Sunday 31 January 2016

January Days

I'm not going to lie, I'm quite happy January is over and I'm counting down the days until the clocks change and we can enjoy longer and brighter days.  I'm not the biggest fan of Winter!

Here's what we've been up to in January on Instagram

Starbucks to go

The lovely crisp cold weather has finally arrived, and we've had the odd perfect Winter's day.  You know the kind I mean - when the sun is shining, the sky is blue and it's so cold you need to make sure you have your woollies on.  Unfortunately Simon doesn't really share my enthusiasm for a cold Winter's day, so when I dragged him into Toon very early to attend the North East Wedding Show I had to promise him a Starbucks to warm him up.

Fancy Frocks

I don't usually enjoy shopping with someone else, I tend to work better on my own.  However after a recent trip to Eldon Square with Katie I may have found my perfect shopping buddy.  After a beautiful long lunch in Fuego in the Fenwick's Food Hall we blitzed the Charlotte Tilbury counter and then spent ages trying on fancy frocks.  Simon and I are hoping to book a cruise for our honeymoon and although I want my evening dresses to be a surprise for him, I needed help climbing into this one!

Lean in 15

It seems that Simon's obsession for 2016 is Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach.  He's constantly watching his videos on YouTube and recently bought his book.  Whilst I like the idea of Joe's Lean in 15 diet, I'm yet to be convinced.  I attempted a HIT session with Simon and failed miserably - burpees are not my friend and I just ended up face planting the floor.  Help!

Transformation Tuesday

Talking of being healthy I've decided to post a Before and After picture each month as part of "Transformation Tuesday".  Sometimes I forget the journey I've been on, and it isn't until I see a picture of old me right next to a picture of new me that I truly realise what I've achieved.  Make sure you're following me on Instagram to see next month's picture if you want some weight loss inspiration for the New Year.  If you haven't read the story of how I lost 9 stone you can read all about it here.

Sunset over the Tyne

I almost froze my fingers off taking this photo but I just couldn't resist.  Walking the Newcastle Quayside first thing in the morning definitely has its perks and when I see beautiful views like this I have to take my hands straight out of my gloves to capture it.  I feel so lucky to live in Newcastle.

Sleek Bargain

January bargains are a must!  During a little browse round Boots I discovered that Sleek were doing a 2 for £10 deal, which I quickly realised meant I could get a free palette.  I love the new highlighter palette, just look at that gold packaging!

Back to Work

After a lovely relaxing break New Girl in Toon HQ is open again for business and I'm already working on a few exciting projects that I can't wait to share with you all.

For more adventures from New Girl in Toon make sure you're following me on Instagram!


Friday 29 January 2016

The Best Afternoon Teas in Newcastle

It's no secret that we love eating and, as a result, I quite often find myself being asked on Twitter to recommend my favourite places in Newcastle.  Don't ask me why but each time my mind goes blank!

So, in 2016 I'm making it my mission to bring you a new little guide each month, sharing my favourite places to eat and play in Newcastle and beyond.

Of course, being the Queen of Afternoon Tea (this is a title I gave myself but I dare anyone else to challenge my crown!) I decided I'd start with the best afternoon teas in Newcastle.

Jesmond Dene House

No surprise here, I've lost count of the amount of times I've mentioned Jesmond Dene House on this blog.  When we are having an afternoon tea to celebrate a special occasion it is the only place we'd ever consider going. 

The hotel is gorgeous and the lovely staff never fail to make you feel special from the second you walk through the door.  We love the relaxing atmosphere and, despite the elegant surroundings, Jesmond Dene House never feels pretentious. 

You can take your afternoon tea in the Restaurant, Cocktail Bar, Billiard Room or even outside if the weather is kind.

Standard afternoon tea costs £20.00 per person and whilst it's not the cheapest afternoon tea in Newcastle, it's worth every penny.   We are yet to find cakes as delicious!

Want to know more? Read my review of afternoon tea at Jesmond Dene House

Great British Cupcakery

If you love your afternoon tea huge and fancy a challenge then head down to the Great British Cupcakery for the biggest stand of cakes you'll ever see.  The scone in particular is likely to make your jaw drop to the floor, it's huge and comes stuffed full of jam and cream.

