The Legh Arms @ Prestbury

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Seeing as we travel around the country with enough electronics to remotely navigate a super liner into a berth on the other side of the Atlantic (phones, GPS, PDAs, laptops etc), the sort of confusion thing I’ll go into here shouldn’t really happen.
But, precisely because of the reliance on such equipment over the commonsense and paper map efficiency of times gone by – they do.
Setting off for a weekend trip out to the scenic delights of Cheshire we’d already looked online to seek out the Legh Arms at Adlington, near the grand and impressive Adlington Hall.
We called up and, on being informed that there was a “sittings” arrangement i.e. set starting times for service in the restaurant, made a reservation.
The postcode was likewise sourced from t’internet and the satelitte nannying maam was switched on to hector us with driving instructions.
What could be more pleasant then a Sunday afternoon drive out through the leafy green Cheshire roads? Leaving the flashy flesh pots of Altrincham and Hale and venturing into the rural charms of the flat county – albeit with fortress heigh hedges, preventing any nosy glances towards the multi-million pound residences of the seriously wealthy of these parts.
As “Susan” instructed, we passed by the Legh Arms at Adlington. Straight past. Looking at it disappearing in the rear view mirror with three miles still to go on the sat nav it didn’t look much like the picture we’d seen online. Of course we could have just stopped there and then but no, we continued to the destination and there it was – another Legh Arms.
Confused maybe but thankfully this one in Prestbury village was the one we’d made the reservation with so we were soon in the dining area looking through the set menu.
This Legh Arms has a restaurant housed under the low and ancient beams of a traditional inn. Diner’s can eat in the cosey, welcoming bar area or the restaurant where the style is a rather dated sort of formality with carpets and crisp table linen.
Perhaps disappointingly for such a characterful setting, there’s only two beers on offer in the Robinson’s establishment so he settled in with a Hatter’s Mild and I plumped for the Chilean Merlot from a choice of wines by the glass which was big on Merlot from a wide range of countries.
The set menu offered mostly traditional food – roasts, grills, fish etc. with a choice from three courses for £15.95
I started with a rather generously al dente helping of asparagus topped with a particularly sweet and mellow goats cheese while he ventured under a generous helping of leaves to discover some Scottish smoked salmon which was pleasantly dressed if unexceptional.
A perfectly cooked roast beef with a deliciously hot yet creamy bowl of horseradish sauce was a welcoming sight for him while I tested out the chef’s adventurous sounding seabass with pesto mash.
Where the beef succeeded, the fish fared less well being, not only on the small side, but also completely over powered with black pepper and a pesto mash which seemed to be more pesto than mash. The separate serving of vegetables for both meals was an bowl of plain carrots, broccoli, beans and potatoes.
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We chose from a long list of puddings of the expected pub menu nature (does anyone still ever order cheesecake?) but here I’d say I was definitely the winner with a homemade apple crumble which was both generous and cooked with some bite still left in the fruit, not overly sweet and topped off with a light but creamy custard.
He enjoyed the chocolate torte which was a dark choc concoction.
Getting back on the road from this idyllic, picture postcard village we considered our confusion over the original destination and came to the conclusion that it will all work out in our favour in the end – the error means a visit to the other Legh Arms is now on the cards for a future adventure.
The Legh Arms hotel and restaurant reviewed here is at Prestbury Road, Prestbury, Cheshire. 01625 829 130.
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Brollies remaining firmly up

OK, I admit it. I confess, it’s white flag time. This appalling summer weather is all my fault.
It was back in May when I re-visited this outdoor dining section with the optimism of the new year and a disappointed look back to last summer saying;
“Four blog posts on outdoor eating for a whole summer. Four, and I remember being a bit chilly for one of those.
“It’s not a true reflection on the outdoor eating facilities available in the city but was purely the fact that the weather never let me get going with it.”
Hah! Four opportunities would have been a fine thing. All I’ve managed this summer is a windswept pizza at Dukes 92 in Castlefield.
Casting that virtual clout before May was out obviously jinxed it. Apologies.

Shock at award for made-up wine list

It’s been amazing to see the reaction to the “expose” of the Wine Spectator awards system. Journalist and author Robin Goldstein put forward a wine list for an imaginary restaurant to the WS magazine which claims to help Americans “learn more, drink better”.
He paid the entry fee and provided all the necessary documentation – then won an award despite having neither the wine or the restaurant.
The magazine’s executive editor Thomas Matthews has publicly denounced Goldstein’s actions as a “publicity-seeking scam.” He also denied that the award of excellence was designed to generate revenue for the magazine.
While unlikely to directly affect many reader’s in the UK, the credibility of awards for food or wine is a jealously guarded business and what Goldstein appears to have done is call, not just the Wine Spectator’s scheme, but all such gongs into question.
And the reaction on his blog has been incredible.
Here’s one typical response; “Thank you for doing this! For a long time I have been wondering about these awards, since I have had some pretty disappointing experiences with wine lists all over the country in restaurants I had chosen because of the Award of Excellence,”
and more;
” Any other decent publication would fire their editor over an incident like this. What happened to journalistic integrity?”
And so it goes on (and on, and on) in that vein. There is a small amount of criticism of the writer’s methods but on the whole this false entry (whether it’s a prank or a serious investigation is open to question) seems to have shocked the wine drinking sensibilities of those readers who considered the publication to be a fair and balanced guide.
And quite right too. Consumers should demand more transparency in these areas – anyone can put a certificate on the wall or send off for a “diploma” online.
What’s more, everyone knows that. So while it remains to be established whether this was some sort of cash-for-awards system in operation, even the fact that such a reputable publication can allow itself to be brought into question in this way drives another wedge into the level of trust reader’s invest into the established media – and that’s bad news for all.

@ The Fish Hut, Manchester

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There’s only a few what you’d term ‘proper’ fish and chip shops in the brave new world that is now Manchester city centre and The Fish Hut in Liverpool Road is one of them.
The long-time lunchtime haunt of queuing construction workers and students has had a bit if a refurb and is now open for after work hours and on a Saturday.
If you need to have your takeout on a plate with knives and forks, there’s a small dining area on the first floor and there’s even some tables and chairs out front now (though the arrangement does require something of a balancing act).
The menu has been kept good and simple, puddings, pies, chips and gravy as well as the expected fish ‘n’.
Being a traditionalist I called in for some fish on a Friday – and don’t regret it.
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Fish: Just a choice of cod or plaice but, who needs anything more? I approve, I like to know what it is too. These unidentified “fish” should be stopped. The cod was perfect, white as white can be and flaky. If I was looking to be critical I’d say the fillets are a tad on the small size but certainly just the right amount for me.
Batter: Well! I nearly resorted to expletives. Quite simply everything it should be. We had to wait about five minutes for the freshly fried fish to come out then it crunched with a bite that made that sound Heston Blumenthal presumably aims to achieve with his hungry headphones. OMG, what more can I say. A symphony of crispy crunchiness.
Chips: The Hut knows about crispness. A plentiful portion not greasy and fantastically free of those black bits which seem to be creeping in all over the place. On a return visit I’ll ask them to go a bit easier on the salt but the chips were sufficiently resistant to the vinegar.
Peas: Well there had to be a down point and this was it. Overly sweet and too mushy, these peas are nothing to shout about. The only other minus to what is an otherwise excellent fish and chip supper is the ridiculous tiny plastic forks which is about as successful as attempting to harpoon Moby Dick with suba gear. Please can we go back to the generous wooden ones?
Price: Two fish suppers, one with peas for less than a tenner and that’s in view of the Sky Bar where one glass of wine costs £12.
Verdict: Hit The Hut!
The Fish Hut is at 27 Liverpool Rd, Manchester, M3 4NW. 0161 839 0957‎

‘Meat Sweats’: Only in America

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I did consider saving this until tomorrow for a bit of Friday fun but then decided there’s no fun to be had here.
Taste, waste, health, entertainment, meat production, whatever. This is truly vile on any measure you want to use.
According to the BBC Today programme , American diners in Texas travel to a “restaurant” to attempt to much their way through 72oz steaks within one hour.
If eaten within that timeframe, this gargantuan piece of meat comes free.
Even more vile, the current record at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas stands at 10 minutes.
And, if something CAN be even more vile, most people obviously give up (presumably wasting a large part of a cow which deserved a better fate) suffering from something called “meat sweats”.
The very thought makes me shudder.
The pictures and videos all have something in common – big, fat red-necked men. So, purely in the interests of journalistic research, I wondered whether any women would be stupid enough to partake of this nonsense.
Checking our their website (which includes a “watch live” option) the owners claim;
“About two women each year successfully eat the steak (About 50% of the women who try are successful. So about four or five women make the attempt each year.)”
I’m at a loss to know what to say to that. Speechless.

Friday fun: Help Gordon Brown eat all the pies

It’s not often that our PM makes it onto my blog – in fact I think this is a first. It could well be the last time too as I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him express any foodie preferences and, unlike David Cameron, he doesn’t seem to have a web cam in his kitchen.
So what’s got him inlcuded? Here’s your chance to be Gordon Brown and take on Cameron. Simply go around a collect the yummy items discarded by the leader of the Tories while avoiding the waste nasties and see how you measure up on the food-o-meter.
Go on, it is Friday.

Still no answer from Marmite

OK, I’m starting to get a bit grumpy now. Following the many complaints and comments about the taste of the squeezy Marmite, I’ve been attempting to get some answers.
First I called those responsible for the distinctive tea-time spread (Unilever). 1. voicemail. I left a message. 2nd voicemail. I left a message.
Nobody called me back.
Then I sent the following email;

” Hi
I write about food for the Manchester Evening News and recently blogged about the squeezy Marmite, asking users whether they thought it was different to the “old” Marmite we all know and love. The response has been remarkable with many comments and emails on the subject but all those responding agree – there is something sweeter about the current offering.
Could you provide us with some answers on this? Would it be possible to see the ingredients list of Marmite say, ten years ago, and Marmite now?
One user compared labels and found that salt levels have gone down (as your press officer said it would when asked last year) but that the carbohydrate level has increased from 19.2% to24%, with sugar going up from o.5% to 1.1%. Could you explain that to us?
If you want to follow the ongoing debate, please see here; http://blogs.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/food/2008/08/you_think_marmite_has_lost_its.html
I look forward to receiving your response.
Sarah”

Guess what? Still no response.
I will continue.

Is great cooking an artform?

That was the subject of debate on Radio 4s Today programme this morning. (Listen again here)
Chef Rick Stein believes cooking should be considered as art.
Taking the opposing view, art critic Tom Lubbock believes that food falls firmly into the craft category, his argument seeming to be based mainly on the basis that the transitory nature of the experience somehow devalues it.
How so Mr Lubbock? What about theatre, or music or any other form of performance for that matter?
Just because the play has ended doesn’t make it any less of an art form. There’s always the script to hand on to the next generation of players or the score to hand on the musical baton through the ages.
Sounds a bit like a recipe book to me.
So while I’d have to agree that not all food is equal ( in just the same way that not all weekend daubers are great artists) I think Rick’s right.
Great cooking can elevate the spirits and feed the soul just as well as any other of the arts and it may cheer him to know that wikipedia has already classified “culinary arts” as worthy of a listing!
What do you think? Art or craft?

Friday fun: Just what would you do for an egg?

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This week’s bit of Friday fun comes with thanks to allotment holders, chicken raisers and good-lifers everywhere, an attempt to establish the worth of that humblest of foodstuffs – the egg.
So what’s an egg worth to you?
Well if you’re looking at it from a nutritional point of view, the Poultry Site has all the answers. It says: “The egg is one of the most complete and versatile foods available and consists of about 10% shell, 58% white and 32% yolk.
Neither the colour of the shell nor that of the yolk affects the egg’s nutritive value. The average egg provides approximately 313 kilojoules of energy, of which 80% comes from the yolk.”
But surely the very symbol of the start of life is worth, more than just its component parts?
One man who certainly thinks so is my colleague Ben Hughes (or “Ben the Hen” as I have come to know him).
His chicken adventures as he attempts to live the good life are being featured every Friday in the MEN’s Greenlife pages.
His current pre-occupation is an abundance of eggs for which he is attempting to establish the true value by offering them as eco-swaps. So far offers of compost and tomato plants have been considered a reasonable exchange.
For those of us without land, an offer of cash didn’t go down too well and I notice in today’s paper that my pledge of a personal webpage designed for the price of five eggs a week until the job was finished was described as “the weirdest thing” he’s been offered!
Anyway, regardless of the spurning of the fruits of my labour, what would you offer in exchange for eggs for life?
Greenlife is also availble on Facebook, on Flickr and you can follow on Twitter.
Thanks to AND12 at Flickr for this picture.