Lifestyle

No Milk Today…

I never imagined I’d see the day when supermarket shelves were bare. To be honest I thought friends were exaggerating, but no! The world’s gone raving mad!

A flu virus (labelled Covid-19), like no other virus (apparently), which began in China (allegedly), has now stopped the world and its economies from functioning, and in the process sent folks insane. Our government has pleaded with the population not to bulk buy — to no avail. It’s every person for themselves. There is a massive shortage of food in the supermarkets and it’s caused by shoppers queing to get through the doors at 6am. By 7:30am there is not a crumb of bread in sight or a droplet of milk left. Not a grain of rice, nor a dusting of flour to grace the shelves. Neither a jar of coffee nor a packet of tea is safe from the marching marauders. Trolleys are piled high before the sun rises, and if you can find a toilet roll (yes, I kid you not!) or even kitchen wipes, well you just won’t!

But the worst of all by far is the absence of medicine. Got a headache? Tough! There are no pain killers to be had. Cold and flu remedies? No, nothing. And if you ask for any at the pharmacy you’ll be treated as if you’re an undesirable and you’ve just asked for heroin. How females go on with their personal requirements, I’ve no idea. There are people I know who have been on the receiving end of both physical and verbal assault. “Please don’t panic buy!” is the order of every day. “There’s enough to go round”, falls on deaf ears. For this is war. It’s the end of the world. We’re all going to hell in a handcart. Fight for survival and may the fittest win, and the loser will die.

I detest and deplore these survivalist cretins for all the damage they are doing, both to other desperate shoppers and, of course, to the suffering ill and infirm. These barking mad nutcases sprint around the aisles raiding everything of any use, take it home and stack it high in garages and living rooms. And the fresh food that goes off is presumably dumped.

What toilet rolls?

The humble cold and flu treatments, including paracetamol, are now appearing on ebay at 3+ times their original value. I have witnessed one pack of well-known branded cold and flu treatment, that cost £3.99 3 weeks ago, is now on ebay for £170.00. I’m not joking! Check it out yourself, unless it has already been sold. But even the supermarkets and High Street drug chains seem to be getting in on the act. The price hike on some products has become obscene. Bet you those prices won’t go down after Coronavirus is but a distant nightmare. Like any past wars and famines, there are always those who are raking it in. You can bet your bottom dollar that record profits will be recorded to history by the food chains and wholesale suppliers soon. Make mine a double.

Essentials?

And the biggest mystery of all is why, oh, why have fuel prices risen? Does anyone know? There is a massive glut of oil on the world market that has recently driven the price down. Covid-19 comes along, and 3 week’s later fuel is hiked up by 10 per cent. Will that ever come down again? Flying pigs and all that.

So, buy and supply food for those elderly and infirm (there isn’t any, probably of either as things are going!), use sanitiser on your hands (there isn’t any), wash your hands with soap (there isn’t any), and keep away from others who might have the virus (so don’t leave your house). If you’re over 70, well, according to the government, you’ve had it anyway so what’s the point.

So what’s the answer to our present predicament? It’s what we have to do. See you at 4am in the morning outside Wallmart or Tesco’s armed with baseball bats and anger issues. I’m going for 2 trolley loads of toilet rolls myself. It’s going to be a fight to the finish, and may the best man win. Good luck, everybody.

Lifestyle

Cirque du Soleil Sheffield 2020

So, Cirque du Soleil is a circus that began in France, has a truly international cast, and performs throughout the world. Roughly it translates to Circus of the Sun (don’t ask, you know how deep and abstract the French are!). The company never rests on its laurels and is always looking for new ways to present and to perform. For the first time ever, we decided to go and watch them in Sheffield, UK, at the ice arena. Yes, it was circus on ice, and titled Crystal.

Ask me on any normal day whether dancing on ice does anything for me personally and you’ll get a resounding NO! But we thought we’d give it a go anyway, even if I whinged all the following day.

