THE MALL PUB AND THORNBRIDGE BREWERY CRAFT BREW RESIDENCY

Welcome to 2018 TGE-ers, we’re nearly a month through already can you believe it? I know many of you are taking part in dry January, giving up booze for a whole month. Pfft! Try 9. Sorry, not bitter…In the spirit of a rather damp January however, Mr TGE and I went along to the launch event at The Mall pub in Clifton Village for this years’ craft beer residency in partnership with Thornbridge Brewery. The Craft Beer Residency is taking place from 25th January – 17th March at over 100 pubs nationwide offering a range of limited edition beers to those pubs taking part.

Now, as an 8 ½ month pregnant non-beer drinker, it wasn’t necessarily going to be a natural fit event- wise for me, but as the team at The Mall pub were laying on a 5 course menu and Mr TGE gallantly offered to put aside his dry January rules for the night to try the accompanying beer pairings (What a trooper eh?) we waddled along to see what was in store.

 

The Mall pub is a lovely venue in Clifton Village, I’ve had drinks there previously but never tried the food. Upstairs is a cosy informal pub and downstairs is an equally cosy but slightly more formal dining room and separate bar. As we arrived we were offered the first beer of the night, the ‘Mimosa’ 4.8% which I’m reliably informed is a smooth, full – bodied Vermont-style session IPA with an intense citrus hop character. Specially brewed for the Craft Beer Residency it was very well received in the room.  I had a quick sip and have to say it was bloody lovely – I would definitely order one in the future. I found it light and fruity in flavour, very easy to drink. Mr TGE agreed and we took our seats for the first course of the night with Rob Lovatt, Head Brewer at Thornbridge, and his team guiding us through the beer selection.

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The starter was beetroot three ways topped with crispy quail’s egg, chicory and horseradish and looked absolutely stunning. However for me this was the only course that didn’t work, the beetroot although served 3 ways all tasted the same and was rather bland. The horseradish and chicory helped deliver a little flavour and texture but unfortunately wasn’t enough to make the dish that interesting – I would have loved a sharp pickled beetroot flavour in there. The quail’s egg was lovely however with a pleasantly oozing yolk. That said Mr TGE enjoyed it, quite possibly this course didn’t work for me through missing out on the beer pairing called ‘Bear State’ (7%). A classic West Coast style American IPA this beer is brewed to have a huge profile flavour of grapefruit and pine with a well-rounded bitterness. Again I had a quick sip (all in the name of journalism) and found it similar but less fruity than the Mimosa and could definitely taste the grapefruit and additional bitterness. It wasn’t my favourite but went down very well around the table.

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Next up was course 2, a palate cleanser of Thornbridge strawberry sorbet. Made with ‘I Love You, Will U Marry Me’, a strawberry blonde ale at 4.5%, it was  gorgeously fruity and light. It’s exactly what you would want served from an ice cream van on a sultry summer day – though to be fair it went down pretty well on a damp January evening too. The beer was named after the iconic graffiti marriage proposal preserved on a bridge connecting flats in Sheffield and was brewed to support Sheffield’s S1 Artspace in their bid to create a new cultural venue. Thornbridge Brewery is based in nearby Bakewell and incidentally, a bakewell tart flavoured beer would be right up my street if you fancy brewing that guys?

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Moving on to the main course we were presented with a beautiful plate of venison medallions on celeriac puree, savoy cabbage and a wild mushroom & red wine jus. I’m a huge fan of venison and this was an absolute winner for me – the meat was soft, tender and full of flavour. The jus in particular was lovely, glossy and rich! This was paired with the ‘cocoa wonderland’ beer (6.8%), a full bodied porter with natural mocha malt flavours. Real chocolate is added during maturation which was fairly evident from the chocolatey aroma. It was the perfect pairing with the venison (I had one small sip) but probably too chocolatey for me to order as a stand alone drink. Together though they made an indulgent and extremely tasty meal, I was surprised at the sheer range of flavour with the beers on offer. If you’re not particularly a wine fan this would be a great option for you if you wanted a matching drink flight with a tasting menu.

