Restaurant Review: Number 12 Tearoom

 photo 2014-03-12133535_zpsde638408.jpg A few months ago I was spending some time procrastinating and reading Groupon deals when I came across an offer I couldn’t resist. This result in myself and Libby ditching revision one sunny Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago and treating ourselves to a pretty bargainous afternoon tea.

Our voucher was High Tea for Two – we paid £12 for this instead of the usual £30, which we thought was excellent value. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t worth £30 (in my mind Canterbury is pricy as we get loads of tourists who do actually pay the full price!) but for £12 it was wonderful and I’m searching Groupon for deals like this in the future!

 photo 2014-03-12133659_zps4a371a7c.jpg We were brought out a huge pot of tea (we got three cups each, and they kept offering more), and then a three-tiered stand with all kinds of yummy things…

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 photo 2014-03-12135007_zps966dc185.jpg I’m one for doing things in the ‘proper’ order so we started with the sandwiches. We both avoided the Tuna & Cucumber, but devoured the others. I was a bit dubious about the Cheese & Chutney as I am not the biggest chutney fan – its often a bit sweet and I don’t find it the best partner for cheesy. However this was quite savoury, there wasn’t too much of it, and it went well with the local sourdough bread. The best though (and probably THE best sandwich I’ve had in a long time!) was the Ham & Mustard. I’ve now developed a love for mustard, and I’ve had to include the extra picture – just look at how thick that ham is!

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 photo 2014-03-12135516_zpsc0676df7.jpg The next tier was the scones. I scored the plain scone (dried fruit is not my thing at all), and after a quick debate of ‘cream then jam’ or ‘jam then cream’ we got stuck in. The scones were crispy on the outside and fluffy within – only problem was they were so big I couldn’t finish mine. Not when there was another tier to go…

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 photo 2014-03-12142816_zpseb3ce93b.jpg I’d been eyeing up the top tier since we sat down, the cakes are always the best bit in my opinion. These didn’t disappoint. There was a slice of Victoria Sponge each – I thought it was a nice touch that this included a different flavoured jam to that served with the scones. Then there was a few little bits to share. First was a Gypsy Tart, which was lovely although very sweet and virtually impossible to share as it was so gooey. I’m tempted to try and bake a version myself though! Finally we finished with a very small piece of brownie – thankfully it was small as it was very rich.

 photo 2014-03-12134046_zps1b70aa94.jpg Eventually we left, very full, to spend some quality time with the Boots make-up aisles…It was lovely to spend some time with a friend and relax for an afternoon. No chance of that now – exam timetables are up and its all systems go on the revision front for the next few months!

Have you ever been for Afternoon Tea?

Restaurant Review: The Red Lion, East Haddon

RedLion

A few weeks ago I visited this lovely country pub for my boyfriend (and his dad’s – December/January is an expensive time for me!) birthday. We ate over a Sunday lunchtime, although didn’t go for the ‘Sunday Lunch’ option as a full menu is always available as well as one roast joint.

For clarification – I was not invited to dine by the establishment, and have received no compensation for this review. All opinions are entirely my own and that of my dining companions. Images are from the restaurant’s website, as I didn’t want to use my camera at a birthday dinner. I did email asking for some photos, but the restaurant is understandably busy so I’ve just taken what I could find (after asking for permission of course!).

I was impressed immediately by the very warm welcome. We rang ahead to warn them of my tomato allergy, and on arrival I was given an annotated menu, with things I definitely couldn’t have crossed off, things that were definitely safe ticked, and items which could be altered also marked. This was definitely THE best allergy response I’ve had, so hats off to them! I was also seriously impressed by the use of local ingredients – they even just locally grown/made Northamptonshire oil for frying.

The restaurant/pub itself is very cosy. Smallish rooms (around 5-7 tables), with a lovely gas stove which I was lucky enough to sit directly in front of. I loved that the tables were big though – our table for four was large enough to spread out, which we were thankful for. I hate places where you are all crammed on a teeny table!

We were allowed plenty of time to make our choices, lingering over the bottle of red we ordered. No idea what it was (whilst I enjoy a glass, I’m not a wine expert at all) but it was rather good.

To start, others ordered the Battered Tempura Prawns, and the Scotch Egg. I went for a Duck Leg Hash.

Red Lion Egg

My hash was delicious. The idea of gravy and egg together isn’t one I’d have thought of, and to be honest even having eaten it the thought makes me want to vomit slightly. But it was delicious, and something I’d order again if I felt brave enough. If I was to be critical, it did lack duck – I’d have liked a little more for texture. Everything was perfectly cooked, with a wonderfully runny egg, and properly thick and meaty gravy. It was a massive portion though!

The verdict on the prawns was high praise – crispy and airy batter, a nice spicy and tangy sauce, and a good crunchy salad.

