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…Afternoon Tea at the Malmaison, Cheltenham

Dining Out, Food, Out and About

Whilst I’m the first to admit we aren’t exactly experiencing the best of the ‘Great British Summer’ this year, it is a fact universally acknowledged that there is nothing more quintessentially ‘summer’ than a good old British afternoon tea.We have built a tourist empire on it, and rightly so.

Earlier this month, Adam and I were invited to take afternoon tea with a twist at the Malmaison in Cheltenham. As you may already know, The Malmaison chain now occupies the former Montpelier Chapter; a grand building in the town centre with an interior that just oozes luxury and style.

We were greeted by a friendly waitress and shown through to the Orangery, which is a beautifully light space, although perhaps a little hot on the day we visited – if you are particularly warm blooded, I would suggest asking to sit elsewhere.

The Malmaison does not disappoint on choices, with three different afternoon tea options to tempt a variety of tastes – classic, champagne and cocktails.

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Adam and I both opted for the Cocktail Afternoon Tea; as self confessed gin lovers (read: snobs) we were intrigued by the Hendrick’s G&Tea on the menu. Consisting of Hendrick’s gin, St Germain elderflower liquer, blackberry and elderflower tea syrup, lemon juice and tonic and served in Hendrick’s literary themed china, this cocktail tasted like an English garden, looked sublime and really did live up to my expectations.

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I really loved the premise of the cocktail, so much so that I attempted to recreate it twice over with some of the fantastic local brands available to Cheltenham dwellers currently residing in the Lewis liquor cabinet, substituting in Sibling Gin and Cotswold Dry Gin (on separate occasions), Chase elderflower liqueur, local blackberries, homemade tea syrup infused with Bottlegreen elderflower cordial and finished with Bottlegreen tonic – A-MAZ-ING!

We also opted for a pot of the hot stuff – probably a good idea as Adam was driving – and selected traditional breakfast and Afternoon Darjeeling to accompany our feast – and what a feast it was…

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The afternoon tea offered a twist on the traditional;  instead of sandwiches, we feasted on mini burgers, chipotle chicken and avocado wraps and hot smoked salmon and creme fraiche wraps – a welcome change from the cucumber sandwiches which seem to come as standard with many afternoon teas.

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We followed this with a selection of sweet treats including the traditional fruit scones with jam and cream, salted chocolate brownies, lemon and polenta cake, strawberry and vanilla pavlova and a rhubarb posset – the latter of which delighted me – I flipping love rhubarb!

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The showstopper, though, was the frozen berry smoothie served in a mini milk bottle with a tiny straw – it tasted as good as it looked – truly scrumptious!

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Adam and I left the Malmaison with very full bellies and big smiles on our faces  – I would certainly recommend the afternoon tea, especially if you are looking for a twist on the traditional treat with family or friends. The only disappointing factor for me was the lack of local products on the menu, but this is somewhat understandable for a chain, and by no means a deal breaker.

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At £25 a head for the cocktail afternoon tea, and £17.50 for the classic, the Malmaison  offers a touch of luxury at great value – we certainly enjoyed ourselves and hope to return again soon.

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…Livestock Festival (Review)

Out and About

Sarah and I were lucky enough to be invited to the Livestock Festival, taking place near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. You can read our pre-event thoughts and find more details about the event here.

So, having spent the weekend in the shadow of the Malvern Hills, did the event live up to the hype? Well, for a festival in its second year, I have to say that we were impressed. Over 4,500 people took part in the festivities, with mostly glorious sunshine, a feast of food, and acts like Chesney Hawkes, Reef and The Fratellis getting the crowd bouncing.

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For music fans, the daytime and early evening were jam-packed with local and up and coming bands, with plenty of haybales to relax on in the sunshine. As the sun went down over the Malvern Hills, the big names came out to play, and they definitely didn’t disappoint. The Fratellis, Reverend and the Makers and Reef were all hugely popular and got the crowd up on their feet, singing and dancing to their greatest hits. My personal highlight though was Chesney Hawkes.

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Although I love Chesney Hawkes’ classic hit, The One and Only, I must confess that I didn’t know many of his other songs beforehand. Nonetheless, I soon found myself singing along with the rest of the crowd as he seamlessly segued from his own songs into popular chart favourites, including Mr. Brightside and a wonderful rendition of She’s the One, dedicated to a young couple who had gotten married the day before. He also took time out to selflessly invite festival goers onto the stage to tackle the #22pushups charity initiative, currently taking social media by storm to raise awareness for veteran suicide prevention. Chesney was challenged to take on the feat by Olympic Boxer, Kelly Morgan, but was unable to take part due to a back injury and therefore rallied the Livestock audience. We met him backstage and he was completely professional and a really lovely guy….Chesney, you are officially The One and Only!

