Meal prep top tips; Charlie’s cheats

#MealPrep has become a huge thing recently with the boom in food and fitness on Instagram and throughout our current culture; this is not to say that it didn’t exist before, of course it did, but getting people thinking more about their food can surely never be a bad thing.

Personally, I go a little bit nuts if I don’t plan my meals out. Not only because it results in spending way more on my weekly shop without a set shopping list, but also because I like to be organised and know what to expect and when. Plus, reducing your food waste is a huge bonus for your pocket and the environment if you plan it right. So, how do you begin to make it part of your routine?

Cook in bulk

I don’t mean you have to make a cottage pie for 8 and freeze the entire thing, but if you usually cook for one then cooking a little extra is usually easier because most recipes IMG_6227cater for two anyway and you can then have dinner again for lunch the next day without any extra fuss. Simple and effective.

The best dishes to do this with tend to be pastas, casseroles, curries, soups etc. but to be honest the key for me is rice. Simple, white rice (purely because it cooks quicker than whole grain, but it’s up to you) is super easy to cook a big batch of and can last you a good few days if you don’t mind eating it cold. If you do want to heat it up be very careful and be sure to absolutely zap it! If you have a steamer as well then you can chop your veg and have that steaming away at the same time, perfect. As I said, this for me is key because I can cook four lunches worth of rice & veg in one go (simply add tuna/chicken/protein of your choice), all whilst cooking my evening dinner at the same time. [Pictured is a Gousto halloumi salad which I’ll come back to later].

Keep it simple

IMG_6030As stated above, tuna, rice and mixed veg is a pretty simple, balanced lunch to prepare. But it works. Don’t get me wrong, it can get boring after a while! In these cases, however, I like to mix it up by sometimes roasting some butternut squash, parsnips, chickpeas etc. instead or having Quorn sausages as my protein rather than fish. This is only a base meal, there’s nothing to stop you having leftovers once or twice a week instead. Have a play around and find what works for you, something that’s easy to prepare but also well-balanced and hits the spot.

Pick your meals by their ingredients

First off when planning your menu & shopping list, pick one or two meals you really fancy this week – spag bol, fajitas, or cottage pie for example. Then write these in for the appropriate day of the week (i.e. Tuesday dinner, Wednesday lunch) and base the rest on similar ingredients. Take fajitas for example:

  • mince/Quorn/fish (optional, beans & chickpeas would be a fine base for a vegan version*),
  • peppers,
  • kidney beans/black beans/tin of mixed beans,
  • chickpeas,
  • red onion,
  • fajita spice mix (I use Schwartz ‘cos it’s in a handy little jar),
  • butternut squash or sweet potato, if you like*
  • wholegrain wraps

Think about these ingredients, therefore, in relation to the rest of the week: peppers you could use again to steam or roast for lunches; sweet potato could be a mash with sausages or homemade chips or even form part of a hearty salad; sausage/meat/fish could go with the remaining sweet potato or veg; you could even use mince (or Quorn mince) and halve it between the fajitas and a cottage pie, allowing you to use the remaining peppers, beans, sweet potato and onion all in one.

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[Bad] example of my meal prep weekly calendar

At the end of the day it’s totally up to you, but personally I like to think about what I’m going to use the ingredients on my shopping list for before I buy them so I can make sure I use them all and there’s as little waste as possible. This week, for example, I’ve got fajitas on my menu but I’ve converted it to a burrito bowl with rice instead because I don’t think I’ll use a whole packet of wraps and from personal experience they don’t freeze well (plus they come packaged in plastic which I’m trying to reduce, but that’s another post for another day!)

