Harry Potter and Boots of Beer

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Lavenham, Suffolk, bills itself as England’s best preserved medieval town. As a bit of a history buff it is a place DonQui has wanted to visit for some time. Even though it is not far from his home paddock on the Suffolk coast, he has not managed it until now.

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In the heart of Suffolk, not too far from Bury St. Edmunds, Lavenham is not easy to find. There are no main roads and no rail lines. To get there DonQui has to wind his way along narrow country lanes with only just enough room for two cars coming in opposite directions to squeeze past each other. Perhaps this is why the place is so well preserved.

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If you like old timber-framed houses this is the place for you. Many of the wonky buildings have been standing since the 14th century. Walking around the compact streets DonQui feels as if he has stepped back in time — parked cars notwithstanding.

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Fans of Harry Potter may well recognise the De Vere house as Harry’s birthplace from the film The Deathly Hallows.

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Several other films have also used the backdrop of Lavenham’s medieval streets as a backdrop.

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Many of the houses have pink plaster. The colour is still known today as ’Suffolk pink’. Originally this colour was obtained by mixing pigs’ blood with the plaster. DonQui assumes that the modern versions are more likely made by chemical combinations to match the natural original.

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Most of the buildings can only be admired from the outside but the Guildhall can be visited. It has been restored inside along with some excellent exhibits of its origins in the Flanders wool trade.

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Later it became a house of correction where the ‘idle and disorderly’ (poor and homeless) were incarcerated in the misguided idea that hard work and cruel conditions would make them more productive members of society.

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These reproductions of original notices give DonQui an idea of the fate of those unfortunates. One woman was incarcerated for having brought two children with smallpox into the town.

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There is also a bit of relatively modern history to the place. RAF Lavenham was an active airfield during the second world war and was home to the USAAF’ s 487th Bombardment Group which flew 185 missions between May 1944 and April 1945 with the loss of 233 lives. The Airmen’s Bar in the Swan Hotel is dedicated to their memory.

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Original graffiti from British and American pilots adorns the walls along with modern additions from returning veterans and their offspring.

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DonQui particularly likes the ‘boot record’ from 1940 which lists the times it took various British servicemen to drink a ‘boot’ of beer. Ironically this is a German tradition in which a couple of litres of beer are drunk in one go from a glass in the shape of a boot. DonQui did this in his younger days when he was living in Germany. The trick is to keep the toe of the boot pointing down otherwise an air-bubble will cause the drinker to be drenched, much to the amusement of the on-lookers.

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DonQui takes his hat off to W.H. Culling of the RAF who drank the boot in an incredible 59 seconds on 5 July 1940 only to do it again eight days later in 40 seconds!

Lavenham has plenty of excellent watering holes. These include:

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The Great House. This is where DonQui stayed and he reviewed it fully in his previous post. As boutique hotel with only 5 rooms it must be reserved well in advance. If you cannot get a room there, DonQui recommends treating yourself to at least one meal in the wonderful French restaurant.

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The Swan. Home of the atmospheric Airmen’s Bar, the Swan also has rooms and two eating possibilities.

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The restaurant is excellent, offering modern British cuisine of nearly the same quality as The Great House although it does not have quite the same ambiance. Duchess proclaims her goat’s cheese pannacotta with beetroot granita as one of the most interesting dishes she has ever tasted.

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The Swan’s Brasserie is more casual but with a bunch of tables and plastic chairs set up in a hallway, DonQui is not tempted.

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Attached to the Swan is an excellent Spa with a full range of treatments and a hot tub.

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Number 10 gets good reviews on TripAdvisor. The old timbered building and interesting menu posted outside tempts DonQui. When he goes inside to potentially make a reservation his ears are assaulted with the sounds of manufactured pop music of the worst kind. When he asks if this sort of stuff is played through dinner he is informed that it is. With a gentle snort he turns on his hooves and looks elsewhere.

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The Lavenham Greyhound is a Greene King pub. DonQui goes in for an afternoon drink and enjoys it. He cannot vouch for the food but the menu has fairly typical good pub food options. The bowls of soup he sees being brought to another table look good.

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The Guildhall  has a very good café offering tea, coffee and baked goods. Their scones are baked on the premises and DonQui tucks into one along with clotted cream and a blackcurrant jam while Duchess takes hers with raspberry jam. The scones are truly excellent. It is well worth a stop.

Food and Drink in Addis Ababa

Ethiopia has a distinctive cuisine which DonQui would like to know better. The staple is injera – a very large soft flatbread made from fermented teff flour. It tends to be served rolled up and the diner unrolls it to place a spicy thick stew (wat) on top.

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Injera has a slightly sour taste and it takes DonQui some time to get accustomed to it. Dishes without meat are usually identified as ‘fasting’ since the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has a number of fasting days when meat is not supposed to be eaten.

With only a few days in Addis Ababa, DonQui is only able to try out a few places and sample a limited number of dishes. He would have liked to try kifto which is a sort of Ethiopian tartare of high quality spiced meat served barely cooked or raw. Unfortunately he does not get around to it on this trip.

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A ‘Traditional Ethiopian feast with Cultural Show’ sounds frighteningly touristy to DonQui but dinner at Yod Abyssinia comes highly recommended so he decides to give it a go. The show is actually rather good and he does not feel like he has entered a tourist trap.

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The vast majority of customers are well-heeled looking locals and before long many of them are up on their feet and dancing along with the music.

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The food is excellent with an extensive buffet giving DonQui the chance to sample a wide variety of Ethiopian dishes he might not otherwise have come across. This is a good place to come with a group to share the vast array of food on offer.

DonQui is surprised at the large portions which seem to be offered up in the restaurants he goes to. At the Jupiter Hotel restaurant he tries out tibs fir-fir with injera. Tibs are roasted meats — in this case lamb. The fir-fir is a spicy tomato sauce with also has slices of rolled injera mixed in. The dish is is served with two additional injera, not than DonQui needs more.

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It is excellent but the amount is overwhelming and DonQui can barely manage half of it. He reckons that his portion could easily feed a small family. A Kenyan expat tells him that such large portions are increasingly common in Addis Ababa.

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Ethiopian beer is good. DonQui previously mentioned Habesha Cool Gold which is one of his favourite local bottled beers. Better still are the German style blonde and dark beers brewed on the premises of the Beer Garden.

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Catering to a mix of locals and expats this brew pub quickly becomes DonQui’s favourite watering hole. He particularly likes their dark beer but does not go as far as to try out one of the five litre towers. The Germanic influenced food is excellent — especially the chips and the Beer Garden’s signature grilled chicken.

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DonQui does not get around to sampling tej — Ethiopia’s honey wine. He does, however, drink plenty of the country’s most famous beverage which is coffee. The Ethiopians claim to have discovered coffee and they take great pride in it. Served in a similar way to Turkish coffee it has a smooth, slightly chocolaty taste which DonQui likes very much. At the end of a meal it is often somewhat bizarrely served with popcorn.

The Perfect Country Pub

DonQui has been rather quite of late and for this he apologises. With summer approaching and various other tedious distractions now behind him, he resolves to get back to the important  business of living life to the fullest. He has some travels coming up soon but on this English holiday weekend he decides to stay firmly on home ground.

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After all he does live in a corner of Suffolk favoured by tourists so why put up with crowded airports and traffic jams when he can simply trot out of his paddock to enjoy what others travel far to experience.

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Nearby Southwold will be overrun with tourists so instead of venturing into the coastal town he heads a bit inland to one of his favourite country pubs — The Star in Wenhaston.

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It just so happens that the Star has a beer festival running over the weekend. With live music, barbecue and a wide selection of beers and ciders on offer for £3 a pint it would be foolish to pass it up.

Now DonQui has previously expounded his philosophy of what makes a good pub. The Ship and Shovel in London is a perfect example of a really good urban pub. The Star at Wenheston is a truly great country pub.

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The sign on the wall says it all. The Star is a proper old fashioned pub of the kind which is becoming increasingly difficult to find as so many are taken over by chains, given a gastropub make-over or otherwise turned into identikit versions of each other.

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In autumn and winter there is a roaring fire in the bar which makes it a great place to escape the damp grey of the colder English seasons.

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One night a month the Star hosts “spin a disk” where you can bring samples of your vinyl collections to play on the record player (younger readers may need to look that up). One might hear anything from traditional jazz to cheesy pop, interspersed with a bit of Led Zeppelin, Bowie, or The Who. It all depends on what people decide to bring with them.

bric a brac.jpgRun by Carl and Virginia, The Star remains quirky and resolutely independent.

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The wonderful bric-a-brac decorating the walls are reflective of the fact that The Star has not been designed by marketing consultants and long may it remain thus.

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The Star is a free-house which is rare in the heart of Adnams country. Not that DonQui has anything against Adnams beers, which are brewed down the road in Southwold. It is just that every once in a while he enjoys trying something else and most pubs in the area are tied to the Adnams brewery.

beer bar.jpgFor some reason, DonQui does not enquire why, all the beers on offer at the beer festival are from Yorkshire rather than Suffolk. Taking a half pint glass he samples several of them and is pleased by the variety of tastes from citrusy pale ales to more malty darker ones. One of his favourites, from Kelham Island Brewery is ‘London Calling’ — an odd name perhaps for a Yorkshire beer, complete with a cameo of The Clash on the barrel. Dark, full of deep flavour and good hoppy bitterness DonQui thinks it makes a great beer to sip and savour. A close runner up is Atlantic Crossing which apparently was originally a joint venture between York’s Rudgate Brewery and the Hogshead Brewery of Colorado USA —hence the name.

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The sun is shining, the music is good (mostly) with a variety of performers playing an eclectic mix of folk, blues, jazz and rock.

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The barbecue provides a steady supply of burgers, sausages or steaks during the lunch and supper hours.

Goulash cooked in a large pot over an open fire provides sustenance in-between.

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Sampling yet another beer, DonQui decides that there are worse ways to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.

A Proper Pub in London

So what does DonQui mean by a ‘proper pub’?

He would say it should be a place where you feel at home, where you can drink good beer (proper cask conditioned ales alongside decent continental imports) and wile away the hours chatting with friends.

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The Ship and Shovel on Craven Passage near Charing Cross is just such a pub. In central London such places are sadly becoming a rarity. It does serve food and DonQui vaguely remembers having a decent lunch or two here in the past. But that is not the point. This is not where one goes to for a gastronomic experience, not that DonQui has the slightest problem with gastronomy as regular readers will certainly know.

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Nor is this a place where one might be offered the latest trends in oddly mixed concoctions sold as over-priced ‘cocktails’. It is a place for companionship, good conversation and a decent draught or two.

The Ship and Shovel serves Badger beers, which come from Dorset and are not that widely available elsewhere. DonQui fondly remembers his first pint of Badger at the late lamented Angel in Paddington which the current landlords of the Ship and Shovel used to run. It was where he first met Duchess, but that is another story.

So back to the Ship and Shovel.

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On one side of Craven Passage (on the north side) is the Ship…

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…and opposite is the Shovel.

Smokers can puff away to their hearts’ content out of the weather in the connecting passage despite the best efforts of the Puritans who would like to ban such sinful pleasures.

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On an early Thursday evening the place is heaving. The nearby Ministry of Defence generally supplies a good number of after work regulars but the crowd is eclectic. Groups of males predominate but it is not unfriendly to women nor are the men loud, boozy or unpleasant. For the most part they are catching up with friends over a pint or two and this is exactly what DonQui was doing.

