Homeward Bound: The White Napkin, The Kiln Hotel, Brentwood, Essex

The tradition of afternoon tea is steeped in history, and it has long stood the test of time to move from an aristocratic daily regime to a nicety treat for modern day folk. This is exactly what afternoon tea was for me when I attended The White Napkin, The Kiln Hotel’s restaurant, with my sister Jess as we took our grandma out for a lunchtime afternoon tea in our home county of Essex.

A simple 20 minute drive away from our homes in Gidea Park, The Kiln Hotel in Brentwood sits snuggled just off the A127, hidden behind an attractive cluster of trees. Once you turn into the small driveway, you can park in the small gravel-floored car park before heading into the red bricked townhouse and adjoining stable style building. We were shown into a casual bar area while we waited for our table to be ready, the waitress dashing off to pour us chilled fizzy glasses of Prosecco. The bar area had polished wooden floor and plain white walls, leather chairs and sofas in shades of bright green,  musky purple and muted browns for accents of colours. From this simple yet stylish room, we were shown into the main restaurant room for our tea, with the white theme continuing with plain whitewashed walls used to try and enhance the notion of space in the cosy room. Our square table was situated by the window, allowing lots of lovely springtime light to flood the white linen tablecloth, and reflect off the small white vase holding pretty pink flowers.

While enjoying our very refreshing Prosecco, we chose our tea, with Grandma and I both opting for traditional breakfast tea, while Jess went for a fruitier option. When the afternoon tea stand arrived at the table, we all oohed and ahhed appreciatively at the cake-laden three-tiered stand, the pretty white china plates piled with delicious foodie goodies.

The base layer was our sandwiches, with four different sandwich filling flavours. Cut neatly into crust-less finger shapes, we each had one narrow sandwich of each flavour. In white bread, we had egg mayonnaise, which was creamy with soft eggy chunks, and ham and tomato. In brown bread, we had cucumber and cream cheese, while the last filling was tuna. The bread was your typical sandwich loaf so nothing over fancy there, the fillings too just classic combinations that are generally liked by all in order to ensure mass appeal. The finger sandwiches were well filled which is always nice.

The middle layer was our scones, and I was already pleased by the generous portions here. Our jam was served separately to the main stand on a little silver holder that carried numerous miniature jars of Tiptree jam, both strawberry and raspberry flavours. This meant that there was plenty of jam to go around as I think we had about six mini jars between the three of us. On the main scone plate, we had individual clotted cream portions too, presented just in their plastic tubs. With a cream tub each, we were each able to really load our scones to the max and not have to worry about scrimping. With regards to the scones, we had one fruit and one plain scone each; it’s such a bonus to get more than one scone, and especially if one is a fruit scone. Oddly enough, fruit scones seem to be dwindling in afternoon teas which I view as a massive shame, since they are the best in my opinion.  The scones were a decent medium-ish size, rough and rustic around the edges, a golden shade in colour. The inside of the scones were a soft, pale buttery colour, the buttery-ness also translating into the flavour of the scones. The texture on the inside of the scones was crumbly yet firm. The scones topped with their jam and cream was really delicious, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I was really impressed by the top cake layer, not just because of the variety of sweet treats available, but also because there was three of everything, which enabled us each to try everything. So many times you go out for afternoon tea and then only get one of each cake, which you then have to attempt to cut into stupid portions just so you can all try some. This was certainly not a problem at The White Napkin, which I was sincerely pleased about.

