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.
For some reason, although Mr English and I are no taller than 5’7 at a stretch (I think I’m slightly taller, but we always argue so we just agree that we’re both quite short), our offspring continue to grow at an alarming rate. Sam, our very own Mad Professor, is now so tall that we recently had to buy longer trousers for all his school suits (he was starting to look a little Michael Jacksonesque), and his little single bed was beginning to look rather comical, with his huge feet dangling over the end.
Cue the rather lovely Furniture Choice, who rushed in from stage left with shiny pants over their leotard and a big red cloak (not really) like a proper superhero and offered the boy a brand spanking new bed! His room’s not massive, so we agreed on a small double, in rather manly brown leather. As you can imagine, he was delighted.
Delivery was arranged and we stood at the door looking confused as three or four very large boxes were carried into the garage. We didn’t realise, of course, that the bed would have to be put together. Still, we grabbed the tools and set to work. There was quite a bit of swearing, and we discovered that, like with his father, we don’t work well as a team. BUT the instructions were pretty clear and, frankly, if me and a teenager can put together a bed, then anyone can:
The small double mattress to fit the bed was delivered shortly afterwards. They give you a time between 7am and 7pm, which is a bit vague, but it arrived pretty much first thing, so we were quite lucky. By the time we’d unwrapped it and manhandled it onto the bed, our delightful model was knackered and declined to pose:
All in all, we found Furniture Choice lovely to deal with: their customer service is really good – they always ring and have a chat about what day suits you for delivery, and they’re always very pleasant. Although I do think maybe they should warn idiots like us that massive leather beds don’t come ready made…
Huge, squishy thanks to Furniture Choice for the amazing bed. Not so many thanks for the fact that he’s even harder to shift out of it now!
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.
I love cooking. If I have a spare half hour you’ll usually find me in the kitchen, baking a cake or preparing something for dinner. BUT I do find choosing something to cook a bit of a chore. Aside from the usual family gripes of who doesn’t like what, there’s the temptation to stick to the few dishes that suit everyone. It’s the recipe for a massive food rut, something I think Jules Clancy addresses really nicely in her new book, ’5 ingredients 10 minutes’.
I’ll often take a long time to prepare dinner (one of the bonuses of working from home), but sometimes, if everyone’s rushing off, or different people need feeding at different times, it’s nice to have some quick, healthy recipes to fall back on.
One of the refreshing things about this book is that it gets you thinking outside the meat/carb/veg box that a lot of us stick to (myself included). My teenagers are already strapping lads: very active, and still growing fast, so protein-rich dinners are a must. Jules provides these in a creative way, using lots of pulses, beans and lentils and, a new one for me, quinoa.
That’s not to say that meat gets thrown by the wayside, with plenty of fast, fresh ways with meat too. The ‘beef with buttery courgettes’ is delicious, with minced beef cooked so well that it’s crispy in places – a wonderful mix of textures.
I was also delighted when Jules said that she’d happily give me some ideas for cooking chicken (our go-to dinner – especially wrapped in bacon, with veg and mash, which we have at least once a week as it’s a favourite of both my boys) – I LOVE the hummus idea:
So without further ado, it’s over to Jules:
”One of the downsides of chicken is that it can get a bit boring so I was glad when Becky asked for some ideas to make chicken more interesting rather than her old standby of wrapping it in bacon.
The first thing I like to do to make chicken more exciting is to serve it with a tasty sauce. We’re looking for things that can be made in the same time it takes for the chicken to cook.
Pesto from a jar works brilliantly with chicken. I’m also a big fan of dolloping on a commercial hummus as soon as the chicken comes out of the pan so the juices from the chicken can mix in with the hummus and make it even more delicious. I also love adding finely chopped herbs to lift the flavour of good quality commercial mayonnaise. Think chive mayo or even dill or thyme.
My other go-to sauce is to season a creamy Greek-style yoghurt with lashings of pepper. And I almost forgot another great trick is to cut a lemon in half and pan fry it cut side down with the chicken and squeeze over the hot lemon before serving with a good drizzle of olive oil.
If I’m not in the mood for making a sauce, I also love making a super quick ‘marinade’ to rub onto the chicken before cooking. In my book ’5 Ingredients 10 Minutes’ I mix smoked paprika with a little olive oil and rub this onto chicken thighs for an instant Spanish vibe. Don’t be afraid to play around with other spices. Ground coriander adds a lovely lemony freshness. Sometimes I’ll just keep it simple with some dried chilli flakes for a bit of heat.
The other tip I have for cooking chicken breasts or thigh fillets is to bash them out first with a saucepan or your fist. This tenderises the chicken but also reduces the thickness so it cooks more quickly and evenly – very handy for getting dinner ready in ten minutes or less!”
If you’d like to follow the blog tour for 5 ingredients 10 minutes and find out what other food bloggers have to say about the book, check out the image for details of the blogs on the tour.
There aren’t many parcels that get the whole family clustering round oohing and ahhing, but this little purple whatsit certainly did.
Can you guess what it is yet?:
Yup, it’s bluetooth speaker – unscrew it, wirelessly attach your phone/laptop/iPad/whatever (or it’s got an aux slot and comes with its own aux cable) and off it goes. Fully charged, it lasts a good few hours (depending on volume). It comes in a range of metallic colours and, when screwed down, is a tiny 5cm in size.
We unleashed the Mad Prof and soon, the shower was shaking with Pop Punk and his bedroom was booming with Grime. Here’s what he thought:
”This little aluminium tube packs a serious punch. The sound quality is really good for such a small speaker and it pumps out some serious bass and volume!
I have been using it for about two weeks now and I use it for everything, taking a shower, playing Xbox, going round a mate’s, it is honestly the best Bluetooth speaker i have listened to as well. A big thank you to the people at Bassbudz, for letting me review it and I hope everyone reading this gets one! Its worth it, trust me. ”
PS: in the car, it sits in the cupholder and makes an almighty racket. Trust me.