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The penultimate course was my favourite of the night  – which after that venison is really saying something! Chocolate ganache with cherry curd and white chocolate popping crisp was again a beautifully presented dish (which I promptly devoured). The ganache was one of the best I’ve tried, deeply rich in flavour and so smooth. The tart cherry curd cut through it perfectly, I wish I was still eating it now to be honest. The cherry on top on the ganache had been dipped in the popping candy which was an unexpected little delight and the chocolate popping crisp added a nice crunch to the texture. This was served with my joint favourite (alongside the Mimosa) beer of the night ‘Love Amongst the Ruins’, a 7% sour red ale aged in burgundy barrels with cherries. It had a rich fruit aroma with sharpness and depth and complimented the food extremely well – though I would order it as a stand alone drink too, I loved the fruity sour flavour.  It’s a Belgian brown ale which goes into burgundy barrels for 18 months with cherries and a mixture of things that I don’t understand (Brettanomyces, Pedioccus and Lactobacillus if you’re interested) and is then blended and bottled with champagne yeast. I’m clearly not alone in loving this as it won the prestigious gold medal at the Beer World Cup 2016.

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By this point we were all insisting that we were of course far too full to possibly consider eating anything else and were swiftly proved to be wrong by the arrival of a heaving cheese board. With a selection of hard and soft cheeses, seed & nut biscuits along with an array of chutneys it was demolished in minutes. I stuck to the cheddar which was creamy and mild with a lovely quince jelly. Delicious! This was served with the ‘Serpent’ beer, a 9.5% Belgian golden ale rare brew from a collaboration between Brooklyn Brewery & Thornbridge. The ale was aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels for 18 months with cider and perry lees from Oliver’s cider and bottled with champagne yeast. I didn’t sample this one but again it was very well received around the table and the perry notes went very nicely with the cheese.

A very big thank you to the lovely folk from The Mall pub and Thornbridge Brewery who hosted us (and had endless patience for explaining the basic of brewing!)

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.

Also please note I’m aware it sounds like I was chugging beer all night – I had a couple of sips and the rest of the information was passed on from Mr TGE and my fellow diners who were all too happy to help!

 

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BRAVAS

Merry Christmas TGE-ers! I hope you have all had a fabulous festive break and are now at least 50% Quality Street, I know I am. Christmas this year was spent at The Parentals, wedged into the comfiest seats while The Mothership swooped in with duck rolls, nibbles and (of course) chocolates at 5 minute intervals. A very merry Preggo Christmas indeed!

I’ve saved one of my favourite restaurants for the last TGE review of 2017; Bravas. A firm favourite for me and Mr TGE since it opened in 2012, Bravas is a handily located tapas bar on Cotham Hill with a warm and friendly atmosphere. Fine dining it ain’t but authentic it is, with staff taking trips to Spain to pick up new ideas and ingredients. Tables are pleasingly squashed together and plates are piled high on the tables giving a fantastically buzzy vibe without being crammed. There does seem to be an ongoing glitch with the online booking system however (and although several bar seats are kept free for walk ins, you really should book as it’s always busy) which has meant on several occasions our table seems to have disappeared…it’s always been resolved and sorted but would be good if this little bug could be sorted in 2018 once and for all.

So how to start? The wine list is impressive (but you don’t need to spend a fortune, the Albizu Tempranillo 2015 is gorgeous at a very reasonable £17.95) but the gin menu is hard to ignore. Served Spanish style (meaning a double unless you say otherwise) there is a wide selection of the best gins available with premium tonics if you really want to spoil yourself. The Bombay Sapphire with orange zest, lemon zest and flaked almonds (£7), served in a goblet is hard to beat and always  a good place to start.

The food menu is split into nibbles, cured meats, vegetables, seafood and meat with prices ranging from around £2.50 – £8 per dish. The great thing about tapas is you can just order a few plates at a time to see how you go, ordering more plates if needed. Obviously we don’t do this, Mr TGE is Welsh and finds the idea of not ordering enough food panic inducing, we order as much as we can before the waiting staff gently suggest that that might be enough to be getting on with… Each dish arrives as it’s cooked so if you follow our lead and order basically one of everything you’ll find you’ve forgotten what you’ve ordered by the end and have inadvertently created your own mystery menu.

