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

fish Vespers Apollo Hotel Basingstoke

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.

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10 Amazing Dishes To Try In Winchester

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I’ve certainly been lucky enough to eat some absolutely amazing meals in Winchester. We have some brilliant restaurants serving exciting, original food made with wonderful ingredients…but enough about how much I love Winchester! If I had to pick my top dishes to enjoy in this great city, this list is where I’d start.

Of course many menus change seasonally and there are always daily specials in certain restaurants – so I can’t promise you’ll definitely be able to find all of these dishes but I know some are still very much menu mainstays. So here’s my top ten in no particular order…

(also sorry, I was too busy enjoying each dish to take photos of all of them!)

1)  Kyoto Kitchen – Winchester Roll

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This is apparently the world’s first sushi roll made with wasabi leaf rather than seaweed and uses locally grown wasabi from Europe’s only wasabi farm, right here in Winchester! So it’s a dish with a great story that’s gained it plenty of attention. It’s also absolutely delicious! The wasabi leaf is perfect addition to this fresh, light and delicate sushi roll.

2) Bugle Inn (Twyford) – Beetroot Cured Salmon

This comes a homemade with smoked mackerel, horseradish & crab pate, crispy whitebait, shallot & beetroot salad, sauce tartar, Parmesan toasts and an aioli dip. It’s just a perfect platter for anyone who loves fish, simply delicious with lots of different things to pick and try. I can’t get enough of it! I should add that many of the Bugle’s other dishes are equally as fabulous, the food is always great.

3) Rimjhim Winchester – Modu Murg

I don’t really do hugely spicy curries so this dish from Rimjhim is just heavenly. If you’re someone who would normally have korma, you must try the modu murg. It’s a creamy coconut and honey chicken dish and comes with crispy parsnip strips on top. Even if you prefer something hotter, I highly recommend trying this dish – everyone I know who likes a spicy curry also enjoys this dish.

4) Bangkok Brasserie – Colin Firth’s Thai Mango Chicken (Gaeng Kari Mamuang) 

While we’re on the subject of curries, this Thai delight from Bangkok Brasserie needs a mention. It’s a a traditional mild yellow curry with added mango that was apparently created especially created for actor and Winchester man Colin Firth. Well, Colin’s got great taste is all I can say. It’s a truly delicious dish, the sauce will have you wanting to dip everything in it. What’s more it’s a sponsored dish with 85p from each dish sold going to charity – so you feel even better about ordering it!

5) Gandhi – Gandhi Special

I promise this is the last curry dish on the list! I don’t think the top ten would be complete without a mention for the flavoursome yet deliciously mild Gandhi Special. This dish is chicken cooked with almond, coconut, sultana and cashew nuts in a special sauce with spices and yoghurt and it comes served with an omelette. It’s a must try if you haven’t had it!

6) Pi Woodfired – Smoked bacon, goats cheese, caramelised onion & asparagus

A relatively new restaurant for Winchester but undeniably good! I haven’t had a chance to work my way through the menu yet but I have to say the bacon and goats cheese pizza was divine. All their dishes look fantastic and I can’t wait to try more!

7) Fish Tale Bar & Grill – Lobster Burger (or the Lobster Surf and Turf)

The lobsimag0903ter burger is amazing, what an invention! It features a brioche bun and tempura lobster, it’s a real feast. I love the varied menu at Fish Tale and try to order something different each time I go but the burger is incredibly tempting I must admit. The surf and turf gets a mention too as my dining companion loves this dish and very often goes for it.

8) Sakura Japanese Restaurant – Teppanyaki Lobster

Sticking with the subject of lobster, here’s another great way to enjoy it, fresh from the teppanyaki grill and cooked in a delicious sauce. You can sit around the grill and watch (and take part) in the cooking fun and theatrics or sit quietly at a separate table – either way it’s a lovely dish.

9) Rick Stein Winchester – Fish and Shellfish Soup with Rouille and Parmesan 

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This is a heavenly dish (which I have reviewed previously) – it’s a taste of Mediterranean summer holidays and I love adding the cheese and garlicky rouille to the soup. I love the whole menu (and the cocktails!) at Rick Stein’s but this starter is probably my absolute favourite.

