Saturday, 3 July 2010
This week saw me visiting Hinckley for the first time in a long time. I had intended to travel daily as it is just about within range but thought better of it and looked for somewhere fairly inexpensive that was close to the venue.
Hotelink threw up somewhere that sounded to fit the bill to a tee. The Ambion Court Hotel in Dadlington, a small Leicestershire village only 5 minutes or so away from work. The hotel consists of a small number of rooms arranged around a small courtyard. My room was an adequate size and comfortably equipped albeit in the Ikea style: a tiny mirror, a wardrobe that wobbled as soon as you touched it and the hardest bed I've slept in for a very long time. Very much a budget hotel whichever way you look at it.
That said, the breakfasts were very good, especially the coffee. The one evening meal I dared to take there, wasn't, however. The menu was very limited and I didn't really fancy any of it. Eventually I opted for the Trout Almondine. I hadn't had trout in absolutely ages so decided to give it a go. In the event, I was unable to distinguish the filleted fish from salmon. At first, I thought my taste buds were playing tricks on me so I carefully checked out the colour and texture. We eat salmon regularly at home and I just couldn't tell the difference. Mine host appeared to take offence when I brought this to his attention pointing out that trout and salmon were related as if to suggest that they should taste the same! He insisted that the fish was trout but then modified his stance to "salmon trout". Whatever. It still tasted like salmon.
Needless to say, the rest of the week, I sought nourishment elsewhere. The George & Dragon in Stoke Golding served a very good lamb shank on a bed of mashed potato and peas accompanied by just enough mint gravy to satisfy. Not the most convivial of pubs, the food was nevertheless more than adequate.
The next evening saw me venturing out further afield to Market Bosworth, an attractive market town close to the scene of the famous Wars of the Roses battle. I ate at "Ye Olde Red Lion Hotel" - well, that's what they call it anyway. And it was indeed old! <More to follow>
Friday, 13 November 2009
So it was with some trepidation that I accepted a booking in the aforementioned location. I wasn't particularly happy about it, oh no, by no means, but given the current economic circumstances and the general lack of business we all have to do things that we might otherwise have preferred not to do.
It was my good fortune to arrive in S....horpe in the dark which meant that I could postpone the visual assault on my senses until the next day. And so it was that I sneaked into my hotel without so much as a glimpse of what lay in wait for me.
If I was expecting an gentle introduction to the north Lincs experience then I was sadly mistaken. I had booked in at the Wortley Hotel. It had been a toss-up between the aforementioned establishment and the Inn Keepers Lodge in Doncaster. I chose the former simply because it was nearer to the venue and sounded generally ok. And generally speaking it was ok. However,when I got to my room, I found it to be extremely warm inside. Think Turkish baths and you'll get the idea. Cutting a long story short, the reason for the extreme heat was because the radiator control was faulty. And cutting an even longer story short, I was eventually given another room ... which turned out to have a shower ... which ran cold. Both faults, it turned out, were known to the hotel staff and had been scheduled for maintenance but for some reason had not been fixed before being allocated.
Anyway, the room I eventually ended up in was actually very good: a large family room with a double and single bed and plenty of space. Certainly enough room for exercising and working. Pillows were a bit on the hard side and the double bed was only marginally softer than the floor. I slept in the single.
If the hotel had a plus point then it was its evening meals. Served either in the bar (quicker) or in the restaurant (slightly more decorous), my two roast dinners were very good. On the Wednesday I had roast turkey: three generous slices of white breast meat accompanied by crisp roast potatoes, boiled new, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. Excellent. If there was a fault it was the absence of the advertised cranberry sauce.
Encouraged by the standard of Wednesday's experience, and discouraged by the apparent lack of anything better, I took the bar option again on Thursday. My roast beef, matched with similar veg to the night before, was a bit on the thin side and not nearly as impressive as the previous offering but still more than acceptable.
The location of my event was Flixborough, the scene of a major disaster that befell the area in 1974 when a chemical plant exploded killing 28 people and seriously injuring 36. At the time, it was Britain's biggest ever peace time explosion. Damage was suffered by properties in S....horpe and the blast was heard in Grimsby, 25 miles away. Although the plant was rebuilt it was later demolished and replaced with an industrial estate. And my event was taking place where? Right in the middle of what used to be the chemical plant! The good news is that I was only there for three days. I just hope that I don't start glowing in the dark.
