Keep calm and carry on

Inner peace: Taking a moment in the garden in the summer sun and delving through the pages of this lovely book; Find Calm by Anna Barnes. 🌸 

We picked it up at the Oliver Bonas store in Jesmond, Newcastle which has quite the little self-help corner going on.

This handy book is full of inspirational quotes, tips and practical advice with chapters on, for example, ‘Techniques for Being Calm’, ‘Calming the Mind’, ‘Eating for a Quiet Life’ and ‘Exercising Your Way to Calmness’.

A glass of Provence tipple, Le Gelantin Bandol, a rich dark fruits beauty, helps too…


Oiling the wheels

Body beautiful: We’re nuts about L’Occitane’s Supple Skin Oil. A light, fine body oil, it is so nourishing and smells wonderful, thanks to the addition of fragrant almond oil. We unearth this every summer as it works so well to soften and smooth skin.  

The French brand is known for its quality products – and this particular oil does not disappoint.

It is incredibly soothing and leaves skin with a satin-smooth finish. We 💗 that you spray the product on also, so no messy application. Priced at £36 for 100ml.


The Brasserie, Rockliffe Hall, Hurworth, County Durham

The five-star Rockliffe Hall golf and spa hotel does it in style. Tucked away in the village of Hurworth, near Darlington, the country retreat is always a treat to visit.


I’ve been lucky enough to pop in and out a few times over the years. Pamper days in the fabulous award-winning spa, now with outdoor Spa Garden, and dinners in the critically-acclaimed 3AA rosette Orangery restaurant, set in the beautiful red-brick 18th century Old Hall, have all made for memorable experiences.

The only thing I haven’t done is stay over – so that’s on the wishlist, especially after the latest visit with my daughter for dinner.


The hotel offers a range of dining options, including the smart fine-dining Orangery, The Brasserie, and The Clubhouse for golfers. It’s been a few years since I last dined in The Brasserie, set on the floor above the spa, overlooking the 18-hole championship golf course and the tranquil Spa Garden.

The restaurant has big picture windows so a window seat was a must for us to take in those views. These made all the sweeter with a glass of fresh, citrussy Spy Valley sauvignon blanc to hand (£43 a bottle). We did actually order a bottle of Chardonnay, but no matter… this tipple with those accompanying views tasted just as good, if not better. The adjoining outdoor terrace dining area is the place to be when the sun hits the spot! It was lovely too to enjoy a glass of wine outdoors after dinner (with the heaters on) and just savour the serene setting.

The décor in The Brasserie is modern and contemporary, with stripy carpet and dark wooden tables, and whisper it, even the odd footie player dining… We spotted a newly-signed player on loan from Chelsea to Middlesbrough (where the club has its training ground and academy on the adjoining site).

Footie talk aside, the á la carte menu offered so many tempting dishes, seasonal specials using locally-sourced produce, that it took a while for us to decide.

The Brasserie, which caters for spa guests as well as other diners through the day, turns more formal in the evening, with no robes allowed after 5pm. It started off fairly quiet at 6.30pm and became very buzzy as the night went on.

Starters on offer included the likes of local smoked fish platter, ÂŁ12, black pudding Scotch egg, ÂŁ10, and linguini of langoustines, ÂŁ12.

I opted for ham and pea terrine, ÂŁ10, with intensely flavoured pool of cucumber gel, pickled vegetables and piccalilli dressing. It was attractively presented and looked so appetising; the meaty terrine, studded with peas, was super tasty.

My daughter chose the starter I had been eyeing up, camembert, fig and onion tart, ÂŁ9, with herb salad. A thin pastry base and sweet slices of roasted fig, topped with caramelised onions and warm, melting camembert, it was deemed utterly delicious.

Mains were equally as tempting, with dishes such as roast Moroccan spring lamb with smoked aubergine puree, yoghurt and couscous, ÂŁ26, and roasted cod loin, with Parma ham, minted peas, gin and vinegar scraps and triple cooked chips, ÂŁ21.

My choice of pan-fried seabass dish, ÂŁ26, was an excellent one. The delicately-cooked sweet flavoursome fish came with three generously-sized crab tortellini pasta parcels, intensely flavoured fennel puree, and moat of white wine sauce.

