Category Archives: Food

On the joys of a local

It’s been a while since I had a pub that I would consider to be a local, even in Oxford I existed as a vagrant between a number of venues that I liked, dependent on budget, day of week and proximity to home.

Gateshead, or at least the part I live in, is full of pubs.  None of them I wish to frequent.  It’s not a matter of being a snob, I would happily drink in any of them providing they served anything other than lager and John Smith’s.  I have drunk in a number of my geographical locals, mainly the ones with pool tables, but spent more time in the local snooker club than anywhere else.

It’s a bit more conducive to go drinking in Newcastle where it’s not hard to find a pub with real ales to drink.  The normal Friday night haunt for many years has been Bodega, a beautiful pub that always has a decent selection of well kept beers.  It’s part of the Sir John Fitzgerald’s chain, which has a number of venues across the North East, and hasn’t neglected the fact that it’s customers might like something other than a fizzy lager once in a while.

Recently however we have switched our allegiances to another SJF pub, the fantastic Bacchus – more centrally located than Bodega, but with a wider selection of beers.  They also do a semi-regular event where they invite a brewery to come along on a Sunday to showcase a range of real ales from their catalogue with a matching course of food.  These have grown from 4 courses with 4 pints to a more sedate 8 courses and 8 half pints run over about 4 or 5 hours on a Sunday afternoon.  They have also picked up the CAMRA ‘Tyneside Pub of the Year’ award two years running.  Attending these events and spending an increasing amount of time in the pub means we’ve become quite well acquainted with the pub manager Andy.

The last two of these events at Bacchus have been from the amazing ‘one-man and his wife’ Yorkshire Dales Brewery and last weekend there was an event from the Highland Brewing Company.  We had tickets for this, and admittedly they are not cheap and of a very limited number, but we were unable to attend.  It was the Newcastle Beer and Cider Festival recently and we had studiously avoided the Highland brewery beers on the grounds we knew we were going to be trying them the following weekend.  How wrong we were.

On Tuesday I had an email from Andy saying they had missed us at the event, and whilst they could not offer us a refund, offered us a free lunch at the pub.   Consequently yesterday we spent the afternoon at the pub with a free Sunday roast, dessert, and a completely free run of the bar.  I don’t think we abused their hospitality too much, but I wonder how many other establishments would have made this kind of offer?  Fortunately there was still a selection of Highland beers on, and we still got to pick up our complimentary half pint porter glass (and bottle of delicious 9% porter).  Happy customers indeed.

It might not be the most local of locals for me, but if you’re in Newcastle sometime, Bacchus comes very highly recommended.  Great beer selection (and yes they cater for you lager lovers too), good whisky selection, good food, great staff and a policy of looking after their customers.

You can find Bacchus here

On the cultivation and eating of snails

So, I know that those of you who get me in day to day conversation knew that I was off around to see Matt Pocock tonight to .. well .. eat snails.

Matt is a fairly prolific veg gardner these days, and snails somewhat blight the landscape of a thriving vegetable patch.

We may have been slightly inebriated but at some point we agreed to cook and eat some of the pests that infest the veggies.  And well, snails.. they are rather.. pesty.

Matt gathered up the snails and had been feeding them on pak choi for a while.  Snails need.. purging before eating, so they had a couple of days off the pak choi they had been fattened on, and just left with some water for company.

Deciding that they were ready today, we rinsed them under cold running water – boiled up a pot of water on the hob and threw them in – giving them 4 minutes or so on a rolling boil.  I think if we were to do this again we’d pay more attention to this stage – the amount of green foam generated at this point is amazing, and they will turn your boiling water an amazing vegetable green.

After this we dunked them in salted water for 20 minutes, then de-shelled them.  We gave them an extended vinegar/water/salt bath with a bit of a buffing to remove some of the last remaining slime.  I suspect if we do the boiling properly next time (scraping off the scum and replenishing the water until they ‘boil clean’) this might be superfluous.

After that they were pretty much ready to go – we fried them in butter and herbs and garlic, put together a simple stir fry – tossed the snails back in and, well, ate them.

Things we learned:

1) Snails are much bigger than you think when you get them out of the shell. 12 snails per person is a good amount.  That shell – that curvature – it’s not air – there’s snail in there, and its curly!

2) They don’t have a strong flavour of their own, cooking them in strong flavours seems to be the way forward

3) They’re not tough, rubbery or slimey when you eat them.

4) There’s no need to feed them on flour to purge them

5) There’s no need to butcher them once they’re de-shelled – we didn’t encounter any inedible parts – and well, we ate them *all*

6) We will eat them again!  They’re pretty versatile and we have plenty of ideas!

Free food is good food :D

And practically everyone we mentioned this to pulled face of disgust.  Apart from the vegetarians you’re just culinary cowards.  If you’re prepared to eat a rare steak, or mussels, cockles whatever.. why not just nom on those shelled friends in your back garden?