Ageing’s a weird thing. It kind of creeps up on you and then BAM! suddenly there’s a wrinkle you never saw before, or you start to notice your neck looking weird in photos if your head’s not quite at the right level, or you have to hold the book a little far away to get the letters in focus (obviously none of these have actually happened to me. Cough). Mr E is older than me so we always had a bit of banter about him being the old and crinkly one, but recently, I’ve been noticing a few of these little tell-tale signs, and although I won’t be rushing off to get Botox or Spanx or anything, I want to take care of myself as much as I can.
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.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Dunelm Mill near you, you’ll already know how handy they are for things like bedlinen, curtains and kitchen equipment. Dunelm asked me if I’d have a look at their new Cook & Dine kitchen collection, which launched in early April.
Yesterday I had a proper greedy day starting with lunch, moving on to afternoon tea with a client and then an evening at one of our favourite local hangouts, No 2 Pound Street for a couple of glasses of wine and one of their lovely sharing boards of cheeses and meats.
I was up in London to meet a lovely friend (we work together, but this has become secondary) to discuss travel plans and catch up on our news. She was bringing a colleague and they suggested The Gunmakers Arms in Clerkenwell, close to my second meeting. I arrived hideously early (typical ‘country mouse comes to the city’ type thing) but took my chance to wander slowly up Leather Lane, sniffing all the delicious smells from the food vendors and pressing my nose up against the window of Pieminister. The Gunmakers is just off Clerkenwell Road and I loitered a bit awkwardly outside, wondering what to do for 20 minutes in the drizzle before deciding to head inside. Good decision. I was warmly welcomed (the staff put me in mind of when Jay Rayner described the staff at Hawksmoor as ‘bed headed and tattooed’ – seriously cool), provided with a drink and a warm spot by a radiator, and spent the rest of the time before my lunch mates arrived studying the chalkboard menu.
So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, and last weekend’s Quick Eats, this weekend I’m really excited that Brunch and Baking are on the menu.
Being rather late weekend risers, we’re big fans of brunch in this household. Leafing through the recipes (once again, I got a little early sneak peek), I was delighted to see such diverse brunch dishes as classic eggs Benedict from Le Caprice, and fresh and funky fried eggs with radicchio and torn bread from lovely Aussie Bill Granger.
Obviously I’m a huge baking fan, and Mary Berry’s beautiful whole orange spice cake is one that I’ll be bookmarking for some lazy Saturday afternoon baking very shortly. But for me, it had to be a rather amazing recipe by one of my biggest culinary girl crushes, the Sunday Times’ own gorgeous Gizzi Erskine. Gizzi’s millionaire’s shortbread has the clever addition of rosemary in the caramel. The boys initially turned up their noses, but as the caramel bubbled on the stove, and the delicious sweet, herbal scent filled the house, everyone was strangely drawn towards the kitchen to have a taste.
Because I’m lazy, I made the shortbread in the KitchenAid, which took about two seconds (I’ll be using this recipe next time I bake shortbread), but the whole recipe represents everything I love about cooking: pressing soft dough crumbs into the baking tin, melting chocolate and stirring sweet, bubbling caramel. The very best form of kitchen therapy.
The finished article, with its buttery shortbread, thick caramel and crisp chocolate top, is a bit of revelation, with the rosemary adding a rounded edge which is the perfect foil to the sweetness. Deeeelicious.
Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Brunch & Baking this weekend, the third in a four-part series.
Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.
The final edition in the series is Dinner Party next Sunday.
Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.
The making of the birthday double chocolate cheesecake happily coincided with me being sent a rather fabulous new gadget to review. Sage by Heston Blumenthal is a new range of really good quality kitchen appliances that have been developed with a great deal of thought. There are some stonking gadgets in the range, from The Dual Boiler, an incredible (and stunning) espresso machine (costing over £1000 and with its own coffee expert to help you install and set it up) through mixers and ice cream machines (featured in last night’s Gadget Show if you were watching) right down to kettles and toasters.
My Control Grip All in One feels very solid and looks a tiny bit like a Magimix, but has a main power ‘stick’ like a stick blender, which then fits into lots of other accessories like the food processor with shredding and slicing discs, potato masher (which is AMAZING) and whisk, as well as the traditional blender. It’s been well thought out and everything fits onto a main base (with an extra long cord) so you can keep it on your worktop and no longer have to rummage around every time you want to use a bit of the kit.