On this visit we tried:

Wild venison chorizo

Fried Aubergine with molasses (£1 is donated to Action Against Hunger every time this dish is ordered)

Roasted sweet potato & goats cheese salad

Salt grilled prawns

Chorizo cooked in cider (you can never have too much chorizo)

Braised Hereford ox cheek with celeriac puree

Spiced organic chicken livers with almonds.

As ever one of the standout dishes was the fried aubergine with molasses – try to find anyone who has eaten at Bravas and not ended up falling in love with this dish! It’s salty, sweet, crunchy and incredibly moreish. The charity donation that accompanies the dish is an extra nice touch.

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My other highlights include the salt grilled prawns (so good I ended up ordering another one) – they’re whoppers and so juicy and plump. With a good squeeze of lemon and a hearty helping of salt they are absolutely delicious and I love the slurpy, messy eating of them using your hands. The couple on the table next to us appeared to be on a first date so I’m not sure how much they appreciated my enthusiasm but I was having a lovely time!IMG_20171219_205836_614

My other favourite (which I managed to eat with a little more dignity) was the sweet potato & goats cheese salad. It was so good I was temped to order another and would have done so if I could have found room – the cheese was gorgeously gooey and was perfect with the fudgy potato and slivers of red onion.

The chorizo in cider is always a winner, proud and plump little sausages glistening in their own rich spicy sauce! Mr TGE’s standout was the ox cheek with celeriac puree – soft and flavourful with a richness which was nap inducing. Mopping up the sauce with bread was the perfect end to the meal. Well, almost perfect, because of course there is a rather lovely desert and sherry menu to consider…

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Because my Mama didn’t raise no quitter I heroically ordered a dessert, even after that amount of chorizo ( to be bump friendly I stuck to the cooked variety, but even so!) Flaming dishes of crema catalana had been delivered to tables nearby which looked spectacular but too ambitious for my appetite, so I opted for the salted chocolate truffles (£2.50) with a cortado to wash it down. Tiny but mighty those truffles pack a chocolatey punch and 2 is plenty.

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P.S. – We made a happy little discovery in search of a pre-dinner cocktail/mocktail before arriving at Bravas in the form of the Clockwork Rose on St Stephen’s Street. Bristol’s only steampunk cocktail bar (I did not know this was a thing…) we enjoyed a sample of their festive ‘Christmas Carol’ themed menu. A t

Tiny Tim temperance cocktail for me and a Fezziwig’s Shindig for Mr TGE. I’ll be looking forward to going back and trying their new creations in 2018!

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CHOMP

On occasion, we at TGE towers don’t just go out for dinner; we go out for a show too! It was on a whim (and luckily it turns out, with a substantial Travelzoo discount) that Mr TGE picked up a couple of tickets for the multi-award winning ‘Slava’s snow show’ promising magic, wonder and Christmas whimsy at the Bristol Hippodrome. There’s a whole host of ‘pre-theatre’ speed dinners on offer near the Hippodrome but we decided to shun all of them in favour of trying out somewhere we’d had our eye on for a little while – Chomp.

Located discreetly out of the way on St. Nicholas Street, Chomp started life as a pop-up restaurant before setting up a permanent residence as a ‘modern British steakhouse’ with the emphasis squarely on meat and bourbon. The menu is split into ‘steak or ‘not steak’ (by which they mean burgers) alongside a powerful selection of Malbec or bourbon & rye. This is so far up my street it’s difficult to put into words, though admittedly less preggo-friendly than is ideal at the moment.

We pre-booked a table for 6pm which of course we were early for as I inherited a crippling fear of being late from the P-Rents. We’re those people that are there the full 3 hours before a flight leaves, even if it’s just to Europe. Mr TGE has often sat, bleary eyed at arse o’clock at Bristol Airport on his 3rd coffee while I chirp brightly that, “isn’t it nice to be here so early, no need to rush!” Mothership, I know you’re proud of me for this.  On this particular freezing night it did mean that we were shivering on the doorstep of Chomp before the doors were even open… nothing wrong with being keen though eh? Bang on 6pm a very lovely waiter opened the door to usher us into the warm. Well, it was warmer than outside but the heating clearly hadn’t kicked in yet so we struggled to thaw out. Although the restaurant was empty for the first few minutes it quickly began filling up with a few walk-ins, the last of whom were only just squeezed in due to the amount of pre-booked tables. Definitely one to reserve.

