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    • More +
      29.10.2009 18:20
      Very helpful



      This may just be the ultimate chocolate taste for mixologists everywhere

      *Local colour at duty free*

      At the end of our recent trip to Germany we found ourselves in Salzburg airport (we crossed over the border for the return trip) with - shock horror - over 150 Euros left in our wallets. A trip to the duty free shop was clearly in order and while my girlfriend might not have let me buy that Lego chalet house I fancied, we did manage to pick up a couple of tasty items to remind ourselves of our holiday.

      Salzburg airport wasn't particularly competitive when it came to offers on 'international' spirits etc., which was a good thing as it led to us sticking to Austrian and German items, as opposed to picking up the less imaginative bottle of Jack Daniels or Bacardi.

      While I'd heard of the Mozart range of liqueurs before, I wasn't aware that they produced a white chocolate version of the drink. White chocolate + cream + alcohol = what's not to like?

      *Pricing and availability*

      This was very fairly priced at Salzberg airport (on offer for 10.49 Euros/£9.54 at the time for 70cl). The normal price was a few Euros higher, but still not too extravagant for a casual purchase.

      Unfortunately for those of us who can't visit Austria, it's considerably more expensive in the UK. Sellers include:

      www.thedrinkshop.com (£12.80)
      www.drinkfinder.co.uk (£12.99)
      www.corksout.com (£13.95)

      All of the UK sellers I managed to find were selling a smaller (export?) bottle that weighed in at a comparatively stingey 50cl. This means that purchasers in the UK basically get 30% less for their money, even assuming comparable prices. So, recommended as a treat or a cocktail speciality more than something to drink regularly.

      *Like a big sweetie*

      The liqueur is shipped in a spherical glass bottle with a long neck and a tightly packed paper cover that gives it all the appeal of a well wrapped Christmas present.

      To quote TheChocolateLady from a review of a related product in 2005, it looks: 'not unlike the famous Mozartkuggen candies that Austria is so famous for'. Motzartkugeln (literally 'Mozart balls'), are spherical sweets containing green pistachio marzipan, nougat and a rich chocolate coating and the liqueur bottle promises a sweet surprise for anyone curious enough to give it a try.

      *Mhhh - Mozart!*

      The first thing that I noticed when pouring a little of this creamy liqueur into my glass was the phenomenal smell. Chocolate, cream, vanilla and an almost imperceptible alcoholic note rose up from the glass and brought an instant grin to my face.

      It tastes just as good and the flavour was like the overachieving baby of a vanilla pod, a chocolate bar and your five favourite chocolate desserts - rich, sophisticated and absolutely delicious. It's perhaps a little overly sweet for drinking on its own, but would seem to be a fantastic and versatile ingredient for milk-based cocktails (or for the most soothing milky drink you've ever tried). A shot of this would be divine added to a White Russian, and the company website at http://www.mozart-distillerie.com/de/pub/abfrage.cfm has a range of further suggestions.

      The mouthfeel is lovely and silky and while there's a little hit of alcohol it creates more of a warming glow than any serious inebriation.

      The drink has 15% alcohol and contains cream, sugar, cocoa butter and distillate and bourbon vanilla. It doesn't contain: nuts (or extracts taken from nuts), gluten or artificial colours or flavours.

      *Lost in translation - some highly original manufacturing claims*

      The liqueur is created by mixing two high quality types of cocoa with alcohol which is then left to age in oak barrels. This mixture is then processed further before cream is added prior to bottling.

      The step before the adding of the cream is where it gets complicated. Apparently, the liqueur is 'pounded' with high frequency sound waves to further break down the cocoa (similar to 'conching' in the manufacturing of solid chocolate, where the cocoa is ground down to create a fine consistency). This is referred to as 'soundmilling' and to quote the official website:

      'The content of each bottle of Mozart Liqueur is soundmilled for 24 hours with Mozart's music during the final storage before bottling. Special loudspeakers that are fixed at the stainless steel tanks make sure that the complete contents of these tanks is exposed to the vibrations of the music... The "Andante" of the string quartet KV 155 - a special recording without the usual elimination of very high pitches and frequencies - is repeated during 24 hours for 380 times. The long-lasting impact of the treatment has been scientifically proved.'

      For me, this was a laugh out loud funny, highly spurious claim linking between the manufacture of a highly processed product and the work of a musical genius. I can't help but wonder what the liqueur would taste like if they played it something by Lizst, or a Mussorgsky composition. Or, taken to extremes, would Slayer sour their still?

      *Further reading*


      This drink has to be researched to be believed!


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      • More +
        28.10.2009 19:22
        Very helpful



        Welcoming family run hotel in the Rhineland

        My girlfriend and I recently spent a week in Germany (well, by Dooyoo suggestion wait standards!) and the Baudobriga Rheinhotel was both our first port of call and the standard by which we would end up judging the other hotels in which we stayed as we made our way from the Rhineland to the Black Forest and eventually Bavaria.

        *Arrival and check-in*

        It was a drizzly day when we arrived in Boppard and the cheery yellow frontage of the Baudobriga was a welcome change from the grey mist and low level cloud cover which had followed us from Frankfurt Hahn airport. The building itself is an odd mix of an obviously older shell and more recent additions and it was surprising to learn that the hotel has passed through five generations of family ownership.

        It has a prime spot - just across from where some of the many river boats that ply this stretch of the Rhine dock - and the sights and sounds of water traffic served as a very real reminder that the Rhine has always been a vital artery for commerce and transport in this beautiful region, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

        The front door of the hotel is entered by a steep set of steps and wheelchair users would not be able to use them safely. There is a side entrance at street level, but it is narrower and I'm not entirely sure that there's a lift to the rest of the floors. In my opinion it's not a hotel for those who use a wheelchair or have restricted mobility.

        My girlfriend's dad had already checked in for us (the rest of the party had arrived earlier), but we were greeted as new arrivals by the woman who was obviously in charge of the day to day running of the hotel and who managed to remain manically cheerful despite working fifteen hour days.

        The dining areas of the hotel and the reception area are clad in dark wood and plenty of light streams in through large plate glass windows. These public areas have a very traditional feel and seem slightly at odds with the steel framed balconies and other modern additions to the front of the hotel. The general décor was decidedly on the rustic side and the furniture on landings etc. was also of the solid dark wood variety and will probably outlast the hotel! Stairwells were well lit with obscured glass panels and a range of indoor plants were thriving in the warm environment.

        There is a lift for the use of guests, although it was perhaps the first cousin of a dumbwaiter and we never managed to fit more than three people in it.

        *Let's do the Time Warp, yay! (a room with a view)*

        I'll be honest and say that my first impressions of our room were mixed. On the one hand, the room was old fashioned (70s-80s), with green chairs, brass lamps and a carpet that made me feel seasick. A chunky TV with a thick glass filter was languishing on a bracket in one corner of the room.

        On the other hand, the whole side of the room was made of glass and there was a cracking view across the balcony onto the Rhine, flooding the room with light. The beds were spotless (as was the rest of the room) and the bathroom was beautiful and modern, with a great power shower and water efficient fittings. The price wasn't bad either (we'd paid roughly Euro90/£80 a night).

        The balcony was a great place to hang out with a glass of wine and while we soon came to realise that the river would be a little noisier than we'd hoped at night, I slept well thanks to the fresh air and the comfy beds.

        The aforementioned TV had German channels for the most part (there was an American news channel) and there was an in room phone (although no internet access). I've always felt a little sorry for people who feel the need to access the internet on holiday (I do it every day at work so the appeal is minimal!) but thought that I'd mention it for the sake of completeness.

        *Great food, but something of a Fawlty Towers dining experience*

        We had dinner at the Baudobriga on our first evening there and while the food was perfectly palatable, the atmosphere left a lot to be desired. The one traditionally dressed waiter looked a little confused by the fact that he had to serve diners and our not particularly noisy party of six seemed awfully large in a dining room where everyone else was in a couple.

        There was something of an awkward silence for a while, but our fellow diners seemed to relax a little now that there was a group making any noise in the slightly funereal parlour.

        The dinner wasn't bad (maybe 3.5/5) and German staples with lots of pork, freshly prepared and locally sourced salads, sautéed vegetables and dark rye bread made up the bulk of the menu. Most of our party opted for some variety of schnitzel, although I went for a platter featuring a range of different 'wursts', cheeses and shredded vegetables. I can't really say that there were too many standout choices, but at roughly Euro15 for a meal (with wine), who's complaining?

        Breakfast was cracking (the Germans do a wicked breakfast) and the usual continental staples of cereal, breads, fruits, and yoghurt were bolstered with re-enforcements of eggs, cured meats and locally made sausages. The coffee was typically excellent for Germany and with a couple of doorstep ham sandwiches in my stomach, a cup or two of coffee and an apple for later, I was a happy man.

        *Wonderful wine and quiet evenings*
        The Baudobriga was a great find as it owns its own vineyard and featured corridors lined with dozens of awards and merits for top quality white wines (largely Rieslings). A really good bottle of everyday wine could be picked up for £6-7 and the staff were happy enough to lend you some glasses so you could relax on your balcony as the sun went down. No extortionate room service options here!

        While the selection of wines produced wasn't too extensive, there was a range of roughly ten varieties and the opportunity to sample a variety of these with our dinner let us discover those we liked (and those we weren't so keen on). The full range of wines was available in the restaurant and could also be picked up from the front desk. They were also happy to provide full crates for guests who'd driven to the hotel and could arrange shipping for visitors with deep pockets.

