Sian Julian Instagram Tiptree cheesecake

Tea time at Tiptree

Sian Julian Instagram Tiptree cheesecake

 

As an Essex girl born and bred, Tiptree jam is – and always has been – part and parcel of every day life. I remember my first holiday abroad with my mum, I couldn’t believe they had Tiptree jam at breakfast! I had no idea it was such a global brand, but having eaten it my whole life I can attest that it simply is the best (not that I’m at all biased!).

If you’ve never tried any Tiptree products, it extends way beyond jam. My favourites include the Hot Gooseberry chutney – great with cheese and meat; Brown sauce – I do love HP, but this one is extra special; Orange and Ginger Marmalade (the ginger makes it healthy, right?); and the Hot English Mustard. If I had to pick just one jam for the rest of my life, it would be the Tiny Tip Raspberry. Divine. Though the blackcurrant is also rather special – both are amazing in a cream tea!

Anyway, back to the point in hand. It shames me to say that, until Saturday, I’d never made it to any of the Tiptree Tea Rooms. Along with two of my school friends (one who hadn’t seen in far too long, so it was a bit of reunion too!), off we trotted to the Lordship Tea Room at Writtle College. It’s a really lovely building – much bigger than expected, with ample (free)parking – and a special mention must go to the staff all really friendly and squeezed us in almost straight away.

Great first impressions were backed up by some really tasty food – I opted for a bacon and brie toastie. I asked if they could pop some chutney in, but instead I was given a whole mini jar of my favourite gooseberry (no extra charge!) – there’s no picture, because I ate it before I remembered!!! I was very impressed.

It’s hard to miss the cake stand at the front, and having seen lots of people order delicious looking sweets, we decided it would be rude no to. Behold the Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake (pic at the top). The lightest, melt in the mouth cheesecake with bits of brownie stirred through it. Heaven! Honestly one of the best cheesecakes (if not the best, how it was that light I don’t know!) that’s ever crossed my lips.

We also frequented the cute shop next door, which stocks the full Tiptree range (of course), a patisserie counter with more of their baked delights, a meat and cheese counter, plus lots of other trinkets.

So will I be going back? Yes, definitely! A humongous toastie, generous portion of cheesecake, pot of tea and a fancy apple and elderflower juice came to the princely sum of £14 which I don’t think is too bad at all. In the shop I got a Millionaire’s Chocolate Tart to take out for about £3, plus some lovely cheeses – including my favourite, Yarg which isn’t always easy to get hold of! If you’re in the area, I highly recommend a trip.

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Soho Secret Tea Room - Cream tea stand

Soho’s Secret Tea Room

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”- The Portrait of a Lady

Well, Henry James, I couldn’t agree more. Afternoon tea  – or cream tea, or just tea and cake – is something I am positively obsessed with. I put it down to my Cornish roots; and the fact I grew up having ‘elevenses’ with my Welsh grandparents (and afternoonses).

Soho Secret Tea Room - Cream tea stand

I’m always up for trying out new places for Afternoon tea. A couple of weeks ago, after a very exciting (and somewhat drunken) bridal accessories appointment in Knightsbridge for my best friend, we all (bridesmaids, sisters and her lovely Mum), trundled off to Soho to try out Soho’s Secret Tea Room.

Soho Secret Tea Room menu cover

Like to logo but think the menu could have been a bit nicer!

I’m all for quirky, but there’s a line, which this place just about managed to stay on the right side of. Having read up on it afterwards, the Coach and Horses itself is apparently a well-loved boozer that does a cracking Sunday roast. Anyway, back to the point in hand. We didn’t spot the sign straight away outside the Coach and Horses, yet Google Maps’ blue dot insisted we were there. To enter, you go into the pub itself, walk behind the bar and up the stairs. All a bit strange.

It was the day before Hallowe’en, so the upstairs room, which is the Secret Tea Room, was decked out accordingly. As a lover of antiques and old things, I was very taken with the crockery selection. Not so with the toilet, which had a shower in – but swiftly overcame this, thanks to the copious amount of bubbles we’d consumed (it was only 3pm, FYI).

Tea cup Soho Secret Tea Room

Lovely cup and saucer

We all opted for the Cream Tea option. You can’t really go wrong with scones, clotted cream, jam and a pot of tea; we were momentarily worried that it would be whipped cream, but thankfully it was clotted as is required! My only complaint was, the scones were heated up before serving – something I normally love, but not when it’s still cold in the middle. I understand they have a lot of people coming in a day, but scones don’t keep that well in the fridge. Anyway, it was still lovely – especially liked the blackcurrant jam. And a special mention must go to the bubbles, which were divine and apparently from the actual Prosecco region in Italy. Win, win.

