Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Eating Out Round Our Way

It's funny how things come along; I've just posted a piece about eating out in Amsterdam and, what do you know, Bill Blunt tags me to write about five places to eat near home. Then, as if that isn't spookily enough, we learn that Pieter, the son of our friends Mark and Caroline, has finished his year at catering college (more food), won an award and is off to Holland to work in a hotel for the summer. So, if you happen to be in the hotel Tatenhove in Texel this summer say hello and well done to Pieter from us.

Where do we like to eat then, here are our five selections:

1. For an excellent Sunday pub meal you can't beat The Swan at Dobcross. It's position at the heart of Saddleworth's prettiest village gives it a head start even before you sit down in one of the flag floored rooms with a roaring fire. It's perhaps best to add that this pub is at its cosy best in winter with a howling North wind whipping through the village square outside as you tuck into the excellent, hearty choice of freshly cooked pub food and sip on your pint of one of Jennings Cumberland Ales (yes, I know Jennings is a Lakeland brewery - they are just jealous because the Lake District don't have the monopoly on pretty villages and glacial valleys).

2. When you want something that is a bit more special - like my birthday - we recommend two favourites. The first is not really an Oldham or Saddleworth restaurant but is just over the border in Marsden, West Yorkshire. The Olive Branch is primarily a fish restaurant in the former pub of the same name. There are two parts to the restaurant: the pub side which is cosy, a bit like The Swan, or the new part where you can sit in booths. Although this sounds odd it actually makes for quite an intimate evening, if that is what you are after. The excellent fish has no local comparison to my mind and the menu is ever changing; in fact, there generally isn't a menu: rather you choose your meal from one of the array of cards stuck to the walls around the bar bearing the day's dishes.

3. Our other little more expensive option is a place dear to our hearts. The Rams Head was, twenty plus years ago, a simple country pub on the moorland road out of Denshaw towards Halifax. It is significant because it is where I first experienced draught Theakston's Old Peculiar and Timothy Taylor's Landlord (if your idea of intoxicating liquor is WKD Blue I had better perhaps explain that those two products are real ales, made by people, not by a machine in a chemical factory). It is also one of the places where Mrs C and I did our courting. Now though, much as I hate to see real pubs dissapear, it is a restaurant and organic food shop. Before you recoil in horror, the menu of wild game, fish and organic food is really excellent. If you are ever passing Junction 21 of the M62, don't. Pass it that is, pull off in the direction of Oldham, drive for about 2 miles and sample the delights of the Ram's Head.

4. One of Oldham's institutions is The Old Bill Wine Bar and Bistro (yes, we have a bistro in Oldham - though most Oldhamers think that it is something to do with gravy); it is situated directly at the back of Oldham Nick - hence the name - and is very popular. The continental type menu isn't haute cuisine but is well priced and the excellent atmosphere makes it a great venue for a long evening with a group of friends.

5. Our final choice is in nearby Middleton: Fallen Angels Italian restaurant. This is in the basement of the Royal Toby Hotel and comes with a health warning: don't go here for a romantic dinner. Yes, the tables are candlelit; yes, it is dark and atmospheric inside; and yes, the owners and staff are really Italian; but this place is where you go with about twenty or so other people for a great Italian meal and a raucous night out. It's not unruly but is just great fun - the evening regularly interspersed with crackles from the PA as the dodgy Italian music is replaced with one of a dozen versions of Happy Birthday To You, or Cliff Richard's Congratulations; and the staff parade in a cake or ice cream desert topped with so many sparklers that the procession is followed by an anxious waiter with a fire extinguisher. All that said the traditional Italian food can't be beaten and the cheesy Italianate decor is unique.

Come to Oldham, eat well and make sure you tell them Crofty sent you - I'm always open to a freebie!


Bill Blunt said...

An excellent choice of eateries. I for one shall be printing it out and pinning it to the kitchen noticeboard.

I well remember the Old Bill Wine Bar. There was, of course, a school of thought that it got its name not from its proximity to the nearby nick, but from a certain journalist who was regularly to be seen propping up the bar with his old pal Johnny Mercer. Those were the days!

Crofty said...

But surely they didn't refer to a man of your youthful vigour as old Bill?