The Serenity Spa, Seaham Hall hotel, County Durham

Comfort zone: A spa day at The Serenity Spa at Seaham Hall hotel in Durham was just the tonic I needed. A frantic few weeks fretting over kids (admittedly these ones are all but grown-up) and the day-to-day stresses of a hectic lifestyle had left me feeling wound-up and really rather jaded.

So a chance to unwind and completely chill out on a mum-and-daughter pamper day was just the pick-me-up I needed.

Seaham10And if anything is guaranteed to transport me to my comfort zone it’s a trip to five-star Seaham Hall with its striking cliff-top location overlooking the Durham Heritage Coast.

Built in 1791, this luxe Georgian boutique hotel oozes character and charm. It’s a sight for sore eyes – set amidst 37 acres of beautifully cultivated landscaped gardens. I’ve been a regular visitor here over the years, writing for the features pages of regional newspapers and lifestyle magazines, and it never fails to impress.

A day off the treadmill in the award-winning Oriental-themed spa is always a serene experience. I find work and domestic hassles magically melt away after a few hours spent here.

I was trying out the new Autumn Rewind package which includes spa use from 9am to 5pm, two-course meal in the pan-Asian Ozone restaurant and sixty-minute treatment (either a Serenity Signature massage or Sundari Prescriptive facial). Oh, decisions, decisions…

Seaham11After a cup of reviving iced raspberry tea and a quick change into robes and slippers, my daughter and I could feel ourselves unwinding. We mooched about, dipping in and out of the 20-metre pool, outdoor hot tubs, jacuzzi, hammam, steam room, sauna, hydrotherapy pool and zen chill-out room. (I must admit we side-swerved the fitness suite and chilly plunge pools!)

We especially loved the outdoor hot tubs – warm, snug and giggly in our bubbly cocoon – with the cool air surrounding us. The spa’s new salt sauna is a favourite too and the dry heat just sooo soothing. And sat in the jacuzzi in the steamy hammam, staring at the twinkly ceiling, we were perfectly at home.

We also liked that the spa wasn’t too busy on the day we visited through the week – we even had the hot tub, sauna, pool and hammam completely to ourselves on occasions.

In keeping with the healthy, wellness theme, lunch in the pan-Asian Ozone restaurant, set within the spa, was fresh and wholesome. Sat in robes and slippers, we took in the garden views as we munched on a tasty two-course lunch (choose from main and either starter or dessert).

Ozone_Resturant_6395Prawn stir-fry with rice and sweet soy-based teriyaki sauce with white onions, and oyster and enoki mushrooms was delicious. The prawns were plentiful, the rice cooked to perfection and the sauce a warming mix of honey sweetness, garlic and warming ginger.

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My wok dish of pan-roasted salmon in teriyaki sauce with crisp Asian salad was also a plate of wholesome appetising ‘does-you-good’ stuff. The mounds of beansprouts mixed with green, red and yellow peppers and the odd sliced red chilli was healthy and filling.

seaham4Dessert of coffee and mango cheesecake – more of a deconstructed trifle-type offering in a jar – was an innovative take on the regular cheesecake and a deliciously creamy concoction. Banana fritters drizzled in hot chocolate sauce, with accompanying banana ice cream were deemed a big hit by the daughter.

It’s hard work all this relaxing and I was ready for a snooze by the time it came to my Prescriptive Sundari facial. After a consultation, it was decided fine lines and rehydration were my key concerns (among many). My excellent therapist Tisha most certainly had her work cut out.

Feet were first cleaned and gently dried in a welcome foot ritual before I hopped on to the heated bed for a sixty-minute zone out…

Using the most exquisite smelling products from the Sundari range, Tisha got to work with cleanser, toner, exfoliator, massage, mask and serum. Skin felt super-clean, soft and hydrated by the end of this superb rejuvenating facial. While the mask was applied she incorporated the most wonderfully de-stressing massage – knots in the neck and shoulders were worked on and scalp gently massaged. I can highly recommend.

Afterwards, relaxation time on the heated beds in the zen lounge overlooking the tranquil grounds, a cleansing raspberry sorbet to hand, is a must. We really didn’t want to face the real world after such a pampering day…

Autumn Rewind package, available from September to November 30, 2017, costs £99 per person, Sunday to Friday, and £110 per person on Saturdays.

Seaham Hall, Lord Byron’s Walk, County Durham, SR7 7AG. Tel: 0191 5161400. For more info on the hotel and spa offers, visit: www.seaham-hall.co.uk

 

 

Dinner review: Duke of Wellington Inn, Northumberland

This last weekend brought a return visit to this most stylish of country boltholes – and one of our favourite Tyne Valley pubs in Northumberland.

The Duke of Wellington Inn is a relaxed Northumbrian gastropub, tucked away in the village of Newton, a few miles from Stocksfield.

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The restaurant was busy the Saturday night we swung by for dinner, and the seven luxe bedrooms are doing well too, proving popular with Hadrian’s Wall walkers, a few of these striding out for Bank Holiday.

The rural inn has won a clutch of awards in a few short years, including a five-star rating and breakfast award from VisitEngland, as well as a coveted gold standard plaque.

