Lunch@The Bell, Ramsbury

The Bell at Ramsbury is another favourite haunt that we haven’t visited for a while.  It has been a good quality gastropub for some time now so, we are heading there for lunch with high expectations of great food and decent beer.

The bar area is very busy when we arrive and, as we are not wanting the more formal atmosphere of the restaurant, we squeeze round a small table until something bigger becomes available.  This gives us an opportunity to examine the menu and order some drinks.

Rock has an apple juice with soda while I have the Ramsbury Bitter.  The Bell is part of the Ramsbury Estate which has its own brewery, distillery and smokehouse.  The Ramsbury Brewery produces a range of real ales and I’m starting with the bitter.  It is an amber ale made with barley and Golding hops and carries a decent amount of flavour.



Even though we were planning to have a relatively light lunch – I’m sufficiently excited about the starter menu to order the pan seared scallops with peas, parsley root purée, black pudding & ham crisp.  Three beautifully cooked scallops duly arrive with a small peak of crushed peas, the interesting pale purée, scattered crumbs of black pudding and two crispy pieces of ham.  Delightful.


I order a second beer – this time Ramsbury Gold – which I enjoy a lot more than the bitter. We then wait for quite a while, watching as other tables that ordered after us are served and wondering if our order has somehow fallen between the cracks.  Eventually, Rock’s desire for some food has become unnerving and I go to the bar to find out what has happened.  We receive apologies and, not too long after, our main courses.


Rock has chosen the small size Ramsbury Gold battered haddock with triple cooked chips, crushed peas and tartare sauce.  The batter is fantastically light and flavoursome and the chunky chips are top quality. I’m having the Ramsbury smokehouse venison sausages with creamed mash, kale and a red wine gravy.  The sausages are rich and meaty, the venison much more highly flavoured than pork or beef.  It’s a glorious version of sausage and mash.


We order coffee and homemade salted caramel truffles which, because of the wait for our main courses, are taken off the bill.  The truffles are excellent. Great food, lovely atmosphere and, as far as we are concerned, they rescued the tiny glitch in service.



Dinner@Heist Bank, Paddington

Well, it’s been a long time coming but, finally there are signs of better food options near Paddington station. Tonight we are heading to Heist Bank which describes itself as ‘a new playground for adults’ serving coffee, wood-oven pizzas, local craft beers and cocktails.

Heist Bank is set in the gradually transforming Paddington Basin and the place is buzzing when we arrive.  The interior has a trendy industrial design, walls are adorned with interesting modern art and the menu has at least 10 craft ales and ciders on tap – I’m happy already.  In the corner there is a hubbub of activity next to the pizza oven as the pizzas are built, cooked and served.

Beer is important in order to help us study the menu.  Actually the drinks menu is as long as the food menu with many bottled beers and ciders plus an array of modern and classic cocktails.  Rock has a Bibble, a pale ale brewed by the Wild Beer Company using Mosaic & Amarillo hops.  It is light, slightly bitter with some fruity notes.  I go for the Hepcat from the Gypsy Hill Brewing Company.  It is an IPA made from a blend of five different hops which deliver quite intense citrus and tropical flavours.  Now I really need a pizza!

There are a variety of other dishes on the menu but it is the pizza made with 48 hour fermented sourdough that drew us here in the first place.  We decide to share the one with courgette, sundried tomatoes, walnut pesto, basil and Talagani cheese.  Talagani is a Greek sheep’s milk cheese, similar to halloumi – quite salty and marinated in mint.  The pizza is huge – easily enough for the two of us after a heavy lunch.  On other tables, however, I notice people eating a whole pizza with side dishes without any difficulty.


The pizza is great, the ale is great, the atmosphere and service is friendly.  We will definitely come back here!

Lunch@Pizarro, Bermondsey

José Pizarro has established himself as one of the leading chefs in London’s growing Spanish tapas scene.  Pizarro is one of three restaurants he has in London and we are looking forward to having our lunch there before heading to the theatre.  We have to battle our way through the snow and bitingly cold temperatures ….I can’t remember being so pleased to arrive at our destination as I am today!

We are warmly welcomed and José is not only in the house – but comes over to talk to us and to the other diners.  I have an Estrella Damm, a mediterranean lager brewed in Barcelona, while we study the menu.  Pizarro is not just a tapas restaurant – there are more substantial Spanish dishes on the menu.  However, Rock and I decide to share a selection of tapas dishes to start.


The first tapas dish is croquetas of blue cheese and spinach.  The blue cheese is not very  strong and the croquetas are crispy on the outside and silky soft inside.  Fantastic.  Next we have beetroot salad with mahón cheese.  This is not only one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen, it is also one of the best tasting.  A mix of finely sliced yellow beetroot mixed with red endive, blood orange, zingy capers, crunchy sunflowers seeds and mild mahón cheese….spectacular!

