Friday, 21 September 2018

Staying at the Grand Hotel & Spa York // a hotel review

Recently my boss took me to one side at work and said "you do know you have 18 days of holiday left and we're well over half way through the year??!". It then dawned on me that I haven't had any time off in forever other than a random day off here and there. No wonder I was feeling knackered. So this month I decided that starting now, it's time to travel again and get my exploring hat on. If that's even a thing. 


York has been on my travel bucket-list for the longest time. As much as I love to go abroad, I also love a staycation. There is so much of my home turf that remains unexplored which I am quite embarrassed by. And York was one of those places.

Conveniently just shy of 2 hours on the fast train from London Kings Cross, I'd shortlisted a few York hotels and my partner and I mutually agreed on the Grand Hotel & Spa York, a 5* hotel located just a stone's throw away from the station and really close to the city centre. And isn't she a beauty?


OUR ROOM

As it was a special occasion we booked an executive room, which comparatively had a larger footprint and marble topped surfaces in the bathroom. It was a generously sized bedroom (you'd never get anything that big in London!), although admittedly probably bigger than we needed as we spent so much of our time exploring outside the room.


One minor disappointment I experienced with booking the room online here is that you are presented with two different images for the room type you have selected (one with a wooden headboard, the other with an black, upholstered statement headboard)... but you don't have any say in which room you get. Personally I would have preferred the room with the black upholstered headboard and darker walls as it's more my style and felt more modern than the wooden alternative which felt dated. However saying that, the wooden headboard and matching furniture were far nicer in the flesh and had a lovely warmth to it. I would love to stay in the other room another time, but seeing as you can't select it, I have no idea how I would go about doing that.


Upon entering the room, there was a video of the hotel playing on the TV and the jazzy music continued to pipe through into the bathroom. I'd never seen a TV like it. You could view your room bill on the screen so you could see an itemized bill in real time. This was especially handy for the day we checked out as the queue for the front desk was HUGE, and it meant we could glance over our bill in our room and then theoretically leave our key in a express checkout box in reception. I say theoretically because we couldn't find said box anywhere. However there were friendly staff on hand to assist so I can't complain.


THE BATHROOM

Admittedly the bathroom was a little bit of a surprise due to the same confusion with the multiple images on their website. Rather than grey veined marble tiles and deep blue walls as seen here, we had more of a beige colour palette with light brown marble tiles. Again, this looked far nicer in person and had really flattering low lighting in the bathroom (the sort that makes you look really tan) which was 1) a delight first thing in the morning when you've just woken up and you can't handle ALL THE LIGHT right away and 2) made things really cosy in the evenings for your waterfall shower (AMAZING by the way) and then wrapping up in a super fluffy robe afterwards.


Hotels that have complimentary robes and slippers always hold a special place in my heart. I loved the rope / cord edging to the bath robe and how incredibly soft the slippers were ("shall we get you some for back home?" M. asked, amused at how appreciative I was of them)


One of the first things I scope out when I check into a hotel is the toiletries. I love brands like Molton Brown as they always feel extra special, don't you think? The bright green bottle isn't actually a shampoo and is in fact MOUTHWASH. It was a weird one (almost herby?) But you did feel super clean afterwards though! The body wash and lotion were mandarin and clary sage which were my sort of thing (fairly unisex, not too feminine).


ROOM EXTRAS

The second thing I like to check is the mini bar and tea making facilities (I'm terribly British). Anything from the mini bar was an extra cost so we avoided. However it did state on the menu card that complimentary still and sparkling water was provided and priced at the grand total of £0. But frustratingly we didn't have any water in the room. "Let's wait until later" I said to M. "Perhaps it's part of turn down service?". Returning to our room after dinner, we had wonderfully inviting beds... but still no water. So I had to call down to reception and ask for some (which I didn't feel that I should have to do in a 5* hotel). "No problem at all! Still or sparkling? How many bottles?" the chirpy and friendly lady at reception asked me. I requested two bottles of still water but we only received one. We just about had enough for hot drinks and drinking water that evening,  so no harm done. With water now in our possession, we could boil the kettle and get some hot drinks going. M. had a classic - Yorkshire Gold - whereas I was incredibly excited to find Galaxy hot chocolate in the tea crate.


