Well, call me Joey Tribbiani, I believe I have just fallen in love with a sandwich... ... not just any sandwich I might add, a beautifully sweet, truffled chicken sandwich in a brioche roll. It was the sandwich dreams are made of (Yep, I never thought I'd start a blog this way, but it's true). I've just returned from an invitation to sample the afternoon tea at the newly opened Ivy Brasserie in Cambridge and I've fallen in love. Not only was this divine sandwich a real high point, the entire afternoon tea experience was. It was an excuse to get dressed up on a dismal spring day and enjoy some quality time with The Bearded One, a pre-birthday treat for myself, much needed! It is refreshing to find somewhere in central Cambridge that can offer you something a little different on the afternoon tea scene. From the dainty tea ware (the iconic ivy emblem is still prominent on the teacups and plates here) to the delicate scones and petit fours, through to the swift table service as you make your way through the afternoon tea tier, this is a very well thought out menu. The Venue: This stunning and colourful afternoon tea venue is the ideal backdrop for any occasion, be it a lunch date with friends, a family dinner, date night at their stylish bar (which reminds me of the bar from the film "The Shining"!) or afternoon tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon in central Cambridge. The walls are adorned with creative artwork inspired by Cambridge's academic and scientific heritage, as well as nods to its punting and rowing history. Maps, mixed with paintings and sculptures keep your eyes entertained for the entirety of your visit, no item is the same, it's very colourful and great fun to look at as you dine. Not leaving out the 'busy' tiled floor, a gorgeous pattern which stretches from the front door, all the way through the long dining room and even down the stairs to the washrooms and private dining room below you. If you have a little thing with floors (as I do!), then this one will well and truly sweep you off your feet. Tables are covered in crisp white linen, silver cutlery sparkles on the table and the crockery boasts the famous "ivy" emblem very discreetly, even the menus and starched napkins reflect the iconic leaf. It works really well, it's not garish, the table is perfectly simple and stylish, allowing your eyes to explore the walls before your food arrives to distract them back to the table. The Little Niggles: On arrival, we were seated by a waiter who asked if we would like water for the table, offering us the choice of still or sparkling. We asked for a bottle of sparkling water and it never arrived, nor did the water glasses. To be fair, we didn't push for them, as there was simply no room on our small table for two. As we walked through the brasserie, following this waiter to our table on arrival, at least two other waiting staff walked out right in front of us, stepping out between us and the waiter we were following. For somewhere such as The Ivy, I would expect them to allow you to walk through first and follow behind you - this is the etiquette that *should* be followed. One waitress walked straight across me, making me stop and didn't acknowledge me in any way, a little rude in my honest opinion. To credit the team, with the fact that we met at least four different waiting staff throughout our visit, they knew which of us was having tea and who was having coffee when it was served, impressive. We were offered a top-up of tea and coffee during our afternoon and when we asked the waitress which brand of coffee she was pouring us, she admitted that she hadn't forgotten, but she would check for us. She never returned with that information, again, a real shame. As with all afternoon tea settings, the lack of a separate knife for sweet and savoury food was lacking - there's not much worse than making a mess with savoury treats and then having to use the same knife (and plate if the savoury is especially messy) to dip into the jam and clotted cream - if you serve afternoon tea yourself, it's worth remembering this... I always serve two plates with my own afternoon tea offerings for this very reason. It's pedantic, I know, but, Miss Sue Flay likes what she likes! I would perhaps suggest one or two more savoury options to the afternoon tea tier... Three finger sandwiches each was perfect, but perhaps a mini "something" would be great to add a little balance. I seem to favour savoury more and more lately, so a bite of something else would have made this a 10/10 for me. The Little Touches: On arrival, you are greeted by a friendly receptionist, who is almost standing guard of the internal doors into the brasserie itself. It adds a little mystery to the venue, almost building the anticipation, as you can't initially see inside through the heavily frosted doors. She took our coats & umbrella, passing us a cloakroom ticket for later, a perfect welcome on a wet and rainy day. I had mentioned on booking our table that it was my birthday, so it was an unexpected treat to be served a glass of prosecco prior to our food arriving. This was a lovely touch and the waitress very discreetly