Monday, 31 August 2015

Eats | Banyan, York

In pursuit of a new burger place in York, my partner and I decided to try out Banyan, off Stonegate. We had heard a few good things about the place and I was intrigued by the menu. 

Oh year, it was good stuff. My partner had a bacon burger and I tried out the burger topped with beef brisket, blue cheese and bourbon BBQ sauce. It was delicious, and accompanied by fries which were both crispy and moist at the same time. On the side we also tried out some cheesy garlic bread, which similarly did not disappoint. On top of that, service was attentive and the atmosphere was relaxed. The whole meal including drinks came to around £30 which, for a seriously good burger, I was willing to pay.

We will be going back again, and I will be trying more of the appetising menu. If I can tear myself away from the beef brisket and blue cheese...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Days Out | Fountains Abbey, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Recently I went on a little day trip out into the North Yorkshire countryside and headed over to Fountains Abbey, near Ripon. A huge site, featuring a Elizabethan manor house and Georgian water gardens, my visit this time focussed on the ruins of the monastery that stood here from 1132 onwards. The ruins are beautiful; evocative and intriguing, beautiful and desolate. A perfect place to wander.

Fountains Abbey also has a reasonable cafe, toilets and the usual National Trust shop. There were loads of families about having picnics in the abbey grounds, with the children contentedly running amok amongst the ruins. 

£11.00 Adult, £5.50 Child, £27.50 Family. 
Free to National Trust members.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Eats | Ambiente Tapas Fossgate, York

Alan and I have regularly enjoyed trips to a little tapas restaurant which opened up behind York Minster a couple of years ago. It was vibrant, with an excellent choice of tapas, both hot and cold, with a wide selection of wines and sherries to choose from to drink. It was therefore with some interest that we noted that Ambiente had opened up a newer, larger premises, closer to our house, in Fossgate. We decided to go and give it a try.

I fear that we may have attended on a dud night. The food was perfectly reasonable, but dull. We ordered a selection of bruscetta style nibbles, with a few other items on the side, including calamari, goats cheese and patatas bravas (not pictured). It is hard to describe what was wrong with the food (with the exception of the calamari which was, frankly, so distasteful to me that I couldn't eat it - and I'm a calamari fiend) - but it was just 'meh'.

The bruschetta items were particularly disappointing. The bread was thick and the too doughy, the toppings too little to cover it. Perhaps some of it was our choices of dishes, but the whole thing felt rather starchy, heavy and unappetising.

In addition, we also suffered from some fairly inattentive waitressing and had to wait a long time for the food which, when it arrived, was disappointing.

As far as we are concerned, the Ambiente Tapas at Monkbar in York continues to be excellent. This new venture? Still needs some work, I think.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

What I've Been Reading (I) | August 2015

This has been quite a productive reading month, so this is split up due to having to take several books back to the library. A mixed bag of young adult fantasy, classic juvenilia, crime and history.

 Panic by Lauren Oliver

I picked this up at the library having read 'Delirium' by the same author and feeling that this one might be similarly entertaining. Telling the story of a group of teenagers experiencing their final summer after school, this novel is different as at the centre of their story is a dangerous, secret game, played for a grand monetary prize. Each character has a different reason for choosing to participare and so, within this ongoing narrative, is a story of various teenage dramas, familial suffering and come of age details.

I enjoyed this, but I wouldn't say it was particularly memorable.

Lock No. 1 by Georges Simenon

I had heard about the release of these books from some book tubers, and when I saw one in the library I picked it up, as it was quite short and I enjoy a good crime novel.

I found this intriguing but it was not particularly gripping - this particular story, featuring a variety of suspects with animosity against a canal barge baron on the outskirts of Paris, fell flat with me. I felt no interest in the characters and Inspector Maigret, who is the central character of all these novels, was a bit of a shadowy figure.

Not yet put off, I will be trying another of these at some point, in case this was a dud story in the series. 

