BrewDog Nottingham – A Must for all Beer and Cheese Fans

Having lived in Nottingham for the best part of 10 years now I tend to get quite excited when something new opens that is a little bit different. I did it about Coco Tang (shotlived), Tilt cocktail bar (go!) and Spanky Van Dykes (thoroughly recommend). However, I think I might have just made the most exciting discovery yet. And its name is BrewDog.

A couple of people had mentioned it to me and there were excited whispers running around the office this week: “New bar’s opened. Makes its own beer”, that sort of thing. And so yesterday, on a cheeky afternoon off, Matty and I went and checked it out.

I found it on my favourite Nottingham street (Broad Street) in the old Shaw’s building, which is a pretty cool building in itself. The interior has a funky minimalist feeling with exposed brick walls, wooden floors and traditional 1930s style filament light bulbs, hanging naked from the ceiling.

Enough about the decor. We made our way to the bar to be greeted with a very impressive selection of beer. Rows of uniquely labelled bottles lined the fridges while a big chalk board on the wall above listed the ales on tap. My eyes flicked around like a magpie that had accidentally flown into a jewellery shop.

I have to confess I don’t know a great deal about “proper beer” – despite the fact that my work once sent me on a beer tasting course in a desperate bid to culture my lager-loving ways. Determined to keep a lid on my Stella and Sauvignon Blanc habit, I just meekly said: “Do you have anything golden?” Well that brought the bar man to life. His eyes lit up and he said: “Everything we have tastes golden” and I knew then, me and the BrewDog, we were going to work.

He went on to explain that all the beers are very “hoppy” with more hops than your average beer to bring out the different flavours. A consequence of this is that some of the beers are very strong – ranging from about 5% right up to the Anarchist Alchemist which is a whopping 15%. Our Aussie bar man explained the beers were brewed for flavour – not for the strength, and that was just a mere consequence of the process. Skeptical, that anything that strong could really taste of anything but Special Brew, he proceeded to give us a sample. And wow, it was wonderful. Resembling something more like a liqueur than a beer, it was sweet and bursting in flavours, and left my chest with that warm glow not dissimilar to the brandy-effect. Nevertheless it was only 4pm on a Friday so after sampling a few of their best sellers, I opted for the 5am Saint (5% ABV) while Matty went for the Punk IPA. Mine was a delicious rum coloured number – and please excuse the lack of appropriate beer tasting prose here – but it almost tasted fizzy, it was the perfect temperature (colder than normal ales) and had a bit of a sweet aftertaste to it. Yum. Matty’s was more of a pale ale, which was slightly drier.

We took our drinks over to a little booth and started planning what we were going to have next. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to sample everything on offer. Perhaps due to the strength of the beers, they were served in schooners (an Aussie sized beer which is about 2/3 of the size of a pint) and later, when I ordered the New Zealand Hardcore (9.2% ABV) it was served in a half. But the drinks are so rich and flavoursome that actually you don’t drink them half as fast as you would a lager or a pale ale, so the size is perfect. Personally, I love a good schooner – often think a pint can feel too big, going a bit flat at the end if you don’t drink fast enough, while a half is little more than a thimble. Yes the Schooner is the Goldilocks of beer glasses for me.

BrewDog also offers food matching advice for all of its beers and sells a selection of small bites. Feeling peckish we ordered a small cheese and meat board (£5) and were not disappointed. A far cry from the regular board of cheddar, stilton and brie often served at fridge temperature, this board was a little bit special. Yes there was a soft French cheese, which may have been brie, but it was so beautifully mature and so “ready” that it was oozing a little bit. It was joined by two other deliciously mature cheeses that shamefully neither of us could recognise but were wonderfully nutty in flavour.

So there you have it. A winning combination. Oh and girls, if you’re single, it seems to have a rather large male clientele – that weren’t all bad looking either. Right, I’m off for a beer.


Cross Keys, Nottingham: The Perfect Post-Work Drinking Den

Nothing beats Friday night drinks. It’s the perfect reward for a hard week of work. But normally at about 7pm, after sinking a couple of aperitifs, you are left with the inevitable food dilemma. More often than not the pub or bar of choice doesn’t serve food, leaving you in an agonising quandary of whether to accept the inevitable and eat a dinner of salt and vinegar crisps or to leave the pub’s warm comfort for a restaurant of some description.

Well last week I found a great solution. It’s called the Cross Keys. The pub at the top of Byard Lane was refurbished about two years or so ago, and it is one of Nottingham’s cosier drinking dens. The pub’s smart yet traditional decor is a mix of wooden panelled walls, tan leather booths and a tartan carpet that would make any Scotsman proud.

