British Airways Club World LHR – JFK

I don’t know whether it’s me but I always find the meals coming out of British Airways Terminal 5 in London so much better than those on the return leg.  Am I biased or have they nailed the catering at Heathrow Airport?  For a long-haul flight, I’ll always try and save the extra cash to enjoy the benefits of the Club World (Business) cabin.  I don’t think First Class is worth the extra money, you get treated like Royalty in CW, and I know because I’ve experienced both.

Before you book your seats, always check out specific seating options on SeatGuru.  You’ll need your flight date and airline details, whether you fly with British Airways or not.  A community of flyers add specific details to the site through message boards, and plane configuration helps to let you know if you’ll be near a galley, near a potentially banging door or a bulkhead.  It’s a great resource whichever class you fly and has helped me pick the best seat on lots of trips.

Back to our flight on a BA 747-400 with upstairs seats, in the bubble.  I didn’t get a chance to check these out because they were all booked but there are plenty of comments on SG.

Our seats on the outbound were very comfortable and my birthday trip began with a glass of champagne before I’d managed to sit down and a chance to catch up with Ronan and his new wife.

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After take off, out came the full bar and my favourite rose Champagne.  The Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose is an award-winner with a beautiful salmon pink colour.  It’s super dry and smells of red fruits.  Two glasses of this and I was ready for food.  Feet up.  Movie on, even Scarlett approved.

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A morning flight meant lunch was served just before noon.  We’d taken advantage of the Lounge, but I didn’t have more than a cup of coffee and browsed through the papers so it was welcome.

With all Club World flights, passengers are offered a menu with a full explanation of what’s on offer for the entire trip.  You’ll be asked what you want for your main course and there’s usually a selection of four.

The starter was superb.  A sweet pea pannacotta was of restaurant quality, richly sweet and light, but sadly there was only one plate of it. A fresh plate of green salad is served with a simple vinaigrette.

Pea pannacotta, BA Club World

I chose the slow-braised Herefordshire beef cheek with a cheese-ridden gratin and baby shallots and gingered carrots.  Now it wasn’t the three glasses of champagne that had me thinking this was one of the best airline meals I’ve ever eaten.  It was.  Period.

British Airways, Club World

The dessert wasn’t too shabby either I chose the oven-baked vanilla custard on a sweet pastry with cherry jelly.  Superb.  Often these desserts are gelatin-laden, and this had just the right amount of ‘wobble’.

British Airways, Club World

I swerved the coffee and chocolates and settled down to a film.  My window seat meant that I did have to climb over the passenger’s feet to my right as he decided to have a snooze. It’s a bit of a party trick to try and not bash the extended foot rest if you need to use the facilities or fancy a walk around the cabin.

Next thing I remember the Twinings Tea Room had opened and it was time for Afternoon Tea.

Afternoon Tea, Club World

Antipasti, whilst an option, is not afternoon tea, so I chose the individual sandwiches.  Red Leicester and pickle, truffled chicken and coleslaw and the ubiquitous smoked salmon.

Warmed buttermilk plain and fruit scones came with Rodda’s clotted cream (THE best) and Tiptree Strawberry jam.

Afternoon Tea, Club World

I didn’t manage the macaron, Madeira cake or eclair.

Afternoon Tea, Club World

The return food I’m afraid isn’t worth the time it takes to write and post.  Needless to say, the outbound journey entirely made up for it.

What’s your experience of airline food?

 

 

 

Eat Your Way Around The Yankee Stadium

Too much time spent choosing what to eat and drink could mean less time watching baseball.  There are six levels offering everything you want but didn’t really know you did, as well as the unexpected.  Here are a few offerings in the food and drink department at the Yankee Stadium. Bring your appetite, my friends, because this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Lobel’s

Prime Steak comes from this Madison Avenue family butchers shop which has been operating in New York since 1840. Carved medium rare before your very eyes the trick is to stop the server from filling the soft bun full to bursting. Ask for the gravy; it’s worth it and the price tag. You won’t need a knife or a fork this is messy, just make sure you get plenty of napkins and don’t wear white.

Applewood Smoked Bacon

Bacon on a stick anyone? Yep, it’s a thing. A thick bacon rasher is threaded on a stick and drizzled with a sauce of your choice.

