Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Food Friday: Chomp, Bristol

Chomp Bristol Interior

Unless it’s work-related, I have issues making decisions. It takes me longer than most to decide whether to take a colleague up on the offer of tea and I have to decide on my outfit the night before so I’m not late for car share. This is part of the reason we organised a wedding so quickly – if we’d looked at too many venues, considered too many dates, thought too much about any of it – then it wouldn’t be happening. I don’t even want to know what would have happened if I’d gone to more than one dress shop. (Seriously, you didn’t see the conversation I had with my bridesmaids about trying to choose a dress fabric for them.)

So long menus can send me into something of a spin, often leading to making a decision under pressure. Sometimes this works out well, but on many occasions – even if I enjoy my own meal – I have ended up with food envy of the person/people who ordered the other dish/es I was considering.

Chomp is therefore something of a relief. As you might expect from a restaurant (and former food cart) that sums itself up as ‘beef. beer. bourbon’, it has chosen to do a few things, well. Those few things being steak and burgers (vegetarian and beef), with the option of two starters and one pudding to bookend the meal.

Chomp Bristol Black Pudding Beignets

We delved into one of those starters, the black pudding beignets – essentially balls of black pudding coated in batter with (if I remember rightly) a Bearnaise dipping sauce. The black pudding possibly had the smoothest texture of any I’ve ever tasted, and the batter was perfectly crisp with no greasiness to it.

The portion was relatively generous; we shared between three, which was fine if you just wanted to try one or two – but if you’re starving hungry then maybe order a few more.

Chomp Bristol Burgers

However you’ll want to still be full enough to enjoy your main: the burger at Chomp is up there as one of my all-time favourites, juicy and served perfectly pink (though you could, I think, ask for them to be more well done). Refreshingly, chips and house ‘slaw are included in the price (£10 before toppings) – both of which were delicious. We unanimously concluded that the chips were the best of the burger restaurants we’d tried between us in the area. And while we all went for the meat option so I can’t offer an opinion on the veggie burger, I’ve read equally good things about it.

And although the menu options are limited, there are a few toppings options that you can add to your burger for £1 each, from black pudding to Stilton to jalapenos. You can also add a second patty for £2, or sides of onion rings and/or chilli cheese fries if you’re really starving.

The drinks menu is even more extensive. There’s a good selection of beers and bourbons and a few wines. My only criticism would be that there’s only one cider on offer (and in Bristol, too), but I did like that you can order 2/3 of a pint (give me a whole one, and everyone will be staring at me, waiting for – and willing – me to finish, by the end of the meal). They’re not cheap either: draft pints start at £4.50, and a small (125ml) glass of wine will set you back at least £3.

The only other negative was that it was a little dark in there (for some reason, the seemingly-very-in-at-the-moment industrial lighting didn’t seem to be on). On the plus side, I did like the addition of the fake grass along the back of the booth-style seating, and the friendly-but-not-intrusive service.

So while Bristol isn’t exactly short of burger restaurants, Chomp definitely deserves to be high up your list next time you’re looking for a place to enjoy a patty.

Chomp Bristol Interior

The Details
Chomp
10 St Nicholas Street, Bristol, BS1 1UQ
http://www.chompgrill.co.uk/

Opening Hours
Tues-Thurs: 12-2:30/6-11:30 (last food orders 9)
Fri – Sat: 12-3/6-11:30 (last food orders 10)
Sun: 12-3/6-10 (last food orders 9)
Closed Mondays

Booking
Email jake@chompgrill.co.uk/Call 01179 293322
(I got a speedy response via email)

Picture Credits
Once again, I forgot my camera, so pics are shamelessly borrowed from the following:
Header – Chomp Interior: Bristol Post
Black Pudding Beignets: HannahVJones on Tripadvisor
Classic Burgers: Don B on Yelp
Second/Final interior pic: Bristol 247

Food Friday: Ultracomida, Narbeth

Ultracomida Narberth

You’d think that on the 27th December, stuffing yourself with more food would be the last on anybody’s priority list. But I challenge the fullest of people to remain unhungry after setting foot inside the Ultracomida Delicatessan in Narbeth, Wales.

This lovely Pembrokeshire market town isn’t wanting for cute and quaint shops and restaurants, and from the outside Ultracomida doesn’t immediately jump out. Until you look through the window and start drooling over the selection of meats and cheeses and sweets and other Spanish goodies on display.

And then, at the back of the shop, is the Ultracomida restaurant. And while might look relatively simple (in a nice way), the food is anything but plain.

Between five of us, we polished off the berenjas con miel (cumin roasted aubergines with honey), meatballs, chipirones (breaded, fried squid served with alioli), tortilla, the cheese and meat platters, patatas bravas, and of course some olives and breads. Although all were delicious, my personal favourites were probably the aubergines and chipirones – even my squid-averse sister enjoyed the latter (though let’s be honest, who can dislike anything served with alioli).

