Barton-Upon-Humber · dining · Food

The Sloop Inn, Barton-Upon-Humber

Travel through Barton upon Humber along a very dull Waterside Road and you’ll probably pass the Sloop Inn. Well it would hardly earn the ‘pub of the Year’ award looking from the outside, if appearances are anything to go by. Maybe time to enter and experience the interior of this well-respected eatery. Look for the cosy and chic bistro interior, designed by experts, romantic and inviting – and you won’t find it here. Want comfy dining furniture, winter-warming log fires and an abundance of attentive staff? I suggest you find somewhere else. So why am I so positive about this place? I’ve still no idea, but stick with it and enjoy the experience of a warm welcome and good, honest food.

On entering the place we were met by the host (bar manager?) who cheerfully answered that they were serving food, and that the menu was on the wall. And what a menu it was. A big plus was that they also catered for vegetarians and Vegans. No problem. I chose a rump steak and Becky chose haddock and chips, just as a trial run. On looking around it was very noticeable that the Sloop Inn is a no-frills traditional English pub, with its own locals. It was a quiet night for the pub interrupted only by whispered conversation from a handful of thirsty after-work drinkers, a lonely-looking pool table, and an empty dining area. We were told to sit wherever we liked, and so chose one of the well-worn tables near a lifeless fire. The poor table looked as though it had witnessed many a plate, spilled beer and the odd fight or two over the years.

The decor was a bizarre mix to say the least. Now, I’m not trying to be negative, really, and i think the best description would be ‘interesting’, and it certainly is entertaining to the eye. This is the Sloop Inn and so a nautical theme pervades, nearly. Photos and prints of sloops and schooners, marine paraphernalia, accompanied by photos of birds, snakes and flowers. Yes, that’s what I said. Almost a theme and then – not. Anyway, ample dining rooms and bar areas, all in desperate need of a cash injection and makeover, yet at the same time it’s functional.

Is it expensive? No, it’s not. It’s on a par with other pubs serving food. And from what we sampled, the food is good. In fact my medium-cooked steak was melt-in-the-mouth and well seasoned and the fish was perfectly cooked as well. The portion looked a bit small but it wasn’t, the plate was just big. The service? Excellent, although, to be fair, there was no competition from any other diners.

Would we go again? The answer is a resounding yes. Those puddings on the menu board looked fantastic. But maybe we’ll leave it until a busier night when there’s a little more atmosphere. Food-wise – recommended.

Coleby

The Bell at Coleby

A friend recently asked us to check out The Bell at Coleby. So, after hearing some good reports, it was off to Lincoln (no, not Nebraska – the real one in the UK!), or just south of Lincoln to be precise. It was Friday and the traffic was horrendous, oh, and did I mention the rain bucketing it down. Of course we got lost in the wind swept wilds of Lincolnshire but eventually reached the tiny village of Coleby.

Paul Vidic, Chef Patron of the Bell

The Bell is tucked away at the back of the village church and can be a real pain to find. Look for the red lights on the tower. Persevere and you’ll come across the sight of a well lit and warming village inn. The door is at the rear of the building so be warned. On entry we were welcomed into the popular premises, like long lost friends, by our jovial host and Chef Patron, Paul Vidic. Why can’t other restaurants welcome you with open arms? Why is it that we are so often met by indifferent and often bored-looking staff nowadays?

Paul explained that several times a year he and his team put on these themed evenings as a change from their usual menu. It’s a treat for the regulars and attracts new customers like us. Tonight was French night. Five courses, each to be accompanied by a complimenting wine or two, very nice.

It was refreshing to find an enthusiastic host, willing to answer our questions and tell us about his methods. Paul had spent hours preparing in advance so he could enjoy a ‘front of house’ position tonight.

The night was all about a taster menu and apart from asking for one without meat we did not know what we would be eating. It was also an introduction to a popular vineyard in France by the very smooth representative, Francois, also acting as sommelier for the evening. I’m quite fluent in French so remembered to say bonjour, cheminee and dankeshon when Francois allowed me to get a word in edge ways. I think I got away with it!

For starters we had a traditional, and very tasty, vegetable soup, which doesn’t sound overly impressive, but it was accompanied by wine. Great for a wet and stormy evening. This was followed by a salmon mousse – along with two glasses of wine. Delicious. We had to wait half an hour for our mains, and Francois duly charged our glasses at an alarming rate. As the wine was really beginning to take its toll I’m afraid the colour, aroma, ‘legs’, history and family vineyard facts all began to blend and slip away. Was the wine good. Yes, it was glass-by-glass excellent!

