In just four hours I ate curry, fish and chips, stilton cheese, salt beef bagels, bread and butter pudding, salted caramel cheesecake and a bacon sandwich. With ketchup. Why? You might well ask. It was because I had decided to be a tourist in London for the day. And my day was all the better for it. There is a certain delight in being in a tourist in your home town. It’s such an unusual thing to do that it feels slightly illicit, that you have no right to be there, this is an experience for visitors, not locals. And how much are you going to discover, given that you know the area so well?
The answer is – a lot. I have lived and worked in London for most of my adult life and yet I found the four-hour Eating Europe food tour of London truly fascinating. Some of the places we visited I was familiar with, others not at all, and yet even the familiar places were given a new light as I discovered there is a big difference between walking through an area and actually getting to know it by hearing its history and eating its food.
That was another unexpected element about the tour: I thought it would just be about the food but our fabulously enthusiastic and well-informed guide Flic told us all about the history of each area so I came away much fuller in both food and local knowledge.
We started off near Liverpool Street station in Spitalfields market which began began trading back in the 13th century. The market operated for more than 700 years until the 1990s when it moved to larger premises in Leyton, east London and the building itself became a rather run-down collection of shops and sporting facilities (I used to play five-a-side football here!) Reopening in 2005 after a regeneration programme, Spitalfields is now a rather smart shopping and food area which still retains a hint of its original function.
It isn’t often I embrace a hotel gym so wholeheartedly but there was something about the brand spanking new gym at Mallory Court which made it irresistible. England were playing rugby, so I could be inspired by their fitness feats from the treadmill, there was a lovely spa to sooth my tired limbs in afterwards and as we’d just come from feasting at sister hotel Brockencote Hall and were about to enjoy another hefty dinner here, it seemed sensible to try and work off a few calories in advance. And, excitingly, I had the gym all to myself, so I could pretend I was a millionaire working out in my own home.
All most unlike me, I have to say, and within a couple of hours normal service was resumed as I lounged in the outdoor hot tub and wondered whether to visit the pool, the steam room or the sauna next?
It was a bright February afternoon and the sun was shining on Mallory Court and its 10 acres, its gardens in hibernation now but promising to be stunning in summer. Mallory Court, part of the Eden Hotels Collection, is just a few miles from Warwick and its spectacular castle and was built around 100 years old, being converted from a family home into a hotel in 1976.
The first time I visited Burley Manor Hotel in the New Forest I had absolutely no expectations – not because I thought it was going to be terrible, but because it had never even crossed my radar before. It turned out there was a reason for this: while the original building dates back to 1852 and has been a hotel since 1935, Burley Manor has had a succession of owners over the last decade which doesn’t usually help a hotel build up a solid reputation.
Hopefully for Burley Manor, it is now under steadier ownership. Bought by New Forest Hotels in April 2015, it promptly underwent a £1.8 million refurbishment and reopened with a whole new look, styling itself as a ‘brand new, yet very old, restaurant with boutique rooms.’ I’ve now stayed at the hotel twice and both times had a really pleasant stay – excellent staff, food and rooms – and the second stay I felt the hotel was relaxing into its own personality, which is that of a grand country house but with a fun, informal air.
Aimed at adults – children over 13 are allowed though – I was pleased to see that the hotel retained many of its traditional features, such as the open fire in the entrance hall, the 164-year old carved wooden staircase and the ornate lettering round the front of the brick building: ‘Welcome the coming friend; speed the parting guest.’ There was no chance of us speeding on our way, though: we lingered so long over breakfast the next morning that it was half past eleven before we reluctantly left the pleasant dining room conservatory to pack up and check out. Continue reading Burley Manor hotel New Forest: relaxing country charm→
‘Kanpai!’ The cry echoed around the hotel dining room. It was the fifth ‘Kanpai!’ of the evening in our trip to Japan and it wouldn’t be the last. At this rallying cry, the Japanese equivalent of ‘Cheers!’, we all had to stand up and down a shot of sake – the clear but potent Japanese rice wine.
After emptying our glasses (which were quickly refilled) we sat down to enjoy the rest of our 15-course meal, each course a delicately crafted work of art.
We were in the fishing village of Toba, around 200 miles west of Toyko, and staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan where the bed was a rolled mat on the floor.
However the food was anything but basic: the first dish alone was the most intricate I’ve ever seen, laid out to represent a wintry scene: there was a snowy topping to represent a peasant’s hut, a ‘devil-faced carrot’ to ward off evil, pearl oyster shellfish, pine-cone shaped sea cucumber, herring wrapped with kelp, peony-shaped salmon – and that was just the first course.
There’s a warm glow which comes when reading a newspaper article called ‘Cosiest pubs to stay in this winter’ and realising you are heading off to stay in one of those featured that very day. This happened to me recently when about to head off to The Bell Inn in the New Forest; reading The Times over my morning coffee I found that it had been singled out as the perfect place from which to enjoy bracing country walks (and to return to for post-walk drinks by its log fire).
Expectations were high therefore as I took to the road and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed – The Bell Inn is a charming place and I was fortunate enough to stay for two extremely cosy nights.
Having previously spent a considerable amount of time driving through the New Forest itself to get to various hotels I was surprised at how handy The Bell Inn is to get to – it was literally just a few minutes off the M27 so you don’t waste a moment snarled up in Lyndhurst traffic before getting stuck into some serious relaxing.
The Bell Inn has been in the Crosthwaite Eyre family for hundreds of years (since 1782 to be precise). Much of the food served in the restaurant has either been grown or raised on the family’s New Forest estate – some also comes from the family’s estate in Scotland – so the pub is very much a local enterprise and during my stay was preparing to host a dozen local suppliers in its annual Christmas fair.