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Latest Purchases #88 – Sephora Haul

Possibly the visit I was most looking forward to making whilst we were in America, I had a list and was a woman on a mission when I went to Sephora in Georgetown, Washington! I am so surprised this store hasn’t made it to the UK but I think that just makes it a little bit more special when you do get to visit one. I picked up a range of make-up and beauty items, some I had been lusting after for a while and others I grabbed on a whim. I also bought two lipsticks which have gone missing since returning home…I’m still hoping they will turn up one day soon!

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First up, a little bottle of Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray that I bought as a present for Ian. I don’t use anything like this in my hair but I’m told this stuff is the best so like the good wife that I am, I popped one in my basket.

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Next, a bronzer from Sephora’s own make-up range in the shade Aruba. This formula has some serious shimmer so gives a lovely glow when used. It is quite dark but with a light hand, gives a beautiful golden sun-kissed look.

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I had to pick up another one of the Instant Nail Polish Removers when I saw it. It is one of the best I have used and my nail varnish was so badly chipped, I used it as soon as we got back to our hotel room! I was toying with this and the ‘white chocolate’ version from Ciate but it was such a tiny pot for the same price, I thought the Sephora one would last a bit longer.

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Next, a Kat Von D Tattoo Liner in the shade Trooper. I had been after one of these eyeliners for so long and they are raved about in the beauty world. I have used this a couple of times and am pretty impressed. The staying power is the best I have seen in a liquid eyeliner. My only complaint is that it isn’t as deep a black as I was expecting but you can build up the colour quite easily. The tip is really unique too – very fine but you can get a thick or thin line from it. I now wish I had picked up a couple of other items from her line as the packaging seems just as beautiful as the products.

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A bit of a less glamorous purchase now – deodorant! I have read a lot lately about how harmful aerosol deodorants can be so decided to try a more natural version and see how I get on. I had read recommendations for the Pure Vanilla Healthy Deodorant from LaVanila so picked up a stick.

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I picked up these Sephora Sleeping Masks for gifts and really wish I had bought myself one too!

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Next, a cleansing oil to try out from Boscia (another one recommended by beauty bloggers). I use these type of cleansers every evening and keep finding gems so hopefully this one will prove as good!

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One reason I love/ hate Sephora is how easy they make it for you to spend more than you had planned! I wanted to try out the First Aid Beauty Radiance Pads (a favourite of Lily Pebbles) but when I saw this lovely kit with their Face Cleanser and Ultra Repair Cream included, I decided to try out a bit more from the range.

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A real treat now from Tarte. Their Amazonian Clay 12-hour Blushers are raved about but quite pricey. After not buying one the last time I was on holiday, I decided to try out the shade Tipsy, a gorgeous bright coral-pink shade. I also love products that are embossed and this pretty jungle path means I will be really reluctant to use it too much!

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I have saved the best for last as this was the purchase I was most excited about trying. I love the ‘Sephora Favourites’ boxes where they select the best items from different brands based on a theme such as ‘bronzers’ (which I have bought in the past). I picked up the ‘Time to Prime’ box which contains a variety of amazing primers. Included is a Formula X Base Coat, an Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer, an Urban Decay Subversion Lash Primer, a Smashbox 24-Hour Photo Finish Shadow Primer, a Bite Beauty Line and Define Lip Primer and a Living Proof Prime Style Extender for Hair. I think you’ll agree, this is a pretty awesome collection!

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Sunday Catch-up #23

Hello! This has been an interesting week for me as I have decided to try giving up sugar for 10 days…yeah, fun! I kept seeing more and more people trying this and saying how amazing they feel so I thought I would give it a go. What nobody mentions is the killer oh-my-god-I-cannot-even-open-my-eyes headache you get on about day 2 or 3! I seriously cannot remember feeling so bad but then I thought of how it was really just my body craving those toxins which made me determined to see it through. So far (6 days in) I have found I am sleeping really well, my skin looks great and I have lost just over 4lbs since Monday. If I manage to stick with this then I will probably write another post on it with any hints and tips I pick up.

