26 September 2014

Breakfast Bread Basket & Iced Tea at Bill's – Cheltenham

I was reluctant to go to Bill's. Truth be told, I went to the Cardiff brance for breakfast a few months ago, camera in hand, all ready to review it, having had numerous positive experiences of lunch and dinner there, only to feel horribly sick after my visit. I was so disappointed, I couldn't post a negative review.

But when I visited Cloey in Cheltenham last week she suggested we go to the newly opened Bill's in town. If you know the area, Bill's is now where La Tasca used to be, just off the high street. Lightning couldn't strike twice, so I agreed and decided to order something completely different, just to be on the safe side. And I am so glad.

After a near-death experience looking for somewhere to park (yes, you crazy drivers of Cheltenham, I'm looking at you), we arrived at Bill's two minutes before they stopped serving breakfast, (which is midday, for anyone thinking of going this weekend), but we got our orders in just in time and soon enough our food and drink was in front of us.

We had been out the night before and enjoyed two for one cocktails so eating out for breakfast for the second day in a row was absolutely acceptable.

My peach and mint iced tea came in a huge glass, topped with juicy peach chunks and sprigs of mint, and plenty of ice. Even after I stirred the drink up (essential as some places don't do this) it tasted perfectly sweet, peachy and minty. So refreshing.

Cloey's flat white, I can report, was just right. Have I mentioned how much I am getting to love milky coffee? I wouldn't go as far as saying I'd enjoy a latte, but flat whites get it just right.

My breakfast of choice was the breakfast bread basket – two slices of sourdough toast, two mini croissants and two mini pain au chocolat with butter and preserves. A similar concept mirrored by Carluccio's and Le Pain Quotidien, and although I would rate those higher than Bill's, this was a top effort. The toast was delicious with just the butter, as well as with some of the blackcurrant jam and lemon curd. Not too sweet, but indulgent nonetheless. And the mini pastries were adorable, although a little more chocolate in my pain au chocolat would have been favourable.

Cloey's blueberry pancakes arrived and I was amazed at how big they were – or was that just because of how they were presented? I'm not a fan of fruit with pancakes (why, when you could have bacon?) but Cloey assured me that they were delicious, so if you like that sort of thing, Bill's is the place for you.

I noticed in our cutlery bucket (for lack of a better word) there were a few Christmas menu order forms, purely because of the gorgeous illustration on the front. My work is currently planning a Christmas do and I think Bill's will have to go on the suggestion list, because the menu looked seriously good. 

Have you been to Bill's? What's your favourite thing to order when you go out for breakfast? Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @hello_flower - it's finally the weekend and I need to decide what to do for my breakfast after a week of boring old cereal!


23 September 2014

Breakfast at Boston Tea Party – Cheltenham

Are you sick of seeing pancakes yet? They're my favourite thing to eat for breakfast, what can I say? Having my Grandma's recipe for pancakes as my first proper blog post was a very apt beginning for What Naomi Wrote.

I took a few days off work last week to go and see my friend Cloey (Clo-banana) in Cheltenham. We went out for breakfast... twice. First we went to Boston Tea Party. I have blogged about this place before, but I wanted to blog it again, because this time it was off the charts ah-maz-ing. 

You know how much I love pastries, but after trying Cloey's pancakes last time, I knew what I was ordering before we even got there. I was served by a man with the bluest eyes, he was gorgeous (everyone was, actually). 

I explained to him my latest drink of choice – Americano with a dash of milk, iced. Although I paid an extra pound for this to be served in a glass with ice, it was so creamy and delicious I didn't even mind, and the service was fantastic.

Our food arrived promptly and was served with a smile. Cloey ordered the kedgeree – curried rice with smoked fish, topped with a poached egg and a generous serving of yoghurt. It was the perfect breakfast dish, so fresh, well-seasoned and full of good stuff – I'll be ordering that next time.
And then came my pancakes – four fat, fluffy pancakes drenched in maple syrup with two rashers of the saltiest, crispiest bacon perched on top. These came a very close second to the best pancakes I had in New York five years ago.

Have you ever seen bacon like it?!

I love going out for breakfast/brunch and Boston Tea Party might just be my new favourite place for it. For £9 it's a reasonable option for all budgets, and it has such a light and airy atmosphere with plenty going on, and so much food and drink to choose from. If my waistline wasn't at stake, I would be there every Saturday.


20 September 2014

Bubble Tea from Cupp – Bristol

I was in Bristol a couple of weekends ago, avoiding revision, seeking out the next place to feature on What Naomi Wrote, you know how it is.
I had just devoured a plate of bacon and eggs on toast at Carluccio's for my breakfast and was so thirsty, so when we wandered down the street and passed Cupp, I was there, straight away.

