Friday 29 August 2014

Afternoon Tea at Bonbar

I'm sure I've mentioned my epic restaurant list on my blog many times before.  I carry about an ever increasing list of eateries that I want to visit for brunch, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea.  It never seems to go down and so, as you can imagine, it's not often we visit places more than once as there's always somewhere new we have to try.

So it speaks volumes that we have been to Bonbar twice this month.   After such a lovely experience during Restaurant Week (read all about it here) we couldn't wait to try out the afternoon tea, which made its debut only a few weeks ago.  We had friends up over the Bank Holiday weekend so it was the perfect excuse to book an indulgent treat.

As with our previous visit we loved the high level of service that we received.   We arrived pretty wet after walking from the Quayside in the heavy rain but were greeted warmly and our soaked coats and umbrellas were taken off us as we were shown to our comfortable booth.

Afternoon Tea at Bonbar is amazing from the first moment you choose what type of tea you want.   We were presented with a tray full of Tea Forte pyramid infusers and got to take our pick from a wide selection.   Unfortunately I'm not very adventurous when it comes to tea so I went for English Breakfast but Simon decided to pick the Citrus Mint which came served with honey.   

We were even more excited when our teapots and cups arrived a few moments later as they were all made from hand blown glass.  The pyramids fit perfectly into the tea pot with the decorative leaf popping out of the top.  Fun!!

A few moments later our food arrived and our eyes were just about ready to pop out of our heads.  The spread looked absolutely amazing.   

Our sandwiches were laid out on a slate board and we had a lovely selection with salmon mousse, chicken with homemade herb mayonnaise, egg mayonnaise and local mature cheese with homemade chutney.   The bread was really soft and fresh and the fillings were delicious, the flavours were well thought out and we really appreciated the care that had gone into everything. 

As a nut allergy sufferer I always appreciate when my needs are taken seriously and the service at Bonbar was wonderful.  I told them about my allergy when making the booking and as all of the cakes and sandwiches were made to order they had taken special care to change a few of their ingredients to make the afternoon tea safe for me.   I've had some pretty shocking experiences in other restaurants in the past so it was lovely to be so well looked after.

The sweet part of the tea was served on a traditional cake stand.  The scones were freshly baked and had a beautiful homemade look to them and when we cut them open the blueberries inside were still gooey.   They came served with homemade raspberry jam and cream.   As a cheeky little extra our cakestand was decorated with strawberries dipped in white and dark Belgian chocolate.

Saving the best for last the cakes at Bonbar are exactly what should be served at afternoon tea.   They were bite size, looked amazing, were a wonderful mixture of flavours and tasted like heaven.   Our selection featured chocolate brownie squares made with almonds, lime and basil macaroons, mini raspberry pavlova and red velvet cake.

We had a fantastic afternoon sat in our beautiful surroundings for hours - chatting about anything and everything whilst slowly making our way through all of the gorgeous food.   It was probably one of the most relaxing afternoon teas I have ever had and we were so impressed we have definitely decided it is one of the best we've had in the North East.

Afternoon Tea is served at Bonbar daily between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm and is priced at £14.50 per person (pre-booking is essential and a full pre payment is taken). 

Wednesday 27 August 2014

The Winter Boot Dilemma

It took a very rainy walk home from Newcastle over Bank Holiday weekend to make me realise that it might be time to replace my Winter boots.  It's never good when you remove your shoes to find very soggy socks.

Unfortunately for me, when closely inspecting the rest of my collection of boots, I realised that all of them now have holes in soles, worn heels and scuffed toes.   Not only do I need to replace one pair of boots, I need to replace all three.

Boots are my absolute love over Autumn and Winter.  They are essential for coping with cold and wet weather (as well as kicking about in leaves) and I wear them every day.   Currently I have biker style ankle boots as well as knee high boots in tan and black.

My big dilemma when purchasing new boots is how much to spend.  Boots that I've bought in the past haven't lasted me very long.  So this year I'm wondering whether to invest more money.  I'd love to hear your opinions and if anyone has any recommendations for some good boots that will last me more than a season I'd love to hear.

For now, here are some boots that I currently have my eye on to replace my current collection.

First up a cheap pair of knee high boots from New Look that come in tan and black, they are priced at £24.99.  They look very similar to a pair I had previously so they might not last too long.

Back to another old favourite boot shop, Dorothy Perkins.  This time a replacement for my biker boots, this pair is £39.00

Similarly this pair from New Look is £27.99.  Cheap and cheerful but perhaps not very robust.

