Pub of the month, May 2016 – The Needle & Pin, Loughborough

A busy month for pub visits, as spring thinks about turning in to summer. Most of these are from our trip to Yorkshire at the start of the month, where we were blessed with many great pubs. There’s a London one in there too, and something much more local.

We start at the Black Horse Hotel, Grassington. It had been raining all morning on the day of our visit, so we had a lie in before an afternoon walk to Linton Falls and back down in to Grassington.

Grassington is blessed with several pub options, we chose the Black Horse as it looked like the best one from our research. You can eat in the bar area (next to the lovely log burner) or in a separate restaurant area, it’s totally up to you. We chose the bar, grabbed a couple of menus and ordered some sandwiches for lunch (not all of the pubs in the village do sandwiches at lunch). The lunch was very nice, but we want plates, not boards and buckets!

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We travel back in time by 24 hours and to the New Inn, Clapham (Yorkshire, not London). Another moist day saw us venturing underground to Ingleborough caves and then up to Trow Gill. We headed back down into the village a little later, and were pleased to arrive at a pub after 2pm to be greeted by a menu offering lunch until 6pm. I know I bang on about this a fair bit, but it’s something that gets my goat.

No goat on the menu today, just tasty sandwiches. Breaded cod loin for me (super posh fish finger sandwich) and crayfish, smoked salmon and prawn for Mrs MOFAD. Both served with seasoned chips and a nicely dressed little salad. Just a shame there were no plates, although they do warn you in advance that they have forsaken the dear old plate. A lovely lunch in a lovely pub with a lovely log fire. Perfect for today!

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Forward a couple of days now, and we find ourselves on another walk. The weather has improved, and we walked from Malham Tarn, down into Malham and then back up to the tarn again, via Malham Cove (which, back in December 2015, saw water flowing over the top of it for the first time in around 200 years).

Malham is also blessed with plenty of pubs, and we had spotted The Lister Arms on our last visit, earmarking it for a future lunch stop. It’s another of those sensible pubs that doesn’t shut the kitchen at 2pm sharp (I’ll stop going on about this one day), so when we arrived at 2:30pm, there was no problem getting a table or ordering some rather tasty food.

This giant pulled pork focaccia certainly replenished lost calories from today’s walk, although the plateless trend continues…

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Fast forward around 5 hours, and we find ourselves back in Settle, at the Talbot Arms, the pub of the month from August 2015, and a contender in April 2016 too. On this visit, it was quiz night, and the fact that we won the quiz has nothing to do with the pub appearing in the nominations for pub of the month. It’s all to do with the fact that this is a brilliant pub in the lovely market town of Settle. Great beers as ever, a lovely home made cheeseburger, and plates! Yes, plates! We love this pub.

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To old Londinium town next, and another former pub of the month nominee, in the shape of The Alma, Wandsworth. Staying in the area for work once again meant that a return visit was definitely on the cards. In June 2015 I said “the food does look good, so I hope to try some if I’m back in the area in the future”. Today was that future. And the food was good. Everyone in my little group ordered the rump steak, a pub classic that is brilliant if you get it right. They got it right. A rare rump steak with garlic butter on top, served with shoestring fries, lambs leaf lettuce, a fried mushroom and a tomato. There was also some perfect English mustard on the side – an essential with steak! It was utterly delicious and devoured with vigour.

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So, on to our winner. The Needle & Pin has already appeared three times on the blog, and was nominated for pub of the month last month. May’s visit was not for any special occasion, just a chance to get together with the boys to drink good beer and eat good pizza. We did all of those things in the relaxed surroundings of Loughborough’s newest micropub, and definitely my new favourite town pub. Great beer, no gimmicks. A worthy winner for this month. Where else in town would you find “Hickey the Rake” by Wylam brewery, an attack of lemons and hops and full of good sharp flavours. Answer – nowhere!

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The unrivalled range of beers on tap and in the fridges (in our sleepy little town at least) make this a deserving winner.

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Beer of the month, May 2016

A good month for beer tastings. A trip to Yorkshire, a night out in London, another visit to the Needle & Pin and a couple of camping trips. Lots of opportunities to sample some new beers, and May was pretty full of them. Here are the ones that stood out.

The first three all appeared over the Bank Holiday weekend camping trip, evening beers with friends.

First we have a BrewDog Ace of Chinook, full of super hoppy and pine flavours from the Chinook hops, but only 4.5% which enables you to #keepitsession – the session IPA is certainly a very popular style for 2016, loads of hoppiness but easy to drink.

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Next up we have a Vocation Pride & Joy, another super hoppy ale, an American Pale in style, which means it’s not at all pale, but it full of strong hop flavours mixed with good maltiness. The APA is another popular style for 2016, and Vocation (a new brewery to me this month) have made a good one.

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Next up we have High Wire Grapefruit from Huddersfield’s Magic Rock Brewing. I stocked up on several of their cans on a recent trip to the ever awesome Booths. As you might expect from the name, this is a variant on their High Wire pale ale, with added grapefruit, to really bring out the grapefruit notes in the hops, and some malty sweetness to counter the sourness of the grapefruit. Perfect in the evening sunshine.

