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.

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.

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.