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!

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Door 34 Cocktail Bar - Bath

Never one to turn down the opportunity to check out a new cocktail bar, I jumped at the chance to attend the launch of ‘Door 34’, a funky new venue situated a stones-throw away from the Theatre Royal in Bath, Bristol’s picturesque neighbouring City…

Date and Time: Wednesday 29th June 2011, 18:00
Name of Establishment: Door 34
Location: 34 Monmouth Street, Bath
Reason for Visit: Launch Night Invite

Fronted by award-winning cocktail shakers, Craig Edney and Andy Walsh, Door 34 provides a sophisticated watering-hole for the discerning drinker. Though openly targeting an adult audience and in a prime location for a pre-theatre tipple or two, I wondered how this intimately arranged space would also cope with Bath’s huge student presence – not to say that the younger clientèle will shun their beloved Vodka Revolution Bar for a classier alternative but what is essentially a pretty small space could become overrun with students at the height of ‘term-time’. 

Musings aside and back to the evening at hand. I noted that Door 34, had an eclectic buzz which was both inviting and engaging. Besides a plastered unicorn head which became quite a talking point as the evening progressed, the bar itself is effortlessly stylish, the focus resting firmly on the quality of the cocktails which are well-measured and knowledgeably prepared to say the least. I started with a ‘Mary Pickford’ which combined Pampero Añejo rum with pineapple juice, a dash of Luxardo, lime and finished with Maraschino and a ‘bar-spoon’ of grenadine. A complicated arrangement I’m sure you’ll agree but the outcome was a wonderfully contrasting bitter-sweet concoction which was hugely refreshing on such a warm evening. The Boy opted for the ‘Bees Knees’ which muddled Tanqueray gin with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and runny honey – a lot more simplistic in terms of its make-up but equally as delicious! It’s worth noting at this point how reasonable the price tags are (cocktails averaging six to seven pounds each). I thought that, given the bar’s central-location, the somewhat elite range of available liquors as well as on-hand expertise, that the damage to one’s pocket would have been a lot worse! Quite the contrary and a great excuse to stay for a second round…

Unicorn walks into a bar - why the long face?!

Next up, the Mojito drink-off – I ordered the classic version and The Boy upped his game and chose the ‘Ultimate Mojito’ which, enhanced with 23-year-old dark rum, was by far the highlight of the evening for him. In fact, both drinks had been prepared with a real attention to detail - even the mint had been specifically selected to balance the flavours of this signature cocktail.
Mojito Magic
For my final drink of the evening (indulging in a third purely for research purposes) I let the experts guide me towards a Raspberry Martini with a (Tanqueray) gin twist. I loved the fruity sweetness and the delicate foamed finished in which nestled a single boozy raspberry – just divine! Subsequently, I enjoyed the friendly, unassuming nature of the bar staff who, upon being given a vague brief or a favourite base-line spirit, could conjure up something spectacular. There really were no pretensions nor were you made to feel daft for asking for something off the beaten track – as per the bar's ethos, the focus remains on accommodating individual taste and simply, creating 'good drinks and 'good times'.
Raspberry Martini...with a gin twist
Canapés were served courtesy of Theresa Faggetter of ‘Nibbled Catering’,* constituting a lovely array of top-notch titbits. The Boy made it his mission to try them all and concluded that the blinis were the best he had tasted and the asparagus spears wrapped with parmesan-sprinkled parma ham were very tasty with flavours that married together perfectly. Although well-received at the launch, Door 34 would be wise to offer accompanying nibbles as standard in order to soak up the (very generous) alcohol content of the venue’s beverage-list!
Canapé Creations
With its funky vibe and balanced appeal, I see this bar moving from strength to strength as its reputation for high-quality, no-nonsense cocktail creation disseminates amongst the City’s socialites. I certainly hope so as, for me; Door 34 is definitely a new favourite and a reason to visit Bath more often!

And now for the second opinion…
The Boy gave Door 34 a rating of 9/10 and his three words depict the sole recommendation derived from his experience…‘drink Ultimate Mojito’! Enough said…

* http://www.door34.co.uk/
* http://www.hydromelevents.com
The Door 34 Cocktail Academy also run master-classes and team-building experiences whereby a ‘mixologist’ will take participants through an interactive lesson of how to create their own concoctions. Craig Edney also heads Hydromel, an events company which brings the bar to you – genius!
* www.nibbledcatering.co.uk

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tart After Dark – Tastes of Summer Supper

After the glowing nature of my review regarding the last 'Tart after Dark' evening, it would have been rude not to follow my own advice and book a place at the 'Tastes of Summer' Supper. After all, with the Bristol summertime a wash-out thus far, it seemed only fair that the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I experience some aspect of the season’s perks...and, with a menu promising four sunshine-infused courses, who cares that outside, there were clouds in the sky...!?

