Eating Around: Brasserie Blanc, Tower Hill, London

A day out with my mum is always a treat, however it’s also a sure-fire way to get to enjoy some proper decent grub, as my mum is as much of a foodie as myself and has always been a complete whiz in the kitchen, much to our family and friend’s gratitude. Spoiling me to a day in my favourite capital back in September, she had even picked out a restaurant for our dinner venue, selecting somewhere glamorous yet cosy, famed yet comfortable and also a mere stone’s throw from the Tower of London, where we had spent the majority of our sun-filled day. Owned by renowned French chef Raymond Blanc, Mum had chosen the Tower Hill branch of Brasserie Blanc for our special evening meal, and I couldn’t wait to sample the menu.

Sleek and chic French styling was evident from the first, from the neat black awning and tidy white block writing decorating the exterior of the restaurant to the spacious and airy interior, painted a warming deep sage green, and the floor tiled with a dark green and white checkered pattern. Small ceiling spotlights threw plenty of light around the room, the majority of the space filled by dark wooden tables and chairs. Along the side of the restaurant that housed the windows overlooking the pavement and the Tower of London, there were horseshoe shaped booths, the woodland green leather upholstered seating arching around a similarly shaped black table. These booths had plenty of space and also held an air of intimacy and privacy that was ideal. The whole restaurant felt luxurious and very chic, yet it also felt accessible, and somewhere you could relax easily with friends as you attempted to mirror the stylishness of the decor. As we slid inelegantly into one of the booths, we were both pleased with our first impressions, now all the more looking forward to the meal ahead.

To drink, I ordered a wonderful glass of honey-coloured sauvingnon blanc with the most amazing fruity flavour; the passion fruit tones were fresh on my tongue, paired with the sauvingnon’s classically gooseberry palate. A beautiful wine in a French restaurant, surely I didn’t expect anything less?! Suitably watered with my lovely wine, we turned out attention to the a la carte menu in order to choose our starters. We decided to share the charcuterie for two; in some ways, there is nothing more satisfactory than a decent sharing platter. This one was loaded with salami slices, such as saucisson sec, as well as a selection of other cured meats, served in neat, wafer thin round slices. The platter also included chunkier slices of a meat that was a bit like haslet or stuffing, as well as a proscuitto style meat. Cut on the diagonal, two elongated slices of toasted baguette served as the basis for a blue cheese rarebit. I don’t typically eat or like blue cheese, however this melted and gooey option was actually delicious and I could eat it with ease. The blue cheese flavour as such was mild enough not to hinder my enjoyment of the rarebit, and I could get stuck into the oozy cheese with gusto.

On one side of the platter was a baby kilner jar, filled with picked vegetables, such as mini gherkins and pieces of cauliflower. The tartness of the vegetables was the perfect foil for the slimy salami, and I thought it was a great combo to wrap the individual vegetables in the various slices for a taste explosion. The the centre of the round grey plate was the obligatory pile of leaves. The platter was really delicious and had a decent amount of food for the two of us to share. I loved the pick and mix style of eating, just diving in with your fingers and pairing different salamis together with the other components on the board to create an array of different flavours and textures, although each item was also individually very yummy. This starter certainly whet the appetite for the meal ahead, and had us licking our lips for more.

Being in one of the homes of French cuisine, we simply had to try the Boeuf Bourguignon, which Mum reported had received rave reviews online. This rich beef stew was heartily filled with plenty of bacon lardons, full and rounded baby onions, mushrooms and a smooth red wine sauce. The beef was so tender than it simply fell apart at the merest prod from my fork, into a cascade of delicious pink morsels that soaked up the wine-fuelled sauce for an even deeper and more luxurious flavour than I thought possible. Chunks of carrot and celery bobbed in the pool of dark sauce on the  bottom of the large grey circular plate, and again I enjoyed pairing the different elements together for a variety of textures and flavours, all contained within the one dish. It was an excellent stew, hallmarking from rural France, and the beef was simply superb for a melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Instead of the creamy mash that was meant to accompany our matching stews, we decided to pick a few sides to share that were more up our street. For example, we opted for dauphinoise potatoes, which Mum loves, as well as a bubbling mac and cheese. We also ordered some roasted mixed vegetables, which contained vibrant chunky rounds of deep purple beetroot among more flavourful slices of white and orange from various root vegetables. The mac and cheese was a really generous portion for a side and was so silky and creamy to eat, also being very gently grilled on top for just the lightest hint of colour. Soft and full-on cheesy, this was decadent and rich in a very different way to the stew. The potatoes were simply lovely too, the super thin slices piled high in an individual white side dish, scattered with chopped chives on top. The potatoes were soft to eat with a slight skin on top, the milky sauce offering a vaguely creamy flavour that wasn’t too in your face but just enhanced the taste perfectly. The sides were really lovely and a great addition to the meal. 