This week I have been…

Making: the most of sunny afternoons with a run around the village

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Going: to village fetes

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Wearing: my new H&M shirt

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Eating: this delicious starter at the Muddy Duck this week – crispy hens egg, asparagus, sun-blush tomatoes and Parmesan

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Drinking: this dark chocolate almond milk – it tastes amazing as a replacement for almond milk in my overnight oats!

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Reading: this new book – I haven’t started it yet but when I saw that it was about a guy who fell off the sugar-free bandwagon when he befriended a man who owned a doughnut shop, I had to get it!

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Watching: The Purge: Anarchy film – a really dark thriller

Buying: so many nuts and seeds!

Planning: non-sugar meals which is really hard…any recipe recommendations welcome!

Cooking: fish tacos

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Baking: nothing this week

Writing: my blog posts for next week – I’m trying to post daily

Favouriting: Hannah Gale’s Trek America posts…they are making me so excited about our trip this summer!

Working on: choosing a healthy snack instead of crisps or chocolate

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Trying to decide: if these sugar-free headaches will be worth it?!

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Wishing: I can stay a bit more motivated when I get home in the evening

Enjoying: this postcard from my friend who is in Copenhagen which contains actual flower seeds – such a good idea!

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Needing: this horrible bruise on my arm to disappear

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Feeling: quite proud of my first nail striping attempt

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Giggling at: these cute piglets trying to get the best spot in the sunshine

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Restaurant Review – Taplow House Hotel

It feels like I haven’t done a good restaurant review for ages! I think that’s probably because we keep eating at places I have already reviewed or just places that don’t lend themselves to a good blog post.

Anyway, today I wanted to share the amazing meal Ian and I enjoyed at Taplow House Hotel when we stayed there recently. We had a three course meal included in our hotel stay which I always like as it means you don’t have to have that argument about who will be the designated driver!

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We started with a good bottle of Merlot while we perused the menu. There were 4 or 5 options for starter, main and dessert which were a nice variety of meat, fish and veggie dishes. The dining room was beautifully decorated but I have to say there wasn’t much atmosphere…maybe that was simply because it was a Wednesday evening though.

I am going to get my other niggle out the way now because I really couldn’t find fault with the food. The night we ate at the Taplow House Hotel, there was a large party in the other room which meant the service in the restaurant suffered a bit. We actually had to wait for almost an hour for our starters which normally would really annoy me but because we were ‘on holiday’ I didn’t mind too much as we were enjoying our wine and conversation.

Onto our (much anticipated!) starters…

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I had a dish of lightly whipped goats cheese which came with salt baked and pickled beetroot, green apple, sesame seed sponge, blackberries and leaves. The pairing of goats cheese and beetroot is a favourite of mine and this was one of those perfectly balanced dishes with a lovely variety of flavours and textures.

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Ian had the grilled mackerel (which were smoked in-house) which came with avocado, celeriac remoulade, mouli, pickled mustard seeds and shiso cress. Again, this was a well-balanced dish with the rich fish matched well against the accompaniments.

I think you can usually judge how good a restaurant is after you’ve had the starters and I have to say we were both really impressed with what we had had so far.

For my main, I really fancied fish so ordered the fillet of cod. This was a huge portion (not complaining!) and it just flaked away perfectly. It was served with artichokes, cockles, mini turnips, squid ink gnocchi and a smoked herring roe butter sauce. Whilst it did look a bit messy on the plate, this dish was incredible! The rich sauce brought everything together and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.

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Ian opted for the lamb which again looked a bit messy on the plate but more than delivered on taste. There was a braised neck of lamb fillet and loin as well as sweetbreads served with pearl barley, charred baby leeks, celeriac and a lovely rosemary gravy.

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Onto pudding now and I had the white chocolate cheesecake which turned out to be a delightful deconstructed version and one of my favourite dishes of the night. The filling part of the cheesecake part was one of the balls sat atop the biscuit crumbs, the other being a rich vanilla ice cream. Surrounding the rest of the plate was a combination of chocolate ganache, shards of milk chocolate, hazelnuts, cocoa nib sherbet and cocoa marshmallows. It was truly delicious and every mouthful was different.

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Ian doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do so opted for the cheeseboard which had a nice variety of local cheeses, crackers and a chutney.

