Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Cross Keys, Holbeck Urban Village

You will find The Cross Keys tucked away on the edge of Leeds city centre, in what is now known as "Holbeck Urban Village" - yet it is definitely no ordinary urban pub.

Holbeck Urban Village (HUV) sounds slightly pretentious and, for those who know the area, somewhat euphemistic; once the industrial heartland of Leeds, more latterly Holbeck had become a semi-derelict red-light district. However a program of regeneration has seen the beginnings of a transformation into a cool new mixed use business and residential community.

Built in 1802, The Cross Keys was a hostelry for local foundry workers and boasts a colourful history. Then in the 1980s the pub was closed and left to decay, until it was rescued by the folks behind the legendary North Bar. Following an extensive renovation, life has now been brought back to this historical landmark from the height of Leeds’ industrial past.

Step in off the street and you are transported into 21st century pub heaven. It has all the qualities of a traditional British pub, but with a modern twist. There are some great original features; wooden floors, beams, brick walls and a wood-burning stove and the decor is all vintage mirrors, old pictures and patterned china plates. The result is a rather cool urban hang out, rather than some olde worlde pub, but it strikes a great balance and still manages to be cosy and full of character. There is also a rather amazing outdoor courtyard for alfresco drinking and summer BBQs.

On the bar you'll find some excellent local ales, usully including an offering from Roosters of Knaresborough, accompanied by three changing guest beers and a great wine list. There is also an extensive inventory of draught and bottled beer and cider.

We ordered a couple of pints of Roosters and grabbed a table in the bar. It was Thursday evening and the place was busy with a lively mix of people eating and after work drinkers.

They serve an interesting menu of traditional British food made from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. It is a limited menu (in size, not appeal) but is usually complemented by a couple of specials. They explain that by "British" food they mean dishes that capture the heritage and heart of the nation's food culture, recreating and reinventing long lost recipes and traditional classics indigenous to our islands - not some generic homogeneous gastro pub menu offering Thai spiced fishcakes or tomato mozzarella tart. On our last visit I enjoyed a really smashing rabbit pie, so was keen to find out what was on offer on the autumn menu.

For his starter Dave chose the Cullen skink with thyme croutons. It was served with the rich velvety soup in a jug to pour over the moist smoked fish, potatoes and croutons.

I had the Gloucester Old Spot pork terrine, pickled onions and toast; a generous slab of porky terrine slathered onto thick hot toast with a welcome hint of piquancy from the onions.

For mains I procrastinated over the intriguingly sounding cauliflower cheese with deep fried duck egg, autumn greens and tarragon dressing. However in the end neither of us could resist the Swaledale lamb - rump and breast of lamb with pearl barley, fennel and rosemary juices (definitely not jus!). We also went for a side order of buttered kale, despite advice from our helpful waiter that the portion would probably be sufficiently hearty without any extras. The lamb was tasty and well cooked; the rump slightly pink, the breast rolled and slow roasted until meltingly tender. I don't recall ever having seen lamb breast on a pub menu before and although it is undoubtedly fatty, it is a very tasty cut. The pale green fennel puree was perfectly smooth and added a welcome freshness to the rich, earthy dish. It also benefited from the addition of the kale which gave added colour to what was essentially a delicious but quite brown plate of food.

For desert we shared a chocolate tart with salted lavender caramel, which was a revelation. The pastry was thin and crisp and the subtle salty notes from the otherwise sweet caramel sauce provide a perfect balance to the bitter chocolate.

I cannot testify (yet), but hear they also do an excellent Sunday Roast.

What's more there is a real attempt by the owners play an active role in the revitalisation of this emerging part of the city and to connect with the local community. They hold seasonal markets in the courtyard, a weekly quiz and offer take away fish & chips as well as a parcel minding service for locals.

The short walk into Holbeck is more than worth your while for a traditional but chic pub with an impressive ethos and a fantastic menu of hearty food and proper beer.

The Cross Keys
107 Water Lane, Leeds LS11 5WD

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Punch Bowl Inn, Swaledale

We'd spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the secrets of Upper Swaledale, opting to walk a circular route from Keld over Kisdon fell to the idyllic village of Muker and back along the banks of the fast flowing River Swale. This is a classic ramble, affording magnificent views of Swaledale and with added interest in the form of the intriguingly named "Corpse Way", the famous hay meadows, gushing waterfalls and plentiful evidence of the area's industrial lead mining past.

