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Kenilworth is the next town over from us, it’s not somewhere we visit often but it has some great restaurants and I can now include The Almanck in my list of favourite eateries outside of Leamington Spa.
If you’re a fan of gastro pubs that offer something for everyone and are also child friendly then The Almanack in Kenilworth is the sort of place for you. We didn’t have children with us during our visit but some of the other diners did and they did not look out of place.
I love a restaurant where you can dress up or down and you won’t feel uncomfortable in occasion wear, straight from the office or in jeans.
Staff are incredibly friendly without being too overbearing and there is a fabulous open kitchen so you can see the chefs at work. We had a great seat which was right in front of the kitchen so I could see all of the delicious dishes going past, in hindsight it might not have been the best choice of seating as it made my course choice all the harder as I wanted everything off the menu.
While we perused the menu (it took a long time) and sampled some of the red wine and real ale we enjoyed the warm mini loaf with roasted garlic butter (£3.00) which was incredibly delicious and I’d recommend ordering 2 if your dining partner wishes to share and orders something that you can’t eat.
Mr Gourmands eyes lit up when he saw the pot of crackling and apple sauce (£2.75) on the menu, he would probably have also ordered the sausage roll with piccalilli (£2.75) too but I had to remind him that we were out for dinner and not just dining on snacks.
Deciding what starter to have is difficult when your usual go-to options are not on the menu, as you know if you’re a regular reader we are creatures of habit and if there is Chicken liver pate or prawn cocktail it’s a no brainer that we will order those. It’s probably a good thing that the Almanack don’t sell either of those so we had to think outside the box when deciding what to eat.
Mr Gourmand rarely gets any pork based products at home and his crackling had given him a taste for something of the pork variety so it was obvious to me that he would go for the free-range ham & cheddar croquettes (£6.75) which were served with a tomato relish.
Mr Gourmand was suitably impressed with his choice, I on the other hand was not happy that I had to share a taste of my dish and got nothing back in return – you win some you lose some I guess.
When it came to choosing my own starter I was faced with a conundrum, if I was going to have fish/seafood for my main course did I want to have it for my starter in the form of the Devon crab gratin (£8.75) or if I opted for the rack of lamb with minted peas (£21.50) for my main did I want a meaty starter? In the end I decided to try the free-range Duck and crunchy vegetable salad (£7.75) and boy was I glad I did.
The salad was delicious and everything worked so well together, there was crunch, sweetness, nutty flavours and super soft duck all mixed together – perfection.
Mr Gourmand really struggled to pick his main course but after a quick chat with our waitress decided to try the market fish mixed grill, which on this occasion consisted of huge prawns, fish, squid and mussels served with skinny fries and salad. The dish was delicious and must have caught the eye of some other diners as we saw quite a few going to other tables after ours arrived.
Torn between two dishes I decided to order the Pan-fried monkfish and scallops (£18.50) which was served with bombay potatoes, Indian salad and mint yoghurt.
The scallops were huge, sweet and cooked to perfection, the bombay potatoes had just the right amount of spice and the nigella seeds on the salad really finished it off.
I’m always a little dubious when I eat Indian spiced food outside of an Indian restaurant but if I’m being completely honest I could have happily ordered this from my local Indian restaurant and I would have been very happy with the flavorings. (I tried to recreate this at home but the least said about that the better, stick to The Almanack).
Mr Gourmand likes his sweet desserts and I can take or leave them, I don’t mind a bite or two but that’s usually all I can manage so we always share when it comes to dessert time.
The dessert menu at The Almanack was really good and there were more than a couple of things that I would have liked to order but we settled for warm treacle tart (£5.75) served with clotted cream.
Treacle tart is probably Mr Gourmand’s favourite dessert so I did have to be quick with my spoon. The tart wasn’t heavy like some I’ve eaten before, it had a lightness to it, the pastry was thin and buttery and the filling didn’t taste like your teeth were about to drop out which sometimes can happen with this type of tart.
