You may have noticed I’ve not posted for a while, eating out isn’t something I get to do very often at the moment, which is why yesterday (my birthday) was all the more upsetting. I’ve decided not to mention the restaurant name, at least at this stage, because I don’t think one staff member’s attitude should reflect on an establishment. Also, your boss did try and rectify the situation and then as we were settling down for the night you sent my partner an email. Before I respond to your lengthy communication, let’s take a little look at the comments you wrote on our booking and left on the bar for everyone to see, including my partner who spotted his name as we walked past to leave the restaurant after taking the decision to cancel our booking. He snapped this photo. I think it’s important to highlight that the notes next to the booking about my dairy allergy and us possibly wanting the tasting menu ‘waa waaa waaah!’ were added at the time of booking.

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Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 06.42.56It’s a long one isn’t it? I do think you could have safely cut it to start at “I hope that our Chef/Owner following my ghastly unforgivable actions was somehow able to provide you with an experience that met your requirements”. As it happens, he did cook us a lovely meal, it came out quickly, which suggests putting together something dairy free wasn’t beyond the capabilities of a talented kitchen team, after all. I’ll add some fancy numbers to this when I get the chance so that it’s easier to see which of your points I’m addressing, but for now I’ll just approach this in order, as I should be getting ready for work after a poor night’s sleep.

The narrative

Thank you for iterating the order of events from my partner contacting you on numerous occasions prior to our visit up to and through our attempts to order food yesterday. Please note, we aren’t actually married, sorry about that, my boyfriend did mention I was his girlfriend but let’s not quibble about a lack of wedding ring. I agree for the most part with your account of our attempts to order and thank you for offering up your ‘feelings’ about it. Let me tell you about mine. Dining out is embarrassing for me. Asking questions makes me feel awkward, difficult, guilty even.Once the things you can’t have start stacking up, you begin to feel more and more disappointed. While you did suggest changes to the dishes mentioned, these were, let’s be honest, for the most part omissions. Scallop and pickled veg in place of scallops, pastry and other delicious accompaniments isn’t as innovative as your restaurant ethos. And being offered lamb and double cabbage for mains while probably lovely tasting was making my tummy grumble louder. I’m a breastfeeding mum who doesn’t get much sleep and runs around a lot, which is why we asked if you could offer any carbs. I suggested chips as I know some restaurants cook them separately. I’m sorry that’s not the case at your establishment and that my partner suggesting you make some was so ridiculous. I was hungry. What would have been really lovely is if you’d actually taken the time to talk me through what I could have on the menu or what could be created easily without too much inconvenience. Whether subsconsciously or consciously your curt manner, sighs and lack of effort to check in advance about the suitability of the menu items that day made it obvious to us that we weren’t going to dine as valued customers. At this point, rather than eating a meal we would be disappointed in we decided to pay for our drinks and go elsewhere.

Being a Mombie on Halloween

To address the confusing paragraph about the wine – which only serves to highlight your lack of allergy knowledge – it was indeed a horrific oversight on my part to forget to check if the wine contained milk. That’s what we were checking for by the way – if a bottle mentions sulphites ( a separate allergen) it should make mention of whether it’s milk filtered. Thankfully, it wasn’t. In a full year of being dairy free, I’ve never forgotten to check, I was incredibly upset because the reality that my baby might be caused pain as a result sunk in quickly. Yes, that’s right, it’s not myself who is allergic to dairy, it’s my child. Over the past few weeks as a sleep deprived parent I’ve put things meant for the dishwasher in the fridge, for the dishwasher in the bin and worn both my underwear and outerwear inside out. Too much information? My baby is teething and I’ve not been getting much sleep, I can only presume my one and only oversight was due to that and the excitement of dining at what was previously my favourite restaurant. I would mention however that you did know I had a dairy allergy – your staff are required by law to be trained on allergens in ALL your products and to check labels of any ingredients or products. 

