Sunday, 26 February 2017

Drinking Stamford Dry

There's nothing like getting out and seeing something new, and what better way to select a day trip than to ask Twitter? 

This is what we did and places that were close and accessible by public transport kicked up Stamford for us, as just 40 minutes away from Leicester on the train.

Although it was a dreary and drizzly day, Stamford is still very easy on the eye, with its pale Lincolnshire limestone buildings and charming views of the town across meadow and river as you approach from the train station. It is a town full of history, and apparently full of pride for the parts of that heritage that is no longer visible. 

We counted missing monuments including a church, a castle, the defensive gate and more, marked by interpretation panels which describe in vivid detail what is no longer there. It was a bit odd... But there is still plenty to see with three towering churches along the skyline, and a bustling arts centre. Sadly the museum was the victim of local authority cuts back in 2011, so I am moderately surprised that I didn't see a interpretive sign dedicated to its memory...

Then there is the All Saints Brewery. Part of the Samuel Smith brewery family, this quaint set of buildings is tucked in its own nook right in the centre of the small town with the Melbourn Bros pub attached. We decided to head in there to try their beer and their menu and were surprised by the reasonable prices and stunning architecture in this delightfully winding building.

We were excited to discover that this is a working Victorian steam brewery, attested by the large chimney, specialising in award winning fruit beers. I couldn't wait to have a look round. I was reliably informed by the bar staff that tours were available for a very reasonable £6.50 per person. For a minimum of four people. Ah. I asked if there could be any exception as we were but two and were only around for the day. No. So.... we imagined what a brewery tour might be like and ordered some lunch.

This wouldn't have been so frustrating if the staff hadn't then gone on to loudly discuss how quiet the pub was for a Saturday and that it was surprising how little they had to do, that it felt like midweek it was so quiet. I'm sure they could have rustled up a tour to help the time pass!

I had the steak pie, made with locally sourced steak and their own stout, which was deliciously tender and had beautiful flavour. It was a little pastry heavy and the pastry was a little overdone - I think I managed to fire a small piece right across the room whilst trying to cut it, but overall it was a solid dish and an excellent choice for a wintry day.

The Boy went for a gargantuan portion of liver and onions, with added bacon of course and practically scraped the pattern off the plate trying to enjoy every last morsel of the rich gravy. Both fine English traditional fayre, done simply and reasonable well - particularly considering the price.

To accompany these, we tried the India Pale Ale and their Best Bitter. Both were good representatives of their respective types - like the food there was no bells and whistles, just simple and unassuming brews living up to their names well. I tried a sample of the wheat beer which seemed the most interesting and had a surprisingly banana nose to it! Sadly it would have been a little too light to go with the pie, but is on my list for next time.

Stamford has a good selection of pubs and one find that we were particularly pleased with was The Jolly Brewery, a little off the beaten track but certainly worth walking the 5 minutes to get to. Beer lovers will love this no frills, honest-to-goodness boozer, with its friendly staff and enticing selection of well kept beers. As well as the predictable selection from the local Oakham brewery, there were also some more unfamiliar local options on offer. Mr Fox's Cunning Linctus was an easy drinking little pale ale and certainly gave a refreshing pit stop along the way.

For wine lovers, there are a couple of choices. Next to Melbourn Bros is the wine bar, Twelve All Saints. Like most of Stamford it is set in a beautiful historical building, minimally dressed up to emphasise the features. Sadly this is one of those wine bars which thinks it is much better than it actually is, with an admittedly decent, yet limited wine selection and a 'craft ale' selection which would be right at home in Wetherspoons, but with a hefty mark up on price. 

All of the seats were wobbly, the staff member was verging on surly and ultimately the best thing about the experience was the admittedly delicious juice bomb of an old vine Zin from Lodi, and getting to make the acquaintance of a beautiful 3 legged dog who had brought his owners in for a drink.

Much better, across the town centre is the 'does what it says on the tin' sister bar, The Wine Bar. Here the staff are warm and welcoming and the atmosphere is just generally better, so it is unsurprisingly much harder to find a table here. It seems strange that the two parts of the one whole should be so chalk and cheese different, but the wine list was better, and the experience just generally more comfortable - although beer drinkers beware - just Birra Moretti on tap or Corona in bottles here!

