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!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz, London

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz has become something of an institution be it the inarguable epitome of daytime indulgence. With an illustrious reputation for fine dining, a 'sitting' at the hotel's prestigious Palm Court ensures a positively first rate experience which although also warrants a rather sizeable price tag, is perfect for a special occasion...

Date and Time: Wednesday 11th July 2012, 11:30
Name of Establishment: The Ritz*
Location: 150 Piccadilly, London
Reason for Visit: An extra-special birthday treat for an extra-special auntie

Upon ascending from the hustle and bustle of Green Park tube station, it becomes instantly clear that The Ritz really does equals glitz; its name, brandished in lights above the window displays of fine jewellery, accentuating its presence amidst the other high-profile landmarks that embellish this part of the city. Dating back to 1905, this is a space which screams sophistication; with stunning art-deco handiwork, high ceilings, rich colours and plush furnishings tastefully reflecting the anticipated etiquette of an establishment of this calibre. Here, service is impeccable; the sincerity of the welcome extended to each and every guest setting a precedent for the duration of one's visit. I really liked that such a high level of service (whereby I became 'madame' for the day and my napkin had been placed across my lap before I'd even had time to unfold it) did not constitute an air of pretension; quite the contrary in fact as the waiters (all six of them) that addressed our table were not only courteous and efficient but cheerful and chatty; something which took the formality from what could have otherwise proved a rather stuffy affair. Furthermore, I noted how well-attended the space had become and, despite having to take afternoon tea well before noon (seriously, I suggest that you book early), a back-drop of contented chatter muddled with a little musical input courtesy of The Ritz' resident pianist, Ian Gomes, really made for a relaxed ambiance.
Ritz-style Bling!
Tea-cups for coffee

First up, a drink or two and despite the seventeen types of loose-leaf tea on offer (which includes the likes of; Rose Congou, Rooibos Red and the ever-so aptly-named Ritz Royal English), my auntie and I opted for coffee which, served into dainty bone-china tea cups from solid silver jugs, certainly looked the part. In addition to this, it would have been rude not to toast to the birthday girl with a little fizz – The Ritz offer champagne at £19 a glass, or you can opt for the package that includes it...OK OK, I know what you're really waiting for, a round up of the grub which began with a round of six varieties of daintily portioned crust-less sandwiches; my favourite of which constituted the cheddar cheese and chutney ensemble which, layered between slices of fresh onion bread, ensued a deliciously punchy after-taste. We were also treated to chicken breast and horseradish cream on white and Scottish smoked salmon on rye; the latter accented with the citrus zing of lemon butter, yum! My auntie particularly enjoyed the traditional cucumber sandwich which, arguably an institution in itself, had, in this case, been combined with cream cheese and dill. Flecked with caraway seeds, the wholemeal batch utilised for this undersized sarnie offered a decidedly fragrant twist to the tried and tested recipe!
Next up came a duo of perfectly-formed and freshly-baked scones; the latter evident on account of their oven-warmed disposition. Slathering both fruit and plain varieties with strawberry preserve and Devonshire clotted cream, I can report that these were beautifully textured and tasty; though, I have to be honest, not the best I've ever tasted due to the genius of the buttermilk and lemon curd scones that I am somewhat partial to stock-pile upon each and every visit to Bristol's Lahloo Pantry! Nevertheless, It has to be said that The Ritz excelled in the confectionery department; the petit fours on the top tier of the initial arrangement causing that sharp intake of breath as they were just.that.beautiful! The rosewater macaron for instance was especially imaginative; its pastel-pink appeal and careful composition proving almost as decadent as its exquisite aroma given that even the pod of subtly-sweet Panna Cotta had been finished with a coin of white chocolate that sported the distinctive 'R' emblem. To accompany this, fruit tarts piled with plump raspberries, an intricately constructed chocolate ganache (which was essentially a chocoholics dream) and a bite-sized mille-feuille which delicately balanced a lightly whipped vanilla cream with flaky pastry - heaven! After being plated another helping of sandwiches, plus two additional macarons (at my request), a trolley of additional cake-type creations began to do the rounds. This comprised an impressive-looking carrot cake, complete with prettily piped peaks of crème fraîche as well as a strawberry and pistachio franzipan which I have on good authority, was absolutely divine! By this point however, we simply had to decline any further replenishment given that we were well and truly ready to rest our (very full) stomachs; opting instead to sit awhile, people-watch and recover from what had unsurprisingly accelerated to a sugar-rush of epic proportions!
All together now...oooooh!
Snap them up or they'll be scone!?

