Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Easter Catch Up

These past few weekends have been so hectic. Good sociable hectic, but hectic nonetheless. I have so much to blog about and so little time...so here goes!

Easter kicked off on Good Friday like all good weekends, with curry, wine and a couple of good bands. The Tamarind in Risca is an excellent local curry house, great value for money and always more food than you can eat. Although this is probably exacerbated by the amount of poppadoms I tend to eat whilst waiting! This, plus a few wines, meant me being a very bad blogger and not ending up with any decent photos! Ooops... I blame that giant wine bottle.

Easter Sunday started off by me being completely spoilt by the husband! Such a cute little basket! I'd given up cheese for lent (I may have moaned mentioned this at some point...) and I'm not gonna lie, it got pretty rough at times! Hence the chocolate and cheese basket of yums. I'm still making my way through it all!

After a seriously chocolatey and eggy breakfast, we headed down to Cardiff for Judgement Day at the Millenium Stadium, for beers, burgers and a double dose of local rugby derbies. Awesome day out, despite the Newport Gwent Dragons losing 10-20 to the Ospreys. Boo.

And yes. That is another burger from the burger heaven that is The Grazing Shed. The John Wayne, with (celebrating the end of lent) extra goats cheese. Cheese, bacon, red onion and BBQ sauce. Just look at all that cheese. You'll never find a better burger. I'm now having extra goats cheese on everything, all of the time. Probably even my weetabix.

This weekend has been a bit more sophisticated as I've spent it with some lovely ladies, being my two best friends, Laurien and Summer. The three of us had tickets for Disney on Ice in the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff, so we got down early to get a spot of lunch at Bill's first.

Tried out something a bit lighter this time, thanks to all the burgers I've been eating lately. Salmon with a chilli and lime crust, with a cold noodle and sesame salad. Really lovely and light, although I'm not going to lie, I could have eaten it twice with room for dessert. Some pic'n'mix action definitely went down later on...

Then off we popped to watch the show. Cardiff was crazy busy with little Cinderellas and Buzz Lightyears running all over town. But the show was so worth it, I think the adults enjoyed it much more than the kids.

Unfortunately, the lighting didn't make for very good photographs, but I did manage to get one of the best bit anyway. The toy soldiers from Toy Story were mesmerising! I really didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did! The Little Mermaid was such a good performance too, as was Tinkerbell. 2 hours long, it was over all too soon for me, although just long enough for the little ones.

Such a great weekend with my beautiful Disney Princesses.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Daydreaming of Tenby

The weather is glorious at the moment, and it's giving me seriously itchy feet. When it's this nice inside, it makes me all angsty to just get outside and do anything, but to just get out. My next holiday feels like forever away, but all I can think about is being by the seaside! So I'm turning that daydreaming into something a little more proactive and recapping on a wonderful weekend away we had in February, at Bluestone, Pembrokeshire.

January is always a very stressful month for me in work, so we always like to book a little get away in February when the work calms down. I've been wanting to try Bluestone for some time now, as we usually head to Tenby at least once a year, but always stay near the centre of town. Bluestone is about a 15 minute drive away from Tenby town, but right next door to Oakwood Theme Park.

Can you spot the roller coasters?

After a particularly hairy drive down in the day, thanks to the horrendous rain, we landed in the early afternoon. Bluestones has a non-car environment, so apart from a small time on arrival and departure where you can drive to your accommodation, you have to leave your car in a large car park at the entrance to the village. Which sounds like heaven until you realise you have to walk from the car park in the rain once you've returned the car...

We booked a massage at the spa for Friday afternoon which was amazing. So relaxing and the staff at the spa really looked after us. Unfortunately, due to a bit of a miscalculation of time by us, we rushed in and out, and didn't have nearly enough time to truly relax and enjoy the facilities as we wanted to. I spied an outdoor jacuzzi which I was desperate to try, but at least this gives me a reason to go back!

As our weekend fell over Valentines Day, we had booked a meal at the 'fine dining' restaurant on site, Carreg Las. It was a lovely meal, and I really enjoyed the food, although it may have been a little on the small side for the husband! His face when I told him this chateaubriand steak was to share was a picture...

(Apologies for the poor lighting and quality).

However, the restaurant was very strange. It was one huge room, with no cwtchy holes for seats at all, and not even an arrival desk. It makes you feel very exposed and a bit uncomfortable. Despite it being this open, we were the last in the restaurant and left completely alone for over half an hour waiting to pay, with all the staff hiding out in the kitchen. I felt very let down by service in what was supposed to be their 'fine dining' restaurant.

