Taco Time! Taco Bell Opens In Southampton

I’ve had a slight Taco Bell obsession since I watched Demolition Man as a kid and found out that every restaurant in America would soon be a branch of Taco Bell (franchise wars winners, natch!)…

Thankfully we no longer have to wait until 2032 to eat Taco Bell, because a restaurant just opened here in sunny Southampton – launching 23 November 2016! My husband and I were invited along to the launch this evening, and I’ve rushed home to write up my report about it, because I was pretty blown away!

The restaurant has a great central location, just opposite the Bargate – around the corner from where the old McDonald’s used to be, if you can remember back that far. It also boasts charging stations and free wifi, which I’m sure means it’ll be a hit with any cruise crew and travellers stopping by at the port – or people like me, who are usually running out of data and have plenty to do online…

The menu is on par with other fast food places in as far as choice and price goes – you can get most of the dishes under or just over a fiver. However, I don’t think we have many other Tex-Mex fast food places in the centre of town – the nearest is probably Mexigo on London Road, which is a fair walk if you have a sudden craving for a burrito…

There was a great atmosphere at the launch, and the drinks and food were getting everyone in a mood for a proper Mexican-style fiesta! It was interesting to learn that this branch is the only one south of London – I’m sure it won’t be for long. I have no idea why it’s taken so long for Taco Bell to get a foothold in the UK, because even with a handful of branches, it still has pretty good brand name recognisability here. If there’s one thing every Brit is prepared to concede about America, it’s that they do fast food reaaaaally well.

Speaking of which, I got to try a few of the dishes on offer, including the beef tacos, chicken burritos, and pulled pork quesadillas. They were all so delicious – I was expecting good things but I was surprised as just how tasty and addictive the food was. My absolute favourite was the pulled pork quesadillas – salty, juicy shredded pork inside a cheesy soft grilled tortilla; what a perfect combination! That’ll be my regular, please, Mr. Bell.

The burritos come with rice, too, making them a great, filling meal! And the tacos – crunchy, crispy, with great seasoning and a lovely blend of sour cream and cheese. Let’s face it, fast food doesn’t need to be fancy or difficult to be delicious and filling – Taco Bell is cheap and cheerful at its finest. And did I mention they serve beer too?!

I’m definitely going to make many more stops at Taco Bell – there’s nothing like it on the high street in Southampton right now, and the prices are half what you’d pay in Tex-Mex restaurants for the same food (dare I say, actually a little nicer here?!)

Taco Bell Southampton opens 23 November at 1/2 Hanover Buildings, Southampton, SO14 1JU. See the menu at www.tacobelluk.co.uk.

Live más!

Style note: T-shirt dress by ASOS, glasses by London Retro, jacket by Atmosphere, lipstick (The Queen) by Charlotte Tilbury.

Food and drink at the launch was on the house – my photos and opinions are my own.

Get Your Steak ON! London Steakhouse Co. City

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There’s nothing better than a good steak – but don’t you find that very often, the steak on a menu seems like more of an afterthought that a really well done dish? I rarely bother ordering steak on a menu when I’m out at a restaurant, because it just feels as though the cut will be cheap and the cooking a bit of a lottery.

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That’s why if I want a proper steak at a restaurant, I make sure to visit a speciality place. Cue London Steakhouse Company! I was asked to pop down and review the gorgeous City branch, and I have to say, it was my absolute pleasure. The restaurant has been recently refurbished, and is on two levels – doesn’t it look gorgeous?!

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City has a classic French bistro interior with white tablecloths, red leather chairs and mirrored walls with wooden panelling. The logo of the steer skull seems more in keeping with a Texan steakhouse, but the menu is classically French. The bar is well stocked with premium spirits, although there are only a handful of cocktails on the menu. But, the bar staff are more than happy to accommodate any requests. We had a Four Seasons cocktail and a bespoke raspberry and pineapple mocktail, both of which were fruity and delicious!

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Starters were beef short rib with house BBQ sauce and coleslaw, and chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche. The parfait was whipped and super light, like a dreamy mousse, and accompanied by a basil oil dressing and smears of a spiced fruit chutney. The brioche came in the form of small croutons – it would have been nice to have had a thick wedge to spread the parfait onto, but the croutons provided a delicious contrasting crunch.

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The short rib came stripped from the bone and perched atop a cylindrical mound of coleslaw, pink with the BBQ sauce, which was sweet and smoky.

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The main was a Boston Chop, served carved off the bone to share. It came with a sharp bearnaise with a hint of tarragon, and a creamy, peppery sauce. The steak was divine – a seared outer edge coaxed forth the deep umami flavours of the beef, and the cut was tender and soft with an extra depth of flavour you only get from a really good piece of meat. I think you can always tell the quality of steak by tasting the seared fat along the edge (I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it!) and this was crispy and rich.

