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!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Great UWE Canapé Crusade

If we were to examine the content beneath the 'Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails' umbrella, it seems as though one-third of this alliterate namesake has been grossly under-represented; I mean, I’ve trawled the streets of Bristol in search of the perfect cocktail (though all in the name of research I can assure you) and my sweet-tooth has been altogether well-documented; my affiliation with cake proving at best, well-known and at worst, notorious! Yet, it’s rare for me to find an opportunity to review a good round of canapés…until now that is You may be aware (as per ‘when the day job met the blog’) that I work in the Higher Education arena and more specifically, within the illustrious world of event management. Consequently and in light of the high-profile lecture series that had been tentatively placed within my remit, you could say that I've spent the last four-to-five months somewhat concentrated on canapés; striving to deliver the best possible culinary backdrop to the all-important networking session that follows each professorial or corporate address at the University of the West of England (UWE). 
FB1 Anyone...?!
OK, so I’m not a chef by any stretch of the imagination and my knowledge of the catering provision, both within the establishment in question and in general, is admittedly rather restricted. That said, something which every event coordinator that's worth their salt can guarantee, is that the single most important aspect of any function is the standard of its refreshments – why else do you think that such a huge emphasis is put on this particular aspect of one's wedding day and how would you otherwise explain the strong turn-out for the likes of library launches and 'cheese and wine' chess meets?! Digress though I might, with this in mind and the fact that my high-brow lecture series was going to be otherwise underpinned with what is commonly known as FB1 (or for those unfamiliar with UWE's relentless use of acronyms, finger buffet one) - which is essentially a buffet reminiscent of a five-year-old's tea party complete with crust-less triangular-shaped sandwiches and sausages on sticks - it meant taking matters into my own hands! As a result, I decided to say no to the UFOs (or, unidentifiable food objects) that have been suffered by many; mystery sandwich-fillings which never fail to bestir a grimace from even the politest of recipients. Instead, I set out to design five jam-packed menus comprising what I deemed suitable edibles for this particular calibre of event...Simple, I hear you say...anyone can create canapés with the wow-factor without breaking the bank, well not with the following elements working against one's efforts:
  • Attempting too much work with a limited work-force (yup, that old chestnut) – particularly in terms of what I know to be an incredibly hard-working Conference Office, Events Team (even if I do say so myself) and Catering Service – teams which face a diverse line-up of events - each with a unique assemblage of challenges and demands – on a day-to-day basis;
  • Changing the habits of a lifetime – yes, there are actually people out there who find comfort in the familiarity of prawn cocktail or (I kid you not) a cheese and pineapple hedgehog!
  • Corporate constraints – for instance, being unable to deviate from the UWE catering service in any sense; even, it seems, to draw inspiration from external parties;
  • Financial implications – which given the current climate is unsurprising really in that the average buffet 'reception' (for approximately one-hundred delegates) racks up a bill of over one-thousand big ones!
Fully acquainted with the gradient of my climb, step one meant ploughing through the existing menus that could be booked as standard and picking from them anything that came close to acceptable. So... greasy chicken 'wings of fire', scrupulous-looking mushroom vol-a-vents - no; bite-sized banoffee pies, mini filled spud-jackets - yes! Step two was sponsored by Google! Here I scoured the web, drooling over images of fancy finger foods; having to reign myself in on several occasions from the downright elaborate - shunning the likes of caviar and cake pops in favour of stylish simplicity and a focus on the best of the season. I studied the competition; making a note of the varying ranges and rates elsewhere; coming to the conclusion that, on the back of a can-do attitude and a little imagination, the sky was the limit!

Tapping the send button to whiz my findings to the head of catering, I sat quaking in my kitten heels; just how cheeky was it to boycott her work thus far? Challenging this pillar of the institution with what she could so easily cast aside as wishful thinking. Furthermore, as the weeks passed and the first lecture of the series became imminent, I began to think that my munchable mission lay dead in the water and, although I did eventually attain a response, it proved rather disheartening to say the least; both over-pricing what I had suggested and implying that the menus fared too seasonally specific. Though, after a little negotiation, a chance meeting with the director herself (ah yes, *I'm* the trouble-maker responsible for the recent onslaught of snapshots and recipes you've been experiencing) and a great deal of email correspondence, we had ourselves five tantalising yet reasonably-priced menus which we would rotate throughout the series. Therefore without further ado, here lies the fruits of our labour which I'm pleased to report have since warranted an overwhelmingly positive response; allowing for the Conference Office to better promote their services and most importantly; encouraging those attending each lecture to stay on for supper (and thus, that aforementioned networking hour) – perhaps in some cases even instigating a return visit or a recommendation of the series itself to one's peers... 

