Monday, 25 May 2015

Summer menu tasting at Grange Farm, Oadby

We were invited to Grange Farm in Oadby last week to taste their new summer menu. Part of the Vintage Inns group, Grange Farm is a chocolate box perfect pub, just outside of Oadby town. It is really in a beautiful setting and the best place for relaxing over dinner on a warm summer's evening. The staff were super helpful and it was a real pleasure to meet the landlady, Karina, who was passionate about the menu - food and wine.
A lovely mix of bloggers and locals gathered

We were treated to tasters of a broad variety of the dishes on offer. I can never decide whether I'd prefer tasters or a proper meal, to really get a feel for the presentation and overall balance of the meal, but by jingo they gave us a good feed and there was a real variety on offer so I cannot complain!

We started off with a glass of Prosecco Ca'belli, which is the only fizz that they do by the glass, for £3.85. I thought this was surprisingly good for the prive - delicate, floral nose and then light peach and flowery flavours in th emouth, with soft bubbles and a delicate texture, followed by a soft backnote of strawberry. For the price you can't go wrong. Definitely the nicest glass of Prosecco I have had for a while, and I've definitely worked my way through a couple of late.

After the welcome drink, sharing platters were brought round the room for us to try. Given that everyone in the room was a foodie, it quickly became clear that if you snoozed, you would lose. The first platter was the butcher's selection, showcasing some of the meaty treats from the new starter menu. We weren't quite quick enough off the mark for that one, hence the quality of the photograph!! These platters are available in full on the menu.

The highlight here for me was the crackling, which was crispy and flavourful. The pork pie topped with Piccalilli was also met with much approval on our table, although was not for me. The ribs were tender and literally fell off the bone. They were not quite at the exceptional level of the ribs at Marco's, but were definitely well flavoured, sticky and satisfying, so a close second.

We planned our attack for the second sharing platter and managed to intercept one right out of the kitchen. This was a selection of the seafood offerings. The highlights here were the crispy crunch of the calamari, which was deliciously soft inside and the deep smoked salmon which was full of smokey flavour and went excellently with the crusty brown bread and butter.

Next came our first 'food on spoon'. Great to have a convenient vehicle to taste from, but I think here I would definitely have preferred to see the dish in full presentation. These were langoustines and mussels, deep fried and served with a dill pickle hollandaise. Again, like the calamari they were perfectly cooked to have a satisfying crunch but the seafood still to be fresh and soft on the inside. Full of the flavour of the sea, this one certainly left me wanting more.

Halloumi and chips
Lamb kofta
The starters just kept on coming - you can see that there is a huge variety available on this menu. You can see by the hand in the photo that the lamb koftas were a huge hit, in fact this was probably my favourite dish of the evening overall. They're garbanzo dip accompaniment was proper garlicky, just how you would want it and the koftas were flavourful and moist. I would definitely pick that dish next time I visit for food and at £5.75 the price isn't too bad either.

Following this was another vegetarian choice, the halloumi and chips. This was the dish I found to be most confusing. Served in a cask ale beer batter, again the batter and the chips were crisp, but I just didn't feel that battering the halloumi works. It left it quite moist and the texture was a little too loose for me. Call me a traditionalist, but I like my halloumi with deep char-lines on the outside and a closer texture. I think the deep frying may have led to the cheese being steamed a little, which was not really to my taste. The menu tells me that this is normally served with mushy peas, so I would be interested to see how that flavour combination works out. The dill pickle it came with was sweet and tangy, very enjoyable.

Duck salad
Starters over, I could already feel myself getting rather full, but luckily we were back to small tasters and food on spoons next so we were all able to soldier on. The duck salad was moist and flavourful, served on a lettuce leaf. I didn't feel there was quite enough pomegranate, but I would imagine that this was a consequence of them providing bite sized serves, the fruit would be much better distributed on the main meal.

