Domestic Goddess in Training: month one – January

As regular readers will know, I’m no stranger to baking having been attached to a wooden spoon before I could barely walk. However, it’s been many years though since I last worked out how many grammes to the ounce and whether I should really weight things or just rely on texture and taste (prefer the latter). Now post-building a career and then running my own company (I don’t much care for either now, I’m happy freelancing and spending every minute I can on writing (my book) instead) I’m back in the kitchen.

New gadgets

As soon as my Christmas holiday is over and I’ve booked my next trip (a ritual), Vancouver in May, I go out and buy a tonne of ingredients which are now sitting on top of work spaces as the cupboards in my I-never-cook-anyway sized kitchen are already over-flowing. For a neat–freak like me, I’d rather just have them tidily on display if I can’t fit them smartly in cupboards so I’ve been collecting quirky, retro containers too.

Secret recipe Chocolate Brownies

My initial plan is to bake anything other than cakes which I always could do although I did have a go at my legendary bite size secret recipe brownies at Christmas. I’ve actually long lost the scribbled recipe that I’d had from pre laptop days as it got lost in the move back from New York three years ago but it was a good first edible attempt.

New gadgets

So I start with buying a cookies book – American of course so I have the added challenge of converting all the recipes to UK-speak and the buying of new scales. I used to have scales before I got rid of everything pre-transatlantic move but they mainly sat and looked pretty above my fridge. The cookie book stated accurate scales an absolute necessity so any excuse for me to buy a new gadget.

Chocolate Chip cookies

The recipe seemed to be mainly large quantities of a variety of types of sugar so I try to modify it for UK consumption.

For the second batch, I added some super expensive chocolate that we picked up last year from Westmorland Farm Shop

Take Two

All of January’s creations were edible, actually very nice. In fact the cookies were eatern by my friend’s four year old which I take as a compliment from a fussy young’un. The plan now is it to make them jaw-dropingly good and make these photos better, which is going to take a few attempts over some time.

Adventures in Birmingham: Afternoon Tea

After brunch, my favourite meal is Afternoon Tea. Not (Devon) cream tea, which is just scones with jam and cream and not ‘High Tea,’ a large meal with savoury and sweet delights which is served around 5-6pm, perhaps if you are going out for the evening – both of which I also love.

For someone who doesn’t drink tea and who thinks cake is an everyday essential, I still feel this refined British occasion between 3-5pm is a treat. In the last year, I have experienced the Afternoon Tea offerings of Hyatt Regency, Hotel Du Vin and most recently Mint Hotel. All have their good points, despite being very different in styles.

Hyatt Regency £19

I confess I have been here twice, firstly it was the second outing I ever organised for Out with the Girls (the first was a brunch) and then again for one of the girls’ birthdays. The first time was fantastic with the only imperfection they charged for every cup of tea (coffee) but they changed that when I asked; to pay for every little cup at Hyatt prices will mean more than double the cost of the meal. Secondly the price had gone up from what was on the website and what it was when I booked but again, they honoured the original price. That gives them a 9/10.

The Hyatt Regency, despite being extremely modern from the outside epitomises old school charm. The staff wouldn’t look out of place if they were frilly aprons and penguin suits and placed a bell for attention on each table. The food is exquisite in presentation and taste and now the coffee is bottomless, it’s as near perfect as you can get. Of course the sandwiches are sans crusts and cut in two bite portions as expected but the delightful mix of mini scones, bite size brownie cubes and creamy delights served on tiered cake trays is a slice of heaven arriving at your dreamy white linen draped table.

 Hotel Du Vin £11

I wondered if Du Vin could pull it out of the tea cosy for almost half what the Hyatt charge. It’s an awful tag ‘boutique hotel’ but really, Du Vin is more traditional charm than the name suggests. I’d never even had a drink in the hotel bar (just in the pub or the conservatoire) so that fact they serve a delightful tea in a separate room of the bar is a find. We sat at a low square table surrounded by comfy sofas and chairs and watched dish after dish, pot after pot bought to us. It felt like high society in a bygone time. Nothing was too much trouble and the food and drink – no matter which tea – were in plentiful and ready supply.

