Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Other Shoe

I think a second Oxford (the other shoe... get it??) trip would be good (for the sole?) as we quite enjoyed our two days there.  The second day was a mixture of stuff, old and new, which gets rescaled when you’re in England.

We started out the day with a visit to the Ashmolean Museum, a world class facility.  One could spend days there, but we did kind of a quick tour seeing ancient things

And not so ancient things

(this is a cloak that some believe was given to John Smith by Chief Powhatan in 1607 (or so))

Museum fatigue soon set in and we decided to walk around the city some.  One of the things we were drawn to was the famous “Covered Market” it turned out to be a great place with all sorts of little shops with all sorts of foods, cheeses

(just a small section of the “blue” case with Stilton, Oxford Blue, Roquefort and others)

Butcher shops with real people cutting real meat

no comment

Including some cuts we don’t usually see at Giant or SuperFresh

Fish and Shellfish

And we may have missed the soup, but they did have the….


Anything you could wish for.. and of course all that food makes you hungry!   England is famous for its various versions of “pies” (remember Hampton Court?) so we picked out a little place that featured same

Clever, eh?

We had some chicken related thing, and when asked if we wanted gravy, we said yes.  Maybe not a good decision as we got a LOT of gravy, and of course you have to have mushy peas!  Was better than this picture portrays

After lunch the group reassembled at the famous


where George and Cecil Calvert (first and second Lord Baltimore) were educated.  While closed to the public we were afforded special access...

Not only that, we were greeted by the President of the college


Who talked about the history of the college, what they are currently doing, and then we got to their old library which contained lovely old volumes, including the oldest one they have

And to save your eyes, it was printed about 1481.  Amazing!

After that we saw the great dining hall

Which might look familiar to Harry Potter devotees..

And in one of the side rooms I spied

I have yet to get the story on this, will report..

We finished the day by having tea with the president, which wasn’t quite the elegant production I had envisioned. 

Then back on the coach to the hotel to get ready for our dinner at the Mole Inn, which you have read about and for which we were





Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Moles and Oysters...

We've had a bit of a detour to the St. Mary's County Oyster Festival, so now we can return to England..
Our last conversation found us at dinner in the Mole Inn, near Oxford, But I do want to spend some time about the city of Oxford, which I thought to be one of the highlights of the trip.  Rich in history and important to the Lords Baltimore and thus Maryland, it is also a charming little city.  Kind of one you can get your arms around.  On our way from Salisbury to Oxford, we drove past one of the most visited sites in England

We didn’t stop as we headed for another “henge”, called Avebury.  A henge is a roughly circular or oval-shaped flat area enclosed and delimited by a boundary earthwork - usually a ditch with an external bank,  Avebury is another stone circle, much larger than it’s more famous cousin and dates to 3 centuries BC..  Not much is known about the reason for both of the monuments, and there are lots of theories out there.  It is quite amazing to see something five thousand years old

Since most of this region is chalk, speculation is that in the time of the circle it was white, but again nobody is quite sure of the whys.  At any rate it was a nice place to visit.  Even the parking lot had some exhibits… can you count the Ferraris?

And their valets?

There were several little shops surrounded by the usual English attention to beauty

Although there were tourists that weren’t quite as interested as some..

Anyway, after touring the site, we boarded the bus and drove the rest of the way to Oxford, home of Oxford University.  Our tour leader, Dr. Henry Miller spent a lot of time in Oxford researching things about the Calvert family and so was quite familiar with the city.  Of course the first thing you want to attend to was lunch, and he guided us to a wonderful little pub called Chequers

Where we had a very nice lunch including a tempting platter with a little of everything..

And of course you have to sample the local "real ales" which, I find out means they are not pasteurized and unfiltered and served (poured) directly from a cask with no pressurization..

After that we did a little tour of Oxford University

What a beautiful place, especially looking up..

