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!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

ZERODEGREES Microbrewery - Colston Street, Bristol

I couldn’t believe that it had been three whole Months since the last meet-up of the collective inhabitants from my former workplace; three months in which I was supposed to be locating an appropriate outlet for our next foodie foray. You may recall my anxiety at having to cater for a large party of varying tastes and juxtaposed preferences and as such, I again leant towards ‘the safe bet’; booking a table at ZERODEGREES Microbrewery; a venue which not only offers a contemporary line-up of hand-crafted beers but also an extensive menu of pizzas, pastas and grills that I’d envisaged were bound to hit the spot...

Date and Time: Wednesday 13th June 2012, 19:30
Name of Establishment: ZERODEGREES Microbrewery*
Location: 53 Colston Street, Bristol
Reason for visit: Co-worker chow-down

As the flagship branch of a four-part franchise, Bristol's version of ZEROZEGREES is described as a pairing of 'substance and style', effectively shaping the functionality of its large and lofty space to create an edgy, almost futuristic feel. Here, pipelines gleam overhead and sizeable steel vats facilitate an intriguing focal point whilst encompassing the USP of the venue itself. Channelling a sense of factory finesse, this is an establishment that embodies its surroundings and in fact, I'd noted how the mechanics of the brewery had been incorporated within the historic presence of Bristol’s Christmas Steps whilst climbing towards the neon blue wording above the main entrance from the back-streets below. It also lends to the area, a example of sustainability; its wooden-cladding and mish-mash of building materials providing a notable contrast to the drab concrete that is commonplace within its proximity. Plus, perhaps reflecting its somewhat detached existence, as well as the cool ambiance of its interior, service is really rather aloof. Yes, although our table awaited us, we were not rushed to take our seats, (despite how busy the restaurant had become) – in fact, we ended up asking when it was appropriate to do so, thinking that we’d perhaps been forgotten altogether. This seemed to set a precedent for the remainder of the evening whereby the blurred line between laid-back and just plain slack meant having to campaign for attention and thus, enduring an excruciating wait between courses. Furthermore, we found that high ceilings and a well-attended space equalled a distinct imbalance in terms of the acoustics – in short, there were moments when we couldn't hear ourselves think!

When it came to the menu, the premise of modern European favourites transcended to four main sections; pizza, pasta, mussels and grills. I opted for the Sweet and Spicy Italian Sausage pizza (£9.25) which I'm afraid to say appeared rather lacking upon first look; the roasted mixed peppers proving the prominent feature and the meat content, distinctively sparse. Having been cooked in a traditional stone-hearth oven, I was expecting a little more from the base which was decidedly average to say the least – comprising the likes of an unsuitably soggy centre and edges that bordered on charred! Others were rather more impressed with the dishes they had chosen, the mussels in particular (at £14.50 a kilo), were reportedly fresh, generously portioned and intricately flavoured; in this case with lemongrass, ginger, coconut milk, coriander and green curry paste – yum! Now, when it comes to dessert, I'm a person who likes to consider one's options prior to the onset of the visit at hand – subsequently, I was relatively miffed at the distinct lack of an online dessert menu; especially as, for me, this can function as the ‘make-or-break’ course – not to mention determine whether I indulge in a starter. As a result, I held out for what constituted a rather mediocre chocolate fudge cake which, although was rather prettily plated - sporting a latticed, spun-sugar style crown - was disappointingly dry; the microwaved middle layer of frosting not quite saving its unpleasantly heavy composition. Other dishes were perhaps rather better received, an eton mess type ensemble proving the star of the show with its well-executed balance of sweet versus tart.

As a microbrewery, it seemed almost customary to accompany our dinnertime decadences with one of the venue’s indigenous beers and with so many to choose from, (from black lager to wheat ale and fruit beers), it is easy to complement each and every dish with a suitable brew. And, what better to cut through a (supposedly) meaty pizza than the crisp zest of the house Pilsner with its fruity lime notes and 100% Czech Saaz content. Not only that, ZERODEGREES' Pilsner is without doubt a personal favourite be it reminiscent of the great British Summertime and the festivals that grace our fair city when the sun opts to make an entrance. Yes, although I’ll never completely abandon my 'Pinot' habit, there’s potential to make a beer-drinker of me yet!

In conclusion, a reasonably-priced and enjoyable evening within an addictively buzzy atmosphere – although the cuisine didn’t wow me, I would certainly return for drinks; perhaps even frequent the outside space, weather permitting! As a brewery, it’s unsurprising that the quality of the beverages take centre stage and yet, the fresh, innovative content of the menu seemed to promise rather more than it fared in the flesh - if we return to the initial description of ‘substance and style’, I'd suggest that just as the latter has been achieved and then some, there are leaps and bounds required for the substance element to function on a comparable level...something, I'm sure, that isn't beyond the capabilities of the brains behind what is an otherwise appealing venue.
And now for the second opinion…
One of my dining companions gave ZERODEGREES a rating of 7/10 and in three words, suggested that it, ‘could’ve been better!’


