Frankie & Benny’s vegan mac ‘n’ cheese

I haven’t been to a Frankie & Benny’s in years. There used to be one round the corner from where I lived but since moving there isn’t one within a reasonable distance. However we took a trip into Wembley (London) the other day and decided to see what new options they had added to their menu. I have seen people rave about their pizzas so I wanted to see what else they offered, if anything at all.

They actually have a surprising amount of vegan options and I did take my time deciding which one I fancied the most. In the end I went with a good comfort meal, of mac and cheese. I also decided to try their vegan milkshake as I don’t think I have had a milkshake in years either and I got too excited.

The mac and cheese was…pretty average. It was very creamy but didn’t have any real ‘cheese’ taste to it. It did have some tomatoes in it which did add a nice bit of acidity to the meal and stopped any of the cheese from being too thick or overpowering. I also appreciated that the portion size was smaller than I was expecting and I felt like it was the perfect amount of mac and cheese. Many times places give you such a large portion that the meal just starts to feel stodgy and heavy with every additional mouthful, but this portion of mac and cheese was the right amount that left you feeling comfortably satisfied without feeling bloated or overstuffed.

The milkshake was a letdown, I hate to say. It was basically vegan vanilla ice cream with some chocolate flakes in it. It was advertised as being ‘chocolate chip’ but there were so few chips it may as well have just been called a vanilla milkshake. I am not the biggest fan of vanilla so I only managed about half of it before I started to feel a bit sickly, and it wasn’t even a big glass. As I say the chocolate chips weren’t even chips, they were more like chocolate shavings – those really thin flakes that are mostly used for decoration in cake making. Barely any chocolate flavour to any of it. Very disappointed.

Overall: 7/10, Mac and Cheese is a good option, but nothing overly special or new. The milkshake is a total skip – unless you just want a vanilla milkshake.

T xxx

Itsu veggie sushi collection

Another joy of going into London is that I can finally go back to Itsu. If you’ve had a look through my blog you know that I am a big fan of sushi – it is simple and filling while being a light meal. I have tried a lot of sushi in my time but my favourite is always Itsu – it is roughly the same price as the other options out there but their meals just seem to be of a higher quality: The sushi is always light and fluffy and their hot meals are consistently tasty regardless of which option you pick.

My go to meal at Itsu is always the veggie sushi collection because you get a lot of sushi options for a decent price. Also if you have never had sushi before I feel this gives you a good introduction into what options are out there, so if you do not like one option you know not to buy that moving forward. I, however, love all of these and the sushi box is definitely cheaper than buying each plate of sushi by itself.

Me and my partner did actually share this box because you get a lot of sushi. You get:

  • 4 veggie maki (with the carrots and green beans)
  • 6 baby avocado rolls, ginger
  • fresh avocado on a carrot salad
  • 5 veggie dragon rolls
  • some ginger slices, wasabi packet and a little bottle of soya sauce.

My favourite is hands down the veggie dragon rolls – the sauce and the crispy mushrooms flakes just add something special to these rolls that you don’t get with the maki or the baby rolls. Although I do also love the baby rolls because they are just so tasty and so light, and the avocado always refreshes me.

Now this whole tray was £6.50 (although I am not sure if this varies depending on where you are) which to me is really good value for money. The trays of each individual type of sushi are around £4 each, so it is definitely cheaper to buy the sushi tray than to buy them all individually. Now sushi is always more expensive than the other options out there on the high street, so it will never be the cheapest option if that is what you are after. But if you wanted to try sushi, or wanted to splash out a little bit on your lunch break, then I would highly recommend trying Itsu over the other sushi places. As I say the quality of the food is always consistently good and always tasty, and it always seems to be worth the higher price tag for me.

Overall: 10/10. Anything you order will be great and this tray is always super tasty.

T xxx

PSA: Hotel Chocolat Easter sale!

Hotel Chocolat definitely do some of the best chocolate around, which is most likely why it is also the most expensive out there. But I do stand by their chocolate being the best out there. If I ever want a decadent or posh chocolate fix, Hotel Chocolat is my go to.

