THE LOVAT

It was Mr TGE’s birthday week and as is traditional we flew off on holiday to help him escape the grinding panic that grips every year as he realises with startling clarity that second by second, precious life is ticking by in an unstoppable march towards the grave…

Personally, I’m a big fan of birthdays. I like cake, I like balloons and I bloomin’ love presents – hurrah for lovely birthdays! Mr TGE, not so much… unless we’ve discovered, he’s on holiday! Due to the continuation of the baby growing (and me looking more and more weeble-esque) we decided this year to keep things a little closer to home, so jetted off to exotic Inverness to spend a week in the Scottish Highlands.

It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go, mainly because I’ve seen Outlander and I’ve been led to believe that this a fairly typical example of a Scotsman…

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And of course another birthday tradition in the TGE household is to be treated to a fabulous meal –  there’s pretty much no problem, even facing your own mortality, which can’t be fixed with a good meal. After hearing rave reviews we decided to try The Brasseries at The Lovat in Fort Augustus,  a 4 star hotel close to Loch Ness with a history that stretches back to the Jacobites. It is also home to Station Road Restaurant which receives equally glowing reviews, offering a tasting menu and matching wine flight. Once the baby growing is done it’s something we would definitely want to head back to try…

If you ignore the rather wink-wink nudge-nudge welcome sign which made me want to punch myself in the face a bit (“Loving it at the Lovat!” in Ann Summers hues of black, pink and white with a scattering of love hearts. It does look just a little like a swingers hotel from the outside…)  then the Lovat is a welcoming site. With shabby chic décor, a tempting food menu and an even more tempting cocktail menu, it’s clear to see why The Brasseries is so popular, pre-booking is advised.  Less formal than Station Road Restaurant, the Brasserie puts a strong emphasis on quality service which was evident from the moment you arrive – staff wait until the minute before you’re due for your booking to finish setting up with your table with a large decanter of cold water and pre pouring your first glass.

After being warmly welcomed we settle in to peruse the menu and order a couple of drinks. I opt for a Shirley Temple from the mocktail list while Mr TGE starts strong with a Zombie which I’m told was a delight. Just to be on the safe side he pre-orders a glass of cabernet sauvignon to have with his main course at this point – always best to know that by the time you finish one drink you’ve got another of the way!  We kick things off with a couple of starters, I opt for the Shetland mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and cream and Mr TGE chooses venison bresaola with swede remoulade and roasted hazlenuts. The waitress assures me that the mussels will be thoroughly cooked to make sure they’re bump friendly, which was nice of her. Fresh warm bread arrives with salted butter and pesto to get our appetites going.

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Shortly after a huge steaming cauldron of mussels arrive, they’re fresh and plump with a generous pool of creamy, garlicky sauce. The smell is divine and I happily slurp my way through as many as I can manage. The portion is huge but I do my best and use the bread to mop up some of the delicious sauce, it was too good to waste! Mr TGE is equally pleased with his choice of venison (sadly not picture as it was devoured) which proves a lovely blend of salty, sweet and nutty flavours.

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The main courses looked equally good (the wine arrived right on time too)  – I had chosen the pot roast shoulder and leg of lamb with creamed barley, carrots and mustard. I’m a sucker for lamb and this was cooked beautifully, achingly soft and full of flavour. The barley was sweet and nutty which worked well with the rich indulgent mustard sauce. My only complaint (and not enough to say something) was that it was slightly cold – especially the lamb. Delicious, but would have preferred everything just a little bit warmer.

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Mr TGE was happily tucking into his main which was the special of the day – pork belly with black pudding and bacon and cabbage.  Well, why not? The black pudding was layered in strips throughout the pork which meant everything was moist and delicious with deep salty pork flavour. It was an incredibly rich and tasty dish which really packed a meaty punch and was declared an absolute winner.

