Monday, 26 July 2010

Settlers Arms Inn, St Albans (and a folk festival?!)

I really love a leisurely weekend drive, where you drive just far and long enough that you feel like you've left the hustle and bustle of Sydney. It's often a bit traumatic getting out of Sydney. You need to drive through all the traffic jams..... past the endless 'burbs'...past the McMansions of the outer 'burbs'... until you hit what this inner-city slicker would term - 'the Country'.
St Albans has been a place that I've wanting to visit for a while because, firstly,  it's far away. Well, it required a car ferry at Wisemans Ferry to get across the Hawkesbury River. And, secondly, I was attracted to the town's pub - the Settlers Arms Inn.
Established in 1836 and built from sandstone, the Settlers Arms looked so quaint and pretty on the website. So, one fine weekend (actually over the the Anzac day weekend!), Mr FBC and I took the plunge and drove to St Albans - a little village located in the heart of Macdonald Valley. The village is about  105km north west of Sydney and it takes about 90 minutes using the super fast M2 motorway. 
Mr FBC and I were expecting a sleepy little village with a quaint little pub. Instead, we found a very busy little village, with a bustling little pub and a reasonably sized FOLK FESTIVAL. It was, in fact, the annual St Albans Folk Festival.
Mr FBC and I don't profess to have a knowledge of 'folk music' but we were happy to soak up the folky atmosphere.
Perhaps the first thing that caught our attention was the sound of jingling bells and oddly dressed people dancing in front the pub waving sticks and ribbons.  Ladies were dressed in black sack like dresses and the guys wore what could only be described as lederhosen and straw hats adorned with flowers. Hmmmm.. After doing a bit of internet searching after getting home, Mr FBC and I worked out that we'd been watching 'Morris Dancing' and I think (?) these dancers were from the Australian Morris Ring 
Morris Dancing
We had a quick look the actual festival area, but realised that it was a $30 entry to get into the 'folk festival'. We quickly decided we were happy to just walk around the village and soak up the 'free' folky vibe.
I think you would need to really like folk music to pay the $30 entry fee
After wondering around the periphery of the folk festival and watching the unique Morris Dancing, it was now time to find out what the Settlers Arms had to offer.
Stepping into the Settlers Arms is like stepping back in time. I'm guessing the pub hasn't changed that much over time, but that is probably the appeal. It reminded me of the old pubs that you find dotted across the English countryside in the UK.

Inside the Settlers Arms
Quaint fireplace and some lethal saws

Lunch Menu
Lunch at the Settlers Arms is served between 12pm - 3pm and there is a reasonable variety. I love how the menu is written on the chalkboard at the front of the pub.
There are lots of wooden benches outside the pub where you can sit and enjoy your lunch or you can eat inside. However, it was nice and sunny on this day so we chose to eat on a bench outside.
I've got a bit of a soft spot for ordering a Ploughmans Lunch when I'm in a Country Pub. It just feels so right. So - that's what I do. The Ploughmans Lunch is plentiful and there is a large smattering of things provided including lots of cold meats, huge chunks of brie and cheddar cheese, pickles, olives, lovely tomato chutneys and a pickled relish. This is accompanied by a nice warm bread roll. It hit the spot.

Ploughmans Lunch ($19)
Mr FBC on the other hand can't go past a nice big meat pie... especially if it's a homemade  'Guinness Meat Pie'. Actually, Mr FBC has a bit of a soft spot for any type of meal which is made with Guinness. I'm guessing it's because he's half Irish? The Settlers Arm meat pie comes with a generous serving of potato mash, juicy green peas and has splashings of rich gravy. It's such a simple combination but it really works. When I was younger I use to love peeling the crust of the meat pie and then squeeze lots of tomato sauce into the meat gravy. Unfortunately, Mr FBC guarded his pie too well and wouldn't let me or the tomato sauce near it :( 
Homemade Guiness Meat Pie ($14)

I really enjoyed the Settlers Inn and love how it probably hasn't changed that much over time. It's definitely somewhere that Mr FBC and I would go back to again - especially if we were looking to escape the city and get a dose of fresh air and great homestyle country cooking.

To get a feel for St Albans, try and imagine this photo without all the cars?

Settlers Arms Inn

1 Wharf Street

St Albans NSW


Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Big Rig Diner, Darlinghurst

One of my 'great' aims in life was to eat a hot dog in the USA. Yes, it really was. And, I'm glad to say that I managed to fulfil my simple little dream when I was backpacking around the US with my good friend Fi back in my uni days.
All my life I've always been drooling at the thought of American junk food. It all started with watching all the American TV sitcoms jam packed with lots of references to junk food such as Roseanne, Happy Days and Seinfeld to name a few. They seem to always be in a diner munching on things like burgers, fries, soda pop, donuts and pecan pie.
One night Mr FBC and I were looking for a late night snack along Oxford Street, which is mostly limited to kebabs and pizza.  However, I remembered reading on a couple of trusty foodblogs about a very authentic Americana style eatery called 'The Big Rig Diner'. So, with a quick search on my trusty iphone, off we went in search for greasy American Diner food.
Cool Booths and Juke Box
The Big Rig Diner feels very authentic. You feel like you're stepping into a dark and divey 'all American' late night diner and expect to see the placed filled with American truckies. It's great! There are wooden booths and lots of American paraphenalia hanging on the wall. There's even a jukebox in the corner playing lots of great  music. When Marvin Gaye's "I heard it through the grapevine'' starts playing, you just feel like you should get up and start boogying around the booths. Mr FBC and I dance on the 'inside', but it's fun watching the cook and the waitress have a little boogey.
The menu is full of typical 'American diner' food. There are burgers, macaroni and cheese, fajitas, and hot dogs.  Mr FBC and I have hankerings for Hot Dogs and Fries - so that's what we order.
Baja Hot Dog ($13.50)

The hot dogs are huge - so huge that there's difficulty eating them with your hands. Mr FBC ordered the Baja Hot Dog, which was overflowing and oozing with tex-mex inspired fillings (including a spicy sausage, homemade chilli, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, cheese and chopped haberneros). I was a bit more conservative and ordered the less well endowed, but super tasty, Big Rig Hot Dog which came with a pork and fennel sausage, caramelised onion and topped with melted brie and tomato chili jam. I found the tomato chilli jam a bit too spicy... but I think that's just me and my wussy tastebuds.
Big Rig Hot Dog ($9.50)

People who know me well will be aware of my deep addiction to french fries and hot chips. Fries would be more appropriate at this place, but alas, they only have hot thick and chunky chips. This is not a problem for this addict who prefers thick cut chips over fries anyway. The chips are well cooked, with a great crunchy outside and fluffy potato on the inside. Make sure to smother them with ketchup.
Hot Chips ($4)
As we were only after a late night snack, my Mr FBC and I are pretty full and need to pass on dessert. However, I do note for future reference that there's a great variety of desserts available including the all American Pecan Pie, complete with chantilly cream. Will definitely have that next time.
The Big Rig Diner
231 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst NSW
Phone (02) 9332 3197
Opening Hours: Tue to Thu 6pm - 3am; Fri to Sat 6pm - 6am

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