The King’s Head Hotel, Thirlmere, January 2018

It’s the first day of #tryanuary. So a trip to the pub is certainly in order. As ever, we do it the hard way, by sticking a hill somewhere along the route and getting up and down it before lunch. Today, that was Great How. Puzzlingly, it’s not a Wainwright, so our total for 2018 is zero for now. We got to the top and enjoyed lovely sunshine and great views. As soon as we were back at the bottom, the skies decided that it was time to open, and we walked the rest of the way to the pub in the rain. A classic Lakes walk.

We came to this pub almost exactly a year ago (on the day that started our hatred of the stupidly over-priced 555 bus). So we knew that they serve food all day, perfect when you’re out walking and you’re not exactly sure when you will arrive at the pub for lunch.

A similar sandwich to last year, but they got my order right today and delivered the requested ham and cheese instead of bacon and brie (technically ham and cheese).

The salad has shrunk a bit, but the pickle/chutney now comes in a little dish. Warm and tasty and just the thing to help dry out on a soggy day.

You’ll note the lack of beer, despite being the first day of #tryanuary. When all they’ve got is some Jennings beers which haven’t been locally owned since 2005, then I’ll save myself for some independent local beers later on. Tryanuary is about supporting local pubs and independent breweries, so whilst I’m happy that we supported a local pub, I don’t want any beer money going back to Wolverhampton. This rejection of anything owned by the Marston’s empire may seem a bit snobbish, but I just prefer to support smaller local breweries rather than the enormous beer conglomerate.

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Mamma Mia, Vidamar Resort Hotel, Algarve, October 2017

We always like to finish a holiday with a meal out. The hotel that we’ve been staying at all week has an Italian restaurant attached (not quite what you’d expect in Portugal, but there we go). Hotel guests can dine there at a discount, and they accept non-residents too, so a group of us decided to make this our dinner place for tonight.

We booked a table for 8pm, arrived on time, ordered drinks and food.

At 9:17pm the first part of our dinner arrived, for those of us that had chosen starters. We had a few preferences between us that needed to be accommodated, but we had already discussed these in advance when making our booking, and were assured there would be no problems.

There were problems. They were just unable to cope with more than 2 customers at a time. When you are absolutely starving, this is absolutely the worst.

The eternal dilemma over starters reared its head, some of us ordered one, others didn’t. Those that didn’t really regretted it, as they needed some kind of sustenace whilst waiting for almost 90 minutes for the main course to arrive.

Eventually it did, and mine was a rather average calzone, lots of dough and not a lot of filling. Others weren’t even this lucky, as not everything arrived as we had requested, and a few things were cold/undercooked.

All in all a very underwhelming experience for a pizza restaurant attached to a 5 star hotel. At least there was a nice view of the pool on our way back to the hotel.

An underwhelming end to a bit of an underwhelming stay at a place that promises much on its website.

Ocean Buffet, Vidamar Resort Hotel, Algarve, October 2017

The “all in” hotel buffet. This is not our natural environment. When we go on holiday we are either camping or self-catering, generally never staying in an actual hotel for more than a couple of nights, and usually with no more than breakfast included so we can explore local pubs and restaurants.

This week has been different, as we’ve been staying in the same hotel all week, exploring the local coastline on foot, making ham and cheese sandwiches in our room to take out for a picnic lunch, and then coming down for dinner each night as it was included in our package cost.

There are different themes each night, but many of the same dishes appear regularly. You know the format, huge heated trays full of various foods which go cold too quickly in the air conditioned environment of the huge dining room. The international buffet really seems to lack anything particularly Portugese, no porco preto (black pig), no bacalhau (traditional cod dish), no alheira de mirandela (traditional sausage), no posta mirandesa (Portugese roast beef cooked over fire), no arroz de tamboril (kind of a monkfish paella).

There was a cataplana on a few nights (seafood stew), but most of the dishes had more American and other European roots, like hot dog night, burger night and various other things. It just didn’t feel like Portugal.

As well as the usual trays of stuff, there were a couple of “freshly cooked” stations, where fish or meat would be barbecued/grilled fresh in front of you, or fresh pasta dishes created. These all had the longest queues, as people had worked out that this was where the hottest food was coming from, such as these fresh steaks…

There was also the usual selection of cold meats, salads, soup, rolls and the like, and various cold desserts such as ice creams, fruit salads, yoghurt, mousse and even the odd pastel de nata (the Portugese custard tart that everyone now knows because it was on Bake Off).

Drinks are not included in the price, so you can choose from various varieties of Eurolager “Super Bock”, of which the stout variety is probably the best.

After a while, the buffet becomes very underwhelming, but without taking a taxi to a nearby town, there are very few other options in this area, so you dutifully come down for dinner because you have to, rather than because you’re looking forward to it.

Sunset Bar, Vidamar Resort Hotel, Algarve, October 2017

Lovely autumn sunshine. We like to go away for a week of holiday in October, but this year it’s something a bit different. We are out in the Algarve as a friend is getting married here next weekend. We decided to join these two events together, having a week of rest and relaxation ahead of the wedding.

After leaving behind a gloomy England, we flew in to Faro this morning and transferred from the airport via a pleasant car journey, listening to Portugal’s up to date radio station playing lots of 80s classics. The past!

We arrived at the hotel just before lunchtime, and our room wasn’t ready yet, so we changed into some more suitable clothes, left our bags at reception and walked around the pool to the hotel cafe bar. This is the only place to have lunch at the resort, and is the only thing that’s not included in the room rates.

Just over the horizon, you might just make out a glimpse of the sea, which is just down a private boardwalk (you need your hotel key card to access it). It’s certainly a pleasant little place.

However, it does seem to have been invaded by London hipsters. The trend of putting food on silly boards has reached the Algarve. I didn’t bring my “We Want Plates” t-shirt on holiday as I was sure it wouldn’t be required, but I think that I should have. Time to start the Portugese branch of “queremos placas”.

The club sandwich appeared on a silly board, with a slightly waxed replica of an old London newspaper underneath, which was just even more odd. The food was nice enough, not exactly 4 star hotel quality but perfectly reasonable, and reasonably priced. Just a shame it wasn’t on a plate.

Finally, a cautionary tale. If you are taking a camera on holiday with you, and you happen to be taking a camera cleaning kit that you’ve recently bought but not used yet, do check what exactly is included in that cleaning kit. You might have a little “air blower” which can be used for blowing dust out of various camera bits. It might be shaped a bit like my one. Just imagine what this might look like on an airport X-ray machine:-

East Midlands Airport staff initially suspected me of attempting to smuggle a grenade, but a sharp eyed scanner operator had obviously seen this before and asked if I had a camera cleaning kit, which was duly inspected and passed as safe. An amusing start to the holiday!

Skipton Park Guest O’tel, September 2017

On our previous visit to Skipton, we stayed at Fawlty Towers. This was due to the late nature of our booking, so we didn’t have a lot of choice.

This time, we had choice. We booked Skipton Park Guest O’tel (their abuse of English, not mine), back in October 2016 whilst we were in Southwold. It looked quirky, but in a good way.

We arrived not long after lunch on Friday afternoon, and were met by Jenny, one of the owners, who gave us an effusive welcome and explained everything about the hotel in forensic detail.

We were out for most of the day, and then up for breakfast on Saturday morning. Hazel & Mrs MOFAD needed fuel for their Yarndale exploits, Matt & I needed fuel for our walking tour of Skipton. This was a decent hotel fry up (a bit more colour on that sausage wouldn’t have gone amiss, but nothing to complain about).

Fast forward a day, and you get something very similar, just with some lightly toastesd toast on the side. All cooked by Ken, who is heard but seldom seen throughout your stay. Lots of very flavoursome ingredients make a cracking hotel breakfast.

After the craziness of Fawlty Towers in 2015, this was an enormous improvement. Lovely breakfasts, perfectly located for Skipton town centre (just  a short walk away, but far enough to be quiet at night) and friendly owners make for a lovely stay. I think we’ll be back next time we come to Skipton for a walking tour.

Jury’s Inn, Hinckley Island, May 2017

Going away at this time of year usually means a camping trip, but something a bit different here. A hotel stay for a friend’s wedding, just for one night, and just down the road off the A5 in Hinckley.

The place name “Hinckley Island” may confuse you, particularly if you know that Hinckley is in Leicestershire, famed for not being a county where islands are generally found. I think the island is a reference to the shape of the hotel, which is a five pointed palm shape (in the style of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, but on a much smaller scale).

Our room was right at the back of the hotel, and there was an unpleasant smell upon arrival, which was soon dealt with by the use of the flushing mechanism. How do these things not get spotted by cleaners?

We booked this trip ages ago, and there was a special deal which included bed and breakfast and a free bottle of prosecco. It did take us 10 minutes to convince the hotel to give us our free bottle, eventually they relented. They even found us an ice bucket, as they hadn’t managed to chill enough bottles, forgetting perhaps that multple wedding guests might want to claim the offer that they had paid for…

It was just as well they did, otherwise it would have been Pedigree all night. A rebrand can’t hide what’s inside, unbalanced bitterness and a beer that has had its time.

The final thing to report on in any hotel, is the breakfast. Your usual self service buffet affair here, the bacon was a bit insipid and watery, the sausages were good, and the hash browns were crispy. A decent runny fried egg too.

Not the most amazing hotel stay in the world, functional and competent, but not much more. At least it only took 25 minutes to get home.

The Crown Hotel, Southwold, Suffolk, October 2016

Poshing it up a bit tonight. We had tried to get in to The Nelson but as usual it was full, so we had a short stroll around and happened upon The Crown. They had a few tables free, so we requested one and settled in for some dinner.

Do I need to tell you this is an Adnams establishment? Probably not. So away we go. A pint of Cashmere IPA, which I had the other day, a very decent pale ale but doesn’t fit in the category of IPA.

Keeping with my fishy theme (we are beside the seaside after all), I had a very tasty piece of hake, crispy skin, lovely risotto with fennel and pea shoot salad.

Mrs MOFAD also had fish, in the form of steamed sea bass with noodles and pak choi, and a ginger, chilli and sweet soy broth. Also very tasty.

Hazel & Matt had pork belly and rump steak respectively, and Hazel’s request to swap out the fennel accompanying her dish was accommodated without any fuss.

Mrs MOFAD fancied a pudding, and had this Cambridge burnt cream (creme brulee with a Fens twist) with “cat’s tongue biscuit”. Both were very good.

A very pleasant meal in a very pleasant hotel. If you’re looking for something other than good pub dining in Southwold, this should fit the bill.