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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The Riverbank Bar Bistro, Bideford

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Situated at the ‘East of the Water’ end of the ancient Torridge Bridge in Bideford, you will find The Riverbank Bar Bistro. Chef Proprietor James Priestley is at the helm of this foodie venture, and by the sounds of it, he’s carving out his own niche right here in North Devon. James moved down from Yorkshire and has been living locally for over 2 decades, acquiring The Riverbank 2 years ago. He’s friendly, approachable, but professional and ably assisted by a small but effective team.

The Riverbank, as you would have guessed by the name, sits right on the banks of the River Torridge, and with a sundeck to the rear you can observe the very same river slip silently and peacefully by. On a sunny afternoon, with one’s favourite tipple in hand and in the company of friends or indeed a loved one, I would imagine it would be utterly delightful.

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Invited to partake of the inaugural Greek Night for 2018, my appetite was already whetted as I prepared myself for my very own Hellenic odyssey. It’s not every night you can sample some tasty Greek food in North Devon now, is it? I asked James about his inspiration for holding Greek nights at The Riverbank, and he said: “I was lucky and privileged to have worked with some top Greek chefs so that is where my passion comes from.”

With glass of chilled beer in hand, I dived straight in and ordered the Garlic and Lime Chicken Kebab, which is described as a ‘Char grilled chicken kebab with garlic & coriander sauce and salad leaves.’ Well all I can say is that it did exactly what it says on the proverbial tin, so to speak. In fact the aforementioned chicken kebabs were nothing less than deliciously garlicky, limey and full of flavour. Other starters on offer were, Keftedes (Spicy Meat Balls) and a Traditional Greek Salad.

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Next on the menu, was the Marinated Chilli Salmon Fillet. In the menu I read this: ‘Marinated for 12 hours in chilli, coriander, garlic, citrus and honey.’ The highly marinated, and perfectly cooked salmon was laid upon a bed of Mediterranean rice and served with warm pitta bread accompanied by juicy wedges of lemon and lime on top. This was most satisfying and like the starter, looked thoroughly tempting on the plate.

Alternatively, I could have chosen a ‘Greek Butterfly Sirloin Steak,’ ‘Beef Stiffado,’ or even ‘Oven Baked Greek Chicken Breast.’ Admittedly, I’m no expert when it comes to Greek cuisine (sadly, it’s been 14 long years since my last Hellenic adventure), but I reckon this is a jolly nice offering for the people of North Devon, and makes a refreshing change. The menu overall was fairly compact, but I think there was enough on offer to tempt most palates.

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Not exactly Greek, but I concluded my night with a delicious homemade chocolate brownie (lovingly created by James’ wife, Vicky) with a pot of clotted cream, both situated at the opposite ends of a long, narrow plate with a winding river of chocolate sauce in between. I was by this stage imbibing a sumptuous glass of Argentinian Malbec, which is described in the notes as: ‘Fair Trade and Organic, lovely rich chocolatey Malbec with structure and spiciness from the Bonarda.’ I think that sounds like a pretty good match to me…

I would judge the evening to be a great success, and would certainly consider returning in the not too distant future. I definitely recommend that you check this place out as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed! Greek nights in 2018, are every Thursday, April to September.

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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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The #EatExmoor Food & Drink Trade Show

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Wednesday 7th February sees the inaugural Eat Exmoor Food & Drink trade show, at the Beach Hotel in Minehead. The #EatExmoor initiative is a joint project from the Exmoor National Park and Visit Exmoor; the tourism authority for this special area. Local producers, chefs and hospitality providers are invited along for a day of networking, cooking demonstrations, informative, interesting and helpful talks about how to maximise your business, in and around the national park.

The day will also be celebrating the launch of the #EatExmoor Guide and the #EatExmoor Marketing Toolkit. So, if you are connected to the hospitality industry in the Exmoor area, you know where to come: The Beach Hotel, Minehead 10-4pm. Click on the link below for the day’s programme of events.

The #EatExmoor Food & Drink Trade Show Programme of Events

Exmoor Live @ the Dunster Show 2017

Click on the link below to view a short, but highly entertaining video about this great event I was privileged to take part in. Video courtesy of Fly Monkeys Limited and Julia Amies-Green Photography. Enjoy!

Exmoor Live Cookery Demonstration, Dunster in Somerset

Photo courtesy of Julia Amies-Green Photography.

The Pyne Arms, East Down

The Pyne Arms in North Devon is situated in the beautiful and peaceful hamlet of East Down. Run by couple, Ellis and Amie Pannell, this gastro pub is now most definitely on the proverbial map.

I called in last Sunday on the off-chance of a spare table (booking is advised), and I was suitably rewarded. Glass of Moretti in hand, I scoured the menu but it really didn’t take long before I settled on the day’s dining choice. 

