Cocktails and dinner at Aluna

In my opinion, there’s no better way to spend a Friday night than by going for dinner and cocktails – and living in Bristol, I’m pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding on a place to go. One of my favourite places in the city centre is Aluna, which is opposite the Hippodrome and just along from Sainsburys. Described as “a concept unlike any other”, it’s a great place to go for after work cocktails, and despite it having a restaurant area, it’s not somewhere I’ve ever thought of going for dinner before. So when I was invited to go along on a Friday night, I couldn’t possibly say no!


Upon arrival, the first thing I noticed was lots of people stood outside and the sound of music playing through the open doors – it certainly looked like a busy, popular place to go on a Friday night, which I thought was a good sign for the evening ahead. As my boyfriend and I walked through the busy bar to the restaurant area, past a DJ booth (not something I’m used to seeing in restaurants!), we were met by a friendly server who sat us at a table for four.


As soon as we were seated, I looked around and noticed how the restaurant area felt very high end, with its velvet covered furniture, low lighting and plenty of cool ornaments and picture frames – my expectations for the evening certainly went up a level!


After we’d taken some time to read through the extensive drinks menu, our server returned to take our drinks order. We asked for his recommendations for some cocktails, and he suggested two of Aluna’s showstoppers – Bush Fire (a gin cocktail of Old J shaken with sloe gin, raspberries and rosemary, torched with a spray of Old J Tiki Fire) and Lava Lamp (an orange sweetened long drink with lava lumps throughout) – both sounded intriguing and I couldn’t wait for them to be brought to our table.

When our cocktails arrived, we both couldn’t have been more impressed – it’s not every day that you get to drink a cocktail that’s been set on fire in front of your eyes, or that moves like a lava lamp! Best of all, they both tasted great – the meal was off to a fantastic start.



Moving on to our food order, we decided to share Vegetable Spring Rolls (deep fried crispy rolls served with Thai dipping sauce), Salt Chilli Squid (deep fried squid with fresh chillies, spring onions and garlic) and my all time favourite – Chicken Satay (chicken marinated with herbs and aromatic spices and chargrilled, served with peanut dipping sauce). The menu here is a fusion of Asian and oriental flavours, along with some Tex Mex favourites such as nachos, and I was looking forward to seeing how the dishes would be executed in this lively bar environment. Needless to say, when the starters arrived we weren’t disappointed – not only did they all taste delicious (the peanut dipping sauce with the Chicken Satay was probably the best I’ve ever tasted), but the presentation was also top notch.


With our starter plates swiftly cleared, I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of my main – Beef Massaman Curry (a rich coconut curry with potatoes, peanuts and onions in homemade Massaman paste) served with rice, a true Thai classic. My boyfriend ordered the Ponzu Duck (pan-fried duck breast with aubergine, served on a bed of soba noodles with ponzu sauce), another Asian dish which he was looking forward to trying. When our mains arrived, we were again really impressed with the presentation, and the flavours of my curry did not disappoint – the beef was also really tender too. My boyfriend however, was slightly disappointed with his choice. While he thought the duck was cooked perfectly, he felt the Ponzu sauce had slightly too much salt in it, which was a tad overpowering. That said, we both enjoyed our mains, and felt the quality of the ingredients used was excellent.


Although we were both pretty full after our mains, we still managed to find room for dessert – well it would have been rude not to with a dessert menu like Aluna’s! 


I decided to satisfy my sweet tooth with a Mango and Passion Fruit Cheesecake, and my boyfriend went for the Limoncello Truffle. I thought the cheesecake was exactly how a good one should be – light and creamy with a rich biscuit base, and my boyfriend thought the truffle had a perfect lemony flavour. There were clean plates all round!

Overall I really enjoyed my meal at Aluna. We had great service all evening, and the menu certainly takes some beating – the quality of the cocktails and food is excellent. I think it’s the perfect place to go for an after work dinner with friends or for a romantic date night – it has a great atmosphere and I will be back soon, and not just for cocktails either!

Have you been to Aluna before? I’d love to know what you think – so why not share your comments below?

