Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ring of Bells - Pub Review - North Bovey, Devon

This is the Ring of Bells, North Bovey and this is just how a pub should be in Devon.

Attractive, thatched, quiet village, space to sit outside, well-decorated with modern 'murky' shades of paint, but not 'gastro-pub'-ed to within an inch of its life, great local beers, a warm welcome, a woodburning stove, dogs welcome, tasty homemade food at affordable prices.

We had a simple lunch: soup for me (roasted garlic + celeriac with croutons), sardines on toast with roasted vine tomatoes and a ploughman's - all done fantastically well.

Their unpretentious formula for success is proving a hit - getting a table for Thurs - Sat night can be tricky - phone well ahead.  Thoroughly recommended.

Tel: 01647 440375 W: www.ringofbells.net E: mail@ringofbells.net

Friday, 25 March 2011

Real Food Store, Exeter - Opening 30 March

It's about half an hour away from me, so not entirely local, but I'm very excited on behalf of the residents of Exeter for the opening of this new food emporium next Wednesday (30 March) at 8am.  I even like the early opening time, proving it's a proper bakery!  They'll have an in-house bakery run by Emma's Bread, a cafe and a shop selling plenty of fresh, locally-sourced, organic and ethical food and drink.

It's a community-based scheme that originated from a group of motivated Transition Exeter individuals who wanted an ethical, community-focused food hub.  It was funded by selling community shares.  There'll even be a community meeting space.

I can't wait to visit - I might even try to get there for the opening day on Wednesday when there's bound to be a bit of a buzz.  Congratulations to them for getting this off the ground!

It's in Paris St, near the Bus Station at the Princesshay end of town.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Bloggers Day of Silence - A Gesture of Support for Japan

I'll be taking part in this tomorrow - no blogging (or tweeting or facebooking for me):

To donate and get involved visit For Japan With Love

The guidelines are simple...
  1. This coming Friday, March 18th, no posts at all on your blog.
  2. Please post a blog post about what you will be doing this Friday whenever possible in hopes to spread the word and whoever else would like to join in.
  3. Tweet and Re-Tweet the link to http://www.forjapanwithlove.com/.
  4. Encourage your readers to contribute and donate to Japan.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Hotel Chocolat - Putting Myself First for a Moment...

Food PR, and fellow food blogger, Beth, from Jam and Cream PR sent me this (initally) very attractive parcel of chocolate from Hotel Chocolat to review.  It's called the Essential Easter Collection and it retails for £35.  Initial impressions were favourable although I immediately felt unhappy with the amount of packaging: the Tiddly Chicks were in a packet with in a box within a bag within a box?  A tad excessive, even for mail order protection.

I decided to hold a tasting review panel with my husband and two children, aged 9 and 11.  The kids were, of course, rather enthusiastic to have an early Easter treat.  My children totally buy into the Hotel Chocolat thing.  When we visit Exeter, it's somewhere they nag us to take them.  They claim it's their favourite chocolate and love all the cutesy shapes and packaging.  They feel they're being spoilt if they get a bar of  this stuff.  My husband is of a rather more cynical persuasion (understatement of the year) and hates the shop and product.  'It's not a hotel, and chocolate has an 'e' on the end of it' is his response to their nagging.  'Overpriced' and 'style over substance' may also have passed his lips.

We gave each item a mark out of 10 for Presentation, Taste and Easter Factor. Overall winner was the Doodle Chick bar - slab of caramely chocolate with a chick moulded on the front.  The children adored the taste of this but both adults thought it was horrible - a caramely coconut taste that was too sickly.  In last place was the Easter Expose Half Egg - the most 'traditional' of the products.  We really marked this egg down for its cheeky claim on the side, something about 'we were advised to make thin eggs to save money but look how thick we've made it' - and it was thick at the visible edges and was really thin towards the back.

The Tiddly Chicks scored badly for their packaging but were cute and lovely if you like plain choc shaped little chicks (I do).

The Egglets (caramel eggs in a cardboard basket) were probably my favourite although they had been bashed around a bit in the post and weren't in perfect condition. 9 year old son really hated these and actually spat it out.

The Tiddly Pot - an Easter decorated cardboard cup filled with rabbit and chick shaped chocolates was a hit with the children but husband declared it looked like a cheap cup of carry-out tea.  He's harsh.