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Because it’s the law that you must have pudding on your birthday we decided to opt for something light  – then quickly changed our minds because ‘trio of dark chocolate’ is available and what kind of monster says no to that? Because we’re not total animals, we agree to share one. To see the night off properly Mr TGE orders a lovely dessert wine which unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of. However, ordering a zombie, red wine followed by a dessert wine is sufficiently weird enough to draw the bartender over to meet whoever is ordering this concoction. The chaps bond over a passion for rum and cocktails – had we been staying in the area longer we would have definitely headed back to the bar on another night try out a few of the suggestions!

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The trio of dark chocolate arrived  – ice cream, fondant and mousse – and was beautifully presented, as the rest of the meal had been. However, unlike the rest of the meal I felt this was the only course which just didn’t have that flavour punch. The mousse was smooth and creamy, my favourite of the trio. Although the ice cream and the fondant were pleasant there just wasn’t the depth of flavour I had been expecting. It was rather nice when you had a bit of each of the trio at the same time and that definitely helped the flavour, but overall not enough chocolate for me…

We left very happy and very full – the staff were wonderful throughout the night, attentive without being overbearing with fantastic attention to detail. With a menu that good, it’s somewhere I’m absolutely sure we’ll return to.

 

P.S – Perhaps you fancy some music while you read food reviews? Of course you do! And what better to listen to than The Fathership’s band, The Bled, White and Blues! Yes that’s right, we don’t just write food reviews in this family, we’re also musical! I mean, not me, obviously, that’s why I write this and don’t have an album available on sound cloud, but he’s very good! You can check them out here https://soundcloud.com/user-105154741. Try listening and them not spending the rest of the day humming Thunder Road, I dare you.

 

 

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ROOT: WAPPING WHARF

Root at the Wapping Wharf cargo development has a rather novel concept… it’s vegetables which are given top billing as main dishes while a smaller number of meat sides are available in a supporting role. Frankly I was a little dubious before arriving… I mean, how good can cauliflower really be? Certainly not better than a thick, juicy steak, amiright? So it was only when faced with finding a Monday night dinner spot to celebrate with a couple of vegetarian friends that I thought to try Root out for the first time.Root logo

I love the Wapping wharf development, even on a rainy windswept night (which it was) it’s a beautiful place to be. Each cargo unit glows a golden light out into the night, each one promising a different delight depending on what you’re in the mood for. Root occupies arguably the best spot on the top floor of the original cargo 1 development with a pretty spectacular view of the harbour. Previously operating as the Chicken Shed serving ‘ ethical posh fried chicken ’ (which had fairly mixed reviews.. ) things changed overnight in August as the team realised that either the ethics or the quality was going to have to give… Fried chicken gave way to vegetable power and the unit reopened as Root, with their focus very much on sustainability and ethical eating . I know that sounds rather W1A but it’s a tastier concept than it sounds, with ingredients locally sourced and grown. This means the menu changes fairly regularly to reflect what’s currently in season which is very Bristol and rather charming.

Inside the team have made the most of the space with a large central table, several tables for 4 and a long bar with stools stretching round the side of the container. We’re warmly greeted and after casting a glance at my fairly pregnant friend, we’re sensibly seated at one of the tables for 4, rather than perched on a bar stool. Water and menus are swiftly provided while the specials are pointed out to us. Perusing the menu we’re advised 2-3 (so that’ll be 3 then) dishes per person should do and to let them know just how vegetarian we are as some of the ingredients contain stealth meat (like Parmesan) but can be made full veggie. Luckily my dinner buddies are not phased when it comes to small plates menus and between the 3 of us we order nearly one of everything from the main menu, with one token meat dish (because, pork belly). I was tempted but resisted the cured mackerel with elderberries and the charred hispi cabbage with seaweed butter and radishes, however I don’t think we did badly. We ordered:

Grilled marrow with pine nut, parmesan and preserved lemons

Beetroot with hazelnut, blackberry and seaweed

Salt baked celeriac with girolle mushrooms and parsley

Gnocchi with parmesan and courgette

Pumpkin risotto with pumpkin seeds and pickled marrow

Roasted cauliflower steak with cashews

Heritage pink fir potatoes with salad cream and brown butter crumb

Pork belly with jus

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Arriving a dish at a time, our table was clustered with small plates brimming with promise and we happily tucked in. Each dish had a little twist to it which elevated it beyond the rather pragmatic menu description, which was a delight to stumble across. The crunch of the hazelnuts with the beetroot or the beautiful sharpness of the pickled marrow against the sweet, creamy pumpkin risotto was wonderful to discover. Each dish was vibrant, flavourful and to be honest, fun. The gnocchi were plump little clouds of potato which melted in your mouth, the salt baked celeriac proved dangerously moreish.

