Holiday Munchies: Castello Restaurant, Frome

No matter where I am in the country, Italian food seems to call to me; a siren signal that magnetically pulls me towards the nearest cheese-topped pizza, meatball-adorned pasta, or cocoa-covered tiramisu. Even when on a road trip recently for my two year wedding anniversary, I still managed to smuggle in a meal at an Italian restaurant; Castello. Clearly popular with the locals in Frome, my husband Dan and I visited on a busy Saturday evening to explore why nearby residents came in their droves.

Castello quite a modern appearance, taking style tips from the big chains such as Ask and Wildwood to feature condiment-covered shelves filled with containers of dried pasta and jars of oil, while the wine-filled bar across the left hand side of the restaurant backed on to a pale grey brickwork wall. The restaurant felt spacious with roomy high ceilings and an open second floor with additional seating. As tourists to Frome, I felt we were treated more brusquely than the regular crowd, who greeted waiting staff with handshakes, air kisses and manly claps on the back. We were clearly the interlopers here, and our tiny table of two situation right in front of the drafty main doors and a bit away from the other tables only served to emphasise this separation.

I ordered a glass of sauvignon blanc and decided to go totally Italian with my starter, selecting the tricolore. This was basically a very simplistic salad featuring squidgy round slices of white buffalo mozzarella sandwiched next to slices of tomato and avocado, the strip of slices drizzled with olive oil for that Mediterranean zing. Decorated with an over-bearing basil leaf, this starter looked so simple and easy. I love buffalo mozzarella but rarely have it, which is the sole reason that I occasionally choose this staid and boring starter. However, I did like the addition of the avocado to Castello’s version, and I found the creaminess of this health fat laden veg provided a great accent to the similar creamy tones in the cheese. The tomato added a juicy wetness and the olive oil didn’t add much at all in all honesty.

I was feeling in a pasta mood, so I decided to pick the strozzpreti pugliese for my main course, making sure that I also got the trademark dusting of parmesan cheese on top from the passing waiter. This pasta dish, which was on the small side in my opinion, used hand twisted pasta shapes which I thought were great fun. It also included spicy and flavourful balls of luganica sausage, salty pieces of pancetta, wilted spinach leaves, red chilli butter and white wine, finished with a garlic oil. I really enjoyed the subtle heat and robust combinations used in this pasta dish. The sausage was the most dominant component in my opinion, and you could distinctly taste herb flavours coming through the sizzled meat. The oils added a real warmth to the overall dish which I liked, and although I didn’t find too many spinach leaves, I enjoyed them nonetheless as I don’t eat them much at home due to my husband not being a huge spinach fan. On the whole, again it was a simple meal but I liked the flavours and ingredients. Even though the portion was small, it still felt hearty because of the flavours. I knew I would still need dessert however.

For dessert, I actually steered clear of my usual tiramisu and opted for one of my favourite English desserts, but with a specific Italian twist; limoncello trifle. This featured Madeira sponge that was soaked in Italy’s pungent lemon liqueur, before being topped with lemon curd, amaretto biscuits, blueberries and whipped cream. Served in a glass desert dish, the blueberries were more on top of the dessert than in it, sitting like little eyes on top of the cream to stare me out. There was certainly lashings of the whipped cream – I’d say the majority of the dessert was cream – while the base of the dish was filled with the soaked sponge. The limoncello was potent and the violent zing of harsh lemon that excludes from the liqueur was certainly in effect for the trifle sponge, which was lovely and soggy. I denoted an absence of any lemon curd, which I suspect would have added a creamy and soft antidote to the limoncello’s vibrancy of flavour. It was a nice dessert and something different to try, especially as trifle is one of my favourites. I just wish the lemon curd could have made an appearance for an even better flavour.

The cocktail menu was sitting plaintively on our table, its pages ajar in invitation. Of course I had a glance and then felt compelled to try the cappuccino cocktail for the very reasonable price of £6.50. Served in a rounded martini style glass, the creamy concoction sounded right up my street, with amaretto, Tia Maria, fresh milk and coffee liqueur all shaken together before being poured out and topped with a dusting of cocoa. I adore creamy chocolate and coffee cocktails, so I was keen to sample this one. I found it distinctly average. It was thinner in texture than I was expecting, and the flavour was nice, but I think it could have done with a heftier kick of alcohol to really ramp up the flavour. It seemed to be a milder, dialled down version of what it should be.