My daughter doesn’t often fancy a steak but this was one such occasion… An excellent choice, it turned out, as the 10oz sirloin steak from the grill menu, £31, was full of flavour, juicy and tender. It came with large roasted tomato, triple-cooked chips served in metal frier (so moreish and perfectly crisp), giant onion rings and mound of rocket salad. She poured creamy peppercorn sauce, £4, all over the perfectly cooked steak.

We shared a bowl of mixed seasonal veg, ÂŁ4, of broccoli (slightly overcooked), green beans, baby carrots, and cabbage.

Every member of staff we came into contact with, both in the restaurant and throughout the hotel, were without exception, polite, smiley and attentive. Top marks for training.

On to desserts, and both our choices were imaginative with spoonfuls of wow factor. Chocolate mousse with giant blackberries, ÂŁ8, with pistachio granola and blackberry textures, was a sight to behold. A dish with flair and imagination, the contrasting rich chocolatey and fruity textures worked well together. While Eton Mess, ÂŁ8, with seasonal berry soup, meringue morsels, creamy panna cotta surprise and raspberry sorbet, was a creative take on the summery favourite.

Three courses takes its toll so we enjoyed coffees and lingered outside on the terrace with a glass of wine.

It was so peaceful and calm – and rounded off what was a stellar dining experience in keeping with this starry hotel.


Lunch bunch

The Hog’s Head Inn, Alnwick, Northumberland

Hearty Sunday lunches were the order of the day this particular afternoon as we headed out en famille to Alnwick in Northumberland. The famed Alnwick Garden was to be our port of call, but first sustaining lunches were needed after a morning exerting ourselves. In the case of the husband and younger daughter, rowing on the Tyne had taken it out of them, while gym classes had left myself and the older daughter fairly pooped.

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The Hog’s Head Inn on the outskirts of Alnwick is en route to Alnwick Garden and we’ve enjoyed a hearty lunch here before so knew of its good reputation. It has 53 rooms adjoining and is popular with tourists discovering the rural and coastal charms of beautiful Northumberland. It’s part of the Inn Collection Group, a string of pubs with rooms, dotted around the North of England.


It was still hugely busy when we arrived about 2pm, the measure of its popularity – and that of its carvery lunches. It’s a cavernous rustic-looking pub (although it’s actually a new-build) with high ceilings, open fires and cosy décor, offering a mix of rustic country pub/gastro fare. Classic dishes include the likes of steak and ale pie, pulled pork burger, pan-fried sea bream, and fish and chips. Chef’s specials include grilled sardine bruschetta starter and homemade venison meatballs.

We sat in a cosy booth by the window with plenty of natural light streaming in – and ok, the view’s not the absolute best… we were overlooking some offices and a petrol forecourt, but the sun was out and there’s a children’s play area. And besides, the food did distract us somewhat.


My strawberry smash drink, £7, was an unusually refreshing one, and nearly put hairs on my chest… a mix of Tanqueray gin, strawberry syrup and ginger beer. The daughters opted for mocktails of cherry cola (cherry syrup topped with Pepsi) and sweet sunrise (fresh orange juice and pineapple juice with grenadine), both £3.95, while the other half played it safe with Kopparberg!

My husband opted for starter of venison fillet medallions served with pomme puree, bacon lardons and green peppercorn sauce, ÂŁ6.95, from the chef’s specials. It was an excellent dish – the pink-in-the-middle meat delicious; earthy but flavoursome and tender.

I shared a starter of ham hock terrine with pease pudding, pickles and gherkins, £6.95, with the daughters. We piled generous amounts of the thick slab of terrine on toasted granary bread. It was a simple dish of quality ingredients, attractively presented, and a very generous portion. We maybe could have done with more toast to use up all the tasty slow-cooked ham hock.

Three of us opted for the carvery, which was doing a roaring trade this particular Sunday. A small plate costs £7.95, medium £9.95, and large, £12.95, and there’s a choice of beef, pork or turkey.

We all opted for medium plates and believe me, these were more than substantial. Two of us chose beef with all the trimmings – three large slices of roast topside (so tender and succulent) and piled our plates with roast potatoes, swede, carrots, broccoli, giant light-as-a-feather Yorkshire puddings, red cabbage, and stuffing accompanied by rich gravy.

The other daughter’s choice of turkey was also a hit – plentiful, flavoursome and not too dry.