Chicken and Waffles

What’s not to love about these branded waffle sliders? The waffles are light and fluffy if a little sweet but served with well-seasoned breadcrumb chicken which is deep-fried and traditionally smothered in hot sauce this is a satisfying comfort dish.

Tape measure Cheesesteak

It’s 24 inches and is built to share. A cheesesteak is known under many names in the States from the Philly or Philadelphia cheesesteak to steak and cheese. It hails from Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania and is a steak roll. At the Yankees Stadium, Carl’s Steak is the Tape Measure. It comes topped with a choice of white American Cheese or Cheez Whiz, a thick orange cheese sauce with ‘cheese cultures’ as an ingredient. Served on a sub roll with peppers and onions. This three-hander is for sharing, and I guess it should be at $27 and 1795 calories.

Garlic Fries

While these skin-on fries look unassuming, they’ve enough garlic on them to ward away evil spirits and probably personal conversations for days to come. Minced garlic and parsley is scattered on deep-fried potatoes and served in a plastic Yankees helmet which is yours to take away if you so wish. Just be careful washing it as the Yankees logo may rub off if you get too excited about cleanliness. Add cheese and sauce for the full experience.

Cheetos Popcorn

If you’ve got a thing for Cheetos in the US, you’ll freak over the popcorn. Not only will it stain your thumb and forefingers a chemically induced orange, but the fake cheese flavour will also have you dipping in for more. Popcorn and sticks of original Cheetos mix work in perfect harmony together in a bag large enough to share.

Sushi

Raw fish at a baseball game? Choose from Bronx, New York, Tanaka Roll and of course The Yankee platter, complete with flag.

Linda’s Egg Cream

For the uninitiated, an Egg Cream is a classic New York drink similar to an ice cream soda or float and made with chilled milk, a little fizzy water and chocolate, vanilla or coffee syrup. Linda’s claims to make the best Brooklyn Style Egg creams in New York. The trick is to whip up the mixture without disturbing the frothy head. A real skill mastered with a plastic straw.

Cotton Candy

Europeans know it as Candy Floss, but whatever you call it, this is sugar, colouring and corn syrup heated and spun onto a stick. Here in the Yankee Stadium, it’s sold from the vendor’s head. Note: not everyone can carry this look off.

Goose Island IPA

Goose Island hails from Chicago and began life in the Clybourn Brewpub in 1988, which it still operates. Hoppy with plenty of citrus notes, a great IPA to drink in the steaming heat. Only served in Yankee logo US pint cups.

Expect hot dogs, Kosher and otherwise, gluten free stalls and soup.  I’d like to say soup for the winter but the Yankees don’t play when it gets cold enough for soup.

It’s the law in New York to list the calories on every product, but don’t let that put you off indulging. If you’re feeling virtuous, head straight for the Farmers Market but is that as much fun as a bag of Cheetos Popcorn? I don’t think so.

North End Grill, New York

I love social media.  Mr is consistently condemning it as a waste of time, but he doesn’t get it.  I do.  And I’m glad I do because that’s how I met Eric Korsh; Virtually, via Instagram (@ekorshie & @holdtheanchoviesplease).  For those who don’t know what this is, it’s an application that allows you to post pictures of anything you like; mine’s mostly food and lovely buildings or places I’m visiting.  If fellow Instagrammers like what you post they follow you and likewise.Eric is a chef.  A bloody good one and runs the kitchen at Danny Meyer’s North End Grill.  I threatened to visit some time ago and made that threat very real when I booked tickets to New York for my birthday in August.  Little did I know I’d visit when the place was in the middle of a heatwave, so booking to visit a restaurant with an open kitchen where mesquite charcoal and white oak fires up Josper ovens and wood grills was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.  Thankfully it’s air-conditioned.

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NEG is inside the swanky Conrad, located in the heart of Battery Park City, close to the World Trade Center Memorial and Eric brings a little French sophistication to a grill menu. It’s also a non-tipping restaurant which means service is included in the price of your food, quite a rarity for the City.

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There’s a raw bar features some fabulous options including iced oysters ($4/each) from the waters around Massachusetts; Crowes Pasture and Peter’s Point, which turned out to be a smaller, sweeter offering.   Served with a simple chilli jam and a classic Mignonette.