The standout dish for me however had to be the pumpkin risotto. Silky smooth and hearty it was a bowl of autumnal goodness that makes you glad to turn your back on summer. Frankly just writing about it makes me want to head back for another bowlful..

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The only slightly disappointing dish, perhaps predictably, was the pork belly. Although the jus was gorgeous there wasn’t quite enough of it and I found the pork itself a little bland and under seasoned. Not actively bad, just nowhere near the level of the vegetable stars of the show. But, perhaps that’s exactly as it should be, Root knows what it’s about and there are plenty of other places in Bristol to go if your focus is on meat. My only other slight gripe (which I’m aware makes me sound ancient and not young/trendy blogger at all, but dammit it’s true) is how uncomfortable the bench seats got after a while. Sure, they look cool but leaning against metal pipes is just not as good as leaning against…say… a cushion. #Voteforcushions.

Root pork belly

Minor niggles aside, we found 8 dishes between 3 hungry ladies was plenty and we left full, happy and pleasantly surprised at the bill. Dishes range from £2- £8 so as well as tasty, it’s a fairly budget friendly option, double win! We were offered the dessert menu but as the gnocchi had successfully finished us off by this point we had to decline. Next time…

MRS POTTS CHOCOLATE HOUSE

The nights are drawing in, the leaves are turning red and there’s a definite nip in the air – that’s right, autumn is well and truly here. Well I for one say thank the bleedin’ lord for that! Awful, horrid, sticky, sweaty, uncomfortable summer is over and we can all put away those off the shoulder tops that were in fashion this year (which constantly threatened an escaped boob at any given moment) and embrace the knit wear, hurrah!

It was on a particularly autumnal night that I trotted along to the opening of Mrs Potts Chocolate House, replacing ‘The Teabirds’ at the bottom of Park Street in Bristol. Inspired by the chocolate houses of the 17th century (which was apparently a thing), Mrs Potts is a family run operation offering a range of chocolate based goodies (made in house) with an emphasis on premium ingredients. With flicking candles dotting each table, sugar in the air and the promise of enough chocolate to thrill your inner 5 year old,  I felt sufficiently cosy as I snuggled down and awaited the sugar rush.

Now, I’m nothing if not thorough, so I tried pretty much everything….

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Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven, and the right amount of chewy were wonderful, a lighter start to the chocolate fest. Next came the lemon meringue slices which proved a huge hit with everyone on the table – zesty and fresh they were little flavour bombs. Chocolate and hazelnut slices were up next which were achingly rich and gooey, they would be perfect with a cup of tea on a rainy day.

 

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Next came the chocolate mousse dome, covered in a sleek shining chocolate coating. The mousse was light but still packed a chocolate punch. There were also flecks of something – biscuit? – throughout which was unexpected but really worked to add a different texture.

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Taking a slight break from the chocolate I tried a (still warm from the oven) madeline. Soft and moist it was buttery and delicious and the perfect dipping partner to my white hot chocolate chai cocoa. After that brief aside, I was ready to take on the showstoppers – the fondue followed by a brownie.

My. God. Why did fondue ever stop being a thing? It should absolutely still be a thing because this was just heaven on a plate. Presented with pools of dark and milk chocolate accompanied by a stack of marshmallows and strawberries, I knew I was in my happy place. The chocolate was warm and smooth, I particularly enjoyed the dark with the strawberries. The marshmallows didn’t seem to be overly popular with the others at my table but I loved them, light and fluffy but with a slightly crunchy topping. It was as I was cramming the last chocolate soaked marshmallow into my mouth that a very sweet member of staff chose to tell me about the wash station they have by the till – “for use of customers or staff if they need to wash some of the chocolate off…”. I nodded with all the dignity you can when you know you’re dripping chocolate and unable to speak due to an enthusiasm for marshmallows. Still, a place that expects its customers to need a quick wash down after a visit is  my kind of place, there’s no judgement there.

