PRODUCT REVIEW: Brunchbox, Breakfast delivery, Brighton

Brighton is one of the top 10 UK cities to visit with a buoyant holiday rental market to match. Even when I go away I shun hotels (never liked them) in favour of my own apartment. What isn't great though is having to fend for yourself for breakfast, or even worse, having to leave your cosy nest for a cafe. Urgh.

So even though Brunch Box Brighton is not a new idea, it's still a great idea, delivering a selection of local produce to your door. So far they have a classic english, american and french box. There's also a timely healthy box too with Insagram favourites avocado, eggs and granola.

I was sent an English box which was a treat as I can count the number of cooked breakfasts I've had on one hand. The pork sausages and thickly cut bacon were from our lovely Brighton Sausage Company and the bread my favourite chewy brown from Real Patisserie. Also included were beans, a large mushroom, 2 local eggs, butter, sauce sachets, orange juice and coffee from Small Batch. The box was plenty for 2 people and at £12, decent value for money.

There were a few missing things though. Oil for cooking (if you are not at home I don't think you'll commonly get it included at a holiday let) and there was no milk or sugar for the drinks. That made no sense to me as butter was included.

We also got a kids bag for junior foodie with a nice little crayon and puzzle sheet. He was really made up with it and dove in pretty sharpish for his chocolate chip brioche followed by a huge slice of Chewy Brown with Nutella. Luckily the chocolate was offset with a pot of blueberries! Also included was an orange juice carton and Rice Krispies. I would have liked a slightly healthier angle and maybe a locally made/hand made cereal brand and better juice but this is probably aimed at holidaymakers on treat time and all of it costs a mere £4. Plus kids are fickle and can imagine some of them picking over the fact they don't recognise the packaging.

I couldn't complain about any of the food (other than I had to cook it!) and the quality of it all was super. The ingredients were nicely presented and the packaging was generally recyclable.

You can also add extras to your delivery (I LOVE the hangover section which is absolute filth!!)

I think this is a great idea for Brighton and can see it being a hit with the self catering and Airbnb sector as well as just a treat and look forward to seeing the company evolve with some more unusual and exciting box options.

I was sent a box for review. Words and opinion, as always, my own.

Lavazza's 120 year anniversary tins and a recipe for espresso martini

Where food/drink and design meet is a pretty sweet point for me and the Lavazza 120 year anniversary tins are just delightful things to own. They echo classic Italian advertising graphics of the 40s and 50s. Each of the designs draw on Lavazza's past - the stylised coffee cup on the blue tin is reminiscent of the Qualità Rossa advertisement from the Seventies, the grey tin shows a revamped version of Lavazza’s first institutional 1946 logo and the white tin is a reworking of one of the historical symbols of the Lavazza brand: the steaming coffee cup, previously used in cafés. 

Lavazza were kind enough to send me the full set, and they contain a special blend of Brazilian Arabica coffee, to commemorate the anniversary.

My family have been drinking Lavazza for as long as I can remember, certainly waaaaaaaaayyyyy before coffee became a “lifestyle choice” and before people who served coffee became "man bunned and sockless" (God, I love this article). I even remember my parents packing it into their suitcases on their return from visiting our family village (after dropping off boxes of PT tips to the Italians!). 

Italians also use coffee in their desserts a lot, and not just for tiramisu. Lavazza have a lot of inventive recipes on the site including coffee cheesecake with honey jelly, espresso granita with ricotta cream or a morning barley cake. The drink recipes (hot, cold and cocktails) are also pretty good, I mean, who doesn't want to offer their guest an after dinner shakerato? 

Espresso martinis, huge in the 80s,  have made a comeback and it's quite an easy cocktail to make too. (Recipe from the Lavazza site)

25ml espresso
30ml vodka
30ml Frangelico
6 ice cubes
5g sugar

Make an espresso and add sugar. Place the ice, sweetened coffee, vodka and Frangelico in the shaker. 

Shake well and pour the contents into a martini glass.