Tuesday, 12 June 2012

An account of Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails' time in Sorrento...

Touching down in Bristol following a seven-day stint in the Neapolitan Riviera with a distinctively pinkish tint to my skin tone and a new-found ‘pizza paunch’ I had originally planned to provide a brief snapshot of this particular foodie foray via a series of photographs; facilitating my reformed appreciation of Italian fare. I mean, albeit one of the most instantly recognisable genres of cuisine on the planet, there are certain factors - such as the presence of home-grown ingredients and the authenticity of dining beneath the Mediterranean sunshine - that really enhance the dishes that arguably don't quite cut it back in good old Blighty. Consequently, the images earmarked for inclusion are as follows and yet, shunning the confines of a caption or two in favour of a full report of my findings seemed rather more fitting...not to mention, an opportunity for me to prolong the memories of what was altogether, a fantastic week...

Date and Time: Monday 28th May - Monday 4th June 2012
Destination: Sorrento
Location: Neapolitan Riviera/Amalfi Coast, Italy
Reason for Visit: In the words of the mighty Cliff - “We're all going on a...Summer Holiday” - well, I am!

Sorrento’s focal point, Piazza Tasso, is positively humming with hustle and bustle; snacking is commonplace and a vibrant café culture exists of the heart of its battle between chaotic consumption and chill. Thus, in light of its wonderfully cosmopolitan air, I'll begin with my means to the internationally acceptable sport of people-watching which, for me, seemed more appropriate from behind the rim of a coffee cup. Though many venues have wavered to meet the requirements of the ever-present tourist trade, cappuccinos and lattes are strictly for breakfast time and instead, espresso-based beverages take centre stage - my favourite, the Espressino, which layers an unmistakably Italian blend with steamed milk and cocoa, both kept me on my toes and satisfied my self-confessed coffee snobbery at each and every turn! Furthermore, the apparent demand for a rich-roasted hit meant that coffee features in a number of entities; spanning a variety of desserts (Tiramisu anyone?!) and confectioneries whereby espresso-flavoured candies supposedly keep one’s caffeine levels topped up ‘till lunch! It is also customary to receive a small selection of bite-sized treats with one’s coffee which was unsurprisingly well received on my part; come on, everyone loves complimentary edibles…non?!
Complimentary Nibbles

Another ingredient which is utilised across a range of consumables is fresh lemon which is locally produced and used as the basis for a number of products - on the most part, the business of Limoncello; a strong liquor and perfect palate cleanser/digestif given its bitter-sweet bite. Best served ice-cold, or slurped through biscotti, its strength is not to be sniffed at and, whilst we're on the subject, my companion and I found ourselves toasting to the concept of European measures upon several occasions, be it something that accentuated our evenings’ entertainment somewhat. Solaro, the local wine of Sorrento was also rather palatable, though the Aglianico del Taburno proved a smoother red by comparison and Bagnoli (di Sopra), a 'Rosato' from the Veneto region, was, without doubt, my favourite tipple to compliment dinner. Plus, by the end of the trip, I’d also become rather accustomed to Italian lager with a crisp Peroni or Nastro Azzurro proving my first port of call following a sweaty descent into Sorrento town from the mountainous location of the hotel.

The Grand Hotel Due Golfi* really did pull out all the stops when it came to the standard of their cuisine; exceeding my expectations of the usual tried and tested meals for the masses and shunning a buffet style affair for 'a la carte’ table service. Hence, worrying about the restrictions of my self-imposed half-board status became somewhat redundant with the first meal that I sat down to and subsequently,  throughout the course of the week, delighted in the fact that almost all bases were covered; namely, dishes that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen elsewhere and yet, thoroughly enjoyed. I developed a taste for Escalope for instance and keenly sampled oodles of seafood as well as a selection of regionally influenced pasta dishes (macaroni, ravioli and lasagne to name but a few) - these mapped Italian cuisine for me and, despite a couple of oddities here and there (breaded cod on a bed of ready-salted crisps anyone?!) I found myself eagerly anticipating the surprise factor of each and every dinnertime adventure! That said, there was something missing from the three-courses plated each evening; something fundamental to the Country's culinary culture and, as a result, my primary reason for opting to eat-out upon several occasions....yep, you guessed it PIZZA!!!
Cannelloni - Sorrento Style!
First a little history (courtesy of the lovely Thomson's tour guide who accompanied us on the journey from the airport) - pizza actually originated from Napoli and, in June 1889, to honor the Queen consort of Italy (Margherita of Savoy), the Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created the ‘Pizza Margherita’; a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves, to represent the colours of the Italian flag. Yes, it’s fair to say that, history aside, I ate some of the best pizza I had ever tasted during what I'd coined as my eating expedition – my absolute favourite from within a rustic trattoria called ‘Mimi’ in the nearby village of Sant'Agata Sui, (which incidentally is also home to Don Alfonso 1890; a Michelin-starred restaurant with a fantastic reputation for unpretentious yet faultless fare). Here, pizzas are baked in a traditional wood-fired oven, meaning that their bases are of the perfect consistency; thin, crisply edged and not too doughy which, in addition to the fresh, flavoursome ingredients used to top them, equaled mouthfuls of absolute joyno wonder it was so well-attended with a rowdy queue of locals that snaked all the way from the take-away counter to the front door of the establishment! My companion and I also sampled the Italian-take on fresh bruschetta - pizza’s crunchier cousin – which, slathered with local olive oil and topped with sun-ripened tomatoes, fared as a perfect lunchtime snackette.
Bruschetta's Betta'!
Parma Ham, Fresh Rocket and Parmesan

