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!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Rose and Crown, Wick

Tuesday night had come around again and that could only mean one thing...it was date night and committed to keeping this new-found tradition alive, The Boy and I decided to shun the bright lights of the City Centre in favour of an old-school style 'Gastropub' which, recommended by our parents, is nestled within the picturesque village of Wick...

Date and Time: Tuesday 27th September 2011, 17:45
Name of Establishment: Rose and Crown
Location: 44 High Street, Wick, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Date Night...Part Two

Part of the Chef and Brewer Company,* the Rose and Crown is one of those traditional country pubs in which you cosy up to your nearest and dearest, A beautiful listed establishment built in the 16th century and steeped in local history, (apparently John Gulley, the first bare-knuckle fighter in the Country used to call this place home), it is quaint and quirky with exposed wooden beams, low ceilings (in places so low that you have to stoop a little to pass – yes even me, at a petite 5'4''!) and when it’s cold enough, a roaring open fire.

Staff are polite and efficient and although we were a little miffed that table-service had been implemented shortly after The Boy and I had placed our order at the bar, we were satisfied that our questions and concerns were addressed, for the most part, with a positive, can-do attitude. However, it would be fair to say that there was a degree of defensiveness as soon as the etiquette slipped in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, the concerns I am referring to were fundamentally associated with The Boy’s main course and for that reason, I have decided to split this review in two and allow The Boy to run with his unique interpretation of the dish that he had been served.

First though, my review of the 'Chorizo Chicken' (£9.75) which constituted a juicy grilled chicken breast under which nestled a chunky slice of chorizo sausage and under that, an enormous heap of sweet potato mash. Now, I'll admit that I'm easily pleased when it comes to sweet potato as it is without a doubt, one of my favourite vegetables and this variety did not disappoint proving smooth, creamy and well-seasoned with a beautiful spicy warmth that it had taken from the chorizo. Furthermore, with crisp green beans and the cleansing coolness of sour cream, the dish really had an interesting arrangement of contrasting tastes and textures and in fact, the only element that didn't particularly appeal was the sweet chilli drizzle which had, in my view, a rather abrasive after-taste. That said, I can conclude that this was a delicious and well-executed dish.
Chorizo Chicken
Whilst we're on a high, it is worth noting that the Rose and Crown offer an ample range of tipples; all the usual suspects as well as a seasonally influenced line-up of wines, an ever-changing range of guest cask ales and even a cocktail menu! In addition to this, suggested food and drink pairings have been noted throughout the menu which seemed to indicate the thought that had been given to its content and the ingredients sourced for each dish. With this in mind, I'm ashamed to reveal that I unimaginatively opted for a crisp Chardonnay (a snip though at under £3 for 175ml) whereas The Boy chose an Italian bottled larger – the perhaps lesser sourced, Birra Moretti which he commented made a refreshing change to Peroni. 

And now for the bad news....After finding that his ‘Gourmet Burger’ (£9.50) had been plated without the advertised bacon, ‘classic burger dip’ and with just two small onion rings limply strewn on the edge of the plate, The Boy was far from impressed. This, plus the salad which appeared a little lack-lustre to say the least and the quality of the dish overall brought about this review…
When one pays restaurant price for pub grub...in a pub, you'd expect at the very least to get food of a high standard and maybe you might get the chance to say, 'hmm, it's almost like we went to a restaurant.' Unfortunately, when my 'Gourmet' burger arrived, the first thing I picked up, before my cutlery, was the menu...just to check that it didn't say J D Wetherspoon on it! But alas, I wasn't mistaken, just disappointed. Although I hadn't said, nor been asked how I wanted my 'steak burger' cooked, if I had done I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have said, 'burnt on both sides, oozing with grease and plenty of salt please'! Now, I'm no cretin, I've had burgers in many pubs and restaurants from Cornwall to Sheffield and fantastic food has been enjoyed at The Rose and Crown previously – they do a cracking Sunday roast I can tell you. What I believe has happened here is what I like to call 'FSS' or, 'Fluctuating Standards Syndrome' which many establishments suffer when they try to accommodate every food-related want imaginable. But it really shouldn't be a case of choose badly and 'unlucky mate!' It's an evening meal I'm after, not the lottery...that said, I wish I had lucked-out and had Sammy's plate!”
Gourmet Burger
And so, two very different experiences, some rather serious food envy and a spot of sulking demonstrated by The Boy which meant that we didn't stick around for dessert! Upon expressing his initial dissatisfaction with the composition of the ‘Gourmet Burger’ the staff agreed to charge for the standard burger (£7.75) instead. Despite further discovering the burger itself was lacking (albeit edible), The Boy decided to write off the experience and made a mental note to order something a little less mainstream in the event of a return visit. And so, I was really hoping to be able to urge you to deviate from what the City Centre has to offer and dine somewhere a little off the beaten track and although The Boy’s review isn’t exactly glowing, don't let it put you off completely. I think that The Rose and Crown just need to concentrate on perfecting fewer dishes; the notion of quality over quantity which The Boy also alluded to amidst his rather scathing comments. At present there are just so many options; pub favourites, burgers and steaks, fish dishes, Chef Recommendations and Specials – thus, a multitude of ingredients and combinations to work with and therefore plenty of potential for mistakes to be made. That said, it's a triumph when they get it right, evidenced by my main course which was fresh, flavoursome and generously portioned. Thus, somewhat hit and miss; worth the risk in my view (for the country-bumpkin setting and the aforementioned Sunday Roasts if nothing else) but not if you have to bust a gut to get here...a shame as in my opinion, the margin for potential far outweighs the margin created for error...

