dining · Food · Lifestyle

Are My Ears Deceiving Me?

Is it me or are restaurants getting noisier? OK, I’m getting older and less understanding of modern life. That’s a fact! But I’m not alone in my fears over the advent of maximum decibels in public places. Others are beginning to notice and comment too. Especially in restaurants.

People, especially the young, are encouraged to make noise. You only have to watch TV to notice how ‘live’ audiences are whipped into a maniacal frenzy of whooping and whistling upon hearing some celebs mediocre comment, by over-zealous, flapping floor managers on TV shows. Now, I’m constantly noticing obnoxious people in public places who seem to want to talk and laugh louder than anyone else in our look-at-us culture. It becomes competitive. This causes a domino effect because others then have to take part and shout even louder just to be heard. So, is it society that’s to blame?

Or should restaurants themselves shoulder some of the responsibility? Well, you never hear incessant babble when fine dining in their tranquil surroundings, that’s for sure. Why? Next time you’re eating out, study the different decors.

And suddenly you notice. In ‘fine dining’ you have opulence, plush carpets, luxurious drapes and simple things such as table cloths. The walls are thick and the furniture is solid and padded. It deadens noise.

Compare that to our modern restaurant decor; high, exposed ceilings, and almost no soft goods, such as drapes, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the modern designer eye, but unfortunately a nightmare for the ears. The absent soft furnishings and tall ceilings mean nothing is absorbing sound energy, and a room full of hard surfaces serves as a big sonic mirror, reflecting sound around the room.
The result is a loud, echoing space that renders speech unintelligible. Now that it’s so commonplace, the din of a loud restaurant is unavoidable. And that’s bad for your health. But it also degrades the thing that eating out is meant to culture: a shared social experience that rejuvenates, rather than harms, its participants.

So who do we blame? Architects? The avant-garde interior designers? Fashion? Yes, to all those, but spare a thought for the restaurateurs. Think of the nitty-gritty practicalities of running a modern business. Cheap furniture that is easy to wipe down and replace. No table linen or soft furnishings to wash. Cold tile floors and composite decorations that are easy to mop and disinfect. They are functional. The interior is planned out on computer software so that every centimeter of floor space is utilised – so you, the customer, can be crammed in and profits duly maximised.

There is one more interesting theory that has been cited. It is that of the space/rental formula i.e. how much a customer is willing to pay x for how long. Yes, even that has been worked out and timed to the minute. A restaurant does not want you, the customer, to overstay your welcome. (This vulgar formula is rarely used in the world of fine dining). You and your friend, sitting there talking over your coffees, are no longer paying for your space. You should get you coat on, clear off and let other paying punters in. It’s as plain as that. Once you’ve eaten and paid, you’re of no more use.

So, loud music and noisy customers are encouraged, and suddenly it becomes very hard to hold a conversation with the person sitting directly opposite you at a table. Some restaurateurs feel a ‘livelier’ atmosphere encourages more patrons, but a side ‘benefit’ is quicker table turnover, thus maximizing the number of people who could dine in a given evening.

So there you are. Noise is here to stay in the average conventional restaurant, whether you like it or not. Pardon? Say again?

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Chamas Rodizio

Located in the historic East Riding market town of Beverley, Chamas Rodizio claims to be a ‘true Brazilian gaucho experience’.

Firstly, if you are planning to visit Chamas it’s worth noting that there is no parking at all. The nearest public car park is quite a walk away as well, and being a Saturday on our visit, the bustling market filled the usual nearer car park. This may prove difficult for anyone with impaired mobility as might the stacked chairs limiting access to the toilets.

We were taken to a table in the corner which we found to be a bit of a squeeze. The floor was littered with remnants of food left by its last occupants, but to be fair someone came and swept it clean when asked.

So the idea here is that you help yourself to the extensive buffet. Everything is clearly labelled, and both hot and cold Brazilian dishes are available. There is something for everyone and it’s all delicious. Even though you may be tempted to try everything on offer, my advice is, pace yourself. You can return for more at any time.

When you are ready the waiters will bring skewers of spit roasted meats and carve them at your table. At lunchtime the meats include; steak, garlic steak and steak with cheese, marinated chicken, pork, gammon, sausage and minted lamb. Just say if you prefer your meat’well done’ and some will arrive. On our table the lamb was voted best by far. As long as your token is green, the meat will keep coming.

