February 2014 marked the third 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 20-something kitchen-shy female who adores good food and loves eating out...In return for my inability to create culinary genius for myself, I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café, bar or other in which I set foot...

...so, let's go out!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

No. 4 Clifton Village…Revisited

Date and Time: Thursday 10 April 2014, 19:00
Name of Establishment: No. 4 Clifton Village*
Location: Rodney Place, Clifton
Reason for Visit: A refurb' which prompted a return-visit.
A chilly reception?
Set within the timeless composure of an authentic Georgian mansion, No. 4 Clifton Village restaurant and bar is part of an independently owned and operated venue which includes the Rodney Hotel. Having initially visited this award-winning venue back in August 2012 and writing what can only be described as a glowing report, I was interested to learn of the restaurant’s ‘total refurbishment’; accepting an invitation to re-run the fun in order to experience their shiny, new space. The thing is, although the décor was decidedly improved; having retained its original elegance yet brightening the overall ambiance with funky wallpaper and a focal light fitting, this had no bearing on the all-important culinary aspect; the fare proving a comparable standard to that of my previous visit and the menu almost identical in terms of its content. Subsequently, you can consider both the positive and the negative implications of this finding whereby all my original plus-points apply (locally-sourced ingredients; check, quality not quantity in terms of the menu’s content; check, expertly-executed dishes which were both well-presented and delicious; check and check) and yet on the other hand, noting the lack of imagination applied to refreshing the menu from season to season. I mean – I distinctly remember ordering the glazed Chantenay carrots alongside the breast of chicken prior to this visit which, available again a good 20 months later, seemed to indicate that the next transformation of this venue should perhaps include the menu!
That light-bulb moment...
Back to the evening at hand and although the bar area was familiarly well-stocked, it was not quite as inviting as the scatter cushions and sporadically-arranged seating had proven beforehand. Instead, an angular lay-out and cold colour-scheme had created an almost clinical essence which was, without doubt, a far cry from what had existed previously and, I felt, not particularly in keeping with the vibrant hues at-large in the dining room. The service however, had vastly improved whereby a friendly, happy-to-help attitude remained intact throughout the course of the evening.
In the restaurant, I decided upon the fillet of cod (£13.50) which, beautifully plated, was fresh and succulent. The lemon and thyme crumble was an inventive topping; bitter-sweet on the palate and therefore suitably contrasting the fish both in terms of texture and taste. That said, there were a couple of surprise elements to the dish given that the garden peas billed to accompany the main event were nowhere to be seen and in their place, a sporadic dollop of what tasted a little like parsnip purée – an addition which, to be fair, didn’t really enhance what was otherwise an appetising and visually appealing plate of food. The chocolate torte (£5.95) was also well-received, though again, different in the flesh than detailed on the menu. This had been drizzled with a tart orange syrup (as promised) yet in the place of the Chantilly cream sat a mixed berry compote which really didn’t compliment the ensemble at all and even once the dish had been flourished with a quenelle of cream (at my request), the berries remained untouched which seemed rather a shame.
Berry delicious
Overall, the most valuable revision, in my view at least, was the introduction of the Monday-Thursday money-savers. The ‘special occasion’ remit which I had previously applied to this establishment challenged somewhat by the likes of ‘2 for £10 Tuesday’; which denotes two courses for a tenner and ‘Thirsty Thursday’; whereby every main course purchased can be washed down with a complimentary glass of Prosecco – great news for the penny-pinchers amongst us, present company included! All in all, those at the helm of this refresh have succeeded in making this a brighter, more affordable venue for everyday dining and yet, to determine repeat-custom, I’d suggest considerably varying the dishes available on a regular basis...Surely adhering to a Modern European theme has so much more to give?!
Affordable eating

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Clifton FoodFest and the Primrose Café

