Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 6

... Tea at The Ritz - The real AND honest reviews!  As you may know by now (and if you are new to my blog, welcome and you will very soon learn!) I have a rather unhealthy infatuation with afternoon tea, Downton Abbey, housekeeping & household management and with all things well mannered. Afternoon Tea Etiquette And with these passions, I plan to share my thoughts after each episode over the coming weeks with you. The fourth series of Downton has just hit our screens in the UK and the fans, myself included here, were giddy with excitement at the emotional advert played weeks before the first episode aired (what on earth will happen to Lady Mary now that Cousin Matthew has passed away unexpectedly?!), what else other than terrible "talent" shows do we have to look forward to this autumn?… I rest my case.
Highclere Castle
Downton Abbey is based on the aristocratic "Crawley" family and their servants in their country estate in Yorkshire, complete with tears and tantrums and the odd death thrown in for good TV viewing, it's stupendously addictive. From the inspiring evening wear and dinner party tables, through to the etiquette and service from the family, staff and their visitors and even the one liners and quips from the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) that would have anybody chuckling who cared to give it a go.
Afternoon Tea at Downton Abbey Episode 6 was one of the best so far (in my humble opinion) as not only is it looking as though Mr Bates is about to start "Hulk Smashing" the servant quarters in the hunt for the person who has taken away his lovely wife's smile, but the house has an unexpected & equally exciting visitor for the evening and even Mary is offering the snidest of remarks and bad etiquette towards her own house guests, I loved this one so much - without giving too much away!
But what really made me smile was the fact that Mr Carson had his trumpet blown (ahem, sorry!) by the "wet lettuce" of a footman, Alfred just before he leaves the Abbey completely... I didn't see that coming oddly. Poor old Alfred has been a bit of a "non entity" at Downton, although he has been caught up within a bizarre and rather drawn out love square downstairs, he hasn't really been one to watch until this particular episode. Alfred has for some time been showing a slither of interest in the kitchen, helping Daisy to rescue a béchamel sauce or whipping up a cake or two for Mrs Patmore, but what proceeds is a test and trial in the kitchens of The Ritz in London - how on earth did THAT happen, I'm not entirely sure?! Afternoon Tea and Housekeeping at Downton Abbey It was then a case of "has he got it or hasn't he?" and eventually he gets the letter, one way or another and off he trots to London T'aan to whip up bouillabaisse for the highest ranking residents of the capital in the kitchens of The Ritz. I realised that as an "afternoon tea aficionado" I would shock my fellow fans by admitting that I haven't in fact ever been to The Ritz for tea... this is mainly due to the fact that I can be a huge snob when it comes to afternoon tea, be it the scones served cold or the fact that an establishment believes serving Twinings tea is the best accompaniment to their tier. Afternoon tea is a real treat for me and I don't ever want to be disappointed when trying out a new version (who does?!) so I am very choosy as to where I go - it's a lot of money to me and I haven't ever been able to afford it, in my entire honesty. Afternoon Tea at Downton Tea at The Ritz Tea at The Ritz is one that I've always avoided, but wanted to go to desperately (in equal measures) as it is a very pricey affair and I've heard very mixed reviews, making the decision not to go as a result as I feel I may be disappointed... perhaps I shouldn't judge before I try it, but it's the whole truth. As I can't offer any anecdotes personally (yet ; ) I've decided to put the following question to my very own afternoon tea-loving followers for their own honest appraisals of this historic establishment: Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey Series 4 Manual Whisk "Have you enjoyed (or not!) afternoon tea at The Ritz and would you like to share your thoughts, stories and top tips whilst visiting?" The response was incredible, a mix of both good and bad, of which I share with you here, I hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I did for a little light-hearted reading before the next episode of Downton Abbey this weekend! - Here are some of my friends' reviews on Alfred's new place of work... It sounds like he has gone to a fantastic employer, farewell Alfie!    Tea at The Ritz - The Real & Honest Reviews:  Afternoon Tea at Downton Tea at The Ritz "It must be time I revisited The Ritz for afternoon tea, since most of my waking thoughts are about this great British tradition and The Ritz in turn, is so very much associated with the custom too. However, I must revisit for a different reason than perhaps expected. I need to go back a second time - because I am one of the few it seems, who did not enjoy the experience very much at all. How can that be? Most people report their visit as a highlight of their holiday or time in London. Did I miss something? I went with a friend a handful of years ago with expectations as high as a kite. After all - this is THE Ritz and one of the main locations associated with afternoon tea in the UK. My expectations were of perfection - to be transported to a world of magical afternoon tea indulgence that could never be bettered - and I was almost giddy with excitement. Instead, I found our seats to be extremely public, for people to be overlooking us as we ate and for our service to be good but perfunctory. In fairness - it all tasted lovely - of course it did. It all looked pretty too. But the environment and atmosphere never beckoned us in and I remained going through the motions of someone who ought to be having a marvellous time because they were having tea at The Ritz. So...why don't I return... but this time with realistic expectations - and just enjoy it for what it is. After all, having been told that the Mamma Mia film was the BEST film ever, ever, ever created - I came out puzzled with a 'meh' expression. Therefore, I shall go like a blank canvas back to The Ritz and decide afresh, whether this is indeed one of the top places to enjoy afternoon tea (but...two strikes - and they're out!)." - Jane Malyon of The English Cream Tea Company Afternoon Tea Etiquette "It's all very Italian (a style I love in Italy, but doesn't quite translate here) - all gold cherubs and deep reds. I found it a bit OTT and not as sophisticated as they would like you to think. Food was ok - scones, sarnies, etc, but nothing to write home about. Not one of London's gems sadly - although I had been looking forward to it - much prefer the Wolseley and Savoy, bit more class and less, well, 'Ritzy' - Disclaimer: I am a massive snob." - Lizzy Denning -  Tea at The Ritz Downton "To be honest, The Ritz did too little for me... sandwiches were prepared well in advance so they're still cold when served (straight out from the fridge I assume!), and they don't allow people wearing their national costumes into the seating area, claiming it would spoil the scene - how pompous is that?! The sitting for afternoon tea start from as early as 11:30 to 19:30 at the latest, so I recall mums with schoolchildren to pick up later in the day would go for the brunch experience and working girls (like I once used to be!) would go for supper/high tea. Oh and one more thing... too many tables and chairs were crammed in & I feared when the place got filled on busy days, people sitting at the very back of the area may fall off (the seating area for afternoon tea is slightly above the steps)! - all in all, good for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I have seen better places and had better tea at five-star hotels elsewhere. - Takami Hikokubo -  Tea at the Ritz Downton "My love affair with afternoon tea probably dates all the way back to my university days in London a long time ago (28 years actually). I was in London and so how else to while away time on a student grant but taking afternoon tea at The Ritz (having worked in the Halls of Residence kitchens most of the summer to earn some extra cash for such treats)?! My best friend Sarah and I decided that only our poshest togs would do and we went just a little over the top with the dressing up - I wore a full length green satin evening gown with long black gloves, hair up and lots of diamante jewellery. Sarah had a long black frock on with a lace jacket and a huge feather boa draped round her neck and we dragged along two game (or mad) men friends for the ride. We certainly turned heads as we entered the hotel, in fact we were stopped and photographed by some American tourists. It was a spectacular tea as well as being brilliant fun and I should add that we weren't shy about asking for extra cakes too! Although, I'm ashamed to say we stole a linen napkin as a souvenir." - Gwyneth Brock of Vintage Afternoon Teas - "I love The Ritz. I'm planning on booking again for next year, I've ever had a bad experience there. It is definitely the atmosphere that makes it, we've had a piano player and a harp the times I've been and the little cake trolley that comes round is always a welcome surprise, normally chocolate cake and lemon drizzle but there have been variations. The scones are always warm and the perfect size and the food just keeps coming. (Toilets are lush as well!) When you go in, you are directed to the cloak room which is free so you don't have all your coats and bags with you at the table, you can take your handbag in with you and there is a little shelf under the table for you to put it so it is out of the way. The room is amazing, all gold, and the frosted glass ceiling lights up when the sun shines and the whole room glows. The staff are attentive but not overly interfering and will leave you alone if you don't need anything. I took my mum the first time for her birthday and she loved it. I had told them when I booked and the man on the piano played happy birthday for her when they bought out her birthday cake. He also played 'puttin' on the ritz' a couple of times throughout the afternoon which was great! - Holly Myles - Tea at the Ritz Downton "Fabulous service, good tea selection and sandwiches. Only the black forest gateaux I was looking forward to wasn't really one...but I guess I'm hard to please when it comes to our regional cakes! I really enjoyed my birthday treat at The Ritz. You need to book a table months before if you intend to go at a weekend, otherwise you can phone them during the week asking if someone has canceled...which worked for us. I didn't enjoy too much the whole 'now this is your time slot and now it's finished...' as it made me feel a bit less relaxed. The couple next to us were making the most of it and the husband had four sandwich refills - one of the good things about it is that you can have as many lovely sandwiches as you can eat." - Denise Fröhlich Geb Kappus -  Tea at the Ritz Downton "My mother & I headed down to London to celebrate the end of my degree in style - Tea at the Ritz! The journey was less than glamorous despite first class coach travel on the train - I got locked in the train toilets for half an hour on a blisteringly hot day which melted my face and ruined my hair… After gracefully recovering from this ordeal we made our way through London to the Ritz in the back of a Black Cab. As we got closer to the Ritz I was pleasantly surprised at how much it reminded me of Paris and Les Arcades on the Rue De Rivoli. Having grown up in France, my grandmother lived there, so this brought back a lot of happy memories and I couldn't help but feel that my life was meant to be spent at the Ritz! As a child growing up outside Paris, the Ritz meant elegance, tea and most of all royalty (associated especially with Princess Diana and her death in 1998). Arriving, we were greeted by friendly, if not a bit stiff, doormen and taken through to the Lobby. As with everything, we were very early, so we decided to have a quick drink at the (aptly named) Rivoli Bar before meeting my aunt and uncle for 'afternoon tea'. After being seated and browsing the menu, picking our jaws up the floor we both ordered a cocktail each priced at £19. I ordered a Cuba Libre (no longer available) which arrived very promptly and tasted of heaven! It had a modern, refreshing twist on the classic Mojito and was presented beautifully with caramelised pineapple sticks. These were as delicious as they sound, until I had a nasty surprise. I found a small black hair embedded in the caramel. My reaction was not immediate, having been in Britain for 12 years I learnt to hide my feelings of disgust and get on with my cocktail until I mentioned it to my mother who, having lived abroad a long time was horrified! We agreed to mention it to the bartender who was, also, mortified. Despite my initial feelings of guilt, we were after all paying nearly £40 for both cocktails! This ordeal was sweetened by the fact that the bartender sent the managers apologies and insisted both the drinks be on the house. Realising we were drinking free cocktails in The Ritz, we soon felt better! However, the staff were rude, busy, overworked and the room we were in was small overcrowded and uncomfortable. I was looking forward to tea, scones, jam and other lovely things, but the tables were too small for all the food they brought over and worst of all the scones weren't even warm, they were stale. The Rivoli Bar was definitely the highlight of my trip, the rest of the hotel was cheap and felt tacky - the bar felt removed, intimate and secret which made it much more exciting than a large room filled with tourists and teacups. However, this day does keep me going when I think about how unglamorous my job in retail is and when I have to get up at 3:45am to cycle to work in the rain - thank god for The Ritz! - Catherine Suzanne Lalevée -  Tea at the Ritz Downton "I went July 2008 so it may have changed since. We went because my mum and I have been on a mission for about a decade now to try out as many London afternoon tea spots as possible and The Ritz was a big hole in our list that seriously needed to be checked off. It was very nice, the decoration very sumptuous but I couldn't help but feel they had crammed a few too many tables into the area, but the tea and different plates were of course wonderful. But in comparison to other places I have to be honest and say that you cannot help but feel you are in a tourist trap - the limit on the table, the manner of the booking system, it's just routine for them, and understandably so given how many people go there. I think the hardened afternoon tea aficionado will enjoy the experience but will soon beat a track back to the Savoy (our favourite, although, now becoming quite touristy too), Browns or the Langham which all offer an experience that feels much less like you are just part of an afternoon tea production line to be processed and sent out before the next tourist can be seated." - Catriona Roscoe of Cakes By Cat - "I went to the Ritz for afternoon tea when my dad was 60, for his birthday. My extravagant cousin (who owned a very famous nightclub in London at the time) turned up to meet us and was not allowed in as he wasn't wearing a tie - he had to go and borrow one from the concierge and was quite outraged by the whole affair! I remember the opulence of the building and the 'poshness' of it all but this was 20 years ago mind... it's probably changed a little since then!" - Kirsty Keegan - Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Downton "We were given vouchers for Afternoon Tea at The Ritz as a Christmas gift. We decided to wait for a special occasion to use them and picked our third wedding anniversary as the perfect time…a whole 9 months away! When the day finally arrived excitement levels were high, and expectation levels even higher. We had experienced Afternoon Tea before of course, but never at *The Ritz*! Dressed in our finery, we made our way to London. At the hotel door we were greeted by a footman in top hat and all –very posh! Inside, the hotel did not disappoint and exuded wealth and grandeur with crystal-encrusted chandeliers, candelabra, swathes of velvet draped from windows and doorways, gilded picture frames and gold paint all around. I guess the décor could have bordered on garish for some, but for me I loved the opulence of it all; it was our special day, we wanted to feel spoiled! The surroundings were plush, the table setting perfectly appointed, the waiting staff polite and attentive, and the live pianist a lovely touch – he even took requests and played our wedding song (L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole) during the course of the tea; I have to say the setting was lovely. move on to the reason that I was really there: the desserts! On this front I was left only mildly disappointed. The cakes and petit fours looked beautiful and tasted fairly good, though I've had better. A major criticism I had – and I can't believe I'm writing this – but there were perhaps too many cakes (those who know me will know I'm a cake fiend!). Not only were we offered three or four different pastries and other sugary treats on our Tea tower, but having forced all that into our bellies we were then presented with a trolley loaded with other cakes of which we could choose a slice. It would have been rude to say no, and we wanted the whole experience after all. Safe to say we were left feeling a little bloated and sick. An amusing point was when a fellow diner found a piece of plastic in his dessert…the waiters were extremely apologetic and rushed it back to the kitchen. As a way of apology, the mortified chef presented the gentleman with yet ANOTHER slice of cake, especially made for him. It looked beautiful but needless to say the guy's belt would have bust had he tasted even a crumb!" - Fiona McDuff our very own Cambridge Bake Off Winner 2013 -
Miss Sue Flay

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Lost Art Of Etiquette - Halloween & “Trick or Treat”

This year, I will accept trick or treaters under one condition... that they are polite.  The politer the child, the more convinced I might be to offer them a treat or two. Halloween Trick or Treat Etiquette Last year I received two "waves" of "Trick or Treaters"... a younger crowd earlier on, with mum and dad and generally dressed up cutely and docile in their behaviour (goodness knows how they behaved after all the sugar had kicked in haha) and then the older kids, almost bullying stuff out of us in larger groups and teenage crowds with normal clothes and simply a mask, which was in fact fairly daunting on the night looking out into the darkness. But one thing both sets of fancy dress goers had in common was this... in my personal experience, they were oh so rude. Halloween Trick or Treat Etiquette In both sets of groups, we would get a knock on the door, a feeble scream of *Trick or Treat* (the younger kids probably not even giving two hoots as to what it's all really about other than sugar... and lots of it) and grabbing handfuls of treats, pushing YOU and the others out of the way as they do so, then running off greedily to the next door...(erm, hold on a second?!)... I was literally left shocked after one small group of kids did just this, the parents watched and didn't acknowledge, thank me or even smile, they simply moved on. I thought better of the parents, but just how rude could they be?! Has it put me off answering my door this year? Well, to a point yes. I've already had the argument with myself as to wether opening the door and spending my OWN personal pocket money is worth it this year. But, hopefully, if all "Trick or Treaters" followed some obvious rules this year, everybody would be happy, myself included. Here are some Halloween and "Trick or Treat" etiquette tips (please don't be rude to the kind participants you encounter) to ensure for a happy outcome on both sides of the door: The Lost Art Of Etiquette - Halloween & "Trick or Treat" If the lights are off, keep walking, don't stop and try the door "just in case", you may be hassling or upsetting somebody or their pet unnecessarily as a result. Don't be greedy, take one or two treats (or listen to the person handing them out), thank them and move on. Don't nudge or push anybody out of the way, adult or child. You may be asked what the homeowner gets in return for saying "treat", so have a witty response, a joke, song, dance, good deed at the ready in return for their kindness. Halloween Etiquette Smile and say thank you, it's common courtesy. If the child is too young to understand or too excited to remember, offer this up as the parent if you can, please don't simply walk on and ignore, this night works both ways. Your neighbours appreciate well mannered children and admire the parents for doing such a good job on ensuring that they are just this ; ) On the same note, if they answer with "trick" please remember not to use threats or bad behaviour as a penalty for this option. Simply use your wit, talent or good manners to come back to them with something fun for all involved or simply move on with no hard feelings. Be considerate of private property, no trampling on lawns or flower beds, no littering, no damaging decorations or ornaments, be respectful. And parents, no leaning on garden fences or cars whilst waiting for the children, I've had this happen to me personally in both cases and scratches and bends in personal property is not a pleasant introduction to your neighbours, I can assure you. If you have a dog with you, obviously it would not be ok to allow it to walk up to the front door with you, please stay on the pavement. The owner of the door about to be opened may have their own pets and the outcome may not be a pleasant one. And carry the correct disposable bags to pick up any mess left behind you on your journey - funnily, my local village has a lot more mess on pavements after Halloween... Halloween Etiquette If somebody doesn't answer their door after one knock or ring of the bell, leave. Do not repeatedly try the door, simply move on and don't return later "for another go". No, you can't ask to use the toilet whilst knocking on a strangers' door (go before you leave the house), if you are trekking for miles and hours at a time, you may want to re-think your strategy... When offered a treat, take it graciously, never return it or ask for something else. And if the house in question has turned their lights off or gone out, but left a bowl of treats for you to dip into on the doorstep, please take just one and leave some for others. Halloween Etiquette What age is appropriate for such games? It's a general rule that anybody under 12 years of age can get away with some fun, but anybody over this should be at home opening the door with their family... Some may disagree, but I think this is fair. And if you are a homeowner who doesn't want to enter into the spirit of one of the few "interactive" festivities we have, then it may be wiser to enjoy an evening out with friends or family. Go for a nice meal, see a film, visit somebody you've been meaning to catch up with, anything to avoid the awkward and potentially stressful situation of sitting in the dark wishing everybody would bog off...   Miss Sue Flay   Do you have any tips or tricks (or treats) to share with my halloween loving readers? Please do leave a comment below to share your thoughts, recipes and stories below. You can also read the rest of Miss Sue Flay's "Lost Art Of Etiquette" guides by clicking here.  