The highlight is the beautiful and surprisingly spacious garden. This will be a sure fire winner in the summer. They offered a delicious and great bodied Languedoc Syrah as their house red which I really enjoyed, although of course I can't tell you which one it actually was as this is all the info they put on the menu.

So daytrippers and drinkers, grab your partners and when you're done dosey-do'ing (I have no idea how that is spelled) - head over to sleepy Stamford for a pretty amble and a warm welcome.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Label M Braid Bar at Danique Hairdressing

Having experienced some of the best of Independent Leicester recently, I told you that I would return to Danique Hairdressing to write a little more about their quick fashion fixes. We'd already looked at the Label M Highlighting Toner at our demonstration, and I liked the darkening qualities of the brunette spray, but was of course naturally drawn to the unnatural shades, although I'm a little disappointed that only blue and red are available. 

Image courtesy of IsoElegant Photography
Everyone needs a good green hair spray in their lives, especially as these are much better than older colour sprays, leaving a better texture and being able to be built up, brushed through and dried in for a much more even finish.

Braids are right on trend right now, filtering down to our humble little island after being Label M's smash sensation at last Spring's Coachella festival. Danique offer a range of styles all completed in under a half hour for between £10 and £20 depending on the complexity and level of prep needed.

Image courtesy of IsoElegant

I was booked in with the gorgeous Zara, who is such a great person to have a chat with as well as being a master with braids. She took me through the options for me hair and we settled on a five strand braid which would show off my layered hair colour to the best advantage. And of course, as promised, I was in and out within 30 minutes. Great for a Friday night before a friend's 60th birthday party in town!

Zara's nimble fingers had this braid done in an absolute jiffy and she got some excellent height on top, so I didn't feel like my hair was pulled back too tightly from my face - great adaptation of the style to suit me personally.

I also think she was entirely right about it highlighting all of the depth in my (I know, quite bizarre) hair colour. At least she doesn't have to cope with it now - that was freshly dyed and most of the top colour has now washed out and gone back to blue. And purple. And I seem to have developed a silver grey bit too. It's all good fun though.

Thanks to Danique inviting me along and for giving me another great style! It was a great way to unwind after work and I got loads of compliments that evening on my 'do'!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

New Year, New Menu: Steakout Leicester

You may remember nearly a year ago we visited Steakout on Granby Street and I was blown away by the quality of their food. It really took me by surprise just how much was made on site, and the quality of the meat they sourced. Therefore, when I was invited back to take a squizz at some of their new menu choices, I nearly bit their hand off - but then I realised I should save some space for the delicious food.

As the friendly team settled us in, I started off with the house special mocktail - a slightly sparkling affair with a mixture of mango, passionfruit and pomegranate juices - pretty much all of my favourite fruits! It was refreshing and devilishly moreish. So I had two.

Steakout source their beef from Yorkshire and use it creatively to maximise both the texture and flavour you can enjoy from a variety of different cuts. A great new dish which showcases this is their Brazilian Mixed Grill. As with all of their steaks and mains, you choose your preferred side and sauce to accompany the dish as well as the degree of cooking so you can have it as you like it.

The Mixed Grill comes in a great tower, with a colourful side salad. The meat on the skewer is tender, moist chicken and chunks of beef from different cuts so as you work your way through the dish the texture and flavour alters. We found the rump the most flavourful, but it was all delicious - particularly because of the gorgeous marinade which certainly had a burst of Latino heat! In combination with spicy fries and garlic sauce this was a potent, pungent combination of a dish with quite a kick. Absolutely something I would be delighted to enjoy again.

That garlic mash though

Next up was my pick of the dishes - the chicken and mushroom pie, this time served with garlic mash. I remembered that the garlic mash was absolutely my favourite element from my previous visit and it did not disappoint! Made with fresh garlic it is creamy and really packs in the garlicky taste which for me is phenomenal, although for the more timid it may be a little too much. I like my flavours bold!