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We were quite surprised at how much space there was for camping. The website did say there was a lot but it wasn’t until you drove in along the top of the festival fields, past the giant Hollywood style “Livestock” sign, that you could see the huge space laid out before you. Having been to other festivals previously where people were packed like sardines, it made a pleasant change to see plenty of room for kids to run around and people to have a bit of personal space.

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Not that you needed to hide in the campsite because the festival had plenty of activities on offer for kids and grownups alike, ranging from inflatables to dodgems. Hidden along a fairy light festooned corridor of trees, there was a Woodland Stage featuring acoustic sets and some cool DJ beats. We took the time to enjoy some refreshing Wobble Juice cider and get our faces glittered up by the sparkly Boho Boutique.

There was also a great selection of food on offer ranging from wood fired pizzas to  burgers to battered halloumi. The prices were all fairly reasonable too, at least when compared to other events we have attended recently.

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All in all, we had an awesome time and can’t wait to see who they have headlining next year. Perhaps we’ll see you there?!

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…Livestock Festival (Pre-Event)

Out and About

Read our post-Livestock Festival review here.

So, Adam and I have been lucky enough to be invited to what looks set to be one of the biggest and best festivals in the South West this summer. Yes, that’s right, we are off to Livestock Festival next weekend, and we are just too excited not to share a little bit more about it with you all.

This year, Livestock has gone ‘fancy’ with a farm inspired fancy dress theme for the Sunday, and we can’t wait – with previous fancy dress successes including Wall-E (a seriously big mistake for a tightly packed house party) and a giant hedgehog (which Adam was wearing when we first met) we are going all in, hoping  to win the coveted ‘Best Dressed’ title. As well as a fancy title, the winner will win tickets to next year’s Livestock Festival – how fab is that?!

Sunday also sees Livestock welcome, especially for you and me,  my very own personal childhood crush Jason Donovan to the stage as headline act. Seriously, I wanted to marry Jason when I was about five years old; I even had a dance routine to Especially for You, a dress (a net curtain and a peg which I called my ‘getting married’) and would demand my poor mother danced with me whilst I sang to a recording of the Royal Variety Show performance. My Dad even filmed it – what a diva! So with that in mind, I would be completely lying if I said the prospect of seeing Jason perform my ‘getting married’ song doesn’t make me slightly giddy with anticipation!

As well as my hero Jason, the one and only (sorry, I can’t help myself) Chesney Hawkes will also be storming the stage on Sunday night with his stonking smash hit. Did you know it was the 20th most successful single of the entire 90’s? Me neither!

Throughout the weekend you can also see plenty of other fantastic acts – I’ll be reliving some of my favourite uni days on Friday and Saturday night listening to The Fratellis (Saturday headliner) and many a glorious night dancing to Reef’s most iconic song, singing ‘put your hands up…’ at the top of my lungs.  Newly recruited Reef guitarist Jesse Wood, son of Rolling Stones legend Ronnie Wood and husband of TV and radio presenter Fearne Cotton, joins the group to launch Livestock on Friday night as they perform in the headline slot.

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As well as all this, The Woodland Stage will play host to an eclectic array of rising talent, whilst the newly introduced Bloody Mary Stage will showcase comedy and children’s entertainment acts.

With all this action on offer, you’ll need plenty of opportunity to refuel. Not to disappoint,  a veritable feast of foodie options will be available for your delight and enjoyment, including  burgers from The Hungry Toad, freshly prepared pizzas from Just Wood Fired Pizzas, perfect pies from The Pie Factory amongst many more.

Families will have plenty to occupy little ones (and big ones, knowing my husband)  across the weekend with workshops from Time Travelling Toby, Circus Skills sessions, a climbing wall and much, much more. Little ones can also enjoy making real life farmyard friends with pony rides (am I too big to join in?) and Animal Encounters bringing along a menagerie of creatures great and small for children to touch, hold and learn all about.

So what on earth are you waiting for? With something for just about everyone, go book your tickets now! We’ll be in the front row, watching Jason (possibly with a net curtain, in case he wants to marry me…obviously) and having a blast!

Livestock Festival takes place at Manor Farm, Longdon nr Tewkesbury, just 10 minutes from Junction 9 of the M5, from Friday 29 – Sunday 31 July 2016. Tickets are on sale now. Adult tickets are priced from £35 and children’s tickets from £1. Family, camping, glamping and VIP tickets are also available. For the latest updates and to book tickets, visit www.livestocklongdon.co.uk.

