shewhomust: (ayesha)
[personal profile] durham_rambler discovered from the local paper that timbers from the 'Willington Waggonway' were on show for one day only at the Stephenson Railway Museum, and we took time out yesterday to go and see them. This was part of the same 'Festival of Archaeology' as the presentation we went to last week, about the Lanchester Diploma, though I suspect both events would have happened sooner or later anyway.

We'd never heard of the Stephenson Railway Museum, either - it turns out to be a small but good collection, right next to the Silverlink shopping center. They'd set up a container outside the building, containing a young woman (who turns out to be Dominique Bell, Project Coordinator) and several lengths of untreated timber:

Waggonway timbers


These are mainly the wooden rails of the 'Willington Waggonway', a late 18th century waggonway, built to carry horse-drawn coal carts - which makes it a rare survival of one of the world's first railways. THe timber at the left of the bottom shelf is irregularly shaped because it's just the branch of a tree, used as a sleeper to support the rails.

Ship's timber


This rail has been recycled from the timbers of a ship (if I've got this right, the peg sticking out of it on the left is part of the railway, whereas the peg going across it further right is part of the construction of the ship).

Here's Dominique's blog post about her 'waggonway adventure' - going to York to collect the treated timbers for display. Obviously, they are trying to raise money to treat all the surviving timbers.

Some of the treated timbers were on display inside the museum, and I'm afraid I didn't find them anything like as exciting as the untreated ones outside; but I suppose if we want them to survive, it has to be done. There were plenty of other things to admire in the museum, too, shiny engines and suchlike, and we enjoyed our morning there.

In fact, we were sufficiently in holiday mood that we decided to lunch at the Citron Vert, a new 'French bistro' in High Pittington (formerly the Duke of Wellington) which we had seen reviewed in the Durham Times.

They weren't busy when we arrived, despite which they didn't have a table set, gave us the table hard by the counter and kept us waiting for the menu. That wasn't auspicious, but it picked up from then on. The table rubbing elbows with the staff meant we could chat to la patronne (the staff aren't French, but the enterprise certainly is!) as she opened the champagne and made kir royale for the party in the window, who were celebrating someone's birthday (they were displaying a balloon that said so). We both chose salade niçoise from the short menu (the black olives were the sort you buy ready stoned, which don't taste of much, but the eggs were cooked just right, and the anchovies were excellent, and plentiful), and a glass of Touraine sauvignon. I'd wondered how the Durham Times review had managed to square its ratings for quality and value with the prices they were quoting, but the answer may lie in the prices they weren't quoting: the wine, especially by the glass, was not cheap, and the sauvignon was pleasant but not special. However, when la patronne asked how we were doing, and we said what it a pity it was that they didn't offer rosé by the glass to accompany the salad, she said oh, but they did, it just hadn't made its way onto the menu, and poured me a complimentary half glass of Anciens Temps rosé, which was exactly what I would have chosen - pale, dry, with a faint caramel edge. I see from their online menu that their dinner menu includes a café gourmand, which I would probably have preferred to the chocolate brownie (nice enough, not as squidgy as I like it and the ice cream frozen too hard) I did have.

So if I had to give actual marks (which happily I don't) they would include quite a lot of on the one hand, on the other hand. But I think they are aiming for the right targets, even if they don't always hit them.

Also, our bill was handwritten on a picture postcard, and our card was one of the set issued by Penguin, showing the covers of their books: we got the Puffin edition of Heidi. I'm not that easily seduced, am I?
shewhomust: (bibendum)
Roger found information about a walking route to explore the illumination of the city, and he was keen to try it out. The sun was low when we set out in search of dinner, but nowhere near set, and I was happy just to enjoy the evening light on the Belfry, and on St Nicholas', and on the view back to the three towers from St Michael's Bridge...

