Friday, 29 March 2013

RECIPE: Chocolate banana brownies (with Mini Eggs for Easter!)


It's Good Friday, and tomorrow I'm going to spend the rest of the Easter weekend up in Edinburgh with two of my best girlfriends from school. I can't wait. As two of us are lucky enough to be able to stay with the third who's a student in the Scottish capital, naturally I am taking baked goods as a little thank you for having me.  As far as I'm concerned giving a gift to your host is a must, even if only a little something. And what better than a home-baked present?

Easter is a great time of year for baking and the perfect excuse for whipping up something decadently chocolatey - step in, chocolate banana brownies. These are also a great way of using up super ripe bananas, and the riper they are the sweeter they'll be (and thus the better!) In my opinion, brownies need to be delightfully squidgy and moist - isn't it sad when what's called a brownie has the texture of a cake? If I'd wanted cake I would have asked for cake, thank you very much. But I digress... The bananas in this recipe help ensure the resulting gooey texture of the brownies. Make sure you don't overbake them though.


Squidgy on the middle, with a slight crust on top, and then the crunch of the decorative mini eggs... These brownies are just a little bit good, if I do say so myself. For even more of a texture sensation, you could add some chopped nuts too. Warm from the oven, and maybe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side, who could resist? (Not me.)

I used an 11"x7" tin, and that gave me 15 (not overly huge) brownies. The challenge for me will be not devouring them all on my train journey up to Edinburgh tomorrow... Arriving with a tin empty apart from a few chocolatey crumbs could be marginally embarrassing.



Ingredients


175g unsalted butter
180g light brown sugar
200g dark chocolate, broken into chunks
2 bananas (super ripe)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
2 tbsps cocoa powder
a handful of mini eggs


Method


1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line your baking tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Combine the butter, sugar and chocolate in a large glass bowl resting on top of a pan of gently simmering water (but make sure the bowl doesn't touch the water), stirring until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat when the mixture is smooth.

The melted butter, sugar and chocolate
3. While the chocolate mix is melting, mash the bananas into a large bowl, then add the eggs and vanilla extract and whisk them all together. Stir in the melted chocolate mix. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and stir until all combined.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 25-30 minutes BUT scatter the mini eggs as evenly as you can on top after about 10 minutes of baking (so that they'll stick on top but won't sink down.)

5. Allow the brownies to cool in the tin before lifting out on to a board using the baking paper and cutting into squares. Watch as people come running down to the kitchen from all corners of your house (maybe even your neighbours) as the smell wafts out...

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Thursday, 28 March 2013

Tip: How to quickly soften butter for baking


We've all been there, haven't we? A sudden overwhelming urge to bake springs up on you (I have to resist this feeling far too often), but DAMMIT your butter is chilling in the fridge, as solid as a rock. And as we all know, that's no use at all for whipping up light fluffy cakes now, is it? So what's a girl to do?

Well, I have an extremely simple way of softening that butter right up so it's perfectly beatable, creamable and mixable. And before you stop reading, thinking you know what to do... STEP AWAY FROM THE MICROWAVE! Microwaving your butter will merely melt the edges and ruin everything. Yes, EVERYTHING! Then your cake won't work and you will sit on the kitchen floor, crying. Sad times.

So here's what you should do instead:

1. Boil the kettle and then fill a large glass bowl with the resulting hot water. Leave it for a few minutes until the bowl is really warm.

2. Pour the water out of the bowl and then place the bowl, upturned, over your butter. Leave it there for about five minutes (if you're using a standard 250g size block, that is.)

3. Once the butter is partially-softened, use a knife to cut it into chunks, then place it back under the hot bowl for a few more minutes, et voilà - equally and perfectly softened butter for baking. CAKE TIME!

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

How banks are exploiting students (but Transferwise is the answer)

Transferwise for students

As students, we find ourselves bombarded with deals that are supposedly in our best interests all the time. However, more often than not we know precisely whose interests they're in. The company bombarding us. Naturally.