Receiving an invitation to the media preview week which would precede the Clifton FoodFest* simply has to be my top foodie 'win' of the year thus far. I mean, with no less than fifteen restaurants, cafés and delis taking part from within the upmarket confines of Clifton Village, this food-lover's festival would offer the public an opportunity to eat out for just £10 – bargain! As the brain child of the Business Improvement District (BID) for Clifton Village (formed in 2012 to support organisations within the region) and the first festival of its kind in the city, I saw it as an affordable means to explore the area's eateries. Plus, a reason to experience an establishment that I'd been meaning to visit for dinner (or specifically, for something a little more substantial than cake)...Cue the Primrose Café*, a picturesque and well-attended café-come-bistro that, given its location (on the cusp of the historic Clifton Arcade), allows for some pretty indulgent people-watching and more importantly, delivers what I'm told is first-rate fare. Let me be the judge of that....
Date and time: Wednesday 2nd April 2014, 7:30pm
Name of Establishment: Primrose Café
Location: 1 Clifton Arcade, Boyces Avenue, Bristol
Reason for visit: The Clifton FoodFest and two-course-for-£10 offer
Stepping into the Primrose Café at dusk denotes a relatively different experience to a daytime sitting whereby coffee, cake and the hubbub of the passing crowd altogether encapsulates what has become an institution amidst Clifton's successful café culture. I'm not sure what I was expecting if I'm honest but fancy table dressings coupled with bistro-style formalities were really rather removed from what I'd grown accustomed to following previous visits. This was not to its detriment I'll hasten to add as sure enough, the familiar cosiness of this laid-back space had remained intact whereby the passive duet of chatter and jazz as well as the warm glow from the abundant candlelight created the perfect ambiance for an upmarket dinner – it could have almost been romantic, if my dining companion hadn't been my mum!

We dined from the 'Early Bird' menu which we understood would also serve those attending as part of the FoodFest. The menu offered three options for each course at a price of £10 for two or £12.50 for three. Mum and I opted for two and were glad that we did in light of the complimentary appetisers which accompanied the arrival of our drinks (small glasses of the house white - a French Sauvingnon - which you could opt to add to your meal for a mere £2.50 each). Here, espresso cups of mushroom and truffle soup were drizzled with crème fraiche and accompanied with homemade sour dough – a little too sizeable to be considered appetisers in my view but a real treat nevertheless. Main courses were served promptly afterwards; the asparagus and wild garlic risotto for me and the mackerel fillet for mum; a dish which she enthused, was expertly executed - the fish itself proving succulent and tasty with the odd bone discovery excused in favour of its fresh appeal. She particularly enjoyed the aubergine and spring onion medley which, basking in the oil from the meat above, had been well seasoned with coriander, ginger and the kick of fresh chilli. The risotto was well portioned and thoughtfully plated; by which I refer to my life-long inability to knock-up an attractive rice dish! Instead, the asparagus contributed a little colour to the plate's overall aesthetic and punctuated the decadently creamy rice with an adequate crunch. I felt that the garlic content could have been elevated somewhat and yet, this is simply due to personal taste, (no vampires on me folks!)

It's fair to say that we were suitably impressed so far – not only with the gastronomical element of the evening but also with the efficient yet friendly disposition of the serving staff who altogether enhanced the relaxed atmosphere of the space. Despite being rather full up, mum and I powered through to the dessert course, rather taken with the lengthy menu of cheeses from which to choose the basis of your cheese board. Mum selected an Irish Ardrahan which, sourced from the neighbouring Arch House Deli, was honey-coloured to the eye and flavoursome to taste – its fragrant bite perfectly contrasting the sweet chutney that neatly crowned the fruit and cracker assortment. I opted for a diverse ensemble of sticky-sweet maple and pecan ice cream and tart raspberry sorbet, both of which had been made on the premises and delivered their flavours in bursts upon the palate. 

In conclusion, I'd certainly recommend the Primrose Café as a dinner-time domain (or, in fact, for any occasion) and without the incentive to visit courtesy of the Clifton FoodFest, I may well have remained amongst those who consider this fantastic spot an ample choice for lunch without ever learning of its after-hours alter ego! I think badging an establishment as a café can sometimes skew one's perception of its intentions...not to mention its opening hours! That said, perhaps with incentives like the Clifton FoodFest, the public will further experience the Primrose Café’s culinary expertise which is undoubtedly of restaurant quality; professionally delivered yet affordable. Couple that with the great service and pleasant surroundings which pull in scores of Cliftonites each and every day and you'll realise that there's a lot more to this Bristol go-to than meets the eye! What's more, the Clifton FoodFest doesn't end until Sunday 13th April so you still have a whole week in which to take advantage of the numerous money-saving meal options available in and around the village. What are you waiting for? Try somewhere new today! 

