February 2018 marks the 7th anniversary of my eating adventures and, as ever, I'm excited about what the coming months will bring for us foodies! In case this is your first visit (if not, welcome back), I'm a 30-something female with a very healthy appetite!...I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café or bar in which I set foot...so, let's go out!

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Wok to Walk, Park Street

I can't be the only person that spends the majority of their time at the gym thinking about food...Given that I'm always running towards the promise of a rewarding carb hit, I consistently seek out post-workout meals which will appropriately refuel my 'temple' in terms of all the necessary nutrients whilst satisfying my craving for a satisfying nosh-up. Wok to Walk* ticked both those boxes; offering a multitude of options for assembling a hearty Asian stir fry.

Date and time: Friday 31 July 2015, 19:00 approx.
Name of Establishment: Wok to Walk

Location: 39 Park Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Appropriate ‘après-gym’ replenishment

With branches internationally - from Bulgaria to Mexico - Wok to Walk's ethos for delivering a tastier takeaway equals fresh ingredients, home made sauces and routes to suit any diet, be it gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian or vegan. All dishes are also free from MSG so there are no synthetic highs or raging thirsts to suffer in the hours after your final mouthful! Now, I've said takeaway but you can also opt to dine-in; the seating, arranged rather generously throughout the space, is appropriately casual in terms of its design - think benches and stools rather than tables and chairs. The décor follows suit whereby a cheery orange colour-scheme contrasts pastel tiles and wooden panelling. My dining companion and I perched adjacent to the kitchen so that we could watch our food being prepared; observing with interest, the noodles being weighed-out and our chosen ingredients combined with hypnotic precision!

Service is both breezy and efficient; friendly without being overbearing and attentive enough to ensure that our chosen dishes made an entrance a mere five minutes after placing our order at the counter. I opted for wholewheat noodles with broccoli, baby corn, mixed peppers and roast duck breast; the latter proving rather fatty in places but tasty nevertheless. I completed my ensemble with the Bali sauce (a flavoursome peanut-based dressing with a touch of spice) and a topping of peanuts...clearly I needed the protein! My dining companion chose similar ingredients but opted for the Tokyo sauce which, containing Teriyaki and sweet soy, was labelled a firm favourite. You can opt for rice or simply vegetables instead of noodles and a whole host of other ingredients including bamboo shoots, mushrooms, beef fillet and tofu. Prices are variable depending on what you add to your base (which is £3.95) so my creation came in at around the £8 mark. Portions are decidedly humongous; whereby your chosen ingredients are packed tightly into noodle boxes which you can attack with chopsticks or a knife and fork if you are lacking in dexterity like I am! A small range of drinks are available at the counter and desserts are pretty much non existent; though I'd suggest that there isn't a lot of demand for the latter given the food baby that I harboured well into the evening of my visit!

Overall, I reckon that Wok to Walk have really hit the nail on the head with their simple concept for healthy yet hearty fast food. Service is great, prices are reasonable and the fare is both delicious and conveniently speedy! This may well be my brand new go-to for those evenings where a combination of the office and the gym has rendered me useless in the kitchen...A state which, if I'm honest, I often find myself in...Wok on!

And now for the second opinion…
My dining companion gave Wok to Walk a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described the fare as; ‘quick’, ‘delicious’ and ‘varied’.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Filini - Radisson Blu Hotel, Broad Quay

Situated within the Radisson Blu Hotel which towers over central Bristol, Filini offers Italian fare from 12:00 noon each day. With specialty dishes based on Sardinian cuisine and classic cooking techniques fuelled with quality ingredients, I had high hopes for the Sunday brunch that I had booked for my dining companion and I via Groupon*; bagging a voucher which entitled us to three courses, plus a glass of vino each for under £20; bargain.

Date and Time: Sunday 17 May 2015, 12:00 noon
Name of Establishment: Filini*
Location: Radisson Blu Hotel, Broad Quay, Bristol
Reason for Visit: The lure of one of the many daily-deal websites and the budget blowouts that they allow for.

