Prezzo St Neots

When: 01-01-2017

Where: Prezzo St Neots

Price: Free – it was a gift

Review: I find Prezzo to be reliably good whenever I go there

Tip: Wise to book – it can get busy prior to film showing times as the cinema is next door.

This is an old blog post that never got put in the correct place. This dates from a time when I saw the future as reviewing those experiences I was able to take in.

Shortly afterwards I determined that the time for the experiences took away from the time for writing the blog.

This and a few like it will have to stand as memories of that aim.

The last such post is here: https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/20/fifty-special-things-thanh-binh-restaurant-cambridge/.

I had concluded that I would write no further reviews. That was until fellow blog writer Anthony reminded me that the 50 Special Things did not officially have an end. Two years later it would now be 52 special things in any case so I have plenty to review.

You can catch Anthony here: http://unofficialcambridgefilmfestival.blogspot.co.uk/ or tweet him here https://twitter.com/theagentapsley

It had been a few months since my resolution to fill my 50th year with as many fun things as was feasible.

The visit to Prezzo St Neots was my suggestion. http://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/st-neots/

The purpose: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family. The event was coming somewhat after the actual birthday date.

If one believes in horoscopes I was born under the sign of Libra. (Which should give you a clue).

The original resolution for “50 special things” was before my birthday in a meeting with my counsellor . (However it was embellished on my birthday whilst eating in a resort restaurant with my two friends Jacqui and Jon. (We were in Gaya in Malaysia). I suspect in some not too distant blog entry details of that will emerge.

The idea of 50 special things was to dispel the belief that a birthday is limited to one day per year. Limiting celebrations in this way is likely to be disappointing. Allowing the celebrations to last all year circumvents that problem.

The idea came through talking to my counsellor. In my experience counsellors are often the source of great advice.

I’m certain that not all great recommendations come from counsellors but in my experience many of the good ones do.

This is quite an awesome responsibility when deciding to embark upon the journey towards being a counsellor. (How do you come up with these good ideas).

As a volunteer counsellor myself I am not certain that I can measure up to that expectation.

A 50th birthday celebration at Prezzo. This was in the hope that gluten-free means less stomach aches the following day.

Prezzo have a pretty extensive gluten-free menu (other restaurants take note). This menu means that I have eaten there many times.

St Neots is the usual Prezzo venue due to the familiarity I have with eateries there. (I live within easy driving distance of St Neots).

(I seem to be a creature of habit who would like to be a creature of adventure).

Prezzo is usually a place that is highly-populated due to its proximity to the St Neots cinema. It has a hubbub akin to a football stadium.

New Year’s Day and all I needed was to sleep (after a night in an Indian restaurant – the site of our New Year’s Eve celebrations).

Prezzo 1

An Indian restaurant some bottles of wine a need for sleep the day after. (To anyone of average intellect that would not have been surprising).

So I am sat half-asleep in a restaurant with a surprisingly muted hubbub. Perhaps I was not alone in my post Chilean wine indulgence.

New Year’s Day certainly seemed to bring a falloff in demand for Prezzo culinary expertise.

It was hard to get enthusiastic when consumption of unsuitable food the night before meant a tsunami stomach ache. Besides enough gas to replenish the North Sea pipeline.

Prezzo 2

Despite this malaise I noticed that the service (by three waitresses) was excellent. They seemed to cope with a deficit of staff (no doubt brought on by the holiday season) without noticeable decline in delivery or positivity.

For some reason the menu was not filling me with joy (as it has on previous occasions). I wondered if there had been a recent redesign or possibly it was feeling green that did it.

When you’re trying to avoid incompatible-with-IBS foods risotto is usually a good standby. That is apart from those establishments that insist all risotto must contain peas.

Prezzo 3

Peas are great if you fancy spending a day or so on your own fumigating a greenhouse. With a stomach that feels like a space hopper with an overweight and restless kid on it.

Sadly my choice was only slightly less tolerable as it contained leek. Leek is fantastic for post-food onion-orientated fragrances (as beloved by no one).