Salmon mousse

Empty glasses were cleared from the table and our main course arrived. I had duck in a rich sauce. The skin was crispy, the meat cooked to perfection and the sauce was divine. Becky had pre-ordered a John Dory fish dish, which wasn’t quite as spectacular, but ok. My duck was washed down with more wine courtesy of Francois, and we waited for our pudding.

The cheese board arrived, with wine, soon to be followed by a creme brule , which tasted good to me although it had prunes in it and not to everyone’s taste. I finished my pudding and drained my glasses. Francois had by now disappeared from view, and we were about to pay the bill, when we received complimentary glasses of port from Paul. I’d had way too much alcohol, but then again it was a shame to waste it.

Was it a good night? Yes, great hosting from Paul Vidic, Francois and the team with lots of delicious and well presented wine and good food. However, I would have liked to have had the dishes explained in the same way as the wine, rather than having to ask. I would have liked to know what kind of cheese I was trying, what kind of soup was presented to me and what the sauces were… And perhaps bigger portions? … but then this is ‘fine dining’… as reflected in the price.

So although The Bell may be difficult to locate for a start we would definitely go again. Maybe on a ‘normal’ night and choose from the menu.

In our opinion a highly recommended place to eat. Let us know what you think.

Hull · Restaurants

Viet Memories, Hull

No, not my memories. Somebody else’s. I’ve never been to Vietnam, personally, but I did think this place looked interesting, odd and quirky. There were some excellent reviews, and as my party are mainly vegan or vege, I decided to take a punt and a booking was made.

Finding parking in Hull city centre is hardly easy, but we found a place and went in search of a flash restaurant. When you invite others to a place you’ve never seen before it can be a bit of a nervy gamble. I’ve got to say, when we finally sussed out the location it came a bit of a shock. Surely we’d found the wrong place, and on opening the door, was convinced I’d made a huge mistake. It served as both a takeaway and a very small restaurant of sorts. To be honest, it looked a dump, with a long table in the middle of the room and basic chairs down both sides. I think you could describe it as a bit of a culture shock. On looking around the walls at the pictures, the over-bright fish tanks, and the near vicinity to the food counter it all seemed claustrophobic, yet on second thoughts, bizarrely authentic . In fact it just seemed as if we had just stepped off the street in Saigon, and with a bit of persuasion we all started to warm to it.

The menu selection looked amazing, with something delicious for everyone. Lots of Vegan and meat choices and everything screamed healthy food. It should also be noted that it had a 5 star food hygiene rating. The chef worked hard and was in full view behind a glass partition. How he managed to cook so much for so many, I’ll never know.

Our starters included grilled pork summer rolls, king prawn summer rolls, tofu summer rolls and king prawn and papaya salad. The rolls are filled with fresh crunchy herbs, lettuce and carrot along with your choice of meat, prawn or tofu and accompanied by different spicy dipping sauces and they are all made to order.

Main courses included Vietnamese shaking beef; tender diced beef, pan grilled with chilli, garlic and mixed herbs, Tofu asparagus special stir fried with mushrooms and garlic and sir fried tofu with noodles. Everything came to the table as and when it was ready and although Western etiquette requires waiting for the whole table to be served before starting to eat, we soon took to the Vietnamese way and ate while it was hot. Everything was fresh and tasty and we genuinely felt like this is what it must be like to eat out in Vietnam.

The staff at Viet Memories were most efficient and friendly, and were very accommodating to the child in our group. We thought the apple-shaped plate and the child-friendly utensils an excellent idea too. The portion was not overwhelming and being full she was able to take her yogurt home.

Were there any bad points? Well, for a start it’s just not big enough for such a popular venue. Our party of 8 were cramped in with 12 other diners. In fact two of our party were sitting at their table. There was not enough staff, and maybe more importantly our dishes were appearing one at a time for our party which meant some had finished their starter before others had been served.

However, overall we feel the food was delicious and faithful to its roots. Don’t be put off by the decor. It’s certainly not fine dining but it is an experience, and I thoroughly recommend a visit. I can’t wait to go back. Be adventurous and visit Viet Memories.

