8 best wine subscription services in the UK, from Majestic and Virgin to organic Abel and Cole

There comes a stage in one’s life when it’s simply not acceptable to have an empty wine rack. Sure, you could swing by the shops on the way home, but the wine aisle in your local supermarket can be a very confusing place and you’d also have to lug your purchases home by yourself. A better idea, in our opinion, would be to place your trust in one of these wine subscription services, ensuring you’re never caught out again.

Offering a selection of delivery frequencies and bottle quantities, from the everyday drinkers to the more impressive bottles you’ll want to save for a special occasion, the wine subscriptions we’ve included offer a wide range of options with plenty of choice to tailor the package to you. Delivered directly to your door, you won’t have to lift a finger (well ok, maybe a corkscrew) and before you know it that wine rack will be bursting with exciting new finds.

When putting these subscriptions to the test, we were looking for quality wine, from exciting producers, packaged up sensibly, with fab customer service on the other end of an email.

The subscriptions start from as little as £25.50 a month, but budget and taste depending, you can of course spend a lot more. Spending more may get you a better selection of wine, or a larger quantity, so think about what’s important to you when making your selection.

We hope these boxes will educate, inspire and hopefully get you out of a wine drinking rut.

Delivery is included in the price unless stated otherwise.

Wanderlust Wine Club

From £30-£90 a month, Wanderlust Wine
Best for: Overall

Wanderlust Wine Club Subscription

Key specs – What’s included: Either 6 or 12 bottles a quarter; Delivery options: Quarterly; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

The small team at Wanderlust believe in offering unusual, quality wines, curated by the season; with an emphasis on organic and biodynamic styles. There are three membership levels to choose from – silver (which will get you 6 bottles a quarter) gold (12 bottles) or platinum (12 even better bottles) – all of which come with individual tasting cards. Payment is flexible, and aside from the steady supply of wine, club perks include 10-15 per cent off additional wine bought from the online shop, free tickets to tasting events, and the opportunity to taste alongside the wanderlust team when they pick new producers. We tried some very exciting bottles in our box, including a rich buttery Californian chardonnay Wanderlust’s own New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and also the organic Arbison from France which has been billed the “healthiest red wine in the world”.

Nosy Wine Club

£50, Nosy Wine
Best for: Millennials

Nosy Wine Club subscription package

Key specs – What’s included: 3 bottles; Delivery options: Every 1, 2 or 3 months; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

Wine can sometimes feel like a bit of an old boy’s club, but we love this millennial-friendly company with the most gorgeous packaging. The small club is run by two women who are on a mission to make the world of wine more fun. Each month they invite a new expert to select the three wines that will be sent out to members. July’s box was hosted by Valter Kramar, co-owner and sommelier of Hisa Franko, one of the world’s 50 best restaurants, who took us on a journey of Slovenian wines. We loved reading through our booklet, which outlined the difference between organic, biodynamic and natural wines, included an interview with Valter and plenty of other down-to-earth tips.

Virgin Wine Discovery Club

From £59.88 for a taster box followed by £134.88-140.88 thereafter, Virgin Wines
Best for: A weekly ‘everyday’ bottle

Virgin Wines Subscription Club

Key specs – What’s included: 12 bottles; Delivery options: Every 3 months; Delivery cost: £7.99

The Discovery Club allows you to pick from either a mixed case or just whites or reds, depending on your preference, with 12 brand new bottles sent to your door every three months (which equates to a bottle a week). It works out cheaper than if you were to just buy the wines yourself, with a minimum 15 per cent discount. In each case you’ll find a wine tasting booklet so you can get clued up on your selection. It also provides a food pairing suggestion, description and a bit of background on the winery to ensure you get the most out of each bottle. As an added bonus, any of the Discovery Club wines you fall in love with can be re-ordered with a 15 per cent member discount. We tried a juicy Romanian pinot noir (something we might not have thought to pick up otherwise) and a mouth-watering herbaceous semillon from South Africa’s Western Cape.

Savage Vines Monthly Wine Subscription

From £29.95 a month, Savage Vines
Best for: Podcast

Savage wines subscription club

Key specs – What’s included: Either 2 or 3 bottles a month; Delivery options: Once a month; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

As much as we love seeing a box of wine turn up on our doorstep, it can be tricky to coordinate deliveries and it’s not always an option to leave it outside if you’re not in. Savage Vines have got around this annoyance by delivering its subscription in a handy carry case, so you can get your loot sent to work before carrying it home easily. Choose to receive either two, three or six bottles once a month on an ongoing basis, or for a set three-, six- or 12-month period. Delivery is offered four days of the week and you’re also able to specify whether you’d prefer your wines to be red, white or a mixture. Included with your wine is a simple booklet detailing the six wines you might have got that month, including a food pairing, brief tasting notes and a link to the monthly podcast, during which Kyle at Savage Vines talks you through the wines on the monthly tasting sheet. What’s more, monthly subscriber’s get a further 25 per cent off everything in their online wine shop.

The Grape Reserve

£33 a month, The Grape Reserve
Best for: Wine and food pairing

The Grape Reserve wine subscription

Key specs – What’s included: 2 bottles; Delivery options: Monthly: Delivery cost: Free Delivery (some remote postcodes will incur a 10 per cent additional delivery fee)

Straight-talking and straight-forward, The Grape Reserve will send you two bottles of wine a month for a set price of £33. You can select 2 bottles of red, 2 bottles of white, or a bottle of each – and each month they’ll include tasting notes, complementary food pairing ideas and a recipe. They aim to shine a light on different varieties, perhaps from regions you might not have tried before, working with independent wineries, so expect contrasting wines in each delivery. Our selection included a complex but refreshing Portuguese white and an unusual but full-bodied red from Romania which The Grape Reserve recommend enjoying with shepherd’s pie.

Abel & Cole Monthly Wine Club

From £25.50, Abel & Cole
Best for: Organic

Abel and Cole wine subscription service

Key specs – What’s included: 3 bottles; Delivery options: One off, Weekly, fortnightly, every 3, 4 or 8 weeks; Delivery cost: £1.25

Each month the selection changes, but like everything from Abel & Cole, all three bottles will be organic. Honey Spencer, Abel & Cole’s sommelier, will pick a new theme each month, each with its own newsletter and tasting notes. Although the selection only changes on a monthly basis, you can choose from various delivery options (more or less frequent). The August box featured new world wines (meaning those produced outside the traditional winegrowing areas of Europe) including a fairtrade chenin blanc from South Africa, a cabernet sauvignon dubbed ‘the Bordeaux of South America’ and a super smooth Argentinian malbec.

Majestic Wine Concierge

From £79.90 for an introductory box, followed by £99 a month for the standard case, Majestic
Best for: Choice

Majestic Wine Concierge

Key specs – What’s included: 12 or 24 bottles; Delivery options: Every 3 months; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

This is a crowd-pleasing wine club with a plan to suit everybody. Every three months you’ll receive a case of your choice – a standard box of 12, a double standard box of 24 or a more premium selection of 12 bottles with a choice to mix or stick to just reds or just whites. Printed tasting notes will help you make sense of your loot and you’ll receive a free bottle to boot (or two with the double case). A swanky VIP card will give you access to open any bottle up to the value of £20 in store, and you’ll always receive their ‘best price’ even if you’re not buying in bulk. If you opt to have your wines sent to your local store, you can taste all the wines in the case, swapping out any that you don’t like before you take it home.

The Wine Society Wine Without Fuss

From £85-£149 depending on plan, The Wine Society
Best for: Everyday Drinkers

Wine Without Fuss subscription service

Key specs – What’s included: 12 bottles; Delivery options: Choose your frequency – from once a month to once a year; Delivery cost: Free Delivery

There are five plans to choose from at The Wine Society, all of which include 12 bottles, available as either all reds, whites or a mix. Selections are refreshed every two months (New Year, Easter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) with you paying a maximum price for your plan (but less if the bottles equate to less, which will be a nice surprise in your bank account).

The cheapest of these plans is the ‘Wine Rack Essentials’ which you’ll pay up to £85 for. It includes everyday bottles you can happily enjoy midweek without overspending.There’s a ‘Discovery Selection’ which should offer more exciting bottles, as well as ‘Lighter Wines’ (those with a lower ABV), ‘Worldwide Wines’, and pricey ‘French Classics’. All boxes include tasting notes, recipes and food pairing suggestions and should ensure your wine rack is kept topped up.

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8 best baking sets, from Asda and Lakeland to Le Creuset

Bakeware is a staple of any cook’s kitchen, but, whether you’re an ardent baker or have caught the Great British Bake-Off bug, choosing what you need can be overwhelming. If you want beautifully risen cakes and biscuits with a snap, then knowing which material, weight and quality of bakeware you need is important. 

What do you bake – and how often?

If you have an all-round passion, then larger sets will be more versatile. If you’re topping up an existing collection, then the specialist ranges may suit.

If you are a less frequent baker, then the more expensive brands may not be worth it. The budget brands stood up well in the test and come highly recommended.

For those who bake a lot, investing in the more expensive sets can pay dividends in the long run. These are made from stronger materials and can stand up to the rigours of frequent use and washing.  

To wash or not?

The jury is still out on the washing of bakeware as many argue this can destroy any build-up of oiliness which creates a natural non-stick surface. However, modern bakeware now comes with excellent robust non-stick coatings more or less as standard, so most will only need a quick wipe. If you feel you must have dishwasher capability, then look carefully at the instructions before buying as not all are.

How it stacks up

Bakeware takes up a lot of room though some will nest. If your kitchen does not have spare cupboards or drawers, then a smaller, yet still versatile set you can easily pack away will be best.  

How we test

The baking sets tested were made up of several different pieces, and we tested a range from each; where possible, a cake or loaf tin, buns, and a baking tray. We made ginger cakes, lemon drizzles, muffins, Yorkshire puddings, pastry cases and jam tarts. Here are our favourites.

These sets are listed in price order

Wilko 4-Pack Roasting Starter Set

£5, Wilko
Best for: A bargain set that delivers well

Wilko baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 4, oven tray, Yorkshire pudding tin, baking tray, loaf and sandwich tin; Material: 0.4mm gauge steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: yes; Guarantee: 5 years; Extras: None

It is staggering that a fiver will buy you this four-piece bakeware set. It may not be the sturdiest set in the test but it is in no way flimsy, and so confident are Wilko in the durability of its product, it also comes with a five-year guarantee.

There were no problems with any of the bakes. Most were evenly coloured and the Yorkshire puddings well-risen and golden brown. The non-stick coating worked for the most part, but a few biscuits did get caught on the tray, so a little light greasing is advised.

We especially liked the wide rims which make the bakeware easy to handle, especially when hot from the oven. The pieces also nest together, so stack up neatly for small spaces.

George Non-stick Cook and Bakeware Set 9 Piece

£11, Asda
Best for: High-quality on a budget

George from Asda baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 9, 1 large roaster, 1 small roaster, 1 loaf tin, 2 sandwich tins,1pizza tray,1 4-cup Yorkshire pudding tray,1 small bun tray, 1 large oven tray; Material: Aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Guarantee: 100 days satisfaction; Extras: None

This nine-piece set from George at Asda was such a surprise in the test. For the price, it would be easy to think that this set would be low in quality but it was anything but. Made from aluminium, the trays were strong but light. In all tests, the bakes were evenly coloured with no dead spots.

This set covers all bases, including a roaster for the beef and a traditional four-hole Yorkshire pudding tin. So that’s Sunday lunch sorted.  

The set has an excellent non-stick coating, so bakes slid out smoothly. At just  10 inches, the pizza tray was the only piece that felt a little on the small side.

VonShef Oven 5-Piece Oven Bakeware

£14.99, VonShef
Best for: Durability and space on a budget

VonShef baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 5, 1 muffin tray, 1 medium oven tray, 1 round cake pan, 1 loaf pan and 1 springform cake tin; Material: Carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Guarantee: 2-year warranty; Extras: None

The VonShef set comes with warp-free heavy-duty steel and a tough non-stick coating, which delivered excellent results with the bakes. We were particularly impressed with the sturdiness of the non-twist oven tray. 

There may be only five pieces in this set, but the pans can be used for multiple different things. For example, the cake pan can also be used as a small roaster, or for deep pies; the muffin tin can be used for buns, Yorkshire puddings and mince pies. The oven tray is just deep enough also to be used for a Swiss roll.

Kids’ Real Cookware Ultimate 48-Piece Baking Gift Set

£29.99, Lakeland
Best for: Budding young bakers

Lakeland kids baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 48, everything for young bakers including cake, muffin and loaf tins. Material: mainly silicone; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: No; Guarantee: 3 years; Extras: suitable for ages 3 and upwards.

You are never too young to start baking, and this comprehensive 48-piece kit provides everything kids need to get cracking.

We put this set into the hands of a supervised not-quite-four-year-old. They created some very respectable biscuits and a moist marbled banana cake which came out easily from the non-stick loaf tin.  

The set, however, is not a plaything. It is real tools and pans, but made to be used by smaller hands. There is all the equipment needed for rolling, moulding and decorating cake pops, cookies, cupcakes and more.

Everything is sturdy and well-made, and so even the youngest child can use it safely without fear of it breaking.

ProCook Non-Stick Bakeware Set

£35, ProCook
Best for: Versatility

Procook baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 6, springform cake tin, 12 cupcake tray, small and large baking trays, small roasting tin and a loaf tin; Material: Heavy gauge carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes, Guarantee: 10 years; Extras: None

This carbon steel ProCook set comes with a generous 10-year guarantee. It was easy to see why the company is so confident, as the bakeware felt robust and well-made. The only slight disappointment was a surprisingly flimsy fastener on the springform. The sturdy steel also meant the pans heated very quickly and the colouring of cakes and pastries was even all round.

The interior of the bakeware felt super smooth, so it was of little surprise to discover it has a double layer superior ProCook Ultra SI non-stick coating. No greasing was needed, and the bakes still fell from the tins.

Silverwood Starter Set

£44.95, Silverwood
Best for: Simplicity and style
Silverwood four piece bakeware set

Key specs – Number in set: 8, 2 fixed base sandwich tins, 1 loose base round cake tin, 1 baking tray, 4 cutters; Material: Anodised aluminium; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Handwash only, Guarantee: 25 years; Extras: None

The simplicity and understated elegance of this British-made anodised aluminium bakeware bears testament. The soft silver colour, even after just a few uses, takes on a lovely patina which only enhances its good looks. No dishwasher use allowed (or needed) for these beauties.

However, it is not just the aesthetics of this set that makes it so pleasant to use. The even heat distribution it gives out also resulted in perfectly cooked and evenly coloured bakes, especially the biscuits, making this set the best performing during the tests.

This set is for a budding baker, rather than a more experienced one, who may find the smaller sizes of the cake and sandwich tins a little annoying.

Lakeland 5-Piece Mixed Bakeware Set

£47.95, Lakeland
Best for: A quality all-rounder

Lakeland five-piece baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 5, 20cm Springform Cake Tin, Baking Sheet, 2lb Loaf Tin, 12 Hole Deep Bun Tin, 20cm Round Deep Pie Tin; Material: 1mm thick carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Yes, Guarantee: 10 years; Extras: Safe grip handles

The Lakeland set showed exceptional attention to detail. Not only did this bakeware feel good to hold, but it also has an attractive blue colour on the outside and a double layer of Quantum 2 professional non-stick within.

The ergonomic design of wide, safe grip handles on all but the springform, and clean edges, meant no trapping of water when washing, which in other pans can cause rust. Plus, some pieces have fill and sizing measures to prevent overfilling the pan and spoiling the bake.

All of this resulted in professional-looking bakes.

There may be only five (very useful) pieces in this set, but there are many more pieces to buy to add to it, making it suitable for all levels of baking experience.

Le Creuset Family Baking Set

£89, Le Creuset
Best for: A worthy investment

Le Creuset baking set

Key specs – Number in set: 4, 12 Cup Bun Tray, 22cm Kugelhopf, Swiss Roll Tray and 24cm Springform Tin; Material: Heavy gauge carbon steel; Non-stick: Yes; Dishwasher safe: Handwash only; Guarantee: Lifetime; Extras: Heat resistant silicone handles.

This set was the most expensive tested and had just four pieces. We did not test the Kugelhopf, but we were delighted by the performance of the tray, bun tin and springform.

The fastener on the springform was the best in the test; it snaps shut easily and stays securely closed. Nothing stuck to the edges, not even boiling jam from the tarts, and we loved the heat resistant handles; they look great and work well, especially on the cake tin as it gave added grip.

With a lifetime guarantee, there is added confidence that the investment in these pieces is worth every penny.

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10 best multi-purpose makeup products from MAC, Charlotte Tilbury, Clinique and more

Whether you’re needing to pack light for a trip away, want to minimise the kit you carry in your handbag for touch-ups, or just expect your products to work that little bit harder, multi-tasking makeup is a great way to save space and spend less.

The most common are stains or creams that can be used for colour on both lips and cheeks, but we’ve also found sticks, primers and sprays that cover everything from brows to cheekbones. Have a play around and don’t be afraid to go beyond what it says a product is for on the box (within the bounds of safety, of course).

Products are listed in price order.

Milk Makeup Hydrating Oil

£20.50, Cult Beauty
Best for: Moisturising on the go

milk makeup

Key specs – Size: 28g; Use it: To moisturise (anywhere on your body) or highlight

New York-born vegan brand Milk is new to the UK and its core products are twist-up sticks – bronzers, highlighters, blushers, even skincare. The Hydrating Oil is a unique option: face oil in a stick (so no running between your fingers).

Use it on the go to hydrate dry patches – it works fine over makeup – or dab it on (don’t rub in) as a wet-look, non-spangly highlighter. You can also use it on your lips, elbows, ends of your hair, and anywhere else that gets dry.

Throw it in your travel bag to use as an all-over face oil, too: even oily skins will find using a face oil – counterintuitive as it may seem – helps balance the complexion.

Mac Prep + Prime Fix +

£21, Mac
Best for: Working with powders

mac prep and prime

Key specs – Size: 100ml; Use it: As a setting spray, refreshing spritz or to intensify pigment

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This product is intended as a setting spray, but it also works beautifully to hydrate skin later in the day, restoring glow to tired, dull complexions and even transforming cakey make-up.

We also love applying it to wet eyeshadow and liner brushes before application to increase pigment (intensifying the colour) and help powders hold on the skin all day.

Clinique Chubby Stick Sculpting Highlight

£21, Feel Unique
Best for: Highlighting on the go

clinique

Key specs – Size: 6g; Use it: On the high points of the face

Clinique’s Chubby Stick range is full of fat twist-up sticks of product – all creamy and soft – that you can dab and swipe wherever you like.

Our pick is the highlighter, which is light and glowy without having visible particles of glitter; apply it over the high points of the face or apply all over for a luminous no-makeup makeup look.

Laura Mercier Caviar Stick

£24, Cult Beauty
Best for: Eyes

laura mercier

Key specs – Size: 1.64g; Use it: As eyeshadow, eyeliner or to fill out brows

Laura Mercier’s cult Caviar Sticks are cream eyeshadows in twist-up sticks, with rounded, fairly narrow ends. They also work beautifully as eyeliners – apply with a brush or straight from the tube for a wider, smudgier finish – and, if your colour choice is appropriate, to fill in brows (using a brush). There are over 25 shades in the range and the brand adds more almost every season.

Benefit Benetint

£25.50, Cult Beauty
Best for: Long-lasting stain

benetint

Key specs – Size: 10ml; Use it: On cheeks, lips and under the brows

Created in the 1970s, this stain has attained cult status – and we’ve been fans since our teenage years. It’s far more subtle on the skin than it looks in the bottle, so don’t be alarmed by its dark shade.

Apply three dots to each cheek and blend with your fingertips and, if you like, follow it up with a little across the lips; press any excess from your fingers onto the bone above your eyelid crease. Being a stain rather than a cream, it lasts all day with no movement.

Trinny London Miracle Blur

£26, Trinny London
Best for: Blurring imperfections

trinny london

Key specs – Size: 4g; Use it: On lips, acne scars, fine lines

Trinny’s (yes, that Trinny) clever range of pots that click together, for a customisable stack, is full of gems, including the sell-out Miracle Blur. It gives a mattifying, soft-focus finish, filling in lines around the eyes and mouth, chapped and cracked lips, and scarring from acne.

Use it to smooth out skin before applying make-up (we won’t wear lipstick without it) or just for a little help on no-make-up days.

Nudestix Nudies Bloom

£30, Cult Beauty
Best for: A dewy wash of colour

nudestix

Key specs – Size: 7g; Use it: On cheeks, lips and under the brows

Like Milk, the Nudestix range is packed with simple, creamy twist-up formulations, including Bloom, a dewy, light-reflecting blush.

Dab a couple of dots on each cheek and anywhere else you want a light flush, and blend out with your fingers or with the detachable stippling brush on the other end. Then apply with your fingers to your lips.

The brand was founded by a chemical engineer and her two daughters, who wanted to create a capsule collection of convenient products they all wanted to wear. All Nudestix’s products come in black metal storage and travel tins.

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter

£30, Charlotte Tilbury
Best for: Glow

charlotte tilbury

Key specs – Size: 30ml; Use it: All over as a primer, dot over as a highlighter or wear it alone

Worn alone, under your foundation as a primer, or dotted over as a highlighter, Flawless Filter gives beautiful, lit-from-within reflection to skin without any visible spangle. We like to apply it under foundation, then pat over the high points of the face – cheekbones, brow bones, Cupid’s bow and nose. The effect is so gorgeous you’ll be tempted to reapply regularly, but there’s no need to – it lasts all day.

This Works In Transit Camera Close-up

£32, Space NK
Best for: Skin prep

this works

Key specs – Size: 40ml; Use it: As a moisturiser, primer or mask

A perfect travel companion, lightweight cream In Transit is at once moisturising and mattifying, making it a great pre-makeup two-in-one. Apply in a thicker layer and leave on for 15 minutes for a nourishing mask; we like to use it after a flight or on weather-ravaged skin.

This Works was created by a former Vogue UK beauty director to be an efficacious, high-quality range.

Shiseido Full Lash Serum

£37, Look Fantastic
Best for: Fuller lashes and brows

shishedo

Key specs – Size: 6ml; Use it: On your eyelashes and brows

A conditioning treatment for lashes that nourishes and, over time, encourages growth and thickness, this product works well as both a lash primer before mascara and as an overnight treatment when applied more heavily. We’ve also found it works a treat for helping brows fill out, and keeps hairs in place, too.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in July 2019.

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10 best children’s bikes – how to pick between Islabikes, Raleigh, BMX and more

Whether it’s a balance bike for scooting around the local park, or a scaled-down mountain machine, there’s nothing like the feeling of freedom getting out on two wheels offers children.

Manufacturers are waking up to the fact that good design is not just a case of sticking components aimed at adults on to a scaled-down frame. The best examples incorporate smaller brake levers and shorter cranks for little fingers and legs, plus specially designed saddles.

Things to consider

Aim to get your child riding on bigger wheels as soon as they can – they roll better and are more stable than smaller ones. Many bike makers offer a range of wheel sizes, from 12in right up to adult-sized 27.5in.

For younger children, stick to bikes with one gear. Older ones should have no problems using gear changers such as Sram’s Gripshift, where you twist the handlebar grip to swap cogs, or Shimano’s Rapidfire with its thumb-click shifter.

It doesn’t really matter whether your bike has seven, nine or 18 gears – what’s more important is that there are a good spread of ratios to make sure they can whiz along on flat roads but keep on riding when it gets hilly.

It’s worth spending a little more on a decent brand you will be able to sell on. Buy wisely and you could recoup much of the cost of your old wheels at trading up time.

We’ve looked at everything from retro BMX lookalikes aimed at toddlers through to full-on road racing models for future Tour de France champions, so we’re sure you will find something here to suit your family.

Bikes listed in price order

Kiddimoto BMX balance bike

£80, Halfords
Best for: Baby BMXers

Kiddimoto BMX

Key specs – Ages: Two to four; Weight: 4.8kg; Colour options: Two (Red or blue); Extra features: Tough steel frame and pneumatic tyres

Balance bikes are a great way to learn about handling before moving on to bigger models. Here’s a BMX lookalike version, minus the pedals, to let your child zip around in style. It’s even got scaled-down BMX-style handlebars and grips. Plus there are no gear teeth to trap tiny fingers in or oily chains to mess up trouser legs.

The tiny 12-inch wheels are strong enough to take a battering, while the alloy frame makes the whole package light enough for you to pick up and carry home.

Kiddimoto Marc Marquez Replica

£119.99, Amazon (Price correct at time of writing)
Best for: MotoGP fans

Kiddimoto Marquez

Key specs – Ages: Two to four; Weight: 5kg; Colour option: Official Marquez livery; Extra features: Sustainable wooden frame and pneumatic tyres

Here’s another offering from the balance bike experts at Kiddimoto, whose name you might remember from Dragons’ Den. This time it’s a scaled-down MotoGP lookalike. Crafted from sustainable birch plywood, it even has a pair of exhaust pipes as a finishing touch.
There’s a replica fuel tank and swinging arm, just like on a real MotoGP machine, and the 12-inch wheels have proper pump-up tyres for grip and comfort. It all weighs in at just 5kg, a lot less than Marc Marquez’s Honda.

Raleigh Zero

£200, Halfords
Best for: Learning without stabilisers

Raleigh

Key specs – Ages: Five to seven; Weight: 10kg; Colour option: One (Blue); Extra features: V-brakes and 18-inch tyres

It wouldn’t be a kids’ bikes round up without having a Raleigh in there – so many mums and dads still go misty-eyed remembering their days riding iconic steeds like the Grifter and the Chopper.

This smart little cycle is a good one for any child making the transition from a balance bike. You can whip off the pedals and let them use their legs to stop it wobbling over while getting used to using brakes. There are no gears to worry about, either.

Vitus 24

£239.99, Wiggle
Best for: Hassle-free fun

Vitus

Key specs – Ages: Seven to 11; Weight: 10.2kg; Colour options: Two (green or white); Extra features: Eight-speed gearing and light alloy frame

You get a lot for your money with this one. The Shimano Acera eight-speed thumb shifter and rear changer can be found on plenty of adult hybrid bikes, while the alloy frame and forks are light yet sturdy.

Vitus has kept things nice and simple – there is no front gear changer, no suspension and no unnecessary gimmicks. A lot of thought has gone into planning this bike, such as fitting smaller brake levers so little hands don’t struggle to apply the Tektro stoppers. Although it’s fairly plain-looking it should give years of hassle-free fun.

Wiggins Chartres Junior Hybrid

£270, Halfords
Best for: Wannabe Wiggos

Wiggins

Key specs – Ages: Nine and older; Weight: 11.3kg; Colour option: One (Wiggins red, white and blue); Extra features: Disc brakes and Shimano drivetrain

Proper, powerful disc brakes are the stand-out feature on this do-anything bike bearing the name of Britain’s first Tour de France champion. You can fit mudguards if your child wants to use it on the school run, or swap out the road tyres for mountainbike versions for a change in terrain.