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Burgers, hot dogs and ribs at Grillstock 2017

There’s one particular thing about the summer that I look forward to each year, and that’s the start of BBQ season – there’s nothing quite like stuffing your face with meat that’s been cooked on a grill is there? 

Luckily for me, Bristol is home to the Grillstock festival, a two day annual celebration of all things meat, music and mayhem. Until now, I’d never been to the festival before (it had always been sold out by the time I got round to buying tickets) but this year I was kindly invited to go along by the team at French’s and Frank’s – two of America’s favourite brands, known for their distinctive yellow mustard and hot sauce. So on Sunday, with my stomach rumbling, I headed to the festival site in Millenium Square, ready to get a serious case of the meat sweats!


To start off, my boyfriend and I headed to the French’s stand to sample two of their hot dog offerings – one served with onions and gerkins and the other with the addition of pulled pork and slaw. Of course, each was finished with a generous drizzle of the brand’s iconic mustard, which provided a cheeky bit of heat – delicious!


After we’d demolished the hot dogs, we decided to check out the main stage, where a French’s sponsored hot dog eating contest was about to start – it was certainly a sight to behold and I couldn’t believe how quickly some people can eat that many hot dogs!


With our stomachs starting to feel empty again, after the eating contest had finished we decided to head back to the food stands to see what other tasty treats took our fancy. My boyfriend opted for some baby back ribs, smothered in a sticky BBQ sauce – he certainly seemed to enjoy picking each one clean! 



I decided to go for a cheeseburger from the DJ BBQ stand – the music and smell from their spit beef certainly drew my attention.


The cheeseburger was delicious and perfectly juicy – it made me very happy!

Next up, with the sun shining down we decided to sit in the Lloyds Amphitheatre area and enjoy one of the festival’s musical highlights (Goldie Lookin Chain) while partaking in a can of Orchard Pig Cider and Budweiser. 


The rappers from South Wales certainly got the crowd going, and it was surprising to see how many people knew the words to their biggest hits which made the charts 13 years ago (who feels old now?!)

I really enjoyed my first Grillstock experience, and it’s safe to say that my French’s hot dog was a particular highlight – I can’t wait for next year already!

Did you visit Grillstock last weekend too? I’d love know what you thought, so why not leave a comment below?

Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum

There’s definitely a chill in the air and the evenings are getting darker, which can only mean one thing – Christmas is just around the corner!

I love this time of year and everything that comes with it – the clothes, the footwear and of course the food and drink too! Last year I got in the festive spirit by visiting Bath Christmas Market and the Winter BBC Good Food Show, but this year I was in the mood to do something a bit different…

I have been to Westonbirt Arboretum several times over the years, as it’s not too far from where I grew up, and have heard lots of good things about their annual Enchanted Christmas event from friends and family that have been before – so this year I decided to give it a try for myself!

Described on the Arboretum’s website as “an illuminated celebration of Westonbirt’s wonderful trees”, I was intrigued to go along and see what all the fuss was about. So on Sunday evening, I wrapped up warm and headed out of Bristol for a walk and some fresh air.

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Driving into the Westonbirt estate, I was struck by how many cars and people there were – it was clear to see that this event is certainly popular. After we parked in the free car park and began to wander through the entrance, I could see some pretty illuminated trees in the distance and was excited to see what else the evening had in store.

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As we made our way through the food tent, we were welcomed by the delicious smells of roast pork rolls, roast chestnuts, mulled wine and mulled cider – needless to say I couldn’t resist ordering some of the latter to enjoy as I wandered round.

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Before we embarked on the Enchanted Christmas trail (which is about a mile long in length), we decided to browse the Arboretum’s gift shop, where some lovely Christmas decorations caught my eye. I enjoyed having a wander round and looking at the range of items that were on sale, such as candles, books and homeware – the cosy log fire also provided a welcome break from the cold winter air outside!

As we made our way out of the shop, we were surprised to see that a fairy had appeared – I’ve not seen one of those at Westonbirt before!

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After stopping to take a few photos of the fairy alongside some very excited boys and girls and listening to a choir that had started to sing some Christmas carols, we headed towards the start of the trail, eager to see what other sights awaited us as we walked along.

