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!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Ben's Cookies - Union Passage, Bath

I actually can't believe that it has taken the best part of two years to review - albeit shamelessly plug - my favourite snack-stop in Bath and yet, no trip to my former student-based stomping ground is complete without dipping into Ben's Cookies for as many confections as one's financial situation/expandable waistline can accommodate...

Date and time: Sunday 21st October 2012, 11.30
Name of Establishment: Ben's Cookies*
Location: 21 Union Passage, Bath
Reason for Visit: Looky looky...a superior cookie!

Nestled amongst the various outlets that flank the criss-crossed corridors behind Bath's main shopping street, Ben's Cookies instantly appeals to the sweet-toothed passer-by with a vibrant red colour scheme and, upon closer inspection, its nostalgic branding courtesy of well-known illustrator, Quentin Blake. This is a quaint and cosy space - not particularly somewhere to stay awhile given that its interior will comfortably accommodate no more than one group of people opting to 'eat-in' - but it's friendly and inviting nevertheless. What's more, utilising what is essentially a rather modest external area - where it is commonplace to see a queue snaking beyond its neighbouring establishments - a sprinkling of seating has been provided beneath all-purpose parasols. That said, with ten outlets in the UK (though mostly in the big smoke) and curiously, a fair few overseas (with branches in Saudi Arabia, UAE and South Korea), the best way to get one’s fix is the mail order service - yes people, I'm referring to the stuff that dreams are made of...cookies delivered directly to one’s home/workplace/loved-one’s gaff...delete as applicable! Here, a tin of eight will set you back £12.50 (exclusive of P&P*), and boxes of fifteen or thirty; £15.95 and £30.00 respectively. These deals are also available in-store which incidentally, lessens the damage to one’s pocket in that buying ‘on mass’ avoids the pricey concept of purchasing cookies by weight; which admittedly makes this a rather expensive habit to become accustomed to.

Though once bitten twice hooked, this is a sugar hit that is most definitely worth the pennies. Made from what the website claims are the finest ingredients – namely the best quality plain, milk and white chocolate, unsalted butter, sugar, free-range eggs and wheat (all from local producers near to Ben’s kitchen in Oxfordshire; where the dough is prepared) cookies are baked throughout the day and sold fresh from the oven. Furthermore, shunning the biscuity-bore so often found elsewhere, Ben's cookies are almost cake-like in terms of their disposition; offering real sustenance with a subtle crispiness that encases the soft, chewy deliciousness within – all without being stodgy, over-sweet or greasy which is, quite frankly, a triumph!

And without further ado, my top picks are as follows, (though I'd hasten to add that I’d happily indulge in any of the fourteen available flavours): Peanut butter; complete with whole nuts and that distinctive earthy sweetness, oatmeal raisin; not too dissimilar to a rock cake with a gooey cinnamon-spiced centre and chocolate orange; which, flecked with zesty orange peel, contains sizeable chunks of real milk chocolate that just melt-in-the-mouth; especially when accentuated with that undeniable just-baked warmth. Incidentally, I usually buy ‘to-go’ which, despite initial rather virtuous intentions, usually last little under an hour after exiting the shop. That said, if you are all about the here and now (and able to bag one of the coveted cushioned cuboids), you can choose from a range of hot and cold drinks to wash down your edibles. Here, all the usual suspects alongside some pretty decadent sounding milkshakes and yet, if you have room for the latter, you're not, in my view, making the most of your cookie experience!

In conclusion, you'd be mad to omit Ben's Cookies from your visit to Bath – seriously, forget about Millie's Cookies, it's almost certainly about what Ben brings to the table!

And now for the second opinion…
Upon asking a born 'n bred Bathonian where best to take friends who had never visited the City, he put Ben’s Cookies at the top of his list – that says it all really, don’t you think?!
*Which, to be fair, is a whopping £8.50

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Square Kitchen Tasting Menu – Autumn/Winter 2012

The illustrious transition from the colourful hues of Fall to Winter's poignant chill is without doubt, my favourite time of the year. Thus, invited to indulge in the Square Kitchen's Taster Menu - which comprises seven seasonally inspired courses of Modern European fare - seemed the perfect prelude to the coming months and the abundance of warming flavours and comforting combinations that would be ultimately brought to the forefront to alleviate the impact of those dark nights and frosty mornings we are all increasingly accustomed to! Hence, stepping into the candlelit dining room; a space which had previously impressed me (as per my review of the cocktail bar on the 'lower-deck') with its decadent décor, funky exposed brickwork and 'careful minimalism', really set the scene for what would inevitably constitute an evening of attentive, informative service and truly exceptional cuisine...

Date and Time: Tuesday 2nd October 2012, 20:30
Name of Establishment: The Square Kitchen*
Location: 14-15 Berkeley Square, Bristol
Reason for Visit: An unmissable opportunity to sample the Square Kitchen's Autumn/Winter Tasting Menu 'on the house' - though you should know that this has not, in any way, affected the review that follows...

Course One – Canapés
Truffle and thyme popcorn / Pea and ham Soup / Mackerel tartare with horseradish and cucumber
Though perhaps better described as appetisers due to how generously they had been portioned, the trio of canapés were a fantastic introduction to the level of fine-dining that my companion and I were to be treated to throughout the course of the evening. Furthermore, the attention to detail more-than set the bar for the courses to come and the experimental undertones to the varying attributes of the dish hinted at the playful nature of the theme for the evening. Most importantly though, everything was delicious – winning beginnings indeed!
Course Two – Appetiser
Seared scallop, raisin, Granny Smith
It's not often that I'm speechless (those who know me well will vouch for this) but I can honestly say that this was the most perfectly-executed scallop that I've tasted to date whereby its tender yet juicy composition had been appropriately accented with the zing of ripened apple; and this, delicately slithered so not to overpower the dish. I'm not sure that I could detect the raisin content but this certainly didn't dampen what was otherwise a triumph which essentially left us wanting more!
Course Three - Start
Battenberg of foie gras, ham hock and confit duck with piccalilli, apricot and chopped hazelnut
This course demonstrated as much skill in its construction as it did knowledge of the varying tastes and textures that would suitably complement each other. The image below really doesn't do the dish any justice as the flavoursome 'bricks' of rich-tasting charcuterie altogether facilitated that distinctive checkered battenberg effect. That said, although the ham hock and confit duck were unanimously well-received, the rich, creamy fragrance of the foie gras was deemed a little overpowering and, in some cases, left untouched by the more ethical diners in our midst. 
Course Four – Fish
Cornish turbot, pommes mousseline, pork belly and sea garnish
Combining crispy pork belly with the delicate flakiness of fresh turbot was, in my view, a touch radical and yet, with the creamiest potato purée known to man tying both aspects together it most definitely worked – you could say a contemporary take on the concept of 'surf 'n turf'!
Course Five – Meat
Venison, salsify, soil, snails, herbs, flowers and nettles
I must admit that I was both daunted and intrigued by the premise of this particular ensemble; though, imaginatively assembled to replicate a wind-swept, fall-blooming garden, it proved as visually alluring as it was appetising...Now, I’ve never eaten snails without an ample dousing of garlic butter and so, left with their naturally occurring earthiness, I can safely say that I'm not a fan! That said, the venison coupled with the make-shift soil (which had been created from de-hydrated mushrooms we later discovered) was simply fantastic.
Course Six – Pre-Dessert
Pear and whiskey with home-made sherbert
The novelty-factor of adding sherbert to a bitter-sweet concoction of pear and whiskey comprised a subtly fizzy and suitably refreshing palate-cleanser...just lovely!
Course Seven – Dessert
Thai-curry flavours: Ginger cake / Lime leaf ice cream / Lemongrass custard / Coconut and coriander panna cotta
Controversially, though dessert is usually the highlight of any meal (well for me at least), this was in fact, my least favourite of the seven courses. I think that the dominant fragrances of coriander and lime-leaf are an acquired taste at the best of times and as part of a dessert, additionally so! I also thought that the spicy meringues were a touch too far....I mean, I'm all for creativity when it comes to coupling and contrasting savoury flavours but when it comes to pudding, I'm clearly a traditionalist at heart!

To note that the Tasting Menu will set you back £55 and an accompanying wine flight is available at £19 per person. On this occasion however, I opted for a large glass of the Bosari Inzolia (£5.50 for 250ml); selected with the helpful tasting notes that categorise the more-than ample line-up of vinos. The cocktail menu is also rather enticing with a varied spectrum of composites; ranging from the familiar modern classics to the venue's avant-garde creations.

In conclusion, it's fair to say that my dining companion and I were both suitably wowed by our experience of the Square Kitchen; enjoying the overall ambiance of the establishment and, of course, the fare – which we later learned is locally sourced (where possible); utilising free-range organic Devon Rose meat and Brixham fish. Furthermore, the intended aesthetics of the seasonally-driven theme were entirely achieved and although this was perhaps taken to the extreme in places, it unquestionably showcased the imagination and culinary skill of Head Chef Gavin Lewis and his team. It's ironic that to be considered 'a square' is to be regarded as dull and rigidly conventional as judging from the dishes experienced on the evening in question, courtesy of what is without question, an innovatively assembled Tasting Menu, it's established ethos is anything but...!
And now for the second opinion...
My dining companion gave the Square Kitchen a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described the fare as, 'imaginative and well-presented'.