They also go all out for Easter and have some of the biggest and prettiest Easter eggs I have ever seen. PLUS they do vegan versions of almost all their ranges of Easter eggs which is always good to see. Their vegan ostrich egg, for example, was literally the size of an ostrich egg (hence the name) but for £85 it wasn’t really something I would ever be looking to buy.

Which is why their post Easter sale is so exciting! The majority of their products are 50% off, if not more, so that £85 egg for £42.50 is a little bit more reasonable and affordable. I could not resist a little trip in to see what was on offer.

They had a lot on offer – with little packets of their bunny shaped chocolate pieces for £2. I however decided to get real bang for my buck and picked up the vegan Sleekster packet. It’s been so long since I have had anything from Hotel Chocolat that I wanted to be able to try a wide range of their selection, and the sleekster was stupid good value for money.

£7!! This huge box was only £7. And that was 70% off and there is so much chocolate in it! You also get a good selection of the different treats, so you can find out which ones are your favourites. I have borrowed what they say on their website and the pack contains the following:

  • Peanut Buche – blends deep roasted peanuts with salted Nutmilk and a sprinkle of crispy cornflakes.
  • Salted Caramel – sumptuous caramel with a mellow Nutmilk base.
  • Dark Raspberry – a rich 70% Nutmilk bursting with tart pressed raspberries.
  • Pecan Praline – naturally sweetened pecan and a touch of sea salt are a dream combination.
  • Gianduja – finely blended praline wrapped in deep 70% dark Nutmilk chocolate.
  • Hazelnut Batons – gloriously nutty, perfect for evening nibbling.
  • Orange Batons –  pairs creamy cocoa with zesty Valencian oil.

Personally, the dark raspberry balls are to die for. These are next level chocolates in my opinion. The chocolate is soft and creamy, but the raspberry coulis inside is so tart and refreshing. It is just the perfect chocolate for me. The chocolate batons are just…slim bars of chocolate. Still very nice but nothing too spectacular. The gianduja balls are also one of my favourites, as they are a lot richer than the nutmilk options and are like little truffle balls.

If you have never had Hotel Chocolat pieces before I would highly recommend trying this sleekster pack because you get to try all of their options for a really good price. Even full price this packet is £23.50 (according to their online store at least) which still seems like very good value for money seeing as you get so much chocolate in it. As I say I picked this up for £7 in the sale at my local store, although they did also have smaller versions and bigger versions depending on your budget also on offer as part of the sale. I would therefore suggest taking a look at your local when you next go past, just in case there are any other good bargains!

Overall: 10/10. I think i’ll be eating this collection of chocolate for months with how much is in it!

T xxx

BOL Japanese katsu curry

I finally decided to try the BOL range! I have heard pretty good things about it and their food does always look quite appetising. Unfortunately though, as I don’t have a microwave, that limits a lot of their ready meals – and many other ready meals really. They also tend to be the more expensive option on the shelves so I have always avoided them and gone for something a bit cheaper when needing a quick meal. But I finally decided to just try one.

This one actually could be cooked on the stove which I obviously needed. It took about 5 minutes so definitely an easy meal if you’re ever stuck after a busy day. I also liked that the packaging actually told you to rinse and reuse the pot, which is not something you see very often. My pot is going to be repurposed as a great overnight oats bowl!

Taste wise, unfortunately it did still taste like a ready meal. The sauce especially had that very faint powdery taste to it that ready meals tend to have, although the actual veg contents did seem to be a lot fresher. The rice didn’t end up super sticky and the potatoes didn’t just crumble at the slightest touch. The sauce was not hot at all, which I was quite disappointed about. I definitely did not get an katsu flavour either – it tasted ok but I couldn’t really tell you what the taste was. Mostly just veg…with some kind of sauce? I however did appreciate that the veg that was meant to be crunchy did actually remain crunchy after cooking – it didn’t just turn to mush like most ready meals do.

It was also very filling, so while it may not have tasted amazing, it definitely filled me up for the rest of the afternoon. So effective, but not satisfying.

Now this cost £3 and while that is still expensive compared to some of the other options out there, I suppose it isn’t the worst price? You could probably get this once (or twice depending on your situation) and keep it in reserve for a quick lunch or easy dinner during the week. They do also have a few other flavours in their range, as well as other BOL meals that needed a microwave. I will definitely try the others and let you know which the best one is – although let me know if you have any recommendations!

