It's been one heck of a year, with travelling to far flung destinations that have been on my travel hit list for a very long time... But sometimes a girl simply craves some peace & quiet in a spa for a day or two. After a quick discussion on where we might like to go for a weekend pre-Xmas break, the bearded one agreed that he fancied shutting himself away in a luxurious spa with me by his side - he's a winner that boy! Philip had enjoyed a taste of spa life in the summer at a local spa to me, but a day just wasn't enough. So we booked ourselves in for a couples break at the Lifehouse Spa at Frinton-On-Sea in Essex. This was simple enough to get to from Cambridge on a Friday night straight from work, traffic allowing us to arrive at 7:30pm where we were swiftly shown to our dimly lit room and left to relax for a while before dinner. A candlelit table for two was waiting for us, with one of the friendliest waiters I've ever encountered, he made our stay both nights as we dined here - he was knowledgable and went the extra mile every time we asked him something. I truly wish service was like this all the time, our waiter could show every service team a thing or two! Whilst we dined at this spa, we enjoyed the best of both worlds - healthy dining, mixed with the odd treat or two - perfect. During our two night stay we enjoyed courgette spaghetti with mushroom ragu, Italian sausages with roasted vegetables and we both couldn't resist the venison burger with a soft brioche roll and fries - this burger was truly delicious! The cheesecake was off the menu by the time we got to dessert on the first night, but I managed to grab a wedge of delicious lime and coconut on the second night. We sampled the "healthier sounding" avocado & chocolate mousse, but it still didn't convince me that this was a nice tasting pud, it's a little unusual for my tastes haha. Sometimes you've just got to combine good food with a serious relaxation session. We booked ourselves in for a couples massage (the first I've ever had and absolutely loved it) followed by a snooze in a private "sleep pod" to curl up together afterwards to snore away zzzzzz. In fact, I think we were either ever so slightly forgotten... or simply left to it because the pod wasn't being used for the rest of the day.... Either way, we woke up (drool and all!) almost 3 hours later, oops! These pods were fabulous, complete with private lighting and sound systems to help you unwind - these are well worth trying out. Chilling out in, around and even over the pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi was just what the doctor ordered. We swam, read our books, chatted, walked around the stunning grounds of spa and did what we had intended to do - we switched off, well and truly. The Little Extras: We had treated ourselves to this break at our own cost, however after an excited chat prior to our arrival, the spa offered a few extras for our stay, such as a three course dinner on the first night and a bottle of superb prosecco to kick start our relaxation. They had even left us some delicious alcoholic cocktail-inspired chocolates to nibble on in our room - I can't thank them enough for these little touches to our stay, we truly felt like we had switched off and that's the exact result we had wished for on booking. The breakfast was fantastic, everything you could imagine on offer, from fresh fruit and cereals, warm croissants, meats and cheeses through to a full English buffet. I liked that you could order different options when it came to eggs, I indulged in freshly poached eggs with runny yolks with my toast and bacon, perfect. Our massage therapists gave us a choice of pressure and didn't mess around....sometimes spa therapists disappear for a fair while until they come back to massage you after stripping down - they were prompt in returning and didn't push products on us afterwards - I liked that there was no pressure to but their products, as can sometimes happen in my experience. The Little Niggles: Whilst outside walking, we had wandered back towards the rear of the spa and found we couldn't get back inside, the doors only pushed outwards. We tried two or three doors and even knocked for a member of housekeeping but he couldn't let us in.... It wasn't easy to get back in. The spa was busy from what we saw and it was sometimes tricky to find lounger space around the pool, they are lacking in physical/extra space around the pool, so I can understand it may be tricky. Whilst enjoying our massages, the only fault would be that doors were banging outside our room (quiet closers should be standard in spas!) and a therapist walked into our room loudly and then stumbled around apologising... how could they not know it was occupied??.... Not the most relaxing it could have been to start with, but this wasn't the fault of the therapists themselves in this case. An express checkout option is available on leaving, but if you want to stay on to use the spa on the day of departure you still need to go to the front desk to arrange a key fob, etc for the separate changing area. It was all a little confusing once in there, as it's also used for general leisure members. My locker wasn't locking and nobody had shown me how their locking system worked with a key card - I had to walk back to reception in my robe to ask, not too glamorous. Overall: This was one of my favourite spas within the UK - polite staff, great food, relaxing atmosphere. If I had to be picky, a little more in the way of spa facilities would be great, perhaps they will plan to give it an overhaul sometime soon. It could probably do with more