An occasional series that takes in dining out, dining in, food bargains and wines to watch out for.
I thought I’d start with the end of the meal this time – and talk about coffee. I’ve had four coffees out in assorted Newark pubs and restaurants recently and it’s been a mixed experience, I must admit.
Of those four, all but one taken black, and naming no names, it’s gone like this: Excellent, undrinkable, not bad, rather weak.
Quite a few establishments claim “the best coffee in town” but I am forever unconvinced by these claims, mainly because in my (clearly biased) opinion the best coffee is to be had at my house. Getting invited is the tricky bit.
There are two reasons why I make this bold and seemingly arrogant claim (I say seemingly arrogant because I don’t usually make the coffee, though it has been known. I do mostly cook the meals though).
These reasons are 1) I always buy the best ground coffee I can find and 2) We use an old-fashioned filter – just a plastic cone lined with paper (don’t bother with filter papers – a folded square of kitchen roll does fine) and near-boiling water, ideally just moistening the coffee for a minute to allow the grounds to swell before adding the rest of the water.
Most folk favour cafetières these days but I’m not keen. You get more sludge in the cup and less flavour, in my experience, and though the results can be OK I still believe filtered is best.
Favourite coffee brands have changed with time. Aldi’s top-of-the-range speciality coffees used to be brilliant and much cheaper than rivals. Then the taste and the standard suddenly changed. We could not find one we liked, so although Aldi was still around £1 a pack cheaper than rivals, we moved on.
Favourite for the past year or two has been Percol Fair Trade coffee from Waitrose. Yes it’s expensive at £3.89 for a standard 227g pack, but boy is it good – rich, fragrant, full of flavour, often with a slight tang.
There’s a range of Percol coffees from different countries or regions but we tend to prefer the Guatemalan, Columbian and Honduran varieties – less keen on the Latin American, and we’ve never tried the Italiano.
My tactic is to wait until it’s on offer – Percol comes up periodically at two for £5.50 at Waitrose – then I stock up big time. This brings the price down to 4p below Waitrose own brand range, which is actually a very good fall- back if the Percol is out of stock or too expensive at full price. Again, Colombian is a favourite.
Eating out lately was largely confined to a day at the seaside (Anderby Creek) followed by fish and chips (natch) in Sutton-on-Sea.
Our usual chippie there, Waldo’s, was packed to overflowing so we tried the local hotel (“no food until 6.30pm” – it was 5.15pm at the time) the café almost opposite (closed that day at 2pm) and finally found The Dolphin, a family-run chippie with waitress service and a comfortable number of customers.
It was a mixed experience. I had the fish and chip special deal – haddock, chips and mushy peas with tea and bread and butter for £7.50.
The Dolphin’s menu declared the pride taken in their fresh Icelandic fish and it was truly superb, fresh, firm and tasty in a lovely light batter which is very hard to find the moment you travel inland. The chips came complete with quite a bit of clinker – dried up examples to be thrown away. The tiny portion of peas came in a large thimble and were watery.
T’other half wanted something lighter and opted for ham and chips (£4.50) with mushy peas (80p). Big mistake. Same so-so chips (too many rejects really), larger portion of (still watery) mushy peas, carelessly slopped over the side of their ramekin so they looked a mess, and two slices of lowest quality catering pack ham, rather like sliced plastic. It was a cheap meal, admittedly, but as the lady said: “I didn’t want cheap. I wanted something nice!” Same went for the quality of junior’s sausage.
Come on guys! We were in Lincolnshire! Why take so much pride in the Icelandic fish but fail to find a decent Lincolnshire sausage, or spend a bit more on some home-cured ham that’s worth eating? Customers are happy to pay for quality, especially on a day out.
Service was OK but until The Dolphin can get the rest of its offerings up to the standard of its wonderful fish, we’re unlikely to return.