Stoke(d) on Trent

Over New Year, Sam and Shara mentioned that they had booked tickets to see Derren Brown in Edinburgh. I swear I saw James turn green with envy (or maybe it was the escargot). Because I’m a great girlfriend, I decided to check and see if Derren was doing any shows in April, when we’d be in the UK. As luck would have it, he was doing a show in Stoke on Trent the night before we were due back in Edinburgh.

It only made sense to break up the drive with a little pit stop…

Stokelington

The Hotel

We booked our hotel, the Quality Hotel Stoke (I’d have named it The Master Stoke), and put a note in the booking that we’d like a room with wifi, because we had to get a few hours of work in. All this travel doesn’t pay for itself, you know.

They gave us a room in the furthest corner of the hotel. The only place we could get wifi was sitting in the bathroom, and that was if we had a satellite plugged in.

James went down to the hotel swimming pool and I decided to have a bath. I got excited because the tub was a jacuzzi, but then I was immediately disappointed because the bubbles didn’t work, and my bath was boring. Then I found out there were no towels in the room. I thought maybe James had taken them to the swimming pool, but when he came back looking grumpy. He had to use his t-shirt to dry himself. Not impressed so far, Quality Stoke!

The Restaurant

At least the hotel was near the theatre. We decided that we wanted anything but Indian food, as we already had reservations at Kismot for the following night. But then the nearest restaurant to the theatre happened to be a curry place, so we wandered in anyway. It ended up being one of the best curries we’ve ever had, and the very young, very stressed waiter managed to provide some pre-theatre entertainment too.

“Can we have a bottle of the house white?” I asked.

“NO!” he said, looking quite perplexed. “We have no bottles.”

We kind of looked at each other and then I said “Okay. Two glasses then?”

“Of house white wine?”

“Yes.”

He wandered off and came back with some nice and fruity white wine: stunning. I was upset because a bottle of it would have gone down a treat. Then I ordered a lamb saag, and James ordered tandoori chicken.

“Would you like the chicken on the bone?”

“Yes please.”

“BUT SIR! You can’t have the chicken on the bone! It takes forty minutes to cook, and you might miss your show at the theatre!”

“Um. Okay, I’ll just have it not on the bone, then.”

“Okay!”

So he waddles off, we relax a bit: the boy knows we’re going to the theatre, so we don’t have to panic about our food being late. About ten minutes later, he appears from the kitchen.

“Madam… I’m sorry, you ordered the ghosht saagawalla?”

“Yes.”

“But… madam. That’s lamb.”

“I know.”

“Like, a little baby sheep. You know. Lamb.”

“…uh huh?”

“But madam,” he sighed, “we don’t have any lamb.”

“……”

“…..”

“Okay. Can I have chicken saagawalla?”

“Yes.”

Anyway, the food arrived, and it was absolutely amazing. Even although it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, it was divine. The spices were well judged, the flavours were terrific, everything was cooked perfectly. I would go back in a heartbeat. In fact, after the show, I wanted to pop in and have seconds!

The Show! 

Derren Brown was also amazing. He told us not to blog about it though, so all I’m going to say is that if you have a chance to see him live, you probably should.

The Verdict?

We didn’t see much of Stoke on Trent, but the little area around our hotel and the theatre was pretty nice. I enjoyed the restaurant, I enjoyed having a bit of banter with the friendly bar staff in the theatre, and even our room was okay when you got over the fact that there were no towels. All in all, it made a nice little pitstop on our way back north.

Portsmouth in the Winter. Er, I mean, Spring?

My English friends and colleagues are constantly banging on about how much better the weather is in the South of England compared to drab, dreary, Scotland. It’s probably because of this that my hopes were pretty high when we arrived in Portsmouth during the first week of April.

Portsmouth

If you remember my last post, we arrived at 11pm at night. This was pretty sad because, for once, we actually had booked into a gorgeous boutique hotel. Not the kind with plastic sheets, either. The kind with egyptian cotton sheets, and actual toiletries in the bathroom! I took a few pictures but they didn’t turn out well, so if you want to see just how posh we’ve become you can look at their website.