We enjoyed them, but didn't love them.  Huge divisions between which things the children liked compared to the adults.  Not an all round hit, but we all liked something.

Unfortunately I'm going to have to mention the wording on the packaging.  It's becoming a bit of a geeky pet hate of mine that I have to read all the packaging and I get quite wound up when it's spelt wrongly (my current bottle of Original Source Shower Gel has two spelling mistakes) and Innocent Smoothie cartons (yes, I found them refreshingly cute a few years ago, now I wish they'd bland themselves out a bit and just provide basic info).  So the offending words from Hotel Choc?

 'And with the absolute minimum of recyclable packaging, putting yourself first for a moment won't cost the earth.'

Firstly, there's a double meaning there - 'the minimum of recyclable packaging'  - so they've used as little recyclable packaging as possible?  Great, chuck it all in landfill then.  They need to lose the word 'recyclable' rather than putting it in as a soundbite.

Secondly, the idea of 'putting yourself first for a moment' - i.e. being selfish, having your little chocolatey moment and buying stuff with lots of packaging isn't that endearing to me.

Also the bag says British Cocoa Growers and Chocolatier.  Presumably this is trying to position themselves in a niche that Cadbury has vacated.  I've looked at their website and they explain their rationale for not being Fairtrade, as they have their own plantations in Ghana and St Lucia and work / trade ethically there.  OK, I was going to ask where they grow cocoa in UK as I would think that's impossible.  So is that moniker also a tad misleading?  They grow cocoa abroad.

Aha!  I've found it!  There actually is a Hotel Chocolat - it's in St Lucia and opened at the end of Feb 2011 and it's all part and parcel of their brand.  I'm off to tell husband that actually they ARE a hotel.  And I would really like to go there if my eco-conscience and money would allow.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Devon Cafe Owners - I Implore You.....

I'm not going to name and shame, as I think it would be a bit cruel, but today we had a pretty funny Sunday lunch in a South Devon cafe attached to a farm shop.

The seven of us were seated in a quarter full cafe.  My 11 year old nephew wanted a Full English Breakfast and it was 12 noon.  We were told politely that sorry, they stop serving them at 11:30.  This is par for the course for some places and totally fine (although I wonder why - is it out of concern for our arteries? or because they want us to choose a pricier dish?  I'm no chef, but perhaps the frying / grilling thing makes it difficult to combine with making lunch food?)

My daughter wanted the child's burger (supplied by the Farm Shop, a mere five metres away.)

'Sorry, we've run out of burgers.'

O-Kayyyyy.  The whole table glanced at the butcher's counter within our line of vision, but were too polite to say anything.

'I'll have an omelette,'  requested my mother-in-law, 'they're really nice here.'

'Sorry, we've run out of eggs and we don't get a delivery until Tuesday.'

What? At this point all four adults couldn't help but laugh and point out the farm shop produce that was nearly within grasping distance.  Surely they sell eggs in there?  The waitress was adamant that there would be no omelettes for lunch until Tuesday.  Raised eyebrows all round....

Then.....my order arrives and it's wrong, and my daughter's drink and nephew's teacake don't arrive.  In fact we had all finished our lunch by the time the mythical teacake finally made an appearance.  After asking for it THREE times.  I think it took 35 minutes for them to toast a teacake.

The owner - manager (?) asked if everything was OK.  He was embarrassed to hear about the egg and burger situation, apologised profusely and before we left, pressed a pack of eight burgers and half a dozen eggs into our hands as an apology.  May as well have said 'Our waitress is useless, the chef's just been fired, better go cook it yourself.'

Devon Cafe Owners, I implore you, please train your staff and pay them more!

Empower them. So if necessary they can think for themselves and, for example, go and buy some more vital ingredients.

Customer service skills are SO important.  If the food and atmosphere are half-decent and the waiting staff are friendly and helpful, the punters are really happy and will return.  Some Devon waiting staff look like startled rabbits. We didn't really mind that things were going wrong - a sincere apology, a smile, an offer of an alternative dish - pretty simple stuff that would have been appreciated.

A bad day for the cafe? Fair enough, things don't always run perfectly. We all saw the funny side of it, but I won't be hurrying back.  For all the great experiences I have in South West cafes, these crappy occurrences are still all too frequent.

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