Sunday, 29 January 2017

COMPETITION: Advances in vaping technology

I was sent an interesting selection of kit from ecigarettedirect this week to see how vaping technology has changed in recent times and I have to say I've been really impressed in where this sort of kit has developed over the last year or two.

Now vaping is much more widespread, and vapers have identified the sort of experience they are looking for, the humble e-cigarette has evolved in a number of ways. The simple beginners kit from ecigarettedirect is the Halo Tank Kit. For less than £20 (the kit is 20% off at the time of writing) you receive everything you need to give vaping a go.

You receive a high performance battery and clearomiser which can be changed if you wish, and also allows coils to be changed so you will get a longer life out of the kit overall. Of course, a handy USB charger is also included, as well as a free bottle of E-liquid to start you on your way. The Halo E-liquids come in a wide range of flavours, from fruit to sweets! You can also obtain different nicotine strengths or those with no nicotine at all, depending on what sort of experience you are looking for.

I found the kit really easy to use - the tank is easy to fill and the unit was quick to achieve its first full charge.The vaping experience is much improved from what you would expect from a set at this price not too long ago, with good flavour and relatively good clouds obtained. It's a great size and the overall unit has a pleasing sleek look, so this is a great entry level product.

What I hadn't really realised is that since I last did any real research into vaping is that now you can fall into a number of different camps. Some people look to get as much flavour as possible from their E-liquid as possible, whereas others are 'Cloud Chasers' hoping to achieve the biggest cloud they can from their vape. This has led to the development of significantly more sophisticated devices for vaping, allow much more control over the experience and allowing people to follow their own vaping dream.

I was sent a Tesla Nano 60w (£44.99), a handheld battery unit or vape mod which allows you to use a selection of clearomisers on the top. This is definitely a device for more intermediate or advanced vaping as it is a little more complex to use - but this ultimately gives a huge degree of control over the vaping experience. The Tesla Nano has a digital display allowing full control over wattage and temperature, as well as allowing for interchangeable coils, which has automatic detection and gives you the option to sub-ohm - a mod that can support the search for both the perfect cloud or the perfect flavour.

The unit is a little chunky in the hand, but it has a pleasing weight to it because of the quality of the casing and the durable, long life battery that it contains. The oversized firing button is rather pleasing too and overall it is relatively ergonomic even though perhaps my hands are a little smaller than it was designed for! I found the menu selection easy to use - just 5 clicks to lock or unlock and a simple pair of buttons to scroll up and down and access the different settings. It has a mechanical/bypass mode as well as a number of user protections built in - short circuit, low voltage and over puff.

To accompany this I used the Nautilus Mini by Aspire (£19.99), which is a compact and very aesthetically interesting clearomiser. It made me feel like I am living in the future, although I am not. And it is also easy to fill and comfortable to use. The only issue I had was that it has a changeable airflow, but when I was experimenting with that I managed to turn it the wrong way and have to wash E-liquid off myself, but that is probably because I'm an eejit rather than the fault of the Nautilus, which seems very practically designed and relatively robust. The only confusion I have now is how best to carry the kit around with me - it feels as though the regular Tank kit is much more portable than this - as if I would be better off with a case rather than just slinging it in my handbag. I'd be interested to know what other people do - do you separate the clearomiser from the mod and carry them separately, or leave them together?

It took me a little while to play around with the settings and find something that I liked, but all in all I thought this was a really impressive combination which looks good, has a versatile range of functions and really allows you to have some fun with your vaping. If you'd like to try this for yourself, ecigarettedirect are offering one of my readers the opportunity to win vaping kit worth £100. You can't say fairer than that!

Win an e-cigarette kit worth £100 #7

I was sent these items at no charge by ecigarettedirect for purposes of review. The opinions expressed in this post are my genuine and honest perceptions of the products. The giveaway has been created and will be moderated and fulfilled by ecigarettedirect's representatives, not by this blog.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Food is sehr gut at the Rutland & Derby

It's hard to believe that it's 8 years since the Beautiful Pubs collective took over the Rutland & Derby on Millstone Lane. One of Leicester's more innovative pubs, I have had a long tradition of visiting them. From a six month spell with my friends at the top of their quiz league, to one of the finest contributions to my Tapas Trail in 2015, we've enjoyed their laid back atmosphere, delicious and different menus and entertaining events. Their beer garden also ranked extremely highly in my assessment of Best Beer Gardens in the city and The Boy and I can still be found literally running to get a spot on the terrace when the weather is fine. Ah, summer, remember that?

