The Canmore, Dunfermline

The de Brus Brewery had been on my list of places to visit ever since I found out it had a microbrewery on site and, what appealed more, I could see from their sample menu’s that they used their own beers and ciders in the recipes. For one reason or another, Dunfermline is rarely some place our weekend travels takes us to. Well, until today that is, so remembering my list, we went in search of the de Brus Brewery and instead found The Canmore at the same address. Apparently it was renamed in February this year and  according to the blurb (and the glasses) the brewery is still brewing and the De Brus range continues to be served.

The building is in an old town house and the bar is in the front room, which has lovely cornicing and centre rose. OH and I sat in the bay window with a view of someone else’s carpark. The friendly waitress gave us the menus and took our drinks order. OH decided on a half of one of their own blonde ales, which he said tasted a bit like a Lagavulin and I had a glass IMAG6621of red, which tasted exactly like a Shiraz.

The menu had a variety of dishes with the usual kind of stuff like fish and chips, burgers and steak pie but also some intriguing tartan tapas – a range of small dishes you could pick from at either £4.50 each or 3 for £12. I really fancied the haggis fritter with Irn Bru chutney but instead went for a main course of Nachos with Salsa, Guacamole, Sour Cream and Mozzarella with chilli beef.  OH wanted something completely different and surprisingly went for Beetroot andIMAG6619 Spinach Risotto topped with Fresh Parmesan and White Truffle Oil. I just asked him how it was and unsurprisingly he said it was creamy and beetrooty. I gave him a glare and he added “Well, I don’t usually go for vegetarian dishes and I enjoyed not having meat, what else do you want me to say?”

Honestly, I don’t know why I bother taking him nice places.

My nachos were lovely but far too much for me – saying that I didn’t leave many! IMAG6620The chili beef with kidney beans was hot and spicy but there were big dollops of sour cream to cool it down and enough cheese to get a good mozzarella stretch as it melted. I did enjoy them but next time I’d get them as a starter.

OH then had a huge slice of sticky toffee pudding with a rich toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream (sorry forgot to take a pic) and washed it down with a coffee, whereas I had another glass of red.

All in all it was a good meal, reasonably priced and great service.

2 mains, 1 dessert, 1/2 pint, 2 glasses of red and a coffee = £38.25

A week in Gran Canaria

Looking for some winter sunshine I looked at Gran Canaria to book a week long getaway. OH and I are not ones for lying on a beach so after much searching decided on an AirBnB apartment in Agaete – a small fishing village on the North West of the island. A long drive away from where the majority of tourists lie starfished in the sand.

imag5840We hired a car from the airport and drove anti-clockwise around the round island. We were not disappointed when we were shown around our new home for the week. The view of the mountains and Atlantic was amazing (the wine and beer left in the kitchen for us were also great). After stocking up on some essentials we chilled for the rest of the evening enjoying the first of many amazing sunsets whilst sipping wine and nibbling cheese.

The following day (Sunday) we drove in to the capital of the Gran Canaria, Las Palmas. It was the day of their annual marathon so the city was buzzing. Groups of drummers lined the route, helicopters and motorbikes followed the runners and the locals cheered and clapped as the sweaty athletes sprinted (or limped) past. There is also an old town aspect to the capital, which was definitely prettier on the eye than the new builds and chic shopping centre.

The weather on Monday was perfect for a drive, this time clockwise, down to Maspolomas where we found miles of sand dunes. Imagine the Sahara Desert but with a coast. img_20170124_180703_063

There’s a main road, which runs from Agaete round the majority of the island and is the sensible route to take if you’re going anywhere. Additionally, there is also a spiders web of roads, which wander through the middle of the island clinging to the sides of the mountains. These roads are seriously narrow, have sheer drops, crazy hairpin bends and don’t offer the chance to get into 3rd gear too often. However, as well as the near death experiences they offer, they also give you breath taking views. So after a wander over the dunes we drove back to Agaete through the mountains. img_20170124_180233_758imag5685Stopping off at Roque Nublo, a precariously perched volcanic rock and the second highest point in the island.

