Eating Around: Villandry, St James, London

Brunch; isn’t brunch wonderfully indulgent? The fashionable younger cousin of prim and proper breakfast and steady-as-a-rock lunch, brunch instead offers diners the chance to be frivolous and steer the curve of convention away from the traditional three meals a day. A perfect weekend treat, there is only way one brunch could possibly get better; by making it a bottomless Prosecco brunch of course! When our parents treated my sister and I to a bottomless Prosecco brunch voucher at Villandry in London’s upper crust St James, we couldn’t wait to book our table and enjoy a fizz-fueled twin date.

Villandry’s St James branch certainly sets the tone for a luxurious treat meal; even its exterior screams classy polish with its contoured white stonework, smooth columns and decorative arches above the windows. Already feeling vaguely glamorous, we entered the restaurant and were quickly shown to a corner booth with post-box red leather cushions and windows either side to catch the morning rays. Once we were nice and comfy, we were presented with our menus. I was astounded and instantly chuffed that our brunch would in fact be a three-course affair, adding to the laziness of eating mid-morning, and our bottomless Prosecco would run for two hours. Luckily for my sister and I, we arrived a good 25 minutes early for our table, so I’m pretty sure we were able to smuggle in a few additional glasses of fizzy goodness.

So, first things first, we started our brunch with a pastry round, where we were able to pick from a choice of pastries to have one each as a starter of sorts. While the twin instantly opted for an almond croissant, I was more hesitant as I toyed between a pain au chocolat and a pain au raisin. The chocolate won out in the end and we placed our first round order as the Prosecco continued to be poured. Our pastries were brought to the table in a wicker bread-basket lined with a napkin, and these were certainly not the disappointing mini pastries that clutter breakfast meetings across the city. Oh no, these were full-sized, buttery and crumbly all in one flaky crunch. The chocolate streams in the centre of my pastry were wonderfully dark and chunky, adding a gorgeous yet not overbearing sweet punch to the pastry, which was soft and sheet-like on the inside, yet golden on the outside. My sister loved the gooey centre of her almond croissant and we both were very happy with how brunch was kicking off.

For mains, so to speak, we went for quite different options but allowed us to graze at each other’s too! I decided to try something different, so I ordered the sourdough toast that was topped with fresh spinach leaves, pools of mashed avocado and two pert poached eggs as round as tidy ice cream scoops. A joy to pop and have the yolk cascading messily over my greenery. The sourdough toast was cut slightly thicker than usual and had the tones of wholemeal bread, the glossy spinach adding a fresh hit that paired nicely with the thick and creamy avocado. The eggs helped to combine all of the separate ingredients by oozing over everything in the most satisfying way. My twinny ordered pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and I have to say I was instantly jealous and green with food envy rather than too much avocado. Her pancakes were large, fluffy and delectable, the bacon tasty although there wasn’t much of it compared to the size of the pancakes. Her maple syrup was in a side dip dish, allowing us to dip and pool as we wished. Luckily, there was plenty of it. We were also a wee bit naughty and ordered an extra side dish too, but as soon as I saw mention of truffle, I’m afraid I was sunk. The Villandry Aspen fries are a magic concoction of skinny fries tossed in white truffle oil and Parmesan, two of my favourite flavours. Needless to say, these were divine. I’m not usually a fan of skinny fries however the additional flavours on these bad boys had me scooping them up with gusto. Definitely clean plates all round.

Our last round was dessert in the form of a cake plate. This was basically like the top tier of an afternoon tea as each of us was presented with a small white plate showcasing a collection of five miniature cakes on a decorative zig-zag drizzle of raspberry coulis. Sitting pretty in the centre was a neat cube of rich chocolate brownie that was still warm, wonderfully dense and dusted with icing sugar. A turquoise macaroon glued together with a sticky fruity centre was also quickly devoured, soon followed by bright pink raindrop shape of meringue, which had that soft and chewy centre paired with a crunchy outer shell. The mini lemon meringue pie was so precise, with a tidy, tiny fluted pie crust, spoldge of lemon curd in the middle and a neat pearl of grilled meringue on top. Finally, our last cake was a choux profiterole type cake, filled with a light vanilla creme patisserie and a very unusual forest green decoration on top. I have no idea what it was but the whole bun was delightful and may even have been my favourite cake of the lot. Small and neat, these cakes easily hit our sweet spot after having a main meal but didn’t overfill us, which was ideal.

