The Stable, Falmouth

Earlier this year, I was very kindly invited to review a new pizza and cider restaurant in Newquay called The Stable.

The concept was simple but executed well – an extensive and unusual pizza menu featuring lots of local produce, with names related to local landmarks, and a cider menu with 80 bottled and draught ciders, included several local brands.

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If you read my review you’ll see that I was very impressed, and so when I heard that a new branch of the South West chain was going to be opening in Falmouth, I was more than happy to say yes to an invite of the launch which took place last night.

One thing all of the Stable restaurants has in common is being located in interesting and special buildings and locations. While the Stable in Newquay has stunning panoramic views of Fistral Beach, the Falmouth restaurant has taken over the old custom house overlooking the harbour, and is a building with real character. The Stable team have spent a year restoring the building to have it ready for opening, and the time and effort spent on it definitely shows.

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Along with some hungry and thirsty friends, I arrived last night and headed straight into the upstairs restaurant to try out some of the ciders.

If you’re indecisive like me, the tasting board is ideal – five 200ml glasses for £7.50, with a card explaining which is which. As I was driving, I shared the board with my friends, and their opinions were split on which were the best – one was a  fan of the Apple Slayer, while another preferred the sparking ciders, especially the Stable Drop Gold.

We were also big fans of one of the local bottled ciders on sale, Cornish Orchards Vintage – it’s a 7.2% cider, more commonly known as ‘night wrecker’…

Pizza was being handed out on boards by waitresses (and very young children) walking around the room. Between us, we tried the West Country Porker, with chorizo, mozzarella and rocket; the Lamb Roast with lamb, sweet potato and goats cheese; the Hawaiian with ham, pineapple and avocado; the Red Ruby Rustler with ground beef, chorizo, mushrooms and ham and the Smithick Scorcher, with chopped pork and Naga chillies.

Our group favourite was the Lamb Roast, but all were good with lots of toppings on thin and crispy bases – as I said before, a lot better than you’ll find in any other pizza chain around here.

The launch evening was extremely busy, with a band playing in the downstairs room which also houses the impressive cider display behind the bar – seriously, try choosing from all of these!

The Stable in Falmouth opens to the public tonight, and I’m sure it will be a great success – the one in Newquay is ALWAYS super busy, and with the same quality of pizza and cider I’m sure the Falmouth one will be the same.

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Gingham Chicken fudge – review

Sometimes, people surprise you with their loveliness.

Hazel Parsons is someone who I don’t really know, but have met though my housemate as they both work in the wedding industry in Cornwall.

A little while ago, she posted some photos on Twitter of some Gingham Chicken fudge which was being used for wedding favours. I commented saying that I’d heard their stuff was good but had never tried it, then the next thing I knew I had a tasty parcel waiting for me at the delivery office!

There was absolutely no reason for Hazel to send me the fudge – she doesn’t work for the company, wasn’t trying to promote it – she just did it to be nice. How lovely is that?!

I figured the best way of justifying the eating of an entire box of fudge was if I then reviewed it for the blog – so here goes.

Gingham Chicken is a Cornish fudge company, based in Liskeard. I first heard about them through Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, but hadn’t seen the fudge on sale anywhere so never got around to trying any.

The flavour I was sent was sea salt and pecan nuts – a flavour combination I haven’t seen in fudge before but sounded like it could work well.

Regular fudge can be too sweet, but the salt balances it nicely, and Gingham Chicken have got the balance just right. Add pecan nuts, which I love and snack on all the time, and it becomes delicious fudge heaven!

Texture wise, it was perfect for me. I think fudge lovers can be divided into two camps – crumbly or soft and buttery. I’m in the crumbly camp, and that’s exactly what this was – although the one downside to this is that it didn’t fare brilliantly in the post and there wee quite a lot of crumbs left at the bottom of the box.

I would 100% recommend this fudge, and I can’t wait to try more Gingham Chicken flavours soon. And should anyone be in a generous mood, leave a comment and I’ll send you my address…

 

The Stable, Fistral – review

When I first heard that a branch of the South West restaurant chain The Stable was opening in Newquay, I was pretty excited.

