Holiday Munchies: The Hayloft, Liskeard, Cornwall

A bank holiday weekend in Cornwall wouldn’t be complete without a slap up family meal, and on this occasion, my mother-in-law sourced nearby restaurant The Hayloft for us to try, situated a 20 minute drive away from her village in the neighbouring town of Liskeard.

First appearances had all the hallmarks of quintessential rural charm; the cottage style building was adorned with a grey slate tile roof, and painted a gently cheering shade of pale yellow. Decorated with topiary potted plants, neatly trimmed rounded bushes, and hanging floral baskets attached to stonework outer walls, The Hayloft was wonderfully picturesque and inviting, yet also had an overbearing elegance due to its tidy maintenance and thoughtful presentation.

The interior was just as quaint however it also felt polished and well put together. The typical ceiling beams had been painted a pale grey to help add height and space to the quirkily shaped rooms, while the whitewashed walls, window paned alcoves and beam-draped fairy lights all combined to further enhance the notion of space. We were seated at a corner table upstairs, with a rectangular table and wooden dining chairs pushed against a decorative high backed wooden bench.

To kick things off, I ordered a large glass of red wine, a French Grenache-pinot noir to be exact. Labelled as soft and jammy, it sounded right up my street and I additionally liked the sound of the red fruit flavours. The wine itself turned out to be very easy drinking; it was smooth and silky with an intense fruity flavour that the ‘jam’ notation had implied. I don’t typically have red wine when I’m out, but this was a very good shout on my part.

For starters, we all shared a very simple bread board, which was served on a rustic wooden chopping board. It featured a few slices of soft baguette style bread as well as several chunks of holey ciabatta. However, for me, it was the dips that took this bread board to the next level. In one white ramekin was a garlic oil for that splash of the Italian, but our favoured topping was the house butter. Flavoured with spices such as turmeric and cumin, the butter was warming and gently spicy, meaning that it carried a slightly sweet curry flavour. It was so unique and we all loved it, lashing it generously on our respective bread slices with gusto. The concept of a house butter is unusual, and one with these flavourings even more so, however it really worked and gained a huge thumbs up from everyone at the table.

I decided to go for pork for my main dish, however this wasn’t just any old pork, but a trio of pork. My main meal featured Cornish pork belly, pulled pork, and pork loin, all served on a bed of buttery fried leeks. A cube of dauphinoise potatoes sat neatly at one end of my plate, while a neatly curled blob of burnt apple puree decorated the opposite end of my plate. At first glance, the portion looked rather small, and I was initially worried about how full I would be by the end of the meal. However, all thoughts of portion size diminished as soon as I started eating the food, as the flavours were just sensational. The pulled pork was sticky thick strands, coated in a typical BBQ toned sauce, the meat soft and tender. The chunk of pork loin was tougher to cut, but the meat was well flavoured and I could detect hints of lemon and various herbs peeking through the meaty taste. The loin was also nice and thick which is a win in my book. The pork belly was presented more like a steak shape with the fat trimming along one side, however both the fat and meat had a full-bodied flavour with crispy, crunchy outer edges, yet a juicily moist and soft centre that yielding satisfying under my knife. Each pork component was really delightful, so to have them all on one plate was a tasting sensation, and great for indecisive diners like myself.

The burnt apple puree was a deep purple, almost black in colour. I didn’t really get apple as the predominant flavour though, to me it tasted more like plums. Despite that, the texture was just the right consistency to spread generously over the meat without it being stodgy or sliding everywhere, and its peppy sweetness cut through the pork deliciously. The diamond cut leeks were really lovely too, I reckon they were pan fried in some butter to help them gain a lovely softness with a slight caramelised edge. The dauphinoise potatoes were soft and creamy, the knife easily sliding through the thin-cut slices. The top was a golden brown yet not too crunchy, which suits me.

