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, 18 December 2012

Where to Buy a Better Mince Pie – a Guest Post by Miss Becki Rawle

With Christmas fast approaching, we thought that here in the office it would only be right for us to start the annual mince pie testing…all for the benefit of those reading this of course! And, with such a wide range of mince pies on offer, it is good to know which ones to buy and which ones to avoid, so selflessly we have worked our way through fourteen different boxes - trying each variety with our morning cups of tea (and with our afternoon tea as well if the mince pie was particularly nice!) – judging them in terms of the following criteria:

- Filling Taste     
- Filling amount      
- Pastry     
- Size
- Price      
- Overall rating out of 10

Not so extra special…..We kick started the testing with the Co-op’s regular mince pies along with their ‘Truly Irresistible’ range - both of these had a very average overall rating of 5/10 whereby the filling in the regular mince pies was actually preferred to the filling in the more expensive ones. That said, the pastry was slightly better when it came to the more expensive of the two. We concluded that the Co-op would have been better off combining the mince meat from the regular mince pies with the pastry from the ‘Truly Irresistible’ range and yet, felt that even then, they wouldn’t have achieved more than a 6/10. Sainsbury’s Deep-filled Mince Pies were another disappointment amongst us office folk; only attaining a collective 5/10 - the taste of the pastry and mince meat proving very bland, plus there was very little content. ASDA’s ‘Extra Special’ version wasn’t much of a hit either; especially compared to their ‘Chosen By You’ range and scored rather mediocre 5 or 6/10. Though the filling amount was good, the taste of the pastry and mince meat was just not up to scratch – a far cry from the ‘Chosen By You’ alternative which was rich-tasting and fruity, thus, given an impressive 8 or 9/10 all round. Naturally we had high expectations for the ‘Extra Special ‘mince pies after being so taken with ASDA’s ‘Chosen By You’ variety – though unfortunately they were not met.

One of the most disappointing mince pies that we sampled was Morrison's ‘Deep-Filled’ six-pack which were in fact, only two-thirds full with mince meat (if you were lucky!) Furthermore, the pastry was very bland; the sugar-crusted lid specifically, which encouraged an almost stale disposition rather than the soft, buttery taste that the pastry of a mince pie should possess. Tesco’s range was slightly above average; each pie suitably full to the brim with mince meat which was a big thumbs up within the group. On the other hand, the flavour of the mince meat wasn't that special and its viscosity was poor; resulting in a run-down-the-chin disaster.

To try something a little different we tested Marks and Spencer's puff pastry mince pies which were notably abysmal, especially given the usual standard on offer within the M&S food hall. Here, there was very little mince meat to speak of - probably about one tea spoons worth in each - so it was essentially like eating puff pastry on its own which wasn’t particularly appetising and definitely not worth the £4-for-two-packs price tag!
Sainsbury's 'Taste the Difference' Brandy Rich Mini Mince Pie
As a treat we tried Sainsbury’s ‘Taste The Difference’ Brandy Rich mini mince pies as well as their ‘Mince Pie Tart Selection’ which were altogether well-received in the office. Though both were fairly expensive at £2 per box, the brandy rich mince pies were full of flavour and described as 'tasting like Christmas'. They also had just the right amount of brandy in the mince meat so not to overpower the other flavours in the mix. The tart selection was made up of; Ecclefechan & Mincemeat, Cranberry & Clementine and  Maple & Pecan Mincemeat; the latter proving a personal favourite and a good festive alternative to the traditional mince pie. Marks and Spencer also did a very tasty all-butter mini mince pie selection which really did have the authentic buttery-tasting pastry that we all love, although they were a little too mini and if I wasn't worried about maintaining a lady-like poise, they could have been quite easily consumed in one bite!

