February 2018 marks the 7th anniversary of my eating adventures and, as ever, I'm excited about what the coming months will bring for us foodies! In case this is your first visit (if not, welcome back), I'm a 30-something female with a very healthy appetite!...I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café or bar in which I set foot...so, let's go out!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Afternoon Tea at The Grand (Thistle) Hotel – Broad Street, Bristol

Pre-empting the need for a post-Christmas wind-down, it seemed sensible to invest in the conveniently-timed online offer* of afternoon tea for two at Bristol's prestigious hotel, The Grand. For £29, our pre-paid print-out also allowed for a visit to the adjoining (Otium) spa whose facilities include a well-equipped gym, both sauna and steam room, plus an ever-popular jacuzzi and small swimming pool. Consequently, after taking advantage of all the above and shocking our lethargic festively-fed bodies into action, my lovely mum and I made our way to the hotel's restaurant, 'Tyrells' for our intended après-spa refreshment...

Date and Time: Tuesday 27th December 2011 – afternoon tea at 15:00
Name of Establishment: The Grand Hotel*
Location: Broad Street, Bristol
Reason for visit: The notion of a little R&R amidst a chaotic bout of seasonal merry-making!

Shown to a suitably sized table-for-two, mum and I took a moment to visually appreciate our surroundings. The Grand Hotel's classic Victorian architecture has clearly been treated to a degree of modernisation and thus, there is an overriding sophistication that is tinged with bland practicality. That said, with plush carpet under-foot and cut-crystal chandeliers overhead, it's fair to say that touches of opulence attractively punctuate this otherwise neutrally -decorated space. Furthermore, large floor-to-ceiling windows flood the restaurant with natural light (in this case, a momentary burst of winter sunshine) which makes for a buoyant, fundamentally airy ambiance which, coupled with comfortable leather-effect furniture and the subtlety of a chilled-out soundtrack constitutes the stay-a-while appeal that only a thoughtfully determined aesthetic can establish. Consequently, The Grand seemed the perfect location for a spot of afternoon tea which, quintessentially English, is both an age-old tradition and a novel variety of bite-sized indulgences – although on this occasion, these embodied a notably Yuletide theme!

Offered either tea or coffee in the first instance (which transpired to a standard breakfast brew for mum and a rather average filter coffee for me), it wasn't long before the rest of our pristinely-presented fare made an entrance. Glass containers of chilled mineral water had been provided as standard and tumblers of mulled wine accompanied two tiers of edibles. Unfortunately, a coffee versus mulled wine juggling act unfolded as neither particularly complemented the other in terms of one's palate and both required prompt consumption due to proving equally as unpleasant with a tepid composition. I doubt that the addition of mulled wine is available outside of the festive season and yet, it would have been rather better received a little later during the proceedings. Moving onto the gastronomical goings-on and initially the savouries which I'm afraid were not quite up to par; the individual cheese and onion quiches were fairly soggy and underwhelmingly bland in regards to their flavour (or lack of it) and the crust-less, teeny triangular sandwiches, albeit richly filled with good quality ingredients, had been created using bread that was ever so slightly dry – perhaps suggesting that the sandwiches themselves had been prepared (and plated) hours in advance...disappointing.

Things started to look up as we moved on to the duo of scones. The first, a fruit scone which despite looking suspiciously as though it had been ejected from a supermarket multi-pack, had been crammed with juicy sultanas and arrived 'oven-fresh' – lovely. The second was a 'plain' wholemeal scone which, rustically chunky, epitomised the sense of a home-made effort proving crumbly and satisfying – slathering our 'halves' with generous measures of strawberry jam and clotted cream, both were devoured (and entirely enjoyed) in record time! Next up came mini mince pies and dainty fruit tarts; both of which were picture-perfect, with expertly executed fillings portioned within melt-in-the-mouth shortcrust pastry cases, yum! Lastly, mum and I just about managed to make room for the sizeable hunks of Christmas cake which were unanimously the highlight of the experience; proving rich-tasting and moistly textured as well as layered with a commendable marzipan-to-icing ratio. And, leaving the distinctive twang of Christmastime booze as an after-taste marked with its decadence, this was quite simply, a deliciously different final foray!

In conclusion, an enjoyable afternoon spent at The Grand – service was courteous yet relaxed and efficient and the surroundings were calming and comfortable. That said, I'm not sure that I would be willing to pay the usual £18.50 fee (per person) for the same experience (minus the spa) given the number of foodie faux-pas encountered on this occasion. Yet, with a little attention to detail, I think that the quality of the fare could be augmented to a standard that would be rather more likely to warrant a return visit. I also learnt, after liaising with others who had purchased the same deal, that the afternoon tea line-up itself is rather inconsistent; the Best Foodie Friend, for instance, getting rather a raw deal with a lot less offered over her two-tiered arrangement just a few weeks previously. I have noticed that 'Groupon'* are currently offering a similar deal (at £32 for two people including the use of Otium's spa facilities) and so, you may wish to take note of my 'contents may vary' disclaimer before clicking the 'purchase' button! That said, we all know that good old mother-daughter outings are priceless and there is no doubt that you'll have a top afternoon in good company...so do let me know what you think...!

And now for the second opinion...
Mum gave The Grand Hotel (Tyrells Restaurant) a generous 8/10 and in three words described the fare as 'elegant afternoon tea'.


Friday, 23 December 2011

Tamarind, Downend-Bristol

We all know that this time of year focuses on spending time with our nearest and dearest and once the turkey-dominated dinners have run their course, what better way to celebrate the season and warm up on a cold winter’s day than with a hearty curry. It may not be the obvious choice when it comes to traditional festive fare but for one reason or another (though perhaps a result of the copious alcohol consumption that constituted the evening's entertainment as opposed to the cuisine itself), friend D and I left Indian restaurant and takeaway, Tamarind, somewhat aglow with the Christmas spirit!

Date and Time: Tuesday 20th December 2011, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Tamarind*
Location: 5 Badminton Road, Downend – Bristol
Reason for Visit: Crimbo catch-up and a curry

Smack-bang in the middle of Downend’s residential high street, Tamarind instantly attracts its clientèle with the classy gleam of its silver lettering. Its interior predominantly carries this modern appeal with a colour-changing bubble-effect water feature proving the focal point at the forefront of a complex network of tables and chairs which, amidst the rich-coloured décor, are separated with crisp white latticed screens. Chandeliers hang grandly overhead and tables are dressed with white linen – this immaculate presentation even extends to the facilities which were commendably spotless. That said, old-school touches here and there add, in my opinion, a little character to the space; with intricately pattered crockery and napkins folded into swans balancing what could have otherwise been considered a little lack-lustre in terms of its arrangement. Service is courteous, quick and, albeit ever so slightly rushed, unquestionably efficient; upon our arrival (and in the blink of an eye), our coats and umbrellas were whisked away, D and I shown to our (advisably pre-booked) table and our drink orders taken. It was also noted that for an early-evening mid-week slot, the restaurant was heaving; something, we were informed, that has become commonplace for each and every night of the week!

