The Brotherswater Inn, Sykeside, Cumbria, August 2017 #4

Moist.

That has been the over-riding theme of today. The forecast was very specific. Rain coming in around lunchtime. And not leaving until late evening. So we were up and out, off to bag another Wainwright. Very much a “there and back” walk, get up, get back down, and get back under cover until the rain passes.

After an afternoon of unceasing rain, we wondered if it would ever be dry again. When we arrived on Thursday, we had to pitch our awning in a swamp. The swamp had started to recede, but as the afternoon wore on, the swamp was back and bigger than ever. Squelch squelch. The only sensible option is to retire to the pub.

We did just that. After a good effort at finishing it up, the Eden Valley had gone, and was replaced by Ullswater Blonde, also from Eden Brewery. I’ve had this beer every year for the last three, and the current batch seems lighter in colour than previous brews. An easy drinking golden ale.

Food next, and after a cool and wet afternoon (if only we’d brought our radiator in August!) a warming bowl of smoked haddock chowder was just what was needed. A lovely mini loaf of bread accompanied it, but I wasn’t convinced about the salad. It doesn’t seem to fit with the creamy chowder (which was very nice).

And after plenty of properly plated meals, we have a double whammy of disappointment. A slate set into a bread board. Why, cruel fate, why? Why not just a plate?

Luckily, the plate was around for the pudding (often a prime candidate for a slate). This dark chocolate delight with raspberry ripple ice cream and a few raspberries was a lovely end to the meal, the richness of the chocolate being cut through by the raspberries.

Mrs MOFAD opted for the Cumbrian classic of sticky toffee pudding, which was sticky and delicious.

We’ve had lots of lovely meals at The Brotherswater Inn. When you are a captive campsite audience, it’s always a worry in case it doesn’t turn out to be very good, or there’s a limited menu. This was not the case. A lovely pub with lovely food and beer. Perfect for a campsite.

The Beehive, Combs, Derbyshire, July 2017

Firstly, a note on pronunciation. Combs is pronounced “combs” like the thing that you use on your hair, as opposed to “coombs”, which many of us may have mistakenly called it. Maybe.

On to food and drink. We find ourselves back here again, finishing off a circuit of walking circuits that we started back in May 2014. We were last at the camp site up the road in September 2015, doing some of those walking circuits. On that occasion we came to The Beehive for dinner on both nights. It was good. So we are doing that again. Once again, we find ourselves in the bar area where dogs are welcome, as Suzy the ninja hound is with us as usual.

Tonight began as the previous nights began, a quick photograph of the specials board so everyone in our party could find out what was on it.

Whilst they perused, we were ordering some drinks. As well as some dull and predictable Marstons, there always seems to be a good guest ale or two. Tonight that guest ale was Route 97 from Mobberley brewhouse. It was a delicious hoppy pale ale. Refreshing and good Chinook hop profile.

Food next. Last time several of us had the seafood platter. We were pleased to see that it was still on the specials board, and several of us had it again. It wasn’t quite as good as last time, the bread seems to have been downgraded to a slice of Hovis Seed Sensations instead of a nice chunk of fresh granary, and the fishy offerings were less. Not as many leaves as last time, and more sliced peppers I think.

Mrs MOFAD opted for duck breast, with sweet potato and rosemary mash and a Cumberland sauce.

Although we hadn’t yet earned one, we had to have a pudding, having spotted the chocolate and candied lime tart on the specials board. This is an important lesson – if you see something on the specials board that you want, have it, because it might not be there the next time you come. This handy poem will help you to remember:-

Never put off what you can do today,
For it may lead to sorrow.
If you do it today and you like it,
You can do it again tomorrow.

The chocolate and lime choice was absolutely spot on. Lovely rich chocolate, reasonably crisp pastry and the candied lime was absolutely divine. As you may have already gathered, I love lime.

Somewhere in between courses, another pint of that tasty Mobberley ale appeared to accompany proceedings. We hung around for a while with drinks and a few games of Uno, as per. Another pleasant evening in the Beehive. Lovely people, lovely pub.

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.

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).

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.

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

Renaissance Craftsman Oatmeal Stout

Renaissance Craftsman Oatmeal Stout is brewed with cocoa nibs and organic oatmeal to give a rich and intense stout with dark chocolate notes and a subtle hop finish. It is the first beer from the inaugural Needle & Pin dark beer selection box. Let’s crack it open.

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Very low carbonation is the first thing that I noticed. Chocolate on the nose, and smooth and velvety on the palate with some chocolatey goodness coming through, although I didn’t get any of the subtle hop finish. Up there with my favourites from Renaissance, all of which I’ve had at home, and none of which I had in New Zealand! I think the Abundance Baltic Cherry Porter has been my favourite so far.