This weekend we ventured, in between the epic downpours, to the Forest of Dean, just at the bottom of the Cotswold escarpment, for a true foodies day out. We were invited to try out an experience day at Hillside Brewery and Harts Barn Cookery School, firstly trying our hand at our own Indian takeaway and then sampling the brewery’s award-winning beers.

We rocked up at Harts Barn Cookery School just after 10am, meeting our tutor for the morning –  Versha Patel. The cookery school is part of Harts Barn Craft Centre and run by the Forest of Dean champion, Yvette Farrell, the cookery school principal. With its wall-to-wall windows, it was incredibly hard to keep up our concentration on Versha’s demonstrations rather than gaze straight out onto the spectacular Forest of Dean landscape.

It’s clear that Versha has a passion for straightforward Indian cooking (she introduced us to more than one excellent chopping gadget – and if you’ve ever seen my try and chop an onion, you’ll know it’s painful process that has lead to more than one ‘blue plaster’ scenario – we’ll definitely be getting one of these). Her enthusiasm was infectious. In pairs, we settled down to make our own naan dough and then let it prove for an hour whilst we tackled the rest of our menu.  

Tom sliced an onion and mixed up our onion bhaji batter before deep frying, whilst I mixed ingredients for our very own chicken tikka masala. We’d been for the worst curry the night before and we were amazed at how different the two could be and how we, two very much amateurs, could put something together which put the previous night’s affair to shame.  

Versha also made a really versatile Bombay potato dish which we will definitely be doing back home. Lastly, we both had a go a rolling out our own naans using a special rolling pin – velun, I definitely had a better rolling knack to Tom!  The best bit – that we were able to pack up everything we made and tuck into it when we got home. Best curry we’ve had in an age.

Following our morning’s cookery class, we had a quick bite of lunch at the Old Dairy tearoom at Harts Barn Craft Centre. It was super quaint with a vintage vibe, but they had the BEST scones as light as air and melt in the mouth.

We then headed to Hillside Brewery just down the corner. The name definitely comes from the geography as the brewery is nestled in the Forest of Dean Valley. It’s run by father and son team – Paul and Peter Williamson – and founded in 2014. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, clocking up some 28 award for their beers and although they may be a self-confessed small brewery, they have eight beers currently in production (they’ve been advised by the accountant that they should probably stick at four – that doesn’t seem to stop them!)

A large of the brewery is sourcing their key ingredients as locally as possible – their hops are just 18 miles away from Ledbury. In fact, so keen to support local it has been selected by the Co-op as one of just six suppliers to provide a special traceability case study tracking the beer from the field to glass.

And what makes the beer so special? Well, the secret Hillside Brewery has its very own water source – a 60m bore hall reaching the underlying aquifer, a mineral rich H2O. Each award-winning bottle of beer is hand bottled, capped, labelled and shipped to local pubs or one of the 100 co-op stores in the vicinity.

In fact, you can tell a special Hillside Brewery pub by the artisan wooden bar pulls supplied. Teaming up with a local group of woodturners, the brewery runs an annual competition to design the bar pulls – the winner featuring in each pub which has a Hillside tipple on tap. And I hear you ask, but what does it taste like… Tom’s favourite ‘Legless Cow’ is described as a best bitter with a rich caramel flavour with a smooth citrus hop’ with ‘Over the Hill’ described as ‘a full bodied, single hop, malty dark mild with our Bramling Cross hop complementing a cocoa and roasted malt character.’

So there you have it, a perfect foodies day in the forest of dean. To find Hillside Brewery visit: https://www.hillsidebrewery.com/ and Harts Barn Cookery School http://www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk. Hillside Brewery has a number of experience days on offer including Archery Tag and several events. Tom’s keen to visit again for the Bottomless Beer and Brunch – guess I’ll be the designated driver then.

Thanks to Harts Barn Cookery School and Hillside Brewery for looking after us, of course, all taste buds are our own!

Billy and Jack Summer Supper Club

This week I was lucky enough to get one of the last seats at Billy & Jack’s Summer Supper Club which has been resident at the St Paul’s Pavilion at Royal Festival Hall (RFH) in the South Bank Centre over August.

It took me a while to find the right lift to get up to the sixth floor and when I finally stepped in the glass elevator, (which oddly sang to me as we climbed six floors…) we emerged on the glass fronted pop up restaurant with a super view over the Thames. Billy and Jack were holding court in at the centre of a Silent Pool Gin-sponsored bar, finessing the final touches to their summer feast menu.

Billy and Jack Summer Supper Club

I later found out that they had 93 covers that night – oddly Wednesday’s have been their most popular night – and we were tightly packed in round tables seating 8 to 10 at a time.  My friend and I quickly became acquainted with our fellow diners – one turning out to be my primary school teacher – small world. I suppose it wasn’t a great surprise as Jack and I did attend the same school.

Billy and Jack Summer Supper Club

Over 1000 people have joined Billy and Jack for their supper club which featured the coriander cheesecake that appeared on Masterchef.  I thought I’d share the menu with you here… 

Starters – Sourdough, chicken, butter, marmite butter; salted Cornish sardines, tomatoes with quinoa; roast little gem, runner beans, tahini, cucumber; pressed rabbit, pickled carrot, and rapeseed mayo.

Mains – Notting Hill inspired Jerk spiced hangar, hay smoked butter, Coronation potatoes with watercress radish and pickled onions.

Dessert – coriander cheesecake, granola, lemon and limoncello.

Billy and Jack Summer Supper Club

There’s just one weekend to join the Summer Supper Club, but don’t worry there will be plenty more opportunities to get to a supper club, sign up for their list here:  https://www.billyandjack.co.uk/

Cotswold Lavender

Last week before the Lavender turned, I headed to Cotswold Lavender Farm to catch a few of the lilac tones which had been dominating my Instagram feed for most of July.  I was joined by BF and bridesmaid-to-be, Liz, who just so happens to be a freelance photographer, specialising in portraits – so all-in-all it was a match made in heaven!

Cotswold Lavender

I’d been after some new pictures for the blog for an age – in fact, I’m slightly ashamed to say exactly how old the last profile pic actually was :o/  You can find Liz – at Elizabeth Flower Photography on Instagram, Facebook and her soon-to-be launched new website – which I’ll link here when ready.

Cotswold Lavender

Cotswold Lavender Farm

This third generation farm has grown Lavender since 1999, the plants thrive in the free draining limestone soils, 1000 feet above sea level. In total, the farm has over 40 distinct varieties, 140 miles of rows and some 500,000 plants – all that for just £3 entrance fee.  The best time to see the fields in their full lilac glory is from mid-June to end of July.

Cotswold Lavender

And if Lavender doesn’t turn you on, there’s always the daisy-like Camomile fields and wildflower meadows to stroll through. Near Broadway, this place makes an excellent stop off point for exploring Broadway itself and Broadway Tower.

I think I might just leave the run down here really, as Liz’s pictures speak for themselves. Unfortunately, we headed there a bit late in the season, and the farm is now closed until next June 2018 – however it’s certainly worth keeping on the radar!

Biarro Like a phoenix from the flames, Marquês de Pombal designed a new layout for Lisbon’s city centre after it was devastated by the 1755 earthquake. Using a grid system, with wide open boulevards, Pombal connected the Praça do Comércio on the waterfront to the busy Rossio square. Known as Baixa, the area still attracts locals and tourists to its bars, theatres, shops and cafes.

Elevador de Santa Justa

Biarro

One of the more unusual characters of the area is the Elevador de Santa Justa, or the Elevador do Carmo. This neo-gothic lift was built by the French architect Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard at the turn of the 20th century.  Its iron work filagree is distinctly reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower and for good reason, as Mesnier was the apprentice to Alexandre Gustave Eiffel.  But unlike the Eiffel Tower, tourists don’t have to queue for some three or four hours for a trip to the top.

The lift’s box office is located at the foot of elevator and costs about 5.15 euros, or for the very savvy, you might realise that the lift technically forms part of Lisbon’s public transport system ran by Carris. So if you’re hopping on and off the trams or metro, you’re probably covered if you’ve got a 24-hour ticket (6.15 euros only available at metro stations).

I have to say this would be an interesting commute to work every day, sitting in one of the wooden panelled carriages descending from the Largo do Carmo 32m above the Bairro Alto at the bottom of the lift.  Mind you, I’m sure with a number of visitors the novelty would soon wear off.  The very top floor is the gallery area with great views from Rossio, Baixa, the castle on the opposite on the other hill, the river Tagus and the nearby ruins of the Carmo church.