A knee high pair that are slightly more expensive are these from Office, originally priced at £95.00 they are now selling for £67.00.  This seems like a good option, the original price tag might mean they fair better in bad weather.

Unfortunately the next lovely pair are not in the sale.  Again they are from Office but with a price tag of £115.00 would end up being the most money I've ever spent on a pair of boots.
So there is my great boot debate!  Pay day is fast approaching so decisions need to be made.  If anyone has any tips on where to buy great long lasting boots I'm all ears.

Monday 25 August 2014

Coop Chicken House

Prepare to be shocked and horrified.  I don't like Nandos!  For some reason it seems to be a lot of people's guilty pleasure but I am forever the spoil sport who refuses to go.  I have tried it a few times but as someone who really doesn't like hot spices, I find the choice of mild sauces limited and pretty tasteless which means I'm left eating dry chicken.

Luckily my days of ruining people's dinner plans are over as I now know where the best chicken party is at.  Coop Chicken House has been open in Newcastle a little while and shame on me for taking this long to get myself there.  The good news is that Coop Chicken are brilliant fun on Twitter so after having a bit of banter with them the week before, they were fresh in my mind when Simon and I came to make spontaneous dinner plans on Friday.

The Coop looks fantastic.  The restaurant was very busy when we visited so I couldn't really run about like a crazy blogging lady taking photos to share with you, so instead you'll have to imagine (or alternatively get down there to have a look for yourselves).   The dark wood floor and exposed brick walls are beautifully lit by the exposed lights and neon red chicken sign that hangs proudly above the diners.  The place is wonderfully cosy with the warmth of the open kitchen sending the most amazing smell of cooked chicken wafting round the tables.

The menu is simple yet fun.  You choose from a whole, half or quarter chicken and then have a choice of sides to go with it including sweet potato fries, grilled corn on the cob and homemade slaw.  Then comes the fun part of the meal - choosing the chilli sauces to accompany the food.  The chilli sauce menu is impressively large with 3 mild sauces, 5 warm sauces, 6 hot sauces and, if you're feeling stupidly brave, two nuclear sauces that involve signing a disclaimer before trying!

Simon and I opted for a whole chicken to share which came out served up in manageable pieces with a lemon garnish.  We chose to have it with skin-on fries and picked 3 sauces - lime chilli and sweet chilli (the mild options for me) and spicy African BBQ (medium for Simon).  They were served in shot glasses which we loved. 

The chicken was absolutely perfect, it had a lovely smoky taste and was really juicy and tender.  The sauces were a lovely addition.  Unlike Nandos, the milder options were gorgeous and I particularly loved the sweet chilli which tasted like honey. 

I was really excited to get to dessert as I knew that they came care of Ali at Simply Cheesecake.  You may remember that back in March Simon ordered me this giant toblerone Happy Birthday Cheesecake from Ali and it was very good so I was looking forward to seeing what flavours they had at Coop Chicken.   This weekend the choice was Chocolate Aero, Salted Caramel, Apple Crumble or Chocolate Orange (which we knew immediately was the one we had to go for).  

If the amazing chicken wasn't enough, to finish a gorgeous meal with a sweet and creamy cheesecake really was the perfect end to a fabulous evening.

So next time someone attempts to get me to a meal at Nandos I shall be leading them firmly to Coop Chicken to show them what a real chicken party is all about.

Friday 22 August 2014

Seaside Strolling

One of my favourite things to do on a warm sunny day is to jump on the Metro and head to the coast for a nice long stroll along the seafront.   The beauty of our coastline here in Newcastle is that you can easily hop off at one Metro station and do a couple of hours walking along the seafront before finding a different Metro stop further along.

I love walking in the sunshine, it always makes me feel so healthy getting some fresh sea air into my lungs and it's great how you can enjoy a day out without spending a fortune.

Our most recent coastal adventure took us to North Shields, an area of the coast that I haven't really explored properly before.

North Shields is a small town to the north of the River Tyne.  Sitting pretty on a fishing quay, its a hive of activity and a great place to explore with its fresh fish outlets and lovely restaurants, mostly specialising in seafood.

Unfortunately I'm still yet to try any of the restaurants at the quay but it's definitely on my list of things to do. 

For this adventure we were on a walking mission so we headed down to the water and followed the path towards Tynemouth, our next destination.

Although it was lovely and warm there was a very strong wind, luckily I'd dressed appropriately in a maxi skirt.  You can't live in the North East without owning some light weight Summer trousers and long skirts, they work well with the high winds that we often get.

