A cracker (well, mostly cheese) of an adventure: Eating in the Yorkshire Dales – Part 1

Born in Scotland but raised all over the land (RAF family), Mrs. B.B. has always had a special place in her heart for Yorkshire. I always wondered why (Heartbeat was a downer growing up, but then that’s probably because it was shown on a Sunday evening and I was dreading school the next day). I also used to question her obsession with cheese and why I had to eat for at least three people on the rare occasions she cooked.

It’s all become clear…

 

Day 0.25 (not in Yorkshire, so it doesn’t deserve a proper heading)

The trip started a night early – splitting the journey up to save us a single six-hour drive and give us “time for cheese” on day one proper (the Wensleydale Creamery tour).

Leaving 50 minutes later than planned didn’t win me too much favour with Mrs. B.B. (the usual excuse: work) – however, it did mean we missed the expected traffic queues between Birmingham and Manchester. Unfortunately, there’s no missing the 26 (sic) stretches of average speed checks that have been in place since 1996 (sic).

Talking Heads soundtracked the first couple of hours – a last-minute Spotify playlist prompted by a failed still-in-progress attempt to convince the board (yeah, I’ve got a ‘real’ job!) to produce a corporate video in the style of a musical. Not the reason we were 50 minutes late… ahem!

However, frustrations with the Bluetooth connection meant we had to resort to the only station not playing adverts: Heart Extra. Playing club classics including Mojo’s ‘Lady’, Hadaway’s ‘What is love?’ – and Usher?! (the title was instantly erased from memory for self-preservation purposes.) At least the car was bouncing for a good 20 minutes before the usual saccharine dross took over.

We arrived at our £7 Travelodge on the outskirts of Stoke – in silence – just before 10pm.

Disclaimer: A night at a Travelodge may only be worth £7 but this is not their standard price – I had a £25 voucher (nobody hates me that much…hmm… It was ‘compensation’ for a previous nightmare stay on a work trip). I would combine this with the £17 I’d forgotten was sitting in my PayPal following a World Cup sweepstakes win (well, second place).

 

Picture perfect, photo average (day 1)

First meal of the culinary tour!

Breakfast from the (picture the diner from any low-budget US horror movie) Subway next door:

subway-cheese-stoke-travelodge
The views improve, I promise… and I’m trusted to open a window further than a couple of inches.

‘Poached egg’ is an insult to chickens. It was a pretty flavourless eat despite the cheese (you know, that cheese, that’s not really cheese, but may come in handy if you get a puncture), but the bread was fresh, it was fuel for the next three hours, I didn’t feel greasy – and, crucially, I didn’t have to resort to McDonald’s.

The rain was brutal at this point. The lack of visibility slowing progress – our nerves not helped by other drivers showing a complete lack of common sense (no head lights, let alone fog lights – and plenty of last-minute lane changes).

No photos = no food in Sedbergh

Finally, off the motorway, away from any obvious danger (although some of the rams looked pretty mean) to the small market town of Sedbergh – cue the first 100 photographs…

Uh?

Aargh!

The camera’s broke!

My phone camera is f……………….

(Just a few highlights from my 5-minute tantrum.)

We had a quick look around, took a few photos (on my phone):

sedbergh-street-rain-people

…that I’ll skip through when we look back on the trip in a few months’ time, but focus had now shifted to finding a decent replacement camera in the area.

I was too emotional to visit the Mad Hatters Tea Room at No.6 Finkle Street as planned.

Stone Close Tea Room and B&B

Fortunately, I’d calmed down in time for lunch – our meal at Stone Close in Dent would provide crucial reserves ahead of an exhausting day.

Stone Close is a 16th century inn. An open fire and wood beams add to the building’s and waitress’ charm, and help to provide a cosy, welcoming ambiance – a much-needed haven given the relentless downpour.

The six tables (room for maybe 20-24 people) no doubt suffice on most days – but not when a group of 16 want to escape the elements!

Fortunately, we arrived ten minutes beforehand, so weren’t one of the poor souls turned away to fend for themselves – and Mrs. B.B. didn’t miss out on her first proper cup of Yorkshire tea.

And when I say a proper cup, I mean proper:

stone-cold-tea-cup-dent
Ok, confession time: I had a coffee, but hopefully this picture gives you some perspective… it was a good sized cafetiere.

I somehow managed to resist one of their homemade cakes – the raspberry and almond cake was particularly tempting – and went for one of the day’s savoury specials instead:

chicken-goujons-stone-cold-dent

The piri-piri sauce certainly put Nando’s in its place – and nearly put me in A&E. Fortunately, my lips numbed and throat calmed enough to enjoy the highly spiced, tender chicken goujons.

Mrs. B.B. had the same salad accompaniment (very fresh) but went for the vegetable tart. A huge puffy pastry doorstop filled with mushrooms, courgette, red pepper and topped with cheese.

vegetable-tart-pastry-dent

The pastry was well cooked – finding that magical middle ground where it wasn’t overcooked or dry, but wasn’t soggy or greasy either. The dominant flavour was pesto, but the veg still had just the right amount of bite, and Mrs. B.B. was more than happy.

A quick look around – a few more dodgy phone camera photos of cobbled roads and a grand-looking church in the centre of the village (a centre piece for all villages in the Dales, it seems) – before we took to the narrow, single track lanes (otherwise known as Mrs. B.B.’s shortcut) to Ingleton. A walker’s mad person’s (it was torrential!) paradise. And then onto the slightly less taxing main roads (for a start, I didn’t have to keep hopping out of the car to open and shut the cattle gates) to Giggleswick, then Settle, and then home: Langcliffe.

Cut off from the world in Langcliffe… well, camera retailers

Now this looks perfect:

langcliffe-stone-terrace-cottage
No neighbours = rock’n’roll (well, more Talking Heads).

A stone-built terrace house that had been refurbished within the last couple of months with all mod-cons… oh, the towels haven’t been folded… they are bit damp… they are dirty!

A subsequent knock on the door revealed a rather embarrassed young lady holding a change of bed linen and fresh towels (she’d also forgotten to collect the high chair from our house for another property that was being rented).

Very apologetic – we did feel for her… until we noticed the grease on the cutlery and the crumbs all over the kitchen surface.

But wait, we still haven’t found a camera – and the Wi-Fi here is… is it Wi-Fi?!

We eventually found a couple of cameras… that would do – we didn’t have the time nor the patience at that point to analyse the specs too closely or compare alternatives.

But where’s the nearest Jessops? Currys? Argos?!

After a five-minute walk around the village revealed a phone signal, we managed to determine that there was potentially a camera that would meet our needs in Harrogate (no guarantees).

With 10-minutes left before the store was due to close (yep, we took the wrong exit en route – more than once), we had our new camera – but we wouldn’t get to use it for that evening’s meal (it needed to charge).

Little House Restaurant – with our phone cameras (apologies)

Although located on the main street, we nearly missed Little House Restaurant – the lack of street lights in Settle and prominent signage meaning we walked back and forth the restaurant a good few times before Mrs. B.B. took the initiative and started peering through windows (the tales she told!).

Inside, the restaurant only had a few tables for service that evening. The décor was quite classic in style, but it had a sense of cool, ably assisted by the stereo’s jazz singer.

Mrs. B.B. had a shock when her starter arrived (I have told her to read the menu):

sorbet-grapefruit-little-house-settle

Fruit sorbet with sour grapefruit and orange. Described by Mrs. B.B. as a zingy taste sensation, it could have just as easily sat in the dessert section (the whole thing was covered in icing sugar and complemented by elderflower syrup), but it wasn’t too sweet and made for a refreshing starting point.

I played it safe with the crab, saffron & wensleydale tart:

crab-tart-little-house-settle

Well, I say safe, I’m not actually a fan of crab or saffron, but, apparently, I am now – well, if they are both cooked with a generous amount of Wensleydale cheese. And hats off to the pastry chef – thin and crisp.

For mains, Mrs. B.B. went for the baked spinach and three-cheese pancakes:

spinach-cheese-pancakes-settle
It looked more appetising in real-life, I promise!

It was a good size portion, but the pancakes were thin and not too heavy. The melted cheese (apparently, there were three, but you couldn’t tell) was mild, so didn’t overpower the dish.

I opted for the chump of ‘lune valley’ lamb – mainly because you don’t often see ‘chump’ on the menu.

lamb-chump-dinner-settle

It was quite rare – I think a few more minutes would have helped with the chew – and I would have preferred if the fat had been rendered down and crisped up. However, it’s a very flavoursome cut.

I liked the almost sautéed potatoes, the green beans were cooked nicely (still some bite left in them), but whilst the peach and red pepper salsa was delicious, it didn’t real feel part of the dish.

Mrs. B.B. hit the jackpot on dessert:

yorkshire-parkin-treacle-sauce-settle

Yorkshire parkin, hot treacle sauce and jersey ice cream. It was a hefty looking portion, but the parkin was surprisingly light. The treacle sauce was rich with a deep flavour, and the ice cream played an important role in balancing the whole dish.

I wasn’t quite as lucky with my Portuguese tarts:

nata-portuguese-tarts-custard-settle
Wasn’t expecting the icing sugar!

Although they looked the business, there was a lack of custard filling and the pastry needed to be crisp – maybe I’ve been spoilt by Nata & Co. I did enjoy the strawberries and cream on their own, but it didn’t come together as a complete dish.

