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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Agatha Christie’s Torbay

Ashdown Park Hotel

Balmer Lawn – New Forest Stay

Bel and the Dragon

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Brockencote Hall for lunch

Brooklands Hotel Surrey

Careys Manor Hotel

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Cream Tea Cruise from MBNA Thames Clippers

Eckington Manor Cookery School and B & B

The Elms Hotel Worcestershire

The English Riviera

The Fleece Inn for lunch

Fusion Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner

Ivy Roost Cottage

London Southend Airport

The Montagu Arms

Strawberry Hill House

Swan Upping

Hotel TerraVina for Bed and Breakfast

Hotel TerraVina Dining

The Three Faces of Richard

Theatre: Memphis in London

Twickenham Stadium

Waddesdon Bequest

Warren House – Kingston

New Forest Feature

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Travel Reviews

On this page:

Agatha Christie’s Torbay

Ashdown Park Hotel

Balmer Lawn – New Forest Stay

Bel and the Dragon

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Brockencote Hall for lunch

Brooklands Hotel Surrey

Careys Manor Hotel

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Cream Tea Cruise from MBNA Thames Clippers

Eckington Manor Cookery School and B & B

The Elms Hotel Worcestershire

The English Riviera

The Fleece Inn for lunch

Fusion Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner

Ivy Roost Cottage

London Southend Airport

The Montagu Arms

Strawberry Hill House

Swan Upping

Hotel TerraVina for Bed and Breakfast

Hotel TerraVina Dining

The Three Faces of Richard

Theatre: Memphis in London

Twickenham Stadium

Waddesdon Bequest

Warren House – Kingston

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Brick lane poppadums We Londoners are a cosmopolitan bunch. That isn’t a recent phenomenon: our country has been built, over the centuries, on a diversity of cultures and that has also added to our cuisine.

The British national dish is curry. There is a curry house on every high street, with around 10,000 of them, so this isn’t just a fad. Indian food has been popular here since the days of Queen Victoria. She had her own Indian servants who would prepare delicious and spicy dishes that were so much more vibrant than the usual British fare of those times.

This two-and-a-half-hour journey through London’s Brick Lane doesn’t show you classy and polished London: it introduces the visitor to real London. It’s a neighbourhood that has had a long history and there are still streets of iconic Georgian buildings to attest to that fact. Some of those attic windows once shed light on the work of Huguenot weavers. The Brick Lane Mosque was once a Synagogue. It’s been an area that has welcomed those looking for a better life and they have all left their mark. This neighbourhood is called ‘Banglatown’ due to its high concentration of immigrants from Bangladesh. The restaurants, cafés and shops reflect that ethnicity.

Brick lane craneWe can visit any city as a tourist and we will be able to admire the architecture. We might find an interesting shop in which to browse, and restaurants abound. But even guide books can’t answer questions and they usual only cover the well-trodden path. One really needs an actual person with ‘insider’ knowledge, someone who is a regular in some different shops and restaurants, and someone who can even point out the very best of unique street art.

London Food Tours offer in-depth insights into, in this case, Brick Lane and its surrounding streets. One walks those streets, but that stroll is punctuated by bites of authentic foods. One starts the tour with a glass of British-brewed Indian beer, a plate of crispy poppadums and a selection of tangy chutneys. A very traditional start to any Bangladeshi meal in the UK.

This is a cultural tour as well as a culinary one. Our charming and able guide described points of interest in colourful detail as we made our way to the next venue, which was a supermarket. This is a box of tasty treasures for any food lover, and there was enough time to do a circuit and to carry away some home-cooking essentials. One can find a selection of those aforementioned poppadums to cook chez vous, as well as aisles of spices and tableware.

Savoury snacks called ‘telebhuja’ are popular and our next stop allowed us to try a couple. We learned about the owner of the shop as well as a little more about the goods on sale. Trays of filled and fried pastries tempted the group, who unanimously pronounced these as flavourful and moreish. They actually constituted our starter on this roving meal extravaganza.

Brick lane banana The shop next door provided our dessert, which we reserved till the end of the afternoon. Subcontinental sweets are made of copious amounts of reduced milk, sugar and butter along with exotic flavours and even decorations of real gold or silver leaf. I can highly recommend the Pistachio Barfi!

Then it was on to a refreshing glass of a yoghurt-based drink called lassi. We enjoyed this along with a brace of Bangladeshi fish curries accompanied by fluffy white rice. We ate with our hands as do the locals, although cutlery was available for the timid.

The final stop was a short walk from Brick Lane but to an iconic restaurant which has long been appreciated by Londoners. Here we enjoyed a vegetarian and a lamb curry along with light naan bread cooked in a tandoor for delicate flavour.

This is the only London Food Tours excursion I have tried but I am impressed by their attention to detail, and the professionalism and enthusiasm of our knowledgeable guide. I am a Londoner but even I benefited from a tour rather than just an independent visit, and the walk introduced me to experiences I would otherwise have missed. I look forward to going along to other such guided tours.

Monday to Sunday at 2:30pm. The food tour takes place in Brick Lane which is in the East End, an 11-minute walk from Aldgate East station. Meeting point and detailed directions are provided with your booking confirmation. The food tour ends opposite Aldgate East station and the guide can point you towards alternative public transport or call a taxi for you.

From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177

Visit London Food Tours here

food and travel reviews

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Best of England Many of us have become interested in wine. Yes, drinking it and pairing it. Remember the days when we in the UK drank just a few different wines? It wasn’t that they were so good that they became popular; truth to tell, it was all we had. Red or white from ‘various countries’. They were not different bottles from various countries but often bottles made with a blend of grapes from various countries. Rosé came in the guise of Mateus Rosé in its distinctive flat bottle. OK, I admit it, I still have a taste for that retro classic; I guess it’s familiarity.

Things have changed. We are more discerning and we are interested in not only what’s in the glass but where it came from. If it’s delicious then we want to learn more, and one might discover that the crisp sparkling white in our glass actually comes from England! It’s documented that Christopher Merret used the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, 40 years before it was claimed that Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon had invented the process which came to be called the Champagne method.

Best of England is a young and vibrant company which publishes English county guides, and now they have tours to offer visitors from the UK and across the globe. The company has quality at the heart of both books and tours. They research so you don’t have to, and they offer well-tailored trips to delight the novice wine buff as well as those with a more professional wine interest.

An English vineyard tour with Best of England is a tasting delight. One can opt for a short tour with afternoon tea, which might sound like something of an oxymoron but what better backdrop for a classic afternoon tea could there be than a lush vineyard …and a glass or two of something chilled, sparkling and reviving!

For those who are looking for an intense 3-vineyard experience then Best of England has a tour to satisfy that want. One will see how these wines are made, from growing vines to corking and labelling the final product. Visitors will meet the winemakers and hear their individual stories, and there will be an opportunity (of course) to sample the wines.


Best of England Bolney have been making wine since 1972. Their wines are well-regarded and can be enjoyed in this family-run winery. The estate is 39 acres and has a café offering gourmet lunches, as well as tastings.

Ridgeview is another family-run vineyard, outside the picturesque village of Ditchling. It has outstanding views over the dramatic South Downs Ridge. They produce award-winning sparkling wines using traditional methods.

Rathfinny Wine Estate is found in the Cuckmere Valley and three miles from the sea. The vineyard is 600 acres and over the past three years they have planted 72 hectares of vines; by 2020, they will be one of England’s largest vineyards. All the buildings here have been constructed with locally sourced materials, using sustainable technologies such as photovoltaic cells and wastewater recycling. Rathfinny Estate have worked with the National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority to open the ‘Rathfinny Trail’ so that visitors can arrive by foot or by bike.

All of these established and thriving wineries show different philosophies of production and growing, giving an impression of the progress made in English viticulture over the past decade.

Best of England make wine education fun and accessible, whether you are novice or professional. They arrange everything for a stress-free day of tasting in the most delicious fashion. Just turn up at the railway station and leave the arrangements to this imaginative company.

Learn more about Best of England here.

food and travel reviews

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

Luton Hoo Champagne is the quintessential celebration drink. We enjoy it with friends and loved ones, accompanied by fine foods, perhaps in a drawing room with high ceilings, Grinling Gibbons wood carvings and sumptuous drapes. Well, OK, most of us can’t manage that stunning setting …but Luton Hoo can!

Luton Hoo is an English Country House Hotel with acres of grounds and piles of history. Yes, there are many country house hotels – the UK is blessed with these magnificent properties which are now enjoying a new life as classy accommodations for discerning guests. Luton Hoo is arguably one of the finest examples of its genre.

A stay laced with dinner and champagne was likely to be memorable, and indeed it was. Luton Hoo offers several wine dinners every year and they are understandably popular with regular visitors, those who are celebrating, and others who are interested in learning more about the best of wines.

Luton HooTaittinger is a French wine company which is still family-owned and run. They are recognised as producers of outstanding Champagnes. The company is led by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger. The estate was founded in 1734 by Jacques Fourneaux. The Taittingers were a family of wine merchants who, in 1870, moved to the Paris region from the Lorraine in order to retain their French citizenship after the Franco-Prussian War and the Treaty of Frankfurt. In 1932 Pierre Taittinger bought the Château de la Marquetterie from the wine house of Forest-Fourneaux.

From 1945 to 1960 the business was run by Pierre's third son François. Under his direction the Taittinger cellars were established in the Abbey of Saint-Nicaise, built in the thirteenth century. After François' death his brother Claude took over and directed the business from 1960 to 2005. It was during this time that Taittinger became known around the world.

