Tag Archives: eating out

A Sunday in London

After our late night at the Royal Opera House, you couldn’t have blamed us if we’d enjoyed a lie-in the following morning; however, always something of a glutton for punishment, I decided that we needed some exercise before we headed to the second part of my Mum’s birthday treat, the Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych, and so we set off from the hotel by about 9.15am. Suitcases packed and left at the hotel for pick-up before our train home, we set off along the South Bank towards Westminster bearing little more than handbags and the requisite medications needed for our meal.

It was an extremely foggy Sunday morning and whilst it wasn’t quite thick enough to classify as a traditional “pea-souper”, we could barely see to the middle of the murky Thames, something neither child had experienced on previous visits to London. We meandered past the Globe and had a quick look to see what productions are coming up as both G and M are keen to return to watch an outdoor Shakespeare play as soon as we reasonably can. It’s been a long time since any of us have walked the length of the South Bank and it was interesting to take note of the various developments that have happened in the meantime. As soon as we reached the London Eye, it was time to turn right across Westminster bridge, past the still scaffolding-clad Elizabeth Tower, home to Big Ben, and into Parliament Square to look at the parlimentarian statutes that can be found there.

As the only ones to have eaten breakfast at this point were M and G, our next decision was to head to Trafalgar Square and the wonderful Cafe in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields for a small meal to tide us over until our Afternoon tea for lunch. Our journey took us past the Cenotaph, which still had the poppy wreaths from the Remembrance Day service displayed and we took 10 minutes or so to look at all the different wreaths we could see. Unfortunately, when we eventually reached the Crypt cafe it wasn’t yet open and so instead we decided to try out the recently refurbished cafe in the National Gallery.

Our experience at the National Gallery cafe was very much a mixed affair. On one hand they stocked both soya and coconut milk, which meant that both G and M could have a hot chocolate, something that was very much needed on that cold November morning. However, there were no allergy options for breakfast items or cakes and instead the children were left munching on some plain crisps and a couple of snacks I had tucked into my bag. Given we were ultimately en route to our afternoon tea, it didn’t matter too much on this occasion, but it would have been a much bigger problem on any other visit.

Once our appetites were satisfied enough to see us through to lunch, we had just enough time to browse the Christmas market in Trafalgar Square. The children enjoyed having a wander to see what was there and we came away with a new pair of gloves and a set of small hand-warming pads for M. Despite browsing several stalls, G was left disappointed that she still hasn’t been able to find a ring that’s a perfect fit for her fingers, but we will continue the search whenever and wherever possible. Finally it was time to head on to One Aldwych and the treat we were all hoping their Afternoon tea would prove to be.

A Night at the Opera

It’s a big year of milestones in our family this year, with my Mum’s 70th and G’s 16th birthdays as well as our 20th wedding anniversary. You may remember that in September we spent a family weekend at the Bluestone resort in Wales for my Mum’s birthday, but her celebrations haven’t stopped there and last weekend we headed to London for a weekend of stylish fun. The main reason for the trip was to fill a long-held ambition of my Mum’s, to go to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. As the only members of the family lucky enough to have been there before are M and me, thanks to his 2 lengthy December admissions at GOSH, I wanted to find something to see that I thought we all would enjoy and, spotting the performance of “Sleeping Beauty” by the Royal Ballet in their calendar, knew that this was the winning choice.

Our weekend started with the train journey to London and then across London to our hotel near Borough Market. We had agreed on an early dinner to give us plenty of time to get to the Royal Opera House, so after a short walk from the hotel to St Paul’s Cathedral and back for Mike, M and me, we dressed in our finest and headed across the road to the nearby Wagamama restaurant for what we knew would be an easy and safe dinner for both G and M. From there, it was a case of hailing a black cab to whisk us to Covent Garden and we found ourselves there with plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere of this incredible building before the performance started.

For anyone wondering what to wear to the ROH, the rule really is anything goes, just as their website suggests. From jeans to evening dresses and just about everything in-between, we spotted our fellow theatre-goers wearing it all. We had opted to dress up with G remarkably, and not too reluctantly, in a black skater-style lace dress, whilst M was suited and booted in a burgundy shirt, grey tie and black waistcoat. My Mum and I had talked beforehand about what to wear and both regretted not having dressed up just a little more. Mike had told me to take one of my long dresses to wear, but I chickened out at the last moment taking a knee-length dress instead and really wish I hadn’t. Similarly, Mum had opted for smart trousers, heels and a long top, but wished she had brought a dress. Obviously, we’ve reached the sensible conclusion that we will just have to go again and wear our finest!

Coats safely deposited in the cloakroom, we wandered about the gorgeous Christmas tree to spend some time in the bar area on the first floor, sipping our glasses of champagne and people-watching before finding our seats in the side stalls. I wasn’t sure how good the view from our seats would be, but I needn’t have worried as we had a great view of the stage and only missed a few bits happening on the very side of it at times. I was also nervous about whether the children, especially M, would survive the lengthy performance – 3 hours including 2 20 minutes intervals – but again, I didn’t need to. Both children were enthralled, even if M did drift off a little towards the end and they were excited to spot different dance steps that they have been learning in their own dance classes. The performance was absolutely incredible and the whole family enjoyed our night at the opera.

Mini Adventures for October half-term

Last week was October half-term for us and, after an almost painfully long term, it was definitely needed by us all. Our plans meant that both Mike and I took the week off work to spend on some mini adventures from home as well as finding the time to complete the inevitable bits of homework that G and M had been set for the week.

And what a week it was:

Monday: Homework squeezed in around orthodontist appointments and blood donations amongst other less-than-interesting things.

Tuesday: A lazy morning in before heading off for a 15-mile bike ride along a local cycle path. We had great weather for it and even took a packed lunch to enjoy on our way. What better way to round off our day, but an evening glued to the Great British Bake Off final and, thank goodness, complete consensus on the final winner!

Wednesday: An early start to drop Mike’s car off for its service before we headed to Hampton Court Palace. This was the first visit for Mike and the kids, who enjoyed the House, the gardens and the Maze, despite their initial reluctance for a visit to “yet another” place to keep Mum happy. We stayed overnight at a nearby Premier Inn, but had a very disappointing dinner at the attached Beefeater restaurant – somewhere I definitely wouldn’t recommend to anyone visiting with allergies.

Thursday: A mixed day today. Halloween is always difficult for me because it’s the anniversary of losing my Dad, but our plans for a fun-packed day at Chessington World of Adventures helped make it a better day than it might otherwise have been. It was surprisingly quiet at the park considering we were in the middle of half-term and the extra hours at the end of the day meant G and M could revisit some of their favourite rides several times as the dusk crept in. We were very impressed with the allergy information available and enjoyed a pizza dinner, with specially-prepared gluten- and dairy-free pizzas for the children. Definitely somewhere we’ll look to visit again.

Friday: Back home for a quieter day, which was just as well given the torrential rain that hit us hard. It was very much a day for curling up in front of the favourite and enjoying some TV before the weekly Stagecoach run for G and M.

It was a lovely week, filled with a little bit of everything – although possibly not quite enough sleep to see us through the next 7 weeks of term until Christmas.

Bluestone Photo round-up September 2019

A great weekend celebrating a milestone birthday with family. Food, fun and fantastic weather – what more could we ask of South Wales in September?

Eating Out with Allergies at the Bluestone Resort, Wales

Our stay at Bluestone ticked the boxes in so many ways, not least because it gave us access to a great kitchen which meant we could eat breakfast and lunch safely “at home” and still have the opportunity to try out a couple of the restaurants on site. I had been in touch with the resort team a few weeks before our stay and they had sent through to me a great allergy information document, which detailed each restaurant, all of the food items on their menus and showed clearly which allergens were contained in each dish. Usefully, it also indicated those dishes that could safely be made gluten-free, which made it easier for G and M to choose what they wanted to eat.

Farmhouse Bar & Grill: As we knew we’d be arriving late on the Friday night, we booked our first meal out for the Saturday evening and chose the Farmhouse Grill, which seemed to have a good selection of meal choices for even the pickiest members of our party. G opted for the baked goats’ cheese salad with blueberries, cherries and a mix of toasted nuts as well as a side of chips, which we were assured were cooked in a separate fryer to make sure they were safe. She enjoyed the meal, although learned the important lesson that it’s always worth asking for the dressing to be put on the side as the strong balsamic vinegar dressing was a little too much for her taste-buds. M decided that a gammon steak with pineapple and chips was the perfect dinner and loved every mouthful he managed, although the generous portion was a little too big even for my hungriest child. There were no safe desserts for them on the menu, but with more than enough birthday cake to eat, the puddings weren’t missed at all.