Anyway, I digress. We were invited back to the R&D this week to sample their new menu. This is a fascinating mix of Germanic and Alpine inspired dishes, with a peppering of other flavours from around the world. In this sense, it is a typical pub menu - a little bit of everything so that everyone can find something that appeals - but done in this case with an added dose of precision and panache.

The Germanic inspiration came at the Beautiful Pubs recent birthday celebration, when the kitchen team at the R&D were invited to produce a series of small plates for service at the party, hosted at The Forge in Glenfield. So popular were these dishes, that it was immediately decreed that they should be incorporated into the new menu proposal that they had been working on and this ad hoc creation, allowing the chefs to run free and cook dishes that inspired them really shines through in the quality of the dishes, and the quality of the ingredients used to make them.

When being introduced to the menu, we were told about the high quality sourcing that is the backbone of the R&D's food offer. I wouldn't normally post a picture of raw meat on a restaurant review, but I was absolutely blown away by the quality of this Lincolnshire dry-aged, bone on sirloin. The fact that you can enjoy this, cooked to your liking, with triple cooked wedges, watercress and pub gravy for £15 absolutely blows me away. You will be paying a lot more for a significantly poorer quality of steak elsewhere in the city, I will guarantee you that!

To get a good idea of the Germanic style dishes on the menu, we had the pleasure of sharing a few dishes. They have a broad cross section of offers on the menu - small plates, pizza (from their in-house woodfired pizza oven), sandwiches and wurst, grills and mains and sides. I am a huge fan of sharing small plates, in any cuisine, so I was particularly excited to start with these.

The sliced Bratwurst was rich and meaty with that slight crunch on the skin that you would expect in Germany. The flavour of the lightly spiced meat was complimented beautifully by the home-pickled red cabbage and a selection of flavoured mustards which were light, spicy and added a real depth of authentic flavour to the dish. We were shown the homemade pretzel buns which accompany the burger and wurst dishes if you are looking for something a bit more filling and they were soft and fluffy in the centre with a perfect amount of chewiness on the crust. Divine.

On to the ham and smoked cheddar croquettes - which I adored. Not particularly Germanic in form, but truely Alpine in flavour, these reminded me of a Swiss fondue, all wrapped in a delightfully crispy crumb. The chilli jam, produced in house of course, was just the perfect combination of sweet and spicy which really brought out the best in the delicate ham flavour and of course, the beautiful smokiness from the cheese permeated the whole dish.

Finally, we had a go at the pretzel from the bakery menu. This was served with more of that addictive smoked cheddar, which was softened by the heat of the fresh baked pretzel and had a different selection of mustards, designed to compliment the subtle flavours in the bread. I'd be pretty happy just to order this for £3, enjoy it with a lovely pint of Everard's Sunchaser and think to myself, what a wonderful world.

From the pizza menu, we couldn't ignore the Flammkuchen - a traditional dish seen in the South of Germany as well as Alsace which is rumoured to have been developed as a way of using up extra bread dough and seems to have originated independently of Naples pizza, although the dishes have much in common.

The wood-fired dough holds its flavour, and is given body and depth from truly beautiful paprika roasted onions. These have earthiness and brooding spice, but also a sweet, caramel finish which is just immense. Add to that fat, juicy bacon lardons and a liberal splash of creme fraiche and you have a creamy, salty, spicy, sweet treat that would be an ideal sharing dish if you pop to the R&D for after work drinks with friends.

And how could we leave without trying the Chicken Schnitzel? An absolute classic, and offered as a spiced vegetable schnitzel burger for those of you who are meat averse, there is something deeply satisfying about a freshly made crisp breadcrumb coating in the darkest months of winter. A difficult dish to present in a particularly beautiful way, I was impressed by the job the team had done to tart up what is essentially a very homely dish.

The chicken, hammered into a thin steak, was crisp on the outside but still soft and yielding in the centre - no dryness here! It was served with a rocket salad, salty and pungent grand padano cheese, curled delicately over the top and a flavour-packed combination of lemon aioli and salsa verde which complimented the chicken perfectly, without over-powering it. Add to this triple cooked wedges and you have an almost faultless dish, not least because the R&D nailed the perfect wedges and 'chippies' years ago and have been turning out incredibly fluffy potato products with the right amount of exterior crunch ever since.

Everything we tried absolutely hit the spot. Everything we didn't try on the menu looks mouth watering. I understand on a Friday you can get 4 small plates for £18 and this would be a great opportunity to try their potted beef served with mini Yorkshire puddings and gravy, or the artisan German salami selection with friends. They also have a lunchtime offer running at the moment where you can get one of their sandwiches for £6 - keep an eye on their social media for full details and information about any specials.

