Pub of the month, November 2015 – The Shambles, Lutterworth

Not many trips out this month, but most of them were to quality establishments. Most, but not all. A trip to the Toby carvery earlier this month was a bit of a disaster, which ended with a vow not to return for quite a while.

There were no ales on. Three pumps. No ales. An utter travesty. It took ages to get served, and the roast beef in the baguette was poor, sinewy and fatty.

Anyway, on to the good pubs. The month began with another trip to the Marquis Wellington, before a night of laughter with Bill Bailey. Another chicken and pulled ham pie and a tasty X Anniversary ale, but still not enough chips and peas with the pie!

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Next up we have the Swan, an old haunt that I returned to after a brief (in the context of the 20 years I’ve been going there) hiatus.

The Swan is all about the beer. The ale selection remains undiminished after all these years. In fact it has increased, with a new craft range and loads of bottles to choose from. Also available are several “proper” ciders and perries, and a great selection of very good single malts.

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So, we come to our winner, The Shambles in Lutterworth. A wintry day with a fast evaporating dusting of snow, and we were out for a walk in the area. The plan was to do a walk, pop in for some lunch, and then go out for another walk. This changed when we got to the pub. The pub was nice and warm. Outside it was cold.

This year it was voted community pub of the year for Marston’s. A former abattoir and butchers, it is the oldest timber-framed building in Lutterworth. It has a nice rustic charm to it. The food was great too, this BBQ chicken baguette was stuffed with chicken and cheese and a nice BBQ sauce:-

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A nice pint of Colonel’s Whiskers from Batemans too, a classic black & tan style of beer, nutty, creamy, with a hint of liquorice.

A worthy winner of pub of the month!

Beer of the month, November 2015 – Renegade Brewery West Coast Pale Ale

Only four trips out this month, so unsurprisingly, the contenders for beer of the month are all bottles sampled at home.

First up we have Oyster Ale by Mersea Island Brewery:-

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This is a lovely slice of excellence from Essex. Hops, dark malts, and smoothness all combine to make a very nice winter pint.

Next we come to Silver Dollar by Tyne Bank Brewery, which was picked up during a trip to Booths in Settle:-

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I said a hop, hop, hop – a good grapefruit hit here and better than many IPAs. Very good indeed.

Next up we have Revisionist Rye Pale Ale which is made for Tesco by Marston’s:-

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What’s wrong with this picture? There is no way on this earth that this is a pale but it is super hoppy, which is why it appears in this list. I am a total hop head if you’ve not worked that out yet.

And so we come to our winner, this West Coast Pale Ale from Renegade Brewery

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This was the best one from the Good Food show. Luckily I bought a case of all of their beers. A super hop hammer hit on this one #hophammertime – definitely one for hop heads and a worthy winner!

BBC Good Food Show, The NEC, November 2015

We have been visiting the Good Food show since at least 1999. It is an annual pilgrimage. At its best, it is an opportunity to pick up lots of interesting food and drink from smaller producers. At its worst it is overrun by the big supermarket chains and energy suppliers.

That was its nadir around 5 years ago, but they do appear to have listened to feedback, as it has been back to its best over the last few years, full of great stuff from small and friendly producers who want to tell you about what they have made and how they have made it.

Lots of highlights today. The biggest one for me was Renegade Brewery from Berkshire, a spin-off from West Berkshire brewery. They had three great beers on show, and there was time for a quick flight through all of them. A good lager with plenty of hops, and then the next stop is the India Session Ale (because we’re all about the session IPA these days), a hoppy IPA without the high ABV that you might associate with it. And finally, a West Coast pale ale, an American style pale ale (which means it’s not that pale), but is stuffed with hops, by far and away the best beer of the day (but then I am an unashamed hophead). I restricted myself to just the 12 bottles today.

The next best thing was craft cidre (not cider) from L’Atypique. Not one, not two, not three, but four of them, all deserving of the name cidre (unlike that Stella muck, aka husband beater). The reserve cidre was fantastic, with almost wine-like qualities. It will be our Xmas dinner tipple this year. They also have a standard one, a rose and a pear cidre. All natural, no added stuff, and really nice tastes.

You’ll also spot a selection of ales from Wadworth, my annual refresh of herbs and spices from Fox’s spices, beautiful spicy Lime chutney from Spice’n’Tice, Tracklements chutneys, and lots of garlic things from the Isle of Wight garlic farm. Oh, and sausages from Debbie & Andrews, making a welcome return to the show.

Another great day out at the Good Food show. Not even the weirdness of Sticky Toffee pudding cheese (yes, really) could put a downer on it. Well worth it. MOFAD cards were left on several stalls 🙂

Cosy Club, Leicester (again)

A rare visit to the cinema tonight. I think the last time we had a trip to the cinema, it was to see Skyfall in 2012. Fast forward to 2015 and we have tickets to see Spectre, the next Bond film. Like Skyfall before it, it is a very cinematic Bond, so deserves to be seen on the biggest of screens.