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…The White Spoon, Cheltenham

Dining Out, Food

Last weekend, after months of trying to find a free slot in the diary, Adam and I finally made it to The White Spoon in Cheltenham – and my goodness, it was more than worth the wait!

For those that don’t already know, The White Spoon is the first independent venture from Chef Director Chris White and his partner Purdey Spooner (hence the name, The White Spoon). Still in his twenties, Chris has a fantastic chef pedigree -a protégé of Heston Blumenthal and former chef at The Fat Duck and The Hinds Head, this guy clearly knows his food and we couldn’t be happier that he has chosen to bring his own unique (read: delicious and unpretentious) menu to the foodies of Cheltenham and the Cotswolds.

Chris’s style is all about bringing local, seasonal ingredients to the table through a range of dishes which are primarily British in theme, with a few flavour influences from around the globe added for good measure. All the food served up by Chris is made in house, including the fantastic Applewood smoked butter (more on that later). In terms of ambience and atmosphere, The White Spoon is relaxed, welcoming and distinctly unpretentious, yet the interior oozes laid-back contemporary luxe-cool – think reclaimed wood, copper pipe wall lights, stone-effect tableware and a natural colour palette. In short, both the food and the restaurant itself exudes quality and taste.

Adam and I were warmly welcomed into the restaurant by Andy, Chris’s brother, who chatted away to us like we were old friends; I honestly cannot speak highly enough of his obvious enthusiasm for the restaurant and his ability to put his guests at ease. Andy talked us through the menu and left us to deliberate, returning shortly with a jug of cucumber water and a few helpful suggestions. Adam opted for a Cotswold Brewing Company lager, which was suitably light for a sunny Saturday lunchtime, and I had a glass of cranberry juice as I was nursing a bit of a headache.

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So, what did we order? Well, as it was lunchtime we decided to try the set menu. First up, we chose to try the Plant Pot Bread which had caught my attention due to it being served with Applewood Smoked Butter. I love the taste of smoked food – it’s quite simply up there in my top five flavours, and  was not disappointed. The butter, like everything else, is made in house and the taste was phenomenal, particularly when combined with the aniseed flavour from the fennel seeds atop the bread. The bread itself was a pleasure to eat; a golden crust revealed a light and fluffy inside which melted in the mouth. The bread was also served with salted butter, which Adam particularly liked. Even better, the bread was cut to reveal two butter-able sides which meant (as a self confessed butter-piglet) I could indulge my inner glutton on the smoked butter front.

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I opted not to have a starter, but Adam chose the Cotswold Mozzarella and Tomato Tart with Balsamic. As soon as it came out, I instantly regretted not ordering one myself. It was so beautifully presented, with little cubes of balsamic jelly adorning the slate – I could feel my food envy beginning to rise. Fortunately for me, Adam was in a sharing mood and, sensing the green eyed monster in me, offered me a generous forkful of this tasty dish. What a good husband! The tart was possibly one of the finest things I have ever put in my mouth – crisp, flaky pastry, tangy tomato and soft, creamy Cotswold mozzarella with the sharp yet sweet balsamic jelly cutting through it all, without overpowering it. It was insanely good. I think I could eat several of these every day and not get bored (though my waistline might not thank me).

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Moving on to the main event, I opted for the Leek and Cheddar Croquette with Choucroute and Celeriac, which combined the tastiest oozy cheddar with the softness of leek and the tang of mustard seed, all rolled up into the crispiest crumb case- it was heavenly. The addition of the lightly caramelised choucroute and  celeriac gave the dish an extra bite – adding volume and a lighter taste to counter the croquette itself.

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Adam opted for the Confit Pork Ravioli with Roasted Carrot and Bacon Foam; which tasted as good as it looked (I will forever be glad that Adam was happy to share throughout this meal, as I don’t think I could have coped not trying everything). The pasta was flavoursome and cooked to perfection; the pork melted in the mouth. Now, I’m not usually one for ‘foam’ on a dish, but I have to say, this particular bacon foam was really good and worked very well with the ravioli – it was a necessary part of the dish, not just a bit of ‘fluff’ for the sake of it. Adam thoroughly enjoyed it.

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We both wanted to try the Passionfruit Cheesecake with Milk ice cream and homemade Honeycomb, and the Set Toffee Custard with Banana and Vanilla Ice Cream – so we did the only sensible thing and ordered both – swapping dishes halfway though. For me, the mark of a good dessert is not wanting it to end, and quite honestly I didn’t want either of these to. The passionfruit cheesecake combined the tartness of the passionfruit with a soft creamy filling, and when the honeycomb was added to the mix, created a tangy, sweet, soft yet sharp taste explosion – it was THAT good I don’t think I spoke to Adam once during desert, except to ask to swap halfway.

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The set toffee custard was sweet without being sickly, the banana glazed with a thick caramelised toffee ‘glass’ – and the vanilla ice cream was fantastic – though I would have equally loved to have tried this with a salted vanilla to counter the sweetness of the toffee.

Both deserts left us with big smiles on our faces, and to be honest, I couldn’t have picked a favourite if I tried.

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We left with full bellies, contented and happy – not in any small part due to the fantastic service we had received from Andy and his team too. I spied the Sunday lunch menu as we left, which despite my full state, had me practically salivating. There is something incredibly special about The White Spoon. We will definitely be finding more space in our diaries to return very soon.

 

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…RHS Malvern Spring Festival

Out and About

Earlier this month, we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend RHS Malvern Spring Festival, a four day garden and lifestyle event held annually in Malvern, Gloucestershire (think Chelsea Flower Show with a backdrop of rolling hills and fresh, country air).
We arrived on the Saturday mid morning, with the sun blazing and only a few clouds in the sky; we knew we were going to have a great day.

After a swift recce, we headed for the main stage to see baking royalty Mary Berry. The stage was set with an oversized throne made of grass, which was perfect for the Queen of cakes herself. After giving the gathered crowd a warm welcome, Mary and Gardener’s World’s Joe Swift talked about Mary’s role as President of the The National Garden’s Scheme and her fondness for gardening in her own home, before opening up the stage to audience questions.

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Never one to miss an opportunity, Adam asked Mary about the growing trend for foraged food as seen on last year’s Bake Off, and increasingly around the Cotswold’s finest establishments, which led into an interesting debate about homegrown cooking and microherbs. Mary also made a little boy’s day, seating him on her lap and asking him about his cooking. It was great to see that Mary is just as warm and passionate in real life as on TV.

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After a quick stop for lunch at one of the many fabulous good stalls, we took a leisurely stroll around the star attraction, the Show Gardens. These professional gardens were so clever, taking simple elements and combining them in captivating and imaginative ways; who knew you could do so much in such a small space?!?

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Our favourite was the stunning ‘The Garden of Romance’- Villaggio Verde’s gold medal winning effort, set around an Italian courtyard; an abundant sea of pink roses were bordered with fragrant Mediterranean herbs, twisted olive trees swaying in the breeze, and towering Cyprus trees adding a sense of architectural grandiosity. Rustic chairs were laid out for an imaginary wedding with a cute pair of white doves cooing their ‘I-Do’s as the sun shone down.

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It was very easy to forget that you were in the shadow of the glorious Malvern Hills, and the other gardens compounded the fantasy with beautiful Japanese forests, wood cutter’s cabins and abandoned underground houses to choose from.

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The sun then chose to disappear for a while so we took advantage of the undercover shopping and found a wide range of beautifully crafted products from Sam Brown’s buttery leather belts, accented with bold acrylic edging to the adorable Boop Design bud vases, modelled on vintage medicine bottles. Not forgetting the huge variety of plants and products for the more green fingered shoppers, we took inspiration from The Garden of Romance and bought some of the incredible roses and herbs for our garden.

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With the day drawing to a close, we snuck in a few more foodie samples, adding a bottle of the Cheltenham based Sibling gin to our collection, having been won over by its unusual blueberry tones, and the four young and  enthusiastic siblings behind it. Having also picked up a camellia from the enormous 700 square meters Floral Marquee, we staggered back to the car with our haul, stopping briefly to enjoy a can of Bottlegreen lemonade and mint, and narrowly avoiding torrential rain.

Whilst we’ve always enjoyed the garden, we’ve never really considered attending a garden show. but having now been to RHS Malvern, we can honestly say that we can’t wait for the next show to roll around, as there really is something for everyone.

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With The Royal Three Counties agricultural and countryside show in just a few weeks time on 17-19th June, I’ve got a feeling we are going to be regular visitors to Malvern.

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…Cotswold Candle Company

Home, Style

I love candles, our house is full of them – so when Polly from The Cotswold Candle Company invited me to review one of her candles on the blog, I jumped at the chance!