To note, the Rose and Crown offer lunchtime and evening deals and from 5:00pm, two courses are £9.99 and three, £11.99. Their Thursday Curry Night, Friday Fish Night and Sunday Roast are also very well attended.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Tart after Dark – Spanish Supper Evening

The Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I have become rather accustomed to Tart Café and Foodstore's Monthly 'after-hours' supper club and as this particular instalment promised the beautiful sun-drenched tastes of Spanish cuisine, we didn't hesitate to register our interest. One might say, not wanting to miss out on extending the Summertime which, for the most part, had dissolved into Autumnal chill within the blink of an eye.

Date and Time: Thursday 22nd September 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Tart Café and Foodstore*
Location: 16 The Promenade, Gloucester Road-Bristol
Reason for Visit: Tart after Dark Spanish Supper Evening

I always love stepping into the calm Parisian precision of Tart – so fresh and neat in its décor that it feels a million miles away from the quirky mish-mash of its Gloucester Road setting. On this occasion, tables were simplistically arranged; each dressed with crisp white linen, a single church candle set within bubbled glass as well as a tasteful pairing of blooms spilling from a dainty miniature vase. It is the effortless sophistication here that never fails to impress; creating an air of calm within what had become a real hubbub of bodies and voices...apparently the BFF and I were not the only ones reminiscent of those hot Mediterranean evenings...

Upon being seated, we were treated to an aperitif of Colosia Fino sherry, served over ice in a champagne flute. This was a refreshing start and well-received, especially as this would constitute the only alcohol the BFF and I would indulge in (be it a school night) despite the fact that Darren Willis from nearby Grape and Grind* had again put together a list of suitably matched wines to compliment each course. Furthermore, introductory tipples had been supplemented with small bowls of Manzilla olives and roasted almonds – a nice touch that suitably whetted our appetites for the courses to follow.

First up, the tasting plate of tapas which consisted of a bite-sized Spanish omelette (unanimously considered delightfully fluffy and light), skewered vegetables, a handful of rocket drizzled with sweet balsamic and, the winner of this dish (for me at least), an individual croquette. The latter was perfectly formed; coated with crunchy breadcrumbs which gave way to a wonderfully creamy cheese and spinach filling – yum! However, I was a little perplexed by the vegetable skewer as despite my love-hate relationship with artichoke, it was (upon account of the BFF who ended up with a double portion) well-cooked and earthy and the cherry tomato, along with the black olives, deliciously plump and juicy; I just wasn't sure how the cube of cheese, albeit a good-quality and creamy variety, made it on to the end of the pin. Would it be fair to say that this was a little out of place or is there a specific Spanish tradition that I'm just not aware of, (answers on a postcard perhaps)!?
Tapas Tortilla, Banderillas, Croquetas de Espinacas
No ambiguity when it came to the main course though which unquestionably had the wow factor...melt-in-the-mouth slow braised pork, wrapped with crispy Parma ham and nestled in the centre, an ample wedge of spicy chorizo. This fantastic carnivorous parcel sat on a criss-cross of firm green beans and a saucy medley of tomato, chickpeas and roasted red peppers...not to mention an extra scattering of chorizo for good measure. The rich flavours bursting from this dish were really rather exquisite and, softened almost with a zesty lemon undercurrent, proved fresh yet wholesome – a combination which appropriately captured the sunshiny attributes of Spanish fare alongside the seasonal ingredients sourced and prepared back in good old Blighty. It's also to be noted how beautifully this dish had been plated which, as well sporting a 'proper-portion', (which incidentally the BFF and I now affectionately refer to as 'the Andrew Griffin effect' - Andrew being the head chef at Tart Café and Foodstore) therefore had been commendably balanced; proving both aesthetically pleasing as well as tasty and satisfying. Vegetarians were treated to a pumpkin, chickpea and vegetable stew which, served with saffron rice, sounded warming and flavoursome – I didn't catch a glimpse of this dish in the flesh but then again, I was so taken with my own main course that I’ll admit, at the time, I didn't really give the alternative a thought!
Estofado de Carne de Cerdo, Garbanzos, Chorizo, Pimento asados
As readers of my blog will know, I'm rather partial to the indulgence of dessert and yet, having never sampled yogurt cake thus far, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The result…a light and moistly textured sponge with that homely just-baked warmth – impressively executed especially as Andrew mentioned that he had trialled this dish for the first time just the evening before! Succulent orange segments and the icy zing of lemon granita were welcome accompaniments giving this dessert its citrusy freshness; hence, flavours which complimented the natural cultures of the yogurt entirely – lovely!
Quesada de Yogurt, Granizado de Naranja y Limon
Overall, another top-notch supper club experience courtesy of the 'Tart' team – food to knock your socks off and service which is attentive and as poised as the surroundings are chic. Scheduled for Thursday 27th October, I've been told that the next menu will constitute an autumnal French theme (further details to be confirmed in due course) and so, best to keep a close eye on the 'Lovely Tart' website as it’s sure to be a sell-out…For now though, thank you to Jennie, Ellen, Andrew and team for a truly enjoyable evening...until next time...!

