Thursday, 18 December 2014
It's no secret that I love dining out, especially when it comes to afternoon tea and other such sweet treats, so when I was recently invited to try out something a little different to my usual mealtimes, I simply couldn't resist. I'm no stranger to Hotel Du Vin in Cambridge, having hosted some of my dining and etiquette workshops (such as "Dine Like Downton" with my co-host, William Hanson) in the past and this venue always lends itself well to an afternoon of indulgence. Hotel Du Vin is an elegant chain of boutique-style hotels in locations such as Brighton, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Harrogate, Newcastle & York, amongst others - 15 others in fact. Each hotel has its own unique character, styled around the architecture, history and location of the building itself. Each hotel hosts their trademark bistros, of which serve French classics with a British twist and their bars serve the world's best wines, spirits and even cocktails to add to the glamour of their surroundings. I'm yet to stay overnight with Hotel Du Vin, but from the look of their stunning bedrooms and suites, this is a brand to connect with in 2015 for a stay to add to my "Around The World In 80 Stays" challenge... The reason for my visit on this occasion was to sample their brunch menu, one of which I've heard fantastic reviews on in past months, but hadn't yet had the chance to try out for myself. I was also enjoying a lazy weekend with a new bearded friend, so it felt right to show him the sights and sounds of Cambridge, my home city, offering him some of the more famous views of Cambridge as we passed them in my car. I had originally planned for us to hop on a bus from home so that we could take a romantic walk around the colleges and across the river, however, the driving rain & howling wind scuppered any such plans - it was a grim day. In fact, this was the least glamorous walk from Newnham Park over to Trumpington Street you ever did see... I was wearing my Sunday best (aka the girliest dress in the world) combined with my neon pink summer shoes & a thin pair of tights - not the best idea when negotiating deep, murky puddles between cow pats en route. By the time we arrived, we were soaked to the bone and I had hair to rival Bridget Jones after her epic open-topped car adventure with Hugh Grant. Oh dear. Never mind. The welcome we received was the warmest around, with a lady opening the door to us offering to take our umbrellas & coats before we made it to the Bistro door... she had spotted us outside and met us before we even reached for the door handle - now, that's service. We were seated in the window at a cosy table for two where we could watch the (miserable, cold & wet!) world go by under our noses and were handed a large menu to peruse whilst we discussed wine choices with our sommelier. She offered to match our wine to the dishes we chose as we tucked into the menu, which I thought was a great touch, as we hadn't yet decided on our mains or puddings... or if we would even have enough room for all of the courses! The Hotel Du Vin Gastronomique Brunch consists of four courses, with the first course being The French Market Table. This is the most heavenly brunch table you'll ever see, it's full, of fresh breads, croissants, fish, grilled vegetables, charcuterie, mustards and cheeses. I enjoyed quite the selection including chicken liver pate, mussels, potted shrimp, dressed crab, smoked salmon, chorizo and a side salad - not forgetting the warm ciabatta and salted butter to nibble on as we nattered. This was a course in itself, however there was much more to come, with the second course being a carrot & coriander soup. As delicious as this was, I felt this might not be necessary, or at least an option within the brunch table. We both agreed that we would have gone back for a second helping at the French Market table in place of the soup du jour, ahem. The soup was carrot & coriander and served in a fairly small bowl, much to our relief - it was just enough if you wanted to eat the entire contents (I managed to save myself for my next courses, so didn't finish the bowl). For the third course, there was quite the menu to pick from, everything from a HDV burger & pommes frites or a steak with béarnaise or peppercorn sauce, through to a goat's cheese, sun blushed tomato & spinach roulade with beetroot relish. I went for the "Roast Du Vin", going for the rib of Aberdeenshire beef with all the trimmings, incuding one large and fluffy Yorkshire pudding, which certainly didn't disappoint the "Yorkie" fan in me, it was perfect. My bearded friend chose the Severn & Wye smoked haddock, served with a mustard butter, hash brown and a runny poached egg, sharing my seasonal vegetable side to add a splash of colour to the dish. Both were cooked beautifully, however by this point we were admittedly rather full, so we slowed right down and enjoyed sampling the glasses of wine that had been matched to our food. We spent hours here, but it didn't feel that way at all, we weren't rushed as we chatted away, the plates were cleared and our food was served without us having to even think about it. In fact, as I write up to review I remain stupidly impressed at how relaxed and professional the service was in this respect, I don't think I can even recall one plate or wine glass being taken away - super sneaky service, I can't fault it. After a lot of
