A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Valentine's in the Cotswolds

Let's get one thing out of the way: a weekend in the Cotswolds is a romantic endeavour whether you choose to celebrate Valentine’s, or not. 
Apart from day trips, we do try to spend a couple of nights per year around the different villages in the area, it just works if you want to make yourself happy - simple as that!
We used Broadway, in Worcestershire, as our base this time around. 

My heart always feels that much freer, when we drive past Oxford.
And then, once you've driven through Burford, you are surrounded by glorious countryside, away from all the hustle and bustle of any big city.
Dusk was already hovering over the hills around Burford last Saturday and the evening mist was settling in, over all shades of blue hills in the distance; we slowed down and enjoyed the drive, no matter how excited my husband was to test-drive his toy for the weekend. 

If you are a keen driver, you will enjoy the bit after Stow on the Wold, towards Broadway.
This is one of the highest points in the Cotswolds and once you leave Oxfordshire behind you, the road swerves around the hills and drops down into Worcestershire plains.
In the early evening it's mesmerizing to see all the village lights dotted in the horizon.
In the day time you 'll feel like a movie characters, driving down this long road with tall trees and perfectly green picturesque hills on either side.   

Broadway is a small town, with a couple of hotels, a good choice of pubs, restaurants, even a fish & chips shop and numerous antique shops. The main road hosts traditional buildings, in local honey-coloured stone and in the end of the road you'll spot Broadway Tower, sitting on top of the vast surrounding hills like a little joker's crown.

We had dinner at the Swan on the Green, on Saturday night.
We hadn't made reservations for dinner beforehand, which is pretty silly on any given Saturday evening, but even more so on Valentine's weekend; we were tired and just couldn't be bothered to worry about that too. After all, we were not in search of the perfect dinner, just a relaxing evening with decent food, how hard can that be in the middle of the countryside? 

Table for two at the Swan

Pork belly, scallops and this velvety mash with bacon and hints of oregano....

So as soon as we arrived in Broadway on Saturday evening, we headed out for drinks and put our names down for a ten o'clock dinner at the Swan, thinking it would be our last resort if nothing else came up.
Nothing else came up! Everywhere was booked up, but no complaints!

The Swan is a very tastefully renovated pub, with colourful little dinning spaces dotted around the old building, comfy armchairs and lovely food.
We got talking to a local couple, who had brought their King Charles Spaniel, Louis, along for a pint and they re-assured us that they "hadn't had a bad meal at the Swan yet". Good enough for us!
Oh, and Louis downed his pint in no time, in case you were wondering!

Quirky details around the Lygon Arms.

I picked the Lygon Arms in Broadway for our stay, just because it came with an indoors pool & spa and it looked like a traditional charming Cotswolds property. 

I thought, what better way to start off Valentine's day but with a dip in the pool? 
The idea, in principle, was good, but if I had looked better on TripAdvisor, I would had made sure to secure a room in the main building. Instead we were sent at the hotel's not so attractive 70's extension at the back, in a room that gave us glimpses of a retirement home and we even had our very own trail of ants coming out of the bathroom. The whole thing put a damper on our stay, in this otherwise, very traditional and charming hotel. 
We were quite infuriated at the time; but a good dinner and a couple of drinks later, plus the fact that Monday would come sooner than expected if we wasted more time being upset, put everything into perspective. 

The main building at the Lygon Arms was so quaint;
fireplaces dotted around the various sitting areas, wooden beams and old stone floors reminded you that you are in the countryside and even the pool area was a welcoming change on Sunday morning. 
This would be a good hotel for a girlie spa weekend; 
Tip of the day: if you stay at the Lygon Arms, make sure to secure a room in the main building! 
On Sunday morning, after a couple of brisk rounds in the pool, we went to check out Broadway Tower. A little path takes you from the centre of Broadway, up the hills, past the deer enclosure, to the little Tower. You can drive straight up to the Tower, too.

This is the second highest point in the Cotswolds and the view over Worcestershire's rolling hills is fascinating, especially on a crisp, sunny day!

This would make for a good day out, even if you are just driving in, for the day.
Leave your car in Broadway, walk up the hill to the Tower and after you've worked up a healthy appetite head back down for a generous Sunday meal in one of the village pubs. The scenery will reward your efforts! 

