Sunday, 30 June 2013

Fourteas Tea Room, Stratford upon Avon

Recently I found out via Twitter that there is a 1940s themed tearoom in Stratford upon Avon called the Fourteas. Being something of a history buff, I decided I had to visit.

There are some great little touches including period decor, serving staff wearing traditional 1940s clothes, menus made to look like ration books, and even bits of old newspaper hanging next to the actual toilet roll in the toilets!

Fortunately, the products served are not all from the era of rationing, and much of the cuisine is modern in style, although there are nods to the war era with some of the food and drink (the Churchill Club Sandwich; Ovaltine!).

Fourteas afternoon tea with salmon and cucumber sandwiches

The Fourteas source their bread, fruit and veg, and meat from local suppliers in Stratford, and all cakes are baked on site. Check out their menu for more information. The loose leaf tea is also imported by a local supplier in Warwick, The Golden Monkey Tea Company. I was impressed by the range of teas on the menu and that there was even a good choice of caffeine-free fruit/herbal teas for hippy-dippy weirdos like me. I had the Bora Bora Fruit Tea when we visited, which was very good indeed.

Sugarlumps and timer for brewing of tea!
I highly recommend the Fourteas if you fancy having breakfast or lunch in a slightly unusual setting, or if you just fancy a jolly good cup of tea and a piece of cake!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Garden update: radishes, beetroot, courgettes and more!

I managed to spend an hour or two in the garden today after a few weeks of neglect. Fortunately, raised beds are very forgiving.

I thinned out the beetroot and harvested the last of the radishes.

I got rid of the last of the spinach as it had turned into a kind of spinach monster, and moved some of my fennel plants and my marigolds, and planted my courgette plants (kindly donated to me by my master gardener, Vicki!). I think it's looking a fair bit tidier now!

Bottom raised bed: fennel, courgettes and marigolds

Courgette flowers - the bees love them!

Top raised bed: carrots, beetroot, leeks, spring onions, coriander and a couple of marigolds.

Some things are looking a bit floppy as I'd just moved them, but am hoping they'll pick up!

My wild strawberry plant has also now started to fruit and there seems to be a mixture of white and red strawberries! I also think the flowers are really pretty.

Another pretty plant which you can also eat is lemon thyme - beautiful!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Future Foodies, Hotel La Tour, Birmingham

Wednesday just gone saw the fruition of lots of hard work by Dine Birmingham and partners, as Future Foodies was finally upon us. I wrote about the preview and planning evening here.

The event was a massive success with over 400 people in attendance (a little more than the initially anticipated 200). It was great to see so many people turn out to support local food producers in Birmingham. 

More than 20 independent food and drink businesses exhibited at the event, and we had fun sampling as many as we could! Here are some of my best photos from the evening:

Death in the Afternoon cocktails from Le Truc.

Gorgeous cupcakes from Cupkakery

Equally gorgeous cupcakes from Devenish Girl Bakery.

Keg of beer from Beer Geek Brewery.

 Wine brought along by BYWine.

I'm already looking forward to the next Future Foodies event!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Cocktails at the Mailbox, Birmingham

The Mailbox in Birmingham have recently launched a new Cocktail App on Facebook, which allows you to upload photos of cocktails and win some fabulous prizes along the way, including £100 to spend on cocktails!

I was invited to a special evening to celebrate the launch of the app last week, and what an evening it was! I have to admit to not knowing an awful lot about cocktails before last week and not much experience of drinking them either, aside from the inevitable pitchers of Blue Lagoon at Wetherspoon's in my more youthful days. 

The evening began, not with cocktails in fact, but with a subject close to my heart: wine. Wines of Argentina was hosted by Bournville College at their pop up shop in the Mailbox.

We got to try four different wines along with some canapes, and got some lessons in wine tasting and wine/food pairing. 

Once we had all had quite a lot of wine, it was off to Bar Epernay for our first cocktails of the evening. We settled into the Champagne Library and were (fittingly) given some champagne cocktails to try, along with a platter of bread, olives and meats. 