The daughters liked that the broccoli was cooked al dente and not turned to mush! The older daughter is something of a broccoli connoisseur, who eats copious amounts of it raw, so she should know.

My other half’s choice of scampi in deep-fried crunchy crumb coating, with chips, side salad and tartare sauce (large dish, £10.95) was a tasty, filling dish.

We needed a rest from proceedings before even thinking about desserts. These looked amazing though, as we noted various ice cream sundae creations passing our table.

My choice of Eton Mess, served in vintage-style Kilner jar, a tempting calorific mix of berries, meringue and thick Chantilly cream, ÂŁ5.95, did not disappoint, and filled me up for the rest of the day.


As did the daughter’s cookies and ice cream sundae, £6.95, and homemade raspberry cheesecake served with Chantilly cream, £5.95.

Beckleberry’s clotted cream and fudge ice cream, £3.30, was similarly a good choice. You can’t go wrong with this locally-made award-winning ice cream brand and this was a creamy sweet concoction.

FullSizeRenderIt’s a lively pub but the staff were attentive, and the food we sampled was top notch.  We finished off with superb quality local Ringtons coffees and tea, fully fuelled for our trip to Alnwick Garden.

The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland

Growth area: It’s been a few years since we last visited this contemporary pleasure garden at Alnwick in Northumberland. But we have clearly spent too many years away. The imaginative transformation from forgotten plot, to the opening in 2001, to the incredible garden it is today is nothing short of spectacular…

alnwick garden1The Duchess of Northumberland, the woman behind the venture, is a true visionary.

Today it is stunning – green, serene, with surprises around every corner and a tranquil retreat from the urban hubbub. There’s so much more to discover since our last visit; everything is flourishing and it is so much more cultivated.

From the water features, cherry orchard and Poison Garden (with guided tours) to the Rose Garden, where you can stop and smell the roses (over 200 species of them) and the sublime Ornamental Garden, which is the most gorgeous tranquil setting, there is so much to see.

The Pavilion room and cafĂ© at the start and end of our garden foray is a wonderful light and airy space with great vantage point of the tumbling Grand Cascade water feature. You can even have your wedding ceremony or reception here, in either The Pavilion or The Treehouse restaurant, which had my daughters planning theirs in anticipation…

Alnwick Garden3.JPGThe Grand Cascade is a sight to behold in full flow. And we loved the swinging seats in a shady spot by the pond where you can enjoy time out.

This summer there are lots of family-friendly events and activities planned. The project has developed in phases and is now two-thirds built, so it’s a case of watch this space.

Aln Garden5.JPGThe Alnwick Garden, Alnwick, Northumberland is open all year round.



Walk this way…

We have a bit of a thing for sports luxe sneakers at the moment. And this sparkly fashion-forward pair from Kurt Geiger are a particular favourite of my daughter’s.

These Latina black suedette sneakers certainly up the glam quotient – and they’re pretty solid and weighty too so will last more than a couple of seasons.

KG1From the KG Kurt Geiger brand, this on-trend sneaker comes in black or grey and adds a touch of height with the thick contrast sole in classic white. Originally £110 but now in the sale for £39.


Perfect pout

Take your pick: With dozens of lipsticks to choose from in a range of vibrant colours, from pretty pinks and natural nudes to classic reds, Urban Decay’s Vice lipsticks will leave beauty lovers spoilt for choice.

Featuring a luxed-up solid case in a nod to the brand’s original packaging and a range of indulgent finishes, from matte and creamy to metallised and shimmers, there is much to love.

We adore these review lipsticks and even though they date from a year ago, they are still going strong.


Not only are they long-lasting but they’re beautifully pigmented too. The creamy textures mean they aren’t drying either. Priced from £15 each.



La dolce vita

It may have been a dull and dreary day weather-wise but the mood inside Gusto restaurant was warm and decidedly sunny.

This modern light and airy Italian restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows has a prime location on Newcastle quayside. And our table on the upper floor in a cosy booth offered glimpses of the iconic Millennium Bridge, BALTIC contemporary art gallery and the silver-curved roof of The Sage, Gateshead.

gusto lunch

It was a good and very civilised start to lunchtime proceedings one Sunday as I sipped a strawberry and mint bellini, £7.50, and my daughter a strawberry kiss mocktail, £4.50, a refreshing mix of summer fruits, crushed ice and banana, as we perused the menu.

