dining · Food

Chao Baan, Barton upon Humber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hessle · Restaurants

The Greek in Hessle, with chips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dining · Food · Hull · Restaurants

Frankie and Benny on Skid Row in Hull

Hi Folks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amsterdam · Lifestyle · Location

King’s Day in Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a bit of culture thrown in for good measure.

dining · Food · Lifestyle

Chow Down in Lincoln

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

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

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

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

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.


… 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.