        As well as younger wines, the hotel had a few rarer vintages and I'm hoping that my 1987 Riesling Eiswein is drinkable after I picked it up for a good value Euro26 (airport prices were nearly double this for a NV equivalent).

        The town of Boppard seems to shut down by 10pm and there really isn't much for young people to do once they've had their dinner. I found this to be a welcome change to the drunken chavs of Bromley arguing outside my house on a typical evening, but it may not be to everybody's taste. The trend made for very relaxing evenings, the quiet of which was broken only by the railway line across the Rhine or the muffled clanks of staff preparing the riverboats across from our hotel.

        We thoroughly enjoyed most of our trip and the Baudobriga was an ideal base for exploring Boppard and beyond. Close to the centre of town, it's easy to reach everywhere you're likely to visit and we thought that it would be particularly suited to couples and {smaller?} family groups.


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        • allabouttea.co.uk / Online Shop / 71 Readings / 68 Ratings
          More +
          21.10.2009 18:55
          Very helpful



          All About Tea is the perfect site for tea Jennies and Johnnies everywhere

          Portsmouth based www.allabouttea.co.uk (AAT) is owned by Andrew Gadsen, the self proclaimed 'saviour of tea'. Despite coming across as somewhat eccentric, the AAT experience has to be experienced to be believed.

          I recently came across the site when looking for recommendations for sources of herbal tea on a well known consumer forum and this was the only suggestion that warranted any further investigation. While their website isn't particularly high tech it is cleanly laid out, intuitive and features good quality pictures of what you should expect from your tea purchases.

          It's a veritable cornucopia of tea delights, with dozens of teas of all varieties from around the globe (more on this later).

          *Using the site*

          The home page is a little cluttered, with contact details, 'tea news' and a wholesale contact all sitting in the top menu bar. This is a little unconventional and they could probably be moved to the bottom of the page without too much difficulty.

          The product ranges are accessed from side bars at the left hand side of the site, divided up between teas by: type, country and classification and a final menu for everything else (tea bags, infusers etc.).

          In addition to this there is an information section jam packed with everything you could need to know about the operation (from address details to ethics), as well as a module dedicated to their social networking profiles. AAT certainly seem keen to embrace Web 2.0 and they are represented on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as hosting a blog.

          It's also possible to register for their newsletter on the home page, something that I would definitely recommend as you'll no doubt find out a lot more about tea (as well as getting free delivery for all future orders).

          While the page can come across as a little messy, it's only because they're trying to fit so many ideas and services into a small space and like AAT itself, it's somewhat charming.

          Browsing the product sections is an enjoyable experience, with scrolling pages, attractive photographs and clear descriptions and anecdotes for almost all of the many teas available. Pack sizes are highly customisable, with 5-6 options for different weights and quantities available for both loose and bagged teas offered on the site.

          The shopping basket is clearly laid out and a variety of payment choices are represented, including Paypal and checkout through Google.

          *Product range*

          AAT offers so many teas that I've never even heard of half of the choices represented. It's a wonderful example of a specialist retailer having the confidence to really stick to what they know and they are to be applauded for it.

          While I'm loath to stick huge lists in my reviews, the types of teas offered include: blended, black, oolong, green, white, red, fruity/flavoured, herbal, rooibos, mate and flowering. They have single estate teas, decaffeinated and caffeine free teas and teas associated with weight loss. Phew - now that that's finished I can gasp for air!

          As well as this, they have a range of accessories to aid with the tea making process and there genuinely is something for everyone - from the most timid fan of breakfast tea to obsessive fans of Japanese green tea who can tell you about the nuances of every variety you're likely to encounter. Gift vouchers are also available and these could be a really nice alternative for people who are hard to shop for (my Mum springs to mind).

          Unique in my experience, the site offers two free samples with each order and encourages you to take these. This is a brilliant idea and I've already tried a couple of delicious teas that I might not otherwise have been brave enough to try. At least one of these is likely to make it onto my regular rotation, so their policy of being generous to win future trade would seem to be a canny move. The quality is top notch and the wonderful scents from some of my samples had me grinning almost as much as I would be after opening a fresh bag of ground coffee.

          The prices vary quite a bit depending upon what you're looking for, but they were certainly very competitive for the products that I was familiar with. In addition to this the site has a small minimum order value, but this is very affordable at £3.50.

          *Ethics and environmental credentials*

          AAT is a member of the Ethical Tea Partnership, an organisation that seeks to encourage and improve both environmental sustainability and (as importantly), the sustainability of the communities that grow and process tea. Their website can be seen at:


          While many of their aims seem to be the same, the teas don't appear to have Fairtrade status. That said, any dedicated programme that seeks to improve both the lot of growers and the effectiveness of the supply chain is obviously a good thing.

          I'm something of a part-time eco warrior and fully expected to put in a paragraph about food miles and the fact that tea production was arguably detrimental to the environment, but AAT have beaten me to it. They have a very detailed page that lists all the ways that they seek to reduce their waste footprint and also their use of packaging materials etc. and it really is thorough!

          From what I've seen, AAT are an ethically led business who are supremely sensitive to their social responsibilities. Why can't all firms be like this?

          *Fast delivery, tasting notes and clearly packaged products*

          My first order from AAT was a revelation. It took less than two days to arrive (despite the rolling postal strikes that the UK is afflicted with these days) and was packaged incredibly securely in a tough jiffy bag, which was securely fastened and featured a posting label with exhaustive contact details for the company.

          My teas were clearly labelled in airtight bags which could be resealed and each one came complete with a fascinating 'tasting note' revealing more about the tea, how to prepare it and what it tasted like. These were printed on lovely ivory coloured paper and I felt more like a member of a tea tasting club than someone who'd made a small order through an online store. Just a little thing, but it's the small touches that help to win repeat custom.


          AAT also offer referral bonuses, so if you like what they do I would thoroughly recommend telling your friends and family members - they'll get great tea and you'll get a couple of pounds off your next order.

          If anyone decides to check them out feel free to send me a message and I'll gladly refer you.

          As this review seems so relentlessly positive I should point out that I have no relationship to AAT other than being a *very* satisfied customer.

          Right, off to stock up on sage tea....


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          • More +
            19.10.2009 18:26
            Very helpful



            Go elsewhere if you're looking for a warm welcome

            *Misty mountain home*

            The second stop of our recent German holiday was an overnight in the Black Forest, an area of particular natural beauty where we'd been hopeful of some gentle walking and enough Black Forest ham and gateaux to hospitalise ourselves. Sadly enough we never actually got to try any gateaux, although the region did meet our other expectations.

            The region was very misty during our visit and this actually added to its charm. As we approached the guesthouse it looked very attractive from the outside - a sizeable chalet style property, very much in keeping with local styles.

            *Prices and booking*

            There are a couple of sites where it's possible to book this guesthouse online, including www.activehotels.com and their own website at http://adler-pelzmuehle.privat.t-online.de/. Rooms start at roughly 70 Euros a night (including the tourist charge of 1.20 Euros per head, per night). This translates to roughly £63 a night, although my girlfriend's dad paid slightly more as our rate was to include a set menu dinner.

            Please be wary of the descriptions on holiday websites for this guesthouse - several services listed (internet access, games room, laundry services and room service) just aren't available and there is some flagrant misrepresentation going on.

            *Check in*

            When we arrived we were impressed by the cozy wood clad reception area and while it seemed quiet we were assured that it was just because hikers etc. were out for the day.

            We were led upstairs to our rooms by a surly woman (the owner). The corridors were somewhat dark and were tiled with a fairly ugly light coffee colour that seems to be a favourite in German guesthouses (perhaps because it's easy to clean?)

            Basic information such as the time of breakfast, additional facilities and other particulars were omitted, which wouldn't happen in the UK. Throughout our trip German hotel and guesthouse staff seemed to assume a certain degree of mind reading ability and in all honesty it wasn't appreciated.

            *You like brown, don't you?*

            Our room, while spacious, featured the sort of décor and fittings that wouldn't have seemed out of place in a backwoods cabin. Ok, I was expecting homely, but this was just a bit too brown for my liking. Old, tired, dark wood furniture and discoloured walls made what was actually a quite large room seem fairly claustrophobic.

            The bed was built on a bizarre carpet coloured plinth and was in the German style (a double with two singly mattresses). There were a couple of chairs and small dark wooden tables, all of which looked as faded as Miss Havisham's wedding arrangements.

            The room did feature a large balcony with a couple of deck chairs and it was nice to get some fresh air. The wooden beams surrounding the balcony and extending to the roof were of the same hue as the room and I couldn't help but feel that this place was designed by someone who didn't quite get the fact that buildings typically don't look the same on the inside as they do on the exterior.

            In-room facilities seemed to be limited to a dingy looking 'phone and a TV which had a restrictive set of channels compared to other destinations on our trip.

            The bathroom suite was a muddy looking coral colour that I thought was brown for the first half hour as the lighting was so poor. The shower was sporadic, in terms of both pressure and temperature. The first evening my nipples could have cut glass after a quick shower, but the following morning was fine.

            *Sheep... great*

            Considering the beauty of the Black Forest, the location felt like a bit of a letdown. There were pretty areas nearby - we went for a lovely short walk across some fields to a beautiful rural chapel surrounded by roses and the forest was alive with sounds and an air of mystery. Our guesthouse, however, was awkwardly stuck in the 'crook' of the local roads and there really wasn't much to see.

