Sunday, 18 January 2015

North African Lamb




Bit of an odd post.
Yes, it has been a while - not excuses really. We just haven't posted. But something external to this blog has prompted this flurry of action.
I've recently made a to do list of things to achieve/see/try before turning 40, and one of these is to get back to writing this blog. So there you go! Done. Another thing on the list is to cook something from every recipe book we own. For normal people this might be a simple task, but we have a recipe book problem. There are over 120 books on our shelves. On top of the shelves too. And by the bed.
So here I am tying 2 things from the list together. I am documenting the journey of ticking everything off the list on another blog: http://todobefore40.blogspot.co.uk/, but obviously here will be all about the food.

So here is the first rather tasty and successful attempt at getting through all those books. (Don't worry, we wont start copying everyone's recipes on to here for the next however many posts. Just a few to note, and to remind ourselves on what we particularly liked when looking back).

This came from Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef. A book which I picked up from a charity shop some time ago. We have quite a few Jamie Oliver books, and the recipes do seem to be reliable and easy to follow. We'd been fancying a bit of lamb recently, and also some kind of Moroccan dish, so the North African Lamb with Chilli, Ginger, Chickpeas and Couscous seemed ideal.

The recipe called for salting and draining the aubergines, something we'd never actually done before as I wasn't ever too convinced about the point, but I followed the recipe and did just this. I say followed the recipe, it transpired I did mis-read a couple of bits. I halved the quantities as I was only cooking for the two of us, but I missed the bit about halving the salt for the aubergines. When I came to squeeze them out there wasn't that much liquid, and not a lot had drained either, so I am still non-the wiser about the actual point. The inappropriate amount of salt was reflected in the overall dish, but it didn't spoil it - I didn't need to season it anymore at the end, but we did have a slight thirst on later!
Also, I did keep it on the hob longer than specified as eating timings with a 3-year-old in the house are always hit-and-miss. Maybe this is why the aubergines, as well as the tomatoes melted away into the sauce, but we didn't complain. The other slight confusion was over the chickpeas. I used canned chickpeas but the recipe said dried, soaked overnight and then cooked. So I didn't really know the quantity to put in. Having said all this, it was all very lovely indeed, and we will be using this recipe again. We served it with the Couscous salad from the same book which was couscous mixed with roasted pepper, shallot and garlic, dressing with lemon and olive oil.

So here is the recipe, word for word from The Naked Chef book:

Serves 4-6
170g/6oz chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 large firm aubergines
salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 fresh plum tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
grated nutmeg to taste
4 neck fillets of lamb (285g/10oz each), sliced into 5cm/2 inch pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium/large chillies
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
couscous

Drain the soaked chickpeas. Cover with water, bring to the boil and cook until tender. Chop the aubergines into rough, chunky 2.5cm/1-inch size dice and place in a colander over the sink. Sprinkle with salt (about 1 tablespoon). This will dehydrate the aubergines and drain away some of the bitter juices (leave for about 1/2 hour). Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water, remove the skins, deseed and quarter.
Using a pestle and mortar, pound up the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and 1 teaspoon salt, then put into a bowl and add 12 gratings of nutmeg Toss the lamb into the mixture and stir well to coat. Heat a large casserole pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sear the lamb until dark golden brown.
Gently squeeze the excess liquid form the aubergines (this will take away most of the salt too). Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil to your hot pan and fry the aubergines with the lamb for about 2 minutes, keeping everything on the move. Add the chilli and ginger and cook for 3 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute (still stirring, s as not to over-colour). Ad the vinegar and tomatoes and shake now and again. Turn the het down to a gentle simmer, place a lid on and leave for 1 hour, then add the cooked chickpeas and simmer for another 5 minutes. The tomatoes should have melted to a sauce and the aubergines should be sweet. Check the seasoning and stir in the parsley and coriander. Serve with couscous.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Haggis Swirl

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Haggis Swirl

Burns Night is upon us.  If you're looking for a very simple way of toasting the occasion then why not try this lovely idea of ours.  We went through a phase of buying meat swirls from Morrisons with our favourite being a lamb swirl which was minted lamb wrapped up in pastry then baked.  They were delicious and we figured it would be very easy to adapt the idea for other ingredients.  We tried a chilli swirl by just making a very simple chilli con carne and spreading it over a puff pastry sheet then baking for 30 minutes.

But this time last year we tried a Haggis Swirl which was lovely.