salivating deliberation, we both decided it would be rude not to see it to the end, ordering our fourth course, along with some dessert wines. Because I can never turn down a good French pudding, I had the Apple Tarte Tatin with Creme Normande - it was the best version of my fave warm pudding I've ever had, the pastry was buttery and the apple was just sweet enough, but not too sweet. I hadn't planned to demolish the entire plate, but before I knew it... well... My companion continued the savoury fix with a mighty fine Artisan cheese board, of which hosted a selection of British & French cheeses with dainty biscuits, walnut bread and chutney... served with a port for this course, he was in cheese heaven. After our meal, we sat for some time, letting it rest before even considering a soggy stroll into town to walk off some of the treats. Although it was still raining, we enjoyed the fresh air & some festive lights as we strolled through the market square that afternoon - Xmas is coming! At £24.95 per person for this four course brunch, it's superb value for money and I would most certainly suggest that you visit this hotel only when prepared to take your time - it's not a meal you'd want to rush. The Little Niggles: I would say the soup course isn't really necessary (and I love my food, so this it's usually unlike me to turn away food!) - we would have happily gone back to The French Market Table for a second round in place of the soup, but we were polite and didn't do this to make room for the soup. It wasn't amazing, it was a carrot soup... perhaps as a selection at the Market Table would be a better idea, but a very tiny niggle really! Final Thoughts: The bistro was very busy, so I would also highly suggest booking your table to avoid disappointment. It's a great option to go for a relaxed & fairly formal meal with friends or family, as a couple, perhaps even as a date (now that I'm back on the dating scene, I'm allowed to say this!) as it lends itself well to a chilled out and lazy Sunday afternoon. Pair your visit with a leg-stretch along the college backs or a spot of shopping and you've found yourself a perfect weekend in Cambridge. The Wines: Here's a list of the wine choices we had throughout our meal, in order of course to help you, should you want to know what we sipped on to get squiffy that afternoon... Please don't judge me on the spelling if I've got these wrong, I don't usually "speak" wine. Whites Albariño, Condes de Alberei - Rias Baixes Spain 2012 Riesling Trocken, DOM, Bischöfliche Weinguter - Masel - Germany 2012 Reds Rioja, Reserve 2008, La Choza - Spain Pinot Noir Byron 2012 - Sta Barbara, California, USA Dessert Muscat de Riversalots - Jean Mare La Sage Quinta de Nouel single vineyard 2007 Hotel Du Vin often have special offers and packages on their rooms and dining, so check out their website and social media pages for more info for 2015. www.hotelduvin.com Please note - This stay was complimentary, following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The service team that work on the day or duration of my visit are not aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:email@example.com All images © 2014 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Wednesday, 10 December 2014
I was recently inspired to enjoy some of the simpler things in life (who takes much inspiring to do that anyway?!) after buying "The Simple Things" magazine whilst shopping in Sainsbury's on my way home from a lovely weekend away in Norfolk. This is a gorgeous magazine, full of recipes, home inspiration, travel ideas and beautiful photography, I just love curling up under a fluffy blanket with a cup of tea (and smothering my feet in Vicks Vaporub whilst trying to get over my sniffles) whilst I flick through this magazine - I may have to subscribe sometime soon to make this a semi-regular occurrence! After enjoying the magazine, I headed to their equally stunning website for a nosey and spotted their emergency Xmas gift draw guide... I realised I've been chatting to so many people recently and have seen some stunning gifts & ideas for my own shopping list, I thought I'd share a few of my own ideas with you, my lovely readers! Obviously, it goes without saying, you could purchase this lovely magazine at any time of the year as a little "extra" gift for a friend or family member if they love the prettier things in life - or subscribe them to the mag from as little as £11 - bargain! My gorgeous friend, Alison Appleton designs the most stunning ceramics and as she recently showcased her newest designs at The BBC Good Food Show, I couldn't not mention her. It's no secret that I drink a lot of tea and coffee from various designs by Alison and her range is so beautiful, every household should own at least one