Thanks to Lavazza for the set.

REVIEW: Polpo, Brighton

polpo brighton
Hype is a really important ingredient in a new restaurant opening. As important as the menu and decor, the excitement of the latest must-eat will inspire hoards of people not wanting to miss out. And Polpo, the much loved Venetian small plate restaurant with a loyal London following, has been one of Brighton's hottest tables to dine at since opening in December. And, being an advocate of any (seriously, ANY) sign of decent Italian food in this city, I've been keen to try it out too. Short of spag bol and other sins, we are not. 

polpo brighton

The interior style mimics the London restaurants, which somehow merges traditional Italian needlework with edgy distressed finishes. It's really quite lovely and unique. 

As I said, the menu is small plate (meaning big bill) and includes cicheti and a variety of classic and slightly tweaked dishes like arancini, osso buco, crab linguini, cod cheeks with lentils and cauliflower and fontina gratin.

polpo brighton

I had to have some of the stuffed, deep fried olives. They are my favourite things and these were juicy, filled with salty anchovies and had a crisp breadcrumb shell. A pile of these and a glass of Franciacorta and I'll be a happy woman. 

We chose a broad range of dishes Polpo are well known for (I've never eaten in their London locations) but I think the menu deserves to be delved into a little deeper. I could have happily eaten pretty much all of it. 

polpo brighton

The small pizzette are of the very thin crisp style, more of a topped flatbread than pizza as we know it and neither Roman nor Neapolitan. The generous scattering of thyme and thin slithers of red onion infused the mozzarella cheese of the Bianco pizzetta beautifully and was a delicious start. 

polpo brighton

I would have expected my £9 small plate of fritto misto to have been much better than it was though. The calamari were surprisingly rubbery and the whitebait bitter. The small, single octopus was the best element but the batter just didn't have that gorgeous crispness that a good fritto misto lives or dies by. 

polpo brighton

The coarseness and texture of the "famous" meatballs was spot on and the addition of ricotta a good element but they were salty to the point of being inedible. Coated in polenta and deep fried made them succulent but the heavy hand of salt ruined them. But still, seeing through that blip, I'm wondering what the fuss is. It's a simple home style Italian meatball and at £7 for 3 was creativity priced. If any of my Italian family found out I'd paid that, I'll be fending off the rolling pins. 

polpo brighton

The salad of raw courgette slices and rocket, doused heavily in parmesan was exactly that for £5.

The only beer they have is Moretti which with Italy's renewed enthusiasm for brewing, was a bit disappointing. Throw us a birra Rossa or a doppio malto that could give most craft beers a "ma va fa..." maybe. 

I was actually dining with my children on this occasion and was surprised how welcoming they were to small kids. It wasn't the sort of place I would expect crayons or a kids menu but they had both. For the little ones there are well priced options that mimic the adult menu and thankfully no bloody chips. However, my almost four year old was happy to dive in with our dishes this time. 

Service was superb. The team are clearly well trained up on the menu and very accommodating. I liked the laid back style with enough professionalism to keep it from being too informal. 

I would expect my wine to be served in a tumbler in a relaxed Italian restaurant (and my home!) so this wasn't an issue for me but contentious to some. Wine list OK but my upgrade to a small 25cl carafe for a bog standard Trebbiano stung me for £8.

Look, real Italian food is generally no frills, simple and ingredient as hero. It always will be. It's not rocket science but gets muddied up with Anglo influence and trying too hard or pushing it too far. Polpo at least keeps the ethos of simplicity at its core which I like. 

So to summarise, is it one of Brighton's best Italian restaurants? Probably, but that's not saying much as we are thin on the ground with them. Is it as good as my mamma's exceptional traditional  Italian cooking or that of any decent, cheap trattoria in Italy? Definitely not. Although I left underwhelmed, I'll give it a second shot despite feeling it was a touch too expensive for what it is. The bar area is nice enough for a cocktail and cicheti or two if I'm feeling particularly spendy again. 

