PRODUCT REVIEW: Petit Ballon, wine subscription box

I've written about Petit Ballon before, a wine subscription service that does things a little bit more beautifully. One of their USPs, along with some very well selected wine of course, is the nicely designed and considered Gazette.

Often with these food and drink services, the informative pieces are poorly executed or purely functional. Any subscription service is a lifestyle luxury so each element should contribute to the overall product experience. Le Petit Ballon's look, as with their ethos, is unstuffy, youthful and approachable - refreshing in the sector - but content is still very much key. Along with the Gazette, which is filled with wine features, recipes, interviews and music pairing (of course!), are some clear and realistic tasting note cards with plenty of useful information such as keeping potential, serving temperatures and food pairing.

Wines are also categorised into sensible and approachable labels, or cheat sheets as they call them. These make complete sense ie. Relaxed Reds are easy to enjoy and light whereas With-it Whites are complex and edgy. No-one needs an education in wine to understand that.

Each month the box is themed and I received the "Around The World" collection.

First up the red - Las Ninas Mapuche 2015

BANG, this was my kinda red. A real Jessica Rabbit red. As vibrant as my favourite MAC lipstick shade, this had spice, richness and heady but very drinkable. We had this with a reasonably spicy Bimimbap dish and it worked well, so well, we finished the bottle for dessert. Delicious.

I particularly liked that this was a collaboration wine with Las Ninas of Chile and Le Petit Ballon themselves so it felt like an exclusive bottle and a labour of love. And of course, the unusual bottle, paper wrapped and covered in graphic Aztec patten did not escape my eye. 

As with all of the wines, you can buy them individually and at £10.90 for a subscriber or £13.08 for a non-subscriber, this is a really well priced red. 

Completely different was the white - Sula Vineyards Sauvignon 2016

This is India's first Sauvignon Blanc to have ever been made which was interesting in itself. We took it to a friend's dinner party as it was a bit of a talking point (pretending to be wine buffs much?) and although we were dining on Thai food, the wine seemed to complement the spices well. This was exceptionally light and fresh, more than I was expecting from anything from India which seems to throw it all at you normally. With a very pale colour, there was citrus and floral notes with crisp lemongrass. It was so light, it would be ideal on its own as an aperitif even. 

As before, I enjoyed both bottles and maybe bottles I would not have chosen myself. Unless you really know what you are talking about, wine can be an absolute mind field and services like this just filter out some great bottles that could well become your favourites. It's a really accessible way to get into wine, or just to enjoy a decent bottle.

Subscriptions are available at two levels - "Grape Expectations" is £24.90 per month and the "Age of Raisin" £39.90 per month which includes more prestigious labels.

I received samples for review. Words and thoughts, as always, my own. 

REVIEW: The Coal Shed, Brighton - "Cooking on Coal BBQ supper"

beef brisket bbq at The Coal Shed Brighton restaurant

The Coal Shed is a solid fixture in Brighton's dining scene - consistent, great quality and decent value for money. The main pull is their charcoal Josper Grill, so naturally a BBQ event would be perfect here particularly as it was National BBQ week too. But The Coal Shed wasn't exactly going to throw a couple of snags on the fire, each dish was worked into their elegantly crafted style.

I really like the feel of this place. It's casual but also incredibly smart, managing to feel special with elegant touches, but there is nothing stuffy about it at all.

Anyway, as is de rigeur at the moment, we started with a platter of "chef snacks" to kick off the meal. Sweet, savoury and nicely spicy was the miniature jerk ham hock taco that despite its size had a lot going on. Pork loves sweet partners so the pineapple chunks and sweetcorn kernels were ideal, the heat of jalapeno and pickled red onions contrasting nicely. Crisp jackets of baked Jersey Royals were filled with a delicately smoked creme cheese and topped with, I'll assume tobiko, caviar. Finally, tender, charred asparagus tips were drizzled with hollandaise and teeny cubes of cured sausage.