The vineyards of the château had been planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the 18th Century. They are the grapes which are most commonly used in Champagne production. To be called Champagne a wine must be made from grapes grown in that region and must be made using the classic Champagne method. Wines made with this method but from grapes grown elsewhere are just sparkling wines.

Luton Hoo Taittinger Brut Reserve Champagne Non-Vintage was served with our pre-dinner canapes. This was poured from Magnum bottles, offering a subtly different experience from that to be had from the same wine from a regular bottle. This was a light Champagne, pale in colour with fine bubbles and made with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. Plenty of green apples on the nose, fruit and honey on the palate and a well-chosen pairing with the oyster and sweet potato nibbles. A Champagne to drink with delicately flavoured food.

Taittinger Prelude, a non-vintage blend of grapes from Grand Cru sites, is made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and accompanied our starter of pan-fried scallops with a garnish of hazelnuts, clementine gel and orange crisp. The Champagne presented full aromatics with fresh citrus notes mirroring the dish, and had a pleasantly long finish.

Luton Hoo Our main course of Guinea fowl boudin with chestnut and date stuffing, cèpe cream and winter truffles was paired with both Taittinger Vintage 2008 and the 2003. It was a rare opportunity to taste and compare two vintage Champagnes. Most Champagnes are not vintage, allowing the producers to present consistent quality in their styles of wine. When a year is particularly good a vineyard may elect to make a special vintage Champagne. Both wines were distinctive but the majority of the table agreed that the 2003 had a more robust persona and was the best balance for the meat. I would suggest that perhaps the 2008 would have been the more popular had the sauce not contained truffle, which was a dominant flavour.

Taittinger Nocturne Sec Non-Vintage paired very well with our dessert of striking autumn berry pudding with buttermilk foam and brioche crisp. This wine is made with a higher 'dosage' (added sugar), making it noticeably sweeter. It has a pale yellow colour and delicate bubbles. It’s soft and fresh and made a delicious pairing with the fruity dessert.

Luton Hoo The evening was not just a pairing dinner but something of a masterclass, with able and amusing Kevin McKee. He was ideally placed to deliciously educate the guests, being Director of Taittinger Champagne UK.

But the food was never overshadowed by the expressive wines. Each dish was a triumph of taste and form. The Wernher Restaurant Sous Chef, Aimee Reddick, is definitely a chef in ascendance. Aimee first joined the team in October 2013 as a Junior Sous Chef and now has a more senior role, heading a team of five Junior Chefs. This was a fine-dining meal of both quality and innovation. I had not visited The Wernher, Luton Hoo’s main restaurant, but if this is an indication of the quality of food then it must surely be considered a destination restaurant with an outstanding chef. I look forward to tasting the regular restaurant menu in the future.

Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa
The Mansion House
Bedfordshire LU1 3TQ

Phone: +44 (0)1582 734437

Learn more about Luton Hoo events here
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Cream Tea Cruise from MBNA Thames Clippers

I am a Londoner and I am ashamed to say that I rarely take advantage of visiting our iconic and internationally-appreciated historic and cultural sites, unless I just happen to be passing. The Thames is our ancient thoroughfare, but now work vessels are mostly a thing of distant memory – that watery road is these days the domain prominently of pleasure craft.

There are commuter services, but for the most part the river is a playground for visitors. It’s a shame that more of us Londoners don’t take a look at our city from the vantage point of the river. The Thames is steeped in history, legends and stories and it’s all spread along the banks of this famous river.

Cream Tea Cruise from MBNA Thames Clippers MBNA Thames Clippers offers services into central London from 20 piers across the capital. They start from Woolwich in the east and continue to Putney in leafy west London. They have convenient schedules with departures every 20 minutes. The MBNA Thames Clippers’ River Roamer ticket is particularly popular with tourists, who can take advantage of unlimited hop-on/hop-off service to and from more than a dozen piers.

These new and stylish boats now offer their passengers a unique service: a daily traditional cream tea. It’s a couple of fresh-baked scones, a pot of jam and even the indispensable clotted cream. There is a cup of tea which will be replenished as often as you like, and there is even coffee, although that wouldn’t be at all traditional. For those in a celebratory mood one can upgrade with a glass of Champagne. Sit and sip and watch London drift by.

This floating tea is sight-seeing in comfort. One gets to view London from another perspective and from a warm and cosy sitting position. The trip takes an hour and travels past the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and The London Eye. There is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern and the dome of St. Pauls, and you will cruise under some of London’s most celebrated bridges such as Tower Bridge and London Bridge. A blue-badge guide will provide a commentary during the sailing whilst pointing out interesting landmarks. Even locals will likely learn something new and fascinating about the river and those who have lived, worked and died along its length.

Any keen photographer will love the opportunity to take pictures of different aspects of famous buildings without the heads of fellow travellers getting into shot. You are at the same level as other river traffic and looking up at buildings and bridges, so one can truly appreciate the architecture.

The Cream Tea Cruise departs from London Bridge Pier at 15:30 and lasts for one hour. Prices start from £16.90 for the cream tea and sightseeing cruise. Champagne upgrade is extra.

For information on what’s on at Thames Clippers please visit here

food and travel reviews

Warren House – Kingston

warren house We might be in London for a short holiday. We see the sights, monuments, museums. We shop till we drop and we are swept along by throngs of others looking for the same delights of retail therapy. But there is another vision of England. It’s that ‘green and pleasant land’ of manicured gardens, country houses and calm. There is just such an idyll and it’s only a short distance from central London.

A magnificent Victorian country house provides a step back in time to a gentler era where the sound of croquet balls being hit might likely be the only noise to remind one that there are other people about. Warren House has history, gentility and charm. Its fabric is original but there are modern amenities to pacify even the addicted iPhoner or business-oriented sort.

Warren House is set in landscaped gardens, with facilities for both commerce and leisure. But this area has been documented for hundreds of years. Since the Middle Ages the neighbourhood has been on the route from London to Portsmouth.  Kingston Hill was well established even before Charles I enclosed Richmond Park in 1637. Small estates were established during the late 18th and early 19th Century, and in 1837 His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III, acquired the seat of the late Earl of Liverpool at Coombe. The improved road to London brought the City within an hour’s carriage ride, and the area began to attract the wealthy.

The original Warren House was built in 1860 for Hugh Hammersley on 16 acres of land leased from the Duke of Cambridge. Hammersley was a partner in the successful London firm Cox and Co, bankers to the British Army and they must have done very good business. The estate remained his country retreat until his death in 1882, when it was bequeathed to his wife Dulcibella, an ancestor of Sir Anthony Eden, a future Prime Minister.
George Grenfell Glynn, the second Baron Wolverton, purchased the house and land in 1884 and made additions to both. His wife, Lady Georgiana Wolverton, was great friends with Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, mother of the future Queen Mary, who lived at White Lodge in Richmond Park. Lady Georgiana continued to live at Warren House until her death in 1894.

warren house American heiress Lady Mary ‘Minnie’ Paget bought the freehold of the property in 1907 and regularly entertained the rich and the powerful at Warren House. Many of the noteworthy features of the House - the Ballroom, the Persian fireplace, the Italian-style Loggia and the Winter Garden and its Grotto - were added by the Pagets. Warren House passed to her daughter, Dame Leila Paget. She was the first British Dame, honoured for her work with the Red Cross in Serbia during First World War. She continued this charitable work during the Second World War when she converted Warren House into a military convalescent home.

The industrial giant ICI used Warren House as a Conference and Training Centre until 2000. Since 2005 Warren House has been in private family ownership, and continues as a fine conference and events facility, but it’s also an intimate hotel and just perfect for a short break. The hotel has 46 well-appointed bedrooms, a lounge, a bar, four inside dining spaces, a fully-equipped cardiovascular gym, a sauna and a heated indoor swimming pool. Outside is a garden chess set as well as the aforementioned croquet lawn.

warren house The hotel still sports many original features including a magnificent carved wooden staircase. One still has the sense of staying in a private stately home. The rooms have classic décor which works perfectly with the architecture. Bath/shower rooms are modern and the toiletries are covetable. Warren House is grand but comfortably accessible and timeless.

After a tough day sitting in the shade of a tree, playing garden games or reading a book, one will likely be starving and longing for dinner. The Persian Dining Room is stunningly beautiful with exotic Eastern mouldings and a striking fireplace that would be considered a centrepiece were it not for the fact that it’s in a corner.

The menu is interesting, well-balanced and tempting. My starter was a smoked haddock scotch egg. In fact there were 2 miniature scotch eggs, each containing a quail’s egg surrounded by delicately flavoured smoked fish. My guest’s starter was an equally light and innovative bowl of grilled courgettes, peas, ricotta mousse and Gremolata sauce. Both these dishes were flavoursome and very different. The chef was already showing his credentials.

warren house My companion’s main course sounded interesting and hearty. This was a substantial serving of confit duck leg with duck liver and pomegranate, served with spiced aubergine. The leg was cooked to perfection but those livers were like butter. I am not normally a lover of anything offally but these were savoury yet not overpowering in any way. This dish is a must-try for any meat-lover when they visit Warren House.

But vegetarians are not forgotten and I was intrigued by a cauliflower steak, cauliflower beignet and crispy couscous. This was a unique vegetable dish that turned the humble cauli into a triumph of design and flavour. The slice of vegetable had organic architectural elegance and the grilling gave additional flavour; the battered vegetables were moreish and airy. Yes, only a plate of veggies but it was satisfying and memorable.

