Fatto a Mano, Brighton

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Catriona was really excited for pizza.

I’ve been following Fatto a Mano on Twitter since they opened and I’ve seen other bloggers going so I decided it was time to go get me some pizza. Situated at the top of London Road next to Hare and Hounds, it’s the latest addition to the ‘let’s make London Road nice’ effort.

We arrived at 7.30pm on a Wednesday and it was really busy but we just got a table. As soon as you open the door an incredible smell hits you. As we were seated we looked around and saw the queue going out the door. We gots lucky. We were tucked away in what is normally our favourite place, the corner, which was great until we tried to order and were hindered by the surrounding tables which took a few attempts to get someone’s attention. We order a Hugo (prosecco, elderflower liquer and soda) and an Aperol spritz with a garlic foccacia to share and a pizza each – the Salsiccia e Friarielli for me (sausage and broccoli and chilli) and the Pizza Panna without cream for Catriona. Both are ‘white’ pizzas so neither feature tomato sauce on them.

Hugo and Aperol Spritz

The drinks take a little long time to arrive but the Aperol spritz, according to Catriona, was “fantastic! Not too much soda which is usually a big problem.” My opinion is that I still don’t like orange. The Hugo however is lovely with not too much mint. A good balance of elderflower and soda so it wasn’t too sweet or too bitter. Worth the wait.

Garlic Focaccia
Garlic Focaccia

The focaccia is not focaccia as I know it, it’s quite flat and looks more like pizza dough. Still bloody tasty. My one critique is that it could do with – and I realise how this sounds but – a more even distribution of garlic (half was covered in garlic and half had none).

At this point Catriona grabs my phone and writes: I enjoy the fact that the couple next to us seem to be eating chips as a starter. I think I want to be part of that relationship. (Sorry to the couple next to us, we did stare at you a lot. But you definitely had the chips to start. They did look great though.)

An hour after we arrive we have drinks and a starter but no pizza, but obviously then as soon as I typed that into my phone our pizzas appeared.

Catriona: Most of the ingredients were clearly very fresh including the dough and the ham, but I would say there is too much cheese. As I asked for it without cream maybe they added more cheese to compensate. There were a lack of mushrooms and the mushrooms that were on it did not taste fresh. They felt cooked before hand and then added to the pizza, rather than a topping that was then cooked with the pizza which meant they were slimy and flavourless.

Pizza Panna (no cream)
Pizza Panna (no cream)

Salsiccia e Friarielli
Salsiccia e Friarielli

I enjoyed my pizza. The broccoli was so soft and tender that it felt more like spinach. The chilli gave it a really great kick that was cooled down by the cheese along with some good quality sausage meat with no gristly bits. The dough was really good, whilst it was thin it wasnt so crispy you couldn’t cut it. Nice and chewy and was great to eat at the end with some Mayo that we had asked for. I thought that I would miss the tomato sauce but the toppings of mine were so good that I didn’t miss it at all.

It was certainly good value for money. Neither of us finished our pizzas and for a starter at £3.50, cocktails at £5 and pizzas at £7.50 and £8 it’s a great place to get a quality (and unpretentious) pizza without spending a small fortune. The atmosphere in the restaurant is great, it was busy with couples and groups chatting away and really friendly staff. It helps that as the evenings draw in, we were warm and cosy as we hid from the cold weather. I had a better experience than Catriona did, so I would recommend going back. It’s simple food done really well. Plus you can have lemoncello at the end. Because that is obviously what we needed after wine and cocktails…

Shots! On a Wednesday!

You can find out more about Fatto a Mano on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and you follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

(Plus, added bonus, if you go up the sneaky steps to the old railway bridge before/after your meal you can see a train with the magic lighting. Thanks to Catriona for finally showing me how to get up there!)

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The Great British Blind Gin Taste Test

I have had the best few weeks. It was my birthday so we had three weeks of celebrations including Avenue Q, power ballads, rugby, taxidermy, Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, massive roast dinners and, to round it all off, the Great British Blind Gin Taste Test.

