Thursday, 25 August 2011

Shopping for Taste

Shopping. A necessity for most. An indulgence for many, and an addiction for some. The simple act of purchasing for subsistence or pleasure has many facets in its nature, enterprising and structure. It is also subject to many stereotypes, predominantly of which being that it is inherently a de rigeur undertaking and passion of the fairer sex. I heart shopping.

 Mind though, being of the other sex [questionable at times, I know], I do follow the generally accepted male version of shopping; that is of knowing what is wanted, seeking it, and buying it. No dilly dallying, no incessant, infernal window shopping, no mindless browsing. Just seek, purchase, depart. However, I for one on occasion can be found wanting for decisiveness. Ok, I always am found wanting for decisiveness and as such shopping can occasionally burn away for time. It is this aspect that I appreciate the least [or perhaps the most, were I not so rigidly entrenched in my empty daily routines], and perhaps one of the reasons why I have not indulged in a little purchasing bout in the last. Well. Ever. Beyond online purchasing and the occasional food shopping when required, my expenditures have predominantly been carried out [excluding automotive, which is an inordinate amount] on exercises of the feeding kind. This time would be different. I actually require a shopping journey to fulfil a need for aspects other than those surrounding my appetite. I would need to purchase a suit. This suit would be required for a tasting event. So, not travelling that far from my norm! ^_^

Considering the sheer number of stores at my disposition at the Bicester Retail Village, the destination of this shopping journey, I figured it would be wisest to expend a full day at the location, leaving straight after breakfast. Why such a relatively far away location, awash with stores which would only serve to enable and thus aggravate my feminine indecisive streak? I had been meaning to go for a while. There were also a lot of discounts. The creperie and ice-cream parlour were also particularly enticing. It would also give scope to drop-by Oxford on the return journey and engage in a modicum of exploration, if only for a spot of Afternoon Tea. Long overdue, considering I lived there for around three years. Slow learner, obviously. Most importantly of all, there was less choice for eating at Bicester. Having choice is a dangerous leverage for someone so devoid of willpower as myself.

No, I will not be recounting my shopping trip. This isn't a shopping diary. Though it was a fab-u-lousth day! I will however, recount what transpired in yet another minor exploratory day of indulgence. Both in the filling of my stomach, and other wallet emptying fripperies. Onwards!

~ Creperie Amelie - Crepe Cafe Stall ~

No sooner had I entered the Village and I was immediately on the hunt for some crepes to fulfil my mid-morning snack, which were duly found cresting the corner from the entrance of where I parked. You try convincing me that this was not an obvious sign of fate. At once I was also besieged by my mortal enemy. Choice. Infernal. Choices. A choice of which had tormented me for a day prior. And after around 30 seconds I had figured I should try a savoury crepe option as breakfast at some of the other intended options in the coming month would give scope for the sweeter option. With that monumental effort over and done with, I tallyhoed to obtain some capitol for the forthcoming gorging whilst the lady set to work crafting, yes, crafting the wondrous crepe. I had never before seen such a method of making a crepe, ladling the mixture onto the flat stove top, skimming it with the enormous spatula, then immediately flipping what is the thinnest pancake I had ever seen. 
Epic Crepe in the Making
Unfortunately I was not around to see the culmination of the Epic crepe, so instead I was just presented with this. 
Epic Crepe Made -Savoury Crepe with Salmon, Cream Cheese & Rocket
If anything wanted to be devoured any more, I have not seen it. The frayed fringes of nearly transluscent crepe with the golden hue of the crepe contrasted with the decidedly different [for me at least] cream and salmon filling, with the aroma of rocket making itself known. Looking at it was not going to achieve anything, so, nom. Christ. Crunchy yet delicate at the same time, with a richness of butter of the crepe were absolutely astonishing. Then came the onslaught of cream cheese, salmon, and the rocket punching through to further meld into an indulgent melange in my mouth. It has difficult to avoid inhaling this crepe whole, for whilst very rich in flavours, it was not heavy in the slightest, perhaps helped by the sheer slightness of the crepe. It was finished in short order, the grease on my finger tips defying this most deliciously of indulgent "snacks". Now for something sweet for my burgeoning waistline.

~ Amorino - Ice-Cream Parlour Stall ~

On my path of seeking one of the more authentic Italian Ice-cream parlours in the London area, I came across this company upon the Bicester Retail Village website. One factor was immediately apparent, as of this moment of writing, so a good several months after trawling the website. "Gelato" is not mentioned. Anywhere. Indeed, why would they bother writing ice-cream in Italian to describe their wares, when it can be just as well done in the language currently being spoken. Perusing through their available flavours, I gave up and figured I would just wait when the choices were presented in front of me as surely a stall would have fewer, infernal choices. Denied. I did however to settle to trying three different flavours from the attractive stall girl, possibly questioning the motives of getting ice-cream at this hour of the day. Or not, seeing as the stall was already open. The choice fell between Madagascan Vanilla, Salt Caramel and Yoghurt. I think the choice was obvious, really.
Salted Caramel Ice-Cream. Nom. 
The salted caramel was just the most interesting out of the others with the Divine flavour phenomena known as the Reese's Pieces amalgamation of sweet and salty, and its inherent rightness. This ice-cream, was right. Exceedingly creamy, yet not outright sickly rich, sweet yet no dropping of limbs through flash diabetes. It was a very good rendition of an Italian ice-cream, if not ultimately as rich or clear of flavour. The crunchy caramel pieces were lovely too, adding some gratuitous texture and a hint of saltiness to breakup the creamy mouthfuls. The flavour did wane a bit in the bites without caramel, but it was otherwise delicious. So far, the most convincing of the ice-creams I have tried in the UK. Which would mean, out of the 3 ice-cream parlours I've tried thus far [excluding restaurant fare]. Now with the requisite calorie build-up required for shopping and spending hideous amounts of money steadily diffusing in my body, it was time to burn up the three hours before lunch. 

~ Jamie's Fabulous Feasts - British Cuisine with International Influence, Stall ~

After three hours I had got bored, and barely even made it through half the length of the Retail village, so I sought respite in calorific supplementation. Not presented with a generous choice, two of them previously experienced in the past, and rather lambasted [Busaba Eat"Thai" and Villandry Kitchen], the other seeming a rather dry-breeze interpretation of Italian cuisine [Carluccio's Cafe], I had settled on trying out the bane of my interests. A celebrity chefs' restaurant. I do not judge on experience or pretense of knowing any better, they just do not interest me. Especially when fooled by an exuberant menu listing on a website, only to be presented with a small stall with a sandwich menu at our disposition. Damn those carbs. Nothing particularly sounded extraordinary, and certainly not as ebulliently flavoursome as the "Southern Fried Happy Chicken" and other copiously worded items on the online menu. In a quest to go for the more left-field choice as always, I opted for the following
1/8lb "Tortano" Sandwich filled with Roasted Vegetables and Cheese
An 1/8th pound "Tortano" Sandwich, with a filling of Roasted Vegetables [Courgette, Bell Peppers, Sweet Potato and a few more] and some cheese, may have been Gruyere or similar. I was also rather stunned by the embodiment of 1/8th of a sandwich, though I suppose years of eating 1/2 pound and more, of burgers have numbed my ability to judge mass; vegetables, light in nature AND mass! Biting into it, I was suddenly overwhelmed by...Not much. The vegetables were all rather muted in flavour, being there, but no more, being as vague as I can. There was pleasant presence of pesto which tied in and cut through the cheese with everything else, though even that was not particularly prevalent in its voice. Once again lambasting more carbohydrates and little added protein, the enormous slices of bread, however agreeable, compared to the vegetable filling made my rue my decision. As essentially every one taken in these recent binges. Guilt I think it is called. Which would be substantiated further with yet another enabling of my sweet teeth, jaw, mouth, cells, molecules, atomic structure, being. 
Glutton Cake. Poppy Seed & Lemon Drizzle Cake
Again, in a slightly contrived excuse of trying new, I pined for the aforementioned drizzle cake, having never tried poppy seed before, not that I was expecting much beyond the possible failing of a drugs test - it's fine, I did not envision driving for a few hours yet. Now usually, I do not make many overblown statements, unless they are about zigni, passito or similar otherworldly artefacts. And this is not not one of those cases, sponge cakes being the must yawn-inducing to me [a yawn that inevitably gets filled with food, and a chewing action, yes]. However, to merit, it was a very nicely grained, and quite memorably moist cake. The glazing as well was not blindingly sweet, the lemon drizzle playing off nicely with a welcome amount of tartness. However, it also did not throw up any surprises. Nothing. Not even any hallucinations or out-of-body experiences from the opiate topping. It did satiate my sweet tooth though, and draw in hoards of annoying bees. Much to my chagrin [I minced away from them]. 

