Holiday eats – Restaurante Rebate, Alicante

Every now and again we all need a break. I recently returned from a lush two weeks off, one spent in Southern Spain with my wonderful other half who never takes holidays but was in dire need of relaxation, one spent milling around at home-home then driving across country to North Wales for some adventuring. All in all, we had a fantastic time and although I didn’t document this trip as much as previous holidays for various reasons, it was really good to have a proper break from pretty much everything. What we did do was sleep, eat, drink, repeat; basically my idea of living the dream (with some exploring thrown in of course). So without writing my usual fairly lengthy run-down of the whole holiday itself I decided to focus on my food highlight of the trip: Restaurante Rebate.

Staying in a family apartment not far away from the small town of Sucina, we hadIMG_7620 hired a car in order to get around and explore some places. This restaurant was recommended to us by said family and was easily one of, if not the highlight of the Spanish half of our holiday. Restaurante Rebate is tucked away down some remote, dusty roads towards Alicante and appears to be in the middle of bloody nowhere by all accounts; yet on arrival we were instantly impressed by the appearance, layout and style of the restaurant. Mostly focused outdoors, there was plenty of sun, plenty of shade and several gorgeous trees among the tables. A small platform had been placed in the middle for the main event; this was the Flamenco Show which is on every Wednesday and Friday lunchtime, according to their website, and which we’d booked a few days before flying out.

Setting the scene…

Once seated at our choice of table (sun or shade) we were offered drinks whilst perusing the menu, which we took gladly and I followed the waiter’s recommendation of a glass of IMG_7619Cava. Start as you mean to go on. Seeing as it was a gorgeous sunny day and we were planning on spending most of our afternoon there, we treated ourselves to the 4 course tasting menu for the bargain price of 24,50€. At this point I feel it important to mention how incredibly polite, attentive and accommodating the staff were to every question or request, adapting my courses to include only fish and vegetarian dishes without hesitation whilst my boyfriend took them as was.

As the cherry on top I opted for the accompanying wine flight, making it 25€, as I don’t currently drink red wine (nor much white wine that doesn’t originate from New Zealand) so was keen to expand my horizons. Also, red wine makes you seem quite adult, doesn’t it? This was a fantastic choice because our wine waiter was incredibly knowledgeable and clearly very passionate which made the experience all the more special – and myself proud that I’d chosen to be grown up and get sophisticatedly drunk on a Wednesday afternoon.

First course: ‘Waking up your tastebuds’

Parmesan & lemon jam, a hummus cone, orange & kale smoothie, fishcake on sunflower toast. Paired with a pale but fruity white wine which was delicious; not as sharp as I’d usually go for but very easy to drink. [Disclaimer: best to declare early-on that I am in no way a wine connoisseur so do forgive the lack of fancy terms here. Maybe oneday.] 

Needless to say, I was most excited about the hummus cone. It was awesome; sprinkled with a little paprika it was like a savoury ice cream cone of loveliness. Good crunch, too. I imagine that the fishcake could’ve been a close second because I love a good fishcake, however I think this was before they’d asked whether I ate fish or not so it was swapped out in place of a decorated cream cheese, also very tasty in fairness. The smoothie was weird as is any kale smoothie in my experience, but not unpleasant, and the parmesan with lemon jam was a delightful little sweet crunch to present a great texture contrast between the tasters. All of these nibbles complemented each other well in flavour and texture, so far so good. Before you ask, yes I did note the plastic bag and straw for the smoothie and yes, it could’ve been avoided but my Spanish is already very limited so I wasn’t sure how to convey this to the staff nor if they’d understand where I was coming from.

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I chose the wrong seat for insta-worthy lighting, didn’t I?

Second course: ‘Refresh moment’

Cesar salad, strawberry salmorejo, ceviche served on patacon, beetroot tartare. Paired with a medium white wine, sharper than the last but still soft and equally as drinkable. It still had a hint of fruitiness but less so to coordinate with the savoury tasters in this course.

The salad was very tasty and refreshing with a light crunch, likely my highlight of this course as I particularly enjoyed the sprinkling of crumbs on top. Beetroot isn’t usually to my taste but despite being a little sharp, the tartare was more pleasant than anticipated and accompanied the salad well. I hadn’t understood what ceviche was (I now know it’s a kind of seafood) but the components worked well together and atop the sweet patacon it was a lovely little mouthful. The strawberry salmorejo turned out to be a tomato and bread-based purée, originating in Andalucia, and whilst this balanced out the dish in terms of texture by contrasting with the crunchiness of the salad and patacon it wasn’t to our liking to be honest. The taste of strawberry just seemed a bit strange in conjunction with tomato, though I understand its intention was to be refreshing.

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Third course: ‘Fried specialities’

Mussel croquette, wild mushroom croquette, roasted chicken croquette, criolla pastry. Paired with a rosé wine, getting sharper again but with good flavour and body to it.

Here I had a vegetarian substitute for the chicken croquette but all of the fried delights were very satisfying and not over-greasy, fried just right. A heavier course than its predecessors, the sharpness of the rosé cut through the mashed potato within the croquettes nicely so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed or bloaty, just well fed (though the food-baby was beginning to kick-in). Moreover, by this point I was on my fourth glass of wine so was getting to the level of merriment that requires fried goods to keep you going. Perfect timing.

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Fourth course: ‘Tasty’

Creamy Spanish omelette, roasted pear with blue cheese, duck delights on sweet potato puree. Red wine, medium bodied and rich without being too heavy or bitter of aftertaste – I enjoyed, much to my surprise.

This was possibly our favourite course because of the presentation of the omelette; it was IMG_7649deconstructed in such a way that a lightly cooked egg laid atop a crunchy base of what I think was some kind of thin, tiny homemade potato chips and some seasonings, and you had to stir them all up together to form the omelette. This might sound strange but it was bloody delicious and so creamy! Definitely our favourite nibble of the whole experience and I think it’s quite fun to get involved with the food as well as simply eating it. The roasted pear was done very well and balanced out the strength of the blue cheese, though because of the cheese I was glad it was a small portion as oppose to a normal-sized dish else it could have been overwhelming. The duck delights was thoroughly enjoyed by my other half in his tasters – despite his taking a likeness to some particularly photogenic ducks strutting around the restaurant from a nearby pond, pictured – but unfortunately I can’t remember what my duck substitute was and had been so distracted by said photogenic ducks that I’d forgotten to take a photo of this course. My apologies! What is pictured below is the red wine with this course and the dessert wine for the next.

