Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The French Oven

I’ve been wanting to write a post about The French Oven for a while now. Here, you’ll read my highs, a low and great customer service from this artisan bakery.

I first came across French Oven at Tynemouth Food Festival in May 2015. See my brief Facebook post about Tynemouth Food Festival 2015 here. A friend of a friend recommended that I try the Beetroot sourdough. I was intrigued and excited at the prospect, as never had beetroot in a bread, never mind a sourdough before. Unfortunately, by the time we got there in the afternoon on the first day, they had sold out. Good thing we’d already planned to go to the second day of the food festival. So, the next day, we went straight to the stall bright and early and secured a beetroot sourdough.

French Oven's beetroot sourdough
Tynemouth Food Festival 2015

I’ve had sourdough bread before so thought I had an idea of what to expect from this beetroot sourdough. It completely blew me away. Any expectations I had, it exceeded. The bread was so soft, light and fluffy with delicious earthy flavour running through. It is a beautiful sight to behold. Gorgeously speckled with purpley-pink gems throughout. It was the best bread I had ever eaten. I can only wonder and look on in awe at how French Oven managed to get their bread to be as soft as clouds. It wasn’t like any sourdough I’ve eaten made before. It wasn’t characteristically dense, holey, chewy and slightly sour. But whether it met any criteria to resembling a sourdough, I didn’t care, as it was utterly scrumptious! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so passionately about a bread (that wasn’t made by myself) before! I can’t praise it highly enough!

French Oven's beetroot sourdough

I do enjoy a cheese board and this beetroot sourdough improves one no end!

Cheeseboard with French Oven's beetroot sourdough

Ever since I finished eating this loaf, I’d been dreaming of my next loaf. A month later in June, I finally made it out to town to The French Oven bakery in Newcastle’s Grainger Market.



I was really chuffed when I got my second beetroot sourdough. My cousin Carine on my recommendation purchased two. She got one for herself and one for our aunty.

French Oven's beetroot sourdough

You can see why I was surprised and extremely disappointed when I sliced into this second loaf and it was undercooked! All my highest of high expectations were crushed. I tried eating a slice but it was stodgy, raw and inedible. With great sorrow, I had to throw it in the bin. I felt even worse as had recommended it to Carine who had bought two! I’ve never bought anything before that has been so badly baked.

French Oven's beetroot sourdough

Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. I believed that this wasn’t French Oven’s standard fare nor reflected their high standard (that I’d discovered and love). I didn’t want to ‘complain’ as didn’t want to appear nasty. I had recently joined Twitter and found I could contact French Oven privately on there. I’d rather do that then tweet publicly about it. I only wanted to make French Oven aware of what had happened and did not expect anything in return. The owner John responded and apologised for the undercooked batch explaining it was the first time in two years. He then offered me a refund/replacement and a goodie bag as compensation. My cousin Carine was also offered the same compensation as me. This was very kind of him, as an apology and refund would have been enough. To go the extra mile and offer a goodie bag shows great customer service. I opted for a replacement rather than a refund of the beetroot sourdough as felt, it deserved another chance, after being so brilliant the first time round.

I arranged with John on Twitter when I would be round in mid-July. I was assured that it would be sorted for me and ready when I got there. When, I got to the bakery, none of the staff knew what had been arranged. I explained the situation and offered to show the private Twitter messages conversation between myself and John. This wasn’t necessary and after initial confusion, a staff member bagged up a beetroot sourdough for me and then proceeded to offer me a choice of any of their breads. They have a huge choice of savoury breads with unusual additions like black pudding. This was tempting but I decided on a Brioche, as wanted to try their sweet breads after trying a savoury one. I was then asked if I would like to try one of their pastries. There were so many to choose from that it was a little overwhelming, so I asked the staff which one they would recommend. Do I eat meat? Yes, definitely. A staff member recommended the Pork & plum chutney pie.

French Oven's brioche, beetroot sourdough and pork & plum chutney pie

The pork & plum chutney pie was still warm and inviting when I got home, so of course, I had to eat it straight away. The breads could wait till later!

I was pleasantly surprised with the pie filling. I didn’t expect there to be so much of it but it worked. As well as being generous, my mum commented that the pork filling looks very genuine. No cheap and nasty mince here! The pastry was light, buttery and flaky. The filling was tasty and the chutney was moreish (I do enjoy my chutney!). Very good. Well recommended. I’d like to try their other pies in future.

French Oven's pork & plum chutney pie

French Oven's pork & plum chutney pie

Onto the brioche. Another pleasant surprise when I cut into this loaf. A really soft and fluffy crumb. How do French Oven do it? Again, not like other brioches I’ve eaten from the supermarket which are more dense and buttery tasting. But that’s not a bad thing. This was a cross between a light white sandwich loaf and a brioche. Very enjoyable to eat.

French Oven's brioche

I like my brioche with Nutella. How do you eat yours?

French Oven's brioche with Nutella

And ending on what we started with. The beetroot sourdough was amazing like the first time. The previous underbaked loaf was clearly a blip and has been more than compensated for.

French Oven's beetroot sourdough

Homemade butternut squash & carrot soup with French Oven's beetroot sourdough

Packed lunch at work. Cheese & tomato sandwich in French Oven beetroot sourdough.

Cheese & tomato sandwich in French Oven beetroot sourdough

Cheeseboard with French Oven beetroot sourdough

Cheeseboard with French Oven beetroot sourdough

I recommended French Oven’s breads to go with a cheeseboard for my friend Debs’ wedding last week. The selection of breads (unpictured) along with the cheese went down really well! I got to try the black pudding sourdough, which was tasty and not overpowering like I thought might be.

Deb & Rob's Wedding Cheese Cake, August 2015
Photo credit: Deborah Robinson

I didn’t use to buy handmade breads as am happy to make my own. But with French Oven, I’m happy to change this, as their breads are incredible!

I highly recommend French Oven’s breads and bakes. And I respect the way they handle any mistakes they make. It is clear that this is a bakery who cares about their product, standards and customers. Thanks French Oven, you have retained a huge fan and I’m now a loyal supporter.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Anniversary meal at House of Tides

Kenny Atkinson House of Tides is located on Newcastle Quayside and has been open for over a year now. We have been meaning to go since it opened. It is pretty pricey, so we saved the treat for our 3 year anniversary in July. We opted for lunch rather than dinner, as it was a little cheaper but still had plenty on offer.

Our anniversary fell on a Tuesday, which is when we went, so it was quiet and we had no trouble getting a reservation. I imagine it gets busy at the end of the week. In fact we were the only diners, apart from another couple who finished their meal when we started ours. So almost a private dining space just for the two of us!


The surroundings are pleasant, both homely and modern. It is to be noted that shortly after we visited here, House of Tides undergone a renovation. I’m sure it will look just as nice, if not better!



A greetings card waited for us at our table. It wished us a Happy Anniversay from Kenny Atkinson and his staff team.


There were 3 menus to choose from at lunchtime. You could have 2 or 3 courses and choose what these are on Menu 1.

Leigh went for Menu 2, which comprises of 6 courses with snacks. There is an option of paying extra for a wine flight, which Leigh chose to do. This included 5 wines paired with 5 of the courses.


I went for Menu 3 where you get 7 courses.

They had taken the Sea bass & mussels curry course of the menu as were not happy with the quality of the produce. They replaced it with a cured salmon course. This was a shame as I love both sea bass and mussels. However, I’m glad as it shows a level of care and pride with their food. They didn’t want to serve sub-standard food. I was happy to try the salmon as enjoy that too.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the fourth course of Scallop, pork brawn, apple, celeriac & smoked eel. I have no idea why this happened. I must have got too caught up in the moment of eating! I have to say that it looked simple and unassuming but like many of the dishes, the flavours worked well together and tasted gorgeous!

Below is a snapshot of my tasting menu.


I ordered a mocktail and the wrong one was made for me. The staff were good about the mistake. They went and made me the one I ordered and the wrong one was complimentary.

As a non-alcohol drinker, I’ve had my fair share of non-alcoholic cocktails. One thing I know is a decent non-alcoholic cocktail is a hard thing to come by. They are often amped with flavourings making them syrupy sweet, gluggy and undrinkable. I can never understand the barman’s palate when they get it so wrong. Anyways, these two were on the right side of sweet, light and refreshing (what a non-alcoholic cocktail should be!).



For both our Menus, we started with Snacks. We chose not to have the raw Oysters and were substituted with Cheese and onion canapés. The olives were the biggest we’ve eaten. They were huge, and even though we normally prefer black olives, were tasty. The canapés were simple but light and yummy. A good sign of things to come.