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The steak doesn’t come with side dishes so you select your choice from the menu (and you will need to order at least one per person). We tried the Pont Neuf and house fries – the former were a bit of a miss for me, the interior was a bit floury and the taste wasn’t as good as the house fries.

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Let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with frites with your steak! You are also offered condiments of your choice including tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, and sharp English mustard. I always go for a mustard with my steak, and I originally thought I’d need some as there didn’t seem to be a lot of sauce. But the sauce we were provided was so rich and creamy, it was just the right amount!

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If you’re going low-carb, there are quite a few food choices on here, and I’d love to try the buttered greens and lardons, panazella salad or the creamed spinach at some point!

Onto the puddings, and the restaurant has a decent selection which should please everyone – classic creme brûlée, sticky toffee pudding, cheesecake, chocolate cake, plus a gorgeous looking cheese selection.

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There are dessert wines suggested for every option which is a lovely touch – and I can rarely resist a glass of Sauternes when it’s offered! The creme brûlée was dense, silky and creamy, studded with vanilla seeds, with a great tasting thin layer of caramel on the top.

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It went really well with the Sauternes, and at this point I was in dire need of a coffee so that I could continue writing my notes…

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You’re treated to a little marshmallow at the end of the meal, served from under a glass cloche, which is a lovely little addition!

All in all, I thought that the ambiance, food and service made this an excellent spot for a special celebration meal out. The food is incredible, the steak was of a really high quality, and the staff were more than happy to go that extra mile to make sure you were happy with every dish, even making some spot-on recommendations for us throughout.

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I have fond memories of the Boston Chop, and if you’re visiting with a loved one or a fellow steak-enthusiast, I’d recommend you go for that option. My only regret is that I couldn’t gnaw the bone at the end!

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Click the image below to be taken to my Flickr set for the restaurant, and make sure your keyboard is wipe clean…

London Steakhouse Co. City

London Steakhouse Co. has branches in Chelsea and City, and you can find their website here. There are some excellent dishes on the affordable set menu, and they have some gorgeous looking Christmas menus as well, for £35 or £55 per person, plus drinks packages of £15 or £25 per person.

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My meal at London Steakhouse Co. was complimentary – my review, opinions and photography are my own.

Halloween ARTea Afternoon Tea at Lancaster London

I’ve said before that Halloween is my favourite holiday after Christmas, and I’ll say it again: Halloween is my favourite holiday after Christmas. Although I love a bit of camp and cheese, my favourite kind of Halloween experience is a bit more sophisticated, so when I was asked to a press preview of Lancaster London’s Halloween afternoon tea, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

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London is full of afternoon tea experiences, so to make yours stand out, you have to go that extra mile. Lancaster London strapped on its trainers and headed out for a marathon when it came to putting together this gorgeous themed tea! First of all, the plush surroundings of the tea lounge, with opulent carpets and rich burgundy sofas, are the perfect setting for an indulgent and exquisitely put together tea…

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The tea is delivered in an artist’s box which is opened to reveal a fiendishly delicious selection of terrifying treats – complete with dry ice smoke. When the mist clears you’re greeted with a lavishly prepared and delicately produced selection of savoury and sweet morsels. I have to say, this is the gold standard in my opinion when it comes to Halloween treats – everything is thoughtfully put together, looks amazing, and tastes even better.

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There are a duo of finger sandwiches – cucumber coffins (brown bread with thinly cut and peeled cucumber, carefully seasoned), and smashed egg and crazy wild cress on blood bread. My mother is somewhat of a cucumber sandwich connoisseur and declared it to be the nicest one she’s ever had.

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There’s also a pinwheel sandwich of salmon which has been smoked in the fires of hell – only the finest salmon for the devil it seems, because we could have eaten five of these without blinking. The quartet of sandwiches is rounded out with an open faced axe carved beef on rye, with horseradish.

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The horseradish on my first offering was a little scant, but the waiter was more than happy to rush off to the kitchen to produce a more fiery version! There’s also a devilled tartlet encased in the richest, crispest pastry – filled with paprika spiced cream and stuffed with chorizo. This was one of the highlights. I’m actually still thinking about it two weeks later… (Here seems like as good a place as any to mention that at Lancaster London, they make their own bread, jam, pastry and honey, amongst other things!)

Finally, the savoury course was finished off with the fried until dead veggie Scotch egg. With a crispy coating, the sausage is replaced with a mixture of red veggies – I suspect red cabbage, beetroot, red onion and potato, with half a quail’s egg in the centre. All of these were prepared so well I would have happily eaten more – and the waiter, Monir (who was an absolute star!) offered to bring us extras from the kitchen, but afternoon tea is a tricky beast and I’ve never walked away from one feeling like I could have eaten a single thing more. This was no different!

