Countess of York: On track for afternoon tea

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Inside the Countess of York

Going to the cafe and the gift shop has become as much a part of a museum visit as enjoying the collections themselves but the National Railway Museum has gone one better – a tearoom you might want to visit with the added bonus of trip to see its remarkable collection.

The Countess of York is a charming tearoom inside a beautifully restored railway carriage with decor that evokes a bygone era.

It’s only offering is afternoon tea – but it’s a tea worth travelling for.

The traditional tiered serving of finger sandwiches, scones and fancies proves plenty to while away the time.

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Tea?

Unusually there’s also a mini soup course – currently a warming and spicy butternut squash for the autumn which, together with the warm scone, is a welcome rise in temperature.

The sweet collection includes a light creme brûlée as well as a tantalising macaroon.

And the selection of teas on offer is second to none. I sampled a robust South African estate tea and a light and perfumed China rose tea.

Both served in solid silver pots and at just the right temperature. In a world where the coffee drinker is king, this place elevates the tea drinker to be queen.
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With the uniformed waitress rushing through the carriage to serve everything or offer advice, it’s easy to forget that this is a train that’s going nowhere – sometimes you’ll need to take a quick check out of the window just to be sure that you’re not travelling down the tracks.

The afternoon tea is served each day between 12pm and 4pm. and costs £19.95 (children £14.50) or £27.50 with champagne. A visit to the tearoom includes free parking, and of course, the museum with its outstanding collection of locomotives is available for a gentle stroll after tea.

Countess of York is situated between Great Hall and Station Hall in the Museum’s South Gardens.

Autumn Afternoon tea menu by Sarah Hartley

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Taking a break at Ox Pasture Hall

Tea
Time for tea? Always!

A proper afternoon tea. Is there anything quite so daftly English as an afternoon tea? With its tiny sandwiches and cake overload all laid out in a tower of tiers which doesn’t start at the top, or the bottom, but right there in the middle – it is deliciously ridiculous

There’s good reason why Lewis Carroll set the surreal adventures of Alice in Wonderland with a tea right at its heart – yes, there’s always time for tea and, done properly, tea can stop time.

oxpasturehallWe tucked into this example in the cosy lounge of Ox Pasture Hall. It’s a comfortable country inn where the food is plentiful and unpretentious, the service friendly and welcoming.

As the tradition dictates, sandwiches are very definitely NOT butties. These are finger sandwiches designed to be held aloft as one quaffs the beverage and considers the prospects of cakes to follow. Being a good Yorkshire inn, the choice was deliciously thick cuts of beef and mustard, generously spread cream cheese and cucumber (of course) and a strongly cured smoked salmon.

Of course there’s fruit scone with strawberry jam and cream and that top layer housed the first of the lemon related sweet things a sharp lemon drizzle cake with lemon icing

Then the dainties, and plenty of lemon infusion from a bite-size lemon meringue pie and a super light lemon cheesecake before the deeply rich chocolate and nut block and creamy fudge.

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Scarborough beach

After all that tea, it was back to reality and stop suspending time to explore. Being a typically English weekend, the weather wasn’t entirely kind but pleasant enough for a stroll along the beach. Despite being hidden away deep in woodland, Ox Pasture Hall is only about a 5 minute drive away from Scarborough’s north bay with its dramatic cliffs and quintessential seaside scene of beach huts.

It’s easy to pass an hour, or two, right there on the front, to be beside the seaside.

beachhutsBut ultimately, it’s time for dinner.

The dining room is a light and comfortable space and settled in for a view over one of the gardens – the Hall has some lovely landscaped grounds and also a courtyard with fountains surrounded by the traditional buildings.

A former country farmhouse surrounded by barns and out-buildings, it has been extended and restored in a very sympathetic way to make a comfortable stay.

It is apparently the only restaurant in Scarborough to have been awarded 2-rosettes, so we were ready to be impressed.