 Gross Misconduct

It was on the way out that my boyfriend spotted his name on the iPad, photographed it and showed it to me. I felt my face flush and eyes wet. HOW DARE YOU. Your job is to make diners feel special, as I questioned at the front of the restaurant – do you have no empathy? I didn’t choose the dairy free life, it chose me. Previous to yesterday we’ve dined with you a handful of times since you opened and had a completely different experience, we were treated as valued customers. As we told you, I’m dairy free because my daughter has a cows milk protein allergy and feeding her myself is the best possible thing for her. It’s hard. I have to check every label for the supermarket shop, I pack snacks for us both wherever we go, I miss social occasions, I haven’t been blogging. But I do it because breastfeeding is proven to help allergies, it helps heal, prevent further allergies and is a great comfort to my daughter during a reaction. Guidelines recommend I continue until she is two years old. Just as some added information, my feeding her rather than giving prescription formula (which is without the benefits I listed) also saved the NHS upwards of £5,000. I appreciate society didn’t ask me to breed, but I do hope that money saved is useful for operations and paying for NHS staff. Maybe think about that next time you’re sat in the doctors. Additionally, breastfeeding lowers my chances of cancer and my daughter’s risk of developing problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. More money in the bank for other poorly folks,  I’d say!

After some shouting and crying you were persuaded to get the owner, so I would like to apologise to other diners who were disturbed. They may well have been celebrating special occasions too and I hope it wasn’t spoiled for them, though I think the responsibility for that situation undeniable lies with you, your lack of professionalism and your prejudiced attitude. We are all human, it’s true, but if you are, as you say, ‘cynical’, and you’re unable to direct frustrations appropriately, I’m not sure the hospitality industry and in particular, front of house service, is for you.

Let’s talk empathy

Addressing your request that we are empathetic to restaurants because of my whacky dietary requirements that have been successfully managed by kitchens including your own with ease, I’d like to just outline why we’re luckily in a great position to be empathetic.

  • I’ve worked on and off in the hospitality industry since I was 13 years old. I’m not ashamed to say I was 34 yesterday, so not quite your 22 years. Also, I’ve only worked in lowly positions like waitress, deli assistant, bar person, events assistant, street food server. I’m proud to say I’ve never treated a customer as you have.
  • My partner has worked in the hospitality industry on and off since the age of 14. He’s a year younger than me, as he loves to remind me, so that clocks up a nice 20 years. He has (and does) work in managerial positions. He would be sacked on the spot if he wrote the comments you did on that iPad.
  • We didn’t just land and expect you to cater for what is a very common dietary requirement – particularly with the rise of veganism. You were given 11 days notice, multiple calls and emails from my partner – this should highlight that the dietary requirement was serious.
  • While cross contamination is always a risk, environment health best practice advises keeping allergens separate. Sensible measures like washing hands and cleaning pans and substituting with safe ingredients is sufficient to avoid issues for us. We have dined out successfully in high street chains and other award winning restaurants. At both ends of the scale servers elsewhere have made an effort to identify and satisfy my requirements without making me cry. One to think about when you look in the mirror there. Time to sharpen up those customer service skills,
  • With the notice given, it would have been perfectly possible to make some simple changes in advance. My partner had stated we would be happy if there was just one option for me. For example, that pastry that couldn’t be eaten because of the milk glaze? You could have simply made one portion without milk glaze that morning. Genius, huh? If you’d like any further tips on easily adapting your crazily complicated menu, I’d be happy to put you in touch with my mum, who successfully cooks multiple course Sunday dinners for myself, my diabetic dad and my baby. All with a smile on her face despite having MS.
  • Our booking was purposefully midweek, early lunch so that you wouldn’t be too busy and would therefore find it wasier to accommodate us. The restaurant wasn’t busy when we arrived. You made the difficulty.

I am grateful to the chef who cooked us a delicious meal – provided on the house. Waaaa waaaa waaah, indeed. I can appreciate you can’t work a million iterations of the menu through the kitchen but cooking for me was certainly possible. I drank an additional gin and tonic and cup of coffee on the house too, for reference, and added my delicious Oatly Barista to finish it. Your younger serving staff were a credit to your establishment. Hopefully they won’t pick up your prejudice or cynicism and go on to have successful careers in catering. I would like to thank them for making extra effort to make me feel at ease after your failings.

Unsurprisingly, we won’t be dining at the restaurant again while you remain working there in your role. You guys probably won’t miss the few hundred pounds a year we spent with you since you opened or the votes that I made for those awards that you’ve won. I’d suggest you review your career path and implement proper allergy training. When our next special occasion comes round, we’ll spare you the incredible inconvenience of trying to eat with you.