Under the crisp puff pastry lid nestled chicken pieces in a creamy sauce with sliced mushrooms and an additional pot of hot, creamy mushroom sauce was served with it. This is absolutely the epitome of winter comfort food, if you are obsessed with creamy dishes like I am. I think I could probably eat it every day until Spring without ever getting bored. And even in Spring I'd have to decide whether I could give it up. Yes, this was definitely my favourite!!

Finally, we tried another new dish (yes, we shared three main courses between two, don't judge us - I think they're labouring under the misapprehension that I need feeding up. Patently not true.) The Butterfly Meal Deal weighs in at £12.95 for the beef sirloin and £10.95 for chicken breast and comes on a sizzling skillet groaning with spicy rice, vegetables, chips and caramelised onions. Everything you could possibly want in a dish, including double carbs! It comes topped with a delicious, thick onion gravy, which oozes down into all the goodies below.

The sirloin we ordered was perfectly melt-in-the-mouth tender. I still can't understand people who would order a beautiful steak like this well done (although you can, if you really want to), served rare it was heart-breakingly soft and full of flavour. I have to say I preferred the spicy rice to the chips, but there is something really rather beautiful about chips and gravy which appeals to my North-West roots. The hefty helping of veg makes you feel a bit better about inhaling such a vast quantity of food and you come away happy.

We really didn't need anything else, but our host was absolutely insistent that we must at least share a dessert. Unable to make a decision through the slight meat coma, we left it to dealer's choice and were presented with this awe-inspiring peanut and salted caramel cake, absolutely smothered in caramel sauce and tiny chunks of fudgy goodness.

When we had finished it, and finish it we did, we were both stuffed beyond belief. I was rolled up Granby Street with visions of moo cows dancing in my head. Thanks to Steakout for inviting us back (always nice to know we are still welcome after the first review somewhere!!) I was genuinely impressed by the friendly, light hearted service, the choice on the menu and the care taken over the in-house preparation of the ingredients. A great place to stack up on your lean protein if you need a post-gym boost and also a fantastic place for an indulgent treat - after all Valentine's Day is coming up!

Steakout uses Halal meat and is alcohol free, but as you can see from this review, it is also perfect for non-Muslim people and tipple-chasers like myself! 

Sunday, 5 February 2017

COMPETITION: Win a bespoke printed canvas

Inspired by our blogger's outing to great Leicester independents, the lovely folk at Matin Prime on Narborough Road are offering a free 12 x 16 canvas printed with the image of your choice to a lucky winner.

Our judge will be IsoElegant Photography, a fantastic wedding photographer, and so the theme for the competition is your interpretation on:

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Let's see what you come up with. Just submit a snap on the Thirst Media facebook page!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Independent Leicester; a blogger's outing

We had a fantastic day on Saturday, visiting some of many fantastic independent businesses in Leicester. It was organised by yours truly, with my Thirst Media hat on because I wanted everyone to shout about our lovely indies just as much as I do! So hopefully you'll see plenty more blog posts about the new things that the lovely bloggy ladies discovered.

We started off the day at 33 Cank Street, Leicester's own speakeasy. Regular readers will know that I spend as much time as I possibly can there, and knowing how much bloggers love their cocktails this was a no-brainer as a jumping off point. It's a great, relaxed environment for a spot of weekend socialising.

The lovely Nancy from Sugar, Darling? won the award for most exciting and Instagrammable cocktail, by managing to pick one which had to be set on fire at the table. We also enjoyed some laid back tunes, comfortable sofas and lazy chat. A great start.

After this it was on to Divine Boutique, who I wrote about at their celebratory opening event a few weeks ago. Everyone was dreaming of being swept off their feet looking at all their beautiful gowns. We've decided that we will all go to the ball, even if we have to organise the darn ball ourselves! I noticed everyone was particularly impressed with the high quality for the pocket-friendly prices, even more so when they realised that alterations come as standard and are included in the ticket price. This is what I love about independent businesses - their attention to detail and fantastic customer service.

We were all feeling a little peckish, and so I swept them off to our own little corner of Italy, here in Leicester city centre, Gelato Village. We were treated to our choice of handcrafted artisan gelato, made on the premises from fresh, seasonal and often local ingredients. At least this stopped the ever-exuberant Carpe Diem Emmie from talking, if only for a moment, while she devoured her cone! I jest, of course.

Sour cherry with meringue and white chocolate with orange. Absolutely beautiful gelato.

I've spent a lot of time at Gelato Village, so it was great being able to explain their commitment to Slow Food principles, their shunning of artificial ingredients and additives and their brilliant relationships with local suppliers like Belvoir Ridge Creamery and Leicester Market to the ladies. And looking at all of the empty cups and hearing the audible smacking of lips, I think the quality spoke for itself!

Image courtesy of IsoElegant

We moseyed along to Lanes Fine Jewellery on Loseby Lane, because everyone loves a bit of sparkle in their life! This was a new business to me and I was surprised to find out that not only are they LCFC's official jewellery partner, but they are one of the finest diamond jewellery stockists in the country. This is due to their bespoke service, not just designing their pieces themselves but hand selecting every single diamond, right down to the smallest, to fit the piece perfectly.

My favourite ring, just propped up nonchalantly on the side there!

They focus mainly on classic pieces, crafted to fit your look, using timeless styles which ooze elegant, but we saw that their skills extended to the more unusual and esoteric as well as more familiar cuts and shapes. There was many an admiring glance at the beautiful cushion cut ring we got up close and personal with - particular from those bloggers who have aspirations of engagement in the not too distant future! For me, this delightfully understated but unique looking diamond band was the highlight of the show. Their dedicated service and clear eye for quality has customers coming to them from all over the country, and you could really see why as we enjoyed the low key opulence of their VIP room.

I told you we had a good day!

After so much luxury, it was time to take things back to a more every day level, and so it was me! Hosting a beer tasting for the blogging ladies was something I'd had aspirations to do for a while because I think it's really great when people get to find out about something new. There is nothing every-day about the West End Brewery, our next venue on Braunstone Gate. Leicester's first brewpub, it is a unique little gem nestled on the outskirts of the city, at the gateway to The Narb.

I took them through a range of beers, talking about the brewing process, aromas and flavours and what makes the different beers different. We concentrated on the West End's own range and I have to say they were all delicious, although the stout and the IPA were definitely the highlights. However, the pale ale and the copper also had a warm welcome from the group and I was pleased to have the expertise of Never Enough Shoes on hand in all her beery glory to back up my assertions about how awesome is the ale!

This was my first blogger beer tasting for Thirst Media, so modesty demands I leave it to the other guests to tell you whether it was any good or not. And we continued on, our merry band, back to Highcross Street - Leicester's original independent heartland of ancient time - to Danique. More about that on a follow up post coming soon, but this is another long term favourite of mine. Of course, they will always be fondly remembered by me as the people who dyed my hair blue. Having ridiculously coloured hair has made the last 8 months of my life deeply satisfying. But let us not forget that Danique and salon director, Queen Ceri are award-winning, fashion industry darlings and all round super fun people. But as I say, more on them soon.

Image courtesy of IsoElegant

At this point we were also joined by another fantastic independent - IsoElegant. She is the most amazing wedding photographer, but also does the odd bit of commission work. Her photos are universally beautiful and in the short time she was with us that day, she did not disappoint! Plus, she wanted to introduce us to another new local company - Matin Prime

Matin Prime are a new printing, framing and design company housed on Narborough Road. They gave us a handy money off voucher and also a block, featuring an IsoElegant photo from our last blogger outing, which we can take in to get a print of our choice. So again, more on that as I have it! Can't write about them until I check it out for myself... They have also offered a swank competition prize for one lucky reader, so keep an eye out on the Thirst Media facebook page for that!

Selfie time! Image courtesy of IsoElegant

And after all of that, naturally it was time for a drink, so we finished at The Globe. Here I found out more about Dizzy Miss James, who I met for the first time that day and who is also an independent businesswoman, newly returned to the city. What a happy co-inky-dink! I loved hearing her story and seeing her super cute homewares as well as finding out more about her motivation to blog. I look forward to getting to know her better!

Image courtesy of IsoElegant

Not bad for an afternoon's work, huh? Thanks to everyone who helped me organise the day (you know who you are), all of the businesses that were so welcoming and giving of their time, expertise and products and thanks to all the bloggers that attended - see you for another one soon?

And there endeth the lesson. More reasons to love Leicester.
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