Narcoosee’s at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa

Here is another of the amazing restaurants we ate at while in Florida last year. Narcoosee’s is a Signature restaurant located at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa hotel, near the Magic Kingdom. As I said before, we were on the Disney Dining Plan and used 2 credits each for this meal. It was so worth it! One of the best meals I’ve ever had, ever!

First of all, the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. My dream hotel and WDW’s ‘flagship’ resort. Look how beautiful it is! Of course, it’s very very expensive and we will never be able to afford it but a girl can dream…

(Taken from the official Disneyworld website)

Narcoosee’s is outside the main hotel, down by the lake. It is actually set over the water and offers stunning views across the Seven Seas Lagoon and over to the Magic Kingdom, perfect for watching the fireworks after dinner! We had planned this as our Anniversary dinner as we had been together 7 years which is definitely cause for celebration –  I added this to the online reservation I made 180 days before.

Our ADR was for 7.10pm. We were greeted by a lovely Cast Member who wished us Happy Anniversary and said there was about a 10 minute wait and would we like to wait on the balcony? Ummmm yes please! So we went out the little side door out onto the balcony that goes all the way round the restaurant. Such amazing views!

We had been out there about 5 minutes when we were told our table was ready. We were led inside to a PERFECT TABLE, right against the window, opposite the Magic Kingdom with a view of the castle. Little bit of pixie dust there I think! I was so pleased.

Our server was Amir and he was just perfect – kind, funny, attentive, knowledgeable…I sound like I’m describing a blind date but he was just lovely!

He introduced himself, wished us Happy Anniversary and produced two Happy Anniversary badges from behind his back! Adorable! He then asked us what we would like to drink and produced the menus for us to have a look at. But, not just any menus. personalized “Happy Anniversary” menus with Minnie and Mickey on! I was so excited, we both thought this was such a cute touch and it really made our night.

I just ordered a glass of rose and Benji ordered a Sam Adams. Apologies for the poor photos, it was very dark in the restaurant.

Amir then bought us out some delicious warm sourdough bread, with butter topped with sea salt. Yum! I’m a total salt fiend and had to refrain myself from scraping it all off the top and dumping it on my bread so that Ben could actually try some.

Every time Amir came over to check if we were okay we ended up deep in conversation as he was just a really chatty and interesting guy, we learned he had worked at Narcoosee’s for 12 years and absolutely loved it, you could tell he loved his job and was very proud of the restaurant.  This made me really happy because Narcoosee’s gets very mixed reviews with lots of people saying it is their least favourite signature but right from the moment we stepped in I could tell we were going to love it.

We were REALLY GOOD here and decided not to order starters. Shocker! There wasn’t anything on the starters list I was dying to try and I really really wanted to be able to finish what I was anticipating would be an amazing main course.

Once we’d munched our way through most of the bread and had a good long look at the menu, Amir came over to take our order. I was of course torn between various items and needed help! From the moment I saw the Narcoosee’s menu (like a year ago…) I knew I was going to order the famous Surf and Turf. But, the dish was now being served with mashed potatoes (the menu changes seasonally) which I’m not the biggest fan of, and I was also tempted to order the Filet Mignon as that came with a delicious sounding risotto. As I was uming and ahing about which to order, Amir said ‘Well why don’t we just get you the Surf and Turf with a side of risotto?” Yes please! I was a very very happy girl. I ordered the steak medium rare.

Benji was a lot easier to please as there was only one veggie option bless him. He opted for the Fall Vegetable Lasagna.

Orders placed, we sat back with our drinks and waited, taking in the lovely calm atmosphere and looking out toward the castle.

Not long after, our main courses were delivered to our table and we just sat there in stunned silence staring at them. They looked incredible!

This was my dinner. I ordered the Butter-poached Lobster Tail and Grilled Filet Mignon with Boniato Mashed Potatoes, Fall Vegetables, and Shallot-Red Wine Butter Emulsion, but substituted the mashed potatoes for the Gruyère Cheese and Caramelized Red Onion Risotto from the Filet Mignon dish. I got the shallot-red wine reduction too which was a bit of a bonus!

I took one taste of the reduction and poured it half over the risotto and half on the steak as it was just the most rich, amazing flavour – it needed to be enjoyed with all areas of the plate. I reserved the butter emulsion for the lobster and dipped each piece in…then pretty much poured the rest on the last mouthful. I promise you, not a drop of either was left in the pots. Very classy.