Leigh’s first wine from the Wine flight was a glass of Pol Roger Champagne. This was made in Winston Churchill’s honour who was also its’ biggest fan. The Pol Roger accompanied the first course and was one of Leigh’s favourites from the Wine flight.

We both had the same first course of Whitby crab, avocado & basil.


This was quite brave for Leigh as he doesn’t normally eat seafood. But he was pleased he tried it, as it was a wonderful starter. The crab wasn’t too fishy, which Leigh was weary about. The caviar was a little bit fishy but on the whole, he enjoyed the dish. I had no complaint either. Every morsel was very enjoyable to eat. The bread, what I like to call ‘real bread’ was also tasty.



My second course was Mackerel, gooseberries, lemon & mustard. I was told this was the Signature dish. I did like it but it wasn’t my favourite course. The flavours were a little too sharp for me. The dish was light, fresh and zingy. If you like mustardy flavours, you would probably love this.


Leigh’s second wine was Bhilar which went with his second course.


Leigh’s wasn’t keen on the smoked salmon course on the Menu and was allowed to swap it for a vegetarian course. Leigh’s second course was asparagus, pheasant egg, peas & hollandaise.

I was pleased we got to do this, as I was getting the salmon course and meant I could try more things off the menu.

If you’re worried about missing the meat on a vegetarian dish, you don’t need too. This was delicious and very satisfying despite not having any meat. We were both very pleasantly surprised.


My third course was the Cured Wester Ross salmon, fennel, squid & oyster. This dish was decent and the salmon was of good quality but again wasn’t a favourite or stand-out dish. I am curious about the sea bass & mussels curry that this dish had substituted. I guess I accept that I will never know.


Leigh got a Morgan wine to go with his third course.


Leigh’s third course was Pollock, chicken wings, hazelnuts, celeriac & pear.

Fish and chicken to me isn’t the most obvious pairing. But when House of Tides do it, it tastes bloody amazing! Me and Leigh both adored the flavours of this dish. The two star ingredients along with co-stars just rocked it. I wanted more (I could eat a big plate full!) and was a bit gutted that this was Leigh’s dish and not mine.


Leigh got a Masut wine to match his fourth course.


Leigh’s fourth course was Cumbrian pork, apricots, black pudding, Hispi cabbage & truffle. Another tasty dish with the pork cooked well.


My fifth course (following the unpictured Scallop & pork brawn dish) of Gressingham duck, cherry, beetroot, pistachio & duck liver. All the ingredients worked in harmony producing another enjoyable dish.


Leigh’s fifth and my sixth course was the start of dessert. Blackberry, apple & almond.

It reminded me of a posh breakfast, like a fruity granola with yogurt. It felt odd eating it after 5 savoury courses. I was starting to feel full at this point, so probably didn’t enjoy this course as much as I could have (on a empty stomach!). I knew I had another dessert to go, which was also making me feel a bit uncomfortable.

In future, I’d go for either Menu 1 or 2 where there are less courses. Just being greedy me as usual today. Eyes bigger than belly. Anyways, Leigh really enjoyed the flavours of this dessert.



Leigh’s fifth and final wine from the Wine flight. He got a Domaine Cauhape French dessert wine.


Leigh’s final course was Cheesecake, elderflower, peach & honeycomb. This was not only beautiful but light, balanced and a delight to eat.


My seventh and final course was Dark chocolate, rosewater & raspberry.

Chocolate lovers will go crazy for this dessert. It was chocolaty, smooth and rich. Everything you would want from a chocolate dessert. The rosewater element was pleasant and not overpowering. The raspberries were there to cut through the richness but I found them too tart. Overall, I didn't feel this dish was balanced in flavours and as easy to eat as Leigh’s Cheesecake.


The staff alongside the food have been great. They were both knowledgeable and accommodating. Leigh recommends the Wine flight. It seems pricey but you pay for the expertise of the Sommelier and the opportunity to try different wines. And Leigh felt they did pair up with the courses well. He got to try wines that he normally wouldn’t try, learn more about wine & food matching, and enhanced his overall eating experience.

When we compare similar food experiences we've had to this one, House of Tides comes up top. I’ve had a tasting menu at a fine dining restaurant and we’ve eaten at a Michelin star restaurant but think the food is better here! Kenny Atkinson is heading in the right direction and we’re now firm fans!

