An evening of chocolate and alcohol

My blogger life has reached its pinnacle. Last night, Red Letter Days invited me along to a chocolate making workshop with MyChocolate. That’s right … someone plied me with both alcohol and chocolate in return for my blogging and social skillz. I’m not sure it’s actually going to get any better than this.

I’ve always rather liked the Red Letter Days concept. Many years ago, I used it to buy my boyfriend (now husband) a flying lesson. I’m not saying the gift had a direct connection to our eventual marriage, but it was a great way of getting an unusual present for someone who didn’t need more stuff. At the time, my boyfriend lived in a shared flat where his bedroom was basically the pantry. It was just off the kitchen, and only big enough for a mattress and nothing else. The first night I stayed over, I had to leave my shoes outside the room because there was no room for them inside the room. Then all of his flatmates teased him. So he really didn’t want more stuff. But I digress… you wanted to hear about the chocolate and alcohol, right?

The first thing we did was learn how to make chocolate martinis. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever had one before because I’m a bit of a traditionalist. If I’m somewhere that has martinis, I tend to get one “shaken not stirred” or, if I want to go crazy, I get a “dirty” one. I thought a chocolate martini sounded a bit sickly, but it wasn’t at all. The one we made had a perfect chocolate to sweetness to alcohol balance. And, she taught us how to make cool squiggles on the martini glass.

After drinking the martini, they decided to test our fine motor skills by allowing us to design our own chocolate button. You choose either a dark or milk chocolate mixture and smooth it into a shape you’d like, then take the other type of chocolate and make pretty designs and squiggles. Here’s the one the instructor made:

IMG_20170919_190620.jpg

You were also allowed to add flavouring to your chocolate button. I was very inspired and decided to make a mint-flavoured leaf. It was going to be beautiful and delicate. I’m not sure if I can blame my martini for the result:

IMG_20170919_191504.jpg

At best, it’s a giant chocolate apostrophe. Let’s not say what it is “at worst”. Moving swiftly on…

Next, we learned how to make a chocolate ganache, stick it in a piping bag, and then pipe it out to make the beginnings of chocolate truffles. It’s the first time anyone has successfully taught me how to use a piping bag, and a bit of a revelation really. I’m going to try it out at home sometime soon.

We then got to have some prosecco and taste some different types of chocolate while our lovely and knowledgeable instructor taught us about the history of chocolate and the “proper” way to taste it. I failed to take a picture of the prosecco because I was too busy necking it … but here is the chocolate.

IMG_20170919_181542

Did you know that chocolate has over 400 distinct flavour notes? That’s (apparently) loads more than wine. We had to sniff the chocolate, feel the way it snaps when we break it, and then allow it to dissolve slowly on the tongue. It all made me feel very cultured.

All of this was a clever way of distracting us while our previously piped chocolate ganache set. It all looked like little poos on the paper, as you can see below. We then had to roll and shape them into something prettier using cocoa powder.

IMG_20170919_200808

After that, we could dip them in chocolate again and get creative with all sorts of decorations such as strawberry curls, honeycomb and sea salt.

A chocolate martini and two proseccos in, combined with my natural lack of fine motor skills, resulted in these lovely truffles.

IMG_20170919_203423.jpg

But it’s okay, because they gave us a bag to hide them in and take them home. The pizza box housed my beautiful “mint leaf”. At least I know how to curl a ribbon.

The verdict? I am rubbish at making food look beautiful, but I had a wonderful time. Also, I ate the entire bag of the truffles that I made, just now whilst writing this blog post. They weren’t much to look at, but they were delicious. Just like many things in this world.

I heartily recommend Red Letter Days and this chocolate workshop in particular. It would be fabulous for a party, a date, a good night out with your friends or even a work do. One of the best things about it was that it incorporated a bit of team work and got me chatting with the other bloggers there, even though I didn’t know them beforehand.

Thank you to Red Letter Days for inviting me along to this experience free of charge.

Mission Mindfulness
Advertisements

The perfect day out at Pub in the Park

I have to admit that I’ve never been a prolific festival-goer, although I have enjoyed the few I have been to. The most notable one was a hard rock festival in rural Finland during which I lived in a soggy tent, never showered, and lived on yoghurt and gin for 3 days.

