May the torch be with you…
Bristol holds...the Olympic Torch!
22nd May 2012
Those who know me are aware that aside from eating-out, my other (perhaps rather more productive) past-time, is getting my sweat on in the gym. And, having been a self-proclaimed gym bunny for a good decade or so, it’s fair to say that my love of athletics extends beyond the sweaty four walls of Fitness First – so much so in fact that anticipation of this year’s Olympic Games has grown into a full blown obsession. Yes, I have the count-down clock as a bookmark on my computer desktop, I have booked two whole weeks off work this Summer to sit in front of the telly-box and my girl crush on Cheryl Cole has subsided in favour of Heptathlon great, Jessica Ennis. But surely for us Brits, the most exciting thing of all is the fact that – all together now – “it’s coming home”! OK, I know we’re not on a par with Athens but this is undoubtedly a once in a lifetime, blink and you’ll miss it occasion whereby Great Britain will be hosting the most spectacular sporting event of them all. And, if the efforts of our top-notch athletes isn’t reason enough for a little patriotism, the fact that they’ll be running/cycling/swimming/pole vaulting (and so much more) upon home turf surely must be...Come on, dust off the bunting you have left over from last year's Royal Wedding and show your support for Team GB!
So, with this relentless enthusiasm in mind, I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to learn that witnessing the arrival of the Olympic Torch in my beloved home-town was hot on my to-do list; clearing my schedule from 17:38 so to facilitate watching it pass through Hanham High Street – the sleepy town in which I spent my childhood – whilst basking in the festivities unfolding within Millennium Square. Here, the torch would be later ‘set-down’ before continuing its journey into Cheltenham the following morning. Prior to this however, my working-day was punctuated with sightings of the torch growing ever closer (via the live feed on the BBC's website) and identifying the torch bearers who had been nominated to take part; delighting in the fact that four would be representing said workplace, as UWE Bristol students and staff. That said, the arrival of 16:00 provoked a swift exit and, after noting the buzz of the commute towards my initial destination, I fought my way through the increasing bustle to reach my viewpoint of the Stonehill to St. George stretch. It was really rather surreal to see my former stomping ground projected around the world via the the wonders of modern technology and yet, I concluded that the choked-up pride that I experienced was a result of the response of its inhabitants whereby people (my parents included) had lined the streets in their hundreds and each shop, café and pub along the way, had been adorned with a Union Jack. Speaking of which, I had become rather aware that I too had dressed myself in appropriate attire; though, the red, white and blue of the ensemble I had subconsciously selected in a haze preceding my 8:00am coffee hit really wasn't intentional....honest! And so I stood with my face turned up towards the glare of the sizeable screen whilst Millennium Square became busier still in anticipation of the climax of the day's procession. And, whilst several sporadic hot air balloons sailed past overhead - as an emblem of the city's heritage perhaps - British Paralympian, Blaire Hannan, lit the cauldron to a roar of applause. The unbroken sunshine and hubbub of activity never taking away from one's appreciation of what ultimately constituted a historic occasion.
And how does all this fit in with a blog dedicated to gastronomical pleasures I hear you ask...well, it doesn’t actually but given the intermittent picnicking which took place between the coverage of each stretch of the route, the red, white and blue sprinkles added to my Angel Berry fro-yo and later, finding myself with a caipirinha in each hand courtesy of the two-for-one cocktail offer until 7:30pm at Las Iguanas, I can just about justify this post! Incidentally, it will also explain why Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails will inevitably go AWOL come the 25th July; for, some may not understand the gravity of this particular occasion, or think that the Olympic Games are a waste of tax-payers pennies but for me, its an event that showcases the talent within our Country and inspires others to go 'that extra mile' – and, for these reasons and so many more, I will be backing Team GB with an energetic passion all of my own.