And now for the second option....
Mum gave the Primrose Café a rating of 10/10 and in three words, described her experience as 'impossible to fault'. Praise indeed.
For more  information about the Clifton FoodFest, including a full listing of the participating eateries and the deals that they're offering, click the link above.

Monday, 31 March 2014

An introduction to New Zealand wine...not a canapé, cupcake or cocktail in sight!

As you may have gathered from my lengthy absence from the social media scene, I've been otherwise AWOL - sunning myself on the other side of the world no less; swapping my beloved Bristol for a three-month 'tiki tour' of New Zealand. I felt compelled to put stylus to touchscreen in some capacity and yet, found myself deliberating over an appropriate angle to take. I mean, given the 12 week time-frame, the best part of thirty locations over two islands and the plethora of cafés, restaurants and bars visited therein, I couldn't possibly offer a review short of a novel in order to document the experiences which have constituted an altogether amazing trip. Instead, I thought I'd draw upon the pastime which became a pilgrimage of sorts and ultimately, an education in a subject which I was more than willing to learn... For, although I was well aware of what I enjoy when it comes to wine, it wasn't until a thorough exploration of New Zealand's vineyards that I really began to understand the reasons underpinning my preferences and furthermore, appreciate the blood, sweat and tears afforded to each and every bottle.
Trinity Hill, Hawkes Bay
As per the unfounded knowledge of Wikipedia, there are ten main wine-growing regions of New Zealand. Despite this, I'm going to focus on the three that featured most heavily in my adventures; incidentally, areas influential enough to increase the likelihood that you'll be able to sample some of the wines I'll mention, here in the UK.
Wither Hills, Marlborough
Marlborough (South Island): 
As 62% of the total vineyard area in the country, Marlborough is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc (affectionately referred to as simply, 'Sav' by the locals) which is abundantly produced here due to perfect conditions; hot, sunny days and cool nights which extend the grape growing period. It is vibrant and grassy by nature, a classic example being the 2013 vintage from Wither Hills which, we were informed, recently won gold at the Marlborough Wine Show. Although 'Sav' is undoubtedly the king varietal, other grapes including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also have a place here; Framingham Estate especially wowing The Boy and I with its array of sophisticated wines which, as the first winery we visited, set the bar rather high in light of the sipping and swishing that ensued. Here too, four diverse styles of Reisling from thirty-year-old vines, produced solely in the Wairau Valley and embodying the vineyard's Germanic fashion; the F-Series old vine 2012 Reisling proving to be my particular favourite which, delivered in an old world style, undoubtedly hit the mark in terms of its texture and complexity. It was here too that we discovered how many doctors and scientists steer their careers towards winemaking; the brains behind Forrest wines for example (doctors, John and Brigid Forrest) claiming that 'grape growing...is an exacting science' - the punchy aromatic whites and powerfully scented reds that we enjoyed at their site seeming to support this. Moving on and if it's bubbles you're after, you can't go far wrong with No1 Family Estate; their Methode Traditionelle sparkling wines simply bursting on the palate with refreshing acidity and subtle fruit notes. The No1 Rosé especially which, as the first of its kind for winemaker Daniel Le Brun and made with 100% Pinot Noir, is salmon-pink to the eye and packed with teeny tiny bubbles to taste; surely making it the grown-up alternative to champers, no?!
Central Otago (South Island):
As a lesser known but by no means lesser quality wine growing area, The Boy and I found ourselves in some rather impressive Pinot Noir growing territory on our way through the mountains towards Queenstown. Responsible for just over 70% of the plantings, Pinot Noir is plentiful and delicious; rich and oh-so smooth on the palate with a lasting fruitiness which lived-on long after each mouthful. Tannins to rival that of its continental counterparts and a vibrancy owing to the unique grape-growing conditions which are the most southerly in the world as well as the highest in New Zealand (at 200-400 metres above sea level). Mt. Difficulty's 'Roaring Meg' Pinot Noir was a wonderful example of a 'drink-young' style, brimming with sweet cherry and plum flavours, yet balanced with a little oak. Also notable is the soil here which is often glacial, making for strong competitors in terms of the Reisling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer produced here; the latter being a particular favourite of mine with its Turkish Delight essence and spicy, aromatic notes (a perfect accompaniment for Asian fare or even, I'm told, marinated pork). Central Otago is in the process of applying for a geographic indication for wine growing in the area - a formality to well and truly put it on the map and rightly so, as wineries like Peregrine with its outstanding Saddleback 2011 Pinot Gris and Chapel Estate's strawberries and cream scented rosé are really worth being aware of.
Chapel Estate, Cromwell
Hawkes Bay (North Island): 
As New Zealand's oldest wine producing area and the second largest after Marlborough, it came as no surprise that the wineries visited here were nothing less than incredible. Mission Estate was our first stop, constituting a little slice of history given that it was established back in 1851 and thus, as the oldest winery in the country, often referred to as the birthplace of New Zealand wine. Although Bordeaux blend reds are big in this region, with Syrah at top of the bill, I found the Sauvignon Blancs particularly appealing; less grassy than those sampled in Marlborough and instead, crisp, fruity and refreshing. The Gimblett Gravels play a big part in this; the stony soils from former river beds giving wineries like Unison and Trinity Hill a real edge when it comes to fresh-tasting whites which are delicately balanced and above all, dangerously drinkable! Rod McDonald's 2012 'Quarter Acre' sampled at the friendly Te Awanga Estate was a revelation, so much so that we went back for a second taste...and then a third, hic! There too, a late harvest Semillon; so beautifully coupled with blue cheese that it would have been criminal not to indulge in just that! Viognier is another popular grape here; the 2013 offering from the Black Barn vineyards standing-out amidst those of its neighbours. This winery also deepened my love-hate relationship with Chardonnay, the 2012 reserve my preference over the 2012 100% barrel fermented variety due to its subtle vanilla notes and smooth disposition. We learnt that Chardonnay is Black Barn's most awarded wine so my personal aversion to heavily oaked whites is clearly in the minority. Overall, my favourite visit in this region was to Clearview Estate whereby the winemaker himself supervised as devotees showcased his stunning range of wines, the best of which was the 'sea red'; a rich dessert wine with just enough residual sugar to adequately pair it with dark chocolate but minus the cloying sweetness of some of the other stickies we'd tasted; just divine!
Rod McDonald's 2012 'Quarter Acre'
Clearview Estate's 'Sea Red'

