Spice Corner

I’m rather partial to a curry. After living in Cardiff for 3 months, I decided it was about time to try an Indian restaurant. Spice Corner, 116 Salisbury Road, Cathays, is popular with students.

I went to the restaurant late one Friday evening after socialising with some friends.  It wasn’t overly busy and we were shown to a table promptly. We ordered and we received our food within 20 minutes.

I had a chicken tikka masala and it was extremely tasty. It was creamy and had a nice spicy kick.

A spiciness to a tikka masala, i have found, can be hard to find. Most are too creamy and mild for my liking, so this curry was ideal. It didn’t have that awful dyed quality that many Indian restaurants now heavily rely on. (I once had a bright red curry that looked full of food dye) It was a lovely orange colour and was sprinkled with coriander, which is a hit for me.

spice corner

The pilau rice was rather plain for my liking it could have been slightly more flavoursome.

The garlic naan was insufficiently garlicky. It had a light garlic flavour, but as I love a strong garlic taste it was lacking. The bread itself though was lovely and doughy in texture.   

Another slight problem was the service. Whether it was because the restaurant wasn’t overly busy, it was slightly overbearing. Having to say your meal is ok five times is too much. The staff also weren’t overly pleasant when presenting the food.

Overall, it was a satisfactory curry. I would go there again to try another curry and review the service, especially as they offer a 15% discount for students.

However, I am still on the lookout for Cardiff’s best curry!

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A Taste of Cumbria

Readers as you may have gathered, I have returned home to Cumbria for the festive period.

For Christmas my best friend, knowing my love of food, gave me a gift voucher for a local restaurant. Today I visited the said restaurant with my girlfriends to sample its wares.

The George and Dragon, Clifton, Cumbria

George and Dragon, Clifton

I have never been to this pub and restaurant before and I now can’t believe it has taken me so long to go.

The George and Dragon, Clifton describes itself as an “informal pub that oozes country style, whilst remaining somewhere to relax and unwind.”

Right on the doorstep of the Lowther estate, the pub and restaurant owned by the Lowther family, sources produce from the estate and local area.

The beef, pork and lamb on the menu are reared on the estate and the game is sourced on the estates woods and moors. Seasonal meats such as partridge, pheasant and duck come from local gamekeepers and are often featured on the special’s list.

Most of the vegetables and fruit are grown in the kitchen gardens and local suppliers are used for anything that can’t be grown or reared on the estate.

Charles Lowther, said: “I take huge pride in the quality of produce on the Lowther Estates and being able to offer people the opportunity to experience and enjoy all it has to offer is wonderful. It’s important for people to know where their food comes from and we can give them not only all the answers but also a place to experience the heritage of the area.

 “And best of all it’s helping to support the local economy. It’s not just the food that is locally sourced: the building materials used to restore the 18th century coaching inn all come from the surrounding area and everyone who helped create the pub as it is today are local.”

On entering the George and Dragon it is easy to see why it is so popular in the area. The 18th century coaching house is beautifully restored and sensitively furnished, providing a comfortable environment to drink or eat.

The log burning stoves provide lovely warmth from the harsh wintry wind and you are instantly greeted by a member of staff.

The menu is a feast for the eyes and I found myself yearning for either pork chops, roast beef or a venison burger.

I decided on the roast beef after a long two weeks or turkey, and I was delighted when it arrived.

Roast Beef

Remember my post on Hollybush Carveries, a good roast for a meagre price? Well this roast beef was in a league of its own. It was amazing.

The beef was beautifully cooked with a slight pinkness. It was succulent, thickly sliced and incredibly tasty.  The roast potatoes were crispy and the potato was fluffy. The gravy was delicious. The Yorkshire pudding was definitely homemade and was of ample size.

The greens were the most surprising element to the dish. I must admit that I am not a fan of my greens, especially cabbage. I usually do anything to avoid it. However, when I saw them, I thought I’ll just give them a try. I was pleasantly surprised. They were beautiful. The beans had a slight crunch and the cabbage was flavoursome and didn’t have that watery taste I usually associate with it.

