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, 25 November 2011

Le Parisien Café and Restaurant – Milsom Place, Bath

Before committing to embark on my first Christmas shopping trip of the season, I thought it best to sit and gather my thoughts over a spot of breakfast and when in Bath, where better to seek an aspect of calm amidst the hubbub of city centre than Le Parisien Café and Restaurant; a stylish venue with a distinctively continental ambiance...

Date and Time: Sunday 20th November 2011, 10:15
Name of Establishment: Le Parisien Café and Restaurant*
Location: Milsom Place*, Bath
Reason for Visit: Momentary solace from the rush of the weekend (and Christmas) shopping experience!

Situated in the prestigious Milsom Place complex, Le Parisien lends to the vicinity an air of independence given that its neighbouring eateries include top-end chains; YO! Sushi, Jamie's Italian and Côte Brasserie. The cobbled exterior courtyard which leads to a two-storey café-come-restaurant with a firm focus on all things 'le français', certainly draws in a dedicated clientele; no doubt those wishing to partake in the popular street-side café culture or in other words, watching the world go by from behind the rim of one's coffee cup. Consequently, the outside space, sheltered from the elements with burgundy awning, is rather better attended than the restaurant itself which I feel is a little dated in terms of its décor and perhaps does not reflect the appeal of this venue to the best of its ability. That said, it is perfectly comfortable and a lot more spacious than anticipated upon first glance.

However, I too chose to sit outside and, settling into a wicker chair beneath one of the sporadically placed heat lamps, took in my surroundings whereby rows of marbled table-tops gleamed under the morning sunlight and flurries of people flitted past; some opting to stay awhile whilst others moseyed on to the High Street beyond. The finishing touches make this an aesthetically pleasing space; the servers have been crisply attired and miniature salt and pepper shakers adorn each table alongside napkins – burgundy to adhere to the colour-scheme and intricately folded into ceramic containers, (an arrangement instantly destroyed however once one is removed!) Sipping at a skinny latte and delighting in its well-prepared potency, I will note here that service is efficient and quick yet not particularly friendly – a factor which made conversation seem ever-so-slightly mechanical and the particulars of one’s order left, for the large part, unacknowledged. For the record, I had to ask twice for skimmed milk and my question regarding the size of the coffee cups (whereby small basically denotes an espresso) was met with little more than a bemused expression. There is no denying the quality of the fare however as my Almond and Cherry Danish was just divine. Topped with nibbled almonds and a dusting of icing sugar, the fresh, flaky pastry was of a melt-in-the-mouth consistency and had been packed with an ample measure of bitter-sweet cheery purée. Of course, I could have chosen to invest in a full English Breakfast which, in my opinion, constituted the only low point in terms of the breakfast menu and yet, I was satisfied with what I had chosen – my selection proving tasty and filling despite its simplicity.

When it came to the lunch menu however, authenticity seemed to have been somewhat restored given the array of temptingly French options which included a cheese and charcuterie plate (£8.50), Croque Monsieur (£7.95) and Madame (£8.50) as well as a selection of freshly-filled baguettes. Of the hot plates, the Mussels Mariniere (£7.95) proved particularly appealing with the promise of a creamy garlic and white wine sauce in addition to an accompaniment of crusty rustic bread – yum! Furthermore, at what I considered a rather reasonable price and in light of the venue's alcohol licence, this dish could be perfectly coupled with a crisp glass of Chardonnay!

In conclusion, a predominantly chic café/restaurant set within well-established surroundings – surroundings which incidentally, seem rather well matched to the classical flair that Le Parisien clearly aspires to. The occasional strands of peculiarity however are undeniable; dishes, for instance, which have been haphazardly thrown into to the mix, (perhaps to accommodate Bath's tourist presence). Although I did not sample the full English breakfast and therefore cannot comment on the quality (or origins) of its ingredients, I would suggest that remaining mindful of its intended identity would fare better for this venue than offering a fry-up and thus, adhering to a notion of English-ness that here, sticks out like a sore thumb! Can I be so bold as to suggest freshly-prepared crêpes with seasonal berries as a suitable alternative? On the other hand, this was a perfectly pleasant spot to spend an hour or so and it's fair to say the character and poise of this venue all but won me over – I can sidestep the frosty nature of the service as ironically, it encompassed elements of that stand-offish French vibe that I happen to find amusing. It is simply the removal of those unnecessary crowd-pleasers that will tighten this venue's individuality and set it apart from the numerous chain restaurants in its midst.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Bravas Supper Club Experience

Following a fantastic evening at the Bishopston Supper Club a Month or so previously, I was eager to indulge in another culinary foray of this kind; taking my love of top-notch nosh away from the familiarity of the restaurant setting. Cue the Bravas Supper Club whereby Spanish cuisine takes centre stage...what's more, with my lovely mum's birthday just days away, this was the perfect opportunity to avoid the tried and tested chocolate and perfume double act in favour for an experience a lot less predictable and perhaps one which would even secure some serious brownie points...! 