Admittedly that isn’t the name I used when I pitched it to my friends. I believe it went along the lines of “guys, so I have a lot of gin and I always say I don’t really like Bombay Sapphire and love Gordon’s but what if I can’t actually tell them apart?” I already owned a bottle of Gordon’s, but thanks to the lovely Natasja I now also have a bottle of Hendrick’s, thanks to the wonderful Jo and Rach I have a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and the awesome housemate Jenny Bernarde participated and donated her Greenall’s. Alongside myself and Jenny B (yes, Jenny and Jenny live together), we had Catriona helping to taste test and Lisa (the gin hater) being the controller and gin administrator.

The gin line up
The line-up

Few quick facts. Gordon’s and Bombay Sapphire are both English gins started in 1769 and 1987 respectively, Hendrick’s and Greenall’s started in Scotland in 1999 and 1762. All are readily available in supermarkets for anywhere between £15 – £28. Hendrick’s is pricier than the other three, but is usually roughly the same price in bars as the others. All four are big brands and between us we all had a favourite.

The drinks
The drinks

So how did we do it? Lacking four glasses the same, we used plastic pint cups. Each filled with a double shot of spirit and a mini tumbler of Co-op tonic. At this point, I left Lisa alone in the kitchen with a pack of straws and plastic mixers whilst the three of us sat (rather nervously) in the lounge.

One at a time the drinks were bought out to us. We had to write down our thoughts on each and not discuss it until the end as we didn’t want to influence each other. I was really nervous. This could all go horribly wrong. We were allowed to taste each one more than once to compare, and we could change our answers as many times as we want until we start reading them out.

So, how did we do?

The samples
The samples


The actual gin 1 – Greenall’s 2 – Gordon’s 3 – Hendrick’s 4 – Bombay Sapphire
Jenny M Guess Greenall’s – smooth and I originally thought it was Gordon’s until I tried the second one Gordon’s. Recognised this straight away. Because I recognised this I changed my first answer to Greenall’s as I know they taste similar Bombay Sapphire. I originally thought this was Hendrick’s, but after Catriona had her massive adverse reaction to number four, I thought I was maybe missing something. This is why we weren’t meant to say anything! Hendrick’s. I thought this was really bitter and originally thought it was Bombay, then Catriona freaked out as she really hates cucumber and I thought her hatred of cucumber was higher than my hatred of Bombay. I wasn’t certain but I went for it. Damn her!
Catriona Guess  Gordon’s. Lemony and non-descript Bombay Sapphire. It tastes fancy. Greenall’s (although she called it Hendall’s). Fresh and nice (Catriona always goes on about hating Hendrick’s. Look who’s wrong now) Hendrick’s. I quote “fucking cucumber”.
Jenny B Guess Gordon’s. Really nice and a slight bit of the Gordon’s tang. Smooth and classic. Bombay Sapphire. Had a really bitter after taste. Shocked when finding out it was Gordon’s as that’s the usual order when out, and apparently I don’t like it. Hendrick’s. Fresh and I could definitely pick out the fresh cucumber and could taste the quality Greenall’s. Smooth but not quite as fresh as gin number three and less tangy.

Jenny M – 2/4 correct (although so nearly a perfect score!)

Catriona – 0/4 correct (sucks to be you)

Jenny B – 1/4 correct (winner of the wooden spoon)

So I won. But only just. I’m glad I recognised the Gordon’s and the Bombay Sapphire, even if I went by Catriona’s apparently terrible taste buds. We all had some revelations. For me, whilst Bombay Sapphire is still a bit bitter and not to my taste, it isn’t as bad as I built it up in my head and I will definitely be tucking into my birthday bottle. For Jenny B, she doesn’t like Gordon’s as much as she thought and does like Bombay Sapphire more than she thought. For Catriona, she doesn’t hate Hendrick’s. Her usual drink is Bombay Sapphire and whenever I mention Hendrick’s her reaction would be “bleugh cucumber”. Oh how we all laughed when she got it wrong.

This was a really interesting experiment, and I challenge everyone to do it. We spoke about repeating it in the future to see if our taste buds improved and to see if it got easier/harder. It was a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon, so gather together your friends and your gin! In the pipeline is also the “Tonic Taste Test” because again I LOATHE Britvic, so want to see if I can pick it out from Schweppes, Fevertree and Fentimans.