NB. All menus cost £12 a head
Menu 1
Mini Pitta Bread filled with Tomato, Feta and Pesto / Mini Pitta Bread with Hummus and tri-coloured Peppers
Stuffed Baby Potatoes with Bacon and Cheese (served warm)
Mini prawn spoons
Vegetable Crisps and Tyrell’s Crisps/Kettle Chips  
Mini Scones (jam/cream)
Mini chocolate tart
Yes, you can actually eat the spoons!

Menu 2
Cheese Platter
Local Wiltshire honey roast ham platter
Organic Bread
Chunky coleslaw
Pickles ,chutney and assorted olives
Fresh Strawberries and cream
Petit Fours (mini cakes)
Note the beautiful presentation...
Menu 3
Rye Crisp bread with low fat Cream Cheese garnished with Prawns and Dill
Rye crisp bread with wafer thin turkey and cranberry chutney
Nann bread fingers served with coronation dip (served warm)
Lime and Coriander Chicken Skewer
Apricot and Stilton Parcel (served warm)   
Petit Fours (mini cakes)
These were a touch soggy but tasty nevertheless!
Mini Vanilla Slices = Yum!

Menu 4
Parma ham wrapped asparagus spears (with lemon mayo dip)
Mini savoury scones with cream cheese and chutney (v)
Smoked salmon blinis
Chicken goujon with salsa dip
Home-made cheese straws (served warm)
Fresh fruit kebab
Colourful and nutritious!

A better Blini!

Menu 5
BBQ Pork rib meat on pork scratching (served warm)
Warm Mini Goats cheese tart with red onion (served warm)
Bloody Mary Cherry tomatoes in shot glass
Salmon goujons with citrus dip
Pork and leek sausage with apple chutney
Mini banoffi pie 

As a keen foodie, I can't help but harbour a great deal of excitement in regards to the future of UWE catering and I'm hoping that this brief canapé crusade has demonstrated the power behind a nicer nibble - bring on the Spring/Summer UWE Lecture Series and with it, the best that these glorious seasons have to offer; both in topical address and suitably spectacular cuisine!

Details of UWE Hospitality/Catering Services can be found here: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/hsv/hospitality/
Details of the UWE Conference Office can be found here: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/hsv/hospitality/conference/index.shtml
Details of the UWE Lecture Series can be found here: http://info.uwe.ac.uk/events/eventlisting.aspx?categoryID=78

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Lily and Boo's Cupcakery, Cotham - Bristol

Whiteladies Road and its adjoining neighbourhoods seem to have finally picked up after what can be described as a rather grim period of inactivity – its new-found 'token' Wetherpoons gleaming amidst the sporadic sociability of this once-popular uptown 'strip' and the rumoured re-launch of Henry Africa's intending to increase the traffic towards the venue where Sasparilla once stood; reopening its predecessor somewhat unapologetically in its wake. However, the predominant pull-factor, for me at least, is Lily and Boo's; a cutesy 'cupcakery' at the foot of Cotham Hill; an establishment set to satisfy my sweet tooth and then some...

Date and Time: Wednesday 7th November 2012,14:30
Name of Establishment: Lily and Boo's Cupcakery*
Location: 2 Cotham Hill, Cotham, Bristol
Reason for visit: A celebratory sugar hit with the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) in light of discovering that I had been short-listed in the 'best blogger' category as part of the Food Magazine's Reader Awards.