The main event was lamb two ways served on a spoon. This was the lamb rump and mini shepherd's pie. Impossible to photograph and difficult to judge from one spoonsful, the lamb was all tender and tasty but I wasn't able to really get an idea of what the whole meal would actually be like. Have to pop back and try that one properly.

We also tried the pizzetta, which is apparently not a pizza due to it having a different kind of dough. The base was quite thick and close set in texture, but this meant it held the toppings well and was an enjoyable morsel. The crunchy slaw it was served with was creamy and fresh tasting, so that was a highlight accompaniment.

And, to stop us all from falling asleep from the vast quantity of food we had tried, we were next plied with sugar in the form of an Eton Mess sample. This had strawberries and blackberries and a lovely delicate flavour from the rosehip syrup which added a real taste of the English countryside. This tasty treat was enough to perk us up and keep us going for what turned out to be the biggest cheeseboard any of us had ever seen! The mature cheddar was delicious and I liked the quality of the biscuits that were served with it, they were absolutely spot on.

Meanwhile, we sampled some delicious wines off the menu. If you're stopping by to share a bottle with dinner I would highly recommend the Oyster Bay Pinot Noir, 2013. This costs £20.95 a bottle and is a medium bodied wine with a vegetal, earthy nose and a cherry, punchy taste which also matched really well with the cheddar on the cheese board, but I would guess would also have affinities with either the duck salad or indeed the lamb two ways.

I also enjoyed a glass of the Vina Collada Rioja, 2011, which was deep garnet in colour, gave fruit on the nose with a soft hint of oak. In the mouth it was rich and rounded with blackberry and a slight hint of spice. It was full bodied, but easy drinking, and a great surprise for one of the mid-range wines available by the glass on the menu. I would happily pair it up with the butcher's selection platter.

Thanks to Karina and her team for inviting us along to the event and treating us so amazingly well. Definitely worth the 20 mile round trip cycle to get there!

Something sweet? Wine tasting at the Maison des Vins, Monbazillac

When you visit somewhere and get told that there are more hectares of vines than head of population, then you know it's going to produce some gems. And it makes you want to move there, immediately. This is how it was when we cycled down to Monbazillac during our recent visit to Bergerac. I've already written about the surprisingly excellent wines we sampled at Chateau Peroudier, so now let's have a little looksy at what we uncovered at Monbazillac's Maison des Vins. It's dessert winetastic, I'll tell you that for nothing.
Look at all those bottles of golden loveliness!

Chateau Vignal La Brie, 2013
Aromas of spring blossom and a very light apricot give way to a less sweet dessert wine taste, which is rounded in the mouth without being too syrupy. Again the apricot predominates, and gives a light finish which does not leave a lingering sweetness in the mouth. Has a slight earthy quality from the 'noble rot' which would match well with blue cheese.

Chateau Bellevue, 2009
A light, straw coloured wine which is punchier, although less sweet on the nose than the Vignal La Brie - it barely gives anything away until you taste and then BAM! Vanilla, a touch of almond - like marzipan and apricot jam on the palette. Very cakey. A cake eater's wine. Very delicious and a naughty treat.

Chateau La Borderie, 2007
A vineyard has existed on this site since the 14th century, so you'd hope they know what they're doing and by jingo, they do. This wine has a deeper, more orangey colour due to its age and more acetone notes on the nose, not particularly fruity or floral. It is sweet and round but fades away delightfully on the finish. That said the tastes of peach and deep honey make it a little stickier than the others, but also more complex. We also found notes of fig. Delicious and deep. A crowd pleaser.

Chateau du Combet, 2006
Deep, almost whisky like in colour, this is light on the nose but then turned out to be the most complex and well rounded of the bunch. In an exciting turn of events this one transpired to taste like that pink water that you get at the dentists (but in a good way) - it was like grapefruit without the acid, the ubiquitous honey, perhaps a dash of mint and also orange flavours. An interesting twist on the Monbazillac mantra.

Chateau Vieux Touron, 2005
This is a Monbazillac for those who aren't messing around. Fascinating aromas of crunchy leaves on the forest floor with this one, then it smacks you around the chops with sweet, sticky honey flavours. No florals, but lots of earthy, truffley (is that a word?) notes with a slight tannin element, which is more acidic than tangy. Not my favourite, but it packs a hefty, jammy bag and brings it home.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

#BeergardenLeicester: The Black Horse

Well we're still testing out beer gardens like a fury, and we don't have many more weeks to go until the winner is announced! We headed down to the newly refurbished Black Horse on Braunstone Gate to check out their renovations.

Size and exclusivity
The Black Horse may be a tiny pub, but the new upstairs terrace is a really good size with plenty of tables and room to accommodate a large number of guests. The word is out now and so it's not the well kept secret it used to be and it does get busy, especially on a sunny afternoon.
Early Doors
Fabulous sunshine awaits on a sunny day after work. The terrace is perfectly placed for you to soak up every last drop of warmth. It's a total sun trap.

The Boy and friends continue to enjoy being forced to endlessly visit beer gardens and pose for photos.
Newly refurbished and well maintained, the terrace has fun and funky signs decorating it, plenty of tables and chairs to enjoy and a great atmosphere. The only draw back is that it faced on to the massive Tesco, which isn't the best view in the world, but it is interesting to people watch the car park and see the comings and goings.

Not a bad coverage - the Black Horse has its own wifi with an extension which does reach just about up to the terrace. You might also be able to jump on the signal from the Tesco if your device is clever enough!

Not particularly well defended here in case of aggressive elements. No cover, no heaters, no mercy!

Very cool tables - some made with scaffolding frames, some repurposed cast iron sewing machine legs, with treadles still in place. I was finding it very soothing to sit and treadle while I enjoyed my drink. Very cool.

The Boy did spot the shape of a hawk in the wood grain on our table but I didn't get a picture of it, so no points there I'm afraid.

Pub Dogs
Nope. Too high up, too many narrow stairs

The Real Junk Food Project cafe, Leicester

It was a pleasure to meet Alison and Bobby from The Real Junk Food Project's Leicester branch the other day for a catch up about the good work they are spearheading in the city. Their cafe will be opening at the Old Library on 30th May providing hot food for all on a pay as you feel basis, so get yourself down there!

Alison and Bobby - lovely, motivated, community minded folk
The idea behind the project is to 'intercept' food that would otherwise go to landfill, from restaurants, shops, distribution sites and so forth. An incredible amount of perfectly edible food is thrown away every day in this country. If the handle is broken on a six pack of water bottles, all of them become unsaleable as a multipack and are thrown away. Food banks have strict rules on what can be distributed to families in need, so catering sized packs and so forth are useless to them. The RJFP intercepted a bunch of regular sized packs of pasta and were able to swap them for 3kg packs from a Food Bank that would otherwise have not been able to use them. Everyone wins.

They are all food safety trained and will be providing fresh cooked food to everyone. Pay as you feel means that you can donate whatever you can afford. If you are able to contribute cash, this will help to support the utility costs associated with making the food. If you don't have any money to spare, why not pay with your other talents - there will be a busker's corner if you can play an instrument or you could even exchange an artwork or sketch for a meal. Whatever you can contribute they will accept.

As well as creating a cafe which intercepts food that would otherwise have been wasted, the RJFP will be continuing to ensure that they redistribute food to the homeless and people in need and they are aiming to build a new sense of community in the city, where everyone is equal in their value and entitlement to eat something fresh and delicious. So how can we do anything but support this fabulous venture and watch it grow and develop over the months and years to come.

Local businesses - get in touch with the RJFP Leicester and let them know if you have food to donate that would otherwise be wasted.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Best of Leicester @NatterjacksBar

The Best of Leicester celebration is at full swing in Natterjacks Bar on Braunstone Gate. A full programme awaits, looking at the best in local talent and products. We popped along on the first day so discover some of the finest locally produced boozy drinks.