And throughout all of this scoffing and admiring, we were slowly but surely getting squiffy. The waiting staff are very attentive with the Prosecco, which if you’ve paid the extra money to go bottomless ensures you get your money’s worth, otherwise you might as well have just ordered a glass. I don’t think our flutes ever went under half full, so I have no idea how much we drank. Sometimes it would be topped up after just a few sips. It all added to the sheer luxury of the experience and it was wonderful having the light, sweet and fizzy Prosecco with our meal; it really was the ideal accompaniment.

Although our bottomless Prosecco brunch was bought for us as a gift voucher, I would love to go back again and try all the foody bits I didn’t get round to; and drink more Prosecco of course! Villandry’s weekend brunch menu is £25 per person, with an additional £15 per person if you want to go bottomless, so it does make quite a different yet affordable way to meet up with friends, as you would probably spend that amount on a dinner and drinks anyway.

We loved our bottomless Prosecco brunch and I can’t wait to go again. Fingers crossed I receive another gift voucher… *nudge nudge*…


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.

Academy Town House Hotel, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Academy Town House Hotel, 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6HG (nearest tube stations are Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 2nd April
  • Time of Table: 2pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £25 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This afternoon tea deal includes:

  • Selection of sandwiches
  • Scones with jam and cream
  • Selection of cakes
  • Unlimited tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What we drank…

  • English Breakfast tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What did we think?

When spring is attempting to make itself known, with peeks of sunshine and a glimmer of warmer weather, it appears to me to be the ideal time for a civilised afternoon tea. When my sister and I spotted an offer on Groupon for an afternoon tea with a glass of Prosecco for two people, for a mere £25 all in, we just had to snap it up; especially as the location was a simple 10 minute walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station, so really central and convenient location too.

When we stumbled across the Academy Town House Hotel, it wasn’t at all what we had envisioned. It was a terraced building, with a stone pillar framed doorway, leading to a small and classically decorated reception area. A brown leather sofa snuggled by a bay window while pale peach walls detracted from a busy patterned carpet. Glancing down the hall, it was clear to see the building was a traditional London townhouse, complete with poky narrow stairwells, lots of floors to navigate, and the slight dizzy feeling of being in a rabbit warren. It reminded me of Mary Poppins for some reason, feeling traditional and old school elegant.

Announcing ourselves at reception, we were shown downstairs into a basement restaurant after a short wait. It was a bit disappointing to be shoved in the deepest, darkest part of the hotel on such a beautiful day, especially as the décor was really nothing special. A brown, white and red colour theme did its best not to look worn, faded and tired as a TV blurted in the background playing, granted, some very decent tunes. As the only ones in the restaurant, we got our pick of the tables, so we picked one for two people that was near to a curtained window as possible in an attempt to catch some rays. The table was dressed very simply with a white linen tablecloth and a white dish of white and brown sugar lumps.

Our afternoon tea experience started with the waiter bringing over our starting glass of chilled Prosecco – light, bubbly and refreshing in every sip. He also poured us some iced tap water too from a jug he then left on the table – unusual for an afternoon tea but nice to have as we were pretty thirsty. Weirdly, we had no choice of tea whatsoever. Our waiter simply said did we want English Breakfast tea, without mentioning any alternatives or even if there were any. We both like English Breakfast – and I probably would have chosen that anyway – so it wasn’t a problem, but I know Jess is sometimes more adventurous in her tea tastes, and she will occasionally opt for a fruit or green tea instead. When the tea arrived at the table, it was in a large, plain white teapot, with matching plain white teacups sitting in their partnering saucers. The teapot was a very good size and we easily got three cups of tea each from it before the waiter refilled it for us.