Despite being so very full, I was not leaving without satisfying my sweet tooth, especially when I saw what was on offer on the dessert menu. My eye was instantly caught by the Pistachio Souffle, that would be served with a rich chocolate ice cream. Listing two of my favourite flavours in one, I had to have it, so I ordered it excitedly. And boy, it didn’t disappoint. When it arrived at the table, my jaw dropped in shock at how large it was; the souffle towered impressively from its ramekin into an enlarged muffin shape, with a lightly browned top. A single scoop of dark chocolate ice cream pooled meekly in a small white dish next to it. Eagerly diving into the souffle, I speared its wobbly top with my spoon, and was delighted to uncover an exuberantly soft green filling. The souffle was wonderfully light to eat, gorgeously fluffy and had a really natural and moreish pistachio flavour, as well as the nut’s memorable green colour. It really was one of the most lovely desserts I have ever eaten, and certainly a dish I had never tried before or seen since. It was really excellent. I even loved the light dusting of cocoa powder that had been put in the ramekin so that the souffle wouldn’t stick, as this simply added to the flavour. I would most definitely eat this again in a heartbeat. The chocolate ice cream was very rich since it used dark chocolate, and was the complete opposite to the airy and nutty souffle. A very special dessert in my book.

Mum and I had a wonderful evening at Brasserie Blanc. Not only was the restaurant stylishly casual yet elegant, but the service was good and prompt, and the food was dreamy. Staple French classics had been given the stardust of a Blanc makeover to transform them into magical dishes that we thoroughly enjoyed. I would definitely return and do it all again.

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Eating Around: TGI Fridays, Wembley, London

With a half day off work at our fingertips, my husband and I decided that before attending our evening comedy gig at Wembley Arena, we should certainly spend a decent chunk of our free afternoon indulging in a complete pig-out of a lunch-come-dinner. Although we don’t know Wembley well as an area, the nearby London Designer Outlet shopping haunt provided more than enough choice for our rumbling tummies, with my husband selecting popular American burger joint TGI Fridays as our chosen food refueling spot.

We had visited a TGI’s in the past, many moons ago when we were first dating, around our local Essex, in Lakeside. Since we hadn’t been in so long, we were intrigued to see what updates had been done and whether the menu lived up to our fond memories of meals gone by, of finger-licking meats and full-to-bursting plates. Upon entering, TGI’s certainly blasts you with cherry-picked and stereotypical aspects of American diner culture, its loud and brash style unapologetic and vibrant. Flashing neon light decor, shiny red leather booth seating, and cranked up music added to the black and red theme across the roomy and spacious restaurant. We were seated at a row of tables for two, Dan taking the lower red leather sofa style seat across the back of all the tables, while I sat opposite him on a dining chair.

Since TGI’s is renowned for its cocktails, I felt compelled to have a peruse. The options were certainly plentiful with an entire book full of the different available options, whether you wanted luscious dessert style options, large sharing goblets, or maybe something frozen. With such an abundance of options, I was stumped for a bit, but then I decided to try and be vaguely healthier by ordering a skinny margarita in the blackberry flavour. When it arrived at the table, it wasn’t really what I was expecting, as it was a blended frozen cocktail, served in a tall, thin glass with a blackberry perched on its icy top.  It was delicious, refreshing and I loved the blackberry tones, which also gave it a fabulous purple colour. However, when I ordered a repeat cocktail later on during the meal, it arrived in a martini glass, and was a thin, pale purple toned liquid rather than frozen. It is very apparent that I had had two very different blackberry cocktails, but since I didn’t know how the drink was meant to be presented in the first place, it’s difficult to know whether to question it or not. I have a feeling my second drink was actually the correct one, as I did not ask for a frozen cocktail, but either way, both drinks were tasty and refreshing even if one wasn’t one I ordered.