There’s a triple chainring at the front and nine-speed cassette at the rear, with gear changes carried out via Shimano’s reliable Altus trigger shifters. The designers have selected scaled-down cranks, stems and saddles rather than adult-sized versions, to better suit junior riders. Those unusual wiggly-looking forks aren’t broken or bent, it’s Wiggins’ “reverse curve signature look”.

Islabikes Cnoc 14

From £289.99, Islabikes
Best for: First-time pedallers

Islabikes Nocc

Key specs – Ages: Three to five; Weight: From 5.6kg; Colour options: Four (Red, blue, lime or pink); Extra features: Covered chainset

Once your child has got to grips with a balance bike, they’ll soon be itching to move up to a pedal version. This is a great example of what type of model to aim for from kids’ cycle specialists Islabikes. Made for children aged three years and up, parents will appreciate the fact it’s got a fully covered chainset to keep fingers and clothing safe.

There are powerful V-brakes at the front and back, with scaled down levers that are suited to smaller hands. There are no confusing gears to contend with, but there are eyelets to fit mudguards on and an alloy frame, plus specially designed lightweight wheels that are easier to get up to speed. If you’re not planning to pass it down to a younger sibling, you can have it personalised with the child’s name as a nice finishing touch.

Blank Tyro Jr 20 BMX

£299.99, Wiggle
Best for: Freestyle fun

Blanktyro

Key specs – Ages: Ten plus; Weight: From 12.3kg; Colour options: Two (charcoal or black); Extra features: U-brake and tough hi-ten frame

How cool does this look? We’d have done the washing up every night to get a bike like this when we were in short trousers. It’s a scaled-down version of the adult-sized Tyro and will appeal to any kid who loves attempting tricks and stunts.

There’s just a single U-brake at the back, a tiny 25-tooth chainring up front and a tough high-tensile steel frame that will take anything your junior stuntman or woman can throw at it.

Islabikes Beinn

From £389.99, Islabikes
Best for: Weekend trekking

Beinn

Key specs – Ages: From five to 10 plus; Weight: From 8kg; Colour options: Four (Red, blue, lime or pink); Extra features: Light alloy frame and forks

The Beinn is ideal for families who want to get everyone out and about on weekend rides. There are versions ranging from the Beinn 20, suitable from age five up, right up to the Beinn 27 for secondary school-age children. All have eight-speed Sram Gripshift gear changers and room for mudguards and luggage racks. Second-hand Beinns are in big demand on eBay and command good prices if kept in good condition.

Trek Wahoo 26

£425, Evans Cycles
Best for: Smart design

Trek

Key specs – Ages: Ten plus; Weight: From 10kg; Colour options: Six (Red, blue, silver, pink, black or carbon); Extra features: ThruSkew wheel system

This cool-looking machine features Trek’s ThruSkew system which should mean the wheels will never fall out unintentionally. It’s got a lightweight alloy frame and forks, plus eight-speed gearing, and is suitable for use over a range of surfaces, from tarmac to forest tracks.

Much of the finishing kit – such as handlebars and seatpost – come from Trek’s own in-house Bontrager brand. The model comes in five different wheel sizes, from a tiny 12-inch version right up to this 26-inch one, which is big enough for small adults too.

Hoy Meadowmill 26-inch

£480, Evans Cycles
Best for: Cyclo-cross champs

Key specs – Ages: Eight plus; Weight: From 8.8kg; Colour options: One (green and black); Extra features: Cyclo-cross tyres

Track cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy’s bikes are always named after the tracks where he cut his teeth as a young rider, and this 26-inch machine honours his old cyclo-cross circuit. Cyclo-cross is a great way for young riders to get into competition – it’s safe, muddy and there’s a fantastic family atmosphere at races.

Wannabe racers aged from around 10 to 13 could do a lot worse than turn up on this sturdy model, which has been updated for the 2020 model year. It’s got good Shimano Claris shifters and eight-speed gearing, along with Tektro V-brakes. It’s great on the roads too, and the frame includes eyelets for fitting mudguards should you need extra protection from the elements.

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10 best men’s thermal base layers and trousers, from Mountain Warehouse and Patagonia to Kathmandu

Whatever time of year it is, packing the right gear on your outdoor adventures will make the whole experience more enjoyable. Naturally, as the seasons change, you’ll be layering up or down, and base layers are an excellent example of something you can easily add to your kit to keep you a lot more comfortable whatever the temperature outside.

What makes a good base layer?

It’s important to look for base layers that are fairly tightfitting and stretchy. You want to keep as much heat as close to your body as possible. Test if any base layer is going to be restrictive by giving it a good stretch as soon as it is first worn.

Base layers are lightweight so look for a good synthetic material blend. Often, they’re made out of polyester and can dry in next to no time. If you’re wanting to spend a little more money, try Merino wool, as it is superbly quick-drying too and, as it’s a natural material, it needs washing less frequently. It also feels comfortable next to your skin.

Here are some of the best men’s base layers we’ve reviewed in the run up to autumn this year.

Base layers are listed in price order

Kathmandu KMDMotion Longjohns

From: £12.99, Kathmandu
Best for: Colder weather adventures

Kathmandu leggings

Key Specs – Fabric: 95% polyester, 5% elastine; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 2

Sometimes when out on colder adventures it makes sense to pair a thermal top with associated bottoms to get the most amount of layering performance. We liked the Kathmandu KMDMotion men’s longjohns – they’ve got a woven fabric that’s soft, supple and easy to move around in. The fabric also keeps the garment dry too. For a great price they’re warm, comfortable and highly recommended.

Mountain Warehouse Men’s Merino Pants with Fly

From: £29.99, Mountain Warehouse
Best for: Budget Merino buy

Mountain Warehouse base leggings

Key Specs – Fabric: 80% Merino Wool, 20% Polyester; Washing: 30 degrees wool cycle; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 3

As with much of their gear, Mountain Warehouse provide excellent kit for those with a bit more of a limited budget. It doesn’t mean they don’t perform however and we liked these high-wicking and breathable leggings as much as some of the products we tested that were double the price. They fold down small and can fit into your rucksack as an alternative option if you already have a ‘go-to’ pair. The downside is they may not have the long-term elasticity of some of their more expensive rivals, but we’d certainly recommend these as a backup.

Kathmandu Flinders Merino Top

From: £34.99, Kathmandu
Best for: Hiking adventures

Kathmandu base layer top

Key Specs – Fabric: 100% Merino Wool; Trim: 96% Merino Wool 4% Nylon; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 3

Designed for hiking, this offer from Kathmadu works especially well when twinned with their thermal bottoms as they’re both made out of Woolmark accredited fabric, which essentially means they’re machine washable Merino. We found them to be warm and slim fitting, actually using them on their own in slightly warmer weather rather than as an underlayer. The flat seams give it a comfortably snug fit, with none of the slight itchiness you can sometimes get around the seams on other base layers. This also means they’re especially good when used for activities with lots of movement.

Berghaus Thermal Tech Tee – Long Sleeve

From: £50, Berghaus
Best for: Everyday use

Berghaus base layer top

Key Specs – Fabric: 100% Polyester; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 3

We really liked the fit of the Berghaus Tech Tee and that’s somewhat down to the fact that its long sleeves add to the warmth and the comfort of the shirt. It’s got a clever knitted fabric structure and the added half-zip provides a nice option of a bit more ventilation on warmer hikes. We’d recommend this base layer for everyday activities – cycling to work would be a good use, as it’d give you that extra bit of warmth on those colder mornings. It’s also a good weight – we’ve used it as a conventional sweater on top of regular tee-shirts and it’s performed well here, too.

Sprayway Roola ½ Zip Base Layer

From: £51, Amazon
Best for: Comfort

Sprayway base layer top

Key Specs – Fabric: 50% Merino, 50% polyester; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 2

Sprayway are excellent at coming up with efficient, simple, no-nonsense outdoor gear that works, and we were very happy with how the Roola ½ zip performed on recent camping trips. Again, as it’s Merino, it has excellent abilities to dry quickly and we actually found it to be really good to use under the sleeping bag when going to bed in the tent because of how soft and comfortable it felt. Of course, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be suited to tougher environments too and we liked how the ½ zip managed to zip up all the way to the top to keep you warm around the neck.

Smartwool Merino 250 Bottoms

From: £59.95, Trekk Inn
Best for: Long days in the cold

Smartwool longjohns

Key Specs – Fabric: 100% Merino Wool; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 4

Another impressive offering from Smartwool, and excellent combined with their base layer. They’re made using Smartwool’s warmest weight fabric and feature a comfortable elastic waistband, which we found meant they’re super comfortable if wearing for long periods of time. As they’re made of a heavier weight fabric they’re fantastically warm but it may mean that you have to compromise on mobility a bit – especially when wet. For this reason, we’d recommend these thermals bottoms for use if you have to work outside in the winter, rather than active snow sports.

Smartwool Merino 250 Baselayer

From: £66.50, The Mountain Factor
Best for: Keeping warm

Smartwool base layer top

Key Specs – Fabric: 100% Merino; Washing: Cold; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 6 (3 patterned, and 3 solid colours)

This 100 per cent Merino option is big on warmth. It’s got a little more bulk than some others on this list, but despite this it was a good fit and it packed up nice and small for travelling and camping. It has good wicking abilities and after a couple of wears it didn’t smell at all. Even if it did though, it’s simple to wash and care for. Generally an excellent all-round base layer.

Montane Primino Hybrid Hoodie

From: £80, Montane
Best for: Keeping the wind out

Montane base layer top

Key Specs – Fabric: 50% Merino wool / 25% PrimaLoft® / 25% Polyester; Washing: 40 degrees with mild detergent; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 3

The Montane Primino Hoodie base layer is a step up from some of the others on this list, and pricey, but we think it’s a great example of when spending a little more pays off. We were skeptical at first but the hooded aspect of this top really helps keep the wind from around the neck and face. With an added buff, it’s a pretty impressive warming layer and we’d trust this up most mountains out there. Merino Wool and Primaloft fabric have excellent wicking properties so this importantly ensures that whilst active in colder climates, you don’t sweat, as that’s when you start to get cold.

Icebreaker 260 Tech Leggings

From: £85.00, Icebreaker
Best for: Natural fabric comfort

Icebreaker leggings

Key Specs – Fabric: 100% Merino Wool; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? Yes; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 2

If you’re able to spend a little bit more money twinning your thermal base layers, we also really liked the Icebreaker 260 Tech Leggings. They’re easy to care for and made using Icebreakers’s ethical and sustainable methods. Recommended for use in colder mountain conditions or for snow sports, we’d trust these Merino thermals for more active adventures. This is down to their levels of comfort and mobility – the functioning fly and gusset means that although they’re tight fitting, as they should be, there’s a feeling of roominess.

Patagonia Men’s Capilene Air Crew

From: £89.88, Amazon (Price at the time of writing)
Best for: Sustainability

Patagonia base layer top

Key Specs – Fabric: Merino wool from New Zealand blended with Capilene® recycled polyester; Washing: 30 degrees; Ironing? No; Wicking? Yes; Colours: 5

There’s a clever knit structure to the Capilene Air Crew base layer we really like, boosted by the blended polyester merino fabric that helps regulate temperature. It had a classic fit, with soft-stretch cuffs that did not ride up when putting layers on over the top. Bear in mind that some have reported this to mean that the sizing comes up a little too big, so it may be worth trying a couple of options.

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12 best hands creams, from Boots No.7, Nivea, Morrocanoil and many more

Your hands are one of the most used parts of your body and probably one of the most neglected. They are constantly exposed to hot and cold water, changing temperatures and chemicals from the kitchen and garden. Using hand cream is one of the easiest ways you can ensure you can keep yours in top condition.

How often should you be applying hand cream?

According to Dr Imogen Bexfield, skincare expert and founder of www.whiteswanaesthetics.co.uk, how often you apply hand cream depends on each individual and their skin type. As a general rule you should be applying a cream or lotion after you wash your hands – and preferably when they are still damp to lock in the moisture.

It’s also important to use a hand cream after you’ve come into contact with any chemicals, such as cleaning products, as they can extract moisture from your skin leaving hands dry and irritated.

What ingredients should you look for in a hand cream?

Dr Bexfield says you should always use an SPF on your hands. Hands are exposed to the sun 365 days a year, and a broad spectrum sunscreen will protect them from aging UV/UBA rays as well as harsh weather conditions. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can help nourish and protect the skin on the hands. Aloe Vera is an excellent ingredient for soothing irritated skin.

How we tested them

We’ve tested a selection of hand creams for a few days at a time, and each product was used according to the instructions for a week. Along with price, we took into consideration the consistency of the product, how easy it was to apply, any residue left on the skin, and any noticeable improvements, including hydration, reduced fine lines, and texture.

Hand creams are listed in price order

Lacura Moisturising Hand Cream

£0.79, Aldi (Available in store only)
Best for: Bargain hunters

Lacura Aldi hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 75ml: How to use; Gently massage into hands as required

Lacura is Aldi’s skincare and beauty range and like it’s food products, many of them are much higher quality than the price tag would lead you to believe. The hand cream is a dream to use and worked best for our tester when applied at night for an intensive treatment. It’s quite a thick and heavy, and feels quite sticky at first, but this texture soon disappears as the cream absorbs into skin.

Garnier Intensive Restoring Hand Cream

£1.95, Superdrug
Best for: Nourishing hands

Garnier hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 100ml: How to use: Apply to dry hands regularly

Garnier has half a dozen hand creams available but this is the newest in its range. This cream smelled gorgeously sweet, thanks to ingredients such as maple sap extract. It’s a very light, almost mousse-like cream, and disappears quickly after rubbing in leaving. After a few days use, our hands were visibly smoother – and the scent lasted for hours.

NIVEA Hand Cream Intensive Nourishing Moisturiser 100ml

£2.99, Boots
Best for: Sensitive skin

Nivea Hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 100ml: How to use: Apply as required. Lasts for 24 hours

There’s something comforting about the scent of Nivea products and this hand cream is no different. From the old-fashioned smell to the great results and bargain price, this was one of our favourites. The lovely thick texture was easy to rub in, leaving hands feeling soothed and smoother. It’s a good one to use frequently as it doesn’t irritate the skin and contains almond oil, which is deeply moisturising.

Burt’s Bees Rosemary and Lemon Hand Cream

£6.99, Feel Unique
Best for: Nature lovers

Burts bees hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 28.3g: How to use: Apply liberally for soft, smooth hands

As Burt’s Bees products are pretty close to entirely natural, this hand cream is great for sensitive skin. It contains shea butter and smells of herbs mixed with the zesty scent of lemon. It’s quite a greasy cream but absorbs quickly and leaves the skin thoroughly hydrated. It’s great if your hands need a quick boost and relieves any dry, flaky patches.

No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Daily Hydration Hand & Nail Cream

£11.50, Boots
Best for: Sun protection

No 7 Hand Cream

Key specs – Volume, 75ml: How to use: Smooth into hands any time they need a little extra care

Boots No7 Protect & Perfect range has created a buzz in the beauty idustry for all the right reasons over the past few years. This equally desirable hand cream is suitable for sensitive skin and, as it uses the same technology as the anti-ageing serum, claims to reveal younger-looking hands in two weeks. The formula has a creamy consistency, and is absorbed very quickly with no greasy residue or stickiness. It also contains a SPF 15. After several days of use it did seem to plump out lines and make skin look more even.

Oregon Rescue Serum

£12.95, Amazon (Price at the time of writing)
Best for: Very, very dry skin

Oregon hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 100ml: How to use: Use every night for best results or as regularly as desired.

Oregon is a specialist brand which includes naturally active products developed specifically to help manage skin and scalps prone to psoriasis. The Rescue Serum contains grape root, horse chestnut extracts, caffeine and zinc. It looks like a clinical product, but if you suffer from very dry hands, this is the cream for you. Our tester suffers from mild eczema and this is irritating: itchy and very flaky. Hand creams do go some way to alleviate symptoms but this serum went one step further and seemed to disappear our usual signs of eczema. After four days it had cleared up almost completely.

Balanceme Super Moisturising Hand Cream

£14.50 (reduced to £10.90), Look Fantastic (Price at the time of writing)
Best for: Hydration

balanceme hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 100ml: How to use: Rub a small amount into hands and nails and massage into the skin until absorbed

Balanceme natural skincare products are free from parabens, sulphates and silicones, and contain no artificial fragrances or colours. The hand cream is luxuriously thick and has a heavenly sagey, lavender scent that reminds us of a relaxing spa. A little goes a long way too, making it a cost effective choice. It’s a great cream to use at bedtime as the aromas evoke a feeling of calm.

Moroccanoil Body Hand Cream

£20, Look Fantastic
Best for: Balanced skintypes

Moroccan Oil Hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 75ml: How to use: Massage into clean hands and nails throughout the day as needed

If you’re looking for a quick moisture boost for hands that aren’t necessarily suffering from dry skin, then this is great cream to use. It has a very strong fragrance – the original Moroccanoil scent, which is exotic and floral – which is initially quite overpowering and does linger for some time. It’s quite a thin, oily cream but not sticky and absorbs very easily. It contains argan oil and avocado oil, as well as cocoa, shea and mango butters, which help keep skin soft. Used regularly, our tester got comments about the fragrance and did notice softer skin. It’s quite pricey at £20 and a generous amount was needed to ensure hands felt adequately treated.

Kiss The Moon Love Night Cream For Hands

£28, Wolf & Badger
Best for: Soothing skin

Kiss the moon hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 90g : How to use: Massage slowly into hands and cuticles before bed, taking time to breathe in the sleep-inducing aromas

Kiss The Moon is a brand devoted to ensuring their products deliver a good night’s sleep using 100 per cent natural ingredients. With this in mind, their hand cream is designed to be used at night time so that skin can benefit from the restorative powers of sleep. The cream is like a whipped mousse, thick and more of a balm than a cream. Using a generous amount, were were pleased to see that it melted into skin almost immediately with no greasy or sticky residue. Waking up, hands were certainly smooth and smelt of rose, too.

D’Alchemy Spectacular Hand Therapy

£29.14, Love Lula
Best for: Vegan friendly

Alchemy hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 30ml: How to use: Massage into your hands a few times a day. Especially recommended for daily care of tired, dry skin with loss of firmness.

D’Alchemy as a brand uses natural products and nothing is tested on animals. This particular hand cream was vegan, too. It contains sandalwood, mandarin, grapefruit, cedar and vanilla. The cream itself was quite thin, so a fair amount was needed. It’s a pale yellow colour, and smelled very zesty and sweet – like a lemon drizzle cake. It’s a rather greasy cream and took a while to absorb into skin, but the delicious smell did last. It left a light film on our hands, but they definitely felt softer and more hydrated. We also felt it needed to be applied more often than some of other creams we tested.

ishga Hydrating Hand Cream

£29.50, ishga
Best for: Healing hands

ishga hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 100ml: How to use: Apply to hands as often as desired

This hand cream contains ishga seaweed extract, argan oil, aloe vera, patchouli, mandarin, rose geranium, and smells very much like a spa product. The organic brand was born ‘from a passion of beauty, seaweed and science’ and uses Hebridean seaweed extract in its products. The cream is very light and oily in consistency but absorbs really and leaves no greasy residue. Our hands felt markedly smoother after only a couple of day’s use. This is a great cream to use frequently, as a little pea-sized blob goes a long way. Despite its high price, this cream would last a fair amount of time.

Goldfaden MD Hands to Heart Anti-Aging Hand Treatment

£35, Space NK
Best for: Anti-ageing

Goldfaden hand cream

Key specs – Volume, 88ml: How to use: Massage a liberal amount onto the hands, focusing on the top of the hands, until fully absorbed. Apply daily

This is a very thin, light cream with no fragrance. It contains all the anti-ageing key ingredients; retinol, hyaluronic acid, along with vitamins C and E. It absorbs super quickly and leaves hands feeling soft. However, we did feel that we had to use the cream fairly frequently to keep hands feeling hydrated. Even though it feels oily after the initial application, there were no greasy after effects. With extensive it helped our hands look plumper and less wrinkled. It is on the pricey side but worth it for the anti-ageing element.

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13 best non-alcoholic spirits, featuring gin, vodka and whiskey alternatives

Going dry used to mean you had a choice between a good old lime and soda or a sugar-laden soft drink. But, with ever more products being launched, and increasingly sophisticated flavours, there’s never been more choice when it comes to going alcohol-free.

What is an alcohol-free spirit?

Since Seedlip launched its first alcohol-free spirit in 2015, made from a blend of distilled botanicals, countless others have followed suit. While many are gin-like botanical-based ‘spirits’ made from herbs and spices, we’re now seeing alcohol-free versions of everything from rum to whisky and bitter aperitifs.

Often sugar, sweetener and allergen-free, and exceptionally low in calories, the appeal to those looking to a healthier lifestyle is obvious.

How are they made?

Spirit makers are using a number of different methods. While some are made naturally alcohol-free, many create a full-strength product first, and then strip the alcohol out.

What makes these alcohol-spirits particularly good?

The products in our list are flavourful, complex alternatives to alcoholic drinks. And while some don’t taste exactly like the type of alcohol they’re aiming to replicate, they’re not far off.

In fact some drinks makers assert that their botanical drinks stand alone, and shouldn’t be compared to specific alcoholic drinks at all; the flavour is just different.

What we have found to be the most tricky part is achieving that thick, rounded consistency that alcohol delivers. Some alcohol-alternatives can be just a little thin. But there are a good number in our list that have cracked it.

These spirits have been listed in price order

Stryyk Not Vodka

£16, Ocado
Best for: Value

Stryyk not vodka

Key specs – Cucumber, coriander and apple; 700ml; 0%

With so many alcohol-free drinks understandably inspired by gin, it’s nice to see one that isn’t. But vodka? That’s a tricky one to replicate, because a lot of the flavour profile of vodka comes from the alcohol. The Stryyk range does also include a Not Gin and a Not Rum, but we like the light fruitiness and versatility of Not Vodka, which is fresh, grassy, and finishes with a delicate apple taste. And we think it represents great value for money too.

Everleaf Non-Alcoholic Bittersweet Aperitif

£18.75, The Whiskey Exchange
Best for: Ethically-sourced ingredients

Everleaf

Key specs – Vanilla, gentian and iris; 500ml; 0%

This blend of 18 different botanicals is great for creating a satisfyingly bitter and tangy spritz. We prefer using tonic water to mix it for that extra bitter kick, as although it has been distilled with saffron, vetiver, orange blossom, gentian, voodoo lily, wild roots and iris, the sweetness of vanilla really does stand out. Founder Paul Mathew, a conservationist turned bartender, has also taken special care to source all ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources. Cheers to that.

Ceder’s Wild Non-Alcoholic Spirit

£19, Tesco
Best for: A booze-free G&T

Ceders Wild

Key specs – Gin alternative with juniper, clove, rooibos; Volume: 500ml; 0% ABV

Said to contain all the flavours of gin, just without the alcohol, this one is for those who love a good G&T. There are three expressions in the range, all made with wild and rare South African botanicals from the Cederberg mountains of the Western Cape. Whereas Classic is said to be most similar in flavour to a London Dry, and Crisp features citrus, cucumber and camomile, we’ve gone for Wild due to the standout zing of ginger, clove and rooibos tea. Herbal and refreshing, its great with tonic, but even better with the acidity of a grapefruit garnish.

Borrago #47 Paloma Blend

£19.95, Master of Malt
Best for: Guilt-free cocktails

Borago

Key specs – Citrus, spice, pepper; Volume 500ml; 0% ABV

Though you can use Borrago like a gin or a vodka, its makers are clear: it is not trying to mimic them. Dry with sweet floral notes, it also contains lemon and coriander. With a sweet kick, we particularly like its sherbet fruitiness and menthol-like finish. Mix it with tonic, and garnish with lime and mint, or basil leaf and an orange wedge. What’s more, as well as being alcohol-free, its sugar-free, fat-free, and calorie-free.

Æcorn Bitter

£19.99, Waitrose
Best for: A booze-free spritz

Aecorn

Key specs – Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay grapes, with botanicals; 500ml, 0%

From the makers of Seedlip comes this three-strong range of alcohol-free aperitifs, all distilled from a blend of English-grown Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes and infused with botanicals. It’s available in Dry, Bitter and Aromatic varietals. However, we love Bitter the best. If you’re a fan of drinks such as Campari then this one is for you.

Celtic Soul

£22, Sainsbury’s
Best for: Whisky lovers

Celtic Soul

Key specs – Distilled dark spirits; 700ml; 0%

Described as a non-alcoholic blend of “carefully distilled dark spirits”, Celtic Soul is one for the whiskey fans. It’s spicy, but also quite fruity and softened by some mellow vanilla notes with a hint of woody flavour. It also manages to pull off that tricky consistency issue, and is satisfyingly thick and bold. It works well with cola, but we love it mixed with ginger ale.

Three Spirit

£24.95, The Whisky Exchange
Best for: Social highs and slow sipping

Three spirit

Key specs – Green tea, cocoa bean, passionflower, caraway seed; 500ml; 0%

One of the few dark ‘spirits’ in our list, this Three Spirit concoction is a combination of eleven plants that are intended not only to give the taste of a complex drink, but also to give you the experience of drinking alcohol too. The botanicals chosen – which, as well as those mentioned in the key specs, include damiana leaf, lion’s mane mushroom, and yerba mate – target specific receptors in the brain to heighten positive feelings. It has the aroma of something close to a kombucha. Add ginger ale for a multi-layered long drink.

Sea Arch Non-Alcoholic Distilled Spirit

£24.98, Dry Drinker
Best for: Summer afternoon sipping

Sea Arch

Key specs – Coastal juniper, sea kelp, samphire, blood orange; 700ml; 0%

Perhaps one of the most stylish-looking drinks in our round-up, Sea Arch certainly does have shelf appeal. This juniper-led, non-alcoholic spirit is inspired by the Devon coast where it’s made, and includes hand-harvested South Devon sugar, kelp and samphire, as well as juniper, blood orange, cardamom, coriander, grapefruit, lemon and sage. All ingredients are individually distilled, before the alcohol is ‘gently’ removed. Best served simply with tonic, garnish with lemon zest, blood orange or samphire.

Caleño Juniper and Inca Berry

£24.99, Amazon (Price at the time of writing)
Best for: That tropical vibe

Caleno

Key specs – Inca berry, coriander, juniper, cardamom, lemon; 700ml, 0% ABV

Inspired by South America, Caleño combines juniper, citrus and spice botanicals for a tropical flavour. Steam-distilled to help maintain each botanical’s natural taste, sweet and tangy Inca berry is at the heart of this drink. It smells fantastic; think pineapple, mango and those little foam banana sweets with just the smallest hint of juniper. To sip, it’s just as fruity. Most impressively, it has the lovely thick mouthfeel of a spirit, which not many on our list have pulled off. Again, this one is sugar and sweetener-free, and contains no artificial flavours. Just add tonic – it really doesn’t need much else.

