Thursday, 22 March 2012

Review: The Feathers Inn, Hedley on the Hill, Northumberland

Pubs, they come in all shapes and sizes. There's the local at the bottom of your street, there's the gastro pub you go to for a good burger and there's the dodgy looking pub you can go to if you want to see a man about a dog. So if you try and imagine Britain's best pub it's a little tricky, would you think of an amazing boozer you can spend hours in having pints on a Saturday afternoon or somewhere with incredible food?

The Feathers Inn at Hedley on the Hill won such an award late last year and it can now call itself Great British Pub of the Year as well as winning the Best Gastropub award. This isn't a boozer you can haphazardly spend an afternoon in, rather one you have to book at least a week in advance to get a table, but it is still a properly British pub with unfussy and traditional interior located in the centre of a rural village that also happens to do some of the best food in Northumberland.

I have been to The Feathers Inn once before, just before they won the award which must certainly have propelled them to a different level of expectation and demand, and it was so utterly fantastic I have been dying to go back ever since. Sadly for car-less folk like me, their idyllic rural location means its bloody impossible to get to so I had to wait for my opportune moment. Moving house (yes I no longer live in a horrendous houseshare) meant my parents had to deliver me my new Le Creuset dishes (not a joke) and I suggested a little drive to the country. However a very well planned drive, as even calling 5 days before the only table left was first thing at 12.

The Feathers Inn, Menu
What this picture of the menu doesn't show you is the map on the back which shows where all the food being served has come from in the local area - one of the main things about The Feathers Inn is their attention to food sourcing and animal welfare. It was reassuring to know I could eat my hunk of cow safe in the knowledge it was a locally reared Haydon Bridge beef. They are so dedicated to the sourcing of their food they've won an RSPCA award for the last 3 years.

Of course I went for the beef roast with all the trimmings. This option did come with a £3 supplement to the menu price of £13.50 for one course, making it a pretty pricey roast. It was delicious - a thick cut flavoursome piece of meat, perfectly crisp roast potatoes (although I could have done with 1 or 2 more), a huge yorkshire and sticky honey parsnips.

Roast Rib of Beef, The Feathers Inn
All the trimmings, honey parsnips, carrots, califlower cheese, braised red cabbage

I normally like my meat a bit pinker than this but it was still wonderfully tender and the edges had a nice charring.

The Slow Roast Ravensworth Grange Middle White Pork with apple sauce and real ale gravy was a winner with my mother although sadly didn't come with crisp roasties and the other half had a Steak and Kidney pudding with beautifully creamy piped mash. Both represented the best of classic British cooking using only the highest quality British produce.

Steak and Kidney Pudding with creamy mash, The Feathers Inn
Slow Roast Pork

Whilst the mains were very good, I am of the school that a roast has its limits and its proper place. It's something you grow up, reminds you of home and no matter how good they can be when eating out (and this one was very good) there's nothing like mother's own. Pudding on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish.

I had been hoping they would do the cheese board even though it was Sunday lunch. The cheese board at  The Feathers Inn is phenomenal, a huge platter of cheese is brought out to you and you choose which ones you'd like and are served with hunks of fresh bread and crackers.

It being a sunday lunch and this being a traditional British pub, there was of course not a cheese board as that would have been a bit odd. Instead I indulged in the richest, most heavenly dark chocolate torte with marmalade ice cream. The bitterness of the dark chocolate was complimented by the sweet, tangy marmalade ice cream, which i'm pretty sure is made in house. This pudding killed me. The slice was huge, I could barely move after finishing it.

Dark Chocolate Torte 
The other half, ever the traditionalist went for the sticky toffee pudding and both parents opted for a very lovely quince, pear and apple and almond tart of some kind. My dad is very much a pudding man, and throughly approved.

The Feathers Inn truly is a fabulous British pub, the sort that needs to thrive in the countryside and has the sort of ethos and values more restauranteurs need to take up. They also regularly run special events and food markets which can only been good for the local community in a small village. The views surrounding it are also stunning if you were debating whether the drive was worth it. It is. 

After the roast, torte and a pint of pale local ale I wanted it to be nap time but drove down the road to Corbridge to visit RE, another fabulous reason to venture out into the Northumberland countryside. 

The Feathers Inn is located in Hedley on the Hill just outside Stocksfield, 01661 843 60, I would recommend booking about a week in advance for weekend meals & Sunday dinner. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Review: 9 Bar Coffee, Theatre Royal, Grey Street, Newcastle

9 Bar Coffee, Newcastle
There's somewhere new in town, isn't that exciting? And it has this 'cool, distressed, hipster' vibe about it, even better. Like some sort of Italian coffee bar meets a brooklyn diner.

I might sound like i'm being a little tongue in cheek (which I am - well observed) but only because I am that 'faux hipster' looking for somewhere good to get a sandwich and a decent cup of coffee and if the inside is aesthetically pleasing, all the better. 9 Bar Coffee is a very welcome addition to Newcastle's cafe scene even if the stools had obviously come straight out of a high school science classroom.