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The oyster brine was divine, and I could imagine it enhancing a Gin and Vermouth mix to make the perfect Martini.

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Little neck clams (£3/each), head-on prawns ($6 each, half lobster ($20) and a Plateau of Fruit de Mers (12 Oysters, 12 Clams, Half Lobster and Salmon Belly Ceviche) $134.

Appetisers included Zucchini (courgette) carpaccio ($15),  Beef Carpaccio ($21), Zebra tomatoes from the Hotel’s rooftop ($15) and Lettuces with Feta, green onion and a dill vinaigrette ($18).  Not a fan of cold soup, the white gazpacho was grape-based and within it sat a quenelle of beautifully fresh cucumber sorbet, a sprinkle of Spanish Marcona almonds finished this excellent starter ($18).

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Another winner was a cold pork terrine.  A clean, well-flavoured jelly surrounded a rustic, pistachio-studded meat.   It came with pickled red cauliflower, sweet baby cornichons and a couple of mustards, along with an angled slice of grilled sourdough.

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Now, the sourdough is worth a blog on its own.  It had just the right amount of sour notes with a great malted treacle crust, utterly dangerous with the slightly salted butter.

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The hero of the meal had to be the dry-aged strip steak with charred spring onions, rosemary and garlic.  Cooked on an open grill, perfectly charred on the outside and medium rare within.  

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Expect duck breast and rosti potato ($45), Berkshire Tomahawk Pork Chop ($57), a short-rib burger ($29) and a coal-roasted half chicken ($34).

In the seafood and vegetable section, there are a couple of pizzas ($26) Hake ($39), Artic Char ($43), Turbot ($45), Skate ($32) and a Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Gnocchi ($36).

There are choices of snacks, charcuterie (expect French bistro classics), cheese (which includes American, French and Swiss) and sides including Summer Succotash with pickled peppers ($16) which were beautifully vibrant and full of sweet and sour flavours.

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Drinks included cocktails, this the Emerald City with Gin, Cucumber, Basil and Lime ($18).

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And soft cocktails, an excellent wine list, including those by the glass, and a varied selection of New York draft and bottled beer. 

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If there were a dessert menu, and I’m sure there is, we were too full even to begin to read it.

Stumptown Coffee is by far one of the best roasters in New York, and they have a station in NEG dedicated to the art of coffee-making.

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I loved everything about the evening; meeting Eric was a huge honour, but the food, the relaxed atmosphere and the service were all brilliant. I’ll be recommending it, and I know Mr definitely will.

North End Grill,104 North End Ave, New York, NY 10282

Christmas in Little Italy, New York

It’s 93 degrees outside, and I’m literally melting, but there’s one place where there’s a guaranteed chill, Christmas and City in Little Italy, New York City.  A pretty unassuming building front in the heart of a district known as Little Italy, except for the fact it’s painted red and has huge fir swags covering it. There are hundreds and thousands of decorations dedicated to Christmas.   It’s probably easier if I share with you pictures of some of the decorations on sale here to give you an idea of the scope of ornaments on offer.

Even the 9/11 Memorial has been hand blown in glass.

The Rockettes from Radio City Music Hall.

Disney Princesses.

And quite a few Irish decorations.

Cartoon characters and children’s TV favourites.

A section dedicated to The Wizard of Oz.

A section of Mermen and Mermaids.

And the more traditional Christmas scene.

Christmas and City is open 365 days a year.
122 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013

It’s open from 10am to 9pm on Monday to Thursday
10am to Midnight on Friday and Saturday
11am to 7pm on Sunday.

Review: Tipsy Tea, Mr Fogg’s Tavern

It’s about time the afternoon tea got kicked into the twenty-first century, and while there’s always a place for loose leaf, speciality teas, there’s also a place for one that’s alcohol-fuelled too. There are a few places around the UK, and a handful in London who are offering fizz and gin but some do it better than others.

Take Mr Fogg’s Tavern in Covent Garden. Their afternoon tea experience is one of immersion into the fantasy world of Phileas Fogg, the traveller and explorer. The site that straddles New Row and St Martin’s Lane was once the home of Gertrude Fogg.

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When she died, she bequeathed her home to Phileas. Her Will stipulated that her life-long housekeeper, Fanny McGee could set up a tavern for her friends and professional acquaintances downstairs while Mr Fogg made upstairs his very own Gin Parlour, and it’s here his collection of more than 300 bottles are.