Knights Tafarn: For our Sunday lunch, albeit it a late one due to a morning spent enjoying the slides and lazy river at the Blue Lagoon Water park, I suggested the Knights Tafarn, the on-site “local” pub. We were lucky to find the restaurant fairly quiet by the time we were ready to order and it had no problem in catering for the 7 of us in good time. Having chosen something a little more unusual *for her* on Saturday night, G stuck to an old, but familiar favourite of ham, eggs and chips. Once again we were reassured that the chips were safe and she certainly enjoyed every single mouthful. M, on the other hand, decided he wanted to have a slightly lighter lunch of gluten-free ham sandwiches with a small salad and a side of chips. I say small, but afraid that it wouldn’t be enough to satisfy M’s almost insatiable appetite at the moment, Mike had actually ordered a double portion of sandwiches and so we ended up with a few leftovers. The food was good, although not remarkable, but it was simply great to be able to eat out for a Sunday lunch with our extended family.

All in all, I was impressed with the food offerings at Bluestone. We didn’t have time to try the Oaktree Italian restaurant, although I had spotted that they had GF pizzas on the menu. The small convenience shop stocked an adequate supply of freefrom foods in case needed and I was impressed to see an array of safe breads, biscuits, cakes, pasta and chocolate for sale as well as the increasingly popular vegan Magnum ice-creams. The selection was small, but good and I loved that they had a number of local suppliers available as well as the bigger name brands.

A Bluestone Birthday

What do axe-throwing, high ropes, tree-climbing, birthday cakes and family have in common?

Easy; my Mum’s milestone birthday – her 70th – and a family weekend spent celebrating in style at the fantastic Bluestone resort in South Wales. For those of you who have never heard of Bluestone, the resort is set in 500 acres of beautiful Pembrokeshire national park near Tenby with stunning views out to the Preseli hills and is a complete escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As well as a site which is largely car-free, it is also absolutely jam-packed with activities and adventures to choose from and our weekend proved far too short to enjoy more than just a select few handpicked choices.

With 7 of us visiting, we stayed in one of their Grassholm lodges, which slept us all more than comfortably and included a fantastic open plan downstairs space with a generous sitting room, dining area and kitchen. Those of us who could booked bikes for the weekend and G and M had a great time racing around from venue to venue for each of the activities, although some of the hills proved a little more challenging for the rest of us. Over the last year, both children have really enjoyed every opportunity to go on bike rides especially as M’s confidence in his bike-riding has grown, and we can often be found spending a couple of hours exploring the country lanes near our house as part of a family ride. It’s also possible to hire a golf buggy to drive around the site, but we spent much of our time either walking or on our bikes whenever possible.

Needless to say, the children and Mike selected their activities for the Saturday with relative ease and I spent my time trying to grab action shots as G climbed to the top of a 40+ foot tree, whilst M and Mike took on the challenge of the high ropes course. Add in the demonstration of their Canadian roots in the afternoon with some axe-throwing skills and great fun was had by all. We even managed to squeeze in a quick early evening swim before heading out for a celebratory dinner at the Farmhouse Grill. Sunday was a little quieter with a morning at the Blue Lagoon water park before a late lunch at the Knights Tarfan.

All in all, we had a brilliant weekend and it came as no surprise when both G and M asked if we could go back another time. There were lots more activities that we could have tried, both indoors and outdoors, but we just couldn’t fit them in this time round. We would highly recommend Bluestone for a weekend, or week, away from it all and it certainly has enough to keep the most active of youngsters occupied for a good few hours anyway.

Summer Photo Round-up 2019

Summer 2019 was all about home-grown entertainment and experiences before heading into a year of GCSEs – both exams and options!

Hard Rock Cafés – London & Manchester

I’ve made no secret of the fact that the Hard Rock Café is not only a firm favourite when it comes to choosing somewhere safe and delicious for the family to eat, but is also now something of a tradition with one of the children, almost always M, asking whether there’s a branch for us to visit whenever we go somewhere new, no matter where in the world we are. Believe it or not, it is also a question raised when we investigate holiday destinations, though it has not yet dictated our final vacation decision. I fully accept that I am to blame for my children’s obsession with going to as many HRC locations as we possibly can and the collection of their “City tees” carefully stored under my bed is testimony to just how long my love affair with HRC has been going on.

Given all of that, it does seem odd that despite our very many weeks spent in London, that until our most recent visit, we had never visited the flagship restaurant before. Well, to be more accurate, I had been there many years ago, but hadn’t taken either Mike or the kids there when looking for somewhere to eat out. So, we decided to make the original restaurant our final pitstop before heading back to the station to catch our train home. We arrived a little later than originally planned due to some confusion over where exactly we needed to go as there have been 2 further locations opened in London over the last few years. Despite our initial false start and unexpected visit to their Piccadilly branch – and deciding that that is somewhere we will definitely go back to eat another time – we eventually reached Mayfair in one piece and after a somewhat lengthy wait, finally sat down to enjoy our dinner.

We actually began our visit there with a short trip to “The Vault”, a small museum holding some of the rock paraphernalia that they don’t currently have on display in the main restaurant, before we ordered our food. It occupied a few minutes, but wasn’t as interesting, or vast, as we were hoping it might be. G and M already knew what they wanted to eat and opted for the GF pulled pork sandwiches with fries which have become a firm favourite with them both. The service was as excellent as ever and we were impressed with how quickly the food arrived with us despite our somewhat lengthy wait.

What we weren’t anticipating was a visit to another UK HRC location just 2 weeks later during our Manchester adventures. This unexpected surprise was thanks to the eagle eyes of M, who, despite being told by me that I thought the Manchester branch has closed down in the time between my university years and today, spotted it on the Google map as we were planning our walking route from the IWM North to the escape rooms. Just as in London, it was the perfect ending to our weekend there and they devoured their meals with an enthusiasm no doubt stoked by their time skydiving. M decided that this time he’d venture away from the pulled pork and instead ordered a GF legendary burger, which he proclaimed to be just as delicious as he hoped.

Two great locations, two sets of excellent service and two fantastic lunches. Would we recommend? Absolutely and I can’t wait to see which Hard Rock Café we’ll discover next!

Eating Out with Allergies in Manchester

When planning our weekend in Manchester, I started as always with a quick bit of research to see if there were any hidden gems that we could visit for some delicious meals. I knew that we would have our pick of the plethora of safe chain restaurants to fall back on if we needed, but it’s always a great treat to be able to eat somewhere different and new, and we were especially lucky with the choices available to us. We found 3 great restaurants for dinner and even had unexpected success for lunch, which was fantastic.

Marco’s New York Italian, MediaCity   – I had high hopes for our Saturday night dinner and they absolutely didn’t disappoint. My research showed that they had a gluten-free menu available, but I couldn’t find a copy online, so emailed about a week or so before our trip to ask if they could email a copy to me and also enquiring if they would be able to cater dairy-free too. Within an hour and a half of my first email, their reservations manager, Hannah, replied with the GF menu attached and told me that she had asked their chef to confirm the DF options that would be available to G and M. If I’m honest, I didn’t expect to hear back from them again, so was thrilled when a second email popped into my inbox a few days later with the list of DF meals they could offer.

Their service from the beginning of our meal to the very end was absolutely impeccable. The manager arrived at our table with a form to complete, but this was simply to record our contact details and what the allergies were so that every meal coming out of the kitchen could be recorded and checked before it was brought to the table. For the first time in an awfully long time, G and M were able to have a 3-course meal and every bit of it was absolutely delicious. G started with garlic bread, then enjoyed an American pizza and finished with a bowl of vegan vanilla ice cream; whilst M opted for New Orleans Shrimp, Spaghetti Bolognese and apple crumble with ice cream.

The staff were attentive, the food incredible and the care to detail brilliant. We wouldn’t hesitate to eat at Marco’s NY Italian again and give it a well-deserved 10/10 for not only the wide range of menu options available, but also the fact that they had allergy-friendly desserts other than fruit.

IWM North Café – Lunch when we’re travelling can always be tricky, especially when we’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen to allow us to take and prepare packed lunches. I had spotted on the IWM North website that their café had GF options available, so I thought we’d see what they actually had on-site that might suit G and M before heading off for a snack somewhere else nearby. To my delight, they had a ready supply of GF/DF/EF bread rolls and hot dog sausages, which constitutes a great treat for both children. They were thrilled to be able to have hot dogs for lunch, which might not have been an exciting menu option, but were delicious, whilst Mike and I stuck to the more traditional sandwich and pasty offerings. They did also have a couple of GF and vegan cakes available, but unfortunately none that would suit our particular allergy needs.

Sweet Mandarin – a last minute addition to our itinerary, thanks to a random tweet I spotted the Wednesday before we went. This Chinese restaurant has a separate GF menu and the children were thrilled to be able to choose whatever they wanted from it, more or less. M suggested they shared some starters of spring rolls and salt and pepper chicken wings, and they then each opted for their own sweet and sour – G picked prawns whilst M decided he wanted chicken. As is so often the case, we ended up with far too much food for the 4 of us, but enjoyed a leisurely and delicious meal before heading back to the hotel for the night. Another excellent recommendation, though it only got a 9/10 from the children.

Heading North for the Bank Holiday

No sooner had we arrived back from London, than G and M disappeared off to South Wales with my Mum and my Aunt for the week leading up to the August bank holiday, leaving Mike and me at home to work, wash clothes and start to sort out what was needed for our bank holiday adventure in Manchester. We travelled to South Wales on Friday evening to pick the children up and spent the night there before heading off to Manchester the following morning. We decided to try and avoid as much holiday traffic as possible, so wended our way across mid- and North Wales to reach our final destination and that decision proved to be the best one we could have made as we saw very little traffic at all. We reached Manchester, and one false start later – who knew there’d be so many Premier Inn hotels in the Salford area? – had arrived and were ready to start our visit.

Sunday was dedicated to the IWM North (that’s the Imperial War Museum for the uninitiated) to support G’s GCSE History studies about the rise of Hitler in the inter-war years and the Cold War period, and proved to be an excellent exhibit to visit. Their audio-visual short films shown every hour were a great addition to everything that was on display and there was a nice mix of interactive elements for the children to do as well. The sections covering the time periods of most interest to us were, perhaps, not as in depth as we would have liked, but overall we enjoyed the time spent there. G and I also took some time to walk around their special exhibit about the Yemen crisis, although M had definitely had his fill of all things history about that point and abandoned the galleries for the cafe with Mike. It was fascinating to see G’s reaction to the photos and displays about this more recent crisis and she was keen to express her thoughts about the responses of politicians and their excuses for not doing what they knew was needed.

Originally we hadn’t planned to do anything for the rest of the day as we weren’t sure how long we would spend at the IWM, so over our lunch, we investigated and discussed where to head next. M was keen to do something “fun as a family” and so was delighted to learn that we could visit EscapeHunt Manchester and try our hand at one of their themed escape rooms. We were lucky to get a booking for their “The Last Vikings” challenge and had just enough time to walk our way from Mediacity across the city to the escape rooms. It’s the first time we’ve attempted an escape room as a family, but is definitely something we will try our hand at again. We had lots of fun, although we failed at the final hurdle and were in the midst of solving the last clue when our time ran out.

Our decision to go to Manchester were twofold, the first being the IWM North, but our second was perhaps the more exciting, especially for G and M. This was the day for their indoor skydive in aid of Over The Wall and despite a somewhat grumpy start from our youngest, we arrived at iFly Manchester with 2 very excited children. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to participate due to a shoulder injury I sustained at the start of the year, but Mike was keen to try his hand too, so we had booked them a family session which allowed them to split 10 minutes “flight time” between them. I was impressed at what appears to be the natural skydiving skills of my husband and children and the smiles on their faces said it all. Mike and M are both keen to go back and do it again, but G is less convinced, though glad she gave it a try in the first place. All in all, it was a fantastic bank holiday weekend and we were back home for a rest before school went back the following week.