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Slightly delirious with sugar I rounded my night off with a brownie slice. I am a total sucker for a decent brownie and luckily for me, I wasn’t disappointed. Packed with nuts, chewy on the outside and gooey in the centre, this was a brownie to be reckoned with.

So would I go back? Absolutely. Sharing a fondue with friends or just popping in for a hot chocolate on a chilly evening seems to me like a very lovely way to spend your autumn. As a cherry on the top I would suggest to The Potts that they invest in some squashy (and probably wipe clean) armchairs; that would make the perfect nook where you could read a book with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

Mrs Potts Chocolate House is now open and full opening hours can be found HERE

Please note: this experience was received free of charge but this didn’t impact my opinion and I was under no obligation to write a positive review. No review is shared with the venue before publication.

 

BRISTOL IN THE SKY (WITH COCKTAILS)

It’s 9.30pm on a still and clear Wednesday night when we pull up close to the towering crane currently occupying Bristol’s Waterfront Square. Mr TGE shoots me a concerned look, “are you sure you want to do this..?” I squint up at the top of the crane, where the most exclusive table in Bristol is currently dangling 100ft up and give a slightly-more-confident-than-I’m-feeling nod. “Absolutely! I bet it doesn’t even feel that high when you’re up there..” I offer, as I trot off to find out just how wrong I am.

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My table for the evening

Bristol in the Sky is one of the hottest new tickets in town and offers a variety of foodie delights from such Bristol favourites as Rosemarino’s, Henry’s, Romy’s Kitchen and Swoon to name a few. Tickets are on sale for events from the 7th – 12th September and offer a choice of breakfast, lunch, gelato, pie, dinner or cocktails in the sky (prices range from £50 – £150). You can book tickets HERE. So when I was asked if I fancied coming along to try out a cocktail or two with the wonderful Her Majesty’s Secret Service it was an offer I couldn’t refuse….

I did ask Mr TGE if he fancied coming along too but he went a little bit pale and asked me if I remembered the Eiffel tower. Swallowing my snigger I agreed it was probably best this was a lone mission; back in the early days of the TGE household in an effort to win ALL OF THE GIRLFRIEND POINTS I organised a surprise weekend away to Paris for Mr TGE’s birthday. It was a flurry of wine, delicious food and strolling along achingly beautiful Paris boulevards, so lovely! Well nearly all lovely until we reached the top  of the Eiffel Tower and saw the dazzling view of Paris in autumn sunshine stretched out before us. Sighing contentedly I turned to Mr TGE who was curiously no longer there… Looking around I spotted him ashen face and plastered rigidly against the central support beam, breathing rather heavily. After a few quick (incredibly tense) selfies, we agreed maybe it was time to go down…

So, cocktails in the sky, probably not up his street. But as it turns out, totally up mine! Arriving into the plush champagne reception there was an excited crowd of bloggers and writers eager to begin their journey. We could see the dinner table (catered by Menu Gordon Jones, apparently he did something fabulous with eel but I never found out what) above our heads preparing to descend and a thrill of anticipation ran through the crowd.

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First came a little bit of housekeeping between champagnes (or the more bump friendly soft drink options) however. You need to check your bag into the cloakroom, you’re allowed to take your phone up with you but nothing bulkier than that. Next, a quick trip to the loo, there’s no options once you’re up there! Lastly (and especially if you’re doing a dinner or evening trip) make sure you take a warm jacket with you. We were lucky that it was such a still night but the staff warned us that the wind can get a bit nippy. The  final item on the do list was a quick safety briefing (essentially don’t try and strap yourself into the seat as you’ll do it wrong, let the staff do it. Oh, and try not to drop anything once you’re up there!) and before I knew it, it was time to go!