Regards, Fay Nyberg (also known as Mrs Lightley, though somewhat lacking in the relevant sparkler or marriage ceremony)

As a North Easterner, there are certain foods you miss when you leave the kingdom, products that even if successfully sourced elsewhere never seem to taste quite the same and others that you just can’t find south of Middlesbrough, ever. Even with the spread of the almighty Greggs, which is now seemingly perched on the corner of every third street in all northern towns, if you drive too far South down the A1 you can’t get a stottie for love nor money. Which is, of course, exactly why you should stock up on some of the very best things to eat that the North East has to offer when you pay us a visit. I truly believe there are native foods available round these parts that are worth booking a trip just to taste, though as a Geordie raised on homemade pease pudding and broth, I may be a little bit biased!

Recently, Haven Holidays got in touch and asked me for tips on where visitors to the region could find the best local delicacies, so in this post I’ve gathered together a few places where you can pick up some of the foods my beloved North East is best known for. If you’re visiting the Haven holiday park at Berwick or staying elsewhere in Northumberland, you’ll find some true tastes of the north by paying the establishments below a visit. And, whether if a Geordie by birth or visiting for a break, you can test your knowledge of local delicacies from this region and others in the Haven’s local delicacy quiz.

Turnbull’s, Alnwick

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You should find pease pudding plentiful when you’re out and about in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear. Most sandwich shops (including the Greggs of almost every high street) will invariably have it on their menu accompanied by ham and possibly on a lovely stodgy white stottie to boot (truly a hangover saviour). You can also buy this delicious spread (made by boiling split peas with ham) at many delis and even the local supermarkets. If you’re taking a trip to the lovely market town of Alnwick (and you should because it’s a pretty place with great pubs and isn’t just about the castle that was featured in Harry Potter) you should pop into Turnbull’s on Market Street. This butchers sells lots of locally sourced meats including its very own dry cured bacon range and award-winning pies and pastries too. It also sells pease pudding to takeaway, so you can pick some up to pack in a future picnic should you choose. While you’re in town, call in at the Bari Tea Brewery for a cuppa.

Hinnies, Whitley Bay

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A sort of scone-cum-muffin Singin’ Hinnies are not so easy to come by at bakers in the North East nowadays, though they are fairly easy to make yourself. Take a trip to the coastal town of Whitley Bay though and you can enjoy them at a dining establishment that celebrates them with its name and boasts other Geordie-influenced crowd pleasers on the menu too. The Singin’ Hinnies (named after the noise they make when cooking) are served up with strawberry jam and clotted cream on the pudding menu, while you can enjoy comforting Pan Haggerty (a delicious potato bake) as part of their main course menu or enjoy pease pudding served up on one of their affordable sharing boards.

Northumberland Cheese Farm, Blagdon

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You may not yet associate the North East with cheese production but let me assure you, we do it rather well. Along with Doddingtons in the far north, which concentrates on cheese and ice cream production, the Northumberland Cheese Farm excellently demonstrates our skills in the area of dairy food production. I’m a tad biased because I used to work at the Cheese Loft, where you can sit in for a Ploughman’s or cheese scone or buy some of the farm’s cheeses to take away. My favourites are the Blagdon Blue – best described as a soft, delicious creamy blue brie type cheese and the Nettle, a cheddar that it’s impossible to eat just one small piece of (I recommend just caving in and cutting large chunks to eat with a crisp, sweet apple and a few digestive biscuits – it’s not a gourmet supper but it’s one I enjoy best).

L Robson & Sons, Craster
I was fairly young when I first tried smoked kippers for breakfast and must admit I wasn’t sold on them after the first few attempts at eating them. That said, I did always enjoy the fact that buying them from where they were made meant a trip to some really breath-taking beaches. L Robson & Sons in Craster still smoke their kippers the traditional way and you can buy them at their shop and order online so you can re-live a summer on the Northumberland coast once you’re back home. When in Rome (or Craster), visit the restaurant with views over Craster harbour.