Ultracomida Narbeth

And despite the amount of food we’d consumed in the last few days, we couldn’t resist finishing off with the hot chocolate – so thick you had to eat it with a spoon (quite frankly, I don’t understand why this isn’t the norm). Sadly there were no churros available to dunk (representative photo of what they would have looked like in the photo above, to demonstrate chocolate thickness), but it was still delicious. I also may have tried some (a lot) of my Dad’s turrón selection – mainly the one that was described as being a bit like peanut butter. Being a big peanut butter fan, I am slightly biased, but oh my goodness it was amazing.

Ultracomida Narbeth
Sadly the lack of availability was a bit of a theme; visiting towards the end of their opening hours for the day (and possibly due to the time of year), a lot of the dishes had sold out and I think our meat and cheese platters were possibly just made up of what they could pull together. We enjoyed the food we had, but if you want to make sure you get your pick of the dishes then I recommend getting there early.

That minor quibble aside, Ultracomida is well worth a visit next time you’re in the Tenby area. Friendly service, relaxed and unpretentious surroundings and really good food – perfect!

And despite how full you are by the end, I challenge you to not be tempted to take a souvenir of your meal home from you when leaving through the deli.

UltraComida Narberth

The Details
Ultracomida
7 High Street, Narbeth, SA67 7AR
http://www.ultracomida.co.uk/page/restaurants/narberth
Open Monday-Saturday, 10-5pm (last orders 4:30pm). Deli open until 6.
Closed Sundays

Photos all courtesy of Gourmet Gorro

To pack or not to pack #1: A reading round-up

suitcase-books-good-summer-reads

One of the things I love about holidays is how, away from all the distractions of home, you can get through more books in a week than you did in the three months before. However – unless you don’t mind risking using your Kindle or tablet by water or leaving it unattended on a sun lounger – this can make packing tricky. Books aren’t particularly light or pliable, and if you’re anything like me, you often have to make tough decisions about which ones make the final packing cut.

OK I’ll be honest, this slightly long-winded introduction is essentially my roundabout way of justifying doing a regular round-up of my recent reads on a travel blog: do they deserve a precious space in your suitcase? And because I want to start 2015 on a positive note, here are my five favourite reads from last year, all of which are worth risking your weight limit for.

The Power of One

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Not just one of my favourite reads of 2014, but ever. Set in 1930s and 40s South Africa, The Power of One follows Peekay, a white, English boy on his journey from his early years with his Zulu wet nurse, to being bullied as an Englishman in a school of English-hating Afrikaans, through to his later school life and quest to become welterweight champion of the world. Although Peekay himself is lovable, its the supporting characters (especially Geel Piet) who will really lodge themselves in your heart; I couldn’t stop talking about them not just while I was reading this book, but long after I’d finished.

And don’t let the boxing element dissuade you. I won’t deny that there are fight scenes, training scenes and betting scenes – and as a kickboxer admittedly I had some understanding of and interest in it on a technical level. But, judging by the fact that the friend who gave me this book isn’t a boxing fan (as far as I’m aware), this certainly isn’t a pre-requisite to enjoy this book. I just hope it takes you in as much as it did me.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Set in the 80s over the course of one school year, this is the story of an unlikely romance between two 16-year-olds; the strangely-dressed ‘misfit’ new girl and the quiet comic book fan. But it’s so much more than that.

I could heap superlative after superlative on this book. It’s line after line of jawdropping, suckerpunch-to-the-heart, wonderfulness. I could quote it, but you deserve to discover it yourself. But I will say that in particular, I love Rowell’s dialogue (not just in this, but all her books). If I could afford it, I’d give a copy to every guest at my wedding. I’m aware that I’m properly fan-girling out here, but seriously. Oh just go and read it, you’ll see.

weareallcompletelybesideourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
It’s really hard to recommend this book, because you can’t really say what it’s about without spoiling it. To be honest, the best way to enjoy it is to avoid reading anything about it first. So all I’ll say is that all the hype is valid. And that it’s particularly recommended if you like character-led books, and/or have an interest in psychology.

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Socially awkward Don Tillman has to be one of the most endearing literary characters of recent years. The story revolves around the genetic professor’s search for a wife through ‘The Marriage Project’ – a long questionnaire designed to lead him to his perfect wife. Except completely-imperfect-on-paper Rosie arrives, and turns everything on its head.

But the book is as much about Don as a person as the ‘love story’; the story is told from his perspective, and I loved getting to know his routine and seeing the world through his eyes.

It’s also a genuinely funny book – I tend to just chortle inwardly when I’m ready, but was laughing out loud at some points when reading this.

