An exciting new opening

In the two years we have lived in Northamptonshire, the Fox & Hounds in the village next to ours has been taken over three times. 

It was bought by the villagers in Charwelton after it closed down and turned it into a community pub. The first landlords they picked chose to open an Italian restaurant called La Volpe (fox in Italian). We only visited once on a bank holiday. It was empty so we found it easy to get a table.  The Gin Whisperer went for the seafood risotto while I went for Gorgonzola gnocchi. There was plenty of seafood in the risotto but I would’t have fancied it with a tomato sauce. I think the sauce for my gnocchi was just pure melted Gorgonzola! They tried everything from takeaway pizzas to installing TV screens for the rugby but nothing worked. Needless to say we didn’t return and the place swiftly closed down and was repossessed!

Next the pub was taken over by the owners of another local gastropub, The Kings Head at Napton. We visited The Kings Head frequently so we’re delighted that they were opening two miles from our house. The menu and wine list was pretty similar to their other venture, only closer! It was also busy and the food was pretty much always nice, well except once when I had some bizarre vegetable pâtés which were grim. The service was a bit hit and miss though, better service during the week than on a weekend. The landlords wanted to buy the place but unfortunately the villagers turned them down so after just twelve months the pub was empty again. 

Back in March, The Fox & Hounds (High Street, Charwelton, Northamptonshire, NN11 3YY) opened again. Since then we have visited twice, once for Sunday lunch with friends and today on our own. Firstly, I love a pub where the menu has the date on the top, it shows that they aren’t lazy! The new landlords have a seriously impressive bar, stocked with plenty of whiskey, rum and more importantly, over 40 gins, all the gins are served with the right garnish and tonics. You would not believe now difficult some places find it to get this simple thing right! The landlord is nearly as much of a gin lover as Gin Whisperer. There’s no Gordon’s to be found behind this bar here either, the house gin is Larios.

The food is outstanding! The Sunday lunch was probably the best I’ve every had. I started off with the Homemade Corned Beef and Sweet Potato Hash, Fried Egg and Cheese Gratin followed by the Roast Dry Aged Rib of Beef and Black Forest Baked Alaska. The Corned Beef was amazing! Cubes of corned beef and sweet potato topped with a fried egg and covered in cheese sauce. What is not to love. Absolutely delicious, in fact it’s probably the first time I’ve had corned beef that wasn’t made by Fray Bentos! The roast beef was fantastic, it absolutely melted in the mouth. And there was so much of it! It was served with a huge Yorkshire pudding, plenty of roast potatoes and seasonal greens, swede & carrot purée and cauliflower & broccoli cheese to share. It was a feast and everything was so tasty. Our friend had the Roast Loin of Pork which was a huge chop served with all the same trimmings. The Baked Alaska I had for dessert was also very good, chocolate ice cream, I assume this was homemade as everything else was, on top of a cherry and chocolate sponge and covered in meringue. 

The service was friendly and unrushed and we couldn’t wait to return.


We stopped in again today after a walk. The main restaurant was completely full so we were offered a table in the bar area which we were more than happy to accept. 

A new Prix Fixe Manu has been introduced with 3 courses for £16 or 2 courses for £13, but we decided to choose from the normal menu which was as extensive as ever. I had the Sweetcorn & Coconut Soup followed by Corn-Fed Chicken Supreme with Wild Mushroon and Truffle Risotto while the Gin Whisperer went for Prawn & Squid Pil Pil with Chorizo, Aioli and Tomato Focaccia followed by Whole Torbay Sole, Samphire, Purple Potatoes, Prawns & Garlic Butter. Our orders didn’t go through to the kitchen properly so rather than make us wait for our starters the landlord brought us an amuse bouche of Foie Gras & Ham Hock with a Sauternes Jelly. When it arrived soup was fantastic, so rich and creamy. I’ve been ill so I couldn’t finish it all. The chicken was perfect and the risotto was delicious and cheesy with a hint of truffle, again I couldn’t finish it as I have brought the rest home for later! The Gin Whisperer demolished his Pil Pil and then moved on to the Sole which looked delicious, even though food with a face scares me, and was topped with 3 fat juicy prawns. Again he cleared his plate and even had room for Rhubarb Creme Brûlée with Rhubarb from the garden of the pub! 

