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!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

ASDA's 'Extra Special' Vino Collection - Winter 2013

It has to be said that being invited to sample ASDA’s ‘Extra Special’ wine collection – expertly selected for the festive season - really kick-started those ‘warm and fuzzies’; y’know, the ones so commonly affiliated with this time of year and the selflessness of giving! Thus, rounding up my nearest and dearest, I did what any aspiring wine buff would do and conducted a strategic series of high-brow tastings whereby the four red and two white wines I had been given were proficiently analysed …Not really; my friends, family and I had a great deal of fun; sipping, slurping and swishing our way through all six bottles, mopping up the alcohol content with a grotesque amount of cheese but most importantly, identifying several favourites that would no doubt see us through to the New Year...

White wine Tasting Panel: The Girls
‘Extra Special’ Fiano 2012 (Italian wine, 13%)
Reminiscent of 'a woodland walk on a crisp day', this was described as rustic and flavoursome; channelling notes of passion fruit, lemon and ripe apple. It's fresh finish heightened its appeal; making for an easily-drinkable wine. Delicious. 4/5

‘Extra Special’ Pinot Grigio 2012 (Italian wine, 12.5%)
With an undeniably acidic quality and tart apple aroma, this was quite a contrast to the oh-so-smooth Fiano. Yet, we agreed that whereas the delicate nature of the Fiano would be lost somewhat alongside a hearty dinner, the Pinot would cut through it, slapping you in the face with its almost abrasive twang Not a favourite. 1/5

Red wine Tasting Panel: The Parentals
Extra Special’ Nero d’Avola 2011 (Sicilian wine, 13%)
A pleasant red with rich, fruity aromas and ripened cherry notes. Establishing a rather dry after-taste which suitably contrasted the initial cheekiness which could have been mistaken for a shallow disposition which simply wasn’t the case – lovely! 4/5

‘Extra Special’ Cotes Du Rhone 2012 (French wine, 13%)
Is ‘mellow’ another word for bland? Perhaps so given that this particular tipple wasn’t especially well-received; it’s palatable peppery undertones proving its only redeeming feature. A ‘typical French plonk’ mused Dad with Mum adding, rather diplomatically, that it simply did not live up to its ‘Extra Special’ label. A shame… 2/5

‘Extra Special’ Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (13.5%)
I've got a real thing for Chilean reds and this certainly didn't disappoint with admirable depth to its berry hues and an almost chocolaty after-taste, (trust me on this one)...Curious. 4.5/5

‘Extra Special’ Old Vines Garnacha, Syrah 2011 (Spanish wine, 14%)
Inadvertently, we saved the best for last…unusually unanimous in our decision that this was by far, our favourite! Full-bodied with a decadently, fruity bouquet, this was a fantastically balanced wine which we considered a suitable accompaniment to all nature of cuisine yet palatable enough to drink on its own – the latter proving all too tempting for Dad who finished off the bottle! Wine with the wow-factor! 5/5

When you stop asking yourself whether I'm actually an alcoholic (I'm not, I was just very thirsty), you'll no doubt check out ASDA's 'Extra Special' wine range for yourself. Currently priced from just £5 a bottle, there are some absolute corkers which are perfect for the upcoming festivities. Furthermore, as 'Extra Special' denotes the partnership that ASDA have with Leith's School of Food and Wine, you know that you're in good hands – go on, get the party started...cheers!

Website: www.asda.com
Tweet: @asda

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Bath Priory Hotel: The Great Cocktail Feast, Thursday 11 October 2013

As part of the month-long, ‘Great Bath Feast’, The Bath Priory hotel offered an exclusive evening of decadent drinky-poos and top-notch nibbles in their luxurious surroundings. The red carpet was being dusted off upon our arrival and this certainly seemed to underpin the ethos for the evening whereby guests were warmly welcomed and treated, from the outset, to a first-rate level of service complete with complimentary hand massages (courtesy of the 'Garden Spa' team) and informative wine tasting sessions. First though, a lesson in cocktails and two concoctions created in-house by resident mixologist, Adam. The first, an Irish Flower which combined whiskey with fresh raspberries, cranberry juice and Chambord; the latter proving the dominant ingredient in an altogether enjoyable ensemble. The second was the Jalapeno Chase, which was fondly referred to as an alcoholic Lemsip; the vodka and fresh jalapenos suitably punctuating the medicinal trio of apple, honey and lemon! We were also treated to a fruity punch of lychee, passion fruit and vodka which proved simple, refreshing yet dangerously drinkable. It’s fair to say that a passion to wow guests with an innovative line-up of cocktails was overwhelmingly apparent; a finding which will no doubt secure a return visit from yours truly given my love of experimental cocktails and twists on the classics.

Next, we sampled two white wine and two red wines with the hotel’s head sommelier, Alex. The official tasting notes were as follows, along with my own rather amateur conclusions:

White 1: Etna Bianco Sicily Planeta, Italy – 'an extraordinary wine which appears almost clear, with slight lime green reflections. The initial nose is laden with the rich, warm mineral scents of mica, granite and flint against a cool backdrop of green apple, acacia honey, kumquats , fennel, raw almonds and wild flowers...with notes suggesting wet river rocks [and] stone-fruit pits, there is a fresh purity here that is beyond compare'.
Verdict:This was certainly a unique tipple; though despite its impressive origins and apparent clarity, I wasn't overly keen on its flavour which was simply too subtle for my liking!

