February 2015 marked the fourth anniversary of Canapés, Cupcakes and Cocktails 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!

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...?!

Friday, 12 December 2014

Bridge Café, Clifton – at Avon Gorge Hotel

Given my affinity with the snuggle-factor of Autumn/Winter fare (or in fact anything intended to give you the warm and fuzzies), I was delighted to accept an invitation to sample dishes from the new seasonal menu at The Bridge Café; a menu created by Head chef Marcus Bradley, who strives to keep dishes ‘as simple as possible [in order] to retain their authenticity’. Yet, innovative tweaks to what could otherwise be considered great British classics lend to the dishes a notable flair; serving-up a degree of style as well as top-quality comfort food.

Date and time: Tuesday 18 November 2014, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Bridge Café, Clifton
Location: Avon Gorge Hotel, Sion Hill, Bristol*
Reason for visit: An invitation to dine from the newly launched Autumn/Winter menu on a complimentary basis...a no-brainer really!

Appropriately named given its proximity to what is arguably Bristol's most iconic landmark (which, on this occasion, was majestically lit up against the night sky…and just a couple of weeks shy of the pomp of its 150th birthday celebrations no less), the Bridge Café is the long-running eatery within the Avon Gorge Hotel. Minimalistically furnished and intimately arranged, this is not a particularly sizeable space, especially if you're used to visiting in the summer time (as per my last visit) when the sliding doors are open to the elements; creating an airier, almost al fresco dining experience. That said, my dining companion and I were given a table-for-two with a view; that is, with an uninterrupted view of the aforementioned backdrop. Service was also warm and accommodating; demonstrating the perfect balance between attentive and unintrusive.
Eligible Edibles
We started with drinks, an aromatic (suitably Kiwi) Sauvignon Blanc for me and a Pinot Grigio Blush for my companion. We acknowledged the familiar Clifton price-tags, (nothing under a fiver here!) and yet couldn't resist indulging in a second glass as the evening progressed. On to the food and after feasting on artisan focaccia and seeded wholemeal, we moved on to a starter of Devon pan-seared scallops (£9.25) which had been attractively plated alongside crispy pork belly and cumin spiced carrot puree. Finished with an orange dressing, this was an exciting medley of flavours which were exquisitely contrasted in terms of texture and taste. In fact, our only criticism was that the scallops themselves appeared a little anaemic having not been finished with that signature pan-fried crust. After an appropriate wait, our main courses were served; for my dining companion, the Savernake Forest roasted breast of pheasant (£14.95) which was served, a little untidily, with (a generously sized) fondant potato, braised red cabbage and Crimbo-style pigs in blankets! A heady red wine sauce completed the ensemble; an ensemble that she described as, quite simply, delicious. I chose the chargrilled venison steak (£14.50) which was rich in taste and tender on the palate. The sticky port, juniper and redcurrant glaze was flavoursome yet not too overpowering – served separately to allow for as liberal an application as desired. Thus, it didn’t soak the game chips which actually masqueraded as latticed crisps; a welcome variation to thick potato wedges or skinny fries that you'd almost certainly choose between elsewhere.
This main's got game!?
You have no i-'deer' how good this was...!
When it came to desserts, I opted for the Bridge Café's take on the classic chocolate fondant (£6.95) which had been jewelled with marshmallows and scattered with blackberries. This was a thoughtful arrangement whereby the acidity of the fruit offset the sweetness of what were clearly homemade confectionaries, (I don't know about you but I can always tell when something has been baked with love!) and complemented the bitter-sweet chocolate which oozed from its cakey encasement. Its overall disposition confirmed an expertly executed pud! My dining companion chose the rice pudding (£5.95) which she commended for its decadently creamy consistency. She wasn't convinced by the poached pear which served as its slightly obscure accompaniment however, suggesting that this would have been better replaced with a compote of sorts. Instead, the pear proved somewhat overbearing given its intense aroma; you might say rather like an unwelcome smell in a confined space! The almond brittle just about made up for this shortcoming with its idiosyncratic crunch and burnt-sugar scent. Desserts were washed down with cappuccino which was a little on the cool side but drinkable nevertheless; not marring our opinion of the evening which had been on the large part, laden with positives. 
It didn't look this tidy for long...
Paying the price for rice that's nice!