It was so beautiful walking along the path and looking across the water to spot South Shields where we'd been a few weekends previously.  Everyone was out enjoying the beautiful weather so we passed loads of cyclists and dog walkers.  One dog decided to lick Simon on the leg whilst he was taking a photo for me, which gave us this lovely natural shot.  It's always special when you get a genuine smile on camera and I absolutely love this picture.

It wasn't long before our walk started leading us uphill and when we reached the top we were greeted with a beautiful view of Tynemouth Priory and Pier. 

Tynemouth is, without a doubt, my favourite coastal town on the Metro line.  Its pretty main street is decked with bunting and it has a huge range of lovely coffee shops, tea rooms and pubs to eat in.

It has featured on my blog many times before and is probably my most visited place in the North East, I just can't stay away!

This time however Simon had a very specific lunchtime agenda.  Ever since I'd announced I'd like to go to the coast he had planned to enjoy an ice-cream sundae at Beaches and Cream

Simon knew immediately that he was going to have the Toffee Sundae which came in a huge glass stuffed full of ice-cream, mars bar, daim bar, cream and toffee sauce.  It was so huge it couldn't fit into the glass.

I was slightly more reserved and had a slice of lemon cake with a cappuccino.  I love nothing more at the weekends than having cake for a late lunch.   It definitely beats the salad I have at work every day.

We finished our adventure in Whitley Bay, enjoying the beautiful views of St Mary's Lighthouse before heading into the town to get the Metro home.

I'm hoping we get another blast of lovely weather so I can enjoy the seaside again before the Summer is over.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Going Solo in Leeds

Living in London for 5 years I found myself to be fiercely independent.  It's the most amazing city to spend solo time in and although I had lots of lovely friends to hang out with I also really enjoyed time on my own wandering around and enjoying the city.  In London no one bats an eyelid if you take yourself out for dinner, sit solo in the theatre or even sit in a bar on your lonesome. 

I think it's pretty important in life to be comfortable enough in yourself to enjoy spending some time on your own away from your friends, family and partner.  There's something quite special about taking yourself out on a solo adventure, getting to make lots of decisions and do exactly what you want, when you want to.

So I recently decided to book a day off work and happily take myself off to my new favourite city, Leeds.  Like my last trip to Leeds, I decided to fully enjoy my day by blogging on my iPhone rather than lugging my camera about.

The main purpose of my trip was of course to shop, so I made sure I arrived in Leeds before 10:00 am which seemed a little mad when it involved getting up earlier than I normally would to go to work but it was completely worth it just to have some quiet time in the shops before they got busy.

I've said it once and I will say it again, I love the shopping in Leeds and it's fast becoming my favourite shopping destination. 

My first stop of the day was of course Primark where I went a little crazy with the statement necklaces.   They have the most amazing collection at the moment and I couldn't pick which one I wanted so ended up with four.  When they're all priced between £4 and £6 it's hard to resist.

I also finally bought this gorgeous pastel blue "leather" jacket that I've had my eye on for quite a while.  I've tried it on every time I've been in but on each occasion my sensible head made me put it back.  This time though I knew the time had finally come to make it mine and I'm so happy it's come home with me because it's beautiful.   It cost £25 and it also comes in pale pink and, new in store, teal and hot pink.

The beauty with solo shopping is you can spend as long as you like in the changing rooms.  I will admit I sometimes spend forever in there, it takes me ages to get changed and I usually try each outfit on more than once.  It's nice to be able to do that knowing you don't have someone waiting for you outside.   It took me forever to try on this lovely jumpsuit from Dorothy Perkins.  It was in the sale at half price and I couldn't decide whether to get it or not.   In the end it went back on the rails though I have been regretting it a little ever since.

My favourite place to window shop in Leeds is definitely the Victoria Quarter with it's luxury designer shops.  I love to press my nose up to the glass of Mulberry and Michael Kors and take a look at the handbags.

This trip I decided to wander into Harvey Nichols for a coffee.   Sometimes it's nice to grab a drink somewhere with plush surroundings rather than heading into a coffee shop.   The top floor houses a lovely little bar complete with an outdoor roof terrace.   I had a great time people watching whilst drinking my latte.

Probably my favourite thing about a solo shopping trip is that I get to choose where I go for lunch and this time I knew I wanted to head to Le Chalet, a lovely little French Bakery and Tea Room hidden away in Leeds Banking District.   I ordered the Galette Complete, a classic French dish of pancake made with black flour, topped with an egg and stuffed with cheese and ham.  I really enjoyed it and I will definitely be back to check out the afternoon tea next time I'm in Leeds.

