Saturday 24 October 2015

Parkers Arms, Lancashire

Since Jay Rayner told the world about the pleasures of pie perfection at Parkers Arms (here), often alone in the kitchen, chef Stosie Madi has been hand raising her hot-water pastry like a woman possessed. However, fantastic as they are, there is a lot more to Parkers Arms than just pies.

Before I tell you about the wonderful food I ate there recently, let me tell you about "Benidorm-man", "Pug-woman" and the case of a dodgy TripAdvisor “review”.

Earlier in the day, my wife had read something to me that she found online about etiquette and roast dinners. Whilst I can’t recall all of the details, I do remember that it included the fact that gravy should never be poured. Only common people pour their gravy (you know, the type who frequent Benidorm). Gravy should always be served with a ladle!

I also remember that this got me fancying a roast dinner. We decided to pay a visit to an old favourite, Parkers Arms. Active on social media and renowned for providing generous #TweetTreats to those who follow, interact and spread the love, I tweeted @ParkersArms to see if they had availability. I was told late afternoon would be fine.

We arrived just after 3pm, about the same time as a party of four (6); two couples and their pugs. I’m sorry dog lovers, but pugs are truly horrendous little things – at least these ones were… although they had them on leads, they were allowed enough rope to constantly scrabble around under our table with their squashed up faces and heavy breathing (just to make clear, I’m talking about the two dogs, not the women).

Now, the Parkers website states, IN BOLD, that ‘NB ROASTS NOT AVAILABLE AFTER 3PM’ – still, I hoped that maybe there was a little left. So it seemed did the elder of the two pug-women; the partner of the above “reviewer” (amateur food critic? Twat?).

Sat at the table next to us I could hear their conversations clearly all afternoon and more offputtingly, I could see Old Pug-Woman’s sulky face throughout the meal and she sat like a petulant child and ate nothing because there was not a single thing on the menu she liked, apart from pies… although not the Parkers’ pie of the day because it included mushrooms and, naturally… she didn’t like mushrooms.

Their “Twatadvisor” profile also reveals that they don’t like the excellent Hawksmoor (which also warrants just one star) and that they are clearly much happier in Benidorm.

Although not referred to by name, I watched and heard the interactions between proprietors, Kathy and AJ, and Benidorm-man and Old Pug-woman. AJ, is one of the most natural and charming front of house people in the industry, (recently recognised at one of the best in the North West hospitality by the Good Food Guide) and at no point did he ‘just walk away’ as Benidorm-man said in his far from honest ‘critique’.

From what I overheard, neither did Benidorm-man raise the issue with his dining companions or mention the cooking of the lamb as he seemingly happily ate it.
The first indication there was “a problem” was when Kathy came to clear the plates.  

From my vantage point I couldn’t see them lamb to see if it was cooked “rare”, mainly because he had eaten all but perhaps one bite of it! Now I know little of Benidorm-man himself, but I suggest he knows as much about what “medium” means in cooking terms as he does about the locations of the shift and full stop keys on his computer.

Anyway, whilst Old Pug Woman was sat with a face like a slapped arse because they didn’t have a roast or a pie to her liking, and Benidorm-man was trying to bag himself a free lamb steak, I was enjoying plate after plate of the most delicious, creative and delightfully diverse “pub food” I’ve had in recent memory.

At the bar, we started with a trio of dips; some heavenly smoked cod’s roe, salsa and hummus with crudities and a basket of Parkers house baked breads and, my favourite, salt baked potato skins.

At out table by the fire, these was followed by a series of small plates. The fist of which was an individual Ham hock terrine with parkers excellent piccalilli.

Next came Grilled sardines with a stunning gooseberry and mint relish. The relish was one absolutely fantastic. The tartness of the gooseberries balanced perfectly with sweetness of the onion relish and lifted by mint to make a perfect pairing with the oily sardines.

Then came a dish that was right up my alley, a “young kimchi” with subtle chilli and super crunch complemented by (or, depending on your view, complimenting) a piece of meaty Sea bass belly. I meant to ask Stosie for her kimchi recipe – hopefully she’ll read this and oblige.

Another winner followed in an intense Pork broth with roasted pork belly and squid. The crispy pork skin and soft squid making for an unlikely but perfectly harmonious pairing.

After such strong dishes, the “limited choice” that Benidorm-man referred to must’ve been getting stretched. Perhaps, they didn’t see the excellent ‘Lebanese style Aubergine caviar on toasted country bread’ – maybe its lack of well done meat didn’t appeal to their sophisticated palates?

A real crowd pleaser followed, BBQ black beans & chicken wings – with sweet, smoky, spiced sauce, proper plump, they were!

Having eaten his belly earlier, next came a Morecambe bat sea bass fillet with cockles, samphire, pink fir potatoes and chowder.

Next up, served lusciously rare (not medium – take note Benidorm-man), a local Bowland rump and girolles with kale, mash and a fruity damson dressing.

Although fit to bursting, for dessert my wife and I shared a Plum clafoutis tart and an oozy centred Chocolate fondant with a fantastic salted caramel ice cream.

If I was on TripAdvisor or fancied my self as an “amateur reviewer” and not just a blogger, I’d give Parkers Arms ‘5 stars’.

Sunday 18 October 2015

The Coach, Marlow

Since my stepdaughters have moved to Brighton, my wife and I had a few enjoyable trips down to visit them. The weather on the south coast is typically less grim than up north and it’s been great to check out new places to eat – meals at places such as 64 Degrees, Chili Pickle and Silo have been fab. Heading south has also enabled us to visit Michelin starred places such as The Sportsman and The Pass where I’ve wanted to eat at for ages!

The downside of visiting these places is invariably the travel. We’ve had a few lucky runs down but have also been caught by traffic jams and road closures – on one run we’d set off about 9pm but due to a section of the M6 being closed and then the same on the M54, on which we’d been diverted, we didn’t make it back home until gone 2am.

On our last trip, with the M25 at standstill and both needing a toilet break and something to eat we had two options as I saw it. Option A – keep crawling along the M25 at snail’s pace until we found a drab motorway service station with filthy loos and greasy food or, Option B – come off at the M40, head to Marlow and see if we can get in at Tom Kerridge’s “other pub”, The Coach. Guess which one we went for…

Bursting, I dropped my wife off at the door of The Coach while I went to find somewhere to park. Relieved, she soon fired off a text to me saying she was sat in their ‘holding pen’ with a glass of champagne and that we’d have a table in about 30 mins. Result!

No reservations, sat at a counter style bar, with a menu of small plates and slightly larger dishes, The Coach reminded me of a pub version of Barrafina. I approved!

So it seems to Michelin who recently awarded it a Bib Gourmand “Tom Kerridge's second pub offers a casual modern approach to dining. There are no starters or main courses, just flavoursome 'Meat' and 'No Meat' dishes that arrive as they're ready and are designed for sharing. Rotisserie dishes are a speciality.

All dishes ordered were a delight – my only quibbles being the “deconstructed” piccalilli with the pig’s head in lieu of a “proper piccalilli” and the rye cracker with the tartare, which I found too rigid. The trice cooked chips were, of course, excellent; although I’d have made use of more of the delicious béarnaise. The surprise favourite of the dishes ordered was the celeriac, which came delightfully festooned with mustard seeds and a well judged use of honey.

It was certainly the best place we’ve stopped for a wee and a bite to eat.

Crispy Pig’s Head with Piccalilli

Mushroom “Risotto” Claude Bosi

Buttered Hispi Cabbage

The Coach Chips with Béarnaise

Steak Tartare with Fried Quail Egg & Rye Cracker

Chicken Kiev with Cauliflower Cheese

Rotisserie Celeriac with Honey & Mustard Seed Glaze

Banana Custard with Dates & Honeycomb

Lemon Tart with Raspberry Sorbet

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