For lunch, a main was extremely filling but I had heard that the desserts here are to die for. So seeing as I’m on my holidays I thought I’d throw the boat out, make a little room and worry about the calories later.

After a recommendation of sticky toffee pudding, I decided to choose it. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. A thick, rich square of sticky toffee exquisiteness with a toffee sauce and a small scoop of ice-cream disappeared in a matter of moments. The best sticky pudding I have ever had.

Sticky toffee pudding

I tasted a little of my friend Kirsty’s crème brulée. The vanilla pods were visible in the vanilla custard and it tasted light and creamy. It wasn’t overly sweet and broke beautifully on tapping. It was presented creatively on a piece of slate in a ramekin accompanied with shortbread biscuits and blueberries.

Smiles all around

 All in all, this pub/restaurant provided a delightful dining experience. The service was friendly, prompt and not at all overbearing. The food was beautiful and for a little more money is ideal for a special occasion. It is also a perfect place to go for a drink after a countryside walk.

Have you been to the George and Dragon, what did you think? Please leave comments below.

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Fit for a New Year party

Seeing in the New Year with a roulade

 A week after Christmas, with the turkey and all its trimmings a distant memory, New Year rears its head. After the excesses of Christmas, food is usually the last thing you want to think about as you begin to plan a diet and exercise regime to get back into shape. 

Yet, New Year is another social occasion where food is an unavoidable must as we show off our culinary skills to our guests. The trouble is choosing something light enough to delight the taste buds and not overwhelm the stomach.

This year, I was appointed pastry chef in my household’s New Year celebrations. I was delighted. Finally my mum was moving aside and giving me free reign. I must stress this is not because of my lack of culinary expertise but because she is such a passionate cook and she relishes in cooking all the time.

So, my first decision was what shall I cook? I had been reading the Sunday Times Style magazine, a staple weekly read and had found a recipe that sounded appropriate, although it seemed quite calorific it satisfied the concept of ‘light’ and looked and sounded delicious. I decided to use it and vary it in places.

Amaretti, chocolate orange roulade

Amaretti, chocolate orange roulade

What you need:

3 egg whites

75g caster sugar

1 tsp white wine vinegar

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

75g Amaretti biscuits

A dash of Cointreau

150g dark chocolate

The juice of ½ an orange

The zest of an orange

300ml double cream

Icing sugar


Put the oven on and heat to 180 degrees centigrade.

Crack the eggs and sieve using fingers to separate the white from the yolk. Put the 3 egg whites into a bowl. Add the caster sugar and using a whisk, whisk until you have soft glossy peaks.

Add the vanilla extract, white wine vinegar and the pinch of salt. Until the meringue forms soft peaks and you can hold the bowl upside down and it doesn’t fall out.

Line a baking tray with baking paper. Spoon the meringue onto the papered tray and spread out.

Crumble the amaretti biscuits. Ideally use soft amaretti biscuits but as I couldn’t find any of these I used hard biscuits and crumbled them roughly. I sprinkled the biscuits with cointreau to soften them and give them a lovely orangey flavour.

Ready for the oven

Scatter the crumbled biscuit over the meringue and put it in the oven. Turn the oven down to 150 degrees centigrade and cook for half an hour until the biscuits brown and the meringue is hard and lightly coloured. Keep watching the meringue and don’t let it burn.

In the meantime, put half of the cream in one bowl and the rest in another. With the first bowl, whisk the cream until you have soft peaks. Add the zest of orange and the juice of half of an orange and stir. Add a sprinkle of icing sugar. Place to one side.

Use half the juice of an orange

Take the meringue out of the oven after half an hour. Turn it out and place on a cooling rack, peeling away the baking paper.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes.

