Well, if Larry Lamb says so! Eating the Yorkshire Dales (and slightly beyond) – part 2

Yes, we made it after part 1! Although we weren’t out of danger just yet – there was still plenty of cheese in the fridge. The second half (ok, two-thirds, if your being pedantic) of our Yorkshire Dales food-filled adventure would see us… well, not in the Yorkshire Dales for 40% of it (too much math?). But I would take Larry Lamb’s advice on board to eat one of the 100-ish best-ever (those posters are legit, right!) pork pies – and dine in the only fancy place not about to ban breathing.

 

Settle down! (days 4-6)

Ok, I’ll be the first to admit, I waffled on a little in part 1, which means I had to split the article a day earlier than originally planned – it also means I’ve now aborted the day by day account to avoid having to write-up a part 3.

(So, quickly summing in an effort to curb the word count) The next 3 days saw us:

  • Overdose on the remaining cheese and crackers – I refused to enter any more farm shops.
  • Drive to Ingleton to visit the White Scar Cave – only to find it was closed for the day due to heavy rain (it was sunny). In fact, it seemed the whole village had closed for the day – there was no way we were using up calories on the waterfall walk if we couldn’t consume cake at the end!
  • Visit the idyllic villages of Long Preston, Gargrave, Clapham and Hellifield to take photographs of yet more stone-built houses and bridges, just about avoid falling into any rivers and, yes, finally, consume cake (see below).
  • Skip the rather naff-sounding canal boat trip in Skipton (Dave Spikey was apparently offering guided boat tours, despite being on a stand-up tour…in another part of the country) due to the unpredictable weather (we’ve lost what little trust we had left in the BBC), but enjoy our time struggling to follow the printed A4 guide in the town’s castle.
  • Pub crawl between Giggleswick and Settle, where Mrs. B.B. tricked me into a 3-hour countryside walk – and to pay for her £8 G&Ts all day.

(Scroll to the bottom if you want to see photographic evidence.)

We’ll cover our meal at The Traddock Hotel in Austwick in another blog – we paid enough to warrant an individual piece, even if it was a mixed affair – but other noshing highlights included:

The Goat Gap Café

Situated next to the A65 between Ingleton and Clapham, we’d passed The Goat Gap Café by Newby several times on various excursions, but the impression was a of a cold, characterless café serving up insipid coffee and overpriced, stale cakes (we’re so bloody judgemental).

In fact, had the townsfolk not deserted Ingleton, we would never have entered. But in our desperation for lunch (it had gone 1:30pm – can you imagine?!), we had no choice but to overlook our preconceptions.

What we found was a very welcoming establishment, serving up fresh, home-made scran and one of the best lattes I’ve ever had – perhaps a little hyperbolic, but I was expecting UHT milk pots and not such a creamy delight.

And despite its location next to a busy main road, all you could see through the large road-facing windows was the beautiful countryside.

I went for the special – smoked salmon and cream cheese toastie:

goat-gap-cafe-newby-smoked-

The griddled bread was beautifully crisp – absorbing enough oil to add moisture without feeling greasy.

You can’t really go wrong with cream cheese and smoked salmon – but you can definitely improve on it when the cheese is warm and rich, and you are extra generous with the smoked salmon. I was also taken by the rocket salad – with clever, and restrained used of pesto, and plenty of nutty, almost earthy tasting giant couscous thrown in for good measure.

Mrs. B.B. opted for chargrilled vegetables with red pepper and chilli hummus and sourdough:

goat-gap-cafe-chargrilled-v

The veg. was generously drenched in olive oil and once piled upon the sweet hummus smothered sourdough proved a messy but delightful combination.

The Dalesman

Despite having a 3-course meal just hours away, we couldn’t resist a jam sponge pudding and custard at The Dalesman in Gargrave.

dalesman-gargrave-jam-spong

Transported back to the 1940s (well, it was a long time ago), this tea shop has dedicated vintage décor throughout – right down to the ringing sales till and pull-chain toilet – and a sweet selection from the good ol’ days on display.

dalesman-sweet-shop

(I’m obviously too young but appreciated the attention to detail and the wicked waitress who listed all the favourite desserts of my youth – later than Mrs. B.B.’s youth, but then she would argue I’m still living mine.)

“The tea pot was a beast and it tasted like a proper brew!”

The sponge was light and airy, the jam wasn’t too sweet, and whilst the custard was no doubt of the instant variety, I’ll forgive them – just because the tea pot was a beast and it tasted like a proper brew!

Settle Italian Restaurant

One of our most enjoyable meals of the stay came at the Settle Italian Restaurant – not necessarily because of the food itself (although, the things you can achieve with butter and cream continue to astound me), but because of the restaurant owner.

“The more mischief the better in my books.”

I appreciate his brash nature and constant teasing won’t be to everyone’s liking – based on what I observe on Twitter some days, we’ve all become a bit precious haven’t we? – but the more mischief the better in my books.

the-italian-restaurant-sett
If anything summed up the owner’s personality, it was this sign in the toilet!

From digging us out over our changed reservation date to alluding to the fact Mrs. B.B. may have had a gin problem – no opportunity for a few giggles was missed.

The fact he was managing the restaurant by himself – welcoming and seating guests, taking orders, cooking, taking payment, etc. made his stand-up performance even more impressive.

And the food itself?

Mushrooms cooked in a generous bowl of garlic, butter and cream may be simple, but it certainly delivers. There were no mistakes.

italian-restaurant-creamy-m

Mrs. B.B.’s bruschetta was barely visible for the tomatoes:

bruschetta-tomatoes-starter

…and there had been no holding back with the garlic rub – nobody was going to feast on our necks on the walk back to Langcliffe in the pitch black (good job Mrs. B.B. is sensible and brought a torch). Again, not much cooking to speak of, but the ingredients were top quality, it was fresh – and it was packed with flavour.

