The Otter, Kegworth, December 2019

For the eighth time in ten years we find ourselves at The Otter, my team’s traditional Xmas lunch venue. Every year I take my team out for lunch, a small token of appreciation for another year of hard work. I’ve written about this pub loads, so I’ll crack straight on with a quick round up of the food and drink.

Beer first, and with only two sad looking pumps of Doom Bar and Wainwright (and an awful pint of Atlantic last year), I decided to chance my arm with keg instead, Chieftain IPA from “Franciscan Well brewing”, who sound very exotic, but are just a Coors subsidiary. Simple and malty, and not much more.

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On to food. Regular readers may recall that I have very similar things every year, as they don’t change the menu massively each time (no need to change a winning formula). For the third year in a row, I opted for the duck & port parfait, this time with a “mulled Cumberland sauce” (stop mulling things!) and “toasted rustic bread”. It was grilled on one side, and better than last year’s bread which had just been waved near a light bulb. No leaves this time, or slices of radish (2017). It was very tasty. The sauce was way too thin though, it needed to be reduced.

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My main course is so predictable that everyone knows what I’ll be having. I always have the rib of beef, this time boneless, served on a bed of truffle & parsley mash (no sign of truffle), with honey-roasted carrots, glazed sprouts (no thanks) and a red wine jus. No onion rings (2015), spiced vegetable fritter (2016) or marrow (2018). As delicious as ever, and paired with some nice hot English mustard of course.

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My pudding choice is also utterly predictable, Belgian chocolate brownie with Irish liqueur ice cream. I have the chocolate pudding every year. Last year’s was probably the high point for this, but the 2019 version was also pretty good. It was the most popular pudding in our party. Thankfully they’ve finally ditched the out of season strawberries.

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Another lovely lunch at The Otter. A shame that the service was extra slow this year, despite pre-ordering for the first time. Don’t get me started on that either, it was an utter farce, with an online system that didn’t have the same options as the menu, and e-mail addresses that didn’t work. After some back and forth, everything got sorted, but it took a bit of the shine off things. It also took them about three goes to find our table.

Despite all of that, I’m sure we’ll be back next year.

Brewdog, Camden, June 2018 #2

Back again. As far as venues go for watching the World Cup, this makes a pretty good one. As they don’t sell bland macro lagers (although they do keep offering up some bland things nowadays), you don’t get the type of football fan stereotypically associated with those brands. As they aren’t known for their football coverage, you don’t get many football fans in general. Which means that you get to appreciate the game and some beers in a much more pleasant environment.

Helpfully, there’s also food on offer, so you can have your dinner after day one of a five day training course, as well as a couple of pints to enjoy with the football. On to the drinks first.

OverWorks are the new Brewdog spin off who are concentrating on creating sour/saison beers that offer something a bit different to the more hop-led core Brewdog range. Tonight I sampled Pinyin and Mariangela.

Pinyin is a Brettanomyces Saison fermented with Jasmin and Ooloing teas, aged in barrels. Very floral, a hint of smokiness from the Oolong, very drinkable, nicely tart and a lingering finish.

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Mariangela is another Brettanomyces Saison, this time fermented with Sicilian blush oranges and Scottish strawberries, aged in amphora (neolithic clay pot). It makes for a refreshing saison but the strawberry has added only colour, not even a hint of flavour. Sour citrus note, but easy drinking.

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Food was next, the tasty Patriot burger, a 7oz beef brisket patty (seems smaller), a sesame and poppy seeded brioche bun, smoked bacon, cheddar, pickles, onion, baby gem & bbq sauce. A decent enough burger.

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Next up Sonic Boom V2 an “experimental hop IPA” with full of floral and citrus bitterness. Best IPA from Brewdog for a while. The less said about the fanzine English IPA the better 🙂

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Finally an Eddie Murky from Brewheadz, an NEIPA, which is evidenced by the latest in a line of “murk” puns to describe the cloudy nature of many New England style IPAs. Plenty hoppiness, low bitterness and it won’t be Another 48 Hours before I might have another.

