Rowena/Wyevale Garden Centre, Rothley, July 2017

A garden centre? Whatever next? Some years ago we spent a lot of time in these, finding things for our various garden projects. That has dwindled a lot recently, which culminated in a project to get the garden completely revamped last month. We left that to the experts, and just have a few little bits and pieces to sort out. Which is why we find ourselves here on a rainy/sunny Saturday afternoon. Before filling up trolleys with pots, plants and slate chippings, we stopped off for lunch in the little cafe. It’s not so little any more, with an outside seating area, a conservatory bit, and the main dining area all linked together. The usual selection of sandwiches, toasties and some other hot dishes on offer.

I had a chicken, bacon, cheese and chutney toastie, which was nicely filled, with all of the different elements combining to make something a bit more interesting than the usual ham and cheese affair. A few tiny bits of salad on the side. An old fashioned English toastie this, a sandwich stuck under a grill, from the days before the Breville toasted sandwich maker (other toasted sandwich makers are available). Not exactly haute cuisine, but a quick and easy lunch stop.

The Pear Tree, Hook Norton, July 2017

Where do you go when you’ve just been shopping at the Hook Norton brewery? To the 18th century pub just down the road. It’s not quite the brewery tap (there’s a bar inside the brewery shop which serves as that), but as it’s so close, it’s as good as one. Presumably named after the pear tree which grows up the front of it, this is a pub that we’ve been to before, for lunch and a walk a few years ago now.

It was nice to be back, and we had a leisurely chat over some hot drinks and beers, whilst waiting for Paul (and eager young pup Snitch) who we had last seen in the field just up the road from this very spot this time last year, whilst at the Hooky beer festival. We ordered some lunch too. This was accompanied by a pint of Hook Norton Katy Lou which was released as we were sitting here, a special for the beer festival.

I had a bacon and brie panino, which was very nice, with a decent bit of salad on the side. Everyone in our party had a lovely lunch.

A great little village pub, good food and drinks and a friendly atmosphere.

We close this review with something unusual.

A toilet.

A urinal to be precise. With something rather different about it. If you don’t visit many urinals, then rest assured that they don’t usually look like this.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this. It’s obviously designed to help you focus your aim in the right place. Odd.

Low Sizergh Barn, Cumbria, June 2017

We are in the Lakes again. This will come as a suprise to no-one as we’ve been coming here every June since 2007 (and other summer trips before that too). We are off to Coniston this year, for the first time since 2011, staying in the same cottage (ground floor apartment). There are 2 potential routes, and both of them would take in Low Sizergh Barn, which is our usual winter trip lunch stop, so we stopped here for lunch today.

A bit quieter than when we pitch up for lunch in December, but still very busy, because it is such a popular place. We popped upstairs for lunch, and ordered some lunch. An “open” ham and chutney sandwich for me, which was perfectly pleasant but didn’t really feel like a sandwich, rather just some bits of bread with meat on top. Accompanied by the usual interesting salad.

A nice little lunch stop, and we nipped downstairs for a bit of shopping before continuing our journey. It would appear that the raw milk that had been suspended from sale due to health and safety issues earlier in the year is back on sale again. Thanks, but no thanks. That Louis Pasteur knew what he was doing.

(Edit : August 2017 – having passed this today, it would appear that they are going to put in a right hand turn from the west bound A591, so you might no longer have to detour along the A590 and down the back roads to get here if travelling from the M6!)

National Trust Cafe, Longshaw Estate, April 2017

A soggy Easter Sunday. We had plans for a certain walk today, but conditions were not conducive to this, so we adapted our plans, and decided to head over to the Longshaw Estate for lunch, and then head out to Carl Wark fort and Higger Tor. Free parking (as we are National Trust members) is always an attraction!

As it was Easter Sunday, it was absolutely packed inside the cafe, but we managed to spot a family leaving their table at the back and quickly swooped in to grab it. The cafe itself is a little confused, as it also doubles as a shop. This means that valuable table space (particularly on a busy bank holiday weekend) is wasted by island display units selling standard NT toys and tat.  It needs a bit of a rethink.

On to lunch. After queuing up for a bit, we were expecting a bit of a wait for food, but it turned up pretty speedily. Mrs MOFAD ordered a jacket potato with tuna mayo, and I went for the safe option of a ploughmans.

Reasonably priced, it was a nice little lunch and a reasonably decent interpretation of a ploughmans. The ham was tasty, some decent leaves (no limp iceberg in sight) and home made coleslaw (not too much onion). The rest of the usual salad items were missing though, no tomatoes, no pickled onion (Mrs MOFAD was thankful for this), no apple.