Du Vin also wins out as they actually offer the cucumber sandwiches and the scones are soft enhanced by the perfect snowy cream. All the cakes were bite size temptations and a rest was needed before contemplating. There is nothing between these two other than price. It’s lovely to sit at a civilised table but it’s also lovely to take it in the drawing room, as it were. 9½ /10

City Inn, at the Mint Hotel £15

Both of these are hard acts to follow and the Mint is still at the aspiring stage. It’s modern so not my taste and perhaps that’s why I didn’t sit right in there but the scones were dry, the sandwiches weren’t exactly full, the cakes were dull (mini Victoria sandwich – big deal) and I had to ask very strongly (beg) for a pot of coffee whereas the tea came in a pot! The coffee did go cold in all three places and I think the only way to go is for staff to come round with top ups or have 1 cup cafetiere  that can be replaced with a fresh hot one.

We are also kept waiting despite being there on the dot; the people that came in after us got shown their table first and it would have been nice to have  a cosy table for two rather than be on the end of a long empty row. The meal needs work and I’m sure, knowing the staff there, they are striving to improve. 7/10

So where shall I go next?

Hyatt Regency

Mint Hotel

Hotel Du Vin

Birthday Celebrations

Michelin star food vs. good food

Urban flowers

On my actual birthday, I had the lovely treat of eating in the Tower Restaurant, whilst staying in the Tower Hotel, Lincoln. I’ve already reported the meal was amazing, one of the best I’ve had.

So when it comes to going to Purnells, with all its Michelin star glory, for my official birthday celebration, expectations are high. I’d already been there for my birthday last year and even when I booked it 8 weeks in advance, I had second thoughts as I that it could never eclipse the first experience.

It didn’t. In fact it didn’t match it. There’s nothing wrong with the food or the service this year but somehow it isn’t quite there. There are mutterings of certain foods being not quite perfect around the table, the service seems a touch arrogant compared to last year, I’m not sure if the fact that we were in the private room last year made a difference as we were treated like royalty then. Worst of all though, they didn’t explain that there was a set price for 3 courses so those of us who knew we couldn’t manage 3, opted for 2 but paid the same. I thought that was very presumptuous of them, given the ample opportunities to explain this to us during the ordering process. Why would anyone in their right mind only have 2 courses when they are paying for three – at Michelin star prices?

It’s a lovely meal, with even better company but both The Tower and Edmunds three weeks later easily eclipse Purnells.

Guinness cake, coffee made with love & flowers; the Urban birthday experience

Conversely, the next day is my Birthday Tea (coffee) in my regular Urban Coffee Co although last year was in the original Church Street, this year the newer Jewellery Quarter branch won out.

Urban, could not do enough; I walk in to see my ‘table’ laden with little pots of flowers, my favourite Guinness ‘birthday’ cake is on offer (not an Urban staple so bought in especially)  and there are already welcoming friends there. Quite an overwhelming but delightful afternoon.

The most thoughtful, handmade present

Enjoying good cake, coffee & company


Another birthday, another city

Part 1 of 3 birthday celebrations

Birthday flowers in Lincoln

This year, despite the big day falling on a Saturday, I’ve managed to stretch the celebrations to 10 days. I’m not a big drinker; my way of celebrating is through travel and fantastic experiences so first up, is a weekend in Lincoln.

My five year old tradition is to visit a new city for my birthday each year; San Francisco, Washington, Montreal, Milan and now Lincoln. Technically, I’m going to Reykjavik for my birthday but practically, it’s not possibly to fly till Monday and this way; I’m still waking up in an interesting new city on the actual day.

Lincoln is cute for a visit and although there are not enough coffee shops to keep me in coffee crawl mode ordinarily, the Tower Hotel is well worth the trip and if this scrumptious hotel at the top of the hill isn’t enough, its restaurant near blew  me away.

Birthday meal – Tower Restaurant

The starters look fantastic but knowing my ‘eat small chunks every two hours’ appetite, something has to give so it is straight onto the main course:  

Pan Seared Fillet of Silver Mullet, Cauliflower Puree, Parsley Mash, Caper Berry Dressing, Cauliflower and Pine Nut Fritter

 Everything about this collection of goodies oozes goodness, how can a dish not be good if it has mash and fritters?! I devour every morsel with my reasonably priced wine (I thought it was a typo) before moving on to one of the things I live for, dessert:

 Ricotta and Vanilla Cheesecake Lemon Meringue, Buerre Noisette Crumb, Coffee Puree, Orange and Cinnamon Sorbet

If I’ve ever tasted a better dessert, it’s beyond my memory.

