Star of Siam, Keswick, December 2017

The traditional New Year’s Eve takeaway. For the first time in a long time, we are not in Ambleside, and not going to Jade Garden, Lucky Dragon, China Cottage, Doi Intanon (on the rare year that it was open on NYE) or Jintana.

In Keswick, we turned to a familiar Thai restaurant, Star of Siam. We’ve been coming here for as long as we’ve been coming to Keswick, a lovely friendly Thai restaurant, and great for takeaways (as ever we like to drink our own beer rather than drink poor quality offerings in takeaway outlets).

Here is a case in point.

Thornbridge Serpent.

I encountered this beer for the first time on “Thornbridge night” at The Needle & Pin in December 2016. We deconstructed the beer that night, tasting a very sour and tannic Oliver’s cider, a sweet perry, and a meh bourbon. On that night, it tasted like the lees (the leftover bits from fermenting cider, yeasts, skins and whatever’s left) had really dominated this brew, a Belgian style golden ale.

A year on, and it’s even better. So much apple, the beer that’s not a beer.

On to dinner, which accompanied this fantastic beer that’s not beer. A classic starter, satay chicken with peanut chilli sauce. Just to be clear, the satay part is not the peanut bit that you like, that’s in the sauce. The satay part is usually made from lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar and a few other bits.

The “slaw” bit might not be the most authentic, but it works here with the juicy chicken and tasty peanut chilli sauce.

On to the main event. Chicken gang massaman. The massaman is probably my favourite Thai curry, perhaps because of more peanut. It varies from place to place. I always used to have beef, but too many cheap cuts of steak have left me favouring chicken instead. A very simple one tonight, a few bits of carrot and some chunks of onion,

Simple, but very tasty, and a fantastic way to round out another lovely year of food and drink. Many great meals accompanied by many great beers. 2017 has been a good one.

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Duncan Murray Wines, Market Harborough, May 2017

Our final stop was much better, Duncan Murray Wines. They hold regular tastings each Saturday, so they really knew what they were doing. We tasted Brynne Vineyard Phoenix, a white wine with “an English hedgerow and cutgrass nose, leading to a smooth, soft, citrus fruit finish.” We then had a couple more beers from Market Harborough Brewery, as well as some different ones from The Langton Brewery. There was also time for a bit more shopping…

My friend and former colleague Adrienne used to be a regular here when she lived in Harbs. She has since emigrated to Aberdeen and rather misses this place. It’s amazing that the granite city can have such an effect on a person that it would make them miss Market Harborough…

(Edit : three months on and I’ve only sampled one of these beers!)

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 Oyster Shed, Angel Lane, London, March 2017

After a lovely afternoon tea up the Shard, we had a wander around Borough market. We didn’t buy any food as we were full as an egg, but it was lovely to explore the market. We will definitely come back another day. After that we had a stroll along the south bank for a little bit.

We were meeting up with our good friend Gale, who happened to be working nearby today. We had arranged to meet in another pub, but that was closed for refurbishment, so we strolled east along the north bank for a short while to find ourselves in The Oyster Shed.

This is not one of your historical London taverns that has stood on this site for years, playing host to Samuel Pepys or the Krays. If you’re looking for an historical boozer, go elsewhere. It’s very new but doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, blending nicely into its surroundings. Huge glass windows give good views over the river.

We met Gale here and stayed for a couple of drinks. Luckily (and slightly unexpectedly) there were a couple of decent ales on. This was a Naked Ladies by Twickenham Fine Ales. Those keywords ought to bring a few extra hits to this post. It was a hoppy and bitter golden ale.

Next up, a former craft beer. Camden Pale Ale is still a reliable beer, despite the fact that it is now owned by AB InBev. Camden Town Brewery grew very big very quickly, and around 70% of its beer is currently brewed elsewhere. By June this year, all brewing will be back in house at a new brewery site in Enfield, the investment coming as a result of the AB InBev takeover in December 2015. The initial backlash seems to have subsided, so Camden Town look to have ridden the storm.

The Oyster Shed claims not to be part of a chain, but Geronimo Inns are owned by Young’s, so they are. It’s not a bad thing in this case, as there are plenty of good pubs owned by Young’s.

If you find yourself around Cannon Street, Monument or London Bridge this is a cracking modern London pub to meet friends in for a drink. The food looked good too, plenty of pub classics on the menu, although we were too full to even consider anything, even a bowl of chips.

Recommended.

Centro Lounge, Loughborough, January 2017

Another evening at Centro Lounge can probably only mean one thing. A cinema trip. It has become our post cinema haunt, but a change of itinerary tonight meant that it became our pre-cinema haunt.