Now dessert, I was really looking forward to. I ordered a chocolate and peanut bread and butter pudding, which would be served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I adore bread and butter but I don’t have it often, so I was thrilled to see an option that included not only one of my favoured desserts but that had the added bonuses of chocolate and peanut thrown in too. Presented on a rectangular wooden chopping board, the pudding itself was served in a beehive shaped brown ceramic bowl, which was a lot deeper than you would get at a lot of other restaurants. Next to it sat the scoop of ice cream, sitting pretty in neat circle of crushed biscuits for added crunch. The pudding used chocolate chips rather than raisins for the chocolate twist, which was really lovely as the chocolate melted around the edges to sink into the different layers of the pudding. The peanut element was peanut butter used to coat the bread slices, so it was a subtle, background note that gently inundated and permeated your mouthfuls in a very satisfying and non-invasive fashion. Chocolate and peanut is a classic combo for a reason, so this obviously worked well together. The bread and butter pudding was soft and squidgy; a true hallmark to good old fashioned cooking. The hottest bottom part of the pudding was also basically custard and a lot more liquid, which I actually rather liked as a hidden treasure to scoop up. Sweet and decadent, this generously portioned dessert soon filled me up to the rafters and boy did I enjoy it. The ice cream and biscuit dusting was a nice accompaniment too however I did spend more time worshiping the very lovely pud.

As a treat, I ordered a glass of dessert wine to have with my afters and I’m so glad that I did. I am still very much dabbling into the world of dessert wines, exploring what flavours and concoctions I like. I decided to choose a wine that I hadn’t heard of or tried before; I can’t remember the exact name but it began with Pedro. It was intensely dark in colour, by far the darkest dessert wine I’ve ever seen, almost like burnt honey or dark caramel from the top of a crème brulee. It tasted intensely like raisins and an abundance of dried fruit, giving it both a rich yet sweet taste. It was wonderfully sweet with a honey nectar feel, but I really loved how much it tasted like raisins. If I can hunt down what this was, I’ll certainly be looking in my local supermarket for it!

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at The Hayloft. The menu was simple yet perfectly executed and the quality of the ingredients was evident with every mouthful. Different flavour combinations exploded across our plates and had us licking our lips with every course. Even though the main course portions were rather small, the tastes and textures were huge. Plus, my pudding was generous and filling, so I certainly didn’t leave hungry in the slightest. A two course meal with a sharing starter and drinks for five people came to £144 so the menu is also reasonably priced which is a plus point. Since this is their summer menu, I also suspect that this is a seasonal menu, so I can only rub my hands together for my next visit to see what autumn will bring to The Hayloft.

Advertisements

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.

Holiday Munchies: The Ebringham Arms, the Cotswolds

Luxury B&B’s are all the rage at the moment, providing quick getaway escapes for busy city types looking to swap a skyline of office buildings for a sunset of green fields. My husband Dan and I selected The Ebringham Arms in the Cotswolds for our bolthole of choice, as we were instantly drawn to the impressive accolades its restaurant had mounted up. It was almost compulsory that we check it out for ourselves when we were in the area for our two year wedding anniversary road trip.

I instantly fell in love with the décor the pub, with its rustic dark grey slated floor, wide bricked fireplaces and dark wooden furniture, accented with gold gilt mirrors, elegantly placed taper candles, and delicately hoarded bric-a-brac, which adorned every nook and granny of the pub lodgings with adorable countryside charm. Chunky wooden mantelpieces held stacks of colourful books, while black cast iron wood burners sat happily next to a pile of neatly felled logs. High backed bench seating was filled with checkered grey cushions to add comfort to the wood, while the bright sunshine poured in through small, low windows that matched the age of the beamed low ceilinged building. Wonderfully rural yet impeccably stylish, The Ebringham Arms oozes both countryside magic and effortless class.

