Hickory’s Smokehouse, Chester

Well here’s a thing. How about sitting by the river, drinking in the local vibe and enjoying some scrumptious food to boot? If that appeals, then I advise you to head for Hickory’s Smokehouse sat on the banks of the serene River Dee in historic Chester.

So, new to the city and feeling hungry, I left my hotel and followed the signs down to the river, and duly discovered Hickory’s. And for a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing with young and old alike; which is always a good sign methinks.

The menu is varied, interesting and quite frankly – very appetising. Yeah they have ribs, pulled pork (of course), Texas Style Brisket, steaks, skewers, waffles, burgers and if you’re feeling really hungry – the truly awesome Smokehouse Platter. This dish cleverly enables you to try all their classics in one go. I however, went for the XXXL burger.

Inside the 2 creaking halves of your burger bun (skewered to keep everything together), you will find the following: 2 burgers, pulled pork, streaky bacon, gherkins, cajun onion rings, lettuce, tomato, their rather tasty house sauce and American cheese. This fullsome tribute to some kind of American culinary dream is accompanied by fries served in a mug and their very own coleslaw. This of course can be washed down with a refreshing chilled beer. Perfect.

Not content with dinner, I returned the following morning for breakfast and swerved around the usual temptation to go for the full English (I was still full from the night before), and choose instead the pancakes. Not just any pancakes though, but the Hickory Pancake Stack complete with Blueberry compote and cream.

This comes with a pot of maple sauce, the contents of which I used to saturate and envelop my pancakes with a sweet, sticky sheen. Anyway, the result was absolute deliciousness, and since they are served all day, there is no excuse not to try them. Of course you can always come back later and go for the lunch menu which advertises 2 courses for £10.

So, if haven’t cottoned on yet, I’m recommending you come here when you’re next in Chester, or anywhere nearby for that matter. The location is great and the staff are real friendly too, which all adds up to a winning combination. Great for the food scene and great for Chester.

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Psalter’s Restaurant @ The Luttrell Arms

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The Luttrell Arms Hotel is situated in Dunster, a rather splendid medieval village in beautiful West Somerset. Enclosed within the ancient walls of this 15th century hostelry, is the Psalter’s Restaurant. I was invited to stay at the Luttrell by Head Chef Barrie Tucker, with a view to trying out the culinary offering. Barrie, locally born, is very much at the helm of the brigade of chefs there, and is the driving force behind the food on offer.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon, after a not so long drive from North Devon, and was immediately impressed by the professional, courteous manner of the staff. I was at once ushered to my room, interestingly called Rodney (he wasn’t in there thankfully), and I soon found myself relaxing within my sumptuous and spacious surroundings.

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My accommodation was supremely comfortable, with a vast queen size bed, sofa, reading chair, writing desk (how thoughtful), TV, and of course a lovely, modern en suite bathroom. I would say that Rodney was a mixture of modern decoration and antique style; and jolly nice it was too. I felt like an absolute king peering out of my second storey window over the historic Yarn Market below.

Having earlier spent some time unwinding in the bar – not far from the fire, I navigated my way eventually to the Psalter’s Restaurant, whereupon I was ushered to my cosy corner table. The menu was most definitely stimulating, offering a really good choice of varied and appetizing dishes.

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Not wishing for the grass to grow under one’s proverbial feet so to speak, I quickly selected the wine for the night, which of course is the altogether superb Malbec – having an ‘explosive red berry nose with chocolate and soft vanilla notes.’ Sounds like a meal all by itself…

Now for the food. I opted for the Pheasant and Cranberry Terrine, followed by Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce. The terrine was beautifully presented and prepared, resembling a work of art. It really looked fabulous on the plate, and tasted equally delicious too. I considered this a perfect way to begin the evening, and I couldn’t wait for the next course.

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The Roast Rump of Beef with Pepper sauce arrived shortly after. The beef was rare, and I’m not sure that there was a choice with this, but either way, the two slices of beef draped across my very stylish graphite colour plate were melt in the mouth delicious. The attendant pepper sauce, with a hint of sweetness, was quite unlike anything I had ever tried before and extremely moreish.

Keeping the beef company on the plate were spinach, wild mushrooms and fondant potatoes. A very tasty, balanced and mouth-watering offering. All the while, this was being washed down with my ‘Hefty, deep fruited’ Malbec, making this a somewhat enjoyable experience.