A cheese plate is always a winner with me and as they are usually quite large we went for the individual cheese plate (£7.75) where we could choose 3 of the 5 cheeses available which was served with apples, celery, chutney and crackers.
We picked the Camembert Gillot AOC which I’ve had before, it’s incredibly creamy and doesn’t give you that nasal ache from the strength (it can’t only be me who gets that?), the Double Barrel Poacher is another favourite of mine, it’s like a really, really strong cheddar and can give you a lip tingle (again surely it’s not just me who this happens to?) and finally we had the Tor which is a goats cheese and one that I’d never tried before, it was really light and fresh tasting and one that I would definitely try again. I don’t usually eat chutney with my cheese as I like to savour the cheese flavour but this chutney was really yummy and nice to scoop up with the celery.
We don’t eat out in Kenilworth very often but this needs to change as gastro pubs like The Almanack really are worth driving to the next town for.
If you’re in Warwickshire or passing through and need a great place for food, The Almanack can be found at Abbey End North, Kenilworth, CV8 1QJ
*Meal was provided in return for an honest, impartial review
The very first time I visited a branch of Zizzi was around 2008/9 when I was working as a mystery diner, I had been assigned the branch in Newcastle upon Tyne and it was such a bad experience that I never ventured back until 2011 when I was invited out for a friends 22nd Birthday, I remember the food was good, the service was on point considering we had a table of 15 and the overall experience was a very good one.
We decided that instead of going for Sunday Lunch yesterday that we would pay a visit to Zizzi as the menu looked good and as we have seen children in there before that it must be fairly family friendly so I booked a table online for 12:30pm.
We arrived at the restaurant at 12:25 and although I’d already booked, they didn’t have an up to date booking list at the front desk which was fine as they were quite quiet although I wouldn’t have been very pleased if it had been busy and I hadn’t been able to get a table, you have to plan outings like this with military precision when you have a toddler you see.
There were already a couple of tables on the left hand side with prams and pushchairs so we selected a spot on the far right so we be out of the way should it get busier. Our drinks order was taken by a very polite server and we perused the menu.
Baby Gourmand started with Carrot sticks, Cucumber and Bread sticks which was part of the £6.75 Bambini kids menu, this was the perfect starter to keep him entertained until his main meal arrived.
Mini Gourmand and I decided to skip a starter as we have been to similar chains in the past and the food is usually very filling so we opted for the Italian bread bucket which contained Freshly baked focaccia bread & dough sticks with olive oil & rosemary. The bread bucket came with a bottle of balsamic vinegar and we made use of the olive oil that was on the table already, we both found this delicious and were quite excited to receive our mains especially if the taste and quality of some simple bread was so good.
That’s when things went downhill.
Mini Gourmand had ordered the Classic Pepperoni Campagna topped with Pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, mozzarella & thyme but as she’s a big eater she went for the larger Rustica base for an extra £1.50. The pizza may have been larger on the board but it was so thin that the edges had burnt, Mini Gourmand wasn’t a fan of this style of base at all, she found the combination of cheese and topping wasn’t quite right, there was big chunks of topping in parts and very little at other sections. She found the pizza lacking in flavour and was rather disappointed with her choice.
I had thought about getting a pizza and at the last minute changed my mind in favour of the Risotto Pesce which contained King prawns, mussels & squid rings in a tomato, chilli & white wine risotto. I very rarely eat risotto unless I make it myself I was quite excited to try this. I had my first mouthful and found I couldn’t taste anything but butter, I quickly gave Mini Gourmand a forkful to make sure my taste buds hadn’t died but I was right the dish didn’t have any real flavour just a very buttery taste. I then made the biggest mistake I’ve ever made when eating an Italian dish, I picked up what I thought was a piece of red pepper only it turned out to be a chilli and not a nice chilli a really really hot chilli. I’m a fan of spice, chilli and heat in my food, I love making curry and use chilli in stir fry, bread and a whole host of other dishes but never have I eaten something that packs so much heat, my mouth was on fire and between that, the lack of flavour and the buttery taste I was finished after 4 mouthfuls, I passed my plate over to Mini Gourmand who was so hungry she would have eaten anything!
