Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review: Afternoon Tea at the Royal York Hotel

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Last weekend I had a rather enjoyable stay in the Royal York Hotel

Regarding the hotel room and facilities, I thought generally the standard was good. The impressive hotel building is located by York Railway Station, allowing for easy transport to the city and access to the city centre.

Whilst the building is indeed grand, the interior seems slightly faded and in need of a deep clean. This is a shame because it does let down the experience somewhat - the staff provide four star service, just not in a four star environment.

We had a clean and presentable superior double with views out over the city and York Minster. My only niggle was that the room seemed exceedingly hot, even when we turned off the heating, as heat seemed to be radiating from the interior pipes. This did make our stay slightly uncomfortable, especially as I'm a lover of a warm duvet combined with a cold room...

After a somewhat disturbed nights sleep, we were very much looking forward to afternoon tea, which we had booked for 3pm in the hotel's Tempus Restaurant.

We made the daring move to have coffee instead of tea, (these modern sensibilities eh...) which was actually surprisingly good and lacking in the usual bulk brewed bitterness you get in large hotels. I would have preferred warm milk to the standard cold jug we were given. To be fair, I didn't ask for warm and I suspect I would have got it if I had.

The sandwiches were well filled and on soft bread, the egg filling was particularly nice, as it was fluffy and full of flavour.

Regarding the cakes, we both felt the fruit tart and cream filled pastry were nicely presented and filled. The scone was the only letdown for me, as it did not seem freshly baked and was filled with whipped cream, rather than the clotted variety. There was also a lack of jam, so much so that it seemed non-existent.

York has a lot of variety and choice when it comes to this very important meal, with Bettys setting a very high standard just down the road. I like to think, after being in York for four years, that I am well versed in the finger sandwich and miniature cake department.

Whilst I enjoyed my experience at the Royal York, would I go back specifically for afternoon tea? Probably not, the standard in the city is high and I feel there are better places very nearby. Though as part of our overall stay, it was a lovely end note which augmented the experience nicely.

Disclaimer: I was not paid or reimbursed in any way for this review. In any review that I undertake, paid or not, my opinions are always honest.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Recipe: Espresso Hazelnut Brownies

Makes approximately 16 thick slices

Preparation time – 15 minutes plus 55 minutes cooking time.

These brownies are made deliciously decadent with the addition of fresh espresso and hazelnut spread. Use a South American coffee for a full bodied mocha finish, or alternatively an African coffee will give you notes of fruit and citrus.


30 x 32cm tray bake or roasting tin
300g plain chocolate, use dark chocolate for an even richer flavour
225g unsalted butter
Double espresso made from Arabica beans
3 large eggs
175g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
2 tbsp. hazelnut spread


1.     Pre heat the oven to 190C (gas mark 5) and line your tin with greaseproof paper

2.    Break the chocolate up into pieces and slowly melt in a bowl with the butter over a pan of hot water, stirring as you go. Once the chocolate pieces have completely melted, add the hazelnut spread and stir until combined. Take the mixture off the heat to cool.

3.     In another bowl, beat the sugar eggs and double espresso together. Slowly add this into your cooled chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the self-raising flour.

4.     Bake in the oven for 55 minutes, the brownies will crack on the surface and remain gooey in the centre. Leave the brownies to cool for half an hour in the tin before finally cutting them into 16 pieces.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Lemon and Lavender Shortbread, featuring *Antipasti Serving Board

There's something about sharing my love for eating with other people that really puts a smile on my face. It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of parties at our house, especially those where everyone is invited to bring a dish along and feast on a huge pot of homemade chilli. 

Another great pleasure of mine is having people over for tea, old fashioned I know... But if someone is coming round just after work, around 5pm, you don't really want to be cracking open the gin just yet! So tea seems like the logical option.

Shortbread is a pretty safe bet for both of these occasions, the success of Party Rings should be all the evidence you need that biscuits are a good party idea and who doesn't enjoy a good shortbread dunk in their tea! 

I found myself recently with a glut of lemons and the last bit of this summer's culinary lavender and decided that the combination would be ideal in a light, buttery shortbread.


125g/4oz butter
55g/2oz caster sugar, plus extra to finish
180g/6oz plain flour

Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp culinary lavender (+1 extra tsp for decoration if needed!)

1. Preheat the oven to 190C / Gas mark 5
2. Cream together the butter and sugar
3. Add the lavender and lemon zest and mix well
4. Slowly add the flour until a smooth paste is formed, it should almost be a dough-like consistency.
5. Roll out to just over 1/2 cm thick and cut into desired shapes and place on baking tray, chill in fridge for 20 minutes
6. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, cool on baking rack (they harden as they cool)

To Serve

I was lucky enough to be sent a lovely personalised Jamie Oliver Antipasti Serving Board by the folks at GettingPersonal. Rather than sticking to the traditional way of using such a board, I felt it was a perfect way to display my shortbreads when having company! 