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If this hotel was nearby, I would be back to this restaurant in a flash. Although the atmosphere and service left a bit to be desired, I absolutely loved the food here and that would be enough to tempt me back. x

Recipe – Roasted Salmon, Pea and Leek Quiche

I made this dish for dinner last weekend and I have to admit that it was absolutely delicious; so much so that I am going out to repurchase the ingredients so I can enjoy it again soon!

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This is a real cheat’s quiche as I didn’t do my usual trick of buying ready-made pastry, but instead bought a ready-made pastry case. I still don’t have a problem with this though as a good quiche is all about the filling in my opinion and this salmon one is a good ‘un.

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Now, let’s talk fish. Ordinary smoked salmon would work fine here but if you can get yourself a roasted salmon fillet then I think the flavour and texture will be that little bit better. I bought a kiln roasted salmon fillet that had a dill flavour to it and it was delicious!

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Ingredients

A knob of butter

1 leek

75g of peas

150ml of crème fraîche

2 eggs

3 tablespoons of milk

Salt and pepper

1 ready-made pastry case

1 roasted salmon fillet

A handful of grated Parmesan cheese

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating the oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4
  • In a large pan, melt the butter and gently fry the leek until softened

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  • Add the peas and stir for another few minutes before removing from the heat
  • In a jug, whisk together the crème fraîche, eggs, milk and season well
  • Take your pastry case and layer the leeks and peas along the base

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  • Flake over the salmon fillet

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  • Carefully pour over the egg mixture ensuring it is evenly spread around the fillings

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  • Sprinkle over the Parmesan cheese and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes

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  • Remove when golden brown and the filling has set

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  • Allow to cool slightly then serve – we had ours with a spinach and artichoke side salad and it was fabulous!

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Restaurant Review – DF Mexico, Shoreditch

On a recent mini-break to London, Ian and I looked to our hip London friends (yes Cat and Lucie, that’s you!) for some restaurant recommendations. Neither of them have let me down yet and this choice was a good’un too!

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Located near Spitalfields market and part of the Wahaca group, DF Mexico offers fresh ‘New York-style’ Mexican food. I really liked the interior of this place. I believe it is housed in an old brewery and it definitely had that industrial factory feel to it.

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After we had been shown to our booth and perused the menu, it was time to order. This is a kind of self-service restaurant where you go up and enter your food requests onto a screen and collet your drinks. I didn’t mind doing this too much as it was a casual mid-week dinner but it doesn’t really make your dining experience feel as much of a treat as good waitress service can.

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I opted for a raspberry and hibiscus frozen margarita which was sharp, fruity and refreshing. Ian had the original and enjoyed the lime and tequila kick too.

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Despite ordering at pretty much the same time, our food didn’t all arrive together which meant we had to find a member of staff and have a moan…the sassy side of me would say this probably wouldn’t happen with decent waitress service but there you go!

However, once the food was on the table, it was really good. We shared some veggie nachos which came piled high with tortilla chips, guacamole, salsa, refried beans, cheese sour cream and some lovely pink pickled onions. I could have devoured the whole tray myself!

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I have a weakness for fish tacos and these panko-covered cod tacos were incredible. Served with a red slaw and chipotle mayonnaise, the balance of flavours and textures were perfect. I had some red rice on the side which was fine but nothing special.

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My dining companions tried the burrito (huge and stuffed to bursting), burgers (more of the same) with a variety of sides and all agreed this was pretty good Mexican fare and well-priced too.

I have to compare this place to my absolute favourite London Mexican restaurant, Wahaca, and I don’t think DF Mexico is going to take that title yet. Whilst the food was amazing, the menu was pretty standard Mexican fare and I wasn’t a huge fan of the self-service ordering system. Saying that, we quite often pop to Spitalfields market for a wander when in London, and I would definitely head back to DF Mexico for a bite to eat and a few margaritas! x

Our London Break (Warning: lots of food photos!)

Ian and I have just got home after a wonderful few days away in the big smoke. He has gone off for a run whereas I have chosen a cuppa, a catch-up of this week’s Apprentice and sorting through my photos instead! I decided to take my ‘proper’ camera up to London with me in order to practise using it for a variety of shots rather than just reaching for my iPhone. I did look like a complete tourist with it around my neck but hopefully I managed to take some better photos and I definitely feel like I have gotten to ‘know’ this camera better after shooting a variety of inside, outside and (of course!) foodie pictures!