In Brighton, we all get a bit excited when the London names look to locate here, but generally, aside from a few restaurants I'd love to see here (Wahaca is coming in April which should do well), I think we're OK as we are with our homegrown independents. 

polpo brighton

20 New Road 

PRODUCT REVIEW: OXO Good Grips Spiralizer

Spiralizing. 5 years ago you may have thought this was some sort of space term or something you'd get done down the hairdressers. But certainly in 2015, spiralizing has become huge thanks for lots of pretty bloggers like Deliciously Ella or the Hemsley + Hemsley girls.

I've dabbled with it myself, and not wanting another bulky kitchen item got one of the pencil sharpener style spiralizers instead of the big crank wheel versions. And to be fair it was a pain in a backside to use and resides in the back of my kitchen cupboard. So when OXO Good Grips released a compact one, I thought there was no brand better to nail this. It's like a pencil sharpener style spiralizer but in OXO Good Grip style, it's been better designed, far more ergonomic and generally easier to use.

The blades are really sharp and as they are on a single level (unlike the sharpener style) it's far easier to clean.

I found it zipped quickly through cucumber and courgettes, producing spiralized strand so long and even they had to be trimmed. It was easy to hold and I didn't actually need the finger guard. You still get the little bit of waste from the core it produces but I'd consider that chef's treat to munch on rather than throw. I did however struggle with carrots. I couldn't produce a strand from them, just short curls. On the whole I think I will use it for courgettes and cucumbers and it has been handy to get more veg into my toddler from a novelty point of view, which for any parent is a huge bonus.

Although I won't be replacing spaghetti with (urgh, I can't even say it) "courgetti" any time soon, I loved the fresh courgette and cucumber salad with tahini sauce I made for dinner with some simple pan fried salmon (recipe below). Personally, I don't see spiralizing as a replacement for anything (carb lover 4eva) but as a useful addition to my food prep.

For the speed I can now knock up a really quick salad that's a little more interesting or whizz through a potato for a crunchy rosti or a quick slaw side. Preparing vegetables in an alternative way makes such a difference to your enjoyment of them.

I'd say this is a great tool to have if you are wanting to try out spiralizing or you prepare meals for just one or two of you. You certainly don't want to prepare for a crowd or large volume with this as you have to twist the veg around and would be hard work, but for my needs, this is a perfect little tool.

Courgette and cucumber noodle salad with tahini dressing
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

2 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 medium corgettes, spiralized, noodles trimmed
1 medium cucumber, spiralized, noodles trimmed
1 medium carrot, peeled, spiralized
1 small shallot onion, choppead
Tabasco sauce to taste
¼ teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

Whisk together the sesame oil and tahini, soy sauce, ginger, vinegar and tabasco in a large bowl. Thin the sauce with hot water until it’s about the consistency of heavy cream. Toss the spiralized courgette and cucumber “noodles” with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings (the dish may need salt), then garnish with the carrot, onions, and sesame seeds and serve.

I was sent this product for review. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Riverford recipe box

Recipe boxes are not a new concept but they are big business and getting more popular. 2015 was the year to see the market expand with new brands joining the formerly niche market. Riverford are another of the veg box companies that have expanded into this area, a natural evolution to their core business I suppose.

I've tested a couple of these boxes and what Riverford seemed to have done particularly well is their presentation. The box and contents were neatly arranged with a nifty numbered compartments for small items. Fresh produce was wrapped in a smaller cooled bag, minimising insulation. There did't seem to be excessive packaging either, it was all very concise and considered, and plenty of advice given for returning or recycling used packaging materials.

Recipe cards were clearly laid out and easy to follow, although step-by-step images that most competitors go for were not included but I didn't think were needed for the simplicity of the dishes.

You can choose a variety of weekly boxes - vegetarian, original or quick meals of three meals for two people (two meal original boxes also available). You can order what you like and when you like so no need to worry about subscriptions or anything like that. Normally I would have gone for the original box, but didn't fancy any of the recipes that week so I'm reviewing the "quick" box. All the recipes are around 30 minutes to prepare which I found was about right for all of them.