Maple and Pecan Mini Mincemeat Pie
Lidl Deep-Fill Mince Pies were very good value for money at £1.89 for a box of 12 but the only downfall was that they were slightly smaller than the average mince pie. ALDI definitely came out on top with both their ‘Regular Deep-Fill’ Mince Pies at 99p and their Luxury Mince Pies at £1.46. Both of these had high ratings for all of the aforementioned categories; though, the regular ones did have the edge and at only 99p you really can’t go wrong…

So to sum up the results of the office mince pie testing, the average ratings out of 10 are as follows, (starting with the most popular):
ALDI Deep-Fill Mince Pies - 9/10
ALDI Luxury Mince Pies - 8.5/10
Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Tart Selection - 8.5/10
ASDA Chosen By You - 8.5/10
Marks and Spencer All Butter Mini Mince Pies - 8/10
Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Brandy Rich Mini Mince Pies - 7.5/10
Lidl Deep-Fill Mince Pies - 7.5/10
Tesco Mince Pies - 7/10
ASDA Extra Special - 5.5/10
Sainsbury's Deep-Fill Mince Pies - 5/10
Co-op Truly Irresistible Mince Pies - 5/10
Co-op regular Mince Pies - 4.5/10
Morrison’s Deep-Fill Mince Pies - 4/10
Marks and Spencer Puff Pastry Mince Pies - 3/10

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Mini Cranberry and Clementine Mince Pie

*Follow Becki on Twitter: @b_k_i

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Bertinet Bakery, New Bond Street Place - Bath

For me, the joys of December cannot truly begin until my annual trip to Bath's popular Christmas Market* is under-way; a shoe-in to the festivities whereby over 140 traditional wooden chalets – selling the likes of locally-sourced edibles, decorations and gifts - adorn the cobbles near to the city's iconic Abbey. On this particular visit, the girls and I decided that to kick-start the proceedings, a spot of brunch was in order and fortuitously stumbling upon The Bertinet Bakery Shop and Café at the height of our hungriness, we ascended from the hustle and bustle (not to mention, the wonderful sights and smells) of the bakery to the intimately-arranged dining area on the first floor...

Date and Time: Sunday 2nd December 2012, 11:30
Name of Establishment: The Bertinet Bakery Shop and Café*
Location: 6 New Bond Street Place (on the corner of Upper Borough Walls), Bath
Reason for Visit: A little respite from the cold and preparatory replenishment for the afternoon ahead..

After the success of his cookery school, it's fair to say that the newest outlet for French chef and baker Richard Bertinet - the quaint-looking establishment on the corner of Bath's Upper Borough Walls - is an asset to the city's café culture; offering a thoughtful assortment of sweet treats and savouries which you can opt to eat-in or take-away. Overall, this is a calming yet quirky space; unmistakably underpinned with an air of 'Le Français' which is channelled through the likes of a crisp colour scheme and its minimalistic décor. That said, punctuating the sophisticated ambiance with distressed wooden furniture, cushions made from Hessian flour sacks and framed images from Richard's cookery-book; 'Pastry', just about managed to promote a homely feel which would have been otherwise lost to the winter whites and cool greys that for me, also seemed to reflect the service which was at best; a little stand-offish and at worst; really rather rude. In line with this, one of my dining companions reported that she had been unapologetically bumped by a member of staff whilst she stood in line to pay for her fare – an experience that unsurprisingly tarnished her opinion of the venue before she had even sampled its wares. Furthermore, there was a right old kerfuffle in regards to our order which had obviously been incorrectly noted given that even our drinks took an age to make an appearance and were not quite right when they did so...
Calming yet quirky

Though table service has been eschewed in favour of a pay-at-the-till arrangement, I rather liked the help-yourself ethos when it came to toasting the contents of the 'Bertinet Bread Bucket' (£3.25) and portioning jam into little ramekins for a spot of free-hand spreading. In fact, this is exactly what I finally decided upon and although I was disappointed by the sliced, white twosome that skulked between the crinkled sheets of parchment paper, the sour dough was fantastic; thickly cut, fresh-tasting and quite frankly, delicious. I think it would have been preferable to be offered a choice of breads - especially given the varieties in abundance downstairs and the fact that, on the large part, white bread is nutritionally useless, (plus for me personally, pretty hard-going). Friend 'H' ordered the Croque Monsieur (£5.25) which although looked the part, was ruined somewhat by the amount of vinaigrette that had been added to the side-salad; soaking the bottom-half of the sandwich which resulted in an unpleasant acidic sogginess. She suggested that the overall ensemble would have fared rather better had the salad-dressing been included in the self-serve remit as the ingredients were essentially of a good quality, generously portioned and attractively plated. In light of this, we harboured some pretty serious food envy having noticed the couple on the table next to ours tucking into a rather spectacular cheese board (£7.50), especially upon discovering that this featured a number of my favourite cheeses: namely, Trethowan's Gorwydd Caerphilly and Homewood's Old Demdike.
Croque Monsieur
Bucket of Bertinet Bread

