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!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

TGI Friday's - Cabot Circus, Bristol

Founded in New York City back in the 1960's and with well over 900 outlets worldwide, you may be surprised to learn that I'd actually never set foot in a TGI Friday's*. For, what's coined as 'casual dining' is, in my view, really rather pricey; the multitude of alternative chain restaurants gracing our fair city offering what I’d previously considered better value-for money for fare of a comparable quality. Consequently, the newest branch of TGIFs in Bristol's Cabot Circus (which opened its doors in the Summer of 2013) had, for me at least, remained untouched. That is, until I received an offer I simply couldn't refuse.... 

The Invitation:
Do you lie in bed craving a relationship you can really sink your teeth into? 

Are you looking for romance of the incredibly meaty variety?

TGI Friday’s invites you and a friend to a saucy evening of hot love, BURGER BLIND DATE.

We’ve arranged a line-up of our sexiest new hand-crafted burgers who are all dying to meet you – but choosing your lover for the night won’t be as simple as love at first sight. Forget Cilla Black, you’ll be choosing the burger who gets you hot under the collar by reading about their naughtiest personality traits, seeing who tickles your pickle and taking the plunge. In Burger Blind Date every one of our sizzling suitors is a boom fitty, so what have you got to lose?

If you’re game, come down to TGI Fridays Cabot Circus on Thursday 24th April at 6:00pm, pluck up some Dutch courage with a cocktail or two on us and ‘meat' the love of your life. Just RSVP to this email with the name of your +1 to let us know that you’re coming.

We’ll see you soon for some cheeky back-room action!

Lots of lovin’,
TGI Friday’s 

In the subject line was a disclaimer reading: 'Fun warning: This may be the best email you'll receive all weekend'...and it was...it really was! Accordingly, here is my account of the evening that followed....
The Cocktails: 
First stop...the bar and although sticky menus brim with a vast assortment of concoctions, our server encouraged my dining companion and I to allow him to recommend a cocktail (from a bank of over 500) based on our preferred base spirit. My affinity with gin landed me the Maverick Aviator (£6.99); a delicate fusion of Bombay Sapphire, violet and maraschino liqueurs and the zing of fresh lemon which had been finished with a light (alcoholic) foam; genius! For my friend, the Hinky Dink (£6.99) which muddled Bacardi eight-year-old rum with generous measures of Captain Morgan and Grand Marnier. The splash of lime juice and slurp of almond syrup completing the brew, appropriately balancing the boozy kick with a sweet-noted warmth.

Later, we found ourselves with a classic French Martini and a fruity twist on a frozen margarita which established my new mantra that a cocktail simply isn’t worth the graft unless you have to support its weight with both hands! That said, should cocktails not be your bag (come on, really?!) you should know that there are a multitude of alternative beverage routes to sip; beers, bubbles, wines, mocktails, milkshakes…the list is endless. 
Burger Blind Date: 
With the traits of each contestant in-hand, it was time to select our partner in gastronomical gluttony and, usually priced between £9.99 and £13.49, its fair to say that high expectations were steering us towards the most outlandish ‘traits’ in the mix. I opted for lucky contestant number two (see description below) which manifested itself as Friday’s double glazed Jack Daniel’s burger which was sweet and smoky, slathered with Monterey Jack cheese and topped with Jack Daniel’s candied bacon and Friday’s mayo. With a generous side order of sweet potato fries, this was a serious plate of food; attractively plated yet piled high; each element absolutely spot-on in terms of its execution. My dining companion chose contestant number eight, the mystery meal which constituted a toasted brioche bun which had been layered with a mix-up of beef steak, peppers, jalapeños, fried onion and that legendary Jack Daniel’s drizzle. He accompanied his burger with the chilli cheese fries which, for me at least, depicted a meal in itself! All in all, I’d suggest that the dishes we’d received suitably demonstrated the intended theme; namely the wow-factor of an American grill, (cue gutsy portions and unmistakable carnivorous appeal). This theme has also been channelled into the service which was enthusiastic and, at times, a little over-attentive. If you're a person who prefers limited interaction with those that wait your table during dinner, perhaps this establishment isn't for you. If I'm honest, I was kinda relieved that I didn't have to witness the 'carnival' that erupts in the event of a birthday! 

Contestant Number Two!
Contestant Number Eight

Don't panic, the filthy innuendo above will be gone by the time you visit...you can still bring your Grandparents!