It was a pleasure to meet Liz from Rothley Wines and sample her wares. More on that to come in a month or so, but in the meantime well worth recommending their King Richard 2014 wine which has delicate peach and honeysuckle aromas, and a rounded peach flavour with a tart finish, a sort of deep citrusy punch, reminiscient of pink grapefruit reflective of our cooler climate here in Leicestershire. The apple mentioned on the label seems a viable observation on the finish, it leaves you with the taste of having just eaten a crisp green apple but also has a minerally, earthy note reflective of the Leicestershire hillsides with their rocky outcroppings.

The wonderful Liz from Rothley Wines

It was also a pleasure to meet the chaps from Burleighs gin and be given a real rundown of the different gins they make up in Nanpanton, near Loughborough. It's always great to meet people who are so passionate about their products and you could really taste the quality in the Burleighs.

Look at their mini still!

Burleighs Standard
The source of Gin knowledge
An excellent quality of gin for £32.50. At 40% and with 11 botanicals it has a hefty nose of juniper. It has strong notes of the hedgerow, English burdock and orange peel predominate in the mouth.

Burleighs Export Strength
Slightly more expensive at £37.50 to reflect the higher strength of 47% this is made for cocktails, so it is a more concentrated version of the Standard giving stronger flavours - it has a similar smell, but then is extremely more herbal, more spicy and earthy, almost vegetal in the mouth. The spices are reminiscient of cloves and ginger. The staff at Natterjacks are using this in their Aviator cocktail, so you can try it for yourself.

Burleighs Distillers Cut
Another great drink, this has an increased level of the floral botanicals which gives you an aroma of the most beautiful complex wine rather than a gin and just an edge of the alcohol that is so predominant in the other gins. It has flavours of Spring - like elderflower, and it is much more open, smoother and slightly sweeter than the others with more orange on the finish. Taste fabulous with a slice of orange in a gin and tonic. The recommendation for the other gins interestingly is to serve with a slice of pink grapefruit - let me know if you've tried it!

So get yourself down to Natterjacks, there's still plenty going on through the Bank Holiday weekend - cocktails today, food tomorrow (as well as the Leicester Food and Drink Festival on at the Market) and the All Day Pub Quiz on Monday, which we may not be able to resist trying out!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

#BeerGardenLeicester: The Langton Arms, Church Langton

Our trip through the beer gardens of this fair county, to find the top pubs, continues with the Langton Arms in Church Langton. We've never been there before so it was entirely new and exciting to us.

Size and exclusivity 
This garden was massive - a really good size, but totally empty. In fact the pub was empty bar one customer and the barmaid. And we had to face what I am now coming to think of as The Wall of Local Silence when we arrived. So perhaps a little too exclusive?
Early Doors
A very open garden on top of a hill so I would imagine the after work sun potential is massive here. It's a billion miles away from anywhere though, so that will not be particularly useful for you city dwellers!

A mid-table ranking for the smarts here. As you can see, they have the obligatory big old wheel, lots of green grass and rugged borders full of plants, but it did feel a little bit unmaintained in areas, particularly the courtyard outside of the building itself which wasn't quite as appealing. The big bag of sand on the patio was a bit random too.
Some slight wifi signal worked in the garden nearest to the pub - don't stray too far though!

Absolutely excellent facilities in this regard - a dedicated covered shelter, large enough for several tables, with heaters. Sheltered on the side as well so it would get you out of the wind. You can't really ask for more.

Generic picnic tables, in need of a lick of paint but otherwise apparently all complete and functional!

We had a cube of wood on our table when we arrived. Worth remarking on, but possible not interesting or random enough to warrant a point.

A rubbish photo. It was very cool though.

Pub Dogs
No dogs, but certainly points to be awarded by the low flying Red Kite that we were treated to for the first half hour or so of our visit. A rare Great British bird, this was giving us a spectacular display of hovering and swooping and causing us to try in vain to get a fabulous photo when it flew low, right over our heads. The benefits of the country pub.

