Monthly Archives: October 2012

Curry on the Quayside @ Vujon, Newcastle

Vujon: 29 Queen Street, Quayside, Newcastle

Sumptuous would be an understatement. Richly garbed in gold paired with multiple tones of brown, Vujon’s dining room was elegant and comfortable. Thick swathes of velvet material hung across windows while pristine table cloths and wine glasses adorned the tables, sparkling in the low light. Service was subtle and quiet, wonderfully so. The diners were seated fairly close together at one end of the restaurant though far enough away so you didn’t feel as if you were eavesdropping. Been a quiet Sunday, you can see their reasons for organising it so.

Poppadoms arrived swiftly with a cucumber raita, mango chutney and a diced onion relish. The mango chutney was not as sweet as usual but a lovely consistency, the raita just a touch sour and the onion relish adding that texture and tang. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough! We skipped on starters and headed straight for the main courses.

Chicken chettinad was mildly spicy, the chicken falling apart effortlessly at the prod of the fork. The sauce was a little oily but had an interesting sweet flavour; a nice touch. Murgh tikka jalfrezi was hot as it should be but altogether a bit bland. Chatrhi, a side dish of fresh mushrooms was juicy and meaty, small mushrooms coated in a moist sauce while Subz Meloni, the mixed seasonal vegetables, was all a bit pureed and congealed to be of any real texture of flavour. Peshwari Naan was a vast pillowy bread that was light and fluffy but there was too much almond paste in places, oversweetening it and at various points it had hardened to a less tasty crisp. Tandoori Boro Chingris, was prawns served sizzling over a bed of charcoal, fat and juicy with a rich garlic sauce. The side-salad was fresh and colourful and very plentiful. The garlic naan was some of the best I’ve tasted – a similar texture to the peshwari but with a fierce tang of garlic that most naans are devoid of, despite their name.

Pistachio kulfi was brought in a twisted cone shape, scattered with pistachio nuts. They were horribly dry, no crunch at all, though the kulfi was creamy with a refreshing flavour. Variety of ice cream was dire; no, it’s not Indian, but if you’re going to serve it then at least try to do it without shards of ice penetrating the scoops of ice cream and the yellow-orange shade to the “strawberry” flavour was more than a little off-putting. It turned out to be mango; I’m not sure whether the waiter or the producer got it wrong…

The menu is extensive and the dishes under something special look like a good area to explore if you’re a little bit of a risk taker and enjoy Anglo-Indian cusisine. I wouldn’t say Vujon offers anything more traditional than other Indians I have reviewed on here and the value isn’t great. The food is fresh and enjoyable but there is a bit too much oil and not enough flavour at times that hinders a higher score. Definitely worth a visit though and the service and surroundings were impeccable.

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Starbucks 4 : Costa 2

Oh yeah, it’s getting fierce now! We have the combination of food and drink.

On test is Starbucks’ salted caramel mocha latte and the chicken and roasted tomato panini.

I was excited for this salted mocha, I won’t lie. Salted caramel is a huge flavour at the moment and the combination of sweet and salty is a risky but wonderfully complimentary one should you pull it off. Incorporating chocolate is, again, dangerous but definitely doable. Starbucks didn’t do it. The drink was overly sweet with barely a flake of salt. The drink was too thin and runny, as if the milk hadn’t been frothed enough, the name latte devoid of meaning. Better with cream? I doubt it, though apparently it’s salted. I don’t want to imagine what that’s like. To Costa!

Hold up though, if you’re hungry anyway. Remember that ham and cheese panini from Costa? Starbucks’ panini was, in general size, bigger I believe and had more filling. Classic combination of chicken and tomato worked well with a hint of cajun spice but nothing overpowering or even dominating. The rocket was a fresh addition adding colour and balance. The panini was well-toasted; a bit too floury but thick and foccaccia in style though definitely still a panini – don’t worry, nothing too fancy.

Yep, this panini held its own so a point each.

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Olli & Pepe give the news on Reckless Love

Reckless Love Interview – Olli Herman/Pepe – 18/10/2012

As Reckless Love prepared to take to the stage of Camden Barfly for the third Thursday running, I popped into their dressing room to get the gossip on the Finnish rockers’ residency:

What made you want to do a residency?