The pizzas may have lacked the wow factor you get from the likes of da MARA, but the base had a home-cooked charm – retaining its crispiness despite the copious amounts of topping (Mrs. B.B. must have had her 5-a-day for the week). Although why you’d leave the stones in the olives I have no idea (it added a little danger, I suppose).

pizza-main-settle-italian-m
Fortunately, I did not save the anchovy quarter until last!
mrs-bb-vegetarian-pizza-mai
Mrs. B.B. definitely got her 5-a-day!

Unfortunately, we were so bamboozled with the post-meal chatter that we forgot to leave a tip pay for our stand-up ticket.

Stanforth Butchers

I was unaware that Skipton is home to the world’s most decorated pork pie makers. Every bakery has picked up an award or a championship for their particular pie – or, as in Stanforth Butchers’ case, you’ve had thumbs up from this guy:

larry-lamb-stanforth-pie

Who?

You know…

He was in Eastenders the last time I could sit through an episode – and that was good enough for me!

“Larry’s clearly got good taste in the ol’ pork and pastry combination.”

In fairness, Larry’s clearly got good taste in the ol’ pork and pastry combination – my pork and apple may have been lacking in pork filling and was probably more suited to custard than the advertised gravy, but it was delicious. A thin, crisp pastry, and plenty of moisture despite a lack of visible gelatine.

pork-pie-apple-stanforth
Risking it all for a nice background.

Mrs. B.B. went for the savoury black pudding and pork option, which was equally as impressive – although I saw something I never thought I would. She left some pastry! Defeated by the density of the meat filling.

 

To be fair, we haven’t been strictly honest with you

Our final couple of days weren’t actually in the Yorkshire Dales (and if we are being geographically correct, we’d already ventured out a few times) – an inability to find a cottage (admittedly, we left booking until the very last-minute) in or around Settle for the whole week forced us further south to the world’s first fair trade village, Haworth, for the final couple of days.

Ultimately, it served as a bed for two nights – Mrs. B.B. receiving the news that her grandma was in hospital, which sent us two hours north to spend our final day proper at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

From what I did see, the cobbled Main Street of Haworth is charming, but we’d definitely left the idyllic Yorkshire Dales behind.

To lift morale, we decided to book somewhere super fancy scarily pricey for the final night, which saw us presented with this:

beef-wellington-restaurant-
Mrs. B.B. was so excited, she couldn’t keep the camera steady!

…at Restaurant 92 in Harrogate – I’ll fess up, it was the third choice after The Devonshire Arms and The Box Tree, but they had banned jeans and were requesting dinner jackets, so we were going to struggle to sneak in with our muddy walking boots.

Restaurant 92 cost enough (and crucially, it blew our minds enough) to warrant its own review, but before I head off to cook tonight’s dinner of turkey steaks and lettuce (I haven’t got any money left to replace my unseemly jeans), let’s talk meat.

The Hawthorn

I’ll be honest, I was a little reluctant to enter The Hawthorn in Haworth.

The picturesque little restaurant we found on TripAdvisor was in fact a pub, blasting out a KT Tunstall-lite singer-songwriter (I’m guessing whoever it was has topped the charts since I gave up on the radio ten years ago) for the whole street to endure – fortunately, the stereo was upstairs, and it was louder outside than in.

hawthorn-haworth-restaurant

The fact it was completely empty at 7:30pm, there was a limited ‘Thursday Menu’, and the bar staff were staring at us with seeming desperation did set off a few alarm bells. However, I figured it would probably save me on the word count and so we entered.

“It didn’t get off to the best of starts – the waitress accidentally placing her fingers in my beer.”

Had this blog been around a year longer, I’d have honoured it with its own article, but with another three already in the pipeline from Yorkshire, I’m conscious my South Wales coverage is looking a bit thin on the ground (not good when you are Wales’ finest food blog… with beard in the title).

It didn’t get off to the best of starts – the waitress accidentally placing her fingers in my beer. She replaced it straight away, but it did mean I had to drink more than a pint of the foul-tasting Nettle Thrasher, which was more of a sour than a copper bitter.

I started with the Yorkshire smoked salmon on sourdough toast:

salmon-starter-hawthorn-haw

The whole dish was lifted by the lemon dressing – very fresh, even if the look and the fragrance was slightly off-putting.

The gin-pickled cucumber reminded me of gherkin, and I couldn’t get enough of the cream fraiche & horseradish (to the point I was scraping the remnants out of the pot with my knife).

Mrs. B.B. went for the chestnut mushrooms on toasted sourdough:

chestnut-mushrooms-sourdoug

The sourdough was a bit burnt but this only added to the flavour, especially once the creamy thyme sauce had started to soak into it. The sauce itself was mellow and complimented the perfectly cooked mushrooms.

Now, I never normally order steak when I’m out – it’s such a simple dish, I’m adamant it’s the one thing I can cook at least as good at home (and boy do you pay a premium for it). However, with only three mains on offer, I figured I’d give the dry-aged flat iron steak a go:

steak-main-hawthorn-haworth

In all honesty, I can’t recall ever tasting a steak this good before. Cooked medium rare, it just melted in the mouth – a little chew, no gristle. A different league to Miller & Carter, put it that way.

Although it came with a peppercorn sauce, the herby butter was enough (I could do without the watercress…on any meal I ever have).

“The gently melting goats cheese was a sight to behold.”

The creamy, dare I say, dreamy (I’ve embarrassed myself now, I know), black pepper sauce did not go to waste – the perfect accompaniment to dip the crisp, salty dripping fries (well, they were chips – a bit of a false advertising, but no complaints).