It’s a big 10/10 for us: mighty music in a teeny tube!
Living, as we do, just a 45 minute train ride away from London, you’d think we’d be popping to the capital all the time. In fact, we very rarely do, so an invitation to come and spend the weekend in London at the Thistle Hotel, Marble Arch was the cause of much excitement here at English Towers. It was also, I have to say, a rare pleasure to spend an entire weekend together, blighted (or blessed) as we are with two teenagers with very active social lives.
Getting there was easy: train into Euston, then two quick tube rides took us to Marble Arch underground station (don’t throw things, but I honestly didn’t know that this was right on Oxford Street) and a short walk (literally less than 100 yards) and we were there. The Thistle is really tucked away (discrete signage is all you can see from the road), but it’s a real Art Deco beauty, with a proper ‘Gentleman’s Club’ vibe of polished wood, brass and leather and amazing glass ceilings in the lobby area.
Checking in was easy (and incredibly polite) and we were soon in our rooms: the boys in a lovely twin, and us two doors down in a double. I’m not sure if they’ve been recently refurbished but again the vibe is quite masculine – not unpleasantly so, just a nice mix of beiges, browns and creams with sumptuously thick curtains, dark wood and soft leather chairs. The bathrooms were spotless, very heavy on the marble and, I’d say, a bit dated, but still fabulous. The service is fantastic – within five minutes of checking in, one of the boys had put the iron (turned off, thankfully) onto his bed where it had unloaded a load of water all over the place, soaking his bedlinen. Someone arrived within five minutes, whisking the soggy stuff away and replacing it while he was in the shower – he didn’t even notice it had been done.
After a quick (complimentary) drink in the executive lounge, we headed down to the restaurant for dinner. The Marmor Grill has a compact menu at a pretty good value £21 for three courses including a glass of wine. We found it easy to pick something that everyone liked and again the service was immaculate and unobtrusive. My prawn and crayfish cocktail with avocado and whisky marie rose sauce was delicious and the beer battered cod with hand cut chips and mushy peas was top notch. We forced down dessert (well, there was bitter chocolate tart AND knickerbockerglories!) and waddled back up to the room. Obviously being right on Oxford Street, it’s not the quietest place in the world, but we slept well in our huge, comfy beds.
The next day saw breakfast served in the Executive Lounge (everything you could possibly want: coffee, fruit, pastries, full English…), buoying us up for a full day’s shopping (‘Nike Town! Adidas!’).
Although we only shopped, I’d say the Thistle would be a great base if you were headed to the capital for dinner and a show, or if you’re just chilling, it’s a short walk across Hyde Park to the Science Museum – something we’re definitely planning on coming back to do.
Massive thanks for Thistle for putting us up (and putting up with us).
A standard double at the Thistle Marble Arch is £130.80. Click here for more details or telephone 0871 376 9027
Executive lounge access is with executive rooms only and includes private check in/out and complimentary continental breakfast and bar.
I love a gadget, me. So when Breville asked if I’d like to try out their new Elements range, I was very happy to say yes.
I tested their new kettle, and am happy to report that it not only satisfied my inner kitchen snob in the looks department, but it gained top marks for functionality too.
I do seem to have a habit of buying incredibly noisy gadgets (remember the iron from hell?) but this one was is really nice and quiet and boils very quickly. It also takes a whopping 1.7 litres of water – handy for me as I tend to boil the kettle to fill pans when I’m cooking vegetables or pasta, rather than wait for the water to heat on the hob.
The lid comes right off, something that drives me bonkers with my current kettle as the hinged lid gets in the way when you’re trying to fill it from the tap, and it’s got one of those 360° rotating bases, a must when you live with a left-hooker who is constantly turning everything round to suit them!
Handily, for those of us who live in horrendously chalky areas, there is a filter (that’s easy to take out and wash) and the bottom is completely flat thanks to a concealed element, which means it’s easy to get a (non-stick) scourer in there if there is any sediment build-up inside.
The Elements Premium Stainless Steel Jug Kettle has an RRP of £79.99 and is available to buy exclusively at John Lewis stores and online at www.johnlewis.com.
Many thanks to Breville for sending me the kettle.
Firstly, can I say that this review is about the online shopping experience and not about the iron – although this iron has given me so much entertainment, I’ve popped a little video at the end, just for you.
When Littlewoods asked me to give their online shop a go I was a tiny bit dubious. I think probably because I’m remembering the Littlewoods catalogues my Mum had when I was a kid. Now, happily, you can buy just about anything you could possibly want, and, although you can still do that thing where you pay for things weekly, you can also pay by credit card very easily. And now, with the addition of the gorgeous Myleene fronting their adverts (check out her lingerie collection, it’s gorgeous), Littlewoods is fresh, modern, and just a little funky. Brand-wise I was really impressed: there’s all the big guns like Coast, Lipsy and Ted Baker for the ladies and stuff like Superdry, Diesel and – my teenagers’ favourite G-Star RAW for the fellas, as well as all the usual big household brands.
It also got the boys’ vote for things like the ability to pre-order games such as Halo 4 and for good value gaming bundles too.
I purchased an iron (more of this later) and was able to pay, and chose a delivery time and date all within a couple of clicks. I was also sent tracking information and was kept up to date with emails. You can also reply to the emails to easily change the delivery date if it turns out it’s not convenient after all.
Delivery was very smooth and there was no waiting – the van was waiting for me on my return from the school run on the date requested. Impressive.
All in all, I came away with a completely positive experience of shopping online with Littlewoods and will definitely be back (well, now I’ve got an account it would be rude not to) to do my Christmas shopping.
And the iron? It’s great: it has a massive 300ml water tank, a huge 3 metre cord, and is heavy enough to feel substantial whilst not breaking your wrist every time you iron a shirt. The soleplate is pointy so it’s easy to get in between buttons on school shirts and it gives a big, hefty shot of steam when you need it. There’s just one downside:
I SAID, I’M I R O N I N G! NOPE, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!