Olli: Well because, you know, the fans in the UK are the craziest in the world. Last time we played London we played in Islington so the option for London, this time around, was like to push it forward and do it later or to come back and do something special. Our management had the gorgeous idea of doing a residency because nobody’s doing residencies anymore

Pepe: It’s the old school thing to do. It gives you freedom to do more than you can do in the space of just one show. We can jiggle things around.

Olli: The Barfly is where we had our first London show; it’s something special. It’s not like Islington where, you know,

Pepe: It would be empty in one of those places

Olli: And you know it’s also a really good thing to do. This way you can get awesome influence from the fans and that was one thing we wanted to do. It felt really good; it felt like a good option to do it. Like Pepe said, we’re old school rockers; he’s wearing a Kiss t-shirt!

Have you heard the new KISS album?

Pepe: I haven’t yet. Didn’t it just come out? We’ve been on tour so-

Olli: Yeah we haven’t had the chance to go into an HMV yet. We had the chance in an HMV in Glasgow but it hadn’t come out. Maybe tomorrow when we have a day off.

Pepe: I might buy it tomorrow, yeah.

How does it compare playing in England to Finland?

Olli: Certainly different fanbase. There are differences but there are similarities. The main difference is that Finnish fans don’t speak English as their first, or even their second, language so they tend to sing along only on the choruses whereas English fans usually know the words better than I do.

I suppose that’s helpful sometimes?

Olli: Yeah, that’s always helpful!

Talking about Animal Attraction, your 2nd album, how did that develop? Was it spur of the moment?

Olli: Actually it was quite chaotic. Like, we were on tour when we wrote it and then we went into the studio and just laid it down like that; it felt like we had barely any time.

Pepe: That whole period is just like a blur to me, it went so fast. We were doing so much.

Do you wish you’d had more time?

Olli: Actually no. I think if we’d had more time we would have over-worked it. It was great because we didn’t fuss about, we didn’t spend ages looking at production and stuff, we just did it.

Onto the mini-album then, was that in the same spontaneous streak?

Pepe: Like the residency, again the old-school thing to do is to do an EP. And you know, put out some rare tracks, some live cuts, kinda like Guns n Roses did on Lies.

Olli: We wanted to do that kind of thing. And it worked out really well. Push is an unreleased album from Animal Attraction , like an outtake, but it’s actually kind of like a counterpart to Hot. Because Hot is such a summer song and Push is more of a winter tune. Then again, we did like, the live cuts ; everybody is always telling us how great we are live, you know “Reckless Love is a great live act” and well, you know, we didn’t know that; we’ve never seen us live. We were desperate to capture the live moments but even in today’s modern world the equipment isn’t usually up-to-date and there’s something wrong with the recordings. So we had this huge concert in Helsinki, called Helsinki Day and we were like “well let’s listen back to the recording” and we were like “amazing, let’s just put these on the album!” We really had a good time on that stage and felt like we nailed it that time.

So is there a full live album or DVD in the works?

Pepe: Well, it’s not a thing we’re thinking about at the moment but in the future-

Olli: of course. Never say never you know? At the moment we’re just thinking about the 3rd album. We’re flying back to Helsinki in November.

Pepe: We’ve actually written the core of the album already. We have over 10 songs already written and there’s more to come.

Olli: Actually, after this tour, we have a couple of weeks off-

Pepe: One week.

Olli: One week? We’re planning to use that time like we’re doing on this tour, write some more new songs then rehearse them. Late November,  we ‘re going into the studio. So basically when we fly back from Germany on the 3rd November, it’s one week off after that. Then we start the pre-production and have two weeks of that.

Give us a taste of Reckless Love life on tour?

Olli: Well with Finland, it’s a large country but with a small population, only little cities to play in; the touring tends to happen around the week so we get Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays off usually. But yeah, it’s wakeup call next day, try to find some clean or not that dirty clothes, do the sound-check, get something to eat, do the show, get fucked up and wake up again.

Does it ever become monotonous?

Pepe: We fight back to it becoming monotonous. When we go on stage the crowd is always different; the crowd lights us up. It never becomes boring.

Olli: There isn’t a day that’s alike; there’s so many different things you have to take care of. I mean, in a day on tour it’s basically just a big cloud of chaos. Somebody in the band is having the best party in the world right next door while you’re trying to sort out a problem that, you know, could kill the rest of the tour. I don’t even know where to start to describe it.