The iron and ironing board came in incredibly useful for making ourselves (well our clothes) a bit more presentable for dinner. And I'll bear in mind for future visits that shower caps, nail files and flannels are provided in the rooms (all very useful things).

THE VIEW

We had a pleasant view from our window of York's city wall. In fact one evening when we had a small pocket of time before dinner, we made our ascent and walked it. Some of the Grand Hotel & Spa York reviews on Trip Advisor moan about the views from the rooms but you have to bear in mind that this is a hotel in a city centre location near a train station! You are not exactly going to get rolling hills and greenery!


THE HOTEL ITSELF

All the communal areas of the hotel were a dream for interiors enthusiasts like myself. I'm talking luxury velvet seating, chesterfield sofas and the most beautifully scented halls. I found myself saying "I recognise that scent!" and throughout our stay, it became a game. I was so determined to remember. I couldn't decide if it was Molton Brown, White Company or Jo Malone I was smelling. But towards the end of our stay I'd whittled it down to a fig scent and decided it reminded me of Dyptique's figuier (whether it was or not is an entirely different matter).


RATES AND PACKAGES

The Grand Hotel & Spa York has some great package deals where you can incorporate meals like breakfast and / or dinner for a slightly discounted rate. The dinner rate only includes dinner in one of their restaurants (The Rise) and I was unsure how many courses / which menu this included. I did try querying this with customer services before my trip but didn't get a response from the hotel. So rather than risking this, I chose to book just the room. I didn't book bed and breakfast since at £25 per head I found breakfast to be fairly steep (plus I'd read some negative reviews on Trip Advisor here which dissuaded me). We ended up booking dinner separately at The Rise restaurant in case of any menu restrictions as we wanted freedom of choice. My review of The Rise restaurant can be found here. I would love to try their other restaurant Hudsons (a 3 AA Rosette fine dining experience with 5 and 9 course tasting menus) another time.


SUMMARY

I hate to say it, but to me the Grand Hotel & Spa York didn't feel like a 5* star hotel. I have stayed at (cheaper!) hotels with lower star ratings which have felt more special. M. hit the nail on the head when he called it "personally impersonal". There wasn't an initial warm welcome at check in. Instead we were directed to another room to continue check in and discovered that our booking had come through incorrectly despite booking directly with them on their website. I queried about booking a table for dinner and we were led to a desk - with no one there. By that time there was a queue of people waiting to make dinner reservations which passing staff noticed, and worse still, didn't step in to assist. I had to physically go into the restaurant and flag someone down to get a table booked which I felt I shouldn't have to do with a 5* hotel.

Past this point, the staff in the restaurant that evening were much better with the whole customer service / warm welcome malarkey and helped saved my perception of the hotel. I would stay again based on the restaurant, the beautiful food, and how we were treated there.


If you like swoon worthy interiors, a good comfy bed (which for the record, was one of the best I've ever slept in!), complimentary bath robes and slippers, and exceptional food, this is the hotel for you.

However if you are experience / customer service driven, by all means go, but be ready to manage your expectations (personally, I'm still not 100% convinced that customer service was 5*...)

Sunday, 16 September 2018

15 of my favourite homeware pieces raising money for a good cause

Charity is something that is very close to my heart that I like to support where I can. So when I received a press release about a new line of chairs from Sue Ryder to raise money for those who require hospice or neurological care I wanted to get involved (and as a FYI this post is not sponsored or compensated in any shape or form).