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Each Saturday he throws open his doors to lovers of gin and afternoon tea for the Tipsy Tea.  It’s also here in the Parlour he offers a Gin Safari for groups of six or more.

The experience, and it is an experience, begins when you arrive.  An invitation to attend the upstairs parlour is given, and a bell sounded.

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As you make your way to the top of a narrow corridor, you’re greeted with a, Tanqueray Gin and Fever Tree Mediterranean tonic, and told a little about the ‘history’ of the site.

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Next, you’re taken through to the Parlour where you take your seats, we had a chaise longue each, and learned about two different types of gin. The first was an Old Tom style gin, Jensen’s and the other New World and Martin Miller’s.

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The afternoon tea menu is compiled by ‘Passepartout’, Phileas’ French Valet, and the household staff. If you’re feeling brave, you can order the bottomless teapot of gin or champagne. We weren’t and after our welcome gin, we were ready for some food. We chose Mr Fogg’s Afternoon Par-Tea-Pot made with Jasmine Green Tea, Tanqueray London Dry Gin, Pineapple Syrup and Lemon & Orange Bitters.

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Then the afternoon tea arrived.

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A selection of finger sandwiches and a couple of pastry-less quiches, two scones, one fruit and one plain, with strawberry jam and cream, two lemon posset and shortbread, along with chocolate and raspberry sponge cakes.

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A couple of fruit meringues and banoffee tarts topped the final tier.

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Bite-sized champagne jellies helped to cleanse the palate between courses.

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Each tea lasts for two hours, and we finished ours at 4pm.

Be sure to pace yourself, those stairs seem deeper and narrower on the way down!

Make a reservation for the Tipsy Tea here.

Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour is at 1 New Row, London, WC2N 4EA

What’s the best afternoon tea you’ve experienced?

Harrods Christmas World, 2016

Harrods have opened Christmas World, a whole 24 days earlier than last year.   The entire range will be in store by the 28th August, but I went along to see what you can pick up now.

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The famous luxury Department store is the third biggest tourist attraction in the capital, and hundreds of thousands of people flock here each year to wander it’s seven floors.  At the beginning of August their anticipated Christmas shop opens.  On the Hans Road side of the Knightsbridge store, it’s housed in the Harrods Gift Shop and the Buckingham Palace Collection. I’m specific here because I asked both the security guard on the ground floor entrance and a sales assistant in the kitchenware department on the second floor and they didn’t know.  I do.  I’ve been and you must.  Here’s a map from Harrods’ online site.

Snip20160804_3Bears have a strong connection with the store which goes back to 1921 when a Winnie the Pooh bear was bought at Harrods by Christopher Robin’s Mother.  In 1986, the first Harrods Christmas Bear was sold, and the tradition continues. Collectors from all over the world descend on the store when they go on sale.

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Hugh the 2016 Christmas Bear is the star of this year’s show and takes up a commanding position at the front of the Shop.  A smaller version is £24.95 with 2016 sewn onto the poor chap’s left paw.  If money or space is no object, then the huge Hugh can be yours of £1,200.

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The collectors 30th Anniversary Plates are £24.95 and the Mug £16.95.

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The ‘My First’ Christmas range includes a white stocking £19.95, a 2016 Bear Decoration £14.95, 2016 Bear on a Bauble £9.95, 2016 White Crown Bauble £9.95 and a set of 3 silver decorations £14.95 and the snowglobe, £24.95.

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The ‘My First’ range includes a puppy,  a teddy and a kitten all at £14.95.

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For the tourist, there’s plenty of suitcase-friendly souvenirs, great for their own Christmas Tree and all at £7.95.

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So apart from baubles what else can you dangle from your non-drop Nordmann Fir?

Gold Glitter Harrods Bag £9.95

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Glitter Present Decoration £9.95

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Glass blown Harrods store £9.95

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Hand finished decorations for the Christmas decoration connoisseur.

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Bear in Bell Decoration £9.95

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Set of four teddies decorations £14.95

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Set of three bears £19.95

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Snowglobes, with the Harrods Westie wearing a Santa hat.

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Festive Westie toys are £12.95.

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As well as Christmas decorations the store also has a small range of their Christmas tins which include teas, hot chocolate, biscuits, chocolate and jam.