Overall, I did enjoy my meal at Castello, although I think I would say a few tweaks would go a long way into raising both the food and drink to the next level. The menu covers all bases with a good selection of food and the prices were all very reasonable, which is a nice plus point. The service was ok, but I did think we were made to feel like outsiders, which contrasted so starkly to the warm welcome issued to Frome regulars. Tasty, but I’m not quite convinced I can see what all the fuss is about from the local folk.

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Holiday Munchies: Café Rouge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham

Café Rouge is one of those popular chain restaurants that I’ve seen everywhere; at my local shopping centre, at pretty much every airport, and snuggled on many a high street corner. Despite the attractive red exteriors and wafting scents of French food, I had yet to sample what Café Rouge had to offer, and I was getting increasingly frustrated that our paths had yet to cross. When my husband whisked me away recently for a birthday weekend in Birmingham, it seemed an ideal opportunity to finally try out the oddly elusive yet everywhere Café Rouge. We booked a table for the Sunday evening of our trip.

Both Dan and I loved the atmosphere at Café Rouge; Parisian chic meets the comfort of a rural kitchen, with red leather booths and mirrored walls juxtaposed with overloaded cake stands and tea tables, pale wooden tables and a gentle hum of music filling the air. The spacious restaurant instantly felt relaxing and comfortable, with a kicked back vibe that was also inherently stylish – so far, so French.

As we were settled on a square table for two, with matching high backed dining chairs, next to the window, I ordered a large glass of Merlot and opened the brand new spring menu. After one glance I knew exactly what I wanted; the tarte flambee. With a flatbread base, this tart was topped with a generous layer of cream cheese, studded with sliced onion and cuboids of bacon. When it arrived, I tucked in heartily and certainly was not disappointed, as it was lovely. I’d even go so far as to say it was one of my favourite starters I have had out. I just really liked the pizza-style base paired with the light and creamy soft cheese topping. The cream cheese was also the perfect accompaniment to really let the match-made-in-heaven flavours of the pungent onion and the crispy, salty bacon sing. It was just really lovely and I polished it off very promptly while Dan tucked in to some prawns.

For main course, I opted to go classic French and choose the beef bourguignon. What could be more traditional than this slow-cooked beef stew steeped in a rich, thick red wine sauce? Among the tender chunks of falling-apart meat were button mushrooms, roasted carrots and juicy onions. A satisfying dome of herby, creamy, smooth mash peeked out from the lake of stew, with a wonderful coating of crispy, curly onions adding a final, crunchy flourish. A very well put together dish and totally tasty. The crispy onions was a really great addition and provided a great contrast in texture to the silky mash and hearty stew. The mash didn’t really taste herby, but that suited me as I’m not a huge herb fan so that was fine. At the end of the day, it’s a classic combination for a reason and that’s because these rural, home-grown flavours taste superb together, and done well, it’s a really satisfying and filling dish.

Because I’m greedy, we decided to order some extra sides too just so we could try more of the food. The spinach came in a lovely white boat-shaped dish, dressed very simply with some melted butter. It was really lovely. We also sampled some dauphinoise potatoes, another French classic with a soft underbelly of thinly sliced and sauce-covered white potatoes, topped with that lovely crispy shell that forms during baking. Always such a decadent side as it’s something we never have at home but truly tasty.