King prawn risotto following a starter of gluten-free bread with balsamic onion dressing. I love onion but onion wages outright war on me. It starts with the intestines and continues on down.

For an IBS-sufferer like me rice and gluten-free gets my recommendation.

Fortunately I have not developed a dairy-intolerance. If you are unable to take the cheese in the risotto there are a few gluten free pastas. I do not tolerate tomato well so eat these when I’m feeling quite well before hand.

Prezzo 4

Desserts of ice cream are well-tolerated by me (with peppermint tea). (This means I get to socialise otherwise going out would be taxing – finding foods that don’t make me ill.)

After all of these precautions I opted for the chocolate drink. In my defence I read recently that dark chocolate helps stay the commencement of Alzheimer’s. (Dementia has been a theme in my family).

Prezzo 5

I would recommend Prezzo as a place to go if like me you tend to tolerate some foods poorly. The menu gives some options that I don’t see at other nearby restaurants.

Although Prezzo is busy the service tends to be swift. The staff are pleasant despite having a huge number of tables to attend upon.

I tend to visit this restaurant every few months. So far the only down side is that the background volume in there can get elevated. In other respects I choose Prezzo over the alternatives.

 

If you liked this article why not follow this blog

Follow The Procrastination Pen on WordPress.com

 

Fifty Special Things – Thanh Binh Restaurant Cambridge

When: 03-11-2016 and 10/01/2016

Where: Thanh Binh Vietnamese Restaurant, 17 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, United Kingdom
Tel: 01223 362 456
Email: info@thanhbinh.co.uk/thanhbinhcambridge@gmail.com http://www.thanhbinh.co.uk/

Price: Free first time (50th birthday present), £20 second time

Review: Excellent Staff. A tiny place in which to treat yourself.

Tip: If you want to drink take your own wine – small corking charge applies.

Next in the task to have 50 great things happen in my 50th year.
See the previous account in this series:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/12/fifty-special-things-brampton-wood/.

A suggestion from a counsellor and a great suggestion. Why does the celebration end with the birthday – why can’t it carry on all year?

One reason is making enough time available to do the things in life that you always wished to do.

The next is that, having achieved this hoary old age, remembering all the dreams that you once had becomes a lot less easy.

However I have taken this up like a new religion and so I am trying to make fifty great things happen before I am fifty one.

I think of this restaurant as being on Bridge Street. On the first visit it was a treat from my sister and had that air of specialness that comes from being the focus of attention. My sister drove me to Cambridge and I walked with her to the restaurant with the normal Phil air of complete obliviousness to geography.

On the second visit I was with people from work and I told them to meet me on Bridge Street at the bridge. Only to find the restaurant is on Magdalene Street and the meeting place was a bit beyond the restaurant. (The restaurant is up near the traffic lights and St Giles Church more than down near the Cam).

Of course people have become used by now to my species of woolly-headedness and so after some leg pulling we set off back up the hill.

The restaurant has online booking and in contrast to some places I have tried in the past it is effective. I had confirmation within a few hours of registering interest in a table for four. It is also a relief that having entrusted the booking to mouse and keyboard when I attended they were expecting me.

I had attended with my sister and brother in law for an after-50th birthday meal at the beginning of November. (I was in Borneo for my actual Fiftieth birthday. Accounts of which will be in this blog in the not too distant future). We had a great time in November.

It was with this fond memory that I had recommended it to a couple of friends from work. I was confident in the place: in that it was enjoyable; I wouldn’t have to fight my way through hordes of eager eaters, and the staff were courteous and attentive.

Importantly I would be able to find stuff for me to eat. Given I have IBS (and have a diet slightly less restricted than a vegan) this can make for some entertainment.

Details of the IBS and how it developed will no doubt hit this blog at some point as well.

Of course anything in Cambridge is going to involve some parking negotiations.
When I had come in with my sister she had driven in and very kindly paid for the parking. On that occasion we used the Park Street car park:

https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/park-street-car-park

Not what you’d call cheap, not what you’d call fragrant but had the advantage of being close. I could not recommend much in the way of parking in Cambridge. Cambridge majors on the historic or even quaint but not much on the car city. Bicycle yes, car no.

