Chocolate, Cocktails and Christmas

Christmas seems to have crept up on me this year – but it’s a little like the Tesco Christmas advert…what starts off as a panic soon turns into excitement. I think we can all agree we need a little Christmas magic more than ever this year!

So, the Christmas lights switch on in Winchester came at just the right time. Winchester is always a beautiful sight but the high street really does look extra special in the build up to Christmas with the lights twinkling away.

After taking in the lights, my sister and I were lucky enough to have tickets to the perfect event to keep the festive feeling alive. We came in out of the cold to Winchester’s cosy little chocolate shop, Chococo, for an evening of special cocktails and sweet treats.

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Chococo-Late was a joint adventure from the Cabinet Rooms and Chococo and what a collaboration it was! Cocktail expertise and chocolate flavours were combined, with just a hint of Christmas thrown too.

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A warm mulled pear & ginger cocktail made with Gosling’s rum was my first tipple of the evening and it truly was Christmas in a cup! I also enjoyed the Chococo Russian and the Sublime Moment – both were beautifully presented and absolutely delicious.

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We tucked into Chococo’s milk, dark and white chocolate buttons as well as a warm chocolate brownie with cappuccino ice cream.  A decadent deluxe hot chocolate featuring cream, marshmallows and chocolate malt balls, also went down well on our table. We didn’t quite have room for the chocolate fondue on the menu but saw another table enjoying this and thought it looked amazing.

We left feeling warm, cosy and full of chocolate…but best of all, brimming with festive cheer. The countdown to Christmas has begun!

Thank you to the Cabinet Rooms and Chococo Winchester for a lovely evening. You can find out more about the brilliant foodie events from the Cabinet Rooms on their website.

New Look for Alresford PizzaExpress

There was a time when I was in Alresford five days a week for work – but since I started working from home, I haven’t been back many times. It’s a shame really as Alresford is a lovely place with some great restaurants, cafes and tea rooms.

So imagine my delight when the team at PizzaExpress wrote to me to tell me about their Alfresford restaurant’s brand new look. Naturally, I went along to see it for myself (and enjoy some delicious pizza of course!).

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PizzaExpress in Alresford’s Broad Street has been totally transformed and features new artwork based on Mid Hants Railway’s famous Watercress Line.

Did you know each PizzaExpress restaurant is individually designed – often using well known places, people or historical events from the area as a basis? With the Watercress Line being one of Alresford’s most well-known attractions, the interior takes inspiration from the railway’s history. Posters in the restaurant portray steam trains and details of their design form the basis for graphic abstracts.

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Back in its day, the Watercress Line used to transport locally grown plants to Covent Garden and I think it’s lovely to see this history reflected in the decor at PizzaExpress. Further along the Watercress Line, Alton’s PizzaExpress has also had a makeover featuring different artwork that plays tribute to the railway.

The new look Alresford PizzaExpress also has two new bars, feature chairs, settles and light fittings. There’s even a new garden area to enjoy.

I loved the smart new look and it made for a relaxing setting to enjoy a fabulous Fiorentina Pizza, with a perfectly cooked egg!

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I couldn’t resist a little something from the Dolcetti menu of mini desserts, served alongside tea and coffee…

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If you’re not already feeling tempted by a trip to Alresford’s newly made over PizzaExpress, the transformation coincides with the launch of a delicious new autumn menu. The autumnal menu includes a Basilicata Romana lamb meatball pizza and the welcome return of the Rustichella Romana pizza, as well as a vegetarian Al Forno Cannelloni. New on the dessert menu is a rich and intense warm Chocolate Fondant. Who’s hungry now?!

Thanks to the team at PizzaExpress Alresford for a lovely meal! x

 

Foodie fun this weekend at Chequers Fest

If you’re looking for a fun, foodie event this weekend you can’t go far wrong with Chequers Fest, at The Chequers in Eversley Cross,  this Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st August.

Okay, so this is a little outside of Winchester but I have reason to believe it’s going to be great, so thought I’d share the news. The whole of the lovely village pub The Chequers will be given over to two days of fantastic live music, bars and artisan food and drink.

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I’m told that the focus for this year’s festival is Great British Produce, with a wonderful array of great home produced things to eat and drink on offer, as well as plenty of opportunities to roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.