Lastly, I feel I should also mention Emporium*, an art deco style restaurant/bar in central Napier that allowed us to sample our new found favourites in larger quantities...just to make sure!
The oldest winery in NZ
Despite missing out on the boutique style wines of Martinborough and the Gewurztraminer-lover's dream to be found in Gisbourne, it's fair to say that it was a journey of the senses nevertheless; gifting me with experiences that will affect the way I'll drink and purchase wine in the future. Wine growing estates are certainly picturesque and this is no doubt testament to the hard work that goes into their maintenance...Brancott Estate in Renwick (Marlborough), Chapel Estate in Cromwell (Central Otago) and award-winning Craggy Range Estate in Havelock North (Hawkes Bay) were visually delicious, even before sampling the liquid gold that lay within. Not to mention the strategy behind their arrangement, the Boy and I learning how, in certain plots, vines were planted outside of the typical East to West formation, so that one side of the vine takes longer to ripen, producing two variations of the same grape. Genius!
Mission Estate
Overall and in addition to sharing the teachings of my travels, I hope that my brief insight to New Zealand wines will inspire you, the reader, to sample those available to us in the UK - for I can certainly vouch for the fact that the wine makers themselves will be chuffed that you've chosen their craftsmanship from that of their peers amidst the international market that we're so lucky to be privy to. Cheers!

For further information regarding New Zealand wine, visit:
www.winesofnz.com or www.nzwine.com 

If you are interested in purchasing any of the aforementioned wines from the UK, you could try; ' Hard-to-Find Wines' at www.htfwines.co.uk
Ngatarawa Winery, picnic perfection

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

ASDA's 'Extra Special' Vino Collection - Winter 2013

It has to be said that being invited to sample ASDA’s ‘Extra Special’ wine collection – expertly selected for the festive season - really kick-started those ‘warm and fuzzies’; y’know, the ones so commonly affiliated with this time of year and the selflessness of giving! Thus, rounding up my nearest and dearest, I did what any aspiring wine buff would do and conducted a strategic series of high-brow tastings whereby the four red and two white wines I had been given were proficiently analysed …Not really; my friends, family and I had a great deal of fun; sipping, slurping and swishing our way through all six bottles, mopping up the alcohol content with a grotesque amount of cheese but most importantly, identifying several favourites that would no doubt see us through to the New Year...

