February 2017 marks the sixth 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!

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Picture House Experience, Whiteladies Road

Catching up with my BFF (Best Foodie Friend) usually occurs whilst tucking into something tasty and we hoped that this occasion would be no exception as we had arranged to meet at the re-located restaurant of Bristol's established 'Picture House' - the aptly named 'Picture House East'. I had passed this venue many times and as I had been advised to try out their set lunch menu which consists of two courses and a drink (or three courses) for £10, we decided to give it a go - especially as neither the BFF nor I had previously visited and craved variety in our foodie repertoire!

Date and Time: 19th March 2011, 14:30
Name of Establishment: Picture House East
Location: 85 Whiteladies Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Catch-up and nosh-up with the BFF

Despite being well past the luncheon hour, Picture House East (PHE) was buzzing with couples, groups and families, most sitting on the sun terrace in the March sunshine.  As well as the outside area, the restaurant is built over two floors giving it an airy and spacious feel. Inside, a real effort has been made to provide a grand yet comfortable atmosphere. I noted that the space was pristinely clean, art work hung from the walls and tables were adorned with candles and flowers – all features which secured a great first impression.  BFF and I were given the set menu from which we both elected to have the two course option with a drink. It's content was surprisingly varied (set menus can often be rather sparse) and everything sounded inviting but it just so happened that the same two dishes particularly stood out to both BFF and I; Merguez sausages with tomato and flageolet bean stew for main and the chocolate fondant with whipped cream for dessert. With choices made and stomachs rumbling, it was disappointing that the service, although polite, was seriously slow. We had to approach the bar in the end to prompt the staff to visit our table and then, upon ordering, learnt that the kitchen had run out of the chocolate fondant. Initially, we were miffed but the offered alternative of triple-layered chocolate delicé soon made up for it.

Another nudge for service saw the arrival of our bread board and soon after, our drinks. Two plus points here; the 'cloudy lemonade', ordered by the BFF, had been made behind the bar with freshly-squeezed lemons and was reported to be wonderfully zesty and fresh. Secondly, the generous portion of bread we were given (which we were told had been baked on the premises that morning) was delicious. We were treated to three varieties of dense, rich-tasting soda bread presented in alternating chunks and slices; traditional white, a seeded wholemeal batch and my favourite, a green-olive roulade. Butter encrusted with sea-salt made for a perfectly indulgent accompaniment. Our mains were brought out by the chef himself and I noted that they were presented beautifully. I really enjoyed the hearty feel to this dish - the warming spice of the sausages combined with buttery and rich-tomato flavours were offset with the bean's course texture creating, in my opinion, the satisfying familiarity of comfort-food.  A glass of crisp white wine was the perfect accompaniment to this and I was pleased that we had left some bread to mop up the leftover sauce of the stew as the salty-tang of the green olive roulade accented the sunny Mediterranean undertones of this dish perfectly - yum!

Plates cleared and two apologies from the waiting staff later, our desserts arrived. This time, the delay we experienced built a sense of anticipation, anticipation which led to an anti-climax when the chocolate delicé was served. Despite this dish being dreamy in terms of its consistency, gooey in all the right places and topped with crunchy praline pieces, and, with the lingering richness of good-quality dark chocolate, the bite-sized portion we were given was disappointing. A man could have consumed this dessert in two mouthfuls and with my sweet tooth; the chocolate fix was far too momentary!

Overall, I enjoyed my late lunch at PHE; the decor was smart and the furniture comfortable. I think perhaps adding to the staff presence would improve the service and as a result, the ambiance created (it did feel a little disjointed at times during our visit). As for the food, it was all very tasty, carefully prepared and obviously cooked using good-quality ingredients. The dishes we had ordered fit with the ‘fine dining’ ethos as stated on the website but for me, bordered on the concept of 'Nouvelle Cuisine', a concept which, as a lover of decent-sized portions, I tend not to support. Perhaps dining from the A la Carte menu may warrant a different experience, and if you are not strapped for time in any way I encourage you to find out because, after all, PHE did deliver food of an excellent standard - I just wanted more of it!

And now for a second opinion…

BFF gave PHE a rating of 7/10 and when asked to describe the experience overall in three words, chose 'tasty, but slow'.

