The tales of a half-Spanish, Southern guy with Yorkshire roots living in Bolton and looking for some half-decent grub

Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Farmer's Arms, Bolton

I love burgers. Fact.

Not just any burger.  I'm not talking about the kind of burger you get from a drive thru' that only tastes good to after a heavy night out.  

What I really want is the pulled pork, onion ring stacker, stick a bit of chicken on it, smother it in cheese and perhaps even a dash of barbecue sauce kind of burger.  You know what I mean... you just can't help salivating at the sheer enormity of it but you don't want to take a bite because it looks so damn good.

Normally I have to head into Manchester to find something unique but thankfully there is an unassuming place here in Bolton where burger dreams come true. 

Jon Jones, who featured on Masterchef: The Professionals and previously of SoLiTa, opened The Farmer's Arms at the end of June 2013 and has steadily been revitalising the food reputation of the town.

From the outside you may be fooled into thinking this place was just a pub. But once you enter the doors you'll find a creative menu, a board packed with specials, friendly service and brilliant value which will make you want to visit time and again.  

This lunchtime, I decided to take a couple of my Horwich based buddies to grab a bite and play a game of pool or two.  We met up at The Farmer's, which had a fair few customers in, and were warmly welcomed by Jon who was excited to tell us about his latest creation.  

This was his brand new 'Asian Burger'. I couldn't resist, I ordered it without even considering anything else, as did my friend Pete.  
The dish combines my two all time favourite food loves: burgers and Chinese.  

On top of the usual 1/4lb cheeseburger there is a spiced pork patty, a chilli and beansprout 'slaw' and prawn crackers!  With the addition of Hoi Sin barbecue sauce and a coriander cream.

You may think this sounds like a crazy combination of flavours but it works.  It really works. Sweet potato fries and a balsamic salad were the perfect accompaniments and make this easily one of my favourite burgers.

My other mate, Dave, went for 'The Hangover' which looked like the mother of all breakfasts on a burger.  Tasty sausage, an egg and creamy black pudding left him satisfied but sadly didn't help improve his skills on the Farmer's Arms pool table.  

We were all pretty buzzing and then we discovered that the pub has Strongbow Dark Fruit on draught which is a rarity in itself.  

The place is not a one trick burger pony either.  

If you're not one for dabbling then the Farmer's have a choice of pub favourites and fantastic puddings. 

They also host regular 'theme' nights too.  Last week we had the pleasure to attend their 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' where I met fellow Farmer's Arms enthusiast and blogger Dollybakes (check out her blog here). We had three courses back-to-front with choices including bacon and barbecue sauce profiteroles, lamb dinner with liqourice gravy, and doughnut with Nutella burgers for dessert!

Thank the burger God! Bolton has a pub with food that goes way beyond the usual tavern fayre. It works well as both a friendly lunch time hangout and a great dinner destination.

This place is like a mythical land of unusual concoctions. If you want something you've never tried before then come here. The Farmer's think outside the box, sometimes venturing into outer space in terms of creativity. I've never had a bad meal here and you won't be disappointed. 

Easily the best burgers in Bolton!

The Farmers Arms on Urbanspoon

Monday 26 May 2014

Victoria Inn, Bolton

After a busy weekend it was decided by the wife that we should stay local in Bolton and get some chores done. This meant shopping at the Middlebrook Retail Park in Horwich to look for bedroom furniture. Needless to say I was less than enthused.

After braving the bank holiday shoppers in search of bargains and aimlessly walking around several stores, I had to initiate the default husband response, 'yes darling', to dodge any questions about pocket sprung beds in order to speed up the process.

On the way home my hunger pangs determined that shopping on an empty stomach was not how to spend a Bank Holiday Monday so I took a detour on the way home to the Victoria Inn in Markland Hill (known to the locals as Fanny's).

I previously stated that Bolton was a bit short on places to eat, however this is one of the good ones. 

My last visit to Fanny's was the night before my wedding day where me and 15 family and friends enjoyed our night so much we still talk about it. 

Fanny's is situated in an upmarket part of Bolton and the place is usually packed with locals at the weekend with a bustling but friendly atmosphere.  It is a great place to drink as well as eat! At the moment the pub is renovating the outdoor area into a larger conservatory style dining room to make better use of the space, but it was still business as usual.

As always Hannah ordered a cocktail, a Raspberry Bellini and I ordered a Kopperberg. The drinks were a little expensive but with the sunshine unexpectedly shining today, both chilled beverages were very welcome. In addition to cocktails, they also offer traditional cask ales and lagers, and an extensive wine and champagne list.

For starters we ordered the tear and share bread with a selection of dipping oils.  Each section of the warm, freshly baked bread was different, from white and brown to seeded and granary.  

It was nice to see Fanny's put a twist on the classic 'bread with oils' starter and it really hit the spot.

As we walked in, most of the other diners were eating an unusual looking chicken dish on a hanging skewer which immediately caught my eye.

I soon found the option on the menu labelled as 'Swinging Kebabs' and didn't hesitate in ordering the Piri Piri chicken version that everyone around me seemed to be enjoying.

The skewer presentation was a novelty as well as functional because the dish came with a pot of garlic butter which you tip into a pot at the top.  It then dribbles through a small hole, down the chicken and continues to drip over the skinny fries at the bottom. 

Whoever came up with this idea needs a knighthood...

Hannah ordered the chicken, sweet potato and chickpea curry from the specials board. As a curry lover, this was a risky choice as she can be very particular about the quality. However, she commented that this was the best curry she'd had in a long time even though Fanny's isn't primarily an Indian/Thai restaurant. The curry was similar to that of a Thai curry with a medium heat, soft vegetables and tasty chicken packed with flavour.  It also came with rice, a huge poppadom, raita and mango chutney. The portion was so big she didn't manage to eat it all but it was definitely value for money.

I really fancied a dessert to finish off the meal, but both of us decided that we would probably explode if we had another bite.  

I am looking forward to returning to Fanny's when the building work is finished to see the end result.  Any excuse to have another 'Swinging Kebab'...

The Victoria Inn "Fanny's" on Urbanspoon

Sunday 25 May 2014

Ramsbottom Wartime Weekend by Hannah

A Lancashire family go on holiday to Benidorm and order some food at a restaurant. The father, thinking his pie is lacking in gravy, calls the waiter over and asks " 'ast tha Bisto fort pah?" The waiter says in a southern English accent, "I'm sorry, mate, I don't speak Spanish..."

As the wife of a Southerner/Spaniard, we get crossed wires like this every now and again. In order to culturally integrate my husband into the North I like to take him on a drive out and see what there is going on in the area with the promise of good food at the end of it (Hearth of the Ram Review).

As with most summer bank holidays it was guaranteed to rain. After a small amount of grumbling and ordering the husband to change his shoes, I whipped out the anoraks and we headed off on our adventures. There is always something special going on hidden in the towns and villages of the North come rain or shine.

It has been particularly rainy today but that didn't put us off travelling back in time for Ramsbottom's 'Wartime Weekend'.

I love it when local towns do something out of the ordinary and this was no exception. The people and businesses of Ramsbottom really make an effort and transform the little town into a historical extravaganza by dressing up and offering a trip down memory lane. When we arrived there was even a 1940s themed wedding going on!

This is the 16th time the event has been held and has always been very successful. It is not only about dressing up but offering an insight into life during the war. With period memorabilia lining shop windows, short films and posters, wartime recipes and vintage clothing stalls, this annual event is worth putting in your calendar.

The event offers some amazing photo opportunities and I've added a small gallery to give you a flavour of what is on offer. 

Tomorrow is the last day if you want to get in your time machine (or car) and see for yourself.

© Hannah Bermudez and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the previous named author and this website with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Hearth of the Ram, Ramsbottom

Ramsbottom is nestled in the beautiful Lancashire countryside and Hannah and I find ourselves taking the short drive there from Bolton at least twice a month.

It really is a stunning town and boasts a lot of good places to visit on a day out such as The Chocolate Cafe, steam trains at Ramsbottom Railway Station, a bustling monthly farmers' market and Hearth of the Ram which happens to be our favourite restaurant.

It has gotten to the point now where every weekend I turn to Hannah and suggest we head for Sunday lunch there and today was no different.  Ramsbottom was holding its annual 'Wartime Weekend' but this played only a supporting role to our food.

On Sundays, the Hearth do a special menu with 2 courses for £20.95 or 3 courses for £25.95.  Hannah and I chose to share two starters from the 'Nibbles' section, which are smaller options but are just a little bit special.

We always have to try the 'Hearth of the Ram Scotch Eggs'.  If you end up eating here then please make sure to order them because you won't be disappointed.  They are creatively presented in a little egg box with a crispy outside, a succulent meaty inside and a runny quail's egg surprise in the middle.  

We also decided to try something new so plumped for 'Lancashire Rarebit with Sourdough Soldiers'.  I adore melted cheese but until today I had never ordered a rarebit - I was missing out if they taste anything like this one.  The dish comes with homemade crispy bread soldiers and a side of melted cheese which makes for fun eating.  Perfect if you just want a light bite and a pint or as a small starter if you can't manage three courses.

