Perhaps because I studied classical guitar, 0r perhaps because I have worked with many spanish hotel staff, I have always held an affinity with Spain and in particular that part called Andalucia which is the heart of Flamenco and the birthplace of Andres Segovia. We visited an area where the Tejeda and Almijara mountains tumble down to the Mediterranean, a land where in spring, the lilac blue Jacaranda the vermillion bougainvillea and the pink carpet of cornflowers enhance the olive green and sky blue backdrop with little pools of brilliant colour.
Drive inland away from the coast and you find yourself in a landscape dotted with little whitewashed villas and fincas strung like a mother of pearl necklace across the olive dotted hillsides. Each interconnected by a network of mostly unseen narrow stony tracks, which must from the air, resemble the workings of a madcap spider. (actually looking at Goggle Maps of the area these little tracks are invisible even from satellite as they weave round the contours of the hilly landscape.) It should be noted here that although the last hundred or so metres to and from these Fincas and Villas will be over these narrow tracks, once you get out onto the main roads you find the kilometres simply ticking away as you glide almost effortlessly over the smooth tarmac surfaces on good well maintained roads that would put to shame any of our own British Regional government attempts at road management. And running just inland from the coast is a smart new motorway that will allow you to cover the distance between Malaga and the little town of Competa in about 50 minutes, and further on along the coast there is a new coast road that is a vast improvement on the twisting one I travelled back in 1970s, remnants of this road can still be seen and is still used in some places and in others as lay-bys and viewpoints over the Mediterranean and from where on a clear day you can see the Riff Mountains in North Africa.
This is not the Spain of package holidays sangria or sombreros and the only donkey you will see are those still working in the tiny fields or retired to the donkey sanctuary at Torrox. The real Andalucia is a hard harsh land where strong willed people have carved an existence literally out of the mountainside, where the little villages cling limpet like and almost magically to the steep hillsides.
But it is a part of Spain that is also clean comfortable and very welcoming, where you would be seriously challenged to find a bad meal or glass of wine anywhere, where even the most lowly looking roadside tapas bar will offer a quality you would have to search for in Britain. Where the sun withered and wizened old man driving a few goats up the hillside also owns and runs his own large crystal clean and totally modern milking parlour, housed in one of the largest buildings on the outskirts of Competa, where nothing is really as simple as it might seem and where Andalusian life like its Flamenco music follows its own complex rhythms.
None of this would have been possible to discern when Mr Steve first picked up at Malaga Airport at 11.15 pm and drove us back to his and Val`s Finca just outside of Competa. For a start it was raining which was a bit of a shock as we had left Bristol on a balmy May evening after a day when the heat of the sun had forced us into the shade and made the air conditioning in the car on the drive down to Bristol a welcome respite from the heat.
When we arrived at Mr Steve`s place it was to find that he had prepared a wonderful welcoming tapas selection, for a late evening early morning repast. Steve jokingly quipped he had been preparing the tapas all day, which was probably not far from the truth! As apart from the customary bread and local olives, there was a great big bowl of giant peeled prawn crab and Spanish tomato salad, more prawns this time in garlic, wafer thin slices of Andalusian black ham, sliced Manchego, Spain’s most famous sheep’s milk cheese, tiny fish based tortillas and warm black pudding with honey, a choice of beer or Vina Albali the wine from Valdepenas La Mancha bursting with vibrant aromas of damsons and plums.
I knew that I was finally, after nine years, back in Andalucia, when whilst sitting with such good friends eating such a wonderful Andalusia tapas supper we were entertained by the songs of the nightingales through the open door! As I tumbled into bed at around 3.30 it was with the wine fuddled thought that in the morning I should thank Steve for such a wonderful welcome back.
A few years ago a friend bought a villa just outside the little Andalucia town of Competa which lies a few kilometres from Nerja up in the mountains on the edge of the Natural Park of the Tejeda and Almijara mountain ranges.
When they sold their business and house in England Steve and his wife moved out to Spain to take up permanent residence and to start a new business Competa Holidays. Steve, unlike many ex-pats has immersed himself in the local culture, and being a amicable gregarious sort of chap has cultivated a good relationship with the locals, learning the language and the local traditions.
My wife and I have visited them on several occasions and have taken great enjoyment at hospitality of the region and its people, with Steve as our guide we have spent many pleasurable hours exploring the surrounding countryside, visiting the little whitewashed mountain villages and partaking of the local foods and wines in small bars and restaurants Steve seems to find in the most out of the way places.
Unlike Britian there is a strong local community feeling in the area, perhaps something to do with the relatively recent civil war and its aftermath where in parts of the region constant fighting continued between the resistance movement and the Civil Guard until the 1950s.
Immediate evidence of this communal spirit can be seen when one enters any of the local supermarkets, most goods on the shelf originate from a very localised area, although some international goods are available, they will generally be very expensive and located tucked away at the bottom of the shop, almost as is the owner is ashamed to display any evidence of his own disloyalty.
On one visit Steve suggested a picnic outing to an abandoned village about 12 kilometres away, it was known locally as the lost village and had been abandoned in 1949 after the conflicts and reprisals that the inhabitants suffered forced them to leave the village, some of the survivors going to Competa and others to Frigiliana.
Every family tried to rebuild their lives as best they could, but every time they returned to visit they saw how their beloved village was turning to ruins, into a ghost town. Steve had heard about the village because the parents on of a bar owner he knew in Competa had been born there.
The day we visited it was just a collection of ruins, not one house was intact, most had been reduced to rubble, the streets were overgrown with scrub, with the only real evidence of any care, found in the little church yard, that was if not pristine at least it showed some indication of recent human activity. (Note a few years after writing this I was talking with Steve he says he does not remember any church yard! Funny as it is the thing which sticks in my mind)
My wife has just returned from holiday with our friends Val and Steve and the real highlight she tells me was a second visit to “the lost Village”, although it had been abandoned it had not been forgotten, everyone took a small part of El Acebuchal away in their hearts, especially the children, who watched bewildered as they and their families had to leave their houses, the place they all called home and the places where they played. Those same children dreamt of their return and seeing the village again, as it once had been.
In 1998 Antonio and Virtudes “El Zumbo” returned to El Acebuchal with the intention of making that dream a reality. The restoration of the first house was completed in 1998 shortly after my visit, and by the year 2003 mains electricity arrived in the village, the process speeded up by the creation of a neighbours association.
In 2005 the streets of the village were repaired and on 25th June of that same year, they re-inaugurated the village of El Acebuchal with it’s first Mass in 50 years.
The village has now almost been fully restored but now 4X4 and tourism have replaced the mules from Torrox, Frigiliana and Nerja which were the life blood of the village as they were loaded up with fruit, vegetables and fish and taken over the mountain passes to the villages of Fornes & Jallena, where the mule handlers sold their goods and exchanged some for flour.
El Achebuchal was the meeting point on the mule trek that transported fresh fish from the coast to the inland cities, the little Inn was a place used by the muleteers to rest the animals, whilst the men ate, had a glass of aniseed liquor and commented on their journeys.
Today the Inn has been reinvented as a tapas bar where according to my wife the lady of the house cooks some incredible real traditional dishes, which thankfully do not even nod in the direction of international cuisine.
Last year we once again returned to Competa and I insisted that we visit El Achebuchal, it was so nice to see the village restored to something more than its former condition by the families of its original inhabitants, though now many of the houses are week-end retreats and holiday homes. Antonio still potters about the village rebuilding mostly by hand the last few ruins whilst his wife prepares the food sold in the bar and his son look after their customers.
The licensing act 2003 was not just about changing the licence regime for those selling alcohol but like much of the legislation during the Blair years seemed to be a grab for power by central government and a means of controlling the public.
It was and still is bureaucratic labyrinthine that would make Sir Humphrey proud. What was apparent by looking at the act was that just about every interested group and pressure group had had a very big voice in preparing the legislation.
Even the police got a big boost to their powers in that any constable can now enter any premises at any time without a search warrant and without permission from his superiors, if he “suspects” a breach of the licensing act 2003 is being or is about to be made, this power was also extended to licensed employees of the council and it was made an offence to hinder either the police or the council.
No more Englishmen and their castles no need now for a magistrate to issue a search warrant, no more public protection by a process of division of powers.
The changes did not achieve anything meaningful with regards to controlling alcohol abuse, but that was not the real intention anyway.
As anyone who has been involved with the licensing magistrates previously will confirm, they took their duties very seriously and did not just hand out licences to anyone on a whim, the police and local parish councils were involved at every stage, in fact in open court the police part of the process.
Of course nothing done in the licensing act has prevented the big supermarket chains from selling more booze, of course not, they had a big chair at the table, whilst small independent publicans and the public generally were virtually non persona.
The Culture Sectary is not going to be doing anything this time either he is not going to reduce powers of forced entry, he is not going to curb the supermarkets virtual monopoly on off-sales he is just going to remove some of the licensable activities.
The consultation paper looks at all currently licensable activities and asks what would happen if the activity no longer required a licence. Where there is no good reason to continue with the existing regime, the Government will look to abolish it.
Do they really need a consultation period I mean how many times have the police been called out to break up a fight at a Punch and Judy show? And what did the think happened before 2003 were we inundated with toddlers running amok at a magic show I don’t think so.
If you want to participate in the consultation or have any comments you can do so by sending an email to : mailto:email@example.com
date: 10 September 2011
Closing date:03 December 2011
Of course had the culture sectary written on a proper blog he would have enabled comments there.
EnglandNet to loose its backing!
I can not find the exact details just now but about in 2005 I wrote to the person in charge of tourism in the West Midlands asking how much money they were donating to the EnglandNet scheme and would they please tell me how many hotel booking had been generated in the previous year for the region.
I did eventually receive an answer which unfortunately avoided addressing my questions, as by this time the West Midlands RDA had declared itself a private company I could not take the matter further. The point being the RDA had at its disposal several million pounds which was earmarked for tourism and they were wasting it on supporting EnglandNet a very expensive hotel booking system which was not producing results.
EnglandNet was never going to be a success
Later on my fears about the viability of EnglandNet were confirmed when the figures were announced – by 2009 after 5 years in operation EngalndNet had swallowed up 50 million pounds of public money and only 2,030 bookings, worth £354,718, were made between November 2008 and May 2009.
EngalndNet challenged over competion rules
On top of that EngalndNet was being challenged under EU competition laws, as the EnglandNet directory is a Government-subsidised system, this allows it to undercut its private competitors.
In addition, because it is compulsory for properties to hold an AA or VisitBritain Quality in Tourism rating to be included in the EnglandNet directory – thereby preventing non-subscribers from advertising their accommodation in any Tourist Information Centres – the system was in breach of EU competition laws.
And the good news “in April this year, the Board of VisitEngland decided that the organisation would withdraw its financial and operational support for the EnglandNet platform by 30th September 2011.”
Shame the Board of VisitEngland decided to waste so much of our money on EnglandNet in the first place as even I could see at its inception that it was nothing more than a very expensive white elephant. Instead of looking down to see how they could help the people working at the coal face they look up to big business and big expenditure. I suppose it makes them feel important to be involved with such an expensive project and they don’t have to pay for it anyway.
TripAdvisor is to be investigated by the Advertising Standard Agency (ASA)
following action by KwikChex a Bournemouth based company that makes its money by protecting online reputations. The objection seems to be centred around unsubstantiated hotel reviews, with many hoteliers complaining that adverse reviews on TripAdvisor are affecting their business.
I would hope that the whilst investigating TripAdvisor the (ASA) would also consider investigation both bad and surprising good reviews, something that perhaps is not relevant to KwikChex mission of protecting online reputations, but should be relevant to the (ASA) because a series of very good reviews for one hotel can also adversely affect bookings at other hotels in the area.
The abuse of online sites to boost your business has already been pointed out by the editor of the Good Hotel Guide Caroline Blake. If KwikChex is right that there is no check on reviewers who post bad reviews, making the system open to abuse, the other side of the coin must be considered, because equally there is no check on those who post good ones.
TripAdvisor does offer reply facility
I will say here and now that I have no adverse comment to make with regard to any of those hoteliers who feel they have been subjected to unfair reviews, having been done over myself by unfair, untrue and defamatory comments made by professional newspaper hacks, against whom I have had no redress, I understand fully how very angry and frustrated they must feel. But TripAdvisor does offer the hotel the ability to reply individually to a review, see here how it can be used to good effectby owners. There I understand complaints from some hoteliers about the reply facility.
However standing back a little and considering other subjects, perhaps we can see a bigger picture emerging, when we reflect that in February this year the Department for Culture, Media and Sport withdrew its support for the national Quality Assessment Scheme. Suggesting that online companies exactly like TripAdvisor were more than capable of filling that market. I find it a little disconcerting that only a few months later TripAdvisor is at the centre of storm regarding its reviews. On one side we have a plethora of interested professional parties, NGOs and private companies, who see their infinite control of the grading system, funding streams and book sales under threat, on the other, a system of hotel grading that offers the real customer a voice.
That is not even to approach the question of why it is that hotels and restaurants in particular should be subject so much grading attention by professional bodies, NGOs, newspaper reporters, or any other Tom Dick or Jill you care to mention. When garages, hairdressers, butchers solicitors and any other business, get away virtually unscathed. When was the last time anyone looked up Michelin guide to hairdressers, the VisitEngland guide to Taxis or the AA guide to garages, the last in particular as a motoring organisation one would have thought they would be a leading voice in quality assurances for garages, with garage owners and mechanics right across the land waiting desperately for the next edition to hit the book-stands to see if they have made the grade.
The government argument is that the Quality Assessment Scheme hasn’t driven up standards, is elitist and doesn’t acknowledge the importance of value for money at all price points. John Penrose the minister for tourism said “The official ratings systems are too often unreliable and unfair not only for the industry but for the consumer”.
VisitEngland is an organisation whose remit is to champion tourism in this country, that is what the government pay them to do, they however have decided that their remit should be extended onto passing judgement on hotels before they will actually do the job they are paid to do. They have created whole departments aimed at just that and before VisitEngland will even consider mentioning a hotel it first has to pay them several hundred pounds in order to judged by VisitEngland assessment criteria. Perhaps those hotels that do not meet their criteria can get a rebate on their taxes for the amount of public money spent on promoting tourism because it is not promoting them, it is actively working against their interests by promoting others in their sector, of course pigs might fly.
There are two national accreditation schemes available VisitEngland VisitScotland VisitWales and the AA. However since 2005 these organisations got together and introduced something they call common standards in assessment criteria, so in reality there is only one rating standard. They also merged different classifications, the AA used to have a diamond classification for Bed and Breakfast accommodation that has now merged with stars, so some of the criteria for stars has made its way across to B&Bs, thus they have moved the goal posts.
The problem is the assessment criteria consists of box ticking related to ancillaries, how much space is available, how many hangers in the wardrobe, the hotel inspector now put much greater great emphasis on ticking off a big lists of “features” they might as well just send a robot to do the job.
Because of this standardisation of assessment criteria the merging of classifications and emphasise on box ticking the rating system struggles to cope with boutique hotels and older smaller properties that do not tick all their boxes. These business fall through the gaps in the assessment criteria not because they are not worthy but because of the confines of the assessment criteria. See Londonhotelsinsight.com for fuller details, and a comparson between the those hotels liked on TripAdvisor and those ranked by the profesionals using their box ticking method.
The problem of criteria is becoming even more relevant as the older more experienced hotel inspector is being replaced with a new breed of form filler and corporate traveller who applies the criteria at the expense of everything else. He/she no longer has the depth of knowledge, capability or the freedom to make an informed decision of a hotels worth to a guest. Where the more experienced inspector would be able to subjectively balance say room size against quality of service or food in the restaurant the new breed just objectively tick a box, where the more experienced inspector would realise that a particular hotel was aimed exclusively at the leisure market, the new breed worries about writing space in bedrooms for the businessmen that never visit and perhaps suggests that this is more important than televisions in the bedrooms, even though according to the AA, a hotel should be judged by its market position. The bottom line is that after all the box ticking everything else about an inspection is nothing more than the personal view of the inspector informed by his visit, as such it should carry no more weight than any review by any other guest. Unless you happen to think that a hotel inspectors view on how lamb should be described on a menu is intrinsically better than your view.
Just check Petrus to see how different people even in the same organisation can have completely different views. Not even the renowned Michelin guide is beyond question as it has in the past been forced to withdraw its guide from sale when it carried a top review for a restaurant that had not yet opened.
The grading organisations live by their claim that they make reliable and impartial assessments of hotels, but the average person does not understand that those assessments are made to criteria which excludes many of the features and amenities they might want from a hotel and includes many they would not care about.
I have been around for long time and I try to keep an open mind and perhaps have seen too many scams in my life to be completely taken in by so called unbiased independent reviews. Is the AA completely unbiased, perhaps the question would not have been raised when it was a not-for-profit organisation, but these days does it really not consider the amount of advertising one hotel is paying for in its numerous guide books when making grading recommendations or when grading a group hotel does an inspector not consider the amount of money the AA is earning from the group as a whole. Does the grading criteria used reflect an input from large organisations who find it easier to package everything up in little individual wrappers instead off offering their guests say: large bottles of hair shampoo or home made biscuits with real tea or coffee in the bedrooms instead of those sachets we see all over the place. You will find that a hotel might be downgraded for offering these personal touches or at best they will be discounted.
Big operators can`t control TripAdvisor
Of course big hotel operators and the wealthy like the present grading system because it allows them to get top grading by just making sure they tick all the boxes, they are not happy with the advent of information sites like TripAdvisor where the paying guests views are put to the fore. So I am tempted to ask myself is this just a big noise being fermented in order to pressurise VisitEngland not to go down the route of actually allowing real customers voices to be heard above those of the professional box tickers. Because the industry would just love to keep control of their own grading and know that if they do this, or do that, they will get the best grades, something that is impossible when the real customer has a voice.
The AA now owned by Acromas Holdings
VisitEngland is an NGO and was established in April 2009, says its inspection system is now almost self financing. Well not, it is hotel financed, we are being forced upfront to finance an NGO that is then forcing its own criteria on us before they will promote us.
The Ludlow Food Festival has a sustainability stage featuring a sustainable kitchen, where chefs and others demonstrate and talk about sustainable food, one chef is demonstrating dishes from sustainable fish!
But what is or are sustainable fish! We never had a problem with sustaining fish stocks until the EU Common Fisheries Policy introduced bad law and bad practices.
It is not sustainable to throw millions of tons of dead fish back into the sea, it is not sustainable to lay off Scottish fishing boats and fishermen and reduce the British inshore fishing fleet, it is not sustainable to prevent boats going to sea to the extent that the owners can no longer operate a viable business, whilst at the same time paying massive grants and subsidies to the Spanish fishing industry’s development of an industrial-scale fleet which literally ploughs the sea bed.
In a world gone mad we must endure false gods and listen to talk about sustainable fish stocks, without doing anything about the basic problem which is causing stocks to fall.
Many of us have been campaigning, complaining and activating about the damage being caused by these out of touch and untouchable EUocrats for years. At last with the introduction of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall “ Fish Fight ” part of the argument is gaining some traction.
But which part!
It is all well and good for chefs and celebrities to join the sustainable fish debate, but all they are really doing is to accept the bad practice and bad law by reducing their consumption of threatened species, all they a really doing is sharing out a stock which is not at present under threat from over fishing, but under threat from over stupid regulation. The two areas the EU has had control over during the past thirty five years are fishing and farming and it has managed to make an unmitigated disaster of both. The answer it then offers us now is even more stupid regulation.
I see that the Labour party welcomes the “Fish Fight” campaign to end scandal of discarded fish. But what exactly were they doing about it when they held power for the past eleven years NOTHING!
I see that Richard Benyon, the UK Fisheries Minister says “The throwing back of dead fish into the sea is a shameful waste and one of the biggest failures of the Common Fisheries Policy”
But what exactly is he or the present government going to do about it? I strongly suspect from past experience in this matter NOTHING! It was after all a Conservative Prime Minster who gave away control of British fishing in the first place and they have had ample time in power in the intervening years to actually do something.
By all means reduce your consumption of endangered species, but please do not ask me me to pat you on the back and applaud your total ignorance of the real cause and your refusal to do something that really would have an affect. All you need to do as well as stop consuming EU endangered fish, is to stop voting for those who continually refuse to address the real problem.
The Ludlow Food Festival list of backers includes a grant from The European Union, European Regional Development Fund, and Advantage West Midlands. Perhaps it was these funding streams which contributed to the sustainable stage, if so then it is thinly disguised propaganda, the EU creates a problem of sustainability and then it funds organisations to promote the concept of rationing dressed up as sustainability.
Dear Secretary of State,
My friend, who is in farming at the moment, recently received a cheque for £3,000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the “not rearing pigs” business.
In your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to rear pigs on, and which is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy.
I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these?
As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven’t reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this?
My friend is very satisfied with this business. He has been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the best he ever made on them was £1,422 in 1968. That is – until this year, when he received a cheque for not rearing any.
If I get £3,000 for not rearing 50 pigs, will I get £6,000 for not rearing 100?
I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to about 4,000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to, say, 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4 million from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradable carbon credits for all these pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gases?
Another point: These pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2,000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don’t rear?
I am also considering the “not milking cows” business, so please send any information you have on that too. Please could you also include the current Defra advice on set aside fields? Can this be done on an e-commerce basis with virtual fields (of which I seem to have several thousand hectares)?
In view of the above you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.
I shall of course be voting for your party at the next general election.
The Ludlow Food Festival
I have somewhat lost contact with The Ludlow Food Festival event in the foodie calender in recent years, so much so that I have not even bothered to look at the running order.
To me when The Ludlow Food Festival first began to use full time organisers it seemed to go off the rails forgetting its roots. Cooking demonstrations by teams from supermarket chains that measure their takings in billions, although interesting in their own right were not in my view particularly germane to the Ludlow food scene, did not in anyway enhance the prospects of small local producers and could have been witnessed anywhere.
There was for me the sheer difficulty in actually getting on stage to do a demonstration, I had to get up at 5 am to do basic preparation and load the car with the pots and pans I would need for the demonstration, then cook breakfast for our guests and prepare for lunch, leave a full restaurant before lunch service had finished, drive the 18 miles to Ludlow, work my way through the crowds, illegally park the car whilst I fund someone with a trolley to take my gear to the demo tent, then I had to get to the rugby field where I parked the car, finally I had to run all the way to the top up the very steep mound to get back to the castle entrance, I ain’t that fit!
Also the year before Isabel and I had been shopping in Ludlow and stopped off in a restaurant in Quality Square for a cup of coffee. This would have been perhaps in late October early November, two ladies who by their open discussion revealed themselves to be Ludlow Food Festival organisers, were taking a working lunch whilst discussing the recent food festival. The one thing that stands in my memory was that one of them said quite loudly “what are we going to do about John Mackley and his chefs” (John used to be the chef organiser) this was said as if the chefs demonstrations were some sort of impediment to the smooth running of the festival, rather than an integral part of the attractions of the festival.
So I am happy to see that The Ludlow Food Festival has many of our chefs demonstrating this year along with some of the culinary stars from Britain and from Ludlow`s twin towns, and some returning stars Shaun Hill and Claude Bosi.
Will Holland and Laky Zervudachi of Direct Seafoods are going to demonstrate dishes produced from sustainable fish. With Will Holland doing the cooking this will be an adventure in culinary art.
There is a personal welcome return to The Ludlow Food Festival of 2 Michelin starred Claude Bosi. In earlier days I only ever got to see one of his demonstrations, he was a delight.
As he was already (miked up) his demonstration began off stage with frantic murmurings as he was trying to gather his produce to take on stage, after a few moments he appeared in a distracted fluster clutching a carrier bag. He explained he was going to attempt to produce one of his mothers more complicated recipes and wanted to make sure he got it right.
After not a little rummaging in his bag he produced a single Camembert Cheese, one of those small ones that you can buy in their little boxes. With great care he opened the box and removed the cheese which was of course still wrapped in its wax paper, he held his audience spellbound as he slowly and delicately unwrapped the cheese, he then confounded us all by putting the unwrapped cheese back in it its box and replaced the lid. Then with an actors flourish and a cheeky grin he popped the box in the oven. That was it! his complicated recipe was to bake a Camembert in its box, it works I have tried is several times and it is a wonderful way to eat Camembert with toast soldiers.
They were a dream they’d wandered into, in the mist; a mystery, a stream of shadows under leaden sky.
On the way down we stopped off at Ultracomida in Aberystwyth and bought some cheese and some of their sour dough bread for the holiday.
Parking in Aberystwyth is a horror and the one way system has been designed by a town planner who’s sole intentions seems to be to keep you in the town centre by any means possible, even though you have to keep moving along with the other poor lost souls seeking either that elusive parking spot or a legal way out of the labyrinth, there is however a good park and ride system in operation – next time!
A gun metal grey storm driven sea was shattering against the harbour entrance with great plumes of cappuccino spray and there, just across the heaving water, was the old bridge that would take us on our way south. Unfortunately we would have to turn round and brave the one way system once more before we would reach it. Again we ended up for the third time in front of Ultracomida, perhaps its many awards have not a little to do with the fact that you keep meeting it when trying to escape the town (no that is really not fair).