In conclusion, it's fair to say that afternoon tea at The Ritz altogether lived up to my expectations. Not only was the fare fantastic, the service was faultless and the surroundings recherché – not to mention the attention to detail proving second to none. Incidentally (or not if you're into shameless name-dropping) my auntie and I were also impressed to note the presence of The Ritz' more famous clientèle; the pomp and ceremony attracting even the likes of an ex-American president! And quite frankly, if it's good enough for the A-list, it's good enough for us...as it was, without doubt, the fanciest foodie foray of the year thus far...
The franzipan we were allowed to take home in a doggy bag...yes really!
So much sugar, we were seeing double!
And now for the second opinion...
The Birthday Girl herself gave The Ritz a phenomenal 10/10 and in three words, described the experience as ' truly truly scrumptious!'

NB. There are five sittings every day at: 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm, 5.30pm and 7.30pm and prices are as follows:
Traditional Afternoon Tea - £42
Champagne Afternoon Tea - £54
Where's Bill?!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Severn Shed - The Grove, Bristol

I've spent rather a lot of time in Severn Shed of late; once for dinner, a couple of times to snack from the Tapas-style 'small plates' menu but predominantly, to make the most of the (quite frankly awesome) two-for-one cocktail deal which runs from 4:00pm till close every single day. And, what better to balance out this money-saving common sense than with a little silliness...yes, I'm referring to the drunken frivolities brought about by too many passion fruit daiquiris – a phenomenon lovingly identified amongst my nearest and dearest with the #blamedaiquiri hashtag, (yes, we really are that cool!) Consequently, besides documenting what one can expect to find in terms of this venue’s overall ambiance, as well as the edibles it has to offer, this post will primarily factor as an ode to my new-found favourite tipple…

Date and Time: Miscellaneous - there have been SO.MANY.VISITS!
Name of Establishment: Severn Shed*
Location: The Grove, Bristol
Reason for Visit: See above

Given its ties to the popular chain restaurant, Coal Bar and Grill, it is surely to be commended that Severn Shed has managed to retain its sense of independence; feeling notably different to other outlets set-up within this seven-part franchise. Bristol's alternative Coal for instance, which is aptly placed amidst the family-friendly hubbub that encompasses the eateries flanking the top floor of Cabot Circus, seeming really rather removed from the sophisticated décor and cool minimalism apparent within the enviable harbour-side location of its sibling. Yes, having once existed in its own right as a dining establishment, Severn Shed seems to be marketed at a slightly more adult audience - the smart marble-topped bar and impressively-arranged florals effectively channelling an orchestrated sense of finesse. Furthermore, the intrigue of a former boathouse rumoured to have once belonged to the legendary engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is always going to make for an engaging backdrop and, from the leather-effect booths that comprise the bar area to the alfresco action available from the river-side terrace, it is, in fact, only the emblem on the menu that links this venue to its parent company. Service is amply attentive and although I haven’t yet forgiven the boys behind the bar for my ‘birthday shot’ of 62% proof rum, it’s fair to say that an appropriate balance of friendly banter and welcomed standoffishness has been demonstrated during each and every visit.