Date and Time: Thursday 23rd June 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Tart Café and Foodstore*
Location:16 The Promenade, Gloucester Road-Bristol
Reason for Visit: Tart after Dark Tastes of Summer Supper

Shaking rain from our brolliies, BFF and I were certainly glad to be part of an evening that promised summertime on a plate! And, upon arriving at Tart, it was evident that the team had gone all-out to ensure that the evening’s theme had been adhered to; not only within the menu’s content, but also in the warm greeting we received whilst being shown to our table and the venue’s crisp décor which had been accented with lemon-coloured posies and flickering candlelight. Our table was also within sniffing distance of a huge vase of beautiful lilies which, alongside the tantalising cooking smells wafting through from the kitchen and the jazzy soundtrack overhead, constituted a real treat for one’s senses!

Aperitifs were served; the kick of cider brandy muddled with sweet apple juice made for a wonderfully boozy yet refreshing combination and suitably led to the appetiser – traditional Spanish Gazpacho. I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I would enjoy this course – the thought of what I somewhat naively considered a liquidised salad tended to leave me...well...a little cold! However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Presented in a cappuccino cup and with an appealing reddish appearance, each teaspoon-full of this soup resulted in punchy bursts of flavour; the refreshing zing of tomato against the sweetness of fresh garlic which, textured with egg white and dressed with extra virgin olive oil, cucumber and mixed herbs was simply delicious.
The wine list had again been carefully arranged by Tart’s Gloucester Road neighbours at ‘Grape and Grind’* and although BFF and I chose not to partake on this occasion, there were some notably suitable options available which, supporting the ‘tastes of summer’ ethos featured light and fruity notes.

On to the starter and BFF and I had gone for varying dishes; she, the vegetarian option of Panzenella (an Italian bread salad) and I, the chicken, lemon and basil terrine. BFF reported that she enjoyed the contrasting flavours to her dish; the saltiness of the olives, along with the abundant rocket’s peppery twang, perfectly complimented the sweetness of the roasted peppers. This in turn oozed its flavours through the rustic Italian bread which could have almost been described as giant croutons! On my part, the terrine was chunky and satisfying - wrapped in good-quality parma ham and served with ciabbatta toasts as well as Tart’s home-made piccalilli, (the latter proving the highlight of the dish for me – I must ask for the recipe!). This barely left room for the next two courses but I endeavoured to finish and with ingredients this fresh and tasty, it really was no hardship!


Chicken, Lemon and Basil Terrine

 Main courses were served and BFF had once again opted for the vegetarian course, this time in the form of an individual summer vegetable tart which had been made with the venue's signature short-crust pastry. Although it had become a little soggy on the bottom, the pastry was reportedly top-notch in terms of taste and, packed full of broad beans, peas and spinach with an almost quiche-like finish, was the winner of the evening for her. BFF further noted that with so many eateries falling short of offering meat-free dishes that feel indulgent and fulfilling that it was commendable that Tart had got this spot-on. Subsequently, the size of the portions may have something to do with this as they are ample to say the least – it's almost like being at a friend's for dinner with dishes that are arranged in a way to feed you up and yet, in the prettiest possible way! A fine example of this constituted the organic salmon fillet which was colourfully presented with its pink delicate flakiness folded beneath herbs, capers, lemon zest, butter and flaky pastry. This, against the vibrant green of the accompanying peas and beans, not only looked great but married a host of contrasting textures and tastes with a richly flavoursome result. I think that the only potential rain cloud in an otherwise clear blue sky manifested in the form of the shared new potatoes which I found to be overly firm for my taste.
Summer Vegetable Tart

Organic Salmon Fillet

That said, the pudding was just to die for; Sweet Eve strawberries* (which, derived from the British countryside, are without-a-doubt the sweetest strawberries I have ever tasted), smothered in a decently thick clotted cream and sandwiched between warmed shortcake. Again, beautifully plated and well prepared – I was seriously full by this point but I couldn't bear to leave a single mouthful. We were even given a punnet of strawberries to take away with us which incidentally, I enjoyed with my breakfast the following day.

Sweet Eve Strawberry Shortcake
In conclusion, another fantastic evening spent at Tart; its touch of Parisian chic makes for classy surroundings, with the friendly nature of the staff, you can’t help but feel at home and the food is undoubtedly first-rate. BFF and I left, clutching our doggy-bag of Sweet Eve strawberries, full of the joys of summer. In fact, so much so that I forgot to pick up my umbrella which, in retrospect, was no problem at all as it gave me a great excuse for returning for more tastiness from the Tart kitchen!