No trip to Leeds is complete without heading in to the beautiful Trinity for a look round the shops.  It's such a stunning building and I do wish I could pick it up and move it to Newcastle.

As my lunch was served with salad I saw it as the perfect excuse to stop for some gelato at Joel Deluccis who offer a wide variety of delicious flavours.  I opted for cherry and custard and, as much as I wanted a giant cone coated in chocolate, I decided to pick the more modest single cone.

After spending a whole day on my own I was more than ready for some company so spent the evening with my lovely friend Kate.   After heading up to Trinity's Roof  Bar, Angelica for a few cocktails we headed to Arts for some dinner.

Arts is an intimate cafĂ© bar and restaurant, a short walk from the train station.   Being eager beavers we took advantage of the early bird 2 courses for £12.50.    I enjoyed Beer Battered Haddock, with the hugest Hand Cut Chips I have ever seen and Crushed Minted Peas.

This was followed by Coffee, Cherry and Chocolate Bakewell served with Sour Cherry and Amaretto Sorbet.  Being a huge fan of every single one of those flavours I was stupidly excited about trying this dessert. It felt like it had been invented just for me.  Unfortunately the only tastes I got were Chocolate and Cherry - the Amaretto and Coffee were very well hidden.   That said it was still delicious and I enjoyed every mouthful.

All too soon it was time to hop on my train for the short journey back to Newcastle.  Yet again I left wanting more and I think Leeds might be the perfect place to do my Christmas shopping.

Monday 18 August 2014

Live Blogging for a Record Breaker

Ask anyone what I'm like on no sleep and they'll tell you immediately how much of a nightmare I am.  I'm a girl who very much likes a good solid 8 hours sleep a night, any less and it's probably best you stay out of my way.

So I really can't even begin to imagine what it's been like being Gareth Kyle this weekend!

Local boy, food fan and Masterchef Live winner Gareth took on an ultimate challenge as part of Newcastle's Eat Festival by attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest cooking demonstration.

When Gareth initially took on this mammoth task he was planning on cooking for 38 hours, giving him a comfortable win over the current record.  Unfortunately what poor Gareth didn't realise was that a few months later the record would be broken again meaning that suddenly he was faced with an additional 5 hours, resulting in a 41 hour challenge.

Setting up camp in a tent under Gray's Monument in the centre of Newcastle, Gareth began his cooking demonstration at 4:30 am on Friday morning.   

When attempting to break a world record you have to make sure you stick carefully to the rules.   That meant only having a 5 minute break per hour, two people officially witnessing each dish, a domestic kitchen set up and every piece of food prepared being eaten.

Luckily Gareth had an army of supporters popping in to the tent to check on him including tourists, the local constabulary, friends, family and, as the early hours of Saturday morning approached, the odd slightly tipsy party goer looking for some food after a night out on the Toon.

As Gareth served up dish after dish, his progress was being recorded and broadcast on the Eat website, complete with live blog commentary.  After a rather hilarious night of updates and embarrassing photos courtesy of Mr Steven Lynch it was the turn of the local bloggers to join Gareth in the tent as some of us took shifts to report on the last few hours of the challenge.

I headed down to the tent at 10:00 am on Saturday morning and was pleased to see that Gareth had a big smile on his face and was happily cooking up some curry.   He showed me the carefully written list of dishes that he'd originally planned to stick to but explained he'd quickly scrapped that idea and was now cooking whatever he fancied.   When you've been awake for 30 hours, cooking curry at breakfast time feels perfectly normal.

Aside from a few "dark moments" in the early hours of the morning Gareth was feeling pretty good and said he'd enjoyed his night cooking in the Toon.

It has to be said, I was very impressed at his ability to chat away whilst preparing fresh pasta for his next dish having not slept in so long.  He did have a few "bit tired now" moments when he completely lost the cheese grater and confessed that when his timer went off he wasn't entirely sure what it was for but that was only to be expected.

As each dish was prepared they were set out on the Chef's Table for people to eat, everything was free with people making contributions to local charity, The People's Kitchen

Personally I was waiting on the pasta dishes and after practically sticking my face into the pan it was finally time for me to sample some record breaking food.

I've never had fresh pasta directly out of the oven before and to have it stuffed full of gorgeous spinach and feta after having watched the chef make it from scratch was amazing.

All too soon my shift was over and it was time to hand over the reigns to Chloe of Prosecco and Pie to carry the live blogging through into the afternoon.  I was pretty jealous reading the live blog over the afternoon and discovering I was missing out on Bakewell Tart and Trifle!

Live blogging was so much fun and it was definitely great to have the ability to waffle away to my heart's content although I will admit the perfectionist in me did worry I was talking rubbish without having my official proof reader Simon there to double check what I was writing. 

Thanks so much to Gareth for asking me to be involved and letting me play a small part in such a wonderful challenge.  

Unfortunately we are all now playing a waiting game.  Gareth completed his 41 hour challenge but we will be waiting a few weeks to get the confirmation that he officially holds the World Record.   In the meantime I think it's probably best that Gareth spends a few days at home catching up on some much needed sleep!

Friday 15 August 2014

Go Gareth!

I don't usually schedule blog posts to appear at 4:30 am on a Friday morning, but this Friday morning is like no other.  You see whilst we're all happily snuggled up in bed catching the last few hours of precious sleep before a busy day ahead, local chef Gareth Kyle is setting up camp at Grey's  Monument in the centre of Newcastle ready to begin his 41 hour cooking demonstration as part of the Eat Festival.

In an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the world's longest Chef Demonstration, Gareth will be demonstrating over 100 dishes and providing live commentary.

So if you find yourselves in Toon today or tomorrow please do pop along to support Gareth.  Also if you're very lucky you might find you get to sample some of his lovely food as the rule book states that everything needs to be eaten!

If you're comfy sitting indoors then you can also watch Gareth live using the special "Gareth Cam" here and don't forget to tweet your support using #GoGareth

Gareth has invited me and a few other local North East bloggers to take over the Go Gareth website and provide official live commentary on his record attempt.   I'll be heading down to Monument  tomorrow to blog live from the tent so make sure you click here to catch me and the other bloggers letting you know all that's going on as Gareth attempts to break the record!

You can read more about the event on my blog next week and find out if Gareth managed to complete his challenge.

Wishing you the best of luck Gareth!

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Flat Caps Coffee

After years of being a tea drinker I finally got myself into coffee a few years ago, rather embarrassingly through realising that I quite liked coffee flavoured cake and ice-cream (typical me!).  It wasn't long before I got myself through the door of my nearest coffee shop chain and ordered myself a caramel latte.  

I carried this on for all the years that I lived in London.  With a coffee chain situated on every street corner it was pretty hard to walk down a road without ending up in one and they were the convenient, easy caffeine fix when I was in a rush to and from the office.

Just recently however I've begun to realise that the world of coffee is so much more than a hit and miss latte with a mass produced, slightly stale cake.  I've started to have a little try of different types of coffee and seeing what independent coffee shops are about.

Flat Caps Coffee was a name that I heard time and time again so when a Living Social deal for coffee and cake popped up, I knew it was time we attempted to develop our coffee education.

Flat Caps is situated off Northumberland Street in the centre of Newcastle yet is hidden away so carefully that it relies on its fantastic reputation, loyal customers and word of mouth.   I had walked past it so many times myself and never realised it was there.  To access Flat Caps you have to enter into a gift shop and make your way down some stairs into the coffee shop hidden in the basement.

I was loving this idea immediately, venturing down the little spiral staircase covered in twinkly fairy lights and walking into a cosy space full of little tables and colourful cushions.  A perfect hideaway from the busy street above.

The shop is run by Joe, who is so good at what he does he's the official Northern Barrista Champion as well as being a finalist in the UK competition.   Joe is passionate about coffee and offers proper brewed coffee using three different brew methods - filter, aeropress and the unusual method of syphon.

Now, walking into a proper coffee shop with limited knowledge of coffee can be a little daunting but luckily Joe was on hand to talk us through our options and show us what guest coffees he had on the board and what we could pick from.

Simon decided on Kinone which promised flavours of huge body and dark chocolate and I had Small Batch with flavours of citrus, floral and milk chocolate.

Wow!  I was completely blown away by what  I ordered.   Usually I end up pouring far too much sugar into my coffee, but the cup I had was so beautifully sweet just how it was.  It was absolutely delicious and I enjoyed it so much.  I had a sneaky sip of Simon's as well which was also really lovely.

If you've been thinking about maybe stepping away from the coffee shop chains and try something a bit different I really do recommend heading on down to Flat Caps Coffee and letting Joe make you something lovely - it could well change the way you think about coffee!
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