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:

 

Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker - Festival Food at Green Man.

Who ate all the pies at Green Man 2018?

With The War on Drugs and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (come on – who cares what they sound like with a name like that?) headlining on the main stage, and Brød headlining on the pastry stage (I’ve made that up), there was only one choice for this year’s weekend of long-term health damage: Green Man. 

You wouldn’t know, but, in another life, I was winging it as a music hack – with a failing bank balance but an infallible musical opinion (some would call me arrogant… I married her).

Whilst a move into digital marketing was necessary to ensure we would still be able to eat (life suddenly became very expensive post-2010), freelancing has allowed me to keep a finger in the pie.

With this blog, I also get to eat pie – and sometimes to combine that figurative pie with the actual pie (yeah, I’m confused as well)…

 

A proper base…

Green Man has been on the bucket list for as long as I can remember – primarily because it’s 45-minutes’ drive away, which means I’m only 45-minutes’ drive away from getting into bed when it’s over.

But there’s always been a bigger pull on our limited funds to a Latitude (Portishead), a Hop Farm (Prince) or a, umm, Cornbury (All Saints?!). Although it would mean missing our annual slip and slide around a muddy field to the Levellers (Beautiful Days), this year – this year! – they had The War on Drugs.

Travel to the site was as easy as we could have hoped for – well sign-posted and bizarrely quiet through the narrow country lanes, despite being absolutely rammed at the box office (we arrived around 11am on the Thursday). The queue wouldn’t let up for the two hours we trekked back and forth between the car park and our pitch (it was more painful on the Monday morning).

“The portaloos weren’t the horror scenes we’ve come to expect.”

The festival site itself is quite compact. At times, we found it quite overwhelming – hoards of people moving between stages, bars, food stalls and portaloos causing bottlenecks (and putting our £9 double G&Ts at risk!). But, actually, as we moved closer to the Mountain Stage, and became braver in the Far Out tent, the crowds were fairly sparse – camping chairs plugging the gaps and providing some ‘Some mothers do av em’-style amusement in the dark.

Health and Safety? Although it did feel busy, the festival itself is very laid-back. No bag searches (to be fair, you are encouraged not to sneak alcohol in given it also hosts its very own beer festival!); a lack of signage (we accidently pitched up in quiet camping – the chap who decided to pack up at 5am, and the couple who decided to pump up their mattress at 2am clearly missed that as well); and, to be honest, I didn’t notice any security or authority figures during the four days we were there.

audience-main-stage-green-man
Ominous-looking clouds – thankfully, the forecast rain stayed away!

I guess they can trust this crowd. There was a good mix – I’d say predominantly teens, retirees and younger families, but outwardly middle class. Put it this way, the portaloos weren’t the horror scenes we’ve come to expect. Still, not quite your “we require a Waitrose onsite” Cornbury types.

 

A packed filling

The War on Drugs were the main attraction, but I had my doubts. How would the beautifully textured but ambient sounds of the band’s last two albums transfer to a closing night’s headline slot.

I had nothing to worry about. Despite three nights of sleep deprivation and four days of beer bloating, I was a man possessed throughout an exhilarating performance. Given the rich, multi-layered soundscape on the band’s recent albums, it was easy to miss Adam Granduciel’s impressive fretwork – now I know just what a dazzling guitarist he is.

“They may only have one trick – but that is to mesmerise you. Job done.”

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have an eclectic back-catalogue (crossing the boundaries of genre on each of the five albums they released in 2017 alone), but they stuck to a psychedelic rock formula for most of their set – in fact, I think they stuck to one song for 90 minutes! Not necessarily a bad thing when you’ve got that groove!

king-lizard-wizard-green-man
King Lizard and the Lizard Wizard

Talking psychedelia – nobody does it better than The Black Angels, and they delivered: big drums and hypnotic riffs! They may only have one trick – but that is to mesmerise you. Job done.

There were disappointments – missing Joan the Policewoman hurt most (damn you, schedulers!).

John Grant was a little more dimensional live than on record; Dirty Projectors overegged it as much I thought they would – but left out most of their fun songs; Whyte Horses managed to go from catchy indie pop to irritatingly repetitious within the space of three songs; and Snail Mail – wow, way to kill the vibes, man!

But Green Man is all about the positive energy.