            The view from our balcony was a low misty valley, a few hills with trees and a small flock of suspicious-looking black faced sheep next to the hotel. It felt like we were getting no better than we'd paid for! That said, it was peaceful and we got a sound nights' sleep once the shutters were rolled down.

            *Other facilities*

            The guesthouse claimed to have pretty much a full spa onsite, but in reality a couple of retro sun beds and a small sauna were the extent of it. The spa (as it was) had '70s' written through it like a stick of rock and I had some eerie déjà vu based on the James Bond film where he visits a spa for a rest cure where he eats vodka and caviar from a refrigerated suitcase and ends up seducing the staff. Needless to say, the association only went as far as the décor, much to my girlfriend's relief.

            *Weddings and hotels don't mix*

            We decided to go down to the guesthouse bar for a drink and some cake, as a couple of hours had passed and it remained deserted. We were again met by the owner, who explained that her daughter was getting married tomorrow and that, basically we would only be able to order the bare minimum from the usual selection of food etc.

            To be honest, this seemed a little offhand and nobody likes being made to feel like a second class citizen on their holiday. Surely if your daughter is getting married you can close your (relatively quiet) guesthouse for a couple of days?

            We ordered some strudel and wine with the best grace we could muster and were further bemused when the owner sat down a couple of tables away and started to iron wedding frocks! It felt for all the world that we'd paid £250 between us for the privilege of intruding on someone's private life and it certainly wasn't relaxing.

            *A dining experience with a split personality*

            Later that evening, our dinner was fairly terrible. As mentioned earlier, we discovered that we were dining from a set menu and there were some more interesting choices on the full menu. We were given a choice of two ostensibly four course menus and made our choices accordingly.

            The starter was a thin yellow stock served with a couple of meagre white dumplings (I'm convinced it was a Lidl packet soup).

            Next came a very attractive salad with a variety of shredded vegetables and sprouting shoots. This was pretty tasty, but it was served in an overly sweet dressing that had a peculiar yeasty aftertaste which my girlfriend's dad (a chef), ascribed to over-use of Maggi sauce.

            The main was essentially cheese on toast with a bit of pork and garlic butter on top and while it tasted fine it looked a bit too much like school dinner fare. It did seem better than the other main (another pork dish with shredded peppers and what looked like another packet sauce).

            The dessert, when it arrived, was frankly offensive. It was (probably) bananas, or might once have been bananas. Ok, so it smelled strongly of bananas. Think a sundae glass, filled with banana-flavoured vomit, with cinnamon on top. It had no texture and genuinely tasted like it had been digested prior to serving. Vile.

            The general ambience at dinner was a little warmer than when we went for a drink in the afternoon (largely because we were busy trying to coax over a pair of Weimarers which some hikers had brought with them). We met the owner's husband and he was a jolly enough chap. Then again, if I was sitting having a drink and reading the paper while my wife marshalled the preparation of dinner for twenty I'd be laughing too.

            We didn't hold out much hope for breakfast after the dinner debacle. Imagine our surprise when we were greeted by a fantastic spread when we traipsed down the following morning! It was a veritable Noah's ark of a breakfast, with two plates of just about everything. They had taken the traditional continental breakfast of cold meats, cheese, bread, fruit and cereal and turned it up a notch.

            I lost track of the number of different plates of cured pork, Black Forest ham, smoked salmon, various local sausages, cheeses and delicious freshly baked bread which our hosts replenished as cheerful looking guests ate their fill. As well as this they had various yoghurts, fresh fruit, boiled eggs, muesli and all the spreads you'd expect. There was also a good selection of fruit juices and typically excellent coffee (even the most humble German venue does great coffee).

            It was a great end to a frankly underwhelming stay.


            This guesthouse isn't suited to wheelchair users or anyone with reduced mobility. It has several storeys, but no lift and quite a few steep staircases. Trust me, you're not missing anything.

            *It's hard being objective*

            It's always tricky to remain objective when writing a negative review and I hope this hasn't come across as one long rant. I liked the surrounding area and the breakfast was good.

            You might say that I shouldn't complain as we didn't pay much and the wedding is a one-off event. Fair enough, but in my opinion that's not the point. As far as I'm concerned if you pay for a night in a hotel you expect a certain level of hospitality and service. If the staff can't offer that due to personal commitments, they shouldn't be running a hotel.


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            • More +
              07.10.2009 19:03
              Very helpful



              Nunhead cemetery makes for a surprisingly good visit

              *London lying in state*

              While a cemetery might not be the first place that comes to mind when planning a fun day out, London's historic cemeteries are full of beauty, steeped in history and ripe for re-discovery. As well as these very good reasons for paying a visit to your local necropolis, they're typically very peaceful, chock full of interesting architecture and most of the residents are long dead, so there's little risk of appearing to be an insensitive tourist interrupting the solemnity of any grieving families.

              Nunhead Cemetery (originally 'All Saints'') first opened in 1840 as part of the ongoing need for an expansion of London's burial grounds. It was originally ran by a private company and continued to be used throughout both the first and second World Wars, suffering damage from Luftwaffe bombs during the London blitz. It was eventually abandoned by its owners in 1959 and was purchased later by Southwark Council for the bargain price of £1. It re-opened to the public in 2001 after dedicated restorative work made possible, in part, by a series of Lottery grants and a lot of specialised repair work.

              While great steps have been taken to restore the cemetery (both by Southwark council and voluntary groups such as the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery), much of the cemetery is effectively in disrepair having been effectively absorbed by the dense woodland that overtook the site during the years when it was neglected. This is what gives it its unique charm. It is a beautiful, green wilderness where crumbling ruins, ornate Victorian grave sites and an air of mystery provide an unparalleled shadowy gothic charm.

              *Location and getting there*

              The cemetery is very easy for Londoners and visitors to get to, with trains to Nunhead running from Victoria station among others. For further information see:


              The area around the cemetery was a little run down, but it was also deserted and we felt safe enough.

              *What is there to see?*

              Although lacking quite the collection of famous guests that some of London's cemeteries lay claim to, Nunhead cemetery has a lot to offer and is a great place to while away a couple of hours.

              An obelisk dedicated to Scottish political martyrs gave pause for thought - it's incredible that only a couple hundred years ago brave souls were risking their lives and fighting for suffrage and yet many eligible voters can't even bother taking the time to drive to the polling booths nowadays!

              Nunhead cemetery originally had several chapels built to handle funerals and the restored Anglican chapel by Thomas Little is an impressive example of restoration gothic architecture. It has narrow windows, well finished walls of Kentish ragstone and highly stylised jagged arches and wouldn't look out of place in an Ann Radcliffe novel.

              It's well worth spending some time looking at the beautiful and grand monuments that line the paths in the cemetery. There is some incredibly ornate carving (a mixture of pagan and Christian motifs, with lots of anchors, inverted torches and angels) and many of the larger monuments are in very good condition. Obviously the graves nearer the walkways are usually those of wealthier patrons - I was a little shocked to see how frequently people were living to 85+ in the Victorian era, as many of us will be lucky to live that long even after 200 years of advances in medical science.

              A large part of the cemetery is covered in woodland and many of the graves bar the largest sites are effectively hidden by forest. Great work has gone into recording the details of those resting in some of these hidden plots, although I doubt that it will ever be completely finished. I'd recommend going for a wander into some of the more secluded parts of the cemetery with a stout pair of shoes as there's a wealth of social history to be discovered beside marvelling at the scale of the graves of the rich!

              As with any cemetery, watch where you're going, be respectful and try to avoid walking across any of the graves (although this can be hard to avoid in the slightly topsy-turvy landscape where tree roots are the predominant landscaping force). Each hidden pocket held its own secrets and you couldn't help but feel sorry for fallen soldiers, infants and mothers and some of the other tragic inhabitants.

              As well as taking the chance to discover a little bit about some of the residents of the cemetery, it is if nothing else an idyllic green space and is great for a relaxing walk away from the noise of London. There are a few steep inclines, however and a lot of pieces of flint in the paths. Watch where you're going, especially if you're visiting with young children who insist upon scraping their knees at least once a day..

              Most of the people we saw when we visited were young families picking brambles among the chaos of vines, stonework and ivy that is the cemetery and I couldn't help but smile at the way that an area dedicated to the memory of death had been reclaimed as a functional, cheerful space by subsequent generations.

              *Would I recommend it?*

              Absolutely - it's a fascinating slice of social history, it's full of natural beauty and tranquillity and it doesn't cost a penny.

              *Opening times*

              April 1 to September 30
              Daily 8.30am to 7pm

              October 1 to March 31
              Daily 8.30am to one hour before sunset

              *Further reading*

              The following sites are well worth a look if you're interested in finding out more about Nunhead cemetery or any of London's other Victorian cemeteries.

              http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2005/05/10/ {delete this} nunwood_cemetery_feature.shtml


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              • More +
                05.10.2009 20:09
                Very helpful



                There's a reason it's #6 out of 7,664 London restaurants on Tripadvisor

                Every now and again you discover a hidden gem of a restaurant that has you rushing to your keyboard to tell the world about how great it is. Bumbles on Buckingham Palace Road is a true original, a friendly fine dining experience at chain restaurant prices with friendly staff and an accessible central location. I booked a table for my girlfriend and I and a visiting sibling yesterday evening and haven't stop smiling since.

                Buckingham Palace Road (unsurprisingly enough), runs along the boundary of the grounds of Buckingham Palace. It's an easy to reach destination in Westminster, but is fairly uninspiring for its own sake. Certainly a prestigious postcode, but perhaps not the sort of street you expect to have good restaurants on it. Nearby tube stations include Victoria and St James' Park and it's also ideally situated for diners travelling into Victoria, the coach station, or a variety of London bus routes.


                Reservations can be made by calling or e-mailing (details at the bottom of the review) and I strongly suggest doing so. The restaurant was very busy and several groups of diners were turned away or asked to come back later. It's a small venue, with perhaps 30 covers upstairs. There is a larger downstairs dining room, but I wasn't entirely sure whether or not this was used for diners. It was being used for a large work function when we visited and I suspect that it's principally used for functions. I e-mailed our booking a couple of weeks in advance and the reply was warm and polite, an unusual combination these days.

                *Décor and ambience*

                Bumbles is squeezed into a narrow frontage and it's decidedly on the cozy side of things. I felt overly warm when we were first seated, but the air conditioning kicked in shortly afterwards. The main dining room is a squat space, with gentle lighting, plain but attractive table arrangements and soft furnishings and an inviting 'cave' feel to it.

                Space is obviously at a premium and as a reasonably tall man I did find myself sucking myself in when taking my seat or moving around. I'm not too sure how enjoyable a dining experience it would be for either wheelchair users or those with restricted mobility, but I'm sure that the helpful staff would come up with a workable solution.

                While fabrics used are fairly neutral, there are a few nice little touches that give the restaurant a fairly characteristic charm. The side plates are attractively grained wooden blocks, bread is brought to the table in odd 'pots' that seemed to be crafted from empty coconut shells and the butter for the table arrived sitting on a pretty slice of purple agate.

                *Gourmet food, fast food prices*

                There are a range of affordable options for diners, including three courses for £10, three courses for £20 and an a la carte menu for those who can't handle three courses (the three for £20 dishes are taken from this). All menus are seasonal and subject to change and an indicative sample can be seen at the link at the bottom of my review.

                The Bumbles menu (three courses for £10):

                The Bumbles menu is a tasty but economical option of bistro/gastropub style fare. My brother dined from this menu and enjoyed a salad of tea smoked chicken, a perfectly cooked pork dish with crispy crackling, a rich sauce and creamy shredded vegetables and ice cream with a tasty looking selection of seasonal berries. There were roughly 3-4 choices of starter and dessert, with maybe 5-6 main courses. Considering that a railway station burger meal now costs close to £7, you can't really go wrong with this menu!

                Chef's seasonal menu (three courses for £20):

                The main event! The chef's menu is simply the a la carte menu at a fixed price of three courses for £20, which represents phenomenally good value for gourmet food in this part of London. This menu is understandably more adventurous than the £10 menu and it's a great treat to be able to pick the fancier items without feeling like you're blowing the budget.

                The menu has a wide range of meals for omnivores, piscatarians and vegetarians and I really don't think you'd struggle to find a dish that you'd love. It featured maybe 10 starters and desserts and considerably more mains. Some of the choices come across as a little 'wordy' and you may feel like you're reading the Guardian food section.

                Both my girlfriend and I went for the 'sunny side up' ravioli - an interesting concoction which featured a generously sized single ravioli which featured a whole runny egg yolk along with the lightly spiced ravioli filling. This was served on a bed of wild mushrooms and was topped off with a pea foam. A pair of unimaginably crispy slices of pancetta sat at the side of the bowl and provided a fabulous savoury counterpart to the ravioli.

                A delicious choice, although it was maybe served just a little too slowly as the foam was more of a liquid than you'd expect, which led to the colour from the mushrooms bleeding into the mix. Very tasty though and well worth a try.

                We were brought a narrow shot glass of leek and potato soup between our courses, which was tasty although bizarre. Not quite an amuse-bouche, not quite a pallet cleanser, creamy and delicious regardless. That said, it did take us a couple of minutes to drink it as we had a sneaking suspicion that we were going to have a restaurant faux pas and half expected the waiters to burst out laughing.

                My main was line caught grey mullet with pickled cockle popcorn (really), which was served in a tasty orange sauce which I fail to remember the ingredients of. The two small fillets of mullet were delicious, tender and delicate and had been cooked just right (introduced to a pan from across the kitchen). The pickled cockle popcorn was tasty and not nearly as exotic as it sounds (the best comparison that I can think of are the deep fried clams served at Coney Island) and the sauce was delicately seasoned with flavours of harissa and tomato.

                Artistic as my dish was (with splashes of colour, neatly perched mullet and the cockle popcorn dotting the plate), it was very minimal and I was left feeling hungry.

                **Aside** My girlfriend has ordered me to point out at this juncture that she is an adventurous soul when it comes to ordering, as she feels I paint her as a food wuss **/Aside**

                My girlfriend ended up with what was easily the main of the night, with a delicious stack of finger thick cuts of pink, fragrant woodpigeon breast, interlaced with olives, green lentils and crispy filaments of bacon; all coated with a fragrant sauce. The waitress advised that the meat might be 'a little rough' when ordering as it was game, but all the pieces I saw were beautifully cut and prepared. The woodpigeon had a complex gamey flavour and the best simile I could come up with was 'as if chicken and bacon had a baby'...

                This was a far more generous dish and I have to confess that I was a little jealous. Needless to say my lovely girlfriend did let me try a few mouthfuls.

                For dessert I opted for the cheeseboard, which came with five tasty morsels of cheese. There were a couple of blue cheeses (a Cornish one and a deep orange variety not dissimilar to Blacksticks Blue), a deliciously creamy camembert and a further pair of tasty choices. Sorry I can't be more specific, but all the menu stated is that they were British.

                While the cheeses were tasty, the portion sizes were on the stingey side and the biscuits served just looked like basic Jacob's crackers. I can't complain too much, however, as I wasn't paying a lot for the privilege. I suspect that portion control is key in running an operation this reasonably priced.

                My girlfriend also lucked out on the pudding front after she opted for the banana flambé surprise. This consisted of a lightly charred caramelised banana served with the surprise (a perfect sphere of ice cream coat with a chocolate shell). The waiter who brought this to the table followed it up with a small jug of boiling hot caramel sauce which was drizzled over the surprise. This led to it opening up like a flower as the chocolate melted, leaving my girlfriend with ice cream; a pungent pool of melted chocolate, caramel and rosemary scent and a comic book grin.

                She did manage to finish the dessert, although comments about diabetic comas were being bandied around and I felt a nap was needed on the train home ;-)


                Bumbles doesn't have the most extensive winelist I've seen in a restaurant, but the choices that they do have seem to be well balanced and representative of a good range of classic restaurant choices. Their house wine is the cheapest I've seen in London (£11.95), they offer champagne at less than £30 and even inveterate wine snobs should be able to find a treat for £20 or less. We opted for a delicious Chapel Down white (made in England). It was crisp, tart and morish and went really well with our choices.

                *Three cheers for the service*

                I can't fault the service at Bumbles - fantastic staff. Everyone we saw had a smile on their face, was polite and answered questions knowledgeably. The main element of good restaurant service for me is being made to feel welcome and they pulled it off perfectly. I could have fallen asleep I was so relaxed...

                *Tip, don't pay the service charge!*

                The bills at Bumbles come with an optional service charge, which shouldn't be equated directly with a tip (I suspect that some of the money disappears thanks to the wonders of accounting). I recommend asking your server to bring you a bill without the service charge, as I'm reliably informed that the servers see more of the money if you pay a cash tip. This information was provided discretely after I specifically asked for it and I don't mean to imply that the staff were pressuring clients for tips.

                Our bill came to £74.50/£85 with a well deserved tip.

                We will be going back.

                *Contacts/further information*

                P: 020 7828 2903
                E: manager@bumbles1950.com
                Address: 16 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W OQP  

                http://www.bumbles1950.com/ (main website)
                http://www.bumbles1950.com/menus.htm (menus)
                http://www.bumbles1950.com/winelist.htm (winelist)
                http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g186338-d680466- (delete this) Reviews-Bumbles_restaurant-London_England.html (Bumbles on Tripadvisor)


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                • More +
                  29.09.2009 17:33
                  Very helpful



                  Let's shake things up a little!

                  'The fact is that the dooyoo Community rates well over 95% of the reviews posted as Very Useful.'

                  The above statement is obviously meant to be shocking, but for anyone who uses Dooyoo with any regularity it isn't in the slightest. I'm not surprised that such a massive discrepancy exists and am convinced that without serious change to the way that the site works this wholesale abuse will remain unchecked in future.

                  While it's lovely of the Dooyoo team to treat us all like unbiased, objective adults, the fact of the matter is that most of us aren't. The illusion of choice presented by saying that sorting out a 'broken' rating system (my quotes) is simply a matter of us all rating objectively in future does not seem to be a solution and actions, as they say, speak louder than words.

                  Dooyoo is a somewhat unique community and a rather natty example of Web 2.0 technology in that it allows for a blurring of the lines between social networking, blogging, consumer opinion and apparently the soul source of gainful employment for some members.

                  Where I see the issue being with the dramatic overuse of the 'Very Useful' (VU) rating is the fact that we are far too nice to each other. I feel that the only real options to resolve the situation are to separate the social and business 'hats' from each other (suggestions below). Who hasn't thrown out a few ill considered VU ratings to their online friends? Who doesn't get in to the habit of expecting quality from some and dross from others? Speak up - I can't hear you back there!

