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Monday, 29 November 2010

Variables, winds and snow from the North

A picture of the wintry landscape perfect illustration of one those unpredictable variables I was telling you about previously.Its the morning view from our window.

Always one for a challenge,Chef convinced me to venture out for a little sortie in the 4 x 4.We boldly went where no man had gone before,well not before the snow plough came round anyway.
Resulting in a veritable drought of customers,we're  haemorrhaging cash, business currently as brisk as a Mr Whippy at the North Pole.
So I've been at a bit of a loose end.Chef advised taking advantage of the unforeseen respite and suggested a welcome bit of relaxation and rest.Difficult for someone who finds sitting still so problematic that she hasn't been to the cinema for around 20 years.,.(actually that's a lie, I have been once, last year in Singapore which was a completely surreal experience which I might tell you about at a later date).
I needed a project.I've been wanting to have an attic clearance since we moved here three years ago.Last Saturday I tackled the job.
I uncovered a treasure trove of old books which kept me up there for about 8 hours..
Second hand book shops are my guilty pleasure, which is slightly weird as I'm a bit  Howard Hughes with library books,probably since my Dad told me not to get books out of the library as YOU NEVER KNOW WHO MIGHT HAVE SNEEZED ON THEM..
No matter,I'd struck old book jackpot with this find.
I've picked out a couple of loosely on topic gems for your delectation and pleasure.

A 1947 copy of A book of Inns.Mostly South Eastern Inns,gawd knows what this was doing in a rural attic in Northumberland..The pic on the front is the White Lion Hotel at Eye.Its now White Lion House:

  'Looming over the small market place is the extensive rendered frontage of White Lion House, which until 1987 was the White Lion Hotel. Now divided into houses and flats, the gateway into its yard has a unique arched sign above proclaiming a ‘Posting Establishment’. Next to this, in the hotel’s former off licence, is a secondhand bookshop, the unambiguously named Eye Bookshop' Suffolk Tourist Guide.

Sadly I'm sure many of the other Inns featured will have suffered a similar fate..
Found a nice little bit of prose in here which I might use on the web site.It seems to be a bit of a trend to do this doesn't it? Or do you think that's a bit naff?They're usually Hilaire Belloc quotes.
Anyway this is a William Combe :

'Along the varying road of life
In calm content,toil or strife,
As morn or noon,by night or day,
As time conducts him on his way,
How oft does man by care op'ressed,
Find at an Inn a place of rest?'

Unless they've been converted,to apartments of course..

Next up(in the manner of X factor)its:Helpful Hints for Sommeliers and Wine Waiters.

The stylish medallion our handsome model is sporting is known as a 'tastevin'.An historical tool of the trade which was latterly worn as a Medal of Honour to denote Sommelierly status, I've yet to see a wine waiter wearing one of these.If you ever do you might just want to shoot them Id love to hear from you.Actually I've found one for here it'd look perfect with a LBD and some vertiginous heels.Ideal teamed with the silver plated Crumber which I was gifted many years ago by a work colleague.Just what I'd always wanted..
Couldn't date this book but there's a section on food matchings,the wines are exclusively French, no sign of any New World vinos.

Going off subject here its:The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam.

A 1914 copy inscribed on the inside cover: 'To Miss Fletcher with love from PSD. 1, Sept 1923'

.How mysterious and polite,very Downton Abbey..I wonder what happened to them.What a treat:

'Awake!for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the stars to Flight!
And Lo!The Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultans turret in the Noose of Light'

I'd swap this for the Crumber any day....

Finally(something for everyone)a 1938 copy of Harrow School Song Book.

Rousing stuff.Nowt like a good sing-song in times of hardship and adversity.
Actually this made me feel a bit teary due to the inscription and photo on the inside cover from a dashing naval type named Martin,signed to Dorothy.

 And then on the next page a photo of them on their wedding day..

And you thought I was all dissing diners,double entrendres and diatribes..
Normal service will resume in the spring.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Licensed to print cash.