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If you’re thinking of visiting Enchanted Christmas for yourself then I don’t want to give too much about the trail away, but to give you an idea of what you can expect, here are some photos showing my highlights of the evening:

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I really enjoyed my time at Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas, and think it provides all ages with the perfect way to get into the festive spirit.  The walk was completely flat and took us about 30 minutes in total, although it could take more or less depending on how fast you go! For the little one’s there’s also the chance to meet Father Christmas, plus lots of surprises along the trail to ensure they are kept entertained too.

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The event is taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings until Sunday 18th December, and if you fancy going along and experiencing the trail for yourself, you need to book tickets tickets online in advance here,– they cost £12 for adults, £10 for students and £6 for children aged between 5 and 18 – under 5’s go free!

Have you visited Westonbirt Arboretum or the Enchanted Christmas event before? I’d love to know what you thought! Tell me about your experience by commenting below.

Review: The Ivy Clifton Brasserie

Hear the name “The Ivy” and it’s hard not to feel a little bit star struck. The iconic London restaurant has seen many famous faces walk through its doors over the years, so when I discovered that its sister chain was to open a restaurant in Bristol (its first outside of the capital) called The Ivy Clifton Brassiere, I couldn’t wait to finally experience for myself what all the fuss is about this brand.

The restaurant opened during the first week of August to lots of excitement and many great reviews – clearly meeting the high expectations that local food critics have for this restaurant chain, which also has a branch in Kensington. My boyfriend booked us a table for a Friday evening, a few weeks after the initial opening, and with my stomach rumbling in eager anticipation we headed to Clifton – read on to see what I thought.

First Impressions

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The Ivy Clifton Brassiere is located in an old branch of Natwest in Clifton village, a grand Georgian building that stands impressively on the corner of Caledonia Place – and I was pleased to see that the obligatory ivy featured as part of the restaurant’s signage.

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As we walked through the doors, we were welcomed by a very smart looking female maître de, who showed us to our table. As we walked through the restaurant I thought it certainly had an exclusive feel to it. Although the Brasserie chain is promoted as being a less casual version of The Ivy in London, I still saw lots of people who had made an effort to dress up for their meal here, which added to the the sophisticated feel of the place. I also really liked the decor, especially the retro floor tiles, and I loved the big floral bouquets that were on display too.

We were seated towards the rear of the main restaurant in the orangery area, a picturesque room with big glass windows at the back which looked out onto a small garden. A male waiter came and asked if we would like a bottle of water for the table, and then took our drinks order – naturally this felt like an occasion to enjoy some fizz so I ordered a glass of prosecco (£6) and my boyfriend ordered a Peroni (£4.50). Once our drinks arrived it was time to take a look at the a la carte menu – there was almost too much choice!

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Starter

Not wanting to get ahead of myself and risk being too full for my favourite course (dessert, naturally), I chose the truffle arancini for my starter – fried Arborio rice balls with truffle and pecorino. When they were brought to the table I was really impressed at the presentation, and even more impressed once I’d tasted one – they were rich, moreish and delicious, so needless to say they didn’t last long!

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My boyfriend chose the seasonal soup (£5.50) for his starter  – a roasted vine tomato and basil soup with heritage tomato, goat’s cheese and olive croutons. We were very impressed at presentation of this dish too, which arrived at the table with the goats cheese and heritage tomato in the bowl, and the soup was then poured around this by the waiter – very fancy indeed.

Main

I chose a posh version of chicken and chips for my main (roast Banham half chicken with rosemary and garlic pan juices and thick cut chips – £14.75) and my boyfriend chose the Clifton Brasserie shepherd’s pie (slow braised lamb shoulder with beef and Keen’s local Cheddar potato mash – £13.50). For sides we shared the slightly unusual green beans and roasted almonds (£3.75) and buttered kale and spinach (£3.50). Both mains were well received – my chicken was well cooked, flavourful and juicy and the chips were just as good chips should be. My boyfriend said his shepherd’s pie was one of the best he’d ever had and we both enjoyed the side dishes, especially the green beans and roasted almonds which isn’t something I’ve ever tried before, but thought the flavours worked well together.