University fees are extortionate, we have no money to eat anything other than pasta half the time, and combined with the fact that banks are out to get us (read on and you'll see what I mean), it'd be easy to take a pretty bleak outlook on student life - financially, that is, obviously fun levels are through the roof. #unay

Studying abroad is always a popular option, and undoubtedly a great way to experience a new culture, develop your language skills and broaden your horizons (or so careers advisors would have us believe anyway.) But then of course, there's all the financial malarkey with which to deal too. Student life is so hard.

As an undergrad about to embark on a year abroad, I was gobsmacked to recently discover that international students are being disgracefully overcharged by sneaky banks for transferring money abroad. Yes, apparently the average undergrad paying £9,000 per year ends up paying £335 in hidden bank charges. If you think that's bad, MBA students' fees are hit even harder, with hidden charges of potentially more than £1,000! And so many banks actually claim to be doing the transfer for free. It's all lies, I tell you. LIES!

The trouble is that most of us students don't know any better, and banks prey on our ignorance (sure, we may be able to write dissertations on the philosophies of Sartre, but put us in the real world and we're clueless.) While we think we can send money abroad free of charge, most high street banks actually take about 5% of the money transferred by charging a flat fee and inflating the 'spread' between their exchange rate and the real mid-market rate. Slight financial jargon there, but hopefully you get my drift.

So it's generally not great. Well, students, don't despair! After doing a spot of research, I stumbled across a company called TransferWise which has just launched a new system to revolutionise the way international students can pay fees. Whether you're a Brit going abroad or a European coming over to the UK, there's now a way to transfer money (tuition, accommodation and other costs) for FREE! And don't we love free stuff?! The slogan for this campaign is "no fees on fees", which quite frankly I think is rather clever.

While this is awesome, does it not seem a bit ridiculous that it wasn't always the way? TransferWise have effectively done to money transfer what Skype did to calls. Another student fave right there. What can I say? We're thrifty. And for any equally thrifty non-students, TransferWise do all sorts of money-moving, not just uni fees.

The company was actually co-founded by Skype's former director of strategy, Taavet Hinrikus, along with Kristo Kaarmann, who was a consultant for banks at PwC and Deloitte (AKA big graduate employers.) All the signs seem to suggest that TransferWise could be the next big thing, and about time too.

Oh, and I'm also getting a good vibe from this epic competition they're running - if you win, TransferWise will fly your best friend over to wherever you're studying, paying for flights, a hotel for the weekend and £500 spending money. I really want to win. So, fellow students, I impart this information to you today with the hope of saving you money. You can thank me later.

It's high time we stopped letting banks exploit our already limited funds and made the most of arguably one of the best student discounts out there (stiff competition from 10% off at TopShop, but I think TransferWise may just cinch it.)

Read this blog on the Huffington Post here.
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Monday, 25 March 2013

A mini girly guide to Norwich

If you love Norwich, you could get this at the tourist info shop
Throughout my childhood, I've spent summers, Easters and long weekends on the North Norfolk coast. Yes, we're frightfully middle class like that - black labradors, an AGA, the whole kaboodle. And what a delightful time I had cycling round quaint villages, crabbing at the staithe and feeling oh-so-grown-up the summer after GCSEs as I hung out in the park with my friends at night . Those were the days.

However, despite all that, we'd never actually visited Norwich. Not until today, that is. I know, how could we have missed out the touristic hotspot that is Norwich? Well to be honest I didn't have particularly high expectations about what we'd find, but off we went anyway.

Well, I'll tell you something: Norwich is cute. We were only there for four hours (after that the parking rate shot up so obvs we weren't going to stay), but we managed to see rather a lot. And as I liked what I found, I'm here to share it with you all, to give Norwich the respect and praise it deserves. I know, I'm a saint.

In the cloisters at Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral
The city centre is rather quaint - a slight similar vibe to the ye olde-ness of Stratford-Upon-Avon, and I absolutely love all things quaint and old. I'd recommend hitting up The Forum first things first, as that's where you can find all the info you could want about the city. Obviously the main attraction most people think of when it comes to Norwich is the cathedral, so natch we had a little visit. Yup, it's beautiful and old and big and impressive. It has pretty cloisters around a grassy quad as well as a modern extension which merges very well with the old cathedral. Go see for yourself.

Shopping-wise, we discovered most of the main high-street chains pretty easily - Topshop, Primark, Accessorise... The usual culprits are all there for the taking. We also paid a brief visit to Norwich's independent department store, Jarrold, which was lovely, and made a nice change from John Lewis and House of Fraser  (not that I have anything against those two.)

Colourful roofs at Norwich market
Despite it being March, England is currently in the midst of a NEVER-ENDING WINTER, and wandering round Norwich today was bitterly cold. That said, the colourful roofs of Norwich's market really brightened up a grey day. The market itself didn't offer anything particularly exciting as far as I'm concerned, but it was cute nonetheless.

Yay vintage!
Later on in our four-hour whistle-stop tour of Norwich we discovered some delightful independent boutiques, which are always the most interesting in my books. One great vintage shop we stumbled upon was Goldfinches Vintage & Retro Fashion, which had a great selection of clothing, handbags, jewellery and accessories like a lot of vintage shops, but the difference was that Goldfinches was a lot more reasonably-priced than many a vintage store I've frequented over my years.

Lower Goat Lane
Two of my fave things at Lisa Angel
I'm really glad we found one particular little pedestrianised street called Lower Goat Lane (great name much?) - it's full of incred looking eateries such as the vintage tea room, Biddy's, a juice/smoothie place and a falafel restaurant (all of which are right up my street); and dotted with interesting boutiques. My fave shop on said lane was Lisa Angel, a girly girl's dream full of delightful jewellery, bags and gifts.


While we didn't get the chance to try out either of the aforementioned eateries (much to my dismay), the mother, sis and I did indeed lunch in the most delightfully, quaint, cute, adorable, pretty, lovely café I think I have ever visited. Yes, all those adjectives were necessary. We walked past before we were hungry, looked in the window and all agreed there and then that we'd be coming back for lunch. No question.



The café in question is Pandora's Kitchen. It was so perf, and just the sort of place we like for lunch. Apparently it's only been open for a month or so actually. I had a (huge) coronation turkey and cucumber sandwich in a yummy artisan roll, the madre went for a griddled Mediterranean vegetable, mozzarella and pesto panini (both of which came with salad on the side), and then my sister went for - just wait for it - basically roast dinner in a wrap. Except it wasn't just a wrap. She had roast pork with sage and onion stuffing, crackling and apple sauce in a YORKSHIRE PUDDING WRAP (yes, really) with gravy. Have you ever heard of anything like that? And it was just £5.95. Amazing. The food was delish and the prices were very reasonable. We were happy girlies. You can check out a sample menu here.


pic from their facebook page
The annoying thing is that we weren't there at afternoon tea time yet the cakes on offer at Pandora's looked amaze. Like, literally stop-and-drool-as-you-walk-by amazing. I'm talking scones, flapjacks, brownies, Victoria sponge, chocolate fudge cake, Bakewell tarts and more. As well as all that, they do breakfast too. I LOVE BREAKFAST. Quite frankly, I think I could've quite happily just lived in this café. This is mainly because the interior design of Pandora's Kitchen is exactly my style - pink and blue, vintage frames, polka dots and florals, tulips on the tables... It was divine, and things like that make a difference to your overall eating experience. I'm probably getting a bit too excited about a café, but I don't care. And to top it off the service was quick and the staff were friendly. Mucho recommendation from moi.


So, if you ever find yourself with four hours to spare in Norwich, I hope you now have some ideas as to how you might spend them. Perhaps I've even enthused you to make the trip to Norwich yourself. I'd definitely go back, so do let me know your recommendations!
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Sunday, 24 March 2013

REVIEW: One Direction Take Me Home tour - Birmingham, 22nd March 2013

ONE DIRECTION 
So, two days ago I saw One Direction live. For the third time. I may not be as hardcore as many other directioners, but I'm pretty proud of that nonetheless. As expected, the boys did not disappoint, unlike some young male popstars (*cough* Justin Bieber *cough* showing up two hours late for your own concert *cough*).

It was a little over a year since both getting the tickets and seeing 1D in concert the first time on their Up All Night tour. I have to say, their first tour was epic, so I had high expectations. And just like the first time, I felt sufficiently old amongst the other ticket-holders at Birmingham's LG Arena, but as IF I cared. I'd say the average age of those there was probably 15, and that's not including all the awkward parents who, quite frankly, were just taking up valuable tickets that other super-fans unfortunately missed out on. But then again, if you're not old enough to go un-chaperoned, what can ya do? Pretty sure I saw a girl of about five wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "I heart Niall". Little odd, but whatevs.

1D!
As I was there with my younger sister, we were in quite a unique position, having actually driven ourselves there (and I swear, the epic battle through the snowy, treacherous conditions that was our journey to Birmingham and back just shows our dedication to 1D), as opposed to either being there with parents or being dropped off and picked up.

So after a very stressful journey we arrived at the oh-so-snazzy LG Arena at Birmingham NEC (absolute nightmare getting in and out of the car park traffic-wise, might I add. That really needs to be sorted.) It amazes me how many of the hordes of teen and pre-teen girls were queueing up to buy the overpriced tour merchandise actually. Maybe their parents had given them spending money. Pretty envious if that was the case, as I would actually have loved a T-shirt to proudly declare my directioner status. Sadly, a student budget doesn't quite stretch to a £25 T-shirt. Those 13 year olds don't know how good they've got it. But I digress...

at the NEC
Our seats weren't as good as last year when we were ridiculously close (I could practically smell Harry. It was awesome), but at least we were central. And quite frankly, we had extremely sought-after tickets, so who cares? To warm the crowd up, an Australian band called 5 Seconds of Summer were on. They were good. Sort of reminded me of Busted. What good memories from my childhood. I bet half the girls at the concert haven't even heard of Busted. Tragic.

Pleasingly, they were the only support act. While we waited for 1D, the audience amused themselves by getting up and dancing to Gangnam Style (needless to say I was slightly cringing at this and stayed in my seat), doing Mexican waves (in which I always partake), and screaming our heads off to 1D videos on the big screens (I may have joined in a little...) And then, it was time. OH MAAAA GAAAAAAAAD!

oooh lasers!
The concert started with another video of the 1D boys, and as ever, it was hilarious. Classic 1D. That's why we love 'em. We were also treated to two more of these throughout the night, giving the boys a chance to go off for a breather. There were no outfit changes this year - a change from the Up All Night tour, in which there were several outfits and set changes..

I feel like One Direction have recently done away with their put-together image. They used to each have their individual style (Louis in his stripes, Niall in his polo shirts, Harry in his blazers etc), but now they're a bit more, well, scruffier to be honest. Black skinny jeans, white T-shirts and tattoos galore. Usually it's not a look I'd go for, but it's One Direction so I don't care. (Check out the male style I do like here.)

As per, 1D put on a great show. The set had stairs to two different levels (always exciting), the background changed, we had lasers, spotlights, confetti, giant beach-balls and all sorts, not to mention 1D flying over the audience towards us - the stuff of dreams, natch. I know what you're thinking "Oh, but they already did that at the Teen Awards. Snooze." (You were thinking that, right?) Well, that's not all. As if flying across the audience like gods wasn't enough, they then landed on another square stage and did a few songs there - AKA they were way nearer us. YAY! I could properly appreciate Harry's divine jawline in person. Mmmm...

1D on the second stage nearer us
The boys mainly sang songs from their latest album, as you'd expect, but there were a couple of oldies in there (how could you miss out What Makes You Beautiful, am I right?), as well as the odd cover. I was literally loving life when they did Wheatus' Teenage Dirtbag, partly because all the young girls around me kinda stood still, obviously not knowing a song from back in 2000. What were they? Embryos?

As well as mixing up fast and slow songs, pop numbers with rockier ones, we were treated to one of the things I love most about 1D - their bants. Oh, how funny they are! Seeing as so many directioners are on twitter, it was cool that the boys answered some questions people had submitted online. Unforch for moi, despite spending far too much time submitting questions, none of mine were picked. But hey. They'll notice me some day. *sob*

Sing it, Hazza
Sure, my ears were ringing for a good 24 hours afterwards, my arm muscles genuinely ached the next day from waving them around in the air, and I nearly got into a fight in the car park with an aggressive man trying to cut into the queue in front of me (don't you dare think you can be rude just because I'm a young girl in a little old car!), but it was all worth it for One Direction.

Being the slight stalker that I am, I actually looked up the tour dates for the rest of the world and the rest of this year - it's nuts! One Direction are going everywhere with very few breaks in between shows. There's no way I could do it, that's for sure. 1D are great to their fans, and to be honest, I'm jealous of those people who have tickets and are yet to see them. Enjoy!

Thanks to my sister, Holly, for letting me use her pictures as mine were disappointingly pants.
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Saturday, 9 March 2013

RECIPE: Easy berry and almond cake


I have some really great girlfriends from my German course, and a lot of them are as baking-mad as moi. So, the other day we decided to have a little tea party in order to gossip, moan about exams, and stuff ourselves silly with cake. What else would students be doing in their free time, eh? Not that I have much free time, which is why this cake is great - so quick and easy to make, it was in the oven half an hour after I went down to the kitchen. And I'm a faffer who likes to take her time baking.

As far as I'm concerned, nuts are awesome. Particularly almonds. And ground almonds? A top notch ingredient right there. Cakes made with ground almonds have a delumpcious texture, at once moist and light. Yeah. They're great. Oh, how I feel for nut allergy sufferers!


For an even stronger almond flavour you could substitute almond extract for the vanilla - I only had the latter, and unfortunately my student baking budget will only stretch so far, so vanilla it was (still lovely.) Speaking of student budgets, frozen berries are extremely kind to the purse-strings and perfect for baking - they taste exactly the same as fresh fruit once out of the oven, and who wants to waste fresh fruit (buying berries would be a treat as it is) in cake? Not me. The tartness of the berries adds a really nice zing to the sweetness of the cake, and I like how they make the cake look when you slice in too.

If you like Bakewell Tarts, the chances are you'll like this cake, as it's something of a twist on that classic cherry and almond combo. Seeing as each of my friends was bringing some sort of baked good, I didn't actually want to make a huge cake - this one is made in one round 20cm sandwich tin, but you could easily double the ingredients, make two sponges and sandwich them together with a layer of jam if you have a larger crowd to feed.

I drizzled simple glacé icing over mine, but a light dusting of icing sugar would be just as appealing. If I had all the ingredients in the world to choose from, I'd also suggest sprinkling some flaked almonds over while the icing is still wet, or perhaps topping with a few mini eggs for an Easter theme. Hey, the world is your oyster. Or your cake.



Ingredients


100g butter, well softened, plus extra for greasing
100g golden caster sugar
50g ground almonds
50g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
pinch of salt
1 handful frozen berries
150g icing sugar (optional)

adding the berries to the rest of the mixture

Method


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line the base of a 20cm round sandwich tin with baking paper.

2. Using a handheld electric whisk, beat together all the cake ingredients except the berries and icing sugar until smooth, then fold in the berries until evenly distributed and creating a slight swirly effect. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top. Bake for around 30 minutes until golden and springy - when it's done the cake should be shrinking away from the sides of the tin, and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out just about clean.

Swirly girly cake pre-baking
3. When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and cool the sponge for a few minutes in the tin. Go round the side with a knife, then turn the cake out of the tin to cool completely on a wire rack.

4. Once cool, add the icing: Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl. Add a teaspoonful of water one at a time, stirring in between before adding more water to reach the desired consistency. Drizzle evenly over the top of the cake and leave to set. Deeeee-lish.

If you like the idea of putting on your own tea party (the best kind of party), read my top tops here.

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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

How to do a fishtail plait: step-by-step guide with pictures and video

a neat fishtail
The elusive fishtail plait needs demystifying in my opinion. I know there are guides, blogs and vlogs explaining how to do them all over t'internet, but as I was doing one on myself at work the other day (multi-tasking, natch), one of my colleagues asked me to do my own blog explaining how. So Hannah, this one goes out to you.

A very long fishtail I did on my gorge friend Harriet
Fishtail plaits really are surprisingly easy, despite their complex appearance - those who don't know how to do them often view a fishtail plait in awe. Well, don't fear, fishtail-rookies. I'm here to show you just how simple they are.