For the rest of Monday we just read and slept and ate whilst the weather disintegrated even further.
Tuesday dawned with still heavy winds under a leaden sky which threatened more of last nights rain storm, so much so that when we went out many people were heard muttering that they thought it would rain any second and could not understand why it was not already. We decided that despite the weather the car boot sale might be worth a visit, when we reached the field all that was there was a very lonely burger van. Next on the agenda a drive down the coast and a visit to our favourite antique dealer to see if he had ferreted out any new pieces we might like. By now it was time for lunch and we thought we would try the little pub at Llangrannog.
The Ship – which has had one of those Carmarthen coast makeovers, where they put in a very expensive bar complete with a big stainless steel cappuccino machine and then paint everything white and blue – looked deserted but was in fact inhabited by three ladies who were sitting under one of the televisions waiting for their lunch. An unsmiling welcome assured us that our every wish would be considered! Soup of the day was off the menu because “he” did not know what it was “he” thought it might be chicken but would not serve it as the chef – obviously not “he” – was not contactable to verify the actual category. Perhaps fish then, but as the menu only said fish and not what sort we decided it probably was not worth pursuing, given the soup problem.
In the end we settled for Welsh beef burger and wedges. A “Welsh beef burger” turns out to be finely pulverised beef compacted into a dense rubbery slab, which is then grilled (I think) and wedges are triangular shaped chips. Actually it was not as bad as I am making out and the bun was very nice, well Isabel said it was, I had mine minus bun. Not wishing to outstay our unsmiling welcome and getting fed up with the conflict between both the television and the background music for our attention, we decided to head into Aberaeron and have coffee and cake instead of pudding.
Wednesday was mushroom hunting day, Isabel aided by the BBC weather fabrication department had decreed Wednesday to be the best day of the week, so after packing a bag of sweets and some water, off up into the mountains to check out some of our favourite mushroom spots. The best day of the week did not really extend far beyond the coast, we drove into mist and when out of the car the low dark clouds would occasionally throw just one single handful of raindrops at us as if in jest. We did however find several wild mushrooms mainly Hedgehogs and Giroles, (properly called Chantrelle until suppliers started calling something else chantrelle just to muddy the water) with the odd slippery jack (Bay Bolete). We both thought that had we had more time or more inclination we would have found lots of penny buns but perhaps another day.
On Thursday as we drove down to Aberaeron for dinner at the Hive on the Quay, the sun believe it or not, just broke through the heavy clouds making a statement of beauty that could only have been ignored by the fatally desensitize.
Dinner at the Hive was very a pleasant affair Isabel chose roast tomato and red pepper soup which she pronounced as being absolutely fabulous I had potted crab with crusty bread, which though very nice would have been better described as crab salad with toast sprinkled with olive oil, as the crab was not potted but mixed with mayonnaise, but that’s just me being picky over menu terms. Isabel`s main course of salmon with roast vegetables again met with approval as did my local Welsh lamb on creamed leeks. How Welsh can you get !
We were somewhat stuck when it came to ordering puddings not actually fancying anything on the menu. The pear tatin sounded nice, but I have only ever eaten one pear in my life, that was when I was five years old and was violently ill afterwards, probably not the pear’s fault but associations live with you. We chose instead some of the famous Hive honey ice cream so all was not lost.
One point I will make about the Hive is the service needs some sharpening, especially with the very slick operation of the Harbourmaster in sight just down the road. I understand the problems of getting restaurant staff these days, but when we write everything down on order pads why do they keep forgetting things?
The family in various guises have eaten now several times at the Hive and on each occasion something has been forgotten. One could understand this sort of laxity if the waiting staff were rushed off their feet but that is not the case, on Thursday evening four servers were dealing with four tables of two and one table of five, thirteen people in total, they forgot our water and Isabel`s liqueur, a bottle of wine for the couple on the left and the vegetables for the table on the right. They do not need lessons in customer service politeness or friendliness, in all these they are top notch, they need lesson in memory or perhaps they really need a different system. But even the forgetful service wont stop us going back, as the food is good ambience just fine and anyway there is always the chance next time they might forget the bill.