Overall: 5/10. It’s fine. Not great, but not bad either. A perfectly fine option for an easy and quick meal.

T xxx

Doughnut Time: Lil’ Dough Peep

It was Easter weekend here in England which means a 4 day weekend! The weather has also been surprisingly wonderful (20 degrees?! In April?!) so was the perfect time to take a trip into London. Which means we had to take a trip to Doughnut Time.

Now when I go into London I do walk everywhere: Started at Baker Street, and from there we walked down Regents Street to Leicester Square, wandered around that area for a while and then around Soho, back up to Oxford street and then back to Baker Street to head home. Overall I walked around 27,500 steps so needless to say I was in need of a little sugar kick by the time we got to Soho.

This was actually the store in China Town which has a really good selection of the doughnuts. They are also have the fan favourites, such as Liam Hemsworthy (red velvet based)and the David Biscoff (lotus biscoff spread based) as well as their seasonal specials. Now these doughnuts, as I have said before, are HUGE and we finally decided to share a doughnut rather than have one each.

I chose the Lil’ Dough Peep because it looked the least sickly. It looked like a nice, basic doughnut that would give me just the right amount of sugar and Easter spirit without sending me into sugar shock. It was also the only seasonal vegan option on sale so I thought it best to try a new one.

This was actually very nice indeed. It tasted like parma violets! For those who do not live in England and have therefore never experienced a parma violet, they are little sugar disc candies that taste like…well…violet. It sounds odd when I type it, but trust me they are just refreshing and sweet without being super sugary or over the top. It was also nice to have a doughnut time that didn’t make me feel sick after a few bites. I think I could have actually eaten this whole doughnut myself, as it wasn’t overpowering and was just a lovely little springtime treat. Compared to some of the others on sale it also appeared to be the lightest and most understated, which is just what I wanted.

Price wise they are very expensive. Each doughnut is around £5, with the most extravagant ones nearing £6 and the plainer ones being around £4.50. I do however stand by the fact that these are definitely worth it as a once in a while treat. The doughnuts are always something special and for me are worth the high price tag for the very limited treat. Even though I live about a 30 minute train from London, I still only manage to go into the city maybe two or three times a year for leisure. I would always recommend visiting a Doughnut Time if you are ever in London.

Overall: 9/10. Definitely one of the best one I have had so far. Shame it is for such a limited time!

T xxx

PHD Smart protein mousse

I have tried the PHD range of protein before and they remain one of my favourite ranges out there. The protein mixes well and the taste is very true to what flavour it claims to be on the front. Now that I am starting to work out more and focus on my macros, I decided to start having some protein around the house again for those days when I feel a little bit sore or feel like I need to top up my protein values.

Now the packet does say that you can mix the powder with less water and it will become a mousse. It does actually recommend to do this with milk but I completely missed that part and so did it with just water.

It did thicken up really well and definitely had that mousse texture. It wasn’t as light and bubbly as a mousse, but that may have been my mixing technique and the fact that I mixed it with a fork. Perhaps if I tried it with an actual whisk it may have worked a bit better? Either way the consistency was mousse like.

Texture wise however it did not win. The problem with protein powder is that it is powder – you need a fair amount of water to really make it all dissolve and to remove that horrible grainy texture that so many other powders tend to have. As such, the mousse, while it did taste nice, it was so grainy I may have just been eating spoonfuls of dry powder. Maybe with milk it smooths it out a lot more but the water was definitely not a pleasant experience.

Good news though was that it didn’t thicken it up so much that it wouldn’t mix further once more water was added. I ended up just adding more water and having a regular shake and that solved the grainy issue completely.

Overall: 3/10. Protein good, mousse bad.

T xxx

Buttermilk salted caramel cups

So these were actually a bonus item that came with my Buttermilk Easter Egg. As I have said in that review, Easter Egg chocolate is supreme to all other chocolate, so I won’t directly compare these cups to the chocolate used in the Easter egg. Because it is not a fair comparison at all and I would at least like to give these little guys a chance.