Lovely Waiter talked us enthusiastically through the menu and was especially animated about the special which was a blue cheese burger… though he did notice bump and quickly moved on to more preggo-friendly options. Mr TGE decided to try an old fashioned cocktail served ‘sweet and smooth’ (£8) with Maker’s Mark and orange bitters – seemed rude not to in a bourbon bar. I had a good old sniff of it and it certainly smelled gorgeous but obviously I stuck to soft drinks.

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Steaks are split into ‘soft & tender’, ‘juicy & fatty’ and ‘lean and beefy’ and although I was tempted by the ribeye (juicy & fatty for the win) I just can’t bear a well cooked steak so have put that on the back burner until rare meat is back on the menu. Instead we checked out the ‘not steak’ option of burgers (there is one veggie burger option here made with a spicy bean burger). Served with fries and slaw we both opted for the House Classic (£11) which Lovely Waiter advised was usually served medium pink. Mr TGE was fine with that, while I requested mine to be well done. We were pretty tempted to try the black pudding beignets (£6) from the starters but decided to be restrained (pfft) and just stick to a side order of onion rings (£3.50). There was also the option of ordering a side of steak, which again is just so far up my street it’s untrue. Who doesn’t want steak with a side of steak??

The food arrived and looked incredibly appetising, these guys clearly take their burgers seriously. The fries were really well seasoned and nice and crisp. The slaw I could take or leave but it was nice to have something a bit fresher on the plate. The burger was clearly the star of the show with parmesan mayo, a thick juicy beef patty, American mustard, ketchup and pickles. I’m not always the biggest burger fan but this was exceptionally tasty and I wolfed half of it down in record time. The cheeze oozed perfectly and the brioche bun kept things from getting too messy. However it was only when I had reached halfway through that I noticed that the patty was cooked as standard – medium pink. I can see why, it was bloody lovely cooked that way but it’s always a little annoying to have your meat cooked differently to how it was ordered. Lovely Waiter appeared to check how things were so I did have the opportunity to say something but, in for a penny, in for a pound, I decided not to faff with sending it back and instead decided to enjoy a slightly naughty treat. Talking of naughty treats… Those. Onion. Rings. They were more bangle sized than rings, proper whopping slices of onion with a sinful crispy batter coating. They should come with everything.

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When Lovely Waiter arrived to clear the plates I did let him know that the burger hadn’t been cooked through as requested and he looked so disappointed I thought he might cry. He immediately offered a complimentary dessert by way of apology, and much as I had been eying up the banana chocolate cake, we decided to decline as the meal had been delicious and incredibly filling. I agreed to have my arm twisted and compromised on taking away a chocolate bar (£2.50). Of course, not just any chocolate bar… this was made by the chocolate fairies at Zara’s chocolate on North Street. Made of Venezuelan bittersweet dark chocolate and mandarin it was maybe the classiest chocolate bar I’ve ever tried – apparently it goes very well with bourbon.

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So overall although a slight hiccup with the cooking, Chomp was a winner for us. I have a sneaky feeling we’ll be back next year for the full experience…

Oh and Slava’s snow show (or shit show as Mr TGE renamed it)? It’s a show that only gets 1 star or 5 star reviews, there’s not a whole lot of feeling in between. Without wishing to spoil it for anyone it opens with a desperate looking Russian clown slowly putting a noose around his neck and things didn’t seem to get anymore cheerful than that…  we cut our losses and left at the interval. I’ve heard the ending is spectacular and I’m sure it is (traumatised children aside) but an hour of slow moving sad Russian clowns with accompanying jazz was enough for us.

 

YAKINORI

Perched at the top of Park Street, the recently opened Yakinori is one of the newest restaurants on Bristol’s scene. An independent (we love an independent in Bristol) taking the place of where a Starbucks used to be, Yakinori offers a vast range of Japanese dishes for lunch and dinner. We popped along one chilly night to see what they had to offer…

The restaurant is divided into two parts with a takeaway counter at the entrance offering readymade sushi boxes etc. for lunch  and further back tables and chairs for a sit down dinner. It’s bright and colourful and features an open kitchen in the centre so you can see the chefs hard at work. I loved this as; 1. Who doesn’t love a good nose? And 2. The smell from the sizzling woks was incredible! There are seats along the kitchen counter if you really want to feel like part of the action.