Beer Pairing at The Coal Shed Brighton restaurant

Wine pairing was available on the night with come absolute corkers included or a fresh alternative were the matched beers from Lost + Found Brewery based near Arundel. Naturally I chose the wines but I had my craft beer nut husband with me who, I'm sure, squeaked a bit at being served beer for a change. (I think this will become more common place, I have recently met a beer sommelier who is trying to switch the focus on wines in a mid to fine dining setting and apparently beers are easier to food match.)

beef brisket at The Coal Shed restaurant brighton

The strong start to the food continued with this incredible brisket dish. The braised, rolled then fried meat had been perfectly spiced, delicate but very much present. So tender, it just fragmented at the touch of a fork. Topping this was a charred Roscoff onion, kimchi, crispy fried onions and a thick, decadent BBQ sauce. The whole table fell silent with this dish - it was a charred, smokey, sweet and sticky triumph.

BBQ Monkfish at The Coal Shed restaurant brighton

I've always though The Coal Shed handled fish just as well as meat (and of course they have their fish-focused sister restaurant The Salt Room). Monkfish is sturdy to handle the grills as well as coping with some punchy flavours too. Classic pit beans were given a twist with chorizo and I adored the rich, smokey BBQ relish.

Rack of Lamb at The Coal Shed restaurant brighton

A fire roasted spiced rack of lamb finished the main courses with a Middle Eastern vibe. Perfect with lamb is aubergine, roasted and scooped from the skin. Baby gem lettuce gave the dish some much needed crispness and the meat was as succulent and sweet as you would have hoped for.

clotted cream parfait and strawberries at The Coal Shed restaurant brighton

Dessert was a British homage, it felt a bit Wimbledon which was nice. A clotted cream parfait was adorned with strawberry meringue, fresh and jammy strawberries and a lip-smackingly zingy lime Italian meringue. Beautifully balanced and made extra special with the paired Goring Rose Sussex sparkling wine.

Wines throughout were delicious and for £25, well priced. Maybe I'm lazy but I really appreciate wine flights, it takes the effort out of choosing! But another bonus is that there is always a variety or estate that is new to discover - I'll be looking up the Goring Estate for more and the reds were particularly gorgeous so I noted them down. Nice to see Greek wine too - we some recently at a visit to The Salt Room so something they are pushing.

The Lost + Found beers worked well too. Priced individually at £5, I think it would have been a struggle to fit in all five (although Mr GF pretty much managed - what a er, hero). I'm trying harder with beer but for me, I still want wine with food. The only beer that didn't work was the DIPA with dessert which was far too punchy at 8.8% for such a delicate dessert.

So yes, perfect evening. Seeing the interaction over a communal table that is typical with a supperclub setting is really nice. It didn't take long for couples and groups to start infiltrating each others conversations and the atmosphere was lovely.

The Coal Shed will continue to run specially crafted events and supperclubs like this, so even if you are familiar with their regular dishes, it would be well worth booking in to experience one of these. Amazingly this 50 cover event sold out in 30 minutes, so get in quick!

The BBQ dinner was £50 per person and optional wine pairing £25 (great value for both I thought). Beers were £5 each.

Details of upcoming events can be found on

The Coal Shed
8 Boyce's Street
Brighton BN1 1AN

I dined as a guest of The Coal Shed. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

SPAR Prosecco range plus a recipe for the classic Venetian spritz

Apparently, Procescco sales in the UK will outgrow all other types of sparkling wine sales in five years - the fastest growth in the World (noone say Brexit, noone say Brexit). Total UK consumption is expected to rise 10.8% to nearly 74m litres a year by 2020*.

And no wonder, as Prosecco is a relatively affordable luxury, plus the rise of the popularity of the prosecco-based spritz is only amplifying the figures. I'm also seeing better quality, particularly in the wallet friendly supermarkets and at really decent prices too.

SPAR are not the only ones to jump on this and they have just release two of their own bottles in response to the demand. Their SPAR Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco is a pretty bottle that would actually be perfect for a gift. Really light, fruity and floral and very easy to drink, this would be the ideal bottle to sink for an aperitif, which of course is exactly what we did with it. At £12, it really is great value. I've had far more expensive Champagne and, truly, would choose this over the bulk of them. Valdobbiadene is known to be the best area for Prosecco production so is something to look for when shopping and I would recommend you enjoy this on its own.