We started with papadoms which, served alongside an assortment of chutneys and pickles, were wonderfully crisp, sizeable and not at all greasy. The mango chutney in particular was a tasty accompaniment, proving thickly textured and tangy – a good start. Main courses followed promptly; for D, a ‘hot’ Chicken Dansak (£7.50) and for me, my tried-and-tested favourite; Chicken Tikka Masala (£8.50). Both dishes were well presented (in deep bowls set upon a heated grill), generously portioned and delicious. The Dansak combined chicken with lentils and, flavoured with Fenugreek leaves, had been well-covered with a fantastically flavoursome sweet and sour yet distinctively spicy sauce; the perfectly-executed contrast of these sensations was reportedly a treat for one’s palate and for my dining companion, secured this dish as one of his favourites. The Masala was deep red in colour and established sweet, aromatic bursts of flavour. Uniting the earthy notes of almonds and cashews with a delicate blend of spices and although encompassing a curious coarseness, the sauce proved decadently thick with extra cream swirled through it for good measure – yum! D and I were also quick to praise the quality of the chicken which, in both dishes, had not been scrimped upon as well as proving both chunky and succulent . In addition to this and to mop up the sauce, we ordered a portion of mushroom Pilau rice to share (£3.50) and a Peshwari Naan (£2.70); the latter comprising a soft and doughy consistency with sweet almond paste baked into its folds. I think that the recipe would have benefited from a sprinkling of raisins to punctuate its intensity but with my sweet tooth, I certainly wasn’t complaining! 

Our meals were washed down with Tiger Beer and yet unfortunately (or not as the case may be), our full stomachs prevented participation in a dessert of any kind. Incidentally though, I feel that this is where Indian restaurants fall short; offering a range of bought-in ice-cream based puds which often leave little to be desired. Let's be fair, it’s rather a rare occurrence to have room to follow-up a good-quality curry and yet, perhaps if there were a small selection of authentic (and bite-sized) delicacies to choose from (for instance, Rasmali - Saffron scented milk balls flavoured with pistachio - which I recently sampled elsewhere), they would be rather better received, and may even put the establishment above others of its kind…because, after all, who wants to eat artificial-tasting strawberry ice cream out of a plastic parrot, (yes..really!)

In conclusion, I really enjoyed my evening at Tamarind – the food was reasonably-priced as well as hot, tasty and expertly spiced, the service faultless and the overall ambiance vibrant and comfortable. Furthermore, judging from the excitable buzz resounding throughout the space, this is indubitably, for such a small high street, a big big hit!

Friend D gave Tamarind a rating of 9/10 and his three words were simply, ‘definitely going back’...


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tart Café and Foodstore Christmas Spectacular

Recent posts have alluded to my child-like love of the festive season and therefore, I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to learn that each year, the task of organising the annual office ‘Christmas do' falls well within my remit (a remit secured somewhat by my self-appointed role as the social secretary of my workplace). Consequently, I spent weeks undergoing a tireless online investigation, researching such essentials as venue capacities, availability and prices…not to mention drooling over more tantalisingly turkey-based menus than I care to admit. Finally, with the onset of December drawing ever-near and the search for suitability beginning to take its toll on my sanity, I decided to share my dilemma with Bristol's ever-reliable foodie network via a rather defeatist Tweet*. Luckily, it was in response to this sorry plea for decisiveness that I received an offer that I couldn't refuse...

Date and Time: Friday 16th December 2011, 19:30 for 20:00
Name of Establishment: Tart Café and Foodstore*
Location: 16 The Promenade, Gloucester Road - Bristol
Reason for Visit: That much-loved festive phenomenon…the Office Christmas Party!   

“How about Tart...?” Replied Andrew Griffin, head chef at Tart Café and Foodstore on Bristol's vibrant Gloucester Road. He went on to say that he would create a bespoke three-course menu with the festivities fixed as we saw fit – plus, we'd have the smart surroundings of Tart's Parisian-styled space to ourselves and for thirty pounds per head…it was a no-brainer really! However, taking twenty-five of the University of the West of England’s finest administrators to one of my favourite eateries did not come without its anxieties – first of all would my colleagues feel that my high praise for this venue was justified having read my glowing reviews of the Tart after Dark Supper series and on the other hand, would my party behave themselves to allow for a return visit on my part without a red face!? Needless to say, I needn't have worried as what unfolded was a truly fantastic evening...Kicking off the merry-making with a complimentary Kir Royle, my guests began to arrive, stopping as they did so to admire their surroundings. Promoting the notion of classy Christmas décor, each table had been crisply attired with white linen and silver (rather sophisticated-looking) Christmas crackers. Candlelight flickered atmospherically and seasonally-inspired jazz played out subtly overhead – allowing for conversation to flow and the buzz of the party itself to take centre stage. Furthermore, each and every guest received a warm welcome – just part of the service to which I have become accustomed; effortlessly friendly and faultlessly attentive.