Again the service was good, even though the place was full the standards did not slip which was very good to see. I’ve heard some locals complain that it is too expensive but it is only slightly more expensive than when the last landlords had it and the food quality and service is far more superior in my opinion.

We will definitely be back again when I can finish a full meal!

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Bank Holiday Festivalling

I’m shattered! 

August bank holidays used to be spent knee deep in mud in a field just outside Leeds watching bands. This weekend has been spent in various parts of the country sampling various foods and drink at the football and a couple of festivals. 

First up was Saturday morning, leaving the house at 9 am for a three o’clock kick off with every intention of a quick shopping spree in Manchester before hand. Three hours later and not even in the city centre shopping was aborted and we went straight to the match. 

I’m incredibly proud of our stadium, it has the best facilities in the county in my opinion. But at the start of the season the catering is normally pretty bad. Undertrained staff who have no idea what they are serving or how it should be served really doesn’t help. This week I had the delight of having the driest food I think they have ever served.

 

Driest Chicken & Ham pie in the world!
 
This is what was left of my chicken and ham pie, chips and gravy. Yes, at some point this had gravy on it. I think I had been given enough gravy to cover about four chips. And since I only have two hands I couldn’t juggle two pies and chips to get to ketchup during the half time rush. The pastry on the pie was as dry as a board and the pie had been sitting for so long until half time that the filling had also all dried up. All this for £6.50. Bring back Jamie Oliver and his pie, mash and gravy I say!

After the match we were back down the M6 and back to our village for the Cider and Sausage Festival. Nine different ciders and various sausages. What’s not to love?

  
I only managed to try three of the ciders, Rosie Pig, Old Mout Kiwi and Lime and Old Mout Passionfruit and Apple. I’m not normally a fan of traditional cider, I like mine fizzy normally but the Rosie Pig was really nice. Both the Old Mout Ciders were really sweet and tasted more like alchopops than cider but I would definitely have either again. And the sausages were free, plentiful and very tasty!
Up early again on Sunday for a trip to Birmingham for the Gin Festival. We had tickets for the evening session so after a couple of Gins in the bar at Hotel La Tour (7 Masshouse Plaza, Birmingham) we met up with friends and went to Turtle Bay (yes, I think I’m obsessed) for something good to eat before consuming our body weights in gin! 

  

Clockwise from top left Free cocktail someone gave me, BBQ Pineapple and coconut ice cream, Bay Bramble
 

Obviously I had the Jerk wings followed by the Street Burger, which I absolutely love. I even had room for delicious BBQ Pineapple with coconut ice cream. Cocktails were as fabulous as ever, someone on the next table even gave us her free one!

Next up was the Gin Festival. The Birmingham event was held at The Bond Company (180-182 Fazeley Street,  Birmingham). Luckily, it was straight down the street from the hotel as it was raining. Our first Gin Festival experience was in Milton Keynes earlier on this year. The venue then was The Buszy, what looked like a youth club above the bus station. It was split across about 4 rooms, one for the bar, one for the masterclasses and two with seating and a stage for live music. It was all inside and warm which we assumed would be the case in Birmingham. So it was pretty safe to say we hadn’t banked on having to queue up outside in the rain. Three of us hadn’t taken coats. So it’s safe to say we definitely weren’t expecting half of the venue to be outside. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be summer but a bit of warning about the outside seating scenario would have been nice. 