Now, when it comes to eateries abroad, I’m not one to brandish the word ‘favourite’ around, tending to avoid repeat-visits to a single establishment in favour of a more thorough drinking/dining experience overall. Instead, I’ll document a few that, for me, constituted my top-picks of the region starting with a fantastic outlet for another Italian tradition…Gelato! Yes, this is another of Italy’s USPs and, in fact, I can't believe that I have documented my trip thus far without mentioning it! And, with over 80 flavours from peanut to pineapple and KitKat to coconut, Bougainvillea* was an obvious choice.
Café Latino* is a peaceful haven tucked behind a busy high street – think, leafy greens contrasted with vibrant red blooms as well as a series of orange trees that criss-cross overhead, effectively filtering the dappled sunshine. A chilled-out soundtrack and central water feature complete a noticeable aura of calm and an extensive cocktail list, reasonably-priced cuisine and even a gluten-free menu secures its suitability for any occasion.

Another cobbled side-street led me to meet the acquaintance of William Guglielmo, the renowned chef and proud owner of the Old Taverna Sorrentina* and its adjoined cookery school. William enthusiastically took me through photographs of his farm; explaining the traditions associated with its olive and lemon production and the origins of his family’s business, (which, for the record, dates all the way back to 1860.) Although disappointingly I didn’t have time to participate in the advertised four-course cookery session, I developed quite a soft spot for this particular establishment; not only for the sensational gelato and home-made limoncello granita (which is served with a generous dousing of vodka…hic) but also due to the passion behind its substance and the charismatic persona at the forefront if its appeal.

Elsewhere, Bar Orlando in Sant'Agata Sui, curiously branded with the legend of the smoking cat, was a hidden gem with excellent service and unbeatable value for money and, at the other end of the spectrum, Bar Embassy within the designer streets of Capri, although pricey, was an ample platform for a spot of people watching – the eateries of Capri, boasting their famous clientèle in a collage of crinkled photographs!
Parrot-dise for 16 Euro for two dishes of Gelato in Capri
The legend of the Smoking Cat - Bar Orlando

Consequently, rarely does a city combine phenomenal beauty with the buzz of a busy city and neither does a week within it come so reasonably priced. At 6-7 Euro for a cocktail, 2-3 Euro for coffee and around the 8 Euro mark for a main course, I was rather pleasantly surprised at how lightly I was hit in the pocket, (finding myself in the rare position of having enough moolah left over to hit the likes of Duty Free prior to my return flight!) Obviously, to venture to the likes of Capri (the playground of the rich and famous) or to the trendy seaside of Positano, will set you back considerably more and yet, to balance these areas for a well-rounded trip really does seem to serve the ideal holiday destination, (yes yes I'm Judith Chalmers minus the mahogany tan!) Finally, I may have returned with a little excess baggage (mainly around my midrift you'll understand) but everything put in front of me, no really...everything, was fresh, wholesome and delivered with gusto, the latter perhaps the reason why even the aforementioned oddities were, at least on my part, embraced as part of a culture to be proud of; and for blimmin' good reason!  


Rhyming Dining - Bristol Style!

In the mood for Bristol food?
Indulgence…West Country style!
We’ve got famous pies, bars in disguise,
Come hither, stay awhile!

From British tapas..posh fish n’ chips,
For the home of the cupcake; seek a pink, Park Street base,
Experience alfresco dining with Brunel’s gurt bridge in your face!

Try Illusions Bar for magic tricks
Find artisan treats upon the cobbles of St. Nicks!
A perfect spot to rest one’s feet,
Amidst the experts in cheese, fresh produce, cured meat!

Where it’s well-known chains that play their part,
Versus home-grown brains and locals with heart.
From pop-up banquets; Castellano’s church-based feat;
To the glitz of the UK’s largest all-you-can-eat;

And from Supper Clubs to old-man pubs,
Sunshiney cider on the Apple Boat,
From the independent venues that flank Stokes Croft
To the Gloucester Road stop for curried goat!

So get it done, complete the tour
Where every taste is accounted for,
A truly ‘foodie’ City; that’s cool, diverse and pretty.
Simply said, there’s nowhere that I could love more…