First, the small matter of dinner. When you have a 2 hour plus film to watch, nourishment is important. So, we returned to the Cosy Club, for the second time this month. Once again Mrs MOFAD had some Cornish Orchards blush cider, whilst mine was a pint of Dark Side from Bath Ales (I think they’ll be shifting some more of this next month with a new Star Wars film coming out). A hint of roastiness, a gentle stout, which improved as it warmed up.

Tonight we decided to go for tapas, as they have a nice little selection on the menu, with eleven to choose from. We used to go to a lovely little Spanish restaurant on the other side of Leicester, and haven’t had tapas out for a while.

We chose the following:-

Patatas bravas with roasted garlic mayo
Salt and pepper squid with lemon mayo
Pulled chicken and chorizo with crispy potatoes
Mini fish fingers with tartare sauce
Buttermilk fried chicken with chipotle mayo
Sweet potato and basil falafel with tzatziki

A very tasty mix of dishes. The fried chicken was a smaller version of the dish I had on our last visit (the chipotle mayo was less fiery today), the squid was perfectly cooked, the falafel were nice and crunchy, the fish fingers were good and the pulled chicken (does everything have to be pulled nowadays?) and patatas bravas had a classic Spanish flavour to them, with garlic and paprika to the fore.

Also available are hummus topped with spiced sultanas
and chickpeas, seared Asian yellowfin tuna with pickled carrot
and cucumber, halloumi, carrot and chickpeas, chorizo with garlic, red onion and red wine and finally five spice pulled pork (more pulled pork!)

The Cosy Club makes for great pre-cinema dining. We’ll be back next year, probably during the Leicester comedy festival.

PS Spectre was brilliant.

The Shambles, Lutterworth

Winter is coming.

Today, it feels like it has arrived. We awoke to a very light dusting of snow, which had all but gone by breakfast time. We had planned a pair of walks just outside Lutterworth, and headed out into the cold morning.

Cold it certainly was. A really icy wind blowing in from the north was certainly making its presence known. Our plan was to stop for lunch at the pub, and then head out for the second walk. This plan soon changed after we found ourselves in a nice warm pub with some nice hot food. That, and the fact that Mrs MOFAD had spotted a wool shop, and was eager to buy more wool to make more Wooly Things.

Back to the pub. The Shambles is an award winner. Community pub of the year for Marston’s. A former abattoir and butchers, it is the oldest timber-framed building in Lutterworth – an historic thatched roof property dating back to the 16th century. It was first used as a public house in 1791, all the way through until 1840 when it was converted back to a home and a butchers. In 1982 it was converted back into a public house and called The Shambles.

It certainly has a rustic charm with low ceilings and beams and a lovely log burner, which is just what you need on a day like today.

A winter day calls for a winter pint, my choice was Colonel’s Whiskers from Batemans, a classic black & tan style of beer, nutty, creamy, with a hint of liquorice.

A nice hot baguette was also called for, a BBQ chicken melt, with a nice bowl of proper chips (not pictured). There was a lot of cheese (as you might spot from the photo), but it was all very tasty, not the flavourless “cheddar” you sometimes get in pubs. Nice BBQ sauce too, not just some sugary gloop.

Mrs MOFAD also had a nice sandwich. We were all cosy and warm, and decided to abort the second walk, in favour of wool and getting back home to a warm cup of tea. A cracking little pub, a MOFAD card was left.

The Swan in the Rushes, Loughborough

The Swan has been a constant in my life for nearly 20 years. It was somewhere we never went as students as it wasn’t appealing to students back in the early 1990s. When you could get a pint for a pound in the student union, venturing to town for proper ale was not something on our radar.

That all changed when I started my second job, and met new work colleagues who had more than a passing interest in ale. It was they who introduced me to the delights of The Swan, and would regularly keep inviting me to sample their produce. We all fondly recall the heady days of sitting at the tables in the car park, eating nachos with whole roasted chillis. I’m drooling at the memory…

A lot has changed since then. The “beer patio” upstairs, on the side of the old function room, which is now “The Hop Loft”. The “dining room” was extended and changed a couple of times. And even the area behind the bar has changed a bit, with a more extensive fridge full of bottled ales.

Ah, the ale. This was the main reason we all came to The Swan for so many years. They have always had the best selection of ales in town. They were for so long an oasis in a desert of Carling and Fosters. The picture has improved vastly over the years, and there are now at least 4 other pubs where you can get a good few pints of ale, including one pub owned by a former Swan landlord.