If you’re a seafood fan (like me) The Old Boat House at Amble is another great spot on the coast to sample the wares of the North Sea and as an added bonus they also serve great bread. They’ve recently opened up The Fish Shack at the Sea Quest aimed at walkers, which we’ve not quite made it along to yet as it would be too much of a tease while I can’t eat fresh seafood. It does however seem to be a similar concept to Riley’s Fish Shack over at gorgeous Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth – so expect informal dining/streetfood. We’ll definitely be aiming to try the Shack soon .I know we’ll be heading to the Boat House to celebrate just soon as baby has landed. After 9 months of pregnancy enforced abstinence, melted brie, local lobster and a crisp glass of wine is exactly what I fancy and It’s an added bonus that Ruby the dog can come along with us too.

If you’re visiting the area and would like some local food recommendations, feel free to email foodfablesuk@gmail.com or get in touch via Twitter or Instagram.

 

 

My phone is filled with photos of delicious things we’ve made at home but I’ve never blogged about, so I’m making more of a conscious effort to share the recipes I think other people might find useful, starting with these delightfully named and superb tasting, protein poo balls.

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I was initially going to hold off posting these as the photos I have of them aren’t too appetising but as we’ve started referring to them aspoo balls in the house I thought it might not matter too much that the photo isn’t that appealing. (There’s been lots of fun and games asking each other to pass the ball bag so I can pop it in my packed lunch). I promise you they taste nice. Recently I’ve been feeling even hungrier than usual. On a good day I carry a full bag of snacks to work – a mixture of fresh fruit, maybe a low fat yoghurt, perhaps a few crustless quiches but I’ve been finding myself lured over to the office biscuit table. Worse still, on days I’ve been working from home I’ve been rustling up concoctions of pasta and sauce, pickled onion Monster Munch, pickled onions and smoked cheese. I blame the baby.

In an effort not to do so much naughty snacking, my work mate suggested I started bringing some protein balls to work. I love nakd bars and to me these are a similar type of treat, except with a bit of weighing and measuring and a lot of rolling they’re a lot cheaper and I’ve been using them as my hex b and saving precious syns for my new pickled onion Monster Munch addiction. Back when I lived in Leeds my friend Lucy made her own ‘poo bars’, which were DIY nakd bars, so these balls were named part in homage to her and also because I purposefully included some Linseed in my recipe to encourage regular pregnant lady toilet trips.

I scoured the internet for similar recipes and concluded that the general basic recipe was to mix something like one part dates with one part almonds (lovely filling nutritious almonds). I don’t really eat any nuts other than almonds so this directed my ingredients choices a lot. Many recipes for protein balls use added coconut oil, peanut butter, honey or agave syrup to stick things together but I wanted to keep syns low, so instead I chose to use sticky medjool dates to ensure my mix stuck together.

The recipe – makes 20 balls

150g almonds (this worked out as 80 almonds and 5 hex b)

25g linseeds aka flax seeds (1 hex b)

A capfull of vanilla essence

175g Medjool dates (4 hex bs)

30g cacao nibs (10 syns)

Method

Blitz the almonds in the food processor, adding the dates, vanilla essence and flax seeds (we’d pre-pitted so our hex b weighing may be off a little but as I’m preggaz I didn’t worry too much). I added the cacao nibs last without blitzing to retain some crunch. Working the mixture together I then rolled out into 20 balls and left to set. I worked this out at one hex b per two balls plus 1 syn or half a hex b plus 0.5 syns per ball. Don’t take my word for it though, my maths is sometimes off!

These poo balls have been stopping me from snacking quite so much and are a great way to use the extra healthy b you get when pregnant. I just pop a few in a sandwich bag and stick them in my handbag each morning. I’m already planning a few new variations – using cocoa powder and orange or rum essence is on the cards at the weekend. The total cost of ingredients was approximately £3.33, which I think is pretty good – less than a chocolate bar and about half the price of a Nakd bar, though I’ll still be investing in those now and again too.

How do you stay full during the day? Do you eat protein balls or would you consider giving them a go?

While I’m trying really hard not to empty the contents of my fridge directly into my mouth every evening, there’s no avoiding the fact that I’m now eating for two with a supercharged appetite. Combine this with the amount of things that need done in the house before the baby arrives and my packed work schedule and I’m finding more excuses to eat out. Hurrah (except not so good for my clothes fitting).