Contrary to popular opinion, owning a restaurant  is not a license to print cash.
You must have read this story in the press recently about the the couple who have been enjoying an extended extravaganza of fine wines and food at a variety of London's more swanky restaurants,then improprietly doing a runner prior to the bill being presented.
I was struck by the reaction to this story.The couple have been viewed by many as Bonnie and Clyde type characters giving the restaurant owners a run for their money.
There also seems to be a reluctance to view their actions as theft.Imagine strolling nonchalantly into your local butchers and swiping a couple of fillet steaks from behind the counter then making off without paying..
Yet, if a  restaurateur buys them,then adds value to them by cooking and serving them to you in pleasant surroundings, dodging payment becomes a lesser crime?I just don't get that.
Making a food business pay isn't easy.There are lots of studies and varying statistics but most approximate that any new restaurant has far more chance of failure than success,two out of three new restaurants will have closed within two years of opening.Most don't make a profit within the first two years.
You may think the main reason for failure would be a poor standard of food being served.Not so, the main reason for failure is simply the inability of the business to make a profit.There are lots of talented chefs, but talented chefs who are also good businessmen are few and far between.

Serving inferior fare can in fact be a benefit to the success of your business.For a start overheads in this type of business are significantly lower.

High end restaurants are notoriously difficult to make profitable.For a start there's the expensive high quality raw ingredients,much more costly than buying frozen crap.Then there's the staffing,more skilled staff/higher ratio of staff to customers to provide the level of service expected.Then the associated expected add ons such as linen napkins(maybe a clean one between courses?at £1 a pop to launder?),expensive toiletries in the bathroom(many of which will be lifted)etc etc.
Then there's the real killers-the variables,all of which have to be costed into the price of the meals.
Wastage: fresh food (unlike frozen) has a shelf life.(Chef plays a game, its called Fortune Favours the Brave,its all about predicting what to order and keeping wastage to a minimum,but not running out of any items.. its a clever balancing act,more about that at a later date...)
Footfall:regardless of level of trade, the business still has to be staffed/staff still have to be paid.
Given only a couple of quiet weeks these things can prove to be a gaping drain on funds which many don't recover from.

Unlike the couple who dodged the bill, there's also another type of customer who must be costed into ones overheads.
The Professional Complainers.
These individuals operate in a far more clandestine fashion than just brazenly dodging the bill.
Doing whatever they can within their power to eat at your expense without incurring cost to themselves, they have refined their occupation to an art.
Over the years we've learnt how to spot these people.The funny thing about them is that once they've made a complaint and obtained a freebie, the likelihood is that they will be back.
We managed to attract a couple such as this to our previous business.They visited weekly,each time they would make a complaint and obtain some portion of their meal free of charge.In the end we decided enough was enough,so I politely suggested to them that perhaps our restaurant wasn't to their taste and in that respect perhaps they might consider doing us the favour of not returning,whilst all the while flashing them my best winning smile(a great tip if you want to diffuse a customers rage,it confuses them every time)

A similar couple began to frequent the pub shortly after we took over.
Mrs Pro Complainer would always order a glass of champagne,drink half of it then complain that it was flat.Thus obtaining a full replacement glass.Selling Champagne by the glass isn't very profitable.There is less profit in champagne than there is in regular wine.In addition if you open a bottle,then don't sell the rest its wasted-and all profit gone.
I like Champagne,its my drink of choice.If anyone orders a glass of Champagne I can categorically guarantee it isn't flat.For two reasons:

a.I only open half bottles to sell by the glass,to ensure there's none lying around losing its appeal.

b.If there's any left in the bottle at the end of the day,I neck it,its my prerogative,in the interests of maintaining standards of course....
Therefore there is never any served that hasn't been opened the same day.

Next they would order a meal.There would always be a problem with the meal.Generally with something not being cooked to her liking.
On another occasion they ordered after dinner liquers then claimed they had been served 25ml measures instead of the required 50ml.We knew they'd been given the correct measure, but there's just no point in arguing.Better to just write off the loss and replace.
On the last occasion they visited word came back to the kitchen as soon as they walked through the door.Everyone knew who they were and that a catalogue of complaints would follow.True to form the champagne trick was pulled first.Next they ordered an expensive bottle of wine, tried a couple of glasses then decided they didn't like it and asked for it to be changed.
Why do some people think they are trying wine to see if they like it?? Can someone please explain this concept.?Can you imagine any other business where you would be allowed to order something,make it unsaleable then ask for it to be changed??
No matter,hoping to avoid a scene I told the waitress to change it.
Next the meal.They ordered lamb chops and a rump steak.Word was coming back to the kitchen that she wasn't looking happy.As expected the lamb chops weren't pink enough.No matter she had already eaten two of them.Oh and her companion wasn't happy with his steak.Which steak.He had eaten it all. Apparently it was very tough.Not so tough that he managed to masticate and swallow it all.
They were offered replacement meals.
Chef was fizzing:
'After they've finished get them to pay the bill then tell them they're not welcome back here..'

