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!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Pizza Express, Bristol Harbourside (The Express Lunch Menu)

As a household name and with approximately 400 restaurants located country-wide, the chances that you've experienced Pizza Express in at least one of its varying capacities is incredibly likely. Yet, you may not be aware of the brand-new Express Lunch menu which is currently being trialled from Monday to Friday in selected outlets. The intention is to deliver light, tasty and affordable fare within the confines of one's lunch-hour; a concept which I'm confident will appeal to the masses of nearby businesses given the multitude of office-types that dashed past the window, pre-packed sandwich in hand, whilst my lovely mum and I enjoyed a far more civilised affair. 

Date and Time: Thursday 8th May 2014, 13:00 
Name of Establishment: Pizza Express* 
Location: Unit 1, Building 8, Harbourside, Bristol, 
Reason for Visit: An invitation to sample the 'Express Lunch' Menu 

Settling at our aforementioned table-for-two with a view, M and I noted the light, airy quality of the space. The rain, which had soaked us on route from the centre, became a distant memory in light of the friendly service and a rich, buzzy ambiance; the latter constituting the establishment's varied clientèle and the hustle and bustle emitted from its open-plan kitchen. That said, I have to mention the mix-up that occurred upon our arrival whereby it transpired that our reservation had been all but lost as the online system had crashed. I therefore had to explain the purpose of my visit – basically, that I had been invited, on a complimentary basis, to sample the Express Lunch menu in return for a comprehensive review – rather uncomfortable for those involved and not at all a case of...do you know who I am?! Awkwardness aside, our server (Kasia) was both amiable and efficient; guiding M and I towards her favourites from the menu and encouraging us to begin with drinks and olives, (not that we took a lot of convincing). You might say that, a bold Merlot (£4.35) for M and a crisp Pinot Grigio spritzer (£4.75) for yours truly wasn't particularly in keeping with the return-to-work role play we had undertaken – yet, in reality and seemingly unlike a lot of our fellow diners, we had the luxury of time given that we didn't actually have to return to a workplace – win!
On to the menu itself and options which are priced from as little as £3.45. The soups - Tomato & Basil and Roasted Butternut & Parsley - were not available during our visit and yet, coupled with the venue's signature dough (hand-rolled, slow-baked and served with garlic butter), would no doubt satisfy a smaller appetite, (though perhaps not entirely suit an afternoon with any form of one-on-one contact...hello garlic breath!) 'Romanita' pizzas and lunchtime salads have also been appropriately portioned to typify a hearty snack as opposed to a hefty nosh-up. Both M and I opted for one of the new Piadinas (£4.95); the self-proclaimed 'pick of the bunch' comprising the venue's famous dough which is baked with Gran Moravia cheese, sliced and filled with a multitude of fresh ingredients. I chose the Italian Meat Piadina which had been layered, rather liberally, with cured Finocchiona, Milano, Coppa, light mozzarella, sun-dried tomato, rocket, pesto and finally, drizzled with a good quality olive oil. The explosion of flavours which ensued proved perfectly balanced in terms of texture and taste – not to mention, absolutely delicious! M decided upon the Chicken Avocado Piadina which was as equally well-received. We also shared a portion of polenta chips (£2.35) which, sprinkled with parmesan and plated alongside a punchy honey and mustard dipping sauce, were the perfect accompaniment to our Piadinas – though personally, I'd advise against sharing if your appetite allows! 

At present, the a la carte menu is offered in addition to the Express Lunch menu which I thought may compromise the speed of delivery in terms of the dishes that we ordered but I'm pleased to say that this wasn't the case. That said, the open-plan kitchen meant that M and I could ogle at the chefs in action; the frantic duo managing the workload admirably. Though had the restaurant proved any busier, I think they may well have struggled. 

We concluded the afternoon's eating with a 'mini dessert' each to accompany our cappuccino; for me, the Double Chocolate Espresso Torta with its bitter-sweet ganache and crunchy biscuit base and for M, the home-made Chocolate Fudge Cake which, served chilled, wouldn't have necessarily been my bag but was nonetheless, exactly as billed and, I’d suggest, thoroughly enjoyed! Moreover, for an extra £2 when ordering a hot drink, these not-so bite-sized puds are fantastic value for money and an ideal way to round-up a lighter-lunch for those with a sweet tooth! 
All in all, I'd suggest that the Express Lunch menu has achieved exactly what it set out to do. Although larger appetites remain catered for as per the a la carte menu, the initial objectives have almost certainly been met via a ‘light, tasty and affordable’ assortment of dishes. Plus, although on this occasion, M and I had time on our side, we agreed that we could have easily tailored our visit to adhere to the confines of one’s working-day; altogether owing to our prompt server, the hard-work of those in the kitchen and most importantly, the appropriate simplicity of the lunchtime fare. If only I could move my office into the hubbub of the city centre from its secluded Bristol suburb in order to ditch my home-made sarnies in favour of the appetising alternatives contained within this nine-to-five-friendly menu! 

And now for the second opinion...
Mum gave the Express Lunch menu a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described the fare as, ‘perfect lunchtime cuisine’.