This was the first time I’d ever had real, properly cooked lobster and it is without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever eaten. The filet was fabulous of course, but the lobster was just in a different league. It was buttery, sweet and tender and I savoured every mouthful. The veggies were lovely too, perfectly cooked and a nice accompaniment to the rich meat and sauce.

Phew! Can you tell I liked this dish!?
Ben had a perfectly cooked lasagna, a huge portion, stuffed with roasted vegetables like courgette, pepper, onions, butternut squash and spinach. It was all bound together in a flavourful tomato/cheese sauce and topped with extra cheese that was mega crispy! It was sat in a crazily vibrant bright green sauce that turned out to be pea sauce. Just incredible. He ate every single last bite of his as well.

Amir came over half way through to ask how we were doing and we asked him loads about the food and I was gushing quite a lot about it all as I tend to do and he seemed really pleased.

All too soon I realized my plate was empty! Nightmare! Luckily I still had a tiny bit of room for dessert, PHEW! Just a tiny bit though.

I had to order the Almond Crusted Cheesecake. Had to! Look how beautifully it was presented to me.

It came with a lambert cherry sauce and it was absolutely to die for. I was so full I thought I might keel over but I managed to force down most of it. The almond crusting gave an amazing crunch to the cheesecake, perfectly complimenting the sweet, rich creamy insides. Mmmm. I ate it with the cherry sauce and it was grand.

Ben pulled a bit of a wildcard here and chose the cheeseplate! Which was really exciting as I’d wanted to see a signature cheese plate but I didn’t think I’d get to. He really enjoyed this, a bit of a treat. Neither of us have huge sweet tooths, I often find I need something sweet after dinner but I normally only need a couple of bites and then I’m done so it was nice to find we could order cheese as a dessert if we fancied.

Artisan Cheeses – Humboldt Fog, Fourme D’Ambert, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve with accompaniements.

While we were enjoying our desserts/trying not to be sick, Amir came over with a surprise!!

How amazing is that. He set them down and said “Happy Anniversary, I wish you seven more years of happiness!” I’m surprised I didn’t cry!  Once we’d eaten all we could of our desserts it was coming up to 9.30 and Amir came over and advised us that the Magic Kingdom fireworks would soon be starting if we wanted to watch it from the balcony. Perfect timing!

It was fabulous to stand out on the balcony, champagne in hand, watching ‘HalloWishes (the Halloween version of the usual ‘Wishes.’)  There were lots of other people out on the balcony but plenty of room for us all to stand and see everything.

Once the show was finished we went back inside to pay for our delicious dinner. We decided to give Amir a super duper big tip because we felt he had just gone above and beyond as a server and we had really enjoyed hearing about his life and his job at Narcoosee’s and just his company in general! At one point we were even considering asking him if he’d just sit down and join us!

He was really pleased and thanked us lots, he then made my night even more as I asked if we could keep the personalized menu’s and he said he could do one better than that and disapperared for a second, returning with two new personalised menu’s for us in a Narcoosee’s envelope. What a lovely, special memento of our night.

Narcoosee’s is a wonderful restaurant with delicious food and is second only to California Grill in our opinion. Obviously we didn’t get a chance to try any of the other signature restaurants (that is for our next trip!) but judging by these two, the standards will be pretty high! They’d have to be very good to beat these two though. Incredible food and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

A Tale of Two Pubs

My boyfriend lives in Bishops Waltham and there are a lot of nice pubs in and around the area that we enjoy visiting. We recently went to two in the space of a couple of weeks so I thought I should feature them on the blog in case anyone is thinking of gracing them with their presence – they are both independent pubs and its difficult to find information about them online.

First up is the Barleycorn Inn, right in the centre of Bishops Waltham village. We’ve been coming to this pub for years and the food is terrific – delicious, huge portions and very reasonably priced. They change the menu all the time so you never really know what will be on offer until you arrive!

This particular visit was a Friday lunchtime on a very rare weekday off for us – we’d been to Disneyland Paris all week and got back late the night before. After a lovely lie-in we sorted ourselves out and walked down to the Barleycorn for a well needed glass of wine (it was a very stressful return journey, we may have missed the Eurostar…) and some lunch. The pub was really quiet and although the weather was pleasant, it was still early March and we opted to sit inside the cosy, dimly lit restaurant area. We ordered drinks and then sat back to peruse the ever-changing menu with the help of the very friendly landlord who pointed out veggie options for Ben.

Ben opted for the vegetarian bean burger which he’s had before and loved, but unfortunately they were all out that day! It was no problem though and he quickly chose another meal, a cheese and pickle sandwich and chips. A boy of simple pleasures! However, there was a fair amount of other meat-free options – sandwiches, jacket potatoes etc and a couple on the specials board, had he changed his mind. I was tempted myself by the caramalised onion and brie tart but opted instead for one of my favourites, the bacon and cheese ‘Barley’ burger with crinkle cut fries.