Needless to say, I was excited to get stuck into our three course meal that came included with our room for the night. For starters, I went for fresh, green asparagus spears that lay heavily next to a pregnancy poached egg covered lightly in golden breadcrumbs. The egg nestled cosily against a thick blob of mayonnaise like sauce, to complete the array of textures. Spearing the yielding egg was immensely satisfying on every level, especially when the bright yellow yolk trickled and pooled across the plate in a river of meltiness. The al-dente asparagus provided the perfect dipping implement, with a stand-up flavour that shone through the sticky egg. The crunchy crumb was light enough not to bombard the delicate egg, but instead worked to jar against the softness for added bite. The sauce gave the dish a medium level texture, as well as a more citrus inundation. A simple starter no doubt, but well executed and certainly yummy.

My main course was epic. I can think of no better word to describe the pile of fish and chips I was presented with. The large fillet of battered cod was an absolute monster, stretching lazily from one end of the dinner plate to the other, its batter curling in crisp corkscrews at each end. The batter on the fish was the darkest I have ever seen, with chunky sea salt sprinkled over the top. The beer batter was thick all the way round the fish, providing an ample coating. It was crunchy, bubbly and the perfect armour for the soft, white flaky cod housed within. The batter was so crisp and crunchy that you couldn’t help but snap into it as you ate. The fish was also a delight, being so completely different from the batter. The fillet itself was a very generous size so it was nice and tall too. It really was completely spot on. The fish was served atop a mountain of skin-on fries, which were pretty standard fare, as was the lurid green splodge of mushy peas hiding in the corner of the plate. The fish was clearly the star of this dinner show and I would bow to its excellence time and time again. The huge portion really filled me up and I just loved how the battered fish was so flavourful in each component, as well as varied in its textures. A winning dish for sure.

Dessert consisted of a chocolate tart for me, and boy was this one special. Again, a very impressive portion size, and the large slice was accompanied by a passion fruit coulee blob, as well as a dome of light ice cream to contrast the tart. The tart itself was incredibly dense with a thick, unyielding texture that was heaven to bite into and fill your mouth with. Where it was so dense, it had a very robust dark chocolate flavour that was just dreamy. Despite being massively full from the fish and chips, I still savoured and enjoyed every spoonful of this luscious dessert.

The great thing about the room package that we had booked at The Ebringham Arms was that not only did it include this three course dinner, but we were also able to tuck into breakfast the next morning. Served in the back room near the flower-filled beer garden, the early morning sunshine flooded across the slated floor, the morning peace and quiet accompanied by the gentle chinking of cutlery and china wear, the hum of people happily munching food, and birds limbering up their tweeting from the safety of nearby trees.

I started my breakfast with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a smooth white coffee. I was then brought a gorgeous glass bowl filled with generous spoonfuls of thick and creamy Greek yoghurt, a juicy red berry compote mounted on top to flood deep ruby juice in rivulets down the pure white yoghurt. Licking the bowl and spoon clean, I set up my knife and fork ready for the main event.

A full English breakfast is surely a necessity when residing in the countryside, and I have to say, this was one of the very best, if not the very best, full English I have ever had the joyful pleasure to consume. Probably the only dish at The Ebringham Arms that we had eaten so far that was not a huge portion, each component of the breakfast screamed ‘quality’ and ‘fresh local sources’. The two sauces were thin and long with a vague spicy tone, while the bacon was tastily crisped and thick to boot. The tomatoes were standard fare really, as were the baked beans, which were presented in a large ceramic ramekin; ideal for dunking toast FYI. I promptly disposed of my mushroom on Dan’s plate – I just really dislike the slimy texture of mushrooms generally – and in return I stole his lump of black pudding. Now, I am a recent black pudding convert and I am only just finding my feet with this controversial breakfast ingredient; however the black pudding at The Ebringham Arms is unlike any I have eaten before. Presented in a circular tower, this black pudding tasted so incredibly flavoursome. It was pungent, it was so very meaty, it was crispy on the outside edges yet vaguely crumbly on the inside. This black pudding was delicious and I was more than happy to agree to the mushroom-black pudding trade-off for a second portion. Sat plumb in the middle of the plate was a self-satisfied fried egg that had managed to maintain a neat round shape. Its yolk wobbled appetisingly, plump and ready to piece. A very decent start to the day if you ask me.

