Review: 7Bone Burger Co in Reading

Chin dripping with a big dollop of ketchup, fingers messy with yellow mustard – eating a 7Bone hot dog is not an elegant experience.

But it is a satisfying one.

7Bone Burger Co is the latest restaurant to open its doors in Reading (you’ll find it along St Mary’s Butts), and on Friday Ben & I went along to the preview night to, well, basically stuff our faces. We’d been to the Camberley 7Bone about 2 weeks ago and really enjoyed it, so we were looking forward to returning and trying some more of the menu.

Tip number one for 7Bone is don’t wear anything with a restricted waistband – this is big eating at its best. It’s all the fried/saucy/meaty goodness you could possible want – this isn’t the place you come for a salad (although there is a token one on the menu).

Welcome to Reading 7Bone!

So what makes 7Bone different from every other American style burger joint? Well, in some ways not a huge amount. The main element of the menu is burgers, hot dogs, and fries – team that with one of the American beers and you’re good to go.

But there are a few twists that make 7Bone that bit more interesting. The portswood poutine for example was a meaty puddle of deliciousness – fries, slow braised beef, a ‘deep’ gravy (it had such a hit of meatiness in its flavour, despite being quite thin) and cheese curds.

Ben’s favourite dish – the Portswood Poutine

Then there are the frickles – which we had at Camberley and I wish we’d had again at Reading. Frickles – aka fried pickles – are a super naughty piece of fried goodness. Crispy, crunchy and delicious dipped in the blue cheese sauce. And plentiful in their portion size too.

Instead of frickles we had onion straws on the Reading preview night. Again – total, utter naughty food. There’s basically nothing healthy about a whole basket of Friday onion, but well, it’s Friday night, the beers are flowing, who’s really thinking about the gym?

The burgers and hot dogs are goooood. So good it needs to be said in a long, drawn out way with lots of oooooos. Plenty of sauce, and again, something a bit different on the menu. At Camberley we had the Peter Green (Texan all steak chilli, cheese, American mustard and jalapenos) and One Big Chicken (buttermilk fried chicken, hash brown, cheese, chipotle ketchup, HP sauce and mayo). Both were chock-full of filling, the chicken one especially had such a huge meaty piece of fried chicken in that you couldn’t really eat it without deconstructing it on your plate. And a really good layer of sauces in there too which really pack the flavour in.

At Reading we had two sliders (Ronald’s revenage – double cheese, onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles – and the dreadlock Rasta – chicken burger with hot sauce, shredded iceberg and dirty spread) and a Caravan Park hot dog (pork dog, fried onions, dirty spread, ketchup, mustard and pickles). Again totally stuffed with fillings and really thick tasty patties on the sliders.

All. the. food.

I have no idea what ‘dirty sauce’ and ‘dirty spread’ are actually made of (I’m guessing some kind of mayo/ketchup combo) but I don’t really care –  the whole flavour bundle was delicious. 7Bone has fun with its menu – things like dirty spread are the character it’s creating – a place where you can stuff a burger into your face, make a mess, clink a beer with your companion and carry on. It’s lively, it’s fun, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Of course, that kind of frivolity isn’t necessarily going to be to everyone’s taste and the person next to us at the preview night was having a proper moan to the manager. The menu was ‘confusing’ (it’s burgers and hot dogs, how confusing can it be?), the frickles were ‘like marmite’ and they were firmly in the hate camp, and ‘what ACTUALLY is in dirty sauce?’. I guess you can’t please everyone… Maybe a rant like that comes with a preview night where you’re asking for opinions, and everyone is quite rightly entitled to be 100% honest, but it was a bit off putting when we just want to chill and enjoy our food.

I got the feeling maybe they just didn’t ‘get’ 7Bone? For us, it was chilled and fun, the kind of place we’ll go before the cinema or just because we fancy popping out for some food on a Friday night. The venues are a bit hipster in decor – neon lights and exposed pipes, you know the drill – but they look cool and they work with the laid back vibe.

The staff were friendly at both locations and our service was quick at both. The beers were good in Camberley (try the Kona Big Wave) and the cocktails were delicious in Reading (the French Bone is a sweet, fruity little number and the Endgame is a thick, fruity, rum-soaked hit).

The French Bone (left) and the Endgame

The prices are reasonable – you’re looking at about £8 for a burger/hot dog/melt and around £4ish for a side – and in the scale of burger restaurants where McDonalds is one end, Five Guys is the middle and the Handmade Burger Co is the other, it sits somewhere between Five Guys and Handmade Burger Co.

Without a doubt we’ll be visiting both venues again. They’re a really welcome addition to Camberley and Reading and there’s absolutely no question that next time we go, frickles will definitely be on our table.

Sunday Brunch at Hotel du Vin in Henley

Hotel du Vin in Henley, for me, is synonymous with the Henley Literary Festival.

Every time I’ve been there, except for my most recent visit, it has been in some way related to the Festival and the hotel has always left a wonderful impression. Whether it’s sipping a glass of crisp Pinot in the courtyard at the launch party, or popping in for a quick cup of tea in between events, it’s always been a place to relax and enjoy.

But for every time I’ve been there while enjoying the festival, I’ve never actually eaten there. (I know, that should really be whispered!).