After nipping out and getting a kebab (which we had to eat carefully on the floor because we didn’t want to dirty up the bed or carpet), we pretty much went to sleep. It was about 1am or so at this point, so we didn’t have much of an option.

In the morning we wandered in to get our continental breakfast, which was lovely. It was especially lovely because it was included in the price. As I’ve mentioned before, we’re a couple of cheapskates. Posh boutique hotels aren’t our usual forte, but this one was very reasonably priced. I’d highly recommend it to anybody visiting Portsmouth; although I’m not sure why anyone would visit Portsmouth. (I’m just joking, I’m sure it’s lovely when it’s sunny and I can’t wait to go back!)

So after hearing all about the Great British Summer and how superior English weather is to its Scottish counterpart, I was ready for a bit of sunshine exploring on the beach. Unfortunately, it was freezing cold and snowing.

Still, it would be a shame to miss out. We donned our winter jackets and set out along the front to take some photos. It was pretty quiet that day. The pier seemed to be closed, which was a shame, and although we made it as far as the duck pond, nobody was out on the swan boats. It was quite sad. We walked back to the car.

I say we. I mean I walked back to the car, as my cardboard cut out boyfriend was starting to get soggy in the snow.

More 065 More 066

So that was Portsmouth! Next stop, the glamorous Northern City of Stoke on Trent!

34.5 Hour drive? No Problem.

We spent a week back in Edinburgh. We surprised our friends by turning up at Underdogs, took my parents for dinner at the wonderful Bon Vivant, we munched burgers in The Cambridge and had sub-par Chinese food with Euan and Sarah at Taste Good. As lovely as it was to be back in the land of haggis and Irn Bru, mentally I’d left months ago.

It was time to get back on the road.

Originally we had planned to use the three weeks between our house sits to visit James’s parents in Silves, stopping off in a few places on the way. Sadly we didn’t have enough time for that after spending a week back in Edinburgh, so instead we planned an epic trip around the Pyrenees to keep us going.

But first, we had to make it back to the South of France.

On the way down, we popped into Roumazieres-Loubert to pick up our stuff which Terry and Louise, our previous house sitting clients, very kindly let us stash there while we nipped back across the channel. We also arranged to spend the night with our next clients, Andy and Jane, in Salies de Bearn before heading down to Spain.

We left Edinburgh at 10am on Saturday morning. We arrived in Salies De Bearn at 8:30pm on Sunday night. This was our journey.

One heckuva drive

 

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Diamond Jubilee Street Party Food Ideas

Image credit: Uproxx

I reckon the best thing about having a Royal Family is all the extra bank holidays we get. Last year it was the Royal Wedding (and a trip to Brussels for James and me) and this year it’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Although last year I was a little cynical about the whole Royal thing, this year I’m actually thinking it could be fun to have wee soiree in the street.

Nobody does street parties like Edinburgh. And it would be the ideal way to get to know my neighbours: the faceless people who hold doors open for me in the corridor, or who post a letters through saying things like “terribly sorry, but one of our socks has fallen off our balcony onto yours. Can we have it back?”

I’m not sure if my neighbours would agree with me. Tensions have been running high since a controversial parking scheme was introduced. I wouldn’t want to risk my trestle tables getting a ticket from an over enthusiastic parking warden! 😉

If I did live on a street that was taking part in the Big Jubilee Lunch, here’s what I’d bring to the table.

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The Worst Service…Ever!

Garfunkel’s, Gatwick North Terminal

After a day in the London office my colleague and I decided that we’d get a quick glass of wine on the way home, at Gatwick Airport. I was sure there used to be a Wetherspoon’s style pub there, but we ended up in an eatery at the end called Garfunkels.

We’d considered getting a quick bite to eat there too- but now I’m glad that we didn’t.

First we went to sit at a table, and a waiter asked if we wanted food. We said “just drinks” so he told us we had to move sit by the bar.

No problem.