The SPAR Extra Dry DOC is even more affordable and it's this that I decided to use to create a round of Venetian Spritz cocktails with, even though it was pleasant as it was. I'm not actually a fan of particularly dry white wines, I find them too acrid but despite the title, this was smooth and easy to drink. Again the price point at just £9 was also a surprise.

A classic spritz is such an easy drink to create for friends. Most people love them and they are trés en vogue - and you'll impress with very, very little effort. As soon as the temperatures get even close to warm, these start to get poured and as we had a small group round, we toasted the start of the summer with these in the garden.

1 part Bitter Liqueur (Aperol is sweetest but you can go for a 50:50 Aperol/Campari split)
2 parts Prosecco
1 part Soda Water
Skewered green olive (preferably with the stone)
Half slice of orange

Built the liquids in a tumbler style wine glass over ice cubes then add the garnish. 

*data by Vinexpo
This post was sponsored but words and thoughts, as always, my own.

PRODUCT REVIEW: Pierre Marcolini, Les Reves de Pierre Summer 2017 Collection

"Imagine summer at its most idyllic: warm weather with a light breeze; languid moments where everyday concerns make way for a flight of fancy; and long evenings that you never want to end."

And then you remember that you live in the UK. It's cold, politics are going down the drain and it's probably raining. But hey ho, it reminds us to appreciate the little luxuries we still have in life, right?

And one of these luxuries is indeed a box of Pierre Marcolini chocolates. My first encounter with this brand was years ago on a trip to Brussels. One of our friends living there was giving us a culinary (and ok, slightly absinthy) tour of the city and brought us to the Marcolini store there. This was my first taste of chocolate of this calibre. The shop looked like a jewellers; encased in large glass boxes was the spot-lit luxurious black packaging, and the row upon row of perfect jewel like chocolates, almost impossible to choose from. I ended up spending about 50 Euros on a box which seems ludicrous, but with more restraint than I ever thought I had, brought them home where I savoured them one by one over the course of a couple of weeks. Even though this was a good decade ago, I can still remember the taste of some of them. Money well spent.

And here I have a box of the 2017 Summer collection; Les Reves de Pierre. Once you slip off the raspberry card wrap, the familiar matt black packaging with a white foiled logo is revealed. The silky ribbon tab helps you lift the lid to reveal a beautiful selection of small cubes, in whites, blush pinks and lipstick reds. I'm a sucker for all this, and get a thrill out of the whole product experience and the brand story these details help tell. You may mindlessly rip the packaging off a regular chocolate bar and chomp away (what did the Milky Bar Kid know, eh), but these are for savouring not scoffing.

The collection is a series of smooth ganache and cereal pralines, with a base of either quinoa, sesame, spelt or barley and seasonal fruits. In the box you'll find:
  • Crunchy chocolate quinoa praline and raspberry ganache, coated in dark chocolate
  • Crunchy three cereal praline (sesame, quinoa and spelt), passion fruit and lime zest caramel, coated in milk chocolate
  • Crunchy sesame praline, yuzu caramel, coated in white chocolate
  • Crunchy spelt praline, vanilla and star anise ganache, coated in white chocolate
  • Crunchy white almond praline, lemon and bergamot ganache, coated in white chocolate
  • Crunch pearl barley praline, lemon and pink peppercorn caramel, coated in dark chocolate

These may be small but they really pack a punch. Unquestionable raspberry pings right through and its sweetness contrasted with fine dark chocolate and the most delicate quinoa praline, giving a light crunch. The textural contrast is lovely. Mouth-feel is a dreadful term, but this is what these chocolates are particularly successful for. Crunchy sesame praline, with a slight savoury sits underneath a really zingy yuzu caramel, the citrus is vibrant. Across the whole box flavours are bold, unusual and intense but always balanced and exciting.

I love them all as I expected to. At £19 for a box of 18 or £35 for 36 pieces, they are at the top end but for a treat to yourself or a gift, I couldn't think of anything more indulgent.

If you are passing one of their stores you can also experience their Esquimau choc ice bars where you can make-you-own bar, choosing from a collection of toppings and chocolate dips or a tub of their ice cream. Flavours include Matcha Tea Frisson; a matcha tea ice cream with yuzu coulis and candied orange or Rose Pistachio Frisson; rose ice cream, raspberry coulis with Garrigues honey and toasted pistachios. Heaven.

The collection is available from 11th May 2017 in-store and

I received samples for review. Words and thoughts, as always, are my own. 

REVIEW: Red Roaster, Kemptown, Brighton

crab brioche at Red Roaster Cafe Brighton

Commenting on the visual environment and design of a dining destination is not exactly uncommon on this blog, hard not to with my day profession. But I could write chapter and verse about the interior and branding at Red Roaster; the endless marble surfaces, the geometric tiling, hand painted wall art, gold metal features, coffee's a design feast, and an Instagram account's best friend. (And we haven't even seen the outside space - with a proposed atrium/conservatory and kitchen garden.)

My dining experience is generally affected by all of these visual factors, which may seem superficial. But dining out is about the whole package otherwise I'd stay at home, cook something really nice and stare adoringly at the much larger shoe collection I'd be able to afford with all the money saved, believe me.

Interior design at Red Roaster Cafe Brighton

But anyway, it's not just about the surroundings. Having been in a few times and made a decent dent in the brunch menu, I think I've experienced what Red Roaster is about. 

My first visit saw me a touch worse for wear after an evening on the tiles so the waiter, judging the bags underneath my eyes, kindly suggested the bacon dish to resurrect me.

Sat on top of a herb waffle was a pile of bacon jam; intense, sweet, savoury and well, just plain delicious. As if that wasn't enough, two rashers of streaky maple glazed bacon were there for company along with a fried egg. Batons of apple added a fresh, crisp element and it was really enjoyable. I did notice the black pudding was missing too late even though I was specifically asked if I wanted it (yes, girls eat black pudding too).

slow cooked pumpkin and tonka bean crumble at Red Roaster Brighton 
Dining companions have ordered the delicate crab on shellfish brioche, beautifully garnished with pansies and a slow cooked pumpkin with tonka bean crumble and avocado mousse, which is a decent feed and something really different for a vegetarian option.

Salmon and calimari at Red Roaster Brighton

Salmon is a particular favourite for breakfast, it always feels a bit more elegant than your sausages and bacon. But here it has been elevated as you'd expect. Again on a waffle, only slightly over seasoned, is topped by ribbons of tea cured salmon. I was a little dubious about calamari for breakfast, but as a complete dish worked very well, finely cut and lightly coated and adding another texture. Surprisingly the best element was a citrus curd, which I'd hazard a guess at the en vogue yuzu, drizzled in the waffle cavities under the fish which lifted the whole dish.  Delicious. They've made it extremely hard not to choose this on my next visit. 

On the brunch menu you'll find a number of classics reworked; eggs on toast, full cooked breakfast, pancakes, all given a fine dining makeover. Only a bacon butty is the most instantly recognisable thing on the list - but I bet even this has a little tweak. The rest is just a refreshing change from the usual. I rarely venture out for breakfast, it doesn't particularly interest or excite me but Red Roaster have spun it on its head, offering breakfasts as you could never have imagined them. Ingredients such as shimeji mushrooms, aubergine caviar and pollen all make an appearance and there's a really nice breakfast board with a collection of items if you're indecisive too. 

