Monday, 30 June 2014

Accessorize Yourself: Wedding Clutch Bag Sewing Project

I have been selected to enter this year's Country Baskets craft challenge and was sent an absolutely beautiful box of crafty goodies to inspire my entry. The theme that we had to make for was 'Accessorize Yourself', with specific regard to wedding accessories. 

I knew this was an excellent opportunity to finally get my sewing machine out. It has been languishing for a good five years, mainly because I had no space to put it out in the house. The Boy has been promising a re-arrangement of the studio for some time so that I can have room for it there, but so far that has not been completed. So in the meantime I knew I needed to bite the bullet and get back on the old sewing horse. 

The goodies I got from Country Basket had a whole range of possibilities - definitely terminators (or fascinators as the rest of the world calls them) and all manner of brooches and hats, but I knew that learning the necessary millinery skills in the requisite time was possibly a tall order. I had one day off work with no plans to speak of, so I knew my project would have to be possible in that one day.

I set to work searching out suitable patterns (my sewing experience is, at best, limited, so there was no way I could launch in with my own pattern) for clutch bags. I could see the potential in the shiny red-pink organza I had been sent, as well as the delicate white lace for creating a statement clutch that was both practical and pretty.

I hit upon this lovely, yet simple clutch sewing pattern on Noodlehead's blog. It's an old pattern of hers but I'm truly greatful for the excellent tutorial. And so my plan was born. I started sifting through my stash of fabric to find some colours which would match the materials I had and would make a lovely wedding clutch, for a guest, bridesmaid, or even the bride herself!

I was keen to put some 'little extras' in there because I know that statement bold colours are a big trend for weddings in SS14, so I chose a bold flower patterned fabric for the lining, as well as having the richly coloured organze to use. Happily for me, another SS14 wedding trend is embellishment so I was absolutely quids in with the materials I had been sent.

With some trepidation (at times my hands were actually shaking! I clearly need to become WAY more practiced at using a sewing machine) I put the clutch bag together. Of course you should go to Noodlehead's blog if you want the pattern, I will not claim any right to this little beauty. Although I will point out the little touches I added to make it my own....

Cut out your fabric and iron on interfacing. I used an old zip that I had rescued from a threadbare garment some years ago. This was another reason for my massive fear - I have never (ever) sewn with zips before. And my machine does not have a zip foot....

  • At the second attempt, the first seam was sewn, making a (nearly) straight centre panel for the front of the bag.

  • Another first - machine gathering - who knew it was so simple? I was starting to get a strange wave of euphoria as it was all going well. I was still primed and ready to go back to my original idea of paper mache-ing an old music score to make a hat...

  • Here's where I added a little Country Baskets magic - instead of just sewing on the centre piece, I added a strip of organza and also a dash of that lovely white bridal lace I mentioned earlier. They complimented each other beautifully and really gave that wedding look I was after.

  • The front piece was complete. It was time for a mop of the brow and a little sit down, for next I had to conquer both the zip, and the lining.

It continued to go surprisingly well. Apart from nearly forgetting to iron the interfacing on to the back panel of the bag (not sure if I missed the instruction or it wasn't there). And all of a sudden, I had a wonderful little clutch bag! Absolutely couldn't believe how nicely it turned out!

But it was too simple, although the contrast lining does everything I had hoped for. It needed that special touch to make it a statement piece. Bring on the fire!!

In order to create an organza flower, I followed a very simple, tried and true method. I have no idea where I learned it from, it's just a method I have deep in my bones:

  • Cut yourself some rectangles of organza in a variety of sizes. Fold them into little cones and then snip the top to make rough circles. It doesn't matter if they are not exact.

  • When you are happy with your range of circles, snip a row of slits around the outside. I went for 8 as this followed the eighths I had made when creating the circles.

  • And now for the fire! I took it outside, because I'm all about sensible crafting. Hold the disc in the centre and lightly run the edge over a candle flame. You have to be a bit careful and use common sense here. The organza will melt quickly to make delicate petal shapes, but there is also the possibility that it will set on fire and disappear completely, leaving you with a lovely patch of molten plastic on your skin. So be careful and pay attention!

  • Once your petals are all formed, you can assemble the flower and put a quick stitch or two in the centre to hold them all in place.

  • While I was doing this, I took the opportunity to sew on a tail of the lovely decorative heart ribbon that I had received for this challenge.

