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Restaurant Review – The Milk Churn

A couple of weekends ago, we fancied trying a new place for lunch so I booked us a table at this Hall and Woodhouse pub. Part of the Badger Brewery chain, Ian loves their ales and, although their menu isn’t exactly fine dining, it offers really good pub grub.

I can’t say the pub itself is in the nicest setting but The Milk Churn is housed in a gorgeous building which has a converted barn feel to it.

We started off with a couple of their ales – I love ‘Golden Glory’ which is a light ale with a peach flavour and reminds me of summer holidays camping in Dorset!

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For my lunch, I ordered a Buffalo Chicken Burger which was coated in Frank’s hot wing sauce and served with a blue cheese mayo. This reminded me so much of the chicken wings we enjoyed in America and although the bun fell apart a bit, the chips were really good!

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Ian opted for a Fish Dog which is basically a hot dog with beer-battered cod goujons in place of a sausage, with mushy peas and tartare sauce. It may sound a bit strange but it really worked and reminded me of a slightly fancier fish-finger sandwich (one of my favourite comfort-food lunches!)

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We also shared some hot wings which were a little on the small and dry side for me.

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I always save some room for a pudding and The Milk Churn offer ‘mini puds’ which I think is a great idea if you are torn between two desserts! I ordered a mini toffee cheesecake and a mini chocolate pot.

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The cheesecake was OK but the ratio between the toffee sauce, biscuit and cream were a little off. My favourite by far was the chocolate pot which had a rich dark chocolate mousse topped with vanilla panna cotta. This was a perfect combination and I could have eaten two or three of them!

We had a lovely lunch here at The Milk Churn. I probably wouldn’t come back here for an evening meal as it has a bit of a ‘chain’ feel to it and I much prefer a local, country pub but it was a great lunch venue and we are big fans of the ales served here.

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Restaurant Review – A Midweek Treat at the Muddy Duck

It feels slightly strange blogging about our village pub as we are up there on a frequent basis (maybe a little too frequent!) but we had such a good meal recently, I felt it merited a post. Rather than trying somewhere new, Ian and I decided to wander up to our local for a midweek dinner.

I started with an Aperol Spritz cocktail which looked like a glass of Iron-Bru but this Italian aperitif has a lovely bitter-sweet taste and is apparently rather popular with the Hackney hipsters.

For my starter, I went for a salad which included two of my favourite ingredients: beetroot and goats cheese. Containing golden yellow and deep purple beetroot, which had been both pickled and roasted, this salad had a rich sweetness from the beets matched by the sharpness of the goats cheese, some of which had been whipped with lemon to add another texture and flavour. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I think the only thing missing was a crunch of some nuts or crispy bread.

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Ian had a twist on ham, pea and mint in the form of this rustic ham terrine, served with a pea puree, mint and griddled new potatoes.  This was a hearty little starter and I was glad we opted to share them!

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For my main, I went for another veggie option in the form of courgette arancini. Arancini, for those of you who are yet to discover this Italian delight, are little deep fried balls of risotto and one of those things I have to order when I see it on a menu! These ones were courgette arancini, with a cheesy, rich filling and served with marinated mozzarella, griddled vegetables and courgette and radish ribbons. The combination of these ingredients were spot on and I have my own take on these rice balls coming soon!

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Ian went for the lamb served two ways but I have to admit I was enjoying my own dinner so much (and trying to pick apart the recipe so I could cook it myself at home!) that I don’t think I even tried any!

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Ordering two veggie courses left me with some room for pudding and I could not resist the sticky toffee pudding, served with honeycomb and clotted cream ice-cream. This was a lovely end to the evening and no doubt we will be back soon x

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Recipe – Cola Cupcakes

Happy weekend! It is a rather dull and grey Saturday here but I forced myself to go for a run and was really pleased to see I have hit the half stone mark on my New Year weight loss! I keep seeing the saying about summer bikini bodies being made in winter and I guess it’s true although it’s so tough to pull on your running shoes when it’s cold and windy outside.

In a complete about-turn, I am going to talk cupcakes now! I only made a small batch of these again and have been rationing myself to half a cake per day so although I am eating much healthier at the moment, I don’t feel completely denied of all treats.

