The Napoli.

Continuing the theme a little from last week’s blog about Leek (see https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/totally-leek/), today I am going to try my hand at restaurant critique, having finally visited Leek’s new pizzeria/bar, The Napoli (http://www.thenapoli.co.uk/)

As usual when I stray into a new area, I have to point out that I am not a food/restaurant critic, however, I do have a mouth, tongue and digestive system, and eyes and a brain, so I think I meet a good deal of the qualifications one actually needs to talk about such things, though I may be lacking a little in arrogance. In all honesty, I am a ‘food fan’ (who isn’t?), I enjoy food from all corners of the world, I like to try new things, I love the experience of new tastes and appetising presentation, and I like to cook a bit too. So I suppose I do have a little foodie inside me, I mean, I do watch Masterchef, so I must be almost as qualified as Greg Wallace.

I’ve known about the impending arrival of this new eatery for some time. As I’ve walked by on my way from/to various engagements in Leek I’ve peeked through the glass fronted old registry-office on the high-street, wondering what would be installed next (it had a brief stint as a local co-operative during 2012). As I saw various grey igloo looking elements being installed, and the familiar framework of a bar start to take shape, I was more than happy when I heard it was going to be an Italian with “one of them Pizza oven things” as the centre-piece and unique feature.

After patiently waiting for The Napoli to open, and then for some reason taking three weeks to find a suitable excuse to get up there for a meal, I can finally now report back  on my findings. I’m going to take this one step at a time, just like I did last night as I walked over with my family party of 6 to our 8pm booking.

As you enter, there are a few things that immediately draw your eye. Firstly, the huge pizza oven in the back-centre of the room. The chef’s around it are building and firing pizza’s for the already busy service underway, which at 8pm on a Wednesday night, shows great promise. Next my eyes float over the tops of heads to the large bookcase at the far end, stretching from window to partition, stacked with what looks like an interesting array of literary fun. I imagine that for a more casual day-time visit, this feature must make a relaxed lunch or coffee more engaging for those of us who like to read, but aside from that, it makes a great rustic feature as a backdrop. So from the bookcase the eyes pans left to right, back across the oven, to the bar and seating area by the street-side window. A few hand-pumps and stacked bottles hint at the promise of interesting beer, and the cosy corner looks inviting.

We get sat down pretty quickly, greeted politely and already expected. We are sat by the window, half of the party looking out, the other half looking back, with the pizza oven in their sight. It took me a while to realise why the eyes of those opposite me where slightly glazed and to the right of my eye-line: They were watching the fire, like men around a barbecue, fascinated by its dancing flames and glowing coals. This soon passed however as we settled down and our drinks orders were taken and menu’s delivered.

The menu’s were two sides of A4, nicely presented but more importantly, simple and not convoluted. We’ve all seen enough episodes of Ramsay’s kitchen nightmares to know that less is more, and it makes me more confident as a punter. So there is a choice of four pizza’s, about half a dozen main meals that are not pasta based, and about a half dozen that are pasta based. Nice, easy. There are also a selection of starters and side’s, so if you really wanted, you could construct a whole meal in the traditional Italian fashion of anti-pasta, meat course, salad course, pasta etc… but they options also allow for the more British, starter/main/dessert order of things. Also, nestled between the bookcases, a specials board offers a few tantalising additions that already have us talking.

“What’s Puttanesca?” we ask each other, on the off chance that one of my family members may have a secret and extensive knowledge of traditional Italian dishes.

After a quick word with ‘Mr Google’, we find the literal meaning is “Whore-style spaghetti”, hmmm, spaghetti whore. I’m sure this is lost in translation somewhat, and the important thing we find is that it is a salty, spicy pasta, usually made with olives and/or anchovies and chilli. The combination of which wins over my step-Dad.

Also on the specials board, ‘Tagliatelle Carbonara’. I discovered the joy of Carbonara not long ago when I finally bought myself a pasta maker in a frenzy of post-Masterchef kitchen ambition and managed somehow to make the most beautiful Carbonara with home-made Tagliatelle and had one of those “where have you been all my life?” moments. It seemed my brother shared the enthusiasm for this dish, so two more orders were in the bag.

Thankfully my partner went for the fungi-pizza option, so I knew I would be getting to try that out myself (not that I eat food from my partner’s plate or anything… (I do)). There was also a mushroom tart and ravioli ordered, and that was our main’s sorted.

For starter’s the cold-meat platter was popular, served with an olive oil-balsamic dip and fresh bread side. Two of us (including me) went for the chilli and garlic bruschetta, which had just the right heat of spice and crunchy fried texture. A garlic bread on a wonderfully thin base and a nice little portion of sautéed potatoes (with I guess rosemary/garlic) finished off the starter’s. From all accounts, all starters were well received and quickly demolished.