And now for the second opinion...
BFF gave the Tart after Dark Tastes of Summer Supper a rating of 9/10 and in three words described her meal as 'simple’, ‘fresh’ and ‘colourful’.

The next ‘Tart after Dark’ is a Southern Italian Supper on Thursday 21st July 2011 
- call 0117 924 7628 to book!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Strada (Cucina Italiana) – Clifton Village, Bristol

Wednesday evening constituted a dinner date with The Boy and, enticed by a two-for-one offer courtesy of VoucherCodes.co.uk*, we chose Strada – the upmarket option when it comes to the popular specialities of 'Cucina Italiana' chain restaurants...

Date and Time: Wednesday 22nd June 2011, 17:30
Name of Establishment: Strada (Cucina Italiana)*
Location: 34 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Mid-week treat/tempting Voucher Codes offer

Gleaming in the heart of Bristol's exclusive Clifton Village, Strada is certainly appealing to the passer-by, which is fortunate as it is situated almost directly opposite rival Italian chain eatery; Zizzi Ristorante. With smart wooden interior throughout, potted plants bordering large-set windows and the deep red/brown colour scheme, the space is stylish and contemporary. An angular furniture arrangement allows for diners to be seated intimately, not to say that the space feels claustrophobic as you can choose a more 'open location', but The Boy and I opted to squeeze into the cosy window alcove at a table just big enough for two – perfect for a romantic date or simply for engaging in a spot of people-watching! Due to arriving early in the evening, there was a lack of buzz from other diners and yet, tinkling jazz provided a pleasant backdrop. Service is prompt and polite and chilled water is brought to the table with the menu which is a plus-point for me (thus avoiding sheepishly requesting tap water whilst handing back the wine list!)

The Boy and I asked to start with the Aglio Schiacciatella (£3.95); hand-stretched pizza bread topped with garlic and rosemary. Unfortunately, our server forgot to add this to our order so it arrived, apologetically and upon second-request, half-way through our main courses. This didn't prove hugely problematic though as it meant that we could suitably accompany our pasta dishes with fresh garlicky aromas and a lovely crisp bread with which to mop up excess pasta sauce. However, when it came to my main, there wasn't a lot of sauce to speak of. I had chosen the Strozzapreti Pugliese (£9.95) which combined the flavours of Luganica sausage, cured pancetta and broccoli. You will notice that the image below depicts the slightly anaemic nature of the veg - as a crop, this had certainly seen better days and yet, it had been well cooked, (slightly 'al dente' but for my palate, perfect). The dish had been finished with a fresh red chilli butter which seemed rather subtle whilst eating it but indubitably left a lip-tingling burn in its wake! That said, the amount of pasta appeared to far out-weigh the other ingredients which made for a slightly bland arrangement – hence the perceived lack of 'sauce'. I ordered this main due to enjoying it elsewhere (at the Bath branch of Strada) and was left a little disappointed - it seems that the notion of dish variation within a chain restaurant set-up can be quite apparent.
Strozzapreti Pugliese

Aglio Schiacciatella

The Boy chose the Rigatoni Speck (£9.75) which was definitely the favourite of the evening. This was attractively presented with a generous helping of Northern Italian smoked mountain ham and crisp rocket crowning a plateful of decadently creamy pasta. The cream sauce, made up of traditionally Lombardian cheeses, gorgonzola and Grana Padano. was simply divine - I was only allowed to sample this dish and thus, had some pretty serious food envy! 
Rigatoni Speck
We did not opt for desserts on this occasion but upon inspection of the menu, I decided that had I indulged, I would have gone for the Fondente Cacao (£5.25), a chocolate fondant with a warm melting centre, served with mascarpone and vanilla cream – naughty!

Strada's branch in Clifton Village provided a pleasant dining experience but when it came to the quality of the food, I would perhaps be inclined to lean towards a visit to it's Bath equivalent. This may have been a one-off but the standard of a dish that I had enjoyed so much previously was certainly not up-to-scratch. That aside, if you are looking for a well-known classy Italian in a location which will impress your dining companions, this venue is for you! But, with so many Italian restaurants in the vicinity, it may be worth looking around for something a little less mainstream before making up your mind!

And now for the second opinion...
The Boy gave Strada 8/10 and in three words, described his experience as 'choice chain chow-down'...these three words are getting more and more dubious!


Saturday, 18 June 2011

COSMO - Clifton Triangle, Bristol

The concept of Pan Asian buffet-style restaurants has been a relatively popular one for some time now and I have to say that I have visited some that have left me cold, offering little more than a host of deep-fried food stuffs that wouldn't be out of place on an Iceland Party Platter! However, I'm pleased to report that my recent visit to COSMO, situated on Bristol's Clifton Triangle, constituted quite a different experience...

