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The Taste Test: Butter

Butter was actually another suggestion for a Taste Test post from a friend. It’s great: these days people just suggest products to me so I no longer have to come up with all the ideas myself. Crowd-sourced creativity. Anyway, butter is an excellent idea for one of these posts, because it’s the sort of thing I tend to buy without thinking and so it’s always good to explore what other options are out there, and challenge my unquestioned assumption that my preferred butter is a solid choice.

It should be noted that I go through a fairly serious amount of butter. There is a butter shelf in the door of my fridge which is, at all times, filled with a frankly shocking number of packs of butter. This is because I bake most days, and therefore have the basics in stock at all times (you should see the ‘baking cupboard’). So I have a vested interest in this.

Of course, when you’re baking with butter, you won’t massively notice the difference between different brands (although you definitely notice a difference between butter and fake butter). But when the quality of your butter really matters is when you are eating it on toast. I bake a lot of bread, and there are few things more delicious than a generous hunk of bread, warm from the oven, spread liberally with soft salted butter.

All these butter samples are salted, by the way. Partly for consistency, and partly because I never buy unsalted butter. And I ate it with bread, because even I can’t eat straight butter.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of butter or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which who had made product A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Butter

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Butter
100g
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Waitrose
0.80
725
80
0.5
0
0.7
3.0
Trewithen
0.61
744
82
0.6
0
0.6
1.8
Isigny
0.80
725
80
0.5
0
0.7
2
Aldi Everyday
0.54
737
81
0.8
0
0.6
1.7
Lurpak
0.80
739
82
0.7
0
0.6
1.2
Tesco
0.64
745
82.2
0.6
0
0.6
1.5

A – Isigny Ste-Mere – 6/10

  • Quite noticably salty – a bit too salty, even for me, and I have a salt-tooth. A nice creaminess to it, but also seems a bit oily. Not bad, but not particularly interesting.

B – Aldi – Everyday Essentials – 5/10

  • Lighter in texture than A, and much less salty – kind of disappears in your mouth. A little saltiness at the end but no real flavour.

C – Waitrose – Brittany butter with sea salt crystals – 8/10

  • One of the thicker and more lightly coloured butters. Pleasantly creamy. A nice level of salt for my tastes. Has a noticeable ‘real butter’ taste.

D – Trewithen Dairy Cornish Butter – 7/10

  • Enjoyable to eat – a nice flavour to it and a good level of saltiness. My second favourite choice.

E – Tesco – 5/10

  • Very light, another butter that disappears in your mouth. A little salt on the finish but not much on the actual eating. Not quite enough flavour for me.

F – Lurpak – 5/10

  • A little oily, and a little bland. Not salty enough for me, although bear in mind I have a high salt tolerance.

Conclusions

First conclusion: bread and butter is tasty. I should stop with all the fancy stuff and eat more bread and butter.

None of these were terrible. If I was just eating nice bread with nice butter then, I’m afraid, I’d definitely go for the Waitrose option here, which is on the expensive end (although tied for most expensive with two others, including Lurpak, who are a big brand and which I found disappointingly bland). That said, my second favourite was Trewithen, and that was the second cheapest option.

If you’re buying butter to eat on bread, then go for the nice stuff. If you’re just cooking with it, it doesn’t really matter, because they are all fine. I still wouldn’t buy fake butter though.

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The Taste Test: Cornflakes

I don’t actually tend to eat cereal, but someone suggested cornflakes for a Taste Test post, and it seemed like a good idea. It’s exactly the sort of thing where there is a dramatic price variation between different brands, but it’s unclear if that’s actually reflected in the quality of the product. I mean, cornflakes are just cornflakes. Aren’t they?

Also, a side effect of this project has been that I ended up with a lot of cornflakes in my kitchen. Really, a lot. And for those of you who do eat cereal, where do you store those boxes? They are huge. They take up pretty much all of the counter in my tiny tiny kitchen.

Anyway, I’ve basically spent the last couple of weeks coming up with inventive ways to use up cornflakes. Did you know that you can use cornflakes as a crumb coating for fried chicken? And that it’s actually super delicious? So delicious that I might actually consider buying more cornflakes solely for this purpose when I have used up all the ones I already have. Also, I had biscuits left over from last week, so I combined the cornflakes and biscuits (and other stuff, obviously), and made tiffin. Let me tell you, chucking a couple of handfuls of cornflakes into a tiffin mix is a truly excellent idea. It sort of makes the finished product a cross between a tiffin and one of those cornflake nest cake things you ate at Easter as a kid. In other words, really tasty. And worryingly addictive.

