REVIEW: Lunch at Portland Hall Spa

spa pic

Each year, I go away for one night with my mum and my sister. We usually look for a Groupon deal for a spa break and my sister and I pay for this as a treat to my mum for Mother’s Day. This year, we were all in need of more of a break than ever. Both my sister and I are busy with our own businesses and we have seven children between us. All three of us have been impacted by the death of my father earlier in the year. This year, we headed off to Southport to stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel and spend a day at the Portland Hall Spa Hotel. 

We had picked up a package for a Mother’s Day treat at Portland Hall Spa. This included a back and neck massage, a full facial and the option of either a head massage or a leg massage. The deal also included a two-course lunch. As this is a food website, it is the food that I will focus on in this post (although I have to say that the treatments were excellent!).

Starters at Portland Hall Spa

All three of us chose different starters which makes for a better review! My mum opted for the chicken skewers which came in a tasty coating and with a sauce that was similar to hoisin, but a bit sweeter. She said the chicken was tender and I had a taste of her sauce with some of her salad garnish and it was delicious. 

My sister opted for the vegetarian tart, which was described as being made with goats cheese and caramelised onion. I had expected this to come as a small, round pastry casing with caramelised onion on the bottom, topped with goats cheese. However, this was not the case. It was a slice cut from a larger tart and my sister passed me a taste across the table. It looked a bit like quiche and certainly had the same sort of eggy texture but had the consistency of a sponge cake. I wasn’t keen on the dish as it was not what I had expected but my sister enjoyed it.

My choice was the homemade pate served with wholemeal toast. It arrived with the pate served in a small pot and was one of the best pates I have ever eaten. It was rich and meaty with a nice consistency and texture. I was initially disappointed that there was no butter to go with the toast, but I really didn’t need it. I spread the caramelised onion that was served with this starter over the toast and then added the pate.

Main Courses at Portland Hall Spa

Again, we all ordered something different. For her main, my sister chose the tossed spaghetti. This was a less creamy version of carbonara as it had pancetta, mushrooms, and Parmesan. I didn’t taste this dish personally, but it looked nice and my sister enjoyed it. The spaghetti looked like it had been cooked perfectly. I have a thing about soggy spaghetti!

My mum decided to order the chicken stroganoff with rice. The rice was served in a separate bowl with the rice on the side. This was a dish she thoroughly enjoyed as the chicken was still moist and the sauce was thick and luscious. It was made with wholegrain mustard, so it was spotted with the seeds. 

After my enjoyment of the starter, I was thoroughly looking forward to my main. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed. I chose the vegetable bake, which was described as layers of aubergines and tomatoes, topped with Mozzarella. First things first, there were slices of aubergine and it was topped with Mozzarella, so this part of the description was correct.

Unfortunately, there were no tomatoes in the dish. There were some courgettes at the bottom, which was a bonus as I love courgettes. However, I had been looking forward to the tang that tomatoes give a dish and this was missing. My other criticism was that this was a pasta dish and there was no mention of pasta on the menu. The aubergines were layered between sheets of pasta and topped with a bechamel sauce. It should really have been written as aubergine lasagne. However, I must add that it was perfectly well cooked, it was just not what I wanted or had expected. 

Drinks

There was some pretense that we were being healthy by attending a spa, so we ordered a jug of water. Unfortunately, we also ordered a jug of sangria to accompany our meal (well, we only do this once a year!). It was fruity, alcoholic, delicious and the perfect accompaniment to what was, for the most part, a good meal.

The menu has changed every year I have been, so no doubt I will have some different dishes to describe next year. Although I had a few minor issues, these related more to the descriptions of the food than the quality or flavour. 

 

 

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My Disappointment with Tourist Food Abroad

 

 

I might be alone in my view on this, but why do tourist hot spots in European destinations cater to the Brits rather than serving delicious local cuisine? If I only wanted to eat English breakfasts and steak and chips, then I might as well stay at home.

When I go abroad, part of the travel experience for me is eating the traditional food of the country I am visiting. That is not something that has happened on my last two holidays. In fairness, these two trips were both last-minute short-breaks in British tourist hotspots. I might have had better luck had I travelled to somewhere less ‘touristy’. 

In 2015, I spent five days in Fuerte Ventura with a friend. Every single day I hunted for somewhere that served local cuisine. Every single day I ate an English breakfast and steak and chips. 

Last year, I went to Alcudia, Mallorca, with my sister for a long weekend. I was absolutely determined to eat Spanish food while we were there. Unfortunately, most of the bars and restaurants catered to the tastes of the British market and the menus could have been picked up in Fuerte Ventura and directly transplanted onto the tables in Alcudia. 

