Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Penny Arcades, Pint Shop and a Bun for My Trunk

Birthdays start out fun. There's parties and cake and games and hey, you can even cry if you want to. Then come the first 'milestones', where you can buy cigs (legally) and celebrate with a pint in the pub you've been drinking in for the last year (apologies to my favourite barmaid, Janet, at the White Hart, Beaconsfield). 

Thereafter the lustre of that special day tends to wane somewhat. Each advancing year brings less fun and more wrinkles, and instead of Castle Greyskull and Transformers you get socks and shower gel. That is until you reach a 'certain age'. It's hard to know exactly what that age is, as it varies from person to person, but you know you've reached it when you announce - unbidden and usually very loudly - exactly how old you are to all and sundry.

At 85 and still going strong, my Nan has reached that age. Although to be fair she still talks about all the 'elderly people' around her without the slightest bit of self awareness that she may now fall into that category herself. But they say you're only as young as you feel, and with the energy it must take to edge her perfectly manicured lawn and cut all her hedges, something she still does solo, I seem positively geriatric in comparison.

Of course, we didn't really need the excuse of a birthday to jump in the car and motor to Norfolk for the weekend, with good old Doreen being such amusing company in most circumstances, but it's nice to have a reason to celebrate. And where better than a day at the seaside and more specifically one of my favourite childhood haunts, Wells-next-the-Sea.

An afternoon playing in the penny arcade and walking along the sea front would take years off anyone's life, with a fish and chip lunch, bags of fudge from John's rock shop and a couple of bottles of strong Norfolk cider from Whin Hill to take home, adding them swiftly back on again. The perfect sort of afternoon.

After a few days of shepherd's pie, ice cream in the garden, toast and homemade marmalade washed down with a few too many of the afformaentioned ciders, we probably didn't need to visit Cambridge for Sunday lunch on our drive home. But we did anyway, ending up in the Pint Shop, a pub cum restaurant on Peas Hill boasting a wide beer selection and spit roasted meats on a Sunday. 

We chose to eat upstairs, in their shaker style stripped back dining room; a tranquil spot that was rather akin to eating in a Vermeer still life. Refreshment, chosen from a large board of rotating libations, came in the form of a Pulp Fiction grapefruit saison from the Nene Brewery; a zippy little summer number; and a pretty pedestrian Hopmen of the Apocalypse from Totally Brewed in Nottinghamshire. 

To eat we both chose the spit roast lamb shoulder with homemade mint sauce, mashed roots, greens and roasties from the Sunday set menu. A good roast is notoriously hard to get right but, as promised by the friendly barmen downstairs, this was a superlative Sunday dinner if, at 16 quid, a little stingy in its portioning. Add some cauli cheese and another slice of meat and it may have even rivalled my mother's famed 'rost' lamb. A Roscoe favourite.

A brief interlude before pud saw me sampling a pint of the staid but perfectly satisfactory Meteor bitter from the Star brewery in Lincolnshire. The Ewing's choice was the, far beefier, Something Something Darkside; a mashup between an imperial stout and an imperial IPA from West London's Weird Beard. A decadent, smoky and licorice-licked, BIPA - not one to take too lightly early on a Sunday afternoon.

Pictures of the desserts seem to have turned out in soft focus, a look that makes them look more like stills from a Euro porno than pudding. I would say it was because they were so seductively alluring, but in reality I think a blob of grease from the roasties got on my phone lens.

Sadly they couldn't live up to their fuzzy glow; my buttermilk pudding with saffron gooseberries and 'rough snap' (a not very snappy, oat biscuit) paled against the magisterial example at the Wheatsheaf Inn a few weeks before. Full praise though for the glowing golden gooseberries which were spot on and reminded me of why I fell in love with this quintessentially British sweet and sour fruit. The Ewing's pear and frangipane tart passed muster, but felt like a bit of a lacklustre finale.

Not wanting to depart without having that sweet spot thoroughly scratched, we managed to fit in a quick visit to Fitzbillies Cafe on Trumpington Street - Cambridge is certainly up there when it comes to great road names. Purveyors of traditional cream teas, puffy choux pastries and flaky sausage rolls, Fitzbillies remain renowned for their gooey chelsea buns which became a firm favourite on our last visit to Cambridge.

With the mercury nudging upwards, I was pleased to see a cooler incarnation of their famed yeasted bread product was available in the form of chelsea bun ice cream; a fragrant and rich lemon-scented and currant flecked joy that I would happily eat all year round.

Of course I couldn't pass up the chance to get my hands on some of their neatly coiled curls of syrup-soaked dough and we also bought a brace to take home for tea the following day. Quite as delicious as they look and rounding off a perfect weekend of simple things; sun, sea, smiles and sugar. Here's to the next one, Nan, and many more to come.

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