Tired from the fresh air and our exertions we were looking forward to a hot bath, dinner and a comfy bed. We headed along the main road that gently meanders its way through the narrow valley bottom, to the Punchbowl Inn in the tiny straggling hamlet of Low Row. The unassuming, rather plain flat fronted exterior of this 17th century inn belies the delights within

Now owned by the same family as the excellent Charles Bathurst Inn ("The CB") in neighbouring Arkengarthdale, inside The Punch Bowl has been carefully renovated. The contemporary yet traditional style still manages to retain something of the essential character of the original 17th century inn; the bare wooden floors and stone fireplaces have been preserved and old black and white photos of bygone characters and times dot the walls.

We checked in and were shown to our small but tastefully decorated room, looking out across Swaledale. For a while we took in the stunning views; the fell side on the opposite side of the valley swooping down from the dark moorland skyline through the maze of stone walls and green fields to meet the river below.

It wasn't long before our thoughts turned to refreshment and we headed downstairs. The bar area hosts a wood burning stove and a unique oak bar, hand made by local craftsman Robert ‘The Mouseman’ Thompson. The bar stools all have his trademark mouse individually carved on the seat. There is a good range of locally brewed real ale on offer and we enjoyed a perfect pint of Black Sheep Special before dinner.

The only copy of the menu is daubed in white on two wooden framed mirrors at the far end of the bar. It was difficult to read due to the light and also slightly disconcerting to see ones own ruddy cheeks reflecting back through the jumble of words. However the PB's commitment to using only the best local and seasonal produce is more than evident, the menu relying heavily on meat and game from the surrounding moors and local cheeses.

For starters I chose sesame fried mackerel with tomato and caper salsa, the mackerel was really fresh and the dish worked well. Dave had potato skins with Wensleydale cheese and bacon.

My beef, bacon & red wine casserole with a puff pastry lid really hit the mark; it was packed with flavour and big chunks of tender meat.

Dave's choice of pan fried duck breast served with a ballotine of leg and fondant potato, was slightly more refined. The breast was perfectly pink and juicy with a puddle of tasty gravy.

Our mains were accompanied by a generous portion of well cooked veggies; cheese topped mash potato, carrots, green beans and roast turnip.

The dishes were solid, well executed and portions were definitely hearty; it was just the sort of food we had craved after a day in the outdoors.

After dinner we returned to the bar, where Dave had a pint of Riggwelter. The atmosphere was buzzy and the bar staff were more than happy to strike up conversation. However perched at the bar, surrounded by tables of people eating, you can't help feeling that this isn't really a place where locals drop by for a drink. The emphasis is clearly on food and the vibe is definitely more boutique than muddy boots. If I am being overly critical it is somewhat too stylised, the homogeneous muted shade on all the walls giving the impression of being inside a slightly sterile giant mushroom. It somehow lacks the classic feel of an old-fashioned country pub. Nonetheless what the bar lacks in traditional atmosphere, the view & food more than make up for.

After a comfortable night's sleep we were ready for breakfast. For me it just had to be kippers, they are not seen often enough on breakfast menus; the whole fish was lightly smoked and moist. Safe in the knowledge that he was supporting the local farmers and butchers, Dave tucked into his quality full English. It was all accompanied by juice, a rack of hot toast, jam, marmalade and a big cafetiere of fresh coffee. Perfect.

Swaledale is one of the wilder, more remote northern dales and definitely enjoys a quieter tone. It is a valley suited to seekers of secrets, rather than those who want their recreation conveniently presented on a plate. It remains pleasingly undeveloped; brown-signposted attractions are few and far between, but if you are willing to scratch deeper than the surface and look beyond the obvious you will find a truly enchanting place. The Punch Bowl is perfectly placed for those wanting to explore these delights; good food and accommodation, warm hospitality and an authentic Yorkshire Dales experience await.

Punch Bowl Inn
Low Row, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL11 6PF

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Chesters By The River, Skelwith Bridge

Chesters sits in a picturesque location by the river Brathay in Skelwith Bridge, at the mouth of the stunning Langdale valley. Operated by the same family as The Drunken Duck Inn, Chesters is named after the roguish white English Bull Terrier who ruled the roost at the pub in the eighties.

Serving breakfast, lunch, drinks and legendary home made cakes throughout the day it makes a naughty but extremely nice stop-off at any time.