Bizarrely the only thing that doesn’t fit is the whisk which, in my opinion is the only bit that lets the side down, being a bit on the flimsy side – a surprise when everything else is so well made. No matter, as it doesn’t fit on the base it will no doubt end up languishing in a drawer anyway.
The double food processing blades (and the slicing and grating discs) are all good quality and VERY sharp and made short work of reducing a pack of chocolate digestives into rubble. It’s not quiet, but then it’s not horribly noisy either and it was easy to wash and reassemble, the power pack popping easily out of the top of the processor jug so it can be washed.
- lots of power settings, making it easy to go gently, or really rack up the power when you need it
- Everything fits on the base so is easily at hand
- Good quality, heavy-feeling attachments
- that ridiculous whisk
The verdict: not cheap at £129.99 but really well made and covers all the bases.
So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, this weekend it’s all about fast, fabulous Quick Eats. Once again, I got a little sneaky peak of the recipes and there are some absolute crackers in there. Just because you’re time pressed or busy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well. I was delighted to see Nigella’s wonderful lemon linguine featuring – it’s a family favourite here, often served simply with some peppery watercress salad for a satisfyingly quick supper. We keep grated parmesan in the freezer, which is really convenient and means that we avoid that awful moment when you reach for the block of cheese in the fridge and discover it’s gone a pretty shade of blue.
Yotam Ottolenghi has a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup – a great choice for a quick and easy meal, this soup contains egg and yoghurt and I’m dying to give it a go. Eventually though, as we love a bit of spice, we decided to cook Ken Hom’s Sichuan prawns in chilli sauce. I couldn’t find any chilli bean sauce locally, so used our favourite spicy chilli sauce. It’s such an easy recipe – the hardest thing is chopping up a couple of cloves of garlic. The sauce is rich, spicy and zingy. I served ours simply with some buttered noodles and fresh green salad. Delicious, healthy, fresh and simple. Who needs ready meals?
Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Quick Eats this weekend, the second in a four-part series. Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.
Upcoming editions in the series are Brunch & Baking on Sunday December 1 and Dinner Party on Sunday December 8.
Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.
This week, we were invited to our local Prezzo to try out the new Christmas menus. We pop in to Prezzo every so often for pizzas and salads, but I hadn’t really considered it particularly for Christmas. Someone on Twitter even suggested turkey pizza when I mentioned I was going to Prezzo to try their Christmas menus!
Happily I was completely wrong. The place was absolutely buzzing – our local restaurant is housed in the town’s old Post Office building and it’s got a lovely industrial feel to it, with a huge oven at the centre of the open kitchen. It was lovely inside – all warm and sparkly, with candles, an open fire and a gentle buzz of conversation. We were shown to a lovely big table by the fire and got stuck in to the menus (and a very nice bottle of Barbera d’Asti).
There are three menus for Christmas:
The Classic (3 courses for £16.95)
This menu only offers a few choices and you’ll find most things are on the normal Prezzo menu anyway. We tried the bruschetta starter, which was a really generous portion of flatbread, topped with loads of yellow and red cherry tomato quarters, red onion, fresh basil leaves and a generous drizzle of pesto. It was really fresh and tasty.
Mains include pizzas, pastas and a Caesar salad and desserts include Charlie’s favourite chocolate profiteroles, filled with chocolate cream and generously drizzled with vanilla sauce. The choux pastry was light, the filling generous and the vanilla cream sauce REALLY yummy.
The Premium (three courses for £19.95)
This menu has more choice. We ordered one of each of the starters and had an absolutely fantastic time sharing and dipping. The king prawns served in a rich, garlicky tomato sauce with a generous touch of chilli are utterly delicious, and we ended up dipping the crispy calamari in there too. Yum. The pane con cipolla – garlic bread smothered with sweet sour balsamic onions and mozzarella is like a huge pizza – perfect for sharing (and scoffing with those delicious king prawns).
Mains are varied and tasty: we ordered the VIP tre gusti pizza – a massive pizza piled with pepperoni, chicken, pancetta and mozzarella. Charlie found the amount of fresh rosemary a bit overwhelming and ended up picking it all off – apart from that it was spot on. We were also tempted by the pene al zafferano (chicken with red chilli, spinach and garlic in saffron sauce) and the fusilli Gorgonzola with chicken, pancetta, and veg in a creamy sauce. The king prawn risotto looked great too.
