Monday 31 December 2018

My December Days

I expected to be here this month telling you endless joyful tales of Christmas but, unfortunately, December has been tough for me. Every Winter I suffer from SAD and this year its arrival was not only early but also pretty fierce. It was unexpected, I wasn't prepared at all and so spent a lot of my month in tears and feeling incredibly guilty about not appreciating Christmas time when I know that so many others have genuine problems to worry about. I lost my way, lost my spark and even lost any joy that I had in writing this blog, I have honestly thought about quitting so many times and, if I'm being brutally honest, I'm still struggling to find my joy for it even though I've had a long break.

So I'm easing myself back in slowly with my usual monthly round up, here are some things that didn't make the blog this month.

A Christmas Birthday

It's always hard to keep Simon's birthday feeling special when it falls a few days before Christmas. Last year I arranged a surprise trip to Dublin for his 40th and this year we decided to head down to Manchester for a few days. If you've never visited Manchester in December you really must go for their Christmas market, it is fantastic! We feasted on Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, stuffed ourselves with Apple Strudel and got tipsy on Cherry Punch before retiring to our beautiful room at The Principal - I feel like this needs to become an annual event.

My December Days - Manchester Christmas Market

Celebrity Meetings

It's not every day you get to meet Rudolph and his pals a few days ahead of their big night pulling the Sleigh but thanks to Azure Garden Centre in Cramlington we got to say hello to these cuties this month and enjoyed hand feeding them before going on a little stroll through the Christmas department desperately trying to resist the urge to buy all of the baubles.

My December Days - Azure Garden Centre Reindeer

Cosy Afternoon in the Woodmans Arms

We made our first ever visit to The Woodmans Arms in Whickham this month and were seriously impressed by what a beautiful pub it is. Just a stones throw from Gibsdie I think it'll be featuring heavily in our Sunday plans in 2019, we can't wait to go back and try one of their Sunday Roasts before having a nice long walk. There are some beautifully furnished little corners and an open fire so it's the perfect place to settle down in the Winter time and if you're heading that way yourself any time soon may I recommend the Rosie and Gin cocktail.

Private Dining at Artisan

Every year we arrange a special Christmas meal out with some of our closest blogger friends in Newcastle and this year we enjoyed the private dining room at Artisan - it's complimentary for bookings of 10 people or more and it is the perfect little space for your own party away from the main restaurant. They were so accommodating and put together a special little set menu for us - £75.00 per couple for a three course Christmas meal with coffee and a bottle of wine. The food was outstanding and we decided pretty quickly that we definitely need to swing by Artisan in the New Year to try out their Sunday lunches.

Christmas Nights at Beamish

I have been trying to get tickets to the Christmas Evening events at Beamish for years and this year we finally managed to grab some (believe me those tickets are like gold dust!) We loved having the opportunity to explore Beamish in the dark and it looked so beautiful lit up for Christmas. Being complete novices we spent a lot of our evening dodging massive muddy puddles (the pros all had torches!) but the muddy feet were worth it for the festive goodies we picked up in the bakery.

Driving Home for Christmas

We spent our Christmas just the two of us in Newcastle but followed that with a few days down south seeing my family in Norfolk. Whilst I spend a lot of my time there desperately hoping not to bump into people I used to go to school with Simon likes to spend the time walking about with big moon eyes trying to convince me to move back to Norwich (not gonna happen buddy, I'm a North East girl!) My favourite day of our trip was rediscovering the gorgeous cobbled streets of Norwich, it may be many many miles away from Newcastle but if any of you are looking for somewhere for a beautiful city break in 2019 I highly recommend.

Jumper Thief

I've spent my entire month slobbing about in my husband's jumpers and he is not amused. I started raiding his festive knits as soon as I discovered them hiding in the tinsel box and I've not taken them off since. They're so slouchy, hide a multitude of sins and are super cosy - I honestly don't know how I'm going to get through January when I can no longer wear jumpers covered in Christmas trees and reindeer - gutted!

Gin-gle All The Way

I've been building up my gin collection this month and am currently planning a trip to Ikea to purchase myself some kind of shelving to create my own gin bar in the corner of our lounge. My collection stepped a gear over Christmas with some very generous folks gifting me bottles of my favourite tipple and I even treated myself to this Boutiquey Gin from Asda. I've not really made a proper dent in it yet and it's seriously delicious so I'm wondering if I can drink Christmas gin all year round?

Homebird Bakes 

Out of all of the festive treats we guzzled this Christmas (and believe me there were a lot) our favourites had to be these Brownie treats from Homebird Bakes. Beautifully gift wrapped, we almost couldn't bring ourselves to open them - almost! These gooey goodies were chocolate orange flavour, covered in delicious chocolatey Christmas treats and we ate the entire tray between two of us .. how embarrassing! Home baked right here in Newcastle if you're looking for a gift for a friend .. or yourself, you must check them out!

