REVIEW: Blackbird Tea Rooms, Brighton



A visit to Blackbird Tea Rooms really is a must if you adore that quirky vintage vibe served along with your tea. It's really difficult to pull off without being too gimmicky or themed but they do it with such style and authenticity, as well as a contemporary twist in the food they offer. So far from stuffy or quaint.


I particularly like that the areas of their interior give you a different experience. The gorgeous, formal tea room upstairs would be nice for a special occasions but there is a more casual, yet splendidly vintage cafe at the front. And a real rarity in Brighton town centre is the hidden gem of the garden for a peaceful pit stop. (And check out the outside loo!)


Huge cakes are housed in vintage glass cases and they are well known for their sweet treats but their latest chef has brought in a new brunch and lunch menu...and why my focus for this visit wasn't the afternoon tea (which is handily on display - look how lovely it is!)



So, back to the job in hand, I started with the homemade granola. It was really nicely presented, topped with plenty of varied fruit and had two layers of yogurt, one that was blended with fresh fruit. The granola itself was an interesting mix with a lot of ingredients too. Portion-wise, this would set you up for the day, possibly even a mountain trek.



I love panzanella for a light, summery lunch. Normally the bread is stale and soaked in the juices of fresh tomatoes but this version came in the guise of croutons. There was a generous full buffalo mozzarella here, which when you think about the £5.40 price tag is pretty amazing. A nice touch was that the red onions had been pickled to take the edge off them and the colourful mix of heritage tomatoes were not fridge cold. Hooray!



The smashed avocado with feta on granary toast is somewhat of a "signature" dish here. For me, feta and avocado is an odd yet not unpleasant marriage, my main issue is the similar mushy texture. The toast was decent bread but suffered from the heavy loading and dressing and became a little soggy. Poached egg was a good addition and you can have bacon added too. This one wasn't for me but apparently customers love it and does make for a hearty breakfast/brunch alternative. Strangely this dish with bacon tots up to £9.80 which, when you consider the price point of the rest of the menu, seems a bit on the high side too. Not sure what that lemon was doing either!



But this I did like! A Moroccan twist on sausage and beans. Underneath the vivid green herb breadcrumbs were baked chickpeas in tomato sauce and spices. The chef's links to NZ and love of fusion food were apparent with the addition of a goat cheese bon bon, chorizo sausage and poached egg. Can't say I've had anything like it before but I really did enjoy it.

The service here is attentive and just adorable. The lovely ladies are dressed in vintage clothes but as per the interior, doesn't come across as themed or gimmicky. They have struck a very difficult balance to achieve and honestly felt transported back in time for an hour or so.

Cakes themselves were sublime and I couldn't leave without a little taste. The chunky carrot cake was moist and not over frosted which is a pet hate. The chocolate option was decadent, rich and fudgy. My favourite was the orange and almond though, the lighter option of the bunch. I loved the unfussiness and quality of these cakes, think of the best upscale nanna cake you'll ever have in your life. That. 

The presentation and craft of the full afternoon tea is very good and at £14pp is much better value than some of the more generic teas served in the city. That is certainly the case for the hotels who charge far, far more for less.

So, the food now goes beyond just the (very good) cake and tea you automatically think of with Blackbird tea rooms and on the whole the prices make it a viable option for a quick workday lunch as well as a special occasion. It's a gem and one that's made my Brighton Black Book listing for being somewhere different in the city.

www.blackbirdtearooms.com
30 Ship Street
Brighton 
BN1 1AD

I dined as a guest of Blackbird tea rooms. Views, as always, are my own. 

GF Guides | The best cocktail bars in Brighton


The party town of Brighton is certainly not short of a place or two to drink. Saying that, the majority of bars cater for the influx of stag and hen parties and mainstream clubbers that want their drinks cheap and cheerful. But if you prefer your poison refined and a little more exclusive then these bars are worth noting for your black book.