Desserts on this menu are nothing short of fabulous. We fought over the sticky toffee pudding – a huge slab of the most delicious, sticky softness, and the white chocolate bombe (mascarpone ice cream covered in white chocolate with raspberry sauce) was lush.
The Signature (four courses and a glass of Prosecco for £24.95)
This menu starts off with a small tray of marinated olives and a glass of fizz. Starters include the most delicious, crispy, soft centred crab cakes (you only get two – we could have eaten ten) and gorgeous gnocchi stuffed with Gorgonzola and walnuts in a tasty, herby tomato sauce.
The mains were the star of the show: panciotti (little pasta parcels similar to ravioli) stuffed with scallop and prawns in a dill sauce, the most deliciously savoury wild boar tortelli in a creamy tomato sauce (slightly let down by being a bit gristly in places but otherwise meaty and satisfying), and a tender roasted duck leg served on a big plate of potatoes and vegetables with tomatoes and a touch of chilli. The pollo al funghi – a plate of chargrilled chicken with mushrooms and spinach – wasn’t particularly generous, but the marsala sauce was delicious and it’s served with lovely rosemary potatoes for mopping it all up.
Desserts on the signature menu include the white chocolate bombe again and a perfec, rich chocolate orange cheesecake with a crunchy chocolate topping, served with a big dollop of mascarpone.
Service was attentive and friendly, even though the place was busy. We walked out absolutely stuffed (I couldn’t even manage a calzone mince pie and I was really looking forward to it) and imbued with Christmas spirit. And it’s only November!
Our verdict? Splash out and go for the Signature menu. The choices are more varied and the dishes are really special. Christmas menus are available now. Click here to have a look at the menus.
Thank you to lovely Prezzo for inviting us xx
I’ll start this review by saying that I know Cathy Bramley. We’ve worked together on various bits and bobs and I have enormous respect for her. Saying that, when she sent me a copy of her book (with a gorgeous personalised note inside) I wasn’t hugely looking forward to reading it.
This sounds terrible, but it’s only because it’s just so far away from anything I would normally read. I’m more a murder/crime novel kind of girl. Val McDermid is my literary poster lady, so this one, listed as a romantic comedy, was a bit out of my comfort zone.
Happily though, I’d only read a few pages when I set off for our cruise, so I popped it into my suitcase. It turned out to be perfect by-the-pool reading and I quickly found that I had enormous affection for Sophie Stone – the slightly lacking in confidence heroine of the piece. I found myself cheering her on, urging her not to make bad decisions and rushing out of the pool to find out what she was up to next.
I won’t ruin the story, but there’s a mystery inheritance, a couple of fellas (one who tempted me to throw the book into the pool in frustration), a nightmare Mum, a missing Dad and some fabulous friends. Of course there’s a lovely happy ending, which is as it should be too. Do pick it up if you see it, it’s full of fun, with a smattering of self discovery, a sprinkling of family secrets and a big dollop of love. I adored it.
Recently, we were invited to visit the Canary Wharf branch of Camino London, perched right on the riverside next to Gaucho. First impressions were a little marred by the fact that we got horribly lost (there doesn’t seem to be any directions on the website, and not being Londoners we ended up going completely the wrong way out of the DLR station). No matter, we were soon seated and enjoying a cool glass of rosado (Beronia Rioja Tempranillo 2012) under the shady umbrellas on the terrace, watching the boats whooshing up the glinting river.
The menu is in Spanish (obviously) and unless you’re fluent you need a handy waiter to translate. Luckily we had Javi, who took us under his wing and explained all the dishes to us, giving us advice about roughly how many dishes we’d need for the four of us, and telling us what he recommended.
It’s best to just chill out and eat as the dishes come out, rather than wait until you get a big table-full, so we started with delicious, crispy squid with a garlicky alioli (chipirones), then some succulent tiger prawns, drowning in chilli, garlic, olive oil and white wine, all just begging to be mopped up with loads of bread.
Next up was a ‘mixto’ platter, with chorizo, Padron peppers, croquetas, olives and cangrejo (crab) in a delicious paprika-spiced oil with crispy bread for scooping. The next platter out was a mixed grill with some more chorizo, tender steak and flavoursome chicken. We also had a meaty monkfish dish with a leek gratin and a romesco sauce.