One of the special places is the Bodleian library, first opened in 1602.  (I hope there are no “over due” books from then)!  We tooka great tour (no pictures, please) starting out in this lovely room

which had a wonderful ceiling


we finally had to get back aboard the coach and headed for our Hotel.  Always interesting to see what’s along the way

And finally we were pleased to see one of the more pleasant places we stayed

As this was our first night in this facility we had dinner as a group, which proved to be one of the better hotels meals we had..  and of course we were


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mr. Mole Dines Out

Well, this turns out to be the final page in the “dining” report for England, covering Oxford. Oxford was an interesting search. There were plenty of attractive places to choose from, including a couple of intriguing French places.  Like other cities in England, there seems to be a predominance of foreign cuisine.  I don’t know if that’s a statement about British cooking, but it gets hard to find places that are rated which serve traditional fare.  So I was pleased to find a well regarded place called The Mole Inn (Winnie the Pooh??) listed as serving English food, and, although certainly not within walking distance it was relatively close to our hotel.  As an aside, there are ALWAYS plenty of Indian food places listed.  Don’t know if that’s a carryover from the colonial days or not.

Anyway, we had the hotel make our reservation for seven, and after a day of touring Oxford and Trinity College we came back and donned DFD duds as best we could and met the taxi that was arranged for us.  Seemed like a fair drive, but eventually we wound up at The Mole Inn, a “country pub and restaurant” situated in a little village called Toot Baldon.  You have to love the English, all the place names are wonderful..  So the taxi dropped us off in front of the Inn

Inside was a cozy place with lots of timber and beams and fireplaces.  I imagine it is rather pleasant in the winter.  Although our table was ready, we decided to accept the invitation to sit in reception in the big leather chairs for a bit.  Knowing any cocktail order was doomed, MFO ordered a split of champagne, and I took a (double please) Jameson Irish whiskey.  That helped us relax a bit from the rigors of touring, and got us more in the mood for food (hey! that rhymes!).

The (a la carte) menu contained  several very nice choices, and I grew to enjoy the menu selections we found in most English restaurants.  Interesting things seem to show up.  For instance there was a starter of: “Breast of wood pigeon, truffle pomme mousseline, roasted garlic + celeriac” and another (which MFO chose) of “Warm salad of flaked hot smoked salmon, beetroot, cherry tomatoes, rocket leaves, horseradish”.   Don't recall seeing wood pigeon on a menu lately. A couple more examples from the main course menu:  Natural smoked haddock, leek mash, poached egg, sauce mornay, parmesan crumbs”; and “Pan-fried lamb's liver + kidney, smokey bacon, rocket + rosemary mash, onion gravy”.  How cool is that?  There were also evening specials, and I took my sucker dish of Pork Rilletes for my starter.  It just doesn’t seem you get this variety in this country, where there are choices of steak, another steak, and maybe one more steak with chicken thrown in someplace.  Yes, that is a bit harsh and not uniform, but it seems that way.  We took a couple of off the menu items for main courses, with MFO getting a peppered roasted pork loin, and I took yet another bait I can’t seem to resist, Duck Confit.  A basket of rustic bread and olive oil (red flag, watch your tie!!!) was delivered along with a bottle of still water.  Our server was very deliberate, and was very careful in describing (from a pad, unfortunately) the specials, and taking meticulous notes of our order.  We were especially pleased to see the following statement at the end of the starter menu:

Cheese – We keep our cheeses chilled, so please inform your server when placing your order if you would like some to be taken out to ripen - A plate of fine British cheeses, celery, grapes + apple with oatmeal + water biscuits Oxford Isis, Somerset Brie, Montgomery Cheddar, Oxford Blue

So when we ordered, we dutifully "informed our server" that indeed we did fancy a cheese course at the end of the meal.  Carefully noted on the pad.. On to the wine selection:

The wine list contained selections from all over the world, South Africa, Italy, France, California, Chile and so on.  There was a description with each one, more wine speak, but none the less clever..  I thought a softer red would go well with our dishes, so took a Chateau Bel - Air Graves d Vayres futs de Chene, which was described as “A cracking every day Claret made by the Seirrey-Eiffel family (responsible for Paris' tower!) from a majority of Merlot made up with a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon + seasoned with a touch of oak”.  Kind of cute, don’t you think?  Very British.. I did note, however that there was no vintage listed on the wine list, which I don’t like..