We decided that for starters, we would choose a couple of dishes and then share in a true romantic fashion. Scanning the menu, I was really intrigued by so many of the options; it appears to me that TGI has jazzed up its menu to deliver typical American grub but in creative and imaginative ways. For example, one of our starters was Chick Cones. This is basically miniature waffle cones, like you would have with ice cream scoops, however these ones were stuffed with Cajun chicken pieces, interlaced with a fresh tomato salsa type sauce and heaps of fresh and spicy guacamole. The three cones were wedged into a white triangular sundae dish, and I have to say it looked really appetising. I loved how different it was, as I haven’t seen anything like this before. The chicken was tender and lightly spiced, however the heat was in full force when it came to the guacamole and salsa! You almost needed the chicken and the plain cone to help tone down the fiery warmth! There were moreish and soon disappeared in a few bites each. Our other starter was some garlic ciabatta bread, which was cut into four windmill wing pieces. Crunchy and crispy on top, the ciabatta underneath was soft, the garlic butter permeating through each layer of the hole-ridden bread. We really enjoyed the starters, and we were certainly contemplating how we would make room for our main course.

When picking my main course, I did something I have never done before; I ordered a double stack burger. Yes folks, that’s two flame-grilled beef burgers. I clearly took the indulgent afternoon off meal to a whole new limit when I selected the Warrior burger. This bad boy not only contained two thick patties of beef, but also featured gooey breadcrumb coated mozzarella dippers, both Colby and American type cheeses that were oozing over my burger layers in a slick caress, bacon, caramalised onions and some of TGI’s mayo for good measure. Throw in a tomato and some onion and the burger was complete. It was a complete monster of a tower, and although my mouth was watering just looking at it, I was also intimidated! What I found hilarious though was the balance of the meal. Next to this colossal burger mountain was a single lettuce leaf, acting as a mini platter for a dessert spoon of apple coleslaw. The rest of the wooden, rectangular chopping board plate was full of crunchy, narrow skinny fries. I also had some of the cheese sauce served on the side in a small dip dish.

This burger was impressive. It even had three bread layers, so was fundamentally an entire burger and then a whole second burger, just without a top bun. Its size was undoubtedly its most eye-catching element, however it did actually taste as good as it looked, which is always such a bonus when it comes to burgers. The beef was moist, flavoursome and a decent chunky patty, which I love. The beef was also the perfect conduit for the cascades of cheese in my burger, but for me the mozzarella dippers were a really unique touch that set the burger apart. The breadcrumbs added just that bit of crunch but the stringy melted cheese within just accentuated what else was in the burger. The bacon gave a salty hit to slice through the opulent cheesiness, while you simply cannot go wrong when it comes to caramlised onions; they just enhance every dish they have the pleasure of gracing. This burger was epic, and I thoroughly enjoyed pigging out and indulging in being greedy for once.

The apple coleslaw was quite refreshing and added a vibrant and colourful crunch, which pepped up the presentation of the plate. I liked the addition of raisins for a fruity chew as well. The chips were pretty standard in my opinion, with a solid crunchy outside and soft potato on the inside. Dunking the fries luxuriously into my cheese dip was delish. I managed to make decent headway into my meal considering its size, and I only left a handful of chips, much to our waitress’s admiration. She commented that I’d cleared a lot more than other customers have done when tackling the Warrior. To be honest, I was unsure whether this was a compliment or a veiled insult!