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episodes 5

... An Interview With Pamela Foster Of "Downton Abbey Cooks" Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster As you may know by now (and if you are new to my blog, welcome and you will very soon learn!) I have a rather unhealthy infatuation with afternoon tea, Downton Abbey, housekeeping & household management and with all things well mannered. And with these passions, I plan to share my thoughts after each episode over the coming weeks with you. The fourth series of Downton has just hit our screens in the UK and the fans, myself included here, were giddy with excitement at the emotional advert played weeks before the first episode aired (what on earth will happen to Lady Mary now that Cousin Matthew has passed away unexpectedly?!), what else other than terrible "talent" shows do we have to look forward to this autumn?… I rest my case. Highclere Castle Downton Abbey is based on the aristocratic "Crawley" family and their servants in their country estate in Yorkshire, complete with tears and tantrums and the odd death thrown in for good TV viewing, it's stupendously addictive. From the inspiring evening wear and dinner party tables, through to the etiquette and service from the family, staff and their visitors and even the one liners and quips from the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) that would have anybody chuckling who cared to give it a go. Well in todays blog, my readers are as LUCKY as I am to be reading a unique interview that I had with fellow Downton Abbey fanatic, author and food blogger, Pamela Foster of "Downton Abbey Cooks". Pamela is fascinated by the fine, yet simple food of the post Edwardian era and adds her flair and elegance to dishes inspired and enjoyed by the characters at Downton. This is a real treat and I hope that you enjoy reading this fabulous interview as much as I enjoyed geeking out with the lady herself! Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster So Pamela, when and how did you first come across an episode of Downton Abbey? My husband, a blue blood with long lines of English blood, was the first "Downton" fan in our family and started watching the first season on his own. We ended up spending a day together watching the first two seasons - and I was hooked! What hooks American viewers to shows such as this do you think? I do believe what has been said about American fascination with royalty. Generally though, I think that Downton has the common appeal around the world of a time and place not so long ago where manners and decorum ruled supreme. What inspired you to start your blog on Downton Abbey? When my husband and I were watching all those episodes I wondered if anyone was writing about the food on the show. I did a quick Google search, and off I went back in January 2012 in an adventure to share the history of food in the era when the "Crawleys" and their servants lived. Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster Do you create your recipes based on American or British inspiration? I started by providing recipes for dishes which were seen on the show and then expanded to dishes from the region and era. I confine my recipes to the dishes which would have been enjoyed at Downton Abbey in that era, either upstairs or down. Ingredients that I use would have been available at that time too. I do take a healthier approach to the cuisine, and to those ingredients that could have been acquired at that time. Are your recipes inspired by the show or by your favourite elements of history? The show leads the way in the food we explore. I provide recipes to the food seen on the show and also those in which we never see.  The infamous apple charlotte which Anthony Strallen asked for, but was not served, is a case in point. Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster In this newest series of Downton Abbey, the times are very much changing and new trends are starting to pop up in the wardrobe department, in the way the characters behave, but also in what they are eating and drinking - do your recipes change and adapt for each series or era? Families are creatures of habit and tradition and thus they would have relied on the same foods their families would have eaten for generations. My motto is great food has a history, meaning that so many dishes which we love and enjoy have survived since they are really that good and part of our traditions. What has changed are the tools used to prepare the recipes and new availability to some ingredients. With your British inspired recipes, do you have trouble finding ingredients at all? Generally most ingredients are quite easy to find. Suet, while hard to find prepackaged in North American stores, was easy enough for me to get from my local butcher, cut right off the hanging carcass. Who are your favourite Downton characters? As a foodie, my heart goes to Daisy whose character has been allowed to grow over the past four years from a child laborer to accomplished sous chef. Afternoon Tea and Housekeeping at Downton Abbey It may be a misconception of mine, but is afternoon tea simply enjoyed by "high society" ladies in the US? Or are your chefs and tea rooms very much like ours in the UK, with their own twists and signature bakes? The US and Canadian, being such a melting pot of cultures, are host to little tea shops which can be found if you take the time to look. Have you ever sampled a truly British afternoon tea? If so, what are your favourite elements? I have reviewed a number of afternoon teas and the common thread is the experience of taking time to share tea.  Inspired by a growing trend in London to do business over tea I am incorporating afternoon tea as an alternative to business lunch or cocktails. Do you enjoy simply the dining side to Downton, or does the etiquette interest and inspire you at all alongside it? My focus has been on the food and its creation, but one must know the proper way to hold a knife and fork, don't you think? (I couldn't agree more personally and I'd love to teach Pamela and her American friends how to enjoy their afternoon tea politely with my online afternoon tea etiquette workshops...) Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster What are your top baking and cooking tips? Be fearless, but start trying dishes that are simple to make and learn how to perfect them. Work towards 3 or 4 signature dishes that you enjoy and that you can trot out for company without stressing yourself. Where has your blogging journey taking you so far and who are the most exciting people you've met through your blogging adventures? I have been truly blessed by supportive press around the world, from the Washington Post to an appearance on our National morning show. "Downton Abbey" approached me to host their Pinterest Board (Eat, Drink and Be Merry) which as been a lot of fun. I have tweeted with the Downton actors, connected with the lovely Jessica Fellowes who wrote those lovely Downton Abbey books. As a foodie I had the honor of being interviewed by Christopher Kimble of Americas Test Kitchen. For me though the local events where I get to meet fellow fans and share a love of the show and the food has been the best gift I ever could have received. What is your signature bake or make? I love my scones, the anchor of the English tea tray and easier to make than a drive to your local tea shop. I was thrilled to learn that America's Test Kitchen uses the same technique of using frozen butter and layering. Afternoon Tea and Housekeeping at Downton Abbey Who eats all your delicious trials and tribulations? Do your friends and family enjoy your treats or do you host events to enable you to experiment? Most of recipes are tested by "Lord D" (Pamela's husband) and sometimes shared with family members at family gatherings. Do you have a favourite tea? And any particular preferred way to enjoy a cuppa? I have variety of loose tea blends in my office and always seem to have a pot brewing. Depending on the season it will be either green, white or black teas. My tips for the perfect cup of tea? Know how many cups your tea pot holds is the first step. Heat the pot with hot water first, then discard. 1 teaspoon of tea for each person (or 10 ounces per person) and 1 additional teaspoon for the pot. Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster What future plans do you have in store for "Downton Abbey Cooks"? I never really planned any part of my journey other than to follow the path in front of me.  I never planned to write the cookbook ("Abbey Cooks Entertain") but after so many readers asked about how to host a party or a dinner, it seemed like a book like that would be useful. Some have asked for a printed version of the book but for now electronic easily reaches all corners of the globe. I heard that Universal were possibly interested in my cookbook, but if it comes, great! But if not, I am happy with what I have accomplished and I'm really excited about the possibility of traveling to Highclere Castle with a US bus tour company with a foodie theme - that would rock! Do you have any favourite links, blogs or reading material for research that you'd love to share with my lovely readers? There are far too many to list. I follow a lot of fellow food bloggers and food magazines and for online research of recipes dig through great sites like Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster What's baking in your oven next?.... Just when I feel that there are no more dishes to cook, there are more on the horizon. I am collecting ideas from Season 4 which I will test and have ready in January when America sees Downton on PBS. You will have to follow my blog to find out what's baking in the oven next... You can follow Pamela on Facebook, Twitter and on Pinterest and her book comes highly rated for all Downton fans out there reading this fabulous interview - and thank you so much Pamela for your time, it's been so much fun getting to know you! Downton Abbey Cooks Pamela Foster And if that wasn't enough to keep you fueled until the next episode of Downton this coming Sunday, we have a VERY EXCITING giveaway for you too. Pamela has been kind enough to offer just 2 of my lovely readers a copy of her e-book, "Abbey Cooks Entertain" which is packed full of recipes, history and healthy eating for fans of the show. For a chance to win, simply answer the following question in a comment below to enter. You have until Friday 29th November 2013 to enter this superb competition, so get going! What is the correct way to "cut" a scone in half and why would it be done in this way?  Afternoon Tea and Housekeeping at Downton Abbey   Miss Sue Flay   If you enjoyed this blog post, you may enjoy these too: Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 1 (The Manual Whisk & Giggle Cake Recipe) Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 2 ( The Downton Cast on Twitter) Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episodes 3 & 4 ( The Servants Job Specs)  Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 - Episode 5 (An interview with Pamela Foster)    

Monday, 21 October 2013

Secret Stays: The Pigs

As part of a recent visit to Norfolk, I was heading to visit one or two retreats (one after the other) for some very different head-to-toe pampering at each location, involving some superb food too of course. After some hunting around online, a luxury bed and breakfast called "The Pigs" in Edgefield (just 4 miles from Holt) caught my attention and a room was booked quick sharp for the ultimate evening of self-sufficient pampering. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk This wasn't just any room... This was a private spa room, at first glance this is the main appeal for this venue, not forgetting the special and meat-fiend friendly restaurant menu of which just HAD to be sampled. Setting The Scene: The Pigs is a 17th Century country pub FULL of character. As soon as you step foot through the front door you are greeted with a rather trippy, yet eye-catching mural on either side of the porch doorway and you can't help but stare at it every time you walk through it, spotting the pigs in this quirky painting as you do. It doesn't stop there, there are pigs in all shapes and sizes, as the name would have you believe there should be... Even your room key is a plastic pig of which you couldn't possibly lose in your handbag! The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk It's ownership is a three-way venture made up of 3 well known local people: Richard Hughes of the Lavender House at Brundall, Iain Wilson, of the nearby Byfords and Kings Head in Holt, and Tim Abbott, chef / landlord of the pub and day to day Pig In Control. And they've got this place right in attitude, luxury and service. The Bedroom: The Pigs has ten luxuriously unique and "rustic country style" bedrooms (six of which are spa rooms) over three floors, all kitted out with a large desk to work at with free wifi, bathrooms with underfloor heating and Drench showers (ours had a waterfall and rainforest function, both not making me want to leave the shower ever again!) and 6ft pocket sprung beds, with the exception of Room 1 being host to Norfolk's (supposedly) only 8ft bed - had I known this, I may have requested giving that bad boy a go! The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk On checking in at the bar, the lady who gave us the grand tour was very friendly indeed, made sure we were ok with everything and even showed us the restaurant and advised us on times, should we want to dine that evening. She felt more like a friend, it was the first thing we discussed once she had left us to settle in, it felt very homely indeed. We were checked into room 8, a spa room which included all the little luxuries...and then some. We had our own private sauna, outside heated bath with built-in TV (of which I enjoyed watching "The Great British Bake Off" from) and a fire pit with wooden loungers to enjoy an al fresco marshmallow toasting session on. If that wasn't enough, this room also played host to a widescreen TV and surround sound system of which I could even plug in my specially created "relaxation" playlist and hear it in the sauna and outside areas too, this was a fantastic bonus and I particularly loved this touch. The bed was the comfiest hotel bed I've slept in for a long time, no ridges, it was a proper king sized bed, not twins pushed together as some rooms can offer. With a better choice of pillow, this bed would be ALMOST as good as my own! The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk The Spa Facilities: I loved that I could pull on a warm bathrobe from the en suite bathroom and head straight to my own private sauna, of which had simple instructions for the "technically challenged" to operate and enjoy in 20 minute bursts. The heat wasn't as much as most large spa saunas, however the warmth was intense and I feel it may have been a good calorie loser as you sweat buckets in this baby... I'm truly glad it was pristinely clean on arrival, that's all I would say! The little bottles left to use included the usual shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and shower gel, but also some bubbles for the outdoor bath which was a lovely thought as well as access to some gorgeous orange scented oil for the sauna too. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk The Bar & Restaurant: The bar is very "British", very much like the pub that I used to work in when younger with dark wooden beams and a proper bar serving real ales. The restaurant uses local ingredients from Norfolk where possible and you can tell that this is a meat-eaters paradise simply by the name of the place... The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk Many different cuts of pork are offered and we went for there very own Norfolk version of tapas for a nibble, also listed as "Iffits" priced at £6 for two which we felt was fantastic value for the amount of food served on our platters. The "Perfick pork mini bangers" which were cumberland, caramelised red onion and black pudding sausages (almost posh cocktail sausages on sticks) with a red onion jam and mustard mayonnaise were ALL delicious and we literally "mmmmm'd" our way through them. We also sampled the "Kilner jar of potted pork" with mini toasted "soldiers" and a deliciously sweet apple chutney. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk My dining partner and I both decided on the Minced rump burger for a main, which most certainly did not disappoint. This burger was held in place between two sides of a lightly toasted and homemade English muffin (not a breaded article that I have ever tried with my burger, but it worked perfectly as it didn't detract from the main feature).. the burger wasn't over seasoned and had a deep taste of red wine, it was gorgeous and with the hand cut chips cooked in beef dripping they really don't do anything by halves. The restaurant is dark and candlelit which adds a relaxed feel to an evening meal here and the couple next to us ordered the full on 8 hour slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with all the trimmings and it came out with the waitress in celebratory style, it's definitely a place that likes to play with the food and encourages its diner to do so too.  Needless to say, there was no room for pudding! The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk Room Service & Breakfast: After a fairly rich meal the previous evening, the 15 mile breakfast with smokey bacon beans, sausage, black pudding and butter poached double yolker sounded fantastic, but wasn't going to happen for either of us! Between us we opted for the "Perfick Pork Sausage" and roast onion sandwich and I asked (being awkward of course) to have some toast with poached eggs which was my fancy on waking up that particular morning. The toast came out on a large wooden block and offered me different breads, muffins and homemade crumpets with lashings of butter, of which I wasn't expecting. The service was once again friendly and consistent, it really can't be faulted as nothing was too much effort. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk And the coffee... oh the coffee! Forget your small cappuccino cups here, we were handed two enormous vats of freshly brewed coffee straight from the kitchen and a huge canister of milk to keep us going, they obviously knew Miss Sue Flay was coming and how grumpy she would be without her fix! The Pigs Norfolk No room service at The Pigs, but actually, this is no bad thing. It meant that we got up early, enjoyed the spread (including the melt in the mouth warm croissants and various homemade jams whilst waiting for our coffee) which is something you wouldn't experience if you were lazy daises! It also meant that we could go back to the room and enjoy a second round of pampering before checking out later that morning, which simply had to be done. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk The Little Niggles: The only downsides to The Pigs would be that this venue is situated on a busy road, so traffic noise was a pain when bedroom doors were open. It also meant that sitting out using the fire pit wasn't the relaxing evening I had dreamt in my head when booking. If this place was picked up and dropped into the countryside, it would be PERFECT. There was also no easy way to light the fire other than chuck a load of firelighters on it, as no kindling was found, so the fire went out very quickly and caused us to smell to high heavens of smoke once we were done, very unromantic! The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk In regards to the bed, for me personally, the pillows were too flat, I like a thick and solid pillow for a good sleep, but these were very thin and lost even more padding as I laid my head on them. The Little Extras: In the corridor of the B&B there was a small bar stocked with wines, beers and soft drinks, a fresh fruit bowl, marshmallows & skewers and the oil for the saunas. Alongside it was a price list and the "Honesty Pig" of which you as a guest are entrusted to put the right money in after hours. I really liked the trust that the team put into their guests and as a result, you do treat it with the respect it deserves. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk I also purchased some locally sourced free-range eggs and a couple of bottles of their very own ale to take home and enjoy for dinner the next day. The eggs were nestled in the front doorway and again, your honesty is respected and they allow you to pay at the bar and take your agreed number. Final Thoughts: The Pigs is perfect for couples, lone travellers, even families (as there are kid friendly menus, even an indoor games room and posh outdoor play area complete with a treehouse and zip wire, simply called "Piggleplay") and is part of the Byfords Posh B&B in Holt, just a few miles away and well worth a visit whilst in the area. The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk On checking out we were handed the invoice aside an unexpected paper bag stamped with the pub logo and it was filled with rhubarb & custard sweets to fuel our journey home. The quirks kept on coming, with no tacky feedback form emailed to us afterwards, which was refreshing. Our stay in the Spa room with breakfast was £165 per night and felt like a bit of a risk when booking, as this was a treat for us, but it was worth every penny and I would hand on heart visit again in the future - preferably sat by the fire whilst enjoying a pint of Adnams Ghost Ship. Miss Sue Flay The Pigs Edgefield Norfolk You can view my full photo album for this venue by clicking here. Please Note - I paid my own way at this venue and I am in no means obliged to blog or write about this location, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. Any questions or to discuss an independent review or "Secret Stay", please do email: