Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Fine Dining Face Off I: The Olive Branch, Rutland

The Boy and I have been fortunate enough to have headed out for some reet slap up meals recently, and three of them were fine dining experiences in the locality. So the logical thing was to stack them up side-by-side and see how they fared against each other! Let's do this in alphabetical order, so I don't have to decide what order to put them in. Keep an eye out for the next posts in this series coming soon...

The Olive Branch, Clipsham, Rutland

We sampled the Gourmet Tasting Menu at £32.50 per person for five courses with coffee & petit fours. I was a little baffled by the espresso cup of squash soup, but shrugged it off as a 'tasting' menu after all, but hoped that there would be a little more substance to the remaining courses! The crusty fresh bread (very, very crusty) and herb butter was a nice touch though.

The building itself is beautiful, and with the open fires crackling in the background it as the perfect setting for a cosy meal with friends on a cold winter's night. For my starter, I had scallops and bacon - a go to combination and so I stared enviously at my neighbour's plate when he received two whole scallops compared to my measly two halves. But all was cooked to perfection and the flavours were wonderfully balanced. I just wanted a little more... But don't we all?

Cracking on with the mains, and we were noticeably the loudest group in the place, breaking the almost sombre hush that was noticeable amongst the other guests when we arrived. The lamb and sweetbreads was delightful, full of rich flavour and complemented well with the deep flavour of the lentils beneath. And boy, there was a LOT of lamb - making up for the other courses I guess. The presentation was rustic but still delicate, although the time under the hot plate had welded the smear of green sauce to the plate, so I have no idea what that was.

We next received our palate cleanser - a simple grapefruit sorbet. It was probably the worst thing I've eaten in any restaurant in recent memory. And I've eaten in a chain pub recently. Sour and slightly bitter, with a lingering finish it didn't do anything that I would hope for. My mouth was far from cleansed and I yearned for dessert to take the taste away. Another rustic but still lightly presented dish followed, a chocolate mousse with central quinelle of chocolate ice cream, topped with a whole manner of accoutrements. It was pleasant enough, I had no complaints. 

Conversely, The Boy received his Welsh Rarebit and was a little lost for words. The tomato bread was dense, and the topping was a bit of a low blow at the fine tradition of rarebit. It was basically like American cheese - you know the stuff you can potentially get in a can? The Tesco bagged salad garnish didn't really help elevate this to the Such a shame as having rarebit as a dessert option instead of a cheeseboard is such an innovative idea, but the execution really fell short.

Happily it was soon time for coffee and petit fours. The coffee was fine as were the selection of sweets that accompanied it, although I didn't find they matched with coffee particularly well - perhaps the traditional teeny baked goods might have hit the spot better.

The verdict:
Surroundings - 10/10 - a beautiful building, a cosy fire - just a gorgeous place to dine.
Atmosphere - 2/10 - wasn't sure if I was allowed to speak when we first arrived. Bring your own atmosphere.
Service - 5/10 - Friendly, but curt. Not quite the warm country welcome I had hoped for, and the occasional error in our order makes me score this lower than I would have liked.
Food - 5/10 - A genuinely mixed bag of idyllic highs followed by excruciating lows. Quality of ingredients is clearly there, but execution is lacking.
Presentation - 7/10 - In-keeping with the pub's rustic aesthetic, the food is presented with thought, but not too formally. Each dish generally made a good impression when it was served.
Fine dining credentials - 4/10 - Didn't quite have the full package for me. I was prepared to forgive a lot as the building itself is so beautiful it's a gorgeous place to eat, however for the price we paid I expected just a little more thought. For me it's more gastropub than fine dining and the mid-range of that, should such a distinction exist. I'm guessing their pricing is more about where the pub is located than anything else.

33/60 - not a great start... are my expectations too high?

Next up... The Spotted Duck in Mountsorrel. Keep your eyes peeled!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Podcast Review: Spilled Milk

It's that time again, when I hand the blog over to the talented Ginny Copley, for her to give you the lowdown on another fabulous podcast. This time we're looking at Spilled Milk, a fabulous podcast based all around food - my favourite!

Still a bit lost when it comes to podcasts? Read Ginny's guide to listening in first. Take it away Ginny!