Anything else for the UK fans?

Olli: The reason we keep coming back here is because we love you! It seems to be such a good place for us to tour and we hope to do it a lot more in the future.

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Gourmet Burger Kitchen: I got the buger and kitchen, but the gourmet bit?

Gourmet Burger Kitchen: Unit 10 Trinity Square, Nottingham

What is it about this place? Chic? Fast?Variety? Flavour? I’ve heard people rave about it for years but only now have I come to the conclusion that it is highly overrated.

The idea of ordering from the kitchen yourself is an interesting conception though flawed in its design. A queue forms, the single till unable to cope with the turnover, surprising since the restaurant is in the centre of Nottingham one would have thought they would have planned for busy Saturday nights. It also doesn’t exactly make your evening relaxing; if you want dessert, for example, you must seek out the menu that was taken away from you before returning to your table to choose and then going back to the kitchen to order. It’s not that I’m lazy, but if I’m going to put in effort I’d rather stay at home and cook.

The range of burgers is perhaps where GBK claim the “gourmet” element fits in. There’s ones with cheese, pesto, mushrooms, chicken, bacon and even a jolly cow for the vegetarians among us. If you can be persuaded that beetroot, egg, pineapple and aged cheddar slapped ontop of a burger sounds good, you can add 25p to help save the endagered Kiwi Bird. It’s a good idea but why not add 25p onto any burger? Still, it’s more than most places do. There’s salads too but really? Did you read the name of the restaurant?

I opted for the buffalo in the speciality range, served plain, with a side of chunky chips and corn on the cob. Sorry, but the skinny fries? Did they grate those potatoes? While you wait you can chomp on shelled peanuts, available to be shovelled into little pots to your heart’s content from by the till. You can also opt for olives, chicken skewers, halloumi bites or, my personal favourite, the fat crispy onion rings; not greasy but with a slightly dry, coarse texture, perfect for crunching on.

The corn was lovely; scraping tenderly from the cob with added barbecue flavour from the char staining the skin. The chips, again, delicious; fat, golden and fluffy inside, they worked well with lashings of salt and a big blob of ketchup smeared on the end. But don’t be tempted to share because there aren’t enough for two (and frankly they’re too good for sharing anyway). The burger was presented in its usual fashion of a towering centrepiece, the cocktail stick driven through its monstrous heart. Perhaps “gourmet” comes in because you have to eat these burgers with a knife and fork, or risk spraying your companions with tomato pips and pearls of mayonnaise. The salad was fresh and plentiful, the mayonnaise spread on the bottom bun only so not too overpowering. The buffalo patty was cooked to pefection, slightly sweeter and richer than beef though more subtle in strength. Worked well overall though I was not in awe.

Dessert is painfully easy to choose; two flavours of Yeo Valley Organic Ice Cream or Frozen Yogurt. Greek Yogurt and Honey was tart and sweet at the same time while Madagascan Vanilla was creamy and, well, vanilla. But served in Yeo Valley 100ml containers that had been tossed onto palm size plates? Not after I’ve made that ridiculously long journey to the counter and back thank you very much.

The service was friendly and eager throughout from our 10 minute wait to a table to the “Thank you! Goodnight!” as we walked past the kitchen to leave. At times there was a tendency to ignore empty dishes and a strange inability to confidently place items on the table but the desire to please was there nevertheless.

I do think GBK can appeal to anyone though; the chilled-out atmosphere paired with food that has often come under for fire for being in the fast-industry, but here it is fresh and full of flavour. No, it’s not 99p and some of the prices I think are pushing at a little more than what is placed in front of you. Would I go again? Yes, but I’ll go expecting gourmand burger kitchen instead.

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Camden Barfly: melting pot of glam Finns, hard-eyed French rockers and young Bucks

18/10/2012: Reckless Love, BlackRain + The Wild Lies – Camden Barfly, London

Reckless Love to take over the Barfly for October 2012. The announcement was met with, dare I say it: cynicism and a few hidden smiles. Would they really? Play 4 Thursdays in the hope that fans, preferably different ones each time, would sell the show out every week while they filled in time trawling from Glasgow to Reading and back again? Whether they hoped or not, those hidden smiles turned from mockery to, a sort of pride almost.