The Cupcakery is very popular and often full at weekends so definitely make sure you book in advance for afternoon tea. 

Afternoon tea costs £19.95 per person, and will keep you full for a week!

Garden Kitchen

We love Garden Kitchen, it's a wonderful little corner of the Eldon Square shopping centre that always feels so calming.  Even if the mall is packed full of Saturday shoppers you are guaranteed some peace and quiet at Garden Kitchen.

The afternoon tea isn't a traditional one and comes served on a picnic bench!   You'll find the Garden Picnic hidden at the bottom of the lunch menu and it's a great alternative to afternoon tea, with loads of delicious savoury treats (and not a sandwich in sight!), the all important scones and a selection of cakes.

The  Garden Picnic costs £19.95 for two, and is an absolute bargain!

Want to know more?  Read my review of the Garden Picnic at Garden Kitchen


Bonbar may not be the first place you think of to go for afternoon tea in Newcastle but we are forever raving about it to anyone that will listen.

If you're out to impress the decadent surroundings and plush booths will score you a lot of brownie points and the spread of food is equally as impressive.  We especially love the pyramid tea infusers and the fantastic service.

Afternoon tea at Bonbar costs £14.50 per person but make sure you phone in advance to book, full payment is taken when booking.

Want to know more?  Read my review of afternoon tea at Bonbar


If you like your afternoon tea with a view there's nowhere quite like Six at the Baltic.  Take the elevator up to the top floor to enjoy breath taking views across the Quayside and if you love it as much as we do you can ask to enjoy your afternoon tea on one of the sofas by the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Tyne.

The food is always fantastic and it's my favourite afternoon tea to enjoy over a catch up with a friend.

Classic afternoon tea at Six is £16.95

Want to know more?  Read my full review of afternoon tea at Six

I have tried many afternoon teas in Newcastle and these are, without doubt, the best you will find and the ones that  I will always recommend. 

If you can think of anywhere else I should try then please do let me know and if you have an idea of what you'd like to see in next month's North East Guide, leave a comment below!

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Newcastle Restaurant Week: Hawthorns

I can't believe that Newcastle Restaurant Week has been and gone again, it comes round so quickly. Each time I have a huge problem choosing where to book a table. With some amazing offers and a chance to try out all of the newest places in the Toon, I always have to stop myself from booking a table each night.

With our post Christmas bellies still bulging and wanting to look super gorgeous for our September wedding we decided it'd probably be best to pick just one restaurant this time round so it was going to have to be somewhere special.

Somewhere we've been wanting to try ever since my sneaky peak Hard Hat Tour  is Hawthorns, the restaurant at the Crowne Plaza that promises "Fine Northern Dining.  Locally sourced food in beautiful surroundings is my idea of heaven!  The Restaurant Week Menu at Hawthorns offered two courses for £15 with a great variety of dishes to choose from, it was easily the best Newcastle Restaurant Week menu I had ever seen, to the point where I knew I was going to struggle with what to choose, I literally wanted it all!

We turned up only to find that the restaurant had no record of our booking!  I was so glad we're early diners and it was only 6:00 pm as that meant plenty of room to accommodate us.  I probably would have had a toddler style tantrum on the floor if we'd been turned away, I'd been looking forward to this meal for weeks.

We sat down and began the difficult task of attempting to choose what to have for our main course.  The Pumpkin Tortellini and Toon Ale Battered Cod Fillet were both tempting but in the end I decided on the Blue Shell Scottish Mussels in White Wine & Garlic Sauce.

My steaming bowl of mussels was fast to appear and came with a nice large bowl for the shells.  I was really happy to find that every single shell was open, there's nothing more disappointing than finding closed mussels when you only have a few left. 

The mussels were served with a huge chunk of Geordie Bakers Sour Dough.  My eyes popped out on stalks when I saw it and  I was soon happily covering it in far too much butter and dunking into my creamy sauce.  Perfect!

No huge surprises with Simon's choice, he opted for the Hawthorns Handmade Gourmet Burger served in a Geordie Bakers Bun with  Cheddar Cheese, Prosciutto Ham, Gem Lettuce, Onion Jam and massive Twice Cooked Skin-On Chips.

