Thursday, 28 July 2016

5 Lunches under £5

We all do it. Sit in the office, working through lunch, with only a soggy sandwich or some reheated leftovers for company. But we shouldn't do it. We need to reclaim our lunch breaks. We need to take time out in the middle of the day to recharge, to be sociable, and to eat some delicious food. Here's my top tips for a super lunch that won't break the bank.

The Kitchen at The Cookie
We were invited to a lovely blogger night at The Kitchen recently, and this week I returned to try their lunchtime deal for myself. It's a fiver for a sandwich, homemade crisps and a hot or cold drink of your choice down there on the High Street - and what a deal it is. I tried the Cuban sandwich this time, which was delicious and HUGE. I literally could not eat anything for the rest of the day. Highly recommended.

The vegetarian mushroom, spinach and ricotta melt is A-MAZING. This much I know.

Soft Touch sMASHing Pop-Up Cafe
Support local young people who are not in education or training learning new cooking skills by heading over to the Soft Touch Pop-Up Cafe at 50 New Walk. On Thursdays 12pm-2.30pm and now coming to us all on a Wednesday too, they have a great selection of salads, sandwiches, soups and delicious cakes. I can confirm it is yummy and with prices varying around the £2.50-£3 mark depending on whether you eat in or takeaway, you cannot argue with the value!

I Buongustai
Fast food, quality ingredients, great prices. I Buongustai are a great choice for great food on the go. Paninis, cute little (filling!) calzone, and a range of other Italian dishes are all available for under a fiver. I took some colleagues along today and they were in absolute awe at the quality of the food and the super-cheapness of it all - another reason to take working in Leicester over Central London! There's a lot of love on social media for this little Granby Street stop, particularly for their vegan friendly offerings.

Real Junk Food Project
If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll know these guys are my favourites. Feeding bellies, not bins, they intercept food before it becomes waste and make it in to delicious, nutritious meals for you to enjoy. And you can pay as you feel. A fiver would do the trick, but less is OK - whatever you think the meal is worth. Or you can bring some books for the book swap, contribute a song, volunteer some time to helping out, it's a real community venture. Head over 11am - 2pm (or thereabouts) on a Friday at LCIL on Andrewes Street (or if you want to go for dinner, pop along on a Thursday 7pm to 8.30pm. Veggie and vegan options available - and more often than not, something gluten free too!

Venture up London Road to Highfield Street and you can have some top quality Moroccan food. It's great at any time of the day, but the last time I visited you could get their set lunch for £5 - with a mezze starter, choice of main and bread, which was very delicious and very filling. Mind you, that was a while ago, so I guess I should go back and double check on that offer for you all... Oh, the sacrifice! Alternatively, you could also try the Harira vegetable suit for £2.95.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

COMPETITION: Tokyo to Go at Yo Sushi, Leicester Highcross

The options for getting good quality takeaway food are really skyrocketing at the moment. The latest on the bandwagon are Yo Sushi, with their new Tokyo To Go menu. This is a really good option if you want something quick and healthy on your lunch break, with a range of menu choices to suit all tastes. It is available takeaway or for delivery.

I was invited to try a takeaway on my work lunch break this week and it really hit the spot! My office is only a couple of minutes walk away from Yo Sushi in the Highcross, so it was really easy to pop in on my way back from a meeting and pick up my order. They were just finishing preparing my order, so I was confident everything was as fresh as possible. Happily I have a lovely, photogenic background in the Jewry Wall so I could take some nice shots as well as enjoying my lunch in the sunshine. It really is the little things, isn't it?

There is an absolutely massive choice available, with the new Chirashi 'poke pots' being a really lovely summery choice. Meaning 'scattered rice' these little pots of rice salad have ingredients scattered artfully over the top which you can mix yourself. I tried the soy and sachimi marinated chicken pot, which had lots of pickles, pickled ginger, and for reasons unknown to me, one solitary edamame bean! It was really fresh and tasty and starting from £3.50 the price is right too. I felt that a dressing would have been good but as I also had a Tokyo sushi box I was able to add a bit of the soy from that which made it just right for me.