The (correct) wine was brought to the table, sampled and accepted.  Pretty soon the starters were delivered to the correct position.  The salmon was very good.  I don’t know why, but it seems that Rilletes are commonly served in quantities that belie the status of “starter”.  Although I always enjoy them, I can hardly ever finish a serving, and did not here either.

It’s not that I couldn’t eat it all if I wanted, but Rilletes are usually not light, and consuming the whole amount would impact the enjoyment of the rest of the meal.

Both of the entrees were enjoyable and colorful

Nicely done and the pepper coating accented without dominating.

As I said, I am a sucker for (don’t try this at home) Duck Confit,  and this one may have been the best I have ever had, crackling skin with succulent meat beneath on a bed of pickled red cabbage (common with duck confit).  Vegetables were, as is also common, were served in a communal dish.

The wine, the fire, and the food all made for a quite relaxing evening..
So we were  anticipating the cheese course,  which did arrive….. stone cold.   If they hadn’t made a special point to highlight their cheese service, I probably would have reluctantly accepted it, and tried to enjoy the cold cheese (very bad).  At this point, I figured what could they do?  We’re sorry , give us a half hour and we’ll re-serve it at the proper temperature..”   It wasn’t bad, and it did cool down as we ate it, but there it was.  We especially enjoyed the Oxford Blue.

A coffee finished the meal, and when we left the owner (?) asked us how we enjoyed the meal.  I told her about the cheese thing, and she apologized and said our server was on his second day.  We would believe that.  She removed the cheese from the bill.  They got a return cab for us, and aside from the cheese gaffe, I think this may have been our best “Dining Out”  for which we were


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Dining Out in the UK

Well, MFO loaded up the MOMSTER II and left this morning headed for Missouri, will see kids and also delivering some of her late Mom’s papers and photos to the keeper of their family's genealogy, her brother.   She did her archivist thing and it is all preserved nicely in proper materials and so she didn’t want to trust it to shipping.  So Bottom Feeder Express is on the road.  The Oyster Festival is this weekend, but meantime I have a little time to get back to…


We kind of left off with “Dining Out” meaning away from our resident hotel.  We had two other restaurant meals (besides B.E.D in Harrogate, which was chronologically our last) and both were very nice.  There is cuisine in England.

Our first experience was in Salisbury, home of that tall cathedral and a restaurant called Charter 1227.  It received very good reviews in all sources, although I could never figure out why it’s called that.  Anyway, after our first full day of touring and learning about the Arundells (remember to pronounce it correctly) we did a quick visit to the cathedral to hear Evensong in the Cathedral (not quite worth it that day, IMHO) and then came back to the White Hart Hotel in a gathering rain.  It wasn’t coming down when we left for the service, so we didn’t have any rain gear with us.  By the time we got back to the hotel we were pretty damp.  And, to top it off, I had worn my blazer to the church and now it was pretty moist.  No matter, MFO deftly applied the hair dryer and at least made it wearable.

So, we got directions from the desk (who had made the reservation for us the previous day, a good thing to remember when traveling) and set out on foot in the rain showers although this time we had our Gore – Tex defenses on.  The GPS in the phone was quite helpful.  We were told it was on the Market Square, and had an address, but as usual what seems easy in your hotel room isn’t quite when your feet are on the ground.  We thought we were in the right place, but passed the correct address with no sign of Charter 1227.  Okay, swallow pride, ask for help.  We were outside another restaurant and a server was out taking down the outside dining stuff so I asked about our destination.  What followed was a lesson in the civility and courteousness of the English people.  She said, “well, you have to go around the block……Oh, heck.  It’s raining, just come through our restaurant onto the other street”.  She then led us through her restaurant (which was informal), out the other door, onto the street and walked us down to Charter 1227.  She said you’ll enjoy it, and left with our profuse thanks.