One of the things that I find continually fascinating is that in many areas of the country there appears to be a local "look", either physically or facially or both. This is explained by the concept of a gene pool, the argument being that historically people did not move around that much. Within each area of the country there would only be so many different genes available thereby resulting in a population with not dissimilar looks. One hesitates to make disparaging remarks about anyone. All I'll say about it is that the town and its population are well suited.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
On the Monday, and purely in the interests of my waistline and arteries, I figured that I should be able to get a chicken salad with a baked potato if the chef was willing to deviate from the standard menu slightly. He was. But what I got was an unimaginative salad (mostly leaves), a tasteless piece of chicken and overdone potato. Serves me right, I suppose bearing in mind my last experience here. Oh well, at least I saved on the calories.
The next evening I decided to venture further afield and continue my exploration of the menu at the Three Cups in Stamford Bridge. My last meal here was excellent and I looked forward to sampling its fare once again. At this juncture, I would like to make an important point regarding those who write menus for a living. This largely anonymous breed of sometimes over-creative wordsmiths need to be aware of the huge responsibility they bear when it comes to setting diners expectations.
The Mediterranean lamb, slow braised with chorizo, tomatoes and new potatoes sounded positively mouth watering yet fell some way short of its promise. The lamb, slightly on the chewy side, was overpowered by the chorizo and not really supported in any way by roasted peppers and new potatoes. An interesting idea for a dish (and a menu writer) and overall not an unenjoyable meal but I had better last time.
Wednesday brought up the usual search for fish and chips. A bloke needs some fat after all. There was no doubting the choice of venue: Ebor Fisheries once again. Sadly, there was no cod on the menu. I had to be satisfied with haddock which in the event was not at all bad but not a patch on last time.
Delicately flavoured fish was coated in a light batter that was adequately crunchy. Chips, I have to say, were rather disappointing this time. Chip shop chips can often be too soft as these were. Nevertheless, the overall experience was still enjoyable despite the absence of the cod.
Ebor, though, is more than just a fish and chip shop. An extensive menu boasts salads, crab, scampi and burgers. There is also an impressive breakfast menu featuring a "hearty" option (do they mean that in the "hearty Yorkshire food" sense or the "hearty" cholesterol overload sense?), porridge, sandwiches and continental.
A note about parking. There is a small "shoppers" car park just a little further on past Ebor Street on the right hand side. No charges between 6pm and 8am. There is also a Bargain Booze nearby. Handy when supplies need replenishing!
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Well, it looks like this is the one that got away. It looks like I never did finish the story. However, looking at my notes, the main points appear to be these:
Friday, 13 March 2009
Anyway, for eating on Monday night, I decided to risk The Black Bull's own restaurant. It was getting late by the time I was ready to eat and didn't fancy a run out to somewhere else. I chose the spaghetti and meatballs which, at around a fiver for the larger plate, sounds like good value.
Service was fairly quick considering there were quite a few diners already in front of me in the queue. The pasta itself was hardly worth waiting for, however. The sauce tasted like something Heinz might have cooked up as one of its tinned varieties. The meatballs were just about acceptable. The whole barely staved off the hunger pangs.
Would I have better luck on Tuesday night, I wondered, as I drove out to the Duke of York at Gate Helmsley? I had been there on a previous visit and vaguely recalled a pleasant dining experience. This evening was, unfortunately, not to be a repeat performance.
That said, the vegetable soup of the day was reasonably tasty, certainly filling although lacking in seasoning but took a surprisingly long time to appear given that there were few other diners in the place. For mains, I ordered the poached chicken breast in a white wine sauce which sounded appetising on the menu but failed miserably to meet expectations.
The vegetables were overcooked and flavour was noticeably absent. The sauce, a bland, insipid concoction, was already congealing when the dish arrived at table. The chicken undoubtedly came out of a bag that had been dropped into a pan of hot water. At least, that's what it tasted like.
As I settled the bill I noticed an entry in the guest book highlighting the "superb food". I wonder what they had to eat. Maybe I just chose the wrong night. Whatever the case, I shalln't be going back to find out.
The rest of the week proved to be an altogether more pleasurable experience. On Wednesday, I tried The Three Cups just outside Stamford Bridge. It's only six miles or so from The Black Bull, just a little bit further on than the Duke of York.
An altogether warmer hostelry in all senses of the word: decor, service and an open fire. Being aware of a thickening waistline, I skipped on the starter and went straight for the lamb shank, a melt in the mouth chunk of meat partnered with a potato cake and drenched in a herby gravy. Accompanying vegetables were firm, crisp and tasty. If I had a complaint, it was that there was not enough to eat. Obviously the size of the mains assumes a starter.