The first I tried was the speedy ham hock pie. You essentially cook the vegetables, reheat the pulled ham, cook a pie lid and serve with cabbage. I rarely eat or cook pies (my English husband practically did a cartwheel over this meal), but enjoyed it. The meat in particular was delicious. I can give or take the pastry though, the faux pie lid was a bit chunky but as I said, not really for me.

Now pasta I am definitely at home with but I haven't cooked anything like the squash and rosemary tagliatelle before. I thought grating the squash was quite a smart trick to create a quick sauce with creme fraiche, rosemary and nutmeg. I liked this one too, the flavours were mellow and combination really good. I'll certainly be stealing the idea or transforming my next risotto!

The final dish was one I really wanted to try - Winter beef Pho. Here you can see Riverford's real USP at work - quality. Everything was high end; the stock, the organic sirloin, the fresh vegetables and the spices were really fragrant. I liked the reworking of the recipe to include sprout leaves and tender chard for the winter, a perfect dish on a particularly chilly night. The organic beef was amazing. Thinly sliced, you just needed the warmth of the stock to cook it slightly and was meltingly tender. 

The biggest issue I found with the recipes was the portions were enormous and I can pack away my food, believe me. The pasta and pie dishes would have each fed three people handsomely. The Pho was the only one that was more appropriate for two servings although I still fed my toddler son in addition quite easily. Now food generosity I have no problem with, but wastage is more of a concern and I hope people wouldn't just throw any uneaten food (but it's quite likely). Not exactly in tune with Riverford's ethos.

There were a few ingredients left over too - again, not an issue for me as I'll happily put half a cabbage, herbs or a bit of butternut squash to use but again, some may just throw these or allow them to fester in the fridge. I even turned the considerable pastry leftovers from the pie into two decent apple turnovers. I image people ordering recipe boxes may need help or inspiration with recipes and cooking though. That's not a snide comment, just what I think the target market might be.

What I did appreciate was that I felt I was still very much cooking. Sometimes with recipe boxes, a lot of the items are pre-prepared like the sauces so it feels like I'm cheating or serving partly processed foods, but here the ingredients are mainly left in their raw state.

I really enjoyed the experience and even if you don't feel you need a recipe box in your life, it's quite fun to try one or two out to shake you out of your cooking rut or makes a really nice gift idea for someone. Also the recipes change quite a lot week by week so definitely worth looking through their site for a week that takes your fancy.

I was sent a box to review. Words and thoughts are my own.  

REVISIT and REVIEW: Busby and Wilds, Brighton

While other restaurants are sending out food that seems part of some obscure performance art; twiddled and tweaked and delivered with a ten minute soliloquy about overworked ingredients picked in moonlight or some other rubbish, Busby and Wilds, the little dining gem of East Brighton, work quietly and diligently in delighting their diners. They, like me, seem to be part of an old fashioned idea of going out for a meal in order to eat, and to eat well. And they are certainly feeders here, plates are as inviting as the welcome at the door, and the vibe is stylish and relaxed as ever.

But enough of that, let's dive into the meal shall we?

My potted crab starter looked elegant and I appreciated two decent slices of toasted soughdough to eat with it rather than the tiny portion of bread you normally get in restaurants. 

The little cup of rich crab bisque was an interesting addition and the pickled fennel and apple puree a nice acidic element to cut through all those lush, earthy flavours. 

My main was everything you could want from a meal on a chilly night. A comforting hug of puy lentils and root vegetables given a gorgeous smoky element with bacon. There was a generous serving of cavolo nero that still retained a delicious bite and topped with a beautifully rendered roll of pork belly, crisp and succulent and melting in all the right places. What's not to like in a dish like this? Although nothing new or inventive, it's the food most of us would be happy with.