The first arrival at the table was something of a surprise – as an Amuse-bouche should be I guess – but we genuinely weren’t expecting an oversized fish finger in a cup. OK, it was announced as a ‘goujon of cod’ but you get the idea – someone had obviously had a sip from the ‘drink me’ bottle at Alice’s party earlier as it was a giant thing!

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Beetroot and orange salad

I started with the beetroot with orange. I’m always a fan of beetroot anyway and this pretty salad was an absolute triumph with the earthiness of a beetroot sorbet holding together the plate which includes an almost overly salty salted beetroot and carpaccio slices of sweeter beets.

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Rack of lamb cuts

For my main course I went for the lamb and enjoyed two cuts off a rack of lamb which were cooked good and rare. The potato layered with shredded lamb was an interesting accompaniment as an intense contrast and the cubes of seasonal swede was a welcome vegetable too.

Himself took advantage of the pork options with a crumbly ham hock to start with the substantial belly pork, cabbage and mash going down a teat as well.

cheeseUnsurprisingly after all those cakes, a sweet seemed out of the question and so we shared the smaller of the chessboards on offer with three cheeses and chutneys – a smoked cheddar, a remarkable goats cheese and a smoked Wensleydale with apple sliced into the finest of circles.

It was a satisfying and interesting meal in a friendly and comfortable environment. If we’re ever that side of North Yorkshire again, it’ll definitely be on the itinerary.

Ox Pasture Hall Country House Hotel is at Lady Edith’s Drive, Scarborough, North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire. YO12 5TD.

 

 

* Our overnight stay at the hall with dinner, tea and breakfast was provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note that I only ever accept such invitations on the understanding that I can write a true reflection of my opinion of the place for the review which is never provided to the venue for copy approval. The Sunday night offer we were treated to costs from £200. 

Baked courgettes to start with #multifrychallenge

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Courgettes with tuna

For the first meal as part of the seven day challenge for the De’Longhi Multifry Challenge, I’ve done something very NOT fried.

In fact there was no oil involved at all. It seems the name given to this piece of kit is somewhat misleading – it can be used as a workspace top cooker as much as a fryer.

Essentially it’s a cooking dish with a high powered element above and below.

imagesI choose this recipe from the app mainly because it was so simple – the courgettes are basically stuffed with a food processed mix of courgette flesh, tinned tuna, pine nuts and Grana Padano cheese. Baked for 25 mins and that’s it, a low cal simple meal.

I served them with a mixed salad and some seasonal Jersey Royals with parsley butter.

A few things to note on its first run out:

  • On the plus side, it’s really easy to clean with no messy attachments to worry about.
  • On the downside, it’s noisey. So are fan cookers but it was surprisingly loud for its small size.
  • I like the way the app recipes all come with a calorie guide – this dish just 127 cals per serving.

So first attempt was a success – I’ll try something a bit more complicated tomorrow.

Product trial: Grey’s Christmas Hamper

Last week I caught a television programme about the upmarket store Liberty of London. It charted the establishment’s history as an emporium which brought items of wonder from the east to us in the west.

That tradition of seeking out items of wonder from far-off lands is something that’s much more difficult in these global times but our desire to be delighted is unlikely to ever be diminished.

It struck me that the same challenge can be seen when it comes to our forever roaming tastes in the culinary world. With supermarkets offering international food items sourced around the globe and online specialist sites offering just about anything your imagination could seek to find.

So when it comes to specialist food offerings, suppliers have to work hard to find that certain something that will whet our purchasing appetites. Enter Grey’s Fine Foods from North Yorkshire, they’re offering the best in Spanish food and sent me a selection in one of their Christmas hampers to try. Here’s what I found:

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Minimalist

Packaging
The hamper is actually a wooden crate – stylish in that designer, minimalist way. Inside all the goods are wrapped and nestling inside paper filling so there’s some excitement to digging in to find out what’s inside – a bit like a lucky dip! I liked the style of it all and, when it comes to hampers, those first impressions count for a lot.