facilities and a little spruce up, however the team on the days we were staying kept on top of clearing away cups, towels and sweeping down the water from the floors regularly, they were very good. We didn't make use of any relaxation or fitness classes, this was a purely lazy spa break, but you could turn is into a fitness retreat, complete with use of their smoothie bar for the ultimate in detoxing. They do offer afternoon tea and it looks delicious, so perhaps next time... if they'll have us again in the future? www.lifehouse.co.uk See my full Facebook photo album for this stay here. Read my new "About Me" page here! You can also read about Miss Sue Flay's "Around The World In 80 Stays Challenge"and other Secret Stays & Reviews here. See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – I paid my way during this visit and I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:email@example.com All images © 2016 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Tuesday, 17 November 2015
As true Brits, we all know and love this Cornish brand when it comes to topping our scones at afternoon tea. In fact, we love it so much that we get into deep conversations and even debates over how we should eat it. It's a truly important topic when it comes to enjoying afternoon tea and Rodda's is the crowning glory when done right. I've always used Rodda's for my own afternoon tea events & spreads, they've never bribed or endorsed me to do so, it's just the "right" way when it comes to the trusty cream tea... In my humble opinion! Well, just imagine my sheer excitement when the lovely team at Rodda's HQ invited me to join them for a VIP day whilst visiting Cornwall for national Afternoon Tea Week back in August. This was a "money-can't-buy" experience, as the Rodda's office and creamery is not on offer to the general public, so this was a very special invitation indeed. The only other person to have the Cornish red carpet rolled out for them to summer had been the Prime Minister.... I felt super special next to such a name on the guest list. I honestly didn't need asking twice, I was a little nervous about the idea, as I would be with a small crowd whilst visiting Cornwall, my gorgeous bearded manfriend, his sister and his two energetic nieces and a nephew (and we had a lot plotted out on our limited itinerary!).... How would this even work? Well, I can tell you, the Rodda's team well & truly rolled out the red carpet for us, I am still in shock at the amazing hospitality they offered us all for the day of our visit, we were treated like afternoon tea royalty...with superb, twinkly, jingly bells on! Everything we did was a real first for Rodda's, as they don't usually open their HQ for tours or visitors, so this was one truly special day, none of us will ever forget it. Whilst Philip and myself were shown around the Rodda's Creamery, the others were joined by Mr Nicholas Rodda (yes, this is a family run business, through and through - four generations of the Rodda family wander around and work under these roofs, it's fantastic to see). Mr Rodda supplied the children with delicious treats, gave them a mini tour of their offices and read the official Rodda's story book to them to keep them entertained. This really was a money-can't-buy experience, they were even joined by the main character from the story, "Merrion the cat burglar" hehe... The kids had a whale of a time, almost as much fun as we did as adults! We all received a special signed copy of this beautifully drawn and written book from Mr Rodda and the kids are enjoying reading it even now, I think this has created special memories for three very lucky little people - they'll be telling their friends for many years to come, as will we! So, What Exactly Is Clotted Cream?: It's thick cream made by cooking/heating milk very slowly and then allowing it to cool, whilst the cream content rises to the top in coagulated lumps - this is how the thick "skin" forms on the top. When it comes to authenticity for the consumer, Rodda's ensure their customers know they're buying the real thing by having a "PDO" for their "Cornish Clotted Cream". This stands for Protected Designation of Origin, an award given by the European Commission, designed to protect traditional, regional foods against imitation. If you see the words 'Cornish clotted cream' on a label, you can be sure that the product inside has been made from the distinctive local milk used for this top-notch product. The Rodda's Creamery: Most of this tour is completely off limits to you, my dear reader - I'm very sorry, but my lips are sealed as to how their Cornish Clotted cream is baked. We had to swear on our cream teas' life that we would divulge the secrets behind how their clotted cream is baked, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say the entire process is mightily impressive. I feel as though this video below might be a better way to show you what we saw, this is very special, not many people get to see this, so you're very special too now to have a sneaky peek into their world - enjoy! [youtube height="HEIGHT" width="WIDTH"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgwRfNPrNyE[/youtube] Rodda's Family History: In 1890, Eliza Jane - Nicholas' great great grandmother - provided clotted cream from her Cornish range to her family, using a way she had devised to keep it fresh from her aga. Young Willie Rodda went up to London at the age of 16 to share the cream and orders soon came in fast... their business was born. The cream would go up on the local train and British Rail would take it out at the other end to distribute