Just as I was invited to hand-pick the content of the menu, I was also responsible for the seating arrangements and despite rejecting a specific table plan (though deciding on an arrangement of one table of nine and two tables of eight), the ever-professional team remained unfazed and starters were promptly served. The French Onion Soup; a dish which I had previously sampled at the 'Tart after Dark Retro Supper’ certainly didn't disappoint with its intricate flavours which combined the distinctively punchy notes of ripe onion with a delicately sweet baseline. The sizeable Gruyere cheese-topped crouton, an island in the centre of the dish, added a new dimension to the varying tastes and textures, adding a little salt which offset the aforementioned sweetness to perfection. Other diners chose the smoked salmon which, layered with beetroot and dressed leaves on top of a dainty potato pancake, was reportedly light and refreshing. On the other hand, the Chicken Liver Pâté was chunky and satisfying; attractively plated alongside home-made chutney, crunchy toasts and pickles which had been imaginatively constructed into a ‘Jenga’-style formation.
Smoked Salmon Starter
Main courses constituted a choice of three hearty and suitably Christmassy dishes; the traditional turkey was doused with lovely gravy and served with a helping of well-seasoned stuffing, two amply-sized pigs in blankets and a number of wonderfully fluffy roast potatoes; the latter lavishly crisped-up in goose fat (something which, although delicious, proved rather problematic for the vegetarians amongst us who began to tuck in before they were warned of this carnivorous aspect of their preparation).That aside, it’s fair to say that all three options were well-received and although I opted for the turkey, delighting in how expertly it had been executed (and thus avoiding its typically dry tendencies), I also insisted on sampling the confit of pork (for research purposes of course) which, coupled with a generous dollop of creamy mashed potato, was undoubtedly the star of the show with its topping of flavoursome crackling. The meat-free alternative was a butternut squash, sweet potato and spinach lasagne which although I did not catch sight of was reportedly tasty though a little burnt on the top. The ‘trimmings’ consisted of a number of sharer dishes; spiced red cabbage, honey-roasted carrots, extra roasties (which I'm ashamed to say that we all but fought for) and...yep you guessed it...that Yuletide treasure...brussel sprouts! Dessert comprised a cranberry and mandarin baked cheesecake – a real stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth experience which proved incredibly rich but perfectly balanced in terms of its flavour. The tart notes of the cranberry compote expertly contrasted the sweetness of the mandarin and lent to the dish a palate-cleansing quality; concluding the comforting, almost wintry undertones of the evening's fare to perfection. Incidentally, (and just a little example of the thought put into the dishes I had chosen), I had teased Andrew prior to the evening at hand in regards to the distinct lack of chocolate on the menu, reeling in mock-horror in my capacity as a self-confessed chocoholic...hence, it did not go unnoticed that subsequently, chocolate had been incorporated into the base of the cheesecake – a lovely touch and gratefully received on my part I can assure you!
Tasty Turkey...and look at those Pigs in Blankets!
Others chose the cheeseboard which had been adorned with a range of indulgent varieties; Barkham Blue, Ticklemore goat’s cheese and Keen’s Cheddar. I think that those who had opted for this struggled somewhat with the mammoth portion they were given – I certainly intended to get in on the cheese-related action but alas, just couldn’t eat another thing! And so, ‘Mr Proper Portion’ had done it again...we were stuffed…that is, until plates of mini mince pies were brought to each table. These were melt-in-the-mouth delicious with home-made appeal that you just can't buy in a shop – yum! And so, our evening drew to a close and as our numbers diminished, only the hard-core revellers (myself included) remained to mop up the last of the vino. As is customary for the Monthly Tart after Dark Supper evenings, Darren from nearby Grape and Grind* had chosen both a red and a white to compliment the nature of the evening's cuisine. Our table had settled on the red, a soft and fruity Mas de Vigneron, alongside a bottle (or two) of the house Prosecco – because after all, every party warrants a little fizz!
Overall, high praise all round for the entire Tart team – owner Jenny and her girls were the perfect hosts and Andrew and his fellow chefs cooked up a storm in the kitchen, evident, of course, by the top-notch quality of the cuisine. Despite the venue proving a little chilly at times (perhaps due to the sub-zero temperatures outside), a festive atmosphere was perfectly achieved and it’s fair to say that a good time was had by all ...thank you for making our Office Christmas Party a success and here's to a fabulous 2012 for the lovely team at 'Lovely Tart'!

And now, for just a collection of the opinions from our office....
“I had the pork – excellent!  And I’d love to know what they put in their mash - it was superb!“ CC
“I would give the food 9/10; it was very tasty and hot. The venue was just a bit chilly at times, but the service was great and it was nice being able to have a chat rather than having to shout to each other.” DC
“[Tart was] such a great venue. I can’t wait to go there again during the day…” LRM
“The cheesecake was, by far, the star of the show for me!” RS


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bacchanalia Supper Club, Clifton – Bristol

Upon researching the definition of Bacchanalia and discovering that it refers to a riotous or boisterous festivity laced with aspects of drunken tomfoolery, I was somewhat unsure of what to expect from this particular foodie foray. Yet, as the newest addition to the diverse line-up of Bristol-based Supper Clubs, I was curious to see how it measured up…

Date and Time: Saturday 10th December 2011, 19:15 for 19:45
Name of Event: Bacchanalia Supper Club
Location: The Clifton-based home of Chris Jarvis*; our chef for the evening
Reason for visit: Bristol’s newest supper club required willing (and hungry) attendees for its ‘Trial Run’…as fitting candidates; the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I were keen to participate!

Arriving as we have become accustomed, via a scrawled address on a scrap of paper and the navigational genius of ‘Google Maps’, The BFF and I were warmly welcomed into the smartly-decorated basement flat of our host, Chris. On this occasion, he was joined by his ex-housemate Bryn* who, as a wine merchant and blogger with operatic tendencies, had agreed to lend his expertise to the 'front-of-house duties'. After our coats had been whisked away and an aperitif of crisp Prosecco set before us, we settled into our allocated seats in the intimately-arranged makeshift dining room, (whereby a view of the chef at work told a story of calm and control) and at once, any preconceptions of typical ‘lad-pad’ disorder became entirely redundant. Sitting communally, The BFF and I befriended our fellow diners; many whom, as neighbours, had previously sampled Chris’s culinary creations and subsequently, shared with us their high expectations of the evening ahead. This, coupled with the distinctive smell of festive fare (which teased us from the nearby kitchen), whetted our appetites for the courses to come and initiated the intended dinner party-style etiquette – an etiquette which gathered momentum as the starter made an entrance; succulent goujons of Cornish Whitebait with dill mayonnaise and a garnish of fresh parsley which was served in a large bowl and passed around the table in a friendly help-yourself fashion.

Further courses equally wowed the group; a wonderfully flavoursome spiced Roast Celeriac soup featuring the sweet notes of amontillado sherry and to follow, Bitton Farm Roast goose served with quince compote and roasted winter vegetables. The latter could have been a little more imaginatively presented but there was no question that the quality of the ingredients bought-in and facilitated as well as the execution of the dishes themselves was spot on. We also learned of the locally-sourced nature of the produce; with ‘Reg the Veg’* (a family run green-grocers situated in Clifton Village) and St. Nicholas’ Market’s Source Food Hall and Café* both playing a part in the top-notch nature of the cuisine. Similarly, the arrangement of the cheese board had been thoughtfully determined and featuring the likes of Dorset Blue Vinney, Brie and Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheddar, complimented the Sloe and Cranberry Fruit cheeses and constituted a real treat – in fact, the concept of taking one's plate to the head of the table and discussing the varieties and combinations on offer was, for me, almost reminiscent of a festal family buffet – great stuff! Fluffy Clementine Pudding completed the bill and correctly encompassing a fluffy top and creamy clementine base, as per the recipe followed from Irish chef, Darina Allen's cookbook, (which Chris assured us is a treasured possession), this proved both warming and homely without possessing a heavy disposition...heavenly!