Then I had a rummage in my button stash for something suitable to finish it. I wrapped three wire butterflies around the middle layer of the flower - the silver stems making a pleasing extra heart to the flower which gave a really nice finish - and sewed it on to the bag with the white button nodding to the white lace and really bringing the whole thing together.

Finally, I finished the bag by using a jewel from the mirror garland that I received and used the wire to twist it on to the zip to create a more practical fastening with an additional touch of glamour. I finished the back of the twist with a blob of PVA to seal the twist and to stop the sharp edge from poking through.

And there we have it! I hope you like my little effort. I think it would definitely suit a feminine wedding outfit. It has just enough body to hold its shape well and, to be honest, I'm still over the moon that my first sewing project in so many years has turned out so well! I've already started making a case for my knitting needles and crochet hooks because I'm so excited by the whole sewing machine thing. I feel a new obsession coming on...

As a PS, I had many beautiful things that I wasn't able to use on this little project, but that I already have plans for. My gorgeous artificial flowers were too big for this bag, but you can see them photographed with the bag. I also had a string of darling diamante which I nearly hand sewed on to the top of the bag, before the zip, but I thought it would be a bit too much. At the time of writing this is on sale, so grab yourself a bargain, it's lovely. There was a little pack of heart, laser etched place markers which I will have to save for a summer party in the garden! Sadly there was no room for paper in this make.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Extreme Gardening: Carnival Edition

The Men of the House, weeding.
How are your gardens getting on? We're doing OK, although the slugs have taken a huge proportion of my seedlings as ever. This spring we've really got to grips with some new areas of the garden that we haven't really used to their full potential before, and we've also finally removed all of the grass from our premises, so we have more space to grow decent plants and no mowing to do! Hooray! We hate lawns and we hate mowing, such a waste of time and space.

It all started when we decided to paint some things. We have some odds and ends of outdoor paint and wood varnish in the shed from various past jobs and decided to paint things randomly instead of properly. We painted the trellis green and orange (but not the fence behind it), we painted the raised bed that the Boy made for me a couple of years ago. Then I randomly painted some swirly patterns on to this old fence post. You can't see if that well in the photo, showing it is quite subtle, but when it rains the green really stands out, I love it.

Next we (well, mainly The Boy to be honest) dug up the scrappy horrible turf at the front of the garden. We've been trying, a bit, to sort the grass out for several years now, it was time for it to go as it was more trouble than it was worth.
He didn't want to cut it really.

Bye Bye Grass

Once it had all been dug over, we left it to settle for a couple of weeks, as we had turned some of the turf over. Some of it we dumped at the back of the garden, under the cherry tree to rot down.

Meanwhile, I treated myself to a bulk bag of compost. (A late birthday present, this is extreme gardening at its best.) We dug the nasty, neglected hedges out of one border and mixed in some of the new compost et voila! A whole new place to grow veg! Sadly, everything is getting super snail attacked at the moment, so the mandatory relocation programme is in operation, moving them out to the nearby grass verge, but still no luck as of yet. I shall perservere though.

 We also filled a load of large pots using the big bag o' compost and have created a fetching arrangement on the drive, where the sun stays for the longest time. We've expanded it since, but here is the original arrangement for your enjoyment.

 Back to the front garden. Having dug the front over, we reused some old slabs we had hanging around and also some of the conifer trunks we'd saved from the mass conifer removal of a few years ago, tied together to create this fetching arrangement.

I used all the bits of random rock and slate we've collected around the place over the years to create my own mini rockery. I'd bought these lovely succulents from my favourite house in a neighbouring village where they always have a stand of plants to buy out the front and you just pop your money through the door. 80p in total for these beauties and also the long thin one I rescued from off the drive, where it was randomly growing under the fence. I hope it will settle in and be a bit less leggy, but I'm pretty happy with my little rockery for a start.

Then we added the remaining stones we had from doing the raised beds in the back garden. And it looks great! But there weren't as many stones as we were hoping (sad face). I will have to buy another bulk bag at some point. Extreme front garden landscaping fail. Still, you get the idea.

All is going well then, in the land of the garden. I am spending every moment I can out there, pottering. I have been treated to a hose, so I can water everything in one go, rather than making 20 trips to the tap with the tiny watering can. The strawberry patch is taking over the world and all of the fruit bushes are in full bloom.

