Lost in Swindon?

[Opinion]

// Best venues to visit in Swindon, according to me //

I moved back to Swindon in October 2015 and I won’t lie I’ve been a hermit for most of it, and/or retreated back to London for long weekends. Naturally a small town cannot realistically compete against the capital city, but I often find myself spending most of my time on the GWR.

Now despite my reservations, I eventually decided to try and not act like a petulant child and take a wonder to see what improvements my small town had or hadn’t made since my return.

// My Swindon go-tos //

I can’t lie, I was not exactly psyched about trying to adjust back into Swindon – the town’s market for eateries is not enticing compared to say Cirencester or Bristol, but I had heard of some new competitors up in Old Town which instilled some confidence and curiosity.

// Helen Browning’s Chop House //

Where: 19-21 Wood St

I had been excitedly anticipating my visit here – I’d heard great reviews and, for me, it’s reputation alone had already outdone the greasy Spoons and influx of restaurant chains at Regents Circus.

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The main thing that is swiftly brought to your attention is that the produce is sourced organically, and the meat itself is brought in from Helen’s farm Eastbrook which is only 6 miles away from Swindon. Unlike the Spoons and Greene Kings, the Chop House does not advertise cheap processed meals, it is instead not shy of high quality and fresh dishes, which have been put together thoughtfully. I’d seriously recommend going in for brunch!

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// Balula’s Delicatessen //

Where: 9 Wood St

Just a few doors down from the Chop House is Swindon’s very own Deli come cafe. I had always noticed Balula’s but hadn’t ventured in until now – I was full from brunch but fancied a peruse and some inspiration for dinner.

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I was pleasantly surprised as I hadn’t realised there was a large dining area, or “coffee lounge”, and so much on offer to purchase at the counter. Balula’s reminds me of the cafes in Cirencester; independent, charming, and homemade. Unlike many of the coffee chains in Swindon’s down town, the cakes don’t look processed or as though they have been sat out for too long.

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As well as sweet treats and a lunch menu, Bulula’s also offers fresh meats, cheeses, fruit, and veg. I myself purchased some chorizo for my favourite scrambled eggs and a risotto dish – they were both spectacular.

// BAILA Coffee & Vinyl //

Where: 85 Victoria Rd

My favourite coffee shop in town has always been Darkroom Espresso, but I’ve now found a fantastic surrogate. Edgy, trendy, and contemporary – this has been a much needed establishment for Swindon’s young and alternative culture.

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Although I like to be alone when I get my writing done, I also like to be in a venue with some atmosphere – whether I want a flat white in the morning, or an Aperol Spritz in the evening, this progressive cafe come bar offers me both. BAILA also hosts a modest sized record collection to browse and purchase from. Furthermore come day or night there is always great music to be heard here, and that’s not just on vinyl – it also accommodates live music and DJs.

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*Note: BAILA has been refurbished rendering my above image outdated – I prefer the white walls though*

// Los Gatos //

Where: 1-3 Devizes Rd

I would strongly advise booking in advance (excluding weekends) when planning a visit to Swindon’s Tapas hotspot – it is a gem that consistently supplies high quality Spanish cuisine. Los Gatos is also a great alternative to the popular pub dining scene, boasting an array of delicious dishes which are designed and intended to be shared. As expected from Tapas, there is an impressive range of dishes on offer which accommodate meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans – the menu has been crafted and influenced by the owners’ travels in Spain.

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So far I’ve only visited of an evening, but each time I have remained pleasantly greeted by a buzzing yet intimate atmosphere. Furthermore there’s a smooth aura generated amongst the guests and staff, and it’s probably because this popular venue delivers on excellent value for your money leaving satisfaction levels high. I’ll certainly be returning soon to also check out the Los Gatos Paella Sunday specials!

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// Old Town Thai //

Where: 23 Wood St

Swindon is full of greasy Asian “restaurants”, so shamefully I was quite reluctant to give Old Town Thai a go, but I am pleased to conclude that I’m so glad I did. The food here is delightfully fresh tasting and not shy of flavour or authenticity – we ventured in as a group of three and because we were tempted by so much of the menu we ordered a selection to share (a manoeuvre I’d recommend).

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I feel I must also comment that the staff here are so accommodating and ready to take fire from guests who don’t really know much about Thai food – this enabled us to choose accordingly, leaving us extremely pleased. If you yourself are not familiar with Thai food, I would highly recommend opting for the classic Pad Thai, because here they guarantee an exemplary first time try.

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What’s more is that the venue itself is cushy, decorated with delightful Thai treats like mini Buddhas and cultural wall art.