This drive messed with my hands and nerves giving me white knuckles, sweaty palms and muscle cramps as I tensed at each and every corner (and I wasn’t even driving!) but they also give some amazing views – img_20170125_170331_759the kind of scenes you wouldn’t normally see unless you’re the type that actually enjoys leaving the car behind and trekking up a mountain for hours. Incidentally, the roads were also full of cyclists. Lycra clad mentalists pedalling along the extreme roads, cycling just as fast as the cars could drive.

imag5734When I booked the break in Gran Canaria the last thing I was expecting to hear was that I could visit a coffee plantation. Yes! They grow coffee in the Agaete Valley at Finca Los Castaños. This was only a short drive for us but it was still another scenic trip into the valley where we loved the relaxed tasting of their own red, rosé and white wines accompanied with cheese made from cow and goats milk and some pork pate on chunky bread. This was then followed with a lovely cup of the only coffee grown and produced in Europe and some delicious home made cake. This was all enjoyed whilst being surrounded by orange trees, grape vines, coffee plants and lush green mountains. The word you’re looking for right now is bliss.

Our apartment looked over Puerto De Las Nieves making it only a short walk down through a cactus garden and along the coast. The working port boasts a string of fabulous fish restaurants. We could easily have dined in a different place each night and not been disappointed. As the area isn’t full of tourists there were very few menus with photos or waiters trying to coerce us to a table so it was great to wander and choose at will without pressure. imag5707Additionally, the lack of beach seekers meant the meals were reasonably priced and didn’t break the bank at all.

As well as the amazing fish dishes we also managed to eat like cavemen when we dined in a restaurant, which had been carved out of the mountains. Restaurante El Centro Guayadeque The menu was fascinating. Eventually OH decided on a Steer Steak, which, when it arrived, covered the whole plate and looked like at least half of the beast. I had chicken skewers, which I couldn’t finish but wanted to. Both dishes were beautifully flame grilled. Like Fred and Wilma, we ate our meals sitting at a stone table in a cave, which was surprisingly cosy.

I could go on and on and tell you about everything else we did and every meal we ate but I’m already way over my usual word count so will stop now.

So, in summary, a lot of people have preconceived ideas about Gran Canaria. Perhaps thinking it’s just a place to go and lie on the beach. This certainly isn’t the case. Gran Canaria is an absolutely beautiful island, which has something for everyone and even more if you venture off the beaten path. I, for one, wouldn’t hesitate to go back.imag5675

Café Montmartre, Dundee

One of our favourite places to go for an authentic taste of France locally used to be in Cupar, Fife. However, Café Montmarte had the audacity to move to Dundee so unfortunately was no longer on our beaten track. However, it did go on our list of places to go when we want to travel further afield (and OH doesn’t mind not getting any wine).

So today was the day we ventured over the Tay Bridge. imag5568I called the night before to book a table and I’m glad I did as although there were only 3 people in the restaurant when we arrived by 1.25pm the room was full and there were no spare tables for anyone walking in off the street.

We ordered from the Set Lunch menu (a la carte and snack menus also available). When we go out we always try to order something different and usually this isn’t a problem as we have very different tastes. However, today we both wanted to have the Duck rillettes pate but since OH was driving I let him  win. imag5570They arrived served on crusty bread garnished with apple and plum relish. Initially OH raved about his choice and  I had to agree when I tasted the pate. It had a great texture and a nice but not over powering gamey taste. However, by the end of it OH needed a mouthful of my wine to help the pate down as it’s richness  became too much. There was nothing wrong with it just too big a portion.

imag5569For my starter I had Calamar & prawns in tempura with garlic & dill aioli. The squid was lovely. Not chewy at all and when covered in the aioli just wonderful. The prawns were also done to perfection. I couldn’t leave any aioli so finished it off with some bread.

Sticking with game, OH plumped for Guinea Fowl, which was on the special’s board. I don’t have the exact description but the French owner reported it as being with beans and sausage. You can see for yourself from the pic. I haven’t had Guinea Fowl for over 26 years since the first and only time I have had the bird I thought I was licking the cobblestones in a farmyard. Yuck. It obviously put me off. However, when I tasted OH’s it was nothing like that at all. It was a cross between chicken and pheasant and therefore, not too gamey. OH enjoyed it and said all the ingredients worked well together. Himag5571e loved the potato and leek mash and the bean cassoulet but again his only complaint was that the portion was too big. He hates waste and was brought up to clear his plate so having to leave food upsets him.

For my main I opted for the Oven roasted salmon steak, set on spinach, ginger and beurre blanc sauce. The salmon was perfect and the sauce glossy and thick. I wasn’t keen on the tomimag5572atoes, which looked roasted but tasted uncooked. It was the same mash as OH’s which stayed hot right to last bite and was lush. Overall I loved it.

