Why You Should Eat At: Rub Smokehouse, Nottingham

I recently ventured over to Nottingham, and found myself eating at Rub Smokehouse. Having been once before, I was more than eager to sample their impressive menu again. I follow them on Facebook, and barely a day goes by that I am not made hungry by their photos of giant plates of delicious food.

In particular, their latest creation of “The Mexican Wall Pizza” had caught my eye. A giant pizza loaded with slider burgers, chicken wings, and shaved rib-eye steak, divided by a wall of nachos topped with cheese, guacamole, sour cream and salsa. I shared this with two others, and we added on some sides of fries, rice and deep fried macaroni cheese.

These dishes are a fraction of the wonderful delights on offer at this restaurant, a truly marvellous place for making all your food related dreams come true!

We found this more than enough between the three of us, and had to rest before having dessert! Unfortunately, when we did order our desserts they took quite a while to arrive, and as we had plans after the meal we were forced to rush eating them. Even more unfortunate was that not one of us got what we ordered. I intended to have an Oreo Black Forest Croizzone (a cross between a croissant and calzone). One of my friends ordered the Reese’s Peanut Butter Croizzone, and the other ordered a Brownie Heaven Sausage Roll.

The first problem was that after waiting a while we were informed that they had ran out of the brownie sausage rolls. As we were pushed for time, we cancelled that dessert and shared the two between us. The second problem was that the other two desserts got mixed up and we ended up with the wrong fillings in our Croizzones. I’m sure if we had said something, the lovely people at Rub would have sorted it out, but by that time we were eager to pay the bill and head off. Despite the mix-up, the food was delicious from beginning to end.

The decor of the place is colourful and inviting, setting the scene of an American Diner. There’s plenty to look at, and seating-wise there was a choice of a booth or a table with plastic chairs, much like the ones I remember from my primary school dinner hall.

Having recently seen the Nugzilla Challenge (an attempt to eat a massive chicken nugget in under 10 minutes) added to their menu, I am more than tempted to pay them another visit soon…

Why You Should Read: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

This review is on the brief side, as some of the things I wanted to say I enjoyed about these books are best left for you to find out for yourself. I’d hate to ruin the journey for you!

I first read this fantasy series as a teenager, and loved it. Having now reread it, I love it even more and have picked up on a lot of little things that went over my head the first time. The series spans over three books, focusing on Lyra, a young girl destined to play a big part in the fate of humanity. From the second book onwards, we also follow Will, of a similar age to Lyra and of likewise importance.

The overall story that develops is one that explores the idea of parallel universes and what might happen if doors between these worlds are opened and left open…

The main themes of His Dark Materials are the classic Good vs Evil, the innocence of childhood, and the difficulties of puberty and reaching adulthood. Heaven and Hell feature quite heavily in the second and third books, which make it apparent that Pullman was a John Milton fan. In a way, I’d say this trilogy is Pullman’s representation of a plausible modern sequel for Paradise Lost.

From beginning to end, these books gripped me with their unique ideas, such as a world where our souls live outside of our bodies and take the form of animals. They also contained a mix of familiar ideas, executed in a satisfyingly accurate way, such as the heartbreaking emotions induced by lost loved ones. Each character is unique, no matter how small a role they had, and each was real enough to find relatable in some way.

There’s a BBC TV show adaptation of the series in production, and another trilogy involving some of the same characters such Lyra, is due out soon (the first one should be out in October). If you’ve not already given them a read, then now is the time, and if you have already, then perhaps now is the time, like it was for myself, to revisit this magical series. The perfect way to relax and escape to another reality this summer!

Why You Should Eat At: Emily’s Steakhouse, Derby

It took me 10 years, but I finally got around to eating at Emily’s Steakhouse. I am a classic victim of ‘life passing me by’, and when it dawned on me that I still had not been, I decided this had to change. I’m so glad this decision was made, as I really enjoyed my visit.

The premises themselves are small, but the best has been made of the space and the distance between tables maintains that feeling of privacy. When I mentioned to family where we were going, someone made the remark, ‘is that the one that looks like someone’s front room?’ I now understand what they mean, as it has a very homely feel to it, and we were sat right next to a front door that seemed to be no longer in use. Still, it was a welcoming environment to relax and dine in.

We were met by Emily herself when we arrived, and had a chuckle that the table was booked under my name, also Emily. We were seated straight away, and drinks orders were taken. I’ve never been one to be fussed by the vessels of my food and drink, but I really liked their glasses! There was something cute and unique about them. It gave a classy feel to the restaurant.

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The staff were friendly and attentive, without the dreaded hovering. A rarity these days, as many places seem to force their staff to barge in with questions about your enjoyment of a meal, just as you’ve taken a ginormous bite… No, Emily’s was a much more relaxed experience.

We couldn’t resist trying the starters, as there were a few tantalising options. I went for the Crab Pot with Toast, and I was in heaven. It was fresh tasting and full of flavour, with just the right ratio of crab to toast. It perfectly whetted my appetite, getting me geared up for the next round.

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The main menu had a selection of steaks and burgers, with a few non-beef. I couldn’t go to a steakhouse and not order the steak, so I went for the rump with a side of chips. I asked for mine to be medium cooked, which came as ordered, and my friends were also happy with theirs. A thing I love about this place is that they openly advertise they don’t want you to suffer in silence. If you’re steak is not cooked to your satisfaction, they would rather you said something and have the issue resolved. ‘Subject to 80% not eaten… We make strenuous efforts to strive for the best cuts to ensure quality but ultimately cannot eat into your steak to quality control.’ I love a menu with a sense of humour, it adds character to the restaurant and creates a friendly vibe.

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Chips are a big deal to me. Serve me bad chips and I will likely never return. Emily’s Steakhouse do amazing chips, I was delighted to find. Golden brown, crisp and fluffy potato, with a combination of almost crisp like pieces of sweet potato. I love the idea of serving a mixture of both, as it can be hard to choose between the two.

There’s a desert menu too, consisting of the usual suspects of ice-cream, sponge puddings and crumbles. Unfortunately, we were too stuffed to give them a sample. There’s even the option of Cuban Habanos Cigars, if you that’s your thing. I was intrigued, but decided to pass this time.

We left extremely satisfied with our venture out, and I can’t wait to go back again. I’ve seen that they do a £7 Basket Menu on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6pm, what better excuse to return?

Why You Should Eat At: The Joiner’s Arms, Quarndon

I have lived in the area all my life, and seen this pub transform from a meeting place for the locals to have a quiet pint, to a quirky and busy gastropub. As much as I enjoyed the evenings of sitting in my pyjamas and having a drink whilst playing board games with my friends, I am rather happy and proud that the Joiner’s has become so successful. I have not attempted going to the Joiner’s Arms in my pyjamas since its takeover, but I suspect I would be asked to leave.

The pub used to have the typical local boozer decor of gaudily patterned carpets and long benches that lined the walls, but all of this was torn out and stripped back to reveal the original brickwork and wooden floorboards. It’s cute, and helps open up the rooms, balancing out the low, wide-beamed ceiling.

There is a specific area for dining in, although you can sit anywhere inside or outside to eat. We were seated in the extension, which from the outside looks like a large wedding tent, but gives no impression of this from within. Walking through to this area, we found ourselves transported to the Amazon Rainforest, or at least Derbyshire’s equivalent. There were trees and plants lining the room and down the centre. I quite enjoyed the privacy and separation between tables this created.  It was not until we sat down, that I noticed the ceiling had been decorated with lights to look like a starry sky. We did not stay until sunset, but I can imagine it creates a soothing and relaxing atmosphere to relax with a glass of wine after a meal.

Decor aside, let’s discuss food! I have a passion for excellent food, with it being one of the things that excites me the most in life. I very rarely find eateries that leave me eager to go back, but I cannot get this place out of my head. They have a wide selection of starters, and the choices made by myself and my companions varied from mussels in a creamy onion and white wine sauce, to a spicy Thai beef salad. I went for the crab yakitori stick, expecting it to be a deep fried formation of crab meat, but was amused to be presented with a whole crab in tempura batter. It was a small crab, the sort of size you would expect as a starter. It tasted fresh, with a crisp coating and flavoursome meat within. I was not disappointed. I also got a sneaky dip of bread in the mussels’ sauce, talk about food envy! There was so much flavour, despite not being a mussels fan I may have to give that one a try on my next visit.

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For my main I went for a pizza. These are the only pizzas that leave me craving more. Often I get bored halfway through, and prefer to have a side of chips to make things more interesting, but again I found the food to be bursting with flavour. They have a wide choice of pizzas, all with a geographical themed name. I couldn’t resist the Havana: sliced beef fillet with rocket and a drizzle of balsamic. This combination was delicious, I can’t believe how perfectly they go. The beef was so tender and moreish, that even though I felt stuffed halfway through, my taste buds willed me to continue. Luckily, the Joiner’s Arms do cute little takeaway boxes (or large ones if you wish to order a pizza to go). That was me sorted for lunch the next day!

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Unfortunately, I had no room for dessert, but as we had mentioned when booking that we were celebrating a birthday, a surprise scoop of gelato was brought out on a wooden board, complete with ‘Happy Birthday’ written in a red fruit coulis!

All in all, we left full and satisfied. The food arrived promptly enough, with almost immediate arrival of our mains after our starters. The staff were friendly and attentive, checking up on us without that hovery feeling some over keen places provide at no extra charge… Their drinks menu has something for everyone, and it is more than likely you will leave having tried something new. They have their own recipe for homemade lemonade, a clear favourite amongst many.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Joiner’s Arms from beginning to end, and it is high on my list of recommendations for that special somewhere for a memorable night out. It is a popular venue, and therefore often busy, so I advise booking in advance. With the summer months fast approaching, you should definitely make use of the outdoor seating area, with complimentary blankets and hot water bottles!

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Starters ranged from £2-7, and mains from £8.50-26 (I’m looking at you, 8oz Premium Fillet!)

Why You Should Read: Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

Riddley Walker may just be the most entertainingly slow book I will ever read. Not in plot or pace, but in the way I read it. This was not my choice, but the style of Hoban’s writing working its magic on me. I had to read it slowly.

As the first person narrator of this tale, Riddley puts his thoughts and memories into words in such a way that I was forced into his mind. I was compelled to hear what I assumed his voice sounds like, all because of how my brain interpreted the pronunciation of his unique spellings. He writes phonetically, precisely as the words sound spoken with the accent he and his people have. My favourite of all Riddley-words is “hisper”, used to describe the sound of falling rain, or someone whispering. The poetic onomatopoeia of it sends a shiver through me. I love it.

If I read a page too fast, or tried to skim read, I found myself having to go back and try again, as I hadn’t allowed my brain enough time to absorb his words. To begin with, they required interpretation, and by considering each carefully chosen word in a sentence, the context made their meaning clear. But in no way did this hinder the experience of reading. It wasn’t difficult to do, it simply meant paying attention. I love that I had to work for the story to show itself, as I could have easily glossed over most of the quirky details that make this book so exciting.

The story itself is one of many possible futures that may await us. In this one (2000 years after a nuclear war), the ability to read and write has been lost to most. Interestingly, because of this Riddley is seen as almost an academic type by the more physical labourers amongst his people. For me, the story was a chain reaction of unfortunate events. I would have felt sorry for Riddley, but he never let any of it get to him, he didn’t need my pity.

It all begins with the successful hunt of a boar, and ends with an unsuccessful puppet show. Intrigued? You should be. To summarise the plot as succinctly as I can, I would say it was Riddley’s telling of the journey he went on to prevent the rediscovery of an ancient weapon.

I will not spoil for you the greatest secret that revealed itself to me when reading this book. I will not tell you where it is set. To those familiar with the area, you will probably figure it out not long into the book. However, I am not great with geography and it perhaps took me a little longer than most. I had my suspicions for a while, and then it all fell into place. I was ecstatic.

This book is weird, and great, and I loved every page of it. Reading will never be the same for me again.

Russell Hoban was a genius, and now another inspiration for me as a writer.