Archive | March, 2013

Not just carrot cake, but M&S carrot cake – M&S Leckwith

18 Mar

The Place

As a café in an M&S outlet you can hardly expect the best experience but service is still important. Sadly it was desperately lacking. There appeared to be around 8 staff members. One serving on the till, one making the tea and the rest walking around like extras from the walking dead. It was made worse by the speed of delivery of those working on the shop floor which was reminiscent of a contestant at the end of gladiators trying to get up the travelator.

The Carrot Cake

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I have to say this was a very nice carrot cake, especially as I haven’t had one for a while. The cake itself was nice and moist with a creamy frosting. Really enjoyable. Almost, but not quite, worth the wait.

The Hot Chocolate

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The drink itself was very nice, good chocolate taste and refreshing. Sadly, I wasn’t offered any cream. Always a rookie mistake in my book. On the other hand it did come with shortbread. Every cloud and all that.

The Rest

My good wife had a Lemon drizzle cake that she described as ‘moist, but too lemony.’ Personally I think if you order lemon expect lemon. In fairness mind I tasted it and it was bitter!

The Gryffalo was with us and had a sandwich. As you can see from the below photo it wasn’t to his liking. He proved that point by being sick moments later.

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Finally we were blessed with some entertainment after a lovely old man came and sat next to us and began whistling Myfanwy. Less welcome was when he moved on to whistling repeatedly the theme to last of the Summer Wine.

Marks and Spencer
Leckwith Rd
Capital Retail Park,
Leckwith Rd,
Canton,
Cardiff

Keep private sector out of our schools

14 Mar

My article on the privatisation of Welsh education first published in the Western Mail 14/03/2013

ONE of the main benefits we have seen in Wales as a result of devolution is that our public services have been largely protected from the race to privatisation that successive governments in Westminster have pursued.

Keeping public services in the hands of the public has been a fundamental principle that Welsh Governments have supported. It is therefore concerning that during the Education Minister’s recent announcement that he was withdrawing the responsibility for education delivery from Merthyr Tydfil council, the possibility of a private company taking over the reins was put forward.

A number of people involved with education in Wales listened with confusion, and fear, at this apparent shift in policy. Not least the many number of NUT teachers living and working in Merthyr who have contacted the union since reading the statement.

The minister’s clear preference, as he stated it, is for the education department at Rhondda Cynon Taf council to absorb the responsibility for its smaller neighbour as part of a merged service. That proposal has its own risks.

There will be serious questions about the capacity for RCT council to be able to do this job effectively, especially considering that the minister’s own home local authority’s most recent Estyn report labelled them no more than “adequate”. The minister himself has previously stated that adequate is “barely good enough”.

A further, more worrying, possibility for the fate of Merthyr was the notion floated that its services could be run by an outside body, including a private sector recovery team. The first question we must ask is why would a company, which ultimately by its nature is focused on making private profit from pupils, be any more able or focused on delivering public service education than the public sector itself?

There is no hiding the fact that there are examples of serious failings at local government level. There are a host of schools and teachers that will detail the lack of support that they have received. However, there is little evidence to suggest that a privately-run service will improve matters.

Research previously published by the NUT in England revealed that local education authorities which have been required by the Government to adopt private sector support and intervention, have not improved as well as authorities where interventions involved non-private sector and non-profit making strategies. In these authorities improvement has been at best patchy and at worst has gone into reverse.

Secondly, there is the simple question of whether or not the maths add up? Schools are already chronically underfunded with pupils in Wales, according to the last available figures, receiving around £604 less a head than their English counterparts.

The ongoing Robert Hill Review, which is looking at the future delivery of education services in Wales, is due to report back to the minister at the end of the month. With the pace of change we are seeing across local authorities at present, there is a growing view that what will be presented could already be out of date, as education continues to be used as the driver for local government reorganisation.

Hopefully, proposals to move towards more private sector involvement, signalled as part of the minister’s response to Estyn’s damning report into Merthyr council’s education provision, will not be central to the recommendations Mr Hill and his team put forward. That would be contradictory to the widely-held view that, while there are clearly challenges that must be met by local government, the support and accountability of the middle tier is crucial. Signing that system over to private companies would be a huge mistake.

The NUT will vigorously oppose any potential moves to privatise our education system, be that in Merthyr, at another local authority or at school management level through the establishment of Academy-style schools. Education at its core is about empowering the students who pass through the system, providing them with well-respected qualifications and shaping their social skills.

Most teachers will tell you that they enter the profession as they want to help give pupils a better future; to guide someone to a successful career, to develop them as individuals academically and emotionally. There is simply no place for profit to be a driver in this discipline.

The Welsh Government has been very vocal in their criticisms of how the Westminster Government have privatised the NHS in England. The principle of their opposition should also be enshrined within the education sector.

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/education-news/2013/03/14/keep-private-sector-out-of-our-schools-91466-32983861/

The Plan – Cardiff

14 Mar

The Place

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The Plan has been featured in the Independent’s top 50 cafés in the UK. Many people I know love the place. Considering that grand billing I’m pleased to say it still had a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere.

The Carrot Cake

Again no cake. With the lack of cake I’m eating this should be renamed the hot chocolate diaries. The next review will be of cake I promise.

The Hot Chocolate

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I’m fast coming to the realisation that different times of the day call for different hot chocolates. Feeling rough on an early Saturday morning requires comfort. A calm afternoon off work certainly was ideally matched by a relaxed and light, yet very chocolaty drink here.

A nice amount of foam an dusting of coco set it off well.

The Rest

Poached eggs were ok. Just about all else I can say really.

The Plan

28-29 Morgan Arcade
Riverside,
Cardiff
CF10 1AF

029 2039 8764

Cafe De Vie – Newcastle

13 Mar

The Place

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A pleasant little cafe in Newcastle city centre. Very nice staff and not too busy.

The Carrot Cake

Sadly no carrot cake on offer. There was a stunning looking caramel and chocolate cheesecake but as it would have been a chocolate overload with the drink, and as it was 9:47am I thought better of it.

The Hot Chocolate

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To me, hot chocolate is like your best friend. There when you’re down and when you’re up. For reasons which inevitably follow a night out in Newcastle Saturday March 9th was a bad morning. And then this little friend of mine came along. Warm, gentle, caring Mr H. Chocolate of Cafe De Vie Newcastle was a good listener. He cared about how bad things were (and they are always bad after a full day on the liquor and a train to Edinburgh to catch to start it all again).

Deep and rich it was the perfect hot chocolate for the moment.

The Rest

Those who know me, know that second only to my love of carrot cake is my love of cheese. A Brie and bacon panini was a brilliant start to the day.

Cafe De Vie

20 Saville Row,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Tyne and Wear
NE1 8JE

0191 260 2227

The Cosy Club – Cardiff

7 Mar

The Place

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I do really like the location and interior of The Cosy Club.

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Just off St David’s II shopping center it’s ideal for lunch when out and about.  Inside is smart casual with deep chairs and some nice open spaces and big windows to people watch the time away.

The Carrot Cake

Foolishly I assumed there was no carrot cake available as there was none on the menu, only to find out there was as I was leaving.  This is a lesson learnt in future.

The Hot Chocolate

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This looked very nice but beyond appearances there was little to write home about, or blog for that matter.  I’m not a fan of marshmallows in general and especially not in hot chocolate.  They quickly become soggy and it’s a case of getting them out before enjoying the drink.  Sadly I wasn’t asked if I wanted any as it was just assumed.  Poor effort.  The chocolate itself was weak and I really could have been drinking tea.  I don’t like tea.

The Rest

If I was looking for hot chocolate I would give Cosy Club a miss in future. That said the pulled pork sandwich I had for lunch and the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce for dessert are worth the visit.  The staff were also very accommodating with the Gryffalo.

