Sunday, 21 December 2014

Loosing Our Plot?


Well today was a bit of a stinker and no mistake, the type of Sabbath which might drive Alan Partridge to exclaim "Sunday, bloody Sunday!" Not only did the mackems dole yet out another dose of misery to those of a black and white persuasion, but it looks very much like scenes such as the one above may soon be consigned to the scrapbook. We popped down to the plot to find a couple of notices saying that the Freemen of the City are now minded to shut the allotments down.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Restaurant Review: House of Tides, Newcastle upon Tyne


I'm writing this having just sat through Newcastle not turning up to a major cup tie for the ump-bloody-teenth time, partly to remind myself of a fairer day, not so long ago at all. 2-0 against Chelsea was a remarkable reprise of the previous year's performance against Jose's lot. Chelsea sympathising friends were up visiting for a spot of football and merriment. Needing somewhere to round all this off I suggested House of Tides, thinking an expertly done Sunday roast would be an ideal coda to a fun weekend.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Restaurant Review: Raval, Gateshead


"We should totally go there for food sometime". God knows how many times, peering inside as we scampered down towards The Sage, we've said that about Raval. An Indian menu that avoids the usual Bangla-tastic clichés, some luxurious ingredients and a recommendation from no less a curry fanatic than Cliff Richard: there's plenty going on here to pique the interest. En route to what turned out to be one of the best gigs I've ever seen (John Grant- honestly, what a bloody show) we finally did what we'd threatened to for about five years and popped into Raval for a pre-music dinner.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Late Season Inspection



Today was the first time we'd visited the allotment in about a month. Happily it's still there and looking much the same as the last time we were down. If you're going to neglect your patch of ground, this is a good time of year to do it, as the shortening days and plunging temperatures put everything into stasis. We've defo made the right choice in downsizing our commitment to the plot; as much as we love doing this veg thing, there are too many other bits of life that take up significant chucks of time as well.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Restaurant Review: The Square, Mayfair, London


I tell you, it's not as easy as you might think to find somewhere for a fancy lunch in London on a Monday ( I know, isn't life hard sometimes?) A lot of the places on my "next time we're down there" list were closed; I suppose the quieter days are the weekend of the catering world, and fair enough. After a bit of a scout around we settled on The Square for what, with the arrival of some good news, was to be a bit of a celebratory meal. Possessed of a pair of étoilés Michelin, and sister restaurant of the completely wonderful The Ledbury, The Square is a long-time mainstay of francophile cuisine in the heart of Mayfair. Chef and co-owner Phil Howard has been on the telly a bit recently, and comes across as a very thoughtful and considered character, and a chef focused on a quite classical brand of excellence, rather than being in thrall to any particular fad. After a busy weekend of catching up with various London-based comrades we were ready and primed for a top feed.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Restaurant Review: Ikuze, Metrocentre


It's amazing what, lacking actual experience, you can convince yourself of; things that haven't happened yet are unsullied by the weight of their own reality. We are ever-hopeful creatures, seemingly hard-wired for optimism. Nothing else, for example, can explain the way I look forward to the start of a new football season. Who is is to say that the few players signed over the summer won't turn out to be world beaters? No-one, not yet at least. I vaguely remember promising myself after some grim experience or other that I would never again eat in the Metrocentre, but I broke that personal covenant recently. We were there for a film, it was a school night, and - what was this? - a Japanese place I'd never heard of. And therein lied it's attraction; in a sea of Waga this and Pizza that, Ikuze had all the promise of the untried.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Recipe: Bigos (Polish Hunter's Stew)


With some foods, a little context and a bit of understanding can go a long way to aid enjoyment. The first time I ate Bigos, I'd not long been going out with Kasia, and we were in a Polish restaurant. Noting from the menu that it is a hunter's stew, and not realising that two different types of cabbage go into the stuff, I ordered a side portion of pickled cabbage. I decided there and then that Polish food was just irredeemably cabbagey, and not for me. Since then I've had my fair share of Bigos at countless meals at Kasia's parent's and on a trip to Poland, not to mention chez nous, and I've gotten to love it. It's a hearty one-pot wonder of a stew, a sweet/sour umami-bomb of autumnal satisfaction. We used our own cabbage and carrots, only hours out of the ground, which probably did no harm. But fret thee not if yours aren't quite as fresh, for the key ingredient in this dish is time. Lots and lots of time.

New folk, roaring flames and some late-season optimism


This and last weekends have seen the customary autumnal tidy-up work proceed in earnest. Except, there hasn't been a great deal of work going on, which is the bit I like about this time of year. Weeds are only growing at a shuffling pace and the veg being harvested is hardy enough that if you don't get it today it'll be fine in a week. The weather has been fine too, sporting that fine combo of warm sun and cool air, making the plot a nice spot to just sit and be.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Mr Cooper's House and Gardens, Manchester


You're not short of interesting lunch options in Manchester these days which is a good job bearing in mind the fanny-on we had before settling on a venue for this one. Aiden Byrne's Manchester House was the first choice, but we left it too late. No table for us. The Aumbry in Prestwich seemed a solid back-up suggestion and I was looking forward to seeing how much of Mary-Ellen McTague's fun-looking cooking from GBM would make it onto the lunch menu. Not to be; I got a call a week ahead saying they were closing the place for a refurb. And so finally to the rather fancy city-centre Midland Hotel, and Simon Rogan's Mr Cooper's House and Gardens.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Caffe Vivo, Newcastle upon Tyne, Quayside


There's some fine eating to be had around the Quayside these days, much of it bearing the imprimatur of Terry Laybourne. Cafe 21, Caffe Vivo and The Broad Chare are all within the lob of an olive pip's distance from each other. Must be handy if the ice machine breaks down, or you get shafted on a cheese delivery. The last man to hold a Michelin star in this fair city, these days Laybourne's places are more about good food at a reasonable price. The Broad Chare was just awarded a Bib Gourmand for doing that exact thing. On a rare weekday sans travail, we had a very enjoyable shuffle round the river (The Daniel Buren thing at Baltic is great, especially when the sun shines- you've got until 12th October before it packs up) before, after much indecision and the toss of a coin, we headed for Cafe Vivo.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Downsizing and Tidying Up


A couple of weekends away, like the ones we've had recently, are all it takes for things to get unruly in allotment land. We spent a few hours down there today harvesting bits and bobs and having a well-needed tidy. There is an extra impetus to get all our veg out of one side of the allotment as we've decided, after some deliberation, that having the whole plot is a bit of a stretch and so we've offered it up for newcomers. Better to do half a plot well than constantly be chasing our tail, or planting great swathes of minimum-effort veg; that's the thinking anyway.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Restaurant Review: Hop and Cleaver, Newcastle upon Tyne, Quayside


I'd watched, and hugely enjoyed, the first 4 or 5 episodes of Netflix's House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Directed by David Fincher, when I read an article about why the online streamer had been confident enough to throw $100m at the project in the first place. Basically, they'd noticed from their data that a shit-load of subscribers watched the entirety of Fincher's stuff on their service; ditto Spacey's back catalogue. Meanwhile, the original BBC version of the political thriller had garnered a surprisingly high number of streams. x+y+z= SURE FIRE HIT! All of a sudden I felt slightly used, if not outright soiled. The programme that I had thought I'd stumbled upon serendipitously turned out to have been custom bloody designed for People Like Me; they'd sussed out what I liked, fed it straight back to me, and guess what? I'd lapped that shit right up. I gorged on the rest of the thing, enjoyed it plenty, but with a newly jaundiced hint of quease.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Restaurant Review: St Sushi, Eldon Square, Newcastle upon Tyne


Since Eldon Square has been getting redeveloped I've seen the odd poster in there claiming that some sort of premium food options are in the pipeline. This is surely well needed as, unless I'm just not noticing them, there are very few decent spots to grab something tasty on those occasions when, for whatever reason, you just have to venture in there. Every time I walk past Spud-U-Like and it's offer of a potato, beans and cheese for £4.49 - now there's some mark-up! - I'm struck by the dearth of imagination invested in Eldon Square's eateries. In which desert, St Sushi sticks out as a verdant oasis.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Product Review: Beer52


How much is your integrity worth? I had cause to find out the value of my own recently when I received a nice email from from a company called Beer52. Eight bottles of beer, that's my price. In my defence I should say that since I started flinging these gobbets of screed into the electro-ether I have not exactly been inundated with offers of free stuff, and those that have arrived have been easy to turn down on account of falling into either the "weird" or "crap" categories. The offer of 8 actual bottles of booze in exchange for a few words seemed more than fair, although I did wonder how I'd live with myself if the beer wasn't up to snuff. What a relief all round then, as I can in fact report that Beer52 are doing a cracking job, both in terms of the service they provide and the beers they dish up. Plus, I've got a money-off code for you to have a bash at, of which more later.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The last harvest?


September has provided some us some serious gluts as well a couple of useful lessons, all set to a soundtrack of ominous, if not outright grim, undertones. More on that last bit later, but first here's some of what we've hauled in and been otherwise up to as the days shorten and cool.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Restaurant Review: Fat Hippo Underground, Newcastle upon Tyne. Revisited.


According to no less an authority than Beardy McPirate, we have reached "peak burger". Burgers are on less menus in the UK than they were a year ago, although you'd be hard pressed to tell that from a quick mooch round recently opened restaurants in these parts; that down n' dirty menu vibe just keeps on trucking. If however at some point in the not-too-distant we see a move away from Americana to whatever's trendy in London three years prior (something that looks like the Clove Club please), some of our less brilliant burgeries may be in trouble.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Restaurant Review: The Butterfly Cabinet, Heaton


In these times of ferment and flux, it's comforting to find something that hasn't really changed in years. Not in the interests of nostalgia, but actually to negate the need for it; when you find something, years later, just as you left it then there's no need to pine for the past. Which brings us to a seriously decent brunch in Heaton.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Restaurant Review: Hooked, Alnmouth


With friends visiting from darn sarf, we spent an excellent day and night at Kasia's folks caravan in Northumberland recently. Being right on the beach it's perfect for strolls along the sand which can often be beautifully and eerily lonesome affairs, as tourists eschew this particular stretch in favour of the better known destinations such as Bamburgh and Seahouses. Fine by us. A hard day's paddling demands the cadence of a decent feed, one which we hoped to find at Hooked in the ever-pretty village of Alnmouth.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Bank Holiday Beanfest


A couple of hours were wrested from a busy bank holiday on Sunday morning and spent among the crops and weeds. After a storming July, August has been decidedly nippy, with wild talk of frosts in those sheltered rural areas that seem so inclined to it. It was therefore very nice to feel the the heat of the sun chase away the last of the dew as we worked.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Gits Strike Again


There was a story on the news tonight about how homo sapiens are now thought to have spent a good few thousand years alongside our neanderthal cousins before the latter bit the dust, trading, exchanging and even mating with them. Well, we saw some powerful evidence for the existence of unevolved barbarian DNA in the gene pool when we went down to the allotments last night. After a period of relative and very enjoyable calm, the marauding turds that have taken it upon themselves to vandalise the water supply in the past have had another go.
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