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The football was not the greatest in the world, Portugal progressed to the World Cup knockout stage after drawing with Iran in a game full of VAR controversy. Ronaldo missed a penalty for Portugal and was shown a yellow card after a lengthy VAR review for a possible red card. Iran scored a late penalty after another lenghty VAR session, but there was no way that it was a deliberate handball. They almost snatched a winner in stoppage time, and if they had topped the group it would have been madness.

I suspect I’ll be back for more beer and football later in the week…

Bucks Head, Camden, June 2018

Hot town, summer in the city,
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.

Yes, it’s summer and I’m in London. After a lovely weekend away camping, it was back home and then off to the station to catch a train down to that London. I’m here for a week. Five days of 9-5 solid training course on quite a dry subject. With two exams, the second of which is 2 1/2 hours long.

What this does mean is a run of blog posts, because I have to go out and have dinner each night, and to stop myself going insane there are a couple of comedy gigs lined up too, my reward for revising and doing mock exam papers most nights.

I’m staying in Camden again because I’ve stayed here a few times before, the hotel is reasonably priced (for London, and it meets corporate pricing requirements) and the Northern line is handy for travelling for the daytime activities and evening ones (although I hadn’t spotted that the station is exit only in the early evening whilst they are upgrading escalators).

I picked a familiar pub for dinner, The Bucks Head. Nice and close to the hotel, we were here in November for a drink, and the menu had some interesting items on it. And the football was on. The World Cup has had some cracking games this year, and this was my first chance to watch one down the pub.

Drink first, and another “same as last time” beer, LPA – London Pale Ale by Southwark Brewing Co, a simple session ale with a gentle hoppy hint hidden in there somewhere. And some happy Colombian fans (I think Yerry Mina had just scored).

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The super smoked meats pizza was calling me. Pulled pork? Yes please! Slow cooked hickory smoked brisket? Yes please! “Sauce drizzles” of cheese, teryaki and BBQ? Probably. “Superfood side salad” – probably a good idea to have something a bit healthier. Apparently it was the last pizza in the kitchen tonight.

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The pizza didn’t quite live up to its billing. More meat was required, the teryaki didn’t seem to make it on, and the “cheese sauce drizzle” was just weird. It needed some vegetable matter.

The superfood side salad was hardly that. A few slices of cucumber, avocado, tomato, onion, pepper and a few leaves is not exactly the greatest side in the world. Bit of a rip off and lacking super.

The atmosphere inside wasn’t the greatest, so I decided on plan B, and headed off to Brewdog to watch the second half.

Reservoir Inn (formerly The Jolly Fisherman), Thornton, April 2018

Another springtime stroll. I’ve said this before enough times, but when we plan walks on Sundays, it’s very hard to find ones with pubs on that don’t just serve up full plates of roast dinner. If you run a pub, there’s a very easy way to rectify this. Do what the Reservoir Inn do. Offer baguettes with roast meat in, a small bowl of roast veg (lovely crisp parsnips and potatoes in this case), and if you’re really doing it properly, a little jug of gravy. Like this:-

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This was a fantastic lunch, the veg were lovely, the gravy was thick and meaty, the beef was nice and the horseradish was delightfully piquant. The baguette was slighty under baked (this phrase is always spoken in Paul Hollywood’s voice now) and probably didn’t need any butter, but apart from this, the perfect Sunday lunch time meal.

The Reservoir Inn is a cracking little village pub. It’s slightly confusing, as everywhere you look there seems to be some Steamin’ Billy Brewing Co branding (a local pub chain who don’t actually brew despite their name). Indeed, my beer choice today was Sky Diver by Steamin’ Billy (great lacing, a touch of malt, but not much more).

However, it’s not a Steamin’ Billy pub, just a great pub that we will come back to again. Walkers are welcome with muddy(ish) boots and/or wet dogs in the bar area on the left hand side. Recommended.

The Otter, Kegworth, December 2017

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Team Christmas lunch time. I’m not one to change a winning formula, so we are sticking with our venue of recent years, The Otter in Kegworth. A reliable member of the Vintage Inns chain, and once again they didn’t disappoint.