Ascending the stairs to the first floor where Filini is situated - after touring the bar area in search of other diners (which unsurprisingly, we didn't find) - we were pleased to be met with a smile by the restaurant's waiting staff. Whereas those in the bar had ignored us completely, we were greeted warmly and efficiently informed of the rules of our deal by the server assigned to our table-for-two. We were seated in a prime location for people-watching; the panoramic views of Bristol's centre proving the clear USP of this establishment whilst, crisp lines and a maroon colour-scheme seemed to lend to the space a sophisticated air. That said, familiar attributes synonymous with a hotel culture well and truly boxed Filini within the bland camp; take the 'easy listening' soundtrack for example, or the artificial foliage at every turn - hence, nothing too offensive but all a little predictable!
Antipasti wasn't nasty...
A staple Student Special?!
Our 'house' vino arrived and I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the rosé which was deliciously fruity and rich on the palate. I'm assuming that this was the Conto Vecchio Pinot Grigio Blush given that it's the only rosé that can be purchased by the glass; nevertheless, it appropriately complimented our starters which we assembled ourselves from a buffet of antipasti. If I'm honest, I wasn't expecting brunch to be a 'self-service' affair and yet, you could say that this was just another of those aforementioned hotel-habits that I really should have anticipated! You can't really go wrong with cold meats, olives, grilled vegetables and salad; all of which were fresh and plentiful. A lively ensemble of breads and oils constituted a tasty accompaniment to both first and second courses; the flat bread seasoned with salt and rosemary proving a particular favourite for me. On to the mains and let's first discuss the two primary issues with help-yourself hotel dining...Number one; food items left to rest upon hot plates are partial to dryness and number two; dishes made 'en masse' are typically of a lesser quality than those executed on an individual basis, (true story). As a result, I would describe the dishes comprising the main event as a little hit and miss - the haddock, served with an orange reduction and seasoned with fennel and black pepper was arguably the star of the show given its melt-in the mouth appeal and delicate balance of flavours. My dining companion preferred the chicken which had been roasted with lemon, thyme and artichoke and we both enjoyed the seasonal green vegetables (though these ran out rather quickly) and spring pea and ricotta risotto; the latter's creamy consistency just about making up for its questionable appearance! And on that note, that is where the positives end; although the chicken was tasty, it was extremely salty, a failing also true of the rosemary roasted potatoes that were in fact so salty, they were decidedly inedible! The 'Penne Pasta Bolognaise' proved disappointingly banal and the sausages were anaemic to the eye and although they just about passed in terms of taste, could have definitely benefited from a good deal longer in the oven.
Sponsored by Sodium?!
Desserts didn't fare especially well either - the Tiramisu, if you can describe it as such, was probably the worst attempt I've ever encountered due to the distinct lack of coffee (well, and booze if you're going to do it properly)  It was basically an over-frothed mass of synthetic cream and flabby sponge with a hint of something syrupy-sweet that if truth be told, remained unidentified. Luckily, the lemon mousse was quite the opposite with its fresh citrus zing and smooth disposition. The bite-sized brownies were a touch dry but the mini cheesecakes were simple yet appetising – I think I managed at least four! I washed pudding down with a cappuccino which, despite being well-made, almost certainly contained full-fat milk rather than the skimmed variation that Id asked for.

In conclusion, a real mixed bag in terms of the fare which was spot-on in places and seriously lacking in others. My dining companion and I overheard our neighbours rather openly discussing their (similar) sentiments which does seem a shame given the hotel's decision to showcase their restaurant using Groupon as a means to getting bums on seats. In other words, they are sharing these shortcomings with a multitude of people who have dined at a subsidised rate and as such, may be reluctant to return at full price, (which amazingly, comes in at over £20 a head). Incidentally, they may not also be so diplomatic in their response. I mean, I took awhile to peruse the dinner menu, considering the notion that when made to order, dishes could be executed to a better standard and attractively plated, particularly in light of the ingredients which have, without doubt, been thoughtfully sourced. I did wince at the £11 price tag for a Pizza Margherita however but for now, my judgement beyond the botch-up with brunch remains undetermined so, until then...
And now for the second opinion...
My dining companion gave Filini a rating of 6/10 and drew from her experience the following three words; 'salt, salt, salt!' I mean really...we were re-hydrating for the rest of the day!