The ale selection remains undiminished. As well as the regular selection of Castle Rock beers (they own the pub) there are always 5 or 6 guest ales, plus a new craft range and then loads of bottles to choose from. There are also several “proper” ciders and perries always on, and a great selection of very good single malts.

Today it was a pint of Silver Shadow from Ossett brewery. A lovely blonde ale, hoppy and bitter. Just what I’m looking for in a blonde ale.

So, to the food. This is where things have fluctuated so much over the years. A procession of cooks came and went at various times. Today, things have stabilised and settled down. They serve the full range of Pieminister pies, starting from £4.50, with various optional extras. You can also have “the mothership” which includes pie, mash, peas, gravy and crispy onions.

There are also cold cobs (rolls if you’re not from round these parts) with a selection of traditional fillings, such as ham, cheese, etc. And finally, to my choice, from the selection of panini. I went for chicken and pesto, and a bowl of chips. Always nice to have a toasty sandwich on a cold day, very tasty stuff.

The Swan is back to what it does best. Great ales and a simple selection of good pub grub. It also appears on the MOFAD map

Apple crumble

Autumn is the perfect time of year for apple crumble. It’s probably my favourite apple-based pudding recipe, and is so quick and easy to make. If you find yourself wandering around a local village and there are a couple of buckets outside someone’s house with a sign saying “free apples”, then it would be rude not to grab a couple of handfuls to take home and turn into this autumnal classic.

This recipe should make enough crumble for 6 portions, 4 portions in the dish pictured, and 2 more in a foil tray that has gone in the freezer (they freeze brilliantly – once you have assembled them just put them straight in the freezer).

You will need:-

Some apples (around 1 per portion should be enough with any normal sized cooking apple).
Handful of sultanas (optional)

150g plain flour
100g sugar
100g cold butter, cubed

To make the crumble topping, put the flour and sugar in a mixing bowl and add cubes of cold butter. Now just rub everything together in with your fingertips until the mixture starts to resemble moist breadcrumbs. Give the bowl a quick shake to make sure there are no big lumps – if there are then just rub them a bit more. If you prefer a food processor, you can pulse the mixture for a minute or two, taking care not to overwork it.

As with all apple recipes, you need to work fast to stop them from discolouring. If you like to take your time, then pop them in a bowl of acidulated water (water with a teaspoon of lemon juice or similar) after you’ve peeled them, and put them in the bowl again when you’ve chopped them. When you are ready to assemble your crumble, simply remove them from the water and start putting things together. I like to sprinkle a little more sugar over the apples when putting them in the dish, you might prefer a more tart flavour. You can also add sultanas if you want, sprinkling a handful in with the apples.

When your apple mixture has almost filled up your dish, press everything down and then cover with your crumble topping. Sprinkle a little more sugar over the top (I prefer demerara for the topping as it gives a crunchy texture) and then bake in the oven at 180C for 30-40 minutes. I prefer mine served with ice cream, but custard is also comforting on a cold day…

Dragon Cottage, Loughborough

Bonfire night. A celebration of foiled terrorist atrocities, from many centuries ago. Whenever you try to explain this to people who didn’t grow up in the UK, the look on their faces is usually one of utter bewilderment. It is something that my family always celebrated, either little displays in the garden (Dad and Uncle Pete nailing Catherine wheels to the shed, rockets fired from milk bottles) or a bigger family celebration at Uncle Ted’s, with a massive bonfire, a proper guy (who always managed to be wearing a pair of my dad’s old work overalls) and an old chicken shed in which to have a party (complete with purpose built indoor BBQ). Great times, and my knowledge of Chas’n’Dave songs remains undiminished.

We never went to organised displays, because we had family and friends to organise them for us. That all changed when I left home for university. Being away from home in November meant no chance of going to a family event. Luckily, there was a massive bonfire and firework display organised by Rag, to raise funds for charity, with fireworks paid for by a local business or two (always good PR to get your name attached to charitable deeds).

So for the last 23 years (with the odd exception) we have been going to a big, organised display. It has moved location a few times, as fields have been replaced by buildings (our campus is one of those places that I can legitimately use the old cliche “this used to be all just fields” for). And no-one who was at the mid 1990s display when the fire was lit by fireworks underneath (and visibly left the ground as it lit) will ever forget that.

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We were back again as usual tonight, with MOFAD companions Karon & John, and regular MOFAD supplier (and lovely sister-in law) Jo. After some fresh doughnuts to keep us going during the fireworks we eventually made our way off campus (an occasion where local knowledge was more hindrance than help as several exits had been closed).

Off to Dragon Cottage for a Chinese takeaway. As I’ve mentioned before we generally never eat in at a Chinese restaurant, and that’s not possible here as it’s a takeaway only. A good and varied menu, with a few unusual dishes, and a semi-open kitchen so you can watch your dinner being cooked. Or on a night like tonight, you can stand outside and watch more fireworks being set off in the garden opposite. A great bonus display!