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Dessert

After our empty plates had been cleared, it was time to get to the most important event of the evening – dessert. I chose the strawberry shortcake sundae (£6.95), consisting of poached strawberries, vanilla ice cream, shortcake, and baked meringue. I honestly don’t have enough good things to say about my choice – the dessert was really amazing, and I was so glad that I left room! I especially liked the home made shortcake, the richness of the crème Chantilly and the mini meringues – it was incredible. My boyfriend ordered the lemon baked Alaska (£7.25) for his dessert – baked meringue with lemon ice cream, lemon curd sauce and baby basil. He was equally as impressed as I was, not only was it another example of great presentation, but he said the flavours of the lemon ice cream and lemon curd sauce were pretty special too.

Overall it was really great first experience of The Ivy brand. I loved the retro feel of the place and the food, which, I would have to say was pretty outstanding. I think that this restaurant would certainly be the perfect place for celebrating a special occasion. Given the price of the food here (particularly the starters and the desserts) I don’t feel that the service during our meal was quite spot on – we had a pretty long wait to order drinks and then our food after that, but it was reasonable considering how busy it was during our visit. We will certainly go back to The Ivy Clifton Brasserie –not only because of how good the strawberry shortcake sundae was!

Review: No.4 Clifton Village

After enjoying a pretty amazing meal at The Square Kitchen back in May, I paid its sister restaurant No.4 Clifton Village a visit last week*. I’d heard of the restaurant before, mainly in relation to private events, and I was eagerly anticipating another delicious dining experience.

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Situated within The Rodney Hotel in the heart of Clifton Village, this AA Rosette restaurant is part of Quarter’s range of establishments within Bristol, which as well as the aforementioned Square Kitchen, also includes Racks Bar & Kitchen on St Pauls Road.

No.4 prides itself of the seasonality of its offering, with the all of the produce they serve sourced from in and around the Bristol area, and I was excited to experience their menu for myself – read on to see what I thought.

Arrival

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On first glance, you’d be forgiven for not realising that The Rodney Hotel isn’t just that. Despite No.4 having a signpost that peers out through the trees onto the main road, the overall signage feels quite understated to me, adding to the exclusive preconception that I already had of this restaurant.  Before visiting, I mistakenly thought that No.4 only catered for weddings and events, rather than being a restaurant that’s open to the general public – how wrong I was.

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As we approached the entrance (which is set back from the main road), we peered through to a small lobby area, where the reception for The Rodney Hotel is located. We were greeted by a friendly female server, who showed us through to a small room at the back of the hotel, where the bar and our table were located.

As we entered, I was immediately struck by the cosy, intimate feel of the restaurant – it felt like we had just stepped into a friend’s dining room, rather than a professional eatery, and I was looking forward to experiencing a meal in an environment that would be different from the usual buzzing settings that I’m used to. We were seated at a table for two by the window, which had a lovely view of the garden outside. Once our server had taken our drinks order (two glasses of prosecco – any excuse to enjoy some fizz), we were then left to consider the menu.

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Main

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After perusing the restaurant’s A La Carte menu, presented on a clipboard and offering several delicious sounding dishes, I decided to stick to something of a classic for my main – pan fried chicken supreme with fondant potato, asparagus and wild mushroom jus (£14), while my guest chose the 8oz rib-eye steak (£18.50).

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When our mains were brought out, I thought the presentation was great. With my choice, I thought the chicken was moist and that the jus gave the dish a great flavour. The fondant potato was also cooked well, but I felt the asparagus was slightly over done and not al denté as expected – however, I really enjoyed the course overall and thought that the quality of the ingredients and portion size offered good value for money too.

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My guest, while commenting that his steak was well cooked, found that it was slightly over salted for his palate – perhaps a bit too much seasoning had been used on this occasion. That said, I saw lots of appreciative nods as he made his way through the dish, and he commented that the hand cut chips were cooked perfectly – so all in all, one and a half thumbs up (rather than the obligatory two!) for the mains.

Dessert

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I was definitely in the mood for something sweet after my main course, and after enjoying the dessert that I had eaten at the Square Kitchen, I was excited to see what delights would be on offer here. After the server cleared our plates and brought us dessert menus, one dish in particular jumped out at me – the Eton tidy, a twist on the classic Eton mess (£5). My guest opted for the wicked sounding dark chocolate delice (£6.50) – I couldn’t wait to sneak a bite!