White wine Tasting Panel: The Girls
‘Extra Special’ Fiano 2012 (Italian wine, 13%)
Reminiscent of 'a woodland walk on a crisp day', this was described as rustic and flavoursome; channelling notes of passion fruit, lemon and ripe apple. It's fresh finish heightened its appeal; making for an easily-drinkable wine. Delicious. 4/5

‘Extra Special’ Pinot Grigio 2012 (Italian wine, 12.5%)
With an undeniably acidic quality and tart apple aroma, this was quite a contrast to the oh-so-smooth Fiano. Yet, we agreed that whereas the delicate nature of the Fiano would be lost somewhat alongside a hearty dinner, the Pinot would cut through it, slapping you in the face with its almost abrasive twang Not a favourite. 1/5

Red wine Tasting Panel: The Parentals
Extra Special’ Nero d’Avola 2011 (Sicilian wine, 13%)
A pleasant red with rich, fruity aromas and ripened cherry notes. Establishing a rather dry after-taste which suitably contrasted the initial cheekiness which could have been mistaken for a shallow disposition which simply wasn’t the case – lovely! 4/5

‘Extra Special’ Cotes Du Rhone 2012 (French wine, 13%)
Is ‘mellow’ another word for bland? Perhaps so given that this particular tipple wasn’t especially well-received; it’s palatable peppery undertones proving its only redeeming feature. A ‘typical French plonk’ mused Dad with Mum adding, rather diplomatically, that it simply did not live up to its ‘Extra Special’ label. A shame… 2/5

‘Extra Special’ Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 (13.5%)
I've got a real thing for Chilean reds and this certainly didn't disappoint with admirable depth to its berry hues and an almost chocolaty after-taste, (trust me on this one)...Curious. 4.5/5

‘Extra Special’ Old Vines Garnacha, Syrah 2011 (Spanish wine, 14%)
Inadvertently, we saved the best for last…unusually unanimous in our decision that this was by far, our favourite! Full-bodied with a decadently, fruity bouquet, this was a fantastically balanced wine which we considered a suitable accompaniment to all nature of cuisine yet palatable enough to drink on its own – the latter proving all too tempting for Dad who finished off the bottle! Wine with the wow-factor! 5/5

When you stop asking yourself whether I'm actually an alcoholic (I'm not, I was just very thirsty), you'll no doubt check out ASDA's 'Extra Special' wine range for yourself. Currently priced from just £5 a bottle, there are some absolute corkers which are perfect for the upcoming festivities. Furthermore, as 'Extra Special' denotes the partnership that ASDA have with Leith's School of Food and Wine, you know that you're in good hands – go on, get the party started...cheers!

Website: www.asda.com
Tweet: @asda

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Bath Priory Hotel: The Great Cocktail Feast, Thursday 11 October 2013

As part of the month-long, ‘Great Bath Feast’, The Bath Priory hotel offered an exclusive evening of decadent drinky-poos and top-notch nibbles in their luxurious surroundings. The red carpet was being dusted off upon our arrival and this certainly seemed to underpin the ethos for the evening whereby guests were warmly welcomed and treated, from the outset, to a first-rate level of service complete with complimentary hand massages (courtesy of the 'Garden Spa' team) and informative wine tasting sessions. First though, a lesson in cocktails and two concoctions created in-house by resident mixologist, Adam. The first, an Irish Flower which combined whiskey with fresh raspberries, cranberry juice and Chambord; the latter proving the dominant ingredient in an altogether enjoyable ensemble. The second was the Jalapeno Chase, which was fondly referred to as an alcoholic Lemsip; the vodka and fresh jalapenos suitably punctuating the medicinal trio of apple, honey and lemon! We were also treated to a fruity punch of lychee, passion fruit and vodka which proved simple, refreshing yet dangerously drinkable. It’s fair to say that a passion to wow guests with an innovative line-up of cocktails was overwhelmingly apparent; a finding which will no doubt secure a return visit from yours truly given my love of experimental cocktails and twists on the classics.

Next, we sampled two white wine and two red wines with the hotel’s head sommelier, Alex. The official tasting notes were as follows, along with my own rather amateur conclusions:

White 1: Etna Bianco Sicily Planeta, Italy – 'an extraordinary wine which appears almost clear, with slight lime green reflections. The initial nose is laden with the rich, warm mineral scents of mica, granite and flint against a cool backdrop of green apple, acacia honey, kumquats , fennel, raw almonds and wild flowers...with notes suggesting wet river rocks [and] stone-fruit pits, there is a fresh purity here that is beyond compare'.
Verdict:This was certainly a unique tipple; though despite its impressive origins and apparent clarity, I wasn't overly keen on its flavour which was simply too subtle for my liking!

White 2: Chenin Blanc Kleine Zalza, South Africa – 'Strong citrus notes, plus lychee and guava aromas on the nose with ripe pineapple and peach flavours that follow through on the palate. These are complemented with a long, clean, crisp after-taste'.
Verdict: A classy white with a fresh, fruity finish – exactly the kind of wine I'd choose for a Friday-night with the girls.

Red 1: Douro, Quinta do Crasto, Portugal – 'Deep ruby in colour with ripened fruit aromas. Hence, very fruity on the palate with good structure and light tannins; making it a very pleasant wine'.
Verdict: My drinking companion and I referred to this as the 'cheap red'; i.e. the kind of wine you'd pick up from the supermarket to enjoy alongside a home-made plate of pasta. Yes, although ample for washing down a canapé or two, this was really rather brash on the palate; especially in light of the second red on the table. (NB. If this is, in fact, a particularly expensive wine – I'm sorry!)

Red 2: Pinot Noir, Reserva especial, Tabali, Limari Valley Chile – 'a delicious, mouthwatering yet delicate Pinot Noir with smoky plum and redcurrant, plus hints of strawberry on the nose. The palate has more smoky fresh red fruit with a clean, almost scented finish'.
Verdict: This was by far my favourite of all four wines; it was light and fruity - oh so fruity - with a touch of summertime sparkle to its overall demeanour. More please!
Meanwhile, guests were sporadically invited to descend upon a selection of canapés, designed by Michelin Starred Executive Head Chef, Sam Moody and his Team; sumptuous morsels of top-end fare which seemed to adequately demonstrate the calibre of the hotel’s restaurant. These included pulled pork pies which had been spiked with a little apricot and caraway chutney and topped with herb breadcrumbs and teeny-tiny spiced lamb burgers, neatly layered with red onion slaw and coriander mayonnaise. The parmesan and rosemary risotto balls were my personal favourite however, served with a truffle mayo which was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. A small selection of bite-sized desserts completed the bill; the warm Madeleines somewhat reminiscent of my Parisian adventures earlier in the year.

Thus, a two-tiered triumph given the success of the evening itself and how well the hotel had showcased their strengths; enticing attendees to return to further experience their excellent service and culinary expertise; factors of the evening which really set The Bath Priory aside as a first-rate hotel and restaurant.
The Bath Priory Hotel
Weston Road, Bath BA1 2XT
Tel: 01225331922 / Email: mail@thebathpriory.co.uk

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Crown, Keynsham

I have a friend who is besotted with 'daily deal' websites...I mean I've dabbled, as previous reviews will suggest, yet he has taken to buying into discounted experiences, products and dinners like an elderly lady collects supermarket coupons! I jest of course...especially when he rounds up his nearest and dearest to accompany him on said gastronomical excursions; the latest constituting a six-part tapas meal for two and glass of wine each for only six-pounds apiece. What's more, given the unlikely venue of a cutesy Keynsham-based pub, we couldn't have been more intrigued...

Date and Time: Thursday 20th June 2013, 7:00pm
Name of Establishment: The Crown Inn*
Location: 63 Bristol Road, Keynsham
Reason for Visit: The lure of a suitably cheap night out