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Scones are served in a separate course so they can be delivered fresh from the oven to your plate. There are three varieties of scones – plain, raisin the dead, and pumpkin, which come with tubes of strawberry jam and clotted cream, along with a pot of cremated blood orange marmalade, which was spicy and very sweet, and had a hint of vanilla. The scones were just the right size for a couple of bites, and had a fluffy interior and slightly crunchy exterior. I just loved the tubes of cream and jam, and although they were a clear leftover from the art theme, they still worked well as a kind of laboratory accessory from a mad scientist’s lair…

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The final course is a selection of sweets; chocolate graveyard (creamy chocolate mousse topped with graveyard soil made from chocolate and oats, topped with a shortbread tombstone and dark purple viola), spiderweb lollipop (candy floss draped chocolate truffle coated with white chocolate, stuck in a shot glass of coloured sugar), shattered glass cupcakes (a shard of bloodied sugar glass, a chocolate cake topped with airy light buttercream), Frankenstein macaroons (blackberry flavour) and a bloodied finger eclair (with white chocolate and creme patisserie). It was difficult to say which was the best, but I loved the bloodied glass effect on the cake, and how could you not love the severed finger on the eclair!

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But, what would afternoon tea be without the tea? Lancaster London serves a selection consisting of 14 blends from Novus Tea, from English breakfast to Dragonwell Green and White Pear and Ginger. The tea is served in beautiful clear teapots and comes with an hourglass to time the brew precisely according to the strength of the leaves.

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We were also plied with a glass of Pommery each, which was a thoughtful yet unnecessary bribe (actually, it comes with the champagne afternoon tea – my integrity is intact, promise), which was the perfect accompaniment to the fiendish chicanery that emitted from the kitchen. All of this was served by the wonderful waiter, Monir, who was gamely wearing bloodied chef’s whites and trying his hardest to be devilish.

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The Halloween ARTea Afternoon Tea is served at the Lancaster London from 17 October until 31 October, priced at £35 per person. The hotel also does themed afternoon teas including their beautiful ARTea experience, where you’re served pieces of real, edible art, based on paintings on display in the lounge! Check back at their website for more seasonal afternoon teas, tying in with special dates, movie releases and London events.

Find Lancaster London at  Lancaster Terrace, London W2 2TY. Reservations on 020 7551 6000 or visit www.lancasterlondon.com.

My Halloween tea experience was part of a press preview. All opinions and photography are my own.

Asha’s Manchester: Thoughtful and Innovative Indian Cuisine

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to review Asha’s in Manchester – a contemporary Indian restaurant in the centre of the city. Like most good Britons, I love a curry, and I also know pretty much what to expect from an Indian restaurant. I’m happy to report that Asha’s completely exceeded my expectations, and provided some delicious surprises along the way!

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First impressions count, and Asha delivers from the moment you step in through the door. The restaurant features opulent interiors with gold lanterns, beaded wall hangings, plush sofa booths, tarnished mirrored walls and warm wooden floors. Lighting is low and cosy, with pretty ornate shadows thrown by the lampshades.

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The next opportunity to be courted comes via the hugely impressive and thoughtful menu. The innovation starts as soon as the poppadoms and chutney is brought out – anyone can rattle off the usual list of much-loved chutneys offered by restaurants up and down the country, but Asha breaks with tradition by offering four fresh flavours, including tomato and chilli, green apple and blueberries, fresh pineapple, and mint and coriander relish. These were all light and zingy, the perfect start to the meal!

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Even my husband (who I’ve mentioned before is notoriously picky) found an unlikely favourite from the selection, plumping for the sweet and delicate apple dip.

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The staff were super attentive, friendly and informative, letting you know how long your meal will take and checking in with you about possible allergies. The waiters take pleasure in knowing the menu inside out, and when serving will tell you how the dish was cooked and how spicy it is (all dishes are available in varying degrees of spiciness if you tell your waiter what you like!). Now, as I’m often invited by the restaurants to do reviews to feature on my blog, you’d think I’d be continually buttered up by wait staff and managers – but in actual fact, it doesn’t usually happen! And, I was pleased to note that we weren’t being given special treatment at all – the tables around us were all given the same treatment, and it’s obviously something the restaurant prides itself on (and rightfully so).

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For our starters, we went with the traditional chicken tikka, plus a slightly more unusual salmon tikka, both of which were served on a fresh garden salad garnished with cherry tomatoes, radish, silverskin onions and dressed with an olive oil and coriander sauce. The salmon was soft, tender and flaky, with a creamy texture, while the chicken was flavoursome and had more of the characteristic smoky tandoori crust.

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I have to take a minute to talk about the drinks, too! The table water was scented with cucumber – although you could also request to have it served plain. From the huge and tempting cocktail menu, I picked Asha’s punch – served in a teapot packed with ice, with Bicardi Fuego, cognac, honey mead, cherry wine, osmanthus flower tea, citrus and house grenadine, finished with champagne, it was utterly delicious, and served in a lowball glass.