REVIEW: La Grande Maison, Best hotel in Bergerac

Sometimes you have such a wonderful experience that you just have to hold it in your mind, cuddle the memory and let out a little contented sigh every time you think about it. Staying at La Grande Maison during our recent trip to Bergerac was one such experience.

There is so much to say, but so much I would also prefer that you discover for yourself. Therefore a list of my edited highlights must suffice:

Fabulous service - Phyllis and her family are literally the most friendly and accommodating people we have ever had the pleasure to encounter in a guesthouse. Nothing is too much trouble. In fact if anything, we tried to make sure we needed as little as possible because she would do so much for us that we felt guilty.

Excellent breakfast - varied every day, but generally a mixture of bread, local pastries, fruit, yoghurts and other delectable treats. Much more than you can possibly eat, but I'm sure you'll have a good try just like we did. There are also tea and coffee facilities available for guests throughout the day and occasional sweet treats left out for you in the afternoon.

Great facilities - The wifi has recently been refitted with a booster, so we got an excellent signal. There is a swimming pool with a small pool house and additional towels for the pool will be made available to you. There are bikes freely available for your use, which allows for some lovely rides through the countryside vineyards. The beds are soft and comfortable, the rooms are furnished with lovely antiques and a TV room and lounge is available, should you not find enough to fill your time in Bergerac that you need to watch the telly.

It is tidy, peaceful (the large garden and conifer hedge keep it well sheltered from the road), an easy walk into Bergerac town and the rates are incredibly reasonable. I cannot recommend it enough and hope we find our way back to Bergerac one day to enjoy this incredible hospitality and service again. Love it.

La Maison Grande were not aware that I was going to write a review 
and I only decided to do so half way through the stay because it was just so lovely.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Wine tasting at Chateau Peroudier, Monbazillac

Sometimes, when you're free-wheeling down a big hill away from a big chateau, you just have to strain the brakes of your unfamiliar bike and stop at a winery, just because you're passing. And because you see a sign that tells you they have 'degustations' (tastings). We did just that with Chateau Peroudier in Monbazillac because it was just so cute and clearly most of the oenotourism was passing them by.

We entered a light, homely tasting room and we greeted by utter, utter silence. We looked for a bell, or some other way of attracting attention and eventually were shouted at by a wizened and elderly French woman who wanted to know what we wanted and wasn't afraid to look grumpy about it. Fair enough, she's probably been making wine all her life, it's hard work.

I used my best crap French to explain who we were and what we wanted. As the wine notebook came out, she softened up considerably and by the end of the tasting we were firm friends. In a very fleeting way, but I shall always remember her fondly nonetheless. We tasted two of their wines, and after a day in Monbazilliac, which has great variety, but still a degree of general homogeneity about its sweet wines, we were blown away by the lovely vintages they were producing. Definitely the most stand out unique wine in the appellation. Which is admittedly probably a bad thing to the French, but reeked of terroir and expertise to us.

Chateau Peroudier 
Monbazillac 2012
Bottled at the chateau, this is a really light Monbazillac sweet wine which has almost a chlorine smell on the nose, but in a rather appealing, light touch way. It was not overpoweringly or cloyingly sweet, but light honey mixed with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes and perhaps a sprinkling of fig. Delicious, rounded and very more-ish. A great, complex but still accessible way into the punchy flavours caused by the 'noble rot'.

Chateau Peroudier
Bergerac sec 2012
A really interesting wine. Harvested early in the season from their 50 hectares (not sure if that was the whole vineyard or just the sauvignon blanc. Sorry, must try harder with my French. Just checked the website, 50 hectares is the total vineyard, so a medium size for the area from what I heard). This wine also had a very delicate colour, with a fragrance of apple blossom, it was rounded and smooth in the mouth and again had the sort of lemony, but without the acid, hit that we have now come to associate with this winery. Delicious, and by far the finest Bergerac sec we had during our trip to Aquitaine.

