Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tebay Services - M6 - Cumbria

Zipping about in their fancy cars, discovering new parts of the country and enjoying themselves along the way was a dream our forefathers held close to their hearts. The architecture of service stations such as Forton on the M6 is testament to this with its tower restaurant and futuristic space ship design.

Forton Services - with thanks to Geograph.co.uk

Service stations were once a place of wonder and joy, where the British family stopped off on their long trek across the UK and were often greeted by hostesses in fancy costumes. Restaurants at service stations were pricey affairs aimed at executive businessmen on expense accounts and were kitted out with furniture by Terrance Conran with viewing platforms to watch the cars flying past. So how come service stations have become the home of overcharging, fast food and toilets that smell like a student's underpants after a two week bender in the middle of summer? And why is visiting one akin to having your soul sucked out?

All is not lost though. If you enjoy travelling and want to put the wow back into your wanderings, then there is the offer of hope in the form of Tebay Westmoreland Services. Located on the north and southbound sides of the M6 in between junctions 38 and 39, Tebay is located at Tebay in Cumbria and is a mecca for any tired traveller.

Owned by a local family all the food in their cafe is actually made by their chefs (wow, I know!), with most of the food being sourced locally with a huge emphasis on free range and organic - indeed, the lamb and beef are sourced from their own farm next to Tebay southbound. There's a proper hot food section with delights such as lamb hotpot and big, rich scones. At the Northbound services the cafe looks out over the duck pond offering cheery respite for the road weary traveller.

Tebay Services and the duck pond (with thanks to motorwayservicesonline.co.uk)

Tebay is not only great for a sit down meal, but also includes a fair trade cafe, food to go such as hand-made sandwiches (which are very generous and look like the door steppers my Dad used to make), the usual papers, sweets, mags, a boutique plus my favourite place along the M6 - the Westmoreland farm shop.

Although an unusual place to have a farm shop Westmoreland is never empty - and no wonder with all the delights they have to offer. The shop houses a fine selection of chutneys, jams, honeys, crackers, chocolates, fresh fruit and veg, charcuterie, dried goods such as pasta, a deli counter and a brilliant butchers. My advise if you're hungry is to grab one of the Cumberland pies from the deli - fandabbydozzy - the pastry crisp and salty and the meat all moist with no hint of gristle.

The shop champions local and artisanal produce and is a brilliant place to pick up delights such as Mr Vikki's chilli pickles, Tweesdale Honey, Richard Woodall's cured meats and cheese from the Swaledale Cheese Company, plus more unusual items such as smoked garlic. Tebay's Westmoreland shop now has over 40 regular local suppliers and the list is ever-growing.

Compared to the usual service station suspects the prices at Tebay are on a par - plus there is no extra charge for the feel good factor that the money you spend at Tebay is supporting the local economy. At Tebay there is no neon lighting, nasty plastic or sticky lino - the design has been thoroughly thought out with exposed wooden beams, natural stone and the cafe in the northbound station has a roof of weaved willow interspaced with little white lights. These services are like a massage for the soul and will help you unwind before the next round of traffic jams, road works and surprise diversions.

Tebay has been awarded a raft of awards including the 2009 Grand Prix of Gastronomy by Egon Ronay, Annual Loo of the Year 2009 and and Best Local Retailer by Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards and boy do they deserve them.

Tebay is so good I often try to find an excuse to travel that far up the M6, however with so much to offer there is really no excuse needed. Remember not to miss Tebay between Junc 38 and 39 (Tebay) signposted Tebay Westmoreland - and miss out the cheap and nasty chains such as Welcome Break and Moto. Happy travelling!

Tebay Services, between Junction 38 and 39 of the M6, Tebay, Cumbria - 01539 624511.

Ps - for those Southerners who wish their travelling experiences could be graced with glamour and good food, Westmoreland Ltd (the company who run Tebay) have just won planning permission to start work on another service station on the M5 just outside Gloucester - should be opening in 2013.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Teacup - Manchester

Teacup has been serving vegetarian fare, cakes and coffee to the trendy young hipsters/hungover heads of Manchester's northern quarter for the last couple of years. Originally called Cup (against the wall) it was not only a tea and cake emporium, but was a place to pick up select vintage china, LPs, Mr Scruff-obilia and funky t-shirts (Teacup is owned by Manc DJ Mr Scruff).

However times change and Cup has now become Teacup, the walls and floors have been painted brown, you can no longer buy cups (apart from Mr Scruff mugs) and the trendy t-shirts and vinyl have made way for ever more tables as the need for cakes and coffee in Manchester's northern quarter grows - though the Mr Scruff-obilia is still there is full force.

Teacup gets very busy and it can often be a struggle to get a table, especially at about 12 noon on Saturday when the trendy hipsters have crawled out of their Urban Splash studio flats, fallen into some very-trendy-without-being-trendy clothes and finally opened their eyes and smelt the Tea(cup).

Cup of tea for one

I have to admit it was in this state that I stumbled in to Teacup; however I first had to endure the boy's erratic driving from my parochial hillside village. To soothe my innards I ordered the Superfood Porridge made with proper milk (don't even get me started on the ethics of soya) and a side order of blueberries. The boy made a usual beeline for the organic Dippy Eggs and Soldiers and a fresh orange juice.

Organic dippy eggs and norlander rye soldiers

Service was a little slow, though we were in no need of rushing - two of skinniest hipsters I have ever seen seemed to have ordered the whole of the menu just before us, which took up all the kitchen staff - or so it seemed (surprisingly they finished it all too).

The porridge was good; properly cooked, no lumps and the berries made a brilliant contrast, their sharpness cutting through the soft cream and sweet agave syrup with ease. The boy's dippy eggs were soft and unctuous with no watery bits of uncooked egg, though the norlander rye soldiers (from trendy local bakery Barbakan) had gone a little mushy - this seemed to be more from the amount of butter on top rather than anything else.

Super food porridge with blueberries

After a stressful day in Manchester town centre, a late lunch saw me back once again at Teacup - more on the request of little brother than anything else. Needing to feed the beast in my tummy I opted for the Soup and Sandwich combo, little brother just had sandwiches as did the young architect.

The beetroot soup had a brilliant horseradish kick, but came out a little cool from the kitchen. The sandwiches on the side were very generous, but so I expected it to be for the £7.50 I was paying. The falafal sandwiches that accompanied the soup were the best sandwiches I have ever tasted - little mint leaves combined with spicy jalapenos freshened up the whole carb/legume overload and lifted the whole affair.

Soup and sandwich combo

Compared with the fantastic falafal sandwiches the young architect's Sheep's Cheese sandwiches were a bit of a sorry affair. The red onion marmalade couldn't be identified at all and neither could the spinach, the amount of cheese was far too much for one person to consume and the sandwiches must have been sitting on the pass for an age as the cheese had set and become rather rubbery and tasteless - for £3.95 we would have expected more care and thought. Mother's Tomatoes and Mushrooms on toast was flavourful with crisp toast, but at £3.85 the portion was really small.

Sheep's cheese sandwich

To cheer up the young architect we chose to have cakes and coffee afterwards. Teacup's Hungarian Seed Cake is a masterful dense affair full to the brim with poppy seeds, however I have had this cake before this time the candied peel seemed to be missing from the slice I had and it was worse off without it, there was no freshness or fragrance to the cake.

Little brother's brownie was a moreish and dense slab, the texture contrasting brilliantly with the inclusion of crunchy roasted hazelnuts. The young architect was in for another disappointment with her vanilla cheesecake, which was overly stodgy and sickly sweet. Seeing as each slice had cost us £3.50 on top of what we were paying for lunch, we were now feeling rather out of pocket.

Vanilla cheesecake

Breakfast had been a great affair and apart for £3.20 for a small glass of orange juice was really good value. On the other hand lunch was much more pricey and for what we were served, not great value at all. Especially bad value at Teacup are the cakes, juices, milkshakes and smoothies.

Whilst Teacup is ticking all the boxes in terms of style there seems to be some massive holes in the value and the taste departments - maybe like many frequenters of Manchester's northern quarter style is more important than substance.

In all I will return to Teacup, mainly because they have the best porridge in town and the boy loves dippy eggs probably more than beer or suet (I know!). Plus the coffee is better than most places, they serve organic local and free-range wherever possible, the service is very friendly and the breakfasts (minus the juices) are very good value. I would think twice before popping back in for a piece of cake or lunch as I think there are places that offer better value for the type of food served.

N.B. Teacup is starting an evening menu of meatballs (veggie and meat) on Thurs, Fri and Sat evening after 7pm.

Breakfast cost for porridge, dippy eggs, coffee, tea for one and orange juice: £14.00
Lunch cost for four mains, three cakes, two coffees and one smoothie: £36.10

Value for money - 5/10
Atmosphere - 6/10
Service - 7/10
Food - 7/10

Total - 25/40

Teacup, 55 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1NA - 0161 8323 233 - eat@teacupandcakes.com

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