* http://www.groupon.co.uk/vouchers/bristol

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Marshfield Farm Ice Cream

With the great British summertime drawing ever closer, what better opportunity to be afforded than a trip to Marshfield Farm. A trip whereby the female (and unashamedly sweet-toothed) members of my family joined me on a tour of the factory, dairy and farm; discovering the concept of 'cow to cone' which concluded (well...and began) with a generous sample of every flavour - yes, all 28 - from Marshfield's award-winning range of ice cream, frozen yogurt and sorbet.

Date and time: Saturday 2 May 2015, 11:00am
Name of Establishment: Marshfield Farm
Location: Chippenham, SN14 8LE
Reason for visit: An access all areas invitation to Marshfield Farm...a.k.a. An all-things-ice cream experience. Yes please!
Kids on the Cow-ch
Driving up the single-track road towards Marshfield Farm has become something of a pilgrimage for ice cream enthusiasts Nationwide. The demand for this top-end dairy ice cream (made since 1988, with organic milk produced each day from the farm's 200-strong herd of Friesians), generating the need for an ice cream parlour; one that opens its doors each weekend from April-September. This is a friendly, rustic space which focuses on the main event without the need for glitzy decor or gimmicky flavours. In essence, we're talking all the fun of the farm - ride-on tractors and scooters for the kids, a milking cow (affectionately named Howard by my eldest niece) and a chance to meet the latest additions to the herd...so cute! Ice cream can be enjoyed by the scoop – or as part of a sundae if you're feeling especially adventurous - and is also available to purchase to take home in various quantities and flavours...
Milking 'Howard'
More later on what is, without doubt, a tantalising array of flavours but for now...Trussed up in our white coats and hair nets, owner Dawn Hawking showed us around the factory. It's amazing how the entire process from milking to packaging takes place pretty much under one roof and with only 40 members of staff running the show, ice cream from Marshfield Farm can be enjoyed throughout the UK and beyond. For instance, we were informed that the ice cream served in the Sharm El Sheikh branch of the Hard Rock Café would come from the very room in which we were stood; which is pretty incredible given the artisan feel that emanates this rather modest space. We learned of the six-hour stabilising process to ensure that the ice creams' consistency remains intact and also how a food technologist scrutinises the ingredients in order to guarantee that they fulfill the criteria which underpins the company's all-natural ethos. Thus, chocolate brownies are sourced from nearby Marshfield Bakery, fudge pieces are from Devon and fruit from the Vale of Evesham. As a result, all products are created without artificial colours, flavours and preservatives and are free from hydrogenated palm oil. The perfectly pink appearance of ‘Succulent Strawberry’ for example, is derived from beetroot rather than any of the nasties you may well find elsewhere. Furthermore, all Marshfield products are suitable for vegetarians, most are gluten free and all are GM free – win! We discussed how new flavours are trialed and I can reveal that there are some fantastic flavours in the offing for this year's festive season, (watch this space!) along with some innovative creations - rich both in terms of texture and taste - intended to accompany dessert in a restaurant setting.
Can you guess which flavour this is?
The Big Chill