Perfect if you fancy a lighthearted read that’s a little bit different (and if you really like it, there’s sequel too – The Rosie Effect – which I’m yet to read, but assured is equally as good).

The Circle
The Circle by Dave Eggers
The Circle isn’t a book to take on a sightseeing holiday – not if you actually want to see any sights, anyway. This addictive book focuses on Mae, a new recruit at the eponymous organisation which is something of an amalgamation of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Paypal, and probably some others I’ve forgotten. It shows her descent into the technological world as The Circle becomes more and more present in her – and seemingly, everyone’s – lives.

Although towards the end there were some bits that felt ever-so-slightly over the top and one metaphor I really didn’t like, overall I was hooked by Eggers’ scary, futuristic world and how, even more scarily, it didn’t actually seem too futuristic at all.

Now I’ve told you my picks, tell me yours – what should I make sure is in the luggage next time I go away?

Food Friday: Sticks n Broth, Bristol

Sticks n Broth, Bristol, interior

One way to tell that I really, really like somewhere is if I don’t just want to go back, but want to show off my ‘find’ to other people. I find myself repeatedly taking visitors to Bristol to the Thali Cafe and Bocabar, and am always looking for an opportunity to take my parents to Arnos Vale (they just won’t believe that a walk round a cemetry makes for such a pleasant few hours. I’ll show them, one day).

A recent addition to this list is Sticks n Broth, a relatively new restaurant on Baldwin Street specialising in Japanese ramen (noodles) and yakitori (skewered food). We were actually introduced by friends, and not long after suggested going there with John’s parents before going to a comedy gig at Colston Hall (Dave Gorman, in case you’re wondering. It was brilliant).

sticksbrothoutside

Between visits, we have (I think) tried a variety of both the donburi and ramen dishes, and are yet to be disappointed. The food is fresh and the portion sizes extremely generous – they don’t scrimp on the meat and just fill you up with noodles, rice and vegetables, you get more than enough of everything. There’s also a good drink selection, including a number of Japanese/Asian beers. I was eyeing up the smaller dishes too, which all smelled and looked amazing. Maybe next time…

sticksbrothbeer

Service is fast, friendly and relaxed. Talking of which, I have to give the team a shout-out; we left an engagement card here on our first visit. I emailed thinking there was no chance of getting it back, and they initially couldn’t find it. However a few days later they emailed again saying it had turned up, and to pop by any time. Thank you team – especially Richard.

Back to the restaurant; small and often busy, it can get a little loud, but not so much so that we felt uncomfortable or even that it wasn’t parent-friendly. And despite it being a small, busy restaurant – you aren’t rushed through your meal. A good thing, considering the portion sizes (and for us less-dexterous, as you might be using chopsticks).

sticksbrothfood2

Talking of chopsticks, a word of advice: don’t be too proud to take any knife you’re offered, or to ask for one – particularly if you’re going for something like the big porky ramen. Trying to slice up a hunk of pork with chopsticks is not easy (I was too proud. And I may, therefore, have resorted to using fingers to break up food. In front of my future parents-in-law. Fortunately they’re the relaxed, non-judgemental types, but still…).

Sticks n Broth’s dishes are unlike anything else I’ve tasted in restaurants over here (which means I’ve either been frequenting the wrong restaurants or other places are seriously missing a trick). The dishes seem fresher, the flavours of each ingredient crisper, than other places. Having never been to Japan, I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but it tastes good and that’s the main them; the ultimate proof being that it converted former ramen virgins (John’s parents).

While it’s not budget, dishes cost £10-£14 (most being £10-£12), which I think is pretty good value considering the portion sizes.

Whether you’re a seasoned ramen fan or new to Japanese foods, this is one to add to your Bristol ‘to visit’ list. And when you go, there’s a good chance you might see us there, introducing more friends and family to their delicious broths.

Useful Info
Sticks n Broth, 48-52 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1QB
Tel: 0117 925 5397
Bookings taken
Food served 12-11 Mon-Thurs (drinks served until 12), 12-‘late’ Fri & Sat
Closed Sundays
Main menu (excluding the smaller, starter-style dishes) can be found here

All pictures taken from the Sticks n Broth website.

sticksbrothfood1

The Trapper’s Tent, Casa dos Loios, Portugal

Trapper's Tent, view from decking

“They’ll be dancing in a minute. You just watch.” Glenn and Dianne smile at us knowingly. We’re stood in the square of a central Portuguese mountain village, attending their annual festa. It’s gone 11pm and the band has just started up. Despite the time, the square is busy with packs of teenagers, laughing friends, and families, from tiny children to their great-grandparents. This is the village event of the year, and everyone attends.