Did you know they add loads of extra vitamins and minerals to cornflakes, by the way? I did not know that, but if you look at the pack they have added B12 and iron and all sorts. I feel super-healthy after eating all that cornflake tifin and cornflake fried chicken.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of cereal or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which who had made product A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Cornflakes

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Cornflakes
per 100g
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Waitrose
0.21
385
1.1
84.6
3.1
7.6
0.74
Tesco
0.8
385
1.1
84.6
3.1
7.6
0.7
Sainsbury’s
0.33
381
0.7
84.7
2.3
7.8
0.80
Kellogg’s
0.39
378
0.9
84
3
7
1.13
Aldi – Harvest
0.15
379
1.6
82
3.4
7.2
0.56

 

A – Aldi (Harvest)

B – Sainsbury’s Organic

C – Waitrose

D – Kellogg’s

E – Tesco Everyday Value

Conclusion

Wait, no comments? No breaking down into A, B, C and so on? No. You know why? Probably yes, you do.

All of these samples of cornflakes tasted exactly the same to me. Pleasingly crunchy, a little bit sweet at the end, fairly bland, as you would expect cornflakes to be. I started off eating them dry, to make sure I was getting the taste testing experience without interference, and then I tried them all with milk. They all tasted the same.

So the moral of the story is that you might as well buy the budget version. The cheapest – Tesco Everyday Value – are 40p and the most expensive – Kellogg’s – are £1.75.

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The Taste Test: Chocolate Digestives

We’re back! And we’re back with biscuits. I thought I’d ease us in with something classic and beloved. And who doesn’t love a chocolate digestive? If you answered ‘me’ to that, then there is no place for you here, I’m afraid. This taste test post will not be to your liking.

This is one of those taste tests where there is a clear brand leader. When you think of chocolate digestives, you most likely think of McVitie’s. I certainly do, anyway. And before I got into this taste test mentality, it never would have occurred to me to try another brand. I’d just automatically go for the one I knew. But it’s definitely something that’s worth thinking about, considering the McVitie’s biscuits are more than twice as expensive as the Aldi version. Are they twice as delicious? Find out below.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of chocolate biscuit or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which who had made product A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Milk Chocolate Digestives

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Milk Chocolate Digestives
per 100g
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Tesco
0.20
511
25.8
61.6
2.6
6.9
0.8
Sainsbury’s
0.21
499
23.0
65.1
2.4
6.6
0.78
Waitrose
0.23
498
23.7
63.3
2.9
6.5
1.00
McVitie’s
0.33
495
23.6
62.2
3.0
6.7
1.0
Belmont – Aldi
0.15
485
23
62
2.5
7.0
0.6

A – Tesco – 6/10

  • The chocolate looked slightly darker on this biscuit than the others. The biscuit itself was very crumbly and soft, going to crumbs in my hands if I applied pressure. Maybe a bit too soft – you want a bit of crispness with your biscuit. But a decent thick layer of chocolate and tasted perfectly fine.

B – Sainsbury’s – 6/10

  • Immediately more snap than A. Much crisper. However, it felt like a thinner layer of chocolate than A – basically, the opposite to A in terms of biscuit/chocolate. Both had flaws, but both decent biscuits.

C – Waitrose – 7/10

  • Thicker chocolate than B, and a good crispness to the biscuit. The biscuit itself also had a slight hint of saltiness to it, which offset the sweetness of the chocolate well. My second favourite.

D – McVitie’s – 6/10

  • Like B, a thinner chocolate, but tasted fine. A decent snap to the biscuit – probably the second crispest of the bunch. Nothing too exciting though.

E – Belmont for Aldi – 8/10

  • A satisfying, thick layer of the chocolate. A good snap, not falling apart, didn’t have loads of crumbs coming off it. The crispest biscuit of them all, with plenty of flavour and an oaty texture. More texture than any of the other biscuits. My favourite.

Conclusion

At first glance, all of these biscuits looked pretty similar – maybe the chocolate on A and E was shade darker than the others, and it was spread a little differently on all of them. But, in essence, much of a muchness. However, when you got into the tasting there were significant differences. It turned out the the Aldi offering, by far the cheapest by weight, was my favourite.