Date and Time: Friday 17th June 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: COSMO
Location: The Pavilion, Triangle West Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Downright gluttony!

It would be fair to say that the initial feeling upon stepping into COSMO is one of confusion; it's the only restaurant I know where you pay before you are seated and this is proceeded in a chaotic queuing system, just inside the door within an intimate waiting area which, as you can imagine, becomes rather busy with groups of expectant diners, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night. Once paid-up, you are issued with a ticket and must queue again, this time to wait to be seated. Even the bar has a line of people at it, as payment is whizzed through the till before you join the back of the queue, receipt in hand, and wait for your drink(s) to be prepared. However, once this bizarre herding ritual has ceased, the foodie fun begins!

With three times the variety on offer in comparison to COSMO's rivals, you'd expect to pay three times more for the privilege. Yet, with evening prices at £12.99 Sunday-Thursday and £13.99 Friday and Saturday, this is the most reasonable eat-as-much-as-you-like restaurant in the vicinity. With dishes inspired from nine Eastern countries (namely; China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Mongolia, Singapore, Vietnam and India) there are a multitude to choose from. Prawn toasts and satay-chicken skewers aside, I started at the sushi bar where I chose from a selection of appealing Maki rolls which were served with soya sauce for dipping and wasabi for...erm...choking on! To note, there is also a veggie option in this section for the less-adventurous palate.

The Boy made a beeline for the Teppanyaki Grill for his main course where you select your own fresh ingredients for the chef to cook in front of you – on this occasion he returned with his plate full of salmon which he reported to be well-cooked and perfectly pink! There is an abundance of tasty accompaniments to plate alongside your main (and some slightly dodgier options – I'm looking at you doughy naan bread and limp French Fries!) – the broccoli cooked with fresh ginger is a particular favourite as well as the rice noodles which are light and expertly spiced. I chose from the Indian/Thai pod where there are several fragrant curries to choose from – I tried both the Thai red and Thai green curries – the latter being the dish of the night for me with it's contrasting heat against the creamy, calm of its coconut baseline. There really is so much to choose from though, that I really can't do it justice. The crispy aromatic duck, offered alongside crisp spring onion, a sticky Hoisin sauce and delicate pancakes for wrapping, were a popular choice. I even noticed that they were serving dim sum – on this occasion pork dumplings - which I really wished I had room to try, (note to self – wear elasticated waistline on next visit!).

COSMO also boasts a somewhat spectacular array of puddings, a far cry from the crusty ice cream and lychee garnish that you usually find at this genre of establishment. I'm going to be honest, with my famous sweet tooth I would pay my fee for the dessert buffet alone. Seriously, the options are endless and so, in an attempt to give you a reasonable idea of what I'm talking about, I'm going to list my favourites (channelling Brian Butterfield as I do so!) There is; a chocolate fountain with all the trimmings, cake, gateaux, profiteroles, rainbow-effect jelly slithers, three varieties of ice cream, trifle and a huge bowl of light and fruity Eton Mess that you portion with a ladel! There are also the strangest selection of petits fours imaginatively put together – think jaffa cakes sandwiching whipped cream and decorated with 'Haribo' or chocolate mini rolls topped with a piped line of cream in which nestles a Cadbury's chocolate finger. Bizarre? Yes, but COSMO certainly do not lose any points for originality. Finally, if this wasn't enough, there is also an extensive selection of fresh fruit, (just in case you were missing those aforementioned lychees!)

In conclusion, a somewhat chaotic dining experience – it's noisy, fast-paced and with the initial queuing system and an allocated time slot, the whole experience can feel a little rushed – even the staff are poised, ready to swoop in to take away empty plates, regardless of whether you have finished your last mouthful or not. Yet, over 30,000 people dine at a COSMO restaurant every week* and for good reason...an abundance of tasty food for a one-off price which happens to be delivered in a clean, smartly decorated space. Sure, there remains what The Boy refers to as the 'freezer-food section' and you really do have to bypass some of the lower quality titbits to get to the good stuff but there are some lovely dishes on offer – my tips are to visit hungry and save room for dessert because if you are anything like me and want to try everything, you need to have prepared yourself for what can only be described as a feast. COSMO aim to 'Cook Fresh, Eat Fresh' and if you pick wisely, you'll be sure to find dishes that support this ethos – but let's be honest, love it or hate it, COSMO is a guilty pleasure - not particularly classy but for me (and apparently many other like-minded diners), it certainly hits the spot!
I didn't really want to include photos as I thought that they wouldn't appropriately capture the variety that COSMO offers...but I couldn't resist this one!
And now for a second (and third) opinion....due to the 'love it or hate it' concept, I thought I'd give you both alternatives...
The Boy gave COSMO a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described this venue as, 'variety', 'quality' and 'taste'.
The Boss gave COSMO a rating of 2/10 and in three words, described this venue as 'not for me'.
In light of this, it's probably best to check it out for yourself...however, do let me know what you think!