So when an email landed in my inbox inviting me to try out the Hotel du Vin Sunday Brunch it took me all of five minutes to reply with a ‘yes please!’.

A long, lazy Sunday brunch always feels indulgent – it means you’ve done all the jobs you need to do, and you can really enjoy the time you’ve got stretching ahead for the day. And the relaxed setting of the Hotel du Vin fits that perfectly. With wooden floors, dark wooden furniture, and an eclectic selection of art on the walls, it feels cosy and welcoming. A pool of light also flooded into the room from the courtyard and made us long for warmer weather and al fresco dining.

The Sunday Brunch offer is £24.95 per person for four courses, including the French Market Table, which is a bit of a showstopper – but more on that in a moment!

The first course on the menu was the soup of the day, and when we visited it was cream of cauliflower. The soup was thick but smooth, and creamy, with the fresh taste of the cauliflower really coming through. It was also a really generous sized bowl which definitely set the tone for the portions to come.

Then it was time for the French Market Table – just take a look at this:

Thin slices of delicious iberico ham, prosciuito and salami, fresh mussels, wedges of bread, coarse meaty terrine, olives, balsamic pickled onions, plump tomatoes, cucumber pieces, slices of salmon, a creamy potato salad. The feast went on…

Both Ben and I agreed that we could happily have stayed on the second course, filling our plates again and again, but a little self-restraint, and knowledge of what was to come, kept our greedy sides at bay.

Our waiter – one of several who looked after us impeccably – asked if we wanted a breather and we nodded a yes while trying to fathom how we’d manage more food. The spacing was spot on, allowing us time to relax and chat before our mains arrived.

The main course presents a choice, there is the Sunday roast, or options like Steak Frites and Poached Scottish Salmon. I chose the rib of Aberdeenshire beef Sunday roast and Ben went for the Severn & Wye Smoked Haddock.

The meat was pink, as I had asked for, and beautifully tender, cut into fairly thin slithers so you could really taste the beef. It was served with a rich and meaty gravy and a soft cloud of yorkshire pudding. A full bowl of fresh winter veg was on the side, almost overflowing with roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broccoli and red cabbage.

Ben’s fish was also fantastic, served with a mustard butter and placed on a hash brown, although the poached egg on top wasn’t runny, which a perfect poached egg should always be.

Pudding – yes there was more – was a comforting banana, rum bread and butter pudding for me, and apple tarte tatin for Ben. They were so good we both refused to share.

The bread and butter pudding was topped with rum and raisin ice cream, which had a faint hint of booze, and worked very well indeed with the banana in the pudding.

While we’re talking sweets, my head was turned a few times during our meal by the sight of a three-tier cake stand being carried through to the bar area. Admittedly any cake would usually turn my head, but this was particularly dazzling due to the puffs of candy floss which were sticking out of the top. It looked fabulous and fun, and will definitely be added to my ‘must-visit’ afternoon tea spots.

After a leisurely two hours we tried to button our coats back up (it was a task!) and headed out into the sunshine for a walk along Henley’s beautiful riverside. Henley is a lovely place to visit, picturesque and calm, and Hotel du Vin couldn’t be a better fit for the town. I will certainly not be leaving it until the next literary festival before I visit again.

I was invited to review the Sunday Brunch menu at Hotel du Vin in Henley so my visit was complimentary but all views are my own honest opinion. 

48 hours in Liverpool

For Christmas this year Ben & I decided to do presents a bit differently.

Rather than buy each other a gift, we decided to each book a surprise mini break for each other. I chose Liverpool.

Having been to Liverpool for a work conference around four years ago when I worked at the paper I’d had a glimpse of the city and it seemed like a lively place, a cross between the historic (the Albert Docks) and the modern (the Liverpool One shopping centre). I’d been itching to go back and get a chance to explore properly, and I had a feeling it was the kind of place which would be perfect for a little city break. It turns out I was right…

John Lennon’s statue outside the Cavern Pub in Matthew Street

How to get there?

We decided to drive up, as it works out quite a bit cheaper than the train. It took around four hours from Berkshire, which was fine, although the way back took an epic 5.5 hours due to roadworks – gah! We’ve done a few road trips like this now (including Edinburgh), where our hotels/apartments haven’t had parking so we’ve stayed in town centre car parks. It worked out at £13 a day, which isn’t too bad either.

Where to stay?

We stayed at the gorgeous Malmaison hotel near the Docks. We’re both big fans of Malmaison in Reading, (although we haven’t actually stayed there we got a sneak peak of rooms during Dante or Die’s I Do theatre production) and we love popping in for a few drinks. Malmaison always feels soothing – I think it’s the dark walls and dim lights, it just makes you feel relaxed. Our room was a good size and it had a huge bathtub plus a walk in monsoon shower, which is always a bonus. It was a great location too, just a 10 minute walk to the Docks or the town centre.

What to do?

A must-visit while you’re in Liverpool

Liverpool is ideal for a two day visit as it gives you enough time to explore the culture (and do a bit of shopping!). Our first stop was The Cavern Club, home of the Beatles. Although we’re not super Beatles fans as such, you can’t help but be in awe of the venue, and enjoy hearing their music played live. All the greats have played at The Cavern and there’s just so much history. We had a beer and listened to some Beatles covers and it was the perfect way to start our trip.