My guest has ever been a man ready to sacrifice himself on the altar of dessert, so he ordered the banana mousse and glazed bananas. The presentation was attractive with short columns of banana topped with crunchy caramel, flanking the mousse which had concentrated flavour – once again the chef showing that simple ingredients can be elevated into something noble.

We spent just one night at the Warren House hotel but that has acted as an encouragement to return. The grounds are lush and leafy, the fountains romantic, the rooms are havens for the weary, and the food is sumptuous.

warren house Take a little time away from the capital on your next trip to London. Kingston has great public transport connections, and if it’s an hour away by horse-drawn carriage then you can bet it’s quicker by train (from Waterloo) or car. There is even a river boat for those who want extra adventure and have the lightest of luggage. Warren House is a world away from the usual London hotel chains, and won’t disappoint.

Warren House
Warren Road
Surrey KT2 7HY

Phone: +44 (0)20 8547 1777
Fax: +44 (0)20 8547 1175


Visit Warren House here

food and travel reviews

Bel, the Dragon and the Village

Bel and The Dragon Sounds like the title of an improbable fable or fairy tale but here it all is and not far from London. Yes, there is more to Britain than just the tourist attractions of our Capital. It would be a shame to come here and just visit those well-publicised spots.

Churt is an old village even by Old World standards and here it sits in the western part of the county of Surrey. A narrow band of fertile soil in this area has enabled people to live here since prehistoric times. Within a small area archaeologists have discovered a mammoth tusk and bones, flint tools from the Neolithic period, burial mounds from the Bronze Age, and Roman settlements. The village name can be found on documents as far back as 688 when King Cadwaella of Wessex gave some land in Churt to the church to celebrate his conversion to Christianity. As a result successive Bishops of Winchester became Churt’s Lords of the Manor and that state lasted for more than 1,000 years. The village was one of the 13 tithings or sections of the Bishop’s Great Manor of Farnham. Near the parish church, which was built in the 1860s, is the old forge built in about 1600. A barn nearby was built in the 16th century in wooden Tudor style on a brick plinth.

Its convenient proximity to London has made this the home of many a TV presenter and sports personality. Writer Jane Austen lived just over the border in Hampshire. David Lloyd George was Britain’s Prime Minister during part of the First World War (1914-18); when he retired from Parliament he had a house built in Churt and called it Bron y De, which is Welsh for ‘south hill’.

The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a large natural amphitheatre not far from Churt and it’s a place surrounded by colourful legends. The name Devil’s Punch Bowl is first referred to in 1768 in John Rocque’s map. Before that it was known as “ye Bottom”. The soil in this part of Surrey has two layers - an upper layer of sandstone, with clay underneath that. This deep depression of the Bowl is believed to be the result of erosion caused by spring water beneath the sandstone causing the upper level to collapse, creating the Devil’s Punch Bowl.

Bel and The Dragon Local legend has it that during the Middle Ages the Devil became so enraged by construction of churches in the neighbouring county of Sussex that he decided to dig a ditch from the English Channel, through the South Downs, in order to flood the area. He got as far as the village of Poynings, an area known as the Devil’s Dyke, when he was disturbed by a cock crowing. Assuming that dawn was about to break, he leapt across to Surrey, and where he landed became the Devil’s Punch Bowl. But travellers will want to actually stay in Churt and have a handy home-from-home as a base from which to explore and in which to relax, eat and sleep. That’s where we encounter yet another legend. It’s about Bel and the Dragon and that tale gives its name to one of the most delightful hotels I have ever visited. But what of that story? It’s a combination of tales from the Bible and mythology, involving Daniel, the priests of a pagan god, and a dragon - because all the best stories have dragons!

Bel and The Dragon at Churt is a beautifully restored country inn and just the sort that overseas visitors seek but seldom find. It looks a typical chocolate-box old pub from the outside but the inside is a picture of good taste, thoughtful design and cosy comfort.

Everything here reminds one of home. Well, not my home exactly, but the home of someone who has a degree in Interior Design and another one in Hospitality. One has the sense that the owner might walk in with a gun over one arm and a brace of hounds at his heels. He would warmly welcome the guest to his home and enquire if they might need anything. A glass of something reviving, perhaps? Another log for the fire? In truth it won’t be the local squire who will pamper the traveller but a team of staff members who will likely look after you so well that you won’t want to leave.

Bel and The Dragon relaxes the weary mind with its muted colours. Soft sofas beckon from every corner. Shelves groan under the weight of classic novels. Lamps shed restful light on pages describing by-gone days, and one’s batteries are recharged in delightful fashion. Is this really the 21st century? Yes, modern amenities and technology are installed but the service here is from an age when guests expected the best and got it. If one can tear oneself away from that good book then there is the private space of one’s bedroom. Upstairs, the 14 bedrooms are each named after a Jane Austen character. Each is beautifully appointed with distressed furniture, Roberts radio, cast-iron radiators and real alarm clocks. Each is individually designed but I was impressed with mine to the point of amused laughter. The bed was huge and well-pillowed. The bathroom was of sufficient size to be considered a reasonable ballroom. The bath was classic with fittings to match and there were still more books over which to pore while relaxing in steamy tranquillity. There is plenty of wardrobe space and that closet didn’t have the usual safe attached to the wall and sufficient only for an iPhone and a pair of cufflinks. No, here it’s a gun safe - tall and narrow but one which has probably never seen a firearm in its life.

Bel and The Dragon Visitors are treated as responsible adults here so there is a refreshment room with all the fixin’s for a cuppa tea or a cuppa Joe, as well as decanters of whisky from which to help oneself. Did I mention that each room is furnished with a bottle of damson vodka or sloe gin? Binge drinking isn’t expected and Bel and The Dragon seems to attract the class of guest that wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. This is accessible refinement.

Bel and The Dragon is part of a group and each one is a property of charm and character. The owners have taken a pride in their customer service and quality of hospitality. This inn offers travellers a glimpse of luxurious rustic charm, comfortable elegance and timeless warmth. It’s only 45 minutes from London and is surrounded by countryside and history. This is authentic England.

Bel and the Dragon
Jumps Road
GU10 2LD
Phone: +44 1428 605799
Visit Bel and the Dragon Churt at

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Twickenham Stadium – World rugby and local icon

Twickenham stadium Twickenham Stadium, just like Wembley Stadium, is usually known by its address rather than its function. Wembley is mostly just ‘Wembley’ and Twickenham is ‘Twickenham’ with rarely the word ‘stadium’ getting a mention. That’s likely due to its long history and the popular respect for the institution. Twickenham is the largest stadium in the world devoted just to the sport of Rugby Union and the second-largest stadium in the UK after the aforementioned Wembley.

The stadium is surrounded by 1930s housing, a park and a Tesco. It looms up at one from quite a distance away. It’s solid. It’s concrete. It’s been around since 1907 in some form or other and it has become part of local life. I know: I am a local.

There are those less fortunate who have a football stadium at the end of their road. They will automatically be driven to offer sympathetic cooing noises and words of support to the Twickenham resident, but it’s really not necessary. Our match attendees are civil, funny, no doubt very ‘cheery’ by the end of the day but they are inoffensive and safe to be around. It seems that it truly is a game played by gentlemen for gentlemen …well, if one applies that designation rather loosely.

Twickenham stadium The ground offers tours for enthusiastic rugby supporters but also for the rest of us who are just curious about the building. It’s much more than a swathe of lush green, hand-mown grass surrounded by a good number of seats. This is also a juggernaut of hospitality which one wouldn’t notice from the vantage point of a cosy TV-match-watching sofa at home, and probably not even if one was perched on a seat inside the stadium. There is another world under those terraces.

There is much talk of World War One these days and 27 Rugby International players from England lost their lives, along with international players from other countries too. They are remembered in a temporary exhibition at the stadium museum and in a poignant painting that few spectators will see. It’s of the team just before the war. One might note that some of them have grey badges. They were the young men that didn’t return home. Take an organised tour and you will be able to see this reminder of the futility of war.

The full-time museum offers an overview of the game of rugby from its beginnings to latest developments. It has a pile of priceless memorabilia including the Calcutta Cup, which is a finely-worked masterpiece made in India out of melted-down rupees. And there is a corner where young wanabes can try their athletic skills against machines that will test their strength, speed and agility.

Twickenham is a hive of entertaining venues and you will be able to visit some of these on your tour. There are private hospitality boxes with screens for watching the game while never leaving the comfort of your gin and tonic. There is the President’s Suite for VIP visits. There is the Members Lounge and its long bar with a frieze of bottles and sporting heroes of yesteryear, and there is a quiet wood-panelled meeting room that is lined with pictures of past presidents. It has the air of a private members club, and that’s what it is.

It’s the dressing room that will get the big and little boys (and some girls) dreaming. This space, along with the tunnel, has recently been refurbished in preparation for the World Cup. Yes, you will see the cubicles, baths, showers and medical area. There is a screen for analysing the game at half time and even a media area for players plugging in. For some, this dressing room is the reason to come, to hear about match-day routines and to imagine themselves trotting through the tunnel.

Twickenham stadium For other supporters the sight of the pristine and bright green turf will be the highlight of the tour. There are 82,000 seats surrounding that bit of grass. The majority are for supporters but there are the upholstered ones for royalty and dignitaries, and a couple nearer the pitch labelled Sin Bin! The grass is lovingly tended by a crew who mow it, not with a sit-on contraption but with little power-driven mowers that they push in impeccably straight lines. It’s a tight turf and as smooth as a billiard table. As part of the tour there is a pitch-side walk which will really give the visitor an impression of the drama of those match days.

