Le Petit Ballon wine Subcription

‘Wine is bottled poetry’ – Robert Louis Stevenson

I may not be able to recite Pi to more that 3 decimal places or know the names of the last 30 British Prime Ministers but wine? Wine I know.

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It’s probably the fact that I mention wine in almost every blog post I write that French wine subscription company Le Petit Ballon got in touch and asked if i would mind them sending me a couple of bottle to review. When someone sends you an email entitled ‘We’d like to send you some wine’ it makes you about a nano second to consider and respond.

Wine subscriptions aren’t a new thing and Le Petit Ballon have been hugely successful in their native France. They’ve decided to branch out to the UK and offer two different options of wine delivery; Grape Expectations at £24.90 per month for two bottles and Age of Raisin at £39.90 per month for two premium bottles of wine.

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Each month the wine is delivered direct to your door (or office or neighbour etc) and comes with tasting notes for your monthly offerings and The Gazette magazine which is packed with information about the company, the vineyards they use, that months selections and recipes. All wines are hand selected by Jean-Michel Deluc who worked for many years as master sommelier at The Ritz in London – so you’re in safe hands!

This month we received our package less than 48 hours after it had been dispatched which contained a bottle of South African red called Okoma and some French Sauvignon Blanc called Chateau Le Grand Verdus Expression

The Red:

To get the most out of our wines we tried to follow the tasting notes as closely as possible so as it was recommended that this particular red went well with red meats and BBQ’s we decided to cook up some gourmet hamburgers for our Friday night treat. I love my red wine, particularly in the winter; which lets be honest in the North East of England is 10 months of the year! This was a really full bodied fruity number which smelt great and went perfectly with the meat. It didn’t taste too tanin-y like a thick Merlot would so imagine it’s pretty versatile. It also had a really rich oaky after taste so would go perfectly with a cheeseboard! Being a Leo I absolutely feel in love with the bottle as well; i imagine it’s bold design would make it a popular choice were it sold in a supermarket.

The White:

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Savignon Blanc is my favourite grape so was really pleased that’s what we received for our first month. It said in the tasting notes that it’s paired well with meat, fish and cheese so, being unable to decide what to make, we went for a bit of all of it and had some swiss cheese Fondue! This one was on the dry side of medium, which I prefer over wine being too sweet any day, it it meant that the flavour wasn’t too over bearing of all the different flavours of the food we were eating. I would never normally drink white wine with cheese however this one complimented the fondue perfectly. On first sip it’s like an explosion of flavour in your mouth, which possibly says a lot about the quality of the £3 supermarket wine we normally drink, there’s no doubt that these wines are very good quality.

When it comes to wine we’ve always been quantity over quality people and I have no shame in admitting that we always shop at the low end when just buying for ourselves. The benefit of doing that is that when you get a really good bottle, you really notice the difference. It’s nice to have your wine chosen for you by someone who knows what they’re talking about a little better than you and that every month is a different tasting experience so you get to try things you possibly wouldn’t normally. If you find a bottle that you simply can’t live without you can order additional bottles of your faves on Le Petit Ballon’s website as a discounted price if you’re already a subscriber.

You can find out more, including how to get £10 off your first subscription here

And follow Le Petit Ballon on their social media channels here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lepetitballonuk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LPBallonUK

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lepetitballon

How different do you look after 3 glasses of wine?

‘Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy’ – Benjamin Franklin

One of my favourite quotes is that alcohol is what makes the good times better and the bad times bearable. If I knew who first said it I would have it at the leading quote to all my wine related posts because I think it’s so true. And I’ve never been shy in admitting that I love a bottle of wine or two.

When I was idly trawling through Stumbleupon one Sunday afternoon (probably hungover from the previous nights wine) I came across an article about Brazilian photographer Marcos Alberti who did a series of photos of his friends after they’d drank 1, 2 and 3 glasses of wine and the results were fascinating.