The afternoon tea itself was brought on a standard tiered set-up, with sandwiches fanning out across the largest bottom plate; one plain and one fruit scone each stacked up neatly on the middle plate, while the top plate housed an array of miniature desserts in bite-sized morsels. We started at the bottom with the finger sandwiches, naturally crustless and featuring an array of, slightly dry, white and brown bread. We munched on cheddar paired with tomato, salmon spread with cream cheese, ham layered over mustard, and a new personal favourite, the egg mayonnaise. We were allowed one finger of each flavour. The sandwiches were very basic and bog standard, a tad dry and nothing to write home about.

The scone layer was next. The scones were still warm which was a very pleasant surprise, and there was a plain scone and then a sultana studded fruit scone each as well. Two scones each is always a bonus, and I was also pleased that we got variety in the type of scone and that the scones were full sized. Mini scones are just sheer disappointing in my opinion. It was also so refreshing to get jam and clotted cream dishes that contained enough of each condiment to actually complete your scones. Dressing your scones can be a battle with thin layers and patchy coverage as you are hardly ever given enough toppings. We luckily didn’t have this problem here, so we could top our scones perfectly. The jam was strawberry, so very classic there, and the clotted cream was lovely – very silky and smooth with the rustic top too. The scones were probably my favourite bit of the whole tea. They weren’t the best scones I’ve ever had or anything, but it was tasty.

Last up came our cake layer. We had a selection of absolutely tiny mouthfuls, and since they were all different items, we had to try and cut them in half so we could each try each one. It would have been more useful to have two of each mini cake, or larger cakes that could be more easily divided. The cakes themselves however were really lovely. I chowed down on a chocolate macaroon while Jess ate the raspberry one. Mine was gooey and dense like a brownie in a crunchy yet chewy meringue shell, whilst Jess’s had an interesting layer of jam hidden within. One was a mini custard tart topped with a jewelled segment of peach, whilst another mini portion had a eggy set custard in the middle, bookended by a slightly soggy bottom cake layer and an icing drizzled finish on top, the custard itself home to a few stray sultanas.  A hexagon shaped mini layer cake had a chocolate orange vibe going on with its flavourings, which was very tasty, however out favourite munchie was covered in cocoa powder, and turned out to be a chocolate and hazelnut concoction featuring cake yet also decadent chocolate mousse and crispy nut like sections too. It tasted a bit like a cakey Ferrero Rocher and really hit our spot.

One thing I really did not like about the afternoon tea however was how a service charge was thrust upon us. As we were finishing our treats, the waiter arrived at our table with an envelope on a small silver dish, which he left on our table. As we opened it, we were shocked to see a note about how much service charge we owed. At the end of the day, the hotel composed the deal that was to go on Groupon and we paid our due for it, so to slyly add a charge in that manner felt wrong. Ironically, we most likely would have left a tip on our own accord as the waiter was a nice chap, however the manner of presenting the service charge in this staged way really grinded my gears and I felt it was rude to be honest.

At the end of the day, I would say that this was an average afternoon tea. It was nothing special, however the price point of £25 for two people made it a cheap afternoon treat that we could enjoy together while having a natter and a catch up. The food wasn’t top notch or anything, but it was edible with a few hidden gems among the sad looking finger sandwiches. The décor of the location needs a serious spruce up, as the basement restaurant looks fusty and old fashioned, however the bubbles of the glass of Prosecco was a nice added extra. It was a good deal, however I think to achieve the price you are compromising on the scenery and dazzle of the location.

Eating Around: Park Grand Lancaster Gate, Lancaster Gate, London

P1050521If there are two foodie treats in this world that make for a happy Katie, I would count afternoon tea and chocolate as two highly ranked, big hitting items. Imagine then my sheer delight when I spotted a very reasonably priced chocolate afternoon tea package for two people on Living Social, complete with a bubbling glass of refreshing Prosecco (certainly in the top 10 when it comes to treats). After frantically emailing the link to said offer to my sister, we purchased the deal and booked in for a lovely lunchtime delight. Opting for a weekend, I nabbed the central line into London to Lancaster Gate, where the Park Grand Lancaster Gate hotel is a mere 10 minute walk away if that.