So, there were faults, but we couldn’t complain too much – it was simple cooking, but it was comforting. And the waiter’s recommendation for the Mason’s dry gin with a wedge of lime was spot on.

Crucially, it had a lovely relaxed vibe, which is just what we needed after a hectic start to the holiday.

 

Pigging out (day 2)

Day two and I’d managed a lie in – until 8:45am! Well, kind of. It did take me two hours to dry off after the heating came on via timer at 4:30am?!

I frustrated Mrs. B.B.’s plans further with my lethargy.  I could only get away with that until about 11am, but it gave us the opportunity to charge everything and rework the itinerary considering BBC Weather’s ever-changing forecast (it would turn out to be a completely different day to their last update).

A quick tour of the village revealed this beautifully kept church:

church-langcliffe-village-yorkshire

And a jealous side to Mrs. B.B. (sorry, we won’t have the money to move here any time soon.)

I needed a distraction. Farm shop!

Country Harvest

We arrived at the Country Harvest just in time to get a seat for lunch (the queue was at least 20 people deep by the time we left).

The menu was mighty, but nothing compared to the servings:

ploughmans-yorkshire-settle-country-harvest

And…

Wait for…

it…

(or them…)

sausage-yorkshire-pudding-country-harvest
Sorry, I should have warned you!

Surely they should come with a health warning?! Don’t get me wrong, the ginger infused sausages were spot on. Lean, meaty and moist – with spring onions cleverly forming part of the seasoning. But I reckon it was the equivalent to eating 6-8 regular sized sausages… had I been brave enough to finish them!

The Yorkshire pudding was ‘a proper Yorkshire pudding’ – nice crunch, absorbing the flavours from the deep meaty onion gravy, but holding its own. The veg did its job without being anything special.

Mrs. B.B. went for the Three Peaks platter – sold by the home-made pork pie and selection of deli cheeses. Although the ham, fruity coleslaw and sweet apple chutney perfectly matched the Wensleydale and Stilton, the pork pie was a disappointment. The pastry was thick, the meat filling heavy and, on the whole, it was too dry.

There was no chance we were going to fit in a dessert – I figured it would arrive as a whole tray with a litre of custard – but I did pick up a blueberry and vanilla scone from the shop (along with several Yorkshire gins, Yorkshire brewed beers, Grandma Wild’s biscuits, pate, lemon curd…)  to scoff down later as my pre-dinner warm up.

Quite sweet, but wonderfully moreish – nice crispy outer and crumbly without being dry. It was a cracker of a scone in texture – but ate more like a cake. It went well with the St Andrew’s Cheddar cheese we picked up at The Courtyard Dairy.

blueberry-scone-mature-ceddar-cheese

The Courtyard Dairy

We were in no fit state to tackle the waterfalls walk or the White Scar Cave in Ingleton – and the weather had turned on us again, so we headed for cover to the first place Mrs. B.B. could find…

It just so happened to be this place:

courtyard-dairy-yorkshire-settle-cheese

They don’t let you visit The Courtyard Dairy and leave without sampling at least 10 cheeses – and buying at least three of them. This was Mrs. B.B. territory, with her top-3 (because I forced her to pick three for this blog) being:

  1. Leeds Blue. Made by Italian cheese-maker Mario Olianas in Adel near Leeds using pasteurised sheeps’ milk. Creamy and not too intense.
  2. St Andrew’s Scottish Cheddar. Produced from raw cows’ milk. This was an intensely powerful, distinctive cheddar.
  3. Boe Pepe St James. Raw sheeps’ milk cheese made by Martin Gott in Cumbria. A mellow, creamy almost soft cheese.

We also got a little more education than we bargained for with an adjoining museum giving you the opportunity to try and lift a mouldy 10kg cheese:

mouldy-cheese-courtyard-dairy-yorkshire

…learn about cheese-making in the 1930s, and take photographs of various contraptions you are too impatient (to get back to the cheese counter) to read about but look interesting enough.

We wisely chose to avoid the café – although to be fair, at that point, I’d have struggled to make it up the stairs – but foolishly chose to visit the award-winning wine shop (Buon Vino) next door, where Mrs. B.B. picked up another gin (Mason’s Tea Edition) and I started to calculate the cost of a house extension to store all of Mrs. B.B.’s alcohol.

Quick – the sun’s out!!!

Our quick stop at Booths supermarket to grab some milk and necessities (otherwise known as tonic) turned into a fairly intense walk around Settle. Not because it’s necessarily that big, but because I was layered up and cocooned in a sweat-inducing rain jacket – and now the not-forecast sun was punishing me! But we couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a couple of pictures:

settle-flowerpot-festival-2018
Very disappointed to miss 2018’s Settle Flowerpot Festival – but some of the decorations were still up (see more at the end).

We visited the town’s train station (just after the steam train had passed through!), invaded the personal space of a few residents all in the name of a cute cottage picture, and mapped out our planned pub crawl for Wednesday.

It lived up to all my expectations of a market town – but the through road is tiresome, with little let up from the loud bikes and lorries passing through. I’m glad we chose to hideaway nearby in Langcliffe, which is where I recharged myself (and our various gadgets) and ironed a shirt so I could ‘go posh’ at the Grassington House Hotel.

I won’t spoil the surprise (there’s a dedicated review in the works), but it would be fair to say I left feeling a little tingly – although that soon turned into complete panic on a hairy 45-minute drive back through the unlit lanes (apparently drivers in these parts only drive 20 miles under the limit during daylight hours).

 

Cheesed on (day 3)

After heavy consumption on day two, Mrs. B.B. was keen to get us moving… as far as the Wensleydale Creamery –  a visit we had to abort on day one.

Up bright and early, we spent much of the day driving around narrow, windy, country lanes – and somehow managing to time our stops during short breaks in the rain for a few brisk walks.

Our first venture took us to Malham Cove. It’s quite an impressive sight to see such an imposing waterless waterfall (it brought to mind the Wall from Game of Thrones, but then I’m a few years behind and the mind does play tricks on you when you get to my age).

malham-cave-yorkshire
Fair enough, it’s not quite the same.

It’s also quite a sight to see a waterfall with water – and we managed that at Aysgarth (via Kettlewell).

aynsgarth-waterfall-yorkshire

But nothing is quite as impressive a sight as seeing Mrs. B.B. consume cheese.

Wensleydale Creamery

With a coach load of pensioners making it nigh on impossible to move through the gift shop, and at least 30 people queuing for the cheese shop, Mrs. B.B. was starting to panic.

Although she controlled her nerves better than I did when the lady in the café coughed all over the scones.

The interactive Wensleydale Cheese Experience gave us the chance to see… the back of people’s heads, and hear a cheesemaking demonstration in progress… And the factory’s Viewing Gallery allowed us to watch the cheese… machinery being hosed down and the floors getting a good clean. Oh, well. We got a picture of Wallace & Gromit:

wallace-gromit-wensleydale-creamery

And once we got inside the cheese shop, Mrs. B.B. was able to consume about 200g of cheese from the samples alone (and purchase another 400g to go with her previous day’s haul, along with overpriced chutney and biscuits).

We had a quick walk around a tired looking town centre, before the drive back to Settle via the Ribblehead viaduct – and Booths for a lime (you know what’s coming!).

The Yorkshire cheese-off, sponsored by gin

We had originally planned to visit The Game Cock Inn, Austwick this evening (a Twitter recommendation), but with a mountain of cheese to get through – and a few bottles of gin to sample – we decided to take it easy that evening… by consuming a dangerous level of cheese and gin.

Winner of the very official – and definitely not decided by me because I’m writing the blog – cheese-off between Wensleydale Creamery and The Courtyard Dairy was…

The Wensleydale with cranberry and sloe gin:

wensleydale-cranberry-sloe-gin-cheese

Mrs. B.B. wasn’t as much of a fan of the Wild Ram London dry gin from the Yorkshire Dales Distillery, but I was really taken by the distinct berry notes – other notables from the local distilleries included the tea flavoured edition of Mason’s (not convinced I’ll be chucking a PG tips in as a garnish any time soon though) and the award-winning Whittaker’s Gin.

Well, who knew recalling eating cheese would be nearly as exhausting as the act itself? I need a break! In part 2, we venture beyond the boundaries of the Dales, take orders off a bloke that was once in Eastenders, and fail to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant (scruffy buggers).

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter if you want to see us try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.

And if you’ve got nothing better to do, here are some more pics:

 

Close-up of burger and chicken wings at Kongs Cardiff

Practicing Burger Theory at Kongs in Cardiff

My first Burger Theory meal was a disappointment. Would crossing over the bridge and setting it among the most impossible arcade games of my youth make any difference? It was time to get wet…

I’ve resisted jumping on the ‘gourmet burger’ bandwagon.

I’ll admit, I’ve frequented The Grazing Shed more often than any sensible person would advise (to be fair, most of these visits have been enforced on work socials), and it’s always served a purpose (a quick fill so we don’t lose too much drinking time) – but, let’s be honest, it is cheap meat sold at a ridiculously over inflated price.

But, hey, who wants to support McDonald’s?!

So, when I had the post-beers burger munchies recently, I needed some advice – where’s the best place to go for a burger in Roath? (I asked Twitter).

Well… a week later… when I was less committed to the idea… I took people’s advice on board and went for a burger… in the city centre – Kongs if you didn’t read the title! (disclaimer: the bigger motivation at this point was the opportunity to play Double Dragon and Street Fighter II again).