If you are interested, the designs and interior, which is a series of layered, faded posters, are done by Reluctant Hero. They do good stuff.

Despite its name, I sadly can't tell you anything about the quality of the coffee although I have heard from reliable sources who are educated in such matters that it is very good. The other half wanted a beer, which I got id'd ordering, you wouldn't think an up market coffee bar would be the sort of place underage drinkers would try and frequent but then again I don't know the youth of today. I don't even know who or what 'Rizzle Kicks' are. I even had to google that to check I spelt it right.

Anyway the troubles of ordering drinks aside, we turned our attention to the black board and some incredibly tempting sounding sandwiches. The sourdough cheese toastie almost had me, I am a sucker for a proper grilled cheese sandwich but I opted for the Sweet Sausage Spuntino.

Sweet Sausage Spuntino,  £4.25, 9 Bar Coffee, 
With two meaty pork and fennel sausages, slices of buffalo mozzarella and caramelised onions sat between a crispy sour dough bun. I could barely get my mouth around it and the juices oozed all down my sleeves as I hungrily crammed it in with glee. Napkins were requested. However if this was the sweet spuntino, I worry to think what would have happened if I'd ordered the spicy, even this sandwich had a fiery kick to it.

The other half ordered what we thought came as a sandwich but was actually two golden, deep fried rice balls stuffed with a beef ragu and pecorino cheese. To give his balls their proper name they were the Arancini Puguese if you fancy ordering them.

Arancini Puguese, £3.75, 9 Bar Coffee

I'd never tried anything like this before and it was wholly refreshing to see something different on a cafe menu. We ordered the large and although they might not look like much, were very dense and filling so much so that the filling of cheese and ragu was lost amongst all the rice. Unlike the sandwich, they were a little lacking in the meat department but the tomato dipping sauce was sweet and tangy.

Our lunch at 9 Bar Coffee came to just over £12, but if you want a sandwich you can actually fit in a normal sized human mouth they offer smaller options.

Don't go for these though, the foods too good, the prices are reasonable and that's not the 'hipster' way. Stuff your face with a spuntino and leave feeling all the better for it.

9 Bar Coffee, Theatre Royal, 100 Grey Street, Newcastle, 08448 11 21 21. You can see the food menu here.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Review: Slices, Pizza By The Slice, Grainger Market, Newcastle

I work in the centre of town and although I try to be good and organised and bring packed lunches to work with me (most regularly mediocre soup) there are days when I forget/can't be bothered/have no food in the house and if i'm honest want to treat myself to something a little naughty. As I spend about 75% of my day looking and writing about food (the other 25% is spent look at cat videos and cute animals) by lunch time I am inevitably starving and have serious cravings for good food.

I think I can say without any hesitation or doubt that Slices in the Grainger Market is the best food you can buy in town for under £2. Hell, it's some of the best food you can buy in town full stop. It is my regular port of call on forgotten lunch days, the only thing that ever puts me off are how long the queues are.
Slices, Grainger Market - best pizza in town 

You can spot the pizza dough being made freshly in the background, before being topped and popped in the ovens then served fresh by the slice, with usually 3 or 4 flavours on offer.

A couple of summers ago I went travelling around Europe and one of the best things was stumbling along the sea front in Split at some ridiculous time in the morning and being able to pick up huge slices of fresh pizza on the way back to our ridiculously tiny hostel, ditto in peculiar alleyways in Berlin and Budapest. So easy, cheap and tasty. It basically kept me fuelled for a very messy 5 weeks of my life.

Slices, Ham and Mushroom, £1.90

The dough is wonderfully chewy, loaded with plenty of cheese and oregano and a scattering of ham and mushroom - they had sadly just sold the last of the Spicy Sausage and Onion pizza. Plus, it's made by a real life Italian so you know you're going to get the good stuff.

Slices, which is located at the top of Aisle 4, has been established for a while, at least two years  - I used to pick up a slice and take it to the other half as a treat when he was working in Beatdown Records, endlessly filing away second hand obscure 80s hardcore in the windowless back room  - and it has a reputation for the best pizza in town, hence the huge queues. But I've noticed recently that Grainger market is no longer just good for picking up your fruit and veg - a fresh fish and chip stand has opened with tempura prawns and spicy crab noodles (really must try this place out) and the The French Oven serves wonderful looking pies and pastries, plus all sorts of freshly baked bread and colourful macarons.

Street food is everywhere in  London, and it would be amazing to see some of this trickling up to Newcastle, fast, high quality take away lunches from all sorts of cuisines. The Grainger market located right in the centre of town + offering cover so you don't have to queue in the rain is surely the perfect location? It certainly seems the city is wakeing up the potential of decent priced, quality food.

I'll happily fill my face with pizza from Slices, then run up and down the stairs lots at work 'looking busy' to burn off all the calories in the afternoon.