But let’s start at the beginning, where it didn’t start so well. The Wild Lies are an up-and-coming rock band from High Wycombe, Bucks; the first similarity to older counterparts Jettblack. The second? They act like them; they sound like them; they even look like them to some extent, but The Wild Lies just don’t seem to have grown up yet. There’s a sad element of puppy fat about them and while they held the stage with drive and enthusiasm, there wasn’t that command or quirky arrogance that can work a crowd. Of course, it’s all down to experience; in their favour, the sound was tight throughout and, among the medley of songs, there were some like Heartbreaker, Stone Cold Love and Angels that were catchy enough to engage the first-time listener.

French rockers BlackRain have been a little quiet on the scene recently. It turns out they’ve been recording their third album while dabbling in live performances here and there across Europe. Singer Swan wild-eyed the audience while delivering blisteringly high-vocals akin to those on the albums. No airs or graces here, just good rock’n’roll played to entertain and to please. The fact that all the band members have their own unique style, threaded loosely together by the glam-punk theme, made it even more appealing and diverse to watch. The set list was well-rehearsed but appeared a little formulaic at times, almost boredom for a couple of the band members; I won’t name names. A solid performance however and a band who can live up to their albums, if not out-perform them slightly in the enjoyment sense.

And onto the main event. Reckless Love have a special place in their hearts for the Barfly, it being one of their first shows in the UK for their self-titled debut. Apparently now confident of their spirited live show and passionate stage-craft, this time they were here to show the UK fans something really special. And they did, too. After seeing them a few times I was starting to get bored but singer Olli Herman cranked up his smile and, less enchantingly, his hip gyrations. Grinning, punching, chanting, laughing; we saw it all as the band ran through hits from both of their albums. Notable performances were those on Sex where Olli’s voice rang clear of coarseness, Dance and the more up-beat One More Time; an effortless crowd-pleaser.

Ok, so Olli beamed a little too much and the dancing can make you cringe, but at least you have no doubt that this band are desperate to provide you with a spectacle. Olli is a showman and while I berate the vanity in him, where would he be without it? I suppose the one downside was that at times it came across as a little false; as if they flicked the switch and the lights went down, their smiles lit up and they played out of habit while careering around the stage. The songs were tight yes but sometimes they need just a bit more straight solid playing and fewer enhancements. The vocals were ridiculously over-effected; just because it’s on the album does not mean we need it live. On the upside, they were more manipulative with their sound too; Jalle’s bass at a fantastically heart-jumping boom while Hessu pounded out his bass drum until he was happy with the level. Yes, I expect to see musicians in control like this, but you’d be surprised at how many who aren’t.

The set list was roughly just over an hour, including the sensual Push – a track recently released on the mini Animal Attraction album; this catchy, glammed up tune just goes to show that this band can still write original material. The band never failed to interact with the crowd, grouping together at the end for a final bow. They promised something special and that’s what the Barfly crowd got; who can say whether the two previous Thursdays were better, or even if the next one will be? It doesn’t matter, because while Reckless Love may, to quote Olli “wear a bit of make-up and look like girls,” if you like fist-pumping rock and a passably solid performance you will never fail to have a good time at a Reckless Love gig.

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Chiquito chimichangas: thingamajig would be right

Chiquito: The Cornerhouse, Nottingham

Yes, apparently chimichanga does mean thingamajig in Spanish. Just as well because it certainly lived up to its name at Chiquito in Nottingham.

We were pushed for time and I realise that’s difficult for a restaurant, especially when fairly busy, but it also presents a challenge, one that we were promised they were up to. We threw ourselves down at the table (an unusually large one for 2 people plonked awkwardly in front of the kitchen counter in a redundant square of space) and had our minds made up within a matter of seconds. Our waitress helpfully advised on some of the “quicker” dishes that could be ordered. I’m glad she could manage this because she didn’t manage to tell the chef our correct order. We asked for spicy chicken Mexican style burritos. What we got was spicy chicken chimichangas.

The difference? Chimichangas are spicy chicken, spiced rice, refried beans, chilli con queso and cheese all stuffed into a tortilla parcel and fried so the tortillas are brown and crunchy, the cheese melted. The burritos? Well we all know what they are. Chilli con queso is a smooth sauce made from cheese and chilli peppers, often with cream to thicken it.