The tour is operated in partnership with The World Rugby Museum. All of the Twickenham Stadium Tour Guides are trained by a blue-badge holder, and tours can be tailored to the needs of any particular group. The price of the tour also includes admission to the World Rugby Museum which is well worth a visit.

Learn more here

travel reviews

Brooklands Hotel Surrey

Brooklands Hotel Surrey I live in West London but whenever I consider a weekend break I turn right instead of left at the end of the road. That takes me to central London with the thronging crowds, fuss and rush. Lots of excitement, it’s true, but it hardly constitutes relaxation, and perhaps if I turn left there could be something remarkably different.

Surrey’s stylish Brooklands Hotel is how management describe this facility. Well, I have heard it all before and have so often been disappointed and have come away from what should have been a calming interlude with a mind full of self-doubt regarding my sense of good taste. Hotels with contrived edginess or faux-Victorian charm have never quite worked for me. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Brooklands Hotel honestly was stylish and absolutely fit for purpose.

The hotel has contemporary class writ large. Its tapered columns and sweeping lines remind me of the Bauhaus movement which actually fits well with the era of the original Brooklands racing track and Art Deco. Its entrance is lofty from a distance but acquiring more human proportions close-up. It has recently added 11 new bedrooms and renamed four of the hotel’s super suites, and those suites are huge and well-appointed.

Brooklands Hotel is closely associated with the iconic race track which was opened in 1907. So closely associated that the window from my suite overlooked the aforementioned circuit. A quartz and granite outline of the original track runs through the reception and art-deco motifs have been introduced. There is a striking Charlie Whinny wood sculpture in the atrium which has been inspired by the curves of the race track.Brooklands Hotel Surrey

The suites are sumptuous at Brooklands and my wide terrace offered uninterrupted views of the modern Mercedes-Benz World race track as well as the famous bank of the original. The skid pan acted like a slippery magnet for amateur thrill-seekers trying their hands (and feet) at Brooklands and a completion of a round or two would indeed be something of which to brag to the grandchildren! There are 131 bedrooms here and the hotel can boast some of the largest rooms of any UK hotel. Every guest can enjoy light and airy rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, many of the rooms offering panoramic views of the neighbouring Mercedes-Benz World race track.

The ‘Selwyn Edge’ Suite was mine, for the night at least. It’s named after a racing driver as are all the suites. In June 1907, Selwyn Edge broke the 24-hour distance record, driving a 60 hp Napier Six, at Brooklands. In 1922 he returned to Brooklands in a Spyker, setting a new "Double 12" world record at an average speed of 74.27 mph for the aggregate 24 hours.

This suite was furnished and decorated in muted tones and with furniture that would have complemented any high-end 1930s apartment.Brooklands Hotel Surrey A propeller plane in shiny steel was just what one would see gracing the desk of an industrial mogul in old black-and-white movies. One decorative touch that completed the elegant statement.

One might be tempted to linger on that balcony but the spa is waiting with treatments aplenty, and loungers on which to, well, lounge. There is a well-equipped gym for those with temple-like bodies and a café for the rest of us. Brooklands is one of those hotels that offers couples with diverse interests a unique escape. The men, and lots of women too, will want a little time behind the wheel while others will be content to unwind with some pampering and a good book.

Brooklands Hotel has excellent facilities including the AA Rosette-winning ‘1907 Restaurant Bar & Grill’ headed up by celebrated chef Norman Farquharson, making this hotel something of a mini resort. Not only does Brooklands have easy access to the Mercedes-Benz World race track but the Brooklands Museum is just a few minutes’ walk away and that will likely be popular with everybody.

I am impressed by Brooklands Hotel. It has accessible charm, thoughtful accents, beauty and great amenities. The food is outstanding and service is friendly. One can truly step away from the cares of the world here while glimpsing a corner of another age of fast living.

Brooklands Hotel Surrey Brooklands Hotel
Brooklands Drive
KT13 0SL

Main Hotel Number: +44 (0) 1932 335700

Reservations: +44 (0) 1932 335710

Meeting & Events: +44 (0) 1932 335720

Visit Brooklands Hotel here

International hotel reviews

London Southend Airport

Southend airport I am a West London girl (OK, more accurately, mature woman of a certain age) and therefore ideally positioned for Heathrow. I have had reasonable travel experiences at Gatwick and Stansted which are equally described as ‘London’ airports even though the Oyster Card falls short of those marks. But Southend sounded a long way off – I guess because it’s on the coast and kinda Eastish.

Journey time from London Liverpool Street Station to Southend Airport is in fact only 53 minutes. That makes it a contender even for those from the Wild West. But there are a couple of considerable bonuses. First, and this is a huge advantage, the railway station is actually at the airport. No, not a ‘convenient and friendly’ shuttle-bus ride away, but actually at the airport and an honest few yards from arriving or departing planes.

The first train arrives at Southend Airport Railway Station at around 6.30am, with the last train departing at just past 11pm. There is the X30 coach service which runs through the night and taxis are also available. At peak times up to 8 trains an hour from Central London arrive at Southend Airport. Average price for a single (off-peak) ticket is £14.90 - discounts available for rail cards, travel cards and groups.

The second advantage is you won’t need parking. Public transport can often be the most economic mode of getting to an airport if you are a lone traveller or if there are only two of you. No fuel to pay and no parking fees incurred. There are, naturally, plenty of parking spaces if that is more convenient for families.

Southend Airport is new and spacious. One can grab a snack, and in future there will be more retail outlets. But it’s the lack of crowds that is appealing. It takes only a couple of minutes from the check-in and bag-drop to passport control and security.  There was actually no queueing for security on my visit and that was something of a marvel. There seems to be the expectation of increased capacity so one hopes that this outstandingly speedy service will continue, as it makes such a positive difference to the travel experience of Southend Airport visitors. The airlines have a target of 700,000 additional London Southend passengers within three years.

southend airport Business and first-class passengers are not forgotten. There is a private lounge with the expected polished facilities of these retreats: hot drinks, soft drinks, alcohol, snacks and comfy chairs. I suspect that this lounge will be sought less often here than in other international airports due to the lack of crowds, but it’s a necessary bolt-hole and appreciated by the discerning flyer.

So the airport is easy to get to and pleasant when one is there; but an airport, however smart, is rarely the destination for a traveller. Where might one be going from Southend Airport? Well, there’s a surprisingly comprehensive menu of destinations in Europe and throughout the UK. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Holland have flights from Southend. All the Flybe-branded routes are operated by Stobart Air (yes, the lorry people) and over £120 million has been invested by the Stobart Group since Southend Airport was acquired in 2008. Aer Lingus also has three daily return services between London Southend and Dublin, where travellers are able to take advantage of transatlantic connections to Boston, Chicago, New York, Orlando, San Francisco and Toronto. To anyone who has had to endure the iffy ‘welcome’ by US passport and security staff on their home territory, Dublin Airport’s own US Preclearance service might offer, at least, a degree of ordinary civility.

Southend Airport might be small but it’s perfectly formed, and conveniently located. The flights allow travellers direct access to cities not served by other UK airports. Facilities are new and, at present, not under pressure. It’s a model for other airports which might like to strive to offer a better customer experience.

London Southend Airport Company Limited
Southend Airport
Southend on Sea

General Enquiries
Tel: +44 (0) 1702 538500
Fax: +44 (0) 1702 538501

Car Park Enquiries

Visit Southend Airport here

For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here

travel reviews

Ashdown Park Hotel

International hotel review Ashdown Forest is an ancient area of heathland about 30 miles (48 km) south of London in East Sussex. It was once a medieval hunting forest created soon after the Norman conquest of 1066. The Forest continued to be used by royalty and the nobility for hunting into Tudor times. King Henry VIII, the monarch who had a run of bad luck with wives, had a hunting lodge at Bolebroke Castle, and courted the unfortunate Anne Boleyn at nearby Hever Castle.

Ashdown Forest is famous as the setting for the children’s (and adults’) Winnie-the-Pooh stories, written by A. A. Milne. The first book featuring Winnie was published in 1926 and the second book, The House at Pooh Corner, was published a year later.

The first grand house was erected on the present site in 1815 either by Thomas Bradford or by Rear Admiral The Honourable Jacob Henniker. In 1867 the estate was bought by MP Thomas Charles Thompson and he demolished the original building and built the Gothic Victorian manor house which remains as part of this striking hotel.  Later owners of the house included G K T Fisher who inherited the estate but was killed during the First World War.  The house later became a convent and remained in church hands for the next 50 years. Nuns had their small cells in the East Wing and lived in typical nun-like simplicity.

The building was acquired by the Elite Group in 1993 and beautifully presented as a 4-star hotel, retaining original features but with the benefit of modern technology. The grounds are impressive with landscaped lawns, mature trees and deer strolling (or is that trotting) around even close to the hotel building. The drive to the front door entices the visitor with the expectation of something special: Ashdown Park Hotel is not only special but delightfully unique.

This large imposing building exudes classic charm but there is nothing stuffy or stiff here. It has all the polish and more of a 4-star hotel but the friendliness of the staff makes one feel that this could be a family-run B&B – admittedly the largest and best appointed you would ever find, but it’s that personal touch that is so welcoming.

International hotel review We arrived at Ashdown Park Hotel on a cold and blustery afternoon. The reception introduces the guest to the style of the hotel: a wide, sweeping staircase, rich soft furnishings, paintings, a piano and an open fire. We were escorted to our room via a veritable labyrinth of corridors. These were evidently cloisters in the building’s previous incarnation and were lined with leaded windows of obscured glass, perhaps so the novice nuns would not be distracted by the excitement of a tree or a squirrel with bare ankles.