Ingredients:

1 can of haggis
1 sheet of puff pastry

Method:

Warm the haggis in a pan for about 5 minutes.  Spread over a sheet of puff pastry at about an half an inch deep.  Roll and cut into portions.  We found one sheet makes 4 rolls.  Bake for 30 minutes.

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What could be simpler?  Ok so it isn't really a recipe but none the less a great idea.  Happy Burns Night everybody.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Easter Eggs for Grown Ups

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Classic Desert Range by Thorntons

A little while ago we were asked if we would like to try a new range of Easter Eggs by Thorntons.  We have been asked before to try products and to be honest we don't often agree to it - but this was a little harder to refuse!

We decided that given the nature of the range that they would be best tried as a desert.  So we waited for a rare Saturday night when I wasn't working and we could have tea together.  We tried a new recipe for our main meal too but that turned out a disaster and tasted like someone dropped a beer in some tomato soup and threw it over my sandwich!! (maybe a blog-post for the future) so we needed cheering up.  And this little project certainly cheered us up.


Now when you go looking in supermarkets for Easter Eggs for the family you might be swayed by the 3 for £5 offers or something similar.  Now that is fine for little people but if you want to make someone feel really special then you can't go far wrong with one of the choices above.  These eggs are seriously indulgent - maybe not for the faint-hearted - and probably best not eaten in one sitting.

The first thing I noticed when getting these eggs out of the packaging was the weight.  They really were chunky and I'll admit that we had to get a rolling pin to them.  Not because the chocolate has hard as such - but it was so thick.  All good signs as far as I am concerned.


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Full 'O' Fudge

The Full 'O' Fudge Egg was great.  It was really well presented with fudge seemingly bursting out of the egg itself.  The fudge was sweet and crumbly as fudge should be and even ran throughout the chocolate egg itself which was a feature of all the eggs we found.  They weren't just eggs with decoration - each one is individually created with the theme running right through it.


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Tons 'O' Toffee

The Tons 'O' Toffee was perhaps Fran's favourite.  Again, the toffee pieces ran throughout the silky milk chocolate egg and we found there was soft and hard pieces too which added a nice contrast in texture.  The toffee was delicious and there was no scrimping on quantity either.  Fran seems to think that the toffee used in this one is Thornton's Special Toffee - this isn't confirmed but it certainly is tasty enough for that to be the case.


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Black Forest Gateau

Now as I am writing this blog-post I have taken the liberty of saving what I thought to be the best - for last.  The Black Forest Gateau Egg was amazing.  It was perhaps the closest thing to an actual desert in my opinion.  It was made with a lovely rich dark chocolate and deep, proper fruity, dark cherries not only bursting out of the front of the egg but again running through the chocolate.  After breaking up the egg if you saw a thicker piece you knew it would be crammed full of cherries.  I think the creamy effect on the front of the egg was made with white chocolate but it was lovely and creamy and the swirls of chocolate really finished it off making you feel like you have actually had a Black Forest Gateau!

We were very grateful for being given the opportunity to try these eggs and would definitely recommend them as the title suggests - for grown-ups.  Chocolate this good would be wasted on children!  There is another egg in the range called Tempting Trifle which we haven't tried - but imagine it to be fantastic too.  If you can think of 3 people you like enough to give these to then there is an offer on the website at the moment offering 3 for £20 which considering the quality we think is great value.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Savoury scones



Following our trip to the fantastic The Three Chimneys I came back all inspired to try and make wonderful new things.
The first of which was cheese scones.
The Three Chimneys gave us little freshly baked cheese scones as an appetizer to nibble on while we were looking at the menu each night. They were still warm from the oven, crisp yet soft in the centre, and despite being gluten-free, did not turn to crumbs!
These would be ideal as an extra savoury snack to take to work for lunch, or something to bridge the gap between getting in from work, while cooking the main meal.
I dug around in my massive library of cooking books and found a recipe for scones in the reliable Dairy Book of Home Cookery.
I followed the recipe variation for cheese scones, but using g-f flour, and the scones turned out well. I added a little grated parmesan to the top of each, and used an upturned champagne flute to cut them out in the absence of any biscuit cutters.

Another variation I made was sundried tomato and black olive. I simply chopped a few black olives and some sundried tomatoes and added these to the scone mixture along with a little of the preservation oil. The mixture did need a little more flour to avoid being too sticky.