And she was correct!  We really did enjoy it.  It was upstairs and our table had a very nice view of their Market Square.  If it wasn’t raining it would have been better.  It was kind of a manageable size place, with nice art on the wall  Our servers (Daniel and Nick) were very pleasant and sympathetic to our dampness.  At this point my Blazer did have a bit of a musty odor to it so I removed it and put it on another chair..  Once again we tried for cocktails, and once again failed, ending up with a Gin and Tonic.. 

The menu was very nice, offering interesting choices in all categories, with things like a starter of  Peppered Mackerel Rillette Roulade with Smoked Paprika Potato Horseradish Cream & Passion Fruit Essence”, or a main course of “Pan Fried Line Caught Cornish Hake, Chorizo, Leek Fondue & Lime Emulsion”.   Very tempting and creative dishes.  Prices varied, but most were in upper twenty pound region.  Of course you forget the 1.5 multiplication factor.. what the hell..

Without going through step by step, we ended up MFO choosing a “glazed crab ravioli Au Gratin” for starter and a main course of “Beef Fillet with Truffle Pomme Puree, Sweet Shallots, Fricassee of Mushrooms & Horseradish Sauce”.  I couldn’t resist a starter of “Crisp Suckling Pig Belly with Scallops, Sticky Apple & Black Pudding Croquettes” followed by a “Pan Roasted Rump of Lamb , etc.”.   I’ll spare you the formal description.  Given the red meat mains we opted for a bottle of ’09 Château La Picherie Bordeaux, Montagne St Emilion.

With the aid of the G&T’s and the prospects of good food, memories of the rain began to fade and we settled in for a very enjoyable experience.  The chef was Yugoslavian, and I think the servers may have been related.  They were very courteous and only had to be shooed once before we actually ordered.  As the wine softened we did also.  Soon our starters arrived with my “suckling pig belly” and it’s friends.

It is left to the reader to figure out which is the “black pudding croquette”.  Despite the rather uncommon combination, it all worked well, the little drizzles were the sticky apple.  Nice dish.  The Crab Ravioli was also choice, although a photo wouldn’t do it justice so has been omitted.  Needless to say it was delicious, light and feathery..

Pleased with that, we were next served the “rump”

And the Fillet

Very pretty, and cooked just as we had asked, warm and pink for both dishes.  Once again we were reminded that the sides are an important part of the overall dish and these went well..  that’s a Mint Croquette with my lamb.  And the Chateau La Picherie played its part.  Service remained attentive without being intrusive.  Nice place.

So then it came time for dessert, and what else would you have following a nice meal?

Of course..a nice selection of fresh Stilton, Camembert, Goddess Alex James, and..... the one on the left (hard).  All very good, and nice portions.  One interesting thing we found repeated throughout our culinary travels over there was that cheese plates were always accompanied by celery.  Don’t usually find that on this side..

And finally a quiet stroll through the historic Market District in slackening rain ended our first experience of “Dining Out”.

And, dear reader, since I have once again abused the length of what I had planned, I will make you wait till next time to hear about The Mole Inn, our “out” in Oxford.  Where we were dry and


Friday, October 11, 2013

Dining "In and Out"

I know those terms have specific meaning for people in the military, but that’s not my usage here.  We stayed two nights in all our hotels, and generally on the first night we had a group dinner served in and by the hotel, and the next night we were “on our own” for dinner.  I kind of like that idea, it gives you a chance to find a local spot and not be bound by the hotel.  I did some research on each of our locations (except London, I threw in the towel there) so had picked out a restaurant for the “dining out” nights.  Guess we’ll kind of separate in and out…

Dining “In” (the hotels)