Stock your cupboards

The best thing I find to reduce your spending and food waste whilst getting in a good, balanced meal is to have well-stocked cupboards. Think tins; tuna, mixed beans, red kidney beans, black beans, baked beans (I like my beans… we get it), chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, and rice pudding in case of emergencies. Also frozen veg can be a life-saver. Whilst I’m not an advocate of using frozen veg all of the time – I personally think that frozen broccoli and carrots bags are gross and remove most of the actual flavour – but frozen peas and sweetcorn are real saviours in my house if I’ve run out of fresh veg or I’m trying to stretch it out ’til payday. Even better, if you happen to have a few packets of microwave rice in the cupboard for emergencies then if you’re ever caught off-guard you can just grab a tin of tuna, a packet of micro-rice and chuck some frozen peas in a small tupperware. Boom! A convenient, healthy lunch with no fuss! (For some more healthy work lunch ideas refer back to my previous post which also touches on food prep).

Finally, keep it exciting!

No one wants to eat exactly the same meals every single day of the week! Whilst it’s great to be consistent, it’s also great to try new things or make small changes to make all the difference to your meal time satisfaction. One of the ways I like to do this is to order Gousto boxes from time to time [examples below], where you can pick your meals for the week online or on their app and all the ingredients come readily weighed out and carefully packaged delivered to your door. Yes, I have mentioned these boxes before and no, (sadly) I’m not being sponsored to do so, I just genuinely find them a really good way of trying new foods, cooking new foods and they can take the hassle out of dinner times because those meals are then planned for you and all you have to do is sort out lunches and breakfasts. The minimum portions you can get is 2 but even if you’re only cooking for yourself, have one for dinner and one for lunch!

My only gripe with these is that the packaging is pretty over-the-top. They can also get pricey week-on-week so personally, I’ve had a break; but I definitely recommend them to anyone wanting fresh inspiration!

IMG_4427.JPGOne last point to remember: don’t forget snacks. If you’re a snacker then factor this in too else this could end up being an additional cost over the week you hadn’t initially planned for. Whether that’s making your own healthy snacks such as protein balls [pictured left, a #LeanIn15 recipe] or fresh fruit and yoghurt, or adding a box of energy bars into your weekly shop, it’ll all help in the long-run!

 

So, there you have it. My top tips for introducing successful meal prep into your own lifestyle 🙂 once you get into the swing, you get so used to it that it feels normal, trust me! Any other tips and tricks you have or if you find the above useful, feel free to comment below and let me know. Best of luck!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Top 5 Cardiff breakfast spots: Charlie’s current cravings

I don’t know about you but I really feel like breakfast (or brunch) has upped its game recently. Gone are the days when going out for breakfast just meant a full English or a greasy fry-up; now it’s all about the picturesque pancake stack, the avocado on toast or the perfectly poached eggs we see flooding our Instagram feeds. I, however, welcome this change with open arms (I’ve never been much of one for full English breakfasts anyway) so have rounded up my current favourite breakfast/brunch spots in Cardiff.

In no particular order…

  • Juno Lounge, Wellfield Rd

I’ve written about this place before and honestly really miss the days of living just over the road. It saved me from many a hangover and hosted me writing many a blog post in the early days. Juno is great for any occasion in my opinion (and it’s pup friendly which is a huge bonus!) but for breakfast I’d recommend: the avocado brunch, triple-stacked buttermilk pancakes with fruit & yoghurt OR bacon & syrup, or the lounge breakfast (like a fry-up) also available as vegetarian. They’ve also recently added sweet potato waffles to the menu which look and sound delicious…

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Sorry, I’m always too hungry to snap breakfast… but used to love writing here with a burger & pint!

  • The Moos, Whitchurch Rd

A wonderful little vegan cafe which celebrated its first birthday earlier this year, The Moos is a great place to go for a filling, healthy breakfast. Their speciality is smoothie bowls and/or açai bowls which come in a variety of colours, wonderfully decorated and taste as good as they look. There’s also avocado toast if you need to satisfy that craving, as well as a range of delicious sweet treats, takeaway wraps & sandwiches and a recently installed pick-your-own salad bar so you can easily take home a lunch or snack for later. It’s also worth noting that AIM yoga studio has not long opened in the space above the cafe with a wide range of classes available to book online – dream combination really!