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On to this month’s winner, Goldenthal from Bollington, a continental style golden barley wine which was a birthday present to myself on a visit to one of Bollington’s pubs. When Samuel Gregg bought a mill in Bollington in 1832 be named it Goldenthal, a German word which translates to “happy valley”. Residents of Bollington have used this name for the village ever since.

The beer that bears this name is very flavoursome, sweet without being cloying, like an IPA smashed into a barley wine. Dangerously drinkable for 7.4% – I could drink it all night. That would be a bad idea. There’s no way you can #keepitsession with this one.

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A very worthy winner of beer of the month, surely a strong contender when we get to the end of the year.

Greenhill Leisure Park cafe, Bletchingdon, Oxfordshire

A tale of Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend.

A new campsite for us, we are always on the lookout for sites in the Oxfordshire or nearby area, as it’s kind of in the middle for our friends who we meet up with over the summer (and occasionally in the winter).

A lovely site, friendly staff, good facilities, well maintained and several different areas to camp in.

On to the cafe. A new venture for 2016, this cafe has recently opened. An on-site cafe is usually a guaranteed money spinner – a captive audience of campers, many of whom will often fancy a break from cooking at some point during their stay.

We made several visits over a busy Bank Holiday weekend – the weather was pretty good throughout, which meant the camp site was fairly full – lots of potential customers.

We started Saturday morning with breakfast, predictably a full English for me:-

Mrs MOFAD had the “half full” and regular MOFAD companions Matt & Hazel had a full and half respectively. My breakfast was very tasty, although the beans and mushrooms could have done with being a larger portion than a spoonful. My dining companions found the sausages a bit of an odd flavour, but I was ok with them. Matt woud have preferred the eggs to be cooked more thoroughly, I like a runny yolk. And you can’t argue with a cup of tea for £1.

Onwards to Saturday evening. A hog roast was advertised, and a hog roast was duly delivered. It was set up just outside the front door to the cafe, and had been rotating and roasting all afternoon long. Delicious slow cooked pork in a bun, with your choice of salad, cous cous, and some other bits and pieces, as well as apple sauce, and lovely roasted new potatoes, which had been cooked above the pork. Go in to cafe, pay for food, receive poker chip, exchange for food. Simple mass catering with good ingredients makes for a perfect evening camping meal. Everyone who partook thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday morning arrives. Time for breakfast again. I enjoyed it yesterday, and with the likelihood of lunch being later on today, it was time for the full English again. Same issue as yesterday – more beans and mushrooms please! Tasty bacon again, and good sausage. Someone else to help out behind the counter or clearing tables might have come in handy. The bacon rolls on offer this morning were using up left over baps from last night’s hog roast.

To Sunday night. Like last night, they were advertising a special. Beer battered fish’n’chips. Sounds great. Everyone likes fish’n’chips, and if you’re advertising that, then perhaps some kind of van is arriving to cook fish’n’chips for everyone.

Err, no. It’s all being cooked in the cafe kitchen. Shouldn’t be a problem, because I’m sure they can cope with it.

Err, no. Their fryer can only do 2 fish at a time. So when the people before you order 6 portions, and you’ve ordered 3 portions, you think you might be in for a little bit of a wait.

Err, no. It turned out to be almost an hour that we had to wait.

I think it’s pretty irresponsible to advertise something like this knowing that you can’t really cope with all that much demand. If you put up a board outside with “Join us for fish’n’chips tonight – all welcome”, then you might rightly expect that board to increase demand. You need to increase supply to cope with that!

A dissapointing wait, but very nice fish’n’chips eventually!

On to the final part of this increasingly sorry tale. Breakfast on Bank Holiday Monday morning. We arrived at 10am, after starting to strike camp. We took a break for breakfast. It seemed more people had been doing this, as when we ordered, we were told that the sausages had run out. I guess someone forgot to look in the fridge yesterday lunchtime, and go out shopping for supplies. 2 sausages were replaced by one rasher of bacon, and an additional hash brown. Still no more beans and mushrooms though.

We waited for our teas and coffees. And waited. More customers arrived, and soon they were being turned away because the cafe had run out of breakfast completely.

Teas and coffees then arrived (again, a lack of bodies behind the counter) and then breakfast arrived. Again, tasty stuff, and well cooked (although they did mess up part of the order).

As the weekend wore on, the cracks started to show. I’m not sure they were ready for the level of customers you’re going to get on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend. They desperately needed more staff to help out, and they really need more space for a bigger kitchen and more tables. The quality of the food is good, but the premises is not big enough for the size of the camp site.

Look at somewhere like Merkins, who have a slightly larger cafe but a much smaller camp site.

Keep up the good work, but get more staff and think carefully about offering something you can’t cook a lot of! And don’t forget to go shopping!

Blenheim Palace Food Fair, May 2016

Another visit to the Blenheim Palace food fair. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that we were here on Whitsun bank holiday weekend last year.