They make and bake everything on the premises, including all the jams, chutneys, breads, cakes and pastries, using traditional recipes and natural, good quality, seasonal ingredients. In the summer you can relax on the decked terrace looking out over the water, or in the colder months sit inside by the roaring fire.

We dropped by for an indulgent breakfast before a walk in the Langdale valley and, as it was sunny morning, we sat outside. We were the first to arrive, but by the time we were ready to leave there wasn't a free table. This charming cafe is clearly a honeypot for those who know a good cake when they see one, and I can definitely see why.

Dave's American pancakes with maple syrup looked amazing; 3 very thick and fluffy pancakes adorned with blackcurrant compote, cream and a shot of syrup. They made for the perfect sweet holiday breakfast treat.

I had the potato scone with bacon and poached egg, the portion was slightly more modest but lovely all the same and clearly made with good quality produce.

I am by no means a connoisseur, but the coffee was really good too. We each had a latte which was nicely milky and not too strong, with the bonus of being served in huge cups.

There is marvellous array of very tempting cakes on display behind the counter. You will find classic favorites such as flapjack, brownies, lemon meringue pie, carrot cake and chocolate cake alongside the likes of tiffin, raspberry oat and nut slice, banana and walnut loaf with toffee sauce, apricot and almond puff pastry pie and lemon and blueberry baby bundt. Or there is the option of a freshly baked scone with homemade raspberry jam & whipped cream, it's apparently the same scone recipe they used for the first batch almost 26 years ago.

After breakfast we couldn't do the slabs of cakes justice, but we'll definitely be back to sample the baking soon.

Chesters By The River
Skelwith Bridge, Nr Ambleside, Cumbria LA22 9NJ

Monday, 6 September 2010

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside

The Drunken Duck lies in the heart of the Lake District and its isolated location on a crossroads high above Lake Windermere provides a stunning setting for this outstanding Lakeland Inn. It is surrounded by high fells and some of England's finest countryside but, breathtaking views aside, the Duck is also renowned for its excellent food and own brewed beer.

After checking in and being shown to our comfortable room (noting the jar of homemade flapjacks on the side), we went down to the lovely garden by the small tarn and tucked into a complimentary afternoon tea; warm scones, thick cream and raspberry jam, served with a pot of speciality loose leaf tea.

Then, in an attempt to work up an appetite for dinner, we walked a circuit of Tarn Hows where we spotted a rare "circumzenithal arc" in the sky.

On our return we enjoyed dinner in the contemporary but cosy restaurant where, to begin, we were unexpectedly served a delicious amuse bouche of leek, potato and fennel soup and some lovely crusty bread.

The menu isn't extensive but the choices were interesting and I could happily have eaten anything from it. For starters I was torn between the saltmarsh lamb, crisp sweetbread, courgette and lavender broth or the fillet beef tartare. I eventually went for the latter. Raw fillet of beef, finely chopped and mixed with diced cornichons and capers, the meat was well seasoned and a raw egg yolk sat on top, ready to break and ooze into the meat. It was my first experience of tartare so it's difficult to draw comparisons, but it was everything I expected and tasted divine.

Dave ordered the confit chicken, sage and pine nut ravioli with summer truffle and wild rocket. It was a large pasta parcel with a delicate filling and unmistakable note of truffle from the thinly shaved slices that adorned the plate.

My main was halibut fillet, served with garlic crushed potatoes, curly kale, butter clams, cucumber, lemon and tomato sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, an accomplished dish and totally delicious.

Dave's breast of grouse, duck and grouse sausage, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes and bread sauce was equally good; local, seasonal ingredients treated with flair.

I could easily have been tempted by the cheeseboard, which offered a diverse range of British cheeses, each described in detail on the separate menu, but I had to pass. Instead Dave ordered coffee which came with some deliciously delicate and well executed petit fours.

After dinner we retired to the bar with its oak flooring, old beams, open fire and leather armchairs. The bar top itself is a beautiful slab of black slate from a nearby quarry and above it hang bunches of dried hops.
Out in the courtyard at the back of the Inn, they brew their own beers; Barngates Brewery produces a range of 7 or 8 different real ales, several of them named after long-gone pub pets. We enjoyed another excellent pint of Tag Lag, a refreshing fruity golden ale, before retreating to a neatly turned down comfy bed.

Breakfast the next morning was a real treat. Although other options were available, we both had fruit juice and then the full English; a thick herby sausage, crisp rashers of bacon, a softly poached egg, tomato, mushroom and a slab of proper black pudding. It was served with a rack of hot toast, including some fruit bread which was a nice addition.