Contents
The company promises that the contents inside will ‘surprise anyone during the festivities’. There’s certainly a good range – from their trademark charcuterie from Iberian breed pigs to luxury storecupboard items. This is a hamper for people who like to cook as well as eat, so alongside the award-winning ham there’s also a beautifully presented essentials like the Senorio de Vizcantar extra virgin olive oil which blends three olive varieties and some proper hot smoked paprika.

For the sweet-toothed there’s the traditional Christmas after dinner sweet of Turron de Jijona and an exquisite chocolate that’s blended with olive oil and sea alt. This unusual mixture comes from the Basque chocolatier Alma de Cacao and I haven’t tasted anything quite like it – rich yet light with a melting texture, it really is a remarkable dark chocolate experience. Spanish foods

Verdict
I loved it. At £50 the Grey’s Christmas Hamper would seem to be pretty good value given the quality of the contents if you’re looking for an unusual and stylish gift for the foodie in your life. Definitely something that will tickle the interest of even the most jaded tastebuds.

The Grey’s Christmas Hamper costs £50 is one of a range starting from £35. Delivery is usually 3-7 days but they offer a one-day service too if you plan to order for Christmas.

* The hamper was provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section strives to say it as we find it.

Review: Going veggie down at Pizza Express

Tomato, basil, cheese and bread. How many of the world’s best dishes actually boil down to those ingredients? A recipe book attempting to feature them all would probably be a mighty tome indeed.
brushetta
But Pizza Express has known since it opened the first restaurant in 1965 that the British love affair with the tri-colour representation of Italian cuisine is a long-term relationship and across its 400 UK restaurants continues to explore new ways of presenting our favourite ingredients in interesting ways.

I’d rarely do reviews which give a chain restaurant a rattle – after all, they all offer the same thing so there’s usually little point – but as they’ve just started to introduce some new vegetarian offers into menus just now I took up the invitation to go along and ended up trying a few of the veggie options that also appear on the Christmas menu.
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Venue
I went along to the Northallerton restaurant. It’s a place that always seems to be busy in a town that’s a bit if a magnet to foodies as it also boasts a Betty’s tearoom and the remarkable upmarket food store Lewis and Cooper. Partly because it is a busy, bustling restaurant but, also because there’s something about the acoustics of the space which doesn’t make for a quiet or intimate space, instead it’s aimed much more at a family meal deal.

We decided to go for the set Christmas menu which consists of two or three courses and is kicked off in seasonal style with a choice of tipples – we went with the Prosecco then dived into the menu.

The starters all manner of differed ways of those tomatoes, basil, braed itc. The brushetta, which also features on the standard menu, is a large helping and features well-seasoned salad and herbs.

Likewise the mozzarella and tomato salad with pasta which is refreshing introduction to the meal.

For the mains we selected a goats cheese pizza – which had a light cheese and a notable velvety soft red onion marmalade to distinguish it.
salad
The standout item of this meal was the superfood salad which was a true dinner salad with lovely fresh assortment of leaves, pine nuts, goats cheese, avocado and sweet beetroot. With a dressing of balsamic syrup this salad packs a lot of flavour into those few hundred gluten free and veggie calories. A proper plate salad and most definitely not an on the side after thought.

For desert, the Christmas snowball dough balls sounded like a fun idea – but really wasn’t. The cream’s just too sweet and the dough balls not sweet or aromatic enough for a seasonal treat at a time when fruits and the rich warming scents of spices give over the festive feeling.

The winter fruit crumble by comparison answered all of those problems with its rich berries and light sweet custard layer.
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Overall
It must be difficult for a chain restaurant which everyone feels they know so well to introduce something a little bit different.

The idea of incorporating more vegetarian options into a land where the deep pan pepperoni is king is a welcome move, as are the gluten-free options.

Value

Good value at £17.25 for two courses with apperitif and £2 extra if you decide on taking the three courses.

