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!

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...

Monday, 11 February 2013

Byzantium - Portwall Lane, Bristol

It really was a case of third time lucky when it came to reviewing Byzantium – the basis of the second visit was due to the shortcomings of the first* and the third was due to the fact that when we arrived on the second, house-mate 'B' and I were the only two people in the restaurant – a phenomena (amounted to the adverse weather conditions in this case whereby a dusting of snow causes a National stand-still) which would have unquestionably resulted in a complete lack of ambiance. Subsequently, we opted to postpone our visit to a later date...cue visit three which unfolded as per the ramblings that follow... 

Date and Time: Saturday 26th January 2013, 19:30 
Name of Establishment: Byzantium* 
Location: 2 Portwall Lane, Bristol 
Reason for Visit: A good-will gesture entitling myself and 'B' to dinner-for-two – a measure which, despite saving us a small fortune, did not impact on the content of this review in any shape or form...

Pushing open the heavy, iron-clad doors to reveal the rich colours, unique décor and Mediterranean-style buzz of Byzantium is typically quite a treat – the careful contrast between its air of opulence and the humility of its rustic charm is certainly a million miles away from the nondescript warehouse that the space once was. Its name – just in case you were wondering – refers to the ancient capital of the Eastern Roman Empire – a fact which lends an identity to the cavernous curiousness which extends beyond the pillared atrium (and after-hours dance floor) to the well-stocked bar area and again, to the candlelit restaurant to be found at the summit of the venue's sweeping marble staircase. Even the toilets, complete with modern beaten copper sinks and the brass urns that have been regenerated to incorporate plumbed-in taps, are perfectly in keeping with Byzantium's eclectic quality. That said, the aforementioned ambiance that we had hoped for given the muted manner of visit two was simply not to be. The magicians and belly dancers that have been billed to entertain diners upon occasion were no where to be seen and although there were a number of occupied tables (increasingly so as the evening progressed), the absence of any background music made for that awkward, I-feel-I-must-engage-in-whispered-conversation-with-my-dining-companion sense of unease. Our server reinforced this etiquette; conversing with us in hushed tones – yet, although this was a little off-putting, I really can't praise her enough as she was friendly, professional and efficient for the duration of our visit.

On to the food and with a menu comprising a whole host of modern Mediterranean favourites (what else), we whet our appetites with what I like to refer to as 'brolives'; a duo of, what in this case constituted, lightly-toasted bread flecked with sun-dried tomato and a ramekin of disappointingly, shop-bought-tasting olives. We actually asked for one helping of the above to share between us but given the modest quantities that ensued, we were really rather relieved that our server had misunderstood our request and brought us a portion each - I'm not actually sure what I was expecting for little more than a couple of quid but even so...! To follow, we unanimously opted for the duck ragout (£15.95); a flavoursome ensemble of succulent meatiness, smoother than smooth olive oil mash and smoked garlic chutney. The game 'chips' which completed the dish looked suspiciously like they had been sourced from the Walkers' factory and had unfortunately fallen victim to a little 'sogging' and yet, seemed to enhance the overall presentation of the dish which was commendable to say the least. Another plus point was the quality of the ingredients which, we had been informed, had been locally-sourced; the duck in particular faring tender, tasty and virtually free from fat.

Candlelit Canard!

Given that January's pay-day had not yet come to fruition, we chose only to stretch to the 'house' rosé which was fruity yet crisp on the palate... That said, it's certainly worth noting that Byzantium offers an extensive wine list, not to mention a delectable assortment of cocktails.

Now, for 'afters' and although there are several plated options, it's all about the famous 'Dessert Lantern' which is made up of six miniature morsels that have been arranged over a two-tiered lantern, or tier-less metal cage on this particular occasion. Now in theory, I LOVE this concept – especially as I'm quite the glutton when it comes to anything to satisfy my sweet tooth – but I'm afraid that this didn't quite materialise with quite the same degree of pizazz that had been gloriously implied on paper. Thus, of the six, I thoroughly enjoyed only two; namely, the white chocolate eton mess (with its light consistency and subtle sweetness) and warm peanut butter cookie. That said, when it came to the latter, 'B' wasn't convinced...bestowing my good self with a double-act of soft, chewy, pea-nutty joy! Without sugar-coating the issue, I'll suggest that the others didn't even come close; the Ginger Cheesecake proving especially bland and the rum and raisin brownie described as disappointingly average.- so average in fact that I couldn't even bring myself to finish my share which, given its chocolaty disposition, is an absolute travesty. A cube of apple and rhubarb crumble and a bite-sized custard tart completed the selection; both of which were visually delicious though somewhat lacking in the taste department. You know that when you can't quite decide whether you're enjoying something enough to warrant another mouthful...yeah that...!

In conclusion, Byzantium clearly has the potential to offer the wow-factor and then some…As a licensed venue for tying the knot, there’s simply no where else like it in Bristol and, after the best part of fourteen years, I think that the issue isn't one of initial appeal, it's one of despondence which to be fair could be easily remedied with a touch more effort, (I mean, surely an empty restaurant for two Saturdays in succession would ring alarm bells with even the most unobservant among us …) It’s that familiar imbalance between substance and style and despite the pull of its decadent interior, the captivating glow from St Mary Redcliffe church - which provides the vista for the entire first floor - and the intricate assemblage of the dishes overall, there really is no excuse for mediocre cuisine at top-end prices. Maybe a little re-think is on the cards; either in terms of the menu's content or possibly in relation to those responsible for what goes on within the glass-fronted kitchen that we, the public, are unapologetically privy to. For, despite the care allocated to appropriately facilitating the *best* ingredients, the dishes they amount to are inadequately executed; well, at least on the large part. It seems to me that although the ancient city of Byzantium flourished for over one thousand years, its namesake would do well to 'up its game' if it is to survive for even a tenth of that duration...food for thought perhaps?

And now for the second opinion, 'B' gave Byzantium a rating of 4/10 and in three words, described it as, 'a big disappointment'. Incidentally, I have appended her original letter of complaint to the venue, for information.

*Initial letter of complaint, sent 23rd December 2012: 

I wanted to contact you after having our office Christmas meal with you on Friday evening as everyone in our group was disappointed with the night as a whole and did not feel that it was good value for money.

Firstly the plastic garden chairs were extremely uncomfortable and the food was disappointing especially the main course which was very dry. Everyone however did enjoy the desserts.

The lack of music while we were eating did make it feel as though we were sat in a Wetherspoons eating our meal.

We cannot fault the service though as the food was very quick coming out.

From the description of the night before hand we were all expecting several magicians and belly dancers, although it turned out that there was only one magician which we only saw very briefly at out table and only the one dancer.

We complained twice about the chairs but nothing was done and we were talked to as if we were complaining over nothing and told "well I didn't buy them" by one waiter. It gave us back ache, watched people nearly fall through them.... Half of the room had nice wooden chairs yet we felt like dirt on your feet. We paid £40 per head to then have out stuff cleared off of tables, furniture whipped away and dancing to the worst DJ any of us have heard in a long time.

Open: Tuesday to Saturday from 17:00-2:00.
Closed: Sunday and Monday.