Just got back from a 2 week stint in the UK -- a week of real vacation in Scotland and then start up week at our venture in Weardale (County Durham).
We started out with a visit to Glasgow, which we'd been to a few years before. We decided to keep fairly low key on the restaurants this time, but did enjoy the new wine bar at Cafe Gandolfi where I had an excellent pasta of crab meat, cilantro, chili and cherry tomatos.
The other meal worth noting was at Stravaigin. This place, which focuses on using high quality Scottish ingredients in internationally influenced dishes, has both a downstairs restaurant and an upstairs, informal cafe bar. Eat in the cafe bar -- it is charming, intimate and you can order off the restaurant menu as well as the cafe one. We took advantage of a 3 course, pre-theatre menu that was offered before 7. My starter was one of the specialties -- a very nice, generous bowl of excellent mussels in a sweet, thai chili sauce. This was followed by a very tasty, large fish cake coated with a crispy breading and some of the best tartar sauce ever. Dessert was some very good cheddar, with housemade oatcakes and a good chutney.
We then spent 3 nights in Plockton, a rather idyllic village across the bridge from Skye (although it rained throughout our trip, a blessing in disguise due to finding out that midges love me very much). Plockton is particularly famous for its locally trapped prawns -- actually langoustines -- which I was able to sample several times during our stay at the very good Plockton Hotel. Great pub, with excellent beers from the Isle of Skye Brewery, including one made with oats as well as barley. While I'd give the cooking there mixed reviews (despite its status as Dining Pub of the Year for Scotland by the Good Pub Guide), the quality of the fish and beef was first rate and we enjoyed several dishes besides the prawns -- notably a delicious smoked fish soup -- very much. Definitely a place worth returning to.
On our way back down to County Durham, we spent one night in Melrose, a pretty town in the Scottish Borders area where we stayed at Burts Hotel. The food here was also quite good and the town was a wealth of great shops and bakeries that allowed us to provision for the week to come with good cheeses, wines, and sausages.
Weardale -- one valley North of Teesdale and Bishop Auckland -- is somewhat limited in chow worthy food and we normally do a lot of cooking and dining with friends who are excellent cooks. But this year, there was a new addition -- which unfortunately I didn't discover until the last day of my stay (my lucky husband gets to enjoy several more weeks).
The Black Bull in Frosterly, which was apparently taken over by new landlords last year, has become the country pub of my dreams. The publican is a real ale fanatic, and offers four cask beers and no fizzy, commercial lagers. All were from tiny, Northern breweries unfamiliar to even my beer geek husband, and were excellent. Also offered was a good farmhouse cider and perry, as well as a few whiskies and a small bar. The pub itself was beautiful and atmospheric, with several coal fires, antiques and the landlord's professional photography. There was also a nice garden. As an added benefit, the whole pub was non-smoking, including its outdoor tables.
The place does morning coffees as well as lunch and dinner. Food is simple but of the highest quality. We went for dinner, which was limited to four choices that were simple, but of the highest quality: that night I had organic pork loin braised in farmhouse cider with a good range of fresh mediterranean-styled vegetables (courgettes, onions, tomatos, olives and separately roasted potatos)and a serving of an excellent game pate. My husband went for a slow cooked shin of beef from a local farm, with good, roasted root vegetagbles. Also on the menu that evening were a fish pie and a vegetarian dish. Desserts included a choice of delicious looking cakes and pastries, and our choice, a selection of ice creams from the well-regarded Doddington Dairy. So not a restaurant masquerading as a pub, but a true pub with very good food. I can't wait to return.
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