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The Advent Calendar is simple, and while there’s a star pointer to determine the date, there’s room for a small treat as well, £19.95.

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In November, Christmas ramps up, and the store will launch with the fashion house Burberry, and it will be the first time they’ve teamed up with a brand for the festive campaign.  We do know it’s called ‘A Very British Fairy Tale’  and will follow two children on an adventure through a snow-swept English country house, complete with flying cars, floating bathtubs and secret passageways.  Expect the Burberry plaid to feature as it takes over the store’s Christmas tree and windows on Brompton Road.

And, if you want to meet Santa in-store this year, don’t forget to register ahead of its opening on the 4th November.  Bookings start on Monday 19th September 2016. All customers registered to Harrods Rewards by Sunday 28th August will receive priority booking based on their Rewards tier and will be eligible to book their tickets first before.

 

 

Aldi, Christmas in July

I’m a huge fan of Aldi; I just wish there was a branch nearer home. They’ve come on in leaps and bounds, and it’s difficult to beat them on quality and price. Some of their products even look like their closest rivals. Their Christmas showcase didn’t fail to disappoint.

Turkey is Christmas for many households and this year you can expect something special. They’re working with the Binder family from Suffolk who’ve been rearing turkeys on Rumburgh Farm for over 25 years. These birds are fed on a diet of locally grown cereals and are free to roam the woodland and pastures. They’ve also got up to 40-50% more breast meat than commercially reared birds, and that’s great news for fans of white meat.

Goose, a Five-Bird Roast, Duck and Poussin are also on the menu.

If you’re after something special they’ve got a haunch of venison, a specially selected Dry Aged large beef roasting joint and a Specially Selected Beef Rib, with all the trimmings, of course. Talking of which don’t expect the humble sprout. Button Brussels, Truffle Oil Cauliflower Cheese, Honey Roast Parsnips, Dauphinoise Potatoes with Truffle or Emmental and Goose Fat Maris Pipers will help fill the plates up. I counted about seven types of stuffing.

There are four ham joints and a gammon joints all glazed, ready to cook and perfect to serve cold over the Christmas period.

A rope hung Scottish Salmon is from H Forman and Sons. The process remains the same since the company began in 1905 with the freshest salmon, just the right amount of salt and smoke.  The smoked salmon side comes with a board and a knife. You’re the artisan carver and can choose how you want it sliced, whether it’s in thin slices or sashimi style. What a way to kick off Christmas morning or a present for the food lover in your life?

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Other seafood includes raw black tiger prawns, Specially Selected Lobster, smoked salmon in Mojito or Gin & Tonic.

There’s so much Party Food and Canapes on offer, and some of my favourites include an exquisite jewelled layered pie. Pork, chicken breast, pate and fruit is sprinkled with golden sparkle. Master pie makers in Nottingham are responsible for this centrepiece and have been perfecting their art for over 80 years. Nocellara olives, duck rillettes, platters of Parma ham and antipasti feature alongside desserts of Churros with chocolate and caramel, mini ice cream chocolates and mini brownies.

The cheese selection was incredible, and the price points hard to believe. Specially Selected Goats’ Cheese Bombes, Specially Selected Brie with Truffle, regional Blues include Cornish, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Buxton.

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When was the last time you saw a croquembouche in a high street supermarket?  I know, right? And this choux pastry, cream filled tower is sure to delight any Christmas Scrooge.

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The Exquisite Yule Log is a pretty good backup.  Surrounding here by Specially Selected Dessert Shots.

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They’ve not forgotten the must-have family cake either.

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Nougat bars, florentines, nuts, Stollen and Moser Roth Fudge and chocolate are all there to satisfy the sweetest tooth.

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For the fizz, wines and spirit lover there’s some great Brut Champagne and Prosecco to get the party started. Move on to Vodka, Whisky, Gin or Brandy.  Become a mixologist for the day with their kit for Rum, everything you need to make four different cocktails.

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Great gifts or for feathering your own nest their range of copper pans and Scandi baking pans will take some beating and the premium stand mixer is really special.

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Their award-winning Lacura Face Care range introduces some new products for the over 35s. Made from the grapes used in French Champagne the Cuvee Royal range includes two mousses and serum. The men can take care of their skin too, and the Gentleman Kit is a great gift.

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Baubles for Barnardo’s is a partnership aimed to raise vital funds for young people this Christmas.  Baubles can be bought and decorated at home with the family and all the money raised goes to the charity.

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The Plants and Flower Buyer’s been busy at work too.  Beautiful bouquets in red and white are sure to finish your festive interior to perfection.

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Taste of Hastings: Lough Neagh Eel

It’s Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, and Hastings Hotels have fully embraced the best of seasonal produce on offer. Passionate about food, they believe, and I tend to agree, that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. They champion local producers in their six hotels, and they work closely with all staff to make sure everyone gets the best out of the Northern Irish larder. This year, it’s just a little bit unusual.

Throughout July, they chose to highlight two dishes fished from Lough Neagh.

Lough Neagh (pronounced Loch Nay) is a freshwater lake, the largest lake, supplying 40% of Northern Ireland’s drinking water. Owned by the Earl of Shaftesbury, it’s 20 miles west of Belfast and is about 20 miles long and 9 miles wide. Fishing has been a major industry here. The eels make a 4,000-mile journey from the Sargasso Sea to the mouth of the River Bann and make their way into the Lough. They stay here to mature for up to 15 years before making the return journey to the Atlantic to spawn. The eels are shipped all over the world, and a PGI protects the Lough Neagh Eel.

For the first dish, the Eel was served cold with pickled rainbow carrots and beetroot. Armagh apple adds a sweetness which cuts through acid. Slices of Comber potato, just 7 miles from Holywood, have an incredibly creamy texture which works well with the firm fish with its delicate smoke.

Smoked Eel

Pollan is a freshwater white fish, similar to herring, found only in five Irish lakes, Neagh being one. It’s been a staple in the region for hundreds of years and was lightly fried, served with burnt lettuce and slices of Comber potato. Capers, beetroot and tomatoes are added to the dish, topped with a slab of lemon and herb butter.

Pollan, Lough Neagh

You don’t have to go to great lengths to enjoy smoked eel, and while you might not get your hands on a Lough Neagh fillet, it’s often available in high-end supermarkets and online. A simple recipe is all that’s often needed to showcase the brilliance of the ingredients, and this is an indulgent lunch or dinner party canape.

Ingredients

2 tbsp creamed horseradish
142ml carton double cream
100g smoked eel fillet
Thinly sliced brown or rye bread
Salt and pepper

Beat the horseradish with the double cream until it’s thick. Season to taste. Cut the eel at an angle into thin slices.  Top the bread with a dollop of horseradish cream, add a slice of eel and enjoy.

Marks & Spencer, Christmas in July

I always love the Marks & Spencer Christmas in July event and this year was another cracker.

Sweet, masquerading as savoury, and vice versa is a ‘thing’ this Christmas and the Seafood Knickerbocker Glory is a case in point. Prawns, lobster and a Champagne mousse are layered to mimic a Summer favourite. They’ve also taken inspiration from the chef Nuno Mendes at Chiltern Firehouse and borrowed his savoury doughnut recipe, using hot and sour prawns.

The love for salted caramel doesn’t seem to be waning.  Their Belgian chocolate and salted caramel cake is encased in a hand-decorated chocolate present and topped with a gold bow.

This year the party starts at Breakfast time with mini croissants filled with smoked salmon and egg alongside mini bacon Breakfast cups and an Egg Royale, a perfect pairing for their new Bucks Fizz with Cranberry and Clementine.

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Jenny Rea is something of a gin expert for M&S, and I had a long chat with her about this year’s top tipples. She’s been working with Charles Maxwell in Clapham, and they’ve developed two new gins. No 01 Spice (£26) includes Coriander, Angelica and Ginger and No 02 (£26) Liquorice, Seville Orange and Cassia Bark.

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No Big Dill (£12) is an infused gin with dill and a spot of Elderflower. Served straight and on ice with a sprig of Dill.

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Expect to see a repeat of the Serrano Ham joint from previous years; a 2kg joint has been matured for 12 months, de-boned and comes with both a stand and a knife.

Hidden centres seem to be de rigour this Christmas, and there are quite a few products in the desserts line.  The chocolate mousse pine cones are filled with an oozing chocolate truffle centre. Given a twist, the traditional Christmas pudding has been given a chocolate makeover.  A moist chocolate sponge has been married with raspberry compote and chocolate mousse to bring you a fantastic centrepiece. An incredibly chocolatey cabin cake has a hidden tree design inside, and there’s a chocolate pudding cake which when cut, spills out sixpence chocolate coins.

These mini Santa hats were simple, and a meringue base has a raspberry jelly and fresh vanilla cream topping

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Festive red teamed with glitter will always get my attention, and I loved this Raspberry & Cranberry jelly (£5).

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Flowers through the post is really catching on, and M&S have jumped on the bandwagon. This year, and it’s a high street first, they’ve created a Christmas Tree, Wreath and Garland that can be posted through your letterbox.

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There are great stocking fillers, and these chocolate angel wings (£10) are a good example.

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For the chocolate-lover in your life, this advent calendar is an absolute must, and if £20 is a little on the steep side, there are plenty of other options easier in the pocket.

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A sparkling table needs a sparkling outfit, and they’ve got that covered too. I have to admit to not checking out David Gandy’s range for Autograph, but I did have a look at the offerings for women.

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There’s a touch of Hollywood glamour on offer this year with plenty of gold and plush fabrics. I’ve got my eye on this skirt and its matching bomber jacket.

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Tesco, Christmas in July

Greeted by Christmas trees, snow and an awfully chill wind, Tesco’s Christmas in July event kicked off well.  A warehouse recreated a series of events in the run up to and on Christmas Day, journalists swung through a series of doors and events that take place over the Christmas period; an Advent Calendar brought to life.

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Tesco, Christmas in July

In ‘Preparing for Christmas’, there were lots of activities and things to make, including this Igloo Cake Kit (£3.99) which is something parents can make relatively quickly with their kids. Easy on the purse, it can be cooked in the microwave and comes with cut-out characters and a snow scene.   The cake is incredibly moist as it’s an oil mix, again vegetable oil being cheaper than eggs in most cases.

Tesco, Christmas in July

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Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the usual luxury and Tesco offer it in spades. From party food, generous seafood platters, British free range Bronze Turkeys, and the all-important smoked salmon.

The products that were worthy of note are on lit plinths and this Finest Reveal dessert earned its place.   A chocolate lover’s dream, this dark Belgian chocolate dome is flecked with gold for an impressive finish and at £12 it was an impressive price point.  It then reveals something of a surprise when the hot toffee sauce hits the crisp shell dome.

This year, the traditional Christmas cake has had a makeover regarding look.  I chatted with Stephanie Bacon one of the food developers at Tesco who talked me through this dome cake.  Whilst it looks contemporary, don’t be fooled, it has all the luxury of a traditional fruit cake.  There may even be luxury truffles on the side and will come in under the £20 mark. I love coming to these shows to chat with the experts, finding out what’s new and how some of the products are still being developed right up to the wire.  So much effort goes into making these events special, and the hard work paid off for Tesco this year.

No party is complete without fizz and this year their Finest pick is a DOP Valdobbiadene Brut from Treviso in Italy and at £10 it’s totally affordable. Flavours of apple, white flowers, citrus, grapefruit and a hint of honey, these bubbles, certainly for me, top Champagne any day of the week.

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This year there’s Christmas Dinner in a box and for £25 there’s, you’ve guessed it, Christmas dinner for two which includes turkey, veg accompaniments, half a bottle of champagne and a Christmas Pudding.

Free From frozen desserts are pretty impressive, and the Berry Christmas Cheesecake is a steal at £4.  Difficult to believe that the Chocolate Yule Cake is another bargain at £4.50.

Tesco, Christmas in July

Tesco, Christmas in July

I’m sure you’ve worked out that my sweet tooth overtakes my savoury.

However, I love cheese, so this finest dessert board selection caught my eye. The thing is, it’s a reinvention of the traditional cheese board, and it comes ready to serve on a slate-effect board.  It’s not cheese at all but features a sweet passionfruit cheesecake, a coconut pannacotta coated with cocoa nibs, a light lemon mousse with a swirl of pistachio crumb and a white blondie studded with white chocolate and a fruit compote.

Christmas in July, Tesco

The Tesco Snowman Cake is a novelty for the kids in your life, young and old. Vanilla sponge is covered with soft buttercream, shaped like Mr Frosty and accessorised with fondant.

Tesco, Christmas in July

Plenty of inspiration and styling to help you organise your Christmas throughout the holidays.

Tesco, Christmas in July

Christmas in July

I forgot to mention the Smoke at Home Ham.  A dry-cured ham joint is popped on an Alder wood smoking board, which can be soaked in juice or beer prior to cooking, it’s served on the board with pickles.  Impressive.

 

Culloden Estate & Spa

From the moment you arrive and step through the stone archway at Culloden, something magical happens. All the stresses of modern-day life disappear, and you feel as though you’ve come home, this is 5-star Irish hospitality at its absolute best.

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Culloden Estate & Spa is on the outskirts of Belfast and is about a ten-minute drive from the centre, even less from George Best City Airport. Built in 1867, the Hotel has been modernised and sympathetically extended. Formerly a Bishop’s Palace, it nestles within 12 acres of manicured lawns.

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It has a magnificent sweeping staircase and stained glass window feature. Very Downton Abbey.

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There have been a couple of additions to the original house which include additional bedrooms on an ivy-covered wing and conference and banqueting suites.

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The award-winning Spa has had a recent upgrade and undergone a total makeover. ESPA spa treatments are on offer in eight treatment rooms. There are two relaxation rooms, a gym and a Medispa.

In the original house, it’s all panelling and painted ceilings. Look upwards to see some real works of art or find a quiet corner to tuck into a book or admire the views.

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My visit took place over two days, and I brought my Mum along for company. The Lady Dufferin Suite was to be our home; even I was speechless and a little breathless for a few seconds because this it’s pretty impressive.

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The beds are worth a blog of their own. We slept like babies, on a mattress which Goldilocks would have trouble stirring from, and we woke to views that took us straight into the garden and beyond to Belfast Lough.

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The bathroom is almost as large as the bedroom, covered in marble from floor to ceiling. There’s a bath and decent power shower along with Jack and Jill sinks so there was no fighting for mirrors. Slippers and bathrobes were on hand as well as ESPA toiletries and the Hastings signature rubber duck. There’s complimentary wi-fi, tea and coffee on hand and a turndown service.

Fine dining is on offer in The Mitre Restaurant with Paul McKnight at the helm who’s an experienced pair of hands. While Northern Ireland is celebrating a year of food; the hotel group have been championing ‘local’ for years, and they’re right behind the initiative. Local produce from local suppliers is key to everything they do here. Executive Chef, Brian Donaldson keeps up-to-date with food trends and takes inspiration from social media and the plates are a testament to this. Their kitchen offers some inspired food and inventive flavours to rival any Michelin starred restaurant. Expect plenty of seafood and top-notch meat all paired with a decent wine list.

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It’s also here in The Mitre where the Hotel serves its not-to-be-missed breakfast. Small artisan producers are brought together on the Culloden’s menu, all with one thing in common, high-quality products whether that’s from the natural yoghurt to the sharp apple juice.

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A bowl of pin oatmeal, served with cream and a generous tot of Bushmills Irish Whiskey, is an absolute must and will set you up for the day if you don’t fancy the full Irish.

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J B Crozier, the Bishop of Down, Connor and Dronmore built a private Chapel during his time at Culloden.  It’s now a bright, airy bar, named in his honour.  The gin selection is one of the best I’ve seen for a while.  There’s great support for Irish gin brands as you’d expect, including Jawbox and Shortcross, and a couple of decent names closer to home.

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Wander around the gardens and be sure to sample some of the herbs the Chefs are growing.

A short stroll away, there’s the Cultra Inn a restaurant and bar serving a more relaxed menu, the emphasis again on fresh and local.

Afternoon tea is something of a ritual here, and you’ll be taking it in the Drawing Room. Be sure to skip breakfast; this is a marathon, not a sprint.

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We hired a car and found it pretty simple to get around. We drove to Giant’s Causeway,

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skipped around The Old Bushmill’s Distillery and went to Bangor for a stroll.

We didn’t make it to Belfast to explore the Titanic Museum, the Botanic Gardens, the Waterfront or the historic St George’s Market. Next door to the Hotel is Cultra Railway Station with direct links into Belfast and beyond.

Culloden Estate and Spa, 142 Bangor Road, Holywood.