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.

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.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

A visit to Belvoir Castle

Having looked for something different to do on a beautiful Easter weekend we decided on a visit to Belvoir Castle near Grantham, Lincolnshire. Traditionally pronounced ‘Beaver’ Castle, since the reluctant locals from the nearby ancient village of Bever refused to use the french word Belvoir, bestowed on it by the victorious French William centuries ago (1066 and all that). The Castle proudly stands atop the only hill for miles around and grandly overlooks Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. Four castles have stood here since 1067 when the land was a gifted from William the Conqueror to Robert de Todeni, ancestor to the current Duke of Rutland and William’s Standard Bearer in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Anyway, that’s enough learning!

So having paid our 20 English pounds each entrance fee we took a quick look around the castle gardens before venturing inside for our guided tour. The knowledgeable and long serving guide took us through the halls and history of the castle adding in personal anecdotes along the way. Mostly interesting and sometimes entertaining if a little long winded, a few visitors fell by the wayside. Portraits of the family from past to present adorn the walls along with those of visiting royals including that of Henry VIII with his ‘dancing feet’ (they appear to move depending on where you stand), purportedly by Hans Holbein. It’s a must see, and a favourite of school trips.

Having said goodbye to the guide we decided to search out the tea room. Obviously very busy on a bank holiday weekend, we still found a grandly table-clothed nook and placed our order with a very friendly waitress for; two teas, one salmon sandwich and one scone with jam and cream. And the winner for the most expensive cup of tea award goes to…. you’ve guessed it!

For £48 you can have the full Afternoon Tea experience. Having enjoyed an afternoon tea at a Michelin starred restaurant for less we decided Belvoir Castle’s prices, like the walk up the hill, were a bit steep. You decide.

Having said that we still enjoyed the day. If you enjoy beautiful manicured gardens there is plenty to explore here, including one of Capability Brown’s gardens, and if you enjoy history, there is, as you might expect, plenty of that here too. But if you just want tea and cake then don’t forget your wallet.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Hull, Italian Style

Hidden amongst memories of Hull’s maritime past, up a twisting staircase inside a converted Victorian warehouse and overlooking the marina, is a little bit of Italy. Upon entering an unassuming portal, reaching the top floor, and opening a substantial door you are suddenly faced and embraced with the sights and smells of traditional yet contemporary Italian cuisine. Light and airy, quite spacious and with a relaxing atmosphere, welcome to Al Porto.

And what a very warm and friendly welcome we received on a very chilly Tuesday evening.

An important point for us was that the dining table was actually big enough for our party of four and that there was enough space around the table to serve. OK, it’s not the most important thing about dining, but it is part of the experience when sometimes restaurants nowadays pack tables in and compromise customer comfort for customer capacity. Trying to leave your table without having to climb over the folks behind, and negotiating a pathway through the seated mass of other diners, is an art in itself. But not an issue here.

Focaccia to start with

Our drinks order was taken promptly and a nice touch was the complementary warm focaccia with olive oil and balsamic vinegar while we waited for the starters.

We started with choices of Freddi (cold starters) or the warm stuff. I had mussels in a white wine creamy sauce; the sauce was absolutely delicious. Thankfully there was crusty bread to dip into it.

Other guests chose:

Frittelle di Pesce ; a trio of Fish Bon Bon, made with crab, salmon, and sea bass
in a pea and mint purée.

And Fegato D’oca, a duck liver pate served on toasted bread with orange and red onion chutney. All of which disappeared very quickly as they were so delicious.

Then it was time for the mains. There was something for everybody. Meat, fish, pasta and vegetarian options. We chose:

Gamberetti – baby prawns with courgettes and cherry tomatoes in a creamy sauce

Ravioli all’aragosta – lobster ravioli with baby prawns, cherry tomatoes, garlic and onions in a saffron creamy sauce, very tasty.

and Filetto alla griglia – steak in a sauce of your choice. This was a little disappointing as it should have been cooked to ‘medium’ and was actually ‘well done’. Also for the price we think potatoes should have been included instead of being an ‘additional side’.

Mine was a strange choice from the ‘Specials’ board, namely Duck Stroganoff. OK, a tad Russian, but I just fancied something different. I have to say, it was delicious with every mouthful savoured.

I know it doesn’t look that attractive, but it tasted amazing.

Could we manage a sweet? It was a challenge but we decided to go for it. Well, wouldn’t you?


One issue, rather trivial, yet important enough to mention – ‘TURN THE MUSIC DOWN A BIT!’, and a warning to those who may struggle with stairs; the restaurant is very much upstairs.