The scones didn’t rise too much, and were a little dense. I have seen some recipes in the past that use 00 flour – something which I’m pretty sure there isn’t a g-f equivalent for, so their flatness was no surprise. To be honest, the scones turned out how I’d hoped (but actually nothing like the version we’d had at the Three Chimneys!), as something savoury to nibble on instead of indulging in something far less healthy and more salty. The only issue was that they seemed to go stale pretty quick – best eat them while still warm from the oven then!

Basic recipe (from the Dairy book of Home Cookery)

200g self raising flour
1/2 level teaspoon salt
50g butter
125ml milk
extra milk for brushing

1. Sift flour and salt into a bowl.
2. Rub in butter finely.
3. Add milk all at once. Mix to soft, but not sticky dough with knife.
4. Turn on to lightly floured board. Knead quickly until smooth.
5. Roll out to about 1cm thickness.
6. Cut into 9 or 10 rounds with 6cm cutter.
7. Transfer to buttered baking tray. Brush tops with milk.
8. bake towards the top of hot oven (230C or Gas 8) for 7-10 minutes (or until well risen and golden brown).
9. Cool on wire rack. Serve with butter or whipped cream and jam, or butter and cheese.
Makes 9 to 10 scones.







Friday, 11 January 2013

Three Chimneys, Skye

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Well the time has finally come to write about our stay at The Three Chimneys and the House Over-By.  As this was our honeymoon and as we only had a few days in which to celebrate, we had decided to go for something really special and The Three Chimneys is really special.

If you read our blog regularly you will know that we do not do reviews of restaurants as such but prefer to talk about places we like and then make recommendations.  After this trip we can honestly say the for us The Three Chimneys and the House Over-By represents the very best in fantastic food and hospitality.  There were little things that may go unnoticed like the way every member of staff knew who we were when we arrived and the way the front of house team actually greeted us as we walked down the little path to the front of the restaurant and personally showed us to the reception in the House Over-By.  Things like this may get taken for granted by some people but for us it just reassured us that after nearly 500 miles driving we were about to start a few days of a magical trip.  And The Three Chimneys did not disappoint at any time or on any level.

This was my (Tim's) first time to Skye and it is a breathtaking island.  From the moment we disembarked the ferry at Armadale and drove through a thunder cloud in pitch blackness at tea time there was drama round every corner.  This is what we wanted when booking a honeymoon in Scotland during Autumn.  The one thing we couldn't rely on was the the weather so instead we embraced it and we even got to experience a double rainbow.

The real reason we came to Skye (apart from to celebrate the start of our lives together, of course) was to experience The Three Chimneys Restaurant.  But first the accommodation:

The House Over-By is a purpose built block that sits only yards away from the restaurant.  It is a beautifully designed building that houses 6 luxurious split level rooms.  There is a breakfast room and of course a kitchen.  The breakfast room enjoys fantastic sea views (as do the rooms) and even has a telescope to watch the seals play at the shore.

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House Over-By
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Luxurious Bathroom
Even the bathroom was fantastic.  A lovely big bath and a (very) powerful shower was accompanied by Temple Spa toiletries which, thanks to the link have since appeared under our Christmas Tree.

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Breakfast Room with a view
The breakfasts were stunning.  Each day a table is laid out with a fantastic spread of cheeses, granola, fruit, smoked salmon, pate, home-baked scones etc.  And the table you see before you is set regardless of how many people are in for breakfast, such is their determination to make you feel special.  The service didn't stop there, however, when we booked our stay 6 months prior, I mentioned that Fran was gluten-aware and that she avoids wheat and gluten whenever possible.  This did not go unnoticed and every morning and indeed every mealtime there were gluten-free goodies.  

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Gluten-Free Scones
At breakfast (without prompting) Fran was presented with home-baked gluten-free scones to accompany her meal and they even prepared a gluten-free granola just for her.  Service we have never experienced before - and would be hard pushed to find again.  






Along side this beautiful display of delights, we were able to choose a hot dish from the kitchen, which changed each day.  The choices on the three mornings were were there were; Kippers, Black Pudding with Bacon and Eggs Benedict.

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Kippers with Mustard Creme Fraiche

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Black Pudding and Bacon with a Horseradish Sauce

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Eggs Benedict
On to the restaurant. On each of the three nights we ate there, we were greeted by the front of house staff, asked how our day was and shown to our table. We were seated in different parts of the restaurant each night. The restaurant has low ceilings, white-washed stone walls, soft wall lighting and candles on each table giving an intimate feel even when the restaurant is packed.