Despite being stuffed, I could hear the dessert menu calling me in a gentle undercurrent, whispering. I gave in quickly and ordered the Eton mess. What caught my eye with this dessert is that despite being a rather standard dessert item, Café Rouge had tarted it up a bit so to speak, by tossing in a few indulgent extras, such as vanilla ice cream and strawberry sorbet. It also featured the more traditional fresh raspberries and strawberries, as well as crushed meringue pieces and strawberry coulis.  When it arrived, I must confess I was very surprised at how small it was; it looked more like a kids portion to me, presented in a dinky fluted glass, a mint leaf balanced on top. It was more combined than an Eton mess usually is, with more of a smoothie feel and a creamier texture, the finely cut fruit and small pieces of meringue a bit more of a mission to find. Despite not being 100% as expected, it was refreshing and relatively light to eat so it earned points there, however it didn’t really tick my boxes in terms of what I look for in an Eton mess, so although nice, it wasn’t 100%.

To remedy this, I decided to treat myself to a final cocktail before closing in for the night. I decided to try the Le Bon Rouge, a retro little gin number that was served in a jam jar with a sliver of lemon and two raspberries bobbing on top. Containing gin, Chambord, raspberry jam and cranberry juice, I really loved this cocktail! It was full on fruity with the jam and liquor giving the drink an unusual depth of flavour for a cocktail, whilst it’s fruitiness still made it refreshing to drink, the darker berry fruits working well together.

I think we spent about £70 in all, for two starters, two mains, two sides, one dessert, one cocktail, a glass of wine and a soft drink, so price wise it is very reasonable, which is as you would expect from most chains nowadays. The service, although patchy at times, was on the whole good and the waiting staff were very pleasant and friendly. We both really enjoyed our meal here and Café Rouge is now a firm destination for future meals out.

Homeward Bound: Grand Central, Basildon, Essex

img_0947All-American food and diner style restaurants will never lose their popularity, so restaurants are on to a winner if they can fine tune this niche successfully. One chain making the attempt is Grand Central, who have numerous chains across the UK. I visited their Basildon branch just before Christmas with a group of fellow foodie friends to see how good the fodder really was.

Grand Central Basildon has certainly attempting to bring a unique diner feel to the fore, focusing on chunky booth style seating with red covered cushions and black street sign labels indicating the booth numbers. The ceiling was also quite interesting, with each tile housing a personalised message from visitors and patrons, which I think is a great idea. It didn’t look tacky and I think it’s a great way to help build a community hub, forging a favoured family restaurant that is ideal for birthday celebrations. Other than img_0946these nods to the Americans, I thought the décor was rather bland and uninspiring, although festive fairy lights flashing primary-coloured hues and tinsel-strewn posts reminded me it was the run up to Christmas.

Looking at the drinks menu, my eye was instantly caught by the alcoholic milkshakes section. To me, is sounded like a punchy cocktail that was also a dessert style milkshake; a massive win-win for all those with a sweet tooth like myself. I decided to start with the Screaming Yankee, a creamy concoction blended with baileys, ameretto and kahula, with chocolate sauce drizzled on the inside of the hourglass shaped glass. So creamy and smooth with the alcohol really enhancing the flavour, this was a delectable cocktail that seemed so luxurious and thick with the milkshake element. I sipped happily on this whilst my pals chowed down on starters such as nachos and chicken wings.

For my main course, I opted to go all out American and pick a burger, not my usual port of call but I got the feeling img_0942that Grand Central specialised in its burgers, so I felt I had to try one. Therefore, I chose the smoky, a beef burger that was splashed with smoky BBQ sauce and layered with cheese, fried onions and sliced peppers. I also added a slice of bacon to really push the boat out. I have to say, I really wasn’t overly fussed about the burger. It just seemed pretty standard if you ask me. The bun was in the no-man’s land between a brioche and your standard bun, the bacon I added was so small I may well have not spent the extra quid on it as it added nothing, and the extra flavours I was expecting – the BBQ sauce hue – also failed to be present and correct. It was just a juicy beef burger. A nice burger, but nothing to write home about or order again.

