Restaurant Review: Boulangerie Victor Hugo Southampton

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When my friend told me a new French cafe had opened in town, I had to rush down there as soon as possible to test it out! Boulangerie Victor Hugo (or BVH, if you’re going to be cool about it) is located down town, past the Bargate and just past Zen and La Lupa.

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The Fat Fig: An Epic Greek Feast!

On Saturday, some of my friends and I went to The Fat Fig, a Greek restaurant in Southampton. I’d noticed it during a walk to check out a new ice cream parlour called Tooti’s and after researching it online, I found mostly glowing reviews. They offer an option on their menu called the ‘Fat Fig Meze Banquet’, which is decribed as ‘a feast, comprising of all dips, starters, a seafood course, finished with a meat platter’, priced at £18.95 per person. That seemed pretty good to me, so I booked the table and along we went! Inside, the restaurant’s decor is minimal, and the chairs and tables are canteen style – but the food, I assure you, is fantastic. Here’s what we had!

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We started with some amazing houmous, tzatziki with fat chunks of cucumber and laced with mint, taramasalata, skorthalia – cold mashed potato with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, olives, and tabouleh – a zesty, juicy salad made of bulgar wheat, tomatoes and parsley, all accompanied by fluffy hot pitta bread.

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Following that was haloumi and lounza, a grilled, supersalty cheese with a rubbery texture (actually, incredibly delicious despite it sounding like polystyrene) and griddled pork loin that tasted like smoked ham.

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Then we had falafels – these, as I assume, most of the dishes, were homemade – piping hot and crispy with a spicy parsley and onion studded chickpea mash inside, accompanied by what I think was a tahini dip.

Following that came dolmathes and melinzanes together:

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The dolmathes were vine leaves stuffed with rice, pork, herbs and spices, and topped with a fresh tomato sauce.

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The melinzanes were possibly my favourite part of the meal, fried, smokey aubergine medallions topped with tomatoes, with a soft, rich interior surrounded by a crispy outer skin. I have a weakness for aubergine dishes!

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Then came the chicken liver – cooked in onions with lemon and parsley. I did try this, and it was tasty, but unfortunately the smell reminded me too much of the food we gave our dogs when I was a kid, so I squeamishly skipped this one!

That was the starters dealt with, so then we moved onto the fish course. First up was a plate of hot calamari:

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Then some fat king prawns covered with garlic butter, olive oil and parsley:

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And finally maritha, breaded, deep fried white bait:

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I’d never had white bait before, so I tried it out – it was incredibly delicious, although I do admit I removed the heads and scraped out the insides, which is not really proper white bait etiquette!

The second to last course was called Greek Village Salad – a classic Greek salad with the inclusion of iceberg lettuce. I’d never had it with lettuce before, and it had been wilted in the dressing which actually gave it an amazing texture and bags of flavour:

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The chunks of Feta were generous, flaky and delicious, as was the dressing and the oregano sprinkled on the top.

The final course was souvlakia, meat skewers:

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We had pork, chicken and sheftalies, homemade pork sausage. Honestly, the pork was slightly overcooked, but by this point we were pretty full and past caring!

The entire meal took around an hour and a half to eat, and we enjoyed everything with the exception of the chicken liver. Considering the price of most main courses at the restaurant is £10, our feast was very reasonably priced and I would love to go again some day! I highly recommend this for a special occasion if you’re on a budget and don’t want to go to a super fancy place – it has a sense of celebration and will certainly get you talking over the table!

Visit the Fat Fig’s website here, or call them on 02380 21 21 11. They are located at 5 Bedford Place, Southampton, SO15 2DB.

Serving Up Food Heaven: Dining at WestQuay, 22 November

If you’re from Southampton, or regularly visit our big shopping centre, WestQuay, you may have noticed some building work afoot over the past few months! Tomorrow, on 22 November, all that hard work is officially paid off as the centre launches the new Dining at WestQuay – a wider range of restaurants available for customers visiting the mall. New restaurants will include Pizza Express (yes!), noodle restaurant Wagamama (yes!), Southampton’s first Café Rouge Express (YES!), Mexican eatery Tortilla (yes!) and the American-inspired Ed’s Easy Diner (OH GOD YES!).