So now for those all-important flavours and it's fair to say that, for me at least, there wasn't one encountered that wasn't well received. That said, favourites included the 'Funky Banana' which was swirled with thick chocolate sauce and loaded with a generous measure of creamy fudge pieces and the 'Luscious Lemon'; a new addition to the range with a flash of zesty citrus...an ice cream with a palate cleansing quality which would suitably pair a rich pudding or, in our case, amply prep our taste buds for the next sample! My mum particularly favoured the ‘rich clotted cream’ and the variation of this which had been muddled with real blackcurrant pieces; confirming that the fruit here wasn't the usual freeze-dried variety that amounts to that unpleasant icy crunch! Of the flavours scooping a coveted 'Great Taste' award, the 'Mango Madness' proved a winner for us, the sweetness of the mango offsetting the tart of its raspberry ripple to perfection. The children, and the big kids amongst us (myself included) were also really rather taken with the Candy Floss Crush, it's strawberry milkshake style appeal reminiscent of sunshiney evenings from my childhood. In fact, this flavour was so unanimously enjoyed, that we took a whole 8 litres of it home between us...yes really! The frozen yogurt had been made with real yogurt rather than a powdered equivalent and established a vivid flavour and rouger texture as a result; tasty!
Decisions, Decisions...

Sundaes on a Saturday
Overall, it's fair to say that you can taste the quality with every flavour; the creamy disposition synonymous with the Marshfield tag makes for a thicker, more indulgent finish so unlike other (dare I say, cheaper) brands of ice cream that have been aerated to bulk them out and rapidly melt to very little, they hold their own. Hence, its unsurprising that Marshfield Farm have created something of a benchmark where real dairy ice cream is concerned and that visitors flock to their 'headquarters' in order to stock up their freezers. With giant 4 litre scooping tubs coming in at £15, 1 litre tubs for £4.50 and newfound 500ml 'sofa-suited' tubs at roughly £3.50, these are competitively priced alongside their peers. What's more, as well as the farm itself (which really is worth a visit), there are many outlets from which to source a variety of flavours - see the website for a full list of stockists. To finish, let me put to you the question that those at the helm of Marshfield's success have been researching (and in light of my recent review of Sundaes Gelato) which is; why choose dairy ice cream over Italian Gelato? I'd suggest that although Gelato is denser and supposedly more indulgent by default (due to the higher proportion of milk and lower proportion of cream plus a notably slower churning process), for me, its about the quality of the end product and the poignancy of the flavours; the latter often seeming to fall short when it comes to Gelato. Marshfield's ice cream can certainly not be accused of this shortcoming and neither can it be criticised for its composition...do the taste test for yourself, you'll see exactly what I mean...!
Rather than a second opinion, I will suggest that taming two under-fives with anything at all is quite an achievement. Consequently, the silence that ensued once they had a sundae each in-hand seemed to speak volumes...great stuff!

Homemade Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich...yum!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Ashton, Bristol

Formally the Dovecote – a Vintage Inn destroyed by fire in June 2014 – The Ashton officially opened on 3 April 2015 with a fresh, seasonally-inspired menu and high-spec refit... Invited to attend before the onslaught of the general public, my dining companions and I were treated to a comprehensive tour of the facilities before sitting down to the fantastic dinner that ensued…