The first cocktail I tried was a bellini but with strawberry puree instead of peach (in the background of the above photo). It was quite pleasant, but not what I would have chosen myself (we were just handed a selection of cocktails). Bar Epernay has a Cocktail of the Month each month, and we were given one of these to try as well. This month's cocktail was Lemon Meringue Pie (foreground of the photo above). I wasn't sure if I liked this one. It was quite a 'heavy' drink and did taste weirdly like a pudding, and I'm not sure that is what I would look for in a cocktail. But it was very interesting at least! A champagne cocktail at Bar Epernay will set you back about £7.50.

Next we headed to Miller & Carter Steakhouse - not a name that suggests cocktails, but nevertheless, cocktails there were! We headed to the bar, where a small section had been cordoned off for us. This time we got to choose a cocktail from the menu, and I chose one of their signature cocktails called the Summer Sling. 

Photos start to get blurrier from this point onwards...
This cocktail contains Bombay Sapphire, elderflower, mango, mint, apple juice and lemonade. I fancied something cool and refreshing and summery to alleviate the stupidly sticky (but rainy) weather, and this absolutely did the trick. It was also dangerously drinkable. The Summer Sling costs £6.95.

We then made our way (perhaps even stumbled a little...) towards Malmaison Brasserie. I'd dined at Malmaison before, but never tried any of their cocktails. At Malmaison we were taken to a private function room and given cocktail-making demonstrations and a chance to have a go at cocktail making ourselves by bar supervisor, Julia. 


This was a very informative part of the evening, as Julia told us some of the history of the cocktails she was mixing. She also tolerated, what was essentially by this point, a room of really quite drunk people very well, and I think she was very patient with us all. I wish at this point I could remember what cocktails I tried here - one of them was a Cosmopolitan, I can tell you that much, and I remember everything being very nice. Malmaison's cocktails usually retail from £6.50 to about £13, according to their menu.

I feel much more educated about cocktails now and havelearnt to appreciate them a little better. It was also great to get a glimpse into the great food and drink retailers in the Mailbox, and I hope to be able to try some of the restaurants soon.

So, if you fancy a cocktail at the Mailbox, don't forget to check out the Cocktail App on Facebook, or upload your pictures to Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #Mailboxcocktails to be in with a chance of winning £100 to spend on cocktails!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Dining out in Tuscany

At the beginning of May, my husband and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by spending a week in the Tuscany region.

We stay in a self-catering villa called Villa Centopino in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, just outside the village of Montecastelli Pisano. As we were self-catering, we only ate out a handful of times, and made use of the fresh local produce for meals, including foodstuffs that the owners of the villa provided for us. The mortadella in particular was amazing.

Villa Centopino

As the Villa is in the middle of the countryside, there were no restaurants within walking distance, although the nearest one was 10 minutes' drive away in the neighbouring village of San Dalmazio. 

We dined at Ristorante La Rocca a couple of times, as it was so close. It serves rustic home-cooked food at a very reasonable price. The staff were very friendly and coped well with our poor attempts at the few words of Italian we can speak. Their English was quite good (better than our Italian), so that helped! The first time we ate there, I had a delicious ravioli dish filled with cheese and spinach with a meat sauce on top. This still remains one of the best things I ate on the holiday. The second time we ate there I had a pizza with olives and anchovies on top, which was also very nice, although I found the base quite thick for an Italian pizza. I still managed to eat most of it, though. The restaurant also has a deli selling meats, cheese and freshly baked cakes. 

On the evening of our anniversary, we booked a table at La Pergola in the town of Radicondoli, which boasts beautiful, panoramic views from the terrace. Unfortunately, the evening we chose to visit, it had been raining and thundering all afternoon (knocking the power out to our villa several times!). 

While the thunder had passed over, it was still raining when we went to the restaurant in the evening, and it was so misty you couldn't see a thing from the terrace. This didn't ruin our enjoyment of the food, however, which was very good. 

For starters we both ordered a trio of bruschetta, not realising how big they would be - really, we could have shared one starter! One was coated in garlic, another with tomato, and the third with cheese. Very nice flavours, even if I couldn't manage it all! 

For main my husband had roast pork (and it looked like most of a pig on his plate!) served with traditional Tuscan beans. I tried a bit of the pork and it was delicious, although my husband apparently didn't rate the beans. I went for the tagliatelle with wild boar sauce (guessing the wild boar was not fresh though, as it was the wrong season?). It tasted good: salty and meaty, although, again, the portion was huge and I couldn't manage all of it. Service in the restaurant was relaxed and friendly. I wish we'd had another chance to go back as the pizzas looked amazing!