Like me, Polly from The Cotswold Candle Company adores candles. However, when she became hesitant about the rather high price tag attached to many of the luxury candle brands she decided to do something about it, and embarked upon creating her own brand of affordable luxury candles. It was then that The Cotswold Candle Company was born. You can read all about Polly’s story here.

When choosing a candle, I have a few different criteria that it ‘must have’ in order to put a smile on my face. It must be soy, must smell amazing and as close to the original fragrance of the fruit or flower as possible, but also not be too overpowering or artificial in any way. I also like it to burn evenly too.I am, it would seem, a hard woman to please!

After  much deliberation, I decided upon the White Mulberry candle – something about the name felt special and enticed me in over and above the others.

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The candle arrived beautifully packaged with a black bow, and came with a lovely little handwritten note on a cute kraft gift tag, which was a nice personal touch. For me, the packaging was suggestive of luxury and quality – both indicators bode well for the candle inside.  The candle itself is presented in a glass votive and feels particularly heavy and of good quality. I was also intrigued by the wooden wick.  As you light the wick, it crackles and pops like a fire, which adds a little something special to the experience. It also burns really evenly – something I suspect is in part due to the wooden wick.

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The scent is something else! I honestly haven’t experienced another scent quite as delicate and wonderful as this White Mulberry – it really fills the room without being overpowering, and even my ‘candle-loathing’ husband approves. Woo hoo!

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The Cotswold Candle Co range includes classic scents like Sweet Pea (I almost chose this one – sweet peas were my wedding flowers), White Mulberry, Rose and a Cinnamon, Orange & Clove candle which must surely be a perfect scent at Christmas.  The candles have a burn time of approximately 35 hours and cost £18 each. I think this is excellent value for money for a hand poured candle compared to other luxury brands.

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For me, my White Mulberry candle ticks all the boxes – made of a soy/mineral mix, smells amazing, burns evenly and (something I never thought I’d write about a candle) sounds great too!

 

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…East India Café

Dining Out, Food

Forget the traditional Easter Sunday lunch of Roast Lamb and all the trimmings – this year Adam and  I indulged ourselves with a taste of Anglo-Indian cuisine at East India Café’s  four course lunch and cookery demonstration in Cheltenham, and my goodness what a treat it was.

East India Café draws on the café culture of the British Raj; in their own words, they “take the same recipes & creations from the Khansamas, and transform them with our own twist”. Every month, they host a spectacular cookery demonstration; when we visited, the menu consisted of colonial Indian dishes that originated from the Dak Bungalow, and we were provided with our own set of cookery guidance to annotate and enable us to recreate the magic at home ourselves.

Before I go any further, I must just say how welcome we were made to feel – the atmosphere was warm, friendly and relaxed, and the chefs were both incredibly passionate about the food they were creating. We were given a beautiful homemade non-alcoholic cocktail as a welcome drink, which contained rose syrup, rose water, lemon juice, basil seeds and psyllium husk…so delicious and refreshing!

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So, how did the demonstration and masterclass work, I hear you ask? After finishing our rose drinks, we were seated facing the chef’s table with little name plates out in front of us. I have to say, I felt a little like I was on Saturday Morning Kitchen, which only added to the excitement for me personally. We were given masterclass recipe books which contained all the dishes we were going to sample, as well helpful hints and tips on where to find the best ingredients.

We were all invited to take part in the experience and assist with elements of the masterclass – helping stir, mix and melt as required. The interactive nature of the masterclass really ensured that we all understood how to recreate the dishes and gave us an opportunity to ask plenty of questions about the processes too. Whilst we were sat learning how to make one course, the same course was being cooked for us by the chef in the kitchen, which was then presented to us to devour. Once we had devoured a course the plates were  cleared and we began work on the next course, assisting where needed, until all courses had been made, sampled and then cleared.

During our Dak Bungalow masterclass,  we sampled two starter dishes, a main and dessert. The first starter on the menu was Samosa Chaat – a deconstructed samosa – which contained chickpeas, potato, turmeric, minced lamb, onion, coriander and kashmiri chilli among other ingredients, garnished with pomegranate and red amaranth. This dish was probably my favourite of the masterclass; it tasted so fresh and each different ingredient shone though to create a taste sensation which built up with every mouthful. I’m looking forward to recreating this next time we have friends over for dinner.

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Next up for our second (yes, second…!) starter, was marinated tuna steak; I am by no means a lover of tuna, but I did enjoy what I sampled of this dish and would definitely be tempted to try it a second time. Adam however was totally bowled over by the flavours and cannot wait to put this dish to the test on the BBQ in the summer.