On our penultimate night, we walked along the promenade and into the posher part of the town and found a decent Spanish restaurant. We had to pay a high price for the luxury of eating traditional Spanish cuisine, though, as it was significantly more expensive than any of the other restaurants that we passed. 

We enjoyed some tapas, that included fried green peppers and chicken wings. We then shared a mixed meat and seafood paella, which was delicious. Once I had eaten that, I was finally satisfied that I had enjoyed some traditional Spanish cuisine and was happy to return to a British bar for my evening meal the following day.

Am I alone in wanting to try the local cuisine when travelling abroad or are other people happy to stick to the food they know from home?

Food News: The Growing Trend Towards Veganism

fruit and veg

More people than ever are deciding to follow a vegan diet. While for some, this is for ethical reasons, others are choosing to follow a plant-based diet as they believe it is beneficial to their health. There are also others who follow a temporary vegan diet as a way of cleansing their systems and those who continue to eat meat but are including more vegan dishes in their diet. This trend is also being followed by the food industry with vegan eating establishments popping up all over the world. 

Matthew_Kenney_talking_at_TEDxOKC

One such example of this is plant-based chef Matthew Kenney (pictured left) who has recently opened a vegan restaurant called ‘Alibi’ in the Ovolo Hotel in Sydney. Although many traditional Australian dishes are based on steak or seafood, the chef believes that his food can compete with these dishes and has described it as sexier. In fact, the famous chef believes that vegan lifestyles will become even more the norm in the future.

‘Alibi’ has a diverse menu that serves dishes including tacos, burgers, pizza, and lasagne. These dishes would usually contain meat and cheese, but Matthew Kenney has redesigned these meals so they are completely plant-based. He has even found a way to recreate cheese using ingredients including cashew nuts and sunflower seeds.

Will.i.am_2008

The trend towards plant-based diets is also obvious in the number of celebrities who have now become vegan. Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas (pictured right) announced in January that he had made the transition to veganism. He has credited following a vegan diet with his dramatic weight loss and improved health. 

 

Sources: 

https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/future-of-food-is-vegan-says-leading-chef

https://www.livekindly.co/will-i-am-credits-vegan-diet-improved-health-weight-loss/

 

REVIEW: Whitegate Inn Beefeater, Manchester

beefeater

The other day I posted that I was excited that I was going out for a meal with my in-laws as it was a while since I had eaten out. You can read that post here. As promised, I can now review the restaurant in which we ate. 

whitegateWe visited the Whitegate Inn which is part of the Beefeater chain of restaurants in Failsworth, Manchester. There were ten of us eating and we hadn’t booked in advance. As a result, we didn’t have a table straight away but we were happy to wait and enjoy a drink in the bar area. 

Once we were seated, our lovely waitress quickly took our order. My partner and I both ordered the sirloin steak with chips and pepper sauce. Most others around the table also ordered various steak options, although two of our party opted for burgers. 

As the restaurant was so busy, it took a while for the food to arrive. This gave me time to assess the restaurant better. Everyone in the place seemed to be having a good time and I couldn’t see any food being returned- always a good sign. The place had a comfortable and fun vibe and there were several families with children eating at the restaurant. Our waitress kept us topped up with drinks until our food arrived.me and mike fail

 

When the food arrived, the steaks were cooked perfectly as requested. Everyone at our table was happy with the meal they received. Some went on to order puddings, but I was full. 

Overall, the food was what you would expect from a chain steakhouse and the prices were reasonable. The waitress was friendly and helpful, answering all our questions and bringing us extras and sauces. A good time was had by all. 

He’s Finally Taking Me Out……

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One of my main plans on this blog was to write reviews of various eating establishments as I usually eat out on a fairly regular basis. Unfortunately, a number of things have stopped me from doing so recently.

  1. My dad died earlier in the year and I haven’t felt too much like going out.
  2. I was made redundant from my second job and this has impacted on my family financially and put a stop to eating out.
  3. My partner and I booked a meal out locally for Valentine’s Day and he came down with a stomach bug so the meal was canceled and I ended up drinking wine and watching TV on my own. 

Finally, I am getting the opportunity to eat out tonight! It is my sister-in-laws birthday and we are traveling to Manchester and staying overnight at her home as she lives about a two-hour drive away from our home, which is between Lancaster and Blackpool in Lancashire. This will allow us to have a drink while we are out.

I am not entirely sure where we are eating yet, but no doubt it will appear on my blog over the next few days. It is more likely to be a pub meal than a fine dining experience, I would think. I can’t wait!