The final place we dined at was L'Europeo in Pisa - we visited some of the sights in Pisa on our last day before we flew back from the airport. 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

We were very hungry by the time we arrived in Pisa, so stopped at the first restaurant nearby which looked like it had seats available. Plus a waiter outside had been very friendly and convinced us to take a seat. Now, I realise that a restaurant which is a stone's throw away from the Leaning Tower is going to be catering to mass market tourism, so was never going to be the same as the restaurants we had dined at in the countryside. However, we did not enjoy this meal as much as the others on the holiday. The service was at best nonchalant, at worst, verging on rude. Fortunately, the food was ok, although really quite epic portions. 

I didn't really like the gnocchi with pesto I had for a starter - the gnocchi just seemed to be swimming in the runny sauce and I found the flavours quite overpowering. It looked nothing like the picture on the website. My husband quite enjoyed his prosciuttio and melon. And he also enjoyed his main, even though he "accidentally" ordered the tuna! My main was quite tasty (although, again, huge). I had beef with rocket and parmesan. The beef was nicely cooked and the flavours blended very well together. It probably won't surprise you to learn that this was the most expensive meal of the holiday!

The Baptistry

River Arno

The next blog post about Tuscany will be on the theme of wine!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Recipe: Sausages with homemade 'baked beans'

One of my favourite comfort meals is sausage, mash and baked beans. Usually my baked beans come from a tin, but I was curious to see if I could create something equally comforting from scratch.  I found this recipe for Sausage and Bean Pot on the BBC Good Food website, made a few adaptations and came up with the following. It's not quite the same as Heinz, but is an altogether different brand of yumminess.

Serves 2-3 people.

 6 sausages
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
400ml passata
400g tin borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika (or more depending on how spicy you'd like it!)
worcestershire sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1) Fry the sausages in a large pan for 10 minutes until nice and brown.
2) Chuck in the onion and carrots and simmer with the sausages for about 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute.
3) Tip in the passata, borlotti beans, smoked paprika and worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Stir it all together and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sausages are done.

Serve with creamy mashed-potato.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Future Foodies at Hotel La Tour, Birmingham, 26th June 2013

Future Foodies is a social media food and drink fair being run by Dine Birmingham, and in association with The Gastro Card, Yelp Birmingham and Midlands Food Bloggers. The event will take place on 26th June from 5.30pm until 8.30pm at Hotel La Tour.

For more information or to order your free(!) tickets for the event, please go here:

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a preview and planning evening for the Future Foodies event, which gave me a chance to meet with some of the suppliers who will be there on the 26th (and sample some of their products), as well as a chance to meet fellow bloggers and writers in the area.

If the preview evening is anything to go by, the Future Foodies event promises to be an exciting way to meet independent, local food and drink producers and try something new and different, as well as providing a wonderful celebration of all that Birmingham has to offer.

On Tuesday evening, I tried some delicious canapés provided by Le Truc Café (I particularly liked the steak tartare), and a yummy cocktail rather omninously called Death in the Afternoon.

And then there were cakes and sweets galore, including giant muffins from University College Birmingham, cupcakes with the lightest buttercream ever from Cupkakery, some gorgeous biscuits from Devenish Girl Bakery, mini-desserts from Alto Restaurant at Hotel La Tour, and brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolates) from Miss Apple's Sweets. I tried them all. They were all very good.

The surprise of the preview evening, though, was trying whisky for the first time and enjoying it! Under the expert guidance of Amy Seton from The Birmingham Whisky Club, I tried two very different whiskies and was able to appreciate the complex flavours in both. Amy assured me she will have even more whiskies to try on 26th June.

Beek Geek Brewery was also represented in the drinks section at the preview evening, but I shall leave it to Beer Experiment to lend his expertise in this area (I brought him a sample home).

I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow Midlands bloggers, Word in Veg Ways and British Local Food, and freelance writer Tammy Facey. I'm looking forward to seeing them again and meeting even more bloggers and writers on 26th June.

If you'd like to join in the conversation on Twitter, just use the hashtag #futurefoodies.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Garden update: Wild strawberries!

My wild strawberry plant now has several tiny baby strawberries!