The other thing to note, though, was that none of these were terrible. They were all perfectly decent and edible chocolate biscuits. And, really, even a chocolate biscuit that’s just ‘reasonable’ is still a chocolate biscuit. The main thing to note, though, was that the most expensive brand leader was certainly no better than the bunch. Next time you’re buying chocolate digestives, you might as well get the cheaper option – they’re really just as good and, in some cases, better.

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Review: Arbequina

Full disclosure: this is actually going to be less of a review, and more of a love letter. We went to Arbequina over the weekend to celebrate the restaurant’s one year anniversary, and I realised it was ridiculous that I’d never written about it on the blog before. Granted, they have absolutely no need of another positive review. With people singing the place’s praises from the Oxford Mail to the Guardian, it’s not been short of attention. Every time I’ve been there, the compact room has been full of lively customers. But I’m going to write about it anyway, because I love it.

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We went on a squally evening in October, when Storm Brian was still at play, and the vicious wind was whipping cold rain at us as we trudged up Cowley Road. Arbequina was a little haven of fluttering candles and the enticing smells of good food to come. We were greeted warmly by the staff – as we always are, because they’re lovely there – and settled down to the menu, with which I am intimately familiar. Eased along our way by exemplary Rebujitos and Negronis, we settled in for the kind of meal that you don’t have to worry about because you know everything will be done well.

Crisp toasts topped with warming, punchy Nduja, with the sweetness of honey and the earth of thyme. A tortilla just as a tortilla should be, with its bronzed exterior and its oozing, collapsing interior, with that depth of flavour only achieved when proper time and attention is paid. A pile of gloriously charred cauliflower, sharp with lemon and jewelled with pomegranate seeds, atop ethereally smooth and rich puree. Chicken, crisp on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. A salad that was so much more than a token or an afterthought, with crispy chickpeas as addictive and delicious as anything I’ve eaten, piled high with bright fresh vegetables, creamy yoghurt, the finishing flavour of Nigella seeds. Meatballs, plump and juicy, finished with a crisp hazelnut crumb.

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And the desserts: the rich, clean flan with the burnish of perfect caramel; the exquisite scoop of chocolate mousse; the final satisfaction of the chocolate salami. All washed down with an excellent Moscatel and a perfect espresso.

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..

And, joy of joys, they take bookings. You can call them! You can email them! Even chat to them on Twitter! I long ago gave up trying to get a table at Oli’s Thai (it’s not literally impossible, but it’s very difficult, and they make it very difficult in a way that annoys me because it seems unnecessary, so I stopped trying). But you can reserve a table easily at Arbequina, and if you walk in without a booking they’ll usually find you a corner anyway. or you can sit at the bar, which is actually a delight because you get to watch the chefs working their magic.

I have recommended Arbequina to many people over the last year, and no one has been less than delighted at what they found when they visited. Yes, it’s true it’s not entirely unique, and yes, there are restaurants like this in London. But that doesn’t make Arbequina any less than wonderful, and there’s certainly nowhere else like it in Oxford. I hope to be celebrating anniversaries with them for years to come.

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Review: Dolce Twenty Subscription Box

You might not believe it from looking at this blog, but I do try to find some semblance of balance with food. Yes, I do of course eat chocolate, drink wine, and devour a range of baked goods both impressive and frightening in scope. But I also eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains, and healthy fats. I don’t believe in denying yourself access to certain food groups (unless out of medical necessity): that’s just going to end with you face-down in a family size sticky toffee pudding with a tub of Pringles in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other, feeling bad about yourself.

I’ve always believed in the 80:20 rule: if you eat healthily 80% of the time, you can indulge for 20% of the time. Yes, it’s often not so simple in practice, and there are definitely times when my ratio has been more like 50:50… or 30:70… well, we don’t have to go into it. But, in essence, I’m on board with the cliched but sound maxim: everything in moderation. That’s why I’m very into the concept behind new monthly subscription box service, Dolce Twenty.

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Dolce Twenty champions the idea of choosing quality over quantity when it comes to indulgent foods: if you’re going to have a treat, then make sure it’s something you’re going to really enjoy. Their subscription boxes curate products from artisan producers across the country. The idea is that you get to discover new products and brands, as well as enjoying high quality sweet treats. I am totally on board with this. If I’m going to have a brownie, I want it to be a completely blissful brownie, rather than a dry and dusty disappointment. You’re much more likely to binge your way through your baking cupboard (what do you mean not everyone has a baking cupboard?) if you’re not feeling satisfied with your snacks to begin with.