 

A Night Out Drinking and Eating in York

My partner and I have really felt the pressure recently. I work full-time as a writer and he works funny shifts in the retail industry. We have seven children between us ranging from four to 21 and this is both stressful and time-consuming. Our house is a one-hundred-year-old four bedroomed house on the coast that has more holes in it than windows and we seem to spend our life repairing things. Also, both my cousin and my dad died suddenly shortly after Christmas. It was definitely time to let our hair down and have a break from the stresses and strains of life. 

At Christmas, I gave him an envelope containing a booking confirmation sheet for a night at Marmaduke’s Townhouse Hotel in York. He has often said to me he wanted to take me to York as it is a city he loves. My mum gave us money to have a nice meal while we were away.

Neither of us could wait as it is not often that we spend time on our own together, except when we are asleep. A night away together seemed like a real luxury and something that we were both looking forward to immensely.

The drive to York was lovely. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of driving through Lancashire and Yorkshire will know what lovely views you can enjoy, even from the motorway. As soon as we arrived, we were keen to check out our room and then to explore York. Neither of us had eaten all day so we were starving and finding a restaurant was our number one priority. 

me1We enjoyed perusing through the streets and reading the menus outside the restaurant while we found somewhere we fancied eating. Some of the shops were still open, including two shops selling Harry Potter memorabilia. I took great delight in trying out some of the wands. 

We finally stopped for something to eat at Cafe Rouge, of which I have written a review on this blog. I had a camembert starter while my partner had an unusual egg in red wine sauce dish. We both opted for steak as the main. Usually, I do not have a dessert. I love them, but I only have a small appetite. However, I had nothing to eat earlier in the day and was starving, so chocolate torte for two it was!

Both me and my partner like a drink (or three!) but we rarely go out drinking. We decided to make the most of a night without any children and head off on a pub crawl. The first pub we visited was huge but had just an elderly couple sitting in the corner. Although we are middle-aged, I am 38 and he is 44, there is still life in us yet and we had hoped for something a little more lively. 

me and mike york

Instead, we took the advice of the bar staff and headed off to a grungy student bar called ‘Rolling Stones’. The fact that we were the oldest people in there didn’t put us off and we were soon drinking and playing pool against the students- and we won! This pic is us sat in the grungy student bar. 

When we decided to make a move to the next bar, the students decided they wanted to tag along. Even though it was a Sunday night in January and the streets were very quiet, my other half and I still managed to make a mini party for ourselves!

The next venue was a trendy cocktail bar called ‘The Drawing Board’. Again, this had a young vibe, but we soon had everyone in the bar talking to us- my partner likes being the centre of attention. 

me and mike york

Despite the hangovers the next day, we had a fantastic time at the ‘York Castle Museum’ and I loved dressing up in all the outfits and getting involved with the interactive activities- as you can see from the pics!

Despite going on a Sunday in the middle of January, I would definitely recommend an evening out in York eating and drinking. There is a great selection of restaurants and a diverse range of drinking venues to try. 

Using Local Lancashire Ingredients

fruit and veg

I am a big believer in using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. It is something that I try to do at home and is also something I look for when I am eating out at a restaurant. Not only does buying local ingredients support local businesses, the quality of the produce is so much better than buying processed and manufactured alternatives. The meats are fresher and the fruit and vegetables are in season and taste so much better.

lancs map

I am lucky in terms of the location where I live. I live in a semi-rural village in Lancashire, just across from the coastal towns of Fleetwood and Morecambe and at a mid-point between Blackpool and Lancaster. This means my village is surrounded on one side by the sea and on the other side by farmland. Both are fantastic sources of delicious ingredients.

The coastal location means there is a fresh supply of fish and seafood available and I usually shop at a seafood shop on the docks at Fleetwood.

Two of the best cheese manufacturers in the company are located within driving distance of my home; Dewlay and Butler’s. They both produce delicious ranges of cheese from their farm factories. These are sold directly from their own shops, local farm shops and many other retailers locally. My personal favourite is Lancashire crumbly.

Pork, beef, chicken and lamb are all available from local sources and sold in local butchers. There is also one of the biggest game hatcheries in the country, Hi-Fly, just one mile from my house and there are even ostrich farms in the surrounding area. 

The area in which I live is fantastic for anyone who enjoys farmers markets as these are held regularly in many locations in the local area. Not only are these a good place to buy the produce that is raised and grown locally, it is also a great place to sample foods created using locally sourced produce. This includes everything from pies to chutneys. Similarly, there are amazing farm shops in Lancashire and there are events that cater to food lovers throughout the year.