Date and Time: Thursday 17th November 2011 19:30 for 20:00
Name of Event: Bravas Supper Club*
Location: The lovely harbourside home of Kieran and Imogen Waite
Reason for participation: An edible escapade in line with pre-Birthday celebrations.

Tentatively descending the candlelit stone steps to the basement of the Bravas host's classically stylish riverside pad, mum and I were warmly greeted and shown to our table for two. With tables intimately arranged to separately accommodate each party, I was initially concerned that some of the atmosphere would be lost given that interaction with other supper club attendees did not appear to be part of the etiquette and so, meeting new foodie faces wasn't explicitly on the cards. That said, the interactive nature of the fare, whereby you share no less than ten tapas-style dishes with your dining companion(s) over the course of the evening, compensated somewhat for any intermingling lost as a result of the seating arrangements which, as it happened, were not too dissimilar to that of a restaurant after all. That is, until you catch a glimpse of the action unfolding in the kitchen and at once stand reminded of the undeniable fact that diners have been welcomed (like guests at a dinner party) into the home of this dynamic duo; Kieran, an 'event organiser and well-seasoned host' and Imogen, a talented chef who has mastered her trade amidst some of Bristol's top kitchens. Furthermore, this was a dwelling for which we had only received directions the evening beforehand via an informal yet duly enlightening telephone call; just one of the aspects of an event of this kind which builds on the intrigue and lends an air of exclusivity to the proceedings.

Onto the food and having whetted our appetites with the timely publication of the menu online, the arrival of the appetiser was rather well received; marinated olives and pimention toasted almonds alongside an aperitif of an Averys* Bristol Fashion Amontillado from Jerez (medium-dry sherry to you and me). This instantly set the bar in regards to the calibre of the cuisine and yet, it became apparent that each earthenware vessel set before us thereafter would contain courses of equal impressiveness. From the simplistic yet beautifully executed grilled hake with lemon to the phenomenally flavoursome seared acorn fed pork and rich, meaty offerings of the spiced sausage as well as the oxtail braised in red wine, the range of dishes ultimately encompassed a variety of contrasting tastes and textures yet each fittingly Mediterranean in terms of their composition. The bring-your-own beverage policy (as well as a list of suggested wine matches for the evening) led mum and I to the Sangre de Toro 2009 – a soft and juicy red that seemed to compliment the lighter dishes in particular; for instance, the Beetroot, Pomegranate and Herb salad with its appealing rainbow-effect presentation and fresh, palate-cleansing qualities. To end the evening; a sweet board on which stood two dainty glasses of dessert wine – a Bodega Lustau Pedro Ximenez (also from Jerez) - of which the birthday girl was treated to a cheeky top-up! This indulgent tipple, channelling sweet velvety aromas of fig and raison, had been perfectly coupled with the bite-sized morsels which constituted this course; slices of manchego cheese, two varieties of quince, juicy dates and individual salted chocolate tarts – just divine!
Oxtail Braised in Red Wine with Salted Potato Crisps
In conclusion, another unmissable supper club experience and albeit rather different from the first, I loved what Bravas had brought to the table (ahem)! Despite forgoing a sense of communal foodie-related appreciation (which, to be fair, is not everyone's cup of tea) for a dinner-date with your nearest and dearest, the concept of offering a tantalising line-up of small sharer dishes is suitably genius, (not to mention a snip for a suggested donation of £20-£25). In my opinion it significantly reduces the primary supper club anxiety of committing to dine blindly or, in other words, worrying that one of the courses will not appeal to your palate. Whereas elsewhere this could potentially alienate a quarter of the evening's offerings, the nature of the Bravas menu ensures that you still have a further nine dishes to delight in if one does not especially suit, (incidentally, it was the Radicchio for me which, quite simply, is not to my taste). Overall though, the sheer dedication involved in plating ten different dishes is a triumph in itself, as too is the friendly and laid-back ambiance which is so effortlessly achieved – my thanks go out to Kieran and Imogen for a truly fantastic supper – I certainly can't wait for the next installment...hasta luego!

