Friday 28 November 2014

The Great British Cupcakery

Back in the early days of my blog I wrote a post about having afternoon tea at the Great British Cupcakery in Newcastle.   Both the Cupcakery and my blog had only been in existence for a few months and since then I like to think that we've both grown so I decided it was time to return.

I love going on cake dates with my lovely blogging ladies  Kayleigh and Lisa. We're all huge fans of the Great British Cupcakery, so we planned a visit on a Saturday, slightly worried that we wouldn't be able to get a table.   Since my first visit, the Cupcakery has grown so popular that it's almost always full and can be very difficult to get a table.  

We struck lucky this time though and arriving at 2:00pm on a Saturday were surprised to find that we had the place practically to ourselves.   It was such a novelty to have our pick of the tables and really take our time choosing our cakes.

The Cupcakery is a cake lover's paradise. Beautifully decorated with wooden floors, shabby chic furniture and pastel colours, it's a truly charming place to go for a catch up with girlfriends.

Every inch of the counter was covered in huge, colourful and very delicious looking cakes.  It was almost impossible to make a decision, I found myself wanting one of everything!

In the end I opted for a slice of chocolate and vanilla cake which really caught my eye due to the beautiful ruby red strawberries that were decorating the top. 

Lisa chose the same and Kayleigh decided on the lime and coconut cake decorated with marshmallows.

As always the cakes were delicious. My only criticism is that once the Cupcakery started getting busy, around 30 minutes after we arrived, the tables filled up far too quickly.  Every time I visit  I wish that they had smaller tables to seat 2 as most tables are for 4 - 8 people and don't really utilise the space of the tea room.

GBC have just released details of their special Christmas Afternoon Tea which just looks amazing.  Unfortunately my diary is ridiculous in the lead up to Christmas and there's no way I'll ever fit it in.   Let me know if you go!

Wednesday 26 November 2014

My Little Box

Subscription Boxes are something I wasn't really familiar with before I started blogging.  Now, a day doesn't go by without someone writing a review on a subscription box.  The market is becoming somewhat saturated, with beauty boxes being the most popular amongst my fellow bloggers.

With my limited knowledge of beauty products I've never really been too interested in getting a beauty box subscription.  I think I'd probably end up not using half of the contents, so it never seemed like a wise way to spend my money.

But then My Little Box came along and after a month of resisting (which I now seriously regret as I missed out on the first box) I am now a very happy box subscriber.

My Little Box contains not only beauty but also fashion and lifestyle goodies, all fitting in around a different monthly theme.   Each box comes with a pouch full of beauty products (including one from the in-house beauty range "My Little Beauty"), "My Little World" lifestyle magazine, illustrated goodies from artist Kanako and fashion and lifestyle accessories.

My Little Box has been around for a while in France but only launched in the UK in September with the "My Little Parisienne" Box (yes, yes, this is the one I missed out on .. SOB!) and has been a bit of a hit.

I'm giving you a little sneaky look into the two boxes that I've received since starting the My Little Box subscription.  I think once you've seen, you'll agree that a subscription would make a fantastic Christmas present.

My first box was issued in October and was a celebration of designer Diane von Furstenberg.  The DVF box contained some amazing goodies including a special DVF print scarf and a brooch.

The second box arrived on my doorstep only this week and is a perfect box of treats now that the weather has got a little colder.  "My Little Cosy Box" made me squeal, mainly because it contained a really cute espresso mug.   I'm not an espresso drinker but I quite like the idea of making myself mini hot chocolates in it.   I also really loved the heated cushion which became a bit of a godsend when our heating broke!

The magazine that comes in each box is great to pop into your bag. It's small but manages to pack in quite a bit of information to enhance your enjoyment of the goodies in your box.

Each box also contains a little card illustrsted by artist Kanako. I love the little uplifting messages each one has so I'm planning on framing some of them to put on the walls when we buy our first house.

Once you've unpacked your box if you still haven't had enough there's also the My Little Paris website to visit (so lovely it makes me even more desperate to visit) and the My Little App which is updated daily with recipes, competitions and cute things to add to your phone.

My Little Box costs £11 a month and you can order it as a Christmas gift here with a choice of buying a 3 month, 6 month or 12 month subscription.

Monday 24 November 2014

Gentlemen's Afternoon Tea at Wallsend Hall

At the weekend Simon and I ventured a few miles out of Newcastle to Wallsend.  Wallsend is a town proud of its Roman history - it's home to the end of Hadrian's Wall and interestingly you can find signs written in both English and Latin dotted round Wallsend Metro Station.

