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Sunday 21 June 2015

Review: Cheese and Wine Hamper from Blossoming Gifts

Hampers always go down a treat, it can be so hard to find a good gift for some people. Take my dad for instance, there is never anything he wants and I think in the future a sweet treat hamper delivery may be perfect for him.

When Blossoming Gifts asked if we would like to send my husband a hamper for Fathers Day we were eager to say yes. The kids had a look and knew the Cheese and Wine hamper would be perfect as that is my husbands way to relax in the evening after a busy day at work. A glass of red wine or port with some cheese and crackers.

This hamper retails for £53.99 and the website says it includes -

  • Arden's Mature Cheese & Spring Onion Bites 100g 
  • Barber's Maryland Farm Farmhouse Mature Cheddar Truckle 200g 
  • Ford Farm Double Gloucester with Spring Onion Truckle 200g 
  • Highfield Preserves Red Onion Marmalade 227g 
  • Peter's Yard Original Artisan Crispbread in Box 105g 
  • La Umbra Pinot Grigio 75cl Lidded wicker basket with Handle 
But actually our hamper was slightly different and we had Buiteman sun dried tomato and cheese baguettes and Miller's Damsels wheat wafers instead of the bites and artisan crispbread advertised. We didn't mind this substitution at all as the products we received were excellent quality but I could not see that it said on the web page that items might be substituted, so this is probably something to highlight in the future.

As this hamper includes cheese it can only be delivered Tuesday - Friday and the delivery will arrive between 8am - 6pm. Luckily I have a reception to take all my deliveries otherwise ti might have been tricky to stay in a whole day to make sure I could receive this and put the cheese in the fridge as the actual delivery is not refrigerated.

I felt the hamper looked very nice when it arrived but it did come branded as Virginia Hayward. The lidded wicker basket is great quality and I'll use it again either as storage or to make a hamper for someone at Christmas.

As the cheese was in the fridge my husband spotted it straight away so we both tucked in that night and were so impressed with the quality of the products, the cheese was firm but creamy and the spring onions and chive in the Double Gloucester was a really nice surprise. I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. We are even going to seek out the Miller's Damsels wheat wafers to buy again. My husband also commented that the red onion marmalade was really well balanced as too many we buy have a high level of acidity.

Would I buy one of these again? Yes probably as they really do take the effort out of finding a gift and I now know that I can trust the quality of the products to be very high but in truth they are probably a little more expensive than I can justify.

It is worth taking a look round the Blossoming Gifts website as they have a great selection of floral bouquets, plants and wine, as well as the hampers.

Disclosure: We were sent this hamper free of charge for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Review: Make-A-Bar Chocolate Factory Creative Kits

The kids were sent through some newly launched Make-a-bar chocolate factory creative kits so they could make Daddy a nice surprise for Fathers Day and they had loads of fun.

The kits retail for £3.99 each and that makes you one bar of chocolate and I have to report that I was super surprised - the chocolate tastes great (100% Belgium chocolate that is preservative and additive free). Normally with kits like this it is low quality products but not so with this, I'd be happy to be given one of these bars and would be really happy to eat it.

You can also buy twin packs at £7.99 or packs of four at the value price of £11.99.

Miss E and I were the first to make some bars and this is how we did -

The bars are very easy to make, Miss E is 7 and after the first bar I was able to allow her to do the second one alone whilst I cooked dinner. Here is how we made our bars -

  • Firstly you fill a bowl with tap hot water (not too hot for your fingers)
  • Put the three bags of chocolate in the water to melt (milk, dark and white - all labelled)
  • Decide which design you want to make. Either use one of the eight supplied with your set, draw your own or create your own online and download it for free. Place the design under the plastic tray (we used blu-tac to keep it in place).
  • After about 3-5 minutes the chocolate will have melted, feel the bags to test before cutting open. Massage any lumps in the bag in the warm water. Try to make sure the chocolate is really well melted as you can then get a thinner line/ more precise picture.
  • Cut a tiny bit off the corner of the dark chocolate and use this to create the pattern outline in your plastic tray.
  • Do the same with the white chocolate and fill in your design.
  • Then do the same with the bigger milk chocolate pouch and you need to ensure it goes right across the plastic tray. It can be a bit tricky to get the milk chocolate right across, just a little more in the bag would have been perfect.
  • Tap the tray to eliminate bubbles and ensure equal coverage and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to set.
  • Then either enjoy the chocolate or wrap in some cellophane like we did and give it as a gift.

