a birthday trip to romney

It was my birthday last weekend, and as a treat, my lovely HUSBAND (I still can’t get used to calling him that – either lovely OR husband to be quite honest), decided to book up a hotel that I had found while searching online a few years ago, but had never got around to going to.

The original reason for the search was “I want to go on the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway! I haven’t been on it for years! Where could we stay if we went down that way?” And one of the most aesthetically striking images was that of the Romney Bay House Hotel. How dramatic does it look?

Romney Bay House Hotel

So hubby decided to treat me. Having your birthday at this time of the year, you have to get used to the fact that the weather isn’t going to be great if you go away to celebrate it anywhere in the UK! We were actually quite lucky – it was bright when we arrived, although the potholed road leading to the hotel was peppered with pond-sized puddles. Soon after our arrival, the rain came crashing down again – and unfortunately there was scaffolding up as they had lost roof tiles in a mini-tornado the week before!

Owners Lisa & Clinton couldn’t have been more warm and friendly. You really felt that you were a welcome guest in their home – and what a home. A rambling maze of corridors and nooks and crannies – full of old fashioned character. I was surprised when we opened the door to our room and the sunshine streamed into a beautiful large space, including a wonderful large bathroom with a claw-footed free standing tub and separate shower cubicle.

Romney Bay House Hotel
Romney Bay House Hotel

Everything was clean and bright and well-thought out.  The bed was extremely comfortable (I’m quite the insomniac, but I actually slept really well), and our view out over the sea was fabulous. Ive never been one for hangign around in hotel lounges, but there was a gorgeous cosy first floor guest lounge overlooking the sea and I’d spied a ginger cat resting in there, so popped in for a tickle. Everything felt right and homey. Lisa didn’t even give us a key for our room (the front door is locked and you have to ring to get in), she showed us where they were kept, and it was up to us if we felt we needed it. There was also a fully-stocked honesty bar downstairs, where you just noted your room number and what you’d helped yourself to (although we’d packed a bottle of Prosecco!)

Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles
Pre-dinner drinks and nibbles

We had read great things about the restaurant, and had eagerly booked ourselves in for dinner.  There is no menu, and no choice of dining time. We were told what the menu was when we turned up, so I guess if we’d had any dietary requirements, we could have said then! Diners are expected to come down to the ground floor lounge (in front of the roaring open fire) for 7.30pm to be served drinks and nibbles, beofre being shown into the conservatory for dinner at 8pm. With the whole place feeling so homey, I did wonder whether Lisa would shout up the stairs for us to come down for dinner if we were late!

There are only 10 rooms at the hotel, and the restaurant reflects this – there were only 8 other diners on the night that we were there. The conservatory is a lovely space – and I can imagine it would be absolutely wonderful in the summer on a bright clear evening.

We were served by Lisa and two young waiters who couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and accommodating. Clinton in the kitchen served up a fantastic meal!  I couldn’t have ‘chosen’ better.

The first course was a kind of thin poatato rosti topped with smoked haddock and spinach, topped with a perfectly poached egg with a very light cheese sauce. I’ve only been ‘coming back’ to fish over the past couple of years, and as I can’t stand smoked salmon, I was a bit dubious of what smoked haddock would be like, and was fully expecting to just grin and bear it. I couldn’t have been more wrong – the haddock had been smoked on the premises I believe and was absolutely delicious – exactly the right amount of smoke! The whole dish was delicate but full of flavour.

Dinner at Romney Bay House Hotel
Dinner at Romney Bay House Hotel

Next was honey glazed duck breat with fondant potato and vegetables. The duck was pink, tender and juicy, the potato buttery and soft, the roast parsnip sweet and the vegetables beautifully turned, fresh and crunchy! Perfect!

Dessert was a spiced bramley apple souffle, cinnamon cream with red berries and sugar lattice. this had a thin, light sponge base, the souffle was a really light whipped mousse and the cream had just the right amount of cinnamon. The crisp satisfying crack of the sugar-work with it’s very slightly burnt caramel taste was a brilliant contrast. Absolutely wonderful!