The new Tokyo sushi box comes in at £7.50 and is also a great choice for a satisfying lunch. The ebi rolls and albacore sushi were my favourites, but they were all perfectly constructed and delicious. I really enjoyed the Taco sushi as well - poached octopus which was really meaty in texture and had lovely flavour. It was really nicely handled.

Of course you get soy and wasabi if you fancy spicing things up a bit, but there really isn't much more that you can ask for on a sunny day than freshly prepared sushi, it is light but also filling. Naturally there are veggie boxes available with the Yasai Box including 9 sushi for £5.00.

If you fancy something hot then go for the Izakaya range, which has a selection of hot dishes including a choice of katsu dishes for meat eaters and vegetarians, crispy fried chicken wings and Okonomiyaki cabbage filled pancakes. I opted for some old favourites, which were nicely presented in very efficient hot boxes which kept everything crispy and at the optimum temperature.

First up was the Spicy Pepper Squid which was absolutely delicious with its crispy coating and delicious marinade, all topped with freshly sliced red chilli and spring onion. It had great flavour and a good kick to it! This is a dish that will definitely wake you up for the afternoon!

On top of that I couldn't resist the Duck Gyoza. They were perfect packets of flavour, crispy pancake exterior and unctious soft filling which was complemented perfectly by the hoisin sauce on the side. I think duck and hoisin is a combination that I could eat every day and never get bored of!

To wash it all down I just went for a simple Pear and Uzu juice which was full of aromatic and tangy fruit flavour, it really helped to cut through all the rice! The whole meal was just delicious, wonderful combinations of sweet, savoury, sour and salty that Japanese food is famed for - with a freshness and care of preparation that really made it stand out.

I was also given a box of Matcha biscuit sticks which made for a lovely afternoon snack later on in the afternoon! If you're feeling curious about the Tokyo to Go range, you can view the full menu here. And if that has whetted your appetite then why not enter the competition below to win a £20 meal to try it all for yourself?

Yo Sushi Tokyo to Go

Thanks to Yo Sushi for treating me to such a lovely lunch and good luck in the competition everyone! Winner will be picked at random using the Gleam app after the closing date.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Friday, 22 July 2016

Fit and Fun!

So a week ago I decided it was time to make some small changes to my lifestyle in order to shape up a little bit for wedding season, since many of my friends are getting married this year. I get really bored of fad diets and whatnot in the media and clean eating blogs and all that guff. We all know what we need to do if we want to get a little bit more trim and that's eat less and exercise more.

Determined to act sensibly and most importantly, use this as an opportunity to introduce more fun into my life, I've been making a number of teeny tiny small changes to my lifestyle in the hope that it will have an impact.

Making better food choices

Don't eat boring, don't deny yourself and don't cut out important food groups like avocado and bacon - this has been my mantra. I did decide that a sensible rule would be not to have anything with chips more than once a week, but it turns out that hasn't been a problem at all and I've actually easily been able to avoid them without feeling like I'm denying myself something. Which is incredible given the state of some menus in this country, you'd think chips were mandatory.

Look at that bad boy!

The first day of my making a small effort I power walked my way to Dolce and Verde on Belvoir Street and ordered myself a salad. It was fully loaded with chicken, avocado and bacon, but lightly dressed and fabulous on a warm day. In fact, I barely needed anything else the rest of the day (and no I wasn't starving myself, just a bit of fruit later on did the trick) but the protein was excellent to give me the energy for my daily commute.

That was also my first opportunity to make my coffee 'skinny' which is definitely a very little change as I already take sweetener or don't have sugar at all so the difference is probably minimal, but I figure it all adds up. Normally, if I couldn't immediately see sweetener available I would just use a sugar packet, but now I've been making an effort to ask for it or go without. Yesterday I enjoyed a refreshing iced latte at The Coffee Counter which of course did not need any sweetening at all. That was awesome in the sunshine, mid-morning on my way to a meeting, when I had barely had any fluid all day.

Adding sugar to an iced drink would be monstrous. But the logo is cute.
I've also been enjoying smoked salmon open sandwiches with salad, sushi, daal, plenty of avocado and even a lean grilled burger at home on the BBQ with lots of grilled veg on top (and a small amount of cheese and bacon). The Boy also made some delicious slimline ragu style stuff with some turkey breast he had gotten all smoky on the BBQ and having that as a light wrap with plenty of salad was just right.

