The Best of 2019

Happy New Year, readers!  And welcome back to Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub – the web’s number one virtual location for soaking in warm, relaxing waters and enjoying my virtual adventures.

What a year 2019 has been.  I’ve been to Comic Cons; written album reviews for Ever Metal; indulged in another traditional Halloween Horror Fest – and finally managed to get to a few gigs.  Food and drinks reviews, as well as toy and tat blogs, have also made a comeback.

But what have been the most popular and widely read blogs in the last year?  Let’s rewind the clocks and take a look, with a good ol’ countdown from ten to the number one spot…

10. Little Shop of Halloween Horror Fests

At last!  Some Halloween Horror Fest love, with my final set of reviews breaking into the Top 10.  A first for my horror movie reviews, as far as I remember.  A triple bill of The Wolf Man, Little Shop of Horrors and Lust for a Vampire.

9. New Deck 2019 – Death Skateboards Richie Jackson

All about my latest skate set-up, including sexy pictures of a very fine skateboard.

8. Ewok Village Playset

My vintage Star Wars Ewok Village playset made a welcome appearance.  I must feature some more of my collection in the future.

7. That Beer Place

Very happy to see such a cool local beer emporium prove so popular.  Well done, That Beer Place!

6. Liverpool Comic Con 2019 – Part 1

A great day out, and the blog didn’t fare too badly at all.  No sign of Part 2 in the countdown, though…

5. Death by Tacos, Chester

The number one food place in Chester makes a justified appearance in the Top 5 most popular blogs.  Awesome food and service.

4. Tat Trek Update #8: Jo Guest Strip Pen

Miracle of miracles – an item from my Tat collection rockets into the most popular blogs for the first time ever!  Perhaps the saucy nature of the Jo Guest strip pen is to blame…

3. Wales Comic Con 2019

Always a great Comic Con, with fantastic guests and most importantly – as evidenced by this blog – amazing cosplay.

2. MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 1

The first part of my visit to the NEC for Comic Con made it to the number two spot.  Few words but plenty of brilliant cosplay.

And now – announcing the Most Read Blog of 2019 at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub.  What could it be?  Why it’s…

1. MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 2

Only a couple of views more than Part 1, but Part 2 takes the crown for the most popular blog this year!

It’s great to see a variety of different topics be successful this year.  Comic conventions, food and skateboards always fare well, but I’m very happy to see Star Wars toys and a bit of tat break through for the first time.I’ll endeavour to deliver more in 2020 – who knows what we’ll see?

My thanks to all my readers over the last year – I appreciate every single view, like and comment.  I wish you all a healthy and prosperous 2020.

That Beer Place

The indoor market in Chester has had a confident resurgence in recent times.  Still the home of many familiar local traders and stalls, the market has now grown to accommodate a whole new and vibrant concept.

A number of excellent eateries have sprung up, offering food of a wide variety of styles.  To compliment this, That Beer Place has also established itself as a central attraction for beer lovers.

I wanted to write a brief appreciation of That Beer Place – and spread the word if possible – for a fantastic enterprise that deserves success.

There’s a huge selection of beer to choose from, both on tap and in bottles or cans.  Whether traditional or unusual, local or from a far flung locale, there’s so much variety that there’s sure to be a drink to suit all tastes.

Staff are helpful and able to advise, if the magnitude of choice threatens to confound.  There are vegan, gluten free and more options; plus cider, gin, wine and non-alcoholic beverages too.  It’s easy and fun to experiment and discover a new favourite.  I’ve been doing it for a while…

Whilst never raucous, there’s definitely a buzz about That Beer Place that makes it a great place to visit.  It’s friendly and welcoming, with a cool vibe that makes it a crucial part of the revamped market.

Good luck to That Beer Place and Chester Market too (not forgetting another favourite,  Death by Tacos!) – make sure you pay them a visit next time you’re in town.

That Beer Place

Unit A19, Chester Market, Chester, Cheshire
01244 941990
Find That Beer Place on Facebook and Twitter.

