BELLA CAFE & LOUNGE // BRUNCH REVIEW

Last weekend we visited the lovely Bella Cafe & Lounge (formerly known as Bella Gelato) in Rayleigh. The restaurant is conveniently located just off of the high street, with parking very close by.

At first glance we could see that the cafe/restaurant was exceptionally busy, which indicated something was definitely right here! We arrived & were very quickly shown to our table.

We soon placed our orders, & our breakfasts of choice were the Lebanese breakfast & the traditional breakfast, & our drinks of choice were the chocolate milkshake & coco loco smoothie. Our drinks naturally were first to arrive & they looked amazing! The chocolate milkshake was thick & delicious (& polished off in minutes) whilst the smoothie was exotic & bursting with sweet flavour. Both drinks were very generous on size, & the glass that the smoothie was presented in was in the shape of a pineapple – a really cool touch. Our breakfasts arrived fairly quickly as well considering how busy the restaurant was which was great & definitely shows that the team here work fantastically together & under pressure, so hats off to each & every member of the team! Both breakfasts were huge & looked beautiful on their plates. The Lebanese breakfast was delicious – somewhat similar to a traditional breakfast but with a few pleasant twists, including spicy sausages, poached eggs sprinkled with a little spice, flatbread & outstanding grilled peppers & halloumi. Everything about this dish was incredible! The halloumi especially was cooked perfectly – I would go as far to say that this was probably the best halloumi I have ever had. I would hands down take this breakfast over a traditional fry up any day of the week! The other breakfast was a traditional breakfast, & was unquestionably delicious! Again, everything was cooked perfectly, especially the wonderfully photogenic & instagrammable poached eggs & I’m told the sausages were something else! We followed our breakfasts with a couple of coffees & a brunch ‘dessert’. Our coffees of choice were cappuccino & latte, & our desserts of choice was the strawberry pancakes. After such a filling breakfast, we opted to share a dessert as we knew we wouldn’t be able to get through one each – we definitely made the right choice in doing so because the pancakes were again very, very filling. Both coffees were lovely & smooth, & worked perfectly with the pancakes. The pancakes were outstanding – drizzled with white chocolate & served with fresh cut strawberries, everything about these pancakes was perfect. Absolutely faultless.

I would most definitely return to Bella, the service we received was fantastic, & the food was incredible – not only to eat but also get photos of, as it was so well presented! I’m certainly going to be visiting again, I’m intrigued as to see what the rest of the menu offers throughout the day. Thank you so much to the team here for inviting, warmly welcoming us, & looking after us!

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SHAKEN UDDER MILKSHAKES // PRODUCT REVIEW

We have been recently been lucky enough to be approached by a local marketer, who very kindly managed to get us some of the Shaken Udder milkshakes sent out. Shaken Udder milkshakes are produced very locally so being able to review these was definitely something we could not turn down! I’d already seen & heard all about these milkshakes (they are very popular at my place of work & are always picked up along with a meal deal).

We received some cartons of the chocolate flavoured milk, which I would describe as rich, creamy & full-flavoured. The cartons I have to say do look rather small however you should not let this deceive you as one carton is more than enough – any more & it would’ve been far too rich for my liking, plus little cartons are handy for on the go (or even for lunch boxes). The cartons are also really cute & feature a little joke on the back (just like Penguin bars!)

After trying Shaken Udder for the first time, I am definitely inclined to try out more flavours & I look forward to doing so.

A huge thank you to both Nikki & Shaken Udder for getting these out to us to review.

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THE LEATHER BOTTLE // RESTAURANT REVIEW

Last Friday Essex Foodies made a trip to this wonderfully cosy pub set in the pretty & picturesque village of Blackmore. The pub is super easy to find, & took around 15 minutes to reach from from Chelmsford by car – so not too far out at all. Upon arrival & at first glance, the first thing we noticed was just how (with cars) busy it was – this was not a problem for us as we had a table booked, however with this in mind, if you plan on visiting (which you should do once you’ve finished reading this), I would strongly recommend booking just to make sure you are not left waiting.