Although I do have a question. Why grated cheese? This is the first time I think I’ve seen this on a ploughmans. It should be a nice chunk of cheese – grated cheese makes it much harder to eat! You have to mash it on to your fork so that you can get it into your mouth.

Apart from that oddity, a decent and speedy lunch. We were also treated to a surprise visit from MOFAD companions, Hazel, Matt, Kerrie & Andy, who we spent the day with yesterday. Kerrie’s window licking upon departure was a sight to behold.

If you’re having a day out at Longshaw or nearby, this is a good little place for lunch or tea and cake.

York Tap, York Station, April 2017

The team at the York Tap are dedicated to serving the very best in British and continental ale and craft beer across 32 lines. You will find traditional local cask conditioned ales, and European pilsners sitting alongside American craft beers. The tap is perfectly situated on platform 1 of York station (also accessible from the street).  It’s very hard to miss the lovely listed Edwardian building, with very attractive stained glass windows and skylights. They also offer a range of carefully selected fine wines, spirits and soft drinks alongside a small but perfectly formed nibbles menu.

If you have timed your journey to arrive on a Friday lunchtime (like what we did), then you can get straight off your train, head across to plaform 1, and straight into the Tap. Park your suitcase at a table and then head off to the bar and order.

Loads of beer to choose from, all of those aforementioned lines, as well as lots of bottles and cans. First up I opted for the wonderfully named “Lime in the Coconut” from Bristol based Arbor Ales, who are fast becoming a favourite of mine. A very solid IPA with very subtle hints of lime and coconut. Easy drinking on its own but I think this would be wonderful with a Thai green curry.

Mrs MOFAD opted for Floris Passion from Brouwerij Huyghe, also very tasty and very easy drinking, with subtle passion fruit flavours.

Food next, and we opted for a couple of slates (they are at least honest in telling you that you will be getting slates instead of plates). Mrs MOFAD had the pate slate with melba toast and mango chutney, all of which were delicious and worked well in combination.

I chose the meat and olives option, with added manchego cheese. It was an end piece of manchego, so it needed a bit more shaving to eat it. All very good ingredients, tasty meat, nice cheese and very good olives. A simple and tasty lunch.

This was accompanied by Thornbridge Galaxia, not an 80s Space Invaders game, but an Australian pale ale made with the Oz hop Galaxy.

It is certainly a classic Aussie pale, hoppy and delightful. I could have stayed here all afternoon working through all of the taps, but we had things to do and places to explore, so headed out of the door and off to our hotel. We might just pop back in on Sunday evening though 🙂

The perfect introduction to York for any train traveller, and the perfect excuse to let the train take the strain (other British Rail advertising slogans are available).

Dark Beer night at The Needle & Pin, February 2017

The latest Needle & Pin event is upon us. This one turned out to have a little twist on all of the previous beer tasting events. There was a little bit of food involved, pairing some little nibbles with a selection of 5 dark beers. Tonight’s event sold out in record time, and got expanded a few times. It seems that there are plenty of dark beer fans out there.

Once again, this feels like one of those events that you expect to find in London bars and brewery taps, so it’s really great to have it in our sleepy little market town. Let’s begin…

Gouden Carolus Classic was awarded “world’s best dark ale” at the 2012 World Beer awards, and also won gold at the 2015 awards. It pours a deep red, viscous with sweet notes or raisin, toffee and chocolate.

This was paired with some cave aged Gruyere cheese, and this was a great match, bringing out the creamy flavours of the cheese, and the sweet raisins in the beer.

Moor Stout is dark, smooth and rich, with roasted barley and bitter chocolate. Simple, unpretentious and highly drinkable, it has the hallmarks of a classic black beer, no unicorn hair, solar dust or celebrity nail clippings.

There were 2 potential matches with this one. Some Bavarian smoked cheese was first, but for me it didn’t work as it was way too subtle. I like my smoked cheeses to have little wisps of smoke coming out of them (heavily smoked) but this was too subtle for my tastes. The second match was Roquefort, and that was a winner, with the tanginess standing up very well against the heavy roast flavours of the beer.

Beavertown Smog Rocket Smoked Porter was inspired by London’s industrial revolution, when smog filled the air and the London porter was the beer of the working man. This was an original home brew recipe, using 9 different malts, including plenty of smoked Rauchmaltz from Bamberg in Germany. Big flavour hits of molasses, rasins and caramel are cut through by the resinous American Chinook hop. Smoky aromas abound, reminiscent of the smoke stacks of industrial London.