 

The four-beer rule

Now if I was going to make a fair critique and comparison of Kongs burgers, I needed to consume at least four beers beforehand.

I’m a professional after all.

Hopping off the bus near the Welsh Government building, we cut across to Pen & Wig.

There was a big push on Wye Valley Brewery (not sure if this has always been the case or even if it’s a permanent residency now, but they even had people stood at tables with merchandise), so I quickly scanned the little preview bottles and picked the darkest looking option:

the-hopfather-pen-wig-aug2018

The Hopfather is probably false advertising – perhaps, the Hopson? Just an easy going red, which went down way too quickly.

“No halves, so she went rock’n’roll with two-thirds.”

A few steps across the back lane and we were into the recently opened Twenty Nine Park Place – ooh, very smart.

I will return for food in the very near future, but there was only time for a swift pint – and Mrs. B.B. indecision was eating into that! (No Corona, you see.) She eventually settled on the Cherry Dark Case (no halves, so she went rock’n’roll with two-thirds), which wasn’t too overpowering, but I think I’d struggle with even a third. Quite bitter.

I opted for Mitchells & Butlers Brew XI, which is a light copper bear. Crisp and easy to drink but nothing to distinguish it.

brew-xi-twenty-nine-park-place

Realising I still had all my CAMRA vouchers to use up for this quarter, we had to make the obligatory stop in Wetherspoons – Central Bar.

Mrs. B.B. was ordering, so I thought I’d have fun by making her ask for Slobberchops.

She refused.

I ordered a Slobberchops:

slobberchops-wetherspoons-kongs-meal

Another mild, easy to consume in twenty minutes, amber coloured, malty beer – although a bit more character and a few fruity notes.

We lost a bit of time here winding our friends up on WhatsApp, so headed straight for Kongs and ka-ching! Gamma Ray.

I was in hipster territory now – full ‘80s industrial future imagined décor – so had to give in to the light side and a very hoppy, fruity concoction from Beavertown Brewery.

gamma-ray-kongs-burger-king
Don’t be shy! (it’s the one on the left)

This American Pale ale was whacking my taste buds like a sledge hammer after the ‘old man’ bitters – with strong hits of mango and grapefruit.

I was ready…

 

Garlic burger – the non-veggie option

I didn’t have high hopes.

We visited Burger Theory in Bristol last year and it was poor – I can’t remember what I ordered, but I was underwhelmed. In fairness, I do also remember having the best fries and garlic dip ever – apparently, they like garlic…

The whole menu sounded mouth-watering – the KFC would have been a sure bet had I not clocked the jerk chicken wings as an essential side dish. After a little deliberation, I went for Bacon Jamin… Beef patty, ale and bacon jam, Swiss cheese, Dijon, crispy fried gherkins and, of course, garlic mayo!

When it arrived, it certainly looked the part:

kong-cardiff-bacon-burger-king

I could see this was going to be a challenge to even get a hold of. I cut it in half to reveal it had been served medium-rare.

“I wasn’t going to enquire about whether or not they’d received permission from the Food Standards Agency.”

Now I’m not against pink burgers – I’ve eaten burgers in the past which were basically raw (I shouldn’t have – I’d had more than 4 pints!) and survived – but I think this should at least be communicated when you order (at best, you should have the choice).

I’d had a few, so I wasn’t going to enquire about whether or not they’d received permission from the Food Standards Agency. I set about making a right mess of things.

Somebody was clearly a bit over enthusiastic with the garlic mayo, which ensured it was moist – but also ensured it was the dominant flavour.

Not the end of the world – it was delicious. But you couldn’t really pick out the Dijon or, crucially (given its name), the ale and bacon jam. It did elevate the battered and extremely crispy gherkin though – providing a good contrast in taste and texture.

close-up-kongs-burger-gerkhin
Go on, have a close-up!

The bun was just basic sesame seed, but I was happy with that – nothing worse than a big posh dense brioche bun. And it tasted pretty darn good once it had absorbed all of the juices.

And you could tell the meat was good quality – the shorter cooking time ensuring it wasn’t excluded from the moistening party.

I forgot to order chips, and Mrs. B.B. stole half my chicken wings (nicely cooked with crispy skin but not enough punch from the scotch bonnet sauce), so I didn’t finish in pain – which meant I was ready to kick some serious butt on Street Fighter II and Double Dragon!

arcade-machines-kongs-cardiff-082018
There were other arcade machines as well – I’m sure they were just as impossible.

Either age has caught up with me, the beer had, or they’ve got these machines on the hardest setting possible, but that was a very costly 10 minutes!

Before, I forget…

Mrs B.B. went for the Dirty Hippie Burger – a bit of a risk given she normally complains about how dry and dull veggie burgers are (although she keeps coming back for more?! A bit like our m…).

However, this had a “heavenly crunch”. An impressive (for) tofu and quinoa burger, topped with melted cheddar, halloumi, pink pickled onions and a gallon of dirty burger sauce, which meant Mrs. B.B. had to resort to cutlery (excused as she’s a ‘lady’).

kongs-halloumi-burger-close-up

It would have held its own even without the copious toppings. But no complaints when it’s halloumi!

 

So, is it King Kongs?

Well, I couldn’t tell you – I think I should visit a few others first.

What I can say is it wasn’t perfect – they were both a bit sloppy, they drowned some of the key ingredients, and they need to improve their communication on how their burgers are served.

However, boy were they tasty. And I was safe from vampires for 24 hours.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from this meal and to keep up-to-date on our other adventures.

Close-up of the Diavola pizza from da MARA for the banner.

It could have been crapper: da MARA

Who knew a last-minute decision to go for pizza would turn into such an adventure? From the pizza to the privy, Da MARA provided a mid-week night out to remember.

When you get a text from Mrs. B.B. at 4:15pm, asking what’s for tea, you need to act fast.

When she specifies “no chicken,” you know your go-to white meat and two veg (salad when the temperature’s above 20 degrees Celsius) speciality isn’t going to cut it.

Cue turning to Twitter for help to complicate things:

twitter-cardiff-pizza-request-july
No idea why my Twitter is nine hours behind me.

 

And the winner (of the unofficial Twitter vote) is…

There are A LOT of places doing good pizza now apparently!

Having whittled down added a zero to the end of the number of pizzerias on my shortlist for the evening, I decided to ignore the notifications (still coming through as I type this) and plumped for da MARA.

To be fair, it had been on the ‘places to eat’ list for well over… well, way before they moved from Lakeside, so it was about time! (thanks to Twitter, this list won’t clear before I’m 50 now).

 

Parking next to a park

Given it was warm enough to expose my knees, and Mrs B.B. wanted a snap for Instagram:

seagulls-roath-park

…we decided to leave the car next to Roath Park – we could justify the calorie intake if we’d spent 15 minutes walking back from the restaurant.

I’d forgotten what a peaceful escape it can be on a summer’s evening (having moved from the area approximately five years ago) – well, until the warden started whistling and shouting at us that the gates had been locked!

 

da MARA with love…that chilli oil!

The restaurant was quiet when we arrived, which meant we were kindly given the choice of where we wanted to sit. Despite the doors being wide open, you could instantly feel it was too warm, so we attempted to get as close to the freestanding fan as possible without messing up our hairstyles (the odd salt and pepper cellar falling over provided more amusement than it really should have at my age).

“The odd cheeky comment at Mrs. B.B.’s expense is always a bonus.”

The gentleman who show us to our table made us feel very welcome – the odd cheeky comment at Mrs. B.B.’s expense is always a bonus – and generally we found the staff attentive but relaxed. Particularly the lady at the end who saw the funny side of Mrs. B.B.’s grumbles that the portions were too big.

And to think how thoughtful I’d been when I gobbled up all the complimentary olives to help her out when we arrived:

complimentary-olives-da-mara-cardiff

We were having an alcohol-free night. The Italian mineral water tasted the same as any other mineral water (although, the label probably added an extra £1 to the bill) – from what I could see on the menu, they offer a good selection of white / red wines (predominantly Italian with a couple from Argentina and Australia) priced up to around the £25-mark

Surprisingly, there were only 3 options in total for beers / ciders – they should look to partner up with The Bottle Shop, which is literally next door!

It’s definitely on the ‘posh side’ for a pizza joint.

da-mara-outside-restaurant

The décor is chic without being pretentious. Dark furniture, trendy wall art, interior stone cladding – and a nice decorated screen over the side window. The downstairs seating (which I walked through on the way to the wrong lavatory – more on that later!) looked a little less interesting and more formal.

da-mara-wood-fired-oven

The real winner for us though was the playlist – but you only get the full, surround sound (well, there’s a speaker in the ceiling) experience, though, when you’re on the toilet!

Although some were sung in English, I assume they were all Italian artists (or at least, I didn’t know any of them!) – it was an odd mix of Nickelback-esque rock, uber ballads, chirpy ditties and covers (Mamas and Papas California Dreamin’ was particularly bemusing).

Each song was almost as much of a delight as each mouthful of pizza.

Yep, it’s time to talk food!

Starters

Having umm’d and arr’d about whether to go for a starter or save ourselves for desserts, the gorgonzola swung the decision.

fungo-ripieno-starter-da-mara
The official title: Fungo Ripieno

How could a gorgonzola smothered (the menu did claim stuffed but there was no containing it) portobello mushroom possibly pair with strawberries?