I'm really hoping to get back to my normal happy self in January - I have invested in a SAD lamp and plan to start my New Year with a positive attitude, early nights and plenty of exercise so I have my fingers tightly crossed that normal service will resume soon and I'll be back here to share our adventures across the North East.

In the meantime be sure to follow me on Instagram, I post a new photo every day and you'll find video diaries featuring all of my favourite North East adventures in my highlights.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop in Newcastle - An Evening with House of Botanics at Stack

* This is a collaboration with House of Botanics

Long time readers of New Girl in Toon may well remember the disaster that was "the time I tried to decorate cupcakes" or when I embarrassed myself by "trying to make a 3D bird" - it's safe to say that me and crafting do not go hand in hand and you'd be hard pushed to find anyone as useless as me when it comes to creating something beautiful. So you might be wondering why on earth I would sign myself up for a Christmas Wreath Making Workshop in Newcastle.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop in Newcastle - An Evening with House of Botanics at Stack
Despite my limited crafting skills I have always quite fancied a go at making my own Christmas Wreath. I LOVE Christmas, enjoy decorating my home and, with the promise of mince pies and the chance to hang out with some lovely people while listening to seasonal music, I couldn't resist saying yes when House of Botanics in Stack invited me to try out their Christmas Wreath Making Workshop.

Brace yourselves folks, Chloe is about to attempt to make her own Christmas Wreath!

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop in Newcastle

If you're yet to properly explore Stack, Newcastle's super cool container park at the old Odeon site on Pilgrim Street, then you may not have discovered House of Botanics. The most adorable little plant and flower shop - they sell a wonderful range of plants for your homes, gorgeous flowers for that special someone in your life, create beautiful displays for weddings and run botanical workshops throughout the year.

Stepping into their little haven away from the bustling high street was the kind of calm I needed after a hectic run up to Christmas. As soon as the doors swung open I was greeted by the most beautiful earthy smell of plants and making my way through the green wonderland of the shop I found my way to the back of the store and owner Naomi's little workshop where she hosts her botanical classes.

Workshops at House of Botanics are intimate and are the perfect place for a fun activity with your friends or to make new likeminded friends in the city. There were six of us at the Christmas Wreath Making Workshop which was ideal for ensuring that we had plenty of one on one help at creating our wreath and also ensured a wonderful laid back atmosphere.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop at House of Botanics Stack Newcastle

Once we were all kitted out in our aprons (despite my limited crafting skills as soon as I had that apron on I did suddenly feel like a florist!) it was time to begin. We were each given a pair of cutters and our wreath rings already covered in moss as a great starting point to begin our creation. Naomi had already started the process to save time but she did also give us a demonstration on what she'd done to get us to this point just so we knew exactly what was involved and then went on to explain what we needed to do to start our wreath.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop - House of Botanics Stack Newcastle
We then got to work creating our wreaths. The table was packed out with loads of lush green foliage and we had our pick of Holly, Ivy, Spruce and Fir which we picked out in little bunches to cover our moss ring.

I have to say as someone who isn't great at crafting this part of the process was an absolute joy because wreaths actually look better if they aren't put together perfectly. Being able to pick up whatever foliage I fancied, mixing it all up and attaching it to my ring wasn't only super easy but it was also quite simple to make my creation actually look like a wreath.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop - Stack Newcastle

Attaching the greenery to the rings was pretty simple and it was just a case of winding wire round the branches and then using the next pieces to cover up the exposed wire. I loved that it was so simple and I could actually chat whilst creating my masterpiece without needing to concentrate too hard and before I knew it I had completed the full circle and it didn't actually look half bad.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop - Newcastle

Christmas Wreath Making Workshops at House of Botanics include festive refreshments so once we'd attached all of our greenery it was time to stop for a little breather and indulge in a nice hot cup of tea and a few mince pies while we assessed our progress. I have to say looking round the table all of the wreaths were really taking shape and looking rather fabulous!

The next step to creating our own Christmas Wreath was the all important decorating and this was where a little bit of creativity came into play (uh oh!) we made our way over to the selection of decorations on offer and each chose different bits and bobs to go on our wreath. The real beauty of Christmas Wreaths is that no two will ever look the same and there's no right or wrong when it comes to picking out your decorations.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop Stack Newcastle

We had plenty to choose from and I went for some dried oranges (I'll admit I spent most of my time smelling them because they were absolutely delicious and reminded me of Christmas every time I had a whiff), pine cones and cinnamon sticks. Attaching the decorations was a little more fiddly than the greenery and it took a bit of care to push the wires through the oranges and wrap them round the pine cones but Naomi was on hand to help out whenever we got stuck.

