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.

Eating Around: The Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe, Southbank, London

I’ve visited Shakespeare’s famed Globe theatre more times than I can count over the past few years, enjoying a wide variety of performances both in the outdoor circular stage area as well as the indoor Sam Wanamaker theatre. One thing however that I have been dying to do for absolutely ages is have a meal in the accompanying Swan restaurant. Peeking through the windows of this opulent looking British eatery, there was nothing I wanted to do more than nab myself a table and check out the menu. Luckily for me, my sister Jess and I received some money from our grandma at Christmas, with strict instructions to book ourselves in to see a performance and treat ourselves to dinner beforehand. We excitedly booked to see The White Devil in the Sam Wanamaker, preceding our show with an early Sunday dinner.

No doubt about it, the Swan restaurant is gorgeous. It’s so visually stunning that you simply feel more elegant and regal just by sitting in there. In glorious rich hues of gold paired with a statement charcoal grey and an abundance of modern ball lights and chic cream ceramic animal heads, the Swan manages to capture both trendy yet traditional, stylish and chic yet comfortable. It is glamourous in a rustically English way that polishes up lovely. It felt wonderful to be there as we were shown to our table in the restaurant, which is situated above the bar.

Ordering a bottle of Chenin Blanc from our suited waiter, we then turned our attention to the important task at hand – dinner. We had been given the Sunday menu which included the deal of two courses for £24.50 or three courses for £29.50. We immediately opted for the three courses. As we were mulling over our options, a bread basket was brought over, alongside a flat dish housing a disc of creamy butter. The bread had the holey inner appearance of a ciabatta, however it was also flavoured with herbs – I think rosemary, with green flecks here and there in the bread. With a dark, chewy crust and cut into thick doorstops, we knew we had found a safe food haven if this is how they served bread.

Starters was a tough choice, however I decided to play it safe and have the ham and savoy cabbage terrine, served with Yorkshire rhubarb and sourdough toast. Presentation wise, it was very arty and colourful. The terrine was the traditional ham coloured pink, flecked with large chunks of orange carrot studded throughout as well as the layer of bright green cabbage running through the centre for an extra splash of colour. If this wasn’t lurid enough, the rhubarb actually came in the form of a vibrant and robust puree, served as a puddle next to my lightly toasted half slice of sourdough bread. The puree was potent and punchy in flavour, really enlivening the terrine. It was colourful and creative and I enjoyed tucking in to this playful plate.

As it was Sunday, I decided to remain stoically British and have a roast dinner, however I veered away from the classic cuts of meat and inside opted for the pork belly, something I don’t usually have at home. When my plate arrived, I couldn’t resist licking my lips at the satisfyingly large hunk of meat sat dead centre in my plate, an island topped with crackling that was surrounded by roast potatoes, a caramelised onion, boiled carrots and cabbage as well as a large and imposing Yorkshire pudding. A dish of apple sauce was placed on our table, and our waiter poured gravy over our meals from a silver gravy boat. Wowee what a roast. The pork belly was amazing. The underbelly meat was tender and flavourful, the fat absolutely bursting at the seams with rich yumminess, while the crackling adding a moreish juxtaposition in texture, despite being more chewy than crisp (maybe due to the gravy?). Regardless, the meat was splendid and proves just how decadent a simple dish can be when executed perfectly. The Yorkshire pudding didn’t have the soft and squishy centre that is usually my calling card, however it was yummy and crisp. The roast potatoes were spot on with that delightfully fluffy centre paired with a crisp outer shell, while the colourful veg added a nuance of colour and healthiness to the edge of the plate. The onion was an unusual but really lovely touch – I haven’t had caramelised onion served with a roast before, however I think this combo really worked. This was some impressive roast dinner.

Despite being full to the brim thanks to the more than generous helpings, we were not going to stumble at the last hurdle, no siree. Plus, I had already spied the vanilla rice pudding served with plum compote and I was not going anywhere until I had tried it. Oh it certainly lived up to my dreamy expectations. The rice pudding itself was wonderfully flavoured so as not to be overladen with vanilla, but rather just beautifully accented, with the texture at that fantastic middle ground between goo and set custard which basically equals rice pudding perfection. The plum compote was zingy, flavourful and a real taste injection which was magic with the rice. The whole dessert was sprinkled with flaked almonds too giving the dish extra crunch and a creamy, nutty element. It was a match made in heaven with these flavour combos so I adored every spoonful. I didn’t need room to breathe, I just needed more dessert!

The wine we had selected was also fabulous and a great choice from Jess. It was fruity and light, very drinkable and bursting with zingy, fresh flavours. Our waiter helpfully propped it up in an ice bucket next to our table, even refreshing it when the ice turned to water to ensure our wine remained at an icy chill. The waiting staff were incredibly professional, poised and polite, with a splash of charm thrown in.