The burgers here are all homemade and freshly cooked and you can really taste the difference! The bacon ‘Barley’ comes with a generous portion of crispy bacon, cheddar, onion rings, red onion and BBQ sauce piled on top, with a HUGE side of fries and salad. So much food! And all for the bargain price of £7.95!

Ben was very pleased with his cheddar and pickle sandwich which again was VERY generous with the cheese! It came with a large side salad and tortilla chips and he also opted for the homemade chips – big, fat seasoned wedges, perfectly cooked.

The Barleycorn has a wide selection of desserts that we are rarely man enough to sample due to the marvellously obscene portion sizes. The sticky toffee pudding though, is the best, a proper British stick-to-your-ribs dessert.

We would really recommend the Barleycorn if you are visiting Bishops Waltham – it’s a lovely independent pub with great food and reasonable prices and, more importantly, a huge, fabulous beer garden! Perfect for sharing a jug of Pimms in on a hot (okay, warm) British summer day.

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Our next pub is the Robin Hood in Durley. It was a gorgeous freakishly warm March day and we decided to walk even though the pub is situated on a main road. Luckily the traffic was pretty quiet as it was a Sunday and we actually had a very pleasant walk.

We arrived about 2.30 and were relived to see that they serve food all day on Sundays, as we had thought we may be too late for lunch. We peeked round into the garden to check if there was space and luckily there were a few free tables so we headed into the bar area to order drinks. Drinks weren’t overly cheap with a pound odd change from a tenner for a glass of rose and a Stowford press. We perused the two extensive specials boards which each had 10 or 12 mains and starters on, lovingly etched in colourful pastel chalk. I was quite taken with the idea of the butternut squash and sage risotto with blue cheese crouton, but it sounded rather heavy and dinner-like and I was forced to achnoledge that a. I was very unfortunately on a diet and b. this was only lunch. We grabbed our drinks and headed outside, asking a passing waitress to bring us a menu on the way.

Perched on a wooden picnic table with a welcome umbrella shading us from the sun, we decided on our lunches, placed our order and relaxed while we waited. The Robin Hood does have a really lovely beer garden with a huge grassy field area at the back and a nice wooden decking area at the front. There are plenty of chairs and tables and we noticed that lots of people were coming in just for a drink, rather than lunch, thus vacating their tables quickly.

Our food arrived within about 10 minutes which we thought was really good considering how busy they seemed. We both ordered the roasted red pepper, olive and mozzarella ciabatta.

Now I have to say, I was slightly disappointed with the contents of the ciabatta. Sparse was the word. There were lots of lovely fat olives but only one strip of roasted pepper in each sandwich and a scant amount of mozz (although it looks adequately filled in the photo, all the topping was on the edges!) There was also no sauce or dressing or anything – I felt a good strong pesto would have carried the filling a lot further. It was enjoyable though and not unreasonable for the price (£5.95) with a lovely side salad dressed with honey and mustard. We were very restrained and managed not to order a side bowl of chips although we were relieved when we saw that the ‘chips’ were in fact thin, floppy McDonalds-style fries!

Overall though, this is a lovely pub and the beer garden is the real star. Perhaps the quality of our food was down to the busyness of the pub – there was a 50th birthday party going on inside plus large groups of families all ordering lunch. I would like to go back one evening to sample the dinner options – my mind is still on that risotto!

La Cantina – Southampton

We had tickets to Derren Brown on Saturday at the Mayflower in Southampton and wanted to go out for dinner first. We wanted somewhere that wasn’t too expensive, having spent a lottttt of money the week before in Disneyland Paris (lots of posts coming up about DLP food!) but all the Italian etc restaurants near the Mayflower were (understandably!) pretty pricey. While trawling through Google I came across a Mexican restaurant that, while not cheap, sounded really nice and fun and something a bit different. They had LOADS of veggie options which was a lovely surprise, plus an extensive vegan menu! Not something you see very often at all!

I had booked a table for 5.30 and when we entered the restaurant (located on Bedford Place) it was really quiet with only a few other tables occupied because it was so early. We were seated in a cute little booth-for-two near the door which I was quite happy with. We had to wait about 10 minutes to order drinks which was a bit surprising given how quiet they were but I think they were slightly understaffed – we noticed lots of new staff come in at 6pm so that must be when the busy period starts.