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Fifth course: ‘Small desserts’

Cheesecake, fruit salad with sangria, carrot cake. Dessert wine, sweet and very rich but a great end and matched perfectly with the desserts.

The deconstructed cheesecake-in-a-jar was a good mix of sweet and savoury but lacked the biscuit base we are so accustomed to at home so wasn’t a full cheesecake as far as we were concerned – enjoyable all the same. I helped myself to both portions of the fruit salad with sangria which was both refreshing and deceiving in the sense that fruit sounds healthy, but when one considers the four previous courses and sweet but tangy alcohol alongside, perhaps not realistically part of your five-a-day after all. But we don’t go on holiday to diet do we?! (Christ, wouldn’t that be a miserable world).

Last but not least, the carrot cake was perfectly spongey and deliciously moist. As someone who doesn’t like an over-abundance of carrot in their carrot cake, this was spot on; as was the relative amount of frosting (because I’m not keen on too much frosting either, I often find it over-powering). The cake especially paired with the dessert wine as light and moist met rich and flavourful, whilst the natural sweetness of each element of this course was what made it work well altogether to round off the meal without being sickly.

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Final thoughts?

We loved this tasting menu and the experience overall. It felt personal, it felt special and everything was executed to a high standard for a real bargain price. At the end of the meal we felt full but not uncomfortable, very content and in my case very ready for an afternoon alcohol-induced nap. As I said at the beginning, this was likely the highlight of our Spanish holiday and as well as the brilliant food, the attentive and knowledgeable staff and the venue as a whole provided such a welcoming, friendly and easy-going atmosphere that you felt right at home spending several hours there as we did. I really would recommend visiting if you find yourself in the Alicante area, especially for the traditional Flamenco Show which was an encapsulating and exciting performance of several phases, a fantastic accompaniment to the meal itself. Information can be found below – if you visit too I’d love to hear your thoughts!

IMG_7626Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Information: 24.50€ for the taster menu, 25€ including wine flight.
Address: Carretera CV 952, Km. 10,5, 03190 Pilar de la Horadada, Alicante
Bookings: reservas@restauranterebate.es
Website: Restaurante Rebate

Saying goodbye to single-use plastic Part 4: Natural Weigh, zero waste shop

The ‘Blue Planet Effect’ is spreading far and fast it seems (yippee!) and the latest thing to pop up on my eco-radar has been Wales’ first zero waste shop – if you haven’t been yet, I urge you to give it a go. Natural Weigh is based up in Crickhowell where several pubs and restaurants have already taken the no straw stand and turned to a life with less plastic, making it a lovely little day trip or Saturday afternoon out if you’re taking the hour’s drive out of Cardiff.

The first thing to come to the minds of many of you, I’m sure; “is an hour’s drive really that eco-friendly?” Well, it depends how you use it. Ideally, if you take orders from various friends or family, or better still take them along with you and car share as I did with my boyfriend’s mum on my latest trip, then you’d be making the most of the journey and that’s what I would recommend where possible.

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What’s in this shop? All kinds! From dried fruit, nuts, pasta, rice, pulses, cereal and even cacao nibs and cocoa sweets; full details are on their website and there’s new products being added all the time, all organic as much as possible. Something I didn’t get on my first trip but stocked up on last weekend was washing up liquid; I’ve been looking into cruelty-free and more eco-friendly washing up options for a while now, you may have seen me talk about my none sponges, coconut hair scrubber and attempts at making my own washing up liquid in previous posts during my plastic series. The homemade washing up liquid didn’t quite make the grade for me sadly, so my other plan of action was to buy one of the large 5 litre bottles of Ecover washing up liquid and keep a normal-sized squeezy bottle to decant into, still involving plastic but less so than buying lots of individual bottles (and Ecover’s bottles are made from already recycled plastics AND can be recycled again). Upon realising that washing up liquid was available in Natural Weigh, however, I kept aside a large 4 pint milk bottle and an empty squeezy bottle once finished and filled up on my last trip. No purchasing of new plastic required. Perfect. (I’m yet to put it to the test in action so will keep you posted).

Recently added products include: natural deodorant, natural toothpaste (both of which I’ve bought and are just getting used to so will report back in another post), shampoo bars and a range of products from the fabulous Tabitha Eve Co. from whom I’ve purchased several items, including her best-selling none sponges, and which I’ve already raved about in my previous post! I really recommend browsing her Etsy for the full range of handmade products.

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How does the shop work? My mother asked me. This is also detailed on their website but essentially, you save up your own containers be it pre-used plastic, glass jars, old yoghurt pots, or something I’ve been doing (which I feel is a small stroke of genius, if I do say so myself); taking my empty sea salt & pepper grinders – you know, those ones with the glass base and a plastic grinding top – and just refilling straight into those. At this point I feel it necessary to add that one of my favourite things about this zero waste shopping experience is that it’s so much easier to put everything away once you get home, no faffing around unwrapping anything or decanting and spilling all over the place such as with packaged rice, pasta or condiments.

Back to the containers: you take your own containers to the shop or purchase some of their own glass jars on arrival, weigh the container empty and print a barcode for it, fill the container, scan the empty barcode and re-weigh et voila! You simply pay by weight, as the name suggests.

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What’s the advantage of this? Well you’d hope that would be obvious; the lack of unnecessary packaging not only saves on plastic, which would likely otherwise end up in landfill, rivers, oceans and eventually our food & water supplies; but also lends a much more convenient approach to shopping in many ways as just mentioned. By using your own containers or purchasing containers you can use time and time again you can ensure you’re buying only as much as you want or need, rather than being forced into purchasing more than you bargained for and potentially leading to wastage. On the flip side, if you’d rather buy things in bulk to last you a good while (which is what I tend to do) then you’re also at complete liberty to do so – your container size is your own choice.

IMG_7396Natural Weigh estimate that so far in their 8 or so weeks of being open for business, they’ve saved around 8 million tons of plastic and 2,761 pieces of single-use plastic from ending up in the oceans or going to waste. That’s fantastic! Imagine if this caught on in every town in the country; the impact could be phenomenal!

