Monday, April 03, 2006

Agog in Accrington

Although a lot of food related stuff has gone on over the past weekend I'm going to do this out of order and start with my visit to Accrington for the Lancashire Food Festival.

Sun 2 April 2006

Doors for the festival opened at 10am and by the time we arrived around midday things were certainly in full swing. The town of Accrington didn't seem to have embraced the festival entirely - the first town centre car park we came across was closed! Anyway, car parked we headed towards the Town Hall and made our way through the variety of Morris dancers bouncing around in the street. We investigated the food marquee first - there was a pretty solid representation of local butchers, as well as a smokehouse, icecream maker and a cordial maker. Initially we tried a pork pie from Dales Traditional Butchers and a sausage roll from Entwistle's Delicatessen. I really enjoyed the sausage roll (a vast improvement on the monstrosity I bought from Ainsley's a few weeks ago, although not as good as my own homemade ones!) but was a little ho-hum about the pork pie. Andy - who knows more about pork pies than me - preferred the pie. We also invested in a couple of small black puddings from the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse. This stand had a really interesting array of all sorts of smoked goodies and it was actually quite a disappointment that they didn't have a bit more of it available for tasting.

We moved to the Town Hall and wandered around the display. Although this was the Lancashire Food Festival for some reason there were lots of displays of things like olive oil, French wine and other mediterranean goodies. The ballroom was absolutely jammed full of people which made it quite difficult to look at, taste and buy produce. In a pioneering spirit I did manage (on my third attempt) to buy an icecream from Mrs Dowson's - the chunky chocolate. And it was very good. I also picked up some Lancashire cheese from Shorrocks Cheeses (I was not such a fan of their many and varied 'flavoured' cheeses - but I don't like my cheese mucked around with ...), and some little ginger biscuits from Angela's Pantry (I haven't tried them yet).

At this point it was almost time for the cookery demonstration with chef Philippa James, so we shuffled into the council chamber and waited. As an aside, I was pretty disgusted with the woman who parked her child's stroller in front of the (clearly marked) fire exit and rather disappointed that the staff (who had to step over and around the thing) didn't reprimand her. Grumbling about that proved to be the most interesting part of the demonstration.

I'm not sure what Philippa's credentials are but, cooking aside, she should polish up her presentation skills and learn how to operate the cooker!!! To say she wittered on is being rather kind ... she made a Lancashire tortilla (that would be a black pudding, potato, pepper and tomato omelette) and a fruit smoothie - this took the best part of 45 minutes and was totally shambolic. She spent most of her time talking about non food related stuff and turned the cooker on and off about 5 times ... I don't think she realised that the halogen bulbs go on and off to regulate temperature ...

At the first opportunity we hot footed it out of the demonstration and went and bought another icecream (from Huntleys - again - chocolate and nowhere near as good as that produced by Mrs Dowson), a pie from the Weatheroak Ostrich Farm and some Saddleback and Old Gloucester Spot cross back bacon.

And then we decided we'd seen and done enough - so we called into the information office in the Town Hall to find out if there was anywhere interesting to get some food or afternoon tea in Accrington. We were informed that most places were shut on a Sunday. In disbelief we actually found an open coffee shop just a stone's throw from the Town Hall. Unfortunately, Over Coffee was doing Accrington any touristy favours. I ordered a hot chocolate, with cream (well, it was with stuff out of an aerosol can cream) and a plain scone with jam and cream. The fact that I wanted a plain scone caused a bit of kerfuffle (people who own food serving establishments should really insist that their staff learn what is available!) ... but nothing (not even the bad hot chocolate) prepared me for the thoroughly nasty scone. The scone was STALE, stodgy, hard and horrible. The whipped cream had been whipped to within an inch of becoming butter and frankly, tasted rancid. This for £2.25! I was tempted to send it back but left the whole thing bar a mouthful, on my plate. The staff didn't even ask what we'd thought!

So - the Lancashire Food Festival ... so many ideas on how it could be improved ... in its present format it is really just a glorified farmers' market ... the exhibitors should be encouraged to do things with their produce that hungry punters can eat ... where was the Lancashire hot pot? The bacon or sausage butties? What about frying up some black pudding and mash? The cookery demonstration should have been a lot more focussed - using local ingredients (I guess she got that sort of right) to cook some simple, interesting and even traditional dishes. The space used needed to be a lot less crowded and with much more emphasis on LOCAL produce. I hadn't driven from Leeds to Accrington to taste olive oil!

And finally - the town of Accrington needs to get behind the festival ... be open (shops and car parks), have additional and complementary activities, have an information service that knows what's going on ...

