Wednesday 31 December 2014

2014 North East Foodie Awards

Welcome to New Girl in Toon's very own celebration of a year of amazing food places in the North East!   What fun would writing a blog full of food be if you couldn't host your own little award ceremony at the end of the year?  

This year I have ticked so many restaurants off my list and I thought it would be good to share my top picks of 2014 with you.


Winner: Jesmond Dene House

I think we all knew I'd pick JDH as my winner.  The food is amazing and the house is gorgeous - if you haven't been yet what on earth are you waiting for?  It is easily the best afternoon tea in the North East and we return time and time again.

Runner up: Bonbar

New to the Toon, afternoon tea at Bonbar is a really fun affair with funky glass teapots and delicious food.


Winner: The Oak Café at Barker and Stonehouse

This little place is a hidden treasure in the centre of Newcastle.   A stone's throw away from the city centre it's peaceful and cosy with delicious cakes.  The best place to escape the hustle and bustle of the high street.

Runner up: Great British Cupcakery

Serving up the biggest cakes in town, the counter at the Great British Cupcakery has to be seen to be believed. 


Winner: Tyneside Bar and Cinema

The best breakfast menu in Newcastle!   Speed down there on a Sunday for Brunch Club, the perfect excuse to work your way down the entire menu whilst watching a classic old film.

Runner Up: Malmaison

Not for the faint hearted, the Malmaison offers up the biggest brunch in town which is so epic you'll need to go home after for a lie down.


Winner: Sloppy Joe's

Always Simon's first suggestion if we're in Newcastle and desperate for a satisfying sandwich, he's even been known to sneak off and buy one without me!   Serving local produce on freshly baked bread - this is street style food at its finest.

Runner Up: Zapatista

Took us a while to try it but when we did it was love!   Hugely satisfying Burritos, crammed full of the most tasty fillings.   We will definitely be back there in 2015 to try out the churros that have recently been added to the menu.


Winner: St Mary's Inn

Probably my most anticipated new restaurant of the year and it did not let me down.  From the people that brought us Jesmond Dene House, St Mary's Inn is so warm and cosy with a delicious menu.

Runner Up:  Coop Chicken House

After years of being left so disappointed by Nandos (bleurggghhh!) this little independent restaurant in Newcastle serves up chicken the right way ... with shots of sauce!  Delicious!


Winner: Bonbar

Bonbar was a real surprise for us when we ventured in during Restaurant Week.  We had no idea what to expect and were really impressed by how fantastic the food was.  So much so we have since returned for afternoon tea and again on Christmas Day!

I'm already excited to see what places we can discover in 2015!  

Monday 29 December 2014

Boxing Day Sales

Is it just me, or did the sales used to start a lot later?  My memories of going shopping for bargains as a teen always happened quite a few days after Christmas. I  didn't actually realise that Boxing Day sales were a thing until a few years ago.   People getting up early the day after Christmas to battle round the shops instead of spending the day in their PJs eating chocolate seemed a little odd. 

This year however, as I was in Newcastle for Christmas, I decided to get up early on Boxing Day and head to Eldon Square for 9:00am. 

I stupidly thought that no one else could possibly get up that early.  I was wrong! Whenever I go shopping on a Saturday, I'm sure to get into Toon very early and therefore always beat the crowds. It seems however that for a bargain, people will get up with the birds.

Some shops were definitely busier than others, the worst being Next and Lush. I had already decided not to bother with Next - I will never understand why anyone queues up outside at 5:00am to join the chaos in such an unorganised shop.  It looks like a jumble sale and they close the changing rooms!

I did however want to go to Lush so headed there first. I walked through the doors just after 9:00am and it was heaving. The Christmas stock was all reduced by 50% and there were hands grabbing things from all directions. 
I got myself a basket and managed to get a large bottle of Rose Jam and Snow Fairy as well as 6 bath bombs and some yog nog soap. These are all things that I'd been wanting before Christmas so I was glad to get hold of everything.  

Feeling hot and covered in glitter, I joined the queue that was snaking round the shop and quickly realised that my little basket containing one of everything I wanted was very modest compared to others.  Some people had two bulging baskets full of products and I wasn't surprised when the store announced a short while after that they'd completely sold out of Snow Fairy. 

I was in the queue for the tills for 50 minutes! It was worth it though as I got £52 worth of goodies for £26. 

Next I popped next door to Boots. I was a little disappointed by how few of the gift sets seemed to be left. I bought a DKNY perfume set reduced from £48.50 to £32.33.  It included a 50 ml bottle of perfume that usually costs £48.50 alone, as well as a hand cream. 