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Yes, this was all for me… I was hungry that day…

  • Barkers 

These cafes are split into Barkers Tea House and Coffee Barkers, one in each of the arcades either side of High Street in town. Both are cute, comfortable and perfect for a casual catch-up with a friend, afternoon tea (booking is necessary), or a weekend brunch with a nice hot pot of tea. The eggs royale and salmon & cream cheese bagel are my personal favourites, with plenty of freshly made sandwiches, paninis and cakey bits also on offer. It’s without doubt one of my go-to places in town and I look forward to one day trying the afternoon tea!

  • Milk & Sugar/Llaeth & siwgr

After seeing such a buzz online about the opening of the new branch in the Old Library in town, I went to try it out with The Octopus Diaries last month. I can safely say it was one of my favourite brunches so far! We both went for the chilli avocado & poached eggs on toast (obviously) and it was dreamy, perfect yolk if ever there was one (see my instagram for evidence). It was just enough, not too heavy for a Saturday morning. Other options available include full Welsh breakfast, thick-cut toast with sweet & savoury options, classic cheese omelette and many more including an ever-changing specials board which looked very tasty. The space is big and open without being cold and airy, great for people watching over a delicious breakfast or lunch. I’ll definitely be visiting again!

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Seriously dreamy poached eggs right there…

  • Penylan Pantry

The most recent of my breakfast escapades, this place did not disappoint. I’m sure you can guess what I went for… (organic crushed avocado & chilli on toast with a poached egg, of course) but it was absolutely delicious, so fresh and full of flavour. Another great people watching spot too if you’re sat in the window. I’m keen to go again soon because the menu had so many tantalising options (80% of which are available as gluten-free according to their website!) such as healthy chocolate porridge, the healthy start bowl, homemade Pantry beans & toast and gourmet grilled cheese on toast – the latter of which my boyfriend’s parents tried when we went and said it was delicious. There was a small mix-up with our meal which meant a slight delay but otherwise the quality and flavour were fantastic. There’s also a deli counter, an impressive selection of local organic produce and all kinds of pantry items available to buy (perfect for those Christmas hampers). To top it all off this place has a nice neighbourhood feel, I’m a fan.

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I don’t know who decided to add feta to the mix but definitely a good choice

And there you have it, my current favourite Cardiff brunch & breakfast spots. Trust me, there are many more on my list to visit! Any particular recommendations are most welcome, but if you’re looking for somewhere to brunch this weekend I’d definitely recommend one (or a few) of the above; all of them delicious, fresh and very satisfying.

Happy weekend!
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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

Pigging out at The Pickled Radish, Llandaff

I’d heard tell of The Pickled Radish in Laleston before but hadn’t yet got round to trying the nearest one to me on Llandaff high street. A few weekends ago when my parents were visiting and we were catching up with old friends, it seemed like the perfect time to try somewhere new.

Inside The Pickled Radish the décor portrayed a rustic, slightly edgy/hip but still very comfortable feel and despite my initial table cock-up the staff were great and found us another tableFile_000 (67).jpeg right away. Obviously I’d looked at the menu before we even entered the restaurant so knew exactly what I was after and had been looking forward to it all day, as I do with most food outings where possible (means you can enjoy more of the experience without having to pour over the menu, plus it’s fun to get excited!). Overall however, there seemed a good selection on the menu including Welsh lamb and some other locally sourced ingredients, a great touch – instant brownie points from me. From a pescatarian perspective, there were a few options; the delicious-looking wild beetroot & Brecon Gin cured salmon or a Welsh goats cheese & onion tart (both starters); but in terms of mains there were only really mussels (which I do love but for me, personally, nothing quite beats The Hashery so far for freshness and flavour) and a mushroom pasta dish (which I don’t love, sadly). If you do like mushrooms though you won’t be disappointed, my mother had this dish and said it was delicious!