I first discovered bubble tea two years ago at the Abergavenny Food Festival (which is on again this weekend – keep your eyes peeled for a super-foodie post dedicated to the event) and it was love at first taste.

I love tea (admittedly, not as much as coffee, but I still drink it every day) and I love iced tea, which is basically what bubble tea is, but with BUBBLES. And they are what make it so special.

So, first you choose what tea you want, and I alllllways choose jasmine green because it is the tastiest blend of tea EVER. Then you pick a flavour – I chose peach – and your tapioca pearls (the bubbles) – they had to be passion fruit.

They shake it up in a fancy machine and then seal it with a piercable film, through which you jab a giant straw. Then all that's left to do is enjoy your bubble tea, and it is the most fun drinking experience to be had, I'm telling you.

The big straw allows the bubbles to be sucked up and they pop in your mouth – like those mini bath melts – releasing their juicy sweetness which, if you pick the right combination of tea and bubbles, can taste amazing, and mine certainly did.

It was just what I fancied on a late summer's day. Even though winter is on it's way, I think I'll be enjoying iced drinks throughout the colder months, no matter how many weird looks I get! Bubble tea is something I could quite happily drink every day. I might have to venture out and try a new flavour... although the milk version doesn't appeal to me.

Price-wise, this stuff doesn't come cheap. But if you're used to paying £3+ for your beverages, you're onto a winner with Cupp's bubble tea. I personally think it's worth it, if not just for the fun factor of drinking the stuff, and if there was one in my town I'd be there every weekend.

Have you ever been to Cupp, or even tried bubble tea? It's been a thing in the UK for a few years now but it hasn't quite reached the same level of hype as the pumpkin spiced latte – it's a love it or hate it kind of beverage. But if you like iced tea, then you'll love bubble tea. Find out more here on the Cupp website – they're a great little business and one that deserves more recognition.


17 September 2014

You make me brave – Momentum 2014

Last year I had a wake up call. 

When everything in your life changes – the norm gets taken away from you, and a black wave of depression sucks you into its deep, dark mass – there feels as if there's no escape.
But I found one. And it wasn't through 'finding myself', or going travelling, or getting a boyfriend, or partying and having a good time with people, or doing what I wanted to do, or what I thought I should be doing.

My way back to life was through Jesus. He brought me back from the darkness and things are slowly getting clearer, lighter. When I thought I knew what made me happy, when I thought that my ideas were better than His, I was actually bolting towards this inevitable drop, where I would be faced with all the weaknesses I knew were bubbling up underneath my 'know-it-all' surface.

It was a huge shock, and one I didn't know how to deal with. I was depressed, lost, alone and absolutely no one knew what I was going through, I was sure of it. But in hindsight, it's easier to change that perspective. At the time it was a huge struggle.

I remember my best friend, Bethan, asking me if I wanted to go to Momentum last year, but I was visiting my Grandpa in Scotland. Even then I knew it would be good for me to go – to get back on the right track. It took a lot of persuading for me to realise I needed God back in my life, but one day I just decided it was the right thing and I started going to church again, to life group, rebuilding my faith. It really was a, I-woke-up-one-day-and-changed-my-mind, sort of thing. Or maybe God did,

You might remember I had some time off work in August, and it was the most relaxing break – just perfect. Having time off from your usual routine gives you a chance to just live, not worry about being on time or looking smart or meeting deadlines. All of that can get in the way of God, so it was a good time to go to Momentum, and this year I arranged to visit family in Scotland in July, so I was able to go, and I had the best time. I met up with two of my oldest friends, Holly and Chloe, and I also bumped into Hebe from T.K.O.W which was the nicest surprise ever – she is so beautiful, and her blog is just brilliant.

Sometimes I feel anxious about things that no one else would even think twice about, but all of my anxiety was put to one side for those five days spent camping with my friends and spending time with God, and even though those same struggles were there when I returned home, I felt confident that the break had done me good.
Going to Momentum isn't going to sort out all your problems, because you can meet with and talk to God at any place, any time. It doesn't have to be in a big tent with lots of expensive lighting and sound and a worship band which resembles something more of a pop band. But the teaching, sharing, witnessing and socialising all made it a worthwhile experience, and it was so good to just cut myself off from the outside world and refocus on what is really important in life.

I bought a Bible when I was at Momentum. Have I read it since I got back? Nope. But it's on my chest of drawers, next to my bed, my bunny night light perched on its cover, waiting for me anytime I find a moment in between revision, long shifts at work, posting blogs and seeing friends. God doesn't count the times you pray, read His word or do things right or wrong. He is constant, and even though I am not – for I am an imperfect human being – I am grateful that I have a way to combat all my fears and failures, no matter how much they used to dominate my life.

Momentum is a Christian festival run by a church called Soul Survivor in Watford. You can find out more about it here.


13 September 2014

Bar & Wok – Cheltenham

It was a Thursday evening and it was still light. Oh, those summer nights! Even though it's still pretty balmy out, I've got that 'summer-is-over' feeling. Not necessarily a bad thing, as you know how much I love winter, but going out for dinner to come home when it's still light is a pretty nice feeling, don't you think?

I get this strange feeling when I visit Cheltenham, like I'm going to bump into my old housemates or ex boyfriend when walking along the street. It's pretty small there, so you see the same faces. The woman selling fruit and veg, the super-friendly guy in Wilkos, the man in Moochoo who used to know my name and order – it was like home for a while, but now it's just a place I visit, quite regularly in fact, and I think I'm getting used to it.

Maybe I'm being particularly nostalgic because the only time I had been to Bar & Wok before was with my ex boyfriend. I had wanted to go ever since I moved to Cheltenham in 2010. I remember walking past it in the first week, but we didn't go until final year. It was worth the wait, though.

Bar & Wok is a lot like Wagamamas in its aesthetic, but the food is mostly Chinese. Both Bethan and I unashamedly asked for a knife and fork, to which the handsome waiter happily obliged. We ordered a couple of starters; duck spring rolls and veggie spring rolls – but we were so hungry when they arrived that I totally forgot to take a photo. But you don't need photos to believe they were good, because, who doesn't like spring rolls?

While waiting for our mains to arrive we talked about the weekend ahead of us – we would be spending it in Somerset for Momentum, a Christian festival which I will tell you all about very soon. Bethan had just had Shellac nails done so she was trying to get them in every photo I took of her ;)

Soon enough the handsome chaps serving us brought us our food and that was enough talking – it was time to eat.

Bethan ordered the king prawn noodles – a mountain of chow mein like noodles with a load of big fat prawns.

I went for some '288' special fried rice which had a mixture of everything – prawns, chicken and char sui and it was lush.

The portions were huge, like the amount you'd get in a takeaway box, which I imagine is exactly what it is. We could have shared just one dish, in fact, and ended up taking some of it home.

Although we decided that the food at Bar & Wok was very much like that of a typical Chinese takeaway, the setting, service and variety on the menu made it that little bit different, and a whole lot nicer than eating it in front of the telly. Plus, their spin on sweet and sour (Hong Kong style) is something you have to try if you're a fan of the classic. 

Have you been to Bar & Wok? If you're ever in Cheltenham and fancy something oriental, I recommend going here. I wish I had gone more when I lived there. The only down side is that they are open for lunch and dinner but not in between, so you have to time your visit well. You can find out more about Bar & Wok here – I'm off to make a snack.

8 September 2014

What's in the Cookie Box? – Belfast

Claire told me to go to Cookie Box, and seeing as it was just down the road from Mauds, we thought we'd pop in and maybe get something.

Of course, upon entering a shop where almost the entire back wall was covered with stacks of chocolate bars, we were definitely getting something. I wasn't in the mood for a milkshake, despite them being what Cookie Box is known for, but I can never say no to an ice cream, especially when on holiday! (Yes, holidays in Britain count).

We chose our favourites. We're creatures of habit – there's no shame in that. Chocolate for me and mint choc chip for Bethan... And a chocolate orange cookie for later, because ever since my free one in Pret I am a little bit in love with that flavour combination.
The ice cream was the perfect flavour, but a littttttle bit powdery in texture. The big chunks of chocolate throughout more than made up for that, however, and the chocolate cone coated in hundreds and thousands was so pretty and delicious. Needless to say I was too full to eat the cookie as well, so I saved that for later...
I was expecting the kind of cookie that I'd never forget. Think chunks of Terry's-chocolate-orange style style pieces interspersed through a soft, but crisp, plain cookie. I was, however, left quite disappointed with what I believe could have been so beautiful.

From what I could taste, the chocolate was just plain old milk, no flavour of orange detected in that at all, and the cookie was a horribly overpowering orange flavour - but it was like orange peel flavour. Texture-wise, the dough was OK. I just didn't agree with their way of assembling the chocolate and orange flavour combination.

But it's ok, Cookie Box was good enough for WNW and I'll be going back for a milkshake next time. That place was a sweet tooth's haven. 
Have you been to Cookie Box? Take a look at their website here – you won't need any more convincing.
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