So first off, we were shown to our table which was inside & looked out onto the gorgeous beer garden – the garden being in full swing all thanks to the wonderful sunshine we’ve seen recently. We ordered our drinks & had a glance over the menus – we were given the evening menu & the specials menu. The menus I would say offer typical pub dishes but with a modern & much more gourmet approach – simple but to an exquisite standard.

After glancing over both menus, we soon came to decide what we were going for – both my starter & main I chose from the specials menu, & Mum opted for both courses from the evening menu. Everything on the menu sounded fantastic but there was just something about the specials that just stood out for me, so on the menu for myself, there was to start – haddock & leek fishcakes followed by the chicken wellington, & for Mum there was the prawn & crayfish cocktail to start followed by a main of beer battered haddock & chips (definitely always a winner on a Friday evening!)

The kitchen wasted no time in getting our starters served up, both plates arrived within around 10-15 minutes which was perfect.

As you can see from the above photographs, the food was remarkable! Mum commented on the size of her prawn cocktail & said that it was huge – we tend to find that normally with prawn cocktails you get less of the fish & definitely more of the lettuce, however this was not the case at all here – there was more than enough, & the bread was also generous with 3 slices on the side. Another thing that Mum was really pleased with was, believe it or not, the butter! I can vouch for this also though – most places will normally serve you really hard butter that doesn’t spread at all, this was perfectly spreadable & didn’t contribute to any holes in the bread! It’s the little touches like this that really do make a difference & you do notice.

The fishcakes that I had were impeccable. They were light, fragrant & very more-ish. The haddock was a good choice as the main ingredient as it’s not overly (as silly as it sounds, a fishy-fish) but gives a nice subtle flavour which is very well complimented by the fresh taste of leek. If these were a main at the restaurant, I would definitely go for them.

On to the mains! As you know, I went for the chicken wellington & Mum the beer battered haddock & chips. I think the pictures below say it all really! The haddock & chips was a roaring success with Mum – she loved every bite. The fish made a welcome change to the usual cod, it was delicate & flaky, with a crisp & fresh batter. Chips were second to none! You cannot beat a good pub chip. The meal itself is available in either small or large, Mum went for the small & this was plentiful, especially after a starter. At first glance she did question whether it would be enough but this soon changed as she quickly became full.

The chicken wellington was tender, juicy & delicious. The chicken itself was wrapped in prosciutto ham & spinach enclosed in a perfect & glossy pastry casing. I would absolutely recommend trying this dish, it was slightly unusual & made a change from beef wellington but in a good way! The chicken was served on a bed of wild mushroom sauce which was lovely & rich, & with green beans & new potatoes. I personally find green beans can be a tough one to get right & they can often ‘squeak’ but these did not – they were perfect & not a single thing was left on my plate! Even the potatoes were cooked to perfection.

After finding a little more space in our tummies, & after eyeing up the menu we of course decided to go for desserts.

I was torn between desserts – sticky toffee pudding is my all time favourite (I love to try & have this everywhere so I can find the best) & my go to, but with the weather being as gorgeous as it was, I could not miss the opportunity to go for the summer-fitting mango cheesecake. Mum followed in my footsteps & went for the summery eton mess. We were both delighted with our choices. Both desserts were fruity & tangy, & in all honesty, the right amount after the other 2 dishes we’d had. The pair of us would definitely pick these desserts again & again.

Another fantastic little feature is that the pub also boasts an extensive gin menu which also gives guidance on which tonic to pair to each gin – perfect with or without dinner!