wished me a very happy birthday with a smile as she whipped them over and disappeared just as discreetly, it was a lovely touch. As we finished our finger sandwiches, a waiter came over to clear the three tier stand away from our table. He did this quickly and quietly, leaving the petit fours behind on the plate, allowing us a little more space to manoeuvre. We weren't rushed or pushed to leave our table, we were allowed to take our time and it was very much welcomed. We didn't have lots of waiting staff interrupting us to ask how everything was (I always dislike that when you have a mouthful and have to nod or speak with your mouth full), but there was always somebody close enough to hand if we needed anything. Final Thoughts: Overall, this has to be, hands down, one of my favourite afternoon tea venues in Cambridge, if not of all time. If you are looking for somewhere intimate to enjoy an afternoon tea, this could work for you. It's always seemingly busy here, but you are sat far enough away from everyone else around you that can peacefully enjoy your own colourful pocket of the brasserie. It could also be the perfect solution to a civilised celebration, just drop them a line with your requirements and I'm sure they can make it work for you. I often get asked where would be great for a sophisticated hen party, baby shower or birthday afternoon tea and this would be an ideal location. Whilst dining at The Ivy Brasserie Cambridge, we enjoyed having some fun with our food... (Not the done thing to do, I know) it made me look like one of the rudest dining companions in the world(!), but I made a fun set of Instagram Stories as we tucked in. Visit my Instagram Page here and click on the "High Tea" section in my bio to take a nosey and see this fabulous afternoon tea streamed live (at the time of visiting) for a different perspective - enjoy. Afternoon Tea at The Ivy Brasserie in Cambridge is served daily between 3pm-5pm. A cream tea is currently served at £7.95 and the Afternoon tea in which we enjoyed served at £17.95 per person. The Ivy Group will be opening more Brasseries across the UK this year, including one in Norwich, of which I am very excited to see when it opens - I'll be adding it to my Ultimate Guide To Norwich once I've been! www.theivycambridgebrasserie.com Read my "About Me" page here! See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Please note – This visit was complimentary following an invitation from The Ivy Brasserie Cambridge. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. A huge thank you to the the team for welcoming us, we very much enjoyed our afternoon. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email:firstname.lastname@example.org All images & words © 2018 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Friday, 13 April 2018
Friday, 6 April 2018
Occasionally I get a feeling of just needing to switch off from the outside world, turn off my phone, get back down to basics and appreciate some silence in a hectic world. Have you ever considered glamping? I hadn't... not until very recently. It's like camping, but with a more sturdy tent (glamorous camping), a real fire, a proper bed with cosy blankets, warm duvets and fluffy pillows, even hot running water… It's technically a cheats way to get outdoors (and stay outdoors) for a few nights. You don't need to "rough it" with a normal tent and an inflatable mattress on the floor… this is much more than that. When I first came across Lantern and Larks, I had no idea just how hooked I would get on the idea of cosying up under their "canvas-wrapped three bedroom retreats" in some very special corners of the British countryside. Myself and The Bearded One travel a lot, there's not a month that goes by where we haven't experienced a weekend away in a hotel or an Airbnb apartment, we are constantly away with friends or doing something fun and new. Glamping has always been appealing to me, but I hadn't had the opportunity to try it, until now. And what an experience it is, completely different to a city break or a weekend away in a country cottage, this is a unique adventure. With locations including the Forest of Bowland, Rutland Water, Somerset and the Suffolk coast, there's some very different glamping sites on offer. I have now stayed at three of the sites myself, with the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire next on my list when I need to escape again. Each destination has a very different feel. The Rutland site is a large village estate set within 500 hectares of the 18th Century (Grade II listed) Exton Park. Nestled within the old walled gardens, overlooking an ornamental lake where ospreys have been spotted catching their dinner, this is a very unique setting and a slightly more sheltered one in the colder months. Glamping in Suffolk takes you to Sweffling Hall close to Framlingham (famous for being the home of Ed Sheeran) and close to the Suffolk coast for day trips to Aldeburgh, Southwold and the like. It's a charming working farm, with fresh eggs available to buy from their fun egg 'vending machine' for the perfect country breakfast. Kittisford Barton in Somerset is just half an hour