About ten minutes after the replacement meals were sent Mrs Pro Complainer was doing what came best to her, again.This time the chops were too pink.
'She wants to see the Chef' said waitress.
'Well tough,what does she think I'm doing???There's a pile of checks on and she thinks I've got time for a pleasant chat??'
Orders were piling up b'now.Tempers were frayed.
'Tell her to bugger off I'll be out as soon as I've sent these orders'
(BTW I've edited these comments slightly for the benefit of your sensibility)

A couple of minutes later Mrs Pro Complainer made the mistake of impatiently steaming into the kitchen to confront Chef.
To be fair Chef handled the whole thing very calmly.He politely ordered her out of his kitchen.In a 'Get orf my land' kind of fashion.
She was bright red and fuming.Emerging from a dimly lit pub into the harsh fluorescent strip light of the kitchen only accentuated her suddenly wrought embarrassment and fear as she clocked Chef in his home environment Global carving knife in hand.
The disturbance could be heard in the dining room.Most of the diners hadn't expected a floor show thrown in with the price.
Waitress asked what she should do about the bill.
'Make em pay it'said Chef 'they've already cost us a bottle of wine two glasses of champagne and two sets of ingredients,we might as well recoup our costs because they aint coming back ..'
By the time waitress got back they were on their way out of  the door.The bill was taken over to them but Mrs Pro physically manhandled her out of the way.
Chef was enraged,he tore from the kitchen with me at his heels,approaching them in the car park.He informed them politely but forcefully, that they had forgotten to pay their bill.They continued to walk to their car,Chef was determined,'If you don't pay the bill Ill call the police, I have your car registration number'.
At this point Mrs Pro then dialled 999 and told the police that Chef had threatened to assault her companion. 'good' said Chef 'lets get the police here and let them sort it out'.
Mrs Pro backed down and paid the bill.They haven't been back.

Back in the pub the remaining diners were diligently and obediently troughing their meals,glancing up briefly with amusement on Chefs return to the kitchen.
Chef is not a Front of House person.He prefers me to deal with the diners,but was mindful how the nights events might look.Action must be taken.
He strode into the centre of the dining room and apologised to all the remaining diners for the unexpected Fawlty style shenanigans which they had the misfortune to witness.


Which brings me back to the original story.The other thing that struck me was how badly the restaurant handled this situation.To say that the couple 'were not unusual or suspicious and that the bill was not particularly lavish,but an average spend' to be frank is a massive *PR fail*.
One sure fire way in these times of widespread economic hardship to ensure a backlash of indignation from the masses.
What they should have said was that the couple ordered a lavish meal with Champagne, which they subsequently failed to pay for,causing the restaurant to sustain significant financial loss.
Giving  punters up and down the country the impression that your average London couple spend over £500 on a quiet mid week tea in no way helps to dispel the image that the restaurant was in fact getting its come uppance for ripping people off.It kind of rubs their nose in it....

That's my expert advice anyway.

Sybil x

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Quite Good Pub Guide

Last week we were notified by letter that the Good Pub Guide are to introduce a  charge for all pubs listed in the guide.
The charge is £199.
To quote the letter:
 'We have recently changed our business model and are now asking for a contribution from publicans for inclusion in the Guide.The selection of the pubs remains at our discretion and only pubs we contact have a chance to be part of the book.'

Whilst in the grand scheme of things £199 is not a huge amount of money,its left us feeling a tad disillusioned.In effect,the charge totally alters the dynamic of the book.From next year being recommended as one of the best will for the first time no longer guarantee recognition in the guide,only the entry charge will ensure that.The Good Pub Guide is regarded as a National institution(the letter actually highlights this fact as a benefit to inclusion).As such its unique selling point has always been its reputation for impartiality.Its now approaching its 30th edition.As the web site says:

'The Good Pub Guide remains Britain’s bestselling travel guide. The only truly independent guide of its kind, its comprehensive updates, meticulous attention to detail and countless reader reports ensure that only the very best of the nation’s watering holes make the cut.'