Occupying the former stomping ground of Deli Delish - at the base of Cotham Hill and just a stones-throw away from Clifton Down's shopping centre - Lily and Boo's is a cosy and appealingly candy-coloured establishment in which pink décor is punctuated with larger-than-life gingerbread-men and the 'summer-house' style seating is plumply arranged with vintage-effect scatter cushions. Feel good tunes play-out idly overhead and the general ambiance is relaxed and warm. I was also lucky enough to meet both Lily and Boo upon my arrival; their collective friendliness really sealing the deal when it comes to welcoming visitors into their fold – you might say even creating a sense of popping to a mate's gaff for a cuppa’! The pride that they express in light of the sugary haven they've created is crystal, and rightly so; the attractive assortment of cupcakes - thoughtfully arranged upon silver stands beneath the glass of the counter – also seeming to hint at the level of care that has encompassed their design.

There is an ample range to choose from too; each novelly branded and served upon pretty pastel-coloured plates so to be visually enjoyed before the first mouthful is taken. I struggled to choose between The Velvet Elvis (due to my profound weakness for peanut butter) and The Rocky Road (which comprises a winning combination of marshmallow and candied popcorn); opting at last for the latter and, it has to be said, enjoying each and every mouthful! The daily specials are especially innovative; the BFF choosing the 'Harry Potter' inspired 'Butterbeer' cupcake which was fun and vibrant yet she mooted, an acquired taste! One might also suggest that the portion sizes are not to be sniffed at; the cake-to-topping ratio commendably well-executed. I noticed two chaps on the next table to us, gingerly cutting their cupcakes into manageable mouthfuls whereas the BFF and I ploughed through our indulgences in their entirety in the most unmannerly of fashions! Thus, although so often cupcakes look the part but fail to deliver in terms of both texture and taste, this is most certainly not the case at Lily and Boo's as a light and suitably aerated consistency has been deliciously achieved; the sponge harbouring a subtle sweetness so not to detract from the hit of the frosting whereby butter-cream equals melt-in-the-mouth delight!
The 'Butterbeer' Special
The Rocky Road

There are other edibles to choose from and yet, why someone would choose to venture into a cupcakery in search of a savoury muffin, I’ll never know?! Other confectioneries are a nice touch but, in my view, not particularly necessary. Though that said, I also just *had* to sample the macarons which, really rather pricey at £1.35 each (and for what decidedly constitutes just one mouthful), were disappointingly average – the texture overly crunchy, bordering on stale if truth be told. This was a shame as the flavours had been thoughtfully constructed; particularly in terms of the strawberry and vanilla macaron which captured the intended contrast between sweet and tart to perfection.

To wash down one's nibbles are all the usual suspects; hot drinks are blended with semi-skimmed milk as standard but soya is available upon request, (which is of significance if you're a fuss-pot like me when it comes to the white stuff!) The BFF reported that her latte had been well-made and yet, the mocha that I had ordered was pretty much chocca given that the coffee element had been somewhat lost in translation. Nevertheless, this was a satisfactory beverage which suitably warmed the cockles...Notable too is the tea-cup size (oo er) which amounts to what my mum would refer to as a 'swamper' – thus constituting great value for money as we're talking a mere £2.40 for a positively generous serving. Though with all that fluid comes a slight spanner in the (water) works as Lily and Boo's do not have any customer toilets...we later discovered that they share the facilities located within the pub across the road which isn't ideal but not particularly problematic either - especially once you know that they're there!

In conclusion, this is a great addition to the city's café culture and one with which I am hoping to become increasingly well accustomed (trust me, I've already bagged myself a loyalty card!) Incidentally, you may be interested to learn that Lily and Boo's will be officially launching on Friday 23rd November 2012 on which day, from 10:00 – 15:00, the public will be treated to samples of their wares – do go and see what you think...! I felt that although the cupcakes were unimpeachably of a very high standard, there are other aspects of the menu letting the side down – the stale macarons proving the main offender on my part! Arguably, this would be a first-rate establishment if the focus remained on their best-sellers and I would suggest that if Lily and Boo are to explore other avenues, that they do so with caution - so not to put their customers off the main event!
And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave Lily and Boo's a rating of 8/10 and in three words, summed up her experience as 'sweet, sweet, sweet'.

*There is a fundamental lack of online presence in regards to this establishment – though watch this space as I will add any details should they become available.