Category Archives: Food and drink experiences

Good taste in every sense at Adnams excellent Swan hotel in Southwold

It does great food and excellent cocktails, it’s got beautiful bedrooms, friendly staff and even has a brewery and distillery on site (it’s owned by 147-year-old Suffolk brewer Adnams). Added to that, it’s right in the heart of Southwold, one of Britain’s loveliest seaside towns, so there’s a lot going for the Swan hotel in Southwold and I would wholeheartedly recommend a stay at this most charming of places.

Continue reading Good taste in every sense at Adnams excellent Swan hotel in Southwold

Curry, bagels, fish and chips and bacon butties on a food tour of London’s East End

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.

Continue reading Curry, bagels, fish and chips and bacon butties on a food tour of London’s East End

A festive round-up of the best luxury country house hotels for Christmas

My guide on the best luxury hotels for the Christmas break – this was written for Christmas 2018 but will certainly be useful if you’re already thinking of 2019! Continue reading A festive round-up of the best luxury country house hotels for Christmas

A memorable 48 hours on the Isle of Wight including blue cheese, garlic beer, beautiful beaches and charming B&Bs

‘We just fell in love with the Isle of Wight,’ said owner David Barrett as he showed me around Haven Hall, one of the newest B&Bs on the Isle of Wight. ‘It’s exactly like England was, 40 or 50 years ago.’

Now this could be a positive or a negative depending on your point of view, but there’s no question that the Isle of Wight has a unique charm which has made it a popular place in which to live or visit – especially during the summer months when the beaches really come into their own. I went mid-week at the end of March and while it was pretty cold it was beautifully sunny and showed off the coastal walks and the rolling hills inland to their best.

bed and breakfast isle of wight shanklin
The views from Haven Hall are stunning on a sunny day

From the Easter holidays onwards the pace really picks up, but with Easter a few weeks away it felt as if I had the island almost all to myself. This meant that popular places such as gastro-pub The Taverners in Godshill, which consistently features on Best Pubs in Britain lists and consequently is hard to book, was practically empty when I turned up on spec and so was able to enjoy an excellent meal without the crowds.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast shanklin
An excellent meal of New Forest venison and roasted root veggies at The Taverners pub in Godshill
Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
It was followed by a portion of the delicious Isle of Wight Blue cheese which is my current obsession

I also had the run of two charming B&Bs during my stay as both were gearing up for the summer season. Both were in the town of Shanklin, on the east coast, which has pleasant beaches, gardens, a town which has possibly seen better days and an quirky Old Town where the pubs are thatched, the streets winding and which is probably packed with tourists in summertime.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
Haven Hall is a luxury B&B with self-catering flats perched high on the cliffs overlooking the sea

My first night’s stay was at Haven Hall, a grand establishment on the clifftop with spectacular views along the coast. The coastal path is just yards away making it an ideal place for walkers and with seven self-catering apartments as well as six bedrooms in the main building, you can arrive back from a bracing walk without disturbing anyone.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
All the rooms are individually styled – mine, called Seagulls, had sea views, (including from a porthole window), a fully-stocked kitchen, wifi and TV and was a very relaxing place to stay

I stayed in the immaculate Seagulls Suite which had great views, including through its porthole window and a large bedroom which led through to a fully kitted-out kitchen. There was a microwave, Nespresso coffee-maker, hob oven and all the utensils you could wish for (as well as restaurant recommendations if you didn’t want to do the work yourself) and the whole place was very quiet and relaxing, a little bolt-hole of calm.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
The kitchen meant you could cater for yourself although David will also recommend some excellent local places to eat

David and his wife Arielle bought Haven Hall some years ago and re-opened last year after a multi-million pound refit, buying the property next door, individually styling each of the rooms and apartments and landscaping the gardens which contain an open-air swimming pool, grass tennis court and a pagoda, licensed for weddings. (The gardens were named Isle of Wight’s Best Commercial Garden by Alan Titchmarsh last year).