*According to the website - http://www.cosmo-restaurants.co.uk/index.html

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

No. 1 Harbourside, Canons Road-Bristol

I'd been hearing a lot of good things regarding No. 1 Harbourside, the second venue from Coexist, (the people who brought 'The Canteen' to Stoke's Croft) and subsequently, I considered it high-time that I experienced this undoubtedly eclectic space for myself. After all, following the 'culinary catastrophes' I'd encountered, twice-over, at previously visited venues, it was surely a case of third-time-lucky. Fortunately, from the moment that the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I walked through the door, it was evident that this would be the case...

Date and Time: Tuesday 14th June 2011, 18:45
Name of Establishment: No. 1 Harbourside*
Location: 1 Canons Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Post-work nosh up with the BFF

With a laid-back vibe and river-side setting, No.1 Harbourside is ideally situated for watching the world (and Bristol Ferry boats*) go by. With a funky interior featuring candy-striped pillars and shabby-chic décor as well as an airy feel brought about by spaciously arranged furniture, floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive bar area – it's a real find, and find it you must due to No. 1 Harbourside's apparent preference for remaining low-key. In fact, it's only in the last couple of days that the website has been revamped with details of the venue's upcoming events, live music line-up and wine list. However, it's only once you venture inside that you discover the foodie-related delights that come from what, upon first look, appears a rather humble establishment. 
Kooky Table Numbering!
The BFF and I were greeted with sincere smiley service upon ordering our food from the chalk-board above the bar – she, the loin of pork with pink sage purée (£9) and I, the garlicky roasted courgette and goats cheese tart (£6). With five dishes on offer which start from just five pounds for what is described as locally sourced, seasonal produce, it's great to find an eatery that focuses on quality over quantity. The complimentary soup to start, which happened to be pea, leek and potato, was a lovely touch and, served piping hot with a herb-infused hunk of fresh bread, it really was a tasty interlude to the foodie feast to come. 
Pea, Leek and Potato Soup with Herby Bread

Main courses were elegantly presented and yet, this did not fabricate a measly portion – on the contrary as both dishes were generously layered with top-notch nosh. The tart (though, masquerading as a slice of quiche in my opinion) was delicious; rich in garlic which, alongside the twang of goats cheese and sweetness of the roasted vegetables, accented this dish to perfection. Seasoned new potatoes nestled under a huge green salad which consisted of rocket, white cabbage, celery and apple. The combination of fresh tastes here certainly made for a flavoursome accompaniment – even the salad dressing didn't go unnoticed with it's intended sharpness and mustard seed zip! BFF was equally impressed with her dish and commented that the pork was well-cooked and satisfying, though the crackling was a little chewy for her palate.
Roasted Courgette and Goats Cheese Tart/Quiche
I was a little disappointed that there was not a dessert option and yet, despite this knock to it's sweet-toothed visitors, No. 1 Harbourside offers a real treat for the discerning drinker as it stocks and serves a wide range of good-quality real ales, lagers, ciders, wines and spirits. I'll put my hands up and say that I was somewhat unadventurous and stuck to my usual order of 'dry white wine' – which was provided in the form of Podere Vaglie, Sollazzo Trebbiano Grechetto, but I hear that Lilley's Apples and Pears cider is really where it's at...!

I will definitely be returning to No. 1 Harbourside and intend to keep up-to-date with their ever-changing/seasonal menu. It really is commendable that local, high-quality ingredients can be sourced and plated at such a reasonable cost. As well as this, the chilled ambiance of the venue overall is more-than-inviting; the inside space has a touch of grungy charm to it (although, perhaps a little too grungy when it comes to the toilets!) and the outside area, a proper hot-spot in the summer months. Finally, the variety of live musicians (who perform daily) seal the deal, making No. 1 Harbourside the ultimate hang-out on 'the strip'.

And now for the second opinion...
BBF gave No. 1 Harbourside 9/10 and in three words, described it as 'local', 'seasonal' and 'hearty'.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Frankie and Benny's – Aspects Leisure Complex, Bristol

To be left with a lasting impression of a particular venue is usually a good thing, but a recent visit to American-Italian chain restaurant, Frankie and Benny's with a group of gal pals (and the Best Foodie Friend – BFF), left an impression of a different kind, a kind which, in the form of indigestion, found me mentally re-visiting my evening here for quite some time afterwards...