So, onto the food. My test of a new Chinese takeaway is always to try the Kung po chicken as it seems to be a good measure. It varies wherever you go, as everyone seems to have their own interpretation. Think sweet and sour but with chillis. Tonight, the chicken was lightly battered (that might be a first) but all the other usual ingredients were there, like carrot, pineapple and cashew nuts. Very tasty.

The true test of any takeaway is whether you get free prawn crackers. We did, so Dragon Cottage passes the test. Now a few notes on drinks. Between us all, we sampled a few ciders and beers tonight. A Gewurztraminer or similar wine such as a Riesling is a common pairing with Chinese food (and works so well), but we pair beer and cider in this house…

This Devon Blush from Ashridge was a very easy drinking cider:-

The Cheltenham S.P.A. is described as an IPA. It is most definitely not that. It’s a very nice ale, don’t get me wrong, but there is no way that this is an IPA.

The Worcestershire Sway from Bewdley brewery was a good golden ale, which matched very nicely with the Chinese food:-

And finally, there was this pale ale from Little Valley brewery, still cashing in on Le Grand Depart from 2014. A very good pale ale for a Saturday night:-

Cosy Club, Leicester

A busy day today. This morning we were at a film festival, this afternoon we have a shopping spree lined up, then back home for a fireworks display and a Chinese takeaway. But first a (reasonably) leisurely lunch.

Conveniently located near to Highcross in Leicester (I’ll stop calling it The Shires one day), Cosy Club is a reasonably new venture (it opened last year). Using the premises of a former knitwear factory (lots of those in the area) they have kept much of the industrial look and feel (giant reels of cotton in the bar, exposed girders and huge windows), whilst adding some modern twists.

Being a former factory, it’s pretty large inside, with room for around 200 people in total. It’s part of a chain, and there are 12 currently, so you might find one near you. Their tagline is “think gents club meets village hall meets cricket pavilion.”

So, on to today’s visit. Shopping is hard work, so fortification is important. A pint of Inclined Plane, from the Langton brewery, did the trick. Originally brewed for a beer festival and named after the Foxton Locks boat lift, this beer became so popular that they kept it on as a regular brew. A straw coloured bitter with a citrus nose and nice hoppy taste, it was a perfect lunchtime pint.

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Just to prove that it really is a serious business, even Mrs MOFAD was having a drink (not one for lunchtime imbibing usually). This Cornish Orchards blush cider was full of tart raspberries, very nice indeed.

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On to the food. Fried chicken has a bit of a poor reputation in the UK, as it’s generally associated with KFC and the many imitators such as Chicken Cottage, Dixie Fried Chicken, Maryland Fried Chicken, Chicken Express, Tennessee Fried Chicken, Hollywood Fried Chicken, Chicago Fried Chicken, City Fried Chicken and many more.

So when you see it in somewhere other than those purveyors of poultry, it is something you wonder about. But Buttermilk Fried Chicken with triple-cooked chips, chipotle mayo and house slaw always sounds tempting to me. As I didn’t grow up somewhere where this dish is associated with, I have no idea if this is “authentic” or not, but it feels pretty authentic to me. Recipes that use buttermilk will tell you that its acid content tenderises the chicken, and that certainly was the case here, very moist chicken with a nice crispy coating.

The triple cooked chips were fantastic, as was the chipotle mayo (be careful with it if you are not a big spice fan, it has a nice warm kick to it). I liked the slaw too, although it was a touch heavy on the onion. The trend nowadays seems to be that slaw (aka red slaw) represents a dish with either a light vinaigrette or no dressing and coleslaw (aka white slaw) comes with mayonnaise.

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Mrs MOFAD had a grilled halloumi, hummus, spinach and sun-dried tomato & red pepper chutney panino, which was also very tasty.

The Cosy Club is indeed MOFAD approved!

Toby Carvery, Loughborough

You’ve heard that phrase about the “last straw” or the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Tonight, it happened. A vow to not return, for a few months at least. A previous visit produced this post, where I wasn’t exactly gushing with praise. Things have gone downhill.

Today, there were no ales on. Three pumps. No ales. This was an emergency situation. It had to be Guinness. It was poor. But it was available. How can any pub have three hand pumps but no ale coming through any of them? And why does it take forever to get served in the bar, despite there always being members of staff milling about in the restaurant area?

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the beef was back to its old worst. Sinewy, fatty and just pretty poor. To add insult to injury, it’s still served on a fake plastic chopping board, instead of a plate. The Yorkshire pudding was nice and the horseradish was reasonable, but the beef is just poor. There are great local suppliers of beef around these parts (including my friend Ben), so it baffles me how such poor produce can be served up.

So that’s it Toby. We’re not coming back until next year, when you might have sorted a few things out.