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklins
The award-winning gardens are licensed for weddings and have great views across the bay

As well as a luxury B&B, Haven Hall plays host to all sorts of events including yoga weekends and lunches (as I left the following morning the house was filling up with attendees of a gardening lunch) and has already attracted a celebrity fan base with previous guests including Colin Firth and Abby and Peter Clancy.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
My (self-catered) breakfast has arrived…

To not disrupt the lunch guests David dropped off two vast baskets of breakfast goodies the night before, including bacon, eggs, sausages, cereal, fruit, bread and even chocolate eggs so I made use of the kitchen and emerged replete to explore the coast including the charming and quirky beach at Steephill Cove.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
The walk down to Steephill Cove is rewarded by great views and some quirky buildings including a cafe and restaurants serving freshly-caught fish
Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
Just below Haven Hill is Small Hope beach with its colourful beach huts
For dinner I went to the newly-furnished Crab and Lobster in Bembridge and enjoyed an excellent Fish Stew

My second night on the Isle of Wight was at Foxhills of Shanklin, just a few minutes’ drive away. Run by Ray and Ann Snook, who formerly ran restaurants in California before returning to the UK, Foxhills is a classically-decorated eight-bedroom B&B with a lounge, breakfast room and even a jacuzzi hot tub on the ground floor, which is very popular with guests returning after a long day’s walking round the island.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
Foxhills is a five-star rated B&B just a few minutes walk away from Shanklin town centre
Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
The indoor spa is popular with guests returning from a long day’s hiking across the island

The rooms are all light and airy, with all the necessary amenities such as kettles, hairdryers, toiletries and wifi, and even though it’s on a main road there is no hint of traffic noise. I was also pleased to see not just information about the hotel in each room (which are all named after local towns) but there were also useful hand-drawn maps of the local area and local walks with recommendations of places to visit.

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
The eight rooms are all light and airy
Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
The downstairs lounge at Foxhills (there’s even a piano)

There are gardens at the side and rear of the property for al fresco drinks and dining in the summer months, and over breakfast you might even be lucky and catch a glimpse of Cyril, the friendly local red squirrel.

As a chef himself, Ray is justifiably proud of his breakfasts which cater to vegetarians and vegans as well as meat-eaters and fans of a Full English: I had an excellent avocado on toast with a poached egg and liked the little individual carafes of orange juice served to each person. Ray is currently considering opening the restaurant in the evenings to guests and locals but is waiting to gauge interest before taking the plunge: with his cooking and hospitality I think it would be a great idea.

There was just time for a quick visit to excellent The Garlic Farm in the middle of the island before my ferry back to the mainland but I made the most of it by stocking up on my current obsession – Isle of Wight Blue cheese – and taking a leap of faith with garlic beer. Can this be a good thing?

Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
The Garlic Farm is stocked with everything from garlic beer to garlic ice-cream and has a lovely cafe too
Isle of Wight bed and breakfast Shanklin
Some of my purchases…

However places like The Garlic Farm and The Taverners certainly show that there is a lot more to the Isle of Wight than just the seaside – and there’s the 50th anniversary of The Isle of Wight Festival this year, a great excuse to return!

Haven Hall, 5 Howard Road, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, PO37 6HD
info@havenhall.co.uk
Tel: 07914 796 494

Foxhills of Shanklin, 30 Victoria Avenue, Shanklin, Isle of Wight, PO37 6LS
enquiries@foxhillsofshanklin.co.uk

Tel: 07845 101351

The Garlic Farm, Mersley Lane, Newchurch, Isle of Wight, PO36 0NR
Tel: 01983 865378
contact@thegarlicfarm.co.uk

The Taverners, High Street, Godshill, Isle of Wight, PO38 3HZ
01983 840 707

Crab and Lobster, 32 Forelands Field Road, Bembridge, Isle of Wight, PO35 5TR
Tel: 01983 872244

Isle of Wight Cheese Company 
Email: rich@isleofwightcheese.co.uk
Tel: 01983 402736

Visitor information at Isle of Wight tourist board www.visitisleofwight.co.uk

14 wines at dinner and a spa to recover in: a memorable stay at The Vineyard, Newbury

Halfway through our meal at The Vineyard hotel and spa, Newbury, I was beginning to wonder if I knew as much about wine as I thought I did. Not only could I not guess what grape variety I was drinking or what country it came from, I couldn’t even work out what colour it was, this particular wine being served in a black glass which made the wine inside completely invisible. Was it rosé…? Or maybe it was red? No, it was definitely rosé.

