Month: March 2015

The Bells of Peover, near Knutsford

The Bells of Peover, aside from sounding like a urine infection, was not our first choice for dinner en route to a 60th party in Macclesfield – that option fell to The Wizard in nearby Alderley Edge. Somewhat fortunately, the lady who answered the phone for The Wizard had been taking customer service notes from RyanAir and spoke to me with a disdain not seen since The Cold War. A quick search on the internet, followed by a much nicer phone call and we were soon driving up the cobbles into this tucked-away gem.


Inside we are led to the safety of a burgundy Chesterfield that sits handsomely in the square dining room.  The beams and white-washed walls suggest little has changed since George Bell took over the pub in 1871, though these walls have history:  During the 40’s American troops were billeted nearby, with Generals Patton and Eisenhower making D-Day plans over lunch here.  This explains the two flags outside and also the reason why the lighting inside the dining room was set to Blackout.  Not even the camera flash could save some of the photos I attempted to take.


Pancetta came breaded and treated to the kind of heat that softened the porcine fat inside to a luscious jelly, whilst the meat stayed reassuringly firm and tasted of a good pig.  Sharing the plate were also a fried duck egg and fig sauce which had a HP brown sauce level of spice and depth.  It was the perfect breakfast served at sunset in Cheshire.  Hummus was the pillow for sun-blushed tomatoes, pesto, and olives, all of it scooped onto flat bread and enjoyed.


High praise was given to my partners gnocchi and butternut squash main, with her declaring it one of the best dishes she had ever eaten in a public house.  The gnocchi was  light yet substantial, given poise by ricotta and a summery intensity by both sun dried tomatoes and fresh basil.  My main was nearly as good; lamb fillet with its own faggot of all the gnarly bits.  The fillet, cooked a little passed the medium I like, had to fight for attention with a port sauce.  Potato pave and carrot purée added earthy notes, whilst new season asparagus and peas gave freshness. The menu listed it at £16.95,  it appeared on the bill at £13.95.  Either way, it was exceptional value for some very skilled cooking.  Bravo to the cheery waiter that talked me into having it over the pork or beef.


Dessert was a baked chocolate cheesecake which was too heavy for me to take seriously after so much food.  There are other options which I probably should have chosen, though I am often too greedy for my own good.  The bill, with wine and good local beers, crept over seventy quid, which is incredible value for the standard of cooking. On the Monday following our trip up north I emailed a work acquaintance whose business is nearby, who confirmed my opinion and said it was highly regarded locally.  As pleased as I was for him, The Bells of Peover deserves more than regional recognition.  It is an absolute cracker of a pub.


Bells of Peover on Urbanspoon

Byzantium, Kings Heath

I have a friend called Phil. He’s a good bloke. Imagine Kevin Bacon drunkenly doing The Robot in Footloose and that’s him. He’s knowledgeable on football, beer and who killed Lucy Beale. Y’know, all the important things that men respect other men for. He’s laid back to the point that you could use him as a ruler. Phil doesn’t care much for arguing the small things in life, he’s a listener, not a talker. You’re not likely to hear Phil sing the praises of many things. Its just not his style. Except Byzantium. He bloody loves Byzantium, especially the pork belly. I have become accustomed to those who know I do this blog telling me where to eat. All of them I ignore, except Phil, for him giving a recommendation to anything is akin to receiving prayer instructions from the Pope. So Byzantium it was.

I choose not to tell Phil I’m going. I figure he could reel off all the best dishes and I am unsure he would survive the excitement of it all. I know I will eat the pork belly, for if not I fear that our friendship will be on the line, but the rest I will leave to learn from my own mistakes. I flick through a menu whose shear size puts fear in my heart. One page for the menu, another for the specials. There are more specials written in white on the mirror. Lots of options generally result in inconsistent standards. The charismatic American lady dressed in black talks us through it and puts me at ease. Her personality owns the room and all of its ten or so tables, its bleached walls and North African low lighting.

We start with flat bread more supple than a yoga teacher.  Its size takes over the table, forcing the wine glasses to the edge of the table, though it quickly disappears.  We have it with hummus that smacks of lemon and tahini.  Its the second best hummus in Birmingham.  It just so happens that the best can be found a mile down the road at Damascana.