into London hotels or Tearooms - how distribution has changed over the past 120+ years! Read more about their family history here if you want to find out more later on. What Else Can You Do With Rodda's Clotted Cream?: So, what else can you do with clotted cream, other than dollop it generously on top of your warm, freshly baked fruit scones? Here's just a few ideas, you can actually use it just as you would double cream, so you can get fairly creative for a richness to many dishes, add it to: Bread Hot chocolate Porridge Meringues Brandy sauce for steak Fruit smoothie Mashed potatoes Victoria sponge (or any cake!) Creamy pasta sauce Stewed fruit Truffles Even topped on cornflakes, just like Eric Rodda's himself enjoys every day for breakfast! In fact, Rodda's have a mini booklet titled "101 uses and excuses for clotted cream", so it certainly isn't just perfect to top off your scones - who would have thought it?! You could even do as some Cornish pasty makers do, adding a dollop of clotted cream to the inside instead of butter for moisture and richness to to classic savoury treat. Did You Know?: Rodda's even produce small batches of salted butter (with the most beautiful pattern adorning it you ever did see) following a Royal request from Her Majesty The Queen. Being a fan of their clotted cream (Prince Charles sends it to her and Philip sends it to his friends at Christmas I'll have you know) Her Majesty requested if they might make them some butter. So to this day, at this most Royal request, one man stands in a room churning their butter, decorating and and wrapping with his own two hands - just fantastic. The Science Bit: The creamery holds 150,000 litres of Red Tractor Assured milk in silos on site, with each silo holding up to 20,000 litres. As this milk comes in from local dairy farmer within 30 miles, across 151 farms, it is tested (much like a pregnancy test) for quality and if it is unwanted for the cream, it goes off to local cheese makers so as not to waste it. That's a heck of a lot of milk! We asked ourselves what would happen if they ever burst.... Cornwall would be boogey boarding in milk rivers up and down the county! Cornwall is great for growing grass, so the cows are happy and able to graze for up to 10 months of the year (weather permitting!). The Cornish pastures are green and lush - this can be seen in the great quality of milk that they produce - and no milk is mixed to ensure a consistent batch every time it's used. Truly Fascinating Facts: 90% of production at Rodda's is clotted cream. 5 years ago Rodda's started bottling their own milk - now sold to local hotels and tea rooms as well as served freely within their staff rooms - I was almost tempted to half inch a pint myself, there were fridges full of it for the taking, ahem! Rodda's started with glass jars to store and supply their clotted cream, then tins and then the plastic containers we know and love today. Their clotted cream is poured into and baked in the plastic containers we buy in shops and supermarkets today. After much experimentation, they found a material that would withstand the heat of their ovens and, to save work, they found a perfect solution for baking and distributing. The clotted cream is produced in small batches - even the catering tubs are fairly small to ensure quality in every hand-checked batch. After the clotted cream has been cooked, it cools in refrigerators overnight and goes out the very next day - it's usually on the supermarket shelves approximately two days later. Rodda's produce 10,000 pots of clotted cream an hour! They employ around 150 staff members in Cornwall. Throughout our delightful afternoon with the team, I couldn't help but get truly geeky when it comes to afternoon tea. I asked Nick Rodda where he would suggest anyone visiting Cornwall should go for the perfect cream tea... His response was a troubled one, as there were far too many places for him to suggest - a man after my own scone-loving heart! If you were going to go anywhere in Cornwall for a cream tea, then his advice is to go for a scenic view above all else! The Rodda's team are actually looking into the "psychology of a cream tea" currently, which led to quite the conversation around our afternoon tea table. You'll have to wait and see what their findings are, as the research is still being conducted - exciting! Rodda's clotted cream is not only produced for us here in the UK (with Ascot, Christmas and Wimbledon keeping them very busy indeed!) - it also goes to Germany, Japan, South Africa and Spain! Concorde used to serve Rodda's clotted cream on their flights. Read The Book: If you're stuck for a gift or souvenir idea, then look no further than this beautifully written and illustrated book; "The Great Cream Robbery". Nick personally read this book to the children on the day of our visit is he's very proud of the story, which holds not only a cheeky little story about their clotted cream, but also their strong values within it. Merryn the cat even came to visit us whilst we enjoyed our afternoon tea, we really did get the Royal treatment, the kids were thrilled! I honestly can't thank Belinda, Zoe, Nick Rodda and the entire team on the day for making this such a truly memorable experience. I've been speaking fondly of this ever since and will be continuing to do so for the rest of my life - genuinely! Ps - I'm judging the latest round of Rodda's "Crown Your Puds" competition entries, so take a look here for more info and to enter your own treats! Read my new "About Me" page here! You can also read about Miss Sue Flay's "Around The World In 80 Stays Challenge"and other Secret Stays & Reviews here. See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:firstname.lastname@example.org All images © 2015 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Saturday, 14 November 2015
This is the newest restaurant opening in Norwich, well, one worth getting excited about. Not only is it on my favourite street in Norwich, it's opposite my regular drinking haunt whilst in this fine city (The Mash Tun), so needless to say it's been on my hit list for some time now. Benedicts has been open for a few months now, owned by Richard Bainbridge (and his wife Katja) who you might recognise best from BBC's "Great British Menu". A Norfolk boy through and through, he learnt many of his skills in the early days at Morston Hall before travelling around the world gaining as much knowledge as he could. Now he's back home to show us what he can do, bringing his wife and daughter in to share the ride. Having been a lover of good food for some time, I must admit, I've never dined at this level of dining before - I'm usually more of an afternoon tea or BBQ sort of girl! So this was very exciting. Not only because I've never eaten the food of a Michelin star-levelled chef, but it was my first pay cheque from my new job (I'm now officially Social Media Co-ordinator for a luxury travel company - eek!), so I was treating my bearded man friend to a mini celebration - hurrah! We opted for the taster menu, rude not to sample lots of little treats whilst dining at Benedicts, it's a menu I enjoyed through and through. I'm fairly fussy when it comes to food, so I genuinely thought there would be elements I'd have to leave, but in all honesty?... ...I didn't leave one bit... Well, apart from a little lamb fat and a slice of tomato (massive fear of these buggers!), it was worth every penny. I tried new ingredients, components I would never cook myself (yes, the pigs head was actually one of my favourite courses!) and dishes I would never be bold enough to order on a normal menu - I love that the taster menu allows you to try lots of new ideas. These dishes are all dreamt up by Richard and his team, ingredients are locally sourced, even the broad beans we were served came from Richards vegetable patch in his own home garden. There's a mix of classic British dishes, mixed with German twists inspired by Katja, Richards wife and business partner, using recipe ideas from her own family traditions. I heard Richard telling the table next to us that he had just nervously served one of his German-inspired dishes to his German father-in-law just the day before.... And it gained his seal of approval, hurrah. Richard recently gave an interview (prior to his recent televisual appearance on BBC's "Great British Menu" for the WI's centenary celebrations) where he mentions that his new Norwich restaurant is a place he wants diners to feel at home, comfortable to walk in wearing flip flops or trainers. It's not a "sniffy" place, it creates good quality food in a relaxed setting and his staff at smartly, but casually attired to mirror this. The team stand out in their blue and white striped shirts and brown "butchers" aprons, they aren't "suited and booted" as they greet you through the door - it's relaxed and encourages you to sit back for a few hours, with no rush to leave. Richard mentioned in conversation that his mum joined the local WI to help him understand what makes the ladies of WI tick when it comes to food and their memories of the institute. She loved it so much, she has stayed a member ever since. I love that his family support him whole heartedly, he's a passionate guy and I can't recommend his cooking enough, he deserves every success in his newest adventures! What we thought would be a short-ish lunch date, actually turned into a 3 hour stay. We even sipped on Colombian coffee, dunked some miniature churros and chatted to the team long after our meal had finished, everybody was so friendly and welcoming, we truly didn't want to leave. I liked the little touches - the seeds on the butter for the bread, the extra dish Richard sent up for us to try after he saw my Tweets on the way to the restaurant about us celebrating (thank you Richard for being so hot on it and noticing - that made us smile hugely!) and the team knowing everything about each dish, down to where each ingredient was sourced. There's a real passion here and you can tell the team are more of a family, the service was faultless. Bumping into Katja and Richard on the stairs as I left, "Family Time" he smiled, leading his little girl down for a quiet lunch with the team. We will be back, perhaps for a candlelit dinner next time. I'm a Benedicts convert. If I were you, I'd get your table booked right now before Richard becomes far too busy to host you! They just made it in the Times 25 best new UK restaurants, where they came third - they're deserving of this accolade, I'm sure it'll be the first of very many more! www.restaurantbenedicts.com View my ultimate guide to eating out in Norwich. Read my new "About Me" page here! You can also read about Miss Sue Flay's "Around The World In 80 Stays Challenge"and other Secret Stays & Reviews here. See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – I paid my way during this visit and I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:email@example.com All images © 2015 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