Meeting up with an old friend he had not seen for a while, the Ship and Shovel was the perfect place to reminisce, discuss politics, the state of the universe, and generally catch up. After a pint or three, followed up with a whisky, DonQui and his friend had throughly put the world to rights.

This is the whole point of a proper pub.

Long may they survive!

A Glasgow Watering Hole

On a wet, windy afternoon DonQui finds himself north of Hadrian’s Wall in Glasgow. He is in need of a good place to settle down with a pint or two and to do a bit of work.

DonQui has not been to Glasgow for a while and he does not really know where to go. A helpful hint from a local sends him off towards Merchant City where he is assured he might find several descent watering holes.

After a good trot around the neighbourhood he is draw towards Rab Ha’s
It takes its name from Robert Hall, the 19th century ‘Glesca Glutton’, who was celebrated throughout the west of Scotland for his eating prowess.

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And a very good choice it proves to be.

The cosy interior with exposed stonework, wood panelling and fairy lights seem to cut just the right atmosphere. Unusually all the bar staff and all the customers are female which is a rather pleasant surprise. DonQui does not get the impression that it is a lesbian hang out, not that he would have minded, but it is certainly very female friendly even if a few other males of the species drop in a bit later on.

There are a reasonable selection of beers on tap and DonQui first opts to try a Blue Moon which is a craft wheat beer from Colorado.

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Now a few years ago DonQui would have snorted in disgust if someone had proposed an American beer. Over the past decade, however, there have been an increasingly interesting selection of really good brews coming from over the Atlantic. This particular one has the style of a Belgian witbier and is served with a slice of orange to complement the slight orangey taste imparted by the orange peel and coriander which goes into the brew.

It is different, interesting and surprisingly pleasant. DonQui is glad he gave it a go even if he will probably not make it a regular tipple.

DonQui spends a very pleasant couple of hours here, doing a bit of writing and switching to the local Belhaven Best to follow the Blue Moon. He also highly approves of the selection of music — mostly from the early to mid ‘70s with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, Don McLean, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Billy Joel and David Bowie coming over the speakers at just the right volume level so as not to be too intrusive.

When he next finds himself in Glasgow DonQui will definitely return.

A London Shopping Survival Guide

DonQui rather enjoys shopping for food and browsing around book shops but other than that he hates shopping. In this regard he is probably not too dissimilar from most males of various species. His idea of hell on earth is a shopping mall so you will never see him in Westfield nor any other such ghastly place.

What to do then when online shopping does not provide the easy answer and a London shopping trip becomes unavoidable?

 

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First of all DonQui will avoid Oxford Street at all costs. Heaving with tourists and shopaholics it makes an unpleasant experience positively unbearable. This is especially true this time of year when Christmas lights are already up in early November and all the shops are blaring out soppy, truly awful Christmas songs. Perhaps the muzak is supposed to encourage people to buy — but it only makes DonQui want to kick the speakers and gallop off to the nearest pub to calm his nerves.

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When a shopping expedition cannot be avoided he heads for Kings Road.

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Now it does sadden DonQui that the cool shops of the swinging sixties and punk seventies have been replaced by bland chain stores. The Sloanes took over in the eighties and seem never to have left.

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True, Vivienne Westwood’s World’s End is still at — well World’s End. Under various names, it dressed the Sex Pistols and unleashed punk, bondage and pirate fashions. But is no longer the epicentre of current fashion that it once was.

The shop where Mary Quant first brought miniskirts and hot pants the world (thereby earning DonQui’s eternal gratitude) is now a café. Although there is a Mary Quant shop around the corner in York Square the company is now owned by Japanese businessmen.

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The infamous Chelsea Drugstore featured in Clockwork Orange and the Rolling Stones lyrics in You Can’t Always Get What You Want, is now a McDonalds.

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Leaving nostalgia aside for more practical matters, the usual place DonQui starts a canter down Kings Road is at Sloane Square. Not much to hold him there as the various cafés are on the expensive side and not particularly cosy. However the Christmas lights are relatively tasteful and there is no horrid Christmas music. If you fancy a bit of theatre later on the Royal Court has a reputation for putting on new and innovative plays. It brought us the original Rocky Horror Picture Show back in 1973.

On the corner of Sloane Square, Peter Jones department store sells pretty much everything except food (for that there is a Waitrose further down the road). Now DonQui is not a great fan of department stores but this one has nice stuff and is not too crowded. It is part of the John Lewis group, retaining the old name of the original store which was bought up by Mr John Lewis himself back in 1905.

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Opposite Peter Jones is Duke of York Square which has a goodly collection of upmarket chain shops, a large Zara and, more importantly quite a few rather good eateries. The former Duke of York’s Barracks is now home to the Saatchi Gallery for contemporary art.

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On Saturday morning there is a very good food market on the square where DonQui has often gone to pick up various delectables. Sometimes in summer he has combined this with a coffee and croissant sitting outside for breakfast at Partridges. The family run Partridges is a venerable institution reminding DonQui a little of Fortnum and Masons.

From Duke of York Square to the Chelsea Old Town hall there are a wide range of shops ranging from upmarket designers to Marks and Spencer’s.

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If in need of a quick lunch Al Dar is an excellent Lebanese restaurant and/or take-away. DonQui is particularly fond of their lamb shawarma which is made with proper whole pieces of lamb, beautifully spiced.

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Alternatively the Amorino has some really very good all-natural Italian style ice cream just across the road.

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Those with too much money burning a hole in their pocket could drop into Ghost to buy their girlfriend the dress worn by Bond Girl Léa Sedoux in SPECTRE.

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Or, you could sneak down Blacklands Terrace for some respite at John Sandoe’s wonderful independent bookshop, leaving any accompanying Generation X, Y or Z’ers in Jack Wills on the corner.

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Most of the women in DonQui’s life seem rather taken with American import Anthropologie opposite the Trafalgar pub. Left to their own devices they could happily spend hours in there.

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A good tactic is to let them do this and repair to the pub while they try stuff on. One can always join them later to give a verdict on things they are thinking about buying but have not yet made a decision on. Be careful when doing this, a glance at their facial expression will give a clue whether you are supposed to give positive re-assurance or if the female is genuinely unsure and it is safe not to like something she is considering.

The trick to surviving a shopping trip in DonQui’s view, is to intersperse buying stuff in shops with plentiful stop offs at pubs or cafés

IMG_5904.jpgA little bit off Kings Road, down Smith Street, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes in the area.  Part of the Geronimo Inns group, the Phoenix is a great drinking pub with comfortable bar area and a few seats outside. It also has pretty good food.

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Once, a few months back, when enjoying a drink outside, DonQui was entertained by a filming going on in the street.

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Further down Kings Road and tucked away on a back street (Britten Street) is The Builders Arms. Another Geronimo outlet it is more of a gastro pub with food being the main attraction. Another very good gastro pub with a descent bar area is the Pigs Ear down Old Church Street past the Red Cross charity shop for the price conscious shopper and Manolo Blahnik for anything but.

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If you want an unfussy old fashioned boozer you will need to go the Chelsea Potter.

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Kings Road is especially blessed with good cafés from the excellent French imports like Pauls and Le Pain Quotidien to home grown ones.

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Recently DonQui stopped off for a coffee and croissant at the Chelsea Quarter and found it very good indeed.

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A good place for a lunch stop is the Chelsea Farmers Market just around the corner on Sidney Street — but don’t expect to find any Chelsea farmers there. They became extinct many years ago. Instead you will find a couple of good eateries — especially an excellent pizzeria. The restaurants are mostly geared to alfresco dining so it is much better in summer.