Leaving some room at the bottom for a bow we attached our decorations in little groups and when I had a slight paddy over not being able to get mine look quite right, Naomi was over within seconds to help me rearrange my pieces into a design that I was happy with. I do think that some of us have a natural creative flair and some of us don't and unfortunately I don't have a great eye for arranging things to look beautiful but with a little bit of help I managed to create a wreath design that I was happy with.

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop - House of Botanics Stack

The trickiest part of wreath making was definitely the bows. We had some beautiful ribbons to choose from and I went for a very seasonal red and green glittery ribbon which I knew would really give my wreath some extra festive cheer. We all watched Naomi create a ribbon a few times but, most of us gave up after a couple of attempts as it was a little fiddly. Super Naomi came to our rescue and, if I'm honest, I think she ended up doing all of our ribbons cos we all wanted perfect bows!

Our 2.5 hours at House of Botanics was over before we knew it and as we headed out into the night proudly carrying our wreaths I couldn't wait to get home to show Simon my handy work.  I like to think we're now the envy of our neighbourhood with our gorgeous homemade wreath hanging proudly on our door! What do you think?

Christmas Wreath Making Workshop - House of Botanics Newcastle
Follow House of Botanics on Facebook to keep up to date with all their botanical events and workshops. If you fancy making your own Christmas Wreath their next event is on Sunday 16 December at 5:00 pm and costs £35.00 per person.  Book your place here.

Find House of Botanics at:

Unit 23
Stack Newcastle
Pilgrim Street

We were invited to House of Botanics for a complimentary Christmas Wreath Making Workshop.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Christmas Afternoon Tea at Love Lily, Sunderland

* This is a collaboration with Love Lily

During my dash around the North East hunting for the best hot chocolates in the region I made my first ever visit to Love Lily, a cute tea room and cake shop by the sea on the beautiful Roker Beach in Sunderland. The charming little place is getting quite the reputation for its colourful cakes, indulgent hot chocolates and mouth watering breakfasts, in fact you'll need to be super organised to get yourself a table - it gets busy!

Christmas Afternoon Tea at Love Lily, Sunderland

Of course when I discover somewhere new for cake it's not long before I'm planning a return visit for Afternoon Tea and with Christmas just round the corner I couldn't resist a trip to Sunderland for Christmas Afternoon Tea at Love Lily, served throughout December it looked like one of the most delicious festive cake stands you'll find this season!

Stretchy Santa pants at the ready, this is going to be a big one!

Christmas Afternoon Tea Love Lily, Sunderland
We were warmly greeted on a wet and miserable Sunday afternoon and shown to a lovely table by the window (people watching at the beach is one of my favourite activities so I was in my element!) and within moments we had a glass of Prosecco in our hands. Yep, festive afternoon tea at Love Lily includes a glass of Prosecco or Peroni on arrival, I mean if you can't enjoy a cheeky glass of fizz at Christmas then when can you?

Raising a festive toast we settled ourselves down with talk turning instantly to Christmas - family plans, present ideas and party outfits, I don't know why but chatting festive plans in such a wonderful surrounding seems to take the stress out of everything. If you're feeling Christmas overwhelm I highly recommend just booking yourself a table at Love Lily, it's the best spot to take a few hours out of your hectic schedule.

Christmas Tea Love Lily, Sunderland
It wasn't long before our beautiful cake stand turned up along with a pot of bottomless tea for two (Ringtons of course, forever my favourite tea brand!) With amazingly attentive service our tea pot was never left empty and I couldn't even begin to tell you how many cups we sunk between us. In my opinion a good afternoon tea always has to come with endless tea and those Christmas Elves were on hand at Love Lily to ensure that our teapot seemed to magically refill itself. There's nothing worse than running out of tea.

Our cake stand was packed with three tiers completely covered in food! Starting with the assorted sandwiches on the bottom tier we had a lovely selection -  Cheddar Cheese & Apple Chutney, Roast Ham with Wholegrain Mustard Mayonnaise, Turkey & Cranberry and Stuffing & Cranberry. With the crusts cut off the bread, the sandwiches were so delicate, perfect for a proper afternoon tea. The bread was really fresh and squishy and the fillings were generous. I knew from the first tier that we were truly onto a winner.

Christmas Afternoon Tea Love Lily - Scones

I LOVE a scone, and at Love Lily you get three and despite being described as "mini" they were generously sized and I knew that despite being a pro at defeating afternoon teas I'd never be able to get through them all. The Cheddar Cheese Scone was divine - with huge chunks of cheese and a perfect consistency they were served with proper butter (the kind I'm not allowed at home as I'd just get greedy with it!) and were so good completely slathered in butter.