It’s also well worth taking a walk along the Albert Docks which have little shops and restaurants nestled around them. There are some impressive boats moored there, and it’s also the home of Tate Liverpool. We popped in as I wanted to see the Tracey Emin/William Blake exhibition they had going on, and we found ourselves wandering around for a good 90 minutes. The gallery had a really nice mix of work, including a quirky robot play which was taking place while we were there.

And of course, there’s the shopping. Liverpool One has all the main high street players, and there are a few other little streets/shopping centres to find too.

Where to eat?

Eggs Benedict at Lox and Caper

Being mostly driven by our stomachs, food plays a big part in any mini break we go on, and we discovered some complete gems in Liverpool (pretty much due to Ben’s sixth sense for picking a good restaurant!). We tend to look at TripAdvisor (although you do have to take the reviews with a pinch of salt), and then have a look on a restaurant’s website/Facebook page. Here are the places we tried:

  • The Salt House. Such. good. Tapas. Ben spotted this while we were walking through the town centre looking for somewhere to grab a quick bite to eat after arriving in Liverpool. They had a set menu which offered three tapas dishes and bread per person, and it was just the right amount. One of my dishes was a cauliflower risotto which was wonderfully creamy, and the pan-fried pardon peppers with flakes of salt were delicious with a hint of bitterness.
  • Mowgli. We rocked up for a table at 7pm but it was so busy we were told we wouldn’t get seated until 9pm. No problem, we thought, we’ll just do our night in reverse and go for some drinks first. What’s the harm right? The harm is that alcohol skews your judgement and you end up ordering the entire menu. (I lie, it was the whole menu but it was A LOT of food!). Mowgli was superb. It’s an Indian street food menu with things like Bhel Puri and roti flat breads alongside lots of different curries and street meats. We had the Yoghurt Chat Bombs which were incredible – they kind of pop in your mouth and you have all these spices and flavours alongside the cooling yoghurt – and we went for ‘a Tiffin box for one’ each, which is like a curry roulette. You get three curries and a rice, which are delicious but it was way too much – just go for one between two.
  • Lox and Caper – We very nearly didn’t find Lox and Caper as it’s tucked in with the Merseyside Youth Association. The MYA reception desk is at one side, and the cafe tables at the other. We popped in for brunch and the menu has loads of awesome things including several different variations on Eggs Benedict. I had the traditional which came with super thick ham and a creamy Hollandaise, and Ben went for the Oscar which came with brisket. A no-frills, super good food kind of place.
  • Bacaro – More tapas I hear you cry? I know, but we were SO full from over-doing it at Mowgli we decided to go for small plates for our second evening. Looking at the website, we think Bacaro may be linked to the Salt House, but it felt more like an evening venue, with twinkly lights and super friendly staff. Everything was delicious – the fluffiest mozarella, crispy deep fried gnocci with pesto, slithers of beef carpaccio. And a lovely prosecco.
  • Castle St Townhouse – You can see a pattern emerging. Tapas. Brunch. Tapas. Brunch. Castle St Townhouse was a comforting place to stop and refuel before heading home. Our waiter brought us some cucumber water to start (refreshing) and then we sipped tea and coffee while tucking into baked eggs with chorizo (Ben) and a black pudding hash topped with a poached egg (me). The menu was slightly more interesting than most brunch venues and the food was lovely.

Where to drink?

We went on a mini bar crawl while waiting for our table at Mowgli and ended up trying a couple of cool places.

The Underground Gin Society – It just sounds fun, right? Set down a little flight of steps, so you could totally walk by and not even realise it was there, the Underground Gin Society is a cosy, dark little bar, with ALL THE GINS. We tried the Liverpool Gin (when in Liverpool eh?) which is served with a slice of watermelon. It was light and tasty but the barman put in way too much tonic so it sort of swamped the flavour a bit. Less tonic, more gin please.

The Alchemist – Breaking Bad meets cocktail bar. Think Long Island Ice Teas which cloud with dry ice, or cocktails served in those triangular laboratory flasks. It’s achingly cool, but doesn’t feel too pretentious. I had a Peaches and Cream (Briottet peach and pink grapefruit, lemon, prosecco) which was just the right amount of sweet.

Malmaison – It would have been rude not to have a nightcap at Malmaison. The bar wasn’t busy but it felt cosy and relaxed and we sipped a warming whiskey to finish off our night after Bacaro.

And that is how to fill 48 hours in Liverpool. Well worth a visit if you get the chance.

The king of festive weekends in Kent

If there were a prize for the most traditional festive weekend in the UK, my adventures in Kent last weekend would definitely be in the running.

We had chestnuts roasting on an open fire, A Muppet’s Christmas carol, Christmas tree decorating and the actual bloomin’ ghost of Christmas future.

It’s all about the glitter bauble

We were down in Kent visiting my sister and brother-in-law, and it’s always fun spending a weekend with them in Tunny Wah Wah (aka Tunbridge Wells), especially at Christmas.

Our weekend started on Friday night with the Muppet’s Christmas Carol (here comes Mr Humbug!), prosecco and Christmas tree decorating (while wearing a turkey shaped hat, obvs).

