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

Friday, 28 October 2011

Boston Tea Party – Cheltenham Road, Bristol

Sandwiched between Stoke's Croft and Monpellier, the newest of the Boston Tea Party family lends itself to the local community; a welcome pit-stop from the early morning rush to the early evening wind-down. On this occasion, The Boy and I found ourselves amidst that first band of clientèle; bleary-eyed, pre-caffienated and each in dire need of a substantial breakfast...

Date and Time: Wednesday 26th October 2011, 7:50
Name of Establishment: Boston Tea Party (BTP)*
Location: 156 Cheltenham Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: That all-important culinary kick-start to the day!

Although it's the eleventh outlet of the BTP fleet, Cheltenham Road's version is a perfect example of what those behind this popular South West chain have set out to achieve. Describing every café as a 'one-off' in that its inspiration is derived from its immediate surroundings, this particular branch oozes a distinctive urban vibe and proudly displays art work courtesy of the local talent – thus, fittingly striving to retain an independent quality which draws on a concept (somewhat notoriously) renowned within this part of the City. The sporadically panelled reclaimed timber, exposed metal work overhead and mish-mash of furniture which, borrowing an assortment of styles from leather-effect arm chairs to simplistic classroom attire, also reflects the raw, cosmopolitan communities which exist beyond its four walls. Yet, despite the allure of the eclectic, almost edgy, atmosphere created within this space, it has to be said that there are several aspects which have denied the natural elements to permeate its roughed-up interior. Firstly, I'm aware that we are now smack-bang in the deep dankness of winter but regardless of the floor-to-ceiling windows, (that incidentally are opened up in the summertime) the awning which shades the front of the building consistently casts its content in shadow, even if the sun happens to be shining. Furthermore, it's not entirely up-together in terms of cleanliness (The Boy and I had to give our table a good old wipe down prior to eating) and the solid concrete floor constitutes a distinct lack of warmth. All at once, wrapped-up in my winter coat, I found myself longing for the snuggly sofas of the BTP on Park Street - not to mention the peace and quiet of the quaint exterior courtyard as opposed to the industrial-effect metal picnic benches that are bolted down and traffic-facing here...But alas, another postcode brings another experience and so my visit continued...

Breakfast was ordered promptly with the smiley chap at the counter and if the venue itself was lacking in warmth, the service certainly wasn't. Whilst we're on the subject, it’s fair to say that I have never had an undesirable encounter with any of the staff at BTP and thus, I mused that being friendly, efficient and rather partial to a good old chin-wag must be part of the job description! I digress, I opted for the Boston Scotch Pancake stack (£4.95) which layered with an ample portion of applewood smoked bacon and drizzled with maple syrup brought about that sweet meets salt combination that never fails to tantalise my taste buds. However, just as the flavours were perfectly balanced, the pancakes themselves were rather poorly executed; their texture resembling the cardboard rounds of pub beer mats as opposed to the light and fluffy disposition I was anticipating and two of the three featuring varying degrees of burnt; from a little charred to downright incinerated! In fact, if it wasn't for the the other elements which were rich and tasty (the bacon is particular proving good-quality, thickly cut and free of fat), this dish would have bordered on inedible. It didn't get much better for The Boy whose real-time feedback to his 'Eggs Royal' (£6.50) was “meh!” - I'll elaborate as unless you’re on a similar wavelength to The Boy, I doubt this makes much sense. Hence, the dish, comprising The Boy's all-time favourite 'breakfast of champions' was disappointingly average; the eggs which were advertised as 'softly poached' masqueraded as their hard-boiled counterpart and the toasted English muffin was ever-so-slightly lack lustre. The smoked salmon and creamy Hollandaise were satisfyingly flavoursome however and the dish was attractively plated, (though less appealing upon the discovery of a rouge black hair harboured in the arrangement!)
Boston Pancake Stack
Eggs Royal