The other scones on the tier were sweet -  Vanilla and Spiced Fruit both served with Raspberry Jam and Clotted Cream. I always used to be more of a fan of strawberry jam on an afternoon tea but recently Simon and I have decided we actually prefer raspberry so I was very happy that Love Lily seem to share my love - raspberry jam with scones honestly is just the best.  Scones are so hard to get right and so many times I've been left disappointed by an afternoon tea when the scones haven't been up to scratch. Love Lily make a damn good scone, some of the very best I've tried in the North East and believe me that is a huge compliment!

Christmas Afternoon Tea Love Lily - Cakes

After a short rest we were ready to tackle the final part of our festive afternoon tea, the indulgent cake tier. Beautifully presented with loads of colour we had a beautiful selection with Chocolate Orange Macaron, Sticky Toffee Pudding Truffle, Red Velvet Cake and Mini Sweet Mince Pies.

Knowing it's always best to go for the lightest option first (they don't call me the North East Queen of Afternoon Tea for nothing you know!) we started with the Chocolate Orange Macaron swiftly followed by the mini Mince Pie. Both are two of my favourite flavours of Christmas and the perfect addition to Festive Afternoon Tea.

Christmas Afternoon Tea Love Lily - Cake Tier

Next up was the Sticky Toffee Pudding Truffle - WOW! The  most indulgent richest chocolate treat you could ever imagine, it was absolute heaven but unfortunately finished us off. There was no way we could manage the Red Velvet Cake after that so we boxed that up along with the scones that we couldn't quite manage) to enjoy at home later.  Nothing beats festive leftovers and the Christmas Afternoon Tea at Love Lily gives you the very best leftovers you could ever imagine.

I absolutely loved my first afternoon tea experience at Love Lily and it has easily made its way into my top five afternoon teas in the North East, if you've not yet been for a visit you really must make a plan.

Christmas Afternoon Tea Love Lily - Red Velvet

Christmas Afternoon Tea at Love Lily costs a very reasonable £18.95 per person and includes a glass of fizz and bottomless tea. If you fancy feeling extra festive they are also hosting Festive Afternoon Teas with live music every Saturday in December for £25.00 per person.  Please make sure you book 24 hours in advance and if afternoon tea isn't your thing make sure you're following Love Lily on Facebook to find out about the other treats they have available this Christmas.

Find Love Lily at:

1 Pier Point
Marine Walk

0191 5656329

We were invited to Love Lily for a complimentary Afternoon Tea for Two in exchange for this honest review.  

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Christmas at the Coast - An Evening in Whitley Bay

* This is a collaboration with The Playhouse 

If you've been following all of our adventures this year it'll come as no surprise to you that when it came to picking a location for a Christmas adventure there was only one place we wanted to head - Whitley Bay! Although Christmas at the Coast for some may seem a little extreme (the chill off the North Sea in the Winter is definitely bracing), an evening in Whitley Bay was long overdue for us and I was determined to see her in all her glory over the festive period.

Christmas at the Coast - An Evening in Whitley Bay

Our trip to the coast began with our first ever visit to The Playhouse for this year's Pantomime (can you believe that despite being a huge fan of Whitley Bay I'd never been to the theatre there before?) - we were invited to quite a few pantomimes this year but with a very busy diary only had the time to choose one to go to and of course it had to be Whitley Bay for us.

You may be wondering why two grown adults with no children are going to the Pantomime but I personally think that the joy and silliness of a Pantomime is perfect for all ages at this time of year. Christmas is all about letting yourself go, embracing your inner child and recapturing the magic you felt all those years ago. I just love a good Pantomime to kick off my Christmas season and with so many to choose from in the North East we really are spoilt for choice.

This years Pantomime at Whitley Bay is Peter Pan and as well as featuring Playhouse favourite Steve Walls (returning for the ninth year!) the show also stars Antony Costa from Blue as Hook. As much as it makes me feel old that the boyband members of my youth are now on the Panto circuit I have to say I do love a good noughties throwback and Anthony was surprisingly good as the Panto villain (and the little Blue medley at the very end of the show was so much fun).

Christmas in Whitley Bay - Playhouse Panto

We've been to a fair few pantos in the North East and I'd say that some appeal more to adults than others and the Playhouse Panto is very much aimed at very young children with perhaps too many cheesy Dad jokes, some very loud high pitched screaming from the audience and a sing along to Baby Shark (which I couldn't get out of my head for days after - you have been warned). So whilst I can't really recommend it as a pantomime to enjoy as adults if you're after a really fun afternoon for the youngest members of your family then I really can't fault it. The young children sitting around us were having a great time and I can see why so many locals return every year as part of their family Christmas tradition.

