Monday, 24 November 2014

The Drunken Duck Inn, Ambleside.

I had the hangover from hell. That pounding, pain over one eye, constant unrelenting throbbing, mixed with the self hating knowledge that I'd done this to myself. I felt as sick as a dog. We were in the car, heating cranked up to maximum, looking out over the miserable grey lake like a couple of pensioners on holiday. It was raining of course and I was going over the previous day in my mind. After drinking wine throughout the long tasting menu lunch at L'Enclume, I'd thought it was a bright idea to carry on drinking beer in the pubs of Cartmel. Oh dear, beer and wine never mix well do they? We were planning on going to The Drunken Duck that day but were forced to cancel and drove home in silence. It was the lunch that got away.
That was a year ago and there would be no mistakes this time. Even though the previous evening had been boozy, we made sure we necked loads of water through the epic taster menu at Lake Road Kitchen. And we'd religiously stuck to white wine.
So we joined the small bunch of folk waiting for The Drunken Duck to open at midday. There's no booking in the day, it's strictly first come first served.
Even though it was Sunday, the lunch service is usually a pretty informal affair. The lunchtime menu is small but well formed. I took a lovely pint of one of their own beers made for them by Barngates brewery; Cat Nap. At 3.6%, it's an ideal daytime session ale, pleasantly hoppy and well balanced.
We joined the other dog owners in the bar. As the previous day had been such a big one with two taster menus, two light dishes were just right for us.
Rueben sandwich, horseradish, chips. (£12).
We had one of these Reuben's at the famous Katz's Deli in New York once. I remember it well as I had indigestion all afternoon, something that normally never troubles me. These were the thinner toastie version. But bigger isn't always better. The perfect combination of crunchy toasted bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese and gherkin was just spot on. I reluctantly handed over the smallest portion I could to Mrs Bacon.
Her Charred mackerel on sourdough, dill pickles, horseradish Crème fraîche. (£8), was decent too, a nice balance of fresh flavours.
And the chips, the chips were just right. Medium thickness but crispy and crunchy.
The food in the evening is a grander affair by all accounts. It looks like we'll have to save our pennies and stay here (the rooms look wonderful but it's not cheap). 
It was worth waiting a year for our little light lunch at the Drunken Duck Inn. It's pretty much a perfect country pub. A beautifully realised interior, friendly staff, great food and ale. What more could you possibly want?
Drunken Duck on Urbanspoon *The final bill was £20 plus drinks, paid in full. 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Old Stamp House, Ambleside.

I've been wanting to try the food of chef Ryan Blackburn since Jay Rayner's great review of Cottage in the Wood a few years back. He has a very impressive CV, including previous positions at Michelin starred Holbeck Ghyll and Martin Wishart. My budget just won't allow me too many visits to these established high end restaurants unfortunately. Luckily for me, several months ago he opened up for himself (with his brother Craig) still in The Lakes, in the centre of Ambleside. As I'm a pauper with very expensive tastes, my problem can be overcome by going to restaurants like this. Young talented chefs who are very well trained and really know what they're doing but perhaps they're not quite so well known yet. So they're not charging an arm and a leg for essentially a similar standard of food.
In this case, the taster menu at lunchtime is an absolute steal at just £35 for 7 courses. (It's a shade under £50 in the evening).
We'd both had bouts of illness and were forced to cancel our reservation once, so when it came time to our weekend away, we were in desperate need for a treat.
The Old Stamp House is in a cave like downstairs, a series of small adjoining rooms. Simply decorated yet still cosy, apparently this was the former work place of Cumbrian poet William Wordsworth, at the time 'Distributer of Stamps', hence the name.
We began with Black Pudding Bon Bons, Cumberland Sauce. Great little bites, I can imagine the same thing but with the sauce inside, giving you an explosion of liquid as you bite into it.
Potted Shrimps, cauliflower and spiced mead velouté was our first real 'wow' moment. That silent exchange of nods and raised eyebrows as we dug in. Gorgeously silky smooth, with a beautiful, buttery, luscious texture and so wonderfully bold and flavoursome. The bread was used to full effect to mop up every single drop.
Ravenglass Crab. Avocado, pink grapefruit and radish. As the last course impressed with the full strength of flavour, this was delicate, light and fresh. Nothing is extraneous on the plate, those little green blobs of avocado sorbet were gorgeous little bursts of flavour that melt on your tongue.
Another real winner next, the Glazed pork cheek, queenies, artichoke and chestnut. Again, faultless.
We opted to swap a course. I wasn't coming all this way without trying a signature dish of sorts, Herdwick Hogget from local Yewtree Farm, braised shoulder, seared loin and crispy breast, cheese gnocchi, broccoli purée. If you've never tried hogget before, you have a real treat coming. It's just so rich in flavour, you can see why Simon Rogan is so fond of using this 'young sheep' (it's older than a lamb, not yet mutton). Easily one of the dishes of the year, just so bold and powerful. Again, the devil is in the detail, the green broccoli purée, a lovely accompaniment.
There was also a cheese course with a difference, Blue Winnow cheese, fig and Westmorland pepper bread like everything else here, just worked so well. 
Forced Rhubarb Cumbrian Gingerbread is about a perfect a pud as you can get for me. I adore rhubarb anyway, the slightly sour flavour with the sweet creamy sorbet, so measured and so effective.
The taster menu we had at Old Stamp House was completely faultless. It was such an enjoyable experience with polite, friendly service that was never over intrusive. (I'm personally not a fan of them taking your water and wine away from you and insisting on pouring after every single mouthful, who needs that? This never happened here.)
The food here is well considered and accurate, using local ingredients to full effect. It was a place I could imagine taking my parents to. As none 'foodies' I know they too would appreciate the food which is an extremely superior version of traditional Lakeland cuisine if you like. Perhaps you wouldn't come here for mad innovation but who needs that when the food is so enjoyable? (And that is now available elsewhere in the town, more of that later).
The bottom line is that Chef Ryan Blackburn really knows how to cook. He understands flavours that work and how to deliver them perfectly on the plate, simply and without fuss. It's a guaranteed dead cert this place and at these prices I really couldn't recommend it highly enough.

Old Stamp House on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Bacon on Beech Road.

I live just off Beech road in Chorlton hence the name Bacon on the Beech not beach. Here's a round up of all the places just on my doorstep. Starting on the green itself and walking up Beech road and back down again.
The Horse and Jockey.
I've made my feelings about this place very clear. It's a soulless chain pub with a menu designed by corporate head office rather than by a chef. It's a fake 'gastro' pub in disguise with cheap quality meat I wouldn't feed to my dog. They've cut food prices now which would indicate to me that this approach just isn't working here.
However they have kept the existing events ran by the previous owners, a very impressive firework display recently and the quaint markets on the green. The beer ain't bad. It could be so much better though.
The Beech.
My local pub and favourite boozer, it still retains it's old school charm despite an onslaught by the 'yummy mummies'. Shame about Parlour dogs having to to shut down though and the Hungry Gecko leaving.
Thai Spice.
Pretty average Thai food and not that cheap either. Nice sticky ribs though.
Parlour.  Famous for their Sunday dinner which is still a winner. A good range of ales and interesting looking specials too.
Bar San Juan.
More of a Spanish bar first and foremost than anything else with a good atmosphere and pretty standard, simple tapas.
Beech Road Cafe.
We've never been here but have heard pretty good reports of their breakfasts which we can easily do at home. Bizarrely, it never opens in the evening.
Beggars Bush.
Not a regular haunt of ours as it doesn't have real ale, it is a pleasant bar with a nice vibe and friendly staff too.
Epicerie Ludo. We love this deli, especially the croissants, proper baguettes and stinky French cheese, like Époisses. That's your Saturday night tea right there. Lovely customer service too. A middle class dream.
Etchells.
Essentially a newsagent, but so much more. They sell top local Barbakan bread and Frosts sausages and bacon. If we ever get fully snowed in, you could survive just from this shop alone for as long as you wanted.
Beech Rd chippy.
Apparently the 'only English' chip shop in Chorlton. Standard soggy, greasy chips and tasteless thickly battered fish if that's English enough for you.
The Laundrette. 
Unfathomably popular place on the corner overlooking the park. A re-visit is due soon to see if they've learnt how to make proper pizza yet. I know they're looking at getting a wood fired oven which will definitely be an improvement.
The Love Juice. 
Essentially the opposite of everything I'm into but I have enjoyed one of their juices. If being healthy and vegan is your thing, then this is the place for you.
JB Richardson; The Bakery.
Proper ace, popular old school bakers. Fantastic granary bread, pies pasties and cakes such as this vanilla slice.
The Leadstation. 
Big in the 90's, they've just not moved on food wise. Needs a fresh direction.
Serendipitea.
Cute teashop. 
Royal Balti Palace Indian Take-away. 
This is our Indian takeaway of choice and it's pretty good too.
King City Chinese Takeaway. Standard gloopy Chinese. For sale. 
Kulsumah.
We went once and that was enough. I think they may need a bigger sign.
The 'Famous' Trevor Pub.
Rumours about this being turned into a 'gastro' pub I think are probably premature although there are plans for a whole revamp including a kitchen adding.
Chorlton Green Brasserie.
We like what they're trying to do here, a re-visit is due soon. Last time the food just wasn't good enough in all honesty. 
So in conclusion, for things like great bread and booze we do very well on Beech road. We're in need though of somewhere a little better for food I think and just slightly higher end. I'm hoping Chester's wonderful bistro, Sticky Walnut choose us for their second location Burnt Truffle. 
Ideally I'd also like a Belgian mussel/beer bar and a Basque Pintxos bar but you can't have everything can you?