I've yet to try the lunch menu which is in a similar theme. Their take on the chicken kiev seems to be the one to try but again, the whole list reads well with roast scallop and truffle custard, poached stonebass and enoki noodles and steamed duck bao buns. There's a punk tiramisu, which will be mine one day soon, trust me. Prices for the whole menu hover around the £10 mark, which for the quality and detail, isn't bad at all.

coffee at Red Roaster Brighton

So far there has been nothing to complain about food-wise and I hear consistently good things. Coffee, as you would expect from Red Roaster is always good, made on their cult Kees Van Der Westen machine (RR was one of the UK's first specialist coffee shops - they still roast their beans in Kemptown and remain one of the few organic certified roastery in the country). Service however has been a little hit and miss but in my book just as vital as the food and ambiance. Thankfully on my latest visits my experience was friendlier and far more efficient than before so hopefully the niggles are getting ironed out and this area will have the same polish as the rest of the experience.

I have also heard a few people comment that the portions are on the small side but they must have typical full English fry ups in mind for comparison. If that's what you want, then there are plenty of caffs in town that can cater to that. With a Michelin starred chef at the helm, you can't seriously expect to be fed trucker banquets - I have a decent appetite and they are perfectly fine for me. Also, the fact that these brunch dishes are more considered is particularly appealing.

By evening the mood changes and the place transforms to Pike and Pine, Matt Gillan's restaurant with a choice of taster menus and somewhere very much on my to-eat list.

Yes the old much-loved Red Roaster is unrecognisable in its new form and format, but day or night it offers Brighton diners something different and helps continue to elevate the quality and diversity of city's dining scene.

coffee packaging at Red Roaster Brighton

Red Roaster
St. James's St

BRIGHTON SNIPPEATS: Brighton Food Festival & Brighton Cocktail Week

Today, well, yesterday (busy times innit) saw the launch of this year's Spring Brighton Food Festival. This year we also see the inauguration of Brighton Cocktail Week which I'm sure will be a massive hit across the city.

The Brighton Food Festival 18-29 May 2017 includes the "Sussex and the World Weekend" on Hove Lawns (the FREE festival, not the other one, the FREE one - got it?) on Saturday 27th - Bank holiday 29th with the usual produce stalls, workshops, tasters and live food show stage. The Children's festival which runs along side this is well worth going to with your little ones too.

Along with the festival are, to me, the more interesting food and drink events. Looking good this year is Ridgeview Deconstructed on 19th May where you can try the foundation still wine blends which will go onto to make Ridgeview’s 2016 sparkling wines.

The Food Lab (21st May) returns with the best of Brighton chefs and producers to create a tasting menu like no other. Michael Bremner (64 Degrees), Matt Gillan (Pike & Pine), Alun Sperring (The Chilli Pickle), Matty Bowling (1847), Steven Edwards (Etch), Judith Lang (Terre à Terre) and Alex Burtenshaw (Drakes) who each partner with a local producer to create a dish. This is no doubt sold out but worth memory banking for next time.

Also worth attending is the "punk" wine tasting event Make Your Case (26th May) which sees presenters attempt to convince the voting audience that their wine is the best of the bunch. Expect fancy dress and mayhem.

For all event listings that are part of the festival and to book visit

New this year is Brighton Cocktail Week Thursday 18 - Sunday 28 May 2017. This sounds really good fun and is presented by the fantastic Mixology Group alongside the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival.

The general idea is that 30 bars and restaurants around Brighton & Hove (including Dandelion, The Coal Shed, The Salt Room, Har Bar, Chilli Pickle and good ol' Valentinos) will be presenting the same five classic cocktails with their own unique twist, and they are just £5 each for wristband holders which cost £10. There's a real mix of participants from the best cocktail bars to pubs and restaurants so it'll certainly be interesting to taste the results.

Selected venues will also be hosting one-off masterclasses, food and cocktail pairings, promotions and tastings at a discounted rate for wristband holders. I had a chat with Co-director Myles Cunliffe and even though it's the first year, reception has been really good (duh, cocktails) and plans are already afoot for next year.

