The Marvellous Metropole, Llandrindod Wells

I recently stayed at The Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells on business and felt it worth writing something about. I’d definitely like to return!

The hotel itself is family-run and has been in the same family ever since its conception in 1896, which these days is something very special! This old Victorian building in the lovely little spa town of Llandrindod Wells has a truly rustic charm with creaking stairs, great grand mirrors and ornately decorated wallpaper and is 4* rated, deservedly so. The rooms were a good size (from my experience), the service was very friendly and accommodating and the food was very good. There’s a spa where we took a lovely dip in the hot tub – could use a lick of paint here or there but the facilities were of a good standard and it fit the bill well for a relaxing swim & soak before dinner. Everything else such as the sauna and showers appear to have been renovated in the last few years; there was also a small gym room, mostly cardio machines but there seemed enough weights for a decent mini session.

Primarily, let’s get back to the food.

As part of our stay we had a 3 course dinner in the award-winning Radnor Miles Restaurant which is dedicated to using only the freshest organic, local produce – music to my very ears! I’ve spoken before on the importance of using local, fresh ingredients and I love that in Wales we’re in the prime environment to do so.
Of the options (click here for the menu we had) my choices were as follows:

Chef’s Homemade Soup of The Day
– which was Sweet Potato. Smooth, refreshing and light yet good, full-bodied flavour (as sometimes I find potato soups can be a little bland); this was the perfect starter to whet the appetite and leave me looking forward to the courses to come. It also went superbly with the accompanying buttered brown roll (or two), but what soup would be complete without a bread roll anyway.

Fresh Pasta with Prawns – again very fresh and well seasoned, plus it’s always a bonus for me when the prawns are already shelled as I’m not great at the whole taking its face and legs off thing… However, as lovely as this main was, I slightly regretting choosing something as heavy/large. Pasta is easily one of my all time favourite foods and I regularly choose it when eating out, yet it runs the risk of being a little too filling and leaving you struggling to find room for dessert which, if you’ve a sweet tooth like me, is not what you want. Nevertheless, it was a very tasty pasta and had it not been part of a 3-course deal I’d certainly choose it again.

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce (and ice cream) – honestly, it’s rare that I ever choose a dessert that doesn’t involve ice cream. Or, more often than not, I’ll ask for ice cream to be added on as well as I did in this case. Both the dessert and the starter were lovely and warm without being too hot, yet not the kind of warm when you’re worried it may have just been reheated. This was all fresh and fantastic. As a result, the butterscotch sauce ran off the top and around the sides with a delicious viscosity and the ice cream began to soften quickly, just as it all should. It tasted lovely, although could have been a little more moist; myself and two of my colleagues agreed that sadly, it just didn’t quite top the sticky toffee pudding we had at The Hilton bottomless brunch a few months ago.

All in all, however, it was a very tasty, good quality, fresh meal produced to a high standard. The service throughout our dinner – and throughout our entire stay – was impeccable and attentive to our every need. The restaurant itself was also an appropriate temperature, something I’ve not mentioned in previous posts but recently came to my attention as a definite influential factor in the enjoyment of a meal and/or experience, especially if you feel the cold like me it can be distracting or even off-putting. Following the meal, we marched back to Spencer’s Bar and Brasserie where I continued to make good use of the gin collection on offer, comprising the Warner Edwards rhubarb gin I’ve become rather fond of, which I was very pleasantly surprised with – a big selling point for my wanting to return next time I’m in Mid-Wales.

I’d definitely recommend The Metropole if you’re in the area, it was a very enjoyable stay from start to finish and personally it ticked all the boxes. Great food, nice spa & gym, comfortable room, bath, well-stocked bar (although this is likely because there’s not much else in Llandrindod Wells) and very helpful, highly professional staff. The only criticism I did have was there seemed a distinct lack of power sockets in my room, but you can’t have everything and sometimes it’s nice to unplug!

Have you stayed here before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

My fabulous first year!