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My dessert choice for the night was Treacle Tart with Lemon Curd and Lemon Curd Ice Cream. This was not as overpowering as it sounds, but was in fact a delicately balanced finish to a wonderful evening. When you’re cooking at this level, it’s not always about strong flavours but something a bit more subtle.

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The next morning, on the way to breakfast, I checked out the terrace overlooking the compact courtyard, which in turn leads out to the lovely Secret Garden overlooking the grounds of Dunster Castle. In warmer weather, this would be a marvelous place to eat and drink. I eventually exited the Luttrell arms after an immensely satisfying Full English Breakfast, containing hog’s pudding and potato cake. I think anyone who stays at the Luttrell will honestly have little to complain about, and will find it a very refreshing break.

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6 Amazing things to do in Delhi, India!

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Lodhi Gardens

Delhi, with a population of more than of 25 million, is one of the mega cities of South Asia. And if you haven’t been yet, then you really should go. I’ve flown into the nation’s capital more times than I can remember, and yet it still retains a certain magnetism for me. Delhi is an ideal place to start your exploration of India, because there are so many other places within relatively easy reach. However, before you start trekking the length and breadth of India, stay a few days in the city and see what it has to offer.

Probably the best way of seeing the sights of Delhi is to either take a bus tour or hire a taxi for the day. There are plenty of agencies around the city catering for tourists that can offer you both. If you go for the taxi option, agree the fare for day before you leave and pay the agency. Alternatively, you could shell out a bit extra and book a tour online: https://www.getyourguide.co.uk/new-delhi-l231/delhi-private-full-day-sightseeing-tour-t2619/

However, here’s my recommended ‘must see’ list. I hope you find it helpful

  1. Rashtrapati Bhavan

The Rashtrapati Bhavan, otherwise known as the Presidential House, was designed by the renowned British architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens in the early 20th century. Built originally for the Viceroy, it now houses the President of India. Built from red and cream sandstone, it is striking in it’s appearance and makes a good starting point for your tour. Bordered by government offices on either side of Rajpath, you can simply view the Rashtrapati Bhavan through the black iron gates, and the tall Jaipur Column that stands sentinel in the foreground. Or, you can arrange to explore the presidential buildings, grounds and gardens by visiting: https://presidentofindia.gov.in/rbvisit/rbvisit.aspx

  1. Qutub Minar

The construction of this red sandstone tower was completed in 1193 by the Delhi’s first Muslim ruler, Qutb-ud-din Aibak. It was built to commemorate his military victories, and standing at 73 m it is definitely worth a look-see. Once upon a time you could actually go inside and climb to the top, but when a stampede killed 45 people inside the tower during a power failure in 1981, it was closed to the public. Continued fears for public safety have kept the interior closed to this day because of the sheer height of the tower.

But you can still experience it’s impressive dimensions, and marvel at this neck craning piece of ancient architecture at ground level. With some interesting ruins and delightful gardens to explore, it’s definitely worth asking your driver to apply the handbrake. Don’t forget to call into the government emporiums during your tour to pick up those all important quality souvenirs, although you will buy cheaper from street vendors.

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Rashtrapati Bhavan
  1. Lal Qila

Lal Qila, the Red Fort, was completed in 1648 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, in what is now called Old Delhi. This same emperor commissioned the Taj Mahal at Agra in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz. You cannot fail to be impressed by its lofty sandstone walls and battlements, which stand as mute testimony to the ruling Muslim dynasty across Northern India at that time. Accessible from Netaji Subhash Marg, the road running past the front entrance, the fort sits on the banks of the Yamuna River to the rear.

Worthy of your exploration, you can easily while away an hour or two roaming around the museums and fort grounds. Visit http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/231 for more info. Be aware that every tourist hot spot tends to attract a myriad of street sellers flogging every souvenir conceivable. If you are not interested, just say no or if you like, then barter!

  1. The Lotus Temple

The Bahá’í House of worship is built in the shape of a lotus flower, and was opened in 1986. Whether you’re a follower of the Bahá’í faith or not, you will find the cool interior to be a restful haven of peace and quiet from the heat, noise and bustle of Delhi. The temple is set within manicured lawns and surrounded by nine serene pools of water. Be careful in the crowds outside temple though, as pickpockets can operate in the vicinity. Keep your hands on your bags and possessions to be safe.