However the biggest case of food envy for the whole table was the scotch eggs. Perfectly crisp and perched on a punch mayonnaise dressing, they looked amazing. They looked even better when cut into, vivid yolk (the sign of good quality eggs) bursting out. I’d never had a proper Scotch Egg before, but I’ll look out for them from now on. I only had a bite, but I’m already craving another…

Onto mains, and the other three in the party all ordered the Slow Cooked Red Wine Beef, whilst I went for the Confit Pork Belly.

I didn’t try the Beef (it being one of the firmly crossed out items on the menu) but it was highly praised. According to others it was rich and melting tender, although one did comment it could have done with a kick or tang to the sauce. We were so impressed with this dish we are preparing to buy Ox Cheeks (the cut used) to make our own version.

My pork was, unfortunately, a rather mixed plate. The pork itself was delicious, and one of the best flavoured and textured bits of belly I’d eaten. The crackling wasn’t so good, and was in fact chewy to the point I was worried my mouth would stick together. Bacon-y vegetables were perfectly cooked and tasted delicious, once I picked out the burnt onions. Not sure if the burn was deliberate or not, but I’d prefer my veg without it. Having said all of that, I really did enjoy the dish – I think the quality of the rest of the meal may have made me slightly picky! And I was suffering food envy as I spotted the Roast Sirloin and Homemade Yorkshires over the other side of the room…

Despite already being full, we finished the meal properly with desert. I went for the Bailey’s Creme Brulee, and other choices were the Ginger Cake and the Doughnuts.

Red Lion Doughnuts

I didn’t hear much about the Ginger cake, but it was devoured and seemed to go down well.

My creme brulee had the perfect crunchy topping, and was creamy and light. The Baileys was only a light hint, for which I was thankful as it wasn’t as sickly as I had feared. The shortbread served alongside was excellent – really good, short and buttery. I could’ve taken a tin of this stuff home!

The star of the show was the Doughnuts. Served in a brown paper bag, searing hot and with a pot of runny jam, they were amazing. Very obviously freshly cooked (and in fresh oil too!), I can honestly say this was one of the best desserts I’ve ever sampled. Again I suffered from food envy.

I can’t comment on the price of the meal as a whole as I didn’t see the bill, however I felt menu prices were reasonable for the quality – you can view the full menu on their website.

All the way through service remained friendly, and I left unwillingly (though partly because it was cold and wet outside, and I’d fallen in love with the stove). I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch at The Red Lion, and wouldn’t complain if I got the chance to visit again. I’m currently working out how to get to one of their Sunday breakfasts (a full fry up, papers, tea/coffee and Radio 2 for £7 – my idea of a perfect weekend morning!), something I definitely want to experience, so I hope it won’t be too long before I return. Until then, I highly recommend this restaurant (and their Valentine’s menu also looks amazingly good, with plenty of dishes I’d love to sample!).  They also have wonderful looking hotel rooms, the kind I’d love to stay in for a romantic short break, and run a cookery school which comes highly recommend to me. So much to try! Let me know if you do visit this wonderful place – a hidden gem in Northamptonshire!

Have you visited a nice restaurant lately?

Square Meal

Restaurant Review: Mexican Night Out at Wahaca

This is going to be a very odd kind of restaurant review. Mainly because it will not focus on one visit to the restaurant in question, but several, and so will skip over all but the most outstanding points about the service received. It really is a foodie post, but a foodie post is well deserved by London restaurant chain Wahaca!

 

I can’t quite remember how we discovered Wahaca, but two summers ago me and the boyfriend first visited their Covent Garden restaurant, and were immediately blown away. The service is friendly and quick, the food absolutely delicious, and the prices more than reasonable (which can’t be said for most places around Covent Garden!). I can’t say its the perfect place for a date, as eating some of their tacos can get a little messy, but its the perfect informal night out for friends, families, established couples, or if you want to see whether your new girlfriend actually can stand to look less than perfect in front of you. On that last point – I once read a book where a man took his future wife to Nando’s for a first date as he wanted to see if she was afraid to get messy. I like that idea!

Anyway, we’ve had an almost 100% satification rate when it comes to eating out at Wahaca. In fact, the one meal that wasn’t brilliant (and to be honest, it was the worst kind of meal if you understand me!) was dealt with amazingly by staff, and I have utmost confidence in the company. I would recommend them unreservedly!

 

What I’m going to do is run through some of the items I’ve eaten, and what I loved. There’s pictures of a few things, but not of everything (I’m too greedy to wait!). I will point out that some pictures will have half-eaten dishes in the background. This is because Wahaca bring things out as they are ready. A strategy I like, in that food is fresh, but if you want to control the timing and pace, I suggest you order a few dishes at a time. We did this at our last visit (to the Charlotte Street restaurant, which is great on a summers night, and offered the best service ever!) and it worked well. Throughout this post I will also give a quick guide to eating at Wahaca when avoiding tomatoes, although please bear in mind you should always double check with your waiter, as recipes do change.