Fine Dining · Scunthorpe

San Pietro: the return

After our previous restaurant disappointment we decided on a belated birthday treat with family and return to San Pietro in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire. We weren’t disappointed with our decision.

I really can’t praise this Sicilian-influenced restaurant enough with their high levels of quality and service. I know it’s expensive (for us) and personally will always be a treat for special occasions, but you can always depend on their delicious Mediterranean-inspired food and the service. Who wouldn’t enjoy high-end dining in beautiful contemporary surroundings, and be treated as special guests by the staff and the amazing chef? What’s not to like about being warmly welcomed at the door and shown into the seating area for pre-meal drinks and olives, to peruse the menu at your leisure? And I love the fact that the owner/chef Pietro Catalano always seems to have time for his guests. But don’t mention his olive trees. You’ll be there for some time.

Our chosen starters were Whitby crab with green apple, pickled kohlrabi radish, creme fraiche and rice cracker. And king prawn, cherry tomato and chilli tagliolini. Delightful.

Enrico continued to fill our glasses and left just enough time before bringing out the main courses; one Roast rump of lamb with Sicilian caponata, Parmesan risotto and mint salsa, two 35-day aged fillet steaks with potato and mushroom terrine, crispy shallots, wilted spinach and Marsala jus and one special salmon with asparagus risotto. With four clean plates there were no complaints here.

Even though we were getting quite full at this point we were very comfortable and not quite ready to head home so ordered desert. Enrico topped up our glasses again and said to let him know when we were ready and brought us a tasty lemon meringue palette cleanser and a chocolate birthday message while we chatted.

For desert we chose; one creme brule, two lavender panna cotta with strawberry jelly, strawberry salad and strawberry sorbet and one cheese selection served with crackers, grapes, dates and honey. Enrico served the cheese at the table and was happy to provide a sample to help you choose, with extra crackers later.

I am not here to gush about all of San Pietro’s other services. That’s for you to discover. But it’s high time the chef of this gem of a restaurant was rightly awarded a Michelin star. What else is there to say about San Pietro except maybe the downside is that it is so popular. Book early for dinner or you may be disappointed.

Fine Dining · Lincoln

Castle Hotel Reform restaurant

Birthday approaching, and after scouring fine dining restaurants in our area, and finding them all booked up, we decided to venture slightly further afield. And up popped the Reform restaurant in the city of Lincoln, Lincolnshire, on the internet. With its grand website extolling the virtues of its award-winning chef and restaurant in the upper area of central Lincoln, we decided to give it a go. It looked and sounded amazing. But was it?

We made our way through the main entrance to the impressive Castle Hotel and ordered a cocktail at the bar. A rather miniscule and sad looking Prosecco and Cassis made its less than impressive appearance on the bar. A half measure lost in a small champagne flute. That cost £9. Well, it was upmarket Lincoln with city costs, and it was a special occasion, so we tried to put the expense to one side, and get on with the experience. Bex managed to eke out the cocktail for a few minutes and then entered the restaurant. I’ve got to say that the decor was fine dining quality; understated and tranquil. The only thing to set alarm bells ringing was that this was a Saturday night and outside Lincoln was buzzing with tourists and locals, with small, enticing restaurants overflowing with happy punters. The Reform had seating for around fifty people. We joined four other diners.

we didn’t have a table cloth !

That said, and to be fair to the Reform, we counted fourteen more diners, probably hotel guests, who came in later on in the evening, but even so…

We were given a menu, which I hoped was not the a la carte one. It was. I could already feel the disappointment welling up in my stomach. So, what was wrong?

The actual menu itself, and the font used, looked like a typical seaside cafe menu. We half expected to see toasted teacakes and all-day breakfasts on it. A small but important point that just lowered the tone. The staff, though friendly, needed a uniform. Well they had, sort of. They wore black, but not uniform. The male waiter looked to me like he’d just been driving a lorry. New trousers please, and a fitted shirt that wasn’t hanging out from his waistband.The person whom I took to be the manager wore ‘cargo’ style trousers. The trainee girl, who did her best to cope, wore the obligatory young teenager uniform of pelmet-length skirt and thick black tights. Unfair of me? It all just seemed so uninspiring.