Our room was huge, with another piano in one corner. The remaining space still left sufficient room for a game of carpet bowls. Double doors in oak and panels in the same wood were evocative of another age. The four-poster bed was made up with huge fluffy pillows and a duvet that was both light and warm, and crisp white sheets that would later be turned down by attentive staff. The bathroom was in marble with a selection of Molton and Brown toiletries. These are some of the best soaps and gels around and their inclusion in the hotel package shows a no-corner-cutting approach to guest comfort.

International hotel review Room facilities included satellite television with radio, direct dial telephone with voicemail, digital clock radio, broadband internet access, tea and coffee making facilities, personal safe, trouser press, hairdryer, mineral water, fluffy towelling bathrobes, slippers and a pile of books. These were Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens and just right for this location, as their novels always described a grand house with a four-poster – although these days we can enjoy the benefit of central heating.

It could be tempting to snuggle in the warm but there is plenty to do without even leaving the grounds. A golf course is here, which will suit the beginner as well as the enthusiastic frequent player. It’s an 18-hole, Par 3 course which I am sure will mean something to the sporty set. Anyway it’s a healthy walk around a stunning park.

For the rest of us who are content to gently unwind Ashdown Park offers exclusive spa treatments by Kerstin Florian, who specialises in using natural elements including mineral water, mud, algae, herbal extracts and essential oils. You can be pampered into a contented doze. Guests at the hotel can make full use of the club's facilities, which include an indoor heated swimming pool, whirlpool, sauna and steam room.

Revitalise Spa Salon opening times:
Sun – Wed 09.00 – 18.00
Thurs – Sat 09.00 – 20.30

International hotel review There is a wealth of character here to remind the guest of the building’s history. The chapel still exists but it's now an event space that hosts society wedding parties. There is a mezzanine floor which doubles the space and can accommodate large functions in a self-contained area with its own bar.

The walls of those cloister hallways are hung with sepia pictures of nuns going about their duties in this very building. Granted, it was spartan in those days but I don’t doubt that those nuns would have looked after the fabric of the building better than any other group. There is crispness about the architecture here alongside the sympathetic modernisation. Stained glass glints and wood glows, and it’s as if time stood still round about 1930.

The word Anderida is Roman in origin, meaning ‘hunting ground’, but it’s also the name of the destination restaurant at Ashdown Park. It has 2 AA rosettes: just one glance at the restaurant and you will be assured that they are well deserved.

The Anderida is classically beautiful with high windows giving views across the lawns to the lake with its fountains. White linen is snowy in contrast to the gold of the upholstery and walls. The tables are laid with fine china, glasses and tall elegant white candles. Yes, that’s the word, elegant, and that quality is reflected is both furnishings and food. This room has doubtless changed considerably since those days when the sisters glided around the rooms, although you might still see the occasional little black dress. The right colour but just lacking those extra yards of fabric.

International hotel review Executive chef Andrew Wilson (see interview here) describes his food as Contemporary British. He sources his fresh produce locally whenever possible but his presentation is modern and his combination of ingredients is inspired. The arrangement might be 21st century but service here harks back to a gentler age when dining room etiquette was de rigeur. Main dishes arrive domed, with these covers being simultaneously raised for every diner at the table. I have always loved the theatre of that flourish.
Those domes might be covering Gressingham Duck Spring Roll, Seared Squid, Oriental Fillet Dumplings and Ginger. That’s one of Andrew’s signature dishes although he is not keen on that term. He prefers to say that it’s the one of the dishes that is always on the menu.

My starter was a Pithivier (‘pithivier’ is a round, enclosed pie) filled with duck on a bed of greens. The duck was moist and flavourful and the pastry flaky. A delicious parcel with potential to be a main course if one used a saucer instead of a tumbler-sized cutter.

Andrew had recommended the Beef Wellington as he is particularly proud of the beef, which is hung for 30 days or so. This was real Beef Wellington rather than the increasingly popular deconstructed version of separately cooked pastry and beef. Andrew is a Wellington purist: a fillet of beef with a layer of paté and then wrapped in pancakes before being encased in puff pastry. The centre of the beef was rosy and just rare enough not to ooze red juices. Don’t miss this if it’s on the menu.

Another nod to timeless tradition is the trolleys. A cheese trolley is a rarity these days but it’s a sight to savour. The Anderida offers a selection of British cheeses and a guest local cheese accompanied by homemade bread, relishes, celery, grapes and apples; and it’s been a long time since I have seen a silver box containing crackers. Taking cheese here is an event.

International hotel review For those with a sweet tooth there is the dessert trolley. You will likely have been admiring this during the course of your dinner. You might even have made up your mind which of these confections has your name on it, even before it is steered in your direction.

The top shelf held a glossy chocolate gateau. It’s the type of centrepiece that takes courage to order. Nobody wants to be the first to take a slice and ruin its divine symmetry. The rest of the trolley groaned under the weight of strudel, fruit pie, mousse and also fruit salad for those who have rather over-indulged in the previous courses.

Ashdown Park Hotel offers accessible refinement from the moment you drive through the gates, to your last sip of breakfast tea. The guest is made to feel welcome and important. The service is second to none with those old-fashioned touches that make a difference. An Elite hotel indeed.

Monday to Friday: 7am – 9.30am
Saturday: 7am – 10am
Sunday: 8am – 10am

Monday to Saturday: 12pm – 2pm
Sunday Lunch: 12.30pm - 3pm

Sunday to Thursday: 7pm – 9:30pm
Friday and Saturday: 7pm - 10pm

Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club
Wych Cross,
Nr Forest Row,
East Sussex
RH18 5JR
Phone: 01342 824988
Fax: 01342 826206
Visit Ashdown Park here

London hotel reviews

The English Riviera

English Riviera It sounds unlikely, ‘English Riviera’, but it honestly does have some of those much-admired attributes of its French counterpart. We think of smart restaurants, sand, yachts and palms, and yes, our home-grown version has all that plus a few advantages that the Continental one doesn’t. It’s not so far from home, the waiters aren’t as rude and it’s a lot cheaper.

The Torbay area has been inhabited since Palaeolithic times and Roman soldiers are known to have visited Torquay during the period when Britain was a part of the Roman Empire, leaving offerings at the rock formation in Kents Cavern known as "The Face". Both Brixham and Paignton appear in the Domesday Book, and Paignton was given the status of a borough having a market and fair in 1294. There is a statue in Brixham to William Prince of Orange (afterwards King William III) who landed there on 5 November 1688.

English Riviera Torbay hosted the sailing events for the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, the first Olympics after the war, and the organisers couldn’t have found a better spot. The English Riviera lies along a 22 mile stretch of South Devon’s coastline. It encompasses the three main towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham and has international Geopark status (a territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value). It has that celebrated mild climate which allows the cultivation of palms and other exotic plants.

Some of the very best West Country produce can be found on the English Riviera and there is even a dedicated Food and Drink Trail. One can find home-made ciders, beers, wines and cheeses as well as the freshest of fish and farm produce. Every visitor would have heard of the famous Devon Cream Tea and the English Riviera offers lots of venues for a nice sit-down, a cuppa and a plate of warm scones. These are served with cream and jam, but traditional cakes of all kinds can be found in cafés and tearooms the length of the coast.

Torquay has an attractive and sophisticated waterfront with pavement cafés reminiscent of those on that other Riviera, and chic seafood restaurants, and there is a selection of boutiques to gladden the heart of anyone in need of retail therapy. You will find much more to buy here than a bucket and spade. At night you have theatres and bars. Food and drink events in Torquay showcase the very best in local produce but its restaurants are open all year to allow the visitor to taste the local seafood.

English Riviera One of the most iconic of smart hotels in Torquay is The Palace. It stands on 25 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens extending to the sea. It’s one of the largest hotels in Torquay and boasts classically comfy rooms and public spaces as well as sports facilities. One can swim and play golf and, naturally, croquet. Those aforementioned caverns are only a short walk from the hotel, for those who want to spend a more leisurely few hours.

Paignton remained a small fishing village until the early 19th century when a new harbour was built in 1837. Paignton has five attractive beaches including Goodrington Sands which has the UK's only outdoor waterpark. Occombe Farm and Cookery School near Paignton provides fresh, local and organic produce and cookery workshops. Chocolatier Tony Fagan runs Cockington Court Café. Hunts Cider of Paignton will give you a taste of that traditional amber apple beverage, but if beer is your preferred tipple then you can visit Bays Brewery in Paignton and sample their famous Devon Dumpling brew. Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust offers food related events including the unique ‘Mussels by Moonlight’ and ‘Sea to Plate’ boat trips.

Brixham is both a tourist resort and a working fishing port and has a new fish market with a restaurant and deli, Crab Quay House. Fishstock, the seafood and music festival on the new fish quay is popular with locals and visitors. Brixham's life revolves around its picturesque harbour with its fishing boats and the regular ferries which offer crossings to Torquay and other ports around Torbay for just a couple of pounds. For kids with lively imaginations there is a replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind, and during the summer they can take part in Pirate Thursday when the majority of the town sports a patch over one eye and carries a cutlass instead of an iPhone. Two of the world’s best loved and most popular hymns, Abide with Me and Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven were written at the Berry Head Hotel in Brixham by the Reverend Henry Lyte.