First of all, you can’t book a table at Wahaca, so at the busiest restaurants you can be waiting quite a while to sit down. We’ve never waiting for longer than 15 minutes, although I have read reviews of people that have, so do bear that in mind! While you wait you can generally perch in the bar area and enjoy a delicious cocktail. For those of you not drinking I highly, highly recommend the Virgin Mojito – so good!

When you sit down, you’ll be asked if you want any nibbles while you read the menu. We always go for Frijoles and tortilla chips. Wahaca’s Frijoles are basically refried black beans, and are probably one of my favourite things in the world. I crave them virtually constantly, although luckily have managed to recreate a close-ish version, a recipe that I will share soon. Wahaca’s tortilla chips are also very good, freshly fried and crisp, and perfectly seasoned. But the Frijoles are definitely the star, I’m getting hungry just thinking about them! Mmm…frijoles.

2013-06-25 18.23.53They aren’t exactly the prettiest of foods, but they are so good! They are dark, creamy, and rich, but feel quite good for you (which I highly doubt they are, really!), topped with crema (which is a not-so-sour kind of soured cream) and then some crumbled salty cheese. I’ve heard on the interwebs that they used to come topped with cubes of chorizo, but I’ve never seen this on the menu.

Also pictured above is my favourite drink at Wahaca – a virgin Mojito. I try not to drink when I’m in London, as often I’m an hour plus away from home/bed so its really not a good idea (as otherwise I’d be having a proper Mojito!), but this is lovely and refreshing, with lots of apple, mint and lime. Also good is the traditional Horchata, a rice milk drink flavoured with cinnamon.

 

Now, what should you order? We’ve mainly ordered street food in the past. I’ve had one dish of the main menu, and that is the one that caused the bad experience, so we’ll skip over that as the thought still makes my stomach turn slightly. Don’t let that put you off though, as it was a delicious dish and I hope I’ll be able to try it again at some point!

So, street food. It comes in a couple of categories – tacos, tostadas, tacquitos and quesadillas. There is also the Wahaca selection, which is a preset deal of various dishes. I would suggest this for beginners (who don’t have a tomato allergy!). Then there are ‘Street Food Specials’ which change with the seasons.

First, I’m going to discuss the Street Food Specials, and will also mention Wahaca’s Southbank Experiment. It’s impossible for me to give you an up-to-date review of the specials, but they are occasionally repeated so I’ll give you a brief low-down on what I’ve had in the past. A couple of years ago they did fried squid rings with a chipotle dressing, which were amazing crisp, and for a non-seafood restaurant pretty spectacular. No idea if the dressing was tomato-free as back then I was still risking small amounts of tomato. There were some delightful pulled pork tacos with a tomatillo salsa, which were absolutely stunning – just the right amount of texture, and a huge spicy kick. I loved these! Also a variation on pork tacos, the Pastor’s tacos (pictured below) served this spring were well received. Chunks of pork, various other things, although with a pineapple salsa was definitely refreshing, although I found that anything more than tiny dices of pineapple was a bit too fruity for my taste. On the non-tomato-free front there was a kind of spaghetti/noodle dish that didn’t receive huge praise from my boyfriend – I think it was quite spicy, served quite hot, but didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the food.

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Onto the Southbank Experiment now! This is a teeny tiny pop-up style restaurant in shipping containers, in a great location, with a great atmosphere. It includes most of the regular menu, but also some experimental dishes which may end up in more restaurants if they get enough likes – this is where the pulled pork tomatillo tacos were born. Out of the many dishes I’ve eaten at the Southbank experiment, one stood out hugely. It was a sharing platter, included taco ‘shells,’ some green rice, some frijoles, and then a hot casserole pot full of spicy, warming, perfectly flavoured pulled stewed steak. This was absolutely delicious, the best thing I have EVER eaten, and something I would love to see on the menu. Wahaca take note!

Now, tacos. At Wahaca tacos don’t come in those horrible hard shells that are impossible to eat. They come in thin, mini tortilla wrap style things, which you can bite through and not lose (all of) your filling. Yum yum! The selection is – pork pibil, chicken tinga, a steak one (with or without cheese), a cactus and courgette concoction (which I cannot wait to convince my other half to try) and a plantain one. Out of these, my stand out favourite is the pork. It might run down your arm, but it sure is good! Drooling a little just thinking about it… The chicken tinga is very tomato-ey, so obviously I avoid it. The steak isn’t my favourite, mainly due to the texture, and I positively disliked the plantain – mainly because I had it in a sweet taco at the Southbank once and loved it served with salted caramel, chocolate and peanuts!