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I loved the way you could pour this yourself from the teapot – such a cute idea!

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My husband tried two of their non-alcoholic cocktails, the first one was strawberry passion crush – a sweet long drink over crushed ice, with lemon, lemonade and rose water. This was sooo dangerously drinkable, it’s a good job it didn’t have alcohol in it, or we both would have been smashed! The second drink, pictured above, was vanilla berry: a long drink of crushed raspberries and blackberries lengthened with cranberry and apple juice and dusted with a fairy sprinkle of homemade vanilla sugar. Another imaginative and delicious offering!

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Then, it was time for the main courses! I love aubergines, so I had to try the hare baigan ka bartha: silky smooth aubergine, cooked with ginger, garlic and green chillies, then mashed with satisfyingly crunchy red onion, dried red chillies and fresh chopped coriander.

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Then a potato dish, aloo masala: peeled waxy new potatoes in a rich, oily onion and tomato sauce, studded with spicy cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. I’m a huge fan of waxy solid potatoes that don’t break down in the cooking and muddle the sauce, and this was utterly delicious! When it comes to side dishes, I’d definitely say they’re best shared between one or two people – they’re dainty portions, which is great to allow you to try lots of different things!

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We selected a chicken and a lamb dish for the main curries. Muscat gosht, on the left, was tender lamb in a rich, thick gingery gravy. It was very oily and favourful, and the sauce is super concentrated just the way I like it, spiced with black cardamom, black peppercorn and coriander seed.

Murg makhani, on the left, was slightly tart, sweet and creamy – a classic interpretation of the British favourite, butter chicken. You can’t go wrong with this one here, even if you think it might be a less exciting choice, because it has a vibrant, complex and bright taste. The butter is added three times during the cooking process, with adds a complex depth of flavour without overpowering the dish (I told you the waiters gave you loads of information about the dishes!).

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We also had a selection of naan breads, including truffle, garlic and sundried tomato. They were slightly dense and doughy, cooked competently enough – but didn’t standout as much as I expected them to.

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By the time it came to dessert, we were stuffed, but we HAD to try the blood orange and caramel kulfi – one of the most talked-about dishes on the menu! And it was beautiful – a caramel milk icecream topped with basil seeds, which were soaked beforehand and really had a delicious, basil-scented taste. On the side was a caramel-crusted segment of orange, along with fruit and spears of hard sugar caramel. It was utterly delightful and hugely enjoyable!

I can’t recommend Asha’s highly enough – it wasn’t just a great meal, but a fantastic experience as well. The décor, the staff, the menu, the food, the drinks – it all came together to make a fantastic evening. The chain has restaurants in Manchester, Birmingham, as well as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Check it out at the website, here. (Also, they do Christmas party menus as well – book in and you’ll be the office favourite, I guarantee it!)

My only complaint about Asha’s was the fact that they don’t have a branch down south yet. Please, open one in Hampshire as soon as possible!

My meal at Asha’s was complementary – the opinions were my own.

The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Experience: The Blackpool Tower Ballroom

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I’m no stranger to afternoon teas. Whether it’s champagne afternoon tea at The Ritz, or tea for two at the local farm shop, I love the tradition of gathering for tiny sandwiches, pieces of cake, and that all important jam and cream-topped scone.

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But if you had to ask me what the ultimate afternoon tea experience had to be, after my visit, I wouldn’t be able to say anything except afternoon tea at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Seriously, I had the best time of my life!

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Perhaps one of the aspects of the afternoon tea that made it such an incredible experience was that I was not at all prepared for one of the major aspects of the appeal – the dancing! I thought it would be tea served on the ballroom floor in opulent surroundings, and of course, I was totally down for that. But instead, I got dinner and a show, because for the entire time we were there, we were entertained by live music from the Wurlitzer, and dozens of couples taking to the floor to waltz and whirl in perfect unison.

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Usually, an afternoon tea would be judged (by me at least) heavily towards the food, with bonus points for the surroundings. This experience was a 180!

But, let’s talk about that food for a minute. When it comes to afternoon tea, I have high standards. I expect the sandwiches to be dainty, the scones to be light and fluffy, and the cakes to be tempting and irresistible. Blackpool Ballroom delivered on all of these – with traditional fillings and tasty little cakes, and a hearty and generous scone, I thought every part was perfect. It certainly wasn’t experimental, or foodie-orientated, or themed in any way (like the Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley, for example), and it certainly wasn’t as refined as The Ritz (the handful of crisps on the plate would never fly in Mayfair, darling), but it provided honest, good, Northern fayre with an emphasis on quality, variety and generosity.