The chefs have clearly placed secret ingredients in this as every intricate part of this dish exploded in my mouth like heavenly volcanoes.

The Coffee Puree tastes so lethal it’s like espresso they may have served in the prohibition era, the cheesecake – already my favourite food on the planet – has its faultlessly crumbly base served in bounders piled next to it, saves having to cut into it and Lemon Meringues are unlike any ever tasted on earth so clearly are from another planet. But this is before the explosive Orange and Cinnamon sorbet which is exactly what they serve in heaven.

Perfect.

The setting is lovely, if not the luxury of a regular fine dining restaurant. It has a busy bar in the next room but we didn’t

Three kinds of butter

hear anything from it and I found our lovely window seat a delight, despite looking out to the car park opposite. It’s brighter than an intimate setting found in Michelin’s but the staff and fellow diners next to us were chatty and friendly, not at all pretentious. I’ve just read through the entire menu and I could eat it all, even the Sunday Lunch which is the one meal I proudly make.

This is one of the best food experiences I’ve ever had and if it was in Birmingham, this will be a monthly treat, or perhaps more often. How is next week’s Michelin star’d Purnells, where I also ate last birthday, going to compete with this flawlessness?

9½/10

Tower Restaurant menu  Tower Hotel website

 

Amuse Bouche; Pea, ham & popcorn

Kiss Me Cupcakes – Halloween special

Birmingham favourites, Kiss Me Cupcakes have done it again with their stunning Halloween cakes!

MintChoc graveyard

We also had the chocolate orange cake in the shape of a ghost! (see main photo). I’m not a big chocolate cake fan so this is possibly the first chocolate cake I’ve had from KMCC! Although I like orange and not mint, this one wonthe vote. It may have been that the ‘cross in the graveyard’ reminded us of Ozzy Osbourne!

Coconut

Coconut is in my top three favourite flavours and these seems to have coconut flakes in every bite including the delightfully minimal topping.

Ginger & Lime

Ginger is my top five flavours so to put it with lovely lime sounds divine! 

Peyton & Byrne – cakes

When I came back to England via New York, I put a plea out on Twitter for ‘Cupcakes’ and I was introduced to these guys. I did try them from Heals when I was staying in a hotel on Tottenham Court Road at that time, 30 months later they seem to have excelled. I pick up each of the flavours when at St Pancras International station (a whole separate piece due on that) and here’s the verdict. 

Coconut & Raspberry

Coconut is in my top 3 of favourite flavours and whilst not keen on raspberry, most of the flavour came from the perfect raspberry on top. What makes this cake are the giant coconut flakes on top, just gorgeous to mop up the remnants of the light creamy topping.

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: more than anything is that their individual cakes look like cupcakes – albeit mini ones, not American size – but they call themselves fairy cakes! USA bakery cupcakes have large muffin size bases with two/thirds of the item being the flavoured cream. You cannot see the cake past the cream on these giant concoctions, which are in my opinion made for two, Or for two sittings.

Passion Fruit

The second of the four cakes picked up at Peyton & Byrne This one looks creamily glorious with the filling carrying on the flavour in the cake beautifully. It’s a fairy cake for sure; a moist base but not crumbly and with a light topping.

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: they are decidedly English which makes them extremely popular, especially with the tourists hence their placement at St Pancras International train station.

Strawberry

Again not being a fruit person, this wouldn’t be a first choice and yet I love it. This one tastes like it says on the tin with a pretty little flower on top. It’s bound to be a classic favourite with all.

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: Is that they are not a ‘cupcake’ shop. These fairy cakes are just part of the cake collection, all of which I’ll be trying on frequent, otherwise unnecessary visits to St Pancras, after all, it’s just a few minutes from my regular Euston.

 

 

Chocolate

I’m not a big chocolate cake fan (chocolate itself, I like more) so not the best to judge. However, the BF is and we tboth hought this chocolate creation is very rich and flavourful.

 

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: the topping, as with all Peyton & Byrnes fairy cakes is more frosting than butter cream so delightfully light.