Break the dark chocolate into small pieces and put in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Allow the chocolate to melt, stirring only when it has all melted.

melt the dark chocolate

Whip the second bowl of cream lightly, fold in half of the chocolate. Place the rest of the melted chocolate to the side.

Put the meringue base onto a board. Spread the orange cream onto the base, leaving 2 centimetres around the edges. Finally spoon the chocolate cream onto the orange cream and using half of the remaining melted chocolate drizzle over the top.

spread the orange cream onto the meringue

drizzle with chocolate

Take one end of the base and gently but firmly, tightly roll to form the roulade. Don’t worry if some of the meringue breaks.


Put the roulade on a plate and sprinkle with icing sugar and the last of the melted chocolate. And volia, the perfect New Year’s dessert!

The final roulade

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A review of 2011 supermarket mince pies

It’s that time of the year again. Diets fly out of the window, we buy enough food for at least a month and we eat as if we will never see food again.

My favourite part of Christmas is the countdown to the big day. I don’t usually over indulge until at least Christmas Eve but this year I have excelled myself by working my way through an astonishing six boxes of mince pies.

I’ve never really tried a wide range of mince pies before and I was amazed at the variety on the market. From luxury to traditional or latticed, how do you know which one to buy?

As a result, I’m compiling a list of all the pies I have tested and will offer my views on each in order to help you choose which pies to buy this year.

First up on the taste test is Tesco’s six-pack of deep filled mince pies. Now, these are my tried and tested mince pies. I discovered these a few years ago and found them so delicious that I made the decision not to try any more. The mince meat is succulent, full of flavour and fruity and the pastry is light and buttery. The pies themselves are of ample size and good value at £1.50.

Second up, are Lidl’s deep filled mince pies. These have a lovely buttery pastry, however there is unfortunately too much pastry. The mince meat tasted lovely at the time with a cup of tea, however it did have an unusual after taste. At £1.99 for 12 they are good value but I wouldn’t recommend them.

Next are Asda’s standard mince pies. The mince meat is rather sweet and fruity, and again the pastry fell short in my opinion. It has a cheap and starchy flavour and is too thick.  It has the worst appearance with the pasty on top barely covering the mince meat. At £1 for six, they are good value but the quality is less than desirable.  

Marks and Spencer’s luxury deep filled mince pies offer an added je ne sais quoi. The pastry is flavoursome and the mince meat is tasty. It has a little tang which I personally found pleasant. At £2.69 for six however, they were the most expensive mince pies I tried.

Finally, I tasted Booth’s traditional mince pies. Their appearance is pleasant. They look like homemade pies. They are packaged in plastic with no cardboard box and you can see the pies in all their glory. They are quite pale in colour and sprinkled quite heavily with sugar. Unlike the other mince pies I tasted, they aren’t deep filled. The shortcrust pastry is short, slightly sweet and certainly not heavy. Most importantly the mince meat isn’t overly sweet yet it has a powerful citrus flavour. On the whole it had a ‘different’ quality. At £2.09 for six, they aren’t the cheapest.

Tesco’s mince pies, in my opinion, are still the best on the market. They are great value and incredibly moreish.   

Whether you serve them cold or heated with a dollop of cream or custard, mince pies hit the mark at Christmas!

Tesco deep filled mince pies

What were your favourite mince pies this Christmas? I would love to hear your views. Please leave a comment below.

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Christmas party meals a regular disappointment?

This year I experienced two Christmas party meals in Cardiff and I must admit I was disappointed with the quality of both. Why does quality, choice and taste often suffer in restaurants when it comes to functions?

The first restaurant I tried was the Taf pub and restaurant based in Cardiff University students’ union. I was originally doubtful about the quality of the food on hearing the price of the three course meal. For a three course Christmas meal they charged £9.95, which also included a drink.

On arrival we were shown to our seats and we were surrounded by several other Christmas partygoers which created a jovial atmosphere. We received our free drink and I got a red wine. It was rather bland but I was glad I didn’t opt for white, as it was incredibly sweet.

We opened our crackers which contained a lovely and different array of party hat colours, and the usual silly toys and jokes.

When the starter arrived I could tell there wasn’t enough bread for the pate. The French toast was lovely but there wasn’t enough for the amount of pate. The salad leaves were fresh and tasty. The pate was lovely and smooth but a little bland. The best part of the starter was the ramekin containing delicious, fruity chutney.

The main, the usual turkey with all the trimmings was of ample size. There was a lot of turkey and it wasn’t overcooked. There was a vast amount of roast potatoes and a huge mountain of vegetables. Although I love peas, I don’t really associate them with Christmas dinner. The peas were accompanied with swede which was slightly bland. The parsnips were delightful however, they were sweet and crispy, just how I like them. The gravy wasn’t bad, perhaps a little thin. The sausages wrapped in bacon and the stuffing were appropriate.

Overall, the portion was large and it was satisfactory.

The dessert was more than disappointing. I had ordered Christmas pudding and at best thought I would get a warm, mini pudding covered in a tasty brandy sauce. In reality, I received a small rectangle of something that resembled fruit cake, covered in a gloopy, odd coloured, weird tasting brandy sauce. I’m afraid I took two mouthfuls and left the rest.

I tried a bit of the chocolate cake and was also disappointed with that. It was only partly warmed and the sauce had slightly melted but solidified again. The cake was incredibly dense and should really have been warmed. It was reminiscent of a frozen chocolate cake. The ice-cream which accompanied it was bright white in colour. It looked artificial and didn’t particularly taste of vanilla.  

All in all, I could now see why the meal cost £9.95. The quality was indeed lacking. We all agreed that the starter was a highlight and parts of the turkey were well done but overall it was certainly cheap pub grub at best.

My second Christmas party meal took place at Zerodegrees, a restaurant and microbrewery, Westgate Street, Cardiff. Located opposite the Millennium stadium, this restaurant looks great from outside and inside. Contemporary, unusual, stylish, it ticks all the boxes. On receiving my pre-order menu, the menu sounded gourmet and after my pub experience I was yearning for a culinary creative and appetising Christmas party meal. At £19.95 for three courses,  I expected an improvement.

I opted to try similar courses so I could compare both meals. So first up came the pork terrine. The terrine itself was coarse and looked appealing next to the rocket, bread and red onion relish.  However, unfortunately upon tasting, it actually tasted like Spam. Not unpleasant, but not overly tasty. The red onion relish was lovely, as was the balance with the rocket. The bread however, I couldn’t quite work out. As a bread addict, I am surprised I couldn’t decipher its taste. It was odd, lightly toasted but incredibly hard. As a result, I didn’t eat my terrine with it and left it. A nice homemade brown or rye bread would have really worked well with the dish.

I drank white wine with the meal. I’m not usually a fan of the oakiness of chardonnay, preferring the crisp fruity taste of a sauvignon blanc or the light refreshing taste of a pinot grigio. However, I tried a chardonnay and it was pleasing. Not too oaky and quite light. It accompanied the starter perfectly. I tasted a little of the mango beer which the restaurant/brewery specialises in.  I don’t profess to know anything about beer; in fact I detest the stuff. Having only ever liked beer in Germany, where the beer was masked with another drink, I didn’t expect to like this beer either, as I was sure I would detect that ‘beer taste’. I was however, pleasantly surprised. It was quite a delight. Although, I’m sure beer connoisseurs would disagree and call it sacrilege.

So for the main course, turkey again…First appearances suggested I was in for a treat. On deep plates rested turkey, cabbage, roast potatoes, stuffing, sausages wrapped in bacon, parsnips and gravy. Now for the taste test.  

The turkey was succulent and the roast potatoes were crispy and fluffy inside. However, there was too much on the plate and it felt overdone. There was too much gravy, resulting in everything swimming.  I had too much stuffing, which was bland and I was missing my sausage wrapped in bacon. The parsnips were too big, too sweet, soft and disappointing. The cabbage, was watery and tasteless. Overall, it was marginally better than my pub meal.

Dessert, similarly to my pub meal, was a disaster. The chocolate cake also resembled a frozen non- homemade cake. It was a huge chunk and again was cold. I would have preferred it warm. Because of this, I only took a few mouthfuls.

The service was rather slow. As we had pre-ordered, I would have expected it to have been quicker and the correct food to have arrived. Granted, the restaurant was heaving but again because we had pre-ordered this should have made it easier for the staff.

I would go back to Zerodegrees and give it another try, though. It specialises in Italian food , particularly pizza, not Christmas dinner, so I will give it the benefit of the doubt. Although pizza was offered on the pre-booking menu, there wasn’t a list of the pizzas on offer, so I didn’t know what I could order. I don’t think I could have managed a full pizza as part of three courses though. I’ve realised that I don’t particularly like pre-order/ holiday themed menus. I would prefer to choose something from an ordinary menu and choose a starter and main or main and dessert. I have no problem with pre-ordering, but this shouldn’t detract from the quality of the meal.

Please share your experiences of Christmas party meals. Do you find the quality is often lacking? Feel free to comment below.

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New cupcake businesses compete for festive trade

With Christmas just around the corner, stores are filled with festive inspired gifts. Are people jostling to find the perfect present? Not according to the British Retail Consortium, who have reported slow sales.

Yet, the cupcake industry is blossoming, seemingly bucking the trend, with companies continuing to emerge throughout the UK. A significant number of ‘cupcakeries’ have opened in Cardiff within the last year.

These businesses are competing with established companies to offer that ‘je ne sais quoi’. This Christmas especially, cupcake bakeries are offering a range of festive treats and services to appeal to the widest possible demographic.

Nicki Tudor, award-winning food blogger of Cardiff Bites said: “There’s not a week goes by when another baker doesn’t pop up on my Twitter feed.”

Sara Brock, owner of The Happy Cupcake Kitchen, Whitchurch Road, founded in 2008 said: “People think it’s easy to do, I think that is why there are so many rival businesses.”

She admitted this Christmas, trade for her is a little slower and believes this is because this year there are so many other businesses saturating the market.

So why is the cupcake still popular?

Cupcakes are easy to make and can be individualised for a particular person or event, which makes someone feel special. They can be given as presents, and the individual portions mean you can watch the calories and buy just enough cakes for guests.

In this period of financial insecurity, cupcakes are a cheap treat. Emma Jane Smith, 25, founder of Emma Jane’s Cupcakes, 146 Crwys Road, which opened two months ago said: “Cupcakes just seem to be an affordable luxury because you get this little piece of heaven and it costs you £2 for one and I think £2 is the sort of money you have in your pocket.”

Why are cupcakes so popular? The results of a poll I carried out on this blog.

Cupcakes have been made popular by celebrities and the media. Cupcake themed products are everywhere egged on by the popularity of the Great British Bake off on BBC2.

Cupcake popularity has been embraced by society, aided by the vogue for traditional baking. In times of austerity, we hark back to traditional pastimes such as baking.

Sarah Rebecca Cunnington, 26, set up Cupcake Curiosities as part of her family’s food business Madame Fromage in February 2011, and opened The Village Bakery in Cwmbran last month. She said her inspiration was childhood baking but she also has business acumen.

She said: “I think as long as you can create a niche market and develop with what the customers want and always create something new, you should be fine.”

All the new cupcake businesses in Cardiff appear to follow this mantra.

Both Emma Jane’s and Cupcake Curiosities have recently launched festive themed cupcakes and they create themed cupcakes for all public holidays.

Mrs Smith said: “I’m always coming up with new flavours to make it interesting and I change my flavours on a daily basis.”

All of the businesses establish their own unique selling points. Mrs Smith describes her cupcakes as simple and elegant.

“You don’t need to overdress them because when you taste them you know they taste good,” she said.

Mrs Cunnington said: “I started off doing nice pretty ones, tame ones but then thought, hang on a minute, everyone does them, so let’s try something different.”

Her cupcakes are big and brightly coloured, with unique toppings and the sponge often contains a sauce.

Matt Reardon, owner of Cup and Cake Bakery, Heathbrook, Llanishen, which opened in May 2011, also decorates his cupcakes uniquely. His ‘Boyo’ Banoffee cupcake is hand moulded from either Lindt white or dark chocolate depending on customer preference.

'Boyo' Banoffee Cupcake

Summing up, Mrs Brock said of her cupcakes: “I want to create little works of art which are tailor made to our customers and clients.”

The new businesses are all diversifying, to further entice trade. Cupcake Curiosities and Emma Jane’s are considering starting cupcake demonstration classes to capitalise on the home baking trend.

Mrs Brock already offers this service and describes it as extremely popular.

Cupcake Curiosities and Emma Jane’s have introduced a range of gluten free cupcakes after multiple requests and are now working on dairy free.

Mrs Cunnington said: “We try and do whatever the customer wants.”

Savoury cupcakes are also in the pipeline. Savoury cupcakes have seen increasing popularity in America and Canada and both companies want to investigate if they will be a success in Wales.

Marketing is an integral strategy for new businesses and they have all embraced social networking. Emma Jane’s has an advert and discount on Google which has proved popular and Cup and Cake Bakery offer an online payment system which provides a customer focused service.

In contrast, Cupcake Curiosities has only recently started social networking and marketing, as they receive fantastic passing trade.

For that last minute Christmas gift, Cardiff’s many ‘cupcakeries’ offer something for everyone.

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Baking with mum

My new blog is a guest post by 9-year-old Rosie Clifford, from Hunter Hall School, Penrith, Cumbria.

Her teacher asked her to find a recipe she had never made before, produce a shopping list and follow the method to make the dish. She was then asked to take a photograph of the result to bring into school along with the recipe. She then wrote a short piece commenting on her experience.

Her teacher Antonia Taylor published Rosie’s article in the newsletter.

Mrs Taylor said: I thought Rosie’s account was worth sharing as it presents such a wonderful picture of a mother and daughter baking experience.”

I think Rosie’s piece is extremely creative. It reminded me, and I’m sure it will remind many of you, of times in childhood when we baked with our mums.

Baking with Rosie

For my English homework I had to go home and follow instructions to cook something I had never cooked before.  You had to challenge yourself with something sweet or savoury.  I chose sweet and did White Chocolate Brownies.

We looked at a Dark Chocolate Brownie recipe and changed two things – we put custard creams in and instead of dark chocolate we put white.

It was quite a quick recipe and it only took me half an hour to do everything before putting it in the oven.  First I had to:

  • Put broken up white chocolate and 5oz of butter in the microwave to melt
  • Whisk up 3 eggs then add half the sugar
  • Fold in the melted butter and chocolate
  • Add in the rest of the sugar and whisk again
  • Gently stir all of the flour in and salt taking care not to knock any of the air out
  • Gently stir the broken biscuits in then pour into a lined baking tin
  • Put the tin on the middle shelf of the oven for 25-30 minutes

Choosing my recipe was quite hard because Mum kept on saying “Oh what about this one?” but it would either be too easy or too hard.  In the end I had looked through three cookbooks then Mum told me to do brownies so I did.

Shopping wasn’t too much of a problem except Mum forgot to get vanilla essence so it went a bit wrong.

I made my brownies on the 13th November 2011.

I didn’t need any help except at the end we realised the inside of the brownies hadn’t been cooked and Mum had to cook them more with a blow torch.

I would recommend this recipe to others because they are delicious.

Rosie Clifford, aged 9

Hunter Hall School, Penrith

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