Whilst you still have to be invited to be included(you cant ring them up and say here's my £199 can
I have a listing please?) it now in practice becomes a guide of the best of those willing to pay.So, if we decide not to pay will an alternative pub which otherwise would not have been included now gain entry?Thus diluting the quality?Or will they cut down on the number of entries?

I subsequently spoke to a chap on the telephone from the Good Pub Guide and had a brief discussion on these points.I wasn't given a definitive answer, though when I posed the question what would happen if we decided not to pay the 'contribution' I was  informed that unfortunately we would not be included in next years guide.Therein lies the rub.
He explained that various added value features were to be  introduced including  an smart phone application which would guide prospective customers to the nearest Good Pub Guide entry.I got the impression that this was going to be a free application,its not you have to pay for it. In addition the GPG website was to be upgraded with improved interactive features.

Chef wondered if the Good Beer Guide would follow suit.I was verbally informed that the charge for inclusion in this publication will be £95 (though we havent been informed in writing as yet).This could have a  more far reaching impact for example on the trade generated for niche real ale pubs that dont perhaps have an advertising budget,or make shedloads of cash.

The sensible thing for us to do would be to keep schtum,pay up and continue to enjoy the benefits of being in the Guide, secure in the knowledge that the majority of the readership will have no idea of the significant change in direction.
I'm torn and just feel a bit sad that perhaps this the end of an era.
What do you think we should do?

The Good Beer Guide is published by CAMRA they have in fact confirmed that they have no plans to introduce a charge for inclusion.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Tattoo wars

Over the last few months there's been an issue which has been rumbling along,simmering away but bubbling up to the surface periodically.It never goes away but until now I've managed to keep a lid on it.Just.

Tattoos/piercings and teenage hormones are inexorably destined to meet at some point.My teenage twins appear to have fallen over the tattoo side of the fence.
Though I don't loathe tattoos I cant detach myself from viewing them as a fashion accessory.And if that's what they are then at some point they're going to be out,not in. Therein lies the rub.
There's an event that occurs  in a teenagers brain somewhere between the ages of 13-16(depending on maturity) which renders normal rational reasoning an impossibility-its like a switch has been flicked. I've discovered over time that the best way to deal with this is through the application of reverse psychology.
So,every time the tattoo issue has been raised I've handled it with feigned slight disinterest,verging on actual boredom with the subject.

Should Only Daughter get it into her head that she's ripe for a tat then there will be no consultation process involved,moreover if she gets a whiff of an idea that I'm dead set against it then the tat will be done forthwith and on as prominent a viewing platform as humanely possible.Put that in yer pipe and smoke it..
So I've cleverly chatted to The Apprentice about it whilst she's within earshot, I've noticed her listening unobtrusively,though not involving herself in the actual conversation.Floating around on the periphery of the discussion but not contributing, which believe me for her is completely out of character.
That's why I know she's been taking it all in.

My main themes have been:

a.The importance of choosing a location which is going to be easily hidden just in case you go off it.I mean how can you be absolutely certain that  you're going to like it..until its done?? The tattoo you loved in the photo could turn out to be the worst bad hair day off your life,except its not going to grow back or go away..

b.How is the tattoo going to look when you are sixty?Imagine that bloody awful rose on Cheryl Cole's youthful leg and later teamed with a natty pair of checked golfing shorts?on wrinkled and sagging flesh?
I rest my case.

and lastly of course the obvious and most important taboo...

Under no circumstances get any specific name be it girlfriend/boyfriend/favourite band/saying etc permanently etched on your persona for all to see for time immemorial ..Not that I'm cynical or anything but its bloody obvious that these things are a bad idea and glaringly transient.I mean,imagine how embarrassed they'd  be if their Mother rocked up at parents evening and whilst leaning in to attentively listen to the maths teachers constructive comments her sweater rides up at the back inadvertently exposing the classy Duran Duran tattoo plastered across her lower back ..
No,whilst every teenagers sole ambition in life is not to conform,the last thing they want their parent to be is 'different'.As a parent they want you to blend in and not do anything which their peers may view as controversial.Lest you are an embarrassment to them.(You know you haven't lost it when your offspring request that you walk a couple of paces behind them,just in case anyone thinks you're with them..)