We've had the bbq brisket here before, but again the meat was tender as it could be. Brisket has a gorgeous texture in the right hands and was served simply with fat, crisp polenta chips and a fresh slaw.

The dark chocolate and peanut butter torte was like the poshest Snickers you will ever have. Not sweet or sickly in the slightest, but very grown up and decadent. I adored all the textures and contrast between the silky torte and candied peanuts. I'm awarding this one the chocolate dessert of the year.

Service is exactly right for this style of dining; informal, friendly and well paced. The drink menus are good, I always appreciate the option of a carafe, glasses or full bottles and they have put as much effort into the beer menu as the wine.

Ok, so I may be drowning Busby and Wilds in praise but it deserves it, pitching itself spot on interior and food-wise and attracting diners to a formerly difficult location in East Brighton. This is a restaurant for people who like to leave happy, full and looking at their diary for their return visit.
Rock Street, Kemptown, Brighton

REVIEW: Food For Friends, Brighton

It has been a while since I last visited Brighton vegetarian Food For Friends, but it's had a glitzy new face lift and a menu shake up so a revisit was due. The lick of paint has been a success, the soft greys and golds make for a rather beautiful, smart and modern space to dine in.

Every time I visit I try the tofu. I'm almost desperate to discover the draw of this substance. This time I ordered the recommended crispy tofu which surprisingly arrived spongy and soft. Unfortunately it still delivered on the tofu promise. With more invention in plant based dining I am even more puzzled as to why people still eat this stuff.

Much better was the daily soup. A comforting country style bean soup, with chunky vegetables and plenty of herbs and interest. It came with a nice little brioche bun too.

Impressive was my main, a tahini marinated, silky roast aubergine, topped with chipotle pepper and tomato ragout. I loved this and was packed with flavour and texture. There was a good spice heat in addition to smoky chipotle undertones and a sweetness from a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.  The slices of saffron potatoes made the dish a substantial feed, a good thing in my book. Delicious to the last forkful.

My friend ordered the piquillo peppers which was a beautifully presented plate of food, like a line of Italian cornicelli. The vibrant streaks of wasabi pea purée had the perfect amount of heat. The rice balls, I suppose a battered version of arancini, lacked a little flavour, but overall it was enjoyable enough.

Desserts don't seem to change much here. The sweet coconut arancini and sticky toffee pudding  are still on the menu and after I ordered, I realised I'd also had the chocolate truffle torte before. Still it was thoughtfully and elegantly presented, just suffering a little from the chill of the fridge which impacts the taste of chocolate, but hey, it got polished off. (I'm not mentioning the slate.)

All in all it was a nice meal but at every visit I always feel there's a missing ingredient with FFF's food. Don't get me wrong everything is nice; nice presentation, nice decor, nice location, nice menu design...but it just off the mark to make it particularly stand out. Although you will generally always enjoy your meal here, aside from the odd dish that is a real win, mostly there is something that falls short of perfection on each plate. Food For Friends is one of the longest standing restaurants in Brighton which is to be respected, but with the local food scene getting stronger month by month, particularly for plant based dining, it really needs to up its game. Nice just doesn't cut the mustard today.

The only real negative of our visit was the aggressive, frosty welcome which actually inspired the couple behind us to leave the restaurant open mouthed after being ordered around quite brusquely. Luckily another member of staff rescued the day for us (as well as our botched booking) but in all honesty, I had one foot outside the door as well. Had I not been in for review I would have left too. Service really is as important as the food and can leave a bad taste in your mouth for the rest of the meal. However, after being seated we were looked after very well for the duration of our visit by the nicer staff member (who was, it has to be said, a delight).

As I said, plant based dining has been embraced by a wider audience than just the vegetarian community. Many meat eaters (myself included) are choosing more sustainable and healthier options and with new openings like Rootcandi and even non-vegetarian restaurants like Silo and 64 degrees offering stunning meat-free options, there are new friends to make out there.

Food For Friends
17-18 Prince Albert St
Brighton BN1 1HF
I was invited to review Food For Friends.