On for lunch at the Porch House, in Stow on the Wold!
Apparently the building is one of the oldest recorded Inns, in Stow, but it has been renovated with all kinds of colourful touches and comfortable corners to sit at. I think next time we’ll stay here instead!
We had lovely white onion soup to start with and while, the man of the house, went for a roast, I decided that s cheese soufflé would be an appropriate calorific splurge for a cold winter’s day!
We even had dessert: another soufflé, chocolate this time, with salted caramel ice cream and a little glass of Muscadet wine. Ahh, Happy Valentine’s!

Walking around Stow is always such a pleasure.
Do not miss the Cooking Shop on the Market square; you’ll find everything you need in terms of crockery and tableware, in very good prices!
And if you fancy a cup of tea, you are spoiled for choice, there are so many traditional tearooms around the square, just take your pick. If you want something more upmarket, try Old Stocks Inn café, with its’ slight Scandinavian touches and artisan coffees.
Driving through hilly Burford.
Time to drive back, but slowly!
We took as many de-tours as possible, in order to enjoy the sunny day and the gorgeous little villages on the way to Burford. I wish we had more time in this lovely part of the countryside!

Trout with Almonds

Ever since we've come back from our Christmas holiday in Greece, I've been thinking of our lovely lunch at the trout farms in Planitero, amongst the Peloponnese mountains. 

We try to eat fish twice a week and I've wanted to re-create this lovely dish: trout with almonds. Their version is a bit more rustic, you get the whole fish, with big chunks of roasted almonds. Luckily trout is widely available in British supermarkets and it's quite affordable too.
My version is lighter, with delicate flavours, so I decided to serve it with asparagus and three-ice cooked new potatoes. No, I wasn't going for the chef-y "Heston's three-ice cooked fries" kind of thing, it just happened and it was delicious!
I used our new Le Creuset griddle pan for all this, but you can use a big non-stick pan instead. We are in love with our griddle pan so any excuse to use it, really!
Truth be told, I was worried that we are running out of space in our kitchen hence we were putting off buying it for a long time, but I store it standing, next to the chopping boards so it's not so bad after all.
And the effect of cooking meat or fish on the griddle pan makes everything twice as nice: smoky flavours and those griddle lines, to please the eye!

We opened a bottle of Assyrtiko white wine, it's light and smooth, perfect for this dish. Assyrtiko, is a grape variety growing on Santorini's volcanic ground, with little water and plenty of sunshine, a lovely combination!  
Trout Fillets with Almonds
- 4 Trout fillets
- 3 Shallots, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons of melted Butter (preferably salted)
- 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil
- 2 handfuls of roasted flaked Almonds (adjust this by preference)
- salt & pepper
- 250gr Asparagus spears (snapped at the root)
- medium-sized New Potatoes (skin on, washed and dried)
This is all very quick, so get everything out of the fridge beforehand. Trout is quite sticky, give it a good wash and pat dry it with some kitchen towel.
Put the potatoes to boil in water, for 10- 12 minutes, depending on the size. Don't over-cook them, pierce one with a fork to see if it's cooked all the way. If you find no resistance, they are ready. Drain them and keep them aside.
If you are using a griddle pan, put it on the hob and switch the heat on medium. Let it warm up.
In a small saucepan melt the butter with the olive oil. The olive oil prevents the butter from burning too quickly. Add the chopped shallots and cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat.
You want them to soften, not get crispy and burn.
When they are golden, add the flaked almonds, cook for another minute and switch off the heat completely.
While you are waiting for the shallots to soften, put the trout fillets skin-side down, on the griddle pan. At this stage you can also arrange some of the asparagus and new potatoes on the other side of the griddle pan.
Keep the heat medium to low on the side of the trout, it only takes 4 minutes; then with a spatula turn the trout fillets over. It's quite flaky, so be gentle with it! I said be gentle, not be a wuss!  
Keep turning the asparagus, too. The potatoes only need turning once, to get those lovely griddle lines, they are already cooked.
Once the trout has had another 2 minutes on the other side, move the fillets on to a serving dish, along with the asparagus. Cover them in the buttery almonds and sprinkle with some salt and pepper right at the end.
Toss the new potatoes in the saucepan with the leftover butter and almonds. Salt & pepper.
Serve hot, hot, hot!

Let's talk Balls!