Mrs. B.B.’s spelt risotto with goats’ cheese was a hearty and comforting bowl, perfect for a damp chilly evening.

spelt-risotto-main-haworth

She found the spelt far superior to the standard rice risotto, which had a satisfying chewy texture. The gently melting goats cheese was a sight to behold – the amount of which was well judged to not over-power the flavour of the risotto.

 

Heartbeat, why do you skip…?!

So that’s probably the final noshing tour of 2018. Not because of the damage to my arteries, but I’ve used up all my leave.

Yorkshire may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of exciting ‘food scenes’ or bucket list restaurants, but our experience was of a place where people love food, have access to high-quality ingredients (and combine them sensibly) and take great care with their cooking. They also don’t mess about with the portion sizes! Remember this (if you don’t, check out part 1):

sausage-yorkshire-pudding-country-harvest
Just in case you’d forgotten!

And whilst consuming food did consume us for much of the week, we found the Yorkshire Dales itself to be quite magical – despite the weather. The perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of every day life, with idyllic villages and lush green countryside – a step back in time to an age when Nick Berry took his smile for a ride around Aidensfield (and I didn’t have to worry about offending someone on Twitter).

My mission now turns to finding a South Wales restaurant that offers the same wow factor as Grassington House and Restaurant 92 (you’ll understand why when I eventually clear my review backlog) – well, once I’m back in my jeans! 

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:

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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:

 

Holy cow(s?)! Mrs. B.B. has ordered a meat dish at Seren Diemwnt

An overlooked gem in Llandaff, or digital pretence? We braved the elements on a cold, wet Saturday evening to find out why Cardiff’s food bloggers are on mute when it comes to Seren Diemwnt – and Mrs. B.B. braved the beef main! (I didn’t want to spoil the surprise for you with the main image.)

With the expense of Green Man – and four days of festival food stalls – on the horizon, I had resigned myself to, at best, a home-made stir fry this Saturday night.

But as Mrs. B.B. rightly pointed out (why didn’t I do this years ago?!), “now that the blog’s live, we have a duty to spend large and stuff our faces at least once a week.”

We did agree – with four days of continuous boozing also on the horizon – that perhaps we should be sensible and go alcohol-free. As a result, we had the car, and opened up our horizons from the limitations of the Rhymney to Penarth line.

Err, we went to Llandaff.

 

A seren (or star) in the making?

Trying our best to find a restaurant which hadn’t been championed to death (it will be a while before we make it to Tommy Heaney’s new gaff) by Cardiff’s foodies, we eventually came across the website for Seren Diemwnt.

How did we not know about this place?

Why isn’t every South Wales food blogger waxing lyrical?

It certainly looked the business, with references to Michelin and #madeforinsta food photos – plus a menu promising 4-bone rack of lamb!

I was sold.

 

Did we visit the wrong website?

No – I checked as soon as we returned that evening, but anyway…

It’s been far too long since we visited High Street, Llandaff, but considering it is home to both Porro and our favourite Chinese (Summer Palace Restaurant), we’ve come to expect a certain standard – professional-looking website or not.

Our expectations were tempered somewhat when we arrived to see this sign out front:

seren-diemwnt-cafe-outside

…it was hardly indicative of haute cuisine.

Inside, the room was open, but the décor was unassuming and unnoteworthy – although Mrs. B.B. was a fan of the light bulbs:

seren-diemwnt-ceiling-lightbulbs-llandaf
A sense a trip to Ikea coming on…

It had a café feel, so we weren’t surprised when our table included flyers promoting the breakfast and lunch time takeaway deals.

seren-diemwnt-inside-diners-reaction
A fellow diner sums it up!

Bizarrely, given the restaurant was largely empty when we arrived (and we wouldn’t see more than four tables dining at any one point), they had made up our table in the centre of the room, but right next to the ‘bar area’ (or the cafe’s till) – this is also where the three people on service spent much of their evening darting back and forth.

With the door also ajar wide open when we arrived (it was lashing it down outside and more than a little chilly), Mrs. B.B. asked to be moved without hesitation – although that did lead to some confusion as our waiter for the evening struggled to communicate where we could sit as an alternative (at least we didn’t end up on the very uncomfortable looking high chairs at the back).

“All three failed to tell us about the evening’s specials.”

He didn’t seem all that comfortable when we asked to order the non-alcoholic wine either – although, perhaps, that’s understandable. It wasn’t that bad!

Service switched between himself and two female waitresses – the younger of whom was very polite but mainly nervous.

At least one of the trio appeared like she had experience of interacting with the public. In fact, she was quite charming – for that reason alone I feel a little guilty for what I’m about to write.

But all three failed to tell us about the evening’s specials – we overheard them informing another table after our starters had arrived.

 

Please look away if you are easily offended

Six starters and nine mains: surely enough choice for most people – although no sign of the rack of lamb (it was a totally different menu to what I’d viewed online), and it was slightly random (crispy duck with hoisin sauce, Indian spiced chickpea potato cake, soup of the day, cheese souffle… you get the idea).

The price point was reasonable (mains from £10.50 to £16.50 – add a few quid on top for a steak…who goes out to a restaurant for steak?!), but it all felt like it was being done on the cheap.

“It was a waste of a duck’s life.”

There were no nice subtle touches to elevate the experience (surely a couple of rolls and wedge of butter wouldn’t have set them back too much?!), our cutlery was wrapped in paper napkins, the table water tasted…well, put it this way, we drank all the non-alcohol wine!

Starters

Crispy duck is one of my all-time favourite guilty pleasures.

Any joy had been removed from this version. Crispy? I’d say incinerated.

It was a waste of a duck’s life – just adding grease and saltiness to an otherwise fresh-tasting salad.