We ate at Balls & Glory, which does what it says on the tin: they serve meatballs. Giant meatballs, admittedly - imagine a Scotch egg in which the egg has been replaced by some kind of sauce - but meatballs, and nothing but. Well, OK, there's a choice of four balls, two pork, one chicken and one veg - and since Thursday is officially vegetarian day in Ghent I should probably have gone with that, but it was aubergine and tomato, and you never know with aubergine... Where was I? Balls & Glory wasn't our first choice, but it was fine, and cheerful: you choose your ball and whether you want it with stoemp (which is mash, and traditional) or salad, or bread and a little salad. There's beer or lemonade to drink, and wine as well if you want. There's one long table down the middle of the room, and little tables for two (or four if they squeeze up), and there's a carafe of water on your table and a bowl of apples for dessert, and we sat back and watched the Deliverooo drivers coming in to collect their orders.

By now it was dark, which was fine, that was the plan. I wasn't keen to do any more walking than we needed, but we did need to walk back to the hotel - and as soon as we set off, we found ourselves on a swing bridge, looking back to St Michael's Bridge:

Ghent at night


and what we should have done, obviously, was head for those lights (maybe we will - we still have one night left); instead we followed the original plan, and saw a couple of public buildings lit up, which weren't very exciting. What would have been exciting would have been if those birds in my picture had been illuminated as they were supposed to be, and for a while this made us wonder if we had misunderstood and the circuit was not in fact illuminated at the moment. But we asked at the Tourist Office this morning, and the lady said it's all working, and she would report the problem with the birds.

For a catalogue of 'we didn't really get we'd we'd been wanting from the evening', we had a surprisingly good time anyway. There's probably an uplifting moral in that.

In Bruges

Apr. 13th, 2017 04:56 pm
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We spent today in Bruges. After breakfast on board, it didn't take long to disembark and drive to a car park Roger had previously identified, next door to the railway station, not excessively expensive and whose price includes a bus ticket in to the centre. In fact it's close enough to walk, and we ended up walking back - but that's another story. Anyway, we had a splendid time not doing any of the deeply cultural things people had recommended to us, just admiring the streets and the buildings and the many, many chocolate shops... I hope there'll be a post that relives that walk, when I get home and can sort out the photos. But for the time being, just two silly pictures: oh, all right, then, under a cut )

After that - but no, I said I'd save 'after that' for another post. Eventually we returned to retrieve our car, and it wasn't a long drive to Ghent, where we will spend the next few days.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
D. is with us: or rather, D. has gone to - Northallerton, I think - for the dinner which justified his coming to see us, and staying here last night and tonight. Not that staying here in order to dine in Northallerton makes enormous sense, but we're all glad of the excuse for a visit and don't enquire too closely.

A visitor is grounds for going out to lunch, and we thought we'd try somewhere new, and went to the farm shop at Knitsley. Success all round, I think. A pleasant drive out, with authentic April showers, and the verges thick with daffodils (were they always there, or is it an exceptionally good year?); a twenty minute wait for a table gave me time to buy goodies for tomorrow's lunch and further into the future; and good things for lunch. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I chose the 'pork tasting plate' (ham, pate, pork pie ans a particularly successful Scotch egg) while D. observed the traditions of the day French-style, by opting for the fish and chips. The dessert menu was less exciting, especially as we had seen the cakes counter on our way in, so we bought cakes to eat at home with coffee.

We drove home via Lanchester, since D. had not seen the information board about the Roman fort: the fort itself is unexcavated, so there isn't much to see, but the walls are visible - or rather, the core that remains when the stone has been robbed for use in more recent buildings:

The walls of Longovicium
shewhomust: (bibendum)
On our first evening in Tarbert, we ate at the Starfish. It's the obvious choice: well recommended, inviting white exterior with blue shutters, local artwork on the walls, good seafood... Not cheap, but I'd happily have gone back there.

After spending the day in Skipness, we were back in Tarbert quite early. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler had had enough, but I didn't want to waste a minute of the last day of the holidaym so I went for one last walk round the harbour, one last inspection of the shop windows - there was some sort of promotion going on which included a competition for the shop window which best illustrated the theme 'space': lots of Star Wars models, some very fine planets, but why had the ships' chandler chosen to put three monkeys in their window? I had hoped to find the gallery listed as along this street, but instead took the steps up to the castle, which gave me some fine views over the town, took me through a belt of midges - only the second time of the trip when I was seriously bothered by them, and no more than an incentive to climb that little bit higher:

Tarbert Castle


Steps led down the other side of the hill into woodland, and I was tempted, but it was time to return, and make plans for the evening. We decided to try the Anchorage Restaurant: the reviews were very mixed, but the positives were the sort of thing that appealed to us. The restaurant is next door to the Islay Frigate pub, and not as distinct from it visually as it should be: we had walked past without really noticing it.