On Saturday we wrapped up in our hats and scarves and headed over to Rochester for the Dickensian Christmas Festival. Apparently Dickens loved Rochester, and based some of his novels around the area so the town goes pretty Dickens mad this time of year.

All wrapped up in our woollies!

Ben was convinced we were going to walk into some live action cosplay thing where he’d get dressed up as Tiny Tim, but luckily it wasn’t quite so interactive. Standing with a cup of hot mulled wine we watched the parade, with people dressed in awesome full-skirted Victorian dresses, or going all out and dressing up as their favourite Dickens character. I think Nancy, Bill Sykes and Bullseye were my favourites or the ghost of Christmas future who was amazing.

Come ‘ere Bullseye
Ghost of Christmas Future being accompanied by the Ghost of Christmas present, as you do

We then took a wander up the road, got a bag of roast chestnuts (which were way trickier to peel than I remember, I made SUCH a mess!), and browsed some of the craft stalls and performances they had going on throughout the day. They also have a huge Christmas market up by the cathedral where we bought the most delicious brownies. It was super busy by this point, so after a quick stop to meet the reindeers (Oh hi Rudolph!), we made our way back to Tunbridge Wells for a late lunch.

Dasher, Dancer and Rudolph

I’ve written before about the delights of Gusta and when someone said the words ‘cheese platter’ we knew there was only going to be one option for food. So off to Gusta it was for this epic platter of meat and cheese.

SO good!

And the fun literally kept coming as we spent the evening at the Moonlight Drive-In Cinema at Hop Farm. If you’ve never been to a drive-in cinema before I would totally recommend it. We went to watch Bad Santa 2, which was entertaining but not exactly one to add to the ‘watch every Christmas’ list, but really it was all about the novelty of the experience. Having thought it was going to be freezing in the car we had ALL the blankets with us (plus a sleeping bag) but actually it wasn’t too chilly at all. We also took loads of snacks and drinks so we had a real feast while we watched the movie.

The weekend was rounded off with possibly the best roast dinner I’ve ever had at The Chaser Inn in Shipbourne. Cat and I went for the turkey dinner (see I told you it was a non-stop festive weekend) which came with all the Christmas dinner goodies – loads of bread sauce, pigs in blankets and a giant Yorkshire pudding. A huge wedge of Sticky Toffee Pudding pretty much finished me off. A big turkey dinner followed by a snooze – it must be Christmas!

A glitzy 1920s night at The Bathtub Club speakeasy

Anyone pushing open the heavy doors of St Laurence’s Church last Saturday night may, for a split second, have thought they had discovered Reading’s secret speakeasy.

Inside, girls in glittering hairbands twirled on the dance floor alongside men in three piece suits, as a swing band played a wonderful combination of jazz classics and reworked pop tunes.

That, ladies and gentleman, was The Bathtub Club.

The fabulous Amber and the Professors
The fabulous Amber and the Professors

The brainchild of Pop-Up Reading, the night was a celebration of the town’s best independent food and drink outfits.

Along with Pop-Up Reading, there were treats throughout the night from Caffeine & Cocktails, The Tasting House, I Love Paella and Tamp Culture, music from the sensational Amber and the Professors, and a taster swing dance class from Jenn and Michael at Reading Swing Jam.

We had good intentions to join the dance class, but got distracted by the cocktail menu from Caffeine & Cocktails and as the queue for drinks was pretty hefty and we’d already been queuing a while we decided to stick in there and wait for our drinks. I had a Bubblebath (£5, Absolut mango, pineapple juice, lemon juice, a hint of passion fruit and prosecco), while Ben had a Tom Collins (£5, Beefeater Gin, sugar, lemon and soda) and our friend James had a non-alcoholic cocktail, The 1751 (£3, pineapple juice, lemon juice, strawberries, passion fruit syrup and soda).

bathtub4
The Bubblebath – delicious!

The drinks were a great warm-up for the evening and we then took our seats on one of the long tables in the room ready for the three course meal. The cost of the evening was £35, which included the meal, wine on the tables and all the music and dancing.

Our starters were spicy black bean empanadas or cajun chicken empanadas with a dipping sauce, and they were brought over on long platters for each table so you could just help yourself to whichever you fancied. Ben and I went halves on each and both were really good.

The smothered cajun spice butternut squash and sweet potato
The smothered cajun spice butternut squash and sweet potato

For our main course there was a choice between shrimps and chicken andouille gumbo with roasted potatoes and smothered cajun spiced butternut squash and sweet potato served with rice. I had the butternut squash and it was delicious, although the portion size was a little bit small.

All the wine on the tables had been chosen by The Tasting House and there was plenty to go around. It was nice because as the meal went on people were chatting with their neighbours on the table and there was a really excited, bustling atmosphere to the whole evening.

Ben, James and I on the dancefloor
Ben, James and I on the dancefloor

After the main course was served, Amber and the Professors took to the stage and the dancing began again. A jazzed-up version of Taylor Swift was a particular favourite of mine!

While the band were playing an announcement was made that pudding was ready and you could collect it yourself whenever you were ready. James had the I Love Paella brown sugar ice-cream, while Ben and I both went for a coffee, which came with an optional shot of whiskey (yes please!) and a little chocolate shot pot.