We were in the mood for cocktails! I ordered a ‘Saucy Senorita’ which was a rasberry tequilla long drink, delicious! Ben went for the standard Margarita which he really enjoyed – made a nice change from the over-priced and not very authentic Marg’s he’d been receiving in Disneyland Paris!

I had seen online that the restaurant was offering a complimentary portion of nacho’s if you ‘Liked’ their Facebook page. I had ‘Liked’ it before we left but then got very confused as there was no mention of the offer or instructions anywhere on the page. But, I figured it was worth an ask! The waiter said if we could prove we’d Liked the page then we could definately get some! Cue a few frantic attempts at accessing the page on our phones with weak internet signal but it didn’t matter – he bought the nacho’s out a few minutes later and said we didn’t have to show him, he believed us! Fabulous.

The nachos were a very generous portion and easily big enough to share even though they were a single portion!

Loads of fresh guacamole and sour cream and a pleasantly spicy salsa which, coupled with the sliced jalapeno’s on top, packed a serious punch!

We finished the nacho’s in no time but again had to wait a while for a waiter to return to take our main course orders.

Ben went for the Fajita Vegetables Burrito which came with fajita spiced fries. He also got a side of chargrilled corn on the cob which is his absolute favourite thing ever!

I was a little bit more greedy/foolish in my ordering. I couldn’t decide what to have so opted for the ‘Poco’ Market Plates – small plates of a few different dishes, a bit like tapas. As it was before 6pm there was a 3 for 2 offer on all of the plates. So, instead of getting four, I got six! Oops! Can’t resist an offer like that and as this restaurant was already somewhere we were thinking of revisiting I thought it would be the perfect opportunity  to sample some new flavours. I chose a selection of the plates which consisted of soft tacos, quesadillas etc with different meat and fish fillings. I thought the plates would be small as the website recommends 2 or 3 as a starter each. Little did I know what I’d got myself into…

After a fairly long wait of about 20 minutes, our main courses were brought out. Ben said he could see the waiter carrying loads of little plates out of the kitchen behind me and thought I may have slightly over-ordered…

Did I ever! The plates were huge! With 2 of each item on them! I was slightly overwhelmed. We struggled to make room for them all on our small table and I thought maybe the waiter could have suggested we move to a bigger table – I had to put my cutlery on the chair next to me and there was no room for drinks glasses or our water jug! Here is my oversized feast:

See? Huge!

And the other side of the table…

I had 6 dishes. My favourite’s were the two quesadillas – ‘Yuccatan’ pork which was gorgeous, smokey BBQ pulled pork with cheese, mmm! I also got the Chorizo and Potato with roasted thyme. Both lovely but they didn’t photograph well!

I also really enjoyed the fish soft tacos with chiptle mayo. I’ve been wanting to try fish tacos since I saw them on a show about street food on Food Network and they were as delicious as I imagined they’d be! Lovely soft beer-battered cod pieces, crisp iceberg lettuce and a generous slather of the chipotle mayo.

Unfortunately the othe 3 dishes weren’t quite so stellar. The chipotle prawn tostadas were VERY odd – they were tiny cold prawns in a marie rose sauce! The sauce was flavourless and I left most of this dish. I think I expected battered king prawns, a bit like the fish tacos, so to receive a souped up prawn cocktail was a bit of a shock!

The next dish was unfortunately so spicy I couldn’t eat it. These are the beef mole chilli soft taco’s. They had a nice smokey flavour but there was way too much jalapeno in the chilli.

Finally, I had the ‘Ancho’ squash tostadas – ordered mainly for Ben’s benefit as they are a vegetarian dish of roasted butternut squash, dried chilli and baby spinach. They sounded lovely…but they were tasteless! Ben took one bite and returned to his burrito and I ate half of one before admitting defeat. Unfortunately the butternut squash just tasted of oil with no discernable flavour.

So overall, 3 out of 6 I loved! The chilli was unfortunate as I have a low tolerance for spice and as I said, it did have a nice smokey flavour. The quesadillas were the best.

Ben really enjoyed his main course! He had a big burrito stuffed with fajita veggies, rice, cheese, beans and guacamole which he demolished. The fajita spiced fries and corn on the cob were also a success and he wants to recreate the corn some time soon! They chargrilled it with lime and chilli and he said it was like nothing he’d ever tasted.

We were much too full for dessert so paid our bill which came to about £50. Not bad for dinner for two with a drink each although taking into account we got the nachos free and two of my dishes, a little more expensive than we usually would pay. Overall, we will definitely be returning to La Cantina as the atmosphere is really nice and buzzy and the food is good – I’ll just pick a bog-standard main course next time now that I know what I like!