I mean, there was an element of ‘people look more relaxed after a couple of glasses of wine’ shocker. However what I did find fascinating was the really subtle differences in some of the subjects faces. Some people were noticeably more relaxed, they tied their hair back or removed items of clothing. There was definitely caution to the wind being thrown. However what amazing was the people who were so obviously trying not to look any different, yet their faces told a completely different story. In the first picture, where people were fatigued and stressed by the end of the working day, there was a vulnerability and dare I say sadness in some of the peoples eyes. Yet after a couple of glasses of wine the smile was reaching their eyes again and they looked 100% more relaxed.

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Some being me, I thought I would completely steal this idea, take my Samsung Galaxy S6 and see how different me and all my friends look after 3 glasses of wine. I’m unclear as to whether Marcos’ subjects knew what the purpose of the photo session was for, however my lasses knew from the start. It would have been weird making them pose up against my living room wall without telling them what was going on, so I’m not sure if that’s skewed the results slightly. There were a few ground rules to this experiment though; we all drank the same drinks, and we used Prosecco instead of wine (carefully measured out into 125ml glasses).

Whilst the results may not be surprising, they are bloody funny!

Ang:

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Carrie:

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Emma:

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Me:

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Steph:

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All we seem to hear these days is how bad alcohol is for you, and yes of course if we all lived macrobiotic, wheat free, gluten free, sugar free, taste free, fun free diets I’m sure we’d all be very virtuous and live to 150 but where would the fun in that be? While this experiment probably won’t win me any Nobel prizes (mainly because I didn’t think of it) it was still great fun to do and a brilliant excuse to get the lasses round, drink a shed load of wine and dance around my living room to boyband videos after a long working week – like we needed an excuse!

Oh, and the outtakes are pretty funny too:

Outtakes

 

Is it possible to drink yourself sober?

‘Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, it’s just god when he’s drunk’ – Tom Waits

It’s no secret that I enjoy a glass bottle of wine or two on a weekend so I believe I’m able to speak with some authority when it comes to being drunk. I’m afraid to say as well that I’m probably one of those annoying drunks who speaks too loud, has an opinion on everything, exposes everyone’s secrets then ends the night crying.

20160227_165357Who doesn’t love being in the pub at 2pm?!

My absolute favourite type of drinking is daytime drinking. Having a glass of wine with lunch in a pub on a Saturday (or Sunday if you’re not at work the next day) afternoon is the stuff dreams are made of. Of course that glass of wine with lunch inevitably leads to a few post drinks and before you know it it’s 5pm and you’re eyeballs deep in a session! So in my vast experience in all different types of drinking, it occurred to last Christmas day when we were cracking over the 6th bottle of wine (there were 10 of us!) is it actually possible to drink yourself sober?

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First, in true L’Oreal style, here comes the science bit so concentrate…It takes your liver approximately 1 hour to metabolise 1 unit of alcohol so technically if you drink less than 1 unit an hour you’ll never really be drunk (and where’s the fun in that?) so if you drank 5 pints it would take you 15 hours to fully sober up. In short, no, it is not medically possible to drink yourself sober.

We/I turn to alcohol for almost everything, if I’m celebrating, commiserating, bored, tired, can’t sleep, hungry, the list goes on. And we have quite a unique drinking culture in the UK as well, daytime and binge drinking are perfectly acceptable ways of passing the time (I’m not saying it’s a productive way to spend your time; it’s just acceptable). Every time I see my American friend Meagan and we open a bottle of wine she’ll inevitably end up saying something like ‘you’re so tiny but you can drink so much!’

I am of the belief that the longer period of time you’re drinking over, the more you pace yourself therefore the less drunk you feel. For me, it’s the Christmas day effect. We start drinking (albeit very slowly with a bucks fizz at about 11am) and continue through until perhaps midnight/1am. But because you don’t have as much of a time limit as you do when you’re just out for the evening, there’s no real rush and you’re just nicely keeping the alcohol levels steadily topped up thus giving your liver chance to metabolise it a bit better. As such I usually crawl into bed on Christmas night full of turkey and bubbles and bash out a solid 11 hour sleep.