Once again we were camping nearby and had decided to make this our Sunday stroll. It had been a pleasant afternoon last time, so we decided to have another wander round this year. Entrance to the food fair is free, but if you arrive by car and pay for entry into the grounds, this has now gone up to £14.90 per adult, from last year’s £13.

The food fair has expanded since last year too, with more stalls opening up near to the pleasure gardens. Once again there were a good range of stalls, quite a few more hot food sellers, including GB Confit, selling confit duck which was very tasty indeed. The nice people from Two Cocks brewery were back, and several of our group stocked up on their beers. There were another couple of booze stalls, including cider and gin, alongside crisps, cheese, sausages, marshmallows and chutneys.

Lots of lovely things to taste and take home – just make sure you can carry everything. A grand day out!

TPN 2016 #15

A camping triple pork nirvana. For Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend we have been staying at Greenhill Leisure Park in Bletchingdon. This was a new camp site to us, although some of our friends had stayed here last year and on other trips.

Today’s triple pork nirvana quest started out in their cafe, a new venture for the site in 2016. I found the breakfast very tasty, although not everyone was completely enamoured with it. More mushrooms and beans would have been welcome, and not everyone likes their eggs cooked the same way (these ones were perfect for me). Things for this new cafe to learn.

For lunch we found ourselves in The Mitre, in Oxford, a good chain pub in the city centre. Loads of options to choose from, and a chicken, bacon and avocado burger was a lighter but still tasty TPN qualifier.

The evening found us back at the camp site.  A hog roast was advertised, and a hog roast was duly delivered. It was set up just outside the front door to the cafe, and had been rotating and roasting all afternoon long. Delicious slow cooked pork in a bun, with your choice of salad, cous cous, and some other bits and pieces, as well as apple sauce, and lovely roasted new potatoes, which had been cooked above the pork. Simple mass catering with good ingredients makes for a perfect evening camping meal. Everyone who partook thoroughly enjoyed it, and a hog roast is a cracking (and crackling) way to achieve triple pork nirvana.

The Mitre, Oxford, May 2016

A quick city centre pub post. We were camping nearby with friends and had decided to have a lazy day mooching around Oxford. We caught the park and ride service into the city centre, and mooched for a while, before hunting out a pub for lunch.

This can be a tricky prospect when there are 9 of you, but with so many pubs to choose from, you should be ok finding somewhere. We struck lucky in The Mitre as one of the staff found us a lovely large round table so we were all soon seated and pondering the menus.

The Mitre is a Beefeater pub, so you’ll know what you’re going to be getting – chain pub grub at a good price. Loads of things to choose from, various menus and deals on throughout the day, and you’ll find something for everyone in your group.

A drink first, and a reliable local beer in the shape of Old Hooky from Hook Norton brewery (who we will be visiting later in the summer). This is a classic malty bitter that shouldn’t let you down.

After much deliberation, everyone had ordered, and food soon arrived. For myself and Mrs MOFAD, that was a chicken, bacon (triple pork nirvana is at stake) and avocado burger, with cheese. Avocado has featured in a lot of food choices since the Great New Zealand Road Trip – it’s very popular in NZ and Mrs MOFAD has taken a particular liking to it.

It worked well in this burger, the creamy texture complementing the salty bacon and mild Monterey Jack cheese. Simple fries and a little bit of coleslaw on the side. Good pub grub, and perfect for our relaxed day of mooching. More mooching was in order, so we passed on dessert and headed out to explore some more.

If you’re looking for somewhere for a group of people to have a simple and tasty lunch in Oxford, this will do you nicely. Chains don’t always have to be bad (are you listening Toby Carvery?)

The Bulls Head, Monyash

Simple can be brilliant.

We’ve been away for the weekend, regular MOFAD companion Pete had organised a 40th birthday celebration nearby and we were staying at a camping barn, some of us camping, some staying in the bunk rooms inside. The minister was on cooking duty over the weekend – fry ups on both mornings and a beef casserole on Saturday night. Easy stuff when catering for ten people.

For Sunday lunch we decided to stop off at this pub on the way home. We were going to come here for lunch yesterday but the incessant rain put paid to that plan. Today we had sunshine, so sat out on the patio round the side of the pub. Lots of other people did that too, with loads of bikers and cyclists around, but we found a table ok, and got served in good time.

A very simple lunch – the “chickwich”. First and foremost, it’s good to see a pub serving a full menu on a Sunday and not just hiding behind a Sunday roast. As we approach the summer months, something lighter on a Sunday is usually preferable.

The “chickwich” is very straightforward. A whole grilled chicken breast, on a soft white roll, with lettuce leaves and mayonnaise, with some very tasty chips on the side. Nothing flash, just good ingredients.

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And all served on a plate! No slates, no “leaves”. Just proper, honest grub. Simple and delicious, this was an absolutely perfect lunch for today. Very tasty.

Mrs MOFAD had a “standard” chicken sandwich, which was also very nice and came with a side salad and some crisps. A slice of pineapple and a slice of melon in the salad was a little something different.

Lovely village pub, you should definitely go the next time you are in the area. We’ll certainly be back! MOFAD approved!