After tasting a lovely warm squash soup appetiser, I chose the Fancy An Indian as my starter; scallops, coconut, fennel & onion bhaaji’s and several different seasonings – I have to say, it was fantastic! The bhaaji was my favourite although very small; the scallops were so soft and cooked to perfection it was a delight to eat and to look at, decorated with lovely edible flowers which seem to be all the rage at the moment. My mother had the Green Peas & Ham which was a pea veloute with a little ham & spring vegetable bon-bon and some cutesy decorations – very well enjoyed and even more fun to watch our friend serving us pour it onto the plate!

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Falafel & halloumi burger

For mains came my saviour from the chargrill menu: the falafel & halloumi burger with chilli mayo in a brioche bun. I’m sure you can recall from my last post that I always get halloumi when it’s available on a menu, well this was no exception! And this definitely competes with the other halloumi and veggie burgers I’ve had in the past, great balance of flavours & textures and really hit the spot without being too much to handle. The triple cooked chips on the side proved to be a bit too much for myself but hey, the cheese was the important part for me… Other mains in the group included Welsh lamb rump, Sirloin steak and the wild pasta already mentioned. Everyone enjoyed their meal with no complaints, meat well-cooked to our tastes and we’d all be very happy to visit again, only wishing we’d had enough time to stay for a dessert as they all looked very tempting!*

All in all, it was a delicious meal and our service throughout was impeccable. We were served by the acting manager who’d come in from the Laleston branch at short notice, but fair play to him he couldn’t do enough for us! Very friendly and personable too. The only thing to note here is that we were dining at 5.30pm due to a concert in the evening, so we were the only people in there most of the time which may have skewed our experience slightly. Despite this, I look forward to returning – I’ve got my eye on the afternoon tea menu, maybe a few of those desserts too…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*NB: We paid in full for our meal and the restaurant were not aware I’d be writing about them.

Edinburgh Adventures pt.1 – Castle, Kismot & Countryside

I’ve been back over a month now and I still can’t stop thinking about this beautiful, magical place. And by magical I mean literally because Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter himself, something my other half was ridiculously excited about… But let’s start at the beginning.

Whilst our early morning flight might have at first seemed like a bit of an inconvenience, it did, however, mean that we were leaving Bristol airport as the sun began to rise. It was absolutely beautiful – talk about early morning views!

This also meant that we arrived in Edinburgh and got to the hotel around 8am, way earlier than the standard 3pm check-in, although once we arrived to drop off our bags the man working on reception was kind enough to check us into our room straight away hassle-free – if we hadn’t have been so tired, dazed and confused we’d have acted as delighted as we were! We chose to stay in The Village which was a convenient 15 minute drive into town, also hosting a spa and very well-equipped gym which suited us perfectly. After a last-minute room upgrade, we also had Sky TV and a king-size bed – perfect! A quick recovery-nap later, we set out to explore the city and headed straight for the top of our list: the castle.

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We were v big fans of the cute theme

Edinburgh Castle is situated right at the top of the Royal Mile, the buzzing main hub of Edinburgh city centre. The architecture of the whole city especially in this area is astounding; everything has original character and you can walk around and perfectlyFile_003 (3) imagine how it all was back in Victorian times, Edinburgh has managed the miracle of modernising and keeping up with the times whilst retaining and glorifying its originality, history and authenticity. On our approach to the castle we stopped by the Luxury Scottish Ice Cream van, this was a real treat.

As we got chatting the vendor proudly told us of how this was a family business for generations, 100% of the ingredients used are sourced locally within Scotland, many of them coming from Edinburgh itself and surrounding areas, even the flavouring used was naturally and locally produced and how this and the process itself was a best-kept family secret which created the rich, creamy texture that made this ice cream so special. And it was rich, creamy and special – we loved it! I’m a big fan of responsibly sourcing local ingredients (and ice cream, of course) and it makes me so happy to see it proudly advertised like this. It really does make a difference in terms of taste, in my opinion.