Attracting a mixed crowd last Friday, real ale drinkers propped up the bar while 30-somethings sat around a few of the tables, sharing a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. But the other half of the pub serves as a restaurant; and herein lies the perfect solution to post-work drinks. My friend had arranged it all, and had fortunately called ahead the day before, so when our stomachs started grumbling we just crossed the room and slid into a reserved booth – the only empty table in sight.

The menu is very reasonably priced, making it a good option when you don’t want to blow the weekend budget on the first night. It boasts a good mix of traditional pub grub with some more unusual dishes thrown in – most of which cost around the £8 mark. And it was the more unusual options that attracted our attention. We opted to share the mussels and scallops in a Thai curry broth, followed by The Cross Keys Cassoulet, a sausage, confit duck leg and butter bean casserole, which we both ordered to avoid any cases of food envy.

The starter was impressive; an over-sized bowl held a generous portion of mussels and four large scallops that were swimming in a deliciously spicy broth laced in sweet coconut cream. We shamelessly finished it off like soup once the mussels had gone. The main course shortly followed, immediately leaving us both pleased with our choice. The cassoulet was served in a piping hot ramekin with a crusty baguette on the side and mixed salad. As we tucked in, it felt like a bottomless dish of rich, meaty flavours. The duck was so tender it fell apart around the fork, the sausage was succulent and the crusty bread was just right for mopping up the sauce. Despite our best efforts, the bottomless dish defeated us both in the end and we were left unable to even consider desserts, which include firm English favourites like sticky toffee pudding and apple and plum crumble served with whisky custard.

As our plates were cleared we realised that so had the restaurant side of the pub and we were the last table left. Having been so absorbed by the delicious grub and the flow of good conversation, we’d not even noticed the other tables leave. But even when surrounded by vacated tables, the pub has the sort of warm ambience that prevents it from feeling empty, aided by the chatter from the main pub.

We were then left with our final decision of the night; whether to nurse the remains of our wine at the table or to wander back into the lounge area. Either way, we both agreed it had been a pretty successful Friday night – and a discovery I couldn’t quite keep to myself.(Written for the Nottingham Post)

This is the posh room upstairs that you can hire out

14 Top Tips on How to Save for Travelling

So you’ve got a car, you’ve got a house, you’ve got friends (that like drinking and going out for dinner), and you know what, you don’t really fancy putting your life on hold. But you want to travel… and somehow you need to find those extra pennies. I’m no Money Saving Martin (I think that’s his name, some bloke my mum regularly quotes, “Well in Martin’s latest email…”) but nevertheless I am getting quite good at making my less-than-the-national-average-salary get me where I want to be.

Here’s how…

  1. Work out your budget. Dull, dull, dull – but sadly necessary. By all means pur yourself a glass of wine to help you through it (I’ll come to alcohol savings later!) Look at your bank statements from the last three months, get a blank piece of paper and draw up three columns with the titles: “Direct debits/outgoings”, “Things I don’t want to give up” and “Naughty”. The first column is fairly obvious – include all bills and regualr payments, column two for me had things like haircuts, dinners out, drinks, magazine subscriptions etc, while my column three featured naughty names like H&M, Zara and Topshop. Next, add up column one – plus your weekly food bill and look at that against your salary. It made me realise how much I was actually spending on things I didn’t want to give up/naughty purchases. This is the key stage – work out what you want to save against how much your willing to sacrifice. Then set up a direct debit so your savings are transferred the day after you are paid into another account you can’t touch. I find it helpful to then withdraw my weekly spending money every Monday so I can see it disappearing in my purse, plastic is deceiving but when your notes disappear you get a little bit more tight!
  2. What else can you give up? Be reasonable about this – remember if it’s a long-term savings plan you still need to enjoy life. I cancelled my contact lense direct debit as I had a surplus of lenses and my partner quit his gym membership and bought some weights, which he combines with running. I’d like to say we stopped drinking but we didn’t… each to their own.
  3. Can you get rid of your car? I did – got a bike instead – and now I travel everywhere for free!
  4. Use TopCashBack whenever you buy anything online – it’s a website that will transfer you to the page you want to go to (almost like a search engine) but it pays you a small percentage of whatever you buy in commission. While I only make about £50 a year, I know someone who books a lot of hotels through work and made over £1,000. Quidco is another popular site but they charge £5 a year.
  5. Everytime you’re about to buy something online go to – there is almost always a discount code you can use. For example, when we hired a car recently we went on this website and found an 11% discount, then we paid for it via TopCashBack and got 8 per cent cash back – we saved about £10.
  6. Get a second job. Sounds rubbish but doing one night’s work a week could make the difference between you staying on budget rather than going into your overdraft by £100 every month. I couldn’t get a bar job or restaurant work due to the nature of my day job, so found work copy-writing online a few hours a week. There will be something that suits your life… find it.
  7. Check your energy bills – are you in credit with your gas and electricity provider? If so call them and ask for the money – why should they make interest on it? It’s yours! Put it straight into that ISA…
  8. What do you do with your “free council tax” months? Every Feb and March you are council tax free! But you’ve budgeted for it so transfer it into that tax-free ISA you’ve set up before you are tempted to spend it…
  9. Put a pound in a pot every day. This one is priceless, I promise. Buy a pot you cannot get into (we once had a metal tin with a big tacky £50 note image wrapped around it and we currently have one of those posh pottery numbers that you have to smash on a ceremonial occasion) and put £1 in every day. The last time it provided all our spending money for a weekend in Sovenia and by the time we break into the next one we should have about £600 for our forthcoming Bali trip.
  10. When it comes to food shopping – set a budget and stick to it. Ours is £50 a week – it makes cooking imaginative and we don’t eat any worse for it at all.
  11. Don’t stop doing things – just do them cheaper. Living in Nottingham, I visit my friends in London about once a month and rarely spend more than £15 on a return ticket – book in advance with Megabus (which is actually a train) and National Express buses are often £5.
  12. eBay. Enough said. Everything you don’t want, or don’t need – stick on eBay (make sure pics are super, descriptions are enticing) and everything you do need – buy it on eBay!! I unashamedly love clothes but cannot justify fashion as an outgoing at the moment so I recycle clothes on eBay. For example, I bought a beautiful French Connection dress (retails at £130 bought on eBay for £30), whcih I intend to wear to a glitzy London hen do, then I will re-sell it to buy a beautiful dress for a wedding a month later. I will then re-sell that for the next wedding – and so it goes on. Make sure you buy labels because you are guaranteed to sell them on at the same sort of price – I normally make a profit actually. I think eBay tips might be worthy of their very own blog space soon. Watch this space!
  13. If you own your own house can you have a lodger? We had a great lodger for a while that stayed with us during the week and went back home at weekends, giving us the space and privacy we were used to on the most important days of the week! There are websites for these kind of arrangements, one of which is – but there’s loads more.
  14. Want a weekend away? Do it! Camp or find a dirt cheap B&B… take homemade sandwiches for the road and work out where you want to splash your cash – one night posh dinner, cheap grub the rest of the time? Trust me, it can be done!

I’m sure there are more – I might have to come back to this topic, but if you have any more tips leave them below – I’m always on the lookout for more ways of saving cash. My motto is Live it Like you Love it…. but sadly that often comes at a price (flights to Bali were not cheap) so the cash has to be found!

Happy savings! x

Thai Grub in an English Pub: The Fox and Crown in Old Basford

The Fox and Crown is best known for its beer and fine ales. Tucked away in a quiet street in Old Basford, Nottingham it is one of the few pubs that has managed to retain its own brewery. With it being just minutes from Basford tram stop, it attracts real ale drinkers from across the city.

However, I recently learnt that it is also home to a Thai restaurant. Striking me as a rather odd bedfellow for a traditional English pub, and following numerous recommendations, I decided to check it out.

It was a Monday night –the cupboards were bare, the supermarket posed an unthinkable challenge and there was an air of denial that the weekend was really over. The perfect night for pub grub. My partner rang ahead and reserved a table despite my scoffs that it was a Monday night and therefore totally unnecessary. But when we walked into the warm, carpeted pub and spied a reserved table for two tucked in the corner of a throng of taken tables, I counted my lucky stars.

Ordering a couple of Alcazar ales to get us into the swing of things (delicious, golden flavours) we made our way over to our table to pour over the menu. I had been told the Thai food is managed by a family who run a separate business to the pub, renting the tables in one half of the venue. But despite this I still half expected the menu to be pub grub with a few classic Thai dishes thrown into the mix.

Instead we were presented with a comprehensive, hard-back menu with a mouth-watering selection of dishes that would rival any Thai restaurant in town. We ordered some prawn crackers to silence our rumbling stomachs as we flicked through page after page of delicious-sounding dishes. The prawn crackers were top notch; crispy and thin – and not drowned in the greasy oil that many are plagued with. Served with a tangy sweet chilli sauce they were the perfect accompaniment to our menu deliberations.

We finally selected a platter dish to start, followed by a Thai red curry with chicken and stir fried prawns served with cashew nuts, coriander and tomatoes. With pub-style service, the food is ordered at a little counter to the side of the bar with its own cash register and a little bell that brings someone out of the kitchen. In fact the same man who took our order and served us our food, appeared to have cooked it as well. Next stop was the bar, as the food and drinks are run separately I turned 90 degrees to face the barman who promptly opened me a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (costing a mere £10).