Atopia Spiced Citrus

£25, Ocado
Best for: Full-bodied flavour

Atopia

Key specs – Orange, juniper, coriander, angelica root, lemon peel; 700ml; 0.5%

Unlike many others on our list, this tipple does in fact contain alcohol, but just a trace amount. According to its makers, a serve with tonic contains 75 times less alcohol than a gin and tonic. Atopia is actually available in two flavours: Spiced Citrus and Wild Blossom. We’re particular fans of the bright zest, fruitiness and gentle warming sensation of Spiced Citrus, which has light notes of ginger and cinnamon.

Seedlip Grove 42

£26.50, Waitrose
Best for: Versatility

Seedlip non-alcoholic spirit

Key specs – Mediterranean orange, lemon peel, ginger and lemongrass; 700ml; 0%

When Seedlip launched in 2015, it pretty much forged a path for all the alcohol-free spirits that followed. We enjoy the earthiness of the brand’s original product, Garden 108, as well as the heat of Spice 94. But it’s the citrus-led Grove 42 that we love. Serve long with tonic to bring out its orange, and ginger flavours.

Feragaia Distilled Alcohol-Free Spirit

£28, Feragaia
Best for: Sipping neat

Feragaia

Key specs – Cayenne Pepper, blackcurrant leaf, kaffir lime, apple, hibiscus; 500ml; 0%

Distilled, blended and bottled in the Scottish Lowlands, Feragaia is another drinks brand making use of local botanicals, from land and sea, including serrated wrack (seaweed), bay leaf and chamomile. Sipped neat over ice, its lightly smoky and peppery. Serve with tonic and it’s a little fruitier, with a refreshing herbal and citrus taste.

Xachoh Blend No. 7

£28.95, Master of Malt
Best for: A winter warmer

Xachoh

Key specs – Ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, crystal dark malt; 700ml; 0%

Drawing inspiration from herbal remedies from Persia and the Silk Road, Xachoh is available in two varieties. No. 7 features a blend of botanicals including star anise, saffron and sumac, for a rich, spicy and beautifully fragrant drink. There’s something a little plummy, even date-like about it. With all those warming spices, it goes fantastically with ginger beer.

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10 best vegan cheeses that taste like the real deal

The rise of veganism shows no signs of slowing down and last year the UK launched more vegan products than any other nation to keep up with demand. Whether you shun animal products full-time or are just trying to cut down, one food that’s often cited as the most missed by those following a plant-based diet is cheese (closely followed by bacon, FYI). Thankfully, avoiding dairy no longer means you need to miss out, with a vegan substitute now available for all of your favourite cheeses.

There are two main types of vegan cheese to look out for – those with a coconut base and those made from nuts, with the latter most often created with almonds or cashews for a creamy, smooth, spreadable texture.

How we test

When putting our cheese to the test, we were looking for those that were as similar to the real deal as possible. If a cheese described itself as a gouda, for example, we wanted to be unable to tell the difference in a blind taste test. Some failed at this, tasting pleasant but unmistakably not dairy-based. We’ve only included the ones that passed with flying colours, although we put many more to the test.

Cheeses were tried straight out of the packet and melted or grated where suitable, with us on the lookout for a creamy, salty quality. Happily, there are also a number of pre-prepared options on the market (grated or pre-sliced “cheddar”, for example) – so no need to pass up on convenience food if that’s something you’d normally buy.

As well as trying replacement ricotta, parmesan, cheddar and feta, we also tried a variety of flavoured cheeses, which would make a great addition to a vegan cheese board. These added herbs and spices also did a great job of masking any telltale non-dairy flavours that might have lingered otherwise.

All of the below cheeses are 100 per cent suitable for a vegan diet and are listed in price order.

Sheese Vegan Smoked German Style

£2.55, Waitrose & Partners
Best for: A cheese block

sheese vegan smoked german style

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Gouda substitute

Presented in a round wheel, this gouda-style cheese was really creamy and, despite being made from a coconut base, didn’t have that telltale aftertaste. This was partly thanks to the smoky flavour imparted from hickory and oak.

Just like the real deal, this would make a delicious bar snack alongside a good Belgian beer but would also be tasty in a bagel, chopped up in a salad or grated over soup. It comes in a handy resealable packet, if you don’t scoff the lot in one sitting, and there are many other flavours in the range of “Sheese Blocks” including mature cheddar, red Leicester and edam styles.

Violife Vegan Sliced Cheese

£2.59, Waitrose & Partners
Best for: Cheddar substitute

violife slices

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Sliced cheddar substitute

Turns out Violife is the king of vegan cheese, as we couldn’t resist including two from the brand. Like its feta-style block (below), this is made from coconut oil (with added B12) but without any of the sweetness we’d found elsewhere.

There was a proper cheesy, pleasingly salty taste and these slices melted well under the grill. If you’re looking for a cheddar substitute to use in burgers or toasties, we think this is your best bet. Aside from being free from dairy, there’s also no soya, gluten, lactose, nuts or preservatives.

Violife Feta Style Non-Dairy Cheese Alternative

£2.70 for 200g, Ocado
Best for: Feta alternative

violife feta style

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Feta substitute

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Salty, creamy and crumbly, we were dubious about finding anything that mimics our beloved feta well. This one from Violife comes in a similar packet to your regular feta – with a little liquid present in the pack – but unlike the goats cheese version, this block was pure white and completely smooth.

We couldn’t crumble it in the same way as we would our regular block, but it was delicious slathered on a crispbread. Made with coconut oil, it’s free from dairy, soya and gluten and has added B12 (a vitamin that’s very important to actively incorporate into a vegan diet).

Nush Almond Milk Cream Cheese Style Spread Natural

£2.75, Ocado
Best for: Cream cheese substitute

nush almond milk cream cheese

Key specs – Weight: 150g; Made from: Almonds; Type: Spread

We were familiar with Nush for its nut-based yogurts but happily discovered it also has a range of similarly creamy cheeses. Perfectly smooth, with no grainy texture, we had a really hard time differentiating this from the dairy equivalent.

It was by far the most realistic substitute we tried – thick and creamy with the perfect cream cheese consistency, despite it being made from almonds. Each pot contains 60 in fact! A quick check of the ingredients shows that the product is made up primarily of almonds (95 per cent) and is very low in saturated fat – leaving us to slather plenty on our crackers, guilt-free.

Follow Your Heart Dairy Free Smoked Gouda Slices

£3.79 for 200g, Ocado
Best for: Smoked gouda slices

follow your heart dairy free smoked gouda

Key specs – Weight: 200g; Made from: Coconut oil; Type: Gouda alternative

This is the second gouda-style alternative to make it into our roundup but this time in an easy pre-sliced version. Follow Your Heart suggests sticking a few slices of its dairy-free cheese in a panini and we were pleased with how the product melted onto our toasted bread. These smoky slices would also make a great addition to your vegan burger.

Despite vegan cheese feeling like a new category, American brand Follow Your Heart has been making plant-based foods like this for over 40 years.

Kinda Co Farmhouse

£4.80, La Fauxmagerie
Best for: Luxury mature cheddar substitute

kinda co farmhouse

Key specs – Weight: 100g; Made from: Cashews and coconut oil; Type: Mature cheddar substitute

Like most of the vegan cheeses we tried, Kinda Co’s block of dairy-free mature cheddar is best served cold. Coming wrapped in paper, like you’d get from a traditional fromagerie, we were impressed by the distinctive cheesy tanginess, which undoubtedly did have a mature cheddar element.

Made from a combination of cashews and coconut oil, nutritional yeast and miso, the colour is ever so slightly greyer than we’d expect from a cheese, but the taste more than made up for that. There’s also a cranberry version (with big juicy fruit pieces) and a pot of subtly smoky nacho cheese, perfect for your next Mexican feast.

Nutcrafter Creamery Organic Aged Black Peppercorn Cashew Cheese Alternative

£6.95, Abel & Cole
Best for: Organic

nutcrafter creamery

Key specs – Weight: 170g; Made from: Cashews; Type: Semi-soft flavoured substitute

It makes sense that organic food brand Abel & Cole should stock the UK’s only certified organic vegan cheese producer. The team at Nutcrafter Creamery produce its handcrafted vegan cheese in much the same way as a traditional cheese, with the cashews curdled, fermented and left to age.

Perfect as part of an organic cheese board, this creamy cheese has a black peppercorn coating, which imparts a subtle flavour and complements the lemon notes of the cheese. There’s also an aged chive, chèvre-style, and roasted garlic flavour in the range, if you’re looking for a fully plant-based cheese board.

Palace Culture Almond Ricotta

£6.99, Green Bay
Best for: Ricotta substitute

palace culture almond ricotta

Key specs – Weight: 140g; Made from: Almonds; Type: Ricotta substitute

Like ricotta, this is a mild-tasting cheese with a super-smooth, soft consistency. Made in London’s Crystal Palace, this one comes in an easily recycled clear glass jar and is created with a combination of organic “activated” raw almonds (which simply means they’ve been soaked) fermented with live cultures (which will provide good gut bacteria), a little Cornish sea salt, herbs and a very generous drizzle of organic olive oil.

We enjoyed ours spooned straight out of the jar and spread on a seeded cracker, but we think it would work in any savoury recipe where you’d use ricotta – as long as you don’t mind the olive oil flavour, which was the most dominate ingredient.

Tyne Chease Za’atar Spice

£7.95, Tyne Chease
Best for: Flavoured cheeses

tyne chease zaatar spice

Key specs – Weight: 150g; Made from: Cashews; Type: Semi-soft flavoured substitute

With a generous coating of za’atar (a fragrant Middle Eastern spice blend of thyme, sumac and sesame seeds, and a favourite ingredient of chef Ottolenghi), this cashew-based cheese was genuinely delicious.

We found it was best enjoyed chilled, straight from the fridge, which helped to retain its shape. Otherwise, it can become more spread-like then anything resembling a block of cheese, although it did retain a good tanginess.

There are a number of flavours in the range, including the original, through to garlic, dill, smoked, Ethiopian spice, sun-dried tomato, mustard, chilli flakes and pink peppercorn. We’d suggest buying the lot for a mega vegan cheeseboard feast.

The Naturally Vegan Food Company Smoked Vegan Cheeze Balls

£17.97, Yumbles
Best for: Groups

the naturally vegan food company cheeze ball

Key specs – Weight: 3 x 150g; Made from: Almonds and cashews; Type: Semi-soft flavoured substitute

Ok, so these certainly aren’t cheap and it’s a little annoying that you have to buy them in packs of three (they only have a 10-day shelf life) but they were too tasty to ignore. They’re also not really like any other dairy cheese we’ve tried and the large balls are the perfect size for sharing, making them a great addition to a cheeseboard – something to bear in mind with Christmas coming up.

A blend of almonds and cashews, which have been blended for a smooth but slightly chewy texture, slather them on crackers with a glass of wine or just eat them in big chunks. The added nutritional yeast delivers a subtle cheesy flavour and each ball is covered in a coating of smoky red paprika and studded with flaked almonds, so they look pretty too.

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14 of the best online furniture shops to suit every budget

Compared to fashion, furniture retail has been relatively slow to move online. Now though, we’re getting more comfortable with the idea of making big purchases from internet-only stores, thanks to free delivery, hassle-free returns and greater affordability.

With few bricks-and-mortar stores, or none at all, lots of retailers have moved quickly to bridge the gap between cheap mass-produced furniture and the completely bespoke, offering greater choice for a range of tastes and budgets.

Best budget-friendly online furniture shops

La Redoute

Best for: Minimal contemporary furniture with an industrial edge

la redoute

The French catalogue retailer is better known for fashion, but its furniture range is stylish and affordable too. Most of the designs are practical rather than trend-led, with clean lines and minimal details. Think Ikea or Habitat, but with the knowledge that you won’t be seeing this furniture in all your friends’ homes too.

The AM.PM brand has some excellent basics that look far pricier than they are. Look out for La Redoute’s regular sales and special discount events, if you’re planning a purchase.

Browse La Redoute 

Made.com

Best for: Modern furniture with a designer look

made.com

If you love the look of modern Scandinavian or Italian furniture but lack the budget, Made.com is your answer. Designs are minimal and style-focused, following trends in colour and material seen on higher-end brands at the annual furniture fair in Milan.

The pieces are usually compact and good on storage, aimed towards those living in small urban spaces. Be quick if you have your eye on something, this site changes fast with only its bestsellers staying available for longer periods.

Browse Made.com

The Cotswold Company

Best for: Affordable British farmhouse style

cotswold company

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With a fresh approach to traditional furniture, and affordable prices to boot, it’s easy to see why The Cotswold Company is so popular across generations. Oak and pine furniture is the focus, and many ranges have painted finishes in colours like pale grey and dark blue, which nod to English heritage and contemporary taste.

There are currently four UK showrooms if you want to try before you buy, but with free delivery and easy returns, buying from the site is easy too.

Browse Cotswold & Co

Maisons du Monde

Best for: On-trend furniture and lots of choice

maisons du monde

This French furniture brand has been going from strength to strength since 1996. It does have several European bricks-and-mortar stores, but in the UK we know it best through its bright and easy-to-use website.

The site has an impressive amount of choice across several styles, from worldly bohemian to mid-century modern, with classic French antique style in-between. Its collections are seasonal and extend to outdoor, junior and even a pet range, as well as home.

Browse Maisons du Monde

Gumtree

Best for: Second-hand bargains

gumtree

If – and it’s a big “if” – you have the time and patience, Gumtree can be a great source for characterful second-hand furniture. It’s also pretty useful if you need to fill a new home fast. Search “vintage” or “antique” to skip the usual half-collapsed Ikea stuff and find something unique.

Unlike eBay, there’s no getting sucked into endless bidding, and you can chat safely with the seller to ask questions before you buy. It’s a sustainable way of shopping, too – helping you find furniture in your local area and avoiding unwanted items going to waste.

Browse Gumtree

Best mid-range online furniture shops

Rockett St George

Best for: Unusual furniture you won’t find on the high street

rockett st george

Interior designers love Rockett St George for its eclectic collection of furniture and homeware. It’s the place to find individual pieces without having to trawl through flea markets and boutiques for just the right thing.

This passion project of a site has a kind of hard rock-industrial theme – expect lots of aged metal and brass, leather finishes and the odd bit of snakeskin upholstery. Since it’s such an unusual mix, the site’s lifestyle photography really helps you visualise the items in your own home.

Browse Rockett St George

Cox & Cox

Best for: Natural materials, neutral finishes

cox and cox

Cox & Cox has a very elegant feel to its range of furniture and homeware – these are things that you know won’t go out of fashion any time soon. It’s a British brand, set up in 2001 by stylist Fiona Cox, but has various influences.

The natural oak Bergen range is distinctly Scandinavian, while the metal-topped Chatsworth range has an English country aesthetic. The site offers general furniture and accessories, as well as a custom upholstery section for creating a variety of sofas and armchairs to your taste.

Browse Cox & Cox

Cuckooland

Best for: A wide range of suppliers

cuckooland

You probably won’t have heard of many of the brands Cuckooland supplies, and that’s because its three founders have travelled far and wide to find them. The benefit to the customer is a range of unusual products at reasonable prices – like the practical wardrobes from Polish manufacturer Vox and quirky bedding by Netherlands-based Snurk.

This site is particularly good for children’s furniture, offering lots of choice and imaginative designs.

Browse Cuckooland

Loaf

Best for: Upholstered sofas and beds

loaf

Loaf started out in 2008 as a bed and mattress brand, and by 2013 it was named one of the UK’s fastest growing companies. It’s known for its “laid-back” style of furniture: smart upholstered beds, oversized plump and comfy sofas, and lately a line of top quality French linen bedding.

There are seven Loaf “shacks” around the country where you can try out its wares, and there’s a huge choice of fabrics to help you customise your furniture. There’s a 14-day return policy on all Loaf products.

Browse Loaf

Myakka

Best for: Fair-trade furniture with eastern inspiration

myakka

The website of fair-trade furniture specialist Myakka has recently had a major re-brand, ditching its hippy-ish air to appeal to a more general consumer. The range is still eastern-inspired, including reflecting the makers that Myakka partners with in India, Vietnam and Thailand.

It is committed to ethical and sustainable sourcing across its offering, from its kilim rugs to solid sheesham wood furniture. Some pieces are priced comparably with budget-friendly retailers, giving you an extra reason to shop consciously.

Browse Myakka

Best high-end online furniture shops

Houseology

Best for: Luxury materials

houseology

Houseology grew out of an interior design practice, and as such you can see the influence of boutique hotels and luxury bars on the selection of glossy brands this website supplies. Pieces are united by luxurious materials, such as brass, leather, marble and velvet, with the emphasis on statement design.

As well as stocking luxury brands like Eichholtz, Tom Dixon and Designers Guild, Houseology has its own collection, which is a little more affordable.

Browse Houseology 

Nest.co.uk

Best for: Design aficionados

nest

There are now a few “e-tailers” who offer contemporary design from the power brands like Kartell, Vitra and Cassina, but Nest was the first and is by far the most proficient. It’s a good place to shop online for mid-century icons, like the Eames lounge chair or the Louis Poulsen PH5 pendant light, and know you are getting the real thing.

There’s a wide choice beyond the classics, covering current design from Scandinavia, Italy and the UK. It’s also worth checking out the “outlet” section for ex-display items at good discounts.

Browse Nest.co.uk

Vinterior

Best for: One-of-a-kind vintage furniture

venterior

Vinterior brings the experience of buying furniture at markets and auctions online. Everything is a one-off and the range covers many eras, including 17th-century antiques, Art Deco gems and coveted Danish mid-century pieces.

It’s a great place to find a totally unique item, but beware prices are higher than those you can haggle for yourself offline. This site operates well but is still a marketplace, so returns policy and delivery arrangements are set by the buyer.

Browse Vinterior

OKA

Best for: Classic decorative style

oka

OKA started as a mail-order company in 1999, but quickly took advantage of the internet to bring luxury furniture with classic style to a bigger audience. Its three female founders have backgrounds in jewellery design, horticulture and interiors, giving the site’s offering a clear decorative direction.

The furniture range covers lots of categories, including the garden, and is full of antique-inspired pieces that would be hard to find offline without the help of an interior designer or specialist.

Browse OKA

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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10 best coffee machines for your morning brew, starting from £33

Whether you’re a latte lover, or can’t start the day without an extra-hot caffeine fix, you’ll know that relying on your nearest cafe can be a pricey habit. Fortunately, the technology of at-home coffee makers has continued to advance, making even the most affordable of machines one-touch wonders at creating your favourite brew.

Types of coffee machines

Coffee machines come in a few different types – there are pod machines, which use compatible capsules, espresso makers, which brew with a puck of ground coffee and sometimes ESE pods, and filter machines, which use ground coffee and a filter to drip the coffee through to a carafe.

There are also bean-to-cup espresso machines, which grind beans and rarely come under the £200 mark, but in our reviews below you’ll see we’ve included a filter machine that also grinds, which could give you the best of both worlds.

Which style to choose is largely personal – while some swear by the convenience of mess-free pods, a machine that brews using beans or ground opens up a world of coffee choice. Not all of these machines include an option for warming and foaming milk either, so if flat whites are on your wish list, you may need to invest in a separate frother and factor it into your budget.

How we test

We waste enough time in cafe queues waiting for a cup with our name scrawled and misspelled on it. So each machine was tested on how long it took to make a cup of coffee, ease of use, and how long everyday and regular maintenance took.

We also factored in if it could froth milk for those moments when the urge to make some Insta-worthy latte art overpowered us. Finally, each has been rated for its coffee quality, taste and consistency – because life’s too short for a bad cup of joe.

Krups Opio

£150, Debenhams
Best for: Wannabe baristas

krups

Key specs – Makes: 1-2 shots a time; Type: Espresso maker; Dimensions: 29 x 20.1 x 29.7 cm; Tank: 1.5L; Features: 15 bar pressure, steam wand

Espresso machines can have a habit of being fiddly but this Krups model is effortless to use – with the option of more control if you want it. To which end, there’s a portafilter with one or two-espresso shot inserts and a clip to prevent them accidentally being thrown away afterwards, one button to switch between coffee and the steam wand, and a dial to start and stop. It heats up in around 40 seconds and even has a handle on its large water tank to make refilling easier.

It’s messy to fill the portafilter with grounds, especially if your scooping and tamping skills are lacking, but you’re rewarded with consistently on-point espresso. The machine keeps dispensing, so you’ll have to stick around, but it took seconds to make espresso once it had heated up.

The crema was perfect – thick, smooth and velvety. It needed about 20 seconds to recover between dispensing and switching between coffee and the steam wand. Making frothy milk was similarly simple, although it needed to be disassembled for cleaning after. You’ll need practice to get the most from this machine but once you get used to it, it’ll deliver cappuccinos and lattes that are cafe-quality without the cost.

Cuisinart Grind and Brew Plus

£149.95 (price correct a time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Americano lovers

cuisinart

Key specs – Makes: 12 cups; Type: Filter; Dimensions: 33 x 33 x 46 cm; Tank: Around 1.8L; Features: Integral burr grinder, programmable timer, charcoal water filter, reusable ground coffee filter, keep warm

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Grinding like a bean-to-cup but brewing like a filter, this is the ideal appliance for those who love an endless supply of coffee but hate compromising on quality. There’s the option to brew using freshly ground beans from the hopper or use ground coffee, plus as the gold tone filter section is reusable, there’s no need to buy paper filters.

An added bonus is the dishwasher-safe stainless-steel double-walled carafe, which, unlike glass, keeps your coffee at the perfect sipping temperature for longer.

In testing, it was quiet when brewing, except for a short burst of noise when grinding. We made four cups using the “no grind” option initially, which took about five or six minutes with a handy beep when it was finished. Using beans took a similar amount of time and both were brewed on the medium strength setting for coffee that was rich and quite strong for our taste.

The carafe had a tendency to drip when pouring but what we found frustrating was that it uses all the water in the tank, so reproducing the same coffee involves measuring. There’s a water reservoir level at the side of the machine but this can be hard to watch when you’re pouring water into the tank. It’s also higher maintenance than most, as its charcoal water filters need changing every so often.

Considering the price and what this machine can achieve, it’s a solid choice.

De’Longhi Clessidra

£158, Lakeland
Best for: Keen entertainers

delonghi

Key specs – Makes: 10 cups/1250ml; Type: Filter; Dimensions: 19 x 28 x 33 cm; Tank: 1.25L; Features: Automated pulse pouring, temperature sensor, 40-minute keep warm

A stunning hourglass shape coupled with smart features makes this filter machine a thoroughly modern choice. For example, brewing takes place in a removable cone that fits into the glass carafe, allowing the tank at the top to heat water before pouring it over the grounds.

The main advantages to this are an ability to mimic manual pour-over for a more intense taste and aroma, and when the carafe’s removed, the only liquid that can drip onto the hotplate is water rather than coffee. There’s also an anti-drip mechanism to stop this.

It’s a simple machine to use – there’s a visible water tank to fill, two buttons to choose from for brewing and a scoop to measure out ground coffee. You’ll need to buy filter papers but removing the cone from the carafe after brewing is mess-free, thanks to a handle.

We made four cups of coffee on “high quality brew” and “pour over” settings. The former brewed in three to four minutes and was especially flavourful. The “pour over” took several minutes longer and had less of a rich taste.

One minor quibble is that it would be good to have a longer keep warm time for the hotplate.

Breville One Touch Coffee Machine

£149, Currys
Best for: Sleepy mornings

breville

Key specs – Makes: 10 cappuccinos or 4 lattes; Type: Espresso maker; Dimensions: 31.4 x 22.6 x 28.9 cm; Tank: 1.4L; Features: 600ml milk tank, 19 bar pressure

When your barista-style skills are lacking, the One Touch makes sure you can still get a good cup of coffee. It’s a combination of an espresso machine with 19 bar pump pressure to achieve the perfect shot, with the sort of automatic milk frother carafe that you’d usually find on a bean-to-cup machine.

Once you’ve filled and tamped down ground coffee into the portafilter, twisted it into place and clipped in the milk carafe, all you need to do is press a button for latte, cappuccino or espresso and the machine does the rest, dispensing frothy milk and coffee into the cup.

The One Touch is surprisingly quick once you develop a tamping down and twisting-in skill, and faster than manually frothing milk with a steam wand. It took about a minute to make a latte or a cappuccino and was even faster for espresso.

What adds time is the clean-up. Knocking out a used puck of coffee without losing parts of the portafilter can be tricky, plus the milk pipes need to be cleaned using its auto function. However, it’s a great buy if you want nearly as much convenience as an all-singing, all-dancing machine, but at a snip of the price.

Ninja Coffee Bar Auto-iQ Brewer with Glass Carafe

£74.99, Ninja Kitchen
Best for: Versatility

ninja

Key specs – Makes: 1.1L (around 8 cups); Type: Filter; Dimensions: 37.5 x 24.5 x 22.5 cm; Tank: 1.35L; Features: Delay timer, reusable coffee filter, 30-minute keep warm, drip stop

Great for on-the-go, everyday and all-day coffee, this multitasking machine does everything possible to fit around your life. As well as brewing with a reusable filter (for when you have time to clean up) or paper filters (for when you need to bin and go), it makes coffee that’s still hot but is designed to be poured over ice for cold drinks.

You can make coffee into the carafe and keep it warm, flip down a cup platform for a mug of coffee (it comes with two insulated mugs), or brew directly into a travel mug. Unlike many machines, there’s a recipe book so you can get the most out of it, and a microfrother for warm foamy milk – although you’ll need to microwave it and froth by hand.

We made coffee into a travel mug using the rich brew option (there’s also classic for those who prefer less depth), and found it to be a great cup – slightly sweet and aromatic with plenty of flavour. A longer brew into the carafe had more of a bitter edge.

We also brewed using the “con latte” setting, which took about a minute or so to start dispensing, but really brought out the depth and sweetness. Using the microfrother was simple but a faff, so we can imagine this finding its way to the back of a cupboard.

Bosch Tassimo My Way Multi Beverage Maker

£69.98 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Branded drinks

bosch

Key specs – Makes: 1 drink at a time; Type: Pod; Dimensions: 29 x 23 x 32.5 cm; Tank: 1.3L; Features: Variable volume, temperature and strength, 4 personalised settings, 3.3 bar pressure

For fuss-free coffee from brands such as Costa, Kenco or L’or, plus more besides, turn to the Tassimo system. The My Way is true to its name, using barcoded T-discs to whip up everything from hot chocolate to tea exactly how you like it.

It lacks the high bar pressure that capsule machines usually boast (it’s 3.3 compared to 15 for many), but instead there’s a flow heater, which means it heats up almost straight away. When making coffee using Kenco T-discs, it took seconds to spring into action, taking around a minute to make a generous cup of Americano.

Being able to adjust the strength, volume and temperature gave plenty of control, with consistent coffee each time, although it was missing the depth and complex flavours you’d find in espresso. Other thoughtful touches were the mini instruction guide and cleaning disc tucked into a slot in the side of the machine, three cup platform positions – perfect for everything from a tiny cup to your biggest mug – and dishwasher-safe parts.

Sadly, there’s no milk frothing capability – creamer discs are available but they might not be to everyone’s taste.

Dualit Café Cino Capsule Machine

£179.95 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Tea and coffee drinkers

dualit

Key specs – Makes: 1 drink at a time; Type: Pod; Dimensions: 25 x 18 x 37 cm; Tank: 0.8L; Features: 500ml air volume milk frother, 19 bar pressure, 10-minute auto switch-off

Compact, elegant and able to keep both tea and latte lovers happy, the Café Cino is a pod machine that’s sure to become your go-to for drinks. There are four hot functions on its dial – one that serves both espresso/lungo, one for tea pods that boosts the temperature of the water, plus cappuccino and latte that activate the separate milk frother at the side. It’ll also make cold frothy milk for milkshakes.

What’s really great about it though is that the volume of each of the hot programmes can be adjusted, if you’d prefer more or less coffee or tea, plus there’s a temperature boost for the milky drinks, if you’d prefer an extra-hot latte for example.

The machine heated up in about 40 seconds, with an espresso produced in 10 seconds and around 20 seconds for a lungo (70ml). The coffee was excellent, complete with rich, slightly nutty flavours and depth. A cappuccino took about two minutes in total plus a little extra time for swirling and pouring the milk.

As the frother is separate, it avoids the problem of too much milk in your cup, plus minimises the amount of cleaning up – although it’s not dishwasher safe (other parts are). The only real downside is it’s noisy when dispensing, making it less suitable when everyone else is asleep.

Nescafé Dolce Gusto Infinissima Manual Coffee Machine

£56.95 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Design devotees

nescafe

Key specs – Makes: 1 drink at a time; Type: Pod; Dimensions: 28 x 15 x 37 cm; Tank: 1.2L; Features: 15 bar pressure, 5-minute auto switch-off, hot or cold dispensing

Slimline enough for a compact kitchen yet with a generous water tank to keep your drink needs satisfied all day long, the Infinissima is beautifully minimalist. Simply pop a pod in, close the lid and flick a lever left or right for a hot or cold beverage.

Its big appeal is having complete control over how much water is dispensed – you can run it with different coffee pods from 10 seconds for an espresso or a minute for a generous Americano. On the downside, there’s no milk frother, only milk pods, which don’t taste like fresh milk, and, at first, it might take a while to know how much water you prefer to be dispensed (there’s no countdown indicator).

What we did like was its wide cup platform with three positions, its brightly coloured power cable (so you won’t mix it up with other appliances) and that it was easy to use and maintain. It’s also light enough to move around when required.

The coffee it dispensed was perfect every time with no bitterness, using both single origin pods, which tasted as good as bean-to-cup, and café au lait.

Salter Espressimo Barista Style Coffee Machine

£28.49, Robert Dyas
Best for: Brewing on a budget

salter

Key specs – Makes: up to 4 shots; Type: Espresso maker; Dimensions: 30 x 16.5 x 23.5 cm; Tank: 0.24L; Features: 5 bar pressure, steam wand

Although there are a few compromises on this affordable espresso machine, it still manages to include most of what you’ll need to enjoy great coffee.

There’s a portafilter with a filter for ground coffee, a 240ml carafe below, and a steam wand for frothing milk controlled by a dial at the side of the machine, meaning you can make anything from a cappuccino to a latte with ease.

When tested, it heated up relatively quickly, and brewed four shots of coffee in just over a minute. What took a bit more time was filling the water reservoir at the back of the machine using the carafe, and switching between making coffee and frothing milk. The machine only has five bar pump of pressure, so the espresso isn’t quite cafe standard, but it’s drinkable enough.

A few of the finer grounds made it into the cup, and there was a slight bitter edge to the taste, but we still found it to be pleasingly aromatic. Frothing milk was straightforward, although the foam didn’t hold up for more than a few minutes.

JML San Siro Coffee Machine

£99.99, JML
Best for: Colour choice

jml

 

Key specs – Makes: 1 drink at a time; Type: Pod; Dimensions: 25 x 11.8 x 36.5 cm; Tank: 0.8L; Features: 19 bar pressure, hot or cold dispensing, 15-minute auto switch-off

Whether you choose light green, violet, red, or one of its other seven shades, the San Siro is more than a colourful character. Designed to brew San Siro tea and coffee capsules, as well as being Nespresso compatible, it dispenses both hot and cold drinks using a drop-down spout instead of a height-adjustable cup platform.

Capsules are loaded into the top using a pull-down lever, there’s buttons for hot and cold drinks, plus a button to rinse the machine afterwards, and a light around the spout showing when it’s heating up or ready to brew.

It took longer than most pod machines to warm up – about a minute – and there’s only one button for hot drinks, so you’ll have to stop it or reprogramme it if you mostly drink espresso (it dispenses a good volume for lungo though). The lever was quite stiff and dispensing took about a minute, meaning it’s not the fastest pod machine out there.

However, it does have some pluses – the coffee was perfectly brewed, with some crema, and sweet not bitter. It also has a sucker at the back of the machine to keep it planted on the worktop. It’s a functional pod machine that’s not quite as slick as some but comes in at a reasonable price point for what it does.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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10 best charcoal BBQs for outdoor living – how to pick the right one for you

Most barbecue experts will argue that grilling over charcoal produces a much more authentic flavour than a gas flame. We would tend to agree, though there is a counter argument to this. Given that the smoke – and hence the flavour – a barbecue produces is created by meat fats dripping onto the flameless coals below, does it really make that big a difference whether the heat source is a pile of coals or a searingly hot metal sheet? Truth is, most people won’t be able to tell the difference. Nevertheless, the jury’s out.

The main benefit of charcoal is that it’s readily available at every petrol station, whereas gas needs to be bought from a specific supplier who likely won’t be open on a Sunday, just when you might need it most. Charcoal barbecues are also usually cheaper to buy and easier to assemble. On the flip side, gas barbecues are quicker to heat up and are much more controllable.

If you’re in the market for a charcoal model, you’ve come to the right place because we’ve called in a cluster of top-rated models and put them to the test. However, if you still prefer the idea of cooking on gas, mosey over to our gas barbecue roundup where we put some of the best models through their paces.

What not to do

When it comes to charcoal grilling, the number one rule is to make sure you light it early enough. Time and again, visitors have arrived for a barbecue lunch only to discover that the host hasn’t even lit the barbecue, let alone started cooking.

It usually takes about 25 minutes for charcoal and 40 minutes for briquettes to reach optimum grilling temperature, so lighting it well before lunchtime is a good way to impress your hungry guests and ensure that they don’t ignore your next invite.

Another common mistake we all make is not waiting till the coals are a uniform grey before slapping on the grub. If you start too early, you run the risk of scorching everything to a cinder, which will in turn lead you to believe that the food is properly cooked when it most likely isn’t.

The best way to light charcoal – and measure the amount of charcoal required – is to invest in a chimney starter (Weber makes an excellent one). Simply load it to the top with charcoal or briquettes, place a couple of firelighters on the BBQ’s charcoal grate, light them and put the chimney starter on top. The funnel effect draws in air from the base, creating an intense heat that prepares the charcoal or briquettes in a matter of minutes. When ready, carefully pour the contents onto the charcoal grate and replace the cooking grill. Voila, instant barbecue readiness without having to reach for the hairdryer.

Charcoal or briquettes?

Good quality lumpwood charcoal is the favoured fuel of experts because it isn’t coated in any ignition chemicals and it produces a perfect cooking temperature. However, it does burn down quite quickly and the heat it emits isn’t very consistent. While extremely convenient, self-lighting charcoal (the stuff that comes in a brown paper bag) isn’t the best option because it rarely burns evenly and it’s impregnated with combustible fuel that can taint the flavour of food.

By comparison, briquettes provide a much more stable burn and they last for ages. However, most briquettes are also coated in a combustible fuel that takes quite a long time to burn off. Briquettes are perfect for slow cooking, smoking or grilling several batches of food in sequence.

What type of grilling is best?

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There are two main types of grilling: direct and indirect. In a nutshell, direct grilling is cooking without a lid. This method is more volatile and time-consuming since it involves turning food continuously to prevent overcooking. Direct grilling also makes it difficult to engage in conversation because all it takes is one moment of taking your eye off the ball and before you know it, three chicken legs have turned to toast.

By contrast, indirect cooking with a lid on is far more stable and less time-consuming because the coals are kept at a more modest temperature and the food is cooked using the convection process. You’ll also have more time to socialise with guests. Just be sure to stick to the maxim “if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking” and your food will come our perfectly every time. Hopefully.

It goes without saying that you should try and opt for a barbecue with a lid because it basically offers both methods of cooking. For instance, you could start by searing the meats directly for a minute or two and then put the lid on and leave well alone with only the occasional peek to check everything’s going according to plan.

Napoleon Pro 22K-LEG

£299 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Ease of use

napoleon pro

Key specs – Grill size/area: 57cm; Weight: 28kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: Yes; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

This exceptional kettle-style model pips the similarly-styled Weber for our best buy by dint of a wavy-shaped cast iron grill that can be lowed or raised to three different heights.

Having a barbecue with an adjustable height grill (or charcoal tray for that matter) is a big advantage for two reasons: it’s great for searing steaks and a boon towards the end of the cooking session when the coals are nearing the end of their useful life and you still have the kebabs to do. With oven gloves on, simply lift, twist and drop or raise the 57cm grate to any position before or during the cooking process.

The Pro 22K also comes equipped with a hinged porcelain-enamelled steel lid replete with built-in thermometer, an ash catcher with integral air vents, and four sturdy legs. It’s an absolute joy to grill on and it seems to be as sturdily built as the Weber, though you are advised to get a cover for it. Hotly recommended.

Weber Performer Deluxe GBS

£549, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Speedy ignition

weber performance deluxe

Key specs – Grill size/area: 57cm; Weight: 43.5kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

The story goes that Weber’s oft-copied kettle design came about when its founder George S Stephen cut a spherical metal buoy in two, put a grill and charcoal grate in one half and used the other half as a lid. 67 years on and the US company’s kettle barbecue has become an icon of alfresco dining the world over.

This particular open-cart model is equipped with a porcelain-enamelled lid with integral holder, a 57cm steel cooking grate, and a wrap-around table for condiments and serving dishes.

However, what will almost certainly pique the interest of most – or at least anyone who struggles to light the charcoal in time – is the presence of a unique gas ignition feature that greatly reduces the time it takes for the charcoal to reach optimum cooking temperature.

Simply attach a camping-style gas canister, fill the two supplied charcoal baskets and put them on the fuel grate, push the ignition button and a flame below kickstarts the charcoal. Yes, that’s right, no firelighters required and certainly no need to unfurl an extension cable so you can fan the flames with a hairdryer while your guests look on in bemusement.

Weber barbecues aren’t cheap but their build quality is exemplary – proven by their extraordinarily long lifespan. Indeed, we know of one that is entering its 25th year of reliable service.

Char-Broil Kamander

£629.99, BBQ World
Best for: Versatility

char broil commander

Key specs – Grill size/area: 50cm; Weight: 58kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

If you like the idea of slow cooking but can’t afford a Big Green Egg, try this equally efficient but much cheaper alternative from US BBQ giant Char-Broil. The Kamander comes equipped with an insulated double-walled steel body and a heavy-duty lid replete with an oven-like gasket and a metal latch.

Once sealed, the coals in this BBQ remain hot for hours on end. Indeed, you could feasibly prepare a slow-cooked spicy Moroccan lamb over a period of three to four hours and then conventionally grill a bunch of chicken legs over the same charcoal. It’s that competent.

The air management system is also brilliant. Instead of bending down and fiddling with a hot lever, this one has an air intake tube that runs from the base of the unit to a numbered dial sited just to the left of the folding side table. There’s another air outlet dial on top of the lid. For fast and furious grilling, open both vents fully and for slow cooking, close them to position one.

The Kamander’s 50cm porcelain-coated cast iron grill isn’t the biggest on test but it’s of ample size for a party of six. However, because it retains heat so well, it will easily perform at least two consecutive cooking sessions on a single load of charcoal. Best employ the help of a friend when assembling it though because this beast’s base and lid are mightily heavy.

Argos BBQ Kitchen

£80, Argos
Best for: Design

argos

Key specs – Grill size/area: 55cm; Weight: Not given;Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

For the price, this Argos-branded barbecue cart is excellent value and it’s a great looker, too. Resembling the little robot in the Cadbury’s Smash ad from the 1970s (perhaps you’re too young to remember), the kettle-like Argos features an ample 55cm wire grill with a warming rack above, a built-in thermometer and storage spaces galore. In fact, in the pantheon of summer barbecues, this one is better designed than most.

Aside from the small amount of storage space to the right of the grill, there’s a large wire plinth on the base for plates, cutting boards, etc, and – unique among barbecues – a recessed shelf to store condiments like BBQ sauce, mustard, ketchup and seasoning salt. It also comes with a row of hooks for the barbecue tools and – for those who like cracking open a beer while at the coal face – an integral bottle opener.

The materials used in its construction aren’t too shabby either, though you are advised to buy a cover for it because, at this low price, one can’t guarantee how many winters it will last.

Napoleon Professional PRO605CSS

£1,169.99, BBQ World
Best for: Serial entertainers

napoleon professional

Key specs – Grill size/area: 5451cm²; Weight: 110kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: Yes; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

If you have a huge family or entertain on a massive scale, consider gracing your specially constructed barbecue section with this handsome, corrosive-free stainless steel behemoth.

The PRO605 comes with a whopping 5451cm² (605 square inches) of grilling estate, which is good for about 16 burgers, 20 sausages and 15 chicken legs. It also comes with a full-width stainless-steel rack for gentle cooking or warming.

The grill – made from wave-shaped cast iron – is divided into three parts so it’s easier to lift when loading the charcoal and easier to clean, too. And if you like rotisserie cooking you’ll love the included clip-on charcoal-powered rear burner. Granted, it’s fiddly to fill with pre-heated coals but it does the job admirably well. However, you will need to fork out extra on the optional rotisserie kit.

Like the grill, the charcoal bed is also comprised of three separate cast-iron sections replete with handles for fuss-free loading. And if you ever need to top up the charcoal on the fly, simply open the hatch at the front and chuck it in. The whole shebang is topped off with a huge cupboard and a giant roll-top lid – with built-in thermometer – that is so perfectly balanced it takes absolutely no effort to lift.

These are all great reasons to consider investment but what really grabs the attention here is the addition of an adjustable height charcoal bed. Simply pull on the handle on the right to adjust the height to any one of six positions, from low down all the way up to about an inch below the grill – perfect for steak searing and end-of-session grilling when the charcoal’s on the way out.

This is a stunning model in so many respects but be warned that it arrives in a massive box on a palette which is too big to fit through the front door, so you’ll need to empty the contents on the pavement or front yard and lug in the individual parts. Expect to take about three hours to build it, though you can also order it pre-assembled for around £50 extra.

Tepro Toronto Click

£99.95 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Budget-conscious grillers

tepro click

Key specs – Grill size/area: 54 x 42 cm; Weight: 26.3kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: Yes; Shelves: Yes; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

Here’s an inexpensive option that also comes with an adjustable charcoal grate. Simply turn the front-mounted handle and the whole charcoal grate moves up and down (from 2.3-inches to 8.6-inches below the cooking grate). This is a great feature to have, especially if you’ve loaded too much or two little charcoal.

The cooking grate itself measures an adequate 54cm x 42cm and features a removable centre section that can be replaced with a range of optional inserts, like a wok, cast iron Dutch oven or pizza stone. A hatch in front of the unit allows access to the charcoal chamber.

The Tepro was easy to assemble using a slot-in system and very few screws. However, the whole thing is a bit rattly and the materials used in its construction don’t look especially durable, so you’re advised to keep it under cover when not in use.

LotusGrill Mini

£130, LotusGrill
Best for: Portability

lotusgrill

Key specs – Grill size/area: 28cm; Weight: 2.8kg; Portable: Yes; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Direct

If you have a small patio, balcony or boat – or perhaps have neighbours who always complain about the smoke from your barbecue – consider this excellent little fan-powered two-person traveller.

The brilliantly designed LotusGrill Mini uses a battery-powered fan to heat up the charcoal in less than five minutes, and with very little smoke in the process. Once ready for grilling, you can turn the fan down or off for general grilling duties or whack it up to full speed for steak searing. Granted, the grill is only 28cm in diameter but that’s more than enough width for a few small kebabs, a trio of burgers or half-a-dozen sausages.

Part of a wider range of models, this little fella weighs just 2.8kg and comes supplied with a carry bag, so it’s just as practical for picnics and camping as it is for home use. It’s also available in three attractive colours: anthracite, red and blue.

Barbecook Joya

£63 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Tabletop grilling

barbecook joya

Key specs – Grill size/area: 26cm; Weight: 4kg; Portable: Yes; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Direct

Outdoor table-top grilling has two main bonuses: it’s more enjoyable grilling one’s own cuts and it’s much more sociable, especially for the host who usually has to stand alone for 90 minutes in front of a blazing inferno while everyone else is having a jolly old time.

Enter the attractive Barbecook Joya, a small circular table-top BBQ with a polished ceramic bowl and enough grilling space (26cm) for a cosy alfresco party for two or four at a pinch. Simply place it on an outdoor table, pour some water into the fire bowl (it helps protect the table from the heat of the grill), insert the supplied tray of Easy Grilltabs (or any other type of charcoal), fire it up and let your guests take charge of their own lunch using the four bamboo tongs provided.

Barbecook’s Easy Grilltabs briquettes are produced from sustainable African Invader bushes and burn for about an hour – more than enough time for a languorous lunch in the sun.

Everdure by Heston Blumenthal Fusion

£799, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Rotisserie grilling

everdue

Key specs – Grill size/area: 48 x 33 cm; Weight: 35.9kg; Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Direct

This snazzy unit from Everdure’s Heston Blumenthal range uses an electric oven-style element to prepare the charcoal in about 15 minutes, so best make sure you have an electricity supply nearby before biting the bullet.

The Fusion doesn’t come with a lid so grilling is of the direct method, which means never taking your eye off the ball or the food will quickly turn to a carbonised crisp. The stainless steel grill itself measures a rather small 48cm x 33cm, so it’s just about big enough for a table of four.

However, what really sets this model apart is the addition of a hidden rotisserie system. Simply push down the concealed columns on either side of the unit to release them, open the hatch on the left and pull out the rotisserie bar and prongs. Now load it with a seasoned leg of lamb, chicken or joint of sirloin beef and retreat for a natter with the guests while the Fusion does the rest.

Despite the high price and the fact it requires an electricity supply, the undeniably stylish Fusion grills superbly well. However, it’s that clever pop-up rotisserie that clinches it.

Original Jerk J Cut Barrel Barbecue

£800, Original Jerk
Best for: Well-heeled traditionalists

original jerk

Key specs – Grill size/area: 84 x 55.5 cm; Weight: Roughly 80kg;Portable: No; Adjustable grill/charcoal bed: No; Shelves: No; Direct/Indirect grilling: Both

London-based Original Jerk specialises in the manufacture of bespoke hand-built barbecues using brand new 45 gallon oil drums. Beloved of out-of-town commercial barbecue operations and Caribbean beachside restaurants, the humble oil drum provides acres of grilling space, making it the ideal choice for those who entertain on a regular basis.

This superbly made J Cut model measures 1.4 metres in length and comes with a huge 84cm x 55.5cm laser cut steel grill, a smaller smoking/warming shelf above, two timber side shelves and, rare for a barrel barbecue, a massive lid with integral thermometer for indirect cooking requirements. You could feasibly load this model with 25 large hamburgers and still have plenty of room to move them around.

Finished in heat-proof matt black paint with laser-cut Original Jerk logo (the company also provides custom paint jobs, laser cut graphics and handmade lettering), this model screams authentic rustic chic and comes with a high price to match. Turnaround time is about two weeks from date of order.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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9 best gas BBQs for cooking outside in the fresh air

The gas versus charcoal BBQ argument has been raging since Chicago-born Don McGlaughlin’s gas-powered LazyMan first hit the market in the early 1950s. Today, most professional chefs and seasoned barbecuers will extol the virtues of charcoal over gas and it’s true that, psychologically at least, charcoal is a more primally satisfying way to grill meats and vegetables in the great outdoors.

However, charcoal barbecuing does have its drawbacks, namely the length of time it takes for the charcoal to reach optimum temperature and the extra work involved in preventing the food from being scorched to a cinder.

On the flip side, gas aficionados will argue that gas grilling produces a flavour just as authentically smoky as charcoal, only without the hassle. After all, given that the flavour of grilled meat is mostly produced by the smoke generated by meat fats dripping onto a heat source below, does it really matter whether that source is a pile of coals or a sheet of hot metal with a flaming gas ring beneath?

One thing everyone agrees on is that gas barbecuing is a much more convenient and practical way to grill. Not only is the heat of a gas barbecue easier to control but it’ll reach optimum cooking temperature in about 10 minutes (a charcoal BBQ can take anything from 25 minutes to 45 minutes).

Another bonus is that every gas barbecue comes equipped with a lid. Aside from deflecting wind that could blow out the flame, a lid also allows the user to grill using the “indirect” convection method of cooking; a much easier and more reliable way to grill meats than the open-top brazier design of some charcoal-based barbecues.

It must be said, however, that there are a few caveats worth mentioning: gas barbecues are more expensive than their charcoal counterparts and they’re usually a bit more difficult to assemble. And, of course, you will also need to fork out on a gas canister. Speaking of which…

All about gas

Propane is the most common fuel for modern barbecues and Patio Gas is arguably the most popular brand. It’s available in 5kg (£22) and 13kg canisters (£34), but 5kg is the most practical size since it will fit underneath or behind the cupboards of most barbecue models.

If using gas for the first time, you’ll need to sign a Cylinder Refill Agreement and hand over an additional £40 fee for the returnable cylinder. Thereafter, whenever the gas nears empty, simply take the empty bottle back to the supplier and pick up a new pre-filled one.

Patio Gas canisters are fitted with a contents gauge so be sure to check the gas level well before your guests arrive because the last thing you need is for it to run out midway through the grilling process.

Choosing a gas barbecue – things to consider

Aside from price and build quality, the most important factor to consider is grill size and the number of burners the BBQ’s equipped with. The most popular size is equipped with two burners (individually controlled gas rings beneath a metal heat reflector). However, if you have a large family or entertain a lot then consider a model with three or four burners – a four-burner barbecue will provide almost twice the meal estate of a two burner.

Some models are also equipped with a side burner, which is basically a small gas hob for cooking side dishes. We would suggest forgoing a side burner because not only are they fiddly to assemble and take up valuable shelf space, but they perform no better than a kitchen hob.

Weber Spirit II E-210 GBS

£422.10, Hayes Garden World
Best for: BBQ aficionados

weber spirit 2

Key specs – Grill size/area: 51 x 46 cm; Weight: 46.8kg; Burners: 2; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: No

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You really can’t go wrong with a Weber. Not only are they built to last – some Webers have been known to survive over 10 years of winter weather without collapsing into a pile of rust – but they’re almost universally praised by both users and professionals.

Designed for small patios and balconies, this sturdy entry-level two-burner model boasts a heavy-duty porcelain-coated lid with integral thermometer, a 51cm x 46cm Gourmet Barbecue System grate with a removable centre section for an optional griddle plate or pizza stone, a small warming rack, a gas bottle holder on the right to keep everything tidy, two side tables (one folding), and a new type of ignition system that almost always lights the gas ring on the first press of the button, even after months of use.

The Spirit II is equipped with three piping hot heat reflector shields (or “flavorizer bars” as Weber likes to call them) that instantly vaporise dripping fats, producing that lovely smoky flavour we all love; a disposable tin foil tray beneath catches any excess fats. If you often serve food that is either undercooked or overdone, consider installing the optional iGrill 3 app-connected system, which monitors the internal temperatures of up to four cuts of meat and, when perfectly cooked, notifies you on your iOS or Android device.

The build quality is exemplary; a fact borne out by the 10-year guarantee Weber offers on all parts. If you’re after a gas barbecue that fits nicely on a patio and doesn’t stretch the budget too much, then put this one high on your list of contenders.

Everdure by Heston Blumenthal Force

£599, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Style

everdure

Key specs – Grill size/area: 2,358cm²; Weight: 33kg; Burners: 2; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: No

For size, style and efficiency, this minimalist two-burner model from chef Heston Blumenthal is a tough one to beat. Indeed, it’s one of the most thoughtfully designed BBQs available. Constructed almost entirely out of rust-resistant die-cast aluminium, the Force features two enamel-coated cast iron grates large enough to feed a gaggle of six hungry mouths, a beautifully designed lid that fits perfectly flush with the body ensuring that the heat is retained throughout the cooking process, four rock-solid legs (two with castors), a sturdy fold-out shelf for added convenience, and an integrated temperature dial. It also comes with arguably the most accurate control dials in barbecue-land.

In order to prevent flare-ups caused by too much fat dripping onto the heat source below, this barbecue’s cooking grate is equipped with solid sections positioned directly above the burners, thereby negating the need for a heat reflector. This system, combined with the aluminium lid’s cutaway vents, ensures food is cooked perfectly evenly. Indeed, we found no cool spots anywhere on the grill – a common anomaly with gas barbecues.

Available in five tantalising colours, the Force is anything but cheap, but that’s to be expected given the quality and fit of the materials used. It’s also easy to use and cooks food to succulent perfection without ever breaking into a sweat. A top choice for well-heeled grillers.

Char-Broil All-Star 120B

£341, Garden Lines
Best for: Patios and small gardens

char broil all star

Key specs – Grill size/area: 45cm; Weight: 30kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: Yes

This newly-launched model from Char-Broil can be used with or without the supplied leg assembly if, say, you wanted to put the main unit on a table or lug it to the beach. Its cast iron grate provides a moderately sized cooking area of 1,600 cm² (45cm in diameter), plus there’s a small warming rack above. The attractively shaped cast aluminium lid, meanwhile, ensures optimum convection when cooking indirectly, while the handy thermometer keeps tabs on operating temperatures.

Char-Broil is one of the most popular BBQ manufacturers stateside, partly because of its unique “TRU-Infrared” grilling technology. In this instance, the use of the term infrared has nothing to do with infrared bulbs but rather it’s simply a perforated corrugated metal sheet that sits directly below the cooking grate.

Having grilled on a few Char-Broil models to date, we can vouch that it definitely helps distribute heat evenly across the entire grilling grate, producing uniform results in the process. However, it is advisable to clean the infrared sheet after each session by running the barbecue on its highest heat setting for about 10 minutes and then brushing off the carbonised material.

The All-Star comes with two foldable side shelves with integral tool holders, a second mid-cart side shelf with a handy paper towel dispenser, a concealed area for the gas bottle and reliable push-button ignition.

A very well thought out and exceedingly versatile package that’s ideal for smaller patios and balconies.

Primus Kuchoma

£143.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Portability

primus kuchoma

Key specs – Grill size/area: 40 x 24 cm; Weight: 5.3kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: No; Portable: Yes

If you’re in the market for a portable one- or two-person gas grill that’s ideal for camping, orienteering, boating, picnics or balcony use, consider this fabulous new model from outdoor pursuit specialist Primus.