Stuffed to the rafters, we couldn’t even contemplate dessert, so we quit while we were ahead (read: could still waddle), paid the bill and left. From my younger days, I remember TGI’s being a bit of a teenage hangout, but now my perception has changed. The menu is more extensive and certainly brings a more imaginative type of American cuisine to our British plates. I mean, the pulled pork sundae on the starter menu also sounded pretty immense to me. The menu is so big that there will be something for everyone, the portion sizes are full of American generosity and I would say the prices are standard for this type of grub too. The serving staff were polite, even though the cocktail confusion was a little bit of an oddity. We really enjoyed our lunch at TGI’s and I’m sure we would not be adverse to visiting again when we are next passing by.

Prezzo, Piccadilly Circus, London

Set Menu:
· Location: 36-38 Glasshouse Street, Soho, London, W1B 5DL (nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus)
· Date of Visit: Wednesday 8th November 2017
· Time of Table: 6.00pm
· Deal Bought From: Buy A Gift
· Deal Price: £30 for two
· Dinner Companion: Best friend Vick
Getting More for your Money?
This dinner deal includes:
· Starter each from a set menu
· Main course each from a set menu
· Dessert each from a set menu
· Glass of house wine each
What I ate…
· Starter: Giant Meatballs
· Main: Penne Alla Norma
· Dessert: Tiramisu
What I drank…
· Glass of house white wine
· Glass of Prosecco (not included)
· Hot chocolate (not included)
What did we think?
Meeting up with friends can be difficult when it’s the run up to Christmas, and you are both trying to maintain a bit of a shoe-string budget in order to bulk buy all of the necessary festive presents. The offer I managed to nab from Buy A Gift however seemed too much of a bargain to pass up, offering a three course meal for two people and a glass of house wine, all for £30 or £15 each. This suited our moth-ridden purses just fine, so we promptly bought the deal, printed off our evoucher and booked ourselves a table online.
Naturally there are an abundance of Prezzo chain restaurants dotted around London, however we chose the one situated on Glasshouse Street. I work in Soho while my friend Vick works near Bond Street, so heading to Piccadilly Circus provided a nice middle ground for us both to get to easily.
We both arrived early and were promptly seated. The décor was very simple and unmemorable to be honest, with clean white walls and wooden floors, plenty of non-descript tables wedged in where space would allow. We were seated by a wall of windows on high stool sized seats that were thickly cushioned like wide individual booths, upholstered in mustard yellow. The table was small and certainly cosy, but did the job.
On arrival, we chose our respective glasses of wine, me opting for the white and Vick for the red. We were then presented with both the set menu that corresponded to our evoucher, as well as the restaurant’s main menu. Apparently due to technical trouble in the kitchen, a lot of the dishes could not be cooked, therefore our choices had more than halved in the blink of an eye. Since the set menu was quite restricted anyway, we were given the main menu as well to afford us more choice so we could actually construct our three courses, as with the grill out of action our set menu was far too sparse, especially as each course only had about three or four options to start with anyway. Our waitress reeled off the shortened list of starters we could pick, and then said for the main course, we could only pick from the pizza and pasta sections really. Definitely a confusing start to the meal as this wasn’t explained too clearly to us, but we got there in the end and were able to make our selections.
For starters, I chose the giant meatballs, as let’s face it, you really can’t go wrong with meatballs. The meatballs consisted of minced veal, beef, pork and pancetta, squished with fennel and parsley for good measure and served with a ladle-full of tomato-based pomodoro sauce on top. When the dish arrived, it featured four of the meatballs, served on a white rectangular plate, the chunky sauce pooling on top of the meat. To be honest, I’ve seen larger meatballs and these ones to me just seemed a normal size, so a bit of fake advertising there. After accepting some extra parmesan to be grated over my meal, I tucked in. The meatballs had a great flavour and the herbs were not overpowering in the slightest, providing just the merest of background notes. The meat was certainly the front and foremost flavour, accented by the very light and juicy tomato pomodoro sauce. The texture of the meatballs was quite fine and a little on the dry side, but that again was soon remedied by the sauce. Overall, a nice little starter to get the meal going.
I had no idea what I fancied for my main course, especially as our options had dwindled so rapidly. In the end, I went for a vegetarian pasta dish, the penne alla norma. This included grilled aubergine, garlic and basil in a creamy pomodoro sauce, so quite a simple ingredients list too. The pasta was served in a large, deep white bowl and was also actually a decent portion; I find sometimes that pasta dishes can come up a little small so I’m glad this portion filled me up! Again, I got the extra parmesan grated on top of my meal for added cheesiness. Considering I don’t eat pasta out too often, I actually really enjoyed this. I liked the combination of the char grilled aubergine paired with the garlic; I think the warmth of the garlic just really brings out the flavour of the aubergine, and where the aubergine is a softer, more rustic and Mediterranean veg, it just really works alongside pasta. I couldn’t taste the basil, which is a good thing as I really rather dislike it! The pasta was cooked until it was soft rather than al dente, which I prefer even if it isn’t traditional, and the sauce was enough to lightly coat each tube of pasta. This gave the dish a tomato undertone that wasn’t overpowering but acted as a nice refresher and a conduit for the garlic. There wasn’t bucket loads of sauce, but there was enough to bring the dish together and that’s the main thing I guess.
I decided to go traditional Italian with my dessert by picking the tiramisu. When it arrived at the table, I was so disappointed it was unreal. Part of the reason I love tiramisu is the fact it is indulgently creamy yet light, and that the coffee-drenched sponge fingers cut through the mascarpone to create a wonderful concoction of mild cream and strong coffee. What I received at Prezzo was more like a structure than a dessert, with three sponge fingers, merely speckled with soaked coffee rather than properly absorbing it all, arranged to form a small pyramid shape. The luscious creaminess I was expecting was instead a rather thin layer in the centre of the pyramid, a little more spread on top to dust cocoa powder over. For me, this was a massive disappointment. I know tiramisu can vary greatly between restaurants, however I have always enjoyed it and it has always been creamy and coffee-fuelled. This version however certainly did not tick my boxes, and I was lusting after Vick’s sticky toffee pudding with complete abandon. My sweet tooth was left unsatisfied.
In addition to what our evoucher entitled us too, we ordered an extra glass of Prosecco each to help wash down our meal, and we also had a concluding hot chocolate each rather than a coffee. The hot chocolate was really lovely actually, and was just the right texture between being too thin or too thick; it was the perfect amount of opulence. It was only these extra drinks that we had to pay for, and since the rest of our meal equated to £15 each, it was a very affordable evening out.
The service was fair, however not all of the waitresses knew we had a voucher, so we kept getting different menus and when we asked what we were able to choose from, it sometimes got a little muddled as they would have to check with each other. However on the whole the food was tasty and the service was good; the staff were polite and friendly. The main problem of the night was of course the fact that half the kitchen was not operational, as this really reduced what we could pick for our dinner. Naturally it’s just one of those unfortunately, but it was a shame. I also wished I’d chosen a different dessert, as the tiramisu did not live up to my Italian expectations and for me, it wasn’t all that great. The voucher was a good price though and if I was looking to save pennies again, I’d certainly be tempted to investigate Prezzo once more.

Eating Around: Steakout Meat House, Stratford, London

When one is double dating for the evening, it is essential to find a location that hits the spot for us foodie-focused and cocktail-loving females as well as gets the thumbs up from our carnivore menfolk. When I heard about halal steak restaurant Steakout, I thought I could be on to a winner; especially if the sizzling plates displayed on their Facebook account were anything to go by. With three out of four of us diners passing through Stratford on our commutes home from work in central London, Steakout’s east London venue seemed like the ideal spot to sample. I promptly booked a table and managed to wangle a 10% discount over Facebook, as we were visiting the day after a social media campaign 15% discount code expired. A 10% discount was a great compromise here so customer service was already looking good.

Steakout certainly looks the part of a steak restaurant, with its sleek and manly black boarding and minimalist red and white neon sign neatly printing its name above the glass door. I got the impression that the look the restaurant was going for city-slicked ranch; this certainly continued inside with plenty of rustic red brickwork, neat wooden flooring and accents of its trademark deep red featuring on the booth side seating cushions and in trendy glow-style lighting that backlit behind the seating booths. With two floors, it has plenty of seating, which is evidently needed as quite a lot of large groups arrived at a similar time to us. We were shown downstairs to a cosy booth for four, with plump red cushions, and steak knives sharply glistening next to matching red napkins.