White 2: Chenin Blanc Kleine Zalza, South Africa – 'Strong citrus notes, plus lychee and guava aromas on the nose with ripe pineapple and peach flavours that follow through on the palate. These are complemented with a long, clean, crisp after-taste'.
Verdict: A classy white with a fresh, fruity finish – exactly the kind of wine I'd choose for a Friday-night with the girls.

Red 1: Douro, Quinta do Crasto, Portugal – 'Deep ruby in colour with ripened fruit aromas. Hence, very fruity on the palate with good structure and light tannins; making it a very pleasant wine'.
Verdict: My drinking companion and I referred to this as the 'cheap red'; i.e. the kind of wine you'd pick up from the supermarket to enjoy alongside a home-made plate of pasta. Yes, although ample for washing down a canapé or two, this was really rather brash on the palate; especially in light of the second red on the table. (NB. If this is, in fact, a particularly expensive wine – I'm sorry!)

Red 2: Pinot Noir, Reserva especial, Tabali, Limari Valley Chile – 'a delicious, mouthwatering yet delicate Pinot Noir with smoky plum and redcurrant, plus hints of strawberry on the nose. The palate has more smoky fresh red fruit with a clean, almost scented finish'.
Verdict: This was by far my favourite of all four wines; it was light and fruity - oh so fruity - with a touch of summertime sparkle to its overall demeanour. More please!
Meanwhile, guests were sporadically invited to descend upon a selection of canapés, designed by Michelin Starred Executive Head Chef, Sam Moody and his Team; sumptuous morsels of top-end fare which seemed to adequately demonstrate the calibre of the hotel’s restaurant. These included pulled pork pies which had been spiked with a little apricot and caraway chutney and topped with herb breadcrumbs and teeny-tiny spiced lamb burgers, neatly layered with red onion slaw and coriander mayonnaise. The parmesan and rosemary risotto balls were my personal favourite however, served with a truffle mayo which was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. A small selection of bite-sized desserts completed the bill; the warm Madeleines somewhat reminiscent of my Parisian adventures earlier in the year.

Thus, a two-tiered triumph given the success of the evening itself and how well the hotel had showcased their strengths; enticing attendees to return to further experience their excellent service and culinary expertise; factors of the evening which really set The Bath Priory aside as a first-rate hotel and restaurant.
The Bath Priory Hotel
Weston Road, Bath BA1 2XT
Tel: 01225331922 / Email: mail@thebathpriory.co.uk

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Crown, Keynsham

I have a friend who is besotted with 'daily deal' websites...I mean I've dabbled, as previous reviews will suggest, yet he has taken to buying into discounted experiences, products and dinners like an elderly lady collects supermarket coupons! I jest of course...especially when he rounds up his nearest and dearest to accompany him on said gastronomical excursions; the latest constituting a six-part tapas meal for two and glass of wine each for only six-pounds apiece. What's more, given the unlikely venue of a cutesy Keynsham-based pub, we couldn't have been more intrigued...

Date and Time: Thursday 20th June 2013, 7:00pm
Name of Establishment: The Crown Inn*
Location: 63 Bristol Road, Keynsham
Reason for Visit: The lure of a suitably cheap night out

The Crown is a clean, contemporary space with an impressive beer garden; neatly landscaped and amply accommodating a number of alfresco drinkers. There is a distinctively laid back ambiance and yet, there just so happened to be a darts tournament on the evening of our visit, brought to our attention by the unmistakable bouts of sporting enthusiasm – something which provided a somewhat lively backdrop to our evening. This also underpinned the strong sense of local comradery which could, perhaps, be perceived as both a positive or a negative depending on how comfortable you feel in the face of infiltrating the good old 'local pub for local people' get-up. In any case, we made a beeline for the aforementioned garden, making the most of the disappearing sunshine – the staff seemingly un-fazed at our reluctance to take our seats within the dimly lit restaurant for our 7:00pm culinary-call. A relaxed approach which veered into outright despondence when it came to enlightening us with the menu which we had to request not once, but twice at the bar; along with our complimentary vinos which had also failed to materialise. Consequently, we learned that we didn't get a choice of dishes – rather, we'd be presented with a predetermined six-part ensemble to share between two. Now, as a person lucky enough to be void of any dietary complaints, I wasn't particularly discomposed by this serious disregard for personal taste – though those in our party who didn't eat sea food were pretty put out given that two of the six dishes were predominantly fishy. Cue dishes one and two; sweet chilli king prawns and anchovies marinated in citrus; both notably fresh and commendably flavoursome but the latter surely an acquired taste and certainly not a dish that you'd choose to serve to the average Joe!