Date and Time: Thursday 9th June 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Frankie and Benny's*
Location: Aspects Leisure Complex, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Birthday meal for a lovely friend

Located in East Bristol's Aspects Leisure Park amidst other such popular chain restaurants as, Nandos, Pizza Hut and Chiquito, Frankie and Benny's gleams with it 's familiar neon signage and red, white and green colour scheme. It's fair to say that the theme of this restaurant is unmistakable, the distinctive American-Italian culture consistently carried through all aspects of the space from it's décor to the 'Learn Italian' CD that plays in the toilets. This is arguably a little cheesy and yet, you can't deny that it creates a fun and friendly ambiance. The 50's vibe, thrown in for good-measure, reflected in the 'rock 'n' roll' style soundtrack, even amounts to dimming the lights and playing Cliffy classic, 'Congratulations' when there is a birthday in-the-house! Furthermore, it can be said that the restaurant is smart, immaculately clean and the booths comfortable to sit in and when the staff also adhere to the restaurant's theme with characteristically flawless (American-inspired) service and a 'happy-to-help' attitude, you can't really complain.

However, when it comes to the food, you certainly can...The main menu is extensive, there is almost too much choice and dishes seem rather expensive upon first-look. There is a fixed price menu which offers two courses from a generous selection at £9.95 and this is what I opted for based entirely on my unfortunate lack of funds at this time! It had been a challenging day and so, comfort food drove my choice towards the double-loaded Pepperoni Pizza. Now, I'm not a chef but I would consider it rather difficult to mess up a pizza with only one topping and yet, this was regrettably the case. The base was soggy and towards the centre of the pizza, it harboured puddles of stodgy cheesiness and grease. I'm aware that pepperoni is an oily meat but had it been prepared in a way which allowed for some of the excess oil to be drained away, it could have been crisp and tasty. Other diners were equally unimpressed; BFF ordered the Lemon Chicken Salad (£9.95) which, although flavoursome, was over-dressed and constituted a minuscule portion given that it cost almost ten pounds. The Sausage Dinner, ordered without vegetables, was served without it's Yorkshire Pudding which we had to ask for, and the BBQ Steak Hot-Baked Wrap (£10.25) had a red onion imbalance meaning that it's apparent twang dominated the other elements of the dish. 
Lemon Chicken Salad
Double Pepperoni Pizza

When it came to dessert, two of our party (myself included) chose the White Chocolate Brownie Sundae – this consisted of two cubes of brownie (albeit a rather nice brownie) which had been frozen solid by the ice cream piled on the top. This made it impossible to eat as cutting through it required a feat of strength that none of us had and to consume the chocolaty cuboid whole would have proven rather unladylike!. A thick crown of synthetic 'squirty' cream finished this dish which left little to be desired due to it's claggy consistency. The lack of the advertised wafer was the final insult to injury and consequently, two half-eaten desserts were left for the servers to clear. 
White Chocolate Brownie Sundae

All in all, Frankie and Benny's, not worth the pennies! It's a shame because I've seen evidence of large-scale chain restaurants getting it spot-on; feeding the masses with high-quality food at a reasonable price and not just falling victim to the concept of getting bums on seats. Perhaps this restaurant could take a leaf out of the book of, say, Beefeater Grill where large parties and families are catered for with well-prepared and tasty classics (see review). I suggest that simplicity is the key here; if Frankie and Benny's were to streamline their menu somewhat, and concentrate on perfecting a smaller suite of dishes, it might well result in better quality all-round. After all, I think that this venue has the ingredients for a perfectly passable eatery and I found no fault with the space itself or the service. But at present, there is not much chance of a re-visit – even if you paid me with Mamma's meatballs!

And now for the second opinion....
BFF gave Frankie and Benny's 4/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'mediocre and pricey'.


Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Brasserie Blanc - Quaker's Friars, Bristol

Mentioning that I had rounded up a group of work colleagues for an evening of posh nosh at Brasserie Blanc, located within Bristol’s historic Quaker’s Friars square, was met with one of two reactions. Either with awe, inspired by the assumption of an impending special occasion, or simply a sharp intake of breath implying the anticipated financial sting. This venue certainly has a reputation for being prestigious and expensive - the latter somewhat unsupported by the available ‘Dine with Wine’ menu with which you can enjoy three courses and a glass of wine for under twenty quid. In fact, it was this very deal that gave me the final push to book a table and so it came to be that we would discover whether Brasserie Blanc would live up to the aforementioned preconceptions or alternatively, if it could offer the ‘everyday’ diner high-quality food at a price that wouldn’t break the bank…

Date and Time: Monday 6th June 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Brasserie Blanc
Location: The Friary Building, Cabot Circus-Bristol
Reason for Visit: Meal with Work Colleagues

There is no doubt that Raymond Blanc and his team fell on their feet when they were given the go-ahead to occupy this site – a converted Georgian Meeting House with two medieval halls, (built in the 13th and 14th Century and previously used by Bristol Guilds). With high ceilings and period features, you can't help but marvel at what is, a truly stunning setting in which to dine. It is also commendable that the décor has been tastefully arranged so not to take away from the grandeur of the architecture and even the ambient background music had been carefully selected to compliment the ethos of the restaurant itself.