On a personal note, I chose the salmon option. Whoops! Should have stuck to the salad. I can honestly say that it was the worst salmon I have ever had. It was bone dry and tasteless. There is a vegetarian and vegan option but really it’s the meats that are the star attraction here.

In addition we were also served some hot, cheesy garlic bread, chips and to finish, juicy, cinnamon coated pineapple, which was also cooked on the spit. I could have eaten more of this!

When you’re stuffed, I mean finished, just turn your token over to the red side and the waiters will know not to bring anything else.

Chamas is very popular and you need to book. What you book is not a table for as long as you want, but a two hour slot. Someone will come and give you a thirty minute ‘warning’ for when your time is up. This is not a deterrent however, as there were plenty of happy diners making plenty of noise. Overall for £15.99 each at lunchtime we think, for carnivores, Chamas is well worth a visit.

Food · Lifestyle

The great British dish

Often wondered what our cousins from around the world think about Fish and Chips. The UK itself is now a cosmopolitan world and a myriad of different cultures and eating habits. How do the ‘new’ British settlers view our deep-fried delight, and is it still our national dish? And where did the dish originate? Well, long, long ago, back in the mists of time… Zzz

Actually, not that long ago. It all started in around 1860-ish. Our country was thriving and dripping in money, give or take a few million ordinary labourers who were still starving and unhelpfully dying of cholera, lung disease and leprosy etc. But apart from them, we had what we now call, on reflection, the Industrial Revolution. It was amazing! The poor were given jobs and mostly died for the cause. Well done to the destitute. You’ll always be remembered for your contribution. Erm… anyway… steam power and the railways opened up the country, and both people and fresh food such as fish were on the move and delivered to all parts of the country including the cities. But back to Fish and Chips.

So who invented them? As per usual there is continuing debate, but it was pretty much a draw between the Londoners and the North. As immigration gathered place, it is thought that the dish of fried fish was brought to our country by the Spanish and the Portuguese. That rich old social reformer, Charles Dickens actually mentions fried fish sold in restaurants in his novel, Oliver Twist. A Jewish immigrant called Joseph Malin is credited with selling the first actual dish of fish and chips. But where do chips come from, I hear you ask? Supposedly from France and Belgium is the answer. Fish and chips were cheap, became the staple diet of the industrial north and a huge relief from the drab starvation diet of the masses.

Skip a few years and we find that the fish and chip shops of Britain had flourished to the point where, in the 1940s this humble culinary masterpiece, wrapped in newspaper, was being queued for along the streets. Did you know that, during the war, fish and chips were one of the few foods not to be rationed during these austere times. The American soldiers came over, won the war, won our womenfolk and pinched our fish and chips. Except they refused to call them chips seeing as a chip in the states is a crisp. So they got fish and ‘fries’. Weird or what?

Don’t tell me I don’t teach you nothing!

There are still many questions unanswered. Why ‘mushy’ peas with fish and chips? Why are they best with a slice of bread and butter? Why salt and vinegar? Why do Southerners insist on calling it a fish shop when we Northerners call it a chip shop or ‘chippie’? Why do Southerners insist on calling it a fish supper? Anybody got any answers?

What’s that all about then? Nine chips in a stack…

… or in a basket? What?

Thin chips? T-h-i-n chips? Do me a favour!

Yes, that’s more like it! An ‘original’ dollop of mushy peas!

In the 90s and ‘noughties’ there was only one way for our national dish to go. All those pretentious TV foodies who ran out of ideas, and media health fascists (where would we be without them?) decided to try and ‘posh’ things up a bit. So now, in restaurants, we have to have big square cut chips, stacked into squares of nine on the edge of our plates, or stacked in a silly little metal basket. And ‘thin-cut chips! Thanks USA! Now they’re fried in vegetable oil, not lard. And don’t mention the tartar sauce! (I said not to mention it!). And suddenly you end up paying twice the price.

Of course, to be fair, we can no longer eat our chips out of newspaper for health reasons, but the original dish remains the best. On a cold, winter’s day, with steamed-up windows, and spots of rain falling, it’s time to pass the salt and vinegar, a steaming mug of tea and a proper plate of fish and chips. Lovely!

Lifestyle

When will we ever learn?

Received a big mystery parcel a couple of days ago. Wondered what surprise was in it?

Opened ALL THIS packaging, to find…

…my very small products , and free gift (very nice), from Clinique via Debenhams.

