Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Eating Out in Bristol: Aluna

Remember when you used to have a job but no kids? When going to the gym BEFORE work was a thing (cause you weren't ever really tired and you had plenty of disposable income) and after work drinks were basically what happened every Friday? Or indeed Thursday and sometimes even Wednesday too (though never Tuesday or Monday - I was always pretty sensible and old before my time...)

After work drinks: they've taken on a bit of a mythical quality to me now, in my current world a million miles away from those carefree days mooching about Soho, a time when I could always do after work drinks if I wanted - there was no homework, ironing or urgent life admin to attend to back then.

It's a different life I inhabit nowadays so I felt a bit giddy at the prospect of heading to Bristol's buzzy centre for cocktails last week, an area of the city that attracts plenty of people looking for their after work drinks fix most nights of the week. With the airy Bambalan on one side and opulent drinking den Milk Thistle on the other, this is the part of the Bristol that most reminds me of my previous life in London and many a fun evening offloading the pressures of the working day over cocktails with work mates.

I was in town to visit Aluna, a cocktail bar and restaurant on Broad Quay, just moments from the harbourside. It's not a new opening and also has a branch in Birmingham so I was interested to see what it brings to Bristol's vibrant and diverse restaurant offering. The fact that Aluna has one of the longest cocktail lists I've ever seen was perhaps what really attracted me - after all, I was keen to recapture that after work drinks vibe and Aluna is very much catering to that kind of crowd. Arriving a bit late to meet a friend, I totally felt that special excitement that comes with downing tools at the end of a long day and knowing a really nice drink is waiting for you at the bar.

At Aluna, though, the drinks really are rather special. A quick scan of the cocktail menu had me immediately calling on the services of our friendly waitress to explain the weird and wonderful-sounding options, from cocktails 'from the cauldron' to 'vaccines and potions' - pretty out there, no?! 

You can get more familiar cocktails too - we played it safe first off with a classic Mojito which was delicious. But as our waitress explained some of the more unusual options on offer (a 'Colour Changing Martini', 'Demonic Delight' and 'Bubblegumtini' to name just a few) our interest was piqued and we both plumped for something in the 'molecular' range. 

A pretty normal sounding Pomegranate Cosmo turned out to be a glass of clear liquid, jumping with jellified pomegranate and bubbles - essentially like drinking a lava lamp. They're the kind of drinks you can't take too seriously as I found out when I casually gave mine a stir, whipping up a load of bubbles and spurting myself with liquid in the process. 

I would say the focus at Aluna is perhaps more on drinks than food - the menu is eclectic which is something I struggle with a bit as a diner. It's a concept that works fine in a cheap 'n' cheerful, all-you-can-eat type venue like Za Za Bazaar but when I'm eating somewhere a little more expensive I always prefer a shorter, more focused menu. That said, the food at Aluna was competent - I enjoyed my vegetable spring roll starter though my massaman curry needed a bit more kick. 

But if you like a varied menu (and it is useful if you're out with a crowd and one person fancies Asian, another a burger, someone else a curry, for example) Aluna does have pretty much all bases covered - you can choose from steaks and grills to seafood linguine and Singapore noodles. 

The service is excellent, though we did visit on a relatively calm Tuesday evening - I can imagine this place might get a lot busier on a Thursday or Friday. Our waitress was charming and was more than happy to pose for us as we videoed her setting one of our cocktails alight (the appropriately named 'Bush Fire', a very unusual concoction of rum, sloe gin, raspberry and rosemary - this one was a real highlight of our evening.) 

With a brilliantly central location and really friendly, informed staff, Aluna is definitely doing the after works drink thing right. I mean, if you've had a hard day in the office, a pretty, bubbling concoction of vodka and pomegranate can't fail to help you put all thoughts of spreadsheets and stress out of your mind and bring a smile to your face...

For more information about Aluna, visit the website here.

I enjoyed a complimentary meal and cocktails at Aluna but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Trialling glasses with Specspost

2017: the year I finally got an eye test. After months (okay, a couple of years) of self-denial regards my ability to read small print, I finally relented and went to the optician. I was unsurprised to find that I had entered a new phase in the journey towards middle age; yes, I now require reading glasses.