Dish three was a Catalan Salad, comprising chickpeas, black pudding and chives. Notice a trend here? I mean, call me a food prude but black pudding really isn't a foodstuff universally enjoyed by the masses – even less so as part of a tapas-style dinner. On to dish four which was chorizo marinated in red wine; well-executed yes but plentiful, no. Dish five was a rainbow of roasted peppers sprinkled with almonds which was really rather tasty (my favourite of the six in fact) and yet between two, just not enough. On the other hand, a sizeable dish of olives was dish six – I picked the green from the mix, noting suspiciously their shop-bought demeanour despite the menu suggesting that they had been lovingly marinated in-house. We were also treated to slices of grilled ciabatta which just about curbed our hunger – though not enough to keep us from the dessert menu which made an entrance shortly after our plates were cleared. I must point out here that had I been aware that the 'hot' chocolate fudge cake I was about to endure would set me back five whole pounds, I'm positive I wouldn't have bothered; proving cold and aesthetically lacking; dry, tasteless and poorly portioned. I'm not ashamed to say that I winged bitterly with every mouthful – especially in the face of the food envy that those with the golden syrup sponge cake encouraged with their complimentary responses.
Between four - give us MORE!
All in all, it's fair to say that I didn't find myself overly impressed with what The Crown had to offer on this particular occasion... Admittedly, we shouldn't have expected much for a six-pound price tag and yet, one would have thought that an eatery venturing into the 'online-deal' territory would want to showcase the best that they have to offer. Although dishes were fresh, appetising and well-presented, not to mention innovative in terms of their arrangement, they were sparsely portioned and simply unsuitable for a number of reasons. I've never been to a restaurant whereby you're denied the luxury of picking from a menu and thus, vegetarians, vegans or in fact, anyone with any nature of dietary requirement would have suffered the complete lack of choice. I know that this isn't likely to be a common occurrence but unfortunately, it depicted an undeniable sense of disinterest in regards to satisfying its clientèle which really was a shame. What's more, I'm not entirely convinced that tapas is particularly fitting for pub; perhaps the management could shun the Mediterranean-inspired classics in favour of mini-plates of British fare – a bite-sized portion of fish and chips for example, drizzled with a minted pea purée or a single Yorkshire Pudding filled with roast beef and horseradish...I could go on! With brand new owners and a quick turnaround in terms of the role of head chef, it seems perhaps that those steering The Crown through its evident re-launch are attempting too much; co-badging the establishment as a restaurant and a pub (as well as an affordable B&B); I suggest that it sticks to watering the locals which for all intents and purposes, appears to be what it does best...
And now for the second opinion....
The money-saving minion gave The Crown a rating of 6/10 and in three words argued that it 'wasn't that bad...' Well that's me told...!

*For further information and a sample menu, visit: http://www.thecrowninn-keynsham.com/

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Juniper Restaurant - Cotham Road South, Bristol

Embracing the final year of my twenties was always going to be difficult to swallow and thus, an appropriately edible birthday gift from the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) had been thoughtfully designed to sweeten the otherwise bitter aroma of one’s descent into the dirty thirties! A touch dramatic perhaps and yet, a Living Social voucher entitling the BFF and I to a three-course extravaganza from Juniper’s à la carte menu, (with a glass of wine each to boot), would no doubt constitute the kind of dining experience that only a 'special' occasion of this nature could ensue.

Date and Time: Tuesday 30 July 2013, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Juniper Restaurant*
Location: 21 Cotham Road South, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A birthday treat from (and with) the BFF…

Juniper is a homely, intimately arranged (and largely plum-coloured) space with tables for two nestled within each and every nook and cranny There is an unmistakable sense that this establishment could serve as one's home from home whereby, with a regular following, it ultimately has community at its core. Its style appropriately compliments its ambiance which is friendly and welcoming - lending to the establishment a first-rate level of service which extended way beyond the booking process and into the evening itself; an evening where nothing at all appeared too much trouble. Sipping our complimentary vino (a Spanish Macabeo if you're interested), the BFF and I perused the menu which head chef Nick Kleiner describes as ‘contemporary’ and ‘eclectic’; intending to balance ‘bold and fresh flavours’ in order to deliver consistently first-rate fare. To that end, I chose to start with the crab cakes (normally £6.95) which had been tastefully-arranged upon a young leaf salad. Crushed almonds provided an earthy undercurrent amidst an otherwise powerfully flavoured dish whilst a liberal drizzle of saffron aioli added a notable vibrancy; both in terms of its exquisite flavour and visual appeal. The BFF opted for the home-made scotch egg which had been plated alongside an ample portion of buttery mash and, she enthused, ‘an incredibly tasty piccalilli’ – she also mentioned that the egg itself had proved the perfect consistency; melt-in-the-mouth moreishness!
Main courses followed promptly; for me, the supreme of free-range chicken (usually £15.95) which was juicy and expertly executed. Here, the main event had been coupled with a sun dried tomato stuffing which, combined with sporadic dollops of onion jam and flecked with chorizo, filled the palate with its sweet-salt deliciousness. Potatoes dauphinoise completed the bill, proving rich and creamy – perhaps a touch too rich and creamy however, due to the mushroom and tarragon sauce that had been liberally applied to the meat which you could say. had a somewhat comparable disposition. The BFF reported similar findings, opting for the rump of lamb (normally £18.95) which she admitted was really rather hard-going given that it had been slathered with a spinach and feta cream sauce which, albeit, very tasty, was really rather heavy, (especially in light of the meat’s indulgent accompaniment; the aforementioned potatoes dauphinoise)..She also pointed out that the lamb was disappointingly over-cooked which was a real shame as the dish was otherwise beautifully presented and generously portioned. 
When it came to the all-important dessert selection process, the BFF was quick of the mark; opting for the chocolate truffle pot (usually £6.50); yet dismaying in the knowledge that the peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream had expired well before our arrival. Powering through with home-made vanilla as a ‘pleasant’ substitute as well as a side-serving of summer berry compote, she praised the ensemble, commenting that the chocolate was of a good quality; its subtle bitterness suitably complimenting the zing of the fruit. I’m afraid that on my part, the ice cream situation was very much a deal breaker, meaning that my typical choice of pudding (which is altogether dominated by its chocolate content) was overthrown in favour of the warm blueberry bakewell tart, (also £6.50). Here, a whole tartlet had been served with merely a smudge of banoffee ice cream which, although fantastically flavoursome, just wasn’t plentiful enough – thus, I quickly missed the contrast between the cool, sweetness of the ice cream and the warmth of the tart’s sharp-noted filling.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the laid-back appeal of Juniper – the drive to deliver locally-sourced, organic fare of an exemplary standard was evident from start to finish and, on the large part, achieved. It could be argued that some of the dishes were a little too complex for their own good (you really can have too much of a good thing, you know) and yet, one cannot deny the imagination behind their intricate construction. Therefore, if we return to the ethos of the menu and specifically, the concept of balance, we could argue that this still needs a little work – that said, the attention to detail, both in and out of the kitchen coupled with a genuine passion for hearty, innovatively assembled cuisine really is reason enough to keep coming back for more. I’d suggest that overall, given its calibre, the menu is reasonably priced but certainly reflects the ‘special occasion territory’ that we started this review with. As a result, this isn’t an establishment I’d regularly indulge in and yet, in the event of said special occasion, its fair to say that it would most certainly be in the running.
And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Juniper a rating of 7/10 and in three words,commented that there was 'just something missing'...


