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The food and booze round-up

Confidential has had enough of the weather so reports live, this week, from a bar stool in sunny France

Published on January 14th 2010.

The food and booze round-up

What's France famous for? Food and drink, right? So this time, the F&B round-up comes with a big bonjour from the Loire-Atlantique where we have decamped from Colquitt Street on the cheap this week for sun, sand, seafood, snails, a swimming pool and the odd hunk thrown in (bread, that is).

This is where four of you can eat freshly caught dorade, a dozen oysters, immensely flavourful entrecote, perfect pizza and a crackling crème brulee at an average campsite caff, all for around £35, service compris, with the muscadet sur lie that they keep to themselves. Where are you now, Judith Chalmers, with your all-inclusives to the “Dom-Rep”?

Micro review: Hafan y Mor, Pwllhelli
Course there's more to it than that. Confidential has already had the rather different experience of eating at the Haven campsite, Pwllheli, this summer as guests of guests.

For anyone with kids, thinking they can't afford to go abroad on holiday in these stretched economic times, North Wales Haven is where you might reasonably end up - though your caravan will still cost you a minimum of £1,200 for a fortnight and up to £2,600, all self catering, in August.

But this isn't a travel piece, it's about the food.

In one of the bleakest eating out experiences I have encountered in recent times (writes Angie Sammons) complete with one table of punters, on our visit, who thought nothing of leaving a plate of tipped food strewn across the seat of a chair while they carried on chewing, Afon Gardens welcomed holidaying punters paying up front.

Maybe we caught them on a bad day, but the spectacle of discarded trays of half-eaten food on tables everywhere, and shored up on wall racks, will stay with me. We had already endured Soviet-style queues at the self-service, and now we were pitying the clearing-up staff their grim lot. It may have been different on another day.

With our clutch of prepaid £8+ a-head three courser dinner vouchers in one hand (for guests taking the part-board option) and, here's a first - a wall-mounted hand sanitiser that all diners were instructed to use on the way in - this was reminiscent of a day visit to a ward at Fazakerley Hospital where the NHS food is arguably better.

On our trip to Afon Gardens (there are alternative food options include a fish and chip shop, a pub and a Burger King), dishes of the day (“Diners Choice”) included one grey slice of pork, a treat for Jack Sprat's wife, perhaps, the fat interrupted by a seam of lean meat, topped with a huge dollop of syrupy apple sauce. Iceland-style croquette potatoes at least provided the unexpected comfort of coming from a freezer bag.

Similarly, but not so successfully, a flaccid batter clung thickly and lifelessly to a fish as dull as the weather, topped by withered chips whose acrid smelling cooking fat we could detect a long time before the final confrontation. There are said to be 40 shades of green, but the accompanying bullet-like peas were presented in the sort of hue normally reserved for Army fatigues, suggesting imminent combat or a long slow, tortuous contact with water from another dark canteen age for England.

From the junior menu came such a scant portion of fish teddies that the kids were close to tears. They refused to eat the chips. Another first.

There was sponge pudding on offer, drowned in school-style custard that had little to do with the Eton-mess-style, post modern irony of trendy restaurants and everything to do with a heavy heart, at least on apearance. Perhaps it was delicious. We shall never know. But after all this, the stiff British upper lip told us we mustn't crumble.

A French family, behind us in the long queue, had already done an abrupt about-turn, maybe thinking they'd go back to the well-appointed caravan and make their own.

Mais non. While you will do brilliantly for sweets at the dedicated candy shop, on our trip, the grocery store stocked no fresh fruit or veg whatsoever.

It doesn't have to be like this. Can anyone tell us why it is?

Winner for dinner?
Michael Winner wants you. To be precise, producers of a major new food series for ITV1 are searching for the UK's best home cooks to host a dinner party for the famous restaurant critic.

“We're really keen to make one of our episodes in Liverpool and celebrate what the area has to offer,” they say. “It's an incredible opportunity to show off some fantastic home cooking and hosting skills!” People can call Sophie Wells on 020 7156 6699

Seize the day
Some of the Confidential team had quite the afternoon delight at The Panoramic earlier this year.

It was a Friday lunchtime. One which leisurely stretched its legs into the late afternoon and those there were spoiled with all the food and service trimmings you could expect as they watched the weak spring sunlight shimmer over the Mersey while, unforgettably, witnessing one member of staff reverentially refer to Gordo as “Lord Garner”. See the review here.

In between, the Manchester contingent gawped down at that wondrous sunlit view, as Liverpool again reminded them that no matter how affluent, confident and successful their rainy city, they would never have a big, powerful, atmospheric river coursing through St Anne's Square. They can take it.

Now Panoramic, on the 34th floor of Liverpool’s tallest building, is offering a new daytime deal to suit your schedule, and an indulgent afternoon tea.

“Panoramic twothreefour” allows you to select your lunch thing depending on time constraints. Between 12pm-2pm it's two courses for £17.50, three for £19.50 and four courses, plus seasonal cocktail for £25. Each selection is also served with coffee and petits fours.

Alongside the lunch offer, diners can enjoy the clouds with a new afternoon tea menu. “Taken either in the dining room or bar, for £27.50 indulge your decadent side with a range of sandwiches, including smoked salmon and capers and cucumber with rocket”.

The rocket the Americans sent to the Moon didn't cost much more than that, the cynical among you might say. But allowing for inflation (and you will be inflated) expect scones with jam, French pastries, chocolate brownies and a wide selection of tea too. And while they can't promise the sort of Earth that Buzz Aldrin was expecting, there's still that five counties view. Reservations, 0151 236 5534.

A tale of two bar signs
Here is how misunderstandings arise: A stark warning for anybody misbehaving in Liverpool’s Slater Street is all in the name at this establishment. Meanwhile, did they really mean this when they named BAR-RED'S nearest French counterpart, on Ile De Noirmoutier?

Vine and dandy
Wine: to be drunk with authority, like that French bloke on the Cointreau adverts in the 70s.

Following on from the success of the first Heathcotes wine club, they have now decided to make the club a monthly occurrence and the next one is this coming Weds, August 26.

Open to everyone, the Heathcotes wine club is free to join and will engage diners with the basic skills to how to open, pour and taste wine like a professional. Boost your wine knowledge, enjoy some fantastic cooking and impress them, next time, in Bargain Booze.

The events will cover a different topic each month, including the origins of particular varieties and wine matching to food, while also dispelling some of the common myths about wine.

The classes start at 7:30pm and include six sample dishes, expertly matched with a different glass of wine, for £30 per person. Call: 0151 236 3536

Fat Gite
Back here in deepest France, the laptop is propped up at the bar next to a Ricard while a gold medal winning four quid Bordeaux from Super U beckons, with the riches of the nightly barbecue.

Fat Git has even shown up on the promise of a Michelin-star restaurant to review on the way back in St Malo later in the week.

As no one volunteered to share a room under canvas with him, he's at the posh auberge residence up the road, proving that pegs aren't just for sticking in the ground. After a hard day driving a sweaty taxi from Portsmouth on a beaded seat, they are for sticking over your nostrils too.


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