Most of the hotels offered us a prix fixe menu, that is, you made your selection from two or three items offered for first course, main course, and dessert.  I would say the food was generally good, some better than others.  Our hotel near Oxford probably did the best job (I had duck as I recall).  Of course we were a “party” of forty or so, so putting out plated dinners for that many at one time was daunting to some.  Others handled it better.  One place really surprised me. 
Our hotel in Harrogate was a lovely, venerable, classic old 19th Century hotel, with large comfortable rooms, properly called “The Majestic Hotel”. The Majestic Hotel has a long history in Harrogate and was a popular choice for Victorian society to relax after a hard days bathing.  Harrogate has had a long history of catering to those with resources, so to speak.  It was generally a place where people came to “take the waters” as cures for various maladies.  So the place was geared to serve people in a grand manner.  The dining room reflects the style

As well as the menu, which offered more choices than a lot of the other hotels

So we were prepared for a pretty good dinner. (beware, Rant looming). I think we had four or five tables devoted to our group, so there were eight or up to ten diners at each.  Unfortunately, there were only two (?) servers assigned which kind of stretched things out..  Okay, so after some chit chat our table was ready to order with everybody's choices made in each category, so there’s about 28 selections or so.  The young man listened very carefully, writes on his little pad, and moves around the table.  Fine.

Time goes by, and eventually somebody arrives at the table with a dish in each hand, strides up to the table and says in an outdoor voice:  “GOAT CHEESE TART?!”, somebody meekly raises their hand and the dish is delivered.  Then: “MELON?!!”  This was repeated for each of the 28 dishes brought to the table!!  Excuse me?  Okay, maybe I can forgive not serving the ladies first, but this isn’t hard.  You come up to the table (table number one, two, whatever) you write that at the top of your pad.  Then you start:  “lady in blue sweater – number one”, take the order, move left, “ number two – soup; salmon; cheesecake” and on around the table.  Nothing makes a great dining experience like having “SALMON” shouted at you.  The kitchen should know table one needs starters of three soups, two melons, and two tarts.  Server leaving kitchen with dishes should know he’s going to position four, five and six and what dishes correspond.  Basic stuff.
Speaking of SALMON!!:

Anyway, I expected better service from a classy hotel..  Others handled it.

Dining “out”

There were three cities in which we were “on our own”, plus both nights in London, which I decided was too much work.  So I had to find restaurants in Harrogate, Oxford, and Salisbury.  I think I did pretty well.  Finding a restaurant in a foreign or strange city with no first hand reports is always iffy, but if you sort of scan sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zagat (to some extent) you can get a feel for places.  Of course there are reviews for any given place that range from “worst meal of my life” to “best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth”, but if you read twenty or so you get a general feel for a place.  Always have to pay attention to dates, some reviews are months old.  I guess there are people who eat to write a review because places like TA have day old entries.

Not sure I want to drag you through all three adventures here, but since we’re in Harrogate I’ll start there.  A bit of a bother is that staying in a hotel means you have to taxi or find something close.  Searching around, I found a restaurant within walking distance from the Majestic, called “BED” (Burnsey, Eat, Drink – Dave Burns is the owner).  The food generally received glowing reviews, although the website is a bit cutesy, as is the menu with catchy little things like “Fishy on yer Dishy” for the seafood selections, one of the beef entrée’s was “Beef Strogenough”.  That kind of thing.  Anyway, it was an upstairs/downstairs kind of place with that old world model of you sit in reception, look at the menu, have a cocktail before going to your table.  Speaking of cocktails, I learned something.  It was the end of a long day (and nearing the end of our trip) and the bar looked quite well stocked

So I asked if they had cocktails.  Why, yes sir, we do!  Great! I’ll have a Martini!! Oh, sorry sir, no can do.  Hmm.. I thought that was a cocktail.  Well, he said, he can do a Gin and Tonic, or whiskey and water, but not a Martini..  Seems there are regulations that prevent mixing two spirits (like, say, in a Martini) and I never did quite get why he couldn’t do it, I think it was a matter of cost or preference.  So, it was Irish whiskey and a G&T for MFO.  And again we experienced the strange approach to alcohol in the UK.  If you ask for a whiskey on the rocks, the barkeep will produce a thimble from the bar, carefully fill it to the rim and pour it into the glass with MAYBE two ice cubes (if you asked for ice).   You have to be careful not to kill it in one gulp.  Over the course of the trip I learned to ask for a double straight away and nurse it.