Beer first (it is Christmas after all), and a pint of Rudolph’s Reward from No. 18 Yard Brewhouse (who are a subsidiary of Kent’s Shepherd Neame). Another Xmas connection there, having a beer from a brewery called shepherd 🙂

On to the festive feast then. A very tasty pate starter, with snow pea tops (they are appearing more and more in this hemisphere now, very popular in the southern one), radish slices and a cheffy smear of a tart berry compote. It was very nice indeed.

Regular readers will know that when it comes to food, I love to try new things, but I also favour going for something tried and tested. This short rib of beef is the same thing that I’ve had every time we’ve been here. In the words of that 90s bard the Fresh Prince, “if it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it…”

Just as delicious as ever, and paired with some nice hot English mustard of course.

Pudding next (because Christmas) and once again I’m going for the tried and tested chocolate truffle brownie option, because chocolate is always the best pudding.

Once again this proved to be correct, and I think I was the only one who finished their chocolate deliciousness, as it was very rich. I question the need for massively out of season strawberries to be served with this, when the more in season clementine or cranberry would make more sense.

Another lovely lunch at The Otter. Same time next year please!

The Otter, Kegworth, December 2016

The Otter in Kegworth is now my team’s traditional team Xmas dinner venue. Every year I take my team out for Xmas lunch, a small token of appreciation for another year of hard work. I think it’s now 5 out of 7 years that we’ve been here. We tried a couple of other places, and they were nowhere near as good. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, as The Fresh Prince wisely advised us.

The Otter in Kegworth is always warm and inviting, perfect for cold December days. Although, just like last year, this was not one of those. It was about 12C outside, which is welcome but still feels wrong. The canal-side location is great in summer but also looks nice on a sunny day like this.

It’s still a Vintage Inn and not much has changed in the last 12 months. They still have an excellent online booking system which makes sorting out your reservation a doddle.

So let’s get on to today’s lunch. Pretty much the usual selection of ales. I did want the Purity IPA but it was off so it was Sharp’s Atlantic again, a good pale ale that is much better coming from a pump than a bottle.

A good selection of starters to choose from as usual, between us we had spiced roast carrot soup, pork & fig terrine, prawn & lobster cocktail and my choice was oven-baked button and portobello mushrooms in a garlic & mature cheddar sauce with a parsley & chestnut crust. It was very tasty.

If you think it looks familiar, that’s because it does. This was last year’s:-

Next up, the main course. Five things to choose from this year, but no-one went for the nut roast (lazy vegetarian cop out) or the sea bass (which looked tempting). We had the traditional turkey, with some of the trimmings, a sirloin steak , and a couple of slow-cooked short ribs of beef, with mash and a spiced vegetable fritter.

The beef was lovely and tender, falling off the bone and crisp and caramelised on the outside. Delicious. The spiced vegetable fritter was a good addition, although a little sneaky as it contained a slice of sprout. It was hidden by the spices but you could tell that evil was lurking.

Once again, if you think it looks familiar, that’s because I had pretty much the same thing last year. It was really tasty, which is why I had it again.

So finally, to dessert. Christmas pudding was of course available, as was a spiced plum and rhubarb crumble pie/tart. It has to be chocolate for me, chocolate orange torte with chocolate sauce, cream and strawberry. Full of chocolate and orange goodness, a dense texture although slightly crunchy/crispy.

Are you ready for last year’s? Yes, chocolate torte it was. Sometimes different is good, sometimes the same is what you want.

We all had a great time as usual and enjoyed the food. A great pub for your festive dining, and a great pub all year round!

Beef casserole with savoury scones

It’s another recipe post. I love a casserole. It’s something that has a bit of a bad reputation to shake off, as it’s a dish that is often associated with cheaper cuts of meat. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If they are treated properly, they are often the tastiest. Look at the rise of pulled pork, and to a lesser extent, beef brisket. The shoulder of pork and the breast of beef are cheaper cuts, but when subjected to long and slow cooking, they turn into some of the nicest. If you rush them, they can be tough as old boots.

