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!


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Harvey Nichols' Second Floor Restaurant, Quakers Friars

To say I was intrigued by the second floor restaurant at Bristol's Boutique Harvey Nichols' store was an understatement. I'd heard stories of carpeted walls and glitzy metallic décor as well as experiences whereby a distinct lack of atmosphere and questionable service had a somewhat negative impact. Yet, all the critiques I had read had one thing in common; they all agreed that the cuisine itself was of a very high standard, which I suppose one would expect from a venue which constitutes a prestigious UK institution. Consequently, the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I proceeded to book-up a table in order to suss out this venue for ourselves and, as the elevator 'ding' marked the second floor, it would be fair to say that we were really rather excited...

Date and Time: Tuesday 26th July 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant*
Location: Quakers Friars, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Dinner date with the BFF

Passing the cordoned-off areas and glass fronted displays of vintage bubbly into the restaurant, the initial feature which is somewhat obtrusive is the colour-scheme. Decked out in gold from the ceiling to the plushy carpet underfoot and everything else in between, (including the walls which are indeed textured), it's reasonable to describe this space as unnecessarily extravagant, especially when the evening sun pours through the full windows casting the whole space in an amber haze! Not that this meant that the BFF and I weren't comfortable; quite the contrary as we were quite content, especially considering the appeasing ambiance created by cushy furniture and the chill-out soundtrack overhead. 
Boldly Gold
Given the apprehension created by the accounts I’d read, it can be noted that the BFF and I found the service during our visit to be both polite and efficient. Despite the minor niggle that our coats were not taken and instead, sat next to us within the booth-style seating for the duration of the evening, we were pleased overall with the upbeat attitude of our particular waitress who proved a smiley asset to the evening's proceedings. Menus were dispensed and a choice between the à la carte, whereby main courses average £15, and the 'prix fixe' which offers two courses for £16 or three for £19. The latter comprises a choice from three options in the case of each course and includes complimentary canapés as standard. BFF and I were uncharacteristically in sync on this particular evening, both settling for two courses from the set menu and choosing the same main and dessert (though, more of that later). We also decided against a supplementary vino on this occasion but casually noted the range of champagnes on offer, the vintage variety coming in at a mere £1750 a pop – I'll take two! After ordering, our canapés arrived; melt-in-the-mouth parmesan sable biscuits and cheddar gougères which, essentially savoury profiteroles, were delicately textured and subtly cheesy to contrast the punchy notes of its parmesan coupling. Clearing the empty sharing plate signalled the arrival of the bread basket and a choice between sweet rolls, sliced soda bread or salted focaccia. The latter was an obvious choice for me and, proving fresh and delicious, I just had to ask for seconds to accompany my main course.
Cheesy Canapés
Main courses arrived and the courgette fritters, which were stacked under their triangular canopy of fried feta, were served alongside courgette ribbons, a soft herb salad, a dollop of dill mascarpone and finished with a beetroot dressing. This was simply beautiful both in terms of its colour and its arrangement. I loved the complexities which existed in terms of contrasting textures and tastes as well as the Greek-inspiration behind the nature of marrying together the different elements; the underlying bitter-sweet bite of lemon against the freshness of dill and the rich tang of feta. The BFF and I were particularly pleased that we had ordered a side of Cornish new potatoes with English butter and Cornish sea salt (£3.25) to share as they were the perfect accompaniment to the smooth mascarpone. All-in-all, indubitably resting within the fine dining remit but without the stingy portion sizes that one would normally associate with this genre of cuisine – subsequently, this dish left me feeling satisfied and enthusiastic about what was to follow….
Main Course - easy on the eye as well as the stomach!
There was rather a long wait between main and dessert courses and although we weren’t in a hurry, this did build a real sense of expectant appreciation for the Valrhona Chocolate Mousse we had opted for but had yet to sample. Upon first mouthful though it was evident that this glutinous pud would fully live up to our hopeful preconceptions – made, we were told, with olive oil, this stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth indulgence was perfectly textured and hard-hitting with the richness of good-quality dark chocolate; the result of which was an almost intoxicating kick! Finished with a fennel biscuit (which the BFF suggested was a little too elusive in terms of the usual distinctness of its aniseed flavour) and a flourish of mint, this dessert was the highlight of the meal for me and really took my experience of this venue from fantastic, to simply outstanding. 
Chocolaty Heaven
I think that Head Chef Louise McCrimmon’s creative flair for putting together a menu which ticks all the boxes in terms of taste whilst focusing on high quality, locally-sourced ingredients is offered so reasonably that it perhaps explains why the venue was so well attended on the evening of our visit. Initially, this is where Harvey Nichols’ exclusive reputation may have hindered it with many perhaps dismissing the restaurant as too expensive. However, word has obviously gotten out and rightly so because there really is something to tantalise the taste-buds within the most platonic of palates. After all, metallic flamboyances aside, this is a venue which had me planning my next visit before I'd even returned to its ground floor exit (I certainly want to come for brunch – buttermilk pancakes with smoked back bacon and maple syrup at just £4.50 – yes please!). To sum up, I may not be able to stretch to the cost of its designer handbags, nor can I do little more than ogle the Jimmy Choos from afar, but I can certainly afford Harvey Nichols; cuisine - at last, I have discovered an aspect of the 'bling' that is comfortably within my grasp!