Drinks were interesting. I’m just going to lay this out there; I am very much a social drinker. I don’t drink a lot of alcohol overall and I don’t really drink alcohol when I’m at home. For me, I enjoy sipping on fine wines or slurping a G&T when I’m surrounded by my family and friends, and especially if I’m out for a meal. It’s all part of the treat for me. However, since Steakout is a halal restaurant, I can only assume that that then includes a no alcohol provision clause, as no alcoholic beverages featured on the menu at all. Of course, this could be to tailor to the majority Muslim population in that part of East London, which is why I also assume the fact that it provides halal dishes has made it such a local hotspot and ensured it has a good crowd in on most evenings. I don’t have a problem with any of this, but it sure makes it hard to pick a drink when your normal soft drink of choice is tap water. That certainly doesn’t make for an exciting night out. Luckily for me, Steakout has an extensive mocktail menu, so I kicked things off with a pina colada. This coconut and pineapple concoction came in a tall, thin glass, and although the drink itself was nice, it was so packed full of ice that it felt like I was being conned slightly as it was more ice than mocktail. Considering the mocktails were similar to what I would pay for a cheap cocktail, I was a bit disappointed with this.

We decided to begin our meal with a couple of sharing starters, so we chose the spicy lamb chops and the nachos with spinach cheese dip. Firstly, the lamb chops. They were presented on a long oval black sizzling dish, with four succulent grilled chops that had been marinated in Steakout’s special spice mix sat atop a little bed of fried up onions. Each chop was a nice size, and since there were four of us, we had one each.  They were very tender and juicy, so you could tell the quality of the meat was good. The spice mix added a gentle warmth to enhance the meat flavour and accent its lovely texture, but it certainly didn’t overpower. Matched with the onions, this really whet the appetite for steak later on. The nachos were pretty standard, with the crisps served in a basket next to a square black skillet dish, containing the creamy cheese spinach dip. It was basically a thick and gooey cheese sauce that was threaded with green spinach leaves, with extra cheese melted on top for good measure. It was very moreish with a strong cheddar flavour that flooded the crunchy nacho chips. It was interesting having the spinach laced through the sauce. I don’t think it added to the flavour or texture as cheese was undoubtedly the main event here, however it was a stroke of colour here and there, and when you got a bit on your nacho, it was still tasty.

For main course, we had to opt for the steak. Who would come to a steak restaurant and not have steak?!? I chose to have the 340g philly cheese steak, which was basically a sirloin steak served with caramelised onions and melted cheese all on top. Yum! There was a smaller 200g steak on offer for this dish, but for me, it was go big or go home! As well as choosing what type of steak you wanted, you could also choose what style; for example do you want your steak done in traditional Steakout fashion with its secret spicy braai rub served in a sizzling platter with the onions, or do you want to keep things simple with a more western dish, opting for a thicker cut with light seasoning? Since we were there for the Steakout experience, we all chose to have our steak cooked in the Steakout method. We then got to pick an accompanying sauce, so I went for a creamy garlic dip, and also sides. I decided to go for rice to mix it up, although with others in the group ordering fries, I knew I would be stealing some!

The steak was certainly an impressive size, filling a sizzling platter with gusto, squashing the wriggling soft onions underneath. What looked like three cheese slices had been melted on top of the steak, just to the point of stringy goo so it was soft and pliable to smear on the meat, but not bubbled with golden crispy bits. The steak was delicious, and a really lovely cut. It was juicy, a decent thickness and was just great to get my chops around. It was a hearty, meaty dish and to honest, you simply can’t go wrong with a good steak. Granted, I wouldn’t say the steak was in the echelons of Steak and Co, but it was a great piece of meat, cooked to how I liked it. There was a tiny bit of grizzle and fat, but not enough that it would come anywhere near to disturbing my enjoyment of the meal. The onions were a great addition for that classic steak and onion marriage, and the cheese helped tie all of this fantastic, full bodied flavours together under a blanket of creaminess. My garlic dip was a refreshing little accent served in a little black dip pot. I rather liked mixing it with my yellow toned rice, which was fluffy and yummy. The rice was pretty bog standard really, it just unassumingly sat on the side in a separate side bowl and let the steak be centre stage.