The castle itself was great fun to explore and has amazing views out over the city. Standing proudly is a huge cannon named ‘Mons Meg’ who has an incredible history having been capable in her hay-day of blasting a whopping 150kg gunstone two whole miles! There’s also all sorts of passages and look-outs as well as live demonstrations of historical practices, yet our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a quick tea & scone stop and a browse through the gins and whiskeys in the castle shop. I came away with small bottles of two types of Edinburgh Gin and a Stag’s Breath honeycomb whiskey, all of which were delicious, as well as a fridge magnet for my mother’s ever-growing collection.

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Next was our dinner stop which I’d chosen based on a recommendation from a friend and which I could not wait for: Kismot.

Despite being a little away from the main city centre, this family-run independent business is an absolute gem and deservingly highly rated on TripAdvisor. It hosts a wide variety of unique dishes such as the protein passanda, the deshi khani, the Kismot killer and the chocolate massallam as well as the exclusive haggis, marshmallow or chocolate naans. There are still plenty of regular Indian and Bangladeshi dishes to choose from but it’s always great to try something different and this was certainly a treat; I choseFile_004 (3) the marshmallow naan and a king prawn chocolate massallam (featured right) aka grated milk chocolate in a tandoori yoghurt and cream sauce. Although this sounds strange, like a bowl of chocolate sauce, it was actually deliciously creamy and rich and the chocolate added texture rather than overpowering with its sweetness. Genuinely an incredible dish, I would 100% recommend.

Also, the marshmallow naan I have been preaching to everyone about since my return as it was absolutely amazing! Again, sounds strange but I loved it, without a doubt File_005 (4)my favourite naan I’ve ever tasted despite its sugary stickyness. The other half chose the exclusive homemade deshi khani (featured left) which comes with its meat on the bone for extra added flavour. All in all, we both had brilliant plates of food and would definitely go back again – although maybe don’t order too much if you go because we struggled to finish and I was very upset that we couldn’t take it home and save for later (due to the obvious lack of microwaves in hotel rooms).

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Next day, full of fuel for the adventure, we decided to take on Arthur’s Seat in the (temporary) glorious sunshine. There are two different routes you can take and being the seasoned, bold adventurers we are we went for the more challenging route up, saving the leisurely stroll for the way back down. The views were incredible, looking out over the city with the castle standing proudly over it, this was a city we had instantly fallen in love with. A bit of a scramble and what felt like several thousand steep steps later, we made it to the top and almost fell back down again – the winds were whipping up a right old frenzy and I clung to the summit for dear life. But, views were totally worth it. 4 kilometers, 6036 steps and just over an hour very well spent and would certainly recommend to anyone visiting Edinburgh.

To be continued in part 2…

 

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Sort yourself out this Saturday night with Street Food @ Depot!

It’s Saturday, it’s been a long week and you really fancy a good night with good food, beer and friends. This is the place to go: street food socials have started up at Depot as of last week with a range of differing pop ups each week throughout 2017 – so there’s no reason not to go see for yourself!

There’s funky fairy lights and jazzy decorations all over, the usual Depot wooden tree shining proudly in the centre. There’s also a funky little caravan at the back with a super cool inside and a bench for chilling on, whilst bean bags and deckchairs near the entrance allow you to relax and pretend you’re on a paradise beach – although really, you could call food festivals a kind of paradise in my opinion. I’ve said this many times before (and my flatmates know only too well) but I believe fairy lights to be so special for the warm, fuzzy, cosy feeling they instantly bring to any setting, especially when coloured paper lanterns are also involved as is the case here. There’s just something magical about them that brings a lovely atmosphere to a place, trust me.

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Last week when I went down the special guests were: Brother Thai, The Bearded Taco, Doughboys, Got Beef and Slow Pig. All had tantalisingly good-looking menus and the bar was well stocked featuring a local favourite of mine – Pipes beer. Sadly, I was still on my Dryathlon so couldn’t indulge but I can’t wait to do exactly that at their Bar Open event this coming weekend! [As a side note, I raised almost £250 overall which I’m super chuffed with!]

