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!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Al's Tikka Grill – Ashton Road, Bristol

Rocking up at what looked remarkably like a roadside 'greasy spoon' (complete with garish neon signage), it's fair to say that our group's first impression of Al's Tikka Grill was unanimously underpinned with a sense of realisation that the purpose of the penny-pinching print-out that we had purchased – with which we were entitled to dine at six quid a head - had been nothing more than a crude attempt to encourage bums on seats. I mean, although this is pretty much standard when it comes to the overall premise of these online 'daily deals', there are times when it becomes increasingly apparent why an eatery has opted to 'sell its soul' to this scheme...Yet, swallowing this shameless cynicism and trying not to judge a book by its cover - as well as resisting the urge to shoot accusing glances at the pal responsible for this particular choice of venue - we made our way into what incidentally *is* a greasy spoon, though for all intents and purposes, doubles up as an Indian restaurant by night...

Date and Time: Sunday 2nd September 2012, 7:30pm
Name of Establishment: Al's Tikka Grill*
Location: 33 Ashton Road, Bristol
Reason for visit: Beer and curry night with the boys

With earthen-effect tiles underfoot, minimal décor and a cheerful colour scheme, Al's Tikka Grill is a modest establishment which, although a little rough around the edges (yes, we're talking a trek through a dirty courtyard to a poorly lit outside toilet), is fundamentally remedied with a relaxed, almost homely ambiance; facilitated in the first instance by the the warm welcome received from Al and his team. In fact there is something almost endearing about the quirky (albeit rather random) touches about the space; the dominant presence of Shilpa Shetti for instance, whose life-sized portrait smiled down upon our table - as authentically Indian perhaps, as the subtly-pitched soundtrack that tinkled overhead.
On to the fare and given that we had spent what seemed like hours in front of the football prior to our 7:30pm reservation, we were unsurprisingly ravenous. Yet before ordering, we had to tend to the important business of dishing out the beers which, bought in as per the BYO policy, inadvertently delayed dining due to the detour to North Street that became necessary upon discovering that the nearest off-licence wasn't within walking distance – sigh! Minus this momentary set-back however, service was quick and efficient and despite the fact that we were entitled to a starter, main and a side each as part of the aforementioned voucher (cue a whole lotta' umm-ing and ahh-ing as the decision process unfolded), Al's friendly, upbeat attitude coupled with his knowledge of the menu, certainly sped up what could have otherwise proved a rather painful process! And with the table set – complete with warmed plates from Stoke on Trent (as one of its proud former inhabitants was quick to point out to five rather bemused faces) - the pickles and poppadoms made an entrance, shortly followed by our starters. For me, the onion bhajis (£2.95) which despite looking the part - generously portioned alongside a crisp-looking salad and a palate-cleansing raita – were disappointingly dry and floury in terms of their disposition. I also thought that the onion content should have been a little more evenly distributed as unpleasant chunkage made for a number of overpowering mouthfuls that, quite frankly, I could have done without! Others were rather more complimentary on the subject of what they had ordered; the Tandoori Chicken (£3.60) described by one of my dining companions as succulently textured and expertly seasoned.
When it came to the main event, the Chicken Tikka Masala (£7.25) was on fine form and, given that this is my consistent curry of choice, I consider myself something of an expert when it comes to what constitutes a good or bad effort. In this case, though characteristically creamy and full of flavour, I noted that the dish had been set a click or two above the usual level of spiciness which for me, was actually a bonus and yet could have proven problematic had I been of a weaker constitution! Others reported similar findings; the Chicken Jalfrayzi (£6.20) marrying whole green chillis with its distinctive contrast of sweet and sour and the Rezellah (£6.20) making its recipients' eyes water! The latter was reportedly a well-balanced ensemble in that its fiery attributes gave way to the intricate fragrance beneath and yet, I'm told, 'certainly not a choice for the faint hearted'! It later transpired that had we consulted the website prior to our visit, we would have known to ask the kitchen staff to tailor the pungency of each dish to suit our individual preferences – something to remember for next time perhaps....That said, dishes were predominantly well-received; proving rich, tasty and with an ample ratio of meat to sauce. Furthermore, pilau rice was served in abundance and of the sundries chosen, the peshwari naan proved the most popular - in my view not the best I've tasted, but well-executed nevertheless with that wonderful combination of sweet, earthy almond and the zing of juicy sultanas – yum! I will suggest however that there is a need to address the saltiness of the cuisine overall as judging from the raging thirst that plagued me long into the evening, the kitchen staff had fared a little sprinkle happy on this occasion!
In conclusion, the gang and I had an enjoyable evening at Al's – the boys joked about returning for a full English the following day in order to authenticate the review. Something which I'm sure would have made for interesting reading but was certainly not an experience that I'd be quick to endure; even for the good of the blog! In fact, I'm not sure (if I'm being completely honest) that I can see myself visiting again in any capacity given that I'm spoilt for choice, a lot closer to home, with a number of first-class curry houses. Subsequently, the likes of Downend's Tamarind*, the Sunday 'all-you-can-eat' extravaganza at Staple Hill's Curry Supreme and, of course, my trusty take-out; Kingswood's Curry Kings* really doesn't warrant this jaunt across town. That said, you really can't knock the faultless service, value for money and laid-back atmosphere at Al's – which the distinct lack of clientèle really didn't do any justice. Thus, although there is room for improvement, it's nothing that running a tighter ship (and smartening up one's premises) couldn't fix and I have no doubt that with Al at the helm, the need for bums on seats could become a thing of the past; perhaps even shunning the need to satisfy the breakfast rush in favour of a focus on a first-rate curry crusade!
And now for the second opinion....
A fellow diner gave Al's Tikka Grill a rating of 7/10 and in three words, described the venue as ‘unique’ and the fare, ‘flavoursome’ and ‘good-value’.


Wednesday, 12 September 2012

When the day job met the blog!

As you may or may not be aware, I spend my days (and sometimes my evenings) working as part of the Corporate Relations and Events Team at the University of the West of England (UWE). As such, I was recently asked to contribute to the brand new 'UWE Life Stories' Facebook page – a task which allowed me to reflect on the last nineteen months of Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails and in light of this, how much I've enjoyed celebrating my home town and all that it has to offer both its visitors and inhabitants. Consequently my contribution (and its obvious undercurrent of Bristolian pride) is as follows...

During the seven years that I’ve worked at the UWE, I've met a number of amazing people and, as someone who takes an interest in others (which is just another way of admitting to being nosy isn't it?!), I've discovered that most have something – a hidden talent if you will - that they busy themselves with outside of the workplace. As such, I've worked alongside a marathon runner, a DJ, a Science Fiction novelist, a punk rocker and the Volunteer Coordinator for Brisfest – people whose extra-curricular activities have moved me to tell you a little about mine!

Though I'm part of the University’s busy Corporate Relations and Events Team by day, by night (well early evening actually) I'm an unashamedly biased Bristolian and keen 'foodie' – both of which facilitate my blog which aims to review the city's vibrant foodie scene and the plethora of bars, cafés and restaurants that underpin it. Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails was founded in February 2011 with a review of Café du Jour on Whiteladies Road and since then has attracted a hungry following; receiving nearly 27,000 hits. Besides giving me an excuse to regularly indulge in fantastic fare, the blog has encouraged me to build on a network of like-minded food enthusiasts which, via the available social media platforms (predominantly Twitter), has played a huge role in opening my eyes to the best that Bristol has to offer; from underground supper clubs, 'secret' cocktail bars and events that showcase the high level of local culinary expertise. Returning to the 'day job' and UWE's focus on enhancing the student experience, I'd like to think that my posts can offer a ‘snack-shot’ of the city that our students have chosen for their studies – and from the humble brilliance of Pie Minister to the all-you-can-eat extravaganza at Za Za Bazaar, there really is something for everyone! I'm finding new favourites all the time and would love to think that I play a part in directing others to theirs!

Friday, 7 September 2012

No. 4 Clifton Village

It's fair to say that the event of remembering an unused Living Social* voucher - which entitles its holder to what basically constitutes a ‘free’ three course dinner - is comparable to finding a tenner down the back of the sofa! Thus, when the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) informed me that, on the day before pay day no less, we would embark on an evening of fine dining at No. 4 Clifton village – which, situated within a beautiful Georgian mansion, is not typically the kind of venue that one would associate with the end-of-the-month money situation, my response was underpinned with a similar sense of serendipitous joy!

Date and Time: Thursday 23rd August 2012, 19:15
Name of Establishment: No. 4 Clifton Village*
Location: Rodney Place, Clifton
Reason for Visit: A resurrected Living Social deal

No. 4 Clifton Village is an award-winning restaurant and, as part of an independently owned and operated venue (which includes the Rodney Hotel), embodies a timely flair that fittingly adheres to its prestigious surroundings. Lofty sash windows, ornate ceilings and solid oak flooring have been married with sophisticated décor and at both the front and rear of the building are sweeping, well-kept gardens that both facilitate the many wedding photographs that are taken within them and provide a pleasant backdrop to the intimately-arranged (and really rather cosy) bar area. In fact, the BFF and I initially assumed this very position – nestling between the abundance of scatter cushions and bagging ourselves a glass of the Sicilian Borsari Inzolia each which at £5.50 for 230ml, fared rather well as an aperitif given its crisp citrus notes. And, after this brief stint in the bar – during which time, we were invited to peruse the menu in order to whet our appetites for the courses to come - the BFF and I were ushered into the restaurant where the continuation of an unfaltering stateliness (plus the subtle soundtrack playing out overhead) constituted a relaxed, almost serene ambiance – which, we noted, became less and less apparent as the evening progressed and the space became increasingly well-attended. Disappointingly, service was rather nondescript as the girls who waited our table, although polite and efficient, demonstrated as little interaction as they could verbally muster which I’m sure for some, wouldn't have been a problem (preferable perhaps) but to me, was perceived as stand-offish and at times even a little awkward.
The menu adheres to the concept of quality over quantity with a small yet varied selection of dishes which, facilitating local produce and drawing upon seasonal influences, has a distinctively modern European slant. To start, both the BFF and I ordered the chunky ham hock terrine (£6.25) which had been jewelled with carrot and celery; a technique which besides adding splashes of colour, provided an innovative contrast in terms of texture and taste. The melange of soused vegetables were a delicious accompaniment; though the teeny tiny pickled pickles were almost too cute to devour! The 'home-made focaccia', billed to arrive in the place of the crisp bruscetta that had been plated instead, was the object of a little shameless sulking on my part and, despite proving well-executed and tasty, said bruscetta didn't quite measure up in terms of what was otherwise considered a fantastically structured arrangement of edibles! With plates polished, we moved on to the main event; the slow cooked belly of pork (£16.50) for the BFF and the baked breast of chicken for me (£13.95) – both of which were beautifully presented and generously portioned. I was duly informed that the pork was melt-in-the-mouth delicious and the crackling offered admirable crunch, minus the danger of teeth-shattering tenancies! I found the chicken to be a little on the bland side and although the skin had been crisped to perfection; it lacked the presence of a much-needed sauce or marinade which would have perhaps added that necessary dimension of morishness. The rosti potato with its herb-infused drizzle was the real star of this ensemble however, with its deep, smoky undertones; flavours which seemed to appropriately compliment the sweetly glazed Chantenay carrots that the BFF and I had opted to share between us. Whilst we're on the subject, side dishes (at £3.00 each) are undoubtedly a good move given that main courses are not plied with vegetables as standard - the green beans for instance are particularly tasty – served al dente in a butter accented with garlic and shallots – yum!
Ham Hock Terrine
Breast of Chicken

Finally, let's move on to the hotly anticipated dessert course and the epic indulgence of the white and dark chocolate croissant pudding (£4.95) which, although sounding a little like a Sunday Lunch slop-it-and-see special, was an absolute triumph. Yes, this was unprecedented pudding porn in all its glory and with the swirled ying-yang effect of the chocolate, an intricately layered and surprisingly light disposition, not to mention the undeniable attention to detail whereby a delicate (though almost undetectable) Bay Leaf Anglaise secured its appeal, it was deemed visually delicious before even one bite had been taken, (to be fair I’m not sure why I expected anything less given the calibre of the courses thus far). The BFF ordered the Key Lime Pie (£6.50) which she was bemused to find had been flourished with what can only be described as a salad leaf – yet, despite this mismatched garnish fail, she enthused that her dessert was as refreshing as it was delicious – the flavours well-balanced and pronounced – hence, perfectly paired with the fluted Prosecco that (as part of the deal) had been served to conclude the proceedings.
Key Lime Time!
In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at No. 4 Clifton Village – the juxtaposition of what is clearly a top-end dining establishment with a refreshingly laid-back ambiance as well as the presence of an unmistakably high level of culinary expertise made this an ideal venue for a classy catch-up with the BFF. I’m not sure that this is somewhere I’d choose without a money-off voucher in tow however as, smack bang in the heart of the village equals that unparalleled Clifton-style mark-up, thus placing it (for me at least) securely within the ‘special occasion’ remit. Nevertheless, do not let this put you off...for, if you have the pennies, this is an ample outlet in which to part with them!

And now for the second opinion....
 The BFF gave No. 4 Clifton village a rating of 9/10 and in three words, chose to describe it as, 'intimate', 'elegant' and 'refined'.