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Dolce Twenty currently offer three different subscription box sizes – mini, small, and sharing – to suit a variety of households and budgets. I was lucky enough to be sent a sharing box to road test. What a treat it was to find a tempting box full of delightful treats in the post for a change (alongside bills and junk mail, of course, because life isn’t kind enough to only send you confectionery in the post).

In the spirit of saving luxuries, I haven’t worked my way through the whole box yet. Believe me, that shows an impressive degree of restraint on my part. But everything I have tried so far was delicious. I let a friend have a piece of the Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Fudge (because I’m kind), and she agreed with me that it was particularly tasty. My favourite discovery has been Coco Chocolatier, an Edinburgh-based chocolate company. Their sample in the box was exceptional, and they also have some of the prettiest packaging I have ever seen in the chocolate world. I’m looking forward to working my way through the rest of the box over the coming weeks (okay, fine, days).

If I have one criticism, it’s that the box was quite heavy on fudge (three fudge products), and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more variety. I absolutely love fudge, but my husband isn’t a fan (I know! He says it’s too sweet!?). Luckily I was there to nobly eat his share of fudge, because I’m a wonderful person, but having three varieties of one type of product could be an issue if that product isn’t something you love. That said, Dolce Twenty are a very new company and they are still building relationships with their suppliers, so I am sure that, as time goes by, their selection of sweet treats will only expand and become more varied. And it was very tasty fudge.

All in all, I think Dolce Twenty are a great start-up business. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow and develop. And in a world where everything often seems a bit rubbish these days, I think it’s a relief to occasionally get home from work and find a box of sweet treats waiting for you.

*I was kindly provided with a free sharing box from Dolce Twenty for the purposes of this review, but all views are, as ever, my own.
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The Taste Test: Peanut Butter

I’ll be the first to admit that I got a bit carried away with this taste test. It’s peanut butter, okay? It’s special. Some of you will understand and agree, and some of you will think I’ve lost my head. Never mind. We can’t all be right. James is a bit lukewarm about peanut butter, which is probably a good thing, really. His restraining influence is what stops me from having peanut butter at all three meals in a day. I mean, it’s a miraculous ingredient when you think about it. It can be used to good in savoury or sweet dishes. It’s also perfectly lovely on its own. Eaten by the spoonful. From the jar. No, you have a problem.

Anyway. Apart from liking crunchy peanut butter (because obviously), I’m not massively loyal to one particular brand. I like trying out new varieties. This is probably why I got a touch carried away and ended up buying, um, eight samples instead of the usual five. I just kept seeing jars of the stuff everywhere and thinking ‘Ooh, I’ve not tried that one yet!’ I am, unfortunately, a greedy and impulsive food shopper.

It was actually a great call for a taste test though (thanks Phoebe!) because there’s so much variety between different brands of peanut butter. Who knew!? Considering peanut butter is basically just blended peanuts, there’s a lot of different ways to make it, depending on ratios of peanuts to oil to salt. By the end of this taste test, I was slightly lost in the peanut butter wilderness. But very happily so.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of peanut butter or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Peanut Butter

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Peanut Butter
per 100g
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Meridian
0.71
596
46
11.6
8.5
29.6
0
Whole Earth
0.79
643
54.3
7.4
6.7
27.7
1.1
Waitrose
0.59
619
51.0
5.8
9.9
29.4
0.8
Sunpat
0.69
671
48.7
14.5
7.3
24.8
1.0
Pip & Nut
1.02
622
49
13
27
0.51
Grandessa – Aldi
0.29
612
49
15
7.2
25
0.81
Pic’s
0.92
590
48.4
9.6
7.7
30.3
0.5
Tesco
0.38
634
53.4
9.6
9.2
24.2
0.7

A – Whole Earth – 8/10

  • Very firm, reasonably dark in colour. Not separating. Crunchy, but with very small pieces of peanut – flakes rather than lumps. Includes little pieces of peanut shell, which give it a nice roasted flavour. Good level of saltiness. Nice peanut butter. Maybe a bit too thick.