As far as I'm concerned, the trick to a good fishtail plait is starting with two (yup, that's the first difference to a regular three-strand plait) equal sections. From then on the tightness of your plait will depend on how small the sections are which you transfer from side to side. To get a neat, tight fishtail plait takes a while - especially if your hair is as long as mine - so I usually like to do mine whilst watching TV.

Step 1



Divide the hair into two equal sections. If I'm doing it on myself I tend to do it to the side over one shoulder, but on other people it's easier to do straight down the back. If you're doing one to the side, gather the hair over the shoulder on the opposite side to your parting (and a side parting usually helps.)


Step 2



Take a small section of hair from the OUTSIDE of one half...


Step 3



...and take it over the front of your hair to the INSIDE of the other half. Pull the sections out sideways to keep the plait tight. It takes a while for what you're doing to actually start resembling a fishtail, but persevere and it will come together.


Step 4



Repeat on the other side - take a small section from the outside and transfer to the inside of the other section. Pull tight.

Step 5 and 6 and 7...



Just keep going!

Here's a short video of me plaiting my hair after doing so for a few minutes - hopefully you can see the fishtail has started to come together, and that it's really very simple and repetitive (if a little tricky to explain.)

video

I hope this blog post has helped, and do let me know how you get on!

If you want some more inspiration for plait hairstyles, check out this blog post.
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Friday, 1 March 2013

REVIEW: £5 burger Mondays at Racks, Bristol

pic from weloveburgers.com

If you say you want to go for a burger in Bristol, most people will recommend you pay a visit to the old Whiteladies’ favourite, The Burger Joint. I myself am a huge fan of said institution, so it was with some intrigue and trepidation (yes, trepidation) that I paid my first visit to Racks on St Pauls Road.

Reader, I can tell you that it’s worth turning off the main drag to find Racks, especially on a Monday evening. Why’s that? I hear you ask. Well, on Monday nights Racks offer 2-for-1 on their usually £10 burgers, so if you go in an even number or people you’ve got a £5 burger on your hands. Fun indeed. Oh, and did I mention it’s actually burger and fries included in that fiver? I know. Not too shabby eh?

It’s safe to say prices like this give McDonald’s a run for its money. Unfortunately, I personally found the fries not overly different to your average fast-food chain’s offerings (but to be fair, they are delicious.) However, that’s about where the similarities between Racks and McDonald’s end, as the quality of the burgers were on a completely different level.

pic from bristolpubs.co.uk
With a choice of beef, lamb or chicken, Racks serve their juicy, succulent burgers in rustic ciabatta buns, with fries, relish and dips on the side. Even as someone who’s not a big meat-eater (when confronted with the question of how well done I wanted my burger I was embarrassingly clueless), I appreciated that was some high-quality meat. A little research told me Racks actually source all their meat from Ruby & White butchers on Whiteladies Road – you know, the one that always has that ridiculously delicious-smelling barbeque tempting you as you stroll past, laden with bags from Clifton Downs Sainsbury’s.

While the meat and bun were great, I definitely could’ve done with a slightly higher vitamin content in my meal – the one lettuce leaf sadly didn’t do much for me (does ketchup count as one of your five-a-day?) And if I’m being really picky, a choice of sides other than fries might’ve gone down nicely. Sweet potato fries maybe, or a salad for those with a smaller appetite. On a similar vein, there was no veggie option when I visited last week. However...

EXCLUSIVE NEWS KLAXON! I have just been informed by Racks themselves that apparently the chef has been devising a new menu to start in April, which will include a veggie burger in the 2 for 1 deal. Good news for vegetarians there then (and also for meat-lovers with veggie significant others.)

pic from tripadvisor.com
However, considering the deal is just £5, it seems a bit ridiculous to be complaining about, well, anything. One word of caution though: watch out for the drinks. A £3.20 glass of Coke is an easy way to turn a bargainous dinner treat into a less student-friendly option.

Overall, Racks is an absolutely delightful restaurant with a great atmosphere. Given that offers like this are often only on at lunchtime (which is quite frankly just awkward half the time), Racks’ burger deal is not one to be missed. So, see you there on Monday night then!

Read this article on Inter:Mission here.
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