So we went to sit down by the bar, and the girl behind it barked “you can’t sit here, this area’s closed.” We explained that we’d been told to sit there, by her colleague, but she was insistent that we go back to where we’d just come from.

At this point I thought about leaving and going to Café Rouge.

But we sat down, and perused the drink menu anyway. I settled on a large glass of Chenin Blanc whilst D asked for a small glass of Merlot.

The restaurant was pretty deserted: it was 4:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon in January, after all.

But by the time he’d brought our drinks over, I swear I could have run down to Duty Free,  bought a bottle, opened it and poured it myself!

We asked to pay right away, as now we only had around 20 minutes ’til our gate closed. He brought the bill and we thought it was a bit steep- even for London prices.

We soon realised this was due to us being charged us for a whole bottle of Merlot instead of a small glass.

After five minutes of trying to catch our waiter’s eye, he eventually came over. We pointed out the mistake, and he didn’t seem pleased about having to correct it.

Finally, he came back with the revised bill. We paid and were able to enjoy our wine.

I certainly don’t expect five star service in the airport departure lounge, but I do expect an element of speed.

Still though, experiences like this teach us to be grateful for the great services we often receive and take for granted. Plus the sheer level of incompetence was funny; I dread to think what the food would have been like!

Have you ever received terrible service that just made your jaw drop? Feel free to share in the comments!

 

What’s That Flavour? Tasty Competition from Walkers

Those that know me will know that I’m a big fan of crisps. I’ve been known to munch my way through an entire multipack in the space of an afternoon; I know, I know. I’m not proud of it (actually, I am. Jemma vs Food! Jemma vs Food!) It’s possibly crisps fault that I’m on this boring old slow carb diet in the first place.

So imagine my joy when Walkers got in touch to ask me to sample some of their new flavours. It’s situations like this where I ask myself: what would Gary Tank Commander do? So of course I said “aye!” because every radge likes crisps.

They sent me three bags of mystery crisp flavours: one meat, one dairy, and one spicy, all in white bags with question marks on.  At first I thought this was a game to test if my food blogger pallette really is all it’s cracked up to be, but it turns out that it’s actually Walker’s new competition, #whatsthatflavour

As of last week, Walkers have unleashed their three flavours of mystery crisps onto the shelves of Britain’s supermarkets (and mini markets). Obviously eating mysterious crisps is fun in itself, but the most exciting part is that if you guess the flavours correctly you could win £50,000: and in this economic climate, who wouldn’t want £50,000? Just think guys, you could buy a 2 bedroom top floor flat in Wester Hailes and still have change left over for a garage in Corstorphine.

If you want to enter the competition, buy a packet of mystery crisps and then visit Walker’s website or Facebook page and say what you think the flavour is; you have until the 9th of March.  They’ll be uploading clues on Facebook throughout February, so keep an eye on those to increase your chances of bagging that cash. There will ultimately be three winners, with a prize draw for everyone who gets it right.

But why this campaign, and why now? Let’s see what Miranda Sambles, Marketing Director at Walkers has to say:

“The nation has never been more interested in food and flavour and at Walkers, we love flavours too. We’ve spent months perfecting these mystery flavours, which we hope will really spark a nationwide flavour conversation.”

But less chatting, more chomping! Read on for a live blog of my first impressions of these tasty fried potato delights. Did I mention that I love crisps?

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British Cheese Week :: Cheese Fest!

One of my friends had a cheese party a few years ago.Everyone brought a cheese and an accompaniment, and then there were votes for which cheese was best. Proper proportional representation, I’m told, with people secretly voting for their first, second and third choice cheese. I wasn’t invited as we weren’t friends at the time, but I thought it sounded like a a good idea.

And what better way to mark the end of British cheese week (which runs from 24th Sept to 2nd Oct this year) than having my very own British cheese fest?

My party was far less organised, however, as we forgot to pick up prizes and everyone was more focussed on listening to cheesy music to vote for their favourite. But we had a good laugh, a good gossip, and most importantly; some good cheese!

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