The Hunting Lodge, Barrow upon Soar, June 2017

The photo you are about to see caused some uproar on Facebook. It is a standard picture of what we ate tonight, captured for the purposes of this blog, but posted to Facebook soon after it was taken. Two aspects of it concerned people. One, the size of the chicken breast (for that’s what it is, and not a slug as Ali and Chris suspected). Two, the lake of sauce that encroached on to the salad. This caused much consternation particularly from Hazel and Sharon, who were both quite offended by the contamination of the leaves by a warm sauce.

We shall return to all of that in a moment. Tonight, we were wandering around Barrow upon Soar, trying to win a treasure hunt, and reclaim our crown (we did not retain it last year). I say we, I had been on a train back from Newcastle for 4 hours, so I was only out on the trail for about 40 minutes.

After the hunt was over, all of the teams descended upon The Hunting Lodge where we had all pre-ordered from a small menu of items. All four of us on our table had ordered this Greek chicken dish, with chips and salad:-

As you can see, there is indeed a lake of garlic sauce, which takes up over half of the plate. And the chicken breast was rather on the small side. And the sauce does indeed encroach upon the salad. It was tasty, but a very tiny piece of chicken and the lack of a dam between salad and sauce did rather spoil things.

Pudding did make up for it in some way, hot chocolate fudge cake with chocolate sauce, but with squirty cream letting the side down.

I think the mass catering required had them off their game a bit, the food was better the last time I came here. And there was no decent beer on tonight either. We will be back again I’m sure.

The Tea Junction, Hulme End, May 2017

The Tea Junction at Hulme End opened in 2009 after much controversy over the costs of refurbishing the former railway shed, even though the railway that it served closed in 1934!

We first came across it in 2013 when we were camping just a few hundred yards away. It’s the perfect place for some food and drink at the start or end of your journey up or down the Manifold Way, which runs along the old railway bed from Hulme End to Waterhouses (near Leek). If you start at Waterhouses, then it’s perfectly placed in the middle of your “there and back” route.

There’s the usual selection of hot drinks including several teas, various soft drinks and plenty of home made cakes to accompany them. Savoury options too, including soup, Staffordshire oatcakes and sandwiches.

Today we dropped in at the end of our walk to Wetton Mill and back (via Ecton Hill and the Manifold Way). A well earned cup of tea and some cake was our reward for a lovely walk. An added bonus is the delightful mish mash of crockery that you are presented with:-

There’s always the opportunity for a chat with the lovely owner Rebecca, who is genuinely interested in everyone who comes in, what they’ve been up to, what they’ve encountered whilst out and about and anything else you want to talk about.

This quirky little cafe is a delight, and a great place to stop for refreshments on the Manifold Way.

Bradgate Park Conservatory Tea Room, Leicestershire

A sunny Sunday in spring. A weekend at home. So we were off out for a walk, parking up at Groby Pool (not for the reasons that most people park at Groby Pool), and heading off for a walk around the Leicestershire countryside.

We had planned our walk to arrive in Bradgate Park at lunchtime, and that is exactly what happened. As it was a nice sunny day, we found a table outside and then popped inside to order some lunch. The usual cafe selection of sandwiches, panini, etc. is available. Keeping it simple with ham and cheese panino today, tasty if it’s done right, a travesty if it’s done wrong.

Nothing to complain about here, decent ham and cheese, and speedy service. The anaemic salad garnish wasn’t anything to write home about, but then it so often isn’t. We also had some crisps and drinks and then treated ourselves to some cake (we still have to walk back to the car, so it’s important to be properly fuelled).

As ever, I chose the chocolate cake, rich and moist.

The Conservatory Tea Room is a great little place if you’re visiting Bradgate Park. Plenty of seating inside and out, and they open every day from 10am-5pm (4pm from March-November).

Manor Organic Farm tea room, Long Whatton

Spring is springing! Around our way, this means an annual event – lambing days at a local farm. On these days they open up to the public so you can get up and close with nature, and cuddle a few of their pet lambs.

I think this is a great idea as it gets children closer to the world of food, and where things come from. It also shows the love and care that most farmers put into raising their livestock. There is much negative propaganda out there, and yes, there are poor farming practices still in this world, but if you think all farm animals are raised in sheds and kept in appalling conditions, come and see how it is done by people who care about their animals.

