I love surprises - pleasant ones of course.
When it comes to dining out, we all have our tried and trusted favourites where we head to when we want to be almost guaranteed a good meal.
But nothing beats that thrill of trying a new eating place and experience the surroundings, menu, tastes and flavours for the first time – particularly when you discover a previously unknown hidden gem.
It was with this thought in mind we headed to Amelie’s Restaurant and as soon as we entered, we felt we were in a cosy and warm place with small rooms with a welcoming and homely feel about them.
In fact, at first we felt like we were walking into someone’s living room.
In keeping with the season, the place was suitably festive and I loved the novel idea of hanging Christmas crackers from a line with clothes pegs.
Led to a round table in a cosy room, we were pleased to find it already set with carafes of water and dishes of butter including an intriguing looking flavoured one.
I’m a sucker for a great value menu – but only if the food is still of good quality and corners haven’t been cut to keep prices low.
So when we spotted Amelie’s Christmas menu priced at just £13.50 for three courses, I did wonder if it was too good to be true and whether we’d either be limited in choice or be given meagre portions or compromised quality.
Happily, none of these were the case as the set menu featured some lovely options and there was something to suit us all.
For starters, my husband and 10-year-old son chose the baked garlic mushrooms in a creamy sauce served with crispy bread. It came served in a deep dish and was a good portion and the creamy mushrooms were so delicious, the boys almost licked their bowls clean.
Our daughter had the duo of soup – a great choice for someone who can’t decide between the two soups on offer and on this occasion featured a tomato soup and a pea of ham served with rosemary croutons.
Both soups received the thumbs up and she kept changing her mind about which one she liked best.
For my own starter, I went for the dish of the day which was Cajun chicken strips with a sweet chilli sauce. When it arrived, it was better than I had imagined and the tender spice coated chicken breast pieces came served on a delicious sweet chilli marmalade.
After such a great start, we couldn’t wait for our main courses.
Hubby and the children went for the festive option of butter roast turkey breast with all the traditional accompaniments.
I have a different view to eating out in the run-up to Christmas and avoid ordering turkey at all costs so I won’t be sick to the back teeth of it come Christmas Day.
So for me it was the slow braised leg of lamb served with a mint and root vegetable gravy.
Both main course meats looked wonderful. The succulent slices of turkey were described as perfectly cooked and melt in the mouth. It came served on a bed of mash with pigs in blankets and stuffing.
My lamb was beautifully tender and full of flavour made all the better by the delicious gravy.
When it comes to vegetables, one of my pet hates is when they are served by the waiting staff who often put a few potatoes and bits of veg on your plate and then whisk the remainder back into the kitchen.
My heart sank when our waiter came over with his dish of roast potatoes, but I needn’t have worried as he was incredibly generous and loaded up each of our plates with plenty of potatoes and didn’t take a single one back with him.
And lovely roasties they were too. Gorgeous and crisp on the outside with great seasoning and spices and soft and mealy in the inside.
With desserts included in the £13.50 menu, it would have been rude not to try them, so we did.
Hubby and I were drawn to the Winter Eton Mess which looked amazing with its attractive presentation complete with a spun sugar topping.
It tasted as good as it looked with a myriad of flavours in every bite with Chantilly cream, crushed festive cookies, crushed meringue, sherry soaked sponge, a mix of different nuts and cranberries. Absolute heaven on a plate.
Our chocolate loving daughter went for the fresh steamed chocolate pudding but asked for it without the pouring cream. It must have been good as we didn’t hear a peep out of her as she ate it and every scrap went.
Our son’s choice of ice cream seemed a bit boring in comparison, but when it arrived, it looked fabulous and was beautifully presented.
He was given a choice of Wallings ice creams and chose strawberry and mint and loved both creamy flavours.
The service we received was impeccable and was efficient without being fussy and all the staff we encountered were very friendly.
As we were leaving, the owner handed me a small envelope saying: “Just in case we don’t see you before Christmas, I’ll give this to you now.”
It was a small sealed envelope containing a Christmas card and a label on the front informed me we had to leave it sealed and return in January to dine when it would be opened for us so we could discover what our “prize” was which could be anything up to a free meal.
As I said, I love surprises. And now I’ve got one to look forward to in the New Year.