Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Clog and Billycock - Pleasington, Blackburn

We've been to The Clog and Billycock in Pleasington a few times since we upped sticks and moved out of the city to greener pastures. Our first few visits were amazing; a great pub in a lovely area with well sourced, well cooked food, making the most of the riches the North West has to offer.

The Clog and Billycock is one of Lancashire chef Nigel Howarth's chain of Ribble Valley Inns that are big on locally sourced food and advertising the producers behind what's served up. Decked out in eggshell blue, mismatched furniture, food served in kilner jars/on chopping boards and a roaring fire it's got the gastropub look down to a tee - though it can sometimes feel a little sterile as the building's had quite a modern fit out and the serving utensils are sometimes over thought.

Clog and Billycock interior - with thanks to CityLife.co.uk

The food's generally good, there's a lot of care and thought gone in to something that's basically being served in a pub. Some of the stars are the Lonk Lamb hotpot with homemade pickled cabbage and crispy potato topping, which is served with a spoon (more places should promote eating up the leftover sauces with spoons, this is the North - embrace it!); the burger, which is usually served pink is massive, soft and salty - plus it comes with chips cooked in dripping; they are what I think young people term 'fit.'

Burger - with thanks to Clog and Billycock

Every month there's a new specials menu, which disappointingly has gone from being a separate menu with pictures/descriptions of what the seasonal ingredient is; parsnips, asparagus, apples... to being a little stick on bit on the main menu - a victim of the economic downturn?

Puddings are reminiscent of school, lots of suet and custard going on (can you hear the boy emitting an audible yay from there?) and they're big on cleverly flavoured homemade ice cream (eccles cake is a recent addition); but I'm sad to say that the most amazing pudding; a chocolate mousse (mousse is too airy a word, it was almost a ganache) with milk foam and hot dark chocolate is no longer on the menu. It was ace, but you'll have to take my word for it as it's not there now.

The food is well sourced and this attitude also applies to the drinks. There's usually a good selection of casks, bottled ales, local ciders and interesting softies including Mawson's sarsaparilla.

So what's the bad point then? The thing is, as good a the Clog and Billycock is ever since we've been there the service has been getting worse. The first time we visited things were pretty much great, apart from a little slowness here and there. But each time since there's been more and more mistakes, ending with our last visits for the Mother's birthday. Firstly we asked three times for a glass of wine (from the same waitress), only to have to go to the bar and then be given one in a dirty glass, a dish was forgotten, we asked for more bread with the starter and it came out with the pudding, the food was cold/overcooked and it goes on - we weren't even there at a particularly busy time.

Clog and Billycock waiter

The Clog at Billycock can be a great pub, it's best in the winter with the fires roaring as it gives the place a little more soul. Food's generally of a high standard and it's commendable that ingredients are sourced with care from the local area. It's a shame that service has become poor, leaving you feeling exasperated and annoyed as the price you pay for locality and sustainability is pretty high, especially as you realise you need to order veg with some of the dishes (most dishes do come with sides, it's just they're generally veg free!). The management need to sort this out as I doubt we'll be back for some time now, and if we do go it'll just be the two of us, no more showing it off to visiting relatives.

Best time to pop in is an evening in the winter and asked to be sat in one of the booths (can seat about four or six smallies at a push) by the fire.

Ps - try the Morcambe Bay shrimps - they smother them with lovely mace blade butter and they're the nest I've had throughout the NW (bar from the trailer on the beach with wind whipping through your hair and sand in your trainers).

Pps - portions can be quite big so I usually only choose two courses, or have two starters and a pudding.

Pps - sorry for the lack of photos, technology gremlins

Starters £2.50-£13.50, mains £9-£25, puddings £5-£10.

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

Total - 25/40

The Clog and Billycock, Billinge End Road, Pleasington, Blackburn, Lancs, BB2 6QB - 01254 201163 enquires@theclogandbillycock.com



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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Vive le Cheese Tasting, Soup Kitchen - Manchester

Anyone who has read by blog or tweets will agree that I am completely addicted to cheese. It can happen to the best of us and it's happened to me. So imagine my delight to find Vive le Cheese; the people who have the job of promoting French cheese (can I  have a job there please?), were holding a cheese and wine night and had invited me to attend.

Held at the Soup Kitchen in Manchester's Northern Quarter, the night kicked off with an introduction to the 'Roving Fromagiere' Phoebe Weller, a large glass of wine and then we were straight in to cheese number one.

Making her way around a 12 cheese plate, Phoebe introduced us to a mix of good friends; Brie, Emmental; some smelly eccentrics such as Epoisses and a couple of newbies I hadn't had the delight to taste before (new to me not new to the world, as per usual each cheese exhibited was steeped in French tradition and only made in one cave by two monks and their goat's wife...).