And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave the Tart after Dark Spanish Supper evening 9/10 and in three words, described the cuisine as ‘light’, ‘flavourful’ and ‘sunny’.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Piazza di Roma – Whiteladies Road (Blackboy Hill), Bristol

On a breezy Spring evening many moons ago, The Boy chose Piazza di Roma as the setting for our first date...and so, it seemed rather appropriate to pay this cutesy Italian bistro a visit upon the agreed reinstatement of 'date night'; a concept intended to remedy the distinct lack of 'quality time' spent of late as a result of increasingly conflicting work schedules. Thus, effort induced a tidy dress code (dusty skater-shoes discarded for one night only) and that boy-woos-girl formula that this venue suitably allows for.

Date and Time: Tuesday 20th September 2011, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Piazza di Roma*
Location: 178 Whiteladies Road (Blackboy Hill), Bristol
Reason for visit: Date Night....Revisited!

Piazza di Roma has a distinctly homely feel to it; intimate and traditionally arranged from the solid simplicity of the furniture to the red, green and white of the wipe-clean tablecloths. However, it's indubitably the finishing touches that give this space its character; fairy lights twinkle from where they have been tastefully wound, tea-lights flicker from within the rouged glass containers set upon each table and an Italian-themed soundtrack plays out subtly overhead. The Boy and I chose the table-for-two nearest the window so that we could watch the world go by and although this proved a little cramped, looking out onto the rainy street (albeit punctuated with a number of pedestrians miserably sporting the drowned-rat effect) was somewhat in keeping with the romantic ambiance we had hoped would be achieved. 

On to the food and principally steered by Sicilian Chef, Mometo El Bakkali, the menu comprises an ample selection of traditional Italian cuisine. It is also headed with the claim that ingredients are sourced from ‘the best that Italy and Bristol have to offer’ and hence, the promise of authenticity coupled with the quality of locally-sourced fare both appealed and set the bar rather high in terms of our expectations. Furthermore, when it comes to value for money, the early-bird deal whereby two courses amount to just £10.95 (available before 7:45pm), certainly ticks the box and with prior knowledge that portion sizes here are not for the faint-hearted, The Boy and I knew to share a starter (which incidentally made for enough room to also go-halves on a dessert!) We opted for the bruscetta which arrived promptly alongside our chosen tipples; he the Valpolicella Classico, which, as a personal favourite, was positively-received and I, the Soave which established a fresh and creamy finish - just lovely. That, in addition to the crisply textured, well-seasoned and beautifully presented execution of the starter, made for a cracking start - diced juicy tomato muddled with its sun-dried counterpart had been complimented with the unmistakable fragrance of fresh basil and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Supplemented with a side-salad which had been scattered with several varieties of olive, the interesting variation of tastes and textures were perfectly balanced in this dish.
That said, I felt that ‘secondis’ arrived a little too hastily; The Boy hardly having the time to pop the last olive into his mouth before the plate was whisked away and our main courses set down in front of us. I created my own pizza and guided by my stomach, chose to top the mozzarella and home-made tomato, basil and oregano sauce with dolcelatte and prosciutto de Parma ham, (not the most uniform combination I will admit but I can certainly vouch for the fact that it worked – resulting in rich bursts of flavour accented largely by the twang of blue cheese). In addition to this, I learned that Piazza di Roma’s pizza bases are made from scratch and stone-baked on the premises daily which consequently, constituted a thin and crispy crust – just delicious! The Boy chose the Paglia e Fieno all’Alfredo which he reported was wonderfully flavoursome; the earthy tendencies of the mushroom married well with the simplicity of the pan-fried ham and indulgence of the creamy cheese sauce. His only complaint was that the caramelised red onion was a little lacking in terms of its quantity but, with so much going on in this dish, it wasn’t greatly missed!
My Indulgently Created Pizza
Paglia e Fieno all’Alfredo

Given the calibre of the previous two courses, The Boy and I were a little disappointed with dessert; we had chosen to treat ourselves to the chocolate fudge cake which unfortunately, didn’t have the home-made authenticity of what had been sampled thus far. Attractively plated and decadently warmed-through, the cake itself was light with a good measure of filling and yet, it just didn’t have the wow factor that I would typically sacrifice the extensive calorie-count for! Besides, the ice cream, although liberally portioned, was not of the best quality – a shame considering some of the lovely alternatives that I’m sure could have been sourced in keeping with the original ‘best from Italy and Bristol’ assertion. That said, the visit certainly wasn’t thwarted by a mediocre pudding and The Boy and I will undoubtedly return to Piazza di Roma...though perhaps sticking with a tralatitious Italian sweet may glean a more desirable outcome...(tiramisu anyone?!)
Chocolate Fudge Cake

Overall, an enjoyable evening – The Boy and I felt relaxed and comfortable for the duration of our visit and definitely left feeling fed. Service is polite, accommodating and although not particularly chatty (I do like a good old chin-wag), it would be really unfair to fault the professional yet friendly demeanour that our server consistently demonstrated. The cuisine is reasonably-priced, well-presented, fresh and tasty and chocolate fudge cake aside, I loved the genuine feel to the dishes we ordered. Thus, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Piazza di Roma…perhaps suggesting that the proof is not always in the pudding!

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Piazza di Roma a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described this venue as, 'plated with passion'.


Monday, 19 September 2011

Watershed Café/Bar, Canon's Road – Bristol

The Watershed...coined 'the cultural cinema and digital creativity centre of Bristol' and yet, global media aside, I'm here to review the ever-popular Café/Bar which the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I recently paid a visit for a post-work, pre-knees-up bite-to-eat...

