Following in the footsteps of Mr Rayner – to Brum

Picture: Karen Strunks

Food critics of the mainstream news variety are rumoured to be able to make or break a place. Maybe they can – have you ever known of such? It’s certainly not often I get to eat in a place that’s been reviewed in a national newspaper. Sorry I need to start that sentence again to be accurate –  it’s not often a national newspaper reviewer remembers that the majority of their readers aren’t eating out in London.

But this week I had an unexpected treat with lunch at the New Sum Ye in Birmingham which The Observer’s Jay Rayner reviewed just this week.

Yes, it’s a bit down south for my usual blog beat but, treat it was. The picture here is of my colleague’s meal – three Cantonese roast meats with rice (and a fried egg). I enjoyed a similarly generous, fabulously flavoured seafood noodle with OK sauce, the chilli sauce was sampled and much appreciated and the green tea flowed.

I can’t better Rayner’s appreciation of the place:

“It really is very good. A plate of three roast meats costs just £6.50 and comes on a pillow of rice with a couple of spoon-like leaves of crunchy pak choi draped across them.”

Thinking that maybe we weren’t the only people likely to make a visit to this place on the strength of such praise by a well-known foodie, I mentioned the review to the manageress on our way out.

Her reply: “What is newspaper?”.

Ah well, here’s hoping blogs are more her thing.

Updating the northern food bloggers map

I’ve published the Northern food blogger map on its own page today – see it here.

My thinking in making this change is that it can be an easy-to-find reference for anyone looking to hook up with their local food blogger. Over the months, I’ve attempted to update it as I come across new blogs but I’m guessing some will have slipped my notice so……if you belong there, please let me know.

York’s newest restaurant – Fusion

Described as a mix Spanish and Mexican tapas, One and Other brings news of a new restaurant in the busy entertainment venue The Basement.

“The bar will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-5pm, and then by night The Basement will still hold its usual live music and comedy nights. The new bar will serve chilled Mexican beers and a selection of wines and cocktails to accompany the dishes.”


The Basement City Screen is at 13-17 Coney Street, York, YO1 9QL.

No bloggers! No Pix! What does this burger joint have to hide?

I was stunned to see this on the North West Nosh blog:

“…there’s no reservations (I’m lazy and hate queues), you have to be on Twitter to know where it is, they have a statement saying no bloggers , they don’t let you take photos (not like this is all a clever marketing ploy or something…), and the word ‘nom’ is on the menu.”

Who do they think they are? In fact I toyed with the idea of not naming the place in retaliation at such sheer idiocy but what the hell – hopefully their attempt at the self-effacing name of ‘almost famous burgers’ will turn out to be their epitaph, that or ‘pretentiously never famous’.

Not being particularly interested in mashed up bits of unidentifiable meat or deep-fried lardness, I won’t be bothering to visit anyway so their blogger ban can remain untested.

Updated: 8.55pm Having been tweeted this great response on ‘dirty burgers’ from Mangechester. Well….we food bloggers need to stick together.

Week one of the allotment: Paperwork and a dilemma

allotmentThis is it. A narrow of strip of newly ploughed field that now has my name on it. This view is from its end looking over towards to immaculately kept and long-established allotments which neighbour this little patch of virgin earth in the rather unpleasantly named Coffin Field. (I have been assured that, despite its relatively near promixity to the cemetery, the name comes from the field’s unusual shape rather than any earlier plantings.)

This being week one, the main achievement has been signing the tenancy agreement and handing over the first year’s rent – £10. In the paperless age, you may think this a task of minutes but no, it required a visit to the town hall, hand written forms and the issuing of a receipt along with a witnessed three page contract. They don’t just hand these things out like sweeties you know!

As you can see, there’s rather a lot of work to be done. On the right of the picture the neighbouring allotment holder has marked out the border between us so today, armed with some twine and some rather flimsy stakes I did similarly – and discovered that keeping straight lines with pieces of string is a skill I’ve never had the need to master before.

I also went up to my local garden centre and, now have a bag of seed potatoes just itching to get grown, and started investigating costs for a wooden edgings for beds. The need to portion off little, manageable bits of plot has also thrown up the first dilemma of allotment etiquette.

In a piece of the field which appears to be no-man’s land ie. no little stake to mark out a plot, there’s a small number of tatty planks, sort of sleeper size – ideal in fact for edging a bed. Are they unwanted? Can I just help myself? When I had an allotment in Fallowfield some years ago, planks like that were like golddust and there, all manner of oddities – from bits of roadworks to street signs – become veg patch edgings but I don’t know how it works here so atm, they remain in the mud for another day.

So far I’ve seen a couple of fellow newbies starting work – and it all looks pretty serious. From the chap with the tractor and trailer delivering a storage container to the fellows with a 4X4 and a trailer full of manure, they all look like they know their onions. And leeks of course.

After a flurry of hail saw me off the plot this afternoon, I’m returning to my current reading of Paul Waddington’s 21st Century Smallholder and Caroline Foley’s Practical Allotment Gardening around doing some online research of a suitable shed or container so that I can get started proper – one which falls within the permitted 6 x 4 space allowed for structures of course.

Review: Fox and Hounds, Goldsborough

The one when I get busted for snapping the food!

I found out about this place from some online research and it seemed to have all the required factors for a birthday treat for Himself. But I had no idea where it actually was which is where satnav comes in.

But as anyone foolishly relying on the bossy female instructions will know, the directions are not always that accurate and ‘you have arrived’ can be accompanied by a view of a field, or worse, a footpath.

So it seemed here, when a mile down a single track road off the main Whitby Road, narrowly avoiding some suicidal pheasants, we arrived at what seemed to be a farmyard, overseen by a bemused looking farmhand. But on closer look round, the Fox and Hounds came into view with a right-hand turn away from the tractors.

Admiring the frontage slathered with awards stickers and then we’re shown into a small dining room.
Untitled The menu for the night is presented and reveals just a few dishes. Given it’s near coastal location, there’s fishy choices alongside the traditional meat options of steak and liver.

I went for the langoustine risotto to start – a generous helping of very herb-infused rice garnished with langoustine – while he enjoyed the scallops with just a dash of chili heat.

As you can see I don’t have a picture of them. I did take one but it came out rather too dark.

As is my usual MO, I snuck a snap on my phone as the waitress had safely retired to the kitchen – or so I thought. She returned to ask why I had photographed the food. Busted! I came clean and told her I blogged about food and thought nothing more about it.

She soon came back again – this time asking if she’d offended me! I assured her I hadn’t been in the slightest bit offended by being asked (in fact it surprises me it doesn’t happen more often) and gave her the details of this food blog in the hope this would put her mind at rest. It seemed to.

So now, with nothing to lose, here’s a picture of the main course – flash and everything!


I’m not exactly sure whether I’ve ever had ling before. I’d certainly order it again on the strength of this meal – a firm fish, delicate in flavor and it’s marrying with the bright lights chard was just the perfect matching of earthiness and the sea. That’s almost a seaside holiday on a plate right there.

For desserts (well it was his birthday) I took a share of the truffle cake – to describe it as rich doesn’t come close. Essence of chocolate would be more accurate.

We left feeling truly indulged. The whole evening was one of intimacy and attention to detail in everything from the decor, to the food and the service.

I just hope their experience of having a food blogger in their midst will prove to be a welcome one.

I’d love to go somewhere where the menu positively encourages diners to photograph the food the chefs spend so much time preparing – maybe this place could be it.

* The Fox and Hounds is at Goldsborough, near Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Sunday lunch in a box?

I was interested to discover this online food service,, via a mailshot from Jeff Baker of York’s Bistro Moderne fame.
Introducing the service of seasonal fresh British food delivered from British farms, he says:

“You may have noticed on my menu great producers such as Reg Johnson Goosnargh Duck, Taste Tradition Rare Breed Pork or Cheese from I.J. Mellis. Well now you too can purchase these products, get them delivered to your kitchen and enjoy some of the best produce Britain has to offer.”

I haven’t had the opportunity to buy yet, but a look at the site shows that they’ve really taken the concept of box delivery to new levels – you can even get a breakfast in bed box!

Anything that champions local food, small producers, knowledge, native breeds and animal welfare has to be worth a closer look – just a shame I missed out on the introductory offer. I’ll certainly pay more attention to future deals.

Is #solodining really that weird?

A debate on Radio 4’s today programme caught my ears this morning, discussing the experiences of dinner for one (listen again just before 9am).

Twitter flurry ensued!

Now this is a subject I know something about! It’s not that I’ve made some lifestyle choice to pursue a singleton eating out agenda or anything. No, like many people who spend time traveling or working away from home, eating alone quickly becomes a necessity.

And just because it is a necessity, why should eating, one of our daily pleasures,  be reduced to a rushed re-fuelling? After all, who wants to live on pre-packed sandwiches or burgers?

I got over that first-time asking for a table for one nerves quite some time ago and have quickly found, budget allowing, that the lone diner tends to get better treatment in posher establishments and that major cities cater much better for women than out-of-the-way.

While there are some places where staff look at the potential three empty seats with unguarded loathing, many go out of their way to be welcoming. Probably the best experience I’ve had to date was in Vienna where I had a remarkable meal, relaxed, attentive service and a general atmosphere of welcome. Looking around it didn’t seem that solo dining was particularly commonplace but that didn’t translate to treating a single customer as an oddity.

Closer to home I’ve also found, ironically, that I’m not alone! In some swanky part of London (Kensington I think) I walked into a French restaurant to find almost every table occupied by a woman on her own, mostly reading a book.

Given a choice, I’d rather have a special meal with someone significant, but in these time-pressured days, surely eating alone will become more and more commonplace – just please don’t add more people to my table.

One’s companionable, three is most definitely a crowd.

Frenchgate 29 opens. Again

frenchgateI see the Frenchgate cafe is up and running again. Once the favoured hangout of ladies who lunch and seasonal trippers alike, the cafe/bistro at the bottom of the hill has had a variety of incarnations in recent years.

From the truly terrible tapas to the rather pleasing cafe of 2010, the sudden unexplained closure last year left a gap in the market.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to sample the wares inside, but it looks from the menus in the window to have regenerated as a sandwich shop sort of place open only during the day.

In wishing the new management all the best, I’m sure I’m not the only local who’d appreciate it returning to the bistro success of a decade ago at some stage.