What is it?
A podcast about food – one type of food per episode- and the silly, funny conversation between two food lovers that it inspires.
‘Starts with a food-related topic which the hosts take and run with as far as they can go – and, regrettably, sometimes further.’

Where to start? Toast, ice cream? Parsnips? Mexican junk food? There are hundreds of episode to choose from, all of which focus on a specific food and the entertaining observations, memories, and opinions that it evokes. Somewhere mixed up in all that you will also learn a bit more about the food under examination. Most episodes also include some tasting, like Gas Station Candy (Episode 275) where the hosts Molly and Matthew buy a bunch of chocolate bars to eat, judge and compare. If you are British you probably won’t have come across a ‘Big Hunk’ bar and once you’ve listened to this you’ll be glad you haven’t!

And if like that one…. Then there is an extensive menu of other episodes to choose from (yes, I’m going to keep going with the food puns guys, sorry). These shows are like the sorbet of podcasts – a palette cleanser after consuming something more heavy – light, refreshing and witty; easy to add to your current podcast diet of ear deliciousness.
Also, I do like to stop in life for a while to consider a thing in a bit more detail and sometimes that thing is Mandarin Oranges (Episode 264) or Cauliflower (Episode 217) and oh my word – Americans really do know a lot about Root Beer! (Episode 270)

In a nutshell… Food, chatter, puns, eating, straying from the topic…….. and coming back to it again. Similar to eating lunch with some over-enthusiastic, loud, playful and hilarious friends - you don’t want to eat every meal with them, but when you do it is a lot of fun.

Don’t listen if… See above – if bubbly and frothy isn’t your cup of tea, this isn’t for you. Also it is seasoned with a little swearing.

Extra advice – Many American Podcasts start with a pre-amble to promote the show’s sponsor or advertise a product. It can occasionally be confusing as the hosts themselves often voice the advertisement and it can sound like it is the episode. Just give it a couple of minutes and the show itself will start.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Win an Evening Spa Experience at Ragdale Hall Spa

It's been a year since we last offered a prize at Ragdale Hall with Rothley Wine! Where does the time go? Rothley Wine have just made their latest delivery of King Richard still white wine to the Hall, so it seems like a good time to big up that partnership!

Now the Christmas trees are going up and the time has come around again for me to offer you the chance of a lovely Christmas present - a free Evening Spa Experience at Ragdale Hall Spa, worth £120!

The competition will close on Christmas Eve at midnight (Santa will make sure no more entries are accepted after that time) and I will announce the lucky winner on the Extreme Housewifery Facebook page on Christmas Day, so make sure you like it so you see the announcement! Let's have a listen to what Ragdale Hall have to say about the competition...

Win an Evening Spa Experience for two people at the award winning Ragdale Hall Spa

Valid Monday to Thursday - worth £120

Ragdale Hall, in the beautiful Leicestershire countryside was recently awarded Best Destination Spa in the UK* and combines state-of-the-art technology with the charm of traditional Victorian architecture. Whether you are looking for total relaxation, me-time and pampering or to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, Ragdale Hall is the perfect choice. Our great selection of spa days and spa breaks include something for everyone, so if you're seeking a romantic getaway, a day out with girlfriends or some time-out with your nearest and dearest, Ragdale Hall really is the spa to visit.

You’ll enjoy all facilities, including the Thermal Spa with its Candle Pool, heat experiences, indoor and outdoor waterfall pools, as well as a NEW Rooftop Infinity Pool . You can then carry on the relaxation over a delicious two course meal in the Verandah Bar - a sophisticated eating and drinking space with fabulous views over the gardens and a terrace - perfect for al fresco dining when the weather allows. You both have full use of the Gym, exercise classes and outdoor facilities plus complimentary robe hire.

If you are not the lucky winner, then maybe a Ragdale Hall gift voucher would be the perfect Christmas present. Available in monetary amounts from £25 or for days or overnight breaks, they are the ideal Christmas gift.

For further information contact Voucher Sales on 01664 433030 or visit www.ragdalehall.co.uk

*Good Spa Guide Awards 2017

Terms and Conditions

6.30pm arrival – 9.30pm departure

Travel to and from Ragdale Hall is not included

We don’t allow any persons under the age of 16 at the Hall

The prize is non-transferable

The prize is valid for six months from date of letter sent to winner

Fill in your details to enter the competition!

