Hush Heath Estate

Hush Heath Estate is a wonderful, perfectly manicured vineyard in Staplehurst, Kent. I was lucky enough to win a VIP wine experience so my friends and I were treated to a private tour and wine tasting.

image The vineyard is absolutely beautiful, we got to walk around the many acres of land and look at the vines and orchards, it was  tour and work out in one. Hush Heath also boasts a beautiful woodland and they have worked hard to encourage wildlife including owls and deer.

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What I really liked about Hush Heath, was that you got a real sense of the pride and care that goes into each and every bottle of wine or cider that they produce. The owners, who live in a house overlooking the estate, are really involved in the wine making. They care about their produce and it shows. The vineyard is perfectly manicured, they have looked back through historical records to name the vineyards after the names they had on the farm maps in the 1820s. Our tour guide, Cheryl, was wonderful. She told us that the owners light candles underneath the vines when there is a frost or fog so that the grapes are not damaged…We all began to understand why the price of the bottles can seem expensive; it really does reflect the care that is put into them.

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We got to see the bottling and labelling process, the tour was really informative and our guide was able to answer all of the questions that we had.

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The vineyard has a beautiful shop which sells their range of wine and ciders. The ‘flagship’ bottle is the Balfour Brut Rose, it’s a delicious sparkling wine and could definitely hold its own against many champagnes. The bottles of wine are named after the owner, Richard Balfour-Lynn and his family, a really cute idea. They work together to run the vineyard.

Our favourite wine was the Chardonnay. Perhaps tainted by experiences of Blossom Hill growing up, I’m not usually a Chardonnay fan. However, this Chardonnay was so light and delicious that we had to buy a case of it. At the moment if you buy a case of 6 then you get one bottle free – who can refuse an offer like that? The bottles range from around £14 for the wines to £35 for the sparkling wines. The ciders are also tasty and very reasonably priced, we really enjoyed the still cider too.

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The tour was really fun, the vineyards were just wonderful and the tasting was delicious and relaxed. Our tour guide, Cheryl, was fantastic and really took care of us. The pride that the staff take in what the vineyard do is very clear and if you’re lucky enough to taste the liquid gold then it is clear why.

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Come Dine with Me

DACWM Menu

All foodies love watching Channel 4’s ‘Come Dine with Me‘ and I have wanted to host my own ‘Come Dine with Me’ style dinner party for a while and we have decided to do just that. Three sets of friends; three nights. Ours was the first, the friends we are competing with are from overseas, so we decided to go for a ‘Best of British’ menu. The (wonderful) menu was designed by Toby.

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To start we had pimms and prosecco cocktails with a cucumber garnish and some ‘British themed’ canapes; mackerel pate, mini prawn cocktails, sausage rolls and some oyster and vinegar crisps made by the ‘Kent Crisps‘ company, a great start to the evening (we thought). Only the cocktails are pictured as we gobbled down the canapes far to quickly for any photography to take place…

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Our starter was a Crab and Salmon Tian. We went to Whitstable to source the crab, we wanted everything to be local where possible. I am usually awful with presentation so these little beauties made me feel a little better about that…

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Next up, our main course; Roast rack of Lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and redcurrant jus (gravy for us common folk). We served the lamb with green beans and carrots. The lamb was from our fantastic local butchers, Glover’s Farm in Hartley. As I suck at presentation, we put the vegetables in ‘help yourself’ dishes – I recommend this to those that can cook but not serve.

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Dessert was a ‘Trio of English Desserts’; a strawberries and cream cheesecake, cherry bakewell tart and a raspberry cranachan. My favourite here is the strawberries and cream cheesecake, Toby prefers the bakewell tart. I made the bakwell and cheesecakes the day before to ease the pressure on the day. Again, we can say that we thought that were delicious but we will have to wait and see, the proof is in the pudding (ha).

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We then had a cheese course, the cheese was from a fantastic farmer’s market in Shipbourne and a stall called Traditional Cheese Dairy. We had two award winning cheeses including a British sheep cheese and a standard cheddar for the less adventurous. We teamed this with some chutney and quince jelly.

We tried to keep our alcohol British where possible, hence adding the Pimms to the prosecco. We also had Chapel Down‘s Flint Dry, Biddenden vineyards ‘Gribble Bridge’, The Traveling Apothecary’s Cucumber infused gin, Millis Brewing’s Gravesend Guzzler and some English distilled raspberry liqueur.

We have no idea how we scored yet, the last night is still to come but it has been great fun. We just went to one of the other dinner parties and feasted upon a multitude of Australian delights including; prawn, avocado and mango salad, kangaroo and crocodile burgers – it was terrific. We are looking forward to the last night – a “French-Polynesian menu, we will let you know how we score….

Wheelers

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On a casual Thursday of the half-term, we decided to head down to Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable to sample some of what has often been described as ‘one of the best seafood restaurants in the country’. Booking is usually a waiting game but we were fortunate enough to get a last minute cancellation. We were salivating at the thought of what we we were going to eat…

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From the outside, Wheelers is an eccentric looking pink building that is home to a quaint oyster bar with many sea treats on ice. You can go in and order food to take away and there is also a small oyster bar that works on a first come, first served basis. Behind that is what can only be described as a living room stuck in 1945,  this is the restaurant, seating about 16 at maximum. It is incredibly homely and we have not eaten anywhere like this before, perhaps other than our own Grandma’s living room. There are four sittings throughout the day, we were lucky enough to get in for lunch at 1pm, the other sittings are 3pm, 5pm and 7pm.

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The first thing out the kitchen was a  helping of homemade granary and rosemary bread served with pesto and olive oil. The bread was delicious. The menu is quite small and changes regularly depending on what has been caught and what is in season.

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Toby had half a dozen oysters, served simply with lemon. Amazing. He has always enjoyed oysters and these were no exception. All washed down with some Oyster Stout, also from Whitstable. The restaurant is a ‘bring your own’ – another plus in our books.

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Well damn, we were a bit too eager to start eating at this point, so the photography suffered, but amongst the pixels above is a crab cake and lobster spring roll with a lemon celeriac roulade. It was outstanding. The portion was very generous. This is what I ate, I came home looking up crab cake recipes, I loved it. Damn Toby’s poor photography skills.

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Wheelers has no alcohol license, so it is a ‘bring your own’. This is absolutely no issue as there is an independent ‘Offy‘ over the road with a stellar selection of wines and beers, many of them local. We opted for a firm favourite of ours: Flint Dry from Chapel Down, Tenterden, Kent.

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Toby’s main was stone bass with parma ham, asparagus and fondant potatoes. It was tremendous! We did that sad thing that couples do where they change main half way through. I had to stop myself from eating the rest of it.

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I went for pollock and salt and pepper squid rings on a bed of chorizo, spinach and mash potato. It was sensational. The dish was around £18.50 but it felt completely worth the money, an excellent helping of fish. To be honest, I am running out of adjectives to describe how great the food is at Wheelers.

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We usually prefer starters to desserts but we had heard that the desserts here were fantastic. We went for a rhubarb savarin with rhubarb and pink champagne sorbet. It was sensational, fresh, seasonal and delicious.

All in all, we left feeling very happy. Our bill came to a respectable £58 (this doesn’t include drinks as it is a ‘bring your own’), we were happy to pay that for local, seasonal and delicious food. The thing with Wheelers is that it is not just a fish restaurant, it is literally like eating in your Grandma’s front room, the service was fantastic, the staff were very pleasant and seemed proud of their food – they have every reason to be!

We absolutely recommend to Wheelers to any seafood lover or someone looking for something a little different. The menu only contains seafood, so do remember that if any of your friends dislike seafood or are vegetarian. We are already thinking about booking in again over the summer…

New Forest Cider

Apart from Dirty Martini, one of our favourite places to drink in London is at the New Forest Cider stand in Borough Market.

They serve up a plethora of different ciders to take away or to have in, and what an experience it is. In cups made of vegetable starch, they serve up Dry, Medium and Sweet Cider along with a range of Perry and sparkling ciders and Apple Juice.

Their Dry is the best cider I have ever had.

They sell beautiful bottles of the sweet sweet (and by sweet I mean dry, VERY DRY) nectar that are perfect little presents, or you can simply get 2 pints in a milk bottle to take away.

Any time of day, if you are in Borough Market, grab a pint! In the winter months, they serve up mulled cider that quite simply is life changing. It is also the perfect cure for the onset of any cold and flu symptoms that might come your way. I speak from experience.

Dirty Martini

Dirty Martini is probably one of my favourite cocktail bars in London. It now boasts two locations, one in Covent Garden and one in Hanover Square. Covent Garden has become a regular starting point for us when we go out for a good old fashioned knees up.

The ambience is fantastic, in fact, despite us usually being a little worse for wear, the decor allows me to retain an element of sophistication. If you are going in a large group, it is probably worth booking a booth in advance.

Being frugal foodies, we do like to keep our eye out for a bargain and Dirty Martini’s Happy Hour is real value for money, just £4 for a super delicious and suitably alcoholic cocktail! I would definitely recommend the Mango and Chilli martini (I think it also counts as one of your five a day) or the Cherry Blossom Martini. If you like a Dirty Martini then you will love this place, to me it tastes and smells like a smelly armpit but to lovers of Dirty Martini’s, I am told this is one of the best!  Don’t just stop there, if your up for it I would recommended sampling as many of these bad boys as you can.

Soho Coffee

There are few things in this world as wonderful as a good cup of coffee. The Soho area of London is famed for its cafe culture, and when looking for a quality cup of the black stuff, Bar Italia normally comes top of the list. We however have tasted this, and while it is a decent enough offering, we think there is better.

Algerian Coffee Stores is a delightful little coffee boutique on Brewer St, Soho, that draws you in with the amazing smell bellowing out the door of freshly ground coffee. Inside there is an even richer smell to get you in the coffee mood.

You can buy a huge range of different coffee related products here, from the roasted beans themselves to cafetière and of course, delicious fresh coffee to take away.

For a mere £1, you can have a cup of what I believe to be some of the very best coffee I have ever had.

It comes piping hot in a small cup and if you like A* coffee from a place with some of the best customer service you can enjoy, then you simply can’t pass up on a cup if you are in the area (honestly worth the trip, even if you are not).

The Foodies Festival

We like to keep our eyes peeled for any food and/or drink related events so The Foodies Festival almost seemed like it was made for us. Despite the rain, we enjoyed a fantastic VIP day with fellow foodie friends at the festival in Hampton Court Palace Gardens.

We started the day with a train breakfast of tasty pastries from Bourough Market where we stopped off on the way there, fruit and bucks fizz.

The regulars of South West trains appeared to be rather confused by this.

We did not know what food to try first but after sampling some of Jamie’s Italian‘s pulled pork, we decided to go for this. Served with potatoes and sala verde, it was absolutely delicious. You know when you eat something really tasty and then the next day you keep thinking about it? Well, I have that right now and NEED the pulled pork in my life again soon.

We sampled many delicious sausages, wines, beers, ciders, cheeses and a multitude of other delicious treats whilst pottering around the various stands, these were some of our favourites:

Any spice lover will fall in love with Chan Cham’s hot pepper sauce, I like it on burgers or with home made potato wedges. This is also a great hangover buster.

Purbeck Ice Cream was absolutely delicious, the honeycomb and berries and clotted cream flavours were divine, creamy and so satisfying. However, the ice cream war winner has to be Kent’s own Simply Ice Cream. The ice cream is delicious, the honeycomb ice cream is so good that every other ice cream you try thereafter will be insignificant.

Kamm and Sons is a delicious gingseng spirit, a healthier alternative to usual spirits, it contains ginseng, echinacea, goji berries and manuka honey. We enjoyed this in cocktail with beetroot juice, I like to think we were cleansing as we became increasingly more intoxicated.

As VIPs (in name only) we enjoyed the use of the VIP tent which in fact was a Yurt, something akin to a Mongolian circus tent maybe? In here we spent a few hours during the day to act as base camp to sample our wares away from the great british weather.

Of note amongst the delights we enjoyed in the Yurt was Chapel Down Flint Dry. We are seasoned fans of Chapel Down wines and this being on offer at the festival was too good to pass up. A dry white that tastes of the fresh Kent countryside where it is produced (well worth a visit to the vineyard!).

We then enjoyed a demonstration from a pro barista about how to make ‘healthy cocktails’. These were a series of concoctions made from unusual ingredients that were aimed at replenishing the devastation that nights in a cocktail bar can have. We really rated using beetroot juice as a mixer, who says we cannot have our cake and eat it?

Thankfully this demonstration was interactive and we had a generous sample of whatever the stage maestro put together.

By this time all perception of time and space had vanished and I think we even forgot about the rain! We started drawing the day to a close with a sumptuous Korean BBQ while other members of the party enjoyed a Moroccan medley. This was all washed down with a bottle of Casillero del Diablo, a delicious full bodied red Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Foodies Festival was a fantastic and fun day out, the samples were plentiful, we would definitely recommend going if you can!