Dinner at the Cley windmill


Cley windmill

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The windmill is in a superb position on the edge of the salt marshes in North Norfolk. You can stay there and it is also open for dinner so I couldn’t wait to book in.
When you arrive you are shown into the sitting room. It is a cosy room with a fire going in the wood burning stove. There are old books in the bookcases, some cosy sofas and the hexagonal walls have small windows looking out onto the night sky.
According to the literature, if you go there in the summer you can stand out on the balcony looking over the marshes but it was blowing a gale outside and in fact I felt more like I was in a lighthouse than a windmill.
There is a set course menu so no choices to be made but we were shown a wine list to order something to drink for dinner but strangely we were not offered a pre prandial drink. Instead we had a glass of Merlot each to drink and then to take in to dinner.
The room is small so you are almost forced to talk to the other guests. They were a convivial bunch. A couple who had retired to the village and a couple who had got married here last year and were back again. You can hire out the whole place and I think quite a few people use it for wedding receptions.
According to the waitress, the owner was coming for dinner as well with his family and when he arrived he went and poked the fire around in a proprietorial manner although it was difficult to talk as we knew who he was but he didn’t know that we knew …anyway it was soon time to go into the candlelit dining room.
The starter was very tasty and served by the two pleasant waitresses. Smoked chicken and rocket salad was then followed by pork with mashed potatoes and red cabbage with a selection of vegetables. This was rather ordinary and seemed rather like a catering product than home cooked fresh cooking but maybe I am doing them an unjustice. The Chocolate and orange pavola was a bit too sweet for me. The ambiance however won over. The candle lights, low beamed ceiling and intimate atmosphere makes it a very pleasant and unusual place to eat. Do try it.

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The Harbour restaurant, Bowmore – Isle of Islay, Scotland


Port Ellen rainbow

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The restaurant is just off the quay and very tempting on a wild windy night on the Island. The view of open fires and congenial atmosphere beckons through the windows and the blue sign hanging above the door wafts too and fro in the night air. Once inside we sprawl over a comfy settee in the lounge and turn our backs on the harbour lights to see what’s going on inside. Two large family groups were making friends and chatting and with a couple of stellas in our hands we looked through the menu. I went for the mussels from Loch Etive steamed in white wine with saffron, garlic and cream(£6.95) whist Mrs Rambler went for the smoked salmon and cream fraiche with herb sauce(£7.50). I decided to stick with the fish theme and opted for the grilled Sea bass with olive oil, onion garlic tarragon and roasted peppars(£18.50). Mrs RR went for the scallops on a vegetable basket of celeriac puree on lemon and buerre blanc (£19.95). A half bottle of Muscadet sevre and maine 2005, Chateau de la penission(9.85) seemed the appropriate accompaniment.
Whilst we waited we looked at the Birds of Islay book nestling under the coffee table and admired the brilliant pictures within that I hoped to aspire to with my camera. The family group wished one of their number a Happy Birthday and as it was Mrs Rambler’s birthday as well we almost joined in.
After we finished our drinks we were taken into the compact dining room and I really enjoyed my starter. The mussels were tasty and although small there were plenty to satisfy as a starter. The sauce wasn’t too creamy either so a total success. The smoked salmon was strange as it came unusually as a slab and was a little disappointing.
My main course of sea bass was a hearty meal. There were generous tasty fillets that went well with the peppars and sauce. There were plenty of boiled potatoes served in a separate dish to accompany the fish. The scallops were also good and looked good on the basket of vegetables and the celeraic puree was delightful. I mashed some of the potatoes into the sauce at the end of the meal to make an excellent finish.
We were both rather full so although I was tempted by hot chocolate and ginger souffle garnished with strawberries and basil ice cream and other delights including a large cheese board we resisted. As we were next to the Bowmore whisky distillery there was also a range of coffee and whisky delights on offer but the problem of driving home meant that this too had to be shelved.

5 stars to the Harbour Inn although a little pricey.

Eight at the Thatch, Thame

We were taken to this new restaurant run by the winners of the BBC competition – “The Restaurant” judged by Raymond Blanc. I had high expectations of this place so I was hoping it was going to live up to my expectations.
It was raining outside and so it was with some relief that I ducked through the low beamed door into the hub-bub inside. We sat down with some drinks in the lounge which was a little too dark to read the menus, I wish I had bought my torch.
The menu was tricky, I couldn’t decide whether to have the roasted halibut with black eyed beans or the Confit duck leg with crushed new potatoes, black olive and orange zest jus. Well the duck won rather reluctantly and I thought I would have the chicken liver pate on toasted sourdough with apple and cider compote and onion marmalade.
Meanwhile we were shown to our table in the crowded restaurant and we were given some bread that looked as though it had been recyled. It was torn into strips and bits. The waiter kindly changed it for some fresh.
The pate was good and went especially well with the onion marmalade although less well with the apple and then I was looking forward to the main course.
Our hosts had steak which to his annoyance was served on a board with no plate. We ordered a side order of spinach although I was annoyed by this – why can’t the main course have vegetables served with it?
The duck was very good and the new potatoes were crushed – why? The spinach was over done and didn’t really do anything for the dish and I couldn’t taste the jus at all so it felt rather ordinary and unexciting.
We grilled the waitress for some gossip. Jane – was off work having a baby and Jeremy was with her so I think most of the influence in the kitchen is from Raymond Blanc although it didn’t really show except for the slick service.
For pudding I had rhubarb, apple and amaretto crumble. The amaretto came in a glass although I would have preferred some yoghurt. The crumble was too sweet, didn’t seem to have any rhubarb and was disappointing.
We had a really good evening though, the conversation flowed and it was a pleasant place to be. Just a shame the food didn’t live up to my expectations.

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I see the news is out that Jeremy and Jane have quit the restaurant and are heading back to Cornwall to set up their own restaurant. I wonder where it all went wrong. Could it be they didn’t like the pub / restaurant set up? Maybe they didn’t like being managed. Good luck for the Cornish adventure.

Missionary munchies in Swakopmund, Namibia


lighthouse

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

This old German colonial town in Namibia has one of the best cafes in Africa. I shall come to that cafe in a moment, but first I wanted to dwell on that beautiful mix of Europe and Africa. Here amidst the wildest most remote deserts in the world sits a slice of Saltzberg. Yes the Namib is wonderful and much as you might expect a desert to be – mostly sand and yet it has some of the most beautiful sand dunes. If you look closely though you will discover a whole range of flora and fauna that is unique to this fragile fragment of Africa. The lichens are engineered by nature to live in the desert gaining moisture from the morning fog that sweeps in from the Atlantic.
Up at the northern end of the namib where the yearly flow of the Kuiseb river stops the marching dunes in their tracks is a place called Homeb. It is possible to camp here (you need a permit). it is home to a people called the topenairs. They eke out a simple existence in this remote place and harvest the ground melons. They live in makeshift huts and look after the goats.
Then come into town and sit in a cafe surrounded by German speaking people eating coffee and apple strudel and you can see the extremes of cultures.
But enjoy it whilst you are here. Revel in the ornate architecture. a few years ago you could walk down Kaiser Wilmhelm strasse but now it is Nelson Mandela street or similar- which is the price of progress but I hate the passing of the old and quaint.
The first time I drove to Swakopmund from Botswana with Dave. He came out from England and in the three weeks that he was with me we drove to the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe and then to the west coast of Namibia. i wanted to show him everything in his time here . He must have been exhausted. Anyway, we drove across the Caprivi strip and then down across the namib. It was hot and dusty and we vowed to run straight into sea when we arrived. However, we hadn’t taken into account the Benguela current that runs up the west coast and makes the sea cold and causes a fog to rise which means that at that time of year Swakopmund was as cold as a wet weekend in Brighton and the sea had lost its charm. To make matters worse there was no room at the inn! Swakop was full. We had to set up camp at what was prosaically known as mile 14. A cold and windswept place only made bearable by a jolly nature warden with a pipe who gave an amusing talk about the natural history. We embarrassed ourselves by falling into a giggling fit on the rocky benches at the back.
So it was years later that I had time to explore the cafes properly.
Since then we have tried out all sorts of accommodation and eateries. Although staying at the Pension prinzessin-rupprecht-heim was very peaceful it doubles as an old peoples home so be prepared. Cafe Anton was very plush and their cafe is as glitzy as anything you would find in Vienna. No – my favourite is Pension Rapmund. Its simple but friendly. Lovely little courtyards with rooms adjacent. Breakfast is served in a pleasant room where everyone congregates in the morning. Be prepared for the German speaking. Although everyone speaks English as well I was greeting people with ‘Morgen’ and asking for an eye for my breakfast.
For coffee I like to go to Putensoen cafe treffpunkt on kaiser willhelm strasse. Its an old fashioned place and handy for the bookshop, opposite. The cakes are excellent.
For a more substantial meal try the Missionary Munchies at The African Cafe this is the best cafe. Sitting out on the pavement watching the world go by. Palm trees waft overhead and plenty of opportunity to sit and sketch all the cool guys in from the desert, sitting and relaxing like me. The coffee is served in large colourful cups that call out to be painted and the missionary munchies really fit a spot before hitting the road to drive back, sadly, to Windhoek.

River Cafe


River Cafe
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

My only knowledge of the River cafe was that it was where Jamie Oliver served his apprenticeship so I was very excited to be taken there by Mrs Chips’ catering company. They are so nice they even laid on a car to take us all up to London and back.
It was a cold windy evening by the Thames so the buzzy atmosphere inside was most welcoming. We stood at the long mirrored bar having a drink whilst waiting for out table. I caught some glimpses up towards the seating area where there was a large projected clock and an open oven in the wall.
Over talks and drinks I surveyed the menu and decided to go for the Insalata dal Mercato di Milano which is a mixture of sweet and bitter winter leaves that they bring in every week from Milan market. I decided to follow that with turbot as I have taken a liking to fish recently and my mother said that turbot was her favourite.
We were taken to our table which had a good view into the kitchen although the chefs work behind a long serving bar so you can see what goes on as we dived into some tasty Italian bread with virgin olive oil.
My salad was delicious with its balsamic vinegar and selvapiana 2007 extra virgin olive oil dressing and left me looking forward to the main course. The others had split roasted Scottish langoustines stuffed with garlic and parsley and I tried some and they were fresh and succulent.
My turbot was wood roasted with lemon and marjoram with slow cooked fennel and Italian spinach and it was a great combination of tastes. The fennel goes so well with the turbot and the spinach is such a no nonsense accompaniment. There were no heavy creamy sauces that one gets so often in smart restaurants. It simply wasn’t needed. Although we did need some fruity yet light pinot noir red wine and lashings of tap water.
I had a cleansing lemon tart for pudding and the others had pannacotta with grappa and champagne rhubarb. That’s a type of rhubarb, by the way.
We had a tasty cheese board with some wonderful dolcelatte among other offerings. I looked around and realised that we were the last in the restaurant. I have to say that it was the best food and best ambiance I have ever enjoyed. All the waiters and waitresses were delightful and were happy to answer all our questions and seemed very satisfied with their jobs and this made for an excellent evenings entertainment so I can heartily recommend this cafe by the river. The prices are reasonable – £27 – £30 for a main course. A definite 5 star rating.

Plough and Sail


Sculpture at Thorpeness
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Snape Maltings

Telephone: 01728 688413

It was a cold foggy evening in February that we ate at the Plough and Sail. Its in a complex with tea shops and the world famous Maltings Concert hall. The pub is a spacious place with a modern dining room. There was jolly crowd of locals at the bar and enough people in the restaurant to make it welcoming. The polished wood floors and pictures of the Maltings through history were quite inviting and there were some enticing specials on the boards. Seabass and other local fish dishes but on a cold night there were other temptations…
We ended up with Steak and kidney pie and I had Irish stew. The Irish stew was delicious, lovely tender lumps of meat offset with dumplings and vegetables. All washed down with a pint of southwold ale. We didn’t have room for puddings so had to leave it there and we headed off into the fog completely replete.

The Old Forge Restaurant, Rye

My favourite restaurant in Rye (but now taken over I am afraid so this review is out of date until I can get there again ). Its tucked away around on Wish Street, its been going for ever and the owner holds forth in the middle of the dining room from where he can keep an eye on things and makes sure that the friendly efficient service is always up to scratch. Booking is essential otherwise you may be disappointed.

What’s on the menu? Well -its good country cooking – pheasant casserole, seasonal vegetables, excellent seafood – we had some delicious halibut! There are some tasty puddings – on the simpler side – sorbets and ice creams. Next time I shall make some more detailed notes.

There is a good wine list and is all reasonably priced.