Moving on to cheese then (and feeling more than a little stuffed already), we ordered the platter, with blue Valdéon with moscatel grapes, a delicious salty Manchego and little cubes of plum jelly, amongst other things.
Finally, and rather unwisely, the boys talked us into ordering the dessert platter, with Crema Catalana: soft, creamy and fragrant with orange and cinnamon, and a really zingy crema de limón – a lemon cream topped with lime jellly and a shortbread biscuit. Javi also spoiled the boys by bringing out extra portions of their favourite: crispy on the outside, soft on the inside churros, with lashings of chocolate mousse for dipping. The surprise hit was the Tarta Santiago, a bakewell tart-reminiscent almond tart with a cakey texture and raspberry sauce. Delicious.
By now, Sam was complaining of stomach ache and I did worry one of us might pass out from overeating, but a nice strong coffee and a breezy ride back to Embankment on the river taxi woke us up again.
Our verdict: Fabulous. Mr English summed this place up when he said ‘I don’t have a bad word to say about it’ and we’ll definitely be back very soon.
Best for: lazy lunches and family dinners – don’t go if you’re in a hurry – linger over the dishes, sip wine, dip bread into sauces and savour every moment.
Massive thanks to Camino London for having us, and special thanks to Javi, our lovely waiter.
So finally the sun is shining, and if you like tinkering in the kitchen, I think you’ll love this book.
Claire Kelsey’s a bit of a rising star as far as street food is concerned. Her beautifully refurbished retro ice cream van, ‘Ginger’ has been gracing the trendiest festivals with her distinctly grown up ice creams, and now Claire has published a book with loads of her favourite, funky ice cream recipes.
The flavours move well away from plain old vanilla and sickly strawberry – in this gorgeous book you’ll find pea and mint sorbet, and marmalade on toast – a flavour that won ‘Best Dessert’ at the British Street Food Awards.
I had a go at recreating Claire’s garden mint and chocolate crisp ice cream. I love that her ice creams start with proper custard.
You may well balk at using 6 eggs and double cream in a recipe, but in my view this is just how ice cream should be, not full of emulsifiers and vegetable oil.
My garden mint was just springing up when I made it and wasn’t very strongly flavoured, but the finished ice cream was luscious and fresh tasting and the bit where you drizzle on the chocolate was great fun too. I don’t have an ice cream maker but Claire gives easy instructions and the result had a lovely, soft texture. I’ll be trying it again when my mint has grown up a bit!
Melt, by Claire Kelsey, published by Simon and Schuster is out now. RRP £18.99
As a rule, I’m not a fan of childrens’ menus. For me, they conjure up everything that’s wrong about eating out with children in this country, where the adults are all eating lovely, fresh food, and the kids are offered chips, nuggets and sausages.
However, generally the Italians tend to do things better, so when I was invited along to Pizza Express to take a look at their new piccolo menu I wasn’t at all surprised to see smaller sized versions of regular menu items, along with a very grown up ‘bambinoccino’ to end the meal so they can sip from their little espresso cup just like the adults!
We thought that the piccolo menu was terrifically good value. At our local Pizza Express, it’s just £6.50 for a starter, main, side salad, dessert and bambinoccino. The starter is a small portion of dough balls with garlic butter, with a fresh little salad of red pepper, tomato and cucumber (there’s no other starter choice though, which is a shame). There’s plenty of choice for mains, though: pasta with a variety of different toppings, plus a good selection of pizzas, all with the flexibility to take out what the kids don’t like and add what they do – a bonus for those with picky eaters! You also have the choice of upgrading to a slightly bigger pizza for an extra £1.
Desserts are a strong point at Pizza Express and the piccolo menu doesn’t disappoint, with the mini version of their delicious chocolate fudge cake, or ice cream/sorbet with a choice of sauce and a cone. There’s also the brilliant option of having the whole menu gluten free, including a brownie for dessert.
Our verdict? Proper Pizza Express food at a very reasonable price. Impressive.
Thanks to Pizza Express for inviting us along to try the range.