A chicken and apricot tagine arrives, its size more appropriate to a main course rather than the tapas dish it claims to be.  The chicken is moist though the apricot flavour is muted, with a sauce that works its way on to the couscous below.  The best tagines have oomph; this one is too polite to sit in their company.  A dish appears with potato where we work our way to the home-made sausage of lamb breast underneath.  The meat is pink with the spicy topping making us sit up and take notice.  Its accomplished cooking with big flavours balanced carefully.



Pork belly up next.  I am expecting it to alter my world in the same way getting off with a girl did when I was thirteen.  It disappoints.  The meat has been shown too much heat too quickly and has firmed up.  The crackling borders on burnt.  It is generous in size and flavour but it is not enough.  Skewers with halloumi and veg are far better, the onion nicely caramelised and offering good contrast to the salty cheese.  I like the tzatziki it comes with more with the lamb dish.



A magazine article written by some one who lives locally recently listed Byzantium as one of the cities best.  On this visit I would say that is far-fetched.  Its broad stroke across the world of tapas and mezze means they have lots of flavours to play with, with some handled better than others.  My good friend Phil thinks Byzantium is great, whereas I thought it should be classified under “good”.  Maybe I caught them on a bad day.  Yes, maybe that its it.  Believe Phil and try it for yourself, I mean, what do I know?


Byzantium tapas on Urbanspoon



Chateau Impney, Droitwich Spa

Whether it be ringing a door bell, looking through a menu on-line the day before, or booking three months prior, a meal starts way before the first plate is delivered. At Chateau Impney it begins when you first see the Louis XIII style chateau from the A38. The long drive leads up through the extensive grounds where the imposing red-brick building remains beautiful, albeit now with a less than beautiful rear extension.



The chateau was a labour of love, built almost 150 years ago by a salt magnet to satisfy his Parisian raised wife, who sadly did a runner before the building was finished. I wish that we had been able to make a similar dart for it when the food started to appear. The first issue is the location of the dining room, deep in the lower loins of the building. Whilst upstairs is a majestic ode to The Renaissance, the dining room in the basement is a faux art deco mass of monochrome. Sadly, its less Louis XIII chateau and more Fritzel’s Palace. The menu is an unapologetic collection of 70’s dinner party classics, which is fine, just as long they are done well.  A goats cheese soufflé looked fine enough, but had the texture of a tennis ball and no flavour whatsoever.  Around it was a mango and chilli salsa which lacked any heat. If ever a recipe needed re-approaching, this was it. On the flip of this was a ramekin filled with chopped bacon and button mushrooms, topped with smoked cheddar.  Estate agents would describe it as “rustic” looking, though I will leave you to draw your own conclusions on its appearance.  It tasted acceptable in the way that bacon, mushrooms, and melted cheese do, but a starter in a restaurant? Really?  Not good enough.



Chicken with tarragon sauce had reasonably well cooked poultry in a cream sauce with no aniseed flavour present.  We were the last sitting, so maybe they run out of tarragon, who knows.  The potato fondant was very good, properly buttery and cooked through.  A turkey roast faired slightly better with good roast spuds, fluffy Yorkshire pudding, and a proper gravy.  Vegetables came served separately and varied from well cooked carrots to raw broccoli. 096


Desserts were a continuation of the frustrating previous courses.  Apple and toffee pie was actually a decent apple pie, topped with a toffee sauce and a bowlful of a custard which I can pretty much guarantee was the powdered variety.  Again, it was rustic looking, but I don’t mind that with dessert.  A chocolate and caramel tart looked a lot better, even if there was little, if any, of the caramel flavour.



The service was led by a very polite restaurant manager and I felt sorry for her.  She can only deal with what is placed in her hands – it is the kitchens job to ensure it is good enough to go out.  All of this was charged at the very modest twenty-two pounds for three courses, which for some I imagine accounts for good value.  Not I.  A tenner a head extra could have got me a very good lunch elsewhere.  Chateau Impney is a beautiful place, but it is best viewed from the road en route to somewhere else to eat.


