Tag Archives: 2014

The Chequers Inn, Froggatt

2014-07-05 14.58.09

It’s quite odd growing up in one part of the country to then live in another part for much longer.  For me, it asks the question of where you really call ‘home’.  Coming back to your place of birth catapults the mind back to friends, experiences, loves lost and won and in my case, many a late night in Sheffield’s Leadmill before heading to Chubbys kebab shop for a high quality protein and carbohydrate based recovery meal.  Those from Sheffield will know what I’m talking about.

Equally, having spent much of those years mountain biking around the Peak District hills, to come back with a road bike and a couple of good friends more than 20 years later in the three days before the Grand Depart Yorkshire for the 2014 Tour de France, was simply thrilling.  Chief route planner Steve plotted some testing routes including the now infamous Holme Moss climb which featured in Stage 2.  Ben from VeloViewer wrote a nice piece about the climb.  The video included is a classic insight into ‘them from Yorkshire’…


Getting the top of Holme Moss that day was a major achievement given the headwinds and driving rain we endured to get there…

2014-07-03 15.03.22

The third day out was a fairly lengthy 70 mile affair taking in the near vertical Winnats Pass (thankfully down not up it), the scenic Hope Valley, Monsal Head and a quick lap of the Chatsworth Estate before heading back to base in Buxton.  Of course, lunch was a mandated stop, so we took advantage of the well-known Chequers Inn at Froggatt and their dessert menu.

Sadly,  the brûlée did not reflect the expectations set by the main course.   The custard was too thick and heavy, perhaps caused by one too many egg yolks; the sugar was grainy not fully caramelised and way too thick; the small ramekin was much too small in relation to the large plate it was served on and was fridge cold rather than room temperature.  That said, the raspberry sorbet was an excellent foil for the rich custard and crushed amaretto biscuits were a nice touch. 4/10.

Zinburger, Durham, North Carolina

2014-06-02 19.31.49

Strictly speaking this shouldn’t make it on to the blog as it wasn’t on the dessert menu and it’s not a crème brûlée, but I’m all for drawing attention to things that made me laugh out loud and prompt swift orders with the waitress…  No need for a long review, simply a photo will cover this rather curious, but tantalising beverage!  I give you the Crème Brûlée shake. 

Front Street Grill at Stillwater, Beaufort, North Carolina

2014-06-01 01.50.35

Like many things in life, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  Sunshine, fine wines, extended family members, sleep…  In my case, two nights in Atlantic Beach means two nights out and the potential risk that two brûlées may need to be consumed. So you can guess what happened next…  

The good news is that Beaufort is a pretty North Carolinian coastal town with plenty of old colonial architecture on Front Street and enough expensive yatchs moored in the harbour to suggest the dining opportunities would be varied and exciting.  You have to remember that this is the USA, so wind powered yatchs were somewhat in short supply which had me worried that we might be subjected to a ‘meat with meat’ menu!  Thankfully not…  

The Front Street Grill in set right on the water front with views out across the harbour, and at sunset it’s a lovely spot to eat.  


Tonight was the night to ‘go proper southern’ with Shrimp and Grits, a first time outing for me, and outstanding it was too…  When the time came for dessert, the ‘rule’ was required to be enforced again, so a Butterscotch Brûlée was requested.  Our waiter proudly told us as an ex-employee of the Crabs Claw, this offering was ‘way better’, and he wasn’t far wrong.  A shallow oval ramekin provided the carriage with a light sugaring to cover.  No surprises here, but the custard proved to be a delight!  It was almost runny in consistency, but the very gentle butterscotch overtones really made it something special, like a Werther’s Original had been slowly melted into the custard.  Unique and quite lovely.   So, the waiter wasn’t wrong, it was better than the Crab’s Claw, and almost one the best simply because of that very light butterscotch undertone.  8/10.

Crabs Claw, Atlantic Beach, North Carolina

2014-05-30 20.54.59

On a recent two week trip to the USA, I found myself being at a loose end over a weekend.  So I took a trip out to the North Carolina coast to Atlantic Beach.  Hurricane Irene caused significant damage when it passed directly through here in 2011 destroying everything in it’s path as only a Category 1 hurricane can do.  This was starkly evident given the state of the pier connected to the hotel which we were told used to be three times as long as it is today.

2014-05-31 19.19.11

As with any road trip, part of the fun is finding good places to eat! And AB was no let down… The sun was shining and after a week of trying to avoid burgers and steaks, I was looking forward to some good seafood. The ever helpful Tripadvisor made some suggestions and reservations were made. Crabs Claw is right on the beach and a ‘steam pot’ with various bits of seafood including a Alaskan crab claw was ordered.

However, you all know the rule about this blog, ‘If it’s on the menu, you have to order it…’.  And tonight’s offering was a coconut crème brûlée no less…!  Now, for me, this was a first: the brûlée arrived unprepared and our waiter ‘torched’ it at the table!  The result meant a little wait as the sugar cooled, but also gave time to check a few things out.  The custard was direct from the fridge, so quite cold, and in fact made it somewhat heavy under the spoon.  It was however smooth with no signs of curdling and the influence of what I assumed was coconut milk was a pleasant Caribbean twist on this classic. The caramelisation was pretty heavy and hadn’t fully formed under the blow torch flame.  That said, it was a simple effort prepared with a little flourish that suited the beach front location and the relaxed service that evening…  5/10.

Gordon’s House, Guildford

2014-05-15 21.52.22

Gordon is a nice Scottish chap.  He’s got a PhD in something I know nothing about.  He’s got two lovely kids roughly the same age as my own.  I first met Gordon and his wife Fiona during National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes shortly before our first children were to enter the world over 10 years ago.  Very sadly, Fiona died following a battle with cancer last year and my only regret is that I didn’t get to know her better during that short period of time, proving that life is precious and you simply can’t waste it…

Gordon is doing an amazing job being a single parent and learning to cope with everything that goes with that.  The NCT boys are doing their level best to be supportive, which usually involves going out for the occasional beer and lending a helping hand when Gordon’s man skills require some additional ‘support’…!

Whilst this post has started on a sombre note, we should talk about the dessert course from our dinner this evening…  I have to note that this is the first ever crème brûlée I’ve eaten from a packet.  A Sainsburys packet at that!  Fair play to Gordon for admitting that he’d ‘messed’ with the original by sprinkling the sugar over the custard long before putting them under the grill for caramelisation… Brûlée herecy no less!  One of the challenges of a good brûlée is in the preparation of the caramelised sugar.  How thick should the sugar be?  What is the best temperature for the custard before you burn the sugar?  What method should be used to caramelise the custard?  Honestly, the list of variables is almost endless… Nonetheless, the infusion of blood orange in the basic custard was refreshing, surprising and proved that sticking to the original recipe of a simple vanilla custard and caramelised sugar is not the path to brûlée enlightenment!  However, next time Gordon, don’t mess with the product!!  6/10.

Grillmarkaðurinn (The Grill Market), Reykjavik

2014-05-13 21.11.50

Iceland is cool.  You know, not just temperature wise.  It has volcanoes.  Wild horses.  Geysers.  Lava fields. Ice.  A lot of daylight, at least in summer.  People.  Buildings.  Etc.  I give you an example; The Perlan.

2014-05-12 22.10.45


And another; The Harpa.

2014-05-12 10.45.57

What was really bizarre and a first for me, was taking an evening flight from London where it was fully dark on departure, to then fly into twilight on arrival at Keflavik Airport at 1am in the morning.  Even when I arrived at my hotel in Reykjavik an hour or so later, it still wasn’t dark.  Living on Iceland with these extremes of daylight and darkness throughout the year must but be pretty tough for the locals…

However, given this was a first time visit to Reykjavik for me, some gastronomic exploring had to be done…  My work mate, Danish Usman, found a fantastic dinner location in central Reykjavik close to the Harpa convention centre. The architecture of The Grill Market was superb with light fittings cut from lava stone and a bathroom washbasin shared with the ladies!  Lets just say it was quite a shock to see a pair of ladies hands appear through the wall as you go to wash your own…

The menu had some outstanding local specialities on it including minke whale and reindeer burgers!  Tonight’s effort was a pretty but small affair with the brûlée presented in a medium depth dish with support from a blackcurrant sorbet, plain chocolate chips, a single blackberry and raspberry and some biscuit crumbles under the sorbet.  Sugaring was light and crisp and the custard was smooth yet quite caramelly, which became a little heavy after a few mouthfuls.  Thankfully, the combination of the sharpness of the sorbet and the sweetness of the custard turned out to be a pleasant combination, and stopped the custard becoming the dominate force in this particular brûlée!  6/10.

il Lamparo, Vilamoura

2014-05-04 22.08.20

Never having been to Portugal before, I was happy when we were able to choose Vilamoura as the location of a major work conference.  Going places that you’ve not been to before makes business travel a pleasure rather than a chore…  And when you have twilight harbour views like this one…

2014-05-04 20.08.32

This particular trip was a busy one where work things occupied most of the waking hours, however given Vilamoura is a tourist location, it’s jammed with decent restaurants particularly around the harbour area.  I certainly plan to come back here on holiday some time soon given the amount of things to do and eat…

Tonight, I was initially unsure whether to break the golden rule and not order the brûlée when on the menu.  On reflection, I felt this could have been the beginning of the end, so followed the ‘rules’ and placed my order.  Thankfully, initial impressions were good.   Shallow dish, freshly cut strawberries and an intricate sugar lattice finishing touch.  I almost burned my figures on dish edge when moving it to photograph, so was concerned the custard would be overly hot rather than room temperature…  Not so!  The caramelisation was firm but not too thick for a , but looked to have bubbled under the heat of melting and caramelised a little.  In the end, nicely crisp without excessive thickness but a little sweet. Custard was vanilla pod flecked and smooth, although again, a little sweet. In the end, could be considered to be slightly heavy overall but that have had something to so with the big plate of Linguigne alla Rosso that went before. Not the best ever, but many high points, especially the presentation touches.  7/10.