It is, quite simply, the loudest iron in the world. Now I don’t really care, as its strengths outweigh the single flaw, but if you routinely iron while you’re watching TV, or with a sleeping baby in the room? Forget it. WHAT? I SAID FORGET IT!
Many thanks to Littlewoods.
Hey everyone! Its Sam here bringing you another review, this time its of the Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station
The Auna VCP-191 iPod Docking Station comes with two speakers and a main console equipped with CD player. One of its best features is its compatability with everything! It has a USB, iPod dock and an SD memory card slot on top. On the side it has an AM antenna slot (for anyone still living in the 70s), an FM radio antenna in the form of a wire and the two speaker slots. This basically means that EVERYBODY can play their music, which is brilliant! I have found the USB slot the most useful as all you have to do is put your music into files on the drive and it treats them like albums.
Right, now to the really important stuff: the sound quality is amazing! For such little speakers they don’t half pack a hell of a punch! The bass is brilliant and the quality is really good, even at the highest volumes. The Auna is great value for money at £97.90, for that you get what all the things I mentioned earlier with a wall mounting kit and a remote.
It is really simple to use and is so sleek and modern, it even has a really flash blue LED backlight!!
I would definitely recommend this system to everyone and encourage you all to buy one and be as pleasantly surprised as I am! Thanks for reading and goodbye
This iPod docking station with radio and CD player is available at the HiFi-Tower online shop
So as you’ll know if you read the last review, 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 was the brand new Vax Air 3, currently the lightest full size multi cyclonic upright in the world.
Lifting the Vax Air 3 out of the box I was struck immediately by two things: one, how very light it is (just 4.8kg), and two, that there weren’t tons of parts to fit together. I’m often daunted by machines that have loads of bits and pieces to fit together and really complicated instructions, but this is a real ‘plug and play’. All you have to do is stick the handle into the body of the machine, adjust it to your height, and you’re away.
I’m very, very fond of my day to day hoover, the Vax Air Reach, but this is a serious contender for my vacuumly affections. As well as the lightness, it’s got a funky swivelly head (officially called ‘air motion technology’) which means it can twist and turn around any object and, for lazy vacuumers like my good self, this means a lot less moving of chairs/teenagers/whatever, and frankly anything that helps get the job done quicker is good in my book.
It passed the stairs test with flying colours but, although the stretchy tube thing is long enough to reach from the top to the bottom of the stairs, I found I didn’t stretch it out, as the Air3 was so light, I carried up the stairs with me, resting it on the step above and holding it with one hand as I cleaned with the other. It’s nice and powerful too, at 225 air watts, combatting feathers easily (did I mention the feather situation? We have a feather-stuffed sofa, and often vacuum cleaners won’t pick up the little feathers as the get embedded in the carpet) and if you’re the sneezy type it has H12 HEPA filters which, in layman’s terms means it filters very tiny dust particles, pollen, etc.
My verdict? It’s not cheap, (£249.99) but if you want a really light, really powerful vacuum cleaner, especially if you have pets or allergies, this is a great choice.
Vax are starting their secret sale this Friday. There’ll be up to 80% off vacuums, carpet washers, steam cleaners, solutions and spare parts on vaxsale.co.uk and you can only gain entry with password STAFFSALE12. So keep it to yourself eh?
Big thanks for Vax for providing the machine for review.
Back, then, from our wonderful weekend, we’ve had time to reflect upon Guernsey, and what it can offer the traveller – be they family, couple, group or solo.
The first thing that struck us both, having enjoyed each other’s company, sans children, for the first time in a good few years, is that it’s a wonderful place for a weekend getaway. But then, it’s good for everyone. Before I explain why, let me tell you a little about this teeny island nestled off the south coast of England, nearer, in fact, to Normandy than the UK:
Although Guernsey has strong ties with France (it was, in fact, French up until 1066, but I won’t bore you with a history lesson), Guernsey is not French. Nor, is it English: it’s a self governing crown dependency, if you must know. The population, and I found this amazing, is about the same as, say Rugby: 62,000, spread across an island that is just 30 square miles. Guernsey is a bit like a wedge of cheese, with high cliffs on the south east side, sloping down to level ground on the north west. There are huge tides here – meaning that the sea goes out a really long way, also meaning that the waters are very clear and clean, meaning awesome shellfish and happy sea bass, as well as making the water lovely for swimming.
Which brings me neatly on to why Guernsey is a fabulous summer destination for families. Just a 45 minute flight from Gatwick (we flew Aurigny, who were amazingly courteous, ran like clockwork, and cost about £100 return per person), or a short ferry ride, and you’re on an island that boasts better weather than the UK and the most glorious, clean beaches. What you won’t get is the ‘kiss me quick’ hat, tatty seaside resorts that put a lot of people off holidaying in the UK. Guernsey is, well, classy. In the harbour town of St Peter Port, the little boutique shops, restaurants, cafés and immaculate streets reminded me of Marlow, a well to do town, proud of itself, but in an understated way.
So I thought what I’d do is give you a perfect weekend in Guernsey (tried, tested and scoffed by my lubly Hubby and I) to give you a taster. If you can make it for a week, even better, but here’s my perfect weekend:
Getting there: fly Aurigny.com from Gatwick and pick up a hire car at the airport, or ferry over from Portsmouth with your own car.
Accommodation: there’s everything on Guernsey from very posh five star hotels to lovely B&Bs (for fab beachy holidays, check out Waves, which is very stylish self-catering accommodation on glorious Vazon Bay, or stay in St Peter Port where there is a wide range of hotels – check visitguernsey.com for more info). We based ourselves in St Peter Port, but being such a small island, everywhere is easily accessible.