We unquestionably loved our evening here, so much so that Mum booked a table whilst we were there & was back over the same weekend – this doubtlessly shows just how favourable we found this place to be. Everything was spot on, even down to the tiniest detail such as the butter (as mentioned). The pub offered such a warming & cosy atmosphere, & this was on a hot summer’s day so I can only imagine just how lovely it would be in the winter – I’m certainly excited to make a visit over Christmas as I think this will be lovely, & I will certainly be back before then anyway!
To put it simply, The Leather Bottle offers good, honest food & exceptional service & this is really everything I look for when it comes to planning an evening out. Thank you so much to all at The Leather Bottle for welcoming & looking after us, everyone here is a real credit & should be proud of their work! We look forward to visiting again soon in the very near future.

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DUSK // RESTAURANT REVIEW

Mid-July saw the opening of one of Essex’s hottest, most prestigious restaurants, which we were thrilled to be invited to. The evening promised glamour & sophistication, which it undoubtedly delivered.

Upon arrival, you get a feel for what the restaurant is going to offer – the cars parked to the front of the restaurant say it all & leave little to the imagination.

The venue itself boasts various different rooms/lounges, including a main dining area, a function room, shisha lounge & bar plus grounds overlooking the stunning Bentley Golf Club. We were lucky enough to be given a guided tour around the venue, & each & every aspect of it is simply stunning – certainly somewhere you could hold a wedding party reception, or perhaps a work-do Christmas party. Once shown around the premises, we were led to an outside decking area, overlooking Bentley Golf Club, to enjoy more drinks & delicious canapes. Each of the canapes we tried were outstanding, our favourite of the selection were the chicken tikka bites (which a few of the staff also told us were their favourites).

We were also lucky enough to be treated to a three-course meal & drinks (please be aware that the venue does not sell alcohol, however there are no objections to bringing your own). The menu was set, so the only choice to be made was chicken or beef – you had the options of butter chicken or roast beef for mains.

The menu offered a starter of prawn, green apple & lemon cappuccino, mains of either honey lemon roast beef served with baby yorks, twice fried chips & summer berry gravy or butter chicken with rice & freshly baked naan, & a trio of desserts which was made up of chocolate delice, lemongrass brulee & almond croquant & pistacho ice cream.

All aspects of the meal were incredible – the food was mouthwatering, & the presentation second to none, even down to the cutlery, everything was perfect & aesthetically pleasing. The ingredients used are certainly some of the best – the prawns were some of the best I’ve ever had – the starter consisted of just 3, however they were plump & juicy, just the right amount for a starter dish. The beef was also cooked to perfection, sometimes beef can be a tough one to crack & can often be quite chewy or laced with fat, however this was melt-in-the-mouth. My Mum went for the beef dish & she loved it. I went for the butter chicken & have to say, I think this was probably the best butter chicken I’ve ever tried. The dish itself was not the typical mild butter chicken, but had a fiery twist to it – a real winner. Desserts were also a huge success, they were not something we would typically pick off of a menu however both of our plates were cleared, so there’s not much else to say on that front. As the food was to such a high standard & ever so tasty, I would certainly return to see what the rest of the menu offers.

Thank you to Dusk for inviting us along to their launch & a huge, huge thank you to each & every member of the team who did everything they could to make the evening what it was. We loved every second of our evening & would quite firmly state that the food here is probably one of the best we have yet reviewed!

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GIGGLING SQUID // NEW MENU PREVIEW

Early last week, we were given the fabulous opportunity of previewing Giggling Squid’s new menu. This was certainly an offer that we simply couldn’t say no to. I’d always heard great things about this restaurant but just had never got round to actually visiting, so when I received an email offering us a place at the preview, there was only ever going to be one answer, and that answer was YES!

The evening was one of the more formal evening’s Essex Foodies had been to, however it was very insightful & interesting to find out more behind the restaurant & business itself, as well as future plans & developments.

The purpose of the evening was for Giggling Squid to show off their new menu & what they had been working on – & it did not disappoint. Their menu is hugely extensive & really does spoil you for choice, although we were very lucky as we got to sample pretty much all of the starters. As you will see from the below photos, there was plenty on offer.