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These have that lovely sweet, almost lemony cola flavour and I put this in both the cake and the icing to get a double hit of flavour…and of course, I just had to decorate them with some cola bottles too!

Ingredients (for 8 cupcakes)

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For the cakes

40g of butter or margarine, at room temperature

140g of caster sugar

120g of plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of cola syrup/ flavouring

140ml of milk

1 egg

For the icing

125g of icing sugar

40g of butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon of cola flavouring

15ml of milk

Cola bottles for decoration

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4 and line your muffin tray with cupcake cases
  • I used my Kitchen Aid for the mixing but it can obviously be done by hand too! Whisk together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined

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  • In a separate jug, mix the cola flavouring, milk and egg then gradually add this to the dry ingredients in the mixer until smooth

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  • Pour the batter into the cupcake cases (about half to two-thirds full) and then pop them in the oven

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  • Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked throughout

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  • Allow to cool while you make the frosting

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  • Whisk together the icing sugar and butter
  • In a separate jug or cup, mix the cola flavouring and milk then add it to the icing until it is light and fluffy
  • Once the cupcakes have cooled, spread the icing on top with a knife or teaspoon
  • Top with the cola bottles and enjoy!

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Recipe – Parma Violet Cupcakes

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It feels like ages since I baked but truth be told we received sooooo many chocolates and biscuits for Christmas that we have spent the last few weeks working our way through them. I still have one Chocolate Orange lurking at the back of the cupboard but am pretty much done with the various M&S biscuit tins and Miniature Heroes so I felt it was time to dust off the Kitchen Aid and get baking.

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The trouble with being a keen baker and trying to eat a bit healthier is that the two just don’t go together. However, we all need a sweet treat now and again so I am going to try baking half batches of cupcakes and treats in order to ration myself slightly.

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Now, I know this recipe will invoke somewhat of a love/hate reaction in people as rose and violet flavours tend to be that way. I personally love these delicate tastes and these cupcakes are definitely for those that love Parma Violets as there is violet flavouring in both the cakes and the icing. If you are somewhere in the middle of the love/hate spectrum then I would advise replacing the violet flavouring from of the cakes with vanilla extract and just have the violet-flavoured icing.

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As well as using my new violet flavouring (thanks Mum!), I was also able to bake in my new pop-art cupcake cases (thanks Lucie!)…my friends and family know me so well!

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Ingredients (for 6-8 cupcakes)

For the sponge:

40g of butter or margarine at room temperature

140g of caster sugar

120g of plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

A pinch of salt

Half a teaspoon of violet flavouring

140ml of milk

1 egg

For the icing:

125g of icing sugar

40g of butter at room temperature

1 teaspoon of violet flavouring

15ml of milk

Edible glitter to decorate (optional)

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4 and line your muffin tray with cupcake cases
  • I used my Kitchen Aid for the mixing but it can obviously be done by hand too! Whisk together the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until combined

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  • In a separate jug, mix the violet flavouring, milk and eggs then gradually add this to the dry ingredients in the mixer until smooth
  • Pour the batter into the cupcake cases (about half to two-thirds full) and then pop them in the oven

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  • Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked throughout

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  • Allow to cool while you make the frosting

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  • Whisk together the icing sugar and butter
  • In a separate jug or cup, mix the violet flavouring and milk then add it to the icing until it is light and fluffy
  • Once the cupcakes have cooled, spread the icing on top with a knife or teaspoon

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  • I sprinkled some pink edible glitter on top for decoration too

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An Easy-Peasy Breakfast Treat

After tomorrow, I have one more week of work left before we break up for the Christmas holidays. Given how chilly it is first thing in the morning and how hard it is to get out of a warm and cosy bed, I foresee lots of lazy mornings and breakfast in beds coming up.

I wanted to share a little breakfast secret of mine that makes you look like an amazing pastry chef for absolute minimal effort. These cheat-croissants will impress any houseguests, fill your kitchen with the smell of freshly baked pastry goodness and taste pretty wonderful too.

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Available from most supermarkets in the chilled aisle, this nifty little box contains everything you need for oven-fresh pain au chocolat. I made a batch of these last weekend when we had a friend to stay and I have another in the fridge ready to go for this weekend too!