Bristol Does...Foodies Festival (24th, 25th and 26th June 2011)
The beginning of Summer initiates the onset of Bristol's festival season and, despite a recent bout of bad weather, the sun certainly shone on the first 'Foodies Festival' to take place within the Harbourside area; an ode to the region's top producers and chefs. For me, this meant an indulgent weekend of great food and drink; snaffling all the freebies I could get my hands on, meeting a whole host of like-minded foodies and being able to see some of Bristol's finest chefs in action It also allowed me to get some hands-on experience in the form of food and drink master-classes. I opted for wine tasting and chocolate sampling which I will talk to later...but first of all, let's turn to some of my top picks of the producers who were out in force with their, often, award-winning wares...
Two of the most popular spaces were of a particularly boozy nature – the 'Coeur de Cognac' Lounge allowed you to sit in style whilst sampling the fruity cognac over ice (which, I was informed, had been re-packaged for a younger audience). This was served alongside a 'petite delice' – I think I actually preferred the bite-sized cookie to the alcohol though unfortunately! That aside, my highlight in this area was provided by the guys at the Hendricks Gin tent who were offering miniature gin and tonic samples – apparently four of these would constitute a full measure and so, when I reached my tenth, I thought it best to call it a day! With vintage-clad characters, a wonderfully odd levitating cake and a bath full of iced gin, cucumber and rose petals, the randomness tantalised it's visitors whilst accentuating the brand's unique rose and cucumber infused flavour – which, for the record, is both refreshing and crisp. Whilst we're on the subject of alcohol, I purchased a bottle of Celtic Marches' 'Number Nine' which, named after the sacred number of the Celts, consists of brandy liqueur blended with apple and blackcurrant – lovely over ice, hic!
To mop up what was becoming a rather alcohol-fuelled weekend, I treated myself to a number of tasty snacks; the hot-dog I bought from 'The Great British Sausage Co,', although being encased in too much bread, was interestingly flavoured with apple and Chucklehead cider. Also, on the Saturday, I took home 'Pure Spain's' Gold Award-winning olive jam, which, generously applied to some fresh sourdough, is truly divine. Another favourite was the bounty-inspired cupcake from 'The Little Round Cake Company' which combined a perfectly textured sponge with a rich chocolaty flavour and a coco-nutty frosting which although made a terrible mess was wonderfully moreish! As well as this, the 'Noa' tent, fronted by some the smiliest people on the site, offered some really scrummy Japanese cuisine, it was therefore the obvious choice for a spot of lunch. The edamame was simply prepared but hot, fresh and delicious with a delicately salted finish - this alone made me want to book a table at their restaurant in Clifton Village for something a little more hard-core!
In the Chef's Theatre, I was pleased to be able to watch Vincent Castellano cooking the 'Tongue and Cheek' dish that I had feasted on just weeks ago at the 'All Things Pig...2' dinner. I also attended an informative wine-tasting master-class whereby knowledgeable ambassadors from the 'Love that Wine' website talked their eager participants through a line-up of Radcliffe wines; from a crisp, bubbly prosecco to a sophisticated Chablis to a full-bodied Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Although an excuse for yet more complimentary tipples, the encouragement of audience interaction and a reassuring affirmation of personal taste made this a fundamentally enjoyable experience. Finally, lovely chocolatier Fiona Sciolti ran a master-class regarding her botanical chocolates which are created using seasonal ingredients, (including fruits, flowers and herbs) often from her own garden. Guests at this talk were allowed to sample the exquisitely-tasting elderflower and lemon truffles that we watched Fiona prepare using a local cream and honey (each with it's own anecdote). This was a lovely half-hour and despite the sticky heat, I could have stayed twice as long – with my sweet tooth, I will certainly be keeping this lady on my foodie radar!
In conclusion, Bristol Foodies were treated to a weekend's worth of top nosh and as much alcohol as one could stomach! In terms of the region's current festival scene, I'm sure the Foodies Festival wasn't as lavish as Glastonbury but at a drop in the ocean in terms of the price-tag and for a tasty experience with lot less mud, it certainly made my weekend!