Ye Olde Kings Head – Mostly Haunted

Ye Olde Kings Head

Chester

Would you dare to stay a night in a 300 year old pub, in one of it’s most haunted bedrooms?  Sound like fun?  I wasn’t 100% convinced, but that’s what Mrs Platinum Al and I decided to do recently.

You’re familiar with Most Haunted, right?  Where Yvette Fielding and her intrepid group of paranormal investigators visit aged buildings to discover what ghostly goings on they can find?  Well Ye Olde Kings Head in Chester, was featured on the programme not too long ago.  We watched the programme and were intrigued by the various strange occurrences the team observed.

So Mrs Platinum Al decided she wanted to stay the night there.  In the room that was supposedly the most active with things that go bump in the night…

Not like that, you smutty lot!

Ye Olde Kings Head is a wonderful looking building in the Tudor style – dark wooden beams highlighting the architecture.  Inside, the pub also has a real Olde Worlde, traditional style with plenty more wooden beams, comfy chairs and an open fire.  It is indeed very charming – you would swear you’re on a film set if you didn’t know better.  There’s also a well stocked bar, live music and a friendly welcome. 

We were staying in Room 1 – supposedly the most active in the paranormal activity stakes.  The room featured an enormous four poster bed and antique looking furniture.  There were yet more old wooden beams visible, these ones a bit lower – OK for any headless spirits.  An excellent spacious bathroom completed the impressive amenities.  All very cosy and not at all spooky, I wasn’t nervous at all.

Now I’m not necessarily a believer in the supernatural.  There’s usually a plausible real world explanation for most weird events.  However I’m not a total nay-sayer either; I’m certainly interested, and if something truly bizarre occurred I’d accept it.  But it would have to be pretty out of this world and happen right in front of my eyes.

After a few drinks and a top notch evening meal, we retired to our room to begin our own paranormal investigations.  With a glass of wine (or two) for Dutch courage, we waited to see if anything would happen.  We closely observed everything in the room to see if any objects had moved.

In true Derek Acorah style, we attempted some “calling out”.  You  know, all that “Is there anybody there?” malarkey.  No, I can’t believe I did that either.  I assured our ghostly hosts – if they were there – that we meant no harm and were only curious if they would like to make contact.

Unfortunately, nothing happened.  No otherworldly voices, no items moving of their own inexplicable accord.

Although just as we were falling asleep, the television switched itself on.

Now that occurrence might be explainable in many ways: a faulty TV for one.  But the fact that the same thing had happened on the Most Haunted episode had us intrigued.  I’m not saying I was convinced, but it was an interesting coincidence.

I then fell asleep in the giant four poster, easily the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.  Happily I slept right the way through; my main concern of this visit was having to go for a wee, in the dark, in the middle of the night.

In the morning we had a great full English breakfast and were ready for a new day.

Our investigation at Ye Olde Kings Head didn’t deliver much in the way of ghostly goings on, but we definitely had a brilliant time.  We were well looked after, with the food and drinks being excellent.  Both the pub and the room we stayed in were really warm with an almost magical ambience.

We’ll definitely visit again, and attempt some further paranormal investigations.  Perhaps it was a little disappointing that we didn’t experience anything strange.  But we both had a relaxing break in a really good pub, and that’s good enough for me.

The website for Ye Olde Kings Head is here.

The Facebook page for Ye Olde Kings Head is here.

Ye Olde Kings Head, 48-50 Lower Bridge Street, Chester CH1 1RS

Tel: 01244 324855

Food Quest: Piccolino, Chester

Piccolino, Chester

It was a hard slog of a shopping trip, but luckily there was a safe haven awaiting us.  Despite the crowds outside, a warm welcome would be found at Piccolino; a chance to recharge and enjoy some great food.

I’ve been to Piccolino before, but not for a while, so this lunchtime treat was very satisfying.  The staff were very helpful and we immediately felt relaxed.  All four of our party – including a six year old with fussy tastes – were looked after very well.

Here’s a brief over view of the food I enjoyed.

As it was lunchtime, we didn’t bother with starters as such, but ordered some garlic bread to share.  This Pane All’Aglio was served with tomato and basil – essentially a tomato sauce – and was delicious.  Especially popular with our youngest member.

For my lunch proper, I ordered Fusilli Puttanesca Con Pollo – a pasta dish, with chicken, tomato, olives, chilli, anchovies and capers.  I was looking forward to this dish, and I wasn’t disappointed – it was superb.  Not just any old thrown together pasta meal, this was exquisite.  I was very impressed, even better than expected.

Mrs Platinum Al ordered a pasta dish also – Farfalle Al Salmone (probably just because it had my name in it).  Joking aside, this was also very good – I had a sneaky try to confirm.  I would happily order this meal myself on my next visit, if not for the fact that my Fusilli Puttanesca Con Pollo was so damn fine.

The little ‘un had a cheese and tomato pizza – that’s a Margherita to us professionals – and she destroyed it.  The pizza proved very popular indeed.

I’d had a cheeky beer (Moretti La Rossa – excellent), and decided to splash out on a dessert.  This was not a mistake, no sir.

I was tempted by some ice cream, and made a radical choice.  Despite not being much of a fan of coffee, I chose the Affogato – Amaretto, espresso and vanilla ice cream.  This was presented more like a cocktail than a pudding, with the ice cream covered in Amaretto and a shot of espresso to pour over the top.  This was an amazing dessert – I still have dreams about it now! img_20161008_143441512

A fabulous time was had by all of our party at Piccolino.  The food was divine and service perfect.  To top it all, our little girl had a great experience and we’d happily return for more family fun.

Food Quest Test

  • Food: Enormous choice and delicious
  • Drink: Plenty to choose from, need to try more next time!
  • Service: Professional, friendly, hard working
  • Cost: Very good value for quality food

Piccolino, 33 Pepper Row, Pepper Street, Chester CH1 1EA

01244 312123

Check out he Piccolino menu here.

Food Quest: Chiquito, Broughton Park

chiquitoChiquito Restaurant Bar & Mexican Grill, Broughton Park

Regular readers will already know how much I love Mexican food.  It’s fair to say that I’m pretty obsessed with grub from south of the border, be it tacos, enchiladas, burritos or whatever.  Just wrap it up in a tortilla and I’m one happy hombre.

Of course, I have been to a Chiquito restaurant before, there’s one at ChOaks (that’s Cheshire Oaks, amigo).  However I was anxious to try the newer establishment at nearby Broughton Park, if only because – well, it’s nearer.

I got my chance on a lunch time visit with work colleagues.  I saddled up my pony and rode over the border home into Wales for some refreshment at the Chiquito cantina.  Even though the website says Broughton Park is in Chester (England), which it’s not.  Minus points for racism, Chiquito. nachos

As we only had an hour before the banditos would be back on our trail, starters were skipped.  Which is a shame, as there were plenty of tantalising items on offer.  Likewise, I didn’t opt for an alcoholic beverage with my meal, though I could have chosen from an array of suitable beers.

Instead I had a coke, but the good news was that there were free refills!  Just ask your courteous waiting on staff.  I like that.

So on to the meal.  After some deliberation, I opted for a chimichanga – a dish I love and have enjoyed before at other establishments.  Now for those of you who are unschooled in the ways of Mexican food, a chimihcanga is essentially a fried burrito.  Still none the wiser?  Take a tortilla, add the filling of your choice (in my case pulled pork) and throw in some rice, refried beans and sauce.  Roll it up and cook/fry.

el-taco-grande

El Taco Grande enjoying his meal

The chimichanga was accompanied by fries and the usual suspects – salsa, sour cream and guacamole dips.

This was all very tasty, and I really enjoyed the food.  It had a home cooked feel to it, not mass produced and thrown together at all.