Poor Baby Gourmand suffered the most with his dish pictured above. This was not minestrone soup but actually pasta Bolognese like I have never seen it before, it was so watery I had to decant the slippery pieces of Penne into a spare bowl. The least said about the taste of this the better, I think the picture speaks for itself.
I shared Arthur’s picture on instagram and was asked why I didn’t send it back? The restaurant had filled up (more about this later) and there only seemed to be two or three members of staff serving staff who were rushed off their feet add into this a hungry toddler who would have screamed the place down if his food had been removed it was best to just let him eat it.
When our server came to take the plates she asked if everything had been ok? I told her that it hadn’t actually been great, none of us had enjoyed our food and I told her I thought Baby Gourmands dish was diabolical, I’ve never actually seen Bolognese like it in my life! I then told her I wasn’t sure how I was going to vacate the resteraunt, you see while we had been sitting the place had filled up and we had been boxed in to a corner with our pushchair. It would have been hard enough for a person to squeeze out never mind a child in a pushchair, the server replied that we would have to fly with a laugh. Our server did offer to have a word with her supervisor but to be honest the restaurant was so busy and we had just had enough at this point that we declined as we just wanted to pay and leave.
We paid our bill, £41 which really wasn’t worth it at all and tried to work out how on earth we were going to get out, not one member of staff came over to help us and we were pretty much struggling. There was no way that we were ever going to get out so I decided that the best course of action would be to fold down the pushchair and lift it over the 3 tables that were in our way. The other diners helped us to get out and we made it to the door and still not one member of staff came to ask if we were ok.
One thing I would just like to point out is that it wasn’t just us who seemed to be having a bit of a bad time, a table to the side of us were not happy to have their main course delivered a couple of minutes after their starter and the table behind had sent their food back once and we could hear them after new dishes were brought out complaining about the quality of the food, they looked to have ordered Bolognese, I hope they didn’t have the same sauce as Baby Gourmand!
I don’t imagine we will ever be returning to this chain and I’m actually annoyed with myself that I wasted £41 on food and service that was substandard.
**Update** Zizzi have been in touch via email with the following reply
“It certainly doesn’t sound like our usual high standards of service were achieved and it was disappointing to hear about the quality of the food you and your guests ordered. All customer feedback I receive is logged and collated, I’ve also asked the Operations Manager to share your comments with the team to ensure we’re offering a friendly and efficient service at all times. At Zizzi we pride ourselves on delivering exceptional service and fantastic d ishes but it does seem we have let you down on this occasion.
I can assure you this has been dealt with at restaurant level and has been circulated around Head Office through a Weekly C omplaints Report to ensure everyone stays updated with what’s going on in all our Zizzis. This h elps us improve our service in the future.
I really appreciate you taking the time to let us know about this and by way of apology for your visit, I’d like to send you a £20 Zizzi gift card that you can use at any Zizzi, at any time within the next 18 months.”
I have accepted their offer and will in fact visit again to see if any improvements have been made.
Have you visited Zizzi before? Did you have a good experience?
We like curry, you like curry, the whole nation likes curry – now please visit Panache Balti House in Warwick – you will not be disappointed!
Panache is quite a simple place with a small number of seats, some interesting wall art work describing the history of Warwick, and most importantly, some of the finest curry I have ever eaten! I can not stress this last point enough.
I went for the Special mixed Biryani (£10.75) which was a delicious cocktail of chicken, lamb, prawns, king prawns, mushrooms & pan fried omelette – amazing! The Biryani sauce was tremendous, nicely spiced, not bland like they can be, and very much a brilliant curry sauce in its own right!.
