Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum

We went over to Denny Abbey and Farmland Museum yesterday. We went fairly early as rain was threatened, and were fortunate that the rain stayed away while we were there (although we could see threatening clouds to the west and rain rolled in after we got home).

There was a special event day. It was interesting, and certainly kept us occupied for a couple of hours. I think they could have made more of it though: another vehicle or two would have made a massive difference, and the real ale and cheese were somewhat underwhelming.

I think we found that the special events didn't add all that much to the visit. Which is a bit of a shame because there had clearly been considerable effort put in, but I got the feeling that a little more effort would have made a huge difference.

As a regular visit it's probably not going to be more than half a day, which is slightly tricky given the opening times. But it's interesting and definitely worthwhile.

We actually visited Denny Abbey some years ago. In fact, it must have been quite a while ago. We don't remember the Farmland Museum, so was probably mid '90s, and my recollection of the Abbey buildings was that they were in much worse repair.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cambridge Beer Festival

Last week was the Cambridge Beer Festival. Held as usual on Jesus Green, the usual array of fine ales and other specialities such as mead was available.

At the beginning of the week anyway! I went for a quick lunch (courtesy of the well known Cheese Counter) on Tuesday and Thursday, and we went for an extended lunch and afternoon session on Saturday. When we arrived on Saturday the choice was already starting to look a bit thin, and by the time we left just after 5 on Saturday there really wasn't much left. I guess record attendance helped drink the place dry.

As always, a thoroughly enjoyable event.

A reminder: join CAMRA. Not only do you get in free, and much quicker, but you're supporting a worthy cause.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bury St Edmunds Beer and Food Festival

On Saturday we went to the Bury Beer and Food Festival, held in the Greene King brewery gardens.

It's not a hard-core beer festival, but as a food festival organized by a brewery and held on it's grounds there is some evidence of beer.

There was a marquee with many stalls, and a number of stalls outside. A fair number of sausage stalls, fudge, cake, beer, wine, specialist foods. Oh, and a bar.

They were also running short beer-tasting sessions in a separate marquee. I thoroughly enjoyed those, especially getting to meet the head brewer.

Would we go again? Probably, yes.

There are a few things I think I would like to see improved on. I would like to see more variety of stalls. Yes, quite a few sausage stalls. Very little evidence of cheese, which I thought odd. Overall, a little lack of diversity (for example, nothing like the La Hogue farm shop or Chilford Hall vineyard). The beer-tasting sessions went well, but there wasn't anything else in terms of displays or presentations. There's not an enormous amount of advertising (or even a proper website or signs) but, to be honest, it's on a pretty small site and I'm not sure they could have got many more people in.

The Plough, Fen Ditton

I went to The Plough in Fen Ditton today. Our department had one of our managers over, so we went as a group.

I was quite impressed by the lunch. I've been there a few times over the years, and recently it's been a bit variable. On the previous couple of visits I felt it had gone too upmarket, being extremely pretentious and trying too hard, but they now seem to have got a much better balance.

The menu has good variety. Yes, there are burgers and standard pub fare, but there is also good variety and some more adventurous dishes.

Presentation is pretty good, quantity is just about right, and the quality of the food was excellent. The king prawns in particular were heroic in stature.

Of particular note is the fixed-price lunch menu. Two courses for under a tenner is extremely good value, and there's a pretty good choice as well. I had the whitebait to start and the breaded pork loin for the main. And I thoroughly enjoyed both.

To summarize: good food, decent choice, well presented, good value for what it is (and the fixed-price menu is exceptional value), and sensible portions. Definitely not basic, but not overly pretentious either.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Newmarket Races

As I get older, it's difficult to think of anything I might need or want as a present, so I've started to think about doing something interesting rather than getting yet more socks.

Last year I had a flight in an antique biplane for Duxford.

This year, we decided to have a day out at Newmarket Races.

We've lived near to Newmarket, the home of racing, for about two decades and, while we've visited the town a few times (and even stayed overnight at a lovely boutique hotel, Garrads) we've never been to a race. So, time to change that!

They do a variety of Party Packs. We went for the Ultimate Party Pack, which includes a proper meal at the Bistro. We got there early, had a little look round to get our bearings, and then went off to the Bistro to have some lunch. We both went for the steak, and it, like the meal as a whole, was excellent. One thing to note: the place can get busy, and they will put small groups together to fill up the tables. (I think this is an excellent idea, by the way - it keeps the queues short, the restaurant buzzing, and you might get some interesting people to talk to.)

We then went off to place a few bets, and did the circuit. Check the horses out at the Pre-Parade Ring; move across to the Parade Ring; and then find somewhere to watch the race (we sat up in the millennium grandstand, stood in the premier enclosure, and watched one from the rails right next to the finishing post). Then (hopefully!) back to the Winners' Enclosure before collecting your winnings.

There were 7 races. We got two winners and 4 places, only drawing a blank in the 1000 Guineas itself. It's just luck, but we managed to get almost all our money back. We went for the Tote, which seemed to be simple enough.

The weather was fine - dry and sunny, a bit breezy in exposed places - and we thoroughly enjoyed the day. And we will definitely go again.

It wasn't as busy as I expected. Sure, there were lots of people, but it never felt crowded, and the place itself was quite a bit smaller than I thought it would be.

There are a few comments, largely about organization. It's not clear to me that the £20 difference between the Premier and Ultimate Party Packs on the Premier race days is worth it. Basically, you get either the starter or dessert in the restaurant, so it's actually worth less than £10. Go for the Premier instead of the Ultimate, and put the money you save towards something else. (And actually check whether the pack will save you money.) Transport is a bit tricky, especially if you're going to have a drink or two and don't want to drive - there wasn't anything viable via public transport on the Sunday, so we took a taxi both ways. You would think that they would take more effort to organize transport, especially given the traffic jams on race days. And the website could do with just a bit of work to take it from average to good - it has all the content you need, but it can be tricky to find stuff and navigate around it.

Black Bull, Sawston

We went down to the Black Bull in Sawston yesterday. Went down on the bus, specially for their 1st Annual Beer Festival.

We weren't disappointed. A decent range of excellent beers, all the ones I tried were very good, and a small barbecue and hog roast (although we had some of the bar snacks as we were getting a bit peckish).

Staff were very friendly, and there was a very good atmosphere, so highly recommended.