Let's be honest. When you think of charity shop chairs you think dated, second hand chairs, right? WRONG. In this case all chairs in the collection are brand new. And dated they are not. Offering a range of pinks (which they are aptly calling millennial pink), greys and velvets for a touch of luxury, they are very much current. I am quite the interiors enthusiast and I have seen similar chairs around, but not at prices as low as these. And I promise you, they look every bit as high end. Don't believe me? Check out for yourself below!

JEWEL TONES

When it comes to jewel tones, don't be shy and really go for it. Contrast against a dark wall and choose all manner of magentas, teals and yellows with metallic accents and accessories.

Image source - Pinterest - 1 / 2 

GET THE LOOK


Jewel tones like these are great for rental properties, student digs or anywhere else where there are decoration restrictions in place. If you are faced with white or magnolia walls that you hate and begrudgingly aren't allowed to change, why not bring colour into your home by way of furniture and accessories? Gradually layer in different colours to really pop against those plain walls. The above rug makes a real statement and velvet pieces like the above chairs add a luxe element.

PRETTY IN PINK

Being someone who once hated all things pink, I can't quite believe I'm saying this... (I've had an epiphany!) but pink chairs are wonderfully versatile. They work well with white walls, soft greys, soft blues (like the duck egg featured below), and also dark walls for real impact. For a luxe take on the trend, pair with mirrored furniture, bold print rugs and gold accents.

Image source - Pinterest - 1 / 2 / 3 

GET THE LOOK

I don't know about you, but I love this pink stool with black legs (they also do this version with wooden legs if you prefer a softer look). Or how about this pink velvet chair? It reminds me of the seating in Sketch! Pair pink velvet with mirrored furniture for a high end look. I am seriously in love with this mirrored console table and this black and white rug!


SOFT GREYS

I love a grey. Whether incorporated into shabby chic, hygge or French style decor, there is something very soothing about it. Particularly when paired with touches of white - be it white walls, fluffy sheepskin rugs or knitted throws. Grey lends itself well to natural accessories like jute rugs, exposed brick walls, baskets, and wooden accents.

Image source - Pinterest - 1 / 2 

GET THE LOOK

These dining chairs are dupes for the ones on the My Furniture website with the silver ring pull handle, don't you think? Although admittedly I do also love these bar stools! The trays, crates and baskets below all fit seamlessly well with the French shabby chic aesthetic I love so much.


The Sue Ryder website also has a good selection of other chairs in other colours and styles which you can find here. Or if you're good on the chair front, they also stock garden furniture, soft furnishings and other homeware which can be found here.

As well as offering express delivery and safe and secure payments, Sue Ryder’s dedicated online shop offers free delivery over £50, a 30-day money back guarantee and a dedicated Customer Services Team. If you have any questions about the site, delivery or a particular product, do feel free to reach out to sales@suerydercare.org and be a pal and say I sent you.

As much as I love treating myself to new pieces for my home, there's something extra special about knowing that a purchase you make is also raising money for a good cause, don't you think?

Which of the above three categories is your sort of style?

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Is it a salad? Is it a stew? Your guess is as good as mine!

I don't know about you, but on chilly autumnal days and wintry evenings, all I want to eat is bread dunked into thick soups and stews. I'm talking ultimate comfort food.

A firm favourite of mine is lentils. Whether in a spiced dhal, or adding extra substance to a soup or a potato topped pie, you can't go far wrong. Great in both meat and vegetarian dishes, lentils are low fat and full of nutrients. I use red lentils in veggie lentil ragu and I find puy lentils are great in hearty stews.

I'm not altogether sure how to classify the below recipe. Is is a warm salad? Is it a stew? You decide. All I know is that it's damn tasty whatever it is.


You will need...

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (I actually used more)
  • 1 tbsp English mustard
  • 250g pouch of easy cook puy lentils (I used Merchant Gourmet puy lentils)
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • Fresh parsley (optional)
  • Dried thyme (I was liberal with these)
  • Wild & Game pheasant & pear sausages

METHOD

1. Set your oven to 190°C / Fan 170°C / Gas 5 and cook the sausages in the centre of a pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes, turning mid-way through.