Overall, my dining companion and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening at the Bridge Café. We thought that it was a little pricey and thus, suited to a special occasion rather than an everyday eatery and yet, weekly themed nights; Sunday evening’s Wine Night (50% off all wine and champagne when purchasing a main course), Wednesday evening’s ‘Pie Night’ and Thursday evening’s steak night for example, offers an array of affordable options to those in the know. Plus, with panoramic views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Avon Gorge, the restaurant really ticks all the boxes when it comes to the wow-factor - luckily both the service and the fare altogether follows suit.

And now for the second opinion…
My dining companion gave The Bridge Café a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described the venue as a a ‘special occasion must’.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

CAU, Bristol

There is always an element of excitement when a boarded outlet promises to unveil a brand new dining experience and passing CAU during its constructive stages was certainly no exception, particularly in light of the invitation I’d received to attend its launch. Epitomised by blue skies and grassy pastures, this is an establishment where an Argentinian undercurrent equals innovative fare; thick, juicy steak and punchy street food. Mouth watering? Then read on…

Date and time: Wednesday 13 August 2014, 19.30
Name of establishment: CAU, Bristol*
Location: 74 Queens Road, Clifton
Reason for visit: Complimentary carnivorousness!

CAU is an airy, open-plan space with contemporary furnishings and minimalistic décor – the acoustics have been carefully orchestrated so that well-placed lighting and subtle background music create an essence of sophisticated soul. My dining companion and I were given a table-for-two with a view given its kitchen-side seats. This even allowed for a little interaction with those at the helm of the culinary genius – whereby it became clear that the entire workforce were keen to showcase their knowledge of the dishes; encouraging us towards particular edibles and adorning our table with ingredients that had previously been foreign to us - chimichurri…who knew?! To start, we settled on the Salt and Pepper Squid (£5.95) which, thanks to a sprinkling of fresh chilli, established a little heat before the Chipotle Mayo brought its familiar burn to the palate. We also tucked into traditional Empanadas (£7 for two) which consisted of crisp parcels of rich-tasting Spanish chorizo blended with cooling cream cheese – delicious! Served with fresh tomato sauce, these are sizeable enough to share and, as you can mix and match the three variations, you needn’t struggle to agree on just one filling.
Empanadas - to share or not to share!?
What squid you say...?
Now this may come as a surprise to you but steak isn’t usually my ‘bag’ as (innuendo aside) I simply can’t handle a lot of meat! Yet, I had read glowing accounts of CAU’s ‘richly flavoured and wonderfully tender…grass fed Argentinian beef’ and found myself ordering the Lomito (£29.50), a 440g fillet of rump…well, when in the Pampas…! My dining companion opted for the Asado De Chorizo (£34.95); a sirloin steak in a churrasco marinade of smoked paprika, chilli flakes, garlic and parsley which was literally the size of my face! This wasn’t initially cooked to the requirements that he had articulated and yet, our friendly server (or CAU-boy) soon whisked it back to the kitchen and, after a passing exchange with the chef (who popped his head over the partition to address us directly), it re-emerged ‘pink…but not bleeding’ which was exactly the brief…win! I liked that the sides were served separately so not to interfere with the main event; you can choose from either chips (American-style fries or triple-cooked wedges) or salad to accompany your steak which altogether constitutes a mammoth-sized portion. However, try to leave some room for the chickpeas with spicy chorizo (£2.95) which, despite its simplicity, proved an incredibly flavoursome addition.
The whole CAU-boodle!
Asado De Chorizo...A succulent success

It’s fair to say that by this stage, there really wasn’t much room for dessert which was disappointing given the CAU Cornflake Ice Cream Sundae (£5.95) which I had earmarked for consumption earlier in the evening. Instead, we settled for a spot of sorbet which, if I’m honest, was itself a triumph; the coconut in particular, proving suitably refreshing yet remaining indulgent enough to round off the evening’s eatings to perfection!

Overall, a fantastic first impression of CAU…There aren’t many places where the chef apologises to you in person for not perfecting your steak the first time around and checks that your overall experience wasn’t affected as a result. It wasn’t and, in fact, the way that our visit had been handled by both the waiting staff and those in the kitchen, really made this a stand-out establishment; both in terms of the high level of customer service we’d received and the obvious care applied to the production of each dish. On the other hand, CAU is really rather pricey and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have been quite so reckless with my selections from the menu had I been footing the bill myself. That said, there are plenty of less financially challenging options…couple one of the crisp Spanish whites (from a plentiful line-up) with a range of small plates inspired by the pizazz of Buenos Aires itself, for instance, and you have a top-notch dining experience which won’t break the bank but will, without a doubt, wow you with its fresh-faced valour – highly recommended.