Mr Gourmand asked the waiter for his recommendation which was the Naga lamb tikka (£9.50) Cooked with aromatic flavoured spicy hot (ghost naga) from Bangladesh & India with a blend of fresh herbs & spices. This meal was hot, almost addictively hot, with a perfect mix of spices and succulent lamb – a very, very good recommendation!
Mr Gourmand chose the Keema fried rice (£2.75) to accompany his main course, and it went together perfectly!
As we hadn’t been here before we naturally ordered far too much which included a Garlic naan (£2.50) and;
a Vegetable paratha (£3.00), delicious, but far too much….so we took it home for laters…yum!!
Panache is excellent and you can bring your own beer or wine, please try this place, and if this is the benchmark to curry houses in Warwick I really can’t wait to try another one!
Aramee was found by chance during a visit to North Shields to watch a band play at the Magnesia Bank (Maggie Bank) pub. Rather than take the car to North Shields we decided to get the metro, go for some food then head to the pub. Aramee is a five minute walk from the North Shields metro right in the heart of the town centre.
The restaurant is open Tuesday – Sunday 6.00pm – 11.00pm and serves Bangladeshi and Indian food.
Puccini is a quirky little Italian Restaurant found just off the Bigg Market in Newcastle’s city centre, no matter if you dine on a lunch time or evening, the restaurant is always full which speaks for itself.
The Jesmond Brasserie can be found within the 15 room Jesmond Hotel on Osborne Road, Newcastle upon Tyne.
The Brasserie has a very intimate setting which can seat around 45 diners. The Brasserie has rather confusing opening hours meaning that walk-ins are unlikely, other restaurants on Osborne road are open from lunch time 7 days a week while the brasserie is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, doesn’t open until 5pm Wednesday – Friday and only serves lunch on a Saturday (from 2) and Sunday (from 12).
The early evening menu is available between 5-7pm the A la carte menu is available between 7-10pm and Saturday lunch is served between 2-5pm, Sunday lunch is served between 12-6pm confused? I was!
On first impression the restaurant was clean and welcoming and looked like it had a lot of money spent on it. The tables were beautifully decorated with linen napkins.
While we viewed the menu we were given freshly baked rolls with butter which were delicious and still warm.
The early evening menu consisted of a choice of 4 starters, 6 main courses and 4 desserts. There was a good choice of meat, fish and vegetarian meals to choose from.
Mr Gourmand started with the Ham Hock Terrine (£2.95) which was served with homemade peas pudding and toasted brioche, it was beautifully presented on a glass plate with a mixed leaf salad, sundried tomato and balsamic glaze. I didn’t try this due to it being pork but Mr Gourmand assured me it was delicious.
I started with the Mackerel and potato salad (£2.95) which was a fillet of grilled mackerel on a bed of Lemon infused potato with rocket. The flavours were delicious together and worked so well.
Mr Gourmands main course was Chicken Breast (£6.50) a pan seared breast of free range chicken served on a bed of creamy mash with green vegetables and a peppercorn sauce.
I chose the Chefs Special (£8.00) which was beef medallions in a red wine jus. The beef was served on a bed of creamy mashed potato and came with green vegetables. The beef was unbelievably tender and melted in the mouth, three pieces were far too much as I actually struggled with one as they were so thick.
Being a greedy gourmand I couldn’t leave without trying the Cheese board (£3.50) which came with 4 huge chunks of cheese, a mountain of crackers and home made chutney. I’m glad I had Mr Gourmand with me on this occasion as there is no was one person could have had this to themselves! Mr Gourmand likes to have fruit with his cheese and would have preferred a piece of apple or some grapes.
The bill came to £33.00 including drinks.
Jesmond Brasserie, 34 Osborne Road, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne
Set 2 course lunch served from 12.00 noon to 2.00pm (£5.30)
If you’re a regular reader of Madame Gourmand you will know that on my usual visits to the Chinatown express I would normally opt for the more traditional Chinese meals, on this occasion I decided to go for the express two course lunch which consists of a starter or soup and a main meal served with fried or boiled rice.