The concept is simple – pizza, pie and cider. LOTS of cider. And how could that not be awesome?

Although it is a chain, the menu at each Stable varies a little, using local ingredients to create different pizzas (named after local landmarks) and also featuring local ciders alongside the regulars.

The team at The Stable very kindly offered me the chance to visit and review the new Fistral restaurant last week. Before you even get to ordering, the restaurant impresses with the absolutely stunning panoramic views out over Fistral beach – it’s a great reminder of why living in Cornwall is so brilliant!

When we visited for a mid-week dinner, it was pretty busy with many of the tables reserved, and the atmosphere was lively and loud.

Normally I struggle with choosing what to eat when I’m out, but at The Stable the food was the easy bit – faced with a menu of around 60 draught and bottled ciders, deciding on a drink was much harder!

In the end I went for an Annings Pear and Peach, and my reviewing partner Becky went for a Norcotts Cider with Elderflower. Mine was light and fruity, refreshing and far too easy to drink; Becky’s was maybe a little stronger but equally delicious – I wouldn’t hesitate to have either again.

If like me you struggle to make decisions, you can order a cider tasting board – five 1/3 pints with tasting notes. The couple next to us had one and let me take a photo – definitely think I’m going to have to try this next time I visit…

For the main, I chose the Headland Herbivore pizza – roast potatoes, Cornish blue cheese, roasted Spanish onions, spinach, tomato and mozzarella. I thought it was great – the base was super thin but not overly crispy, there were plenty of toppings, and the flavours worked really well – I don’t usually like blue cheese, but on this it wasn’t at all overpowering.

Becky had the The Cribbar – free-range chicken, roasted red pepper, mushrooms, tomato and mozzarella. She was equally impressed, particularly with the quality of the chicken which was much better than you’d usually expect from a pizza.

After pizza and cider we were both stuffed, but it would have been rude to say no to dessert, so I had a baked caramelised apple and ginger cheesecake with pecan praline and Becky had the chocolate brownie with clotted cream.

I have to be honest, it is VERY rare that I am impressed by restaurant cheesecake, and more often than not think I could have done a better job myself. Not so this time – it was to die for! Perfect texture, great flavours, and just delicious. So good!

The brownie was super rich and Becky could only eat half, but any serious chocolate lover would be in heaven I’m sure.

Even though it was ‘only’ a pizza restaurant and nothing fancy, my meal at the Stable was one of the best I’ve had out in a while, and I think it’s going to prove extremely popular with both visitors and locals. I will definitely be going back – I have a lot of ciders to work my way through…

Thanks again to the lovely team at the Stable for sorting out our meal – opinions are 100% non-biased though as always! Thanks also to the bar and waiting staff who were friendly, helpful, and seemed to genuinely want diners to enjoy their experience – top service 🙂

The BIG Cake Show

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This weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited by the organisers of The BIG Cake Show to go along as a VIP blogger and sample the many cakey delights on offer.

For those of you who don’t know, The BIG Cake Show is a brand new event in Exeter organised by local friends, event organisers and baking enthusiasts Kim and Mel. It took place over three days, following a similar format to the Cake and Bake shows in Manchester and London, which I’m sure many of you will have been to.

There were baking demonstrations, from both celebrities and local chefs, classroom workshops, children’s activities, competitions and of course lots and lots of fabulous local and national producers and suppliers selling everything from cake decorating tools to chocolates, wine and of course cake.

Although on a smaller scale than the Cake and Bake shows, there was plenty going on to make it well worth the bargain £12 entry – I was kept entertained from 11 until 5, and I don’t exactly have the longest attention span…

The big draws in terms of celeb chefs were Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, but neither of them were there on the Saturday when I went. I really wasn’t too bothered though, as my two favourite GBBO contestants (and winners) were there – Edd Kimber and John Whaite.

John was up first, giving a demo which was half baking, half stand up comedy – he was brilliant! The butterscotch banana giant chelsea bun he made looked incredible too – I believe the recipe is in his new book which came out this week…

One of the benefits of my VIP ticket was priority seating for the demos. I was a little bit late arriving for John, so I just ran in and grabbed the first seat I saw, in the middle of the front row. It was only when John made a comment about the people sat next to me that I realised it was actually Edd Kimber and Jo Wheatley, off of actual Bake Off!