English Riviera I had not been to Torbay for half a century and I had few memories but they were all fond. Yes, it has changed but it still offers polished elegance as well as traditional seaside fun. The prices are very reasonable so now is an ideal time to visit. You will enjoy a warm welcome along with those warm scones and that warm sun.

Visit The English Riviera here

Visit Kents Cavern here

Visit The Palace Hotel, Torquay here

travel reviews

Agatha Christie’s Torbay

Agatha Christie This is a lovely part of Britain. Its climate is famed, as are its palms. It displays many of the characteristics of the “other” Riviera, an ideal place to paint and even write. But, on the face of it, one wouldn’t expect those jottings to be about murder, and one would be still more shocked to realise that the setting for many of the dastardly deeds was actually this sparkling idyll.

Agatha Christie is the most celebrated daughter of Torquay on the South Devon coast. She was born in 1890 and named Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller. She married Archibald Christie on Christmas Eve 1914. The Grand Hotel on Torquay’s seafront was the honeymoon hotel, and today it marks the start of the Agatha Christie Mile, which takes in many of the places significant to the author. Close to the Tourist Centre is a sculpture of Agatha Christie. The bronze bust was unveiled on September 15th, 1990 by her daughter, Mrs Rosalind Hicks, to commemorate the centenary of the author’s birth.

The First World War found Agatha working as a nurse at Torquay Town Hall, which had been converted into a Red Cross hospital. It’s there that she gained her knowledge of poisons, and that was to come in handy a little later.

Agatha Christie Agatha Christie's first novel ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ was published in 1920 and introduced the popular detective Hercule Poirot. No fewer than fifteen of Agatha Christie's crime novels are set in Devon, or have connections with the county.

The famous caves at Kents Cavern in Torquay were Agatha Christie's inspiration for Hempsley Cavern in 'The Man in the Brown Suit' (1924). These caves are unique and atmospheric, and artefacts from the Roman era have been found inside. They are open during the day, but their scary night-time tours are popular with locals and tourists who are looking for a bit of a thrill!

Anyone interested in the life of one of Britain’s best loved authors will want to visit Greenway. In 1938, Agatha bought the Greenway Estate near Brixham with her second husband, Max Mallowan. (Greenway becomes Nasse House in ‘Dead Man's Folly’.) Agatha Christie always knew about the magnificent house perched on the high banks above the picturesque River Dart. It was to become her holiday home where she would play her piano and perhaps just take a few notes for future books. Greenway became the home of her daughter Rosalind and son-in-law, Anthony Hicks. One can listen to a recording of Agatha’s voice and imagine the Grande Dame of crime dressed in something floaty and thirties, sipping a gin and tonic, entertaining posh guests who would be smoking cheroots.

The library is one of the most striking rooms. It’s not large but is noteworthy for the hand-painted frieze that runs around the top of the wall. It was painted in 1943 by Lt Marshall Lee, when the house was occupied by the US Coastguard. It depicts many of the important events of their personal war. It starts by showing their base in Key West, Florida, and it ends with an image of the house with an Infantry Landing Craft in the river below.

Agatha Christie Agatha Christie frequently visited Lord and Lady Churston at their manor house in Churston village. With the proceeds of one of her books she donated a stained glass window to Churston Church. Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings travelled by steam railway in ‘The ABC Murders’ (1936), where Churston station is mentioned. Agatha renames the station 'Nassecombe' in ‘Dead Man's Folly’ (1956).

One can reach Greenway House via a steep track from Greenway Quay. Poirot discovers a large bell and a notice 'Ring for the Ferry'. That bell is also mentioned in ‘Ordeal by Innocence’ (1958). Across the river lies the village of Dittisham (re-named Gitcham in ‘Dead Man's Folly’), which can be reached by the passenger ferry.

Agatha Christie might seem a bit Old School but her books are still being read and appreciated across the globe. They have been translated into more than 100 languages. Her novels have sold roughly four billion copies, and her estate claims that her works rank third, after those of William Shakespeare and the Bible, as the most widely published books.

A rare edition of an Agatha Christie novel, which originally cost 37p, has sold for more than £40,000 at auction. The 1924 edition of ‘Poirot Investigates’, with a dust jacket showing the detective, went for a world record price, beating the previous largest sum paid for an Agatha Christie book of £10,000.

This area has so much to offer any lover of the novels of Agatha Christie but a visit here will be far from a dry and dusty literary tour. There are gardens, beaches, caves, and tranquillity. That steam railway will transport you back to a gentler time. The English Riviera has changed over the past century but it’s still easy to see why that author chose to stay.

Agatha Christie
Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway
Dart Valley Railway, Queen's Park Station, Torbay Road, Paignton TQ4 6AF
01803 555872

Kents Cavern
Cavern House, 89/91 Ilsham Road, Torquay TQ1 2JF
01803 215136

Torquay Tourist Information Centre
Vaughan Parade, Torquay TQ2 5JG
01803 297428

travel reviews

Brockencote Hall for lunch

restaurant and hotel review Joseph and Alison Petitjean have owned and run Brockencote Hall for the last 24 years. They had been living in France and were just married, and they had a dream of opening a country house hotel in England. They visited properties suitable for conversion to an hotel and settled on Brockencote Hall. They bought the building in 1985 and 10 months later Brockencote was ready for business.

The restaurant here is popular with locals around Worcestershire and with the AA who awarded the restaurant 2 Rosettes in 2008. It’s not only the food that’s a draw – they have a notable wine list. This grand house is described as “A little piece of France in the heart of England” so that country’s wines are well represented.

restaurant and hotel review We visited Brockencote on a bright spring day. Daffs were glowing and new-born lambs were gamboling. The Worcestershire countryside was at its fresh and budding best and the Hall looked impressive in the sunshine. The estate dates back 300 years or so with 70 acres of established trees and pasture. This is the sort of stately home that tourists as well as we British love so much.

The entrance hall had a welcoming log fire burning which was appropriate for the day. Spring, yes, but this is England and the wind was chilly. The contemporary bar and conservatory was where we nestled to peruse the menu. Not a long bill of fare but just as one would wish from a high-end kitchen where quality is always paramount – and using seasonal and local produce where possible.

The main dining room (there are others for private dining) is stunning. High windows looked out onto some of those aforementioned acres. The house exudes an air of cultivated tranquillity and charm, and that includes the dining room which is an exercise in pastel shades – a room that has contrived to retain its original majesty yet has introduced cool modernity.

restaurant and hotel review We started with an amuse bouche, a demi-tasse of one of the most memorable soups I have ever had: a gloriously rich and creamy carrot and orange soup. (Note to reviewer: ask John for the recipe). A balance of sweet from the vegetable and tang from the citrus and then there was a deft application of aromatic seasoning. This should be a signature mini-dish.

Slow Cooked Belly of Jimmy Butlers Pork, Cabbage and Bacon, Spiced Apple, Pommery Mustard Jus was the main course. Well worth trying and one of the best examples of this trendy cut of meat that I have had in a while. The meat was flavourful and melting and the presentation thoughtful. I am not keen on pork belly with crackling. It seldom works and, in my humble opinion, it’s inappropriate for a slow-cooked item when one wants to enjoy the almost gelatinous quality of meat, flavourful fat and rind. Perfect!

restaurant and hotel review The desserts here are visual stunners! OK, so I didn’t just give them admiring glances, I was enticed by a couple and scoffed mine and a good percentage of my companion’s. That’s not perhaps a very genteel word but one only “nibbles” when being polite. I, on the other hand, enjoyed every spoonful with appropriate epicurean passion.

Goats Cheese Mousse, Poached Rhubarb, Gingerbread, Vanilla Ice Cream was my own choice and this was a delicious example of traditional ingredients as a canvas for culinary artistry. Sharp mousse, sweet rhubarb, punctuated with the spiced cake.

My guest’s choice of dessert was equally appreciated both of us. Well, I was the official reviewer and it was my duty to taste, and in this case Parsnip Pannacotta, Caramelised Apple, Shortbread Crumb, Brioche Ice Cream. A slice of fruit like a disc of translucent glass balanced atop this unique parsnip preparation, which rather made one look at that root vegetable in a different light. A tapestry of texture and taste. Perhaps a parsnip is not just for Christmas but can actually be enjoyed! Another seasonal winner.

restaurant and hotel review Chef John Sherry is a man content with his kitchen. He should be: Alison and Joseph rebuilt the old kitchen which had become too small for such a successful restaurant. It’s now twice the original size and is worked by a seven-strong team. They cook 350 or so lunches and dinners a week, as well as catering for weddings and private dinner parties.

It’s no surprise that they have so many regular diners at Brockencote Hall. The restaurant is striking, the staff attentive but not pushy, and the food is as good as you will find either side of La Manche. I look forward to a return visit. I’ll unwind in the lounge, take a stroll around the grounds to build an appetite for what I am sure will be a superb dinner. This is indeed a destination restaurant.

Two Courses £17.00
Three Courses £22.00

Brockencote Hall Country House Hotel & Restaurant
Chaddesley Corbett, Near Kidderminster, Worcestershire DY10 4PY
Phone: 01562 777876
Fax: 01562 777872
travel reviews

Eckington Manor Cookery School and B & B

restaurant and hotel review Eckington Manor is just outside the market town of Pershore, Worcestershire, and could well provide one of the most memorable breaks you have had in the UK. Well, if you are passionate about food that’s almost bound to be the case.