To the food. The options were sort of OK but unexciting. No wow factor in the few dishes, and our choice was more choosing the best of not a lot. Maybe it was just us, I don’t know. It was, in essence, gastro pub food. But anyway, moving on… a small piece of bread accompanied by three types of butter/spread. Sounds grand but really wasn’t. Then we chose Tikka cured salmon as a starter. This consisted of three slivers of salmon with delicious home made lime pickle and a cucumber and mint raita. Neither of us could taste the Tikka part. Three forkfulls and it was gone. So we waited hungrily for our main.

I chose braised blade of Linconshire beef with three times cooked chips. To be honest, they really needed to be cooked a fourth time. Included on the plate was a croquette, lettuce and half a tomato. Bex chose warm tart of goats cheese. The pastry was a little too dry and the filling not particularly tasty. It didn’t come with anything and there were only three side dishes to chose from; chips, green beans and rocket salad. Not really worth £16 we thought. Both dishes looked OK but that’s about all. Noticeable was the lack of potatoes and veg on the menu. It was chips or nothing, which we thought strange for a ‘high end’ place. Maybe it was the award winning chefs night off!

After the restaurant became busier (about a third full), the service went rapidly downhill. So hungry were we that we decided on a pudding. We waited and waited for attention but none was forthcoming. We gave up, paid ( in our view) a very expensive bill for not a lot, and left hungry and dissatisfied, reflecting on the fact that they just couldn’t have coped with any more guests.

As is so often the case nowadays, the professionally designed websites promise so much. They over-promote and exaggerate. That’s marketing for you, and that’s the name of the game. It’s all about pushing an image whilst totally forgetting the substance. The Reform is a case in point. Lovely restaurant, amazing location, and well-meaning staff, but the whole point of the place, which is serving and providing delicious food, seems lost. Different food choices, a better chef, more staff, AND MORE FOOD for the money would make a difference. I am not a greedy person at all, I promise you that, but truthfully I got home and had a sandwich and a bar of chocolate, and I’ve never done that before.

This is the first restaurant I have ever given the thumbs down to. Maybe they just had an off night, but they really need to have a look round and see how other restaurants are doing it, for their own sake. It should be amazing because it say’s so on the website. In our opinion It really wasn’t.

dining · Food

Chao Baan, Barton upon Humber

Barton upon Humber boasts a great selection of eateries for such a small place but it was great to hear a new Thai restaurant was coming to town. So Chao Baan on Barton’s High Street was on our list. We read the reviews, cased the joint, tried to book – and failed. Well, for a few weeks anyway. Eventually we managed a table on a Thursday night.

What can we say about this place? It’s quaint, even cosy, in fact it’s not really big enough to be a restaurant at all. We felt like we were sitting in someones ‘front room’ where occasionally other people would wander through to find their tables. And maybe that’s why it just didn’t seem to work. However, the host/owner, Steve, is courteous, friendly and appears genuine at all times. Other restaurant owners take note of Steve – go out and introduce yourself to the customers. Welcome them and ask if they are enjoying their meal, and thank them for coming. How hard is that to do – but nowadays rarely done.

The waiting staff were efficient and welcoming and it was no problem that one of our party was late. Our orders were soon taken and the staff were happy to answer any questions. It was explained that because everything is cooked fresh to order there might be a bit of a wait but we had starters to fill the time and it didn’t feel like we were left waiting at all. The authentic food is cooked in a tiny kitchen with one chef, and according to the manager this food is purchased and cooked fresh every restaurant working day. I believe him.

So, for starters, going from left to right, we had Thai fishcakes, chicken satay and spring rolls. The Thai fish cakes looked unappetising and the texture was more like chicken. But they tasted OK, not fishy, but a bit spicy with a hint of lemon grass and I’m sure they were authentic Thai cuisine.

The prawns in batter with sweet chilli dip were perfectly cooked and very tasty.

For a main course I had a Massaman chicken curry with egg fried rice. Potatoes, chicken and veg, in a coconut and peanut curry. Very sweet and not at all spicy. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but at least I tried it. Other’s had Thai green curry with chicken and jasmine rice and Thai green curry with pork, spicy but not hot, which they thoroughly enjoyed. I had Pad Thai; stir fry noodles with prawns and peanuts and it tasted just like the Pad Thai I tried in Thailand!