That said, the coffees we ordered were spot on; a soy cappuccino for him and a skinny latte for me. Both were of an excellent standard and, sourced from 'Extract Coffee Roasters'*; a family-run and Bristol based company, ensued a rich-noted and punchy aroma as well as that strong caffeine hit that The Boy and I had sought after. This is not to mention that the only milk used here is a West Country organic variety – lush! Besides coffee are all the usual suspects including a fragrant range of loose-leaf teas, iced coffees, hot (and chilled) chocolate, smoothies and the best home-made lemonade I have ever tasted! Whilst we're listing positives, I will assure you that I've sampled a host of the available edibles (all in the name of research of course); the imaginatively named and freshly assembled sandwiches for instance of which the Parma Chameleon (think Parma ham, parmesan, roasted tomatoes, basil and lemon and garlic mayonnaise) is my personal favourite. Furthermore, the lunch menu has recently been souped up (so to speak) and besides the sandwiches available from the chiller, there is a varied range of burgers, baps, toasties and yep, you guessed it....an ever-changing soup of the day! In addition to this, I also happen to know that those responsible bake a mean flapjack and the plum crumble cake (bought from the Cheltenham Road BTP no less) is simply divine! Subsequently, the BTP franchise is clearly successful (they're award-winning don’t you know?!); the ever-present buzz within each and every café seems to suggest that the experience that The Boy and I had was a blip and yet perhaps they have simply taken on too much. After all, the focus on a locally sourced and ethically driven menu really shouldn’t warrant such a mediocre experience.
Make mine a Skinny Latte!
In conclusion, perhaps not my favourite visit to BTP – it may well be that this particular establishment has taken the attributes of its neighbouring communities to the extreme whereby the laid-back attitude and grungey-appeal of Stokes Croft has constituted an edginess that proves more chilly than cushy. In terms of its fare, The Boy and I could have simply been privy to forgivable teething problems due to the work-force having so much more to contend with in line with the newly extended menu. Besides, I know from previous visits (to this and other branches) that the quality of the service, comfortable surroundings and range of edibles are characteristically commendable and thus, I would suggest that Cheltenham Road just needs to up its game a little to bring it in line with the overall ethos of the BTP chain that we have all come to know and love.

And now for the male opinion....
The Boy gave Boston Tea Party (Cheltenham Road) a rating of 6/10 and in three words, suggested he would 'Frequent Whiteladies instead'...I think you know what he's getting at!


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Milk Thistle - Bristol

Bristol has certainly embraced the concept of the knock-to-enter secret bar and on a similar tangent to the increasingly popular pop-up restaurant or 'underground' supper club, (the locations of which are also appropriately unveiled just prior to one's visit) they seem to provide an unashamedly upmarket experience for the discerning foodie, or in this case, drinker....Consequently, when whispers of Milk Thistle, the 'big-brother' of Clifton's hip 'n happening Hyde and Co. began to do the rounds via the City's social-networking presence it became imperative that The Boy, Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I check it out for ourselves...

Date and Time: Wednesday 19th October 2011, 19:45
Name of Establishment: Milk Thistle*
Location: To be discovered for oneself...
Reason for Visit: To share in the exclusivity of Bristol's newest secret bar

Without determining its exact whereabouts nor ruining the intrigue for those who have not yet visited, one could describe this venue as a grand presence in an unmistakably central location. Yet, although Milk Thistle is undoubtedly accustomed to more than the odd passer-by, its content has been expertly concealed and in fact, the bar is only identifiable from its exterior by the blink-and-you'll-miss-it Milk Thistle logo above the door. After pressing the buzzer and being led inside by a smart attired gentleman, our party of three embarked on a little initial exploration. We accepted the offer of a tour which led us beyond the candlelit reception to the floors above – firstly to the working-men's style lounge which, facilitating the member's area, had been tastefully decked out with plush leather furniture and featured its own private bar and above that, the cosy attic room; a light and airy space available for hire. Lastly, we descended to the basement and The Vault which although reminded me of a rather cheesy game-show is actually a future location for secluded wine tastings or for those much-loved pop-ups! Currently being re-furbished though, we observed only the potential behind its insanely heavy cast iron door, (no doubt behind which a great deal of moolah had historically been stashed given the building's former status). And so, in terms of interior, just as Hyde and Co. is intimately old-school (come on, it was inevitable that comparisons would be made), Milk Thistle is spaciously stylish; the quirky décor spanning all four floors in varying degrees.