The hoisin sauce provided some necessary sweetness, but it wasn’t anything special.

duck-hoisin-seren-diemwnt-starter

The pic does it way more justice than it deserves – and it was tiny. Gone in a few mouthfuls.

Mrs. B.B. faired a little better with her cheese and leek souffle, shallot and tomato salad.

cheese-souffle-seren-diemwnt-starter

Not really what you’d hope for from a souffle – dense and airless, it held its shape enough to have been extracted from the typical ramekin we expected to see.

It was more like an omelette in texture, but it tasted nice enough, with a strong cheese flavour – although the unadvertised mustard dressing was overpowering.

Mains

Despite the luxury of TWO vegetarian options to choose from – Mrs. B.B. went for the meatiest thing on the menu. And when I say meatiest, I mean obscene:

beef-brisket-seren-diemwnt-myview
Apologies for the nightmares!

Not what I used to visualise when I thought of beef brisket – unfortunately, it is now.

It just looked wrong.

And whilst it was moist enough, it didn’t taste all that dissimilar to tinned stewing steak.

There was far too much of it in relation to the other elements on the plate. And if you are serving up this many cows on one plate, you really need to provide a jug of thick gravy vs. a barely there red wine jus.

“The best thing about this dish was a wedge of red onion.”

The butternut spiced puree was served cold. The crispy carrot and parsnip looked nice visually when the plate arrived but became lost in the eating. The potato fondant was soft and buttery but outshone by a wedge of red onion that was packed with flavour.

I repeat: the best thing about this dish was a wedge of red onion.

My pheasant breast rolled in poppy seed, lemon and chili sounded so promising. But I’d be embarrassed if I’d cooked this myself – if I’d cooked it FOR myself.

pheasant-main-seren-diemwnt

It didn’t look that great – although you can see they are trying. With three tiny potatoes, three beetroot crisps, two (maybe the chef plated too close to the edge so I lost one) roasted tomatoes dotted around the plate – and a splash of chocolate jus – it had the first round of MasterChef: The Professionals written all over it.

Based on the cooking, the chef would struggle on the amateur version.

“I was tearing it apart with my knife and fork.”

The pheasant was overcooked to the point I was tearing it apart with my knife and fork – it took a fair bit of effort I can tell you! The beetroot crisps were like pieces of card. And the buttered potatoes were undercooked and lacked any buttery flavour.

The best part of it was the chocolate jus – nice and bitter – but there was so little of it. A crying (I was on the verge) shame when the meal was so dry.

I didn’t mind the seared red cabbage, but I couldn’t taste the sherry pearls or the lemon on the pheasant – the poppy seed dominated.

For such a simple dish, you really need to nail every single element – the fact there was gristle and cartilage still attached to the pheasant summed up the lack of skill and attention to detail.

There wasn’t much to leave, but there was enough to raise questions.

The plates were nervously taken away – the younger waitress seemed flustered when we spoke to her. We smiled.

Desserts

Given the measly portions to that point, there was room in my tummy for Seren Diemwnt to make it up to me with a knockout dessert. Mrs. B.B. had less room in hers (did you see her main?!), but she isn’t one to be left out – plus there was an unexplained half-hour delay, which helped.

Disclaimer: under normal circumstances, we would have left the restaurant at this point – and I would have expected a refund for the main I received (at least). Given this was to form part of a review, I was keen to complete the ‘experience’ without influence.

Her summer pudding was a simple delight. Very light, not too sweet – with a hint of tartness from the berry fruits. It was the first dish to deliver:

summer-pudding-seren-diemwnt

Unfortunately, it was the only one…

My lemon & white chocolate mousse wasn’t a mousse at all. It wasn’t light or airy – it had a texture more akin to a posset (I’m being kind). And it was a deceptively large portion.

white-mousse-seren-diemwnt-dessert

The cinnamon meringue added some nice texture if nothing more, but the real star was the tart candied lemon peel, adding more than just crunch and decoration.

I would have liked more of the raspberry sauce to tame the sweetness of the faux mousse. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, but finally the ordeal was over…

 

Time to spread the word?

To be honest, I left feeling a bit confused. On reflection, I felt cheated – what they are promoting vs. the reality is miles apart. And for north of £60?!

From the waiting staff to the food served, it was pretty amateur, which suggests this was more than a ‘bad night’.

So…now we know why nobody is talking about this place.

Maybe more people should be.

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 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.

I’m no gentleman… but I was still allowed afternoon tea at the Park Plaza

Fortunately, there were no signs barring bearded burpers, so I was able to partake in the traditions of scotch egg, seared sirloin, Yorkshire pudding… Err, it was afternoon tea, right?

Now I’m not sure if Mrs. B.B. is trying to fatten me up, or whether putting the bins out on time earlier in the week really won me some favour.

Either way, having cooked me her signature rack of lamb dish on the Friday, treated me to home-made blueberry pancakes Saturday morning:

pancakes-breakfast-park-plaza

…and then driven me 1 hour to The Walnut Tree Inn for 3-courses that very same evening, it was now Sunday and time for the Park Plaza’s (well, technically, Laguna Restaurant & Bar’s) afternoon tea – with a twist.

Yes, it wasn’t any old afternoon tea.

In a bid to curb my sugar intake, I opted for the savoury (gentlemen’s afternoon tea), whilst Mrs. B.B. went hyper with the traditional version.

Mrs. B.B. has covered the décor and service in her review, so let’s get straight down to (gentle)man’s business…

gentlemens-afternoon-tea-park-plaza

 

Finger sandwiches or STEAK?!

Ok, it was £2 more, but, “honestly, if I don’t have slightly stale finger sandwiches whose filling I can barely taste given the thickness of the bread, I can have steak ciabatta?!”