Perhaps someone from the organising committee should visit York's Food and Drink Festival later in the year ...
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Blogger Richard Atkinson said...

Oh no! You did it! You told Lancastrians to see how they do it in Yorkshire. To the trenches lads :)

I agree with you about not liking my cheese mucked about with. Wensleydale is one of the biggest culprits. Marmite in a cheese is a parasite as far as I'm concerned.

4:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me i work at over coffee accrington and i resent what has been said we have execellent standards of food and everything is home made in the morning for the day then binned!

1:24 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Hello Anonymous

Unfortunately, on the day I went to Over Coffee, the scone I ate was stale. You'll note that I did not pass comment on all the food at Over Coffee - just the one scone. One of my friends also had a scone and this was also stale and his cream was also over-whipped and verging on rancid. That was the only food we ate.

I stand by my comments - the service was not good. If a customer asks if there are any plain scones the staff should know and not look confused. If a customer eats only a tiny fraction of an ordered dish, the staff should enquire why. As a rule, staff should ask whether or not customers have enjoyed the food, irrespective of clean plates or otherwise.

And a hot chocolate with whipped cream should have real whipped (not over-whipped) cream, not cream out of an aerosol.

I'm sorry you resent what is really some pretty even handed, and constructive, criticism.

Thanks for taking the time to read my review and post a comment though. If I come to Accrington again I'll make sure I come back for a cream tea, as maybe it was just a bad day.


3:47 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can i just ask how long ago it was u visited over coffee accrington

9:32 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Hello again Anonymous

My blog post is dated Monday 3 April 2006 and I've dated my visit as Sunday 2 April 2006. You can find this information at the top of the entry.


9:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to 'Over Coffee' today (29/10/06) to sample the Sunday Roast which is advertised on the awnings, only to find a sign on the door stating 'closed Sundays.'
However I looked at the menu in the window and noted that item 12 on the menu is a soda farl, as is item 24 on the menu. Soda farls must be popular in Accrington.
Unfortunately I didn't get to taste the food, as although they advertise a Sunday roast, they are closed on Sundays (You couldn't make it up, could you?)
But the menu looks like a mish-mash of dishes that has been thrown together by somebody of no real skill.
Over coffee? Over my dead body!

6:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it just goes to show that there is nowt queerer than Yorkshire folk....The food and service is excellent at Over Coffee /naked plate.Unfortunately some people find it very difficult to see the big picture and have to fuss around with narrow minded self opinionated comments which concern there own personal preconceptions of what should or shouldnt be. Its one thing to not enjoy, but another to make a misguided, misjudged underqualified statement about food and service....unless your Egon Ronay.......a little knowledge is a dangerous thing....

9:50 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Hello Anonymous

The day I went to Over Coffee there were 2 Australians, 1 Finn and 1 Englishman from Cumbria, so my observations were not based on any kind of transpennine truculence. I can't speak for the anonymous comment before yours.

I'm not sure what the 'big picture' is I should be seeing. I'm sorry that you consider the post 'misguided, misjudged, underqualified'.

However, as before, I stand by the fact that on Sunday 2 April 2006 I ate a stale scone and had bad service.

You're right - I'm not Egon Ronay, but I do eat out quite a lot and I also do a great deal of cooking, so I have quite a few benchmarks against which to make comparisons and form my opinions.


12:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do regular visit for retail eyes and mystery shopper. I have also been in this restaurant and again like Alex feel that the service has been well under average. I ordered a set dish off the menu and when it arrived I was quite shocked, the food didn’t look how I expected it should look but I gave Over coffee / the naked plate the benefit of the doubt. Again I’m not a Egon Ronay as someone else has stated above, but I feel that as I do quite a lot of assignments for the mystery shopper and most of these are eating assignments, I cant be that bad of an Egon Ronay if I get paid to go out and assess establishments.
On this occasion though like I said I would give over coffee the benefit of the doubt and try this food I ordered. I tried some vegetables they where a little soggy, (frozen veg). When I tried the meat on my plate I couldn’t work out if it was dry as it had been around for a few days and not kept correctly or if it was out of a packet. – to be quite frank the whole meal tasted like something that you had as a school dinner- slopped on the plate and shoved in front of you.
Again like Alex above I tried the hot chocolate and was again let down by this- the cream again whipped to near death and actually tasted like the cream shouldn’t have been used.
When I quizzed the staff about the food they served before placing my order again I got a vacant look from them – and a long ummmmm. They didn’t even try to answer my question of do you use fresh cream or cream from a squirty container. I also asked about the meat which I tried (again didn’t eat it all as I felt I could get better service and food in another fast food outlet near by e.g. Mcdonalds down the road) she wasn’t sure again I asked is it fresh- and the reply was “yes we try to use fresh meat”. I mean try!!!! Come on!!
I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone and cant wait for the mystery shopper to come up on this place!!! Again I would travel miles like I did the other day just to go and use this place, (come from around 30miles away the other day)
I also noticed that this place is up for sale!! Well I wish the new owners all the luck in bringing in all the old customers that the current owner has lost!!