Wristbands are available to buy from

REVIEW: Cin Cin, Brighton

Cin Cin Brighton exterior view

I remember Cin Cin from their early days, serving prosecco and antipasti from a cute vintage Fiat van. I think I even went to the launch, and very nice it was too, as were their series of pop-up events. But mamma mia, did we need a permanent base for some real Italian food in Brighton. If only to allow me to actually recommend a restaurant, rather than dramatically sighing before launching into a 30 minute monologue about the importance of regional distinction and diversity across Italy whilst the person asking glazes over. Amazingly, in a city where the food scene is flourishing, Italian food has generally remained in that generic sloppy pool of tourist pleasing pizza* pasta set menus, risotto or if really pushing the boat out, a chicken Milanese (served with spaghetti - natch).

Enter Cin Cin in restaurant form. No checked tablecloths, no greyscale pictures of some random moustached zio on the wall, no oversized pepper mills and no plastic strings of garlic hanging from the sodding ceiling. Housed in a former MOT garage and tucked in a side street, as all good restaurants in Italy are, the petite interior is a modern working of a trattoria. Diners sit around a communal chipboard clad bar overlooking the open kitchen and dine on simple, honest but exquisitely executed dishes.

We were dining lightly so begrudgingly passed over some of my favourite things like lardo, culatello, and bresaola, instead opting for all of the three small plates. I have popped in before and supplemented a glass or two of prosecco with a selection of their antipasti and nibbles; it's all good and the fact that you can tailor your meal precisely to your appetite is handy.

Cin Cin Brighton new season tomatoes and cheese

The small plate dish of new season tomatoes was Italian cooking epitomised; simple with ingredient as hero; sweet, full flavoured tomatoes. Making up the flag colours were basil leaves and stracciatella, the rich creamy, soft buffalo cheese you get in the centre of a burrata. Drizzled with grassy extra virgin olive oil, a healthy pinch of sea salt and a few pieces of bread, this combination never gets tired.

Cin Cin Brighton poached trout and artichokes dish

Delicate and lightly poached sea trout was given an edge with a punchy truffled mushroom pesto and artichokes that always benefit from that delicious char from the grill.

Cin Cin rabbit croquette

Becoming a bit of a signature dish is their crochette, beautifully crisp and filled with plenty of succulent rabbit. Served with a seasonal vibrant wild garlic pesto to lift the earthiness of the meat.

Cin Cin Brighton pasta with sardines and raisins

I rarely order pasta out but had to see what it would be like. Very tempted by the Sussex veal ragu with one of my favourite pasta shapes, fazzoletti (meaning hankerchiefs - delicate, thin little sheets) we instead chose the tagliatelle with a typical Sicilian sauce of sardines, saffron and pickled sultanas garnished with some lovely monks beard. I can imagine this not to be to everyone's taste, but these flavours are so typical of that region, you could close your eyes and pretend you were on holiday.

I love this about Italian food, the flavours transport you across the country. There is absolutely no way you'd find a dish like this in central Italy, nor gnudi in the north or canederli in the south. So diverse and always something new to discover, I used to think my family were bonkers driving four hours to the coast for lunch as it was not the done thing to eat fish in our mountainous village or to head over to the other side of the hills for a particular chocolate biscuit in a particular month as that's when they were best. God love them for it because. That's. How. Important. Food. Really. Is.

Cin Cin Brighton chocolate cremosa with morello cherries

Anyway, back to the job in hand, we finished with affogato and a lovely little chocolate cremoso, heavier than a mousse yet silky and indulgent, topped with morello cherries and an amaretto biscuit crumble. Perfect with a glass of vin santo or marsala I imagine.

They may be still fresh off the boat in restaurant form but with awards winging their way already, Cin Cin is certainly up there with the better restaurants in the city already. Head chef Jamie Halsall is classically French trained which brings a lightness of touch and elegance to the dishes.

Service is friendly and intimate. Founder David Toscano is still very much in house and showing how much he deserved to win the "Best Welcome" award at the Brighton Best Restaurant Awards earlier this year.

Also worth looking up is their Ten Pound Tuesday - a beautiful plate of authentic, homemade pasta and glass of wine or a beer for less money than ten chicken wings from Nandos. Exactly.

Cin Cin
13-16 Vine Street, Brighton

*You want proper pizza in Brighton? Fatto a Mano, Franco Manca and Nuposto are your friends.