Saturday, 17th November/11th December 2018 – Bar Encore, Towcester
After a couple of slightly rocky visits to Bar Encore when I’d repeatedly had to teach the cocktail barman how to make a caipirinha (and the answer is not the way he was making it with syrup and lime juice – but I digress and to prove it, I’ll post my own recipe elsewhere). Anyway, we decided to give it one more go and actually try the food this time. Here ;s something that’s not a caiprinha, despite the barman’s claims.
By now it seemed that they were able to make one, or at least they’d got a lot closer to it:
Bar Encore is based in one of Towcester’s more historic establishments, formerly the Pickled Pig, which had slid into decline as it was slowly taken over by underage drinkers, and allowed to fall into less than benign neglect. The new owners had a lot of work to do to rescue it, and to be fair they’ve done a pretty damn good job of turning the place around architecturally and decor-wise. Oh, and it used to be a bakery, possibly the home of the Towcester cheesecake, which I have to say seems not dissimilar to a Yorkshire cheesecake, which I have not seen since my childhood (along with Maid of Honour tarts which are certainly also related and probably all medieval in origin). But I digress, as I sometimes do.
We settled in in one of the small back rooms and ordered a round of cocktails. Around half an hour later, cocktails downed, we hit the menu. A lot of things seemed to be deep fried, which is no bad thing in the depths of November. The fried manchego cheese with Northamptonshire honey worked well, although it’s always tricky with a sharing dish that involves semi-melted cheese if there are two of you and an odd number of chunks of cheese.
We were pleased to be told that the table was ours for as long as we wanted it, and even more pleased to realise that we wouldn’t be harrassed to order everything all at once, because if I’m in a tapas bar then I want to order a couple dishes, enjoy those, then select a couple more until we decide we’ve eaten enough. To step aside from the fried stuff, we also ordered a plate of beef carpaccio, which OK isn’t Spanish but was good.
We moved on to some fishy treats next, with a small pile of crispy little whitebait. Whitebait seems to have made a comeback to many menus of late, and I for one welcome them. Dipped into a good tartare sauce and dusted in salt and pepper they are a messy, fun treat.
There were also some big gambas, cooked and served with some aioli for dipping. They were OK, but could have been better had they been cooked for about a minute less. The aioli was good though, and I finished it off with some of the bread.
We didn’t use all the bread, which was just as well, because we needed it for the chorizo in red wine, and the bowl of wild mushrooms, in a garlic, cream and sherry reduction. Both dishes were good and although small, very filling. I’d have liked more mushrooms, with possibly more variety so that it could really be considered a wild mushroom dish (there were quite a few “ordinary” farmed mushrooms in there as far as I could tell), but it’s mushrooms and there are never, ever enough mushrooms!
After that we really couldn’t consider eating any more. We’d enjoyed what we had enough to consider going back again, especially as they’d scheduled a Flamenco night in early December. We booked in for that while we finished off our wine, a perfectly satisfactory Rioja, that was sensibly priced and eminently quaffable. We’d been fed decently, looked after by willing and friendly staff, and had been kept toasty warm by the open fire in the cleared out fireplace.
And so after a good experience, we returned to Bar Encore a few weeks later, for an evening of flamenco music and dance. The upstairs room which used I think to be the Pickwick Restaurant before it ever became a pub, was packed, the musician and dancer/singer down one end and the rest of us scattered at small tables the length of the building. We ordered a couple of small plates once we’d sorted some wine, and settled in for an evening of entertainment. I know the Hugo is a summer cocktail really, but it didn’t stop either of us from going for one as an aperitif while we waited for things to start arriving and the music to kick off.
The duo playing for the evening soon got underway, threatening to try and teach people to dance flamenco style later, but happy to let us get on with our food in the mean time. A table full of Spaniards next to us seemed happy enough with proceedings, tapping their feet and singing along. We, meanwhile, were tucking into bread and olives and enjoying our Hugos.
The music was great fun, the guitarist clearly very capable, and we were really pleased we’d let ourselves be talked into attending, even though I’m pretty sure the whole performance had been “dumbed down” a bit to suit a provincial audience. I’ve seen and heard some world class players at the local music venue, The Stables, and they are on a whole other level; of course you have to buy a ticket to see them, so it was still a good deal.
We opted for the deep fried Manchego again, and ended up struggling a bit with the honey because it had started to cystallise and was thus crunchy rather than flowing. It’s an easy enough thing to fix provided someone in the kitchen is paying attention. Just stand the jar in very hot water for a short time, then give the contents a good stir and it will recover its consistency.
We also tried the squid, or at least I did (Lynne’s not a fan). They’d managed to cook it nice and tender so that was a hit. Nothing worse than overcooked squid – you might as well chew on a piece of bicycle inner tube.
We were starting to fill up now, but we did still manage to polish off a nicely cooked piece of sea bream, with a lovely, crispy skin. It was sitting on a lovely pile of celeriac remoulade as well, something I’ve never managed to make for myself properly, but which I am a big fan of.
The music went on until late and we stayed, even being persuaded onto the floor at one point. We’ve been back since, most notably just after Christmas, and the food was disappointing, so it’s hard to know how things will go. I do wish them all the success possible though, just because the town really needs more good places to eat and drink.