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As you have probably guessed by now, I am one of those weirdos who wants to drag out a mini-break for as long as possible and thinks a holiday starts at the airport (or even at the hotel the night before a flight!). This trip was no different and before we even got on the train we had treated ourselves to a Bertinet Bakery (the best in Bath!) brunch and I had a new book ready to get stuck into on my Kindle.

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Upon arrival, we headed straight to our hotel in trendy Dalston, Avo Hotel. We have a good variety of friends we usually stay with in London, but for this trip we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel and I found this little boutique hotel which turned out to be cheaper than your bog-standard Travelodge and it always feels good to help the independents. We stayed in the King Top-floor Suite which we loved. It had a huge and comfortable king bed, a double sofa with good tea and coffee facilities and a fabulous bathroom with sparkly black tiles, a rainfall shower and nice Elemis products. Oh, and a view of the Gherkin! It is a family-run business and really friendly. There was always someone behind the front desk and they offered a simple but tasty breakfast too.

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After we had settled in, we hopped back on the tube and went to see the poppies at the Tower of London. I thought this was stunning and a very moving installation although be prepared for the crowds!

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Seeing as it was such a gorgeous autumnal afternoon, we decided to have a wander along the river via Borough Market and a drink with a view as the sun set.

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We also noticed several decorated buses dotted about. I hadn’t heard of this project but I do love these city-wide art installations and it was great to see the different varieties.

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That evening we were meeting our friends, Cat and Lucie, to try out a new restaurant; DF Mexico in Shoreditch. I will be writing a separate restaurant review of this soon but it was a great night with good friends and margaritas…need I say more?!

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The next morning, after a quick bite to eat at our hotel, we paid a visit to the Saatchi Gallery. There were a couple of installations I wanted to see (the ants and the oil room) which we both loved and then we wandered around the remaining rooms. I really like this gallery – there are bold and daring installations which can invoke a love/ hate reaction and you don’t feel like you need to be an ‘art expert’ to enjoy yourself. I think this may be my new favourite art gallery in London.

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Next, it was time for lunch and I had heard amazing things about Comptoir Libanais which was just around the corner from the Saatchi. Again, I will do a restaurant review soon but I really enjoyed our lunch here, from the décor to the sharing platter to the wonderful rose-mint tea and baklava.

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Unfortunately, it was a bit of a grey and drizzly afternoon so we decided to head over to the Tate Modern to shelter and soak up a bit more culture. I’m not sure if it was due to the half-term crowds but I wasn’t really feeling this visit compared to how much I loved the Saatchi Gallery. We didn’t stay too long here and instead popped back to the hotel for a warming hot chocolate and to get glammed up for our evening out.

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For an early dinner, we had booked an afternoon tea with a twist…burgers! We ate at BRGR where we had a delicious selection of mini sliders, drinks and puddings – my review is coming soon!

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Then, we walked over to the Noel Coward theatre to watch Shakespeare in Love (via Leicester Square where we tried to grab a glimpse of Matthew McConaughey at his latest premiere!). For our first wedding anniversary, where it is traditional to give a ‘paper’ gift, Ian bought me these tickets and being fans of the film, both had high hopes for the play. It did not disappoint and was actually better than I thought it would be. It had some really funny moments followed by some very poignant ones and there was a dog which easily makes it deserve its five star reviews!

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I also discovered Crème Brûlée flavour Häagen-Dazs during the interval which was a highlight for me!

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On our way home, we both had the munchies and noticed a Jamie Oliver pop-up diner selling burgers and hotdogs – perfect midnight snacks!

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Today we were pretty knackered so just enjoyed a late-morning brunch at an amazing American-style diner near our hotel, aptly named The Diner, a quick photo opportunity in front of Big Ben and my first pumpkin-spiced latte of the season before catching the train back to Bath.

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Suffice to say, after such an indulgent foodie few days, my shopping basket was full of fruit and veg this afternoon to restore some much needed balance!

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)