Now I am a parent and nearly 40, I am officially too old for that stuff. So where do you go when you’d love to soak up some festival atmosphere, but you’re not up for tents, wellies and gin?

The answer is new festival, Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, featuring Michelin-star taster meals, an artisan food & drink market, live music and cooking demonstrations from celebrity chefs. The festival ran 19–21 May at Higginson Park in Marlow, and was hosted by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, famous for his Michelin-starred gastropubs. For a little more about the background about Tom and the festival, check out my Pub in the Park preview post. This post is dedicated to telling you about my visit to the festival, and why you want to be first in line for next year’s one.

I had tickets for the Saturday afternoon session and I had planned to bring my husband and children, but that didn’t quite work out for various reasons. I was lucky to recruit a friend to go with instead, and had an amazing child-free day. However, the place was absolutely chock full of happy children. Under-5s went free, and there was face painting and a pop up picture house there to keep them entertained. So you could certainly bring your kids if you want to; I just didn’t.

Arriving

Getting to Marlow is a bit of a faff to be honest, because it sits on a branch train line from Maidenhead and the total journey takes about an hour from London Paddington. And then we couldn’t get on the train at Marlow because it only had about 3 carriages and it was stuffed to the gills. Apparently, there was another festival in Cookham on the same line competing for train space with us. It would be great in future if both festivals cooperate with the rail company to improve transportation on that line. We ended up taking a cab from Maidenhead, which wasn’t too bad.

Once we made it to Marlow, though, it was smooth sailing. The town itself is beautiful and a joy to visit. There were loads of people pointing the way to the event and lots of signs, so you couldn’t really get lost. We sauntered into the park and waited for a very short time while listening to a local choir perform.

Then Tom Kerridge made a short speech to welcome us all to the event! We chased him down afterwards and got selfies with him, which was amazing. He was very gracious about posing with everyone who stopped him.

Drinking

My friend and I made a beeline for the beautiful giant teapot where they were selling Pimms. Pimms teapot_Great Britain events.jpg

What a fabulous idea for an event stand, and apparently you can book this teapot for your own event. I think it’s a newish company, so check it out on Instagram @greatbritainevents if you have a need for a giant teapot that serves Pimms. I need to come up with an excuse.

There were also stands serving all manner of other cocktails, each specialising in a different spirit – whisky, gin, rum, etc. You could also get a good old-fashioned pint at the Rebellion Brewery tent, and I was impressed with the quality of the Rebellion Blonde I tried.

Another alcohol-related highlight was the Glenfiddich masterclass we attended. Mark (@singlemaltmark on Instagram) took us through three different Glenfiddich whiskies: the 12 year old, 15 year old and IPA.

IMG_20170520_140230.jpg

Mark was refreshingly unpretentious about whisky, saying there is no single right way to serve it. Add water, ice, drink it straight or stick it in a cocktail – whatever makes you happy. He chatted to us about the history of Glenfiddich as a company and it was great to learn that, despite it’s international reputation, it is still a family business that produces all of its products in Scotland.

He also taught us how to prime our palates for tasting whisky. On your first sip, you swish it around in your mouth and then breathe out from your nose before swallowing. You need to try it – completely changes how your next sip will taste.

Eating

One of the really unique aspects of the festival is that you can buy small portions of Michelin-starred food for just £5 per portion. I had planned to EAT ALL THE THINGS while I was there, but actually there was so much to do that we only got around to try two different stands. However, my tasters were certainly memorable.

I went first to Atul Kochhar’s Sindhu stand. The Sindhu restaurant serves Indian food at the nearby Compleat Angler hotel. Atul Kochhar has two Michelin stars and is more well-known for his restaurant Benares in London. One of my ultimate culinary goals is to go to Benares, so I grasped at this small chance to catch a taste of Kochhar’s cuisine. I had the Aloo Tikka Chaat, which was so beautiful to look at that it almost seemed a shame to eat it.

The lightly-spiced potatoes offered a modest but satisfying crunch at first bite, revealing a fluffy interior. The combination of tamarind and coriander chutneys, yoghurt and pomegranate seeds gave you sweet, sour, tangy, juicy, crunchy, crunchy and fresh all in one go. Who knew a small paper bowl could give you so much.