After this meat meltdown, it was round two of mocktails and this time I chose a strawberry daiquiri, which was a much better choice. Since the ice was blended as part of the drink, I found I had a lot more of it and the strawberry flavour was really fresh and evident. A much better mocktail all round in my opinion.

For dessert, Steakout have a typical dessert-shop style menu that’s all sundaes, waffles and stuff piled up as high as possible in a sweet mountain of high blood sugar. Divine. I tried requesting dessert, however they didn’t have my first choice because they’d run out of a certain ice cream flavour. This led to the dessert guy coming to our table to take a custom order. Sharing with my sister but with me in the driver’s seat, I went for a waffle topped with bananas and mini marshmallows and drizzled with ten ton of Nutella sauce. I then chose a Ferreo Rocher ice cream scoop while Jess went pistachio. When it arrived at the table, the waffle was generously portioned to enable Jess and I to share easily, with each scoop of ice cream in a separate bowl so we could sample our respective flavours easily. The waffle was light, fluffy and just pure yum and I absolutely adored the lashings of Nutella drenching the top of the waffle. This dessert is just a simple compile stuff together job, but when it combines all flavours and things that you love, what’s not to like?

We had a few problems with the bill at the end; the waiting staff had not amended our dessert choices, so we had to get that fixed. The good news is though that they ended up applying a 15% discount instead of a 10% and they were fine for us to have that extra off, which was nice. The service was very friendly and chatty, however no amount of banter can make up for when your food takes ages and when you can’t get anyone’s attention. Weirdly, if you go to this branch and sit on the downstairs level, a portion of the ceiling is see-through; clearly some kind of fancy clear plastic meant to create the look of space. However, we soon realised that this clear strip of floor led directly to the ladies toilets; and my sister and I were both wearing dresses with tables sat underneath the clear ceiling we were walking over. Whoever designed that was seriously in error there!

All in all though, I had a great evening and really loved every course that I ate. The meat is brilliant here, and the casual vibe is great for a weekday get together that’s uncomplicated and fun. I enjoyed the food and I most likely would go back if I happened to be nearby and had the fancies for steak.

Eating Around, Dirty Bones, Carnaby Street, London

American burger joints are forever having a modern makeover in a bid to convince Londoners that it’s classy fodder really. Whether that’s by creating at atmospheric ambience or transforming burgers into unrecognisable relations, traditional burger restaurants can be a bit hit or miss. However, when my good friend Charlotte recommended that we check out casual American inspired restaurant Dirty Bones, I was definitely up for some investigating, especially since their Carnaby Street venue is mere minutes away from my central London office.

Although we visited on a weekday, the very small size of the restaurant meant that we had a 45-minute wait before we would be able to get a table. Eyeing up the food through the windows, we surmised that the wait would most likely be worth it, so we went on a hunt for some pit stop wine clutching our bleeper that would alert us when our table was ready. When we finally made it in to the restaurant, I wouldn’t say the décor was anything unusual or special; plenty of dark wood, clashing coloured ceiling lights casting glows of light into the dimly lit ambience, duck egg grey adorning the walls. We were shown to a row of tables for two, were Charlotte took the wooden bench seat, and I sat in the dining chair opposite, just enough space between us and the tables either side of us so that it didn’t feel invasive.

We decided to start as we meant to go on by ordering a cocktail, and since we are both coffee-lovers, we had to sample Dirty Bones’ spiked iced coffee, an intriguing mixture of Courvoisier VS cognac, Mozart dark chocolate liqueur, triple espresso and cream, served in a long glass and topped with chocolate shavings. The alcohol hit was quite subtle for me, but it was certainly enjoyable and far too easy to gulp down in happy slurps, the coffee  and chocolate combo a clear winner in my book.

