So last week I told you a little about my relationship with alcohol, and my Drinkaware challenge during Alcohol Awareness Week to stick to the recommended weekly guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days. Last week, I also kept an alcohol diary, with the help of the Drinkaware app (and the notes on my phone to record the actual circumstances). Here’s how I got on:
We love where we live. We’re so lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world, surrounded by gorgeous countryside and yet just 30 minutes’ train ride away from London. I feel like we have the best of both worlds. Recently, the lovely chaps at booking.com asked about our favourite places to eat and stay in the Chilterns, and it’s honestly taken us lots of evenings of chat (and lots of bottles of wine) to narrow down our choices, such is the wealth of fabulous places throughout Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and beyond! Here, then, without further ado, is my perfect foodie weekend in the Chilterns. I do hope if you’re ever in the area, you’ll come and give some of these fab places a try!
There aren’t many prettier towns than Marlow, right next to the River Thames in Buckinghamshire. We spent a sunny morning wandering the shops (Sweaty Betty, Fat Face, a massive Jigsaw, Whistles, Mint Velvet, and loads of stylish independent boutiques and shops) down to the river, and then – all set to walk along the river’s edge for a while – the sky suddenly got really dark and fat blobs of rain started splashing on us. Ah well, instead we headed to West Street, to try the bottomless brunch at The Botanist, a pretty, quirky bar and restaurant on West Street. The front window completely rolls back, so when the sun finally came out again, it was a lovely spot to sit, sip a cocktail and watch the world go by while waiting for our table.
I meant to tell you that we finally visited Bill’s in Berkhamsted. I’ve been meaning to go for ages, so my Mum and I decided to go for a Friday evening catch up and a glass of fizz. It’s a lovely old building, right in the heart of Berkhamsted high street. I’ve lived near Berkhamsted my whole life and it’s been various cafés and restaurants over the years, but this particular incarnation looks so twinkly and welcoming, we’ve been desperate to go and sample the food. Here’s how we got on…
One of the incredible dining experiences of our recent foodie trip to Leeds was a visit to Stockdales of Yorkshire. I’d heard great things about this very stylish restaurant in the heart of Leeds city centre, with a menu that celebrates the best produce that Yorkshire has to offer, including some stunning 28 day aged black Wagyu beef, sourced from a farm in nearby Doncaster and cooked on a state of the art Josper charcoal grill. Read more
I’ve written before about how gorgeous our local Prezzo is. The staff are lovely, the atmosphere in the place is amazing (helped by an open kitchen featuring a massive pizza oven) and the food is consistently good. Last week we popped in to try the new summer sharing specials.
I think the King’s Head in Ivinghoe is a bit of a hidden gem. If I ever mention it, people don’t seem to have heard of it, yet my Disreputable Dad adores the place (we clubbed together to buy him dinner there for his birthday), and I often drive past (it’s a stunning ivy-clad 16th century building) and think ‘one day’, despite the fact that the Jags and Bentleys parked outside give a clue to its usual clientele (not that I’m not worthy, or anything, it’s just that I drive a VW Polo…).
Anyhoo, I was delighted to receive an IOU from my Dad for my birthday, and a midweek lunch date was set. We drove in my Dad’s car (sorry, Polo, it’s just posher) and were soon ensconced in a lovely drawing room with oak beams, big comfy chairs, armfuls of fresh flowers and a roaring fire, sipping Bellinis and nibbling on delicious salty crunchy morsels while perusing the menu. Not wanting to bankrupt the old sod just before his wedding, we decided to stick to the luncheon menu (still a wide choice) from which I chose a chicken liver parfait with black onion marmalade and toast, and then a good old sirloin steak and chips.
We were led through to the beautiful dining room by our waiter (the ‘oh la la’ one – more of this later). The Kings Head does things properly: the service is very French (down to the ‘oh la la’ muttered by the waiter when he was having trouble cutting a chunk of (home made) butter for me), unobtrusive and incredibly attentive. The tablewear is all divine and the bread served is home made too – a choice of white, brown or a delicious cheddar and herb bread, still warm and utterly scrummy.
My parfait was delicious – light as air, smooth and beautifully savoury, with the black marmalade that was so intense it tasted almost figgy. I didn’t choose the wine but it was a very serviceable house Sauvignon Blanc – don’t worry, I drank my fair share (you have to be quick when dining with my Dad – luckily the waitress had no intention of letting him anywhere near the bottle).
My steak was very tender, served medium as requested – not exactly fat and juicy, but not quite minute steak either. It was served with a big Jenga stack of fat chips, a tomato Provencale, a green peppercorn sauce, and the most delightful thin, crisp, delicate onion rings I’ve ever tasted. Divine. I also had serious food envy at my Dad’s partner’s pan fried fillet of bream with tomato, little squares of chorizo, and amazingly fragrant basil and coriander salsa. No photos I’m afraid. The Disreputable One is a big ‘no phones at the table’ stickler, plus in such a quiet restaurant it’s just too difficult (and a bit rude, I think).