Lewis’s, Moseley

Two weeks ago Moseley Village was voted the number one place to live in the country, just nine months after I made the switch from Harborne. A coincidence? Unlikely. It is, as the judges rightly point out, a great place. Without wishing to turn this post into a episode of Location, Location, Location, it is a youthful, vibrant and genuinely exciting place to live. It’s slightly rough around the edges in a nice, unpretentious way. I am pretty sure I could amble down to the local pub in my dressing gown and no one would bat an eyelid – something that warrant an ASBO back in Harborne. And yet, despite my obvious love affair, it falls short where my previous residence came up trumps. Moseley is seriously lacking in places to get good, casual food. It has pubs that try to emulate The Plough which fall tragically short of doing so. It has Italian restaurants that dream of being anywhere near as nice as Bounissimo. Yes, it has the brilliant Carters, though a trip there requires prior planning and a spare ton in the bank. I would be lying if I haven’t been frustrated with the quality of food within walking distance of my home.

All of this makes the following admission all the more difficult. There is great food to be had in Moseley, though by sharing it I have further reduced the odds of being able to put my fat arse on one of their fifteen or so chairs.  Surprisingly its in the shop, well, delicatessen to be exact, that I buy my filled pasta from.

Lewis’s is hardly a secret locally.  Visit on a weekend morning and be prepared to wait for a table, for here is probably the best breakfast in the city.  Homemade baked beans see pulses long simmered in a tomato sauce spiked with hot paprika and dotted with brindisa chorizo that laughs in the face of its cheaper versions.  Underneath toasted sour dough soaks up the good bits, whilst a poached egg adds further luxury.  I could eat this everyday and not get bored.  I may actually try.  By the way you can buy the chorizo whilst you wait.  And so you should, its a cracker.


A brunch dish had another poached egg atop of griddled halloumi, spinach, and tomato.  This time toasted bread was present not to soak up the juices but to give texture.  It was a phallic shaped pepper grinder away from transporting me back to the Mediterranean last summer, where they share the ethos of a few ingredients of high quality sitting on a plate together and making perfect sense.  More of this approach was present in a salad of roasted beets, sweet potato and goats cheese.  Pumpkin seeds add crunch, rocket gives gentle pepper notes.  Its earthy, fresh and seasonal



A special saw eggs benedict given a shake-up, with serano ham and a truffled hollandaise in place of the usual suspects.  I am not usually a fan of anyone messing with classics, though here it made sense, making it equally lighter and more luxurious.  Espresso from Monmouth Coffee Company is predictably brilliant and more than makes up for the lack of booze.


The tragedy of all of this is that I seldom get to eat it whenever I want.  Being a deli its opening times never stray deep enough into the day for me to grab my dinner.  I suppose this means I have something to look forward to come Saturday morning and believe me, Lewis’s is well worth the wait.


Lewis's on Urbanspoon

La Plancha, Moseley

The short stroll down the hill to La Plancha in Moseley was always going to be a tough one, as it was the first time I had faced the outside world since recently losing my mother. I wasn’t cut out for a night in the pub drowning my sorrows whilst strangers stared at my bloated face, I merely wanted feeding and the company of friends. My Mother was a complex lady with simple culinary requirements; long braised stews at home with fist sized dumplings linger long in my memory, or a chicken rogan josh washed down with an Irish coffee on the occasions she veered outside with Dad. Thinking about it now, if I was true to her memory I should have went for a curry. She scoffed at the thought of me eating rabbit in some flouncy Mayfair gaff, failed to accept that any cheese should be eaten other than cheddar, and ridiculed the idea that a sausage could ever be cooked in wine. Frankly, my dear Mother would have been ashamed with my choice of La Plancha.

La Plancha nestles neatly in amongst the other restaurants and bars on Moseley’s high street. We arrived shortly after it opened and were ushered on to the last remaining table. It’s all dark wood and low lighting – romantic, perhaps, under different circumstances. We browse over a menu that has seen better days and plump for a selection of dishes to nourish the soul which my friend Greg will eventually pick up the bill for. We order two glasses of good red and toast the passing of a great lady. Others were making the most of the cocktail happy hour. For us it wasn’t that kind of night.


