Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Old Forge, Knoydart

With no roads in or out, The Old Forge in the tiny village of Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula is the most remote pub on mainland Britain (as certified by the Guinness book of records). Known as the last wilderness area in Great Britain, getting here involves an 18 mile hike over the peninsula's munros or a 7 mile scenic sea crossing. We opted to take one of the passenger ferries from the port of Malliag.

After a rather damp and misty crossing we landed at the pier in picturesque Inverie. Situated right on the seashore, The Old Forge looks out over stunning Loch Nevis to the Outer Isles.

Inside the pub is cosy and comfortable; a welcome respite from the miserable weather. There is often live music here and, I imagine, a great atmoshphere, but on a wet Saturday afternoon there were just a smattering of brave folk who had made the trip.

Looking out through the big windows there is little doubt where the seafood comes from; it is all caught locally within a 15 mile radius - Loch Nevis, Loch Nan Uamh, Sound of Sleat, Isle of Skye and Rum waters. Scallops are hand dived, usually from Loch Nevis or Arisiag. Langoustines are creel caught of the local fishing boats. The mackerel is line caught and the mussels are rope line farmed locally. Deeper water fish come from Andy Race fish merchants in Mallaig.
There are also a selection of real ales on offer, from Glenfinnan Brewery and Isle of Skye Breweries, as well as national breweries when the limited micro brewery supplies are not available or the Skye ferry is not operating on schedule.

I had to have The Old Forge prawn platter; fresh Loch Nevis langoustines, mixed salad, homemade marie rose sauce and brown bread. Served simply, whole and shell on with a lobster cracker and fork, the lanugoustine were a feast of huge succulent, sweetness. Cooked simply and as fresh as this they were amazing.

Dave needed warming up after the chilly ferry crossing and went for the mussels in cream and white wine. The mussels were fresh, plump and juicy and the lovely thick chunks of bread perfect for mopping up the plentiful sauce.

For dessert we both opted for the sticky toffee pudding, which was comforting and delicious.

We tried to take a walk along the shore after lunch, but the rain came lashing down and we had to take shelter before we caught the return ferry back to Mallaig.

Although the Scottish weather left much to be desired, The Old Forge did not. It's spectacular out of the way location and fresh, simply cooked seafood make it well worth an excursion.

The Old Forge
Inverie, Knoydart, Mallaig, PH41 4PL

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Cross Keys, Holbeck Urban Village

You will find The Cross Keys tucked away on the edge of Leeds city centre, in what is now known as "Holbeck Urban Village" - yet it is definitely no ordinary urban pub.

Holbeck Urban Village (HUV) sounds slightly pretentious and, for those who know the area, somewhat euphemistic; once the industrial heartland of Leeds, more latterly Holbeck had become a semi-derelict red-light district. However a program of regeneration has seen the beginnings of a transformation into a cool new mixed use business and residential community.

Built in 1802, The Cross Keys was a hostelry for local foundry workers and boasts a colourful history. Then in the 1980s the pub was closed and left to decay, until it was rescued by the folks behind the legendary North Bar. Following an extensive renovation, life has now been brought back to this historical landmark from the height of Leeds’ industrial past.

Step in off the street and you are transported into 21st century pub heaven. It has all the qualities of a traditional British pub, but with a modern twist. There are some great original features; wooden floors, beams, brick walls and a wood-burning stove and the decor is all vintage mirrors, old pictures and patterned china plates. The result is a rather cool urban hang out, rather than some olde worlde pub, but it strikes a great balance and still manages to be cosy and full of character. There is also a rather amazing outdoor courtyard for alfresco drinking and summer BBQs.

On the bar you'll find some excellent local ales, usully including an offering from Roosters of Knaresborough, accompanied by three changing guest beers and a great wine list. There is also an extensive inventory of draught and bottled beer and cider.

We ordered a couple of pints of Roosters and grabbed a table in the bar. It was Thursday evening and the place was busy with a lively mix of people eating and after work drinkers.