We may have paid an arm and a leg for our package at The Ebringham Arms, however the food was absolutely wonderful. I can quite happily concur with its awards and accolades, as I polished off every plate I was presented with, admired every flavour combination and enjoyed every juxtaposition of texture. It is good, old-fashioned British food served at its prime in meals favoured by Brits everywhere. Classy and tasty, I only wish I could return sooner.

Holiday Munchies: The Stables, Cheltenham

A wedding anniversary road trip has numerous plus points, and undoubtedly, one of the most taste-tingling benefits is the opportunity to test out local food hot spots that are favoured by both locals and tourists alike. So, when my husband Dan and I found ourselves perusing the shopping haunts of Cheltenham, we thought it would be criminal if we didn’t also sample pizza and cider speciality restaurant The Stables, located in the heart of the city.

The Stables is everything a cool, hipster hangout should be. The general layout of the restaurant is across two levels, with typical dining chairs and tables thrown out in favour of long banquet style wooden benches and tables; subconsciously promoting the gathering of friends of family, the clustering of people for the traditional sharing of fodder. Pale clean lines of wood are accented with a palate of muted greys, the focus point of the room a long wooden bar where eager punters can order their food and beverages. White pillar candles and potted plants on the tables add an al-fresco dining vibe to the spacious restaurant; its informal casual attitude like a warm shrug of a greeting between old pals.

The reason we chose to have our dinner at The Stables was very simple really; it specialised in all of our favourite food and drinks. Italian style pizza is a tremendous fault line in my armour of will power, so seeing their pizza selection had me wetting my lips in anticipation. The Stables also specialise in a very decent line of pies, which certainly piques the interest. Dan on the other hand had zoned in completely on their specialist cider range, hungrily devouring the drinks menu and flavour notes with zeal. He decided to take this curiosity one step further by ordering the venue’s cider tasting platter. This consists of a wooden drinks holder showcasing five half pint glasses of different ciders, each one a completely different shade of amber, from dusky sunlight hues to melted honey darkness. Simply labelled one to five, the bar staff choose different ciders each week to feature in the platter, to cater for seasonal specialities or new treats that might have come in. The platter is accompanied by a tasting card, detailing the name and alcohol content of each cider you are sampling. Educational and fun methinks. While Dan starting sniffing and sipping ciders, I ordered myself a carafe of sauvignon blanc, instantly fawning over the vase-shaped carafe and wondering if I could possibly squeeze it into my clutch bag (answer: no).

Main course was an obvious choice for both of us as we ordered pizza. I opted for the Blazing Saddle, a pizza bejewelled with slow-roasted pulled beef, dry-cured bacon, caramelised onions, and roasted red peppers. I also chose to chuck in some extra chorizo too, as The Stables sources a unique local chorizo that I just had to try. Sour cream was then drizzled attractively across the top of the pizza. Served on a round pizza board and armed with a pizza cutter, it takes vast amounts of restraint to eat said pizza in a polite fashion. The base was typically Italian, so served thin with a puffed up narrow crust. There was enough dough to form a satisfying base yet not enough to venture into the land of soft American-style pizza. Dunking my crusts into the pools of sour cream on my pizza was a lovely bonus, although for me, the meat was the star attraction on my pizza. The pulled beef was rich and flavourful, while the spicy chorizo filled your mouth with full-bodied flavour. The bacon added an extra satisfying meatiness and a peppy saltiness, and since onions and peppers are two of my favourite vegetables, their addition to the pizza only made me happier. Pizza may be simple food, but it certainly allows the showcased ingredients to sing loud and proud.

Dan’s pizza was also devoured lustily; he had chosen the Longhorn Jim. This featured ground beef, the same famed chorizo that I added to my pizza, mushrooms, roasted red onion and smoked ham. One happy husband.