On arrival, have a drive around the island – you can’t really get lost – if the sun’s out, seek out the glorious beaches, often hidden away down little ‘park and walk’ lanes, or strike out along the stunning cliff paths and on the way, check out all manner of Nazi bunkers (from the occupation, more of this later), Neolithic tombs, The Little Chapel and much more. Stop and see what people are selling in their ‘hedge veg’ stalls – makeshift shops where the locals sell their fruit, veg, flowers and – in lovely Mandy Girard’s case – cheese from her herd of Golden Guernsey Goats. For lunch try The Hideaway at the Best Western Moores Central Hotel, Le Pollet, St Peter Port, for excellent local crab sandwiches and home made cakes, all served on a gorgeously sunny outdoor terrace.
In the afternoon, have a wander around the cobbled streets of St Peter Port where there is amazing shopping. If you get tired, pop in to the Ship and Crown pub on the harbour front, for a pint of the local Rocquette cider and check out the shipwreck photos in the bar.
In the evening, book a table at Red Grill House on the harbour front. Be prepared to be stunned by their amazing wine list – several pages long – but don’t worry, the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable should you need help choosing. They also have a fabulous array of steaks, sold by weight, and generally have fresh fish of the day. Leave room to share their incredible tarte tatin before waddling along the twinkly harbour front back to your hotel.
Head to the beach!
Bimble over to Sausmarez Manor (pronounced ‘Summeray’, five minutes’ drive) where there is a great farmers’ market on a Saturday morning. Afterwards, explore the manor house and take a leisurely walk around the grounds where you’ll discover all manner of sculptures as well as beautiful gardens.
Head off to Herm Island (herm.com) on the ferry from the harbour and spend a day enjoying gorgeous, Caribbean-like beaches on a proper Famous Five island complete with bracken-edged cliff paths and azure water. There are no cars on Herm and only 60 odd residents, so it’s a really peaceful place to while away the day.
We were escorted around the island by the lovely, and very knowledgeable Jonathan Watson who showed us all the accommodation on the island: from the 40-bed White House Hotel, perched above the harbour, with its Conservatory Restaurant (amazing wine list) and its attached Ship Inn brasserie, to self catering cottages and log cabins. There’s also a campsite with shop facilities during the summer (they’ll even get your shopping in for you so it’s there when you arrive). You can walk the cliff paths around the island in about a couple of hours, or if you fancy a shorter walk, cut across.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Mermaid Tavern and order the home made fish finger doorsteps with fat chips, battered with the local Herm Ale – you won’t be disappointed). It’s a truly fabulous place to spend a holiday, where you really can let the kids have as much freedom as they want, but if you can’t manage it, do spend a day there (take note of the last ferry times, otherwise you’ll find yourself castaway!).
Back on Guernsey, book a table at Christie’s, tucked away on Lower Pollet (which runs parallel to the harbour front). There’s an amazing atmosphere on a Saturday evening (ask for a booth at the back overlooking the harbour terrace – make sure you book!) – order a dozen oysters while you peruse the menu (their Tennerfest menu – loads of the hotels and restaurants do menus for a tenner during this six week period – is completely fabulous).
If you’re up for a few cocktails, head back to Red (just two minutes’ walk) and go upstairs to their cocktail bar, where the doors to the terrace are open in the summer, and quaff a few cocktails while watching the boats bob on the harbour. I recommend the Bramble (gin, blackberry liqueur.. other stuff…). I do not recommend drinking three.
Nursing a slightly aching head, why not wander along the harbour to Castle Cornet, a real boys-own castle (hold your ears for the firing of the noon day gun!) complete with turrets and cannons. The castle houses five museums with all sorts of interactive stuff kids will love, plus, you can stand high up on the fortress roof surveying the sea and pretend to be Jack Sparrow (or not).
If you’re flagging, pop into Boulangerie Victor Hugo for amazing pastries (59 Lower Pollet, boulangerie.gg).
Don’t miss the La Vallette Underground Military Museum, also walking distance from the harbour. Set in actual tunnels used by the Nazis for storing fuel during the occupation, the place is an amazing trove of memorabilia, not just from WWII, but right back to Victorian times. Kids will love the plethora of uniforms, guns and medals and adults will, as we did, find some of the things (letters home from family members sent to prisoner of war camps and tales of life during the occupation) very poignant. A moving place and well worth a visit.
For your final lunch, head to Le Petit Bistro, just on the corner of Le Truchot and Lower Pollet where you’ll find good wines (or great coffee) and adorable French staff. Feast on ‘Le Club’ sandwiches with extra ham or smoked salmon and share some frites. Delightful.
Finally, head sadly to the airport and vow to return to spend time in the summer on some of those spectacular beaches.
For more information on Tennerfest, which runs until November 11th this year, click on tennerfest.com
Huge thanks for our Gold accredited guide Gill, who was a mine of information and answered all my stupid questions, and to Visit Guernsey for sharing their beautiful island with us. I’d keep quiet if it was mine.
Remember Market Kitchen? Is it still on? I always had a bit of a crush on Matt Tebbutt but he never replied to me on Twitter, so that was the end of that. I did like Tom Parker Bowles too. I love his gentle, slightly posh manner, and his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of food too. His book, you’ll be pleased to know, doesn’t disappoint. Let’s Eat is subtitled ‘recipes from my kitchen notebook’ and it turns out that’s exactly what it is, the scribbles and sidenotes of hundreds of dinners, written up into what basically forms ‘a story of my love of food’. I love it too.
Tom’s recipes are proper, hearty fare. I had a go at his treacle tart, and the result was, if not fantastically aesthetically pleasing (I’m no good at embellishment) utterly delicious.
I’ve used this book so many times (triple cooked chips: amazing, griddled lamb with cucumber raita: scrummy…) I completely forgot to review it, so apologies for lateness – it was actually published back in June. My copy now sits, slightly grease-spotted and dog-eared, on the windowsill of my kitchen – the sign of a good cookbook, don’t you think?