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After a short wait, again I was really impressed with the presentation when our desserts were brought out. My Eton tidy was really impressive – the strawberries were perfectly sweet, and I found the jelly element of the dish really interesting.

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My guest was also thoroughly impressed with his pudding – I mean just look at it! All the different elements (rich dark chocolate delice, creamy panna cotta and crunchy honeycomb) worked really well together to create a pretty amazing dessert – needless to say that both slates were left clean!

Overall we really enjoyed our meal at No.4 Clifton Village. Whilst the menu is not as extensive as the offering at The Square Kitchen, the restaurant clearly has decided to focus on quality rather than quantity, which is a good strategy in my opinion. Only two other tables were occupied during our visit, which added to the subdued nature of the dining experience – it was nice to not feel rushed by our server and to feel like we had time to sit back and enjoy the food at our own pace. Whilst I hadn’t realised that members of the public are able to dine at the restaurant before my visit, I can safely say that based on this experience I’ll be back – well done No.4!

Have you been to No.4 Clifton Village before? I’d love to know what you thought! Let me know by commenting below.

*Although I was invited to visit No.4 Clifton Village for the purpose of a review, the words, thoughts and opinions stated here are all my own.

Review: Smoke & Mirrors theatre pub

When it comes to picking a venue for a night out in Bristol, it’s fair to say that you’re almost spoilt for choice. Whether you fancy drinking cocktails, dancing the night away or listening to some great live music, the city centre has something for everyone.  I have been to my fair share of places over the years, but I have never experienced a magic bar – until now that is.

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On Saturday night* four of us went along to Smoke & Mirrors’ renowned “The House Magicians” comedy magic show. Located on Denmark Street, just off the centre, this pub theatre is voted number one for concerts and shows in Bristol on Trip Advisor. This is a pretty impressive feat when you consider the likes of the Hippodrome and the Colston Hall, which host some pretty big events. With that in mind, it’s fair to say that my expectations for the evening were pretty high!

The bar was opened in 2012 by local magician and entrepreneur Mark Bennett, who has been performing magic as a career since 1992. He also owns Illusions Magic Bar on Clifton Triangle, a popular venue that has been entertaining Bristolians with close up magic shows since 2007.

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We arrived at 7:30pm, ordered some drinks at the bar and were then shown through to the theatre. This is a very intimate venue that only seats 48 people, complete with low lighting, and lamps on all of the tables (which are all pre-booked in advance of the show), adding to its old-school feel. We were seated a row behind the front (phew I thought, I’m sure I won’t get picked on now!) on a mixture of chairs and comfy stools.

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The room began to steadily fill up (it looked like the show was fully booked and was clearly popular) and shortly afterwards a waitress came and took our interval drinks orders (Diet Coke for me as the designated driver, pints of lager and a G&T for my friends). Then all that was left to do was to sit back and relax as the music started and the show began.

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The first magician that took to the stage was Matthew Brady, complete with a lovely ginger beard (which he told us we couldn’t touch!) he began by telling us about his experience as a magician, and then proceeded to show us some pretty impressive card tricks that prompted lots of “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from the audience – things were off to a good start. As his set went on, he got members of the audience involved (audience participation is a big part of the show here) and I was asked to help him with one particular card trick – which was fun, if not slightly embarrassing when I managed to hand him the card I had picked face up instead of face down, ooops!

After a short 15 minute interval, our pre-ordered drinks arrived and then it was Mark Bennett’s turn to whip the crowd into a frenzie. More laughs ensued as he invited a Hen and a young guy who’s birthday it was, up to the stage to participate in some more tricks with a comedic twist, all of which were pretty impressive.

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The show finished just after 10pm to much applause and it was clear that everyone had a great time. We decided to stay for the bar’s two-for-one cocktails, as well the live music that was just starting, and the atmosphere was certainly buzzing. I also really enjoyed the fact that another magician came over to perform some close-up magic at our table whilst we had our drinks – I think it’s fair to say that we were left almost speechless by the tricks we witnessed, it was amazing!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this venue and will definitely be back again soon – it’s the perfect place for a night out with a difference, and lots of laughs are guaranteed.