Something Sweet: 
How we managed to tackle a pudding after the nom-fest that had taken hold thus far was quite an accomplishment and yet, we felt compelled to share the Popcorn Brownie Sundae which was choc-full of, yep you guessed it, warm brownie chunks and crunchy, toffee-glazed popcorn. Swirled with hot fudge sauce, creamy vanilla ice cream and topped with ‘proper’ whipped cream – nothing synthetic here, folks – this really was an indulgent end to an extravagant evening of what can only be described as food porn! 
In Conclusion:
And there you have it, the unashamed yet seedy reasons for my visit; a visit which confirmed a couple of my preconceptions and yet, allowed for an overhaul of my TGIF virginity and in doing so, led me to experience first-rate service, a passion for mixology that, in my view, simply cannot be rivalled by any other chain restaurant and seriously satisfying fare. Yes, it is a little cheesy and it may well set you back rather more pennies than its neighbouring eateries but for the quality that ensued, it really is worth the hit...I'd sum up TGI Friday's as a chain with a brain given that it can suitably cater for anyone. I mean, despite the vast selection of dishes/cocktails on the menu (which doesn't often denote a positive outcome in the quality versus quantity stakes), knowledgeable servers can help you make an informed decision based on your basic wants, preferred ingredients and of course, any dietary requirements. And so, with framed photographs of our #burgerface action shots in hand, my dining companion and I left with full tummies and a lasting impression of an establishment that really aims to please…as blind dates go (and I’ve been on a few), this has to be the only one which really made me swoon!
Ready for the launch...!
Feel the gurn...!


Sunday, 13 April 2014

No. 4 Clifton Village…Revisited

Date and Time: Thursday 10 April 2014, 19:00
Name of Establishment: No. 4 Clifton Village*
Location: Rodney Place, Clifton
Reason for Visit: A refurb' which prompted a return-visit.
A chilly reception?
Set within the timeless composure of an authentic Georgian mansion, No. 4 Clifton Village restaurant and bar is part of an independently owned and operated venue which includes the Rodney Hotel. Having initially visited this award-winning venue back in August 2012 and writing what can only be described as a glowing report, I was interested to learn of the restaurant’s ‘total refurbishment’; accepting an invitation to re-run the fun in order to experience their shiny, new space. The thing is, although the décor was decidedly improved; having retained its original elegance yet brightening the overall ambiance with funky wallpaper and a focal light fitting, this had no bearing on the all-important culinary aspect; the fare proving a comparable standard to that of my previous visit and the menu almost identical in terms of its content. Subsequently, you can consider both the positive and the negative implications of this finding whereby all my original plus-points apply (locally-sourced ingredients; check, quality not quantity in terms of the menu’s content; check, expertly-executed dishes which were both well-presented and delicious; check and check) and yet on the other hand, noting the lack of imagination applied to refreshing the menu from season to season. I mean – I distinctly remember ordering the glazed Chantenay carrots alongside the breast of chicken prior to this visit which, available again a good 20 months later, seemed to indicate that the next transformation of this venue should perhaps include the menu!
That light-bulb moment...
Back to the evening at hand and although the bar area was familiarly well-stocked, it was not quite as inviting as the scatter cushions and sporadically-arranged seating had proven beforehand. Instead, an angular lay-out and cold colour-scheme had created an almost clinical essence which was, without doubt, a far cry from what had existed previously and, I felt, not particularly in keeping with the vibrant hues at-large in the dining room. The service however, had vastly improved whereby a friendly, happy-to-help attitude remained intact throughout the course of the evening.
In the restaurant, I decided upon the fillet of cod (£13.50) which, beautifully plated, was fresh and succulent. The lemon and thyme crumble was an inventive topping; bitter-sweet on the palate and therefore suitably contrasting the fish both in terms of texture and taste. That said, there were a couple of surprise elements to the dish given that the garden peas billed to accompany the main event were nowhere to be seen and in their place, a sporadic dollop of what tasted a little like parsnip purée – an addition which, to be fair, didn’t really enhance what was otherwise an appetising and visually appealing plate of food. The chocolate torte (£5.95) was also well-received, though again, different in the flesh than detailed on the menu. This had been drizzled with a tart orange syrup (as promised) yet in the place of the Chantilly cream sat a mixed berry compote which really didn’t compliment the ensemble at all and even once the dish had been flourished with a quenelle of cream (at my request), the berries remained untouched which seemed rather a shame.
Berry delicious
Overall, the most valuable revision, in my view at least, was the introduction of the Monday-Thursday money-savers. The ‘special occasion’ remit which I had previously applied to this establishment challenged somewhat by the likes of ‘2 for £10 Tuesday’; which denotes two courses for a tenner and ‘Thirsty Thursday’; whereby every main course purchased can be washed down with a complimentary glass of Prosecco – great news for the penny-pinchers amongst us, present company included! All in all, those at the helm of this refresh have succeeded in making this a brighter, more affordable venue for everyday dining and yet, to determine repeat-custom, I’d suggest considerably varying the dishes available on a regular basis...Surely adhering to a Modern European theme has so much more to give?!
Affordable eating

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Clifton FoodFest and the Primrose Café