Remember how OH was complaining about the portion size being too big? Well, of course he still managed to enjoy a dessert.imag5575 La Boulanerie Opera – fine layers of almond sponge with coffee cream & chocolate ganache, served with espresso ice cream. I just asked OH if he had anything to say about his dessert and he just went “Mmmmm. The coffee ice cream wasn’t too strong, the cake was just slivers of loveliness and it rounded off my meal perfectly”.

IMAG5576.jpgNot having a sweet tooth and taking advantage of the fact there was no supplement, I went for the cheese board.  For once there was more crackers/bread than there was cheese, which was great. I could have done with a little chutney but other than that the cheese was great and the perfect portion size (yes, I know when to leave the bread alone).

Since moving to Dundee, Café Montmarte has lost none of it’s previous ambience and charm. The menus and food are still great and the décor very similar only now our  favourite little bit of Scottish France is now in Dundee but really you should go see for yourself, you won’t regret it.

2 x 3 course set menu lunches, a pineapple juice, 500ml of house wine and a double espresso = £55.20

 

 

 

 

 

Melrose Abbey and Barony Castle Hotel

Since it was my birthday midweek OH and I decided to celebrate it the weekend after and booked a hotel near Peebles – the near bit is important as there’s no way you could say it was in Peebles – it’s 5 miles out of the town! The wrongly named hotel was the Mercure Peebles Barony Castle Hotel. Before OH and I checked in we decided to go further south and visit Melrose Abbey as I had never been before. The abbey is beautiful and the complimentary audio tour is definitely worth listening to as it gives you all the history of the abbey, highlights all the nooks and crannies you’d want to see and gets you to look for things such as the bagpipe playing pig gargoyle that you’d probably miss otherwise. There are spiral steps up to the roof, which gives a fantastic view but they aren’t for the faint hearted and my thighs muscles are still sore from the climb so be warned. melrose-abbeyAfter the abbey we had a quick wander around the shops and then headed back up to Peebles.

As usual I had picked a dog friendly hotel so (for an extra £15) Amber could come too. The hotel is a 15th Century building with a mixture of old comfortable chairs and modern, stylish furniture. There is a spa and conservatory area as well so the hotel has done well to marry old with the new.

During check-in we were asked if we wanted to book a table in the restaurant but it would have to be later on as the hotel was fully booked and there were no dining room slots until 8.45. Being a Fifer, I have a 5 o’clock tummy so we decided to eat in the bar instead where there was a typical pub grub menu. I opted for Chicken fajita wrap with seasonal salad and fries £12.95 and OH went for the Beer battered haddock, peas, homemade tartare sauce, crisp salad and fries £13.95. Just in case you’re interested the restaurant menu has things like deer, duck, lamb and salmon.

When my fajita arrived I was surprised to see it was already rolled and not the usual DIY job I am used to. It left me wondering how I was supposed to put the sour cream, guacamole and salsa on to it. I then tried to pick up the tortilla and it collapsed fajitahsungracefully in front of me. So that was my problem solved as I then ate it with a fork and knife and added the sauces to it as I ate. Overall it was tasty enough but I’d have preferred a couple of tortillas and the chance to build it myself. I had no complaints with the accompanying fries as they were delish.

fishOH’s fish looked a bit small compared to other pieces of haddock he has had in the past but the batter was nice and crispy and although it looked like a bit of a tiddler OH said it was filling enough. Surprisingly, he also said he quite liked the tartare sauce as it wasn’t overpowering. This is unusual for him as he isn’t normally a fan. Of course he also loved the fries.

We spent the rest of the evening in the bar running up a large drinks bill. The décor of the bar again brought together  the ancient with the contemporary. However, some of the old chairs could do with a bit more padding. I’m pretty sure Drew Pritchard would be interested in buying and re-upholstering a number of the armchairs in the Blue Dug Bar.

The following morning we were woken by one barking dog and another whining. My best guess is that their owners had left them in the room whilst they had went for breakfast and they had set one another off. I have been to a number of dog friendly hotels before and this is the first time this has happened. Fortunately Amber didn’t join in the dog chorus. barony

The hotel breakfast was good and there was the usual vast selection of hot and cold stuffs on offer. After consuming as much of the buffet as we could we went for a walk in the grounds to see the The Great Polish Map of Scotland. << Click the link for more info but basically the map is a huge 3D map of Scotland, sculpted in concrete and measuring some 40m by 50m. It is a sight to behold and my pic really doesn’t do it justice. map

All in all, we had a fabulous time in the Borders and enjoyed our stay in the Barony Castle Hotel.