And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Harvey Nichols' Second Floor Restaurant a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'pretty', 'modern' and, of course...'gold'!
I just couldn't resist...!
References:
*http://www.harveynichols.com/restaurants/second-floor-bristol
To note: At the moment, the second floor restaurant is offering a deal whereby children, when accompanied by an adult, can dine for free from Head Chef Louise McCrimmon’s Children’s menu – great stuff!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Castellano's Presents...'All Things Italian'

The local foodie network has really come to love the 'All Things Events' franchise which has moved from strength to strength since local chef and charcutier, Vincent Castellano introduced 'All Things Pig' back in the Spring. Consequently, once news emerged that the next event would consist of a six-course Italian feast, complete with live opera, Vincent's loyal following sprung into action and purchased their tickets hot from the press – needless to say, I was no exception!

Date and Time: Saturday 23rd July 2011, 19:00 for 19:30 start
Name of Event: Castellano's* Presents...'All Things Italian'
Location: St. Aldhelm's Church, Bedminster, Bristol
Reason for Attendance: Enjoyment of the last two 'All Things...' dinners - Castellano's presents 'All Things Pig' and 'All Things Pig...2'

The evening's proceedings would constitute my third visit to St. Alhelm's Church and, as per the previous visits, I entered in awe of the beautiful Victorian architecture which had been accented with candlelight and tastefully brandished with the 'All Things Italian' motif, courtesy of 'Miller Design UK'.* My dining companion and I received a warm welcome and were shown to our seats which, this time, had been allocated; thus avoiding the bums-on-seats shuffle to accommodate any late-coming groups. Meanwhile, prosecco bottles popped, accompanying tipples readied (taken perhaps from the suggested matches for each course by Gloucester Road's Grape and Grind*) and the venue quickly filled with the buzz from over one-hundred and fifty expectant diners which is testament to the success the evening's former pig-related counterparts.

After a formal introduction and blessing from the establishment, Vincent graced the alter to talk through the 'order of service'; translating the Italian and passionately explaining the origin of his ingredients and the craft behind the execution of the dishes they would create. This aptly whetted our appetites for the first course; bruscetta topped with garden vegetables (roasted aubergine and cauliflower), juicy mozzarella and plum tomato which was served with a generous drizzle of 'salsa verde'. The freshness of the elements comprising this dish was incredible but the slight niggle I had was that the bruscetta itself, although tasty and soaked in authentic Sicilian olive oil, was not quite crisp enough and proved difficult to cut, thus resulting in having to pick it up in a most unladylike fashion!
Appetiser
The antipasti board came next and offered an abundant range of delicious morsels to share with your neighbours. Featuring fresh anchovies, Milano salami and mortadella, I loved that, in the true spirit of Italian cuisine, this course established a real social affair. This was especially evident in terms of the artichoke's deconstruction which, brought about by a team effort, was an art form in itself! The highlight of this course for me however had to be the meatballs which were wonderfully succulent and, slathered in a rich tomato sauce, proved a satisfying accompaniment to the ciabbata which had been sourced from Mark's Bread* in the local vicinity.

Antipasti Board
The starter of 'funghi ravioli con dolcelatte panna' was truly exquisite, I loved the creaminess of the sauce as well as the distinctive twang of blue cheese and the main attraction, a single ravioli parcel delicately filled with fresh mushroom, was just divine – two thumbs up for this dish! Towards the end of this course, the congregation were treated to the haunting notes of a talented duo of opera singers who covered melodies from the likes of Giuseppe Verde and Puccini. Set off by the acoustics of the venue's grandeur, this was a fitting and entertaining aspect of the event, albeit slightly delaying the timings so that the main course was not served until nearly 11:00pm! Arguably though this gave the previous courses ample time to properly digest and suitably led to the lemon granita which would constitute the middle course. Here, tart Sicilian lemons provided a fabulous palate cleanser and, although notably lacking the alcoholic hit which the previous two events delivered at this point, certainly offered a refreshingly bitter-sweet sensation.
 