We opted to sit amidst the Alice in Wonderland style intrigue of the ground-floor parlour which sported a black-and-white checked tile floor, mish-mash of solid antique-effect furniture and a collection of quizzically poised stuffed furries...not to mention the odd framed 'Liminal Being' in their Sunday Best! Fringed lamps cast a hazy glow throughout the space and only just assisted our perusal of the menu which, nestled between the pages of aged hard-backed novels, further heightened our curiosity and provided an excitable buzz which more than made up for the fact that, at this point, we were the bar's entire company, (well...it was Wednesday evening after all!) Iced water and bowls of pretzels were brought to the table – a nice touch but standard given what we had come to expect from our numerous visits to Hyde and Co. Turning to the service for a moment which was faultlessly attentive and courteous, I have to say that our particular server was especially helpful and chatty; guiding the indecisive among us to suitable tipples and sharing in our mutual enthusiasm for the venue overall.
Pretzels by Candlelight!
And with several whisks of a cocktail shaker from behind the bar, our drinks were served. As you will see, they proved somewhat difficult to capture due to the atmospheric candlelight flickering from within dainty, vintage tea cups and yet, I hope to do them justice as follows: The BFF opted for the perfume fizz (£7.50) which comprised a delicate combination of Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka, pineapple syrup, Bols Apricot, lemon juice and a Fever Tree ginger ale charge. I chose the Clover Club (£8.00) which our server suggested due to my articulated love-affair with gin! Served in a Martini glass and perfectly pink in colour, this muddled Tanquery Export gin with Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, lemon juice, raspberry syrup and usually, a little egg white to give the cocktail its distinctive frothy finish. However, I decided against the latter and found my preference to be simply acknowledged with an un-fazed nod, phew! It's fair to say that both the BFF and I were suitably impressed with the quality of our drinks and thus, went on to sample the house special; the Quay Head Punch (£5.00) which, beautifully decanted into cut-crystal teacups, consisted of Somerset Pomona; apple brandy and apple juice with a bitter-sweet and reassuringly alcoholic hit - result! The Boy settled on the Orval Belgium (£5.50); a Trappist beer served in an unusual skittle-shaped bottle which, made by Cistercian monks of the Brasserie D’Orval, reportedly had a dry, herby flavour with a pronounced bitterness that gave way to a bouquet of fresh hops and fruity accents. He also supped at a shot of chartreuse; a spirit which had particularly caught his eye amongst the ingredients of a specific cocktail. Thus, being allowed to sample this pungent poison more than made up for the discrepancy he discovered in terms of the strength of his beer; in that the menu stated 9.2% and the bottle 6.2% - a finding which was, without question, apologetically rectified by our server.
Quay Head Punch
Cocktail O' Clock

Although cocktails are clearly the champion of this bar, the line-up of wines and sparklers also appeal. Despite the most expensive champagne donning a £300 price tag, the Gobillard Brut Tradition Nv is far more reasonably priced at £45 a bottle so could be easily shared in the event of a special occasion or perhaps even a giggly night-out with the girls if you're feeling especially flush!

In conclusion, Milk Thistle is certainly not a cheap night out and if you’re intent on a proper knees-up, this is probably not the spot for you, (check out the ‘house rules’ on the website which although light-hearted, indicate the venue's anticipated etiquette) Though I suspect that if you’ve read thus far, you’re probably inclined to be seeking an alternative watering-hole to that which allows for the carnage which can constitute a night out in our beloved City! Hence, Milk Thistle comes highly recommended – top-notch service, a fantastically arranged space intended to captivate its clientèle and most importantly, a standard of beverage comparable to the very best that Bristol has to offer; cocktails, for instance proving carefully prepared and beautifully presented by those in the know, not to mention full to the brim with good-quality ingredients. Thus, what you pay for is an exquisite experience rather than merely a cheeky bevvy in a bar and we all deserve this in our lives...well, at least every once in a while.

And now for the male opinion...
The Boy, delighting (as only a health food guru can) in the irony that Milk Thistle is commonly used to support liver function or in other words, to soothe a heavy night on the tiles, gave this venue 9/10 and in three words, summed up Milk Thistle as 'classy retro tipples'.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Lahloo Pantry - Clifton, Bristol

There's nothing more quintessentially English than taking time out for a nice cup of tea and although I'll put my hands up and admit that forfeiting my mug-a-day coffee habit for a flowery herbal infusion leaves me a little cold, I do happen to love the concept of afternoon tea. Whether it's the dainty girliness of bite-sized edibles washed down with a heart-warming cuppa' (a concept arguably more comforting than a cashmere jumpsuit) or just the excuse to indulge in a pre-dinner installment of cake, it resulted in meeting up with the Best Foodie Friend in the trendy midst of Clifton Village to pay a visit to the newly opened Lahloo Pantry, a 'modern tearoom' withstanding an age-old tradition… 