B – Sunpat – 7/10

  • Much more golden and visually a bit chunkier than A. The bigger bits of peanut and suspended in a much lighter, creamier mixture, while A was almost a paste. Doesn’t coat your mouth or taste claggy – melts away. Flavour not as nice as A, could be saltier, but lovely texture.

C – Pic’s – 6/10

  • Quite separated – oil puddling on the spoon. Mixture left holding together well. Coats your mouth. Small-ish chunks of peanut. Not quite as much flavour as A and B, not salty enough.

D – Grandessa – Aldi – 7/10

  • Dark golden in colour, holding itself together very well – very firm texture. Creamy, with a nice saltiness. Not too claggy but not disappearing or melting away. Good chunks of peanut. A nice middle ground.

E – Tesco – 6/10

  • Very pale, maybe the palest. Holding itself together well, no separation. Big chunks of peanut. Quite salty, but also a bit sweet, compared to the others. Fairly creamy. Stays in your mouth a little, but not claggy.

F – Pip and Nut – 5/10

  • Interesting – looks completely different to almost all the others. Not just separation, but a very loose texture altogether. The peanuts taste really good, but it’s too runny – you want it to stay in the mouth more. Peanut butter needs more heft than this!

G – Waitrose – 6/10

  • Golden, quite dark, holding itself and keeping shape on spoon well. Both creamy and light, with a good mouth-feel. Not as good a flavour as some of the others, but a nice texture.

H – Meridian- 4/10

  • Big chunks of nut, quite a lot of separation, quite dark. Very claggy, coats the mouth. Not very much flavour – doesn’t taste salty enough, or even strongly enough of peanut.

Conclusion

So my winner here was Whole Earth – near the middle of the road, pricing wise – with honourable mentions to cheaper Sunpat and much cheaper Aldi. I was worried that with eight samples I would be completely overloaded and lose track, but actually, they were all incredibly different.

The interesting thing to note is that, for me at least, this was not a taste test where the most expensive products excelled. Generally, the pricier peanut butter has much nicer packaging, and also boasted more natural ingredients. However (sadly?) healthier here did not equate to tastier. Whatever they put in cheap peanut butter – lots of salt and oil, I’m afraid – just tastes better to me. Maybe I have an unsophisticated palette, but something like Pip and Nut, which had a great flavour, let itself down by being almost watery. You can see very easily from the sample on spoon F – you’d need to ladle this stuff onto your toast rather than spreading it.

Meanwhile, the stuff I thought tasted best – A, B, and D – all held its shape well on the spoon. I don’t know if this is a controversial opinion (I might get comments crying ‘no!’) but I actually like my peanut butter to coat the mouth a bit, and have a bit of weight and texture. If it just melts away then, well, you don’t get to enjoy the delicious peanut taste for long. And that’s sad. In a world so full of disappointment, let’s enjoy the things we do still have power over. Let’s get the cheap, sticky, delicious peanut butter.

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Review: The Porterhouse, Oxford

When my husband and I dropped into The Porterhouse for a Saturday lunch, I wasn’t intending to review the place. But we decided pretty immediately that the pub was worthy of a full write-up. Oxford has been in need of a great steak spot, and I’m pretty sure this is it. The Porterhouse has been put together with thought and attention to detail, and deserves to thrive.

We visited on a Saturday lunchtime, when the pub was quiet. It’s only been open for a few months, and they’re obviously still building up their customer base. As they’re tucked away down a residential side-street, you’d be unlikely to notice The Porterhouse unless you went looking for it on purpose. Once you make it there, though, you’ll be happy with what you find. The building has been renovated, and decorated with a careful eye: the dark blue walls, buttery leather banquettes, and  alternating warm wood and gleaming chrome tables all work together to give a warm and welcoming impression.

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There’s a dining room area, which is slightly more formal, and the main pub room, which has a beautiful bar and is dog-friendly. We settled into a cosy leather booth in the dining room and got stuck in to the menu.

The pub has an extensive drinks selection. There’s beer, obviously, but also a carefully curated wine list, a selection of decent whiskeys, and (to my delight) some really excellent cocktails. I don’t drink beer, so it’s always a disappointment to me when a pub doesn’t really offer anything beyond beer and mediocre wine. Since cocktails were on offer, James had a Bloody Mary (he was feeling delicate), and I had a Campari Spritz and, later, and Old Fashioned.  The drinks were all well-balanced and made with quality ingredients, and were enjoyed rather too quickly by us both.