It is said, probably by Yorkshiremen, that the best fish and chips come from the White Rose county. Indeed, I can remember back to days when I worked in the West Riding and made a point of eating in the staff canteen on Fridays just to sample the fish and chips. Ee, them were t' days.
Anyway, I decided , on Thursday, to hunt out York's finest. Google turned up a very complementary review of Ebor Fisheries (1 Ebor Street, YO23 1AX) which, according to the author, had recently opened a restaurant attached to the shop itself. The place wasn't hard to find using the SatNav but is probably a bit too far to walk from the hotel. Parking is limited the area. I managed to find a place in a nearby side street but it is restricted.
Ebor Fisheries turned out to be a real gem. This traditional fish and chip shop has been extended at the rear with a fairly large dining room. Clean, bright and cheerful, well-lit with functional tables and chairs. For those on a diet or wishing to partake of something healthier than fish and chips there are salads and chicken as well as the ubiquitous burgers in various guises.
I opted for cod, not listed on the printed menu, but chalked up on the blackboard in the shop itself. And, of course, no self-respecting fish and chip shop serves up its main dish without offering tea, bread and butter and mushy peas. Traditionalists will not be disappointed at Ebor! A wide range of desserts was also available although I didn't take notes.
The food was excellent. Cod, fresh, firm, meaty, not quite a whale of a fish, was covered in a light and definitely crispy batter. For me, it's the freshness of the fish and the crispiness of the batter that makes the dish. And this one did not disappoint. The chips were lightly fried possibly in beef dripping but I didn't check. A big bowl of tartare sauce topped it off but I have to say that this was not required. There was bags of flavour in both the fish and the chips and very little grease to be off-set by the tartare. Service was excellent. Atmosphere? Traditional fish and chip shop. Price: around £7 for fish and chips eating in.
Would I go again? I can't wait.
Sunday, 26 October 2008
On the first night, it had either got late or I didn't fancy going out so I did just that. Might have been better off going out. Remembering how expensive the Holiday Inn restaurant was last time and how awful the service had been (not to mention the sheer effrontery of them adding 10% without so much as a by your leave), I decided to eat in the bar. Penne in some kind of tomato sauce was serviceable but expensive. At £10.45, you'd have thought a diner should have been full but I wasn't. Bearing in mind that, last week, I had a similar dish at Amalfi (London) for around £1.50 less, there really was no comparison.
Holiday Inn's are comfortable places to stay, right enough. They remain, however, expensive places to eat.
On the following night, I decided to venture a little further afield. Recalling two fine meals I'd had at the Fenwick Arms at Claughton, I decided to give the place another go.
I arrived early, just after six pm to find a surprising number of other diners already tucking in. It turned out that they have an early bird deal on before seven. Worth bearing that one in mind for next time. I didn't spend too much time with the menu as I'd already decided to give their fish and chips another go after the superb offering they dished up last time. On this occasion, they didn't quite live up to the previous experience. The batter was light and crispy although slightly on the soft side. The chips firm and crisp but with an after taste of something that I didn't quite recognise and felt shouldn't be there.
The service and setting were excellent as usual. Despite not living up earlier visits, I'll certainly go back. Next time, it might be worth giving the lamb shanks with beans and thyme a go. In fact, just thinking of it has started my stomach rumbling in anticipation!
Saturday, 26 July 2008
My dining choice of Amato was born of necessity. A hot, noisy evening in the midst of buzzing theatre land called for a cool and tranquil sanctuary. With its air conditioning, tiled floor and traditional atmosphere, Amato fitted the bill to a tee.
Once inside, the huge glass display cabinets betray the focus of Amato’s culinary interest via a mouthwatering array of gateaux, cakes, pastries, profiteroles, tarts, chocolates and all manner of things sweet, sticky, creamy and distinctly fattening. For those requiring some sort of preamble to these fabulous (I nearly wrote "yummy" here but I hate that word!) desserts, Amato also offers an agreeable selection of pasta and salad dishes. Garlic bread (£1.99) was light, crispy and not at all oily, an object lesson in how to prepare this simplest of dishes which seems to be spoilt by most mainstream establishments. Chicken salad (£8.99) was disappointing. An impressive spread of ingredients (roasted peppers, mushrooms, mixed leaves, artichokes) cried out for a splash of something sharp or piquant. Despite the menu threatening a “hint of basalmic”, it was singularly noticeable by its absence.
And the desserts? Sadly, this reviewer’s sweet tooth was extracted a very long time ago by a dentist who had clearly never imagined the likes of Amato.