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We kicked things off with an Ashai super dry beer for Mr TGE (deemed too dry to have on its own but perfect with food) and a bubble tea for me. The bubble tea craze rather passed me by so I had to shyly admit to the waitress that I didn’t quite know how to order one. With a bit of assistance I plumped for a fruity passion fruit green tea with blueberry juice balls served cold. Admittedly it didn’t photograph particularly well but it was rather delicious, sweet and refreshing.

We studied the impressively large menu before deciding on a couple of starters – shichimi chilli calamari (£5.57) for Mr TGE and ebu katsu tiger prawns (£6.50) for me. Served sizzling hot both starters were a generous portion and we felt good value for money. My prawns were plump and tasty, though I did find the panko breadcrumb batter slightly greasy. The tonkatsu sauce drizzled over the prawns was lovely but subtle and I ended up raiding the sweet chili sauce that came with Mr TGE’s calamari to add an additional kick. Mr TGE’s calamari was declared an absolute success – the batter was incredible light and delicate, not greasy at all. The squid was fresh and cooked just the right amount so it didn’t wander into chewy territory. We both absolutely loved the dish of fresh chili sauce it was served with, so much so that the kitchen brought us another one!

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Juicy prawns

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We moved swiftly onto the main courses – so swiftly in fact that they were delivered the second the starters were finished. Mr TGE was thrilled by this as he was ravenous (despite the generously sized starter) and was also delighting  in his new found appreciation for pickled ginger (supplied on each table) so wanted to keep that culinary adventure going. I probably could have done with a 5 minute break and had I realised the food would have come that quickly, would have requested one. Still, I didn’t feel too put out once I saw the beautiful sleek bento box presented before me…

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I knew the second I looked at the menu that I would be trying a bento box, I love them. They’re the ultimate meal for someone who inevitably gets food envy as you get a bit of everything!  There’s something just that extra bit special about having a special presentation box for your dinner as well.  There’s a choice of 5 different types at Yakinori and I opted for the ‘beef yakiniku bento’ (£14.99) featuring stir fried beef and vegetables in teriyaki sauce, kabocha pumpkin, mixed sushi, Japanese pickles and sticky rice. It’s also served with miso soup which I happily slurped down and was pleased to find a hearty serving of wakame seaweed and tofu underneath the cloudy surface. The beef was beautifully cooked and full of teriyaki flavour while the vegetables retained the right amount of crunch. The sticky rice was lovely and light – just the right amount of ‘sticky’ to be scooped up fairly easily with chopsticks, even by an amateur. I absolutely loved the kabocha pumpkin – essentially Japanese pumpkin croquettes in crispy panko breadcrumbs  – which were sweet and moreish. The sushi was also very tasty and I’m already planning to go back for a full platter at some stage! I asked the waitress before ordering if the fish used in the sushi had been frozen to -20C at least 24 hours before use (and therefore safe for pregnant ladies as any possible parasites are killed in the freezing process) and, not unfairly, she wasn’t entirely sure. She immediately checked with the manager who came over to personally explain the freezing process to me and the strict hygiene regulations so I was fully confident to order. Well done team!

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Mr TGE was similarly impressed with his own main course of orange teriyaki salmon (£14.50) which was fresh and full of flavour. The orange flavour in the teriyaki came through nicely and again the vegetables kept the right amount of bite. The salmon portion was very generous and flaked apart pleasingly, I had a few mouthfuls and would be tempted to order it in future.

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We finished out meals and sat, slightly food dazed, steeling ourselves to head back out into the cold night. The staff chatted happily to the quickly filling up tables around us and the manager made a point of saying hello to everyone. They’ve got it right with the service level – it’s warm and welcoming but not intrusive which gives a relaxed atmosphere. We briefly considered the desert menu but our appetites had been well and truly defeated by this stage, perhaps next time!

 

Please note: this meal 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.