Service was unobtrusive but prompt and friendly enough throughout our stay.

The only issue we encountered was with the water. We were informed on check in that the water was from their own supply up in the fells and although it does undergo various filtration and purification processes, it is pale peaty in colour with the odd bit of sediment finding its way through. This really wasn't an issue, but the lack of hot water and water pressure in general that we experienced at certain times, was. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" has never been my mantra so I wasn't overly worried for a one night stay, but can see that after a days walking you may be a little disgruntled with the lack of a hot bath.

Overall the Duck is the perfect venue for a quiet, relaxing country retreat. The fantastic food and drink, informal hospitality and gorgeous surroundings all play their part and the understated quality and those special little touches elevate the Duck above the norm.

The Drunken Duck Inn
Barngates, Ambleside, Cumbria. LA22 0NG

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Surprise Pizza in the Yokshire Dales

The Red Lion at Burnsall is well known locally, both for its picturesque location in the Yorkshire Dales and as a lovely old pub with rooms serving fine food.

We stopped by recently one Saturday afternoon for a beer, having spent a day relaxing with friends by the River, swimming and catching crayfish.

The intention was to sit outside and have a cheeky beer in the late sunshine before heading back to our camp in Appletreewick, but after a couple of pints (the Timothy Taylor's Landlord was on great form) we spotted a pizza menu on the bar and decided to stay for a quick bite to eat. After enquiring with the bar staff we were directed round the back and across the car park to the grounds of the Manor House B&B, where we eventually stumbled across the River Cafe, nestled in the house gardens overlooking the River Wharfe and the hills beyond.

We ordered our food inside, along with a glass of Rose and a couple of bottles of Black Sheep Bitter and sat down at a picnic bench in the beautiful garden. Our drinks were quickly brought out and we happily waited, anticipating our food and enjoying the amazing views of the river and fells. We saw a chef come over from the pub and shortly our food was delivered.

We started with a portion of Dough Balls & Garlic Bread (£2.95 each). The garlic butter was deliciously heady with garlic and the handmade Dough balls rivalled any you can get in Pizza Express. With a crisp crust and doughy interior they were dunked into the pot of garlic butter and devoured; a hit.

Our pizzas promptly followed. We had opted to share a Margherita (the usual mozzarella, tomato & herbs, but with the extra addition of pepperoni - £5.50), a Hot Spicy Beef (minced beef, chorizo, jalapenos, onions, green pepper with Tabasco - £5.95) and a Rusticella (baked then topped with Parma ham, rocket, oven roasted tomatoes and parmesan - £5.95).

The pizza bases were very thin but the toppings generous and spread right to the edge. This meant that whilst not exactly crispy, there was just enough soft dough to carry the tasty toppings into our greedy, gaping mouths! The pizzas were delicious; not at all greasy and nor did they have that duvet-like thickness that often puts me off a badly made takeaway.

The sweet intensity of the tomatoes with the salty ham and peppery rocket on the Rusticella was a particularly memorable combination, but ultimately we couldn't agree or decide which one we liked best.

We are still not sure if it was just because we were slightly squiffy – yes it is possible that we were seduced by the delightful location, sunshine and the surprise and spontaneity of finding great pizza in the Yorkshire Dales - but we all agreed that these were some of the best pizzas we have eaten! Our experience was probably enhanced by the deliciously unexpected nature of our visit and the perfect end to the day but we would definitely recommend this hidden gem for a quick, cheap bite to eat. Well worth a visit - if you can resist the lure of the Red Lion itself, that is.

Dine inside or out, or also available to takeaway, the River Cafe at the Manor House is open for Pizza Friday, Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday Mondays 5.00pm - 9.00pm. Yum!

The Red Lion & Manor House B&B
Burnsall, Near Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6BU

The Fish Shed at Dart's Farm

Darts Farm is a food lover’s haven and being conveniently located just off the M5 near Exeter it makes the perfect stop-off on the way to or from Cornwall. Sadly we were now on our way home but hit Exeter around lunch time, which inevitably meant a short detour for lunch at the Fish Shed at Dart's Farm. It certainly beats the motorway services!

Dart's Farm is a huge farm shop and deli, stocking produce from up to 200 different local food producers. There is also a restaurant which reportedly serves one of the best breakfasts in Devon (although I cannot confirm this) and the Fish Shed, which is both a wet fish shop and a great fish and chippery.

You pick your fish straight from the counter and it is cooked to order – either deep fried in batter or simply grilled. The fish, caught daily off the coast of Exmouth, is incredibly fresh and there is a good variety on offer - from cod and haddock to bream, sea bass and Dover sole. You can even have mussels poached with white wine, garlic and pesto or go the whole hog and order lobster and chips.

There are picnic tables in the outside courtyard and conveniently you can buy a drink to accompany your meal from the deli inside whilst you wait for your order to be cooked, which is exactly what we did.

Dave went for the monkfish which looked amazing, not least because it was served in a very generous portion.

I had battered scallops which made a nice change and although the portion wasn't as large it was very good indeed.

Both the chips and the batter were deliciously crisp and crunchy, fresh and just as good fish and chips should be.

We agreed that both the fish and chips were maybe even marginally better than Rick Stein's and undoubtedly the perfect way to round off our trip!

Darts Farm
Topsham, Nr. Exeter, EX3 0QH

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Greenhouse, St. Keverne

The Greenhouse is a great little find; an unassuming looking place just off the square in St. keverne, hidden away down on the Lizard peninsular. It is a small, village restaurant but with a huge emphasis on local, seasonal and organic produce.

Despite a mix up over the booking, which to be fair I had made 3 months in advance and without a follow up call, we received a warm reception. The chef-proprietors (Neil & Leonie Woodward) did everything they could to make us welcome and found us a table, despite not actually having our reservation and the restaurant already being fully booked.

We settled down with a pint of bottle conditioned Atlanic Gold - an organic beer from the Atlantic micro-brewery in Newquay - to peruse the blackboard menu. It's a small but interesting menu which changes on a weekly, even daily, basis depending on what is available and at its best. Neil describes the cooking as 'modern rustic' and it is epitomised in dishes such as Baked local scallops in their shells with black pudding, Pan fried plaice, local sea bass & monkfish with anchovy vermouth & caper sauce or Slow roast Cornish pork belly, braised puy lentils. They also do a weekly curry night in the winter months and a fish and seafood night every Wednesday throughout the year. Impressively everything from the artisan breads and pastries to ice-creams & sorbets are made on the premises.

The restaurant is informal, small and comfortable, essentially a couple of rooms of a cottage knocked through. It has an open kitchen at the far end and we could see Leonie calmly going about the cooking. Neil did the front of house himself and the service was first-class, despite there being a full dining room; unobtrusive yet prompt, friendly and helpful.

What is more, the food was startlingly good.

For starters I chose the wild rabbit terrine with home made picalli. Moist morsels of rabbit meat were surrounded in a lovely rabbit farce. The picalli was unequivocally the best I have had; lovely chunky crisp veggies in a piquant yellow sauce.

Dave had steamed Gweek mussels with coconut, chilli and coriander. Gweek is a tiny port at the top of the nearby Helford river and the quality of the local mussels was exceptional.

My main course of home smoked haddock croquettes with hollandaise sauce really worked well. The soft croquettes were full of smoky fish flavour, coated in a delicious crispy crumb and served in a pool of delicious hollandasie sauce with a wedge of lemon.

Dave had the Moroccan spiced mackerel with aubergine and yoghurt; a generous portion of two large very fresh mackerel with grilled aubergine and a minted cucumber yogurt sauce.

The main courses were served with Cornish new potatoes and some nicely cooked veg.

I just couldn't resist the tempting cheese menu, but was unable to find room for the full cheese plate. Instead I went for the single cheese option, choosing the Sharpham Rustic from Devon - a young semi-hard unpasteurised cheese with a moist, creamy texture - which was served simply with oatcakes and apple.

The commitment to the use of the best local ingredients is impressive and the quality of the food that is served here is testament to the owners' efforts.

You can even learn to bake bread at the Greenhouse as Neil also runs bread baking courses.

It is very refreshing indeed to stumble across a hidden gem like this. There are no celebrity chef endorsements or overly complicated menus, just simple tasty dishes, well made using the best local ingredients and served with genuine hospitality. We left feeling like we had made a major new discovery and already looking forward to another visit. So shh, keep this little place a secret between just you and me.

The Greenhouse
6, High street St Keverne Helston Cornwall TR12 6NN

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Cook Book

The Cook Book is a great little cafe cum bookshop in St. Just, an ancient mining town in the far west of Cornwall near Land's End. What better means to while away a thoroughly unpleasant wet, windy and misty Sunday afternoon than munching on delicious homemade cakes whilst browsing through the secondhand books!

The cafe serves an all day breakfast, seasonal soups, lunches, cakes and scones and as far as possible source local produce. It is dog and child friendly with cheerful staff and a warm welcoming atmosphere. There are daily newspapers laid out on a communal bar and the place is crammed with an ecletic selection of books - 5,000 or so in three rooms upstairs, spilling down the stairs and in the cafe itself.

Their cream tea is a true Cornish feast – two homemade scones and a saffron bun, served with Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream, delicious local Strawberry Jam and a big pot of tea. Saffron buns are a traditional Cornish specialty - rich yeast buns, coloured yellow with fresh saffron and loaded with currants. They are all to scarce these days, so a rare treat indeed.

Disappointingly Dave couldn't manage his saffron bun as well as the two large scones, so he wrapped it up for breakfast next morning!

The Cook Book claims to feed body and mind, it is true but places like this are also good for the soul.

The Cook Book
4 Cape Cornwall Street, St. Just, Cornwall TR19 7JZ

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Polpeor Cafe

Polpeor Cafe proudly lays claim to being the most southerly cafe in mainland Britain and it enjoys a stunning position perched perilously on the edge of the steep cliffs at Lizard Point, under the flash of the substantial Lighthouse.

The cafe itself is little more than a small cabin with a corrugated roof. It has a traditional, almost retro, vibe; not in the trendy sense but certainly not in a naff way either, you just get a feeling that it is slightly old fashioned yet a very homely and genuine place.

It is open during the day selling all manner of drinks and delicious homemade delights, but during the summer you can also enjoy an early dinner, sitting outside on the back terrace. The no-frills plastic tables and chairs don't detract from the experience in the slightest and with uninterrupted sea views it really is the most perfect location. If you are lucky you may see a rare Cornish chough (a member of the crow family with a distinctive red beak and legs) or even a seal in the water below.

It is BYO so we took along a bottle of Polgoon Aval, which the friendly staff were also happy to chill for us whilst we waited for our food in the evening sunshine.

Dave ordered the Luxury Fish Pie which seemed to be popular and, he declared, for very good reason. Generous chunks of white fish and prawns were covered in sauce and a bubbling golden top of potato.

The steak and kidney pie had tempted me, but being so close to the sea I felt obliged to do it's bounty justice. So I chose the Fish platter and it arrived loaded with white and brown crab meat, prawns, grilled mackerel and sardines, served with a fresh salad and bread and butter. I had also ordered a portion of chips, which I realised was rather greedy when I saw the size of the platter itself!

For desert we shared the cafe's special - homemade Jubilee Meringue with blackberry and apple compote, Cornish ice cream and clotted cream. The meringue was exactly as meringue should be; crunchy yet still chewy and gorgeously gooey in the middle. It was retro heaven.

The food is all cooked fresh to order in a small lean to kitchen and was fabulously good. It's not just about the food though, here everything conspires to make for a very charming experience .

We made the walk back up into the village and stopped for a few beers at the local pub. Given the sign outside it would have been rude not to and after a couple of pints of Skinners Betty Stogs Bitter, I can confirm that we were very happy campers indeed!

Polpeor Cafe
Lizard Point, The Lizard, Helston, Cornwall, TR12 7NU

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Monday, 26 July 2010


Polgoon is a newly established vineyard and orchard based just outside Penzance in south Cornwall. The owners, John and Kim Coulson, have developed a derelict farm into a flourishing business, producing award winning products.

Their wines are already highly regarded, but for me the stand out product is the Polgoon Aval - a sparkling champagne style cider made using the traditional French champagne method of a second fermentation in the bottle. The result this a crisp, elegant and very refined grown up tipple. Ironically it is everything that I am not, but I just love it! It is deliciously appley, yet dry and very refreshing. It makes a great English alternative to the more obvious Champagne and certainly stands up to its French counterpart in terms of taste and quality.

Only a couple of years in to the new venture when their grape crops failed due to the terrible weather, the Coulson's, not to be deterred, focused their efforts on producing other products. They created and perfected the Polgoon Aval using apples from the orchard and it soon became a big hit. Even better then that this great British drink arose from such adversity.