Big shout out to Catriona and Jenny for tasting with me, and to Lisa for overseeing it all and for trying all of them afterwards with the comment “Greenall’s was the best of a bad bunch and Bombay Sapphire was the worst of a bad bunch”. She isn’t a gin fan. My lovely friends are all over social media and the interwebs:

Catriona – has Twitter but barely uses it, but is fun when she does.

Jenny Bernarde – big Twitter user who always has good music recommendations and writes a blog about making her own clothes (which she is very good at).

Lisa – also all over Twitter, Tumblr and blogs, most recently about her recovery after heart surgery but also less terrifying things. She is also the author of our A-Z challenge of Brighton pubs brightona2zreviews.blogspot.co.uk

As for me, I’d love to hear your thoughts on our gin tasting, you can tweet me @jennifermclaren or message me on Instagram – that’s a thing right?

Berlin – September 2015

I wrote this blog when I was in Berlin in mid-September, let’s look back at my adventure…

Plane drinks
Plane drinks!

On the Thursday I woke up early (6am for the second time in one week) and jumped on a train to Gatwick to meet my mum at the airport. Is it lame to go on holiday with your mum when you’re 3 weeks away from turning 26? No. We went to Prague last year and had a hoot. We like going to party cities and not really partying. Although last year it took us a while to find each other at Gatwick, this time I got through the train barriers and there she was. Off we fly thanks to Norweigan Airways (showing Mum how to use self service bag drop in the process) and wine and Prosecco (our flight was at 10am so perfectly acceptable, especially once you put your clock ahead an hour for German time…). By 3pm we had navigated the train system and checked into Melia Hotel Berlin. Right next to Friedrichstraß, our hotel lies on the Spree and perfectly located for our three day trip. After a quick wander, we collapse fairly exhausted into our hotel room with mini bar wine (booking through lastminute.com we got a €15 Voucher per night at the hotel aka all the minibar wine!)

Being lazy and exhausted we headed to Block House, a total of 20 feet from out hotel. I order a beer and a steak – medium rare – and Mum orders a burger. My steak arrives beautifully pink and Mum’s burger was, and I quote, “no onion, plain meat, but tasty it didn’t need the onion” – I should note here the ‘burger’ came with no bun and was purely a round piece of mince meat instead of a steak. This is a not a suitable place for vegetarians (so me circa 7 years ago). Served with a baked potato loaded with sour cream and a mountain of coleslaw, that combined with my Pilsner was the pick me up I needed after a long day of travelling. A steak, a burger, a wine, a beer and some water came to €40 including tip (£29.64 at the time of publishing). Bargain. In bed by 8.30pm, my mother and I shared a wonderful evening of silence, kindles and headphones before collapsing asleep.

Best breakfast

The next morning we awoke at 8.30am with no concept of the time thanks to our great blackout curtains. Heading downstairs to our included breakfast we spied some champagne. “Surely not for us” we said as we loaded our plates high with all of the necessary components for a fry up/heart attack. I tentatively asked our waitress about the champagne who instantly offered to bring me some. Best. Hotel. Ever. “Don’t worry” I replied as I ran to get some. When my mum saw this she laughed, I mentioned it was free and she grabbed a glass. Definitely related.

We headed off for a walking tour that was mentioned in our guidebook my boss Kate had given me for the trip (published in 2007). Down the road from our hotel to Checkpoint Charlie (fake, a reconstruction thanks to tourism) along with the “You are now leaving the American sector” sign (also a reconstruction). Note: the two men in fancy dress offering to stamp your passport for €2 are also fake. We turned right along Zimmerstrasse to the remnants to the wall. I’ve been to Auswitcz and Birkenau and they are harrowing experiences, but seeing the wall (all 200 metres of it) is different. This is the wall that separated families and a nation. People on the south side woke up to it right in their doorways. The wall came down when I was one month old so growing up I didn’t really get the significance of it, but the Topographie of Terror memorial along the wall really drove home that this was something humans did. Then once ‘we won’, a wall was built between ‘us’ and the Russians. When they finally couldn’t hold back the crowds, the wall came down, and Hasselhoff sang a song (a month later but still).