Beginning at eight o’clock the greatest challenge for them was going to be to entertain me. So bring it on, Cirque du Soleil.

The booming voiceover of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Crystal’ opened the show. The narrator speaks of a world that the main protagonist, Crystal, knows but just can’t understand the world that is familiar to her – but tilted in a surreal, disorienting way. Are you with me still? Well, as I said, it is French.

Crystal has her head in the clouds. She doesn’t fit in, whether it’s work or play. So she takes to the ice (?), does a dance only to fall through it (not literally!) into a very different world that is both extravagant and bizarre. She begins to feel empowered. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? And after this beautiful tameness, this monster of a physically exhausting show starts.

In a word it can only be described as fabulous. The annoyingly talented skaters are all Olympic standard, or experts in some way on the ice. Triple axles and butterfly jumps are mere childs play in this arena. Crazy physical ice hockey players, snowballing clowns and freestyle aggressive speedskaters mix suicidally with tap dancing skaters and a live skating band. Yes, it’s live music, and it’s out-of-this-world brilliant music. Anything from ethnic eastern European street music with clarinet, accordian, acoustic guitar and violin, to amazing classical grand piano, and from Irish jigs to heavy rock that just about blows your socks off. At times there are romantic interludes where Crystal dances and does her delicate ‘moves’, and there are other times when a cast of 50+ lunatic skaters are zooming around, floating on high wires, and leaping from the fantastically high scenery that is both death defying and spectacular. Did I mention the high wire acts and trapeze? No, not ordinary acts but scary, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff that defies gravity and belief. A truly amazing lighting set flashes and dazzles, with lasers and intricatley projected patternation that adds to the magic.

Crystal’s story moves through several acts, each one centered around a different theme and features skating, acrobatics, choreography (they even tap dance on skates) and more — the show never wavers in its dazzling quality. Just as you begin to wonder how on earth Cirque du Soleil managed to find someone who can catch an icehockey stick 20ft in midair while skating full speed up and down two skateboard ramps in time to music, you’ve realized that they’ve found not one, but 10 people who can do it. And all can do backflips, 360s and leap high boxes, on skates.

But that’s not everything. This is a circus after all. Cirque du Soleil is obsessed with outdoing itself. Acrobats effortlessly scale enormous poles swinging from the ceiling, and then leap from one pole to another, swinging several feet away, and then catching themselves using only their legs. But this was never enough for the Cirque du Soleil team — the performers wouldn’t go home until the audience burst into an uproarious cheer after two acrobats climbed onto swinging poles, backflipped off them 30ft into the air and landed on their bladed feet onto a small mattress that had been placed only milliseconds before.

And if doing a handstand off the legs of a chair vertically stacked on top of four other chairs wasn’t already a hairy experience to watch, Cirque du Soleil pushes the envelope, bumping it up to eight chairs – on ice! During suspenseful moments such as these, you can hear a pin drop. It’s likely that audiences were especially nervous at times, considering recent news on tragic deaths related to Cirque du Soleil acrobats’ tragic deaths while performing new stunts.

The same aspects that make a Cirque du Soleil show so mesmerizing also make it difficult to critique. After all, there’s simply nothing else in the world to compare it to, except other outrageous Cirque du Soleil shows.

Was it any good?

The first thing was the easy access from the motorway and the clear road signage. Even I nearly didn’t get lost. Car parking is always a worry to me, especially in a city centre, but it was just problem free. Ok, a tad expensive, but so convenient. It was obviously a staggered arrival for the audience and a thousand or two vehicles were already there when we arrived. So a mass exit when the show had finished was bound to cause problems? Lo and behold, come ‘home time’ we pretty much left without a hitch. How good was that? It was stress free.

The Ice Arena is staffed by the friendliest of people and we had no problems at any time. The show itself is (as I’ve tried my best to describe it), worth every penny, and I thoroughly recommend catching Cirque du Soleil – Crystal, before it’s too late.