And now for the second opinion….
My dining companion gave CAU a huge 9/10 and in three words, summed up his experience as, ‘generous’, ‘tasty’ and ‘talented’.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Cuban, Bristol

Given that it's a relatively new addition to Bristol's gastronomical line-up, I was eager to sample The Cuban's culinary offerings – a menu which, encapsulating the spirit of Havana, promises 'delicious recipes' that constitute an extensive line-up of tapas and authentic Cuban dishes.
Date and Time: Tuesday 22nd July 2014, 19:30
Name of Establishment: The Cuban*
Location: Building 11, Harbourside, Bristol
Reason for Visit: An eight-part get-together...friends, colleagues and couples!
Moving inside after a giant cloud of Cuban cigar smoke engulfed our alfresco drinking experience, my friends and I took our table amidst the well-populated dining area of The Cuban - first impressions proving altogether positive given the upbeat ambiance which, comprising happy chatter and a Latin soundtrack, appropriately mirrored the smiley service that ensued. We had arrived five minutes before the Happy Hour had ended so managed to bag ourselves a couple of cheeky half-price cocktails from a selected menu. As their more elaborate concoctions were reserved for full-price consumption, we settled for trusty Caipirinhas which, served long, were not quite in keeping with the 'traditional' format but had nevertheless been accurately executed, (in that, the alcohol content remained reassuringly potent!) The rum menu is clearly the star of the show however, showcasing well-over 100 rums from around the world (comparable, you might say, only to The Rummer’s* collection) and costing between £3.50 and £13.50 a short.

Although we sat next to a pretty sizeable party of mid-week merry-makers, I would suggest that a 50-minute wait for one's dinner is somewhat tortuous to say the least! This waiting game extended to those ordering their drinks at the bar and also to those who ordered their drinks from the table – though curiously, we were granted a complimentary Mojiito as, we were informed, the bar staff had made 'one-too-many' (yet this was prior to the arrival of the three which we initially ordered...not that we were complaining!) it's fair to say that we were unanimously ravenous in the face of the main event; my Chorizo and Beef Burger (£11.95) practically inhaled and particularly well-received. Its accompaniments were attentively plated and tasty; the ‘Cuban slaw’ surprisingly spicy and the Peri Peri fries plentiful and crisp. That said, the emmental that I opted to add to my burger (for £1.50) was all-but non-existent and the salt content of the dish as a whole must have been considerably high in light of the raging thirst that woke me repeatedly throughout the night! The Chocolate and Chorizo Chilli Beef (£11.95) was also considered an ample choice as it was rich-tasting and creatively presented within a crispy tortilla shell. Blackbean rice, plus portions of sour cream and guacamole, completed the ensemble and constituted a dish both wholesome and delicious. On the whole, we were pleased with the quality of the cuisine – that is, until the Seafood Paella Creole made an entrance… Shared between two, this was decidedly bland; both in terms of its appearance and taste. You might even say that the fishy bits (namely; clams, shelled mussels, king prawns, baby octopus and calamari) were still swimming given the watery disposition of the rice - the key factor which actually made this an inedible defeat. It goes without saying that the paella was returned to the kitchen and I’m pleased to report that the waiting staff were altogether apologetic and immediately removed the dish from our bill – along with the aforementioned Mojiitos which we eventually received. That said, as a venue offering an ‘all-you-can-eat’ paella night (which is Thursday if you're game), it is a little worrying; though, with the plethora of deals that run during the week (plus their partnership with Jongleurs which comes into effect on the weekend), there are plenty of alternative nights on which to visit. In my view, Wednesday is your best bet as it’s their 2 for 1 ‘Fiesta Night’ whereby main meals and cocktails are buy-one-get-one-free. The Happy Hour which typically runs from 16:00 until 19:00, is extended until close on a Wednesday too so there really isn’t a reason not to partake in a few après-office drinky poos now, is there?! Salsa Sundays are also a good shout if you fancy throwing some shapes with those in the know – this takes place from 17:00 until late and welcomes dancers of all abilities!
In conclusion, I’m not sure I’d return in a hurry, at least not for dinner…Though the vast rum collection and cocktail menu do make for a pretty sound watering hole, I think that those at the helm of The Cuban have been blind-sided by their daily-deal incentives and should, instead, focus on their menu; ensuring quality throughout. For, a few tweaks here and there would no doubt drive this hit and miss culture towards a reliable dining experience.

And now for the second (collective) opinion…
The Group awarded The Cuban a disappointing 4/10 and in three words, described the experience as simply, 'not good enough'...


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!