The menu itself was extensive & left nothing to be desired – you’ve got dishes for those that prefer something slighty more plain, & you’ve certainly got dishes for those that are a little more adventurous! Giggling Squid also offer a fantastic & very fairly priced lunch menu which comes in at around a tenner (per person) for a Thai tapas lunch – perfect if you want to get to try dishes.

When it came to mains, each guest could choose a main dish plus a side – I opted for crying beef with a side of noodle & bean sprouts. I was very pleased with my choice – the food was simply fantastic! It was cooked to perfection & certainly satisfied my tastbuds. All of the other mains looked amazing too & I think I would be right in saying that there was definitely a little food envy in the air!

The food was beyond expectation – both in flavour & presentation. Not only was each dish was powerful & bursting with flavour but also looked fantastic too (personally I think noodle-y type dishes are not always photogenic & can be difficult to get decent pictures of). Because the food was so tasty, I would most definitely recommend & would 100% return.

Desserts were also exceptional – we shared a few between the table & everyone enjoyed what they tried.

There was also one other thing that really stood out on the evening which deserves a mention & that was how busy the restaurant was & stayed. We visited on a Tuesday evening & the restaurant was bustling & didn’t die down at all. Even by the time we left (around 9.30pm), the restaurant was still packed. To me, this is a huge achievement & proves that Giggling Squid isn’t lacking in demand. I feel that nowadays restaurants during the week tend to depend heavily on set menus to bring in custom – Giggling Squid is a whole different kettle of fish.

Thank you to all at Giggling Squid for inviting us along & allowing us to sample the new menu – we loved it! We will definitely be back again in the near future, make sure you check them out too!

ROYAL HOTEL // AFTERNOON TEA REVIEW

Last weekend Essex Foodies were lucky enough to be treated to an afternoon tea with fizz courtesy of The Royal Hotel in Southend. The afternoon offered everything you’d expect from an afternoon tea – delicate finger sandwiches, melt-in-the-mouth scones, deliciously rich cakes, as well as endless amounts of tea/coffee & the odd tipple.

Upon arrival, we were shown to our table overlooking a very busy Southend Seafront (thanks to the warm weather), & were served up a luscious glass of prosecco, neatly finished with a decorative raspberry. The prosecco went down a treat (as did it all!)

Next to arrive were our hot drinks – I opted for tea & Mum went for coffee. Each of us were given a large pot with our drinks of choice which were regularly topped up – service here was smooth & faultless, the girls waiting on us were so on the ball & made sure we never went without, or never left waiting.

Shortly after, the sandwich/cake stand arrived, & it looked incredible. On the menu there was;

sandwiches
– chicken mayo (my favourite by far)
– salmon & cream cheese
– egg mayo
– cucumber & cream cheese

scones
– fruit
– plain

cakes
– white chocolate tart
– strawberry bevarois
– Carribean cake

Despite there being plenty, we managed to get through everything! The sandwiches were perfect – the bread was fluffy & soft, & the sandwiches were not overloaded with filling meaning they weren’t too sickly – so top marks all round on the sandwich front! The scones again were perfect – they were still warm so you knew they had been freshly baked, & once you had sliced into them, they just crumbled – divine! The cakes were of course a hit too – they were sweet & complimented the savoury tastes very well. My favourite dessert was the white chocolate tart – it was light like a mousse but offered a depth of flavour. Again, top marks all round! Everything that was served up was eaten, so to me this speaks volumes. The Royal Hotel have certainly got the afternoon tea down to a t (pardon the pun!)

You will see from the photos below also how gorgeous everything looked – from the hotel itself, to the food. I would say that this is the perfect place for a girly treat.

A massive thank you to The Royal Hotel for having us, especially to Matt (Director) for inviting us along, & to all of the girls that looked after us on the day, everybody was so forthcoming & friendly & made it a very pleasurable experience. We can’t wait to come back!

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