Enjoying the all inclusive lifestyle back in January

We’ve also been on a few all inclusive holidays over the last few years and whilst we’ll no doubt have put away an obscene amount of units each day, I very rarely have hangovers on holiday because it’s nicely paced out throughout the day and when you can have whatever you want whenever you want, there isn’t the rush to get absolutely piss eyed. As with Christmas, you learn very quickly what’s appropriate to drunk when for example, bucks fizz, mimosa or bloody mary; very much a breakfast drink, after 1pm pretty much anything goes then you have your whiskeys and your baileys for the strasse.

This is all very tongue in cheek and I’m of course not trying to advocate excessively unhealthy lifetsyles. I try my best wherever possible to stay fit and healthy by going to the gym regularly, eating sensibly and almost never drink 5 days out of the week unless it’s a really special occasion. I just find it interesting that after I’ve been drinking slowly throughout the day have zero hangover the next morning whereas a few too many glasses on a Friday night because I’ve had a busy week at work and the Beer Monkey* has absolutely paid a visit and opened up the gates of hangover hell.

*Beer Monkey – n. Mythical Simian like creature that magically appears during the middle of the night to ruffle your hair, crap in your mouth and steal your money while you sleep. Often visits after you’ve been out on a heavy Friday or Saturday night and is known to favour between 3-4am whilst you’re totally wankered.

Elliott’s Kitchen, Wylam

‘I like to be able to sit in a cafe and watch the world go by and observe people’ – Sophia Myles

There’s a lot of negativity on the world at the moment. Even on Facebook and instagram there’s people eye rolling at their so called friends who are at the gym or posting their slimming world meals. There doesn’t seem to be much bigging each other up anymore.

So let me buck the trend and take a moment to gush about our amazing friends Jill and Phil Elliott who after what feels like years of near misses have finally fulfilled their dream of owning their own cafe. And what a cafe it is.

Jill and I have been close friends for over 15 years when we worked as barmaids together at our local pub in Cramlington (she taught me everything I know about alcohol). She married professional chef (and all round lovely bloke) Phil is 2009 and they’ve been great friends to us ever since.

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Elliotts Kitchen on Main Street in Wylam is everything you’d want in a cafe and more. In fact to just call it a cafe is doing the a disservice. Phil has honed all his years in the professional catering industry to create a fantastic gastro cafe serving not only your regular coffees and traybakes but ever changing lunchtime specials like quiches and runny scotch eggs. All freshly made on the premises with local produce.

We visited at about 2.15pm on a Saturday and it was just nicely busy after the lunchtime rush, enough people in to create an atmosphere but even free tables to get a good seat. The decor inside is minimalist but classy, big windows letting the sun stream in and light wooden furniture and fittings.

We only went for coffee and cake; a latte (made with Italian coffee) and slice of rocky road for me and a pot of Earl Grey and a date scone for Dave. Both treats were a decent size (there’s nowt more frustrating that a small scone) the rocky road was stuffed with fluffy marshmallows and not to over powering with sickly chocolate, so you don’t have to worry about your kids bouncing off the walls after a slice. Two drinks and two sweets came to around £8, which isn’t unreasonable, particularly for Wylam.

We didn’t stay for lunch, although judging by the smells from the kitchen perhaps we should have! Their manu changes regularly if not daily and an example of some things they’ve had on recently are spiced parsnip soup, aberdeen angus shepherds pie topped with swede & potato mash, beef onepot served with onion bread & parsley dumpling and stilton and mushroom tarlets. Not to mention sandwiches and a different cake of the day.

Of course it’s easy for me to be bias, they’re my mates after all, however to be honest I think that just means I’d be more brutally honest if i didn’t think they were quite up to scratch (or at the very least just not say anything at all!) but I honestly honestly am super impressed and proud, not only in the hard work and sacrifice Jill and Phil have made but in the genuine quality of the food and the menu.

If you want a boring croque monsieur then go to Cafe Rouge. If you want quality, locally produced homemade food with a quirky twist. Go to Eilliott’s Kitchen!

Address: Main Road, Wylam, Northumberland NE41 8AQ
Phone: 01661 852422
Facebook: Elliott’s Kitchen
Twitter: @foodmatters07

 

Review: Rub Smokehouse & Bar, Newcastle upon Tyne

‘Ribs are a spiritual experience for me’ – Bill Rancic

Along with all the million other reasons why Newcastle is so great, that fact that the city now has more dining options than I’ve had marmite sandwiches these days warms my little blonde heart because I love my food.