The Crown is a clean, contemporary space with an impressive beer garden; neatly landscaped and amply accommodating a number of alfresco drinkers. There is a distinctively laid back ambiance and yet, there just so happened to be a darts tournament on the evening of our visit, brought to our attention by the unmistakable bouts of sporting enthusiasm – something which provided a somewhat lively backdrop to our evening. This also underpinned the strong sense of local comradery which could, perhaps, be perceived as both a positive or a negative depending on how comfortable you feel in the face of infiltrating the good old 'local pub for local people' get-up. In any case, we made a beeline for the aforementioned garden, making the most of the disappearing sunshine – the staff seemingly un-fazed at our reluctance to take our seats within the dimly lit restaurant for our 7:00pm culinary-call. A relaxed approach which veered into outright despondence when it came to enlightening us with the menu which we had to request not once, but twice at the bar; along with our complimentary vinos which had also failed to materialise. Consequently, we learned that we didn't get a choice of dishes – rather, we'd be presented with a predetermined six-part ensemble to share between two. Now, as a person lucky enough to be void of any dietary complaints, I wasn't particularly discomposed by this serious disregard for personal taste – though those in our party who didn't eat sea food were pretty put out given that two of the six dishes were predominantly fishy. Cue dishes one and two; sweet chilli king prawns and anchovies marinated in citrus; both notably fresh and commendably flavoursome but the latter surely an acquired taste and certainly not a dish that you'd choose to serve to the average Joe!

Dish three was a Catalan Salad, comprising chickpeas, black pudding and chives. Notice a trend here? I mean, call me a food prude but black pudding really isn't a foodstuff universally enjoyed by the masses – even less so as part of a tapas-style dinner. On to dish four which was chorizo marinated in red wine; well-executed yes but plentiful, no. Dish five was a rainbow of roasted peppers sprinkled with almonds which was really rather tasty (my favourite of the six in fact) and yet between two, just not enough. On the other hand, a sizeable dish of olives was dish six – I picked the green from the mix, noting suspiciously their shop-bought demeanour despite the menu suggesting that they had been lovingly marinated in-house. We were also treated to slices of grilled ciabatta which just about curbed our hunger – though not enough to keep us from the dessert menu which made an entrance shortly after our plates were cleared. I must point out here that had I been aware that the 'hot' chocolate fudge cake I was about to endure would set me back five whole pounds, I'm positive I wouldn't have bothered; proving cold and aesthetically lacking; dry, tasteless and poorly portioned. I'm not ashamed to say that I winged bitterly with every mouthful – especially in the face of the food envy that those with the golden syrup sponge cake encouraged with their complimentary responses.
Between four - give us MORE!
All in all, it's fair to say that I didn't find myself overly impressed with what The Crown had to offer on this particular occasion... Admittedly, we shouldn't have expected much for a six-pound price tag and yet, one would have thought that an eatery venturing into the 'online-deal' territory would want to showcase the best that they have to offer. Although dishes were fresh, appetising and well-presented, not to mention innovative in terms of their arrangement, they were sparsely portioned and simply unsuitable for a number of reasons. I've never been to a restaurant whereby you're denied the luxury of picking from a menu and thus, vegetarians, vegans or in fact, anyone with any nature of dietary requirement would have suffered the complete lack of choice. I know that this isn't likely to be a common occurrence but unfortunately, it depicted an undeniable sense of disinterest in regards to satisfying its clientèle which really was a shame. What's more, I'm not entirely convinced that tapas is particularly fitting for pub; perhaps the management could shun the Mediterranean-inspired classics in favour of mini-plates of British fare – a bite-sized portion of fish and chips for example, drizzled with a minted pea purée or a single Yorkshire Pudding filled with roast beef and horseradish...I could go on! With brand new owners and a quick turnaround in terms of the role of head chef, it seems perhaps that those steering The Crown through its evident re-launch are attempting too much; co-badging the establishment as a restaurant and a pub (as well as an affordable B&B); I suggest that it sticks to watering the locals which for all intents and purposes, appears to be what it does best...
And now for the second opinion....
The money-saving minion gave The Crown a rating of 6/10 and in three words argued that it 'wasn't that bad...' Well that's me told...!

*For further information and a sample menu, visit: http://www.thecrowninn-keynsham.com/

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Juniper Restaurant - Cotham Road South, Bristol

Embracing the final year of my twenties was always going to be difficult to swallow and thus, an appropriately edible birthday gift from the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) had been thoughtfully designed to sweeten the otherwise bitter aroma of one’s descent into the dirty thirties! A touch dramatic perhaps and yet, a Living Social voucher entitling the BFF and I to a three-course extravaganza from Juniper’s à la carte menu, (with a glass of wine each to boot), would no doubt constitute the kind of dining experience that only a 'special' occasion of this nature could ensue.