On to the Old Picture House/Tiki…

After a little post-meal stroll, BFF and I decided to complete our Picture House experience with cocktails at the Old Picture House/Tiki. This is a two-tiered bar on the opposite side of the road to PHE (44 Whiteladies Road to be exact), with a great jungle-come-voodoo theme - think totem poles and bamboo! We opted to sit in the main bar area despite the comfy-looking sofas downstairs due to the loud presence of rugby on the big screen. This bar certainly seemed to be a favourite with Clifton's student population and from the chirpy bar staff (each brightly dressed and finished with a Hawaiian Lei) to the laid-back atmosphere of the venue as a whole, I could see why. The cocktail menu was considerably extensive, boasting a huge range of original combinations as well as giving the classics a welcome twist. Despite only having five cocktails available in the two-for-one 'Happy Hour' offer, the creations we tasted from this list were notably imaginative and of high quality. We started with the Kir Petillant which mixed prosecco with cassis liqueur - a subtle spin on the familiar Kir Royale! This cocktail was served in a champagne glass and had a light, fruity taste - I enjoyed the sensation of the delicate bubbles one would expect from prosecco and it certainly made for a decedent choice.

The arrival of The Boy meant that food was ordered and explains the masculine addition to the image below, (the pint is Bath Ale's Gem if you were wondering). So, as BFF and I ordered our second cocktail from the bamboo-effect menu, the Boy's nachos arrived which were certainly a man-sized portion! They were topped with all the usual suspects, sour cream, melted cheddar and guacamole, with the addition of freshly diced and lightly spiced tomato - all in all this was a very generous (and reportedly tasty) snack for only £4.50. The second cocktail chosen was the girlish-sounding 'Floradora' which blended distilled London gin with raspberry liqueur, ginger ale and freshly-squeezed lime. This combination resulted in a refreshing, lightly-fizzed and fruitful composition which I could have sipped for the rest of the evening!

I will definitely return to Tiki , mainly due to its upbeat vibe and the exciting cocktail menu, (there are certainly a few combinations which I have earmarked to sample in the future).The website* is currently under construction in regards to this half of the Picture House experience but take my word for it, this bar ticks all the boxes. Overall, I feel that offsetting the restaurant was a smart move from the people behind the Picture House enterprise and the contrasting venues provided me and the BFF with an afternoon of fun and food-related delight!

* http://www.thepicturehouse.eu/

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Boy's Breakfast - Castellano's, Fishponds-Bristol

The Boy's Breakfast - at Castellano's (Deli-Charcuterie-Traiteur) Fishponds, Bristol

As my favourite place to eat and buy high quality produce in Bristol, there is so much I can say about Castellano's and I fully intend to share my thoughts with you in a full review. But for now, I'm going to give The Boy an opportunity to deviate from his 3-word limit and share his experiences of this venue in regards to his usual breakfast which is known as the 'Life-changing Sandwich'…
Castellano's Life-changing Sandwich…

Right so, anybody who's a fan of breakfast fry-ups, bacon sarnies and the like will understand how satisfying these meaty breakfast foods can be. A good breakfast can set you up for the day but rarely puts the kind of smile on your face that the indulgent piggy-related option does…I'm talking sausage, bacon and egg. Now, I know that it's not exactly gourmet food but it's timeless and there is only one place in all of Bristol I'm willing to eat this combination. It's only really a partial exaggeration that the sandwich is life-changing, saying that, it has been known to leave me speechless and besides, once you've had the best, why eat the rest?!

It's quality that stands out here, sausage and bacon that taste and smell as if they were cooked on the whole pig then sliced off. None of this slimy, anaemic, water-injected multi-pack crap that you often find in supermarkets and greasy-spoons. And let me get this straight, eggs are a big deal and if you've ever had a 'true' Free Range egg without a date code lasered on to it and/or laid that day, you'll know what I'm on about. The eggs in this amazing sandwich have smouldering sunset-orange yolks with rich, white protein coats. Finally, and it's not to everyones taste but be brave, onion marmalade is the way forward to finish this sandwich - the day I added it to the above ingredients, ketchup packed it's bags and left town for good!

So go on and at least once a week, step boldly into Castellano's and ask with your head held high for the life-changing sandwich, the excellent staff will know exactly what you mean!

By the way, I hope you're sitting down for this...

Note that this can be made in a number of ways - it doesn't have to be the size of your face!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Slug and Lettuce, Corn Street, Bristol

Often frequented by Bristol's younger drinking crowd, the 'Slug and Lettuce' has historically been a venue I would have associated with messy student nights-out, promotionally-priced alco-pops and cheesy chips! However, I had been informed that the 'Slug' had recently turned over a new (ahem…lettuce) leaf with an aim to widen its appeal and so, in the name of fairness, nostalgia and the lure of a two-for-one cocktail offer, I decided to find out for myself!