Eckington Manor is well situated for exploring both Worcestershire and the Cotswolds. Visit the Malvern Hills, historic Worcester cathedral, Cheltenham, and play a round of golf at the Vale Golf Club, just 15 minutes away. Worcestershire is a rich culinary destination, though. It produces some of the best British fruit and veg and that land also feeds prize herds of cows and sheep and pigs. What better place for a cookery school and especially one that has a farm tagged on?

Your original intention might have been to take a course at the celebrated cookery school but, human nature being what it is, you will be just as interested in where you will lay your head for a night or two. restaurant and hotel reviewIt’s probable that you will be shown your room before you even don an apron, and you will be astounded. This will likely be the best Bed & Breakfast experience you have had.

The main accommodation building is a sympathetically restored 13th century farmhouse. Worcestershire boasts some marvellous examples of homes from every century since parish records began. Around the corner of every picturesque country lane one can find chocolate-box cottages or even farm buildings that one might be tempted to buy and convert into a dream home. That’s almost what Judy Gardner did when she acquired a rundown half-timbered structure, but her dream was to incorporate that soon-to-be stunner into a successful business of high-end accommodation and cookery school.

restaurant and hotel review This isn’t just any old house. It’s said to be one of the oldest in Worcestershire. Its wooden beams are not just a characterful feature of the exterior, and there are original flagstone floors and fireplaces (with wood-burning stoves ideal for those cold winter nights), all of which have been retained and showcased on the inside of this cosy B & B. This should have a name other than ‘B & B’, which conjures visions of a stay in someone’s back bedroom, a sink in the corner and a pile of mismatched and sandpapery towels. Eckington Manor, on the other hand, is as good as you will find anywhere and can compete with the very best of boutique 5-star hotels.

It might have been tempting for Judy to play too much on the historic aspect of this old building. There could have been too many rustic touches of copper, brass and farm implements. Ever a woman of refined taste, she has focused on the contemporary with daring dashes of colour. The chaise-longue on the upper landing is said to have come from the “big house” in Windsor. I can’t prove it and I only say it’s rumoured.

Our room was a vision of sophistication with a French chair contrasted against original stonework, crisp white linen acting as a counterpoint to the aforementioned beams. The bathroom was striking with piles of fluffy towels, and toiletries to match the class of the amenities. Attention to detail and no corners cut with regard to quality and elegance. We slept soundly after a good meal at a local restaurant. There are light meals available here on request, too.

restaurant and hotel review We were looking forward to breakfast at the school which is just across the yard. A modern building housing not only the school kitchen but a restaurant for breakfast and a kitchen shop which is well worth a look. The breakfast did not disappoint, with the ingredients being locally sourced – apart from the orange juice, tea and coffee. The farm sausages should not be missed. We had a chance to meet our fellow students who ranged in age from early twenties with no previous conviction for kitchen behaviour, to others who were seasoned veterans of the range.

This was the first time I has attended a hands-on cooking class. I have enjoyed many a cooking demonstration at close quarters but this was far more rewarding even for a fairly practised home cook like me. Paul and Chris were our chefs and they evidently had a wealth of experience, giving confidence to the wary novice and expert advanced tuition to the enthusiast. We had a knife-skill master class and prepared two dishes. There were no failures, although the intricate garnishes proved to be more taxing to accomplish than the preparation of the 2-course meal! A positive learning experience and great fun.

We took the plates of food we had made with our very own, and now more able, hands to the dining room and enjoyed the fruits of our labours. Potato ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and served with a mushroom sauce, followed by salmon en papillote with julienned vegetables. A glass of wine with new-found friends completed a couple of days touring one of Britain’s most beautiful counties.

Eckington Manor is polished. It offers its guests a chance to relax in a unique environment of bespoke chic comfort. Whilst the classes are not compulsory it would be a shame to let such an opportunity pass. There are lots of courses to choose from and all conducted by professionals: Italian, Thai, Great British Classics, Modern British, Bread, and Fish classes, courses for children, teenagers, students and one just for men. I can thoroughly recommend a stay here.
restaurant review
Eckington Manor Cookery School
Manor Road, Eckington, Worcestershire WR10 3BH
Phone: 01386 751600
Fax: 01386 751362
Visit Eckington Manor here

travel reviews

The Elms Hotel Worcestershire

restaurant review This is an imposing Queen Anne mansion. Go on, admit it, you can’t remember who Queen Anne was and didn’t know she was a builder. The Elms dates from 1710 and the exterior has all the elegant proportions of a stately home of that period. It was designed by architect Thomas White who was a pupil of the renowned Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St Paul’s Cathedral. The house was sold in 1946 and was turned into a country house hotel.

The Elms is set in formal gardens and is surrounded by ten acres or so of parkland. This is very rural Worcestershire, and the house offers idyllic views over the Teme Valley and a good number of other counties. This is a perfectly-located base for trips to enjoy local festivals such as the annual celebration of Asparagus, and to soak up a little history in Worcester and its neighbouring towns. Malvern and Evesham are within easy reach.

The hotel has been completely refurbished but many of the public rooms retain the air of the traditional stately home. Dark wood, leather sofas and chairs and open fires exude old-fashioned charm that tourists so love – or would if they could find it. Paintings and busts of people that must have been famous all add to the impression that this might still be someone’s ancestral pile.

restaurant and hotel review But The Elms is indeed a hotel and one that, surprisingly, is catering for families. Yes, families can book into any hotel but youngsters are more often just tolerated rather than welcomed. I had been expecting a Jolly Campers establishment with a uniformed glee club, but a childless adult here would have to seek out the child-friendly elements – there is nothing excessively kiddy-oriented at the Elms.

There is a baby-listening service so parents can leave the room and go for a thoroughly adult dinner with no worries about returning to a red-in-the-face and tearful tot. There is plenty to amuse those little ones during the day with their own Bears Den crèche (Ofsted registered). For older children, there’s an air-hockey machine, tabletop football, board games and an Xbox. Sounds as good as home! You might even coax the kids outside for croquet, outdoor table tennis, football, trampoline and there is an outdoor adventure playground.

The Elms boasts a family spa with a 12-metre swimming pool, thermal retreat with steam room, sauna and ice fountain (I am not sure I like the sound of that), Rasul mud therapy room, state-of-the-art gym equipment, and an indoor/outdoor Hydro Spa – that’s a spot for all the family to enjoy.

restaurant and hotel review Our room was attractive and cosy. Stunning views over those aforementioned counties. The bathroom was well appointed and had a selection of high-end Spa toiletries, as one would hope at a hotel with a pampering annex. Tea and coffee-making facilities in the corner so we unwound, soaked and snoozed till dinner.

Head Chef Daren Bale has built The Elms’ fine dining reputation. He has won many accolades, including 2 AA Rosettes, Best British Cheeseboard, and Worcestershire Life’s 2007/2008 Restaurant of the Year. The dining room is elegant and striking with tables set with brass candlesticks and tall, white candles that gave one the impression of perhaps a classic French restaurant, the style of restaurant that encourages guests to speak quietly and probably about the arts or the latest in the Financial Times.

restaurant and hotel review Pressing of Goose and Foie Gras, Pear, Pickled Wild Mushroom and Haricot Bean Dressing was my starter. The terrine was dense and flavourful. This would have made a very classy lunch item. The presentation was appealing and the garnishes appropriate for the goose.

Velouté of Jerusalem Artichoke, Langoustine, Peas and Lemon was my companion’s choice – a delicious bowl of delicate seafood and soup. This is the sort of dish that you’ll likely not cook at home. Not too difficult to replicate but this style of food is best enjoyed in a stunning, high-ceilinged, tall-windowed, imposing-fireplaced dining room. But perhaps you have one of those, chez vous.

restaurant and hotel review We had seen lots of lambs on our drive to Worcester so it seemed a fitting, if slightly cruel, irony to eat some on our arrival. My guest ordered English Lamb with Stuffed Courgettes and pronounced this to be a well-balanced and thoughtful dish. The courgettes were filled with melting and evidently slow-cooked meat, with peppers adding a sweet note.

Pancetta-wrapped Monkfish, Chicken Confit Ravioli, Butter-glazed Carrots & Ginger took my fancy. Yes, I know it’s a classic choice but it’s popular because it is, done well, a memorable dish. It was indeed done well at The Elms. The previous plates had indicated that it probably would be. The flesh of the seafood was moist and the pancetta added just the right slightly salty counterpoint. I was a little uncertain about the garnish of chicken ravioli bit this too worked well, adding a soft and savoury gastronomic cushion. I can recommend this monkfish as the best I have had in many months.

We wanted to try The Elms’ celebrated cheese board, so had to skip the desserts. I would, however, have liked to have tried the Pear and Cranberry Strudel with Peanut Butter Ice Cream. That ice cream sounds novel.

restaurant and hotel review We have marvellous cheeses here in Britain and it’s refreshing to find a restaurant that promotes them. So many establishments boast that they celebrate local produce but then present French cheese with only a nod to these Isles in the guise of a slab of Cheddar. We wanted to taste some very local cheese and so selected Blue Cheshire - Nantwich, Bosworth Ash - Staffordshire, Old Worcester White and the star of the plate, St Eadburgha made in the Vale of Evesham. This unique cheese is made at Gorsehill Abbey Farm by Michael and Diane Stacey. St Eadburgha is a Brie style of cheese and it’s organic but most importantly it is creamy and delicious. This should be in the cool-box of every homeward-bound tourist from Worcestershire. I am only sorry it was not in ours, but a return trip is in order.

The Elms is an ideal hotel for extended families. It isn’t a cheap option but it introduces younger members of the family to a real hotel. Children will find plenty to do, parents will have space and quiet to themselves, and grandparents can enjoy grandchildren in small doses and then escape to an armchair and a good book, or a terrace and a glass of something reviving. A unique family holiday destination.