If you’ve never been to Gin Festival I will give you a bit of an idea of what happens. Tickets are around £7. For your money you get a branded balloon glass, a book with descriptions of all the gins available, a pen to mark your preferences, an order form should you wish to take any gins home with you and a badge in case you want to come back into the event later. All of this is yours to keep. Then you buy your gin tokens, cards  are charged at £20 and for that you get four gins. Inside the booklets are all the gins, there were over 100 in Birmingham. The book gives a detailed description of the gins, a bit of history or a fun fact and the recommended garnish. The booklet also tells you which bar the gin is available from. There were four bars, the fourth just had fruit and flavoured gins. You take your glass and voucher to the bar of your choice, they fill the glass with ice, the gin and the garnish. They stamp your card and that’s it. You can then add as much or as little Fever Tree tonic as like. There’s plenty of other stuff to buy, pretty much all of the gins are available to take home by the bottle, there’s gin art, gin candles, gin t-shirts, gin making kits, all things gin. There are also distillers with their own tables who will happily give you a sample of their wares and tell you a bit about their history and how their gins should be served, there was also a rep from Fever Tree who has their full delicious range available to sample.

 

Clockwise from top left Gin guide, free gin glass, Wrap of the Gods wrap (excuse the lipstick)
 
Last night, in Birmingham, we were lucky enough to be within the first 50 people inside. Which also meant that we were lucky enough to get a seat. We had decided to be very methodical with our gins, pick four from the two pages spreads. We tried them all and then gave them a mark out of ten, then divided the score by 4 to give it the ultimate score out of ten. Ultimate gin geeks!

Between us we managed to sample 32 of the gins, we would have had more but we were far too tired and far to cold! 

Our favourites were Sir Robin of Locksley, Sacred and Bobby’s. We bought Bobbys and Sacred, we’ve already got a bottle of Sir Robin at home.

More choice of food than at the last Festival, cheese and onion pasties had been replaced by delicious Wrap of the Gods wraps. Halloumi and Chorizo with homemade coleslaw and salad or Birmingham Samosas. We had Chorizo wraps which were really good and helped soak up some of the gin. Samosas weren’t very practical to eat, served on a plate with salad but with no tables people found it difficult to balance the plate and the gin while standing up! They did forget my order about 3 times so I had to wait a while but everyone else seemed to be served quite quickly.

Great festival again but will definitely take a coat next time, and probably a scarf and gloves!

Gin is in. So why are so many places getting it wrong?

We’ve just got back from The Stag at Offchurch. We only stopped off to see if we fancied eating there in the future.

They had six gins to choose from, Hendricks, No. 3, Bombay, Gordon’s, Sipsmiths and Tanqueray. Decent tonic too, Fentimans. 

We ordered a No. 3 and a Hendricks. Disappointingly both came with a slice of lemon. We requested a slice of cucumber for with the Hendricks. Sorry, we don’t have any, came the reply.  I’m sorry, what? You’re a restaurant who doesn’t have any cucumber? You are charging me over £11 for two gin and tonics and you can’t even offer me the correct garnish? We weren’t expecting them to have the recommended garnish for No.3, Sicilian Olive but seriously everybody knows Hendicks should be served with cucumber. 

It great that all these pubs are offering a decent selection of gins but to not offer the correct garnish is just down right lazy. If you only plan to offer a slice of lemon as a garnish maybe you should think about only offering gins that should be garnished with lemon. It’s not rocket science. There are plenty of gins that only need a slice of lemon.

It was the same a couple of weekends ago at the George & Dragon in Chacombe. They even have a specific gin menu they have so many different choices but, again, all we got was a slice of lemon. Pointless.

There are some great places round here who really know what they are doing. Cucumber is always served with Hendricks at The Fox & Hounds in Charwelton, well it is a restaurant after all, and when we ordered Sibling at The Castle at Edgehill we were offered the option of some orange peel. 

It’s all in the detail.

  
Talking about detail, my gin at The Stag was also served in a cracked glass. And the garden, whilst well stocked with great furniture, had beds full of weeds. And there was a rather suspicious smelling leak running down the carpark out the front. Pretty safe to say we won’t be back for dinner!