I could have ended there – but there were cheese and biscuits (and port) to be had. I’m not a massive cheese and biscuit with dinner kind of a girl, so I left most of that to him.  However, I did eat most of the gorgeous little petit fours!

We wandered back up to our lovely room full (but not too stuffed) and happy and, looked out over the calm sea and even though it wasn’t my plan, fell asleep almost immediately!

The legendary orange marmalade
The legendary orange marmalade

Breakfast the next morning (you write down what time and style you want the night before on a pad next to the decent WiFi’s password) was the usual combination of buffet-style cereal, fruit etc, and we had both ordered the full english. We had our choice of eggs (me scrambled, him poached) – everything was tasty and well cooked – especially the sausages.  But the absolute star of breakfast (at which there were far more people) was the seemingly endless supply of toast to be smeared with their homemade orange marmalade. As each table tried it, you could hear the wave of the same question over and over “What’s in the marmalade?” The answer was that Clinton’s marmalade had cinnamon, vanilla, bay leaf and (the flavour that made it so special) anise.  They had some jars for sale at the honesty bar where you checked out, and we bought a couple – one for my parents and one for us. Lisa mentioned that this left just one jar from the batch and they’d have to make some more. I’d happily pay to buy some and have it posted to us!

So, that brought us to the last part of our trip – a quick return chug on the gorgeous Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway – a not-too-mini version of a ‘real’ steam railway. My parents had taken me on it as a kid, and I’d been again when I lived in Kent – but I hadn’t been for about 20 years.

There’s something exciting about steam trains – the smell of the coke hanging in the air and the sound of the steam escaping from the funnel evoking all kinds of base emotions!

Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway
Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway

It may be small, but it’s perfectly formed, and proper grown-ups can still sit in the enclused carriages very comfortably. There is even a licenced buffet car. It was a perfect day – bright and brisk with hardly any clouds in the sky. We took the hour long round trip to Hythe and back to New Romney, puffing through the marshy countryside, baaing at sheep on the way – and checking out the few sights. It was exhilirating but relaxing and I loved every second of it. I plan to go on the Watercress Line soon as I’ve never been on it – or perhaps a return to the Bluebell Railway.

I even had the added pleasant surprise that the RHDR official guidebook that I bought contains a foreward by Ben Goldacre! Which seemed rather random.

What more could I have wanted for my birthday?

afternoon tea, bloomsbury bar & restaurant

Happiest when eating!

I have an offer that I got with a subscription which enables me to have 2 for the price of 1 Afternoon Teas at Radisson Hotels in London (and we all know how much I like afternoon teas!)

As I had told The Girl that I would take her to the Biritsh Museum on Sunday, I booked for us to go to The Bloomsbury Bar & Restaurant whch is part of the Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury.

When we got in ther, the staff were very accomodating – but this was hardly surprising as it was completely empty – in fact, there was only one other couple in the restaurant the whole time that we were theer.

I was impressed that they offered The Girl the option of having hot chocolate instead of tea (which she eagerly took up), but was less impressed that I was offered ‘tea’ and not given a choice of teas on a menu like elsewhere.

Our tea and chocolate were brought to us, and The Girl was very flattering about hers, and then they brought out our stand of goodies.  Our scones were wrapped in a cloth to keep them warm, which I thought was a nice touch, although obviously less aesthetically pleasing!  Two of the cakes on the top though looked particularly scrummy – and we had a decent-sized portion of cream and jam for our scones.

I was extremely disappointed in the sandwiches – they were so dull!  Plain cucumber, plain smoked salmon, plain ham and egg mayonnaise.  I ate the smoked salmon even though I don’t usually like it, and it didn’t really bother me as it tasted of nothing at all.  In fact, the bread was even so cold, that I was wondering whether they had all been frozen at some stage! They are also loaded with butter, and The Girl doesn’t really like butter much – and this almost looked like it had been sliced into onto the bread. NOT a good start at all.