The pub’s invited some great producers to be there for the festival, with plenty of delicious things to nibble and quaff and lots of free tasters on offer (who doesn’t love free tasters!?). There’s a chance to try some fabulous oysters from the Oyster Bar and some delicious regional cheeses.

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You can get creative and make your own sausages and fairy cakes in a series of foodie workshops for all the family. Then relax over a glass or two of local ale or something chilled from the bar. There will be live music from Off The Record from 2pm to 4pm on the day as well. Sunday is the day for dancing, cocktails and more delectable food. There’ll be a tasty hog roast available as well as the pub’s usual summer menu.

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“Once again we’ll be having some great British produce on offer at the festival and putting on an amazing day dedicated to the good stuff,” says Jordan Marr, general manager of The Chequers.

“We love serving the good stuff here in the pub and this is our way of sharing the best of it with you as well as bringing great live entertainment and fun for everyone over the weekend. Come along and enjoy it all and of course have a brilliant day out,” he adds.

Tickets for Chequers Fest cost £10 for adults and are valid for both days. Under 12’s go free.  As the festival takes over the entire pub for the weekend, entry to The Chequers is only possible with a ticket. Chequers Fest takes place from 12 noon to 4pm on Saturday 20th August and from 12pm to 8pm on Sunday 21st August. The Chequers, Eversley Cross, Hampshire, RG27 0NS. To book tickets or find out more  go to www.thechequerseversleycross.co.uk or call 01184 027065.

A delightful dinner date at Vespers in the Apollo Hotel

I was recently invited a long to dine at Vespers, one of the restaurants inside the Apollo Hotel in Basingstoke. As many of you know, I don’t leave Winchester all that often to eat out, so it has to be good to get me there! I’m pleased to say the food at Vespers was delicious and the staff were very friendly and attentive.

I’d never been to Vespers before but liked the sound of everything on the menu, which included some fantastic ingredients including smoked garlic and a Surrey farmed 28 day aged rib eye steak.

I was out for the evening with my sister for a catch up and some good food, Vespers didn’t disappoint, we had a quiet, corner table and spent the evening chatting away. Being sat in the corner didn’t mean we were forgotten about though, service was excellent. I couldn’t fault the food either, great flavours, portion sizes and presentation.

I enjoyed citrus cured salmon with a tomato, chive, red onion and lemon zest salsa to start, which was very good. I’m a huge salmon fan so I finished it all, including flavoursome salsa.

Citrus Cured Salmon Vespers Apollo Hotel Basingstoke

A starter of citrus cured salmon

I did have a definite case of food envy over my dining companion’s starter of pan seared scallops with a saffron sauce and pomegranate salad. I’m very fond of scallops and these looked great, beautifully presented and just enough for a starter.

A starter of pan seared scallops

A starter of pan seared scallops

I followed my salmon with another fishy choice of baked fillet of white fish, Atlantic salmon, king prawns, finely chopped fennel & tarragon, topped with a creamed & herb potato mash. This was a generously sized fillet with elegantly piped mash potato on top. The flavours were lovely, creamy without being too rich

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My main course

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Our other main course was the rib eye steak, which came with a large onion ring and chunky chips cooked in beef dripping. Of course for the purposes of the review, I had to sample a few of the chips, which were huge and very crisp, a good accompaniment to a tender steak.

Steak Onion Ring Vespers Restaurant Apollo Hotel Basingstoke

The steak main course, topped off with a giant, delicious onion ring

chips Vespers Restaurant Apollo Hotel Basingstoke

We both enjoyed the chunky chips cooked in beef dripping

We didn’t quite have room for dessert but enjoyed a cappuccino each, which came with everyone’s favourite (especially mine!) a Lotus Biscoff biscuit. A perfect end to a lovely meal.

If you find yourself in Basingstoke I can recommend a meal at Vespers, take a look at the menu for yourself on their website: http://www.apollohotels.com/ – you’ll also find details here of a special Valentines Day Candlelit dinner.

New Launch: The Wine Utopia Warehouse

It’s all been a little bit wine themed lately at FoodTeaLife (well, I need something to get me through the dark months until Christmas!)…so in keeping with the theme I thought I’d tell you about Wine Utopia’s newly opened wine warehouse.

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The Wine Utopia Warehouse (image credit – Catherine Skinner Photography)

I popped along to the opening evening in October and enjoyed a few fabulous glasses of Hattingley Valley’s Classic Cuvée and some delicious canapés.