The Elms
Stockton, Abberley, Worcester, WR6 6AT
Tel: 01299 896666
Visit The Elms here
travel reviews

The Fleece Inn for lunch

london restaurant review Perhaps Robin Hood had a local, and if he did I would suppose it looked just like The Fleece Inn. This isn’t a Disneyesque themed facsimile of an ancient public house. This is the real thing, and stunning it is.

The Fleece Inn has an idyllic rural location on a picture-perfect village square. Lots of honey-coloured stone cottages as it’s just a stone's throw from the Cotswolds. It was originally built as a traditional longhouse in the time of Chaucer. It’s quite staggering to learn that The Fleece has been owned by that same family for virtually the whole time, with just a few alterations made to the building in Tudor and Elizabethan days.

A farmer called Henry Byrd Taplin thought that running a pub was better business than running a farm, and I am sure there are many farmers today who would agree with him. In 1848 the farmhouse became a licensed house. london restaurant review This was a regular home that had a licence to sell alcohol, and the Fleece Inn was just that; it still retains the air of a cottage. Henry sold beer and cider from his home, and beer was still being brewed in the back kitchen of the building well into the 20th century.

The last owner was a direct descendent of the man who first built the inn. Miss Lola Taplin lived in The Fleece until she died in 1977. She thoughtfully bequeathed the inn to The National Trust, making it the first pub in the country to be owned by the charity. It’s said that Miss Taplin still watches over the pub: there is an owl that perches on the barn roof and some say it’s she just keeping an eye on the old place.

london restaurant review The Fleece Inn is everything a good pub should be. It’s places like this that made English pubs so famous around the world. It’s steeped in convivial continuity and charming history. There is what is said to be the county’s second largest collection of pewter (the Queen having the first). It’s been on display here for around 300 years.

The original fireplaces offer welcome cosiness in cool weather and fill the pub with that almost forgotten aroma of burning logs. Those fires nearly heralded the end of the pub when in 2004 some sparks caused a fire that took part of the roof and upper floor. Everything has since been sympathetically restored. There are painted circles in front of the hearth and those are supposed to prevent witches from entering via the chimney. I guess Worcester witches can’t open doors.

If these walls could talk they would tell of hundreds of years of historic events: coronations, plague, civil war, electric light and inside plumbing – the latter two being thankfully taken advantage of at The Fleece. The dark wood tables and chairs are in keeping with the character of the pub, and the print of Shakespeare reminds us that the Bard himself might have passed by this very building.

Real ales and ciders are celebrated at the Fleece but we were here for the food, and the menu reflected the best of pub grub. Nothing too cheffy but good solid fare with plenty of choice. It was early spring so still cold enough to justify some traditional and hearty dishes.

I was looking for lunches that I could talk about on Alan Coxon's internet radio show. He is one of Britain’s most decorated, awarded and certified chefs and recognises a good hostelry when he sees one. london restaurant reviewAlan lives locally and this pub is a favourite. He has been known to settle himself on the settle, relax and toast his food-historian toes by the historic fire. We did the same and consulted the menu. I was tempted by the Traditional Local Faggots but it’s an international radio show and a so-named dish could have caused misunderstanding...nay, offence!

I ordered Local Sausages served with Chive Mash, Buttered Garden Peas and Red Wine Gravy. This was a substantial plateful that would have set up a peckish farm worker for an afternoon in the fields. The sausages were mildly seasoned, the gravy was rich and the mash didn’t come from a packet. I found but one small lump to verify to its gastronomic credentials.

My guest decided on the Steak and Mushroom Pie, served with Braised Red Cabbage, Curly Kale, New Potatoes and Gravy. This is a classic pie and I think we British do savoury pies better than most. The pastry has to be good and the filling must be flavourful and made with the best-quality ingredients. This one evidently was. I could tell by the reluctance with which my companion offered me a taste.

london restaurant review Worcestershire seems to have lots of high-quality meat products as well as abundant fresh produce. It’s not surprising that the county is something of a Mecca for food lovers. It’s places like The Fleece Inn which remind us that good traditional food in Britain is not dead, it’s just in hiding. It’s been a pleasure to seek it out in this lovely county. I am planning a return visit.

The Fleece Inn
The Cross, Bretforton, Nr Evesham, Worcester WR11 7JE
Tel: 01386 831173
Visit The Fleece here

Opening Hours
Monday and Tuesday: 11am - 3pm, 6pm - 11pm
Wednesday to Sunday: 11am - 11pm

Food Service Hours
Monday to Saturday: 12pm - 2.30pm, 6.30pm - 9pm
Sunday: 12pm - 4pm, 6.30pm - 8.30pm

travel reviews

Fusion Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner

One can search for Italian food in all the famous towns that boast true Italian or Tuscan culinary heritage: Florence, Siena, Hawbridge, Pisa, Grosseto. We take advantage of fresh produce, delicious dressed pasta and desserts fit to ruin any diet. The tourist soaks up the history of those Italian... but... Hawbridge doesn’t sound very Italian. Well, it truly is a long way from Italy but it can still be described as a culinary hub, and in our own very accessible Worcestershire.

london restaurant review This transplantation is not due to continental drift. It’s just the home of Fusion Brasserie and it’s the showcase for celebrated Chef Felice Tocchini, who has had a surprisingly long career. He got his first job in the food and beverage industry at the tender age of six – his parents had a bar in a Tuscan village and it was Felice's job to make the coffee.

The experience at the espresso machine obviously inspired Felice. At fourteen, he embarked on a three-year cookery course at the Ferdinando Martini Catering College in Montecatini Terme. He worked in hotel kitchens and ski resorts during his holidays. In 1988 he was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Theatre restaurants as a Commis Chef. Later, Felice became head chef at the Seymour House Hotel in Chipping Campden and eventually became Chef Manager, remaining there for over 15 years.

In 2004 Felice and his wife Fiorinda opened their own restaurant. Fusion opened originally in Alcester; eighteen months later they moved to a more suitable site and that was the Bird in Hand, Hawbridge, Stoulton, Worcestershire, where they’ve now settled.

Felice now owns two award-winning restaurants in Worcestershire - Fusion Brasserie and Fusion Too. His wife and son Daniel work with him, Fiorinda as front of house manager and Daniel as a chef. Felice is passionate about local ingredients and works with growers and producers to promote even the least-adored veggies like the humble sprout. The menu changes with the seasons so every visit will offer something new.

london restaurant review We were looking forward to good food in a casual and contemporary restaurant. Contemporary, yes, but Fusion isn’t stark and minimalist. The walls are painted and unfussy, but the muted maroon and cream were thoughtful colours that helped to create a cosy ambiance in an open restaurant space. I was very much taken by the unique salt and pepper mills on each table. These and other food-related products can be yours with no need to resort to theft. Fusion has its own shop displaying the chef’s food products and local crafts.

We had earlier enjoyed a good lunch and arrived less than ravenous, so settled on what we thought would be moderate-sized dishes. But this truly was a little bit of Italy and we soon realised that we would go home stuffed and contented.

We started with breads and dips – Pane casereccio – artisan breads, served with sun-blush tomato and fusion hummus. This was a considerable display of the chef’s baking skills as well as a presentation of simple yet flavourful spreads. Some fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar wafted us back to a much less comfortable restaurant in southern Italy many years ago. No, the best Italian restaurants are not necessarily back in the old country. It has more to do with integrity of ingredients than geography.

london restaurant review My companion was tempted by the prospect of some beef - Filetto al Piatto. Thin slices of Aberdeen Angus placed on an extremely hot plate arrived sizzling and in theatrical fashion, aromatic with garlic and herbs. The chunky chips were indeed just that – chunky, crisp on the outside with fluffy interior.  My guest was delighted with his meal and pronounced the meat to be tender and full of flavour. A deceptively simple dish that once again relies on the quality of the key ingredient. This is a restaurant that has confidence in its suppliers.

I felt a pasta was in order. Fusion is, after all, an Italian restaurant. Just a modest bowl of oil- and garlic-dressed pasta with some sweet sprouting greens was what I expected and that’s what I got. Well, not a modest bowl – remember, this is transplanted Italy. The pasta was cooked, as one would expect, to perfection – al dente. Oil, but just enough, chilli sufficient to create a glow, and garlic just for pure rich flavour. A classic dish and enough to defeat a rugby player.

Fiorinda tempted us with a little taste of dessert. Six little culinary masterpieces arrived and proved the rule that states that however full one is there is always a little nook available for something sweet. We nibbled sponge pudding, savoured sorbet, treated ourselves to just another bite of tiramisu... The list seemed endless but we enjoyed those sweets so much that we were glad it was.

london restaurant review We had intended an early night but in true Italian fashion the conversation with our hosts flowed freely. This chef is generous. Yes, the portions are substantial but his generosity extends not only to plates but to people. His passion and pride are evident. His skill is unquestionable and his enthusiasm contagious. A warm evening of marvellous food and friendship.

Opening Times Fusion Brasserie:
Lunch: Tues-Sat 11.30am-3.00pm (last orders 2.30pm)
Dinner: 5.30pm-close (last orders 9.30pm)
Sunday: 12.00 pm - 4.00 pm (last orders 2.30pm)  

Restaurant review: Fusion Brasserie, Hawbridge, Stoulton, Worcestershire WR7 4RJ.
Phone: +44 (0)1905 840647.
Visit Fusion Brasserie here

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