Sunday, 27 November 2016

The Wensleydale Heifer Main Street West Witton 26th November 2016

On their website The Wensleydale Heifer describes itself, as a boutique hotel and restaurant, in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.   We chose to meet up with friends for dinner there, as an early Christmas celebration, as we live so far apart and were all busy over the festive period.   The Wensleydale Heifer caters for many dietary requirements, including vegans, with a full menu offered.   I have dined at many similar places, one being a fabulous experience only two days prior to our visit, so my expectations were high.

I made an enquiry as to vegan wines and had a lovely email back from Emily on Reception, listing all the suitable ones, after contacting their wine supplier.   I also did my own research and found a few more to add to the list, so I had a good choice.

On arrival I was a little underwhelmed, the frontage did not shout luxury, but country pub and the inside, though cosy was country cottage rather than boutique hotel.

The rooms are themed, so we were in The Four Poster, a little small, but with a large bathroom, tea and coffee making facilities, two apples, bottles of Wensleydale bottled water and a small decanter of sherry, but at £200 for the night, I would not expect anything less.

Our friends suggested we have lunch, so met up in the lounge for a drink and placed our order.  We were shown into the bar area, so our friends two well behaved dogs could be accommodated and were brought bread, houmous and some balsamic oil for me, as for some strange reason, the houmous was not vegan.   I ordered an excellent Delas Vigonier, which was a perfect lunchtime wine.

The vegan main courses were pricey at £15.50, so when my Indian pakora with sweet chilli and cucumber salad arrived, I was disappointed, it was a starter kind of dish, not a main course.   The pakoras were tasty, but the dish did not warrant the price tag.   Steven's vegan Thai curry, was a more complete meal, as can be seen from the photos, served with a jug of extra sauce, so I pinched some of his rice.

Our friends commented, that it was like sitting in the staff canteen though, as members of staff sat at the bar drinking, or wandering in for a chat, or with a box of vegetables for another, so rather distracting.

When we returned to our room, we found complimentary goodies, what a shame there was nothing for me, a little lacking in attention to detail, but I had my apple I suppose.

Our dinner reservation was 20.30 pm so arrived at 19.30 pm for drinks, but as 20.00 pm came and went, no sign of our dinner order being taken.   At 20.40 pm, by which time food and wine orders had been taken, we enquired and were told diners were still sitting on our table.   By 21.00 pm we were getting impatient, finally sitting down at 21.10 pm, on what was the worst table, slap bang in between the two kitchen doors either side, with one door slightly screened off.   It was apparent they were rammed, so even if we had asked to be moved, where to.   There was a constant stream of staff either entering the kitchen, by kicking the door if carrying things or leaving the kitchen with plates of food.   We sat for ten minutes, wondering where our wine and water was and our waiter seemed oblivious we had ordered either and went away to investigate, returned and found our wine on the table across from us, hidden behind a pile of pots and glasses.

Finally we had a glass of wine to chill and relax, one I sampled last month in Ambleside, Mezzacorona Castel Firmian Pinot Grigio, highly recommended if you see it on a list anywhere.

We were brought bread, houmous and four complimentary nibbles, unsuitable for me, until two small pieces of melon and two slices of strawberry arrived in a bowl, how creative!

So onto starters, a roast tomato, pepper and fennel soup with extra virgin olive oil, very nice it was too, but at £8.50 probably the most expensive soup I have eaten.

I ordered a Delas Cote de Rhone wine to accompany the mains, mine being wild mushroom, spinach and truffle risotto, with crispy shallots and dressed rocket, which arrived at nearly 22.00 pm, with apologies from the kitchen.   It was a more robust dish than lunchtime and I was asked for feedback, as it was a new addition to the vegan menu, so I did.   Unfortunately the lack of mushroom and truffle flavour was astounding, yet the rice was perfectly cooked, the dish well seasoned, so I thought my taste buds were playing games, so Steven tried it and agreed.   Interestingly both Steven and one friend had dishes with truffle on, both saying it was overpowering, maybe they got mine.

It was nearly 22.30 pm by this time and we were past wanting desserts, so we had a quick drink in the bar and retired to bed.   However dessert was sorbets or delicious sounding caramelised banana and pineapple, toasted coconut and rum syrup.

Breakfast the following morning, was much more relaxing, a better table and not as frenetic, with a good selection of cereals, fruits, juices and smoothies to start.   I kicked off with fruits, nuts and seeds and then an excellent bowl of porridge, served with golden syrup and lovely coffee.

When it came to ordering hot breakfast, in my case fried potatoes, mushrooms and tomatoes, the waitress assured me it would be cooked separately in olive oil, which I thought was attention to detail.   The breakfast was really nice and I could have eaten the potatoes twice over, would have been great with my pakoras, they were wonderful.

I am in two minds about The Wensleydale Heifer, they understand a vegan diet and offer a nice vegan menu, however I feel that it is overpriced, as did Steven and our friends.   One thing I cannot fault though is the staff, who were polite, welcoming and helpful, although under pressure I think that night.

I dine out regularly, be it fine dining or coffee and cake and everything in between and feel The Wensleydale Heifer is charging fine dining prices, in a pub atmosphere.   It has a big following, apparent by how busy it was, its Tripadvisor reviews and is in an area, devoid of much competition, so gets away with top end pricing.   If visiting the area again and wanting a fine dining experience, I would be heading off to the Michelin starred Yorke Arms at Ramsgill.   Would I return to The Wensleydale Heifer, well sadly the answer would be no.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Three Fishes Mitton Road Mitton 24th November 2016

The Three Fishes, part of the Ribble Valley Inns Group, has a vegan menu, so if I want to pop in for lunch or dinner, it is great to be able to just turn up, so have visited several times this year already.