Before he'd even had a chance to tuck in, I'd swiped one of the chips to dunk into my White Wine and Garlic Sauce - you can't really blame me, just look at them!

His burger was delicious and we both loved the addition of the Prosciutto Ham which added a nice crunch to the burger and definitely gave it a bit of something special.

Hawthorns certainly lives up to its promise of Fine Northern Dining, the food is locally sourced with the meat coming from Turnbulls in Alnwick and the cheese from Doddington Dairy and the Northumberland Cheese Company.   Check out Hawthorn's website for more about their fantastic local suppliers.

It was finally time for the main event (or what other people call dessert)  I decided on the Sticky Pear & Ginger Cake served with Cinder Toffee Sauce, Figgy Pudding Ice Cream and Honeycomb Crumble.  I love desserts like this on a cold January day, really warming and filling.  I particularly loved the Figgy Pudding Ice Cream, it had me clinging on to Christmas just that little bit longer.

Simon opted for the Dark Chocolate & Beetroot Brownie with Doddingtons Vanilla ice Cream and Raspberry Textures.  I absolutely love the flavour combination of chocolate and beetroot so this was always going to be a winner. 

By the time our meal had finished the restaurant was getting pretty busy which meant service was a little slow.  We'd wanted to finish our drinks in the Gin Bar but with a long wait for the bill we'd drained our glasses before we'd had a chance to move and so we decided to head straight home.

The food at Hawthorns was absolutely delicious and we really enjoyed our first experience.  Safe to say we'll definitely be back to take a look at the full menu.

I'm already counting down to the next Newcastle Restaurant Week!


Friday 22 January 2016

Wedding Chat: Choosing our perfect Northumberland Wedding Venue

Going against tradition Simon and I have decided that we'll be getting married in the North East. Neither of us are from this part of the country and I'm sure a few people may have expected that we'd be getting married in my home county of Norfolk.

But the North East is our home and it is important that our big day happens somewhere that is special to us both.  From our first "I love you" at Newcastle's Central Station to our lovely new house just outside the city, the North East has played a big role in our love story and getting married anywhere else just wouldn't have felt right.

Here in the North East we are rather spoilt when it comes to venues. Not only are there some truly gorgeous locations in Newcastle but we also have the whole of Northumberland to explore which offers venues to suit every taste.

We had a fantastic weekend last Summer pottering around the countryside in our hire car exploring some of the best venues in the area for an idyllic country wedding. Believe me the decision making process was tough with us loving each and every venue that we visited.

High House Farm Brewery

High House Farm is a working brewery that offers the perfect country backdrop to your wedding. When we met with them we were so impressed by how much they care about wanting to give the bride and groom the perfect day.  With no venue charge, no hidden costs and no set wedding packages they are the ideal venue if you want to plan the day you've always dreamed of but don't want to be paying a silly amount of money for it.   If the weather is kind you can get married in the gorgeous barn which offers amazing views of the Northumberland countryside.

Doxford Barns

Doxford Barns is a new venue that offers a three day wedding weekend set in the most stunning countryside.  Perfect for spending quality time with your guests the renovated farm cottages on site mean that you'll never be far away from your loved ones.  The Threshing Hall is the location for indoor weddings and it literally took our breath away with its original oak beams and beautiful fairy lights, or if you're after an outdoor ceremony you can get wed overlooking Doxford Lake.  If all that wasn't enough, the catering is provided by two of our favourites The Plough and Jolly Fisherman

Healey Barn

I'd never heard of Healey Barn until a friend mentioned she'd seen photos of the beautiful barns. Made up of traditional stone buildings and a beautiful courtyard, it's a stunning venue. We particularly loved the ceremony barn where the high ceilings were lit with pretty fairy lights.  As we looked round the barn was being decked out with bunting which looked gorgeous and we loved the idea of toasting marshmallows in the fire pits.

Matfen Hall

Matfen Hall is one of the most well known venues in the area and initially we wrote it off presuming it would be very expensive.  When we realised it was actually a pretty reasonable price we decided to add it to our list of venues as a "wild card".  It was very different to all the other venues we looked at but if a grand country hotel is what you're after Matfen Hall certainly has it all. 