The Cosy Club

Units LG53 & UG53
1 Hills Street, St David’s 
Cardiff

CF10 2LE

Celebrate with Carrot Cake

4 Mar

It appears carrot cake is, rightly, the cake of celebration for 60th birthdays. One of the NUT Wales Executives kindly sent me the below photo of a 60th celebration she attended recently.

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A bit of fizz and Carrot cake seem a perfectly sophisticated combination to me. Less sophisticated, but equally brilliant, was my own dear mother’s 60th birthday bash held on the weekend. Any party that has people dancing to both the Rat Pack and the Ghostbusters theme tune with equal enthusiasm is pretty special in my view. As part of the array of desserts was this impressive two tier carrot cake baked by my lovely aunty Diane.

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I’m a long way off my 60th but with my 30th this month I’m sure a further carrot cake celebration will be had. It’s about time I baked one myself after all.

Sarah’s Delicatessen & Coffee House – Beaumaris

4 Mar

I’ve been to Anglesey a few times but never to Beaumaris and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely a place it is. For such a small town it has an over prescribed number of pubs and coffee/tea rooms, which is no bad thing.

The Place

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Of the places on offer in Beaumaris from the outside the most inviting to me appeared to be Sarah’s Delicatessen & Coffee House. It has quite a rustic look and certainly a nice relaxed atmosphere. Selling a range of cheeses, meats and olives it was a really nice place to visit for lunch.

The Carrot Cake

Sadly, despite other nice looking cakes on offer, there was a distinct lack of carrot cake available.

The Hot Chocolate

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This was one of the best hot chocolates I’ve had. As over the top as it was enjoyable. The cream was really fluffy and light with a good dusting of coco powder. The drink itself was smooth. I have a particular sweet tooth and it was satisfied.

The Rest

This really was a nice place to come for lunch and I would also recommend the welsh rabbit and bacon quiche that I had with salad.

Sarah’s Delicatessen & Coffee House
11 Church Street,
Beaumaris
LL58 8AB

Peyton & Byrne St Pancras

4 Mar

While on a recent visit to London I didn’t get a chance to experience any of the Time Out rated top 10 hot chocolates in the city, I was grateful to queen of the baking twitterati, Elliw Gwawr (@elliwgwawr) for directing me towards Peyton & Byrne for my latest Carrot Cake outing.

The Place

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There’s a number of Peyton & Byrne outlets in London. The one I visited was located at St. Pancras station. From the outside it looked nice and fresh but I have to say the high chairs and busy interior are a tad too much like a hotel lobby. It was less cosy and more rushed, no doubt a reflection of its setting in a hectic train station. There is a Peyton & Byrne based just a few hundred meters away at the British library that perhaps would have been a more welcome environment. On that thought I’ve spent a lot of time at the British library recently while doing a diploma with the CIPR. If you’ve never been there I would highly recommend it. A great building and a fantastic resource.

The Carrot Cake

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Rather than a slice, Peyton & Byrne serve up individual carrot cakes. I’d been looking forward to trying the cake since Elliw’s recommendation of the store so perhaps I had built it up for failure but sadly fail it did. The icing was really lovely. Creamy and sweet in equal measure, but the cake itself was disappointingly dry.

The Hot Chocolate

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The hot chocolate was quite watery and without any cream which let it down. That said I am a fan of dark coco and the taste was strong and bitter in the right ways.

The rest

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Caught in the wonder of an array of beautiful looking cakes I also opted to try the strawberry, pistachio and chocolate cake. Three of my favourite flavours.

Sadly as with its carrot cake predecessor this also disappointed. The strawberry mouse needed to be firmer while neither pistachio nor chocolate hit the pallet.

Peyton & Byrne at St. Pancras
Unit 11, The Undercroft
St. Pancras International
London
NW1 2QP

020 7278 6707
st.pancras@peytonandbyrne.co.uk