Plateau
Don’t let the fact that Plateau is primarily a small plate French restaurant put you off. In the evening, the vibe is stylish yet relaxed and the small bar to one side of the venue is definitely worth propping up. Although notorious for their carefully sourced organic, biodynamic and natural wine from small-scale producers, the cocktail menu is just as considered. Some of the drinks have a prohibition-era feel to them and others are 40s recipes from the cocktail masters.

Try the Satan’s Whiskers (gin, orange curacao, dry and sweet vermouth, fresh orange juice and orange bitters) or the “odd-ball” Pan American Clipper (le lieu calvados, fresh lime, grenadine and absinthe). And if you get hungry there is far more on offer than a packet of ready salted to satisfy cravings. Bonus.

Cocktail Shack
The newest and possibly the best boutique hotel bar in the city, you’ll find the Cocktail Shack nestled away in The Artist Residence on Regency Square. Grown up yet creative and convivial, this is the sort of place to sip your drinks if you want to avoid the mainstream mojito masses. This place perfectly reflects Brighton vibe, heck, part of it is even made with wood reclaimed from the West Pier.

Although the Shack’s tipple of choice is their sizable rum list, the cocktail menu covers some cherry picked classics and their own more adventurous house originals. Kick back and relax with a Tequila Negroni or for something a little adventurous for the taste buds, go for a Truth Be Told (gin, pineapple, coriander, jalapeno water and egg white).

The New Club
With views of the sea and the remains of the West Pier, The New Club should be a must for every visitor to Brighton. As well as serving gourmet American fast food, the bar is just as visit worthy. With a very cool NYC eatery style, they are now gaining national recognition for the effort they are putting into their food and drink. The cocktail menu is divided into three sections. Start the evening with their fresher, pre-dinner drinks like the Tre Bellini (crème de peche, peach puree, peach bitters and Prosecco) or one of their whiskey flight selections. The Club Classics list includes twists like Cherry Cola Bottle (Amaretto, Cherry Heering, cola syrup and lemon juice).

And finally, top the night off with the dessert cocktails, which along with the usual sweet options list drinks like the Rock & Rye (Rye Whiskey infused for a few days with Rock Candy, Orange, Lemon and Maraschino Cherries, served with an Aperol rinse).

BYOC (Bring Your Own Cocktail)
This is a relatively new concept to Brighton. Hidden away (behind the façade of a faux juice bar) in The Lanes, most people would pass it by which is part of the appeal, feeling almost a little illicit. Booking is advised and a set fee of £20 will buy you two hours of expert mixology. Unusually, you are requested to bring the alcohol but your drinks will be crafted to your individual taste preferences using their own in-house created syrups and bitters or pressed fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Not having to read lengthy cocktail menus is worth the entrance fee in itself and you will not be able to get tailor made drinks like these anywhere else.

The moody, candlelit interior makes for one of the most glamorous bars in the city, with quirky details and drinks served in vintage glassware. There’s even a tiny six seat cinema squirrelled in there as well. A unique experience in a modern speakeasy.


Graphic Foodie Guides 
A series of targeted, helpful guides for Brighton. If you would like me to create a guide on anything in particular drop me an email!
For other guides featured visit www.thegraphicfoodie.blogspot.co.uk/gfguides

This post first appeared on SocialandCoctail.co.uk

RECIPE: Antipasto diverso


A decent Italian meal must start with an antipasto but that doesn't mean just popping cured meats and olives on a plate from packets and jars. This alternative ("diverso") antipasto just takes a tiny little bit more effort but looks far more impressive. There is just a single piece of cooking - 5 minutes tops! The three elements are married up with a universal dressing of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

Serves 4, easily multiplied

Parma ham and melon cubes - makes 8
Gala melon, not over ripe, skin and seeds removed.
Few slices of Parma ham

Using a sharp knife, cut long pieces of melon into perfect rectangles, about 2.5cm wide and 2.5cm tall. Wrap these in Parma ham then wrap with cling film and chill for an hour. Remove from the fridge and cut again to form into eight 2.5cm cubes. Remove cling film.