Aval is the Cornish word for Apple, so what more appropriate name for a Cornish drink made from Apples. They also make Aval Rosé with the addition of raspberries, very much like pink champagne, and a pear cider called Polgoon Peren (that's Cornish for pear).

We dropped by Plogoon for some cellar door sales but as it happened we managed to gate crash a tour of the vineyard. The Three Hungry Boys from the Channel 4 TV show were being shown around and we were lucky enough to be invited to join in. Clearly very passionate about what they are doing at Polgoon, the friendly and enthusiastic owners deserve to suceed.

It's difficult to find Polgoon Aval outside of the South West but most definitely worth tracking down. It is is being stocked by River Cottage and Rick Stein, amongst others, and a full list if stockists can be found on their website.

Polgoon Vineyard
Rosehill, Penzance, Cornwall, TR20 8TE

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Pasty Pilgrimage

Being in Cornwall you may wonder why we haven’t already indulged in a pasty or four by now. The reason is that we have been holding out for pasty perfection down on The Lizard, because once you have tasted one of Ann Muller’s famous pasties nothing else will do.

Ann’s Pasty Shop has been the place of our pasty pilgrimage for a number of years now and this year we had purposefully decided to choose a campsite within spitting distance so we could maximize our intake.

Ann is a passionate and loyal advocate of the humble pasty - you never talk of a "Cornish" pasty in Cornwall - and when William Grimes, New York Times food critic, cursed and likened them to a doorstop she burnt the American flag!

Once again we found Ann's little pasty shop, glowing like a bright yellow beacon in the quiet residential street. Rumour has it that at peak times up to 500 pasties a day are made and find their way out of the converted garage at the back of the house.

The traditional pasty contains just four ingredients: chopped beef (usually a cheap cut such as chuck or skirt), potatoes, onions, and swede (known in Cornwall as turnip). The vegetables are thinly sliced and the filling is always added to the pasty raw, never pre-cooked. The meat and vegetables are layered and seasoned with nothing more than salt and black pepper. The edges of the pastry are then taken up and sealed together with a series of twisting movements - the 'crimp'.

We ordered two medium pasties and hurried accross the road to the benches in the playing field to hungrily devour them. The pasties are so delicious I could cry. The pastry is golden and crispy on the outside, meltingly soft on the inside where the juices from the perfectly steamed meat and vegetables have soaked in. The chunks of beef are tender and the swede - sorry, turnip – adds a delicious sweetness. You can taste each element individually but what makes these pasties so good is the generous seasoning of freshly ground black pepper.

Ann’s pasties are without doubt the best in Cornwall and therefore, by definition, in the whole world.

Ann's Pasties
Sunny Corner, Beacon Terrace, The Lizard, TR12 7PB

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Henry's Campsite and The Lizard

Full of good food and good times it was time to leave Padstow for The Lizard Peninsular. Next stop was Henry's Campsite and again it wasn't entirely a coincidence that our destination was the location of what we hoped would be some more great food experiences.

This is not strictly a food post, but I make no apologies for that. It is more a dedication to a very special part of the world and what is now my favourite campsite ever.

The Lizard Peninsular juts out at the very bottom of the South West of England. It is definitely not a place you drive through; it is rather a journey’s end, a destination. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, much of The Lizard is owned and managed by the National Trust. It is unique, unspoiled and stunningly beautiful; home to many of Britain’s rarest plants and wildlife, quaint harbours, fishing villages, rugged cliffs and beautiful coves.
Kynance Cove is one of the most picturesque with its brilliant turqouise water, white sand, headlands, caves and unexpected views.

Cadgwith Cove is an impossibly quaint village where you can buy fresh fish straight from the local fleet of fishing boats.

We stayed at Henry's Campsite for 4 blissful nights. It is idylic and magical - although I suspect it may be the case that you either "get" Henry's, or you don't. The fabulous weather probably helped, but we just got a feeling as soon as we arrived here that this is a very special place indeed.

The site is conveniently nestled right at the bottom of the peninsular in the Lizard Village (the southern most village in mainland Britain). It is literally within a minutes walk of the village green, shops and pubs, yet it is very tranquil and feels like a remote, secret hideaway. It is so quiet you can hear the waves crashing on the shore way below the cliffs and there is no light pollution so the night sky is bright with stars.

The main camping field is a quirky labyrinth of secluded pitches, laid out in separate bays and surrounded by amazing traditional Cornish stone walls and standing stones, most with panoramic sea views.