Excuse the bad photos, I was too busy wanting to get stuck in, but here are some pork pibil tacos

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Toastados are something that I’ve never been particularly keen to try, however I sneaked a non-boyfriend (sorry W!) visit to Wahaca in with my dad recently and we tried the seafood ceviche version. This was lovely and light, with a great kick, and seemed perfect for summer – I will definitely order again!

Onto taquitos. These are tortillas filled with a filled, deep fried, and topped with a crema dressing and some salad. I ask for these without salsas to avoid tomatoes, but unfortunately they are better with.  I love, love, love this dish! The tortilla is lovely and crunchy, the salad still makes it feel healthy. Both versions are delicious – one is a potato one, and the other is a seasoned chicken – not as spicy as a lot of things, but a great dish for starting out with Mexican.

Finally, quesadillas. I must confess I’m not the biggest fan of these, as I find them too rich. However the broad bean and potato version is quite light, gooey with cheese and reminds me a little of a pizza – I do enjoy it, but not at the expense of some of the other amazing things Wahaca serves up!

That’s my street food selection – if I was choosing I’d say pork pibil, both tacquitos, and a seafood ceviche, followed by a quesadilla if there’s room. You can order a pre-set selection, but obviously with my allergies that’s out!

Now, what you must absolutely, no arguments, do is order pudding. Churros to be specific.

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These are Mexican doughnuts, dusted with cinnamon, and dipped into either a dark chocolate sauce, or a rich salted caramel (my preference). Definitely save room for these, as they finish a meal off perfectly. And if you have even more room, the tequila hot chocolate is pretty good too!

So if you are near one and feeling a bit peckish, I thoroughly recommend Wahaca. The food is spicy and sharing-friendly, making it great for a gathering. And the prices are equally as good – the only time I’ve ever spent more than £35 on a meal for two (which in central London, eating so much your boyfriend moans about how full he is, isn’t bad at all!) is when I had a £50 voucher to burn, and ended up supplementing my meal with goodies bought from the shop in Charlotte street.

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Mmm, Wahaca food at home…and that’s a blog post coming soon!

Has anyone eaten at Wahaca? What would you recommend?

Square Meal

Strawberries, Sunshine, Sightseeing and a Show: Romantic Mini-Break in London on a Budget

Many, many months ago I had to deal with one of the worst aspects of being in a relationship; what to buy them for Christmas/Birthday. This is made all the worse by my other half very inconsiderately having his birthday at the beginning of January. So two presents in just a few short weeks. This stretches both my pocket and my brain, as I do generally want to treat him to something special. For the first year, I went generic male present with a watch and wallet. The year after was his eighteenth, so I found 18 little meaningful (I hope!) things. This year I cheated and moved away from the tangible goods (see, I did learn something in Economics lectures!) and went with an experience. I booked tickets to see the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory musical (which, by the way, is fabulous and if you get a chance you should definitely go!), and a hotel in Covent Garden. I say hotel, I mean a travellodge. Well, student budget and all… Anyway, this trip was taken over the last few days, so I thought I’d blog about the experience, blog about interesting things to do in London, and hopefully offer a few tips on how to survive a few days in London without spending too much money.

 

First of all, transport. We (or I) booked our train tickets from our home town wayyyy in advance. Well, about 8 or so weeks ago. Doing this meant we got a excellent deal, but it did mean we were limited to exactly timed trains. But it saved us a lot of money, and I think it worked out to be around £3.95 each way, per person. A generic one-month return is generally around £25, so we saved a considerable amount of money. I recommend any young person gets a 16-25 rail card. Mine has more than paid for itself (I only have to do two journeys to the boy’s university to make up what I my parents paid for it). Then look around for the cheapest deals, and try to book as far in advance as possible. A trip to the boy’s, with railcard, costs a scary £56+ booking the same week of travel. Booking in advance I have managed to reduce this to under £40. However, train prices for next year seem to have skyrocketed, and currently I am less than impressed at the prices, even for trips in September. I also recommend you follow 10 Ways to Have More Money As A Student Without Working, as they often have deals whereby you can gain vouchers to use on Red Spotted Hanky, a train-booking site. I prefer this site, as they don’t charge booking fees (ahem, trainline) and it is free to have tickets delivered to your address.

For the tube, it IS pricey. The standard travelcard for zones 1-2 (which is generally all you will need, unless you want to visit Stratford shopping centre) is £7-something, which is quite frankly ridiculous. But, if you first state that you have a railcard, you can then get a card covering all 6 zones, for £5-something. Definitely the cheapest and most flexible option, although the ticket machines don’t exactly make it easy for you to find it!