* indicates required

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Avina Wine Stopper

I love a wine gizmo, especially one which necessitates me drinking sparkling wine to test it, and so when Avina asked me to give their premium champagne stopper a go, it's fair to say I bit their arm off.

I've never found a champagne stopper that is *really* any good. There are a few out there I've used that keep the bubbles going, limping along, for a couple of hours - if you're lucky, but you can tell that the seal is not airtight and that your bottle is rapidly losing its initial effervescence. This is particularly true when I am doing wine tastings with Rothley Wine, where we run three sessions over the day and, if a group is small, we may use the same bottle of Spirit of Freedom to taste over a couple of sessions. It's never quite the same.

Avina clearly have the same problems and were founded to make quality wine accessories that are designed to last a lifetime - and for me this stopper really ticks the boxes. The design is simple, yet robust and has a decent weight in the hand.

All you have to do is pop the little rubber stopper in the bottle, and pop down the tab and the rubber forms an airtight seal, which will keep in both your wine and your bubbles. Being an idiot, I immediately decided to check the claim that it will preserve your sparkling wine even when stored sideways. I took my full, newly opened bottle of cava and inverted it entirely. Totally fine. I have literally never had a sparkling stopper that I would trust with this, and in hindsight I think I'd probably try this with a practically empty bottle in the future, but you can't argue with their claims.

This is a handy piece of kit. Totally portable, and no faffing around with vacuum pumps or what have you. It comes in at just under £12, which may sound a little pricey, but when you consider they give you a lifetime guarentee 'you break it, we'll replace it' you will literally never need to buy another one. Well, you might want two, I dunno - it depends how much sparkling wine you want to have on the go at any one time.

So, turns out it was so good that it ruined my plan of drinking all the cava, because I was testing when the fizz would start to lose it's edge. And it really didn't! We had a couple of glasses and then left the rest and it still tasted fabulous and crisp about four hours later. I was going to leave the last glass for the next day. But I didn't - I'm not having Avina ruining all my fun with their excellent quality accessories!

Thanks to Avina for sending me the champagne stopper for review - I shall treasure it and it will be road tested to the extreme with all the English wine tastings I do in a year! This would make a great Christmas gift for the wine lover who has everything. Trust me, it will literally change their life - at least for a moment.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Becoming a Master Chocolatier

Well, I think it's fair to say I'll need to do a helluva lot more practice, but I did learn a lot and have a really good time when test driving the chocolate workshop at Cocoa Amore in St Martin's Square.

You settle in first for a talk about the history of chocolate and the process by which chocolate is made, accompanied by tasting of all of the various stages from the chocolate making process. This then progresses on to looking at where in the world chocolate is produced - the so-called Cocoa Belt around the Equator, which you can see on the lovely map on the ground floor of Cocoa Amore. This is accompanied by a delicious tasting of the chocolates that are being described to you, giving an excellent insight into not just the range of different flavours that can come from cocoa, but also what the different percentages on chocolate mean and how they all taste.

After the talking and the tasting, it is on to the fun, messy part, where you first learn how to line the shells for your filled chocolates. Everything about making chocolate is tactical and sensory - and makes absolutely awesome slow motion clips!

With very clear instructions about what to do, we took it in turns to fill, and shake, and slice, and tip, at least we did all of those things to the very best of our abilities! The great thing about chocolate is that so long as you aren't developing the recipe, and if someone melts the chocolate for you, there isn't really anything you can do wrong! Your end result may not look perfect, it may have some air bubbles in or something, but it's going to taste great so who cares! Anyway, once those were in the fridge to set we moved on to our truffles.

This was next level messy compared to filling the shells, and therefore even more fun. The process of turning your block of ganache into beautiful coated and dusted truffles is again a simple one, but incredibly satisfying. We bagged those beauties up and returned to our chocolate shells.

Now chilled and ready for filling, we all experimented with a milk chocolate filling and a whole rainbow of flavouring options. I went for tonka bean, which tastes quite like vanilla-almond and added just the merest hint of cherry, which I thought was incredibly delicious but I realise may be an acquired taste!