// Give them a go //

If you’re like me and have unfortunately encountered some shaky experiences in Swindon, I hope I have been able to comfort you with some faith and enthusiasm (as well as alternatives to barricading yourself in at home). I am confident in suggesting you try out some of my selected favourites should you find yourself in the local area.

Essentially the rule is to stay up town and avoid the restaurant chains like our infamous teenage pregnancy trend – apparently this is now under control, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for our apparent love of unimpressive cheap eats. Although I have no intention of settling in Swindon, I’m glad that for the time that I am here the town is showing signs of progression.

// If you take a chance on some of my recommendations, I’d love to hear your thoughts! //

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Review: The Hop Inn

// Where: 7 Devizes Road, Old Town, Swindon //

It’s a casual Sunday afternoon in Swindon, and to my surprise, a lovely one at that. After two cups of coffee and some light reading, I left Darkroom Espresso, met a friend, and we made our way up Victoria Rd.

Unfortunately Swindon town venues do not often accommodate these rare sunny afternoons – it’s difficult to find a harmonious balance between outdoor space and character in this area. Nevertheless, it’s the last day of the weekend – I want a cold beer and a bite to eat.

For Old Town, The Hop Inn introduces something more unique and unobtrusive compared to most of the residents on Wood Street. The majority of the bars in this area pride themselves on 2-4-1 cocktails, however this progressive nook on Devizes Rd offers a versatile range of craft ales and lager.

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The bar itself may be small but it does not lack character or an impressive display of beverages. Much like a snug, there is a charming cabin quality embodied by the log fire, exposed brick wall, and wooden bar. In contrast to this rustic feel, the restricted space has been opened by light pastel colours, large windows, and minimal wall art -it’s cosy, but not cramped.

If you’re too spoilt for choice, or unfamiliar with the products, talk to the bartenders. Friendly, and knowledgeable, the staff are happy to recommend and explain the drinks menu. Whether you’re after something fruity, light, hoppy, or uncomplicated, the staff will always find something that’s right for you and your tastebuds.

Having heard about the Hop’s new stone-baked additions, I found myself without hesitation pursuing their modest menu of freshly made pizzas.

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We go for no.9, Prosciutto: parma ham, parmesan, tomato, mozzarella, rocket, and balsamic glaze. The pizzas have few toppings, however they do not lack quality or fantastic flavour – simplistic, and understated, the chef is straightforward and resouceful with his culinary skills. A few slices in and the maker himself approaches us for the verdict. Mouths full, we earnestly attempt to convey our satisfaction, and as he should be, he is pleased- as pizzas go, this stone baked treat is light, fresh and tasty.

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When visiting The Hop, especially at the weekend, do be advised that seating space is limited, and for good reason. Don’t get me wrong, Swindon has plenty of pubs and bars to visit, however if you’re not after a Carlsberg, Stella, or Kopparberg, The Hop accommodates Swindon’s niche market for those who appreciate and have a thirst for interesting and unique beverages. All the same, if you’re not an ale or beer drinker, you are not without options – there is an extensive range of wines, ciders, whiskey and gin on offer.

Unlike ordinary pub chains, this venue is distinct and understated – the owners have done well here to combine honest intentions with contemporary demands. Whether it’s a casual brunch or a cushty evening out, The Hop is the place to migrate to this coming winter.

 

Review: Made by Bob

// Where: The Corn Hall 26 Market Place, Cirencester //

My link with Cirencester is that once upon a time I was a student at Cirencester College. Unfortunately I have since lost ties with the area, and as a non-driver it can be awkward to get there and back again.

With this in mind I had no issue with making the journey to Made by Bob after my friend, and current employee at the restaurant come deli, sung it’s praises.

We made our way into the restored market place for dinner on a Friday – the only day of the week when the dinner menu was available – and are welcomed into a clean, pristine, and open space.

For a small establishment Bob’s exerts an energetic and creative atmosphere. To the right is Bob’s deli filled with authentic country jars of dressings, jams, chutneys, and more. Moreover, and perfectly in tone with Cirencester’s agricultural heritage, there is also an array of meats and cheese on display.

We take a table for two by one of the large pane windows after contemplating taking a seat at the bar in front of the open kitchen – whatever I could smell, I was keen to see.

 

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I go for the squid to begin with. It’s green, light and earthy, complimented by diced potatoes, rocket, onion and capers. Despite it’s initial size it has been coordinated perfectly with all elements equally portioned. As a starter, it has left me satisfied but not full and I’m eager for the next round.