Inside, it's a tiny space, with a bar at the back and the kitchen behind that. The décor is best described as 'quirky' and has too many fishing nets for my taste, but the general effect reminded me of a French family-run restaurant - except that it wasn't busy: in all the time we were there we saw three tables occupied, ourselves included. Yet it was reasonably priced - cheaper than the Starfish - and the food was terrific. My seabass with fennel risotto and smoked mussels had slices of fennel in a creamy golden sauce with telltale strands of saffron. The homemade soda bread was packed with flavour: I tasted cumin, caraway, seasame - the chef told us there were ten different seeds in it. The cheese plate (actually a cheese slate, set carefully on the slate table mat before me) held five Scottish cheeses: Highland Chief (cheddat-type with whisky), smoked cheddar, Dunsyre blue, a ripe and flavourful Brie and an organic goat's milk log, plus an assortment of oatcakes, chutney and a heap of walnuts. I complimented the chef on the walnuts: "Just lightly toasted." This attention to details made his cooking really special.

I had the opportunity to talk to the chef because as well as cooking he was waiting at table: he explained to us that the waitress had called in to let him know she couldn't make that evening, but he hadn't picked up the call until too late. Over breakfast the following morning we explained this to our host at the Knap Guest House: "Oh, he always says that. He hasn't got a waitress..."
shewhomust: (bibendum)
After our diversion to Gaillac, we returned to the motorway towards Pau, our next destination. Having successfully negotiated the Toulouse ring road, we felt entitled to leave the motorway in search of lunch, so we headed into the next town we came to, which happened to be Muret. Parked, strolled up and down the street considering the options, and settled for Chez Fanny, on a noisy corner by the bridge, giving its pavement tables a fine view of the traffic, the building works, the lethal motorcycles.

The establishment had an old-fashioned vibe: the menu was decorated with stills from the 1932 film. It was old-fashioned enough that when we had finished our first course:

Charcuterie


our server, clearing the plates, returned the cutlery to us to eat our main course - in my case, andouillette de canard, accompanied by flat disks of potato and (very well-done, but still tasty) sprouts, the first of the season.

At the next table, between us an the traffic, were two smartly dressed young men: you can just see one of them in the corner of the photo. One sprawled at his ease, talking intently to his phone, while his companion methodically demolished a café gourmand, coffee and three not-so-mini desserts.

Meanwhile, in the background music, a sweet-voiced woman tackled some classic tracks. I was a bit startled to realise she was now singing:
Please allow me to introduce myself:
I'm a man of wealth and fame...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I've been posting about last summer's holiday in France all out of order, as it suited me. Time to pick up the threads, and progress a little. Where were we?

We spent two very happy days in Bordeaux, Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday we set off to our rendezvous with Helen, and ran into the transhumance in Saint Justin en route. Wednesday was the day we spent as guests of the Producteurs de Plaimont, learning about the wines of southwest France.

Thursday morning was fresh, bright and clear, and we could see the Pyrenees in the distance as we set off from the Relais du Bastidou. We weren't going that way, yet. Our schedule had brought us further south faster than we would otherwise have travelled; now we wanted to double back, to visit the wines of the Côtes de Brulhois, and maybe of Cahors, too. But first, we wanted to shop for some of the wines we had tasted the previous day. The Cave de Plaisance didn't stock Moonseng, but they did have, newly arrived, partly fermented grape juice from the current harvest ('bourrel?', say my notes, but I can't verify that name), pale and slightly cloudy, sweet but not cloying.

We drove along a ridge road between two green valleys, seeing no vines - but as we rose higher, so did the distant mountains. A signpost pointed to Bassoues reminded us that we had passed this way several times the previous day, so we detoured up to the hilltop village and admired its timber market hall, its quince trees, its 'donjon':

Donjon


At the time it was a delightful morning's break, one last pleasure offered by a region we were about to leave. In retrospect, it was only the first of a series of beautiful old villages, any one of which would have been an extraordinary survival.