Lifestyle

Britain’s Got Little Talent

Image result for lowry theatre
Image result for lowry theatre BGT

Well, seemed like a good idea! One rainy afternoon we noticed an advert online for free audience places to Britain’s Got Talent at the Lowry Theatre in Manchester. So for those who don’t know, substitute the word ‘Britain’s’ for anywhere in the world i.e Thailand’s; America’s; Ethiopia’s; Stewart Island’s et al, and you should get the drift.

It’s all about finding talented entertainers and placing them in a competition environment, and someone has to ‘win’.

…………’s Got Talent is a televised  talent spotting competition, and part of a huge global franchise created by the ubiquitous Simon Cowell. Now, some people love and revere the megalomaniac music mogul. However, many people in the music industry loathe the guy for reinventing, even dumbing down, karaoke pop music with a whole array of charisma-challenged individual celeb ‘stars’ and local hopefuls, and changing the face of pop culture forever. It could be said that so-called Super Groups, creative artists and bands of old have had their day with their magical performances; the whole concept now retro-transformed into one singer backed by lights and dancers – and loads of dollars for all. Whatever, it’s here to stay. However, although primarily a singing contest, it has to be said that there is also a variety of performing dogs, jugglers and comedians, with the usual pretentious child acts pushed onstage by forceful, hopeful and desperate parents.

So, what’s it like to be in a TV audience? What do Simon, Amanda, Alesha and David look like? And what about Ant and Dec? What are they like in real life?

‘AntonDec’ arrived by water taxi, to be faced by hysterical fans outside the theatre. What a miserable pair they were too. I’m not sure which is which but one had a face like thunder and the other managed to crack a bit of a smile and agreed to a few selfies, as security teams pushed their way through adoring crowds and on into the Lowry. All of us mere cattle were then made to wait for, as it happened, Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon. Finally their Aston Martin rolled up and both women, tiny in stature, popped out. A chorus of screams and shouts serenaded them both, begging for the usual selfies. I found myself staring more at the over-rection of fans confronted by their heroes, than at these stars. They then made their way in through the theatre doors and presumably straight into dressing rooms where they would be sprayed with liquid porcelaine and wax. No idea where David Walliams and Simon Cowell were, but we were informed that they were running late. So we missed them close up.

We took our seats, and the warm-up comedian immediately began instructing us on how to react to the judges and the acts, to cheer very loud, never to boo, and stand up and clap enthusiastically. But mainly to whoop, whistle and yell, jump up and down, and laugh out loud, just to show our appreciation. On no account were we to sit in silence. Therefore, to make lots of hysterical noise at all times. To be honest it was all just so fake!

I think we saw ‘Antondec’ for maybe a minute. That was our lot. Simon turned around and adressed us occasionally, but mainly the four judges sat with their backs to us in silence. An act appeared, consisting of a team of little girls who danced around in perfect timing, and we all dutifully leapt up, clapped, whooped and cheered as the judges voted with their buzzers, leaving us to spend the next five minutes after the act had departed, reflecting on how boring it had really been. We then waited for ten minutes while teams of make-up staff titivated and preened the judges. Each individual celebrity hair was tweeked and prodded into place, and the stage was reset for the next act. This consisted of a none-too-skilled magician. Again the audience reacted as though they had just witnessed the second coming of Christ, but it really wasn’t. It was poor. And after every similarly monotonous act, the judges, with their backs to us, had their hair combed and patted, pouting lips glossed and doll-like faces powdered for 10 minutes. We sat in silence. The stage was reset by an army of stagehands, and on trooped another tedious and desperate act accompanied by rapturous applause. My clapping became mooted and the whole affair seemed somewhat disjointed. Half way through I could not be bothered to even stand up. But still the main body of the audience leapt up in raptures, like trained circus seals, doing just as they had been told to.

What were the audience like? My personal observation was that the vast majority were between seventeen and very early twenties. Anybody over thirty stood out like a sore thumb. Most wore clothing more suited to gardening, bought fake tan in bulk and enjoyed dining at Greggs. Most needed to purchase shampoo. Most were noisy, shouty, and had no self-awareness whatsoever.

Conclusion? TheLowry Theatre was amazing. The treatment of the audience by theatre staff before we took our seats was just excellent. The celebrity judges were OK but distant and aloof, and no personal interaction with the audience. All eight acts were average. It was an experience. It was just OK.

But mainly we, the audience, were used by the TV company. What appears on your television after the film has been edited and polished, is mostly fake (in case you didn’t already know). I’ve got to say that personally we were fully aware of that. Initially at least, we participated willingly in this fakery. Yet a good number of the audience seemed naivly oblivious, or maybe just desperate for the chance to appear for one millisecond on TV. All in all, the majority seemed to enjoy it.

So, be warned, the world of television and film is all smoked glass and mirrors created by highly-skilled technicians, and where the chosen few shamelessly make fortunes.

Did we enjoy it? In a nutshell, despite my whinges, yes. It was an experience that ticked a few of life’s boxes. Would I go again? Probably not, is the answer to that. And if you think that this is a slightly cynical and jaundiced review and not fair on Simon Cowell and friends, then you are probably between 18 and 25, watch Love Island or have £40,000000 in the bank.

dining · Food · Lincoln · Location · Restaurants

Ole Ole in Lincoln

Image result for ole ole lincoln

A trip to the beautiful city of Lincoln UK, was on the cards thanks to Andy and Sarah, who treated us to a meal at the authentic tapas bar on The Green. It is a little bit of sunny Spain under the austere medieval castle walls and is the brainchild of both Amador and Alison who bring their expertise and decades of experience to the restaurant.

Plenty of atmosphere here with a warm, friendly welcome. There was a ‘tapas’ learning curve to get over for me. For those who don’t know about the mysteries of it, you order small dishes of food that fill your table. We were warned by the waiting on staff that 3-4 dishes were ample. Not sure about that personally. I would say 4-5 (or maybe even 6) dishes.

Anyway, said dishes were delivered all at the same time, and every dish we tried was hot and delicious. It really is a case of dipping and tasting, all at your own relaxed pace. That’s what tapas is all about. Good wine, good conversation and good food.

We started with a basket of warm freshly baked bread accompanied by garlic mayonnaise. Be warned though; it’s easy to fill up on bread before your ‘proper’ food arrives.

If you want the traditional paella for two people, a major dish on its own, you have to order in advance but, like us, you can have a small portion of either vegetable or chicken and seafood paella, and it is very tasty.

There is plenty of choice of tapas; meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan. We chose mushrooms in creamy sauce, sizzling prawns in garlic, brandy and chilli flakes, and oven baked sea bass served with patatas panaderas. Everything was freshly cooked and traditionally Spanish.

For desert we had a home-made cream caramel, and a cold rice pudding with a burnt sugar and cinnamon top. Then the Spanish waiter brought us a complimentary glass of caramel vodka to sweeten the bill.

If you have any food left it is acceptable to ask to take the rest home. We overheard one customer telling another “It’s too good to waste”, which is very true. We really enjoyed our evening at Ole Ole and will definitely be paying another visit soon.

So, to sum up, it’s easy parking (which is a bonus nowadays!), the staff are excellent and very helpful, the food is a delight and the atmosphere happy, traditional and homely. This restaurant charges city prices for its food, yet is surprisingly reasonable. No bad points for Ole Ole from us.

However, the dining experience is certainly not calm and reflective. It is open plan dining in a large eating area, which, at times can also cater for lively groups. This is a university city after all, therefore, at times, the noise from big parties may be overwhelming to some (see previous post regarding restaurant ‘noise’!). That said, this is the Spanish tapas experience and I thoroughly recommend Ole Ole. Salud.

dining · Fine Dining · Food · Krakow · Lifestyle · Location · Restaurants

Krakow

We thought we would broaden our horizons, and for no apparent reason, decided on a visit to Poland. So, why there?