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My husband is simultaneously the joy of my life and the bane of my existence (won’t any married woman tell you the same thing?). He’s wonderful in almost every way except he’s a bit of a fussy eater, and raisins are one of the things he just won’t eat. So when we were told they only served fruit scones, I winced – until the waitress suggested an alternative of a piece of cake. Instead of a scone, he was presented with a generous slice of chocolate and caramel cake, which was absolutely gorgeous and devoured in an instant.

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I, of course, am a staunch character and will only accept an offering of fruit scone with clotted cream and jam. There was a generous portion of cream, and the Tiptree jam even came with this cute Ballroom label, which was a lovely touch.

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Onto the cakes – and as any afternoon tea salwart will tell you, this is where you’ll usually run out of steam, despite having the best intentions… But these cakes were too good not to eat – a strawberry tart, millionaire’s shortbread, mini pavolova, and a lemon cheesecake. The only problem you’ll encounter is how to allot them between two (although we went for the time-honoured tradition of splitting them down the middle…).

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I must explain the reasoning behind us running out of room for the cakes – we were served ten different flavours for the sandwich course! I don’t even know how they managed to fit them all on the plate, but we had ham, cheese and mustard; bacon, lettuce and tomato; cheese; tuna and mayonnaise; salmon, cucumber and cream cheese; egg salad; egg mayonnaise; plain ham; plain turkey; and chicken mayonnaise. I highly suspect if the fancy came upon you that you could request any combination of the flavours you wanted, as it looked as though all of the sandwiches were made in the kitchen at the back of the hall.

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The Blackpool Tower Ballroom Afternoon Tea is truly an amazing experience. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as one of the must-do experiences in Blackpool when you’re on holiday. It has the perfect combination of old-world, British grandeur with a pinch of cheesy seaside frivolity. And, don’t forget that classic afternoon tea menu – it always looks dainty, but trust me, you won’t need to eat dinner that day (and we were even offered more food too!). Oh, and the tea – of course, your choice of flavours, including Yorkshire tea, pride of the North (although a Southern lass like me is just as happy with an Afternoon Tea blend!)… or coffee, if you prefer.

The Blackpool Ballroom Afternoon Tea is available priced at £50 for 2, £70 for 3, or £80 for 4 people, and includes entry to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. You can also splash out for the champagne experience (£69.95 for 2, £85.85 for 3, £99.95 for 4). There are sittings for afternoon tea (12, 12.30, 2, 2.30) and you can book online at http://www.theblackpooltower.com, or by phoning 0871 222 9929.

My afternoon tea experience was complimentary – my words, photos and opinions are my own.

Greater Than The (Dim) Sum Of Its Parts

Rumour has it that the best dim sum in London is to be had at the Royal China Group, so I was only too happy to pop along to the flagship Baker Street branch when they asked me to review their spread.

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Dim sum is one of China’s worst kept culinary secrets – you might think you’re content with sweet and sour pork balls and some egg fried rice, but if that’s the extent of your knowledge when it comes to Chinese cuisine, you’re missing out on an amazing experience! And when you finally get yourself to a dim sum place (especially one as good as this) you’ll realise you’ve been in the dark for far too long…

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The Royal China Group has locations all across London, including the aforementioned Baker Street branch (Baker Street is also home to the Royal China Club, the premium restaurant in the chain), as well as Canary Wharf, Queensway, Fulham and Harrow-on-the-Hill. Each restaurant has its own dedicated dim sum chef, and serves dim sum from noon to 5m – and believe me, the tables fill up fast, so if you want a seat, book ahead, or get there early!

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One of the most popular dishes on the dim sum menu is cha siu bao, or steamed roast pork buns, but don’t miss out on these gorgeous honey roast pork puffs, pictured above. While cha siu bao are traditionally served in a sugary, steamed, marshmallowy bread bun (second image), the pork puffs have the same sweet and savoury roast pork filling encased in flaky, buttery pastry. These didn’t last long!

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If you’re a fan of the Japanese gyoza, you should definitely try the original Chinese version. Thicker dough wrappers and a more amalgamated centre portion gives these a chewier texture – and they’re just as delicious as the Japanese ones!

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At dim sum, the idea is that all the guests select their favourites from a menu of tiny dishes – almost exactly like Spanish tapas or Greek / Turkish mezze. But don’t forget to check out Royal China’s scrumptious noodle dishes too, to bulk out your meal – we ordered the Soy Beef Ho Fun, above, and it was one of the tastiest noodle dishes I’ve had in a Chinese restaurant for a long time. Wide strips of noodles, tossed in soy sauce with generous strips of sliced beef, accompanied by spring onions, beansprouts, and topped with an egg, this was a great way to keep the meal flowing while we waited for various dishes to arrive.

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If you’re ordering dim sum, you need to move away from your comfort zone somewhat – otherwise you’ll miss some of the most delicious and intriguing dishes! These stuffed bean curd rolls were a case in point – earthy, wood-scented mushrooms with prawns, encased in a stiff, chewy casing, they were unlike anything you’ll get from your local takeaway.