Before I get carried away giving you a lesson on North East history, I should probably tell you that this was a trip for our bellies rather than our minds.  We had some important afternoon tea business to attend to so we headed straight to Wallsend Hall for an afternoon tea with a twist.

We bought our tea as part of a Living Social deal and were excited at the prospect of a Ladies and Gentleman's Northumbrian Afternoon Tea - something we hadn't tried before.

Walking into the Hall we were greeted by a warm reception room complete with roaring fire, even with minimal Christmas decorations it made me feel so festive.   If I wasn't so hungry I could have happily taken a seat to wait for Father Christmas to appear down the chimney.

Afternoon Tea was served in the tea room which was very busy with lots of people enjoying lunch.  The room was lovely and warm which I was happy about, I love coming in from the cold to settle down somewhere comfortable and I appreciated being able to warm myself up at our window table by the radiator.

It wasn't long before our tea stand arrived and it was a pretty impressive sight and very different to the afternoon teas that we've had in the past.

This was a very special afternoon tea that you could only find in the North East.  Our waitress went through each tier, which was very much needed as it really was a spread with a difference.

Our bottom tier held a mini Northumbrian Cheese Board served with Crackers, Gherkin and Pickled Onion, Ham and Pease Pudding Croquet and Bread with Craster Kipper Pate. 

The North East is so special to me and since moving here I've really enjoyed trying out all of the tasty food that the area has to offer so to have so many local delicacies in one sitting was great.

The Northumbrian Cheese was delicious and I munched it down far too fast.  

Pease Pudding is something I wasn't familiar with before moving to Newcastle, and its something I'm still not very good at describing.   It's a savoury paste made from yellow split peas and is quite often eaten with ham.  If you ever adventure to the North East you'll notice that Ham and Pease Pudding is a very popular sandwich filling here.   I've tried it a few times, and whilst I'm not a huge fan of it in sandwiches I really enjoyed it in the Croquets served with a mustard dip.

I smothered my bread in the Craster Kipper pate which was delicious.  Craster is a little village in Northumberland, famous for its kippers.  As I haven't made it up to Craster to explore yet I was very happy that a little part of Craster had found me.  My only criticism was that it would have tasted even better with some chunky fresh bread rather than skinny little bits of baguette.

Our second tier featured another North East favourite, Pan Haggerty (delicious layers of potatoes, cheese and onions) as well as a couple of scones.   

Unlike other afternoon teas we found ourselves sharing scones, we had one cheese and one fruit so had to cut them in half to share.  I think we would have preferred to have one each.   The jam and cream was lovely but the butter arrived in little packets which was a shame.

The top tier, traditionally covered in cakes was a modest affair.

We started with the refreshing Lindisfarne Mead Jelly.  It was my first taste of Lindisfarne Mead and I am definitely a fan - made on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, the Mead is created by mixing honey with grapes and water. 

The only cake on our afternoon tea was a tiny square of Brown Ale Chocolate Cake.  It was delicious but very bite size.  Simon did spend most of the tea looking a little confused, and couldn't help but ask "where's the cake?"

We do love our cake, and whilst it was great to experience such a different afternoon tea I do think it needed a few more sweet things on the top tier.  I would definitely describe this tea as a "Gentleman's Afternoon Tea" rather than a "Ladies and Gentleman's Afternoon Tea" - this lady really missed the cake!

If you're a big fan of savoury bites and love indulging in some traditional Northumbrian food this is definitely the afternoon tea for you. 

Friday 21 November 2014

Pizza Party at Cal's Own

This week Cal's Own in Heaton turned two and to celebrate threw open its doors and held a pizza party.

Cal's has been on my list of eateries for a while now but, as I reach my 18 month anniversary of moving to the North East, I confess working my way round to visit everyone has been slow. So my invitation was a great excuse to finally get myself there. 

Cal's Own is a small pizzeria making up authentic Brooklyn style pizza in an open kitchen, with many of the ingredients sourced from Italy.  

Delivery is available if you live in the Jesmond, High Heaton, Benton, Sandyford and Shieldfield areas of the City but for those of us living in the less trendy parts of Town, Cal's has a very cosy little restaurant where you can bring your own bottle and enjoy some mighty fine food. 

Having heard so many great tales of the amazing pizzas served at Cal's I couldn't wait to finally try one for myself. 

But first to whet our appetite we were presented with some other delicious treats including warm bread (I overindulged), meatballs (the best I've ever had) and sausages (too spicy for me but I am a self confessed wuss!)