We also went to The Coach stand, which is one of Tom Kerridge’s pubs. We had all 3 of the tasters on offers there. The chalkboard will communicate this more eloquently than me:

The Coach Pub in the Park menu

The ham hock terrine was beautifully presented, fresh and tasty, but not particularly more special than any ham hock terrine I’ve had.

Ham Hock terrine.jpg

The venison chilli was slightly more interesting, with uncompromisingly tender flakes of venison in a rich but not-spicy sauce. The best bit was the toasted “rice cream” at the top, which I suppose is the equivalent of sour cream on a normal chili, but it was made of fluffy cream clouds with a slightly sour tang, followed by the satisfying crunch of the tiny bits of – well, let’s face it – rice krispies. I’m going to try putting rice krispies on top of my chilli at home.

But the winner out of the three was the smokey sausages & beans. Among its menu companions, it sounds the least original, but it was the stand out dish. A rich tomato-ey sauce, abundant in tender sausage slices, was infused with the pickle-y flavours of the chilli & lime salsa that delivered more than a little chilli kick and a mouth-watering vinegar tang. I could have eaten a much, much bigger bowl of that.

Shopping

There was an amazing artisan food and drink market at the festival, and we worked our way around eating and drinking all of the free samples we could handle. We were so impressed at the friendliness of the vendors and the quality of products on offer. We struggled to decide what things were worth bringing home.

I ended up with 2 pints of bitter from Chiltern Brewery (@chilternbrewery), some garlic & chilli pork scratchings from the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm (see previous post referring to that place), and a three-pack of BumbleBee Cider (@bbcider), which is the best cider I’ve had ever since a friend made his own in his basement – and I’m not being facetious, that basement cider was amazing. It was light and not too fizzy, striking a perfect balance between sweet and sharp.

IMG_20170520_123004.jpg

Being entertained

As if all this loveliness wasn’t enough, there were also celebrity chef demonstrations and live music. We saw Atul Kochhar cook some coconut seabass and crack jokes. When asked what spice he couldn’t do without, he said, “my wife”.

IMG_20170520_134443.jpg

And Monica Galetti was her usual cool and witty self (I was far back in the crowd for that one, plus think I’d had too many “samples” by then and don’t remember what she cooked).

IMG_20170520_145140

And then to top it all off, we saw Toploader. You know, the band who plays “Dancing in the Moonlight“, which if you’re anything like me, holds many pleasant student union memories. We couldn’t stay long enough to see their whole set, but I was really impressed by their style – some pretty credible rock music was coming from that stage.

The verdict

Seriously, if you like food, if you like celebrity chefs, if you like drinking in fields and listening to music, there is nothing about this festival you won’t like. It had all the party atmosphere, but with lots of classy content added in, for the more “mature” festival-goer. I was lucky to get free tickets in exchange for this review, but I guarantee you I’ll be paying for tickets to go again next year. You should too.

Tammymum

Gourmet food, celebrity chefs and drinking by the river

One of my passions in life is food and drink. Before we had kids, my husband and I saved our pennies to go to Michelin star restaurants on big birthdays and anniversaries, and were always on the lookout for special deals that would make the very best cuisine affordable. We still watch all the celebrity chef and cooking shows we can find.

However, having young children has seriously reduced the amount of time and money we have to spend in pursuit of culinary delights. We can’t even watch Saturday Kitchen anymore. It has been replaced by CBeebies (or, if we dare vary from that, lots of whinging). For the most part, the only gourmet food we eat is that which my husband cooks (and he is pretty good, but he hasn’t got any Michelin stars).

So I was excited to learn about Pub in the Park, taking place 19-21 May 2017. This is a fabulous new food, drink and music festival hosted by celebrity chef Tom Kerridge.

In case you don’t know, he’s famous for his 2-Michelin-star gastropub in Marlow, The Hand and Flowers. He also has another pub, The Coach, opened in 2014. He has featured on well-known foodie TV shows such as The Great British Menu, and hosted his own shows such as Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food. Right now, he’s getting a lot of press for his new diet cookbook Tom Kerridge’s Dopamine Diet. I’m pretty impressed that he lost 11 stone with a diet he created for himself. That’s the right way to turn 40!

I’ve been wanting to go to The Hand and Flowers for ages but never had a chance. Now, this fantastic weekend festival is giving me the chance to sample a whole range of gourmet tasting dishes at affordable prices. There will be a fantastic lineup of celebrity chefs there doing cooking demonstrations, along with some great live music, all set in the beautiful Higginson Park in Marlow next to the Thames. Check out this amazing line-up:

full-line-up

There will be plenty of places to get a refreshing beverage and kick back on the riverside. And, best of all, it is family friendly. Under-5s go absolutely free, and there will be a children’s pop up picture house to keep them entertained.

If this sounds like a good day out to you, consider signing up to the newsletter (scroll to the bottom of the page) in order to get access to the exclusive pre-sale on Thursday 23 February. Tickets will be available to the general public from the 24th. On the link above you will also find all the information you need about the festival.

Hope to see you there!

I’m receiving complimentary tickets in return for promoting the event in advance and reviewing it afterwards.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
Sparkly Mummy
Two Tiny Hands

How to go on a date with your partner when you have young children

Recently, my husband and I really, really wanted to see the latest Star Wars movie together. In order for us both to be away from our children long enough, we both had to take a day off work. And by the time we added on a modest lunch at Nandos, cinema tickets and some popcorn, we’d spent around £50.

On special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, our dates are even more expensive. We’ll hire a babysitter, go to a decent restaurant and have a few drinks. By the time we’ve paid for the babysitter, the meal, the drinks and the taxi, we usually spend in the range of £200.

Having quality time with your partner when you have young children gets expensive and is often inconvenient too. I always worry about leaving my kids with a babysitter. Which is why “date nights”, for us, only happen a few times per year.

So I was excited when I was approached by Date Delivered to review one of their dates-in-a-box. They send you supplies for a fun and creative activity to do at home, ostensibly after the kids are in bed and actually sleeping. The boxes cost £33.95, which sounds expensive at first, but when you think back to how much you spend on going out, it’s a bargain.

IMG_20170127_093233.jpg

You can sign up for a subscription to receive a box every month, or every 3 months. Or you can just buy it as one-off. There are options to send them as gifts as well – a great alternative to a more traditional hamper. There is a fun quiz on the website about what you like as a couple, which helps determine what sorts of boxes you will receive.

The cocktails

The best sort of date for my husband and I turned out to be alcohol-related. Fancy that! So Date Delivered sent us a rum cocktail making kit. It came with the cocktail recipes, the rum and other special ingredients, some snacks and a list of conversation starters. It all looked so pretty and enticing in the box.

IMG_20170127_093938.jpg

And indeed out of the box. Yum. Rum.

IMG_20170201_194702.jpg

At this point, I should probably caution my readers who are planning on trying the cocktail-making kit that you really do need to read the instructions before you start. There is extra stuff you need to find. Ice, for starters. Luckily we had some ready in the freezer, but it was depleted because my 4yo son has a serious ice-water habit. We also needed some lime and grapefruit juices, a cocktail shaker and something to measure out the ingredients.

Luckily because we’re a boozy sort of household, we had all this stuff on hand. Although it would be good if the kit could include something to measure the booze. Because my husband is a scientific type and makes his own beer in his spare time, we used a graduated cylinder. Like total geeks. Maybe we’re a bit uptight, but we had to get it exactly right!

My husband also will divorce me if I don’t mention that the cocktail recipe card said you could make 4-6 cocktails with what was provided. He pointed out that the measures were exact and therefore you could only make precisely 5 cocktails with what was provided. Whatevs, though – 5 was definitely enough!

The conversation

So the cocktails were super tasty, as cocktails usually are. The salted caramel popcorn that we had with it was delicious as well. But surely the important thing about this product is whether it actually made for a romantic date night. Did we reconnect? Did we feel amorous?

Yes! We were both a bit surprised by how much fun we had. It was funny because I was spectacularly bad at making the cocktails. So we bickered a bit and then laughed about me not knowing how to shake a cocktail shaker. Here is my husband demonstrating while he laughs at me:

IMG_20170201_195721.jpg

The conversation starter card that came with the date was also surprisingly good. When I read them on my own, I thought they sounded pretty cringey and that we’d be too embarrassed to try them. But once we had a couple measures of rum in us, we went through all of them and enjoyed laughing about old times.

One of the questions was, “if you could recreate one of our dates, which one would it be?”. My husband wanted to replicate our very first date, but not for the reasons you’d think. He thought it was funny because I ordered a filet of fish at the restaurant but then sent it back because it had bones in it. As far as I’m concerned, the word “filet” means “bones have been removed”. Some men would have been turned off by my diva-ish attitude, but apparently my husband found it endearing.