In a very peculiar way, it worked – Mrs. B.B.’s taste buds at odds with what she could see on the plate.

It was a bit pricey for what you got, though (£7.50) – especially when the strawberries were “very Tesco” (otherwise known as mushy).

Fearing my heart couldn’t take a mozzarella wrapped in ham pre-pizza, I opted for the calamari on a bed of mayo.

calamari-mayo-da-mara-starter

The calamari itself was cooked well. Firm but tender in texture. But the batter was a disappointment. It lacked any crisp – and someone had been a little heavy handed with the salt. I also think they could have put a bit more effort in with the salad – a few dry leaves (on the verge of turning).

I enjoyed it, but I think it was mainly down to the mayo!

Mains

We were nearly swayed by a couple of the specials (the Spaghetti Con Gamberoni sounded particularly sexy with a mix of giant and baby prawns), but having sent the Cardiff foodie community into overdrive on Twitter (there are still several tangent conversations going on now), I felt we had a duty to order pizza! It had nothing to do with the £24.95 price tag… honest!

I went for the Diavola:

pizza-diavola-close-da-mara

Mrs. B.B. had the Crudo & Rucola.

crudo-rucola-pizza-main

From the small areas which hadn’t been drowned in tomato sauce on either pizza, the base texture was light, slightly chewy, with a crisp accent on the crust (I would have preferred it a little crispier). However, for the most part, the moisture had taken over – which only highlighted the need for a proper pizza cutter. It was quite a challenge to cut a neat triangle slice with the knife provided.

Toppings were generous on both.

The Crudo & Rucola pizza was a mix of prosciutto, mozzarella, rocket and cherry tomatoes.

Mrs. B.B. said she was happy with her “proper Italian pizza,” but I could see envious eyes…

“I was on safer ground than I am with Mrs. B.B.’s fajitas!”

After a quick Google of Spianata Calabra, I opted for the Diavola. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say every mouthful tasted different – nor that every mouthful was a real sensation.

The Spianata Calabra and Nduja were hidden under the mozzarella. My first mouthful put my taste buds into a frenzy as they were kicked about by the heat of the pepper and spices.

There were some additional blobs of (caramelised?) chilli, which wasn’t advertised – and I was being liberal with the dangerously addictive chilli oil that had been wickedly brought to the table.

Despite it all, the heat was never overwhelming. There was a definite kick, but my eye balls weren’t sweating – I was on safer ground than I am with Mrs. B.B.’s fajitas!

I was in pain from about halfway in, but there was nothing stopping me. I finished proud that there were only a few crusts to spare, but this was tinged with a sadness I wouldn’t get a pud.

Dessert

When discussing the pros and cons of a starter or dessert, Mrs. B.B. made a statement that she will regret for at least 3 days – “I bet they’ll only do a Tiramisu and then it’ll be ice cream.”

Well, actually, they do two ‘proper’ desserts – yes, a Tiramisu (although it didn’t look like any old Tiramisu) AND profiteroles (which again didn’t look like any profiteroles I’ve ever seen). The white chocolate shavings were the making of them – visually at least.

We watched as the couple dining next to us gleefully consumed both said desserts and made the promise for the 16th time to date that next time we go for pizza, no starters! (In fact, we could have missed the starter and shared a pizza and still left feeling like we’d feasted royally).

 

Before we go, I just need to nip to the… ladies!

Now, I wouldn’t normally talk about my toilet habits (on here), but I thought it was worth highlighting my experiences for anyone else with similar attention deficiency problems – and who doesn’t like to No.2. in the dark.

Having found my way to the toilets in the basement, I was presented with two doors: one to the left, one to the right – both ajar.

I quickly dived through the left door where I was presented with a lavatory and a large sink – room for one – and started to go about my business…

It’s pitch black!!!!!!

Stand up, lights on… Sit back down, (30 seconds later) lights off… Stand up, lights on… Sit down (30 seconds later), lights off… You get the picture. As well as bringing on the sweat I’d managed to avoid from all the chilli, this was seriously impacting my digital note taking.

Just about keeping things together…

There’s no loo roll!!!!!!

I can hear someone shuffling about outside – they’ve already tried to get in twice.

What do I do?

Maybe the black cabinet has… Yes, there’s a bottom drawer.

It’s empty.

Does it have a… Yes, there’s a top drawer – it has toilet paper! Phew!

(fast forward – c’mon, I’m not that bad) I’m getting out of here.

I open the door to find a lady whose facial expression represents an odd mixture of annoyance and surprise.

I glance up to see the door directly opposite has the male WC sign.

I don’t look behind me: just smile and walk away run.

 

What I’ve been through, so you don’t have to

So, there are a few takeaways / lessons learned from our meal at da MARA:

  1. There are clearly a lot of places doing good pizza in and around Cardiff – when we get around to them, they’ll have a tough task to beat the flavours at da MARA.
  2. Skip the starters – they were ok, but we’d have been happier leaving room in our tummies (or stretching them) for dessert.
  3. We need to find some chilli olive oil to drink at home.
  4. “Just tiramisu” may be enough.
  5. Inspect the lavatory doors before entering – and maybe take a torch in with you as back-up.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from this meal and to keep up-to-date on our other adventures.

Close-up of chips and salad at Keyif, Penarth.

No frills, no fuss – but plenty of Parsley: Keyif, Mediterranean Turkish Cuisine

It doesn’t serve fish and chips (perhaps the only thing not on the menu!), but in a break from tradition, we decided to “live the moment”. Keyif is a new addition to the Penarth food scene, and if you like good vibes, big portions and parsley, it’s well worth a visit…

Now I’ll be honest with you, the Keyif wasn’t our first choice. In fact, eating out in a restaurant wasn’t our first choice. Who else knew that Penarth has such a dearth of decent fish and chip shops?

Well, thanks for telling me!

On a humid summer’s evening, the intention was a short stroll along the Penarth pier.

We managed that:

penarth-pavillion-evening-pier

With a bag of fish and chips (maybe I’d stretch to an ice cream).

We failed.

No, let’s put this right, Penarth failed… miserably. We saw – that awkward moment when you try to look casual as you squeeze between two benches to catch a decent close-up – what was being served at the Penarth Pier Pavilion.

“I was decidedly underdressed compared to the diners on the veranda.”

The Fig Tree was an option, but the menu sounded heavy – and I was decidedly underdressed compared to the diners on the veranda (combat shorts and flip flops).

And I could tell I was making the staff at James Sommerin nervous just glancing through the window…

So, it was a pleasant stroll through the Windsor Gardens into town… and time to test Mrs B.B.’s patience!

 

We hope it’s chips, it’s chips…

Still no chippy in sight.

Mint & Mustard was tempting – we had a memorable meal in Cardiff several years ago. Even with the front windows open, it looked like the patrons at Bar 44 were struggling in the heat… We could’ve just “made do” with Wetherspoons… When we (eventually) detoured off the main street and found Plassey Fish Bar, Mrs. B.B.’s face said it all.

“What about Chez Francis?” she asked, recalling a fantastic – but sweat inducing (even in winter!) – meal from several years ago.

By that point, I could sense I would be pushing my luck with even 5 more minutes of indecision and gave in.

When we arrived, there was a little confusion:

keyif-turkish-restaurant-outside-penarth

Penarth is hardly big enough to get lost in. Fortunately, I vaguely remembered an online farewell message from the Dupuy Family.

A quick Google search confirmed that Keyif, Mediterranean Turkish Cuisine was now the new inhabitant of 21 Glebe Street – in fact, it had opened that week!

“I stared at the clientele.”

A yet to be scored hygiene rating meant I would be using up my quota of rock’n’roll antics for the month, but it looked modern and I stared at the clientele long enough to determine they seemed to be enjoying themselves… perhaps less so after I then entered.

 

A summer’s evening chez Keyif

There were a few diners, but most of the tables were free.

Still, the waiter seemed unsure if they could accommodate – maybe I looked scruffier than even I thought. In fairness, it did subsequently fill up, so maybe there were concerns looking at my midriff that we’d spend 4 hours consuming everything on the menu (you’d probably need 4 days).

When we were seated, the waiter was very pleasant – they switched during the service, but everyone appeared keen to accommodate. It was attentive without becoming an irritation.

Admittedly, you’d expect that extra effort given the restaurant has just opened – but it felt genuine.

“They didn’t want to miss out on that £4!”

I was quite impressed when they swiftly corrected our mineral water order – we weren’t drinking alcohol so I’m sure they didn’t want to miss out on that £4! And there was no messing about with the bill at the end – in fact, we were offered a free baklava and hot drinks, which was a nice touch (and Mrs. B.B. was told by a Turkish friend that it’s a tradition of her home land)…

Anyway, we’ll get to the food later…

 

Relief! a chilled ambience

I can only assume it was a floor standing air conditioner behind the far table. It wasn’t the prettiest sight (and may not have been the most comfortable neighbour for the couple who came in towards the end of our meal), but the room felt cool and airy.

It no doubt helped that it had been freshly decorated, but the white walls, common sense table spacing, minimal features and chilled out music gave the restaurant a decidedly fresh vibe.

keyif-diners-inside-decor-penarth

However, it did lack a little character. A few wall rugs and generic canvas spice pictures didn’t scream “authentic” – and being able to see the plastic cutlery tray next to the entrance is something I would expect at a greasy spoon café.

