Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Brew House Hotel, Tunbridge Wells

1 Warwick Park
Tunbridge Wells TN2 5TA Map

I've wandered past the back door of the Brew House many times without realising it was there. Just recently however, they have been putting hoardings up and adverts on the walls of the Cumberland Function Rooms (formerly the Gracelands Palace).

It popped up during a search on Toptable I did a few weeks back. As they were doing a promotion where, if you booked two meals in August, you got enough rewards points for a free meal my wife and I decided that Sunday lunch there was in order as this, along with a return visit to Imli earlier this month, would earn us a free meal.

Inside, the restaurant is very bright and modern. We were shown to a table next to the window and given three menus and the wine list. These comprised of the a la carte menu, the Sunday Lunch set menu and a Summer Special set menu. We decided to go for the Summer menu which was £9 for two courses plus a glass of wine.

Some home baked bread was brought to the table and we both started with a Goats Cheese, Walnut and Rocket salad. The cheese was really creamy and it combined very well with the other ingredients.

My main course was Tagliatelle with Tomato, Chilli and Rocket. My wife had a burger which had even more rocket - it did seem to embellish every dish... I thought, initially, that the tagliatelle might be boring but it was nicely spiced with chilli and quite tasty.

We decided to add dessert to the bill and for me there was but one choice as, on the menu was a Bourbon Creme Brulee. It ranked 7 on the chart. It was tasty, but let down by the consistency of he custard, which was just a bit too runny and the lack of any taste of bourbon.

My wife chose a Chocolate Fondant with Cappuccino Ice Cream and Vanilla Cappuccino of which I had a taste. It was gorgeous and I highly recommend it. The fondant was perfectly gooey and the ice cream was lovely. I didn't get a proper taste of the Vanilla Cappuccino as my wife woofed it down marvelling at how good it was!

The service was very friendly and the waiting staff were all very knowledgeable about the contents of the menu.

Compared to the a la carte menu prices (which were high, but not astronomically so) the set menu we had was a real bargain, and we'll back sometime to sample more sometime.

Prezzo, Tunbridge Wells

84 Mount Pleasant Road
Tunbridge Wells TN1 1RT Map

Prezzo is a national chain of restaurants serving Italian food. Like most Italian restaurants there are plenty of choices on the menu for vegetarians. I've been there a couple of times and had some really good dishes. The Pane Con Cipolla is well worth having. It's garlic pizza bread with caramelised balsamic onions and melted mozzarella cheese and is great to share at the top of a meal. The baked mushrooms on the Antipasti menu are very tasty and last time I went I had the Crespolina Porcini which consists of crepes filled with mushrooms and ricotta in a cream sauce.

One thing to note when tipping in Prezzo is that I have it on good authority that any tips left on a credit card are used to make up the wages rather than go to the staff as an extra for good service. There is new legislation coming in that will help to stop this practise, but now we always check when we eat out and leave cash tips if we are at all unsure as cash tips are not legally the property of the employer and cannot be used this way. There is a good article about it here. Having read it I was disappointed to see that Carluccio's, a favourite restaurant of mine, follows this practice, so I will now make sure to only leave cash tips when visiting there in future.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Drunken Duck Inn, Cumbria

Cumbria LA22 0NG Map

From the outside, the Drunken Duck looks like your average country pub, except that, despite its position - effectively in the middle of nowhere - there are an inordinate amount of people filling the bar and all the outside tables. So one may assume, quite rightly in this case, that the pub has a good reputation.

Inside, the bar is fairly narrow, but well laid out. The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable and they have a great range of wines and beers, the beers brewed at their own brewery which was initially set up to provide the Duck with its own beers and now supplies many other inns throughout the north of England.

The bar offers its own food menu, however it was the restaurant that we had come to sample. We visited twice, once at lunch and then for an evening meal a couple of days later so this review will be a mix of both visits.

So, lets start at the beginning. The restaurant is well laid out, with the tables far enough apart to allow quite a bit of privacy.

For lunchtime starters I had Goats Cheese with Celeriac Remoulade and Baked Pear. The celeriac was delicately flavoured with mustard and complimented the creamy goat cheese. Similarly, the goats cheese and pear were gorgeous. For starters at dinner, I had another cheese dish. This time it was a mousse with a fig chutney. It was nice, but nowhere near as good as the previous dish. My wife had scallops which she said were fantastic.

My main course on both days was fabulous. For lunch I had Pea & Mint Risotto. It was really good, the rice was cooked with just the right amount of bite and had a pea puree mixed into the rice as well as whole fresh peas. From the evening dinner menu I had Roasted Butternut Squash and Wild Mushrooms. As you know I have a bit of a mushroom fixation, so when this dish turned up I was in heaven. It consisted of two halves of a roasted butternut squash with the bulbs filled to overflowing with chanterelles and trompe-de-morte mushrooms in a lovely white wine sauce. It tasted as good as it sounds (provided I made it sound good enough) and the squash was wonderfully tender. My wife had a venison dish which she said was a little dry and overcooked. However, we saw others coming out that looked perfect, so I guess she was just unlucky.

Instead of dessert for dinner, we shared a cheese platter between us. This had eight different cheeses made from sheep, goats and cows served with various crackers, fruit and chutney. It was all very tasty and, along with a coffee, it ended the meal perfectly.

If you go for lunch, the menu prices are good value, in the evening it is a bit more expensive. If you're in the Lakes looking for a great place to eat, then a visit to the Drunken Duck is well worth fitting into your diary. As I mentioned at the beginning it gets busy so make sure you book ahead, especially for an evening meal.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yewfield B&B, Hawkshead

Hawkshead Hill,
Hawkshead Ambleside,
Cumbria, LA22 0PR Map

Last weekend we went up to the Lake District. The Bed & Breakfast we picked was Yewfield, a vegetarian B&B near Hawkshead, a short distance from Ambleside.

When we arrived, no one was there, and we were greeted with an envelope with the room keys and a note apologising for no one being available to greet us and instructions on how to get to our room.

The room itself was very nice, spacious and clean and had a qonderful view from the full length window/door which opened onto a very small Juliet balcony.

It's pretty well situated, being about a 20 minute walk from Hawkshead down a small country lane, where you have to squash into the hedge should a car come along. It's also about a 10 minute walk from Tarn Hows.

We did two walks, one from Hawkshead to Latterbarrow and one around Tarn Hows and up Black Crag. We were pretty lucky with the weather as it stayed dry all the Bank Holiday weekend and only started to rain on the way home.

To be honest, the advertising of this place as a "vegetarian" B&B only really refers to the breakfast, as that is the only meal that is provided. Other than that, this could be any B&B. The breakfasts were good, but nothing more than I could get at any other hotel or guesthouse by asking for an English breakfast without the sausage, bacon etc. I guess that you do have the peace of mind that everything is cooked correctly and that there is no contamination by meat products. Other than that, there is no added bonus for vegetarians, which is a shame.

Having said that, it is a very nice place, the staff are very friendly and the rooms are clean and comfortable. If you are looking for somewhere in the Lakes to stay, you could do worse than Yewfield.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hand and Sceptre, Southborough

21 London Road,
Southborough TN4 0QB

We were planning to go to the Italian deli in Southborough for a coffee and a bit for lunch, but when we got there it was shut with a "Gone Fishing" sign on the door. So we drove up the hill to the Hand and Sceptre pub to give it a try.

This is a place that I drive past twice a day on my way to and from Tunbridge Wells and never really considered visiting. Now I know what I've been missing, I can see it being a regular choice.

The setting of the pub is really nice, sitting as it does opposite the green so on sunny summer days (if we ever get any) you could sit on the terrace and watch the cricket. Inside it is well decorated with wooden floors, well spaced tables and a few "olde worlde" ovens and such-like to add some atmosphere.

We were only there for lunch, so we didn't eat a lot. I ordered a quatro formaggi pizza and my wife had fish and chips. The pizza was great. As well as the cheese, there were slices of pear on it which went really well with the gorgonzola which I thought was a great idea. My wife really enjoyed her fish and chips and I had a taste of the mushy peas that came with them and they tasted really sweet - not unlike a pea soup. It was the first time that I've ever seen my wife eat mushy peas, they are normally just pushed to the side of the plate, so I think that is a great recommendation.

The service was quick and very friendly and we couldn't fault it at all. The prices are a little higher that I would expect for a pub lunch (my pizza was £9) but it was all very good quality and very well presented. To be honest I'd rather pay that little bit more for the quality of food and service than save a couple of quid and have tasteless, unimaginative food and poor service, so I'll forgive them.

They also offer accommodation, so if the rooms and breakfast match up to the quality of the restaurant it would be a good place to stay if you're visiting the area.

All in all, we were both very pleased that the deli was shut and we'll be back at the Hand and Sceptre before too long.