It feels a bit like being strapped into a rollercoaster but even more so – you’re securely fastened into the large padded seat and have a small platform to rest your feet on but other than that you’re dangling! A few nervous and excited glances were exchanged before, with a small jolt, we were up, up and away!

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Now, Bristol is a beautiful city at the best of times but I was honestly blown away by what an incredible view we had. As there are no walls or floor to speak of at the sky table you have a totally uninterrupted view across the city and at night the sparkling lights of the harbourside glitter across the water. It was absolutely breathtaking! But we weren’t there just for the view, no no! We had cocktails (mocktails in my case) to drink! Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of Bristol’s best ‘secret’ cocktail bars with many fun quirky details. I do enjoy a bar that requires you to enter through a telephone box, so expectations were high. Luckily, we were not disappointed. Representing HMSS were Lucas and Ben (the ‘fun and fit ones’ I had been assured on the ground. No offence to the other HMSS bar staff, I’m sure you’re lovely too) who were standing by to get the night started in the most intriguing way. Handing out individually addressed airmail envelopes to each of us containing a mystery bottle, we were introduced to the ‘Mile High Club’ (stop it, all of you!), a beautiful light fizzing glass of lime, honey, prosecco and Greek Masitha! Although I had the mocktail version of this I can honestly say I didn’t feel hard done by at all – it was absolutely delicious and looked just like the real thing so I didn’t feel left out. Bristol seems to have a bit of mocktail aversion, the closest I’ve found in most places is an orange and lemonade to be honest, so it was a real treat so have something quite so special.

Playing it cool…

Helping myself to plenty of nibbles (apologies to the lovely Matt who I sat next to, I definitely ate your share) and sipping my drink, I took in the spectacular surroundings. A cocktail at 100ft sounds like a gimmick and I had been convinced it would be, but it really is so much more than that, it honestly felt like a truly special and unique experience. You can turn your chair round a fair amount  (hello dangling feet…) to improve even further on the view and the crane rotates the table every now and again so that everyone gets a chance to check out the vista from all angles. Gazing out over Bristol my attention was brought back to the table as it was time to crack on with cocktail number 2… and this time it was up to us to mix it!

Placed in front of us were bespoke airplane trays with an array of tiny bottles filled with what looked like various potions. Intrigued, we tucked in to ‘Trayviation’, following the guide to create our own cocktail. The boozy version of this contained Bombay Sapphire gin, marachino liquor a palma violet type spirit as well a cherry to finish the whole thing off! My gin was swapped for tonic and I had a little green bottle of pepper-minty potion rather than violet but other than that my instructions were the same. Armed with our own cocktail shakers, stirrers and ice buckets we crafted our own little works of art (well.. ish). I was actually rather proud of mine as I remembered a Mr TGE tip to wipe the rim of the glass with my lemon rind and then gently curve it over so that you can smell it when you take a sip. It was also fairly pretty as well as being totally delicious. Although these cocktails were specially crafted just for Bristol in the Sky I might have to pop by HMSS and request one of these to be whipped up, it was absolutely gorgeous.

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All too soon (but was probably somewhere between 45 mins – 1hour) we felt a little jolt and realised our time in the sky was over, it was time to head back down to earth. I once again proved how incredibly graceful I am by promptly falling into the arms of the man who unstrapped me (in my defense those seats are pretty high if you’re 5’3”!) which caused a raised eyebrow. “Good cocktails then?” he asked. They absolutely were.

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A big thank you to the Bristol in the Sky and Her Majesty’s Secret Service teams for such a special evening.

Please note: this experience was received free of charge but this didn’t impact my opinion and I was under no obligation to write a positive review. No review is shared with the venue before publication.

 

SHOP 3 BISTRO

“Clifton neighbourhood bistro, serving moderately priced rustic cuisine” is the somewhat understated description offered by Shop 3 Bistro’s website. I suppose it’s technically true, Shop 3 is nestled away at the Thali end of Regent Street in Clifton Village and has a short but exciting menu with an emphasis on local and foraged produce.