                  *My subjective opinions for making Dooyoo more objective - addressing anonymity, return ratings and nominations*

                  *Soft rating vs secret rating*

                  As I have expressed above, a big part of the problem is the fact that it's easier to give a 'soft' rating of VU for the sake of politeness for a well written review that maybe doesn't sparkle than it is to give someone a U that may feel a little chagrined by the rating (personally I'm past caring - you get rewarded the same anyway). The widespread trend of return rating furthers this tendency to rate higher than is deserved.

                  I'm not ashamed to say that I've been told off on one occasion for 'speed rating' and while I knew that I was breaking the terms of the Dooyoo agreement, the sense of 'reward' for doing something positive (rating) holds a stronger psychological charge for many people than the risk of censure (being told off/banned by the Dooyoo team).

                  You may attribute this to greed, but I'm not so sure. Those 1.5p ratings aren't really what gains the rewards on Dooyoo - writing decent original content (50p), Crowns (£1.50) and competition prizes (£s) are all far more lucrative. I think that so many people rate inaccurately because they want to tow the line of being a friendly member of a growing community.

                  Why not make rating anonymous? This (in theory) could remove the concept of 'return rating', allowing for a more sincere sense of community as opposed to the current mechanical reciprocally exchanged pleasantries which are bandied about so freely. As well as this, the idea of 'revenge rating' might no longer exist, as nobody would know who had rated who or with what (bit of a tongue twister there). The idea of anonymity already exists in theory for nominations - why not extend it to the whole site and make life a bit more interesting for all of us?

                  *Problems with secret rating*

                  In the advent of my proposed golden age of anonymity, a new, more malicious form of revenge rating might appear - as you'd be free to 'treat' anyone you took a dislike to with dozens of NU ratings. I've already thought up a possible solution to this...

                  The total rating for products is based on a five star average. Why not use the same 'wisdom of crowds' in conjunction with a new '1-5' rating to help prevent abuse of an anonymous system? With a system where you can't see previous ratings, you'd be theoretically more likely to be honest and subjective and it might be easier for an automated system to pick up abuse.

                  Sites such as Wikipedia (loathed by my fellow librarians) have managed to apply the idea that the general intellectual consensus is *often* right and in a lot of ways this can be applied very easily to consumer reviewing. Assuming honesty through secrecy, the chances are that the average rating would be a good indicator of a review's true merit.

                  For example:

                  Mr X writes a review which is widely acclaimed and receives an average of 5/5. One bad egg (Mr Y) takes a random dislike to Mr X and decides to give him 1/5 for the fun of it. It wouldn't seem so hard for an automated system to pick up on the fact that Mr Y is deviating pretty far from the common consensus and Mr Y would then be asked to leave a specific comment explaining his rating. This sort of system would necessitate only allowing people to rate once (no changing your mind), which might push up honesty and quality?

                  Comments received as a result of deviation from the normative result would be published after a month and might provide more honest feedback to help us improve our reviews in future?

                  I admit that it's a fledgling idea and it might bring its own problems, but I feel that it might help make us genuinely more objective.

                  *Would an end to return rating kill Dooyoo?*

                  Backtracking just a little, I'm going to contradict myself slightly. While I implied that 'return rating' isn't solely based on greed, the sight of your Miles slowing ticking up is obviously an incentive to take part. Slightly more realistic payments might provide this incentive in a system where nobody knows whether or not their peers are awarding them good marks.

                  If a review is rubbish, it's rubbish. One of the most common gripes on Dooyoo is the fact that a 'popular' poster (or one who just has the time to rate 100 people in the hopes of return ratings) will be paid the same reward as someone who writes a crowned reward read by an average number of people. Crowns are meant to increase the profile of writers, but a relatively large amount are awarded and it's easy for crowned reviews to 'fall off the radar' quite quickly.

                  A move to a system where we're rewarded monthly, with the amount we're paid for the initial review posting based on the perceived quality over that month might work like so:

                  Average rating of 1 - no payment for posting
                  Average rating of 2 - 10p
                  Average rating of 3 - 20p
                  Average rating of 4 - 30p
                  Average rating of 5 - £2

                  The 1.5p awarded per rating, rewards for crowns etc. could remain as they are now. This system might be more realistic and if a review was really good, you'd feel like you had been rewarded accordingly.

                  *Other ideas*

                  I've taken a lot of your time, I know and I thank you for reading this far.

                  Other suggestions thought up on this coffee fuelled afternoon include:

                  1. Limit all users to 2 reviews posted a day
                  2. Pinch the Ciao idea of having a limited quantity of the top ratings for reviews
                  3. Hive off the social aspect of the site onto an easy to access linked site where users can chat, blog and hang out with maybe a small ticker showing their Miles and nothing else to remind them of the more mercenary aspects of Dooyoo ;-) There are existing forums that serve to do this already - why not formalise the idea?

                  *Final thought - on Guides!*

                  The Dooyoo guides are great for the most part - well respected members of the community with a funny/wise/insightful word where required. No offence intended, however, but the quality of their contributions vary greatly and there seems to be a general feeling that they are nominated more and rated higher than 'average' users as a result of their status as voluntary respected helpers.

                  Why not have the role of Guide as a fixed term, entirely voluntary 'appointment', where Guides are paid a healthy wodge of Miles each month for, say, 6 months and are unable to write reviews in the meantime?

                  This would leave them free to offer unbiased advice and be the helpful souls they generally are without the fear of Miles starvation and would remove the whining about how they seem to do better than other members of the site.

                  Just a thought - the Guides are ok by me for the most part.

                  Thanks for reading!


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                  • More +
                    24.09.2009 18:57
                    Very helpful



                    This review took almost as long to write as we spent eating. Worth it!

                    *Never mind the cathedral, Canterbury is home to Café Belge!*

                    Since my girlfriend and I moved to the South, we don't see our families nearly as much as we'd like. When my parents came down to visit us recently we were keen to take them for a fun day out to make the best use of the time. A visit to Canterbury seemed a good choice, as it has a range of fascinating historical sites, great shopping and some impressive specialist markets.

                    After some deliberation and online searching, I decided to book us in for lunch at Café Belge (currently languishing at 17/59 on www.tripadvisor.com thanks to the fact that their average score has been brought down by one rogue review!) Their fantastic mussels and beer menus had the whole family salivating at the prospect of lunchtime and nobody left disappointed (in fact, it was a miracle they could roll us out the door at all!)

                    It is part of a small chain (four branches), with restaurants in Kent and Sussex.

                    *Booking and getting there*

                    The restaurant is relatively easy to find, although I recommend printing off a map before you go if you're unfamiliar with the area. I'd booked in advance (the restaurant can seat 80+ and gets very busy), but it wasn't necessary as we ended up going for an early lunch after some vigorous wandering around the Cathedral.


                    The building that the restaurant is located in was originally a 15th century house. Considering that this is older than several countries, history buffs and tourists are bound to be impressed. The exterior of the building is partially timbered and the interior is decorated in a fairly rustic fashion, with rough wooden tables and plenty of artistic nods to Hergé and other successful Belgian exports.

                    The ceilings of the ground floor aren't particularly high and the restaurant also has a mezzanine level with additional seating (a feature that seems to be a constant in Belgian restaurants!) Not content with being housed in a 15th century building, the restaurant also used to be a bank and the kitchens are actually located where the vault used to be.

                    *So - mussels and beer then?*

                    Joking aside - Café Belge have a fantastic and varied menu with a range of delicious continental options - I just happen to be enthralled by their choice of 53 different varieties of mussels and their 100+ variety beer list.

                    Starters - Delicious and largely unhealthy choices, including deep fried whitebait or brie, cold fish platters or an avocado and bacon gratineé. Prices vary for the starters - anything from a few £s to slightly dearer.

                    Mains - Apart from mussels, diners can go for a Belgian beef stew, a 12" wild boar and beer sausage with sides, a mushroom and brie crepe, or salmon fishcakes that have been featured in 'OK'. If that doesn't float your moules, how about tarragon and cream chicken, a fillet steak or lamb shank cooked with honey mustard and beer?

                    There are some very tasty looking vegetarian items on the menu, although veggies in your party may feel a bit like they're playing second fiddle to any piscatarians or carnivores in the group. Prices for mains range from ~£11-15.

                    Desserts - Good lord, do these people know how to do dessert! How about 'Ultimate Belgian Chocolate Mousse', a Toblerone fondue, crunchy Belgian waffles or a vodka lemon sorbet? It's a miracle that we didn't opt for desserts, but we were just so packed from our mains. £4-6 seemed to be the range for most of these tasty treats.

                    *Moule(ing) over our options*

                    We all opted for mussels, as the list of different possibilities for flavours and styles is just too huge to ignore. I can't think of 53 ways of cooking anything and it's a tribute to their chefs (and possibly their cook books?) that they have managed to come up with so many choices that they're willing to knock up for you.

                    All of our party opted for mussels, everyone went for different choices and we weren't told that anything wasn't available (the usual copout for restaurants that have over reached with an ambitious menu!)

                    I went for my mussels in a sauce with pernod, dill, fennel and various other fragrant flavours, my girlfriend went for a more traditional white wine and garlic sauce, Mum opted for a spicy number with harissa and more of an Eastern feel and Dad did his bit for Dads everywhere by ordering the most complicated thing on the menu (with mussels, king prawns, clams and cockles).