So today my blog is officially a year old – time flies! It’s definitely been a learning curve and I’m still learning new things all the time with plenty more still yet to come. However, I thought I’d write a quick little update on what I’ve learned in my first year, so here goes…

It is a hobby, but it’s a lot more time-consuming than you may first realise.

Social media is a huge part of our lives these days, for better for worse, and it’s where many of our main influencers now come from. With this in mind, it’s a hugely important part of promoting yourself and gaining recognition as a blogger and widening your audience. Yes, some people are much better at taking the typical ‘instagrammable’ photos than others especially if they have a fancy camera, but you can still do a lot with the photos you do take just by trying different angles and edits/effects. Either way, this takes time; I’ve found that working full time in something unrelated can make it hard to juggle everything so the fact you can save things as drafts and schedule posts nowadays is an absolute life-saver – it’s basically a part-time job! Although it does depend on how seriously you want to take it and at the end of the day, I’ve gathered you get out what you put in.

Also, twitter is a huge part of engagement and networking with other bloggers, restaurants and influencers so when the twitter convo strikes up it’s important not to be late to the party if at all possible. I’ve also realised there’s no need to be afraid to talk to people you recognise from twitter or Instagram, this is how you make meaningful connections and even friendships and therefore gain supporters for your blog and vice versa. It also means that if you both go to the same event or go out together, you both come away with useful material.

Don’t be afraid to do things on your own.

File_000 (73)For me this wasn’t really an issue anyway as I enjoy meeting and speaking to new people and don’t find social situations too awkward, but it links in with the above in that it’s important to physically talk to others you recognise from or have connected with in the blogosphere as this is how you make friendships and good connections and may just lead you onto opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise known about (such as the fabulous Cardiff Gin Club, for example!).

Read other peoples’ blogs and take interest.

This, again links back to making friends and connections but also, as a new and developing blogger it was really useful reading other popular blogs to get a sense of how everyone portrays their own individual style and also how other bloggers have designed their websites, whether there’s anything you like about theirs that you can work into yours somehow. I’m yet to do a review and rehaul of my page but it’s something I’ll be considering over the next few months so watch this space… Plus, reading other peoples blogs can give you ideas for new posts of your own, give you great insight into some of the places on your to-eat list you perhaps haven’t quite got around to yet, or even just give you something to talk about next time you see them.

Finally, there are no hard and fast rules. Yes, engagement and all the PR side of things is important and if you’re dead set on posting three times daily then you’re doing very well for yourself, however it’s different for everyone. Just remember that comparing yourself to others never did anyone any good – true in many aspects of life. As I said, it starts as a hobby at the end of the day and if you start stressing yourself out over it all (as I have done many a time and probably still will) then you’re in danger of losing the funFile_000 (72) and why you started it in the first place.

For me, it’s a creative outlet where I don’t usually get one in my day job. Also happens to give me a perfect excuse to eat out a lot. However through this I’ve met some lovely people and eaten some fantastic food and I really look forward to seeing where else I can go with it all.

 

Happy Anniversary to me!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*the cover photo is a personalised olive wood cheese board my boyfriend was lovely enough to buy me!

Boozy Bottomless Brunch at The Hilton, Cardiff

A few weeks ago I broke my Bottomless Brunch virginity at The Hilton, Cardiff and it was such a good deal I felt it worth shouting about. We went for a work friend’s birthday (because who doesn’t love bottomless prosecco?!) and we were pleasantly impressed by how attentive all the servers were, not once did our prosecco actually get to the bottom of the glass before being refilled – ideal! From when all guests sit down you have 90 mins to take full advantage of the free refills to the best of your ability and we were determined to do just that. (So much so that it became an afternoon of day-drinking in the sunshine afterwards but what can I say, make the most of our youth!)