The pumpkins have started to flower, so much has made it through this far that I am hopeful we will have a bumper harvest this year. The Boy has also been helping me to feed my plant addiction by buying me a beautiful passionflower to grow up the newly painted trellis and I finally succumbed to trying out a rhubarb in a particularly bare, shady area of the garden. I hope that it will get to quite a size and really fill the corner. We also got a bargain 50p pepper, since our seedlings all got eaten. This one is quite nicely established so I shouldn't think it will be too long until it flowers.

And why is this the Extreme Gardening: Carnival Edition? Well, once we'd got a taste for randomly painting things in the garden, we knew we had to recoat the garden furniture. It had been several years since its last treatment and it was looking decidedly shabby. We soon put an end to that.

Those black central patches are chalkboard paint. Chalkboard! We made our garden table so you can draw on it. I am so over excited about it that it could possibly be untrue. Oh, and it looks like a circus. Happy gardening y'all.

Foodbank recipes: Creamy pasta bake

I saw a TV chef presenting a programme about 'moneysaving recipes' today. It was on directly after a programme which examined the lives of children in the UK whose families use foodbanks. It was surely a thought-provoking programme, with parents literally doing whatever it takes to try and keep their children healthy. And then, immediately after, here was this chef, telling us how to make a cost cutting paella, including chicken thighs (chicken breasts are pricier), chorizo (quite expensive, but you don't use much), prawns (frozen, so you save) and mussels (didn't catch why they are cheaper). Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for a cost-effective bite of Spanish nibbles, but it seemed strange that a meal containing four kinds of protein was considered moneysaving when we'd just been hearing about people who have to chose between whether to heat their house or buy food.

In 2012, I did the Live Below the Line challenge on my birthday, to raise money for people globally who live in food poverty. It was hard and I didn't eat particularly healthily, so I am now wondering if it is possible to make nearly healthy recipes from ingredients people receive from foodbanks, or the cheapest ingredients available at the supermarket. I don't think £2 per portion is cheap enough for a lot of people in the UK at the moment, so let's see what we can rustle up.

Crispy Spaghetti Bake

Naturally, pasta is one of the cheapest meals you make, but if you haven't got a lot of money then it can be difficult to give it a bit of variety, some decent flavour, and nutritional value. I appreciate that this recipe uses the hob and the oven and so may be a stretch to those living with prepay fuel meters. I'll look to create some no cook recipes too.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 250g value spaghetti (This is half a packet, which costs 20p)
  • Tin of value chopped tomatoes (34p per tin)
  • 335g head of value broccoli (49p)
  • Packet of sage and onion stuffing mix (15p)
  • Salt (25p per kilo - worth investing in a bag for flavour)

The total cost of this basic meal is £1.43 for four people and you'll have 997g salt and half a packet of spaghetti left for another time. I'll offer some alternatives later if you want to try a deluxe version.

  • Put your spaghetti on to boil.
  • Put your oven on to heat at about 180'C. 180'C cooks just about everything.
  • Put the amount of boiling water into a jug with your stuffing mix and leave to soak up.
  • Empty the tomatoes into a pan and heat them up, leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes or so so that they reduce. Cut the broccoli into florets and toss into the tomatoes to soften slightly as the sauce simmers.
  • Take the pasta off the heat and drain a couple of minutes before the instructions say, so it is still a little al dente. Mix your pasta in with the tomato and broccoli sauce. Add a pinch of salt and pour the whole lot into an oven proof dish.
  • Crumble your stuffing mix over the top of the pasta and bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until your topping goes crispy and brown.

  • Make your sauce healthier by using the broccoli stems as well as the florets. If you don't fancy the texture, but you have a food processor or stick blender, you can cut the florets into dice, cook them down with the tomatoes, blend the whole lot, then throw it back in the pan with the florets to simmer lightly.
  • Add more flavour with garlic, it's good for the blood. Three value cloves are currently 49p and garlic lasts a long time in the fridge or a dry, dark cupboard.
  • If you fancy a creamy sauce rather than a tomatoey one, try a can of value chicken soup as the sauce base instead. A tin of soup costs 25p, so less than the tomatoes, but obviously it's not quite as good for you.
  • Chickpeas are a good source of fibre and protein. Personally I'd be more than happy to dump some in my pasta and they are currently 4 tins for £1 in my local supermarket. You could blitz together some chickpeas and garlic to make your own hummus too - serve it with value pitta breads (22p for 6) and you've got a great breakfast or snack.
  • Add other vegetables.