I have only ever seen these sold as big sharing pouches (around 100g or so from memory, and from what I have found online) so I have no idea if these little packets actually exist on the market or if these were exclusively made to go with the Easter egg. I could not find any small packets for sale after a quick internet search, so I would assume that these must be a special packet just for the Easter egg. I also note that these cups look very different to the cups that are shown on the front of the sharing packets, so now I’m wondering if they are entirely different products completely. Anyone else know?

I am usually not a big fan of salted caramel – it’s either too sweet or too salty and it’s so commonly done that it’s really boring now. Have some creativity brands! But that being said I actually enjoyed these more than I thought I would. As with the Easter egg the chocolate is a much darker kind than the usual milk chocolate, so tasted bitter rather than sweet. Now I really enjoy dark chocolate so I don’t mind the slight bitterness. But the salted caramel actually balanced that bitterness quite nicely and made the different flavours stand out while somehow still complimenting one another. Because they are slightly bitter though, it means two or three are normally enough to satisfy any sweet cravings you had. So I guess this little packet would do you for at least 2 little snacks.

The little cups are also perfectly tempered (I believe that is the right word) so that when you bite down on the cup you have this ultra satisfying crunch. They are pretty small so it made that crunch – and the subsequent caramel explosion – really satisfying indeed.

As mentioned above I do not know how much one of these little packets costs, as I am not sure they exist outside of the Easter egg packet. However the sharing pouches I have seen don’t seem overly expensive – £2.50 seems to be the going rate for these – which isn’t too bad considering you get 100g. Obviously you have the vegan tax to consider, especially because Buttermilk as a brand appear to be fully vegan. But as always I hope that as demand for vegan food rises and the demand moves products quickly off of shelves, that the price for vegan treats will eventually settle down to match all of the non-vegan options out there.

Overall: 7/10. Very surprised by these. Shame you can’t buy them separately but then again who would ever say no to an Easter egg?!

T xxx

Buttermilk salted caramel Easter egg

It is now April and with April comes Easter! Now I am not religious in any way, but any holiday that involves a load of chocolate is a good holiday in my books! Unfortunately the vegan tax seems to hit Easter eggs really hard, as I have yet to find any vegan friendly Easter egg for under £5 near me. If anyone knows where to get one for a reasonable price, please let me know!

I was actually gifted this Buttermilk Egg by a colleague although I have seen them on sale for £5 – £8, depending on what shop you go to. I was slightly apprehensive (you all know my views on salted caramel by now) but I have heard very good things about Buttermilk products so decided to give it a go. Now I always found that Easter egg chocolate was ten times better than ordinary chocolate. I have no idea why, but it just does. So I was hoping that this egg would also taste ten times better than the normal chocolate.

I have also not tried any other buttermilk products before this so I don’t actually have anything to compare it to. But I can compare it to the other chocolate I have had and…the theory holds: Easter egg chocolate is just superior in every way to ordinary chocolate. The egg itself didn’t taste too much like salted caramel – I think the chocolate was a darker option than your standard milk. This meant that the chocolate itself was quite bitter, so the very slight caramel taste did sweeten it up without having that sickly caramel flavour that salted caramel usually has. At least in my opinion.

To some extent I can see where the price tag is justified because it is a pretty big egg, especially compared to some of the non-vegan options out there. The danger of this though is that this chocolate egg is HORRIFICALLY moreish – I pretty much ate the whole thing in a weekend. Again I don’t know if that was because of the bitter chocolate that made it far less sickly than ordinary chocolate, or the Easter Egg chocolate aspect that just made it so damn satisfying.

Overall: 7/10. A very nice start to the Easter treat train, and a welcome break from sickly sweet chocolates.

Unfortunately this will likely be the only Easter Egg that I actually review. I am working to better my health and focus more on my nutrition and while I am still having my little treats here and there, I am making a conscious effort to try more whole food recipes rather than the processed bits. While I am slowly getting to grips with all of this, I haven’t documented too much of it as it is quite boring: It’s a lot of fruit and veggies, in somewhat dull recipes while I figure out what works best in each recipe. Once I have mastered these I will of course share some of my favourites! Although if any of you have any go-to recipes for me to try I would love to hear them!

T xxx

Oatly whippable vanilla custard

To start with, I have never actually liked custard. I never liked the taste or he texture and no matter what custard always had that gross skin across the top of it, so I made sure to avoid custard like nothing else. HOWEVER, my partner and I had his parents round for dinner the other weekend and as they are a family of custard lovers we decided to try this new stuff.

I also haven’t tried Oatly too much, mainly because their milks are double the price of most other brands and taste no different. But I have heard very good things about them – I think their barista range of milks are one of the few vegan milks that doesn’t split when mixed with boiling hot coffee. Plus their marketing team always come out with genius campaigns that are always a delight to see. My personal favourite being the ‘it’s like milk, but for humans’ which was used to promote their milks.

I only realised this when I got home but our electric whisk has been swallowed by our kitchen and for the life of me I have not been able to find it anywhere. So I did attempt to try and whip it by hand. I have done this before with cream so I thought it would be mostly the same, but let me tell you after about 45 minutes I lost all interest. And feeling in my hand. So if you are going to try this, please let me know how the ‘whippable’ part goes for you because I am intrigued.

Now I remember custard always being a lot more like yogurt – very thick and sweet. But this stuff was a lot thinner in texture and wasn’t overly sweet either. It had the very slight vanilla flavour to it but nothing strong or overpowering. I had this with apple and strawberry crumble, and the custard actually helped to dilute a bit of the sweetness from the apple and the strawberries, without really changing the overall flavour. It was therefore a nice addition to the dessert, but not nice enough for me to want to each it with every single dessert moving forward.

Price wise, it is pretty expensive. Again the vegan tax hits Oatly hard: This packet of 250ml cost £2.50. Which is just….insanely expensive. Now you can buy a ready to mix packet of dairy custard for about 70p in most stores, so the vegan tax is very powerful. That being said, it costs the same as the Elmlea vegan cream and the Food Heaven whipped cream so perhaps it is fairly priced for the product. From looking at my local shelves, this is one of the few vegan custards out there and vegan creams in general seem to be very few and far between. So maybe this price is purely a starting figure, and once demand for the product picks up then the price will slowly be lowered. That may be wishful thinking, but I live in hope!

Overall: 6/10. It is a good option, but for me I cannot justify that price for any weekly dessert. Special occasions only I think for now!

T xxx

Milkybar chocolate

I was very excited when the main chocolate brands said that they would be making vegan versions of their favourites: Milkyway, Bounty Bars (don’t hate me, I loved bounty bars back in the non-vegan days!), Galaxy. But they truly lied to us with this, because all they really did was bring out chocolate bars with a slight flavour to it.

Case and point…the MilkyWay bar. Now I know a MilkyWay bar as being the nougat filling covered in chocolate. Now these were never my favourites as I am not the biggest fan of nougat, but every now and again they were a nice change. Which I was excited to see how a vegan version would work because nougat should be pretty easy to replicate: It is mostly nuts and sugar with egg whites, but you could remove the egg whites pretty easily I would have thought. But no…we got a chocolate bar.

Now I know that this is meant to be based more on their MilkyWay stars, which are like chocolate chips but shaped like stars. But they added a little extra to the chocolate with the popping candy element. I defy anyone to not love popping candy, because it really is so much fun, so adding it to anything makes the base product ten times more enjoyable. But that being said this chocolate felt so lazy. The chocolate itself tastes no different to every other vegan chocolate out there. It definitely doesn’t melt very well in your mouth, so it made the popping candy element a bit short lived because you couldn’t sit there and let the chocolate melt as the popping candy started to pop off. The chocolate tasted slightly powdery, which some lower quality vegan chocolate can tend to do.

Also this is supposedly the recommended serving size….

Now if this bar was the same price as the lower quality options then I wouldn’t mind so much, but this bar was £2.50. £2.50!!?? For 85g of product. Now you can get a Galaxy bar (granted it contains dairy) for £1 and get 110g of chocolate. So not only is the MilkyWay bar horrifically overpriced, it is absolutely tiny and is also very thin – there is barely anything in this bar and yet the vegan tax is added. It would be cheaper to just buy a big bar of the Nomo chocolate and a packet of popping candy and combine the two manually as you’re eating. At least then you’d get some really good chocolate to justify the horrific vegan tax.

Overall: 2/10. The popping candy makes it, but the chocolate is laughable. Worth a try just for the popping candy, otherwise feel free to skip this.

T xxx