We were woken up early in the morning, but in the best way, by the sun rising and the birds singing. Oh, and also by the seductive smell of pastries wafting up from the coffee shop below our studio. So I sent the hunter gatherer off for coffee and croissants while I lazed in bed. Bliss.

All the horrid weather from the previous day had disappeared, but I had one thing to do before we went out exploring, and that was dive in the pool! The Blue Lagoon pool was fantastic, and if I was 7 I would have spent my whole weekend there! Sitting outside in a pool attached to a flume when it's about 4c was an experience! I could talk all day long about the Blue Lagoon, but if you're interested, check the website out here.

Check out the awesome Wild Wood Café at the adventure centre.

After I'd got the inner child out of my system, on came the Hunters and we went out in search of an adventure. Bluestones is an amazing antidote to city syndrome. The car free environment really makes you want to get out and explore, and it must be a brilliant comfort for those with children. Just sitting in our studio looking out the window made me want to get outside and walk over every inch of glorious Welsh countryside that houses Bluestone. Maybe that’s the suffocated office creature in me needing to get out, but it’s more than likely the wonderful setting of Bluestones. With hills and lakes, lazy pathways and heavy woodland areas, it’s got everything.

Bluestone is built like one big village. There are little clusters of big log cabins all over the site, and the largest ones being around a big lake in the centre. There is a village centre where the shops, main restaurants and the spa are based. This is also where we stayed, in a studio apartment. I was a little dubious on this, as there is so much information about the log cabins but very little about the apartments.

The studios from the outside are basically converted terraced houses in the village, which look quite quaint from the outside. However, once inside I was very pleasantly surprised. The bathroom was incredible and relatively modern, but without losing any of it's charm. The main room was much larger than the hotel style room that I had anticipated, with a large double bed but also a comfy sofa area. It was so nice to not be confined to four walls and a bed, as you so often are. We had tea and coffee making facilities, but for a long weekend break, it's a bit of a pain not to have a fridge (I do like my rosé frosty).

I would go back to Bluestone in a heartbeat. There are so many paths and walks on and around the site to explore that we didn't have time to in two nights. I loved the fact that even for us busy bees, there was so much to do on the site that you didn't even need to use the car at all.

What also surprised me is that although it is obviously aimed at young families, we didn't ever feel at a loss for something to do, and not at one point did we get overwhelmed by children, like you do at some holiday parks/camps. Because all the activity points are so spread out across the park, and there are many different places to dine, you never feel overrun. I'd definitely recommend it to both couples and young families alike, so if you’re heading in that direction, give Bluestone a try.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Mother's Day Pt II - Gemelli Zafferano, Newport

Next up was the turn of my mother in law for a bit of spoiling! We've all been lusting over Gemelli Zafferano on Bridge St, Newport for some time, so this was the perfect excuse. Although, as you know by now, I don't need an excuse for good food!

Gemelli Zafferano is the original of the two Gemelli restaurants in Newport, having been opened back in 1996. The second has only been opened within the last year, in a retail park the other side of town. We visited that Gemelli back last November, and had a fabulous meal, despite the odd setting (underneath a Tesco Extra) so we were looking forward to checking out the original.

The Bridge Street restaurant is so unassuming from the outside, it looks like a little shack on a railway bridge. Which is exactly what it is, until you get inside the door. The second the door opens the garlic hits you and you're transported into a little cafe in Italy. Over decorated and chintzy in the best kind of way, this tiny little shack has about 7 tables in various setups, it's a lot bigger than it looks. Statues of Venus are propped in corners and classical paintings adorn the walls and ceilings.

But as always, I'm all about the food. Gemelli has an amazing reputation when it comes to all things cake, so I (unusually for me) gave the starters a miss to make sure I had dessert room! Everyone else did the same, so the waiter kindly provided us with some crunchy garlic bread and tangy olives to munch on whilst waiting for our mains. And I'm never one to say no to anything garlicky...

Between us we ordered veal, the T-Bone steak and I ordered the seafood spaghetti, which was one of the daily specials. My mother-in-law ordered the interestingly named spaghetti Catherine Zeta Jones, which is a creamy seafood dish apparently made for the lady herself.

Every dish was more than impressive on arrival. All were served in or on huge dishes and bowls, and really beautifully presented. My dish was huge, served in it's own tagine. Spaghetti with a whole host of sea creatures... langoustines, prawns, scallops, mussels, clams etc. The seafood was cooked wonderfully and I loved the shell-on seafood, I don't mind getting stuck in and mucky fingered! There was SO much seafood in the dish, which is no complaint of mine.