Served on a white lunchtime canteen style tray, I had ordered sweet potato fries instead of the standard chips and these were thin, crisp and crunchy; just as they should be and lovely dunked in my lake of tomato ketchup. The paper cup of coleslaw was a nice addition to eat with my burger bun too; it was chunky and saucy which was good.

img_0944Despite eyeing up the four layer chocolate cake for dessert, I actually found myself too full. But never fear, I didn’t bypass dessert completely (who do you think I am?!?). I instead chose another alcohol laden milkshake to sip away the disappointment of my main bacon-less meal, this time opting for the Choco Orange County, a classic combination of chocolate and Cointreau. It looked very similar to my previous shake, just with a different flavour combination. I did really enjoy the alcoholic milkshakes and at £7 ish a pop, I didn’t think they were that badly priced either. For me, these were the best thing about Grand Central that I saw.

For me, the evening was tarnished by the absolutely appalling service that we received. Sure, staff were polite and img_0945chatty when they were at the table, but they were rarely at the table. We were a large group of 11 and a prime target for some good tips, however we were blatantly ignored by waiting staff. We had to wait around 45 minutes just to finish our drinks order, let alone when we would actually get stuck in to ordering main courses and eating! Nothing was delivered promptly, everything seemed like a mission and every request and order took ages. I swear I have never waited so long for food in my life. We pretty much all ordered burgers for main course so it’s not like it was extremely difficult or complex to cook. We even had to wait over half an hour for nachos. Nachos!!! It’s crisps with cheese!

In all honesty, I wouldn’t recommend Grand Central Basildon and I wouldn’t go back. The food is very standard fare and all stuff you could get elsewhere; I didn’t really see a standout speciality that would make me return, any burger joint would suffice. Even though the alcoholic milkshakes were my personal favourite of the evening, the service took so long that it did sour the meal, and it was very late before we began eating. This is a huge turn-off for me, so I’m afraid it’s a thumbs down here.

Holiday Munchies: Smoke Haus, Cardiff, Wales

P1050416Very often with hen weekends, the general ethos is go big or go home. This covers all activities whether you are strutting your stuff in a burlesque lesson, tackling the cha cha slide on the dance floor or consuming your body weight in an array of delectable treats. The latter was certainly the case when I attended a close friend’s hen weekend in Cardiff recently and we decided that the best bet for lining our stomachs before a rowdy night out was heading to American BBQ joint Smoke Haus.

American fodder has seen an absolute boom in popularity in recent years, with diner style restaurants appearing left, right and centre – this means that getting a unique take on this market can be easier said than done. I was intrigued to see how Smoke Haus would stack up and what they had to offer in comparison to other similar venues I had visited. For starters, the atmosphere was electric, with long rectangular dark wood tables ideal for large groups. There didn’t seem to be such a thing as a quiet table for two as it was all about creating a gathering, clustering together with your mates, the chatter and laughter of friends a constant background hum that instantly put you at ease. With dim lighting and background music to nod your head to, stylistically Smoke Haus hits a lot of P1050426traditional American notes. Vibrant coloured graffiti art paired with gleaming black motorbike – check. Sleek black backgrounds showcasing stamp like white logos and hashtags – check. A bottle laden bar revealing a wealth of spirits and liqueurs to wet your whistle – check. Polished wooden floors and an airy high ceiling gave the restaurant the impression of being a converted barn, once again emphasising that down to earth American vibe.

While waiting for our table to be ready we headed to the bar to order our first round of drinks. The cocktail menu was surprisingly well stocked, and with each drink just under £6 it was also rather cheap to indulge in something away from the usual wine or beer. With this in mind I opted for the immensely colourful Tequila Sunrise – I love the colour gradient between the fresh orange juice and the blood red grenadine sunk right at the bottom. Oh, and the generous kick of tequila peps things up nicely too. Served with a sunny splay of orange, I was slurping happily as we were led to our table.

P1050414Checking out the menu, it was your classic diner style fare with an array of steaks, burgers, hot dogs and grills, all offering mouth-watering amounts of meat. A carnivore’s paradise, I perused the options with glee before settling on one of the 8oz burgers. I went for The Hog Father, a single portion coming in at £11.95. As well as the juicy burger, I would enjoy swiss cheese, lashings of pulled pork, flavoursome streaky bacon and a warm BBQ sauce, all encased in a tasty brioche style bun. The main meal came with fries and coleslaw, although I traded my traditional fries for sweet potato fries. Uniquely, the meal arrived on a small, rectangular plastic tray, covered with a sheet of Smoke Haus embossed paper, giving the lunch time tray feel a distinctly classier feel whilst maintaining the theme. The burger was certainly impressive in size and I cut it in half eagerly. It was absolutely amazing, the flavour combinations simply perfect together. The pulled pork was a mini mountain on top of my oozy cheese covered beef, the bacon adding a stab of saltiness and the BBQ sauce lacing everything together with a rich and sticky sweetness. It hit my spot big time!

The sweet potato fries were tasty too, being thin, crispy and very moreish to munch on. They were served P1050427in a white oven dish which gave the feel that they had just emerged fresh from the oven. Splodging ketchup messily, I got stuck in. The coleslaw was pretty standard, served in a small black dip dish, hiding in the corner of my tray. Needless to say, I enjoyed my meal so much that I polished it off completely, loving every mouthful.

Price wise, I would say Smoke Haus is very reasonable. For my main course and two cocktails, I paid around £25. The service was also good, with our food coming out quite promptly considering we were a large group of 11. The waiting staff were friendly and brought over drinks nice and quick too. On the whole, I really enjoyed my Smoke Haus experience and would love to visit again next time I am in Cardiff. Seeing a hot dog waft past, I definitely have one of those bad boys on my ‘must eat’ list!

Holiday Munchies: Coast to Coast, Birmingham

P1050240The arrival of birthday month simply means one thing – I get to indulge in an array of deliciously decadent food, using getting another year older as an excuse to visit restaurants that have long been on my hit list. When my husband whisked me off to Birmingham to watch the Yonex All England Badminton Championships as my birthday present, not only was I eagerly awaiting being glued to my favourite sport all day, but I was also secretly excited to tuck into fancy dinners during our two night stay. Based near Broad Street, we were ideally located to hunt up some of central Birmingham’s tastiest venues, so for our first treat out we decided to check out American bar and grill Coast to Coast.

The Saturday night vibe was in full swing when we arrived on the Saturday night for our 8.15pm table. The music was slightly too loud for intimate conversation, however the upbeat retro classics soon had me singing along instead, with constant exclamations of ‘I haven’t heard this in ages!’ followed by enthusiastic head nods to the beat. Needless to say, the other half soon buried his head in the menu! Coast to Coast provides a unique cross over between a sports bar, an exclusive members club and a music lounge – decked out with dark wood, the tables are in the majority booth style seating, or the seats P1050245that utilise a sofa on one side. With deep forest green cushioning, each table had a great amount of privacy – our table was an intimate one for two, tucked near the bar. We had large armchair style dining seats with plush green cushioning, a retro styled golden wall lamp illuminating our table atmospherically. Although I loved the fact that us customers weren’t all sat on top of each other, I do feel that our out of the way table did mean the waiting staff ignored us too, and we ended up waiting an age to place any form of order. Waiting for drinks was also thirsty work. Despite this problem, I couldn’t help but be sucked in by the relaxed party mood of Coast to Coast. It was absolutely buzzing.

Flicking through the book of menu, I was very impressed with the range of dishes on offer. There were burgers, steaks, grills, classics, fish, salads, pizzas and calzones too however they weren’t just your bog standard offerings. Although there were options for the fussy eaters out there, the restaurant had also provided plenty of choice for those who wanted to mix up their meals and try their favourite dishes with a new spin or flavour combination. It all sounded delicious and I had real trouble narrowing down my top picks. I even had the same problem with the drinks menu, as I soon spied a cocktail menu, wonderfully broken down into an array of sections – a sure sign they mean business. I started off with a fruity number, selecting the French martini – raspberry vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice. Presented in a classic martini glass this was refreshing and zingy, reminding me slightly of a Cosmopolitan.

P1050242Dan chose starters, going for the sesame salted pretzels that we could share. Served in a small silver bucket on a rectangular plate, the pretzels were the wonderfully doughy bread variety that are so traditional across the pond. Tied in neat figure of eights and scattered with both poppy and sesame seeds, these were so soft and squidgy with a subtly buttery coating that added a note of luxury to the flavour. Dunked in a generous dip bowl of sour cream, these didn’t last long!

To go with my main course, I needed a refill on my cocktail. Sticking with my martini theme, I this time chose a Tiramisu version made with Kahlua, dark rum, coffee liqueur and chocolate. I love a creamy cocktail and this one really hit my spot, delicately decorated with cocoa powder yet hiding a seductively silky coffee creamy punch. Happy with my drinks choice, it was time to consider my food. Knowing my penchant for pizza, I had to go for a calzone, naturally the Meat Feast which was packed with pulled beef brisket, pulled pork, diced chorizo and red onion, all drenched in BBQ sauce and enclosed in a wonderfully soft pizza dough. Although the portion size came up rather a lot smaller than I was expecting, paired with a red cabbage and rocket based salad garnish / side, the actual flavours were divine. The pulled meats were so tender and had absorbed that gooey and sticky BBQ nuance perfectly. The chorizo added an P1050243element of spice to further tie together the flavours as well as provide a slightly different texture. The red onion gave a fresh and pungent slice to the taste. I am pleased to report that my calzone had plenty of filling and that it really was delicious, with lots of sauce too. The dough itself was soft and rip-able, providing a fantastic case to showcase the punchy flavours within. I really enjoyed this meal and would certainly recommend it. Dan went for his usual burger, however I am proud to say he went for a new taste combo, opting for the chilli cheese version. This basically was a beef burger paired with streaky bacon and a chilli cheese sauce, dished up with classic fries. Having a sneaky munch, the burger was gorgeous and I would very much be tempted by their triple decker version next time we were in town. Totally reckon I could down that.

P1050244No meal is complete with satisfying my sweet tooth, so this meant yet another cocktail also. For round three, I continued working my way down the martini menu, this time selecting the intriguing sounding Peanut Butter martini. This one contained vodka, smooth peanut butter, chocolate syrup and honey, for a sweet yet nutty taste. The vodka really laced the flavours together and gave it a firm kick too. What I loved most however was that instead of dusting the rim of the triangular glass with the typical sugar crystals, this drink used digestive biscuit crumbs instead to better match the drink. I loved how unique this cocktail was and I so pleased I got to try it.

As for dessert itself, I decided to pick something different, going for the Millionaires Waffle. With Dan choosing the same, we couldn’t wait to devour this impressive sounding treat. The waffle was made fresh, so we did have a little more of a wait here, but it was definitely worth it in my book. By far our biggest portion size, the waffle was huge, with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream plopped plum in the centre. Drizzles of dark chocolate and salted caramel sauce zig zagged across the plate energetically while a suggestive scatter of chocolate coated honeycomb pieces added an extra element of crunch to P1050247the dish. The waffle was beautiful, really soft and quite doughy but I liked this texture. Dan mentioned that he prefers his waffles with a more crisp crunch on the outside, so they didn’t really tick his boxes – clearly waffles are a more personal thing than I anticipated! At the end of the day however, you can’t go wrong with a chocolate and caramel based combo, so using these flavours on a traditional and popular dessert such as the waffle was always going to be a winner.

On the whole, I had a fantastic evening at Coast to Coast. I thought the atmosphere was brilliant and really enlivened that Saturday night feel of excitement. The choice on the menu was great and there was definitely plenty to pick from no matter was foods you like or dislike. The cocktail menu is quite simply a work of art, and priced at just under £7 per drink, it’s not completely out of reach either although I wish I had known about the earlier happy hour that I missed! Getting served and noticed was problematic and I had to hail down our waiter numerous times to try and get his attention – we waiting far too long just to place our first order of drinks. Despite the waiting time being excruciatingly long, the staff themselves were chatty and pleasant, so when they actually arrived, they were rather nice! I would return to Coast to Coast in a heartbeat – wink wink nudge nudge, birthday for next year hubby?