All you need to do is pop open the tube and unroll the dough. You will see the perforated line to pull apart then simply add the chocolate strips and roll them up.

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After 20 minutes in the oven, you will have golden pain au chocs which are most definitely best enjoyed straight away whilst still warm. I think these would be a lovely treat to serve on Christmas morning…although any Sunday morning is always made better with the addition of French pastries.

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There is also a plain croissant variety too which is good if you don’t have such a sweet tooth; I have mine with butter and jam whilst Ian goes all continental and has his stuffed with cheese and ham.

Restaurant Review – Afternoon Tea at BRGR.Co, London

I love afternoon tea but Ian isn’t as much of a fan so in my search for a more man-friendly version of afternoon tea I found BRGR’s offering. Priced at £17, it really isn’t too bad for a treat and I think it is a cool and original way of combining two of my favourite things: burger and cake!

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BRGR is a cool exposed-brick, hot-Spanish waiters kind of place near Oxford Circus where I could easily spend an evening with friends, gossiping over burgers and milkshakes.

Our afternoon tea began with two drinks; a raspberry and bellini and a refreshing ice tea. If I’m being picky, I would say that service was a little slow to get our drinks and food in front of us, especially as the restaurant wasn’t that busy but we weren’t in a rush so it didn’t matter too much.

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Our tray arrived and my first thought was that everything looked very ‘miniature’ but I got stuck in to the burgers straight away. First up was a southern fried chicken and coleslaw slider which was delicious. Crunchy yet juicy in a perfect brioche bun.

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Next up, a cheeseburger which was enough to convince me to return for the full-sized version! I saved the best for last – a lobster and crayfish slider. Overall, the three burgers were the star of the show, well the tray, and I could have eaten another three of them!

I liked the way the puddings were separated on their own little tray to avoid burger-juice contamination and there was a lovely mini vanilla milkshake too.

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The puddings were great actually; a raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, a mini doughnut with a salted caramel sauce and a chocolate brownie.

Overall, this was a perfect pre-theatre treat and a nice twist on afternoon tea if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

 

Recipe – Easy Lemon Meringue Pies

Sometimes you want a really nice dessert but just don’t have the time/ ingredients/ inclination to make both pastry and lemon curd from scratch. Cue my super-easy lemon meringue pies using good quality but short-cut ingredients!

I bought the sweet pastry cases but would also buy a roll of ready-made pastry for this recipe too…it’s definitely OK to cheat when it comes to pastry. Lemon curd is one of my favourite things to spread on toast. I’ve never made it before but it looks pretty simple so I may give it a go in the near future. This time however I bought a jar and it worked perfectly for a quick and easy pudding.

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Ingredients

6 mini sweet pastry cases

6 generous teaspoons of lemon curd

1 egg white

50g of caster sugar

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How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 200°C, Gas Mark 6
  • Fill each pastry case with a generous spoonful of lemon curd

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  • Whisk the egg white until stiff peaks have formed
  • Gradually add the sugar until the mixture is thick and glossy

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  • Spoon the meringue mixture onto the tarts – I like to use the back of a teaspoon to pull into little peaks

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  • Bake for 6 – 8 minutes until the meringue has started to brown

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These looked and tasted great – they were quite light so would be perfect after a hearty Sunday roast! x

Restaurant Review – Comptoir Libanais, Duke of York Square, London

On a recent trip to London, Ian and I were caught in a bit of a downpour upon leaving the Saatchi Gallery so were looking for somewhere nearby to shelter and grab some lunch. I had my heart set on some Middle Eastern food from Ottolenghi’s but when I saw Comptoir Libanais just around the corner, I quickly switched my allegiances!

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Bright and welcoming, the colourful interior of the restaurant made a nice change from all the ‘trendy’ industrial-looking places that seem to keep popping up. If it wasn’t raining, I would have loved to sit on one of these floral seats outside!

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To drink, Ian opted for and arak mojito and I went for something more warming in the form of their famous rose mint tea; a blend of green tea, fresh mint, rose water and sugar. Served in a beautiful silver tea pot and little glass, this was delicious and reminded me of the mint tea I had on a rooftop in Morocco years ago.