Teapot at Soho's Secret Tea Room

Just some of the lovely china – I absolutely LOVE vintage floral crockery!

All in all, a nice experience – but if you’re after a decadent / luxurious experience, then this isn’t for you. If you don’t mind quirky, random mismatched crockery and are into old buildings (not in the castle sense), then yep this will probably be for you. Just don’t expect high-end patisserie.

Jamie's Trattoria Restaurant Chelmsford inside bar

Review: Jamie’s Trattoria Chelmsford

Finally, Jamie Oliver has opened a restaurant in the motherland. As a proud Essex boy, one could argue that it’s about time. I would certainly agree. Perhaps more importantly it’s worth asking: ‘has it been worth the wait?’

Jamie's Trattoria Restaurant Chelmsford inside bar

Yes, it does say ‘Reem’ on the wall.

Naturally, I wanted to answer this question for myself and had to get down there in the first week (not always the best time to visit a new restaurant!). I frequented with my Dad, who is a Jamie fan – amazingly so as TV chefs typically annoy him. Must be the Essex solidarity.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - open kitchen

Open plan kitchen area and pizza oven!

Anyway, back to the point in hand: first impressions. It’s truly cavernous. I vaguely remember it being a bank when I was little, but the restoration has seen the building stripped back, revealing some original pillars and other nice features. It’s kinda quirky, but if I’m honest I’m not entirely taken with the half-finished look. Though the big bar area and slick open kitchen do get my vote.

Oh and the toilets are really nice; might not be something that usually gets praised, but the amount of times I’ve been to a restaurant only to be confronted by a disgusting toilet… So, well done JO for investing in the extra touches.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - toilets

My only complaint would be the fact Dad and I struggled to hear each other at points. We realised half-way through we were sitting below a speaker…duly noted to ask for a table away from speakers next time!

On to the staff: we were cheerfully greeted on arrival, and led straight to our table. The enthusiasm was palpable, it seems like everyone is happy to be there which is always reassuring. Our main waitress was friendly, but not too overbearing (my number one pet hate in a restaurant). For some reason we had a different waitress for our starters, who enthusiastically told us what every item on the antipasti board was. I didn’t want to kill her vibe, but I knew what everything was and frankly wanted her to move away so I could dive in head first!!! Not that I’m complaining about the service, all in all it was fab – and it was really great to hear from our waitress how thorough their training had been. I felt slightly guilty about my earlier thoughts re antipasti; could put it down to post-work hunger….

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - antipasti starter board

This also came with roasted veg, kale slaw and mozzarella.

Not going to lie, I was pleasantly surprised. I think I’d gone in with fairly low expectations, as my general experience of chain restaurants is mediocre at best. The selection and size of the antipasti was rather pleasing, especially as it only cost £6.95 each. Fennel salami was my number one item, mmmmm. The olives were good too. Personally, I could’ve done without the mini mozzarella, I generally find it too bland raw and even with the herby sauce, it just didn’t do it for me – baked all the way.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - main course

Pork chop, with aubergine caponata, garlicky kale and parmesan & rosemary polenta chips.

Our board was whipped away and after a short break, the colossal pork rib came out. Did I eat it all? Yep. Was it tasty? Yes, indeed. But be warned it’s not your typical loin. I liked the longer cut up to the belly as I’m a sucker for some crispy fat. The caponata was great too and most probably the best thing of the whole meal, the polenta chips, completed a lovely dish. I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of them. As my Dad said, “I think these might be nicer than roast potatoes”. I’d argue he’s right there.

Jamie's Trattoria restaurant Chelmsford - brownie dessert

Even though we could barely move, dessert was ordered, would be rude not to right? As a brownie fanatic, I had to try it… It was everything you’d expect from a brownie, with the addition of crunchy honeycomb and ice cream. Perfect. Personally I normally opt for cream, but think I may have been converted.

All in all, it’s a thumbs up. Price-wise, I think it’s very reasonable; for three courses, plus drinks and sides, it came to around £70 (can’t remember precise amount). I wasn’t surprised when the waitress said it’s already getting really booked up.

So, has it been worth the wait? I think it’s fair to say yes. With a little bit more work and all the staff used to the slightly overwhelming size, I think it will be a permanent fixture on Chelmsford’s High Street. It’s certainly the best chain restaurant experience I’ve had. I’ll definitely be back, if only to eat three bowls of the polenta chips followed by a brownie.