  1. Lodhi Garden

Lodhi Garden, east of Nehru Park and located in the south of Delhi, is one of the green lungs of the city. If you want to get away from it all, and that’s only a matter of time, then this is the place to go. Romantic couples can be seen walking or sitting together on the grass, whilst others amble through and just enjoy the natural beauty around them. A wide bridge spans the lake there, and paved walkways invite you to delve deeper into this green oasis. The verdant seclusion in the heart of the city, provides peace and tranquillity and a welcome relief from the urban sprawl of Delhi. It’s very historic too as the gardens contain tombs dating back to the Sayyid and Lodhi Muslim dynasties of the 15th and 16th centuries, otherwise known as the Delhi Sultanate.

  1. India Gate

Built to commemorate the sacrifice that Indian troops made in WW1, it looks like an Asian version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but on a smaller scale. Also designed and built by Lutyens, it is situated at the end of Rajpath and looks towards the Rashtrapati Bhavan at the far end. Flanked by the Children’s Park and the August Kranti Maidan on either side, it is a natural meeting point and a great place to gather socially. Here you will find Indian friends, couples and families coming to relax, chill out, get an ice cream or maybe indulge in some tasty street food. Again beware, as it tends to attract every street hawker imaginable, but it is a great photo opportunity and not to be missed.

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Near to India Gate

Shakespeare Outside…?

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Now we all like a bit of Shakespeare, don’t we? Well, what about some Shakespeare outside then? That is exactly what you’ll get if you turn up at Shakespeare’s birthplace in super Stratford-upon-Avon, and wander through to the enclosed garden and courtyard at the rear of the property. Just call out your favourite play by the legendary bard, and the two or three assembled Shakespearean actors, suitably attired in period costume, will enact a pithy scene for your listening and viewing pleasure.

These guys (and girls), are real pro’s. Making it look so effortless and easy, the impromptu audience are lavishly entertained with scenes from ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – and everything in between. To be quite honest, I could have sat there all day and lapped up this eloquent street theatre (or courtyard theatre if you want to be pedantic), and that would have constituted a perfectly acceptable day out, with time well spent.

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Give my regards to Broadway!

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Nestling on the western edge of the Cotswolds, Broadway is a must-visit destination if you are in the area. Why? Because it’s beautiful, and it simply oozes English village charm. In fact, it’s almost too perfect and too twee for its own good, but I just love it. It’s got lots of those lovely, unique kind of shops that magnetically draw you inside, inviting you to part with large sums of money for no real good reason at all – except for pure self-indulgence of course.

We came across a chocolate shop, a sweetie shop (selling a seemingly endless variety of sweets), and a lovely wine and gin store tucked away up a side street. A visit here was required of course, and after much chat with a chap called Dan around various drink related topics, we succumbed to the temptation to sample some of the shops wares. The whole experience proved to be immensely satisfying.

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Broadway is a little gem, of that there is no doubt. One look inside the estate agent’s window will solidly conform this fact. So if you should find yourself meandering towards Stratford-upon-Avon, as we were, I would encourage you to pop in and have a jolly good look around. You are bound to find something that takes your fancy!

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To be or not to be, that is the question…

I am of course headed for delightful Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare. If you’re somewhat confused by the picture above, that is merely my geographical locator at this present time (Taunton Deane Services Northbound).

I was in Stratford less than three months ago, but I have to say that I am very pleased to be returning so soon. With me are three travelling companions, and I am sure we are going to have a blast. I’ll keep you posted!

On track for the exotic

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John Raby is on the Howrah Mail, one of India’s most iconic trains. During his six-hour train journey, he meets genial Ravi from Kolkata, attempts to order lunch from the Telegu-speaking pantry wallah and encounters a slightly annoying railway official

I’m sat on a train going to Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh; the Howrah Mail to be precise. I boarded this morning and will get off in six hours time, but this train actually left Chennai yesterday and will ultimately travel the 1040 miles to Kolkata, arriving early tomorrow morning…

Read the rest of this published travel feature here at the Western Morning News

 

FIVE OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN DELHI FROM AN INDIA EXPERT

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Delhi, with a population of more than 25 million, is one of the mega-cities of South Asia. And if you haven’t been yet, then you really should go. Delhi is an ideal place to start your exploration of India because there are so many other places within relatively easy reach. However, before you start trekking the length and breadth of India, stay a few days in the city and see what it has to offer…

Read the rest of this article on Travioor.