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Stable – Canons Road, Bristol

Monday 8th July 2013, 17:30

Following the success of their branches in Bridport and Weymouth – founders Nikki and Richard Cooper decided to bring pizza, pie and cider - the threesome underpinning The Stable's abundant appeal - to Bristol's bustling harbourside. It's fair to say that the days of Chicago Rock are long gone and with it perhaps even the questionable reputation that once went hand-in-hand with this particular after-dark 'strip'.Instead, snuggled between the quirky presence of No.1 Harbourside and the cultural buzz of The Watershed, The Stable is perfectly situated to bring this once chav-tastic hot spot bang up-to-date.
If you can't stand the heat...
Invited to visit on the evening before it opened its doors to the public, I entered this spacious, coolly-decorated space with intrigue – enjoying the upbeat service of 'The Stablehands', the expanse of bench style seating and thoughtful aesthetics, the latter in terms of lighting, style and sound. That said, the halogens overhead did elevate the temperature somewhat, though it's not every day that the great British summer time delivers us such balmy weather, (plus, sitting in front of the theatre-style kitchen really didn't help!)

The Well-Stocked Bar
The drinks menu is jam-packed with local ciders – over 60 to be exact - featuring the likes of Lyme Bay, Burrow Hill, Bridge Farm, Orchard Pig and Perry’s. If you can't decide on one, The Stable offers a 'tasting board' of five 1/3 pints for £7.50. To mop up the alcohol consumption, why not indulge in a pizza? Sampling as many slices as I could get my hands on (for research purposes of course), I noted - through piping hot mouthfuls – the stone-baked crispiness of the base which we later discovered constituted organic sough dough. What's more, generously topped, the range features a number of innovative creations; some paying homage to The Stable's new-found residency. Here, the Bristol Blaster combines locally-sourced pork, Naga chillies, garlic, red onion, basil leaves, mushroom, tomato and mozzarella – ark at ee! If you 'prefer a pie' there are several to choose from – the vegetarian option, generously filled with spiced sweet potato, butternut squash, spinach, goat's cheese and plum chutney, catapulting at once to the top of my 'to-dine' list along with the pizza pudding which is decadently slathered with hazelnut, chocolate and mascarpone...say no more right?! Main courses are priced between £8 and £14 which I feel is reasonable in light of the quality and care which comprises each dish. The breakfast/brunch menu also shows promise with an all-you-can-eat toast bar – just grill-iant (see what I did there!?)

Overall, I feel that The Stable will be an asset to the Harbourside – its ethos seems to fit with the city's sense of community as well as the awareness us Bristolians have in regards to the importance of the 'independent' (of homemade, honest and locally-sourced fare). Individual tastes and dietary requirements have been suitably accommodated and a passion for customer satisfaction is reassuringly apparent. I guess I'm saying that The Stable has the opportunity to shine where other establishments have faded into the background (especially within this largely hit and miss segment of the city-centre) – yet, with their three-point appeal and the substance which supports it, I'm almost certain that the brains behind this operation will triumph! 

Email: http://stablepizza.com/
Tweet: @_TheStable
Breakfast/Brunch served between 8:00am and 11:00am
Main menu served between 12:00 noon and 9:30pm
Open ‘til 11:00pm daily

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Hobgoblin - Gloucester Road, Bristol

Forgive me for stating the obvious but The Hobgoblin is a typical Gloucester Road-based establishment; complete with a ‘local pub for local people’ ambiance (a largely student-centred clientèle) and an acceptable level of grunginess that seems almost integral to what we’ve come to recognise as BS7’s eclectic vibe. Besides all the usual attributes, this pub's strength is its cuisine which was unsurprisingly the factor which brought its whereabouts to my attention – I mean, it’s rather a long shot from my last review given that it's seriously lacking in the dainty department and yet as an alternative, its fare constitutes that glorious three-point comfort food ensemble: Meat, cheese and carbs. Modest eaters need not apply, step aside...I’m going in!!