It has to be said that service was impeccable throughout the evening – Bryn was on-hand to ensure that each course was well received and the overall ambiance was relaxed and chatty. The BFF was even treated to an alternative starter due to her aversion to seafood; a momentary issue that was seamlessly remedied with a tasty mushroom dish which she described as 'delicious', (especially given its quick turnaround at such short notice).

I think there were certain aspects of the evening that either lacked a little polish or, arguably, could have benefited from a degree of female intervention (given, of course, that this Supper Club is delivered in a predominantly male domain) - come on, we all know that women are drawn to aesthetics and men, the practicalities of a situation! We’re talking minor details though such as; antithetical crockery, brown office-y looking envelopes in which to leave your contribution (a suggested £30 if you're wondering) and the presentation of certain dishes which left little to be desired – yes, regrettably on the large part, I'm referring to the pudding! Yet, that aside, as a trial run, the evening ran smoothly which resulted in a laid-back and wholly enjoyable atmosphere. Guests were fuelled with a number of complimentary tipples including the aforementioned Prosecco, a beautifully rich fortified wine to compliment the cheese board (Pineau des Charentes) and an after-dinner brandy – all of which put our B.Y.O contributions to shame, (that is, apart from the superb Morello Cherry Eau de Vie that one of the guests allowed us to sample!) Furthermore, although Chris himself is not an established chef, having inspirationally abandoned his nine-till-five desk job to peruse a number of ventures more suited to his interests with his passion for cooking at the forefront, his food is unquestionably of a commendable standard. He mentioned that the next two Bacchanalia Supper Club evenings, (scheduled, at present, for Friday 27th and Saturday 28th January 2012) will comprise more of a themed approach and, with plenty of ideas in the pipeline thereafter, perhaps these will channel more of the untamed revelry that I was anticipating. Alas however tame this particular evening proved (which I have to say, for me, was quite a relief), Chris certainly achieved what he set out to do; he showcased his ability to host an evening of great food within comfortable surroundings and alongside a range of like-minded souls – Bacchanalia may well be a hidden gem at present but with time (and possibly a little practice), it will undoubtedly prove a real contender in the growing tradition of the Bristol Supper Club….

And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave the Bacchanalia Supper Club a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described the evening as 'cosy', 'tasty' and 'buzzing'.
Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat...
Lovely Soup

* Contact Chris at bacchanalia37@yahoo.co.uk
* Follow Bryn on Twitter - @cellarratbryn  

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails goes to...Center Parcs, Longleat Forest

It just doesn't feel like Christmas until the annual trip to Center Parcs is in full swing and trust me, seeing Longleat Forest aglow with hundreds of twinkling fairy lights – not to mention a tastefully decorated Christmas tree at every turn, festive edition Pieminister* on demand, reindeer (from the mechanical variety which sing Christmas carols to the real duo which overlook Santa's grotto) and a scarily lifelike Polar Bear called Bjorn - will never fail to turn even the most stubborn of Scrooges into Santa's Little Helper! ... You'll be partaking in the merry-making and donning your Christmas jumper before you can say ho ho ho!

Date: Friday 2nd December – Monday 5th December 2011
Name of Establishment: Center Parcs*
Location: Longleat Forest
Reason for Visit: The annual long-weekend of cabin-based exuberance and an inevitable festive foodie foray!

Arriving at Longleat on a beautifully frosty yet sunshiney day and, on my part, unashamedly decked out in festive attire, the scene for our relaxing winter break was set. Initiating the proceedings with a toffee nut latte in Starbucks which, situated in the main Plaza is one of two of this hit and miss corporate big-wig, I was reminded of the fact that here, the likes of big chains Strada and Café Rouge are particularly well attended. Existing side-by-side with such lesser known establishments as Ortega and Center Parcs' own creations; Rajinda Pradesh, American-style diner, Huck's, The Pancake House and The Grand Café, this diverse line-up of eateries can afford to hike up their prices with little danger of their clientèle deviating beyond the costly reaches of their picturesque forest setting. Thus, although many opt to 'eat-in' in order to save the pennies, a candlelit dinner for two (outside the comfort of one's cabin) is practically unattainable!
It's a game of Musical Reindeer!

For me though, each visit to Center Parcs constitutes a new favourite restaurant or watering hole...this time around highlights included the unlikely venue of the 'Aqautique' bar (adjacent the bowling alleys) for a blimmin' good mojito and our two-fold-visit to The Pancake House. Popular enough to command a queue at the door and set within the Christmassy Village Square, this venue offers a tempting line-up of sweet and savoury creations - freshly prepared pancakes and waffles generously slathered with your topping of choice. Given my notorious sweet tooth, it will come as no surprise that I elected to indulge in the caramel crunch waffle which had been drizzled with warm caramel sauce, adorned with sizeable chunks of honeycomb and, washed down with a well-made, rich roasted Lavazza Cappuccino, made for an entirely decadent breakfast. I went the whole hog on our second visit, choosing the ultimate in chocoholism; a single chocolate pancake topped with whipped cream, hot chocolate sauce, Maltesers and two scoops of good-quality ice cream. This ensemble was finished with a whole Cadbury's flake...heaven! Others made more nutritious choices; The Boy reported that the tuna melt pancake was packed with good-quality ingredients; succulent flakes of fish, the zing of spring onion and mature cheddar and yet unfortunately, his selection the following day didn't quite warrant the same praise, the New Mexico omelette hid a multitude of sins; dry chunks of chicken, anaemic-looking meatballs which bordered on inedible and an over-processed and luminous pink ham that masqueraded as salami...disappointing...
Did someone say cocktails?!

Caramel Crunch Waffle (£5.95)

We decided upon Ortega for our Saturday night nosh-up; a small chain restaurant with two further branches in London and Milton Keynes. Specialising in Spanish fare, our party ordered a selection of Tapas; calamares, chanquetes (deep fried whitebait), chorizo and Albondigas, (succulent pork and beef meatballs in a rich tomato sauce) to share between us. The Boy and I also decided upon the Ortega Paella; a well executed dish which had been colourfully arranged with chicken, chorizo, roasted peppers, juicy mushrooms plus a scattering of mussels and one rather ample king prawn! I think that the chorizo proved the only disappointing aspect of this dish due to its overly fatty tendencies. In addition to this, the service was a little stand-offish especially given the distinct lack of clientèle at the time of our visit and the cocktails were a little lack lustre to say the least – The Boy in particular, finding himself forced to return his Long Island Ice Tea (a typically pungent combination if you are not familiar) in favour for something, 'a little less like breakfast juice'! That said, the birthday boy of our party was allocated a free cocktail which, albeit, not quite up to scratch in terms of its alcohol content, was a nice touch! The last hurdle before calling it a day was remedying our miscalculated bill, an issue which, I have to say, our specific server dealt with efficiently and without any undue fuss.

Now onto those festive edition Pieminister which are available from the Grand Café or the Sports Café in the 'Jardin des Sport' (which incidentally, advocates a menu not too dissimilar from that of your average High Street Wetherspoons). First things first, they aren't cheap – you may well pay under a fiver for a pie, mash and a moat of lovely gravy in our beloved hometown but here, you're looking at approximately £12 for the same fare. Then again, previous experience denotes a good-quality and altogether satisfying experience guaranteed and sometime later, tucking into my 'Three Kings' Pie packed with British turkey breast, smoky bacon, outdoor reared pork and herb stuffing and cranberries, I decided that it was well worth the money and then some...even given that it had clearly been microwaved giving the pastry a less-than perfect disposition!
'Three Kings' Pieminister with all the trimmings!
Finally, no trip to Center Parcs would be complete without a trip to the Aqua Sana spa and their exclusive Restaurant and Bar, Zilli, (the namesake of Italian-born celebrity chef Aldo Zilli). In my view, this is one of the best places to dine on-site and, sipping pink Prosecco from a plush leather sofa and snuggling into an over-sized bath robe, I lined-up my post-spa snack. Paninis, fresh salads, antipasti and made-to-order flat breads are top of the bill, and, with a focus on healthy eating and the vibrant flavours of the Mediterranean, I was spoiled for choice. I decided that at only £7.75, the Ricotta and spinach cannelloni baked with tomato and béchamel sauces sounded fantastic and yet, sizing up the plump, home-made looking scones behind the counter as well as the impressive line-up of herbal infusions, a spot of afternoon tea would have also gone down rather well. Topped off with polite table service and clean, comfortable surroundings complete with heated floors (combating that bare-foot chill) and floor to ceiling windows showcasing the beauty of the forest, this was indubitably the epitome of calm and hence, a fantastic place to conclude a relaxing weekend away.

All in all, Center Parcs provides a sufficient level of catering; as well as the variety of on-site eateries, the well-stocked Parc Market has a fantastic patisserie which includes a range of lovelies from Pullins Bakers Ltd.* alongside a freshly-baked selection of breads, cakes and pastries. The in-house takeaway service, albeit a tad on the pricey side, covers Chinese, Indian and Italian cuisines which can be delivered directly to your cabin. Let's be fair, this is a complex designed to suit couples, groups and families alike and to that end, fine dining just isn't on the cards. Yet, you aren't exactly expected to slum it either as there are a number of venues (given that you visit outside of the peak hours) in which it is possible to have a good-quality (and reasonably peaceful) meal. I've never actually taken this trip outside of the festive season and for me, a December Center Parcs break embodies all the best things about this time of year – the most obvious being that elevated degree of excitement that the anticipation of Christmas establishes. Perhaps this is one of those things that you must experience for yourself but rest assured, fellow foodies, that you certainly won’t go hungry...just make sure you have more than a few pounds in your pocket!


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Za Za Bazaar – Harbourside, Canons Road

It’s fair to say that the opening of the South West’s largest restaurant in our humble city has split the camp somewhat amongst us Bristolians – on one hand there has been a degree of apprehension (with premature comparisons to the likes of Flavourz and Cosmo being arrogated) and on the other, there are those who have eagerly anticipated a decent replacement for the Baja nightclub that formally occupied the space in all its teeny bopper glory! Being of the latter mindset and considering the impressive statistics doing the rounds online and in the press, I was really rather excited to be invited to attend a pre-launch taster session alongside representatives from a number of local businesses and the City's ever-present student population in advance of its official opening to the general public on the 1st December 2011...

Date and Time: Tuesday 30th November 2011, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Za Za Bazaar
Location: Harbourside, Canons Road - Bristol
Reason for Visit: Special pre-opening night taster for local businesses of which The Boy and I attended on behalf of the all important business of food blogging!

Stepping around the last of the workmen and into the sublime foyer of Za Za Bazaar, it became instantly clear that although the aesthetics of the space had been glitteringly perfected, the practicalities had not yet followed suit. However, despite learning of last-minute difficulties with the door locking system and hearing, throughout the course of the evening, various alarms cut through the globally-inspired soundtrack overhead, (not to mention witnessing the comings and goings of a number of hi-vis clad bodies from the lofty heights of our intimately placed table-for-two), this only momentarily punctuated the overall buzz of the venue's successful night-market concept (and the sense of culinary adventure that it brought about) with a collective awareness of first-night jitters.

Arriving a little shy of our seven-till-nine time slot, The Boy and I were initially shown through to the downstairs bar, delighting in its spacious, ambient feel. Tastefully decorated with equal measures of opulence and quirk as well as channelling elements of far-off lands, pastel-coloured paper lanterns, hang in clusters and a mosaic of cut-out z-shapes reinforce the venue's branding whilst drawing one's attention upwards! Not for long though as the bronze shine of the bar gleams from its central focal point. Here, the polished performance of the resident mixologists more than made up for any of the technical hiccups that we perceived thus far as, both friendly and knowledgeable, The Boy and I were expertly directed towards beverages suited to our particular preferences; he, a Singha Thai beer (£3.95) at 5% with a decidedly crisp bite and I, a Twisted French Martini (£5.95), a sweet and tart aggregation of Stoli vodka, raspberry, vanilla and fresh pineapple. Whilst we're on the subject of cocktails, there is a phenomenal line-up including those tried-and tested classics as well as a range inspired by four of the seven continents; America, Europe, Antarctica and Asia – of the latter, the Masala Mojito especially appealed with its mix of Mount Gay rum and bitters with fresh mint – lovely, (especially given the Happy Hour deal which runs from 5-7pm, Monday to Friday!) Besides this and perhaps expected of a venue incensed by world-wide stimulus, there is an extensive range of beers, wines and spirits on offer including varieties seldom available elsewhere. Furthermore, whilst sipping at my pungently prepared concoction, I studied the menu of bar food – with small plates and sharers as well as a lunch menu, sandwiches and the fantastic and filling range for those with a more hearty appetite, there is certainly something to suit each and every want which is, in fact, undoubtedly the over-arching ethos of this establishment.
Later, making our way upstairs to the restaurant and lining up to be seated warranted our first glimpse of the seven shiny stations (namely, Indian, European, Tex Mex, Far East, Salads, Desserts and, of course, the Bar) – all of which sported neon signs, promoting that street-food, help-yourself vibe and most importantly, attracting diners to sample its wares. The Boy and I reasoned that it would be wise to visit the furthest culinary cube from where we sat in the first instance and so, began our foodie foray at the Indian cuisine, finding an authentically spiced and delicately fragrant collection of dishes including Butter Chicken, Goan Fish Curry and Lamb Rogan Josh. Plus, with an amazing scope of starters and sides - including Dosa, freshly baked flat-breads and Tandoori Aloo,we were spoiled for choice and could have easily maxed-out our appetites at this station alone. However, a little self-discipline allowed us to move on to the European selection whereby The Boy commented that the Piri Piri chicken was the highlight of the evening for him without question. Here, I opted to bypass the Great British classics as although I appreciated the novelty of fish, chips and mushy peas, I considered it too heavy an option for a endeavour of this kind. Furthermore, the pizza, although flavoursome, proved a little limp in texture – the meat feast in particular lost its topping as soon as it was lifted from the plate! Onto the Tex Mex pod and the burger bar which proved an unquestionable hit with its seeded wholemeal buns, vast range of fresh fillings and succulent home-made beef patties which, incidentally, are cooked specifically to your taste. The burritos and fajitas are also made to order and given that the one-off dining price is so reasonable (see details below), I would visit for this section alone. To compliment this particular fare, we found tacos and nachos (of both regular and tomato/paprika varieties) which can be topped with a range of beans and chillis. The Chilli Con Carne was a winner for me, embodying the perfect balance of rich meat and tomato alongside the warmth of sweet chilli and an exotic aroma constituted by a combination of spices. My full stomach prevented too thorough an inspection of the Far East pod but The Boy commented that the noodles which were prepared at his request, were a tad on the soggy side. I must admit that the salad and sushi were also rather neglected on this occasion but unable to resist, The Boy just had to check out the quality of the hummus which he concluded was a little thin but well seasoned and encompassing that distinctively home-made coarseness. At this point, my dessert stomach came into play and arming myself with a plate, filled it with a variety of macaroons (some more accurately executed than others), the girliest cupcake I could find (from a huge selection presented over three tiers) and a range of bite-sized desserts; Tiramisu, Panna Cotta and Crème Brûlée to name but a few. Pleased with my selection, less the Crème Brûlée which disappointingly lacked its characteristically crunchy topping, I noted that I could have also chosen to partake in the delights of a chocolate fountain, healthily opted for fresh fruit or even helped myself to a 'Mr Whippy' ice cream cornet which, topped with hundreds and thousands, was nothing less than the real deal! An array of Indian desserts completed the bill; the Rasmali (Saffron scented milk balls flavoured with pistachio) particularly appealed but alas, I simply couldn't eat another thing!
Cupcake Heaven!
Macaroon Madness!

In conclusion, Za Za Bazaar is clearly an ambitious venture and yet, in the grand tradition of the all-you-can-eat buffet, it knocks spots off the aforementioned alternatives. International chef Nitin Bhatnagar and his talented workforce clearly strive to ensure that the notorious quality versus quantity debate remains dormant given the calibre of the chefs that have been appointed and the fierce attention to detail that exists at every turn – the success of these efforts derive a distinct lack of the hit and miss culture which can typically be associated with the quality of the ingredients used in an establishment of this kind. Sure, there will always remain dishes that are not quite to one's taste but for that reason only and not because they have been poorly cooked or would be better placed on an Iceland Party Platter! In my opinion though, there are a handful of concerns which I hope will addressed in due course – firstly, I feel that the size of the venue could prove as much of a hindrance as it is its unique-selling-point. It's all very well to allow for a capacity of over 700 diners and yet, with a full-house, the traffic generated at each station would surely prove chaotic and unpleasant - nothing that a little crowd control couldn’t fix however! In addition to this, the simple logistics of travelling from the furthest pod back to your seat with an un-warmed plate of food will inevitably result in a less-than-perfect dining experience (especially in terms of certain dishes, Fajitas for instance, which should be sizzling upon serving). Most colossally though, the lack of information for nut allergy sufferers (of which The Boy qualifies) is most certainly an issue - although the labels (albeit more often than not incorrectly positioned) signify vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, they exclude this rather more life-threatening condition! As a result, The Boy had to ask at each canteen which dishes would be safe for him to indulge in without being caused any significant damage – luckily, the accommodating staff were more-than-happy to oblige but, I feel, adding this information to the description of each dish (and ensuring that they are in the right place) would be preferable for complete peace of mind. I will definitely return to this venue, the service is faultless and the quality, and diversity, of the fare is indubitably top-notch. As my review reflects, there is infinite choice and far too much to appreciate during a single visit – thus, I am already planning my second....and third visit....in order to gain the utmost from the Za Za Bazaar experience!
And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Za Za Bazaar a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described it as, 'best buffet experience'.

Lunch buffet - £6.99 Monday-Friday and £9.99 Saturday and Sunday
Evening buffet - £12.99 Monday to Thursday and £15.99 Friday to Sunday

Friday, 25 November 2011

Le Parisien Café and Restaurant – Milsom Place, Bath

Before committing to embark on my first Christmas shopping trip of the season, I thought it best to sit and gather my thoughts over a spot of breakfast and when in Bath, where better to seek an aspect of calm amidst the hubbub of city centre than Le Parisien Café and Restaurant; a stylish venue with a distinctively continental ambiance...

Date and Time: Sunday 20th November 2011, 10:15
Name of Establishment: Le Parisien Café and Restaurant*
Location: Milsom Place*, Bath
Reason for Visit: Momentary solace from the rush of the weekend (and Christmas) shopping experience!

Situated in the prestigious Milsom Place complex, Le Parisien lends to the vicinity an air of independence given that its neighbouring eateries include top-end chains; YO! Sushi, Jamie's Italian and Côte Brasserie. The cobbled exterior courtyard which leads to a two-storey café-come-restaurant with a firm focus on all things 'le français', certainly draws in a dedicated clientele; no doubt those wishing to partake in the popular street-side café culture or in other words, watching the world go by from behind the rim of one's coffee cup. Consequently, the outside space, sheltered from the elements with burgundy awning, is rather better attended than the restaurant itself which I feel is a little dated in terms of its décor and perhaps does not reflect the appeal of this venue to the best of its ability. That said, it is perfectly comfortable and a lot more spacious than anticipated upon first glance.

However, I too chose to sit outside and, settling into a wicker chair beneath one of the sporadically placed heat lamps, took in my surroundings whereby rows of marbled table-tops gleamed under the morning sunlight and flurries of people flitted past; some opting to stay awhile whilst others moseyed on to the High Street beyond. The finishing touches make this an aesthetically pleasing space; the servers have been crisply attired and miniature salt and pepper shakers adorn each table alongside napkins – burgundy to adhere to the colour-scheme and intricately folded into ceramic containers, (an arrangement instantly destroyed however once one is removed!) Sipping at a skinny latte and delighting in its well-prepared potency, I will note here that service is efficient and quick yet not particularly friendly – a factor which made conversation seem ever-so-slightly mechanical and the particulars of one’s order left, for the large part, unacknowledged. For the record, I had to ask twice for skimmed milk and my question regarding the size of the coffee cups (whereby small basically denotes an espresso) was met with little more than a bemused expression. There is no denying the quality of the fare however as my Almond and Cherry Danish was just divine. Topped with nibbled almonds and a dusting of icing sugar, the fresh, flaky pastry was of a melt-in-the-mouth consistency and had been packed with an ample measure of bitter-sweet cheery purée. Of course, I could have chosen to invest in a full English Breakfast which, in my opinion, constituted the only low point in terms of the breakfast menu and yet, I was satisfied with what I had chosen – my selection proving tasty and filling despite its simplicity.

When it came to the lunch menu however, authenticity seemed to have been somewhat restored given the array of temptingly French options which included a cheese and charcuterie plate (£8.50), Croque Monsieur (£7.95) and Madame (£8.50) as well as a selection of freshly-filled baguettes. Of the hot plates, the Mussels Mariniere (£7.95) proved particularly appealing with the promise of a creamy garlic and white wine sauce in addition to an accompaniment of crusty rustic bread – yum! Furthermore, at what I considered a rather reasonable price and in light of the venue's alcohol licence, this dish could be perfectly coupled with a crisp glass of Chardonnay!

In conclusion, a predominantly chic café/restaurant set within well-established surroundings – surroundings which incidentally, seem rather well matched to the classical flair that Le Parisien clearly aspires to. The occasional strands of peculiarity however are undeniable; dishes, for instance, which have been haphazardly thrown into to the mix, (perhaps to accommodate Bath's tourist presence). Although I did not sample the full English breakfast and therefore cannot comment on the quality (or origins) of its ingredients, I would suggest that remaining mindful of its intended identity would fare better for this venue than offering a fry-up and thus, adhering to a notion of English-ness that here, sticks out like a sore thumb! Can I be so bold as to suggest freshly-prepared crêpes with seasonal berries as a suitable alternative? On the other hand, this was a perfectly pleasant spot to spend an hour or so and it's fair to say the character and poise of this venue all but won me over – I can sidestep the frosty nature of the service as ironically, it encompassed elements of that stand-offish French vibe that I happen to find amusing. It is simply the removal of those unnecessary crowd-pleasers that will tighten this venue's individuality and set it apart from the numerous chain restaurants in its midst.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Bravas Supper Club Experience

Following a fantastic evening at the Bishopston Supper Club a Month or so previously, I was eager to indulge in another culinary foray of this kind; taking my love of top-notch nosh away from the familiarity of the restaurant setting. Cue the Bravas Supper Club whereby Spanish cuisine takes centre stage...what's more, with my lovely mum's birthday just days away, this was the perfect opportunity to avoid the tried and tested chocolate and perfume double act in favour for an experience a lot less predictable and perhaps one which would even secure some serious brownie points...! 

Date and Time: Thursday 17th November 2011 19:30 for 20:00
Name of Event: Bravas Supper Club*
Location: The lovely harbourside home of Kieran and Imogen Waite
Reason for participation: An edible escapade in line with pre-Birthday celebrations.

Tentatively descending the candlelit stone steps to the basement of the Bravas host's classically stylish riverside pad, mum and I were warmly greeted and shown to our table for two. With tables intimately arranged to separately accommodate each party, I was initially concerned that some of the atmosphere would be lost given that interaction with other supper club attendees did not appear to be part of the etiquette and so, meeting new foodie faces wasn't explicitly on the cards. That said, the interactive nature of the fare, whereby you share no less than ten tapas-style dishes with your dining companion(s) over the course of the evening, compensated somewhat for any intermingling lost as a result of the seating arrangements which, as it happened, were not too dissimilar to that of a restaurant after all. That is, until you catch a glimpse of the action unfolding in the kitchen and at once stand reminded of the undeniable fact that diners have been welcomed (like guests at a dinner party) into the home of this dynamic duo; Kieran, an 'event organiser and well-seasoned host' and Imogen, a talented chef who has mastered her trade amidst some of Bristol's top kitchens. Furthermore, this was a dwelling for which we had only received directions the evening beforehand via an informal yet duly enlightening telephone call; just one of the aspects of an event of this kind which builds on the intrigue and lends an air of exclusivity to the proceedings.