There are loads of recipes for beef casserole out there so do we really need another one? Well, why not? This is my version. What you serve it with can vary a lot too. We like  savoury scones, so they are included here too. Casserole first. This should serve 4 people, I usually make 6 or more portions and freeze them. It heats up in minutes to give a quick and easy meal at a later date. You can substitute your favourite veg in here, squashes, swedes, or whatever else.

500g beef – stewing beef, casserole beef, brisket, shin, featherblade, whatever your choice of cheaper cut
4 carrots, chopped into thumb sized chunks
4 parsnips, chopped into thumb sized chunks
Small (around 200g) jar of cocktail onions, drained and rinsed under cold water
1 tablespoon of olive oil (or any cooking oil)
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
2 tablespoons of plain flour
500ml of liquid – water, beer, wine, or any combination of these
Your choice of seasoning

Method

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the beef over a high heat until it starts to brown. If you add all of the beef to the pan, then it will probably release a bit of water. If you don’t like this then you can fry it in batches, but I just don’t have time for that. Once the beef is brown enough for your liking, add the carrots and parsnips and fry them until they have taken on a little colour. Something like:-

Now add the onions and cook for a minute or two. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes until it has coated everything. Now add your liquid. A quick note on this.

I recall a Delia recipe from the 1980s called “beef in designer beer”. It was a take on boeuf en flammande, the classic Belgian beef stew. Her advice in the recipe was:-

"Not sure which one to use? Do what I do and go for the prettiest label!"

Don’t do that. You need to choose something that’s going to work with the beef. A really hoppy IPA, pale ale or a light lager are just not going to do the job. You need a darker ale, a malty bitter or stout or porter. If the end result tastes too “beery” you won’t win any friends. If you’re worried about the beer flavour being too strong, just add a little bit and make up the difference with water. Water on its own is just fine too, a lot of flavour comes from the beef as it slowly cooks.

Now your liquid is in, stir everything around and then add the tomato puree, stir a bit more, stick a lid on it and put it on the hob on a low heat or in the oven at around 160 degrees C for at least 2 hours, preferably 3.

Now let’s get on to the savoury scones. This should make around 6 scones.

230g self-raising flour
60g butter, cut into cubes
half a teaspoon of salt
150ml milk, and a little extra to brush over the tops
1 teaspoon of grain mustard
1 teaspoon of your choice of dried herbs

Method

Put the flour, butter and salt into a food processor, and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Then slowly add the milk and continue to pulse until combined. Now add the mustard and herbs and give it a final pulse to mix in.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface, to around 3cm thick. Cut into rounds using a pastry cutter (6-8cm in diameter). Place on a lightly oiled baking tray, brush the tops with the remaining milk and then bake for 15-20 minutes in the oven at 200 degrees C.

When you’ve finished, the casserole should look a little something like this:-

You’ll spot some peas there, I tend to cook these separately and then add them in at the last minute. If you mix them into the casserole they tend to go grey and don’t look very appetising on reheating.

If you prefer something a little spicier, stirring a spoonful of chilli jam into your bowl brings a gentle warmth to proceedings.

The scones will look a little something like this:-

A tasty casserole dish, easy to make and very rewarding for little effort.

The Needle & Pin, Loughborough, April 2016 #2

I wrote about The Needle & Pin a couple of weeks ago, so go and visit that post to learn more about Loughborough’s newest pub, and its history. I predicted more visits and more reviews. I was right.

First up today, The Needle & Pin Brew #3 by Pheasantry Brewery. Yes, that’s right The Needle & Pin have commissioned their own beers to be served in the pub. Brew #3 is a golden dry hopped version of Pheasantry Brewery’s Dancing Dragonfly, and is hoppy, dark golden ale, very drinkable for 5% – good stuff.