As if a pizza for main course wasn’t enough (is there really such a thing as too much pizza?!?) Dan and I unanimously also decided we had to sample the chocolate pizza for dessert; such a rare dessert menu item surely deserved to grace our table? Presented in the same way the main course pizzas were, the chocolate pizza base was a smidge thicker and a lot paler to ensure it was not as crispy, but instead retained an element of doughiness for squidge factor.  A chocolate and hazelnut spread was smeared unevenly across the pretty flat base, leaving plenty of space around the edges for that makeshift crust. Generous blobs of melted white chocolate were then haphazardly flung at random spots on the pizza before the whole thing was dusted with icing sugar. I really enjoyed this unique dessert and the flavour combinations were lovely – you simply cannot go wrong when it comes to chocolate and sweet dough. There wasn’t enough of the chocolate and hazelnut spread for my liking, as I prefer lashings of toppings on my meal, although I did spread my white chocolate blobs with my knife to compensate for any chocolate gaps I spotted. Very filling and something different.

Now I decided to continue the theme of chocolate even further by ordering myself a boozy chocolate orange hot chocolate featuring, you guessed it, Cointreau. Almost as decadent as a dessert itself, the hot chocolate was mounted with a swirl of soft squirty cream which was dusted with cocoa and adorned with big dark chocolate chips. A couple of decorative slices of orange completed the drink. Although the hot chocolate certainly looked the part, I can’t say I was overly blown away. The hot chocolate was rather thin which diminished the chocolate taste, and I didn’t really get too much of the Cointreau coming through. It was also lukewarm-ish by the time I got it, which also didn’t enhance the flavour.

All in all, I thought The Stables was really different as a venue. Ordering from the bar is quite unusual for restaurants that aren’t also pubs, but then again that could be a nod to its cider side. The bar staff were friendly and informative, even if they weren’t overly speedy, and our food was timely in coming to the table. The prices were also average so nothing too astronomical, although since Dan paid, he may wish to contradict me on that! For pizza, pie and ciders lovers, I would certainly recommend a visit for a laid-back evening with your mates.

Eating Around: The Mug House, London Bridge, London

Quintessentially British, The Mug House is a pub restaurant within the popular Davy’s chain that smacks of good old fashioned Englishness from centuries ago whilst also being bang up to date with a gourmet menu of classic dishes. Hidden in the domed alcoves of London Bridge, opposite the tourist-trap of the London Dungeons, this hideaway is a real treasure trove.

Bursting at the seams with character, I adored the atmosphere as soon as I stepped foot in the place. I felt as if I had gone back in time thanks to the classically whitewashed walls, multitude of dark wooden beams clustering the ceiling, and large polished beer barrels acting as quirky drinks tables by the entryway bar area.

Already impressed by The Mug House’s traditional yet polished take on a London ale house, my family and I walked around to the restaurant part of the pub, where we would be enjoying our dinner. Luxury labelled wine bottles sat proudly on each table, white taper candles speared into the makeshift holders and wax decadently dribbling down the side of the bottles. The blush red toned walls were in keeping with the abundance of wooden furniture, while more wine bottles lined shelves along the walls. Due to its location, natural sunlight is a no go; however the candlelight and numerous wall fixture lights maintained a lovely ambience under the rounded ceilings, creating an intimate and cosy vibe. Blackboards listed specials for both food and drink options, adding to the traditional feel of the place. Having a soft spot for this style of décor that has a nod to times gone by meant that my first impressions were gleeful to say the least. Now all that was left was to see whether the food and drink matched the opening standards set by this impressively presented pub.

We ordered the house red to share with our meal and very nice it was too. A deep blood red in colour, it was surprisingly fruity and medium weighted, making it very easy to drink throughout our meal. To start, my husband Dan and I shared, opting for the lemon and herb flavoured hummus, which was served with sliced up and grilled flatbreads. As hummus fans in general, it was great to get such a citrus and fresh twist on a classic, with the lemon adding a vibrant zing to the luxuriously thick and smooth dipping sauce. The flatbread was soft to bite yet held its shape when dunking and catching the hummus, which as we all know, is of vital importance. It was easily enough for one person, but the portion size was still generous enough to accommodate two so that we could have a graze before our main meal to whet the appetite.