And now for that all-important second opinion...
Mum gave the Bravas Supper Club 10/10 and in three words described her evening as a 'really special experience'.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Bluebasil Gourmet Brownies – The Christmas Collection

Upon being invited to sample and review Bluebasil Brownies’ Christmas collection, I was really rather excited – after all, who wouldn’t want to receive a beautifully packaged assortment of lovingly made brownies to enjoy in the comfort of their own abode?! Furthermore, as a person who has been referred to (in the workplace no less) as the ambassador of Christmas, combining my love of chocolate with an element of the festive season was doubly appealing. As I'm sure you can imagine, I had a multitude of volunteers when it came to enlisting the help of a companion for that all-important second opinion and of course, I did consider snaffling them all myself – the notion of a-brownie-a-day until the box was empty proving somewhat alluring. Yet, given that we were just days away from the onset of advent, I couldn’t have possibly left The Boy out of the proceedings…besides, this is the time of year when we’re supposed to share with our loved ones; presents, a tipple or two, festive joy and…erm…chocolate apparently!!

Located in the North Cotswolds and founded by self-confessed local-food lover Nikki Taylor, Bluebasil has been producing and posting batches of their dreamily decadent brownies for well over a year now. Winning gold in the Great Taste Awards 2011 for their cardamom brownie is clearly testament to the quality of the ingredients sourced and the passion channelled through good honest baking…baking as it should be with butter from a local farm and organic Cotswold flour and eggs. Consequently, hard-work and dedication to one's craft amounts to a gift (for yourself or a loved one and in light of any occasion) which has that personal touch and really ignites a sense of unveiling something special – well, that was certainly the sentiment I experienced when I untied the neat ribbon and un-boxed what can only be described as a weighty wall of brownies; excitedly revealing them from within layers of delicate tissue and paper straw. As for the limited edition Christmassy flavours – they were as follows (listed in order of consumption!):

Dark Orange and Ginger – Cleverly coupling ‘Divine's' Orange and Ginger dark chocolate with fresh ginger and candied orange, this brownie felt decidedly grown-up – not too sweet and fairly subtle in terms of its arrangement, that is, until the spicy notes of the ginger packs in its punch! This was The Boy’s favourite and before I knew it, both sizeable squares of this particular brownie had disappeared!
Tiramisu –Unmistakably a ‘dessert brownie’, especially from the fridge (which incidentally is where all varieties should be stored for best results), the layered tiramisu effect was true to form whereby cool mascarpone had been folded between hoards of gooey chocolate. The roasted coffee aroma and dusting of cocoa powder balanced the overall flavour so not to make this too sickly a combination and the modest brandy content, (although a little too modest for my palate) gave the after-taste an ever-so-slightly boozy edge! Yum!
Coffee and Irish Cream – Whenever I visit my Grandad during the festive season (or at any other time for that matter) he insists on a mid-morning tipple of coffee laced with Baileys. Biting into this brownie captured an aspect of that nostalgic indulgence as well as a comforting warmth that is just perfect for this time of year. Intensely creamy, this is probably the heaviest of the collection but let me assure you that this is not to its detriment – you may just have to enjoy half at a time!
Classic Chunky chocolate – Focussing on the main attraction, this was a chocolate-lover’s dream – richly flavoured, densely textured and created with fine 70% European chocolate and ‘Divine’ chocolate chunks to constitute a hard-core chocolate hit! I’ve discovered via my ongoing chocolate appreciation that brownies can differ significantly in terms of their composition and Bluebasil’s are fudgy and smooth rather than cakey which gives them, in my opinion, that extra je ne sais quoi! I loved that this brownie also has a gluten-free counterpart so those having to adhere to a specific diet can still delight in the choc-fest!
Rudolph’s Rumnut – This brownie was saved until last as the ingredients list provided warned of nuts which meant that the allergic Boy could not partake, (shame?!) True to its word, a generous scattering of nibbled brazil nuts topped this brownie which had been packed with juicy fruit and a mixture of spices – cinnamon, fennel and nutmeg to name but a few! This brownie's most notable characteristic however was its somewhat alcoholic quality giving it a similar flavour to that festive favourite – Christmas Pudding (yet with the texture of a rum truffle if you will)! One to be warmed through and served with a dollop of crème fraiche perhaps?!

In conclusion, a fantastic gift idea for the foodies (and chocoholics) in your life – not only are Bluebasil Brownies thoughtfully packaged in boxes of either 9 (£14.50), 12 (£17.50) or 16 (£21.50) – with functionality and frills in equal measures - they are quite simply, delicious! In addition to this, shunning the hustle of the High Street in favour of efficient online service and avoiding the wrapping paper and sticky-tape dance by allowing for Bluebasil’s packaging and personalised greeting combo must surely be plus points in any Christmas-shopper’s book! Thus, if you’re reading this and wondering what to get me for Christmas, forget the usual musical snowman socks or chocolate-scented bath salts (true story!) and instead, say it with brownies!