We really did treat ourselves at House of Tides and it was a wonderful way to celebrate our 3 year anniversary. House of Tides is a gem and we highly recommend a visit here. We will definitely be returning in hopefully the not so distant future. It is expensive but is worth it and it’s nice to treat yourself every once in while!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Beth’s 30th Birthday Cake

Beth's 30th birthday cake

I had the honour of making my best friend Beth’s 30th birthday cake. I found out beforehand from her fiancé what her favourite cake flavour is. Red velvet with cream cheese frosting. I hadn’t made a red velvet celebration cake before, only cupcakes, but I figured I could make the recipe work for a large cake. It needed to feed 20+ people!

I decided to use Lola’s Cupcakes red velvet cupcakes recipe which I've used before. I doubled it to make two large cakes. I like this recipe as uses lemon juice instead of buttermilk, which I've used in another recipe before. This is more convenient for me, as I have usually have lemons in but never buttermilk. I've also had disasters with buttermilk and vinegar in red velvet recipes, (cake was very sour!), so try to steer away from these ingredients now.

I’ve tried a few different cream cheese frostings in the past and fancied trying a new one. A bit of a risk but  Kerry Cooks recipe for Foolproof Thick Cream Cheese Frosting turned out decent. I couldn’t get it as thick as Kerry does but it had a really good flavour and complemented the red velvet cake perfectly! I doubled the recipe to frost in between and cover the two large cakes.

I’ve wanted to try piping royal icing flowers for a while. I’ve tried piping buttercream simple swirl roses before but wanted to try making more challenging and technical types of flowers. I chose to use royal icing so I could make them over a week, as they keep well in an airtight container once dried. It was challenging and I need more practice to perfect the flowers but I’m chuffed with the overall look. I used this You Tube tutorial to pipe the more realistic looking roses and used some of the decorating techniques from the Wilton site.

PicMonkey Collage
Beth's 30th birthday meal at Carluccio's

Last weekend, Beth’s birthday meal was at Carluccio’s in Newcastle. We were sat in the private dining area upstairs, which has lovely views over the Monument and Grey Street. The food was decent and the service was excellent. I was impressed with the staff in particular, who were really accommodating with the cake. People were stuffed after their three course meal so didn’t want to eat the cake. The staff offered us takeaway cartons so people could take a slice home with them!

Beth loved the cake and I received lots of compliments. All the time and effort was worth it. The cake tasted great so will definitely be making it again. It is a chocolate cake without being too chocolatey and the tang of the frosting sets the chocolate flavour off beautifully. It could easily become my new favourite!


Lola’s Cupcakes Red Velvet Cake

220g butter
320g caster sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon red food colouring paste
2 eggs
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
70g dark chocolate, melted
380g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
140ml single cream
140ml whole milk
70g ground almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Prepare baking tins by greasing with butter and lining with baking paper.
2. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla into a bowl
and beat the mixture with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl 
with a rubber spatula to make sure the butter and sugar are incorporated.
3. Add the food colouring and the eggs, and beat slowly until combined.
Beat in the oil and lemon juice, followed by the chocolate.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cocoa powder together into a separate bowl.
5. Mix the cream and milk in a jug.
6. Add the dry ingredients (flour mix) to the batter, a little at a time,
alternating with the wet ingredients (milk & cream mix),
until you have a soft batter and all the dry ingredients have been incorporated.
7. Add the almonds and mix until smooth and a uniform colour.
Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula
and briefly beat at a high speed until the mixture is smooth.
Do not over-mix.
8. Fill the baking tins to two-thirds full.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30- 40 minutes,
or until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

N.B. Cakes can be frozen.
Ensure cake is fully cooled then wrap in cling film twice and place flat in the freezer.
Take cake out of freezer the night before using. Remove the cling film when defrosted and use.




Royal Icing

2 cups icing sugar (plus extra), sieved
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg white
Food colouring paste (if using)

1. Whisk lemon juice and egg white together until combined.
2. Whisk in icing sugar gradually.
3. Add more icing sugar if want a thicker consistency.
3. If using food colouring, add in gradually using a toothpick.
Stir in colouring until a uniform and desired colour.


I am linking for the first time to Kerry Cooks Cake Club July.
Join me and other food bloggers in sharing our cake-related adventures!