I’ve been meaning to give it a try since its opening in December last year, but somehow it never quite made it to the top of my list. An error on my part…

We visited on a particularly busy sunny Saturday lunchtime, having made reservations earlier in the week. With a couple of tables outside, a couple more on the ground level and larger rooms for groups on the first floor and lower level; it’s a peculiar layout but does allow for greater flexibility.  We were seated with another couple on the ground floor whilst the first floor was filled with a large private party. The décor is understated but pretty with flowers (I assume picked locally?), candles and wine bottle menu holders dotting the tables. The ground floor is particularly light and airy and a great spot to people watch – there was a rather fabulous Scottish wedding party processing past about halfway through the meal which stole my attention!  I also liked the look of the lower level room (I had a quick nose when venturing to the bathroom) filled with cosy tables and flickering candle light. It was empty on such a beautiful day but would be perfect on a winters’ night, especially as there was a rather beautiful old fireplace.

We were presented with lunch menus which were short but interesting, with lots of fresh and unusual ingredients on offer. I was so nearly tempted by the ‘four rock oysters’ (£12) from the starters – your choice of natural with shallot vinegar or battered with tartare sauce – but as we were slightly restricted on time had to pass that by. One for next time though. While we perused our options we were presented with some beautiful almond focaccia, served warm with oozingly soft butter. Soft, chewy and tasty it was a promising sign of things to come.

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Main courses range from around £10-£20 with a selection of sides at around £4 each and a summer special at £12 including a glass of wine.  I was nearly swayed by the vegetarian option –  Harbourne Blue goat’s cheese soufflé, tempura courgette flowers, heritage tomato panzanella, gooseberry & basil sauce verte – but the summer lunch special seemed too good an opportunity to miss so Mr TGE and I both plumped for it. Described as “Corn fed chicken ravioli, foraged Scottish girolles, hen’s egg, broad beans, roast corn”, I was completely unprepared for the beautiful plate of  food that would shortly arrive. Feeling decadent we also ask for a side of “Hispi cabbage, bacon and goosefat” (£3.50).

Champagne was served to the tables around us as it seemed to be that kind of a Saturday, whilst we sipped our elderflower cordials (I’m currently growing a human which is really interfering with my champagne intake). They were wonderfully refreshing and sweet without being sickly. And then the main course arrived…

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It was so pretty I even forgave the description of ‘hen’s egg’ (I assume it’s a hen’s egg guys, you only need to mention it if it’s not a hen’s egg. Ducks egg, sure mention it. Dinosaur egg? Make it a feature! Hen’s egg? That’s just a standard egg then. Anyway I digress.).  The ravioli were generously filled with plump and flavourful chicken and sat upon a slick of rich and savoury sauce. Girolle mushrooms were dotted prettily around the dish while disks of ripe roast corn hid beneath flowers. A confetti of broad beans sprinkled the dish adding to the range of textures and colours – it’s one of the most attractive dishes I’ve eaten in a long time, it’s fairly Instagram worthy!

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Importantly though the taste more than matched the appearance with little bursts of delight in every mouthful. It felt like astounding value for £12. The side of cabbage was so delicious it shouldn’t be allowed, we wolfed it down, fighting over the last spoonful. Bacon and goose fat are exactly what cabbage has been missing it turns out.

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As we had piously avoided the champagne it seemed only fair to indulge in a little dessert at this stage. Although we’re usually very good at sharing deserts we were on such a roll we decided to try one each. I opted for the summer fruit and frangipane tart with white peach sorbet, orange blossom sponge, fennel and lavender sugar (£7.50). Mr TGE was feeling rather adventurous and opted for the curiously named, “I asked for chocolate and I got it… with mushrooms”  – dark chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream, cookies soil, sponge, mushrooms and moss (£6.90).  We were both intrigued to see what the mushrooms would add to the dish and it turns out… not much in our humble opinion.

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The chocolate pudding… with mushrooms!