They serve an interesting menu of traditional British food made from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. It is a limited menu (in size, not appeal) but is usually complemented by a couple of specials. They explain that by "British" food they mean dishes that capture the heritage and heart of the nation's food culture, recreating and reinventing long lost recipes and traditional classics indigenous to our islands - not some generic homogeneous gastro pub menu offering Thai spiced fishcakes or tomato mozzarella tart. On our last visit I enjoyed a really smashing rabbit pie, so was keen to find out what was on offer on the autumn menu.

For his starter Dave chose the Cullen skink with thyme croutons. It was served with the rich velvety soup in a jug to pour over the moist smoked fish, potatoes and croutons.

I had the Gloucester Old Spot pork terrine, pickled onions and toast; a generous slab of porky terrine slathered onto thick hot toast with a welcome hint of piquancy from the onions.

For mains I procrastinated over the intriguingly sounding cauliflower cheese with deep fried duck egg, autumn greens and tarragon dressing. However in the end neither of us could resist the Swaledale lamb - rump and breast of lamb with pearl barley, fennel and rosemary juices (definitely not jus!). We also went for a side order of buttered kale, despite advice from our helpful waiter that the portion would probably be sufficiently hearty without any extras. The lamb was tasty and well cooked; the rump slightly pink, the breast rolled and slow roasted until meltingly tender. I don't recall ever having seen lamb breast on a pub menu before and although it is undoubtedly fatty, it is a very tasty cut. The pale green fennel puree was perfectly smooth and added a welcome freshness to the rich, earthy dish. It also benefited from the addition of the kale which gave added colour to what was essentially a delicious but quite brown plate of food.

For desert we shared a chocolate tart with salted lavender caramel, which was a revelation. The pastry was thin and crisp and the subtle salty notes from the otherwise sweet caramel sauce provide a perfect balance to the bitter chocolate.

I cannot testify (yet), but hear they also do an excellent Sunday Roast.

What's more there is a real attempt by the owners play an active role in the revitalisation of this emerging part of the city and to connect with the local community. They hold seasonal markets in the courtyard, a weekly quiz and offer take away fish & chips as well as a parcel minding service for locals.

The short walk into Holbeck is more than worth your while for a traditional but chic pub with an impressive ethos and a fantastic menu of hearty food and proper beer.

The Cross Keys
107 Water Lane, Leeds LS11 5WD

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Punch Bowl Inn, Swaledale

We'd spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the secrets of Upper Swaledale, opting to walk a circular route from Keld over Kisdon fell to the idyllic village of Muker and back along the banks of the fast flowing River Swale. This is a classic ramble, affording magnificent views of Swaledale and with added interest in the form of the intriguingly named "Corpse Way", the famous hay meadows, gushing waterfalls and plentiful evidence of the area's industrial lead mining past.

Tired from the fresh air and our exertions we were looking forward to a hot bath, dinner and a comfy bed. We headed along the main road that gently meanders its way through the narrow valley bottom, to the Punchbowl Inn in the tiny straggling hamlet of Low Row. The unassuming, rather plain flat fronted exterior of this 17th century inn belies the delights within

Now owned by the same family as the excellent Charles Bathurst Inn ("The CB") in neighbouring Arkengarthdale, inside The Punch Bowl has been carefully renovated. The contemporary yet traditional style still manages to retain something of the essential character of the original 17th century inn; the bare wooden floors and stone fireplaces have been preserved and old black and white photos of bygone characters and times dot the walls.

We checked in and were shown to our small but tastefully decorated room, looking out across Swaledale. For a while we took in the stunning views; the fell side on the opposite side of the valley swooping down from the dark moorland skyline through the maze of stone walls and green fields to meet the river below.

It wasn't long before our thoughts turned to refreshment and we headed downstairs. The bar area hosts a wood burning stove and a unique oak bar, hand made by local craftsman Robert ‘The Mouseman’ Thompson. The bar stools all have his trademark mouse individually carved on the seat. There is a good range of locally brewed real ale on offer and we enjoyed a perfect pint of Black Sheep Special before dinner.

The only copy of the menu is daubed in white on two wooden framed mirrors at the far end of the bar. It was difficult to read due to the light and also slightly disconcerting to see ones own ruddy cheeks reflecting back through the jumble of words. However the PB's commitment to using only the best local and seasonal produce is more than evident, the menu relying heavily on meat and game from the surrounding moors and local cheeses.