I live relatively near to The Grove and have often wondered what it’s like when I pass it on the way to do a spot of shopping at The Harlequin shopping centre. I hear about it quite regularly as it’s often in the news when the latest celeb stays, or the England team pop in to train there. I’ve always thought of it more as a ‘posh’ getaway – somewhere to escape for a romantic weekend, rather than take the kids, but their latest packages includes tickets to the nearby Warner Bros Studio Tour, and I was delighted to be invited to try it out WITH the teenagers. Gulp.
The journey was rather fraught as Sam had been on a field trip to Wales and dropped his phone into a rockpool so wasn’t able to text us his return time. I’d arranged a tour of the gardens with Head Gardener David Roberts and as it got later and later I got more and more worried.
Still, we finally got there well after our arranged time to find lovely David still waiting for me. After checking in and once again giving the boys the ‘representing me, not getting into mischief, noise/mobiles/sodding around blah blah’ lecture, they headed off to check out the pool while I wandered the beautiful grounds with David.
The original part of the house dates from the 18th century and, most famously, was owned by the 5th Earl of Clarendon who often entertained Queen Victoria (The Times apparently coined the term ‘Weekend Break’ to describe her visits there). We were very generously given deluxe rooms in the ‘new’ part of the building, added about 10 years ago (and very nice they were too – you can see my Instagram video of my room here). David and his team of 12 keep the gardens immaculate. There are often weddings and other functions so there’s never any ‘down’ time. Everything has to look perfect. But, as David pointed out, the gardens are there to be enjoyed, and there are plenty of fun, quirky features that will delight you (and certainly your kids) as you walk round.
The walled garden was my favourite part, and not just because of the massive topiary giraffe that peeks over the fence at you. The walls are lined with roses and fruit trees and there’s a beautiful outdoor pool (heated) with a beach area complete with volleyball court, as well as a lovely glass building called modestly ‘the potting shed’ with all sorts of fun things to do – little areas for reading, a table tennis table and snooker. David also encourages visitors to wander around the wonderful vegetable garden where fresh produce is grown for the restaurant kitchens:
You can also borrow bikes to whizz around the 300 acres, and David and his team are happy to show you around (David is a mine of information about the history of the grounds and gardens – I won’t spoil it all but there’s WW2 action and secret tunnels too!). Plus of course there’s the tiny matter of one of the world’s finest championship golf courses…
The Sequoia Spa is absolutely beautiful. Sadly we were a bit pushed for time as we were off to the Warner Bros Studio Tour on the Sunday morning, but I’d absolutely come back and try some of their fabulous sounding treatments. The boys ADORED the pool (which is dark blue and a work of art in itself) and again the staff were all lovely and not at all bossy or stern with them (always a good sign, I think).
We ate in The Glasshouse restaurant (after panicking about what to wear, it was actually a very casual affair – for a special occasion there is Colette’s, The Grove’s fine dining restaurant). The food is served ‘buffet style’ but the term doesn’t really do justice to the huge amount of choice, including tapas, charcuterie, a seafood bar, a carvery section with all sorts of roasted meat, a ‘live wok station’ with a chef who makes whatever stir-fry you like to order (here’s a video of my own personal stir-fry being created), a selection of curries, every dessert you could possibly think of, AMAZING cheeses (I might have had seconds… okay, thirds) plus… wait for it… a white chocolate fountain complete with fruit and home-made marshmallows ready for dunking!
The staff are wonderful. In fact, they are just one reason why The Grove is really special. At breakfast, I watched a young mum carrying a baby looking a bit lost at all the different buffet sections. She was approached by a friendly chef who asked what her baby normally eats for breakfast. When she explained (porridge with whole milk), he asked exactly how she liked it and rushed off to make it. Nothing is too much trouble. The Glasshouse costs £49 per person, with children aged 3-12 charged 50% and children 2 and under dining free.
After dinner we headed to the lovely cosy lounge areas where there are loads of different rooms and cosy places to sit and sip a drink.
Like the gardens, the corridors, rooms and public areas are filled with amazing, quirky art (look for the naughty gardener in the lounge areas and the tennis playing bunnies) – perspex tables filled with feathers, tiny plastic men fishing on the walls…
Our verdict? Of course, The Grove is a luxury hotel, so it IS posh, but it’s not intimidating, sniffy posh, it’s friendly, luxury, ‘WOW, I deserve this treat’ posh. I’ll definitely come back and spend longer here again. Plus, I should imagine it’s a stunning place to visit at Christmas.