I took the opportunity to grab a quick photo with Edd – what a lovely man! His demo later in the afternoon was fab too – making a flour less chocolate and blackberry cake, he did a great job of answering all the audience’s questions and you could tell there was no blagging whatsoever, he really does know his stuff! Although I can’t help but be a little jealous of anyone who bakes for a living and classes Paul A Young as one of their best friends…

I also saw local chefs Rob Spencer and Darrin Hosegrove from Ashburton Cookery School demoing in the West Country Larder, ably (?!) assisted by local radio DJ David ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald. The cookery school has won loads of awards and should anyone really, REALLY love me, one of their patisserie courses would make an excellent gift… Just saying!

It was great to see local producers alongside the bigger baking companies, and I enjoyed both catching up with some I’ve met at previous events and meeting some lovely new people too.

For anyone who shares the same mild obsession with blueberries that I have, the Blueberry Brothers are just amazing – they make jam, truffles, brownies, tarts and muffins, as well as a blueberry beer called Blue Yonder which I’ve been on the lookout for since Christmas.

I should explain – pre-Christmas, I met Nick from the Blueberry Brothers at a farmers’ market in Plymouth. We got chatting, and he gave me a recipe for venison seared in blueberry jam then slow cooked in blueberry beer, which I wrote up and gave to my stepdad along with a bottle of beer and jar of jam. He like the recipe so much he wanted to do it again, but sadly Blue Yonder isn’t too readily available in Cornwall – so when I saw it on Saturday I was more than a bit happy!

Not a beer lover myself, I sampled one of their blueberry and apple muffins, fuel for the long drive home, and it was absolutely delicious. Next on my list to try is their blueberry marzipan – I have a feeling I could quickly become addicted.

One of my favourite new finds of the day was Frandie Macaron. Having previously spoken to them on Twitter, I made a beeline for their stand when I arrived, to check out all the beautiful brightly coloured macarons, hand made in Devon.

I’ve always been too scared to make macarons, so it was rather reassuring to see that even the professionals don’t always get it right – Frandie Macaron sell bags of ‘maca-wrongs’ – misshapen shells that taste just as good but are a little lacking in the looks department.

I tried one of their raspberry and limoncello macarons, which were created especially for the show through a fan competition. It was lush – I really do need to have a go at making my own though. Soon, maybe…

In the competition arena was a great selection of novelty cakes, all with a South West theme. The winning cake really was outstanding, they packed everything Westcountry that they could think of into a bit tower of cake, including Yeo Valley yoghurt, Clarks shoes, Paignton Zoo and Thatchers Cider – just look at the INSANE detail, I can only dream of being able to make a cake this good!

So, The BIG Cake Show was basically brilliant, and I am so happy that Mel and Kim have managed to create something for people in the South West – as much as I love cake, the 5 hour drive/7 hour coach to London is not the most fun, and I know a lot of people will agree that with so many amazing local bakers and producers, it’s only right that the South West should have its own show!

Thanks to Tracy and The BIG Cake Show team for my VIP pass, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Eating my weight in bread and cheese – Pizza Express review

What with new year healthiness and most people I know generally not having a lot of money this month, I haven’t really been eating out as much as I should, given that I’ve just moved to a town packed full of restaurants.

Luckily, I had the perfect excuse to break this sad trend when Pizza Express asked me if I’d like to review one of their restaurants – erm, yes please!

It was actually with a view to promoting their Christmas menu that they were contacting bloggers, but things were so hectic in December I was never going to have enough time to visit and do the write up before the festive season ended and so I waited until last week to try the normal menu instead.

My lovely friend and co-reviewer Fiona and I visited the Pizza Express restaurant in Newquay – according to my colleague it has the most amazing views out over the sea, but as we visited at night unfortunately that bit completely passed me by.

I am the worst person ever at making menu decisions, and this was no exception. Even though I had already committed to having pizza, the choices on offer are extensive – first you have to decide if you want the classic base or the thinner and crispier, more ‘authentic Italian’ Romana base, then you have a choice of ten or so different flavours, or your own choice of topping.