I opted for the ‘Heal Farm Rump of Beef (locally sourced of course), Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish.’ What emerged from the kitchen was perfectly cooked slices of beef draped over fluffy roast potatoes, alongside a rather large Yorkshire pudding. Accompanying this mouthwatering plateful, was a colourful selection of five vegetables, imaginatively presented to tempt and tease the palate no doubt.

The Pyne Arms at East Down certainly gets my vote  and I shall be returning soon I am sure…

The Dunster Show

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On Friday 18th August, the 171st Dunster Show will be held once again in the fields nestling behind Dunster Castle. Always a great success and highly enjoyable, this annual Somerset country fair is set to attract thousands of visitors once again. And there will of course be a cookery demonstration organised and led by Chefs Andrew Dixon and Olivier Certain. Joining them this year for the second year now will be Ed Heard along with newcomers to the cookery demo, Ellis Pannell and Barrie Tucker. See you there!

http://www.thedunstershow.co.uk/

Download the John Raby’s Food & Travel flyer here

Clavelshay Barn Restaurant

DSC_1624Out in the sticks, a few miles north of Taunton, you will find Lower Clavelshay Farm.  Ok, nothing unusual there because after all we are in rural Somerset, aren’t we?

However, within this farm, you will find a gastronomic delight called Clavelshay Barn restaurant.  And yes, as the name would suggest, it is in a barn (converted).

Farmer’s wife Sue Milveton manages the restaurant, whilst husband William and his two sons take care of this busy and productive farm.  Interestingly, Sue told me that when started this rural eatery almost 11 years ago, the question was posed along the lines of: “How are you going to get people to come to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere?”DSC_1594

Of course any restaurant is only as good, principally, as it’s chef.  That’s where Mr Olivier Certain comes in.  With his undoubted flair for producing mouthwatering, contemporary tucker, drawing in the punters to ‘the middle of nowhere’ doesn’t appear to have been a problem (it was almost full when my daughter Becky & I visited).

Olivier hails from Marseille on the fabulous Cote d’Azur in the sunny, south of France.  His culinary pedigree is impressive, having worked in the Michelin starred La Bonne Etape Chateau Arnoux and also Les Roches in Le Lavandou.

DSC_1602And right here in the Westcountry, Olivier served time as Sous Chef to Andrew Dixon in Porlock Weir, before moving on to the popular and now well established Woods Bar and Restaurant in Dulverton.

Starters and mains ordered, we sat happily ensconced at our table, quaffing a lovely light 2013 Riesling and munching rather tasty Habas Fritas (roasted broad beans).  A neat little idea indeed – I mean, who would have thought you could do something so interesting with the good old broad bean?

Soon the waitress was making a beeline for our table with plates in hand. I opted for the Dorset Cured Meats, Rocket Salad, Blushed Tomatoes with Truffle Oil.  This little beauty on a dish was comprised of two types of salami, coppa, serrano ham, pickled garlic, artichokes and sun blushed tomatoes.DSC_1596

Across the table, Becky’s Smoked Salmon Terrine, Seared Lyme Bay Scallop, Herb Salad, Radish with a drizzle of Vanilla Curried Oil was akin to a piece of art and definitely earned her seal of approval!  This evening was most decidedly looking up…

Round two came in the form of the Clavelshay Farm Home-reared Rose Veal Stew with Root Vegetables, Bacon and some lovely ‘Joe’s’ Sourdough Bread. The deliciously tender chunks of veal were sat in meaty, flavoursome gravy that was simply outstanding. It was like being hit with a flavour tsunami actually.

DSC_1610If cooking is all about the flavours as celebrity chef Gary Rhodes would often tell us, then Olivier scored 10/10 in my book with this treat.  Sue tells me the veal comes from their own farm. I guess it doesn’t come any fresher or local than that.

Becky on the other hand tucked into the Oven Roasted Supreme of Free-range Chicken, Fondant Potato, Kale in a delightful Bourguignon Garnish. Olivier told me that he very proud of his take on this very French sauce, and rightfully so.DSC_1618

By now Clavelshay was full of lots of satisfied customers, succumbing to the chef’s culinary magic.  For us, we were approaching the final furlong: dessert!  This came in the form of a Rich Chocolate Delice and for Becky, the Tasting of Lemon which was comprised of: Posset, Iced Parfait, Curd, Raspberry Coulis and Meringue.

I have to say that I am a Chocolate Delice newbie, but having tasted this, I shall now be on the lookout for this sweet textured delight.  Beautifully chocolatey and accompanied by a zesty orange ice cream.  Becky’s dish was pretty much all scraped clean as was mine; , it was a great end to the night.

Next time you’re in that neck of the woods, why not book a table pay a visit? I guarantee, you won’t be disappointed.

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Contact details are:

Address: Lower Clavelshay Farm, North Petherton, Taunton TA6 6PJ

Tel:  01278 662 629

Email: query@clavelshaybarn.co.uk

http://www.clavelshaybarn.co.uk/