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There isn’t just prosecco at this Bottomless Brunch, Grey the Hilton’s restaurant also offer two courses within the deal, some savoury and some sweets. You can even pick two of the same if you wanted to, we’re not here to judge. My first choice was the crushed avocado & chilli onimg_5388-1 rye toast with a poached free-range egg. The rye toast was thick and delicious and not too overpowering or heavy, whilst the avocado and egg were perfectly balanced in flavour and, as always, really complimented each other. This is already one of my favourite weekend breakfast/brunches and this was no different, I’d definitely have it again. It was a fairly small portion, more so than if you were ordering in one of Cardiff’s many brilliant breakfast spots (Juno Lounge, The Pot Bistro, Society Standard just to name a few) however this was part of a two course brunch so room was needed for more…

Next, I chose a sweet as my second course and had the warm sticky toffee pudding with local sea salted caramel ice cream. Sticky toffee pudding isn’t honestly something I usually go for, I’m often more of a img_5391gooey chocolate brownie or as-much-ice-cream-as-you-can-eat kind of girl, but this dessert restored my faith and really hit the spot. It was delicious! There was the perfect amount of toffee sauce in my opinion (it was smothered in it) and the pudding wasn’t too hot, just the right temperature that it went perfectly with the ice cream. My only slight critique with this dish was that the actual plate it was served on didn’t quite lend itself to scooping up every last bit of ice cream/sauce, perhaps something with steeper edges might’ve been more appropriate.

All in all, we all had a great time and enjoyed our meals – even more so the prosecco! We worked out that we must’ve had somewhere between 5-6 glasses each in the 90 mins, (it was hard to tell as they were topped up before being fully emptied) which equates to just over a bottle each. The bill was £30 each for the two courses and the ‘bottomless’ prosecco, which we found very reasonable. This was perfect for a girls’ outing, the restaurant was full of hen do’s, birthdays and groups of women celebrating various occasions, and I will surely be doing it again the next time I find good enough reason to! (Although, do we really need any excuse?)

Have you tried this bottomless brunch? Or have you any others you’d recommend? Let me know!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Fancy food in Penarth etc.

I’d read somewhere about Etc, Penarth before but hadn’t got round to visiting them yet. Last week, however, my boyfriend decided to splash out on date night and booked us in for our first visit – what a treat it was.

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A friend who’d been there told me it was ‘very gold’ and upon entry I saw exactly what he meant, but it wasn’t the tacky kind of gold-plated everything you sometimes see; in fact it was all very tasteful, classy and complimented the already-very-impressive (decorative and functional) champagne cabinet fantastically, giving a shimmering effect and a warm-feel to the place overall. Particularly exciting were the fire features outside, reminiscent of a warm holiday evening somewhere in continental Europe (rather than an unusually warm Welsh summer phenomenon). As soon as we walked in the service was brilliant, staff were very attentive to our needs and I was glad to have a window seat with none of that awkward squeezing-past-your-table-in-a-rush business you get in some places that can be a bit uncomfortable – plus, prime position for people-watching. Everyone was enjoying their meals and having a great time, it was a great place to be. And then, we ate…

It’s rather a rare occurrence when I’m spoilt for choice in restaurant menus, but eventually we decided on fishcakes (salmon and prawn served with ‘ocean pearls’) and scallops (glazed with coconut milk and topped with laver seaweed) for starters. Both were very well presented and both the perfect amount so as to leave plenty of room for dinner. The flavours balanced brilliantly, we had nothing but praise for either dish, in fact the scallops may have even been the best we’ve had yet!

Next, after some deliberation, we chose our mains: crab meat linguine with a chilli and cherry tomato sauce and confit duck leg with parsnip purée, a range of vegetables and pineapple jus. Both were well balanced and generously portioned! Sadly I couldn’t finish all mine (as I wanted to leave plenty of room for dessert) although it’s worth noting that this was the nicest crab meat I’ve had yet, it’s been a bit hit & miss for me in the past. The duck also seemed light but well-done, flaking off the bone nicely in the 5 minutes it lasted on the plate before being scoffed away with glee.