A quick snack is required, a tasty beef brisket roll from The Hog Stop across the road:-

And another drink, a Cavendish Bridge by Shardlow Brewing Company, this was a fairly standard bitter with slight hints of biscuit:-

The Needle & Pin is definitely my new favourite pub 🙂

The Hog Stop, April 2016 #2

Another quick Hog Stop post. Just a couple of weeks on from the last one, and it’s time for another sandwich. Last time I was espousing about their porky goodness, and I mentioned that they also do beef brisket.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, I love pulled pork. What probably hasn’t come across yet, is that I also love beef brisket. It is my regular Sunday roast joint, usually braised in red wine for several hours. Always tasty and tender, particularly from Ben & Tori, two of our great local farmers who are at the Loughborough Farmers’ Market each month.

So, as The Hog Stop also have some brisket on the go, I had to have it:-

Tender and delicious, with nice peppery rocket and a red cabbage and horseradish slaw. I would like more horseradish in it, but that’s because I love lots of warmth with my beef, with English mustard as the preffered accompaniment. I also have mustard with my roast chicken, which is my dad’s fault, as he didn’t eat chicken or turkey at Christmas, so there was always beef as well, which meant that mustard was on the table. Yes please!

Anyway, enough digressing, this was a very nice sandwich, and proof that the Hog Stop aren’t just about great pork, but great beef too.

Lucy’s on a Plate, December 2015

It’s only been 368 days since our last visit, quite a bit has happened in that time (#understatement). Quite a lot more than has been written about in around 200 blog posts. But one thing is for sure, when we come back to Ambleside for a New Year trip, it will always start with dinner at Lucy’s on a Plate, one of our favourites, and one of the very best restaurants in this fine county (which is very much still open for business despite the terrible floods earlier this month).

First up, a little refreshment. Mrs MOFAD usually likes to have a Kir Royale, whilst I’ll go for a bottle of local ale. A new one for me this year, Coniston Blacksmiths Ale, a bottle of malty goodness with slight festive notes.

The menu is always on the move, so you can be pretty certain that there will be something new on the menu for you to try, alongside some of the old favourites.

Tonight, it was all about the new for me. Deep fried crispy chilli beef (like you’ve probably had from your local Chinese restaurant, but more refined), on a bed of noodles with pea shoots. This was delicious, lovely beef and a touch of chilli to complement it.

And now on to the main event. And what a surprising event. As acknowledged on the menu, Lucy has always been against putting a burger on the menu. But many years on, and she has relented, and it is easy to see why. This was a very tasty burger indeed, but there are a few points to note.

The most important of these (and you’ll know what’s coming if you’ve seen the photo), is the use of a roof tile to serve dinner on. Please don’t succumb to this hipster nonsense. We love you, but we want plates!

Luckily (as you’ll see below) Mrs MOFAD had a plate, on which her 2 bowls of dinner were rather precariously perched, so we did a bit of swapping in order to subvert this hipster trend. So I got my plate, which made it much easier to interact with my dinner.

The portion was enormous. The bucket of chips was massive (another issue with using buckets as a measure for chips), the onion rings were juicy and crispy, and the relish was a good accompaniment to the burger (a bit more would have been perfect). Not one for health freaks, not a leaf of salad in sight 🙂

Mrs MOFAD had a Lucy’s classic which is always on the menu, the bobbing bobotie (pronounced bohbooty) an Indonesian dish which is now associated with South Africa, thanks to the Dutch colonists who took it there. A kind of a cross between lasagne and tagine, and very nice indeed.

And finally to pudding. You can’t come to Lucy’s without having a pudding, and the Eton mess is something we’ve had before, nearly falling asleep into it a few years ago (10th June 2008 to be precise, after conquering the Fairfield horseshoe – hurrah for keeping a diary of Wainwrights climbed). Delicious stuff, really sharp fruits and perfect for cooling down by the fire. Mrs MOFAD opted for the same apple crumble/tart mash up that we had last year.

Another lovely dinner at Lucy’s, a quick chat with Lucy herself (who came over to turn the fire down as we were melting next to it) and of course MOFAD approval once again. Because they didn’t exist on out last visit, a MOFAD card was left. See you next year 🙂