Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sorry, Derrick

Visited Cheddar Gorge at half-term. This place has always been a tourist magnet but now has upped the ante in marketing terms quite considerably. A £50.00 family ticket (almost as steep as the Gorge...) bought us a short trip on an open-top bus, entry to two show caves and a museum with some graphic depictions of defleshing (an essential precursor to the act of cannibalism, apparently). In an apparent attempt to sweeten the pill, the chap who sold us the ticket was keen to point out that we could return to use up any unused part of of our ticket at any time in the next 10 years! The open-topped tour took us from the village car park up to the top of the Gorge before depositing us at Gough's Cave 0 larger of the two show caves. The visit to Gough's Cave is interesting, though the cod-Somerset Burr of the commentary, delivered via a hand-held audio guide becomes irritating after a while. Cave over, we wandered upstairs where the visitor complex is topped with a large Costa, of which the attraction is inordinately fond. We'd found Costa to be a ubiquitous addition throughout the Bath and Somerset area - from full-blown cafes to filling stations offering mini-Costa self-serve stand, the brand is busily penetrating the West with gay abandon. At Cheddar the large outlet dominates the top end of the most commercialised part of the Gorge. Sitting atop the entrance to Gough's Cave, the cafe boasts an outdoor decked area and the usual corporate-themed mismatch of contrasting furniture overlaid with the maroon and cream colour scheme and a smattering of local sepia prints. The drinks followed the usual Costa format, but the taste was enhanced by the contraband pork pies, sandwiches and fruit we smuggled past the barristas. Leaving Costa, we walked downhill and crossing the road, I saw Derrick's – a much longer-established, family-established coffee house. As we continued downhill, I saw a couple of other cafes, all with the owner-managed feel about them that Costa so obviously lacks. Next time, Derrick, we'll call in – and no contraband, promise. The smaller of the two show caves, Cox's Cave, only opens every 30 minutes, so we queued for 10 minutes before the gate opened. No hand-held device here, rather a full-blown sound system. In the first half, you follow a path that leads between pools filled with stalagmites and corresponding stalagtites hang, dripping from the ceiling. The second part, however, adds a way over the top kitsch, cod-Middle Earth gloss to the cave scenery. Best part of the day? The three mile Gorge-top walk (access only as part of the family ticket): best of the best? The Primitive English Billy Goat charging from the undergrowth to our right. They don't sell tickets for that, and Costa can't guarantee it as part of their refreshment 'experience'.

A Centimetre of Porridge - Putting the 'Little' into Little Chef

We stayed at a Travelodge near Bath for a few days this week. Before setting out for home, my wife and I and two boys went for breakfast to the Little Chef next door.

Passing up on the offer of a fry-up, my 13 year-old opted for porridge with maple syrup. When it arrived, we were not amused to see that there was only just over a centimetre covering the bottom of the bowl. When the waiter, a friendly young man wearing the regulation red top and apron, came with the rest of the order, we pointed out the paucity of porridge in my son's bowl. Looking a bit sheepish, he said this was the usual amount. My wife, acknowledging that is might indeed be the case, persisted with the complaint that - Oliver Twist-like - it just wasn't enough for £3.99.

Moving things up a notch, the waiter reported to the manager and returned to tell us that they would give us another helping 'on the house'. We accepted, and another - slightly more generous portion arrived.

LC's menu describes the portion, over-optimistically as 'a bowl of Scottish oats with hot milk'. It isn't, but what arrived at our table represents a hell of a mark-up in terms of raw ingredient cost and the no doubt minimum wage of our waiter. The moral of the story: complain if it's not enough - better yet, don't go to 'Little' Chef.