Starter
Middle Course

The seared cod starring in the main course was a triumph in itself because, despite being delivered more than one hundred and fifty times over, it arrived piping hot, perfectly textured and without a bone in sight. Furthermore, the pancetta was crisp and tasty, the melange of vegetables (although unfortunately the only chilly part of the dish) crunchy and flavoursome and the barolo wine sauce rich and earthy, thus finishing the dish perfectly - impressive indeed!
Main
Results of the tombola followed and five prizes including a voucher for Rosemarino in Clifton Village* and afternoon tea for two at Berwick Lodge* helped to raise more than five-hundred pounds for St. Alhelms bringing the total to over one-thousand five-hundred pounds from all three events combined. It's great, in my opinion, that a decadent foodie experience can also factor so beneficially to this Bristol-based church and the nearby community. It was in celebration of this that the indulgent panna cotta made an entrance. Topped with nocciolo gelato and biscotti, this was a pudding of contrasting textures and tastes, the crunchy alongside the smooth and the deep nutty aromas muddled with a tangy berry compote - I was seriously full up by this point but just couldn’t bear to leave even a single mouthful!
Dessert
In conclusion, another exceptional event courtesy of Vincent Castellano and his team; both the food and the service were top-notch and well worth the thirty-pound price-tag. In fact, the closing number harmonised by the aforementioned opera singers, Barcarolle's 'Night of Stars, Night of Love', seemed to sum up the proceedings perfectly; Vincent, the unquestionable star of the night gave another commendable culinary performance, thus supporting the notion that he never fails to deliver and, in addition to this, there was indubitably a lot of love in the room for all those involved in the evening's arrangement. Keep an eye out for 'All Things Moroccan' in the Autumn as, if the previous three events are anything to go by, it's set to be a corker!

References:
*http://www.castellanos.co.uk
You can also visit Vincent at Bristol's Farmer's Market - every Wednesday on Corn Street, Bristol
*http://www.millerdesign.co.uk

Friday, 22 July 2011

Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails goes to...London

Spending a weekend catching up with city-slicker pal, 'H' traditionally constitutes the following; great company, venues that have what I refer to as the ooh-effect, a great deal of top-nosh and a mandatory cocktail or two! To that end, read on to learn of the foodie frivolities beheld when I took 'Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails’ to…London!

Date and Time: 16th and 17th July 2011, morning, noon and night!
Location: Central London
Reason for Visit: Timely catch-up with a fabulous friend within the razzle dazzle Londonia's finest!

Day One:

Meeting around midday on London's busy Oxford Street, our foodie journey began (as is customary for the onset of each meet-up) marvelling at the spectacular array of foodstuffs in Selfridges' Food Hall. After a quick coffee from city chain, 'Eat', H and I made our way to Leicester Square with the intention of checking out the new M&Ms World Store (the first of it's kind in the UK). This was, without a doubt, a sight to behold - spanning four floors, this ode to a candy offered interactive areas, photo-opportunities (with it's colourful M&M characters) and a vast selection of purchasable merchandise to satisfy every whim; from measuring spoons to money boxes! I loved that you could choose any colour of M&Ms from the self-service area but couldn't believe how much it cost for such a small amount. Furthermore, I was disappointed that you couldn't get the other variations of the candy that I had discovered elsewhere, where were the pretzel filled M&Ms, the extra-crunchy or those filled with peanut butter?! Humph!
 

 