Was it expensive? Well, with a modest amount of drinks the bill for 4 persons came to around £160, so it wasn’t cheap. But if you enjoy Italian cuisine and you have a special occasion or want to treat yourself then we would thoroughly recommend it. The eating experience was excellent. The service was cheerful, friendly and helpful. Modern Italy in the heart of Hull.

Lifestyle

… and while we’re on the same subject – bland tasting meat!

Take chicken, for instance! What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well the chicken story starts by deciding which batch will become egg-layers, and which batch will become broilers, in other words, meat. So, let’s start with the egg layer. These are specially bred chickens which are ‘designed’ to pump out eggs at an alarming rate; normally around 320 in its very short life.

And the broiler? The broiler eggs are all laid out in neat rows on a conveyor belt, roll under a robot with a set of needles where each egg is punctured by syringes. Then a mix of antibiotics and various vaccines (some are closely guarded secrets) are pumped into the unborn chick. Three days later they will all hatch.

Then the gruesome part starts, and which is often disputed as to how much and how often it takes place. It tends to be seen as the dark side of chicken farming, which is the injection of hormones including steroids. They soon resemble little weight lifters with pumped up thighs and breasts. Fact: in 1957 the average growth period from egg to plate was 63 days, which is not a lot. By the 1990’s the number of growth days had been reduced to 38 days (6 weeks!) and the amount of feed reduced by half. Have we now stopped messing with chicken now that they’re on the slab? No, not quite!

There’s the highly contentious issue of chlorine washing of chickens in the good ol’ US of A. Still frowned upon here, it is an issue that may raise its ugly head when Brexit takes place.

Next comes ‘plumping’. This is about visually ‘enhancing’ the carcass by injection. What poultry producers actually plump them with is, again, often a dark secret, but generally it’s saltwater, chicken stock and even seaweed extract. Why? So that the chicken actually tastes of, er, chicken, and that it looks fat and juicy on the supermarket shelves.

Just as an addition to the subject, experts are warning that the overuse of antibiotics in poultry farms around the world is creating a generation of superbugs that are resistant to treatment by virtually every drug in the medical establishment’s armoury.

So, broilers don’t eat properly, develop properly, exist properly, and are Frankenstein-esque babies when we consume them. No wonder they have no taste, only texture.

So, am I personally a vegetarian? No, I’m not, and I don’t aim to be. But it makes you think, doesn’t it? It would be an easy choice!

Any comments or arguments gratefully accepted.

Food · Lifestyle

Bland Food for Thought

Is it just me or does anyone out there think the same about our food in the UK? In my opinion it is mostly tasteless. Why do all these TV chefs insist on food that is heavily seasoned? Think about it! And the answer is, much of our food doesn’t taste of anything. One person described salad in the UK as being, ‘just crunchy water’. I’ve recently bought strawberries that looked like strawberries, were the same colour as strawberries, had the same texture as strawberries, but they tasted of nothing at all.

If you ever travel to or through Italy, Greece, France, Spain etc. you’ll find that fruit & veg in these places tastes amazing! So much flavour, and individually tasty in their own right. Why? Perhaps it is because much of their food is grown locally to the market or supermarket, and not transported to one end of the country and back, and is therefore likely to be both fresher and tastier. They also have a reliable climate that guarantees natural warmth, sunlight and the required nutrients from the soil. The problem, as I see it, is when consumers in the UK demand these products all year round. You could also suggest that UK supermarket fruits and vegetables are from varieties grown to have tough skins (so they don’t damage in transit), have a long shelf life (so they can be transported long distances and won’t go off in the shop), and don’t easily bruise / spoil. You also need to factor in supermarket processing costs (it’s easier and cheaper for them to deal with produce exactly the same size and consistency i.e. peppers, plums, apples etc.) and the packaging, so that you can neither taste nor smell the goods.

Another factor is the demise of the local greengrocer. In place of wonky carrots and ‘dirty’ potatoes we now have uniform shapes, colours and sizes. And why have the supermarkets seized the monopoly on fruit and veg? Because the public demand cheap food, that’s why. So, in my opinion, it’s both our faults. But that’s not enough info. Why is it that I buy what are described as ‘sweet’ oranges, I peel one, and it’s so sour it takes the enamel off my teeth. You could use the juice from supermarket plums to remove paint, and the grapes can give you mouth ulcers. But that’s how supermarkets want to sell it. From picking, days of shipment, packing and finally storing, by the time it appears on the shelves it has to look exactly the same as when it dropped off the tree.

