Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Lobster Pot – revisited!

I say 'revisited' but the truth of the matter is that I often drive down to Felpham in West Sussex because, as I've probably said before, it's the place where I spent my childhood holidays in the days when the summers were hot and seemingly endless and the perils of adulthood were simply unreal.

I took a drive down there recently and took a look at what appeared to be the new order of the place. It's now a little more 'culinary', a little more 'foody' in its approach – which is a good thing – but it still retains (thank heavens) the caff element during the day, although evidence of it's new 'cheffyness' was everywhere; well, on a couple of blackboards. There was, for example, a seafood weekend being advertised. It's over now and I couldn't get there, but it seemed like a great idea and I'm sure they did well out of it. 

The thing is, the place now opens at night and the prices are pretty much 'up there' in terms of 'posh restaurant' levels. Main courses range from £9.95 to £12.95. Huss served with hand-made chips and sugar snap peas is £9.95, there's talk of 'port reduction'  and crispy fried squid with roasted chorizo and salad. Things are certainly looking up and the blackboards mean that the food is fresh.

If I say so myself, I make a pretty decent cottage pie so when I saw that the Lobster Pot was offering, as a set lunchtime special, home-made cottage pie, well, I just had to dive in and order it. Was it better than mine? To be honest, no, it wasn't. It was nice, but I'd love to put mine up in a head-to-head contest and see who wins.  Also on the lunchtime specials was home-made mushroom soup with crusty bread and something called a lamb and lentil 'ravine', which, I admit, might be an error on my part. What the hell is a lamb and lentil ravine? Should that be 'tagine', perhaps, who knows? 

But look at the other menu items: veal schnitzel, grilled huss fillet, vegetable and puy lentil burgers, whole roasted rainbow trout. The Lobster Pot isn't the Lobster Pot anymore – a quote that might be used in a film entitled The Lobster Pot Story, should such a film ever be made.

Anyway, it's still a great place and the fact that it's open at night makes it even better. I really do want to spend a night there and when I do I'll report back immediately.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

West End Café, Tamworth, Staffordshire

I'd been covering a training course in what amounted to a theme park, very weird. Outside the window everybody was enjoying themselves on roller coasters and assorted scary rides while inside, people stared aimlessly at Nobo boards and ate biscuits. Then, when it was all over, I decided to walk, in a kind of daze, to the railway station, which turned out to be around five miles away.

I knew Tamworth from a previous visit to the Glascote Working Men's Club when I stayed in a hotel in town near the castle. I remember there was a very good army surplus store that sold loads of great things, like camouflage trousers and silly hats, but I had my eye on the West End Café, which I'd seen on my previous visit but hadn't bothered taking a look.

Today was different. I had a bit of time to spare – or rather, time wasn't an issue – so I bowled in to what was an empty restaurant and ordered a pot of tea for £1.20. Once again, I didn't stop for something to eat as I'd been stuffing my face with Digestives all morning.

The West End was a great place and the food looked excellent. There was a specials board (always a good sign) offering dishes like braised steak and onions (£6.95); Madras curry and chilli con carne were both £5.95 and traditional ham, egg and chips (with peas) was a healthy £3.95. A caff wouldn't be a caff if it didn't offer a Full English and the West End delivered with a £3.99 brekkie. There was a home-made turkey, ham and mushroom pie served with chips and peas (£5.95), a big breakfast (which I can only assume is bigger than the full English, cost £5.95. This consisted of three rashers of bacon, two sausages,  two eggs, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, chips, toast and fried bread – all for £5.49, cheaper than the Full English and probably bigger. The daily roast bap of the day was only £1.50 and there was a wide variety of fish dishes, grills, jacket potatoes, sandwiches, burgers and baguettes on offer too.

A dessert menu offered traditional favourites like apple pie and jam roly poly (both £2.50).

The West End has it's own website, click here for details, and it's open between 10am and 4pm on a Sunday too.

Riverside Cottage Café, Lynmouth, Devon.

The Riverside Cottage caff was okay, but I kind of regretted ordering a huge pasty, chips and beans (£5.50). I don't know why, it just seemed so stodgy and unnecessary when a plain old ham sandwich would have sufficed.

Anyway, no point crying over spilt milk – or spilt pasty and beans in this case. Actually, I ate the lot but the caff lacked a cosy atmosphere and turned out to be a hotel, built on the banks of the river Lyn. My wife ordered a jacket potato with tuna (£5.75), which I should have ordered, and my daughter enjoyed a hot soup, roll and butter (£3.75).

The food was fine, the staff were friendly but I think it was something to do with Lynmouth that put me off a bit. I didn't like the place for some reason.

Having said that, the hotel element of the Riverside Cottage looks quite impressive, check out the pictures of the rooms on the hotel's website by clicking here.

Caff in a garden centre (Knight's in Warlingham)

If you want a cosy teashop type of experience, go to Knight's Garden Centre and visit the Pantry. It's just on the other side of a display unit that sells loads of cosy stuff, like jams and preserves and bricks of fruit cake and, like the whole gardening thing, its a cosy sort of place.

Personally, I can't stand gardening. Actually, let me make that clearer; I don't mind mowing the lawn and sweeping up, but I hate weeding and having to pull things out of the ground, like unwanted saplings with hefty roots
Weeding is the worst, though, it's that whole King Canute thing and trying to hold back the tide. Take out some weeds and they'll be back next week; it is, quite simply, a good illustration of what I like to call 'the futility of gardening'.

Still, The Pantry at Knight's is great and it recently won a Gold Award in Surrey County Council's Eat Out, Eat Well Awards. What's more, there's a Curry Day every Tuesday.

On this occasion, however, it was a cup of tea and half a bag of crisps.

The S&M Café in Long Acre, London

My cottage pie, peas and red onion gravy
After a meeting in the Smithfield area of London, I wandered aimlessly along Long Acre wondering whether to simply get back home or stop somewhere for a spot of lunch. I decided on the former as I found the S&M Café just sitting there on the sidewalk.

I'd heard of this place before, having once worked in Islington, on the Green, where a great little caff, known as Alfredo's, was turned into the first ever S&M Café. There were all the obvious jokes about bondage and stuff but it turned out that S&M stands for 'sausage and mash'. Or that's what I recall from when I went into the Islington outlet.

My bill was a reasonable £10.30.
Anyway, now it seems as if they have more than one outlet AND their own website (click here).

The Long Acre S&M Café was excellent. It was long and shady and there were gingham tablecloths and everything you might expect from a 'caff'. My order was for cottage pie and peas with the house red onion gravy, plus a mug of tea. For some reason, the waitress wrote the word 'lover' on my bill.