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Holiday Munchies: Charnallies, Clacton on Sea, Essex

P1050228Once I discovered my husband was planning a little weekend away in Clacton, I instantly hit Trip Advisor to find us somewhere tasty to have our dinner on Saturday night. Being a weekend, I was keen to book us a table in case the local restaurants were busy, so I thought a little research wouldn’t go amiss. American bar, grill and coffee house Charnallies was literally a two minute walk from the front door of our hotel, also boasting numerous five star ratings. Checking that the array of burgers, ribs, pizza and pasta was suitable for my fussy other half, I promptly booked a table for 8pm, intrigued to see whether the quality of the food would match the reviews I had already read.

Upon entering Charnallies, I certainly didn’t have to worry about booking a table as the place was empty. There were a few other couples scattered around the edges of the restaurant, a long table in the centre housing a family 50th birthday meal but other than that, there was plenty of space. The restaurant was roomy enough that we could all sit at separate ends and not really interfere with each other which offered great privacy. The way the tables were laid out though also ensured you wouldn’t be interrupted or squashed together which was nice, and there was also some booth seating, with tables surrounded by plush lipstick red cushions.P1050230

Stylistically, there was that American diner feel, with retro style tables and chairs and a gangster style wall mural covering the back wall, utilising bright primary colours against the dove grey of mafia suits.  With twenties style lettering and a jukebox design covering the front of the menu, the theme is maintained throughout. I instantly felt at ease and relaxed, the atmosphere hovering just the right side of cheesy to be acceptable and fun rather than overdone in any way. Sat at a dining table for four, we had plenty of space for just the two of us, although the freezing, gale like winds that buffered us whenever the door opened wasn’t the best. Wearing a top and cardigan, I soon had to resort to whipping my scarf back on too – never a good sign!

I was really excited to try the cocktail menu – yes, they did have a wine menu but I barely gave it a second glance when I saw that the majority of the cocktails available were just under a fiver each. With cocktail prices hitting nearer £7 local to me and then swaggering around the £10 point in London, these cheap and cheerful prices had me studying the different categories with gusto. Did I fancy fruity? What about enjoying a classic? The creamy, dessert like option also drew my eye and that’s without even considering the long drinks or the shots. P1050232Needless to say, I would have to try and few throughout the evening. With Dan picking a prawn cocktail for his starter, I decided to kick things off with a Tequila Sunrise instead, one of my favourite combinations that includes orange juice, grenadine and tequila. Decorated with a generously fat circle of orange, it was presented nicely and tasted ok but I couldn’t quite grasp the punch of tequila. Either alcohol portions were small or it had been too watered down with the juices. It was refreshing though.

Dan’s prawn cocktail on the other hand was certainly a bit lacklustre. Served on an oval plate, a trail of anaemic prawns formed a line down the centre, a garden of lettuce stacked to the side next to two rustic cubes of toasted ciabatta. The seafood sauce formed a zig zag across the top. Dan commented that he struggled to eat the components together, much preferring this dish when served in a traditional glass.P1050231

For my main course, I had gone for one of my favourite types of food – the folded up pizza also known as a calzone. The one I had gone for was the Calzone Carne and I was looking forward to a meaty hit here. This one contained slices of pepperoni, large shards of thick sliced bacon, cut up sausage segments as well as red onion, all mixed in a tasty Italian style tomato sauce. On top was also a very generous puddle of cheese sauce. When it arrived at the table, I was a bit surprised at its presentation, as the calzone had been cut in half and I hadn’t seen this done before. I was pleased to see so much cheese sauce however as I love saucy foods and dunking my meals in various sauces, so this was ideal for my pizza crust section of the calzone that was devoid of filling. The creamy cheese sauce was also a perfect juxtaposition to the tomato sauce P1050233within, providing a good contrast. I wouldn’t say the cheese sauce tasted overly of cheese – it was boarderline between a cheese sauce and a white one, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The dough of my calzone was really delicious – soft and springy it was really lovely and the perfect case to my filling. The pepperoni was pretty standard, adding a nice level of spice to the tomato sauce and I really enjoyed the rustic, thick cut bacon. It was nice to have actual pieces rather than the usual miniscule cubes of pancetta. The sausage segments were nice and added to the meatiness, although you could tell that the quality of the sausage wasn’t great. It was a decent size portion and I didn’t feel like I needed any sides. I didn’t feel too full afterwards either which is always a good thing when it comes to dessert. I did enjoy my calzone and although I think it could have been fine tuned slightly to be a better version of itself, it wasn’t a bad meal.