The R&D is hardly off the beaten track, but it does still feel like a bit of a hidden gem.If you haven't made the trip down Millstone Lane (which is a bit of an adventure at the moment with the road improvement works taking place there) then I can heartily recommend that you do. Ethically sourced food that is tasty and completely unpretentious. It is everything you would want in a pub menu.

Thanks to the team at the R&D for inviting us along and for providing such an awesome meal!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Organic wine at Aldi?

Those real stalwarts among you, who have been reading this blog for a worryingly long time, may remember that I have reviewed an Aldi product once before. Their £1.99 nail polish, which I was mightily impressed with for the price. Now, nearly four years later, it is time to make good on that review and write about something that was more expensive and was, in fact, wine.

Aldi have teamed up with South Africa's Origin Wines to produce an intriguing little product - an organic wine, served in craft ale style bottles. I'll be quite honest, I forget how much it cost as I bought it a few weeks ago and I've slept since then, but it was around £2.50 for a 500ml bottle. For the wine novices amongst you, that's 2/3 of a bottle of wine or the equivalent of 2 large glasses in a restaurant.

They're clearly on some kind of mission to attract young, 'hip' craft ale drinkers. Or maybe to offer something different to young, 'hip' wine drinkers. Anyone who likes an organic label perhaps.

I guess what I'm saying is I don't really know who this is for, but I was sufficiently intrigued that I bought a bottle, so maybe the system works. The 'Craft & Origin White Wine' was my selection - I'll save the red for another time - and I scrutinised the bottle but could find no clue as to what to expect from the wine, except that I should know it is hand-harvested and hand-crafted and apparently I should find some 'cool friends' to enjoy it with. So perhaps it's aimed more at people who are interested in how the bottle looks than what the contents taste like.

Upon opening, I noted that it has a bit of a yeasty smell, but the wine itself is quite interestingly crisp. Fans of Pinot Grigot will probably like its blunt acidity and for fruit fans there is a soft green apple note and a little bit of lemon on the finish. It poured true and clear, with a light straw colour.

Was it unendingly complex, with a sense of mystery that will haunt my senses across the ages? 
Not really.
Was it so completely undrinkable that I immediately poured it down the drain?
It was not.

This was inoffensive wine, perhaps one could even go so far as to call it 'unassuming plonk' and it was completely drinkable. So I guess the best thing is for you to draw your own conclusions. This is a bottle whose design unapologetically tells you that it is style over substance. And that is what you get. We all know that gimmick wines rarely have much to offer in terms of interesting bouquet, body or finish (remember blue wine?) but hey, if you're stuck you could probably do worse.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Romeo and Juliet at the Y Theatre

We were invited to a wonderful performance at the Y Theatre at the end of last week. Ballet Theatre UK were performing a one-night-only special of Romeo and Juliet. It was rather marvelous being able to tell everyone we were going to the ballet that night, I think we quite took people by surprise.

I must confess the only ballet I've been to before was seeing my friend perform when we were in primary school (she did proper lessons and had a nice performance at the theatre. It was very exciting, but a long, long time ago) and for some reason I have not been back. Therefore, I warrant that I am not the best person to talk in technicalities about the performance.

However, I think that's the secret really. I know nothing about ballet, and yet I was absolutely spellbound. I don't know how to judge the standard, but I thought the choreography was lovely, the dancers' lines were beautiful and of course, with such a wonderful story, the whole thing was quite enchanting. I could not stop staring at their feet up on pointe.

I loved the opportunity to enjoy the performance in the intimate surroundings of the Y too. This is a theatre I tend to visit for purposes of comedy rather than anything more highbrow. But it lent itself very well to this show and the use of clever staging made the space seem much bigger. 

For me, Juliet's mother (that's Mrs Capulet, right?) was the out and out breathtaking performance, although the whole company can absolutely be congratulated on their outstanding talent. And naturally, as is with the way of every performance of Romeo and Juliet I have ever seen, in whatever style or interpretation, Juliet's nurse was a highlight. There is just something about that character, she must be a joy to play.

It was an emotionally charged experience and as the saying goes, there was not a dry eye in the house by the closing scene. The entire audience were enraptured by the whole thing and even The Boy thoroughly enjoyed the show and our dissection of what we had seen afterwards.

So thank you to Leicester's oldest theatre, the Y for being such gracious hosts. Thank you to Cool As Leicester for the invitation and the lovely production shots that I have used in this post. And finally, thank you to Ballet Theatre UK for giving me something new in life to love.

Get yourself a copy of the upcoming programme at the Y. Stick a pin in it and go to see something you haven't experienced before. I can highly recommend it.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

What do pork pies and gin have in common?

Onwards we go with #Tryanuary, and what better thing for me to try than something inspired by our fair city, Leicester? I know classically Tryanuary is about beer, but I've never been one for convention.