In all honesty, I was quite happy with this outcome. Not only was I getting a bit fed up of futile attempts to read the text on my instagram feed, but since glasses got trendy I'd started to feel I was missing out on a whole different world of accessorising. Also, who knew going to the optician could be so relaxing! I had a lovely afternoon, cocooned in a world of hushed voices and gentle eye exercises, and I thoroughly enjoyed picking out my prescription lenses.

So, as a new glasses wearer, I was really excited to hear about SpecsPost, an online retailer offering a fuss-free way to buy your prescription glasses and sunglasses. Operating since 2009, SpecsPost offers lower than the high street prices on a great range of glasses for both men and women - you choose your frames and lenses, add in your prescription and get your glasses dispatched direct to your home. You can also try before you buy, a very useful facility for those starting out on their glasses wearing journey like myself. It's also great if you want to try some of the more fashion-forward glasses in the range and break out of your eye-wear style rut.

If the idea of navigating the technical aspect of glasses makes you feel a bit nervous about buying them online, the SpecsPost help pages has a really handy FAQ section (the first question being: "I've never bought glasses online before; how do I start?") covering everything you might be unsure of (how to make sure you get your prescription right, what to do if you just need reading glasses, etc.) plus there's a whole section dedicated to lenses.

But what about the actual glasses? The choice is impressive, with 'safe' options as well as more fashion-led choices, plus if you like the look of, say, Alexa Chung, you'll enjoy browsing the glasses in the celebrity section (covering everyone from Johnny Depp to Zooey Deschanel.)

There's also a good selection of sunglasses in the Petite range - available with prescription lenses, these had me at 'petite' as I always struggle to find sunnies that don't swamp my face and make me look weird. This option is available for both men and women, and includes some cool styles in everything from classic tortoiseshell to neon pink (perfect for festivals and starting at £24.99, not a prohibitive expense should you mislay or break them.)

With three on offer to trial, I picked a pretty broad selection: a pair of classic tortoiseshell wayfarers in a petite size, some slightly-out-of-my-comfort-zone black round sunnies and - now that I'm a fully paid-up member of the speccy crew - a pair of Alexa Chung style numbers that you can have with a prescription lens.

I loved the try before you buy aspect of this service - I was able to properly consider each option in the comfort of my own home without a sales advisor breathing down my neck. And you really don't want to make an expensive mistake with something as necessary as your glasses.

I found each pair really comfortable - the frames are light but sturdy and stay put (there's nothing worse than a pair of glasses slipping down your nose.) The petite sunglasses really were petite - for me, they were perhaps a bit too small (I'm obviously not quite as petite as I think I am) while the standard round sunglasses were perfect - a great size and style, I totally fell in love with these although they were the glasses I was least sure of initially.

I'm not sure I can carry of an Alexa look, though - given it's early days for me on the whole wearing glasses for necessity thing, I'm not sure I'm quite ready to be so experimental yet. But in terms of comfort and quality, these are fantastic options for the price. 

And that's the last part of the equation, right? Prescription glasses and sunglasses can be pretty spendy and gone are the days where I can countenance the idea of parting with £150 for a pair of designer sunnies. With the non-prescription glasses I chose coming in at just £25.99, SpecsPost are offering a really affordable alternative to the high street. 

As for me, I'm very happy with my new sunglasses, a departure from my usual eye-wear choice. And next time I need a reading glasses update, I know where I'll be looking first...

This post was written in conjunction with SpecsPost who kindly loaned me some glasses to try. 


Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wine Tasting with Dunleavy Vineyards

How's this for an inspirational story: my friend Ingrid has her own vineyard, planted when she was heavily pregnant with her first child in 2008 and which she manages pretty much single-handedly, creating a Pinot Noir rose that has won a whole bunch of awards, including Silver at the UK Wine Awards 2017. She even managed to fit in having another child along the way. I mean, that's pretty impressive, no?