The board has been personalised with my blog name (how cool is that!?) and is very generous size. You can get the board personalised with any name, making it an ideal birthday gift for a keen foodie. I also used the board at my housemate Kathryn's recent Birthday Party to display her birthday brownie mountain!

*Disclaimer - I was gifted the Jamie Oliver Antipasti Board for the purposes of this review. As always, my opinions are honest and comments my own.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Wanderlust: Paris, July 2014, Part 2

This is my second post showcasing some of the places I visited during my summer trip to Paris (Part 1 can be found here.)

Autumn is probably my favourite time of year, the season's earthy palette seems so vibrant in the low autumn light. Part of me still craves the heat of the sun and I find myself wishing to return to Paris and the glorious weather we had. Next year perhaps!

During our July trip, we packed rather a lot into the six days we were there. One of my favourite hidden gems that we stumbled upon was the Cite de l'architecture et du patrimoine, the City of Architecture and Heritage. This architecture museum comprises of both permanent and temporary exhibitions, which covers a large chronological span of buildings, from ancient to modern. 

Much of the permanent exhibition is taken up with full size plaster replicas of building facades, columns and rooms. My favourite section comprised of replicas of early church interiors which were used as exhibit spaces for modern sculpture and furniture. As you can see in the picture below, the modern forms looked pretty alien in their ancient environments!

ecclesiastical architectural details.
During one of my wanders I stumbled across the beautiful window of Faucon. Apologies for the reflection in the image, I think I was just mesmerized by the chocolates and macarons. Somehow  all food in Paris, even in small bakeries, looks both wildly decadent and enticing!

As we were staying in Montmartre, it would have been inexcusable not to visit the Musee Montmartre, which is also surrounded by the Renoir Gardens. The permanent collection is composed of paintings, posters and drawings by some of Montmartre's leading artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Modigliani, Kupka, Steinlen, Valadon, and Utrillo. 

Just below the gardens is the only surviving vineyard in the city, which has existed since the medieval period.

 On the swing in the Renoir Gardens

More idyllic garden space

The musee d'orsay has to be on every tourist's list when visiting Paris, the museum collection mainly comprises of 19th century and early 20th century French art. 

During my visit, I was particularly bowled over by the temporary Van Gogh exhibition, "Van Gogh / Artaud. The Man Suicided by Society" Based on an essay by Artaud, an artist in his own right, the exhibition explores Van Goghs place in a society which rejected his work - 

"Challenging the thesis of alienation, Artaud was determined to show how van Gogh’s exceptional lucidity made lesser minds uncomfortable.  Wishing to prevent him from uttering certain "intolerable truths", those who were disturbed by his painting drove him to suicide. "

The Pompidou Centre is another mecca for art lovers visiting the city, the modern art museum boasts a unique building and the views from the top are particularly spectacular, as you can see below!

During my visit there were two stand out exhibitions, the first being on the work of the architect Bernard Tschumi, who drew inspiration for his designs from many other mixed media sources, including the movement of actors on film. Tschumi was particularly interested in movement and movement within spaces.

The second temporary exhibit which blew me away was the video installation "The Clock" by Christian Marclay. The Clock is a 24 hour montage of thousands of time related film excerpts which are edited to be correspondent with the time during the film. (e.g the 3:10 to Yuma scene which talks about the 3:10 to Yuma, is shown at 3:10 exactly.)

View from the Pompidou looking to the hill of Montmartre and Sacre Couer

View looking towards the eiffel Tower.
Our good friend Kathryn said that we could not go to Paris without visiting Sainte-Chapelle, the medieval gothic chapel situated at the heart of the city on the Île de la Cité.

The chapel is considered to represent the pinnacle of gothic architecture and was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion Relics, including Christ's Crown of Thorns. It was completed in 1248 and is literally awash with stained glass and beautifully ornate detail. 

We visited at the weekend, therefore the chapel was very busy and we had to queue for around half an hour. It may therefore be worth going during a quieter weekday morning! However the building is an absolute jewel, the colours inside as the sun hits the windows are dazzling. Therefore it is and an absolute must, just be aware that there are building works currently taking place and currently the rose window is obscured.

Finally, a little bit of street art for you

I wonder where the top of the stairs lead.... where is the man going with his briefcase?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Breakfast Series: Garlic and Tomato Mackerel on Toast

If you had asked me a few years ago about having fish for breakfast, I would have been pretty disgusted by the idea. Vague childhood memories of pungent kippers in the fridge were probably to blame for this aversion.

Recently however, seafood has been having a bit of a golden age in my culinary repertoire, especially as I have discovered the joys of tinned fish - good for both the budget and body.

This is a breakfast I whipped up in around 15 minutes and combines the meaty flesh of mackerel with a soft yielding poached egg, topped off with some peppery rocket!