2. Meanwhile fry the chopped red pepper until soft (I like mine slightly charred for extra flavour!)

3. Add the balsamic vinegar, mustard, fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme, and stir to combine


4. Add the lentils. As they are ready cooked, you will only need to warm these


5. As soon as the sausages are fully cooked, remove from the oven, slice them, and add them to the pan as well


7. Season to taste and add more herbs, balsamic etc according to your taste (I added extra balsamic and extra thyme)

8. Serve with a sliced French baguette. Or salad. Or both.


If you thought my other sausage stew recipe was simple, then you're in luck.. the above recipe is even easier to rustle up! Pop the sausages into the oven and once they are cooked, the rest of the meal hardly takes any time at all. To be honest it takes more thyme than time (sorry!)

I really liked the venison sausages I talked about here, but I actually loved the pheasant & pear ones used in today's recipe even more. They were different to other sausages I have tried before as they didn't taste of either beef or pork and were more like chicken or turkey, and leaner. I was nervous that the fruit (pear) would come through fairly strongly, but luckily it was only subtle.

And if you're veggie, you can always sub out the sausages for veggie ones.

It's a fairly budget friendly recipe as lots of the ingredients are staples you may already have in your food cupboard. But to make it even cheaper, use dried lentils instead of ready cooked ones and cook according to the packet instructions. Ready cooked lentils are great for if you are short on time and want a quick meal, but are not the cheapest option (to be honest, I don't buy them often and usually wait until they are on special offer!)

I would say this recipe serves two people but it depends on your appetite (M. and I tend to have larger lunches and smaller dinners so this did us for x2 meals each).

The herb, balsamic and mustard concoction is designed to be like a light salad dressing rather than a sauce so I accompanied mine with salad. However I haven't listed salad in the ingredients above as for me personally I didn't find that the salad worked with the dish at all. The leaves and lentils were both quite 'earthy', so instead I suggest accompanying with a sliced French baguette to add a different texture to the dish. Plus bread is structurally sound for scooping up that lentil goodness (not quite as effective with a lettuce leaf!)

And don't feel obliged to add fresh parsley. I added it to mine and it didn't really add anything. Thyme and rosemary allow for much deeper flavours and complement the sausages better.

* Wild & Game sausages kindly sent for review purposes. As ever, all opinions are my own

Monday, 3 September 2018

Dining at the Rise restaurant at the Grand Hotel & Spa York

When staying at the Grand Hotel & Spa in York you face a difficult decision: which amazing restaurant do you eat in?! Will it be The Rise (cuisine with a Yorkshire spin on British favourites from award-winning Executive Chef Craig Atchinson) or Hudsons (a 3 AA Rosette fine dining experience - also from Craig Atchinson - boasting five and nine course tasting menus). Whilst I'd love to try one of the tasting menus at Hudsons another time, on this occasion I tried The Rise. And boy was I in for a treat.

FINDING THE RISE

Head to the ground floor of the Grand Hotel & Spa York, walk past reception and you will come to a corridor lined with all manner of comfy armchairs. Straight ahead of you, you will find the loveliest of bars. I did hope to stop there for pre-dinner drinks but sadly time was tight (I only just made my booking on time). And I was too tipsy after the meal (god bless red wine). Enter the doorway opposite the bar and you will come across further bar seating tucked away from the main hustle and bustle of the bar. Climb the stairs (there is also a chair lift for those who need it) and you will find the entrance to The Rise Restaurant, Terrace & Bar.

INTERIORS & DESIGN 

Entry to the restaurant is through what can only be described as a glass box. Black frames outline the restaurant exterior (a heated terrace) which adds to the industrial feel of the exposed brick walls on entry. This industrial aspect is softened by soft furnishings, light greys and plenty of greenery and plant life. The marble table tops and grey seating were both very much to my taste. The sofa M. sat on had the appearance of a statement headboard, and how lovely are the small white tiles arranged in fan-like formations?