On The Rocks, Yarmouth

2014-04-26 21.35.14

Twelve months ago, myself, Mark, Steve and Matt decided to take a Friday off and cycle to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight for dinner and enjoy a couple of beers.  We reviewed Tripadvisor, selected the Harveys B&B as our bed for the night, set Steve on the route planning and looked forward to pedaling for a solid 90+ miles, including the infamous ‘Military Road‘ on the western coast of the IOW.  This year, we decided another trip out to Yarmouth was ‘required training’ for our cycling summer season, hence planned to return to the picturesque port town with a particular focus on having dinner at On The Rocks, Yarmouth’s Black Rock Grill restaurant which we had failed to eat in last year.

The ride from our start point in West Meon went well, including a short ferry ride from Portsmouth to Ryde, before completing our circumnavigation of the Isle.  78 miles later, we arrived in Yarmouth.


Now, you need to understand that On The Rocks is a ‘cook your own dinner on a hot lava stone’ restaurant…  Part of me has issues with paying to eat in restaurant where you, rather than a well-trained chef, cooks your meal.  However, the meat choices are wide and the quality high, so surf and turf and some restorative bottles of wine to help repair the damage of a day in the saddle were ordered.  Of course, conversation drifted to my quest, and I was rewarded by the presence of a brûlée to order.

Initial impressions were that the ramekin was too deep and the custard would be overly heavy as a result.   In fact, it was the exact opposite being light, smooth and at the appropriate room temperature.  The sugaring was also very light and perfectly caramelised, with a lovely side of freshly whipped cream with a simple strawberry and raspberry garnish.  This could be considered to be one of the best ever brûlées…!  A big claim, however it was simply conceived and expertly prepared.  The ‘Rocks’ delivered.  9/10.

Footnote:  I’m always wary of restaurants offering post dinner aperitifs, yet The Rocks insisted on offering some apple schnapps to cleanse our palettes…  I’m not quite sure how we got to this point…

On The Rocks - Yarmouth 2014

DoubleTree RDU Airport, Raleigh, North Carolina

2014-03-29 19.41.56

I’m a bit of fan of Hilton Hotels.  It’s something to do with their attempt to be a home from home when travelling on business.  I’ve stayed in this particular hotel more than any other anywhere else in the world, and I like it.  It’s not the most modern; it’s not in the best location for socialising in downtown Raleigh; the pool is a bit small BUT the staff are genuinely friendly and they try really hard to fix the little things.  I’ll give you example.  Coffee should always be drunk with brown sugar but this is often quite tricky in the USA for reasons I don’t fully understand.  So I mention this point in passing to restaurant manager on one stay.  Four months later I return for a another stay and when picking up my morning Starbucks, he rushes over to tell me he’s put brown sugar on the mandated order list for hotel without prompting…!  Hotels really are defined by their staff – fantastic!

So what about the brûlée?  Well, after suffering through a burned tomato sauce wrapped around some penne pasta and BBQ chicken, to try and recover, the hotel restaurant offered up their interpretation of the classic.  It was presented in a small four inch bowl with a nice depth of custard, perhaps half a teaspoon, and was dressed with a single strawberry a dash of cream.  Despite this being a very tasty recovery from the main course, the sugar coating was granulated, the custard was overly sweet, was slightly curdled rather than being smooth, the cream turned out to be aerosol and the strawberry was very slightly old.   5/10.

Monkey’s East Bar, Düsseldorf

2014-02-19 20.39.08

This week has been a busy one.  Not only have I been stood up for 8+ hours every day for five days working a trade show, but I’ve also enjoyed the pleasure of yet more outstanding German engineering by taking a short trip to Cologne on the S-Bahn (Germany’s super-fast rail service) to visit Music Store, Europe’s largest musical instrument shop.  Five floors of instrument heaven ranging from the simplest recorder to the most complex drum synthesiser.  And a thousand guitars.  Need I say more…

Back to Monkey’s East.  This is a superb Asian restaurant with an easy cool style and staff that ooze that ‘we know we have a cool restaurant so be cool, OK…’.  On offer was crisp, fresh sashimi, sushi and various side dishes including a stupendous Thai Green Curry.  Now, bearing in mind this was a corporate hospitality evening, I was all set for some kind of ice cream based sweet to cater to the mass tastebud, so imagine my surprise when these little teardrops presented themselves…  The photo itself makes me smile.  Just look at how elegant they are.  Simple and beautiful.  The brûlée itself was presented with a light caramelisation, with a subtle hint of coconut adding some colour to a somewhat light custard, which lacked in any significant flavour other than the coconut.  A mediocre effort given the surroundings but the overall presentation helped lift this one up the rankings.  6/10.

Foot note:  Any trip to Düsseldorf is not complete without a visit to the Killepitsch Bar in the Altstädt, so I add this as encouragement…

2014-02-19 22.59.42