After this process was complete, we weren't trusted to put the thin layer of chocolate on ourselves, as this is the part which seals the chocolates and keeps the filling from going off - so fair enough really, which meant it was time for us to take a little break.

As part of the workshop, a hot drink is included. Naturally most people chose one of the wide range of hot chocolates on offer, but I had eaten more than my fill of chocolate for the day so opted for a coffee instead which was very pleasant. Along with our drinks we were offered our choice of chocolate from the counter - so it turned out I hadn't quite eaten my fill of chocolate for the day as I wolfed down an amaretto truffle!

When we were all done, we returned upstairs to the workshop to find our chocolates complete. We whacked them out of the mould (satisfying) and arranged them in a little box (also satisfying) and then sat back to contemplate the afternoon's achievements.

As well as having a lot of fun and trying something new, you therefore leave a Cocoa Amore workshop with quite a haul of chocolate! You make enough filled chocolates to fill your box and more besides, which means you can look really generous in giving someone the pretty boxed one when in reality you actually have a lot more left over anyway!

Chocolate Haul

I was very pleased with my achievement and I think that buying someone a voucher to enjoy this workshop for themselves would make a lovely Christmas gift. Tis the season after all! Thank you to Cocoa Amore for inviting me along to have a go at their workshop. I don't think I'm quite a Master Chocolatier yet, but it has encouraged me to want to practice, practice, practice!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

French Kissing in Millstone Lane

Great Scott! Is it really five years since I last reviewed Le Bistrot Pierre? It's been a busy old time for them, the chain having expanded rapidly and now occupying over 20 locations UK wide after significant investment in 2015. I think there were probably 3 or 4 when the Boy and I first came to Leicester and experienced dining there for the first time.

However, they had a good model and they have stuck with it, which is no doubt the reason they have been invested in and continue to delight diners around the UK. I have always been a fan of their slow cooked meat dishes (as you would hope in a French restaurant) as well as their reasonably priced lunch offering and this still holds true. The only major discernible change is that they have dropped the 'Le' from their name. I presume that's a Brexit thing 😂

Leicester's Bistrot has recently undergone a refurbishment, which has left it somewhat tidier, but still atmospheric and pleasing on the eye. It retains its versatility in that it is bright and airy in the day times for a welcoming lunch but also intimate and cosy in the evening for a more secluded tete-a-tete.

It was noticeably quiet when we arrived - during that magical transition time between the daytime and pre-theatre menus - but for us this wasn't an issue. It was pretty early to go for dinner, but needs must sometimes and I was really quite pleased we could be accommodated. The service was pleasant and our waiter was full of helpful recommendations, which is particularly useful when it comes to The Boy. I think he would die of starvation before settling on a menu choice sometimes.

While we chose our meals, we were brought a bottle of 2016 Les Mougeottes Pinot Noir (I just discovered if you mispell pinot you get pinto... Sure I can do something with that knowledge one day) which we both really enjoyed. Not overly heavy, but enough tannin and structure to please The Boy and plenty of layers of complexity to satisfy my inquistive palette. However, also it had a light enough character to match with a variety of dishes which was all part of my cunning plan.

The meal was well paced, without waits for courses being overlong or feeling rushed and we chatted over our complimentary bread basket while waiting for our starters to be presented. I still get giddily excited with free bread in the UK. I don't get why it's so impossible for other venues to provide, or why they feel charging £3 or more is acceptable. I feel like providing bread with a meal is pretty much the same as providing salt and pepper if required. Maybe that's a Brexit thing too.

The Boy ordered the Terrine Rustique, and I'll be honest this was probably the most disappointing dish of the set. It looked pretty enough, served with sourdough bread and cornichons on a board (yeah, they've fallen in to the boards over plates thing here too, but happily not all the time), however the terrine - purportedly of rabbit, chicken and pork with pistachio - was a bit of a free for all, almost as if the meats had been blended rather than laid and compressed into a terrine as you would expect. The Boy wasn't keen which gave me the chance to have a good taste and it was a little bit like soft tinned meat and the separate meat flavours were not discernible at all. So we'll probably leave that one next time to be honest.

We'd already been back since the refurbishment, hence why I have a photo of the table we were sat at!

