The New Forest

When we visited our Texan friends back in November 2018, we knew that the next time they visited the UK, we wanted to return the warm hospitality they extended to us. We got the opportunity to do so a lot quicker than expected, as they would be in London in the middle of March. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet bought our luxurious mansion (you know, the one with multiple guest rooms that’s waiting to be bought when we win the lottery) so instead, we whisked them away towards the south coast, to a Airbnb more suited to hosting friends.

We chose the quaint and cosy 18th century Little Exbury on the outskirts of the tiny Exbury village and very close to Beaulieu. It was the perfect base for exploring the wild New Forest with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and remote location suitable for long conversations around the fireplace as the wind whipped around outside. I didn’t want to leave.

The weather was… typically English so we weren’t really able to show off our beautiful countryside. Instead, we wandered from windy village to windy village, feeling a bit sorry for the wild roaming ponies and donkeys as they huddled together for warmth under the trees.

We visited Beaulieu of course – somewhere I visited once when I was small, and a lot of memories were unlocked as we wandered around the estate. I found the 800 year old abbey and the palace house most interesting; the motor museum less so (although I was less grumpy when I found somewhere to sit), and it was nice to see a little reference to the career my Dad found himself in. We also experienced a remarkable coincidence when we found out that the American side of the Montagu family (who own Beaulieu) were visiting from – of course – Texas!  

We spent far more time in Beaulieu than expected, and after a quick freshening up back at the cottage, we went back to Beaulieu village for some fish and chips at Monty’s Inn.

The following day, we spent the morning at Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum which was surprisingly picturesque – part of this cute hamlet has been converted into a living museum, with a pub and tiny church. If it wasn’t so wickedly blustery, we could have gone for a nice boat ride but the weather got to us so we took ourselves up to the cafe for a warm drink.I couldn’t let our American friends leave the UK without experiencing my favourite meal of the day – Afternoon Tea. You really are spoiled for choice as there are so many places in the New Forest that offer Afternoon Tea but I decided on Burley Manor, an old manor house in the village of Burley (which I am truly sad to just driven through without stopping – it had two witchcraft shops! I must go back!). I mostly picked this hotel for the deer that graze outside, but it had some pretty good reviews as well which proved themselves to be true. We happily stuffed ourselves full of delicious cake and scones.It was a pretty quick whistle-stop tour of the New Forest, and I hope our friends enjoyed the dramatic landscape, even if it was all a little grey most of the time.

It’s always tea-time

OXO2015_4The final day of my Birthday Bonanza 2015 was my actual birthday, which tradition dictates is spent with my beautiful Husband.  The day started off emotionally, as I unwrapped a brand new Macbook Pro and immediately burst into tears.  Husband says he just wanted his Bluetooth keyboard back after my disaster earlier this year but I was really not expecting it and felt very overwhelmed.  Now, the long task of transferring my entire Photo album over to the new laptop begins.  I do have quite a lot of photos…

I messed around on the laptop for a bit before we set off for Not Afternoon Tea at the Oxo Tower.  The Oxo Tower has fast become my favourite restaurant in London – I’ve been there a few times now, and this was out second time having Not Afternoon Tea.  It was just as perfect as the first time.  I had wanted to sit outside but it was so very wet – we got a table by the window though so that’s the next best thing.

Once again, we decided to take advantage of their special “Experience” menu, which this summer was Alice in Wonderland themed.

This was our first course:

OXO2015_1We had Drink Me virgin pina coladas which had chocolate labels that we peeled off to eat.  The rocks in the middle were like M&Ms only way more delicious.  Finally, the Eat Me cakes were red velvet and GORGEOUS.

OXO2015_2The cocktails arrived next – above is Husband’s Nutslide: “Koko Kanu, Absolut Vanilla vodka, PX sherry and almond milk. Shaken with a pinch of smoked salt” which was insanely chocolatey.  I had a Victory: “Chartreuse, cointreau, blackcurrant and apple juice, charged with soda water”.  It.  Was.  Strong.  I kinda want another one right now.

OXO2015_3And then the main event – the cakes.  I was surprised when Husband ordered exactly the same as me as he’s not really a chocolate fan and the Chocolate Classic plate was very chocolatey.  Chocolate orange pavé, Black Forest sundae, salted caramelia almond stack and chocolate coconut mousse.  Every single one was amazing.  It’s funny – it really doesn’t look like a lot of cake, but I was already full by the second piece.