So,though the mention of tats comes up now and again,nothing has actually been done about it which is quite the result really.(Smugly pats self on back)

On the kitchen front The Apprentice has been doing outstandingly well, so far.
He has taken on board the basic rudiments of kitchen protocol,including the concept that whilst Chef is not always right,he does always know better than the Apprentice.
He's learnt how to chop correctly,Chef-like with clawed hand to avoid losing one or more digits during the course of his daily duties.Speed building up quite nicely, thank you.
He's accepted(finally and painfully) that all pan handles must be presumed hot and are not to be picked up with the naked hand.
He's also discovered that the kitchen is no place to be with a  hangover,no doubt he will be discovering this on many more occasions to come.He has yet to master the art of functioning satisfactorily whilst suffering from this particular affliction,which is the true skill.
Chef has pointed out that he is also in possession of one of the most fundamentally important characteristics necessary for any would be Chef.
He walks around the kitchen speedily.
Never employ a Chef who saunters,he will be incapable of cranking up a gear when circumstances dictate.As they do.Regularly.

We watched Whites recently. (Sky Plus has changed our lives).I liked it but there was something unrealistic about the kitchen scenes which I couldn't quite put my finger on.When Chef highlighted the Apprentice's favourable walking speed I realised what the missing element was.There was no sense whatsoever of any urgency.Too much strolling around.You would never see that in a proper working kitchen.
Well not a good one anyway.
(Incidentally,I once served Alan Davies his dinner,a vegetarian risotto.If you're interested...)

I digress, back to the tats.
Unexpectedly The Apprentice announced this morning that he was planning to indulge in this particular leisure activity.
I didn't see that one coming.
All my negotiations had been focussed on the anticipation that Only Daughter would be dropping this particular bombshell.At some point.

'No need to worry Mum',says he, 'I've thought about it a lot and I've listened to what you've said about being choosy and so I've opted for something which I'm never going to tire of and which I can keep hidden if necessary.'


The purpose of which is that he can raise his hand to his face,in a pointing motion,placing the finger in line with his top lip, thus giving the impression that he in fact is moustachioed.He has informed me that he's 'tried before he buys' having drawn the design with permanent marker on his finger and enjoying a splendid fun filled evening on the town with his mates which entailed him repeatedly performing this feat to the surprise and mild amusement of various local barmen.
Apparently its fantastic and his mates 'love it'.
Its the perfect tat solution.

I'm pretending not to be amused,but in all honestly I'm finding the whole thing hysterically funny and I don't have a valid argument against it.It fulfils all of my criteria.

The only problem is he's deadly serious...
I wonder if I should suggest a Poirot instead?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The cat that crept into our crypt.

Something jaw droppingly terrible happened here a couple of weeks ago.
Not that someone died or was struck down with a terminal illness,nothing like that,but on a scale of possible traumatic experiences it rates right up there.
I've been struggling with whether to blog it or not.You see if I write about it then Ill be acknowledging that it actually happened,and if it did happen then there's the possibility of it happening again.
Which is a scenario that I cant contemplate having to deal with.

Last night I had nightmares about it.Perhaps this could be partially attributable to  the hearty late night snack which I consumed consisting of Chevington cheese and Barry Normans Pickled onions (to which I am a recent convert,BTW you might just want to click on that link if only to appreciate the web address),but nonetheless its made me think its time I confronted my demons.

So here it is.
A couple of weeks ago half way through a service notable mainly through its uneventfulness,one of our waitresses burst into the kitchen,with a face like death.

Self: What's wrong?
Ashen face:There's something on the floor in the ladies loos.
Self:What d'you mean?What is it?

Ashen face:I'm not sure... someone's put some loo roll over the top of it..(pained expression)...but there's a trail of brown smears going out of the door...
Self:What???? Someone has shat on the floor????

