Saturday, 25 October 2014

'The Rat Inn' & 'Parkers Arms' - two perfect gastropubs

There’s no real reason to write about the The Rat Inn and Parkers Arms in the same post other than the fact they are, in my opinion, two of the best gastropubs in the country; I firmly believe that fans of one would love the other.

They may not have Michelin stars like Hand & Flowers, Pipe & Glass Inn or Black Swan but they are everything a good gastropub should be… enough 'pub' to appease the locals with enough 'gastro' to please the travelling “foodies”.

My love affair with Parkers is well documented on my blog and twitter feed but, having heard so many good things and a few recommendations from chefs, The Rat Inn (in Anick, Hexham) is one of those places I have been meaning to visit for quite some time.

Researching Anglo Saxons and Romans for a school project, I found myself in the North East the other day and it seemed the perfect opportunity to pay “The Rat” in a visit - at least it would have been a perfect opportunity had they not been about to go on a rare holiday… just my luck!

Luck was with me in a way though, as I managed to catch the final lunch service before the kitchen closed for a week; the catch being that they were only offering a partial menu. I had my heart set on the Pan Haggerty so this was a bit of a shame.

My initial disappointment was soon forgotten when my starter arrived – Chicken & black pudding terrine. You just cannot grumble at this type of food.

For my main, I went with the hearty pub classic of ‘sausage & mash’ – Northumberland sausage, leek and potato cake and onion gravy to be more precise. The sausages were great quality and the gravy was proper, complete with lashings of onion. Equally ‘proper’ were the chips.

For dessert, a decadently rich and moist Chocolate & Newcastle Brown Ale cake seemed the thing to have with Newcastle just down the road. It proved a good choice.

With its stunning views, homely feel and delightful service The Rat certainly lived up to expectations and I’ll certainly be back in the NE sometime for that Pan Haggerty.

Parkers Arms

Now to Parkers Arms, another place with wonderful views and charming service from the charismatic AJ.

In the area, I called in without a booking. I asked the kitchen to send out a few nibbles; ordered a crab dish and grouse for starter and main… you gotta make the most of the short season.

Nibbles included Chef Stosie’s magical Potato & Rooster scratchings; some naughty Smoked bone marrow and a dinky skewer of Cockles with fennel mayo, fennel salad & a cockle jus.

The Crab Blini with Lemon Mayo may not have looked like the most spectacular of dishes but it tasted immense - it consisted of a Blini made with brown crab meat, topped with white meat, dill and lemon butter.

My Abbeystead Grouse & Pork Terrine with Parkers Piccalilli was a perfect example of honest, hearty country cooking. It’s this style of nonsense flavour and produce driven cooking that prompted the glowing review form the Guardian’s Jay Rayner (see here).

Jay was a fan of the pies. ‘Hand raised’ with a glossy hot water crust pastry, it’s easy to see why. Jay had ‘Venison & Pork’ in his and I’ve heard talk of a fabulous sounding ‘Salt marsh lamb & cockle’ filling. The pie of the day on my visit was ‘Abbeystead Grouse & Whimberry’ a tremendous thing equalled in quality by the chips.

Both The Rat Inn and Parkers Arms are truly special places – there are not enough of these pubs around – unpretentious gastropubs where the food speaks for itself.

The Rat Inn on Urbanspoon Parkers Arms on Urbanspoon 

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Chef’s Table, Chester

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that, over the last couple of weeks, I have been ever so slightly obsessed with Hoole bistro Sticky Walnut’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a second site.

My reason for this is a selfish one; there is talk that, Burnt Truffle (the name of the new venture) could be closer to Manchester – thus saving me the 90 minute round trip to Chester.

However, Sticky Walnut is not the only place in Chester worth making the journey for… as well as the Michelin starred Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor, the city boasts some great little bistros and gastropubs – Joseph Benjamin, Artichoke and the new Mockingbird Taproom are worth a special mention.

The Chef’s Table can now be added to that list. According to their website and twitter bio, The Chef’s Table is an “independent foodie hub” but please don’t let that put you off.

It’s actually just a charming little restaurant in a lovely location in Chester, just off of their famous medieval rows. The décor is homely and a little quirky and I found the service friendly.

The menu is produce driven – they make a bit deal out of the food being fresh and seasonal and from local suppliers… “very foodie”. More importantly for me, I found the quality of cooking on offer to be quite accomplished. 

Roasted Jerusalem artichoke, salt roast beets, watercress, smoked crème fraiche & Old Winchester cheese – I enjoyed this dish very much; it looked beautiful and ate well. Great acidity from the pickled elements and well controlled smokiness in the crème fraiche and cheese. 

Whole roast partridge, maple glazed parsnips, gin & Chambord sweet & sour pears, chard, bacon, cobnuts & partridge jus – a well conceived and delightfully autumnal looking dish. Being picky, the partridge was a little overcooked and tough for my personal preference and I’d have liked bolder seasoning. The side of Triple cooked chips were perfect.

Roasted apples, granny smith parfait, caramelised filo, macerated blackberries & blackberry sorbet – no complaints from the dessert!

I will be dining at the Chef’s Table again.

Chef's Table on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The French by Simon Rogan – October 2014

Since my last visit (here), The French by Simon Rogan has been awarded a remarkable 4 AA Rosettes and ranked in the Good Food Guide as the country’s 14th Best Restaurant.

4 AA rosettes puts it in the same category as two Michelin star restaurants such as Le Gavroche and The Hand & Flowers; and even 3 star places such as Gordon Ramsay and Alain Ducasse.

With accolades such as these, it seems churlish to bemoan Michelin’s failure to award a star.

So what can you expect to eat at the only restaurant in the country that has four AA rosettes but no star… or the only restaurant in the top 15 of the Good Food Guide without a star? Bloody good grub is the simple answer…

Squid cracker, goat’s milk, shrimp & fennel / Trotter, ham fat cream, sage / Baked potato & cheese / Celeriac with apple

Macerated tomato, crab, anchovy & celery

Salt baked swede, truffle, Ardrahan, fried bread


Smoked eel & sweetcorn with a lovage broth

Ox in coal oil, pumpkin seed, kohlrabi & sunflower shoots

Breaded oyster, butternut squash with bacon buttermilk & mint

Autumn offerings with lovage salt, cresses, herbs & flowers

Butter poached hake with carrots, asters & smoked marrow

Suckling pig, roast parsnips, barbecued broccoli with mulled cider

Berries with woodruff & cake crumbs

Plums in Cheshire honey, crab apple & marigold

Star or not, the restaurant remains full and the food ranks alongside the best served in the UK… it’s certainly the best in Manchester.

The French by Simon Rogan on Urbanspoon

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