Most of my favourite things begin with a ‘c’. Firstly there’s cake, then cocktails and then the low-calorie hero that is coffee. I have a ‘But first, coffee’ print hanging in a study and a T-shirt that simply says ‘Black Coffee, Please’ for those mornings when talking is too much. I’m a bit of a coffee fangirl, truth be told. The recent ‘Coffee with Currys’ night held at Revolution Newcastle could only therefore appealed more if they gave me cake on arrival. They didn’t, but the first creamy cocktail we were presented with as we waited to take part in a coffee cocktail masterclass came pretty damn close.

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The bloggers event was held in celebration of the fabulous pairing of coffee and alcohol and aimed to show off Curry’s collection of coffee machines. You can find the recipes for the coffee cocktails we made on the night here. We do already have a coffee machine at home, which we were lucky enough to be given last Christmas, though I do wish brands were doing more to solve the problem of plastic coffee pods, I’ve heard that some companies now have recycling plans in place and it’s something I think companies like Currys could look at to reassure people and in turn boost sales.

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There were lots of local bloggers in attendance on the evening and I was particularly pleased to bump into the lovely Sarah from PlainSarahJayne who I used to work with and Chloe’s New Girl in Toon with whom I share mutual Leeds buds.

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Sarah from PlainSarahJayne enjoying her welcome cocktail

During the course of the night we all had to showcase our cocktail making talents and though I wasn’t the most skilled mixologist, I think I put in a performance that my boyfriend would be proud of – he’s usually in charge of the espresso martini making in our house.

I wasn't quite this good!

I wasn’t quite this good!

Do you have a coffee machine in your house? Are coffee and cocktails a winning combo for you? If you have any coffee cocktail recipes of your own, please feel free to share links in the comments below, we are always looking for new recipes to try out!

Curry goes perfectly with a nice cold beer, so I’m told, because I don’t like beer or lager. Believe me I’ve tried to like the stuff and on a super sunny day I can just about force a half an Amstel down but anything darker and I can’t seem to get past a twisty-face inducing mouthful. My record to date is a massive six Estrella on a #ladsladslads night out in Barcelona during Primavera Festival. Hats off to beer drinkers, I’ve no idea how you do it, after six Estrella I was not only sozzled but so extremely bloated I couldn’t possibly contemplate eating anything.

I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur either to be fair – I inevitably flit between Rioja, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco when I order it but a Sommelier and Spice evening was far more appealing to me than a craft beer and curry one would be and so when Angeethi invited us along to sample some wine and curry matchings, I accepted gladly. I’ve been to Angeethi before. When I worked on the nearby Team Valley, my team and I popped in a few time for team outings, so I knew some good quality food would be served up and I was inquisitive to see if I had any innate wine matching instincts. There were a series of starters paired with individual wines and then a round of main course curries where we were given a few wines to sample in one go in order to find our own preferred pairings. As Steve drew the short straw to be designated driver, I bravely consumed twice my quota of wine in order to get a really really good idea of what went well together (not through greediness, honest).

Things started with poppadoms and dips, which we tried not to go mad on as we knew from the pretty menus there was much more to come. The first starter was Chicken Chaat, which was served with a Round Hill white zinfandel rosé – fresh, light and crisp as you’d expect. I’m not usually a rosé fan but this wasn’t as horrendously sweet as some. There was as you can see a fair bit of red onion alongside pomegranate in this dish and through trial and error I realised sipping the rosé brought out a sweetness in the onion.

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Next up was Zaffrani salmon with Sauvignon Blanc Babich Label. I’d have probably picked up a Pinot Grigio if I was pairing at home. We eat salmon at least twice a week in our house, I’m pretty much addicted and so this tandoor salmon was one of my favourites of the evening as was the next starter, the Hara bhara kebab. On previous visits to Angeethi we’ve found that they do veggie food particularly well and this spinach falafel/bhaji-esque ball was delicious. I gobbled up seconds even though I knew I should be saving room for future courses. I wasn’t too keen on the sweet red yoghurt sauce that accompanied it – I’m more of a mint raita fan myself. The last of the picky items were some grilled lamb chops that demanded grilled lamb chops that demanded to be eaten off the bone, accompanied by a nice red Nostros Reserva Pinot Noir, which was probably closest to my usual wine choices.

When I go out for curry I tend to go in one of two directions with my main courses – I either order vegetarian and add a bunch of vegetarian side orders too, so I can try as many things as possible in one go or I choose a lamb dish. The lamb kadhai we were served was very good – a lovely rich, meaty gravy, along with it we had a chicken tikka makhani and fish madras. I love a madras and would probably liked this to have been a mite hotter. I merrily mixed and matched sips of El Cota Rioja Cranza (yay, Rioja!), Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon and The Landings Shiraz Cabernet. For some reason two of my curry photos seemed to have gone missing off my phone (booo!) so for now, here’s the chicken tikka makhani…

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Desserts are often overlooked at Indian restaurants but I always like to try out something authentic rather than diving into an ice cream. I was very pleased to see a gulab jamun paired with Principe de Viana Late Harvest Chardonnay. The wine wasn’t as sickly sweet as some dessert wines and it’s one I’ll be looking up, I don’t usually like Chardonnay but this was my surprise favourite tipple of the evening. I love how stodgy some Indian desserts are and though this might have been too sweet for some, I would have happily had some extra fruity jam oozing over it. God knows where my sweet tooth has come from over the past few years, but I’m starting to feel like I’m more of a pudding than pasty girl!