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Obviously, with a name like The Porterhouse, you can expect steak to feature fairly heavily on the menu here, and they don’t disappoint. A comprehensive steak menu board features the changing cuts on offer depending on what’s best from their supplier at Smithfield Market. All are served with chips and salad with options of varying sauces and additional sides. That said, if you were dining in a mixed group where not everyone was a steak eater, you’d still be grand as they offer some fish and vegetarian options, as well as some non-steak meat dishes such as poussin or a mixed grill. We were also told that, with a little notice, they’ll do vegan food. Top marks from me: I eat everything, but I do have plenty of vegan friends and it’s good to know you could feed a varied crowd here too.

That being said, we were not there for vegan food. We were there for steak.

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James had a medium ribeye with the requisite chips and salad, and a pepper sauce. I went for a rare fillet, with a bearnaise sauce. The meat at The Porterhouse is dry aged for 42 days, then cooked in a charcoal-fuelled Bertha oven that can reach 350C, and wow, does it pay off. The steaks delivered to our table smelled incredible and looked very tempting: plump and juicy with a gorgeous outer char. Both of our steaks were cooked very well.

I am picky about steak, because it’s so easy to do wrong and so delicious when it’s done right, and I was totally happy here. The meat had a real depth of flavour and a meltingly tender texture. The salads were simple yet considered – fresh, and lightly dressed – and the sauces were bang on. The chips, while definitely good, were not the best I’ve ever had – but this is a minor quibble on what was a fantastic plate of food. Everything was seasoned to perfection and it really made the simple flavours shine.

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James (lightweight) couldn’t manage pudding, but I have never turned down a dessert menu and I wasn’t about to start just because I’d eaten a steak the size of my face. The list was short but sweet (see what I did there?) and I would have happily devoured any of the options. My usual M.O. is to go for whatever the chocolate option is (in this case, a fig and bourbon brownie), but there were other tempting things on offer.

Lovely Chris, who was serving us, noticed my quandary, and very kindly brought me a little portion of the brownie to try while I made my decision, so that I was free to pick another option, having sampled ‘the chocolate thing’. I know brownies, and believe me, this was an excellent brownie. Rich, dark, fudgy, and full of flavour and texture from the bourbon and fig. I’ll definitely order it again when I go back. The dessert I actually got, in the end, was the rhubarb and ginger crumble, which was served with a perfect custard and was also exemplary.

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The Verdict – The Porterhouse

I am fairly particular about restaurant food these days – especially simple dishes where there is no room to hide – and I thought that the food at The Porterhouse was top-notch. The service also deserves a mention: Chris was friendly, knowledgeable, generous, and attentive without crowding us. They also have rooms on the upper floors, which we got a sneaky peak into, and they’re lovely – tasteful, comfortable, and immaculate. It’s exactly the sort of place I’d recommend to anyone coming to Oxford to stay. In essence, The Porterhouse provides classic British grill fare, but it does it very, very well. If you’ve not tried it yet, get a move on.

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The Taste Test: Whole Milk

This is a request post. I would never have thought to do a milk taste test on my own, mostly because we barely go through any milk. James and I don’t eat cereal, and we don’t drink tea, and I don’t drink coffee. So basically I just buy James milk for his coffee (and he doesn’t give a damn what kind of milk it is because coffee coffee coffee is the only thing that matters) and occasionally I’ll buy some if I need it in baking. And that’s it.

So really, this was an education for me. I have no brand loyalty to any type of milk. I brought a few types of standard supermarket milk and a couple of varieties of ‘fancy’ milk. I really doubted that I’d be able to tell the difference between various types of milk in a blind taste test. I once had a boyfriend who loved the good proper milk, with the full cream and the gold top. Then again he grew up in the Irish countryside, so he was used to the good stuff. And he drank milk and ate cereal, so had far more of a vested interest than I did.

Yes, I buy whole milk. I am not one for low-fat products, and I’ve bleated on about that more than enough. But here’s some science too. And a bit more.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of milk or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Whole Milk

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Whole Milk
100ml
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Sainsbury’s
568ml
0.45
66
3.7
4.7
0.5
3.5
0.11
Sainsbury’s Organic
568ml
0.60
67
4.0
4.5
0.5
3.3
0.1
Yeo Valley
1litre
1.15
68
4.0
4.7
3.4
0.1
Tesco Finest
1litre
1.00
79
5.0
4.6
0
4.0
0.1
Graham’s
1litre
1.10
81
5
4.7
3.7
0.2

A – Yeo Valley 

  • Looks like milk. Tastes like milk.