 

THE PREGNANT FOODIE GUIDE

Good morning and welcome to this early Sunday morning edition of TGE! Why quite so early you ask? Well the tiny ninja I’m currently growing has been karate chopping me in the bladder because clearly he thinks SLEEP IS FOR LOSERS. He will be reminded of this opinion when he is a teenager of course. And I know, I know, I can hear you all helpfully pointing out that these sleepless night are  “all good practice for when the baby arrives!”. Thanks, you well-rested bastards, I’ll resist the urge to stab you in the face with a rusty fork for now and agree that, yes it probably is but no need to sound quite so chirpy about it.

So with a few more hours than I usually have in the day/night to fill, I thought I would write a little handy guide for handling the foodie preggo in your life.

DIET ADVICE: THE NAUGHTY LIST  

WHAT NOT TO SAY:

  • Any variation of shrieking “you can’t eat that!!” at a pregnant woman. Do you know why? Because she sodding knows. Honestly, there are whole books about what you’re meant to eat, websites full of advice, your midwife tells you at length, you’re showered with informative leaflets and if you have a handy app it will send you daily reminders about what is/isn’t safe. I was recently standing near a piece of brie and had a helpful “YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO EAT THAT!!” exclaimed at me from across the room. I resisted the urge to charge bump first at full speed with flailing arms into this helpful person whilst bellowing “I know, that’s why I wasn’t eating it, you lemon!” because I understand that people are only trying to be helpful. However, unless you see a preggo doing something genuinely dangerous, perhaps she has confused a delicious scone for a venomous snake and is clearly in imminent danger if she eats it, don’t get involved. Even if she is in proximity to soft cheese.

WHAT TO SAY:

  • “Are you allowed to eat this?” before cooking or ordering food for a preggo. Look, it’s confusing and health advice changes fairly regularly about what is/isn’t safe so of course if you’re cooking you want to make sure it’s ok to eat before you start. This is thoughtful and she’ll appreciate the effort you’re going to. Maybe don’t introduce any ‘surprise’ ingredients as well just to be on the safe side, especially in the first trimester when nausea can be at its worse. For about the first 12 weeks the only thing I really wanted to eat was plain chicken and plain rice – I ordered that at a local restaurant and it came coated in dill which resulted in a subtle little sob at the table whilst scraping it all off…

 

DIET ADVICE: THE NICE LIST

WHAT NOT TO SAY:

  • “You should eat lots of [insert healthy but dull/unpleasant thing here].

A similar theme to the above so say it with me, she sodding knows. No honestly, they really bang on (rightfully of course) about diet in the early stages and if the preggo in your life is anything like me they spent the first 12 weeks pretty much googling any ingredient just to check if it’s on the naughty or nice list. “Leafy greens are a great source of folic acid” can be cheerfully twittered at preggos all you like but don’t be surprised if all you get in response from her is a snarl, a tightened grip on your Terry’s chocolate orange whilst she attacks you with kale.

 

WHAT TO SAY:

  • “Would you like some of my Terry’s chocolate orange [or other food of choice}?”.

Alright, I’ll admit this wasn’t one of my proudest moments but recently Mr TGE had the flu  – actual proper can’t move type real flu – which meant his appetite pretty much vanished. Anyone who knows Mr TGE knows that this means it was serious stuff. In order to try and tempt him into eating anything I bought a selection of treats I know he likes for him to nibble on – the jewel in this culinary crown being a Terry’s chocolate orange. Mr TGE managed one segment, offered me one which I declined because I don’t like orange flavoured chocolate, before giving in and going to bed for an early night. This, dear reader, left me unattended with the chocolate orange in question which was no problem because as I’ve already said, I don’t like them. Except, I was quite hungry and the kitchen seemed quite far away. And what kind of food writer am I if I’m not willing to try new things? So, in the spirit of journalistic integrity I thought it only right to try a piece to confirm my initial suspicions that I didn’t like it. Except…actually…it was quite nice. So nice that I definitely needed to try a bit more… maybe a little more… ok well that’s half the orange gone. I wrapped the remainder up and popped it back in the cupboard ready for Mr TGE whenever he fancied a bit more.  Reader, I’ve never seen Mr TGE more outraged than discovering his remaining half of that chocolate orange. Indignant howls of betrayal and accusations wailed through the house. Protestations of the chocolate somehow being “his” bounced off the walls while my explanation that technically as we’re married everything is half mine and actually really technically I had been the one to buy it in the first place, fell on deaf ears. How unreasonable eh?