Just wondered why all this packaging?

Surely not necessary. And with all the media coverage about recycling, plastic and saving the planet, I think not!

I’m not fooled into thinking I’m getting more for my money just because it comes in a big box. Come on big companies, get your act together.

What do you think?

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Loving San Pietro in Scunthorpe

Having heard various mixed reports of late about this restaurant, we felt it time to check the place out once more. OK, it’s not what you’d call budget. Far from it! And maybe for the most of us it’s best kept as a place of special celebration. We knew it was going to sting financially so, is it worth a visit?

In a word, yes.

This award-winning restaurant and hotel, run by Sicilian-born chef Pietro Catalano, is housed in a unique former windmill and offers fine dining and a touch of class.

San Pietro advertised a fabulous seven course tasting menu including a full vegetarian choice. The trouble with these tasting menus is that you get whatever the chef gives you (like goat’s cheese – one for, one against), but it should be a real experience for the adventurous. You get to try things that you may not usually choose.

Starting with a glass of pink fizz and the seemingly customary roasted garlic, olive oil and a cube of ‘special’ bread, we began on the food marathon of culinary delights. Here goes…

Roast tomato veloute with red chilli pesto followed by burnt (on purpose!!!) goats cheese with red wine poached pears, hazelnut and watercress. Then it was time for scallops, artichoke, prosciutto, and truffle. Chicken tortellioni, sweetcorn veloute, pine nut and basil oil. Then monk fish in black ash (yep, black ash!) and beetroot. My favourite was the delicious Chateaubriand; cooked to my liking and carved at the table, and served with potato terrine, fois gras snow, mushrooms and spinach. The vege main; aubergine parmegiana, fried tomato and mozzarella gnocchi and pasta crisp, was a tasty alternative but in my opinion could have been a bit more of a generous portion. Just as I was recovering, out came a pina colada palette cleanser, followed by a very tasty white and dark chocolate mousse with sorbet and passion fruit. Last but not least came coffee with gorgeous homemade chocolates. The wine went down a treat.

And a quick mention in praise of the full alternative vege menu. Fantastic food from the amazing Pietro, and for a pleasant change in restaurants I’ve visited, not just an afterthought.

So, what wasn’t quite so amazing? On entering we were welcomed by an English lady who poured out our fizz. So far, so good. But then someone, presumably the sommelier, hurriedly gave us the menus and the wine list, and within a couple of minutes was asked if we’d chosen the wine yet. We felt we were being a bit rushed. Yes, sounds a bit snowflakey, however, after being led to our table, Mr. Grumpy asked us for our wine choice again and I asked for another two minutes to decide. Within the two minutes he was back again, before we’d even had a chance to peruse the contents, looking anything but happy, and pretty much demanded our choice. With smiles and apologies from us we quickly chose a bottle of their rose house wine. No thanks from him as Morose Mario walked away, returned, poured and disappeared.

We were looked after by a young (and presumably) Italian waiter who was cheerful, personable and pleasant. Offering humour and just the right amount of conversation to not be intrusive, he introduced the dishes and asked for feedback. However, the occasional dish was delivered to our table by another mature staff member who refused any conversation, with no eye contact and then ignored us. Other dishes were delivered by an attentive female staff member who made up for any ill feeling. I don’t know, but maybe it was a bit of a culture clash; the two mature staff nearly spoiling the whole San Pietro experience. Did we complain, you may ask? Well, considering Pietro hails from Sicily, (Mafiosa, etc.) we thought better of it! We didn’t want to wake up with a horses head on the pillow.

It is unfortunate that the San Pietro restaurant is not in the best of locations and the popularity of the restaurant means car parking is not great. But if you can find a parking space, close your eyes to the drab surroundings of the general area and immerse yourself in the beautiful interior of the restaurant, then Pietro’s eating experience is a must. Be prepared to give your bank card a bit of a hammering!

Lifestyle

Hot dog, anybody?

Juno came to visit us today. Thought it was worth a mention…

Isn’t she cute? It’s Juno’s first day away from mummy but you wouldn’t know it. At eight weeks old Juno is inquisitive and confident. She knows where the treats are kept and where to go poop. After playtime, cuddles and learning how to ‘sit!’, she has a well earned nap before going on a long car ride to her new forever home with Ben and Laura.

Right, that’s enough cuteness for today thank you.