We found it wasn't that easy to get precise lines with the little chocolate bags. I think our tap water was not quite hot enough as the chocolate never really got fully liquid but as you can see in the pictures it didn't matter as the rough and ready look is pretty cool anyway.

We have had toys like the chocolate coin maker before and whilst the kids have loved them they have been a complete faff - expensive, rubbish tasting chocolate, hard to clean and really difficult to use. These are the complete opposite, cheap, easy to use, no cleaning and easy for kids to use alone. -brilliant, we loved them and would definitely use them as gifts again in the future.

They would also make a great activity for a children's party, all the kids can make their own and allow them to set during the party and then they can take them home as their party gift.

Check out http://makeabar.co.uk/ to find out more and place an order. They can also be followed on @magichocuk and Facebook.

Disclosure: We received 4 kits for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Review: Beefeater, White Hart near Hastings, East Sussex

Today we headed to our local Beefeater to celebrate Fathers Day a week early. I don’t know about you but I find it a bit hard to manage to celebrate with my husband, my dad and my father-in-law all on one day, so we try and space out the fun. We’d had a good day getting all the chores and homework done this morning, out to buy Miss M’s birthday bike this afternoon and then finishing off with our dinner out.

The White Hart, Guestling is situated on the A259 making it very easy to get to and just a couple of miles outside of Hastings town centre. We’ve driven past many times but had never been in it until today, as we pulled into the car park just before 5pm on a Saturday evening there were loads of spaces and it all looked clean and tidy. I commented to dh that it would be a great place for just him and I on a summers evening as there is a large outdoor area with tables and the view was wonderful. The grade II listed building also looks really pretty from the outside and our first impression was good and we were excited for our visit.

It is funny how your mood and expectations can drop in the bat of an eyelid though, as we went into the front door we found two parties waiting in front of us and we were left hanging in the porch. The man greeting guests (Paul I believe his name was) had a very stern look on his face and was not very friendly, in fact I got the distinct impression that he would rather no customers turned up to eat. We had arrived about 4.55pm and expected our table to be ready as the PR agency had informed me they had booked. The greeter told me he didn’t have a reservation in my name and that it was very busy. He asked if I had personally booked, I explained George at the PR agency had and at the mention of this he said we needed to wait a few moments for a table to be re-laid for us.

We didn’t wait long and we were then led to a table but after a few minutes at the table it became clear we had been put on the table that is always sold last, the one right by the kitchen door, the servery and the waiter’s station. We constantly had staff going backwards and forwards past us, chatting by the servery (six of them together at one point) and whenever they held the kitchen door open there was a very loud whirring noise. My husband guessed it was a fridge or freezer working overtime due to the heat. Sadly the table we were seated at was still sticky and had ring marks from the drinks the last people had.

The greeter did come back quickly to take our drinks order, which was good but not so good when I asked my daughter what she would like to drink and I informed her she could have a fruit shoot or milkshake as I looked at the kids menu. She quickly responded milkshake and then the greeter asked her if she wanted an ice-cream one or carton? Well what child is not going to say ice-cream? But when they cost £3.49 in comparison to the child’s drink of £1.60 I was not impressed. You do not upsell to a child, it felt like a cheap shot.

The drinks arrived with us quickly and were all fine, in fact throughout the meal our refillable soft drinks were filled often and when we asked for water, a jug and 5 glasses were bought over so there was no issues with the drinks. It did seem a bit of a shame when my husband looked at the kids menu later and pointed out to me a squash or milk was included in the price and no-one had pointed this out, just allowing us to order drinks at an extra cost for the children.

Our waitress seemed very nice and she introduced herself as Meggie, she took our order about 20 minutes after us being seated and we waited about 15 minutes for the first course to arrive. In total we were in the restaurant for two hours and this is longer than we wanted to be there. Our main course did not make an appearance until about 6.10pm and considering we only had nachos and garlic bread as starters it seemed like a long wait.

In general the food we received was pretty good, the girls were very happy with their nachos or garlic bread starters and my husband’s nachos were fine, although the same size as my daughters portion. My son and I ordered nachos to start and asked for them to be changed when they came out as they were covered in chopped onion, tomato and chillies, none of which we like. I think perhaps this is the problem with the daytime value menu that we ordered from, it lacks detail, so you are ordering blind on some menu options. We did find that Meggie handled us sending the nachos back very well and was accommodating.