I loved the Great Hall with its stunning fire place and red carpet and the bride certainly makes an entrance down a very grand looking staircase.  Matfen also has an underground bar and dance floor which effectively gives you your very own nightclub for the evening .. that was something I found very tempting!

If you're planning a Northumberland wedding we'd recommend making appointments with each of these venues - believe me, my hastily taken iPhone photos really don't do the venues justice!

As for our venue, in the end we didn't pick any of the above!

We ended up booking the first venue that we looked at and it is absolutely perfect for us.  The date is set and we'll be getting married on 24th September.  I'd love to tell you more but we're trying to keep at least some element of surprise for the moment, I can't wait to share all our plans with you - watch this space!

This post is part of the #lovenortheast link up

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Lunch at the Grosvenor Casino, Newcastle

Sometimes the greatest food discoveries are places that you never really thought about visiting.  At the weekend I was invited for lunch at the restaurant at the Grosvenor Casino in Newcastle.  Lunch in the Casino? Yep, I was intrigued too!

I'd actually never stepped foot in a Casino before, with my only knowledge being completely based on films.  I will admit I expected to see ladies in ball gowns and men betting their mortgage and car at the  Roulette table.  I've clearly seen far too many movies!  The reality was a happy crowd of very normal people enjoying a few games before the football kicked off at St James Park.  Not a gangsta or a glittery stiletto in sight!

The Casino Restaurant has recently launched its "On the Grill" menu offering diners succulent dry-aged steaks, rack of ribs and chargrilled burgers. 

The Starter Menu offers something for everyone with plenty of fish dishes alongside chicken, mushroom and bread and olives for those with a smaller appetite.  It was the Soup of the Day that caught my eye and when I discovered it was Butternut Squash I immediately put in my order.

My soup arrived piping hot in a massive bowl and came with a huge plate of crusty bread and butter.  I pretended for all of 2 seconds that I'd never be able to eat so much bread, but obviously this is me so it was all wolfed down very quickly.  The soup was deliciously thick and creamy, and a very reasonable £3.95.

The Main Course Menu was pretty big and involved some careful decision making.  I was quite tempted by the fully loaded hot dog and the Chinese-style sea bass sounded heavenly but in the end I decided to order from the Grill menu and went for the Premium Surf and Turf.

Wow was I happy when my plate showed up.   Every inch was covered in delicious food - an 8oz rump steak served with six king prawns in garlic butter alongside skin on fries, red onion slaw, beer battered onion rings, grilled tomato and chargrilled mushrooms, all that for only £14.95.

I probably should have worn my extra stretchy trousers for this one!

I'd asked for my steak medium rare and it was cooked to perfection with a beautiful pink and juicy centre.  The fries weren't really what I expected from "Skin On" fries, they were more like normal fries but still absolutely delicious so no complaints from me.  I was a little upset that I couldn't manage to quite finish everything, but I needed to leave room for the most important course!

There was one dish on the Dessert Menu that stood out for me, the Chocolate and Salted Caramel  Tart.

The tart was served with a gorgeous thick chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream and was a very indulgent treat (please no one remind me I'm supposed to be on a January health kick!) 

I was so impressed with the quality and price of the menu at the Grosvenor Casino Restaurant, I can't think of many places where you can get a delicious desert for only £3.95! It's a definite recommendation if you want somewhere that does great food at a very reasonable price.

After a little rest I just about managed to roll myself out of the restaurant and on to the Casino floor for a little Roulette and Black Jack tuition.  Having never played before I loved learning how the games work and it definitely left me more confident to come into the Casino for a little go myself.

Grosvenor offer great experience packages if you're a little unsure like I was and it would be a great night out for a birthday, hen party or stag do.  For £30.00 per person you can get a "Full House" experience including a drink at the bar, three course meal, £10 worth of games and a gaming tuition.

Something tells me next time Simon mentions a Date Night I'll be steering him in the direction of the Grosvenor Casino (just don't tell him I'm now a complete pro at Black Jack!).

Monday 18 January 2016

Competition: Win a Kiko Intensely Lavish Lipstick

Last year the beautiful makeup brand Kiko opened a store in Newcastle's Eldon Square and I am in love! 

