We had a busy few weeks trying out or revisiting a variety of restaurants around and about our home town and some of them are worth making a note of here for one or another reason! I’ll tackle them in alphabetic order I think.
Sunday 30th April, 2017 – The Narrow Boat, Weedon Bec
We took our friend Robert out for a birthday dinner at the end of April, and because he wanted to do it on a Sunday we struggled a bit to find anywhere to go that would actually be open for anything apart from Sunday lunch. We decided we’d try the Narrow Boat at Weedon Bec once more having been disappointed in it on the previous occasion. Since then their chef had fetched up on MasterChef where she didn’t get too far, most likely because she’s self-taught and has had no formal training. What she did on the show looked promising, the place is 10 minutes drive away, and they has a table so we gave it another go. We managed to snag some pre-dinner drinks and settled in in the bar area to study the menu and try to decide. We were then moved to a table in the restaurant, which really doesn’t have a lot of charm compared to the bar area. It’s over-lit and comes across like a canteen rather than a dining room, and does itself no favours. The family party on the big table over by the window weren’t doing the ambience any favours either, but I’m not going to blame a restaurant for its clientele; that’s not something they can necessarily control.
We opted to share the “Three Little Piggies” platter which came with a saltimbocca scotch egg, slabs of old english and black pudding sausage rolls, and slices of pork and apricot chutney pie. It was accompanied by pickles, root vegetable and rosemary fries and some tomato chutney. Parts were great, the sausage rolls in particular, but the fries, while tasty, were limp and soggier than is good in a fry.
The “three piggies” was probably the best part of the meal. I ordered the game and red wine ragu, which was served with pappardelle, parsley and Parmesan. The texture of the ragu was fine, but it lacked depth, and needed a lot of salt and pepper adding to perk it up, and I didn’t notice anything beyond the merest hint of Parmesan. Lynne wasn’t too impressed by her baked sea bass either, again finding a lack of depth of flavour to be a problem. Ginger, soy and chilli ought to at least pack a bit of a punch, but this was just a bit bland.
Robert seemed happy enough with his poussin, but may just have been being polite as we were treating him. It came with charred corn and leeks, and a wild mushroom and pearl barley broth but as I’m not overly keen on chicken, I didn’t try it.
We finished off with cheese, which was fine though they could have been more generous with the actual cheese! It’s not going to become a regular venue I’m afraid.
Monday 1st May, 2017 – The Rice Bowl, Towcester
The following night we headed out to our favourite Chinese, the Rice Bowl in Towcester. We’ve been going there since 1988 so clearly we like it, and we enjoy the food in the restaurant enough that we tend to end up in there at least five or six times a year if not more often. And so it was that we headed in to see what took our fancy this time. No matter what you order, in good old-fashioned Chinese-restaurant style there is always a basket of prawn crackers and today was no exception.
We went the route we often do with some dim sum type choices to start, including some dumplings with a salty soy sauce.
The satay prawns are always a good choice too as they were on this occasion:
Prawn toasts are a regular favourite of ours too.
Sometimes, if we’re feeling greedy, we’ll order the crispy lamb with pancakes, and so we did just that.
Sometimes of course a middle course is not needed, and so we tend to gravitate to the seafood and the duck dishes. The kung po prawns are pretty damn good and always worth a go, with a nice crispy batter and a piquant but not too hot sauce.
Tuesday 9th May, 2017 – Melis, Milton Keynes
Again this was a birthday meal, but this time for a colleague of Lynne’s. We were trying a new Turkish place, Melis, in Milton Keynes, along a somewhat less than inspiring stretch of chain pubs, bars and restaurants.
It was a big table and getting everyone seated was the initial issue when we arrived. Eventually we were all seated, and menus placed in front of us. The choices were about what you would expect of a decent Turkish place, and although they seemed to find coping with a table of the size we’d ended up as (around 18 people) not quite as easy as we might have hoped. However, we eventually managed to place our order and food soon started to appear. We fancied going with some of the warm meze items to start with, assuming – incorrectly as it turned out – that these would be small plates. There was Ciger Saute, pan-fried lambs’ liver, with onion, and red and green peppers.
We also had Cigara Borek (filo pastry filled with feta cheese and mint, and deep fried). These are ludicrously moreish, and it’s very hard to stop eating them once you start. These were no exception.
Thank god there were only three of them. There was also a plateful of Turkish sausages, Sucuk, which are spicy and served grilled and again are very likely to make it hard to resist.