Goat cheese bon bons - makes 8
150g soft (but not the very loose spreadable kind) goats cheese
Bunch of mixed herbs ie, rosemary, parsley, tarragon, mint
Large handful of pistachio nuts, shelled (optional)

Crush the pistachio nuts if using with a pestle and mortar or rolling pin, or chop with a sharp knife. Place onto a flat plate along with the chopped herbs and combine well.

Remove any rind from the goats cheese if any and then crumble into a bowl. Take a teaspoon of the cheese and roll into a neat ball, they should be roughly 15g each.

Roll each ball lightly around the herbs and pistachios, until well coated.

Courgette rolls with lemon ricotta - makes 8
1 large courgette (green or yellow) as fresh and firm as possible
150g Ricotta cheese
Zest of half a lemon
Few sprigs of fresh mint, very finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Using a vegetable peeler, slice the courgette lengthways, so you get long thin strips. Choose the best 8 strips. Brush each length lightly on one side with olive oil then place oil side down on a hot griddle pan. Cook until charred on one side only, retaining a nice pattern if you can.

Meanwhile combine the ricotta, lemon zest and mint in a small bowl. Season to taste. 

Laying the courgette strips, charred face down, spread a spoonful of ricotta filling across each one, finishing short of one edge. Trim this edge with sharp knife for presentation. Roll up neatly, finishing with the trimmed edge.

To serve
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Using individual plates or sharing platters, drizzle equal amounts of olive oil and balsamic onto the plate. Arrange the Parma Ham and Melon Cubes, Goat Cheese Bon Bons and Courgette Rolls on top. 





I tested out the OXO Good Grips Herb Mincer in this recipe. Although I normally get on fine with just a knife, the mincer did zap through the chopping in quick time and would be handy for recipes that use a lot of herbs (my ricotta herb ravioli for the whole family? I'm looking at you!). As always the ergonomics of OXO products has been carefully deigned, it was comfortable to hold and I loved the flat nose to push down and pile the herbs with. It also completely opens up so washing is an absolute breeze.

Also thanks to Filippo Berio for supplying the Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar - they were ideal for this recipe and great examples of affordable products for everyday. Very impressed with the taste of them both.

EVENT: Cin Cin Supper Club: Autumn Feast, 11th September 2014


I normally don't do blog shout outs to individual supper clubs but the fabulous Cin Cin (who are normally seen serving delicious Italian antipasti, street food and Prosecco from their charming '72 Fiat van) are hosting their first event. (I was so pleased with how well they did in the South East heats of the Street Food Awards. Not just me that prefers bellinis to burgers and burritos then!)

This September, owner and founder David Toscano will be bringing his inspired vision of Italian food to the pop-up scene by hosting his first supper club at Brighton’s Velo Café. The evening will showcase innovative and inspired takes on Italian classics. And Lord knows we need some decent Italian food in this city!

The menu has been specially crafted to also celebrate the wonderful British produce that is available as summer draws to a close and autumn begins. Working with chef Jamie Halsall (The Dorchester, Launceston Place and Roux at Parliament Square), David is keen to showcase seasonal ingredients in his dishes, which connect with the cured meats and cheeses that he typically serves from the Cin Cin van.

Things will start with a glass of Prosecco or Moretti (who are partnering for this event) along with three antipasti of honey glazed figs with goat’s cheese and late summer truffle, wild boar salami on Music Paper crisp bread with salsa verde, and Balsamic poached pears with melted Taleggio on ciabatta crostini.

The three course menu includes heirloom tomatoes & Burrata served with fresh basil and sherry vinaigrette, guinea fowl saltimbocca on a farro risotto and roasted damsons with zabaglione and crushed amaretti.

As well as Cin Cin’s signature Prosecco, there will also be wine pairings available throughout, to purchase by the glass or bottle, along with Birra Moretti.

Do you see a spag bol? No you DON'T.

Tickets are £42 per person and available at: http://tabl.com/events/251

www.cincin.co.uk

BOOK REVIEW: Vanilla Salt by Ada Parellada plus WIN a set of four food fiction novels



Even though I've now reviewed over thirty cookbooks on this blog, it just hasn't crossed my mind to post up any food fiction reviews. A bit daft really, as I'm guessing if you're reading this, you must have some interest in food and erm, reading. I've adored most of the ifood fiction I've read over the years as food really does translate well to stories you can immerse yourself in.

Based in Barcelona, Vanilla Salt is essentially the story of a stormy Catalan chef who's personality and attitude is killing his formerly popular restaurant. He desperately needs help, even if he resist it at every opportunity by forcing staff to leave or refusing advice from everyone around him. Then a mysterious Canadian cook starts work in his ill-fated restaurant who changes everything about his life.

I was grabbed pretty quickly, with food bloggers, food critics, social media and mention of one of my favourite films of all time, Big Night all featuring in the first few chapters. Also, the real draw of this book is that it has actually been written by a chef, admittedly not one I've heard of before, but her description of cooking and food is so detailed and vivid, you can sometimes taste it. Something that anyone short of being a professional chef probably wouldn't have managed so well. You can also extract quite a few tips in there like thickening sauces with fried bread and ground almonds. Bonus.

I did like chef Alex and thought his character was well created. Passionate, disillusioned, stubborn, arrogant and blinded by his own talent yet incredibly vulnerable underneath the tattoos and aggression. I think we all know one of those chefs! His resistance to use any ingredients who have their culinary origins in America - barbarian food as he calls it - made me laugh out loud although the real reason for his hatred turns out to be far deeper than just being a difficult chef.

Annette, the Canadian, was portrayed to swing wildly from being savvy and well-informed to naive and a tad foolish which made it difficult to gel with her and she did irritate me in places, but this could have been her poor grasp of Catalan which made her come across as a little simple.

As for the plot, it made for an easy read and heart-warming in places although I found the story's pace was a little jumpy toward the end and some of what happened just a little too farcical and thin skinned. It was interesting to read a book that has not only traditional food critics, but social media and blogging strongly dictate the success or failure of restaurants as quite a strong theme

All in all I enjoyed it. Vanilla Salt is light-hearted and definitely something to throw in the beach bag this summer.

COMPETITION TIME (UK only)!



Alma Books have very kindly offered me a set of four food fiction books to give away including:
The Hundred Foot Journey
The Restaurant of Love Regained
White Truffles in Winter
Vanilla Salt 

So if you've still got your summer holidays to go on, that will be your pool side reading sorted. The prize is one set of four books. Entries via the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


I was sent a copy of the book for review

EVENT: Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Food Festival, Autumn Harvest, 4 - 14 September 2014


I had such a great time at Brighton and Hove Food and Drink Festival this Spring, attending some pretty special dinners as well as the market and main food festival on Hove Lawns. It's one of the best food festivals in the country and I'm sure proud it's here in Brighton. Some of these dinners and events are repeated this time so if you missed them in the Spring then catch them now. Also this Autumn there are quite a few new things, involving some of the hottest new restaurants in Brighton. Remember to book ahead as these will sell out quickly!

For the full line up visit www.brightonfoodfestival.com but as always here are my favourites that I've cherry picked as the unmissable gems.



Food Lab
Sunday 14 September, 3pm, 64 Degrees, Meeting House Lane, Brighton
Tickets: £55 in advance

I don't think there has been so much (worthy) hype about a Brighton restaurant for a very long time, or indeed ever. 64 Degrees has invited attention from the capital and the national papers for good reason.

Brand new for the Festival, Food Lab is challenging the city’s most creative chefs and the county’s best producers to join together to create a fusion dish or product for a one-off tasting event at 64 Degrees. Who works with who will be completely random, but expect a completely unique dining experience.

Producers include Blackdown Sussex Spirits, Ridgeview Wine Estate, La Cave à Fromage, Terre à Terre), 64 Degrees, The Chilli Pickle, Boho Gelato, Jeremy’s Restaurant, Julien Plumart.

Book this ticket NOW.

The Roots of Silo: A Taste of Western Australia wine tasting & supper
Friday 12 September, 7pm, Silo, 39 Upper Gardner Street, Brighton
£55 in advance

Brighton is a-buzz with the imminent opening of Silo and will be the hottest restaurant opening in 2014. Believe me. 

Silo is a pre-industrial food system that was born ‘Down Under’, and its connections with gourmet Western Australia. UK Chef Douglas McMaster will display a taste of his waste free, pure flavours menu which is as good for the planet as it is for your taste buds. During this six course dinner you will hear from both chefs about their inspiration, tales Of Oz and get the chance to sample award-winning wines from Matt’s home town, Margaret River. 

The Three Chefs: International Chef Exchange supper
Monday 8 September, 7pm, the restaurant at drakes, 43-44 Marine Parade, Brighton
£55 per ticket

I loved this dinner for the Spring festival, the food was fantastic quality and the evening is great fun. As before, the dinner sees three top chefs come together for one amazing meal. Rob Carr of Hotel du Vin, Andrew MacKenzie from the restaurant at Drakes, and Michael Bremner of 64 Degrees, unite to prepare a supper inspired by their International Chef Exchange experiences of cooking with their partner chefs in Holland, for an audience of just 40 people.

Foraged Supper with That Chef Bloke, Ed Heller
Sunday 7 September, 6.30pm, A secret central Brighton & Hove location
£35 in advance from www.tabl.com/events

Chef Ed Heller: “A lot of chefs are often caught up with where they’ve been, what kitchens they have worked in, who they have worked for. All you need to know about me, is that food is my life.
Our relationship with food has become commercial, detached, desensitised, and it’s time to rediscover the raw foods of our surroundings.”
‘Foraged’ is a 5 course dinner, completely wild, foraged and hand picked. It’s your chance to eat like never before with food from a chef who doesn’t just cook food, he farms it too.

Sussex & the World Market
Saturday 6 - Sunday 7 September, 10am - 5pm, 10am - 5pm, Hove Lawns, Brighton seafront
FREE


Over 100 stalls selling fresh produce ranging from organic vegetables and breads to seafood and locally reared meat, alongside local restaurateurs and hot food stalls.

This Autumn welcomes back Wobblegate, Blackdown Sussex Spirits, Harvey’s Brewery and Butler’s Wine Cellar, all offering a great selection of locally produced drinks, whilst Mixology Group will be shaking it up in their Rum Shack. As well as the food there is a full line up of events, masterclasses and tastings. See the Festival website for more details as there is far too much to list here!

Children’s Food Festival
Saturday 6 September 10am - 4pm, Sunday 7 September 11am - 4pm, Festival marquee, Hove Lawns, Brighton seafront
FREE

This is so brilliant for encouraging children into food experiences and cooking. There's an amazing line-up of free activities alongside the Live Food Show marquee on Hove Lawns on Saturday 6 - Sunday 7 September to keep hungry little foodies busy! Choose from a host of workshops and making activities plus crafts with Rockinghorse and face painting with FareShare. Supporting Rockinghorse children’s charity.

Make Your Case wine tasting night
Thursday 11 September, 7pm, Hotel du Vin, Ship Street, Brighton
£30 in advance

The least boring wine event of your life - I promise you! The popular Make Your Case ‘punk’ wine tasting evening returns to the Autumn Harvest festival line-up with another epic line-up of wine experts including sommeliers, restaurateurs, vintners and wine makers, pitching their favourite vino to the audience.

Whilst you sample the wines blind, the presenters have three minutes to ‘pitch’ why their wine is the best – but they can’t mention the grape, price or country of origin. Then you score for presentation and taste – the wine with the highest score at the end of the night is declared our champion. You’ll also enjoy sharing platters of food from the kitchens of Pub du Vin.

You'll be standing on your chair shouting by the end of the evening. Yes you will.

For more information on the other events and tickets visit www.brightonfoodfestival.com 

REVIEW: The Cyclist Refreshment Rooms, Brighton Station

To be honest the whole influx of cycling cafes is doing my head in a little. And not just because I can't really ride a bike (what? SHUT UP). Anything that bespoke; knitting cafe, cat cafes....just seem so flipping cliquey and unnecessary.

And I suppose it's this identikit fashion for beard+artisan whatever+unhealthy obsession with bikes that has overtaken the demographic of my (male) peers that's peeved me most. Sometimes as a female designer I feel marooned in a sea of this hairy sameness and Jesus wept the studio bike talk...

But The Cyclist is not, I repeat not, another cycling cafe. Short of the bike powered mobile phone charger at the entrance there is no risk of a public display of Lycra. Phew.

The Cyclist is however a new addition to the growing food scene at Brighton train station. Gone are the days of stale baguettes as our default. We now have fresh baked bagels, wood fired pizza and now well sourced local food, simply treated at a good price. The Cyclist is an all day restaurant with interesting breakfasts, a fresh daily lunch specials board and dinner. It would also be fine to pop in just for drinks.

Being in the station is a massive bonus too, relieving weary tourists, commuters and workers from the surrounding businesses. The owners, Rupert and Jo Clevey were founders of Geronimo Inns and clearly know a thing or thousand about the industry. This is their first venture under their new Greenwell & Tipple brand where the idea is to reinvent train station eating. So no more gastro pubs or sandwich bars but a travel hub of sorts which I like. In Italy (probably Europe) you can get a decent four course meal with a glass of wine in the service stations for goodness sake. The UK generally suffers from lack of decent food whilst travelling so think they have tapped into a good market here.
The attention to detail here almost borders on obsessive (which I can relate to). Despite in passing it seems like an eclectic collection of trendy junkyard finds and travel themed antiques, everything is considered from the silver tankards on the table to the soft furnishings. It's been beautifully done and an absolute pleasure to be in. And the quality continues to the menu. Meat is from a butcher over in Handcross and fish and baked goods are local. Even the mineral water is from the South Downs and there are a few of my favourite producers on the drinks menu, although I'd like to see a few more possibly.


The burger is supposed to be very good for you enthusiasts out there but I opted for the steak bruschetta. The size was perfect for lunch and only £7 for a good quality cut of meat. It was well cooked which was fine for me, over for some who like it caveman style. The large helping of fresh rocket, Parmesan shavings and cherry tomatoes freshened up the dish. The only think was I could have done with more of the herb aioli as it was so delicious. They also gave you a generous portion of bread and oil.


For dessert I was tempted by the peach and almond tart served with a sea buckthorn ice cream (made in West Sussex). This was my first taste of this unusual berry, a sort of orange/mango if you like but I'm sold. The tart was well made with fine slithers of peach, caramelised at the edges and the dish was very well presented. A snip at £5.50 and so beautifully presnted.


I liked the food so much I went back for one of the varied salads (quinoa, fennel and herb salsa) later in the week whilst I had a meeting and have sent quite a few of my yummy mummy friends up there too as the space is good for buggies. 

Service is enthusiastic and friendly, but above all efficient which is just the ticket when you have to fly.

The Cyclist is a fantastic addition not just to Brighton Station, but to Brighton itself. Even if you don't have a train to catch, it's worth the journey.

The Cyclist Refreshment Rooms
Brighton Train Station
Queens Road
Brighton BN1 3XP

I was invited to review The Cyclist. Views, as always, are my own.