Tallinn Tales – Ice, Beer and Ear of Pig

As you will have gathered from the previous Tallinn Tales it was pretty cold. It got down to -17 degrees. One of the first things I did when we arrived was to slip on the compacted ice and fall flat on my backside getting out of the cab at our hotel.

Frozen mid flow

Mind you not all of the ice was on the streets. Just off the town square and up the street called Dunkri is the Merchant’s House Hotel. In the basement you will find the very trendy Ice Bar.

Very icy vodka

Yes those vodka shot glasses are ice, but there are also cocktails served in traditional glasses, like the Kill Bill (Absinthe, Galliano and Jagermeister) or the quite extraordinary Green Fairy (Absinthe and Triple Sec), which is set alight, the vapour trapped within a glass and inhaled through a straw up the nose. Cocktails are about €5.

Still enough of such hedonistic pursuits, over the road is the Beer House (Dunkri 5). This is a German style brau haus that brews its own beer on the premises using Austrian yeast and German malt. Once you get past the extremely rude doorkeeper, the interior is very much as you would expect it to be, long benches, a stage for an Om Pah band and waiting staff in lederhosen and drindls. Then through the back there are a series of booths and small private dining cabins. We ate there on the second night and the food was quite good if mostly pork based.

Yes it's deep fried crunchy pigs ears#The deep fried crunchy pigs ears

The deep fried crunchy pigs ears were surprisingly tasty is a bit chewy, but I prefered my herrings with potato as a starter. I chose steak as a main, which was OK, but there seemed to be no difference between medium and rare as they both  seeped blood onto the plate. the most curious thing on the menu was the potato sausage which came with one of my companions pork knuckle. It was exactly that a sausage skin stuffed with mash!

This is quite a fun place for a night out, but it does get a bit boisterous and some of the staff are a bit sour. Home brew is about €4 a pint.

Here’s my top traveller tip for the Beer House: If you are in Tallinn for a couple of days with a few friends, pop in on your first day and buy a Beer House card for €10. This is activated the following day and will get you a 10% discount off your bill. We saved €18 on a meal for four with (lots of) drinks the following evening.

For a cheaper drink head back into the main square, where in the bowels of the Town Hall,

Tallinn's Town Hall

you will find the Dragon. That’s the name of this medieval themed pub, not the proprietor!  Here all the drinks are all €2 and served in a variety of chipped ceramic pots. Not that you can see what you are drinking as the Dragon is lit by candles.

Prepare to enter the Dragon, is Bruce Lee about?

As you leave you are asked to deposit any pots that you are not intending to steal in the basket by the door, according to our hostess, that’s where her dog comes to lick them clean!

Things not to do in Edinburgh

Life is always full of little surprises and as we explore this little lump of rock on its journey round the Sun, there is always something to learn.

The Castle from the bottom of Queensferry Road

When we checked into Edinburgh’s Haymarket Travelodge last Thursday, we were delighted to get that massive room with the bow-window again. (Don’t ask about the room with the demented plumbing sounding like the mutant offspring of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band and a Heinkel bomber we’d swapped it for) Once we had settled in, since the weather was so lovely, we set off from the Palladian mansions of the New Town to the daughter’s flat, stopping off here and there for a drink.

Mathers Bar is an old school boozer at the bottom of Queensferry Road, dating back to 1903,

Mather's Bar

It looked intriguing from the outside and inside there was a lot of the original brass, glass and polished wood. So far so good, but as soon as we crossed the threshold we realised we were not welcome. It was like that moment in the Western saloon when everything goes quiet and the customers turn their heads to look at the strangers. Worse still one of the those strangers was a woman.

The barman was friendly enough and the hand drawn Scotch ale was great, but we were quite obviously intruding in a private sub-culture of damaged hard drinkers, judging by the cloud of resentment overhead. We finished our pints and left, only to find two of the old drunks following us as we headed into Princes Street. We soon lost them, but disturbing nonetheless.

Beer and Curry in Theydon Bois

Even though it’s just two stops east on the Central Line from where we live, I had never been to the Essex village of Theydon Bois until about a month ago. Until recently it was just another point on the London tube map, but thanks to my elbow injury I was refered to see a physiotherapist there. Now being the sort of person who likes to make the best of any new situation I thought I’d see what else Theydon Bois had to offer and discovered two pubs and three Indian restaurants all within five minutes walk of the station. This bears future investigation I thought.

Before we go any further here’s a wee bit of history. the second part of the name is generally pronounced ‘boys’ and is derived from the Norman French de Bosco family who held the local manor in the 12th and 13th centuries. The spelling was only standardised as Bois in the 19th century when the Great Eastern Railway needed it for the station signs.

So where to eat? Well The Indian Ocean (Coppice Row) seemed to top the local recommendations, so reservations made we headed to the tube station. On arrival the first thing that struck me was that it was very dark. This is because the local villagers have consistently voted against street lighting  to maintain the local ambience and keep their council tax bills down. Whether this leads to more accidents and burglaries I don’t know, but it does mean that the night sky is very clear, so you can see plenty of stars.

The Bull, Theydon Bois

Our first stop was The Bull (Station Approach, Coppice Row). The building dates back to the 17th century when it used to be a private residence, but today it’s a fairly large and traditional village pub. Just the sort of pub we like really, music not too loud and a happy atmosphere, mind you any pub that does not need to have a goon on the door on a Saturday is alright by me.  It’s a Charles Wells brewery pub and the real ales on tap on Saturday, included Bombardier and The Governor. I had a pint of the latter and very pleasant it was. The food looked good, with generous sized portions too.

Next stop was The Queen Victoria (Coppice Row). This is a McMullen’s pub serving AK and Country bitter from the hand pumps. We opted for the cosy Victoria Room, much favoured by the local dog owners, rather than the bar,

The portal to the Victoria Room

where I enjoyed a pint of Country in front of the blazing log fire before the main event.

Now we had heard a lot of good things about the Indian Ocean and getting a table had been quite difficult. The restaurant is very contemporary in design and features a huge set of screens where air is pumped through water to constantly changing coloured light. I made a mental note not to sit facing them ever again as it was a bit like  watching the opening credits to a 1970s edition of Dr Who for the duration of our visit.

Dr Who Screen

So what was the food like. A bit mixed really Mab and I stated with the Harryali Kebab, tender char grilled chicken breast dusted with mint, coriander, garlic and chili which was delicious, but Nick’s Shami kebab was tasteless and bland. For a main I had the Rajeshwari chicken. Consisting of chicken cooked in tomato, peppers, coriander and garlic it was very good, Mab’s Dalcha Gosth (shredded lamb cooked with green chilis and coriander) was also a success, but Nick’s Duck e Roshidi (tomato, garlic, green pepper, coriander and onions) was again a bit bland in flavour. The side dishes Tadka Dahl, Aloo Gobi, Keema Naan and Sag Paneer were all excellent especially the Sag Paneer, which can often be a disaster in the wrong hands.

With wine beer and water the whole meal came to around £76 which I thought was pretty good value, despite the disappointment over some of the dishes selected.

A Bit of Christmas Cheer at the Duke of Wellington High Beech

With Christmas Eve on a Saturday this year Cook’s extended family could enjoy a get together before the big day (with no cooking or washing up) at one of our favourite local pubs, The Duke of Wellington in High Beech in Essex. (see my previous post https://shipscooksstuff.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/lunch-at-the-duke-of-wellington-and-a-walk-in-the-epping-forest/ for more details

The Duke of Wellington, Epping Forest

We had booked our Christmas lunch seemingly months ahead, so it wasn’t surprising that most of us had forgotten what we had originally ordered when we turned up, no need to worry though as the friendly bar staff soon had us sorted with drinks and our starters. My crayfish and prawn salad overflowed the bowl while the pate, soup and baked Camonbert of my dining companions all went down a treat.

Next up was the roast meat. Whether it was rare or cremated the chef went out of his way to make sure that everyone got their meat exactly how they wanted it and there was more than enough veg to go with it, not to mention a scrumptious cranberry and apple sauce to go accompany the turkey. For desert there was a choice of homemade cheesecake, spotted dick with custard or a festive chocolate orange creme brulee, which was simply divine.

All things considered for seven people, top value at about £165 including many and various drinks.

OK people, enjoy the holidays whether you are of any faith or none.


Edinburgh – Saturday Hunting for the Farmer’s Market

We had a bit of a lie in on Saturday morning before going in search of the Farmer’s Market. The only problem was that we only had a vague idea of where it was. Still the weather was absolutely stunning, so unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before we found ourselves sitting on the Castle Arms‘s terrace overlooking the Grassmarket.

View to Grassmarket

So what to drink? Well one of my favourite Scottish beers is made by Innis and Gunn. The story goes that the ale was originally produced to impart a beer flavour to oaken whisky casks, before being pored down the drain, then the workers at the whisky distillery tasted it (more like someone caught them trying it I reckon) and Innis and Gunn Oak aged ale was born. I don’t know how true that is, but the beer does have a lovely toffee like flavour with just a hint of vanilla. So imagine my delight when Nick came back from the bar with not one but two bottles.

“They asked me if we wanted the dark or the light, so I bought us one of each”

Why choose when you can have both

Now the light one is the traditional oak cask ale, while the dark one has been matured in a rum cask and boy can you tell. The flavour just explodes in the back of your mouth all dark rum caramels. This is definitely one to try again.

So as we were sitting there enjoying our beers, along came a Harry Potter tour. According to the guide the view of Edinburgh’s skyline  inspired impoverished. single mum author JK Rowling‘s vision of Hogwarts. Mind you seemingly every cafe in the city is where she wrote Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone.

“You could have made a few quid there” says Nick as they wander off.

“You could have posed as Hagrid for a fiver a shot!”

If only he’d thought of that before they left!

Anyway man can’t live by beer alone, no matter how enticing that idea may be. so we set off towards the Grassmarket, taking the the staircase down  into Victoria Street. Suddenly we were overwhelmed by the smell of roasting pork coming from here.

Grunt if you like it

A whole shop devoted to roasted piggies, after two bottles of Innis and Gunn’s finest how could I resist. Bearing in mind that we were still trying to find Edinburgh’s so far elusive Farmer’s Market and it’s grazing potential, I resisted the temptation of the 260 gram Grunter (£4.60) and the 160 gram Oink (£3.60) and went for the 80 gram Piglet (£2.60).

I'm gonna eat you little piggie

I had mine in a bun with sage and onion stuffing and chili sauce, although haggis and apple sauce are also available. Quite delicious it kept me going while we continued our search. Will we find the Farmer’s Market? Stay tuned for the next installment.

Lunch at the Duke of Wellington and a Walk in Epping Forest

Living on the outskirts of Epping Forest we made the most of the late October sunshine this weekend, when we went for lunch at the Duke of Wellington at High Beach.

The Duke of Wellington, High Beach, Epping Forest

The pub was originally built in the middle of the 19th century, at a time when the Iron Duke used to visit his friend General Grosvenor, who lived nearby in the then sleepy little Essex town of Loughton.  Today it’s a very family friendly little boozer that is very popular with the local riding set, so there are plenty of folks in boots and jodhpurs propping up the bar. Drinks are reasonably priced for a pub the London area and its the only one I have come across where the house lager is Asahi.

Being quite hungry we ordered some starters, chicken sticks and baked cheese straws.

Baked Cheese Straws and Chicken Sticks

The chicken sticks were very tasty, but I thought the baked cheese straws were a bit bland. Perhaps cutting a bit of chilli through the cheese would have just given them a little extra bite, however they were very nicely presented. When it came to the mains I wish I’d plumped for the Merlot and steak pie that Nick had.

Superb Merlot and Steak Pie

It was a proper full crust pie, packed with meat and served with a mountain of chips,  crisp of shell with a fluffy heart. Instead I went for the cheeseburger,

Disappointing Cheeseburger

perhaps I have been spoilt recently, but what I am looking for in a pub or restaurant burger (and for the price) is an artisan bun, a homemade patty and certainly not a Kraft cheese slice. This fell on all three counts, but on the plus side, there was a lovely crispy salad and a mountain of chips. Mab’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni, on the other hand, was one of the best I have sampled in a long time.

Excellent Spinach and Ricotta Canneloni

The Powder Monkey had a very substantial tuna mayonnaise baguette, which the chef chopped red onions through by special request, so extra points there and more points for replacing the erroneous tuna mayo baked potato that had arrived first, without any fuss at all.

Chips by the bucket, does it get any better?

On balance for our £57, including drinks and a couple of extra buckets of those ‘oh so good’ chips, I thought it was pretty good value, the food was beautifully presented and I’d certainly eat there again, only next time I will avoid ordering a burger.

Hunger satisfied we went for a wander in the forest. Most of the trees around High Beach are beeches, but there are also a few oaks. As you can see they are still green of leaf, thanks to the unseasonal weather.

Mighty Oak and Beech Trees

There is also a lot of wildlife to be seen. We spotted dragonflies, magpies, jackdaws and loads of grey squirrels, while trying to avoid the numerous rabbit burrows underfoot.

Well Disguised Dragonfly

I have seen the odd deer in the forest, they are mostly a dark form of fallow deer and muntjac, but they are much shyer than the red deer of Richmond Park and I think on Saturday we were far too close to civilisation for them.

Sadly many of the trees are suffering from old age, pollution and disease,

Mighty Arboreal Mushrooms

but while that may be bad for the trees it’s good news for fungi and the wood boring beetles, and the woodpeckers who like to eat them.

High Beach is a fair walk through Epping Forest from Loughton Underground Station on the Central Line. Don’t get High Beach’s Duke of Wellington confused with the Duke of Wellington pub in Epping, they are completely different boozers.

Deer, Beer and Tapas – Richmond upon Thames

There’s something a bit primal in the autumn. As the leaves start falling from the trees the urge to create new life stirs in much of our wildlife and nowhere could have been more charged than London’s leafy suburb  of Richmond upon Thames this weekend.

Red Deer Richmond Park

Richmond Park is London’s largest Royal Park and home to around 300 Red and 350 Fallow Deer. At this time of year the does come in to season and the park reverberates to the sound of the stags challenging each other. Even close to the road it is quite easy to find yourself suddenly confronted by one of Britain’s largest land animals emerging from the bracken and spoiling for a fight.

Red Deer Stag

Fortunately it’s normally another stag they are interested in, but it’s worth remembering that these are powerful wild animals, especially if you find yourself surrounded by three of them, like we did. We just kept still and eventually the largest stag chased the two smaller animals off. It was rather like being in the middle of our own wildlife documentary and during the afternoon we saw loads of Red Deer. We also saw some of the shyer Fallow Deer running through the bracken close to the river bank.

We also saw rather a lot of these fellows.

Indian Ring Necked Parakeet

He’s an Indian Ring Necked Parakeet and there were hundreds of them enjoying the chestnuts. The parakeets at Richmond are one of three major breeding colonies in London descended from escaped cage birds. The others are at Eltham and Kensal Rise cemetary. Some people want to see these immigrants eradicated, but I rather like them.

The park closes at around 6pm so we went to have a drink at The Roebuck on Richmond Hill, where you get a splendid view as the Sun sets over the Thames meandering through Buccleach Gardens. Who would have thought you would get a view like this,

The Thames at sunset

about 45 minutes from central London by tube?.

We finished the evening at Don Fernando’s Spanish Tapas Restaurant (27F The Quadrant, 020 8948 8447), slap bang next to Richmond Station. this is one of my favourite Spanish restaurants, just opening the door a cornucopia of flavours assaults your nose from the open kitchen that runs along  the side of the seating area. It’s busy, noisy and the closest thing to being in Spain without actuually being there. We started with padron peppers and followed with spanish omelette, Patatas Bravas, prawns in garlic oil, flattened lamb steak, Albondigas (Spanish meat balls) Manchego cheese, Chorizo de la Plancha and aubergine fritters. despite this feast there we still had room for a desert. I had a delightful lemon ice cream, and a digestif.

A bit of Spain in Surrey, Don Fernando’s

For the six of us with water, beer and coffees the bill came to £133, amazingly good value for food of that quality and quantity.

Richmond is on the London Underground District Line, London Overground and Southern Region Railways. Richmond Park is about a 20 minute walk from the station and admission is free.

Het Elfde Gebod – Thou Shalt not get Found Out? – Amsterdam

This was a new place to us at the top of Amsterdam’s Red Light district. Slap bang next to t’Apjen is Het Elfde Gebod. Translated literally Elfde Gebod means the Eleventh Commandment, so I guess that makes it Thou Shalt Not Get Found Out.

The Eleventh Commandment

It’s a lovely little wood paneled boozer with about eight draft and hundreds of bottled Belgian beers.

“We only serve Belgian beer in here” said the bar keeper proudly as if “none of that Dutch muck” was about to follow.

Author growing head out of a bottle at Elfde Gebod.

It didn’t and fortunately the prohibition of Dutch beverages did not apply to oude Jenever, although Belgium along with two provinces of France and two German federal states are allowed by the EU to produce the distinctive ancestor of gin which must contain at least 15% malt wine. Jonge (young) Jenever may only have up to 15% malt wine.

At the rear of the pub is this rather nice leaded light.

Spot the Penguin

Blow the picture up and see if you can find the penguin.

Pint of draft beer about €5 upwards.

Amsterdam – got change for a chimp?

This is t’Apjen (Zeedijk 1, Amsterdam). It’s about the first pub you will stumble across when you enter the city’s red light district from Centraal Station.

t'Apjen, one of the oldest boozers in Amsterdam

This boozer is said to be the oldest wood framed building in the city, dating back to 1551 and the name, which means the ape, relates to Dutch sailors paying for their accommodation at the inn with a monkey.

“Two nights stay with full Dutch, that’s a mandrill and two marmosets sir”

“Got change of a chimp?”

Enough for two Heinekens and an old Jenever

Now the only monkeys inside the pub’s delightfully cluttered interior  are a couple of stuffed ones unless you count the English stag parties.

We spot a monkey

Pint about €5

Amsterdamned Fine Boozer – Cafe Hoppe

‘And how do you pronounce that?’ I asked pointing to the part of Amsterdam’s map labelled Spui.

‘Spau’ answered the lovely receptionist at the Falcon Plaza Hotel.

I’m glad we finally settled that, especially as we had been calling it ‘spewey’, ever since I narrowly avoided a stream of projectile stoned student puke when disembarking a tram in that very location back in 1985.

Spui showing Cafe Hoppe and ' Hoppe the Brown House'

Despite the infantile comedic value of that lone incident Spui is actually a very pleasant part of Amsterdam. Essentially  a small square lined with cafes and bookstores it is very popular with students because of it’s proximity to the university. It’s also the location of one of my favourite Amsterdam hangouts the Cafe Hoppe (Spui 18/20).

Bar at Hoppe, plenty of sawdust not so sure about the spit

One half of Hoppe is a traditional Amsterdam ‘brown cafe’ with sawdust on the floor and the wooden walls stained an even deeper brown by 300 years of cigar smoke. This is a great place for an old Jenever, a pint and maybe a plate of old Amsterdam cheese, but if you fancy a smoke now it has to be outside as smoking is banned inside cafes and pubs everywhere in the city except of course the cannabis cafes.Yes it is a bit of an old man’s pub, but there’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion.

If you fancy a more substantial feed try the Cafe Hoppe next door.

The three of us had an excellent platter of local delicacies: including bitterballe, old cheese, battered prawns and pancake rolls  plus beers and gin for €48.

Plate of local pub grub

Beware the raw beef sausage, it’s literally that, a ball of raw mince rolled into a sausage served with mustard. I gave it a go, it wasn’t horrible, just a bit bland except for the mustard.

The only kind of place you can light up inside smokers