Onto the food and having whetted our appetites with the timely publication of the menu online, the arrival of the appetiser was rather well received; marinated olives and pimention toasted almonds alongside an aperitif of an Averys* Bristol Fashion Amontillado from Jerez (medium-dry sherry to you and me). This instantly set the bar in regards to the calibre of the cuisine and yet, it became apparent that each earthenware vessel set before us thereafter would contain courses of equal impressiveness. From the simplistic yet beautifully executed grilled hake with lemon to the phenomenally flavoursome seared acorn fed pork and rich, meaty offerings of the spiced sausage as well as the oxtail braised in red wine, the range of dishes ultimately encompassed a variety of contrasting tastes and textures yet each fittingly Mediterranean in terms of their composition. The bring-your-own beverage policy (as well as a list of suggested wine matches for the evening) led mum and I to the Sangre de Toro 2009 – a soft and juicy red that seemed to compliment the lighter dishes in particular; for instance, the Beetroot, Pomegranate and Herb salad with its appealing rainbow-effect presentation and fresh, palate-cleansing qualities. To end the evening; a sweet board on which stood two dainty glasses of dessert wine – a Bodega Lustau Pedro Ximenez (also from Jerez) - of which the birthday girl was treated to a cheeky top-up! This indulgent tipple, channelling sweet velvety aromas of fig and raison, had been perfectly coupled with the bite-sized morsels which constituted this course; slices of manchego cheese, two varieties of quince, juicy dates and individual salted chocolate tarts – just divine!
Oxtail Braised in Red Wine with Salted Potato Crisps
In conclusion, another unmissable supper club experience and albeit rather different from the first, I loved what Bravas had brought to the table (ahem)! Despite forgoing a sense of communal foodie-related appreciation (which, to be fair, is not everyone's cup of tea) for a dinner-date with your nearest and dearest, the concept of offering a tantalising line-up of small sharer dishes is suitably genius, (not to mention a snip for a suggested donation of £20-£25). In my opinion it significantly reduces the primary supper club anxiety of committing to dine blindly or, in other words, worrying that one of the courses will not appeal to your palate. Whereas elsewhere this could potentially alienate a quarter of the evening's offerings, the nature of the Bravas menu ensures that you still have a further nine dishes to delight in if one does not especially suit, (incidentally, it was the Radicchio for me which, quite simply, is not to my taste). Overall though, the sheer dedication involved in plating ten different dishes is a triumph in itself, as too is the friendly and laid-back ambiance which is so effortlessly achieved – my thanks go out to Kieran and Imogen for a truly fantastic supper – I certainly can't wait for the next installment...hasta luego!

And now for that all-important second opinion...
Mum gave the Bravas Supper Club 10/10 and in three words described her evening as a 'really special experience'.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Bluebasil Gourmet Brownies – The Christmas Collection

Upon being invited to sample and review Bluebasil Brownies’ Christmas collection, I was really rather excited – after all, who wouldn’t want to receive a beautifully packaged assortment of lovingly made brownies to enjoy in the comfort of their own abode?! Furthermore, as a person who has been referred to (in the workplace no less) as the ambassador of Christmas, combining my love of chocolate with an element of the festive season was doubly appealing. As I'm sure you can imagine, I had a multitude of volunteers when it came to enlisting the help of a companion for that all-important second opinion and of course, I did consider snaffling them all myself – the notion of a-brownie-a-day until the box was empty proving somewhat alluring. Yet, given that we were just days away from the onset of advent, I couldn’t have possibly left The Boy out of the proceedings…besides, this is the time of year when we’re supposed to share with our loved ones; presents, a tipple or two, festive joy and…erm…chocolate apparently!!

Located in the North Cotswolds and founded by self-confessed local-food lover Nikki Taylor, Bluebasil has been producing and posting batches of their dreamily decadent brownies for well over a year now. Winning gold in the Great Taste Awards 2011 for their cardamom brownie is clearly testament to the quality of the ingredients sourced and the passion channelled through good honest baking…baking as it should be with butter from a local farm and organic Cotswold flour and eggs. Consequently, hard-work and dedication to one's craft amounts to a gift (for yourself or a loved one and in light of any occasion) which has that personal touch and really ignites a sense of unveiling something special – well, that was certainly the sentiment I experienced when I untied the neat ribbon and un-boxed what can only be described as a weighty wall of brownies; excitedly revealing them from within layers of delicate tissue and paper straw. As for the limited edition Christmassy flavours – they were as follows (listed in order of consumption!):

Dark Orange and Ginger – Cleverly coupling ‘Divine's' Orange and Ginger dark chocolate with fresh ginger and candied orange, this brownie felt decidedly grown-up – not too sweet and fairly subtle in terms of its arrangement, that is, until the spicy notes of the ginger packs in its punch! This was The Boy’s favourite and before I knew it, both sizeable squares of this particular brownie had disappeared!
Tiramisu –Unmistakably a ‘dessert brownie’, especially from the fridge (which incidentally is where all varieties should be stored for best results), the layered tiramisu effect was true to form whereby cool mascarpone had been folded between hoards of gooey chocolate. The roasted coffee aroma and dusting of cocoa powder balanced the overall flavour so not to make this too sickly a combination and the modest brandy content, (although a little too modest for my palate) gave the after-taste an ever-so-slightly boozy edge! Yum!
Coffee and Irish Cream – Whenever I visit my Grandad during the festive season (or at any other time for that matter) he insists on a mid-morning tipple of coffee laced with Baileys. Biting into this brownie captured an aspect of that nostalgic indulgence as well as a comforting warmth that is just perfect for this time of year. Intensely creamy, this is probably the heaviest of the collection but let me assure you that this is not to its detriment – you may just have to enjoy half at a time!
Classic Chunky chocolate – Focussing on the main attraction, this was a chocolate-lover’s dream – richly flavoured, densely textured and created with fine 70% European chocolate and ‘Divine’ chocolate chunks to constitute a hard-core chocolate hit! I’ve discovered via my ongoing chocolate appreciation that brownies can differ significantly in terms of their composition and Bluebasil’s are fudgy and smooth rather than cakey which gives them, in my opinion, that extra je ne sais quoi! I loved that this brownie also has a gluten-free counterpart so those having to adhere to a specific diet can still delight in the choc-fest!
Rudolph’s Rumnut – This brownie was saved until last as the ingredients list provided warned of nuts which meant that the allergic Boy could not partake, (shame?!) True to its word, a generous scattering of nibbled brazil nuts topped this brownie which had been packed with juicy fruit and a mixture of spices – cinnamon, fennel and nutmeg to name but a few! This brownie's most notable characteristic however was its somewhat alcoholic quality giving it a similar flavour to that festive favourite – Christmas Pudding (yet with the texture of a rum truffle if you will)! One to be warmed through and served with a dollop of crème fraiche perhaps?!

In conclusion, a fantastic gift idea for the foodies (and chocoholics) in your life – not only are Bluebasil Brownies thoughtfully packaged in boxes of either 9 (£14.50), 12 (£17.50) or 16 (£21.50) – with functionality and frills in equal measures - they are quite simply, delicious! In addition to this, shunning the hustle of the High Street in favour of efficient online service and avoiding the wrapping paper and sticky-tape dance by allowing for Bluebasil’s packaging and personalised greeting combo must surely be plus points in any Christmas-shopper’s book! Thus, if you’re reading this and wondering what to get me for Christmas, forget the usual musical snowman socks or chocolate-scented bath salts (true story!) and instead, say it with brownies!

To Note: Order your Christmas brownies before the end of November and receive a discount of 15% with the following code – 15XMAS11