To be honest, it's been pretty easy to keep my portion sizes under control too because of the weather - after a decent lunch I've not been in the mood to eat very much in the evenings as it's been so hot. The hot weather has also encouraged me to drink plenty of water. As well as my usual alcohol free days in the week (which I have always made sure I observe) I am now finding that after a couple of glasses of wine I will be inclined to have a pint of water at the end of the evening before bed instead of another glass. Sometimes.

Of course I could cut out alcohol all together. That would probably be a good way to get rid of what I affectionately call 'the wine belly'. But that would make for a significant drop in blog posts about wine, beer and cocktails and I'm not sure I can do that to you just yet, dear reader.

Things have also been pretty avocado heavy because I managed to get 12 for £1 at Leicester Market. You just cannot argue with that for value. They're all perfect as well, they seem to be taking it in turns to ripen so each one is perfect when we come to use it.

Do more fun stuff

I'm already reasonably active, I like to think, given that I do my daily commute (7 miles in total) on the bike every day. To try and take that up a notch I've been taking a slightly longer route on some days and also putting in a bit more determined speed, rather than just pootling too and from work which is my normal act.

On top of that, where I don't have meetings on other sites to go to (I spend quite a lot of time walking back and to across the city centre as it is) I've been adding in a walk on my lunch break. I had a lovely amble around Castle Gardens the other day flanked by a mass of DMU students with their parents taking graduation photos. It's not just a slow amble either, I'm making sure I'm walking with purpose to the point where my heart raised is raised and I notice a pick up in my breathing. I'm not running though, that way madness lies.

Baby Vine

The Boy and I have also been getting out and about in our spare time, on the bikes or walking. I managed to get down to do an evening in the vineyard after work one day, which is always a good bit of physical work, tending to the baby vines. In combination with an occasional bit of pottering in the garden this makes for some low impact, blissful calorie burning.

I made The Boy play frisbee with me the other day whilst we were walking through the park, which was a lot of fun and does get you out of breath surprisingly quickly! We've got a football in the house from when we went out on the Pedal Bus so that's going to be broken out this weekend. LCFC will be clamouring to sign me in no time.


So none of this has been difficult. I'm not cutting out vast swathes of food groups, or skipping meals, or spending a fortune on a gym. I'm just pimping my lifestyle a little bit. And you know what, it seems to be working. In this one week I have lost an inch off my waist. I don't know how much weight, because I'm not weighing myself, because I think that is a particularly unhealthy behaviour. If I can lose another inch off my waist in the next few weeks that'll be great. If I can keep this going beyond wedding season and maybe lose 3 or 4 inches in total, that'll be perfect. And I can't see any reason why I can't keep this up and make it into my new lifestyle because actually all I'm doing is being a bit more conscious about my choices.

So now over to you! Name me some fun things I can do to get a bit more exercise, or some nice places that do super healthy, delicious food. Go on, write a comment below, I can handle it!

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Stay Cool #Leicester!

Cor blimey, what a scorcher! Well, we've had TWO continuous days of top notch weather now, and Sunday wasn't too bad either, so I think we can officially say this is summer. So whether it ends here or stretches out forever (please please please!) here are my top tips to making the most of the summer sun in beautiful Leicester.

Have a nice cool pint and wait for all this to blow over

Obviously my first recommendation was going to be seek out the best and brightest beer gardens and get some suds on. Since doing my extensive #BeerGardenLeicester research last year (results here) a lot of local venues have upped their game in the beer garden stakes so it's now even easier to find somewhere sunny and hospitable to get your groove on in the after-work sun.

Last year's winners, The Black Horse in Aylestone continue to make improvements and now their garden is an all out mecca for sun lovers. If you are looking for something a bit more central, you can't go far wrong with the terrace on the first floor of The Cookie. I adore the cityscape, urban view you get there and lor' bless me if it isn't a reet sun trap (sorry, that was probably too many fake accents in one sentence). Not only that but now you can enjoy the delicious cocktails from The Attic while you're out there. Definitely unmissable.

The Cookie - lovely even when the weather wasn't much to write home about.

After scoring disappointingly in the beer garden judging last year, Bruxelles have upped their game so significantly as to be my Most Improved. Just take a look at my old review to have an idea of just how far they've come. Excellent.