Upon arriving, our party learned that our booking had been lost as a result of teething problems with the new online booking system. Luckily we were still able to be seated despite how busy the space had become, (something which I considered unusual for a Monday evening in Bristol!) We also learned that staff here are very accommodating, in fact almost a little over-attentive – whilst waiting for our full company to arrive we were asked by no less than four different members of staff whether we wanted drinks! However, this transpired into faultless service throughout the evening – there were always a multitude of servers on-hand who, it seemed, were more than happy to help.

Attentions turning to the food, our party (bar three) opted to eat from the 'Dine with Wine' menu whereby two courses were £13.50 and three, £15.95 with the option to add a glass of wine for as little as £1.95, (the top-end of this deal offers a glass of Joseph Perrier Champagne for £4.70). Whilst we waited, three baskets of sourdough were brought to the table – this was delicious but the lack of side-plates made for an awkward (and messy) approach to buttering it. The presence of extra virgin olive oil (presumably for dipping) also seemed a little pointless when there was nowhere to put it! One member of our party started with the trio of dips from the aperitif menu (consisting of saffron garlic mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar and a wonderfully course olive paste tapenade) which I just had to insist on sampling – consequently, I suggest that future diners share this aperitif to make the most of the bread basket...especially in light of what came next...

Main courses were served promptly and I had opted for the whiting fillet. This was well-presented and the fish itself was beautifully cooked with a smoky flavour. However, the accompanying ham hock was not very generously portioned and a little fatty in places and the parsley sauce (which due to it's lack of viscosity could not really be described as a sauce), drowned the peas and robbed the cubed new-potatoes of their intended crispiness. It was a shame as the flavours married well, providing a desirable contrast between the light, fresh taste of the veg and the indulgent buttery richness of the 'sauce'. Yet, the whole dish was just too soggy which suppressed the otherwise appealing ingredients. Unfortunately, other diners had a similar problem; one member of our party had to send her fish cake back to be (for want of a better word) drained, as the accompanying salad had obviously been dressed a little too liberally – not a great accompaniment to what should have been a crunchy breadcrumb finish. Those who chose from the à la carte menu also selected side-dishes which in all honesty were required in order to pad out fairly stingy main courses. In light of this, it was reported that although the new-potatoes were buttery and firm, the French Fries were a little dry and very salty! The winner of the evening was the slow braised Beef Provencal with pilaf rice – those who favoured this agreed that the meat was tender and the dish wonderfully flavoursome overall, (in fact, the only criticism here was that there just wasn't enough of it!)
Fish Cake - £12
Beef Provencal - DwW Menu

Whiting Fillet - DwW Menu

With the majority of us left less than satisfied by our main courses, it was such a relief to unanimously agree that the dessert course constituted a very different experience. The hot chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream, (a popular choice for our table) had been perfectly executed so that it arrived piping hot, yet with the scoop of ice cream un-melted and intact in the centre. The mousse was just gorgeous with a rich, chocolaty flavour that was enhanced by it's warmth and an indulgent texture - heavier than you would expect mousse to be but not to its detriment as this really was the highlight of the evening. Others had opted for the lemon posset and pistachio soufflé which were also well-received.
Pistachio Soufflé- £5.50

Hot Chocolate Mousse - DwW Menu

In conclusion, you can eat at Brasserie Blanc without a significant drain on your finances if you select dishes from the 'Dine with Wine' menu but if one were to deviate from this, it really is rather expensive, (especially as you have to fork out for side-dishes which really, should be served as standard alongside your main meal). Admittedly, there were some significant problems with the food itself which I would consider poor for a restaurant of this calibre – our visit resulted in a real mixed bag of reviews, indicating how 'hit and miss' our experience had been. Would I visit again?....Yes, but not in a hurry and only if I had enough money in my pocket to choose from the à la carte menu. Brasserie Blanc have got the atmosphere and the service spot-on so perhaps a little attention to the delivery of it's dishes is required in order to bring them to the standard of the other high-level attributes of this venue.

And now for the second opinion...
I asked a fellow diner to comment – she gave Brasserie Blanc 7/10 and in three words, chose to describe her experience as, 'a little disappointing'.

* http://www.brasserieblanc.com/

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Castellano's presents: 'All Things Pig...2' – The 'Sweakquel*'!

As soon as the familiar piggy flyers began to circulate, the Bristol 'foodie' Twitter network began to buzz – this could only mean one thing...the eagerly anticipated second 'All Things Pig' event, courtesy of local charcutier and chef, Vincent Castellano...