Another fun one was, “If you could name a cocktail based on me, what would it be called?” That was a tricky one. He named my cocktail “The Clumsy Wife” and I named his “Mr Know-it-all”.

It was great to flirt and tease each other. We didn’t discuss the kids or household admin for a change. We just had a fun chat with no mention of the washing up or who needed to go where the next day.

The verdict

We had a great time! It’s a fantastic way to ensure you and your partner make time for one another without all of the hassle and expense of arranging a date outside the home. And it is so exciting to receive a mysterious box and find out what your activity is going to be this time. I think I might actually sign up to receive a quarterly box myself.

The Mum Reviews and husband.jpg

Win one for yourself!

Date Delivered has very kindly agreed to provide one of the cocktail making date boxes to one of my lucky readers.

CLICK HERE TO ENTER THE RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY.

Giveaway terms & conditions

  • This competition will open on 2 February and will close on 18 February at 12am GMT.
  • One winner will be selected at random.
  • The winner will receive one cocktail-making date-in-a-box, sent directly by Date Delivered.
  • UK entrants only.
  • No cash alternative will be offered.
  • The winner will be announced on The Mum Reviews’ social media outlets, not the blog.
  • The winner will have 28 days to respond to their winner’s email.

Disclosure: I received a Date Delivered box for purposes of this review, but all views are my own.

Listed on The Competition Database and Loquax.

SuperLucky Blog Giveaway Linky

Come to the Dark Side. We have cakes. (bakerdays review & giveaway)

When bakerdays contacted me to ask if I’d like to review their range of Christmas cakes, I was so excited. Somebody wants to give me cake in exchange for my blogging! I must be getting good at this blogging malarkey.

I excitedly checked their website and quickly found that I could choose from a wide range of Christmassy designs, and personalise the text on the cake. Because I am a bit of a sci-fi geek, I quickly chose the one with Darth Vader wearing a Santa hat, and added my social media handle to promote myself and stuff (as you do).

star-wars-christmas-cake

I was totally lacking in Christmas cheer until Darth Vader popped through my letterbox in cake form.

A cake through a letterbox? What is up with that? Well, let me tell you.

Cakes like my lovely Darth Vader cake above are designed to fit through a letterbox. You can send them as a gift to a friend with whatever picture and text you would like. You can choose from a wide range of clever designs on the bakerdays site, or upload your own pic.

And they’re not just for Christmas. You can send them for birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations of lost virginities … whatever you like. There are even One Direction cakes, if that’s your thing. And they are available for next day delivery, because we all forget birthdays until Facebook reminds us. They are 5″ in diameter and produce at least 4 servings of delicious cake to be consumed with the hot drink of your choice. Or booze. I like heating mulled wine in the microwave.

I think these cakes would make an excellent alternative to sending a greeting card. You know when you want to send something to someone, and a card just isn’t enough? But you don’t want to spend lots of money just to send something naff that they won’t even want? These cakes are the perfect solution. Everybody likes cake, right? And you can put their name and a picture of your kid on it (e.g. I love you grandma), or include some lame inside joke that only the two of you understand.

The cakes come in 5 different flavours: vanilla, chocolate, fruit, half & half, gluten free or dairy free, so you can even send it to your vegan friends. I chose the chocolate cake and it was absolutely delicious. I couldn’t believe that this cake got sent through the post, got dropped through my letterbox, fell 3 feet to hit the floor with a bang, sat on my kitchen worktop for a week before I got round to opening it, and was still intact and utterly scrummy.

bakerdays-cake-in-packaging

It came impeccably presented in a small cardboard box, which I opened to reveal a neat little tin (that I can keep and reuse) and a Christmas cracker. The cracker added extra fun for my kids and included a paper crown, a joke and some Christmas stickers.

bakerdays-christmas-cracker-contents

The cake was moist and chocolatey with a sturdy but not overwhelming coating of icing. My favourite bit was cutting into Darth Vader’s head.

Darth Vader's head.jpg
There is no hope for me now, son.