Take a dip

Of course, immersing oneself in cool, cleansing water is an excellent way to take the edge off the heat, but not something Leicester is famed for. However, you do have options. If you like swimming with an added sense of fun, then head over to the LCC-run Leicester Leys Leisure Centre. They have water slides and a wave machine - which makes for extra calories burned if you actually want to swim, or just a lot of splashy fun if you don't.

If that's not quite extreme enough, you'll want to get yourself over to Aqua Park Rutland, the biggest inflatable aquaglide park in the UK. It's basically Total Wipeout for those who can't quite afford to get over to Brazil, but could probably just about manage a train ticket to Oakham. It's only been open a couple of weeks, but initial reports are good!

Have a frozen treat

I couldn't talk about summer sunshine without mentioning friends of the blog, Gelato Village. They are quite frankly all-conquering in terms of the frozen goodie market in the city now from the Rare Breed milk from Belvoir Ridge Creamery, to their fresh fruit from Leicester Market, to the finest quality pistachios and hazelnuts in the world (for reals), nothing else locally comes close and by all accounts even the Italians back home are struggling to keep up with the quality. Plus if you can bear it in the heat, they now serve specially blended coffee roasted a mere 200 metres away at The Coffee Counter. I have tried it and it is tres bien.

Al Fresco Fun

Speaking of Tres Bien, no doubt we'll be seeing this excellent local microbrewery popping up at one of the many excellent beer festivals we have to look forward to this summer. 

My pick of the bunch is the Western Park Beer Festival who will be featuring a very special limited Festival brew from the West End Brewery. We got a taster of things to come at their truly excellent Secret Beer Club earlier this year and this year's festival is going to be even bigger.

If beer festivals aren't your thing, and I've heard a rumour that some people don't like beer... then of course top Festival City Leicester has plenty to cater for your needs. We've got the Caribbean Carnival to look forward to, as well as the City Festival which this year will include an outdoor cinema on Jubilee Square.

Best of the Rest

And of course there are countless other nice things you can do outside in and around our fair city while the weather is fine. This is a beautiful time of year to visit the Botanic Gardens out on London Road, or to get your park thang on at Bradgate

Now that's a more usual summer at Bradgate Park!

Summer activities are running all over the place. If you want to get in out of the sun for a while, try the special free WWI handling sessions at Newarke Houses Museum which are being held every Monday during the school holidays.

If you're feeling creative, why not try one of Leicester Print Workshop's free drop in printmaking sessions at the Phoenix over the summer, or try your hand at one of Leicester Lofi's amazing photography workshops.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Screw Brexit: I like European wine

If you have been keeping pace with the blog recently, you'll see I've already got a lot of mileage out of the Birmingham Foodie Festival. As well as extolling the virtues of a nice Spam fajita and reflecting on one of the best beer tasting sessions I've experienced for a while, we've also been introduced to Joie De Vin and taken an indepth look at New Zealand wine. I think it's time we wrapped this one up and looking at the notes I have left over it seems like a great time to say whatever is happening with our place in Europe, my love affair with European wine will continue. And I will continue to include English wine in that definition, because whatever happens politically we are pretty firmly rooted in Europe when it comes to geography - hooray!

First up, we met Tasca Dali - importers of fine Spanish produce, and top Warwick restaurateurs - and got to sample their specially selected La Malkerida 2014. This 100% Bobal wine from Valencia is produced biodynamically and best served slightly chilled. It is unoaked so the fruit is able to really sing out - the black fruit flavours are fresh and full of sunshine, but the wine is beautifully balanced so that it is smooth and rounded in the mouth and gives a delicate hit of spice on the finish. At under £11 a bottle I think this represents brilliant value for a wine that ranks as a solid 7.5 out of 10 for me (I can never commit to that points out of 10 system).

Continuing our tour of Europe, it would be wrong of me not to mention the Chapel Down Reserve we were given in the VIP tent. Expressively bubbly, this straw coloured wine showed some biscuity notes, was beautifully dry and all in represented lovely, easy drinking bubbles which were absolutely perfect on a hot summer's day. An easy 7 out of 10.