Food – 8
Service – 7 (needs a little work, but our waitress was lovely)
Atmosphere – 8
Value – 9

Overall – 8

National Chocolate Week: my top 3 bars

It’s National Chocolate Week and seeing as chocolate is one of my ultimate favourite things in life (I rarely go a day without eating a square – everyone needs a vice right?), I figured I’m in a fairly good position to talk about some of the best chocolate bars out there. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot.

Now, I’m not proclaiming to be an expert, but there are a few things I care about when it comes to chocolate:

1)   Fairtrade: it’s a no-brainer
2)   Interesting flavour combos (though I am partial to a Terry’s)
3)   Quality of ingredients i.e. no crap

Based on this, here’s my run-down of the three bars you need to try immediately if you haven’t already.

Divine – Toffee and Sea Salt

I’m yet to try a Divine bar and be disappointed. And the Toffee and Sea Salt is no exception. In fact it’s unbelievably good, especially if you’re a fan of salted caramel (toffee / caramel, same difference). The chocolate is perfectly creamy and melts in the mouth, and unlike other milk chocolates in its not overly sweet thanks to the saltiness.

It’s not mega cheap, but it is Fairtrade. Divine Chocolate is part-owned by the Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, ensuring farmers get a fair price for their crops. In my mind it’s worth every penny.

Nom Nom – Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt

An unintentional theme has developed here, but if you’re a fan of the sweet/salty combo, then this is not one to be missed. Handmade in Wales using Halen Mon (Anglesey) sea salt, you can taste the love that has gone into each bar. Absolutely silky smooth on the palate, it’s a real winner.

The packaging is super cute too. I’m a massive fan of simplicity, and brown paper gets my vote every time.

Montezuma’s – Spice it Up

Dark chocolate and ginger are a timeless combination, and this has to be the best incarnation I’ve tried. As well as adding spice, the ginger adds a nice sweetness to the bitter dark chocolate. I like to have a few squares with a cup of tea. If you’re a ginger fan, you’ve got to try it!

Montezuma’s also make lots of other lovely flavours too; I particularly like the chilli and orange ones in the organic range. Yum.

What are your favourite chocolate bars? I’d love to hear your suggestions, especially if it’s one I haven’t tried before!20141020-225731-82651154.jpg

Sian Julian Lab bar Pornstar martini review

Cocktails at Lab Bar, Soho

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I love a good fruity martini (think breakfast martins!), but this pornstar martini at Lab is one of the best I’ve had – and I’ve had a fair few in my time. I love the way the passionfruit cuts through the sweetness, and the shot of champers on the side is both decadent and cleansing on the palette. What’s not to love?

The prices aren’t cheap but well worth it for a blow out. So, if you haven’t been to Lab yet, make sure you check it out next time you’re in London.

Review: 59 New Street, Chelmsford

IMG_3258Having wanted to visit 59 New Street since it opened, I finally found an excuse to go last weekend: Mother’s Day! I took my Mum on Friday and it more than surpassed our expectations. Everything was better than I thought it would be; in fact I’d go so far as to say 59 New Street is exactly what Chelmsford has been missing.

Let’s start with the menu: short, to the point, perfection. We got a delicious bottle of viognier for £24, and the service was impeccable to say the least. Nothing was too much trouble. When Mum mentioned her nut allergy, the chef served her ham hock terrine with homemade toasted brioche instead of the nut crostinis it was meant to come with. Some places would just serve it without anything, so that was a really nice touch.

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Anyway, on to the food itself… Each course was simplicity personified. Not too many ingredients on the plate, but each one cooked and seasoned perfectly, as well as being beautifully presented. Fine dining in the best possible way! So to start I had the squid salad (see above), served with rocket and a yummy dressing; Mum had the terrine with fresh piccalilli and the aforementioned brioche! Both were excellent and the viognier we’d chosen perfectly complemented both dishes.

On to the main event: there was no way we couldn’t have the steak (see top picture). We weren’t disappointed; it was sublime! Perfectly pink, juicy and caramelised on the outside. All the sides were perfect too: large flat mushroom, with garlic, salty chips, grilled tomatoes and peppercorn sauce. Yum.

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Because I’m greedy, I found room for dessert. I ordered the citrus mess (see above), which was a lovely palate cleanser to finish the meal on, made up of a creamy mousse, lemon-infused meringues, scorched lime and a tuille biscuit. Mum, on the other hand is not so greedy, instead of a traditional dessert she opted for a ‘dessert martini’, namely the vanilla espresso option (see below). I don’t like coffee too much and even I thought it was divine. Next time, I am 100% trying the chocolate and raspberry one. What’s not to love?

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I couldn’t finish without mentioning how good the refurbishment is. For somewhere that used to be dark, dingy and have Barbie-themed ladies’ toilets (not that they didn’t have a special place in my heart), the transformation is remarkable. It feels light and bright and the plethora of signed photographs on the wall is impressive to say the least! If you’re looking for somewhere new to go, then make sure you check it out. It’s by far one of the best dining experiences I’ve had outside of London.

Ratings

Food – 9/10 – I think it would have been a 10 if I’d opted for the pork belly starter.
Drinks – 10/10 – I’d like to go back and sample some cocktails, the selection of spirits behind the bar was impressive!
Service – 10/10 – can’t fault it.
Value – 9/10 – All in all it was £120 for the bill, plus we gave our waitress (who was so lovely!) a £20 cash tip; for a treat not bad at all.
Atmosphere – 9/10 – really buzzy, but not too loud i.e. we could still have a conversation!

Overall – 9.5/10

Review: Jamie’s Fifteen, London

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Since the TV programme all those years ago, Fifteen has been on my hit list (I’m also a huge fan of Jamie Oliver, being from Essex it’s a given!). I love the whole premise of the place – the mission statement is printed on the menu: “All profits allow Fifteen to use the magic of food to give unemployed young people a chance to have a better future”.

As you can imagine I was really happy to get a Red Letter Day at Christmas for a “tasting menu for two at Jamie’s Fifteen”. So, me and the boyfriend went on Saturday (1st March) and I was not disappointed – the cocktails were particularly good (the marmalade was DIVINE); though the service and attention to detail was a bit disappointing.

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Anyway, on to the most important bit: the food. Unfortunately for us the first three courses on the tasting menu were fish-based and happened to be the three fish/shellfish neither of us particularly like. Although, in fairness neither of us had tried an oyster before – it was okay; but I don’t understand what the fuss is all about. Give me mussels any day.

Next the smoked anchovy with hens egg. This surprised me – I’m not a massive fan of anchovies but it was lovely, the egg was perfectly cooked and the squid ink crackers it came with were a triumph. The cured salmon with black radish and herb vinaigrette was nice, but it didn’t really float my boat. I just don’t really get why people rave about salmon it has always been at the bottom of my list when it comes to fish.

The middle dish – spelt risotto with goat curds was lovely. We practically inhaled it after three mediocre dishes beforehand. By this point we just wanted the meat to arrive, stat. And it was more than worth the wait. I thought my favorite would be the short rib, but the duck and prune cannelloni was unbelievably delicious. If I was to go again, that would certainly me my choice of main course.  I was also suitably impressed with the lovely glass of Tempranillo I had to accompany the meats (expensive though at £9 for a 175ml glass!).

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Dessert couldn’t have worked out better. He had the velvety vanilla ice-cream and I got the chocolate malt mousse which was essentially a fancy take on a Malteser. The creamiest milk chocolate mousse, topped with a malt creamy foam, burnt sugar shards and chunks of bitter dark chocolate. I scoffed the lot.

So, while it was a lovely gift the lack of attentiveness really disappointed us, when it was quite obvious any one with a Red Letter Day booking would have received it as a gift! We were seated 30 minutes late while four couples who arrived way after us got seated before us. Luckily we got two drinks knocked-off the bill, which slightly made up for it.

I accept it was a very busy Saturday night, but I think they should have offered us the tour (seeing as it was part of the deal) and given us our free prosecco on arrival. Or maybe they just shouldn’t accept Red Letter Day bookings on a Saturday night if they’re too busy to fulfill all of the deal.

So my advice to anyone who wants to try Fifteen would be, go, but don’t bother with a Red Letter Day or any other deal – you won’t get any special treatment. And you won’t get the best dishes on the menu; in fact you’ll spend your whole two hours watching rotisserie chickens go out to other tables, wishing you had one. Though the duck cannelloni is a MUST try if you go, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Ratings:

Food: 8/10
Drinks 10/10
Service: 6.5/10
Value: 7/10 – the deal was £150, I think you could have had a cheaper and better meal if you just had a normal booking
Atmosphere: 7.5/10 – nice background music (think AiM), but quite dark and the tables are VERY close together
Overall 8/10