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Finally came the show-stopper, the one we’d all (us and the ladies next to us) been waiting for: the volcano. After years of watching Masterchef I’ve seen so many sweat, cry, agonise over and triumph the complexity of the coveted chocolate fondant, yet this was my chance to finally try one for myself for the first time. Very glad it wasn’t me making it. Moreover, no dessert in my eyes is complete without at least one scoop of ice cream, yet this volcano went one step further and boasted a steaming pink foam that spilled over and gave the erupting volcano effect that was so exciting. Needless to say, the foaming pink cylindrical nature of this was far too entertaining for all the wrong reasons (head over to Instagram to see the video), but it did taste rather nice in addition to the rest of the plate, almost strawberry milkshake-like. On the other side of the table sat the vanilla panna cotta with fresh berries and a raspberry coulis, another first but for my other half this time. This was also was very much enjoyed and well presented.

All in all, we had a fantastic evening at Etc, Penarth and I really would recommend it if you fancy a treat or something a little fancier for your date night (we love any excuse to get dressed up!). It is a bit higher in price than your standard evening meal but we felt this was deserved, not only for the food but for the atmosphere, service and experience overall. For a truly perfect finish, you could even go for a gorgeous evening stroll around your favourite Penarth viewing spot or the harbour like we did.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Meat the new kid at 156

File_000 (50)Today marks the official opening of Meat at 156, City Road’s newest independent burger bar; I seriously recommend you get yourself down there. Great burgers and even better milkshakes, this is one to watch!

We arrived at the bloggers launch event on Saturday night not knowing what to expect (this was my first launch event, scary but exciting!) and boy were we impressed. Very welcoming and super friendly, the staff were great fetching us anything and everything we needed. First of all we tried the milkshakes: mine was a bubblegum and my flatmate went File_005 (9)for Oreo, both were incredible! Just the right amount of creamy thickness without feeling like a dairy overload, mine was wonderfully sweet and bubblegum-like without tasting sickly, it was brilliant! The only thing could’ve made it better was the addition of some bubblegum flavour millions sweets and that would be the dream… My flatmate went for the Oreo milkshake to begin and this, again, was amazing. Often you can find that Oreo milkshakes are too bitty with biscuit chunks and these can be too big to fit in the straw etc (all together a bit of a faff) but this wasn’t the case at Meat at 156. These were ones that Kelis was talking about… hands-down the best milkshakes we’ve ever had and would 100% go back again for these alone – honestly go give them a try!

Next was a burger and chips each: The Texan consisted of a beef patty with cheddar cheese, hickory BBQ sauce and fried onion rings – it was a beast! The meat was succulent and all the ingredients worked perfectly together I’m told, so top marks for this one. Mine was a Meat At Signature burger with two Quorn patties, American cheese and the Meat At signature sauce. Deeelish.
I’ve always wondered why restaurants don’t seem to serve Quorn, I’d rather that than some of the sad excuses of veggie burgers I’ve had before (you know, the ones that are literally just some potato and frozen veg shoved together in breadcrumbs), I think it’s brill! The signature sauce had little bits of coleslaw-type crunchiness in it and definitely made the burger, I can’t figure out what exactly it was and I don’t want to, just trust me it was lush. Will definitely be having again! The chips came along in cute little baskets and were just the right kind of skinny fries without the excessive saltiness that you can sometimes get from certain popular fast-food restaurants (not naming any names). Also, you can’t beat a cracking coleslaw on the side. Altogether, despite normally being a sweet potato fries fan all-the-way, this really hit the spot.

File_003 (11)Speaking of fries, the dirty fries next appeared on our table. A plate of them covered in a cottage-style cheese that I was a big fan of, BBQ sauce and some smoked paprika for a bit of spice. Following burgers and milkshakes, the other speciality of this brand new hotspot is steaks and I’m told they’re incredible. Perfectly tender with a great range of sauces available, they arrived on a platter with grilled tomatoes, a grilled mushroom, a corn on the cob and another basket of fries. My Quorn substitute was two Quorn patties and two spicy Quorn sausages and went really well the black pepper sauce, although corn on the cob is one of my all time favourites so this kinda stole the show for me for this course! Seriously though, if you’re a steak fan this is 100% worth a try!