Not long after starters where cleared away, a good length of time to enjoy the after-glow of the first morsels and whet the appetite for the follow up, out came the mains. The Puttanesca kept my step Dad enthralled for every mouthful, which is a wonder for a man who favours curry above all else. The olive and spice must have done it for him. Mine and my Brother’s Carbonara was made with fantastic pasta, broad, thick and perfectly cooked. It’s hard to tell with dishes like this because they vary so much from region to region, country to country, as they travel and get adapted in cultures, but this was not a ‘runny’ Carbonara. The cream and egg had just about cooked around the pasta, making it more of a textured affair. Whether this is more traditional or a mistake I don’t know or care, because it tasted amazing.

I leapt in to rescue my girlfriend who was struggling to finish the plate sized, thin crispy pizza. The slices I had were amazing. I love pizza like that, thin base that both cracks upon biting and has a little give in the dough, a fresh tomato sauce, naturally sweet and soaked ever so gently into the base, and mozzarella and mushrooms to top the whole thing of, but not layered on in sickly slabs ‘USA’ style, just nicely balanced and each a feature in itself. Yes, next time I go, as lovely as the pasta was, I’m having one of them to myself, oh yes.

From what I was told, the ravioli and tart were also equally wonderful. So, after we finished our well-portioned mains (no belly-busting here, good balanced, taste-packed continental portions), we turned to the dessert menu.

Now, I knew about the dessert menu in advance, seeing as three quarters of it is provided by my good friends at ‘Miscos chocolates’ (www.miscoschocolates.co.uk) whom I have rather a lot to do with, being as they are wonderful people who also just happen to make the tastiest luxury Belgian chocolates you will ever eat. Especially for the Napoli they have devised three desserts. First we have the ‘chocolate cake to end them all’… this really is a treat. A flour free, almost soufflé like chocolate cake that will turn cake-haters around and send cake-lovers to some near-transcendental state of being. It truly is a great bit of sticky, moist, deep chocolaty slice of heaven, and along with a bit of soft ice-cream, it is the perfect end.

But that’s not it! You also have the choice of two ganache-filled chocolate cups, served with a liquor of your choice. My brother and his girlfriend went for this option, and they marvelled as much at the sight of them as they did the taste. And finally, from the Misco options, Panna cotta, with a choice of a raspberry coulee or honey, Tuaca and Hazelnut topping. Now I tried these in the development stages, and I went from Panna cotta ignorance, to Panna cotta bliss. They are smooth, sweet and refreshing on the palette after all the other wonderful flavours of the evening. Again, all the deserts were balanced, neat portions, as they should be. I should mention there was also a range of ice-creams available.

So, after the desserts were thoroughly obliterated (not a crumb or fleck left on any plate I could see), we finished our drinks (some nice trad ale’s available, though the name of the brewery escapes me at the moment), our bill was sorted and we meandered off and away through Leek to finish off the night in the Roebuck for yet more nice trad ales, which I can say with certainty came from the brilliant Titanic brewery.

All in all, it was a great night, with great food, a great atmosphere and timely service. There may be a few little things that as the business matures will tighten up a little here and there (could do with a beer menu, maybe some complimentary olives and bread when you first arrive), but for a pretty busy service I think they did really well for a young business in its first month and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I’m going again, next week, this time with my former work colleagues, and this time, I’m having a pizza, all to myself.

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A Guest Blog by Tipsy McElroy.

This week, as I am rather busy, I have decided to allow a guest blogger a spot on my blog. May I introduce to you, Tipsy McElroy, the home help guru.

Home tips, by Tipsy McElroy.

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We live such hectic lives now, don’t we? I know I do, and technology, far from being the shiny robot help that was promised to us in the 1950s, has turned out to be even more of a distraction. It’s hard to get anything done for the barrage of tweet’s and facebook’s, ever demanding of your precious time and energy. It’s a wonder any housework gets done at all, but don’t fear! Tipsy is here to show you a few tips that can help elevate your day by blasting through those tiresome chores in super-quick, fibre-optic speed! And, for all you planet-lovers out there, it’s organic!

Tip #1. How to clean an oven in super-quick time, with a potato.

Tired of spending hours scrubbing away at the greasy blackened carbon coating of an over-used and under loved oven? I know I was, until one day, I accidentally forgot to put the oven on when making a baked potato family (for those who don’t know, a baked potato family is when you pick two or more potatoes of increasing smaller sizes and bake them all together – it’s a great way to get kids eating healthy potatoes! Who wants to eat mummy-potato? Me! Me!) Anyway, when I returned to my oven, two hours later, guess what? It was as clean as the day I bought it from the police auction.