Finally, our tour takes us to the big bundle of fun that was the Wines of Germany stall. They became my favourite people in the world by giving me a pair of green plastic sunglasses and a temporary tattoo. Yep, that's all it takes. 

They also had a great range of wines that they were very happy to take us through. This was the point of the day where I was feeling anti-tasting notes, and just wanted to enjoy the experience so I'll run you through some of my highlights. Conveniently, they provided a little crib sheet which told you where you can buy the wines and now I can pass that information on to you!

Yes, I know I'm holding a beer in this shot.
Devil's Rock Riesling 2015 - £5.99 at the Co-op and Peter & Peter Riesling 2015, £7.99 at Booths were my favourite Rieslings on offer. Less impressed with the Kendermanns to be honest, which was a bit pricier! 

In the red section we enjoyed the Palatia Pinot Noir 2014 which is £10.50 at M&S, while the Hans Lang Rheingau Barrique Pinot Noir 2012 got a 'big tick' (and I quote) from both myself and The Boy. Typically this was practically the most expensive wine on the list. But at £15.99 from Virgin Wines it's certainly not unobtainably priced. Worth every penny I would say.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Posh pampering at L'Occitane, Highcross

When you get invited to a mini-pamper session, after a long day at work it is hard to say no. L'Occitane is one of the best established names in beauty, making natural products since 1976. 

They greeted us at their Highcross Leicester store with a fruity little rose from Thierry Ferlay, green tea in cute ceramic handle-less mugs and a selection of beautiful chocolates from their neighbours at Hotel Chocolat - certainly a great way to unwind so far! The Champagne cocktail truffle was delicious.

Apparently L'Occitane are so committed to the sourcing and quality of their vineyard that even the wine comes from a vineyard they are partnered to. I'm not sure how true that is, I am unable to find independent verification but certainly this article about harvest time in Provence from their website gives a nod to their French roots and place within French culture, and the wine we were served was of Provence.

On to the pampering and we were soon busy ferreting around the store, looking at the goodies, clutching out Blogger's Bingo cards which encouraged us to look a little deeper at what we were seeing. A great number of ranges were on offer, so I sought the assistance of the cheerful and extremely knowledgeable staff.

Current offer

Obviously as someone who rides a bike to work each day, I am outdoors a lot, in all weathers. My skin can take quite a beating. I was surprised to hear that L'Occitane were one of the first to bring Shea Butter to the UK and that their products tend to contain higher concentrations than others. In fact their packaging tells you exactly how much so you know what you are getting. I was recommended the 100% pure Shea Butter range, which is great for rehydrating battered and tired skin like mine.

100% shea butter range on cute little photography area

I have it on good authority that Shea Butter in its unprocessed form stinks to high heaven so I am pleased to report that this range has an almost neutral smell to it - again great for me because I am not keen on too much heavy scent in products. It certainly took the edge off the roughness in my hands, which were particularly gross that day as I had been lugging round medieval stonework for most of my shift at work.

My hands obviously required further work though, as next I was offered a soothing hand massage. I was scrubbed and then massaged with 100% shea butter cream which helped not only my skin but also to relax those aching joints. My masseuse had a very soft touch and was really nice to chat to. Clearly L'Occitane train their staff really well as their knowledge not just of what products are suitable for you was excellent, but also their understanding of where the ingredients come from and how things are made, which is something we should all be conscious of.

Test your senses

I really enjoyed the little smelling game they had laid on for us too, a blind sensory test that helps you think in more depth about what smells you do or do not like, As someone who likes to write about wine, I found this fascinating, not least because of how hard I found it! Perhaps that is because I am more used to identifying a different set of natural (and inorganic!) aromas from wine and these scents were just more alien to me. It's certainly something I should like to go back and spend a bit more time on, I love how your senses can be trained to become more acute. 

My fellow bloggers were snapping away and cleansed and moisturised and generally thoroughly spoiled. Sadly I could not stay as long as I'd have liked but I did get the opportunity to get up close and personal with their Verbena Collection, another scent which comes straight out of Provence.

Verbena in my goodie bag, and shaving treats for The Boy to try.
It is zingy, lemony and refreshing, but has a light touch to it. I certainly preferred this to heavier scents, like lavender which can still be a bit cloying and mumsy. It was vibrant and woke the senses, whilst still having great functional properties in terms of the impact on your skin that each product had. I was also pleased to see that shampoo and conditioner was available in this scent, which I think would be lovely and reviving in the shower. Imagine my pleasure when my Blogger Bingo prize goodie bag contained a good amount of Verbena samples for me to try at home!

Goodie bag part 2! How spoiled am I?
Many thanks for the invitation L'Occitane! I found out a lot more positive information about the brands commitment to natural ingredients than I had known before and I think I have a new cure-all in the 100% shea butter range.

Friday, 15 July 2016

An Honest View of Honest Brew

Isn't it great how you can pretty much order anything you want online these days? Well, now the explosion in high quality craft beer has made it to our tinterweb pages and Honest Brew are bringing us an online beer service. 

With over 120 brews in their online supermarket they have something to suit all tastes and best of all they will suit the beers to suit you. You can sign up for their Honesty Box scheme and get boxes tailored to you and with free postage, or you can pick for yourself in their bottle shop. Even there if you spend over £50 you'll still get free shipping. If that doesn't tickle your fancy, you might also consider grabbing yourself a Howler - three cans of brewery fresh beer, delivered in their special Howler tube. Fab.

We opted for the sampler - the Craft Beer Mixed Case, which seemed as good a place as any to start! This consists of six specially selected beers - 2 canned and four bottled, plus a very swanky honest brew glass which is perfect for holding the cans but be warned, may be a little small for a 500ml bottle conditioned single-pour-type-situation!

The Boy and I found the Fourpure Pils Lager the least inspirational of the lot, but that is perhaps because we've still not really fully got on board the craft lager bus yet, we just got our coat tails caught in the door once and ended running alongside it for a bit. I felt this was like a decent Spanish lager - light but with a dash of maltiness to it to give a bit of body to the the flavour. Totally drinkable but not particularly earth shattering.

Look at th'ead on that! It's a lively one...
The Beavertown Neck Oil Session IPA went down much better. This had a great hoppy nose and a light flavour that was full of grapefruit and a hint of vanilla. Light and refreshing but still with great bitterness. If that floats your boat of course you can order a Howler of it from Honest Brew for consumption at home or in secret at the Annual Office Picnic, but pub fans in Leicester will also be pleased to know I noticed this on draught at The Criterion the other day. The Five Points Brewing Company's Railway Porter also slipped down nicely, doing exactly what it said on the bottle - a lovely toasty Porter with coffee and dark chocolate notes and a lovely bitter, dry finish. Very more-ish.

Running Beer's Howling Hops was probably my favourite overall - a brown ale brewed with a mix of American and English hops. This aromatic mixture (I do like Citra) gives a balancing bitterness overall with a delicious slight caramel in the background. I could session the bejaysus out of it. Plus bonus points for the delightful label which carries all of the most important warning of all upon it.

Onwards with a super hoppy IPA from Buxton Brewery. The Wild Boar IPA was way too much for me, far too bitter and dry - but The Boy absolutely loved it, this was definitely his favourite. All of the delicious fruit flavours they outlined on the label were totally masked to me by the punchy bitterness. Undrinkable for me, but easily a 7 or 8 out of 10 from The Boy. So it just goes to show, there's no accounting for taste. Just drink what you like.

Finally we tried the Wild Goose Chase from the Wild Beer Company. Yes, it's the best name ever, if you're making a beer that is farmhouse pale with gooseberry! It has quite a light smell and I found it really intriguing to taste. It was hoppy and smooth with the gooseberry adding an intriguing note of fruit and floral. Perhaps it's just because gooseberry is not the normal flavour that I associate with beer but I definitely found this refreshing and satisfying. Always worth trying something new.

So, very happy with our first taste of Honest Brew! Our beer arrived on time, sturdily packaged and was an enjoyable journey through a variety of craft beer styles. Many thanks to them for sending us the kit to try.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Cathy's Chocolates and Cakes

I went down to the charity Rothley Pamper Night with Rothley Wine Estate a little while ago to help with giving out wine samples to the locals. Our stall was set up to the incredibly lovely Cathy, of the eponymous 'Cathy's Chocolates and Cakes' from Newark. What a hardship - we spent the whole evening within easy reach of her sample dish!