Date and Time: Friday 16th September 2011, 17:45
Name of Establishment: Watershed Café/Bar*
Location: 1 Canon's Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Post-work meet-up with the BFF

The first to arrive at our pre-planned destination, I made my way to the Watershed's lively bar area for a well-earned vino, (OK, so I know I said that this visit was fundamentally 'pre-party-time' but start as you mean to go on as they say...!) I chose a glass of the Strawberry Hill Chardonnay (£3.95) from the specials chalk-board and once seated and my beverage sampled, took it straight back! With an odd twang similar almost to a dry cider, this was not to my taste at all – luckily, excellent service ensued that I was promptly given a replacement. Second time around, I opted for the Three Choirs Seyval Blanc (£3.95) which, although arguably a safer choice, proved refreshingly crisp with its characteristically lemony notes. Whilst we're on the subject of alcohol, it can be noted that this venue stocks a great selection of top-notch tipples, in particular, local favourites; Weston's Organic Cider and Bath Ales, the latter including their Organic Lager which incidentally, I'm relatively partial to!

After this initial kerfuffle, the BFF made an entrance....We sat as close to the open windows overlooking the harbourside (and consequently, the fully occupied balcony) as we could, though by early-evening, it does become rather a rush to obtain a seat at all! That said, decked out with wooden floors and with high ceilings that bring about a typically airy feel, the space is comfortable and even when it's especially busy, retains a sense of spaciousness as well as a notably sophisticated ambiance. Scouring the menu, of which the main attractions are split between field, farm and sea, the BFF and I decided that we would wuss out a little and share a couple of the lighter dishes; namely the ham hock and apricot terrine (£5.35) as well as the bread, hummous and olive combo (£4.25). The latter was generously portioned and consisted of a rustic baguette which encompassed that 'fresh-from-the-oven' warmth, juicy olives with a wonderfully citrus zing and an oil and balsamic dipping pot. An ample quantity of hummous completed this dish and although its texture had that lovely home-made coarseness to it, we mused that it was ever so slightly bland in terms of its flavour. The terrine was the star of the show however with its rich contrast of salt verses sweet as well as a satisfyingly meaty density which just melted in the mouth – yum! After all, with a 'plot to plate' concept that focuses on wholesome (seasonally driven), locally-sourced and organic produce, the Watershed has an obvious passion for providing its customers with high-quality cuisine – a passion, the BFF and I found, that even transpires to the simplest of dishes. In turn, it was this finding which whetted our appetites for a return visit whereby it was agreed that we would sample something a little more substantial! In addition to this, the tasty-sounding breakfast menu (available each day until 11:45am), the promise of a decent cup of coffee as well as an interesting line-up of daily specials and the fact that any of the dishes on offer (where at all possible) can be created to suit a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diet, further heightened the appeal.
Onto dessert and although the BFF decided not to partake, there was absolutely no resistance on my part; especially when faced with the temptation of the home-made chocolate pot with spicy ginger biscuits (£3.50). I was a little surprised when this arrived however as it constituted a chilled egg-custard style-pudding as opposed to the warmed stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth indulgence I was expecting! Not that the alternative wasn't wolfed as the creamy chocolate consistency was pleasant to say the least; especially when accompanied with the light, buttery crunch of the ginger biscuits which, for the record, contributed a spicy warmth to the dish, nuzzling the palate in that comfort-food tradition even after our table had been cleared!
Chocolate Pot
All in all, a great choice of venue…the quirky and chilled-out staff-force underpin a distinctively funky vibe in addition to promoting a friendly 'stay-a-while' atmosphere which is clearly valued by its clientèle. Supported by complimentary WiFi, subtle 'mood-music' and a scattering of available literature, it really makes for a thinking-person's haven. For me though, the thinking was primarily of my stomach (no change there then) and I loved that the Watershed commits itself to the quality of its fare just as the venue plays homage to a world of digital arts; hence, the art of excellent cuisine has certainly not been forgotten...

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave Watershed Café/Bar a rating of 7/10 and in three words, described the cuisine as 'simple', 'fresh' and 'quick'.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Café Rouge – Cabot Circus, Bristol

I love the ooh la la of French food; the in-your-face richness verses the delicate complexities of its fare and the chic appeal that, given its authenticity, can take me back to starry-eyed Parisian visits whereby my love-affair with this genre of cuisine began. Now, I'm not deluded enough to pile these expectations on a chain restaurant that provides a touch of le français for the masses and yet for me, visiting Café Rouge (in this case the branch situated amidst the plethora of eateries within the Cabot Circus composite), almost constitutes a guilty pleasure – perhaps in the same way that you know that X Factor will never be the same without Simon Cowell…but that doesn't stop you tuning in each week 'just to see if it's any good' and let's face it, finding that you enjoy the alternative for what it is regardless..!