So, we started on the scones.  They were large and light and still warm, but both sultana scones which is unusual.  The cream was unfortunately almost solid and more butter-like than unctious clotted cream, but the jam was full of strawberries and had a good flavour.

So, onto the top tier.  There were two very elaborate oval creations and then 4 triangular slices of lemon drizzle cake and two of chocolate fudge cake.  The lemon drizzle cake was lovely and moist and lemony, and the chocolate deep and rich and sticky.

White chocolate mousse and raspberry

The two elaborate cakey creations were very much the stars of the show.  The first (above) was a light yet rich white chocolate mousse, with a layer of raspberry puree on top and a disc of raspberry jelly inside, with a soaked sponge on the bottom.  This was extremely yummy – apart from the white chcoolate shards on the outside, which tasted a little on the ‘cheap cooking chocolate’ side!

The other one, which was similar you can just see in the top pic.  This was (I think) a delicate lavendar-flavoured mousse (at least, that’s what it tasted to me) with a strawberry coulis that oozed out from the centre.  They were both extremely yummy.

The staff, although semmingly attentive, didn’t ask if I wanted a refil when I finished my pot of tea – although when i took a couple of pics, one guy asked me if I wanted a pic of the two of us, which we did – but unfortunately he took it out of focus *sigh*.

Overall, for what *I* paid (just under £20 for the two of us), it wasn’t too bad…but then I paid the same at The Montcalm, and I think the quality was much better there.

I now have to decide whether to try a different Radisson!

the starr, great dunmow

The Starr, Great Dunmow

I’ve been so busy recently that I’ve got rather behind with a load of posts that I wanted to make.  I’m on call this weekend, so I’ve got a chance to catch up with some!

A couple of weeks ago, me and The Man managed to make it to the quite frankly rather startling mileston of seven whole years together!  Having been so poor for so long, we’ve never really been able to mark these occasions properly, so I made the decision to book us somewhere nice to eat, and after a lot of ‘research’, I decided on The Starr Restaurant With Rooms in Great Dunmow, as the reviews of the food were fantastic, and the idea of not having to go very far to get back ‘home’ was very appealing.

So I booked their most expensive room – on the basis that there was a free-standing bath IN the bedroom, which felt rather decadent!


Doctor's Pond, just at the back of The Starr

I’m an Essex Girl, and have often got upset that people don’t realise what gorgeous little villages there are in my home county, and Great Dunmow is a lovely example.  The Starr itself is a gorgeous 15th Century buildin, with the rooms just across the courtyard at the back, in what looks to be converted stables.

Our room was lovely – really spacious, all dark oak furniture, a four-poster bed, and that bath.

The Man has a go in the bath

There was a gorgeous HUGE separate bathroom with a massive shower, and we found a perfect use for the bidet.

Some lovely 'Naked Wines'

I felt extremely happy, relaxed and decadent sipping wine whilst relaxing in a deep bubble-bath, watching the TV whilst chatting to The Man as he lounged across our four-poster bed.  It was the perfect pre-dinner setting!

So, then we made our way to the restaurant, which took us at least 2 minutes!  We were seated in the tiny little bar area, which was bustling as the restaurant was (unsurprisingly) fully-booked.  We had our drinks order taken, and were given some rather scrummy little ‘amuse bouche’, while we perused the menu before being taken to our table, which was in their lovely conservatory area.  One was chicken liver pate on little brioche toasts and the other a deep fried crispy potato and cheese concoction.  Sound simple but gave us high hopes for what was to come.

Chicken and cep ravioli on wilted spinach with a chicken and celeriac veloute

This was my starter choice, and was absolutely lovely, the ravioli filling meaty and earthy and the sauce flavoursome but light and velvety – the only very minor criticism I could have had was that the pasta could have done with being oh so very slightly thinner!

Monkfish, cod and prawn in a fish soup

The Man was extremely happy with his starter – I’m sure it had a more descriptive name, but it was on the specials board and I can’t remember exactly what it was – it was 2 weeks ago!!  but apparently it was totally delish.