Anyway, I had to bring her to all of your attention because:
1. Her chocolate is delicious.
2. It looks epic too. She loves edible glitter more than even I do I think.

You like chocolate don't you? How about the finest quality Belgian chocolate, imported for your delight and then hand tempered, hand decorated and made into a whole series of luscious creations?

That doesn't float your boat?
Then I'll raise you - Chocolate Unicorn. On a stick.

Still not enough? How about beautiful celebration cakes, flavoured chocolate bars featuring ginger, raspberry, coffee or a hundred other choice flavours? Yup, Cathy really has cornered the market on delicious treats. Dark, milk and white chocolate made into epic shapes, little bursts of flavour in sweet nuggets, she is the female equivalent of Willy Wonka. Without all the vindictive reshaping of young lives.

And guess what? She gave me a bar of her famous violet dark chocolate to sample. I tell you, this blogging lark gets harder and harder. As you can see, it's quite a sight to behold with swirls of white chocolate standing out in sharp contrast to the rich darkness of the main bar. This is set off with nuggets of violet flavour and of course a generous sprinkle of purple edible glitter.

Safe to say as soon as I took it from its cellophane to take these pictures, The Boy and I demolished the whole thing in record time. The chocolate is gorgeous, rich and just the right amount of bitterness, which is then counterbalanced by the sweet, perfumed flavour of the violet. It's unusual, soothing, and utterly delicious. An indulgent treat, but also great as a gift - if you can bear to part with it once you have got it home!

Two thumbs up and a big thanks to Cathy for the choccie!

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Happy Birthday Deliveroo!

It feels like non-stop celebration in the city at the moment! First we had the football, then my favourite gin distillers Burleighs celebrated their second birthday, Andy Murray's just gone and won Wimbledon and now we're celebrating the first anniversary of Deliveroo coming to our fair city.

I've been in on the ground floor with Deliveroo - a takeaway service bringing you top nosh from some of the best restaurants in the city. Their cycling delivery team have become a familiar sight on the city's streets, bringing us everything from gelato, to gourmet burgers, to modern British-Indian cuisine.

Even though we live just outside the Deliveroo delivery area, we can still enjoy their excellent service. We took ourselves down to The West End Brewery on Braunstone Gate. If you haven't familiarised yourself with this little brew pub yet I highly recommend that you check them out.

Open since March, they have already developed a bit of a cult following of people who enjoy the great ale that is brewed on site. They tend to have three different brews on at any given time, as well as a number of guest ales so you will definitely find something to match your food, whatever you choose to order.

Josh Gray, resident Master Brewer
We decided to try something we had not tried before and so we chose to order from Norah's Cafe on Humberstone Gate - a cafe that does traditional English grub as well as Egyptian fare! I've never had Egyptian before so I was really interested to see what was on offer. That's something I like about Deliveroo, there are so many different cuisines available.

Five minutes before the estimated delivery time (we've never known Deliveroo be late yet!) our friendly delivery chap turned up on his bike and passed us our piping hot food. He took a moment to pose for a photo for me before dashing off to make his next delivery.

We ordered an eclectic mix of food! First off the Egyptian breakfast, even though it was 9pm... It basically sounded like a delicious mini mezze so I couldn't resist. We had salad, a fried egg, hummus and falafel, pitta bread and a big tub of medames to dip it in - a hummus like dip made with fava beans. Lush.

To go with that we also ordered a chicken with molokhia, the leaves of Nalta Jute which came in a then but flavourful sauce and a tub of flavoured rice. This was a really tasty dish, the leaf being vaguely reminiscent of spinach and the sauce having a nice balance of savoury and sweet. I really enjoyed it, although we thought that more of the succulent diced chicken could have been included, it felt a little sparse.

Next up was the lamb with koshri. This was thinly sliced lamb - tender and full of flavour, although again not quite as much of it as was needed to match the accompaniments. It was topped with dark, sweet fried onions and that all sat on a bed of pasta and rice, with tomato, lentils and chickpeas running through it. A baffling amount of carbohydrate, but wonderful to eat! 

So, a filling and intriguing takeaway, something a bit different that matched really well with the West End APA which we were enjoying at the same time. The West End Brewery welcomes people ordering from Deliveroo so pull up a pew, get a pint in and get something delicious on order.