We had a fabulous evening at Angeethi and will no doubt be back some more salmon soon. What’s your favourite beverage to have with a curry?

 

I have mixed views about chain restaurants – I don’t visit them very regularly simply because I like variety and I don’t believe in paying for something I could whip up easily at home. I’ve been called a food snob on more than one occasion due to my resistance to drop upwards of a tenner on work outings by visiting chain restaurants where I suspect the kitchens do more reheating than cooking.

I know other food enthusiasts are against chains in principle and I have read many posts about how chains stifle creativity, raise rents and make our cities look too similar. At the other side of the argument – chains provide jobs the same way independent restaurants do. I would love to see more protection in place so that we don’t end up with totally identical streets up and down the country, ones that give independents a better chance to flourish alongside good chains and stop smaller names being priced out of rent deals. I’m not about to pay someone a tenner for a meal they’ve merely defrosted and plated up but I don’t boycott chain restaurants completely either. Las Iguanas has long been my chain restaurant of choice when the occasion calls for it – it usually has options for vegetarian friends, the cocktail happy hour is great and service is usually good too. I’m pleased to say Jamie’s has now been added to the list of high street names that are really rather good at what they do.

We were recently invited to try the menu at Jamie’s Italian Newcastle. We received a discount on our meal but this review is a true reflection of our experience on what was a very busy Friday evening. We were greeted at the door and taken to our table by floor staff and introduced to our waitress who was able to explain the menu fully, recommend sides and managed to offer water for the table unprompted, all good so far. We dined early (around 6.30) so there were a fair few family groups in and I do suspect its with groups like these that Jamie’s really excels. I noticed the little touches such as flags on children’s ice creams that show that father Jamie has thought about little ones when putting this offering together.

I’m by no means a Jamie devotee but we do have a few of his cookbooks and my attempt at his Vodka Chilli Pasta remains a lasting and prominent memory for one of my former housemates (I went a bit crazy on the chilli). I’ve never really seen a Jamie Oliver recipe and thought “that sounds horrible”, in fact, when his perky face pops up on screen I’m usually drawn in, so it was to be expected that we found it quite difficult to narrow down our choices from the menu. In the end we selected crispy squid with crushed garlic mayo (£5.95) and Italian nachos (£3.95) to start and were impressed with what turned up at the table.

As you can see the portions were pretty generous considering the price. The garlic mayo was perhaps a little too potent (I was still tasting garlic hours later) and I would perhaps have liked a slightly crisper texture to the fried ravioli nachos but there was a lot to enjoy about this dish. A look around at the other diners confirmed that these portions were a fair representation of what everyone was being served. The place itself is huge, far bigger than I had realised but I found myself enjoying the buzz of the place – the lights and family friendly radio tunes meant the ambience was upbeat. And so, on to the mains.

I ordered the fish special – seabass with fennel, beetroot and carrots and under some duress from me, Steve chose a pizza (Italian Hot £12) and polenta chips. The surprising star was the polenta chips, I wish they weren’t so filling because they were also very more-ish, I’d eaten half a bowl without blinking. I do love rosemary though. All of the elements of Steve’s pizza tasted fresh and it had a good balance of sauce and cheese, it wasn’t at all greasy. Meanwhile, my seabass was a little overwhelmed by the olive oil it was dressed with (I’m still pretty sure Jamie has a personal sponsorship deal with the olive oil industry). I do like a crisp fish skin and that just wasn’t possible with the amount of oil and I’m probably a little more resistant to the stuff as a slimming world follower. The veg was cooked perfectly though and sat great alongside the fennel. In future I’d probably just ask the serving staff to hold off a little on any oil.

There’s a pretty decent drinks selection at Jamie’s – the boy stuck to Moretti, while I started off with a homemade lemonade, which was perfectly refreshing after a bit of rushing to make our reservation. By dessert I was ready to move onto something alcoholic and made a vague attempt to match my Florence Fizz cocktail (£6.95) with my Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake (£5.45). The Limoncello, pomegranate juice and elderflower fizz went really well with the soft meringue and curd. Sometimes I think the other half orders food because he knows I will like it – other times I know he orders it because I think I will like it (ahem) and I think his dessert choice of  Sour Cherry and Almond Tart (£5.45) was the former on this occasion. It was good but not quite as wonderful as my cheesecake, which I had to battle him a little to finish.

We were more than pleasantly surprised by Jamie’s – I think in terms of price points, they’ve got things right, I like what they have on the menu and there are a lot of deals you can access through membership to their gold club. Jamie’s is unlikely to become our favourite restaurant but it could well become a regular pre-drinks spot.

Have you been to a Jamie’s? What did you think? Do you steer clear of chain restaurants or do you think they have their place? I’d be interested to know how you feel about the topic so please do comment below.

 

Drinking in my 30s is proving to be a very different affair to that of my 20s. For a start, now I no longer live in the centre of a city a night out needs to be approached with military-style planning. I’ve learnt that failure to take this approach can end in unspeakable consequences that go beyond inconvenience. Secondly, I’m getting ever so fussy about what I’m willing to drink (potentially a result of living with a pro drinks mixer). All considered, when I go out now I like it to be a bit of an event, which means my recent invite to the re-launch of the Redwood Lounge at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle was extremely welcome.

I’d never been to the Redwood Lounge before and must admit that having been to Livellos at the opposite side of the hotel, I was a little apprehensive. I needn’t have been, the Redwood Lounge has a much more relaxed and classier vibe and more importantly for my 31-year-old self, some incredibly comfortable leather sofas! On arrival we made our way to the bar and chose a cocktail from the new menu, I opted for a peach fume (beautifully smoky peach, not too sweet, not too dry) while the OH had a gin martini (he said it was well made and he does know about these things). We then sat ourselves down very comfortably to listen to the entertainment – a singer and guitar player. It’s always a pleasure to watch live music but even more so when you’re in a relaxed setting with a good cocktail in your hand.

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While watching the entertainment I spotted fellow blogger and ex colleague Sarah, who wrote about her experience of the night over on her blog Plain Sarah Jayne, she has a few more photos than I do as i again seem to have selected a spot with poor lighting (when will I learn), so I must admit I had to steal some of the Vermont’s own images for this post!

As part of the relaunch the management introduced the new menu, which includes a Gentleman’s afternoon tea. While I don’t strictly speaking think there’s any need for a his and hers (why should us ladies be deprived of pork pies and scotch eggs?) I thought it an impressive platter. My devotion to condiments is well documented, so I was pleased I had more than one relish, to um, relish.

IMG_7247I’ve heard good things about the Vermont’s other afternoon tea offerings, so it’s been added to the ever-extending ‘to eat’ list. I suspect we will make our way back for drinks first though – places like this with a pleasing cocktail menu and amenable seating arrangements that are a cut above are few and far between in the Toon. And though it’s not strictly a point for review, I can’t help but add the toilets are first class too. The Redwood Lounge is well positioned to accommodate more discerning drinkers, I just wish I didn’t have to climb so many stairs to reach it!

poochpackage1Today I’m inviting all of my foodie and furry friends alike to join me in a special parcel swap for pooches, but before we get down to the doggy swap details, let’s talk a little about the little gem in my life…

It would be easy when reading this blog to assume that food is my number one priority and passion but there’s one thing that gets me even more excited than a big bowl of fresh pasta followed by coffee and cake and that is my dog Ruby. Ruby joined the Berg house back in October and since then the Jack Russell Border Terrier cross has been delighting us by looking consistently cute and demanding lots of playtime daily, here she is in her early days snuggled up by my laptop as I worked.

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As she’s only eight months old Ruby likes to chew a lot of things – eyeliners, toilet rolls and most recently (today in fact) an iPod dock remote control. One thing she hasn’t yet chewed is her daddy’s Graze box, though she looks on jealously whenever it pops through the door onto the mat and she watches intently as he munches through his custom snacks. After seeing a review of subscription parcel for dogs over on fellow blogger Oh Gosh Em‘s site , I suggested that it might be nice if our pooches were able to receive something that was even more personal to them through the post. I’ve taken part in blogger swaps in the past and they’ve understandably been food focussed but #poochpackage is set to be even more p-awesome! It’s open to food bloggers, lifestyle bloggers and Instafans alike, just as long as you have a pooch that would like to make pals just like Ruby and Flash do!

We like to see happy dogs with waggily tails, so the swap is open to anyone with a dog(s). If you have a blog, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook account we would like to invite you to sign up and share your #poochpackage swap stories with us. We’d love to see your dog enjoying their gifts too! When you post, feel free to use the lovely logo designed by Emma, who is far more artistic than me!

All you need to do is fill in the questionnaire below and tell us some bits about your dog. We’ll be matching people up with other fun dog owners around the country so once you have their details it might be worth checking them out and finding out a little more about their pooch!

The #poochpackage

Feel free to send toys, homemade treats that are doggy safe, comforters – whatever you think your package partner will enjoy. There is a spend limit of £12 for each parcel as we don’t want people to feel like they have to spend lots to take part, but £12 seems like a good amount to create a parcel they’ll want to get their paws in to.

Dates for your dog’s diary

  • You have until the end of April to sign up for #poochpackage
  • You’ll receive details of your doggy swap partner by 6th May
  • You should post your #poochpackage no later than16th May
  • If you have a blog/Instagram/twitter account- Please share your #poochpackage with everyone taking part by the end of May by posting on your blog/Instagram/Twitter. We want to see what you’ve received and sent and plenty of waggily tails too!

It only takes a moment to sign up, just fill out the form and we’ll matching you with you (and your dog!) with own #poochpackage pal.