Date and Time: Saturday 18 May 2013, 19:00
Name of Establishment: The Hobgoblin (a.k.a. The Hob)*
Location: 69 - 71 Gloucester Road, Bristol
Reason for visit: Erm…Meat, cheese and carbs!

With an assortment of furniture; solid table-tops and bar stools intended for dining and squashy sofas for serious slomping, this is a laid back watering hole in which to kick back for a couple hours; a homely space providing respite from the hustle and bustle of the Gloucester Road strip. It’s both people-friendly and animal-friendly; the latter meaning that a little interaction with the resident doglettes may become part and parcel of your visit – this, in addition to helpful service and value-for-money makes for an amicable ambiance - you may suggest counteracting the pub's minimalistic décor and shabby-looking toilets which really do appear to have seen better days...!

The menu is made up of a range of Tex-Mex style burgers and sandwiches; with portion sizes to satisfy the...erm, generous appetite. The BBQ’d brisket sandwich (£7.45), made with home-made blue cheese coleslaw and the ‘Goober Burger’ (£7.95) - featuring bacon, a fried egg and peanut butter (yes, really) - particularly caught my eye; the combination of some of my favourite foodstuffs playing on both my will-power and when it came to the latter, my curiosity! The star of the show is undoubtedly the ‘Kraken Burger’ (£25) which, simply speaking, comprises a grotesque amount of food, I quote; ‘a triple bypass burger (that's 21 ounces of beef, people...), plus a portion of dirty, dirty fries, 12 chicken wings, coleslaw, pickles and a variety of sauces’ – phew! This is to be eaten within 45 minutes in order to claim your dinner (enough to keep you going for the next week I’d imagine) free of charge, plus a celebratory t-shirt and the honour of having your name inscribed on the hallowed wall of fame! Only one gutsy individual has achieved this to date; thus it's clearly a force to be reckoned with!

The girls and I shared the dirty dirty fries (£7.45) which were in fact, really really good. Teetering above its platter-style base, this sizeable feast had been fused into a peak with melted cheese (both regular cheddar and blue) and contained an ample quantity of succulently smoky pulled pork. Finished with a drizzle of home-made coriander mayo, it's fair to say that cheesy chips will never be the same again! That said, sharing is clearly the way forward here; the chow-down that ensued slowing progressively as the carb-hit took hold! In light of this, dessert was out of the question; though I have on good authority that the Oreo and Peanut Butter Ice Cream Pie is altogether uh-mazing – remind me to sport an elasticated waistband next time...! When it came to liquid refreshment, we identified all the usual suspects and at prices that wouldn't break the bank – thus, the Sauvignon Blanc that the girls and I chose came in at a mere £10.75 a bottle; proving an adequate accompaniment to our edibles. Whilst we're on the subject of affordability, it was noted that the student population are appropriately accommodated; those with a valid NUS card able to bag a cheeseburger, plus fries and a pint for just £6 on a Wednesday.

I like that the fare is somewhat reminiscent of 'Epic Meal Time' and that although we're undoubtedly talking purpose-built wow-factor, this is not to the detriment of the overall tastiness, nor the quality of the ingredients which really have been thoughtfully sourced and prepared; with produce from nearby allotments, bread from The Bread Store and meat bought-in from the local butcher shop. The pulled pork is smoked in-house for up to 24 hours in an authentic Webber Smoky Mountain BBQ which is no doubt testament to its appeal. It's fair to say that you're not going to be hungry for 24-hours after the gastonomical feast that awaits you and you'll either kill it in the gym the next day (like yours truly) or lie for some time with your stomach on a cushion like Brian Butterfield after treat day (in the style of my very honest dining companion) but it really is worth the necessity for recovery; this isn't epic meal time, this is simply epic!

And now for the second opinion...
My dining companion gave The Hobgoblin a rating of 8/10 and in three words, summed up her experience with: 'Meat. Fries. Happiness'.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

In the wake of Tea and Cake: A heartfelt goodbye to the Lahloo Pantry and Swinky Sweets