We travelled to Putney for lunch and found stylish bistro, Moomba. Kitted out with plush, rich-coloured furniture which tastefully contrasted the demur swirl of monochrome wallpaper, this venue's interior was as classy as it was comfortable. Focusing on its purple hues the décor was accented with vases of fresh lavender and neon violet lighting which glowed from behind the bar. The space is intimately arranged though and somewhat toasty but luckily H and I were seated close to a window which was open just enough to create a little breeze! The service was courteous, perhaps a little too polished, but it certainly completed the effect; I just don't find myself addressed as 'madam' often in Bristol! We ordered the meat board to share (£13) which arrived with reasonable quantities of salami, parma ham and chorizo. These carnivorous aspects were supplemented with olives, hummus, sun-dried tomatoes and warmed pitas which were overall, well received. Although the parma ham was a little fatty and the pittas hard, the chorizo had a beautiful smoked flavour and a melt-in-the-mouth texture, thus the highlight of the meal for me by a mile! To compliment all this savoury action, H and I headed to Neuhaus Café Chocolat for dessert where, it has to be said, I was served the best hot chocolate I've had in ages. The aptly named 'chocolate lava' (£3.40) was basically warmed liquid Belgium chocolate, so thick that I required the aid of a teaspoon to finish it - pure indulgence I can assure you! In fact, H got into the spirit of the Blog and in three words, described this venue as 'a chocoholics paradise' and rated it 10/10 – praise indeed!
 


 







For evening drinky-poos we headed to Clapham Junction's busy common to Souk, a Moroccan themed bar which was charismatically edgy; opulently furnished with latticed panels. brightly coloured lanterns and cushy pouffes. Glowing incense sticks filled the space with a spicy aroma which added to the dense atmosphere brought about by all the bodies! Yet, despite proving somewhat claustrophobic, Souk certainly warranted a top-end cocktail experience as the drinks themselves (although pricey) were expertly created. And now, a confession...let's just say that with drinks costing £10 a pop, dining to mop up the significant alcohol content had to be affordable and satisfying. Thus, the guilty pleasure of Domino's Texas BBQ pizza ticked both boxes – I’m sure you won’t judge me because, after all, we've all been there and yet, not everyone admits to following up a sophisticated watering hole with something so downright dirty!

Day Two:

I was riding solo on day two and therefore, couldn't decide where to visit from my humongous bank of favoured locations. I concluded that it would be criminal not to grace The Hummingbird Bakery with my presence, especially as I had learned, via Twitter, that the week's cupcake theme was 'traditional sweets' - perfect! Opting for the Soho branch (over it's Notting Hill equivalent), I wound my way through China Town to find my destination almost empty – this is almost unheard of as there is often a queue that snakes half way down the street. Consequently, I figured that London's cupcake-loving population must have been hiding from the rain and happily tucked into my sweet peanut cupcake in the café’s (unusually peaceful) pink-purple setting. The cupcake itself was wonderfully textured, light and nutty with a sweet cream-cheese frosting which, inspired by peanut brittle in terms of its flavour, had been adorned with just that! Although more than I'd consider paying for a cupcake back home, I couldn't resist purchasing another for 'the road' and so, I had a black-bottom cupcake put in a cutesy presentation box to take-away for later on!
I chose Covent Garden for my next stop and after climbing (and counting) the 193 stairs from the tube station to the street, it was difficult not to reward myself with yet more sweet treats. Bypassing the likes of 'Ella's' and 'Candy Cupcakes' where more beautiful creations caught my eye, I made my way to 'Cyber Candy' which, if you are not familiar, is basically an emporium of candy from all over the word. Despite Covent Garden featuring its flagship store, it's remarkably squishy so browsing is a no-go. Luckily I knew what I wanted and went away with my paper bag of 'proper' peanut butter M&Ms (that, if you remember, I couldn't source the day before) and Pretzel Flipz which are salted pretzels covered in white chocolate fudge - the salty-sweet contrast of which is seriously good…trust me! I'm sure you will recognise a pattern emerging here whereby being left to my own devices results in the proceedings being somewhat dominated by my sweet tooth. Subsequently, I thought it best to incorporate something substantially savoury into the equation and yet I wasn't quite ready to do so. A shame…considering how tempting the giant wok of paella cooking in the lower market space was; it's Mediterranean spices following me all the way back to the station….
Heading back to the hustle bustle of Oxford Circus instantly created the feeling of wanting to leave it again and for that reason, I headed to St. Christopher's Place. There are a couple of ways to access this area but the best and undoubtedly the quirkiest, is to find the tiny passageway which, just a stones-throw away from Selfridges, you could measure in its entirety with outstretched arms. This leads to a quaint courtyard where cafés and restaurants plentifully edge it’s focal monument and bubbling fountain – obviously we’re not talking absolute tranquillity but in my opinion, it’s attractively calmer than the nearby High Street. I chose Apostrophe for a bite to eat, a small chain boulangerie, patisserie and café serving a lovely range of sandwiches, soups, stews and salads, not to mention some very naughty-looking pastries that on this occasion, I avoided! I loved that this venue put as much emphasis on the bread constituting it's sandwiches as the fillings within them and for that reason couldn't resist the 'chamonix' (£3.95 to eat-in) which combined goats cheese, oven roasted peppers, rocket and salsa rossa in a multi-seed sourdough loaf - yum!