The chocolate elements were sensational and as with everything we were served, it was beautiful to look at. The dark chocolate mousse had an intense rich flavour, whilst the sponge was light and airy. The mushrooms were… mushrooms. They didn’t particularly add anything to the flavour and the texture was a little rubbery – it was a culinary bridge too far for us. Next time we’ll ask for just the chocolate.

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My summer tart was fungi free and (nearly) faultless however! A little jewel box of brightly coloured delightful things, it was a pleasure to eat. The tart was a lovely mix of tangy fruit and sweet frangipane which was beautifully matched by the orange sponge. The white peach sorbet was light and refreshing – I quite fancied it in a cocktail glass with a shot of gin over the top. There were little puddles of fragrant citrus gels which I swished the tart through for an extra pop. The only thing that didn’t work for me was the slick of fennel sauce which I didn’t notice on the plate until I swiped the sponge through it. I’m just not a herby pudding kind of girl, it’s just not my thing, I find the herbs always overwhelm the other delicate sweet flavours.  I know, I know, peasant tastebuds.

Rogue mushrooms and fennel aside it was a truly outstanding meal for an incredibly reasonable price. Service was attentive, friendly and relaxed throughout, we’re already looking forward to going back. And if the Christmas menu I saw is anything to go by, then Shop 3 Bistro only has more delicious surprises on the way…

Check out Shop 3 Bistros full menu HERE 

 

THE MALAGO

Bedminster has no shortage of wonderful restaurants and North Street proudly gleams as the jewel in its foodie crown. Recently opened, The Malago (previously Zazu’s Kitchen) has pride of place in the centre of things, making it  a prime spot to stop for brunch, dinner or cocktails. Or all of those actually, I do enjoy a brunch time cocktail. We strolled down on a particularly wet Sunday to admire the amazing street art created during Upfest (find out more here – LINK) to try it out.

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One of my favourite Upfest pieces

Run by brother and sister team, chef Helly Highland and front of house John Carnegie, The Malago put its focus on friendly service, local suppliers and modern British cuisine. We ventured in during one of the rare breaks in the rain and were immediately warmly greeted, seated and given water and menus to peruse. Already this was winning for me, so many restaurants fail to do one, or all, of these basics. We had the option of the brunch menu (served 9am – 3pm), lunch (12-3pm) or the outside BBQ running all day during Upfest. The BBQ smelled incredible and we were salivating over the choices, especially when the waitress described in detail the options. I won’t even attempt to recreate that here as I won’t do it justice but it was just like one of those M&S food adverts where everything goes a bit slow motion and it’s not just any BBQ… this is a Malago BBQ…

The tempting brunch menu proved too hard to resist however (though the last time I had a brunch at Zazu’s kitchen it took 90 minutes and when it eventually arrived I was informed they had run out of bacon so had substituted it for a tomato… of such things brunch dreams are not made!) and I was torn between the American pancakes with streaky bacon and maple syrup or ‘The Malago’ which was the full works. Mr TGE had no such indecision and went straight for that and, knowing I would have chronic food envy if I didn’t,  I followed suit. We were apologetically told that there was about a 45 minute wait on food, which we expected during Upfest weekend, but they would try to get it to us faster. We weren’t in a rush and were happy to sit back, relax and enjoy the coffee. As the heavens opened again the restaurant flooded with more customers and soon there wasn’t a seat left with families, couples and groups of art fans clustered around tables.

As it happens we didn’t actually have to wait that long, 25 minutes later a beaming waitress proudly delivered our two heaving plates and apologised again for the wait. We really weren’t bothered but the staff clearly were which I think speaks very highly of them, they seemed genuinely interested to see that we had a lovely time with them which we appreciated. The brunch itself was an absolute winner. Thick cut bacon, plump flavourful sausages and a cheeky little bubble and squeak meant I knew I had chosen the right option. When in doubt go for everything – and it really does contain everything – poached eggs, sausage, bacon, black pudding, beans, mushrooms, tomato, bubble and squeak and finished off with toast. What a start to the day!