Continuing on with the remainder of the shopping dues, I had then decided that being mere moments from Oxford, that it would be rather opportune to engage in a spot of some traditional Afternoon tea. A light touch before the dinner meal that would await, and in a rather fitting environment too. Choosing was a rather clueless affair of searching on Google for the "best tea spots", obviously lending itself to much subjective nullities of opinion. Thus I went for the oldest sounding establishment, figuring that if anyone would be retentive enough about the correctness of their Afternoon Tea, it would be the Rich Octogenarians that would frequent similarly composed venues. 

~ The Randolph Hotel - Afternoon Tea ~

Parking in the wretched [paid parking]/delightful [proximity to "nice" Oxford] Banbury/Woodstock Road meeting, off to the Randolph I gleefully skipped along. It was however fully booked, and with the Parking Nazi's ever-intent on issuing me my tenth or so parking ticket accumulated in my years at Oxford, I decided not to dilly dally. So I promptly minced across the road to the Ashmolean Museum instead for some rooftop tea, on the suggestion of the jolly Maitre' D at the Randolph.

Stairs. And even more stairs on the inside. Excellent, moar calories to burn! I was loaded with carbohydrates anyway. After much deliberate musing, a choice of cake was made, a spot on the rooftop was chosen, and I lay in wait for my tea. This was perhaps the most anticipation I have ever created for a cup of tea. It shall not happen again. And yes. Yet another sweet-tooth moment to be satiated.
Bland & Reasonable - Salmon/Cucumber/Egg Finger Sandwiches & Raisin, Walnut & Apple Slice
In quite the about-face of the crepe at the beginning of the day, if any morsel of food could induce more disinterest for the act of eating, it was the rectangle of finger sandwiches and the cake slice presented to me. I however, had a metabolism to, well, stoke. The sandwiches certainly lived up their comatose description and appearance, essentially being the essence of bland. I was slightly bemused by how flavourless the cucumber sandwiches were in particular expecting, perhaps somewhat foolishly, more than just a couple of pieces of bread and a couple of slices of cucumber to its constitution. Oh well. More bread, at least this time though it was brown, and reduced in size. Some added protein as well for kicks. The walnut slice however was rather appetising. Containing apparently the world, the slices of apple in particular were rather lovely, being still crunchy and just sweet enough, with a nice tartness to cut through the dense cake. This played off nicely with the raisins and the slight profusion of spice in the cake. The tea then duly arrived.
Earl Grey. 
Something missing? The atrocious, no, ABHORRENT absence of scones was not lost on me either. This was, a travesty. The tea was nice though. Quite startlingly so. Or maybe I have not had Earl Grey in a while, but it was rather refreshingly besieged by bergamot and lemon, despite still being a teabag brew. The cake slice also happened to work rather well with the tea, with the lemon hint adding to the tartness of the apple, and the gentle sweetness of the cake helping me to rid of another useless limb/soften the slight astringency of the tea. Time was of the essence however, and as much as I had wanted to rant to myself about the denial of the scones, the near coma-inducing of the sandwiches and the delightful gale-force winds brewing, I had a parking attendant to combat, so rushed off to my next plans. Mince mince mince. 

I was actually rather timely, arriving at the car just as the parking attendant was about to spot my just expired parking ticket. From here on I would then travel into London for a grander culmination of day's gastronomic excesses, if not financial, choosing to engage in an Indo-Malaysian special Menu at Cinnamon Club of Westminster with a fellow "Brown" friend of mine. Seeing as I'll have separate review of that restaurant, I will just state that whilst not the utmost in outright face-melting flavours, it got many things right. Not least, yet again satiating my predominantly glucose-constituted being. 

Shopping. It would stand to reason then why it is not an activity I engage in too often, as my lack of restraint when it comes to ingesting calories is rather preposterously reflected in the lack of restraint on expenditures as well. I did however, buy plenty of taste on this day, though I can only speak of the literal, rather than of the figurative. Rather!

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