I've followed Ingrid's story for some time (she has children at the same school as mine and definitely wins the award for 'Mum with the Coolest Job') but the other evening I finally got to sample her wine and hear a bit more about her background, along with some other local bloggers and food writers. 

Let's start with the wine. I love rose and I'm totally down with the whole idea of eating and drinking locally sourced produce wherever possible, so I was really excited about trying a wine produced just a short distance from my own doorstep. 

Ingrid's vineyard is located in the heart of the Chew Valley in Somerset, in the village of Wrington, though her business is based in Bishopston - it doesn't get more local than that. For those that know their viticulture (I'll admit I'm a bit hazy; I just know I like dry wines and if I'm looking for a rose I always for a Cotes du Provence - that's as technical as it gets for me) the wine is made from Pinot Noir and Seyval Blanc grapes which are nurtured in Somerset's loamy soils, using low tech methods that work in harmony with nature. As well as the rose, Ingrid will be releasing her first sparkling wine towards the end of 2018. Ingrid keeps things local by working closely with a wine maker in Glastonbury to ensure her wine is made exactly as she wants it.

Supping on a glass in the garden the other evening, it fulfilled everything I want from a summer drink - crisp, dry and the perfect accompaniment to a table full of tapas. I loved it, and judging from the speed at which we sunk a few bottles, I think my guests did too. 

I can't profess to be a wine buff and I'm certainly not a wine snob - when I think back to wines I've enjoyed most, I think of my relatives in Italy and their little home production lines, making simple, uncomplicated wines to be served from a rustic carafe over lunch in the garden. So I won't pretend I can explain the top notes and complex flavours of this wine - but believe me when I tell you it's bloody lovely and I can't wait to get my hands on another bottle soon.

Dunleavy Wine surprised me in its ability to transport me to warmer climes for the evening - I'm still amazed that a gorgeous rose that more than stands up to expensive French wines can be produced just up the road from Bristol Airport. 

As we sipped and nibbled, Ingrid explained a bit more about her background. A degree in Biology was followed by a stint at the BBC, but it wasn't really Ingrid's true calling. Perhaps when you've got a science degree that focuses very much on living things, shuffling bits of paper around a desk isn't going to fulfil your life's ambitions. It was a subsequent job managing another local vineyard that sparked the idea of a career in viticulture, and after saving, researching and looking at land, Ingrid finally took the plunge in 2008.

As someone with a job that is pretty much entirely desk bound, I must say I did find myself mentally assessing the possibility of giving it all up and buying my own plot of land (some corner in Tuscany would do nicely) to follow in Ingrid's footsteps. However, it's not all skipping about picking grapes in the sunshine, of course - there's a LOT of hard work and dedication that goes into managing a vineyard, even a relatively small one like Ingrid's.

Ingrid explained that having the responsibility of a vineyard is a bit like having a child - you need to nurture and grow it with love and care, and there are all sorts of obstacles to overcome along the way, not least the issue of inclement weather. And then, of course, when you've done all that work, you have to let your wine go out into the big, wide world. I can imagine it's quite an emotional - as well as physically draining - experience. Ingrid is currently making around 3000 bottles a year and hopes to reach 5000 in the near future. 

As we talked food, wine, sustainability, as well as the ever-challenging question of how to juggle a career with raising children, I was reminded just how many brilliant women there are out there, quietly doing stuff like running vineyards, writing cookbooks, managing PR companies and launching businesses - Ingrid and my other wine tasting guests are a great example of how women are shaping our food and drink scene in Bristol and it was a real inspiration to hear about their varied and exciting projects.
So, if you like the idea of sampling a truly local wine that has won awards both at home and abroad, get yourself a bottle of Dunleavy - it's available to buy at various independent wine shops across Bristol as well as online here (the most cost-effective way to purchase it; Dunleavy try and offer free delivery in Bristol where possible.) You can also buy Dunleavy at wholesale cost from the Somerset Flower Farm.

Plus you can find out more about Dunleavy on their Facebook and Instagram pages.

Some photos courtesy of Dunleavy Vineyards.

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