Despite all my purchases so far being smellies, I headed to the Body Shop to see what else I could find. 

Before Christmas I'd had a sniff of the lovely new apple scented products so I picked up the body butter reduced from £13 to £6.  I also got two hand creams in Rose and Almond for £5 each. 

Eldon Square has recently seen the addition of a brand new Accessorize so I had to go for a nose. The store looks amazing - really large and light. I bought a pair of shoes reduced to £14.50 and a bright pink zip up purse for £4.00. 

The last shop I visited was New Look. I headed straight to the shoes as I knew they had some great bargains. Unfortunately all the shoes I wanted weren't available in my size but I did place a sneaky order online when I got home.

My top tips for shopping the Boxing Day Sales:

1. Dress appropriately - it may be freezing outside but it's boiling hot in the overcrowded shops. 

2. Keep a clear head - don't buy things you don't want just because they're cheap. 

3. Get to town early and head to the busiest shop first. 

4. Take a pocket full of Christmas treats with you - whilst I was stood in the Lush queue I seriously regretted not taking a handful of Roses with me.

5. Make sure you keep your wits about you - in the Body Shop my hand creams ran through at £11 each but on the shelf they were marked as £5.  Sometimes the tills haven't been updated.

6. Keep calm and smile - the shops are hot and very busy but the only way to really cope is to make sure you don't lose your head.

7. If you're not interested in the sales but love Primark make sure you head there. With not much of a sale on it's unusually quiet.  I also found most of their clothes were reduced at the tills even though they were marked as full price. 

My first experience of the Boxing Day sales was an enjoyable one, I had fun, picked up some bargains and I'd definitely go again.

Let me know if you found any good sale bargains. 

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Christmas in the Capital

Most of my visit in London was spent rushing around catching up with family and friends but I did manage to grab a little bit of downtime to soak in some of the Festive cheer.

London at Christmas is fantastic - there are shows to see, extravagant lights to admire and the department stores do battle to create the best window display.  I managed to see the Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges displays (Selfridges won it for me with their fairytale inspired display).

Top of my Christmas agenda was a trip to Borough Market, London's largest permanent food market. I'd never been before, probably because I'd always heard it was really busy at weekends. Taking advantage of being in London mid week I visited early on Wednesday morning and it was lovely and peaceful.  

I loved it and can't recommend it enough. There were far more stalls than I ever could have imagined selling bread, cheese, meats and delicious looking cakes.

Being there at Christmas was extra special.  The market was beautifully decorated and the air was thick with the smell of mulled wine. 

There was only one drink I was interested in though. I'd heard that Konditor and Cook on the edge of the market sell the best hot chocolate in London so I had to try some. My little cup was exactly how hot chocolate should be - very thick and indulgently rich. 

My plan was to then walk along the Thames to the Southbank but the wet weather forced me onto the tube down to Waterloo to have a look at the Southbank Christmas Market.

This was one of my favourite festive markets when I was a Londoner. I would pick a night after work and go there for my dinner.

I must say it didn't really have the same atmosphere on a dreary wet Wednesday afternoon and I'd definitely recommend going after dark for the full experience. 

The last stop on my festive tour was Covent Garden.  Crammed with tourists, most Londoners avoid this area but if it's Christmas cheer you're after there really isn't anywhere better.

Giant Lego Santa had arrived in the Plaza and I happily joined the tourists jostling to stand in the best place for a good look at the amazing detail.

The main market looked fantastic with the roof adorned with giant baubles and lanterns.

And of course the best part is the huge tree that always stands proud at the back of the market.

Christmas in London is always special so if you get a chance to visit in December make sure you enjoy it and experience as much as you can.

This is my last post before Christmas so I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a nice relaxing break with your friends and family.

It's been a very successful and busy year here at New Girl in Toon.   I've had the most amazing time exploring the North East, making lots of new friends through my blog and being shortlisted for a Blog North Award which was such a huge honour. 

I intend to take a bit of a blogging break over Christmas and the New Year to recharge the batteries.   Blogging is so fun but it's also a lot of hard work and a little break is much needed.

Thank you so much for your support and kind words this year, they mean the world to me.   I have THE best readers and I appreciate each and every one of you who take the time to read and comment on my posts.  Hopefully this little blog will continue to grow and develop next year and I look forward to sharing it with you all. 

Happy Christmas x

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Cake Treats at LEto

My second day in London I realised that I was yet to have cake. Very unlike me!

So I arranged to meet Aftab, one of my favourite London based bloggers (because bloggers really do make the best cake dates). 