After a wander around and considering all the options, my first meal of choice was file_003-8the vegan Thai roti from Brother Thai: wok fried spring greens, beansprouts and lemongrass in a lush southern Thai style paste, all wrapped up in a paratha (like a chapati) with fresh herbs and some Thai ‘slaw. I’d seen these guys previously at Street Food Circus back in the summer and loved what they had on offer but didn’t get chance to try them then – I’m so glad I did this time because this was delish! There’s nothing like freshly stir-fried spring greens, especially alongside the satisfying crunch of the slaw and with the juices from the paste soaking through nicely to give the paratha a beautiful flavour. I did struggle to keep it all wrapped up but hey, where’s the harm in eating with our hands every now and again? (Plus I did manage to get hold of a fork in the end to help me out)

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The Bearded Taco’s super cute establishment

Next on the menu: a ‘Flawsome Taco’ from The Bearded Taco. This delectable little package was composed of Middle Eastern falafel with hummus, tabbouleh, tzaziki and fresh parsley. As there was a 2 for £6 deal, I shared this order with my flatmate (1 taco File_000 (41).jpegeach) who prior to this had sampled the new and already legendary Donald Trump burger from Got Beef (featured right) – Chinese leaf, bacon, Russian dressing, Mexican nacho cheese sauce and topped with a tiny pickle… Brilliant. It tasted good too apparently, although the cheese was pretty messy. Anyway, the other taco we chose in this deal was ‘Rage Against the Tagine’ (also brilliantly named) consisting of a Moroccan chicken & stone fruit tagine, a carrot, almond & chickpea slaw, harissa yoghurt and fresh coriander. We can’t fault either of them, both went down an absolute treat and hit the spot perfectly! Very well balanced, well portioned, the right proportion of salad/slaw to meat/falafel and altogether a gorgeous little mouthful. The chicken was very tender in the best possible way, I’m told. I’d seen The Bearded Taco back in the summer at Street Food Circus but hadn’t had chance to try them until now (I was waiting for there to be a veggie option to choose from) and I will certainly be going back for more next time.

Every menu at street food social was very tempting and looked delicious and, as I said, there are different pop ups week-to-week so I’d 100% recommend getting yourself down there for a look one weekend. Keep an eye on the Depot Instagram for the latest updates! If you want really good, local, honest food with a great atmosphere and a decent selection of drinks to match, this is the place to spend your Saturday evening!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

 

Kayla meet & greet and a healthy fast-food treat @ LEON

Saturday 14th January. The day I met my idol, Kayla Itsines. It was so surreal and I had no idea what to say! But luckily I made friends in the queue and we all supported each other (and calmed each others’ nerves). It was lovely to experience the BBG community that Kayla has created and to meet her in the flesh was a dream come true! Here’s my goofy happy face for us all to laugh about:

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Not only has she created this incredible community and made fitness and healthy living accessible to so many women, regardless of previous experience or lifestyle, but she’s also become a great role model for learning to love yourself, exercising because you love your body not because you hate it. 2017 is going to be the year to body confidence she says, and I surely hope so.

Anyway, enough about that. Food time!

A few simple Google searches was all I needed to come across this exciting new development residing in Birmingham’s recently refurbished New Street Station. Leon restaurants offer healthy, simple fast-food with the view to making it much easier to eat well on the high street than currently tends to be the case – ‘why can’t fast food be good for you too?’ Exactly.

IMG_0675.JPGLeon are so dedicated to being as healthy and good for you as possible that they work with resident nutritionists to ensure the menu caters for gym bunnies and couch potatoes alike, as well as for every possible allergy or dietary requirement you can think of (well, that I can think of) be it wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, vegan, vegetarian, nut allergies and even low glycemic load for diabetics. The same applies to their children’s menu where the focus is on keeping sugars, salts and saturated fats to a minimum, which I think is absolutely fantastic! Surely the best way to get into a healthy lifestyle is to start off young so it becomes natural habit? (I know, I feel sorry for my future children too).

Besides their impressive – and thus far unique, in my experience – dedication to nutritionally-balanced food that’s super good for you, it was their equally unrivalled dedication to sustainability and eco-friendliness which really drew me in. As a very keen geography graduate I’m all about sustainability where possible and so are these guys; they are founding members of the Sustainable Restaurant Association (awesome) which helps restaurants learn to source their ingredients, engage with local communities and manage their environmental impact in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner.

img_1766Turns out that restaurants account for almost half of what British people spend on food, which is a hell of a lot when you think about it! However, this means that if we take action to encourage restaurants to become more sustainable in their behaviours and practices, this will eventually permeate through the food chain and have significant positive impacts on the way food is farmed and the way we consume. Which can only be a good thing! I mean, think about it: if we spend over half of our food money on eating out, just imagine what the impact of the restaurant industry is on food production and the food chain as a whole. When you go to a restaurant you want everything on the menu to be readily available, right? All that food has to come from somewhere. Let’s not get into the whole global food crisis thing because that’s another debate for another day, but if we can make small changes in the way we shop and eat and manage our food sources then this can have a huge impact and ultimately help to secure our foodie future.

Now, obviously there’s also a big focus on recycling, water saving, waste management andimg_9123 energy efficiency but I could go on all day. Let’s get to the food itself. As per usual, my mother chose something I could happily dip into as well: the Sweet Potato and Falafel Hot
Box which also contains chickpeas, a grilled red pepper and lots of herbs and spices to form this kick-ass Middle Eastern style classic. The falafel was soft and crumbly but not too dry, the flavours were perfectly balanced and to be honest it was an absolute joy to eat.

fullsizerender-5For my brother: the Chicken Burger composed of a chargrilled butterfly chicken thigh, an assortment of fresh salad and an olive oil mayo in a sesame seed bun. He also chose the baked fries to accompany this and I can’t even describe how good these were – like nothing you’ve ever tasted before and something I’d go as far as to say you shouldn’t die without trying. Much healthier for you than normal fries due to the baking rather than frying and they’re sprinkled with a special Leon seasoning that is just a taste sensation. Every time I visit Birmingham from now on it won’t be complete without some of these fries!

Moroccan Meatballs Hot Box was my father’s wise choice, where grilled meatballs in a spiced tomato sauce met Italian brown rice, toasted seeds, fresh herbs and a lovely fresh coleslaw. Baked fries made another appearance here and much to my delight, my father & brother couldn’t manage to finish both portions… What a shame! All the more for Charles. My actual main course, however, was a perfectly spiced Sweet potato, Kale and Okra stew in a spiced peanut butter sauce – a modern twist on a West African classic that was an absolute dream in a box. A fully recyclable box, of course. I would happily eat this over and over again; even just the rice was a job very well done. This recipe actually features in their new cookbook Fast & Free which I’m now seriously tempted to buy – if so, keep an eye on the Instagram for my attempts at recreating this.

We also had a couple of smoothies to go with our meals – whilst my dad tortured me with every sip of his Camden pale ale (Dryathlon hurts when eating out, I’ve discovered, but if you’d like to donate you can do here!). The Clean Green Shake was really nice, sweeter than I anticipated but not sickly by any means. I’ll go for that next time I think! This time I had opted for the Blueberry & Elderflower Kefir smoothie which was nice and tasted very good for you, I’ve read up a little about kefir before, but I did prefer the green shake to be honest. I’m just more of a sweet person, it’s a personal thing. I did indulge in a couple of their sweet treats to take home later which were delicious – a pistachio and sweet potato Fronut and a type of healthy brownie thing. Yum.

Overall it’s a 9/10 from me, only deducting a point because I would’ve liked my table wiped down before sitting but I guess that’s fast food. There are so many things on the menu I want to try, I’m really hoping that Leon comes to Cardiff pretty soon so I can do! They’ve said their vision is to have one in every capital city so let’s keep our fingers crossed people… Definitely recommend!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx