Tuesday, 24 August 2010

24 August 2010 - The Peking, High Street, Dorking

An unintentional comedy nosebag

Where to start? We had planned a pleasant evening at the William IV pub in Albury (www.williamivalbury.com). Their website encouraged us to expect something out of the ordinary with its talk of using 'local produce whenever possible' and 'including sometimes the free-range pork that Giles [Giles Madge - 'your host'] raises himself'. The menu at the pub refers to various breeds of pig, for added interest. Well, the beer was good but the menu was, to say the least, uninspiring - as far as we are concerned. No effort is made to incorporate the rare breeds into the menu - the only pork dishes we could see, both on the list of specials, were 'pork chops' and 'cumberland ring'. Shame. We didn't stay after we'd finished our beer.

So we headed off to Dorking, already later than we wanted, where we knew there would be a few places to choose from.

We walked past the Bali (we've been before - http://oldhorsesnosebagclub.blogspot.com/2009/08/january-2009-bali-5-6-new-parade-london.html) and the Gurkha Kitchen (almost empty). We passed an empty Thai restaurant and came to the Sang Thai and the Peking, which are next to each other. We chose the Peking, as Paul and I had had a Thai meal last weekend. A pity, that.

First impressions were good. Nice tables, a friendly greeting, a moderately priced buffet. The prawn crackers brought to us while we looked over the menu were tasty enough. We happily chose 6 starters (salt & pepper ribs, barbecue ribs, smoked shredded chicken, chicken wings, Mongolian lamb and sesame prawn toast) and three main courses (crispy shredded beef, sea spicy shredded pork and chicken with satay) plus egg fried rice and Singapore noodles. We were ready for it.

OK, maybe we're spoiled. You can tell from some of my previous posts that we have been to some very nice restaurants, but...
  • the smoked shredded chicken was almost cold
  • the chicken wings were overly greasy
  • we had to ask for the barbecue ribs twice
  • the Mongolian lamb, when it eventually arrived, was very fatty with some tough pieces - and had clearly been hanging around as the sauce was cool and thickened
To be fair, the salt & pepper ribs and the prawn toast were fine.

As for the main courses:
  • the crispy shredded beef would have been good had it been warm - or, better, hot - and if the batter had still been crisp
  • the chicken with satay was OK but we were not convinced it had ever seen a peanut
  • the rice was bland at best
On the plus side:
  • the sea spicy shredded pork was very tasty and
  • the Singapore noodles were among the best we've ever had
  • Paul and Lyn's jasmine tea was very good and did not grow bitter. and it was refilled part way through the meal
We also noticed that some of the serving staff were a little on the brusque side.

Still, the comedy service lightened matters. The waitress who almost threw our dishes at us with a mumbled 'Your lamb'. The finger bowl that was taken in passing - and before we had even been served with the missing barbecue ribs! The disintegrating heated towels.

Overall, a patchy performance on all fronts.

Our rating: TWO STARS

PS: The comedy continued on the way home. One of us, who shall remain nameless (Lyn), managed to fiddle with a knob on Paul's seat by the head rest. That would have been OK, except that (i) he was driving and (ii) it made his seat shoot back till his feet struggled to reach the pedals! (Visions of clown cars, doors dropping off etc.)

Peking on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 8 August 2010

EXTRA! EXTRA! Restaurants in la Belle France, no. 2

On our way to Toulouse airport for our flight home, we stayed over first at Najac, then in Toulouse itself.

At Najac, a beautful medieval village (www.najac.com), we stayed  in a Logis (www.logishotels.com/en.html) the Belle Rive (www.lebellerive.com). It was nicely located - our room looked across the river and up the hill at the local chateau.

We ate at the hotel; their menus read extremely well. Stupidly, I didn't make any notes but the food was very good. I do recall that Paul had the Astet Najacois, a local speciality of roasst pork and filet mignon. I had the Boudin au canard - basically, black pudding with duck meat. Both very tasty and beautifully presented.

Finally, for our single night in Toulouse, we ate at Benjamin (found in the trusty Rough Guide to France). Again, not entirely clear now about what we ate, other than that I had the local speciality, cassoulet. The food was good, but the service was rather slow and desultory.

EXTRA! EXTRA! Restaurants in la Belle France, no. 1

Paul and I recently spent a fortnight in France. We are lucky to have friends who are willing to let us use their lovely holiday home in rural France, near Monistrol d'Allier - not far from Le Puy-en-Velay, where the lentils come from.

Monsitrol is a pleasant little town on the pilgrimage route through France to San Sebastian de Compostela in Spain. The main restaurant was, until recently, at a hotel called Les Gorges and, particularly for a French eatery, frankly dire.

Fortunately, it has new owners and (wisely, I think) a new name - Le Pain de Sucre (The Sugarloaf). Even better, the restaurant has been renovated from a dreary, dull room, to a bright and airy one. And, better still, the food on offer is extremely tasty. We visited three times over the two weeks we were there and were never disappointed. They do delicious, thin-crust pizzas and and an excellent €18 menu with 3 courses. Their confit of duck was delicious.

On 20th July, we decided we fancied lunch out. It makes a change from my standard baguette, paté and cheese. :o)

We chose to visit a restaurant we had only recently discovered (despite passing close to it many times) in nearby St Christophe sur Dolaizon; the Auberge du Grand Chemin, run by Julie and Julien Bonfils. They are a charming couple, welcoming and friendly. The food is excellent.

We took a table inside, out of the hot sun, to profit from the €16.50 (four course!) menu. Outside, you get to choose from a selection of salades and other dishes.

After Julie had taken our order - in good English and with a cheerful smile at our attempts a French, Julienpopped out of the kitchen to give us an amuse-bouche in a shot glass. It was made up of mashed Le Puy Lentils, covered in salted Chantilly cream, sprinkled with chopped peanuts. We were, to be honest, dubious, but really enjoyed the tastes.

To start, we had the trout with green lentils and the gratinée of bleu d'Auvergne (a very tasty take on cheese on toast). Next came the cocotte (in this case, a beef stew) and small steak in a green pepper sauce. Delicious. This was followed by fromage blanc (unmatured cheese) with cream and honey. Very nice. Finally, we were treated to an assiette gourmand ("greedy plate") made up of four tiny desserts: maccaron; compote of banana and apple covered in cinnamon crumble; choux buns with Chantilly cream and chocolate sauce; and a blueberry sorbet. I think we must have enjoyed this, because we finished every last morsel.

The cost of two menus, a 50cl carafe of a good house white and two HUGE cafés au lait: €45. Very good value, so far as we are concerned.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

18th June 2010 - Little Dudley House, Dorking

The first proper outing of the Old Horses for some time - Paul, Chris and Lyn painting Dorking red. Well, maybe a deep pink.

Starters: Crab cakes; Ham hock terrine with pear chutney and Mussels with aeoli.

Mains: Sea bream x 2 and Smoked haddock risotto, plus an extra portion of 'Hand Cut Thrice Cooked Chips'.

Desserts: Ice cream and sorbet x 3 (various combinations of Cassis and Apple sorbets and Horlicks, Caramel Ripple, Strawberry  and Vanilla ice creams).

Drinks: Caipirinhas x 3; water.

Cost: £112.75 (inc discretionary 10% service charge).

Everything about this evening was practically perfect. We were greeted at the door and offered the choice of going straight to our table or having a drink at the bar. The building is a delightful mix of the old and the new - though Paul and I were not convinced by the white leather pouffes.

The caipirinhas were excellent - tart and refreshing, with a whole (though cut up) lime in each. And at just the right point, halfway through the drink, we were escorted up to our table. Again, a choice. Did we want to be in the main room or in the Glass Room. We chose the main room - principally because it was a little cool and cloudy. We'll save the Glass Room for a warm, bright day, I think.

Basically, every mouthful of food was excellent. It was well presented and perfectly cooked. The crab cakes were wonderful, the mussels were excellent (Paul tells me - not my thing) and the thrice cooked chips were crisp and delicious. Best of all, the sorbets and ice creams (which were an unplanned indulgence) were just that - indulgent, mouth-watering and a reason in themselves for a return visit.

For us, this restaurant was a real treat. A lovely building, friendly staff who gave excellent service, wonderful food and even enjoyable background music.

Our rating: FIVE STARS

DELAYED ENTRY 3rd June - Cook-Ri, Epsom

(01372 727444 - www.cook-ri.co.uk)

Paul and I (Chris) went for dinner with our friends Alison, Abby and Gemma. It was a little strange - we were the only group in the restaurant. Still, it has only opened fairly recently.

I can't now remember every dish we tried, but some things did stand out.

We were given a complimentary starter - a water puri. It was a small, dish-shaped pastry shell, with pulses and a very liquid sauce inside. The waiter told us to put it all in our mouth and bite. It was a close fit, even for a big mouth like me. But, what a sensation! Crunch, wet, cool, spicy, delicious...

Paul had a duck starter called Haas Ko Choyla, which was very tasty. I had a lamb main course called Himali Masu, which was delicious and tender. We all tried a bit of everything, and it was extremely good.

The service was discreet yet friendly and warm. This restaurant deserves to prosper - go and try it!

Our rating: FOUR STARS

DELAYED ENTRY May 2010 - Singtong Neeyom Thai Restaurant, Halesworth, Sufflok

We spotted this restaurant on our 2009 trip to Southwold, but too late to try it out. So we were keen to go this year. And we were really glad that we did.

We were greeted by a charming man, the husband of the chef. The chef, Piek, is a skilled Thai cook, producing wonderful, truly authentic Thai food. Eating here was almost exactly like eating in a good restaurant in Thailand itself (and we've eaten in quite a few there).

Piek surprised us by telling us that, when she first came to the UK, she worked for a while in Epsom - our home town!

Sadly, we can't now remember precisely which dishes we ordered, but we can say that we really enjoyed them.

Our rating: FIVE STARS

DELAYED ENTRY March 2010 - New Zealand (Various)

On 11th March this year, Paul and I (Chris) celebrated 25 years together. Such a big anniversary seemed to deserve a big holiday to go with it, so we decided to re-visit New Zealand - something we'd talked about for YEARS. On the way we spent three nights in Hong Kong, but we didn't have any extraordinary meals there.

The first noteworthy meal was at Lumberjack's in Owaka (www.catlins-nz.com/lumberjack.html). Paul had chicken in a plum and curry sauce (MUCH nicer than we thought from the description) and I had a rib-eye steak with a stout and garlic sauce. Actually, it was good enough that we happily went back the next night - although, to be honest, the choice is a bit limited in Owaka - when I had venison in a blueberry and red wine sauce, and Paul had lamb. We drank Monteith's beer. All very nice - well cooked and with friendly, efficient service.

Later, in Hokitika, we visited the Priya, an Indian restaurant on Revell Street. We had a mixed starter, followed by Lamb Rogan Josh and Kudai Chicken, with Cobra beer. Delicious food, good service and nice background music.

On our actual anniversary, we were in Arthur's Pass Village, being entertained by the world's only Alpine parrot, the Kea (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMLpPoOeays). It seemed appropriate to eat at a cafe/bar called the Wobbly Kea (www.wobblykea.co.nz) The food was good though not extraordinary of itself (lamb shanks/rib-eye steak) - but they did very good garlic bread and the chips were nice too.

The most entertaining eatery was Sophie's Cafe in Christchurch. We went there for our last meal in New Zealand - brunch, before we headed for the airport. They serve a fine cooked breakfast and delicious milkshakes - so delicious, in fact, that I had to have two: vanilla and caramel. The walls of the cafe are covered with photos of Sophie (and sometimes her partner, Hudson) with celebrity customers. (Many I didn't recognise, so I guess the celebrities in New Zealand, but what do I know?)

I'm not going to bother rating them all, but we had excellent food in New Zealand.

DELAYED ENTRY February 2010 - Blubeckers (various)

During January and February, the Blubeckers chain ran a promotion using scratch cards. Each card entitled the bearer to a discount on the food element of your meal. According to one of the waitresses we spoke to, the discount could be up to 100%, though we rarely did better than 20% - still, that was enough to encourage us to pay them four visits in February.

We went to:-
Gomshall Mill, Guildford
Hampton Court
The Refectory, Godalming

The food was, with only one exception (suitably rectified by the manager), very good. The service was more variable but generally fine. The woman who served us at the Hampton Court restaurant was very competent.

Our favourite of the four restaurants we used was the Refectory at Godalming. A lovely building with bags of character and charm.

Our rating overall: FOUR STARS


For personal reasons, not only have we not been dining out quite as much as usual but there hasn’t been the will to keep the blog up to date. Things are improving now and so I thought it would be good to mention a few things that have happened since the last post. Things probably won't be quite so detailed for these posts.