Back on our table, which was beside a small fire, we were quickly presented with our starter. Boasting a fine selection of Thai goodies, it featured a fish cake, prawn toast, curried vegetable spring roll, chicken wings and perhaps most divinely of all, a king-sized Thai battered prawn. The batter on the prawn and spring roll was light and crispy, accentuating the flavours of the prawn and vegetables. The juicy and perfectly cooked prawn was marinated in Thai spices and coriander – my only complaint was that there was not more than one. However, the platter was the perfect size to feed two people as a starter.

The prawn dish that followed was equally delicious. Prawns are so easy to overcook but this place has them down to a tee – firm and juicy – and perfectly complemented by subtle Thai flavours. The dish was dressed in a light, oyster-tasting sauce with crunchy vegetables and freshly ripped coriander. By contrast our red curry provided the creamy Thai kick that we had been craving – my only criticism was it could have been richer in flavour. Nevertheless, the plates were promptly licked clean and we were left with satisfied stomachs and tingling taste buds.

Our place mats and plates were promptly cleared, leaving our little wooden table with just beer mats and ale glasses. We were back in the pub again, as if we had just imagined a journey through Thailand’s culinary delights.

An unlikely bedfellow, yes – but one I thoroughly recommend.

(Written for the Nottingham Post)

A Rather Special Caribbean Restaurant in Nottingham

Admittedly there are a lot of differences between the Caribbean and Radford. There’s the weather, of course, and the lack of swaying palm trees and white sandy shores, to name a few. But if you can, for the moment, just forget those few minor details, then you might be able to see a little bit of the Caribbean in Alfreton Road, and it’s really taking off.

The road boasts a growing number of Caribbean takeaways including Dad’s Kitchen, Caribbean Flavours and Mr Cool, offering a taste of the tropics as well as a selection of food stores that stock the vital ingredients to bring the dishes to life at home.

The latest addition to the collection is Big Poppa’s, which opened in a former bank building about five weeks ago. Its incredibly affordable prices make it a good mid-week option and with no more than £15 in our pockets between us we headed down to check it out on a Wednesday night.

With high ceilings and huge windows, the restaurant enjoys a chic minimalist decor in red, cream and black with modern, dark-wood tables and large framed pictures of black icons including Martin Luther King and Bob Marley.

As we walked in we were greeted warmly by a man behind the counter, who ushered us in and showed us to a table. He apologetically explained that they had run out of a few dishes. They had enjoyed a surprisingly busy lunch, he explained. But it didn’t seem to matter as he made some mouth-watering suggestions and volunteered to stray off the menu for us to try and make amends.

While they did not have the right cut of meat for the traditional jerk chicken, he said he could easily prepare some chicken breast with the same sauce, and my partner opted for the saltfish with rice and peas. Unfortunately there was no plantain that night but we threw in a couple of deep-fried dumplings for good measure.

Big Poppa’s is in the process of acquiring an alcohol licence but in the meanwhile it is one of Nottingham’s few BYO (Bring Your Own) establishments – and there’s no corkage charge, making it an extra cheap option for the time being.

We were given glasses to save us drinking from the can (Jamaican Red Stripe lager, of course) and enjoyed watching the world go past through the large floor-to-ceiling windows. Inevitably they do also have an impact on the temperature of the restaurant and we had chosen one of the coldest nights of the year to dine; the irony of eating Caribbean grub in my coat was not lost on me.

Nevertheless, the food was superb. The chicken was good quality and succulent, drenched in a spicy and sweet jerk sauce and provided the perfect antidote to the frost outside. My plate was piled high with chips and chicken, an incredibly generous portion for the £6 paid. It wasn’t the same barbecued, chargrilled jerk chicken I’ve sampled at festivals before but it was very tasty, and I did wonder if the standard half jerk chicken, which is normally available, might be more like this.

Meanwhile, my partner’s saltfish was equally delicious; a melody of ingredients that was soft on the palate but bursting with flavour. The fish was not too salty and was nicely offset by the warm dough dumplings that were slightly sweet in taste. We struggled to clean the plates due to the generous portions but our determined effort to not see good food wasted triumphed in the end.

Staff at the family-run restaurant are passionate about the food and seemed genuinely pleased to hear how much we had enjoyed our meals as they took our plates. With an increasing number of old banks turning into Wetherspoons or Tesco Express, it’s great to see that this one has taken a more independent route, instead providing a very welcome addition to Nottingham’s burgeoning African-Caribbean scene. Now we just need to work on the weather.

(Written for the Nottingham Post)