Gokarna.

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Hindu Pagoda Temple, Kathmandu Valley

As much as I love the fascinating city of Kathmandu in Nepal, I wanted to get out of the urban maze and explore some of the surrounding natural beauty. Somehow, I had heard about Gokarna Forest and my interest was aroused. Arrangements were made and transport was laid on.

I remember that day well. June in Nepal was uncomfortably hot and beads of sweat were running down my forehead aplenty. Upon arrival at Gokarna, we stopped off to inspect the temple dedicated to a popular Hindu deity, Ganesh. Pausing only briefly, we began our ascent of the leafy hills of Gokarna Forest, leaving the noise of Kathmandu in the valley far below us.

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Kathmandu Valley
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Through the trees

The pre-monsoon heat and humidity made for a sweaty hike up through the woods, as the sun climbed high above us and reached its zenith. Looking across the valley, the outskirts of the city were sharply defined in the intense midday glare. The earth was dry and baked hard from weeks of relentless calefaction. We continued on unabated, moving through patches of shade and light and absorbing the grandeur of the forest around us.

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Baked earth

We didn’t talk much, but in the midst of the peace and quiet, the natural world was constantly proclaiming its magnificence. Mesmerisingly beautiful and enchanting, I just couldn’t put my camera down. Every step seemed to present countless, breathtaking landscapes worthy of capture.

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Grassy Knoll
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Nearing the top…

Having now returned from the summit and the panoramic views afforded by our lofty aspect, we made the return journey. Through the course of our descent, we met a couple of friendly locals and enjoyed that typical Nepali warmth and welcome. This land of the Himalaya, of stunning vistas and superlatives, is also a nation with a big heart and open arms.

6 Hours on a train.

 

I’m sat on a train going to Srikakulam. I’m on the Howrah Mail to be precise, which has been travelling since yesterday sometime and it is proving to be a very acceptable mode of transport. I love journeys and I love train journeys especially. I think it is the excitement in part of going somewhere new.

Rushing by are the wet rice paddies, countless Palm and Coconut trees and well, life. I’m sat in the compartment with two Indian gentlemen. One is quite chatty, the other, not so. Maybe it’s the language barrier. This is a Telugu speaking area and some speak English and others do not. I guess it’s easy for us English speaking folk. We never have to worry much about language, wherever we go in the world.

There is something truly comforting about the gentle rock of the train carriage as it speeds along. I’ve had some of my best nights sleep on Indian trains. And now I am beginning to feel hungry. Food will arrive shortly no doubt. Already the Chai wallahs are plying their trade up and down the carriage, announcing their approach with vociferous cries of ‘chai coffee!’

The quiet chap opposite, wearing a rather loud purple, green and blue striped shirt that would be hard to ignore anywhere, is really tucking into his food which is making things worse. But at just the right time, the Indian Railways food guy turns up. However, I’m trying to order lunch without much success as the Indian Railways food guy speaks zero English. Not good, because I speak virtually zero Telugu.

Luckily for me, talkative guy rouses from his slumber in the bunk above me and comes to my aid. Now surprisingly, quiet guy sat opposite also gets involved helpfully confirming what time I will be getting down from the train for Srikakulam. After several exchanges between the four of us, I think I’ve ordered a vegetable curry with rice and roti. Well, we shall see what arrives.

My journey through South India has been quite a ride. It began its life at Hyderabad which was a good starting point. There was nothing bad about Hyderabad , only good. Hyderabad is a vast seething metropolis of more than eight million souls. It’s quite a sight as you gaze out over endless urban conurbation stretching as far as the eye can see.

The landscape outside my train window has already started to alter. Rice paddies have all but disappeared, replaced with fields, trees and hills in the distance. Palm fruit trees and swathes of coconut trees still regularly appear.

Quiet guy opposite is now in a prone position, sleeping and snoring contentedly after his lunch, whilst I am now struggling to concentrate  because of that very same noise. A young man from the Indian Railways turns up and sprays the carriage floor with a curious yellow liquid and proceeds to mop. Disinfectant I guess. Our compartment smells sweeter and fresher momentarily.