This recipe serves 2

You will need:

1 tin of mackerel in tomato sauce
1 tsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tin of canned tomatoes
a handful of fresh cherry tomatoes
2 poached eggs
2 slices of toast
2 handfuls of washed rocket

salt and pepper to taste


1. heat up the oil in a frying pan, add the garlic and onion and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes until softened. 

2. Add mackerel and cherry tomatoes, cook for a further minute, then add the chopped tomatoes.

3. At this point, it's time to start poaching your egg (mine usually takes 6 minutes in a poach pod)

4. Prepare your toast on a plate with rocket to the side.

5. Top half of your toast with the tomatoey mackerel, the other with your poached egg.

Would you have fish for breakfast, or does the idea disgust you? Trust me, it's worth trying!!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Wanderlust: Paris, July 2014, Part 1

This is a bit of a belated post, as I actually visited Paris all the way back in July! (It's almost October now, how crazy is that?!)

I was extremely lucky to get the chance to visit, as I tagged along on my boyfriend's trip to study for two weeks at IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique.)

I thought I would share with you some of my snaps from the trip which document the places we visited, food we ate and the city in full summertime glory. I think our trip was slightly atypical, in that we got off the beaten path somewhat and stumbled across some quite marvelous places, however we also did do a lot of the more usual tourist sightseeing.

We stayed in a functional, but clean, hostel in Montmartre which was just around the corner from a wonderful bistro, le Cépage. We had afternoon coffee and dinner here a couple of times during our stay, I fully recommend the steak as the highlight of the menu, though the salads on other tables also looked pretty spectacular. It was just a great place to sit in the afternoon/evening sun and soak in the atmosphere.

Part of the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestry series
 As a former medievalist, I couldn't pass up the chance to go and see the medieval treasures at the MUSÉE DE CLUNY/Musée national du Moyen Âge. It was well worth the trip south of the river! The museum is filled with a large variety of pieces, ranging from tithe bowls to reliquaries and tapestries. Even if you have a general interest in History or Art, this is definitely one to visit as the collection is large and impressive.

After a rather abortive attempt to see the famous Catacombs (top tip; don't try to go at midday on a weekend, the queue is huge!) we inadvertently stumbled upon the nearby Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, a beautiful glass and steel building which houses an impressive modern art collection. 

Opened in 1994, the foundation "promotes discovery, by revealing young artists to the public or by unveiling the secret side of world-renowned artists. It promotes creation through the commissioning and production of works. By opening up to the most diverse realms of creation and knowledge, it stimulates curiosity and discovery through its exhibitions." 

Again, this is another hidden gem which is slightly off the usual tourist track, but I really would urge you to go, if not just for the peaceful gardens which nestle around the building, providing an urban oasis away from the metropolis.

Beef in sticky sweet sauce (sorry I completely can't remember what it was!!) with rice and salad. Be assured it was delicious.

Seafood soup with mussels, squid and prawns

Now onto my favourite stuff! Food! whilst we ate a hell of a lot of brioche and baguette, we also went out for quite a few meals. One of the highlights in my memory has to be at the Restaurant Tin Tin, a Vietnamese establishment near the Belleville metro stop. The seafood soup in particular was full of flavour and extremely hearty. I also seem to remember that prices were very reasonable here, as the place is off the tourist trail.

Please forgive me, the selfie seemed like the only way here.

Of course, a trip to Paris would not be complete without a visit to the Louvre. I went on a Saturday and arrived just as the doors were opening, however there still was a sizeable queue. I think this is typical of a Saturday, so my advice would be to go during the week if you can. It was well worth the wait though and i particularly enjoyed the Napoleon III apartments, which were jam packed full of Georgian splendour. 

I really do think the Louvre is a museum which requires several visits, like the British Museum, there is far too much to digest in one sitting. I only really got a taste for a very small proportion of the collection. Though this of course provides an excellent excuse to continue visiting Paris!

Has anyone else been to Paris and have any top tips for places to visit?


P.S - Look out for part 2 of this post!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Pastry Edit

Lets talk pastry. 

Deliciously crisp and buttery and encasing hidden wonders, pastry is one of my all time favourites. Living in York pretty much means I have unlimited access to an inordinate amount of very good pork pies and whilst they aren't exactly healthy, once in a while I have to give in. The pork/jelly ratio is a subject close to my heart, but that's a discussion for another time.

Pastry is often viewed as one of the trickier things to master in the kitchen, however with a bit of know how and practise, it can become a very rewarding part of your baking repertoire

After doing some personal research into the best pastry recipes on the Internet, I decided it was only right and decent to share my results with you guys! 

Gourmet Dough - Hot Water Crust Pastry (great step by step photos!)

Delia Online - Shortcrust Pastry

BBC Good Food - Choux Pastry (great how to video)

Happy Baking!

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