It’s what happens to the fruit and veg when it’s stored that is interesting. They go into what’s called Controlled Atmosphere Storage all year. This consists of regulating concentrations of oxygencarbon dioxide and nitrogen, as well as the temperature and humidity of a storage room. Both dry commodities and fresh fruit and vegetables can be stored in controlled atmospheres. So, for instance, this means that apples are harvested at a certain time of the year, are put into CAS, and abracadabra, apples are on the shelves throughout the year looking and tasting exactly the same as the day they were picked – and before they’ve ripened!

UK consumers (at least according to supermarkets) care more about cosmetic appearance than their continental counterparts who appear to care more about taste, and UK supermarkets care more about consistency of product (size, weight, appearance, availability). Consistency of availability also means UK supermarkets are less likely to stock a great product that is only available for two weeks of the year (there is a cost to setting up the supply chain). In essence, supermarkets stock what sells, and what sells is often tasteless but resilient fruit and veg. It tastes less good, and spoils quickly once it’s out of its packaging.

But we still buy it because the general consumer has little or no choice. And as a closing point, nobody under a certain age will have a clue what I’m talking about, having been raised on supermarket fruit and veg for their entire lives. Pass the salt and pepper!

Three quick tips:

  1. When buying imported fruits (and vegetables); keep them outside of the fridge as much as possible, and if planning to eat soon, place them on the window sill for a little while, and the flavours should improve.
  2. Try visiting a thriving market with colourful fruit and veg stalls where you are cordially invited to taste the produce by the stall holder and purchase free from packaging. And it’s often cheaper.
  3. Grow your own.
dining · Food · Lifestyle

The Haven Inn at Barrow Haven

So, travel north to the top of Lincolnshire, beyond Barton upon Humber, drive across a lonely, rural landscape of flatness, and you’ll probably reach Barrow. In the winter the area is windswept and forlorn, and about as picturesque as a local cowpat. If you’re going to be kidnapped anywhere, this area is as good a place as any. The chocolate-brown estuary eternally and hungrily eats at the slimy mudbanks and the only sound you hear is the whine of loamy winds and bleating cries of paddling bird colonies. And just so’s you know, the Humber estuary marked the northern-most boundary of the ancient kingdom of Mercia, ruled at the time by King Wulfhere. He gave some land to a chap called St Chad who immediately decided to develop a monastery on the site. And Barrow came into being. The only other incident of note was that during World War 2, those dastardly Germans bombed the village for reasons best known to the bomber crew. There was a heavy anti aircraft battery situated here so whether they were trying to bomb that, or mistook it for the sprawl of Hull on the ‘other’ side of the river, or maybe they were just dumping, quite a few locals tragically lost their lives.

Why would anyone pass by here? Well, drive through the village towards Barrow Haven and just before you abandon all hope, the Haven Inn appears. OK, it’s a quiet area with few cars, but don’t be fooled, the Haven Inn is ‘buzzing’ most nights. Hearing that celebrity chef Nigel Brown is associated with the restaurant we decided to book for the Friday night and give it a go. Taking one look at the crowded car park on arrival, full of posh SUVs and other flash motors, I’m so glad I had previously booked.

On this wet and windy evening it was a pleasure to enter the warm, inviting atmosphere of the Inn with its roaring open fire and wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. We arrived in plenty of time as I’d booked for 7 o’ clock, which was perhaps a little optimistic on their part, however, we were quite happy, waiting with a drink in the cosy lounge. And we waited, and we waited. Finally we received menus at about 8 O’clock and were taken through to the restaurant area, a not particularly inspiring room, we thought. It appeared a trifle bland, and although colour coordinated, maybe some luxury wall paper and new light fittings would help it feel less like a new extension where the owners had not quite decided on the decor.

Again, it took a while for anything to happen. Our starters eventually arrived. We did take note that even though all the tables were occupied, strangely not one person was actually eating. With so many customers we hoped that they must know something that we didn’t and the food must be worth waiting for. Eventually our much anticipated garlic bread and creamy garlic mushrooms arrived and the starters didn’t disappoint. Late but delicious.

The main courses eventually arrived, just as I was contemplating nipping out for a burger. One generous vegetable lasagne with home made chips, salad and coleslaw, and one ‘perfectly cooked’ huge 18oz rump steak with all the trimmings were laid before us. Described as ‘one of the best steaks I’ve ever had’, it obviously was worth waiting for after all. We would have loved to have sampled the desert menu but we couldn’t even finish the mains. You could say there was quantity as well as quality. Next time it will be desert instead of starters.