Henry's is more like a wild garden than a campsite. There is a profusion of colour: pretty native plants (grasses, flowers such as Campion & Foxgloves, trees and shrubs) grow amongst the stone walls and more unusual sub-tropical species give added interest. Flags, art and sculpture are everywhere and you can tell that a lot of hard work has gone into making this site what it is.

Although it is not a working farm, chickens have the run of the site and there are also pens of ducks and pigs.

Jo makes fresh scones every day and you can buy lovely hot coffee and even big jugs of cider.

The slightly ramshackle old farm buildings and higgledy-piggeldy unisex toilet facilities may not be to everyone's liking, but for me it all adds to the charm. If you like immaculate, shiny facilities you will be disappointed but they are generally kept clean and are more than adequate.

More to the point, the amenities are rendered largely irrelevant when faced with somewhere as amazing as this. More than anything Henry's is rich with a sense of place and somehow a certain integrity. Everything just feels right.

There are places you stumble upon every so often that stick in your memory and your consciousness. They are all too rare, but Henry's is definitely one of them. Places like this restore your faith in human nature, in life.

I left a piece of my heart at Henry's, but I know I'll be back for it soon.

You can keep the Maldives or the Caribbean, this is my slice of paradise. Just don't all rush down there because I want it to remain just the way it is.

Henry's Campsite
The Lizard, Helston, Cornwall, TR12 7NX

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Outlaw

Thursday morning dawned wet and windy but we were determined to venture out. We eventually decided to take a trip aboard the passenger ferry over the Camel estuary to Rock, motivated by the prospect of lunch at Nathan Outlaw's Seafood and Grill.

Outlaw runs two restaurants, both located in the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock. The Seafood and Grill provides a more casual dining experience, compared to his main fine dining restaurant - Restaurant Nathan Outlaw.

Originally a graduate of Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, Outlaw has become more of a household name after two appearances on Great British Menu. His previous establishments have held Michelin stars but a recent re-location from Fowey means he doesn't currently hold any. It can only be a matter of time.

Overlooking the Camel estuary, the Seafood and Grill is the perfect place for a relaxing lunch. However as the mist descended and the rain came down there was no chance of drinks on the terrace, or of us making the most of the magnificent views through the glass frontage. Still, inside the restaurant is very pleasant; modern, light and airy. We were slightly bedraggled after a short walk from the ferry landing and maybe lowered the tone somewhat, but received a friendly welcome and were soon seated by the huge windows.

Outlaw’s menus are driven by locally caught fresh seafood and the best seasonal produce that is available. The menu at the Seafood and Grill is short but perfectly showcases his amazing ingredients.

My starter was hand dived scallops with broad beans and ham hock dressing. Perfectly cooked, the soft scallop contrasted beautifully with the crispy, salty flakes of ham hock and fresh young beans. It was a delightful combination and easily the best scallops I have eaten in a long time.

Dave chose the Cornish duck leg salad with hazelnuts and boiled duck egg. There is something delightful about a soft oozy duck egg; it looked and tasted amazing.

For main I had the whole grilled lemon sole with brown shrimps, sea purslane and new potatoes. The delicately flavoured fish was cooked to translucent perfection and the purslane gave a beautiful, natural salty back note. I guess its use wholly encapsulates what Nathan Outlaw is about.

From the specials board Dave opted for the Monkfish tail with peas, clams and samphire. He also had a side of very buttery new potatoes, commenting that The Outlaw isn't shy of the butter.

We were fairly full and so shared an Elderflower cream with English raspberries for desert. It was light and delicate with the elderflower providing an enchanting floral note.

Dave followed all of this with a coffee and petit fours.

Service was friendly & proficient without being at all overbearing.

At £83.88 it wasn’t one of the cheapest lunches we’ve ever had, but we felt that the food itself was more than reasonably priced. It was all the little “extras” that added up; a couple of drinks, the fact that a bottle of still water was charged at £3.50 and the 10% service charge which was automatically added to the bill. However I’d more than happily pay for it again. The straightforward style and perfectly executed dishes certainly impressed. The food was top class throughout; it was hard to find any fault at all with the dishes and his flavour combinations were exceptional without being over complicated.

I guess you get what you pay for and, unlike the sun, Outlaw’s class shone out.

Nathan Outlaw Seafood and Grill
St. Enodoc Hotel, Rock, Cornwall, PL27 6LA, UK

This post forms part of a series about our 2010 gastro camping trip in Cornwall.