Caprina Rossa Romana

I went for the Caprina Rossa Romana, which consists of mozzarella, goat’s cheese, beetroot, red onion, tomato, rocket and pesto. Fiona chose the Diavolo (I think because she was looking for the one with the most meat), which was topped with hot spiced beef, pepperoni, red onions, Tabasco and some sort of hot green peppers.

I thought mine was great – beetroot and goats cheese could both potentially be quite overpowering, but all the flavours worked together well, and were interesting enough to make you want to finish the pizza, rather than get bored half way through.

Fiona liked hers too, although her main complaint was that our waitress didn’t ask what type of chillies she wanted – apparently you get a choice of hot green, jalapeno or roquito peppers, but not being chilli aficionados we weren’t too sure what she was actually given. They definitely weren’t jalapeños, but they were super hot and it would definitely be a struggle to eat them all.

Diavolo Romana

We both agreed that the Romana base was good, but slightly verging on too crispy at the edges. Could be because we’re used to the slightly thicker type that you’re usually served in England, but I don’t like deep-pan pizzas at all so I would much prefer too thin to too thick.

Sadly where Pizza Express let itself down, in my opinion, was with the desserts.

Even though I was stuffed full of pizza (probably more bread and cheese than I would normally have in a week) I felt like I couldn’t write a proper review without trying something sweet.

I chose a lemon meringue torts from the ‘dolcetti’ menu – mini desserts served with a coffee. I know that desserts at Pizza Express are going to be mass produced, frozen and defrosted, but even with that in mind it was still a bit of a letdown – the lemon had no zing whatsoever, the meringue was too soft and sweet, and the pastry was bland.

Fiona’s chocolate fudge cake was better, but we both agreed that it would have been much better served warm, and that in most places that’s what you’d expect to get.

In Pizza Express’ defence, you go there for pizza, not dessert, so it’s kind of fair enough that they focus their attention on the mains. Also, the couple sat at the table next to us shared a giant ice cream sundae and that did look pretty immense, so maybe it was a bit of bad ordering on my part that was partly to blame.

Overall, we really enjoyed our meal and I would definitely go back again – but when it’s light enough to enjoy the view, and definitely with ice cream for dessert!

Disclaimer bit – Pizza Express very kindly gave me a gift card to spend at the restaurant, but opinions are 100% honest – I definitely didn’t have to be nice!

Caramelised rum and coconut pina asadas, and a big dose of guilt

As what I would consider a truly amateur food blogger, it’s always a lovely surprise when I’m contacted by anyone asking me if I would like to review their product/book/restaurant, and as long as it fits in with the content of my blog I’m happy to do it.

The only problem is, sometimes I end up with just too many things to post about and not enough time, which means it can take a little longer than I’d like to write up the posts.

I have what I think of as a guilt chest – all the things I know I should do, and feel terrible about not doing, but just haven’t quite go around to doing.

The biggest dose of guilt in it is for a cookbook I was sent months and months ago – and actually love – but until now hadn’t blogged about.

World Food Cafe: Recipes from a Vegetarian Journey has been written by Chris and Carolyn Caldicott, who run the World Food Cafe in London’s Covent Garden.

World Food Cafe Quick & Easy

The book contains more than one hundred veggie recipes, literally from all around the world. It’s split into sections by country – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Chile, Cuba, Japan, Laos, Helsinki & Lapland, Namibia, Syria and Vietnam – each with the story of Chris and Carolyn’s travels in that country, and lots of notes about the traditional dishes accompanying the recipes themselves.

Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to write this up is that I made loads of the savoury recipes straight away, but wanted to wait until I’d baked something sweet to post the recipe for. I couldn’t let it drag into the new year though, so now is the time to get rid of the guilt!

I love South American food so immediately gravitated towards Cuba to make the Huevos Habaneros (eggs from Havana) and the Sweetcorn and Caramelised Onion Tortilla de Papa, both of which were delicious.

After cooking my way around some of the other countries, I returned to Cuba to make these Caramelised Rum and Coconut Pina Asadas. I have to say, I think they would taste a million times better sat on a beach on a sunny evening in Cuba than they did in my kitchen on a cold December evening, but regardless it was a delicious dessert that I will definitely make again.

A big part of the reason I loved this recipe is the generous glug of dark rum involved – I love rum in general, but paired with pineapple, coconut, cinnamon and lime, it really is like tropical heaven.

My photos absolutely don’t do this dish justice, it was so good and I will definitely make it again. I also plan to keep trying new recipes from the World Food Cafe cookbook, as there are so may that sound amazing – the only slight downside is that a lot of them use ingredients I suspect most people don’t already have in their store cupboards, but if the ones I’ve tried so far are anything to go by it’s worth stocking up.

Caramelised rum and coconut pina asadas

  • 1/2 medium pineapples, sliced into 4 rings
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp dark rum
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp demerara sugar
  • grated coconut
  • vanilla ice cream to serve

Melt the butter over a low heat, then add the rum, lime, cinnamon and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour over the pineapple and leave to marinade for half an hour.

Heat a griddle pan and lay the pineapple slices in it. Sprinkle the coconut on top, and baste with the leftover butter mixture. Once the underneath has caramelised, flip over to cook the other side and sprinkle with more coconut and baste with more butter.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream – and a perhaps a side of rum if you have any going spare…

Choccie Bar – handmade chocolates from Devon

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Don’t you just love when fate smiles upon you and everything seems to fall right into place?

This happened to me a few weeks ago, when I read an article in Food magazine about a chocolate company based in Broadclyst, near Exeter.

The article referred to a tasting club, where the chocolatier would take on board the suggestions of the tasters and actually create the chocolates they came up with.

I thought it sounded interesting, so I looked up the company online and fired off a quick email to find out more. I received the most lovely response from the chocolate maker herself, Katie, saying that it was a bit short notice, and she had no idea where in the country I lived, but she was holding a launch event for her new online store in Exeter the following and would I like to go.

Would I? Of course! And I’m so glad I did, because the launch event was fabulous. To give it a bit of a twist, Katie teamed up with several local clothing stores to put on a chocolate fashion show, with models wearing outfits that reflected her range of chocolates.

There were of course plenty of chocolate samples being handed out, which gave me my first taste of how good Choccie Bar products are.

The stand out chocolates sampled on the night were definitely the chilli chocolate collection – three after dinner chocolates, to be eaten in a specific order.

First up, a chilli-infused strawberry ganache, coated in dark chocolate. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing worse than being offered chilli and getting nothing more than a slight tingle on your tongue, so I was delighted that this chocolate had a proper kick to it.

Next, ginger flavoured chocolate, which was milder in heat but still full of flavour and with a pleasant sweetness that takes the edge off the chilli eaten previously.

The third chocolate is a coconut filled heart, which cools and soothes your taste buds and leaves a lovely tropical aftertaste. Seriously, after trying these you will never want to go back to after dinner mints, they are seriously that good!

Katie, second from the left, with Emma Ravensfield of Exeter Alternative Theatre and fashion show host Celia Delaney

Katie, second from the left, with Emma Ravensfield of Exeter Alternative Theatre and fashion show host Celia Delaney

I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Katie after the fashion show, and she very kindly gave me a goodie bag to take away, with a box of 18 more delicious handmade chocolates, and a solid chocolate masquerade mask.

When I opened the mask, I only intended to nibble a corner, but it was such good quality milk chocolate that I ended up scoffing it all there and then.

I was a little more restrained with the box of chocolates and made them last a couple of weeks, tasting just a few at a time. There was a good mixture of fruit, nut and caramel flavours – my personal favourites were the strawberry creme (despite normally hating those!) and the lemongrass, both of which were very different to any I’ve tried before and absolutely delicious.

Now the online boutique is up and running, you can order boxes of chocolates and choose which you’d like in them – so you’ll never have the problem of those one or two flavours that no one likes sitting around unloved!

With Christmas on the way, these would make a fab present, but if I’m completely honest I’m far more likely to buy them for myself as they’re a bit too good to share!

I love getting to meet local food producers down here in the South West, and I’m so glad that I stumbled across Choccie Bar at just the right time, and had the chance to meet Katie and taste some seriously good chocolates.

Go check out Choccie Bar for yourself – I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Cake and Bake Show, London 2013

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When I was approached by the lovely PR team behind the Cake and Bake Show to ask if I would like a pair of press passes, it took me all of a second to fire back an email saying ‘yes!’

I’d never been before, but from what I’d heard it would be a baker’s heaven – all the sweet and savoury treats you could wish for, baking supplies and equipment to set you up for life, tonnes of expert demos, and a great opportunity for spotting the rockstars of the baking world.

Ok, so I had to get up at 4.30 in the morning, drive an hour and a quarter to get a coach to London, then get the coach back at 11.30 at night, and not arrive home until 7 in the morning, but it was SO worth it.

My brilliant friend Becky was willing to go along with my insane travel plans, so we turned up at Earls Court and were pretty pleased to see that despite the show being sold out on the Saturday there weren’t any big queues to get in.

While trying to track down the press room, we caught a glimpse of all the amazing goodies on offer – it was pretty overwhelming!

We were kind of hungry when we arrived, so took advantage of the bread, cheese and cakes in the press room. After scoffing down some food, I turned around to see none other than baking GOD Dan Lepard sat at a table. Internally, I was ridiculously excited about this, but for some reason too embarrassed to just go over and say hi – massive wasted opportunity!

The celeb spotting continued throughout the day – pretty much everyone from the current series of Great British Bake Off was there, along with previous winners John Waite and Edd Kimber, and loads of top professional chefs.

We were offered the chance to take part in one of the ‘Classrooms’ – private demonstrations for groups of around 50 people on a wide range of different topics.

Burlesque Baking with Charlotte White

‘Burlesque Baking’ immediately caught my eye, so we went to the session hosted by Charlotte White of Restoration Cake, who was absolutely fabulous – I’ve never seen anyone look quite so glamorous or wear such skyscraper heels to bake in but she totally pulls it off!

She showed us how to ice and decorate a cake in her signature vintage style, which takes inspiration from burlesque artists. Her tips were brilliant, everything from the best way to pick up the sugarpaste and lay it over the cake to piping perfect strings of pearls around the sides – I was inspired, and am going to be attempting to recreate her cake here very soon!

Charlotte White dessert table

Charlotte was also one of the bakers to create a dessert table for the show – basically a showcase of each bakers signature style. Along with the cake catwalk and the ‘wedding cake of the future’ area, this was the place for professional bakers to really show what they can do, and Becky and I were both stunned by just how creative, intricate and fabulous they all were.

Here are a few of my faves…

A lot of the food stalls at the show were giving away free samples, which combined with the food we found in the press room meant we didn’t actually have that much room for buying and eating anything on the day.

Paul A Young brownies

One of the things we just had to try though was Paul A Young’s now infamous marmite brownie, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Becky was definitely not convinced, and to be honest I still haven’t quite made up my mind – on first taste I thought the marmite was way too overpowering, but it was also strangely addictive – put half in the fridge but couldn’t resist going back for sneaky extra bites…

On Cafe macaron

I also bought some macarons from On Cafe – passionfruit and mango, cassis and my favourite, champagne pink peach, as well as a couple of water ganache truffles from The Chocolatier.

We left the Cake and Bake show feeling absolutely stuffed, but also inspired to bake – for anyone with even a slight interest in baking, I would highly recommend you go! Whether you want to stock up on equipment, gape at stunning sugarcraft, learn from the experts or just gobble up some freebies, it’s well worth a visit – I’ll certainly be going back next year!

Thorntons Continental Spectacular – Review

A couple of months ago, I was approached by Thorntons, the chocolate shop, to see if I would like to review any of the products from their luxury chocolates gift collection.

While I don’t often eat straight up chocolate bars, I am rather partial to boxed chocolates and truffles, so my answer was obviously yes – the only problem was that with a trip to Romania looming, I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to eat, review and blog before I went away.

Luckily the lovely team at Thorntons were happy to wait for me to come back, and after the come down of returning to England and returning to work, finding a giant box of chocolates waiting for me was exactly what I needed.

I requested something from the Continental collection, because I thought it would have a nice variety of flavours and no liqueurs – the one type of chocolate I really don’t like.

When I saw the size of the box I thought it would be lots of packaging with a couple boxes of chocolates buried at the bottom, but no – inside was a staggering 1,350g worth of chocolates! Enough to last several months, or to make me very fat in a week…

The Continental Spectacular Collection includes one huge 685g box of assorted chocolates, 3 smaller 150g boxes, four bags of chocolates and three truffle bars, all inspired by flavours from around Europe.

After a thorough sampling of the chocolates over the past two weeks, I would happily recommend it as a gift for any chocolate lover. There is enough variety that pretty much anyone would find something they like, but still keeping to fairly popular flavour combinations that are unlikely to offend.

My personal favourites are the Viennese Truffle (a light and fluffy mouse coated in creamy chocolate and dusted in sugar),the Cappuccino (a coffee mousse coated in white chocolate), and the Sicilian Lemon Mousse (as you’d expect a lemon mousse, coated in milk and white chocolate).

There weren’t really any I disliked, although I think the filling of the Apricot Delice is a tad too sweet, and as I prefer smooth truffle fillings I could have done with a few less of the nutty ones.

In the small boxes out of 13 chocolates there are 8 milk coated and only 2 dark and 3 white coated which is a bit of an imbalance, but with whole bags full of the dark Apricot Delice and Seville Orange and white Vanille Truffle it evens out overall.

At £22, I think this gift collection is excellent value – bought individually the contents would come to more than double that – and I think anyone who received it as a gift would be very impressive. With the amount of chocolate it’s definitely made for sharing and after two weeks I’ve still barely made a dent into it, but that’s certainly not a complaint!

Disclaimer – Thorntons did send me this for free, which was super lovely, but my opinions are 100% honest, as always!

L’Artisan du Chocolat – review

Earlier in the month, I was contacted by a website I’d never heard of before, the Handpicked Foodstore, to ask if I would like to try any of their products for a review.

When the first words I saw on the site were ‘smoked salmon’ my heart sank a little – a shop full of fish is kind of my worst nightmare – but I was relieved to see that there were also pages for artisan cheeses, condiments and spices, and best of all luxury chocolates.

I left it in the hands of their marketing team to decide which products to send me, as I was really spoiled for choice with chocolate from Rococo, Montezuma’s and L’Artiscan du Chocolat, all handpicked as the website name suggests by a panel of foodie experts looking for the finest British produce.

I was delighted when a box arrived containing a little round tub of L’Artisan du Chocolat No.1 Sea Salted Caramels and a selection of their ‘fusion’ range of chocolate bars, and immediately set about formally taste testing with the pony and our next door neighbour Jo.

Whether or not the caramels really are the original salted caramel I don’t know, but I do know that they are pretty special – the chocolate is dark and crisp and the dusting of cocoa slightly bitter; the caramel a complete texture and taste contrast with both the caramel and salt coming through strongly.

All three of us enjoyed them, but I’d say they’re probably not for your average Dairy Milk chocolate eater – the pony thought the salt was bordering on too strong and Jo thought the caramel tasted almost burnt – but as an after dinner treat with a cup of coffee I thought they were perfect.

The four chocolate bars I received were sugar free milk, caffe latte, gianduja and gingerbread cookie. By far my favourite was the gingerbread cookie ,a creamy white chocolate with gingerbread cookie crumbs that not only combines two of my favourite flavours but is also a combination I haven’t come across before.

The caffe latte at first was a bit of a shock, I think as I’ve only ever tried coffee flavoured dark chocolate so in a milk chocolate it wasn’t what I was expecting, but I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way. The gianduja was like taking everything that’s good about Nutella but somehow transforming into something classy and refined, and the sugar free milk was really good too (I ate some after eating regular milk chocolate and much preferred the sugar free).

The bars all have tasting notes on the wrappers which is a nice touch, and I was especially pleased to have been sent them in addition to the caramels as it meant I could do some baking as well as just scoffing chocolate. I made a cake last night involving the caffe latte bar, and it is seriously good – stay tuned for the recipe!

Big thanks to the Handpicked Foodstore for sending me the chocolate to try – obviously they were sent to me for free, but my opinions aren’t swayed by that in the slightest!