The Fleece, Otley


Date of visit: Monday 29 October 2012

In an age of easy communication it can be surprisingly difficult to organise catching up with geographically disparate friends. Even those who work with the cutting edge of technology.

A fair bit of last minute to-ing and fro-ing saw us loitering outside a supermarket in Otley, waiting for my mate who had suggested the Fleece for lunch. The food and beer were both supposed to be excellent.

On a Monday lunch time the Fleece was almost empty: hopefully this means that many of the good folk of Otley are gainfully employed. As far as I’m concerned, a generous choice of tables in a pub is always a good thing.

The Fleece is operated by WharfeBank Brewery so in addition to a small selection of real ales from other small brewers, three of WharfeBank’s own beers took pride of place on the bar. I tried a pint of WharfeBank’s CamFell.

The menu is a good size list of smartened up pub classics. Andy chose fish and chips (Steve commented that the piece of fish looked like it had come from a whale), Steve chose the burger (with cheese but no bacon) and I opted for the crispy pork belly with black pudding mash.


The mains all hover around the £8-10 mark so this was by no means the cheapest pub meal you’ll find in the north of England, but it was very good. My pork belly (the only thing I managed to taste!) was tender and moist, its piece of crackling was crisp and, perhaps most importantly, it got the seal of approval from the toddler. The black pudding mash also got a thumbs up – there was plenty of black pudding and the chunks were all different sizes. My one criticism would be the gravy which was a bit thick and, um, commercial tasting.

Service wise, the barman we dealt with was super friendly and helpful. He was chatty and efficient and, from what I saw, a real asset to the pub.

As with pretty much everywhere in the UK (it seems!), the Fleece offers patrons free wifi – just ask at the bar for the password!

A big tick all round and definitely a pub worth making a trip to Otley for if you live nearby.

S Cafe, Grange-over-Sands

Date of visit:  Friday 19 October 2012


A week in the south Lakes with a toddler saw us frequenting a series of farms, aquaria and other outdoor activities. While natives of the area might have declined to join us on the basis that it was too cold or too wet, our enthusiasm remained, ahem, undampened.

We spent some time feeding the ducks in the Grange duck pond. The toddler grew tired of that pretty quickly, preferring first to people watch and then charge around the garden with a stick. After a while of “stick, stick, tree, tree” we decided it was time for a quiet sit down.

S Café advertises itself as selling the best coffee in Grange ‘or your money back’. Grange does have quite a few coffee houses, so this is no mean claim. We didn’t have the time to conduct a comprehensive survey but can report that S Café’s coffee is pretty good.


Its coffee cake is also excellent, the vanilla slice rates as acceptable, while the shortbread is best described as poor (soggy and crumbly rather than super short and crumbly). The cakes were all served beautifully presented – with grapes (‘hello grapes!’ said the toddler, ‘pshaw shortbread!’) and a swirly S in raspberry.

Where things go wrong in S Café is the service. The lady who served me had clearly chosen the wrong career. A more dour demeanour I couldn’t have managed myself. At least I would have got the order right … When I asked for an Americano she queried whether I wanted milk (no) and yet she brought out a cappucino (printed docket as aide-memoire clearly no use). She then returned with an Americano – with milk. Why bother asking?

S Café did score quite highly on the child friendly front – while no one in the UK seems to be able to make a froth dominant babycino, S Café did have a generous selection of children’s toys to entertain younger patrons.

While S Café does indeed do a good coffee, the cakes are inconsistent and the service is well below par. Smiling at customers costs so little …

S Cafe on Urbanspoon

Albert’s Shed, Manchester

date of visit: Sunday 14 October 2012

Manchester. Funny place. It’s a big, spread out kind of city and one that, to be honest, I’ve never really got along with that well. My first ever visit saw me deposited at the bus station (the trains were cancelled) in a less than salubrious part of town. And that has pretty much typified my experiences since: you can find the shiny shops and bars but, just as easily as you found them, you can find yourself in a street that looks and feels decidedly down at heel.

As we were scheduled to arrive in Manchester at around 7am, we knew we needed to have a plan to fill the afternoon, in order to get ourselves on UK time as soon as possible. Fortunately, a good few years food blogging while living in Leeds meant I knew where to start – by asking Alistair Bathgate. Good food, good surrounds, a decent wine list and (of course) toddler friendly were all on my list of requirements. We had a short list of two, which was whittled down to just one, Albert’s Shed, by the fact that we could get off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and walk there (thanks to the free wifi of various venues on Deansgate Locks because otherwise we might not have found it!).

Albert’s Shed is on the canal and has a spacious beer garden. Inside, it’s neutrally stylish and massive windows do a fantastic job of catching weak early winter sun and turning the dining area into a comfortable, light filled space.

We were warmly greeted, given a choice of tables and offered a high chair. Without asking. And without asking the Toddler was presented with colouring sheets and crayons. Before we even sat down, I was Albert’s Shed newest number one fan.

On a Sunday there’s a set lunch menu which is about 17 for 2 courses – it focusses on roasts, and the a la carte menu features modern British cooking. I was tempted by the gnocchi with rabbit but it was a starter and it was late and I was hungry so in the end I opted for the smoked haddock risotto, served with poached egg. Andy chose the Brunch Burger (at 3pm!) which featured egg, bacon, and bblack pudding along with the usual burger suspects. We ordered the Toddler the smoked haddock fish cakes – available on both the children’s menu (6.75 for two courses, including a drink) and the main menu. I’d been tempted by the fish cakes myself, which was lucky because he was far more interested in my risotto and his chips than his own fish cakes …

I really enjoyed the risotto – the rice had a good toothsomeness to it, there was plenty of fish but there was no overpowering smokiness, and the perfectly poached egg added extra creaminess and richness. Popping a poached egg on top of risotto is something I certainly need to do more of!

The fish cakes were good too – quite generous in size, with a lovely crispy outer and the right combination of fluffy potatoes and fish in the inner. I didn’t get to try any of the burger, but the fact that it was huge and there were no complaints from the other side of the table suggests that there were no issues there.

Drinks wise I started with a glass of the house Pierre Mignon Champagne. If Champagne is on offer for 6.95 a glass, I’ll be having it, thanks. It was pretty indifferent Champagne, if I’m brutally honest, but at that price my expectations were limited to something cold and fizzy! I followed this with a small glass of Airen (4). Airen is the most widely grown grape in Spain and is mostly used for the production of Spanish Brandy. It makes a reasonably neutral dry white wine – a little bit of weight, a little bit of stone fruit … Not the most interesting wine you’ll ever drink by the glass but also one you’re not likely to find on wine lists in Australia!

The toddler wrapped up with a bowl of fruit and we finished with coffees. The damage was 50 – that’s for 2 adult main courses, 2 glasses of wine, 2 beers (Andy was thrilled that Budvar was on the menu!), 2 coffees and the children’s menu. Probably not the cheapest lunch you can have in Manchester but certainly a very very pleasant lunch.

Food, wine and venue all ticked the right boxes but the real stars at Albert’s Shed were the staff. Absolutely everyone on the floor was unfailingly polite, ccompetent, cheerful and thoughtful.

I know it’s a cliche, but people really are friendlier in the north of England …

Albert's Shed on Urbanspoon