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Also, this fried dough cheung fun – a slippery noodle layer encasing a spear of fried dough, served with a sweet soy sauce dip. The texture contrast is what makes this dish so moreish, and again, so very unlike anything you might be used to if you have a western palette!

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We also tried the Chinese rice pot, which was a pottery lidded dish stuffed with delicate rice, topped with corn-fed bone-in chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausage, again served with a tasty sweet dip.

You also have to give the steamed meatballs a try (succulent beef with preserved orange peel and spring onions) – and make sure to round off the meal with egg custard tarts served with Chinese tea!

Three or four dishes will be more than enough to fill you up at a dim sum lunch, so pace yourself! The Royal China menu has most of its items priced at £3-4, although some items are more expensive (and the large noodle dishes, which are big portions, are around £8-9).

Also, whatever you do, don’t forget to check out the cocktail menu! I can highly recommend the Royal China Martini!


Head to the website at www.theroyalchina.co.uk to find out more about the restaurant group, find a branch near you, and to look at the menus. Royal China also do a more traditional ala carte menu, as well as tasting experiences as well! Check out the dim sum menu here, and try not to drool on your screen!

The meal I enjoyed at Royal China was complimentary – the views in this review are my own.

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Thai Tapas Time! Koh Thai Salisbury

Tapas style is one of my favourite ways to enjoy food with friends – everyone ordering their dishes and sharing them around, discovering new delicacies and dipping in and out of plates here and there… Cutting the final piece into two or three pieces so everyone can try, ordering ‘just one more of these please’, after a particularly delicious dish disappears in an instant.

I’ve tried Greek, Turkish, Carribbean and even Mexican-style tapas, but until this month I’d never tried Thai. But really, when you think about it, Thai tapas is a genius idea. Like the Japanese izakaya snacks or kaiten-sushi, or even Chinese dim-sum, small dishes shared in a group is definitely a concept at home in Asian cuisine. So when Koh Thai asked me to come and review their tapas menu, I was more than happy to jump in the car and head on up to Salisbury.

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Koh Salisbury is located right in the city centre, meaning that you can hit the shops and the sights and then head in for a fantastic meal, and make a day of it. It’s also a really short walk from the main city car park, making it really easy to get to.

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The interior is dark, modern and themed with wooden screens, gorgeous golden lanterns, and hand painted artwork on the walls. When I went for a midweek dinner, the place was buzzing with couples, work parties, and a hen do, so I’d imagine booking in advance is pretty sensible if you want to make sure you get a table!

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The ethos of Koh Thai is a completely tailored dining experience, which starts the moment you order drinks. My designated driver, also my teetotal husband, always goes for soft drinks, but there’s no menu for virgin cocktails at Koh Thai. Instead, you tell the waiter what you like and they’ll come back with a delicious cocktail themed just for you. While I had a delicious Summer Daze, with gin, lime passionfruit and Midori, he had a riff on a strawberry daiquiri, which was completely gorgeous!

Crispy shredded beef

Onto the food! We’d been invited to try the Thai Tasting Menu at £26 a head, which includes starters and main, and all the trimmings. Koh calls this a bespoke ordering style, because that’s exactly what it is – you tell them what you like, which meats you prefer, any allergies or dislikes, and how spicy you like it, and they produce dish after dish of delicious food, exactly as you like it. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that this was one of the best Thai meals I’ve ever eaten – everything was cooked to perfection and there was a fantastic balance of old favourites and new dishes that I’d not tried before. First up was the Thai sliced crispy beef: tender strips of beef with a crispy crunchy coating, served with a sweet, thick soy sauce spiked with chilli and dressed with spring onions.

24 hour beef ribs

Then came one of their signature dishes, 24 Hour Ribs. These were melt in the mouth beef ribs; so tender the meat fell off the bone. They were served with their cooking jus which tasted like a blend of soy sauce with cinnamon and star anise – although the exact recipe is a secret! I can’t decide if these or the crispy beef strips were my favourite – they were both cooked to perfection and so, so tasty!

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We also had Koh’s Own Chicken Satay. Traditional chicken skewers served with crunchy, spicy peanut sauce, this is always a firm favourite of my husband, and went down a treat.

To be honest, at this point we thought the meal was over, but it had only just begun. You’ll definitely not go home hungry… We were served cashew stir fry  – which I’d never had before, but will definitely be hankering after, and ordering, again for sure.

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It consisted of a sweet and savoury sauce coating a mixture of sliced beef, onions, peppers, spring onions, water chestnuts, pineapple pieces and dried chilli, studded with satisfying crunchy, creamy cashews. I could have eaten this all day.

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But what would a Thai meal be without at least one Thai curry? We had green chicken curry – fiercely hot, spicy, creamy curry sauce packed with bamboo shoots, green beans, peppers, and chicken.