We have programmes like Man v Food to thank for the latest injection of meaty, bbqy smoky emporiums, 3 adjectives that happen to be what I look for most in a restaurant so it was never going to be long before we tried out Rub Smokehouse & Bar which has just opened up where ASK used to be in the Gate.

I’m not sure how many branches you need to have to be classed as a chain but Rub in Newcastle is the 3rd branch to open in the UK (the other two being in Nottingham and  Birmingham) and in a city that 5 years ago used to be overrun with red & white table clothed Italian Restaurants, they’re a welcome addition in my eyes. We decided to pay a visit on a Friday evening with my brother and sister-in-law, and more importantly fellow food connoisseurs, to get our Rub on.

Thanks for Katie from ladyfromatramp for letting me use her interior pics

From walking past a week or so before I knew it was brightly lit with a half diner, half 50’s malt shop kind of vibe. We’d reserved a table however needed have as the restaurant was only half full (it’s worth noting that it’s a very big establishment so would take quite a few bums on seats to be full) there were enough people to have a nice atmosphere. We ordered drinks straight away, pints for the boys, a pint of diet coke for me (i tend to prefer not to drink booze when I’m eating – need to savour the experience) and Ice Tea for Ruth which was bottomless (a popular concept with me!).

The menu is pretty extensive, it’s certainly a meat lovers dream and there’s plenty of different options to choose from whether it be a burger, a steak, a rack of ribs, a bowl of chili or a mammoth gargantuan Man v Food style eating challenge (which ins you a t-shirt if you are able to complete). If you did want to try and be healthy they do have salad options but are steep at between £8 and £12. We decided to share a starter so we could have a taste of everything; onion rings, cracklin, pulled pork nachos and loaded potato skins and rather conveniently there was 4 of everything which avoided any forks in the back of hands.

Mains we had a bit more eclectic. Dave and I both opted for sandwiches; BBQ Chicken Roll for him and the Kansas City Roll (which contains burnt ends – the meaty ends of beef brisket) for me, Ruth went for the mixed bean chili and Gary upped the ante with the brisket basket with a side of corn on the cob and some burnt ends.

On paper, it all looked amazing but in reality sadly everything fell a bit short for me. We waited almost an hour between starter and main course, even though as mentioned the restaurant was half full and there seemed to be staff hanging around with little to do a lot of the time. By the time the mains did arrive I’d almost gone past the point of hunger and the compilation of the greatest hits of the 80’s they were pumping out two notches too loud was starting to grate on me.

My sandwich was tasty enough, the meat was tender and succulent however was completely doused in their signature BBQ sauce to the point of being sickly. Ruth’s chili had a nice spicy kick to it but the beans were claggy with a weird texture. Worse offering had to be however Dave’s chicken sandwich which was essentially just a chicken mayo roll with a side of chips; completely underwhelming. Although our resident dustbin was perfectly content with his brisket and all the trimmings so at least that was a success.

Whilst the dessert menu looked like it could have been Rub’s opportunity to redeem it’s self, we’d been sat down listening to Bonnie Tyler for at least 45 minutes too long and were ready for our beds.

It’s a shame really. I really wanted to love this place, but everything was just OK nothing blew me away. I must point out that despite the food being slow the staff were excellent and attentive; the problem seems to be in the kitchen rather than the actual service. Rub have still got some work to do if they want to compete with ready established more local places like Longhorns and Hop and Cleaver offering a similar fayre they really can’t afford to be having teething problems.

Kingslodge Hotel – Durham

‘I love the traveling and the hotels and just seeing the world over and over again’ – Ronald Isley

Despite it being right on our doorstep; only 40 minutes by metro/train and half an hour by car, Durham isn’t somewhere we visit all that often. Which is a shame because because who live or went to uni there seem bed wettingly passionate about it. We needed a bit of post holiday merriment after a mild case of food poisoning so decended of the land of Prince Bishops for the day.