A whiskey-fuelled coffee and chocolate pot
A whiskey-fuelled coffee and chocolate pot

Feeling rather booze-soaked by this point, we finished out night on the dancefloor, twirling and spinning our way into the night.

The whole event felt really different to anything I’ve been to in Reading before. A few tweaks here and there might make things run a bit smoother next time, like a second bar tender as the poor chap had his work cut out for him at the beginning, but the idea is fabulous, and the atmosphere was wonderful. It felt really exciting to be part of a pop up event, and hopefully this is the start of a whole new entertainment and food experience in Reading.

Pop-Up Reading have another event, A French Affair, on Saturday, 12 November, at The Tasting House and it sounds like it’s going to be a brilliant night. If you fancy experiencing something, fun, fabulous and a little bit different, get your tickets and dig out your beret!

An exhibition of The Queen’s dresses and afternoon tea in Windsor

The main gate at Windsor Castle
The main gate at Windsor Castle

When you live 20 minutes from somewhere it’s easy to forget how awesome it is to the outside world.

Having grown up just down the road from Windsor, and having spent summers working as a receptionist there in university holidays, Windsor has always just been a beautiful place I’m lucky enough to live near by. I used to spend my lunch breaks sitting on one of the wooden benches outside the castle just watching the world go by, not evening thinking about the history and legacy of the castle behind me.

But seeing tourists from all over the world gazing up at its magnificent structure (and taking a few snaps with their selfie sticks!), made me realise what an absolute gem it really is.

Love how all the greenery makes this look a bit fairytale
Love how all the greenery makes this look a bit fairytale

The thing which brought us to Windsor Castle was the exhibition Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe. Cat had spotted it a while ago when it had been at Buckingham Palace, and we decided to all have a bit of a mother and daughter day out and go along to see it.

Love a mother/daughter day out!
Love a mother/daughter day out!

The entry to the exhibition was included in the entry price for the castle and we paid £20 each for the whole experience, which was well worth it. Just wandering around inside the historic castle is awesome, and it felt so exciting to see inside after walking passed it a hundred times. I think we went in as kids but I barely remembered a thing so the visit was obviously well over due!

windsor4

Inside there are gorgeous stone buildings, a stunning dolls’ house, a mesmerising chapel where Henry VIII is laid to rest, some spectacular furnishings and, of course, the dresses.

Although we were all expecting a few more dresses, and some iconic ones like The Queen’s wedding dress which wasn’t there, it was still well worth a visit. Seeing how her the style of The Queen’s dresses have changed was a wonderful snapshot of fashion through the years, from chic 60s dresses with big buttons and A-line skirts, to floating 70s gowns with wide sleeves. There were some absolutely breathtaking evening dresses, as well as some of the tailored two pieces which have become her iconic look in recent years.

This is set into the pavement outside the castle
This is set into the pavement outside the castle

After wandering around the castle for a good two hours, we headed over to The Sir Christopher Wren hotel where we surprised Mum with an afternoon tea.

We all love an afternoon tea (as you might know if you read my post on the Fortnum and Mason afternoon tea), and it always feels like a treat.

An afternoon tea tower is always a delicious sight
An afternoon tea tower is always a delicious sight

Although service was a bit slow – they were getting ready for a wedding but we had to catch the waiters eye to ask for tea top ups – the food was lovely and we worked our way through little sandwiches with fillings including cucumber and creme freche and ham and mustard, two warm scones each with cream and jam and an impressive platter of cakes.

Banana loaf, eclairs, macarons and carrot cake
Banana loaf, eclairs, macarons and carrot cake

The food was hearty and plentiful and luckily the hotel let us take some of the cakes away with us for later.

The whole day was lovely and it was so nice to be able to spend some quality time with Mum and Cat, discovering the magnificent history of Windsor Castle and totally getting dress envy for The Queen.

The Gin Festival

Are there two more giddily fun words than ‘gin festival?’

Judging by last weekend’s adventure to The Gin Festival in Guildford, I’d say probably not.

Love this bit of hipster gin-enthusiast decor
Love this bit of hipster gin-enthusiast decor

Dreamt up by husband and wife duo Jym and Marie in 2012, after they spotted a gap in the festival market, the Gin Festival has been growing in popularity ever since, with events taking place  around the country.

This way to the gin!
This way to the gin!

The Guildford event on Saturday was held on the lawn outside Guildford Cathedral where a very large tent was constructed to house all the fun. It was also uncharacteristically warm for this time of year (hoorah!) so we spilled out onto a bit of lawn at the front too, with everyone sitting in groups or standing round tall tables just having a natter and sipping some gin.

My new favourite mode of transport
My new favourite mode of transport

I went along with Ben and my lovely friend Jo and it was an utterly splendid day out. (If you read my post about the Hendricks Gin Bus in Edinburgh you’ll know we love a bit of gin from time to time!).

We paid £7.50 (plus a small booking fee) for our entry tickets which got us the awesome bowl-shaped Gin Festival glass, a badge which highlighted what session we were at, a pen, and The Gin Book, which showcased all the gins we could taste, with tasting notes.

EPIC gin glass
EPIC gin glass

There were four bars, A, B, C and D, and the 100 or so gins were split into each category, with one group being UK based gins, another sweet or fruit based gins and so on.

When we arrived a lovely man with a fantastic hipster-esque beard gave us a rundown of how it worked, and offered us a few tasting tips.

And then we were let loose!

Bar D - one of four bars with different gins at each
Bar D – one of four bars with different gins at each

You buy a token card to pay for your gins, (it’s £5 per drink) with all the Fevertree tonics included. You just help yourselves to those as you go which is really good. At the bar you hand over your card, ask for your gin, and then they cross off one of your tokens so there’s no faffing about with change etc…

One of the really nice things is that each gin also comes with an appropriate garnish, so you really get to experience it as it should be served, without having to buy in loads of ingredients which you’re only going to use a snippet of, like you would if you were having it at home. I had gins with everything from grapefruit to bell peppers in!

West Winds 'The Cutlass' gin served with bell peppers
West Winds ‘The Cutlass’ gin served with bell peppers

Throughout the day there were also some extra fun little things going on, like a free selfie booth, which Jo, Ben & I had a few goes on (see evidence below!), and a band whose name I didn’t catch (blame the gin!) but who had a kind of country vibe and played us King of the Swingers with just a guitar and strings. So much fun!

Believe it or not that was our selfie booth photo before any gin consumption
Believe it or not that was our selfie booth photo before any gin consumption

Our session ran from 12.30pm-5pm and we also squeezed in a short 10 minute masterclass with a chap from Pinkster gin who told us the history of the company and showed us how to make a cocktail. (You’ve got to at least pretend to be a bit educational at a drinks’ festival, right?).

A very funny chap from Pinkster gin
A very funny chap from Pinkster gin

And we had a pause for some lunch from Caper and Berry who were onsite selling hot dogs, burgers and these epic nachos.

Caper and Berry's epic nacho plate
Caper and Berry’s epic nacho plate

Overall I tasted my way through five gins which were:

  • 5th Earth – a Spanish gin with citrus flavours, served with lemon and pink grapefruit.
  • West Winds ‘The Cutlass’ – an Australian gin with a savoury taste, served with bell peppers
  • Poetic Licensed Northern Dry – from Sunderland with quite a punchy taste, served with pink grapefruit
  • Daffy’s – from Edinburgh, which has a long, buttery finish, served with mint and lime
  • Warner Edwards Victoria’s Rhubarb Gin – from Northamptonshire with a hint of sweetness, served with lemon

There was also an ‘off license’ where you could buy bottles of any gin you really liked (we resisted the temptation!) and a few distillers doing extra tastings as well.

Guess who has consumed the most gin?
Guess who has consumed the most gin?

It might just sound like a day of boozing, but it was actually really interesting discovering different gin flavours and finding out which garnishes and tonics go best with each drink. And with my new found gin connoisseur knowledge, all I need now is to stock up the drinks cabinet at home and we’re sorted!

Did someone say Hendrick’s gin bus?

Never has a mode of transport been so blooming exciting as the Hendrick’s gin bus.

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Otherwise known as H.E.R.B.E.R.T (Hendrick’s Extraordinary Roving Bus for Exceptionally Refined Travel) the bus is designed to look like a cucumber, and to bring joy and happiness to the average commuter.

I spotted a tweet about H.E.R.B.E.R.T before we went to Edinburgh for the Fringe, and text Cat straight away saying ‘we have to book this!’. After reading a couple of reviews from when the bus had been travelling around London, which said you got two gin & tonics and a cucumber macaron for just £2.50, I was totally sold. (As if I wasn’t before – it’s a gin bus remember?!).

G&T, passport maps to keep, and a cucumber macaron
G&T, passport maps to keep, and a cucumber macaron

So on a fairly warm Monday afternoon in Edinburgh we made our way to a bar in Queen’s Street and met a gaggle of other people all waiting for the bus. It was quite lucky they were there as the bar was a basement bar so we walked past it twice before one of the bus folk asked us if we were looking for the gin bus. YES my friend, we were.

Two rather dapper chaps from Hendrick’s appeared and entertained us by singing songs and whatnot until the bus arrived. And then it was time for our journey! Another equally dapper fellow (there was definitely a theme going on), handed us a G&T as we climbed aboard (genuinely one of the nicest G&Ts I’ve had, so crisp and perfect with a slice of cucumber in it).

Inside, the bus was wonderfully quirky, with a barman mixing up cocktails at one end, faux squirrels climbing the curtains and ridiculously random retro props like a bowler hat, a French horn and a tennis racket.

We totally got into the atmosphere - the gin may have helped!
We totally got into the atmosphere – the gin may have helped!

We were also each given one of those fabulous Hendrick’s fans, and a map of the city folded into a little passport wallet.

When everyone was seated with their G&T we began our 40 minute journey around the town. Along the way we had a Hendrick’s tour guide (unfortunately I didn’t catch his name, but for the purpose of the review let’s call him Albert), who entertained us with some games and poetry. Albert also invited us to come up with our own limmerick or draw a mythical creature for a competition Hendrick’s was running and mine went something like this, ah hem.

There once was a girl who liked gin
But she had a rather large chin
It got in the way
Of her one gin a day
And so life was a little bit grim

Cat also embraced the poetry, while Alex drew a mythical creature, the Cucumbercorn (think unicorn with a cucumber horn). Seriously, 15 minutes on a gin bus and we’re all poets and artists!

Tea pot cocktails, yum!
Tea pot cocktails, yum!

During the journey our barman also whipped us up a teapot cocktail and we enjoyed those as we were told some rather interesting history ‘facts’ about Edinburgh, like how the fields near the castle used to all be cucumber fields. *This is most definitely not true.

The teapot cocktails were lovely, and it was hilarious trying to keep control of our glasses and china cups as we swung round the corners and cobbles of Edinburgh. I imagine the whole thing to be a little like a Carry On episode, something like Carry On aboard the Gin Bus.

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The experience was fabulous, and a fun, innovative piece of promotion from Hendrick’s. Of course we all shared photos of it on social media afterwards, which is obviously the idea of the campaign. (I should add that this post isn’t sponsored, I just wanted to share our fun adventure!).

Having had a thoroughly enjoyable journey, we hopped off the bus, bid our hosts a fond farewell, and disappeared back into the fun of the Fringe. Riding a regular bus just isn’t going to be the same from now on!

A food journey around Edinburgh

In a game of word association, if you say Edinburgh and August, you’re going to get ‘Fringe’ shouted back at you.

And quite rightly so, as the Fringe is the most wonderful, bizarre, outrageous festival taking place in Edinburgh across the month (as you might have gathered from my diary posts, part one and two).

But if you read this blog often, or even just dip a toe, you’ll know that whenever we go anywhere new (take New York for example), one of our favourite things is to explore all the food.

And we ate a LOT of food in Edinburgh.

First things first, a confession. The life of an Edinburgh Fringe goer is not a healthy one. Jumping from show to show leaves little time for anything green, lean or clean. Except this, which was our accidental healthy meal (and it was so good!).

A vegetarian platter from The Pavilion Cafe
A vegetarian platter from The Pavilion Cafe

The Pavilion Cafe was a complete stroke of luck as we happened to walk past it on the way to a show, and then made a lunch stop-off on our way back as we were all starving. It’s a vegetarian cafe, and they do sandwiches and cakes as well as these awesome platters. It was stuffed with olives, sundried tomatoes, humus, falafal, salad, pesto and pitta. #meatfreemondays for the win!

So from there, the healthy eating was all down hill. Quite literally as we had these cupcakes from Cuckoo’s Bakery straight after. (And my goodness they were delicious).

Salted caramel and carrot cupcakes
Salted caramel and carrot cupcakes

What you want, when you’re in full on Fringe mode, is something quick, tasty and not too expensive.

And nothing fits that description better than Wings. Oh Wings, you delicious beast you. We were given the recommendation to visit Wings by a blue-haired girl we met in a bar during Pop, Bingo, Disco (only at the Fringe!) and it’s tucked down a side street right after the Fringe shop on the Royal Mile. You’d never find it unless you were looking and it’s such a hidden gem. Basically the menu is all chicken wings and about 40 different sauces to go on top.

So many sauces!
So many sauces!

We ordered 12 bowls of six wings between four of us which was about 2 bowls too much and we had all sorts of flavours from blue cheese to chipolte barbecue. This photo really doesn’t do it justice…

Total chicken wing heaven
Total chicken wing heaven

Not only does the restaurant do amazing food but it also has awesome decor, with different themed tables. We were on the pin up table, but we also spotted a Jurassic Park table and a Star Wars table.

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Moving from one huge lot of food to another, on Saturday, for Ben’s birthday, we did food and beer matching at Canon’s Gait, which is down the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the castle.

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Matching food and beer was really fun, as it makes the whole experience quite playful, and you can really taste the differences in the beers as you have them with each dish. It was a special menu created for the Fringe, and it was £30 for six courses, or we could have done four courses for £20. (Go big or go home right!).

While there are so many awesome restaurants in Edinburgh, one of the real joys of the Fringe is the street food. All the different Fringe ‘zones’ have their own pop up street food vans and we tucked into tacos and burgers pretty much as soon as we stepped out of the car and into the Pleasance Courtyard. We also had these amazing dumplings at the Assembly George Square Gardens, and they were a bargain at £3.

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One thing I didn’t expect to have in Edinburgh was afternoon tea, but as with the entire Fringe, the best things just come out of nowhere and surprise you. We were on our way to the Hendricks Gin Bus (more on that in another post soon), and looking for somewhere to grab a bit of lunch to keep us going. We’d walked past Eteaket the day before and Cat had pointed out how cool a ‘tea boutique’ sounded. So at 3pm on a Monday we found ourselves enjoying High Tea in the middle of Edinburgh. And quite scrumptious it was too!

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They say the arts are good for the soul, and the Fringe most definitely is, but if you ask me, it’s also blooming good for the belly too.

An Edinburgh Fringe Festival Diary: Day three, four and five

An Edinburgh Fringe Festival Diary: Day three, four and five

As I mentioned in my post about day one and two of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival it was abso-blooming-lutely amazing!

I could happily spend the entire month at the Fringe, moving from one show to another, soaking up all the fun and excitement and probably eating my own body weight in delicious Scottish food.

But, alas, the real world calls, so we will just have to be grateful for the wonderful memories. Here is the rest of my Fringe diary.

Sunday

The amazing unicyclist!
The amazing unicyclist!

Ah Sunday, the day of rest…not so much in Fringe land! Sunday was probably one of the best days of our trip, and it was non-stop Fringe fun. We started on the Royal Mile where we watched a street performer who climbed up a ridiculously tall unicycle, balanced a glass of water on his head, and juggled three batons. Oh how I love the Fringe!

On Friday night at Pop, Bingo, Disco we were chatting about what to do during the rest of the trip and a local girl with bright blue hair overheard and recommended a visit to a restaurant called Wings, so we decided to head there for lunch. I’ll write more about it in a foodie blog post soon, but let’s just say there were more chicken wings and different sauces than you could shake a stick at. SO good.

Wickedly good sauces at Wings restaurant
Wickedly good sauces at Wings restaurant

It set us up well for an afternoon and evening of shows, starting with Ava/Ada by Manual Cinema. Manual Cinema is an American company which produces movies using shadow puppetry and live music. Their show was about two older sisters who did everything together. When one sister died, the other struggled to cope, and what played out was a fascinating, macabre, heart-wrenching exploration of her grief. A totally incredible show. After Ada/Ava we went to see stand-up comedia Tez Ilyas, whose brilliant and insightful show Made in Britain explored what it is to grow up as a Muslim in Britain. At one point Tez invited me up on stage to play a game of ‘Whose Wife is it Anyway?’, and I totally got a marriage proposal (successful Fringe right?!).

The cool venue for Rebel Bingo
The cool venue for Rebel Bingo

In the evening we had a double whammy of goodness with Shitfaced Shakespeare and Rebel Bingo. Just thinking about Shitfaced Shakespeare makes me want to laugh. It was hands down, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on stage. The concept of the show is basically that each night a different member of the classically trained cast gets, well, shitfaced, before the show. Before the show begins we’re shown what they’ve had to drink, and two people in the audience are given gongs which they can chime if they think the actor is sobering up. It was clear within seconds who the drunken actor was as she came out on stage, promptly swayed, and then removed her knight’s helmet declaring it ‘fucking heavy’. The most ridiculous idea for a show, but total genius. Rebel Bingo which followed was also entertaining, think Bingo hyped up with a slamming soundtrack, risque calls for the numbers and confetti cannons. The audience was a bit small, but I think with a full house the atmosphere would be brilliant.

Monday

If you thought Sunday sounded good, just wait until you hear what Monday offered. We started with breakfast at a proper greasy spoon (hoorah for Haggis!) and then went to the Summerhall to watch Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons. The show was performed in a cool little pop up tent called the Roundabout, and it was in the round so you got to see different snippets of the actors’ expressions depending on where you were sitting. The piece was really enchanting, and the more I think back on it, the more I get from it. It was basically about a new couple and how their relationship developed, but with the backdrop of a new law being introduced where people were only allowed to use 140 words a day. A really fascinating and brilliantly performed piece.

All the whiskey...
All the whisky…

Being in Edinburgh it only seemed right to pop into the Scotch Whisky Experience and we did a quick 50 minute tour which included a little ride in a whisky barrel, while learning about how whisky is made, and a session on how to taste it properly. We were given a wee dram of whisky and then invited in to a room which was top-to-toe filled with bottles of the stuff. The collection was gathered by one man and he sold it for an undisclosed sum. I can’t imagine collecting all that whisky and not being tempted to have a sneaky tipple!

Hello M'Lady. Well good day Sir.
Hello M’Lady. Well good day Sir.

After the whisky tour we popped into a little tea boutique called Eteaket for a spot of lunch and ended up having a delicious High Tea with sandwiches, scones and cakes. And then it was time to climb aboard the Hendricks Gin Bus! I’d seen tweets about the bus before we went to Edinburgh and booked us a couple of seats for £2.50. We were welcomed on to the bus by some wonderfully dressed Hendricks chaps, who handed us a G&T and proceeded to chat to us about Edinburgh, poetry and the benefits of having cucumber with your gin. They were fabulously eccentric and it was such a fun, silly ride, whizzing round Edinburgh while trying to make sure our china tea cups didn’t end up on the floor!

The brilliant Tattoo
The brilliant Tattoo

We then popped into Panda & Sons for a quick drink, mostly just so we could check it out as it’s a speakeasy so it looks like a hairdressers from the street and then you go through a bookcase into the bar (very cool!), and had some dinner before heading up to Edinburgh Castle for the Military Tattoo. I absolutely adore the Tattoo. It’s such a spectacle with highland dancers, bagpipes, and military bands from around the world. The castle is lit up with fantastic projections, and there are fireworks which burst out above the castle. Crossing hands and singing along to Auld Lang Syne, while bagpipes play below, is just one of the those moments you know you’ll remember for a long time.

Tuesday

Going home day. *Sob*. After one last farewell walk up the Royal Mile we packed up the car and headed home. Tired, very, very happy, and with the most wonderful memories. Until next time Ed Fringe…