* Please note the food was paid for by pizza express but via the issuing of a gift card which meant I was able to visit the restaurant unannounced. I prefer to do reviews in this way in order to ensure ther’s no preferential treatment dished out.

Product trial: John Lewis Christmas trug hamper

johnlewishamperJohn Lewis seems to have entered the British psyche when it comes to Christmas – whether the television advertising delights or annoys you, there’s no getting away from the fact that the retailer’s become synonymous with seasonal provisions.

The arrival of a hamper from the store has become a mini-tradition in our household too so when John Lewis asked if I’d like to try out their latest offering I was intrigued to see what would be different about it.

And so here we are, in November having a bit of an early festive treat to share with you.

Packaging
The most obvious thing to notice first is there’s no traditional wicker basket. Instead this ‘trug’ hamper comes in smart, contemporary leather bag.

Of course the creak of leather and the flicker of candlelight in front of the fire can be just as Christmass-ey as the more usual wicker picnic-basket style of annual treat and, depending on your decor, this upmarket packaging might just be a better fit with your modern festivities.

(I think it might well end up as our kindling basket – unless the cat takes up residence in there first!)

Contents

johnlewishamperThis a selection of store cupboard luxuries rather than dinner table essentials for the big day so there’s plenty of those treats which everyone loves. Turkey and sprouts will have to be catered for elsewhere because this hamper is all about those little extras which can help the fetivities go with a little more spice and sparkle.

On the booze front, there’s a rich, deep bottle of Sangiovese Poggio della Quercia IGT Rubicone. Great with the cheese board or just as a tipple in front of the fire.

And the cheeseboard gets some further attention with some of the savoury items including the smooth Cairnsmhor Crushed Black Pepper Crackers and Claire’s Handmade Red Onion Marmalade from Cumbria which is now a firm favourite for sandwiches, goats cheese and anything else that needs an intense flavour.

For the sweet-toothed, it’s all quite chocolate focussed. There’s light and buttery Edinburgh Preserves Chocolate Chip Cookies and Fudges Belgian Milk Chocolate Florentines but the stand-out treat are the moreish Ferdia Milk Chocolate Salted Caramels with their intense soft centres.

Verdict
It’s certainly got the wow factor with the different appearance from the packaging and the treats inside will suit most tastes. At £65 it’s at the lower end of what hampers can cost when you order them online like this (the most expensive hamper offered costs an eye-watering £800!) but the value of the goods wouldn’t really stack up if you bought them individually. It’s really the novelty of the packaging and excitement of exploring it that you’re sending as a gift – a special treat for a style conscious person who likes to entertain in the run up to Christmas.

* The goods from the John Lewis Christmas hamper were provided free of charge for review purposes. Please note, if you wish to provide goods for review, they are accepted on the understanding that good, bad or indifferent, this blog’s product trials section strives to say it as we find it.

Gongoozling, pie and guava jelly

A gongoozler is a person who enjoys watching activity on the canals in the United Kingdom. ‘Gongoozler’ may have been canal workers’ slang for an observer standing apparently idle on the towpath. Though it was used derisively in the past, today the term is regularly used, perhaps with a little irony, by gongoozlers to describe themselves and their hobbyWikipedia.

greyhound

Going a bit off my usual northern patch with this one – a canalside pub in Coventry which was also a bit of a trip down memory lane.

The Greyhound Inn sits at an important waterway junction where the Coventry Canal meets the Rugby waterway and in times gone by was a strategically important transport hub for working boats carrying goods.
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The Inn, the facilities for water, rubbish, toilets etc. are still important for boat folk and were a regular port of call for us when we lived afloat – including a memorable winter when we were iced in and unable to return to our regular mooring.

I have to admit that being iced in at outside a pub which serves great food and just a hop skip and a jump from one of the city’s main curry centres wasn’t that much hardship tbh!