B – Sainsbury’s 

  • Looks like milk. Tastes like milk. A little less acidic, a bit milder and sweeter than A.

C – Graham’s

  • Looks like milk. Tastes like milk, although a little creamier than A, B, and E.

D – Tesco Finest

  • Looks visually thicker – can see a creaminess. Small cream deposits on the taste glass. Tastes notably creamier and sweeter than A, B, or E. Definitely nicest if you’re just drinking straight milk.

E – Sainsbury’s Organic 

  • Looks like milk. Tastes like milk.

Conclusion

You may notice that I haven’t done the normal ‘marks out of ten’ scoring system here. That’s basically because it would be very difficult for me to differentiate between the samples in any sort of numeric way. None of them were bad at all: they were all just… milk. Perfectly acceptable. That said, if you were a particular milk lover or aficionado, I can’t deny that there was a definite difference between the Tesco Finest milk and the others. I just can’t imagine spending more money for slightly creamier milk when the normal stuff does perfectly well.

Maybe I’m just not getting this. Maybe I should make five pannacotta samples with different milks. Now there’s an idea.

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The Taste Test: Hazelnut Chocolate Spread

This ‘hazelnut chocolate spread’ taste test is really, let’s face it, the Nutella taste test. Everyone calls hazelnut chocolate spread Nutella, even if it’s not technically the Nutella. But, if I’m honest, I’m a bit fuzzy on the legality of just calling this collective group of spreads ‘Nutella’ when only one of them actually is the real deal. And even though I seriously doubt anyone in any position to care about any of that is reading this blog, I still feel I should err on the side of caution.

So then: the hazelnut chocolate spread taste test, as I promised you last week. Just go with it.

Really, this post is for my brother. He’s two years younger than me, and when he was a teenager he survived pretty much exclusively on Nutella on toast, Pot Noodle, and jacket potatoes covered in cheese. If he’s reading this then he’s possibly protesting vehemently at this slander of his teenaged dietary habits, and perhaps I am exaggerating. But not by much. Anyway, this is my blog, and I think Max is less able to go suing people than Nutella are, so I can say what I like. Those are the three things I remember him eating most. Consequently, pretty much all the drinking glasses in our kitchen when we were growing up were ex-Nutella jars.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of chocolate spread or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Hazelnut Chocolate Spread

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Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
per 100g
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Sainsbury’s
0.60
555
34.5
53.5
3.0
6.0
0.13
Waitrose
0.43
571
37.2
51.5
3.0
6.0
0.1
Nature’s Store
0.64
539
31.0
59.3
3.9
3.8
0.1
Aldi – Nutoka
0.29
565
36
51
3.1
6.2
0.09
Nutella
0.80
546
31.6
57.6
6
0.11
Tesco
0.38
551
34.0
54.0
2.9
5.7
0.1

A – Nature’s Store – 5/10

  • A looser mixture, sliding down the spoon, but looks nice and shiny. Tasted immediately very sweet, and felt quite thin and insubstantial in my mouth. Tasted more like cocoa powder than chocolate.

B – Sainsbury’s – 8/10

  • A bit of shine, but not much. Immediately nicer than A – thicker, richer, with a more pronounced chocolate taste and a pleasant texture. Hazelnut flavour coming through well too. Really tasty.

C – Waitrose – 7/10

  • Looks less shiny than the others. Obviously thicker, with more texture – not as smooth as other samples. You can taste the hazelnuts coming through, but it’s a bit too sweet.

D – Aldi – Nutoka – 5/10

  • Quite matte, quite thick, holding itself on the spoon. Tastes very smooth, quite sweet. Fairly unremarkable but not very strong hazelnut taste, and a bit of a cocoa powder aftertaste.

E – Nutella – 7/10

  • Shiny and smooth, moving around quite a bit on the spoon – one of the thinner products but very obviously spreadable. Tastes very creamy and smooth, with hazelnut and chocolate flavours coming through.

F – Tesco – 6/10

  • Thick and firm, very creamy and smooth. Quite sweet though, and not much of a flavour of hazelnut.