On the second occasion (taking into account that I am a cheapskate) – after arrival I drove round for some on-street parking. This left a bit of a walk down Castle Hill.

On street parking is a bit of an endangered species in Cambridge. Resident’s parking bays are apparently procreating.

Very soon parking without fee will involve the kind of expedition that would bring a gleam to the eye of Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It is pointless recommending anywhere because as soon as this blog item is out the parking will have disappeared.

Given the distance from the venue and my encroaching portliness I was late, again.

My two friends were waiting with that patient air of someone who’d dearly like to say “where the hell have you been”. They limited themselves to mentioning that they’d decided to wait at the appointed place.

The bridge is picturesque in that tiny “I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out” kind of way. But given the outside temperatures lingering on it was likely to have been diverting for all the wrong reasons.

Despite having attended in November, by the time I attended again in January I had forgotten where it was. A fact that caused some amusement to my companions.
Although not that exceptional for me I have to say.

If you’re as far as the bridge on Bridge Street you need to retrace your steps some way towards the traffic lights. A disconcertingly long way when you can’t remember where the place.

In fact if you are opposite Magdalene College you’re just about there.
Oh and if like me you forgot to look out for it on the way down the hill and walk past it then this is a cue for more ribbing behaviour.

It is tiny.

dsc02789

I felt like I was sitting in the comfort of someone’s front room the whole time I was there.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. In that fashion which does not involve them fussing round you whilst you’re trying to have a conversation.

On each occasion it has been quiet like the low murmur of somewhere refined.

Maybe the more restricted areas of some gentleman’s club but without the wing backed chairs (and the prostitutes).

The first time we took wine to celebrate (they don’t serve wine but allow you to take your own). This is a top tip if you want to drink – they are quite happy for you to bring some.

There’s a small charge for this but cheaper than getting wine in a restaurant I thought.

The drinks available are appealing even if the lack of alcoholic ingredient may deter many.

Although Vietnamese and therefore chopsticks provided as standard fortunately cutlery is available. This is useful considering that I am a Luddite and have the finger dexterity of two large lumps of concrete.

Although chopsticks make a very effective projectile. (As I discovered; I caught one with my sleeve and sent it down to the lower ground floor level – with a resounding clatter which caught everyone’s attention).

The toilet is on the lower ground floor beside the kitchen down a winding staircase. This means having too much to drink is not too great an idea in any case (you might arrive on your backside).

dsc02790

They have both chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea so I was a bit torn opting for jasmine through habit.

For those who can drink tea which has camellia sinensis in it they have green tea but I saw no evidence of the fermented variety.

The food is to die for and semi IBS friendly. Although I tend to find no matter how careful I am after I go out – being close to some facilities (and away from people) for 24 hours afterwards is a good thing.

The fish I had a couple of times (once on each visit) because I liked it so much. (In a former life I must have been a marine creature given my love of all things seafood).

dsc02792

Mostly you go out for the company. This is a place where you can have a conversation and not have to compete with the hubbub. Neither will you find it necessary to shrink yourself down to a skinny person – to avoid elbows, back or bum intersecting with someone else’s’ eating space.

The first occasion with family was a very uplifting experience – helped by being made a fuss of.

I can’t speak on behalf of my friends but personal view was that the second visit was also a success.

I imagine that at intervals it must become busy and I can’t speak for the experience then. Both occasions where I have attended there hasn’t been need to elbow back the crowds or to join some tiresome queue whilst you “wait to be seated”.

They have some interesting desserts too. Although after my experiences in Malaysia I would not recommend anything containing durian.

They have durian ice cream but after the face shrivelling experience of trying some on an open market in Kuala Lumpur I can’t say I was tempted this time.

The first visit I opted for the standard ice cream which given November wasn’t too shabby temperature-wise just about made sense.

January it turned out was a bit stiffer in its resolve to bring draughty. Everyone agreed dessert was not what we were looking to do.