It is a sad, sad day when you learn that another of your regular haunts is shutting up shop – sad to the extent that I felt compelled to document my sorrow in an altogether mournful (yet fondly reminiscent) manner. For, less than a week after the announcement that Clifton's Lahloo Pantry has had to admit defeat in the face of the increasingly troublesome financial climate, the genius behind Swinky Sweets informed his loyal Facebook following that he had decided to up-sticks and re-locate in the 'big smoke'...seriously, you turn your back for all but 2 minutes (well a week actually) and disaster strikes ...!
Lahloo Pantry: Once it's scone, it's scone!
I have many memories of each establishment and it's fair to say that both have featured, rather heavily in fact, upon recommending Bristol's finest to those who ask me for details of the city's not-so-hidden hot-spots. I'd been known to visit the Lahloo Pantry for a spot of brunch; the Keen's cheddar scone with crème fraîche and sweet chilli jam proving a particular favourite – and then pop into 'Swinky's' on route to the centre for a cupcake to go (and perhaps a scrumble or two as an amply boozy chaser...) It had also become customary to source my birthday cake from Mr Swinky's kitchen – testament to the fact that my very first experience was love at first bite; ah, the Cadbury's Cream Egg cupcake - which quite incidentally, is now the star of my work-place desktop – will provoke what can only be described as a pilgrimage towards our cosmopolitan capital in search of this seasonal sweetness.
Not just for Easter...
Back to Bristol and yes there will be other cafés, new-found favourites even but those which have enhanced the city's café culture (however momentary) will not be forgotten. That said, if you find yourself in need, there is always the Lahloo online store and the plethora of reputable outlets that stock Kate Gover's fantastic range of loose-leaf teas. Meanwhile, Mr Swinky (a.k.a. The lovely Gareth) has promised to keep us up-to-date with news of his move which will no doubt amount to resounding success; London: 1, Bristol: Nil! I wish Lahloo, Swinky Sweets and the individuals behind them the very best of luck in the future; 'Life is Sweet' but it's unquestionably sweeter with a red velvet cupcake in-hand or a hearty mug of 'Bristol Brew'!
Happy Birthday to Me...Oh, wait...!


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Cordial and Grace – The Mall, Clifton Village

My first encounter with Cordial and Grace was almost a year ago when a group of Bristol's bloggers/cupcake enthusiasts joined forces to establish Clifton's Cake Crawl. Since then, my visits have been a little sporadic, though in the last Month or so, I've visited on three separate occasions - twice with a Living Social voucher in-hand - entitling its holder to 'Clifton Tea for Two' – and once to dine at the recently inaugurated B&G Supper Club – each experience as friendly and gastronomically pleasing as that which preceded it. 

Date and Time: February/March 2013 (Clifton Tea for Two: 13th February and 13th March, Supper Club: 2nd March) 
Name of Establishment: Cordial and Grace* 
Location: 9 The Mall, Clifton Village 
Reason for Visit: Predominantly to indulge in cake, if I'm honest...

Cordial and Grace is underpinned with a tag-line encompassing its three strengths 'Sew, Tea, Cake' – the first reflecting the downstairs work-space which is decked out with sewing machines and crafts, the second lending to the wide selection of loose-leaf teas that are available to accompany the latter; the home-baked treats which, often fresh from the oven, are the highlight of any visit...at least on my part! In light of this, let me first talk to the Clifton Tea for Two (normally £7.95 per person) which constitutes a tasting plate of three bite-sized desserts or cakes and a glass of distinctively crisp prosecco. Here, I've sampled the likes of hand-made meringue with chocolate orange ganache (blasphemously good), coconut cake (moist and moreish), mini Victoria sponge (oh-so-dainty) and salted caramel brownies (gooey chocolate flecked with the sweet-salt hit of my very favourite confectionery); all the while relishing the café’s sunny disposition whereby bright colours have been blocked against each other and an almost shabby chic theme, complete with decorative bunting and hand-stitched scatter cushions, showcases a range of the handiwork from the space below deck.
Clifton Tea for Two - beautifully presented and quite frankly delicious!
Besides cake, Cordial and Grace offer Brunch and savoury bites (well hello there Rarebit Crumpets!) – it's also the home of the new-found supper club, 'Belle and Grant at number 9' (or B&G for short)*. This is an affordable Monthly pop-up dining experience held on the premises where, for a mere £20, the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I bagged three amazing courses featuring an excellently-executed confit duck leg which was served alongside hazelnut and duck mousse toasts as well as puy lentils and a tasty salsa verde. A a trio of chocolate desserts followed which included a super-sticky home-made honeycomb that just melted in the mouth. Next month's menu (scheduled for 10th and11th May) is £27.50 for four courses which, given its French theme and tempting 'fromage' course, really is fantastically priced; especially as I can vouch for the quality of the cuisine and the passion which is clearly applied to each and every dish that emerges from the kitchen.

Trio of Chocolate - oh that honeycomb!
Cordial and Grace really is a jewel in the crown of Clifton's café culture – its USP and independent status really sets it aside from its competitors and its cheerful décor and friendly disposition seals the deal once you've succumbed to the candy-coloured embrace of your surroundings and you've taken your first mouthful of something marvellous! If you're like me – a self-confessed cupcake glutton – this will undoubtedly make your 'coveted cafés' short-list and if you're after a brew for the discerning tea-leaf seeker, gluten-free options, an evening of exclusive dining or somewhere to make pom-pom pets with your brood (delete as applicable) it will do just fine...scrap that...fine just doesn't even come close! Many thanks to Maria and Belle – I'll see you again soon!


And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave Cordial and Grace a rating of 9/10 and in three words, summed up her experience as; 'sweetness and bright'...


Friday, 15 March 2013

Casa Mexicana - Zetland Road, Bristol

When London-based Bestie,'HL' decided to endorse her birthday celebrations with a jaunt to the West Country, it was up to me to determine an appropriate venue for fourteen of its coveted inhabitants to assemble for dinner and drinks. For me, nothing says party time like a little spice and the odd tequila slammer so where better than Bristol's much-loved Mexican, Casa Mexicana. A intimately-arranged eatery with oodles of character...

Date and Time: Sunday 3rd March 2013, 7:30pm
Name of Establishment: Casa Mexicana*
Location: 31 Zetland Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Sharing the city's favourite Mexican with my favourite Bristolians...!