To Note: Order your Christmas brownies before the end of November and receive a discount of 15% with the following code – 15XMAS11

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Treble C Goes Stateside!

An account of Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails' time in New York City...

So there we were...four hyped-up females; airborne and just seven hours and eighteen minutes away from New York City. Our trip would constitute a five-day stint of shopping, sight-seeing, cocktail quaffing and, naturally, an exploration of the City's distinctive culinary traditions. Although, with over twenty-thousand restaurants to choose from, the difficulty would ultimately be deciding where to start! Oh yes, we may have arrived a week too late to witness the spectacle of the New York Marathon but the girls and I fully intended to embark on a marathon all of our own...and this time, the only work-out endured would be that of our credit cards! Thus, here reads our adventures, foodie-related findings and overall, a mere snippet of the fun to be had in this overwhelmingly non-stop City...

Date: Wednesday 9th November – Sunday 13th November 2011
Name of Establishment: Miscellaneous...Read on!
Location: New York City
Reason for Visit: “Sometimes you just have to get away with the girls!” - Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City)

Day 1:
Touching-down in New York at around lunchtime and then facing an hours-worth of 'gridlock' from within a yellow cab, it was no wonder that checking into our hotel and unpacking was momentary before heading out for something to eat! We lucked out finding that Café 28 (245 5th Avenue) was literally just around the corner; a 'gourmet deli' with a huge selection of self-service savoury and sweet bites as well as a range of paninis, sandwiches and salads. With world-wide culinary influences, the buffet-style dishes allowed for a rather nutritious dinner, (if, of course, you choose not to opt for one of their fresh pastries or cookies for dessert!) That evening, our party of four celebrated our first night in the City over cocktails and, based on a recommendation from the girls behind the 'Foodies in NYC' blog, headed to Bookmarks at The Library Hotel, (299 Madison Avenue on 41st Street). Here, we took the elevator (in American lingo) to the 14th floor where the cocktail bar spans a stylish lounge, conservatory and rooftop garden terrace. Sat overlooking the twinkling lights of Midtown Manhattan, the girls and I sipped at our generously measured and literary-themed drinks; The Hemingway and the Pulitzer proving two of our favourites.
First Cocktail of the Holiday!
Café 28 - Self-Service Dinner

And now for a collective opinion of the day's visited eateries/watering holes:
- Café 28 – 7/10 'healthy', 'eclectic' and 'colourful'.
- Bookmarks at The Library Hotel – 9/10, 'effortlessly chic' and in terms of the cocktails, 'potent'.

Day 2:
Taking advantage of the Broadway Plaza's complimentary breakfast, the girls and I planned out our day over banana-nut muffins, toasted bagels with cream cheese and grape jelly as well as freshly brewed coffee from the comfort of our hotel room. Afterwards, we headed downtown for a stroll alongside the Hudson River towards Battery Park and then, before checking out the development of the Ground Zero site, took a well-earned pit-stop in American chain café Cosi. Stating that 'Life Should be Delicious', this venue was a tad on the cheesy side and yet, the Raspberry Mojito Lemonade was rather well received. Making our way from the Financial District to the curiosities of Chinatown, it was agreed that we would indulge in a late lunch at The Peking Duck House (28 Mott Street); a restaurant specialising in...yep, you guessed it...crispy duck pancakes with all the trimmings! Despite the glowing review, (courtesy of the New York Times no less) proudly displayed in the window, our party had a rather mediocre experience; the duck itself proving fatty and greasy and the service intermittently dismissive – disappointing indeed. Walking off the heavy feeling in our stomachs, we explored nearby Little Italy and made our way onto Bleecker Street whereby the cosmopolitan line-up of shops and eateries included the famous Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker Street). It would have been criminal not to stop for a cupcake at this point and so, we elbowed our way to the counter with our wares; on my part, the seasonally inspired 'Snickerdoodle' which fully met my approval with its light cinnamon-flavoured sponge and meringue topping that had been sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, yum! After a touch of late-night shopping amidst the bustle of Times Square, we ended our day at the John Dory Oyster Bar (1196 Broadway at 29th Street): a classy joint serving up cocktails, champagne and...erm...oysters! This was a buzzing space which was candlelit and old-school in terms of its décor - it's fair to say that the barmen looked the part too!
Duck Tales
Mid-Morning Refreshment

And now for a collective opinion of the day's visited eateries/watering holes:
- Cosi – 7/10 'Does its Job'.
- The Peking Duck House – 4/10 'quackery about quality'.
- Magnolia Bakery – 8/10 'crowded cupcake appreciation'.
- John Dory Oyster Bar – 9/10 'fresh', 'vibrant' and 'vivacious'. (Though one member of our party wanted to dedicate the three word summary to the 'sexy sexy barman'!!)
Did someone say Snickerdoodle?!
Day 3:
After a light breakfast at the hotel, the girls and I took the subway up to Central Park for a walk in the autumnal sunshine intending to build up an appetite for brunch at Normas. Situated as part of the Parker Meridien Hotel, (119 West 56th Street) this popular venue (recommended to us by a number of people who I will thank personally in due course) delivered, without a doubt, the best breakfast I have had to date. Think two doorstep-sized slices of warmed crispy French Toast dusted with equal measures of cinnamon and icing sugar and then drizzled with hot caramel sauce and flourished with a decorative (perhaps even edible) pink bloom – a masterpiece! The girls were equally as impressed with their dishes and we agreed to return on our final morning in the City. From Normas, we busied ourselves with a serious shopping mission hitting all the big players; Abercrombie and Fitch, Macys, M&M World and American Eagle (to name but a few). We also wandered through the festive market at Bryant Park and checked out the grand architecture of Grand Central Station. Here we revisited Magnolia Bakery (15 Vanderbilt Avenue); selecting mini cheesecakes this time around to share between us. As well a bite-sized version of the New York classic vanilla cheesecake, we also opted for the pumpkin and pecan special which had been set upon a cookie-crumb base – lovely. Later, after pizza at the tropically heated but reasonably priced Sbarro on Times Square, we made our way back to the hotel to beautify ourselves for a night out at The Bubble Lounge (228 West Broadway). I know what you're thinking, this sounds a little seedy and yet, this couldn't be further from the truth. Boasting an extensive line up of champagnes (over three hundred varieties to be precise) as well as a decadent list of cocktails including a White Chocolate Martini which was as creamy as it was boozy, this was a funky venue which, although no more expensive than you can expect of this City, entertains its clientèle with well-prepared drinks and a party atmosphere brought about an excitable buzz, mood lighting and the varied soundtrack overhead!
Brunch Bonanza!

Magnolia Bakery Cheesecakes

And now for a collective opinion of the day's visited eateries/watering holes:
- Normas – 10/10 'top-notch brunch'.
- Magnolia Bakery – 8/10 'crowded cheesecake appreciation'.
- Sbarro – 7/10 'simple yet effective'.
- The Bubble Lounge – 9/10 'tune-tastic bubble-fest!'
The Bubble Lounge Beverages
Day 4:
Day 4 started with another hefty breakfast at the hotel; fresh pasties and coffee supplemented our plan formulation for the day. We started by heading to South Ferry to travel to Staten Island in order to photograph the iconic Statue of Liberty as well as the Manhatten skyline from our floating vantage point. Let's get one thing straight though, this was not for the faint hearted...it was FREEZING on the deck of that ferry-boat and upon returning to dry land, we headed straight for nearby Bean&Bean (71 Broadway) for hot drinks – here Lychee White Tea and Pumpkin Spiced Lattes were among our orders and although the tea was served in too large a cup to achieve the desired degree of fusion, the latte was divine – not to mention organic and freshly roasted. Snacking on giant salted pretzels and honey-roasted nuts from the numerous street-side sellers to power us through the last of our sight-seeing destinations, (namely, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockefeller Centre and Empire State Building), the girls and I made room for the evening's festivities given our plans for making the most of our last night in the city - dining in style at La Bottega. This classy Italian, set within The Maritime Hotel, (363 West 16th Street – Chelsea) was spacious and atmospheric with paper lanterns thoughtfully hung to cast a subtle glow, complimenting the candlelight which flickered from each table. We were seated in the greenhouse and, as we toasted the end of a fantastic trip with flutes of pink prosecco, the warmth radiating from the overhead heaters became almost unbearable. That said, without them, the temperature quickly plummeted so that we each had to wrap up in our winter coats! The service was also a little on the chilly side but fortunately, the food more than made up for this proving fresh, tasty and flavoursome – the complimentary basket of warmed stone-baked rolls to start was a nice touch and the home-made gnocchi was particularly delicious. Afterwards, we made our way into the lounge where our helpful server assisted our cocktail choices; allowing us to order 'off-menu' which resulted in my first Cosmo of the trip as well as several well-executed favourites including an amazingly punchy mojito and zingy green apple martini!
Prosciutto Pizza complete with Tomato, Mozzarella and Arugula
And now for a collective opinion of the day's visited eateries/watering holes:
- Bean&Bean – 7/10 'warming yet wobbly'.
- La Bottega (Restaurant) – 7/10 'tasty' but 'questionable service'.
- La Bottega (Bar) – 8/10 'chilled-out cocktail classics'.

Day 5:
Our final day in New York City started with that aforementioned trip to Normas and, it was just as we had anticipated; thus, a quality experience including complimentary smoothie shots, beyond friendly service, dishes which had been generously portioned, beautifully presented and most importantly, tasted delectable. OK, so if by the end of your holiday you are little low on dollars, this is probably not the place to come but do make sure you add it to you New York 'to do' list – trust me, you will not be disappointed! And so, our trip was coming to an end...we indulged in pedicures on 5th Avenue to ease our aching feet and picked up snacks for the journey ahead of us from nearby Dean and Deluca.(156 West 56th Street). Here, besides a multitude of temptingly (and rather sizeable) fresh edibles to indulge in, there is also an array of treats which can be taken home as souvenirs of your trip – perhaps for your fellow foodies back in good old Blighty!
Kiwi, Raspberry and Grape Smoothie Shots
Crispy Belgian Waffle with Fresh Fruit

And now for a collective opinion of the day's visited eateries/watering holes:
- Normas – As above.
- Dean and Deluca – 8/10 'Something for Everyone'.

This really was an amazing trip and writing this post has allowed me to re-live it somewhat. Even now, I long for the on-tap variety that exists around every corner...not to mention the non-stop buzz and all-or-nothing attitude that seems to be consistently adhered to. I have been exposed to the wonderfully weird (for instance, the 'pet' man with a bird in a cage which he wore as a backpack and whose dog wore tiny ruby slippers), have tried to blend in with the cool New Yorker culture but overall, I got to spend a selfish amount of time with my very best girlfriends. New York City is indubitably a foodies playground and this foodie certainly intends on a return journey...hopefully with The Best Foodie Friend et al. in tow. Though for now, the closest I will get to my next NYC fix is my half-eaten packet of Nutter Butters!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Browns Bar and Brasserie – Queens Road, Clifton

It's incredible that I have never set foot in Browns given my recurrent route past its bustling exterior, and the multitude of student types and Cliftonites that frequent it. Consequently, when the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I were deciding where to rendezvous for our forthcoming natter and nosh-up instalment, Browns was settled upon as a mid way point between our varying suggestions (she; Clifton Village and I; Gloucester Road). Cue the evening in question and the highs and lows that comprised its proceedings...

Date and Time: Wednesday 2nd November 2011, 18:15
Name of Establishment: Browns Bar and Brasserie
Location: 38 Queens Road, Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Timely meet-up with the BFF

Stepping into Browns is really rather impressive; in fact, it made me wonder why the steps that run from the pavement to the venue's front door as well as the external canopied mezzanine are always so well attended (even, it seems, on a drizzly November evening) when its interior proved both spacious and immaculate in terms of its décor. With branches in all of the UK's major cities (as well as a cluster in the capital), Browns proudly occupies a number of 'interesting and often historic or listed buildings' and its Bristol counterpart is certainly no exception! Modelled on the Doge's Palace in Venice, the building has served as the city's museum, art gallery and university's dining rooms and boasts a number of striking features that include hard wood floors, high ceilings and the stylishly orbed lighting which has been hung sporadically overhead. Hanging baskets overflow with vibrantly green foliage and the subtly jazzy soundtrack facilitates a laid-back ambiance as does the candlelight which flickers from within individual rouged glass containers. Tables are thoughtfully arranged so not to crowd the space and servers are friendly, courteous and crisply attired, (think pressed white shirts and ties all round). That said, service is ever so slightly stuffy and depending entirely on your preferred level of interaction with those waiting your table, you will either loathe the distinct lack of banter or embrace the conversed formality.