Having recently dipped my toe into the wonderful world of the bold lip it's their lipsticks that I've been obsessed with and I particularly love the limited edition Intensely Lavish Lipsticks that were part of their Rebel Romantic range.  The lipsticks are so creamy and comfortable to wear and come in the most beautiful shades.   I also adore the rose gold packing, they are so beautiful!

Over Christmas I went into store and knowing that the Intensely Lavish  Lipsticks were about to become extinct I grabbed a few more shades.  Little did I realise that I managed to buy one I already had!  Please tell me I'm not the only person to do this?

Rather than take it back I decided to give it away to one of you guys!   These lipsticks were a huge hit with beauty bloggers and are no longer available, so this could be your last chance to get your hands on one.

The shade is 05, Heavy Cherry, and is the perfect shade of berry red.   I have one lipstick with the matching lip liner to give away.

To enter just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below - good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday 15 January 2016

Ox Pasture Hall Country Hotel, Yorkshire

I'm not the biggest fan of January.  As soon as the Christmas tree is put away and the chocolates have all been finished it's inevitable that my Winter blues will appear. With nothing to look forward to and endless dark mornings, not even the excitement of our September wedding is enough to pull me out of my slump.

So I was very thankful when an e-mail arrived in my inbox inviting us to Ox Pasture Hall Country Hotel for an overnight stay in the countryside.  If there's one cure for the Winter blues it's got to be a staycation in a Luxury Hotel in Yorkshire.

Eagerly browsing the website the promise of being able to "escape, relax and explore" sounded like the perfect cure for my blues and we enthusiastically bundled ourselves into a hire car to begin our journey to North Yorkshire, eager to get some fresh air and a much needed romantic getaway.  I do love a staycation!

Ox Pasture Hall is a beautiful boutique hotel in a former country house set in 17 acres of stunning countryside close to the North Yorkshire Moors. 

The Moors have such a special place in my heart as my Grandma is a Yorkshire lass (and very proud of it) and we had some fabulous family holidays in the area when I was a child so Ox Pasture Hall sounded like my idea of heaven.

Perfectly located 2 miles from Scarborough, Ox Pasture Hall is a great base for exploring and we were really happy to find plenty of information and recommendations of things to do on the hotel's website.  With a few hours set aside for adventures we were like kids in a sweet shop trying to choose between the villages of North Yorkshire, the bustling harbour towns on the coast or going for a walk in the Yorkshire Moors. 

In the end we decided to hunt out the prettiest villages and eat the very best homemade food we could find.  We explored the railway at Grosmont, discovered some beautiful views at the Hole of Hocrum and finished our day with cake at Thornton Le Dale.  You can read all about our adventure here.

Tired from our road trip we reached Ox Pasture Hall in the early evening and were so thankful to be shown to our luxurious suite on arrival.  Set apart from the main hotel across the most gorgeous little courtyard, the Wetherby suite was everything we'd hoped it would be. 

Our suite was made up of our very own lounge with a comfortable sofa in front of the TV (which we settled down in front of as soon as we arrived) ... a bedroom with a huge king sized bed (which we had to stop ourselves climbing into immediately!)

... and a gorgeous bathroom complete with a big bathtub, huge open shower and fluffy towels.

Unfortunately our room was a little chilly as there were some teething problems with a new boiler that had just been fitted, but it didn't bother us as we had the perfect excuse to make our way to the hotel's bar to enjoy some much needed relaxation after our busy day.

We loved the cosy feel of the bar and the exposed brick walls, wooden beams and tartan furnishings made for the perfect countryside snug.

Unsure what we fancied to drink, we were impressed with Paul the barman who had a great knowledge of what was on offer.  I was particularly happy when he let me sample all of the rose wine before deciding which glass to order (I think my eyes may have lit up). 

Drinks in hand we settled ourselves down on a comfy sofa by the toasty log fire, chatting about our day and enjoying the peace and quiet.  I'm pretty sure there's no better way to spend a cold Winter's evening.

We would have happily sat by the fire all night but we had somewhere very important that we needed to be! A highly anticipated date night at the hotel's Courtyard Restaurant.  The Courtyard is well known for being the best restaurant in Scarborough, and the only one to be awarded two rosettes for culinary excellence so we were looking forward to eating some great food.

We began with an amuse bouche - goats cheese served with orange and chutney.  Absolutely delicious and the perfect teaser for what was to come.