In short, Casa Mexicana is an absolute joy – vibrant yet cosy and traditional yet tactfully quirky; the latter seemingly fitting given that it's a stone’s throw away from the eclectic buzz of the Gloucester Road strip. Diners are greeted warmly, the friendly ambiance enhanced with soft candlelight, an upbeat soundtrack and a theme which has been subtly integrated into the overall character of the space rather than over-done in a stereotypically sombrero-clad cheese-fest. It's fair to say that I’m certainly not alone in my praise for this eatery given that the National Press have been quick to celebrate Casa's success; the Guardian placing it within the top five Mexican restaurants in the country and The Independent deeming it worthy to feature not once but twice as the ‘best Mexican Restaurant’ in the Sunday Times' supplement – all this within a 27-year-long innings; a time in which it has secured a keen following of devoted regulars and their keen convertees. 
Back to the evening at hand and despite the fact that we constituted a rather sizeable gathering, it was duly noted that the service was not to its detriment which can often be the case elsewhere. Quite the contrary in fact as chatty, efficient service ensued, setting the bar for the duration of the evening whereby nothing appeared too much trouble and a reassuring sense of pride lent itself to both the menu's content and the dishes that transpired, (which, incidentally, were piping hot and delivered in a timely fashion). On this occasion, no one opted for starters, which was met with a touch of relief in the face of the main event given that dishes had been liberally plated to say the least; my beast of a Chimichanga (£12.95) had been munificently stuffed with smoky-tasting chicken, peppers and cheese, deep fried in a large flour tortilla and topped with freshly-made salsa and cool sour cream. This could have so easily been a car crash of varying tastes and textures, not to mention a visual monstrosity, but had been neatly packaged; its three amigos of seasoned rice, refined beans and rocket salad proving suitably portioned as tasty accompaniments. Others were equally complimentary; the Puchero de Cordero (£13.95)slowly braised lamb shank with chorizo and pasilla chilli – especially well-received with top marks for its ample-execution and melt-in-the-mouth disposition. 
Chimichanga - be honest, it's even fun to say!
The hard-core amongst us managed dessert, most opting to share and wisely so given that the food babies had, by this stage, exceeded foetal status! I settled upon The Tarta de Chocolate (£4.95) as my weapon of choice which was positively death by chocolate (though let's be fair, what a way to go!) If truth be told this was a touch too heavy to follow abundant plates of Mexican tucker – though the viscous mound of Chocolate and Vanilla Brownie Cheesecake, that had been lovingly drizzled with Coffee Bean Sauce and coupled with a dollop of good-quality vanilla ice cream – was deliciously decadent to say the least! The Montezuma Mess (also £4.95) was an arguably safer option; comprising a light ensemble of crushed meringue, fresh passion-fruit, mascarpone cream, orange and lime glaze – its recipients describing it as ‘refreshing’ and a ‘welcome palate cleanser’.
To wash it all down, it was unanimously decided that a cocktail or two were in order and as Casa have an abundant selection, it would have been difficult to resist especially as The Green Iguana combined my favourite tipples; José Cuervo, Midori, Cointreau and sours which had been muddled on the rocks with addictively pungent appeal. Another favourite was the Casa Rinha; a twist on the classic Caipirinha, containing Brazilian cane rum, lime, sugar syrup and lemonade. A healthy selection of wines, bottled beers and spirits complete the bill and most importantly, four different tequilas – from which the birthday girl chose to indulge in a shot of José Cuervo Gold (or 'ora' for those in the know) which is served with cinnamon dust and a slice of orange as opposed to the usual salt and lemon chaser – TEQUILAAAAAA! 
The Green Iguana - hic!
In the danger of submitting an imbalanced review, there is very little to grumble about when it comes to an evening at Casa Mexicana; its menu focuses on traditional South American cuisine which is fairly priced, generously portioned and served with a smile. The space itself is humble and comfortable, though tastefully arranged with a respectable buzz which intensifies as the evening progresses and the tequila flows. Hence, this is an eatery in which the cuisine speaks for itself, it’s neither showy nor gimmicky...simply, good honest food which, just as their website suggests, really is the real enchilada!
And now for the second opinion… 
‘HL’ gave Casa Mexicana a rating of 8/10 and in three words described it as, 'yummy yet heavy'. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Cocktail of the Month – February 2013

Spending the first half of this Month somewhat incapacitated with a full scale bout of the lurgy, meant that alcohol consumption was largely off the cards. In fact, it wasn't until last weekend's jaunt to the Big Smoke that I was able to determine this Month's top tipple; a discovery which marked the rather glorious come-back of the art of a good old knees-up! And so, derived from Soho's trendy 'Archer Street' - an après-ski style bar attracting an exclusive clientèle within the heart of the City's central pizzaz - behold...

.... the 'Fred and Ginger'
Which can be found at…Archer Street*
Which contains…Miller’s Gin and ginger liqueur shaken with lychee juice, ginger syrup and fresh lemon juice...balanced with dash of angostura bitters
Which will set you back…£10.50 (which may well warrant that sharp intake of breath for us Bristolians; but is decidedly average given London's affluent drinking scene)

Someone once told me that the basis of any great cocktail is good quality gin; a notion which Archer Street's Fred and Ginger seemed altogether in favour of. Served in an over-sized martini glass; this contemporary fusion was subtly spiced and suitably decadent; its oriental attributes channelled through an intricate contrast of burnt-sugar style sweetness and the bite of citrus...Flavours which came through in bursts which, just as its name suggests, simply danced on the palate.