The Kuchoma weighs just 4.5 kilograms and comes with a hinged aluminium lid for both direct and indirect grilling, an integrated wooden carry handle, a non-stick 40cm x 24cm grate with raised edges to keep sausages from rolling off, and battery-less Piezo ignition.

To use, simply pull out the admittedly wiry legs, attach the hose to a mini screw-on gas canister – available in 100g, 230g and 450g sizes and widely available from all camping stores and most campsites – fire it up, lift the lid and load on some grub.

To test it out, we threw on a dozen chicken legs (its maximum capacity) and, while there wasn’t much space left to move them around, it grilled them remarkably well with plenty of gas left in the 230g tank for another round. We were also impressed by the height of the lid, which is easily tall enough to accommodate a small chicken or leg of lamb.

In the realm of camping cookers, this little griller ticks many boxes – it’s light and small enough to carry a fair distance (it measures just 44cm wide and 30.5cm deep), is quick to set up and a doddle to clean.

Campingaz Master 3 Series Classic LS

£317.46, Keen Gardener
Best for: Large families

campingaz master 3 series

Key specs – Grill size/area: 2,800cm²; Weight: 57kg; Burners: 3; Side burner: Yes; Shelves: 2; Portable: No

Campingaz is synonymous with camping cookers and gas-powered lamps but it’s branching out into bigger things – much bigger things – with a recently launched range of large two-, three- and four-burner garden barbecues that are stylish and efficient enough to take on the big guns. This ginormous three-burner model is a case in point. The Master 3 Series arrived in a massive box on a palette and took over two hours to build, but the effort was worth it.

A lift of its double-walled enamelled lid exposes a steel grill on the left and a flat griddle plate on the right, with a combined surface area of 2,800cm². This is a great combination since it allows you to cook standard fare, like burgers, sausages and chicken legs, on one side and fish, halloumi, bacon, eggs and other obstreperous ingredients that normally break up and fall through the gaps on the other. It’s a boon for vegetarians and vegans too, who’ll appreciate having their food kept completely separate from the meats.

The Master 3 Series also comes with a large cupboard to store a 5kg Patio Gas bottle, a foldable shelf strong enough to sit on, and a 2,300 watt Piezo ignition side burner that also converts into an extra shelf. We loaded it with a variety of ingredients – including the classic bacon wrapped banana – and it grilled everything to succulent perfection. A great budget choice for larger families and party animals.

Weber Q1200

£323.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Balconies and boats

weber q1200

Key specs – Grill size/area: 43 x 32 cm; Weight: 12kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: 2; Portable: Yes

Like the Primus Kuchoma, this portable from Weber uses the same type of readily available mini disposable 450g gas canisters, making it ideal for camp sites that don’t allow the use of charcoal, plus boating and balcony use. However, unlike the Kuchoma, this one is too big and cumbersome to lug by hand (it weighs 12kg and doesn’t come with a carry handle).

The single-burner Q1200 is equipped with a hinged cast aluminium lid for maximum convection and a heavy duty cast iron grate with a cooking area of 43cm x 32cm – more than enough space for a family of three, or four at a push. It also comes with a lid-mounted thermometer, a pair of flip-out shelves and a disposable slide-out drip tray. To use, simply screw on a canister, place it in the supplied cradle, press the ignition button and throw on some meat.

The ultimate test for any barbecue is how well it cooks a steak. Well this one passed with flying colours. Firstly, its integrated thermometer gave a reading of nearly 600˚C after just 15 minutes of heat-up time and that’s frankly amazing for such a titchy model. At this high temperature, it took just five minutes for it to produce a sirloin steak with a perfectly caramelised outer (replete with obligatory grill markings) and a pink, juicy centre. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone to share it with.

If you’re in the market for an exceedingly well-built and highly efficient mini gas barbecue that you can take camping and use on the smallest of balconies, then put this at the top of your shopping list.

Char-Broil Big Easy Smoker

£268.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Slow-cooked and smoked foods

char broil big easy smoker

Key specs – Grill size/area: 38cm diameter; Weight: 28kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: No; Portable: No

Most barbecue smokers are of the charcoal variety, so it’s great to see a model that performs the same task using gas. The cylindrical two-in-one Big Easy was essentially designed for the American market as a healthier – and safer – way to “fry” a Thanksgiving turkey without setting oneself and the garden shed on fire (a common occurrence, believe it or not).

The Big Easy is comprised of a large drum with a single 5.3kW wrap-around burner, a spacious internal basket with two removable racks for a pair of chickens or a large leg of lamb (up to 11kgs in total), a smoker box for the wood chips, and a removable 38cm porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grate for normal barbecuing. Despite its tall stature it has a remarkably small footprint, so consider this model if you have a small garden or patio.

For our test, we loaded the smoker box with a handful of hickory chips, fired up the burner to about a third of the way, attached a rack of baby back ribs to the provided hooks and hung them on the edge of the basket. Then we closed the lid and retreated for a couple of hours.

For a gas system, the result was remarkable – the ribs came out nicely tanned and they tasted authentically smoky. If you like smoked or slow-cooked foods but never seem to get it right using charcoal, then this is the one for you.

Outback Trekker

£109, Outback Direct
Best for: Portable grilling on a budget

outback trekker 1

Key specs – Grill size/area: 47cm diameter; Weight: 17kg; Burners: 1; Side burner: No; Shelves: No; Portable: Yes

If you’re on a tight budget and just want a simple single-burner BBQ for the patio, campsite or beach, consider this attractive low-priced model from Outback. The Trekker’s 47cm pressed steel grate isn’t the last word in quality but it does the job well enough, even though you may need to move the food around to ensure it cooks evenly. We advise sticking to the adage “if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking” and leave the hinged porcelain enamelled hood on as much as possible to ensure that the convection process isn’t interrupted and the food cooks more evenly.

The Trekker can be easily disassembled for transport in a car or carried to the beach using the optional shoulder bag (£24.99). In the pantheon of cheapo gas BBQs, this one’s a better looker than most. Granted, it isn’t quite as efficient as the other models here but it produces very decent results for a good price. In that respect, it’s a very worthy budget buy.

Napoleon Prestige Pro 825

£5,799.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Wealthy party animals

napoleon prestige

Key specs – Grill size/area: 8,935 cm²; Weight: 205kg; Burners: 6; Side burner: Yes; Shelves: Yes; Portable: No

This humongous six-burner model measures 2.39m in width and comes equipped with two lidded grilling zones (one with 1,270 cm² of cooking surface, the other with the Canadian company’s unique steak-searing dual-ceramic infrared Sizzle Zone), an extra rear infrared burner for rotisseries, two heavy-duty wave-shaped stainless-steel grates, an integrated wood-chip smoking tray, a separate side burner for wok cooking, and a handy tub for storing ice or beers. It also comes with tool hooks galore, acres of storage space behind the soft-closing doors and backlit control knobs for luna banquets.

The Prestige Pro 825’s two separate grilling zones amount to a whopping combined cooking surface of 8,935 cm² – more than enough meal estate for the entire neighbourhood – and are an especially handy addition if cooking for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

This serious piece of outdoor kit is more like an outdoor kitchen on wheels, so best make sure you have the space to accommodate it – mind, at this price you surely will. If ordered online, expect to receive it in boxes big enough to live in and allow an assembly time in excess of three hours.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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10 best dog beds to pamper your pooch – starting from just £15

Dogs aren’t stupid – they know where to find the most comfortable spot for a snooze, like the sofa or even the owner’s bed. Of course, having dogs on the sofa and bed isn’t just impractical from a grubbiness point of view, it can set a bad example and cause issues when the owner and pet visit a friend or acquaintance who don’t countenance dogs jumping up on their sofas.

For this reason, most responsible dog owners forbid their four-legged friends from lounging about on sofas and chairs and insist their dogs stay in their own beds.

Dogs love having their own regular nest to sleep in, partly because it has their scent on it and also because it makes them feel relaxed and safe being in familiar surroundings.

That’s where this feature guide comes in because we’ve called in a tranche of top dog beds that are suitable for all sizes, breeds and sleeping patterns, and put them to the test using two Labradors (Juno, 18 months and Isla, 12 years) and a little Cavapoo called Poppy.

What type of bed is best for my dog?

There are numerous types of dog bed on the market, from simple pad-style cushions to bolstered luxury models with super-soft fillings to orthopaedic-style memory foam mattresses. The once very popular dog basket isn’t really advised for young dogs and puppies since they will almost certainly chew the material to pieces within a couple of days.

In fact, few dog beds will survive in the presence of a puppy going through its teething stage, so best not spend too much on a dog bed for them. After all, if they haven’t chewed it, they’ll soon outgrow it.

Before buying a dog bed, it’s a good idea to observe their sleeping habits. If they always seem to spend their sleeping hours curled up in ball (the preferred position for most young dogs), a simple square or circular-shaped bed with side bolsters will suffice. But if they’re seen to regularly stretch out in their sleep, go for a rectangular bed with soft bolsters or, better still, a cushion-style dog pad. If your dog suffers from arthritis or other mobility issues, it’s worth investing in a memory foam-style bed that will offer extra support as well as comfort.

Most dog beds come in three sizes (small, medium and large). However, beds for giant breeds like the Newfoundland, Great Dane and Irish Wolfhound are few and far between, so you may need to do some internet research to track down a suitable size.

Whichever model you decide on, chances are the dog will always retreat to his or her bed whenever it’s time for a nap. However, if your pooch sleeps in the same room as you, you can also be sure that at some point in the night he or she will creep onto your bed for a sneaky snooze. Dogs, don’t you just love them?

Scruffs Chester Box Dog Bed

From £21.39 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Budget-priced comfort

scruffs

Key specs – Sizes: S, M, L; Smallest dimensions: 50 x 40 cm; Largest dimensions: 90 x 70 cm; Internal material: Green fibre; External material: Velveteen fleece

This rectangular bed provides comfort for two types of sleepers: curlers and stretchers. The soft bolsters are collapsible, so when the dog slips into a full stretch the bolsters simply give way, effectively turning the bed into a cushion.

The downside is that the bed can lose its shape to some degree after the dog has been restlessly scrabbling about to make a nest. But it’s nothing a good shake won’t fix (the bed, that is, not the dog).

The Chester’s cosy fleece lining is filled with soft fibres that provide exceptional comfort but not a great deal of support, so consider a foam-based bed if your dog has mobility problems. Also, the centre pad section is sown in and there are no zips, so when it comes time for a clean you’ll need to put the entire bed in the washing machine (on 30˚C) and that may be impractical if your washer’s drum is quite small. That said, cleaning the entire bed – including the insert – is often the best way to remove unpleasant smells.

The extra-large version we received measures 90 x 70 cm (good for medium-sized breeds), is fabulously comfortable, a good looker and excellent value for a bed at this price. It’s Juno the Drakeshead Labrador’s current favourite.

Creature Clothes Dog Doza

From £50, Creature Clothes
Best for: Large breeds and flat sleepers

creature clothes dog doza

Key specs – Sizes: S, M, L; Smallest dimensions: 66 x 61 cm; Largest dimensions: 106 x 86 cm; Internal material: Spiral fibre; External material: Denim/cotton/faux suede

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Not to be confused with the Dog Doza brand seen on Amazon, this rectangular bed is much wider than the norm (107cm), which makes it ideal for medium to large breeds like the Labrador, Golden Retriever and German Shepherd, or indeed any dog that likes to stretch out or sleep in a flat position.

The Doza doesn’t have any bolsters – it is, to all intents and purposes, one very big cushion – but its deeply filled spiral-fibre twin duvets provide undeniable comfort and support without ever going lumpy. We received the attractive denim version with appliqued stars and Isla the elderly Labrador was on it as fast as her ageing legs would carry her. She has since made it her bed of choice.

Another great thing about this bed is that it can be easily transported by folding it over and tying a ribbon round it – perfect for comfortable car travel and hotel stays. It washes easily too, simply by undoing the zip and throwing the cover into the washing machine on a 30˚C wash.

The Creature Clothes Dog Doza is available in three sizes and a wide variety of colours and designs; you can also have it personalised with your dog’s name for £10 extra. A top choice for pampered pooches that know which side their bread is buttered on.

Bowl & Bone Republic Urban

From £85, Bowl & Bone
Best for: Comfort and support

bowl and bone

Key specs – Sizes: S, M, L; Smallest dimensions: 60 x 60 cm; Largest dimensions: 85 x 85 cm; Internal material: Foam and fibre; External material: Denim

This square bed is very reasonably priced for the high quality of the materials used. It features firm foam bolsters and a super-comfy fibre filling that dogs will adore. The removable bed pad is made from exceedingly tough but soft denim-like material and equipped with a quality zipper so it can be removed and washed separately.

We received the large model (85cm x 85cm) in lush navy and both Labradors immediately made a bee line for it. Granted, it looked cramped for two large dogs but of course they didn’t seem to mind. What they did mind was when the cat promptly made the Bowl & Bone its new home.

The square nature of this bed combined with the firm bolsters means it’s best suited to dogs that like to curl up rather than spread out. It will, however, keep its shape impeccably well.

The Urban is available in three sizes and four attractive colours that are mostly good at concealing dirt. However, if you have a light-haired dog like a Golden Retriever, perhaps opt for the pale grey model because hair will be shed.

Casper Dog Bed

£172.63 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Design and durability

casper dog bed

Key specs – Sizes: S, M, L; Smallest dimensions: 66 x 48 cm; Largest dimensions: 114 x 89 cm; Internal material: Memory foam; External material: Faux suede

If you can afford it, the Casper is one of the finest dog beds on the market and one that’s been very carefully thought out. This one is more rectangular in shape and while its support-foam sides are much lower and more forgiving than other models, it’s still worth bearing in mind if your mutt’s a constant stretcher. That said, this is the widest bed on test, which also makes it suitable for large breeds like the Rottweiler and Mastiff.

The Casper arrives in parts in a box. Yes, this is a dog bed that needs some assembly. The main polyurethane memory foam pad comes as one but you’ll need to fill out the edges with half a dozen other foam modules. You will also need to perform the same task whenever you remove the faux suede cover for cleaning.

Casper allegedly spent a year researching dogs’ sleeping habits and designed the bed accordingly. Hence, the centre sleeping section has a very loose fit so dogs can scratch and paw at the surface before bedding down – a natural instinct that many dogs still display.

Granted, it’s not the most attractive model on this page but in the pantheon of dog beds, it excels at doing what it’s supposed to do – provide comfort and support while indulging the dog’s urge to scrabble about before bed time.

Wolfybeds Luxury Wraparound Fleece Dog Bed

£37.99, Wolfybeds
Best for: Small to medium breeds

wolfybeds

Key specs – Sizes: M, L; Smallest dimensions: 79 x 79 cm; Largest dimensions: 91 x 91 cm; Internal material: Polyester fibre; External material: Woolly fleece

Soft and fluffy to the touch, this circular bed proved a massive hit with little Poppy the Cavapoo. The Wolfybed has soft bolsters that are just firm enough for a dog to rest its weary head. The interior, meanwhile, is stuffed with a mass of spun polyester, which provides exceptional comfort along with very decent body support. However, it’s the quality of the external materials that no dog on earth could ever resist – and few humans, for that matter.

This bed is clad in a soft luxury wool-like fleece that screams “sleep on me”. It’s also incredibly warm and that makes it a great choice for a cold house on a winter’s day. The brightly-coloured faux suede surround, meanwhile, adds a touch of style although one should be mindful about locating it on pale carpets because, according to the manufacturer, the colours may transfer, especially when brand new. Available in both medium and large, and four colour options, this bed is a top choice for small to medium breeds.

Pets at Home Black Paw Fleece Dog Mattress

£9.50, Pets at Home
Best for: Car travel and dog crates

pets and home paw mattress

Key specs – Sizes: L; Dimensions: 100 x 80 cm; Internal material: Fibre; External material: Thin fleece

Don’t consider getting this dog pad if you have a puppy because a) it’s too big and b) its cover is easily punctured and very chewable. However, it is an excellent adult-sized bed and perfect for dog crates and general lounging. It’s also light as a feather and compresses into a small package, and that makes it the best option here for car travel and short hotel stays.

The Black Paw Fleece may be cheap as chips but it’s one of the comfiest beds in this roundup. Granted, you will need to give it a good shake from time to time to fluff up the internal fibre base, which can turn lumpy, but in the main it holds its shape well. It’s also easily cleaned – simply unzip the cheap fleece cover and throw it in the washing machine. Best budget buy.

Ruffwear Mt. Bachelor Pad

£88.49 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Camping and orienteering

ruffwear

Key specs – Sizes: M, L; Smallest dimensions: 86 x 68 cm; Largest dimensions: 122 x 91 cm; Internal material: Fibre; External material: Micro suede

Ruffwear is a major player in the arena of dog harnesses and specialised outdoor accessories like rock boots, kibble caddies and life jackets. The Bachelor Pad isn’t designed for the home because it’s too thin (about 3cm deep) for outright comfort. However, it is perfect for the active dog who accompanies its owner on outdoor treks, expeditions and wilderness camping trips.

Available in both medium and large sizes and in two subdued colours, the Bachelor Pad is essentially a low-profile bedroll for unfurling on rough ground or the back of the car. It’s tough (it has a rubberised underside), is easy to clean and it rolls up into a tight bundle held together by built-in Velcro straps.

If you’re in the market for a temporary comfort zone for your active travel pal, then this is the model to plump for.

Mungo & Maud Classic Dog Bed

From £164.50, Mungo & Maud
Best for: Posh pooches

mungo and maud

Key specs – Sizes: S, M, L; Smallest dimensions: 62 x 43 cm; Largest dimensions: 86 x 66 cm; Internal material: Poly fibre; External material: Woven cotton

For the well-heeled mutt about town, Mungo & Maud is like the Rolls Royce of doggy beds. The UK-based company’s beds are priced in the sort of bracket that the very wealthy are drawn to like moths to a flame.

That said, M&M beds are exceedingly well made using high-quality woven cottons and expert stitching. They are the epitome of the designer’s dog bed and they’re known to last for years without losing their shape.

The Classic is a case in point. This beautifully upholstered slumber space is firm but indisputably comfy and the workmanship throughout is second to none. But with prices starting at around £165 for a small (62 x 43 x 22 cm), you may need to forgo the holiday in favour of raising your dog’s social status. Not that it will care one jot.

Trixie Cuddly Dog and Cat Cave

£25, Pets at Home
Best for: Toy dogs (and cats)

trixie cave

Key specs – Sizes: S; Dimensions: 26 x 35 cm; Internal material: Foam; External material: Woolly polyester fleece

This titchy bed is designed for toy dogs and small cats. Shaped like a cave and clad in faux suede, its foam-filled interior and woolly fleece provide warmth, supreme cosiness and seclusion for peaceful naps.

This bed is much smaller than we expected – too small for a Cavapoo and even some cats but perfect for Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese Poodles and most medium breed size puppies.

If your pooch prefers sleeping in tucked away places, then this bed is a great option. It’s well made for the price and easily cleaned. The bedding section can also be reversed if your dog prefers sleeping on a cooler faux suede surface.

However, given that cats love cardboard boxes and other enclosed areas, it won’t be long before the dog is evicted from its favourite abode. After all, when it comes to contests for the comfiest spot, the cat always wins.

Ivy & Duke The Muttress

From £115, Ivy & Duke
Best for: Older heavy breeds

ivy and duke the muttress

Key specs – Sizes: S, M, L; Smallest dimensions: 75 x 60 cm; Largest dimensions: 125 x 80 cm; Internal material: Pocket sprung memory foam; External material: Cotton blend

If you have an elderly dog with arthritis or any other mobility condition, consider this deep orthopaedic memory foam model with pocket springs for optimum support and reduced hot spots. Memory foam moulds to the shape of the dog’s body, relieving pressure on aching joints and reducing the need for it to constantly reposition itself.

The foam has a soft to medium density but it feels much firmer than other beds, so it might be more suitable for heavier breeds like the show Labrador and Staff; lightweight breeds like the Border Collie and Bearded Collie may find it a bit too firm for outright comfort.

The Muttress is available in three sizes and a variety of cotton blend coverings in a wide range of attractive patterns, including tweed, cinnamon, heather and duck shell. To wash, simply remove the cover and wash at 30˚C. A top choice for ageing dogs.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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9 best toastie makers, starting from £17 – can Breville be beaten?

For anyone who grew up in the 1970s, the Breville sandwich toaster was a must-have addition to your kitchen appliance collection. There was nothing quite like biting into a tasty – but usually searing hot – cheese and tomato toastie with perfectly sealed edges and that iconic triangular scalloped shape.

Then the microwave happened and sandwich toasters fell out of favour and found themselves relegated to the back of the cupboard. Now though, they’re more advanced and more popular than ever, with machines that feature multiple plates so they can cook a variety of quick snacks, including sandwiches, omelets, waffles, paninis and even steak.

How much should you pay?

Prices vary from cheaper models at just £10, increasing to advanced models costing almost £90. You do, however, mostly get what you pay for and we didn’t find a toaster under £15 that we felt produced consistent results.

The more you pay, the more likely you are to get removable plates and more cooking options, so if you want a machine that does more than one thing, then they’re worth the investment.

How we test

Each toaster took slightly different sizes of bread, so we tested thin or medium white slices in a variety of loaf sizes. We wouldn’t recommend thick sliced, as it doesn’t toast as well in most machines and, crucially, means less filling.

What we put in the sandwiches varied – a standard favourite was cheese and tomato but we also tried chopped onion and ham. We preferred using a low-fat cheese such as edam or gouda to prevent leakage, although some lower-fat cheddars were acceptable.

Many of the toasters don’t have timers, so it’s trial and error to find the exact level of crispness you prefer – although they all feature cool-touch handles so it wasn’t a problem to open them and have a peek after a few minutes. And while all of the toasters we tried (with the exception of the Dualit cage) had non-stick plates, to achieve a crisp outside most suggest buttering both sides of the bread.

Toastie makers are listed in price order.

Judge Sandwich Maker

£18.99, Wayfair
Best for: Budget toasting

judge

Key specs – Size: 25 x 26 x 12 cm; Weight; 1.6kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 750w; Removable plates: No; Cord store: Yes; Extras: None

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This was the cheapest toastie maker we tested, and it didn’t have the bells and whistles of some, but it was the best we found in the budget price range.

The plates are quite compact, so we tested smaller sliced loaves and we wouldn’t recommend overfilling, as not only does it make the toaster hard to close, it does result in leakage. Once we realised this, we were a little less enthusiastic and found that using a lower-fat cheese produced better results – sliced edam worked well.

The plates are not removable, so when it did leak we had a bit more cleaning on our hands but it heated up quickly and the crunch was as good, if not better than some of the more expensive machines.

Dualit Sandwich Toaster Cage

£14.63 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: A space-saving alternative

dualit

Key specs – Size: 30 x 15 x 2.4 cm; Weight: 340g; Material; Stainless steel, plastic; Power: N/A; Removable plates: N/A; Cord store: N/A; Extras: None

If you’re already in possession of a stylish Dualit toaster, then this simple cage, which slides into the toaster’s extra-large slots, is a great addition.

Available to buy separately or at the same time as you purchase your toaster, it’s also a good option if you’re watching the calories, as you don’t need to slather the outside of the bread in butter and is best used with lower-fat cheese such as edam. In fact, if you try it with full-fat cheddar you’ll probably end up with an empty sandwich and an oozing mess in your crumb tray.

We preferred to use thin-sliced bread to ensure we could get a decent filling and the cool-touch handles meant it was easy to take in and out of the toaster to check on its progress.

Salter Deep Fill Sandwich Toaster Press

£21.97 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Larger slices

salter

Key specs – Size: 30 x 26.5 x 12.5 cm; Weight: 1.9kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 900w; Removable plates: No; Cord store: No; Extras: None

Salter claims the XL plates in this machine allow for larger sizes of bread and deeper fillings, so we tried a slightly taller slice, packed it full of cheese, tomato and onion, and were pleasantly pleased.

There are only indicator lights to say when it has reached temperature, so the first couple of sandwiches are guesswork to get them to the preferred colour and crispness. However, the cool-touch handle is easy to open and close if you decide your toastie isn’t quite done. It took just four minutes to create a deep-filled, crispy brown sandwich. The slightly larger slices did mean a bit of extra crunchy crust around the edges, but that was one of our tester’s favourite bits and it did ensure no leakage.

As with most other “cut-and-seal” functions, the seal of the toastie was fine but the cut was more of a dent, meaning we had to separate the slices with a sharp knife. Our only tiny quibble with this well-priced machine was that the plates are non-removable, which means cleaning is trickier if there is leakage. Otherwise, it’s a great-value toaster with consistent results.

Russell Hobbs 3-in-1 Sandwich, Panini and Waffle Maker

£28.55 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Value for money

russell hobbs

Key specs – Size: 25 x 23.2 x 10.5 cm; Weight: 2.54kg; Material; Stainless steel, plastic; Power: 750w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: Grill plates, waffle plates, recipe booklet

This was the best-priced machine we found with three sets of removable plates – one for deep-fill sandwiches, one for grilling and one for waffles. All the plates are dishwashers safe, too.

The deep-fill sandwich plates took a fair amount of filling before we experienced any leakage and that was possibly because we were experimenting with smaller slices of bread, which weren’t big enough to seal. Most of the time, our toasties were a great colour and beautifully crisp with oozing filling.

We tried the waffle recipe included in the booklet too and can confess that we’re now waffle converts. You can cook meats on the grill, as long as they’re not more than 10cm thick, so at a push you could use it for pretty much every meal of the day.

This compact machine is a good option for those who want a variety of functions in a small footprint.

Morphy Richards MICO Toasted Sandwich Maker

£29.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Microwaveable toasties

morphy richards

Key specs – Size: 30 x 26.5 x 12.8 cm; Weight: 0.9kg; Material; Metal, silicone; Power: N/A; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: N/A; Extras: None

A lovely, crispy toastie from a microwave, who’d have thought it? Well, not us, so we set about testing this bright orange sandwich toaster with vigour. Firstly, unlike the other machines, this will only produce one sandwich at a time, so not great if you’re feeding big numbers.

It features Morphy Richard’s “heatwave” technology – it turns microwaves into conventional heat – which amazingly produces a lovely crisp sandwich, you just have to turn the whole thing halfway through to get an even browning. We like our toasties relatively dark, so we did three minutes on each side.

It takes slightly larger bread slices, but don’t overfill or you won’t be able to lock the two separate parts together. Apart from that, we were rather surprised that the crunch and colour were as good as many of the standard machines we tried.

It dismantles easily and can be popped into the dishwasher to clean. It’s pretty compact, too, so easy to slot away in a drawer. This is a great lunch solution if you have a microwave at work but no other cooking facilities.

Russell Hobbs Four Portion Deep Fill Toastie

£30.58 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Families

russell hobbs four toastie maker

Key specs – Size: 34.1 x 22.6 x 10.1 cm; Weight: 2.71kg; Material; Stainless steel, plastic; Power: 1520w; Removable plates: No; Cord store: Yes; Extras: None

This four-portion sandwich maker is great if you have lots of hungry mouths to feed. It’s still fairly compact though, so is also easy to store.

It heats up in the time it takes to butter eight slices of bread and the deep-fill pockets hold plenty of filing, with no spillage. The shape of the plates mean the sandwiches are easy to remove too, ensuring you don’t burn fingers as you try to get them from toaster to plate.

We did need to leave them a little longer than some to get the degree of brownness we preferred but as it produces double the amount of sandwiches, it wasn’t an issue. It’s a shame the plates aren’t removable though, but the non-stick coating does make them a breeze to clean, making it only a minor quibble.

Breville Deep Fill 2 Slice Sandwich Toaster

£37.64 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Large toasties

breville

Key specs – Size: 30 x 26.5 x 12.8 cm; Weight: 2.38kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 850w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: None

If you were the proud owner of a sandwich maker back in the 70s then it’s a good chance it was a Breville model. First to the market, it continued to develop and refine its toasters over the intervening 40 years.

Now, there are a number of models available but we were keen to test its deep-fill toaster, which is the daddy of them all. With a solid construction and pleasing shape, the non-stick plates take the slices sideways to accommodate different sizes of bread, although we wouldn’t recommend a large batch loaf.

Keen to try out how far we could push the deep-fill facility, we piled cheese, onion and tomato onto square medium-sliced bread. The deep hinges meant it was more than capable of handling what we threw at it and it sealed well with little or no leakage.

There’s no timer, so toasting is all about trial and error and personal preference. We opened it at five minutes and found a well-sealed, pleasingly brown and crispy toastie. The removable non-stick plates are dishwasher safe and waffle plates are also available to buy as an extra. It also stacks away neatly on its side, so it doesn’t take up too much room either.

Tefal Snack Collection Multi-Function Sandwich and Snack Maker

£53.92 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Accessories

tefal

Key specs – Size: 28 x 22.5 x 11.4 cm; Weight: 3.11kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 700w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: Variety of extra plates available, recipe book

There are 16 different plate sets to collect for this toaster, making it a hugely versatile machine. It comes with sandwich-making and waffle plates, which are neatly held in plastic containers for easy storage. Other plate sets are available for around £15 and include panini, French toast, pasties, donuts, heart-shaped waffles and baby Dutch pancakes.

For the purposes of this test, we stuck with the sandwich plates, which are a decent size and simple to click in and out of place. They’re dishwashers safe too (as are all the other plate options), so they’re quick and easy to clean.

While this machine is one of the most expensive we tested, the sandwiches were some of the best we tasted, and the quality of the non-stick meant we could use just a thin coating of butter on the outside to achieve a perfectly brown and crispy exterior. We did get some cheese leakage the first time but a simple adjustment in bread size and positioning meant the next ones were perfectly sealed all the way round.

A handy light appears when the machine is hot enough to start toasting.

Cuisinart 2-in-1 Grill and Sandwich Maker

£89.99, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Multi-functions – grilling and toasting

cuisinart

Key specs – Size: 41 x 25.5 x 14 cm; Weight: 3.9kg; Material; Stainless steel; Power: 1000w; Removable plates: Yes; Cord store: Yes; Extras: Set of grill plates, recipe book

As well as sandwich plates this machine comes with interchangeable grill plates, which are a great addition if you prefer bigger, thicker toasted sandwiches such as paninis.

In grilling mode – this machine can also cook steaks and other grilled items – the floating hinge means the lid rests gently on what you’re grilling. In sandwich mode, it locks to ensure standard toasties are perfectly sealed. There are also three temperatures to pick from. The mid-temperature produced nicely browned, crispy, well-sealed toasties in around five minutes.

The machine itself has a solid construction but was a tad larger than some of the other models we tried, and the extra plates mean it takes up a little more storage room. The accompanying recipe book is a nice touch with instructions for meals as varied as black truffle and quail egg croque monsieur to crab burgers.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in April 2019.

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9 best ironing boards for all budgets for shirts, duvets and more

According to a 2017 YouGov survey, the nation’s least liked household chore is ironing, with 50 per cent of those surveyed putting it at the top of their list. We can relate. But while a whizzy steam iron can help, if your board’s not up to scratch you could still end up with badly pressed laundry and an aching back.

How much should I spend?

Prices vary from a budget £10 to a staggering £250 for a super-flash steam iron and board combo, although if you want a solid ironing surface with enough room to quickly and easily iron sheets and duvet covers, then you’re probably going to spend upwards of £30.

Of course, it depends on what your needs are and what kind of iron you have, as while most boards cater for steam irons of varying sizes, not all will hold steam generators comfortably.

It also depends on size, particularly if storage space is tight, so check out the ironing area and the height when folded to ensure you can pop it away neatly when it’s not in use.

How we test

Two testers, one 6ft 1in (185cm) and the other 5ft 5in (165cm), took turns to put up and take down each board a number of times and store it away. Our testers, one of whom is a much more dedicated ironer than the other, then pressed t-shirts, a man’s shirt, a pair of jeans and a duvet cover on each board.

We used two different irons – a Bosch steam iron and a Morphy Richards jet steam generator – to see how the boards coped with each.

Dunelm Value Ironing Board

£10, Dunelm
Best for: Budget ironing

dunelm

Key specs – Size: Folded, 35 x 141 cm, ironing area, 25 x 114 cm; Material: Cotton, metal, rubber; Weight: 3.9kg; Ironing positions: 15; Extras: Removable and machine washable cover; Guarantee: None

We were concerned at how this budget-friendly board would match up to the others but once it was up in one of its 15 – yes, 15 – ironing positions, we were pleasantly surprised at how sturdy it felt.

It’s not the widest or longest though, so ironing a sheet will take more time. However, its diminutive size means it’s the ideal choice for those with storage issues. It coped pretty well with t-shirts and shirts, although the latter needed to be re-positioned twice to smooth out one side, and its narrow width meant trousers were easy to slip over the end to get the pockets properly pressed.

Argos Home Extra Wide Ironing Board

£25, Argos
Best for: Big items

argos

Key specs – Size: Folded, 45 x 157 cm, ironing area, 45 x 120 cm; Material: Cotton, metal, rubber; Weight: 5.6kg; Ironing positions: 4; Extras: Suitable for both steam irons and steam generators, removable, washable cover; Guarantee: 10 years

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This board has a sturdy holder that can accommodate both bulky steam generators and simple steam irons, and also has a rail to hang shirts on once ironed. Its 45cm width was a considerable help when pressing the duvet cover and it made fairly light work of both t-shits and men’s shirts, too.

The attractive grey cover with an on-trend geometric pattern fits tightly, creating a flat, sleek ironing surface, while the open and close action was smooth and secure. It only has four positions but both testers found one that suited them.

Addis Shirtmaster Ironing Board

£37.15 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Easy shirt pressing

addis

Key specs – Size: Folded, 41 x 140 cm, ironing area, 41 x 125 cm; Material: Cotton, metal, rubber; Weight: 5.8kg; Ironing Positions: 4; Extras: None; Guarantee: 10 years

It’s the unusual blunt ends on this board that make it ideal for speedily ironing shirts and bigger items, like sheets and duvet covers. And, unlike the others we tested, the Shirtmaster has no dedicated iron holder, so you can either rest yours on the end of the board or next to it. This means you can utilise the whole length of the board, which was particularly helpful when ironing the duvet cover.

If not exactly life changing, being able to neatly press a single side of a shirt in one go is, shall we say, a revelation and made ironing them less time-consuming. Trousers were a little trickier, as our go-to position is to slide the top over the pointy end of the iron. However, placing them flat to iron produced almost the same smooth results, so it wasn’t a deal breaker.

Beldray Laurel Ironing Board

£39.99, Robert Dyas
Best for: All-round excellent pressing

beldray

Key specs – Size: Folded, 45 x 163 cm, ironing area, 45 x 126 cm; Material: Cotton, metal, plastic; Weight: 7kg; Ironing positions: 6; Extras: Clothes rack, extendable shirt hanger, steam generator holder, removable, washable cover; Guarantee: 5 years

This board has it all. It’s the widest of all the ones on test, with a large ironing area that helped make light work of everything we threw at it. The solid iron rest is suitable for both a steam generator unit and a steam iron, which makes it a versatile choice for big families who have lots of laundry to get through.

It was the addition of the clothes rack and the foldaway shirt holder though that made it an all-round winner, as we could iron away to our hearts’ content without having to leave the board to find somewhere to hang up shirts or place folded items.

At 7kg, it’s fairly hefty but both our testers were able to put it up and down with ease, and it felt safe and sturdy even when manoeuvring a bulky duvet cover. While we don’t think ironing is ever going to be a pleasure, this board certainly made it a speedier process and much less of a chore.

Lakeland Bright Blooms Ironing Board

£49.99, Lakeland
Best for: Cord control

lakeland

Key specs – Size: Folded, 40 x 153 cm, ironing area, 40 x 120 cm; Material: Cotton, felt, metal, rubber; Weight: 5kg; Ironing positions: Multiple via a step-free height adjuster; Extras: Flex holder, removable, machine washable cover; Guarantee: 3 years

The clever flex holder on this board keeps the iron cord out of the way, stopping it from getting caught up in-between the iron holder and the body of the board. It’s incredibly sturdy, too, featuring thick steel legs and a step-free, sliding height adjuster to give multiple positions ranging from 46-97cm. This enabled us to alter the height of the board by smaller increments than some of the others on test.

It coped well with all the pieces we ironed, with the brightly patterned top cover fitting tightly to avoid wrinkles. We found it was much better teamed with a standard iron, as the steam generator we used didn’t fit well on the end and the cord holder wasn’t suitable for a steam generator cord.

Vileda Total Reflect Ironing Board

£66.63 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Speedy pressing

vileda

Key specs – Size: Folded, 44 x 172.5 cm, ironing area, 44 x 130 cm; Material: Cotton, metal, plastic; Weight: 6.4kg; Ironing positions: Multiple; Extras: Extra-large steam generator holder; Guarantee: 3 years

A metallised foil layer on the underside of this board’s cover helps to reflect steam and heat back into the laundry, making it easier and quicker to iron pretty much anything, including trickier items such as denim jeans and sheets. We also found t-shirts sometimes only needed a quick press on one side to remove light creases, which saved us a lot of time.

The extra-wide feet mean it’s super sturdy and there are many height positions to ensure it’s comfortable for the tallest and smallest of ironers. The ironing surface itself is large – which is great for tackling duvet covers – as is the iron support, which was plenty sturdy enough to hold our tester’s steam generator.

It also has a safety locking system that prevents the board from collapsing if accidentally knocked over. When folded, it is the tallest of the models on test, so if you’re keeping it in a cupboard it’s best to measure the space before you buy.

Orla Kiely Brabantia Flower Oval Stem Ironing Board

£79.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Style

orla kiely

Key specs – Size: Folded, 38 x 160 cm, ironing area, 38 x 124 cm; Material: Metal, cotton, rubber; Weight: 6.67kg; Ironing positions: 7; Extras: Transport safety lock, always taut cover; Guarantee: 10 years

Design icon Orla Kiely has her botanical patterns featured on many pieces of household kit, so we weren’t surprised to see she’d teamed up with uber-stylish homeware company Brabantia.

The board itself is a breeze to raise and lower and, as well as the child-safety lock that many of the ones we tested featured, this also has an additional transport safety lock for taking it from room to room.

All items pressed well, although an extra few centimetres on the width would have made all the difference to the time it took to do the men’s shirt and the duvet cover. The seven ironing positions ensure it’ll suit pretty much everyone, while the extra-tight cover creates a lovely, flat ironing surface. It’s one of the most expensive models we tested but its smooth open-close action and sturdy construction made it one of our favourites.

Tefal IXEO QT1020 All-in-One Iron and Garment Steamer Solution

£249.99, Very
Best for: Professional results

tefal

Key specs – Size: Folded, 40 x 160 cm, ironing area, 40 x 70 cm; Material: Metal, plastic, fabric; Weight: 12.5kg; Ironing positions: 3; Extras: Portable steam and iron unit; Guarantee: 10 years

In a different league altogether from the other boards on test, this iron and garment steamer is a professional-style machine for those who take caring for their clothes seriously. It’s quite a price too, but you do get a portable one-litre steam tank and steam iron head – which attaches to a sturdy adjustable base and frame – and a three-position vertical board that allows you to iron horizontally, vertically, or at an incline, depending on what you find most comfortable.

To be frank, it’s a bit of a faff to put together, requiring at least 15 minutes of assembly, but once up it’s a formidable pressing machine. It’s also surprisingly compact when folded flat, with the base taking up a footprint of around 40cm in diameter.

If you’re used to a standard board, as our testers were, then it takes a little while to get used to, but we loved added extras like the hanging accessory at the top, which meant we could iron shirts directly from a hanger. Laying the board flat and adjusting the height gave a traditional ironing position for duvet covers and clothing. The steam unit and iron are also portable, so you can move it around with or without the board and base if you need too.

Beldray Ironing Board in Floral Flamingo

£19.99, Studio
Best for: Compact spaces

studio

Key specs – Size: Folded, 33 x 134 cm, ironing area, 33 x 110 cm; Material: Cotton, metal, plastic; Weight: 5kg; Ironing positions: 7; Extras: Adjustable iron rest, removable and washable cover; Guarantee: 5 years

This board’s fun flamingo-patterned cover helped momentarily distract us from the drudgery of ironing, but we hoped that wasn’t all it had to offer.

It’s the smallest board we tested, so a good buy if you want to leave something up in a utility or laundry room for instance, but its narrow width made ironing duvet covers more time-consuming. The multi-position rest helped to save some time though by ensuring the iron was always at a comfortable angle when it was picked up and put down.

With seven ironing positions to choose from, it’s a good option if you have people of varying heights using it, and the non-slip plastic feet ensures it is pretty sturdy too.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in May 2019.

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14 best storage boxes and baskets for clothes, toys and more

The world is currently going crazy for Marie Kondo, and if you haven’t started decluttering, tidying and sorting all your possessions into boxes, it’s only a matter of time before you get swept up into spring cleaning fever.

Whether you want to store blankets in a pretty basket or keeping kids’ toys in some kind of order in a giant crate, we’ve found the best storage boxes and baskets to keep your home looking tidy.

Best budget storage boxes and baskets

Robert Dyas Rose Curver Filo Storage Basket

From £2.99, Robert Dyas
Best for: Affordability

robert dyas

Key features – Included: 1 basket; Material: Polypropylene; Size: Various, from 12 x 17.5 x 23 cm to 27 X 33 X 44 cm

Available in four different sizes and starting from just £2.99, these boxes are not only affordable but extremely versatile. You can store a range of items depending on the size you pick, from makeup and toiletries to cleaning products, or jumpers and shoes.

We love the rose tone of the baskets too, which kept them from looking bland, while the curved structure made them easy to slot into a range of cupboard spaces or under a bed or sofa.

Orthex SmartStore Recycled Plastic Basket

£7, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Sustainability

orthex

Key features – Included: 1 basket; Material: Plastic; Size: 15 x 28 x 37 cm

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Go green by opting for a recycled plastic basket from homeware brand Orthex. Coming in both grey and white, the boxes are useful for organising various bits and bobs, and aren’t too deep or wide, meaning they’ll fit into most cupboards or drawers.

Made from recycled industrial plastic waste, they’re an eco-friendly option and you can also buy a bamboo lid (£5) if you’d prefer a closed, stackable storage option.

Choice Baskets Buff Willow Wicker Storage Basket

From £15, Choice Baskets
Best for: Range of sizes

choice baskets

Key features – Included: 1 basket; Material: Willow; Size: Various, from 32 x 20 x 18 cm to 52 x 40 x 26 cm

If you’re obsessed with baskets, you’ll certainly enjoy getting lost in the wide selection available from basket brand Choice Baskets. We love this buff willow wicker option, which comes in five different sizes and with a pretty rose-printed lining.

It’s made from high-quality, sturdy willow and makes a great display item, as well as a useful storage box.

Lakeland Vintage-Look Wooden Chalkboard Crate

£12.99, Lakeland
Best for: Customisation

lakeland

Key features – Included: 1 crate; Material: Paulownia wood; Size: 21 x 35 x 28.5 cm

If your inner Monica Geller wants everything to be neatly labelled, you need this wooden crate. Made with paulownia wood, there’s a chalkboard at each end so you can personalise it with whatever you want, whether that’s your child’s name, or simply what you’re storing inside.

It also has carry handles for easy transportation around the home and plenty of room to store all your essentials. It does come flat-packed though, but we found it a doddle to assemble.

Sue Ryder Copper Metal Baskets

£14.99, Sue Ryder
Best for: A cool copper look

sue ryder

Key features – Included: 2 baskets; Material: Metal; Size: 25 x16 x 16.5 cm and 30 x 21 x 22 cm

Copper is seriously on-trend at the moment, and we love these simple but useful metal baskets from charity shop Sue Ryder. Coming in a pack of two, they’re ideal for smaller items such as cleaning products, food or small towels.

You’ll also be donating to charity by buying these baskets, as 100 per cent of the profits are used to provide palliative, neurological and bereavement support.

A Place For Everything Small Fisherman’s Wicker Basket

£20, A Place For Everything
Best for: A rustic interior

a place for everything

Key features – Included: 1 basket; Material: Rattan; Size: 41 x 29 x 25 cm

In our opinion, a home can never have too many baskets. They don’t just look great, they’re also an excellent way of keeping a whole host of items neatly tucked away.

This wicker option from home storage brand A Place for Everything is made of a thick, chunky rattan and also has distressed leather buckles for that rustic countryside vibe.

There’s also a medium and large size available, so you could opt for all three and stack them in a corridor as a place to dump shoes, hats or scarves, or use them separately in bedrooms or a home office to store blankets, magazines or other accessories.

Red Hamper Small Oak Effect Heart Cut Handle Storage Box

£17.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Small items

red hamper

Key features – Included: 1 box; Material: Wood; Size: 30 x 30 x 16 cm

Wear your heart on your sleeve – or at least on your furniture – with this cute oak-effect box. The sweet storage crate has a heart-shaped cut-out on each side, which double up as handles for easy manoeuvring.

The box is on the small side though, so is best for filling with smaller items and keeping on a shelf. A lid is also included.

Best mid-price storage boxes and baskets

Rex London Dolly Llama Cases

£24.95, Rex London
Best for: A gift for a child

rex london

Key features – Included: 3 cases; Material: Metal, cotton, card; Size: Various from 16 x 12.5 x 7 cm to 28 x 17.5 x 8 cm

To restore some order to your child’s room, gift this fun set of suitcases that will make tidying up a much more pleasant experience. They’re a top choice for animal-loving children, as each bright turquoise case comes with a cute llama on the front.

Ideal for storing toys, stationery and books, the trunks aren’t huge but offer enough space to store essentials. They also make great toys to play with and look good on display.

Wilko Grey Storage Trunk

£2.40, Wilko
Best for: A budget storage trunk

wilko

Key features – Included: 1 trunk; Material: Willow and polyester; Size: 42 x 59 x 40 cm

Large storage trunks can be pricey, but this option from Wilko is great value for money. The washable liner makes it the ideal option for storing laundry, sheets, toys or blankets, while the wicker exterior adds a cute rustic look to any room.

Scaramanga Wooden Storage Box

£32.50, Scaramanga
Best for: A unique storage solution

scaramanga

Key features – Included: 1 box; Material: Wood; Size: Varies but approximately 48 x 38 x 17 cm and 50 x 29 x 23 cm

To make a real talking point of your storage, opt for one of these vintage wooden boxes. Coming in either higher or wider sizes (state your preference on ordering), the numbers and letter vary from box to box.

We love the genuinely rustic feel of the boxes – there’s only a small number available – and as well as making spacious storage options, they also work wonderfully as trays, coming with side-carrying handles for easy transportation.

GettingPersonal.co.uk Personalised Large Wooden Crate

£36.99, GettingPersonal.co.uk
Best for: A personalised gift

getting personal

Key features – Included: 1 crate; Material: Pine; Size: 46 x 31 x 24.5 cm

There’s nothing like a personalised item to pep up your room, and this big wooden crate is one of the best we found. Available in five colours and with a choice of two fonts, you can add a message of your choice to the front.

It’s big enough to store large items like blankets or cushions, or smaller things like toiletries and cleaning products, and you can add wheels if you want to be able to move it around the house with ease.

Rose in April Large Rattan Storage Basket

£48, Bobby Rabbit
Best for: A child’s room

rose in april

Key features – Included: 1 basket; Material: 100% rattan; Size: 45 x 42 cm

This colourful basket from French brand Rose in April is the ideal option for storing toys in at the end of the day. Coming in bright petrol blue with a lemon yellow stripe, its oversized design means it’s easy to throw stuff in as you tidy a playroom or bedroom, while the handles offer an easy carry option.

We think it would also look just as good in an adult’s bedroom or home office, as it would easily store shoes, books or blankets too. An eye-catching addition to any home.

Best luxury storage boxes and baskets

Rose & Grey Set of Three Conical Woven Baskets

£55, Rose and Grey
Best for: Being on display

rose and grey

Key specs – Included: 3 baskets; Material: Pinetree and paper; Size: 44 x 35 x 25 cm, 55 x 44 x 30 cm and 60 x 52 x 35 cm

These on-trend woven baskets from British homeware brand Rose & Grey are a great way to mix storage with style. Coming in a set of three, from small to large, you can stack them together for a single space-saving option or use them separately for maximum storage and serious style points.

The baskets were much bigger than we expected and the neutral colouring meant they looked great in a range of rooms and interior styles. We stored throws, toys, shoes and plants in them – you could even use one as a handbag if you’re dashing out the house in a hurry.

House Doctor Metal Storage Trunk

From £65, Not On The High Street
Best for: An industrial interior

house doctor

Key features – Included: 1 trunk; Material: Metal; Size: 52 x 26 x 20 cm

If your home has an industrial feel, opt for this metal storage trunk from Danish brand House Doctor. Available in four colours and two different sizes, the trunks are made of hardwearing iron sheet with leather closings, and there’s plenty of room inside to store all manner of things, from documents and accessories to cleaning products or toys.

Oak Furniture Land Natural Solid Oak Blanket Box

£239.99, Oak Furniture Land
Best for: A storage seat

oakland furniture

Key features – Included: 1 box; Material: Solid oak; Size: 100 x 50 x 50 cm

If you’re looking for a statement piece of furniture as well as somewhere to store big items like blankets, sheets, towels or pillows, opt for a large blanket box like this beautiful oak offering from homeware brand Oak Furniture Land.

It not only makes a handy place to store bulky items, but it doubles up as an extra seat – simply add a few cushions on top. Its unfussy design means it will look good in the hallway, playroom, or at the bottom of the bed. There’s also seemingly endless room inside.

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9 best car seat covers for pets and young children, from just £5

Car seat covers aren’t about drowning your entire vehicle’s interior in plastic just in case of spills. There’s a whole range of protectors out there in various shapes and sizes for use on different areas of the seat and to address problems from dirty work clothes to damp dogs.

Things to consider

Think about the actual seat you want to protect. If it’s only the passenger or driver’s seat, go for a single protective cover or a pair, as you can always use one and keep the other stashed in the boot.

Fabric seats will obviously absorb nasties such as spilt drinks, urine and vomit, so ensure your cover is at least splash proof for an easier clean up. Most car seat covers are wipe-down only, as the protective backing can get damaged, but some, like the Ruffwear Dirtbag, can be machine washed at low temperature.

Is the cover going to come on and off or stay in situ permanently to cover damage? Elasticated covers or those with headrest straps are the fastest to fit or remove, while those with pin fastenings can be trickier to manoeuvre.

Finally, always check that rear seat covers have the required number of holes for seatbelt fixings, especially if you have three children in the back.

Ruffwear Dirtbag Seat Cover

£67.35, Waitrose & Partners
Best for: Pets on the move

ruffwear

Key specs – Number included: 1; Dimensions: 159 x 140 cm; Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Grey or tan

We saw lots of sling and hammock-style back seat protectors for pets and this was the best quality of the lot. There are a couple of things that make the Dirtbag stand out, including the superior tear-proof fabric and strong stitching.

The clips are also easy to adjust around the front and rear headrests, but if you wanted your dogs in a less enclosed space, the fabric that blocks the space behind the front seats can instead drape over the footwell in the back for protection from muddy paws on entry and exit.

Machine washable, it folds into a neat, handled pouch when not in use, too. Highly recommended.

Streetwize Leather Look Car Seat Covers

£30, Argos
Best for: Easy cleaning

streetwize

Key specs – Number included: 3; Dimensions: 140 x 130 cm (back seat), 140 x 50 cm (front seats); Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Black

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These easy-fit covers make sure every seat stays protected – even the car headrests. It’s a great price for a full set that could make your car look in far better shape, as well as protecting from spills and stains.

We didn’t test these covers in hot weather, but in average temperatures we found them comfortable to sit on and not at all “sweaty” as some faux-leather can be.

Don’t use harsh chemicals such as disinfectants or bleach when cleaning these covers though – for this “leather look” polyester your best bet is to wipe them down with warm water and a dash of washing up liquid.

Halfords Essentials Seat Covers

£20, Halfords
Best for: Smaller cars

halfords essentials

Key specs – Number included: 3; Dimensions: 140 x 125 cm (back seat), 140 x 45 cm (front seats); Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Black and grey

Do you like to keep things neat and tidy but your family members sometimes hop in the passenger seat in grubby kit, or covered in DIY dust or allotment muck? Keep these covers from Halfords in place for those moments when you’d like to shout, “you can get the bus!”.

This basic set doesn’t have fancy styling but it’s durable enough to cope with school run mess and sports club pick-ups. When it’s a solo drive, they’re easy to whisk off and store in the boot. Note, there is no hole for a central back seatbelt on these and the fit is snug, so smaller, four-seater cars only.

Wilko Rear Car Seat Protector

£5, Wilko
Best for: Kids and chaos

wilko

Key specs – Number included: 1; Dimensions: 150 x 120 cm; Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Black

Not up to the rigours of everyday use, this is a seat protector to have on standby in the glove-box for those occasions when things have got a bit muddy in the park, or someone is feeling a trifle car sick.

It has elastic loops to fit over the rear headrests and that’s about it. Nothing fancy, but for a fiver it could just save the day when needed most.

Pro User Waterproof Front Seat Protectors

£12.99, The Range
Best for: Heavy duty mess

pro user

Key specs – Number included: 2; Dimensions: 150 x 120 cm; Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Black

These waterproof covers are great for busy families who use their cars for work and play. Our tester’s builder partner often had to borrow her car to get to and from work when his van was being serviced, so popped these on. They were tough enough to cope with paint and dust from a renovation – stains that may not have been easy to remove from the upholstery.

This basic set of two front-seat covers doesn’t have fancy styling, and our tester found the fabric quite “cagoule like”, but once in place (via a series of loops and the enclosed fixing pins) it did the job nicely.

AmazonBasics Car Seat Protector

£14.43 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Organised long-distance travel

amazonbasics

Key specs – Number included: 1; Dimensions: 120 x 47 cm; Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Black and blue

Ideal for using underneath a car seat or with younger children, this protector has the bonus of a mesh pocket to store bits and bobs that are handy to have on a long journey. Wipes, bottles, sweets, they all tuck away nicely in the fold at the edge of the seat, which could be annoying for longer legged-adults.

Easy to affix via a headrest buckle, there’s a non-slip backing too.

LittleLife Car Seat Kick Mat

£9.99, Little Life
Best for: Little kickers

littlelife kick mat

Key specs – Number included: 1; Dimensions: 56.5 x 43 cm; Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Grey and turquoise

The highs and lows of parenting encapsulated: feeling baby kick for the first time and then feeling small child kick the back of your car seat all the way home. Protect your upholstery from scuffs and scrapes with this kick mat, which has a couple of useful pockets for toys and snacks, and is easy to fix in place via the elasticated headrest strap and lower-seat buckle system.

Diono Ultra Mat Seat Protector

£14, Dunelm
Best for: Under child seats

diono

Key specs – Number included: 1; Dimensions: 123 x 48 cm; Fabric: Nylon, PVC; Colour: Black

Designed specifically to go under your child’s car seat, this hard-wearing protector has tough, leather-look panels on key pressure points and is splash proof, so mouldy milk-stained upholstery is no more.

We liked the way it gripped to the back seats in our tester’s car and the dense foam padding worked well to stop indentations from the child seat pushing through to indent the leather. Designed with gaps for seats with IsoFix fittings, there’s no compromise on safety either.

Halfords Padded Seat Cushion – Back Support

£29.99, Halfords
Best for: Long-distance comfort

halfords padded

Key specs – Number included: 1; Dimensions: 105 x 52 cm; Fabric: Polyester; Colour: Black

If you have a long drive to and from work, or are facing a long-haul road trip, this is the car seat cover for you.

The most structured and densely padded of all the covers we tried, this one aims to support your lower back, as well as your backside. It wasn’t quite as successful with a taller tester, but at 5ft 5, its main advocate was delighted with the support provided.

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9 of the best rice cookers – how to pick between Tefal, Lakeland and more

Rice is the ideal accompaniment to some of the nation’s favourite dishes – chicken tikka masala, Thai green curry or sweet and sour chicken, to name a few – but cooking it to perfection can be tricky.

Increasingly popular in UK kitchens, rice cookers can help take the strain out of preparing all sorts of rice, grains and pasta. They’re much less hassle than keeping a constant eye on a boiling pan, as all you have to do is add the recommended amounts of rice and water to the pot and press start. Simple.

Types of rice cooker

There are two types of rice cooker: plastic microwave models and electric machines. The latter features a removable metal or ceramic non-stick bowl that sits on a heating element, which then heats the water from below.

As a general rule, cheaper models turn off this element once boiling point has been reached for a set period of time, or the weight of the contents has decreased to a certain level. Pricier designs feature “fuzzy-logic” programmes that automatically alter the cooking time and temperature depending on the contents of the bowl.

Don’t buy a rice cooker if you think it’s going to considerably speed up the cooking process. It won’t. What it will do is allow you to get on with life while a machine does all the hard work, and hopefully delivers perfect rice every time.

And although the machines and internal bowls are not dishwasher proof, washing by hand is simple as the non-stick interiors mean all they need is a quick soak, a wipe round with a wet sponge and some washing-up liquid. The rest of the machine should be gently wiped with a damp cloth to remove spillages.

How much should you spend?

If you’re an occasional rice eater, then spending between £8-10 will get you a small microwave cooker that, while not a looker, will do the job. They’re not huge though, so not great for making big quantities, and they’re not as sophisticated as electric machines either, so they won’t have extra functions.

Simple electric rice cookers with just a few programmes can be found for around £20-£25, but if you want a machine that can multi-task then prices can rise to more than £300 for profession-style models. At this price you’ll get many programmes and a large capacity that allows for the cooking of 10 portions or more at once.

How we test

From uncomplicated microwave models to multi-functional, or “fuzzy logic”, machines, we tested the latest rice cookers that claim to dish up fluffy and delicious rice every time.

In the simpler machines, we cooked three types of rice, white long-grain, basmati and brown long-grain. Where applicable with multi-function cookers we also tested specialist rice cooking programmes, such as risotto or ones that produce a crunchy, crispy bottom, featured in dishes such as tahdig in Persian cooking, socarrat in Spain and nurungji in Korea.

Best budget rice cookers

Joseph Joseph M-Cuisine Microwave Rice Cooker

£16.67 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Microwave cooking

joseph joseph

Key specs – Type: Microwave; Size: 22 x 14 x 18 cm; Material: Plastic; Programmes/functions: Rice, grains and porridge cooking; Capacity: 2L (up to 6 portions); Accessories: Internal colander, measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Yes

Beautifully designed, as you’d expect from the clever gang at Joseph Joseph, this compact rice cooker is elegant enough to act as serve-ware as well as cookware, saving on the washing up, and it’s also compact enough to store away in a cupboard. Unlike its electronic rivals, every part of this microwave cooker is dishwasher safe too.

The rice paddle, in a bold contrasting colour to the rest of the cooker, is also what locks the lid in place when in use and ensures you’re never likely to misplace it. Cooking times vary depending on how powerful your microwave is but we used the guidelines based on an 800w microwave and it produced both basmati and long-grain rice to a good standard, although if brown rice is your thing, we’d recommend a bit more water and a longer cooking time to ensure the rice isn’t too firm.

As well as rice, it can cook grains, such as quinoa, and porridge oats. We liked that you could cook from just a single portion up to six, but the recommend amount for a single portion erred on the small side. While it’s not a sophisticated multi-cooker, for the price, it looks good and cooks rice well.

Cookworks Rice Cooker

£22.99, Argos
Best for: Simplicity

cookworks

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 23.5 x 33 x 25.5 cm; Material: Plastic, glass, steel; Programmes/functions: White rice, keep warm; Capacity: 1.5L (8 portions); Accessories: Measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

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Not a fan of any other rice than white and don’t want any extra functions? Then this simple does-what-it-says-on-the-tin electric rice cooker is a great buy. With an attractive black exterior, featuring carrying handles and feet to raise the base from the worktop, this cooker has no fancy buttons and lights, just a cook and keep warm switch at the front.

The glass top is a nice touch but do be careful leaning over the vent or you’ll end up with a face full of steam. The smallest amount of dry weight rice you can cook in this machine is two cups, which equates to around four to six portions.

The rice we cooked did form a very thin crust on the base of the non-stick bowl, as is the way with many of these heat-from-below machines, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker. The rest of the rice was fluffy and separated well into grains.

Unfortunately, it’s not recommended for brown rice, so if you prefer your grains whole then this isn’t the machine you’re looking for.

Russell Hobbs Rice Cooker and Steamer

£18, AO.com
Best for: A value for money electric option

russel hobbs

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 24.5 x 28 x 32 cm; Material: Glass, plastic, stainless-steel; Programmes/functions: Rice, steaming, auto keep warm; Capacity: 1.8L (approx.18 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

If all you require is rice cooking and vegetable steaming, then this is a great-value buy. The glass lid means you can see what’s going on inside and it has a professional-looking steel exterior.

It has two basic settings – cooking and keep warm – and does exactly what the name suggests, cooking rice or steaming vegetables pretty well. Initially, there were a few issues with the long grain forming a rather thick crusty layer on the bottom of the inner pan but adjusting the amount of water we put in for the next lot helped to minimise this. It produced better results when we cooked bigger portions, so it’s probably not a good choice if you regularly cook small amounts.

Instructions are basic, so when we steamed for the first time we added more water than necessary to the bowl below the steamer, but this is easily rectified. We love that you can cook rice and steam vegetables at the same time, too – although take care when removing the lid as it releases quite a lot of steam.

Best mid-range rice cookers

Judge Horwood JEA10 Family Rice Cooker

£31.49 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Large numbers of guests

judge

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 27.7 x 30 x 30.5 cm; Material: Plastic, aluminium; Programmes/functions: Rice, risotto, steaming, auto keep warm; Capacity: 1.8L (18 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, spatula; Extras: Condensation collector; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

Although it’s just a rice cooker by name, this machine also steams and can prepare a simple risotto. A better choice for families, as the minimum cooking amount is three cups of rice (four to five portions), it will accommodate up to 1200g of uncooked rice, providing at least 18 portions in one go.

As well as the three kinds of rice we tested, it can also prepare wild rice if mixed with basmati (on its own it requires too much water). In the tests, there was a bit of a crusty bottom to long grain rice, while the risotto recipe we tried was a little too firm, but a little more liquid would fix that.

An automatic six-hour keep warm function switches on as soon as cooking is over, too. However, it’s recommended that risotto should be consumed straight away. Often rice cookers will leak a little water from the lid when opened (that’s just the condensed steam), so the condensation collector here was a nice addition.

Although it’s not dishwasher safe – like most of the models we tested because of their delicate interior on the non-stick cooking bowl – the pan was easy to clean.

Lakeland Mini Multicooker

£49.99, Lakeland
Best for: Compact kitchens

lakeland

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 23.5 x 28 x 20 cm; Material: Plastic, stainless-steel; Programmes/functions: Rice, porridge, quinoa, cake, yoghurt, quick cook, slow cook, bread proving, keep warm; Capacity: 1.8L (approx. 16- 18 portions); Accessories: Measuring cup, spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

If you think a rice cooker is an unnecessary addition to a tiny kitchen, then this neat little multi-function machine might change your mind.

The instructions for cooking rice are a little confusing, but we used one cup of rice to one cup of water, which produced good results for both basmati and long grain rice. Brown rice needed about a cup and a half of water to every cup of rice.

Although there is a warm function, the recommend use time was no more than four hours, which might limit the time you’re out the house. Basmati and long-grain cooked pretty quickly though – between 20 and 25 minutes – and was fluffy and light with only minimal crusting. There is also a quick-cook function and this seems to produce pretty much the same results in a little less time, around 15-20 minutes.

The multi-function features include slow cooking for casseroles and programmes for porridge, quinoa, cake baking (ready-made mix) and yoghurt.

Best high-end rice cookers

Tefal All-in-one Pressure Cooker/Multi Cooker

£74.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Speedy cooking under pressure

tefal all in one

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 34 x 34 x 39.7 cm; Material: Plastic, coated aluminium, stainless-steel; Capacity: 6L (approx.20 portions); Programmes/functions: 25 different programmes for pressure cooking, baking, steaming, browning and frying, including rice, porridge, cereals/grains, risotto, soup, baby food, cakes, pasta, delay start, keep warm; Accessories: Steaming basket, trivet, measuring cup, rice spoon; recipe booklet; Dishwasher safe: Accessories only

Pressure cookers of old were steam-spouting monsters that seemed only to occupy the far reaches of grandma’s kitchen, hissing at us to keep our distance. Thankfully, judging by this multi-cook model, modern machines have moved on leaps and bounds.

While it looked a little complicated at first – checking safety valves and seals are all in place before you start is a must – this electric pressure cooker made light work of all we had to throw at it. If you’re looking for speedy results, this is a good choice as, once it came to temperature, it cooked rice, grains and oats quickly.

White basmati took just nine minutes and brown just 15, plus there’s a keep warm facility. The steaming basket, trivet and recipe books help you cook meals as varied as risotto, beef and squash curry, and apple and yoghurt cake. Its large capacity makes it great for a family or dinner party, too.

Sage Risotto Plus Cooker

£69 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Preparing hassle-free risotto

sage

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 23 x 25 x 26 cm; Material: Glass, stainless steel and aluminium; Programmes/functions: Risotto, rice, sauté, steam, slow cook, auto keep warm; Capacity: 3.7L (up to 20 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, non-stick spatula; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

For those of us who are fed up of standing over risotto pouring in ladles of hot stock and constantly stirring, this could be a revelation. Don’t like risotto? No matter, this large capacity machine cooks simple rice and steams too.

Results were generally pretty pleasing, producing fluffy basmati, although the long grain did stick to the bottom of the pan a little – an issue with many electric rice cookers as the heat comes from the below the pan.

We tested it with just two cups of uncooked rice each time but the machine is big enough to take up to 10, which nets around 20 portions – more than enough for a big family gathering.

When cooking risotto, we found the searing function useful as it meant less washing up – there was no need for another pan to soften the onions. Preparing the risotto was simple too, just pop all the ingredients in the pot and press the risotto button. It will then cook under its own steam.

There’s also a handy 30-minute keep warm function. And, as with many other rice cookers, you can use it to cook grains and porridge, steam, and it also has a slow cook programme. We think this makes it a reasonably priced option if you require a multi-purpose machine.

Tefal MultiCook Advanced 45 in 1 Multi Cooker

£94, AO.com
Best for: Multiple functions

tefal 45 in 1

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 28.6 x 32.8 x 45.4 cm; Material: Plastic, coated aluminium, stainless-steel; Capacity: 5L (approx.18 portions); Programmes/functions: 45 different programmes for baking, steaming, stewing, slow cooking, browning and frying, including rice, porridge, cereals/grains, risotto, soup, yoghurt, baby food, dessert, pasta, cream cheese, bread rising, delay start, keep warm; Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, rice spoon, soup spoon, spoon rack; Dishwasher safe: Bowl, steam basket, lid and utensils

Despite there being an eye-watering number of programmes and functions on this machine, it’s actually pretty easy to use, with a clear display and a comprehensive instruction booklet.

This machine can perform so many tasks – including cooking baby food, porridge, yoghurt, pasta, stews, cream cheese and desserts, as well as prove dough – you might feel it’s not worth having any other small appliances at all, except perhaps a toaster.

The round bottom pan looks like an old-fashioned crock-pot but we soon discovered that this curving base and non-stick interior was what helped prevent our rice from sticking. However, it was also good for Asian-style crusty rice, turning out an attractively shaped patty at the end of cooking.

There’s a delay start button for when you want to programme food to be ready when you get home from work and the DIY function allows you to change automatic cooking times to suit your taste.

While the results were great, producing fluffy, separated, well-cooked grains for all the rice types we tried, a cooking time of over 45 minutes for two cups of long-grain rice meant it was the slowest on test.

Yum Asia Sakura Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker

£119, Yum Asia
Best for: Professional results at home

yum asia

Key specs – Type: Electric; Size: 39 x 29 x 24 cm; Material: Ceramic, stainless steel, plastic and aluminium; Programmes/functions: Regular and quick cook programmes, steaming, slow cooking, cake baking, porridge and yoghurt making, keep warm, preset timer; Capacity: 1.5L (up to 8 portions); Accessories: Steaming basket, measuring cup, non-stick spatula, soup ladle, manual with recipes; Extras: Condensation collector; Dishwasher safe: Not recommended

It might be the most expensive machine on test but we found this attractive, egg-shaped model gives plenty of bang for your buck. It cooks many different types of rice to perfection, as well as featuring steaming, slow cooking, cake baking, porridge- and yoghurt-making programmes.

This, combined with the fact that it’s modelled on specialist Japanese rice makers (which can command prices of up to £350), makes the price worthwhile.

The blue touch-button control panel on the front is both easy to read and operate. The seven-phase cooking process works automatically depending on the amount and type of food you add and the chosen cooking process, so all you need to do is press go.

We tested both the regular and fast cook settings and it produced fluffy separate grains in around 25 minutes on fast and 35 minutes on regular. We also experimented with the crust function. At an hour and a half, it’s not a quick supper but the results showed us exactly why the crusty bits at the bottom of a rice pot are a much-prized feature in Asian cooking.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in March 2019.

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6 best hand blenders – how to pick between Kitchenaid, Cuisinart and more

In a world when everything happens at double-quick time, it’s no wonder we’re demanding speed and ease when it comes to cooking.

Hand blenders are a time-saving staple in any cook’s kitchen, often doing the same work as a food processor but within a pan or pot. This not only saves time but reduces the amount of washing up and storage space.

Things to consider

When looking for a handheld blender, it’s important to note what you want to use it for. If it’s just for a quick breakfast smoothie, you want to look for one with multiple speeds and easily washable attachments.

If you’re wanting to use it for multiple recipes and for a variety of functions, you need to select one with a powerful blade and multiple attachments. The more expensive ones will come with whisks, chopping blades, mashers, beakers and flasks to make blending incredibly easy.

Thankfully, the majority of blenders are now machine washable, making for quick cleaning in the kitchen. However, a few attachments featured below are hand wash only, but can be rinsed quickly with warm soapy water.

How we test

We tested a range of handheld blenders from the best kitchenware brands out there, blitzing smoothies, whipping up sauces and purees, and chopping herbs, onions and more.

We analysed their performance, price point and how easy they were to assemble and use, as well as the quality of the soups, sauces and smoothies produced.

Best budget hand blenders

Breville IHB086 Hand Blender

£29.99, Amazon
Best for: Students

breville

Key specs – Power: 500w; Weight: 0.75kg; Speed settings: 2; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Included: Balloon whisk and chopper blade

If you’re looking for a cheap way to blend your morning smoothie, this hand blender from Breville is the one for you. At under £20, it’s the cheapest here, and while it wasn’t the quickest, it did blend our soup into a creamy consistency and had two speed settings to help with control. The special ice crushing feature is ideal for anyone who enjoys a juice or a smoothie too.

It’s easy to assemble and wash, and comes with a chopper cup and beaker that can be used for creating sauces, chopping nuts and more. And while it didn’t feel like the most robust option, at this great price, it’s great for someone wanting a quick fix when it comes to blending, rather than a tool to solve all your kitchen needs.

Swan Retro 600w Hand Blender

£24.99, Amazon
Best for: Soups, smoothies and style

swan retro

Key specs – Power: 600w; Size: 39.5(H) x 6.5(W) x 6.5(D) cm; Weight: 0.85kg; Speed settings: 2; Dishwasher safe: No

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At under £25, this is a great option for someone wanting to add to their utensil cupboard without spending big. This retro-looking hand blender from Swan also comes in a range of colours, from pastel pink to black, to suit any kitchen decor.

The curved, smooth design means it’s easy to grip too, and the blade protector did a great job at keeping the bottom of our pans scratch free, while blending our soup efficiently.

With only two speed settings, it was one of the simplest models we tried, but with a 600w motor and a two-year guarantee, it’s a fail-safe option for the budding chef.

Best mid-price hand blenders

Philips ProMix Hand Blender

£61.07, Amazon
Best for: Subtle speed changes

philips

Key specs – Power: 700w; Size: 26.8(H) x 21.8(W) x 24.3(D) cm; Weight: 1.5kg; Speed settings: Variable; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Included: Balloon beater, whisk, 1L beaker and chopper blade

The ProMix blender from Philips has a 700w motor, making it one of the most powerful we tried. This, teamed with the magic of the ProMix blade (a specific triangular-shaped design that Philips developed with experts from Stuttgart University), meant that this was the fastest blender on test, chopping our herb mix incredibly finely in double-quick time.

What we loved most about this blender was that it didn’t have set speed settings, but instead had a reactive speed button, which increases speeds as you increase pressure, allowing you the utmost control over the blend and speed to ensure the best consistency. There is also a turbo button to add a quick surge of speed.

There’s a whisk, chopping attachment and beaker included too, making it the ideal option for a variety of culinary tasks. It comes with a two-year guarantee.

Kitchenaid Classic Hand Blender

£79, Ocado
Best for: Quietness and style

kitchenaid

Key specs – Power: 180w; Size: 39.7(H) x 6.5(W) x 6.5(D) cm; Weight: 1.4kg; Speed settings: 5; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Included: Beaker with lid

Known for its classically beautiful kitchenware designs and fun colours, Kitchenaid is a brand that exudes quality, and its hand blender is no different. One of the lightest on test, it was easy to use and control when blending soups, sauces and more.

The motor is also the quietest of the bunch, which is ideal if you’re living in a flat-share or using a shared kitchen. With two speed settings, it was able to handle more testing jobs too, such as blending frozen fruit, and while it doesn’t come with a whisk or other blender attachments, it does come with a blending jug and a lid, so you can blend and pack away with ease.

Best high-end hand blenders

Dualit Polished 700w Hand Blender

£87.67 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Control while blending

dualit

Key specs – Power: 700w; Size: 37.8(H) x 6.4(W) x 12.6(D) cm; Weight: 0.9kg; Speed settings: 3; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Included: Balloon beater, chopper blade, bowl and 1L jug

This was one of the more stylish-looking blenders we tested, made from shiny chrome and coming with a smooth, curved top. It doesn’t just look good though, it performs well with the curved top providing a solid grip.

You can feel its special non-suction technology as you use it too, which means the blender doesn’t get sucked to the bottom of the pan, increasing manoeuvrability when blending and ensuring an incredibly smooth finish.

With its compact design and handy extra attachments (a jug, chopping attachment and whisk), this blender is hard to beat if you can stretch your budget. It comes with a one-year guarantee.

Cuisinart 3-in-1 Cordless Hand Blender

£130, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Gourmet gadget lovers

cuisinart

Key specs – Power: Battery; Size: 28(H) x 10.5(W) x 10.5(D) cm; Speed settings: 5; Dishwasher safe: Yes; Included: Balloon beater and masher

This sleek-looking cordless hand blender is the most expensive we tested, but is a great choice for the foodie who spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

Although on the heavier side, it’s cordless, so you can move it around work surfaces with ease. There’s not as much power as some of the others on this list but it produced excellent smoothies and sauces.

The lock button takes a little getting used to initially, but offers great control over the consistency of the blend. There’s also a variety of attachments included – our favourite being the potato masher, which produced the smoothest mash we’d ever tasted. Long gone are the days of sore arms.

There’s a five-year guarantee too, so you can be confident that your investment will be used for years to come.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in March 2019.

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9 best microwaves – how to pick between Kenwood, Bosch and more

From your morning porridge to speedy dinners, having a microwave on hand can halve cooking times, making it an essential for families and single households alike. Even better, the latest features mean that getting great results can be foolproof, so there’s no need to worry about soggy bread, unevenly heated meat or dried-out dishes.

Microwaves come in three varieties – solo, which offer straightforward heating and are usually affordable; microwave grills, which have a heating element that browns food as well as heating it; and combination microwaves that also work like a conventional oven using hot air but on a smaller scale. They usually have the option of combining microwaving with convection heat, so you can roast a chicken in as little as half an hour and bake cakes faster.

Plus, while you’ll always find a selection of power levels, many microwaves now come with presets for different functions or foods, and accessories. These include grill racks, steamers and crispers, so you can expand your microwave cooking horizons to cookies and cakes, healthy fish and veg, or tasty toasties.

How we test

Our kitchen became home to more pings than a table tennis tournament. While microwaves can be used to heat a variety of foods using different functions, we’ve tested some of the most common, using each microwave’s programmes where available.

Each was used to heat lasagne, with a thermometer to measure the internal temperature after standing, defrost bread without turning it into soggy slices or leaving a dry crust, cook carrots, and grill toast (where applicable), with combinations tested for baking sponge too.

All the microwaves we tested heated efficiently, so most of the assessment relates to ease of operation, the ability to produce good results without additional cooking and overall performance.

Best microwaves under £100

Russell Hobbs RHM2031 20 Litre Stainless Steel Digital Microwave With Grill

£66.97 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Compact kitchens

russell hobbs stainless steel digital microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 20 litres; Type: Microwave grill; Dimensions: 26.2 x 45.2 x 39.5 cm; Features: 9 programmes, 800W microwave with 5 power levels, 1000W grill

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While it wasn’t the most compact microwave we tested, this Russell Hobbs model is still ideal for tucking under a wall cabinet – plus, unlike many of this size, it includes a grill function and a rack.

As you’d expect, there isn’t a huge amount of space inside but you can still make toast for two on its grill-only setting, or combine the grill with microwave power for browned fish, pies or puddings. The grill can run for up to 95 minutes, which might be handy if you’re browning in batches, and puzzlingly, there’s a 0 per cent power level, although we have no clue as to what it could be used for.

Useful features included being able to set a time for the microwave to start by itself, and the ability to defrost by time or weight, though not by food. We used the weight option for bread, which was selected by turning the main dial, though without the instructions at hand, this wouldn’t be obvious.

The preset time was six minutes 15 seconds without a signal to turn the food, but we found it easily defrosted in three minutes 30 seconds. The grill was more successful – we toasted bread for three minutes each side and even though the second side was browner, the toast was excellent.

Although there’s a good choice of programmes (such as spaghetti and rice), vegetables wasn’t one of them, so we cooked carrots on the potatoes setting, which took five minutes. They were soft yet retained their shape.

Fortunately, there was a reheat programme for the lasagne, with 200g predicted to take one minute 30 seconds. The centre of the food only reached 55°C so needed another minute. A good performance but you might have to adjust power levels or cooking times.

Wilko Microwave 20L

£70, Wilko
Best for: Those on a budget

wilko stainless steel microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 20 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 25.6 x 45.1 x 34.5 cm; Features: 8 auto-cook programmes, sequential cooking, 3 defrost settings and express, 800W microwave with 5 power levels

Proving that solo microwaves don’t mean compromising on style, this sleek-looking model comes in a stainless-steel version as well as copper or black. It has more going for it than a shiny finish though, with five power levels, including defrost presets for meat and fish, eight auto programmes for different foods, delay start, child lock, a 60-minute digital timer and an express button corresponding to three rapid blasts of heat.

Its controls aren’t the most intuitive to use but with the instructions at hand, the microwave can do quite a lot. The instant start button, for example, adds time in increments of 10 seconds for those who like a fuss-free approach to cooking. Inside, you’ll find a 27cm-diameter turntable, large enough for an average dinner plate.

In testing, the auto reheat programme allowed two minutes 30 seconds for our lasagne, which was enough to heat it to 82°C in the centre, but left the sauce on top cool in a couple of spots. Using the option for seafood, we defrosted bread for one minute 30 seconds, which was effective, leaving some moisture on the plate but without the slices becoming damp.

A vegetables auto programme cooked 200g of carrots for four minutes 30 seconds, leaving them slightly soft without being mushy. Complete with a two-year guarantee, for the price, we felt this model was great value.

Kenwood K25MMS14 Solo Microwave

£79.99, Currys
Best for: Microwave cooking devotees

kenwood solo microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 25 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 30.6 x 51.3 x 43 cm; Features: 8 auto-cook programmes, 900W microwave with 5 power levels

This smart silver design is ideal for those who plan to use their microwave for more than reheating. It’s packed with handy features, such as a two-stage mode that lets you set it to defrost then switch to cooking food, and a roomy interior with enough space to cater for a family – both of which make it a bargain at its sub £100 price.

Other features we liked were the button for increasing the time by 30 seconds, a kitchen timer button that made using this function straightforward, a child lock and the ability to set the power from 100 per cent to 10 per cent.

More buttons come in the form of defrosting by weight or by time, but not by type. As different food defrosts at different rates, this does mean you’ll have to keep an eye on whatever you’re thawing. We found that the preset time for defrosting 200g bread was four minutes but it only needed just over two minutes.

Similarly, the auto-cook for vegetables wasn’t a one size fits all, as our carrots were given a time of two minutes 50 seconds, which wasn’t enough to cook them through. They needed another minute on full power to soften.

Cooking the lasagne also took a bit of guesswork, as there’s no auto-cook for chilled food. Instead, we heated 200g for three minutes on full. The meal reached 70°C in the centre but the edges of the lasagne started to dry out, so a lower power level for longer may have been more suitable.

Best microwaves under £500

Swan 20L Nordic Digital Microwave

£109.99, Swan
Best for: Affordable style

swan nordic 20l digital microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 20 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 25.7 x 45.1 x 34.2 cm; Features: 800W microwave with 6 power levels

Proving that a basic microwave doesn’t have to be boring, Swan’s Nordic design looks stylish sitting out on a worktop. Available in two Scandi-inspired colours, white and grey, and finished with a mirrored door and wood-effect handle and dial, it’s ideal for a minimal kitchen.

Plus, while it’s compact enough to tuck below wall cabinets, its cavity will still accommodate a 25.4cm dinner plate. The controls are better than basic, too, and feature a digital display, an assortment of labelled buttons and a dial for setting weight and a 30-minute timer.

Cooking options include defrost, express (a one-touch 30 seconds, one minute or one minute 30 seconds button) and eight auto-programmes for foods such as popcorn, pizza or potatoes.

There’s less guidance on which programmes suit which foods compared to pricier models but this microwave would suit someone who’s more interested in hot food fast, rather than microwaving as a primary cooking method.

We used the reheat programme for lasagne, which took two minutes 30 seconds, reached 76°C in the middle after standing, and a seafood defrost programme for 200g of bread, which took just over three minutes, but left the thickest slice slightly frozen in the centre.

An auto-programme for vegetables cooked 100g of carrots in three minutes 50 seconds. They were soft but still held their shape, so might require a reduced time. For the price, you’d expect a few more functions than it has, but it definitely leads the way in good looks.

Bosch Series 2 HMT84M421B White Microwave

£139, AO.com
Best for: Families

bosch series 2 white microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 25 litres; Type: Solo; Dimensions: 30.5 x 51.3 x 40.8 cm; Features: 7 auto-cook and defrost programmes, 900W microwave with 5 power levels

It may lack the bright colours of some but behind the white exterior lies a workhorse of an appliance that’ll heat, cook and thaw without skipping a beat. That, coupled with a generous size and 31.5cm turntable, makes it a good fit for families as well as anyone who needs more capacity than the average solo can offer.

Seven programmes (rice, potatoes and veg, plus four defrost) use your food’s weight to predict cooking time, while five different power levels with a corresponding button – from gentle 90W to 900W – also provide heating flexibility. There’s even a memory button to create your own programme and a 99-minute timer for low and slow cooking.

There wasn’t a preset for ready meals but using the guidance of a lower power level, we chose 600W, which estimated four minutes of cooking. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough after standing (the temperature only reaching 65°C) so we cooked the lasagne for another minute on full and it was piping hot.

Defrosting bread was simple using the preset, although the smallest amount possible on this was 200g (we were defrosting 150g). This took five minutes 30 seconds, which seemed long, but the bread came out perfectly thawed.

Finally, carrots were cooked on an auto-programme for three minutes 55 seconds and came out soft and tasty. What we especially liked about this model was the amount of guidance and range of options that made it easy to avoid overcooking – a great buy if you can make room for it.

Hotpoint Supreme Chef Multifunction Microwave Oven MWH 338 SX

£219, AO.com
Best for: Entertaining

hotpoint supreme chef multifunction microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 33 litres; Type: Combination; Dimensions: 37.3 x 49 x 54 cm; Features: 11 programmes, 900W microwave with 7 power levels, 1200W grill, 80-200°C convection oven

While most microwaves are great for families, the Supreme Chef goes one better with its range of features. You’ll find a cleaning cycle that removes odours, advanced distribution of waves to prevent hot spots, and even a “frying” crisping function so you can make speedy fish and chips.

The Special Menu includes settings for dough proving, melting butter and softening ice cream, but it’s the Chef Menu that takes the hassle out of preparing good food fast, such as scrambled eggs, pizza and chicken.

We used it for heating lasagne on the low rack, although the quantity couldn’t be adjusted from 1200g, as it was designed for cooking from scratch. Instead, we removed it once it began to look brown on top after 10 minutes of microwave heat and the grill, which heated it evenly.

The defrosting bread programme thawed a couple of slices in a minute, while microwaving on 750W cooked carrots in three minutes 30 seconds. A crisper plate with a removable handle was especially good at toasting bread using the Dual Crisp programme, and the small sponge we made using the Chef Menu came out golden and fluffy after 18 minutes – again, not being able to adjust the quantity from 900g was frustrating, but the results were as good as oven baked.

The one downside of this model is the size – it’ll take up most of the depth of a worktop, although the dropdown door makes getting dishes in and out easier, and it’s incredibly roomy. A great option for extra oven space when you’re feeding a crowd.

Panasonic Slimline Combination Microwave Oven NN-CD58JS

£225, John Lewis
Best for: Healthy after-school meals

panasonic slimline combination microwave oven

Key specs – Capacity: 27 litres; Type: Combination; Dimensions: 31 x 52 x 39.5 cm; Features: 29 programmes, 1000W microwave with 6 power levels, 1300W grill, 100-220°C convection oven

Not content with loading its microwaves with great presets, Panasonic has gone one better with this model, adding eight Junior Menu functions for preparing dishes for children.

This means you can cook pasta bake or flapjacks in smaller portion sizes, filling after-school tummies faster, as well as making healthy purees and veggies for babies and toddlers. It’ll also cater for the whole family with 29 auto-programmes, including those for roasting meat and cooking fish and vegetables up to 40 per cent faster, compared to other combination and grill ovens.

We used the junior pasta bake auto-cook programme to heat 200g of lasagne, which took seven minutes using a mix of grill plus microwaving. This gave the food a golden crispy top, and it reached 85°C in the centre. It also defrosted bread perfectly on a specific programme – we felt this was by far one of the best microwaves for fast, even thawing.

It also cooked 100g carrots on another junior auto-programme, resulting in tender but firm vegetables. Our toast took longer than using a toaster – six minutes to golden – but on the plus side, didn’t need preheating. We had less success with baking using microwaves and convection – our sponge didn’t rise well and browned unevenly.

One aspect worth noting is that while it’s billed as slimline (taking up 20 per cent less counter space than previous models), it’s still quite wide. However, the upside is enough space for dinner plates.

Sage The Quick Touch Crisp Microwave BMO700BSS

£249.99, Lakeland
Best for: First-time microwave cooks

sage lakeland the quick touch crisp microwave

Key specs – Capacity: 25 litres; Type: Microwave grill; Dimensions: 31 x 52 x 42 cm; Features: Cook/grill, reheat and defrost presets for different foods, 900W microwave with 10 power levels, 1100W grill

If all you use your oven for is frozen pizza, you might be better off investing in The Quick Touch Crisp. Not only does it have its own crisper pan and a preheat function to prevent soggy results, it uses intelligent inverter technology with a grill to turn out crispy golden-brown pastry, quiche and more.

It also does much of the thinking for you, using cook, reheat and defrost presets to determine time and temperature for a variety of foods, from jacket potatoes to melting chocolate. Other thoughtful touches include a “Favourite” setting, allowing you to create a preset for a frequently cooked dish, and a shortcuts panel is hidden behind the door for tasks such as melting butter.

Chilled ready meal lovers will find that there isn’t a button for them, so you’ll have to take your pick between reheat leftovers or a frozen ready meal option. We used the former for lasagne and the microwave allowed four minutes 30 seconds for 200g, reaching a good 71°C in the middle, with no cold spots.

While there’s a defrost setting that adapts heat time and weight to food type, there wasn’t a preset for bread, so our slices ended up a little moist underneath from over-thawing. However, using the crisper plate after a three-minute preheat turned it into an evenly browned toastie, which we could specify by portion size rather than weight.

A fresh veg auto-cook programme worked well for carrots, needing only three minutes, plus we also tried the baked beans preset that cooked uncovered without spitting or exploding beans. While the choice of presets is good, it doesn’t cover everything, so knowing how to cook other foods would be helpful.

KitchenAid Freestanding Microwave Oven KMQFX33910

£399, AO.com
Best for: Serious cooks

kitchenaid freestanding microwave oven

Key specs – Capacity: 33 litres; Type: Combination; Dimensions: 37.3 x 49 x 54 cm; Features: 50+ recipes, 10 programmes and 5 professional cooking functions, 900W microwave with 7 power levels, 1200W grill, up to 200°C convection oven

It’s unusual that you’d turn to your microwave for your bread-proving or yogurt-making needs, yet this KitchenAid model can be used for both and more.

Essentially, it’s like a multi-functional oven on your worktop, complete with a drop-down door, two-tiered steamer accessory and dedicated programmes (for veg, fish and more), crisper plate and two grills. There’s even an automatic programme to make cleaning the interior as simple as a quick wipe over.

The auto cleaning came in handy when we warmed up lasagne – we chose the low rack in conjunction with the combi grill option and a 350W microwave setting for a crispy top but weren’t prepared for the amount of spatter this produced. There also wasn’t much of a guide for cooking time. We allowed 13 minutes but the edges had started to burn and the centre reached 97°C by the time we removed it, so it didn’t need as long.

We had more success with bread – using the specific “Jet” defrost programme, this allowed 30 seconds for 100g, plus three minutes standing. While it still felt chilled when removed, it was easily sliced in two. Our toast needed just three minutes on high each side on the high rack for a golden brown surface.

The Dual Steam function and its accessory was by far the best at cooking carrots, needing two minutes 30 seconds to produce beautifully cooked, soft and tasty batons, while the Chef’s Menu programme was simple to use and baked well-risen sponge without any need for preheating an oven.

The price tag might be at the top end but if you’re a keen cook with limited oven space or short on time to indulge your passion, this ticks lots of boxes.

This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.

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7 best handheld vacuum cleaners – pick between Hoover, Dyson and more

Handheld vacuums are great go-to gadgets because they can deal with crumbs and crises quickly, without having to bring out the big guns in the shape of your main vacuum cleaner. That’s not to say they can’t tackle more than the odd Digestive disaster though, some of the models we looked at performed well on dust-busting heavy-duty carpet or plush upholstery and curtains.

Things to consider

Think about the area you want to use your vac in. Are you one for keeping your sofa cushions free of debris or is the kitchen where you make most of your mess? Some models look great on show on worktops or utility walls, as they have their own docking systems and will always be charged and ready to go. Others weigh in more heavily or have conventional power leads, and will need storage space and somewhere safe to charge.

If you think you’ll swap between surfaces a lot, then look for a model with adjustable power. The strength you may need to tackle dried mud on a carpet may be too much for silk cushions, for example. Look out for a model with more than 15 volts if you’d like to get to work on carpets, rugs and curtains.

Larger vacs like the Dyson will give you a run time of up to half an hour, whereas the Vorwerk model is powerful for only 13 minutes. For heavier domestic duties, the former is obviously a less frustrating choice but small, handy vacs are more than ready to cope with quick clean-ups, even with a small bin capacity.

Lastly, most handheld vacuum cleaners can run partially charged but to use them for the maximum run time quoted, you’ll need to make sure they’re fully stoked. And remember – dry vacuuming only, please.

Tool attachments

Upholstery tools may have velvet-type pads to remove fluff and lint, while pet heads often have rotating beaters, which will pick up rogue hairs as they spin. Look for a thin crevice tool for small areas such as car interiors, carpet corners or door and wall mouldings.

Halfords Dual Speed Car Vacuum Cleaner

£38, Halfords
Best for: Cars

halfords dual speed car vac

Key specs – Size: 16.5(H) x 11.5.(W) x 39(D) cm; Capacity: 0.47 litres; Charge time: N/A; Voltage: 12v; Run time: N/A; Warranty: No; Attachments: Rotating head, crevice tools (x 3), extending nozzle; Weight: 800g

This cleaner can be kept in the car boot and used when needed, as it can be powered up via the 12v charging port or cigarette lighter in your car. It’s not cordless, but you’ll be able to reach every inch of even the biggest estate model, thanks to a generous four-metre detachable cable.

It’s not the strongest sucker here but we really liked the choice of attachments, with the rotating head sprucing up foot-well carpets nicely and the thinnest nozzle reaching into awkward spaces in the car’s centre console. The extendible nozzle and LED light made it easy to spot dirt on a grubby dashboard and door-bin corners. Dust was easily shaken out of the collection bin too, which clicked off the main body of the vacuum for emptying.

Black & Decker Cordless Dustbuster with Smart Tech

£58, AO.com
Best for: Cleaning versatility

black and decker cordless dustbuster with smart tech

Key specs – Size: 17(H) x 42(W) x 12(D) cm; Capacity: 0.5 litres; Charge time: 6 hours; Voltage: 10.8v; Run time: 16 minutes; Warranty: 2 years; Attachments: Crevice tool, dusting brush, upholstery tool; Weight: 1.1kg

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Our tester liked the way this model slotted back into a docking station for charging, which could be fixed to a wall or left floor standing. The fact the flip-out dusting tool clipped to the back of the head when not in use was also a great feature, meaning it was to hand if she wanted to switch from banishing kitchen crumbs to cleaning upholstery.

It was more powerful than we expected too – it’s a vac you could take from car to upholstery to carpet, making it a good option for caravans or campers. We appreciated the reminder lights for battery charge and bin emptying, though this one lost points for its lengthy six-hour charge time.

Vorwerk Kobold VC100 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner

£129, Vorwek
Best for: Design

vorwerk kobold vc100 handheld vacuum cleaner

Key specs – Size: 41.7(H) x 8.2(W) x 8.2(D) cm; Capacity: 0.2 litres; Charge time: 2.5 hours; Voltage: 10.8v; Run time: 13 minutes, 20 minutes on lower suction; Warranty: No; Attachments: None; Weight: 650g

One for design fans, this stick-style vac arrives in glass tube packaging, which our tester optimistically thought contained a posh bottle of whisky. Clean lines, a matte white finish and a handy hanger mean this is one you’ll be proud to have on display in the kitchen or utility.

It’s very light but the strength of suction means spills, dusty corners and messy worktops are a doddle to clean. With two power levels to choose from, you can clean delicate cushions or suck up the tough stuff on floors or in cars – the choice is yours. The weighted, ergonomic handle was the most comfortable we tested, but with only a 0.2-litre capacity, it’s never for long.

Shark Cordless Handheld Vacuum Cleaner (Single Battery)

£99.99, Shark
Best for: Ease of use

shark cordless handheld vacuum cleaner

Key specs – Size: 9.5(H) x 22(W) x 38.5(D) cm; Capacity: 0.25 litres; Charge time: 2.5 hours; Voltage: 3.6v; Run time: 16 minutes (8 minutes per battery); Warranty: 5 years; Attachments: Crevice, pet hair; Weight: 1.3kg

Our tester has arthritis, so wanted to try a vac she could handle easily without having to drag her full-sized vacuum from the utility room. She tried the Shark out in the crevices and on the cushions of her sofa with great results.

Using the pet hair attachment agitated the fabric as it vacuumed, so lots of hair and fluff was reclaimed from all the nooks and crannies, without too much effort at all. That includes getting rid of the pickup – one touch of a button and the underside compartment swings open and drops the contents straight into the bin.

A blinking light will warn you when the battery needs a boost, so just slot the vac into its cradle for a recharge. It’s a shame it can’t be wall-mounted but we liked this simple helper nonetheless.

Hoover UltraMATT

£69.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Allergy sufferers

hoover ultramatt

Key specs – Size: 19(H) x 34(W) x 27(D) cm; Capacity: 0.3 litres; Charge time: N/A; Voltage: 500w; Run time: N/A; Warranty: 2 years; Attachments: None; Weight: 2.2kg

Just when you thought you had every gadget going, along comes something like a mattress vacuum to make you rethink.

Do you really need it? You won’t realise you do until you try it. Our super house-proud tester’s mattress was only six months old and looked pristine, but after a quick vacuum there was a lot of fine gritty material in the easy-release bin that gave him the heebie-jeebies.

Never fear though, switch on the UV-C light and you’ll bust dust mites and bacteria to boot, which is great if you have allergies. This isn’t cordless but a five-metre plug lead means even a super king bed will be covered.

And it’s not just for mattresses – sofas, cushions and upholstery can get a bug-free blast too.

Gtech Multi Mk 2

£149.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Stairs

gtech multi mk2

Key specs – Size: 14(H) x 35(W) x 25(D) cm; Capacity: 1.5 litres; Charge time: 4 hours; Voltage: 22v; Run time: 20 minutes; Warranty: 2 years; Attachments: Power brush, dusting brush, crevice tool; Weight: 1.5kg

This was one of the top-performing models we tried. The chunky handheld vacuum stood up to the heavier jobs some smaller numbers couldn’t handle, including a flight of carpeted stairs that had been neglected for a month or so.

The maximum may be 20 minutes on a full charge, but that was plenty of time to make 14 treads shipshape. That said, the rotating head on the Multi didn’t quite reach into tight corners but following up with a quick whizz with the crevice tool sorted that. Great stuff.

Dyson V7 Trigger Vacuum

£199, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Big and small jobs

dyson v7 trigger vacuum

Key specs – Size: 20.6(H) x 31.6(W) x 13.1(D) cm; Capacity: 0.4 litres; Charge time: 3.5 hours; Voltage: 21.6v; Run time: 30 minutes; Warranty: 2 years, Attachments: Motorhead, combination, crevice; Weight: 1.71kg

There’s no denying the power of the Dyson – it’s the mightiest machine we tested. But is it the most useful to have around? Probably, mainly due to its impressive run time and strength, meaning you can tackle heavy-duty jobs – rugs, carpets, curtains, stairs and surfaces – in one half-an-hour dash before guests arrive.

The trigger system is so easy to start and stop when moving things around busy surfaces and its brush attachments and its “max and “low” power modes mean it can also be gentle and delicate if you’re dusting precious items.

The crevice attachment, mini motorised head and combination brush tools all click firmly into place and release easily at the touch of a button. Use them for car interiors, upholstery and dust and debris, before emptying the bin with one touch that won’t get you dirty. An all-round winner.

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8 best food processors – how to pick between Magimix, Tefal and more

Who doesn’t need an extra pair of hands in the kitchen, especially ones that can take care of some of the more mundane aspects of cooking, such as chopping the onions, grating a wedge of hard cheese, neatly slicing potatoes for a cream-laden gratin, or quickly creating a purée, soup or smoothie?

A food processor will do exactly this. These kitchen workhorses fly through some of the chores of food preparation by chopping, slicing, grating, mixing, blending, kneading, and even dicing. A food processor, however, should not be confused with a blender. A food processor is a multi-function gadget comprising of a mixing bowl(s) with a range of attachments, including grating and slicing discs or blades, knives and whisks. Blenders are usually single-function and create smoothies, juices, soups or batters. Both are useful in the modern kitchen.

How we test

We have rigorously tested all the processors here in a domestic kitchen setting on the most popular functions by grating several kilos of hard cheese and fresh coconut (almost impossible to do on a hand grater) and creating enough shortcrust pastry to provide quiches and pies for months.

Root vegetables sliced – and where appropriate diced – for over eight litres of soup then blended in the processor, plus meat was chopped for burgers and chilli. As not all processors have blenders, they were not tested, but some special functions were.

Prices for food processors range from over £1000 for a top-notch, professional piece of kit to down as low as £49.99. They all do a job, some faster, quieter and neater than the others. Price does often influence the speed and quality of the processing, although do not underestimate cheaper models.

Before you decide which one suits your needs, here are a few questions you may want to consider.

What do you want to use the processor for?

Are you a busy cook making family meals, baking, bread making and entertaining, or, do you merely want to speed up preparing ingredients? Your choice will help determine what functions are essential to you.

How much space do you have?

Multi-function processors are bulky, some with many attachments. Perhaps a compact style will suit you better.

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How many are you cooking for?

Buy a processor that’s too small and it will be frustrating, too big and you will not get the best out of it.

Do you need all those attachments?

Unless you’re a keen cook, many will end up gathering dust at the back of a cupboard alongside that once-you-thought-would-be useful spiralizer you bought summers ago.

Here’s our pick of the best budget, mid-range and high-end processors.

Best budget processors

Tower T18004 1.5L Food Processor

£29.99, Robert Dyas
Best for: Light, infrequent use

tower t18004 food processor

Key specs – Size: 42(H) x 25(W) x 34(D); Bowl size: 1.5 litre; Power: 600w; Attachments: 1 grating/slicing disc, blender disc and stainless-steel chopping blade; Additional notable features: 1.4-litre blender

The Tower processor sits at the lowest price point of all the machines tested and, although not the best on test, it has some great features that anyone seeking a simple, easy-to-use processor for lighter duties would appreciate.

The processor base, jugs and attachments feel extremely light but are also a little flimsy. The bowl was not as easy to fit onto the bottom compared to others and the lid was a little tricky to use – anyone with wrist problems would struggle, although we suspect this problem would ease with continued use.

There was very little to complain about with the slicing and grating though, but only one size makes its uses limiting. The light stainless-steel blade performed well and chopped through onions, carrots and celery without struggle, and blending a soup was as straightforward as it comes. Pastry fared less well, and it needed much more processing than is right to create a light and crumbly finished dough.

Do not, however, dismiss this food processor, it has its place, and for someone who will only expect it to perform light duties and doesn’t want to over-challenge it with large quantities, the Tower delivers good results, even if it does take a little longer than others.

Andrew James Multi-Functional Food Processor

£56.49 (price correct at time of publishing), Andrew James
Best for: Value for money

andrew james multifunctional food processor

Key specs – Size: 23 x 41.5 x 23 cm; Bowl size: 2.4 litres; Power: 800w; Attachments: 8 with 4 grating/slicing discs, blades, whisks, coffee grinder, citrus press, spatula and large 2-part plunger; Additional notable features: 1.5-litre blender

The Andrew James processor, cost-wise, may be sitting towards the lower end of the market but it delivers a vast range of attachments and accessories. The processor itself is robust and a good weight, and – with the addition of rubber suction cup feet – stays relatively still while processing, although when grating hard cheese, it did move slightly and was rather noisy.

The controls are straightforward with the dial having two speed settings, pulse and off. Equally the set-up instructions were easy to follow and the machine was up and running in about 10 minutes – most of that time was spent sifting through all the attachments to sort out what was what.

The Andrew James machine is good value considering it’s so well-equipped, meaning there is little need for any other gadget. The attachments are not as substantial as the more expensive machines but made short work of all the punishing processes it was put through, with little wastage.

There is no storage with this processor though and with so many attachments – jugs, bowls etc. – it requires a lot of space. The blades and the slicing discs, as would be expected, are super sharp and with no distinctive safe storage, accidents can happen, as a cut finger here bears testament.

Best mid-range processors

Tefal DO824H40 Double Force Pro Food Processor

£119.99 (price correct at time of publishing), Amazon
Best for: Reliable performance

tefal double force pro food processor

Key specs – Size: 40(H) x 32(W) x 28(D) cm; Bowl size: 3 litres; Power: 1000w; Attachments: 3 reversible grating/slicing discs, dough blade, stainless steel chopping blade, whisk/beater, citrus press, spatula, storage box; Additional notable features: 2-litre blender, EasyLock lid and dual force motor

The Tefal processor has an impressive range of attachments, which at this price is a bargain. It’s sturdy and even on top speed there was little vibration, meaning a very quiet machine. There is also an in-bowl storage box and the cord winds neatly away, making this an excellent space-saving processor.

The 1000w motor and large three-litre bowl means the Tefal can tackle hefty loads and quantities, and in every test it performed exceptionally well, evenly and with little or no waste. There is also a series of pre-programmed tasks found on the control panel, which intuitively chooses the motor speed most suited to the task.

However, the instructions supplied with the processor are complicated to work through, with page after page of tiny drawings and text is kept to a minimum. With patience, good eyesight, plenty of time and some knowledge of food processing, it is possible to work it out though. Anyone new to using a food processor would possibly struggle to get the answer they need, which is a shame as this is an excellent machine and offers excellent value for money.

KitchenAid 5KFP0919 2.1L Food Processor

£179, KitchenAid
Best for: Efficiency and style

kitchenaid food processor

Key specs – Size: 195(W) x 540(H) x 260(D) mm; Bowl size: 2.1 litre (also available in 1.7 litres); Power: 240w; Attachments: 3 grating/slicing discs, dough blade, stainless-steel multifunction blade, 2-part plunger; Additional notable features: 1-click, twist-free lid locking system

The KitchenAid shines on style and performs extremely well. The neat, semi-retro appearance of this machine means there’s no hiding this beauty away in a cupboard.

The instructions are straightforward, with the processor up and running within minutes, and the innovative one-click, twist-free bowl and latched lid locking system was the best lock of all the processors tested, making this both a secure and safe machine to use.

The discs and blades store inside the bowl, which can be a faff as they need to be removed every time, but cleverly inserted so sharp edges are facing down to prevent slicing fingers when removing them. The cable is stored in the base too, all of which makes the KitchenAid neat and tidy on the worktop.

Do not be put off by the 240-watt motor either; this machine packs a punch with its smooth, quiet and powerful delivery, with two speeds and pulse delivered by the simple push down buttons. The KitchenAid performed well in all functions, with a variety of slicing thicknesses, grating hard cheese into fluffy clouds and producing delicate shreds of vegetables through to hefty chunks. The stainless-steel blade whips through meat, pastry and purées in a flash, too.

It’s not the cheapest processor but far from the most expensive, making this a great-value, super-efficient and good-looking machine.

Ninja 1100W Smart Screen Food Processor with FreshVac Technology

£179.99, Ninja Kitchen
Best for: Healthy lifestyles

ninja smart screen food processor

Key specs – Size: 17 x 21 x 43.5 cm; Bowl size: 1.1 litres; Power: 1100w; Attachments: 1 reversible slicing and grating disc, double dough blade, stainless steel 4 blade knife, 2-part pusher,large feeder tube; Additional notable features: 3 speeds, touch pad control panel, 2.1-litre vacuum blending pitcher, 2.1-litre vacuum blending pitcher lid and valve, FreshVac technology vacuum blending pump, 2 x 600ml lidded drinking cups

By just peeping inside the Ninja box, it’s evident that this machine is for much more than just food processing. With only a 1.1-litre processing bowl, it doesn’t handle vast quantities but what it does do is grate, slice, blend, chop and whip up pastry extremely quickly, thanks to a powerful motor and a fearsome-looking four-blade knife.

There is only one reversible disc though, meaning less versatility than machines of a similar price. The pastry is easy to make but needs caution, as the ferocity of speed here could quickly over blend.

The machine is sturdy and with four suction-cup feet it clings to the work surface and keeps vibration to a minimum. But even with this steadiness, the motor is extremely noisy.

The complete Ninja system also includes a large 2.1-litre blender and an even more fearsome-looking six-blade knife for making healthy smoothies, juices and frozen drinks. Impressively, the machine knows what jug you’re using