Sorry, thought taking photos of the wine would be a bit beyond the pale for our generous and convivial host...

Monday, 18 May 2015

He Man Bag

Booked myself a day off and decided I wanted to spend it making something in one afternoon, as I have many craft projects on the go but they are all much larger labours of love which don't have the same immediate satisfaction.

I had picked up a 1983 duvet cover in a thrift store in California for mere pennies and so decided to make it into a bag. One of my old bags, bought in the same store, is starting to get holes in, so rather than patch the patchwork I thought I'd make myself something new. I won't bore you with all the detail. I copied, then amended slightly the pattern from The Destashification Project and away I went. I'm still deciding on a fastening and I may pipe the edge properly, but in essence it is done.
Cut out the paatern. Cat optional.

Put in the inside pocket

Sew the lining into the outer fabric

Time for the base

Just need to finish the handles and edgnig

Et voila! The He Man Bag. For ladies.

A rather pleasing afternoon's work.

#beergardenleicester: The Bell Inn, East Langton

I told you that the hunt for Leicester's best beer garden was all a bit of a Ross Noble 'Freewheeling' rip off and so true to my word we went out to test the Bell Inn in East Langton. The suggestion to try this was made by @karonphilips over on Twitter (who sadly seems to have disappeared in the month since she made the suggestion - come back to us KaronPhilips!) and I had never even heard of East Langton before, let alone visited the Bell Inn, so I was excited to try somewhere totally new.

I think The Boy is getting bored of being photographed in beer gardens...
And what a fabulous suggestion it was! Just beautiful, picturesque gardens in a countryside retreat. Quite, quite different to everywhere we've been so far on our search. We stopped for Sunday lunch there and I'll be getting my thoughts on that posted soon.

Size and exclusivity
A large garden out of the front of the smallish, historic pub with a large number of tables. I think this could be a little bit of a local secret - it was clearly well attended by people from the surrounding villages for the Sunday lunch, but I'm not sure how many people outside of the inner sanctum are aware of it. So it retains its exclusivity and that helps the atmosphere, which is lovely and friendly.

Early Doors
Fabulous - we were there slightly before work kicking-out time would normally begin, but the whole garden was flooded with sun (when it wasn't stuck behind a cloud) and it was so open that it would clearly remain that way, at least in most areas, well into the evening. A fabulous, open, sunny spot.

Beautiful. Perfectly manicured gardens nestle on a slope by a chocolate box perfect cottage pub, covered in a gently down of ivy. Even though it fronts directly on to the road, it is super peaceful - I think the road into East Langton is one way, so there is no through traffic, just the people accessing the village or pub. We could hear the gentle noise of a cricket match taking place on the hill just above us. Absolutely quintessential British countryside beauty.

The wifi wasn't too bad - they have their own wifi and I was able to access Twitter etc. no problem sat outside on the benches. It wasn't the strongest signal and so I'm not sure if it would work on the tables furthest away from the building, but it was definitely fit for purpose. A lot of city centre pubs could learn a thing or two here.

The weak link in the chain. I could see no British Summer protection. If it rains, you go in. If it's windy, you go in. You can't have everything.

Beautifully maintained and high quality picnic tables in immaculate rows (although it looks a bit erratic in my picture - I think I got the angle wrong!) Very neat, very tidy, very comfortable, although a  little bit off balance due to the slope, but nothing that's going to put your drink at risk.

Nothing to report here - the Bell Inn is very strong in all of the categories I usually have, except British Summer Proofing, but I can't think of anything more to add points for.

Pub Dog
Yes! Hot on the heels of the Western we have ourselves a friendly black labrador, which I did stroke, but her owner was on the phone so I didn't get to ask if I could take a selfie. Can't take points off for that though really. God, I love a pub dog.
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