It was patently apparent that Ashen Face was not strong enough of constitution to tackle this particular problem.Obviously myself and Chef could in no way emerge from the kitchen in our whites prepared for a cleaning job as dastardly as this one.I mean,you're hardly going to be chomping at the bit to wolf down your Sausage and Mash after you've just seen the Chef exiting the loo wearing his best winning smile whilst armed with mop bucket,bleach and a plunger. 
There is a God, we were ruled out.

We needed to buy some time.I instructed Ashen face to place a chair in front of the ladies loos with a blackboard(have I mentioned before,blackboards are the publicans best friend?) bearing the instruction:


Ashen face: But what shall I say if someone asks to use the loo?

Chef: You'll just have to bleeping tell them someone's crapped on the floor...
No point in beating around the bush..(no pun intended)

For some reason a charming little ditty which my Dad would occasionally recite to his three daughters in enviably enunciated tones sprang to mind.
It always raised a snigger despite the number of times we heard it.Probably because it was done on the strict QT:

'The cat crept into the crypt,crapped, then crept out again.' 

I kept repeating it in my head,it was giving me something to focus on,rather than the excruciatingly impolite deposit on the bathroom floor.

At this point the situation was exacerbated as Sod invoked his omnipresent Law with impressive accuracy, effecting the farmer next door to commence immediate and sustained muck spreading on the field directly opposite the pub.As the heinous smell filtered into the pub the two betweeded ladies sat next to the fire visibly wretched,nostrils curled and enquired of Ashen face in hushed tones- Is that smell coming from(pointing tentatively)... your toilet?...Shocked faces.

The most probable candidate for the clean up job was an individual whom we knew was of particularly stern farming stock and innately unsqueamish. We targeted her first.Lets be honest,this nature of task doesn't exactly fall into your average bar person's job description.We shamelessly bribed her to do our dirty work.After brief negotiations we succeeded.
Kitted out with blue disposable gloves,my old faithful Hunter wellies (which I've since  replaced)and copious amount of bleach, the clean up was effected quickly and with military precision.

But how on earth can someone actually miss the pot, I hear you say.Some may be wondering what sort of a debauched place we are operating here.Well,believe me if something like this can happen here then it can happen anywhere.
Oddly, there is a minority section of the public who seem to have a completely different set  of personal etiquette standards once they leave the comfort of their own homes.
In the absence of any unsupervised young children,I'm drawn to conclude that the most likely perpetrator of the dirty deed would have to be some old dear unfortunately getting her incontinence knickers in a twist.

But why wouldn't they say what had happened?? said Ashen face(fighting back tears)

Chef: (Raised eyebrows) Oh, we enjoyed our lunch today very the way I've crapped on the floor in your loo....(snort..) Hardly likely...

So that's it.Its out there.

So what if it happens again and The Unsqueamish One isn't at hand??


And the going rate for a clean up job such as this??
Forty quid and and a bottle of Pinot Grigio...and worth every penny...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Biff n' Chef do Posh/Northcote Manor

We've enjoyed a little trip away whilst back at the ranch a few urgent maintenance jobs were undertaken.(Among other things the lining of a chimney and rebuilding the pot-a £3k job-never take on an old building without expecting it to be a consistently very thirsty financial drain)
There was no food at the Inn whilst we were away,pleased to report hungry customers have returned this week nonetheless.

We booked ourselves into Northcote for a Gourmet break.Northcote was named recently in the top 20 of the Sunday Times/Hardens food list( I was going to post a link to it here but its behind the pay wall),so you'll just have to take my word for it.
I prompted Chef well in advance that there might be a dress code for the restaurant.
Not a  problem.. says he..I can wear a tie with m'polo shirt.....

The bedroom was smart,overlooking the kitchen herb garden.We sat in these chairs briefly but looked like a couple of stiffs,or a brace of Edwardian servants surreptitiously sitting in the masters chairs.
Great for posture though, if you have issues.

More of a suite really,with a useful little study area somewhere to dry ones hair and apply some slap.
I'd noticed a few seat pad cushions earlier in the wardrobe during my requisite ten minute investigation of all the cupboards and drawers.They puzzled me, I had already drawn them to Chefs attention.. I wonder what they're for??
Once I was seated  at this lovely chair in front of the mirror all was revealed,one could only see the very tip of one's head in the mirror.Balanced precariously atop the aforementioned four seat cushions I had a perfect view.
That's the difference with a Michelin starred venue isn't it?
Every eventuality has been thought of...