I visited last night, after Head Chef Ian Moss, suggested making a one off vegan version of the Mushroom Wellington, currently on their main menu, I hope this will be on the vegan menu, if you read on, you will see why.

I had a refreshing Aperol and soda on arrival, my drink of the moment, I love it.   Ian came out for a chat and said he had to consciously think of something else, instead of topping potatoes or vegetables with butter or a vegan replacement for egg wash.   I take it for granted I suppose, but after years of classical training, I can understand that chefs faced with vegan requirements can find it challenging, as they are out their comfort zone.   However Ian is so enthusiastic about all food, had obviously researched alternatives and his efforts when the dish appeared, was more than apparent.

I started the meal with roast tomato soup, served without bread for two reasons, my soya allergy is an issue and their bread contains it, apart from their flat bread, but I was conscious of being too full and unable to do justice to the Wellington.

The tomato soup is an excellent starter, light, comforting and full of flavour, with a grind of pepper, I was a happy vegan and looking forward to mains.

When the main course arrived, just looking at the dish, brought a big smile to my face, it looked stunning and beautifully presented.   The Wellington was packed with mushrooms and spinach, accompanied with perfectly cooked cabbage, not the soggy mess like my mum used to make.   The potatoes, not sure of the type, were some of the best new potatoes I have eaten in ages.   I know Ian had reservations about the Diane sauce, normally made with cream, but his version with coconut milk, was delicious, he had no need to worry.   I personally think a thicker cream sauce, would detract from the star of the show, the Wellington, but the vegan version was spot on, they made a perfect marriage.

The dish was the best vegan Wellington I have eaten, in fact I would go so far as to say, it was on one of the best dishes I have eaten in a long time.   Steven managed to pinch a forkful and agreed with me, saying he would be more than happy to order it himself, it was that good.   I was too full for dessert, although mango sorbet or apple crumble with coconut custard, was on offer, but I was replete, as can be seen from my plate.

I would love to see this dish on the vegan menu, in fact I would suggest they use this rendition on the main menu, as it appeals to vegans, vegetarians or diners who just fancy something different and makes a fabulous Sunday lunch dish.   It is a robust, warming and comforting dish and knocks into a cocked hat, the vision of bland, boring vegan food, not a chance.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Coconut Ginger & Chilli Pancakes

I saw this recipe by Gunpowder Kitchen, in The Times and thought it would be great for Sunday brunch.   I was missing some ingredients, so the recipe is slightly tweaked, using all chickpea flour and oat cream instead of yogurt.

110 g chickpea flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp turmeric
125 g oat cream
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 red chilli chopped
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper

Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and turmeric, in a mixing bowl.

Whisk the cream and water together and stir into the dry ingredients, until you have a smooth batter, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and drop a ladle spoon of batter into the pan, then sprinkle with coconut, ginger and chilli and cook until bubbles form on the surface and the edges can be lifted with a spatula.   Flip the pancake over and cook until both sides are golden brown.

I always find that the first pancake is always a little messy, think it is something to do with the heat of the pan, but as you cook more they do turn out better.

I served the pancakes sprinkled with more coconut and an avocado, tomato and chilli salsa, but tomato or mango chutney would be good too.

Monday, 14 November 2016

The Deaf Institute Grosvenor Street Manchester 13th November 3016

As the name suggests The Deaf Institute was just that, built in 1878, but these days is an independent venue, spread over three floors, with a bar, restaurant and music hall.   I was dying to try their Sunday Vegan Hangover, a perfect end to a day spent exploring the Makers Market in the Northern Quarter.

The Deaf Institute is just off Oxford Road, in the University campus area, so I was expecting to feel a bit of a dinosaur customer, but to be honest age is irrevelant, its a cool, eclectic kind of place and I loved it.   The lighting was spot on for my liking, I hate anywhere with bright atmospheric killing lights, so my photos are not as clear as I would like, but hope they give an idea of both the place and food.

I have been following vegan chef Charlie Hadley on Twitter and although The Deaf Institute is a not a vegan establishment, she has introduced a huge selection of vegan dishes and it gives me comfort being catered for by a fellow vegan.   I caught up with Charlie for a brief chat prior to our meal, it was great to finally meet and I loved her enthusiasm for cooking and all things vegan.

I had an Aperol and soda to start, then with our meal a large glass of vegan friendly Vina Arroba Rosado, confirmed online at Stockport based Smithfield Wines who have a vegan search filter.

Steven ordered the vegan roast of the day and I opted for the seitan burger, but it was a hard decision to make, based on what was on offer.

The roast dinner was huge and would cure any hangover and with complimentary Mac 'n Cheese alongside (the best ever in our opinion), I had to help Steven out, as I demolished my burger.   The main courses were excellent and dismissed the image of vegan food being insipid, bland or boring, just a shame my photos did not do justice to the food, but we were impressed.

We shared both desserts, a chocolate brownie bowl, very much like a chocolate fondant, with soft Italian baby meringues and an ice-cream parlour bowl.   They were lush and far flung from boring fruit salad or fruit platter, which sadly can be the norm.

Overall we loved our experience from the warm welcome off Kate and Poppy, who did a wonderful job looking after us, the quirky venue, to the wonderful food created by Charlie.   They are hoping to increase their vegan options (wonder what else Charlie has in mind) and currently have vegan options on their Christmas party menu, which would appeal to groups and works outings, where vegans are sometimes an after thought, but not here.

I highly recommend The Deaf Institute, we are so lucky to have places like this, wish I had somewhere like this to go to, back in the day.

As Happycow Ambassador for Manchester it is great to see The Deaf Institute listed click here.