Wye Oak delivered a perfect blend of rock and dance indie, with Jenn Wasner’s inimitable vocals drawing a big crowd and one of the warmest receptions of the weekend – although it didn’t quite match the love for Cardiff’s own Boy Azooga (they would be huge if this was the ‘90s).

Belgium’s J Bernardt had the look of someone who had been kicked out of the dance tent at 4am. He amused us with his posing and exaggerated dance moves – but he had the vocal chops to get away with it. Baxter Dury entertained (primarily the children) with various foul-mouthed tirades (otherwise known as his back catalogue). And the virtuoso Bluesy guitar noodling and shrieking vocals from King Tuff made an impression – or at least his hat did:

king-tuff-snarl-green-man

No real household names – I suspect much of this year’s attendees were regulars and it’s the festival itself that serves as the big draw – but you couldn’t fault the quality of the artists on show.

But damn those schedulers!

 

A wonderful, shiny glaze

As much as we enjoyed the music, it was the quality of the food that made this a standout festival – and not just the pies (I only had two, but I needed a title!).

We didn’t eat one dud meal over the course of four days – I estimate that over the course of 22 meals (11 each! – come on now!), we must have visited 16 different food stalls. That’s not including braving the hornet’s nest for a Brød pastry every morning, nor repeat visits for chocolate brownie.

Here’s a countdown of the top-5:

Bearded Taco

Neither of us were willing to miss out on Bearded Taco.

I went for the Bahn Mi-guel:

bearded-tacos-bahn-mi-guel

The pickled carrot, daikon and cucumber really cut through the fat of the Vietnamese BBQ pork. A surprisingly clean eat with the fresh coriander and chilies providing plenty of kick.

I was concerned these small, delicate looking tacos wouldn’t suffice two beers in, but they were deceptively satisfying.

Mrs. B.B.’s Let’s Avo Cwtch tacos were arguably even more eye-catching:

lets-avo-cwtch-bearded-tacos

I’d never tried tempura battered avocado before – and Mrs. B.B. did well to keep her lunch once I had.

Again, wonderfully fresh, with a lemon ‘slaw offsetting the grease from the light and crisp tempura – although we couldn’t really pick out the gin and tonic (we’d have to fork out a small fortune for that at the bar!).

Le Bao

I was flying solo at Le Bao (or is it Boas, or Boas Steaming?):

le-baos-pork-green-man

The braised pork belly was simply divine. I’d go as far as to claim it’s the best cooked pork I’ve ever had (and I’ve spent out a fair few quid in many a restaurant) – absorbing all the hoisin flavour, they really packed a punch.

It was obviously quite fatty, but, as with Bearded Taco, the addition of pickles, coriander and chili ensured it was a fresh eat. The powdered peanuts adding a complimentary crunch to the heavenly moistness.

I was concerned the buns may be quite dense, but they were deceptively light and airy. Still, I knew I had been well-fed at the end.

Pieminister

My first experience of a Pieminister actually came at a music festival. And whilst I’ve eaten at their Cardiff restaurant on quite a few occasions, it’s never really lived up to expectations.

This one did.

I went for the festival ‘special’, Hurrikane Pie:

pieminster-beef-green-man

There was a definite cheese flavour running through the pastry – which wasn’t advertised, but I really liked it. A good thick, crisp pastry, with a flaky top (although it had been submerged in peas and gravy), and it was packed to the rafters with tender beef steak and roasted peppers.

Given the strongly minty peas and rich gravy, you couldn’t really make out the ale or red wine, but there was a definite heat coming through from the smoke paprika. It was delicious, and a level up from a Barnaby Sykes Pie Maker who I visited the day prior (in fairness, their pies are pretty decent as well).

Even Mrs. B.B. couldn’t resist – opting for the Moo and Blue pie. You couldn’t miss the stilton, which really complimented the succulent beef and generous filling.

Welsh Venison Centre Beacons Farm Shop

Faggots and peas from the Beacons Farm Shop – it had to be done:

beacons-farm-shop-faggots-peas

Slightly depressed by the couple who had no idea what a faggot was, but these were the ‘posh version’ – and huge (there was enough meat here for four burgers). Not quite as smooth or moist in texture as I’ve become accustomed, there was a nice peppery heat running through and a deep venison flavour, which really elevated the dish.

And there were proper mushy peas!

Chock Shop

We couldn’t go without talking about these beauties from the Chock Shop:

chock-shop-brownie-display

We returned on three separate occasions, which tells you a lot. These pics will you more:

chock-shop-black-forest

chock-shop-white-chocolate

Each brownie had a crunchy thin topping and a moist centre (we like a bit of gooey) – it was pretty sexy, with the warm chocolate sauce and cream just adding to the filth.

We were both particularly taken by their crunchy peanut butter offering (sorry, we couldn’t wait long enough to take a picture by that point), topped with a sneaky slither of Snicker, but I just wish there was time – and room in my belly – to try them all.

 

I’ve run out of workable pie references

It’s fair to say, I’m not a big fan of jeans right now – and pies are off the menu.

There were so many great places serving food over the festival that I haven’t mentioned, but I can only recommend you head along to an event if you see any of the following in attendance: Smoking Buns (the fries were stunning); The Chai Shop Organic (lovely mellow vegetable korma); Café Dish (fresh-tasting butternut squash and goats cheese tart); Manna (Singapore red curry tofu noodles with a serious chilli kick); Dosa (chilli cheese dosa wrap with masala paneer and a cracker of an onion bhaji); Flavors of Africa (fried plantain to die for); Made of Dough (lovely thin, crispy pizza dough); and Wrappers Delight (thick but light flatbreads packed with falafel, halloumi, hummus and salad).

I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful ales from Wales’ finest independent breweries that also contributed to my weight gain.

But now it’s time for a few weeks of salad 

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

Close up of gnocchi

Creating brand new memories at the Cefn Mably Arms

With Mr. B.B. in Cardiff ‘suffering’ through a Five Guys (no choice: it was a work social), I took the other man in my life to Cefn Mably Arms for pie. Have they kept up the standards since his last visit in… 1993?!

One of the unexpected perks of volunteering with Contact the Elderly is the fact I’ve become good friends with a fellow foodie – even more excuse for noshing adventures!

My nonagenarian friend, Mr. A., loves his “proper pub grub” (as he puts it) and recalled how he used to enjoy frequenting the Cefn Mably Arms in Michaelston-y-Fedw (just outside Cardiff).

A quick check on Trip Advisor revealed the establishment was still in business, so I quickly arranged a dinner date…

Would it live up to its historical reputation?

Or was I about to ruin a dear old friend’s fond memories?

 

A welcome start

Having successfully managed to negotiate the lanes between Caerphilly and Michaelston-y-Fedw, we arrived at a very busy car park. Fearing I was about to dash Mr. A.’s hopes by failing to book a table, we were relieved to find the pub was quiet – mainly a few locals propping up the bar.

From the outside, it had that unmistakable country pub vibe – with a tidy and inviting beer garden (if the sun ever shines again, maybe we’ll get a taxi over).

cefn-mably-arms-front-view

Inside, the pub is split into two: bar to the left and restaurant to the right.

The décor has been well thought out – a simple mix of modern and traditional. It felt very cosy, in fact – reassuringly, it’s not trying to be something it’s not. Clearly, popular with the locals, but we didn’t feel unwelcome.

 

Don’t gnocchi it without trying

We were quickly seated.

There was only one other table occupied at the time (6:30pm). Over the course of our meal, it did become busier – but the tables are generously spread out, so it still felt quite intimate.

cefn-mably-restaurant-bar-view

In the evening, both a ‘pub classics’ and restaurant menu are on offer.

Mr. A. suffers with macular degeneration, which severely affects his eyesight. So, I had a thorough review of both menus as I read out the options.

The bar classics had everything you would expect / demand, with fish and chips, pie, gammon steak, burger, scampi, pub curry… Although, I was a bit disappointed to see just two vegetarian options – penne arrabiata and a vegetarian burger.

The restaurant menu was a bit more ‘adventurous’… well, as adventurous as lamb shank.

Mr. A. went for the steak and ale (Butcombe real ale) pie with chips and peas. I chose beetroot and goats cheese gnocchi with pesto and spinach fricassee (from the restaurant menu).

We skipped starters – Mr. A. is an unashamed ‘puddings man’, and he wanted to make sure he had room left after his pie!

Mains

I was bit surprised when my main arrived – a humungous bowl of…pink potatoes?! Not what I’d expect from gnocchi – even if it looked fabulous!

“Truth be told, it was quite exciting!”

I was a bit nervous.

plate-pink-goat-cheese-gnocchi

They were a tad dense. However, they were cleverly filled with light, fluffy goats’ cheese.

Truth be told, it was quite exciting!

inside-pink-goat-cheese-gnocchi

The creamy and satisfyingly shiny pesto sauce was full of flavour, but, despite packing a real punch, it didn’t overpower the goats’ cheese. A clever combination. With a fresh rocket salad it was a real winner of a dish.

However, given the denseness and the portion size, I was struggling from about a third of the way in – and fretting that I would miss out on a pudding!

I didn’t finish it.

Mr. A. was very pleased with his pie – even if it did lack a base and sides.

steak-ale-pie-chips-peas

The pot was densely packed with quality, tender meat. It was topped with a light, flaky puff pastry – and the ale flavour real came through in a deep gravy.

The chips were also nice and crispy – I couldn’t resist stealing a few! – if nothing special.

It was so good in fact that Mr. A. cleared the lot – even if it meant the pudding was at risk!

Desserts – or Terrible-su

It’s seems odd to complain when there are seven desserts to choose from – three specials (sorbet, tiramisu, white chocolate cheesecake) and four on the main menu (Eton mess, Belgian waffle with berry compote and white chocolate ice cream, vanilla crème brule, cheese board). However, Mr. A. was disappointed not to find anything with custard.

Maybe these are the summer choices – hmmm, an excuse to come back again?

They were out of Eton mess, so I went with my second choice: tiramisu.

plate-tiramisu-sauce-strawberry-sugar

I can’t fault the presentation – it’s one of the best-looking tiramisus I’ve ever had.

However, it was a tough old thing. Although you could taste the alcohol (I assume it had been soaked…in 1993?), the sponge was stale. And the mascarpone was pretty much solid, lacking any creaminess.

Mr. A. played it safe with the vanilla and strawberry ice cream – in fairness, they were more than happy to accommodate this request, despite not featuring on the menu.

glass-strawberry-vanilla-ice-cream

I don’t know if the Cefn Mably Arms make its own ice cream, but it was something special – super creamy with chunks of real strawberry.

 

Overall, relief

Mr. A. left a very happy man. For him, the Cefn Mably Arms today is as good as it’s ever been – if not better.

(Phew! I hadn’t sullied any memories.)

It wasn’t perfect, however. The gnocchi were enjoyable enough to start with, but the dish did become a chore. And the tiramisu was an absolute disaster.

Still, I was won over – and the resident dog (Alfie) played a part in that (so cute!).

It’s a welcoming establishment, with polite and attentive service, and fair prices for the decent pub fare on offer. I’m sure if I make use of the beer garden before my next meal, they’ll pick up an extra burp!

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 popcorn chicken at The Old Swan, Llantwit Major.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“I was living dangerously.”

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

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

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

 

The Llantwit Major 150m metre pub crawl

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

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

Kings Head

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

kings-head-pub-building-llantwit

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

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

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

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

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

The White Lion

Straight across the road was The White Lion.

Again, you knew what to expect from the outside:

white-lion-pub-llantwit-major

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

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

Darker than the clip would suggest:

gower-rumour-beer-garden-llantwit

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

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

Tudor Tavern

Sorry – we missed you.

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

The White Hart

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

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

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

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

The Old Swan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A few nuggets at the Old Swan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starters

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

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

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

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

Mains

I went for the Pork Loin:

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

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

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

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

The pie of the day looked promising:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Close, but still Carlisle

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

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

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

The Old Bank City Pub and Chop House

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

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

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

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

 

‘There can be only one’ in Glasgow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A gold ‘old time’ in Stirling

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

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

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

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

Friars Wynd

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

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

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

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

“They weren’t kidnapping the clientele!”

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

Brea

I was in meat heaven at Brea:

brea-lamp-chops

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

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

Victoria Square Guesthouse

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

victoria-square-guesthouse-stirling

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

“Even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

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

 

Walking everywhere… but up Ben Nevis

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

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

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

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

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

The Great Glen

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

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

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

The Geographer

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

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

the-geographer-fort-william

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

Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse

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

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

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

nessies-monster-mash-ben-nevis

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

Ardlinnhe B&B

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

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

fort-william-hotel-view-day

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dunnet Bay Distillers

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

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

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

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

Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant & Gift Shop

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

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

And it was unexpected to say the least.

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

oakwood-restaurant-building-scotland

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

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

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

“Slow cooked to heaven.”

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

This was hearty home cooking at its best.

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

Smoo Cave Hotel

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

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

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

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

Hillside Bed and Breakfast

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

 

Don’t loch now..

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

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

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