Date and Time: Tuesday 30 July 2013, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Juniper Restaurant*
Location: 21 Cotham Road South, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A birthday treat from (and with) the BFF…

Juniper is a homely, intimately arranged (and largely plum-coloured) space with tables for two nestled within each and every nook and cranny There is an unmistakable sense that this establishment could serve as one's home from home whereby, with a regular following, it ultimately has community at its core. Its style appropriately compliments its ambiance which is friendly and welcoming - lending to the establishment a first-rate level of service which extended way beyond the booking process and into the evening itself; an evening where nothing at all appeared too much trouble. Sipping our complimentary vino (a Spanish Macabeo if you're interested), the BFF and I perused the menu which head chef Nick Kleiner describes as ‘contemporary’ and ‘eclectic’; intending to balance ‘bold and fresh flavours’ in order to deliver consistently first-rate fare. To that end, I chose to start with the crab cakes (normally £6.95) which had been tastefully-arranged upon a young leaf salad. Crushed almonds provided an earthy undercurrent amidst an otherwise powerfully flavoured dish whilst a liberal drizzle of saffron aioli added a notable vibrancy; both in terms of its exquisite flavour and visual appeal. The BFF opted for the home-made scotch egg which had been plated alongside an ample portion of buttery mash and, she enthused, ‘an incredibly tasty piccalilli’ – she also mentioned that the egg itself had proved the perfect consistency; melt-in-the-mouth moreishness!
Main courses followed promptly; for me, the supreme of free-range chicken (usually £15.95) which was juicy and expertly executed. Here, the main event had been coupled with a sun dried tomato stuffing which, combined with sporadic dollops of onion jam and flecked with chorizo, filled the palate with its sweet-salt deliciousness. Potatoes dauphinoise completed the bill, proving rich and creamy – perhaps a touch too rich and creamy however, due to the mushroom and tarragon sauce that had been liberally applied to the meat which you could say. had a somewhat comparable disposition. The BFF reported similar findings, opting for the rump of lamb (normally £18.95) which she admitted was really rather hard-going given that it had been slathered with a spinach and feta cream sauce which, albeit, very tasty, was really rather heavy, (especially in light of the meat’s indulgent accompaniment; the aforementioned potatoes dauphinoise)..She also pointed out that the lamb was disappointingly over-cooked which was a real shame as the dish was otherwise beautifully presented and generously portioned. 
When it came to the all-important dessert selection process, the BFF was quick of the mark; opting for the chocolate truffle pot (usually £6.50); yet dismaying in the knowledge that the peanut butter and salted caramel ice cream had expired well before our arrival. Powering through with home-made vanilla as a ‘pleasant’ substitute as well as a side-serving of summer berry compote, she praised the ensemble, commenting that the chocolate was of a good quality; its subtle bitterness suitably complimenting the zing of the fruit. I’m afraid that on my part, the ice cream situation was very much a deal breaker, meaning that my typical choice of pudding (which is altogether dominated by its chocolate content) was overthrown in favour of the warm blueberry bakewell tart, (also £6.50). Here, a whole tartlet had been served with merely a smudge of banoffee ice cream which, although fantastically flavoursome, just wasn’t plentiful enough – thus, I quickly missed the contrast between the cool, sweetness of the ice cream and the warmth of the tart’s sharp-noted filling.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the laid-back appeal of Juniper – the drive to deliver locally-sourced, organic fare of an exemplary standard was evident from start to finish and, on the large part, achieved. It could be argued that some of the dishes were a little too complex for their own good (you really can have too much of a good thing, you know) and yet, one cannot deny the imagination behind their intricate construction. Therefore, if we return to the ethos of the menu and specifically, the concept of balance, we could argue that this still needs a little work – that said, the attention to detail, both in and out of the kitchen coupled with a genuine passion for hearty, innovatively assembled cuisine really is reason enough to keep coming back for more. I’d suggest that overall, given its calibre, the menu is reasonably priced but certainly reflects the ‘special occasion territory’ that we started this review with. As a result, this isn’t an establishment I’d regularly indulge in and yet, in the event of said special occasion, its fair to say that it would most certainly be in the running.
And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Juniper a rating of 7/10 and in three words,commented that there was 'just something missing'...