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Without hesitation, we’ve opted for the (rare) steak for 2 and were not disappointed. Elegantly displayed on a wooden board, we are generously presented with succulent steak accompanied by truffles/truffle oil, rocket, grated parmesan, béarnaise sauce, and pommes frites.

All textures and flavours are endorsed by the Pinot Noir which has been aptly recommended by our waiter.

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I am left elated and now  ready to throw my debit card at the situation. You are roughly looking to pay around £70.00 – £90.00 for 2 at Bob’s which includes a bottle of wine and service. Our bill came to a little more as we started with Prosecco and ended with sobet and ice cream (to my advantage, we did abuse my friend’s staff discount).

If you’re ever in this historic area, do pop by this elegant and straight-up serving venue for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Mixing country living with a modern and experimental twist, Made by Bob’s is worth the visit.

Sweet Potato Fries/Wedges

I had some sweet potatoes left over from my Carrot & Coriander Soup so the only thing left to do was make some bangin’ fries/wedges.

This recipe is so easy to do, I promise! They’ll take about 35/40 minutes in the oven at 200° – I use this time to get everything else into check, so it works splendidly for me.

You’ll need:

  • Sweet potatoes (quantity dependent on mouths to feed)
  • 1tbs olive oil
  • Paprika
  • Mixed herbs
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 mixing bowl
  • 1 baking tray

Onwards…

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  1. Pre-heat oven
  2. Wash the potatoes but leave the skins on
  3. Chop them up into strips (you’ll understand my fries vs wedges dilemma)
  4. Place into the mixing bowl and add the olive oil, paprika, mixed herbs and salt & pepper, and yeah, mix
  5. Whack them onto the baking tray (I tend to sprinkle a little extra of the seasoning on too) and get them in the oven
  6. Every now and then give them a shuffle, but when time’s up…
  7. Serve!

To be honest you can use whatever seasoning you fancy, but I will always recommend paprika on them!

What you should be left with is some nice crispy skins and soft sweet potato. BOOM!

Enjoy!

 

Baked Egg in a Hole

Fancied something different this morning!

I used to make this when I was younger because I thought it was the coolest thing. Turns out, still pretty cool.

As I made this before work I have demonstrated the simplest and quickest way to get this breakfast done with no messin’ about.

You’ll need:

  • 1 egg
  • Butter
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 medium sized round glass (for cutting)
  • 1 baking tray
  • Salt & pepper

All you need to do:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200° / 180° Fan
  2. Grease your baking tray with butter
  3. Using the edge of the glass, press into the middle of the bread and cut a hole
  4. Butter the bread (I recommend on both sides as it can end up dry)
  5. Place the bread on the baking tray and crack the egg into the hole
  6. Simply put in the oven for roughly 15 minutes
  7. Take out and season with salt & pepper

I was quite rushed this morning, so my pictured end result is without seasoning! You do not wanna forget that salt & pepper!

Enjoy!

Carrot & Coriander Soup

I am starting this week healthy (and hopefully it’ll end that way too…)

Carrot and coriander soup is a classic, and I’ve added a few of my personal favourites in this one!

I used:

  • Roughly 450g of carrots
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1-2 handfuls of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • 1 white onion
  • Garlic cloves (I used 3)
  • A pinch of salt & pepper, paprika, nutmeg & mixed herbs
  • Less than half a chilli (depending if you like the fire – add to your liking)
  • 1-2 tsp of olive oil
  • 1l vegetable stock
  • Blender (I use a hand one, but a processor works too)
  • 1 large saucepan
  • Some bread and butter on the side (optional)

 

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Now:

  1. Get everything peeled and chopped (I crushed the garlic)
  2. Heat olive oil in pan
  3. Add the onion, and when slightly softened, add the chilli
  4. Get all the herbs in (don’t forget to stir away)
  5. Whack in the potato and garlic
  6. Get the kettle on and allow everything to soften on a low heat
  7. Once soft, add the carrots and stock, then bring to the boil
  8. When bubbling away, lower the heat and allow to simmer for around 20 mins with a lid on
  9. Every now and then give it all a stir
  10. Time’s up! Blend it all together to your preferred consistency
  11. Serve up, and enjoy!

As per usual I made a little extra, and that’s lunch sorted tomorrow!

Also if you prefer a thicker soup, then simply use less water.

Enjoy!