Date and Time: Tuesday 31 March 2015, 19:30
Name of Establishment: The Ashton
Location: Ashton Road, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A complimentary two-course menu tasting, (otherwise known as an offer I couldn’t refuse!)
Upon stepping into The Ashton, it becomes apparent how much thought has gone into its new lease of life as a ‘concept establishment’ whereby a country-club style ambiance is the culmination of rustic wooden furniture, tasteful minimalism, roaring feature fireplaces and creamy-coloured décor. Our party were ushered towards the first floor function rooms; sinking into plush carpets whilst exploring the potential for private dining and corporate meet-ups. Although large tables and throne-sized seating may well limit the capacity of each room, we thought that this would not necessarily lessen their appeal given that the upstairs space is available to hire free of charge, (not to mention if a little manoeuvring could take place!) At our table, we sipped at our chosen beverages, selecting from a broad range of wines, beers and cocktails; our server directing me towards a Romanian Sauvignon Blanc which, as promised, was suitably refreshing; leaving a lemon-lime acidity on the palate. We nibbled at toasted chickpeas and edamame which had mysteriously lost their crunch – the rustic bread faring rather better; served alongside plump green ‘Nocellara’ olives, dukkah and a rich-tasting olive oil.
Crusted Brie
Our starters included the deep-fried crusted brie, served with apricot and cumin dipping chutney (£5.95) and the scallops of the day (£9.95) - the latter coupled with chorizo and jewelled with a vibrant pea purée. Although these were highly commended (and beautifully presented), we were collectively critical of the Portobello mushroom and truffle parfait (£5.50) which had been paired with a novel ‘beer jelly’. This established a noticeably unpleasant aroma with each mouthful and had been over-chilled; thus proving rather too ‘out there’ for its recipient who concluded that the dish was, quite simply, not to his taste.
Scallops of the Day
At this point, I should mention the service which was consistently on-point throughout the evening. Despite first-day nerves and minor teething problems, the staff we encountered were friendly and helpful; projecting a genuine sense of pride, especially in terms of the menu which proved extensive and diverse. Here, contemporary British fare is delivered with innovative twists and at times, experimental aspects which, if truth be told, were not always well-received and in my view, not entirely necessary. This leads me on to the main courses which arrived after a reasonable pause – the malted pear which accompanied the venison steak (£17.95) a perfect example of said experimentation; its obscure presence the only element of this ensemble that left its recipient cold. Others ordered the 28 day dry-aged Casterbridge rib-eye steak (£20.95) which, as per the venison, was amply executed; pink to the eye and tender to taste. Since the lamb rump (my primary selection) was unavailable, I opted for the slow-cooked pork belly (£17.95) which, although found to be a little fatty in places was oh-so-tasty – its ginger beer glaze establishing that lovely contrast between sweet and salt. In fact, beautifully juxtaposing both texture and taste, this dish constituted my top indulgences; melt-in-the-mouth scallops, creamy mash, crisp green beans and the salty scrunch of crackling – yum! That said, the addition of a Bramley apple and vanilla purée was perhaps a step too far; its fragile sweetness almost insipid and certainly not what one would expect to drizzle over what was otherwise a succulent hunk of pig!
Venison Steak

Initially unanimous in our decision to resist the dessert menu, my dining companions and I soon caved in the face of warm chocolate brownie, sticky toffee pudding and English custard tart (all £5.95) – the latter the only dish receiving criticism given its bland disposition and distinct lack of wobble, (which it's fair to say had been eagerly anticipated)!
Pudding Porn #1 : Sticky Toffee
Pudding Porn #2 : Chocolate Brownie

In conclusion,The Ashton is a comfortable, sophisticated retreat with a dynamic menu and service which suitably reflects the calibre of the space - a space which has been thoughtfully arranged in terms of its aesthetes whereby mood lighting and a subtle soundtrack (interrupted only momentarily by the fire alarm) resulted in an altogether enjoyable dining experience. As the majority of our dishes were received on a complimentary basis, the group agreed that we ordered without the usual financial limitations that might otherwise work against us. We therefore questioned whether The Ashton would typically be a venue we’d choose outside of that ‘special occasion’ remit. I mean, although it would be a fantastic location for a family celebration, anniversary dinner or a date with the wow-factor (take note guys), it’s not your average gastropub...which is fine of course depending on its intended clientèle. An affordable set menu could be the way forward here if it transpires that the top-end prices put people off. Personally, I have plans to return for Sunday lunch (based solely on the quality of the meat sampled thus far), plus for a spot of alfresco drinking given the picturesque outside space that overlooks the rolling hills of the nearby Ashton Court Estate. All we need now is a little summer sunshine to bring the latter to life…until then!
And now for the collective opinion…
Our group gave The Ashton a rating of 7/10 and in three words, suggested that those at the helm of its reinvention would be wise to, 'keep it simple'; losing those aforementioned quirks as the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves...


Monday, 2 March 2015

Sundaes Gelato, Baldwin Street

You’ve got to be pretty dedicated to your sweet tooth to indulge in ice cream prior to Sunday lunch and on the wettest / coldest day of the year thus far. And yet, I’d suggest that a trip to Sundaes Gelato is an advisable alternative to nursing one’s hangover from within a duvet cocoon given the absolute abundance of desserts on offer; the waffles, crepes, cupcakes, tray bakes and pastries (not to mention the gelato itself) undoubtedly making the typical Sunday morning get-up altogether worth abandoning.

Date and Time: Sunday 22 February 2015, 12:00 noon
Name of Establishment: Sundaes Gelato*
Location: 23-25 Baldwin Street, Bristol
Reason for visit: Well it certainly wasn’t to cool down on a hot day!

When it comes to first impressions, this emporium of sweet treats appears rather gimmicky; its colourful décor punctuated with neon signage and bulky red pleather seating. That said, your eyes are drawn, almost instantly, to the counter which makes for a pretty spectacular focal point given the array of ice cream, sorbets and frozen yogurt that you must painstakingly choose between.
After sampling about half a dozen flavours (whereby Tutti Frutti and Bounty proved strong contenders in the decision-making process), I settled on blue banana and white chocolate Kinder Bueno which was tastefully presented on a thick wafer ‘dish’ and scattered with mashmallows. This was an enormous portion for its £4 price tag which was a real plus-point given how niche an ice cream parlour is for us Bristolians and thus, how much more those behind this venture could charge us for the privilege of all all-hours dessert drop-in! The blue banana, besides looking like a liquidated smurf was a little bland in terms of its flavour but appropriately creamy nevertheless. I'd heard reports of the Bueno tasting rather like its duller, vanilla counterpart but I thought, with crushed wafer running through it, that it was spot-on and in fact, I could have easily managed a second helping. My partner in all things 'foodie' also chose two scoops; Jammy Dodger and Ferrero Rocher ; the latter advisable only if you really really like this particular chocolate, (which incidentally, I do not – pleh!) In short, I’d suggest that to be blindfolded and asked to guess between flavours would be an achievable feat, meaning that the many varieties have been accurately executed…anyone want to challenge me?! Waffles, crepes and sundaes (obviously) are also available and there are plenty to choose from – though the billed accompaniment is largely vanilla ice cream which is disappointing given the plethora of innovative alternatives available...I'm guessing that you can switch this up but I reckon it may well depend on who you ask given some of the stoney-faced servers that I spotted behind the counter...
This leads me on to the service which was passable in terms of efficiency and yet, not overly friendly – it was a far cry from nearby Angelberry where staff go out of their way to ensure that you make an informed decision when creating your fro-yo masterpiece! A distinct lack of enthusiasm here seemed to downplay the initial excitement experienced which, for me at least, was a real shame.

Furthermore, I was forced (by default) to order an espresso as a flat white could only be manufactured with whole milk. I guess it's assumed that indulging in vast quantities of dairy comes with the territory, but then again, my sensative disposition can stomach ice cream but not whole milk – thus the need for espresso which, if truth be told, was grainy and unpleasant. In any case, milkshakes and smoothies seem to be the drink of choice here and I noted all nature of concoctions being placed in front of their wide-eyed recipients!
In conclusion, Sundaes Gelato is fast becoming a popular hang-out for the city's masses; whereby its generous opening hours (from 7.30am-Midnight seven days a week) constitute a mixed bag in terms of its clientele; lending to the establishment an excitable ambiance...One which will undoubtedly fluctuate in the presence of sugar-fuelled infants or apres-alcohol teens. That said, a sizeable workforce ensures that the interior is well-kept and clean and I have no complaints regarding the gelato itself; though some of the flavours are arguably a little 'vanilla' and it would be favourable to introduce 'guest' or seasonal creations every now and again, (in case I make my way through the existing line-up, that is...) Dishes are well-presented and generously portioned; their value for money a huge factor in why Sundaes Gelato may well be my new favourite indulgence. Yes, it may well be a tad overrated, but I think that it has secured its appeal amidst our predominantly savoury city...which brings me back to that aforementioned Sunday lunch and the mantra that graces my fridge…’life is uncertain, eat dessert first’. Enough said
And now for the second opinion...
My sweet toothed companion gave Sundaes Gelato a rating of 6/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'sweet but lacking'.
Official website coming soon...
Food envy...?!