Thanks to Deliveroo for inviting us to review their service in celebration of their birthday. 
We paid for our beers at the West End Brewery in full!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Pura Vida at Bodega Cantina

Another day, another restaurant launch. Yes, St Martin's Square has got a new resident and I'm *very* excited about it. We travelled around South America in 2009 and just had the most incredible time, with the new food culture we experienced being a key part of that experience.

We've had little tastes of South American cuisine in Leicester before, most notably one of my favourite street food vendors, Tasty Gonzalez (Empanada Social Club) who sadly no longer trade at Leicester Market but do still pop up at festivals and events from time to time. However in terms of permanent fixtures we haven't seen anything of real note since the one upstairs on Belvoir Street closed down nearly 10 years ago, we've just been left with the larger chains which give a more sanitized take on Central and South American classics.

Press Launch: The Bloggers Are Coming!
So I had high hopes for Bodega Cantina, which is part of the much smaller Bitter and Twisted Group, based in Birmingham. I'd also heard some great reviews about the Birmingham Bodega so things were looking good. Hearing that Ellis Andrew, formerly of The Case, had come over as Head Chef was also reassuring. It looked like this would be a restaurant in a safe pair of hands.

Phenomenal then, to be invited along to the press launch night at Bodega along with The Boy. Lots of familiar faces - I think Leicester Bloggers are turning into a bit of a mafia now, they get everywhere. (Naturally I'm kidding, they're all wonderful). Upon arrival we were welcomed with a traditional Margarita. This was a generous mix of tequila, Cointreau and lime with a salt rim that was not over heavy and delivered just the right amount of tang and punch. A great start, and a good opportunity to peruse the cocktail menu which has a great selection of tequila, mezcal, rum, pisco and cachaca based drinks - and more besides. The Boy was particularly impressed with Mexican craft lager that had been selected.

The decor is a vibrant mix of colourful South American influence. I can't help but feel that relatively new cuisines to the UK tend to go a little overboard with decoration, in the same way that 1950s Italian cafes in the UK were almost a romanticised view of a real Italian trattoria, but at the same time I do like it. I'm a HUGE fan of Lucha Libre, having had the best night of my life watching it in an arena in Santiago de Chile so I loved all of the Lucha imagery, cartoons and even action figures. It's bright, fun and a comfortable and pleasant place to hang out for dinner or drinks.

On to the food and we were treated to a selection of light bites to sample across the evening. The full menu is large and varied with signature flavours and ingredients from across the South American world. You can have Ecuadorian style prawns to start, Brazilian classic Xim Xim for main and Mexican style churros to finish. A culinary adventure which I am looking forward to embarking upon.


Stuffed jalapeno with sour cream

In the meantime, the dishes that we sampled were of a really high quality. Proper nachos, homemade from deep fried sections of tortilla were generously topped with a fresh salsa, sour cream and a particularly flavourful and delicious guacamole - along with cheese and jalapenos. Finger licking and delicious. Big fat jalapenos, stuffed with cheese and deep fried in breadcrumbs added a pleasant, but sensible heat for vegetarians and the rest to enjoy.

Chicken quesadilla

Succulent Cuban albondigas (meatballs) were served in a rich and thick tomato sauce, while my absolute favourite was the quesadilla - stuffed full of chicken, cheese and lightly spiced - they oozed and dribbled deliciously down the fingers. You have no option but to get stuck in with this style of food.

Sweet potato and bean tacos (v)

I was less enthusiastic about the bean tacos, despite them being topped with a slice of avocado, my secret love. They looked the part and it was great to be able to taste the sweet potato and bean flavours individually, however I thought they were a little underseasoned - there was no kick or zing in this dish.

Xim Xim

We also had mini dishes of the Brazilian Xim Xim brought around - chicken and prawns in a decadently creamy sauce served with rice. It was subtle in flavour, so the chicken and prawns were not drowned out, but the sauce was beautifully luxurious - a great dish.

First impressions are therefore resolutely positive. A friendly and welcoming staff team, a relaxed menu with fun food and a great cocktail menu make this have all the hallmarks of a restaurant that will be a real hit in Leicester. Many thanks to them for inviting us along to try their food and we are very much looking forward to going back to enjoy the full menu. Vamos!

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