Meatballs arrive first.  Seven large pucks of minced beef with decent flavour in a puddle of thick tomato sauce that needed a pinch more salt.  After these came thick triangles of manchego that were missing the advertised balsamic glaze. Not that we cared for it as the quince jelly it came with was strident enough to handle the rich nuttiness of the cheese.  It was to be another cheese that was the stand-out; a doorstop wedge of halloumi, seemingly coated in egg wash and pan fried to resemble the colour of an omelette. Cooking such a large piece had allowed the heat to filter through just enough to lose the unpalatable rawness without melting to a nothingness. The reduced onions had bitter-sweet notes from basalmic, bread gave a chewy texture. All halloumi will be cooked in this way at home from now on.




It was the arrival of chorizo in red wine that made us notice the generosity of the portions.  A good bowls worth, brimming with good quality sausage in a reduced sauce you could paint your nails with.  We felt bad for leaving some uneaten.  More of the chorizo was present in a frittata loaded with capsicum, onions and potatoes – it was this kind of comfort we came looking for and it served us well.  Just as I was loosening my belt quesadilla arrived, full of cheese and chunks of chicken that had led a good life.  One of the slices was enough to confirm the quality of the food and my fullness.




Service was warm and welcoming to the point that I felt bad for having not been for over five years. I think its improved since then and now I live local I shall be coming a lot more often. The food isn’t perfect – sometimes it could do with more punch – but it was exactly what we needed; food with heart that gives a hug to the parts of the body that require it. I strolled back up the hill a little bit more complete than I had started the day and with a smile on my face. For that alone, I think my Mom would be proud.


La Plancha on Urbanspoon


Chilli and Spice at The Horseshoe, Hall Green

The previous incarnation of The Horseshoe was a local for my family. Probably twice a week my brother and I would go with my parents there for a 2-4-1 meal that would do little for the development of my taste buds. Dad would his work way through a huge portion of mixed grill, whilst Mom would order the same and pick at the chips for forty minutes before sneaking all of the meat into a tissue for our pet dog at home. My brother and I, now into our late teens, made the most of the fact that Dad was picking up the bill. For it was these afternoons that we developed a taste for beer in epic proportions that still haunts me now. I never cared much the gammon steaks full of sinew, the chicken devoid of any moisture, or the curries whipped straight out of the microwave.

The curries at The Horseshoe have thankfully moved on from those days. Since they change ownerships they have featured in the British Curry Awards finals for the last three years, thanks to their Chilli & Spice menu, which was a good enough reason for me to go. I do love a curry. Inside the large pub things had changed from how I remembered. The bar was still there, though the stains had been polished out and lacquered to a mirrored shine. The bar area has soft furnishings and the look of somewhere I could easily enjoy a pint of Cobra after work. The restaurant, segregated by glass, is all wood, leather, and white walls. We sit down and quickly order poppadoms, which are not the freshest I had, though are still a cut above your local balti house.


Starters suggest a serious operation: Lamb chops have a dark char and crust from the time spent inside a seriously hot tandoor. Inside the meat is pink with the flavour of the animal matched with a spicing that elevates it way above the norm.  They are delicious to point that I consider ordering more.  Paneer tikka had cubes of the size of children’s building blocks, also given the tandoor treatment.  The spicing again was spot on, with each of the blend distinct and traceable against the blandness of the paneer, which is similar to cottage cheese.  Baked chunks of pepper and onion provided the textural difference that was needed.



After all this I was expecting the curries to be some kind of revelation, an expectation that would fall well short. A fish curry leant heavily on coconut – a combination I am familiar with from my travels in Goa.  The sauce was muted to allow the fish to be present, which would have been fine had the fillet not been overcooked to a mush.  We nearly sent it back.  In hindsight, perhaps we should have.  A feisty Kadhai with good quality chicken was more successful, the chilli flavour bullish though mitred by clumpy chunks of onion.  Rice with flecks of crispy onions and spiced with cumin were a revelation, less so were the parantha which bordered on greasy.



We could have stayed for gulab jamun or kulfi but the work here was already done.  With polished service and obvious skill in the kitchen The Horseshoe is aiming well above others in the neighbourhood, with a raised price tag to suit.  Just don’t, as we did, believe the accolades and expect it to be one of the best in the country


Chilli & Spice on Urbanspoon