10) The Avenue Restaurant at Lainston House – Coconut Parfait

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Aha, a delcious dessert makes it’s way on the list. I’m sure desserts of Winchester could be a whole other post – but this one is so good it deserves a mention in the overall top ten I think! I do love coconut, so this is a real winner with me – it comes with a chocolate mousse, caramel, banana and passion fruit – full of flavour! I’m hungry just thinking about it!

So there you have it, some of my favourite meals in Winchester. There are many more I could have mentioned and many other restaurants serving amazing dishes – but ten felt like a good place to stop. Have you tried any of these dishes? I would absolutely love to hear some recommendations from any FoodTeaLife readers for dishes I should try. Leave a comment or tweet me @franini_daze with your suggestions!

xXx

Belated Review of Rick Stein Winchester

Well, it’s been so long since my first visit to Rick Stein’s new restaurant in Winchester that I’ve actually been back a second time to enjoy it. In case there’s any of you still wondering about whether or not to book a table I’m finally getting around blogging about my recent visits.

Myself and the OH are big fish and seafood fans so, it’s fair to say we were excited about this new restaurant. My first thoughts were how different it looked from Jamie Oliver’s Union Jack’s that had previously occupied the site and even more radically different from the days when it was a Pizza Hut! It is hard to believe it’s the same space, it’s such a cool, calm and welcoming layout. There is comfy seating by the doors if you need to wait for a table, or if like me you like to sit and have a drink before your meal. I found this a lovely area to sit and sip a bellini, they had other classic cocktails on the list too (which I’m sure I’ll try on my next visit!).

The menu is simple but exciting I found, I could have easily enjoyed anything from it but on my first visit a settled on a classic fish soup served with rouille and parmesan. I just love these kinds of fish soups that you get on a Mediterranean holiday and this one didn’t disappoint. There’s something very satisfying about customising your soup by adding lots of cheese and garlicky rouille! A word of warning, it was very filling by the time I’d had bread too. I could have easily eaten it as a main course!

Crisp Garlic Bread Croutons, Rouille and Parmesan

Crisp Garlic Bread Croutons, Rouille and Parmesan

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Delicious rich fish and shellfish soup

I opted for the filled of hake for my main served with spring onion mash and soy butter sauce. It certainly was a sizeable fillet of fish (or maybe it just seemed that way after polishing off my soup and extra bread!), everything on the plate was light and delicately flavoured. It was just delicious and a clean plate was left behind.

Fillet of Hake with spring onion mash and soy butter sauce

Fillet of Hake with spring onion mash and soy butter sauce

I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, as did my dining companion, I was incredibly full though (my own greedy fault!). So I remembered this on my next visit and opted for a lighter prawn and crab cocktail to start with, which was lovely, although I did look longingly at other diners enjoying the soup!

On my second visit they had a special main course of a Lobster Thermidor, which I couldn’t resist (it’s lobster and there’s cheese after all!!). This was a good size and not too huge – just right for me.

The special - Lobster Thermidor

The special – Lobster Thermidor

My dining companion on the other hand did not go for something so small…

Fruits de Mer

Fruits de Mer

A rather large seafood platter, featuring a huge crab! It was thoroughly enjoyed and I did help out a little of course – so yes the whole thing was demolished.

I must also mention the sides, they were so good and probably partly why I filled up so much on my first visit! In particular the roast pumpkin with chilli oil was just gorgeous – I could eat a whole plate of it.

So there you have it, my experience at Rick Stein Winchester. After visiting a few times, you can’t accuse me of not being thorough with my reviews! I really enjoyed the food, the wine, cocktails and the atmosphere so would recommend it to anyone who likes fish and seafood. There are couple of non-fishy and veggie courses for those you who don’t do fish but really the fish is the main attraction here.

Have you been? Let me know what you thought if so.

xXx

Magnificent Mediterranean at Woodfire, Stockbridge

I recently paid a visit to Woodfire, the Mediterranean-themed pizza and mezze restaurant in Stockbridge. I was looking for somewhere a little different, and dare I say, outside of Winchester for a change. So I booked up a table after hearing good things and the news that Woodfire was celebrating its first six months in business with extended opening hours, a new Italian pizza chef and a special ‘Pizza and a Pint’ offer.