Kraków, a city in Southern Poland. near the border with the Czech Republic, is known for its well-preserved medieval core and Jewish quarter. Its old town – ringed by Planty Park and remnants of the city’s medieval walls – is centered on the stately, expansive Rynek Glówny (market square). This plaza is the site of the Cloth Hall with its underground museum, a Renaissance-era trading outpost, and St. Mary’s Basilica, a stately 14th-century Gothic church.

Expecting snow, we thought it might be a romantic picture postcard setting and relief from our incessant wind, rain and the grey skies in our part of the country. With the overall cost of the hotel and airfare being quite reasonable and it only being 5 hours door to door, food, trips and drinks quite cheap, we were more than pleasantly surprised with our choice.

How do you pronounce Krakow? I’ve still no idea. Google (which is NEVER wrong… is it!?) suggests it is pronounced as it is spelt – ending in ‘cow’. Locals often pronounce it with an ‘ov’ sound at the end. To further complicate matters, there are at least 5 different spellings of the name. So you choose.

What to do there

The biggest draw has to be the city itself. With its magnificent central square, fantastic restaurants, fairy tale castle and river views, beautiful walks, shop till you drop, the exhibitions, the wonderful architecture, and not forgetting the hospitable English-speaking locals, it’s hard to pick out a favourite. We took a trip under the central Cloth Hall to explore the underground museum taking us back to Krakow seven hundred years ago. The Cloth Hall itself is still home to market stalls selling everything you never thought you needed, such as chess sets, furry hats, local amber jewellery and other souvenirs.

If you’re into churches, museums and living history, you can’t go wrong. Go for a leisurely coach ride from the square or a city sightseeing tour by ‘tuk tuk’ to the Jewish Quarter. Or, just a ten minute walk away is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Wawel Royal Castle, one of the largest in Poland, and representing nearly all European architectural styles. Further afield the salt mine is well worth a visit. A word of warning though – the mine has two lots of downward steps totalling around 800 and even though you only walk one percent of the 150 km of tunnels its still a lot of walking so you need to be reasonably fit to venture down. There is an underground cafe there so for us Brits a nice cup of tea was beckoning, however the tour didn’t factor in time for one and we didn’t want to miss the lift that carries you back to the top.

Images of the history and associated atrocities of WW2 are around every corner in the city and a stark reminder of how the Poles and the Jewish community suffered. Take a walk into the Jewish quarter and check out the architecture and streets that never change, and behind every facade and street corner there are echoes of a much darker time that must never be repeated. Which brings me round to the prickly mention of the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau right on Krakow’s doorstep. This is a major destination and a must-see. Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, just go, and please don’t ask me why you should. The guide will show you around buildings, still hauntingly intact, and echoing with the unimaginable horrors of the holocaust. You’ll learn of man’s inhumanity to man committed within these sombre concrete walls and miles of cruel barbed wire. Close your eyes for a minute in the silence and try to imagine how it must have been, and you too will experience the prevailing sadness, despair and bitter anger. Leave there, get back on the coach you will ask yourself why it all happened, and why you went to visit. Tough questions you won’t be able to answer.

The food

As this is principally a food blog by nature, what is traditional Polish food, I hear you ask? Poles boast that their two basic products are bread and sausages. And the most typical ingredients used in Polish cuisine are sauerkraut, beetroot, cucumbers (gherkins), sour cream, kohlrabi, mushrooms, sausages and smoked sausage. Pork is very popular in all its forms. A meal owes its taste to the herbs and spices used; such as marjoram, dill, caraway seeds, parsley, or pepper. The most popular desserts are cakes and pastries. A shot of vodka is an appropriate addition to meals and help you to digest the food. The main square and all roads leading to it are lined with fabulous traditional restaurants specialising in Polish cooking, as well as restaurants serving Italian, French and Asian foods, vegetarian and vegan bars. And on every corner you’ll find a bagel stand.