It seems a little cruel to mark this place down because of the long wait to be seated, and before a morsel had passed our lips. But it was (is) a factor as part of the eating experience. Be fair, delicious as it was, it was only bread, a vege lasagne and steak and chips. And it seems that other customers have reflected on the same ‘waiting’ issue, which doesn’t make me feel so bad in moaning on the subject. On the plus side we thought the food was absolutely delicious, and it is obvious from the local clientele and regulars, that they all think the same. So with plenty of parking, very friendly and helpful staff and wallet-friendly prices, if you’re ever in the wilds of North Lincolnshire, and you’ve got time on your hands, the Haven Inn at Barrow Haven is, in our opinion, definitely worth a visit.

Tip: Check out the menu for ‘Specials’ nights on their website.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Stokes High Bridge Cafe

In the centre of the beautiful Medieval city of Lincoln lies a gem from the past. The home of Stokes High Bridge Café, built over the River Witham circa 1160, is the only Medieval bridge in England with houses still upon it.

High Bridge Café, overlooks the bustling High Street at the front and the River Witham at the rear. It offers two fully licensed dining rooms and serves traditional home cooked food, light meals and snacks as well as Stokes’ famous teas and freshly roasted coffee.

We sneaked into this popular cafe shortly before closing time and were lucky enough to find a table between the tourists and the students. When we entered it felt like stepping back in time to a more genteel way of life, with the aromas of freshly brewed coffee and enticing food. The Tudor beams and the crisp, uniformed staff invoking a feeling of luxury and a time to relax and step away from the fast pace of twenty first century life rushing past outside.

There is a vast range of tea and coffee to choose from. More than thirty loose leaf teas and a splendid selection of single origin coffee beans and blends. Or choose a smooth and creamy cappuccino or filter coffee to accompany your freshly made salad, sandwich, cake or cream tea. Sit outside and watch the world go by.

No need to book, but, as a victim of its own success it can get busy. Still worth a visit just for the experience.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Lunch at No. 3

There are mixed reviews about No.3 Gin Club and Kitchen in the centre of Hessle near Hull. We have been a number of times and have had a different experience each time. So choose your day and time to visit depending on what kind of experience you are hoping for. As many have commented, it can’t quite make up its mind what it wants to be. And it’s trying too hard to be all three: a music venue; a rowdy, boisterous, bellowing 18-25 drinking den; a restaurant. And it does all three well – but not together. [See ‘Are my ears deceiving me’ previous post.] This place is one big open plan room with very high ceilings and wooden flooring. It’s built for crowd drinking but with an area to eat in.

We chanced mid-afternoon on a Friday which seemed ideal for a meal with family and friends and without the crowds. On entering the premises we found the decor a bit drab and crying out for a face lift; a bit like a theatre in the daylight. But like any theatre, put on the bright lights at night and it morphs into life. Maybe, it was the calm before the storm as Friday night, in contrast, is more for a pre-night out meal in semi darkness with loud music and spirited shouting, or simply just for drinking.

So, back to the meal. The extensive drinks menu includes every variant on the gin theme that you can imagine (at a price!). But we decided to treat ourselves to cocktails today. If you fancy a cocktail that isn’t on the menu they will make it for you, just ask. What we noticed straight away was a lack of staff. Maybe it was shift change, and we did get served, so fair enough.

A quick glance at the menu and we chose our old favourite, the seafood platter. This is always a winner at No. 3. The food was served quick and hot. So was there anything to moan about? The only thing was, it was like a banquet! Huge! Way too much much for two people, in our opinion. Ten scallops, eight big portions of fish in batter, eight massive prawns in shells, prawns in rose marie sauce, a big bowl of mussels, etc.. With half a loaf of bread, vegetables, and enough salad to feed six vegetarians we duly tucked in. Was it good? You bet it was! Delicious and perfectly cooked. Fantastic pearly-white fish, amazing seasonings and a host of oils and dips. But, I can assure you, I’ll not eat another prawn for a few weeks. And because of the mountain of food it was inevitable that we had to eat the occasional cold scallop and fish. Food quality 10/10. Quantity 11/10.

Friday Fish Feast

The main menu has something for everyone, from a fish finger sandwich or vegeburger at lunchtime, to Rib-eye steak or duck in the evening. There is also a vege, meat or fish sharing board for £29, which is what we chose.

Do we recommend it? A big fat ‘yes’! But go at the right time to suit your age, temperament and your expectations. I’ve been in the evening with young people well used to drinking copiously and partying, and left because we were just unable to communicate. It was an assault on the ears. Even the waitress on that evening found it difficult to take our orders because of the din. And then the music starts! So, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

Give it a whirl. I’ll go again, when the time is right.