 

For where to stay, I’m not sure you could beat the Travellodge in London. The prices in the area are just extortionate, with the only other affordable options being hostels where we’d be sharing a room. Not exactly romantic if you know what I mean…
I booked the Covent Garden travellodge for around £47 for one night, with an additional £1.50 cancellation insurance. This turned out to be far better inside than out (the exterior of the place looks, to be honest, pretty horrible and grim!), which a very welcoming reception area (although the self check-in machines did annoy me slightly – I do like to talk to a real person occasionally!). The room itself was spotless, the bathroom not so. It was clean, apart from the bath which needed a good wash before I used it! The room was also lovely in its decoration, and smelt very fresh. And we got this view, what more could we want…?

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It was a surprisingly quiet night for a stay in the middle of London, with an exceptionally comfortable bed. Even with my recent bout of insomnia, I managed a good bit of sleep. Recommended, particularly if you want somewhere close to Covent!

 

Now, for food; a romantic dinner for two. Please, please, please; whatever you do, don’t just turn up at a restaurant as you will pay a fortune. Look around, find deals, book in advance. I spent a long time looking for a nice pre-theatre menu. There are some lovely ones out there, but unfortunately with an allergy to tomatoes I was so limited in choice I decided against them. Instead I found an offer at Cafe des Amis, a lovely restaurant just off Covent Garden. I was first introduced to the place by my dad late last year, and really enjoyed the food. And this offer was far too good to pass up; two course, a glass of proseco, for two, for a grand total of £28. It had to be paid for in advance, via Paypal. And as I have £5 credit on my account (a joining incentive if I remember correctly) this made it even better value for money. I duly paid for and booked a table, and then slobbered over my laptop as I stared at the online menu. I’m notoriously known between friends and family for taking a long time to decide what to order, so I started in advance. It definitely made the decision easier on the night!

For my starter, I went for a crab risotto, topped with scallops, and served with a lemon-caper butter sauce.

risotto

This photo isn’t mine (for credits see the end of this post – I must say it is far better than any I could have taken!) but it definitely shows the delicacy of the dish. Mine was topped with rather less green stuff, although I still picked it off – I don’t like restaurants who insist on garnishing like this, as I find it rarely compliments the dish. The risotto was wonderful – rich, creamy, sweet and fishy, with a fabulous bite where the rice had been perfectly cooked. The sauce disappeared beneath the other aspects of the dish, but it wasn’t missed. The scallops, however, were definitely the star of the show. Cooked to absolute perfection, they melted in the mouth and were no-where near the chewiness that tends to put me off ordering them. A fabulous dish, one that I truly loved.

My boyfriend opted for a ravioli, of spinach and ricotta, with a sun-dried tomato dressing. The dressing was very sauce-like, but apparently it tasted great. For obvious reasons I didn’t try the dish, and nor have I managed to source a photo. I also failed at finding a photo of his main; roast rump of lamb, with buttered green beans, pomme mousseline, and lamb jus. I have eaten this dish in the past, and I can confirm is is utterly superb and well worth a try.

For my main, I went for the venison medallions on a grain mustard mash, with a shallot and port jus. The menu advertised buttered salsify; I’m not sure if I received carrots instead, but whatever the vegetables were, they weren’t cooked enough and were far too crunchy. Again, this photo is not mine, but its very accurate to what I received. The meat was perfectly cooked, I definitely prefer how French restaurants cook meat (never overdone, if anything under what you ordered – so if you don’t like blood order well done). I love my meat almost running around the field, so it was perfect for me! The venison was also perfectly flavoured; this was the first time I had eaten it, and I will definitely order again. The mustard mash was a little too strong for my liking, although it worked extremely well with the sweet and sticky jus. Another more-than-satisfactory dish.

Venision

We declined pudding, and then had a bit of embarrassment when asking for the bill – we knew we had nothing left to pay, just the service charge, and this confused the waitress slightly. If you do this, I recommend ordering bread at the beginning, or an extra drink, so that you have more than the service charge to pay!

Service was excellent, if a little too fast. The atmosphere was lovely and romantic, until the adverts came on the playlist softly playing in the background – this spoilt the mood immensely, although it was quickly restored once the music recommenced. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, but would I pay full price? Probably not. My two courses, both the most expensive choices, were £11.50 and £24.50 – so we made a huge saving. Previous meals there have been using a Taste Card, which meant 50% off the food bill. In my opinion, prices are too high normally, but with the commonly-occurring deals, its a place well worth a visit as it is truly lovely food.