And so my time in the big city had come to an end and I left with both a light purse and a heavy stomach! With an inexhaustible supply of cafés, bars, restaurants and every genre of fast-food imaginable, you really have to wade through the convenience-driven pap to find the gems which actually do exist within each square of the city's patchwork quilt effect. Chains certainly have their place here, and there are some really good ones, but as I found with the grimy Starbucks that I bought in a hurry on my way to the coach, safety in numbers may mean that they don't have to work as hard, thus scrimping on the quality you may find elsewhere. Would I swap Bristol for London? No way! But, I do love to explore the foodie playground which exists here and at times, indulge in a spot of corporate gluttony – well, who doesn't?! Overall though, I'm lucky to have a brill friend and London know-all who has put in the preliminary work and sussed out a multitude of venues that she knows I will love - thank you H, until next time…

References:
http://starbucks.co.uk/

Friday, 15 July 2011

Grounded Café/Bar – Bedminster, Bristol

A mid-week day off with The Boy founded an impromptu trip to Bedminster and before our intended stroll around Windmill Hill City Farm, we decided to stop for refreshments in the second branch of Grounded – the first, located on Redfield's Church Road, has proven a favourite of ours in the past and therefore we hoped that its central counterpart would live up to our expectations...

Date and Time: Wednesday 13th July 2011, 11:15am
Name of Establishment: Grounded Café/Bar*
Loaction: 66-68 Bedminster Parade, Bedminster, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Brunch in 'Bemmy' with The Boy

Upon stepping into Grounded, my first thought was that it seemed a little dark. Due to a combination of mood-lighting and the venue's décor, which is predominantly made up of deep reds and browns, it can feel a little dingy. This is a shame as the intended ambience is, in my opinion, a little lost. In 'light' of this, The Boy and I bagged the squishy looking sofa nearest the window and luckily this, in addition to the openly propped door, made for a comfortable and airy experience, (in fact, we would have occupied the venue's cutesy exterior courtyard had the overcast weather let up somewhat!) Seating aside, it can be said the space is smart and immaculately clean – the ‘period Victorian’ theme is endorsed by grandly hung Gothic-effect chandeliers and solid wooden furniture and yet, the sporadically arranged contemporary artwork (available for purchase), although funky, seems a little disjointed.

Attentions turning to our stomachs and at an hour whereby dining could only be described as 'brunch', The Boy and I ordered paninis (£4.95 each); he, his stable tuna, cheddar and sweetcorn assemblage and I, the 'breakfast panini, minus the mushroom and with a generous helping of baked beans to compensate! It can be noted here how friendly and accommodating the service is – staff behind the bar were patient with our picky panini customisation and, with a good measure of banter, engaged in conversation whilst efficiently preparing our order. Meanwhile, another chap hurriedly wiped over our already spotless table – again, with an undoubtedly sincere attentiveness.

Food arrived and was both attractively plated and well-prepared. The paninis themselves were crisp and liberally filled, each with an accompanying bistro-style salad which had been drizzled with a mustard-rich dressing. Unfortunately this was not to my taste as it proved a little strong for my palate and yet, The Boy enjoyed it’s punchy burn and finished my salad as well as his own! Each panini also had a surprise ingredient which had not been advertised on the menu; white onion had been added to the tuna, cheddar and sweetcorn combo which reportedly, had been appropriately measured to function as an accent flavour rather than inadvertently overwhelm the other good-quality ingredients. And, what constitutes the breakfast panini? Well, my additional element, (although admittedly something I asked for), were the aforementioned baked beans which had been added in all their glory to the bacon and cheddar within my panini rather than heaped on the side. The result...a satisfying, albeit messy, all-day-breakfast-style hit!

Whilst eating, I took another look at the menu in my usual 'foodie' fashion in order to suss out what I would choose in the event of a return visit. I found a good selection of tapas, fresh soup and salads as well as a vast range of stone-baked pizzas (averaging £12) which, made with genuine Italian cheese, flour and meats, are served after five-pm and can also be ordered to take away. Children are also well catered for with shelves of toys to choose from and even the option of a 'Babychino' which, consisting of frothy milk and chocolate sprinkles, is free of charge – this may explain why there were so many hyped-up toddlers running around! Furthermore, Grounded boasts a licensed bar and showcase live music in the evenings though, back to the visit at hand whereby it was a little early in the day to be thinking about alcohol. Consequently, I washed down my nosh with a 'skinny' cappuccino. This had obviously been carefully made but for me, lacked pizazz – I was surprised to discover that 'Clifton Coffee'* were the brains behind what Grounded serve as usually, this ensures a top-end 'cuppa joe'.