Beetroot salad with mahón cheese

The last tapas dish is tostada de sardina ahumada – basically smoked sardines with a piquant tomato paste on small pieces of toasted bread.  The flavours are sensational.  No wonder this man has a reputation for tapas!

Tostada de sardina ahumada

For the main course Rock chooses the mackerel & piquillo pepper paella.  After the glorious tapas, she finds the paella disappointingly bland.  I have the slow cooked Jacob’s beef rib with grilled onions and romesco sauce.  It is an extraordinary piece of meat – as thick as my forearm and nearly as long.  The beef is tender but there is just too much meat for me and I’m disappointed that the waiting staff did not recommend that I had another vegetable or rice to help balance the dish.  We take half the rib home with us for later enjoyment.

Overall, great atmosphere, probably the best tapas we’ve ever had, but the main courses just did not match the heights of the tapas.

Lunch@Malt & Anchor

Malt & Anchor has taken over the spot in Cirencester town centre that used to be the home of one of our favourite lunch haunts, Eat Wild.  In the National Fish & Chips Awards 2018, Malt & Anchor won the Best Newcomer award.  Eat Wild was one of the best places for a quality burger – let’s see if Malt & Anchor is able to take up the vacant position in our favourites list with their fish and chips!

The restaurant is modestly sized with more tables upstairs.  We get a table downstairs because we booked but walk-ins are soon being shown upstairs. I’m slightly disappointed that the new owners don’t even try to match the excellent music playlist of Eat Wild… but, having said that, no music is a great deal better than bad music.


Can they match Eat Wild for beer?  I try Hooked, a small batch blonde ale, created by the Bespoke Brewing Company from the Forest of Dean.   It’s a clean, refreshing ale with a slight tang of citrus, it should work perfectly with fish and chips.  Rock has the Frobishers apple juice and soda.


Cod comes in two sizes here – regular and lite bite.  Rock, being petite and ladylike, decides that the beer battered lite bite will be enough for her.  When it arrives, she is very happy with the portion size and even happier with the quality.  Fantastic batter, beautiful fish, excellent twice-cooked chips.  The home-made tartare sauce is fabulous and even the mushy peas – Rock is not a fan of mushy peas – disappear from her plate.


I’m having the full-sized haddock with a lighter batter.  I am very happy – everything on my plate is just as good as on Rock’s.  The beer does work perfectly and it is very evident that Malt & Anchor is easily going to claim the position as one of our favourite places to lunch!

Lunch@The Swan, Southrop

It has been a while since we visited The Swan.  It was a regular of ours until it changed hands a few years ago.  Now part of Thyme, a local hotel and cookery school where I once spent a day learning to make and cook pasta –  we are eager to see if The Swan is as good (or even better) than it used to be.  We are meeting our friends Jem & Sassy there for lunch in order to find out.

Rock starts with a fizz – a blood orange and pomegranate fizz to be precise. Juice of blood orange, fleshy pomegranate seeds and lemon juice all brought to life by a healthy measure of champagne. I have a pint of the Swan’s own real ale – Village Tipple. We are  already enjoying ourselves.

Jem and I both like the sound of Matt’s Scotch egg.  Matt Wardman is the chef at The Swan and a chef-tutor at the Thyme cookery school – so our expectations are high.  The Scotch eggs are presented already cut to reveal runny yolk centres beautifully encased in home-made sausagemeat and breadcrumbs.  Fabulous.  Sassy is having the heritage beetroot risotto with mascarpone and parmesan reggiano.  The beetroot gives the dish a vibrant red appearance and Sassy tells us that it tastes as good as it looks.  Rock does not have a starter…she’s too busy with her fizz!

Matt’s Scotch egg
Heritage beetroot risotto with mascarpone and parmesan reggiano

Jem moves on to the salmon fishcakes for his main course, served with garden leaves and aioli.  The fishcakes are good size balls and well filled.  The garden leaves are enhanced by the addition of apple and pomegranate. Both Rock and Sassy are having the squash and ricotta ravioli with crispy sage, pine nuts and parmesan.  The ravioli is beautifully presented and tastes really good – though Rock feels that the pasta would be even better if it had been rolled a little thinner.  I have the Southrop mutton shoulder shepherd’s pie served with kale.  It tastes fantastic.

Do we have room for dessert? Probably not, but when has that ever stopped us.  Jem and Sassy go for the Monmouth pudding –  baked breadcrumbs in cream, with jam, berries and topped with a soft meringue.  Rock has a mix of raisin & Pedro Ximenez ice cream, pear sorbet and a shortbread biscuit. She tells me that the sorbet is just beautiful.  I have the Limoncello & poppy seed semifreddo with macaroons.  It is full of cream and sugar and probably many other things that potentially could lead to a heart attack – still, I’m having no difficulty in really enjoying it.