Some of the many cheeses

Working her way through the plate, Phoebe introduced us to each cheese - instead of wolfing it down and discussing the tasting notes we were encouraged to touch the cheese, roll it around in our hands, note its texture, warm it up and smell it before getting anywhere near tasting it.

Whilst getting over friendly with our cheese, Phoebe built up the story behind each, throwing in little grenades of interesting facts such as: Gruyere is just an Emmental that hasn't made the quality grade, it's illegal to take Epoisses on public transport in France and that Reblouchon comes from 14th century peasants and is the fattier, second milking of the cow- it resulted from them conning their landlords out of milk (which is what their lease used to be paid in).

The stars of the show for me were a gooey, melting Saint Marcellin; which was nutty, yeasty and soapy - and went brilliantly with the grapes on the table. The other star was a new cheese to me, Pont-l-Eveque - which smelled of that lovely musty smell of a well ridden saddle and the pine tar so redolent of Finland. The taste was sweeter than the smell with an undercurrent of woodsmoke - utterly divine.

Pont l-Eveque - smells like Finland

The night was a success - the most interesting and engaging cheese tasting I've been to. Phoebe's wonderful energy suckered us in, pulled us all along and brought the story of every cheese to life.  It was enjoyable to attend an event with a great variety of cheese (though they could have snuck in one or two more blues); plus one where they let you take cheese home - I was snacking on Pont l-Eveque for the rest of the week!

Ps The Soup Kitchen also does their own food as well as hosting other people's - more on that in a couple of months.

http://www.vivelecheese.co.uk/home @vivelecheese

The Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, Manchester M1 1DF, 0161 236 5100 - http://soup-kitchen.co.uk/

The Soup Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 17 June 2011

BBQ Handmade Noodle King - Manchester

Fancying a cheap bite to eat before the cinema I dragged the boy into Handmade Noodle King on Faulkner Street in Manchester’s China Town earlier this week.

Having been a big buzz on twitter and blogger lately, plus wanting to break the chain of eating in our usual haunts; I was eager to try these handmade noodles.

The front of the restaurant in pretty unassuming, especially as there’s a fancy looking Japanese open on the corner and more glitzy looking establishments further up the street.
The dining room is a bit bog-standard, but was clean and the staff were welcoming. I could see the boy looking unimpressed as we were handed menus in plastic books; but as we read down the list and spotted some rather authentic dishes he was appeased.

We had a little difficulty locating the ‘famous’ handmade noodles as they are listed with the all you can eat buffet – however our helpful waitress assured us we could order these separately.
My Tibetan beef soup noodles were delicious – the broth was layered with rich beefy flavours, warm hints of star anise, a good punch of garlic and some mouth tingling spice. The noodles themselves were a little chewier than conventional noodles, but this extra bite meant that they didn’t dissolve in the soup and become a soggy mess. I’m not one for over-eating but I couldn’t stop with this dish until I felt fit to burst (I couldn't even eat all my ice-cream in cinema afterwards!).

Tibetan beef noodles

The boy ordered a stir-fried noodle dish, again with handmade noodles. Here they weren't so plumped up and provided a good bite against the strong flavours of the blackbean sauce and the soft chunks of beef. The only downside to this dish was that the sauce became overly gloopy in some parts.

Handmade noodles with blackbean sauce
As a side we ordered the spicy cold pig’s stomach. This is a finely shredded dish that isn’t for the faint hearted. The spiciness of the dish blows your mouth out – thankfully it’s not a one dimensional heat smack, there’s several layers building over each other to produce a full flavoured mouthful - and for those thinking it would be a chewy, tasteless dish you couldn’t be more wrong. The pork stomach was meltingly tender with its sweet porcine flavours shining through and complimenting the spice.
Spicy pig's stomach
Service was impeccable and the staff were more than happy to keep bringing us pints of tap water (we got through about three apiece!).

Handmade Noodle King is a great little restaurant with some fab tasting dishes. It’s not somewhere to take a date or someone you want to impress (unless they’re a foodie) – but it really delivers on expertly flavoured, traditional food at great cost.

Ps – the portions are massive; we should have only ordered one main and one starter.
Price for one starter, two mains, two small bottle of Tsing Tao: £24.97

Pps - thanks to Northern Dave for pointing me in the right direction.

Food: 8/10
Atmosphere: 6/10
Service: 7/10
Value for money: 8/10

Total – 29/40

Handmade Noodle King, Faulkner Street, China Town, Manchester

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