This match was my favourite of the night, smoked brisket from across the road at The Hog Stop. An extra smoky brisket was commissioned, to match up with the lovely chocolate smokiness from the Smog Rocket. Both were delicious.

Thornbridge’s Eldon is named after the Eldon Hole, one of the seven wonders of the Peak District. It is a Bourbon oak imperial stout, smooth and roasty, brewed with demerara sugar, with added complexity coming from the Bourbon soured oak. Caramel, coffee and chocolate mix with a hint of vanilla and Kentucky bourbon.

The food match for this was a piece of last minute inspiration, a Medjool date to match with some of the sweetness from the demarara sugar. The match was good, although this was probably my least favourite beer of the night. It felt a bit thin and underwhelming, unusual for a Thornbridge beer.

Finally, Bristol Beer Factory Milk Stout. This award winning national champion stout is a beautifully creamy, full-bodied stout, the likes of which were brewed nearly a century ago on the very site of the Bristol Beer Factory today. Does not contain milk. Invigorating & stimulating for workers (or so they used to say). Brewed within the city of Bristol from local raw materials, sweet, black and extremely full-bodied. Unfermentable lactose sugar (added during the boil) sweetens the chocolate and black malt derived roast flavours. An historic beer, recreated for the modern drinker.

This matched nicely with one of Rebecca’s (aka Mrs Needle & Pin) hand made creations, an Oreo and salted caramel petit four. The sweetness balanced nicely between the two, and rounded off a lovely evening of beer tasting and chat, with the added bonus of some nice nibbles.

There’s always time for some shopping, usually this involves picking up things that I’ve previously reserved, and tonight was no exception. Several new Cloudwater brews (and a delicious coffee porter for MOFAD supplier Matt) as well as a couple of new IPAs, a barrel aged weisse and two imperial stouts (one for Matt).

Another great night out at the Needle & Pin, not hard to see why it was my pub of the year for 2016

King Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester

Interesting how a dead bloke in a car park can generate so much interest isn’t it? In August 2012, a new archaelogical dig began in a car park in Leicester. Richard III was famously killed in battle at the Battle of Bosworth Field (memorably depicted by Peter Cook in the first ever episode of The Blackadder). His body was taken to Greyfriars Friary and buried in a very crude grave. With Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries just around the corner (only 50 years later), the grave was lost, and the story that Richard’s bones had been chucked into the River Soar at Bow Bridge arose.

However, in September 2012, there was some certainty that the body found on the first day of the dig was that of Richard III, and DNA analysis showed that mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones matched that of descendants of Richard’s sister Anne of York. Alongside other evidence, there was enough to convince the University of Leicester “beyond reasonable doubt” that the skeleton was that of Richard III.

In July 2014 a new visitor centre opened up in the former Alderman Newton School, and it has a very “old school” feel to it. As you enter (through the gift shop in a Banksy style) you are met with a throne and a projected film about Richard’s early life.

Off you then wander through displays about his short life, with stained glass, tapestry and classic museum style information boards. Upstairs is the Discovery zone, which tells the modern story of the archaelogical dig, the science involved in identifying the body, dramatic depictions of Richard III and a glowing skeleton on a fake CT scanner.

Once all that is explored, you can go and stand in a quiet room above the actual spot where the body was found. A glass floor allows you to stand right over it, and a tasteful projection of light recreates the shape of the skeleton in the grave site.

After that, there’s a cafe for lunch. There are brunch dishes served until 1:30pm and lunch dishes served from 12-2:30pm. There’s a choice of sandwiches, toasted sandwiches, jacket potatoes, quiches and salads. Later on you can also have afternoon tea.

We popped in for lunch. There were no jacket potatoes today so Mrs MOFAD had a toasted tuna crunch panini and I had the Leicester Ploughman’s – Melton Mowbray pork pie, Red Leicester and gammon ham.

It appeared on a slate. A medieval trencher I could have perhaps forgiven, but not a slate. A trencher may be edible, metal or wood, but never stone. Serving method aside, it was very nice. Good cheese, really tasty ham, a nice bit of pickle, a decent roll, decent pork pie and some good salad (a little let down by the strands of iceberg). A good ploughman’s and Mrs MOFAD’s sandwich was also good.

All in all it was a great morning out, a very interesting wander through a very local piece of history that has captured the nation’s interest. And the cafe’s not bad either. Shortly after this we were off to a comedy show in a curry house. The Leicester comedy festival is up and running!