To celebrate, there will be a day of culinary delights, led by award-winning chef Aldo Zilli, who will be showcasing his Italian-inspired cuisine live on stage!
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From 12pm, shoppers will be treated to 3 demonstrations, which feature dishes such as pasta chitarra with four tomato sauce, baked cod with black olive crust, and a panettone dessert. Chefs from some of the other new dining companies will also be demonstrating their dishes – including Wagamama, so expect some Asian-inspired dishes as well!

Of course, if you really want to get the crowds in, you have to offer samples, so you’ll be pleased to know many of the food outlets are planning just that, from Hotel Chocolat, Nando’s, Marks and Spencer, Starbucks and Café Giardino. There will also be prizes, special offers and discounts up for grabs!

Check out the site for more info at WestQuay’s site.

Skyride Southampton 2011




Skyride Southampton 2011, a set on Flickr.

I hope you all made it out to the Sky Ride in Southampton today! Let me know if you have any photos to share. Here are some of the highlights – as usual, I had to take most of them on the fly, but luckily I didn’t crash into anyone despite the large amount of child-sized missiles on the circuit – bless ’em!

Sea View Ride

Another weekend, and another great Sky Ride Local! This time we cycled a sort of familiar route, although we started in a new place for me – still within cycling distance though (although we took the car as we had no idea where we were going!). This time the ride took us through Victoria Country Park and up to Hamble – we did a similar thing on our led ride from Weston Shore during the Big Bike Celebration in June.

It chucked it down for our trip to Itchen Valley Country Park, but the weather was glorious at the weekend – and even though I slathered myself in lotion, I still caught the sun a little bit. I decided to wear my ASOS cycling shorts with a skirt over the top – I love wearing skirts, but I always feel self-conscious about them being short, so whenever I cycle I get to wear cycling shorts underneath! This actually means I’m getting to wear my skirts way more than I did before, which is great news for me – shallow, I know! I also refound one of my favourite T-shirts that I bought from GAP years ago – it’s so thin and comfy, great for cycling in the sun.

I also discovered Heidi plaits are great for cycling (thanks, Minx Girl!) as they keep the hair off the back of your neck in a sweaty clump – they also look good with a helmet too.

Wearing my lovely Sawako Furuno helmet again – I wondered if the smaller ventilation holes would give me a hot head, but I’m pleased to report even in the sunshine I was fine! It’s definitely not as cool as a normal aerodynamic helmet, but it doesn’t bother me at all.

Unlike the previous two times I’ve been to a Sky Ride, I actually arrived early this time, and so I was able to laze about and watch everyone else hurriedly pull their bikes off their racks for a change!

The ride was a good mix of trails and roads – I’m still completely terrified of getting a puncture on gravel, but once I actually get one I think I’ll be fine. I really want to be able to take some kind of course in bike maintenance, but I can’t find anything nearby, which is pretty frustrating…

Anyway, I like having a mix of track and road, and the Allant manages to handle both decently. I think my favourite part is cycling down a long residential road, though, with everyone else stretched out in front. Somehow, as we all serenely glide along, it reminds me of clouds, just peacefully moving through the air.

Something about it just feels so effortless and peaceful. Until, of course, you get Omar, flipping me the bird over his shoulder.

He thought taking photos as I was cycling was hilarious. I have to admit, it’s not the safest thing you can do on a bicycle, but I wouldn’t dream of doing it if it was actually dangerous (or there was traffic on the road!). I’d love to get a camera mount for my handlebars, but I think that a set of lights is more pressing than that!

Here’s Rachel and Omar at Victoria Country Park – we stopped to watch a yacht race, but we were more interested in discussing their recent holiday to Cornwall. They got to go to the Eden Project, and a cycle ride that ended with Rick Stein’s fish and chip shop, so I’m insanely jealous!

The brief stop was great, though, and it wasn’t long before we were back on our bikes to head to the final point, which was Hamble.

There was a big group, and the leaders did a great job keeping everyone happy. Once we got to Hamble, we headed back again – it was about 75 mins of cycling all together, with about 30 mins of breaks added in.

We’ll definitely be trying out some of these routes ourselves when the Sky Rides end in August!

Itchen to get to the Park

Another Sunday, another Sky Ride: Itchen to get to the Park. This time, it was just me and Rachel. We braved the terrible weather and wound up doing half of the trip, opting to cycle back from the highlight, Itchen Valley Country Park, to our homes, instead of all the way back to the starting point. Personally, I would have preferred to continue, but it was pouring it down and Rachel didn’t have a jacket! That’s one downside to a mountain bike with no basket or panniers…

Here she is, during a dry spell! Everyone got the Sky Ride bibs again, which helped keep a bit of the rain off…

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Anyway, getting a bit ahead of myself here – this was our route! We were five minutes late to the start yet again, this time because we just couldn’t find the area we were supposed to meet at. We cycled around the park and stumbled across by accident in the end – although some others arrived much later than we did!