Tom’s recipe for toad in the hole was also magical. Look how far it puffed up!
I think, often, good solid recipes that ACTUALLY WORK get lost in the fashion and fluffery of food writing. At the end of the day, if a recipe is easy (and a bit fun) to follow, I think that makes it pretty much perfect. This book delivers on both those levels – there are delightful snippets of information woven into these recipes, making them just lovely to read.
Buy this book. And treasure it. I bet you’ll go back to it time and time again.
Interestingly, Let’s Eat is available to download on iTunes. I gave it a go and can tell you that it’s actually a really handy way of owning a cookery book. Here’s a link to the page: http://itunes.apple.com/gb/
Let’s Eat: recipes from my kitchen notebook is out now, priced £25 hardback, published by Pavilion.
If you’ve ever bought a copy of Jamie magazine, you’ll probably be familiar with editor, Andy Harris. Already a fan, I was looking forward to receiving this book, not only because I love Andy’s work, but also as my own experiences of Moroccan food have been somewhat mixed: although I adored the tagines, fragrant pastries and couscous salads, I was less of a fan of the weirdly gelatinous calves’ foot casseroles and tooth-achingly sweet mint tea.
A Month in Marrakesh is a clever combination of travel guide and cookery book. I adore travel books: I love joining writers on their journeys, and adding food into the equation just makes it perfect. The photography, by the divine David Loftus, is just the icing on the cake. You can practically hear the muezzin and smell the charcoal braziers of the street food vendors.
Recipes are delivered in a very Jamie-like fashion – there’s no fuss or frippery (but no ‘boshing’ or ‘whacking’ either), just fresh ingredients, bold flavours and authentic combinations. Chapters include one on breakfasts, a very comprehensive and enticing section on salads and vegetables, also soups, tagines, roasts and some delicious looking desserts. The ‘street food’ chapter particularly grabbed me. The chicken kebabs with spicy avocado dip are on my to do list already. I’m also looking forward to recreating the bistilla (or pastilla) that I enjoyed on my visit a few years ago: crisp pastry with a spiced chicken filling, topped with icing sugar (sounds unusual, but it’s delicious).
It’s obviously that Andy Harris has a deep affection for Marrakesh, and he brings the very essence of this vibrant city to life through this beautiful book. Oh and that cloying mint tea becomes infinitely more appealing as a softly set jelly.
I’m delighted to say that I’m taking part in a blog tour for this fabulous book. You can also win your own copy too – see bottom (tee hee!) for details.
A Month in Marrakesh by Andy Harris, £16.99 paperback, published by Hardie Grant.
Monday 10th - http://englishmum.com/
Tuesday 11th - http://emmablock.co.uk/
Wednesday 12th - http://junglefrog-cooking.com/
Thursday 13th - http://www.babaduck.com/
Friday 14th - http://www.millycundall.com/
Win a copy of A Month in Marrakesh thanks to Hardie Grant Books. To enter simply follow Hardie Grant on Twitter @hardiegrantuk or like on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/
Winner will be drawn on Monday 17th September. UK residents only (sorry overseas friends!).
The very lovely Appliances Online sent me a wonderful new washing machine to test! Here’s my review:
The Hotpoint Style WMYL8352P is currently priced at £319 and I think it’s worth every penny. Many thanks to Appliances Online.
Chocolate by Genevie
These chockies are hand made, obviously with great care. There is no guide to tell you what’s what, so it’s a case of diving in. Sam got the coffee one: ‘oh noooo! I got coffee…’ turned quickly into ‘ooh, it’s lush though – like the froth off the top of a latte’. They would make gorgeous gifts too, presented in a really pretty gold box with a little butterfly (£16.99 for 16 chocolates) www.chocolatebygenevie.co.uk
Elizabeth Shaw sent the biggest hamper of chocolates I think I’ve EVER seen to our house. The boys fell upon it (I held back – a bit) and by tea time we all felt hideously sick…
They’ve released some yummy new additions to their chocolate crisp range : butterscotch, honeycomb, cocoa crunch and caramel in milk and dark chocolate and they’re all lush. There were some really nice stick things (white chocolate latte flutes, to be precise) – the flavour is really lovely, and that’s coming from a coffee hater – but sorry, mint crisp will always have my heart! They’ve got a competition running at the moment, giving away 7 boxes of chocolates a week if you’re feeling lucky: www.elizabethshaw.co.uk/competition/
We’re huge fans of Montezumas (and no, not just because they’re always sending us massive slabs of chocolate) and they have just brought out some great British pudding bars: the Summer Pudding one, Venezuelan milk chocolate with raspberries and blueberries, is utterly delicious but our favourite by miles is the absolutely gorgeous Lemon Meringue: Ecuador dark chocolate with lemon and meringue. Seek it out and don’t share it with anyone. (£2.49 for 100g bars).
Oreos (generally used in this house to make the best ice cream EVER – smash them into home made vanilla or chocolate ice cream) have just released new Oreo two biscuit snack packs. Priced £1.79 RRP, you get ten multipacks of two in a box.
Hasslacher’s Hot Chocolate
Cocoa Boutique is a luxury artisan chocolate tasting club. Every month they send out a collection of chocolates to try, which have been tried by a team of dedicated taste testers (you can actually get the chance to become a taste tester if you want - www.cocoaboutique.com/free-chocolates)
You can choose to have a box every month, two months, or whatever you like. All the chocolates are handmade by Master Chocolatiers from both the UK and all around the world.
Hey everyone, Sam here with my first review of many (I hope!). Today I’m reviewing the ‘BassBud Classic’ in-ear headphones (currently discounted to £34.95). Right, off we go! Oh wait one more thing, If you can’t be bothered to read all of this, there is a point summary at the end. Enjoy!