For starters I chose sesame fried mackerel with tomato and caper salsa, the mackerel was really fresh and the dish worked well. Dave had potato skins with Wensleydale cheese and bacon.

My beef, bacon & red wine casserole with a puff pastry lid really hit the mark; it was packed with flavour and big chunks of tender meat.

Dave's choice of pan fried duck breast served with a ballotine of leg and fondant potato, was slightly more refined. The breast was perfectly pink and juicy with a puddle of tasty gravy.

Our mains were accompanied by a generous portion of well cooked veggies; cheese topped mash potato, carrots, green beans and roast turnip.

The dishes were solid, well executed and portions were definitely hearty; it was just the sort of food we had craved after a day in the outdoors.

After dinner we returned to the bar, where Dave had a pint of Riggwelter. The atmosphere was buzzy and the bar staff were more than happy to strike up conversation. However perched at the bar, surrounded by tables of people eating, you can't help feeling that this isn't really a place where locals drop by for a drink. The emphasis is clearly on food and the vibe is definitely more boutique than muddy boots. If I am being overly critical it is somewhat too stylised, the homogeneous muted shade on all the walls giving the impression of being inside a slightly sterile giant mushroom. It somehow lacks the classic feel of an old-fashioned country pub. Nonetheless what the bar lacks in traditional atmosphere, the view & food more than make up for.

After a comfortable night's sleep we were ready for breakfast. For me it just had to be kippers, they are not seen often enough on breakfast menus; the whole fish was lightly smoked and moist. Safe in the knowledge that he was supporting the local farmers and butchers, Dave tucked into his quality full English. It was all accompanied by juice, a rack of hot toast, jam, marmalade and a big cafetiere of fresh coffee. Perfect.

Swaledale is one of the wilder, more remote northern dales and definitely enjoys a quieter tone. It is a valley suited to seekers of secrets, rather than those who want their recreation conveniently presented on a plate. It remains pleasingly undeveloped; brown-signposted attractions are few and far between, but if you are willing to scratch deeper than the surface and look beyond the obvious you will find a truly enchanting place. The Punch Bowl is perfectly placed for those wanting to explore these delights; good food and accommodation, warm hospitality and an authentic Yorkshire Dales experience await.

Punch Bowl Inn
Low Row, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL11 6PF

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Chesters By The River, Skelwith Bridge

Chesters sits in a picturesque location by the river Brathay in Skelwith Bridge, at the mouth of the stunning Langdale valley. Operated by the same family as The Drunken Duck Inn, Chesters is named after the roguish white English Bull Terrier who ruled the roost at the pub in the eighties.

Serving breakfast, lunch, drinks and legendary home made cakes throughout the day it makes a naughty but extremely nice stop-off at any time.

They make and bake everything on the premises, including all the jams, chutneys, breads, cakes and pastries, using traditional recipes and natural, good quality, seasonal ingredients. In the summer you can relax on the decked terrace looking out over the water, or in the colder months sit inside by the roaring fire.

We dropped by for an indulgent breakfast before a walk in the Langdale valley and, as it was sunny morning, we sat outside. We were the first to arrive, but by the time we were ready to leave there wasn't a free table. This charming cafe is clearly a honeypot for those who know a good cake when they see one, and I can definitely see why.

Dave's American pancakes with maple syrup looked amazing; 3 very thick and fluffy pancakes adorned with blackcurrant compote, cream and a shot of syrup. They made for the perfect sweet holiday breakfast treat.

I had the potato scone with bacon and poached egg, the portion was slightly more modest but lovely all the same and clearly made with good quality produce.

I am by no means a connoisseur, but the coffee was really good too. We each had a latte which was nicely milky and not too strong, with the bonus of being served in huge cups.

There is marvellous array of very tempting cakes on display behind the counter. You will find classic favorites such as flapjack, brownies, lemon meringue pie, carrot cake and chocolate cake alongside the likes of tiffin, raspberry oat and nut slice, banana and walnut loaf with toffee sauce, apricot and almond puff pastry pie and lemon and blueberry baby bundt. Or there is the option of a freshly baked scone with homemade raspberry jam & whipped cream, it's apparently the same scone recipe they used for the first batch almost 26 years ago.