Date and Time: Sunday 11th September 2011, 17:45
Name of Establishment: Café Rouge*
Location: Cabot Circus, Upper Ground Floor
Reason for Visit: Avoidance of the Sunday dinner-time roast-up fiasco in addition to a buy-one-get-one-free offer courtesy of 'Voucher Cloud'!*

I think every Café Rouge I’ve ever set foot in has the exact set-up – vibrantly red colour scheme (obviously), token French words scrawled across the paintwork and an old-school Bistro-effect brought about by deep wooden panelling, gold lighting stemmed from the ceiling as well as a multitude of gaudy framed mirrors and pictures tightly arranged side-by-side. Not to mention the soundtrack which ranges from ambient sax to a cheese-fest of characteristically Eurovision ditties! That said, I've never known Café Rouge to be anything other than buzzing with a near-to-full occupancy and the evening of our visit was, in fact, the only exception. Our server mused that the lack of bodies was; 'probably subsequent to half of Bristol flocking to the establishment the previous evening' and although we smiled in agreement, it didn't alter the distinct lack of pizazz that is usually enjoyed as part of the 'Rouge' experience. However, it did mean that The Boy and I could pretty much choose where we sat and opting for an intimate corner booth, comfortably upholstered with cherry-coloured velvet, it proved a rather romantic setting, especially with tea-ilghts flickering from within their small stained-glass containers.
Red Threads!
Dining on a two-for-one basis (as mentioned above) and with an extensive range of typical French favourites to choose from, (Coq au Vin anyone?!), I probably picked a dish which was a little beyond the capabilities of my appetite and yet 'when in Rome'...well France actually...it would have been rude not to indulge in one of their specialities; and so, the Confit de Canard (£13.50) made an entrance. Amply presented, accompaniments consisted of French beans (perfectly crisp) and creamy dauphinoise potatoes topped with Gruyère cheese. I was a little disappointed with the potatoes which, although beautifully textured, proved a little bland in the flavour department. That aside, the meat itself was rich-tasting and succulent with a wonderfully crisped skin which just melted in the mouth – delicious! The finishing touch was a generous dousing of plum sauce which although in my opinion would have been better described as a jus due to its viscosity, had a pleasant twang which both contrasted and complimented other aspects of the dish and added a definite oomph where required! The Boy chose the 8oz Bavette (£12.95); a traditional French cut of steak marinated in rosemary and garlic. Although he assured me this was well-cooked to his medium-rare instruction, I thought it seemed a tad on the chewy side, (that said, I'm not a steak person by any stretch of the imagination so what do I know?!) His dish was served with French Fries, heaped in a appending ceramic bowl and then, in another smaller bowl, a runny yet satisfyingly punchy 'garlic beurre maison' which although was rather well received, was somewhat lacking in volume. Lastly, I have to mention how regimentally organised this plate was, each element segregated into its individual vessel – something which I'm not sure appealed, proving fussy just for the sake of it. We were too full for desserts but I did consider the crème brûlée (£4.95) which, made with vanilla pods and cream, was considered suitably decadent!
8oz Bavette
Confit de Canard

Service was chatty and polite – our waitress in particular proved efficient and commendably un-pushy given the fact that we paid with a voucher and and stuck to tap-water for the duration of our visit! The Boy and I didn't choose to partake in beverages of the alcoholic variety on this occasion as we both had early-starts the following day and besides, neither of us fancied forking out almost £4 for a small glass of vino which, although seemed a little pricey, I guess was moderately in keeping with restaurants of this calibre.

And so, just as anticipated, Café Rouge was fine...fine for eating-out on a budget and fine for avoiding twilight washing-up duties and yet, not providing the wow factor of other independently run and more authentically arranged French restaurants and cafés I've discovered*, (not to mention the eateries I found in Paris itself – high standards as they may be!) Perhaps it just tries too hard to achieve an atmosphere that we Brits will perceive as French culture – I mean the serving staff might as well wear horizontal stripes and a wreath of garlic bulbs around their necks to complete the stereotype! Yet, accept this chain for what it is as well as the notion that subtlety really doesn't work on a National scale and it can indubitably offer an enjoyable, and reasonably-priced night out, (with the lure of an offer that is and with a Prix Fixe menu available 12:00 noon – 5:00pm daily and a Du Soir Set Menu offering two courses for £10.50 after 5:00pm Sunday to Thursday, there are devices in place even if your money-saving 'apps' desert you!) Nevertheless, it's fair to say that overall the most important aspect of this establishment, its cuisine, is of a commendable standard and for that reason we can again settle on summing up Café Rouge as...fine, or as the French would say 'bien'!

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave Café Rouge a rating of 7/10 and in three words, described this venue as 'haw-hee-haw'! (Methinks he wasn't taking this seriously!)

*Bistro La Barrique, I will be paying you a visit very soon!!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

St Werburghs City Farm Café - Bristol

Well, all I will offer by way of an introduction is...I can't believe that I haven't visited St Werburghs City Farm Café before as it truly is, (both theoretically-speaking and geographically) right up my street!

Date and Time: Wednesday 7th September 2011, 13:45
Name of Establishment: St Werburghs City Farm Café*
Location: Watercress Road, St Werburghs – Bristol
Reason for Visit: Impromptu lunchtime meet-up with The Boy – brought on by a momentary respite from Bristol's new-found monsoon season!