set to drink from... Gift prices from £10. Why not treat your foodie gift-receiver to a bespoke trip to Cambridge's own FoodPark at the Northpole? FoodPark is a superb street food collective organised by Heidi White and a whole selection of local food talent. You could create your own gift voucher to include a nosh around the whole site (you might need to set aside quite the hunger!) or why not head down here over the festive period for a more unique al fresco Xmas "meal" combined with some ice skating to burn off a few calories?! Best Xmas celebration/party idea ever for any food lover! With food from as little as £2.50 per dish, there's something for small budgets. How about some Gin tasting at The Ginstitute in London or a bottle of the hard stuff from Portobello Road Gin (£23.95)? The perfect accompaniment to a tonic water & elderflower - ahem! I recently bought this beautiful "Powder" design knitted scarf (£25) from Jarrolds in Norwich, a great department store for something a little more unique. I just adore their kitchen floor - I could spend hours in here! Did you know that Hotpoint actually make small domestic appliances?... Yes, you can tell I've been working with these guys for a bit now, but as fun as the project has been with them at the BBC Good Food Show this past month, I've seen their gadgets in action and they are pretty darn good! You could buy a kettle, toaster, coffee machine, even a food blender to whizz up some Xmassy cocktails?... Perfect. Godiva Chocolates in London are fantastic for handmade chocolates and afternoon tea treats, perfect solution if you fancied putting together a hamper or a one-off treat for your recipient. For the girl in your life (or guy!) who might want an inspiring business book this Xmas, why not purchase #GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso? She's a girl who made a name for herself at a young age through her fashion label and I personally really like her story - great blog too! I'm a big fan of Jo Malone scents now that Ive got a whiff for it.... if you want to be a little flashier with the cash, their products are beautifully presented and will be sure to impress! What's in your emergency gift draw this Christmas? Or do you have a generic draw full of spare gifts all year round? Do leave a comment below and share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about the simpler things in life!
Wednesday, 3 December 2014
This is not my usual offering when it comes to Miss Sue Flay and nor will it usually be - I promise, once it's out of my system, we can go back to hotels, spas and delicious afternoon teas! I never thought, in the past 11 years of my life that I'd be writing a blog post on how to get over a breakup. When first editing this post back in the summer, I was typing through tears & snotty tissues the day after my breakup and although I was upset (naturally), I wasn't expecting what happened next to help me so easily or quickly. I can only laugh today, but it wasn't funny at the time. Thank goodness for awesome friends. At times like these, you start to learn who you're real friends are, as we all know. The people who have appeared in my life over the last few years have come and gone, some have stuck around, new friends will appears the future. If it wasn't for my blog, my alter ego, even my business, then my confidence wouldn't have helped me to meet such amazing people or to get through such a blow to my confidence. I'll spare the gory details, but I wasn't expecting to come home one Friday night to send my long term partner packing. End of story, it doesn't deserve the attention. Plans had already been made for the next day for me to head down to London, meet some blogging friends for drinks & blogging-themed shenanigans, before heading to an invitation-only bloggers event in an exclusive venue within the city. It felt like the very last place I wanted to be, opting for my bed and texting my friends to explain I wouldn't be there that morning. What happened, however, is that I woke up the next day and couldn't breathe through tears & mugs of Luke warm tea, realising I had two choices. One. Sit there in my pyjamas and continue to sob
into a full glass of gin onto my poor dog, who looked so worried for me he didn't leave my side for one moment (bless his heart!) OR... Two. Get dressed. Pull myself together and not let this douche pants ruin one more minute of my life. I opted for two... albeit through awkward bursts of silent tears & a wobbling bottom lip on a packed train, making the man sat next to me look too freaked out to know what to do to help me - haha amusing thinking back and sorry whoever you were! I met up with the gorgeous Cassy Fry and Lisa Haigh as originally planned, we hugged, took silly selfies, drank coffee, meandered around the South Bank practising our photography and lazily made our way through the City to the stylish venue for an afternoon of good food, networking and free cocktails. It was the best pick-me-up in the world, I'm so pleased that I went, even if every bone in my body wanted to stay home to mope. Looking back, I