Bristol does...The Royal Wedding
I love a good wedding and ever since William and Kate announced their upcoming nuptials, I have been planning how I would celebrate their day, making the most of Bristol's sense of community and joining fellow revellers in whatever festivities had been arranged. As the day grew closer, it was apparent that there was so much to choose from – with, it seemed, every restaurant, bar and café advertising some kind of Royal Wedding themed knees-up. Consequently, apart from deciding to watch the initial build-up from the comfort of my own home, (with a bucks fizz brunch to boot) I thought I would document how the rest of my day unfolded as well as sharing my experiences of Bristol's response to the Royal Wedding extravaganza!
So, Friday 29th April arrived and the festivities were supposed to kick off with deck chairs at noon at the Millennium Square area of Bristol. But alas, due to the aforementioned alcoholic brunch and, of course, not wanting to miss that all-important first kiss of the newly-weds, I just couldn't tear myself away from my own television until early in the afternoon by which time, it seemed, that the party in the City Centre was well and truly over! The Harbourside Market had all but packed up, the deck chairs cleared and revellers dispersed – there wasn't a Union Jack in sight!
Nevertheless, the girls and I met, kitted out in patriotic colours and headed to the Pitcher and Piano for an introductory tipple. Two of us had voucher codes for a free 'Tiki Twist' and after a long wait at the bar (made slightly less frustrating by the friendly service) our cocktails were served. I was disappointed that despite the tropical vibrancy of it's green-colour, the 'Tiki Twist' was predominantly made up of pineapple juice and as refreshing as this was, the cocktail was somewhat lacking in the alcohol department. We swiftly moved on to Swinky's Sweets where the lovely staff fuelled us with traditional lemonade and bite-sized ice cream cones with a taster of their delicious home-made ice creams, (I chose lemon curd which was as tangy as it was creamy – heaven!) We felt slightly more patriotic after these long-standing British treats and made our way up Park Street to The Botanist. On the way, we noted the distinct lack of red, white and blue – seriously, where was all the bunting?!
The Botanist, however, was buzzing and we even spotted some flag-waving merrymakers, hurrah! Also, the live music was soulful and constituted some pretty convincing talent. That aside, we were a little disappointed that there were not any drink-offers in affect, neither was the two for £10 pizza deal available despite being advertised as such on the menu. (For the record, we ordered pizza regardless and it was very tasty with fresh, high-quality ingredients set on wood-fired crisp bases.) From here, we moved on to The Woods which had their two-for-one cocktails deal in operation – a friend and I ordered 'Bombay Brambles' (the two cocktails have to be the same) which were expertly made and a snip at £6 for both. This particular cocktail , served in a high-ball glass, combined Bombay Sapphire Gin, Lemon Juice, Gomme and Crème de Mure, (blackberry liqueur to you and me!) This made for a refreshing, fruity muddle of flavours with a crisp bite – I could have gone back for seconds but managed to resist!
By this stage, the evening was in full-swing and the girls and I had all but forgotten the day's prior proceedings, (only my wedding-style attire, complete with fascinator hinted at the root of our night-out!) After a couple of rounds of Jenga in All in One (a lovely little bar with the nicest staff you'll ever meet), the girls and I headed to the jewel in the crown of our evening: a secret bar of which I cannot divulge much information. All I will say is that should you stumble across this establishment, you will not be disappointed. With 1920's vintage chic décor, a cocktail list offering the most unique concoctions Bristol has to offer and formal yet friendly table service, it really is a gem – also, I challenge you to try and find the secret room...few have succeeded!
So, as it turned out, a good time was had by all and despite the lack of Royal Wedding-themed festivities it had been quite a day. Bristol may not be able to celebrate a Royal Wedding in style but it can certainly offer a great night out and after all, when you're in good company, who needs bunting anyway!?
*Pitcher and Piano - http://www.pitcherandpiano.com/
*Swinky's Sweets - http://www.swinkysweets.com/
*The Botanist - http://www.thebotanistbristol.co.uk/
*The Woods – Tel: (0117) 925 0890
*All in One - http://www.allinonebristol.co.uk/
*Hyde and Co. - http://www.hydeandcobristol.net/