For my main course, I decided to have a ploughman’s. I thoroughly enjoy a good British ploughman’s; however they very rarely feature on restaurant menus, despite being a pub classic in my mind. The Mug House’s version however had certainly been given the gastro pub makeover as it was a classy and sophisticated offering, presented on a round wooden cheeseboard. The slices of ham were cut generously thick, the meat both lean and light. Two long triangles of yellow cheddar came up next, balanced on top of each other, while a small pile of salad leaves acted as a bed for a black pudding scotch egg. A recent convert to black pudding, this scotch egg was dreamy. The egg was soft boiled so had that wonderfully opulent gooey and oozy centre that pools everywhere with each bite. The crust of the egg was perfectly cooked for crunch factor, while the black pudding element really enhanced the flavoursome meat within to give a richer and deeper taste. Armed with four decent sized triangles of chargrilled white bread, I tucked in with gusto, making sure to sample the caramelised onion chutney and sunset orange relish that sat in small white ramekins next to my little butter dish. Every component was simple, yet simply delicious, and I could tell the ingredients were of a high quality. Pairing the separate elements together is part of the fun of a ploughman’s, so I wrapped salad in my ham before dunking it in relish, piled the bread with cheese and chutney. Fun food at its finest.

Dessert also left me a happy bunny as I chose the traditional sticky toffee pudding for my afters. Served with a large jug of wonderful custard, there was even enough for me to drench my pudding just how I like it. The sauce had a fiery whiskey kick that was great soaked up into the caramel toned cake, with the dessert being moist, soft and full of flavour all round.

All in all, I was very impressed with The Mug House. Granted we went at a quiet time for our family meal; 5.30pm on a Saturday, so it was a lot quieter and more peaceful than I imagine it would be later on in the evening. I really loved both the décor and the atmosphere, and it presented the perfect environment for us to have a tasty family catch up. Due to its location, it is going to be more costly all round, however the quality of our meals is testament that it was worth every penny, and I would certainly eat there again.

Homeward Bound: Beefeater Liberty Bell, Romford, Essex

The Liberty Bell has always been a reliable source of British pub grub, a mere 15 minute walk from my flat, making it an ideal date night location where both my husband and I can enjoy a few drinks yet still get home with ease. Partnered with Romford’s Premier Inn, the gastro pub used to be part of the Table Table chain, yet a recent renovation has seen it transform into a Beefeater. Although I know the differences are probably quite subtle and more nuanced – after all, it still serves British pub fodder – I was still keen to see what they had done to the place.

As you walk in, the most striking difference is the new décor. Beefeater have really overhauled and updated the interior to give the restaurant a really open feel, featuring plenty of large rectangular and circular tables, large mustard or coffee coloured leather sofa style seating, and quirky red or brown upholstered dining chairs. Wood panelling provides a barn-like vibe. Fun cow-related sayings perch on the walls, as well as other themed art, such as a multi-coloured cow cut out labelling the relevant joints of meat. It’s a light, bright space, and it has a really fun and casual atmosphere; perfect for kicking back after a long week at work. The nooks and grannies that previously hid seating when Table Table was in management have all disappeared, and Beefeater has embraced a much more homely yet classy vibe.

My husband and I were sat on an end table by the wall, providing an element of privacy. I nabbed the dining chair as Dan slid onto the mustard sofa opposite me, behind our wooden, square table. As he ordered a berry flavoured cider, I checked out the wine menu. I decided to try something a little different – my usual favourites are also naturally the most expensive on most menus, so I was trying to be savvy too! One of the cheaper white wines, it was pale in colour and vaguely fruity. It didn’t pack the fruity punch I was expecting and while it was delicate and light, it wasn’t the best wine in the world. Kudos for trying something new though, right?

As Dan enjoys a starter, I was cohered into sharing some garlic flatbread strips. This came up a lot bigger than either of us expected, despite it being on the sharer menu. So many starters are designed to share yet they come up minuscule, so this was incredibly refreshing. The large flatbread was cut into three vertical strips and served with a little ramekin of melted garlic butter for us to dunk the bread in. It was an ideal thickness, with a soft and plump edge, yet a crisp and crunchy garlic infused centre with a thin base. We dove in with a rip and pull tactic to divide the bread as we chatted.

For my main course, I looked to the seasonal menu. I wanted to try the beef rib wellington, however this happened to be the one and only dish that the restaurant had run out of! Cursing my bad luck, I scanned the menu and ordered my second choice, also on the seasonal menu. I ordered the beef fillet stack, naturally medium rare. The 8oz steak would be topped with a slice of streaky bacon, a slice of Somerset brie and a slow roasted tomato. Sides wise, the dish came with creamed spinach and crispy potato slices. I love a good steak, and at a venue called Beefeater, you kind of expect the beef to be pretty top notch.

I wasn’t wrong. The steak was perfectly cooked, and although I have had more tender steaks in fancier restaurants, there was nothing wrong with this piece of meat. It was just the right level of pinkness and it cut very easily, with a great, slightly chargrilled flavour. Lovely and thick, it was a tasty chunk of meat. I also liked the fact that the toppings provided me with enough juicy options to eat with my steak, so Dan watched in horror as my tomato ketchup dish remained largely untouched. Granted, the brie came up as a rather shrivelled and small slice, although it was nicely melted over the meat. The bacon was the smallest and skinniest slice I have ever had the misfortune to glance upon, however as a component of the whole dish, it was still ok. The tomato was nice and big, the roasting process really drawing out the flavour and giving it a lovely soft texture too. Each element worked really nicely together. If the dish had had less components, then I would have been disappointed, however all together, it was very nice indeed. The crispy potato slices were thin and rather nice. The creamed spinach was more like a sauce than a vegetable in my opinion as it was so liquid. I’m not sure that is entirely a good thing, however it tasted nice and I was able to use it to dunk my potatoes in so it wasn’t too shabby. Although the dish wasn’t entirely perfect, or as I expected, weirdly, it still worked, and I still enjoyed it.

Dan ordered a mixed grill and then promptly got the meat sweats. Each piece of meat on his plate was very generously sized and of good quality, leading him to say it was one of the best mixed grills that he had ever had. He struggled to finish, yet he still delivered a clean plate to earn a thumbs up.

For dessert, I went back to the seasonal menu to order a gin and tonic lemon trifle. I love trifle and I love gin and tonic, so this was very much a must-try for me. Served in glass straight-sided dessert bowl, the base of the trifle was very much like a sponge pudding with the gin and tonic soaked sponge fingers at the bottom. The gin was a main flavour which was great, as so often the alcohol can get hidden among other ingredients. The lemon curd that was meant to top the sponge was rather non-existent, however there was more than enough of the light and silky whipped cream on top to compensate, so pairing this with the moreish sponge was really lovely. It was a nice sized dessert and not too heavy after my main meal, so I’m really glad I got to try this one.

I couldn’t leave without ordering a Bailey’s milkshake too. Served in a traditional tall glass and garnished with chocolate shavings, it was basically a vanilla based ice cream, blended with Bailey’s. As with the gin, the Bailey’s was certainly present and correct, although not dominant throughout the whole drink so I’m not sure what the balance of the blend was exactly. It was creamy, cool and very nice indeed. An extra treat!

The Beefeater menu has a great choice and range to pick from, and we both enjoyed our meal there. Oddly enough, although I had little niggles about a couple of the dishes, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the food, and I’m still pleased with the food choices I made. I’ve even picked out a few dishes I’d like to try from the seasonal menu for next time! The portion sizes are really good, which is definitely something I value, and the waiting staff were chatty and polite. We spent just over £60 on our meal which is pretty much par for the course, so I’m happy with the price range too. All in all, we had a lovely date night, and I’m looking forward to going to my new Beefeater again soon!