                    All of the sauces were rich, delicious and well cooked. The mussels arrived at the table steaming inside the traditional cast iron pots used to cook them, replete with huge baskets of fries, plenty of rough white bread and enough mayonnaise to make your diet fail just by seeing it.

                    Suffice to say we were left full to bursting and only managed to finish 3 meals between us. This is possibly the greatest tribute to Café Belge's relaxed approach to portion control - we're hardly dainty eaters!

                    *Beer, glorious beer*

                    You'd need to be a fanatical beer expert indeed to be anything other than overwhelmed with the wonderful selection of (predominantly Belgian) beers on offer at Café Belge. Their massive range includes: pilsners, white beers, Trappist beers, blond beers, amber beers, dark beers, Lambiek beers, fruit beers, 'beers to share', strong beers, draught beers, beer cocktails and beer beer. Ok, I was just seeing if you were awake with that last one.

                    I opted for a couple of white beers, while the ladies in the party tried out some adventurous fruit beers and my Dad had a couple of pints of a regional Belgian rocket fuel that he'd acquired a taste for during a recent trip to Bruges.

                    *Top service, special offers, loyalty cards and free snogs!*

                    The staff were all incredibly welcoming and filled the role of hosts perfectly - with good humour, suggestions, a high degree of attentiveness and very efficient table service. I really can't fault them and we left a fairly generous tip to say thanks.

                    They offer various special deals, including set menus, early booking offers and loyalty cards. There's also a voucher on www.moneysavingexpert.com at the moment which will get you BOGOF mussels up to the end of November.

                    One of the more innovative ideas at Café Belge are their loyalty cards/'passports' (one for beer, one for mussels). Beer drinkers will be particularly enamoured at the chance to drink their way through the Belgian beer map, with 50 specially selected drinks to choose from.

                    Reaching milestones along the way (say 15 beers tried etc.) is rewarded with other free drinks, starters, or even a meal for two once you've tried them all. Oddly enough, one of the freebies is a kiss from the member of staff of your choice! The loyalty cards are a nice little touch, although I should point out that you're meant to drink your way through them over the course of quite a few visits...



                    89 St Dunstans
                    CT2 8AD
                    01227 768222


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                    • Ryanair / Airline / 55 Readings / 49 Ratings
                      More +
                      24.09.2009 10:20
                      Very helpful



                      All the character of flying in a school bus with zombies

                      *The premise*

                      Ryanair sprang up among the rash of budget airlines that helped every Britain take the bare minimum of holidays a year required not to go insane (at least three according to the popular press) and made it possible for every second Briton to buy a delightful holiday home in a former Soviet bloc country where the lawn was trimmed by the goat who happened to be living in the sitting room of said holiday home.

                      Sarcasm aside, Ryanair continues to exist as a supposed purveyor of dirt cheap flights to a range of European locations, buoyed up by a vast range of additional costs, surcharges and add-on sales. Shameless self-publicists, Money Saving Expert et al. are seldom free of banner headlines declaring yet another '1p sale' from the champions of misinformation at Ryanair.

                      *Flight booking with Ryanair - more 'will they, won't they?' than Ross and Rachel!*

                      I've had the misfortune to book flights with Ryanair on a couple of occasions and migraine inducing website aside, there's one very significant issue with the airline as a company - lack of trust.

                      Due to the fact that multiple family members have had flights cancelled (costing them £££s in re-booking costs) and because Ryanair are well known for culling their routes, booking flights with them is very stressful.

                      I recently booked flights for a trip next February (which I now regret) and suffice to say Ryanair are the only airline I've ever flown with where I've felt the need to check that the flight still exists once a fortnight. They claim that they notify every passenger if their flight times are changed or cancelled, but this just isn't the case and I can cite multiple examples in my own family alone.

                      *Mister O'Leary - why did my '1p' flight cost £21?'

                      All budget airlines have additional charges - it seems to be a fact of life that thrifty consumers need to keep their wits about them when booking what looks like a good deal.

                      Ryanair take this further than most and before you know it, a '1p' flight has gone up in cost by a factor of thousands. Checking hold luggage, checking in at the airport, breathing, wearing clothes - all will incur extra costs. In fairness to the other budget airlines, most are getting better at displaying the 'real' cost to passengers, but Ryanair seem to be slow to catch up.

                      *Baggage drop*

                      I was going to call this section 'Check-in', but it's a loaded term for an airline where you pay £20+ for the privilege of speaking to a member of ground staff for 30 seconds.

                      Despite making almost all of its passengers check-in online, Ryanair still needs to have staffed baggage drops (doubtless due to security reasons). The queues for these are often as bad as regular check-in queues and I fail to see how they can justify that a few seconds of staff time spent processing the fact that you have arrived at the airport is worth £20. Hey, if Ryanair staff got even a small proportion of the £600 an hour they charge people to check-in they'd be laughing! (Assuming £20 for a 2 minute check-in)

                      Confused customers who haven't read the T&Cs properly are charged to check-in by angry, patronising staff who are obviously sick of the fact that they have to deal with the same confused customers every day. I can't help but wonder how hard it would be to check-in for older customers who aren't fans of the internet.

                      *The in-flight.... Experience?

                      Thinking of Ryanair flights gives me a Lady Macbeth style urge to wash my hands 'til they bleed. Think grotty planes turned round too quickly, with gum under the seats, used newspapers wedged into every available gap and a garish blue and yellow trim that could help you spot your local Ikea from the motorway.

                      Cabin crew who (in my experience) spoke pretty poor English, weren't interested and couldn't even bring themselves to flog the crap that head office obviously required that they push onto customers. My estimation of Easyjet has risen considerably since flying with Ryanair. Even the staff on the flight deck sounded disinterested and above making apologies on occasions where the flight has been delayed by over an hour.

                      *Delays and the worrying news that nothing is Ryanair's problem*

                      On our recent trip to Germany we returned via Salzburg and were delayed by an hour and a half (a Ryanair flight, although 'act of God' style situation). This led to my girlfriend and I missing our bus (no big thing) and our in-laws missing their connecting (Ryanair) flight.

                      Ryanair appear to be only willing to help passengers who have been delayed by two or more hours, unlike other, non-budget, carriers I've flown with who have bent over backwards to accommodate passengers who were delayed through no fault of their own. A good example of this would be KLM managing to have me transferred onto a (somewhat more enjoyable) Virgin Atlantic flight after messing up a connection to JFK.

                      Ryanair, however, couldn't care less and despite the fact that a delay in one of their flights led to the in-laws missing their flight, they wouldn't do a thing. They were eventually charged close to £500 for new (Ryanair) tickets, despite the fact that the original (Ryanair) plane was delayed and the fact that there were obviously seats going spare on their eventual connecting flight.

                      I don't really care what their terms and conditions say - if you miss a flight because of Ryanair, Ryanair should take the hit for providing you with a new flight. Sadly for consumers 'natural law' is ignored by budget carriers, while finicky adherence to the minutiae of contract law is the order of the day.

                      *Final thoughts*

                      My experience with Ryanair would recommend avoiding them at all costs. If you *need* to fly, is there another carrier who can get you there cheaper? Can you take a coach, train or ferry? Cost is not everything and Ryanair seems to be a continuing extension of the warped idea that low cost justifies crap service.

                      Two thumbs down from me.


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                      • Kirin Lager / Beer / Cider / 38 Readings / 37 Ratings
                        More +
                        22.09.2009 13:56
                        Very helpful



                        A good quality light-style lager that surely deserves more than two stars?

                        *Beer for Japanophiles*

                        Much as the language and cultural differences terrify me, I love what I've seen of Japanese culture and am an even bigger fan and evangelist for Japanese cuisine. I love their ritualised approach to food, the way it's an integral part of life for many Japanese as opposed to an afterthought and the care that goes into preparation, presentation and the importance attached to nutrition.

                        It will come as no surprise, then, that whenever I'm feeling flush and payday approaches I can normally be found meandering around the Japan Centre in Piccadilly in a good natured manner trying to decipher packaging like an awkward gaijin.

                        Kirin Ichiban usually makes its way into my basket and this extra virgin olive oil of the Japanese beer scene is a great way to wet the whistle when celebrating at the start of a holiday, or just relaxing at the weekend.

                        *Availability and cost*

                        Kirin Ichiban can be purchased from the aforementioned Japan Centre if you're in London (www.japancentre.com - review to come shortly), as well as various other specialist retailers of Japanese food and drink. It's occasionally available from cash and carries (well, I found it in Makro once) and a select list of pubs which serve it in draught (mostly in London), can be found at http://www.kirineurope.com/kirin/experience .

                        The typical price is £1-1.40 for a 330ml can, considerably more for a pint.

                        *A great beer for those of us who don't like beer, if that's a compliment?*

                        I have to confess to being a terrible philistine, as I'm a chap who can quite happily live without beer. I'm more than busy enough being a wine fan without exploring the world of real ale and other complexities and this is an absolutely cracking choice for the few occasions where a beer is really in order.

                        Kirin Ichiban has a light, crisp taste (5% ABV) and is very 'summery' and refreshing. It's considerably more suited to my palate than drain cleaner such as Stella Artois or Carling and it doesn't leave the cheap, tinny after taste that so many of the British and continental lagers do.

                        It's very easy to drink and the three cans I purchase yesterday have disappeared far faster than I would have liked. That said, please drink in moderation as with any alcoholic beverage.