P1050522The staff couldn’t be more attentive when we entered – we were offered hot towels to wipe our hands at reception which I thought was a bit strange but also oddly refreshing on a baking hot day. We were shown into the white tiled restaurant bar area and we were able to choose our own spot, with my sister Jess opting for an intimate table for two by the curtained window so we could grab some rays of sunshine while we ate.

The restaurant itself had a quite a modern feel with a white tiled floor, angular coloured sofas and white square tables adorned with polished silver cutlery, however the bauble of purple decorative flowers and the petal filled bubble vases on the tables hinted as a traditionalism too for a strange combination. When we arrives, it was really empty so it had a bit of an eerie feeling, but our waiter instantly P1050528put us at ease, showing us a box of different tea bags and offering to take pictures of us on our camera if we wanted.

I ordered a cappuccino and Jess went for a fruit tea while we waited for our Prosecco and food to arrive. When our tiered stand came to the table, I couldn’t help but do a bit of a double take. The white and blue patterned china was so sparsely populated, I wondered whether I would even be full afterwards – the top two plates were certainly more space than cake and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the portion size.

Started at the base layer though, the sandwiches certainly caused a stir when we spotted what looked like pink bread, P1050529which was filled with slices of cheese and a spicy, Indian inspired chutney.  I’m not sure what this bread was exactly but it reminded me a bit of the consistency of gluten free bread. Brown bread housed a thick lashing of egg mayonnaise which I loved and the white bread went nicely with the tuna filling. Baby brioche buns had a chicken style concoction inside which was also tasty, the bun offering a varying texture to get our teeth stuck in to.

Next up was the scones and to start off the chocolate theme, the usual vine fruits had been replaced with chocolate chips. Still served with a minute amount of strawberry jam and clotted cream, it was nice to have a scone with a difference, even though I wouldn’t say the chocolate chips were in abundance. The scones were small P1050530in size and there was only one each (which is always a poor show at afternoon tea, you want a minimum of two) however they were still slightly warm and had a nice, buttery flavour despite being a little too crisp on the outside for my taste.

The cakes on offer were traditional favourites, however there wasn’t two of everything, so we either had to share some items – which is a right nightmare with tiny cocktail sized cake – or just pick and mix what each of you are having. I do find this a bit annoying as both Jess and I like to try everything, so it makes life so much easier if there is two of each item so you can both try all there is on offer. The two macaroons we were given were two different flavours; I took the muted green pistachio while Jess was left with the near white P1050527vanilla – both were lovely and chewy on the inside with a creaminess due to the filling, with that lovely crisp bite on the edge of the shell too. The hazelnut sprinkled chocolate brownie was super soft and rich in flavour, giving a dense chocolate punch which you expect from a quality brownie. We were also given two tiny fruit tarts. This consisted of a shortcrust pastry case filled with a squirt of vanilla custard and topped with slivers of fruit. Nice but again, very impeccably small!

The chocolate éclair was pretty standard, although to carry on the chocolate vein it was filled with a chocolate cream instead of the plain stuff, while the mini chocolate muffin had an impressive dome and a crumbly texture, again with a rich taste of dark chocolate. My favourite cake of the lot though had to be their take on the Victoria sponge. This mini version consisted of two typical soft and bouncy vanilla sponges, but instead of housing jam and cream, this one had lashings of lovely P1050520chocolate and nut spread which I thoroughly enjoyed. We washed down our desserts heartily with our refreshing glasses of chilled and sweet Prosecco.

Despite it not looking large on the plates, we were full afterwards although we also ended up having a two course meal again in the evening, proving that it certainly wasn’t as filling as other afternoon teas we have attended. The chocolate theme was a nice twist, however I feel they could have indulged in it a bit more to really make it unique; for example why not make chocolate scones and pair it with raspberry jam and clotted cream? The chocolate element seemed a little lacklustre but if that is your selling point, I thought it could have been bigger, along with the portion sizes.

