Water Margin Chinese Restaurant and Takeaway – North Baddesley

We have been going to this Chinese restaurant for a few years now and have yet to have a bad experience. The food is always hot and tasty, the service is adequate and although I have to drive and can’t have a drink with dinner, the restaurant is not too far away. Every lunchtime and evening (apart from Fridays and Saturdays) the restaurant serves a ‘Grand Buffet’ which is Β£16.95 per person for dinner and a bit cheaper at lunch. Considering all the food is cooked fresh and brought to your table (none of this getting up out of your seat nonsense!) we believe this is a bargain. In most Chinese restaurants the food has been sat out for an unimaginable amount of time and you have to just grin and bear the luke-warm spring rolls, cold noodles and vomit-inducing film across the top of the sweet and sour sauce. Ergh. At Water Margin, you sit on your bottom for a pleasant couple of hours and people will just bring you food, it’s fantastic. It’s eat as much as you like, but they prefer you to finish all the food you’ve got before you order more, which is fair enough and avoids the ‘eyes bigger than belly’ symptoms I often suffer from when visiting buffets.

We did actually have one very awkward experience with this restaurant, which has remained a secret between myself and Benjamin for many months now…but it is time the world knew.

So we rocked up one Friday night, craving prawn gyoza and salt and pepper mushrooms and ready to have a bloody good time. We were welcomed into the restaurant, seated and handed the menus. The waiter took our drinks order and disappeared to bring back our delightful non-alcoholic beverages. What followed is something that to this day we absolutely crack up at, but also makes me shiver in a mortified, kill-me-now kind of way. A few moments passed as we perused the menu before Ben piped up ‘Where’s the buffet menu, I can’t see it?’ My whole life flashed before me as I realised the buffet menu was nowhere in sight and we were in fact looking at the A La Carte menu, currently showing prices of around Β£30 per person. My mind racing, I remembered it was a Friday and the horrible realisation that they DO NOT DO THE BUFFET ON FRIDAYS hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew we had mere moments before the waiter returned and as embarrassing as this is, we were absolutely skint and could not afford Β£30 each for dinner – we could barely afford Β£16 each but we’d had been saving up for this special treat 😦 My mind was made up, we had to leave. I looked at Ben and I could see he was on the same page as me. I chucked the menu full of expensive food on the table, grabbed my coat and bag and power walked out the restaurant, avoiding any eye-contact with staff. We hopped in the car and revved out the carpark, pausing only when we’d gone a safe distance down the road to discuss our options. We ended up driving home, parking and walking to the local pub where we spent Β£10 on two burgers. CHEAP. SKATES.

That was a couple of years ago now though and although I couldn’t say with all honesty I wouldn’t have done the same a month ago, we are slightly more accepting of expensive food now and in fact recently spent Β£1o0 on dinner at JW Steakhouse in London for my birthday. This is a fantastic restaurant by the way and probably my favourite dinner in the UK πŸ™‚ (American restaurants always top this list and I imagine will continue to do so as we continue to visit!!)

ANYWAY. A couple of weeks ago we decided to treat ourselves to dinner here one Sunday night, having not spent a penny for the previous 2 or 3 weekends due to buying stuff for our new flat. We arrived for dinner about 7.30 and were seated immediately in a pretty empty restaurant which grew increasingly busier during our visit.

We ordered a diet coke and a beer from our surly waiter – the service here is not at all fantastic and generally, grumpy is as good as you’re going to get. It doesn’t bother us at all as we go for the noms but you have been warned! There is a bowl of prawn crackers on your table as you sit down which I try very hard not to nibble at and generally fail.

Our attention then turned to the Grand Buffet menu which really is a beautiful sight. I absolutely LOVE seafood and they have all manner of king prawn and squid dishes. If you come for lunch though, most of these aren’t included 😦 So go for dinner!! Alternatively, if you aren’t a cheapskate like us and want a little treat, the non-buffet menus include scallops, seabass, lobster and oysters! *makes mental note to save up* They also have looaaads of meaty and veggie options so something for everyone really. The idea is that you order a number of starters to share, then a mid-course of crispy duck pancakes or similar, then your main courses. It is a lot of food and a few times we’ve been, I’ve got so carried away with the starters that I end up too full for my main course. A hazard of the game but one I struggle to avoid.