                        Most of the Kirin to be found in the UK has also been brewed here, but it follows the Japanese Shibori process. This means that the ingredients are only pressed once, with the remainder being thrown out afterwards. I'm certainly not going to contradict them - it's clean and clear, tastes good and goes down easily.


                        I'd certainly recommended this to anyone looking for a refreshing drop of a summer evening that isn't too complex and won't leave them feeling too 'foggy'. It's a little dearer than some beers out there, but that's not an issue if you're not looking to purchase one of the monstrous slabs of continental lager designed for house parties or binge drinking.
                        *Have with*

                        A smooth, easy drinking beer - give it a go with savoury snacks, fish, or if you fancy something a little spicier, I can recommend some wasabi peas.

                        *Further reading*



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                        • Japan Centre / Highstreet Shopping / 79 Readings / 77 Ratings
                          More +
                          14.09.2009 18:05
                          Very helpful



                          Truly a one stop shop!

                          *Japan is now apparently in the centre of London!*

                          Japan Centre is a series of businesses based in London Piccadilly, with the stated aim of having Japan 'delivered to your door'. It's an absolutely wonderful idea for a diverse range of people: from someone looking to take their first tentative steps towards trying sushi, or for crazed Japanophiles who can't cope without a weekly supply of edamame, sake and good quality sushi rice.

                          All under one roof you can find a retail store, a popular website for ordering Japanese goods, a restaurant, sushi classes, Japanese recipes (in English), a user forum and a bilingual recruitment agency.

                          Much as I love Japanese cuisine I can't speak more than ten words of Japanese, so this review will focus on the retail and online stores and some of the added extras offered on their site (www.japancentre.com).

                          *Japan Centre store*

                          The 'supermarket' aspect of Japan Centre is a fascinating emporium of Japanese goods and products, full to the brim with a cornucopia of traditional and modern items from the other side of the world. They offer an unprecedented selection of dried and preserved goods - from rice and noodles to green tea, sauces and Japanese vegetables, to flavourings, panko breadcrumbs and the like.

                          As well as this there is a good range of fresh and frozen goods, including tofu, miso, frozen edamame beans, vegetables and meat prepared for traditional Japanese meals (for example, wafer thin pork loin for sukiyaki).

                          Their homewares selection also goes far beyond that of similar stores and it's the ideal place to go if you're looking for some new bowls for miso soup, a square frying pan for quick fried eggs, or a rice steamer for your latest attempt at making a authentic Japanese meal.

                          Fans of Japanese drinks will also be appeased with the generous selection of Japanese beers (some brewed in the UK), sake and shochu, green teas and popular Japanese soft drinks. It's possible to pick up plenty of snacks to go with these and some of the uniquely savoury Japanese snacks have always struck me as the ideal accompaniment to a cold beer.

                          The store is clean, bright and well lit and is busy throughout the day (lunchtimes particularly). While the staff are invariably helpful and polite it can be a little tricky for a Caucasian to navigate his way around a store where the shelf labels are bilingual and somewhat cramped. Maybe I should bring my magnifying glass? There are usually a range of customers, but I sometimes feel a bit like the odd man out as I wander around the store. I think better signage would make all the difference between this being a good store for Japanese speaks and a wonderful store for everyone.

                          ***Please note, the food store is moving to a new premises round the corner on Regent Street from Saturday the 3rd of October.***

                          *Toku restaurant*

                          A great little restaurant located on the ground centre of Japan Centre, Toku prides itself on selling authentic Japanese cuisine prepared quickly at affordable prices. Their website states that they hope to go all organic in future and there's an obvious level of dedication to nutrition and quality which strikes me as typically Japanese.

                          Meals on offer include:

                          'Sushi, Sashimi, Japanese Curry, Don rice bowls and noodle-based dishes such as Ramen, Udon and Soba'

                          As well as this, you'll find miso soups (with free refills), Japanese drinks and snacks and a selection of bento boxes. The restaurant is open from roughly 1200-2200 most days of the week, although it closes earlier on Sundays.

                          You can find some additional information at:


                          *Sushi training - like Brain Training but with more raw fish?*

                          Japan Centre offer 'sushi training' with the chefs in the Toku restaurant and these are held on various dates on a first come, first served basis. While these look very interesting for the wannabe Japanese chef, they aren't cheap, with a day's training coming in at around the £150 mark.

                          There are a couple of other choices for those looking for some instruction in sushi preparation in London, including classes at Yo! Sushi, which are about half the price for the same length of tuition. I can't comment on the quality of tuition for either venue, but I suppose people would opt for the Japan Centre for the presumed authenticity of the training? Ah well, at least I now have birthday and Christmas present ideas sorted!

                          *Are Bob and Angie Japanese names?! - recipes online*

                          As well as selling ingredients, cooked food and the lessons to create Japanese meals, Japan Centre prove themselves as a Jack of all trades by providing a series of recipes for Japanese dishes in English. There are currently 100+ meals/techniques included and these range from simple hot snacks to more complicated options and 'best practice' suggestions for the kitchen. Oddly enough, these are provided under the names of 'Bob and Angie - I'm sure there's a story there.

                          The recipes can be accessed from the home page - I won't place a direct link here as I want you to take a look around the site for yourself!


                          The online portal for the Japan Centre is bright, cheerful and highly enjoyable to navigate around (perhaps more so than the store!) It's a colourful site, with plenty of explanatory icons and good descriptions for the products.

                          Products are divided into eight categories on the homepage (Food, Drink and Sake, Instant, Cookware, Magazines, Books and Origami) and customers can access these by clicking on the icons in the centre of the page or the buttons on the module/menu at the left hand side. Some products are also available in wholesale quantities/prices and I really had to think about whether or not I needed 8kg of wasabi peas!

                          Personally, I like to browse using the menus at the left hand side of the page, as clicking on them opens further sublevels which makes it very easy to browse products effectively.

                          The site has very good search functionality and Google users the world over will get the instant results that they've come to expect.

                          The product range is nearly as good as the high street store, although there are a few exceptions. Fresh and frozen goods are excluded for health and safety reasons, which means that you can't buy sushi, fresh vegetables or meat etc. This might be a bit of a nuisance for people who can't get into London, but I've always found that I can get good results preparing Japanese meals with a mix of authentic dried/rehydrated Japanese vegetables, sauces etc. and fresh goods from my local butcher or fishmonger.

                          Bestsellers and featured icons are prominent during both browsing and in search results and several products are also branded with a small icon highlighting the fact that they are 'staff choices' and come highly recommended. Some of these are 'no-brainers' for fans of Japanese cooking, but these tips are useful for helping customers expand their knowledge of Japanese food.

                          The shopping cart is easy to use and the checkout process is self explanatory and secure.

                          Delivery is very good (the website says that orders are normally shipped within about three days, but this has always been considerably quicker for me). They can ship most of their products to various countries around the world (see the site) and there is a huge choice of delivery options for those in the UK. Their standard courier delivery allows you to order up to 30kg of goods for £4.95, with the goods being delivered the day after dispatch. Alternatively, it's possible to select a range of expedited options, with next day and Saturday deliveries possible at cost.
                          *Running the gamut*

                          In conclusion, the Japan Centre houses a wide range of businesses that cover all my needs as a consumer and fan of Japanese food. I can buy ingredients, pick up my lunch when I'm there, be shown how to prepare the goods and order bulk quantities/heavy items online.

                          Truly a one stop shop!


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                          • More +
                            10.09.2009 08:09
                            Very helpful



                            Sainsbury's have provided me with the ideal quick lunch

                            *Not so much a white month as a white week*

                            My girlfriend are I are off to Germany, the land of red meat and quaffing, in ten days and are behaving ourself by abstaining from alcohol and red meat in the interim. It's our version of a white month, only in miniature. The downside of diets, or saying that you're not going to eat anything with a blanket proscription, is that you start to crave the thing you're not having almost as soon as you decide not to!

                            In my case, I've been hankering after some protein and so decided to pick up a can of Sainsbury's sardine fillets in spring water to fill my rumbling tum.

                            *Availability and cost*

                            Somewhat unsurprisingly, these are only available from Sainsbury's stores, or by home delivery for those of you who purchase your groceries at www.sainsburys.co.uk.

                            The sardines cost £0.34, which is an absolute bargain for 90g drained weight of sardines (perfect for two slices of toast).

                            *A fishy treat, just don't look while you're eating them!*

                            Tinned sardines are very easy to prepare, in that you only need to take off the scales, any small fins etc. and the backbone if required. In all honesty I just mash the whole things onto toast and never find myself gagging or getting bones stuck in my throat. If you are the sort of person who does, however, a few minutes spent 'sanitising' the sardines may be a good idea.

                            These sardines taste very good - light and fishy, with an agreeably soft texture and no additional overtones from the spring water. I've never been a fan of sardines served in heavy tomato sauce or oil, as I find that these detract from the main event and make them far less palatable. Also, if you like to grill your sardines on bread/toast, the extra oil can lead to them becoming a little burnt, which isn't nice.


                            Very much so - a tasty snack rich in protein and naturally low in salt and fairly low in fat. Sardines contain a range of fish oils which are good for the human body (eyesight, healthy nervous system etc.) and they are also sustainable as they are actually immature pilchards (a fast growing and very common fish). The tin they come in is recyclable, too, so you don't need to feel guilty about throwing away lots of packaging either.