I have had two weeks to test out the headphones, testing out everything that I would normally use or see in everyday life, the BassBuds came in limited edition white and the appearance is modern and stylish, without having anything crazy design-wise to make you stick out like a sore thumb! The crystal in the back of each bud blends in with the design, so as to provide improved sound clarity with the unique crystaltronic system and does not look tacky at all.
The sound quality is amazingly good for the price bracket, definitely putting it at the top with the Sennheiser and SoundMAGIC headphones, But like it says in the name, bass is where these headphones shine, performing at what my parents call ‘Mach 3’ or my ‘normal listening’ volume with no buzzing or vibration.
And lastly my favourite thing about these headphones, they are really comfortable! I have not had a single case of ‘unforced slippage’ while using them and they fit perfectly in my ear, they also come with loads of replacement buds for bigger, smaller or more sensitive ears (different materials).
So there we are! I am very pleased with everything about these headphones and would happily recommend them to friends and family, thanks for reading!
- High quality sound
- Great bass and treble
- Doesn’t drown out the music with bass
- At even the highest volume sound is crystal clear
- Not just for drum and bass and other bassy music.
- Very comfortable
- Does not slip out at random
- It comes with a storage bag and loads of replacement buds
- Integrated microphone with controller for hands-free calls
- Compatible with Smart Phones
- Advanced Crystaltronics sound technology for crystal-clear HD audio
- Genuine SWAROVSKI ELEMENTS, the premium brand for fine loose cut crystals embedded into the design
- Gold plated 3.5mm audio jack for optimum connectivity
- Tangle-free, durable, double-wrapped cable
- Precision-cut, high quality aluminium housing
For more information, click on bassbuds.co.uk
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.
BRAND NEW out are new Chocolate Cheerios which disappeared pretty quickly and were last seen heading up the stairs being scoffed from the packet. They were declared ‘lush’ by one and ‘awesome’ by the other. Don’t knock the teenage vote – it’s the future.
Chokablok’s new chocolate ‘bloks’ all swirled and dotted with all sorts of crunchy chewy bits. Nomnomnom. Our favourite was the Cookie Crumb Mon-Star: white chocolate with swirly milk chocolate, biscuit balls, cookie crumbs and chocolate stars, but we loved all the others too!
ChokaBlok chocolate bloks and gift boxes are now available at Tesco stores (RRP £1.59 for the bloks and £3.99 for the gift box)
The Italian tomato sauce fridge pack is very clever, meaning you can keep the sauce fresh in the fridge for two weeks. We used it for pasta and also to spread on pizzas. Personally I thought it was a bit strong, but the addition of a little stock soon sorts that out. The stir-in sauces are delicious too – our favourite was vine ripened tomato and mascarpone.
The coffee lovers at English Towers have fallen in love with the very beautiful looking Nescafé Dolce Gusto machine that we were very generously sent last week. It’s very easy to use: basically you insert little pods into the machine which then pumps water through it at high pressure giving you a similar result to the coffee you buy in coffee shops made in those mahoosive machines. But without having to walk to Costa’s. Result.
My comments about the cost of buying the pods were shouted down as, obviously, it’s better than normal coffee and a lot cheaper than going out to buy it. Happy bunnies all round.
As you know, I’m not a coffee fan, but I’ve been enjoying milky lattes and am something of a convert, especially as this new version allows you to adjust it so if you prefer your coffee a bit weaker (or, indeed stronger), you can make it your own.
Princes Wild Alaskan Salmon
I’ve never bought salmon in a tin before so this was a new one, but we gave it a go and absolutely loved it. You need to have a little pick through to remove the bones and skin (although, as with other tinned fish, they’re probably soft enough to eat). I pan fried some prawns (from the freezer) with chopped shallot, fresh chilli and rapeseed oil, then stirred the salmon through to warm it up before tossing the whole lot through cooked linguine. Delicious, and a great storecupboard standby.
Heinz new FIVE Beanz
Despite having an aversion to the spelling (why not just beans?), we absolutely loved these new ‘grown up’ baked beans. The five beans mentioned are the traditional haricot, along with pinto, cannellini, red kidney and borlotti. There’s a lot more texture and ‘bite’ than normal beans and we absolutely loved them. They’ll be replacing the normal Heinz beans in my shopping basket from now on. Out now from all the usual places, RRP 84p.
Today is a great day for my buddies at Gatwick Airport and the lovely Jamie Oliver. Today sees the opening of Jamie’s brand new restaurant at the North Terminal, as well as a new Jamie’s Italian Bakery and a Union Jack’s Bar.
The restaurant is a mahoosive version of Jamie’s other Italian restaurants, the largest at the airport, with really nice open (well, glass fronted) kitchens, a wood-fired pizza oven and a fab view over the runways. The bakery, which is a new concept, will serve yummy treats like bread baked freshly overnight, pizzas, sandwiches and cakes and cookies too. The pub is another first in the UK and will serve little snacks along with drinks and there’s an amazing all-British wine list as well as UK beers too.
As a member of the Gatwick Passenger Panel, I’m bloody delighted for Gatwick, and so proud that they’re listening to their passengers and providing really great places to eat and drink. Well done, guys.
I’m going to start this review by saying that Reza Mahammad is a Really Nice Person. I’m not going to let this fact cloud my judgment at all – I just thought I’d let you know.
I’ve been a fan for years, since I used to watch him on UKTV Food when I lived in Ireland. He encouraged me to have a dabble with Indian cookery and brightened up the TV with his infectious laugh. Since then I’ve followed his television career and absolutely loved his recent series for the Food Network: Reza, Spice Prince of India.
I was delighted, then, to be offered a review copy of Reza’s Indian Spice – Reza is adorable on Twitter: friendly, fun and chatty – exactly how a good foodie celebrity should be. He even expressed delight at a photo of my recent attempt at pakoras (I’m ashamed to say I was delighted, and rushed, laptop in hand, downstairs to show the kids: ‘look, I’m tweeting with Reza!’).