The à la carte menu constitutes a mish-mash of (mostly) Mediterranean favourites which are accountable to Executive Chef, Antonio Dias; who originates from Coimbra, Portugal. Here, fresh fish, meat and seasonal produce is sourced, where possible, from local suppliers and from Chicken Schnitzel to Chimichanga, (hmm, not sure that Mexico is on the Med?!) and my personal favourite, the House Pizza – topped with Parma ham, goats cheese, artichoke, sun-dried tomato, rocket and fresh pesto – there really is something to suit every palate. For me, starting with a portion of the stone-baked garlic pizza bread (with melted cheese and caramelised red onion) is always a highlight, though you may wish to share this with a friend or two as it warrants a large appetite to finish the whole thing, especially of you are going to indulge yourself with that aforementioned House Pizza! Speaking of sharing, the small plates (available at £10.95 for three) are perfect if you’re after a range of tasty morsels to accompany a drink or two; my top picks include the paprika wedges which are served with a lemon and thyme crème fraîche and the warm chorizo with its oily, garlic bite.

When it comes to dessert, I've never been overly impressed with the dishes I've ordered whereby it seems that presentation exceeds substance; a cleverly woven arrangement of spun sugar attractively crowning each dish and yet proving teeth-breakingly inedible; at times, much like the mediocre pud which sits beneath it. That said, I have yet to sample the Bailey’s Crème Brûlée which I have on good authority, is really rather delicious! Personally though, I’ve always opted to save the money earmarked for dessert for another round of cocktails, (yes, yes…I have a problem!) Thus, without further ado, let me share with you the content of this coveted cocktail menu (which, you may wish to be note, is differently arranged at the Cabot Circus branch of Coal) – firstly, it’s important to be aware that the BOGOF offer denotes that both cocktails have to be the same and yet, the presence of the passion fruit daiquiri significantly minimises any aversion to this caveat. I mean, described as ‘moreish’ and ‘dangerously drinkable’ by my cocktail-drinking companions, whilst combining white rum with passion fruit purée, sugar, lime and a touch of coconut liqueur (which is the unofficial 'extra' ingredient that really seals the deal in terms of its deliciousness), it really is an addictive tipple. Plus, taking you to a sunshiney spot within the realms of your imagination, (come on, we all know that summer's been cancelled this year), this is a beach-bar beverage and then some...yet at £3.75 a pop, it’s significantly cheaper than a flight to the Costa del Sol! Just in case this isn't your bag (seriously?!) I should probably mention that there are a total of six cocktails to choose from this specific line-up and also, a number which amount to only £4.75 within the ‘Happy Hour’ remit including the likes of the classic Cosmopolitan and a rather zesty Apple Martini – yum!
Daiquiri Action
In conclusion, Severn Shed is an ample choice for both edibles and/or a well-timed drink or two. I’d suggest that it indubitably outshines its Cabot Circus based equivalent; arguably serving a more varied clientèle and even boasting a DJ that helps facilitate a party atmosphere post 9:00pm. For, although Coal is predominantly a restaurant, Severn Shed is attended as a bar in its own right and certainly for me, its fare is not its USP - although it is altogether satisfactory, I’ll re-visit time and time again in response to the lurid pull of that decidedly divine passion fruit daiquiri…
And now for that all-important second opinion...
In three words, friend 'PAWS' summed up the appeal of Severn Shed as 'alfresco cocktail quaffing' and gave the venue a rating of 8/10 – would we be quite so keen without its 'signature' tipple? The jury's out...


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Patisserie Leila – 88 Stokes Croft, Bristol

It's official, I've found a brand new macaron-related muse within the sugar-sweet reaches of my beloved Bristol! Until now, only Clifton's Lahloo Pantry has succeeded in satisfying my relentless macaron addiction and yet, I have been unwittingly in the presence of another outlet for my adoration having recently stumbled upon French-orientated 'Patisserie Leila'; situated within the eclectic surroundings of Stokes Croft...I love that such a chic establishment, complete with stylish awning and a spectacular macaron tower effect window display has been branded with its very own street art and that, most importantly, the confectioneries themselves (at a mere 80 pence each) are just divine – the praline variety in particular proving an absolute must-have with a lighter-than-air consistency and rich-flavoured filling. Consequently, It really is worth a visit – if not for the macarons, then for the hand-crafted cakes and pastries that have so clearly been lovingly prepared; bringing another angle of creativity and artistic flair to this most notorious part of our City.