It seemed an absurd trade off, and as a result I didn’t have high hopes, but it was some of the best steak I’ve ever had.

It wasn’t tough or chewy – a little bit of gristle – and they didn’t feel obliged to do anything to distract from the flavour. Caramelised onion, a few sautéed mushrooms, but mainly tender, seared sirloin stake. Perfect.

“It was comfortingly warm and crispy.”

Saying that, I couldn’t resist dipping it into the bloody mary sauce which came with the chorizo Scotch eggs – possibly the highlight of the meal.

chorizo-scotch-egg-park-plaza
It’s worth a second, closer viewing!

The egg yolk was still runny, the chorizo was slightly spicy and moist – and it was comfortingly warm and crispy. The glisten from the juices after my first bite was a beautiful sight – and it sent my taste buds into a frenzy.

The only things I didn’t dip into the sauce were the desserts (I’m not that much of a lout!), and the two fishy options…

 

Can we get back to the meat already?

Not a huge fan of prawn cocktail – and it was a bit awkward to eat out of the shot glass – I kicked it over to Mrs. B.B. after a couple of tentative nibbles (don’t worry, I stole plenty from across the table – including a finger sandwich to finish mopping up the bloody mary sauce).

salmon-caviar-tea-park-plaza

The smoked salmon was… smoked salmon – on a dry blini (not a fan generally) with crème fraiche and tiny bit of caviar you could barely taste.

“More of the sirloin steak! Yes, please…”

Both the fish dishes were perfectly fine, but I was eager to get back to the meat – and the mini venison burger, which was a delight. I expected something fairly dry, but it was so moist and clearly made with high-quality mince – again, no need for fuss: a big slice of tomato, a lettuce leaf and a thin layer of mayo. I was more than content – even if I (thankfully) couldn’t make out the advertised juniper berry or redcurrants in the mayo.

venison-burger-park-plaza-tea
Venison or tomato burger?

I made the mistake of leaving the Yorkshire pudding until last – so it was a bit cold and had lost its crunch. However, more of the sirloin steak! Yes, please… The creamed horseradish dip had some serious kick – my senses took a battering at this point, but it was almost addictively painful.

 

Sweets… but not to be savoured

Boy, the sweets were… well, sweet!

rasberry-dessert-park-plaza
What will it contain? Well, not what was advertised!

I don’t know if they were trying to overcompensate, but they could have taken it down a notch or two with the rum baba filled with Chantilly cream and raspberries.

“The raspberry chocolate shell reminded me of those cheap pink chocolate mice of my youth.”

I did like the effect of breaking through the thick outer shell with a spoon to get to the creamy centre – my very own MasterChef judging moment.

The raspberry chocolate shell reminded me of those cheap pink chocolate mice of my youth, which, even then I would struggle to consume too many of – with the Chantilly cream it was way too much. I also seemed to be missing the advertised raspberries – however, there appeared to be pieces of rum soaked sponge hidden within.

The duo chocolate mousse was smooth, but it wasn’t light and airy. It was also very rich and intense – although the bitterness (and the fact it was served in an espresso’s cup) saved it from being overwhelming.

chocolate-mousse-espresso-park-plaza

 

Did the sugar leave a sour note?

So, I’d opted for the savoury afternoon tea, but still left with a sugar sweat and a requirement to hit the exercise bike when I got home.

To be honest, I could have done without the sweets entirely – this is where the kitchen faltered, and I started to worry about my long-term health.

Maybe I’m too much of a rough man, but a few veggie side dishes (maybe a homemade coleslaw), or just a pint of the bloody mary sauce, and I’d have left completely satisfied – rather than lightheaded from the sugar rush.

However, I booked it for the savoury; on that score, it really delivered, with some high quality ingredients and top drawer cooking.

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

No surprises: It’s The Walnut Tree Inn

A birthday meal at an unnamed location. We had to drive – so I knew I wasn’t getting Cliff at Frankie & Benny’s this year! It was somewhere I’d always wanted to go – so I knew I wasn’t getting Cliff at Frankie & Benny’s this year! I had to wear a shirt – so I knew I wasn’t getting Cliff at Frankie & Benny’s this year! Ok, ok, I know it’s in the title, but I needed an intro…

As mystery’s go, it probably wasn’t the hardest to solve for me either. There were a few clues – “we must drive,” and “it’s about an hour away” being the most obvious…

Leaving the house and heading towards Ponty confirmed my suspicions – and I was onto a ‘dead cert’ when we took the exit signed Abergavenny off the roundabout (although I admit to being thrown off the scent a little when Mrs. B.B. later missed a few turnings – couldn’t think of anywhere in Hereford!).

So, yes, finally, after several years of online drooling, but thinking we couldn’t use up our monthly dining budget on one night out (clearly lacking the average food blogger budget), we were about to have our first meal at The Walnut Tree

 

So far away… well, not really

Given the unintended detour, The Walnut Tree appeared even more remote than the reality – when we also got lost on the return leg, we found its location in Llandewi Skirrid is actually very close to Abergavenny town centre – which only served to heighten my expectations on arrival. If people are willing to come all this way, it has got to be amazing.

“I maybe even wanted to feel out of place by the pretentiousness of it all.”

The Michelin-star, celebrity chef, recollections of eyewatering prices online, and the brand-new sports cars and land rovers parked outside (I assume the kitchen and waiting staff aren’t that well paid) all added to the prospect of an uncomfortable evening – I maybe even wanted to feel out of place by the pretentiousness of it all.

In fact, I felt right at home.

The lavatory I visited on the way in may have had flannels to dry your hands, but it was a bit shabby, with a wonky toilet seat and an awkward layout…

The inn itself is impressive enough, but “informal” is certainly the right word, as you enter onto a small bar area (no beers on tap!) and a warm if unfussed welcome from whichever staff member was tidying up at the time.

