what a pie it was. A proper effort, baked with lid on, not just some filling plopped in a dish and a separate lid dropped on afterwards. Very flavourful game filling, good thick gravy, accompanied by excellent chips and some nice peppery roasted vegetables. A cracking pie. Mrs MOFAD had the beef pie, which was also very good.

This had a great accompaniment, another Fell Brewery ale. The Belgium Salted Dark Ale was fantastic, complementing the pie perfectly. Malty, roasted, chocolatey, a touch of sweetness, a touch of saltiness, a great balance for a game pie.

No pudding tonight (got to pace ourselves for a long week of eating and drinking), but another great Fell Brewery ale rounded things off – Progressive Pale is a great hoppy pale ale.

So, it’s an instant MOFAD approval for this “new” Keswick pub. A MOFAD card was left, and we’ll definitely be back when we are next in Keswick. The Wainwright should go from strength to strength.

Tebay Services aka Westmorland Farm Shops

The British service station. Not the most inspiring of places to visit. The butt of a million jokes, including this lovely little routine from Bill Bailey:-

“I’m amazed by how compliant people are in this country. They go into service stations – ‘cathedrals of despair’, as I call them – where baseball-capped ghouls of the night lord it over their congealed bean kingdoms, their fried-bread twilights, their neon demi-mondes, tempting you to enter, to become them, undead. “Ooh, beans on toast, £18.95, very reasonable. Oh no, I’m not going to complain. They probably pump them up from London in special tubes.” God, £18.95? If that was the price, for my money, each bean would have to be carried over in a heron’s beak and laid on an orchid and then placed on a very rare train set and carried all the way to my table on the train set and then pinged off by a tiny little rare vole and it rolls onto a beautiful silk leaf and I eat it with a Fabergé egg. Then you’d get your money’s worth.”

Over-priced? Seemingly. Disappointing? Almost always. The same endless selection of shops? Tick. WH Smith, Costa, Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds, maybe an M&S or Waitrose if you’re lucky.

However, there are now at least four alternatives.

Back in 1972, John and Barbara Dunning, local farmers, set up Tebay Services in partnership with local bakers when the M6 cut through the Lune Gorge. It was the first and is still the only family run motorway service station on the UK road network, starting out as a small 30 seat café serving home cooked, locally sourced food.

And they are still there, family owned, still farming, and still with their passion for all things local. In 2004 they opened farm shops on site, with butcher’s counters arriving in 2008.

It is a lovely place to visit, nothing like any other service stations on the network. You can still get everything you would expect, just better. The shop sells the usual range of confectionery, news, drinks etc. But it is also a farm shop, with loads of local ales and ciders, loads of deli style stuff like chutneys, pickles, sauces and breads. And then there are the food counters, local meats, cheeses, pies, quiches, fish, sauces, fruit, veg, olives and even some exotic imports like massive Sicilian lemons.

So if this just happens to be your last stop before arriving at your holiday cottage, you can do a lot of your shopping for your week of self catering holiday ahead. And maybe stock up on a few things to take back home a week later.

You can also get a sandwich, some coffee, or a more substantial meal. And in warmer months (I’m guessing, since we only usually pass this way in June time) there is a little shed outside with a BBQ grill, serving delicious burgers and sausages. The best service station burger ever. And there is also cake, like this delicious lemon drizzle cake.

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So, if you’re heading north on the M6, just past junction 38, you’ll find this little oasis. And it does have its own oasis too, a little lake replete with local birdlife. There’s also a very similar one on the southbound side too.

And now there are 2 sister service stations, Gloucester Services, just before junction 12 if you’re heading south on M5, or just after if you are northbound. They are doing exactly the same thing as Tebay, supporting local producers and selling great produce.

The only service stations to be MOFAD approved!

The Red Lion, Long Compton

The final pub visit of our Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend. As our campsite were happy to let us depart late in the day, we squeezed another walk in this morning, perfectly timed to end up back at the pub for lunch. Sadly, I think everyone else had this idea, as we crammed ourselves into the tight car park spaces. We sat outside in the nice beer patio area, it was absolutely rammed inside.

This lead to a very long wait for food, but there was a nice pint of Bankers Draft from Wickwar Brewing Co to pass the time.

When the food did eventually arrive, it was very nice, and good portions. I had a great fish finger sandwich. Chris & Caroline made the mistake of ordering the large bowl of chips. It was not large. It was enormous. There were enough chips for about 4 people, but you might expect that at £4.50 a pop. Yes, this is the Cotswolds, but the prices were a bit over the top. No approval for this Red Lion, try the other one in nearby Little Compton.

Blenheim Palace food fair, errr, Blenheim Palace

We were camping nearby and were looking for an activity for a showery Sunday afternoon. We had a good long walk yesterday, so something a little more gentle was called for. We discovered that Blenheim Palace had a food fair on, and it was just down the road. The food fair was free entry, but you still had to pay for entry into the grounds, which is a rather steep £13 per adult. This would be better value if you had all day to explore the grounds, but we were only going to be around for a few hours.

After parking up, we wandered over to the gift shop first to have a little look around, and then trundled off towards the food fair. There were a good range of stalls, from hot food sellers, to beer, cheese, sausages, cider, sweets and chutneys.

First up was some lunch, and it had to be proper pulled pork:-

Pubs, take note – this is what proper pulled pork should look like. After that we carried on wandering around the stalls and picking up a few bits and pieces. The highlight for me was some beer from Two Cocks brewery – very distinctive bottles with a feather in each label, and very nice beers too:-

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We finished our wanderings and then went back into the village for a cream tea. The food fair was ok, but it was definitely not worth the rather steep entrance fee unless you are spending the rest of the day in the grounds. The cream tea in the village was nice though!