Unfortunately, I found the sauce really lacking in flavour. I was expecting there to be more garlic, more chilli or more something. What little sauce there was didn't stick to the pasta, as it was very watery, and I found the dish a little bit more quantity over quality. I really would have liked a bit less seafood, and a more flavourful sauce to enjoy it with. The fish was cooked so well, it was such a shame they were so shellfish with the sauce... *cringe*

That being said, everyone else had a fantastic main. The men both had the T-Bone and veal, which both looked incredible, and the creamy CZJ spaghetti was making me very jealous across the table!

Once that was all washed down with yet another bottle of Montepulciano, we finally allowed ourselves a look at the cake counter, which in all honesty was the main event that we were all here for.

And it did not disappoint. After a long debate with myself over the extremely chocolatey roulade or the amaretto sponge, amaretto won. Such a light and fluffy almondy sponge which was topped with a thick cream and two amaretto biscuits. The cream was quite heavy for me (not a complaint, I'm just not much of a cream fan) but I definitely made light work of those biscuits.

And this is why everyone keeps coming back to this tiny little gem. Both the cakes and the service were second to none. The waiter and waitress kept an eye on everything, keeping our glasses topped up and ensured we were always munching on something, whilst not being intrusive in any way.

The spectacle of the bill is also something to behold at Gemelli's. We'd experienced something similar in the sister restaurant, but weren't sure we'd get it here too. But lo and behold, out comes the bill, in a little box disguised like a bible, and a large teapot surrounded in dry ice, bearing goodies underneath of a shot of limoncello each to round of the meal. Which was the perfect palette cleanser after all that cake!

I would definitely recommend Gemellis for all lovers of chintz, cake and classic Italian cooking. I'll defintely be back, although I think I'll be popping in to try a daytime coffee and cake next time. Mmmm...cake....

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Mother's Day

My mum is awesome. She's beautiful, my best friend and the hardest working lady I know. So it's nice to spoil her once in a while, and I couldn't think of a better way to do it than a day of shopping, cocktails and carbs.

Getting to Cardiff around midday, we managed to wander around a fair few shops before our bellies started grumbling. We dawdled around and decided on Jamie's Italian for lunch. Being a lovely sunny day, the Jamie's in Cardiff is perfectly positioned for dining al fresco and watching the world go by.

Predictably, it was super busy in Jamie's, so we sat at the bar with a cocktail and waited about half an hour for a table. Which, to be fair, was not that bad at all considering it was prime lunch hour and we had requested a table outside.

And half an hour goes by very quickly when you are faced with a beauty of a watermelon martini like this...

We finally got seated and trawled the menu. Starters were a given, a bread selection with balsamic vinegar and oil for mum, and some fantastic large green olives for me. They are amazing! Served on ice, they were about an inch long and the butteriest olives I have ever eaten. Lush.

Mains were a little harder to decide on, but the specials swayed me. Mum had the prawn linguine, and I went for the pork meatballs with fennel.

The meatballs were extremely tasty. I'm a big lover of fennel and all things liquorice-y, so I really enjoyed these. The fennel was a strong flavour, and really complemented the pork, which can sometimes be a bit bland. The spaghetti was perfectly cooked and the slightly spicy tomato sauce set all the flavours off wonderfully.

But sometimes, they say pictures speak louder than words...

Once again the service at Jamie's Italian was outstanding. The barman made us some gorgeous martinis and also gave me the recipe so I can classily get sloshed in the back garden when the sun starts to make a permanent appearance. You can always count on great service at Jamie's. Even though it was 1pm on a busy Saturday, everyone was eager to fall over themselves to help us, down to getting us the table I wanted and knowing all the specials inside out. Pretty impressive.

It was really nice to spend some girly time with my mum. She's always busy running around after everyone else and making sure everyone is OK. Everyone needs girl therapy once in a while, cocktails shopping and gossip. Especially as she likes food as much as me, we can spend hours munching and people watching.

Revitalised after a few martinis and a double dose of carbs, we shot off on our spending spree once more. It's amazing how a few cocktails can loosen your hold on your wallet... And now I'm entirely shopped out until I next get the urge to splurge payday thanks to Topshop and an AMAZING new handbag from Ollie & Nics (expect pics soon) but totally worth it for the best day out with my lovely mum.