In conclusion, I think I prefer the Redfield Grounded, it just has that 'je ne sais quoi' that the Bedminster branch lacked. There is no questioning the high level of service and value for money though as, for how little you are hit in the pocket, the cuisine is generously portioned, tasty and delivered with a smile. In addition to this, the use of fresh, locally sourced ingredients is a plus-point and in covering all the bases, this venue indubitably offers a desirable range of cuisine to suit an array of tastes and at breakfast, noon or night! I'm not sure whether it was just the initial feel of the space that left a lasting niggling impression or that, on the day of our visit, the space was overrun with kiddies making for a playgroup-feel that ultimately led to a less-than-relaxing experience. Whatever it was, it wouldn't put me off a return visit, although next time, I will aim for an evening sitting when it is as dark outside as the venue's interior and the clientèle is a little more adult!

 And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Grounded 8/10 and in three words chose, 'Grounded Panini Perfection'

References:

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Riverstation Restaurant – The Grove, Bristol

A lot of thought went into choosing a suitable location for Friday night's dinner plans with the Best Foodie Friend (BFF). We each had our own criteria; she, a venue special enough to warrant enduring a gruelling working week for, and I, value for money due to a serious lack of funds! We agreed on Riverstation, which we discovered would (at our intended time of visit) offer their top-end modern European cuisine across three menus, each with ample choice and at an affordable price...perfect!

Date and Time: Friday 8th July 2011, 19:00
Name of Establishment : Riverstation*
Location: The Grove, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Dinner date with the BFF

Seated within the airy top-floor restaurant overlooking the river and rainy outside terrace area, I was instantly impressed with the sophisticated vibe of this light and contemporary space. Floor-to-ceiling windows and tasteful minimalism created a spacious feel despite the venue's rapidly increasing population. With our coats whisked away for safekeeping, it was noted how friendly and efficient the service is – our server in particular made the BFF and I feel as though nothing was too much trouble and answered any questions we had with informative yet smiley responses.

The aforementioned menus were presented as follows: the à La Carte , (unfortunately just a little out of my price range on this occasion), the set menu (which changes daily and offers two courses for £14.75 and then the option of a third for an additional £3.75) and the Café Hour Menu (which offers a main meal with a drink for £9 from 6:00pm – 7:15pm Monday-Friday). BFF opted for the two-course set menu and I muddied the waters, choosing initially from the Café Hour menu and following this up with a dessert from the set menu which had particularly caught my eye!

Before our main courses arrived, our server brought a large basket of complimentary rustic breads to choose from – I selected a flavoursome fennel and sultana wholemeal and the BFF chose a hunk of the focaccia which was also reportedly delicious. It can be said that this amply whetted our appetites for main courses which were on the whole, very well received. The BFF's 'Jacob's Ladder' or, short rib of beef, was not quite as tender as she had anticipated but was satisfyingly tasty nevertheless. This was served with spinach, a velvety textured mash and peppercorn sauce which was wonderfully tangy without overpowering the dish. My main course constituted the smoked haddock and dill risotto which, I have to say, was beautifully presented (something I feel is notoriously difficult to achieve with a course of predominantly rice). The sticky indulgence of this course, was, for me, divine. The fish was light, flaky and had certainly not been scrimped upon and although clearly the dominant ingredient, the parmesan had that fresh, familiar pungency which I thoroughly enjoyed. 
Jacob's Ladder - from the Set Menu

Smoked Haddock and Dill Risotto - from the Café Hour Menu












 There wasn't much time to rest after our empty plates had been cleared as desserts were served almost immediately. As previously mentioned, I was able to choose from the set menu – namely, the warmed chocolate brownie which had been packed with walnuts and topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream as well as a drizzle of chocolate sauce and a dusting of cocoa powder. Unfortunately, I was still rather full from my risotto so probably didn't enjoy this pud as much as I would have, had I been given a little more time to rest between courses. That said, it was hard to resist its rich chocolaty appeal despite the growing pain in my stomach! The BFF was served the lemon syllabub which she reported was smooth and creamy with a unmistakably boozy hit! Furthermore, the accompanying sable biscuits were delicately crisp with a melt-in-the-mouth finish.
Chocolate and Walnut Brownie - from the Set Menu
Lemon Syllabub - from the Set Menu
When it came to drinks, I settled for the house white as it had been incorporated as part of my 'Café Hour' dinner. However, I couldn't help but eye-up the cocktail menu which, for around the six-pound mark, offered an attractive choice of original creations as well as a number of classic combos. The 'Wild Plum' would have proven top of my tipple selection muddling wild turkey bourbon, choya plum liqueur, apple juice and fresh lime – delish!