The only thing that confused me was the serving style – the food was presented in a little deep frying metal container.  This looked very cool, but wasn’t the easiest way to eat.  Unless you’re supposed to pick the chimichanga up and eat with your hands – surely not?  I must be wrong.

All in all, my experience was very good – with a couple of minor criticisms.  Firstly, although the style and decor of Chiquito was really groovy, the music was a bit hit and miss.  It seemed like every other song was Enrique Iglesias, mixed alternately with some more authentic Latin sounds.  Enrique may be OK for the ladies who lunch crowd, but I expect more genuine Mariachi music.

My delicious chimichanga. Half eaten, sorry.

My delicious chimichanga. Half eaten, sorry.

But then Chiquito is Tex Mex, rather than just Mex.  They even have a steak and fish menu, as well as burgers.  This may be far too normal for my tastes, but I suppose that it may entice some Brits in – they may even, one day, try something a little more exotic than chips and egg.

I have no real problems with Chiquito – the food and service were both great.  I really enjoyed my meal and was impressed by the large amount of choice on the menu.  Go give Chiquito a try – but please, try the Mexican food!

Food Quest Test

  • Food: large amount to choose from.  Great Mexican dishes, with some more traditional choices for anyone with a less adventurous palate.
  • Drink: I was on soft drinks, but they have free refills – yes!  Tons of alcoholic choices too.
  • Service: Very good, friendly staff.
  • Cost: Acceptable for a lunch time treat!

Chiquito, Unit 19 Broughton Chopping Park, Broughton CH4 0DE

01244 530564

The Chiquito website is here.

Food Quest: Chez Jules, Chester

Chez Jules, Chester

OK, so I have to admit: French food is not really my thing.  I love France, having travelled there many times, but other than the fabled Croque Monsieur I could take or leave the grub.  Or most Northern European food, for that matter.  Typically, I much prefer more exotic fare.

I was to be pleasantly surprised by Chez Jules, however.

The restaurant has been offering French meals for many years, though I have never visited before.  I was tagging along in a family party.  Chez Jules was immediately impressive with its continental style and warm welcome.

We were visiting on a Tuesday evening, when Chez Jules offers a pretty unbeatable offer: two courses and a bottle of wine for just £17.50 each.  That’s a whole bottle of wine, to myself.  With two courses of food.  Absolutely crazy.

The menu changes regularly, but appears to offer a wide variety of temptations.  For my entrees, I opted for pork rillettes, served with caramalised onion chutney and toasted French bread.  That didn’t mean much to me, but I can tell you I was reminded of pate in style.  As always with pate, I ran short of toast – however the excellent staff had provided bread for the table, so I hoovered that up as well.  Fantastic start.cj1

For the main, or “plats de resistance”, I ordered a pork, apricot and sage roulade, with potato puree and red wine jus.  Think along the lines of a little dome of pulled pork.  This was an exceptionally tasty centre for my meal.  “Jus” turns out to be like gravy, which was a bit of a relief as I was slurping the (very good!) red wine too easily.  I think I was worried that Chez Jules would realise their offer was ridiculous and would want their wine back.

The main courses were accompanied by vegetables (potatoes, broccoli, carrots etc) – plenty to be shared amongst us.  This was the only part of the meal that left me under whelmed – I’ve never been a fan of vegetables of this type.  No fun at all.

However such is the standard of French (and English) food, so to be scathing here would be like complaining in a Mexican restaurant that they don’t do fish’n’chips.  Plus the dauphinoise potatoes were pretty fine.

To finish my meal off, I couldn’t resist a dessert.  I had a chocolate and raspberry confection – it was like a mousse – served with creme fraiche.  This was new to the menu, me being the guinea pig.  And I could have pigged  out all day on this, it was wonderful!

My visit to Chez Jules left me very happy and somewhat surprised.  The food, though not my personal choice, turned out to be extremely good.  The Tuesday night deal was unbelievable value and the staff were professional, yet friendly and down to earth.  I would definitely visit again.

Food Quest Test

  • Food: Confusing menu choices but you can’t go wrong – very tasty.  Even the vegetables!
  • Drink: I drank red wine.  No complaints what so ever.  Bargain.
  • Service: Professional and friendly.
  • Cost: Go on a Tuesday.  Surely the best value ever?!

Chez Jules, 71 Northgate Street, Chester CH1 2HQ

01244 400014

The Chez Jules website is here.

Root Beer

I remember the glory days; back in the late 1980’s, when we used to be able to buy root beer in McDonald’s.  We used to go skateboarding, and always choose root beer to accompany our meal if ever we went to Ronald’s.

But root beer proved too bizarre a taste for the staid British market, and soon enough it was impossible to buy any from Maccies.  Around that time, I embarked on a long personal veto on visiting the burger clown (for several reasons, not just the drinks).

Eventually root beer started cropping up in some super markets, and with the arrival of American sweet shops cans of the stuff were available again.  It was like repealing prohibition, but prices were high. P_20140907_111836

Root beer is essentially a non-alcoholic (despite the name) fizzy drink.  It’s never quite translated well over here, unlike many of it’s soda compatriots.

To be fair, it is something of an acquired taste.  I’ve previously described root beer as tasting similar to Dandelion & Burdock with a whiff of Germolene.  It’s often compared to mouthwash.

Yet I (and many of my friends) have developed a love of the sweet fizzy stuff.  Perhaps it’s the thrill of the rare and exotic.  More likely, it the fact that root beer was featured in US comics, films and TV – so just like Twinkies they became a part of a fascinating pop culture.

And don’t forget that classic British skate punk band The Stupids were known to refer to it (see “Root Beer Death” on the Van Stupid album).

Top of the crop is A&W Root Beer.  I remember trying this for the first time on my trips to the USA some while ago.  I probably tried a few different brands, but this is the only one I recall.  This brew is smooth, not too fizzy and not too sweet.  Unfortunately it’s usually only available at a premium price from specialist sweet shops. root

A cheaper option, also from a US sweet shop, was the Day’s root beer.  This only came in at just under a quid.  However, it’s not quite the quality drink that A&W offer.

Another choice is Carters Refreshing Root Beer.  This can be purchased much more cheaply, in packs of six from your local Asda.  However, this version is cloyingly sweet to the novice, and not as mellow a taste.  Still, for the price and ease of purchase it’s worth checking out.

So there you have it: a synopsis of my love of root beer.  An under appreciated and derided beverage, it beats a cup of tea any day.  ‘Cos I hate tea, me.

Cocktail Time: Blue Hawaiian

IMG_20160213_182122090

It’s that time again!  Time to chill in the Virtual Hot Tub with a refreshing cocktail, letting the week’s stresses flow away.  And what a great cocktail I have to share with you this time!

The Blue Hawaiian is a classic cocktail, simply delicious and full of summer excitement.  There’s plenty of time till summer, so get your kit together and practice making this tipple ready for those warm evenings.  I highly recommend a blender is used for this recipe, rather than just shaking. IMG_20160213_180025383

Blue Hawaiian

  • White rum
  • Blue curacao
  • Coconut cream
  • Pineapple juice
  • Ice

First of all, get that blender prepped and ready.  Pour in 2 measures of the white rum and one measure of the blue curacao (for one person).  Add 3 tablespoons of the coconut milk and a few ice cubes.  Give the mixture a quick 30 second mix in the blender, to get the colour even.

Then pour in the pineapple juice.  The recommended amount is 3 tablespoons, but I would experiment here and add a more if required.  Now give the mixture a full blitz in the blender until it’s frothy, man.

Now you can pour the mixture into your glass, and garnish the hell out of it.  Umbrellas, straws, slices of pineapple – go for it with whatever you can find. IMG_20160213_181643659

The result is a beautifully fruity cocktail that is ideal to sip and chill out with.  I highly recommend some Hawaiian music (on wax, of course) to complete the mood.