When it came to the all-important matter of cake and confectionery however, it was quite a different story; the 'cloud meringue' (served with a choice of decadent toppings) or salted butter caramel tartine proving particularly appealing. Besides this, there is a tempting array of scones, croissants and pastries on offer which can also be purchased 'to-go'; something which only the strong-willed can resist upon exiting the shop!
To wash down our fare, we found ourselves split between tea-drinkers and coffee addicts...and, firmly within the latter camp, I sipped at my authentically continental 'Cappuccino' which had been well-executed and richly-roasted – just lovely! Tea was served in sizeable pots alongside dainty, floral tea-cups made of the finest bone china yet disappointingly brandished with the odd dirty mark which ruined the appeal somewhat. That said, we liked that milk had been provided in old-fashioned bottles and later discovered that kiddies (or the young at heart) can opt for flavoured milk (caramel, chocolate, raspberry, strawberry or vanilla) which comes complete with an old-fashioned paper straw. It was also lovely to find that the Bertinet Bakery Café offer a 'breakfast bowl'; a typically French concept that I happen to be rather partial to having been introduced to it in Toulouse as a teenager. Here, this basically constitutes a choice between coffee or hot chocolate which is served in...yep, you guessed it...a soup bowl which is destined for some serious dunkage – a croissant proving (for me at least) the perfect accompaniment to this novel way of enjoying what is commonly considered the most important meal of the day!
Time for Tea!
In conclusion, there was definitely a hit and miss feel to The Bertinet Bakery Café; although many aspects of the experience looked the part, when it came to the conflict between style and substance, the latter seemed to fall a little short. Collectively, we felt that although the attention to detail made for an aesthetically pleasing visit, a little care needed to be applied to the delivery of the fare and most importantly, the standard of the customer service which was arguably, the most prominently French aspect of the venue overall! Criticisms aside, it's fair to say that if you're after affordable edibles and/or something to satisfy your sweet tooth; this is, without doubt, the place for you – though at present the shop fares rather better than the café, with a few tweaks here and there, I'm sure it could improve considerably; you might say, allowing its clientèle to have their cake and eat it...!
And now for the second opinion...
Friend 'H' gave The Bertinet bakery Café a rating of 6/10 and chose, 'pretty questionable service' as her three-word summary!


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Tails Cocktails – Bristol Launch Party at Byzantium

'Authentic cocktails, anytime, anywhere' – it sounds like something that dreams are made of! Yet, this is the tag-line underpinning Tails: a company which has tapped into the illustrious market of on-the-go refreshment; though with a decidedly sophisticated edge. Yes, rather like you might enjoy a flask of tea on a frosty fishing trip, Tails allows you to 'shake your own' cocktail wherever you are – each of the four available concoctions served from its own recyclable shaker, (because supermarket-ready G&Ts and canned cocktails seem soooo dated nowadays don't you think?) Subsequently, upon being invited to discover 'Tails' at its official Bristol launch party, I couldn't help but question what would set this particular product aside from its aforementioned counterparts and also, whether the cocktails themselves would live up to the appeal of their packaging.

Date and Time: Thursday 29th November 2012, 18:00-21:00
Name of Establishment: Byzantium
Location: 2 Portwall Lane, Bristol
Reason for Visit: An introduction to Tails Cocktails – Official Bristol Launch Party

Advertised as: Premium; whereby cocktails are pungently (at 14-16% by volume) blended from good quality spirits and liqueurs from around the globe, natural; given that each cocktail is free from artificial colours and flavours and bespoke; due to the innovative design of the packaging, Tails is a refreshing take on the culture of the take-away tipple – here, offering an assortment of classic cocktails that can be enjoyed 'on-the-go', within the comfort of one's home or out on the town; minus the typical queuing that seems to go hand-in-hand with hardcore cocktail creation! As the brainchild of father and son team Peter and Nick Wall, Tails has been launched in a number of top-end outlets including the likes of Selfridge’s, John Lewis and Harvey Nichols; the 500ml shaker priced from £12.50 and the 150ml 'mini' shaker at £4.50. For us Bristolians, it's also worth being aware that Tails will be stocked in a handful of the city's watering holes; namely Racks Bar and Kitchen, Luna, Byzantium and the Colston Hall.