 

 

 

The Oak Tree Inn, Loch Lomond

Last week OH went paddling in Loch Lomond and put in at Balmaha (btw ‘paddling’ and ‘putting in’ are both kayaking terms – just so you know he wasn’t up there bare footed with his trousers rolled up) Anyhow, he loved the area so much he wanted to take me back to see the scenery – particularly in autumn. Therefore, first thing Sunday morning, we set off and headed towards Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. He wasn’t wrong. The scenery was stunning.img_20161023_175218

After a scenic walk along the shoreline just after Balmaha, we travelled back and parked across from the Oak Tree Inn. When we entered we could see straight away how busy it was. There was a large bar, restaurant and conservatory that were all bustling. However, the staff were keen to help and found us a table for two in the conservatory.

Annoyingly, we had a couple of false starts where we had to ask for menus and then find someone to take our order but as it was so busy we made allowances. Looking around though, I realised that the place would always be like this at lunch time and the initial poor service was not the norm as the staff were plentiful and pretty attentive and, with hindsight,  I couldn’t really fault them – it actually was just a false start.

What I could fault though, was that the specials were written on a board in the restaurant and I had to stand up and walk through to see them, which was annoying. Particularly becimag5191ause the blackboard was positioned above a table and I had to stand in front of a couple and squint at the hard to see options.

Turns out, I was glad I made the effort as I went for the special of Sea Bass with creamy white wine sauce served with asparagus and a savoy cabbage and onion mash. It was amazing. The construction of the dish, the way the ingredients complimented one another and the presentation were all spot on. The Sea Bass had large meaty flakes and a crispy skin, the mash had just the right amount of cabbage and spring onion mixed through it and the asparagus had a lovely fresh bite. Overall, it was a dish I’d order time and time again.

OH decided on the Traditional Steak and Mushroom Pie made with locally reared beef, topped with crunchy puff pastry served with fresh market vegetables served with chips or parsley buttered potatoes (he went for chips). imag5188His pie came in one of those tin enamel, white and blue dishes, which people in the 70s   used when camping. (probably earlier and in the war but I just remember camping with the Guides in the 70s and having to get a blue and white enamel tin mug and plate before I’d pass muster). He got rid of the dish as soon as possible as he hates steak pie being in a separate dish (I don’t think he’s alone with that). The stew part of his pie looked rich to me, the gravy was really dark brown and glossy. The vegetables were a great mix of peas, turnip, courgette, cabbage and carrots and his chips, were, well, chips.  OH says he really enjoyed his pie – he said it was rich and there were good chunks of meat that threaded up when he cut into them and the mushrooms weren’t soggy.  The added on pastry lid however, was just ok. Personally, if I ask for a pie I want a pie and not stew with a bit of pastry on top so I can see his point.img_20161023_174409

Happily, we were both sated after our main courses and we didn’t even ask to see the dessert menu – even though I’m sure they’d have been just as good as our mains.

…and just in case you read my last blog – the toilets this week were on point and I had no complaints there either 😉

2 mains, a coke, a white wine, a coffee – £37.30 (the amazing scenery was free)

 

The Roxburghe Hotel, Edinburgh

OH and I decided to pop through to Edinburgh and enjoy an afternoon tea at the Roxburghe Hotel. I know what you’re thinking – you wait ages for a blog about afternoon tea and then suddenly two come along. Personally, I think OH was just a tiny bit jealous of Lusa and I’s fabulous afternoon at the Roman Camp so was more than happy to sip tea of an afternoon rather than our usual cocktail crawl along George Street.

When we first arrived at the Charlotte Square hotel we were ushered along to the Samovar Lounge by the efficient door man. The room was lovely and decorated to a high standard. Unfortunately, there were no window seats available so we were seated next to a thoroughfare. imag5129Yes, you read that right. It turned out that the lounge sits between the entrance and the rest of the hotel so people that were staying in the hotel walked through the lounge to get to their rooms or to go out…and it was a busy hotel.   Although it gave us something to talk about I would much have rather had a more private dining experience.  You’ll notice from the pic that the fire wasn’t lit either.