According to the recipe calculator, the basic version of this recipe is 165 calories per serving, with 1g of fat, 7g of protein and 4g of sugar. Add in your chickpeas and you get 230 cals, 3g fat and 12g protein - around 1/4 of your daily RDA of protein. So not bad.

What's the verdict - are there other meals out there that are interesting and vaguely healthy on the tightest of budgets?

Monday, 9 June 2014

REVIEW: Scruffs vintage water-resistant jacket - Windrunner

The Boy was sent a fabby Scruffs water-resistant jacket to try out for the old blog. It couldn't have come at a better time. Two days after it arrived we went on a March Against Monsanto in Nottingham and it could not have rained more for thoese two hours. We were up against the elements and prior to receiving his Scruffs jacket, the Boy has not had a decent weather resistant coat in years.

Your Scruffs jacket fits snugly under your Mad Monsanto Lab Coat and keeps the rain at bay

 Obviously, Scruffs are not endorsing our political views, and I have no idea what their political views are, so we aren't endorsing theirs either. However, we do like their weather resistant clothing.

The jacket is well made - the stitching is neat, even and of a high quality. It has a micro-fleece lining but is still a lightweight polyester. This means it is warm without being heavy - perfect for spring cycles. It keeps you warm without being too hot. The Boy says he sometimes gets too hot on the bike with it, but that's because he got a slightly bigger size so he can wear hoodies underneath. Being extremely slim, he is big on layering so this is perfect for him.
There is an extra tab of polyester under the zip and the cuffs are elasticated to keep the water out. There is also a drawstring on the waist and hood, if you find yourself in a persistent downpour. He would describe it as waterproof and windproof, rather than just the weather resistance that Scruffs claim, which is high praise indeed as we're outdoors a lot.

The fit is good and loose - allowing good freedom of movement and in combination with the lightweight feel of the jacket this makes it excellent for regular cyclists. It squeezes down into a rucksack or pannier pretty good as well, although the fleece lining does mean it is slightly bulkier than a common or garden wet-weather jacket.

Modelling is clearly a missed opportunity for The Boy
The only area for improvement the Boy would suggest is the zip. It's good and chunky, making it nice a robust, however he's found it can often be a little fiddly to shut, suggesting this is not quite as high a quality as the rest of the jacket. The pockets also have zips, which is really handy, but these can have a tendancy to get a bit sticky at times too. On this basis, we would award the Vintage Water-Resistant Windrunner Jacket 8 out of 10 Hippy Points (The Boy's version of Extreme Points, in case you'd forgotten) as the jacket is super handy for keeping weatherproof when you're out walking or pedalling, squeezes down pretty small and is generally of a really high quality, except for the zips which can get a little stuck at times. Not a bad little jacket at not a bad little price - it's currently advertised for £32.35 on the Scruffs website.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

REVIEW: Queen of Bradgate, Leicester

The bar
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

OK, possibly a tad overdramatic, but having visited the newly re-opened Queen of Bradgate, on Leicester's High Street last week I think I may have found a new favourite pub. The old QoB justifiable had a rough as guts reputation, so I know that a number of people I have spoken to have not really considering trying out the newly revamped version. It is easy to miss, as although it has had a nice lick of paint, the exterior remains very much the same. And this is an interesting point, the concept of the new Queen of Bradgate is to combine the units two historic uses - a boozer and a furniture shop.

The Furniture

Their website boasts that they will be 'selling Cask Ale and Craft Lagers alongside some fabulous artisan food from a thoroughly modern British menu using the best local produce.' All this, and as an additional twist 'the Queen of Bradgate will also act as a sort of living, breathing showroom for an online, British made (in the main part, Midlands made) bespoke, up cycled furnishings and interiors business called Queen B. Interiors.' Sounds a bit crazy right? But it's a concept that really works. For 20 years until 1999 the building was a furniture shop in various guises. They have restored that heritage by making all of the furniture in the pub available for purchase. If you wanted to, the bar staff assure me, you can walk out with one of their very nice tables slung over your shoulder. Or, if you prefer something that hasn't had crumbs and ale spilled on it by patrons, you can order your own, made to measure to your own specifications.

As a way of continuing the traditions of the building, they have taken the parquet floor from the first floor and brought it on to the raised dining area. It has been beautifully restored and looks absolutely lovely. I really like when a business makes the most of its assets rather than trying to create something new and riding roughshod over what is already there.

