Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: The Royal Oak, Paley Street near Maidenhead

We went to dinner at The Royal Oak earlier this week. The Royal Oak is partly known for being run by Nick, the son of Michael Parkinson. In case you can't be bothered to click, Michael Parkinson used to be a famous TV interviewer. I never saw any of his shows, other than his final goodbye program. I've seen more of him doing ads for some sort of retirement scheme on TV than anything else. Still, according to Wiki, he's a keen beekeeper, something I really admire, so he must be alright. But I digress - back to the restaurant.

The restaurant is what I would consider to be your typical old style English pub, but more restaurant than pub nowadays. It's nicely decorated with original artwork and photos on the walls and has nice clean lines to everything. The bathrooms were very very nice, a spot in restaurants that is often overlooked. No table cloths on the modern tables, which makes for an interesting change.

The place was very busy when we arrived, we had to wait for our table, but were given the menus and a chance to order a drink while we waited in seats in the front. They were a bit slow in taking our drinks order, but the drinks themselves came quickly enough. We were shown to our table a little while after placing our orders and getting our drinks. I had scallops with celeriac cream and a hazelnut dressing as a starter and my companion had duck, chicken liver and pistachio terrine. Both starters were good, the scallops were very well cooked, very tender from their light cooking. The terrine was also very good, but unfortunately the grill-toasted bread that was served with it was burnt on the grill marks, which totally overpowered the terrine. Eating it without the bread was much nicer. The grill unfortunately proved to be a problem with my main as well as I had ordered the Angus steak. After a few bites and tasting nothing but the charred marks of the grill from one side of the steak, I knew that something was amiss. Somehow, the grill must have been overheated or something, because both the bread and the steak tasted burnt from being on it. They didn't look burnt, but they certainly tasted it. G. had ordered sea bass and it was extremely good. As I wasn't enjoying the steak, he kindly offered to trade with me. After he took a bite of the steak, he also said it tasted burnt. At this point I finally knew it wasn't just me being a bit fussy, the steak was burnt. We sent it back, with which the waitress apologised profusely and did seem honestly concerned. She offered to bring another main or some more side dishes. We had enough to eat from the mains and decided to leave a bit of room for dessert instead. Desserts were burnt raspberry cream (G had his tongue firmly in his cheek when ordering that I tell you) and blackberry trifle. Once again, delicious. It was a real shame about the steak, because the rest of the food was very good.

So my rating (see here for my personal ratings guide):

Ambiance: 2.5 The atmosphere was good as I said, and the bathrooms knocked it up a notch.
Service: 2.5 Everyone who served us was friendly and efficient. I did think we waited a while to place our first drink order while waiting for our table. But the problem with the steak was dealt with professionally and an offer of a complimentary dessert and coffee was immediately put forth.
Food: 1.5 This is the sad bit. The Royal Oak deserves a better food rating than this. And although I can accept it was an anomaly, especially considering how good the rest of the food was, I can't ignore that I had to send my meal back.

So despite the problems, a good rating of 6.5 out of 9. I feel that another visit would cause the rating to go up, so I will link if I go again. For a special evening out, but with a casual atmosphere, I certainly would consider The Royal Oak.

The Royal Oak, Paley Street website:

P.S. I have been to more than the few restaurants I've reviewed here. But due to unusual circumstances of our visit or more likely, lack of time to post, I've not put any others here. I will try to do more though in the future.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Littlewick Show

So I've finally made it to another show, after being at the Thame Country show last year. We went to the Littlewick Show yesterday. My favourite bit there was the traditional gardening and baking competitions. Some of the baked products looked very nice, but to be honest the vegetables on display were nicer. I was very impressed with some of the carrots, onions and leeks that were there. The size and quality were very good. Even if I got myself organised next year, I doubt I would even place, nevermind win in some categories. But it might be good for a laugh next year, so we'll see. The baking competition should be easy enough to enter. I mean, they even give you the recipe to follow for 2 of them. I'm not saying I would have any chance of winning, but I could at least probably produce something that looked edible with just a couple of days of work. Something I can't always say even after months in the allotment!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Grand European Tour - with child

Once again, we have been on holidays. This may seem rather excessive to some, but I always say everyone makes their own choices in life. We live in a small house, only have one car and live well within our means. We choose to spend our money on travel. Others make other choices and that's their choice. Plus, if we didn't travel, we'd hardly ever see any of our family or friends. So this trip was a trip around Europe to see friends scattered around the continent. We were in France, Switzerland, Germany and The Netherlands. Only Italy was missing for the classic Grand Tour. We took our car and did around 3720 km or 2310 miles. We were gone 16 days in total. Sounds a bit insane to most people, but the trip went exceedingly well. No major meltdowns along the way, we saw and did lots. Some tips if you think you are crazy enough to try it yourself.

Our daughter was 19 months old for this trip and still takes a long nap every day. So we tried to plan most of the driving to happen over this nap so that she didn't get too bored. Children nowadays are so strapped down into their seats, it's hardly a wonder they get bored, despite all the distractions. When I was a kid, I could move around, change position, fight with my sister and stretch out for a nap which helped make long journeys easier. As we went through the trip, we saw that so much driving would never have worked without these naps. So if your kids are past napping, I'd reconsider so much driving. Maybe some things like DVD players or such would help keep them occupied, I couldn't say at this stage.

We tried to break up 2 days driving with at least 2 overnights in the same spot. That way there wasn't a constant packing and unpacking of stuff, plus some consistency in location. The longer you can stay in one spot, the better. And other than one major drive of 6.5 hours (which took 10 hours with breaks), the most driving we did on any one day was 3.5 hours.

Accept the fact that you are going to explore a new town via its playgrounds and parks.

Packing was tough, but we went as light as possible. G and I shared one suitcase and laundry had to be done along the way. Having a super-light and small travel tent for Lena was good for packing. Everything we packed, we used, but even so, the back of our little hatchback was full. In fact, G was the only one who could properly pack it. Anytime I tried to do it, it was piled too high to see out of the back window.

We took a cool bag that we kept stocked with both things Lena liked for snacks and things for lunch for all of us. This saved us both time and money by not stopping in a cafe or restaurant to eat or being forced to buy expensive food from the highway gas stations.

For goodness sake, don't forget whatever blankets, lovies, teddies or dollies makes your child feel secure. Lena is pretty easygoing, but with all the changes in location and new people, she was very attached to her blanket and her "nu-nu" (dummy/soother as she calls it) during the time. I was a bit worried at first with her having them so much, I thought she would become too dependant on them even after the trip. However the day we came back, she hardly needed them at all. Having them at her beck and call during the trip offered her a good deal comfort.

If you are interested in a rough picture of what we drove, check out this link of our driving route.

Once again, thanks to everyone we stayed with and good to see all of you.