Cals Own
The food was so delicious - hot, fresh and very moreish.  I managed to conquer the challenge of eating meatballs on a paper plate and helped myself to two servings. 

Finally the pizza appeared, along with hands reaching from every direction to grab a slice. I could tell from the rate the pizza left the table that it was going to be very special.

Cals Own
Luckily I was with a friend who had long arms and soon a huge chunk of meaty pizza was in my hands.

It was absolute heaven, completely worth the 18 month wait - although did make me wonder why I'd left it so long. 

The North East bloggers were out in force, many of them already huge fans of Cal's Own and professionals in the menu. I soon realised my rookie mistake at eating so much bread when other bloggers who were more experienced patiently held back, waiting for the thin crust pizza to arrive. By this point I was too full to even look at any more pizza so missed out. Fail!

Cals Own

The good news is that this means I definitely have to return to get my hands on the gorgeous looking thin crust pizzas. 

Happy Birthday Cal's Own - thanks for completing this honorary Geordie's initiation.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Adventures in London

It's been 13 months since my last London visit and I'm not sure where the time has gone.  It's the longest I've ever been away from the Capital in my adult life.

So when a sale popped up on East Coast trains a few months ago, promising single tickets to London for £12, I got in touch with my friend Sarah and arranged a trip to stay with her.

To make the most out of the weekend I booked myself on to a 6.30am train out of Newcastle. The journey from the North East takes just over 3 hours so an early start was essential to make the most of my visit.

I arrived at 9.45am and we made our way to Euston to meet our friend Karen who was arriving from Milton Keynes. 

London was the busiest I'd ever seen it. When I lived in London I would always avoid central areas full of tourists at the weekend so being back in the thick of the crowds felt a little strange. With several sporting events taking place and people visiting for Remembrance Sunday it was packed.

The day began with a short tube ride to Chelsea for a walk down the Kings Road. Chelsea is one of my favourite places for pottering. There are so many shop windows and beautifully dressed people to admire.  

Having been up since 4.30am a hearty brunch was needed so we headed to Bumpkin, a small chain of brasseries across London.

Bumpkin Chelsea
I was impressed with the range on the breakfast menu and chose the Eggs Benedict. It was served on a muffin with a mini saucepan of hollandaise sauce and was really delicious.

Brunch at Bumpkin
Sarah and Karen both had dishes served on toast and got disappointingly small portions with one slice of toast each. This, along with a pretty bad level of service, didn't leave us with a very good impression and although the restaurant was so cute with it's gorgeous garden inspired interior I wouldn't go back in a hurry.

Despite it being a pretty drizzly day, London was very warm and we couldn't face heading back down to the tube so after our food we strolled towards the West End. 

I'd forgotten how warm London can get so spent a lot of the weekend regretting my decision to wear my fur lined parka. I was very happy that we did lots of walking outside rather than being trapped underground.

Walking in London is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a day and I'd always recommend it as the best way to move round the capital. Often you can get to places far quicker by foot and it's definitely more comfortable. It's impossible to get lost with so many buses and tube stations around and you can discover some great new areas of London. 

Our walk took us past the beautiful white buildings of Chelsea to the Museum District and along to Knightsbridge for a quick look round Harvey Nichols.

After Karen had left us, Sarah and I braved the crowds and headed to Leicester Square to the W Hotel for afternoon tea. 

The W is quite a new hotel to London so somewhere I wasn't familiar with. It's in a prime location overlooking one of London's busiest tourist traps yet the hotel is so peaceful.  

We were shown to our table in the beautiful lounge that was made up of lots of private little seating areas with comfortable couches and chairs decorated with colourful tartan cushions.

The afternoon tea was a themed "Fashion Power Tea" and was served on a rather special cakestand. The cakes were a Lady Gaga Red Velvet Cake, a Queen Elizabeth I cake and a Viviene Westwood inspired chocolate cake complete with signature tartan print and pink candy floss hair.

It was one of the loveliest afternoon teas I've ever had. The cakes were delicious and so generous that we had to take some home in a box. 

All we were able to do at the end of the day was roll home to Sarah's flat to watch a DVD in our PJs!

The next day we had just enough time to have a Sunday Roast before my train home. We headed to the City and settled down for some great food at the Drift.

The Drift is part of Drake and Morgan, a small chain of really pretty bar/restaurants in London that I've been a fan of for a while. Each one has a different theme and the Drift is very much inspired by the beach with seashells and driftwood.  

After lunch we took a short walk to my old office for a quick look. It's funny how it all looks the same. I felt a little nostalgic and sad looking up at the building where I made so many wonderful friends and happy memories. 