Price wise, with the bottle of wine, our meal came to £91. Usually such a price tag would have me cringing – not that I’ve ever paid that much at a meal for two! – but luckily this was a Christmas present treat, so we could afford a bit of a blowout treat on something so special. And it was special. The food was magnificent and I can’t compliment it highly enough. It may be basic and simplistic British favourites but the food is also uniquely playful and exciting, in both colour, appearance and taste. I absolutely loved going to The Swan and I think I’ll definitely be putting this on my Christmas list again next year!

Holiday Munchies: Liskeard Tavern, Liskeard, Cornwall

P1050619During a recent week-long stay in holiday hotspot Cornwall, big family dinners out were the norm. With an age range between five and 50 plus as well as diverse food tastes, finding a restaurant that fits the bill for everyone can be tricky. Now I already know that Table Table and the other pub chains associated with Premier Inns tend to offer tasty fodder around my more local haunts, but I was interested to see whether the menu differed greatly or how the quality compared when you swapped the M25 based eateries for something a whole lot more scenic.

One night, we headed to Liskeard Tavern, a Whitbread Inns venueP1050621 decked out in muted shades of mauve and soft blue greys for a peaceful aura. Ordering a glass of white wine (large of course), I settled down to take a look at the menu. I fancied something protein fuelled, and although steak is usually my first port of call in these cases, I rather liked the sound of the garlic roasted potatoes and carrots that were set to accompany the smoked gammon steak. With this in mind, I thought I’d go for the steak, since I haven’t had this in a while and I always like to have something different when I’m out and about.

When my plate arrived, I was a little bit disappointed by the size of my gammon; cut in a long, thin strip that edged my white, oval plate, it was narrow and also very thin – it would have been nice to be treated to a few more centimetres to make it more of a steak shape. However, it was tantalising griddled with charred cooking lines, the narrow boarder of fat crisped and oozing on the edge of the meat. Gammon is usually a bit harder to cut into, however I didn’t find this a massive P1050622problem and I loved the ripe flavours of the steak – the smoky flavourings were more of a gentle infusion and not too in your face at all, simply another layer that enhanced the natural juiciness of the pork deliciously. Despite how thin the meat was, it was still succulent which proves good cooking and the natural cooking style really let the meat do the talking.

The potatoes and carrots were really lovely, oven roasted with garlic for a pungent herb kick that bombarded your mouth with warmth. The potatoes were basically a relation of the classic roastie, so they were nice and crisp on the outside (without nearing burnt status) whilst light and fluffy on the inside for a great texture composition, the garlic really tying the textures together. The carrots added a sweetness and firmer crunch, great when paired with the potatoes. The dish was also served with a flavourful P1050623mustard and apple sauce that was a real surprise. It was have looked like a mere chunky apple sauce, however its taste had far more kick, with a sweet yet peppery wallop of mustard that somehow managed to enhance the sweetness of the sauce. Smeared on the gammon, this was simply a match made in heaven! Peas were also present and that is all I have to say about those!

After polishing my plate and helping my hubby with a few of his remaining chips, it was time to pick dessert. I find it very hard to resist a decent sundae, especially if there are brownies present, so when I spotted the rocky road sundae on the menu, complete with marshmallows and brownies – let’s just say I didn’t stand a chance. In a very nicely portioned sundae glass, my vanilla ice cream tower was stacked decadently with gloriously squadgy cubes of chocolate brownie that added a lovely, cakey element and a rich, chocolate flavour. Soft marshmallows balanced on top with a few scattered down below, chocolate sauce drenching the inside of my sundae glass. Topped with a generous swirl of whipped cream and speared with a wafer, this was one of those P1050620desserts that is just so simple yet so enjoyable, so it’s difficult to go wrong with such a classic.

All in all, we very much enjoyed our meal at Liskeard Tavern. The service was a little slow at first, especially for a Thursday evening, but the staff were all polite and pleasant. Having an energetic little one in our group caused a few pointed stares from other customers which I found a bit odd but other than that, it was a nice meal. Sometimes you just need a standard, classic menu to see you through.

Holiday Munchies: Coast to Coast, Birmingham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holiday Munchies: Charnallies, Clacton on Sea, Essex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homeward Bound: Lefke, Upminster, Essex

P1050177When date night rolled around, my husband and I thought we would try somewhere different for a change. Since we both really enjoy Turkish food, we sniffed out local restaurant Lefke, based in Upminster – so out of our usual Romford / Hornchurch / Lakeside remit. Although finding somewhere nearby to park left us in a bit of pickle, we were both looking forward to chowing down on some classic kebabs.

With our pick of the tables, we opted for one right near the back of the restaurant, near the open charcoal grill in the kitchen where the food was all prepared and cooked. With a decided nip in the air, we decided this would be the warmest spot! Lefke is a relatively small restaurant with rectangular dark wooden tables of varying sizes pushed to the walls, a couple of which that seated two diners placed in the centre to further utilise space. For me, the most eye catching element of the décor were these fantastic stained glass and metalwork lanterns, all featuring different patterns and shapes, hung across the entire ceiling. Emitting eerie patterns and a spectrum of colours across the otherwise plain white ceiling gave a great atmospheric feel which transported you away from the dreary British winter and instead had you envisioning grand Turkish tents. With white walls and a dark wood floor, Lefke was simply furnished, however the magic of the ceiling more than made up for any plainness below.P1050179

After being handed a drinks menu and a main menu, we set about mulling over our choices. I quickly asked for a glass of the house rose to drink, however I was rather disappointed by the wine menu. Only the house wines (red, white and rose) as well as one other red wine were available by the glass, everything else had to be by the bottle. This limited me quite a lot since my other half doesn’t drink wine. We then seemed to wait an age for our drinks, yet when I finally slurped my rose, it tasted watered down and hardly had any flavour. Needless to say, for my next drink, I ordered a gin and tonic which certainly hit the spot.

Flicking through the menu, all of your Turkish classics were present and correct, from the hot and cold mezze selection for starters, a range of kebabs for mains and finally baklava for dessert. I would say the menu wasn’t hugely extensive, however it had just the right amount of choice with a good mix of flavours and meats to suit every craving that came in through the door. There was also the option to have steak, ribs, lamb chops or fish dishes as well as a couple of vegetarian meals too, although the star of the show is undoubtedly always going to be the kebab.

P1050180While making our choices, we were brought over a woven bread basket, filled with super soft slices of lush white bread, the crusts scattered with sesame seeds. Also presented with a dish of creamy mint sauce and a spicier tomato alternative, the Turkish equivalent to a bread board was simply lovely. The bread was so squidgy, it was irresistible when dunked into the ramekins of sauce. The mint sauce was refreshing and zingy, while the other dip had a hot, spicy vibe to it, with a pungent kick.

For my starters, I chose the halloumi cheese – something I don’t really eat at home yet always enjoy. I have to confess that this was the best halloumi I have eaten. I was given three large rounds of the char grilled cheese – definitely the thickest slices I have ever eaten. It had a great springy texture to it that was also surprisingly meaty, the flavour that wonderful mix of sheer saltiness, cheesy goodness and the slight BBQ accents from the grilling. Placed atop a bed of vinegar dressed onions, this was actually a great pairing that I thought really enhanced the flavour, as the sharp twang of the dressing cut through any potential stodge of the cheese. Big thumbs up for the starter.P1050182

Moving on to my main course, I had chosen a combination kebab. Being the indecisive bean that I am, any kind of combo is generally a safer bet. I decided to go all out lamb, picking the lamb shish and lamb kofte, which would be served with rice and salad. The portion size was great, served on a long, rectangular white plate, balancing a dome of fluffy white rice on one corner. The shish kebab and the kofte were probably a little under the length of the plate, so a generous size for the meat. Half the plate was taken up by my cubes of lamb while the other was a positive rainbow of salad, a colourful cascade of veggies. The lamb shish was done very simply – I didn’t really taste a marinade as such but to be honest, it didn’t need it. The meat was so impeccably tender and flavoursome that I was relieved it wasn’t burdened down by spices – in this example, Lefke have gone for quality ingredients to showcase and it works a treat. The meat was so soft, it was divine. The kofte was also tasty, the minced lamb subtly flavoured with spices, however once again it wasn’t overbearing in any way, so you could really enjoy the different texture of the crumbled mince and the tones of spices without finding anything too hot to eat.

P1050184The rice was threaded with some kind of bean or noodle which was a nice added touch. The salad included some more of those tasty vinegar dressed onions as well as a pile of grated, raw carrot, chopped up purple cabbage, a selection of mixed leaves as well as cubed tomatoes and cucumbers, which acted as a prop for a wayward wedge of lemon. You were also given half a grilled tomato and a green chilli too, which had lovely sweetness to match its fiery spice! Everything on the plate worked in perfect conjunction with each other – the juicy meat paired with the crunchy veg – to create an explosion of textures and tastes that really ticked my boxes. Thoroughly lovely!

Despite overloading on bread and being on the whole, rather stuffed, I couldn’t dare leave without munching on some baklava – it had been ages since I last ate some and I was really keen to get stuck into the syrupy, pastry based dessert. Served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, I was rather shocked by the minute size of the baklava – two rather small and sorry looking cubes – however the taste still had plenty to it. The flaky pastry was dry and crisp on top of the syrupy soft and sticky base layer, the green thread of pistachio tying the whole dessert in nicely. Plus, the presentation was lovely with a generous dusting of cocoa powder, heart shapes drawn in the corners. It was a thoughtful extra touch.P1050181

Using our Taste Card to get us a two for one deal on our food, our meal ended up coming to £40, which isn’t too bad at all considering I had three courses and two alcoholic drinks. Dan had two courses and one soft drink and we both consumed far too much bread. Without the Taste Card, we reckon the price would have risen to about £60, which for Turkish food, seems rather a lot to me. The waitress who served us was really lovely and considerate, although at times I found the service rather slow. If you can find somewhere to park, I would recommend you give Lefke a visit though – I thoroughly enjoyed my meal.