Receiving an invitation to the media preview week which would precede the Clifton FoodFest* simply has to be my top foodie 'win' of the year thus far. I mean, with no less than fifteen restaurants, cafés and delis taking part from within the upmarket confines of Clifton Village, this food-lover's festival would offer the public an opportunity to eat out for just £10 – bargain! As the brain child of the Business Improvement District (BID) for Clifton Village (formed in 2012 to support organisations within the region) and the first festival of its kind in the city, I saw it as an affordable means to explore the area's eateries. Plus, a reason to experience an establishment that I'd been meaning to visit for dinner (or specifically, for something a little more substantial than cake)...Cue the Primrose Café*, a picturesque and well-attended café-come-bistro that, given its location (on the cusp of the historic Clifton Arcade), allows for some pretty indulgent people-watching and more importantly, delivers what I'm told is first-rate fare. Let me be the judge of that....
Date and time: Wednesday 2nd April 2014, 7:30pm
Name of Establishment: Primrose Café
Location: 1 Clifton Arcade, Boyces Avenue, Bristol
Reason for visit: The Clifton FoodFest and two-course-for-£10 offer
Stepping into the Primrose Café at dusk denotes a relatively different experience to a daytime sitting whereby coffee, cake and the hubbub of the passing crowd altogether encapsulates what has become an institution amidst Clifton's successful café culture. I'm not sure what I was expecting if I'm honest but fancy table dressings coupled with bistro-style formalities were really rather removed from what I'd grown accustomed to following previous visits. This was not to its detriment I'll hasten to add as sure enough, the familiar cosiness of this laid-back space had remained intact whereby the passive duet of chatter and jazz as well as the warm glow from the abundant candlelight created the perfect ambiance for an upmarket dinner – it could have almost been romantic, if my dining companion hadn't been my mum!

We dined from the 'Early Bird' menu which we understood would also serve those attending as part of the FoodFest. The menu offered three options for each course at a price of £10 for two or £12.50 for three. Mum and I opted for two and were glad that we did in light of the complimentary appetisers which accompanied the arrival of our drinks (small glasses of the house white - a French Sauvingnon - which you could opt to add to your meal for a mere £2.50 each). Here, espresso cups of mushroom and truffle soup were drizzled with crème fraiche and accompanied with homemade sour dough – a little too sizeable to be considered appetisers in my view but a real treat nevertheless. Main courses were served promptly afterwards; the asparagus and wild garlic risotto for me and the mackerel fillet for mum; a dish which she enthused, was expertly executed - the fish itself proving succulent and tasty with the odd bone discovery excused in favour of its fresh appeal. She particularly enjoyed the aubergine and spring onion medley which, basking in the oil from the meat above, had been well seasoned with coriander, ginger and the kick of fresh chilli. The risotto was well portioned and thoughtfully plated; by which I refer to my life-long inability to knock-up an attractive rice dish! Instead, the asparagus contributed a little colour to the plate's overall aesthetic and punctuated the decadently creamy rice with an adequate crunch. I felt that the garlic content could have been elevated somewhat and yet, this is simply due to personal taste, (no vampires on me folks!)

It's fair to say that we were suitably impressed so far – not only with the gastronomical element of the evening but also with the efficient yet friendly disposition of the serving staff who altogether enhanced the relaxed atmosphere of the space. Despite being rather full up, mum and I powered through to the dessert course, rather taken with the lengthy menu of cheeses from which to choose the basis of your cheese board. Mum selected an Irish Ardrahan which, sourced from the neighbouring Arch House Deli, was honey-coloured to the eye and flavoursome to taste – its fragrant bite perfectly contrasting the sweet chutney that neatly crowned the fruit and cracker assortment. I opted for a diverse ensemble of sticky-sweet maple and pecan ice cream and tart raspberry sorbet, both of which had been made on the premises and delivered their flavours in bursts upon the palate. 

In conclusion, I'd certainly recommend the Primrose Café as a dinner-time domain (or, in fact, for any occasion) and without the incentive to visit courtesy of the Clifton FoodFest, I may well have remained amongst those who consider this fantastic spot an ample choice for lunch without ever learning of its after-hours alter ego! I think badging an establishment as a café can sometimes skew one's perception of its intentions...not to mention its opening hours! That said, perhaps with incentives like the Clifton FoodFest, the public will further experience the Primrose Café’s culinary expertise which is undoubtedly of restaurant quality; professionally delivered yet affordable. Couple that with the great service and pleasant surroundings which pull in scores of Cliftonites each and every day and you'll realise that there's a lot more to this Bristol go-to than meets the eye! What's more, the Clifton FoodFest doesn't end until Sunday 13th April so you still have a whole week in which to take advantage of the numerous money-saving meal options available in and around the village. What are you waiting for? Try somewhere new today! 

And now for the second option....
Mum gave the Primrose Café a rating of 10/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'impossible to fault'. Praise indeed.
For more  information about the Clifton FoodFest, including a full listing of the participating eateries and the deals that they're offering, click the link above.