Anyway, enough gentle tub thumping, on to a quick lunch stop. The farm has a great farm shop, and a tea room that is open all year round, Wednesday to Saturday, 9:30-16:30. We popped in for a late lunch before going off to see lots of springy lambs bouncing around.

We were quite late so a few things had sold out (jacket potatoes in particular) but we all opted for variations on the sausage/bacon/egg bap (cob in local dialect).

Freshly cooked and delicious, a very tasty lunch. As we had spent some time staring longingly at the cakes, we had some of those too, with my choice of tiffin being the correct one – chocolatey, gooey and delightful.

If you are in the area, this is a lovely little tea room, and you can do some shopping at the farm shop afterwards.

Afternoon tea, Aqua Shard, London, March 2017

We do enjoy a spot of afternoon tea. Normally it’s in slightly more low key surroundings, but today is Mrs MOFAD’s birthday, and we wanted something special to celebrate. I booked this a few months in advance, and even though it was just an “ordinary” Tuesday, it was just as well that I did because it soon got very busy very quickly.

After a relaxed morning of present opening, breakfast and then an easy train journey (despite East Midlands Trains doing their best to spoil it by screwing up their reservations again), we were soon at London Bridge station, and outside the Shard. We stood and gawped for a little while and then entered the gift shop. Let’s get the Shard facts out of the way and then move on to lunch.

The Shard is a 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark, London. It is 309.7 metres (1,016 ft) high, currently the tallest building in the United Kingdom, the fourth tallest building in Europe and the 107th tallest building in the world. That will change soon I’m sure.

The glass-clad pyramidal tower has 72 habitable floors, with a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor, at a height of 244.3 metres (802 ft). It was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and replaced Southwark Towers, a 24-storey office block built on the site in 1975.

So, there are the facts, let’s move on to our visit. You arrive at the ground floor, after a short stroll from London Bridge station. You can have a look around the gift shop if you’ve got some time to spare. When you’re ready, you are greeted in the lobby, and then your bags go through an airport-style x-ray scanner. Once they pass, you enter the lift and zoom up 31 floors to Aqua Shard.

We ordered the full afternoon tea experience for our lunch, and spent two hours leisurely grazing our way through it, accompanied by a glass of champagne and infinite tea.

Here is the tower of cake (more on those later).

There’s a huge selection of teas to choose from but we kept it trad with some English breakfast style teas, and they just kept on topping them up with as much tea as you want. You can also spot chocolate/meringue lollipops, more on those later too.

A slightly blurry sandwich shot next, some very traditional ones in this line up. Smoked salmon and cream cheese, cheese and pickle, egg, bacon and tomato, and cucumber on rye bread. This was the first plate, another was to follow.

Some cakes next, a light sponge with chocolate and caramel, and a shard of chocolate on the outside. If you have a restaurant in the Shard, you have to have a shard somewhere in your food. You can also see a fruity/moussey/crumbley thing.

No afternoon tea would be complete without freshly baked scones, both plain and with golden raisins. You will note that these are pictured being served correctly, jam first.

More cake? Ok then. A light and fluffy victoria sponge with cream and jam. I’m not sure that the WI would quite approve, but I certainly did.

There has to be a chocolate cake somewhere, and this chocolate brownie with an orange cream was a delicious cocoa-ey bite.

And last but not least, that chocolate meringue lollipop, blurred here to show you the view from the Shard.

The service was relaxed, friendly, unhurried. A comedy French maître d’hôtel kept us entertained, jokingly chastising a junior colleague on a small error, photo-bombing some old ladies’ selfies and just generally keeping things light. No need for lots of starched stuffiness. When you opt for a dining experience like this one, there’s always a worry that you will be made to feel uncomfortable if these surroundings are not places you spend a lot of time in. That was not the case.

Nor were we surrounded by hordes of hooray Henries, which is another potential worry. There were a few corporate lunches going on around us, but the overwhelming majority of tables were filled with couples enjoying a pleasant lunch and relaxing, high above the hustle and bustle of central London.

When the bill arrives (as it inevitably must), it also appears with understated elegance.

And even the view from the toilet is rather splendid.

Just time for one last look down before hopping into the lift and zooming back down to the ground. floor

A fantastic lunch. If you are looking for a special experience for a special occasion, this won’t disappoint. Aqua Shard has put together the right mix of everything to make things feel just right.