Mrs. B.B. wasn’t drinking so we didn’t stop for long, but there is the option to sit near the bar before moving into the dining area.

 

On your marks, get set…

The dining room (split by a dividing wall) was tidy if unremarkable – quite a few tables given the floor space and quite a few abstract pictures given the wall space.

walnut-inn-diners-tables

If you happen to be seated (like ourselves) near the door to the kitchen, it does feel quite cramped and busy, with staff members sprinting back and forth – definitely, no time to enquire about your meal.

The couple nearest clearly weren’t happy and asked to be moved about 10 minutes into their service. Not the best place for a romantic evening, then.

We were seated next to each other against the wall, so it wasn’t quite as irritating, but it was a noticeable distraction – and made capturing photographs without unblurred individuals more of a challenge as the room filled up.

As did the dimmed lighting, which I guess pairs with the general, relaxed vibe they are aiming for – but didn’t achieve on this busy evening.

 

You finished yet?

We were presented with an extensive (and increasingly expensive) wine menu book as we sat down. Mrs. B.B. was on mineral water, so I enquired about the beers – only two and both disappointing: Estrella and (I think – it may have been Budweiser) Budvar (I knew it wasn’t worth asking for clarification, put it that way). I would have expected more support for Welsh craft breweries, but I guess they rely on the wine mark-up.

“My options were limited somewhat by Mrs. B.B.’s reactions to calf’s brains and pig’s head.”

The menu itself was more extensive than I would have expected from a fine dining establishment, but my options were limited somewhat by Mrs. B.B.’s reactions to calf’s brains and pig’s head. As tends to be the case, I went for the meatiest sounding options and Mrs. B.B. went veggie for the evening.

Swiftly after taking our orders (the only thing they seemed reluctant to deliver on the night was the bill), we were presented with an aperitif:

cheese-croquette-pre-fork-walnut

A cauliflower cheese stuffed croquette. You really can’t go wrong with cauliflower cheese, and I wouldn’t have expected a Michelin-starred restaurant to fail me now.

cheese-croquette-walnut-inn-ooze
I wish this was the actual size!

Crispy on the outside, mushy on the inside, with an intense cheesy flavour. It was gone in a mouthful – but not to worry, here comes the bread!

I’m not sure if etiquette is to save the bread to accompany your other dishes – as the more refined looking diners appeared to be doing – but me and Mrs. B.B. dived in. Tearing the buttermilk bread in two and lashing on the butter.

What’s not to love about soft warm bread – especially when it’s as luxurious as this (verging on a dessert). Although there was an overwhelming saltiness not just from the butter.

Starters

I was tempted by the deep friend porthilly oyster with chorizo and chilli mayonnaise – although seeing the amount of chew effort a fellow diner had to put in, I’m glad I opted to play it safe with:

quail-starter-walnut-tree-inn

Confit quail with grapes, morteau and madeira.

For me, this was the standout dish of the evening.

Every part of the quail was on the plate and cooked with real care – the meat was moist and the skin slightly charcoaled giving it a slightly smoked flavour. Every other ingredient complemented – whether it was the smokiness of the morteau sausage or the almost BBQ flavour of the madeira sauce.

It was delicate and precise cooking – you could imagine someone laying this out with a set of tweezers in the kitchen – but crucially it tasted wonderful. The only downside of eating somewhere with this price tag is Mrs. B.B. wouldn’t let me pick up the bones to consume the tiny morsels that remained.

After a little education from the waitress, Mrs. B.B. went for farfalle with courgettes, chilli, garlic and parmesan:

pasta-starter-walnut-tree-inn
There is pasta under the Parmesan – promise!

Farfalle is ‘bow-tie’ shaped pasta. It was layered with slivers of courgette, smothered in a punchy chilli sauce and finished with a light sprinkling of parmesan. The courgette added a lightness, whilst the sauce had the perfect amount of heat to leave your mouth tingling and wanting more.

Mains

I was almost swayed by the five-spice duck with sticky rice, soy and sesame, but who turns down rack of lamb when they see it? (Even if Mrs. B.B. had treated me to her home-cooked version the night prior!)

lamb-rack-walnut-tree-inn

It arrived almost immediately after we finished our starters. Again, the cooking and the presentation were neat and tidy – is there someone in the kitchen cooking these peas individually?

“The mint was so subtle I was questioning whether it was even there.”

The lamb rack was a touch pink and melt in your mouth tender (shame they weren’t bigger – Mrs. B.B. did make a reference to the “poor little lamb”), the veg (peas, broad beans and broccoli) was firm to bite but not hard, and the chips / roast potatoes were crisp, fluffy and buttery.

But it wasn’t perfect. The rich lamb shoulder was a bit tough in places, and the sauce didn’t really add anything at all – the mint was so subtle I was questioning whether it was even there. Overall, I felt it lacked seasoning.

High quality meat and high-quality cooking – and I’d be more than happy if I had this at a restaurant charging <£20. But for £29, I was expecting the best lamb dish I’d ever had – and it wasn’t.

Mrs. B.B. seemed to get better value with her £16 summer vegetable target with quail eggs and coulommiers:

veg-pie-main-walnut-tree

To say Mrs. B.B. was impressed when this arrived is understatement – cue 4000 photographs from every possible angle.

So here’s another one:

veg-tart-angle-shot

The collection of vegetables was beautifully assembled alongside the quails’ eggs on a delicately thin and crispy cheese pastry case. This was atop a pea puree and served with a side dish of baby Anya potatoes.