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We decided on a tapas-like approach of several small dishes so that we could try a little bit of everything. Our main plate was the mezze platter for two which contained: baba ghanuj, hummus, tabbouleh, falafels, lentil salad, cheese sambousek, pickles and warm pitta bread…phew!

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This was delicious! Not being a fan of aubergine, I had never tried baba ghanuj before but this lovely, smoky dip, which was scattered with pomegranate seeds, may be my new favourite. The falafels and little cheese pastries were divine and the whole plate was just so fresh and vibrant.

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Ian felt he needed something meatier on the table too so we ordered some lamb kibbeh (little minced lamb and pine nut parcels) and some chicken wing specials in a spicy coating, both of which were served with the most moreish dips.

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After our mezze lunch, I fancied something sweet to finish off the rest of my tea so opted for a little platter of mixed baklawa. There was a lovely variety of pastries and fillings but I’m not sure which one was which to be able to say my favourite!

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Unfortunately, there isn’t a great selection of good Middle Eastern restaurants nearby us so the chance to try such a selection was a real treat! I love this way of dining; sharing and trying different combinations and wouldn’t hesitate to return to Comptois Libanais for a second helping.

 

Restaurant Review – An 8-Course Tasting Menu at The Muddy Duck

 Yes, that’s right…8 courses!

When Ian and I saw our local pub was doing a seasonal tasting menu, we signed up immediately as their food is wonderful. I was expecting 4 or 5 courses (which is still pretty extravagant) so imagine my delight when I saw we had 8 dishes lined up for us. Luckily, I had a very light lunch so was ready for a feast!

We started with cocktails by the fire to warm up then moved into the dining room for our first peek at the menu. It all sounded so tasty and completely autumnal. We were also persuaded to have the accompanying wine flight which turned the whole evening rather boozy!

To start, we had a tray of Wiltshire pork canapés. You may have seen my Friday Instagram pictures of the amazing strips of pork crackling we usually get. This platter had some mini sticks (served in the oh so trendy Mason jar), pork belly tempura sticks, three-meat pork pies and a pork fritter all served with a different dipping sauce. I love a pork pie and this black pudding, minced pork and pork terrine combination was delicious. This starter was served with a glass of crisp sparkling cider which was a perfect complement to the porky-ness and a nice twist on starting a meal with a glass of bubbly.

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Next we had what was named on the menu as an Amuse-Bouche but which was actually quite a hearty dish! We had a bowl of woody mushroom velouté with a crispy fried mushroom on top and an enormous Parmesan crisp with a generous drizzle of truffle oil. This was really rich and decadent and if I was being really picky then I may say a smaller bowl would have been better (when I think about how full I was by the end of the night!)

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Then we had a crisp glass of white to be enjoyed with our next course: a free range hens egg, sticky wings, sweetcorn and spring onion. This was a beautifully flavoured creamy chicken base with a scattering of crunchy sweetcorn. I love BBQ chicken wings and the meat just fell of the bone. For me, the best part about this dish was the perfectly cooked egg which had a lovely runny yolk that mixed with the chicken sauce perfectly. There were lots of elements to this plate, including a crunchy cheese crisp, and they worked together wonderfully.

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Another glass of white wine arrived in time for course number 4, our fish course, which looked ever so pretty. We had steamed wild sea bass, celeriac and pickled autumn vegetables. I liked the combination of the vinegary and crunchy veg with the delicate fish although the skin wasn’t crispy so I ended up giving mine to Ian.

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We moved on to a big hearty red wine next which went perfectly with our grouse, Jerusalem artichoke, pumpkins and blackberries. A really beautiful autumnal dish, this was one of my favourites of the night. I had never had grouse before but it had a lovely rich gamey flavour which the sweet blackberries complemented perfectly. There were several sauces and purees on the plate which meant every mouthful tasted different and the wine really brought out all the flavours of the dish.

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Moving onto the sweeter things now, we had a lovely refreshing palate cleanser in the form of a beetroot and champagne granita. This looked great and was just sweet enough too.

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I liked having a cheese course next – I don’t think it always needs to come at the end of a meal. We enjoyed honey truffle roasted figs, crottin de chavignon goats cheese and hazelnuts with a lovely sweet dessert wine. This was a lovely ripe cheese which worked well with the sweetened figs and the crunch of the hazelnuts.