Date and Time: 8th March 2011, 18:00 approx.
Name of Establishment: 'The Slug and Lettuce'/''Slug''*
Location: 26-28 St. Nicholas Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Investigation of Slug's revamped image

My first surprise upon entering the Slug and Lettuce was the welcoming reception by the bar staff who both, ushered my friend and I to vacant seats, and informed us that he would be back to take our order shortly. My negative preconceptions of this venue were instantly dispersed by the promise of polite table service - I was impressed. Before deciding that we were hungry enough for food, mojitos were ordered from the extensive cocktail menu. Mojitos are notoriously difficult to perfect and I have sipped many a disappointing creation. Fortunately, Slug’s version was a pretty good attempt – satisfyingly zesty with a good measure of Bacardi with fresh mint stirred through crushed ice. In fact, the only missing ingredient was a sprinkle of brown sugar which gives this cocktail that familiar rich-tasting crunch. That aside, I enjoyed my mojito and was already lining up my next cocktail choice – at roughly £6 each and on a buy-one-get-one-free deal, it would be rude to stop at one!

By this stage, my friend and I were starting to eye up the food menu which constituted an array of choice: pub-grub favourites, pasta and rice dishes, tostadas, sandwiches and wraps. There was even a two-for-one dessert menu, an offer advertised to be available all day every day - a concept all too tempting for my sweet tooth. There was almost too much choice but I finally settled on the Char-Grilled chicken and mozzarella tostada which was melted with cheddar, red pepper tapenade, tomato and grana padano cheese shavings. My friend opted for chicken souvlaki which was served on skewers with red onion and peppers. The skewers were served with humous, a cucumber and mint dressing as well as a flatbread to wrap. Both dishes sounded a lot more complicated than they appeared on the plate but portions were generous and looked appetising. My tostada was basically a thin flat-bread adorned with pizza-like toppings - I particularly enjoyed the melted mozzarella but thought that the addition of cheddar was unnecessary. The chicken was not too dry but didn't taste hugely char-grilled, yet I enjoyed my meal and thought that for £7.95, it was acceptable. My friend reported that, with tender marinated chicken, char-boiled peppers and humous tinged with garlic, her dish was a light and tasty choice and again, a snip at  £6.95.

Back to the cocktail mission and I had decided to try out Slug’s take on the classic Cosmopolitan whereas my friend had ordered a ‘Bombay Breeze’ which had proved a tempting entity of the menu’s ‘gin’ section, (FYI, the majority of cocktails are listed under headings relating to its base spirit; either vodka, rum, gin or whisky). This cocktail was certainly the favourite of the evening – wonderfully pink in colour and deliciously fruity due to the strawberry purée and squeezed lime juice yet with a surprisingly strong kick of ‘Bombay Sapphire’ gin - yum! Overall, I was impressed that despite the low prices, care had obviously been taken with the preparation of our drinks, their presentation had been considered and measures had certainly not been scrimped upon.
So, the Slug had gone up in my estimations and I felt a little bad that my preconceived view of this venue had been a little harsh. However, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the level of service and quality of the food/drink we had received would be in any way hindered by the Friday and Saturday night masses. I hoped not but then, it wouldn’t stop me visiting for a spot of lunch with The Boy or an early-evening cocktail (or two) with the girls – after all, my messy, student bar-hopping days are over, and perhaps Bristol’s revamped Slug and Lettuce is also moving away from being a part of this culture. With a relaxed atmosphere, comfortable seating, value for money and food and drink menus to cater for all tastes, this venue, in my opinion, has successfully widened its appeal although perhaps in trying too hard, has lost its sense of identity somewhat. I couldn't work out whether mixing drink promotions and pub-grub from Slug's former existence with the introduction of table service and barman tipping worked - give Slug a visit and see what you think! 

And now for a second opinion (The Boy was not not present on this occasion)...

My friend gave the 'Slug and Lettuce' a rating of 8/10 and when asked to describe the venue in three words chose: cheap, cheerful and quick!


Monday, 7 March 2011

Swinky's Sweets, Park Street, Bristol

At the beginning of my first post, I alluded to ‘my regular haunts’ and since discovering Swinky’s Sweets shortly after it opened on Park Street in February 2010, it has become my favourite place to visit when only a serious sugar hit will do!

Date and Time – 2nd March 2011, 12:00 noon
Name of Establishment – Swinky’s Sweets/Swinky’s
Location – 20 Park Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit – The end of a daunting, chocolate-free February

Everything about Swinky’s is colourful, fun and scrumptiously sweet!  From the pastel-striped furniture to the rows of candy-laden jars on shelves opposite the counter, it really encourages the notion of being a wide-eyed child in a sweet shop! I had been particularly looking forward to this visit as it would function as my reward for a charity-driven chocolate-free February and, as usual, I left Swinky’s suitably satisfied and clutching a paper bag of treats to take home.

I’ve sampled a large range of the goodies on offer at Swinky’s (for research purposes of course!) and enjoyed velvety home-made ice cream in an array of flavours (lemon curd is especially decadent), freshly baked bread spread with authentic ‘Skippy’s’ peanut butter and the main attraction – a collection of cupcakes which feature a number of imaginative creations – ‘Blue Bubblegum’, ‘Marvellous Mint’, ‘Earl Grey’ and ‘White Chocolate and Horseradish’ (the Boy’s favourite) just to name a few.  However, this time, my heart was set on the seasonal special – the ‘Creme Egg Cupcake’ which looked almost too spectacular to destroy!