We met at Knightsbridge and after a quick look round the Harrods Christmas Shop and Food Hall we headed to L'Eto for something sweet. 

L'Eto is a patisserie with 6 shops across London.  I spotted their very impressive window full of cakes on my visit to Chelsea last month and knew I had to return to eat on my next visit.

L'Eto looks tiny from the outside and as we made our way in and asked for a table for 2 I wasn't very hopeful that they'd be able to accommodate us. Little did I know there was a narrow staircase at the back leading to a further area downstairs. We were the only people down there and found ourselves in a cosy room complete with Christmas tree and fireplace. 
The cakes at L'Eto are all out on display and the choice is immense. Cakes, brownies and slices galore, there really is something for everyone. As a nut allergy sufferer I really appreciated that each cake was labelled to say if it contained nuts.

After examining each and every cake and taking forever to decide I eventually chose a muffin. I would never normally pick a muffin over a slice of cake but these were no ordinary muffins. It was a huge chocolate mountain complete with a sticky cherry topping.

Aftab went for carrot cake and it was literally the biggest slab of cake I'd ever seen. I wasn't convinced he'd ever be able to eat it all.  I never should have underestimated a blogger's talent at eating cake though as he did a very good job of tackling it.

The food at L'Eto was fantastic, and I'll be paying them another visit next time I'm in the capital. 

Monday 22 December 2014

Winter Brunch at Le Chalet

Earlier this month I spent a week in London with my time split between dashing around catching up with friends and getting my Christmas on.

I had a bit of time to myself and so carefully picked a few things I'd been wanting to do for ages. 

My first solo trip was to Selfridges for a roof top adventure. Selfridges have a great space on their roof that they use for special popups. My last visit was a couple of years ago when they had a mini golf course on their roof. 

This Winter the roof plays host to Le Chalet, a special winter wonderland serving food by Q Grill.

Le Chalet is accessed by a special Christmas lift. It's the only way to get to the roof and is tucked away behind the Chanel counter in the fragrance hall on the Ground Floor. 

After being whisked up to the top floor I stepped out of the lift to be greeted by faux fur rugs and piles of logs.  Suddenly I was in a ski lodge in the middle of London!

The corridor into Le Chalet is lined by gorgeous twinkly lights, very Narnia.

I was shown a seat by the window where I was kept warm by the gorgeous Winter sun that was lighting the restaurant. Le Chalet is fully covered but with thick plastic sheets acting as the windows I'm sure at times it must get a little cold. Luckily, each chair is draped with a tartan shawl, perfect to snuggle up in to keep warm.

Le Chalet is a great Winter hideaway. Complete with exposed lights, fire places, furry rugs and lanterns it's the closest you'll get to a ski lodge without leaving the country.

My table was booked for opening at 11.00 am as I wanted to try the brunch menu. I'd read that service could be a little on the slow side and I did have to wait a while for my order to be taken but after that didn't have any problems. 

I ordered Mushrooms on Toast with Fried Duck Egg.  It tasted so good and I especially loved the egg which was really runny. The toast was perhaps a little overdone and crunchy for my liking but I still enjoyed every mouthful.

I'm not sure it's normal to order a dessert for brunch but the sweet menu looked so good I was never going to be able to resist. 

Being a massive fan of eggnog I chose the Snowcake Eggnog. Eggnog encased in a sugar shell that I had to smash my way through. Fun and tasty!

Le Chalet also serve dinner, lunch and a rather impressive list of choctails which I wish I could have fitted in. 

Le Chalet is open until late March 2015 and is proving to be a huge success so make sure you book in advance. 

Friday 19 December 2014

Festive Afternoon Tea at the Vermont Hotel

My little blogger's cake club in the North East has been running for 5 months now and to celebrate we decided that December's club should be something special.   We usually find ourselves in small tea rooms across the region but Christmas time is always a great excuse to do something different so we put on our Festive jumpers and headed to the Vermont Hotel for a Festive Afternoon Tea.

The Vermont has been mentioned on my blog a few times before - Simon and I had drinks on the Sky Lounge roof bar back in the Summer, we've had a couple of evening meals in the brasserie and it has become my bar of choice to have a quiet drink when I want a comfy sofa in a peaceful environment. 

However, this was my first Afternoon Tea at the Vermont so I was looking forward to trying out somewhere new and sharing a properly indulgent afternoon tea with the girls.

Our tea was taken in the Redwood Bar which looks so beautiful at Christmas.  We were lucky and had a prime table next to the roaring fire which had a traditionally decorated mantelpiece.  If there's one thing I love at Christmas its a festive fireplace!    We also found ourselves next to the piano and I was secretly hoping that someone might appear to play some festive tunes but unfortunately it never happened.  I was tempted to tinkle the ivories myself, but I wasn't sure that the rest of the bar would appreciate a rousing rendition of "chop sticks".

