Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Friday Night Pizza at Flour & Ash

Like pizzas? Looking for something along the lines of the much celebrated Acapella but live north of the river? Then you'll be pleased to know that there's a newcomer to the Gloucester Road/Stokes Croft restaurant scene in the shape of Flour & Ash which opened at the beginning of the month, and - judging by the reserved tables when we visited - is already proving a hit with the locals. 

Having seen the place take shape over the previous months on my walk to work, I was looking forward to sampling what sounded like an authentic proposition - proper pizzas from an wood-fired oven, but using sourdough rather than traditional pizza dough. So myself and my 10-year-old son and pizza aficionado took ourselves there for an impromptu Friday supper...and immediately realised that it's getting harder and harder to do 'impromptu' these days. Everywhere seems to get booked up, and as the waiter went off to consult his reservations book I had a feeling we were probably going to end up in Pizza Express after all. As it was, it was early enough for us to get a table though you should obviously bear this in mind if you want to visit on a Friday or Saturday, and eat a bit later than 6pm. 

The restaurant is a smart, compact place with that industrial, functional look that's the style du jour. In a space this small, it works, with the main focus being the cavernous pizza oven at the back of the restaurant. There are few things that excite me as much as the sight of a flame-filled oven...I would love to have a go at sliding a pizza into one of those babies very much. It's also a reassuring sight, honouring a tradition that began in the backstreets of Naples back in the 1800s, meaning that if your pizza has been cooked in a wood-fired oven you're getting something as close to the real thing as possible.

Thankfully the pizzas at Flour & Ash didn't disappoint. What really works about this restaurant is a commitment to keeping the menu concise, with just a handful of enticing-sounding starters (wood roast queen scallops with herb butter or crispy ox tongue with salsa verde, for example, though we didn't have starters) and just pizzas for mains and ice cream and sorbet to finish.  You can choose from imaginative toppings on bases covered with tomato sauce or without. The choice of a sourdough base makes for a nice, light base that crisps up a treat in the oven, plus it's a 'pure' dough, a better choice for those with intolerances, and is made from three simple ingredients: locally milled flour, salt and water. I found it hard to choose from the delicious-sounding options which include a good mix of meat and veggie toppings, and which are a bit different to the ubiquitous Margherita or Pepperoni. My fennel salami with roasted peppers was divine - a great mix of flavoursome meat and sweet peppers - while my son devoured his chorizo, pickled chilies and rocket pizza in moments, not even bothering to painstakingly pick off the 'green stuff' as he would normally do. The fact that Flour & Dough's pizzas managed to get something green inside my child is no mean feat, and on that basis alone we'll be coming back...

My son found room for an ice-cream which, as well as sorbets, are handmade on the premises and include standards such as vanilla and chocolate, as well as more exotic choices such as caramel stracciatella (chocolate chip) and buttermilk and passion fruit ripple. My son opted for a scoop of pistachio which I 'helped' him out with and it was out of this world - proper, Italian-style ice cream, bursting with natural flavours. I would have liked a coffee but our waiter told us the restaurant hadn't procured a machine, though one was on the way. 

In terms of prices, Flour & Ash offers a competitive alternative to the high street chains; a Margherita costs £ 6.75, something more exotic is around the £10 mark and the luxurious-sounding aged beef fillet comes in at £15. You can buy good wines by the glass, and there's a kids menu at £4, including a small pizza, scoop of ice cream and glass of squash. If I had one complaint it would be that perhaps the pizzas could be just an teensy bit bigger...I could have accommodated another inch, I reckon, or perhaps I was just exceptionally hungry that day.

Find out all the details on on the Flour & Ash website. And if you fancy checking out Bristol pizza institution Acapella, read my review here. 


Friday, 21 November 2014

Four Perfect Winter Reads

My dial's firmly set to hibernation mode at the moment and I possibly won't be leaving the house of an evening this side of Christmas. Snuggling up on the sofa with a book is my current activity of choice, but I've been labouring away at a bit of a 'difficult' book for the past couple of weeks, a timely reminder that it doesn't make sense to keep going with a book that is a penance rather than a pleasure -  it anyone can suggest an alternative I can squeeze in before Christmas, I'd appreciate it. If you're stuck in a similarly frustrating book rut, perhaps you might like to consider the following four books I reckon are perfect for getting lost in on a cold winter's day...