Balls, balls, balls , balls... and so the evening went! 
If you need a topic of conversation around the table, Balls & Co in Soho is the perfect place, for obvious reasons. Especially for eight girls out in town, with extremely naughty minds!
Golden polenta chips!
To start with: golden balls! I mean they were humongous!
Deep fried arancini mac&cheese,  is what I'm talking about, silly! 
You can even get them if you are only popping in for a drink, at the speakeasy little den, down the stairs.
Soho on a quiet night is so different!
Main: nutty, crumbly balls for the veggies... quinoa and beetroot that is!
Porky balls and Wagyu beefy balls, for those who enjoy a good mouthful! 
Chicken balls with pesto, for the dignified ones! 
My favourite: fishy balls - served with béchamel, light and yummy!
Last but not least: salty, cheesey balls... or a more eloquent warm deep-fried "cheesecake doughnut with salted caramel", if you may! 
Fishy Balls!
On a side-note, this place is good value for money with a set group menu of £25 per head.
The menu was even printed just for us, with our hostess's name on top.  
If you take your mind away from balls for a minute, you must try the warm Brownie with Persian candyfloss...oh it melted away (you thought I was going to say "in your mouth", but I'm not going to, because I'm a lady and you have a dirty mind!).
Best candy floss, ever!

Rose Pancakes with Almonds and Wild Berries

Happy Shrove Tuesday!
Off course everyone recognises it as "Pancake Day", isn't it amazing that food has taken over, yet another day?
Let me start by saying that my photos don't really do them justice, but  these are the fluffiest pancakes I've ever made. The yoghurt and almonds help add lovely texture to the mix.
I add wild berries when I cook them, but you can leave them out altogether.
Rose Pancakes with Almonds & Wild Berries
makes around 10 pancakes
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 tablespoon of ground almonds
- 2 teaspoons of rose water
- 3/4 cup of Greek yoghurt
- 4 tablespoons of almond milk
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- butter for frying
optional to serve:
- frozen mixed wild berries or fresh blueberries
- maple syrup
Whisk all the ingredients, in a big mixing bowl.
An old-fashioned balloon whisk will do, you don't need to pull the electric gadgets out!
I don't normally use sugar in the mix, but you need to counteract the sourness of the Greek yoghurt.
Put a non-stick frying pan on medium heat and wait till it gets hot.
Take a small knob of butter and pop it into the frying pan, it should melt and sizzle immediately, if the pan is hot enough.
Take a small cupful/ladleful of the pancake mix (I usually use an espresso cup, or a small measuring cup) and pour it in the saucepan, using the cup or ladle to create a round shape.
This mixture is quite thick, it won't run, so you have a couple of seconds to make sure you get a perfectly round pancake! 
Take a couple of  wild berries and sprinkle them over the pancake, cook for 2-3 minutes.
Flip the pancake swiftly and cook on the other side for a further 2-3 minutes, till it goes golden.
Repeat until the pancake mixture is finished.
Serve with maple syrup and flaked almonds...or bacon, if you are going all out!

I think this is the one day that you can comfortably have pancakes for dinner, what do you say? x

Duck & Dry, Kings Road

I'd love for this to be my picture but sadly it's not; it's taken from the Duck & Dry website
Just before Christmas, my husband and I were strolling down King's Road on a quiet Sunday evening. We had just watched the new Star Wars movie and the boy was in high spirits; to be honest I was more impressed than I dared to admit, too!
Then I spotted this airy space with a bar, behind the windows and I immediately thought, "that's a nice new coffee place"!
Further nosing through the window identified the place as a hair salon.
A very cool, retro-almost, pastel-coloured hair salon, with a bar!

I don't normally get excited with these things but needless to say, I couldn't wait till my next haircut appointment! And what's best, no silly business: prices are the same as my local salons, that are not slap-bang on King's Road.
Mary, who cut my hair, was lovely and very attentive. And as for the cutting, I have to say that when I washed & styled my hair myself the next day, I was very pleased with the shape. It usually looks good when you leave the salon, but not when you do it yourself. Job well done.  
Even as I was waiting to have my hair washed, one of the assistants said to me " I'll make you a fresh coffee when you come back from washing your hair, you don't want to drink it cold". How nice!
Another lovely pic from the Duck & Dry website
With a fun motto like " Fine feathers make fine birds", what else would you expect but to have a fun afternoon, while polishing your feathers?  
I regret not staying there longer, though; 
I guess if you go with a friend, you can take it easier and enjoy the place a bit more. Any takers?

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