Jalapeno Cream Cheese Stuffed Pretzels

THIS is the best snack in all of Walt Disney World, in my humble opinion. We had these for breakfast while at Animal Kingdom and even though I was initially worried they were unsuitable as a breakfast item (even though the other options were cinnamon buns and chocolate muffins…) I was soon proved wrong. This is a jalapeno pepper and cream cheese STUFFED soft pretzel. And yes, they are as good as they look!

Ever since we had these delicious heaven-sent pretzels, I know Ben hasn’t been able to stop thinking about them. So, I decided to be a really good girlfriend and recreate them for him as the only pretzels we get over here are of the party food ‘snack selection’ variety. Not quite the same.

I started with a simple sounding pretzel recipe – Alton Browns. I was going to go for one that avoided the boiling-in-water step as it sounded way too difficult but in the end I decided to just man up and go for it.

I started by adding all my wet and dry ingredients into the bowl and stirring them together. We were house-sitting and they didn’t have a Kitchenaid so it was unfortunately all done by hand. Quite the work out!

Once the dough was formed I kneaded it for about 5 minutes before putting it into an oiled bowl, covering with clingfilm and leaving it to rise for about an hour.

Once it had doubled in size I removed it from the bowl and cut it into 8 equal pieces. This recipe makes 8 large pretzels but you could make lots of mini pretzel bites which would be perfect for parties and a possibly a little bit simpler – I imagine it would be easier to get the filling inside.

From this point on I was pretty much on my own, couldn’t find any recipes that were exactly like the Disney pretzels so I was very much making it up. Eek!

In a bowl, I mixed together a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese and a handful of jarred green jalapeno peppers. I finely chopped the peppers (removed the seeds first! I’m a wuss!) and then chopped them even smaller so that it was nearly a paste. I also added in some of the brine from the jar to moisten the mixture until it was pliable. Finally, I grated some cheddar cheese to really maximise the cheesiness.

Then it was time to get my roll on. I rolled each ball out into a long strip and then rolled sideways until the dough was wide enough to hold a good portion of the cream cheese filling in the middle.

I spooned the mixture all along the length of the dough. Not going to lie, it was fiddly…but I knew the end result would be rewarding!

As you can see, it got a little messy toward the end as I was getting impatient and just wanted to get to the exciting part of plunging them into boiling water. It didn’t matter though as I found it easy to pinch the edges together even if the cream cheese was spilling out a little bit – if anything it helped it stick better!

I then Youtube’d a selection of videos of people making pretzel knots until I felt confident enough to try it myself. It was so easy! Knotted up a treat! I knew my childhood years spent in the Brownies would come in useful.

I was so nervous about putting them in the water because I was convinced they’d collapse or unravel and let all the mixture ooze out. However, after just a few seconds in the scalding depths of the pan, my brave tester pretzel rose defiantly back up to the surface. Score!

I was then faced with the challenging task of lifting the pretzel out of the pan and onto the baking tray. It was too large and floppy to pick up so I brought in reinforcements of a fish slice and a ladle (two implements not used to working simultaneously.) I was then able to use this unusual combination to pick the pretzel up and slop it onto the baking tray where it waited until I’d finished the other three. (I saved half the dough for the following day.)

Once the pretzels were laying pretty on the tray I sprinkled them with big chunks of rock salt, placed them in the oven and waited 20 minutes for the darlings to be done.

This was the result!

Attempts to show the creamy cheesy middle!

I don’t think I need to tell you that these went down an absolute treat. They were creamy and spicy at the same time with the occasional punch of salt from the rock salt on top. I really recommend getting the rock salt if you can, normal salt isn’t quite the same as you don’t get the texture and crunch. The only thing I would say is I needed to have made sure that the ‘seam’ of the dough wasn’t on the bottom – some of the mixture oozed out during cooking so despite my well oiled tray it stuck, making for a very difficult removal session involving a spatula and quite a lot of swearing. When I made the rest of the batch the next day I made sure to keep the seam on the top which resulted in an intact pretzel with a lovely crispy bottom. Perfect!

I scored some serious girlfriend points with these little babies and Ben was so enamoured with them that he ate all four for lunch! Good lad. When we made the remaining four I shook things up a little by adding sliced pepperoni to mine in place of the jalapenos, taking them to a whole new level of amazing.

Our cunning plan for them to be Monday’s work lunch was over-ambitious at best and we both ate one at breakneck speed moments after their removal from the oven, throat-scalding temperatures be damned.