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Subtitled 'A Ghost Story' this chilling tale transports readers to the remote wilds of the Arctic, where Jack and his fellow explorers set up base on a remote ice-cap to further their scientific pursuits. But from the very outset the group's expedition seems jinxed and Jack cannot shake off the sense that some ominous presence isn't pleased by their arrival. As the Arctic winter sets in and the group's isolation becomes ever more apparent, Jack's unease grows, but he persists in staying alone in the remote cabin when injury forces his travel companions to leave. The book conveys a hugely strong sense of place, from the infinite, unknown landscapes of the Arctic ice cap to the limited, claustrophobic confines of the cabin, a place where Jack must confront fears both imaginary and real. A gripping chiller of a book that you'll struggle not to devour in one sitting.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The book describes the central characters of this mystery as 'untamed twins', which was enough to reel me in. Thankfully, the blurb didn't disappoint in this case; The Thirteenth Tale is a book in the classic Gothic mould, partly set in the faded environs of the once grand Angelfield House, a place rampant with secrets, where parental neglect has left two mysterious sisters, Emmeline and Adeline to grow feral. Switching between the past and present day, the twins' story is told through the eyes of enigmatic author Vida Winter, who - close to death - slowly reveals the dark secrets of Angelfield, and the dysfunctional March family, so that her 'Thirteenth Tale' can finally emerge. 

The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

The misty ambiance of 16th-century Holland is the setting for this slim novel, a vivid imagining of the story behind Vermeer's enigmatic painting. The novel has the spare writing style that I like and realistic characterisation, bringing to life a cast that includes the shy, dutiful Griet, the unreadable, sometimes tempestuous painter, his distant, cold wife and the all-seeing, steely-eyed matriarch of the house, Vermeer's mother-in-law. As Vermeer's fascination with Griet becomes evident to the other members of the household, tensions rise and small but not insignificant power battles ensue. While the housemaids gossip and the mother-in-law curries favour with Vermeer's wealthy patron, the impenetrable artist gives his muse his wife's pearl earrings and sets to work on his masterpiece...

The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Susan Hill really knows how to give her readers a short, sharp burst of the shivers. If you've read or seen the film adaptation of The Woman In Black, you'll know her brand of horror is of the traditional sort, played out against a backdrop rich with Gothic motifs - remote landscapes, crumbling old houses and mysterious characters patently carrying some dreadful burden of past tragedies. When antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning on a routine visit to a client and stumbles upon an abandoned house, he feels compelled to explore. And then he feels a little hand take his but when he looks down, there's no child there. Adam's subsequent 'haunting' and attempt to unravel the story behind the 'White House' leads the reader on spine-tingling journey as he grapples with a presence that slowly becomes more and more sinister.

If you're heading off for some winter sun, you might like to take a look at my summer reading suggestions, perfect for sunny climes. On that note, I recently discovered TripFiction, a clever website that lets you search books set in different locations, so if you're going on holiday in, say, Italy, you can find a definitive list of books with an Italian setting, from literary classics to contemporary crime. Take a look here. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Mustela Mother & Baby Products - Review & Giveaway!

There are lots of things the French do well - wine, cheese and pharmacies are my favourites. Yes, pharmacies. French ones are so much better than ours. With their beautifully merchandised windows (the French can make even orthopaedic sandals and pile cream look chic) and ordered, tranquil interiors, a French pharmacy is, for me, a truly exciting proposition. Unlike my local branch of Boots - which is poorly stocked, dimly lit and generally a bit dull - French pharmacies ooze efficiency and efficacy, with shelves stocked with creams and potions for every skin need and every ailment. I could spend considerable amounts of time in a French pharmacy and while I've yet to find that magical product that will transform me into a gamine left-bank beauty, I do consider this time well spent as I've picked up some amazing products that have become stalwarts of my beauty cupboard over the years.

