Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Town Wall, Pink Lane Newcastle - Review

My quest for the best burger in Newcastle has continued and I can certainly say you aren't going to find it in The Town Wall. You also won't find good service or matching furniture. This is the sort of place that exists by proxy - a lack of competition for what I have delightfully titled a 'yuppie pub', it's central location and its generous floor space.

The Town Wall, Pink Lane, Newcastle
My office is just around the corner from here, in fact I can see it out of the window, and when the window is open I get the combined smell of the kitchen efforts from here and The Forth which is just across the street from it. The Forth has been established much longer (I don't know exactly but was there 4 years ago when I first came to Newcastle) and has a hip shabby feel to it which has been worn in over the years and feels genuine. The Town Wall tries to emulate this laid back modern pub feel and with its mis matched furniture and leather booths but it is such an obviously self conscious effort to do so, like someone who buys pre distressed jeans and tells people 'i've lived in these jeans for years'.

Take for example the fake book case wallpaper, firstly it is fucking hideous, and why if the owners wanted to create that effect would they not go to the lengths of putting in actual bookshelf's - I mean if the Weatherspoons just down the road can muster up some second hand books, you'd think someone charging twice the price and trying to get its paws on the cool 30 somethings moneys would go to the same effort.

Try-hard decor aside, the staff are completely inept and incredibly rude. And this isn't from my one experience of the place, this is happened pretty much every time i've visited. A sense of smug self worth and a cooler-than-thou attitude isn't really what I want from my bartender, I just want you to pour me my bloody drink. I had to wait 20 minutes longer than the rest of my table to get my lunch whilst in the mean time they started serving the table behind us, and there wasn't even the faintest hint of an apology.
Now what was I saying about this place only getting trade because as of yet no one in the centre is trying to do it better.

And I haven't even got to the burger yet. This was 'friday work pub lunch' (courtesy of my very lovely boss - I have a great job, but I don't like to gloat) and as a break from emails, phone calls and continuous orders on a very hectic friday this lunch was very welcome and when it eventually arrived filled a hole. Aside from satisfying my basic needs, it did little for me.

The Town Wall, Burger with Cheese & Bacon, £7.85

The first thing that irritates me about this is the stupid little basket the chips come in, awkward and unnecessary and again all about an attempt at a modern aesthetic. The chips themselves are chunky, and taste freshly cooked but no where near crisp enough, with some bordering on the soggy. The burger was smothered in cheese, which actually had a lovely mature taste and had melted well, the bacon again wasn't fatty and undercooked like it all too often can be but these seemed to be optimised to disguise how awfully overcooked and dry the patty was - grey and crumbly and lacking seasoning.

A dreadfully grey burger but lots of melted cheese
The mis matched shape of the burgers was a good sign, very obviously hand made, but the untoasted, measly little buns were another let down. Perhaps I am being a tad harsh on the food, because the general atmosphere and staff of this place get on my goat so much but compared with the delicious burger at The Fat Hippo it doesn't really compare.

The one thing this place has in it's favour and is a reason I imagine it will continue to survive is its space - large tables are harder to find that you think, and perhaps why The Forth has lost some of its trade to The Town Wall. It does also have some nice ales on (being a friday afternoon and desiring not to fall asleep at my desk i opted out from drinking this time) from local breweries, and anywhere that has Gold Tankard as a regular feature is never all bad in my opinion

Even though i've slated this place, there isn't any doubt I'll probably continue to go to The Town Wall, and why? Because it's central, next to my office, has large tables and right now I can't find anywhere else.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cowboy Style Chilli Con Carne & The Best Service Station Ever

I have been wanting to try out making a proper chilli con carne for ages and had been on the hunt for a slow cooker to do it in - firstly because I've never used one before and wanted to try it out, and secondly so I could have lovely, tender meat and not have to eat really late at night. As I didn't find/borrow/buy one in time, this meal was eaten in the post 10 o'clock hours and I couldn't sleep on my front that night because of my swollen beef filled belly.

In the uni years chilli with tons of beans thrown in is a staple of cheap and easy cooking, especially when your flat mates are sniffing around for any leftovers. This I think was my first 'proper' chilli and I categorise it as 'proper' because of two factors - I didn't use mince and I didn't use beans. After seeing a recipe on the wonderful Hollow Legs blog which quoted that 'only poor people and vegetarians put beans in their chilli' I thought I'd try to stay clear of those categories. After all no one wants to be wrongly labelled a vegetarian.

Of course the meat I used was as ever from the reduced section. The reduced section in a service station.

I can feel you recoiling in horror, but this isn't what it seems. I think I have found the most magical service station in the entire country, ney perhaps the entire continent. I was coming back from a weekend with the other halves family, and when I say family I mean the whole darn lot - aunts, uncles, grandparents, and numerous children whose names I couldn't remember. We pulled in to Tebay Services and I couldn't believe my tiny little half asleep eyes, there was a pond with ducks, hills on every side, a cafe full of amazing home cooked food and a farm shop with butchers, deli counter and all sorts of wonderful jars, teas, biscuits and pies. In the meat section we found some tender looking braising steak with a gorgeous marbling and reduced to £1.65. We also got some of the most incredible brownies I've ever eaten but I don't know who the producer was. So if you are ever going through Cumbria,  Tebay services are my tip to you. I might not do fancy London restaurant reviews but I can now recommend on great service stations. And I can't even drive.