Lots of fish served here that includes Pike-perch, salmon, trout and cod. Go down to the Jewish Quarter for the finest fish dishes on offer.

Here are a few Polish specialities.

Bigos

Traditionally a winter dish, Bigos is a hearty stew . Though there is no standard recipe, ingredients usually include lots of fresh and pickled cabbage, leftover meat parts and sausage, onion, mushrooms, garlic and whatever else is on hand. In fact, metaphorically Bigos translates to ‘big mess’ in Polish.

Golabki

Translating to ‘little pigeons,’ this favourite dish consists of boiled cabbage leaves stuffed with beef, onion and rice before being baked and served in a tomato or mushroom sauce.

Golonka

Pork knuckle or hock, as in pig’s thigh – boiled, braised, or generally roasted and put before you on a plate. A true Polish delicacy, the meat should slip right off the bone, be served with horseradish, and washed down with beer. Not my favourite but…

Kotlet Schabowy

Probably the most popular lunch in Poland is the almighty ‘schabowy’ with mashed potatoes and pickled cabbage, and you can walk into almost restaurant in the country and they’ll have some form of it. Essentially a breaded and fried pork chop, ‘kotlet schabowy’ is quite similar to Viennese schnitzel.

Pierogi

Doughy dumplings traditionally filled with potato, sweet cheese, meat, mushrooms and cabbage, strawberries or plums, and if you nose around you will find plenty of different fillings like broccoli, chocolate or liver as the possibilities are truly limitless and they are served almost everywhere in the city. A great Polish favourite.

Zupa (Soup)

Poland has three signature soups: barszcz, żurek and flaki. A nourishing beetroot soup, barszcz may be served with potatoes and veggies tossed in, with a croquette or miniature pierogi floating in it, or simply as broth in a mug expressly for drinking (‘barszcz solo’). A recommended alternative to other beverages with any winter meal, we’d be surprised if you can find a bad cup of barszcz anywhere in Kraków. It doesn’t get any more Polish than żurek – a unique sour rye soup with sausage, potatoes and occasionally with egg, and often served in a bread bowl. If you’re of strong constitution and feeling truly adventurous, try flaki – beef tripe soup enriched with veggies, herbs and spices.

Poland’s culture has always integrated elements from its neighbours, and there are also many recipes of Jewish origin. Nowadays the Polish menu is still changing, being influenced by various, sometimes exotic tastes.

For the less adventurous there is also delicious steak, sushi bars, fabulous chicken dishes, many vege and vegan restaurants, bagels on street corners AND, don’t forget, the ubiquitous KFC and Macdonalds. It’s all here, and at very reasonable, and sometimes unbelievable, prices. Visit the Cyrano De Bergerac restaurant for a fine dining experience at a price that won’t break the bank. But venture off the beaten track for some pleasant surprises.

A few of our travel tips:

The temperature. Just remember, in the height of summer it can be 30 plus degrees, and in the winter it can easily drop to minus 20. Wear layers in the winter.

Poland is a mainly a Catholic country, and Catholics enjoy large families. The plane ride there and back can be like sitting in an infant school classroom with no teachers. The sound of incessant crying and screaming from tired and grizzly children will accompany you on your flight, both ways, whether you like it or not.

You need to be quite mobile and have a good level of fitness to be able to access some of the attractions here. There is little warning. Best to pack comfortable walking shoes.

Book up your visits in the many tourist information offices around the centre. It’s far cheaper than hotel prices and very good service.

You are expected to tip. However, some places take advantage of the tourists. You pay for a meal/drink in notes and there is often no intention of bringing you any change.

Worth a visit? A resounding ‘Yes’ to that. And it makes a change for us Brits to see our pound go so far. That’s not to say it’s cheap in Krakow, but it is noticeably cheaper. Don’t spend your time in the main square. Go round the nearest corner and enjoy great food, fabulous wine, and still have change for cake and a vodka. Recommended.

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.