Woodfire Stockbridge

Woodfire is situated on Stockbridge High Street

It was lovely to visit Stockbridge again, I’d not been in quite a few years despite it being so close. The high street and surrounding area were as picturesque as ever. Once inside Woodfire, the atmosphere was pleasantly busy and staff were very welcoming too.

We enjoyed a long and leisurely lunch for a family member’s birthday treat, so naturally that meant three courses for me (not everyone around the table was as greedy!). The menu had mixture of Greek style mezze dishes such as hummus and flatbread and other Mediterranean favourites like halloumi and cured meats, as well as main dishes and a delicious pizza menu. The pizza menu was brand new, devised by Italian master pizzaiolo, Luciano, from Naples, alongside Woodfire’s French Head Chef Alex Thomelin. The tempting sounding new pizzas on the menu included: Broccoli Salsiccia with Italian fennel sausage, broccoli, chilli, tomato and mozzarella and Calzone with prosciutto cotto, spinach, wild mushrooms, parmesan, tomato and mozzarella. And of course, all the pizzas were hand-made and baked in a wood-fired oven.

We opted a for a mix of breads and dips to start with including hummus and baba ganoush and received a lovely selection of small plates to nibble on between us. The hummus was divine, one member of the party who previously claimed not to like hummus actually enjoyed it – so it must have been good!

Having already done my fast days that week, I was definitely up for a large lunch and opted for a pizza for my main course. I chose the Melanzane Parmigiana pizza, which came with aubergine, paremesan, tomato, mozzarella and I added some extra prosciutto.

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A close up of my scrummy pizza

I thoroughly enjoyed my pizza, polishing off pretty much the entire plateful! Most of the table also enjoyed a pizza for their main course too, one member of the party had a lamb tagine dish though – which looked very tasty (I do love anything with cous cous!)

Main Course at Woodfire Stockbridge

Lamb, squash and apricot tagine with almond cous cous and coriander yoghurt

Yes…I was pretty full by this stage but they had affogato on the desserts list, which is essentially espresso and ice cream, so I thought I could probably find room for that. Woodfire’s take on this classic dessert came with amaretto (my favourite!) and biscotti – it was just perfect finish to the meal, I loved the mix of coffee and amaretto together.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon’s eating and I would highly recommend a visit to Woodfire if you’re in the mood for some Mediterranean cuisine.

For more information or to make a reservation, you can contact the restaurant on 01264 810248 or visit www.woodfirestockbridge.co.uk. Woodfire is open Monday and Wednesday 9am – 5.30pm, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9am – 11pm, and Sunday 10am – 4pm. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.

Ladies lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Pop Up Diner

My sister and I do enjoy an occasional ladies day out, usually involving the theatre, a little Pimms and some good food – and so our most recent outing to see The Book of Mormon was no exception.

There’s something so exciting about taking the day off work to have some fun – it feels like such a treat! And what better way to celebrate our day of freedom than a little bit of Pimms O’clock whilst journeying to London!

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Cheers!

Once in London we made our way to Jamie Oliver’s new pop-up diner on Shaftesbury Avenue for a spot of lunch.

What a fabulous place! Full of quirky dinosaur decor, including a giant T-Rex, it just looked like fun from the moment we stepped inside!

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The menu was great too, there were hearty salads, burgers, ribs, chicken in a basket and lots more classic dishes, all with an interesting twist. Something that stood out as particularly intriguing was Jamie’s avocado fries…I simply had to try some with my burger.

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The famous avocado fries….

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They were really good, strange at first but very moorish! There was a delicious coating to the fries which seemed to include fennel seeds making them incredibly flavoursome. And so with a squeeze of lime over my avocado fries they were soon demolished. The chicken burger was excellent too and I loved the retro way it all came served on a tray.

We indulged in a little liquid dessert, choosing a cocktail each from the tempting menu…

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I’ve talked about the brilliance of The Book of Mormon in a previous FoodTeaLife post, so I won’t go on about it again, other than to say it’s still very funny the second time round! I’ll end by passing on a huge recommendation for Jamie Oliver’s diner, it’s only there for a limited time so make sure you check it out if you’re in London any time soon.

Thanks to my fabulous sister for the best day out in ages! Xx