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At this point, we decided to try a few cocktails off the rather inventive libation menu – I chose the Diplomat’s cocktail – a vermouth based cocktail bursting full of papaya, lemon, rose and maraschino cherry, whilst Adam enjoyed a very alcoholic Mint Julep – this contained whisky and peach brandy, and our hostess even came to check that Adam understood how alcoholic it was. The drinks, as with the food, were presented with lovely decorative garnishes and looked as good as they tasted.

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Drinks ordered, we moved on to our main course, and my turn to play kitchen assistant. We whipped up a divine Chicken Jalfrezi, beautifully presented in a decorative cabbage leaf, with lemon rice, pickles and a second portion of Jalfrezi on the side to boot. It was so fresh, incredibly tasty and completely unique; unlike any curry I have previously enjoyed.

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Finally, when we were feeling like we couldn’t possibly fit any more food in our full to bursting bellies, we finished with a Chilli Chocolate and Rose Truffle accompanied with Chai. The truffle was huge; full of chopped nuts, rose and chilli, then rolled in nuts and served with a chocolate sauce.

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The Chai was made with soy milk, which was a nice touch and showed that East India Café care about their customers with food allergies too. To cap it off, we were given a goody bag to take away with us, as well as the recipes for the dishes we had enjoyed.

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If you haven’t been to East India Café yet for a masterclass, or to enjoy a meal, I urge you to go just as soon as you can – I promise you won’t regret it!

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…Simpsons Fish and Chips

Dining Out

Earlier this month, a Golden Ticket fell through our letterbox inviting us to Simpsons Fish and Chip Shop in Cheltenham for their grand reopening, following a period of refurbishment. We were already super excited, having previously enjoyed a sneaky fish and chip supper or two from their takeaway, but just a few days before the relaunch, they were named Best Fish and Chips Takeaway in the UK. After such a fantastic achievement, we knew that their party was going to be a double celebration of epic proportions!

Arriving on a rather wet and windy Friday evening, we were rather glad to rush inside past the scores of people queuing for the award winning takeaway and enter the new restaurant. I can’t remember ever wanting to ‘eat in’ at a fish and chip shop before, or in fact in any takeaway really, but we were really taken aback as the owners James and Bonny Ritchie have more surpassed themselves with the transformation of their restaurant. There is a fabulous nautical mural along the back wall, industrial lighting galore, scaffolding tables, and a quirky and very apt “Long Live Fish and Chips” lightbox above the bar… I honestly wouldn’t mind moving in, provided they keep the food coming.

The whole evening was a pure delight; the food was outstandingly good, with treats including divine battered halloumi, crisp and flaky cod bites, battered pickles and, of course, chips galore! It’s easy to see why Simpsons is the best fish and chip shop in the UK, it’s so much more than the scrummy food;  James was such a fantastically welcoming host, chatting away to us about the refurbishment, winning the competition, and, of course, what it was like cooking fish and chips for an exceptionally hungover Phil and Holly live on This Morning.

However, what struck me most was his passion for fish and chips, and how proud he was of what both he and Bonny have achieved together. This shines through in all aspects of the business, and is seen clearly in the most wonderful little book they have created to inspire and inform their youngest customers about where fish and chips comes from. The judges were also highly impressed with their attitude; commending them on their natural ingredients, monthly gluten-free evenings, and the traceability of the fish (you can even learn the name of who caught it!).

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After over-indulging ourselves gastronomically, we were then treated to the dulcet tones of The Femmes; a retro inspired close harmony group whose performance fitted the bill perfectly, with their 1940’s style and musical twists on toe-tapping classic tunes.

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The night was capped off with another local treat, a tub of Winstones Ice Cream which is another favourite of ours (check out our blog post on Winstones). Although I must admit to sneaking a final piece of halloumi after my ice cream – just because. Annoyingly we live on the wrong side of Cheltenham, but Simpsons is absolutely worth making the trip and we will certainly be back as often as we can to join the queue of lucky Cheltonians!

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…Cotswolds Distillery

Food

Last weekend, we took advantage of the brief sunshine to head deep into the Cotswolds and tour the Cotswolds Distillery. Having been gifted a bottle of their whisky by Sarah, I was excited to see how this small corner of the Cotswolds was turning local grain into my favourite spirit.

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Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly resident dog and a glowing woodburner. As we were a little early for the tour, we made ourselves at home in the comfortable drawing room, and became rather enamoured with the owner’s extensive spirit collection. Serious envy right here! Once everyone had arrived, we watched a short introductory video and followed Angus to the distillery.