So get your spuds out, pop them in, and wait for the magic to happen!

Tip #2. Blocked drains? How to get that waste moving again, with a potato.

We’ve all been there. Covering up the smell of our blocked drains when entertaining guests by constantly having to pretend you’ve broken wind. It’s no wonder nowadays, with all the saturated fat in our poisonous food, dripping down the plug hole when we wash up, oozing out of our pores and into the bath tub.

I used to wait hours for commercially available bleach to do its work, literally just watching it slowly erode the fatty deposits though a series of small camera’s installed in the plumbing (a great buy by the way – ‘STV’ (sewage TV) – available for as little as £1000 from most Russian embassies). But not anymore! Imagine my surprise when after having my usual ‘mash and a shower’ session (one of my guilty pleasures), I accidentally slipped and dropped my bowl of mashed potatoes down the sink-hole. Oh dear, I thought, best get the plunger and go fire up the control room to track its movements. But when I switched on the monitors, what did I see? The most gleaming, capacious network of pipes and u-bends since they day they were first installed by that lovely man we found by the pub bins that fateful evening in ‘84.

So, if like me, you enjoy taking a little shower and eating mash potato at the same time, why not try dropping a little down that blocked drain, and you’ll smell the difference!

Tip #3. Cats at the furniture again? Mucky dog paws on the recliner? Rat hair? Try a potato.

There’s a reason the phrase ‘couch-potato’ exists, and I can tell you, it’s not what you think! I have three cats, half a dog and a number or rodents. As much as I love them, they do make a mess of my three piece! (we’ve all been there). Once upon a time, much of my day was spent sponging and rolling the furniture for cat/dog/rat hair and muddy footprints, only for it to all happen again when the automatic timed locks in the laboratory would open up for exercise hour.

So it was that one day, after an unusually large shipment of potatoes from the Korean ambassador (his little way of a thank-you, bless), that 7pm came along with the familiar hiss of the airlock and the scampering footsteps of my genetically modified brood as usual, but then, something wonderful happened. Instead of the normal scratching at the windows and trying to eat the sofa (and each other), they all curled up together for an adorable little sleep on the spud sacks. And so it has been ever since.

So, simply leave a few sacks of plutonium grade spuds lying around your living room and watch the little darlings relax – leaving you free to get on with contesting that niggling court order you’ve been meaning to get around to!

Tip #4 – Money problems? Try a potato.

My last tip for today is one that not only will save you time, it will save you money, so two big ticks for this big tip!

I discovered this tip one day at Hyde park, awaiting my weekly transaction with Red Eagle (not his real name of course! That would be telling!). As I sat with my briefcase ready on my lap, my GPS sensor chip burning away under the thin layer of skin behind my right ear, I reached into my pocket for a small snack, and what did I find? A wad of unmarked, used £50 notes! Well, I soon realised that it was meant to be in the case with the rest of that month’s bribe, but before I put it back, I reached into my other pocket, and pulled out the snack as originally intended: A glorious raw, average sized potato.

As I sat there, £5000 in one hand, an average potato in the other, I found something quite startling. They weighed almost exactly the same! Don’t worry if you’re not very good at guessing weights, take my word for it, my cybernetic implant takes all the hassle out of that sort of thing. Anyway, this happy accident made me realise that for anonymous money drops, you know, the one-off extortionists who rarely look inside the package and are probably too weak to follow up on the threats, the simple use of an average sized potato for every £5000 of notes in a briefcase is just the right weight to fool them long enough for hubby to get in a good shot as they walk away.

So next time you’re being bribed by some jumped up whistle-blower or Cyborg hunter, don’t waste good cash on the possibility that the set-up might go wrong – trick them with a potato! Remember, one average sized potato is £5000 in used £50 notes. For new season crops, adjust to one large for £2000 in £20’s. Do not use chips.

So that’s it for now folks! I hope you’ve found this helpful, and thanks to Garry for allowing me to use his blog. I’ve never met him, nor am I likely to. We don’t mix in the same circles, and I’m usually very heavily armed, and from the look of his blog, he’s a bit of a hippy pacifist. Peace not war and all that ideological anarchy. Bless. And don’t forget, the dead will rise! Be prepared!

Tipsy.

About the Author

Tipsy McElroy is the author of “1001 Ways to Hell” and “Good Housekeeping for the Digital Age”. She is a regular guest on ITV’s loose women, where she uses her skills as  a character actor to portray most of the audience. To contact Tipsy, please leave a comment, or if you’d prefer, £50,000 in used £50 notes in an unlocked briefcase by the Churchill memorial bench in Hyde Park (or approx ten average winter potatoes / 25 large new season).