Date and Time: Sunday 16th October 2011, 14:15 
Name of Establishment: Lahloo Pantry* 
Location: 12 King's Road, Clifton, Bristol 
Reason for Visit: A spot of afternoon tea with the BFF

Kate Gover, the founder of the Lahloo brand, (which incidentally was named after the 19th Century tea clipper aboard which her Great Great Grandfather set sail to far-off lands) has certainly taken her love of a brew to the next level. Developing her range of loose leaf teas for an ever-growing fan base, the next step was naturally to establish a dedicated haven in which to enjoy them. Cue the launch of the Lahloo Pantry; a fresh, minimalistic space set over several levels (as well as a cosy, decked exterior terrace) and unfussy in terms of its décor – a good job too given how intimately the furniture had been arranged meaning that the addition of any chintz would have made it positively claustrophobic. That aside, the important aspects of the venue are attractively placed; namely, the almost-edgy metallic seating in silver and red as well as the tantalising abundance of cakes and pastries adorning the counter which greet you as soon as you walk through the door! Furthermore, the overall ambiance is friendly and inviting; staff are attentive and clearly passionate when it comes to maintaining the ethos of the Lahloo brand. Even the upbeat ditties of The Puppini Sisters* playing out overhead seemed to mirror the venue's concept of celebrating old-school traditions and pulling them into the present; in this case, (if you're not already aware), a current musical trio specialising in 40s-style close harmony vocals.

We came in search of afternoon tea and yet I don't think when Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford introduced this concept back in the 1800s, she intended for the feast that the BFF and I shared! And, as we were a little shy of the three 'til five time-frame, we deviated somewhat from the version detailed on the menu (at £13.50 per person) and created our own tea and nibble assortment. There is a rather exhaustive list of teas to choose from and split between a number of categories (white, black, green, herbal, oolong and the mysteriously named pu-erh) it constitutes a difficult choice, especially for someone as inexperienced in the tea department as myself. Consequently, I opted for the Bristol Brew (£2.00) which is basically a traditional builder's tea with patriotic appeal – served in a sturdy metal teapot alongside an earthenware mug, this comprised a good, honest cuppa; simplistic, strong yet warming and all in all, exactly what I was after! The BFF was arguably more imaginative with her selection, choosing the 'Rosebud' (£2.50) which, with the addition of a little brown sugar, tasted rather comparable to Turkish Delight. Described as a 'delicate and serene treat' this tea was beautifully presented in a clear teapot so that you could see the tiny pink buds infusing before your very eyes! Other teas which appealed included 'White Whisper' (£3.00) which combined the tastes of autumn fruits and honey and 'Smoky' (£2.50), a black tea with a sweet and...erm...smoky finish – definitely options for next time!
Perfectly Pink Rosebud Tea
In regards to a little sustenance (although 'little' isn't entirely accurate) the BFF and I shared the tart of the day (£3.50) which on this occasion was an individual Quiche Lorraine as well as a Keen's* cheddar scone which was served with crème fraiche and tomato and chilli jam (£3.50). Both were unmistakably fresh and although the quiche was a tad on the salty side, it was incredibly tasty nevertheless and generously packed with sizeable chunks of good-quality bacon. The scone was the highlight of the visit thus far though with its punchy cheesiness and home-baked warmth – the jam left a slight tingle on the palate and its spice juxtaposed the coolness of the crème fraiche to perfection. Furthermore, although the BFF and I decided against it, you can opt for the house 'three-salad' accompaniment for an extra £2.50. With savouries polished, it was time to indulge in something sweet – light as a feather hand-made macaroons; vanilla for me and matcha green tea for the BFF both of which were just delectable with an initial crispiness which gave way to a sweet and gooey fondant centre.- yum! Lastly, we scoffed an ample slice of chocolate marble cake between us which, we had been informed, was not long from the oven – this was beautifully textured; light and moist but unfortunately, not quite chocolaty enough to satisfy my sweet tooth! And so, by way of our make shift afternoon tea, the BFF and I ended up with what would be more appropriately described as a late lunch rather than a snack intended to tide one over until dinner-time!
Keen's Cheddar Scone
Overall, a pleasant afternoon spent at Lahloo Pantry – amazing edibles and an unsurprising all-things-tea focus that actually established a refreshing change from the usual source of my caffeine fix. I was interested to discover that there was coffee on the menu and yet, cheekily referred to as the 'Has Bean', cannot derive many takers! Even I felt strangely un-enthused by this addition to the menu - although I'm quick to assure you that I wont be giving up my coffee habit any time soon! However, in the event of a return visit, I will be sampling one of the aforementioned varieties of tea that particularly caught my eye. Thus, a triumph for Kate's Lahloo brand and the lesson in tea that her Pantry ensures for even the most sceptical of tearoom converts – it may not coax me away from my usual coffee-laden haunts but it is certainly a welcome addition to Clifton's café scene and an outlet to unite the battalion of tea-drinkers in Bristol!