Burleigh's have become something of a global phenomenon since I first started writing about them nearly 18 months ago when I attended the 45 Gin School and made my own bottle of 'Housewife's Ruin'. Hot on the heels of the sell-out success of their limited Pink edition gin, with its added emphasis on floral botanicals, Master Distiller Jamie Baxter has now released the Blue version - the world's first Leicester Dry Gin.

At the opposite end of the spectrum to the Pink edition, the Leicester gin focuses on the herbal notes in the botanicals, and the spices. Taking its inspiration from the county's people and its food and drink heritage, you'll immediately smell a very herbaceous bouquet to the gin. It leans towards the smell of woody herbs and a walk in the Nanpantan outwoods in the autumn but still fresh and with a good burst of juniper forthcoming.

Burleigh's Leicester Dry Gin is available at 45 West and 23 Wine & Whiskey

In the mouth it is pure spice - nutmeg, mace perhaps even a hint of coriander. This warming embrace is softened by a refreshing citrus flavour, a mixture of grapefruit and perhaps even a dash of orange peel. It is velvety in the mouth and not overwhelming when sampled neat, although as you can imagine it makes a perfect gin and tonic, where the tonic allows the citrussy sweetness to be drawn out further and gives the palate more time and space to consider the complexity of the spices.

I've heard it said that it matches particularly well with the Fevertree Mediterranean tonic - which brings back that element of floral balance which is otherwise purposefully downplayed in this particular gin. However, it is has enough of a strong enough character to work well in a variety of cocktails, a White Lady being my personal preference.

Quality through and through and another unsurprisingly gifted offering from Burleighs. What a hardship to have some of the finest gin in the country being made mere miles from my home! 

And the pork pie connection? 

Well, I've heard it said that the initial inspiration for a Leicester dry gin came from a pork pie making competition between two Leicestershire-based friends (for any readers living outside Leics, this is a completely normal thing around here, we're all having amiable pie challenges, all of the time), where it was realised that the combination of herbs and spices being used to flavour the meat would also make a perfect base for a gin. But that has the ring of an apocryphal tale to it. One should never create a clickbait blogpost title based on hearsay after all.


Monday, 2 January 2017

Framework Brewery

Well, we ensured that 2016 didn't let the door hit it on the backside on the way out and here we are in a shiny new year. Which means that Tryanuary is here again, the month where we ignore all of the advertising telling us that we aren't good enough and make those bleak winter months fly by by trying exciting new beers and giving our tastebuds a treat.

What better excuse to head over to Leicester's latest brewery and see what the deal is? Framework Brewery are just a matter of months old and yet they have already found themselves a home at a variety of pubs in the region.

Aiming to take a quality approach to modern brewing, they have ambitious plans for their brews and the potential of their brewery, a small unprepossessing warehouse tucked away in the wings of Leicester city centre. Their branding is already understandable on point, with the support of Leicester's mighty Bulb Studios, so it was time to see if the product lived up to the branding.

It's an impressive new set up, with an experimental feel at the present time. They aren't focusing on a range of core beers, but rather trying new things with the ingredients that present themselves at the time. Coming too late in the year for a firm contract with hop suppliers, they are now buying up the leftovers and creating new recipes according to what they have in the cupboard. It has a lot in common with my approach to cooking in fact, and helps to keep the brewery lively and fresh.

Who doesn't like sticking their nose into a fresh bag o' hops?

They also shun the use of finings in the beer, to reduce the number of processes and try to keep hold of every drop of aroma and taste that has been extracted through the brewing process. We're seeing a lot more of these more 'natural' approaches in both the beer and wine making industries and I think it's great. It seems that the absence of finings actually makes the beer last slightly longer so that's a great thing.

If there's beer kit that needs to be held underarm, Johnathan's your man

They have also been quite canny with their kit, investing in KeyKegs as well as the usual metal casks, which will give them more flexibility when it comes to the venues that they can put their beers into - and the special events they can cater. The KeyKegs are really great not just in their flexibility but their environmentally conscious materials and great design for preserving the best possible condition.

Shiny, shiny tanks

We tried a bottle of their American Amber, which I'll confess was a surprise to me - from the name I was expecting something quite hoppy and aromatic, but actually it was sweeter and definitely had a lot of interesting malt characteristics - not quite caramel but still something quite deep and rich. That said it was still light and refreshing with a pleasing finish.

So as I mentioned, Framework's brews are already being rolled out around the city and beyond so it shouldn't take you too much effort to find some to try for yourself this Tryanuary. I am looking forward to seeing this brewery mature and can't help but feel like they are an exciting addition to an already thriving beer scene in our locality!

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