On a busy weekend night, the room acoustics could also be an issue. When the restaurant did fill up, there was a lot of echo, with conversations running simultaneously. Any busier and there was potential for the noise to become overwhelming – ironic given “Keyif” partly means “quiet relaxation.” An alcohol fuelled table of diners could easily spoil it for others. Especially if you are looking for a romantic evening.

 

CHIPS! Finally… AND MEAT!!… oh, and veg!

Of course, whatever I had was going to come with chips, which narrowed down the choices for the main slightly – but it took us a while to settle on a starter…

keyif-extensive-menu-selection

I counted 23 starters between the Cold and Hot offerings. For the Mains, there was a list under The Grill (11 options), then there were the Specials (8), Seafoods (3), Steaks (I stopped counting at this point), Vegetarian & Vegan, Salads…

It was a little overwhelming.

On the plus side, there was a decent selection for Mrs. B.B. who does tend to ‘go veggie’ when we eat out – and is often limited to the token risotto.

It would help diners if they specified what was included in the Cold and Hot Mix Mezzas – I was more than a little envious to see the large and colourful dishes brought out to fellow diners after I’d already ordered.

But hey, I couldn’t complain too much:

sucuk-turkish-sausage-grilled-keyif

Starters

Sucuk is a grilled Turkish spicy sausage. It reminded me of a donor kebab in taste and texture – quite firm, but with enough fat running through to keep it moist. I was expecting a little more heat. If anything, the predominantly flavour was garlic, which I liked – but then I’ll happily bake up a bulb if I’m feeling peckish.

The fresh salad arguably made the dish – the balsamic dressing cutting through the fat. You knew it wasn’t the healthiest dish, but at least you didn’t feel greasy. Although I wasn’t sure about the amount of Parsley that had been included.

Cutting a couple of sausages in half and layering them was about as fancy as the presentation would get.

Mrs. B.B. started with Kisir:

kisir-starter-keyif-penarth

A bowl of quinoa, mixed with tomato, herbs (there was the parsley!), hazelnuts and walnuts. Not too sloppy / not too dry (which is where her home-made quinoa efforts tend to veer between) – with an unexpected spicy kick, which really helped the dish shine.

The bread was an odd accompaniment:

turkish-pride-bread-accompany-keyif
Where’s the butter?

Served warm, with a slightly chewy exterior, the bread (Turkish pide) was tasty enough. However, it didn’t really go with either of the starters – and really needed a dip of some sort or butter. It was quite dry on its own.

I found myself trying to mop up the dregs of balsamic vinegar, but in the end gave up and watched sadly as one piece returned to the kitchen.

Mains

For me there was only once choice – (a massive plate of) Lamb Shish:

lamb-shish-chips-keyif-main

I figured if it was good enough for everyone else (not sure they need such an extensive menu), it was good enough for me – plus it came with chips! I’d searched far and wide for these!

The lamb was tender, but there was quite a lot of fat running through – in fact, one cube was inedible for the gristle. It wasn’t quite the advertised “prime cut”, but it was subtly spiced and enjoyable nonetheless.

“I did live dangerously and have a few nibbles.”

I’ll admit, I was a little fearful of the large griddled chilli – but I did live dangerously and have a few nibbles; the salad was as fresh as the starter’s (well, it was the same as the starter’s) – although I’m not a huge fan of raw carrot chunks (or so much parsley!); and the chips were crisp on the outside with fluffy potato – I think they were frozen, but good quality.

I didn’t understand the strip of tortilla wrap – not enough to really wrap anything (maybe a cube), it just become a bit of sogginess on the plate. And an accompanying sauce would have really elevated the dish. I was offered some chilli sauce at the start, but a home-made tzatziki would have been a special addition (you could order it from the starters as a side dish, I suppose). Without the salad’s balsamic dressing, I’d have found it too dry.

As it was, I felt fairly satisfied for £12.95’s worth of eating.

Mrs. B.B. went for the Vegetable Mussaka:

vegetable-mussuka-main-vegetarian

This could have quite easily gone wrong: either undercooking the carrot and/or overdoing the aubergine would have made for a disaster. It was too simple a dish for any mistakes.

In fairness, everything was cooked perfectly, and there were clear layers when Mrs. B.B. cut through.

And whilst the cheese and tomato flavours dominated, you could clearly taste each vegetable.

It was also a very generous portion considering it was accompanied by pilau rice and a salad – Mrs. B.B. was less forgiving of the parsley than myself.

 

No room for baklava?!

The dessert options were limited (shocker!), but I was very tempted by the rice pudding.

But alas, after two dishes each, we were done.

There wasn’t even enough room in either belly for the complimentary baklava – and if you know Mrs. B.B., it hurt to turn it down!

We rolled out feeling extremely full – but content that we’d received our money’s worth.

It was by no means perfect – a few complimentary sauces and more restraint on the parsley would have taken it up a notch – but overall you must respect the price point.

We paid less than £40 for two courses each and in return received a no-nonsense, tasty fill. And, crucially, I got my chips!

We’ll be back again.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from this meal and to keep up-to-date on our other adventures.

Variety of dishes at The Rosedale Hotel, Portree.

The Skye’s the limit – for the credit card! The Highlands, Part 2

The first half of our Scottish Highlands tour had been filled with stunning mountain and loch views, medieval architecture, wholesome grub and 8,000 midge bites. All my hopes – and fears – had been realised. But something was missing… A hangover! And something else… an eye-watering food bill!

Fortunately, we were about to reach Portree (note: you can read part 1 of our Highlands tour here)…

 

Kyleakin time en route

Having spent the preceding 3 days in continuous motion, moving from one B&B to the next, I was looking forward to the promise of ‘chilling out’ in our own house…

Mrs. B.B. clearly had other ideas.

Cue stops in Plockton:

plockton-boat-highlands-part-2

Kyleakin:

kyleakin-saucy-marys-restaurant

More scenic photos! (I don’t have a clue where we are now)

another-scenic-photo-scottish-highlands

And quite possibly the best hollandaise sauce I’ve ever had (no question, the most generous portion).

eggs-royale-en-route-scotland

Deli Gasta

Perfectly located in Broadford to capture the tourist traffic en route to Portree, Deli Gasta is a slightly hipster café – a converted old barn brought bang up to date with modern interior design, neat beards and sound tracked by ‘before their time’ indie tunes.

Don’t let that put you off!

It wasn’t just the Eggs Royale that impressed. Mrs. B.B.’s Highland Ploughman’s was so fresh – locally cooked bread and salad which had quite possibly been harvested within the hour. It was also a ridiculously generous portion for just £5.45:

highland-ploughmans-en-route

Plus, their flat white compared favourably to Coffee #1. Enough said.

 

Swills, spills and bills – but still walking in Portree

Now, we were never going to travel all this way to sit in the pub – I was told after arriving.

Portree is a small, picturesque fishing village made to feel much larger because there are lots of people, like us, spoiling other people’s photos.

We also help to finance the fantastic restaurants and pubs – but I had to earn those!

Yes, we were back on the road around the Trotternish Peninsula, taking photographs of the Creag An Fheilidh ‘kilt rock’ and Fairy Glen, Uig:

fairy-glen-uig-walk
Pesky tourists (move along please!)

And there was the Fairy Pools walk from Glenn Brittle – where we finally crossed paths with one of these beauties:

highland-cow-fairy-pools-glenn-brittle

But, yes, eventually, I’d paid my dues – it was time to fill my belly…

Antlers Tea Room & Restaurant

Or was it the adjoining Portree Bar and Grill?

Not realising just what a happening place Portree is on a Monday night – and having prioritised beer and gin that evening – there were no spaces left in the posh half of the building.

“Despite very clearly offending the bar man not once, but twice… they agreed to serve us.”

Fortunately, we managed to squeeze in next to the sister bar – and, despite very clearly offending the bar man (twice) by mispronouncing Caorunn, they agreed to serve us.

My confit duck and fried egg dish lacked finesse, but it was rich and hearty cooking – crucially, it complimented my fourth pint of Belhaven Best. Mrs. B.B. went full-blown meat eater for the evening with the venison and mashed potato. Tender with a decadent sauce.

antlers-tea-room-venison-mash

The food had slowed us down – but we still had time for a quick night cap in The Isles. The stand out of the local bars with a decent beer selection, and only a slight whiff of disdain from the locals.

Dulse & Brose

You know things have gone up a notch – and a few quid – when you get…

bread-dulse-brose-portree

And it wasn’t just any old bread and butter. The bread was made with Brose (oatmeal) and the butter included Dulse (seaweed) – see what they’ve done there?

It was at this point in the waitress’ explanation that I realised why my lamb two ways was going to cost me north of £25 – and I should have predicted a snowman’s nose would be sticking out of it:

lamb-carrot-dulse-brose-portree

The mains were luxurious, but heavy – Mrs. B.B.’s usual safe choice (aka “going veggie”) backfiring as her chickpea salad came topped with approx. 400g of subtly smoked halloumi. In fairness, she wasn’t complaining about the portion size – but did find the tomato sauce overpowering.