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave the Lahloo Pantry 8/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'bijou', 'fragrant' and 'delicate'.


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Hansel und Gretel Strudel Bar – Bath

Back in the days of my Bath-based stint as a student, I was introduced to Hansel und Gretel, an alpine-inspired grotto of goodies coupled with a snug strudel bar which, secluded in a side-street just a stones-throw away from the picturesque Royal Crescent, remains to date one of my favourite spaces in the City. As such, I love sharing it with others; delighting in their saucer-eyed wonderment which constitutes an inevitable aspect of one's first visit and in fact (and certainly on my part), each and every visit thereafter…

Date and Time: Sunday 9th October 2011, 12:45
Name of Establishment: Hansel und Gretel
Location: 9 Margarets Buildings, Brock Street, Bath
Reason for Visit: Introducing the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) to one of Bath’s best kept secrets

Channelling the Alpine lifestyle and culture, Hansel und Gretel’s owner Christa has drawn on her Southern German roots to create a unique emporium of home furnishings, lovingly-made ornaments and specialist pieces exclusively imported for her ever-present fan-base. This is not to mention a beautiful range of Christmassy knick-knacks and although I have picked up some fantastically bespoke pieces for my tree, I tend rather to visit with my stomach in mind….added eleven years after the shop was founded in 1992, the downstairs strudel bar has become a much-loved addition to the overall charm of this curious dwelling…

Descending the wooden staircase which, tucked away at the back of the shop and lit with rows of twinkling fairy lights, certainly builds on a child-at Christmas style intrigue of what is to be found below. Quietly magical, the strudel bar doesn’t disappoint with authentic alpine décor, (think cosy cabin rather than après ski), soft lighting and quirky cuckoo clocks that punctuate what can otherwise be considered as the epitome of calm. Soft classical music and hushed conversation establishes a relaxed ambiance; its easy to imagine yourself curled up here with a good book! This is an intimately arranged space with just three large tables that have been adorned with hand-made toys; spinning tops and brain-teasers, perhaps to keep its younger clientèle entertained in a bid to maintain the aforementioned peacefulness, (or simply for the young at heart – the BFF was quick to attempt solving the wooden puzzle cube as illustrated below!) Subsequently, nestled amongst the plentiful cushions and enjoying the unspoken hints to the festive season, I almost forgot the purpose of the visit at hand...strudel!
The Quirky Fairy-Lit Counter
The BFFs Shapely Conundrum