Massive thanks to David, Rod and everyone at The Grove for inviting us and making our stay so special.
Luxury summer breaks at The Grove with Warner Bros. Studio Tour start from £350 per night inc VAT, including: accommodation in a superior room, Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter tickets for two adults and breakfast in The Glasshouse.
or from £498 per night inc VAT, for a deluxe family room accommodating two adults and two children under 12 years, Warner Bros. Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter tickets for two adults and two children under 16 and breakfast in The Glasshouse for two adults and two children.
(Please make your reservation at least 7 days in advance to ensure Warner Bros. Studio tour tickets are available.)
This week we’ve had a fabulous new car on the drive. Sadly, not ours, but a loan car from Fiat UK, who very generously dropped off one of their precious new 500L demonstrators for us to drive, test, use, abuse (not too badly, honest) and generally wally about with for a week.
Before we start, this review isn’t about CdA, drag coefficients, torque, mpg (okay it’s a tiny bit about that) or any other baffling Top Gear term. As a busy family, the Fiat 500L had to work hard: there were school runs, airport runs, shopping runs, supermarket runs, more school runs, runs to visit people, runs to pick people up, more supermarket runs… and this is more about how it performed as a family car rather than how fast it corners.
Here’s a little bit of what we liked, and a tiny bit of what we didn’t:
What we liked:
The 500L is light, airy and spacious. It feels enormous inside and the all-round visibility is excellent, making it easy peasy to reverse into tight spaces and back out of the drive onto the road.
The interior is really cool (although I personally wouldn’t choose cream, especially with children) in a hard-wearing soft fabric with a funky pattern.
The dashboard is really well laid out and the design of the whole dash is retro, while boasting loads of modern touches.
The touch screen is quick and simple to use, and once your phone is connected via Bluetooth (see below), you can work all the options using buttons on the steering wheel.
There’s tons of boot space (you can see in the picture that it easily swallowed up my weekly shop) plus it’s customisable – there are different levels in the boot, and there’s loads of storage (22 places, to be precise) generally around the vehicle. As a person who likes 17 pens, three pairs of sunglasses, a note pad and four lip balms with her in the car at all times, these are a bonus.
The boot has a handle on the inside so you don’t have to touch the back of the car to shut the boot. Small things, admittedly, but a bonus when it’s raining and the car is dirty. It’s the attention to detail that really makes this car special.
The teenagers had TONS of room in the back. Sam’s over 5’10 and had legroom galore. Also, they loved the styling, something not many manufacturers could say about their family cars. The barrage of hopeful ‘mum, can I drive it?‘, ‘muuuum please can I drive it?‘ lasted all week (the answer was no, by the way).
We had it for a week and the fuel gauge barely moved. I’m not a whizz with figures but I think the combined mpg is something around 62.8. Impressive fuel economy.
The diesel engine wasn’t too noisy and was very zippy, with great acceleration. It handled the M25 with ease, the all-round visibility making it easy and safe to change lanes.
Safety wise, there are six airbags in the 500L and it’s got a 5* Euro NCAP rating too.
The 500L does all sorts of clever things like stopping the engine at traffic lights then restarting, and restarting when you stall (what? I only did it twice). It also has the same ‘hill hold’ technology as my VW Polo, stopping you from rolling back on a hill start.
The delivery chaps from the dealership were LOVELY – a good sign, I would think, that buying a Fiat and dealing with its aftercare would be a breeze.
What we didn’t like:
Although the hands-free, bluetooth kit is really clever (once your phone is connected it will accept calls and you can just chat away while driving), it’s a pain to connect, with about four different screens to get through before your phone is connected. This could be driver error (okay, so we didn’t exactly look in the manual), but otherwise the process needs a bit of streamlining.
The reversing sensor beeps even when you’re going straight back into a space and you’ve got miles to go. It seems to detect things to the side of the car as well, making if difficult to know exactly what it’s sensing. Still, it’s thorough.
The verdict: this model, at a touch under twenty grand isn’t the cheapest family car, but the looks, styling and gadgets make it a great choice for an everyday workhorse that doesn’t look like your typical MPV. Plus prices start from around £15,000 for the lower spec 1.4 petrol Pop Star. I see it as a natural progression for all those people who loved the Fiat 500 but need more space for a family. 4.5 out of 5 (I can’t knock a whole star off for the Bluetooth!).
