Lunch@The Vine Tree, Norton

Today we are meeting Edda & Roots for lunch at The Vine Tree in Norton. The Vine Tree is a country pub situated close to the border between Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. We’ve been here many times before and the food is usually good. The early conversation centres around hi-fi as Roots & Edda are in the process of acquiring a decent source of music for their home. I think we can help – I have some stuff in our attic!

I have a pint of Rare Breed from the Butcombe Brewery and Roots has an Elmers from the Flying Monk Brewery. My Rare Breed is a refreshing golden ale while Roots’ Elmers is a very drinkable pale bitter. Edda amplifies her senses with a glass of viognier and Rock an elderflower pressé.

Roots has the crispy Port Isaac squid served on a wooden deck, Edda has a turntable of goat’s cheese with a fennel & radish salad and an orange & chervil dressing. I have the seasonal and digital (as in like fingers) tempura vegetables. All the starters go down well.

I move on to the seared fillet of sea bass with fennel, thyme new potatoes, roasted hazelnuts and a rhubarb sauce. My sea bass is cooked well and fine tuned with an interesting sour rhubarb sauce. Edda has the caramelised shallot & beetroot tart tatin with cauliflower purée, roasted sweet potato & butternut squash and tapes of balsamic syrup. Roots has the fish pie – today’s catch in a cream, onion, muscadet sauce, topped with sliced new potatoes and a savoury herb & cheddar crumb. He loves it.

Rock tries to avoid dishes with a high fat content and chooses the plaice goujons because they are described on the menu as lightly bread crumbed. But, when they arrive, it soon becomes clear that the plaice is in cartridges of thick batter and breadcrumbs and the goujons have been deep fried. Not good but we decide against using a loudspeaker to voice her concerns.

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Treacle & stem ginger tart

For dessert both couples share the treacle and stem ginger tart with vanilla ice cream before having coffee. The beer has been very good, the food has been pretty good except for the plaice goujons, and we have really enjoyed seeing Roots & Edda.

Now….I really must have a look in the attic!

Dinner@Los Gatos, Old Town

I’m with Gino and, unusually, we are not heading to a curry house. Gino has gone all mediterranean on me and so we are going to Los Gatos for tapas. I’ve been to Los Gatos many times before but not since they moved into larger premises. I used to like the tight, dark squeeze of their old restaurant but it was often difficult to get in and the menu was limited.

Even though it is busy in Old Town tonight – we manage to get a table and start by ordering two bottles of a local favourite, Ramsbury Gold. A light golden ale, ideal for washing down the piquant flavours of Spain.

The menu is far broader than it used to be and we order a more than modest range of dishes: a sharing platter of cecina beef, pata negra ham, tetilla cheese, mahón cheese and pickled peppers; milhojas – layers of puff pastry filled with blue cheese & wild mushrooms; pescado borracho – hake in beer batter with saffron mayo; gambas – prawns fried in olive oil with garlic & chilli; fried aubergine chips with sea salt & honey; and a spanish tortilla (eggs not wheat).

All the dishes are good but the milhojas and the hake are fantastic. We are well looked after by Luciana – who, despite the restaurant being packed and short staffed, manages to check regularly that everything is ok and that we are enjoying ourselves……we are!

Lunch@Helen Browning’s Chop House

I am back at Helen Browning’s Chop House and this time I have Rock with me. We are here for lunch and the idea of a seriously good pork chop is at the front of my mind.

As we sit down to study the menu I notice the specials board and, to my dismay, at the bottom of the board there is a note saying….no pork chops! Omg. There are alternatives and to help the decision process we order some drinks – I fancy a milk stout from the Bristol Beer Factory and Rock is having an always excellent Camden Hell’s Lager.

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Back to the specials board and I see a seasonal special – the Christmas burger. A burger with bacon, brie and cranberry. Rock has a standard Chop House burger. Both burgers are good – easily better than you get from the fast food outlets.  My Christmas burger has fabulous bacon and beautiful brie but, I’m not entirely convinced that the cranberry is something I would go for again.

I am convinced that the Bristol Beer Factory milk stout is something I would choose again and I order a second! It is full-bodied and full of flavour.

Lunch here was a pleasant experience….I just really wanted a pork chop!

2016 Food Awards – Part 2

WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016

The WadeandRockandFood Awards 2016 follow another year of dining out in hundreds of restaurants, pubs and cafes. The awards aim to celebrate the very best eating experiences we have had over the last 12 months. Awards 2016 part 1 focused on restaurants, part 2 focuses on pubs and part 3 will focus on small independent food providers.

In 2015 we found several sensational pubs. In 2016 we have not been quite so fortunate – with many places falling short on imagination and quality. However, our top 3 pubs are all worthy of their place.

Devonshire Arms, Long Sutton

A former hunting lodge set in a pretty Somerset village. Has the feel of a traditional village pub but the food is of a far higher standard than you find in most village pubs. Devon review

Hand & Flowers, Marlow

You may have to wait months to get a table at the only UK pub with 2 Michelin stars…but it is worth it. A clever combination of exceptional service and high end pub food. Hand review

Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn

A free house that always has a good range of beers. The Three Tuns is a lively village pub that creates some beautiful plates of food and it is simply a great place to dine with friends. Tuns review – Apr 16 Tuns review – Dec 16

Part 3 will follow in the next few days.

Lunch@Three Tuns, Great Bedwyn (3)

It seems pointless to me, but friends of ours who are due to appear on a national TV show next year, now want to be known by their stage names. So we are not meeting José & Matilde at the Three Tuns in Great Bedwyn, we are meeting Antonio & Elisabetta.

Antonio and I go head to head with a pint of Camden Pale Ale while Elisabetta enjoys a glass of Prosecco. We all study the menu and, while we all hope there is something here that we like the look of, there is no conferring at this stage. Antonio steps up to the podium for the first round and orders half a pint of prawns with focaccia and aioli. Elisabetta has a dish of rich macaroni cheese. Rock and I share the crispy fried chicken served with a very fiery kimchi.

Conversation turns from travel to things occupational and then to music…..where we all put our obscure knowledge of album titles to the test. Nobody joins the 200 club.

We all have an idea of what we would like to see in the next round and we are not disappointed. My medium rare Bavette steak is served with marrow bone, chop house butter, hand cut chips and salad. The steak is beautiful. A golden couple of seabass arrive for Antonio and Rock, each served with chorizo braised butter beans, spinach and aioli. On my recommendation, Elisabetta has the confit Creedy Carver duck leg with mash, cauliflower & sticky red cabbage.

Now we are one step closer to the final round – but all this good food has eliminated the need for a full-blown dessert. Instead, we have coffee or mint tea with a selection of the excellent chocolate salami that they serve here.

I predict that all of us will be returning couples because there is absolutely nothing pointless about spending a lunchtime eating at The Three Tuns. Indeed, anyone dining here could easily hit the jackpot!

Lunch@Rick Stein’s, Marlborough

The Rick Stein food empire has finally spread to Wiltshire and we are meeting our friends, Sassy & Jem, for lunch at his new restaurant in Marlborough. The Restaurant is in an 18th century listed building called Lloran House and it opened just a few weeks ago. Between us, we have experienced many of Rick Stein’s other eating establishments with some mixed results, from fabulous to poor. Here’s hoping today will be at the fabulous end of the spectrum!

Rock and Jem both have mackerel to start but prepared in different ways. Jem has the grilled mackerel fillets served with pickled autumn vegetables, chervil and chilli oil. Rock has the mackerel escabeche, fried and then marinated in olive oil, white wine vinegar and herbs. Sassy has the gigantes (giant butter beans) with tomatoes and greens. I have the crab linguine with tomato, garlic, chilli and spring onion. So far, so good.

Jem and I decide to sample the wine list. I have a glass of the Le Tuffeau, a zingy French sauvignon blanc and Jem has a glass of Rick’s own Spanish white made from viura and verdejo grapes. Both wines are very good.

Unlike everyone else at our table, I am not having fish for my main course. I have been tempted by the prospect of the pithivier filled with duck, porcini, red wine and Armagnac. The pithivier is enormous, big enough for at least two people, and served with new potatoes and cavolo nero. It is rich in flavour and tastes beautiful but, if I eat the whole pithivier, I may have to be carried out.

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Rock and Sassy both have the pan fried fillet of hake served with champ mash potato and wild mushrooms. The hake is perfectly cooked and the champ is beautifully smooth, though they would both have preferred less champ and more vegetables. Meanwhile, I am still working my way through the pithivier.

Jem is having the John Dory a la Carlina, pan fried John Dory fillets with a rich sauce of tomatoes and capers. The conversation moves from travel to books to TV and then onto live music. I’m too busy to talk though – I still have a quarter of the pithivier to deal with!

On a trip to the loo for a lie down… I discover that the restaurant is much larger than it looks from the outside. It has two floors and there are at least two dining rooms on each floor. I resist the temptation to run up and down the stairs a few times to aid the digestive process and hope that, over time, I will find a tiny space for dessert.

We continue talking and, when the time comes to order dessert, I know I should follow Rock’s lead and simply order coffee. But, I don’t. In a moment of abject greed, I order the marmalade cheesecake served with a blood orange granita. Sassy has the Riz Au Lait, a warm rice pudding with spiced pineapple – which she says is her favourite dish of the day and Jem has the crèma catalana – a catalan crème brulee.

Even though I have clearly eaten far too much today and may spend the night dreaming about a giant pie, with the wings of a duck, flying towards me…..the overall experience has been towards the fabulous end of the scale!

Dinner @The Fox & Hounds, Wroughton

Tonight I’m with Gino and we are heading out for dinner but, if we can, we want to find a pub with a vacant dartboard. Although I spend an unreasonable amount of time in pubs, usually I’m simply eating and drinking. However, tomorrow I am playing a darts match and I really need some practice.

We head to the Fox & Hounds – partly because I’ve discovered that it has been refurbished and the new tenants have introduced a more interesting menu and partly because the landlord is a keen supporter of darts. When we arrive the place looks bright and smart and there are several sets of darts on the bar. There are also players – tonight is a darts league night. Gino and I both order a pint of Hoperation, a decent IPA with good hop flavours and a smooth finish.

Darts will have to wait a while and we target the menu instead. We both fancy the smoked haddock scotch egg with home-made tartare sauce. We hit double top! A beautiful bread-crumbed smoked haddock outer layer with a perfectly runny egg centre, served on a bed of fresh salad with scorched lemon and three arrows of tartare sauce. Fabulous! 

Our main courses are more typical of current British pub food. Gino aims for the burger with tomato relish, smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. I check out the Arkells beer battered fish with minted peas. Both dishes are served with proper chunky chips – presented in baskets almost as though they have just been lifted out of the hot kitchen oil.  The salad comes in slightly impractical cups and the minted peas in a small iron pan. I’m not a big fan of food served on boards but the kitchen scores highly for presentation. It terms of delivering traditional pub food – the chef has hit the bullseye.

Following dinner, Gino and I take flight to the Carver’s Rest – just down the road, where they have a barrel load of beer varieties and two dartboards. The beer is great but both dartboards are in full use!

So, no darts but a great evening out with Gino. I’m sure I’ll be back at the Fox & Hounds before too long….Rock needs to get on the oche and try their food.