The variety of perfectly cooked veg – carrot, beetroot, broad bean, asparagus and courgette, to name just a few – was impressive and the rich cheese sauce within (watching that ooze out was a sight to behold) just brought everything together without overpowering any element.

Desserts

One of the great things(?!) about fine dining is you pay 33-50% more, but you feel 33-50% less satisfied, which means we had room for a pudding.

Our indecision played into our favour. To that point, each dish had arrived just as we finished our last. You don’t want to hang around too long between dishes, but when you are paying big bucks for the ‘experience’, you kind of want to take your time over proceedings. With the general busyness of the room, we did feel a little rushed.

The frontrunners were the white chocolate and caramel fondant, and the chocolate, peanut and toffee delice, but I didn’t want to finish on a sickly note and opted for the cherry soup and almond ice cream.

Now it was a bit of a risk, but I thought, surely, they wouldn’t just serve me some cherry sauce with fresh cherries and a blob of ice cream in the middle. Err:

cherry-soup-dessert

I appreciate it may all be about the ingredients and the flavours vs. ‘cheffy’ designs, but it was an uninspiring end to the meal.

“At least I’d had one of my five a day with the plump cherries, I suppose.”

The ice cream was nice – although I didn’t get the almond flavour from that at least. The cherry soup was very thin and a bit too sweet – just a hint of alcohol – although it went well with the ice cream (of which there wasn’t anywhere near enough). At least I’d had one of my five a day with the plump cherries, I suppose.

I slurped it up and splashed my shirt a few times, but found myself staring longingly at other diners’ blackberry summer puddings and pistachio cakes. I’d have left more content after a dense piece of sponge, I’m sure.

Mrs. B.B. lucked out with the gin and elderflower jelly with gooseberry ice cream:

gooseberry-jelly-dessert-walnut-inn
You need to track down the video on Instagram for the best jelly wobble ever!

When I spotted gin and gooseberry – two staples of Mrs. B.B.’s diet (in her dreams) – I knew this would be her choice. And she didn’t let me down.

I think Mrs. B.B. had concerns the elderflower jelly would be overpowering, but it matched well with the gooseberry. There was no mistaking the gooseberry flavour of the ice cream (or the compote), but the biscuit and red sauce (Mrs. B.B. was sure this was gooseberry flavoured also) were probably unnecessary. Still, her last words were, “that was divine.”

 

Whose birthday was this?!

Clearly, Mrs. B.B. had a better present for my birthday than I did.

“The starter will live long in the memory and the main, well, it was rack of lamb…”

I wouldn’t say it was a bad meal by any stretch – the starter will live long in the memory and the main, well, it was rack of lamb and it was cooked perfectly.

But when you are paying £100 (no wine, one beer), you want to feel wowed and leave a bit giddy – not thinking, “man, I’m tired and we’ve got an hour’s drive home now.”

It felt a bit safe… Dare I say, it was a bit boring?

I didn’t feel the passion or the love for the food that was being served up. I didn’t feel excited once. It was a very nice bit of grub. But I expected more.

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Close-up of popcorn chicken at The Old Swan, Llantwit Major.

From nectar to the loin: going “posh” at The Old Swan

Our meal at The Old Swan would mark the final leg of our all-dayer in Llantwit Major. Would I still be able to taste anything? Would any of my pictures still be in focus? Do I remember what happened?! Find out…

Whilst I don’t miss the busyness, the noise, the torn bin bags, or the vulture-like seagulls dragging rotting meat down the street – there has been one drawback to living beyond Cardiff’s perimeters (even if that’s just a few minutes’ drive from Thornhill): relying on public transport.

For ourselves, it tends to mean leaving just as the party is getting into full swing at around 11pm – for our friend who lives in Llantwit Major, it’s 9:30pm (unless he opts for hotel for the night or a £50 taxi home).

We felt it was the least we could do after five years or so of always meeting up in Cardiff for us to make the journey to him – and, bonus, there was a beer festival on that weekend!

 

Hot day, stuffy train – let’s get a latte!

To be fair, our journey got off to a good start – our Arriva Wales train hadn’t been cancelled or delayed! This meant we were going to make our connection with time to spare – and avoid adding an extra 40 minutes to a journey already pushing two hours door to door.

“I was living dangerously.”

And the ticket price was another nice surprise – a return costs us £7.20 from Aber to Cardiff Central (22 minutes), but it was only an extra £1 to go from Cardiff Central to Llantwit Major (40+ minutes).

However, this meant I had both the time and the spare change to pick up an overpriced latte from the Upper Crust kiosk… I was living dangerously.

With stops seemingly every two minutes, there was no air flow, and I was building up a bigger sweater than my 40 minutes every-other-morning on the exercise bike – when we arrived, Mrs. B.B. had to peel me off the seat!

 

The Llantwit Major 150m metre pub crawl

If it wasn’t a ‘thing’ already, it is now.

Five pubs within stumbling distance of each other, occasionally no pavements, cars speeding around corners – all the basic requirements covered.

Kings Head

First up was the Kings Head. And if it looked tired on the outside:

kings-head-pub-building-llantwit

…it was nothing compared to the bar man, who I’m sure fell asleep about three times on serving us – and disappeared on a further three occasions (the slow service would end up costing us a pub!).

“It needs a few signs… beyond those asking people not to fight.”

Being a Brains pub, the options were as limited as you would expect – actually, even worse (no Rev. James?!). There was one guest ale, but it looked too blonde for my taste, so opted for my first Newcastle Brown Ale since… well, my underage drinking days in the local park / bus shelter (roughly twenty years ago).

The bar and lounge are everything I would expect of an ‘old man’s pub’, but it needs some love. It also needs a few signs – two of our party nearly ended up in the cellar when looking for the WC – beyond those asking people not to fight.