 

Simple, slutty bagel

I can rarely buy bagels because they just go, pretty much instantly. Needless to say, they won’t last the week. When I do dare to invest, here’s what I go for at lunch…

You will need:

  1. 1 red onion and chive bagel (I go for New York Bakery Co.)
  2. Spinach
  3. Ham
  4. Cheddar cheese

Simply:

  1. Cut the bagel in half, and grill on both sides until lightly toasted
  2. Put cheese on both of the slices, then whack under the grill until dripping
  3. Take the bagel out of the grill, onto a plate and put in the ham, then spinach
  4. Whack them together, NOM BEAUTIFUL

For a little difference, try mozzarella with ham, or change the ham for salami, and spinach for watercress. I personally don’t use butter but you’re more than welcome to if it so suits you.

Also try fiery chilli pesto on one slice and original hummus on the other, then do the same as said before, and whack in the salami and watercress (my personal favourite).

Enjoy!

Simple Sausage Rolls

Happy New Year!

So, we had a pretty full house over the Christmas period and essentially all my mum wanted was participation – for everyone to chip in a bit, bring a dish etc.

I made a few contributions, my braised red cabbage being one of them to accompany the Christmas dinner, a few others which I’ll put up later, and these delicious sausage rolls.

Now, sausage rolls are one of my favourite snacks – trying to pass a pastry shop without entering will generally be the hardest thing I’ll do all day. I am way more of savoury person than a sweet tooth, and I am still waiting for the day that I am given a disgustingly giant sausage roll for my birthday, rather than a birthday cake. Oh, it will be a grand day! However this batch I made were on a smaller scale.

A quick note before you begin: I ended up with a little mince left over, but I also had some more puff pastry, so made a cheeky few extra. The first batch made 3 rather grande sizes, which I then cut into halves, and halved again (still bigger than the mini shop-bought ones).

You will need:

  1. 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  2. garlic garlic garlic (to your liking)
  3. 300g minced pork
  4. 3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (or make your own)
  5. 1 tsp dried sage leaves (I went a little over)
  6. a little mixed herbs (I just had them in the cupboard)
  7. roughly 1/2 tsp nutmeg (or mace)
  8. 1 roll of [lighter] puff pastry
  9. 1 tbsp plain flour
  10. 1 beaten egg for glazing
  11. pinch of sea salt and ground pepper
  12. about 1 tbsp of sunflower oil
  13. baking tray
  14. baking sheet

Making heaven:

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick saucepan and gently soften the onions and garlic. Sunflower oil shouldn’t burn or crisp them. I also add a little of the seasoning now too. When done, place in a separate bowl and allow to cool.
  2. I started prepping some other snacks while I waited for the onions and garlic to cool down, so entertain yourself for a couple of minutes!
  3. Now, prepare to get your hands messy! In the same bowl as the onions and garlic, add the minced pork, breadcrumbs and rest of the seasoning, mixing it all in together.
  4. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6/Fan 180°C and get a large baking tray lining it with a baking sheet.
  5. Roll out the pastry onto a surface with the flour and mark the pastry into thirds, then cut. Now, get the pork meat and place it in the middle of each third, leaving just less than an inch at the ends (length ways) for folding in. You don’t want them too thick, but I’d say about an inch wide (width ways).
  6. Now, using the beaten egg and brush, glaze the sides/edges of the pastry.
  7. Next you want to fold one side over, tucking it in a little and then bring the other side over (the egg should act as a kind of glue, so to speak). Fold both of the ends inward. Turn over and then place on the baking paper/tray
  8. Make little sideways slits down the pastry and then glaze the egg over the tops and finally place in the oven for 25-30 minutes (do check on them – they should be golden, not burnt!)

They were the perfect little winter party snacks – the sage and puff pastry are great companions!

There was a great difference between mine and the store-bought ones – they just tasted so homely and way more flavoursome! And, as always, there is that gratification you get from making them yourself! Needless to say they were very well received and now on demand. If you do try this recipe, you’ll soon realise how quick and easy they are to make!

For my next try I want to go for something a little richer and use chorizo and some Spanish-inspired tactics, so stay tuned for those cause I already know they’re going to be insane!

Braised red cabbage

Okay, so this side dish is literally my favourite thing! I’m not sure if it’s because I’m proud of of making it, or the fact that it simply tastes delicious! I’m really quite torn.

I looked up a few recipes online (to accompany my chicken pie) and honestly couldn’t decide which one to go for, so I went for a simple combination. I more or less looked at what was already in the cupboard and sought out the closest, and cheapest, way to replicate and combine the recipes. I bought a couple of things from the shops, but didn’t go for the things I was least likely to use again – I like to buy things that are handy to have in the cupboard, not ones that could waste away (not cool).