So the food was pretty good, but sadly the place itself lacks a bit of magic. It’s wanting. It desperately needs that little bit of magic you expect when you go out for a special evening. Maybe its because it’s a Thai food restaurant but staffed by well-meaning, polite but local folks. And the view from my side of the table was of the bar access for the staff, which was piled high with crumpled boxes and bottles. Not great. Hats off to the waiters who tried so hard to do their jobs, yet somehow they (and I hate saying this) just didn’t cut the mustard as restaurant staff. It was a feeling of awkwardness, and they added no ambience whatsoever. There, I’ve said it. Now I feel bad.

To sum up the experience, apart from the Thai dishes, I may as well have been sitting in a cafe in downtown Barton. It’s like the owner’s idea is to emphasise the quality of the food and who cares little for all that decor rubbish with colour schemes, flash seating or music. Chao Baan is a no-nonsense, no frills eatery that happens to serve Thai food. Worth a visit, and then make up your own mind.

Hessle · Restaurants

The Greek in Hessle, with chips

Ever since The Greek opened in Hessle near Hull, we’ve looked forward to a visit. But could we book a table? No. Even the restaurant staff seemed embarrassed at turning diners away on the phone. Proving so very popular we gave up and left it on the back burner for a few months. Just what was so popular about this little restaurant set in its picturesque setting and in the shadow of the Humber Bridge?

Recently, totally out of the blue, on the off chance, I phoned to make a reservation, and success, we got a table for four. Unfortunately, on the actual evening our guests reluctantly had to cancel so it was just the two of us. Warning! Parking is difficult here and we ended up with a bit of a walk. Not great when you’re in heels. Luckily I’d left mine at home. Becky wasn’t so lucky.

We were met by a smiley staff member who began to usher us to a nice table at the front of a half-empty restaurant. On letting them know our guests had cancelled so there was just the two of us, the smile dropped like a lead balloon and we were led to a small table, (barely) for two at the very back of the restaurant next to the toilets. Odd behaviour as we felt we had been put on the ‘naughty step’, and the original four-seater table was occupied by only two diners within half an hour.

After waiting for fifteen minutes, the same waitress came to take our order and behaved somewhat more welcoming. She’d forgiven us, I think. We were taken through the menu where it was explained that they didn’t do ‘starters’ and we were encouraged to order meze and dips, and to include our main course. So, everything may or may not appear on your table at the same time. Evidently it’s the Greek way, What stuck out a mile was that although it all seemed a good idea, our table was way too small. In fact, very, very small. Luckily, they forgot my main course so we had finished our hot and cold meze dishes and drinks. After hearing her apologies and given free drinks as compensation my main course arrived and the delicious lamb cutlets/chops went down a treat.

What was the menu like? Well, there appeared an awful lot of cold aubergine, beetroot and hummus, (not an awful lot of choice for my personal taste), and not a great choice for vegetarians on the mains. For meat eaters, however, the mixed grill seemed the best option. For £30 you got a sharing board for two which included a taste of most menu items; two cutlets, two chicken souvlaki, pork gyros, village sausage, dips, salad, pita bread and chips. There were a lot of chips, better known as ‘Fries’ to you Americans. Chips with everything. Chips with chops. Chips in wraps. Chips as ‘sides’. If you like chips then The Greek is for you. There were even chips inside the Souvlaki Talagani; grilled cheese in a pita with tzatzki, onions, tomatoes (and chips).

Was the food good? And the answer is, it was OK, a bit like a snack menu. It wasn’t bad and maybe in a Greek taverna, with the sun shining and the sea lapping at your feet, it might feel authentic, but for us it wasn’t a special eating experience. It was nice, but not particularly memorable. Quite difficult to comment on the ambience as we were still on the ‘naughty step’ table but the restaurant only ever appeared half full.

So, what had all the fuss been about, not being able to book a table for months? No idea! To be fair to The Greek it’s more a relaxed cafe-style establishment rather than restaurant-standard dining, and never pretended to be anything else. The prices are very reasonable and the staff are helpful. Would we go again? And the answer to that is maybe, but with no hurry. Maybe The Greek is losing its initial appeal to the locals. It certainly wasn’t full by any means. Maybe it needs a change of menu or a bit of Zorba dancing. I wish The Greek luck and maybe we’ll meet again, in a few months time.

dining · Food · Hull · Restaurants

Frankie and Benny on Skid Row in Hull

Hi Folks,

Went on a cinema visit to Hull and decided to call in at well known chain of Frankie and Benny’s down on St Andrews Quay in Hull on 3rd July. And then wished we hadn’t!

Normally, you know what you’re getting in F & B’s. In my opinion it’s fast food done Italian style and served in an American/Italian diner. It’s not great, but it’s, well, all you’d expect, and not much more. To be extremely fair I’ve more than once had an excellent risotto and Spaghetti Bolognese in other F & B’s. My only criticism has ever been that it’s certainly not cheap.

Apologies for the constant reference to the time here, but it seemed important, to get my points across, so, to get back to St Andrew’s Quay in Hull. Went into F & B’s and waited to be seated. And we waited some more, and I should have turned around and tried somewhere else there and then. But we waited (along with other reasonably patient customers) for a waitress to make an appearance but could only see one front-of-house staff busy serving. To my surprise after a long 10 minutes waiting at the desk by the door, the same busy and flustered waitress found a few seconds to usher us to a table. It turned out that she was the only waitress there. After 5 minutes she came over and took our order. The first thing we noticed, while waiting thirty minutes for two glasses of coke, and which should have set the alarm bells ringing, was the amount of dishes waiting on the counter, under the heat lamps, waiting for ‘service’. Why? Well, it was totally down to a lack of staff. The poor woman was run off her feet and constantly apologising to customers for the wait. Time ticked by and after 50 minutes we had our starter of Mushroom Bruschetta on the table accompanied by profuse apologies. We asked if there was a staff shortage and her answer was that it was ‘always like this’. Our cutlery was dirty and we requested clean ones.

I know we should have complained there and then, but just didn’t have the heart to. She was obviously in a state of great stress. The Manager then stepped in to help her. That was sort of OK, and not before time, but he was hardly dressed for the occasion, in a suit which, to be honest, looked like it needed a good dry clean. We’d witnessed him handling money and paperwork behind the bar and there he was picking up plates with food from the service counter with his thumb or fingers (depending) in the food. Could have been worse, I suppose.

Mushroom Bruschetta consisted of three halves of bread roll sitting in an unappealing grey stew of mushrooms and onions. The bread was obviously going to be a soggy mess, and it was luke warm. We then waited for our main course of Spaghetti Bolognese and a goat cheese salad, which took 30 minutes to arrive. For 15 minutes we sat staring at the service counter hoping and praying that the bowl of salad on the counter was not ours and please, not the one placed under a heat lamp. Surely not! But it was. The salad consisted of wilted, soggy lettuce, at least one whole, but chopped, onion, goats cheese and a miniscule amount of pepper sprinkled on top. All nicely warmed. The Spag Bol was actually OK but only just as warm as the salad.

And all the time that waitress and the manager ran their socks off dealing with table clearing, serving and generally apologising. With two cokes, starter and main, the bill came to £38.00. Should we have complained? Well, who to? When I got home I felt the urge to write a strong letter of complaint so searched for an appropriate F & B site. But I could only find a generic web page. And like all of these huge business chains, the last thing they want is a page of complainers, so they don’t allow you the space for a good moan.

Good luck with a visit to Frankie and Benny’s at St Andrew’s Quay in Hull. Personally I think I’ll give it a miss. Cheers

Amsterdam · Lifestyle · Location

King’s Day in Amsterdam

King’s Day? What’s that then? Well, according to the internet, it’s party weekend in Holland, and the centre of entertainment is Amsterdam. Yes, but what’s it all about, I hear you ask? And the answer is, I’m still not sure. I find it weird because the Dutch actually celebrate their royal family. Here in the UK our royal family are viewed with mixed feelings; seen by the under 50’s as tourism necessities sponging off the state, to a much respected institution representing the older establishment and traditions. Oh, yes, and our cousins in the US of A seem to love them, even occasionally marry them, for some inexplicable reason.

Anyway, King’s Day is a national holiday where, in Amsterdam especially, the whole of the city centre is closed to vehicles and public transport, where the canals come alive to barges packed sardine-like with cheering young people, and did I mention the orange? Orange everywhere. Balloons, flowers and painted faces. Bunting, paint and young men attired in smart suits. All in bright orange, I kid you not! While we are on the subject of the colour orange, why did the Dutch adopt it as their national colour and an integral part of their culture?

Simply put, (and it’s very complicated), Orange at the time was a small town in southern France over which the Dutch Republic resided, and William of Nassau-Dillenburg inherited the title William I of Orange and founded the house of Orange-Nassau. In England he was known to us as William the Silent. And orange became the adopted colour of the Dutch. It wasn’t because King Billy had a penchant for marmalade.

The Dutch have celebrated since 1885, and at the moment are actually celebrating King Willem-Alexander. It used to be Queen’s Day. Now it isn’t, so there. Just why they are celebrating him is a mystery to me, but, hey, any excuse for a party, as I see it.

So we ordered our bright orange t-shirts, booked a hotel early in the year, knowing that Amsterdam would be packed, and plumped to stay out of town and a short tram journey away. We arrived Friday and our room overlooked a canal. By 10:00am on the Friday a flotilla of small boats and barges, packed to the gunnels with cheering, shouting teenagers, serenaded with the gentle rhythms of Trap and Hip Hop booming from mega bass speakers became noticeable. This being the home of the Heineken Brewery, drinking from the signature half-litre cans was evident. By lunchtime the young were in a raucous mood, and the small cans and and bellowing young teenagers were a precursor for the two nights of partying to come.

So, was it good? Not sure, really. The entire Friday and Saturday was given over to hundreds of thousands of young people who spent their time drinking copiously and standing in the streets listening to the booms of shouting DJs on their open air stages and the occasional live band. Every few metres there was another ‘famous’ DJ, doing what they do best. And it became increasingly obvious that we were literally wading through the omnipresent half-litre Heineken cans, crushed underfoot by the roaming herds of youth. I couldn’t help but reflect, had such an event happened in the UK in the streets of London, Birmingham or Manchester there would have been stabbings, racial tensions and drugs, and lots of intimidation. Here it just felt safe, and the Dutch were their usual friendly selves.

On the whole it was a pretty subdued affair it seemed to me. Girls nervously doing a few sways and shaking to the beat, and then stopping self-consciously, drunken middle-aged Brit women doing ‘granny dancing’, and drinking heavily. The occasional window was broken and lots of young men shouting and swearing, but apart from that not a lot went on. The ever-present police force seemed to have been demoted to directing lost tourists.

I expected flower-bedecked floats, much more street food, TV, entertainment, fireworks and the like. One thing we can do in the UK is put on a proper party (OK, violence and shootings apart!), and one thing the Dutch don’t seem to know how to do is put on a spectacle. What it was was an orange coloured drinking festival. People were happy and Amsterdam seemed happy, but to me it was a bit of a let down. And anyway I’m too long in the tooth to drink 10 pints of Heineken, stare drunkenly at a live street band – and then stumble home . ‘Partying’ has certainly gone downhill since I was young!

We scraped and waded our way through a sea of green Heineken drinks cans and half-eaten burgers back to our hotel in the early hours of the morning. Was it good? It was an experience I suppose, but thank goodness for the rest of the delights of this city, which I do thoroughly recommend. Amsterdam is a neat, tidy city of diversity, and something for everyone. Can’t wait for my next visit, but personally I’ll give King’s Day a miss next year.

And a bit of culture thrown in for good measure.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Chow Down in Lincoln

Another weekend and another different food experience. This time we headed off to Lincoln’s historic Norman Castle for the UK’s biggest food festival; Chow Down, where for a £3 per adult entrance fee into the castle grounds, we could purchase and enjoy independent street food, drinks, music and family-friendly activities.

I’m sure the stall holders were thankful for the beautiful spring weather which, along with the soul music and the inviting aromas, helped to create a relaxed holiday atmosphere.

A varied selection of converted trailers and vans housed an equally varied selection of food vendors. There really was something for everyone with so many different cultural food represented. From meat and fish to vegan specialities, not to mention Champagne, gin and crafted beers, and ice cream and waffles for afters. Wandering around the stalls it was difficult not to visit every vendor. One thing worth mentioning was that there was little if any plastic to be seen. Wooden fork/spoons and general recyclable packaging was noticeably used by all the stall holders. What a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

Was it all healthy food? Well, I had some coleslaw on my fries if that counts. To be honest, the TV health fascists would have had a heart attack just looking at some of this stuff. But was the food good? Did it make you feel good? Was it food for the soul? Did we feel guilty? I think you should have asked the happy crowds. Mine was superb, though I shouldn’t have been tempted by the waffle. It was a one-off day followed by a week of healthy eating for us but we will hopefully check out this event again when it returns in the summer. You should too. A well organised day.