I recently enjoyed a spa day at Yspa at Wyboston Lakes, but as part of a press day with some truly lovely ladies during the summer. After this visit to a luxurious spa just a hop from my own front door, I swore it wouldn't be long before I headed back for another relaxation day... And I didn't wait too long before that was made a much-needed reality! "The Bearded One" hadn't yet indulged in a spa day so I vowed to treat him to a romantic spa day, complete with afternoon tea to impress him on his first real spa experience. It was actually a very warm September Sunday, early in the afternoon when we decided to unwind at one of my most favourite spa retreats. We decided to book our afternoon tea on arrival, for 3pm which worked perfectly as it allowed us to chill out by The Waterfront with a cup of tea and some delicious handmade treats before heading to the spa itself. You must know just how filling afternoon tea actually can be, this was very dainty, yet still filled us up tremendously. This made for a very snoozy sunny afternoon, wrapped up snugly in our fluffy white bathrobes and matching spa slippers. Beautifully presented finger sandwiches arrived, freshly made, not soggy bottomed or crispy crusted, they were lovely. Fillings are traditional, including a refreshing plain cucumber, ham & mustard, smoked salmon and a delicious grated cheddar cheese and tomato finger sandwich. The fruit scones of which accompanied this afternoon tea were warm from the oven and served with miniature Frank Cooper's strawberry jam. I ADORE this jam, it's not widely used and I haven't had any for a long while, so I was easily pleased with this offering. But. Yes, a big but.... why do venues Insist on whipped cream with a good scone??? This lets any venue down ANY time it is used, please stop doing this - a plea to ALL afternoon tea venues, clotted cream should adorn your golden beauties, not this sloppy, tasteless and truly disappointing substitute. Yes Yspa, I'm telling on you... Mr Roddas will not be best pleased ; p After sampling the rest of the sweet selection on offer, I can just about forgive them for the misplaced clotted cream! Chocolate opera / mousse cake, very light but packed a dreamy, chocolatey punch, it was fantastic and beautifully hand decorated with pretty chocolate decorations. In fact I was slightly jealous of the chocolate work on offer, I've always been green-eyed when it comes to chocolate work, my hot hands just aren't made for it. Lime Cheesecake with beautiful choc curls and lime zest, served cold - perfect for a hot day, I could have eaten more of this if it was offered. I couldn't help but fall in love with the Mini white chocolate "Aero" ball on top of the toffee and white chocolate mousse shot - my goodness, If you're a chocolate lover then this afternoon tea is for YOU. My advice would be to save the cheesecake for last to refresh your palette... Unless cheesecake isn't your fave, then save the mousse for last, if you can control yourself! I hadn't realised on my first visit that there's a relaxation room dedicated to helping you completely de-stress, read in peace or sleep in the silent rooms complete with beds and cosy warm blankets. We found ourselves a couple of swivel egg chairs, fantastic for cancelling out the noise around us, we could barely hear each other in the, much to our hilarity. We snoozed for a good half hour, swirling around and around in our chairs in a cake-induced semi-coma.... Before shuffling outside to enjoy some fresh air and natural sunlight by the spa pool itself. It was fairly busy on this particular day, but we still managed to find plenty of room to curl up together in the pool, surrounding ourself with energising bubbles and water jets whilst enjoying a good conversation, completely Undisturbed by the world around us. It was heaven. We no agreed that next time we visit, we would ensure we book ourselves in for a treatment or two to go alongside the ultimate in relaxing days... A massage would have gone down well to send us into oblivion. No tea menus were presented, so we had to try to "choose" a tea or coffee option without any idea of what they had on offer... This always annoys me slightly. I'd rather see everything on the menu before I decide versus being told "we have everything you can think of"..... The table was laid with Beautiful China but, when the bearded one ordered coffee, the teacups & saucers were exchanged for bland cafeteria style cups. Final Thoughts: If you've ever wondered where to start with a relaxing spa day, combined with a decadent afternoon tea, this is the sofa for you. We left the spa feeling truly relaxed and it honestly takes a LOT for me to unwind properly, I'm usually very tight in the neck and shoulders. But, this particular evening, we were home and in bed by 8pm fast asleep... Unheard of for both of us, amazing! For afternoon tea and a spa day for two, you are looking at £60 for this, but prices may vary and deals/special offers and promotions are always an option here, so do take a look. I recently spotted to video of the Yspa team on Twitter too, they are a superb team and deserve the awards and respect they gain, I highly recommend this spa to people over and over again for many reasons, this down to earth video is just one of them - enjoy! Have you visited Yspa at Wyboston Lakes yourself? Have you been lucky enough to enjoy their afternoon tea? www.yspa.co.uk Read my new "About Me" page here! You can also read about Miss Sue Flay's "Around The World In 80 Stays Challenge"and other Secret Stays & Reviews here. See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – This spa day was complimentary, however I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:firstname.lastname@example.org All images © 2015 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.