I entirely enjoyed my evening at the Riverstation restaurant – with its classy ambiance and somewhat faultless fare, I certainly plan to sample more of what this venue has to offer. I may well visit the Bar+Kitchen next time, perhaps for a spot of brunch or a cocktail or two. After all, if other aspects of this venue are of a similar quality to those experienced by the BFF and I, I'd certainly be onto a winner!

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave Riverstation a rating of 9/10 and in three words described her experience as, 'elegant, nuanced and tasty'.

References:

Friday, 8 July 2011

Planet Pizza – Whiteladies Road, Bristol

As regular readers of the blog will know, The Boy and I love a good pizza. Consequently, Monday evening’s cancelled dinner plans led us to improvise somewhat and instead, rendezvous at the Whiteladies Road branch of Planet Pizza where we hoped we'd find just that...

Date and Time: Monday 4th July 2011, 18:45
Name of Establishment: Planet Pizza*
Location: 83 Whiteladies Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Impromptu start-of-the-week treat!

Initially, I couldn't decide whether I enjoyed the infantile arrangement of the menu or felt a little patronised by it. This is a venue that has taken its theme to a new level of thorough; from the rocket cut-outs and cosmic blue fairy lighting that adorn its cave-like interior to the circular, galactically-inspired doodled menu on which pizzas are named after elements within our solar system – Uranus anyone?!
Planet Pizza's Menu
Opting to sit amidst the outside buzz on the pub-style benches, The Boy and I were brought a jug of iced water at our request (well, it was a school-night!) We proceeded to peruse the menu, delighting in its apt content, (the design-your-own ‘plan-it’ pizza and rocket salad were personal favourites) and after a short wait, our pizzas arrived, his; the 9-inch Meteorite and mine; the 9-inch Mars. From five until seven Sunday to Wednesday, pizzas are buy-one-get-one-free but outside of these margins, there is also a two-for-one-deal available courtesy of 'Voucher Cloud'* – hardly astronomical pricing I'm sure you'll agree! Furthermore, it can be said that the pizzas themselves are satisfying and tasty with an abundance of toppings. The Mars combines herb-infused sausage, spicy pepperoni and red onions which, creating rich bursts of flavour, are complimented by fresh-tasting tomato and oregano as well as the cooling pull of mozzarella cheese – yum!
Pizza - Mars
The Boy's pizza can only be described as a meat fest – straddled with enough carnivorous matter to sink a (space) ship and luckily, constituting ingredients of a good quality. Featuring ham, chorizo, salami, pepperoni and sausage as well as the punchy heat of jalapeño peppers, this pizza certainly kept The Boy on his toes!
Pizza - The Meteorite
I think that the only sticking point in regards to the food was the style of the pizza bases which were comparable to ‘Chicago Town’ in terms of their crisped batter effect and yet, rather than being light on the palate, proved to be quite the opposite; heavily textured and oily. In fact, both The Boy and I were glad that we had not opted for the 12-inch equivalent because, as it was, we both left nursing very full stomachs! It is also to be noted that service here is a little aloof, polite enough but in my opinion, not completely in keeping with the 'playful' ambiance that this venue tries so hard to achieve, (seriously, I almost expected to be served by a smiley someone in a NASA jumpsuit!)

In conclusion, I wouldn't banish this restaurant to a black hole but neither was it a shooting star. Being of a fickle temperament, I decided that I was in favour of its child-like quirk after all, (especially when the bill arrived weighted with an ample measure of jelly beans) and considering how lightly we’d been hit in the pocket, The Boy and I certainly left feeling fed! In my view, the quality of the toppings carried Planet Pizza into the realms of acceptable and if this hadn't have been the case, I'm not sure I'd consider coming back. After all, there are a multitude of pizza restaurants to choose from in Bristol’s City Centre, although I'm pretty sure that Planet Pizza is the only one that offers such a far-out approach to Italian cuisine.
Wouldn't Flying Saucers be more appropriate?!

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Planet Pizza a rating of 6/10 and in three words, described his meal as 'stodgy yet satisfying'.

References:

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Bubalu, Gloucester Road-Bristol

I love Gloucester Road. It really is Bristol's hub of the cool and the quirky, manifesting in a cosmopolitan strip of cafés, bars, restaurants and shops. I find that each visit leads me to discover somewhere new. On this occasion, a café caught my eye...enter Bubalu, a venue encompassing a somewhat unique selling point which, constituting a focus on healthy-living, combines 'fitness food and fun' for visitors of all ages...

Date and Time: Wednesday 29th June 2011, 13:30
Name of Establishment: Bubalu*
Location: 79-81 Gloucester Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Curiosity combined with lunchtime-related stomach rumbling

I wasn't sure what to expect from a café called Bubalu, it certainly wasn't obvious from the other side of the street. I think that perhaps this is the venue's only downfall as, although sporting a smart exterior which, opened-up on a sunshiney day, is admittedly appealing, it doesn't allow one to realise the full extent of what this establishment is about. That is, until you are inside it's comfortable, airy space and all becomes clear. It's a shame because this really is no ordinary café – behind the counter's green wall lies an ample fitness studio where classes, including Zumba, kickboxing and belly dancing (costing only £4.50 each), are held each day. These are run by a sturdy team of professionals ; personal trainers including the cafe's pro-active owners Mike and Catherine and even a dance choreographer who has worked as part of the X Factor production team coordinating routines for Cheryl Cole and Alexandra Burke! The venue also boasts two treatment rooms as well as a family area (complete with Nintendo Wii) and a couple of children's play areas that are free of charge on a day-to-day basis.

Back to the café itself and those lunchtime-related rumblings! The Boy and I ordered cappuccinos made with skimmed milk and freshly-toasted paninis (which, as part of a deal, cost us five pounds each). A lot of thought has gone in to sourcing and serving high quality coffee which is evident from the first sip – we're talking a Brazilian roast with a wickedly rich aroma and delicate foamed finish (minus the chocolate sprinkles obviously!) The team were trained by The Clifton Coffee Company's*award-winning barista, Ed Burston who, we were told, had inspired them to establish Bubalu as a 'true coffee house' – mission accomplished in my opinion albeit perhaps covering another base which may not have been entirely necessary for their success. 
Coffees - from £1.50
Next up came the paninis; I opted for roasted vegetable and mozzarella and The Boy asked to have a bespoke sandwich created with chorizo, peppers, tomato and cheese which was accommodated with a friendly can-do attitude. Prepared using multi-seeded paninis and ingredients which had been locally sourced from neighbouring businesses, these were tasty and wholesome. It was also noted that the ratio of cheese to the other salad/veggie-type fillings was spot-on, avoiding that commonly made mistake of over-melted cheesy greasiness! 

The Boy's Panini Creation
Other available healthy snacks include hot noodles (either sweet and sour vegetable or a tomato/chorizo combo), yogurt, fresh fruit and a range of cookies and cakes which are home-made with less butter and sugar thus supporting the notion that indulgence is acceptable in moderation. To wash it down, the aforementioned coffee, a selection of herbal teas as well as a range of cold drinks including fresh fruit smoothies and juices to which you can even add a protein supplement should you require a touch of muscle-repair after whichever class you've participated in! One thing to be aware of though; there is a minimum card payment of ten pounds – during our visit, The Boy and I witnessed a couple of customers having to dash to a nearby cash-point for funds!

I really liked the ethos of this venue – it's clearly portrayed from the menu's content to the canvas prints of intentionally inspirational action shots and yet, not over-imposed on it's clientèle. The Boy and I felt quite comfortable sat watching the world go by over lunch and yet, there was also talk of returning for something a little more active in the future. Furthermore, Mike and his team are undoubtedly passionate about creating a family-friendly space whilst driving home the concept of healthy-living (even allowing the younger generation hands-on experience with fresh ingredients) and, situated next door to 'Scrumptiously Sweet', an obvious emporium of sugar, they certainly have their work cut out. However, with enthusiasm in vast supply here, I have no reason to doubt that Bubalu will continue to do extremely well with the diverse Gloucester Road crowd, especially as, with the reasonable nature of it's fare, your finances remain healthy too.

And now for the second opinion...
The Boy gave Bubalu a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described it as, 'bubalu-tiful nutritious nosh'

References:
*http://www.bubalu.co.uk/ or find them on Facebook!
*http://www.cliftoncoffee.co.uk/