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Every night we were given the menu together with some tiny cheese scones and some sour dough crisps and smoked fish dip to nibble on while we considered our choices. Again, one set of these appetisers was gluten-free, and to be honest, the only way you could tell which was which was because the waiter had told us! None of this dry, crumbly gluten-free baking here!

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The menu was full of locally produced seasonal food, with the odd exotic dish thrown in. Since we were on Skye in game season, certain things had to be ordered. As well as perhaps the most freshest local seafood ever, we chose local mallard and beef from the menu. Starters on our first night were Hake on Glencoe mussel risotto and Blade of Beef salad. But before our food arrived we were presented with a pre-starter as a gift from the kitchen of a small pot of fish soup.

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Hake on mussel risotto
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Blade of beef salad












For main courses we chose the monkfish wrapped in bacon with scallops (all local) and the pan fried breast and confit leg of Isle of Mull mallard.

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Isle of Mull Mallard
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Monkfish and bacon












For desert there was no option, but the Famous Hot Marmalade Pudding (gluten-free version made especially). And also the marinated pineapple with rosemary sorbet, cardamon biscuit, coconut ice cream and passion fruit jelly.


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Famous Hot Marmalade Pudding
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Marinated pineapple












The next night we decided to indulge in the seven course tasting menu with the matching "wine flight". It goes without saying that the "Seven Courses of Skye" special showcase menu was very special indeed, and all the wines matched perfectly. But something which we were very impressed with, even before any morsel passed our lips was the fact that there was no need to pre-order this menu. Perhaps, this is the norm at this kind of establishment, but we were impressed!

We were given a copy of the menu (to chart our progress) which was beautifully presented with a wax seal


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The full menu had a couple of dishes which were not gluten free, but the waiter explained that everything was made from scratch so adjustments could be made, for example the scallop dish was with a gingerbread crust but the gluten-free version could be made with a hazelnut crust. There was only one dish on the menu that had to be substantially different. Of course, our opinions were sought on these options before they were cooked. Even the wine matches were adjusted!

To start we were given a small taste of fish soup with compliments of the kitchen, and the little cheese scones, sourdough crisps and smoked fish dip as before.


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Prawns
The starter, as listed on the menu was "Prawns" but in fact was "Loch Dunvegan Langoustines with Tattie Scones & Bridget's Organic Mesclun". The gluten-free version came without the tattie scones. 








The "Smoked Fish" course was "Colbost Skink, Marag & Tallisker Crumb, Local Croft Egg Yolk". Colbost Skink is a play on Cullen Skink, as the fish was local, and the Tallisker crumb is a local name for the black pudding. This course was perhaps the most spectacular as the soup came in a small round dish with a lid which was lifted off by the waiting staff to release a wonderful plume of smoke.

The next course was "Crab" and again was another example of the excellent locally sourced seafood. It was "Loch Bracadale Crab 'Flory' with Green Apple, Nasturtium & Mull Truckle". We since learnt that the wonderfully tasty layer of jelly on top of the crab, was a seafood essence jelly, the concept of which seems so extravagant!

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Smoked Fish
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Crab












The "Oysters" course was the course that no adjustments could be made. This was "Loch Harport Oysters, Rare Black Isle Beef Sirloin, Mustard leaf, Pickled Onion, Parsley & Anchovy". The Oysters in this dish were breaded and fried. The gluten-free course was fresh Oysters with a cucumber relish, with creme fraiche and herring roe.

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Oysters
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Oysters












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Scallops
It was the "Scallops" which came next. One with the gingerbread crust and the other with the hazelnut crust. The menu read "Sconser King Scallop with Gingerbread Crust, Parsnip, Sorrel & Quince".







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Venison
The next course was "Venison". "Pan Fried Saddle & Slow Cooked Haunch of Lochalsh Venison with Jerusalem Artichoke, Red Cabbage, Beetroot & Blaeberries". This was one of the highlights of the meal for both of us.







We then opted for the cheese board as an additional course before the "Souffle". The "Cheese" course was a selection of "Highland Cheeses with Our Oatcakes", served with quince chutney and grapes. Then the "Three Chimneys Hot Marmalade Pudding Souffle with Drambuie Syrup & Mealie Ice Cream" finished off the meal.

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Cheese
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Souffle












The showcase menu was fantastic.  So many examples of the local produce cooked to perfection.  Highlights for us was the Colbost Skink and the Venison.  We were looking forward to trying some Scottish game as we were visiting while it was in season, and this exceeded our expectations.  The Colbost Skink was rich and flavoursome, without the smokiness being overpowering.  The Cheeses were also a highlight, and ever since then, we have been on a mission to find a similar sheep's milk brie.  The wine matches completed the meal for us.  We had some wines which we would have never chosen ourselves, and with each new glass, the waiter explained where it was from and how it would complement the food.  We'd definitely recommend going for the showcase menu if ever presented with the option.  The meal, the wine and the whole experience was fantastic.

On our third night we decided to chose from the standard menu (is it really standard?).  The only dilemma we found ourselves in was the wine choices.  We had noted the expertise of the sommelier and really enjoyed the advice and explanations given to us about the wines so far so decided to let him guide us again.  As Fran eventually chose the Malaig Lythe (Pollock to you and I) and I picked the lamb, this was deemed a suitable challenge for the evening's sommelier - which this time was Richard (they all seemed to be experts).  As we were looking to match our wine for a 3 course meal, Richard first suggested ordering 2 half bottles - great idea.  He also explained that as a restaurant they are very particular about which wines they stock in half bottles and that they were all superb. 

To find a wine that could match both white fish and lamb was a challenge and he did say a perfect match wasn't really possible but did come up with a fantastic suggestion of a Rhone Valley Crozes Hermitage and an Alsace Trimbach Pinot Blanc

The Alsace was to go with the starters of Ham Terrine and Aubergine and Raisin Salad.  The Rhone Valley was to go with the main courses of Steamed Lythe and Lamb with Lamb Haggis.  I think the point of the Rhone Valley choice was that it was a white wine that was so deep it almost tasted red, therefore somehow able to complement a fish dish and a lamb dish.  

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Aubergine and Raisin Salad
The starters were a bit different to what we would normally order.  I enjoyed the Aubergine which was dramatic in it's presentation and fruity with an almost Moroccan feel to it.








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Smoked Haddock and Ham Terrine
with a Quails Egg
Fran chose the Smoked Haddock and Ham Terrine, which is a dish I am more likely to order.  That said, she assures me it was delicious and you can't really argue with a quails egg in any starter!








All the dishes were stunning in fact, especially the lamb which was rich and savoury, with the haggis so refined it was almost a light accompaniment but packed full of flavour.  The fish was perfectly cooked, being flaky and light with a rich, buttery, fishy sauce.


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Lamb with Lamb Haggis
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Steamed Malaig Lythe with Squid
and Clam Butter












We were very impressed with the wine recommendations and in fact the way in which they were recommended.  Richard had highlighted a few choices which he thought would go with our food, but then he left it for us to decide by ourselves (I must admit the first thing I looked at was the price).  This way we didn't feel under any pressure to go with something which could have been more than we wanted to pay.

For desert we had the Date Cake SoufflĂ© and an Almond Genoise which were fantastic and the final cheeseboard of the trip which included the fabulously runny sheep's milk brie.

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Date Cake SoufflĂ©
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Almond Genoise












The last breakfast was another opportunity to take pictures of the stunning location.  Very crisp and clear.  We couldn't leave without trying the porridge with a wee dram, even though whisky isn't really our thing.  The porridge was lovely and warming, perfectly accompanied by the sugar and cream.  Still not sure about the whisky though, even if it was local Isle of Skye whisky. Sorry!

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As we settled the bill and picked up a few souvenir postcards we had to ask how to tip. There was no pressure or mention of any tipping policy - again another point we noted.  We felt that the restaurant staff in particular had made our stay more memorable and special in the way we felt looked after, catered for (with all the gluten-free goodies) and we felt that the very personal service we received from everyone with whom we'd had contact was second-to-none.  We left a tip for the restaurant team which we added to the bill.


MenuAs a parting gift we were presented with a selection of cakes (including gluten-free) for the long journey back to Manchester, and the promise that a signed menu of the seven-course meal by the kitchen staff would be sent on to us (Michael Smith was away when we stayed, cooking for Prince Albert of Monaco - we've since found out that Prince Albert ate a very similar menu to what we had enjoyed on our stay!).  That menu is now framed and serves as a souvenir reminder of perhaps the best meal we've ever had.





The Three Chimneys most definitely deserves all its accolades in our opinion.  The skill of the chefs, the locality of the ingredients, the luxury of the accommodation and the location truly all add up to a wonderful place to eat and stay.  Just need to start saving up for an anniversary trip....