RSPB Minsmere cafe, Suffolk, October 2016

A quick post this one. We came to Minsmere last year, and had a great day out bird nerding (we are very much amateur twitchers, with a general appreciation for wildlife).

One of our only definite plans for our Suffolk week was to return to Minsmere, and as today had the best forecast for all of the week, we drove down from Southwold and set off on our birding adeventure.

We made our way around several hides in the morning, spotting marsh harriers again:-

There were plenty of water fowl, a baby deer and a bearded tit:-

A quick note to TripAdvisor, a bearded tit is a common wetland bird, aka bearded reedling (latin name Panurus biarmicus), and you should really allow it through your profanity filter when it is clearly mentioned in the context of bird watching and not a cheap reference to Bill Oddie.

And if all those birds weren’t enough excitement before lunch, we also caught a bittern in flight:-

After all that excitement, we needed a lunch break. Today, there were some problems in the kitchen, so they couldn’t offer a full menu. So no ploughmans like last time, and I had to make do with just a ham and cheese sandwich:-

It was very nice, absolutely stuffed with good ham and cheese, not just a couple of wafer thin or tasteless slices of each. In fact the filling was probably thicker than the slices of bread containing it!

More bird nerding followed, with shoveller, teal, wigeon, heron, little egret, meadow pipit, black tailed godwit, redshank and snipe:-

We think we saw 27 species of bird today, a grand day out. After all that excitement, we popped back in to the cafe for tea and cake, and this maple and pecan slice (one of the few things Imago can do well) hit the spot:-

Mrs MOFAD was disappointed not to get a toasted teacake, as apparently you can’t have one after 2:30pm, which is just madness. Instead she had a too sweet piece of millionaire’s shortbread.

Minsmere is a great place for a relaxed day of bird watching, ideal for beginners, amateurs or professionals with their £8,000 camera lenses…

The Coffee Tavern, Pott Shrigley

TripAdvisor is a very handy resource. Sometimes, even though you’ve read loads of reviews that give you pause for thought, you think “we’ve just got to visit that place to find out if those reviews are right”.

With this place, they really are. Many of them refer to the “interesting” customer service and ambience. We experienced all of this first hand.

It’s quite an interesting building, erected in 1887 as a Memorial Room for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and then used as a reading room until remaining empty for many years.

Upon arrival, it was too early for lunch, so we decided to stop for tea and cake, and pick up some sandwiches to take away. More on that story later.

Our first experience of the legendary customer skills came as soon as Alison entered the front door and enquired about bringing in a dog (the lovely and no trouble at all Suzy), a request that was met with an overly loud and forceful “no dogs” response.

No problem, it was a lovely day so we sat outside on a nice big bench, watching the world go by. Several of our party went in to order. Now the comedy really started.

A second member of staff had arrived by this point, and rather than improve the situation, this made things worse. An order was placed. One member of staff got a tray ready to put the order on. As soon as she turned her back, the other member of staff come out of the kitchen and tidied the tray. She returned to the kitchen, and the first member of staff got a new tray ready to put the order on. And like a comedy cuckoo clock, she turned around and the second member popped out through the door and tidied it away again.

Third time lucky, and the tray got some tea and cups on it. The cakes would follow shortly.

“I’ll bring it all out to you.”

If you hear those words, you would expect that they will bring the tray out with both tea and cakes. That’s not what those words meant. They meant “you take the tray out and I’ll bring two plates of cake.” Because two plates of cake arrived, with the tray still sat inside, surely at risk of being cleared away by the comedy cuckoo clock.

Luckily we retrieved it before it met that fate. The tea was ok, the millionaire shortbread was a bit sweet and sickly for my taste. The shortbread needed longer cooking time.

Shortly afterwards, our take away sandwiches (clearly requested as “two ham sandwiches to take away”) arrived. Can you spot the deliberate mistake?

Yes, those take away sandwiches have arrived on plates, which we really don’t want to take away with us. The request was clearly very confusing, so they supplied us with some extra napkins to wrap the sandwiches up to take away. Not ideal, but better than those heavy plates I suppose.

It is most definitely an experience. They really are not suited to dealing with members of the public. There’s nothing else in the immediate area (although the nearby village of Bollington has loads of great pubs) so it would do in an emergency.

There is only one way to sum up this visit, with this classic sketch…