The BFF and I decided it somewhat appropriate to treat ourselves to a little mid-week tipple and each chose a signature cocktail which, from Sunday to Wednesday from 4:00pm, are reasonably priced at £3.95. I sampled Browns' version of a tried and tested favourite which fortunately, was as good as any I’ve sampled elsewhere. Cue the Bramble which combines Bombay Sapphire Gin with lemon juice, sugar, Crème de Mure and crushed ice with a distinctively bitter-sweet kick. The BFF opted for the Webber Martini which muddles Absolut Citron vodka with crème de cassis, apple juice and lime – a super sweet amalgamation that wasn’t quite punchy enough for my taste but reportedly made for an easy-drinking and refreshing aperitif. Furthermore, in addition to the vast line-up of beverages on offer (including a top-notch selection of beers, wines, spirits and bubbles), I have to mention the novel concept of Browns’ ‘Skinny’ cocktails which, created using Agave syrup instead of sugar and with a lesser alcohol content, are positively saintly – make mine a skinny mojito!
Mid-Week Drinkies
On to the food and the supper menu which offers lower-priced fare before 7:00pm Monday to Friday. I chose the Goats Cheese Filo Parcels (£7.95) which comprised a smooth blend of crushed peas, sweet potato and goats cheese encased in two sizeable, crisp pastry packages. These were attractively plated, the flavours well-balanced and served alongside a lightly dressed salad (which incidentally, had been garnished with the juiciest red pepper I have eaten in a long time). Overall, this constituted a surprisingly filling dish that was both flavoursome and delicious. The BFF’s Chargrilled Paillard of Chicken (£9.95) was simple and healthy though, in my opinion, not quite worth its price tag. This comprised an amply portioned escalope of chicken which although was described as a little dry, had been topped with a aromatic gremolata and accompanied with a fresh salad of chicory, cucumber and cherry tomato – tasty but a little lack lustre to say the least.
Chargrilled Paillard of Chicken

Goats Cheese Filo Parcels

Desserts at just £3.00 each somewhat justified their indulgent consumption. I chose the pudding of the day - a temptingly titled mocha tart which, cut into a stringent slither, was overwhelmingly rich with a thick, fudgy texture that stuck to the palate (and not necessarily in a good way). The buttery shortcrust pastry base aided its rather heavy disposition but the biggest disappointment I felt was the subtlety of the coffee which made the tart more chocca than mocha I'm afraid. The BFF healthily selected the fruit compote and was somewhat perplexed upon its arrival. As the image below depicts, the BFF was served a small bowl of raspberries coupled with a generous helping of Greek yoghurt. Nice...but certainly not what she was anticipating! For a start, compote denotes stewed fruit; a point which the BFF took up with our server who in turn sought the expertise of the kitchen staff. She returned to inform us that this was simply how Browns served its compote but did offer the BFF a small jug of baked raspberries, “just in case she wanted them” - of course she wanted them, this was exactly what she had ordered in the first place!! Furthermore, the honey advertised as part of this dish had also been completely omitted – a real shame. I once ate at restaurant where the selection of available desserts were showcased on a platter at your table so that, besides heightening the probability that you'll convince yourself that you simply must have a pudding, you also have prior knowledge of exactly what you will be served; a rather obscure practice perhaps but without doubt one that I wished Browns had adopted on this occasion.
Chocca A.K.A Mocha Tart

Fruit Compote (apparently)

In conclusion, weighing up the flaws of the fare with the modestly totalled bill we had accumulated, it indubitably seems a case of 'what you pay for is what you get' – a notion made even more apparent in light of the considerable element of food envy brought about by some of the à la carte dishes that graced the tables around us! Given this venue’s sophisticated appeal and grand surroundings, I have to admit that I was expecting little more in regards to the quality of its cuisine; all the other aspects of this space seem to capture its intended ethos but I feel that the brasserie part of its namesake needs a little attention. Subsequently, I will not be ruling out a second visit though, for now, I think I’ll focus on the aforementioned cocktail menu and will prop up the bar until I’m otherwise convinced to venture past its well-stocked reaches.

The BFF gave Browns Bar and Brasserie 6/10 and in three words, described the venue as 'stylish’ but the cuisine as ‘plain’ and ‘misguided’.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Las Iguanas - Anchor Square/Harbourside, Bristol

I have often suggested that within the heart of every foodie exists a preference for a specific chain restaurant and fundamentally, for us Bristolians, Las Iguanas comes up trumps given that its very first branch was opened in our beloved city (on Whiteladies Road to be exact) back in the early 1990s. Thus, humble beginnings that have gradually developed into the twenty-five-part franchise that exists today. Fast forward to the evening of our latest visit which began with The Boy and I trekking across the centre amidst the weekend merry-makers (through hen party hootenannies and student-style shin digs) in order to reach the Harbourside branch in time for the birthday festivities of a friend…

Date and Time: Saturday 29th October 2011, 18:30
Name of Establishment: Las Iguanas*
Location: Unit A, South Building, Anchor Square, Bristol
Reason for visit: Birthday celebrations and Caipirinha-fuelled chit-chat