Mr Gourmand chose crispy duck spring rolls which come simply wrapped on a plate, well filled but no frills with this dish.
I opted for crispy won tons served with a sweet and sour sauce, again a no frills dish. I don’t usually eat won tons so it was nice to enjoy the hot crispy treats with the sticky sweet sauce.
For his main course Mr Gourmand had King prawns in satay sauce served with boiled rice which was cooked with a variety of vegetables. The vegetables were crunchy ,sweet and tasty and complemented the large amount of prawns in the dish.
My main course choice was Vegetable chow mein which does not come with rice. The noodle dishes at the Chinatown express have always been a favourite of mine and this one did not disappoint. Noodles were soft and rich and the vegetables still retained their crunch. Needless to say there was not a morsel left in the bowl.
If you’re keeping to a schedule and need something quick and tasty to eat, the Chinatown express is really your best bet!
The Chinatown Express is situated at 63-65 Stowell Street, Newcastle upon Tyne.
The Mogul Raj Restaurant is a hidden gem of an eatery located on a 1980’s, tired and dreary looking shopping area made up of ever fish and chip shops, hardware stores and charity shops. We have been visiting the Mogul Raj on and off since 2004 and have experienced excellent takeaway and sit-in meals as happy customers.
On entering the restaurant you would not be mistaken to think you have found yourself in someone’s sitting room as the waiting area does have that homely feel to it. Once you have been greeted and you request a table and not a takeaway menu you are taken through to the restaurant where the tables are always beautifully laid with crystal wine glasses, flowers and decorative cutlery. It would seem that the phrase ‘service with a smile’ came about after a visit to the Mogul Raj as the waiters can never be seen without a smile on their faces.
The menu is vast and consists of a good range of starters and main courses from traditional Indian cuisine through to the more impressive chef specials. After being seated you are immediately asked if you would like pickles and popadoms, which we never refuse.
On this occasion I started with Bhuna prawn on puri (£3.50) which filled the plate, the prawns were beautifully spiced and left a delicious flavour in the mouth. One thing I love about the Mogul Raj is the lemon squeezer that accompanies certain starters, it’s the attention to detail that sets this place apart from the rest.
Mr Gourmand started with Bhuna Lamb on puri (£3.75) which in his owns words was “absolutely unbelievable”. It looked and tasted outstanding, full of flavour, and if one gripe was allowed it would be that it was actually too big for a starter! Amazing, I know.
My favourite dish from the Mogul Raj is the Raj Cabbage and Potato Curry (£6.45) which is cooked with cabbage, potatoes, green pepper, onions, green chilli and ghee and is a mouth-watering experience. I am no vegetarian but this dish could turn me! The flavours go together in a spectacular way, I can do the dish no favours by describing it the only thing I can suggest you do is go there and try it for yourself. I’ve never actually seen this dish anywhere else before which I always find strange as it’s so delicious.
Mr Gourmand went for The Mogul Raj Special Chicken Keema as a main course which was beautifully spiced meal and complimented the Raj Cabbage perfectly.
Much to my objection Mr Gourmand was desperate to try the Garlic and Chilli Nan (£2.40) Although it was delicious it was just a little too spicy for me so I left him to finish it off, which even he couldn’t.
The Vegetable Pilao (£2.95) is always a must to accompany any meal, always delicious and never disappoints.
After you finish your meal you are always presented with a lemon scented hot towel, again it’s the little things that make this place so special and after eight mints are given with the bill.
The restaurant offers a Thursday and Sunday special banquet from 6.30pm – 10.00pm where you can have any starter, any main course, plain pilao rice, a side/sundry between two and a dessert for £10.95 per person.
The Mogul Raj, 15 Merton Way, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne