Leeds Loves Food on this week

Word comes my way that Leeds is set for a “culinary extravaganza’ later this week in the shape of Leeds Loves Food – well don’t we all!

There’s a festival events which starts this Thursday when North Yorks TV chef James Martin kicks things off with a live cookery demonstration in the city followed by a variety of gourmet nights, opera, farmers market plus the chance to sample some food from the upcoming talent of the city college with the student ‘pop-up’ mobile restaurant.

I’m hoping to get along for at least some of the event and intending to grab a few words with Mr Martin so…… if you have any questions for the chef who helped put the Kitchen into Saturdays, let me know via the comments below before Thursday and I’ll do my best to put them to him.

M6 service station food praise

I accept that very few people ever travel to a service station to experience the food. Aside from Heston’s Little Chef experiment, our roadside eateries are, on the whole, places known only for over-priced stodge, unclean toilet facilities and burger chains.

So it was interesting to see the excellent Travels with my baby blog single out Tebay as “probably the best service station in the world“.

She says: “Inside, a family-run farm shop is stocked with local cheese, meat, homemade pies and hampers. The cooked food is all sustainable this and Fairtrade that. The kiddies menu is a revelation – not a chicken nugget in sight. And there is a children’s play area and ‘family lounge’ that isn’t just a bunch of tired-looking plastic toys but is decked out with a farmland-themed climbing frame, tunnel and slide.”

Not having children to worry about, I’ve never been in this strange world of its family lounge but have memories of getting a proper meal in the restaurant there – sushi and roast quail if I remember rightly.

Having been the butt of many family jokes for taking Himself to this service station for a birthday meal, it was good to see that I’m not the only one who found the place worth a visit.

It seems Tebay is still the exception that proves the nasty road stop rule.

The Bolton Arms, Downholme

The Bolton Arms is one of those pubs where food writers rarely tread. Not because it doesn’t deserve writing about, but because country pubs in northern locations rarely figure on the radar of any national news organisation and really rural ones like this stand even less chance – unless of course you can get a celebrity name on the door.

Tucked away a little from the better trod honeypot Dales locations, it’s a place well-known to locals, but of little interest to those seeking to fill  newspaper column inches.

There’s just two framed and presented newspaper clippings on the wall – one from The Northern Echo’s brilliant Mike Amos (who rated its crackling as ‘fit for royalty’) back in 2001 and a faded page from the Darlington & Stockton Times in 1936. (The D&S also published this online review back in 2007).

So, while you can enjoy browsing a copy of Yorkshire Life tucked up in the bar, it’s unlikely you’ll ever read about this place in the Sunday supplements or the London-centric world of food critics.

Maybe the approach road isn’t the most conventionally welcoming.

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Driving past the sign, and then two very wet looking snipers lying in the mud under canvas pointing watchful eyes and guns in our direction, we crossed the high MoD land and soon dropped down the hill into the pretty village of Downholme, surrounded by the spectacular scenery of the rugged Swaledale.

At busy times there’s a conservatory style dining room to take advantage of the views, but on a wet Wednesday, the cosy bar become our shelter.

The speciality of the house is its kleftiko (£13.95) which the chalked up menu board helpfully advises is “a Cypriot lamb dish cooked long and slow”.

The pub’s been selling this for years and it’s one of the reasons so many people seek it out.

A huge piece of the tenderest lamb on the bone you’re likely to encounter, served with a redcurrant gravy. Quite how long it is cooked to get it quite so tender I have no idea – it certainly is an experience although one I have never yet managed to finish.

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The accompanying veg are plainly cooked and plentiful but my one criticism is the huge helping of gravy you get whether you want it or not.

This compulsory sea of brown is commonplace around these parts, no doubt even mentioning it will prompt an eye-rolling acknowledgement of bringing along my city ways!

But would it really be a problem to ask if gravy is welcome? Or too gimmicky to offer it in a separate jug?

This is small criticism though as the meal, the service and the ambiance at The Bolton Arms are warm, friendly and straightforward.

The rest of the menu follows the traditional meat cuts route – steaks, roasts stuffed with black pudding, liver and mash etc.

17062009118This isn’t really a place for vegetarians – there’s usually just a couple of dull sounding pasta type offerings  on the board – but there is a good selection of fresh fish dishes for the less carnivorous visitor.

Puds are as large and traditional as the mains, if you could ever manage one, and the whole experience is one of robust home-cooking.

It’s a Black Sheep pub and there’s a decent wine list with weekly specials.

Nothing fancy, just hearty fare, happily free of journo types –  well, until now 😉

Find The Bolton Arms at Downholme – DL11 6AE. Map here. Grid ref: SE113979. Tel: 01748 823716. There’s also B&B available.

A lesson in the perfect gin and tonic

Wine writer Victoria Moore believes there’s a need for instruction in how to create that quintessentially English drink.

In a chapter of the new book How to Drink she says;

“A G&T is the most dreadfully traduced of drinks, all too often made too flat, too weak, with one lonely ice cube sweating itself to an early grave and a slice of old lemon floundering on the surface like a corpse, whereas it should be effervescent and bright and so busy with ice that the bubbles have to fight their way up to burst with a splash and a hiss on the top.”

To put the situation right, she’s produced this pdf guide too.

Heading over the hills

The foodie trail is leading me over The Pennines for while.

Expanding out of north west, I’ll be having a look at what’s on offer in what has to be England’s most scenic landscape – North Yorkshire.

There will be a short break in postings here while I get my bearings and broadband,  then normal service should be resumed, Dales-style.

And recommendations or suggestions, as ever, gratefully received in the meantime.

Manchester’s chefs and venues urged to nominate their work

This year’s Manchester Food and Drink Festival Awards is gearing up and I see the Hairy Bikers are to be the guest presenters at the Gala dinner in October.

Organisers are currently inviting the city’s venues to nominate themselves for the awards before the entries are then scrutinised by a judging panel and a shortlist drawn up.

So, if you’re a restaurateur, pub manager or chef who wants to be in for the chance to receive an honour at the event on October 12, here’s how to get started.

This is your chance to highlight yourself to the judges and tell them why you deserve the award.

If you think your venue deserves a nomination for any of the categories outlined below, then tell the festival organisers why and they will ensure the information is put in front of the panel.

Award Categories:

Restaurant of the Year
Bar of the Year
Pub of the Year
Newcomer of the Year Coffee Bar & Casual Dining Venue of the Year
Chef of the Year
Best Wine List
Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet
Best Provision for Vegetarians
Best Family Friendly Venue
MFDF Outstanding Contribution over the last Decade
MFDF Award for Healthy and Sustainable Eating

Outline in no more than 200 words why you think you deserve a nomination, specifying which award category/ies you are applying for (multiple category application is fine). You can include supporting evidence with this.

Then send all nominations to steph@foodanddrinkfestival.com

DEADLINE, 2:30PM, 15th JUNE.

Why get your kit off for tuna?

Of course it’s eyecatching. Naked celebrities with nothing to cover their modesty but large fish.

greta-fish-415x700But what’s it all about? Are we consumers so celebrity obsessed and in need of titillation that the only way to engage on a serious topic is to cavort naked? With dead sea life?

The actress Greta Scaachi (minus clothes, obviously) is widely quoted in just about every national newspaper; “We have to put a stop to this free-for-all plundering of the sea. At the rate we’re going, the sea will only be inhabited by worms and jellyfish in 40 years’ time.”

So together with showbiz chums Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Sir Ian McKellen and restaurateur Tom Aikens she is reported to be at a private screening of The End of the Line film which forms part of a hard-hitting campaign urging us to think about the sustainability of fish – particularly the near extinct bluefin tuna.

The statistics are stark and scary;

* According to the UNFAO, about 70 per cent of our global fisheries are now being fished close to, already at, or beyond their capacity. – The Earth’s Carrying Capacity – Bruce Sundquist

* As many as 90 per cent of all the ocean’s large fish have been fished out. – WWF

* One per cent of the world’s Industrial fishing fleets account for 50 per cent of the world’s catches. – CNN

* Government subsidies of over $15 billion a year play a major role in creating the worlds fishing fleets.- WWF

* The global fishing fleets are 250 per cent larger than the oceans can sustainably support.- WWF

To borrow just a few “fish facts” from the campaign site.

To highlight the issue there’s also a screening of a film at various cinemas around the country (for some reason not Manchester) tonight to mark World Ocean Day.

And the campaign website provides plenty of information about how to check the sustainability of fish choices including a shareable widget and a pledge to sign up and claim your piece of ocean for the cause.

I like to think that, armed with some of the facts and some tools to make decisions, consumers mights be inspired to take action and demand more sustainable options at the fish counter.

But still, I thought I’d use the gratuitous naked celebrity shot just to be on the safe side.

Sign up or find out more about End of the Line here.

links for 2009-06-02

links for 2009-06-01

  • River Cottage Canteen in Bath was recently chewed up and spat out by Jasper Gerard, a restaurant critic. “Pile it high with warm slogans and serve it expensive . . .” was one of Gerard’s more waspish comments.

    “Well, critics need a story,” says Fearnley-Whittingstall, refusing to be goaded. He’s so nice, but why doesn’t he forget about teaching people how to build bread ovens and get his fingernails really dirty – like his fellow chef Jamie Oliver, who dared to confront mums who fed their children junk food, and tried to convert the vast chunks of the population who have neither the budget nor the knowledge to prepare tasty, healthy meals?

    “You can’t reach the unreachable,” is Fearnley-Whitting-stall’s rather astonishing response.

  • If your dad’s a dab hand in the kitchen, a butchery course would be right up his street. hmmmm…….personally not too sure on this one, but here are some other dad’s day offers which might appeal.