Everything must go!
And to be fair, I thought the pub looked fantastic. It is a lovely mis-match of rustic furniture, with a contemporary twist - farmhouse style chairs with shiny metal banding, tables topped with a leather finish and studded detailing and lots of great accessories - whole walls filled with fun signs, upcycled mirrors and a bewildering array of funky clocks.  Overall it gives a really interesting vibe to the place. There is quite a subtle mixed palette approach in the decor -  the muted pastel shades of the vast majority of the seating area being sharply contrasted by the black and white tiling by the table service 'second bar' and of course the deep red of the ceiling which does not overdominate but brings the whole place together. There are comfy chairs to unwind in as well, if you don't feel like sitting at a table.

I am looking forward to the table service bar opening too. This has comfy American-diner style stools and you will be able to sit there and have your food and drink served straight to you. It's a lovely cosy space and given the huge, airy windows at the front of the building it makes it a great spot for people watching whoever is passing by on the High Street.

We weren't sure about some of the music, but we were assured by the barman that it was just a random selection on iTunes, hence the hit and miss nature of the quality. I look forward to a more consistent approach to the tunes. We were hoping that they might go for a kind of folk and blues feel, perhaps with a bit of light reggae thrown in. No more early 90s pop please!

While I'm on facilities and functionalities I think it's worth mentioning that the ladies toilets are clean, well decorated and best of all there are SEVEN cubicles. That's the last time I wait, crammed like a sardine with 17 other people I don't know to use the two cubicles in the absolutely tiny lavs at the Orange Tree (sorry chaps, but you know it gets crowded in there.) Also, although it is not available yet, they are planning to get the garden at the back operational, which will add even more plus points to this venue for us, since decent beer gardens are a relatively rare commodity in city centre Leicester. If the attitude they have taken to the refurbishment of the pub holds good in the garden then I am sure it will be a real hotspot when the sun shines.

There is currently no wifi, well none that I could get on my iPod - I hope that is soon resolved. To be fair they may not have had chance to get it set up in under a week since opening!

Beer menu. Yes, this is just beers.
The Bar

They offer a quite excellent range of drinks. The beer menu takes up a whole page, which definitely impressed The Boy. He is getting ever more picky with his craft ales and so I was amazed that he sampled so many that he loved at the QoB.

They have an excellent selection of bottled beer, craft ales and draught beers, so something to suit all palettes. In addition to their beer offering, they have a medium sized, but solidly stocked wine list and an array of about 10 quality cocktails - both old favourites and some new twists. You won't go thirsty is what I'm saying.

The Beers

The Boy worked his way through a good number of beers on offer, but don't worry, he only had a couple of whole ones, the rest were just samples - something which you shouldn't be afraid to ask about in the QoB if you're not sure about trying something new.

FLYING DOG - Raging Bitch
No puns here thank you. Flying Dog is already a brewery that are firmly established on The Boy's favourite list. He loved this one and spent the entire time that he was drinking it trying to identify an elusive flavour note. He went from spicy, yet herby, to vegetal, perhaps a note of brassica, then maybe it was actually green pepper, before finally deciding that the unique taste was an edge of curry leaves and fenugreek. Who says beer tasting is not as complex as wine tasting?

He also tried the MEANTIME BREWERY Yakima Red, which was a surprise to him - he enjoyed its nice, hoppy flavours and to my utter disbelief said that he would be more likely to order that next time we visit than the Raging Bitch. He did say he thought some of the beers were about 50p too expensive for the area, particularly in the case of some middle-of-the-road offerings on the menu such as the Goose Island Honkers Ale, which is according to him 'widely available and not that great'. Sadly he was also unimpressed with CHAPEL DOWN's Curious IPA, saying it was just too thin and lacked that American IPA punch, and also didn't have the carbonation of its American cousins. I would guess that would be a matter of taste though, since he is a 100% convert to American craft ales. I liked its light, almost caramel colour but I have to agree that there was not enough carbonation for my taste in the sip I tried.

It was all uphill from there though. After a protracted conversation with the extremely friendly bartender about taste in beer, making beer and other beer related topics, The Boy also tried a taster of the MEANTIME BREWERY The Black Pale, which got the thumbs up for its treacley taste, and the London Stout, also by MEANTIME, which he was again surprised by, due to its intense chocolatey notes, despite it not being a chocolate stout.