It's all uphill from here though dear reader, so stick with me! My starter was the Brioche et Champignons. That's mushrooms on toast for you Leavers. Gosh, I've really got Brexit on the brain today, haven't I? Must be tired. Anyway, this dish wasn't much of a looker - you'd have to get up pretty early in the morning to put a fricasee of mushrooms on a slice of buttery brioche toast and make it look fancy, but who cares? It was delicious - creamy and earthy mushrooms with piquante, salty lardons of Alsace bacon and an underlying richness from both the mushroom sauce and the brioche itself. It was marvellous. I've made myself frightfully hungry just thinking about it.

Romping through to the mains, and The Boy picked the duck dish from the specials menu - a pan fried breast served with cherries, which was pretty much made to match with the cherry notes in the Pinot Noir we had ordered. This was served with green beans, full of colour and perfectly cooked. Sadly I didn't get the opportunity to sample this one and was met with low growls and snarls when I suggested it. So I presume it was good.

Of course, the mains are always served with potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Our waiter also insisted we try the mushrooms with our mains too, although I'm not sure why he was positively gushing about them. They were OK, but not particularly garlicky or otherwise of note.

My main was also duck - this time a confit leg served on a bed of Toulouse sausage cassoulet. Unbeknownst to me, there was a big ole hunk of Toulouse sausage hiding under the duck leg which I didn't find until quite a way through the meal, by which time I was quite full. But I soldiered on and managed to eat it. It was a LOT of food though - and I was really pleased with how everything was cooked - crispy duck skin, with the soft yielding beans melting into the cassoulet with the sweetness of tomato and sausage. Ah yes, this is the stuff of pleasant dreams indeed.

We were offered dessert, but politely declined as we would both possibly have exploded had we eaten any more. Overall the standard I expected from Bistrot Pierre was met. Big protein, a generally high standard of cooking and perfectly passable, although not pristine presentation. With starters in the region of £6 and mains coasting around £14 on the a la carte menu, this is a very similar price point to pretty much every major restaurant chain on the high street but I would definitely choose Bistrot Pierre over your Coast to Coast or, heaven forfend, TGI Fridays and their ilk as the food feels more real. Actual meat, vegetables and the like - you know what I mean...

So many thanks to Bistrot Pierre for inviting us along to trial the new look Leicester venue, a thoroughly enjoyable meal was had and we will continue to visit this comfortable restaurant and enjoy the friendly service from your team!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Podcast Review: Soul Music

We're back with the ever-lovely Ginny Copley for another guest podcast review. If you have no idea what this is, why this is or what the goodness gracious a podcast even is, then check back to our first guest post with Ginny's explanation of what podcasts are and how you can listen in!

Take it away Ginny!

Soul Music
What is it? Music can give us goose bumps, make us smile, cry and evoke memories. A single piece of music can be part of many different people’s stories. This podcast explore those stories and emotions.
‘Music with a powerful emotional impact’

Where to start? Something inside so strong (Series 18) is a song that has been taken up by many oppressed groups around the world. This episode tells its story and speaks to people for whom it is deeply meaningful and gives them a sense of hope and dignity. Labi Siffre the song’s writer talks about how he came to write it, the song’s link to Apartheid in South Africa and the discrimination he had experienced growing up as a gay man. I challenge you to listen to this episode and not get a lump in your throat!

And if like that one…. The great thing about this podcast is that there have been many episodes and they include lots of different genres. You can listen to the story of a piece of pop music, classical music or a song from a musical. So pick a song you know and love to learn more about it or pick one you’ve never heard before and 30 minutes later, you’ll be something of an expert. I enjoyed Fairytale of New York (Series 21) and the stories of pride and rebellion connected to The Star-Spangled Banner (Series 23). And there are still so many more to enjoy.
In a nutshell… Music, history, stories, spine tingling songs, humanity
Don’t listen if… Music leaves you cold. Or if you are listening while travelling on public transport and don’t want to start blubbing.

Where to listen? BBC, Stitcher, iTunes

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Bourbon tasting with Drew Mayville, Master Blender at Buffalo Trace

I had an amazing afternoon last month, enjoying the privilege of a tasting led by the Master Blender of Buffalo Trace, Drew Mayville. He had rocked up to our top local cocktail bar here in Leicester, Manhattan34, and was only doing events in Edinburgh and London in the UK during this visit as I understand so it shows you the reputation of this bar and its bartenders if you haven't been before!!

