11th February to 18th March 2018 – 185 Watling Street, Ten Hands Café, The Ganges, Towcester
We’ve been doing a fair amount of local eating again with the start of 2018 and have revisited some old favourites as well as test running some new entrants to the local restaurant scene. With the town growing rapidly at present (there are new housing developments popping up on all sides and the place is set to double in size once these houses are complete) there’s scope in our quiet little town for good food offerings. We had visited 185 a handful of times in the run up to this year, but we’ve been in three times now. Here’s how that went.
Sunday, 11th February/Friday, 2nd March/Friday, 9th March 2018 – 185 Watling Street, Towcester
It used to be a solicitors’ office, it’s been a coaching inn, it’s been a family home. Right now, 185 Watling Street is a very pleasant gastro-pub and bar on the high street of our historic town centre. We held Lynne’s 60th birthday lunch there, for 22 guests, and the staff coped remarkably well after some initial confusion over the pre-orders when it turned out that the wine list on the web site is not the same as the one they are actually using. It all went very smoothly and I think although the food was probably not at its best given the fact that the kitchen was trying very hard to serve all of us at the same time, no one seemed disappointed, with the exception of the one person who ordered a pannacotta as dessert and basically got a milky puddle!
We went back three week’s later during the snows of the original Beast from the East and were among a tiny handful of diners that night, most people staying home. We have the advantage of being within walking distance so it’s easy for us. Initially we settled in to test the latest iteration of the cocktail list, which has a somewhat chequered history and goes through phases when it contains little of interest if you don’t like gin! We were on to a winner this time given that there were some interestingly wintery drinks, including the rather delicious Winter Pimms, served warm and just the thing to thaw out two frozen walkers.
After that, and warmed through, we fell back on the old favourites of a Polish mule for Lynne and a Bramble for me.
We opted to go for the small plates to start with, assuming that they’d be… well… small. Not a bit of it. The beetroot hummus was beautifully creamy with just enough bite to it. It went well with the potato falafel as well, with the two combining nicely if you dipped the falafel in. There were lots of lovely crisp, fresh vegetables to dip into the hummus too.
We also had some chorizo and salami, which came with onion chutney and cornichons, and separately a portion of whitebait with some lovely homemade tartare sauce. Whitebait seems to be staging something of a comeback of late, which is no bad thing I would say. These could have been crunchier perhaps, but that didn’t stop us polishing them right off.
And then we ran into trouble. We’d ordered a second round of “small” plates for our second course and we were already struggling! A basket of breads was on the table because we’d figured we’d be needing it to dunk into the baked Camembert we’d ordered. Except the Camembert came with bread that was not mentioned on the menu! We also ordered sausages which arrived in a thick tomato sauce. It was enormous but very comforting on a freezing cold night.
The suggestion that we might consider a dessert caused hysterical laughter on our part, followed by a strategic retreat back to the comfort of our living room, after we’d knocked the snow of our boots anyway. A week later and we were back, this time with the friend we’d been intending to meet up with the previous Friday. We knew what we were in for this time, so again a round of cocktails got the evening going, and then we hit the small plates again.
We went for the whitebait again, and the Camembert with bread, and this time a portion of their meatballs, in a thick tomato sauce.
Between three of us it was a more realistic proposition. especially as we had opted for the “proper” mains this time. I would have preferred the meatballs to be more solid, and perhaps better seasoned, but the bread and the Camembert was again very good, the cheese soft and squidgy, and the whitebait were actually far crispier this time round. It’s a gastro-pub, not a fine dining restaurant so we really can’t be quite so picky.
And anyway, the salmon with clam broth studded with boiled potatoes that soaked up the liquid was much better than many a pub could manage. The salmon for me could have been cooked a minute or so less, but again I’m being picky given the prices. We enjoyed it, and while we might not remember it in months or years to come, it hit the spot on the night.
Saturday, 3rd March 2018 – Ten Hands Café Bar, Towcester
The following morning we took ourselves to our local independent café, the Ten Hands Café Bar, which replaced the Dolphin café when the lease costs proved too high on renewal. The whole place had a massive makeover, which it was in need of, and is now bordering on the hipster, at least for these parts. The coffees are very good, though small for their price, and the food is excellent, though it takes forever to arrive, by which time your coffee is long gone, and you’ll be needing another one if you want it with your breakfast. Actually I opted for one of their fruit teas instead, in this instance an apple tea spiced with star anise among other things. It was very warming and very nice indeed, as was the coffee.
The food, when it arrived, was also very good. Lynne opted for a sausage sandwich. What arrived was the size of a doorstep, strangely architectural, with possibly too much bread for any one person to handle.
I went for the shakshuka, thus establishing beyond doubt that Towcester high street has joined the 21st Century and gone full on Hoxton! The menu claimed it was three eggs, and I did only find three yolks, but it was still massive. It was also very tasty, with quite a chilli kick to it, so much so that I soon found myself wishing I’d not worn a sweater! It came with toasted sourdough bread, and some grilled halloumi, which went very well with the spicy pepper and tomato stew elements of the dish. Excellent stuff, though another time I think we may end up sharing one of these dishes between us.
Sunday, 18th March 2018 – The Ganges, Towcester
And so, on another day, a walk round to one of the three local Indian restaurants, and in our view the best of the three, The Ganges, based in a former pub on an estate, so not an obvious place though immensely popular it seems. Certainly it always seems to be busy. They make claim to provide authentic Indian food; I can’t say whether they do or don’t as I’m not expert in such matters. They do churn out the “standard issue” UK Indian dishes, but there’s also a large section of the menu that does genuinely contain a number of dishes I’ve not encountered elsewhere in the UK. We started, however, with the inevitable poppadoms, just one each because really it’s not necessary to fill yourself up with them when there are other dishes to come.
After that, things stayed “traditional” for us as we split a pair of Lamb samosas, and shared some tender, tasty tandoori lamb chops. They were good in just the way you would expect, so far, so standard.
For our mains we’d chosen from the more interesting end of the menu. That meant a portion of Sylheti duck, which is slices of duck breast from the tandoor, served in a lively, spicy tomato/pepper sauce, the spicing typical of the Sylhet Division apparently. As this is partly in Bangladesh, it does I suppose fit the definition of “traditional” Indian cooking as we know it in the UK, as many of those involved are actually from Bangladesh and not India..
A naan bread with it was far more standard. The butter king prawns were not. They didn’t make the prettiest of dishes, but it was rich and creamy and very satisfying, even if it did look a bit like a car crash!
Also not especially pretty was the aubergine bhaji, but very tasty and full of flavour, the aubergine cooked until soft and full of oils and ghee. You could almost feel it hardening your arteries on the way down!
And that was more than enough. As usual we ended up bringing the leftovers home and having them for lunch the day after. Desserts may be good, they may not; we’ve never been able to manage one.
There are a couple of new places opening in the next few weeks so we’ll no doubt be investigating them as soon as we can.