For Starter I opted for the Soup of the Day - Tomato and Red Pepper.  It was a very generous bowl and was so thick and creamy.  It became extra indulgent when I started slathering all of the butter onto as much bread as I could manage.  Bread and butter is always my guilty pleasure when I'm on staycation.  Delicious!

Simon decided to order the Trio of Duck - Smoked Duck Breast, Liver and Port Parfait, Confit Duck Leg and Pear Sorbet. The dish was a gorgeous combination of flavours. It's a good job my soup was so good or there would have been some serious food envy happening.

Choosing my Main Course was an easy task as soon as I saw steak was on the menu.  I ordered the 35 Day Himalayan Salt Aged Yorkshire Rib Eye served with Triple Cooked Chips, Confit Tomato and Wild Mushrooms.  I'm quite often left unimpressed by chips that claim to be triple cooked but these were true to their word, cooked to perfection and so crispy.

Simon did also want the steak but being a gentlemen and knowing how much I love to sample as much of a menu as I possibly can he decided on a different dish and ordered the Braised Swaledale Lamb Shank served with Creamed Potatoes, Fine Beans, Port, Shallot and Mushrooms.  The dish was so beautiful but very filling so he had to quit whilst he was ahead to ensure there was room for dessert.

We all know that our favourite course is always dessert but the delicious sounding menu was really making it hard to come to a decision which is when we spotted the "Sharing Plate for 2".  Not realising that our dreams were about to become a reality we ordered it.

Wow!  Firstly we were so impressed that the chef managed to create us our very own sharing plate that was completely off the menu to accommodate my nut allergy.  I often find with my nut allergy that the alternatives I'm offered are a little half hearted but our nut free dessert at The Courtyard took our breath away, so much care had been taken to give us delicious treats and having a plate created just for us made us feel pretty special.

Can you believe how huge the sharing plate is? We were expecting a couple of small cakes on a plate but instead got presented with a slate board that was completely covered in miniature desserts. 

Crème Brulee, Tiramisu, Chocolate Fudge Cake, White Chocolate Fondant and a Chocolate and Coffee sponge were just some of the treats on our board.  There was so much we didn't know where to start.

It was the perfect ending to an outstanding meal, although our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies and the sharing plate well and truly finished us off.

The Courtyard showcases the most fantastic local produce and we were blown away at how beautiful the food was, I think we'll be dreaming about that meal for a long time to come.

We made our way back to our Suite with that warm happy feeling that eating a great meal brings and we quickly snuggled down into our huge bed and drifted straight off to sleep.

The next morning we were really happy with the amount of sleep that we'd both got.  Although still a little chilly in our suite, we'd both managed to sleep through the entire night in our huge comfortable bed.  It's been a while since we've both had so many hours sleep and we felt fully refreshed.

Can you believe that after that huge meal we were hungry for breakfast?  I think it was the promise of more great food - it's hard to resist overeating!

The breakfast at Ox Pasture Hall has something for everyone with a buffet table laid out with pastries, bread, yoghurt, fruit and cereal and a cooked breakfast menu that offers a little bit of everything.  I decided to go all out and ordered the Full Yorkshire Breakfast.

After all that food a walk seemed like a good idea so we decided to explore the grounds of the hotel before heading home.

It was a little chilly and wet but there were so many magical hidden corners to discover we soon forgot about cold noses and wet toes.  Cute courtyards full of ornate fountains and ornaments, ivy covered walls and the most gorgeous doorways, the grounds at Ox Pasture Hall are so charming.

At the back of the hotel we were surprised to find a huge garden leading out to a beautiful countryside view.  As we were wandering a huge flock of geese flew over our heads and landed in the hotel's lake.  It was a really beautiful moment and will definitely be a lasting memory of our stay.

There's plenty of seating dotted around the gardens and it immediately made us wish for Summer.  There are so many peaceful little private corners which would be a perfect place for afternoon tea (which we will definitely be returning for in the Summer months.

We were so sad when our stay came to an end and we had to return to Newcastle.  We'd had a truly wonderful stay with fantastic friendly service and outstanding food in a gorgeous location.  We've already had a look through the diary to see if we can have another visit in the Summer.

Anyone else planning a staycation this year? 
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