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Tom and I enjoying the launch evening (image from Catherine Skinner Photography)

The newly opened warehouse is located on London Road in Kingsworthy, just on the outskirts of Winchester. It was great fun getting to take a sneak peek at the new store before it officially opened and there were some lovely people in attendance too. A very good evening!

I learned that the new Wine Utopia Warehouse is open to both trade customers and the public, offering the same quality wines and friendly service that you get in the Winchester and Stockbridge stores, just with all the benefits of wholesale buying. Sounds good to me! It will be perfect for stocking up for events and parties or just getting a stash of your favourite wine in.

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So much wine! (image from Catherine Skinner Photography)

Parking is easy too, the place literally perfect for filling your car up with wine! I hope to pop in soon and stock up in time for the festive season. If you fancy stocking up too you can find the new Wine Utopia Warehouse at Unit B1, The Foundry, London Road, Kingsworthy, SO23 7QA.

Many thanks to the Wine Utopia team for the invite and a lovely evening!

A Taste of Summer with Wine Utopia

The Wine Utopia Summer Tasting Event last Friday made for a fabulous start to the weekend! Set inside Winchester’s picturesque City Mill there were over 30 carefully selected wines to try, all with the summer season in mind.

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I could only stay for an hour but made the most of my time there sampling wines from around the world and thinking ahead to summer days, barbecues, warm evenings and sunshine.

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It was a tough decision deciding what to purchase but I opted for two New Zealand wines in the end (Wine Utopia’s speciality). Two Rivers Pinot Noir Rose seemed to be the perfect, vibrant summertime wine to me as did the Tinpot Hut Pinot Gris – so those were my two picks. All I need now is the warm weather to go with them!

Wine Utopia offer free local delivery too, as I live in Winchester I was able to place my order at the event and head off home to await my wine delivery! There’s good news if you live further afield than Hampshire too – you can now get your hands the specially selected wines on offer from Wine Utopia via their new website. 

It was a busy but certainly well-organised event, the City Mill was filled with people looking to get a taste of summer, I wish I could have stayed a little longer!

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There are plenty more fabulous tasting events coming up with Wine Utopia – I recommend taking a look at their website wineutopia.co.uk for more details on these. Alternatively you can pop into either of the shops in Winchester or Stockbridge for a chat with the friendly team.

Foodie event! Thyme & Tides Food Festival

Hampshire foodies, here’s an event you won’t want to miss – the Thyme & Tides Food Festival at Stockbridge Town Hall, Saturday 18th April. 

Iain and Sally Hemming, owners of Thyme & Tides who will be putting on a food festival on 18th April

Iain and Sally Hemming, owners of Thyme & Tides who will be putting on a food festival on 18th April

For anyone who hasn’t been, Thyme & Tides is a lovely deli, bistro and fishmonger in Stockbridge. The food festival is in celebration of Thyme & Tides’ fifth birthday and will feature special guest appearances from BBC’s Nigel Barden and Valentine Warner as well as demonstrations from foodie experts showcasing their skills with bread-making, gin, wine, cheese and much more. I’m told there will be plenty to try and buy with around 20 of Thyme & Tides top suppliers inviting guest to enjoy their wares! These include Olives et Al, Ballancourt French pates and terrines, Hennart French cheeses , Purbeck Ice cream and ciders, Isle of Wight Tomato Stall and Utta Nutta Peanut Butter and more.

Upstairs I’m told there will be a demonstration theatre where you can hear from Valentine Warner and Nigel Barden, BBC Radio 2’s food and drink critic and broadcaster. They will be joined by Darren Bland of Hoxton Bake House, James Robinson of Spanish food experts Brindisa, Mark Dawson of Langley’s Gin and Tom Badcock of The Cheese Cellar.

Best of all, entrance to the main event is free and tickets for the food demonstrations are just £2.50 for adults, kids go free. A proportion of all ticket sales will be donated to the Alex Lewis Trust too. Sounds like a fab foodie day out to me!

Doors open at 10am, until 5pm. The event, which is supported by Hildon Water, will take place at Stockbridge Town Hall, High Street, Stockbridge SO20 6HE. You can find out more at: www.thymeandtidesdeli.co.uk, call 01264 810101 or join me and follow the event on twitter @foodfeaststockb.

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