After the previous day's excesses, I wasn't expecting to want much for lunch, but the Routard guide recommended a restaurant, Le Florida in Verduzan, which was pretty much on our way. That recommendation alone was worth the price of the guide book.

Lunch break )

And onwards, through the sunflower aftermath, the single plants self-seeded after the harvest, multiple flowers branching exuberant from the stalk, unconstrained by whatever limits the main crop to a single flat disk per tall stem. A brief stop at the Cave de Donzac, and on to La Borde Grande for the night.
shewhomust: (watchmen)
After skipping a year, we returned to Kendal for the third Lakes Comic Art Festival. We rented the Marketplace Hideaway: hidden away indeed, to the extent that, when we arrived yesterday evening, after road closures leaving Barnard Castle, after a scenic drive through scenic Cumbria, with sun and clouds (mostly clouds) making patterns on the hillsides, after twice round Kendal's one way system, and braving signs saying "No Entry Except Deliveries", because we were delivering ourselves and our belongings, weren't we? - when, after all this, we identified our landmarks between which we would allegedly find our path, we still couldn't see it. Closer still, though, and all was as described, and we have a choice of bedrooms, a small but perfectly adequate kitchen, a bathroom and a downstairs lounge. (TripAdvisor has some photos.) There was no wifi - which is to say that if you stood outside in the garden, Kendal Wifi was intermittent, and [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler connected with the Cloud, probably via Caffe Nero next door. So I wrote this a bit at a time over the weekend, and am uploading it now with (I hope) a minimum of editing - I'd rather put my time into adding pictures and links than fretting about tenses.

It's all about the crabs )

Revolution in the Council Chamber )

Lunch at the Castle Dairy )

Vinyl is not dead. )

It's all about the yards )

From the pub to here - via the Sydney Opera House )

Why we didn't make the McKean treble )

Coda in Elephant Yard. )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We spent a wonderful day last week in the company of of our friend, wine-writer Helen Savage, as guests of the Producteurs de Plaimont wine co-operative.

Cut for length, wine neepery and the odd picture. )
shewhomust: (bibendum)
We had a lunch date with friends at the Bridgewater Arms in Winston in Teesdale - not just a pub we'd never eaten at before, but a village we'd never visited, reached by a road we'd never driven along (turn left at the t-junction in Staindrop where we'd turn right to visit our friends at home), late-summer with the sunshine gentle on the straw bales in the fields and lighting the downy heads of the thistles lining the verges. The south is another country, even when it's the south of the same county...

I haven't seen many pubs with 'In Memoriam' over the door - not the door through which we entered, but adjacent. The building was built in the nineteenth century as a school, and has kept that theme in its décor (and why not? We celebrated my 60th birthday in a pub converted from a nineteenth century school, though I don't seem to have written about that) though it now has serious pretensions as a gastropub. And very nearly lives up them: the short version would be 'pricy, food very nice but with some misfires, service so friendly and charming that you don't care'.

The longer version: the menu is quite long, and I was tempted this way and that before I finally made my choice. My starter of mussels in cream sauce would have made a perfectly acceptable main course: they were sweet and tender and heaped high in the soup plate. The roast turbot of my main course was unremarkable, but that's OK, I'd chosen it for the accompanying samphire risotto - which was delicious, but mainly because it contained a generous seasoning of bacon: I enjoyed every mouthful, but though I could see the samphire, I couldn't actually taste it. The little dish of vegetables didn't seem in any way relared to the dish - I certainly didn't need the potatoes!

Perhaps because we were drinking a New Zealand sauvignon blanc that was all light perfume and green fruit, I chose the Gooseberry and Elderflower Trio for my dessert:

Gooseberry and Elderflower Trio


and we all admired it, and wondered what the different components might be - well, [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler had to make a second choice of dessert, as the panna cotta hadn't set, so there were no distractions. It is effectively three variations on gooseberry fool: a little heap of soft cream topped with fruit all sitting on a toasty, nutty meringue base; a tiny spoonfull of fruit fool floating on a glass of elderflower jelly (this would have been fine without the fool); and a heavier fool of almost clotted cream. Two months ago it would have been seasonal, spot-on with the promise of early summer; in late August it was still delicious.

It wasn't all about the food (and drink), but the conversation was mostly about family and friends and plans, so I won't record that. Also about books, and websites, and the Labour party - and this clip, which explains why Corbyn is ahead in the leadership poll.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
The Guardian travel supplement last Saturday offers a guide to Sardinia, ostensibly about the beaches, but with alluring descriptions of the nearby villages, because you've got to eat, haven't you? Naturally I want to go there - it's an island; I want to go to all the islands - but not this year.

Because this year I want to go to France. We are almost - but somehow, mysteriously, not quite - at the point of booking the ferry. It's too long since we have been to France. If you don't count a brief foray into the Pyrenees, during our Spanish holiday (and I don't see why I should count it, we spoke to no-one, we didn't even have a cup of coffee while we were there), then it's five years since we were in France, on our way home from the Villa Saraceno. We paused for a couple of days on the way home to do some walking in the vineyards of the Rhône valley - but in Switzerland - which I don't seem to have written anything about. Perhaps I will, one day, or perhaps not, but in any case, not now.

We left Switzerland at Le Locle, which proclaims itself "Cité de la Précision" That is, it's a clock town, industrial and slightly grubby, but with some quirky, interesting buildings, altogether more appealing than the smugness of ski towns like La Chaux de Fonds, which we had just passed through. The road took us through a cleft in the rock, and then forked, following the valley edge, with a statue of a cockerel in the V of the fork. Then left through a rock arch held together by metal bolts, wire mesh and something I can't now decipher -

- and we were in France, land of the elaborate horticultural sculpture on roundabouts:

Chamois


This was in Villers le Lac (Doubs), where we lunched at Le Caméleon. My tarte à l'oignon was a thin, crispy pastry base, covered with cream and scattered with bacon and onions, served very hot - a kind of Alsatian pizza. For dessert I had the 'tourbillon des sapins', a whirlwind of pine trees - expressed by pine bud flavoured ice cream ('bourgeons de sapin') with a shot of sapin liqueur: it was ice cream rather than sorbet, freshly minty and faintly medicinal. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Edited (for once) to remove: a final paragraph which belongs in the next instalment.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
From Talisker we went to our hotel, the Rosedale in Portree, three fishermen's cottages right on the harbour now converted into a family-run hotel with many stairs: it was friendly and comfortable and, provided you can cope with the stairs, I entirely recommend it.

Dinner at the Rosedale )

Dinner at the Bosville )

Neither of the above )

After which, it was time to go and look at the broch. But that's another story.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We lunched yesterday at the Café Kisimul in Castlebay:

Kisimul Café


It may not look anything special, and the eclecticism of the menu is disconcerting (" A family run licensed restaurant specialising in Indian and Italian cuisine and local seafood") but the food is terrific: we should have tried to get in the previous evening, instead of eating at the big hotel where we were staying - we might even have had a bottle of Château Musar with the local lamb. For lunch we had scallop pakoras (sweet local scallops in the finest crust of spicy batter), a spinach and chickpea curry to share, thick and warming, and a delicate lemon tart ('mellow yellow' on the menu). If they'd just do away with the accompanying jazz it would be perfect.

At 3.30 (slightly late) we sailed out of Castlebay on the MV Clansman:

Leaving Castlebay


(Photo taken through a water-spotted window - please make allowances). It's a long trip back to Oban, especially as we called at Tiree and Coll; we had time for both sunshine and showers, and a double rainbow, and twilight and sunset:

Sailing homeward


before we came into Oban at 10.30. And today we drove home. There was more rain, and memories of our first visit to Oban, one bright frosty November, and there was the long road alongside Loch Lomond, with the water high in the loch to our left and woods full of bluebells sloping up to out tight. There was a lunch break at Cairn Lodge, the motorway service station by the gates of Castle Douglas, and there was a visit to Waitrose in Hexham to pick up supplies.

And there will be more holiday posts in due course, but right now, we're home.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
If one of you wants the crab cocktail starter, and the venison (with haggis mash) for the main course; and the other chooses the smoked haddock fish cakes and the vegetarian main course, which is a stack of Mediterranean vegetables layered with goat's cheese; what wine will you choose to drink? We cut our losses on the starters - once upon a time we'd have ordered a half bottle of white, but we don't have the stamina these days (even if there'd been anything on the list to tempt us) - and went for the Small Lot Mendocini Zinfandel, which I liked very much: fruity and ot over-tannic, which worked with the tomato sauce on my vegetables, but complex. structured, not over-bright.

"That's not a Durham accent," said the proprirtor, who served us. "Whereabouts in Durham do you come from?" "Durham City." "Ah. I'm from Langley Park."

I wished I'd taken my camera down to dinner. For one thing, the food was elaborately presented. Anything that could be piled up, was: that vegetable stack, obviously, but even the fishcakes were balanced one on top of the other, and as for the chocolate dessert...

For another thing, the dining room has a panorama of mountains. It's perched above the road above the Spean, and looks across to the slopes opposite, and down the valley to more snowy summits. Once upom a time, says [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler, it wasn't the Glenspean Hotel, it was the Nevis View - and yes, that is Ben Nevis just visble beyond smaller but closer peaks.

Tomorrow we will drive down that road and take a closer look.
shewhomust: (dandelion)
Last weekend was Open Studios time in Newcastle's Ouseburn, and S. invited us to join her for Sunday brunch and to visit some studios thereafter. So we didn't spend as much time for hitting the studios or walking around the Ouseburn as we have done in some previous years, but on the plus side we had a delicious brunch with S., with the full cooked breakfast and ricotta pancakes and blueberries, and bread - well, OK, the bread was of my baking, and I think I have finally cracked Emily Dickinson's rye/cornmeal loaf - and conversation. And [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I managed to visit the Mushroom Works before breakfast, where I bought some Christmas presents. I was interested to chat with Jane Frazer: her website shows some of the pieces I liked, her woven mesh and photo pieces, but not the long, loosely knitted strips holding a sequence of tiny pebbles. You could do something similar with my collection of fragments of blue-and-white pottery, I said, and yes, she said, she could...

The Ouseburn Monument

After breakfast we went back to the other end of the Ouseburn - the river runs in a culvert under the monument in the photograph - and wandered through the various studios, and it was all agreeable enough but nothing particularly exciting. The things I liked were by people whose work I already knew I liked, there were no new discoveries.

On Tuesday we went into Newcastle again, for the North East Labour History Society's 'First Tuesday' talk, because it was about William Morris's visit to the North East during the Northumberland Miners' Strike. The speaker said that Morris had only visited Newcastle upon two occasions, and I could nit-pick and say that he travelled through Newcastle on his way to Iceland. But I won't, because it was a good talk, setting one small event in context, in Morris's life and thought, and in the history of the North East, and opening up to lively discussion afterwards.

It took place at the Newcastle Irish Centre, which is on the border of Chinatown, so afterwards we went down Stowell Street in search of Chinese food. We chose the Royal Emperor very nearly at random, and were well pleased. The charming young waiters looked after us, and took pains to serve us quickly so that we could reclaim our car from the car park before it closed. We had both chosen the a stir fry of scallops and broccoli for the main course, and briefly I regretted this - but once I tasted it, I knew I wouldn't have wanted to share it: the broccoli green and crunchy, the scallops milky sweet, the fresh heat of the slivers of ginger.

And since it is now December, we had Christmas music throughout.
shewhomust: (mamoulian)
At the breakfast table, logged in to J. and [livejournal.com profile] weegoddess's wifi, dealing with suspicious activity in one of my e-mail accounts: because we are Living in the Future, and We Can.

Breakfasting on good coffee and the last of [livejournal.com profile] roozle's fabulous you'd-never-guess-it's-gluten-free pumpkin loaf, because this is New England in the almost-Fall, and We Can.
shewhomust: (bibendum)
So far, so good: we are in Tain.

The forecast for the last couple of days has been that the hot weather would give way imminently to thunderous storms. Our weather had already cooled to tolerable, but the thunderstorms were reportedly travelling up the country. Meanwhile the staff of Orkney Island Ferries are in dispute with the employer, and are working to rule.

Never mind. It's a long drive up from Durham - we set off at eleven this morning, and were here just before seven. We took the A68 up through Northumberland, between verges frothing with cow parsley and meadowsweet, and crossed the border at Carter Bar, under darkening skies. A break for lunch at Earlsdon, a petrol stop at Edinburgh, and as we drove on through the highlands the showers stopped and the mists closed in, veiling the firths and hanging low above the forested hills. Very atmospheric, especially accompanied by Stewart Hardy's fiddle playing on the car CD (still a novelty, a CD player in the car).

Haggis bitesWe ate at the St Duthus Hotel, described by our host as "good pub food". The alternatives were the more upmarket Royal Hotel, and the Indian restaurant, also recommended, but it's been a long day, and good pub food sounded about right.

We shared a starter of haggis-stuffed mushrooms, battered and deep-fried (of course) and served with a really peppery pepper sauce - crisp on the outside, moist and tasty inside, if you're going to do this, here's how you do it right. The smoked haddock fishcakes were OK but didn't live up to the starter (I'm always optimistic about fishcakes, and almost always disappointed). The chocolate fudge cake was evil, but then it always is. There was a choice of three wines, pinot grigio, chardonnay or cabernet merlot (I think). I asked for a dry white, so that's chardonnay in that glass; it's surprisingly disconcerting drinking white wine from a red glass.

It's a two hour drive to the north coast, and we're booked on a lunchtime ferry, so it should be an easier drive. The storms seem to be fading; well, so long as we don't meet them in the Pentland Firth...
shewhomust: (bibendum)
I feel a bit self-conscious, posting on Tuesday evening about Friday lunch, especially when the specification was: a totally casual lunch. But there are things I want to record, so if it seems a bit precious, well, no doubt the next post will be more interesting.

Well, probably... )
shewhomust: (dandelion)
At last the snow has all gone, and today was bright and sunny and very cold. I'm thinking back to last spring in California: time to resume the much delayed travelogue. After our day in Santa Cruz, we left Sunnyvale to explore a little further afield - and our first stop was Santa Cruz. I wanted to visit the Bonny Doon winery - indeed, this had been a major incentive to visit California. Plan A had been to visit as my birthday treat, and maybe even eat at their Cigare Volant, but we were too early in the season, it didn't work out (and now it seems it never will, as the restaurant has closed).

Once upon a time, I suppose, you could taste Bonny Doon at the winery itself, but now they are located on a commercial estate, tucked in behind the ethical supermarket near the lighthouse. We arrived in Santa Cruz early, before the tasting rooms were open, and had time to walk down to the ocean, to discover that the lighthouse was a surfing museum, and to explore the supermarket thoroughly, before getting down to serious business.

DecantingWe stepped inside a vast hangar, the space broken up by screens, small tables and a long bar, with the iconic 'cigare volant' suspended above us: "That," said [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler, "is what I call steampunk."

There was a choice of tasting menus, and we opted for the "reserve flight", the more expensive wines, on the basis that this was how we got to taste wines which were otherwise out of our reach. They were delicious, and I don't know why I don't have tasting notes - except that we were enjoying the wine, and talking about it to our nice server. I love Bonny Doon's presentation, their beautiful labels and their bad puns - reassuring to be reminded that they make delicious wines as well.

We lunched at Bonny Doon on a selection of 'small plates': smoked fingerling potatoes smoked with aïoli; shredded pork with artichoke relish and steamed rolls (the rolls were good crusty white rolls, which wasn't as exciting as it had sounded, but the relish was delicious, the flesh of the artichoke lightly pickled - high risk, I thought, letting vinegar so near their wine, but it worked just fine - and the petals crisply fried). Our nice server said: "I'd like your opinion of this, if you wouldn't mind," and poured me a taste of the wine formerly known as Clos de Gilroy, which was both flattering and generous. We'd had Clos de Gilroy in the past, when the grapes really were sourced from Gilroy - which is no longer the caser, hence its name. It's a fruity grenache wine, and the truth is that it was rather overshadowed by the Rhône-style wines we'd been tasting.

Our mission accomplished, we set off south down Highway 1 (to which nothing compares except of course Iceland's Route 1).

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