I did enjoy my mini afternoon tea and the staff couldn’t have been more pleasant. Although I don’t think the venue has masses of atmosphere, it was a nice, calming room, clean and tidy although the tables are close together. Luckily this wasn’t a problem for us as we visited during a quiet spell. Enjoyable but needs to be supersized and thought through a little more.

Mamounia Lounge, Mayfair, London

P1050437Set Menu:

  • Location: 37a Curzon Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 7TX (nearest tube is Green Park)
  • Date of Visit: Friday 15th April 2016
  • Time of Table: 7.30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Living Social
  • Deal Price: £27 for two people
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister and bestie Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Starter to share
  • Main course each
  • Dessert to share
  • Food provided from a set menu
  • Glass of Prosecco each

P1050435What I ate…

  • Starter: Hummus, Mohammara, Mamounia Tabbouleh, Grilled Merquez, Lamb Meshoui Brioat, Falafel and Bourek
  • Main: Lamb Kofte
  • Dessert: Baklava and Pastries

What I drank…

  • Glass of Prosecco
  • Two large glasses of white wine (not included)

What did we think?

P1050446Tottering around London’s Mayfair approaching Mamounia Lounge, you are instantly hit by an exuding air of opulence. Puffs of shisha smoke cloud the darkening evening light, the outdoor patio surrounding an impressive, central revolving door. With midnight black awning and matching restaurant signage, you feel like you are about to enter a five star nightclub, the gentle beat of music enticing you towards the Turkish themed venue.

Upon entering, you are greeting by yet more luxury. The reception desk and cloakroom sit to the left, next to the stairs leading to the downstairs seating area. To the right, pink and purple under lit tables and squidgy seats sit neatly next to a circular bar. With the main lighting kept on the down low, Mamounia Lounge is all about P1050448creating atmosphere and an air of exclusivity. After dropping off our coats, Jess and I descended to the seating area downstairs, continuing to be blown away by the magical aura of the restaurant. Soft pink and purple lighting flooded the room mistily, giving almost a whimsical and dream like feel, the Turkish inspired music loud enough to fill the cavernous underground space but still easily quiet enough for conversation. Our table was tucked in the corner opposite a long bar, with cushion laden sofa style seating one side and a cushioned  dining chair the other. Our table was decorated with a glass Moroccan style candle holder, the flickering flame adding to the low lighting, our cream folded napkin adorned with a single red rose petal for impact.

P1050449Even though our table was booked for 7.30pm, we were only the second table with people there for dinner – I get the impression that Mamounia Lounge is very much a night time haunt. Settling down at our table, a waitress arrived to explain the menu to us, also double checking that we wanted Prosecco rather than a soft drink for our included free drink. After scoffing at the soft drink option we listened as she revealed that both the starter and the dessert was a set sharer, with no choice in the matter whatsoever. We had a choice of four different main courses from a set menu, so we would only be picking one of our courses this evening. I must confess, I did find this really odd as nowhere on the voucher did it mention these limitations, however I do appreciate that a three course meal for two at £27 is on the cheaper side, so the venue maybe had to do it this way to manage their costs. Whatever their reasons, it should have been stated on the voucher information in my opinion as this is extremely restricting.

P1050450Nonetheless, I was looking forward to getting stuck in to our starters, a mezze style sharing platter, presented on a rectangular wooden board alongside a woven bowl of round, slightly domed white bread. This will sound wrong, but the bread looked like a pair of breast implants in both size and shape! The variety included on the starter was great, the combination of colours, textures and shapes looking like a treasure cove of Turkish foods. Apostrophe shaped swirls of hummus framed the end of the wooden board, one end showcasing the smooth variety, the other a chunkier blend. Baby samosa and spring roll type nibbles housed cylindrical piles of brightly coloured food – one a red rice like tower, the other a green, veg like mix. A spicy falafel type ball peppered with sesame seeds made an appearance too, as did baby sausages for a meaty hit. The variety was spectacular and the full on flavours were fantastic in their own rights, let alone served together and combined in this creative fashion. A very hands on starter with forks waved akimbo, but great fun and very tasty indeed. We also made sure to dunk our rolls not only in the hummus, but in the spicy chilli dip or the milder garlic and herb dip. Delicious.

P1050447Our options for main course included a couple of varieties of tagine – the great Turkish classic – as well as a baby chicken dish or a lamb kofte. I decided to go with the lamb kofta, the skewers served with onions , pickles and some other thrown together veg in semblance of a salad. Jess decided to pick the baby chicken, on recommendation of the waitress. The presentation of my main course was simple, the juicy skewers served at an angle across my plate, the corners clustered with mushrooms, onions and strips and slices of the salad components. Undoubtedly the lamb was the star attraction, with a gently spiced hum to the taste, a melt in the mouth texture and a generous three skewers worth. It may not look like much on the plate, but I was definitely getting fuller than I anticipated. With decorative flourished of flavourful sauces and spice sprinkles, it was simple yet tasty.

P1050444What would dessert in a Turkish venue be if it didn’t include the famed baklava. Pretty rubbish, that’s what. Despite being presented with the tiniest selection to share, the bite-sized pastry plate looked nice, a strawberry adding a dash of colour to the golden hues. The baklava was lovely – you really can’t beat the unique nutty, syrupy goodness of this flaky, think pastry dessert. The other nibbles were similar pastry based sweet treats, also similar in flavour and texture, just different shapes really. A satisfying blob of ice cream would have made all the difference in my opinion to upgrade it to a proper dessert but it was still tasty.

While crunching on dessert, the first round of entertainment started in the form of an elegant belly dancer. Clad in a pale blue bra and trouser number, her figure literally rippled to the music and you couldn’t help but be mesmerised by her. Spotting us and another table of girls, she instantly shimmed over, vying to get people to dance with her. Although a few succumbed, little did they know that Jess used to do belly dancing. She sauntered up on behalf of our table, rewarded by my loud whoops and cheers as her hips shook with aplomb. She certainly impressed the middle aged couple sitting next to us!

P1050452Just to let you know, we did have a few issues with our bill. Due to our voucher, this was only the additional glasses of white wine we drank, however some menus had one price – nearer the £6 mark – while other menus had a different price. Although there was only a £1 or so in it, if you have a few glasses each, this adds up and we questioned the bill when it came to more than we expected. The manager corrected our bill for us due to the error. Just something to be aware of when paying.

On the whole, I would say that Mamounia Lounge is about so much more than the food. It’s the vibe, the atmosphere, it’s that Friday night feeling personified into a living, breathing venue with a distinct mystical and magic aurora. The food was tasty and simple and I enjoyed what I ate. The menu was very restrictive which I wasn’t a fan of but I liked what I had so can’t complain too much, especially considering the price. It was a bargain and a great night out.

Homeward Bound: Piccolo, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Interior 1Heading to Southend’s popular Cliff’s Pavilion Theatre last weekend to enjoy the Russian ballet’s interpretation of Swan Lake, it was only natural that a meal after the show would conclude our evening out successfully. With views across the sunset soaked seafront, Italian family run restaurant Piccolo, founded in 1977, is only a short five minute walk from the theatre, and was the perfect venue for three hungry stomachs.Katie's Pizza

With ‘piccolo’ being Italian for ‘small’, the restaurant itself isn’t massive, only able to hold a maximum of around 50 people. Despite this, it has a real lively yet comfortable ambience, as if every table were a traditional Italian-style family meal, the tables adorned with hearty meals, generous laughter and playful waiting staff.  Dark wood, cream walls and deep red seating were carried throughout the eatery, with a well-stocked bar adjacent to the entrance before you turned right towards the main seating area. Guests could choose between squidgy sofa seating or hard chairs, with a mix of square or circular tables depending on your group size. With three of us, we had our pick of the smaller tables, so we went for a table for four near the window, and I immediately swung into the sofa seating. Simply decked out with side plates, white napkins and condiments, Piccolo was very well put together – I found it stylish, homely and relaxing; perfect for a Sunday evening out.Chips

After ordering bottle of Prosecco, reasonably priced around the £20 mark, we begun to make headway through the tantalising menu, every section producing delicious options I could easily sink my teeth in to, whether I was in the mood for pasta, pizza, fish or a succulent meat dish – some of their steak sauces in particular sounded to die for although they also bore a heftier price tag. Being a sucker for a classic Italian pizza, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this section of the menu. While we were considering our options, we ordered bruschetta topped with Parma Ham to start us off, deciding to share the plate to leave us more space for mains. Topped with juicy topped tomatoes on a thin garlic bread style base, the Parma Ham was curled delicately on top, olive oil and balsamic vinegar decoratively splattered on top. My sister and I had two pieces of the bread each, while her partner tackled three, a nice quick and easy to eat start to the evening.

Andrew's MealNo matter how much I contemplated, I couldn’t veer away from the pizza, and one in particular caught my eye – an English breakfast themed pizza that was topped with egg, rashers of bacon and wurstel sausage. Struggling to pick between toppings I went for the best of both worlds and chose this pizza with added extras – my favourite Parma Ham and also Bolognese sauce. Little did I realise that my breakfast pizza also came with a plateful of chips! No word of a lie, but I think this pizza was the best pizza I have ever eaten and it definitely ticked all my taste boxes. The base was traditionally thin, yet not over crispy, so it was still easy to cut and the crust had a nice doughy bite to it. The topping were layered on thickly across the entire pizza, so every mouthful was heavenly. The egg was mixed in with the cheese, forming an almost soufflé like texture across the Jess's Pizzatop of the pizza which was really nice and also a bit different. The rashers of bacon were slightly browned and flavourful, cut into small pieces, while the sauce was once again fried and cut into small circles that had been scattered across the pizza. The Bolognese sauce was blobbed efficiently in the gaps, the Parma Ham laid out neatly on top.

The chips reminded me of the chips that you would buy in a fish and chip shop. Nicely soggy yet with a bit of an outer crunch and a damp fluffiness inside. Rather moreish even without ketchup, which wasn’t actually offered oddly enough. Jess also went for a pizza whilst Andrew went for veal escalope with spaghetti in a tomato based sauce. The food really was delicious and I thoroughly loved every mouthful. The components of my pizza toppings really worked well together, even with my additions – that’s probably one of the reasons I love pizza so much, since it can always be customised and is a great way to try all of the flavours that you want in one delicious haven of dough.Interior 2

Despite being stuffed, I’m always tempted by a dessert menu, although Piccolo’s was less classic Italian and more Indian restaurant, with a set selection of ice cream based choices that I have spotted in various Turkish and Indian venues, that can just be wheeled out of the freezer easily. A bit disappointing, although profiteroles and tiramisu still both featured. I went for a caramel and Dessert 1vanilla ice cream option, and although the dessert was a standard one, the presentation was nice, giving added va va voom with energetic squirts of whipped cream and drizzles of dark chocolate sauce, the ice cream topped with a wafer for added volume. It was a tasty something sweet to finish the meal with.

Dessert 2On the whole, I really enjoyed Piccolo. The staff were very friendly, our waiter patiently explaining what dishes from each section were the best or most popular, although he joked with me about the size of my dinner portion, then acting impressed when I polished it off! Another waiter managed to spray me with Prosecco when he opened our bottle, however Andrew’s coat was worse off so it wasn’t the end of the world. With a varied and homespun menu, there was plenty I liked on there, and since it was also a reasonably priced menu, I would definitely love to return. I have the feeling that it is a bit of a hidden gem, since it was incredibly quiet when we arrived, however it feels like one of those restaurants that builds a solid and loyal following of regulars. Almost wish I was Southend based so I could be one of them!