The standouts, however, were the starters – fresh, visually exciting and every ingredient had its place. The trio of salmon included a rillette that surely is only allowed to exist on the Great British Menu? Whilst Mrs. B.B.’s goat cheese panna cotta with a ricotta bon bon (only one?!) was light, delicate and tasted even more exciting than it looked:

goats-cheese-dulse-brose-portree

And a commendation for the waitress who was putting in a real shift during a busy evening service – despite having to be up bright and early for school the next morning!

The Rosedale Hotel & Restaurant

Situated on the harbour front, The Rosedale Hotel doesn’t look like much – £100 for tapas and dessert suggests otherwise.

Fortunately, neither the paint work nor the menu’s price point put us off – consuming Navy Strength Rock Rose Gin earlier in the evening played a big part in that!

rock-rose-navy-mini-bottle
57%?!… I was only allowed a little bottle!

I left Mrs. B.B. to the cured meats (and dodged the “foul tasting” apple and saffron chutney), whilst I overcompensated with the dangerously addictive crispy smoked paprika and parmesan beignets. The herb crusted plaice was as fresh as you could hope for given the restaurant’s location. The Ras El Hanout roasted lamp rump was tender and worked well with the pickled red cabbage – and even Mrs. B.B.’s reservations about the seared salmon with fennel and grapefruit proved unfounded.

lamb-tapas-rosedale-hotel

Although she was unhappy about the lack of vegetarian options – and “where was the Scottish cheese?”

But it was the desserts that truly left their mark:

dessert-rosedale-hotel-portree

Just look at it.

Go back and look it.

What else is there to say?

Ok, if you insist… For me, the Chocolate pave was dense and rich but cleverly lightened by the accompanying crème fraiche and marshmallow. For Mrs. B.B. (again, see picture above), the creamy whisky ice cream had a great kick and was contrasted well by the sweetness of the raspberry three ways (fresh, dry and coulis!).

It’s just a shame that the whole experience was let down by the dining room’s awkward layout – the restaurant’s prime scenic window table situated right next to the entrance. It didn’t help that the waiting staff chose to congregate there – and chat amongst themselves – for much of the evening.

 

Oh, Oban – you’ve got a lot to live up to!

I’ll admit, I was reluctant to leave Portree – and not just because of the hangover.

You just don’t get this on your doorstop every day:

isle-of-skype-pipe-band
The Isle of Skye Pipe Band

But there were fish and chips to be eaten. And not just any old fish and chips – “The best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted” (according to Rick Stein – I’ll give them an alternative quote to use later).

And I was also getting to see a key location from the best film ever made, the best 80s film ever made, the best film Christopher Lambert ever made, the only decent film Christopher Lambert ever made en route: Eilean Donan Castle.

Don’t pretend you don’t know it.

Ok, Highlander!

The castle itself, rebuilt from ruins in the 1930s, is grand and impressive:

eilean-donan-castle-highlander
There’s definitely only one of these.

But it wasn’t quite how I’d imagined it.

It had more charm in Highlander’s version of 1536.

“Time has moved on since faux 1536.”

There wasn’t a massive car park for starters. I didn’t see Lambert struggling (well, besides not to laugh) to park his car amongst the obscene number of brand new 4x4s (Arnold Clark is clearly doing a roaring trade from the tourists), or queuing for a postcard in the equally imposing tourist centre…

Nowadays, nobody gets accused of witchcraft or banished from the village.

I was convinced it wasn’t the same place until we found a room with behind the scenes photos.

Guess time has moved on since faux 1536 – and it was time I did the same (yep, I was getting hungry)…

Oban Fish and Chip Shop

Had we not read Rick Stein’s endorsement, we probably would have missed Oban Fish and Chip Shop (if not missed Oban out altogether).

We’d have followed the crowds to one of the two chip shops conveniently located on the sea front – but the 100-metre walk (or so) up the road was worth it.

The fish was fresh; the batter was light and crisp (not greasy at all!); and the chips were on another level completely – the crunch was ridiculous, yet still fluffy within.

oban-fish-chips

If they want a new quote:

“The fish and chips are mind-blowingly tasty!” (some random bloke with a beard in Wales)

Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse

I wasn’t aware that my ‘cake treat’ would involve driving to a harbour, a boat trip to one of the nearby islands, a 2-hour walk (including another castle visit) – and lots of teasing:

kerrera-tea-garden-signs
You big teases.

Service isn’t necessarily Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse‘s strong point (hey, it’s a different way of life!) – it took over half-hour for our cakes to arrive (and even then we had to chase up on two occasions), but you can get away with it when you serve up cake as sexy as this:

rhubarb-custard-cake-kerrera-oban

I could have eaten a tray of it cake. I’m salivating as I type…

The custard and rhubarb were plentiful and cleverly baked in. It was firm but perfectly moist – and it was packed with flavour without being overly sweet or sickly.

Mrs. B.B. feared a dense chore when her fudge chocolate brownie arrived, but it was “gooey yumminess” – in fact, “the most gooey yummy brownie ever” (in case you’re reading this and need a quote for your next poster!).

Baab

Baab would prove to be the final highlight.

Located in the Perle Oban Hotel, we had a spacious and airy dining area, which perfectly matched the meze & grill menu. Fresh, light but pretty substantial – even when picking from the ‘small plates’.

baab-meze-perle-oban-hotel

Now, this is Mrs. B.B.’s kind of food. We ordered 6 dishes, from various locations on the menu (and around the world) – all beautifully cooked and presented. But the standouts were the Lebanese fried halloumi in crispy panko bread crumbs, and the wonderfully tender grilled lamb kebabs, which had been faultless marinated in cinnamon and nutmeg.

 

We’ll cross those days off for Callander

No time to mention the gin… we had to do a runner!

Well, once we got our money back.

We were unaware on booking that our flat in Oban was in the same building as student accommodation – and they were back with a bang (well, about 100) for the weekend’s music festival.

The list of crazy antics could easily make for a part 3, but, ultimately, after a lovely young gentleman tried to force his way into the flat at 4am, we opted to start our long journey home a day early.

It’s a shame we couldn’t keep ourselves awake long enough to properly experience Callander. Although the quaint but classy Lubnaig Guest House served its purpose as we caught up on our sleep before the final leg home.

 

The final leg – for us and for you

A dramatic and disappointing end to the holiday – in fact it got worse. I’m sure the stodge served up in the Mill at Conder Green in Lancaster gave me food poisoning!

No burp.

robs-mill-ponden-green-lancaster

But these articles have only scratched at the surface of the wonderful things we saw, did and experienced – mainly because neither of us has time to sort through the 5000 photographs that were taken.

I’m sure you’ll see more if you follow us on Instagram and Twitter as we try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.

The missus has already decided we’re moving to the Highlands. I’m not suggesting you do anything as dramatic, but I’d recommend a less committed stay if you’ve got a few weeks to spare – well, if you can cope with midge bites and Rabbie’s tours

Bill's asian ribs and coleslaw in Liverpool

A fab time in Liverpool with John, Paul, Ringo, George + Roger (and don’t forget Bill!)

Liverpool may be the birthplace of the biggest and best band of the ‘60s, but for one night only its people made the biggest and best band (well, sort of) of the ‘70s feel right at home – despite what they’d been charged for a ticket!

Finding a wife who, like me, had grown up infatuated with her dad’s record collection has its pros and cons.

On the plus side: a shared love of ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop acts.

Not so great: Abba; a loft full of 2nd hand brown and orange curtains; and having to spend a small fortune to see musicians now compensating for several hefty divorce bills.

Plus, you often need to travel – on this occasion: Liverpool to see ‘the Messiah’ aka Roger Waters.

 

Taking the long and winding roads (to avoid the M6)

Having endured endless road works and average speed limits on the M5 and M6 a few weeks prior, we decided to take the scenic route from South Wales – ok, it was an excuse for cake!

We timed our packed lunch perfectly (well, an hour after leaving home), to arrive in Ludlow at ‘cake-o-clock’.

Unfortunately, the DeGrey’s Tea Room was no more – replaced by a Deli that looked far too clean and modern for our tastes. Turning the corner, we quickly found what appeared to be a suitable alternative.

Carvell’s The Art of Tea

Creaky floor boards, antique but ‘not worth any money’ furniture; nonmatching, tea stained china; and an engraved table top filled with dust and crumbs – all sure signs of a fat, just out of the oven, home-made scone.

Well, it looked good on Instagram:

carvells-tea-scone-cream-liverpool

The reality: too small, too dry – in fact, had I bought a multiple pack from Tesco (that had been open for a few days), this is what I would have expected.

To make matters worse, we had to share a meagre portion of clotted cream – it wasn’t too sickly, so I could have happily indulged… And the jam? I guess it came 2-4-1 with the scones.

Don’t get me started on the unbrewable tea! Maybe it was art – I didn’t get it.

 

A warm welcome in Liverpool

I say warm. Wow! The sun was angry.

We hid for a few hours in our surprisingly chilled Ibis hotel room – no need to use the air con, as we hadn’t travelled over from the Antarctic!

Ridiculously well-priced at £65 p/night considering it was only 5 mins walk from the Liverpool Arena / docks. Clearly, they are yet to adopt Cardiff’s policy of quadrupling room prices when there’s an event on.

Ok, it was a box room, but there was enough space to crack open this beauty for pre-drink drinks:

fraoch-heather-ale-liverpool
Fraoch – William Bros. Brewing Co.

The ginger / space flavour and floral notes took me by surprise (guess I should read the bottle), but it was a nice divergence from my customary malty choices. Although I think the bottle deserved a meadow for its photographic setting.