However, you might be able to tell by now that I am easily pleased by sugary goodness and free stuff. But my little monkeys are much harsher critics. I can faithfully report that both of them enjoyed their (very small) share of the cake (because Mummy hid in the pantry and had an extra piece). Here is my youngest shouting for more:

Covered in cake child.jpg

So I highly recommend these letterbox cakes as affordable gifts for any occasion. They also do larger cakes – up to 12″ – if you need to feed more people and don’t feel like baking (but big ones won’t fit through your letterbox).

Would you fancy receiving a free letterbox cake of your very own? Of course you would. It’s free! It’s cake! What’s not to like? Please click on the link below to enter my Rafflecopter giveaway and you will be able to choose which personalised letterbox cake you’d like.

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED (VISIT GIVEAWAY PAGE TO WIN FREE CAKE)

If you’d like to learn more or even go ahead and buy a cake, then please check out the bakerdays website.

How do you feel about cake? What would your personalised cake look like?

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Giveaway terms & conditions

  • This competition will open on 23nd November and will close on the 3rd December at 12am GMT.
  • One winner will be selected at random.
  • The winner will receive a personalised letterbox cake to be arranged in liaison directly with bakerdays
  • UK entrants only
  • No cash alternative will be offered
  • The winner will be announced on The Mum Reviews’ social media outlets, not the blog
  • The winner will have 28 days to respond to their winner’s email

Disclosure: I received a cake for purposes of this review but all views are my own.

Perfect burgers in Surrey

A review of Brisk Burgers, Oxted, Surrey

Having grown-up in America, I think I have at least a little right to a strong opinion on the subject of burgers. I’m sure there are many delicious burgers to be had in the UK, but unfortunately I have encountered very few of them. For me, burgers in this country are usually overcooked and dry, with not enough toppings or condiments.

So imagine my delight when I found Brisk Burgers, a newly-opened burger bar in Oxted, Surrey. This place really ticks all of the boxes for me.

The menu

The menu is relatively simple but has a nice variety of burgers for different tastes. I chose the “All-American” (as this was the true test for me), but “The Gurkha”, a lamb burger with curry seasoning and a yoghurt dressing, sounded delicious.

Husband chose “The Bandit” (pictured above), which had chilli sauce and roasted red peppers in addition to the usual bacon cheeseburger toppings.

There were a range of different chips you could order with your burger: standard chips, thinner “fries”, skinny fries, courgette fries and sweet potato chips. Other standard sides, such as coleslaw, were also on offer.

The drinks menu was large and comprehensive. I was particularly impressed that they offered local real ale, imported American beers and milkshakes.

There was a children’s menu as well, with a beef burger, chicken burger and bean burger as the main options. We were there without the kids around 7:30pm on a Saturday, but it was nice to see lots of kids there and know that ours would be welcome at that time on a future visit.

The food

My burger was a beautiful thing. It was slightly pink in the middle which rendered the meat soft and juicy. The tomato and onion were fresh, the streaky bacon nice and crispy. My favourite thing was the pickles served in a mustard dressing. I love pickles generally but these were quite special – not too sweet, not too vinegary. And there were a variety of condiments provided, including the must-have mustard for American burgers, French’s.

Husband was equally impressed with his burger, despite being far pickier than I am. He said the red peppers were sweet and just the right consistency (not slimy as roasted veg can sometimes be), and the chilli offered just the right kick for his chilli-loving self.

We had skinny fries (pretty good) and courgette fries (amazing). It was the first time I’d had courgette fries and they were delicious. Little squares of soft courgette coated in a tempura-style batter and delicately seasoned. And I’m pretty sure they were one of my five-a-day.

The atmosphere

IMG_20160730_193826The restaurant had a carefully studied hipster vibe that would have been at home in Shoreditch. There were funny drawings of moustachioed hipsters wearing burgers as hats on the wall. And despite it being quite a narrow space, the bare brickwork and light-coloured furniture made it feel bright and airy.

The only feedback I have is that they should consider adding some hooks under the bar for hanging personal belongings. We waited there for our table and I couldn’t figure out where to rest my handbag.

The service

Very friendly, professional and happy to accommodate special requests. It was a little bit slow at times, but it was very busy and the place has only just opened, so I expect they will tighten things up as time goes on.

The price

This really surprised us. We had 2 burgers, 2 sides and 4 alcoholic drinks, and were expecting to pay over £50, but the final bill came to under £40.

The verdict

Unique, outstanding and definitely worth a visit.

 

The Blacksmith’s Arms, Isle of Wight

Fresh seafood & breathtaking views at a child-friendly pub

It is so easy to find disappointing pubs on holiday. Usually, the food is bad. Often, the beer is bad too. Pubs on holiday too often are visited by merit of their location or simply because the kids are starving and/or they need the toilet. “Are we going to the pub, mummy? Look, mummy, there’s a pub! STOP MUMMY STOP! There’s a pub RIGHT THERE!”

However, The Blacksmith’s Arms surprised us. We followed a half-broken sign near our holiday park. The second half of the pub’s name was gone, so we only knew we were going to the Black-something. We followed the sign because it said “fresh local seafood”, but we weren’t holding out much hope.

When we arrived, it was a little worrying that nobody seemed to be there, but it was only just 12pm, which is the absolute latest lunchtime our monkeys will stand for. We decided to go for it and found a table in the terraced garden, which had an absolutely breathtaking view over the Solent.

The view was not advertised on the broken sign. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to a pub with a better view. I’m also awarding extra marks for providing tables with sun umbrellas, as we are slightly vampirish in our ways and don’t like being in direct sunlight.

Inside the pub, we received a friendly welcome. There was a large specials board and an even larger menu, and a bit of local real ale on tap (and other more girly drinks as well, obvs). I ordered the local dressed crab with salad and new potatoes, Husband got salmon with a prawn sauce, and we ordered sausage & mash for both boys.

The kids ate more food than they’d eaten in days. You don’t get sausages like that in every random pub with a broken sign. Husband loved his salmon and my crab salad was quite good too. My only criticism was that the salad could have used more dressing. There were only a few splats of balsamic vinegar and full-on vinaigrette would have been much nicer. Also, the portions were huge. This can only be a good thing, but worth knowing if you’re planning to order starters or pudding.

After lunch we enjoyed the playground with the kids. It’s not flashy, but there’s enough there that both our children had tantrums upon being asked to leave. It had a basket swing, a normal swing, and a little wooden castle with a tunnel.

I also can’t sign off without mentioning the ladies toilets. They are clean and a very plush changing table resides within a carpeted sitting room containing leather sofas. It’s so nice to be able to change the baby in a public toilet without feeling like you need a shower afterwards.

The Verdict

ShelliconShelliconShelliconShelliconShellicon5 out of 5 shells – best holiday pub ever

 

Garlic & chilli heaven on the Isle of Wight

Breathing fire and smelling like a dragon

That’s right. We devoted an entire day of our holiday to two of my very favourite ingredients. Both of my pregnancies had me fairly obsessed with garlic and chilli, to the point that I carried a bottle of Tabasco in my handbag and used half the bottle of garlic piri-piri sauce every time I went to Nandos (which was a lot).

So you can imagine my excitement to find that The Garlic Farm and House of Chilli were within a short drive of one another. We also accidentally discovered some other fun stuff at Holliers Park, where House of Chilli was based.

House of Chilli

This place is a shop, a tourist attraction and a way of life all rolled up into one. Their homepage says their aim is “not just to help the hardened chilliheads feel the burn, but to offer a rangehouse of chilli of products suited to all tastes”. The walls of the rather large shop were lined with chilli-based sauces beyond what you’ve ever imagined.

The main attraction of the shop is their extensive tasting table. The large table in the middle of the shop had about 20 different things to taste, including salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, chutneys and salsas. The mechanism for transferring condiment to mouth were some rather lovely tiny pieces of tortilla. I tried everything. My favourite was the Chip Shop Curry Sauce.

There was also a smaller table with an actual health warning on it. About 5 sauces that are not for chilli rookies, arranged in order of hotness. I managed two of the milder ones and was temporarily deprived of the ability to speak (a very rare occurrence). Husband tried the hottest one and he was stoned on chilli endorphins for the next half hour.

It was also a child-friendly shop with a great big chalkboard at the back where they could draw and a reading area with some children’s books. There was an ice cream machine as well, although that may have been more for those adults who go a little too far with the chilli samples.

Holliers Park

Husband was suffering some serious chilli intoxication after leaving the chilli shop, so we decided to have a nose round the other shops on the property while he sobered up.

First we popped into Island Artisan. I groaned on the way in, expecting it to contain a variety of generic tourist tat. Boy was I wrong. This was a real hub of unusual artisan goods with a number of artists in residence who you could watch in action. steampunk hats

One man had lost many abilities due to suffering a stroke but had found new purpose in doing pyrography. I was very tempted to buy his portrayal of the Lady of the Lake bestowing Excalibur upon King Arthur. I also really wanted to buy one of the steampunk hats. I’m sure those would have multiple uses, mostly involving alcohol consumption. But my house is really small and my two little monkeys are the reason why we can’t have nice things.

There was loads of other cool stuff there and, thoughtfully, they provided toys and colouring to keep the kids busy while the parents nose around.

All of that hankering after hats began to work up a thirst, and it was simply not an option to ignore the property’s Victory Tearooms. “It’s a double-decker bus cafe!” shouted Eldest Victory Tea Rooms on the Isle of Wightin amazement. And right he was – it was a massive double-decker bus filled with wartime memorabilia. You order downstairs from two cheerful women in 1940s attire, and your order is delivered via dumbwaiter to the top deck of the bus.

The service was a little bit slow to us mainland Southerners, but then there seemed to be a general lack of rush across the whole island. We kept reminding each other that we should try to enjoy the island pace of life. And in any case, where else can you eat tea and cake whilst pretending to drive the bus? Cafes don’t get much more fun than this.

The Garlic Farm

The Garlic FarmAnd so, having tired of driving the bus, we proceeded to The Garlic Farm to have our lunch.

The restaurant has a nice atmosphere but a very small menu. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a larger choice of garlic-related main courses on the menu. Many of the more unique garlicky dishes were part of overpriced sampler platters.

I had the roasted garlic starter, which involves spreading soft, massive garlic cloves on slices of bread. I’ve seen this executed much better. There was not enough bread and the butter was cold, so I couldn’t spread it. The garlic also wasn’t as flavourful as I was expecting. Perhaps it was not the correct breed of garlic.

I enjoyed my main more: a flatbread spread with pesto and piled with a collection of roasted vegetables. The pesto transformed the dish from dull vegetarian option to delicious and the sweet, succulent tomatoes upstaged the other vegetables. I did not eat the ill-considered giant wedges of barely-cooked red onion.

Husband had a sandwich with smoked salmon, cream cheese, garlic puree and some other stuff. He said it wasn’t too bad but that it was weird that it was served hot. Warm sheets of smoked salmon just aren’t really a thing, as far as I know.

The kids menu was large and provided in the form of an activity/colouring sheet, which was nice. But the kids didn’t really eat the food. Not even Youngest, who eats everything.

So, I was a little disappointed with the restaurant and think they could up their game there, but the rest of the farm was brilliant. Especially considering that admission and parking are free.

TOP TIP: Despite my moaning about “not enough garlic”, I really wouldn’t recommend going to the The Garlic Farm restaurant if you’re planning a date, a business meeting, or to take public transport. The garlic smell emitted from our mouths (and other places, perhaps) was truly offensive for at least the next 24 hours. It’s a good thing we didn’t have any guests in our caravan.

Besides the shop (where we bought the pesto from my flatbread and a massive braid of garlic), there was a large room where you could taste the wares, an education room hosting arts & crafts for children, a cafe and an ice cream stand.

Wildflowers at The Garlic FarmWhat we enjoyed most was the walk around the farm. There were beautiful fields of wildflowers and rows of different types of garlic with descriptions for each. I had no idea there was such a wide variety of garlic breeds for all around the world.

You could then proceed to take a nature walk through woods and fields, where you may see some cows. The website had implied there was a variety of other animals, but we couldn’t spot them. It was a very hot day so perhaps they were wiser than us and off keeping cool somewhere.

The farm was also a prehistoric settlement and you can see some artefacts that have been found there in the education room.

TOP TIP: If you’re with the kids, remember to get a map before starting the nature walk (I didn’t), and make sure you only attempt “very short nature walk” or “short nature walk”. We did the latter and it was still a big ask for Eldest. At one point, I told him to go have a rest on a random bench, but when he did, it fell over on top of him! So do test any benches before attempting to sit on them.

The walk ended in a grassy area with a children’s playhouse and some free-range chickens. I was a little bit scared that the chickens would attack, so we didn’t stay long.