Reza now lives in France, and this French influence is evident in some of the recipes, for example paupiettes of lemon sole enhanced with a creamy, saffron scented sauce. Delicious. Other influences are Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and, of course British. There are classic curries, show-off dinner party dishes and a’Quick and Chic’ section which on its own warrants buying this fabulous collection of recipes.
My boys liked the spiced meatballs in tomato sauce so much, I’ve cooked it three times already, and on my ‘to do’ list to try next are the scallops with coconut and ginger, lamb pasanda with green mangoes and the sumptuous white chocolate, cardamom and rose panacotta (I want the photo of this dish blown up and hung on my kitchen wall, its so beautiful).
All of this is written in Reza’s easy to read, chatty style (I abhor stuffy, bossy cookbooks). So often I pick up a cookery book and think ‘urgh – I cook all this stuff every day, in one form or another’, but this gorgeous-looking book has so many different ideas, so much inspiration, that I feel I’ll come back to it for dinner party recipes and midweek suppers for a long time to come.
Reza’s Indian Spice is published by Quadrille Books and is available now, priced £17.00 hardback.
And true to form, look what arrived on my Twitter feed this morning *happy sigh*:
Over the long Diamond Jubilee weekend, we had several family get-togethers, so I was delighted when Farmer’s Choice offered to send me one of their frozen food deliveries for review.
What we got:
Diced beef 750g
Steak mince 750g
Diced turkey breast 750g
Diced lamb 750g
Minced lamb 750g
Leg lamb half boned and rolled 1400g
Diced pork 750g
Leg pork boned and rolled 2000g
How we used it:
For our jubilee party, I defrosted three packs of the diced meat overnight in the fridge, then marinated them in various different flavours (the lamb in mint and rosemary, the turkey in soy sauce, honey and garlic and the beef in spicy plum sauce), threaded them onto pre-soaked bamboo skewers and grilled them. They were all delicious – the beef went down particularly well.
I mixed the minced steak and lamb together with breadcrumbs, an egg, mustard seeds, cumin and coriander with some crushed garlic, salt and pepper, and formed them into burgers. Oven cooked, then stuffed into burgers with some Manchego cheese they were beyond delicious.
The chicken was defrosted and used in my patented ‘lemon up the bum’ roast chicken recipe for Sunday lunch. It was utterly delicious (see my note below).
What we liked:
The free range chicken was fantastic. I usually avoid frozen chicken as I think it alters the texture, but cooked from fully defrosted the whole free range chicken was plump and juicy.
Not really, only that some information about how to defrost specific items would have been helpful. I had no idea how long it takes to defrost a chicken and had to defer our roast chicken dinner an extra day!
For more information, click on Farmerschoice.co.uk
So do you have a credit card? Not being fantastic with money, I’ve always resisted. But with the better weather on the way, we’re all tempted to splash out – maybe on a few new summery bits for the wardrobe, or even a nice holiday to grab some guaranteed warmer weather.
Barclaycard have announced a nice range of new offers. And as I don’t currently own a credit card, I was tempted by the offer for new customers of 0% interest on all purchases for the first three months: a perfect way to afford that holiday, and an incentive to pay it off as quickly as I can too, thus making it a nice easy introduction to owning plastic. The card has an APR of 29.9% (5 percentage points lower than the current Capital One Classic) and new cardholders will be offered a manageable starting credit limit as well as text and email alerts to help them manage their account. Not so scary after all, then?
If you’ve already got a credit card, there are some other offers that might suit you better, such as
· 22 month 0% balance transfer with £30 off the transfer fee (for transfers over £2,500)
· 15 months 0% interest on purchases and balance transfers
· Low fee (1.6%) balance transfer for 17 months
David Chan, chief executive of Barclaycard Consumer Europe said:
“We’re very excited to be offering even better value and such a huge amount of choice to new customers; from those wanting to manage their money better, to those who are seeking to build a credit history.”
If you want to take advantage of the deals, you’ll have to move fast, though. The improved deals will close to applications at midnight on 31st May 2012.
So with both the Death Wish Dude’s birthday and the Mad Prof’s coming up in quick succession, I was rather pleased when the chaps at gettingpersonal.co.uk asked me if I’d review their lovely website. Here are my top picks for personalised presents that are fabulous pressies for boys:
First up for the Death Wish Dude, chocoholic extraordinaire, I thought this personalised chocolate bar would be spot on:
You can’t beat a bit of chocky on your birthday, and chocky with your name on turns it into something special. He’ll love this.
Next, I thought that the photo phone covers were really cool. I was thinking that I’d suprise him by turning one of his action ‘seconds away from death’ photos into a cover for his iPhone.. maybe this one?
And now for the Prof… he loves a bit of Top Gear, so a poster revealing that he’s really The Stig would go down well:
… and this personalised superhero mug would make that morning cuppa extra special:
Oh and finally… I know this was supposed to be about the boys, but if anyone’s thinking of buying me a pressie, I’d LOVE this gorgeous slate cheeseboard:
My verdict, then? A nice looking, easy to navigate site with tons of ideas for pressies for all ages. Delivery is cheap (£2.99 and free for orders over £30.00) and checkout is quick and efficient. Highly recommended.
I love all their personalised gifts, LOVE the fact that they have a whole section of ethical gift ideas, and also love love love the fabulous memo board they sent me, which now takes pride of place in my office and is practical as well as beautiful.
Still on my WANT list is the wall mounted herb rack and all the lovely gardening bits and bobs (I’m determined to have beautiful, scented pots on my patio this summer).
The Death Wish Dude and English Dad are both addicted to coffee. They adore our Tassimo machine, but we try to keep it for special treats, as ten or more cups of coffee a day start to become very expensive! The DWD pronounced that this new Carte Noire coffee is ‘as good as filter’, which is a pretty hefty claim. It certainly smells nice (I’m more a coffee in cake person).
On a purely practical level, I also like that they do the coffee in packs as well as tins… I like to use my own containers and I think the move towards less packaging is great. Thanks to the lovely chaps at Carte Noire for sending us this.
