Thursday, 24 December 2009
For those of us dreaming of a white christmas, we've certainty got our wish.
As i write from my desk in Leeds, there are 6 inches of snow at least gracing the river aire banks outside the window. Nothing could make me feel more festive, apart from a home baked, warm, mince pie oozing with brandy and a glass of fruity mulled wine, perhaps, oh and maybe swap my desk for a sofa... hmm.
Similarly, on our recent visit to Shropshire, there were a good few lashings of the white stuff gracing peaks and troughs up and down the countryside which made for a truly christmas- soaked winter wonderland.
I've never been to Shropshire before and found it a truly beautiful place and a welcome break from the commuters havoc and hustling city life i'm so often used to. Breaks like these are few and far between when you're so often caught up in the daily grind.
Rob's dad, and his wife- Ruth live in a lovely, winding, country estate out in Abden, Shropshire.
The house we stayed in ' Fair View Cottage', certaintly lived up to it's name, with panoramic views of lush countryscapes and snow capped hill tops.
A truly festive touch to our holiday adventure.
As always, the food was a talking point for us and we sampled some true delights on our weekend break.
Two particular haunts worthy of a mention were 'The George & Dragon' pub on the High Street in Much Wenlock, Shropshire and 'The Golden Ball Inn' at the historic market town of Ironbridge.
The former was a well sourced traditional pub, free of plastic rigidity and full of character and charm- complete with old quotes and sayings on the bar and traditional milk mugs hung up around the beams gracing the ceiling.
We ordered a Turkey sandwich which came with a salad garnish as the menu was pretty basic.
I am a stickler for welcome extra's, ( the hips will tell you everything, or as Shakira might say 'my hips don't lie!) so i asked the bartender if we could have stuffing with the sandwiches. Nothing was too much trouble and she made sure we would get some- warm!
When it arrived, i noticed there was no cranberry sauce, so i asked for some of that too, and the waitress kindly bought us some out at no extra charge and with no frowning. ( I did think it would have been a good idea to note on the menu that stuffing and cranberry sauce or gravy were optional ...)
As we made light conversation and warmed by the large open fire, we tucked in to the food which was all warm and very satisfying, enjoying passing the time in such a friendly atmoshpere.
In Leeds the chain pubs i am used to frequenting might have cheated with a poor quality cut of meat and some paxo stuffing and supermarket cranberry sauce, but this was all most definitley home made ( apart from the stuffing perhaps, but either way it was good quality.) A welcome salad garnish on the sides made the platter a bargain at £3.85.
The latter, 'The Golden Ball Inn' was visited on Saturday evening around 7pm, in the historic 'Ironbridge' district of Shropshire. We saw the handsome bridge as we journeyed up to the pub and passed lots of pretty, well lit shops, bars and pubs.
From what i'd heard about the pub, it used to be owned by a gay couple that had previously filmed their customers in the toilets, much to their shock and horror and completely without their knowledge. This apparently had made the front page of the local newspaper- The Shropshire Star.
It has since been taken over by an enthusiastic new owner who was extremely welcoming and went that extra mile to make sure we were comfortable.
His passion for food and customer service were well presented throughout our visit, with him thanking us for our custom and asking if there was anything he could get us.
Whether the history of the pub is just an absurd rumour and a prejudiced one at that, i am not too sure, but all of that became irrelevant when we entered the pub.
The atmosphere was very welcoming and very jolly, to say it was only 7pm.
Lots of youngsters ( in the 19-25 age bracket) were catching up with friends and lots of married couples enjoying a good meal and a beverage or two.
We ordered 3 different meals, Rob's dad ordered a chicken and gammon creamy pie with seasonal vegetables and chips, Rob ordered a roast Duck breast in ginger and orange, with parsnips and seasonal veg and Ruth and I ordered the sea bass fillet on a bed of bacon and cabbage with a creamy chive sauce and served with seasonal veg.
The pie looked extremely hearty and very well made, definitley a rustic platter with thick cut chips and lots of meat inside.
The seasonal veg which we all shared was delightfully crisp and fresh and you could tell it was from a local grower.
The Duck ( which i sampled as it looked irresistable) was absolutely perfect with juicy, thick cuts of breast and cooked so it was slightly pink in the middle. the orange and ginger complimented the juices perfectly.
My Sea Bass tasted fresh and healthy, with no extra oils added and no salt, which is why the bacon and cabbage warm salad complemented the meal very well, as all the flavours mixed together. Mashed Potato, chips and boiled, new potatoes were served to us all in very hearty portion sizes, perfect for a winters evening and complete with a few herbs sprinkled on for presentation.
The atmosphere was kicking by 8.30pm and there wasn't much room to sit down, after a few glasses of spicy red Shiraz, the conversation was in full flow and the laughs coming thick and fast.
We chose to sit out in the bar rather than the restaurant at the rear, as we wanted to soak up the atmoshpere.
We got chatting to a few of the locals who were all cracking jokes about how 'odd' they were for living in Shropshire and how they'd just discovered electricity etc... a bit of harmless fun and it didn't get to the point where they were annoying, thankfully.
One thing we did pick up, which was a bit annoying, was one of the younger barmaid's customer service skills.
We asked if she could bring a glass of wine over to us when it wasn't half as busy as it got at 8.30pm and she refused saying 'we don't do table service', we did mention this to another bar maid, who brought us a glass over straight away and without problem, which helped restore our faith.
The Golden Ball Inn is a true gem of a find, which is quite off the 'beaten track' as it were, of Ironbridge, it's not quite a gastro pub and the focus is not on small portions with great presentation.
It's just good, honest food which is locally sourced and put together with love and passion.
If you're ever passing by, pop in and sample some of their fine ales and light bites, or book into the restaurant for a good evening meal which is reasonably priced.
Just be careful of who you ask for a drink when it's busy, other than the minor blip, it's a great atmosphere and a good place for a drink and some food in the local area.