As soon as the show had finished we suddenly realised how hungry we were and with no plans in place we decided to pop our head into Spanish City to see if we could bag ourselves a table. It's not often we're this spontaneous so it felt quite thrilling debating whether to go for steak or fish and chips on our way up the steps into the building (yes, I do realise we need to get out more!)

Christmas in Whitley Bay - Spanish City
After hearing so many great things about the fish at Trenchers under the Dome we decided to eat there and, despite there being a fair few people already dining, they managed to find us a table for two right by the Christmas Tree. Wow, that Christmas Tree really is something! It has to be the most impressive tree in the North East, it towers over diners in Trenchers beautifully decked out in red and gold with hundreds of twinkly fairy lights.  Enjoying our dinner in such spectacular surroundings was made even better when a pianist arrived to treat us to an evening of live music, suddenly our quick bite had turned into a fancy affair, there's just something so romantic about Spanish City.

Trenchers are famed for their fish and chips so we both decided to go for fishy dishes to get the proper experience.  Simon went for his childhood favourite, Scampi served with Lemon, Chips and Tartare Sauce (£11.95) and I decided to go for Cod. The Cod at Trenchers comes in three different sizes - Small (£9.95), Regular (£11.95) and Large (£13.95) and comes served with Chips, Lemon and Tartare Sauce. Feeling pretty hungry I decided to go for the regular size and was quite surprised at how generous the piece was when it turned up in front of me. There's no way I would have managed a large! Of course, we also had to order Mushy Peas on the side (£1.00) which were the perfect addition to our meals. It's also worth noting (and unfortunately we didn't realise this before our trip) that if your visiting Trenchers on the same day as the Playhouse you can get 20% off your meal if you show your theatre ticket.

Christmas in Whitley Bay - Spanish City Trenchers

I'm very happy to report that all the great reviews we've heard about the fish and chips at Trenchers are completely true, our meals were faultless and we both agreed that having such a fantastic meal has really made Spanish City one of our favourite spots in the North East.

We're now desperately trying to clear our diaries so that we can return for their amazing festive afternoon tea or perhaps some drinks. If you're looking for a truly beautiful way to celebrate Christmas this year I can't recommend Spanish City enough!

Christmas in Whitley Bay - Spanish City Christmas Tree

Find the Playhouse at:

Marine Avenue
Whitley Bay
NE26 1LZ

0844 248 1588

If you fancy seeing this year's Pantomime at the Whitley Bay Playhouse, Peter Pan runs until 5 January and you can find out more about dates, times and how to book tickets here.

Find Spanish City at:

Spanish City Plaza
Whitley Bay
NE26 1BG

0191 691 7090

There's plenty going on at Spanish City this Christmas including party nights, live music and festive afternoon tea.

We received two complimentary press tickets to the Pantomime but our meal and drinks at Spanish City were paid for by ourselves. 

Friday 30 November 2018

My November Days

Anyone else slightly alarmed by the fact it's December tomorrow? As much as I'm looking forward to opening the first door of my Malteser advent calendar I have to admit the festive season has really crept up on me this year and I think I really do need to start getting myself prepared.

Here are just a few of the things that didn't make the blog this month.

A Miracle on Grey Street

Is it just me or has Newcastle really gone all out on Christmas this year? Everything seems bigger and better and the new addition of Miracle on Grey Street, a festive themed pop up bar, has got people queuing up the street to get their hands on a Christmas cocktail. I popped in on a very rainy Tuesday which I would say is the best kind of time to go - we got a table pretty quickly and the wait at the bar was minimal. With back to back Christmas tunes playing, an entire menu of festively garnished drinks and the most beautiful decorations, this place really is a Grotto for Grownups and I am loving it!

November Days - A Miracle on Grey Street

Cake at 1901

When coffee dates turn into cake dates! I visited Cafe 1901 in Jesmond for a quick coffee with friends this month and made the mistake of perusing the cake counter as I walked past. Not the best idea, before I knew it a huge slab of lemon and marmalade cake had appeared in front of me! Perhaps a little overindulgent for a Wednesday afternoon but definitely no regrets.

November Days - Cake at Cafe 1901

Wardrobe Rediscoveries

Since my style makeover with Helenleeloves I have loved rediscovering items in my wardrobe. I honestly can't recommend having a capsule wardrobe enough, I've been wearing things that I haven't really worn before. I bought this coat in the sales last year but have barely worn it until now. The colour and waist belt really fit into my style code and for some reason I feel like a proper grownup each time I wear it.

November Days - Wardrobe Rediscoveries

Greggs Festive Bake

When someone dares to challenge my Honorary Geordie title I take it very seriously. This month someone said that I couldn't have my title until I had tried a Greggs' Festive Bake - apparently Christmas in Newcastle really hasn't started until you've joined a mammoth queue for a bake so I needed to see what the fuss was about. Unfortunately I grabbed the last bake on the tray so it was a little cold, so I think I may need another one!

November Days - Greggs Festive Bake
Brunch at Aidan's Kitchen

I've been hearing so many great things about the dishes at Jesmond's newest breakfast spot, Aidan's Kitchen so I'm very happy that we finally got there this month for some much needed Christmas Shopping fuel. I had the Shakshuka, Simon had a pancake stack and it was absolutely spot on! An absolutely lovely place that you all really need to try, and if you can time your visit with Aidan's sausage rolls coming fresh out of the oven you've really hit the jackpot.

November Days - Aidans Kitchen

Christmas Markets

Newcastle's Christmas Market is bigger and better than ever this year with loads more stalls and some rather delicious food offerings. There are definitely more options than previous years and we munched on Halloumi Fries and Bratwurst before having to call it quits because we couldn't fit any more in. I've heard great things about the Yorkshire Pudding Wraps and Bubble Waffles so I think I'll be back again before the festive season is over.

November Days - Christmas Market
Festive Dressing

Whenever I stick on a red dress at this time of year I instantly feel Christmassy and start getting a little excited for the big day. This is my brand new cord dress from Zara and I absolutely love it.  I wore it for a day of Christmas shopping with Simon, which soon turned into an afternoon of touring our favourite gin bars in the Toon (Dacantus and The Continental in case you wanted your own shopping escape!) when the crowds just got too much. A great afternoon sinking G&Ts but it does mean we now have to brave the shops again next weekend to get our shopping finished.  MUST STAY FOCUSSED!

November Days - Festive Dress
For more adventures from New Girl in Toon make sure you follow me on Instagram. I post a new photo every day and you'll find video diaries featuring all my favourite North East adventures in my highlights. 

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Discover The Palm - Sunderland's Brand New Multi Venue Restaurant and Bar

* This is a collaboration with The Palm

Some might say that Sunderland gets a bit of a bad deal compared to Newcastle and for many years the good folk of Wearside have had to watch whilst the Toon enjoys a never ending amount of redevelopments, new concept restaurants and exciting new bars. So I'm very excited to be able to tell you all about The Palm, Sunderland's brand new multi purpose venue which is completely different to anything else I have seen in the North East.

Discover The Palm - Sunderland's Brand New Multi Venue Restaurant and Bar
The Palm has been created by the people behind Le Petit Chateau, As You Like It and The Holy Hobo so, as you would expect, it really is dressed to impress and you get the wow factor as soon as you approach the building. When I shared a photograph on my Instagram a few people commented that The Palm reminded them a little of Dubai and I have to say the dramatic palm tree lined paths and large archways did make me feel a bit like I was going on holiday. If it hadn't been for the wind and rain I could easily have forgotten I was in Sunderland!

The Palm is made up of five completely different venues all under one roof. The much loved Liberty Brown (Steakhouse and Kitchen), The Street Food Garden, Pineapple Cove Cafe (serving brunch, desserts and coffee), Tropicana (Carnival Bar and Tapas) and Wildernest (Bar and Lobster Cabin).

The Palm Sunderland - Pineapple Cove Cafe

Each venue has a different vibe and I have to say after having a nose at all of them, I'm definitely keen to experience them all. There aren't many places you can visit where you'll enjoy a completely different and unique experience each time you go back.

For my first visit to The Palm I had a table booked at Wildernest, the Bar and Lobster Cabin lovingly described as a treehouse for grownups and I have to say it's the cosiest place to spend a Winter's evening. Complete with warm glowing lights, faux fur throws, wooden furniture and, of course, plenty of foliage. Can I just move in?

The Palm Sunderland - Wildernest

Using the bad weather as my perfect excuse (believe me I'll always find one!) I decided to go big and do three courses. Taking my time to peruse the menu whilst sipping on a delicious Gin Cocktail, as with all the Apartment Group restaurants and bars these guys make a damn good cocktail and there was plenty of choice.

The Palm Sunderland - Wildernest Cocktails

I started with the Wild Mushrooms on Toast (£5.95) - foraged wild mushrooms in a garlic, white wine and cream sauce on toasted local sourdough. It was absolutely loaded with creamy sauce so a very indulgent way to start the meal. I do wish there had been slightly less sauce to bring out the taste of the mushrooms but nevertheless I cleared the plate and really enjoyed it.

