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:

 

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

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

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

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

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

Err, we went to Llandaff.

 

A seren (or star) in the making?

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

How did we not know about this place?

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

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

I was sold.

 

Did we visit the wrong website?

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

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

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

seren-diemwnt-cafe-outside

…it was hardly indicative of haute cuisine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Please look away if you are easily offended

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

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

“It was a waste of a duck’s life.”

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

Starters

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

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

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

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

duck-hoisin-seren-diemwnt-starter

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

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

cheese-souffle-seren-diemwnt-starter

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

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

Mains

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

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

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

It just looked wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

pheasant-main-seren-diemwnt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desserts

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

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

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

summer-pudding-seren-diemwnt

Unfortunately, it was the only one…

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

white-mousse-seren-diemwnt-dessert

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

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

 

Time to spread the word?

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

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

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

Maybe more people should be.

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

I believe I can fly: Traditional afternoon tea at the Park Plaza

Not your typical traditional setting perhaps for afternoon tea, but the trendy interior and jovial crowd of the Park Plaza’s Laguna restaurant was a good setting to get high (on sugar)…

The Laguna Kitchen and Bar at the Park Plaza Hotel is a large open room with full windows along one side – which is where I’d have preferred to be seated (we were on the opposite side, which meant glum lighting and constant traffic – both a challenge to my photography skills!).

park-plaza-laguna-afternoon-tea

We arrived just before 3pm – and it was busy, with large tables mixing traditional, gentleman’s and Hendrick’s (curse being the designated driver) afternoon tea. On our table, I’d gone traditional and Mr. H. had opted for the gentlemen’s afternoon tea (read his review here).

A good selection of teas (including jasmine green, orange and lemon rooibos, and hibiscus berry) – however, I played it safe with breakfast tea. Mr. H. went even safer with decaf breakfast tea. Both were loose-leaved, and the waitress’s recommendation to brew for 3 minutes was spot on. Mr. H. usually ends up with warm milk and a hint of a tea, but we were both very satisfied on pouring.

park-plaza-laguna-tea-served

My afternoon tea was served on a three-tiered plate. I was impressed with the presentation, and who wouldn’t be?!

park-plaza-three-tier-tea

 

Would you like moisture or flavour with that?

The bottom tier comprised a selection of finger sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese; cucumber and crème fraiche; egg mayo and cress; and roasted ham).

tea-sandwiches-ham-egg-salmon

However, the sandwiches were a total let down – the bread wasn’t the freshest, but it was the ratio to filling that was the main culprit. Triple thick (that could be a thing, right?) slices of bread, with measly fillings – it was a struggle to even taste the egg mayo. Fortunately, Mr. H. needed some bread to mop up his bloody mary sauce, so the chore was cut short.

A worrying start – surely, it’s not that hard to make a sarnie? Even I can manage to do that!

 

How about a bag of sugar?

With some trepidation, I moved on to tier two: a sultana scone with clotted cream and jam, and a welsh cake.

Phew!

The scone was nothing special, but thanks to an ample serving of butter, and high-quality strawberry jam and clotted cream (not too sickly), this was pure joy. I do like a bit of warmth with my scone, but in fairness, I only had myself to blame for its cooling (well, the room lighting didn’t help) with my initial photography preoccupation.

fruit-scone-cream-jam-butter

The welsh cake was a nice touch (being in Wales and all that), but it was a bit dry – and I think somebody dropped the whole bag of sugar on it.

 

Just give me more tea!

Now I had to decide where to start on the pretty collection of dainty cakes on tier three (that I’d been rushing to get to from the very beginning).

On reflection (now I’m writing this!), I probably should have taken up the waiter’s offer to describe them – but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise at the time (or waste any time for that matter!).

top-tier-jelly-cake-selection

I started with the mini-cupcake. This was a coconut sponge (a little too dense perhaps) with a cream icing that simply overpowered the coconut flavour. The two-bite portion was just enough!

The raspberry macaron was a delight. Normally, I find macaron’s dry and uninteresting, but this one was perfectly gooey, falling apart after the initial crunch with an intense raspberry filling.

We were on a run. The thin pistachio sponge finger was gone in an instant, but the light sponge and marzipan flavoured cream were a heavenly combination.

tae-cakes-sponge-chocolate-macaron

At this point, my blood sugars had rocketed. I was sweating, light-headed and thirsty – drinking more and more tea to try and keep my anxiety at bay and cleanse my palate.

I stopped for a breather.

And to ask for another pot of tea – promptly delivered at no extra cost!

“I saved the best looking for last.”

Once I’d composed myself, it was time to eat the beautiful looking jelly, which served as a bit of a cleanser – even though it was probably just on there for decoration.

glass-jelly-cream-chocolate-spoon

All that was left was the chocolate tart – I saved the best looking for last. In fairness, it had more to it than an eye-catching sheen, with the light, mousse-like chocolate containing an intense orange tang. Wow.

 

The ‘high’lights

The ultimate sugar-fest. I can tell you it took me a good few hours to come down again.

But whilst I found it all a bit too much, that’s not really a reflection of a high-quality dessert offering.

However, there were issues – the welsh cake, scone (saved by the jam and clotted cream) and cupcake were all on the dry side, and the sandwiches were an abomination.

It’s such a shame as it looked so impressive, the tea and the service were spot on – and that top tier had some special little creations.

It wouldn’t take that much to make this brilliant – when I come back down to earth, maybe I’ll give it another go. – Mrs. B.B.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

Well, thanks for telling me!

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

We managed that:

penarth-pavillion-evening-pier

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

We failed.

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

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

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

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

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

 

We hope it’s chips, it’s chips…

Still no chippy in sight.

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

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

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

When we arrived, there was a little confusion:

keyif-turkish-restaurant-outside-penarth

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

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

“I stared at the clientele.”

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

 

A summer’s evening chez Keyif

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, we’ll get to the food later…

 

Relief! a chilled ambience

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

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

keyif-diners-inside-decor-penarth

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

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

 

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

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

keyif-extensive-menu-selection

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

It was a little overwhelming.

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

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

But hey, I couldn’t complain too much:

sucuk-turkish-sausage-grilled-keyif

Starters

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

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

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

Mrs. B.B. started with Kisir:

kisir-starter-keyif-penarth

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

The bread was an odd accompaniment:

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

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

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

Mains

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

lamb-shish-chips-keyif-main

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vegetable-mussuka-main-vegetarian

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

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

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

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

 

No room for baklava?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll be back again.

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Variety of dishes at The Rosedale Hotel, Portree.

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

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

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

 

Kyleakin time en route

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

Mrs. B.B. clearly had other ideas.

Cue stops in Plockton:

plockton-boat-highlands-part-2

Kyleakin:

kyleakin-saucy-marys-restaurant

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

another-scenic-photo-scottish-highlands

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

eggs-royale-en-route-scotland

Deli Gasta

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

Don’t let that put you off!

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

highland-ploughmans-en-route

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

 

Swills, spills and bills – but still walking in Portree

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

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

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

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

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

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

highland-cow-fairy-pools-glenn-brittle

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

Antlers Tea Room & Restaurant

Or was it the adjoining Portree Bar and Grill?

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

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

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

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

antlers-tea-room-venison-mash

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

Dulse & Brose

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

bread-dulse-brose-portree

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

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

lamb-carrot-dulse-brose-portree

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

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

goats-cheese-dulse-brose-portree

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

The Rosedale Hotel & Restaurant

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

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

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

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

lamb-tapas-rosedale-hotel

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

But it was the desserts that truly left their mark:

dessert-rosedale-hotel-portree

Just look at it.

Go back and look it.

What else is there to say?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t pretend you don’t know it.

Ok, Highlander!

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

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

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

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

“Time has moved on since faux 1536.”

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

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

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

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

Oban Fish and Chip Shop

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

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

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

oban-fish-chips

If they want a new quote:

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

Kerrera Tea Garden & Bunkhouse

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

kerrera-tea-garden-signs
You big teases.

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

rhubarb-custard-cake-kerrera-oban

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

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

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

Baab

Baab would prove to be the final highlight.

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

baab-meze-perle-oban-hotel

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

 

We’ll cross those days off for Callander

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

Well, once we got our money back.

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

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

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

 

The final leg – for us and for you

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

No burp.

robs-mill-ponden-green-lancaster

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

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

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

Bill's asian ribs and coleslaw in Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Carvell’s The Art of Tea

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

Well, it looked good on Instagram:

carvells-tea-scone-cream-liverpool

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

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

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

 

A warm welcome in Liverpool

I say warm. Wow! The sun was angry.

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

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

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

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

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

 

All you need is… a sticky, moist rib

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

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

bills-asian-ribs-body-close

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

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

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

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

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

macaroni-cheese-bills-liverpool

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

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

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

bills-restaurant-porridge-liverpool

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

bills-restaurant-eggs-royale-liverpool

 

Us + Him

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

£105 a ticket says we’re not.

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

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

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

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

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

roger-waters-live-onstage-liverpool

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

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

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

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

roger-waters-resist-liverpool-arena

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

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

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

I’m just about over the cost.

 

Let it be! You also got to see The Beatles

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

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

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

beatles-story-cavern-club-liverpool

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

And the baked potatoes taste better than they look:

beatles-cafe-baked-potatoe

 

Getting back to where we still belong

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

seagull-liverpool-docks

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

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

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

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