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Having visited several of the larger Scottish distilleries, it is obvious that the artisanal focus extends way beyond the spirits. This compact operation occupies a classic Cotswold stone building, surrounded by glorious countryside and filled to the brim with shiny copper miracle makers.

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Angus was one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and gave us a fun, yet informative overview of the journey from barley to bottle. He was a great ambassador for for the brand; you get a clear sense that everyone involved with the Cotswolds Distillery is highly passionate and dedicated to the cause…the distillery runs 7 days a week and last year, they only took one week off from production.

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Angus explained that they are currently manufacturing gin and a whole host of interesting side projects, all of which are available from the on-site shop, whilst they wait for the whisky to mature. Luckily for us, that meant a wide range of products from sherry to espresso martini were waiting for us to taste back in the drawing room.

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Angus made the tasting session into a real experience; he explained how best to drink gin and demonstrated that as a non-chill filtered gin, it turns cloudy when you add ice; the result of essential oils from all of the beautiful botanicals separating slightly. Most brands filter this before bottling, but it removes a lot of the mouth feel and botanical flavours. You can certainly tell the difference and the pink grapefruit and lavender flavours from the distillation really come through. It isn’t particularly conventional to sip gin neat, but this gin might change that for me.

Even better, this is the gin managed to succeed where so many others have failed, and convince my gin hating wife to become a gin lover. A bottle was swiftly purchased, and is a wonderful addition to our drinks cabinet, especially when paired with Bottlegreen’s new range of tonic water – another local favourite of ours.

Sarah particularly loved the Cream Liqueur – with soft caramel undertones it wasn’t as sickly sweet as the leading brand, and I think if we had left her alone with the bottle she would have been very happy indeed.

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We also got to try the Single Malt Spirit…whilst legally not yet whisky, this “pre-whisky” was a great indicator of what’s to come from this distillery. Personally, I can’t wait until my bottle is ready in 2017.

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Whatever your tipple, the Cotswolds Distillery is sure to excite and delight both distillery enthusiasts and the occasional drinker alike. I urge you to go and discover it for yourselves.

Shop-local-christmas

…Christmas Shopping in the Cotswolds

Out and About, Style

It’s official, there are now only 34 days until Christmas… and that, my friends, means there are just 34 sleeps until the jolly bearded man visits and reindeer pitter patter their snow covered hooves across your roof… (but I digress…ahem). Whilst this might seem like plenty of time to plan, buy and wrap lots of lovely treasures for you nearest and dearest, it actually translates into a mere 5 shopping weekends until the big day (and that’s including this one!). OMG.

Usually, this information is enough to send me into a shopping frenzy that results in Adam’s Grandma receiving the ‘usual’ of ‘old lady’ smellies/hankies/slippers,  and my poor father receiving his body weight in socks, pants and Toblerone.

So this year, after much soul searching and the discovery of some really amazing local businesses, we vowed not to allow ourselves to panic buy unimaginative and predictable gifts from large retailers, and set ourselves a mission to complete the Christmas shopping extravaganza by the end of November, with a promise to buy as many of our gifts as possible from local businesses across the Cotswolds. This was the year we would go local…

Whilst we haven’t been able to fulfill every wishlist locally (if you can find me a locally made ‘official’ Barbie doll, it would make both my goddaughter and I ecstatic)  we have certainly tried our best – with a few gifts still to purchase (no spoilers here family and friends).

So for those of you pondering Christmas shopping this weekend, I would like to present (no pun intended) you with some of our favourite ‘Lewis Loves’ local picks which we think would make ideal stocking fillers and gifts for your nearest and dearest…

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Katie Crunch Fudge – £4.00

Katie Crunch Fudge is a locally made sweet treat with a huge seal of approval from Mr Lewis – a hard man to please where confectionery is concerned. His favourite is the Salted Treacle Fudge, although we are both partial to a bit of Crème Brûlée too. Definitely one to be tasted, this would make the perfect stocking filler for teens and grown ups alike. Katie’s incredibly moreish fudge is available from Stroud Farmer’s Market on the first Saturday of the month (5th December) or all month long at Made in Stroud and Meggie’s.

il_570xN.839327386_2npbEncore Home & Gift Natural Stone Coasters – £5.50 each

Encore Home & Gift is a small company based in beautiful Tetbury that prides itself on creating a wide range of beautiful handmade, heat-resistant tableware from natural stone. I think these french grey star coasters would make the perfect Christmas gift for a interiors lover  – the star design gives the coasters a fantastically festive feel and the rustic grey colouring means they will look at home in the sitting room or on the dining table all year round. If french grey doesn’t take your fancy, there are plenty of other equally gorgeous designs available via Encore’s Etsy store here.

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Midori Penguin Paper Clips – £6.00

I adore Penguins; they are (in my biased opinion) the perfect animal for the most magical time of the year, and these Penguin shaped paper clips from Gift in Cirencester would be a fantastically cute and seasonal stocking filler for the animal loving stationery-a-holic in your life. They also come in other cute animal shapes such as Elephants and Pigs – so there’s something for everyone! At £6.00 a pack they are also purse friendly – another all-important Christmas shopping consideration.

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Joma Jewellery Silk Kiko Bracelet – £9.99

These cute silk Joma Jewellery bracelets adorned with silver plated hearts are just charming; they come in a wide variety of colours and have a quality look and feel. The bracelets are beautifully gift wrapped in their own little bag, tied up with a white ribbon, which makes for a really special gift. They are adjustable too, making them an ideal choice for your special little girl to wear now and keep as she grows up. These little gems are available at Meggie’s in Painswick for just £9.99.

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Lola and Gilbert Pouch – £12.99

With their straight talking slogans, these thick canvas pouches are ideal make up bags for the no nonsense gal on the go, or a handy wash bag for the man of the house. I wholeheartedly agree with the bra and pants slogan – I am indeed that girl who only truly feels properly ‘together’ when everything matches. My best friend is exactly the same, and would certainly be happy to find one of these under the tree on Christmas day.

Other fabulous designs include ‘This Bag Contains My Face’, ‘Man Bits’ and ‘Real Men Moisturise’, as seen above (which is certainly true in the LewisLoves household). You can pick these little beauties up for £12.99 at Meggie’s.

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Hunter Gatherer Natural Canvas Tote by Angie B – £14.99

Angie B is well known locally for her effortlessly cool and striking paper cut city series of prints (another post on these coming soon…) and for being the creative talent behind the Beard’s Diamond Rush map, but more recently Angie has branched out into a range of accessories which I urge you to go and discover here. I am currently coveting (ahem, hint hint, Adam…) this gorgeous ‘Hunter Gatherer’ canvas bag, which is not only the perfect gift for all shopaholics now that we must provide our own shopping bags (and quite rightly so),  but is also perfect for heaving your Christmas shopping goody haul home – I suggest buying one as a gift for your mum or best friend and one for yourself…after all your local shopping, you’ve earned it!

44b801_d5edd90585224419b22db0b680eaee05Pocket Watch Cufflinks by Alice Shield – £23.00

The ideal gentleman’s gift – these ceramic cufflinks are postively charming; decorated with a hand drawn image of a vintage pocket watch, glazed to give a polished finish and ensure durability and finally presented beautifully in a gift box. The T-bar is silver plated,which gives a stylish contrast against the pottery face. These cufflinks, along with other designs by Bristol based Alice Shield, are available from m.a.d.e. in Cirencester.

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Tara Osborne Sterling Silver/Gold Candy Gem Bracelet – £25.00/£30.00

These gorgeous Tara Osborne bracelets are just so pretty – I think they’d make the perfect gift for the lovely lady in your life this Christmas; the hardest part is surely choosing between the gemstones and whether to pick a silver or gold setting. Personally, I would go for a turquoise/silver or a rose quartz/gold combination as I think each metal particularly sets the colour of these gems off beautifully. Tara’s jewellery is made in Stratford-upon-Avon and sold through her website, as well as being available locally in Meggie’s.

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Cotswold Distillery Single Malt Whisky – £44.95

The perfect gift for the whisky-lover in your life,  this is a chance to own a small piece of history – the first ever single malt made in the Cotswolds. This is a gift you’ll have to be prepared to be patient for, as the first bottling won’t occur until the initial aging is completed in 2017 – but the quality of ingredients coupled with the numerous awards Cotswold Distillery has already won for it’s other spirit offerings suggests this will be more than worth the wait.   

In the meantime, you could double up this gift with a tour of the distillery for £10.00, taking in the chance to see the gin and whisky making journey and sampling some of the fine spirits on offer. Visit the Cotswold Distillery website for more information on the tour, or to pre-order a bottle of Single Malt.

We hope this has given you a few local Christmas shopping ideas. We’d love to know about any local products you guys love in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: This post is not a sponsored post; we have not been paid by any of the featured businesses and all the recommendations on this blog are always, quite simply, things that #LewisLoves.