And so, on to the menu which presents quite a quandary when it comes to deciding which of the drinks to opt for from a line-up guaranteed to bring about the warm and fuzzies! Besides the usual suspects, a wonderful range of teas sourced from a speciality German company offer such tantalising flavours as 'ginger cool' and 'orange blossom' and the hot chocolate selection is simply divine. The 'Hansi', accented with a crisp orange zing and the 'Berbl' blended with velvety fudge are two of my absolute favourites! On this occasion however, I finally settled on the 'Gustl' (£2.50), a cappuccino with a subtle measure of almond syrup, enough to give it a fantastic rich nuttiness without being overpowering – delicious. Now, I've got to be honest, this is not a place which caters for those unprepared for indulgence as whole milk is served as standard, there are no half-fat, skinny or soya alternatives and this may therefore prove a little problematic for some. I’ll admit that I myself would typically run a mile unless I see evidence of that red, skimmed-milk cap and yet, taking away the creamy viscosity of this drink would surely be more of a sin than consuming its delectable content!  In terms of cold drinks, there are some refreshing and rather healthy options – various juices including bitter-sweet cherry and the highlight, in my view, the 'Annaleesl' (£2.00) which muddles apple and cinnamon with sweet and spicy results. Although primarily offered chilled, this can also be served hot as a toasty winter warmer!
The Gustl
At this point, I must mention the service as the chap solely managing the bar proved attentive and polite; our orders were taken as soon as he gauged that we were ready to do so and in terms of his person, seemed to fit impeccably with Hansel und Gretel’s ethos with his softly-spoken manner and twinkly-eyed smile. And just like that, our strudel arrived; both opting for the ‘Kirsch’ (£3.95) which, baked with apple and cherry and sandwiched between light, flaky pastry, was warming and wholesome, the BFF and I ate silently side-by-side, engrossed in the tradition of this space. Thus, there is little more to choose from in terms of edibles here; a small selection of home-made cakes and tray-bakes and yet, this is simply not required when the strudel, which is hand-made exclusively for the shop, is suitably scrumptious! There are usually two varieties of strudel on offer and you can choose to accompany the ample portion you receive with either ice cream or freshly whipped cream. Both the BFF and I opted for ice cream which we agreed was not of the best quality but nevertheless provided the distinctive contrasts one would associate with a pudding of this kind, most notably the sweet creamy cool of the ice cream verses the tangy warmth of the fruit – yum! Furthermore, the ceramics used in the strudel bar are ‘Gmunder Keramik’, one of the oldest designs of its kind and still made by hand (as it was 300 years ago in the town of Gmunden in Austria on the lake Traunsee) – a fact which demonstrates the real attention to detail here, not to mention the appealing presentation this ensures of each dish. Even tap water (which the BFF and I both ordered to wash down our strudel) is served in delicate wine glasses with a cut-glass print – so pretty.
‘We hope you warm your spirit and fill your heart’ – the touching sentiment offered at the top of Hansel und Gretel’s out-of-the-ordinary menu. I love this; it really sums up the experience brought about by the shop and the strudel bar as well as indicating the passion behind their arrangement and content. I’ve often wondered how somewhere so unique and wintry in terms of its theme withstands its appeal throughout the year, especially in light of the current economic climate. Yet, although you may predominantly consider this a snuggly, homely space more commonly associated with seeking shelter from the elements, Hansel und Gretel is also a comfortable retreat and thus an attractive prospect whatever the season. Besides, who doesn't need a little escapism every once in while and, when it comes to appropriate places in which to lose oneself, I can't think of anywhere more friendly, welcoming and, quite frankly, charismatic as Hansel und Gretel.

And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Hansel und Gretel’s 8/10 and in three words, described it as 'sweet', 'tranquil' and 'comforting'.


Saturday, 8 October 2011

'The Lounges' – Porto Lounge, Fishponds

Saturday morning saw The Boy and I stirring from slumber uncharacteristically early, somewhat intent on treating ourselves to a relaxed breakfast prior to the back-to-back bustle anticipated for the weekend ahead. A pre-caffeinated amble along Fishponds High Street led us to its resident 'Lounger' Café/Bar; Porto Lounge* which, on the morning of our visit, given that it was arguably well before the onslaught of its predominantly student-related clientèle, proved laid-back and inviting – thus, a perfect spot for coaxing The Boy and I out of our mutual sleepiness....

Date and Time: Saturday 8th October 2011, 9:35
Name of Establishment: Porto Lounge
Location: 765 Fishponds Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Coz I’m easy...easy like (erm) Saturday morning! 

What I like about 'The Lounges' franchise is that despite its rather notable expansion, (with the 18th outlet soon to be opened in Bournemouth), the chaps behind this thriving chain have managed to preserve a real sense of originality in that the distinctive 'Lounger' specification has been successfully embedded within each branch, (well certainly of those that I have graced with my presence!) Hence, their position and ambiance can be likened, in my opinion, to that of an independent establishment rather than the double-figured fleet that it actually is! Achieved, one might suggest, by a mish-mash of distressed and/or antique-looking furniture, shabby-chic wooden panelling and the hazily lit photographs of what we will fondly refer to as 'quirky older folk', (which incidentally I later learned were mostly snaps of co-owner Dave's own grandparents!), the Porto Lounge is no exception when it comes to perfectly executing an engaging and comfortable space. And, invited to lose yourself in the available literature, take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, tap your feet to a little Frank Sinatra or even challenge your pals to a board game (oh the competitive joyousness of Scrabble), there is certainly no drive towards the frantic bums-on-seats turnover that can often be the case elsewhere! Perhaps it is this 'stay-a-while' atmosphere that secures its thoughtful neighbourhood position and, albeit a contributing factor in why it’s frequently so blimmin' difficult to bag somewhere to sit, the reason that it remains a favoured watering-hole within the local community.