Back to the chilli, the meat was beautiful, a nice layer of fat for some flavour and with a nice spring to it. Much better than mince if that needed clarifying. As I don't like my food too spicy so I used two whole chipotles and let them give the sauce a wonderful smokey flavour through the slow cooking. For some this recipe will seem like a tame house cat amongst potential ferocious lions ready to rip your tongue off but that's the way I eat and I still needed a couple of glasses of water to wash it down. Home made corn chips are a nice touch and when I say home made I mean shallow frying some flour tortillas to make them all crisp and crunchy.

Even though I ate after 10 this was totally worth it even though the 3 hours waiting for it to cook proved pretty testing with some stale baguette being dipped in the sauce to starve off the hunger.

O and I am back to my rubbish blackberry camera until I eventually get round to buying an SLR, I apologise but at least i'm not using the ugly plates this time.

Cowboy Style Chilli Con Carne

Cowboy Style Chilli Con Carne

Enough for 2

Ingredients For the Chilli
- Braising Steak
- 1 Carrot
- 1 Red Pepper
- 1 Onion
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 Chipotles
- A Cinnamon Stick
- Oregano
- Ground Cumin
- Ground Ginger
- Half a Can of Tomatoes
- Beef Stock
- Salt and Pepper

1. I started by heating oil in a large pan and frying the steak until it was brown on all sides. Then remove from the pan
2. Chop and peel the onions and carrot and slice the pepper, add to the oil and meat juices and fry until golden and soft, add the meat back in and add in the diced garlic, the ground ginger and cumin (more cumin than ginger, that's as specific as I will be), oregano. Make sure everything is covered.
3. Add the chipotle, cinnamon stick, beef stock and half a can of tomatoes - everything should be completely covered. Put the lid on the pot and leave on a low heat for 2.5 hours.
4. For my personal tastes I took the cinnamon stick out after 45 minutes as I'm not too keen on a strong cinnamon flavour but if you do leave it in.
5. After 2.5 hours take the lid off the pot and let the sauce reduce down.
6. Heat a frying pan with oil in it, cut a flour tortilla into triangles and fry a few pieces at once until brown and crisp, place on a drying rack to get rid of any excess oil + means they won't get soggy.
7. When the sauce has reduced, remove the 2 chipotles from the sauce then take a fork and pull it through the meat - it should easily fall apart and be beautifully tender.

Serve with a tomato salsa, the fresh tomatoes complimenting the deep, smokey flavour of the chilli. Scoop it all up onto a tortilla and try to fit it into your mouth.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Really Very Good Rabbit Ragu

I made this ages ago and completely forgot to blog about it. This was probably because I was mardy about the pictures as my kitchen was full of people so I couldn't take nice pictures, I had to use the ugly plates and then I got a bit pissed and sort of don't remember eating it. But I did have it again a couple of days later and it was utterly gorgeous, rich and gamey and the slow cooking of the tomato sauce meant it had an incredible depth of flavour.

The bunny in question has been a long time in coming, I decided I must eat a rabbit about a month before I made this and had since then been on a hunt for one, however without a good butcher near by I wasn't quite sure where I would be able to get one from. A Saturday trip out to Tynemouth market solved this issue. Something like the 3rd Sunday of every month they have a farmers market on, it had a pretty small selection of fresh produce and the stalls were mixed in with all the strange men selling odd electrical appliances but I stumbled across a great Northumbrian company selling fresh game and sea food and also these very large carrots.

Whole Rabbits + Saddles, we came back 5 minutes later and they had all gone!
For a whole rabbit it was £5 which worked out far more cost effective than getting it diced or just the saddle, however this did leave us with the issue of having a whole rabbit and not knowing entirely what to do with it. After lots of conflicting advice and a perusal of a few recipe books,  I settled on a Hugh recipe and managed to vaguely follow his advice.

Poor Little Bald Bunny
There were however few tips on how to butcher the rabbit and we didn't have a pot to fit it in whole thus this lead to some very debatable knife skills taking place and the back legs being snapped off. I doubt I am looking at a future career in butchery after this effort. The kitchen had by this point also started to fill up with people I didn't know who seemed very confused with my sunday night pursuit.

When the smells started coming off the slowly cooking stew they didn't seem confused for much longer (although a lot drunker for sure) as it made the entire house smell delicious, and the house normally has that welcoming smell of damp walls and unwashed clothes. When I took some left overs in for lunch later in the week a man told me I was the first person he has seen in England eat rabbit. Whilst this doesn't surprise me particularly, it is a shame because it is not only tasty it gives me a lovely quintessentially British feeling, especially when I know the rabbit has been locally caught.