The falafel here are also pretty traditional, made with broad beans and chickpeas, fresh vegetables, and garlic and fried with sesame seeds. They are also big…
After managing to clear most of the starters, while those around us seemed to be stuck to the safe food options of grilled meats, we had gone for Islim, a dish of finely sliced lamb, with fried aubergine, red and green peppers, and onion, cooked in a red sauce, served with mashed potatoes and salad, the whole thing wrapped in aubergine slices to hold it together. This really was massive, and although Lynne and I had agreed to go half and half on this and the other main, we barely got through half of it.
That might have been because the other main was huge too. The Incik was marinated lamb shank, cooked with onion, carrots, and green and red pepper, served with fried potatoes and demi-glace sauce.
There was no way on the planet we could eat dessert and so we stopped there and decided it was no bad way to spend an evening. It was certainly not in the least expensive either, and makes a change from the identikit chain restaurants that infest Milton Keynes.
Friday 12th May, 2017 – The White Horse, Silverstone
The White Horse has has a fairly chequered history of late, and there was a rumour that it was back on an even keel, offering Friday fizz nights with prosecco at £15 a bottle all night. We figured it was worth a punt if it genuinely was back on form. For a long time it had pretty much counted as our regular and it was sad to see how it went downhill after the death of Jan, the landlady back in the day, and the suicide of her husband, Les.
Anyway, we met up with a friend, S. for a bottle or two and a peruse of their menu. One of the things that is now available is a portion of Gruyère and beer croquettes, served with red onion chutney. They were also accompanied by a small portion of salad which I could have taken or left. The salad was find, the vegetables good and crunchy, but the main attraction was the croquettes, which were cheesy and gooey and all you could want from a cheese croquette.
It’s fair to say that in addition to a decent selection of beers and wines, the menu offers solid pub food, done very well. We proved that with a portion of fish and chips with a good, crisp batter and chips that were fluffy on the inside, and with a nicely crunchy outer casing.
The scampi was pretty good too, with homemade tartare sauce.
We’ve been back a couple of times since, and can confirm that the food is very good, especially for the price level. The pie of the day is a wonderful thing (or was the last time I had it being steak and mushroom, with an excellent home made pastry casing, lovely gravy and a substantial amount of filling. It’s worth a visit if you’re in the neighbourhood of Silverstone.
Wednesday June 14th, 2017 – La Nuovo, Northampton
La Nouvo, or possibly these days just Nuovo, is an Italian restaurant in Northampton, which is something of a culinary desert usually. It specialises in cicchetti, small snacks eaten at the bar in Venice. It’s a surprise to me that they have survived in a town not noted for its adventurous eating, but survive they have. We hadn’t been for a while so figured it was time we dropped in again, especially as the word was they had a new chef, Scott Williams. Anyway, we arrived good and early and as it was a warm day, took a seat in the courtyard to drink an aperitif, an aperol spritz being just what was needed.
We ordered a selection of bacari while we drank our drinks and decided where we’d go with the menu. A lovely selection of small snack-like items were delivered to our table and we munched our way through them.
Not wanting to overdo things, we chose a couple of items from the fish section to begin with. Cichetti are like tapas in that respect, in that you might order a couple of them, and a drink, and then repeat until you’ve had enough. The vitello tonnato does somewhat cross the boundary between fish and meat, the veal being dressed with a tuna dressing, Parmesan cheese, white anchovies, olives and capers, but it was so good it had to be done.
Equally good was the crab tian, with lemon, parsley, crème fraiche and garlic crispbreads. It was very dense and the crab was mercifully free of bits of shell, something that tends to happen when restaurants can’t be bothered to put in the necessary time and effort to have someone pick through the meat carefully.
Once we’d worked through these dishes we had another look at the menu. This time we needed meat. So a dish of sanguinaccio was required, an Italian black pudding served hot in red wine.
With that we also ordered the anatra e pancetta, a duck breast roasted so it stayed pink, with a scattering of crispy pancetta and mustard fruits. I would personally have gone for it pinker, but it was still very good.
And finally agnello e pastinacci, braised lamb shoulder with thyme, garlic and tomato with roasted polenta coated parsnips. All I can say is it’s a wonderful thing to do to parsnips, and it certainly went well with the lovely tender lamb.
I can’t say how good the desserts are, as we didn’t get that far, but they looked good.