cannot thank these two ladies enough, they listened to my rants and tears, told me I'd find somebody a million times better one day (even if I thought they were being ridiculous at the time) and helped me through how to look after myself short term - as petrified as I was at the thought of being an independent woman (don't shoot me for saying that, it's true!) within an exciting world that I've paved for myself. I spent the day talking through what I wanted from my own life and how I was going to achieve it. This isn't something I've ever considered in complete truth, I've simply coasted and gone with the flow. Making a positive plan in my head, nobody in it but myself, I can honestly state that this was the BEST day of my life - not that it felt like it at the time. I was gearing up to be the happiest, strongest, most positive version of myself I've ever been and I can truthfully say today, blurting out this blog post, that I am all of those and much more besides. It took a little time to put my plan into action, but I managed with the support of my family & friends. I originally penned this post on the teary train journey home after the bloggers' event and it had a very different spin on how to get over a breakup haha. My best advice for anybody dealing with something similar? Cry, shout, get it all out. Do it fast. Then just get on with it. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world and I'm telling you now, it's not. It's really bloody hard, but it's the best thing you can do if you're really hurting or leaving a long term relationship. These girls back in London were more than right, no matter how hard it was to listen at the time, taking that first step to jump on the train and carry on with my plans that day made me the STRONGEST I've ever ever been. This post should be about the event itself, however if I'm completely honest, it was a total blur for me. I do know that Scarlett was just such a gorgeous & welcoming host, the beauty & fashion bloggers in that stunning room were much more welcoming to a food lover like myself than I initially thought they would be, the view was one of London I've never enjoyed so much before and the freebies were simply fabulous - I'm still using my Lee Stafford styling brush & hair oils today! Cassy also won a makeover that day and she looked STUNNING, so it was fantastic to watch her being made to feel confident in her new clothes as we tucked into Sweet Pizza pieces (Brownie "pizza" slices with salted caramel sauce... erm yum)! The venue was in fact the Paramount events space at Centre Point, which features a wrap around bar and 360 degree views of our Capital, it's a very modern venue with a great space for an event of any size. It's on level 33 of this central venue, so it takes you sky high to escape the bustle of the streets below, just amazing and I'm glad to have attended just to experience the wonderful view. What really stands out for me from this event was just how terrible I felt in myself, I was in shock from the previous days' events, functioning on zero calories, continuing to do so for many days after. But, if I hadn't taken that quick step, I know I would have stayed home feeling sorry for myself for weeks, perhaps even months. What's happened since that event? Well, what HASN'T happened?! I've rediscovered the things that I love, rather than a collective "we", I've reviewed some stunning venues such as a spa in St Tropez or a Penthouse Suite in Leeds. I've attended a special afternoon tea event with Bettys of Harrogate, visited press events in London for even more afternoon tea geekery and I even signed a contract with Hotpoint (and had the time of my life delivering the service!) at the BBC Good Food show most recently. I got to meet some talented chefs, working alongside them in the Hotpoint demo kitchens and got stuck into some very exciting client plans over at Stir Up Media as a result. But, most importantly, I've made amazing new contacts & friends, reconnected with existing and old friends, got back into my fitness routine with my amazing personal trainer and have even put myself out there on the dating scene (first time since my early 20's, gulp!) and I've even met somebody new who treats me amazingly & who I really quite like.. perhaps that's an understatement, we shall see how it goes ; ) Thank you hugely to ReeRee Rockette for your advice on how to get my head around the minefield of being single in your 30's haha. I also treated myself recently to a dose of "Radical Self Love" emails from Gala Darling to perk me up every day and give me an email to look forward to waking up to every day. And a massive thank you to Scarlett for inviting me to this event, it did more for me than you'll EVER know! If it wasn't for the world of blogging, my world would be really very dull indeed. Here, I'd like to provide you, my lovely readers, with a few links to just some of the inspiring people I met at the #BloggersFestival this summer, where I'm sure their blog roundups of the event will do it much more justice than I can on reflection: http://www.cassyfry.com/2014/09/bloggers-festival-2014.html http://intothesnuggery.wordpress.com/2014/08 http://www.sweetpizzas.co.uk/sweet-pizzas-at-the-bloggers-festival-in-london http://www.emsypickle.co.uk/2014/09/instalife-wc-31st-august-2014.html http://www.chocolateandlipstick.com/2014/09/bloggers-festival-2014.html http://www.brittonloves.blogspot.co.uk http://captaincharghley.