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:

 

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.

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

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

It could have been crapper: da MARA

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

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

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

Cue turning to Twitter for help to complicate things:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Parking next to a park

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

seagulls-roath-park

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

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

 

da MARA with love…that chilli oil!

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

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

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

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

complimentary-olives-da-mara-cardiff

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

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

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

da-mara-outside-restaurant

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

da-mara-wood-fired-oven

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

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

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

Yep, it’s time to talk food!

Starters

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

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

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

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

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

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

calamari-mayo-da-mara-starter

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

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

Mains

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

I went for the Diavola:

pizza-diavola-close-da-mara

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

crudo-rucola-pizza-main

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

Toppings were generous on both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dessert

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

It’s pitch black!!!!!!

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

Just about keeping things together…

There’s no loo roll!!!!!!

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

What do I do?

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

It’s empty.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Variety of dishes at The Rosedale Hotel, Portree.

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

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

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

 

Kyleakin time en route

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

Mrs. B.B. clearly had other ideas.

Cue stops in Plockton:

plockton-boat-highlands-part-2

Kyleakin:

kyleakin-saucy-marys-restaurant

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

another-scenic-photo-scottish-highlands

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

eggs-royale-en-route-scotland

Deli Gasta

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

Don’t let that put you off!

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

highland-ploughmans-en-route

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

 

Swills, spills and bills – but still walking in Portree

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

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

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

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

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

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

highland-cow-fairy-pools-glenn-brittle

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

Antlers Tea Room & Restaurant

Or was it the adjoining Portree Bar and Grill?

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

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

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

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

antlers-tea-room-venison-mash

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

Dulse & Brose

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

bread-dulse-brose-portree

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

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

lamb-carrot-dulse-brose-portree

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

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

goats-cheese-dulse-brose-portree

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

The Rosedale Hotel & Restaurant

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

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

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

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

lamb-tapas-rosedale-hotel

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

But it was the desserts that truly left their mark:

dessert-rosedale-hotel-portree

Just look at it.

Go back and look it.

What else is there to say?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t pretend you don’t know it.

Ok, Highlander!

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

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

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

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

“Time has moved on since faux 1536.”

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

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

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

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

Oban Fish and Chip Shop

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

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

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

oban-fish-chips

If they want a new quote:

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

Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse

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

kerrera-tea-garden-signs
You big teases.

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

rhubarb-custard-cake-kerrera-oban

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

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

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

Baab

Baab would prove to be the final highlight.

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

baab-meze-perle-oban-hotel

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

 

We’ll cross those days off for Callander

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

Well, once we got our money back.

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

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

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

 

The final leg – for us and for you

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

No burp.

robs-mill-ponden-green-lancaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Close, but still Carlisle

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

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

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

The Old Bank City Pub and Chop House

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

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

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

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

 

‘There can be only one’ in Glasgow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A gold ‘old time’ in Stirling

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

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

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

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

Friars Wynd

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

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

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

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

“They weren’t kidnapping the clientele!”

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

Brea

I was in meat heaven at Brea:

brea-lamp-chops

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

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

Victoria Square Guesthouse

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

victoria-square-guesthouse-stirling

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

“Even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

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

 

Walking everywhere… but up Ben Nevis

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Glen

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

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

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

The Geographer

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

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

the-geographer-fort-william

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

Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse

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

fish-ben-nevis-inn

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

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

nessies-monster-mash-ben-nevis

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

Ardlinnhe B&B

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

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

fort-william-hotel-view-day

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dunnet Bay Distillers

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

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

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

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

Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant & Gift Shop

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

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

And it was unexpected to say the least.

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

oakwood-restaurant-building-scotland

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

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

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

“Slow cooked to heaven.”

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

This was hearty home cooking at its best.

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

Smoo Cave Hotel

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

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

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The pastry could barely contain the filling!

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

Hillside Bed and Breakfast

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

 

Don’t loch now..

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

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

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