Next up is albelli.co.uk who have all sorts of fab products for photos. They offered to put one of my favourite photos in a frame, and I chose this lovely Dubai beach shot that I’ve used as a background on Travelling And Arriving.
It’s finished in a shiny acetate and already has the fixings to hang on the wall attached (as well as some little rubber ‘feet’ that means it hangs level on the wall).
I absolutely love it. It takes pride of place in my office and every glance transports me back to that sweltering beach.
Yup, I know what you’re all thinking, they’re Uggs. And yes, they really are, as it turns out that ugg is not just a brand name, but an actual type of boot. Whooga make uggs with gorgeously thick sheepskin in a nice range of colours and styles and offered me a pair to try (and compare to my beloved Uggs). I chose a pair of short, black ones and they’re so deliciously comfy (you wear them with bare feet, and no, they don’t get stinky because the thick fleece allows lots of air to circulate – they don’t get ridiculously hot either) that they’re rarely off my tootsies. The care tips are really helpful and when disaster struck and I whooshed an entire bucketload of water and Milton fluid (I was whitening pilot shirts if you must know) over them, I had no choice but to rinse them. Dried carefully, stuffed with lightly scrunched newspaper, they were as good as new. I was impressed. I’ve since treated them with some suede protector, just in case.
This lovely planner came from Personal Planner. They’ve sorted it so that it starts from Feb 2012 and it’s even got my name written on the front! Inside it’s just as pretty and it’s got a week to a page with plenty of room to write appointments. There’s also little squares for ideas, notes and things to do.
When you order one you get to pick your own colours, text and picture for the covers too.
I’ve got a gift card to give away for a personal planner. If you’d like to win it, just mention it in the comments.
I’m a massive Soreen fan and they sent me some of their fabulous new snackage: first up is the new Malt Toastie Loaf, which is already sliced, meaning that you don’t squish it while you’re slicing – a Soreen hazard (of the best kind. It’s still really low fat and is fab for breakfast, priced at £1.39 for a loaf.
And then there’s the little snacky packets of loveliness that are the 5 packs of Malt Snackers and Fruity Five Snackers – little individual packs of slices of either the traditional Soreen Malt Loaf, or their ‘Fruity Five’ loaf which has all sorts of raisins, cherries, orange and stuff in. Both yummers but I’m afraid I’m a traditionalist. The Soreen Snackers are exclusive to Asda, selling at £1.28 for a pack of five.
And finally, I have to give a massive big up to the fabulous chaps at Polaroid, who, on hearing that the poor Death Wish Dude had squished his cool shades and broken the arm off them, sent him a fabulously cool new pair. Check out these bad boys (they’re called Horizon):
Even better, they sent me a pair too, so both of us are going to look ‘hawt’ all summer long.
Thanks guys, you absolutely rock!
We’ve had a bit of an up and down relationship with the Village Gate. We went there en famille (and we’re a grande famille, trust me) for my Mum’s birthday last year and had an excellent time. The place is absolutely gorgeous: a typical village pub revamped in a really clever, stylish way. The menu was great – creative and varied, the service fast and friendly and the food was as good as the menu promised.
So when we got an email through offering a table on New Year’s Eve for £30 a head we jumped at the chance and booked. The whole evening was a bit of disappointment, to be honest. Even though the restaurant was relatively quiet it took 45 minutes for our starters to come out (by which time we’d already finished one bottle of wine and frankly, were a bit past caring about the food), and then waited nearly as long for mains which were a bit disappointing. My sea bass was okay, but the tiny portion was full of bones and the crab crust made it difficult to catch them before you put them in your mouth, resulting in a bit of embarrassing hiding behind the napkin and fishing them out.
The desserts were disappointing too and to add insult to injury, we were charged £35 a head, not the promised £30. I emailed several times afterwards but never received a response.
But then, just when we’d given up hope, a new General Manager appeared on the scene. He’d read our email, he said, and would we please come back for a meal ‘on the house’ so he could show us what the restaurant could really do? ’Too right’, we said, leaping at the chance in an ungainly fashion.
And I’m happy to report that John (who is lovely, and very passionate about his food) has totally turned the place around. For one, it was packed (always a good sign), not just with diners but with people just in for a drink, giving the place a delightful background burble of happy conversation and chinking glasses. The menu is still fabulous – the Death Wish Dude and his dad were delighted to discover that the whitebait was still on the menu – and I was happy to see that John tries hard to source a lot of his produce locally (obviously not the whitebait, unless they came from the Grand Union Canal…). They also have creative gluten-free options.
My starter of bubble and squeak was topped with a perfectly poached egg and some delicious crispy pancetta, and was smothered in creamy hollandaise. It was absolutely massive, but that didn’t stop me polishing off the whole thing. The whitebait, I am assured, was delicious too.
For our mains, the Death Wish Dude and English Dad went for 28 day dry-aged Aberdeen Angus sirloin steaks which were cooked perfectly to order and were melt-in-the-mouth tender. The Prof went for beer-battered North Sea haddock, generously served with nice fat chips and a creamy pea and mint purée. All yummy. I went for the slow-roasted pork belly with a sweet potato dauphinoise, parsnip crisps and apple sauce. It was absolutely delicious, with tender flesh that pulled away in gorgeous flakes and an amazingly crisp crackling. Top drawer.
We were really a bit stuffed for the desserts, but the boys managed to force down a few of the ice cream flavours. All in all, we were delighted, and although we only paid for the drinks, we agreed that we would happily have paid for the whole lot. The service was friendly and attentive and John was around to give advice on the compact but very interesting wine list. We’ll definitely be back. Maybe even en famille. Brace yourself, John.
The Village Gate is in the beautiful Chiltern village of Wendover in Buckinghamshire. If you pop in, tell them English Mum sent you. Thanks to John and his staff.