For main, I ordered the 'Roast Rib of Beef' which comes with a gigantic Yorkshire Pudding, gorgeous vegetables, and crispy and light roast potatoes cooked just the way I like them.  There is also some horseradish sauce to compliment the beef with a velvety smooth veal gravy.  The dish also comes with a cauliflower gratin side.  

Hannah almost chose the beef too but opted for the 'Roast Leg of Lamb' at the last second.  It was a great choice with succulent lamb, a mixture of crunchy and puréed vegetables, creamy mash and a mint and redcurrant jus.  She was more than satisfied, for a second I thought she'd eaten the pattern off the plate.

We left just enough room for dessert... well why not?

I went for the old faithful, chocolate fondant served with banana and peanut brittle and banana ice cream which was light but a satisfying end to a delicious meal.  

My other half had strawberries and cream with a lime cake (posh trifle) and found it both a fresh and beautiful summer dessert.

We were well and truly stuffed.

Having visited the Hearth of the Ram on numerous occasions, I am yet to find a dish I don't love and they were deservingly awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award in 2014.  Euan and his team always make us feel welcome and can't do enough to make your visit special.

A roast on a Sunday is the law in our family and this is one we always come back for.  

Can't wait to see what next Sunday has in store...

Hearth of the Ram on Urbanspoon

Friday 23 May 2014

SoLiTa, Manchester and Manchester 235

I'm getting to be a bit of an old fart.    

The realisation hit me last month, as I felt the onrush of an upcoming birthday, that I hadn't had a night out in 'Town' (Manchester) in ages.  Add this to the fact that I didn't celebrate my last two birthdays, as a protest against this aging malarkey, and I knew it was time to make a bit of a fuss so I organised a lads night out.

Given that there were going to be 15 of us partaking in the festivities, I felt it was only right to hold a democratic vote on where we ended up eating.  The options available were SoLiTaSouthern 11 or Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn

@SoLiTa narrowly won on a vote of 6-5-4.  

One of life's simple pleasures must be the feeling you get when you confidently stride past the large queue of hungry faces patiently waiting outside SoLiTa and march straight to your reserved table.

The basement dining room was very lively and my group were seated in the centre of the room on a table that was ample enough for a group of 15 lads in suits.  I even got a special Blofeld style swivel chair!

After drooling over the menu for several days prior to my visit I had convinced myself that I was going to try the 'Once in a Lifetime' burger as it had only just been awarded a place in the '9 Best Alternative Burgers' in Esquire Magazine.

Despite this I decided to treat myself to the Cote de Boeuf which was a special and it was just waiting for me to choose it after looking at the incredible pictures on the SoLiTa Facebook page.  

It was nothing short of spectacular.

I love my steak rare and it melted perfectly in my mouth.  With a chargrilled tang courtesy of their special INKA charcoal oven, it easily rates as one of the best steaks I have ever had the pleasure to eat.  Only this week, SoLiTa announced that this dish is making a triumphant return as a regular on their new Summer Menu so I will be sure to pop in and relive the joy!

Most of the group opted for the 'Once in a Lifetime' burger and they were not disappointed.  A monumental burger which includes pulled pork, buttermilk fried chicken, onion rings, a beef and bone marrow patty, Monterey Jack cheese and barbecue sauce....

Well that's done it, I am salivating over the mere thought of it!

There was a small hiccup with some forgotten starters and confusion over what was ordered by one of my friends, but this can be forgiven as it was dealt with quickly and with minimal fuss.  For me the key to good service is how a restaurant deals with these small issues; the SoLiTa staff were excellent and everyone left satisfied and very full.

The second part of our night was a trip to Manchester 235, a vibrant casino and bar, which includes a James Martin restaurant.  I had an excellent steak there at Christmas and have plans to return this Summer for a review.  

The casino is complete with Blackjack, Roulette, Poker and a DJ.  
This is a great setting for any night out because it has something for everyone, be they gamblers, foodies or cocktail lovers.

Speaking of cocktails, the selection on offer is second to none.   Although they are slightly on the expensive side (£6-£8) they don't tend to be full of ice as is the case in many bars.  The Zombie was my drink of choice and includes a bit of a show when the bartender explosively sets it alight with a sprinkle of dust.  My eyebrows narrowly avoided a stand well back!

Overall I had a night to remember and I will certainly be heading back to both SoLiTa and Manchester 235.  Fingers crossed for Black 8...

SoLita on Urbanspoon