After breakfast we couldn't do the slabs of cakes justice, but we'll definitely be back to sample the baking soon.

Chesters By The River
Skelwith Bridge, Nr Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 9NJ

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside

The Drunken Duck lies in the heart of the Lake District and its isolated location on a crossroads high above Lake Windermere provides a stunning setting for this outstanding Lakeland Inn. It is surrounded by high fells and some of England's finest countryside but, breathtaking views aside, the Duck is also renowned for its excellent food and own brewed beer.

After checking in and being shown to our comfortable room (noting the jar of homemade flapjacks on the side), we went down to the lovely garden by the small tarn and tucked into a complimentary afternoon tea; warm scones, thick cream and raspberry jam, served with a pot of speciality loose leaf tea.

Then, in an attempt to work up an appetite for dinner, we walked a circuit of Tarn Hows where we spotted a rare "circumzenithal arc" in the sky.

On our return we enjoyed dinner in the contemporary but cosy restaurant where, to begin, we were unexpectedly served a delicious amuse bouche of leek, potato and fennel soup and some lovely crusty bread.

The menu isn't extensive but the choices were interesting and I could happily have eaten anything from it. For starters I was torn between the saltmarsh lamb, crisp sweetbread, courgette and lavender broth or the fillet beef tartare. I eventually went for the latter. Raw fillet of beef, finely chopped and mixed with diced cornichons and capers, the meat was well seasoned and a raw egg yolk sat on top, ready to break and ooze into the meat. It was my first experience of tartare so it's difficult to draw comparisons, but it was everything I expected and tasted divine.

Dave ordered the confit chicken, sage and pine nut ravioli with summer truffle and wild rocket. It was a large pasta parcel with a delicate filling and unmistakable note of truffle from the thinly shaved slices that adorned the plate.

My main was halibut fillet, served with garlic crushed potatoes, curly kale, butter clams, cucumber, lemon and tomato sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, an accomplished dish and totally delicious.

Dave's breast of grouse, duck and grouse sausage, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and bread sauce was equally good; local, seasonal ingredients treated with flair.

I could easily have been tempted by the cheeseboard, which offered a diverse range of British cheeses, each described in detail on the separate menu, but I had to pass. Instead Dave ordered coffee which came with some deliciously delicate and well executed petit fours.

After dinner we retired to the bar with its oak flooring, old beams, open fire and leather armchairs. The bar top itself is a beautiful slab of black slate from a nearby quarry and above it hang bunches of dried hops.
Out in the courtyard at the back of the Inn, they brew their own beers; Barngates Brewery produces a range of 7 or 8 different real ales, several of them named after long-gone pub pets. We enjoyed another excellent pint of Tag Lag, a refreshing fruity golden ale, before retreating to a neatly turned down comfy bed.

Breakfast the next morning was a real treat. Although other options were available, we both had fruit juice and then the full English; a thick herby sausage, crisp rashers of bacon, a softly poached egg, tomato, mushroom and a slab of proper black pudding. It was served with a rack of hot toast, including some fruit bread which was a nice addition.

Service was unobtrusive but prompt and friendly enough throughout our stay.

The only issue we encountered was with the water. We were informed on check in that the water was from their own supply up in the fells and although it does undergo various filtration and purification processes, it is pale peaty in colour with the odd bit of sediment finding its way through. This really wasn't an issue, but the lack of hot water and water pressure in general that we experienced at certain times, was. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" has never been my mantra so I wasn't overly worried for a one night stay, but can see that after a days walking you may be a little disgruntled with the lack of a hot bath.

Overall the Duck is the perfect venue for a quiet, relaxing country retreat. The fantastic food and drink, informal hospitality and gorgeous surroundings all play their part and the understated quality and those special little touches elevate the Duck above the norm.

The Drunken Duck Inn
Barngates, Ambleside, Cumbria. LA22 0NG

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Surprise Pizza in the Yokshire Dales

The Red Lion at Burnsall is well known locally, both for its picturesque location in the Yorkshire Dales and as a lovely old pub with rooms serving fine food.

We stopped by recently one Saturday afternoon for a beer, having spent a day relaxing with friends by the River, swimming and catching crayfish.