After the empty plates were whisked away, we were served a Golden Afternoon cocktail out of a teapot (which I didn’t get to photograph) with a gingerbread pocket watch.  I actually don’t remember much about the ingredients of the cocktail- I think it was Hendricks gin with jasmine tea?  What was really cool was the dry ice, which gave the effect of steam coming out of the teapot.  I really want the tea set though, despite the fact I don’t actually drink tea and would never use it.

OXO2015_5

And if that wasn’t enough to put you in a sugar coma, we got two boxes of sweets to take home.

Our next trip to the Oxo Tower will be less sugary, but we’ll definitely be doing their Not Afternoon Tea again after that.

There’s sugar on your soul

Vineyard4

I like afternoon tea.  Whoever invented it is a genius (apparently, Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford.  Give that woman a medal).  I’m always looking for the next good reason to book a table, and it just so happens that we had a good reason this weekend, so decided to venture into Berkshire.  The Vineyard is a beautiful hotel, restaurant, and spa just outside Newbury that just so happens to do a very sophisticated afternoon tea.

The very first thing we saw was a Ferrari in the car park.  It felt like our car was pretty much one of the cheapest in the car park, and we’ve got an Audi, so I was very glad that I’d worn a nice dress.  We were greeted outside by member of staff (he seemed to appear from nowhere) and he led us to the restaurant – a very nice touch and a great indicator of the customer service we’d receive that afternoon.  I took a photo of their wine collection displayed in reception as we waited – it’s not a great photo but shows the stunning set up that you see as soon as you walk in for some of their 30,000 bottles.  The glass floor reveals even more shelves of wine, and is only just a teensy bit terrifying to stand on.

Anyway, enough of the wine as we weren’t here for that.  We were shown to the lounge and seated at a comfy sofa in front of the fireplace.  It was a beautiful sunny day outside so the doors had been flung open, but I imagine it’d be lovely to snuggle up here on a cold day.

Tea was poured, and sandwiches and scones were brought out.  I had chosen the vegetarian (which admittedly wasn’t a particularly varied selection, but that’s ok).  The scones were bloody amazing though, with homemade jams and yummy cream.

I’ve just realised that the scones photo looks a bit pareidolic.

I had seen a photo of the cakes online, but that didn’t really do them justice.  I’d gone for a walk in the garden to look at the fountain after eating my scones.  It looks like it’d be awesome to sit around in the evening as is has fire torches on the surface.  I came back to this at the table:

Wow.  I’d missed the description of what they were, so only using my terrible sense of taste – left to right was blackcurrant sorbet, a biscuit thing with ice cream on it (such detail), lemon doughnuts (which were so good), caramel eclairs, chocolate macarons, and some kind of raspberry entremet.  It was a great selection and made up for the slightly lacking sandwiches.  We massacred the cake display, and probably the toughest decision was the order in which to eat them.

It was such a pleasant and laid back afternoon, and we spent about two hours there in total.  I visited the bathroom of course (well, you have to at fancy places, right?) which was down an art-lined corridor – some really lovely paintings and drawings.  The bathroom was so quaint; fabric covered walls, REN hand-wash, and a sewing set for any clothing mishaps.  Plus, it smelt heavenly.

It was just such a shame to have to go home.

I’m full, and yet I know if I stop eating this, I’ll regret it.

Oxo Tea 4I’m going to tell you a little secret – I am a little drunk right now.  All because of the OXO Tower and their beautiful Not Afternoon Tea.

Last weekend for my birthday, we were at the OXO Tower for lunch, and whilst it was lovely, I had wanted Not Afternoon Tea but it was all booked up.  We did manage to get a table to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary this weekend – everyone knows that the fifth anniversary is wood cake.  Even better than last weekend, we got a table on the terrace and although it was a bit grey, the temperature was perfect.  The above photo was my view.

Oxo Tea1We decided on their special menu ‘experience’ – for the whole month of September, they will be celebrating the Thames as part of the Totally Thames series of events.  Called Push the Boat Out, our afternoon tea started with the rather odd looking Jellied Eels – champagne, coconut, and lychee jellies.  OMG THIS WAS GORGEOUS.  I could have eaten the champagne jelly all day.  It came with a gin and gooseberry vodka cocktail, stirred with strawberry, Aperol, and OXO Brut Champagne.  This delicious drink sent me giddy immediately, but in my defence, I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch (it was 2pm).  Also in my defence, I am a lightweight.

Oxo Tea 2Next up, the main event – THE CAKE!  Good lord, this was amazing, and look at our adorable chocolate message!  Our waiter (who I think was called Marco) was absolutely perfect and had asked us if we were celebrating anything this weekend so our cakes came out with a lovely touch.  I wish more places would do stuff like this – it really is a very nice and simple thing to do for someone.  I feel guilty for dropping a nut on it.  And then eating it.

Anyway, I chose their Chocolate Bars plate which was:

  • White chocolate coconut cherry mousse
  • Blond chocolate and butterscotch parfait
  • Milk chocolate peanut nougat
  • Chocolate raisin hazelnut crisps bar

All of which was amazing but the peanut nougat in particular was heaven.  The cocktail I chose to go along with my cakies was Ice Pop – Absolut raspberry vodka and Cointreau blended with vanilla sugar and lemon juice.  Unsurprisingly, it blew my socks off.

Oxo Tea 3

Husband had a Blooming Lovely Plate:

  • Elderflower and gooseberry fool
  • Lavender macarons, blueberry cream
  • Rose, lemon and polenta cake
  • Hibiscus and pomegranate jelly

He didn’t let me have any of it.  Mean!  To go with it, he had a Pretty Please cocktail – Green tea and hibiscus liqueur, elderflower and lemon juice charged with HN Prosecco.  He did not get drunk because he is not a lightweight.

And as part of the special menu, we had an adorable treat to take away:

Oxo Tower 5The empty glass explains the terrible photo, but these are cinnamon life rafts and oars to take home.

We didn’t know that they would have this special menu when we booked, and I’m so pleased we ordered it.  We’re going to keep an eye out on their website for any future fun menus and definitely go back.  But perhaps I’ll eat beforehand next time.

…they’re going to force us to eat lots of cake and then take an unreasonably long nap.

Syon Park

I am on the verge of a food coma after an amazing afternoon tea at the Hilton Syon Park.  We’ve been once before for my Mother-in-law’s birthday and I wanted to take my parents as a post-Christmas present, so almost a year later, we found ourselves back again.   It used to be a Waldorf Astoria, and we were a little worried that things might have dramatically changed, but everything seemed the same as we walked in.

There was a little hiccup when the maitre d’ led us into a quiet corner of the Cocktail Bar, and we quickly realised that we wouldn’t be sat in The Capability.  A last minute event had meant that main restaurant would now be closed, but the staff could not have been more apologetic, offering us discount and free cocktails and champagne.  And as it turns out, tea in the comfy seats of the bar was actually really lovely.

Bar

Although we were looked after by one waitress (who I think was called Laura – I wish I’d checked it with her), all of the staff were really attentive.  We were right by a speaker, so they turned the music down for us, and every time someone walked passed, we got a smile and a “how is everything”.   We felt really cared for.  Laura was excellent though, really chatty and smiley.  We couldn’t have asked for a better server.

Cocktail

We got our drinks – I chose a non-alcoholic Bramble On, Husband had a gin martini, and my parents both had champagne – and took a look at the menu full of yummy sandwiches.  Everything is so well designed and beautifully decorated – even down to the crockery, which is covered in butterflies for the Butterfly House in the grounds.

Menu

I had the veggie, everyone else had the ‘standard’.  The tea arrived first and I do appreciate this sounds very stupid, but I don’t really like tea so I had some sparkling water.  The others were more normal though, Husband having a pot of orange oolong tea, and my parents having the ‘signature’ Syon Park afternoon tea.  They all really enjoyed their tea.

And then the food arrived.

Tea

It was just as good as I remembered – the cucumber with celery salt is my favourite and is so simple but so flavourful.  The scones are incredibly soft inside and delicious with the cream and jam.  And we’re a little embarrassed to report that we barely put a dent in the pile of pastries we had, but thank goodness for boxes to take them away with us.  We now have a weekend of slowly filling ourselves up with the rich little cakes.

I already want to go back.  Once I’ve actually recovered from the sugar overdose.  Now excuse me, I’m off for my unreasonably long nap.