From the Chelsea Old town hall to World’s End the big chains gradually give way to some more independents as well as some very ordinary places such as Tesco, a post office and several charity shops. The charity shops along and just off King’s Road are very good places to pick up brand new stuff at knock down prices. The many more money than sense inhabitants of Chelsea will often offload their unwanted purchases here and the charity shops have cottoned onto it — shipping in their best stuff from elsewhere to stock the Kings Road outlets. Red Cross and Oxfam are particularly good.

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Vivianne Westwood’s wonky World’s End shop with its backwards running clock, the World’s End pub and World’s End nurseries mark what is surely the end of Kings Road. The road does apparently carry on a bit further but DonQui is fairly certain that if you go beyond the World’s End pub nothing much good will come from it. It may be that you will fall off the edge of the world, or possibly end up in Fulham — which is more or less the same thing.

England’s Atlantis

DonQui is relieved to arrive back in England to crisp, sunny, autumn weather. Although it certainly feels cold after Tanzania’s mid 30° temperatures, at least it is not grey and rainy.
It being that day of the week, DonQui decides to partake in the English ritual of a walk in the country followed by a Sunday roast at a suitable pub.

One of his favourite places to do this is Dunwich.

Dunwich beachNow not many people have heard of Dunwich and with good reason… Like Atlantis, most of it lies under the sea.

Yet back in medieval times Dunwich was one of England’s most important towns. It was in the top ten listed in the Doomsday Book of 1086, growing in size and prosperity over the next 300 years. Trade with Flanders and the royal shipyards made Dunwich the most important port on the East coast, second only to London. It was here that King Edward III’s fleet was built for the invasion of France in the Hundred Years War.

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However, the sand cliffs on which Dunwich is built are highly vulnerable to erosion. A great storm in 1347 swept away 400 houses as the cliffs crumbled and fell into the sea. In the years that followed the once great port silted up and the Blyth River changed its course. By the beginning of the 17th century Dunwich had lost 3/4 of its original size and the erosion continues still.

Dunwich greyfriarsToday all that remains of the once great medieval city are the ruins of the Greyfriars monastery and St James’ chapel which once administered to a leper colony. Both of these buildings were inland from the original city walls. All that was once inside the walls is now under the sea.

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The more than 5000 inhabitants of medieval times has shrunk to a modern population of less than 200. A rather good little museum tells the story

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Tucked in amongst the cottages of modern Dunwich is the Ship Inn — one of DonQui’s favourite pubs in the area. After a circular walk over the cliffs, through Greyfriars’ Wood and around the monastery DonQui is ready for a pint and some roast beast with all the trimmings.

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The Ship is a free house serving an ever changing selection of local beers and ciders. This is a rarity in these parts where most pubs are tied to Southwold’s Adnams’ brewery. Now in the past there was no love lost between Dunwich and Southwold so it is perhaps not surprising to find the Ship maintaining its independence. Although DonQui is a great fan of Adnams’ beers he finds it refreshing to have a wider choice every once in a while.

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He samples the Jenny Morgan, and finds it quite refreshing with a light hoppy taste. Brewed by Green Jack of Lowestoft it is apparently named after a girl in an old mariners’ song who waits at home for her sweetheart who is out at sea.

Dunwich menu

Unlike many pubs on Sunday, The Ship offers other options in addition to the traditional Sunday Roast. However it is roast than DonQui wants, choosing the beef while Duchess goes for the pork. They also decide to share the watermelon, feta, pumpkin seed and basil salad as a starter. It simply sounded too interesting to pass up and DonQui was glad he didn’t — it was utterly delicious.

The Ship always does an excellent roast and this time was no exception. Both were very good but DonQui thought that the pork possible had the edge on the beef. Unfortunately he tucked into the food right away rather than taking photographs.

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However he did remember to capture the image of the rather spectacular knickerbocker glory which served as an excellent shared desert.