Full of the typical Saturday night hustle and bustle and channelling its distinctive party vibe, Las Iguanas coupled excitable chatter with the Latin American beats overhead which, from Brazilian Samba to Cuban Mambo, made for an appealing buzz that resounded throughout the space. Though fundamentally it was the intimate bar area that was well attended (no doubt the bodies here making the most of 'Happy Hour' - a deal which bestows on the venue's clientèle, their cocktail of choice, times two for just the price of one) the restaurant was also busy; though proving cosy as opposed to crowded meaning that one could enjoy the ambiance without feeling overwhelmed by it. Our party sat at a round table (so much easier for conversing as a group) which overlooked the twinkling lights of Millennium Square courtesy of the floor to ceiling windows to our right. To the left, was an artistic interpretation of the famous Rio de Janeiro skyline and this, in addition to rich terracotta-coloured panelling, bamboo-effect booths, coloured lanterns and large, leafy potted-plants facilitated a vibrant effect which, in my view, successfully captures one's interest without being cheesy nor over-done.

Now, to say that our table took advantage of the aforementioned 'Happy Hour' is rather an understatement and in fact (and all in the name of a well-rounded review of course) we just so happened to sample two-thirds of the line-up! The Caipirinia (£5.80) was my particular favourite and given the venue's commitment to the Latin American spirit, it would have been rude not to indulge in its refreshingly bitter-sweet bite. I absolutely love the crisp zing of fresh lime which this cocktail muddles with the 'house' Magnifica Cachaça, sugar and crushed ice – just delicious! The Dappled Apple (£6.00) was also well received – a simple yet tasty combination of vodka, cloudy apple juice and crème de cassis. Overall, we agreed that all the drinks we had chosen had been expertly prepared and although part of the buy-one-get-one-free deal, had not been scrimped upon in terms of their alcohol content. I will note here that service was efficient and friendly; we were given a 10-minute warning in regards to the cut-off for attaining cheaper drinks (as if we needed any further encouragement) and the birthday girl was even treated to a complimentary Caipirinha which was presented to her, complete with candle – a nice touch!
Cocktail o' Clock
On to the food and although there were initial concerns expressed in regards to the muddily layout of the menu, (“a child with a set of crayolas could have made this easier on the eye” said The Boy), we decided to start with the Breads, Chips and Dips (£3.90) to share amongst us. This was a reasonable portion for the price and yet I’m afraid for me, just didn't have the wow factor – the breads (a sliced multi-seed and chunked ciabatta) were a little dry and would have benefited from been warmed through...not to mention the tortillas which were tasty but unfortunately, in short supply! Improvements all round though when it came to the main courses and it was the Pescado Fritas (£7.90) for me which, it has to be said, were just delicious. This comprised succulent white flakes of fish coated with a crunchy crumb of coconut and chilli and supplemented with a dipping pot of mango peri peri sauce. Attractively presented on a rectangular board, the icing on the cake came in form of sweet potato fries - although a handful were a tad overcooked, plenty were perfectly executed; achieving an appealingly earthy sweetness which for me, coupled the joy of comfort food with a real sense of autumnal fare. Other dishes included the Prawn Bobo (£12.50) which its recipient informed us harboured a satisfying kick and the Pollo con Chorizo (£10.20) which was also beautifully presented (this time in a shallow earthenware dish) and reportedly a vibrant accumulation of flavours and textures. Here, although the chorizo proved a little tough, the peppers were described as wonderfully juicy and the chicken well-cooked and tender.
Pollo con Chorizo
Pescado Fritas

We did not opt for desserts on this occasion and if you cast your eyes over the image below, you will see why, (for the record this is an expertly made, two-tiered coffee-come chocolate birthday cake endorsed with an obscene number of Cadbury's Flake bars – excuse me whilst I dive in!!) That said, there were some rather tempting options on the menu and, in the absence of the cake to end all cakes, I would have luxuriated in the Aztec Chocolate Fudge Cake (£4.90) – a warm, spiced chocolate orange sponge served with a generous scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream – yum!
Chocca' Block!
In conclusion, an enjoyable evening all round – Las Iguanas delivered excellent service, reasonable prices and freshly-cooked food of a commendable standard. I love that this chain supports businesses from the Countries that inspire its cuisine and in turn secure top-notch ingredients; their coffee for instance which, supplied by Ipanema, is Rainforest Alliance certified and their cachaça partners, Magnifica, grow sugar cane without chemicals and mix it with only natural spring water during the distillation process. Closer to home, Las Iguanas draws on the expertise of Bristol-based Bart Spices for an ever-present range of Latin-based products including salts, sauces and oils. And so, returning to my original point, this is clearly a much-loved chain...with a brain - committing itself to 'every Latin minute and every Latin mouthful' and yet remaining mindful of its roots.

And now for the second opinion…
The birthday girl gave Las Iguanas (Anchor Square) a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described her experience as ‘colourful, sumptuous and atmospheric’.