The first thing to arrive was the amuse-bouche or mouth amuser, which isn’t on the menu but a freebie from the chef to give a hint to his style. It turned out to be home made lemonade served in little screw top jars with handles. Cute. We were also asked what kind of tea we would like. I opted for traditional black breakfast tea and OH, who isn’t a fan of strong tea, decided on rosy white fig tea. There was also a little timer on the table to ensure that you don’t let your tea stew for too long.   imag5131

Then the little plates of nibbly things arrived. On the savoury plate there was a smoked salmon and cream cheese blini; coronation chicken tart; smoked ham, dill pickle and piccalilli Provençale roll and an egg mayo and cucumber brioche roll.  Another plate had plain and fruit scones with clotted cream and strawberries with little jars of strawberry jam. The middle plate held fresh strawberry tart; baklava; chocolate opera cake and mini meringue with lemon cream.

As ever, my favourites were the little rolls. I could eat several plates of them without coming up for air. OH loved the scones with clotted cream and managed to eat both of his. Incidentally, the clotted cream had grapes and strawberries in it and came in a little flower pot with a pansy on the top. Cute too. OH also rated his pot of tea highly. The baklava was quite greasy and I could feel the calories coat my lips. The strawberry tart was yum and although I left my 2nd scone I cleared up the rest quite easily. Although also quite messily. Why don’t you get tongs and little dessert forks for afternoon tea? I left my napkin in a disgusting state.

Overall, the food was great, the service good and if I hadn’t of had an exceptional afternoon tea experience a couple of weeks ago it would get a high rating. However, a visit to the toilet brought the afternoon tea to a disappointing end. The 4 star hotel had 1 star loos. First of all it was a trek to get to them, down stairs along a corridor and then into another one. Then the smell hit me. When I went in I found there was only two toilets and one was out of the order (hence the smell?). The other had no lock on it and it was a busy place. One lady was already waiting and having to stand guard for her mum. The décor wasn’t great either and considering how lovely the rest of the hotel is I was surprised at the lack of the attention there was to the Ladies.

Afternoon tea for 2 – £38.

 

The Roman Camp, Callander

If you’re a regular reader you will have already heard of Lusa, my Scottish born cousin who now resides in L.A. She is visiting again so, leaving OH behind, we decided to take off for a couple of days to spend time together and catch up.

In the 50s our grandfather used to be a gardener at The Roman Camp in Callander so we decided to have our short break in The Trossachs and make Callander our base so we could check out the places our mums talk about and see where they stayed when they were wee.

Having already stayed at The Old Rectory and knowing it was a great B+B, Lusa and I decided to stay there rather than paying double the money to stay in the 4 star Roman Camp. However, we did book an afternoon tea there so we could visit the hotel and walk around the gardens our grandfather used to tend.

When we arrived we were offered numerous places to sit for our afternoon tea. The drawing room, the library…it was a bit like a game of Cluedo. 2016-10-04-16-30-22Eventually we settled on the Library where we sat in front of a log fire on a large comfortable couch. We were the only ones in the library so we were able  to imagine we stayed in the big house and taking afternoon tea was a regular occurrence.

Our white gloved waiter soon arrived with tea and coffee, milk and cream and bizarrely a 2016-10-04-16-41-46-1small haggis bon bon with mashed potato and whisky sauce. After he had gone Lusa and I immediately wondered if we were on the right menu. Maybe we were getting a high tea instead…oh well we thought,  ‘We’re in now’ (obviously being British we would just accept what we’re given and not question it).

Even though it was an odd starter the haggis was lovely and we cleared the small dish. By the way, the waiter wasn’t wearing a name badge but I’m going to call him Stefan.

Stefan then arrived with round 1. A 3 tiered cake stand with lots of savouries on it, which quickly calmed our worries around what menu we were getting. There were 2 of each – Falafel Fritter, Gougere stuffed with Liver Parfait, strong Cheddar 2016-10-04-16-50-18and Chive Quiche, home made Pork and Prune Sausage Roll, Egg Cress and Mayonnaise White Finger Sandwich, Salmon, Cream Cheese and Cucumber Brown Bread Finger Sandwich and finally, Ham and Grain Mustard and Little Gem Bridge Roll. I’m far more into savoury food than sweet so this was just yum for me. The top tier and the falafel were all warm, which was great. The liver parfait was a bit  strong and the sausage rolls tasted christmassy. I’d say the finger sandwiches were actually double fingers as they could easily have been halved again and as Lusa isn’t a ham fan I got two of my favourite, ham bridge rolls.