Conclusion

Oddly, I have never been a massive hazelnut chocolate spread person. You’d think I would be. But I think I was put off by over-exposure as a teenager. These days I tend to use it in baking (Nutella brownies, anyone?), but not in much else. I do think, in baking, it would make a difference which spread you used here. There was lots of variation in appearance, texture, and flavour between the samples.

It’s worth noting that the Nutella was by far the most expensive product – unsurprisingly, as it’s the brand leader in the world of hazelnut chocolate spread. And it was good. You can see why everyone likes it so much. But I honestly did slightly prefer the Sainsbury’s own brand offering, and if I need hazelnut chocolate spread for anything in the future then that’s the one I am going to go for.

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The Taste Test: Greek Yoghurt

I’m on a bit of a dairy kick with these taste test posts, it would seem. Last week, feta. This week, Greek yoghurt. We consume a ridiculous amount of Greek yoghurt around these parts, considering that we’re only a two person (and one cat) household. I use it in breakfast dishes, in smoothies, to make dressings, as a marinade, as a quick snack… Greek yoghurt is incredibly versatile, tasty, and even good for you, apparently. Full of protein.

There’s a significant difference between Greek yoghurt and plain, or natural, yoghurt. Greek yoghurt is creamier and thicker (and higher in fat) than plain yoghurt. I’m not going to get into the whole argument of whether or not some fats are good for you here (I don’t have the answers, I’m not a nutritionist, and it’s been talked to death). Personally, though, I don’t buy anything ‘low fat’. Usually low fat products just contain more sugar and/or water than their full fat cousins, and don’t taste as good.

The distinctive texture of Greek yoghurt comes from having had the whey strained off it, to create a thick, creamy product. Do not confuse Greek yoghurt with Greek style yoghurt. Generally, Greek yoghurt has undergone this straining process, while Greek style yoghurt hasn’t. The latter often contains thickeners and preservatives, and will have a more watery texture. And won’t be as tasty.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of yoghurt or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Greek Yoghurt

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Greek Yoghurt
per 100g
£
kcal
fat
carb
fibre
protein
salt
Tesco
0.35
130
9.9
3.8
0
6.5
0.2
Sainsbury’s
0.40
137
10.7
4.1
0.5
6.0
0.11
Waitrose
0.38
131
10.2
3.7
0.3
5.9
0.15
Total
0.55
96
5.0
3.8
9.0
0.1
Brooklea – Aldi
0.28
132
10
3.7
0.5
6.4
0.2

A – Waitrose –  6/10

  • One of the thickest yoghurts – held a defined shape on the spoon. Quite smooth – a creamy texture but, oddly, didn’t actually taste particularly creamy. A fairly sharp and acidic taste – almost drying in the mouth.

B – Tesco – 7/10

  • Much softer than A – moved around the spoon a lot more, but still quite thick. A lighter, softer texture. Very smooth to taste, and not too acidic. Well balanced.

C – Total – 7/10

  • Doesn’t look as smooth on the spoon as some of the other samples, and a bit of liquid separation from the solid of the yoghurt that you didn’t see on all products. Means what’s left was very thick. Creamy, medium acidity. Good but not amazing.

D – Sainsbury’s – 8/10

  • Another firm yoghurt, holding its shape. A good smooth texture. Fairly acidic taste, but nicely creamy too. Well balanced.

E – Aldi – Brooklea – 7/10

  • Holding shape, not separating on the spoon. Creamy, smooth texture. Very thick.

Conclusion

The main thing to note is that none of these were bad, and I’d eat them all again. Looking at this, unless I just got lucky, anything labelled Greek yoghurt has to be of a certain standard, and so all the products I tried were pretty tasty.

It’s interesting to note that, gram for gram, there are far fewer calories in the Total yoghurt than in all the other samples. Total was the most expensive, and tasted fine, but wasn’t the most delicious. That said, if you’re watching your calorie intake then it’s obviously the way to go. The other products are all so similar in calories, and Total is the only option significantly lower on the scale, so there must be some variation in their production methods.

My favourite was the Sainsbury’s own brand, which was towards the more expensive end of things, but would be lovely for something where you’re actually going to taste the yoghurt – with a dessert, say, or plain with berries or granola. However, if you’re using the yoghurt for a dressing or marinade or something, any of these would be fine, so you may as well go for the one that’s cheapest or most easily available to you.

Next week, chocolate hazelnut spread. Yes, I mean Nutella. Yes, it is a happy time.

*Prices correct at time of writing.