Feeling rather hard done to that my weekend highlight was nailing two loads of washing before 10am on a Sunday, I was treated to a surprise Sunday night curry last night and took a trip to a place previously reviewed on the blog Haveli. You can find my previous post on the place here. I’m never too sure how often to post updates on places we’ve reviewed because if we like a place we inevitably head back fairly frequently. However with Haveli being a little out of our way over in Ponteland, we’ve not had the chance to head back since our last visit. My constant suggestion that we should pay the place a return visit seemed to make an impact on Sunday afternoon when exhausted from serious Sunday over-productivity, I put the other half in charge of sourcing the tea.

Since our last visit Haveli has bagged itself a recommendation in the Michelin guide, which didn’t surprise us considering how much we enjoyed the food on our last visit. It’s also added some Paleo menu choices, including cauliflower rice that fellow Slimming Worlders may be interested in but I was too hungry to consider carb cutting.

When we arrived around 5 minutes late for our booking we found quite a few tables were busy but not packed. Haveli is in a bit of a strange spot but the decor inside makes eating there seem more of an occasion. We were asked to wait in the bar area when we arrived and promptly took a seat. I must say we were a little disappointed to be waiting to be seated at our table for 25 minutes, particularly as we had to ask for the drinks menu. As I’d dressed up for the occasion and remembered having a rather lovely cocktail on our last visit I chose a Garden Fresh Virgin Mojito (£4.95) to get things started. This was a lovely accompaniment to my curry when we were seated – a refreshing mix of elderflower, cucumber, apple and lime. It looked lovely too.


IMG_2611I’ve not edited the photos from last night at all – the food really was as colourful and the lights as lovely as they look. As we waited so long to be seated, we were actually a little bit pushed for time when it came to ordering, so we skipped starters and went straight to the main courses. On a bit of a side note, we thought the menus were looking a little worn – probably because the place is so popular but with the classy restaurant vibe they are trying to promote it might be time to have them replaced.

I’m not eating as much meat these days so I chose the Shahi Palak Paneer (£7.50) and Mr Fables had the Railway Lamb Curry (£12.95). We added a side of keema naan and a basmati pilau, though I can’t seem to find the former on the online menu. After our surprise wait to be seated we were a little apprehensive about not ordering some nibbles but the food actually came out extraordinarily quickly, within 5 minutes I’d say.

It didn’t take long for the ‘mmm-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’ to begin. The lamb in the coconut curry sauce was melt in the mouth, a fairly mild sauce with the occasional surprise chilli. My spinach sauce was creamy and moreish but with a surprising spice level, this wasn’t the mild, bland curry that paneer and spinach can sometimes be. It’s the extra finishing touches that show that Haveli consider how flavours will work together – sweet fried onions topping the rice were a delight alongside my spinach sauce and the keema in the naan had its own distinct flavour too. Best of all, our choices complemented each other well and Mr Fables actually exclaimed he might be tempted to order more vegetarian sides from now on.

With a couple of extra soft drinks our bill came to around £44, which is certainly more than our local curry house but the food at Haveli was well worth making a trip for. The few little niggles on arrival didn’t impact too much on our evening, except to maybe stop us from eating even more and as we didn’t really have room for dessert that may not have been a bad thing. Thanks Haveli for not disappointing! Now, can you open somewhere a little closer to us please?

What do you eat when you go shopping and what do you think of the new wave of food courts? If you’re a resident of the North East and you’ve indulged in a little retail therapy recently (willingly or less so), you’ll know the food offerings at Intu MetroCentre have been undergoing a bit of a revamp. I was recently invited to the launch night of one of the new residents, Thaikun, so while planning a review of this colourful new ‘street food’ stop, I’ve found myself musing about the food culture in shopping centres generally. Consequently this post is partly a review of the very jazzy new Thaikun at the Metro Centre and a bit of a personal ponder about the ideal fuel for shopping trips.

Memories of the Metro Centre

Truth be told, I have few memories of eating in the MetroCentre as a child – we ate in the zone with the old Mediterranean vibe where the independents once were vary rarely when I was a kid. The only fast food I can ever remember eating as a child was my first ever Burger King aged approximately 11 and that was on Northumberland Street when my brother and I went to see the Fenwicks’ Christmas window display with my dad, I’m pretty sure he told us not to tell Mam we’d eaten there either. We had double cheeseburgers FYI.

I’m pretty open about the fact I’ve always had mixed feelings about chain restaurants, I’ve had some great nights in Pizza Express and Las Iguanas with my friends and I recognise how useful they are when it comes to pleasing a crowd and eating cheaply. I like to support local but I recognise chains employ people and give them opportunities too. Mix this all up together and I’m not sure how I feel about the MetroCentres new food court and the fact it’s all chains (although it does have some smaller ones – Thaikun for instance only has eight branches).

What’s the ideal shopping centre food set up?

When I visit my former home of Leeds, I’m always impressed by the mix of places to eat in the Leeds Trinity shopping centre, which includes Trinity Kitchen where various independents take up rotating pop up slots. There are also some familiar high street chains in there, some less familiar ones and some posher places to eat too. There was a good amount of controversy when this shopping centre opened and shortly after its opening many questioned whether it contributed to the closure of some other restaurants in the city centre. That said, in Trinity Kitchen I think they’ve successfully harnessed a relaxed, casual eating vibe – the sort of vibe Thaikun is clearly aiming at with its street food offering.

Thaikun, Review

First things first, eating at Thaikun was a very fun experience – the staff put a lot of effort into entertaining us with singing and shots – though as I’m currently up the duff I wasn’t under the influence for the review. There definitely seems to be a certain formula new chains are following at the moment – the loud and proud decor of the surprisingly large restaurant takes all the sights of Bangkok and amplifies them times a million, a lot like the Caribbean influenced deco of Turtle Bay. That’s more an observation than a criticism.

Thaikun is owned by the Chaophraya chain (which I’ve previously visited in Leeds) and boasts a chef director who had her own restuarant in Bangkok in the past. This shows in the menu through some lesser spotted dishes that don’t show up at every Thai restaurant. For example, I was delighted to see khao soi guy on the menu, which I learnt to cook while I was in Thailand. I was unable to sample it on this occasion as we were served a set menu at the launch event but it’s top of my list of things to try next. Here’s what myself and my dining partner Hannah shared:

The shared platter of starters were good finger food and little nibbles are always a good way to introduce little ones to trying new things. I did miss the usual array of Thai condiments while I was eating these – I would have liked to have add some spice with some Nampla Prik or a little sugar but was pleased by the presence of Sriracha and a serving of two chilli sauces. I enjoyed the salty squid (this was super salty) but found the squid a bit overdone. The sticky pork was the star of the starters while I’d liked to have tasted a bit more spice in the fish cakes and corn cakes. I think perhaps they’re relying on customers to spice to their own taste. Apologies for the poor photography – ambient lighting and a lack of editing time make for yellower than average snaps!

Main courses covered the traditional Thai favourites with green thai curry, pad thai, a sticky pork and a spiced mince. The latter was actually my favourite overall dish and the one I’d consider to be the most authentic tasting based on my own experience of food in Thailand. It reminded me of a lovely dish I ate in Chiang Mai, which has a lot of Burmese food influences.

The green curry was nice – quite heavy on the basil mind and the pad thai had plenty of juicy prawns, though it didn’t quite have the balance of flavours of those straight off the Bangkok streets. Those around me seemed to be enjoying some cute cocktails served in Takeaway boxes but as I wasn’t drinking I asked to see the drinks menu and was pleased to see a totally calorific but very moreish Thai tea on the menu (very sugary but I may well be popping in for these to takeaway while shopping). Even as a hungry pregnant momma-to-be, myself and my dining partner Hannah didn’t quite manage to finish this feast.

We had a lovely time at Thaikun and though it’s authenticity didn’t totally ring true for me I’m keen to try more dishes on the menu next time I’m shopping with friends (and I’ll post an update then). I like the idea of introducing kids to new cuisines on unavoidable family shopping trips, so from this perspective this fun concept gets a thumbs up.

Have you been to Thaikun yet? What do you think of the new food court offerings in the MetroCentre? Have you eaten at any of the other new places and do you miss the independents?