I find that it’s rare to find a cupcake that tastes as good as it looks but Swinkys’ certainly do. In this case, the sponge was light in texture and a rich chocolaty colour. The sweet vanilla frosting was sprinkled with dark chocolate flakes and topped with a cracked Cadbury’s Creme Egg – heaven and for less than a couple of quid! To wash it down I chose a latte but for the sweeter tooth I can recommend the ‘Milky Way’ which consists of creamy hot chocolate with a generous scoop of American marshmallow ‘fluff’.

It wasn’t just the sugar high that had me planning my next visit to Swinky’s before I’d even left. There is a lovely atmosphere which is largely created by the staff who are friendly, smiley and certainly seem to believe the café’s motto that ‘life is sweet’. I would suggest that even if you do not find this to be the case, visiting Swinky’s will certainly help to make it so!

By the way, in case you were wondering, my takeaway treats comprised some rose-flavoured fudge, caramel ripple marshmallows (wonderfully gooey) and a simnel scrumble which, made up of all the left-over cakes at the end of the day, has a rich truffle-like consistency – chocolaty and moreish.

And now for the male opinion…

‘The Boy’ gave Swinky’s a rating of  9.5/10 and when asked to describe it in 3 words chose 'Superb, Sugary Shop!'


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Coal Bar and Grill, Cabot Circus, Bristol

As the self-appointed social secretary of my workplace, it's my job to arrange nights out for the team. A large group of diners can sometimes reduce the number of appropriate venues due to personal taste but tonight's choice, 'Coal Grill and Bar', seemed to tick everyone's boxes.

Date and Time: 28th February 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Coal Grill and Bar*
Location: Cabot Circus (top floor), Bristol
Reason for Visit: Meal with work colleagues

Located in the midst of a number of chain restaurants within the Cabot Circus complex, I wondered what could set Coal apart from other such favourites as Bella Italia, La Tasca and Giraffe considering that they are practically door-to-door from each other. In response to this, I would suggest that the defining feature of Coal is the grown-up atmosphere which is created by a number of things including intimate table arrangements and low-lighting as well as an extensive food menu featuring a wide range of dishes to suit, in my opinion, a largely adult palate. I also noticed that there was a tempting list of cocktails including all the favourites (in addition to a couple of original creations) that I certainly would have indulged in if it hadn't had been a 'school-night'!

After purchasing our drinks at the bar, (which the group agreed were a tad on the pricey side) we were seated in a booth which although was a little cramped, felt comfortable. Due to the lure of the dessert menu, no one opted to have a starter on this occasion so we were pleased that our main courses were served in good time after ordering. I chose the 'House Pizza' which consisted of a thin and crunchy base generously topped with chicken, both black and green olives, parma ham and enough rocket to comprise a side-salad! I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients, a sentiment echoed by others at the table who had ordered such dishes as the 'coal burger', seared tuna loin and pork medallions, the latter two being accompanied by a choice of potato, (creamed mash, chips, gratin or sauté potatoes). The gratin in particular looked lovely - creamy and cheesy with a rich yellow colour. Other noted plus points were how hot the food was upon serving, the relaxed service and the cleanliness of the facilities! Minor gripes however, were the compulsory 12.5% service charge (when we thought that the standard 10% charge was ample) and the fact that some of the dishes had an unexpected spicy edge to them which although was acceptable to those who had ordered them, should perhaps be better advertised on the menu.

Moving on and as a table of predominantly women, it was no surprise that the dessert menu was eagerly anticipated. In fact, six out of the seven of us ordered a sweet and it was agreed that each dish was beautifully presented. I chose to have the sticky toffee pudding which was served on a square plate made of red glass and decorated with berries and drizzle. The pudding itself was a lovely texture, not too heavy and wonderfully rich in flavour. The only thing that let it down was that the ice cream was overly frozen in places but despite this, I managed to clear my plate! However, I think if I could have rewound the evening I would have chosen the Baileys Crème Brûlée which looked seriously decadent.

Overall, I enjoyed my evening at Coal - I believe that it poses some stiff competition to the other chain restaurants in the vicinity and I would certainly choose it over some of the other more family-packed venues on offer. Saying that, with the knowledge that Severnshed restaurant* is part of the Coal family and having dined there in the past, I think I would be more inclined to choose to go there considering the top quality experience I had - in fact writing a comparative review might give me just the excuse!

And now for the male opinion (I asked my boss to fill in for the absence of 'The Boy' on this occasion)...

'The Boss' gave Coal a rating of 8/10 and when asked to describe it in 3 words, chose 'definitely worth visiting'.