To go with my main course, I switched my cocktail to a White Russian, mixed with vodka, Kahlua and cream. Served in a standard glass, it did have a more alcoholic vigour than my first drink, although not really enough for me. It had a lovely flavour and the cream was thin enough to make it drinkable with my meal. It was nice but still verging on the cheap side. For his main course, Dan had ordered the haddock and chips, which ended up being cod and chips as that was the white fish they had in. His battered fish did look a bit sorry for itself, clearly P1050236overcooked as it was a very deep brown batter, however some sections of the fish didn’t look that great inside. Dan found the tartare sauce too bitter for his liking, although the chips and peas were fine.

Dessert is usually my favourite course, and with an array of sundaes and cookie options available, I was really impressed by the choice on the dessert menu. I pretty much wanted everything! Knowing my penchant for chocolate and my love of sundaes, I had to pick the Chocolate Crunch Sundae, which used a combination of both chocolate and toffee ice creams, topped with chocolate fudge cake, honeycomb pieces and whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce and speared by a flake and wafer. When the sundae arrived at the table, it was a decent size – nothing is more disappointing than a small sundae. The flake was smaller than my little finger which is a shame as I was expecting a full sized one, however once I digged under the creamy topping I found the lovely chocolate fudge cake. It was definitely more a light chocolate sponge than a dense brownie, crumbled into large to medium bite sized segments that were sat atop a bed of crushed up honeycomb. Underneath this layer was the chocolate ice cream, with the toffee ice cream at the bottom, the chocolate sauce attempting to lace its way down the dessert. I loved the P1050235flavours and the textures, really enjoying getting stuck in. My only comment would be that it was very divided and regimented. With a sundae, you need some of the toppings and fillings inserted underneath the first ice cream layer and even something at the bottom too, to maintain the flavour and interest as you go along, constantly giving that differing texture to eat alongside the ice cream. With this one, everything simply had it’s one layer and you had to eat all of that before you could even reach the next, so it wasn’t put together as well as I would have liked. Dan opted for the Wiseguy Waffles which were basically waffles topped with one scoop of vanilla and one scoop of chocolate ice cream, swirled with chocolate sauce and scattered with cookie chunks. Sampling a cookie chunk, I would describe them more as biscuits rather than cookies – cookies are meant to be gooey, soft and chewy, while these were a mashed up chocolate chip biscuit in my opinion.P1050234

To have with my dessert, I carried on with the ice cream theme for my accompanying cocktail, this time going for a Frozen Brandy Alexander. This was brandy and dark chocolate liquor, blended with vanilla ice cream for a thick cocktail, served in a martini glass and dusted with cocoa powder. The flavour was heavily of the soft scoop vanilla ice cream, although laced with alcohol this did perk up the flavour. My one comment on the cocktails is that they taste more like soft drinks – definitely need to actually add a single portion of alcohol to give the cocktails their true flavours. It tasted as if there was barely any alcohol added at all.

The service was quite good, with the waiting staff being attentive and inquisitive, chatting away happily and politely. We had to wait a little while for our mains, but our waitress did apologise for this. Price wise, I would say that Charnallies was rather cheap, coming to £50.60 for one starter, two main courses, two desserts, three cocktails and one soft drink. My only problem was that this cheapness was reflected in some of the shortcuts used which took the shine off what could have been an exceptional meal. For example, adding the right amount of alcohol to drinks and using good quality cuts of meat and fish. This little tweaks would make all the difference. Walking back to our hotel afterwards, we both agreed that the five star ratings on Trip Advisor were over generous, and although the food was nice, we weren’t sure if we would bother going back. I enjoyed my meal much more than Dan enjoyed his, and although everything was ok and tasty, there was nothing exceptional or anything that stood out. It was just a good meal. It was tasty and I liked it but I wouldn’t write home about it.