So I think as you can clearly see the moral of this story is don’t leave chocolate near a preggo and expect it to still be there in the morning…

 

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THE GIGGLING SQUID

It’s that time of year when everyone is ill but we all pretend we aren’t. We battle into the office, noses streaming, coughing over each other and sniffing into hot lemsips insisting that we’re fine and we’re just a little under the weather. Mr TGE and I are no exception, except of course that I don’t do the pretending I’m fine bit. One of the only things that improves my mood when I’m ill is complaining loudly and often  to anyone within earshot about just how ill I am and how dreadful it is. We get our kicks where we can. I complained so successfully during this recent cold that 15 minutes after whinging there was a knock at the door – one of my lovely BridesBoys had Deliveroo’d a large box of cakes from Pinkmans bakery to me in place of traditional medicine. Hurrah for the restorative power of brownies!

As we were both feeling a lot better, but no so much better that we actually wanted to cook, Mr TGE insisted on a drizzly Sunday night that we pop out for a spontaneous dinner. We haven’t spent much time in Clifton recently so decided to drive up the village and see what took our fancy. In search of something warming and hearty we decided on The Giggling Squid on Princess Victoria Street for some Thai food – perfect for a wet Bristol night. The Clifton branch in one of over 20 restaurants in the Giggling Squid chain and prides itself on delivering “staggeringly good Thai food” according to its website…

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The restaurant was exceptionally busy when we arrived and we were lucky to bag one of the only available tables. Unfortunately for us it was next to a fairly strong draft but as there wasn’t anywhere else we could move to there wasn’t much we could do. Service was efficient and polite, although staff did seem a little overwhelmed by the number of customers. The restaurant did have a lovely buzzy atmosphere however and the décor and lighting made for a cosy experience on a cold night.

To start I ordered a ‘Mango Passion’ juice which was pleasant enough but overpriced for what it was at £3.95 while Mr TGE opted for a Chang beer, also £3.95. We perused the menu which was full of tempting options including curries, seafood, noodle dishes and stir fries –  we decided we needed to try starters as well as main courses! I chose the ‘yummy duck spring rolls’ for £7.25 and Mr TGE opted for the salt and pepper squid, also £7.25. My spring rolls had a generous filling of tender shredded duck  mixed with carrots, celery and spring onion in crisp thai pastry. They were served piping hot with a small side dish of hoisin sauce which wasn’t quite enough for the 4 large spring rolls but was delicious. I was very impressed with the size of the dish though and had to recruit Mr TGE to help me finish it! His starter of squid was equally generous and the batter was light and nicely seasoned from the salt and pepper. The dish also came with a saucer of what looked like sweet and sour sauce but was actually a deceptively hot chili sauce. I personally found it quite unpleasant and we both found it far too hot for the delicate squid flavour.

GS duck rolls

GS squid

Moving on to our main course, we both opted for the chicken massaman curry. When I was out in Thailand for 6 weeks a few years ago I pretty much lived off of it. I absolutely loved the gently spiced creamy coconut flavour so I find it hard to turn down the opportunity to have it here when I get the chance. The curry dishes don’t automatically come with rice, which I always find slightly annoying, especially when, as in this case, the rice was £3 to add on.

GS curry

The curry arrived in bubbling cauldrons giving out a tantalising aroma. The sauce was rich and delicious with plenty of gentle, spicy flavour. It was the perfect winter warmer dish with a good helping of chicken and well cooked potatoes, absolutely delicious and I would certainly order it again. Less impressive was the serving of the sticky rice which was served in a crumpled plastic bag, crushed at the bottom of the little wicker basket it arrived in. I’ve never been served sticky rice quite like that (certainly not in Thailand!) and it was pretty unattractive. The rice had also moved over from sticky territory into completely solid so it was difficult to tear apart to share. It was however pretty filling and so even though it was a small portion, was fine for both of us.

GS rice

Overall a lovely meal with good service, if a few niggles.  So was it “staggeringly good Thai food” as the website boasts? In my opinion, no. But it was pretty bloomin’ tasty and I would absolutely go back, especially for those duck rolls.

P.S – We headed over to The Albion pub round the corner finish the night and enjoy the cosy fire (and look longingly at the prosecco deal…)

Albion

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…

Outlander 2014

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.