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.

img_6390

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.

The Link Hotel, Loughborough, December 2016

Another Christmas party post. My turn tonight, as our work Xmas party returns to The Link Hotel (formerly the Quality Hotel and the Friendly Hotel). We’ve rotated around this and Burleigh Court in recent years, due to their proximity to the workplace.

The best news of the night arrived right at the start, during my first trip to the bar. At last they have caught up with “beer trends”, and there is finally some decent ale on, including plenty from our most local brewery, Charnwood Brewery. Other choices on tap too, including the Curious IPA from Curious Drinks (a subsidiary of English winemaker Chapel Down from Kent).

The most curious thing about it is that it’s not an IPA. A decent pint, but just not an IPA.

To start our dinner, smoked salmon and cray fish salad with beetroot purée and vodka crème frâiche. The fish was nice enough (more salmon would have been nice, and a heavier smoke), but the beetroot puree was very muddy and not particularly pleasant. There was also a terrine and a soup on offer.

Saving my turkey rations for the big day (it’s all too easy to get fed up of it during December), so I had the herb-crusted loin of cod with braised fennel, creamy celeriac purée, micro cress “salad” and salsa verde. This was pretty tasty, served with the usual seasonal veg (no sprouts thanks).

As with the turkey option, Xmas pudding was shunned in favour of chocolate brownie with Belgian chocolate sauce and salted caramel ice cream and some weird “soil” stuff. It was the right decision as ever, although a little too rich for some.

After poor coffee and very average mince pies it was time for dancing. Except that (just like last time) the DJ was rubbish. Just couldn’t read the room, no mixing skills, and playing great tunes for a few minutes and then following them up with dancefloor emptying garbage. Christmas party nights are very lucrative gigs, but if you’re not up to the task, it’s no fun for the punters.

At least the couple who were sat at the next table (who looked rather out of place amongst 20 odd tables of work parties) had left by this point so were saved the pain of Whigfield…

Convenient, and with decent beer at last. Thanks to Sharon for organising as usual.

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!

The Angel Inn, Wangford, Suffolk, October 2016

Pub quiz night! As you’ll know by now, we do like a pub quiz. We haven’t done very many this year so the opportunity to take on another one was most welcome. What is a holiday without a pub quiz after all? To be sure of our place we booked a table in advance so that we could eat first and ensure we were in tip top condition for quizzing.

Here comes the first shock of the night. The Angel Inn is not an Adnams pub. I repeat, not an Adnams pub. This is proof that there are a few pubs in Suffolk that the Adnams mafia haven’t got their claws into 🙂

This means that for the first time this week, I’ve been able to order a non-Adnams beer in a pub. This was an Otter Ale, from Devon, something I’ve had before, but in pre-Untappd days so not for a few years. It’s a classic malty English bitter with caramel notes. Very nice.

We ordered our dinners and sat back and waited for them to arrive. Their were a few other diners around too, all enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Matt & I ordered steaks, Mrs MOFAD and Hazel chose chicken & mushroom pies. Two steaks arrived soon afterwards. This was mine.

Or so I thought! A mix up with our neighbours’ table meant that we got their steaks, and Matt had just sprinkled some salt on the chips before this was spotted and rectified, with the plates moving a few feet to our right. So around 5 minutes later, our dinner arrived. As you can see, presentation is pretty consistent:-

The taste was good too. I ordered rare as usual and it was cooked to perfection, although Matt’s medium-rare was very much on the medium side. Classic accompaniments of tomato, mushroom and peas and good home-made chips. A pub classic done well.

The pies were also good, a proper, complete pie, not just a dish with a lid of pastry. We did have to question Hazel’s alleged northern credentials though, as she was not putting gravy on her pie and chips.

As we were staying for the pub quiz, we decided to have some more food and drink. We cross over the border to Norwich for this Woodforde’s Wherry, another one that I’ve had before, a nice smooth session bitter.

As I keep on saying, a chocolate pudding is always the correct choice, and this was indeed the case tonight. A lovely dense chocolate mousse, rich and intense, complemented by the creamy white chocolate pieces, and offset by the tartness of the physalis (also known as the cape gooseberry, although it’s from the nightshade family). Tasty tasty chocolate.

All that was left was the pub quiz.

Except it wasn’t. Not enough people had turned up, so there was no pub quiz. Despondent, we trooped out and went home to drink beer instead. A good pub with good food and beer, certainly worth a visit.