TO START

To start I was tempted by the scallops which sounded intriguing. Scallops and cauliflower is a common pairing I see in many restaurants - however the additional components of pickle and North African spice were entirely new to me. Having recently had an exceptional scallop dish at a London restaurant, I didn't want to play the comparison game. However this is a dish I would love to try on a future visit.

Instead I had grilled tiger prawns with a smoked paprika mayonnaise. I didn't want anything too heavy to start and these were just the ticket. With just the right amount of char, these were wonderfully meaty and moreish. If it was socially acceptable I would have licked my fingers right there in the middle of the restaurant. Instead I composed myself and used the finger bowl provided. Because I'm classy really.


THE MAIN EVENT

A good starter is an excellent first impression of a restaurant and really gets things off to a good start. I struggled to come to a decision for the main course as everything sounded so tempting. I toyed for ages trying to decide between fish (my new obsession!) and meat, but the duck breast with herb gnocchi, hen of the wood mushrooms and stone fruit sounded like my kind of dish.

"Stone fruit" I took to mean anything in season which contained a stone and assumed this could be cherries as duck with cherries is a pretty common combination. And I was right. Personally I'm not a fan of duck with fruit - whether it be duck and cherries or duck and orange - but as luck may have it, there weren't many cherry halves on the plate and I just ate these first.

To be honest I still don't know what hen of the wood mushrooms actually are. These had a firmer consistency and more of a chew which reminded me of artichokes.


The duck was seasoned really well and although the skin wasn't as crispy as I'd usually like, it still had a great saltiness and depth of flavor. It was pink in the middle (just how I like it) and remained juicy and melt-in-the-mouth without drying out.


OUR POISON OF CHOICE

To accompany the starter and main course we sought out a red wine. Know this: I've never sent back a bottle of wine before and I felt like an absolute k*** for doing so. But that's the whole point of the initial wine tasting, right? That awkward moment when you swish the wine around in your glass and stick your nose in it like you know what you are doing. If you were back home you'd be halfway through the bottle already. I love a Malbec but I wanted to be adventurous for once and opted for a Merlot. I'm sorry, but that particular Merlot wasn't for me (it had a really funny after taste). So instead I reverted back to a fool proof bottle of Malbec. Oh well, I tried.

THE GRAND FINALE

Having a three course meal out is a rarity these days as despite my humongous appetite, I can never quite manage dessert. Thanks to the lighter starter, I had a little more space than normal and ordered their warm dark chocolate mousse with cherries, honeycomb and hazelnuts. I first fished out all the cherries because priorities. And also because M. wouldn't eat them. I love cherries, but I've never really been into the forest gateau inspired chocolate-and-fruit combination (just personal preference). Now the path had been cleared, it was time to dive head first into the mousse. And what a mousse it was.


I was a bit confused by the whole warm mousse thing when I saw it on the menu. But now I want warm mousse forever more. It is best described as a decadent, thick, hot chocolate. Long time readers will know about my love of honeycomb and my past pursuits of making it. I will literally order any dessert that has honeycomb in it. And if chocolate is involved too, then it's a double win. The honeycomb added a crunch and a lovely additional texture to the dish. If anyone from the hotel or restaurant is reading this: PLEASE KEEP THIS DESSERT ON YOUR MENU. It is hand on heart, one of the best desserts I have ever had a restaurant.

SUMMARY

What a place! I loved York and even if I don't stay at The Grand next time, I would still hot-foot it to The Rise for dinner. Wonderful staff and service, exceptional food and beautiful surroundings - what more can you ask for? Whether you are in York for a day or overnight, whether you are a tourist or local, do seek out The Rise if you are ever in York!


Address:
Station Rise, 
York YO1 6GD

Nearest station: York

To book a table or view the current menu, click here

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The perfect sausage cassoulet recipe for a cold or rainy day

I don't know about you, but on a cold and rainy day I love coming home to a warm stew. After amassing various sausage stew recipes over the years, the below is one of my favourites. It's hearty. It's comforting. It's like being wrapped up in a big duvet

As sausages can be quite gristly and fatty, I always recommend spending a little bit more on premium quality sausages if you can, for more actual meat and less nasties and filler. For this recipe I used game sausages instead of traditional pork sausages for a leaner option. Combined with pulses and lots of fresh herbs, it was a marriage made in heaven. Almost like a thick soup.

Another huge bonus is that this can be quite a purse friendly recipe as lots of the items are the sorts of things you should have lying around the house already (and if not, a single carrot and a single onion aren't exactly expensive!) Also because it makes so much, it's perfect for leftovers which translates to a low cost per head. I managed to feed myself and my partner for dinner one night and then we had x4 takeaway boxes worth left afterwards which did us for an extra 2x lunches each!


You will need...

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 100ml red wine (I usually use more because I'm naughty)
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • A generous sprinkling of smoked paprika
  • Fresh thyme sprigs (I was liberal with these)
  • 350ml chicken stock
  • 400g tin of butter beans, drained
  • 400g tin of borlotti beans, drained
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 8 rashers of bacon or 200g lardons
  • 12 Wild & Game pheasant & venison sausages


METHOD

1. Set your oven to 190°C / Fan 170°C / Gas 5 and cook the sausages in the centre of a pre-heated oven for 25-30 minutes, turning mid-way through.


2. Meanwhile fry the onion, gradually adding the bacon / lardons, carrot, and then the garlic

3. Add the red wine making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to get every last scrap of flavour (the tastiest bits!)

4. Add the tinned tomatoes and also all the beans, tomato purée, paprika and remaining herbs

5. Leave to simmer for as long as you can to really seal in that flavour!

6. As soon as the sausages are fully cooked, remove from the oven and add them to the pan, continuing to simmer


7. Season to taste and add more herbs, wine etc according to your taste (I usually add extra smoked paprika and wine at this stage, but that's just me!)

8. Serve with an extra sprig of thyme to garnish if you have (stops the dish from looking too beige I find!) and a sliced French baguette (although to be perfectly frank, it is more than satisfactory without bread thanks to all the beans!)


It really couldn't be simpler. If you aren't into cooking, or don't want the hassle, this recipe could be one for you. No need to worry about frying sausages and them spitting up in your face like with other sausage stew recipes. No 8-10 hours wait time for a slow cooker. Instead boosh the sausages into the oven and leave be. Get your pot simmering and leave be. Add the cooked sausages and leave once again. Meaning more time for you. Grab that glass of wine. You deserve it.

I'd never tried making a sausage stew with game sausages before, but they were a really nice change. I did set aside x3 sausages to taste outside of the stew and they were delicious. Traditional pork sausages carry a lot of flavour,  but fortunately the pheasant & venison sausages had a good meaty flavour and held their own. Admittedly I couldn't taste venison or pheasant specifically, but on a positive note, you could actually see big pieces of game when cutting into the sausages. This in itself was refreshing as game pies and produce I've brought from other game suppliers in the past have been lacking in game and mainly padded out with pork meat - which happily wasn't the case at all with Wild & Game!

As you may have seen on social media, I've also been sampling some of their pasties, sausage rolls and pies, all of which have been really generously filled and wrapped in beautifully buttery pastry.


I was also really impressed with how well my delivery was packaged. It was delivered on one of the hottest days of the year in a huge polystyrene box surrounded in a generous amount of ice which amazingly was still frozen by the time I got home in the evening! I was suitably impressed and will definitely be ordering from Wild & Game again (please do check them out and their Facebook page here for additional cooking inspiration!)


* Wild & Game produce kindly sent for review purposes. As ever, all opinions are my own