This was the first time I'd ever had this type of afternoon tea in such a large group.  There were 7 of us in total and our little table really struggled to fit all of the cake stands, teapots, jugs of milk and sugar pots.  It was a little bit of a mission moving around the table without knocking things over.

Festive Afternoon Tea is served at the Vermont through December and costs £14.95 which is fantastic value for the amount of food that you get.  I loved the Festive twist on the classic cake stand and really appreciated the effort that the hotel had gone to.  They were also very accommodating with my nut allergy, giving me my very own "nut free" cake stand.

I usually race through the sandwiches to get to the cake, but these bad boys were worth taking the time over.  The bread was soft and fresh and the fillings were generous with a special little nod to Christmas.   We enjoyed Salmon and Cream Cheese, Turkey and Stuffing, Bacon and Brie with Cranberry (my personal favourite) and Egg and Cress (maybe not the most festive of flavours but delicious nevertheless).

As it was Christmas it was only right to have a little tipple with our savoury tier and we were each given a glass of mulled wine which put us completely in the mood for Christmas. 

We were served two scones each which almost made me want to fist pump the air.  I've been getting quite frustrated recently at afternoon teas only serving one scone per person .. yes maybe I am greedy but I do like to be given the option to eat two!    The plain scone was lovely but the real star of that tier was the fruit scone that was given an extra Christmassy boost of cinnamon.

Before making it to the top tier we decided we were in need of a breather as we were beginning to feel very full.  Following on from my earlier debate about scones it is ALWAYS a mistake to eat both, but even so it's completely necessary to do it anyway. 

So it was time to exchange presents whilst our tummies made room for cake.  We decided to do a Secret Santa, with a budget of £10.   We had so much fun opening our presents and guessing who our Secret Santa was (I wont mention who accidentally wrote their name on their present and gave the whole game away!)

Everyone's presents were very well thought out and there were lots of smiling faces as we ripped open the paper.   Shivani was my secret santa and she got me a box of chocolates (I think everyone knows how much I LOVE chocolate at  Christmas) and the most beautiful hanging tota birds from her recent trip to India. 

After all the excitement we just about had room to carry on with the cakes and tucked into the goodies on the top tier.   We had a shot of chocolate and cherry mousse (complete with a chocolate spoon to eat it with), mini mince pies, a very rich and spicy gingerbread cake and mini cheesecake as well as some peppermint candy canes and strawberries.   I think I'm probably the only person who managed to polish all of mine off!

We had a fantastic afternoon telling each other funny stories and chatting about Christmas.   The time flew and it was lovely to be in the company of my favourites ladies in the North East.  It seems so odd that a year ago I hadn't met any of these girls and now they are my closest friends in my new home.   I feel very lucky to have met them all this year -  If you can't be sentimental at Christmas then when can you eh?

Afternoon Tea at the Vermont gets a thumbs up from me, and I'm sure I'll be heading there again next year as poor Simon is a little sad that he missed out!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

The Stargazer of Saltwell

One of the highlights of my Christmas calendar is Enchanted Parks that is held at Saltwell Park every December.   A fantastical story brought alive by the power of light and sound, it truly brings something magical to the beautiful park in Gateshead.

We had an amazing time last year (you can read all about it here) so I bought my tickets the second they went on sale for this year's display.

This year's story featured Estella, a little girl who lived in Saltwell Towers in the 1800's and became obsessed with the stars.  Her bedroom was dedicated to her fascination with astronomy and astrology.

Every night she would dream of what lay beyond our planet.  She loved the idea of being able to fly into space and escape her normal life.

Whilst some thought the isolated girl was a dreamer, others claim she was ahead of her time and even launched a rocket from Saltwell Park. 

One day Estella mysteriously vanished.  What happened to her?  

As the story ended with a fantastical being that seemed to appear out of a spaceship, I like to think that Estella got her wish and got transported to another world.

As always, Enchanted Parks delivered a fantastic escape for the evening and we loved getting lost in Estella's world. Cold feet and wet clothes were forgotten as we walked round the Park.

One little grumble though. Last year at the event we had hot chocolates from a little kart that were out of this world.  Perfectly made with cream, marshmallows and caramel we have literally spent the whole year looking forward to having another.  Unfortunately, this year they were nowhere to be seen so we had to make do with powdered hot chocolate.

Such a disappointment! Please come back next year special hot chocolate kart!
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