A big thumbs up on the beer then. Some areas for improvement, but coming from one so dedicated to the ale, The Boy made positive noises in all the right places. Let's take a break from the booze for a minute (you know the wine commentary is going to take up a lot of space) and talk about the food.

The Food

 The menu is extensive, freshly cooked and locally sourced. They have offerings for all appetites - small plates, main courses, sharing boards and a delicious looking weekend brunch menu.

I loved how outside the kitchen at the back of the pub, they have a rack with a load of the ingredients on so you can see the freshness of the produce and also identify some of the locally sourced ingredients for yourself. That kind of confidence in the raw materials really helps you to feel at ease with the quality of the venue.

After much deliberation, you will all be deeply surprised to hear that we decided to order the charcuterie board to start (£12.00). It really has been a meaty, cheesy, winey month in our household. Long may it continue.
As the name suggests, this dish is served on a board, so perfect for a couple or a group to share. I would say there was definitely enough to act as tapas for a group of four with drinks. You get a little bucket of fresh baked, local breads - for us the brown sourdough was the absolute highlight, with a deep and tangy flavour and excellent crust. This accompanies a selection of three local meats. Sadly, I'm not up enough on my charcuterie to be able to name them. There was a salami-like one, a proscuitto-like one and one that was a bit like a bresaola in texture but I don't think it was beef... Anyway, they were all flavourful and delicious. They were interspersed with rocket leaves, pub pickles and juicy (and, you guessed it, locally sourced) heirloom tomatoes which The Boy confidently declared were the nicest tomatoes he had ever eaten. All this came with a drizzle of excellent olive oil, a dish of olives and also some butter to go with the bread.

It was just excellent, a really good combination of flavours which can only come from high quality ingredients. Needless to say we demolished it, not a crumb was left. Weirdly, this was served without side plates, so we spent the time between courses wiping down our crumbs off the table with our napkins. Definitely a recommendation for improvement there!

For his main, The Boy had the aged sirloin steak served with a pat of pungent garlic and herb butter, super crispy fries and a watercress and heirloom tomato salad. At £18.50, it's not the cheapest dish, but the steak is worth it. I made him cut me a sliver because I just had to taste it. 

Served rare, it was absolutely melt in the mouth - full of flavour, with the slight edge from the char-lines and a fantastic finish from the deeply flavoured butter. This is a phenomenal dish and definitely worth every penny. The steak is a really good size, so will definitely be more than enough for any appetite.

Oh, and the barman requested I make specific mention of the steak knives. They are very pretty and they do cut steak very well. Highly commended cutlery.

I opted for the chicken, ham and leek pie which came with mixed green vegetables - beans, mange tout and peas - and a slightly strange over-sized quinelle of mashed potato. It looked like an oversize cigar. This was also served on a board. I don't really know where I stand on the whole board thing. I think I would have preferred it on a plate, but it's hardly the end of the world. It is clearly the current trend and it's easy enough, once you get in to the pie, to dump your mash and veg right into the dish.

The pie was well filled with generous chunks of chicken and a lightly flavoured, just-thick-enough sauce. The mash was both creamy and butter and I thought the veg was cooked to perfection - just a slight crunch and a really vivid green colour.

As you can imagine, at this point we were stuffed beyond all comprehension. We'll have to leave the dessert menu for another time I'm afraid. Do comment below if you have tried the puddings!

The Wine

The moment you've all been waiting for. Or is that just me. How was the wine list? Well, just like The Boy I didn't actually drink glasses of all of these, some of them were just tastes - for research purposes you understand.

Rioja, 2011
A powerful and thick wine with velvety black fruit on the nose, fruity but still full on the mouth. It has a viscous feel in the mouth, perhaps a slight element of caramel along with a roasted vanilla taste that means it is luscious and nuanced. Absolutely delicious.

Valle Central, Chile, 2011
It's been a while since I said this, but one to avoid sadly. If you used to go to rock clubs or festivals about 10 years ago, you'll recognise the bouquet on this one immediately - it smells like poppers! It's medium bodied without the roundedness of a decent 100% Merlot and sadly the chemically taste carries through from the nose on to the palette. There is fruit, there is a little citrus, but for me, try as I might, I could find no redeeming features. Don't be fooled by the modern multi-font label.