Described as an ethically guided community café and situated adjacently from the thriving farm, there is no reason to doubt the quality of the produce sourced at St Werburghs City Farm Café. However, the menu was not the first thing that appealed to me as, upon first observation of this dwelling from the car, its character and originality (which arguably, wouldn't be out-of-place within the pages of a fairytale), instantaneously drew me inside. And, just as its exterior proves both curious and inviting, its interior is warm and cosy. With a hand-carved and polished wooden tree-trunk effect structure that curls up from the floor towards its hut-like summit as well as the cut-out oval windows and spot-lit nooks and crannies, this space could almost be described as an elaborate tree-house. The deep red of the décor, plump, richly-striped cushions, leafy foliage and a train of bunting branded by the nearby residents of Sevier Street makes for a homely ambiance which reverberated a genuine family-friendly feel – mirrored somewhat by the attitude of the staff who, passionate about the space they have created (and rightly so) are welcoming, helpful and smiley.
A Natural Novelty!
The Boy and I chose from the list of specials but took note of the main menus for future reference. Breakfast in particular, (served from 10:00am until 12:00 noon) sounded amazingly wholesome with all the usual suspects including, sausage, bacon, eggs and black pudding, yet locally-sourced, organic and free-range – delicious! Typical lunchtime offerings included burgers (both vegetarian and carnivorous varieties) and lighter bites like speciality hummous with marinated olives and warmed pitta. Back to those aforementioned specials though and, indecisively opting to share a couple of dishes as reluctant to settle on one each, The Boy and I chose the smoked haddock fish-cakes (£6.50) and the cheese quesadillas (£5.50). The fish-cakes were well-portioned and amply filled with an even, creamy texture. The home-made salsa verde which accompanied this dish was wonderfully flavoursome featuring a range of herbs that perfectly balanced the distinct salty edge of the capers. Good quality cheese with a mature-bite filled the quesadillas which, crisp and satisfying, were supplemented with fresh salsa and a cool sour cream - both interesting presented in an espresso cup! The focus on organic, free-range and seasonal produce made for a real sense of good, honest grub. It just goes to show that sustainability needn't be burdensome and to 'eat fresh' really goes a long way to ensure top-notch results in terms of taste – in fact, the salad which generously accompanied both dishes had been picked from the farm that very morning and dressed simply with oil was wonderfully crisp and refreshing. 


To wash down our meals, The Boy and I both ordered cappuccino (£1.75) which, made with semi-skimmed milk, was of a commendable standard (and therefore satisfying my tendency towards coffee-snobbery!) Incidentally, I loved the earthenware-style crockery which is utilised here; for me, adding to that homely vibe and somewhat in keeping with the environmentally-friendly ethos which, in my opinion, is achieved in leaps and bounds. Whilst the cuisine sampled thus far had been very well received, we didn't opt for desserts on this occasion but I couldn’t help but notice the selection of cakes and pastries tempting me from the counter (not to mention the enticing range of ice cream available in an array of flavours including pistachio, my favourite!) That said, I certainly intend to revisit soon and, driven by my notorious sweet-tooth, have already invited my mum to join me for coffee and a rather belated pudding on the weekend! 
Cutesy Coffee with a Kick!
Overall, an impressive café in the heart of the Community-driven City Farm – it's obvious that the hard-work and enthusiasm behind ensuring the best in quality produce has paid off as its fare really is fresh and exciting. Furthermore, I'm certainly not the only one who enjoys the appeal of this snuggly haven – its geared up for reading, internet browsing or merely hanging-out with the family, (furthermore, there is a children's playground just outside which, although more-than-sufficient at present, has been earmarked for improvement as soon as the required funds are raised). Lastly, I simply have to mention the year-round foodie events that are held here, 'Tasty Tales at Twilight' combines a seasonal menu with imaginative story-telling and tipples created with the foraged findings from owner, Leona's garden – the next has been scheduled for the 30th September 2011 so if this tickles your fancy, it's best to bag yourself a place as soon as possible– it's sure to be a sell-out if the (deservedly) apparent buzz for this café is anything to go by.

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy gave St Werburghs City Farm Café 9/10 and in three words, described it as, 'farmyard food finesse'.

Tel: 0117 9080798
Open Wednesday – Monday from 10:00am – 5:00pm (Summer) and 10:00am – 4:00pm (Winter)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Brace and Browns – Whiteladies Road, Bristol

There has certainly been a raft of praise for Brace and Browns since its bar and kitchen opened for business back in the Spring. So, when the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I encountered a spanner in the works in terms of the venue for our next natter and nosh-up, it was the first to spring to mind as an alternative. Fast-forward to the evening in question and it's fair to say that we were really rather excited to be checking out Brace and Browns consistently complimented cuisine for ourselves...

Date and Time: Friday 3rd September 2011, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Brace and Browns*
Location: 43 Whiteladies Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Dinner and drinks with the BFF (yes...we do this a lot!)