Braised Ox-Cheeks "bourguignon" topped with foie gras

The Man’s choice of main (yes Linda, more ‘face’!) – look at the amount of foie gras on there!! The cheeks were fall-apart tender, the foie-gras rich and the sauce unctious.  We ordered a side of triple-cooked chips as a side, mainly to go with this (and the staff said this was a favourite combination for the boys) – oh my GOD, if you ever go to The Starr, you HAVE to have the chips, they were wonderful!

Prior's Hall Farm Poached & Roasted Pork Fillet, apple puree, fidget pie

How pretty is that?  The pork was moist and tender, and very ‘piggy’, the cabbage with smoked bacon was just SLIGHTLY salty, but worked well when eaten with all the other elements.  The fidget pie pastry was light, almost melting into nothingness – filled with a lovely porky-appley stew.

Chocolate Brownie toasted marshmallow parfait

The Man went for the cheese board with some smelly cheeses, celery, quince chutney and biscuits and I opted for the chocolate offering.  I’m not altogether what was in the little shot glass, it tasted rather like a ‘condensed milk foam’ topped with chocolate.  The brownies were happily nutless and the marshmallow coated in a knd of biscuity crumb.

However, by this stage I was starting to feel rather full, and was unable to finish it much to my shame.

Coffee and petit fours

I did manage to help The Man with some of the petit-fours though.  I had one of the little sponges (the smaller one) and half a chocolate swirly thing, which were just perfect.

And then we went back to our room, finished our wine and had one of the best night’s sleep I have EVER had on the most comfortable bed EVER.

The Starr is lovely, high quality but comfortable with polite but friendly staff – they obviously take a lot of pride in what they do – I highly recommend it.

It was the perfect anniversary 🙂

afternoon tea at the montcalm

The Girl was very impressed

A few months ago, I had bought a Groupon voucher £19 for afternoon tea for two at The Montcalm.  It was expiring on 31st March so I was rapidly running out of time to use it!

So, I rang them during the week to see what time I could get in at the weekend – and the only time was apparently midday on Sunday.  So I booked it and crossed my fingers that The Girl would behave herself so that I could take her for her first ever afternoon tea.

She was a very good girl on Saturday, so we woke up late on Sunday (well, clocks went forward!) and quickly made our way up to Marble Arch.

The Montcalm is a gorgeous boutiquey hotel, just off of Marble Arch, between Oxford Street and Bryanstone Square.  On one of those many streets of its type in Central London, where you step off of the main road and enter a little idyllic world that you would never have realised was there if you weren’t looking for it.

The staff were all very friendly, completely prepared for the Groupon voucher (which is always a bonus!) and actually seemed to be extra professionally to The Girl, which really made her day.

We had our tea menu and I went for the house blend, which I always do.  And then they delivered everything.

Afternoon tea @ The Montcalm

As you can see, unlike my TLSee Afternoon Tea @ The Howard last month, it was pretty minimalist.

The sandwiches were a lot lighter, and there were less of them (cheese & cucumber, ham, egg & cress), and again, we had half as many scones (one plain, one fruit), but they were light and yummy.  The little cakey bits were gorgeous little bites of loveliness – and nothing like the heavier cakier ones that I’ve had before.

The Girl thoroughly enjoyed it all and did a bloody good job of being ladylike, which I was most impressed with, until the moment she happily chomped down on the chocolatey-topped cake and dicovered to her horror that it was actually coffee flavoured buttercream inside.

Oh how I laughed.  she was very discreet, and just handed over the rest of it to me – which was great as coffee cakes are lush, and there’s not enough of them in the world which haven’t been tainted with walnuts!  i gave her half my macaroon, so she was happy then 🙂

All in all, a far lighter afternoon tea, lovely surroundings, perfect as a pit-stop if you’re shopping on Oxford Street and don’t want to be weighed down after eating too much cake!

tlsee afternoon tea at the howard

Ages ago, I bought a couple of Groupon vouchers to get afternoon tea at The Howard Swissotel in Temple – £19 each instead of £39, a bargain!

So, me and my mate (who is also an afternoon tea lover) decided to have ‘tea for dinner’ one night a couple of weeks ago, and sed teh vouchers.

The Howard is just behind Temple station, but unfortunately The Mauve Lounge where the tea is served is on the ground floor of the hotel, which means you don’t get a view across the river.  However, the room IS very nice, contemporary and stylish without being too over done.


Finger sandwiches, fresh fruit tartlets, macaroons, cakes

So out came our ‘starters’.  the sandwiches were, well, sandwiches.  I have to admit, they weren’t particularly special – unlike the ones I’d had at Claridges.  In fact, they felt a little heavy  which isn’t the way that you want to start off what is going to be quite a large meal.

The fruit tartlets were gorgeous – thin, buttery pastry filled with yumminess.  the macaroons were also extremely nice, light and flavourful – there was one chocolate and one vanilla.

We then got our scones, clotted cream and jam – one fruit and one plain scone each.  Again, they were unfortunately a little on the heavy side, which meant that we found it all rather difficult to get through.  in fact, by the time we finished them, we had really had our fill!


Yes, I took the photo with the tray upside-down!

This part is what makes the TLSee Afternoon tea unique – all the little 3D chocolates and biscuits.  But we really were too stuffed and too full of tea to even attempt to make a dent in these OR the two cupcakes (one lemon, one chocolate) and two slices of almond, walnut and chocolate cake!

However, The Howard are obvioulsy very used to this happening, as the waitress came over to us and asked if we would like our leftovers packaged up.


Classy doggy bags!

How cute are these?!  They just split the leftovers between the two of us, and The Man and The Girl chomped their way through all the goodies over that night and the next day!  Very happily!

It was a lovely evening – had fun with my mate, nice surroundings, lovely tea (the waitress noticed when I was idiot enough to forget to use my strainer and replaced my cup and brewed me another pot!), and very yummy sweet things.  However, there wasn’t the delicacy to it all as you would hope for from an ‘elegant’ afternoon tea, so it was often rather too heavy and filling.  the doggy bags kind of made up for that though!

I’ve just looked at their website, and it looks like they have reduced their price to £32 now.  I was happy paying £19, but I don’t think I’d have been thrilled to pay over £30 for it.

The staff were lovely though, and it was a good experience!

something to take the chill off?

Much more effective than an electric blanket!

Apparently Holiday Inn hotels in London and Manchester are going to be trialling a new initiative.

To take the bite off of the winter-like chill currently in the air they are making a bold move.  Will they be offering electric blankets to guests?  Oh no, probably far too likely to get stolen (these ARE Holiday Inn clientele after all!).  Will they be sticking the heating up to full blast for those that require it?  Oh no, far too costly.

No, the solution that they have come up with for cold-bed syndrome (as it’s technically known..ahem) is apparently human bed-warmers.  Oh it’s OK – they’ll be wearing full all-in-one bodysuits (see photo), which wouldn’t be at ALL creepy!

In all honestly, it’s actually a really cool idea, but bloody weird – I’m pretty sure it’s just a publicity stunt as I can’t imagine anyone actually ordering one.

Would you get a choice of gender?  In fact could you choose from a brochure?  Do you have to book them in hours in advance, which means you need to know what time you’ll be getting into bed, or do you just call down to reception and say “I’m ready!!”  How do they leave you?  Do they give you a kiss on the nose and say “Sweet dreams”?  Do they tuck you in?  Bring you an Ovaltine?  Do you talk to them while they’re lying in your bed?  Is it an opportunity for ladies-of-the-night to earn a few ‘extras’ – or will the suits have some kind of tamper-proof device so that management know you haven’t taken it off?  Perhaps red ink over your crotch from a device like those in clothing shops.

Who would choose this as a career path?

I’m sorry – this has done my head in since I read it – instead of just thinking “Oh, what a cute idea!” it’s given me just FAR too many questions that haven’t been answered.

That said though, I’d probably give it a go – it’s free after all!  😉

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