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.

All Bar One, York, April 2017

Yes, we are still in York. Another wonderful sunny day today. We checked out of our hotel, left our bags with reception, and then explored the city some more. We wandered around the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, the Minster, the Treasurer’s House, and went off to spot some wildlife along the river.

As it was such a lovely day, we did explore a few riverside pubs for lunch, but they were all absolutely rammed and had waits of nearly an hour for food. As it was already getting into late lunch territory, we wandered away from the river for a short time, and found ourselves at what we hoped would be a reliable chain for some lunch. All Bar One opened its first bar in 1994, and there are now over 50 dotted around the UK. I say “the UK” – there are 4 in Scotland and the rest in England, with half of those being inside the M25.

The first tick goes to the drinks menu. This is the kind of place that you expect endless lines of bland fizzy lagers, and you will find some of those. Thankfully they also have a “world and craft beer” section of the menu, which features a Spanish lager, a German wheat beer and a Belgian blonde ale, alongside some bigger (Adnams, BrewDog) and smaller (Fourpure, Siren) names from the UK beer scene.

Siren Liquid Mistress Red IPA was my choice, and it’s probably the best beer I’ve ever had in a chain pub, hoppy, malty and bitter.

Lots of options when it comes to food, we chose 5 things from the “small plates” menu, which essentially makes it an international tapas menu. Here’s what they looked like:-

And here’s what they were.

Just hiding behind a drink you can spot crushed avocado & tomato bruschetta, topped with kalamata olives. In front of that same drink sit some ginger teriyaki chicken skewers, served with pickled vegetables and sesame seeds. Next to those you might recognise salt & pepper calamari, tossed in a citrus, red pepper and pink peppercorn seasoning with a sweet chilli & lime dip (delicious).  At the bottom left you can see feta & spinach bourek, crisp pastry parcels served with chilli tomato jam. Finally, there are crispy duck dumplings with some deconstructed slaw and more sweet chilli sauce.

This turned out to be the perfect lunch. Light enough not to slow you down for the rest of the day, filling enough to keep you going for the rest of the day. Paired with a lovely beer, this was a surprisingly good lunch venue. There are plenty of great independent places (I’ve already showcased some of them), but sometimes the chains can do a good job too.

John Cooper’s Restaurant & Bar (JCs), December 2016

A student bar? Whatever next?

During the years 1992 to 1996, I spent a great deal of time in this particular one. It looked quite a bit different. There were certainly no craft beers back then, just Woodpecker cider and Harp lager (99p a pint!), and things like Castaway and Diamond White (that could be combined to form a “Blastaway”). I could spend a lot of time talking about the past (K “Cider”, the purple nasty, Hooch, Two Dogs, Mad Dog 20/20 and other nastiness) but this is all about now.

There was much uproar in 2016 when JCs was refurbished to wipe away any trace of the old cheap student bar that once stood here. There’s no horseshoe bar any more. There’s still a slight feel of spit and sawdust about it, and any visit to the facilities will soon remind you that you are in a Student Union bar, but they have tried to glam it up a bit with some “pre-distressed” panels.

It would be nice to show you a photo from 1992, but we didn’t have camera phones permanently attached to our fingers back then, so photographic records are sparse.

Back to the present day, and a glance through the menu shows plenty of lunch options, such as a selection of sandwiches (BLT, cheese, ham & cheese, club, steak), as well as burgers and pizzas.

Before we get on to the food (and the wait won’t be as long as the wait that we had), here is one of those aforementioned craft beers.

Nice glass, although the IPL (India Pale Lager) didn’t really live up to its name. Still the nicest lager I’ve ever drunk in 24 years of visiting this establishment though. About four times what I used to pay though!

On to the wait.

Still waiting.

We were dining in a large group (12). We were asked to pre-order. We did that. Once again, that seems to have served no purpose, as the food took ages to arrive, with big gaps between dishes coming out, a confusion over a couple of pizzas, and the longest wait was for my crispy duck pizza. I think they were trying to catch the duck.

I do like a crispy duck pizza, but so often they skimp on the duck. That was the case here, and they skimped on the hoisin too. Sprinkling the green bits over the top at the last minute doesn’t really work either, because they fall off when you pick up each slice.

It’s a student bar, so set your expectations accordingly. I think we expected too much.

Vidal Estate Winery Restaurant, Hastings

You’ve probably worked out by now that we do enjoy food and drink. We tend to stay away from “posher” places since they often try to get to poncy with food. In the words of Micky Flanagan “it’s just a bit of dinner”.

That’s not to say that we don’t appreciate a high quality establishment, just that we don’t frequent them too often. You can be faced with a tiny plate of food which has been exquisitely presented but with lots of weird flavours going on. And someone wants to charge you silly money for it. Faced with a choice of that or just a simple bacon sandwich, I know which one I would choose! I’m all about content, not presentation, although I know why people think it’s important.

This brings us to Vidal Estate Winery Restaurant in Hastings. We were staying just down the road at the Hastings Top 10 holiday park. We wanted to treat ourselves to a “posher” meal out to celebrate our big holiday, and this was our nearest restaurant. How convenient that it was attached to a winery.

We booked a table earlier on in the day and then strolled over in the evening for dinner. We were met by another lovely ex pat who was in charge of the restaurant, and we had plenty of conversations over the course of the night about life in England and New Zealand.

Let’s start with a drink. I know that we are in a winery, but this one happens to serve beers from a local brewery, so I’m obviously going to choose one of those because that’s my thing. I had some Hawkes Bay Reserve Summer Ale, which was light and hoppy and a perfect start.

Mrs MOFAD had some wine, a Vidal estate 2015 Sauvignon Blanc – fruity, floral and great with spiced fish (more on that in a moment).

On to the starter. I chose salt and chilli squid with Asian greens. This was absolutely lovely, perfectly cooked squid with a crunchy little salad and a simple dressing. I’m a recent convert to squid. It’s one of those things that if it’s done badly can put you off for a long time, and I suspect that’s what happened to me at some point.

Another drink before the main course arrives. As there were more beers to try, it would have been rude not to. So on to the Hawkes Bay Black Duck porter. I wasn’t quite sure about this one. It was chilled but probably needs to be much warmer or served ice cold. It’s not the thick & English porter style that I’m more used to. Pleasant, but no more than that. It did go quite nicely with…

…honey roast duck with confit duck leg risotto. This was sweet and delicious, with onion jam, shiitake mushrooms and a little watercress salad. A nice plate of food, something that I wouldn’t make myself at home (it takes time to confit duck really well), full of really nice flavours.

Mrs MOFAD chose the Hapuka fillet with sauté prawns and coconut chilli paua sauce. Hapuka (or hapuku) is a native fish to New Zealand and paua is an edible sea snail, also native to these parts. Paua shells are used in a lot of native jewellery. This was also a lovely plate of food, a nice spiciness to the sauce but not over powering the delicate fish.

As we were treating ourselves, we shared a pudding, this Snickers parfait, beautifully presented, but more importantly lovely flavours of dark chocolate and nuts.

You will also spot Mrs MOFAD’s glass of sweet chenin blanc – full of butterscotch, toffee, and loveliness.

We had a lovely meal at Vidal Estate Winery Restaurant – it was just the right level of poshness – our most “gourmet” experience, nothing off putting for the more casual diner, and somewhere you could enjoy a family meal together, or a quieter dinner for two.

MOFAD approved and the traditional MOFAD card was left. One of our favourite meals of the whole trip.