 

Igreja do Carmo

Igreja do Carmo I think optimises the horror of that 1755 earthquake which has sculpted so much of Lisbon. As the congregation was attending mass the earthquake’s shockwaves caused the church to collapse, with the roof’s masonry falling on the flock below.  Founded in the late 14th century by Nuno Álvares Pereira, the commander who became a member of the Carmelite order, the church was once the largest in Lisbon.  Now the ruin stands with the sunlight flooding the church’s nave.

This building is historically important, as it was here during the 1974 Carnation Revolution that the Estado Novo surrendered power after 50 years of dictatorship, mainly lead by António Salazar.

Pastel de Nata

Walking towards the Rossio square, along the Rue Aurea, we stopped at the Casa Chineza Pasteleria, where we ate as many pastel de nata as we could manage. The story goes that after the liberal revolution in 1820, many of the monasteries were falling on hard times, the Belém monk’s at Jeronimos Monastery made small sweet pastries using the sugar cane refinery that was connected to a small shop nearby (handy!) and sold these to passers by. Supposedly the recipe hasn’t changed to this day and is a closely guarded secret.

The pastel de nata, as they are known across Portugal, are an egg custard tart in buttery flaky pastry – 20,000 are eaten in Lisbon alone.  (At least 50 per cent by the Friend family…) There’s an old Portuguese proverb that says that ‘a bride who eats a pastry will never take off her ring’, so we’ll have to see if we can knock up a few on our own W-day this December.

Jane's enchanted tea garden

Back in May, my work colleagues bought me a high afternoon tea at Jane’s enchanted tea garden as a birthday present. Last Sunday we finally headed to Kirtlington, Oxfordshire to enjoy a lazy morning by the canal side.

This tea garden in Kirtlington could almost be called a pop-up, it only opens its doors to tea lovers every third Sunday of the month between May and September. Through word of mouth it’s absolutely packed and booking in advance is essential – in fact, I booked three months ahead for this July date.

Jane's enchanted tea garden

But booking is not necessarily a straightforward exercise – Jane’s website is functionary even if there is no telephone number; bookings are only made by email. Once you’ve jumped that small hurdle, there’s then finding the place. The instructions on the website are pretty clear and read like a treasure map –  “park on the tarmac, follow the path through the quarry – an area of special scientific interest, keep the canal on your right, then you’ll find us.”

Jane's enchanted tea garden

Walking down Mill Lane, the tarmacked road ends and the bridleway begins, sometime later a hand painted teapot hangs on a fence post saying ‘open’ – ‘X’ marks the spot! Winding down the covered path you expect to see a cottage a la Rosie and Jim at the end. Soon you hear voices, chatting and giggling and then a small brightly painted hut adorned with kitsch teapots hanging from the rafters appears as if from nowhere.

Jane's enchanted tea garden

The bright staff checked our reservation, loaded us up with a tray filled with tea paraphernalia and we made our way to our table underneath a large canopy. Decorated with faux botanicals and wisteria, it was a quaint haven – a secret tea garden wedged between the country lane and Oxfordshire canal. In fact, it had several boats moored alongside.  The eccentric decor wouldn’t have been out of place from a scene in Alice in Wonderland.

Jane's enchanted tea garden

Tom and I had the high tea (£17.50 per person) which included our tea (obvs!), a selection of sandwiches (British favs – classic egg mayo, cheese and tomato, smoked salmon and ham and chutney), with a lettuce garnish (our was a tad brown – I put that down to the heat!). Next layer up, two homemade scones – one plain, one fruit – plenty of cheese and biscuits and on our top tier meringue nests, lemon cupcakes and chocolate sponge slices. It was all delicious and made by Jane, head chef, and her team.

It is was a very family friendly occasion. The only draw back – this is July, and everyone was eating A LOT of jam. It was a wasp’s complete heaven. I wouldn’t say that I was their number one fan, but I can cope with the odd un-wanted visitor, however, the number of botherers was unbelievable. Nothing though that couldn’t be solved by a good ol’ fashion jam trap.

Jane's enchanted tea garden

After we finished, we left our jam pot uncovered on a nearby spare chair and were left to eat the rest of our lunch in peace. Obviously, there’s nothing you can do about these critters, but jam pots with lids and staff swiftly clearing tables all help.

Jane's enchanted tea garden

With the live pianist playing a few classic ragtime tunes, it felt that we really had escaped back in time into an enchanted part of Oxfordshire.  If you’re interested in visiting Jane and her team, the do check out her website and remember – booking is essential!  http://www.janes-cream-teas.moonfruit.com/