Have you been to Smoke & Mirrors before? I’d love to know what you thought! Let me know by commenting below.

*Although I was invited to visit Smoke & Mirrors for the purpose of a review, the words, thoughts and opinions stated here are all my own.

Review: Hassle.com and flour & ash

When it comes to household chores, I’m happy to admit that cleaning is not my most favourite activity. I know that sometimes it just needs to be done, but there’s plenty of other things I’d rather be doing, like meeting up with friends, or going out for dinner – instead of getting those cleaning cloths out! So when I was invited* to try out Hassle.com (a brand new online market place where busy people are connected with local and trusted cleaners) there was no way I was going to say no!

The service has recently launched in Bristol, and gives users the option of booking a cleaner for a one off clean for £12 per hour, or a fortnightly or weekly clean for £10 per hour.  On their website you can choose the date and time that you’d like your clean to take place, for a minimum of 3 hours. I really liked that there was a handy calculator on there too, where you could estimate the length of time you’d need for your clean, based on the size of your house and tasks that you would like to be carried out (such as an oven clean or fridge clean for example) – great for newbies like me who have never had a cleaner before!

I booked my clean for a Wednesday evening at 5pm, which meant I’d have the perfect opportunity to visit flour & ash, somewhere I had wanted to try out for ages, but had never found the time. The cleaner arrived with all of their own cleaning materials, and once I’d shown them around and discussed the areas I thought should be given the once over, I went out for dinner – safe in the knowledge that my house would be positively sparkling when I returned!

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flour & ash opened its first restaurant in Bristol in 2014, and has received great reviews ever since, even winning Best Pizza in Bristol at the Bristol Good Food Awards 2015. Renowned for its wood-fired pizza and ice cream, it opened its second restaurant in Westbury on Trym earlier this year, which is where I headed to on Wednesday night.

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When we arrived at the restaurant, I was surprised to see that it was already quite busy, despite the fact that it was only just 6pm. We were shown to our table by a friendly waitress, who then gave us the low down of the menu which consists of several different pizza varieties (both with and without tomato sauce), a couple of starters, some side dishes and ice creams and sorbets for dessert.

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We started by ordering drinks – a bottle of Sandford Orchards cider for me and a can of Korev Cornish lager for my boyfriend, which we thought would be the perfect choices to wash our pizzas down with.  For the main event we went for the Italian Cooked Ham and Prosciutto Di San Danielle pizzas, guaranteed to satisfy our carnivorous cravings, accompanied by the very summery-sounding Courgette Slaw.

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Given the pizzas are cooked in under 90 seconds, we didn’t have to wait long for them to arrive at our table – and I can safely say that mine was one of the best pizzas I’ve had, even compared to ones I ate in Italy in 2011.

Almost too big to fit on the plates, the pizzas had a perfectly cooked sour dough crust, and the toppings were really fresh and tasty – you could tell that the quality of the ingredients was really high and I’d happily order one over a Domino’s any day! Despite their size, I found my pizza to be surprisingly light, not heavy or overly doughy as can sometimes be the case – delicious!

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Although it probably wasn’t needed given how good the pizzas were, I was glad we ordered the Courgette Slaw side – I thought the saltiness of the feta and the hit of chilli worked really well, and it was a nice twist on the usual side salad.

After leaving our plates clean and feeling too full to sample dessert (although I will definitely find room next time – flour & ash, we will be back!) we finished our drinks and headed home to see how our cleaner had been getting on.  In the three hours since they’d started, they’d vacuumed the whole house, cleaned both our bathrooms and bedrooms, wiped the surfaces in our kitchen and mopped the floor – I was impressed! For £36, I thought the price was a bargain for the high standard of work that was carried out, and Hassle.com’s website is really easy to use too – definitely recommended if like me, you’d rather go out for dinner than put your marigolds on!

Have you used Hassle.com before or visited flour & ash? I’d love to know what you thought! Let me know by commenting below.

*Although I was invited to try Hassle.com for the purpose of a review, the words, thoughts and opinions stated here are all my own.