 

Obviously, I have only discussed one meal so far – and there are obviously many more that need to be eaten if staying in London more than a few hours. So,  eating in London on a budget. A restaurant (sort of chain, there’s only a handful of restaurants, all in/around London) that I LOVE and that is affordable is Wahaca, and this will feature in a blog post of its own over the coming weeks. If you’re staying overnight, particularly around Covent Garden, I heavily discourage you from choosing to add a breakfast to your hotel stay. In the travellodge we were offered this option for £7.95 per person. I decided to send the boy out in the morning to one of the many local bakeries (we went for the Balthazar Boulangerie, attached to the restaurant) for pain aux chocolat and croissants. These were superb, far better than any I have eaten before.

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He also came back with a fabulous full-sized baguette (the total of this came to, I believe although he didn’t divulge, just under £10 – a bargain for the quality) which would make up the bones of our lunch. We had originally planned to visit a food market to buy additional bits for a picnic. But it was a Tuesday, and we were struggling to find one within an acceptable distance, especially with our outdated A-Z street map. So instead we popped into an M&S and had a browse at their new/improved picnic range. I have to say, there is a huge amount of stuff I’d love to try in the range, but we went for the basics – a chorizo selection, and a punnet of strawberries, for the grand total of around £4.50. We went and sat in Green Park, in the rare English sunshine (I even managed to take my cardigan off…) and ate baguette torn with our hands, and chorizo, then fed each other strawberries, each grimacing at the icky display of public affection we were taking part in. It was a wonderfully romantic picnic, and incredibly cheap (far cheaper than two eating out at McDonalds!) for the amount of food we got. So, if in London on a budget, buy a picnic!

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Now, for “things to do”. We could have gone really cheap, and visited (like the child inside me wanted) the free-entry science museum. There’s a whole host of free museums to take advantage of, but for us the weather was too nice to stay indoors.

After coaxing me up from the grass where I was soaking up the sun, my boyfriend decided he wanted ice-cream. After reading the Londoner’s review of an interesting ice-cream parlour place in Camden Market, I knew it was the perfect place for us to visit. Chin Chin Labs offers yummy ice-cream to satisfy me, weird machines and chemicals to (hopefully) keep my wonderful nerd of a boyfriend entertained (I lie, we’re both a little bit like that…)! The decor is nice and minimalist, with fabulous chairs (I love metal ones, my fashion sense of skirts disagrees as they were a little chilly!). The menu is also minimalist – a choice of four ice-cream flavours, with about 3 sauces, and then maybe 8 toppings. As soon as I walked in, I fell in love; they GRILL white chocolate. Mind is still boggling at that! We quickly decided to go for the specials (vanilla and chocolate flavours and permanently offered, with two specials per week) – I had “Strawberry and Hay” and chose a topping of the aforementioned grilled white chocolate, and W (the boy) went for “Griddled Peach” topped with a pistachio and cardamon crumb. The peach is dairy free, which was amazing as upon tasting it was so creamy, so I’m planning to take my dairy-free mum to London just to introduce her at some point. I couldn’t decide which I liked loved more. The staff pour the right amount of mixture for one serving into a KitchenAid mixer (my boy was already excited – I think it’s a lifetime ambition for us to own one in our future house, though we currently argue over what colour) and whilst it is mixing add liquid nitrogen. There is a lot of gas which is released at this point – not to worry as you don’t consume any. Or if you do then its a negligible amount. But its worth it for the ice-cream! Its then scooped into a bowl, and the topping of your choice added. At £3.95 for each, its not cheap. But this seemed to hit my pocket less hard than the £3.50 ice cream cost in the theatre the night before. It was definitely worth it, for the portion size, the smoothness of the ice-cream (the nitrogen isn’t just a gimmick, it prevents ice-crystals forming and makes the smoothest mixture imaginable), and the unique flavours. Whoever discovered the strawberry and hay combination needs a pat on the back, for it was simply gorgeous, and I hope I will get to try it again! The grilled white chocolate was a complete revelation, and my only regret is that I didn’t have enough cash (they don’t take card payments) to purchase a bag of it. Or a truckload. So good, and I will be back!

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of Chin Chin Labs, although I have emailed them to ask if they can supply any, as I’d love to show you the experience a little more fully. I did however manage to get this picture:

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That is clearly the face of a boy who has tried something that has change his life (I like to think he looked like that when he first met me!). As we were eating our ice-cream, in the hot sun, on freezing chairs, we noticed a board outside the neighboring shop. It was advertising Chocolate Bacon. I think if I’d have refused to go in I’d have been leaving London on my own! The shop was called Mighty Fine, and they make chocolate and fudge on-site, where you can view the production process. There was a lot of fudge to sample and chocolate to try, but we only had eyes for one thing, the chocolate bacon. At £1.50 per rasher, I’m glad it wasn’t me paying, but it was a delightful mix of salty and sweet, and worth it! Be warned, more than one rasher and you will be ill, as it is rich, but it is also delicous. We washed it down with one of their homemade ‘slush puppies’ which reminded us of our youth, but a lot better – this was a lemonade ice base, topped with a choice of either raspberry or passionfruit coulis. We went for raspberry, and it was immensely pretty (I insisted on carrying it) and very refreshing. A must on a hot day, and on a par with the rest of the drinks prices in Camden Market.