 

All you need is… a sticky, moist rib

Not wanting to veer too far from our prime location, we opted for the first casual restaurant that wasn’t a Pizza Express or a Nando’s.

Bill’s had updated its menus since my last visit – and a quick Google photos search was enough to persuade me to order the Oak Smoked Asian Spiced Ribs – despite the £16.95 price tag!

bills-asian-ribs-body-close

Admittedly lacking in The Plate Licked Clean’s considerable rib eating knowledge / experience, I have rarely come across ribs as meaty, moist or tender.

“The size of the dish nearly put me to sleep.”

Borderline acceptable if you want more than a little chew left in them – but I was content in the knowledge I wouldn’t be distractingly tonguing at the dry meat which had wedged into my gums throughout Roger Waters’ set.

Although the size of the dish nearly put me to sleep – and I’m sure it has taken a few years off me.

Mrs. B.B.’s Macaroni Cheese was well cooked – the pasta still had bite left – but was really lacking a creamy, cheesy sauce.

macaroni-cheese-bills-liverpool

Plus, “there wasn’t any garlic bread” (I’m not sure if that’s a standard combination?). Overall, “a bit dry” is never a positive statement.

We did return the following morning for breakfast – again, we didn’t fancy Pizza Express or Nando’s.

The porridge was smooth and plentiful – the coconut milk making it a little richer than usual without being overpowering. The compote was more like a very sweet jam.

bills-restaurant-porridge-liverpool

My Eggs Royale was edible, but not up to their usual standard (we were served by the same staff as the previous evening, looking suspiciously less sprightly). One egg was slightly under, one was slightly over. The hollandaise sauce lacked punch – and was a little on the thin side. And it was served cold.

bills-restaurant-eggs-royale-liverpool

 

Us + Him

Now Roger Waters likes to tell us we are one and the same.

£105 a ticket says we’re not.

Neither does preaching against plastic waste whilst swigging out of a bottle of water. Nor does complaining about inequality and mocking wealthy public figures, whilst charging your fans more than even the Rolling Stones would dare (even the t-shirts were £30!)…

“Some of the protestations were embarrassing for their hypocrisy.”

I’m sure he means well, but some of the protestations were embarrassing for their hypocrisy.

And Roger’s habit of strutting across the stage to reach his arms out as a messiah-like figure made me uncomfortable – if not numb.

Because you can’t get past the fact he’s authored some of the greatest rock songs in the history of music – and has a live band as authentic to the group he founded as you could possibly wish for. Dave Gilmour wasn’t missed at all between the virtuoso guitar work of Dave Kilminster and uncanny vocals of ‘resident hippie’ Jonathan Wilson.

roger-waters-live-onstage-liverpool

Opener ‘Breathe’ lulled us in, before ‘One Of These Days’ attacked every sense – the repetitive bass guitar, distorted vocals and aggressive guitar and drums were heightened by the lighting and visual effects. It was a real jolt to the system that demanded your attention – and Roger & co. kept it until the end.

Of course, The Wall and Waters’ latest album provided plenty of ammunition for anti-Trump / anti-establishment imagery:

roger-waters-anti-trump-pram
Mrs. B.B. can’t fathom why he hasn’t been sued – although, maybe that accounts for the ticket price!

‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ was particularly powerful, with local school children dressed in orange Guantanamo bay detainee uniforms lined up at the front of the stage, faces masked and heads bowed – before revealing black ‘resist’ t-shirts and lightening the mood with some enthusiastic dance moves for ‘Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2’.

roger-waters-resist-liverpool-arena

The audience seemed to appreciate the more restrained moments – ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ giving the mostly shaven-headed, pot-bellied 60-somethings a chance to show off their tender sides. Arms aloft, swaying and singing their hearts out en masse as they brought to mind The Kop in full voice on a European night.

roger-waters-fans-arms-aloft
“… And you’ll never walk alone.”

I could not have imagined these Floyd classics sounding any better had the original line-up played them in their heyday.

I’m just about over the cost.

 

Let it be! You also got to see The Beatles

Well, not quite. But The Beatles Story was the next best thing only alternative.

I couldn’t wait to buy my t-shirts, ensuring I looked extra nerdy armed with the store’s branded carrier bag and audio guide as I photographed everything in sight.

There were some nice touches – recreating the Mersey Beat office, the inside of a ‘Yellow Submarine’, and the Cavern Club, which brought back fond memories of my less-costly gig going youth at the Cardiff Barfly.

beatles-story-cavern-club-liverpool

But it was largely a collection of photos and anecdotes that you’ll have surely have seen / heard already. However, you feel like you’ve had value for money – the audio tracks ensure you don’t move too quickly.

And the baked potatoes taste better than they look:

beatles-cafe-baked-potatoe

 

Getting back to where we still belong

We did all the touristy photos we could manage in the heat – plus one of a seagull:

seagull-liverpool-docks

And made our way back – unfortunately, via the M6 (no cake!).

Our stay was sadly brief, but who else can say they’ve seen the biggest and best bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s within 24 hours?

Ok, technically, I can’t. But it was the closest someone born in the ‘80s was ever going to get. 

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from our Liverpool trip and other adventures.

 

Close-up of my burger at the Ben Nevis Inn, Fort William for the banner.

Man vs. midge: Who ate more of whom? The Highlands, Part 1

Hospitality in the Highlands has improved considerably since a French Connor MacLeod was driven out of his village and paid to not to laugh in the face of a Spanish (or was it Egyptian?) Sean Connery – I either need to watch more films or learn to Google places.

Here are a few of the predominantly food-related highlights from the first half of our 16-day road trip, which took in Stirling, Fort William, John O’Groats – and plenty of midges (first piece of advice: talk little and often – please note: there’s no more advice).

 

Close, but still Carlisle

I agree, it’s odd to feature Carlisle in a Highlands article.

Plus, I have enough material ammunition to create a standalone piece on the B&B we stayed at: 4-foot long bed, next to the sort of bars that make the Borough look tame, etc.

But the reason I wanted to start here was to wax lyrical about a hot pot.

The Old Bank City Pub and Chop House

carlisle-old-bank-pub-chop
Highly deceptive.

It may not look like there was much room underneath those crispy potatoes – but they certainly made the most of it. Plenty of chicken, big chunks of ham and a tarragon and cream sauce I could drink by the glass.

Mrs. B.B. went for the vegetarian option: tagliatelle with asparagus, mange tout and peas. “A huge portion. Probably too much chilli for most people – but I found it made the dish really addictive. Somehow managed to gobble the lot – stretching my stomach in preparation for the meals to come. Often feel cheated when ordering pasta dishes out, but this was definitely worth a tenner.”

A lengthy gin list for the cool kids amongst you – even if the waitress herself seemed surprised that they sold most of them!

 

‘There can be only one’ in Glasgow

Ok, so we didn’t stay in Glasgow – have you seen Taggart?!

But as fans of Strongman, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend a ‘Highland games’ – even if it was just a small local event on the outskirts of Scotland’s biggest city…

We didn’t expect to see the one, the only, “The Mountain from Game of Thrones” (surely a catchphrase now for Colin Bryce), 2018’s European Strongest Man, 2018’s World Strongest Man, 2018’s Arnold Strongman Classic winner… you getting the picture yet?

Yes, Hafthor “Thor” Bjornsson (did I mention he’s also Iceland’s Strongest Man?) was – we still can’t believe this – Chieftain at the Carmunnock International Highland Games. And yeah, he only went and broke the world height record for the 56lbs SHGA weight (and probably for the slowest moving queue to get a fan photo).

highland-games-thor-world-r
Who was the real star attraction?

Slim pickings on the refreshments (the less said about my anaemic-looking burger, the better), but a good-natured event, with plenty to keep all the family entertained – well, mainly the compere’s scathing putdowns of Thor, the contestants, and the waifs in the crowd who attempted ‘The Manhood Stone Lift’.

 

A gold ‘old time’ in Stirling

By the time we reached Stirling, there were concerns that factor-50 wasn’t going to cut it.

We hadn’t come to Scotland expecting to get a tan. Fortunately, Mrs. B.B. is a packing magician, and we’d managed to squeeze both of our wardrobes into a Skoda Fabia. Amongst the puffa jackets, rain coats, wellies and woolly jumpers, we had an ample supply of shorts and tees for the heat wave that was to remain a constant.

stirling-castle-sun-shining
Finding some shade to admire Stirling Castle.

It’s only a small city, but the temperature certainly helped us work up an appetite as we explored the imposing castle, Wallace Monument and various historical landmarks.

Friars Wynd

Of course, I had to kick off the holiday ‘proper’ with some ‘proper’ Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

fryars-wynd-haggis-neeps-ta
Lost a few marks for the dressing.

Friars Wynd obliged – not too dense, plenty of pepper. Although it didn’t look as impressive as Mrs. B.B.’s chorizo and prawn packed paella – which arrived minus the advertised langoustine and calamari.

Mrs. B.B.: “With two key ingredients missing – two key reasons for ordering the dish! – it was disappointing. As much as I like chorizo, I have my limits. It was far too greasy.”

“They weren’t kidnapping the clientele!”

And fortunately, they weren’t kidnapping the clientele! We were a little concerned as people failed to return from ‘the toilet’ – but we checked before calling the police and discovered it’s also a hotel. Phew! Although, I could have made the evening more comfortable for myself had I known at the time.