Anyway, Drew was an engaging and entirely compelling speaker and an absolute mine of bourbon knowledge. He gave us some detail about his own career and how he had come to Buffalo Trace, at about the same time as I heard of the brand whilst still at university! He then talked us through an expert tasting session, giving some amazing cues on how to taste, what to look for to understand the impact of the different mash bills and aging that the bourbons had gone through, and all done with a smile and a twinkle in the eye. As I say, a thoroughly enjoyable but also deeply educational afternoon!

In particular I really enjoyed hearing about the development of the distillery and the company, and finding out that the Buffalo Trace is a real thing - the mark the buffalo had left in that area of the Kentucky landscape, moving in their (originally) vast herds.

Drew was talking to a room of industry professionals and so he assumed everyone understood the fundamentals of bourbon production and in the interests of brevity, I will too. However if you're not sure, there is a great resource on the Buffalo Trace website about the process, just click here.

White Dog Mash #1

Made to educate about the range of flavours within the new made bourbon spirit before aging. So it is 125 proof, and gives an incredible pepper kick - this is Buffalo Trace as it is when it goes in to the barrel, the raw distillate. However, it does still have a slight sweetness in the mouth from the corn, balanced by the rye as the small grain. Once that initial hefty kick fades off as the mouth becomes accustomed to it I certainly found it an interesting and rewarding drink to enjoy. But you'll definitely love it or hate it!

Buffalo Trace

The one you're all familiar with - light straw colour and sweet nose of the 8 (plus) year aged bourbon with interesting spice on the tip of the tongue, the dryness of the oak in the centre of the mouth and then hints of vanilla fudge coming through. An incredibly balanced and extremely pleasant drink.

Eagle Rare

This one is 10 years aged, so we were learning about the developing impact of the oak on the dryness and the finish - to me this felt as though it was not as balanced, but it had more complex dimensions on the nose - the spice from the oak is intense and has started to create some notes of dried fruit. Not as much my cup of tea as the straight Buffalo Trace, but it clearly depends on your taste as there were many nods of approval in the room.

Stagg Jnr

Now this is one hell of a boubon. Eight years aged and strong on the nose with apricot notes, this is an explosion of heat and spice in your mouth, but surprisingly smooth. Lovely fruit flavours are layered with black pepper and twiggy notes from the barrels! It has a dry tannic feel but yet leaves a syrupy coating in the mouth. This is the fatty acids in the drink, which has a high proof as a cut version would cloud. It has a joyous, rounded finish with some very light vanilla coming through after you have drank it. Truly a voyage of discovery with every sip!

Sazerac Rye

With 51% rye and corn as the small grain, this cannot be called a bourbon. It was a spritely six years old and has a smooth nose with the spice leaning towards the clove end of the spectrum. It's a delight of smoothness in the mouth, some vanilla but also quite fruity, almost peachy and just the merest hint of spice. I adored it. One of the drinks of the day for me.

Small batch E H Taylor

This has to be 100 proof and was aged for around 7 years. Its beautiful amber colour and large halo were reflected in the very light, delicate nose. It gives an elegant spice hit just on the roof of the mouth, and also an airy fruitiness - no intense oak or tannin here but complex, light and ever so slightly floral. Lip smacking.

Van Winkle Wheated Bourbon

This was the surprise of the day for me. With 51% corn and wheat as the small grain and 12 years of age, we thought we knew what to expect, but the sweet, and almost menthol notes flavours were pretty crazy, especially considering it was barely there on the nose. This menthol note gave a tingle in the mouth, but with some complex sweet and fruit flavours - like sweet as in candy, and some floral stone fruit along with the caramel tone. Beautiful to drink. Difficult to describe! (Plus I'd drank quite a lot of bourbon at this point) Rare as hen's teeth too as far as I can gather, so good luck finding some to enjoy for yourself!

Monday, 6 November 2017

Black Iron: The Refurbishment of Braunstone Hall

After 20 years of being at the mercy of the elements, and generations of vandals with nothing better to do but leave their mark on an historic building, Braunstone Hall has risen from the ashes with a new name and a new restaurant.