Portugal, 2012
I headed back up the wine list and tried their house red as an antidote to the merlot. Considering this is the cheapest red they stock (5p cheaper than a house red next door in the Orange Tree) this is a nice little wine. Made with the Castelao grape it is medium on the nose, but heavier on the palette it is fruity with passion fruit and a slightly acidic raspberry flavour. It's not quite as smooth as the house merlot on the Orange Tree's list, but it is more complex with very light hints of herbal (rosemary?) and an earthy pungency that put me in mind of a freshly tarmaced road. But that's getting a bit too out there isn't it? On to the rest of the wines...

Portugal, 2013
The same brand provides the house white. Made with Fernao Pines this is fresh and floral to smell with a dash of grapefruit in there for good measure. A super pale, almost transparently clear wine. Rounded, lemony and light, this soft but crisp wine nearly tumbles into the realm of a melon-like flavour, perhaps even lychee but with a heavy floral, maybe elderflower edge to cut through the sweetness. Simple, but well executed I can definitely see a chilled glass of this working out in the summer sun.

GRANFORT - Sauvignon Blanc
France, 2013

This is heavily citrus, on the orange end of the scale - it has a thick, but still fragrant smell that is also orangey in the mouth, but balanced with more lemony notes. It is slightly heavy on the finish, but I think this is because of a robust peach element in the wine. Definitely worth trying, even though I am not a big white drinker.

The 'Queenies'

I was amazed that even though the QoB had been open for less than a week when we visited, the staff there were already comfortable and knowledgeable and exhibited a sense of camaraderie that you would only normally expect from well established teams. They have evidently been well trained on both the food and the drink menus and are able to answer any questions, make recommendations based on your personal taste and generally shoot the breeze about beer, wine or any other menu based topic.

The self styled 'Queenies' seem extremely proud of their part at the Queen of Bradgate. They are quick to give information about the furniture that is for sale and it seems that they are keen to buy up quite a lot of it for their own homes! They also offer impeccable service. We found that our hostess was extremely attentive to our needs, and similarly attentive to other diners around us. They checked that everything was OK during courses, made sure to offer additional cutlery, condiments etc. as required and generally seemed 100% focused on making sure you had a good time.
After our meal we went to sit at the bar for the rest of our visit and we found this to be a really sociable experience, chatting with the bar staff and other customers, but not to the extent that anyone had to wait unecessarily - friendly, but still efficient. Even after one visit, we were excited to hope that we were already part of a newly forming Leicester community. It feels like such a welcoming environment and we want to be involved in making it a success. We noticed customers of all ages were already visiting, a truly diverse spread of Leicester's population had clearly already heard the QoB word and the atmosphere was buzzing, yet calm and unhurried.

The Food: Snack Edition

Whilst sat at the bar, we also discovered that a range of bar snacks was available. From croissants and pastries (made locally and baked on site) to cookies, there is a little snack in there for you. Unfortunately, our super friendly bartender noticed us discussing this and immediately insisted that we tried some. Happily they had brown bags in order for us to be able to take these items away because we were so super full from dinner still!

The sausage rolls are immense. The Boy described them as 'a sausage brick with a coat of pastry'. You'll never touch a supermarket 'faux meat' sausage roll again after you've tried one of these. They are HUGE! I had to eat mine in two sittings in order to get through it. Look, I even took a picture of the second half with a 1p coin, so you can get the sense of the scale we're talking about. Not for the faint hearted, but totally yum. I might just start buying one to takeaway on a Monday and that'll be my work lunch sorted for the week.

We were also given a cookie to sample - again baked on site. This is a chocolately offering, with choc chips, nuts and dried fruit inside. It is as crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside as you would hope from a large, American style cookie. Naughty but nice.

And we've made it. Well done for getting this far. I had a lot to say, didn't I? That's because I'm excited. Normally, we find a lovely pub when we visit a place and then we are sad we are unlikely to ever go there again, like when we discovered Moo in Penrith. This time we've found an absolute gem of a pub - and I can walk there in three minutes from my office. Boom.

I'm so excited about this pub that the usual 'out of ten' system of Extreme Points seems somewhat redundant. My first impressions of the Queen of Bradgate were amazing. We'll be taking a large group of friends there on Thursday and then no doubt be popping in for afterwork drinks on several, or more occasions in the future. Many thanks to the Queenies for being our generous, attentive and welcoming hosts. All hail the Queen.
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