Back to the morning in question though and focused on the notion of the ‘most important meal of the day’, The Boy and I scanned through the delights of the ‘all-day brunch’ which had been chalked on the board to the right of the bar. Clearly not focused enough however as I was also rather taken with other aspects of the menu; the famous 'Lounger' burgers, tasty-sounding paninis, salads and an amazing Tuesday-only deal whereby three plates of tapas and a glass of the house vino amount to just £8.50. This is not to mention the Monthly specials which in this case included Royal Windsor Farm pork belly with honey, caramelised carrots and creamy mash (£9.50) and sweet chilli roast salmon with coconut rice and a pak choi and cashew salad (£9.95) – yum! Anyway I digress…and upon ordering, The Boy and I were more-than-impressed with the friendly, laid-back attitude of the staff who, we decided could have almost been hand-picked in order to fit with the ethos of the space to such an extent! Seriously though, the enthusiasm and knowledge evidenced in response to the (many) questions that The Boy and I asked of our particular server is really rather commendable.

Onto the food itself and the arrival of The Boy’s Egg and Bacon stack (£4.75) to which he also added a sausage pattie (70p). This comprised a generous helping of eggy bread which although had been prepared using white bread instead of the wholemeal that he initially requested, ticked all the boxes in terms of taste. In fact the dish overall, served with thick back bacon and slathered with maple syrup, had that love-it-or-hate-it salt verses sweet contrast which, in my opinion, both tantalises and comforts the palate. Furthermore, this could have so easily been messily presented given its gooey indulgence and yet, gently dusted with icing sugar and finished with a flourish of parsley, it was plated beautifully and thus, enjoyed visually before even a mouthful had been taken. It’s fair to say that The Boy’s ‘food porn’ did little to remedy the envy on my part upon comparison of his dish with the choconana muffin (£2.50) that I had opted for. That said, the dense chocolaty hit of this home-made classic was rich and satisfying yet, discovering that the banana content was somewhat non-existent took it away from being marginally justifiable as a breakfast food to down-right wrong! Indeed, a little disappointing (not to mention a tad on the expensive side) but consequently, I was invited to share The Boy's eggy bread – result! Overall, the menu is diverse and imaginative; it certainly hasn't been left out of the aforementioned concept of originality either as we were informed that the burgers and sausages for instance, are prepared to the same recipe throughout 'The Lounges' branches and yet the meat itself is sourced from various local butchers. As a result, The Boy and I considered the tastiness of the cuisine that we sampled as testament to the quality of the ingredients carefully sourced and utilised.
Egg and Bacon Stack
Choconana Muffin

And to wash it down, somewhat traditional breakfast-time beverages: for me, a cappuccino (£2.20) which had been well-made to my skinny-milk related preference and served in a no-nonsense mug and for The Boy, a St. Clements ‘mocktail’ (£3.00) which contained freshly-squeezed orange juice resulting in, I quote, ‘juicy refreshment’! Moreover, although this really wasn’t an occasion for the ‘hair of the dog’, I just had to remind myself of the content of the cocktail menu in which I have partaken upon previous visits. Priced at around £6 each, there is an ample selection though I’m rather partial to the Raspberry Mojito which, with the addition of Chambord (raspberry liqueur), provides a fruity twist to the classic combination of Pampero Rum, mint, fresh lime juice and crushed ice – I’ve found that evenings at Porto Lounge can be a little manic and as such, cocktail creation can constitute quite a wait; but it’s a wait worth enduring I can assure you!
Soothing Relief for Caffeine Deficiency!
St. Clements Mocktail

 In conclusion, Porto Lounge may be the smallest of ‘The Lounges’ but the website states that it is the busiest per square foot – unsurprising really as what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in character. Evident from the resounding buzz from its consistently full company, this is a popular café-come-bar frequented not only by Fishponds’ ever-apparent student presence (due to the nearby UWE campuses) but also the venue of choice for working professionals and families. Since it opened its doors in 2002 it has managed a brilliant balance between facilitating a trendy hang-out and an inviting refuge in which to cosy up for an hour or two and thus, moving from strength to strength, long may it reign as the king of the cafés within the Fishponds fold.

And now for the male opinion…
The Boy gave Porto Lounge 8/10 and in three words, described his experience as 'brains behind breakfast'.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Bishopston Supper Club Experience

Date and Time: Friday 30th September 2011, 19:30
Name of Event: Bishopston Supper Club*
Location: The Bishopston-based home of local chef, Danielle Coombs (A.K.A The Resting Chef)
Reason for Visit: An evening of highly-acclaimed cuisine outside of a restaurant setting

Initially, I wasn't going to review my visit to the Bishopston Supper Club, be it, in my opinion, an under-ground dining occasion whereby a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings would surely thwart the build-up of intrigue and excitement that one should be left to experience for themselves. On the other hand, I simply couldn't let such a top-notch evening remain entirely undocumented and after all, I would hate for you to miss out on a truly unique way of satisfying your inner 'foodie' whilst meeting like-minded souls over exceptional, seasonally-inspired and locally-sourced cuisine. Beforehand, I suppose you could say that I was anticipating a less amateurish version of Come Dine With Me; without the narration and rummaging for scandal of course! In fact it became clear that this comparison was a little unjust as the evening unfolded; I mean, you are thrown together with a group of unfamiliar faces in the host's own pad and yet, as the host herself is an established chef and in her own words, has lost count of how many Supper Club evenings she has fronted, it really is like stepping into a very intimate bistro or even, arriving at a friend's dinner party, (albeit in this case, sitting elbow-to-elbow with those whom will become your 'gastro-fam' for the evening!)

Arriving at the address we were given just a week previously and powered somewhat by Google-Maps, the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I received a warm-welcome and were shown to the dining room which had been thoughtfully (and comfortably) arranged in two tables of eight. As the evening progressed, the conversation flowed (as did the drinks courtesy of the B.Y.O alcohol policy!) and although the BFF and I were actually reunited with a past acquaintance, we were also pleased be in the company of a table full of friendly fellow foodies. Danielle has worked hard to create a laid back space for her guests and facilitated by the obvious attention to detail from the 'mood' lighting to an ever-present soundtrack of old-school nostalgia, it certainly constitutes the desired effect

As for the food itself, I will not go into too much detail but I will tell you this; although the menu's four-courses are posted on the Supper Club's website about a week before the evening in question, it's all about their presentation, poise and overall, their deliciousness! There are also a couple of additional surprises that really add the wow factor – on this occasion, these included an amuse-bouche of freshly prepared scotch eggs and later in the evening, a palate cleansing, and particularly pungent, home-made elderberry vodka that left us all a little red in the face! Consequently, it may prove a little strange to commit to paying for a meal whereby you have no control over the courses, (unless, of course, you predetermine a specific dietary requirement or express a particular disliking of something) and yet, if, like me, you put a little faith in your stomach and like surprises, you certainly wont be disappointed by the imagination and fundamentally, the quality behind the Bishopston Supper Club's bespoke menus.

That said, if you are a proper fuss-pot when it comes to food, I would probably venture that this concept is not for you and yet, if this is the case you may be better placed at Danielle's new-found Sunday lunch club which, offering the classically cosy roast dinner with all the trimmings, will be held once a Month from the 16th October. There are also special Supper Club dinners whereby each course is offered alongside a complimentary vino (selected by the lovely folk at Gloucester Road's Grape and Grind*) or in addition to a specific variety of cider (brought to you from the brains behind Bristol Cider Shop*) – check our the website for details! And so whatever your dining preference; whether you're a traditionalist, a little avant-garde or, in fact, anything else in between, there is something here for everyone...and what's more, delivered in a far more novel setting than your run-of-the-mill High-Street eatery. For me, it's all about new and exciting places in which to sample the best of Bristol's cuisine and this experience, although I'll admit that at first I wasn't sure what to expect, was a real treat.