Some evidence of the building's dereliction remains. I'm kind of glad they didn't restore too far.

We were invited to the press launch of Black Iron at Winstanley House, named for the family who originally built it in 1775, and the £2m refurbishment has certainly brought back an impressive sense of grandeur to the building - with sympathetic contemporary builds used to connect originally disparate parts of the hall.

I'm not going to give you too many clues as to how it looks - you need to visit!

As well as a hotel with a grand ballroom, you can enjoy an elegant meal in the stately restaurant rooms. As the name suggests, Black Iron is a steakhouse, with limited choice for vegetarians on the main menu, unless you want courgette flan. However, we were given a special set menu choice for the evening and there were good vegetarian options at each course. We settled in to the comfortable dining room, although we were puzzled by a large booth which cut the dining area off from the rest of the space and seemed to be the one unsympathetic feature I saw in the whole restoration - we were off to one side of said booth and it basically cut off our view of one side of the historic room, which was a shame.

To start, I enjoyed the ginger pork cheeks. This was served with pickled fruit and vegetable slices on sourdough bread and was beautifully cooked. Melting, sticky pork with a rich flavour and thick juices soaking into the bread made for a lovely combination of flavours. It was beautifully presented too - they are really going for fine dining presentation which suits the setting, although the prices are not overtly high-end - certainly equal to what you would see in any chain restaurant.

The Boy enjoyed the Earl Grey smoked mackerel, with a nice tea flavour coming through. Again the delicate presentation was noticeable and portion size was excellent, with the delicately piped avocado giving a great colour contrast. Thumbs up all round for the starters.

On to the main event, and of course I had to order the steak. My 280g Rib Eye steak was disappointingly cooked to medium (when I ordered rare) which impacted on the texture and flavour as you would expect, however you could tell that it was a good quality steak and it was still enjoyable. This was one of a couple of simple errors in cooking and service that we noticed on the night, but it was clear that the staff were generally very new and learning the ropes so I can definitely forgive it and not be put off visiting again.

The dripping fries served with the steak were the real deal, with just the right balance of crisp and fluffiness, although I was disappointed that the bone marrow promised on the menu did not materialise. The peppercorn sauce, with its mix of black, green and pink peppercorns was a nice touch though, although the dish the plate was served on was cold, so the steak and the sauce lost their heat almost immediately. Sadly mixed reviews for me then on the main, but as I say it could well be teething problems.

The Boy sampled the pork belly, and it was as crisp as you would hope in nice contrast to the creamy mash. There was not really enough sauce served with it - either the cider jus or the burnt apple puree - both of which were necessary with this big ole' hunk of pork! So individually all the elements were right, but perhaps the jus could have been served in larger quantity on the side.

For pudding, The Boy enjoyed the sticky toffee pudding, and in discussion with other diners that evening this seemed to be a clear favourite of the evening for most guests. I have to confess to being less impressed with my Black Iron Trifle. I don't know if I'm just pickier than everyone else? This didn't have the same sense of luxuriousness in terms of the component ingredients as the other dishes. And I couldn't get over the chocolate balls sprinkled over the top, which are definitely something I would associate with the soft serve from an ice cream van and not a classic dining experience. Maybe I am turning into a food snob....

All in then, it's a beautiful place to visit and a fine dining-like experience at not fine dining prices, which seems to me about fair. The food is presented as delightfully as the building is appointed and set in the middle of Braunstone Park, I look forward to them working on their outdoor terrace for next summer as that is certainly somewhere we'd enjoy sitting out and eating. It is a little out of the city centre - we walked from town and it took in the region of 40 minutes - and for those of you unfamiliar with Braunstone do get your sat nat on because you really have to wend your way through the estate to find it.

However, I'd be happy to drink under the chandeliers in the statesmanlike bar, I'd be very happy to stay in the beautiful hotel rooms under the care of the extremely attentive reception team and I look forward to restaurant growing into its surroundings as the kitchen and waiting teams settle into their new roles. If you're going to spend £30 at N E Other Generic Chain Restaurant for dinner tonight, then do yourself a favour and take a punt on the Black Iron instead. And let me know how they got on.

Many thanks to the Winstanley team for inviting us along to celebrate their launch and for showing us such attentive service.

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