You will need:

  1. red cabbage (I was feeding two so went for the smallest one – but again, left overs are never a bad thing)
  2. butter
  3. sugar (preferably brown, but don’t hurt yourself if you have white)
  4. 1/3 of a tall cup or glass of balsamic vinegar
  5. red red wine (also treat yourself to a glass or few)
  6. 1 or 2 red apples (I went for the pink lady variety to add some sweetness)
  7. garlic (but that’s just me)

Now, braised cabbage takes a little while, but for me this was perfect! Simply start with the red cabbage and then move onto the main event. For instance, when I make the chicken pie, I get the cabbage on first and then move onto the pie – it allows the cabbage to simmer, soften and get all the more flavoursome.

Lets go:

  1. chop the cabbage and garlic (or, crush the garlic, or not use it at all)
  2. add a knob of butter to a sauce pan and melt
  3. add the cabbage and garlic, covering in the butter and allow to fry for about 3 minutes
  4. while the cabbage is frying, peel, decore and grate the apple(s)
  5. once the cabbage has softened, get the apple and 1 & 1/2 tsp of sugar in there, mixing it in and allowing to fry for a further couple on minutes
  6. add the balsamic vinegar and stir
  7. add a few glugs or red wine – you don’t want to swamp the cabbage, so make sure it’s not completely covered
  8. stir it all together and put on a very low heat to simmer, covering with a lid – do check/stir occasionally and if the pan is looking a little dry get some more wine and a little balsamic vinegar in there
  9. when the rest of your meal is ready, the cabbage will be too, so serve alongside your main and enjoy!

Incase anyone is unsure, “braise” is a two-park cooking process which simply means to first lightly fry your food and then stew it – done.

You should be left with a really sweet, yet acidic, rich flavour – which is also lovely and soft with some crunch. It’s got something for everyone!

I first paired the cabbage with my chicken pie, but this will also be a great participant for a roast dinner. I also cannot stress the greatness of leftovers – I made pie, cabbage and mash for my partner and I, and this provided dinner for two nights (we may have given ourselves bigger portions than intended, but oh so tasty – I regret nothing).

Chicken Pie

Chicken pie recipe: Jamie’s 30 minute meals

Personally I love cooking, and my dad does too. But as with any typical parent the idea of coming home from a stressful day at work to then have to cook a family meal is quite distressing. So I opted for one of Jamie’s 30 minute meals to put it to the test.

**Guilty** I have a little more time on my hands these days as I have recently moved home, but I am trying to put all my unemployed energy into cooking – I like to think everybody benefits. But should finding a job fail, who wouldn’t want a domesticated goddess? Right…?

Moving on…

Now, I’m not going to lie, I’m not a fan of mushrooms and I struggle on a regular basis to find a chicken pie that is not accompanied by the buggers (not even Jamie’s). So I have exchanged mushrooms for carrots (just trust me).

Jamie’s/my ingredients for le pie:

  1. 720g free-range, boneless chicken breasts
  2. handful of spring onions
  3. 3 large carrots (grated)
  4. garlic (always garlic)
  5. 1tsp plain flour
  6. 300ml chicken stock
  7. ground nutmeg
  8. puff pastry (I use Jus Rol Puff Pastry Ready Rolled 320g)
  9. 1 small egg (for glazing)
  10. mustard (optional – I’ve made one with and one without)
  11. creme fraiche
  12. fresh thyme

NextGET COOKING WITH JAMIE

A few things of my own:

  1. put some of the garlic in with the spring onions, then feel free to add some more with the stock
  2. after the springs onions, add in the grated carrots instead of the mushroom.
  3. I used a large steel frying pan and then transferred everything into an oven dish.
  4. I left everything to sit and simmer for a little while longer on a very low heat (this enabled me to get my sides in check, and let the mixture get more flavoursome).
  5. I used Jamie’s other recommendation and went for a chicken stock cube.
  6. For the puff pastry (not mentioned in the video), allow it to match the size of your pie dish – this usually leaves an inch to cut off for a decorative piece on top (quite pleased with my leaves).
  7. braised red cabbage on the side.
  8. mash potato on the side.

Also, never feel bad about using puff pastry! If you have the time, by all means, crack on with your own! For this particular recipe and quick-cook ethos, puff pastry’s the one!

I’ve only tried the one, but after this success (it tasted amazing by the way) I will definitely be having a look at Jamie’s other 30 minute meals! And I would definitely recommend this one (but my one without the mushrooms)!

You should check out my recipe for braised red cabbage! It accompanies the pie so beautifully and adds some sweetness and acidity.