And for the grand finale: dessert. Now this, was a dream. The chocolate brownies [photo above courtesy of the Meat at 156 twitter – I was too busy scoffing it down] had a crumbly outside and luxury gooey soft centre, making them perfect for everyone no matter your texture preference (mine was gooey, my flatmate’s was crumbly). Served with a side of smooth ice cream you’re onto a winner! Alternatively, if you’re not a chocoholic there was also a lovely warm sticky toffee pudding that contrasted perfectly with the ice cream to leave me very happy indeed and verrrry full! Would definitely recommend.

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Myself enjoying the food! (Excuse rabbit hands)

All in all, it was a great evening of great food, I definitely walked (waddled) away about four times the size! If you’re after somewhere new and a bit different then try City Road’s latest, it opens officially to the public tonight! Great burgers, great steak, the best milkshakes. What’s not to love?!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

A tasty Mon-mouthful: Monmouthshire Food Festival 2016

Caldicot Castle is a stunning setting for any occasion.  Despite the recent turn of cold weather, the sun still shone proudly for a few minutes as I drove through the estate and started to walk towards the castle gates.  Some classic 80s cheese was playing in the background, I could smell a fresh BBQ, and I could hear my stomach rumbling – this was a good day.

The first thing I noticed was that it was considerably smaller than Abergavenny, but this was to be expected due to the confined nature of the castle itself and the impressive reputation Abergavenny Food Festival itself holds.  There was still plenty to choose from here, although it seemed to be mostly jars, preservatives, sweet treats to take away with you rather things to eat right here and now – nonetheless impressive, of course.

What I did think was a nice bit of something different was that there was a stall dedicated to home delivery vegetable boxes; Riverford Organic Farmers, whose motto “Live Life on the Veg” I think is just brilliant.  Whilst not the cheapest way to get your weekly shopping, I love the fact that you can opt for a ‘100% UK’ veg box to support local produce – my affinity for which I have expressed previously yet, unfortunately, I struggle to do so in my own day-to-day life.  This is something I do intend to rectify, so maybe I’ll give Riverford‘s boxes a try.  Even more exciting is that you can ask for recipe boxes which deliver all the ingredients readily weighed out so that all you need to do is whack them all together and boom!  A lushious, nutritious meal is on your table.  What a dream.  Although, I have to be honest, as a big lover of cooking and baking I sometimes find half the fun in faffing around sorting out all my ingredients, only to realise halfway through I’ve forgotten something and must now improvise – which is where the magic in one’s own recipes really happens.

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Another interesting and unusual addition to the party was Kitchen Garden, a plant centre offering a wide variety of living herbs ranging from Chocolate Mint, to White Rosemary, to Sweet Camomile or even Vietnamese Coriander.  Imagine the possibilities!

My first taster of the day was a Goats Cheese and chutney pizza from Newport-based food van Flour’d Up.  This wood-fired traditional Napolitan pizza was a pleasure to eat (so much so that I didn’t get chance to take a photo before it was all gone…) and I have to say, the base was the perfect level of thin and crispy for my liking!  My only criticism would be the more cheese the merrier… but to be honest I was so hungry it was still amazing.  The customer service I couldn’t fault; they saw I was looking after a very hungover friend and brought it over to my table for me once ready.  Top effort guys, thank you!

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Flour’d Up and their mobile wood-fired pizza oven!

Another little wander around the stalls brought me (inevitably) towards the beers & ciders, where I settled on Brecon Brewing; a bottle of their limited edition Olicana IPA to be exact, which I’m actually sipping right now as I write.  At first it tastes like your usual British IPA, yet there’s a subtle after-taste that gives it that edge; sort of fruity, a little bit bitter, it’s hard to place but very enjoyable.  And noticeably cheaper than the likes of Brewdog, who’s Punk IPA I am a huge fan of, don’t get me wrong, but a bigger bottle for a smaller price is always a winner.  I’ll more-than-happily drink both again regardless.

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My smart-looking tipple: Olicana IPA

I turned around to find an old friend Chock Shop there to greet me; their spreads at food festivals continue to amaze and impress me!  Always so much choice and arranged so file_000-15tantalisingly, especially when the words “would you like that with chocolate sauce and cream?” are mentioned… I mean, who could say no?  This time I went for a plain chocolate brownie with a strawberry on top and, as much as I love banoffee, I preferred this to my last selection.  There was less of a smack in the face of sugar and more of the classic gooey, stodgy (in a good way) texture which I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of.  Aside from the fact that it smelled amazing, I also imagine this would be an absolute dream warm with ice cream – I’ll certainly try that next time.

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Another amazing spread from Chock Shop!

My sweet tooth didn’t stop there, however, leading me towards Shelly’s Foods in the top right corner.  Here I tried a taster cup of small chunks of millionaire shortbread drizzled with caramel sauce.  A very guilty pleasure but much appreciated after a busy week – I’m sure you all know the feeling – especially as once again there was fantastically friendly service.
file_003-3Above all, Monmouthshire Food Festival seemed to me to be one of the happiest places on earth this weekend.  Everyone who served you, stopped to speak to you about their products, or even just caught your eye in passing had a smile on their face and a genuine interest in you as a person, not just a customer.  It was lovely to feel a part of, even if just for a few hours.  This community-feel resonates with me personally as a country bumpkin and rural village girl at heart; a reminder of the true value of kindness and friendliness, no matter what else is going on in this crazy world.

On that slightly philosophical note, my food adventure for the day was complete.  I stood in awe for a while, gazing around at the castle itself which provided a brilliant backdrop for the whole thing.  Its enclosed and cosy nature enhanced and encapsulated that community feel.  I’d recommend Monmouthshire Food Festival as a nice little wander during a day out and about but perhaps not so much a whole day in itself, in my opinion, due to its limited size.  Still, I very much enjoyed my experience; Caldicot Castle certainly caught my eye as an ideal spot for a summer picnic sometime, maybe next year I’ll return!  For now though, as the days get colder and the nights get longer I eagerly await one of the best parts of the winter/festive season… Christmas Markets!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks to Juno Lounge for their hospitality whilst I posted this using their wifi (mine had run out at home) – I’m a big fan and promise I’ll write about you soon!

Protein banana-oat muffins

I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a bit bored with the same flavour protein powder after a while and whilst I love all this ‘clean eating’ business, I still struggle to resist sweet treats like cakes when temptation strikes!  So I decided to try my hand at putting my protein into baking to mix things up a bit.  There are loads of different whey protein recipes online to choose from but after reading a few I decided to do my own version and kinda make it up as I went along… turned out pretty well!  So here goes: my protein banana oat muffins recipe – hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:

2 bananas (the riper the better)file_000-11
4 tbsp Greek yoghurt
~180g egg whites (~4 eggs)
2 scoops protein powder (mine is My Protein’s chocolate brownie flavour)
~60g sugar substitute (I used honey, but you can use coconut sugar/alternative)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarb of soda
~180g oats
~20g chia seeds (optional)
3 scoops/~150g wholemeal self-raising flour

Method:

  • Put the oven on at 180ºC and spray Fry light once or twice into each muffin hole of your muffin tray, at a distance so as to cover the whole area and avoid sticking – in my opinion, this is much easier than using cupcake cases but just a personal preference
  • Chop/break up the bananas into chunks, then mash in a bowl with a fork until smooth
  • Pour the flour, protein powder, oats, sugar substitute, baking powder and bicarb of soda into a large mixing bowl, mix together and form a well in the middle
  • Add the banana, egg whites and Greek yoghurt into the well and mix until combined (this can be a bit of a workout in itself…)
  • Scoop the mixture into the muffin holes, they will be quite full but enough for 12 large muffins or 16 or so smaller ones
  • Bake at 180ºC for 17-20 mins, then cool for 5 mins in the tray and transfer to a cooling rack

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And that’s that folks!  Hopefully your muffins should come out looking like mine did as pictured above and smelling wonderful.  Plus, they’ll last a good few days in air-tight tupperware/the fridge so you can spread them out over the week rather than pig out all at once (which, with protein, I wouldn’t recommend).  These really are perfect as a quick breakfast on the go, post-workout snack, or coupled with ice cream or natural yoghurt as a fitness-friendly dessert!  ‘Let them eat cake’, as they say.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx