Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Station Buffets

There was a time when just about every station in the country featured a buffet which would also encompass a bar of some sort. They are becoming a thing of the past, nowadays replaced by some sort of branded outlet, devoid of character or any sort of variety of food or drink for sale. So it was with some delight that on a trip to Bridlington at the weekend we came across an echo of the past sitting by the entrance to the station, hiding behind a mass of flowers and foliage.

Our curiosity well and truly prodded, we took a look inside and it was like stepping onto the set of 'Brief Encounter'. There was a roaring fire, a marble topped bar sporting 2 handpumps and a few simple tables with bentwood chairs. The walls in the first room were covered in all sorts of railway memorabilia and in the second were enamalled advertising signs from days gone by. It was a little early for a pint but we figured that if we perhaps arrived at the station a little early for our return train to Scarborough, then it would be an ideal place to wait a while, which of course we did.

Bridlington station is a bit of a gem as well. I'm no train buff who delights in all things railway but I do have a passing interest and it was good to see that the station retains many of its original features and those parts that the owning train company no longer have need of are put to good use. The buffet is clearly a private concern and some of the other areas are given over to local community interest groups. Why can't more stations be like this one?

On Tuesday we visited another station bar, this time in Hartlepool. We were already aware of the existence of the Rat Race Ale House, so once again engineered our arrival for our return journey so that we were early enough to check out the facilities. And aren't we glad we did? It appears to occupy what used to be a store room at the station, next door to the buffet and small though it is, it's full of character and sells some excellent beer. If you fancy a quick pint of fizzy lager, don't bother with this place as they don't sell it, neither do they sell fizzy cider, fizzy beer nor alcopops. As well as real ale and real cider they also sell some Belgian beers, so we bought a couple of bottles of St. Bernardus Tripel for drinking when we got home.

There has been a bit of a resurgence of station based pubs of late with the Sheffiled, Euston and York Taps opening up (though their close alliance with Thornbridge, owned by the husband of the A4E owner puts me off them a bit) and there are a few station based pubs on the Transpennine Ale Trail. A few years ago The Head of Steam established a few places at or near stations too, though I'm not sure how many remain. The one I used to frequent at Euston has since been sold to Fullers, though last time I was there it was still selling a good variety of non-Fullers beers. St. Pancras and Paddington used to have decent characterful bars in the station, selling proper beer and even after refurbishment, the bars are still there, though they have of course been ponced up a bit. And also worth a mention is The Centurion in Newcastle station, which has been refurbished at great expense, restoring some fantastic old tile work in the process.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Keralan Cuisine

One thing I really miss about London is our favourite local Indian restaurant, La Kera. Unfortunately I also missed it when we lived there because it closed before we left. Tucked away down a side street in the entrance to an industrial estate, the so-called Wood Green Cultural Quarter, it didn't really get the business it deserved to. It was my introduction to Keralan food and I've loved it ever since.

It's not like the stuff you get in your average British Indian restaurant, actually more likely to be Pakistani or Bangladeshi, where meat comes smothered in a cloying, heavily spiced sauce and too much ghee. It's lighter, can still be nicely spicy and is full of flavour.

So, we were pleased when we came across Backwaters restaurant in our new home of Sunderland. The food is just as good as it was in La Kera, if not better, the staff just as friendly and unfortunately just as hidden from passing trade. We're not the only people who like the place either, check out the reviews on Trip Advisor. If I have one criticism, it's the decor and the tables but don't let that put you off, it's the food that is the star and when it's this good, I really couldn't care less about the lack of a table cloth and the use of paper serviettes.

More people need to know about this place and go and eat there on a regular basis because it deserves the trade. We were there last night and at 8pm on a Saturday night there were only 6 diners. When we left, suitably sated with brilliant food, the number of diners dropped to zero.

I've never felt any desire to go to India in general, it always come over as too busy, noisy and smelly for my liking but from what I've seen of Kerala, it's not like that at all. It appears much quieter, more laid back and the Backwaters look absolutely beautiful. Here's hoping we win the lottery soon and we can make the trip.

Finally, if you live anywhere near Sunderland or are visiting here any time soon, please, please, please make sure you eat at this hidden gem of a restaurant. 

30th June 2012 - went past Backwaters last night at 8:30 and the shutters were down. There was a note to say that they would be closed at lunchtimes during June but no mention of evening. We rang them tonight in the hope of going for dinner but there was no reply. Has it closed? Is there some sort of problem? We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adventures in Record Collecting

Do you think you have a problem with record collecting? That maybe, just perhaps, you are a vinyl junkie? Then read Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano like I just have and you'll probably find out that you are merely just obsessive and haven't got a full on addiction.

The book had been sat on the waiting to read pile for quite a while and I picked it up this morning for a quick flick through to see if it was worth reading. Several hours later, I've just put it down and felt the urge to blog about it immediately.

Some people may question my devotion to my record collection but it is as nothing compared to those owned by some of the characters chronicled in this excellent book. I count my records in hundreds, well I don't count them at all and they may well creep into the thousand but we're talking here about people who can't actually count their records at all because they number in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.

It may sound like the book was merely cathartic for me, having determined that I'm not that much of a junkie after all but it also provides a lot of insight into just why people collect stuff and what's so special about records. It's more than just the music that's on them, though obviously that's a huge part of it, but they're such wonderfully tactile and visual items that you miss out on if it's all on CD, or even worse just a series of ones and zeros on a storage device somewhere.

And of course, throughout my reading of the book, the turntable was spinning as I selected a load of music that I haven't listened to in far too long.

If you know that music sounds better on vinyl, then you should probably read this book.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It was pandemonium

I was directed to a site about Pandemonium Records in Manchester. The owner has been an obsessive collector of vinyl for years but also used to have several shops around the city, one of which I used to shop in in Fallowfield as a student. Due to my own much milder obsessiveness I still have every record I ever bought there and some of them still have the price label on.