The vehicle we tested was a Fiat 500L 1.6 MultiJet 105hp Easy (diesel) in Beatbox Green. OTR price: £17,490 OTR price with options: £19,650. Extras included the metallic paint with white roof (£800), 17” alloy wheels with white diamond finish (£650), front fog lights (£160), automatic dual zone climate control (£250), automatic lights with rain sensor (£150)
Massive thanks to Fiat UK for all their help. Click here for more info on the Fiat 500L
Last week I was lucky enough to be invited to stay for a few days at the utterly beautiful Chateau Saint-Martin in the pretty little town of Vence on the Côte d’Azur. For a luxury short break, the Chateau really has everything: it’s a scant 30 minute drive from Nice Airport (just over an hour’s hop from Gatwick), the accommodation is luxurious, the scenery breathtaking and the spa indulgent. Locally, you can wander around beautiful little French towns and walk in the footsteps of Matisse and Picasso. The Chateau has two restaurants, one of which, Le Saint Martin, has two Michelin stars thanks to the incredible talent of Yannick Franques, former student of Alain Ducasse and Meilleur Ouvrier de France (2004).
We ate in a beautiful private dining room with General Manager Frédéric Picard who happily waved away enquiries about food photography with a smile and ‘but of course – this is why we have a private dining room’. M Picard turned out to be charming company and happily answered all questions about the French menu.
If you’re not a fan of (badly lit) restaurant photography, I do understand why – it can be intrusive when people continually snap away at their dinner. However, this food was something extra special and I do feel it deserves to be shared.
We started with an appetiser which was served in a hollowed out, silvered eggshell: scrambled egg with delicate pieces of lobster and a crisp brioche ‘soldier’, and went on to enjoy six spectacular courses matched with some incredible wines. It’s a meal I’ll never forget:
Next up, more about the Chateau, the beautiful nearby towns of Vence and Saint Paul de Vence and a tour of Le Fondation Maeght.
So if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m part of the Vax Voice team. Basically I get to try out Vax products and give honest feedback about them. This time it’s the teeny tiny Vax Air Mini. When Vax contacted me with this one, I noticed that there was a pet version and asked if I could try it. The Ninja Cat of Death has fluffy white fur which sticks TO EVERYTHING and I thought this might help.
First impressions were favourable: it’s light, compact and pretty small as well as being quite funky looking with the aqua coloured tubey things in the top of the clear cylinder. I took it upstairs for a test drive.
My carpets are quite pale in colour and I worry about the edges looking darker. I love my big upright Vax but it doesn’t clean right to the edges, so every so often I use the nozzle to clean all around the skirting boards. This little beast really impressed me. The suction is amazing and the nozzle got into every little nook and cranny, leaving the edges noticeably cleaner and paler. The little brush attachment and nozzle both fit on the hose handle so you can pop those on and off easily. I used the brush for dusting all the electrical stuff in the boys’ rooms: Xboxes, TVs, guitars, you name it. SO easy.
It’s really handy as you can be vacuuming away with the main floor cleaning head, then if you need to use a bit more suction you can whip the hose out of the handle to quickly use the end of the tube, or pop on one of the attachments, then just as quickly re-attach the main cleaning head. I whipped around the whole upstairs (using a single plug – the cord is very long) and really felt that it had had a deep clean.
I like the fact that it’s really easy to download a PDF user guide too. I didn’t realise that the floor head and tubing can be clipped to the back of the cleaner for compact storage, but read about it in the PDF. Helpful stuff. You can also search the support centre if you’ve got a problem.
As for downsides, I don’t have many. I don’t think the tubing is of the usual Vax standard, as it’s easily crushed if you accidentally stand on it or bend it and it doesn’t spring back into shape. Also, don’t think you can get away with vacuuming around things with the nozzle. It’s very powerful and receipts, a pen lid and a little brush used to clean someone’s electric razor were whizzed up inside the machine before I could stop them!
As I get quite a lot of Vax machines to test, I sometimes give them away after I’ve tested them. Not this one: it’ll be staying with me as my upstairs buddy. I really do love it.
Big thanks for Vax for providing the machine for review.
For more information, check out www.vax.co.uk.