from Taunton and surrounded by remote countryside, the roads to this site are great fun to drive down (go slow and safe!) and you really do feel like you have arrived in the middle of nowhere, glamping heaven. This is a secluded spot, perfect for star gazing and country walks, being so close to the backdrop of the Blackdown Hills AONB, with plenty of farm animals for the younger members of your group to enjoy meeting. It's well worth doing some research before you go, with lots of info being emailed to you and checklists available on their website (there's even a very helpful member of staff [Emma] on the end of the phone or online chat to answer all of your questions before going) - you can really plan for what to take (and what not to take) and even what food you might need. From the moment you arrive, you feel like this is going to be fun... you park your car up in a designated carpark and use wheelbarrows to cart your luggage off into the countryside - no space for cars next to your tents, so expect to get stuck in from the start! No matter which location you choose, your canvas retreat will be the same, everything in the same place - three bedrooms with fresh linen (a double, a twin and bunkbed room), a bathroom with running hot water, towels, soap and a flushing toilet (no skipping off into the wild in the middle of the night!) and a fully equipped kitchen with everything you might possibly need (even tea towels and washing up liquid) for a break away from civilisation. Of course, as there's no electricity, you are armed with lanterns-a-plenty to see you through the darker hours and there are candles to set the scene once the sun goes down. It's actually quite a lot of fun, with our younger nieces and nephew making shadow puppets to keep themselves entertained at night, they loved it. Cool boxes are provided with frozen hot water bottles to keep food and drink cold if required, but when it's chilly enough at night, our wine bottles chilled perfectly outside or outside the shower room, so don't panic about this, it's all going to be ok. One of my favourite glamping activities is to actually sit by the fire, cuddled up on the huge comfy sofa under a blanket with a glass of wine of a freshly brewed cup of tea, listening to the wildlife outside your door. We've heard deer, foxes, owls and even a buzzard during our various stays, it's just fantastic to be this close to the nature you wouldn't normally encounter. We love cooking, so the prospect of feasting over a fire was one we were not going to pass up. There are options of cooking on an outdoor fire pit, a gas stove in the kitchen or a wood fired stove in the living room, there are plenty of fun recipes to try out here if you have the time. Being massive fans of Meatopia (yep, an entire meat festival, you can read my blog on this here) and the taste of food cooked in real fires, we have spent time before each stay plotting varying meat dishes to cook in the fire pit. We've marinated whole joints of pork, beef and lamb, leaving them in tubs to soak up the flavours for days before, then searing them in a pan on the hot fire, surrounded by trees and sunshine (sometimes a little rain!) before wrapping them in foil and placing them directly in the flames for 30 minutes (give or take, it's not an exact science!) to produce a Sunday Roast with a difference. We've even become pros at roast potatoes "campfire" style, yum! Al fresco dining is my ultimate favourite way to eat, and now to cook, nothing beats it. I urge you to give this some thought and get adventurous with your food next time you head off into the wild, it's amazing how far you can get from boring baked beans in a tin. You won't be disappointed, I promise. We've also cooked "firepit pizzas" very successfully (A great one for friends and family to put there own pizza together and cook over the fire on a metal tray or in a pan) as well as a full english breakfast in the spring sunshine. Any excuse. There are picnic tables and plenty of outdoor seating to dine outside should you prefer, but if the weather doesn't work out, just take it inside and make use of the huge and sturdy dining table in the centre of your tent - perfect. You can, of course, simply barbecue 'normally' and we've used the stove top to fry sausages, the oven to bake a lasagne and the gas ring heats up a kettle perfectly for hot chocolate on a cold autumn day. There is an honesty shop on each Lantern and Larks site, so you can stock up on freshly laid eggs, locally sourced meats, even cider and apple juice in Somerset for example. Each shop stocks different items, so if you fancy using this, it's worth a chat on booking to make sure you know what's on offer at your chosen site. They also offer games and activities for kids, such as the stamp box challenge in Somerset and all sites have a "Lantern Goes Wild" activity sheet to get the kids exploring the surrounding countryside. And don't forget this is the perfect place to toast marshmallows… this is a right of passage for any camper of glamper, it just has to be done. All sites are dog friendly too, so there's no excuses needed to leave your four-legged friend at home. Eddy has