Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Pub To Make Your Local, if only for the pudding: The Woolpack

The Woolpack: Risborough Road, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, HP22 5UP

The Woolpack is a large pub, locally known as “The Woolly” and it is certainly a favourite in the area. It can be both intimate or casual, perfect for relaxed drinks outside on the terrace, in the chic bar or great for meals with friends or loved ones at the rustic tables and sofa benches. The staff are friendly without fussing and the menu is traditional pub fare with Mediterranean twists and interesting specials. Nestled on the outskirts of Stoke Mandeville, The Woolpack is like a large slice of the fresh and the summery, despite sitting by a busy road.

To start, we nibbled on smoky chilli nuts served in a quaint box jar and rustic bread with a side of pomodoro sauce and a whole roasted garlic, the sound of the cars dead to us out on the back terrace. Both were satisfying, authentically presented and great for sharing while we poured over the extensive menu. On one hand, the mix of pizzas, pastas and salads is a little off-putting as it seems like “The Woolly” can do anything and everything, but there are some more intricate and interesting dishes also.

The starter special was black sea scallops with potato salad – there were three scallops nestled against a monstrous potato salad lathered in mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was too overpowering for the delicate salad though the scallops were cooked perfectly.  Not worth £9.95 but I must commend the manager who, before we’d had time to complain, offered to take the starters of the bill because of a lengthy wait for them. The excellent service took away the sour taste immediately though later mistakes, such as wrong drinks and forgetting orders, were sometimes a little irritating. The second starter of arancini risotto balls was delicious: the crispy balls stuffed with mozarella on a bed of blended sweet red peppers (a full-flavoured, thick sauce; delicious!) and a green chilli mayonnaise which had an intense chilli flavour but, like the scallops, was let down by the generous use of mayonnaise. The risotto itself was creamy, mixing well with the mozarella, though the cheese’s flavour failed to come through.

Moving onto the mains, we had the special of marinated half of quail though the marinade was tasteless. The quail itself was well-cooked but the sauteed potatoes were ever so slightly overdone. The accompanying trio of salads consisted of a thick and gloopy coleslaw, a colourful and fresh Asian slaw and a bright, well-dressed house salad. Tasty and satisfying overall. The spit-roast half chicken came with a thick garlic aioli, perfectly offsetting the charcoal flavour of the chicken which was, in true spit-style, left on the bone. The fries were great: thin-cut but with the skin left-on and super-crunchy with fluffy insides. The Asian slaw dressed with soy sauce brought a splash of colour and crunchy texture, rounding out this rustic, summer dish well. A hit!

The pudding menu is certainly worth looking over: there’s crumble, gelato, sticky toffee pudding and more, all served in generous portions as you might expect in a pub. A white chocolate brulee was a let-down however; the topping was beautifully caramelised, breaking with a snap, but underneath there was no taste of white chocolate and it seemed more like a pot of bland custard. The sticky toffee pudding was the star of the show: a brick-like portion drenched in a thick, sweet toffee sauce and finished with a dollop of creamy vanilla gelato on top. Hints of maple and date came through the light sponge and the textures of airy sponge,  gooey sauce and silky gelato melted wonderfully.

The evening was consistently relaxed and good-natured, with nothing too much trouble for any of the staff. The drinks are fairly expensive but the food is generally well-priced, with a few exceptions, but the portions are generous and the atmosphere infallible. Meeting “The Woolly” mightn’t be a bad idea this summer.

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Le Comptoir – a restaurant to count on

Le Comptoir: 65 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1JT

Le Comptoir is a pastry-wrapped pocket of Lebanon serving up punches of flavour in five locations across London. The Wigmore Street restaurant is fresh and funky: wide wooden planks on the floor and rough, rustic tables keep the place feeling relaxed and casual, while the exotic tea-pots and gemstone braided bags (which you can buy!) provide both a talking point as well as showing you more of Lebanon than their food can.

Their food shows a lot, however. To start, a platter of hommos and pitta bread baked on the premises. Served traditionally with a pool of oil and whole chickepeas surrounded by the mashed form of the peas. The lemon and garlic came through lightly in a beautifully thick blend and, unlike many supermarket forms, there was no sweet, sticky aftertaste.

Next up, a warm chicken taouk wrap. Authentic again, served with a garlic paste, pickles and a fresh salad in a warm toasted wrap. The chicken was tender, with a slight spice while the whole wrap was bursting with a juicy yogurt and tomato sauce. There is no better feeling than scooping up the leftovers with that sweet, spicy sauce dribbling down your chin. There’s a choice of dips available: the garlic sauce packs such a punch it tastes like pure blended garlic cloves but with a sweetness that makes you want to dip everything in it. The harissa sauce is a warming chilli sauce, much thinner than the garlic sauce, but beware the hot kick as you swallow: it’s surprising and powerful!

To finish, there are many tasty treats to choose from, from yogurt with traditional Lebanese toppings to the well-known Baklawas. A selection of five baklawas varied from sweet flaky pastry stuffed with date semolina to a triangular layered pastry neatly filled with ground mixed nuts. While the taste didn’t vary widely between the walnut-filled, cashew-flavoured and other sweet delicacies, it was a great authentic touch and delicious all-round. The Comptoir frozen yogurt was very soft and unsweetened but this was lifted by a topping of halva and roasted pistachios. Halva is a nougat-type sweet made from flour or nut-butter. This one was very sweet and quite sticky but also crumbly and worked wonderfully with the pistachios both texturally and on taste.

The service was very helpful, swift and friendly and a takeaway service is also available. You can see some of the food been prepared behind the counter and lots is laid out around the restaurant, if only to make you hungrier while you wait! A definite must-visit for a chilled out sharing-meal with friends or an intimate meal to try something new. Le Comptoir is definitely “the counter” with something worth serving.

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