9:37 am  
Blogger Alex said...

Thank you for posting, Anonymous!

It seems that some people agree with me and some people violently disagree!

I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens once it changes hands!

12:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha you losers, over coffe is one of the nicest places in accrington to eat and drink.
Just a few points:
1. The owner couldnt drive away the old customers as it used to be a food store.
2. How good are the staff going to be its ACCRINGTON not Oxford you idiot.
3. Clearly you have no life and nothing better to moan at.
4. They probably only get the hot chocolate out of a machine maybe you should go in and ask what product it is and complain to them.
5. That really made me laugh you only fill out a form to become a mystery shopper you fool so dont make it sound like you are a proffesional food critic.
6. You should try the friday night Tapas it is very good and me and friends have been twice this month.

I think that is just about it so if you dont like it stay away from there the atmosphere is nice and friendly we dont want any of your kind (moaning bitches with nothing better to do) in our cafes.
Maybe you should try a hobby or maybe even go simply find something productive and useful to do.
I would appreciate your feedback.


12:52 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Hello John

Many of your comments seem to refer to a previous comment, so I cannot respond on this person's behalf, but I will do my best with the remainder.

Firstly, I am sure you noticed that my post was dated 3 April 2006 and my visit to Over Coffee was made on 2 April 2006. This means I visited 18 months ago.

In response to the points you made in your post:

1. the comment about new ownership implies that Over Coffee has changed hands/management in the last 18 months. It may well have been a food store prior to my visit, but I cannot comment on this.

2. I am a little unsure as to what Oxford has to do with anything. I think the last time I went to Oxford I was about 5, and Eating Leeds has not visited any Oxford restaurants. I am also unaware of any reason why the people of Accrington should provide worse service than those anywhere else in the country, or indeed, why they should take less pride in their work. In fact, were I from Accrington, I would take great exception to such a gross generalisation.

4. My complaint with the hot chocolate was that it was topped with overwhipped cream from an aerosol. While the chocolate itself may have come from a machine, the cream clearly did not, and as such, can be considered the responsibility of the staff.

5. I am not a mystery shopper. That was a previous commenter. I am also unaware of any qualification which one can undertake to become a professional food critic. Often, food critics have a degree in journalisam, but the overriding pre-requisite appears to be a genuine enthusiasm for food. It may interest you to know that I did recently complete (and yes, I passed) a Professional Certificate in Gastronomy, which is partly run by Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. So I do have some formal food oriented education.

6. Regretfully, Leeds is quite a long way from Accrington, so I am unlikely to be able to try the Friday night tapas. However, you also make it quite clear that you think that I should 'stay away' and that 'we dont [sic] want any of your kind (moaning bitches with nothing better to do) in our cafes'.

I am quite prepared to accept that over time, and with changes of ownership (even changes of chef), places change - this is why I, personally, would not place too much credence in a review written a year and a half ago.

I hope this addresses some of your issues.


11:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your feedback you make some good points but can i please ask why you feel the need to insult and critise a small new business in ACCRINGTON trying to survive and make profit on a website about eating food in LEEDS.
Some people are just to negative, even if it wasnt great on that day surely you can acknowledge the brilliant environment and cleanliness in the cafe which is second to none in Accrington.

1:04 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Hi John

You'll notice that I visit a lot of places outside Leeds. The website is called Eating Leeds because Leeds is the regional focus. I don't feel that this precludes me (or indeed should preclude me) from blogging about restaurants in other areas. People visit this site from all over the world and I think it adds interest to show a bit of diversity.

I don't feel that my original post insulted Over Coffee - criticised yes, but insulted, no. I've already made the point that my original post was written some 18 months ago: I have not eaten at Over Coffee since then and, for all I know, it could be excellent now.

I would encourage you to have a look at the remainder of my site. I am not in the business of writing glowing (or scathing) reviews on a whim. I am just honest about the experience I have had at a restaurant or bar - and I hope that, as a rule, I back up my impressions with concrete examples of good and bad experiences.


6:57 pm  

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