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The dishes also came with Jasmine rice and Pad Thai: soft noodle ribbons fried with egg, carrots, spring onions and bean sprouts, served with sliced pork and peanuts on the side to add your own crunch! Sweet, rich and tangy, Pad Thai is always irresistible, and this was no different.

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Then it was onto our second round of drinks – I had a Kohtini, which is their alternative to a Cosmopolitan (lemongrass syrup, lychee liqueur, vodka, lime and cranberry) and my husband had a virgin mojito (oh my goodness, even without the rum, one of the best mojitos I’ve tried!)

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As you can see, I had a brilliant time at Koh Thai, and I’d definitely come back. This is the perfect place for a celebration meal with mates, or a quiet romantic date with your other half. The attention to detail was excellent, presentation was perfect and our waiters were very friendly and attentive. All of this would have been for nothing if the food wasn’t good, but I was bowled over by how delicious each dish was – I’d order it all again in a heartbeat.

The good news is there are locations all over the south, with more popping up all the time. There are branches in Bath, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Bristol, Christchurch, Lilliput, Ringwood, Salisbury, Southsea and Winchester, and the new Romsey branch opens this month (July 2016)! They even have a special express light lunch menu for under £10, including a fantastic selection of grilled meats with a choice of sauces, if you’re watching your figure.

Find Koh Thai online at www.koh-thai.co.uk. The Salisbury branch I visited is located at 4A Endless Street, Salisbury, SP1 1DL.

The meal I enjoyed at Koh Thai was complimentary – the views in this review are my own. (Seriously, book yourselves in!)

Let’s Taco ‘Bout It: Chiquito’s Street Food Menu

Street food is the new slow food, which was the new organic, which was the new nouveau cuisine. Or, to put it simply, street food is the new buzz word – and like the rest of the foodie fads, it’s utterly delicious and utterly everywhere.

Chiquito, the UK chain of Mexican restaurants that have been with us since 1989, has caught onto the fad, with delicious results. The Street Food menu has a choice of 16 different items, and is priced at 3 for £12.95 or 6 for £23.95. I was invited to review the range by Chiquitos, so I gathered up a posse and rode into town.

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There’s no denying this is a beautiful spread – each dish is colourful, bright and fresh, just as you would expect from a Mexican street food range. Served in trios on wooden boards, each dish is presented on a colourful terracotta plate.

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Before we tucked in, though, we enjoyed a couple of Woo Woos, and a plate of nachos – along with the complimentary spicy popcorn…

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I really liked the fact that the Street Food range covered all the bases, from your basic, standard offerings like chicken and sweetcorn empanadas, tacos, mini burritos (which were all fairly tasty, but not mind blowing), through to more adventurous items like the fiesta salad, the fried halloumi and the whipped feta and honey dip. In fact, these items were by far and away our favourites, and come highly recommended!

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This creamy dip was savoury and sweet at the same time, and combined the salty, creamy feta with a dash of honey and some mint, creating an irresitable combination – and it’s easy to share, too! (Although, ours was missing the pomegranate seeds…)

The fiesta salad was equally delicious – a combination of cucumber, chilli, beetroot, pineapple, pomegranate, coriander and orange, it was spicy and refreshing (and we’ve got plans to replicate this at home for BBQs!). It was a great counterpoint to the rich, oily, meaty panfried chorizo, which is a simple yet always welcome addition to the menu.

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Another excellent dish was the fried halloumi, which came with a cranberry sauce on the top – spongy, squeaky, salty cheese, with a crispy, crunchy exterior, and that sweet-sour sauce… A winning combination!

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One dish that everyone picked as their favourite was the meatballs – it seemed like a no-brainer choice, but I’ve been to many tapas places where the meatballs were the worst thing on the menu. Here, they’re not an afterthought, and the rich and juicy beef patties are perfectly complimented by the piquant chilli tomato dressing.

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I also have to give a shoutout to the beef chilli tortilla stack, which was really good, and the Mexican frittata, which was very salty but still delicious.

I asked my group to recommend a trio of plates each. Omar recommended the meatballs, feta whip and fiesta salad. Rachel suggested the meatballs, halloumi and beef chilli stack, and Michael went for the meatballs, the chicken tacos, and the sweet chorizo croquettes. My choice would be the meatballs, fried chorizo and fiesta salad.

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All in all, we all really enjoyed the menu – and because the portion sizes aren’t large, we had enough room for a dessert too! In fact, that would be my only criticism of the menu as a whole – we ordered 15 plates between us, which came to just over three plates each, but you’d probably need four or five plates to feel full. Six plates would definitely be a good meal, and you wouldn’t need to order a starter to go along with it, thanks to the great variety of dishes on offer!

Find your local Chiquito at chiquito.co.uk, and book or view the menu online!

Disclaimer: I was offered a £60 voucher to review the menu, and all my opinions are my own.