The answer was white. This was worrying. If my judgement was all over the place now, what on earth would it be like after I’d tried all 14 wines scheduled for the evening? Thankfully by the end of the meal I was so replete and content that my success or otherwise in identifying the wines no longer seemed important – the evening had been so interesting and memorable that my lack of wine knowledge could be safely overlooked.

Vineyard hotel Newbury Judgement of Paris
The Vineyard, Newbury, site of a nightly recreation of the Judgement of Paris wine-tasting

The Vineyard – which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary – is a hotel serious about its wine. Privately owned by the Michael family, which also owns the highly-regarded Peter Michael Winery in California – it has an award-winning cellar (with a mere 30,000 bottles), offer 100 wines by the glass in its restaurant, hosts wine-tastings and wine courses and even wine-themed treatments at its spa (including its Red Grape pampering body wrap).

However it really stands out for its epic ‘Judgement of Paris’ wine-tasting dinner which aims to replicate the notorious (for wine buffs) event in 1974 when Californian wines went up against French wines in a blind tasting. To the shock of the French, and indeed much of the wine world, the Californian wines won the day, and oenophile Sir Peter Michael has recreated the experience at his hotel. Continue reading 14 wines at dinner and a spa to recover in: a memorable stay at The Vineyard, Newbury

My epic food tour of Japan: sushi, sake, puffer fish and bullet trains

‘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.

Japan food tour
The fish dish was laid out to represent a wintry scene; with a snowy topping to represent a farmer’s house in winter time, a pine-cone shaped sea cucumber, and herring wrapped with kelp

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.

Japan food tour
A traditional Japanese-style ryokan hotel

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.

japan food tour
A ‘devil-faced carrot’ was carved to look like the devil in a bid to ward off any evil

Continue reading My epic food tour of Japan: sushi, sake, puffer fish and bullet trains

An unscheduled stay at former 18th century sugar house, Hotel du Vin Bristol

With every cloud there comes a silver lining and the missing of our flight to Cape Verde meant an unexpected overnight stay in Bristol and my first experience of Hotel du Vin.

Hotel du Vin Bristol review
Hotel du Vin Bristol is sited in an former 18th century sugar house where sugar was refined

I’d long been aware of the hotel chain founded by Gerard Basset and Robin Hutson back in 1994 (they had met while working for the excellent Chewton Glen, one of my first reviews for ALadyofLeisure.com and still a firm favourite).  Hutson has since gone on to found the Pig hotel chain (see my review The Pig near Bath: Impossible not to love it here) so frankly I should have got round checking out Hotel du Vin much sooner! However I had my doubts, as the chain was sold, first to Malmaison and then to private equity outfit Frasier Hospitality, so I had thought it might be a touch corporate and soulless now.

Hotel du Vin Bristol review
Hotel du Vin Bristol has an impressive restaurant and takes its food and wine very seriously

Thankfully judging by my experience at Hotel du Vin Bristol at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case. A ten minute taxi ride from the station and we were dropped at its pretty courtyard entrance which declared itself to be the site of Bristol’s last remaining sugar house, a legacy of the city’s years as a trade centre and Britain’s second city, when instead of the current view of the road there would have a river crowded with boats unloading their goods for refinement and distribution.


To book directly with the hotel, go to: Hotel du Vin Bristol
To compare the latest prices for Hotel du Vin Bristol  on: HotelsCombined – Expedia – Hotels.com
To read more reviews click here to go to Hotel du Vin on TripAdvisor


This sugar refinery was built in 1728 and operated until 1831, becoming a warehouse and then lying derelict for years until being sympathetically restored, opening as a Hotel du Vin in the now Grade 2-listed building in 1999. The inside of the hotel is like a cosy rabbit-warren due to being made up of several buildings knocked together over the years, and in keeping with the wine theme, each room is called after a different type of wine, with a little glass case containing a bottle outside each door. Continue reading An unscheduled stay at former 18th century sugar house, Hotel du Vin Bristol