Basically, the French really know their toiletries. It's not for nothing that cult pharmacy brands such as Bioderma and Biafine are held in such high esteem by beauty insiders. They really do tend to do what they say on the tin (and I can vouch for this as a longtime user of products from ranges such as La Roche Posay, Vichy and Avene.) Furthermore, they're usually very reasonably priced and - thankfully - now widely available in the UK, via larger branches of Boots and online beauty retailers. So, when I was informed about a new name on the block - Mustela - I was naturally excited to hear more (and I'm delighted to be offering my first giveaway on the blog, offering a fantastic product from the range - read on for details!)

Mustela recently launched in the UK but has been a cult name across the channel since the 1950s. It's a range specifically for mothers to be, babies and young children, providing nurturing, safe products that are completely free of chemical nasties. Products contain 92% ingredients of natural origin on average, and they are completely free of parabens, phthalates and phenoxyethanol. Now, I have to admit at this stage that I'm not the company's target audience, being neither pregnant or in possession of a small baby. However, I did trial a couple of the products on myself and my kids as there's no reason why you shouldn't use this range if you're looking for effective, natural products that won't aggravate your skin - it's particularly worth checking out if you or your child suffer from excessively dry or eczema-prone skin. 

Having spent much of the half term getting battered by cold northern winds on bracing walks up steep hills, my skin was feeling a bit drier and more aggravated than normal so I thought it would benefit from a touch of the 'Cold Cream nutri protective', a rich, soothing cream that really helped to soothe dry areas. I have to be careful what I put on my skin and wasn't sure if this would be too rich, but I used a thin layer for a couple of days as a night cream and found it restored my dry bits without bringing me out in spots. It's really designed for babies and is suitable for use right from birth. The formula is also available in a very handy stick which would be perfect for keeping in your changing bag and applying on the go if your baby's skin gets irritated by the wind or cold. 

I hate overly-perfumed toiletries and tend to associate them with aggravating skin, so I was pleased to find that Mustela's products have a very subtle,'clean' smell. We also used the '2 in 1 Hair and Body Wash' which we particularly liked - it's got a lovely, fresh, light fragrance and silky consistency that doesn't dry out skin and is ideal for use at home by all the family, particularly if any adults or older children have reactive skin that doesn't respond well to fragranced, soap-based products. The wash is soap-free and contains Avocado Perseose®, a patented ingredient of natural origin. It would also be especially convenient when travelling, helping to save precious space in your beauty bag. In our case it was the perfect addition to my son's swimming bag, rather than carting our full size shampoo and shower gel with us for use after his weekly swimming lesson.

The range includes dedicated products for pregnancy, too, as well as effective balms and washes for common complaints such as atopic eczema, nappy rash and cradle cap. I'm particularly drawn to the sun creams which I'll definitely be trialling next time I'm off somewhere hot, as both my children can react to some sun creams. Mustela's creams and sprays promise extra high protection (50+ UVB) and tolerance by even the most sensitive of skins. They're also fragrance and alcohol free and suitable for use from birth.

Baby colognes are ubiquitous on the continent, hence the Mustela range includes an 'Eau de Soin' spray, contained in a quintessentially French bottle. While I'm not sure many mums in the UK would necessarily splash out on a cologne for their little ones, this would make a cute christening present, perhaps, and it can also be used as a room spray for your nursery. Interestingly, I stumbled upon a review of the product in the Daily Mail, which recommended the fragrance for grown-ups, saying it makes a much cheaper, natural alternative to Clarins' legendary 'Eau Dynamistante' - read more here.

The range is currently available in the UK through a number of online chemists and retailers, including Bliss life, Calder Pharmacy and Essentials. Prices range from around the £3.99 mark to £17.99 for the baby cologne. 

Visit the Mustela website here to see all the products in the range and to buy online.


I have one 'Soothing Comfort Balm' to giveaway if you would like to try one of Mustela's products for yourself. This moisturising chest rub is perfect for treating your baby's cold and is free of chemical nasties. Its gentle purifying scent eases discomfort and helps to soothe your baby to sleep - a bathroom cabinet essential for this time of year!

You can read more about the Soothing Comfort Balm here. To take part in the giveaway, follow me on Twitter by clicking below, or email me at luisasanders@gmail.com

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All images courtesy and copyright Mustela.
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