While we enjoyed our first round of cocktails, we perused the food menu. We opted to share a starter of cheeseburger dumplings as they just sounded so different and fantastic. Traditional Chinese-style gyoza dumplings, that were soft and pliable as you picked them up but had a slight crisp on the outside, were stuffed with your typical burger mince and melted cheese for an American- oriental cuisine fusion. Presented with Dirty Bones’ signature burger relish as a dipping sauce, I loved the originality of this dish – I had not seen anything like it before and I haven’t since. The homemade dumplings were really tasty, and had obviously been fried a little on the outside to give them a slightly different texture to the occasionally soggy typical gyoza. The mince inside was a tasty little meaty morsel, the melted cheese helping to combine the filling. The burger relish dip gave that accent of slightly spiced tomato to the whole dish, which helped to pep up the dumpling shells. These were light to eat and a unique way to whet the appetite.

For my main course, I couldn’t resist diving in and ordering The Mac Daddy. It was certainly a case of go big or go home with this bad boy, as the brisket and dry-aged steak burger was piled with pulled beef short rib and lashings of luridly hued mac and cheese, BBQ sauce oozing around every edge and the sesame seed-adorned brioche bun top balancing very delicately atop the meat and cheese mountain. Served on a small, round grey plate, the burger looked delicious as the mac and cheese run gooeily down the sides of the meat. The mini pasta tubes were cooked perfectly – I don’t really do al dente – and the cheese sauce was strong and flavourful; I imagine typical American cheese was used to get the more vibrant orange-yellow hue. The cheese doused meat was also lovely and really thick and decadent. It was juicy, tender and made me feel like a complete carnivore.

The one thing that I feel is a bit of a con here, is that no sides are included with any of the main dishes. The main dishes are literally just the meat. So the plate with my burger, and just my burger, was the main meal. A burger main meal in the majority of other restaurants would include at least chips, and then perhaps you would order additional sides, for example some onion rings. However, Dirty Bones are cheeky here, slapping London’s premium prices on all of their side dishes, knowing you have to order one so that you can actually have a full meal. Despite my raised eyebrow at this rather underhand tactic, I order the cheesy truffle fries. These were basically French fries that were covered in a cheese sauce, which featured cheddar, aged parmesan and white truffle oil. Undoubtedly, the truffle was the star of the show here. I absolutely love truffle, and will pretty much order anything with truffle included. Luckily for me, truffle was the predominant flavour here, the cheeses merely acting as a gooey and creamy conduit and background flavour to the lovely, yummy truffle. I daydreamed about this truffle-centric sauce for days after my visit. No lie.

Since Charlotte was a smidge too full for a proper dessert course, we settled on another round of cocktails instead. This time I selected the grown-ups jaffa, which combined two of my favourite flavours of chocolate and orange and paired it with alcohol. #Winning! Featuring tequila, dark chocolate liqueur, orange syrup, chocolate bitters and a marmalade ice cube to top it off, this short drink was served in a tumbler, which to be honest, I always find a bit too small for cocktails. Nevertheless, I loved the flavours, which slowly got punchier the more I drank! Both the chocolate and orange flavours came through really nicely in the smooth liqueur style beverage, and I have to say the marmalade ice cube was a stroke of genius. It helped slowly add a sticky sweetness to the drink to counterbalance the chocolate and meant that drink constantly had an undulating flavour, which I quite liked. To be honest, I rather like jam in cocktails anyway as I find it really intensifies the flavour and adds a different tone.

I enjoyed my evening at Dirty Bones and would recommend it as a venue for the hard-core burger lovers among you. It wasn’t the most affordable of venues, although that might be down to the cocktails, however I thought the non-inclusion of sides with something as traditional as a burger meal was just a shade too underhand. The cocktail menu was very extensive and literally had something for everyone, with some very unique combinations. The atmosphere is perfect for hooking up with friends and having a natter, as it is very relaxed, comfortable and casual. The service was also good and the waiting staff were very friendly and chatty.

Holiday Munchies: Castello Restaurant, Frome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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