The Palm Sunderland - Starters

If you really want to experience a fancy evening out at Wildernest then the Lobster Cabin will be right up your street. Serving local North Sea lobsters from Whitley Bay and Hartlepool there are some delicious sounding dishes on the menu including Full Lobster for £34.95.

Although I do kind of regret not giving the Lobster a go (I've never actually tried it!) I decided that Winter comfort food was in order and was very excited to order the Mince and Dumpling Pot (£12.95). I had just started dreaming about the delicious Thyme and Onion Dumplings when our waitress returned to inform me that the kitchen didn't have the necessary ingredients to be able to serve the dish that evening. Gutted! So, after looking through the menu again I opted for the Handmade Pie (£10.95) only to be told 10 minutes later that they'd just sold the last one so that wasn't available either.

I was a little stuck at this point because I had got myself so ready for a comforting Winter Warmer that I was struggling to find anything else on the menu that packed the same kind of punch so ended up going for something completely different.  The Popcorn Shrimp Po Boy (£11.95) - Ciabatta Bun loaded with popcorn shrimp, fresh avocado, gem lettuce, chunky crab mayo and a sprinkle of Tabasco served with salad and seasoned fries.

The Palm Sunderland - Popcorn Shrimp

It was perhaps the disappointment of not being able to have what I really wanted that left me a little underwhelmed by my alternative dish. The salad wasn't great and although I did enjoy the Popcorn Shrimp it wasn't Mince and Dumplings and I think I wasn't really in the mood for it. I actually think I need to return for the Mince and Dumplings just so that I can give you some proper feedback on a dish I'm keen to try.

The absolute star of the show for me was the Apple Pie Nachos (£4.95) - cinnamon and sugar coated sweet nachos served with slow stewed apples and a helping of custard and vanilla ice-cream on the side for dipping and scooping. Oh wow! The dish was so more-ish and absolutely huge, it would actually be a fantastic choice to share because I really couldn't manage it all on my own but couldn't stop myself going back for more and more. In the end I had to move it out of reach to stop myself having more. I've never seen anyone else serve sweet nachos but think they definitely need to start appearing on more menus.

The Palm Sunderland - Apple Pie Nachos

Although my first visit to The Palm wasn't without its glitches I will be returning to experience the other parts of the venue. I really fancy enjoying a slice of cake on a tropical beach and spending the night sipping cocktails in Tropicana.

Find The Palm at:

Timber Beach Road

0191 516 9009

I was treated to a complimentary meal and drinks for two in exchange for this honest review. 

Thursday 22 November 2018

How to find the Best Hotel Deals Online - An Overnight Stay in North Yorkshire at Blacksmiths at Hartoft

* This is a collaboration with

Please note since this blog post went live unfortunately the Blacksmiths at Hartoft has had to cease trading due to unforeseen circumstances. We wish the hotel and all their staff the best and keep our fingers crossed they can reopen in the near future.

Simon and I have been all about finding the best staycation hotel deals this year as we've enjoyed filling our weekends touring the north of England rather than splurging on overseas trips. Whilst we've had pitying looks from some of our friends ("what do you mean you're not going on holiday this year?") we love exploring the UK and have become pros in finding the best hotel deals online. Our most recent adventure was an overnight stay in North Yorkshire at Blacksmiths at Hartoft, a beautiful boutique inn we discovered thanks to our new obsession with

How to find the Best Hotel Deals Online - An Overnight Stay in North Yorkshire at Blacksmiths at Hartoft is an easy to use website with thousands of hotel deals across the UK focussing on hotel experiences rather than just a room for the night. Their offers include entertainment breaks, spa treats and meal inclusive stays giving just that little extra something to your staycation. As they mostly work with smaller independent hotels there are some real hidden gems to be discovered and each hotel is handpicked to meet their quality standards with a lot of their deals being book now, pay when you stay.

Our deal at the Blacksmiths at Hartoft promised us Dinner, Bed & Breakfast and a Cream Tea for only £49.50 per person - definitely the best hotel deal that we've found this year! The website gave us all the information we needed including check in and check out times, parking and access information, and a great guide to all the facilities on offer at the hotel and things to do in the surrounding area. We couldn't wait to get ourselves there.

The drive from our home in Newcastle to Blacksmiths at Hartoft was an absolutely stunning tour of the North Yorkshire Moors, with the hotel located in the rural National Park just seven miles north of Pickering. The surrounding countryside is picture perfect and the hotel is ideally located for visiting some of our favourite parts of the county including Whitby and the North Yorkshire Moors.