We always love a good pub crawl so planned out a route based on Internet recommendations and non chain related pubs (a more detailed break down of the day coming soon) but one thing that set this one apart from ones we’ve done in the past is that we were booked to stay over at the wonderful Kingslodge Hotel on Waddington Street at the end of the crawl.

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We’d visited the Kingslodge back in June where we sampled their delicious evening meal menu so we were so excited about being back and trying the rooms out.

The whole bar and restaurant area has been recently refurbished and they are in the process of doing a phased refurb of the 23 on site rooms. Our room had clearly recently had a makeover and it was gorgeous. The tartan fixtures and autumnal colour scheme gives it a real ‘New England in the fall’ Lodge type feel and compliments the similar decor that you find in the bar.

There’s a huge comfy sofa to put your feet up for 5 minutes and enjoy a cuppa using the in room facilities (Ringtons tea, coffee and biscuits no less which is a brilliant touch, I’m such a huge fan). It’s rare in rooms to actually have somewhere to sit rather than be perched on the bed all the time. The flat screen TV on mounted on the wall at the foot of the bed was modern and unintrusive, not that you’re likely to be spending your whole time watching TV but it’s always nice not to have a massive clunky prehistoric set that’s just going to sit there taking up space and gathering dust.

The bathroom is also lovely and spacious (being on the ground floor our room had full disabled access) with large bath with overhead shower. Room.also comes with an iron, hair drier (I ALWAYS forget my hair drier) and there’s free WiFi throughout the hotel, bar and restaurant.

We usually just bundle ourselves off into an uber after a day on the grape juice but having somewhere to officially end was a real highlight of the day. The Kingslodge is only a 5 minute walk from the centre of town and when you get there feels like a real calm oasis away for the craziness of Durham centre on a Saturday night.

Although we’d been on the go since 12.30pm we couldn’t resist settling in the bar for a couple of nightcaps and the temptation to treat ourselves to some delicious desserts from the food menu was too much room resist. My warm chocolate brownie with ice cream was absolutely heavenly and Dave’s Cheeseboard was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen; 4 very generous wedges of Northumberland cheeses with water biscuits, chutney and grapes. As the pub is dog friendly it added to the cosy feel having lots of four legged friends snoozing happily at our feet. Like them we crawled into our soft king-size bed very full and very happy!

Breakfast is included in all room rates and all hot food is cooked to order (off the ordinary menu which is available to non hotel guests too). There’s a self serve station of cereal, yogurt and toast should you want something a little lighter.

Throughout our stay service was excellent, nothing was too much trouble and when we checked in I overheard a member of staff  giving directions to points of interest in the city which is really useful for people who may have come from further afield. 

If I were to have my hand forced to make any criticism at all it would be the that floorboards above our room were slightly creaky and could hear people moving around in the morning however they do have plans to renew all the upstairs rooms as well so imagine this won’t always be an issue and it it’s not like it was at 4 in the morning or anything!

If you ever find yourself out and about in Durham, make sure you add the Kingslodge to your itinerary, for the brownie and cheese if nothing else!

Contact details:

Address: Waddington St, Flass Vale, Durham DH1 4BG

Phone: 0191 370 9977

 

Website: www.kingslodgeinn.co.uk

Twitter: @Kingslodgeinn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheKingslodgeInn/

Rooms start from £95 per night.

Our stay was complimentary however all views are my own.

Beer Tasting at Brewdog with Living Social

‘Hooray for beer, I’m really glad you’re here’ – Bowling for Soup

I’ve already mentioned before that one of the lies I told Dave to get him to like me when we first got together was that I liked beer. This was in the early 00’s when ladette culture was still prevalent and I wanted him to think I was a proper geezer bird. At the time, nothing could have been further from the truth, I mean, I could force down half a Fosters with lime if  I had to but that’s where my affinity with beer ended. Over time though, thanks to what I fondly like to call ‘chick beers’ like Desperados and Cubanisto I can easily sink a few pints on a night out before I go back onto the Prosecco. I’m such a laaad!