Enjoy!

Soundtrack: Hawaiian tunes (see photo); Arthur Lyman’s “Hawaiian Nights”; Les Baxter; Martin Denny; Elvis.

Kash Taprooms

k1

A friend introduced me to Kash bar in Chester a while ago, as friends do.  Since then it’s become a favourite haunt.  The beer is exceptional and although I’m not in Chester that often, I often pop in before a gig in The Live Rooms.  I’ve introduced a few others to the wonders of this place too, as a way to “pay it forward”.

On previous visits to Kash, I’d been distracted by the food, which looked excellent.  Eventually I couldn’t resist any longer, so Mrs Platinum Al and I went on a mission to Chester to enjoy the full eating experience at this venue.

Kash is on Brook Street, so not in the main town centre.  It’s not too far out of the way though and well worth the effort.  On entering, the visitor finds an elaborately decorated venue with a chilled vibe and some cool tunes.  Not to mention, of course, the myriad beverages available, many of which are brewed on site.

To kick things off, I went for a pint of Gold Digger, from the home Blueball brewery.  It’s a very tasty golden pale ale, not too strong but full of flavour.  My companion went for the ever reliable Brooklyn Lager, one of our favourites.

The food arrived without much of a wait, starting with some tortilla chips and dip to share.  Excellent choice – simple but effective.  The dip itself was a really good, tangy sauce.  We had a couple more beers – I went for a Brooklyn lager too, this time.  It’s getting easier to find bottles of Brooklyn these days, but it’s great to have on draught.

We both opted for burgers for the main event, although the choice was difficult.  So much to sample…  Mrs Platinum Al opted for The Pioneer, which was a burger on a bun with Swiss cheese, caramelised onions, mushrooms, bacon and garlic mayo.  It looked damn fine, but mushrooms are my green kryptonite so I didn’t venture a try. IMG_20151114_193250466

No matter – my own burger was awesome enough for me.  I chose The Bomb, a burger topped with bacon, cheese and Kash’s Blueball ale chilli.  The chilli was rich and full of flavour, I loved every mouthful.  Both burgers were served with chips that were like wedges shaved into fries.  I’m no fan of the big chubby chips, so these fries were perfect.

All in all, the food was fantastic.  Great quality comfort food with loads of flavour, prepared with obvious pride and care.  There’s so much to choose from that Kash demands another visit (next time it’s Mexican for me!).

Plus you’ve got a massive choice of excellent beers on offer – so much that there’s surely something for everyone.  With a warm welcome, attentive staff and relaxed atmosphere, Kash is now the premier bar in Chester.  Think you can beat this?  Good luck.

Kash Taprooms Bar & Grill, 121 Brook Street, Chester

01244 401777

Kash is also on Facebook and Twitter: @Kash_Chester

Ale Satan!

It’s time for a Halloween themed tipple at the Virtual Hot Tub, and what could be better than this fine craft beer?

ALE SATAN is from Legion 13, an alternative brand created by Hannibal Helmuerto and Anastasia the IV of Circus of Horrors fame.  You may remember my feature on the last time Mrs Platinum Al and myself visited the circus… P_20141108_150949

The beer is brewed at 6.66%, and is guaranteed to “make you feel devilish”!  It’s a tasty pale ale, which despite it’s strength is actually very enjoyable.  Straight from the bottle, it was quite a lively brew.  It’s described as “stronger than Anastasias’s hair”, and “subtly hopped”.

We ordered a few bottle for last years Halloween shenanigans.  Unfortunately the delivery turned up late, but I forgave them as there were some very cool stickers in the box.  I love stickers!  Especially as the artwork (for the label and stickers etc) were designed by the great Vince Ray, one of my favourite artists.  His style is a perfect match for this brand!

Ale Satan is a mischievous beer with lots of character.  Ideal for any Halloween party, your guests will love it!

The Legion 13 website is here.