Wednesday 31 July 2013

A Day at the Seaside: Llandudno

Llandudno is the nearest 'quite nice' seaside town to us in Manchester. I've been going to North Wales all of my life. I still like it, but it's always shabbier than I remember it from my childhood. Every time we go there we do pretty much the same thing. Firstly we park up on the West Shore and walk along the beach throwing the ball for the dog. He can run for miles. The sea goes out as far as you can see....
Then we come back and have pie and chips at the West Shore Beach Café.
 In truth, it's not really a 'foodie' destination, but it's a popular place and the food is just about good enough and home-made to stop me complaining. The pie is one of those puff pastry topped ones (not my favourite) but the meat is pretty good and there's enough gravy to dip your chips in. The chips are thick and not greasy, we always call these café chips for obvious reasons.
The coffee cake was ok (a little dry) but the staff are always lovely, so it's essentially more than the sum of its parts, and the views are pretty if the sun shines.
Then we drive over to the town, park up and walk along the pier. This is always better in my head than in actuality. You see in my head there are people dressed in Victorian gear (the ladies with those fancy umbrellas,) but the reality is actually exposed white flabby flesh and ugly tattoos. The shops are generally tourist tat and amusement arcades with those penny on the edge slot machines.

One at a time please.
I sort of half like it, but it also makes me a little sad as well, it's just a little faded and past its best as all British seaside resorts tend to be. (The Grand hotel on the pier looks like it needed a refurb 20 years ago.) We had a very decent ice cream from Kelly's of Cornwall. I couldn't decide, so in the end had three, my usual favourite mint-choc-chip, creamy Cornish vanilla, and a very enjoyable rhubarb crumble.
Mind out for those killer seagulls though, they will grab your cornet if they can!
A killer seagull.
We avoid the town centre now, again the reality is different from what I'd like, which are lovely little independent boutiques. (Like The Lanes in Brighton.) It's actually identikit cheap Britain with all the usual suspects, nasty pub chains and down-at-heel pound shops. We have found a decent pub though The Kings Head near the Great Orme tramway which had Pieminister pies on our last visit.
Man & dolphin wait for chips.
I do like the sea front though, the Victorian hotels painted different pastel shades are attractive enough. (Recommended hotel, the dog friendly Can-y-Bae.)
I always remind Mrs Bacon of my brilliant idea of opening a little independent cinema in the centre showing just old black and white films to the oldies who flock here. (First film: Brief Encounter.) I guess that's just a pipe-dream, like my ideal British seaside resort which doesn't actually exist (in the north anyway) so until then, I guess Llandudno will just have to do.
Tune: Old Cape Cod - Patti Page.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Tapas 24, Barcelona, Spain.

Isn't it satisfying when a plan comes together? I've been wanting to visit Tapas 24 for years since I heard that they did a McFoie, (their signature burger with foie-gras) but we'd got no available 'slots' to eat there on our trip to Barcelona. However we did have a breakfast free, so on the way to get the train to Sitges for the day, we stopped off there as it was quite convenient for the station as well. We even passed some Barcelona landmarks on the way, some famous Gaudi buildings....

As it was breakfast time, it was still fairly quiet so we sat outside. Our cheeky waitress looked doubtful when I ordered; "that's a lot of bread!" She frowned. I don't actually remember asking her opinion on my order, but she was dead right, it was a lot of bread, but I just had to order these dishes even though I wouldn't normally eat this much for breakfast.

First the tomato bread, we'd had these in a few places, but this was a superior version; the ratio of crispy toasted bread, fresh tomato, olive oil and garlic was spot on.

Their signature 'bikini' was very good as well; a toasted sandwich with black truffles, mozzarella & jamon. In fact no, it was better than very good it was excellent.

But the pièce de résistance, what I'd been waiting for the Mc Foie was heaven on a plate. Surprisingly the foie came separately and was in creamy liquid form. I poured it on. The burger was so rare, it was almost like a steak tartare. Fabulous! Probably the best burger of the year, and as you may know, I've eaten a lot this year!

It was well worth coming down for breakfast. Tapas24 is truly a superior tapas bar in a city that has no shortage of fine tapas bars. My only regret was not being able to try more off the menu. Ah well, next time I suppose.


Monday 29 July 2013

Aldi Sud De France Grenache Syrah Mourvedre 2011.

 I had to get this wine as soon as I saw it as I'm making my way through their fantastic Exquisite Collection and this is a brand new addition. It's very pleasant, it tastes ripe with soft and savoury tannins, a very enjoyable and balanced blend. Without being too pretentious about it, it tastes like a long hot summer in the French countryside.
As usual another £5.99 well worth spending at Aldi.

Region: Languedoc.
Grapes: Grenache Syrah Mourvedre.
Price: £5.99.
ABV: 14%.
Closure: Cork.
Score: 7.5/10

Stone Brewing Co.

Here I taste four American Craft Beers from Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego.
My American Craft beer quest continues unabated. These were all bought from The Chorlton Off Licence whose American Craft Beer section keeps getting better and better.
Levitation Ale. (£2.99.)
Dark and hoppy and a deep amber colour, a little too dry and bitter for me.

Stone Pale Ale (£2.99.)
Tastes almost bland in comparison to the previous, after a bit the flavour comes through, soft and easy drinking with delicate hop aromas.

Stone IPA. (£2.99.)
This is the one, like Goldilocks tasting the porridge; it's just right. Perfectly balanced between hops and those tropical flavours I love.

Ruination IPA. (£3.99.)
Ooo, very nice indeed, a double IPA so much more hoppy and bitter than the last one, complex and intense like an IPA on steroids.
Chorlton Off Licence,
520 Wilbraham Road.
Manchester M21 9AW.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Fish & Chips at Atlantic Chip Shop Chorlton.

The state of our so called 'national dish' is a disgrace. There I've said it. I've been feeling this way for years. Every now and then after forgetting how disappointing it usually is, I go and get some. The smell of the chips wrapped in paper brings back many happy childhood memories. Every Friday night my Dad would go and get chips from our local chippie, Steve's, whilst Mum would be buttering a whole loaf (trashy white obviously) ready to make chip butties slathered in proper butter. I'd probably have a sausage as well, or a pukka pie. I loved chip night. By the way, we'd already had our tea, this was on top of that about three hours later. I was a thin as a rake though. I used to be able to eat everything and not put any weight on, it was fantastic! (I've never really recovered from that.)
So on a whim on Friday we went to get some from our local Atlantic in Chorlton. We actually have one closer that bills itself as the 'only English' chip-shop, but we don't go there, mainly because the chips are poor and soggy.

Atlantic are no better or no worse than many other fish and chip shops around the country, they often have a queue, mainly I think because they offer good value for money, the portions are massive. So we shared a fish and chips, there was more than enough for two. It cost about £7, including two cans of old school pop; Dandelion and Burdock, the only accompaniment in my book.

So what were they like? I was sadly disappointed yet again. Firstly the chips. In his book A Cook's Tour, American chef Anthony Bourdain described the chips "as everywhere in the UK... needlessly limp and soggy. Few chip shop owners bother to blanch their fries in low temperature oil before frying, so they are never ever crisp." He's right, they're always soggy, as they were in this case.
Onto the fish. Mrs B chose haddock, which I would have done. However it tasted of nothing but batter. More disappointment. Many people I've worked with over the years professed to 'not liking fish apart from from the chippie.' Sadly I think this is all too common. This is because fish from the chippie is often like this - absolutely tasteless. Mrs B enjoyed the mushy peas though!

After having a moan on twitter about it, a few people told me about Fosters in Didsbury. I'm yet to try them. I'm sure there are many exceptions that prove the rule, there's apparently a good one in Llandudno junction as well called Enochs. I've never been to that one in Whitby either. But I'm really talking about your average local chippie not 'posh' chippies or famously good ones. I just find the standards are just needlessly poor generally. Surely we should be able to get a decent fish and chips in Chorlton? (Yes I have tried the Baths chippie and found it average at best.)
So it'll probably be another 6 months before I forget again and try another chip shop.
Sadly until then I guess fish and chips will remain better in my memory than in reality.

Friday 26 July 2013

The Hungry Gecko at The Beech, Chorlton.

I like being first in the queue. Just so I can say 'have you not been there yet!' (The following day usually!) I was rather pettily pleased with myself for being the very first person through the tills at both Pieminister and Beermoth (both in the Northern Quarter,) and was there on the first day at Cibo, Lust Luck Liquor and Burn, Damson Mediacity, Byron and Artisan. However, it's not always the best reflection of a place when they've only just opened. We were the very first people to be served by the Hungry Gecko at The Beech as well, and I had loads of interest on this website about it. (See my original review here.)
At the time I predicted it would be the local success story of the summer, and this has proved to be true. I've been back several times since (I do live about 2 minutes from there,) so it was about time I did a re-visit post. Since then The Beagle have also added a rotating street food operation, Guerilla Eats. Street food is clearly a big hit with people living in Chorlton.
At times I think the Hungry Gecko have been struggling to cope with how busy it actually gets, and occasionally they sell out, so my advice is, get there early like I do! As I said in the original post, it attracts the casual eater; you can go there for your tea or just have one dish as a snack (it's rarely one dish with me though.)

It has gone from strength to strength, Jackie has perfected her dishes and made them spicier, I'd also say the portion sizes are fair (something that some of the Guerrilla Eats traders hadn't quite got right yet I felt on my visit.) As I'm always saying, Chorlton-ites want good value for money. That's another strength of The Beech, the beer prices are not yet too astronomical (for Chorlton anyway.)
I was however dismayed to see they've now banned dogs from the room that we always sit in - the cosy side room. This is because of a new carpet. I hate carpets in pubs, they're so impractical as well. It's hideous, I can't believe they make swirly carpets like that any more! Anyway I digress, apart from a few moans about 'yummy mummies' taking over my local, (are they going to ban babies crawling all over the carpet as well?) The Beech is still my pub, and I don't see that changing any time soon.
Here are some of the dishes we've enjoyed recently. I especially like the Nasi Goreng with Pork Belly, I know Jackie has worked hard on this dish, no mean feat for a vegetarian. I also usually order the juicy Malaysian Beef Rendang.

For pudding, you can not go wrong with the Rhubarb and Custard Samosa, a great idea that simply works. (I could do with a bit more custard though!)
Here's my favourite yet; pani puri - it's a taste sensation!
The question is though, when is the appallingly awful neighbour The Horse and Jockey getting street food in?

Hungry Gecko at The Beech Inn on Urbanspoon