Anyway, eventually the personable bar person (Burns?) asked about our order, and MFO decided on a (Lime Seared )Scallop starter followed by the Beef Strogenough;  I went with the “Schmoked Salmon” starter and “Our ‘Enri” which the menu describes as: “Leg of lamb, boned then filled with fresh mint, garlic and honey. Slow cooked and then put on a plate along with roasted new potatoes, creamed leeks and finished off with a rich lamb gravy. Knockout.”

For some reason a bottle of Rioja caught my eye, and turns out it went quite well..

The food arrived and it was VERY GOOD, despite the playful descriptions.  The lamb was expertly prepared.  I forbore pictures for once, but it was nicely presented, the right temperature and had great taste.  A few other of our tour group followed suit and were in the restaurant and one characterized her dish as the best fish she had ever had.  We finished our meal with a shared “Lemon Posset” and a Latte.

This was the last of our “dining out” experiences, and I would have to truthfully say it ranked third, but only because the other two were outstanding.  We’ll talk about them in another posting.  Even so, we were


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back in time...

Someplace I (did or should have) mentioned that the real focus of our tour was not food, but to visit places in England that were important to the Calvert family and Lords Baltimore who founded St. Mary’s City and the colony of Maryland.  So after that first breakfast in Salisbury we set out for the small town of Tisbury and its church which contains the tomb of Anne Arundell.  She was the wife of Cecil Calvert, son of the original Lord Baltimore (George Calvert) who obtained the charter for the colony in Maryland.  Strangely enough, neither of them ever visited it.

Anyway, Tisbury Church was a pretty place

Being a lady of high rank, Anne was entombed inside the church, in a place of honor, to the right of the altar (Dr. Miller is seen taking a picture of it)

It was a lovely marker with loving words.. 

Note the crest of the Calvert and Arundell families indicating the marriage.  Cecil never remarried and apparently had a great reverence for his wife.  When we arrived at the church their morning service was in progress, and after that was when we were able to view the site.  Several of the parishioners stayed around to chat with us, and in fact they invited us to the nearby hall for tea.  Lovely people.

Continuing in Arundell territory we next visited the 14th century Waldour Castle, home of the Arundell's since the mid 16th century.  It was destroyed in the English civil war, and has an interesting (and nasty) history, but we won’t go through it here, it’s confusing.. but most of the structure still stands in mute witness to history


Here we were joined by a current Arundell,
who explained the history and invited us inside.  It is hard for us to imagine life in such a structure, on such a grand scale.

Anyway, to time jump a bit we visited the current so-called New Waldour Castle, more of a manor house than castle, but they are restoring a beautiful Catholic chapel

Following that we adjourned to the current home of the Arundells, Hook Manor which was built in the 17th century and occupied by Cecil and Anne (Arundell) Calvert. 

(I think the jeep belongs to Cecil)

We had a lovely luncheon (with wine) of sandwiches
and toured the interior of the home.  An interesting story was that when renovations were taking place, they removed a false ceiling in a parlor room and discovered a wonderful plaster ceiling.  And on impressed on the ceiling they found

Initials of Cecil Calvert and Anne Arundell, plus in each of the four corners were reliefs of ships

Which are believed to be the Ark and the Dove that brought the colonists to the New World.  After a pleasant lunch our hosts were presented with bottles of Maryland wine (including one from grapes from Jubilee Farm)

We also thanked the original lady of the house


Then back on the bus to the return to Salisbury, and dinner on our own which better wait for the next edition.. 

Extra:  in England, the name "Arundell" is not as we pronounce it:  "A-run-dul"; but more properly "aaron - dell"..