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Pudding time now and my favourite new wine of the evening: this dessert wine was bursting with berry flavours and serving it chilled meant it wasn’t overly sweet either. We had a huge lemon and raspberry meringue for pudding. The lemon curd was amazing but I was slightly disappointed the meringue didn’t have the lovely chewy inside I love – it was more of a crumbly, crunchy texture throughout.

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By now I was getting quite full and feeling the effects of such a generous amount of wine. We had coffee and petit fours to finish the meal. I loved the homemade marshmallow pieces but the chocolate truffles were a tad too bitter for me and I was just so stuffed I really didn’t fancy anything else to eat!

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We were offered a nightcap of warmed brandy too which just about finished me off! I’m not a huge brandy connoisseur so this was probably wasted on me but it was quite nice to be left with that warm, fuzzy feeling inside when we were walking home in the cold.

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Overall, this was an incredible night out, if slightly indulgent for a Tuesday evening! The atmosphere was really relaxed, cosy and welcoming and the explanations of the food and wine flight were not all pretentious or intimidating which I know some tasting menus can be.

I think The Muddy Duck are going to be offering another tasting menu soon and I cannot recommend it enough for a wonderful evening of seasonal, local food.

(The tasting menu was £45 per person and the wine flight was £18 per person)

Restaurant Review – The Milking Parlour, Bradford on Avon

We had a real treat for our date night this week. My lovely friends Hannah and Ben bought me a five-course tasting menu at this new restaurant and it was absolutely amazing!

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Located within the grounds of The Old Manor Hotel just outside Bradford on Avon, this beautiful farmhouse restaurant is welcoming and cosy inside and decorated with quirky wooden whisky signs and a good amount of exposed brick and wooden beams. I’m at that stage now where I kind of know when I walk in somewhere if I’ll really love it and this is definitely my kind of place.

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It was lovely to find out how local and seasonal the tasting menu was. The chef uses as much as possible from the kitchen garden and there is even a smokery, beehives and rare breed pigs on site!

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Anyway…onto the food!

After ordering a nice bottle of red, our first starter was brought out. The waitresses really know their stuff and talked us through each part of the menu as it was served.  To being with we had Chinese pulled pork belly topped with a fat, juicy scallop, some micro herbs and a pipette full of a shitake mushroom sauce. I know some may find the pipette a bit poncey but I thought it was a really fun way of serving this dish.

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Ian and I both loved this first course and it definitely set the standard very high for the rest of the meal. I love scallops and its sweetness went perfectly with the pork and sauce.

Next, we had a pickled beetroot and whipped goats cheese salad served with nuts and leaves. I love this classic combination but for me this dish really won on its textures. Rather than the usual crumbly goats cheese, this was light and whipped, almost like a cream, which tasty very indulgent. I also loved the crunch from the nuts – I plan on trying to recreate this salad at home.

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A fish course next with hay-smoked salmon (smoked on site) and a posh coleslaw-style remoulade made with apple and celeriac and an apple vinaigrette. Again, I loved this dish! The salmon was rich and smoky without the chemical taste you sometimes get with supermarket smoked fish.

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Our main course was beef cheeks which had been slow-cooked all day. I’m a fan of pig cheeks but hadn’t tried beef before. It’s another one of those cheap cuts that are terribly fashionable now and taste wonderful with a generous cooking time. The meat just fell apart and was served with a beefy sauce, crunchy green beans and a woody mushroom puree. Although I thought the portions throughout the evening were perfect for me, at this point Ian did say he was still not feeling very full so maybe some sort of potato would have gone well with this dish.

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Finally, my highlight of the meal – the pudding! We had ‘Monkey Bread’ for dessert, a kind of banana bread cake and proper bread hybrid. There was an almost crusty outer layer with a rich, chocolatey, gooey inside. It was served with a big scoop of clotted cream and a toffee popcorn caramel sauce – absolutely divine!

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Whilst the service was really friendly and informative throughout the evening, it did take ages for the waitress to sort our bill out. normally I wouldn’t mind this but we ate quite late and it was a school night so I was itching to get home into my pjs!

Overall, this was a really amazing dining experience. The location, dining room and food were all great and I love knowing you have found a real local gem too! Thank you to my very generous friends for such a great present xxx