Wednesday 28 August 2019

The Black Bull Inn at Sedbergh, Yorkshire.

We no longer go camping. Too many times we had to pack the tent away in the rain. It was the packing and unpacking that became tedious. So whilst most of our friends upgraded to camper vans, we'd save ourselves the 20K that we don't have, and book into the nearby pub for a weekend away with friends. The problem though was that more often than not, these places are chosen based on their proximity to the local campsite. So the pub might have some decent beers on if it were in Yorkshire or Cumbria, but the food would be average. Despite the so called 'food revolution', the food offerings at many pubs in the UK remains quite poor I think. A recent trip to The famous Tan Hill Inn for instance, whilst a fun weekend, the food was awful and the staff were pretty poor.
So I always have low expectations and have become quite good at ordering the least worst thing on the menu. I would order the pie more often than not as it seemed a safe bet. Even then, I might be presented with one of those abominations, the puff pastry lid. This is not a proper pie!
The Black Bull in Sedbergh is a different kettle of fish. It's only a short drive from the M6 making it an easy journey up from Manchester. We wandered through the quaint little village past the little stalls selling local gin and artisan cheese. The sun shone on the bunting and everything was right in this lovely corner of the world. We even have time for a quick brew at The Three Hares Café, a place I later find out is owned by the same people, James and Nina. The bread and cakes look impressive but we're saving ourselves for lunch.
We get a warm welcome at the Black Bull too. We enjoy a marvellous lunch in the dog friendly bar area whilst our room is being prepared. The Maple Pea Hummus (£3.50) is a must order and excellent value, it comes with lovely thin, crunchy home made crackers. It seems all the things that can be home made or sourced locally are, down to the beautiful pottery. If only all pubs were like this.
The Drovers Platter Served With Bread Home Cooked Ham, Artisan Cheese & Sausage Roll (£12.50) is another fine choice. Again all the elements are very good. The cheese and ham is so much superior to the usual supermarket standard and the bread that they make themselves, superb. "I love this place" I say to Mrs B. We are so impressed.
Her order, the Hot Roast Beef Sandwich, proper chips & salad (£10.50) again, is beautiful with good quality meat. The chips are perfect.
Following lunch we check into our room. It's beautiful, modern and spacious. The cute little details like the bespoke toiletries (local of course) and the dog blanket and water bowl for our dog.
We returned later for dinner. The beer range looks impressive, I couldn't get enough of the unpasteurised naturally hazy Budvar beer.
To start we both order the Mansergh Hall Pork Belly, Hand Dived Scallop, Date & Kohlrabi (£9.95). My pork belly is a little over. I'm looking for that almost jellied soft texture with a crispy skin. This, I think maybe had been left on the pass and dried out a little. The scallops are beautifully cooked.
Also, Luing Beef Sirloin, Beetroot Ketchup, Cavolo Nero & Chips (£22.95). It is a good flavour steak with a pleasing texture. I swerved the cold Beetroot Ketchup (this doesn't work for me with steak) and personally I would have preferred the meat served on a plate rather than a wooden board. But I rarely order steak in pubs but would certainly make an exception here.
Desserts are good too. Our party were taken by the home made liquorice ice cream, "more intensely  liquorice than liquorice itself".
One thing I must mention, one of our party has some food intolerances and I thought it was quite telling how this was dealt with in a helpful and most professional manner. (She gave it a 10/10).
Unlike a recent abysmal unprofessional experience elsewhere (both during and after the meal), here what is already a great restaurant and a wonderful hotel, is made stellar by the people working here. All the staff are professional and clearly well trained. It also helps enormously if you have natural charm as everybody does here.
I think that at The Black Bull Inn, they understand that all the smaller elements are important but the people working here make our weekend from what would have been very good to one of the best weekend trips we've ever had away in the UK.
The following morning, the breakfast is excellent as we expected. The scrambled egg is perfect, made I guess with eggs from their own chickens in the beer garden in the back. All the elements, the bread and the freshly squeezed OJ are as good as they can be.  They strive to make everything is as good as it can be at The Black Bull in Sedbergh.
Dinner Bed and Breakfast cost us £205 for one night (including a £70 dinner allowance for two of us) plus £25 for the dog.

Monday 5 August 2019

Armeni Restaurant, Oia, Santorini, Greece.

Thinking back, the most memorable meals are those that are so engrained in specific a time and place, those unique singular moments in life where there's almost magic in the air. So it was with our dinner at Armeni Restaurant, Santorini.
It was the last night of a wonderful trip away, mainly in Naxos but with a few days in Santorini before we were due to fly home. The island itself is just as breathtaking as you imagine it to be. The picture postcard white villages and blue domes hanging on to the top of a volcanic crater are already so familiar from stock photos of Greece, you can hardly believe you're actually there.
I'd pre-booked a table at  Armeni as I'd got a tip from a pal on twitter. It shuts at 9pm so actually a 7.15pm booking is pretty much the latest you can eat in the evening without rushing. Google maps told me it was just a short walk from our apartment in Oia. I knew it would be downhill but it was slightly treacherous in parts with a minor landslip of small rocks but nothing that can't be handled if you're fairly able. Actually the walk down the cliff face was part of the whole experience.
We arrive to a warm welcome as is usually the case in Greece. Greek people really are the most hospitable folk. The taverna is at the very bottom of the volcanic crater right on the seafront. They have sun-loungers for customers going out to the quay and kids are running round with locals cats. The whole scene is so Greek with an informal slightly scruffy sea swept charm.
We order loads of smaller plates althought they offer you a look at the catch of the day.
All the dishes pretty much came at once which we didn't expect but it was all great, anchovy, smoked mackerel, octopus, scallops and smoked eel... It's just one of life's joys to eat food like this on the seafront as the sun is setting.
After we'd eaten they mentioned to us that we could have arrived on their complimentary water taxi from a nearby port as it is easier to manage the return walk up the cliff to Oia. So we took up their kind offer of a return boat ride back around the cove.
The water was choppy and a the ride a bit bumpy but right there and then was one of those moments you never forget. Fortuitously just as we turned the corner into the little port, the sun was setting on one of those famous Santorini sun sets. We couldn't have timed it better if we'd have tried. It was one of those rare moments in life when just fleetingly, life is perfect.

Thanks to Markos on twitter for the tip.