We had three generous chunks of tall Victoria sponge, which was really lovely. The sponge was sweet and sugary, super soft and moist yet crispier on top. The middle was generously smothered with both jam and cream for extra luxury. We had clear shot glasses too which were filled with a set custard like panna cotta, the white wobbly dessert topped with a decent layer of fruity berry compote. This tart fruit really infiltrated the creamy silkiness of the panna cotta which was a great contrast. In addition, we each had a tall dark chocolate cupcake, with a decorative swirl of chocolate buttercream mounted atop the squidgy sponge. Bakewell tarts had been cut in half to give us half a tart each, which was still a good portion. The shortcrust pastry base was crisp and provided a nice buttery firmness underneath a cherry jammy layer. Topped with traditional sweet marzipan and flaked almonds, the nuttiness was subtle and gentle and really complimented the jam flavours within. We also had a macaroon each; I nabbed the coffee flavoured one, Grandma couldn’t resist the brownie like chocolate macaroon, while Jess enjoyed the passion fruit option.

I have to say, this tea was certainly one of the nicest that I have had. Although the sandwiches were pretty basic and nothing to write home about, they were still nice to eat. However, it was the scones followed by the cake that was the main attraction of this tea. The scones were tasty and such a treat, while I was really impressed and pleased by the wide array of cakes; they literally had every sweet flavour checked off, as well as every texture. Plus, it was really great to have one of each cake too so that we could all have one each. The waiting staff were all friendly, and although they were rushing around due to a busy Saturday service, they did still top up our tea pot, although it did take a lot longer to get service due to the weekend rush. The afternoon tea was very reasonably priced too, I think it was around £15 per person so bargainous too. The food was very tasty, so I’m interested to see what their other menus are like.


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!

Homeward Bound: Osteria Due Fratelli, Hornchurch, Essex

I’d been meaning to visit Osteria Due Fratelli for quite a while before I finally got around to booking a table. It always looked so welcoming, the family-run restaurant painted an alluringly inviting shade of post box red. As an independent Italian restaurant amidst the sea of nearby chain eateries such as Ask, Wildwood and Prezzo, I was also interested to see what Osteria Due Fratelli could possibly bring to the plate that could successfully hold up against these big, pizza-swinging rivals.

Inside, Osteria Due Fratelli continues the family-run vibe, with the décor reminding me of a country style kitchen. The bold splashes of iconic red were still present and correct, paired with a bright white, and finished with photographs in both black and white as well as colour, the frames eclectic and in different shapes and sizes.  The chairs had a worn and rustic look with a muted whitewash, paired against a hodgepodge of different sized tables in a variety of shapes and wood shades. My friends from my badminton club and I visited on a Saturday evening, so the atmosphere was bustling with the majority of the tables taken, however there wasn’t a rushed feel at all. It had the ambience of enjoyment, of friends relaxing together and revelling in each other’s company, of stretching a meal out because conversation is flowing.

We sat down at a rectangular table for four and ordered a bottle of house red to share. Despite just being the house beverage, it was a lovely red wine with a smooth consistency and a medium body that was fruity and not too heavy to drink. While we were musing the menu, a basket of rustic ciabatta style bread was brought to the table, the loaf cut into medium thick slices. With olive oil and balsamic vinegar already sitting on our table with the other condiments, I saw it as very necessary to pool first the oil and then the vinegar on top on my bread plate, before dunking my slice decadently in the slick on my side plate. This is one of my favourite things to do so having the bread brought to the table without prompting or asking was a nice added extra. The bread itself was very Italian, with a dark, chewy crust and a spongey, hole-filled centre – perfect for absorbing all the lovely oil.

Having loaded up on bread, I decided to skip starter, and focus my attention instead on main courses. Feeling in a pasta mood, I opted for the rigatoni amatriciana, which featured wide, cylindrical white pasta in a tomato, Napoli based sauce, finished off with pancetta, onions, red wine, basil, parmesan and pecorino cheeses.

Firstly I was pleased by the portion size; sometimes pasta plates come up minutely small for a main meal and it can be very frustrating to fish around for your pieces of pasta while your companions are spearing a gutsy steak. So tick there for portion size. Next up, I liked the fact that the pancetta was cut into chunky cube-like strips. Pancetta can be served in niggly little cubes that aren’t worth the chasing in pasta sauces, however the pancetta in this meal was really something you could get your teeth stuck in to and enjoy. It was also nice and lean with a real gammon flavour, so that’s a thumbs up for me. The tomato sauce was pretty standard to be honest with you, and I wouldn’t say it had anything majorly different to traditional tomato sauces from other Italian restaurants. Combined, it was a really lovely pasta dish and I it certainly hit my pasta craving nicely.

Dessert couldn’t be anything else other than tiramisu to be honest with you. As we ordered more red wine, I got stuck in to my large, rectangular portion. Tiramisu is one of those desserts that will be completely different in every, single restaurant that you eat it in, and Osteria Due Fratelli’s version was very cakey, with the creamy mascarpone being quite dense. Sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with a sticky, dark chocolate sauce, this coffee dessert is always a nice conclusion to a meal, especially when you get a generous portion like this one.

Now, since I was out for a birthday meal with friends from my badminton club, we may have been a bit looser with the alcohol than normal. We completely indulged, ordering expresso martinis that arrived in unusually shaped cocktail glasses, the hard-hitting coffee flavoured cocktail delivering on expectations there. Furthermore, we also ordered liquor coffees, the rich black coffee underneath steeped in our alcohol of choice before being topped with a silky, flat layer of cold cream. I continued my coffee theme and opted for Tia Maria in mine. After another round of wine, the restaurant brought us over limoncello shots, this feisty, firepowered lemon flavoured liquor succeeding once more to blow my socks off!

As we continued the evening drinking in the restaurant rather than moving on to a bar, our bill was obviously more expensive as a result. We ended up paying around £45 per person, which I don’t think was too bad in the grand scheme of things bearing in mind how much we had to drink overall! The food itself was very reasonably priced; one member of our group had a ribeye steak main course which was £16. After arriving at 7pm, we were the last to leave the restaurant at nearly midnight, almost being kicked out by staff as they finished stacking seats and taking off aprons. For a relaxed and uncomplicated evening out, give Osteria Due Fratelli a go. The food wasn’t mind-blowing and the service was patchy due to the restaurant being busy, however the food was nice and the atmosphere is really relaxed.

Homeward Bound: Lifehouse Hotel and Spa, Colchester, Essex

img_1388Being generally a very lucky bean, I was thrilled when my husband whisked me away for a luxury spa break as my Valentine’s present for this year. Hitting the A12, we powered on for just over an hour until we reached the zen-filled, adults only hotel and spa Lifehouse, for a weekend of doing nothing, where my biggest decision would be whether to go in the steam room or sauna.

As part of our stay, we were entitled to a three course dinner in the restaurant on the Saturday evening, and I must say, I was looking forward to getting stuck in. Ordering a large glass of Merlot, I settled down to study the menu, and I have to say I thought the array of choice available was great. Not only did the main course selection feature both a healthy list and a luxurious list, the starters included both nibble options and main starters, and you could also have any of the pasta dishes as a starter or main course. All these options of course made decisions a lot harder, but I got there in the end!

img_1389For starters, I went for mozzarella bites, sunblush tomatoes and olives, served with artisan flatbread. I have to confess, this didn’t come up exactly as I expected, although maybe my past dining experiences had tarred what I thought I would get. I fancied bread, yet the flatbread was more like brown, round, crisp crackers, like what you would have with cheese. Tasty, just not entirely what I fancied. The same with the mozzarella bites. I love mozzarella, and normally when you see mozzarella bites feature on a menu, they are bread-crumbed and cooked so they have an oozy middle, yet my starter included just the plain, naked, baby pearls of mozzarella. The rocket was fine and the olives were really nice actually; a combination of green and black and all of them pitted, which makes for a much classier date night rather than spitting out stones. Although not really what I expected or fancied, it was still a lovely starter and I enjoyed all of the components.

img_1391For main course, I went for something from the healthy menu, and then made it unhealthy by adding a side. I opted for the chargrilled duck breast served with roasted vegetables, and then I added a side of dauphinoise potatoes. When my main course arrived, I was very happy that I ordered a side, as the portion itself was a little on the small side, however the flavour on the other hand was certainly big enough. The chargrilled duck had a really delicate barbequed taste, that in no way overpowered the tender, juicy and soft pink meat of the duck. Served rather rare, it was a pleasure to eat and so succulent. The red wine vinaigrette that came with it only enhanced the flavour, and was light enough to just be a subtle touch. The roasted vegetables consisted of mainly root vegetables cut into neat and tidy cubes, so nothing rustic here. Their roasted flavour and texture worked really nicely with the chargrilled nature of the duck. I spotted carrots, parsnips and onions among the veg but it was tricky to work out what else was in there due to everything being cut up into cubes. My dauphinoise potatoes came in img_1393a separate shallow, square white dish, in a wonderfully neat little tower of thinly sliced potatoes; soft and creamy underneath a crispy golden hat on top. I simply popped this onto my plate with the rest of my meal and got stuck in. It was lovely.

Despite thoroughly enjoying my meal, I also suffered from severe food envy when I saw and sampled Dan’s truffle carbonara. One forkful of pasta and it was love and I seriously wished I had ordered this as a starter. Undoubtedly it was the truffle aspect that made this so special as it literally took over the dish with its luxurious and silky flavour, hugging the pasta endearingly and coating the bacon cubes protectively. Wowsers, what a pasta dish.

img_1390Dessert for me required Googling. The dessert menu was not as large as the starter and main selection, so I naturally ended up gravitating towards the main chocolate option, a chocolate pave with a chocolate orange crumb, raspberry coulee and Chantilly cream. I wasn’t sure what a pave was, however after a swift Google, I decided that this mousse come brownie option would suit me very nicely indeed and I ordered with enthusiasm. When it arrived, I was very pleased with my choice as it was excellent. The chocolate flavour was more milk chocolate, so not as dense and sometimes overwhelming as dark chocolate desserts or as sickly as white chocolate ones. It was firmer than a mousse yet not as unyielding as a brownie and the raspberry accents were magical paired with it. The crumb added a different texture to the plate which was unusual, while the cream added a lightness of flavour and helped combine all of the components. On the whole, it was a super dessert.

img_1387The restaurant at Lifehouse Hotel and Spa is certainly a very nice one to visit. It’s roomy, with one glass wall showing views of an enclosed and paved courtyard style garden. The décor of the restaurant utilises a lot of pale wood to make it appear larger, with a mixture of table sizes and arrangements featuring both sofa and dining chair seating. We had a table of two that was luckily a bit further away from other tables, so we had a bit more privacy. Although this didn’t always work in our favour, as I do feel we were a bit ignored by the waiting staff at times, which was rather annoying. We were offered a dessert menu, but weren’t given one. An age later, the same waiter came over to ask if we were ok, whereby we asked for the dessert menu…again. I understand the restaurant was busy, and he was getting frustrated with the touch-screen hand-held notebook replacement but this was our Valentine’s dinner, so I feel he should have been more on the ball.

Charging our drinks and my side to the room, I was very full when making my way back to our bedroom for the night. The food at Lifehouse is really delicious and there’s a great selection, so I would certainly recommend it.

Homeward Bound: Chop Bloc, Chelmsford, Essex

When the summer sun finally decides to make a belated appearance when you are on a tiring shopping expedition with a close friend, seeing the miraculous wonder of al fresco restaurant seating under booming black umbrellas, paired with dinky wooden slatted tables and chairs, a chilled glass of white wine dewing the sides of a thin stemmed glass and the aroma of steak clouding the nearby air with a mouth-watering succulence; needless to say a pit stop at independent steak eatery Chop Bloc is a Chelmsford was soon deemed a must.IMG_0280

Simply styled we propped our sunglasses on our noses and tucked ourselves on their outdoor patio outside the front of the restaurant, square shaped black awning taking away the over-zealous heat whilst still allowing us to the enjoy the rays and the bright  weather. In my mind, you can’t really go wrong with a steak house as long as the meat is good quality and cooked how you like it. As long as these two factors are hit on the head, the meal will always be a winner. I was intrigued to see whether Chop Bloc would be able to deliver.

Since I was with my fellow foodie Vick, I was in for a long haul lunch involving three full on courses. Sipping on a delicate New Zealand sauvignon blanc called Spy Valley, I picked the panko pork belly for my starter. The juicy cuboids of pork belly were generously covered in breadcrumbs and fried lightly to achieve a crunchy golden coating that didn’t steal the show from the meat, but merely enhanced it by providing a different texture and a slight buttery-ness. The pork belly itself was tender with the trademark strips of flavoursome fat, but for me, the star of the show was the sauce. If I’m honest with you, I have no idea what was in the sauce, however it was super sweet, reminding me of a hoi sin and maple glaze style cross. It was a sticky brown ooze that soaked into the breadcrumb coating delightfully, the sauce a match made in heaven with the juicy pork belly. The sprinkling of green salad garnish set the dish off nicely and I must say, I mopped this up with gusto.

IMG_0281For main course, I figured it would be a sheer crime to have anything other than the steak, although I didn’t opt for a traditional plate of steak and chips. Instead, I went for a steak baguette, hidden under the burger section of the menu. Served in a traditional, long French stick style baguette, the strips of roasted rump steak were completely melt in the mouth meat, juicy, tender with a rotund flavour and a soft texture. Really spot on meat, I could have scoffed that alone! Also in my baguette was some rocket salad leaves and a horseradish mayo. Accompanying my main was also a veal jus sauce which I found ideal to dunk my baguette in to really soak up some of those additional flavours. The jus was a little watery, but still had a nice taste that acted as an accent for the steak without being overpowering. In fact, that was a feature of the whole dish really, the steak was really allowed to be the star of the show and so it should be.

I decided to  mix things up by swapping the fries that came with my meal for new potatoes instead, this buttery round potato pearls cooked up with small chunks of chorizo for an extra meaty, spicy zing that added a whole punch of flavour to a typically staid carbohydrate. Presented in a nice white side dish, the potatoes came up as a very generous portion for an additionally ordered side which was a very nice surprise indeed.

Although the hearty portion sizes left me feeling completely stuffed, we decided to take a 20 minute pause and then IMG_0282tuck into dessert, otherwise what kind of food adventurers were we? Scanning the menu, the warm weather had me pausing longingly over the sundae selection, however looking over the homemade dessert options, I spotted something that features very rarely on dessert menus but something that I really love eating: churros. This completely ticks the indulgence box for me, I mean what is better than taking a sugar sprinkled, light batter shape, warmly soft and gooey on the inside yet crisply satisfying on the outside, and then dunking said deliciousness into a vat of thick and unctuous dark chocolate. Enough said. To placate my ice cream urges, I asked to have a single scoop of ice cream with my churros, which the waiting staff happily compiled with. The churros came presented in cigar shapes, dusted with its trademark cinnamon sugar. The chocolate was dark and swamp-like in consistency so all in all, this dessert was perfect, again with the ideal portion size.

With all things said and done, I really enjoyed Chop Bloc. The food is really fantastic quality, with great execution on the cooking and presentation. The creative extras when it comes to sauces and matching these with your chosen meat is really different and something that helps the food to stand out even more. I literally still dream about the sweet sauce that came with my pork belly! The food is amazing; however this is reflected in the price tag, with the large glass of wine I ordered also setting me back a tenner. I think we ended up paying between £35 and £40 for our three courses and a glass of wine each. Although expensive, it’s a nice venue with rustic décor and suitable for people of all food tastes, including fussy eaters and those who only do British style fodder. I’d definitely go back!

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.