Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Pentre Mawr Country House, North Wales

A weekend camping in Wales in October is not appealing to me. In principle, I like the idea of being around nature, cooking beans on a gas stove and eating them from plastic plates. But as soon as someone reminds me of the toilet situation, it all falls apart right there. Images of the last episode of The Inbetweeners and “digging a trench” flash through my mind and that’s the end of that.

“Glamping”, however, I can cope with. We booked a weekend at Pentre Mawr Country House, not to stay in their lovely guest rooms but in the luxury tents in the grounds. These are large canvas structures, with bedroom, living area and bathroom (all plumbing provided). They also contain TV, DVD, heating, lighting and a hot tub on the patio outside. This is camping I can live with.

Evening meal was taken in the House itself. Sitting in the drawing room with a pre-dinner drink and menus, we were made so welcome by the hosts that it felt like we were friends of theirs from over the valley who had just popped in for drinks after a day shooting pheasant in the grounds. Sadly, this is clearly untrue as we had driven two hours from Leeds and braved the horrendous M62 so were ready for a nice drink and dinner.

The drawing room.....

Dinner was taken in a number of different rooms. Before our starters, an amuse-bouche was served. This was lentil soup served in a small coffee cup. Lentils can be rather bland but this had a delicate spicy flavour.

For starter, we both ordered smoked haddock in a wine and cream sauce, which was excellent. Lots of bread was provided for mopping up the sauce.

A sorbet was served between starter and main to "cleanse the palate". I am never sure about serving something sweet at this point in the meal, even though it tasted great.

I had to order Welsh rack of lamb for main course. There were fields full of sheep all over the place on the drive through Wales so I felt I had to give it a go. It was fantastic, and a really generous portion. It was served with a potato gratin and vegetables.

We were stuffed after two courses, so asked if we could have our pudding “to go”. The owner gave us a tray of our choice of pudding to carry down to the tent and we ate it later. Bread and butter pudding was probably the best I have ever tasted.

After pudding, cheese and coffee is served back in the drawing room, but we missed this on the first night. Our second night, though, we managed to eat all three courses and stayed for cheese. We were joined by one of the owners’ dogs and one of the cats (they have three of each and two horses). The dinner on the second night was equally good.

The service is excellent and the owners clearly have long experience of running a hotel. There are loads of little touches which make the place so brilliant. Polo mints are left in the hall for guests to feed to their horse in the next field. The three dogs love a bit of football on the lawn. Bucks fizz is served at breakfast. Afternoon tea is served when you arrive to check in. A golf buggy is used to take you to your tent if you have a lot of luggage.

We were very lucky to stumble across a food festival in Conwy when we went to visit the castle. Loads of Welsh produce, a beer tent, a champagne and oyster bar – I was in my element. We bought and ate some pies on the sea front. I do love a pie.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Ego, Leeds

The regular school friends’ lunch kicked off again at All Bar One last weekend. This seems to be becoming a habit but they do a lovely reasonable prosecco and the seats outside are perfect for an alfresco drink. It was surprisingly sunny for the first weekend in October, so the mood was good.

The number of e mails that go back and forth when planning these get-togethers are enough to fill anyone’s inbox. One of sad things we do is list agenda items – there are loads of things to catch up on between school friends’ lunches. This time I went one step further and actually wrote them out. No one can say I am not prepared. But the problem is, I usually get home after our get-togethers and think “Oh I forgot to ask about....” or “We never discussed.....”. It may be old age setting in (one of our number is forty in December) but I like to make sure we have covered everything. So the first half hour consisted of “working through the list”. Some co-lunchers commented that they felt it was “like being at work” but I drew the line at typing up the minutes.

Anyway, agenda items covered, we moved on to Ego. This is a Mediterranean restaurant that is part of a chain, and we arrived to find only a couple of tables taken (it is open all day). We were promptly seated and menus provided.

We ordered a bottle of pinot, which was pleasant and good value. For starter, Sarah T and I shared an Italian plate – prosciutto, salami, baked mushrooms, Sicilian arancini and parmesan. I love these Italian sharing platters, but I always feel you need bread with them, which has to be ordered separately. The same thing happened at Jamie’s Italian. I must remember to order the bread in future.

H had the mussels, which came in a big earthenware bowl. I tried one. It was nice.

For main course, I had moussaka. I developed a bit of a taste for this during our first trip to Greece in the summer, and have made it a few times myself. It arrived in the oven dish it was cooked in, so was sizzling away. The lamb mince had lots of flavour with plenty of aubergine in the layers. The strange thing was that the waiter managed to remove Sarah T’s wine glass* just before the main course arrived, even though we had ordered another bottle. She had to ask for a replacement after a bit of a wait, so had no wine with most of her main course.

The moussaka.....

We were asked if we would like desserts so we said we would take a look at the menu. These were quickly provided and we were left to peruse the options. Some time passed. And passed. Then the bill arrived. No pudding order taken. Strange. So we decided not to bother, paid up and left.

It all sounds rather Nancy Drew “The mystery of the disappearing wine glass” or “The mysterious case of the missing dessert order”.

Anyway, case unsolved, we sloped off to The Blackhouse over the road for wine (and the cheese plate in my case – I love a bit of cheese with wine). Again, a lovely outdoor area with patio heaters, although H was worried about her hair setting on fire and my cheeks became rather rosy (nothing to do with the copious amount of wine I had drunk).

The food is good in Ego. A great menu with lots of choice – you can go Italian for starter, Greek for main and French for pudding. A real eclectic mix. The service is rather strange though. Case closed.

*There is an important take-home message here – don’t take a wine glass off a woman pushing forty. The consequences could be very unpleasant.