If you’re coming in and do not fancy car park negotiation one of my companions pointed out that Shire Hall is now pay and display at £1 per hour (at weekends). Compared to some multi storeys this is a disgraceful bargain. But if you’re a cheapskate could be considered ruinous. Consider it a contribution to the good works of the local authority…

I recommend this restaurant for a visit. I’m hoping that my recommendation will not ruin the special atmosphere through increased demand.
Perhaps the thing is to get in quick before the rush starts.

Fifty Special Things – Brampton Wood

When: 30-10-2016

Where: Brampton Wood http://www.visiteastofengland.com/Huntingdon-Brampton-Wood/details/?dms=3&venue=0211398

Price: Free

Review: Not at its best in October; go when it’s warmer

Tip: follow the satnav in this case it makes a better job of finding it.

Brampton wood and the start of many wood visits.

Communing with nature is restorative: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/we-know-nature-makes-us-happier-now-science-says-it-makes-us-kinder-too-20160312.

So to start with this appeared to be a great choice.

The Wildlife Trusts’ guidebook states that they have managed the wood since 1992. They bought it from the Ministry of Defence.

Guidebook:  Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire Northamptonshire guide: “Where to See Wildlife in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire”.

I was attending the Bolnhurst Steam Fair http://www.bolnhurstrally.org.uk/ when someone came up and sold me membership. This is not an organisation I would have thought of but I am supportive of any group that puts trees before house building.

They have a good little guide to local woods and also a website worthy of a visit: http://www.wildlifebcn.org/.

Brampton Wood has been a site of Special Scientific Interest since 1954.

But it turns out that spotting wildlife is somewhat more difficult than on some of our trips abroad.

The wood is home to dormice (which were re-introduced in 1992) but so far all we seem to have seen in our woodland visits are species of canine on and off leads.

It is the second largest woodland in Cambridgeshire at 132 hectares (327 acres). The largest is Bedford Purlieus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bedford_Purlieus_NNR.  (Which might be the subject of a future visit/blog item).

The Wildlife Trusts organisation have a good leaflet on Brampton Wood: http://data.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/Brampton%20Wood%20Leaflet%202015.pdf.

But the wood majored less on the picturesque and more on the damp and cold the day that I went.

The guidebook states there are more than two miles of wide mown pathways and some minor pathways and follows: “pathways maybe muddy” – read will be very muddy. Take wellies (and a small tractor to drag you out).

Brampton wood appears easy to find. But where it appeared to be on the map was not where the satnav wished us to go. We went with our own judgement, and got lost. (OS Ref is TL 184 698).

If you want to find it Google indicates that it is here:

https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Brampton+Wood+Nature+Reserve/@52.3166644,-0.2744105,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x4877c3cb62522f8f:0x491c3106c976241c!8m2!3d52.3166644!4d-0.2722218.

Directions are: From A1, take A14 exit towards Huntingdon. Take the first exit off A14 to Brampton (B1514). Go straight at the first roundabout then right at the second roundabout. Turn right at the T-junction on to Grafham Road. Follow Grafham Road through the village and over the A1. The reserve is on the north side of the road – 1/2 mile out of Brampton. A brown sign indicates the entrance to the wood. Park in the small car park. (When they say small they are not kidding).

Following the satnav lead to a tiny left-hander off the A1. This looked to need the sort of deceleration which the Beagle Lander attempted on Mars.

As a result we took the circuitous route. This required navigation of a narrow road with enough oncoming traffic to provide diversion. After many wood-related trips we found this was typical.

Being a virgin of wood visits I anticipated a car park devoid of vehicles, our journey punctuated by some kindly gamekeeper (with a discussion of pheasant breeding practices or some such).

But turning into the most bijou of car parks I found it already well inhabited with vehicles which could have labelled modern, shiny, and family.

We squeezed in at the end of a row of these.

dsc01893

Vehicles distinguished by large rear load areas. Every one of those vehicles contained inhabitants which you could call “Rover”.(Second piece of education of the day).

All varieties of fur – caked in material which was going to need more than a small towel to remonstrate with.

Each one of the human car inhabitants turned out to have a species of cheeriness, this associated with bobble-hat, fleece, and large rangy hound.