Comfortably ensconced in the lounge by 7pm for our half bottle of inclusive Champagne and canapés,Chef ordered himself a Peroni.The waiter looked mildly surprised but continued to offer this particular beverage at appropriate intervals throughout the evening.Without flinching.Commendable.

Venison carpaccio, cauliflower cheese croquette,treacle smoked salmon.. Great with Peroni.

Presently we were shown to our table in the newly appointed restaurant.We earwigged the couple at the table behind enquire if there'd recently been a refurb,they could still smell the paint,they laughed.They must have been in possession of particularly honed hooters-we discreetly sniffed the air in unison but didn't detect anything.

The lone diner troughing furiously at the table next to us looked familiar.Chef clocked him first,I didn't notice him initially, blending in as he did with the oak panelled pillar he was seated directly in front of.
It was a certain well known antiquities expert off the telly.
He was nearing the end of his dining experience,he must like to eat early in case the public bother him, said Chef.
Him being a VIP and all.
We observed the waiter bring something over to him on a silver tray whilst apologetically saying-I've found this,its not exactly...
Before he could finish his sentence Mr Dark Oak brusquely waved him away and muttered disgruntledly-No.. no, I don't want that I cant believe you don't have any in a place like this with all this wonderful food..
What a knob particularly demanding fellow,said Chef.
We wondered what the elusive absent requirement was,Chef thought it might be a particularly obscure after dinner liquer.
Personally I think there's no doubt its an After Eight Mint he was lacking...

Firstly,an amuse bouche.Goats cheese mousse with beetroot ice cream and rocket.Very refreshing,a perfect palette cleanser.Chef isn't a massive goats cheese fan but ate it anyway.There was quite a lot of it,the first spoonful was definitely the best,one of those things you love but couldn't eat a lot of,less being more.
Sorry, I dug in by accident before taking the photo.

Fillet of Lonk lamb,butter puff pastry,rocket,Cabernet sauvignon dressing.
The lamb was pink and very moist,it was surrounded by a chicken mousse and encased in very light puff pastry,the splodge is a parsnip purée.Gorgeous.We each had a glass of Hunter Semillon VAT 1,Tyrell's 2000 to accompany.

Southport shrimp organic porridge,tomato relish.
I wasn't sure what to expect of this, I imagined it might be a risotto but made with oats,but pleasingly the oats weren't really detectable.It was served with a spoon containing some fresh pesto and tomato relish to stir in.I liked this idea.Very tasty indeed.

Foragers soup.curd cheese with lemon ravioli.
The curd cheese and ravioli was served in the bottom of the bowl,the waiter poured the soup into the bowls at the table from a glass jug.A nice bit of theatre,might steal that idea for our New Years Eve menu.
This was made with herbs from the Northcote garden,the Maitre d' explained which,I remember him mentioning nettle.It was delicious,In Chef's opinion:one of the stars of the meal.
The Sommelier glanced quizzically at Chefs chosen Peroni accompaniment.A volatile combination.
He's probably wondering if he got the matching wrong...said Chef.

Eaves green wild duckling,faggot,poached damsons,potato bobbins,salt baked swede,Syrah reduction.
We were asked prior to this being served if we were OK with the duckling being pink.Of course we were.When the dish arrived it was very rare,we didn't mind, but I noticed the diners at the next table looking frightened and gingerly cutting bits off.Pink is pink,rare is a different thing altogether especially with game or lamb.Lots of people who like a rare steak wouldn't have enjoyed the duckling served as rare as this.The stars of this dish were the potato bobbins.They consisted of shredded duck confit mixed with puréed potato then wrapped in potato strands,then deep fried until crisp.A most apt regional creation for Lancashire with its cotton mill heritage.They were mind blowingly delicious.I scored with this dish as they gave me TWO potato bobbins as I couldn't have the faggot due to my gluten allergy.Result.
Chef thought they would make a fantastic bar snack.

Pinot Noir,Firesteed,Oregan,USA.
We had a glass of this to accompany the duckling.Chef is a recent convert to Pinot Noir.