As I turned my back on the City and headed back to Kings Cross my homesickness for London was soon replaced with the wonderful feeling of returning back to the North East to see Simon and my beautiful new home. 

It's OK to look back on a past life and feel a little sadness but it's far better to be excited about your new life and future.
No regrets - the North East is my special place. 

Monday 17 November 2014

St Marys Inn, Stannington

My favourite place in the North East to rest and relax is, without a doubt, Jesmond Dene House.  Simon and I are a little obsessed with their afternoon teas, love their luxurious accommodation and enjoy unwinding by the fire with a coffee after a walk in the Dene.  So when Jesmond Dene House announced they were working on a new project I was more than a little excited.

St Mary's Inn is a Gastro Pub just off the A1 in Stannington and is Jesmond Dene House's first ever stand alone project.

So you can imagine how happy I was to be invited to St Mary's to take a look round and try out the menu. 

I took fellow food fan Shivani with me and, after finding ourselves slightly lost in the fog, we were very pleased when we turned a corner to see the happy glow of lights at the Inn welcoming us out of the cold.


We were greeted warmly at the bar and began our visit with a little look round the bedrooms. There are a total of 11 rooms and each one is individually furnished.  

The rooms are beautiful with comfortable looking beds, ornate wardrobes and huge bathrooms. Simple and homely, there's no doubt that a stay at St Mary's Inn would be a bit of a treat. 

One of the things I love most about the Inn is its celebration of the region. The upstairs halls are decorated with colourful paintings of Northumbrian landscapes painted by Judy Appleby.  The walls of the bar proudly display Norman Cornish artwork from the Northumbria University Gallery and comic strips created especially for St Mary's by David Haldane, a Morpeth resident whose work you may already know from The Times.  If you're a regular to Jesmond Dene House you may also recognise the work of Gary Tiplady, whose gorgeous wire dogs are positioned by the fires round the property.


The bar at St Mary's is spread across a few areas, each one with a roaring fire and plenty of space for a drink with family and friends.   You can also bring along your dog, and on our visit we were welcomed by a friendly Labrador, and drink custom-made "St Mary's Ale" from the Wylam Brewery.  

They also boast a private dining room, plenty of outside space for drinks in the Summer time and a large restaurant area. 

After all that exploring we were ready for some food so settled ourselves down in the restaurant.

Despite having only been open for a week there were plenty of people sitting down for some dinner so I can only imagine how popular it's going to get!

We were very excited to finally get our hands on the menu having seen so many teaser photos of delicious food on social media.

The menu had an ideal amount of choice with some really delicious sounding dishes to appeal to everyone.  

Keeping it in the family, Chef, Shaun Hurrell is a former Sous Chef of Jesmond Dene House so I was expecting the food to be fantastic. 

I went vegetarian for the evening and ordered Ricotta Dumplings, Winter Squash and Brown Butter. I don't even know where to begin in telling you how amazing my meal was.  The flavours were beautiful and I was trying desperately hard not to eat too quickly because I wanted it to last forever. 

Shivani chose the Cumberland Sausage, Mash and Roast Onions and really enjoyed her meal too. My clever friend also ordered some cauliflower cheese on the side which she kindly shared with me. It was a very generous serving, thick with the most creamy cheese. I think I'll have to order this as a side each time I go.    

Dessert was an easy decision, having seen many photos on Twitter, I'd been desperate to get my hands on a Banoffee Doughnut so was very happy it was on the menu. It also comes on the bar snack menu which is amazing. I love the idea of curling up by a fire in the bar with a glass of wine and a doughnut.

Having dreamt about this dessert for weeks it obviously had a lot to live up to.   Luckily it exceeded my expectations and was absolutely amazing.

Shivani opted for the Brewers Malt Profiteroles which were slightly different to the traditional with crunchy shells and ice-cream filling.  I particularly enjoyed the jug of hot chocolate sauce that was served with it and may have cheekily poured some of it onto my donut.

All of the food at St Mary's is locally sourced with some even being grown in the garden and orchard at the Inn.  Staff at the Inn have spent time meeting with the food producers and photos from their excursion are displayed on the walls of the restaurant - a happy reminder of the care and quality of each dish. 

We had the most amazing time at St Mary's Inn and I'm so excited about the future of this little gem in the countryside, I can't wait to return.

St Mary's Inn kindly treated us to a free dinner but I promise you this is a truthful review .. I have been banging on about that Banoffee Doughnut to anyone who will listen ever since my visit. 
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