I dread to think how long the normal dishes take if what we ordered was “quick.” Everyone except our waitress, most notably the manager herself, sauntered around the restaurant morosely, plates waiting far too long for service on the counter. A bowl of tortillas served with a spicy tomato salsa came as a complimentary conciliation. The gesture was appreciated and it would have worked too, had the tortillas not been glistening like sand under the Mexican sun that, at the same time, had been subject to ocean spray turning it soggy. The salsa was well-flavoured though too thin and watery. Wonderfully hard to scoop out of the thimble-sized pot.

Finally, the main courses arrived. The parcels were devoid of any oily exterior which was a good start as the fried texture was crispy and thick. The parcels were stuffed generously, the beans, rice and chicken a fiery combination balanced by the coolness of the melted cheese. 3 pots came along too; guacamole, salsa and sour cream. The cream had a rich tang, great when slathered onto the tortialla with a scoop of guacamole. The salsa was a less successful combination though worked well blended in with the rice and chicken.

Overall? Passable. Certainly not worth £10.99 a plate. Service varies from establishment I would imagine and even then between staff as we definitely noticed. The main course was better than the tortilla side and while I haven’t tried enough to pass judgement without doubt, I’ve tried enough to know that I’ll check the surrounding area before running into Chiquito’s again.

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Starbucks 3 : Costa 1

Sorry, Costa, if I wanted rubbery cheese, I’d eat babybel and cheese strings.

The word improved is a tenuous one; things can be improved in certain areas while greatly lacking in others. The degree of improvement is debateable too as well as how you judge the improvement itself.

Well in this case the subject to be improved was Costa’s ham and cheese panini. Firstly, yes, it has improved; it was served on sourdough and that was lovely; floury, chewy and thick it really lifted the quality of the sandwich. The ham too was tasty though a little more would have been appreciated. But the cheese! It upset me so, it really did. Rubbery and just far too yellow, it either hadn’t been grilled long enough to melt or just wasn’t good quality. As the panini cooled (it wasn’t really hot enough to start with) the cheese began to solidify and tough cheese is like chewing on a tyre, with the additions of cold bread and salty ham.

Go again? Yes but sorry it just wasn’t up to scratch. Starbucks gets this one.

Am I wrong? What’s your favourite?

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the hairy dieters and why I am one

Like many I had my reservations about Si King and Dave Myers from their Mums Know Best seeming just a bit dependent to their Bakeation it seemed to be a bit of a capitalisation on the nation’s love of cook books and culinary shows. Not that their backgrounds in prosthethics (Myers) and film location management (King) means they can’t deliver on the culinary front…it just seemed an awful coincidence if they could. Call me a cynic but, well just do.

I bought their book The Hairy Dieters, born from the success of the TV show of the same name that followed the pair on the quest to lose weight without sacrificing too much of the food that they loved. Accompanying them were 12 Brits also keen to lose weight from students to mums and everyone in between. The 60 minute shows were entertaining, if a little repetitive and patronising at times, but certainly a boost to anyone trying to lose weight; King and Myers tackled the challenge of exercise and cutting calories with enthusiasm and, failing that, determination and family support.

But onto the book. It is here that I must commend their efforts. Creating recipes low in calories but high in flavour? Tick. A huge one. The book is bright and colourful; full-page photos give you a clear idea of the finished product you are aiming for and there are handy tips and hints for those really pushing themselves to lose those extra pounds. But you don’t need to be dieting to use this book. I love how light and fresh the meals are and how much vareity there is. Divided into areas like breakfasts, fakeaways (your own style takeaways), one-pots and even including desserts the layout is easy to follow and recipes easy to find.

Favourites? A coconut prawn curry – spicy and bold but not at all gloopy or oily and delicious with a scoop of brown fluffy rice. A chicken jalfrezi served up a fiery kick and, once again, the long list of spices delivers on all fronts. Cod wrapped in parma ham was a unique twist on the classic recipe, using breadcrumbs and a light shaving of parmesan to flavour this often-bland fish, served with courgettes and peppers with a fresh seasoning of parsley and balsamic vinegar. The attention to detail is fantastic – it has quickly become one of my favourite cookbooks and if you don’t want to buy it straight out then go online and try a couple of recipes; masala-marinated chicken for your Sunday roast or toasted crumpets with berries makes a hot and fruity change on a cold weekday morning.