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The open-plan bar and restaurant area is really cosy with inviting ambience. The décor is contemporary with rustic touches including wooden floor, blue checked curtains and exposed stone walls. And we love the Sue Moffitt cow paintings adorning the walls. We took a window seat in the restaurant with glimpses of those glorious Tyne Valley views.

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Food is one of the pub’s great strengths. Head chef Dave McKie is currently at the kitchen helm – he has been in place for two years – and is doing a sterling job. It’s modern British with the emphasis on local and seasonal – with everything from lunchtime sandwiches to ‘Duke’s Favourites’ including the likes of homemade beef burger, spiced lamb kofta and beer battered cod and chips, to Sunday lunches and a la carte offerings.

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We chose from the a la carte menu – savouring our choices over a glass of prosecco. It’s just as well it’s a fairly compact menu as we liked the look of every dish on offer.

My salad starter of set mustard cream with chunks of heirloom tomatoes, heritage beetroot and morsels of crumbly goat’s cheese, £6.95, was a rustic dish, full of flavour and colour. It looked so attractive – like a mini work of art. Every ingredient in the well-thought-out dish was incredibly tasty, from the juicy tomatoes to creamy cheese, and most especially the carefully crafted parmesan crisp.

Across the table, chicken Caesar croquettes, £6.95, with anchovies and gem lettuce, £6.95, was a sassy innovative take on the classic salad offering, the two croquettes packed full of delicious chicken.

Mains consisted of a choice of five dishes, plus three chef’s specials. My choice from the latter – pan-fried swordfish with mango salsa, sticky coconut rice, cabbage and asparagus and pak choi, £15.95. This feels like such a ‘holiday’ dish and is a rare choice for me. It was perfectly cooked, the fish firm and very meaty, beautifully seared on the outside, soft and flaky in the middle; the coconut rice with lemongrass so moreish.

duke2Daughter’s choice of pan-roast stone bass, greens, cauliflower puree, cannellini beans, prawns and oyster, £19.95, was a terrific dish. The delicately-cooked fish was excellent – moist and flavoursome, the oyster – coated in popcorn flour and deep-fried – the piece de resistance, and pure taste of the sea. Another superb dish with lots of elements and interest, and the cauliflower puree was a big hit – so intensely flavoured!

Imaginative dishes these and some very skilful cooking on show.

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Those with a sweet tooth will be in seventh heaven as there is an elevated desserts’ menu… My choice of pineapple soufflé, £5.95, with coconut ice cream and shot glass of creamy pina colada, was worth waiting the 15 minutes’ cooking time. The fluffy coat-the-roof-of the-mouth soufflé was risen to perfection; the melting coconut ice cream, with shredded coconut and mango pieces accompaniment making this a fruity tropical pud. I loved this delightful summery offering.

Daughter’s choice of cherry and white chocolate cannelloni, £5.95, with sour cherry sorbet and milk chocolate mousse, similarly looked like a mini masterpiece on the plate. The only slight let-down was the chocolate cannelloni, which was a little on the bland side, but then the tangy sorbet and heavenly mousse more than made up for it. And the dark chocolate crisps and chocolate ‘soil’ brought a smile to the face.

Every dish was carefully presented with care – the staff are hard-working and attentive, especially front-of-house manager Alex, who knows her job inside out.

We forget how good the food is here at this hidden gem of a place. And we’d only wished we’d booked an overnight stay. Maybe not for the walking on this occasion – but to savour the valley views the next day over a morning cup of coffee.

The Duke of Wellington Inn, Newton, Northumberland, NE43 7UL. www.thedukeofwellingtoninn.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go with the glow…

Summer faves: We return time and again to our prized Michael Kors tried-and-tested goodies from the Into The Glow Colour Collection (full range pictured above).

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The nail lacquers in eye-catching summery pastel shades are incredibly long-lasting – we always apply two coats – and the ‘Lip Luster’ glosses are excellent quality, while the Bronze Powder in Glow is a favourite of the younger daughter who wears it daily for subtle colour.

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The chunky gold packaging is beautiful and hard-wearing and has stood the test of time – still looking as good as the day we received these.

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Shimmy on down

Illuminating: Clarins After Sun Shimmer Body Oil is a lightweight nourishing oil, and the perfect after-sun treat.

The oil sinks into skin, leaving it silky soft, with very little sticky residue, which has to be a good thing… and is infused with subtle glitter to offer a hint of golden shimmer. It smells wonderful too… like bottled sunshine, it is full of sunny notes.

After Sun Shimmer OilMade with hazelnut oil, it leaves skin satin-smooth and more luminous, and can also be applied to the ends of dry or damp hair. Part of the Clarins Sun Care range, the oil is priced at £38.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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, £12, black pudding Scotch egg, £10, and linguini of langoustines, £12.

I opted for ham and pea terrine, £10, 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, £9, 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, £26, and roasted cod loin, with Parma ham, minted peas, gin and vinegar scraps and triple cooked chips, £21.

My choice of pan-fried seabass dish, £26, 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, £4, 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, £8, 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, £8, 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.

rockliffehall.com

 

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.

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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.

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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, £6.95, 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, £5.95, did not disappoint, and filled me up for the rest of the day.

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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.

hogsheadinnalnwick.co.uk

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 café 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. alnwickgarden.com

 

 

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