I had a deliciously light caramel meringue creamy cakey thing for dessert and my Dad chose from the biggest cheese board I’ve ever seen in my life. More of a cheese table really… While he was distracted by the cheese, I managed a shifty photo:
Verdict? Fantastic. Not cheap, I’m sure, but worth every penny (ok, so I didn’t pay, but hey, it was my birthday) for the sheer quality of the food, the gorgeous surroundings and the wondrous waiting staff. Dad, take note: I’d like to go again next year, please. Find the Kings Head Ivinghoe on Twitter: @KingsHeadIvingh
For a while now we’ve been watching the new Carluccio’s Caffe take shape in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire… little noses pressed against the window, wishing the time away until the sign finally turned to ‘open’.
Finally, piles of delicious-looking meringues and lemon tarts appeared in the window, and we rang up to make a reservation. ‘We only take reservations for 40% of the restaurant’, we were told. ‘The other tables are first come, first served’. Seeing as there was only two of us, we decided to chance it, and happily, we were in luck. Be warned, though, a family of four were turned away, and there’s nowhere to sit and wait as the reception area doubles up as the shop so it’s likely you’ll be in the way wherever you stand. There’s no sitting and waiting at the bar area either, as people were eating there too. Next time, we’ll book early.
The interior is light, airy and modern, with a mix of semi-circular banquette seating and normal tables. The kitchen area is open and the whole place was bustling. The service was informative, mega-friendly and very efficient.
We started with marinated olives and a ‘bread tin’ with a mixture of different bread, from soft foccacia to thin Ligurian crisp bread. There was olive oil and balsamic for dunking and we sat, munching away, enjoying the atmosphere. Our lovely server recommended a 2011 Gravina (£23) which she said would be perfect teamed with seafood. Great choice. It was light, floral and indeed perfect. For a starter, we shared an ‘antipasto massimo’ plate which was a very generous selection of Italian meats, marinated olives, stuffed chicken, loads more bread, a delicious caponata and garlicky green bean salad.
For the main course, we both chose fritto misto with a green salad. With hindsight, this wasn’t a brilliant choice as, although the fritto misto was delicious, with crispy-coated squid, whitebait, prawns and seabass (again, MASSES of it) and a yummy garlic mayonnaise, we regretted our decision as after a while it all seemed rather heavy and samey. Our waitress expressed concern that we didn’t finish, but we were both a bit full up and a bit, well, bored with crunching through our dinners. Bad planning on our part.
Skipping dessert, we ended our meal with VERY good coffee. The whole lot coming to £80 including wine. You can eat a lot more cheaply though as they do a fixed price two courses for £9.95.
We’ll definitely go back again for dinner, and this time we’ll chose a bit more carefully. We loved Carluccio’s though, and decided to go back the next weekend for breakfast. It is to die for. Go there if you can. Again, the portions are generous, and we feasted on the most perfect grilled pancetta, creamy herby scrambled eggs and heavenly mushrooms all piled high on Italian bread. The hot chocolate is delicious and the coffee amazing. £55 for the four of us (well, the coffees were quite small so we all had two each) meant it was a treat rather than an every weekend sort of outing, but still. Worth every penny.
We’ll be back very soon. Our verdict? Favoloso!
Carluccio’s is in the old town hall, Berkhamsted, Herts. Tel: 01442 877807.
With their latest Costa-bashing adverts (placed cheekily opposite the store itself) offering coffees (eat in or take away) for just a quid, The Akeman has been putting itself out there recently. We decided to head along for breakfast to check out the hype.
First impressions are, I have to say, rather fabulous. Having only ever been there for dinner and cocktails, the place takes on a completely different vibe during the day… people were lazing in comfy leather sofas, sipping cappuccinos, and there were plenty of mums with babies sitting in the lovely courtyard garden. I love the fact that the kitchen is open so you can see exactly what’s going on:
We were seated quickly and although it was just noon, assured that it was still okay to order breakfasts. The breakfast menu isn’t massive, but it covers the basics. My three men all went for a full English, and I ordered scrambled egg and bacon. Service is efficient and really friendly. When English Dad struggled with a pepper mill, someone was at his side instantly offering to help. Juices were fresh and ice cold and the coffees were ‘terrific’, apparently (I’m not a coffee drinker).
The full English breakfasts were pronounced excellent: really decent, meaty sausages, creamy, well-seasoned scrambled egg, lovely thick-cut bacon cooked properly (how I hate flaccid bacon) and delicious mushrooms. I got all the cherry tomatoes as nobody else liked them. My own bacon and scrambled egg was delicious, although we could have done with a bit more toast all round (to be fair, we didn’t ask as our waitress had momentarily disappeared):
The bill (with coffees and a couple of fill-ups of coke) came to £34.00 – under ten quid a head for breakfast not being bad for an occasional treat, we didn’t think. We were invited to ‘tweet the boss’ with our comments, which I did, but he doesn’t look like he keeps his Twitter account up to date, which seems a bit counter-productive.
It took a while to get the bill, but both people that served us were cheerful and friendly. So, a decent brekkie all round and a solid 7/10 for the Akeman.
The Akeman is at 9 Akeman Street, Tring, Herts.
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