Sunday, 3 May 2015

Albion Farm Shop & Café, Saddleworth

As I sit to write this blog post, my twitter feed is pinging with messages of congratulations for I just tweeted this: “@HungryHoss: Started my blog 4 years ago today. Have written 484 posts (100+ re Michelin star places) & had 1.3m+ views. Happy Blogday to me!

To celebrate, my wife and I are going for lunch at The Box Tree, Ilkley.

Whilst a Michelin Starred restaurant with a such a rich culinary history may seem an obvious choice for a celebratory meal, choosing a farm shop café in the hills outside Oldham as the subject of my 485th post may appear a little out of place.

Although my main motivation for writing Hungry Hoss was to document and share my thoughts on many enjoyable meals throughout the UK and on my travels, I have always taken satisfaction from being able to ‘use’ my blog to champion quality local independents.

Often, without huge wads of cash for advertising, these places have to rely on word of mouth to build reputations and this can take time. I’m not claiming to be hugely influential but I like to think that my blog can help to accelerate the ‘word of mouth’ process.

Through the lack of a ‘rating/scoring’ system and never making a direct recommendation in what I write, I always insist that I do not write “reviews”. I do not see myself as a restaurant ‘critic’ and have no desire to be one.

Despite being well established and full when I visited (and certainly not in ‘need’ of any exposure I can give them), Albion Farm Shop & Café is one of those places that I feel ‘more people’ should know about. I first came to hear about them on Twitter from their farmer @AlbionFarm_Paul who I started following for his witty banter.

To ‘start’ (it was a ‘main’), I had the Award Winning Black Pudding Stack – here Ramsay’s award winning black pudding and Albion farm award winning back bacon had been stacked with wholegrain mustard potato cakes and crowned with a poached egg. The quality of these ingredients made it a decent dish. However, with an attempt to be “cheffy”, the stack had been placed atop a Jackson Pollock of balsamic glaze and some Raydale red onion marmalade.

Although I wasn’t expecting Michelin starred cuisine and shouldn't really knock one of their most popular and best selling dishes as constructive criticism, I’d suggest ditching the overpowering and passé balsamic glaze and either boost the mustard levels in the potato cakes or change the chutney to an apple slaw with a bit of crunch and acidity from cider vinegar.

For my ‘main’, I chose the Albion Farm Rag Pudding – an Oldham speciality of suet and mince, rag puddings are named after the piece of muslin they were (and still are) wrapped in during cooking. I guess the recipe either predates fancy ceramic pudding basins or was simply used because the area’s poor mill workers couldn’t afford such extravagant pieces of kitchen kit.

Albion’s version was filled with rich braising steak and had a thick, yet light layer of suet. The peas were runnier than most places (not sure if that’s just the way they roll around there) but they tasted good. I liked the chips too although the presentation was ‘a little slap dash’.

Farmer Paul himself tweeted that they looked like they’d been “thrown on the plate” but I’d rather this than being served in a little frying basket or dicked about with and made into a jenga-like stack. Those who have been following @WeWantPlates on twitter can take this as a reminder of why things started arriving in a variety of vessels.

Albion Farm Café may not be the most flawless meal I’ve covered on my blog but the friendly family atmosphere is sure to make me return. So will the adjoining farm shop and butchery – in fact, I fancy going back now for more of their Black Pudding Scotch Eggs from the deli counter.

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