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/bloggersfestival.html Here's to a very exciting 2015, I am so thankful to everyone who has inspired and supported me throughout 2014. I have HUGE blogging plans for next year, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to help restore some awesomeness through these new adventures... Watch this space, follow me on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter and hopefully you can get involved too! If you'd like to know more about my new blogging events or get involved somehow, do drop me a line to chat further, I'd love to hear from you!
Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Back in April I received a very exciting invitation from my lovely friend and creator of The Clandestine Cake Club, Lynn Hill. She was asking if I was free to simply pop up to Leeds for the day, bake a cake and join her and some fellow cake-loving comrades at a top secret location for some fun with a television crew. This wasn't just any crew either, as lovely as they all were, they were actually following the legendary chef, Nigel Slater around the UK in search of facts, history and stories based around our favourite topic; cake. Nigel Slater was making a new BBC 4 TV documentary, in a similar format to his previous features on is favourite childhood sweets and the nations' favourite biscuits. He was on a road trip to find out why we love cake so much with the UK and what has been on offer to us over the years. The Clandestine Cake Club were asked to meet at Just Grand vintage tearoom in Leeds one windy afternoon and a handful of us met up earlier than planned for a cuppa and some "oohing" over each other's creations for Nigel to try - yes, we really are that geeky. I made a classic Victoria Sponge with homemade raspberry jam, with my more modern twist on the buttercream with some spirals (truly hoping that Nigel wasn't too much of a traditionalist when it came to a wedge of classic sponge cake!) in the middle. Whilst preparing to dust my cake, I also decided to write the title of the show ("Icing on The Cake") on top of the cake with template letters before dusting over it. The crew loved it and Nigel appreciated it too, so I was thrilled it went down as well as it did. My cake was by far one of the most traditional as Lynn had made a beautiful coffee & meringue cake which was divine and we had the queen of Bundt Cakes (Rachel at Dolly Bakes) to provide the table with one of her trademark Bundts using a shaped tin from Nordic Ware. The event itself was a very special version of a classic Clandestine Cake Club meet (if you haven't got a clue what this actually involves, why ever not?!) with Nigel joining us all at each table to chat on camera about why we love cake and what it can bring to the nations' lives. Whilst he was sat with myself and my lovely friends at my table, we discussed how baking brought back happy memories of baking with our families and how groups such as the CCC brings people together socially. It was a fantastic day, Nigel and his team stayed with us for the best part of 3 hours that afternoon, chatting and eating cake on (and off!) screen and Nigel had even made us all a coffee & walnut cake to tuck into - what a gem he was, it was lovely, of course! Lynn works very hard to create a platform for people to host a club to meet new people and bring them together over tea & cake. I see the hard work it takes, so to have Nigel Slater joining as an honorary member (especially when he enters into the spirit and bakes a cake following the CCC rules!) is well deserved. I'm proud to be a part of this cake club myself, having founded and organised the Cambridge CCC for years until very recently. We were the second CCC to open after Leeds back in the day and with almost 200 clubs worldwide currently, I'm super proud to have been a part of this cakey history. Even though I no longer run the Cambridge club, I still frequent others across the country on my travels when I can and I've made some super friends as a result - some of us even met up in Leeds a few months back for a special afternoon tea with Bettys of Harrogate. I adore the CCC and everyone connected to it, it's such a friendly community. The documentary itself aired on BBC4 last Thursday and I make a very brief appearance myself towards the very start of the show...as well as my cake too. You can watch this show back on BBC Iplayer by clicking here. The Clandestine Cake Club is also looking for advertisers and sponsors for their website, so take a look around and contact Lynn if you'd like to get involved somehow - this brand has exciting plans for 2015 and beyond, including a second cookbook, so you'll want to be a part of it if your business fits the brand!