JJ and myself loved our main courses, JJ reported that his burger and skinny chips were excellent (£7.99 plus an extra 59p for cheese and bacon from the Daytime Value Menu) and I really enjoyed my smothered chicken with thrice fried chips, coleslaw and side salad, which was £10.99 on the main menu. My husband had the Rump steak, which was a real disappointment – very chewy and at £10.29 on the daytime value menu it's not cheap and you'd be even more disappointed if you paid the regular menu price of £13.79.

Miss M ordered spaghetti Bolognese, garlic bread and a corn cobette and Miss E had grilled chicken, mash and baked beans. We did have to laugh at the tiny, tiny portion of beans she was given though, it was one of those tiny sauce pots. Both girls were full at the end of their main course but I am very glad I let JJ order from the main menu as the meals are not designed for an 11 year old.

In general the Mr Men & little Miss kids menu is really good value and has loads of choice. It is £4.49 for 1 course and squash (or change it for milk if you prefer), £5.49 for 2 courses and squash or 3 courses and squash are just £5.99 which feels like great value. It is a nice touch too that if you have a 3 course meal they will donate 20p to the Great Ormond Street hospital. Your child can choose from 4 starters, 11 mains including steak, spaghetti bolognese, sausage and mash or create your own pizza and there is a whole host of sides to go with them. Then you can finish off with one of 4 desserts including cookies and ice cream.

My husband decided not to have a dessert and JJ and I both opted for a warm brownie with chocolate sauce and ice-cream from the daytime value menu, this meant they were just £2.69 each which was excellent value. We both really enjoyed our dessert. As quite a lot of time had gone by we decided not to have hot drinks to finish as it was time to get the kids home so I asked for the bill.

Well what a faff it all was. First off the girls had not been charged for the 3 course menu but for each course separately making it 50p more expensive for each of them and we had been charged for a jug of squash that we had not ordered. I explained about this and the waitress took it away to amend, the bill then came back correct and I was happy with it and Meggie took the £50 voucher I had to process. Then the bill came back again and had been reduced from just over £65.00 to £17.60 and I asked how £65 minus £50 could possibly be anything other than £15 but Meggie tried to persuade me it was definitely right as the reduction for the girl’s inclusive meals was shown at the bottom. Upon checking it turned out that another portion of onion rings had been added in, so I pointed that out and it was amended agin. Then when Meggie came back to the table she asked me ‘Is that OK, or is anything else wrong for you?’ I don’t know about you but this sounded pretty rude to me and I was offended. She skipped straight past the option for me to be able to leave a tip on my credit card and then a lack of cash and annoyance at her comment meant I didn’t leave a tip, a pretty rare occurrence for someone who worked in this industry for years.

Overall, the actual food we ate was fine (with the exception of dh’s main course) but our meal experience was spoilt by the very surly greeter, slow service and a terrible experience with the bill. Will we go back? Yes, I’d give them another try as I’m not normally willing to write a restaurant off after one luke-warm experience. I’ve also eaten at other Beefeaters in the last couple of years and been really happy with them.

Have you been to a Beefeater recently? What was your experience like?

If you are thinking of trying out your local Beefeater you might be interested to know that children eat free with a paying adult (ordering from the main menu) Saturday 12 – 5pm and also that if you book a table after 5pm on Fathers Day, Sunday 21st June 2015 Dads can eat a free 6oz flat-iron steak meal when someone else orders a main meal.

Disclosure: We received a £50 voucher for the purpose of undertaking a review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Thursday 4 June 2015

Review: Table Table Restaurant - Gateway, Eastleigh, Hants

Ready for their dinner after a busy day at Marwell Zoo

Last week seems like a million years ago sadly but this time last Thursday I was at Marwell Zoo with my family enjoying seeing the animals and looking forward to our dinner at the Gateway Table Table restaurant in Eastleigh.

First Impressions
I was very pleased to have been asked to review a Table Table restaurant as it is a number of years since I last ate in one and I know I used to enjoy it. I'm pleased to report that this experience was no different, we had a great time. We arrived at the restaurant car park at about 6.25pm and the car park was very full but there were some spaces we could pull into. It all looked clean and well maintained and thus our first impression was good.

We were greeted as soon as we arrived in the restaurant and the greeter took us promptly to our table as we had a reservation. I loved the lay-out of the restaurant as there were lots of different shaped tables in all sorts of areas. We had a separate booth area for the five of us and this meant dh and I did not have to worry about the kids being too noisy and disrupting other diners. Personally I felt parts of the restaurant were a bit dark for 6.30pm but it would have been great for later and a romantic meal for two.

The Menu
My husband and I were impressed with the selection on the Spring menu. There is a good variety of starters to either enjoy alone or to share and the mains are split into themes such as hearty pies, classic dishes, gourmet burgers, salads, fish and grills. There is also a nice selection of sides and I was super excited to see cauliflower cheese featuring there as that is a personal favourite. Starters start from £2.59 for the garlic ciabatta bread but most are priced between £3.59 - £4.99 for a single portion. The main meals seem to be around £7.99 and you could choose something like a burger, lasagne or quiche for that price and the prices range up to £17.99 for a T-bone steak. All main courses come with appropriate accompaniments such as chips, salad or garlic bread, so you only have to pay for extra sides if you wish to have more than the standard offering. Puddings range from £3.99 to £4.99 and there are both hot and cold varieties.

We took advantage of the evening value deals menu which is available Monday - Friday after 6pm. This offers 2 courses for £9.99 and 3 courses for £11.99 which was excellent value. Of course the variety you can choose from is more limited but there is certainly enough on it, that it made us smile - 4 starters, 7 mains and 4 puddings.

There is also a daytime value menu too which has mains from the main menu on at the special price of £4.99, £5.99 or £6.99 and you can add a starter and/or pudding for £1.99 each. So you can have 3 courses for as cheap as just under £9.00 in the day (Monday - Saturday 11.30 - 5pm) and if you are dining during the day but want something less heavy there is the light bites menu too.

Clockwise - Miss E colouring, Miss E'd odd main course (her choice) - spaghetti bolognese, mashed potato and garlic bread, chocolate challenge dessert and Miss M with her cheesy nacho and BBQ dip starter
Kids Menu
Probably the menu I was most impressed with was the children's one, it is called Ruthless Romans and is styled around Horrible Histories which instantly made it appealing to my children. They received a colouring/ activity sheet and some crayons each and got straight to work on these, it is always good to have something to distract them whilst they wait for their food to be cooked.

Both my girls choose from this menu as they are 7 but we let our 11 year old son (who is only 3cm shorter than me) chose from the main menu as we felt he is getting a bit big for kids menus now. The price is £3.99 for a main course and you can choose either a starter or pudding for free and add the other if you want to for 99p. So three courses is £4.98, which is fantastic value and kids drinks range from 75p to £1.50 per glass. I do feel these prices are so much better than many restaurants offer and there is really excellent variety on this menu with smaller portions of main menu items such as ribs and steak and chips being available for £4.99.

With the kids main courses as part of the deal they can choose 2 sides and there is a massive choice with both healhy and not so healthy options. Miss M went for salad sticks and garlic bread with her macaroni cheese but Miss E had the stranger combination of spaghetti, mashed potato and garlic bread. It made her very happy though!

Food Quality
In general we were all really impressed with the quality and the taste of the food we were served. There was nothing that we needed to complain about and we would order everything again with the exception of the battered fish as the fish was rather pulpy and the batter not very crisp. I would highly recommend the pate I had for starter as it was a massive portion and super tasty. JJ and dh are very fussy about their burgers and they both said theirs was excellent (as were the skinny chips) and the would be very happy to eat at a Table Table restaurant again.

Top left, Louisiana chicken goujons (these were really tasty), pate starter, JJ with his burger that he was super pleased with, my fish chips and peas
Dan was our waiter and he was very attentive and gave great service; very happy and smiley but not too intrusive. The mains took a little longer than he wanted and he apologised for the delay, although it did not feel overly long to us. We spent about one and a half hours in the restaurant in all and we were perfectly happy with this for a 3 course meal.  We were checked on regularly to make sure we had everything we needed and that the food was OK and Dan also came and bought us soft drink refills as we required too.

We had a fabulous meal and we would happily visit this restaurant again. The staff, food and environment were all very pleasing.

Disclosure: We received a £50.00 for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.