As usual, there wasn’t any time to take photos during the ride itself, but I managed to take a few at Itchen Valley Country Park. Here, you can see how much it was raining on the day!

Brr!

We stopped at the cafe and filled up the bike racks…

Rachel and I somehow missed the fact that there was an offroad cycle at the park itself, because we were busy getting ourselves coffee at the time… Still, it gave me a chance to show off my new helmet! More on that in another post…

Neither of us had our locks with us, so we brought our bikes around the back of the cafe and left them in plain sight by the door…

Here’s our friendly cycle group, still sheltering from the rain at the front of the barn!

As usual, the leaders were very friendly and helpful, and made sure everyone was safe and working to a pace they were comfortable with.

As we missed the off-road ride, when the group cycled off, we spent some more time at Itchen Valley exploring. Unfortunately, it turns out that the usual cycle track used at the site had been ruined by some vehicles which had left huge ruts down the centre, so we had to make do with cycling in the fields.

It was quite hilly and bumpy, and the wet grass was pretty challenging to cycle on, but I did all right! Unfortunately, cyclists aren’t allowed on the nature trails at the park – which is fine by me, as I also love walking too.

However, I did think it a bit strange that cycling was considered to be too stressful for the wildlife in the area, but that it was okay to have a brand new Go Ape adventure park installed in the same place!

That’s fine too – because I also love Go Ape and it’s great that there’s one now so close to where I live. Mind you, it’s still expensive – £30 per person.

What would Go Ape be without the obligatory ape statue to pose around?

To the left of the centre of this picture, you can see the zip line for the finale of the Go Ape experience – puts the one that’s already there to shame…

After checking out the Go Ape course, we decided to head on home, but not before one final photo to show off my new helmet!

In my first wet weather cycle, I learned the following things:

  1. My trainers do not have a good grip on the pedals when they’re wet.
  2. It doesn’t take long for your saddle to get soaked.
  3. My waterproof jacket is not all that waterproof.
  4. Brakes make scary noises in the rain.
  5. Wearing a helmet makes you forget how wet you’re getting.
  6. And most importantly, cycling in the rain is still good fun!

Winsor by Compass

Yesterday, I took part in my first Sky Ride Local led ride, which was awesome. What wasn’t so awesome was the stress involved in buying a bike rack for the car, finding out how to install and use the bike rack, and tracking down a false cross bar for my Trek Allant WSD to get it onto the bike rack. We ended up spending a lot more on it than we intended, and then spent the entire journey watching the bikes bounce perilously up and down in the window. And we wound up late (thanks to having to take a last minute trip to town to get said crossbar when my local cycle shop’s offering turned out to be totally unsuitable), which stresses me out more than anything…

Winsor by Compass

This is the route we took, and the ride was called ‘Winsor by Compass’. It was a 14.3 mile course called ‘Ride Steady’, which is a long, yet relaxed, trip.

This was our leader, explaining a bit about the journey and giving us some basic safety rules. Basically, it boiled down to: pay attention!

This is Rachel, kitted out with her Sky Ride tabbard. Her mountain bike had the distinction of having the fattest tyres in the group. There was a real mix of bikes there, from Dutch style bikes (complete with a pink wire basket, which I think you can see above in the group shot!) to racing and mountain bikes.

This is Omar – he bought his bike through the Cycle to Work scheme – something I’d love to do but is not really happening when you work from home!

We travelled on the Test Way for part of the trip. Coming to this from a bit of a walking background I always find it amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike compared to walking. Obvious, I know, but the pace is so much faster and you just get to see so much more! On the other hand, on a trip like this, you don’t get much of a chance to take photos or stop and look at the scenery. Mind you, considering these organised rides are completely free, I’m more than happy to forgo taking endless snaps on my phone!

Most of the ride was along pavement or roads, but we did have a section that was pretty rocky and covered in sharp stones. Someone ended up getting a puncture, which was pretty scary, to be honest! Luckily they had equipment to fix it with them, but I didn’t have anything, so I spent the rest of the stretch worrying about what would happen if I got a puncture too… I really need to get a repair kit!

This was far more typical of the sort of road surface we were traveling on – my bike likes this better, and so do I!

As you can see, I’m still wearing my blue helmet – I haven’t got a replacement for it yet (news on that later, I hope!). The good thing about it is that it is very breezy and doesn’t make my head get all sweaty!

Also, my bike computer decided to stop working yesterday too, which is pretty irritating considering how new it is. I’ll have to take it back to the shop and see if there’s something that can be done about it… In other news, I have a new bag (which you can still buy in the sale here, if you’re interested!). I totally wouldn’t have had a new bag if the bike rack purchase had happened first…

So. my first led Sky Ride Local was a blast, and I can’t wait for Sunday for the next one, which is in Itchen!

Big Bike Celebration

You may remember me posting about the Big Bike Celebration in Southampton at the end of June. Luckily, my bike arrived just in time for me to be able to attend with my friends Rachel and Lorraine, and we had a great day at Weston Shore!

There was plenty to see and do, including a chance to go on some more unusual bicycles, plus plenty of led rides – more on that in another post!

There were loads of stalls, too, and although there weren’t as many selling things as I expected, the Sustrans stall was brilliant, and the guys working there were amazing. They had loads of great maps and information leaflets, and I came away armed with a bagful to go over in the weeks ahead!

This was by far the weirdest contraption I’ve ever seen – a bicycle powered by several people which went up and down the central pathway seemingly all day. I didn’t get a go on it, but it looked like fun!

Even the mayor turned up – he doesn’t look that happy here but I’m sure he was having a good time…

The weather was pretty good – warm but not too hot. As you can see from Lorraine’s picture, above, we did come prepared with coats, but ended up not needing them!

…Although, occasionally the sea breeze got a little bit nippy…

All in all, it was a great first outing for my bike, which proved incredibly comfortable – so much so that my friends are now lusting after a comfy saddle like mine! I have to say, the Allant really is a very comfy bike to sit on.

But obviously, it has its limitations, so you won’t be seeing any stunts like this from me in the near future… (Or ever…)

Big Bike Celebration

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It’s a very exciting time to be into cycling in the south – even if you didn’t decide to get your knickers off for the Naked Bike Ride today, you can still join in the fun on Saturday 25 June at Weston Shore for an amazing variety of bike-related events. And, you not only get to wear your clothes, but I’m pretty sure everyone else will be wearing theirs, too.

I spoke to Thea Bjaaland, active travel project co-ordinator in Southampton, about the event, and she helpfully gave me these flyers to share with you. She also told me that last year, this event attracted 2000 people – amazing! There are some great activities planned, including some led bike rides which look like fun – I hope to get a place on one of these (they’re first come, first served – and you don’t even need to have your own bike, as bike and helmet hire for these are free!).There will be food stalls as well, and Thea promised ice-cream, which should be enough to entice anyone to attend. A variety of organisations will be present, including Sustrans, Southampton City Council, Solent NHS Trust, Southampton Cycling Campaign, Transition Southampton, Active Nation and the Veteran Cycle Club. We’re pretty lucky to have so many organisations working together on an event like this.

The event takes place between 11 and 4 on the Saturday, near the Pitch and Putt. There’s parking available, but I reckon you should come on your bikes – right?

My thanks go to Thea for her help in gathering this information!

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Naked Cycling

World Naked Bike Ride - Albany, NY - 10, Jun - 01

Image by sebastien.b via Flickr

Last week, I received a very peculiar invitation from an old friend. Although I don’t have a bike (yet), I have been going ON and ON about cycling for weeks to anyone who will listen, and so naturally people realise now that the only way to communicate with me is on my level, i.e., talking about bikes. For this one friend, the World Naked Bike Ride combined an interest of his with one of mine – the perfect combination, you might say…

So, it turns out that last year, Southampton played host to a World Naked Bike Ride, and everyone liked it so much that they thought they’d have another one – and it takes place on Friday (10th June, 2011). There’s even one organised in nearby Portsmouth, although there’s also a petition being signed to try to prevent it from happening as well. It turns out that these bike rides have been happening here since 2007 – AND I NEVER EVEN KNEW. You learn something new every day.

As I have no bike, I’m going to have to politely decline the opportunity to cycle around the city in my birthday suit this Friday – but what about you? Anyone planning to join in the naked bike ride on Friday?

World Naked Bike Ride, Southampton, 10 June. Visit the site here.