The train crosses a dry river bed, save for a small water course nestling in the bottom. There is something quintessentially Indian about trains crossing river beds. The rhythmic clang and clatter reverberating around the iron framework as the in-numerous carriages roll at speed across the span of the river bed below.

Meanwhile a stand of banana trees pass by outside and yet another Indian Railways official turns up checking on the cleanliness of the carriage. I have to sign a form, give my ticket number and seat reservation. He disappears but then quickly reappears to question something about the phone number I have just given him. I can’t completely understand what he’s going on about but talkative guy above me comes to my rescue again and basically tells him to stop bothering me. He goes again.

Numerous food and drink wallahs continue to ply their trade and I really want to try the tomato soup and croutons but I am nervous. I’ve learnt that food and drink can be drugged and once you’re unconscious, they come back and rob you. Not wanting to wake up in just my underpants with all my worldly possessions gone, I decide to resist.

We’ve crossed another bridge, and down below on the river bank, the Dhobi wallahs are hard at work washing what looks like bed sheets or saris and laying them out to dry in the sun. That looks like a nice job.

More impressive hills are gliding past us outside, amid the serene and beautiful landscape. Verdant and lush vegetation dominate, and being monsoon season, a cool, grey gloom pervades. In fact it looks a bit too gloomy but that is part and parcel of this time of year. I have been to India many times and I wouldn’t normally choose to come in July, but I have been invited to a wedding and so here I am. Great reason to break the habit of a lifetime.

Some of the other train passengers are chatting amongst themselves, in what I presume is Telugu but it could also be Tamil as this train began its slow trek north in the City of Chennai, on the Coromandel Coast. I’m feeling really hungry now and kind of wanting the tomato soup wallah to reappear or at least the vegetable curry I ordered earlier. Quiet guy is now snoring loudly.

A quick shower of rain appears outside but ends as quickly as it began. We cross yet another river bridge, an old rusty one by the looks of it. Palm fruit trees stand sentinel over the fields below. We’re in the middle of nowhere but the train is slowing to a stop, which can mean anything in this part of the world: waiting for a another train to cross, a breakdown or who knows what.

A woman in another part of the carriage is talking to a small group and every now and again, laughter erupts. Right on cue vegetable curry man appears with my lunch. The tray is laid on the table and I am somewhat taken aback by amount of food served in neat little foil trays with lids: rice, roti, two types of curried vegetables one with paneer, some dhal plus the mandatory raita to cool the palate.

Talkative man now climbs down from the top bunk also to partake of lunch. He introduces himself as Ravi Chakrabatti from Kolkata, and we laugh about quiet man snoring soundly across the way. Ravi laughs and says it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, this guy manages to sleep and snore all the time.

He chuckles again declaring that any time of the day is the same for this chap, concluding somewhat hysterically that “maximum snoring is there!” Ravi got on the train at 6.30 this morning and quiet man was snoring even more loudly then. While we are laughing and chatting, the train has recommenced its journey again and now rolls slowly into the Andhra Pradesh railhead of Visakhapatnam.

Ravi tells me that he is an assistant manager for an automotive lubricant company and he is returning home to Kolkata, which is the final terminus of this Howrah Mail. Meanwhile, quiet man has now woken up and is joining in the conversation. He is a children’s clothing wholesaler from Nellore and is on the way to Kolkata to buy clothing to sell on and distribute from his warehouse in the South.

The Howrah Mail, which is never late according to Ravi, tracks north now towards her destination. The horizon is filled with even more impressive hills now creating a more dramatic backdrop and we cross another river passing yet more dhobi wallahs working hard under the hot Indian sun.

Quiet man helpfully informs me that my station will be approaching in about thirty minutes. I will be sad to get off this train as this has to rank as one of the most enjoyable rail journeys I have taken – and I have travelled a lot by rail in India over the last twenty-one years.

As the train finally draws near Srikakulam, rain-laden monsoon clouds tower above the cooler hills and hot plains below. Time for one more iron railway bridge before we arrive, arching over yet another wide and ponderous river beneath. The reassuring clatter of metal against metal is heard as several hundred tons of rolling stock lumber across, moving inexorably towards solid ground once again.