In order to reach the peace and quiet of Brace and Browns' inside space, the BFF and I initially had to fight our way through the buzz of the typical Friday-night merry-makers who, warming themselves beneath heat lamps, had flocked to this venue's popular decked exterior terrace, (no doubt to make the most of the fading evening sunshine). Having never visited 'Deasons' (the sites former occupant), I suppose you could say that I had a clean slate when it came to any preconceptions regarding how the interior had been utilised. Consequently, I can report (without comparison nor contrast) that the décor has been classically arranged with deep reds and browns that tie the rich hues of the furniture, as well as the wooden expanse of the flooring, in with the intended colour-scheme. A distinct focus on well-known British branding, plus, food and drink manufacturers from the past are interestingly amalgamated within a tasteful feature-wall – the subtle soundtrack also seemed to adhere to this 'years gone by' theme; ranging from a generous helping of 60's Motown to The Beautiful South! Furthermore, the framed Marmite pop-art was considered a great touch and, as lovers as opposed to haters, the BFF and I enjoyed the view from where we sat! Service was efficient and friendly and although our table was waited by a number of servers, proved systematically well-informed and polite. 
Brace and Browns' Feature Wall
On to the food and the BFF and I felt somewhat compelled to sample a selection of morsels from the Tapas menu which we had heard so much about prior to our visit. The originality and imagination behind this array of mini-plates proved fresh and exciting and, although predominantly British, has also been inspired from cuisine from around the globe. Despite discovering that the 'famous' Yorkshire pudding' was no longer on the menu, there was certainly plenty to choose from. Split into four categories of; meat, fish, vegetarian and sweet treats, the dishes are priced at one for £3, three for £8 and four for £10. Alternatively, you can opt to have everything the menu has to offer for a reasonable £60 – great if you're dining as part of a large group or...have a hollow leg! Moving on...the BFF and I decided to choose six dishes in total, two each and two to share. I chose the chicken skewers with a satay peanut sauce which, beautifully presented with a flourish of tiny pink (and I hope edible) leaves, were succulent and flavoursome. My second dish was the cauliflower and parmesan bhajis which were generously portioned and crisply textured with a drizzle of curried cream – just divine. The BFF was equally as impressed with the dishes she chose; the pork belly with a cider and apple chutney was reportedly very tasty and albeit proving a little chewy, was complimented perfectly by the chutney with its tangy sweetness. Her second dish, the halloumi, was exactly as described on the menu – perfectly grilled. We shared the pesto and tomato schiaccialella which, described as 'fancy Italian bread', consisted of two crisped pizza rounds with an amazingly juicy, not to mention vibrant, topping. Lastly, it would have been rude to ignore the 'treats' section of the menu and so for pudding, the BFF and I shared the mini scones with vanilla clotted cream and jam. Now, I can confidently say that the cream was not clotted, (more so a light whipping cream) but it was a pleasant accompaniment nevertheless with the vanilla's distinctive flavour a delicate delight with every mouthful. 
Tapas Board

Besides Tapas, there is a great assortment of Gastropub-style grub to choose from; burgers, risottos and salads all feature here but it was the Chef's omelettes that particularly caught my eye – at only £6 there are three options including honey glazed ham and smoked cheese or wild mushroom and spinach – simple yet delicious; especially, if the quality of the ingredients sourced for the Tapas dishes are anything to go by. In addition to this, I can't document the cuisine at Brace and Browns without mentioning their Sunday roasts and, on the last Sunday of every Month you are even invited to flip a coin for a chance to enjoy your dinner for free, (normally £12.50). However, the Brace and Browns' Sunday roast has been alluded to as one of the best in the central Bristol area and thus, I certainly intend to find out for myself whether this is the case with or without a lucky coin toss!

Back to the evening at hand and to wash down our meal, the BFF and I both chose a glass of vino; she, a Sauvignon Blanc and I, a Pinot Grigio, both of which lapped at a rather sizeable glass for just £3. I think as a larger party, a jug of Pimms may have gone down rather well and, although I didn't check out the line-up on this occasion, I did hear the unmistakable whizz of a cocktail shaker implying that there is indeed a wide range of tipples – some of which I will indubitably have to sample upon my next visit!

Overall, a great evening – classy surroundings, service which was commendably on-the-ball for a busy Friday-night and dishes which are well-presented, adequately portioned and scrumptious to say the least! I love that Brace and Browns have redesigned the concept of Tapas; drawing on aspects from the great cuisine of Blighty and beyond as opposed to simply sticking to the usual Spanish-related suspects. The appeal of diversity coupled with the option of feasting on as little or as much as you wish makes, in my view, for a winning combination and is ideal for the indecisive among us (myself included) who consequently, can try a little of everything! With this in mind, I can’t wait for my next visit - no wonder the praise for this venue has been consistent, I shall be undoubtedly be echoing what others have said for anyone who will listen!

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave Brace and Browns 9/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'diverse’, ‘imaginative’ and ‘delicious’.


Friday, 2 September 2011

Bar Humbug - Whiteladies Road, Bristol

So just when I claim that Greek cuisine is so very difficult to come-by in Bristol I stumble upon another venue where it features rather fittingly on the menu; which, in this case, takes its inspiration from the chef's Mediterranean-come-North African background. I'm talking about Bar Humbug, a venue which, to date, I have only ever frequented for a cocktail or two and yet, this particular evening saw The Boy, Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I roaming the streets of Cotham for somewhere suitable in which to ease our various Bank Holiday inflicted fatigues in the form of reasonably-priced and nourishing nosh – incidentally, this is where we ended up!

Date and Time: Monday 29th August 2011, 18:45
Name of Establishment: Bar Humbug*
Location: 89 Whiteladies Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Impromptu dining with two of my favourite people.

With the preferable outside space fully occupied, our party of three headed in to Bar Humbug's cave-like interior and whilst the squishy sofa-style seating and low tables lit with coloured neon lights were somewhat appealing, we retreated further to the area behind the bar whereby a sturdy arrangement of furniture seemed rather more suitable for our culinary intentions. Here, the lighting picks up a fraction and the wallpaper, swirled with deep metallic hues (with that Alice in Wonderland-style intrigue), is accented with thickly- framed mirrors of varying sizes. This quirky haze, (which just as easily could have been cast-off as dingy) was really rather comforting given our unanimous state of malaise and yet, the soundtrack overhead did little to remedy this; in particular, Jeff's Buckley's rendition of 'Hallelujah', albeit a classic, almost pushed us beyond effective communication altogether!