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie

American Sector
“You are leaving the American Sector” (Fake)

Berlin Wall
The final stretch of the Wall

Now the remnants of the wall are filled with holes from tourists and keepsakers wishing to own part of history for themselves. After this, our tour cheered up a bit as we walked up to Potsdamer Platz for some lunch and up to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (I admit this doesn’t sound very cheerful). The guidebook says that “it is spooky in places especially on overcast days and near the middle, where many feel a sense of confinement”. We joked as we walked through the undulating alleys of pillars of different heights, but you can’t help but feel a sense of unease. This is created because hundreds of thousands of people died. And much like the ‘stone for every person that died in Auswitcz and Birkenau’ memorial, this will never leave me. Whilst it is smaller at just 2,711 stones, it makes you feel fairly alone. The echoes of other tourists shoot around you, even when you can’t seen anyone. In my mind, this is a beautiful memorial. It is something that will stick with you for a long time.

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By this point it was only 3pm so we strolled up to the Brandenburg Gate and along Strasse Des 17 Juli to the Siegessäule, basically big F you to the French from the Russians. This is where normally I would have climbed the 285 steps to the top, but by this point we had already walked around 5 miles in the sunshine and I gave up because I wanted a beer (’tis the British way). So that’s what we did. We visited a cafe opposite the Bundestag (Parliament buildings) where a young waiter lectured me on “we don’t do pints in Europe we do litres” then apologised for having no lime for my my Corona and explained how in South America (where he was from) that no one drank Corona and how I should go to Mexico and drink real Mexican beer. Screw you kid. I like lager.

Brandenberg Gate
Brandenberg Gate

Dinner On Friday was courtesy of a Italian restaurant just over the bridge where we dined on a pepperoni pizza, a vegetable risotto and a litre of Pinot Gringo for €40 again (this seems to be our magic number). Thanks to the Spar Express in Fridrichstrß station, we had beer, wine and Pringles for €11 for pudding. I love Europe outside of England.
Saturday. Our last day. Having spent 30 minutes queuing on Friday afternoon to get a (free) ticket to go up into the glass dome on the Bundestag – heads up, you need some form of photo ID to do this – we headed over there in the morning sunshine. After some airport style security we were escorted to a lift which whisked us up to the fourth floor which opened on to an incredible roof terrace. No bar though. With 360degree views across Berlin, the roof terrace alone is a great sight. In the dome, a curled ramp leads you to the top as the audio guide (sounding freakishly like Bill Nighy) guides you towards points of interest and explains some of the history behind the structure and buildings around you. I think this was my favourite thing in Berlin. And it was free. I admit there was lots of queuing, but hey, I’m British and I enjoy a good queue.

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We're on a boat!
We’re on a boat!
We don't like the dark
…a boat that went under a LOT of very low bridges!

The afternoon was spent in a gin haze as we took a river tour along the Spree, which ended the other side of the city and the boat home the man had assured us would be there was, but wasn’t leaving for 30 minutes. So we got a taxi home like good adventurers do. Dinner came from La Parrilla, an Argentinian steak house around the corner from our hotel. Mum had a turkey steak with cheese and pineapple – something that just sounded wrong to me – and I had a grilled salmon steak with potatoes and spinach. The salmon was beautifully cooked, the rest of the meal was so so.

It was with full bellies that we headed back to the hotel to sleep off our day of adventures, and after one final lazy champagne breakfast we headed home. I really enjoyed Berlin, although much like Prague I didn’t see any of the nightlife, but the city was certainly buzzing and had a really nice atmosphere. Whilst it was quite busy, I never felt unsafe or crowded and I like that. If I wanted to be pushed around all day I’d just move to London (or indeed visit the Lanes on a sunny Saturday afternoon!)

Final beer
Fare thee well Berlin. Until next time.

For a load of photos from Berlin you can check out my Instagram and for random thoughts, I also have Twitter.