If that change wasn’t too much to take in, here’s another one.

Wine!

Tonight was “Tapas Tuesday” where you can get three dishes and a glass of house wine for £9.95. A pretty simple offer, very clearly stated on the menu, and most people were partaking.

Except it confuses the bar staff. If you order this offer, stating you want to order “Tapas Tuesday”, for some utterly unknown reason (although the cynic in me can hazard a guess), they assume that you don’t want the free glass of wine that comes with it unless you very slowly and carefully specify that you want the free glass of wine that comes with it. So you stand at the bar staring at the staff. You ask where your wine is. “You didn’t order any wine”. “This offer comes with wine.” “You have to ask for it.” Even though the menu clearly states that it comes with wine.

As you might have guessed, this annoyed me. Implying that I’m an idiot because I didn’t order the thing that the menu explicitly states comes with the thing that I ordered. I think a change of policy is required. Or maybe a spot of training.

On to the food. We ordered 6 dishes between us:-

Patatas bravas with roasted garlic mayo (2 portions, pictured below)
Chicken teriyaki skewers with sesame dressing
Beef and pork meatballs in a tomato & red wine sauce
Honey-glazed shredded five-spice pork
Salt and pepper squid with lemon mayo

I was underwhelmed by the patatas bravas. The potatoes should be crisp and golden after a nice roasting in the oven. The sauce should have finely chopped onion, garlic, paprika and usually a touch of chilli. And if that mayo had roasted garlic in, I’m a monkey’s uncle. Uninspiring. And actually not all the necessary as the dishes are served with some good fresh ciabatta, which is great for mopping up sauces.

The chicken teryaki skewers were very nice, as was the five spice pork. Although these Asian flavours don’t sit easily alongside the more traditional meatballs (albondigas) and potatoes. The squid sits a little better, although a sprinkling of pimenton would have tipped it a bit more towards Spain.

After we finished, we nipped next door to watch Passengers, which was really good apart from just a couple of scenes that needed to be reined in a bit. A great slow build of menace…

Flight NZ2 Los Angeles to London, March 2016

Nearly there! The last flight of the NZ 2016 epic adventure. Somehow, it’s still Saturday. Soon it will be Sunday. Another long flight and some more meals to keep you sustained through out.

The starter on this leg was prosciutto with rock melon, coriander salsa and queso blanco (cheese), with black olive bread.

Another interesting choice of main courses:-

Wood roasted chicken with curried fruit and nut rice, tahini garlic yoghurt sauce and steamed broccolini.

Soya basted cod with garlic chives, and hokkien noodles, snow peas and spring onions.

Slow cooked beef with crushed minted peas (the pea hammer is at work again), gingered sesame carrots and potato wedges – this was my choice and was another nice one.

A pear mousse cake to finish.

You might just spot some nasty American cheese in those photos. As I mentioned in the write up of NZ5, cheese should not bend.

Once again, a light breakfast is served before landing, this time, herb scrambled eggs with spiced turkey sausage (why waste a sausage casing by filling it with turkey?) and tomatillo salsa. There were also cereals and yoghurt.

After 4 flights with Air New Zealand, they are certainly MOFAD approved. Sky high dining is hard to get right and Air New Zealand have done very well.

Flight NZ2 Auckland to Los Angeles, March 2016

Another “post on a plane”. As our NZ adventure draws to a close, there are just a few more food opportunities to go. We left Auckland late on a Sunday evening, and after a small snack at the airport before take off, we were still hungry enough for some dinner, as we were about to start Saturday afternoon all over again.

Good food again on this leg of the journey, a light starter of lemongrass chicken with mint dressing, crispy shallots, cucumber and chive salad, organic sourdough bread.

Several choices of main course:-

Chicken tagine with olives, figs, chickpeas, sauteed kale and smoked yoghurt (!)

Paprika dusted hapuka (a native fish of NZ) with chive mash and sauce vierge

Slow cooked beef with wild mushroom jus, crushed parsnips and green beans – this was my choice and was tasty.

Pudding was apple and manuka honey (#obvs!) crumble torte with feijoa cream. Feijoa is another popular NZ fruit which has an odd soapy taste.

Before landing, a breakfast is served, a potato and spinach baked egg frittata with veal sausage and ratatouille with tomato relish. The ratatouille was a bit of a mis-step, it doesn’t quite work with everything else. And the sausage could do with some more browning!

Still another tasty in-flight meal though, Air NZ have really done a good job on their catering.