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As for completely free-activities, I so recommend walking along the Thames. I love it, especially along the Southbank. It’s fabulously touristy, without having to dodge them (as in Oxford Street), you get fabulous views of the city, discover hidden gems (there’s many nice restaurants, and they’re noticeably cheaper on the north side of the river), and on a hot day like yesterday there’s a cool breeze which was very much welcomed. There’s the street performers in Covent which are well worth watching, although the acts are getting old (the same man has repeated the same performance over the entire length of mine and the boy’s relationship), and general window shopping to do. Camden is great for a wander round, but not with a suitcase. I also aim to head over to Portobello Market for a browse, and visit Primrose Hill for the view at some point.

 

For the more extravagant, you may want to see a show or musical. I highly recommend Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but it obviously depends on taste – we’re a couple that are just two kids at heart, and we loved it. The scenes and props were utterly magical, the acting and singing superb. Another excellent product is War Horse, we have seen it twice (it really is that good) and I would also recommend the Bodyguard. A word of warning, don’t take a tall boyfriend into the balcony unless you have booked aisle seats. He will have to sit squished and folded up for several hours. One advantage of having short legs I guess!

 

So that’s it, my guide to doing London a little more cheaply. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d happy hear them – I’m always open to new cheap ideas for days/nights out!  For now I’ll leave you with one of the views across the Thames (taken a few months ago, hence the winter coat modelled by the photo-bomber…)

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Feature image courtesy of Love of London.

Cafe des Amis images from Food Spotting, and Holly Hearts Food.

Restaurant Review: Dinner at Zizzi Market Harborough

Italian restaurants are, surprisingly, some of my favourite. I say surprisingly because I’m actually severely allergic to a key Italian ingredient. Trust me, a tomato allergy is very limiting. However despite this being a key ingredient, it is easy to avoid in Italian cooking. Either dishes have tomatoes or they don’t. None of this ambiguity you find in other types of cooking (the amount of British stews and pies containing tomato puree really annoys me!).

Out of Italian chain restaurants, both ASK and Zizzi are close to being my favourite. ASK has the slight edge in that they don’t practise excessive use of herbs. Pizza Express doesn’t even come close. Anyway, I visited Zizzi in Market Harborough last Thursday for my sister’s birthday;

 

To start, we shared a ‘large’ portion of calamari, and some garlic bread.

I love love love calamari. The best I’ve ever had is either the baby squid at ASK (although seeing them whole is a little off-putting) or the spicy squid at Jamie’s Italian in Brighton. Zizzi’s was also very very good; served so piping hot it burnt, very very crispy, and with a creamy dip that had a good lemony kick.

The garlic bread at Zizzi is also very good, soft, buttery, and garlicky without that dreadful aftertaste.

 

For mains, I chose the Penne della Casa. Other mains on the table were Rigatoni con Pollo e Funghi, Sofia Rustica Pizza, Zizzi Fish Stew, and the Pork Belly.

My main was delicious, although not without faults. The chicken was beautifully soft and flavoursome, the spinach perfectly cooked, the cheese wonderfully goeey and stringy. The sauce was very nice, although far too thin. The biggest let down was the bacon; it was extremely fatty, and didn’t taste of anything. It was also a very off-putting highlighter pink colour.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t try the other pasta dish, the pizza or the fish stew. The other pasta dish was apparently let down by the extreme use of rosemary. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the other dishes, they were both wolfed down by the male members of our party.

The Pork Belly was the source of my food envy. Described as “crisp slow-roast belly of pork on spring greens sautéed in garlic butter” it was a huge piece of meat, served on top of a massive portion of green vegetables. No starchy-carby sides were provided, although they were not needed. The pork was seasoned beautifully, and cooked to absolute perfection. It was falling apart, yet still tender, succulent, and had wonderfully chewy and crispy edges. The greens still had a good bite to them, and were lovely and garlicky. This is definitely the dish I will order next time!

 

We didn’t order desert, and instead ate birthday cake. However due to a big delay in our mains arriving (there were multiple Christmas parties taking place) we were given a free bottle of Prosecco which went down very nicely.

The food was a little over-seasoned, but the staff wonderfully. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.

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Restaurant Review: Wined and Dined at ABode Canterbury

Now, this post is going to be slightly odd seeing as it’s on a student blog. Decent food (and I mean amazingly good food!) is wayyyy out of my budget, but for my birthday my lovely boyfriend treated me to an rather posh meal at quite an exclusive restaurant; certainly one of the best I’ve eaten in.