Isn’t it more expensive though? That entirely depends on what you buy and how much. As I have discovered for myself, some items are more costly than others such as loose leaf tea, nuts and organic cocoa products. However, the weight you buy is entirely up to you and don’t make my usual mistake in thinking you have fill every container if you don’t want to or are trying to stick to budget. Owners Robin and Chloe will also happily scan your stuff to give you a running total if you ask nicely ☺

As an example, below is my first shop at Natural Weigh and the total was around £20 give or take a few. Here we have: white basmati rice, spaghetti, wholewheat penne pasta, red lentils, oats, coconut flakes, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, banana chips, bran flakes, sea salt & chocolate ginger.

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My first zero waste haul

Have you been to a zero waste shop before? What was your favourite part about the experience? I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, I absolutely loved it and hope they catch on all over the place. Just last week in fact it was announced that Cardiff will be getting its own zero waste shop this summer, but as I said Natural Weigh is great way to spend an afternoon if you catch lunch in one of Crickhowell’s pubs as well. Great people working hard for a great cause, they deserve all the support and I hope it continues to spread the word as it has done so far!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Brilliant breakfast at Big Moose Coffee Co.

You may have seen a post of mine about my top 5 favourite breakfast spots in Cardiff a while ago; this is a place that deserves a new spot on that list.

Big Moose Coffee Co. is a new coffee shop tucked away in Cardiff’s city centre offering sandwiches, omelettes and some seriously tasty breakfasts with a twist. Crowdfunding exceeded all their expectations and allowed this charitable group to make their dreams a reality without becoming a charity; these guys have the sole mission of ‘leaving the world a better place than we found it’ and intend to do so by employing homeless or disadvantaged youths through Llamau, training them up for the world of work with the customer service and transferable skills many of us take for granted.

Not only that, but their offerings in the café are serious contenders in the Cardiff food & drink scene. I’ve been twice already and will not hesitate to return time and time again, not just because of the incredible service and perfectly executed breakfast, but also because the coffee shop itself has such a welcome, friendly and relaxing feel to it that you simply don’t want to leave. It’s a large space but it feels warm with the right lighting, not to mention the pleasant greenery on each table and potted planters on one of the walls, adding both a decorative touch and a strange sense of peace – perhaps all the hoo-hah about plants being good for the mind and soul is true after all?

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As well as all of this, there are two extra features I feel I have to mention which make this place really special: firstly, the stairs are incredible, serious home-deco inspiration I intend to recreate one day when I’ve a house of my own. Mix & match tiles sounds so simple but it’s so effective in my opinion, donating a very personal touch which large open spaces like this so often lack yet make you feel at home, comfortable, content.

Secondly, the toilet is uniquely kitted out with a grass-like wall, fairly lights and a wall print reading “Be kind” which is perfect for toilet mirror selfies but also serves as a reminder for everything Big Moose represents. Embrace it, welcome it and let yourself feel at home in this coffee shop and I can confidently say you’ll enjoy the whole experience.

Menu options vary from sandwiches to omelettes, toast to tea & cakes but the two breakfasts I’ve had there so far have been easily two of my favourite breakfasts in a while. Big Moose is already right up there with Milk & Sugar (the old library) in my go-to city centre brunches. First to be put to the test was my classic, ‘basic b*tch’ breakfast of avocado and poached eggs on toast which has become my solid point of comparison for all new breakfast/brunch experiences [see aforementioned top 5 Cardiff breakfasts post for evidence].

The yolk was the star of the show, running perfectly over a lovely thick spreading of smashed avocado and presented on a wooden board for extra pizazz. I was invited to season it with salt & pepper myself so as to suit my own taste, which I liked, and on the whole this breakfast was a dream. I was especially excited that somewhere was mad enough to be open at the absurd hour of 8am on a Sunday which I found myself walking through town in. So, whatever the time or occasion I’d certainly recommend giving Big Moose a try, you may just be in luck as I was!

Second time around I took my parents along and ordered the other thing on the menu screaming my name: the banana, walnut, maple and coconut cream toast. Sound strange? Trust me, it’s a stroke of pure genius. Also totally vegan, by the way. I still can’t quite decide (or perhaps I’m just scared to admit) whether this superseded my beloved avo & eggs on toast and became my new breakfast heaven. It very well may have.

This is one for a sweet tooth, I will warn you, but the texture contrasts were also amazing with the crunchy walnuts and toast against ripe banana and smooth coconut cream, maple syrup marrying it all together in perfect harmony. I’m seriously hungry just thinking about it again; if you like bananas then you really, really need to try this. For the sake of your tastebuds. For the sake of your soul.

And that, my friends, is why you should visit Big Moose Coffee Co. next time you’re in Cardiff city centre. Yes, the food is brilliant. Yes, they’ve designed the café with environmental awareness in mind, taking the no straw stand and encouraging everyone to help themselves to free tap water, both to drink in and fill up your water bottles. Yes, the décor is brilliantly cosy, homely and welcoming. But most of all it’s the culmination of all of these things that makes this place so special and good for the soul in every way.

Treat yourself, treat others, take some time to relax and unwind and all whilst supporting an incredible, local cause. Big Moose, you know I’ll be back soon.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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What we did in Madrid

Sometimes when life gets hectic and you find yourself feeling stir crazy, all you need is a good break away. My mother and I decided on a weekend in Madrid to blow the cobwebs away and refresh and we had a great time. I did do a little research beforehand such as reading blogs by Hungry City Hippy and Eat Liverpool, but for the most part we wandered our way around the city and went wherever our feet took us. That being said, Google maps is a godsend when it’s getting dark and you’ve lost your bearings!

Friday – arrival in the city

As we only had two and a half days in the city we operated a good balance of exploring, catching up on sleep/rest and eating. (Mostly the latter). On the Friday evening we arrived at rush hour and in the pouring rain – but at least we made it in spite of the snow and below freezing temperatures at home! Our Airbnb host’s assistant met us at the apartment, checked us in, giggled at my inability to do the careful jiggle with the keys needed to open the door (I have zero patience at the best of times) and pointed us in the direction of the nearest corner shop for a few kitchen supplies. It was a lovely little apartment, nothing too fancy – and, if you’re a light sleeper, not particularly sound-proof against noisy neighbours – but ideal for a couple (or mother & daughter) looking for a few days in a centrally-located city pad. Once settled in, we head out for a bit of an adventure and a wander and found ourselves heading in the direction of La Pecera, somewhere I’d heard about in Eat Liverpool’s blog and was very keen to try.

My mum went for the vanilla & activated charcoal ice cream mix, in a chocolate cone and with coconut shavings, mini cookies and sparkly balls (easy, tiger) on top. Mine was the salted caramel & matcha mix which sounds odd but was very tasty; topped with honeycomb, ginger biscuit crumbs and more sparkly balls, I was happy as Larry. The fish-shaped waffle cones are clearly the allure of this place but coming from a family where my dad fishes most weekends, we’re naturally drawn to anything fish-like. Sad, I know. All in all it was really good ice cream though, perfect treat to tide us over ‘til dinner and great for the ‘gram.

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Our fishy-looking ice creams in La Pecera

After proceeding to wander the streets a little more, realise we were lost with no phone battery and do our best to ask for directions in a nearby pharmacy, we found our way home to regroup before dinner.

Artemisa, vegetarian restaurant

Much to our delight there were all kinds of choices for an evening meal along the street we were staying in, around every corner were more and more cafes, bars, bakeries and restaurants. We managed to get a table in this charming vegetarian place (which also happens to be 100% gluten-free for those sufferers amongst you) just five minutes’ walk from our apartment and, at this point, I was glad I’d downloaded a free Spanish phrase-book app as I (foolishly) hadn’t been prepared for so many non-English speakers. It was actually very refreshing!

There was plenty on the menu we fancied the look of but decided to opt for a sharing platter and some nachos & guacamole to start, also sharing a bottle of organic white wine. We demolished the nachos in minutes alongside some free appetisers, which I couldn’t identify but were nice all the same. The sharing platter was much larger than we’d expected but I ate as much as I possibly could (forgot to take a tupperware for leftovers on holiday didn’t I *eyeroll*). It consisted of: Persian pie, vegetarian croquettas, tofu slices in a Cabrales cheese sauce, curry vegetables and organic paella. Tofu took me by pleasant surprise yet again but my favourite of all this was the organic paella; each component of the platter was delicious with well-balanced flavours, very fresh tasting and nothing overpowered anything else. The organic wine was a perfect accompaniment. I was really impressed with this meal and with the plethora of incredible-sounding options, vegetarian and vegan, I’d definitely be back here should I visit Madrid again.

Saturday – Mercado de San Miguel

This was what we’d been buzzing for. After a much needed lie-in we head there for lunchtime and it was an elbows out, hold-onto-my-shoulder situation but we didn’t mind, all part of the excitement! People everywhere, food everywhere, I was in my happy place. Y’all know I love a food market.

We bustled our way around for a nosy and a sense of what was on offer, beginning with two sangrias and a plate of mixed olives. If that isn’t the perfect start to this kind of feast I don’t know what is. The group next to us had a pretty impressive spread on the go, they clearly knew what they were doing and I got the feeling the local tactic is for the wives to grab a seat and the husbands to go fetch the food (I wouldn’t be complaining). Olives demolished and sangria all sipped up using my bamboo straws (as pictured above), which the Spanish did not understand, we grabbed a small cone of mixed nuts to munch on whilst we surveyed the options in full.

Crepes, macarons, lemon meringue pies and churros for desserts; stews, sushi, pasty-like things called empanadillas, all kinds of jamón and all the seafood you could want for mains/tapas; fresh fish, cuts of meat and all kinds of cheeses for you to try there or buy to take home. I could have easily spent my weekend eating my way around this place, but we still tried our best in the time we had. Without rambling on forever, here’s the run-down of our nibbles:

  • Sangria, olives stuffed with sundried tomato, olives stuffed with salmon & cheese, manzanilla olives (because I like ones that still have the stone in)
  • Mixed nuts for snacking
  • Chickpea & spinach stew which was bloody delicious, may even try to recreate it at home
  • Tuna maki rolls which I know isn’t Spanish but couldn’t help myself
  • Ham & cheese empanadillas or, as mum called, it ‘a foldy over thingy’ (obviously this was hers not mine)
  • Two big fat G&Ts: a raspberry gin with strawberries, orange peel & tonic and a Larios Spanish gin with lemon & tonic. These were pour-by-eye, strong measures and I was loving it.
  • Churros & chocolate dipping sauce because it would be a crime not to when in Spain…
  • A raspberry and a pistachio macaron to finish (very good but not quite Cocorico Patisserie standard)

Looking at it now it doesn’t seem as much as it felt. There were a couple of other things I’d have liked to try if I’d had the room such as oysters or some calamari, although I was put off slightly by the latter because there was no accompanying sauce so I thought it might be too crispy alone – is serving lemon mayo with calamari a purely British thing? After all that we were full, tipsy and my poor mother who isn’t quite as seasoned a day-drinker as I (not sure if that’s a good thing) was ready for an afternoon nap. Lesson learned for next time: be sure to bring tupperware on holiday so I can buy now and eat later, maximising my foreign food market game.

Saturday night – Las 10 Tapas de Santa Ana

Tonight we wandered around another part of town we’d not yet explored in search of some authentic tapas and possibly drinks. I had wished we’d been more organised and booked somewhere for the Saturday night, I’d read about a couple of highly commended places that required prior booking, however with the Beast from the East threatening to disrupt our flights we’d thought it best not to tempt fate.

There’s something kind of relaxing about walking around a new city at night (with your wits about you, of course), the lights, sounds, smells and opportunities change and in a place like Madrid you know you’ll never be short of places to go or things to do. There were quite a few theatres around and they seemed like a popular evening attraction; this restored my faith in humanity a little when, at home, there seem to be ever-increasing funding cuts to the performing arts which occupied so much of my life as a youngster and hold a special place in mine and my family’s hearts. Despite this, we were on a food mission and landed on a place in Plaza De Santa Ana with jazzy little placemats and very friendly, helpful staff. Here’s what we ordered (excuse the bad lighting on photos):

  • Two Spanish beers
  • 6 mixed croquettas (2 fish, 2 chicken and 2 ham I think)
  • Padrón peppers with Essex salt (a favourite of mine after trying them at Curado Bar)
  • Crispy fried cheese with puréed pumpkin and quince jelly
  • Goats cheese toasted roll with caramelised onion (not sure how Spanish it is but one of my favourite flavour combos ever so I almost always order it)

I always love to try local beers and lagers whilst away and I’ve rarely been disappointed, this was no exception. Not too heavy, not too sharp, just light enough for a meal without taking up valuable food space or risking a bloat. The croquettas were very fishcake-esque mostly being filled with creamy mashed potato but that was absolutely fine by me, satisfying as hell. The jelly from the crispy fried cheese went well with my fish croquettas as well as the cheese itself, which was perfectly gooey once cut open without being too hot and burning your tongue as can sometimes happen. The toasted roll was a little tough to the bite and could’ve used more caramelised onion to balance the flavours out a bit more, but still enjoyable.

To my surprise, the highlight for me (after the cheese balls) was the peppers as they’re so moreish and easy to devour in seconds. Really hits the spot as a side dish or bar snack and the salt isn’t overpowering, just marries nicely – I developed a taste for them after trying at Curado Bar, which I definitely recommend for a little slice of Spain in Cardiff. All in all this was a satisfying meal after a day of really good food, but we decided to move elsewhere for dessert and a cocktail to mix things up, treating ourselves to ice cream sundaes and mojitos. Not pictured because my phone had had enough!

Sunday – a bit of culture; the National Archaeological Museum of Spain

As our last day, we thought it best to do something other than eat even if just for a morning. There are a wealth of museums and art galleries in Madrid to choose from and I’m sure many of them are quite the experience, but we decided the National Archaeological museum was more our thing than paintings and such. Despite only having a few hours (my bad, I love a lazy morning especially on holiday) we really enjoyed reading about the evolution of our species, ancient jewellery and pottery found in the area from early settlers and even more learning about the development of weaponry, gold & silver decoration and the expansion of the Roman Empire in Spain. There was plenty to nerd-out over if you like your history and geography. Again, I know it might sound weird saying that walking around the city to and from the museum was a part of what made this holiday really enjoyable but it’s true, it’s like people-watching but with some stunning architecture and new sensory experiences thrown in. Plus, it’s just nice to be somewhere different, isn’t it?

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The grand entrance to the Archaeological Museum

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Cute little park outside of it, sun shining through the trees at last!

And back to the food…

The area of town the museum was in seemed nice, we walked around a bit in search of an afternoon nibble, but soon realised it was a little too nice and more pricey than we were willing to pay for. The cafes and restaurants we walked past looked very enticing, the perfect place to dine al fresco with a cold glass (or bottle) of wine, but we’d spotted MásQMenos on the way up that we returned to for a small lunch of cheeses, mini Spanish pizzas called cocas, and a chorizo in cider tapas dish for my mother instead.

Over the course of the weekend we couldn’t help but notice that there was always a queue outside this one taco place near the vegetarian restaurant from our first night, Takos el Pastor. So on this last day, we thought we’d wait in line and see what the fuss was about. There weren’t many veggie options but I took my chances with a mushroom & cheese and some sort of cactus fruit taco, whilst my mother enjoyed a traditionally fried beef and a chipotle chicken. They were relatively small but tasty and great value for money, I could see why so many people were taking full advantage of the 1 euro per taco deal! But unfortunately I’m still not sold on mushroom [besides the mushroom dish I had at Cathedral 73 those of you that remember that post, that was a surprising exception]. I think this is more of a place for you meat-eaters but it was nice to be in a queue and chat to a few people during the wait and it was clear why this place seemed so popular. Cheap, cheerful, happy food.

Madrid was a delightful little city break with so much to see and do and a plethora of foodie places to eat your way around the city. A weekend well spent, I look forward to returning one day and definitely recommend it for a refreshing getaway, though I would recommend doing your research and booking one of the many renowned restaurants in the city for an evening as I wish we had. It would’ve just been the icing on top.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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Fighting plastic pollution: The No Straw Stand

Following on from my current Saying Goodbye to Single-use plastic series, I return once again to the straw issue. The No Straw Stand has been setup by Cardiff uni students Nia and Douglas who are trying to make Cardiff a straw-free city. They’ve an ever-growing list of businesses taking the no straw stand and have recently received support from Keep Wales Tidy – which just goes to show that small changes can lead to progress! There’s still a way to go sadly, but I thought I’d compile some of my favourite businesses already happily associated with the No Straw Stand, which I recommend trying if you haven’t already:

Blanche Bakery

I finally took myself to try out their offerings recently and was very pleasantly impressed; their donuts are their major selling point and I can 100% see why. They taste incredible, you’d never even know that they’re vegan, full of flavour and very satisfying. Much like The Moos on nearby Whitchurch Road, Blanche Bakery are totally vegan; so whether you’re after something a bit different, want to mix up your diet or try something new, or simply go somewhere you can indulge without having to check the ingredients, this is certainly somewhere to visit.

It’s small and cosy, but this also means it was lovely and warm on an otherwise very cold day. I opted for the French toast donut (definitely stole the show), the ‘chick’n mayo’ sandwich and a hot chocolate. The sandwich was tasty and filling but I’m not sure the texture was the one for me, still felt kind of meaty which I’m sure is fab if you are or were at one point a meat-eater but just not quite right for me. The hot chocolate was very well presented and tasted good, but to be honest I did miss the milk – which is something I thought I’d never say because I’m not even a big fan of milk. I couldn’t tell you which kind of vegan milk was used, however, so maybe it’s different with different types? I can’t be sure, but they also have a good tea selection so next time I’ll go for that. Either way, definitely try the donuts and go for the chill atmosphere of the place, I loved it and will be back again soon to try more.

 

 

The Grazing Shed have also taken to supplying biodegradable straws according to the No Straw Stand. I’ve written about them before in my Glastonbury highlights; often regarded as the best burgers in Cardiff it was nice to have a sense of ‘home from home’ whilst away festival-ing. Not so long ago I found myself there again and was particularly impressed with their efforts to cater to my awkward requests, it really made my evening! [The awkwardness was that their chips are all skin-on and I have the weirdest allergy in the world and can’t digest potato skin. Bummer, I know. Instead though, they were happy to substitute me another patty in my usual Naughty Shephard which was thoroughly enjoyed and very much appreciated.] If you haven’t tried The Grazing Shed yet, you really are missing out.

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Source: Pieminister Instagram

Pieminister is somewhere I’ve always been a big fan of – who doesn’t love pie & mash?! (Un)fortunately, we’re so spoilt for choice in Cardiff that I’m always keen to try new img_7026places so these guys have become rather a rare treat for me somehow. They’ve been phasing out their straw stocks for a while now, only supplying them on customer request, but since they officially went plastic straw free a month or so ago I decided it was high-time for another visit. In this case, they visited me via the magic of Deliveroo; I went for my usual Heidi pie but this time added cheesy mash (is there anything better than cheesy mash? Seriously?!), gravy and a side of mac ‘n’ cheese, just because. It was bloody delicious and all packaged in cardboard containers marked as recyclable (though they did appear to have a coating on the inside similar to coffee cups and ice cream pints…), which was a real bonus*. Great job team!

*This links in with an email I received from Deliveroo just a few nights ago, stating that they’re investing in the manufacture and production of more recyclable and/or biodegradable containers for transporting hot foods via their service, in order to reduce their environmental impact as much as possible. They’ve also supplied some of their businesses with trial biodegradable straws and are introducing an ‘opt-in cutlery’ scheme to encourage wider adoption of these eco-friendly alternatives. Brilliant news!

 

 

Juno Lounge, one of my long standing favourite places, have taken to only using compostable straws which I’m thrilled about! You can read my full review of Juno here, it’s one for a cosy comfort meal for sure.

 

 

Wahaca has always been one of my favourite places to eat in Cardiff because I love their policy on sustainability, food waste and the fact that their fish is clearly stated as MSC certified. These guys have always been against straws (but recently made it official) for any of their soft drinks or delicious cocktails and I’ve been too many times to list, however the things I always go from their street food menu are the plantain tacos (I almost always have plantain on a menu if it’s available) and the cod tacos. Bloody lovely. Their sweet potato & feta taquitos go down a real treat too – I’m hungry just thinking about it. If you like Mexican, give Wahaca a go.

Penylan Pantry – you may have seen these guys before on my list of Top 5 Cardiff Breakfast spots and I still stand by that. I love everything about the inside of the Pantry and intend to visit again very soon, but as well as their delicious & freshly made food, their sustainability and environmental awareness is a big bonus factor for me [see Hungry City Hippy’s post for more] and I really do hope more businesses take these things on board. Go, see for yourself; you won’t regret it.

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Milk & Sugar/Llaeth & Siwgr I’ve also mentioned before in my Top 5 Cardiff breakfasts and they remain very much one of my favourite go-to places in town. I’ve not yet had a disappointing meal from them in the Old Library and I happily go there time and time again. It’s great for people watching if you get a window spot, it’s a lovely big space (also available for functions, parties and sometimes kitchen takeovers) and there’s something on the food or drinks menu to suit everyone. They have also taken the No Straw Stand so next time you’re in town, stop by and give Milk & Sugar a try – trust me.

 

Lastly, Lilo’s Pasta is relatively new to the Cardiff scene but started off in nearby Pencoed where owners Liam and Chloe spotted a gap in the market and, after Chloe living on pasta for most of her second year of university and playing around with tasty variations, dived in full-force after graduating. They now have two trucks for festivals and weddings (you may have seen them at Cowbridge Food Festival last year or Depot from time to time), two successful cafes and have been really focusing on moving towards a plastic-free environment. As a new business, Chloe has taken the opportunity to make ‘sustainable swaps’ wherever possible, such as storing their ingredients in big glass jars and ordering their signature coffee in brown paper packaging, whilst ensuring that whatever packaging they do use is either fully recyclable or compostable such as the takeaway boxes. Straws are a work-in-progress but their plastic ones are only available on request currently and a more eco-friendly option available as soon as possible.

Their pasta itself is proper, convenient comfort food for a very reasonable price and with plenty of options to choose from (including vegan & veggie options), as well as regularly changing specials – like this one pictured which was their duck special not so long ago [source: instagram]. Your waistline needn’t take a hit either, swapping regular pasta for courgetti if you wish or even adding protein to any smoothie or milkshake. They’ve also begun offering Oatly as a vegan milk replacement in their hot drinks at no extra cost and if you take your own coffee cup or food container you’ll get 20p off your order. Great job guys!

One interesting thing that came up in conversation was that in their store it may seem like recycling isn’t been followed through as there aren’t separate bins, however when the waste collector was asked about this it was assured that the recycling is separated at the plant later on. I really hope this is the case for many other businesses because I’ve definitely been guilty in the past of assuming that no separate bins meant no recycling! Moreover, Chloe told me that she’s even been asking their supplier to cut down on packaging when goods are delivered where possible, such as not double-wrapping salami etc. This, my friends, demonstrates that if we, the consumer, put the pressure on the businesses to adapt and change, then businesses apply this same pressure to their suppliers, meaningful change can begin to happen and across a wider board. Fingers crossed, eh? It’s all about spreading the word!

 

 

So, if you haven’t taken the No Straw Stand yet, why not check out some articles online or refer back to part 1 of my plastic series. If you have, but your favourite restaurant or pub hasn’t, why not ask them about it? I’ve been surprised to have received some bemused looks when requesting no straw in my milkshake or cocktail recently, which just goes to show that the message still needs to be spread further and wider to get everyone on board. So grab your bamboo straw (or metal, but bamboo is more sustainable & eco-friendly truth be told) and get the message out there!

You can get bamboo straws from Save Some Green or Tabitha Eve Co when she’s next at Cardiff Market.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Saying goodbye to single-use plastic: Part 3

We’ve now had more than enough of 2018 to ‘get back into the swing of things’ and try get our heads around whatever resolutions we made for ourselves (is it really Spring already?). Hopefully, if you’ve been interested in reading this series, reducing your plastic consumption has been one of those resolutions – refer back to parts 1 and 2 for more context – and hopefully some of the little tips and tricks I’ve been sharing in my journey have helped some of you do this. Small changes really do have an impact when everyone gets involved! So, what’s new since last time?

Laundry (the bane of my adult existence)

I finally ran out of the laundry tablets I’d been using and decided to search for an eco-friendly alternative. I was sent this very useful video a few weeks ago and was tempted to make some of the laundry tablets on there, however I hadn’t realised I’d run out until going for the empty box in the cupboard (doh!) and so had to act quickly. Luckily, next day delivery is a thing and I was intrigued having read about Ecoegg from fellow Cardiff bloggers The CSI Girls and heard about it from a work friend, so I bought myself one online and it arrived the next day. So far I have absolutely no complaints!

IMG_7375The egg itself is, to be fair, made from recyclable rubber and plastic but the key selling point is that it’s not single-use and comes full of refillable pellets so that once you have an egg, all you need to do is replace the pellets to use time and time again! These pellets biodegrade throughout your washes, coming in a variety of scents (I ordered lavender to begin with but may mix it up next time) and your first full egg is claimed to last around 54 washes – you get a little tick list to keep track if you like.

Additionally, the company are UK based, UK made, cruelty-free, vegan friendly and package the product in cardboard making it fully recyclable. I’ve been really conscious over the past year or so to start phasing out anything not cruelty-free in our house, starting with makeup, so this was a major selling point for me too because you’d be surprised how many household things are tested on animals (this, like the plastic, is a gradual process of adaptation and a learning curve). I must note that on this occasion I was also very impressed with the minimalist brown paper envelope it was delivered in, later recycled. The only possible criticism is that the scent of the Ecoegg pellets isn’t as strong as some of the popular laundry detergents, but to be honest this doesn’t bother me as long as the clothes are clean!

Sustainable cinema – is it a thing yet?

IMG_7376 (1)Something else I wanted to talk about, although it may seem more of an occasional thing rather than an everyday lifestyle change, is that I’ve recently been trying to apply the reusable coffee cup principle to my cinema outings. Several years ago when Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released, I fell for the marketing strategy and bought one of the limited edition decorated drinks cups from the cinema. I had since kept it lying around as a keepsake until we went to go and see the latest film, The Last Jedi, when it dawned on me that surely if I took this drinks cup to the cinema it could be refilled same as a reusable coffee cup would in a café? The answer, sadly, has been somewhat unclear.

First time around, the poor guy did look a little confused when it wasn’t one of the more recent ones they had on sale at that time, but didn’t hesitate to fill it up once I’d explained it was already mine from years ago. Second time, the server seemed unsure what size drink it represented so insisted on pouring out a usual, plastic cup and tipping it into my reusable one and yes, this does defeat the point. Third time (was not lucky), I was flat-out told that it would not be refilled and that if I wanted to use it I’d have to tip from a normal plastic cup myself. On this same occasion, my own bamboo coffee cup lovingly featured in my first post (which was refilled without any hesitation – why the difference?!) went missing after the film so, all in all, I feel a bit defeated by this sustainable cinema quest! I’ve raised the issue with Cineworld via twitter where all of these attempts took place but so far haven’t had a clear answer. I will continue to be a pain in the arse and take my cup with me, however, so this line of enquiry is to be continued…

Cuppa, anyone?

In other news, as you may have seen it turns out that a lot of teabags are actually sealed with plastic. Slightly heart-breaking, I know. The good news, however, is that the Loose Leaf pyramid teabags from Twinings are plastic-free and fully biodegradable, or there’s always the option of loose leaf tea and a cute little strainer, such these I picked up in Madrid IMG_7308last weekend and now keep in my desk at the office (pictured right).

Moreover, this is something you could buy in bulk similar to pasta, rice, coffee etc. at the new Natural Weigh store in Crickhowell which opened last weekend and which I am dying to try out! For the time being I’ve been using up the teabags I currently have – which are still recommended to be composted at home or in the food waste bin, despite the small amounts of plastic currently in most – but will thereafter be switching to more loose leaf and making sure to buy fully compostable or biodegradable* brands when necessary – here’s a list below:

  • PG Tips pyramid bags (recent change but should be on sale now, see article for more)
  • Twinings Loose Leaf pyramid tea bags (specifically these, the rest are not yet plastic-free)
  • Pukka Herbs – fully compostable
  • Teapigs – these are confusing; the tea bags are compostable but must be put in your food waste not home compost because they need to be broken down industrially. The plastic bag the tea bags are packaged in is, however, compostable at home
  • Aldi’s premium Specially Selected range
  • Waitrose’s Duchy range
  • Coop [coming soon] – their own-brand 99 teabags are set to become plastic-free by the end of the year

*I just learned there’s a difference between compostable and biodegradable; call me foolish but my mind is now blown.

Zero Waste washing-up: Tabitha Eve Co.

I’m revisiting this subject from part 2 because as I feared, my microfibre cloths idea isn’t quite as plastic-free as I’d hoped. At the moment, I am still using them for cleaning and dusting until they get past their best, at which point I’ll invest in some reusable bamboo cloths or cotton muslins, but when I saw Tabitha Eve Co. at Cardiff’s Riverside Market I couldn’t resist her ‘none sponge’s!

IMG_7053This mum of two started by taking the no straw stand with her much-beloved cocktails, then began to wonder where else she could make a difference around the home. Debbie decided to begin working from her studio in Cardiff with the aim to provide beautiful, handmade zero waste products that can convert people to living more eco-friendly and plastic free ways and has only been trading since December of last year, so it was a real bonus that I was able to support a new, local business as well as get some great products!

The ‘none sponge’s are simply bamboo material and cotton sewn together carefully (sourced from the UK as much as possible but otherwise Debbie scours the ‘net for sustainable alternatives, such as hand woven organic cotton by a cooperative in Kerala), these resemble washing up sponges without the unnecessary plastic and work great. They can be cut up and composted once done with, though it’s worth noting that fabrics do take longer to decompose than food so should be tucked into the middle of an actual compost heap rather than the food waste bin [what can go in the food waste bin can be found here]. Composting is something I’ve been meaning to look into further so I’ll come back to this point another day, but for now I’ll be using my parents’ compost heap as and when I visit home.

The point is, you need to check out this lady’s products because they’re gorgeous, natural and plastic free. [Her etsy is here in case you don’t have chance to catch her at the market!] I’ve also started using the cotton produce bags to store my loose fruit & veg in the cupboards, as a means of keeping potatoes apart from onions etc. in line with Love Food Hate Waste’s recommendations.

Wrapping it up

One of my closest & dearest friends was kind enough to send me some beeswax wraps IMG_6969after reading this series so far (I know, she’s a keeper) and I’ve been avidly using them as much as possible as I’ve heard good things – they even came with a lovely little note from Beeswax Wraps UK. So far I’ve tested them out for wrapping sandwiches and covering bowls of leftover food, they’ve worked a treat! Much better than nasty old clingfilm; natural, reusable, available in lots of pretty patterns – I urge you to invest as soon as your last roll of clingfilm runs out. They can also be home composted once worn out or you can even have a go at making some yourself, either using online tips or one of Tabitha Eve Co’s special kits which were on sale at Cardiff Market.

And finally, two things I’ve found to be absolutely key in sticking with sustainable changes:

  1. Investing in or rediscovering an old, larger handbag or small backpack is a great way to ensure you remember all your eco bits when out and about. As long as it has room for a reusable coffee cup, your bamboo straws, bags for life, a Tupperware container for those leftover bits at the end of a meal (or even for fresh fish or meat you get at the market), a refillable water bottle and ideally some reusable cutlery, you’re good to go. I’m yet to make a cutlery pouch myself but I’ve been keeping an eye on Zero Waste Cardiff’s Instagram how-to and am definitely keen to try!
  2. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. It might at first feel like you’re being a pain in the arse, but if you don’t ask the awkward questions you’ll never get a straight answer. Ask for the straw to be left out of your drink. Ask if you can have your water bottle refilled (this is actually your legal right in most premises). Ask if you can have your fresh fish/meat in your own tupperware instead of wrapped in plastic bags*. And what’s more, the more people ask then the more this kind of movement will grow and opinions begin to change.
    *I’m told Cardiff Indoor Market have answered yes to this question, though if you can’t always make it local I asked Asda and was told it shouldn’t be a problem as long as you have the sticker to scan!
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My backpack/handbag with (almost) all my eco essentials 🙂

Change really is happening guys, especially with new drinking water fountain/refill plans and a potential plastic straw ban following Scotland’s success, so don’t be afraid to get involved…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

‘Special’ by name, special by nature: Arbennig

The award-winning Arbennig restaurant is situated in Pontcanna not far away from the well-reputed Brød Danish bakery (which I’m sadly yet to visit, but it’s on my list) and Pipes beer (a personal favourite of mine), but well worth the wander out of town. I’d heard many good things about it from colleagues and fellow bloggers beforehand and even met the owner briefly when handing out roast dinners to the homeless with the Arbennig staff and other volunteers just after Christmas, but I was yet to dine there myself. So for Valentine’s Day this year we decided to take the plunge and try it out. We were not disappointed.

The set menu was short but catered well for different tastes, we thought, and sometimes I think there’s a charm in smaller menus as it allows more focus on the ingredients themselves and can result in dishes of a higher standard (see photo below). IMG_7008 All three of the starters were chosen between us, mine being the beetroot cured salmon with horseradish, blood orange and endive. I didn’t really know what endive was but I assumed it was the baby gem-like leaves when the dish came, which presented a good texture contrast. It was very tasty, the combination of beetroot and cured (rather than cooked) salmon worked really well, however I personally don’t like horseradish so that was my only issue. My father had the same and absolutely loved it, my mother had the garlic mushrooms and said it was perfectly balanced, not too heavy and a great start to the meal and my boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed his lamb ragu. Happy faces all round so far.

For mains my parents shared the treacle and mustard braised short ribs and I have to say, despite not being to my taste, they looked and smelled (much to my surprise) fantastic. The presentation really was spot on throughout, you can tell this is something Arbennig pride themselves with and they do it all without compromising portion sizes or flavour. The ribs were full of flavour, cooked perfectly with the meat easing off the bone and totally delicious, according to my parents. My father just wanted more! It’s worth mentioning here that the care taken in Arbennig to source their ingredients from local, fresh and often family-run suppliers really shines through in the quality of their dishes, these ribs being no exception.

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The braised short ribs

My boyfriend and I opted for the roasted cod loin where the quality of the fish was also very noticeable, heightening the overall dish which was so bloody tasty we’d have it again any time. The ingredients complimented each other perfectly in every way, the zing of the lemon purée marrying with the fresh fish yet contrasting with the scorched baby gem. It’s such a good feeling knowing that you’re supporting local suppliers, within a local family-run business and the meals taste all the better for it. I love that supporting local is such a big thing in Cardiff and long may it continue if these are the results!

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Roasted cod loin & Israeli cous cous etc.

Several glasses of wine and many comments on how fantastic everything was later, it was time for dessert. Again, all three of them on the set menu were chosen between us: my mother’s blood orange, biscuit crumble and almond meringue combo was another perfectly balanced combination, the meringue (my favourite) was just crumbly enough without breaking apart too easily and tasted incredible. My father’s rhubarb and almond tart was also impressive looking, well-balanced in flavour & texture and very satisfying. But the star of the show for me was the warm chocolate fondant with honeycomb and sorbet… Oh. My. God.

I’ve seen many a fondant go horribly wrong on Masterchef but, from that, I’ve got a good enough idea of what they’re supposed to be like; this was absolute perfection let me tell you. Held its own on the plate just until you dipped your spoon in to gently tear it apart and then out came the oozing, gooey, warm and gorgeous chocolate. I’m a huge chocoholic anyway and honeycomb is one of my favourite things to pair with it, so I can honestly say this is a serious contender for my favourite dessert ever. Perhaps even taking the top spot. The sorbet was the cherry on top, presenting that brilliant contrast between warm and cool, sponge and smooth and just all-round awesome-ness. I’d have it again tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after that… (Except I’ve given up chocolate for lent ☹ *cries*)

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The work of art that was the chocolate fondant…

The service at Arbennig was just as fantastic as the food, too. The staff were very attentive, seeing to our every need or request, happily explaining anything we asked about and were genuinely interested in how much we were enjoying our experience. The place was a little chilly when we first arrived but warmed up when the other tables started filling up (and once our wine had kicked in). All in all, everything was perfectly balanced, very well flavoured and prepared and presented to a high standard. I can’t recommend it enough and can’t wait to go back to try the normal menu; by which I just mean not a set menu, as the restaurant menu itself changes weekly in line with what’s fresh and in season – isn’t that brilliant? Exactly how things should be, not to mention always keeping it interesting. Have you tried Arbennig yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Note: this post was not sponsored, we paid for our meal in full and all views are my own.