On to the food and that aforementioned menu which successfully muddles dishes from the continent and beyond; think Moroccan Tagine, Spanish Seafood Paella and Turkish-style Mezze. And, with one course offered at six pounds and two for eight, it certainly wont break the bank, (and thus, the only attribute of this venue that one could relate to Dicken's Scrooge is its name!) After a great deal of indecision, our orders were placed with the casual-mannered chap behind the bar and although admittedly we paid separately, it was obvious that we were together (in that, we were actually the venue's only inhabitants at this time) and so, when our dishes materialised in intervals, it made for a kind of disjointed experience. Furthermore, the food itself was a little hit and miss; both The Boy and the BFF opted to start with the Fresh Falafel Salad which was generously plated and reportedly, full of flavour. Despite, the falafels themselves proving a little dry and crumbly, the salad, appropriately Mediterranean in terms of its content, comprised an exciting (not to mention, colourful) array of ingredients; the simplicity of juicy tomato complimented the twang of feta and distinct saltiness of marinated olives and despite a rogue gherkin or two which seemed a little out-of-place, the dish screamed of sun-drenched beach-side lunches! This was finished with a drizzle of creamy Tzatziki; it's cool palate-cleanser the perfect accompaniment to such a multitude of contrasting tastes and textures.
I went for a main course only, sulking somewhat that the two courses constituted a starter and a main and not a main and dessert! And so, the salmon and dill fish-cakes made an entrance and, accompanied with fries, salad and roasted Mediterranean vegetables (which disappointingly constituted just two slices of grilled aubergine), it really was a mixed bag; from satisfyingly tasty to bordering inedible. Whilst I enjoyed what we shall coin the house salad, (as it was exactly as described above) the fries were extremely salty and the balsamic which had been randomly puddled on the plate seemed unnecessary. The fish-cake itself was a little lack-lustre; on one hand, its arrangement had been perfectly executed with a crisp exterior encasing a smooth, palatable filling and yet it lacked its principle (fishy) ingredient. Consequently, scrimping on the characteristically pink flakiness of the salmon made for a rather bland and colourless finish – I think without the addition of an ample dollop of sweet chilli jam, the dish would have proved an almighty flop. That said, the chicken panini and hot mezze platter (charged at a £1 supplement) were well-received by The Boy and BFF respectfully. The panini (so much more than its description had first implied) combined succulent Moroccan-spiced chicken, melted cheese, Tahini spread (made from crushed sesame seeds) and, as per my main, a helping of sweet chilli jam - this was polished in record time so there was no doubt that this dish secured The Boy's approval! Furthermore, The BFF's mezze platter created a fair bit of food envy (especially on my part); beautifully presented and featuring the likes of (skewered) char-grilled chicken, a coarse and wonderfully garlicky houmous, feta cheese and a crisp samosa, this was notably excellent value for money. The BFF commented that the pumpkin dip was a winner for her with its smooth, moreish sweetness although the falafels were again a little dry and the cinnamon cous cous unappealingly under-seasoned. It is also to be noted that the house salad featured heavily in both The Boy and BFF's dishes and although this had been commended thus far, was received a little less enthusiastically given its unfaltering course-to-course appearance. We also couldn't help but notice the occasional 'ding' sounding from the kitchen which we suspiciously likened to the sound of a microwave – although this could have merely been the timely, and entirely innocent, call for service.
Chicken Panini
Salmon and Dill Fish-Cakes

Mezze Platter
With plates cleared, our table admitted defeat for the evening and bypassed dessert. For the record, there are two to choose from; chocolate brownie or baklava - both (at £3.50) are home-made and served with vanilla ice cream as well as the curiously titled 'cream sauce'. As alluded to in my last post, baklava is a particular favourite of mine so no doubt I will be back to test-run their version at some point. As for drinks, it will come as no surprise that given our fragile state, we didn't opt to indulge alcoholically either and yet, I can suggest from previous experience that cocktails here are well-prepared and amply measured; putting the usual suspects to one side, perhaps give the 'Grannyhumbug's Crumble' (£6) a go as, sweet and spicy, it muddles Tuaca (vanilla citrus liqueur) with cinnamon, fresh lime, apple juice and crushed ice – a treat indeed!

I can conclude that, friendly, laid-back service coupled with the chilled vibe of this eclectic space was, on this occasion, exactly what we were looking for – OK, so it was a little dreary in terms of its décor and choice of lighting but this was offset by the relaxed attitude that seemed to radiate from every corner. In terms of the cuisine, there were indubitably a few sticking points and yet, the menu really is promising; the three of us agreed that that the multi-continental flair brought to its line-up made for an interesting selection and therefore, difficult decisions all-round regarding what to choose! Add to this, great value for money and an ample, (albeit a little unsynchronised) delivery of well-presented and generously portioned fare and you've already conquered half the battle. I really think that a few tweaks here and there; namely to the dishes authenticity, over-complexity and most importantly the quality of the ingredients sourced, could really make a difference. Accordingly, aspects of the menu earlier referred to as 'lack-lustre' could instead be given the potential to shine.

And now for a second…and third opinion... (well, I could hardly choose between them, could I?!)
The Boy gave Bar Humbug 7/10 and in three words, summed up his experience as 'variety, value and flair'.
The BFF gave Bar Humbug 6/10 and in three words summed up her experience as 'serviceable’, ‘cheap’, yet ‘bland',