Without further ado, let me tell you a little about Tails' range which, in true Sex and the City fashion, was sampled (rather shamelessly) in its entirety amongst our female foursome...for the sake of the review of course!

Elderflower Collins
They said: An invigorating cocktail of apple and lemon juice, made with elderflower liqueur and London Dry Gin
We thought..That this was a lovely addition to the line-up; channelling the essence of alfresco Summer-time drinking with its crisp, refreshing notes – the gin element adding the necessary punch and complementing the zing of the apple and the tart of lemon juice to perfection.
To sum up...EW gave the Elderflower Collins a rating of 8/10 and in three words described it as an, 'English Country Garden'.

Espresso Martini
They said: An indulgent cocktail of rich coffee, vanilla and chocolate, made with coffee liqueur and Premium French vodka
We thought...That this was a deliciously decadent concoction with bitter-sweet appeal and a rich, creamy finish; a suitable digestif or wicked pick-me-up given its unmistakable caffeine content - the latter evidenced with the positive correlation between the number of espresso martinis consumed and the extent of one's sleepless night! That said, this was a firm favourite and without doubt, my cocktail of choice from the collection overall.
To sum up...BR gave the Espresso Martini a rating of 9/10 and in three words commented that it had a 'smooth, balanced flavour'.

Mai Tai
They said: An exotic cocktail of pineapple, almond and lime made with a blend of light and dark Caribbean rums.
We thought...that this was lethally drinkable! A sweet yet fresh-tasting cocktail reminiscent of sunny days and holidays abroad! The ying-yang rum content was arguably somewhat undetectable but facilitated an enjoyable drinking experience nevertheless.
To sum up...LC gave the Mai Tai a rating of 7/10 and in three words described it as 'refreshing', 'zingy' but 'tame'.

They said: A sophisticated cocktail of citrus and berry fruits, made with Italian Triple Sec and premium French vodka
We thought...That this was an ample Cosmo and yet unanimously our least favourite given that it sported a decidedly weak disposition; proving somewhat pale in colour and lacking the kick that the other four concoctions had in abundance.
To sum up...SE gave the Cosmopolitan a rating of 6/10 and in three words described it as, 'a little disappointing'.
To note that each beverage was finished with an appropriate garnish which obviously, you'd have to provide yourself...
A 'Mock Tai' was also available (though I'm told that this is not on the market at present) which, made with passionfruit and a touch of sparkle, was really rather well-received; the designated driver of our party enjoying that the non-alcoholic option was served with as much gusto as its boozier equivalents.

As for the venue, Byzantuim never fails to deliver in terms of its intriguing ambiance, eye-catching Moroccan-themed décor and colourful yet comfortable seating – I should also mention the canapés (which did become rather essential given the number of cocktails consumed on a 'school night' and in rather quick succession! which were beautifully presented, tasty and varied – the shredded duck and horseradish tartlet proving particularly popular amongst our party.

In conclusion, there are a number of plus points to this progressive concept of 'shake and serve' – we considered it a welcome change to be promptly served at the bar rather than to wait it out whilst one's beverage is painstakingly concocted from scratch. However, you may well argue that the theatre of mixology will become redundant; falling behind in the ever-present tussle between art and convenience. On a similar front, there are a number of cocktails which simply could not be created in this way – the ever-popular Mojito for instance which, despite its undeniable 'best-seller' status, would lose its appeal if you were to take away the altogether essential effects of fresh lime and crushed mint. Nevertheless, there are many avenues which could be explored instead – perhaps deviating from the classics and exploring alternative themes and eras; reflecting perhaps the originality of the packaging with a contemporary content. Predominantly though, the brief has been met as Tails' cocktails have been well-executed, thoughtfully blended and really do fare rather well as *the* upmarket takeaway-tipple (plus, albeit more expensive, far classier than gin in a tin!) And so, suitable for quality quaffing on-the-go, as an after-dinner treat or as a quirky Christmas gift (well, 'tis the season after all), there really is no reason not to experience Tails for yourself!