After executing a different kind of Scottish Clearance the empty plates were removed, fresh tea poured and round 2 brought in for inspection. 2016-10-04-17-21-32This time the tiers were all sweet. Freshly Baked Plain and Fruit Scones with Clotted Cream and Homemade Strawberry Jam, Tropical Fruit Panna Cotta, Lemon Drizzle Cake, Dark Sponge Gateaux, Chocolate Tiffin, Macarons with Vanilla Butter Icing and some Shortbread.

We started with the plain scones and they were amazing. As they were still warm the cream melted slightly making the overall taste sensational. The panna cotta didn’t taste of of tropical fruit so I’m guessing it was just vanilla and the chocolate tiffin seemed to have some citrus zest in it, which I’m not a fan of but they were my only small grievances. Lusa raved about the lemon drizzle cake which was easily her favourite.

I noticed that on the menu there was mention of a double chocolate and cherry cookie but nothing resembling it on the plates so, forgetting I was British, I just happened to mention it to Stefan when he next popped his head in to see if we were okay. 2016-10-04-18-14-21He looked perplexed, disappeared and then returned with yet another plate. This time there were 2 truffles and 2 squares of something wrapped in white chocolate – my guess was dark cherry. Stefan explained there were in lieu of the cookies. I wasn’t complaining the white chocolate square was divine and quickly became my favourite (after the scone).

As we were already sloshing with tea and coffee but had sweet things still to try (and because we didn’t want to leave), we just had to order a bottle of Prosecco.

So as dusk turned to night and the fire crackled and popped, we nibbled and sipped pretending we were to the manor born. It was the perfect way to end a perfect afternoon tea. 2016-10-04-18-22-54-2

The only downside is now Lusa and I believe we have ruined afternoon tea for ourselves as we’re not sure where or what could compete with the ambience, service and food at The Roman Camp – it really was a fantastic experience. 2016-10-04-18-59-43

2 Afternoon teas at £21 and a bottle of Prosecco at £27 = £69 plus tip.

The Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant, Stonehaven

OH and I haven’t had a planned lunch out for a while so with an empty weekend on the horizon we decided to plan a trip to Stonehaven so we could visit The Tolbooth Seafood Restaurant and pop in to see our niece and her new fiancé who live in the area.

We set off up the A90 and then prior to heading into the coastal village we stopped off at 2016-08-27 12.05.11.jpgDunottar Castle for a wee daunder around the picturesque, cliff top fortress to work up an appetite.

It was just a short drive from there down to Stonehaven and to the harbour the restaurant looks over. 2016-08-27 12.26.09.jpgUp some stone stairs the restaurant sits on top of the Tolbooth Museum and is the oldest building in Stonehaven dating back to the 16th century.

Soon we were sitting down with menus in hand. There was a blackboard of daily specials, a set lunch menu (3 courses for £20) and a short à la carte menu.

Fresh langoustines, mussels and oysters were also all on offer However. the set menu was perfect for me as I easily chose the Cullen Skink followed by the sea bream. OH also went for the set menu choosing mackerel and then Thai prawn curry.

The Cullen Skink was served with chopped chives, croutons and herb oil and came in a IMAG4472beautiful bowl that I would have loved to take home with me.  The yellow smoked haddock was dominant within it as it should be but for me there was a lack of lumps of potato in it and the consistency was verging on splitting. Nevertheless it was a tasty starter.  IMAG4470

OH’s hot smoked local mackerel fillets, baby green salad, pickled red onions and orange dressing didn’t last long. He had been intrigued by the orange dressing and was perhaps a little disappointed that it was spotted around the dish rather than over the fish and salad but this was a very minor thing.

IMAG4475My grilled fillet of sea bream with crushed ratte potato, chargrilled courgette and spicy tomato sauce  was beautiful. The skin was crispy and the fish fell away from it in nice tasty chunks. I’m a big fan of courgettes and these were perfect. I also loved the potatoes having never knowingly tasted ratte ones before.