Heresy by S J Parris

Knowing my liking for C J Sansom's novels, my sister kindly lent this one to me. The central character, Giordano Bruno, is based on a real life character who was used by Francis Walsingham to spy against the Catholic threat under Queen Elizabeth I. This opening novel, set mostly in an Oxford college, has all the intrigue and claustrophobia of a country house murder combined with elements of 'The Name of the Rose' by Umberto Eco. It was entertaining and full of lively characters.

I am a sucker for Tudor history and I will be looking to read the rest of the series.

The Beautifull Cassandra by Jane Austen

One of my Penguin 80p classics, I enjoyed this with a glass of wine one evening. It is full of little stories written by a youthful Austen, for the entertainment of her family. They are not sophisticated and are full of the kind of melodrama that she later exorcises from her final novels. For all that, they are an insight into the development of a writer and the young narrative voice is diverting.

Elizabeth's Spy Master by Robert Hutchinson

Having read 'Heresy' earlier in the month, I picked up this short non fiction book about Sir Francis Walsingham and his spy network. The book covers Walsingham's early life and his time as an Ambassador in France, tracing some of his ardent anti-Catholicism to his presence at the St Bartholemew's Massacre, when the French Catholics rose up in Paris and massacred the Protestant Huguenots. It then moves on to the development of Walsingham's spy network, his use of cryptographers and ciphers, and his most famous case, the entrapment of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The book was interesting but for some reason, the writing style was quite boring. I cannot put my finger on it, but it did not work for me. What should be a narrative about the development of the first spy network was making me yawn by half way through. In the end, not my cup of tea.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill

My final selection was again, the result of listening to Book Tubers. A young adult novel set in a dystopian world where female children can no longer be conceived naturally, the story follows a group of 16 year old girls who are the ultimate designer test tube babies. 

Created to be perfect, they are brought up in a nunnery like school, separated from the outside world, trained only in the ways of pleasing men, either as wives or as concubines. This means that they are obsessed with their beauty, their bodies and their weight. They are trained to the day when they must meet the boys from the outside world, who will select those they wish to have as wives and those who are destined to be concubines; and, worst of all, those who they wish to have for neither.

This is a gripping but horrific read; it is centred on 2 girls, freida and isabel, who were once best friends but drift apart as the pressure of this final year of their school lives moves on. The novel is full of terrible scenes of body shaming, graphic discussions about eating disorders and a hugely obtuse attitude towards sex and love. 

I would recommend this novel to my adult friends, but I would be wary of actually letting a teenage girl read this. It is a powerful and dangerous read, meant to be a message, no doubt, about our ongoing preoccupation with appearances. Unfortunately, (spoiler alert) the conclusion to the novel leaves little chance of redemption for the characters and therefore no chance to amend many of the injustices of the novel. I will remember this one for a long time.

Eats | Veeno, York

I had wanted to go to Veeno for a while, ever since hearing it had opened up on Piccadilly in York. It is completely Alan's sort of place - wine and Italian nibbles. We decided spontaneously to get the other day and we were not disappointed. 

We chose to enjoy a bottle of the House Red (which was a lovely mix of Merlot and Nero D'Avola, and good value at £11), and several of the wine cafe's sharing platters, including a bruschetta selection, a meat and cheese board and some homemade breads with family made olive oil.

Everything was delicious, varied and perfect for supping with our bottle of red. We had cheeses which were smoky, spicy and creamy; a variety of cured meats, all with unique flavours, flavoursome bread with excellent olive oil, and bruschetta featuring sweet peppers, rich olive tapenade and a particularly potent chorizo paste.

Future trips will definitely include a bit more wine tasting - perhaps branching out into a few more of their recommendations - and certainly plenty more of their sharing boards. Service was friendly and attentive, the atmosphere was relaxed and convivial, perfect for my kind of night out.

We will be back and would highly recommend it. 

We're pretty intrigued by the Apericena, an Italian buffet and drink offer which takes place every Wednesday. Watch this space.