Date and Time: Saturday 4th June 2011, 19:00 for 19:30 start
Name of Event: Castellano's presents 'All Things Pig...2'*
Location: St. Aldhelm's Church, Bedminster, Bristol
Reason for Attendance: Thoroughly enjoyed the first 'All Things Pig'; - see review, 'Piggin'Marvellous...Castellano's presents, 'All Things Pig'  for details!

Stepping into St Aldhelm's Church never fails to impress, with it's beautiful Victorian architecture aglow by candlelight, it really makes for a fabulous venue for a pop-up restaurant. The aforementioned 'All Things Pig' motif, tastefully arranged by Miller Design UK*, had been hung throughout the space and long tables, adorned with lanterns, had been carefully set allowing for a communal hub of friendly banter, foodie-related discussion and most notably, reverberated awe for the man at the helm of this event, Vincent, who as part of the introductory speeches, treated diners to an informative run-through of the menu, including personal anecdotes regarding the origins of his expertise and more importantly, explaining which parts of the pig had been prepared for our dining pleasure!

The first three courses consisted of a range of porcine delicacies presented beautifully and prepared to perfection; chorizo with it's warming spiciness, brawn remoulade (which I enjoyed a lot more this time, it's rich flavour accenting a crisped bruscetta canapé and finished with creamy coleslaw) and Delices de St Antoine which, served with Boudin Noir and a segment of caramelised apple, interestingly came from a recipe that Vincent was given years ago from an old lady in the Alps! The charcuterie board, accompanied by tasty sour dough from The Bertinet Kitchen*, was generously put-together and included a range of tasty morsels to share with your neighbours, namely; Coppa, Saucisson, Pate de Campagne and Pate en Croute. The addition of Castellano's coveted onion marmalade delighted The Boy no end as this is one of his favourites from the deli! 
Delices de St. Antoine, Boudin Noir and Caramelised Apple

Charcuterie Board

It is to be noted that the appetiser and charcuterie board were of very similar standing to the last 'All Things Pig' but when it was so well received last time, why not serve it again? After all, I think that this event had perhaps been set up for those who had missed out the first time 'round as well as for those die-hard fans who simply love the food that Castellano so expertly creates, (I'm in the latter category if you hadn't guessed!)

At this point, it was agreed that the wait between courses thus far had been sufficient enough to ensure that we were not too full for the next! The palate-cleansing cheddar strawberry chilled vodka shot was also appreciated in this capacity. Our group noticed that the background music had become a little sporadic but with the excitable buzz from over one-hundred diners, this wasn't an issue! A tombola, with all proceeds going towards the church, was the focal point for this interval - although it was suggested that the prizes could have been a little better distributed.
Cheddar Strawberry Chilled Vodka Shot
The main course constituted a full-house of firsts for me having never tried any of the elements which made up this dish. Subsequently, I found the loin to be melting and delicious, the cheek, a little too rich for my palate but wonderfully tender nevertheless and the tongue, surprisingly my favourite part of this course, with it's subtle seasoning and the rich pull of it's texture. The accompanying sage polenta and braised chicory perfectly contrasted the richness of the porky trio, (although the latter had a distinct bitterness when initially sampled in isolation of the other ingredients).

Dessert came next and fortuitously sat at the far end of the third table, and last to be served, our group managed to score two puddings, the first served in a plastic pot (which we were more than happy with) and the second in an attractive glass dish. This therefore constituted two helpings of tangy rhubarb compote layered with a creamy white chocolate mousse – just divine. A buttery shortbread biscuit (which just melted in the mouth) and crumbled praline finished this dish. Not to mention the dark chocolate button brandished with the outline of a pig – no points lost for attention to detail!
White Chocolate and Rhubarb Mousse with Shortbread Biscuit
Again, there was a BYO drinks policy – this time, The Boy and I visited Bristol Cider Shop* for suitable accompaniments. We even got to sample a new creation from Pilton Cider* (not yet available to buy) thanks to Helen from Miller Design UK which, I can report, is wonderfully light with a refreshing apple fizz.

In conclusion, a fabulous evening of top-notch food, drinks-a-plenty, engaging company and within a setting that just exudes grandeur– for just £29.50, this really was a treat! Whispers of the next event are already doing the rounds on Twitter and so, if you haven't heard...All Things Italian will take place on Saturday 23rd July (venue to be confirmed) – it's certainly in my diary, I can't wait to see what culinary delights Castellano's will serve us up next!

*Yes, I have taken this from a film that I probably shouldn’t admit to knowing about but I considered it appropriate!
You can also visit Vincent at Bristol's Farmer's Market - every Wednesday on Corn Street, Bristol