                            *What would they go with?*

                            Personally I like my sardines mashed directly onto wholemeal toast and then grilled lightly with a little pepper and chilli flakes. They're also fantastic grilled lightly and served with green beans, a little aioli and steamed or boiled potatoes. Sainsbury's suggest that they also make a good salad ingredient, although I'm not entirely sure I'd fancy a sardine salad that often.

                            For a little more on sardines, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/food_matters/sustainablefish.shtml#sardines


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                            • Haribo Jelly Babies / Sweets / 62 Readings / 61 Ratings
                              More +
                              09.09.2009 21:24
                              Very helpful



                              A tasty and affordable snack

                              *Guilty pleasures*

                              We all have a guilty pleasure, something that we love to eat even though it's bad for us. For me, one of mine is visiting the cinema with a good bag of sweets. After discovering them recently, Haribo Jelly Babies have become my confectionery treat of choice and I like them more than is healthy for a guy who really doesn't 'do' sweet foods.

                              *Where would I be without Poundland?*

                              These jelly babies aren't as widely available as the rest of the Haribo range in the UK (perhaps they're a little bit too traditional when compared to Starmix, Tangfastics and the like?) They can be picked up occasionally in bigger supermarkets and for those of us watching our budgets - if nothing else - Poundland sells a very generous 300g bag for £1.

                              *Refreshingly natural flavours, but so sweet!*

                              These are fantastic for an unhealthy snack - the jelly babies are moreish, sweet and the flavours are very pleasant and have discernible differences between them. As this often isn't the case with jelly sweets such as these or jelly beans, they get a big thumbs up for quality. The texture is also good and they are soft enough to gobble, while they resist enough so that biting the feet of a jelly baby takes a moment!

                              Haribo Jelly Babies are particularly tasty and contain all natural flavourings, including aronia, blackcurrant, carrot, elderberry, grape, hibiscus and lemon. For those of you shocked that a bag of sweets could contain carrots, they were actually used with some regularity to sweeten dishes during the second World War and who knows, maybe the sweets are healthier for it? ;-)

                              Nutritionally, this is where the goodness ends. While these sweets are very low in fat, they contain massive amounts of sugars (over 50% by weight) and this is just as bad as fat as that's what it's going to turn into if you don't try and stay active! The manufacturers recommend a serving of 40g (139 kcal), but realistically you're looking at a quarter of the bag for a more normal serving (more like 250 kcal). After all, who eats a seventh of a bag of sweets when they go to the cinema?!

                              Unfortunately for vegetarians, these jelly babies are no more suited for them than real babies would be (this is intended as a joke, so hopefully won't cause offence). They contain gelatin and as they make no mention of it coming from anywhere other than animal sources, better safe than sorry is my advice to any veggie readers.

                              *Will I be buying these again?*

                              I certainly will. While high sugar treats are bad for the teeth and probably not best for moderating blood sugar levels during the day, a little bit of what you like does you good. These are a tasty and affordable snack and hey - Poundland's got to be a good mile from my house uphill.


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                              • Disaster Dinners / Discussion / 56 Readings / 53 Ratings
                                More +
                                09.09.2009 12:35
                                Very helpful



                                The sad story of how one of my first attempts at haute cuisine turned into 'bin cuisine'

                                *Even the keenest cooks get it wrong!*

                                As anyone who is kind enough to keep up with my reviews knows, I'm something of a foodie. My girlfriend is wonderful at encouraging me and my kitchen confidence has been steadily rising since the end of 2007 when we moved in together. I'm going along to enrol for a NVQ in Professional Cookery tonight and thought I'd share this tale of woe from winter 2007 to encourage those of us who have more kitchen nightmares than triumphs to keep on trying!

                                *You don't need to cook something just because it looks delicious!*

                                From memory (which is a fickle beast at the best of times), my lovely girlfriend had just moved in with me and I was keen to make a good impression. In our regular round of cookery TV, recipe reading online and raiding the Observer food supplement, the idea of a freshly prepared beef Wellington had been well and truly planted in our heads.

                                I have to say, few things sound tastier than a perfect piece of pink beef with an accompaniment of pate, mushrooms and a crisp puff pastry shell.

                                Perhaps a little too eager for my own good, I decided to make up the dish to surprise her and started shopping around for ingredients.

                                *You have to be strict with your butcher*

                                A beef Wellington requires a really good quality piece of beef fillet and I went to a traditional butcher to pick up the required joint. The recipe I read suggested that I insist upon a piece cut as close to the centre of the joint as possible, so that it wouldn't 'stretch' during cooking (meat is muscle, after all). The meat cost £19.

                                At the time I was a bit more timid and didn't really have the confidence to question the skills of the butcher (although I did say what I was cooking and he seemed fairly sure of what I needed).

                                It would later turn out that the fillet he'd cut was a pretty poor choice, as it was from the edge of the joint and would ultimately wreck my dinner!

                                *Building myself up for a fall*

                                Ensconced in my tiny galley kitchen on a cold winter's afternoon, I set about cooking with my usual gusto (balancing pots and utensils where I could find room!) Everything went well as I whipped together a homemade chicken liver pate with brandy and reduced down fresh chestnut and wild mushrooms into a lovely creamy duxelles.

                                Feeling rather pleased, I sealed over the pastry and gave it a light glaze as I arranged the Wellington in its baking tray - job done! After that I went to spend some QT with my girlfriend and was greatly looking forward to dinner.
                                An hour or two later and it was time for dinner. I went to take the Wellington (which had been a lovely golden brown 25 minutes previously) out of the oven only to be met with a horrific sight!

                                My once beautiful dinner now looked like a pile of crap (pardon my French), with gaping sides of overly pink beef bursting from the pastry carapace like something from 'Alien'. The beef had expanded/changed position during cooking and I now had what looked like a piece of raw beef with a pastry lid and a brown puddle around it.

                                The sides were all fine and while my girlfriend tried to make me feel better, nothing detracted from the annoyance I felt about my ruined main. It might not seem like much compared to, say, the kitchen going on fire, but I was gutted.

                                I easily spent £30 on the ingredients for that meal, which I could ill afford to waste. While I'm a lot more confident in the kitchen these days I'll never forget 'the Wellington that got away' and I learned a valuable lesson about not just taking the butcher's word for granted!

                                I haven't tried to make it since..... :-o


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                                • More +
                                  07.09.2009 19:34
                                  Very helpful



                                  Why are you still reading this? Go buy some gelato!

                                  I'm sure that Scoop will excuse me pinching their strapline, but they surely must offer the best gelato in London. My girlfriend and I recently paid a visit to their Covent Garden base after a recommendation from one of her work colleagues. Said colleague is one of those boring people who has a hate hate relationship with food, so the fact that she'd recommended Scoop is high praise indeed!

                                  *Mhhh... gelato!*

                                  Gelato is widely accepted as being an Italian delicacy, although the world and his wife lay claim to inventing it. The Scoop website go with the version of history that states that Charles I was one of the first lucky souls to eat Gelato after it was invented by his French chef, but the prevalence of gelato production and history in Italy would seem to invalidate this theory.

                                  Regardless of its origins, gelato is a deliciously moreish dessert which makes ice cream seem like a poor cousin. Rich, creamy and containing far less air than ice cream, I could see myself becoming addicted to the guilty pleasure of digging into a thick tub of gelato with the small plastic spoons provided.

                                  The gelato served by Scoop is beautiful to look at and appears highly organic - precariously perched peaks of whipped perfection sit frozen in their trays like a dessert seascape. I apologise not for the hyperbolic description - this is the sort of place that encourages evangelism!

                                  *Delicious, natural flavours*

                                  The Scoop website is particularly keen to point out the health benefits of their product and while I remain unconvinced that such a rich treat can be particularly healthy, at least the flavourings they use are top quality. You won't find any artificial colourings either, their gelato is gluten free and they even do a few low(er?) calorie flavours.

                                  They currently offer in the region of two dozen flavours, as well as a selection of sorbets. The gelato is largely split between traditional tastes (such as the tiramisu or amarena (cherry) which I tried, and more modern varieties (including a chocolate variety so dark that I thought that it was time for bed).

                                  Some of the flavourings are ridiculously fancy and this is food porn at its finest: Vanilla from Madagascar, nuts from Piedmonte, pistachios from a speciality supplier who can only harvest for two weeks of the year due to volcanic activity and finest dark chocolate from Africa - it's all good. You might feel a bit like you've died and ended up in the Guardian food pages, but go with it, you'll have fun!

                                  *Other products*

                                  As well as picture perfect gelato, Scoop also sell a range of traditional Italian pastry-based desserts, very good coffee and hot chocolate. That said, I suspect that most people come for the gelato and stay for the addiction.

                                  *Not cheap, but you get what you pay for*

                                  Prices vary for what takes your fancy from cones, tubs or containers. My girlfriend and I opted for medium tubs (two very generous scoops falling out the side of the tub, or three normal scoops). These were pretty filling and came in at ~£3.30. The smallest portions seemed to start at about the £2.75 range and the smallest container (serves 2-3), came in at ~£8.

                                  They also offer wholesale prices and are able to supply restaurants etc., as well as offering home delivery in the central London area.


                                  Fine Italian Gelato LTD
                                  40 Shorts Gardens

                                  WC2H 9AB
                                  Phone: 0207 2407086
                                  Mobile: 0044 7944779693

                                  You can also download a map to the store from their website - see: http://www.scoopgelato.com/contact.html

                                  *Final thoughts*

                                  Why are you still reading this? Go buy some gelato!


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