Surprisingly, OH had went for the Thai prawn curry, crunchy greens, IMAG4473black onion seed & coriander rice as his main. He isn’t a big fan of prawns so my eyebrows raised at his choice. However, I then realised that the other option left on the set menu was rib eye steak and he’d had one a couple of nights earlier so didn’t fancy another so soon. Plus when we go out we try (we don’t always succeed) to get different dishes. Therefore, he had decided to leave his comfort zone on this occasion.  I asked him how it was and he said just like mine when I cook Thai so maybe he wasn’t too far out his zone. His plate was wiped clean before mine so I’m guessing he enjoyed it – the prawns certainly looked like big, meaty ones.  IMAG4476

For desserts we had also chosen different dishes. He had dark chocolate mousse, honeycomb and salted peanut brittle. He IMAG4477loved his and liked the crunch of the brittle alongside the thick, rich mousse.  I had went for local Castleton Strawberries, vanilla meringue, chantilly cream and strawberry coulis.  This hit the spot and wasn’t too heavy or too much after the previous 2 courses – just a great ending to a great meal.

For me the set menu was really well thought out offering something for everyone. However, the waiter did say you could mix between the set and the à la carte and they would change the price accordingly, which is a good thing.

2 large glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, a Gran Marnier, a soda water and lime and 2 x 3 course set menu came to £58.85.

 

 

 

 

 

Venice – top tips

  1. Get a water taxi from the airport to your hotel. 2016-07-12 18.52.11
    Yes, it’s expensive but you will arrive at your hotel (or as near as the canals allow) feeling like James Bond.
    The alternative is the airport waterbus which takes ages, can be overcrowded and doesn’t offer you the wow experience of seeing Venice when you first arrive. Obviously the waterbus is a heck of a lot cheaper.
  2. Book a Free Walking Tour. 2016-07-15 17.40.23.jpgThis is a great way to get to know the city as it takes you off the normal tourist routes, gives you loads of information about Venice and at the end they give you a brilliant map of Venice, which advertises great shops and restaurants to visit.
  3. Learn how to stand. If you can stand at a counter to drink  and eat you will save a fortune in Venice. Venetians will pop into a cafe or bar stand at the counter and drink their coffee or a small glass of house wine called an ombra, pay a euro and walk out again. If you sit you pay more.
  4. Eat like a local. Don’t eat in restaurants that show photos of food. If you want to avoid the tourist traps look out for osterie and bàcari that sell Cicchetti (also sometimes spelled “cichetti” or called “cicheti”) These are small cheap snacks that you can stand and eat with your ombra. Or if you want something a bit bigger look out for the restaurants that don’t usher you in but have small menus with only a few options.
  5. Learn how to sit on anything that isn’t a chair. As I’ve said if you sit you pay. Therefore, fountains, steps leading up to bridges, the side of a canal all make great places to take the weight off. We found a great spot close to our hotel next to the canal where we would drink like a local (see no. 6) and eat pizza (see no. 9).
  6. Drink like a local. There are little shops that sell you wine straight from the barrel into a plastic bottle for just a few euros. This means you can grab a couple of plastic glasses from your hotel room, find a spot with a view and relax for a couple of hours watching the gondolas go by. 2016-07-14 15.46.39
  7. Don’t get a gondola until you’ve done no.6.

    Whilst sitting ‘drinking like a local’ we witnessed nose to tail gondolas slowly going past, the passengers engrossed in their phones or looking completely bored. It looked like the most unromantic thing EVER. If you have to tick the gondola box go off the tourist route to avoid the traffic jams and make sure you get a gondola with a steel end looking like the ones in the pic. 2016-07-12 17.44.04If it doesn’t have a steel it’s not a registered gondola.

  8. Shop with locals.  Venice is full of tourist shops full of imported masks, fake Murano glass and leather that has been sprayed with a ‘real leather’ scent. Look out for authentic Italian artisan’s shops to spend your money in. You’ll find these off the tourist routes in back streets usually with unassuming signage.
  9. Eat in the streets2016-07-16 16.41.06Sandwiches, paninis, rolls, slices of pizza can all be bought hot from shops and enjoyed next to a canal – couple it with no. 6 and you’ve got the best picnic ever.
  10. Get lost.  The best way to explore Venice is by wandering the streets without a map. Get up early and see Piazza San Marco when it’s empty. Cross the Rialto bridge when it’s deserted and best of all watch the locals getting ready for work. If you can, walk until your feet hurt and then get the vaporetto back at sunset.

Gleddoch – Hotel, Spa & Golf

So last weekend, for the want of anything better to do, OH and I headed to the west coast. We booked a night in the Gleddoch Golf and Spa Hotel, a dog friendly hotel not far from Greenock.

On parking we could see from outside what had been an old, secluded, country house had now been extended up the hill with a new build. Not that you could see the modern extension in any of the hotel’s online pics, of course.

We wandered into reception, which was full of Chesterfield couches and club chairs. Obviously, I looked just like the kind of customer they would roll out the red carpet for carrying a bulging, well used, Asda bag full of dog food, chews, a water bowl and blanket. Classy. However, the receptionist was warm and friendly as she booked us in. She gave us our key and advised us that although we were more than welcome to go up to the room via the inside of the hotel it was recommended to take the car up to the car park as it was a bit of a trek and there were a lot of stairs.

So OH, the dog and me humphing my Asda bag, all went back out to the car and drove up to the first car park and looked around for an entrance. Nope. We drove up to the next car park. There were no signs but there was an open fire door so I checked it out and right enough found No.5. The room was fantastic. Concealed lighting, huge comfy bed, all the bits and bobs you could ask for (my favourites – free bottled water and biscuits) and a large walk in shower with multiple settings.  2016-07-02 18.28.21Not long after we took the dog out for a walk around the side of the golf course and explored the hotel grounds. The view from the hotel was stunning – right over the Clyde to Dumbarton.

Later we then tried to find the hotel bar, which OH had spotted next to reception. Remember we were now 2 carparks up from there? First off we walked along the first corridor. Nope. Dead end. Next we found the restaurant. Looked around there. Nope no sign of the way to reception. Back tracked. Started again. Another dead end. Back to the restaurant and through it to the pre-dinner sitting area where we were stared at. We persevered and walked through the on-lookers. We found another corridor and walked slowly along it looking for signs. There were none for reception but we did find the pool. We then met a waiter who pointed us in the right direction down stairs, then more stairs and another corridor. We eventually emerged into the reception area. It was only at this point I thought about leaving breadcrumbs…

…too much wine later and high heels in hand it was like a scene from the Crystal Maze as we tried to retrace our steps. Giggling and using stage whispers we found our way along corridors containing wheelbarrows, found numerous dead ends and eventually, and thankfully, found our room again.

It felt like no sooner had our heads hit the pillow than the fire alarm was going off. Oh yeah, suddenly I was wide awake. Good Morning Dumbarrrrrton! To be honest, it was after 9 but that’s not really the point.  I gingerly made my way out to  the car park wearing sunglasses even though it was dreich. The only one delighted with the rapid exit was the dog who darted off to the golf course to help with watering the fairway. It turned out the alarm was down to an electrical fault and the ongoing building work. I was just glad the alarm stopped when I nipped back to the room to take my phone off of charge. 2016-07-03 09.14.16.jpg

Not long later, showered and dressed in clean clothes this time, we left our room and went for breakfast. It was chaotic. I’m hoping it was due to the fire alarm and this was not the norm. Dirty plates were on the cold buffet table – probably dumped when the alarm went off and forgotten. Serving dishes were empty, juice jugs were lacking and there were tables needing re-set with people waiting.  One waiter – actually the one that showed us how to get to reception the night before – was sprinting between tables trying to meet everyone’s needs. White sugar here, more butter there, here a jam, there a  knife, everywhere some toast toast.

One chap who had been helping himself from the hot buffet returned and sat at the wrong table, which was completely cluttered. Surprised that he had no clean cutlery he asked for some without questioning it. His wife joined him and looked around confused as he wolfed down his bacon and sausage. She lifted a cup that was in her way and asked if it was his. With bean juice running down his chin he shook his head. She struggled to find a clear place to put the cup down again. She then asked if he had seen her phone. More head shaking. It was only when the wife spotted her phone on the other table that she realised they were at the wrong table. Oh the hilarity as they got up and moved. The man quipped, “I wondered why I could no longer see the Clyde”  as he returned to his own table not worrying about his faux pas. Other diners laughed along with him. I’d have been mortified and would have had to leave my breakfast as I allowed the ground to swallow me up.

To be fair we enjoyed our stay. I found the scene at breakfast hilarious – even when my toast turned up only toasted on one side. The trek from room to reception was a highlight and the surrounding scenery and room were brilliant. The staff were friendly and helpful and if it weren’t for the fire alarm turning breakfast into a comedy sketch it would have received high marks. Well, apart from the fact that there was no tv in the bar so we couldn’t watch the footy and had to speak to one another.
To recap – bits were so bad it was great 🙂