enjoyed two glamping breaks now, he loves it just as much as we do. With Rutland Water being a fantastic place to explore on foot and the Exton estate / village is a fab place to walk around and enjoy a drink or two in the local pub. Aldeburgh is so close to the Suffolk site that a day at the beach is a must. There are plenty of (sometimes very muddy, so bring wellies/walking boots) walks from all sites, so you don't have to leave at all if you didn't fancy it. Whilst glamping in Somerset, we didn't leave the site once there. From our home in Suffolk, we drove down to the Cotswolds en route to take in a few stops, including Bibury; "the (not-so-beautiful-as-expected) postcard picture" of the Cotswolds and then down to Frome for a delicious lunch. The Rye Bakery is a cool spot for a cup of coffee and light bite, of which we stumbled upon last summer on a family trip to Somerset, knowing we wanted to pop back here to enjoy what it had to offer. It's an old restored church, complete with children's indoor play area, a takeaway bakery for delicious sour dough and freshly baked treats, as well as a cafe upstairs and downstairs for an eat-in option. I adore this place, it's quirky and friendly, like pretty much every where else in Frome. (You can read my review from last summer on our visit to Frome here). Once on site, we ambled around the rolling hills and through muddy pathways, explored the woodland with the tyre swings hanging from trees and the stamp box markers tempting us away from our canvas home. The mud here is very 'red', so don't visit with clothing that might be precious to you… there were a few slips in the wet mud and some very mucky boots that had to stay out in the boot room at the back throughout our stay - we didn't want to get the rugs and wooden flooring mucky! A new addition to the Somerset site is an exclusive hot tub alongside one of their tents - you need to request this on booking and it is already getting booked up fast, so you will need to specify if you want to have this tent. The view from this wood-fired hot tub is beautiful, simply fields and trees around you, it's far enough away from any of your neighbours that nobody can see you in here. I could imagine on a clear night, with the stars all around you, just how relaxing and peaceful this would be. After a long weekend with Lantern and Larks, we never want to go home, seriously - two or three nights never feels enough! As we just start to unwind, we plan to head for home, so if you can do it for a very long weekend or even a week, I'd highly recommend doing so. It's so easy to get lost in the rural charm of each site, sitting around a fire (unlimited fire wood for the duration of your stay), chatting, eating, drinking, playing games with your family, enjoying every minute without the distraction of a television or an iPhone… if you allow it. I would highly recommend you turning everything off, take a good book or something creative to get stuck into, go for a walk and breathe in that clean country air. Above all else, enjoy the company around you.. or the peace and quiet of your own company if you prefer. Everything feels, tastes, seems better outdoors somehow - the smell of logs burning on an open fire, the super-relaxing sound of the rain on canvas is sleep-inducing and the chilly mornings snuggled under a thick duvet with a hot steaming cup of coffee whilst you stare out into open fields or over a country estate is just what the doctor ordered. Have you been glamping yourself? Any recommendations? I am well and truly a glamping convert and am now on the hunt for my next outdoor adventure, but where to?… www.lanternandlarks.co.uk Full disclosure, technically, I work for Lantern and Larks, having started running their social media accounts back in 2015 before handing it over to a fellow social media enthusiast in late 2017 to focus on other projects within our umbrella company. To start with I was simply sharing Facebook posts or adding some beautiful photography to Instagram posts without having experienced it for myself. So, in March 2017 (and in 2018), the company allowed staff, (at a discounted rate) to stay at Lantern and Larks to help them try out the safari tents prior to first guests arriving over Easter - this allowed us to iron out any issues that might arise, so that full paying guests didn't experience them first. I think it's a great idea and it's got myself and my friends and family hooked, I've even returned with friends as paying guests to get away in the Autumn for a few days too. I am in no means required to write about my experiences with Lantern and Larks, I simply choose to do so, as I have loved every stay I've paid for and enjoyed in my own time, this blog is in no way connected to the brand and my role within it. Read my "About Me" page here! See more of my travel videos here and more of my food review videos here. Or get in touch via social media through Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for a natter about life in general! Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email: email@example.com All images & words © 2018 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.