And then a couple start dancing, a relaxed but slightly jumpy partner dance. Another couple follows, doing the same style of dance. Soon half the village are in the space in front of the stage, dancing with a friend or partner or other family member. It’s like they were born knowing how to do these steps. There’s one woman who’s particularly captivating, agily weaving through the throng with her partner. An older couple are slightly slower, but still perfectly in time. I imagine them doing the exact same dance together, nervously, fifty or sixty years ago. Back then he would have had to ask her Mother and Grandmother for permission for just one dance. (Apparently even as recently as ten years ago, this was the norm here.)

festadancing

This is the sort of event we’d never have discovered if staying in a bog-standard hotel or B&B. But from the moment you meet Glenn and Dianne (in our case, over coffee in the local supermarket, where we also chatted to some of their friends) you know your time at the Trapper’s Tent is going to be anything but standard. And that’s before you see the tent itself.

Trapper's Tent, Portugal, view from bed

Regular readers who remember my aversion to nights under canvas might be wondering how John persuaded me to stay in a tent. But the Trapper’s Tent, set in the hamlet of Fonte Longa, is another of Canopy & Stars‘ ‘glamping’ destinations, and comes complete with a proper bed, wardrobe, shower and toilet (the latter two of which are inside a separate shepherd’s hut). You have your own semi-covered kitchen with kettle and hob, all the cooking equipment you’d need and a view over the valley. There’s also a barbeque if you’d prefer (remember to stock up on charcoal). The tent is covered, too, so even the sound of rain didn’t really bother us like it might in your typical under-canvas experience. To paraphrase a well-known ‘supermarket’, this isn’t just camping

Trapper's Tent reading spot
Barbeque Trapper's Tent portugal

You will be the only people staying here for the duration, and so everything you see in the pictures* is for your exclusive use – the only people who might pop by are Glenn & Dianne’s friendly pets, or, occasionally, the couple themselves to check everything’s OK or to offer advice on where to go.

*The pictures in and around the tent that is.

Trapper's Tent pets

It’s hard to tear yourself away from this idyll, but Dianne is wonderful at recommending nearby places to visit based on your interests (you have a quick chat about what you’d like from your stay when you arrive – but not before you’ve had a chance to gawp at your surroundings), places to eat and she even drew us a map of a local walk she enjoys. She has also written a guide to the area that you’ll find in the tent, even including information on the others who live in Forte Longa; you’ll learn about Paula, who’s family used to tour as a reggae band, Miguel the shepherd, Zeca who looks after the goats you often spot grazing in the fields below the tent…

Following Diane’s advice and hand-drawn maps, we explored the Roman ruins at Conimbriga, hopped over rivers in search of Lousa Castle, skimmed stones in the river by a tiny, deserted (man-made) beach by the Mondego River (near Penacova), and meandered down the streets of local towns and markets in this lesser-travelled area of Portugal. Then we’d come back and watch the sun set with wine* or beer and a book and a smile on our faces.

*Top tip: The €3 fizzy wine from Lidl is actually not bad.

Mondego River, Portugal

Is this experience for everyone? No, probably not. If you don’t like the idea of being Internet-less in a foreign country (unless you want to pay for roaming; personally, we loved the escape from technology – to pick up a book, rather than check up your emails, as you wake up slowly in bed is such a wonderful feeling) or possibly having to skip to the toilet through the rain, or no television and room service – then this is an experience to avoid. But if you want to enjoy the great outdoors in relative comfort, or like the idea of barely going ‘properly’ inside for your entire stay (well, excluding supermarkets/museums/restaurants), or fancy experiencing quite a different country and culture not too far from home, all with expert advice from locals, then I’d highly recommend the Trapper’s Tent for a relaxed, friendly and slightly unusual escape.

Practical Information
Getting there and around: We got the train from Lisbon to Coimbra (and then from Coimbra to Porto); both journeys were very easy. From Coimbra, I’d recommend hiring a car to really make the most of the local area. Once you’re out of Coimbra, the roads are pretty quiet, so driving isn’t too difficult. Though despite Dianne’s helpful maps, I’d consider hiring a sat nav.

If you’d rather not hire a car, minibus and additional public transport can be found on the Canopy & Stars website.

Price: From £42 p/night, going up to around £65 p/night in summer. If you’re going for your honeymoon, you can pay a bit more to go fully catered and some other special features – see the website for more information.

Language: Although many chat away in English that puts us native speakers to shame (for example, the wonderful girl in the car hire office), not everyone in the area speaks – or is confident speaking – the language. I’d highly recommend learning a few Portuguese phrases and keeping a phrasebook on you. Based on our experience, locals will appreciate you making an effort regardless of whether they speak English or not.

Conimbriga ruins Conimbriga ruins Conimbriga ruins Lousa Castle Mondego River View from Penacova of Mondego River viewfromkitchentrapperstent
Trapper's tent portugal kitchen
Trapper's Tent Portugal kitchen
Trapper's Tent Portugal bed
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Jumping for joy, Trapper's Tent

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