This week Lorna and I are attending a 2-person knitting festival in Ludlow. It incorporates all of the features we like.
1. Lots of knitting
2. No deciding which workshops to sign up to: we get to make up our own (Lorna is currently doing a combination swatch-Debbie-Bliss-pattern/curse-Debbie-Bliss – for her sake I hope it lasts less than 3 hours)
3. No having to make friends with strangers we may never see again (all the people I’ve met and am still in touch with are delightful. I mean the properly scary cat-woman who doesn’t have the sartorial elegance required to wear certain items of knitwear in public. Or to know not to wear them)
4. No pressure to buy things we don’t want or need from the market place – we’ve done a lot of that already from the comfort of our own sofas & LYSs.
5. None of that silly yarn bombing, or outsized group projects that have no long term purpose (not like the knitted galaxy – that’s fab and has many long term uses – bedspread-like if nothing else…)
Anyway, the first order of the day, after finding the venue and divvying up bedrooms, was to have the getting-to-know-you dinner. We selected a nice place called The Olive Branch which was less than 5 minutes from the Conference Venue and in the direction of where the car is parked. It was a cut above pub food (which Lorna has had a lot in the last week) and yet not outrageously Michelin-starred. And, it turns out, has a reasonably good vegetarian & vegan selection.
Having not booked, we were seated upstairs. Downstairs was totally empty (we were fairly early) but we had faith it would fill up soon. Indeed, when we left it was heaving, which made for quite a nice atmosphere.
The belly pork which had lured us off the pavement was the main dish of choice. In the manner of ladies who lunch the world over, we elected to share a starter – mainly because we’re both not very good at turning down baked camembert (with cranberry jam). The first hitch we came across, though, was when Lorna ordered a vodka & tonic only to be told that they had no tonic. I was saved the embarrassment of having asked for a G&T and being turned down, so I have to thank Lorna for taking a bullet for me on that one.
The House sauvignon blanc was a perfectly acceptable substitute although we were a little perturbed that the waitress, who had taken our order (along with having the conversation about there being no tonic) only moments before (long enough before, indeed, that she had only just had time to go downstairs, prepare our drinks, and then come back up again) had to ask whose was the white wine. I’m not one for insisting that waiting staff operate pad-free – I’m always PROPERLY impressed when they do, given that I have to check each stage of a recipe at least 3 times before carrying out the instructions, but really? There were two drinks, awkwardness over the tonic, one diner is wearing black and ordered coke, the other ordered white wine and is wearing a retina-searing cardigan (yes, that one). Even I could come up with a trick for remembering whose drink is whose in that situation.
Also, she made a point of pointing out that the 2 olives, bits of bread & oil with balsamic vinegar were complimentary – I guess we looked like the kind of people who would complain at a cover charge. It just seemed a bit odd.
The baked camembert was yummy – exactly the right kind of yummy goo which made me feel like we were sharing a fancy cheese fondue. Not that I’ve ever had a cheese fondue, having been too young in the 70s and not mixing in the right social circles these days. What with it not being the 70s.
Lorna asked the waitress about the lack of tonic. Is this a restaurant policy, or do you just not have any? Oh no, she said, it’s not a policy we’ve just run out. People don’t order it, you see.
Waitress goes back downstairs, Lorna and I attempt to process the logic of this statement. There is a quiet background sound of fuse-wire fizzing as we contemplate everything that is wrong in what she just said.
And the pork belly was utterly sublime. It was served on a bed of (what Lorna reminded me was) cabbage in a mustardy-creamy sauce. Very, very lovely. Properly crunchy on top, melty-collapsy in the middle and crunchy again on the bottom. And served with lovely vegetables – as I said to Lorna, all too often recently I’ve eaten out and the main dish has been lovely, only to be let down by canteen chips and green salads from chefs who have yet to discover more than one type of lettuce and the joys of salad dressing. We had lovely new potatoes and vegetable batons served in filo pastry baskets. To be honest, the vegetables were a pleasant surprise (we were getting to know each other rather than studying the menu) – they could have got away without them and I wouldn’t have complained.
Speaking of which, we spent quite a lot of the meal regaling each other with tales of meals we (or our relatives) have complained about. Or not, with us (and our friends and relations) being British. Apparently last week Lorna sent back burnt bacon, only to have it replaced with very slightly less burnt bacon.
The waitress re-appeared and cheerfully told us she had found some tonic in the cellar. Lorna ordered a vodka and tonic (please) thus breaking clearly a long stretch of nobody ordering drinks involving tonic. Moments later, she was presented (by a different waitress) with QUITE LITERALLY a vodka and tonic. Lorna asked if she might have ice & lemon as well. The new waitress disappeared with the just-vodka-and-tonic and sliding doors-style, the original waitress came back almost instantly with a fully dressed V&T with all the usual accoutrements.
Af-desserts were also lovely, Lorna went for the chocolate & prune tart and I had the meringue. Both were quite rich, but very tasty nonetheless. We had been invited to go downstairs and see the desserts on display, but I felt that was a bit too much like the dessert trolley concept. If the description doesn’t accurately sell a dessert to me, then it’s unlikely I’ll enjoy it. I’ve never really been inspired by *looking* at dessert. Although the knickerbocker glory at Zinc in Abersoch may be the exception that proves this rule. Sadly, both times I’ve seen one, Joel’s scoffed the lot.
So, all in all, enjoyable food, but the serving style could do with some finesse. Still, it broke the ice – after all, we don’t really know each other very well so it’s dispelled any early-conference awkwardness there might otherwise have been.