Ok, I’m still not keen on some of the stuff they do; their market obviously appeals to a certain age of woman but I don’t dispute or condemn that at all. Good on them for getting out there and proving that what they can do, they can do well.

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pancake of the week: what’s hot in the world of food this week

a horrible sign, agreed, but how much longer will we need it for?

It used to be the answer to Friday night dinner; you couldn’t be bothered to cook and there was just that element of laziness about it that was so attractive. Now it’s a regular Saturday night thing, sometimes followed by Sunday, maybe Monday, oh and here we go for Tuesday, Wednesday and since Friday’s so close, why not Thursday too? They’re easy for friends, for groups, for the fussy and the ones tightening the belt (the financial one anyway). That’s right, it’s the takeaway.

But this week it’s not the actual food that has captured attention but the way we go about ordering it. The takeaway restaurant market suffered by 3% last year yet online sales of pizza, curries and the like grew by 58%. The answer? We’re even too lazy to get out of the house. Admittedly, many restaurants and takeaway shops find it hard to market themselves; leaflets are usually thrown away as soon as they edge underneath our doors and phonecalls are received as intrusive and unhelpful. Instead, many takwaways are resorting to the online websites providing marketing and ordering all in one. For a small charge, of course.

Companies like Just-Eat and Hungryhouse represent more than 11,000 UK takeaway restaurants, browseable at a couple of clicks of the mouse. There are localised versions and gourmet groups too, like Room Service, which delivers fresh meals from the top London restaurants. In a way, it works for customers and restaurants; customers can read reviews, compare takeaways and order all in one place. The comparison creates more direct competition, forcing some of those takeaways you’d rather not grace again to step up their game. Equally, restaurants can be found quicker and easier (go online and see – I bet there’s a few near you that you never knew about) and they get promotion into the bargain…provided they’re good, of course.

However, what happens when a restaurant doesn’t deliver? Or not to your house anyway? (Guess who’s writing from experience) For these restaurants, and in some way their customers, the websites aren’t ideal and customers are driven towards the ones that do deliver, upsetting the natural market economy. Equally, it’s often difficult for restaurants to manage in-house and online orders, though adding deliveries and online orders does create jobs if the restaurant can afford to expand in that way. Is there a danger of takeaways becoming kitchens purely for online ordering, staffed by computers while the restaurant culture is confined to dine-in only experiences?

Online is clearly the way to go for takeaway businesses. Smart Ordering is even developing in places like California, Dubai and Berlin where customers can browse and the menu and order from tablets and smartphones or interactive screens; no waiters, just like dining at home…with fifty other cold, impersonal people rooted in technology. No? Am I wrong? Are waiters annoying and intrusive? Hey, that’s another story. I’m glad to see Britain supporting and encouraging our takeaway market and helping those stores that can and are willing to, to expand and reach more customers.

The only thing I will say is, if you are ordering a takeaway ten, or even twenty minutes walk away, would it hurt to walk somewhere once in a while?

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Starbucks 2 : Costa 1

Okay, it’s getting fierce. Starbucks too have released new drinks and on trial today? Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Sounds disgusting right? Who in their right mind would put a vegetable, and one we cut into grotesque faces at that, in a perfectly innocent cup of coffee topped with whipped cream? Horrendous I know.

But it’s not. Calm yourselves, please, don’t shout. Honestly, it’s rather nice. I did have one friend who said “it tastes like soil” but in that case I blame the barrista, or maybe my friend’s taste. Okay, perhaps it’s an acquired taste this one…but I would order it again which is why Starbucks is awarded the point.

Earthy and full of warm cinnamon spice and nutmeg tones, it was much better than I expected. Sweet yes, but not overly so, though a little bit of undissolved syrup stewed at the bottom which was rather sickly towards the end. Sweetened whipped cream floated on top, sprinkled with the Autumnal spices and as the cream sunk below the surface, it became velvety and thick.

The verdict? Probably not without cream, but I’d get it again. Grab it now while it’s out for Autumn!

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