Organic apple trifle,lemon choc ice.
Chef always says that the puddings are outstandingly better in Michelin starred restaurants than perhaps sometimes the other courses.This one was no exception.Made with apples from the Northcote garden.A vanilla custard,apple purée matchsticks and crisps,served on a slate with a lovely lemon ice cream coated in dark chocolate.Chef said they could have lost the chocolate.I liked it.The picture doesn't do it justice,on the top left there's a shard of sugar glass.Beautiful and delicious.
I'm not a great fan of slates.The diner at the next table confirmed my reservations,as she cut through her lemon ice and the other half shot across the table at high speed.She glanced around furtively before retrieving it.
Tres amuseant

The couple at the next table waved the white flag at this stage.
We soldiered on with cheese.

British cheeses with Lancashire cheese crackers and Walnut and fruit loaf.
We were offered  a choice of around a dozen cheeses expertly described by the Maitre d'.The chutney had a curry flavour, I've had this before at one of Nigel Haworths pubs.Its nice but I'm not convinced this flavour goes with cheese.Are you?
Chef managed a glass of:
Ramos Pinto 10yr old Tawny Quinta da Ervamoira
I had a sip but admirably abstained from a full glass.

I ploughed through the eight Petit fours which arrived with my coffee.One of them a mini Lancashire bun thing.One best described as a home made fruit pastille.

Throughout the meal the Maitre d' explained each dish as it arrived.Chef doesn't like this but when you've opted for a Gourmet menu I think its acceptable to do this.It was done in a very nice way and not overbearing.If we'd opted for the A la Carte menu then maybe I would have felt differently about someone pointing stuff out on my plate.As I said to Chef not all diners may know what the ingredients are.
In fact throughout our stay the service was outstanding,and not at all stuffy.
They were also fantastic about our allergies, I've shown you the menu which Chef was served,mine was slightly altered to avoid gluten.Chef is violently allergic to fish(but not shellfish)so we are actually most kitchen's nightmare diners.They even provided gluten free bread.

By now I was desperate to lie down as I was beginning to resemble a small rotund leopard print clad barrel.On returning to our room we were mortified to discover that someone had politely turned down the bed  in our absence and placed a welcoming teddy bear in the middle.An island of calm in the midst of the chaos of randomly discarded clothing, underwear and shoes strewn across the floor in our haste to get ready.Well,I did have a bit of indecision as to what to wear..

Useful facts to know if you're planning a trip here:

1.Read the information manual in the bedroom-Chef read it the next morning and we were gutted to learn that there was a TV channel watching the kitchen from 6pm until 10pm.Sadly we missed this.

2.Don't leave ones knickers and other assorted deeply personal effects on the bedroom floor if you want to avoid cheeks burning with shame next morning at breakfast as you tuck into your Smoked salmon and Scrambled eggs..

3.If you're wild maned like me you may wish to consider relocating here permanently as there's something about the water in this area(I've stayed in this area before and can report experiencing the same phenomenon),which renders ones hair uncharacteristically sleek, swishy and not requiring frantic GHD attention.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Wine heaven exists in Clitheroe

If you ever happen to be anywhere near a small town in Lancashire called Clitheroe,you could do a lot worse than stop by this unimposing looking little shop.

The tiny front shop area extended through various doorways to a warren of the most impressively stocked cellars you could imagine.
Expensive taste?-no problem
Aladdin's cave

I thought I'd died and gone to wine heaven.

Wines conveniently grouped by country and region

The shop has been there for generations,the nineteenth century fittings still in use.
Bottles stacked ceiling high, accessed via library style ladder.

Like to see an authentically dusty bottle though we were told turnover at the shop is quite brisk-I'm  not surprised.
Helpful recommendations,very knowledgeable staff.

Like a nice Pomerol
If you like wine you will like it here.In fact why wait until you chance by,its well worth a detour.

Yes,I know this is an uncharacteristically sensible post but we couldn't help but chuckle when we spotted this at the far end of the last cellar,the sofa shop next door most inappropriately named...

Quite fancied buying Chef a bottle of Port for Christmas from the year of his birth

We settled on a couple of less expensive little treats..shortly after which Chef shoe horned me out of the door and back to reality before any permanent financial damage was incurred.

D Byrne and Co-Clitheroe


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