Friday, 2 May 2014

Sizzling Pubs – The Blue Bowl, Hanham

Given the multitude of Sizzling pubs across the UK (‘Sizzling’ being a trading name within the Mitchells & Butlers franchise), it proved rather coincidental that I was invited to sample the newly-launched Spring menu at the Blue Bowl in Hanham; a pub so often frequented during the throes of my childhood (post drinking-age I’ll hasten to add) given its proximity to my parents’ house. Over the years, I’ve witnessed this establishment undergo a number of changes; transforming from its historical stance (as a pub dating back to the 1300s; notable even, in the Doomsday Book) to Brewer's Fayre favourite;'The Mill House' and back again before its most recent re-launch as a Sizzling pub. Since the onset of the latter, I simply hadn't gotten around to visiting; that is, until a timely RSVP on my part denoted an evening within the parameters of my old stomping-ground – an evening which unfolded as follows…

Date and Time: Tuesday 29 April 2014, 18:30 
Name of the Establishment: The Blue Bowl (Sizzling pubs)* 
Location: 178 High Street, Bristol 
Reason for Visit: An invitation to check out Sizzling Pubs' brand new Spring menu with a collection of my nearest and dearest in tow! 

My initial thought upon arriving at this venue was that, although remaining mindful of its roots, those at the helm of the Blue Bowl’s development had weakened the character of this pub in favour of a well-furnished, contemporary space. Although my dining companions and I were reasonably educated in regards to the history of the pub and the surrounding area (noting, with interest, the escapades of local tyrant, ‘Dick Boy’ from the guide which made its way to our table) we agreed that, nowadays, this is an establishment intended primarily as a restaurant; the focus on affordable fare constituting an air of accessibility whereby families can eat-out alongside those merely in the market for a drink or two. Prior to this visit, I’d anticipated a Wetherspoon-style domain but despite the comparable 'daily deals' (Sweet-tooth Tuesday anyone?) and the discounted drinks which blink before the eyes of visitors to the website, this really didn’t feel like a cheap and cheerful boozer. In fact, I found myself pleasantly surprised at the quality that ensued; both in terms of the overall ambiance and the drinks/dishes which materialised over the course of the evening. It’s worth noting here that the menus for the Blue Bowl are standard Sizzling pub menus and are available, on the large part, within its equivalent eateries throughout the region - we’re talking family-friendly pub grub with options to suit every palate.
Multiple Menus
Although there was so much to choose from (you might say, almost too much to choose from), the majority of our party opted for one of the four basic ‘Sizzling Skillets' which we found to be fresh-tasting, attractively-plated and great value for money. The chicken fajitas (£6.99) were delicious; the chicken itself appropriately-seasoned and served amongst a medley of onion and pepper upon a sizzling skillet, (what else?!) Apart from the fact that the onion seemed to dominate the ensemble, the remaining aspects of the dish were suitably portioned – namely, guacamole, grated cheddar, jalapeños, chunky salsa and sour cream – which you could pack into amply-sized tortillas however you fancied! The tortillas themselves would have benefited from a little heat prior to serving but all in all, this was a satisfying dish which I’d definitely order again. The chicken and black bean skillet (£7.49) and rump steak fajitas (£7.99) were also well-received and the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich (£6.95) demolished before I’d even had chance to ask its recipient any questions in regards to its execution! If actions really do speak louder than words however, I'd suggest that this was also a win! 
Chicken Fajita Skillet: Steamy!
Chicken and Black Bean Skillet

At the bar were all the usual suspects, though a thoughtfully composed wine list led me to an Oyster Bay Chardonnay which particularly appealed due to my new-found affinity with New Zealand plonk. And, at £3.99 for a medium glass (175ml), I felt compelled to re-run the fun in terms of my initial order; the second glass complementing dessert with its delicate lemon-meringue flavoured undertones and smooth, creamy finish. My Corona-drinking pal took advantage of the two-for-£5 bottled beverage deal and it was noted that real ale fans can choose from several on-tap varieties; Butcombe Gold the drink of choice on this occasion for the beer-lover in our midst.

There was no attempt whatsoever to resist the the dessert menu; each of us opting for a 'Spectacular Sundae', (£3.69). Unfortunately, I seemingly drew the short straw given that the cookies and cream creation proved rather ice cream heavy; the cookies somewhat solid rather than soft and chewy as a result of their frozen milieu. The profiterole sundae looked rather more appetising, though not quite as 'spectacular' as the brownie and popcorn sundae which stole the show with its warm, chocolaty chunks of brownie which effectively punctuated the ice cream content with its rich, gooey appeal. Hey, how about a sweet skillet including the likes of toasted marshmallow and grilled banana served alongside a hot chocolate dipping pot?...No? Just a thought! 
In conclusion, my friends and I thoroughly enjoyed our Sizzling pub experience; the Blue Bowl is comfortable and relaxed; the service excellent and the food entirely exceeded our expectations; both in terms of its delivery and content. The menu is a bit of a mine field in that the plethora of dishes -starters, sharers, sides, 'ultimate' eats, extras, favourites, light-bites, deals and swaps - can be a tad overwhelming. It does also beg the question of how the kitchen copes with having to prep and execute so many varying plates. That said, there were no complaints in relation to the culinary aspect of the evening on our part which, for the price, was altogether applaudable. The history of this pub may well read of scandal and unrest but, if that's the kind of establishment you're after, its best to look elsewhere! Instead, this is an ample choice for din dins and drinky poos* that won't break the bank – recommended. 
Just so you know...
And now for the second (collective) opinion...

My dining companions agreed upon a rating of 7/10 for Sizzling Pubs' Spring menu and summed up the fare as 'generously plated sizzle!'


*Private Joke!