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Battle of the Hotdogs: It’s Going Down in Charlotte Street!

If you head to Charlotte Street in London on hotdog related business, you may find yourself plagued with a decision the likes of which you’ve never faced before. Because in Charlotte Street there is not one, but two great hotdog places, both very close to each other, both very trendy and Instagrammable, and both selling delicious food.

Now, I don’t know you, but I’m going to assume you’re similar to me, and only eat hotdogs once a day. So that means I’m going to have to help you decide which one to visit. Don’t worry, I’ve done my research.

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Let’s start with Bubbledogs – arguably the trendiest of the two. You can’t book in advance but mysteriously when you go in, they’ll ask you if you have. I’m allergic to speaking on the phone, but if you are socially minded you might want to try ringing them to see if they’ll put you on the secret booking list.

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Bubbledogs’ USP is the fact that they serve champagne with their hotdogs (which came first? The concept or the name? I like to think they just made up the name first and then decided the only possible way to go ahead with a business called Bubbledogs was with champers and sausages… But I digress…) Because of that, the room is dominated by the glorious bar, dotted with dimmed lighting, and the exposed brick walls are adorned with cute pics of pups in various poses. Seats are high stools with higher tables – a pet peeve of mine, as I like to lounge when I eat. I assume I’m related to some kind of high up Roman senator or something.

The drinks selection is by far the biggest part of the menu. The food almost seems like an afterthought – but don’t worry, because as much care is lavished on the hotdogs as it is on curating the wine list. I plumped for the rose and waited patiently for my food to arrive before I supped away.

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Making a decision on the hotdogs was pretty difficult – before I arrived I’d fancied a Sloppy Joe – chilli, cheese and onions – but on the day I wanted something sour and strong, so I ordered a Reuben with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and melted Swiss cheese, along with a helping of sweet potato fries.

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It was delicious, but I still yearn for that hit of chilli and wish I could go back for a second helping of a Sloppy Joe – there’s just something unbeatable about that combo! Props go to Bubbledogs for the super traditional squeaky dog, springy, smokey, and savoury, and the soft, sweet brioche roll, as well as the fries, which were so crisp I could have shattered them against the bar.

On now to Herman ze German, which actually has several restaurants in London, offering a decidedly more rustic take on the humble hotdog.

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Cheap and cheerful is the name of the game here, and there’s also a lot more variety on the menu – you can order your hotdog without a bun, or even *gasp* skip the dog entirely and go for something completely different… as long as it’s German, of course…

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You’re supposed to fill out your wipe clean menu with your choices in a marker pen, and take them up to the counter to have your order taken – in reality, it’s a bit fiddly and unnecessary, and because the drinks options aren’t properly listed, you’ll still have to order those verbally. I’d recently tried currywurst in Germany (a country I have now visited twice for a grand combined total of three hours – and no, it wasn’t a layover!), so I went for a bratwurst with crispy onions and fries. Again, if I could reorder, I would go for a bockwurst – the bratwurst lacked the smokey taste I feel is essential for a hotdog.

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Interesting, the dogs are served on a French baguette style bun – I always prefer my dogs on a sweet, soft, bun, but the bread was perfectly baked, chewy and robust. The crispy onions are a great addition, and of course, just like at Bubbledogs, there’s mustard and ketchup available to add to your heart’s content – but Herman also offers mayo too, which is great if you’re pretending to be Belgian.

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Finally, don’t forget I said you could order other items – it wouldn’t be a German restaurant without a schnitzel! Crispy and moist, this breaded chicken breast comes with a salad, so you can pretend you’re being healthy while you eat fried food.

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On the Instagram level, I have to score Herman higher simply because there are two window seats which afford great daylight for those sneaky snaps, and the seating is a lot nicer too, although still has that cafeteria vibe thanks to the metal and wood furniture and the benches. Food-wise, I preferred Bubbledogs’ hotdog (but I still must try that bockwurst!) and bun, but Herman offers a more family friendly experience, is a little cheaper, and has a wider range of options.

My verdict? Go to Bubbledogs for style and substance, and go to Herman ze German for a heartily good nosh. And, try their melon and gin cocktail, it’s delicious!

Find Bubbledogs here at www.bubbledogs.co.uk, and Herman ze German here at www.hermanzegerman.com. Both are located on Charlotte Street in London, but Herman ze German has outlets in Soho and Charing Cross too…

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Boulangerie Victor Hugo Southampton: Beaujolais Nouveau Night!

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Late last month, we were invited along to one of my favourite cafes, Boulangerie Victor Hugo, for their special French evening to celebrate the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau! The event took on a new meaning following the awful terrorist attacks in Paris, which happened just a few days before the evening. It was a fantastic chance to show our solidarity with our French brothers and sisters by doing what they do best – sharing good times and enjoying great food and drink!

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