I do feel for the neighbours who back onto the beer garden (and I worry for anyone who may be eating from the BBQ!).

The White Lion

Straight across the road was The White Lion.

Again, you knew what to expect from the outside:

white-lion-pub-llantwit-major

…but at least the sign was in tact and it looked like it had received a lick of paint post-1998.

Again, not much choice on tap – Gower Rumour would become our staple for the next couple of hours.

Darker than the clip would suggest:

gower-rumour-beer-garden-llantwit

A few grumbles it wasn’t a gold, but as a malty fan, it was probably my favourite beer of the day – or the last one I feel confident in rating.

It was here that we picked up our pace – well, our drinking pace. Nobody was going to give up our prime spot in the beer garden or cut an inebriated conversation short.

Tudor Tavern

Sorry – we missed you.

Next up was The White Hart – it had an even bigger beer garden! (well, two – front and back).

The White Hart

As with the Tudor Tavern, The White Hart is an impressive looking, traditional pub – stone walls that simply must be painted white.

A pokey looking bar, but at least they had three decent ales on tap (some may argue that fact with Sea Fury) to counter the usual choices (who actually drinks Carling?!).

Gower Gold was popular amongst the group – but I went for a pint of Paradigm Shift. Another malty bitter, but it was lighter than Rumour – dare I say, slightly citrusy.

paradigm-shift-white-hart-llantwit
Spot the CAMRA Beer Necessities magazine from April 2018, which I picked up in pub no. 1 and carried with me all day – but never actually read!

The Old Swan

After a good few hours of solid (high percentage – Paradigm Shift weighing in at 6.2%!) drinking, we made it to our final destination – and the actual beer festival: The Old Swan.

This is where our host for the day had booked us in for our evening meal. That warrants a sub-heading of its own, but before we move on to the food, a quick mention for the festival.

beer-festival-old-swan-llantwit
Smile, you’re on camera!

It was only a small marquee / tent in the beer garden, but there was a decent selection. A bit light on the non-lights, but I found two to match my malty preferences:

Copper Ale from Severn Brewing Severn was a nice bitter that went down far too quickly – fortunately it was only 3.8%. Old Grower from Nethergate Brewery was a fruity porter, but it was heavy going six pints in on a summer’s day.

The beer garden was very busy, but I’m not sure how many people were there for the festival – I’m guessing the weather was probably the bigger draw.

 

A few nuggets at the Old Swan

On entering The Old Swan, it was immediately clear that “this is the posh one” amongst the five pubs.

“It’s not quite your Juno Lounge kind of pretentious, but it’s trying.”

It’s an old building (dating back to the early 12th century apparently) – stone walls, wood panels, etc. – but there’s clearly been some investment to bring it up to your local yuppy’s expectations. Minimalist in design with modern features, an uncluttered bar area, etc. It’s the type of pub the residents of Pontcanna would love – no surprise that Knife & Fork Ltd also run The Conway.

In fairness, it’s not quite your Juno Lounge kind of pretentious, but it’s trying – too trendy to provide menus. Cue everyone leaving the table en-masse to view the black board, which would have been awkward had it been any busier inside.

Mostly standard pub fare, but there was a decent number of veggie options for Mrs. B.B. in both the starters and the mains.

Service was a little slow – I don’t recall seeing our waiter after he took our orders (except when it was time to pay the bill!). However, he wasn’t fazed by our drunkenness (by this point we were a group of eight) – and it was probably wise to keep engagement with us at a minimum!

Starters

The starters didn’t sound all that interesting, which is probably why most of our party declined – including Mrs. B.B.

I was intrigued by the Cajun Popcorn Chicken – and it was spot on:

chicken-popcorn-old-swan-starter
It’s a shame they couldn’t have filled the whole slate.

It tasted even better than it looked. The chicken was succulent, the breadcrumbs crisp and well-seasoned… The guacamole complemented nicely, and the pickled chilli added a nice sharpness vs. any heat.

Mains

I went for the Pork Loin:

pork-loin-old-swan
Pork three-ways… but the same way.

As well as being a small portion, the presentation was odd – I’m not sure what cutting the loin into the three pieces added from a visual perspective. It was also a little overcooked / dry – and the fat was chewy rather than juicy and crisp.

It’s a shame because the chorizo and red pepper puree (not dissimilar to red pesto) was moreish – and I absolutely loved the crisp rosemary and black pepper potatoes. Although they weren’t quite as sexy as the chips nor the onion ring I stole from a fellow diner:

steak-chips-old-swan
Never leave your plate of chips unattended!

The pie of the day looked promising:

pie-special-old-swan-llantwit
What’s inside the pie?!

But Mrs. B.B. opted for something a little scarier looking:

stuffed-aubergine-main-old-swan
Are you brave enough to eat this?

The vegetarian special was aubergine with lentil and tomato compote, butternut squash puree, new potatoes and green beans. Despite its looks, it was packed with more than just lentils – primarily flavour! The veg was nicely cooked if nothing special, but the smooth butternut squash puree was a real hit – it made the dish much richer than had been expected.

We split the bill, and it worked out we paid just over £30 for two mains and a starter. Even if I was a little disappointed with the pork, that represents good value – the food is punching well above its weight.

Despite the begging/appeals/it’s-getting-embarrassing-now from the younger, more hardened drinker among us to stay for one more, we made the sensible decision to go for the 8:56pm train home – we’ve been stung by Arriva Wales too many times in the past. Surprisingly, neither of our trains were cancelled or delayed, which meant it was just the two-hour journey home – although much cooler this time! (in fact, I may have appreciated a latte).

Plus the garage was still open on the walk home, so I picked up one of these beauties:

topic-bar-llantwit-major
Topic: The most underrated chocolate bar ever?

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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.

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