After making the ragu, I made a stock from the carcass and joked about how I was now literally a bunny boiler. The other half looked awkward.

Rabbit Ragu with Pasta, apologises for the hideous plate

To Make Rabbit Ragu - Enough for 4 Large portions

- A Rabbit
- 4 Rashers of Smoked Bacon
- 2 Carrots
- A Stick of Celery
- 1 Onion, diced
- 2 Bay Leaves
- A Few Sprigs of Thyme
- Black Peppercorns
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 Tins of Chopped Tomatoes
- Chicken Stock
- Salt and Pepper to Season

1. Heat some olive oil and brown the bacon and rabbit in a deep sided pan, making sure to turn the rabbit so it gets colour on every side.

2. Add the diced onions and chopped celery and carrots and let them fry a little before adding in the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, garlic, chopped tomatoes and stock so that everything is submerged. Leave to cook away for about an hour and a half, you want your rabbit nice and tender after all

3. Sit in the kitchen and get drunk for an hour and a half before proceeding with the recipe.

4. Once it has sufficiently sorted take out the bay leaves and thyme stalks and throw away, take the rabbit pieces out and definitely do not throw away. The recipe said to strain the sauce to make the ragu, I said balls to that and blended it.

5. The rabbit meat has to be taken off the bones before being added back into the ragu. I then let it cook for another 20 minutes so the sauce thickened up nicely and served with pasta.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Fat Hippo, Jesmond, Newcastle - Review

There aren't many things which would draw me back to Jesmond. I don't mean this harshly, I spent 2 long, rather erratic years there as a student and sampled all the delights that Osbourne Road and its infamous happy hour had to offer, but since I have moved all the way over to Heaton (for people who don't know Newcastle it's all of a 20 minute walk away) I find very few reasons to go back.

The Fat Hippo has for a long time in my mind been that reason, opening last year it served up gorgeous chunky burgers, sharing platters and posh club sandwiches with chips (and you know how I am a sucker for chips). With the student crowd the place seems to have been an instant hit, it is what Jesmond has always needed, somewhat similar to the ever popular Butterfly Cabinet in Heaton, a place doing hangover breakfasts and proper lunches in a relaxed and stylishly laid back environment.

It has always been busy on previous visits so arriving at 2.30 on a Saturday I expected to have to wait, the floor space is tiny. After waiting for around 10 minutes we were shown to a table, we weren't asked if we wanted any drinks when being seated so when our order was eventually taken we opted for tap water. I do know from previous visits that drinks are very reasonably priced and The Fat Hippo has a full license, I spied a cocktail list on the wall out of my eye but thought lunch time might not be the best time to sample these.

As I had had burger cravings all week (but really I don't know when I don't have burger cravings - see here for further evidence) I opted for the Classic with Cheese at £7.50, the other half went for the Texas BBQ, strangely without any of the BBQ sauce but with melted cheese, bacon and onion rings for £7.95. Each burger comes on one of those in fashion but actually very practical wooden serving boards with chips, home made coleslaw and a small salad perfect for inserting in your bun, there's even a gherkin - the other half got that, I loathe anything pickled.

The Fat Hippo, Classic with Cheese, £7.50

The Fat Hippo, Texas BBQ, £7.95

These are very tasty burgers, they are thick, juicy and meaty and taste just as home made as they claim to be. The coleslaw again is a great addition, creamy and crunchy in equal parts. I got a little surprise on seeing the chips, skinny fries. They used to be big hunky chunky chips to match the size of the rugby boys who regularly come through the door. I wonder if the change was made because its a struggle to finish your portion even with skinny fries. I warn those who have not been, do not undertake eating one of these burgers unless you are very hungry, or horribly greedy. I didn't eat for the rest of the day.

But there was a standard to live up to, and unfortunately this time there were a few weak points. The first time I ate at The Fat Hippo I remember a gorgeously red meat, properly dense and full of flavour. Although still juicy and a good inch and a half thick, this burger didn't have that beautiful medium rare middle and the mince was more thinly ground making me suspect they have changed the sort of meat they use. It had a touch of pink but was cooked too much for my liking.

The Fat Hippo used to have home made mayonnaise, the distinctive warm and buttery yellow colour gave it away and was such a nice, homely touch appears to have been replaced with a generic white bought in substance. These are probably changes that have to be made as the business grows and finds its feet and understandably not all standards are cost effective. A small suggestion would also be toasting the buns as the bread (which is really lovely) did fall apart slightly as I ate.

I sound like I am all full of criticisms but this picture will demonstrate how well the food went down.

Finished at The Fat Hippo 

At The Fat Hippo two burgers without drinks the bill came to £15.40, the service was a little slow but being a Saturday afternoon and busy I won't grumble too much and the regular cliental of students have lots of time for lazy lunches. Our waitress was also very polite and friendly, the same can also be said for the owner and all of the staff actually.

In my mind The Fat Hippo still has the best burgers in Newcastle, I just really hope it stays that way.