We had snaffled the last space (or so we thought). Yet another shiny Tonka-toy-thing burbled in behind. The driver did not resort to shouting or fist-waving so I assume found somewhere to slot it.

The ground was that species of compliant which one will be familiar with if embarking-out barefoot on a wet evening and murdering a large slug in darkness with one’s toes as the offensive weapon.

Phil’s recommendation: go when it’s warmer. Although given how popular woods turn out to be with dog walkers you are always going to have a lot of company.

It is a top site for bluebells in the spring so that may well be worth a try. I wouldn’t bother with October. Unless you have a 4×4 and something large with waggy tail which doesn’t smell great when it’s wet.

Fortunately the ground was well furnished with leaves. Rainfall sufficiently far in the past that waders were not a necessity.

The Wildlife Trusts’ booklet informs me that the wood is at least 900 years old. And so had a mention in the Domesday Book.

I’m sure in the summer it is a goodly place. But the day we went it had the kind of sombre air usually reserved for death and religious buildings. (Or some combination of those).

img_4595

The link above http://www.wildlifebcn.org turns out to be the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife trust – check out their website for further details.

We decided to do a circuit (starting at the noticeboards).

img_4594

The link above http://www.hffs.org.uk is for the Huntingdonshire Fauna and Flora Society – check out their website for further details

And so embarked on a journey around what one imagined to be the circumference – just inside the tree line.

Diverting at intervals to have privacy from the next bobble-hatted group.

In places there were stands of conifers – planted when the Government managed the wood.

These are being removed for the wood to re-establish.

img_4592

The circuit seemed too brief to me and convinced me that we must have taken the wrong route.

I’d only said good morning to 1/2 dozen people or so and I estimated the population at that time to be several times that. So where had they all gone?

After reviewing the map of the wood we realised that we had only circuited part of it. So there was a lot left to see on future visits.

A little of a good thing convinced me that more of this experience would prove more fulfilling. So decided that this wildlife idea was for me.

Gazing between the trees gave me brief memories of Borneo. It was with sadness I realised that we would see no macaque this trip. (Nor catch our clothes on any rattan).

Back to the car. The surrounding shiny and four wheel drive had swapped about a bit but not reduced in number. So lesson of wood exploration wood=popular=pooches began to form in my mind.

img_4593

Stately homes seem to be the places where frazzled adults take their small person. Woods however are where red cheeked outdoors people range about with carnivores.

Well there’s a learning point.

Brampton as we found out later was remarkable in its tidiness (i.e. no dog faeces).

Despite the car park it also proved to be unrepresentative in its lack of population. Subsequent woods were to prove much more popular.

Grafham Fireworks – Grafham Village – 2016

An Unofficial Review

Summary:

When: 05-11-2016
Where: Grafham Village Hall http://www.grafham.org.uk/villagehallhire
Price: £4 per adult, £2 children (free parking) – sparklers £1 for 5
Tip: take something to light sparklers with.

Amazing the number of places who believe that the gunpowder plot was on November 4th. Maybe my memory isn’t so hot but I thought it went “remember remember the 5th of November.”

I had high hopes of attending Kimbolton this year but it turns out the Catholic attempts at shrugging off Protestant repression occurred a whole day earlier than I thought.

Sadly coincidentally with my seeing a couple of counselling clients. (Who (I imagined) might think it a bit rich if I sloped off to catch a few fireworks).

Anyway so it was the 5th and fight my way into Cambridge (and choose between parking in a dinky car sized space or paying an Ivana Trump style fee for leaving my wheels somewhere).

Alternatively something a bit more local and risk fireworks – the impressiveness of which probably wouldn’t disturb the wildlife much.

And so I saw an advert for fireworks at Grafham (piggin’ close), ample on street parking (free) and £4 entry.

This appealed to every cheapskate aspect of my personality.

Of course it is dark around 11am now and this is profoundly disturbing to a large number of motorists I have discovered.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when turning off at Great Staughton that we managed a steady 50mph all the way to the Grafham village turn.

The event is surprisingly well subscribed and we joined a convoy on the access road which culminated in the inevitable car park when we reached the village.