Brea

I was in meat heaven at Brea:

brea-lamp-chops

A little on the pricey side (£24.95!), but give me 3 lamb cutlets and I’ll pay anything. The pesto sauce really complimented the lamb in fairness – something I need to try at home. And there was a decent selection of local beers – something the nearby Wetherspoons failed to deliver on (Lancaster Red the closest geographically).

Mrs. B.B.’s sweet potato, spinach and butterbean stew was “a little pricey for what was basically a plate of veg! It was well cooked – and a nice healthy option as I attemped to compensate for the chorizo overdose the night before – but £14.95?! I don’t think so.”

Victoria Square Guesthouse

With our original accommodation cancelling just days before, we had to up the budget to find a last-minute alternative. And on this occasion, the old proverb that you really get what you pay for rung true.

victoria-square-guesthouse-stirling

An 1880s Victorian building, the guesthouse was beautifully decorated and well maintained – with nods to the past, but contemporary in its design and features. Although located just a few minutes from the city centre (and the DJ surely past 5 on the Richter magnitude scale), it was remarkably quiet. In fact, we wouldn’t have known anyone else was staying – had they not drunk all the complimentary sherry each evening!

“Even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

And the all-important breakfast: I was particularly wowed by the VS Eggs Benedict – toasted muffin topped with haggis and a poached egg. My only regret was opting for the salmon on day 2 – Scotland’s national dish would prove almost impossible to come by over the subsequent weeks. Mrs. B.B.’s porridge, served with cream, brown sugar and a splash of whisky, was “even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

 

Walking everywhere… but up Ben Nevis

That we reached Fort William in less than a day was some achievement. A 2-hour car drive extended to 8 as we stopped at every passing place roadside gravel patch to take photos of the awesome loch and mountain views. Mrs. B.B.’s protestations that we’d have plenty of photo opportunities over the next fortnight falling on deaf ears.

en-route-fort-william-views
One of about 4000 mountain shots.

We sensibly opted out of climbing Ben Nevis, but our stay in Fort William was still filled with action – and even a little danger – as we walked to Steall Falls along Nevis Gorge, visited the Neptune’s Staircase and fought for a prime ‘Harry Potter train’ viewpoint (otherwise known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct for the non-geeks).

harry-potter-glenfinnan-via
Took a few bruises from the Harry Potter fans to get this shot.

But the real excitement was to be found at the local Wetherspoons.

The Great Glen

Now, for all its founder’s faults – and the occasionally suspect clientele – we’re not adverse to a Wetherspoons. Low effort, decent beer selection (not always the case – see Stirling above), and comparatively tasty fast food. It seemed like a good choice after I’d exhausted us with endless “photo opportunity!” stops.

However, we must have visited on everyone’s first day at work! Orders heading to the wrong tables, angry complaints, refunds being issued in every direction – and then they ran out of coleslaw! (Not ideal when you’ve only ordered a jacket potato with coleslaw).

In fairness, they did offer us a refund – for 2 steaks! And then proceeded to bring a plain jacket potato out post-refund (for the correct amount – we’re honest!). However, we opted against the freebie and moved a few doors down…

The Geographer

There was a table left in The Geographer! (who knew Scotland was such a tourist magnet?!)

I wasn’t convinced by the menu’s ‘Global inspiration’, but my Braised highland venison and mushroom stew was simply divine. The meat was moist, it was packed with flavour and the sweet potato chips somehow remained crisp to the death. It was enough to forgive the lack of air con as the alcohol consumed poured just as quickly out of my forehead.

the-geographer-fort-william

Mrs. B.B.’s Mexican vegetable and bean chill “was as memorable as it sounds.”

Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse

We may have bottled Ben Nevis, but we weren’t afraid of a battered fish the length of my wife’s forearm (and twice as wide). Well, I was – playing it safe with the inch-thick Ben Nevis Beef Burger, topped with melted cheddar (I still have dreams about it now), streaky bacon, BBQ mayo, tomato relish – and 50p wasn’t going to put me off a pot of coleslaw (it’s rare in these parts).

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Unsurprisingly, Mrs. B.B. could only manage a few chips, but thought the fish was a knockout – “light and crisp batter, wasn’t greasy; nice and fresh.”

I had my favourite beer of the holiday at this point – Nessie’s Monster Mash. A smooth, malty ale from the Cairngorm Brewery Co. which currently holds a rare 4.5 rating from myself on Untappd (will I ever give a 5?). I’m sure they feel honoured.

nessies-monster-mash-ben-nevis

It was an important meal at The Ben Nevis Inn to regenerate – the midges had feasted well that day.

Ardlinnhe B&B

It was at this point in the holiday I made the sensible decision not to feast on a full English (or Scottish!) every day – breakfasts would consistent of fruit, yoghurt and a variation on egg (ok, I had the odd vegetarian sausage) from this point on. No complaints on the poached, scrambled or fried eggs on offer here.

We’d been spoiled at the Victoria Square Guesthouse, so neither the building nor the room offered the same elegance or splendour. But we were, again, just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, had stunning views of the loch:

fort-william-hotel-view-day

…and couldn’t fault a thing. In fact, it seemed remarkably cheap given every B&B we saw (and they seemed to be everywhere) had no vacancies.

 

Into the mist: John O’Groats and then… well, we couldn’t see where!

My shooting rate remained stubbornly high, but my photos were compromised as we made our way up North (properly up North now!) to John O’Groats and then back down the ‘other side’ via overnight stays in Lybster, Durness and Loch Luichart. The sea mist that was to set in only heightening the otherworldly feel as cyclists appeared in what appeared slow-motion from the clouds.

cyclist-john-o-groats
It wasn’t a figment of my imagination!

It was at this point, I had well and truly lost touch with reality – we had the Carry On box set as our companion, the only other vehicles on the road were camper vans – and chickens had made their home at the local petrol station. It would take me a few weeks to readjust to the 30-minute morning queue into Newport when we returned home.

Dunnet Bay Distillers

No longer primed for 5:30am starts, I did put our 11am gin distillery tour (with the makers of Rock Rose gin) in jeopardy – fortunately, we were only 2 minutes late! “No apologies necessary,” we were ushered in and promptly handed a glass of gin and tonic that went straight to my head.

dunnett-bay-distillers-rock
Mrs. B.B. is more accustomed to opening bottles of gin!

If you’re on trend, you’ll be a gin expert. We’re laggards, so found the tour enlightening in every respect. The engaging guide talked us through the history of everything from the local area to the founder’s various Frankenstein-esque experiments.

It was very good value, with plenty of interaction, a dogged determination to get the wax melter working – and enough gin consumed (and taken away) to cover the entry fee!

Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant & Gift Shop

Sorry, I was a bit too keen to get to the gin then!

The day before the distillery tour, we met up with the Elgin-based in-laws for lunch near Loch Ness at the Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant. It would be one of the best-tasting meals of the holiday.

And it was unexpected to say the least.

There was more than a little trepidation as we pulled in to the car park:

oakwood-restaurant-building-scotland

…and the décor certainly had more in common with the hotel in Carry On Abroad than any restaurant we would normally choose to part with our hard-earned cash. But there was a collective sigh of relief, which turned into disbelief, and finally adoration as our eagerness to bequeath plaudits saved us from indigestion.

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The bread and butter pudding that nearly put our marriage in peril.

The laird’s casserole was exactly what the menu promised – rich in flavour (red wine, port, brandy and, of course, gin!) – and the meat was so tender.

“Slow cooked to heaven.”

Mrs. B.B.: “It might not have been all that to look at, but my butternut squash casserole had been slow cooked to heaven in cider, with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms.”

This was hearty home cooking at its best.

I couldn’t quite fit in a dessert – but I was happy to steal half of Mrs. B.B.’s bread and butter pudding, which was light and moreish. I’ve regretted not sucking it up and dealing with the heart burn of a full portion ever since – and Mrs. B.B. still hasn’t forgiven me.

Smoo Cave Hotel

Once we’d passed Loch Ness, it was slim pickings on the grub front. The electric cool box and never-ending supply of Shredded Wheat bitesize were both a genius move on Mrs. H.’s part.

However, we did have one hell of a pie at the Smoo Cave Hotel. Well, two – one each!

steak-pie-smoo-cave-hotel
The pastry could barely contain the filling!

Crispy pastry, packed with meat – I don’t recall any veg (inside the pastry that is), but I guess there wasn’t room for more than a whole cow – and a decent beer or two (the Raven Ale from Orkney Brewery stands out as a Golden delight).

Hillside Bed and Breakfast

Our hosts – who had moved from Warrington to run the B&B – were welcoming to the point it felt like we were simply staying with friends. It’s a shame we couldn’t see the views – the mist made our accommodation seem even more isolated than it already was, although it did add an eerie quality that elevated our visit to the Smoo Cave (the actual cave – the stares from the locals served the same purpose in the restaurant!).

 

Don’t loch now..

Having survived the midge invasion in Loch Luichart – there’s a horror book in me now – and a mattress I assume was filled with cement, we started to make our way to The Isle of Skye for the second half our Highlands getaway.

The alcohol consumption would increase, the food bills would set off mild convulsions – and we’d make a four-hour road, ferry and foot trip to find the best.cake.ever!

Don’t forget to check out part 2 – and to follow us on Instagram and Twitter as we try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.