There’s a touch of glam about dining at Gusto – from the drop lights, wall of black and white framed photos, and olive trees wrapped in twinkly fairy lights forming a sparkly backdrop to lunch.

We decided to choose from the new Sunday lunch menu, available all day, offering two courses for ÂŁ16.95, and three courses for ÂŁ19.95.

My starter of bruschetta of smoked haddock and leek with accompaniment of soft poached egg (with perfectly cooked runny yolk) was delicious. The haddock had just the right smoky kick, the soft leeks an excellent foil for the two slices of toasty bread. A minor niggle, but the dish could have been slightly warmer.

gusto soup

My daughter’s choice of spring pea and mint soup with dollop of lemon crème fraiche was also a good one. It was full of zingy flavour, with a vibrant green colour to match, almost like someone had put a filter on it! And the accompanying wedge of fresh focaccia
was ideal for dipping. She opted for crispy baked pancetta pieces in the soup, ÂŁ1 extra, although she did say these could have been crisped up a little more as they were a touch on the fatty side.

Both dishes were attractively presented and looked appetising. Smartly-turned-out staff were switched on, knowledgeable about the menu, and super-attentive, which is always good to see. We never felt rushed and lunch was a supremely relaxed affair – the jazzy, bluesy background music setting just the right tone.

From a choice of five mains, my grilled sirloin of beef, neatly sliced up into manageable chunks, with sweet glazed baby carrots and roast potatoes, was just what I was craving. I’d done a Body Combat class that morning so was in need of sustenance. Our server poured a mini jug of red wine jus all over the meat and veg with a flourish! Every element of the dish was well cooked and so tasty – the meat was succulent, the jus rich and flavoursome, and the roast potatoes crisp on the outside and meltingly soft in the middle.


My companion’s eyes lit up when she spotted her main of sea bass swim into view… It smelled divine and tasted equally as good. Two slim but meaty fillets of delicate fish served on a bed of crispy fennel, interspersed with sweet orange segments and thyme, with accompanying herby Parmentier potatoes. The mix of flavours worked well – the liquorice-like fennel and orange morsels jazzing up the delicate flaky fish.

After a much-needed rest, we turned our attention to desserts – and these were especially good. I opted for a warmed raspberry and almond frangipane cake with raspberry coulis dressing. It was exquisite – the subtle almond flavour and jammy base were sublime, and although it was more fairy cake than tart, was light and fresh.


My daughter’s sweet tooth was well catered for with banoffee pie meanwhile… the biscuit crumb base the perfect contrast for the creamy banana creation. Trust me, this is a good one – and will be my dessert of choice next time. We finished off with coffee with a cream float, £2.50, and a pot of Earl Grey tea, £2.35.

It was a shame the non-stop rain prevented us from enjoying our drinks on the inviting terrace, which looked smartly kept and attractively lit, but there’s always next time.

Gusto, The Quayside, Newcastle NE1 3DX. Tel: 0191 260 2291


All the right ingredients

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Quick shout-out to cute coffee shop, Heaton Ingredient, on bustling Heaton Road.

We popped in for a late lunch on Saturday, only to find it was all-day breakfast choices, which actually suited us down to the ground. Less choice, less hassle and besides, as long as there was avocado somewhere on the menu I was happy.

It’s run by lovely foodie couple, Simon and Maggie Snowball, who also own the characterful Quay Ingredient cafĂ© on Newcastle’s quayside. Together they have years of experience working in top restaurants in the North East, including Jesmond Dene House.

The emphasis here is on simple home cooking using locally-sourced food and drinks where possible.

We tucked in to melted Camembert on toasted granary bread, ÂŁ4.95, and avocado and poached eggs on toasted granary, ÂŁ5.95, each dressed with spinach leaves and rocket. Both dishes were attractively presented and satisfyingly filling. We sipped giant mugs of breakfast tea, ÂŁ1.80 each.

heaton ingredient

A minor niggle, but the breakfast paper menus were not the cleanest… Maybe time to run off some fresh ones!

The café, when it’s running the full menu, also offers a tasty range of sandwiches, including smoked salmon baguette with cream cheese, goat’s cheese with red onion, and Toulouse sausage with fried onions, as well as soups, salads, pastries and cakes.

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