The intention was to sit outside and have a cheeky beer in the late sunshine before heading back to our camp in Appletreewick, but after a couple of pints (the Timothy Taylor's Landlord was on great form) we spotted a pizza menu on the bar and decided to stay for a quick bite to eat. After enquiring with the bar staff we were directed round the back and across the car park to the grounds of the Manor House B&B, where we eventually stumbled across the River Cafe, nestled in the house gardens overlooking the River Wharfe and the hills beyond.

We ordered our food inside, along with a glass of Rose and a couple of bottles of Black Sheep Bitter and sat down at a picnic bench in the beautiful garden. Our drinks were quickly brought out and we happily waited, anticipating our food and enjoying the amazing views of the river and fells. We saw a chef come over from the pub and shortly our food was delivered.

We started with a portion of Dough Balls & Garlic Bread (£2.95 each). The garlic butter was deliciously heady with garlic and the handmade Dough balls rivalled any you can get in Pizza Express. With a crisp crust and doughy interior they were dunked into the pot of garlic butter and devoured; a hit.

Our pizzas promptly followed. We had opted to share a Margherita (the usual mozzarella, tomato & herbs, but with the extra addition of pepperoni - £5.50), a Hot Spicy Beef (minced beef, chorizo, jalapenos, onions, green pepper with Tabasco - £5.95) and a Rusticella (baked then topped with Parma ham, rocket, oven roasted tomatoes and parmesan - £5.95).

The pizza bases were very thin but the toppings generous and spread right to the edge. This meant that whilst not exactly crispy, there was just enough soft dough to carry the tasty toppings into our greedy, gaping mouths! The pizzas were delicious; not at all greasy and nor did they have that duvet-like thickness that often puts me off a badly made takeaway.

The sweet intensity of the tomatoes with the salty ham and peppery rocket on the Rusticella was a particularly memorable combination, but ultimately we couldn't agree or decide which one we liked best.

We are still not sure if it was just because we were slightly squiffy – yes it is possible that we were seduced by the delightful location, sunshine and the surprise and spontaneity of finding great pizza in the Yorkshire Dales - but we all agreed that these were some of the best pizzas we have eaten! Our experience was probably enhanced by the deliciously unexpected nature of our visit and the perfect end to the day but we would definitely recommend this hidden gem for a quick, cheap bite to eat. Well worth a visit - if you can resist the lure of the Red Lion itself, that is.

Dine inside or out, or also available to takeaway, the River Cafe at the Manor House is open for Pizza Friday, Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday Mondays 5.00pm - 9.00pm. Yum!

The Red Lion & Manor House B&B
Burnsall, Near Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6BU

The Fish Shed at Dart's Farm

Darts Farm is a food lover’s haven and being conveniently located just off the M5 near Exeter it makes the perfect stop-off on the way to or from Cornwall. Sadly we were now on our way home but hit Exeter around lunch time, which inevitably meant a short detour for lunch at the Fish Shed at Dart's Farm. It certainly beats the motorway services!

Dart's Farm is a huge farm shop and deli, stocking produce from up to 200 different local food producers. There is also a restaurant which reportedly serves one of the best breakfasts in Devon (although I cannot confirm this) and the Fish Shed, which is both a wet fish shop and a great fish and chippery.

You pick your fish straight from the counter and it is cooked to order – either deep fried in batter or simply grilled. The fish, caught daily off the coast of Exmouth, is incredibly fresh and there is a good variety on offer - from cod and haddock to bream, sea bass and Dover sole. You can even have mussels poached with white wine, garlic and pesto or go the whole hog and order lobster and chips.

There are picnic tables in the outside courtyard and conveniently you can buy a drink to accompany your meal from the deli inside whilst you wait for your order to be cooked, which is exactly what we did.

Dave went for the monkfish which looked amazing, not least because it was served in a very generous portion.

I had battered scallops which made a nice change and although the portion wasn't as large it was very good indeed.

Both the chips and the batter were deliciously crisp and crunchy, fresh and just as good fish and chips should be.

We agreed that both the fish and chips were maybe even marginally better than Rick Stein's and undoubtedly the perfect way to round off our trip!

Darts Farm
Topsham, Nr. Exeter, EX3 0QH

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.