One of the best things on the menu back then was a bit fancy in hindsight – rich fish (Bouillabaisse style) stew served with French bread and helpings of grated cheese.

But its big claim to fame is pies so, here’s the chicken, leek and mushroom variety. What can I say……I think you can tell from the picture we’re talking about a mouth melting pastry and a pie packed with filling.
pie
No sloppy measures here and they serve gravy separately if you prefer your pie experience rather runnier.

The post blow out lunch walk took us up the canal to admire the visiting and resident craft. If you’re ever looking for a reminder of English eccentricity and individualism I’d recommend a walk along your nearest tow path.

On this trip I spotted this foodie inspired example which prompts you to wonder way, why someone would name their home after a Colombian confectionary product.

guavajelly

Even so, nothing will beat the highly memorable and beautifully traditional sign-written example we once spotted near Wolverhampton proudly bearing the legend, Morning Flatulence.

The Beast & The Swine: A pop up restaurant with presence

At a place to be revealed with a menu from a never seen before restaurant…….that was the unlikely offer which scores of adventurous diners signed up for with this weekend’s pop up restaurant in Leeds. Destination unknown.

But when The Beast & The Swine opened its doors to the public, they were unlikely to be disappointed.

first

Venue
What a dramatic place setting. Inside Holy Trinity Church, just yards away from the hubbabaloo of Boar Lane (one of Leeds’ busiest streets for a Saturday night) to find yourself sitting in the tranquility of the parish church was faintly surreal.

Under a cat’s cradle of a sculpture spanning the cavernous roof space and surrounded by leaves from books hung on strings all around – the theatre of the event had an immediate wow factor.

Food
Seven courses and a menu of local produce which included Bolito Misto of Yorkshire Wolds chicken and picked carrots.

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Keepsake menu

The were moments of brilliance – in particular, the fish course of Bridlington crab, shoots and a grapefruit dressing was a triumph.

Regular offerings of excellent rosemary focaccia arrived. Starters arrived on sharing platters with a selection of ham, a dense and satisfying rabbit rillettes and heritage vegetables.

The meat course, with it’s pink veal tongue rudely sticking out, was a challenge but the crowd pleasing Wensleydale cheese course introduced a stunning onion and golden sultana chutney with whole spices . If that’s for sale anywhere, can someone drop me a line with details.
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The final show of a giant croque-en-bouche completed the spectacle of the evening and for those who had any room to spare. I didn’t.

Drink
It all got a bit Alice in Wonderland here. Being presented with a baby’s bottle full of Gin Iced Tea on arrival and seeing people wandering around suckling on them set the tone for an unorthodox approach. There’s no wine list, no choice of bar drinks or over priced water selection. The choice for the evening – red or white.
The wine came served in teapots. We drank it from assorted cups and mugs. Who knows what it was?  At a guess, probably a fairly ‘plonky’ cabernet.

If you’re into your wine, this wouldn’t be the best approach to the liquid part of a dining experience  so the novelty factor had to distract diners from their usual choices and I think they got away with it.

20130413_221817Overall experience
I went along on this second night and it was clear the team of four -two chefs, two front of house who call themselves We Are the Animals – had got into its stride. The welcome was warm and, although the low staffing numbers meant service could be a little slow, I don’t think anyone cared because the atmosphere was one of an magical adventure.

Having everyone  seated alongside the other guests led to a  great sense of conviviality than a standard restaurant setting and that openness, together with the stunning venue, made it a night to remember.
They’re looking for new venues, so if the Swine and The Beast – or whatever the We Are the Animals team magics up next – does pops up somewhere near you don’t hesitate –  take a pew, pour from the teapot and tuck in.

* A big thank you to the New Ellington Hotel for making us so welcome at the refurbished hotel. With its stylish interior and be-seen-in gin bar, it was the perfect place to escape the madding crowd and settle down for the night.

For announcements about any other pop-ups from the We The Animals tea, follow them on Twitter @_we_the_animals or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WeTheAnimalsLeeds.