Before I start gushing about the food, a little complaint about my age. Nineteen sounds so old! I’m 20 next year, and in just 13 days I’ll have to say “I’m 21 next year” if asked that question. Just as long as, with the help of Loreal, my hair remains blonde, I’m happy.

Right, food.

I was lucky enough to be taken to ABode in Canterbury, a Michelin accredited restaurant in the city centre run by Michael Caines (the chef, not the actor). It is definitely up there with some of the best meals I have eaten; only one other strikes me as being memorable throughout my lifetime. Unfortunately due to restaurant rules I was unable to take photographs of the food, so I’ll just do my best to describe it.

We were warmly, if rather oddly welcomed. It was assumed when we arrived that we weren’t diners, despite our smart dress. I guess they don’t see many of their clientele being students! There was also a confusion with the booking, and as a result the menu we requested was unavailable.

We were seated quickly, and presented with a basket of fresh bread and butter. There were three types of bread; a white with sea salt; a brown with honey; and a sun-dried tomato. I tried the white and the brown, being unable to try the third (although apparently it was good). As this was the first bread I’d had in a good couple of months, I wasn’t in a fit state to take any of it in. It was very, very nice bread.. We made our food choice over the bread, choosing from the set lunch menu.

For me, my starter was probably the highlight of my meal, despite the eyelash it came adorned with. It was a pan-fried fillet of mackerel, served with potato salad and salsa verde. The mackerel was fried to perfection, beautiful crispy skin (no soggy bits at all!) beautifully flavoured, wonderfully salty and almost sweet flesh, and nearly all of the bones removed. I was cautious about the potato salad, but this was nothing like the pot you buy in Waitrose in the summer. This was a three tier tower of tiny diced potatoes, very al dente, with pickled vegetables. I enjoyed the pickled ‘something’ – a flat and very thin disk, which was crispy and well flavoured. I enjoyed the onions, and even the tiny mini-florets of pickled cauliflower. But despite my enjoyment of radishes in other dishes, I really disliked these. Maybe that was me. The entire dish was perfectly balanced, and I really enjoyed it.

My boyfriend’s starter was also very well received. He ordered cauliflower soup nervously; neither of us enjoys that particular vegetable. He was even more nervous when presented with a bowl of, admittedly quite nice looking, cauliflower florets. No soup to be seen. Disaster was averted when it was poured in via a jug at the table. This soup was some of the best soup I’ve eaten. I actually enjoy the taste of cauliflower, it’s the texture that spooks me. Soup is clearly the remedy for that, and I may consider buying it and making some soup next term. The cauliflower ‘croutons’ aside, I’d have happily eaten this.

 

The mains came perhaps a little too swiftly after the starters. But again, I’m being demanding and picky.

My boyfriend fell in love with his dish; pork fillet, with various vegetables, apple sauce, and some kind of jus. It certainly looked pretty, but I personally wasn’t a fan. However, I really dislike fruit in my main course; cranberry sauce with my turkey (and I don’t eat turkey more often that every five or so years) is my limit. For me, this dish was too sweet, but everyone else I witnessed eating it seemed to think differently to me.

My dish was very very close to the standard of my starter, and I really enjoyed it. I had ordered Wild Mushroom Risotto, with a Nutmeg and Parmesan Foam. The risotto was perfectly seasoned, both creamy and light, and the rice was cooked nicely. I would have perhaps liked more mushrooms, or perhaps more mushroom flavour, but I make my own risotto very strongly flavoured, so this is more personal taste. I had always thoughts foams a bit pointless; surely its just a bit air-like, and surely it would get cold quickly. I was wrong. This added a perfect strong flavour, and sort of melted into the risotto, making it even more creamy and luxurious. I would definitely order this dish again! However, one thing let it down; the garnish of cress felt like something a pub-restaurant would add, and for me its bitter flavour spoilt what was otherwise my dream dish.

 

We were left alone for a considerable time before ordering desert, for which I was grateful. We ordered two deserts, with an agreement to halve each. The first was a lemon tart, with raspberry coulis, lemon peel and various other adornments. For me this was a little cloying, but I had fallen in love with our other desert. The second was a white chocolate mousse on hazelnut biscuit with more raspberry coulis. I found this more delicately flavoured, with enough texture to keep it interesting.

 

Having read though my post, it actually doesn’t sound like I am praising the restaurant much – which is not the impression I want to give! In fact, it was by far ahead of many meals I have previously eaten, and definitely on my list to visit again. It was an amazing birthday treat for which I am extremely thankful, and I enjoyed the food immensely. Cress and eyelash aside. And hopefully, I’ll be taken back there again, or to other amazing restaurants (hint hint!)

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