It has been great to spend time with Jem & Sassy and I think we are all in agreement about The Swan and its food.  It is at least as good as it used to be and not much thyme will pass before we are back for more.  We may have to wait a little while as The Swan is closing briefly for some reburbishment.


Lunch@Arigato, Newbury

Time for our first Japanese meal of the year.  We are meeting our good friends Antonio & Elisabetta for lunch at Arigato in the centre of Newbury.  Set in a Georgian building on the edge of the Avon & Kennet canal, Arigato appears to be a great setting for some interesting culinary experiences and for catching up with friends that we haven’t seen for a while.

We are running late so, when we arrive, Antonio & Elisabetta are already there.  Antonio is enjoying a glass of red wine and, as it is impolite to let anyone drink alone, I order a pint of Asahi Super Dry.  This is a clean, dry Japanese rice lager with some slightly sweet notes that can be picked up as it goes down.  The more sensible and more generous ladies have ‘volunteered’ to drive.

Food soon arrives and the first dish is a Miso soup, made from a dashi stock of fish and seaweed, it is a pleasant beginning.  Antonio and Elisabetta are both having sushi rolls – sesame covered sticky rice rolls filled with salmon and fish roe.  Rock and I are sharing tuna Tataki with Miso and seabass tempura.  The tuna is perfectly prepared – marinated, then just seared on the outside – then sliced to show the inside almost raw.  It is lightly coated  by something that is both a sweet and sticky and accompanied by a sharp and tangy sauce.  The tempura batter is very delicate and the seabass inside is beautiful.  Meanwhile, the next dish for Antonio and Elisabetta has arrived…crispy squid served with lime and salad vegetables.

Tuna Tataki with Miso

The conversation is lively and covers a very wide range of topics – work, Yorkshire, appearing on TV, holidays and other great places to eat.

Next Rock is having the vegetarian Gyoza, steamed Japanese dumplings served with a dipping sauce.  Antonio & Elisabetta are enjoying the chicken Katsu curry – the breaded and fried chicken has been added to a silky rich curry sauce and served with rice and salad.  I’ve moved on to the chicken Teriyaki noodles – ginger, honey and sesame oil flavours work their way through the dish and I’m really enjoying it.

Chicken Teriyaki noodles

Antonio and I still have room for dessert – he picks the green tea Mochi and, knowing Rock’s love of chocolate, I pick the chocolate Mochi.  Very intense flavours, interesting consistency – well worth trying.

Good food and great company – it’s what lunch should always be about!



Lunch@Salt, Stratford-upon-Avon

We have been resting a while after the seasonal excess. Now it’s time for our first blog meal of the year and we are starting as we mean to go on – aiming for quality.  Paul Foster from Salt, was named as the Up-and-Coming Chef of the Year by the Good Food Guide 2018….so this should be a great place for lunch.

Rock is pleased to see that they stock an elderflower pressé by Lovely and I am equally happy to try the Harry’s Heifer ale from the Church Farm Brewery in nearby Warwick.  Lovely soft drinks are handcrafted in Bristol and have won several Great Taste Awards.  My Harry’s Heifer is an amber ale with citrus and floral notes.  It is excellent.


We want something more than the set lunch but we cannot manage the 6 course tasting menu so we are choosing from the a la carte.  I decide to start with the cured halibut with a cep ragu, yellow chanterelles and crispy onion.  The halibut is soft and delicate and works well with the mushrooms & onion.  As I’m not a great fan of truffle, I’m disappointed that truffle oil has been added to the dish (it’s not mentioned on the menu), and for me the flavour is just too strong for the halibut.

Cured halibut with a cep ragu, yellow chanterelles and crispy onion

Rock decides against a starter and her first dish is spiced pheasant breast with lentil dhal, butternut squash and yoghurt.  She is enjoying it but it doesn’t quite have the wow factor she was hoping for.  I have the beef onglette with braised shin, beef fat hollandaise, crispy artichoke and pickled radish.  The braised shin is a little tasteless but the onglette is medium rare, tender and full of flavour.  I love the crispy artichoke and the hollandaise is inspired.  Both main dishes were sadly served warm rather than hot!

The most interesting sounding dessert on the menu is the brown bread ice cream sandwich with blueberries and sorrel.  That is the one we have decided to share.  The ice cream is sandwiched between two flat tuiles made from brown bread, there are fresh blueberries, a blueberry syrup, strands of sorrel and a sorrel granita.  It is fabulous. We both have coffee which is served with delightful choux buns filled with Scots pine custard.

It has been a meal of two halves, the starter and main courses were good – the dessert and petit fours were great.