Ever ones to try something a bit different and broaden our horizons yet still live within the constraints of two NHS salaries we decided to get a Living Social voucher for a beer tasting afternoon at hipster joint du jour Brewdog in Newcastle. After all is was only £19.99 for two people  (only available weekdays or Sundays) and old Einstein Newman over here had the brilliant idea of booking it on a Sunday of a bank holiday weekend – I’m nothing short of a genius. How bad could it be?

Well as it turned out, not bad at all. In fact, as such a lover of the old grape juice, they were going to have their work cut out for them in converting me but the whole experience was very pleasant indeed.

We were met by barman Ben who was going to take us (and abut 8 others) through the different beers. He spoke enthusiastically about the company and although he said it was the boring bit, I actually enjoyed learning about how they were started by someone who hated his job and an accountant or solicitor or something like that and wanted to do something he was passionate about instead – stories like that make me believe anything is possible – even converting me to liking beer!

One point (before we get onto the beer) I found particularly interesting was when Ben said that Newcastle City Council were against them opening in the City due to fears it further encouraged binge drinking culture. This resonated with me as one of the very first blog posts I ever tried to write was a top 10 of Newcastle’s happy hours, until I learnt that bars aren’t allowed to advertise their happy hours (and ‘press’ like me are discouraged from writing about them) for that very same reason. Who knew that Brew Dog and I had so much in common?

Anyway on to the good stuff. We tried 5 in total and just got shy of half a pint each time (which at about £4.50 a pint at the bar seemed like a pretty reasonable deal considering what we paid for the voucher). We were talked through each craft beer (which is different to real ale FYI – craft beer doesn’t have live yeast in it) how it was made, how popular it was and what smells and flavours we were supposed to be able to detect in each glass.

First up was the most popular Punk IPA – this is the stuff you’ll see in supermarkets (and I think they even sell it in Wetherspoons?) It was probably my favourite to be honest, it tastes the most like a good lager, a very ‘Sunday afternoon in a beer garden’ type of drink. Next was King Pin and 5am Saint which were both much of a muchness to me sadly. I mean, they were nice, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t think my pallet is mature enough to tatse the subtle differences between each one and it all just tasted like ‘beer’ to me. Not that that’s a bad thing, I just couldn’t really tell the difference all that much – I happy sat and drank them though, very happily.

 

On each table there was also glasses of hops and barley to have a look at, sniff and even taste (only the Barley though, you don’t want to be eating hops – one of which was so malty it tasted exactly like Marmite, and I was in heaven)

After the third beer we were treated to a lovely spread of meats and cheeses to cleanse the pallet a little bit. I was very pleased to note that it was exactly the same board I’d seen going out to regular paying customers – so us voucher fwends weren’t getting a bum deal when it came to the scran.

‘After dinner’  or at least ‘post food’ we were treated to the last two beers, Jet Black Heart which was very Guinness like, very thick and heavy, almost chocolatey. I have to say the tasting of it I had I really enjoyed, it worked well after food as it felt very much like a desert, i’m not sure I’d be able to drink a pint of it though. Then finally the final beer The Hardcore IPA, named as such because it’s 9% (which, fact fans, is the minimum percentage of wine I’ll drink) and betchabygollywow did it have a kick to it. It was probably my second favourite after the Punk IPA to honest, perhaps that’s because it was another IPA or perhaps it’s because it was the closest percentage to wine, I’ll let you be the judge.

All in all it was a very fun bank holiday afternoon with the hubby, drinking beer, eating cheese and chatting to some different folk we would never normally get the opportunity to meet. Special mention must go to Ben who lead us through everything. Having someone passionate about what they’re talking about is half the battle and he really sold all the beers to us without ‘selling’ the beers to us. If that makes sense?

There’s always a worry with a Living Social voucher that you’re getting something a little sub-par, that’s not really on offer to the general public and it leaves you feeling a little cheated. Well I left feeling a little buzzed, but also like I’d learnt something, which is worth £20 of anyone’s money. I’ll be completely honest I’m not entirely sure it would be full value at full price (£52) and I’m also not sure who, other than a stag do perhaps, might buy such a thing. However if you ever see it pop up as an offer somewhere, there are worse places you can spend a Sunday afternoon for your money.

My only regret is I didn’t half inch one of the glasses when no one was looking – they were really cool!