Don't fancy immersing yourself in the madness of the metropolis? Perhaps a spot of drinkable DIY is in order...Though I have a feeling that the cost of sourcing the ingredients required for this particular cocktail would be greater than a trip to the venue itself! Thus, if you do happen to be frequenting the watering holes of our classy capital, move Archer Street to the top of your to-do list!
3-4 Archer Street • South Soho • London • W1D 7AP
Table Bookings & Special Events + 44 207 734 3342 – bookings@archerstreet.co.uk

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Labour of Love – Edible Gifts for Valentine’s Day

Given my self-appointed status as a kitchen-shy twenty-something, as well as the fact that this entire blog encompasses my distinct lack of culinary expertise, the writings that follow may shock you...(mum, I hope you're sitting down for this). Inspired to create a range of Valentine’s Day-themed confectioneries for my loved ones, coupled with the overwhelming desire to prove that, smarter than the average blonde, I'm not *completely *useless in the kitchen, I spent a good few hours whisking, weighing and assembling a plethora of edibles to rival afternoon tea at the Merry Berry residence, (well, kind of)...Thus, without further ado, the fruits of my labour are as follows:

Cherry Rock Cakes

125g butter
125g caster sugar
500g plain flour
1.5 tablespoons baking powder
25ml milk
1 large egg
250ml water
175g cherries (I used glacé cherries and cut them into halves)
Cinnamon/Mixed spices to taste

1.Preheat oven to 200 degrees C / gas mark 6. Grease two large baking trays or line with parchment paper
2.Cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.
3.Add flour and baking powder; mix in well.
4.Add milk, egg and water...continue to mix well.
5.Add cherries and sprinkle in the cinnamon/mixed spices...again, mix well (by now you should be well and truly feeling the burn…!)
6.Dollop even portions of dough (not too closely together) on the lined baking trays.
7.Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through.
8.Cool on wire rack and serve warm, or ignore this step and eat straight from the oven (burning your mouth in the process).
Sweet Heart Biscuits

90g unsalted butter, softened
90g caster sugar
1 medium egg at room temperature
A liberal splash or two of vanilla essence
240g plain (all-purpose flour), plus extra for dusting
To decorate: Icing sugar, plus suitable embellishment

1.Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / gas mark 4. Grease two large baking trays or line with parchment paper
2.Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy
3.Add the egg and vanilla essence and beat well – don’t worry of the mixture curdles slightly, just add a tablespoon of the flour and mix well
4.Sift the flour and fold into the mixture (or, in the absence of a sieve, thrown it in and hope for the best) – the aim is to achieve a stiff dough
NB. I had to press the mixture together with my hands and, getting very messy in the process, added a little water in order to make it stick. If you find that the dough is too soft to roll out, refrigerate for 20 minutes and have a cup of tea…
5.Roll out the dough on a cool, lightly flour surface and, using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many hearts as possible.
6.Lift on to the baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the hearts turn a very pale golden colour
7.Once cool, decorate with as much bumph as you can stomach (figuratively speaking and quite literally!)

Cherry Loaf Cake

170g margarine or butter
170g caster sugar
200g cherries (again, I used glacé cherries and cut them into halves)
55g ground almond
110g self raising flour
3 Eggs
Splash of milk
Ready-to-roll marzipan (for decoration)

1.Cream the butter or margarine with the sugar
2.Beat in the eggs and milk with a whisk (electric or hand depending on upper body strength)
3.Stir in the ground almond and cherries – I dusted the cherries with a little flour to prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake (I think my mum taught me this and to be honest, I have no idea if it works…)
4.Fold in the self raising flour until mixture is of an admirable consistency (not too runny not too stiff)
5.Line a loaf tin with greaseproof parchment paper and fill with mixture
6.Place in preheated oven at 180 degrees C / gas mark 4 and cook for about 45 mins or until a cocktail stick emerges free from uncooked cake!
7.Once the cake has cooled, roll out the marzipan to the desired thickness and cut to size. I decorated the finished article with a liberal arrangement of (inedible) heart-shaped sequins but let’s face it, given the territory, you can be as creative (or as minimalistic) as you wish.
In conclusion, I know that it’s cringe-worthily cliché but when it comes to knocking up the odd home-made gift, if I can do it, anyone can...Despite the fact that a brief flirtation with the M&S food-hall would have ultimately saved a great deal of time and effort, it wouldn't have been as fun, (stuck behind a host of techno-phobic elderly folk attempting to use the self-serve checkout?....No thank you very much!) It also couldn't have possibly warranted the same sense of self-satisfied joy whereby you inform anyone who'll listen that; ‘I made them myself you know…', that the few hours spent in the kitchen most definitely allowed for. Yes, there was a little improvisation here and there – who knew that a rolling pin was such an essential piece of kit and that an empty wine bottle really doesn't make for a suitable alternative? That said, the experience really did encourage a new-found affinity with my kitchen which my nearest and dearest will be pleased to learn, bodes well for their sweet-toothed needs in the months and years to come...