Thursday, 13 November 2014
You may or may not have read by now that I have recently been taken on by Hotpoint as their passionate food blogger and roving social media reporter for their Kitchen Experience stand at the BBC Good Food Show 2014. This is one very exciting partnership and I'm thrilled skinny to be involved - I'll be taking to the floor and casting an eye on the latest food trends, gadget testings and Celebrity demos throughout both the London & Birmingham events throughout November. The events start this coming weekend with #GFSLondon, where you will find me joining forces with the superb Hotpoint team as well as some very familiar faces throughout this busy few days. We will be showcasing cooking and recipe demonstrations in London from the hosts of the stand; Lisa Faulkner and Shelina Parmalloo, as well as guest chef's such as Aldo Zilli, Tim Anderson, Marcus Bean, Suzy Pelta, Theo Randall, Nadia Sawalha. The event will run from Friday 14th through to Sunday 16th November 2014 and I will be there to help with the Hotpoint UK social media coverage throughout the event, as well as collecting information on thoughts for some creative blog content after the event - it's such a fantastic project to be working on, I cannot wait to get stuck in and meet such an inspiring group of personalities. The BBC Good Food Show Winter (#GFSWinter) will also be running from Thursday 27th through to Sunday 30th November 2014 at Birmigham NEC with many more guest chef's appearing on our stand. You can expect to meet the likes of Jo Wheatley, Glynn Purnell, Suzy Pelta, Anjali Pathak, John Whaite, Michael Caines and many more again - it's going to be a fantastic stand to visit if you are headed to these events throughout November. They are also offering discounts on their stand on products purchased at the show, so do take advantage, there are some real kitchen bargains to be had, with up to 50% off Hotpoint goods or a free hand blender on all purchases over £50 - it's a good one too! The stand will be showcasing not only the larger kitchen appliances, but the smaller domestic goods too. Their small goods include kettles, toasters, juice extractors, blenders, food mixers, microwaves, irons and even steam mops & vacuum cleaners - they don't just sell fridges and dishwashers, they own they own the kitchen! Illy espresso machines are also new to the Hotpoint range and there will be an Illy coffee experience within the BBC Good Food stand, where visitors will see their trained baristas in action and they can same the great quality coffee and see the sleek machines in action - some of them even mount on the wall to save space in your kitchen, they are fantastic little machines. I am stupidly excited about these events and if you are headed to London or Birmingham over the next few days or weeks, please do hunt me down and say hello... there is even going to be a Hotpoint Selfie competition through social media to encourage visitors to share the ultimate selfie from their visit - so follow my trail with Hotpoint through these platforms: Twitter Facebook Instagram Google + You Tube Pinterest And of course, if I get the chance, I will also be sharing my own experiences through my social media channels too - if I can find the time of course hehe! I'll be mainly sharing through Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, as always - be sure to follow me at all of the above and drop me a line if you see anything you like. In fact, you can even drop me a line through the Hotpoint social media channels to engage in real-time Q&A sessions with the celebrity chefs, so if you have a burning question for anyone, ask away and we may will include you in the conversation - you can see the full lineup here. www.hotpoint.co.uk/bbc-good-food And just in case you can't quite figure out how to spot me... I'll be most likely wearing funky Converse shoes and looking like this (minus the sparkly ears!) haha.