Food · Lifestyle

The Old Tile Works at Barton

This area was once the brick and tile-making capital of Britain, due to the natural clay deposits found in abundance in this part of North Lincolnshire. The industrial revolution saw this industry blossom. 1850 saw the abolition of the Brick Tax, and tiles slowly took over from the thatched roofs of old. The William Blyth tile works, under the shadow of the Humber Bridge, was established in 1840 and there has been a site here ever since. In 2013, the Tile Works were fully restored and the yard sympathetically restored.

Which brings me around to mentioning the coffee shop and restaurant.

This is a place for ‘ladies that lunch’. It’s smart and spacious with a fine display of cakes that greet you at the counter. Well that’s a bit unfair because they have an extensive cafe-style menu and a reasonable selection of wines. They cater for all tastes and all ages, and it’s good. But, every time I’ve been at lunch times, this establishment is full, and I mean full, seemingly with ladies of comfortable circumstances who like cake.

So, what’s good about the coffee shop. Well, the food, the tea, and, oh, yes, did I mention the staff. They are excellent.

And the not-so-good points? From my experience of today’s visit, unidentified floating objects in the milk, which was rectified immediately. A slice of cake for the price of a full cake you could buy from a shop, and tea that is nearly £2 per small pot. The rest of the menu, in my opinion, is quite pricey. The restaurant being large and of high ceilings results in it being quite noisy at peak times. It’s not a place for an intimate and reflective coffee. So, does this put folks off from frequenting the place? Most definitely not. It’s very popular. My advice is steer clear of lunch time, and be prepared for the bill! Well worth a visit.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Sunday Lunch in Lincoln

The Swan Holme

So Sunday came around fast! And today we enjoyed a long awaited family meet up at The Swan Holme near Lincoln.

We were seated in the comfortable dining room with a welcoming open fire and ordered drinks at the bar. The food order was swiftly taken by a very friendly staff member who was knowledgeable about the menu including vegetarian and vegan options and we didn’t have to wait very long at all before the food arrived.

The steak and ale pie was almost family sized and came with carrots, cabbage, mashed potato and gravy. The pastry was ‘outstanding’ and there was plenty of meat inside.

I chose the roast without meat. I could have had a vege alternative but fancied Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. The roast parsnips were very tasty and the Yorkshire pudding delicious.

For dessert there is something on the menu for everyone. We chose a creme brule and sticky toffee pudding with custard. yummy…

The Swan Holme is a very welcoming establishment in a picturesque setting. There are tables outside overlooking the lake for summer days and the bar is ‘dog friendly’; great if you’ve been out walking, but not great if you’re not a ‘dog person’. Nothing was too much trouble for the friendly staff and we did not feel rushed. The Swan Holme is great for families with plenty of table space and extra for pushchairs and high chairs. In our opinion well worth a visit.

Food · Lifestyle

Out and about in Kingston upon Hull

It’s that time of year again when the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull hosts its annual open art exhibition. Both amateur and professional artists display their work, which includes a truly diverse selection of artworks in a variety of styles and media, some of which are also for sale. However, art being art, presenting your treasured piece for display is not simple, and proudly booking it in online complete with photos and payment is no guarantee that your painting will ever be accepted. It is the three ‘chosen’ judges that decide. Even lowbrows like us, who have despaired at baffling, and just plain silly Turner Prize exhibits, have tried and failed to have work accepted over the years. I reckon, in my opinion, that year by year standards are getting lower, with occasional exceptions. One notable exhibit this year was described as a self-portrait and, I kid you not, valued at £5000. It wasn’t good, and caused much hilarity and incredulous head-shaking stares from the public. Let’s face it, art is not for us mere mortals to understand.

Went to the cafe for sustenance but it was closed. So we left Ferens Art Gallery and called in at McCoys; an interesting and historical building full of character. It was time to reflect on the insane world of art on a cold Saturday afternoon.

Cosy and quirky, this place is great for a snack or lunch, and has a great choice of coffee.We have been to McCoys many times and the counter staff are always welcoming and helpful.

It was unfortunate that my choice of lemon meringue was disappointing. The lemon filling was still frozen solid and the meringue topping was just plain strange; more marshmallow than egg white. Anyway, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt this time and hope it was just a one off.

For atmosphere on a cold winter’s afternoon, give McCoys a try. You’ll find it next to the art gallery in the city centre.