We each ordered 4 starters, specifying that Ben was vegetarian so they wouldn’t come all jumbled up on one platter, chicken splayed on top of tofu and meat juices soaking into seaweed.

I ordered (clockwise, from top) Grilled Pork Dumplings, Chinese Style Spare Rib, Salt and Pepper Squid and Salt and Pepper Prawns. The chunk of green on the right is just a garnish, obviously I didn’t eat that.

This was all wonderful, as ever. My favourite is the salt and pepper squid, SO GOOD!! Everything was crazy hot and tasted fresh and I was very pleased with my choices.

Benji ordered (clockwise, from top) Crispy Seaweed, Vegetable Spring Roll, Salt and Pepper Mushrooms and Vegetable Wonton. Ben would like me to add that the mushrooms are ‘the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten.’ Quite the accolade! If I ever want to go to this restaurant, I mention the salt and pepper mushrooms and he’s instantly keen.

After we had finished our starters, we have a brief conversation about ordering more. I wanted to, as messing about with loads of different little bits and bobs is my perfect meal. However, it is a shame I can never order a main course at this restaurant and I was feeling quite satisfied. So, I very bravely resisted the urge to order more salt and pepper squid and instead we turned our attention to the next course, variations of duck pancakes.

I chose the Mongolian Lamb with lettuce wraps, AKA the light option! Well not really, but I can kid myself. Benji ordered his usual, Mock Duck with plum sauce and pancakes. It’s very cool that they do mock duck here and he really loves it.

Our waitress bought us a serving tray with a lit candle underneath, to keep the food hot. Our intermediate courses arrived a few minutes later.

Mock Duck on the left, crispy lamb on the right.

The lettuce wraps and sauce for my lamb.

I really enjoyed this course and was glad we’d ordered it. The lettuce wraps were crisp and fresh and the perfect shape to wrap tightly around the lamb and sauce. It was a bit messy as the sauce is thin (in a good way) but I just went with it and ate each wrap slightly quicker than the last, to avoid it all falling apart. Ben enjoyed his wraps too and it was nice for him to have the lovely flavours of crispy duck wraps without the meat. I’d love to recreate this at home one day but I’ve not had much luck tracking down mock duck – I can only find the tinned stuff which is rubbery and glutinous and not really what I’m aiming for.

Next, we quickly ordered our main courses as we were becoming painfully aware of our dwindling stomach space. I should really have called it a night here as I was already feeling very full but I cleverly managed to ignore this and order 2 dishes anyway. Plus another appetizer on the side. And half of Ben’s rice and noodles. Good one Lib.

I chose Honey Roast Duck which was amazing, and Satay Chicken which was also lovely but has somehow managed to avoid being photographed. Slippery devil that Satay Chicken. I also ordered a serving of Smoked Chicken from the appetisers menu because I quite fancied it.

I instantly realised my error when the duck arrived and it was an entire breast. A huge, beautiful, glistening breast of duck. In normal circumstances this would have been a fantastic turn up for the books but instead I started worrying about getting told off and possibly charged for all the duck breast I was going to leave. Eeek!!

Doesn’t it look magnificent though?

Ben ordered Sweet and Sour Vegetables with cashew nuts, andΒ Bean Curd with Green Pepper and Black Bean Sauce. Bean curd is tofu, and it is delicious at this restaurant. We can never achieve that texture at home so it’s nice to have it out sometimes. We also got noodles and egg fried rice to share which you can see in the backgrounds! Both lovely and nice to break up the meat and veggies a bit.

My alarmingly coloured Smoked Chicken. It was very nice though!

I feel pretty knackered just writing up this multi-course feast so I can only imagine how we were feeling at this point. This really was a lot of food, but what a bargain for Β£16.95 each! I’m sure you can see why we go to this restaurant. The bill came to under Β£40 and we left feeling absolutely stuffed and about ready to cry, but very happy. I love this restaurant and whole-heartedly recommend the buffet if you fancy some delicious, fresh chinese food at a great price.

Remember, don’t visit on a Friday or Saturday though!!

A Tale of Two Pubs

My boyfriend lives in Bishops Waltham and there are a lot of nice pubs in and around the area that we enjoy visiting. We recently went to two in the space of a couple of weeks so I thought I should feature them on the blog in case anyone is thinking of gracing them with their presence – they are both independent pubs and its difficult to find information about them online.

First up is the Barleycorn Inn, right in the centre of Bishops Waltham village. We’ve been coming to this pub for years and the food is terrific – delicious, huge portions and very reasonably priced. They change the menu all the time so you never really know what will be on offer until you arrive!

This particular visit was a Friday lunchtime on a very rare weekday off for us – we’d been to Disneyland Paris all week and got back late the night before. After a lovely lie-in we sorted ourselves out and walked down to the Barleycorn for a well needed glass of wine (it was a very stressful return journey, we may have missed the Eurostar…) and some lunch. The pub was really quiet and although the weather was pleasant, it was still early March and we opted to sit inside the cosy, dimly lit restaurant area. We ordered drinks and then sat back to peruse the ever-changing menu with the help of the very friendly landlord who pointed out veggie options for Ben.

Ben opted for the vegetarian bean burger which he’s had before and loved, but unfortunately they were all out that day! It was no problem though and he quickly chose another meal, a cheese and pickle sandwich and chips. A boy of simple pleasures! However, there was a fair amount of other meat-free options – sandwiches, jacket potatoes etc and a couple on the specials board, had he changed his mind. I was tempted myself by the caramalised onion and brie tart but opted instead for one of my favourites, the bacon and cheese ‘Barley’ burger with crinkle cut fries.

The burgers here are all homemade and freshly cooked and you can really taste the difference! The bacon ‘Barley’ comes with a generous portion of crispy bacon, cheddar, onion rings, red onion and BBQ sauce piled on top, with a HUGE side of fries and salad. So much food! And all for the bargain price of Β£7.95!

Ben was very pleased with his cheddar and pickle sandwich which again was VERY generous with the cheese! It came with a large side salad and tortilla chips and he also opted for the homemade chips – big, fat seasoned wedges, perfectly cooked.

The Barleycorn has a wide selection of desserts that we are rarely man enough to sample due to the marvellously obscene portion sizes.Β The sticky toffee pudding though, is the best, a proper British stick-to-your-ribs dessert.

We would really recommend the Barleycorn if you are visiting Bishops Waltham – it’s a lovely independent pub with great food and reasonable prices and, more importantly, a huge, fabulous beer garden! Perfect for sharing a jug of Pimms in on a hot (okay, warm) British summer day.

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Our next pub is the Robin Hood in Durley. It was a gorgeous freakishly warm March day and we decided to walk even though the pub is situated on a main road. Luckily the traffic was pretty quiet as it was a Sunday and we actually had a very pleasant walk.

We arrived about 2.30 and were relived to see that they serve food all day on Sundays, as we had thought we may be too late for lunch. We peeked round into the garden to check if there was space and luckily there were a few free tables so we headed into the bar area to order drinks. Drinks weren’t overly cheap with a pound odd change from a tenner for a glass of rose and a Stowford press. We perused the two extensive specials boards which each had 10 or 12 mains and starters on, lovingly etched in colourful pastel chalk. I was quite taken with the idea of the butternut squash and sage risotto with blue cheese crouton, but it sounded rather heavy and dinner-like and I was forced to achnoledge that a. I was very unfortunately on a diet and b. this was only lunch. We grabbed our drinks and headed outside, asking a passing waitress to bring us a menu on the way.

Perched on a wooden picnic table with a welcome umbrella shading us from the sun, we decided on our lunches, placed our order and relaxed while we waited. The Robin Hood does have a really lovely beer garden with a huge grassy field area at the back and a nice wooden decking area at the front. There are plenty of chairs and tables and we noticed that lots of people were coming in just for a drink, rather than lunch, thus vacating their tables quickly.

Our food arrived within about 10 minutes which we thought was really good considering how busy they seemed. We both ordered the roasted red pepper, olive and mozzarella ciabatta.

Now I have to say, I was slightly disappointed with the contents of the ciabatta. Sparse was the word. There were lots of lovely fat olives but only one strip of roasted pepper in each sandwich and a scant amount of mozz (although it looks adequately filled in the photo, all the topping was on the edges!) There was also no sauce or dressing or anything – I felt a good strong pesto would have carried the filling a lot further. It was enjoyable though and not unreasonable for the price (Β£5.95) with a lovely side salad dressed with honey and mustard. We were very restrained and managed not to order a side bowl of chips although we were relieved when we saw that the ‘chips’ were in fact thin, floppy McDonalds-style fries!

Overall though, this is a lovely pub and the beer garden is the real star. Perhaps the quality of our food was down to the busyness of the pub – there was a 50th birthday party going on inside plus large groups of families all ordering lunch. I would like to go back one evening to sample the dinner options – my mind is still on that risotto!

Watercress Burgers

My boyfriend lives in Bishops Waltham (a little village about 10 minutes away from me in Hedge End) and every so often the Hampshire Farmers Market travels to BW to set up camp in the village square for a few hours on a Sunday. We always try and take a trip down to check out the market which always has a wide range of fresh and seasonal local produce. One Sunday in the summer we were quite taken with a stall that sold watercress burgers, falafal and sausages and once we’d tried a few samples we stocked up on their delicious produce! My boyfriend bought the watercress sausages and a pasty and I bought a couple of watercress and cheese scones. We toasted the scones and ate them for lunch with butter and they were amazing. Unfortunately, the sausages were only in date a couple more days after the market and we just didn’t get time to eat them so we had to throw them away! A very dark day indeed.

However, a couple of weeks ago we were buying some groceries in the Bishops Waltham Co-Op and we stumbled upon a selection of aforementioned watercress goods in the fridge! We bought a pack of four watercress burgers and more or less sprinted back home to try them.

Once we got back, I studied the packaging as Ben heated some oil in a pan. The company is called Cresson Creative and they have a lovely little website detailing the story of the company and how they started. I was excited to learn that the watercress used in all their products is grown in Alresford, a few miles away from us near Winchester! Doesn’t get much more local than that! They are Vegetarian Society approved and the ingredients form a motley crew of watercress, cheese, onions, garlic and mustard and some breadcrumbs to bind them together.

 

 

We were pretty hungry so I am ashamed to say we cooked all four at once!

While Ben pan-fried the burgers I toasted some ciabatta bread and sliced the ball of mozzarella we had bought (there really was no need for added mozzarella with burgers that are mainly cheese but we couldn’t resist!) The burgers crisped up really nicely on the outside and stayed soft and gooey on the inside – perfect! Ben had the genius idea of laying the sliced mozzarella on the burgers as they cooked, causing the milky cheese to melt slightly and adhere to the top of the burger.

Once they were cooked to our liking (an abundance of burnt crispy bits on the edges!) we piled them on our ciabatta with a splodge of Heinz ketchup and jammed the lid of the roll on top. No side accompaniments were needed, this was a very humble lunch.

The watercress burgers were delicious with a really unusual flavour that I hadn’t come across before. Obviously the addition of cheese in the mixture was an excellent idea and our greedy mozzarella topping only enhanced this. These would be an excellent replacement for the tired-looking Quorn or spicy bean burgers usually faced by vegetarians in the summer months and generally make a nice change from beef burgers. Delicious!