An Overnight Stay in North Yorkshire at Blacksmiths at Hartoft

We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon and with the weather taking a slightly miserable turn we were so happy to step into the welcoming reception from the rain and when we were shown to our home tonight, a beautifully large room perfectly furnished with calming greens, we instantly felt relaxed.

It was very easy to fall in love with Blacksmiths at Hartoft, the 16th century farmhouse converted to an inn has a lot of character and although still a work in progress for the new owners, the work that they have done so far is perfect and our room was an absolute haven complete with a brand new bed and luxury bedding. As an added bonus our room had a lovely extra surprise - french doors leading out into the garden with our own garden furniture (how perfect for the Summer months!)

Blacksmiths at Hartoft

The deal we booked through included Cream Tea by the Fire on arrival so after we'd put our bags in our room we made our way to the bar. I was so happy that we got exactly as promised - a comfortable table in the corner of the bar right by the fire, ready laid out with the most generously sized pot of cream I've ever seen and plenty of strawberry jam.

We ordered a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!) and within minutes our plate of scones had appeared. I had thought we'd probably just get a small scone each but we were presented with three mammoth scones! Cutting into them they were so fluffy and slathered with the jam and cream they really hit the spot. Although we were full to the brim after having one each we couldn't resist sharing the third.

Blacksmiths at Hartoft - Hotel Deal

Dinner in the evening was served in the bar which was surprisingly busy for a Monday evening. With four other tables dining in the small bar area the place was buzzing with happy chatter and we had a great time making friends with Cookie, a gorgeous Spaniel belonging to the neighbouring table (yes, we definitely left Yorkshire wanting a dog of our own!)

Our deal included £20.00 each towards dinner and after a quick look at the menu we could see that that was a pretty generous amount as, depending on what we ordered, that would treat us to two courses each.  We decided to skip starters this time and headed straight for the main course. The menu was filled with plenty of our favourite classic dishes so we had plenty to choose from.

Blacksmiths at Hartoft -  Evening Meal

Simon went for Trio of Sausage and Mash, 3 Yorkshire Dale sausages (farmhouse, pork and apple and caramelised red onion) served with creamed mash and raised red cabbage (£12.00) The sausages were really fat and juicy and after having a bite I was worried that perhaps I'd made the wrong order.

I opted for the Fish of the Day which was revealed on the Specials Board to be Trout, served with new potatoes, broccoli, sea-herb and a brown shrimp and butter sauce (£15.00). A fairly sensible option for me (usually when we're out and about I can't resist ordering "something with chips") and I'm very happy as it was incredible.

Blacksmiths at Hartoft -  Dinner

We just about managed to squeeze in a dessert (don't ask me how!) and I opted for a slice of homemade custard tart served with ice-cream (£5.50) and Simon ordered three scoops of ice-cream with honeycomb (it was the offer of Black Treacle ice-cream that had him intrigued!) for £4.00.

When I'd seen that we got £20 each towards our dinner I hadn't been sure if this would cover our entire meal or if we'd end up having to pay extra but we ended our meals with very full bellies and nothing to pay other than our drinks bill.

Once we'd finished we rolled ourselves off to bed, as much as we wanted to stay in the cosy bar and enjoy a few after dinner drinks we were feeling so sleepy after all that delicious food so thought we'd best retire for the night. It wasn't long before we were fast asleep in the huge comfy bed.

Blacksmiths at Hartoft Pickering

The next morning we were in and out of the shower quickly with the promise of a full breakfast served in the restaurant. Having not seen the restaurant the night before I was very interested to explore a different part of Blacksmiths and it definitely didn't disappoint, we were both particularly taken with the beautiful feature oven at the end of the room.

Breakfast started off at the buffet with a great selection of juices, cereals, yoghurts, pastries and fruit and, of course we both went for a cooked breakfast made to order in the kitchen. We were both thrilled to find French Toast on the menu and we ordered a portion each.

Wow!  I was so happy when my dish turned up - the most perfect French Toast with a delicious cinnamon crunch and the biggest pot of compote you have ever seen. It blew me away and was one of the nicest hotel breakfasts I've had in a long time. If you visit you have to promise you will order the same!

Blacksmiths at Hartoft Pickering Breakfast
I was really impressed with the our deal, we got everything that was promised when we booked and our entire stay went without a hitch. We were both really impressed with the standard and quality of the hotel and wouldn't hesitate to use them again to book our next staycation.

Our stay was over before we knew it and as we set off back home I went a little quiet in the passenger seat, head buried in my phone. I daren't tell my husband that I was frantically hunting through all of the deals on, plotting our next adventure. I guess I'd best leave it at least a week!

Blacksmiths at Hartoft Pickering North Yorkshire

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We received a complimentary deal from in exchange for an honest review. 
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