A great weekend celebrating a milestone birthday with family. Food, fun and fantastic weather – what more could we ask of South Wales in September?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I wouldn’t usually think to write about where we’ve found to eat out in London as over the years we’ve often frequented one of the very many chain restaurants that we’ve come to know and love, but this time we spread our wings a little bit further and I thought it worth sharing our latest mealtime experiences.
Our Thursday evening dinner was courtesy of that old favourite of ours, Pizza Express, who were conveniently located less than 5 minutes from our hotel in Southwark, though there are many branches you can choose from no matter which part of London, or the rest of the UK, you’re in. In the 8 years or so that we’ve been frequenting their restaurants, we have only had a poor experience on one occasion, when they had run out of gluten-free pizza bases but failed to inform us until we were placing our order. Thankfully, even then, the restaurant staff worked hard to prepare other safe food for both G and M and both children managed to eat well. G is very much a creature of habit when it comes to her food, so I knew she was likely to order the GF dough balls followed by an American pizza with goats cheese; and so she did. M loves to peruse the menu whenever he gets the chance, but this time chose a meal almost perfectly matching his sister’s, simply changing her goats cheese for the vegan mozzarella instead. The order came quickly, the food was delicious, there was no confusion or hassle about their orders and we left the restaurant with our appetites pleasantly sated,
Breakfast on Friday was a typically low-key affair and eaten in our hotel room as we had done our usual and carried travel containers filled with safe cereal for G and M to eat. M and I managed to find a small Sainsbury’s near to the theatre on the Thursday evening, so had popped in after the show to pick up a carton of rice milk. We have found that this is a routine that works really well for us and reduces the stress of choosing safe breakfast options for both children to eat. M’s only apology was that he had forgotten to research the nearest Starbucks to our hotel so that I could start my day with a coffee, but was quickly reassured when we reached the Globe theatre to spot one just across the street from it.
No sooner had we finished our Globe theatre tour, than M was clamouring for lunch even though it was only around 10.45 in the morning. This was not the result of an overwhelming hunger on his part, but rather great enthusiasm from both him and G as we had discovered a Subway sandwich shop near the Tower of London which stocked GF bread, which was also dairy- and egg-free, and they couldn’t wait to give it a go. During our holiday in Canada last year, we had seen GF bread available at the Subway on Toronto Island, but had not opted to buy one as 1) we had a packed lunch with us and 2) we had rather foolishly assumed that we would be able to buy it at other stores too. We were very much wrong in that assumption and have spent the last 12 months trying to find a shop serving GF bread somewhere in the UK, so you can just imagine how excited they both were to finally try a sub.
We were impressed with the service provided and care taken, even during a fairly busy lunch service during the summer holidays. The staff changed their gloves before handling the GF rolls for the children’s sandwiches – without me having to ask – and there was detailed allergy information available indicating the top 14 allergens present in all of the sandwich fillings and toppings. It was a strangely emotional experience as I watched G and M decide what sandwiches they wanted to try and pick out the toppings they wanted to add to make their perfect lunch. Here were my 15 and 13 year-old children, who have never been able to order at a Subway before because of their allergies, finally eating just like their friends. The look on both their faces as they made their decisions was priceless and their verdict on lunch – perfect!
We had booked tickets on a late train home to give us enough time to enjoy our planned excursions as well as the unplanned ones, and the final trip of our day was to one of our family favourite places to eat, although we hadn’t yet tried the London branch. Do you know where we went? Well, I’m afraid that’s a story for another post.
We’ve made it!
We almost literally limped to the end of term, but we made it, not withstanding the challenges of mock exams, shingles and Lyme disease. Homework was completed (and handed in), sports day was competed in (and won) and the last day was enjoyed in all the glory of own clothes and an early finish to the day.
We might only be a week in, but already G and M have been busy. We’ve squeezed in a couple of films they wanted to watch, the beach has been enjoyed with G’s godfather and his family visiting from Canada and they’ve kicked off this week by volunteering at our Church’s holiday club for primary-age children during the day as well as taking part in the evening’s youth club for teens.
And there are plans for the weeks ahead: G is spending a week volunteering at their Stagecoach’s summer school, a visit to London to see the musical of their choice thanks to London theatre’s Kids Week and even some fundraising for the fantastic Over The Wall which they’ve planned themselves (more details of that to follow). We don’t have a “big” summer holiday planned having been to Berlin during May half-term, but instead have decided to enjoy our local area as well as the occasional overnight visit to somewhere a little further afield in the UK.
One thing’s for certain, it’s looking to be a busy, fantastic and very happy summer holidays and I hope yours are too!