However there was a left turn which had something to do with the church – I figured we had legs. The decision turned out to be a good one as we parked just inside the village limits and were followed by lots of other motorists looking for some gridlock respite.

The walk to the village hall had a frisson of excitement as I had no idea where it was. There was general milling around of tired taller people with excitable smaller ones.

Eventually tagging along with a reasonable sized group of smaller people (at a distance I judged appropriate to avoid Rolf Harris accusations) led us out into a well-lit area. Where people were extracting us from our silver and permitting us access in one motion.

It turned out that smaller persons were only £2 so something of a bargain if you have smaller persons that you intend to take.

The field was already looking like the early stages of a concert venue and one person was doing a swift trade in packets of sparklers – something I cannot remember playing with since I was myself a smaller person.

These were the ruinous amount of £1 for a packet of 5 (so we got two packets).
I hadn’t thought to bring lighting devices so sidled over to a man who seemed capable of turning multiple sausages at once on a barbecue that the US airforce would have envied.

We got the first sparkler lit but then instead of enjoying it I spent the remaining time anxiously lighting one after the other from it to ensure we had a means of lighting them.

Phil’s top tip take a cigarette lighter…

By this stage a healthy queue had developed and given the English love of queues I had to participate.

We were queuing beside the QE2 sized barbecue and heading into a village hall so I had strong hopes of tea.

The queue became porous as greater and greater numbers of people poured in and wanted intimate contact with the bonfire. Only accessible apparently by pushing past those queueing.

The night was perishing windy and I was grateful for the surrounding houses which kept the autumnal blast down to merely finger biting proportions.

After an interval – in which some members of the queue had evolved into other life forms – we got inside the door and saw the queue split in different directions.

No tea.

There was a sign saying mulled wine – tempting but no mulled wine was off. Later someone went in for mulled wine from the bonfire and I reflected that they really needed to up the volumes – a lot.

There was hotdog, there was soup, there were baked potatoes.

Hmm decisions decisions big stomach ache or really big stomach ache. (I have IBS so I’m not supposed to eat wheat or potatoes).

So we opted for hotdog, which on a cold autumn night was frankly delicious in fact I had two of them.

£1 each – another Grafham bargain. Volunteers were friendly and in frank amazement at the level of demand – food shifting at a rate of knots. I reassured them by telling them about the car parking demands and likely consequence for their ability to get out at the end. (I’m noted for my helpfulness).

We emerged at the self-same moment the fireworks began with an enormous clap that should have accompanied the London New Year’s celebrations (and not a small fireworks display in a local village).

It was so exciting that out came the iPhone:

limerelight1484476945894.png

 

After far too many pictures and fingers turning the shade of whitewash I had to put gloves on again – never thought iPhone gloves would be of any use till this.
It was spectacular so many bangs you could have made a convincing run at the 1812 overture. So many wees and squeals that a room full of piglets with a megaphone would not have outdone it.

Every time that I thought it was at an end another ffft-pow and a great hailstorm of light followed.

Truly the best £4 I’ve spent of late.

And then the silence of the expiry of a few thousand pounds of fireworks.
Followed by much whooping and cheering from the taller persons assembled.
(Smaller persons engaged with various highly-lit toys including some very impressive light-changing light sabres which I really wanted).

So the crowds headed for the exit like some AC/DC concert exodus.

Reason dictated that the tiny village exit road was now swamped with 4x4s and people carriers so we snuck over close to the dying fire.

Just enough heat to warm the face not quite enough for toasty to properly set in.

After a wait that just saw the worst of the crowds dissipate we headed out.
Every road was a trail of red tail lights – it appeared I was going to get to know the best of Radio 4’s evening entertainment.

However the choice of church lane turned out to have been an inadvertent masterstroke.

Somehow we had parked in an area that had quickly cleared of cars.

A quick turn into the village and it was out on the road we came in on. Not only that but 45mph was a reality – despite the obvious darkness. (There is no understanding the brazen guts of people is there).

So home in minutes – feet up with a glass of something – can’t say fairer than that. A top endorsement from me; if you’re in the area next November…

https://www.facebook.com/GrafhamVillageFireworks