Malago brunch

Everything you could wish for in a brunch (minus the black pudding…)

I was halfway through before I noticed that I was actually missing the black pudding element – however Mr TGE had such an almighty slab of it he was happy to go halves rather than request any more. We happily munched our way through the plate, occasionally nodding and smiling at each other before returning to munching; this was truly a well brunched morning.  When the waitress came to clear the plates we commented on how much we had enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. She nodded enthusiastically, telling us that she had never worked somewhere with quite such lovely people. And do you know what? I can believe it. If ‘friendly neighbourhood local’ is the vibe they’re going for they’re definitely succeeding.  Leaning in closer in a conspiratorial fashion the waitress asked us if we’d been here for dinner yet… we replied that we hadn’t and she shook her head. “You need to come for dinner” she insists with a slightly dreamy look,  “it’s just… so good. It’s real fine dining and it’s just… so good!”.

I’m absolutely sold, make that dinner for two please!

Malago

See the Malago’s full menu here

 

Added bonus of the week: If you’re ever in Coventry and in search of a decent pub dinner, check our The Greyhound Inn . We stumbled across whilst desperate for an early dinner and trying fervently to avoid the Frankie & Bennie’s that had been so highly recommended from the car salesman – and thank goodness! Great food, much better than your standard pub grub!

Greyhound Inn pie

Beef bourguignon & stilton flake pie

THIS GIRL COOKS (AGAIN)

After my previous roaring success at cooking (This Girl Cooks) this rather grey Saturday seemed the perfect time to roll up my sleeves and give it another bash. What culinary heights could I scale, what flavour combination could I innovate, what fabulous feast could I unveil? I searched and pondered trying to find the perfect challenge until eventually it came to me… vegetable soup! The jewel in any chefs culinary crown, I think we can all agree.

Recipe:

1. Look in your fridge, what vegetables do you have? Congratulations, whatever is there is probably fine.

2. Find your favourite Harry Potter film (Order of the Phoenix) online and start watching while you chop all your ingredients into tiny cubes. Don’t weigh the ingredients, it’s probably fine.

3. Ooh Umbridge is such a villain isn’t she? All pink and evil with kittens and a twinset.

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4. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry your cubed veg for a few minutes until it starts to soften.

5. Add some stock. If it doesn’t look like you’ve added enough add a bit more. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you like, why not? You’re cheff-ing like a pro now!

6. Dumbledore’s Army training montage time and Ron promises to go easy on Hermione seconds before she blasts him across the room. Incidentally that scene always makes me think of this  – Harry Potter told from Hermione’s perspective

7. Leave the soup to simmer for 10 – 15 minutes – this is probably just enough time to call your Mum.

8. This is not enough time to call your Mothership – turn the hob off when you can and settle down to find out all about the latest gossip from tai chi.

9. It’s probably about an hour later by now – return to the hob and blend the soup until it’s smooth.

10. Harry this is obviously a trap what are you doing??  Sirius is fine! Why does nobody listen to Hermione? Jesus Christ. Preheat your grill to about 200 degrees.

11. Taste the soup and season if needed. Cut off a wedge of camembert and place in an oven proof ramekin under the grill for as long as the next bit of the film is.

12. “Get away from my godson!” It’s not quite the almighty “not my daughter you bitch!” but then we can’t all be Molly Weasley.

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13. “Nice one James!” Oh Sirius, right in the feels. Pop in some toast.

14.  Nooo!! Sirius!! Just when it was all going so well.

15. In between sobs it’s now time to make your chutney. Do this by having a Mother who delights in making chutney and regularly gives you jars. Done.

16. The camembert should be gorgeously gooey now and piping hot all the way through. Ahh Harry’s giving a pep talk to his friends about life being worth living while wearing a corduroy jacket… he’s just the worst sometimes. Also on a fashion note was anyone else really disappointed with Dumbledore’s costumes throughout the films? In the books they sounded so wonderfully colourful – scarlet, emerald and violet, embroidered with golden stars! Yet in the films he’s always in some form of grey dressing gown! Hmm.

17. Congratulations, you now have vegetable soup with baked camembert and homemade chutney! Mischief Managed!

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