What marks the beginning of the Christmas period for you? Is it as soon as Halloween and Bonfire Night is over? Or perhaps on the first day of Advent? Everyone is different and to me there really isn’t a right or wrong, it’s about a feeling deep inside my tummy. You can’t fake a feeling, it just happens and for me that feeling always ignites when the town of Stony Stratford (near where I grew up) turn on their Christmas lights. It always falls on the last weekend of November and is always accompanied with the infamous Stony Stratford Lantern Parade.
Off the beaten track this quirky tea room is worth tiptoeing past the chickens for
Today’s #AfternoonTeaWeek visit is to ARTea Tea Rooms at Wakefield Country Courtyard in Potterspury.
Although ARTea is in Northants, it’s not at all far from Milton Keynes and is very easy to find just off the A5.
Made up of three rooms including a beautiful loft room, ARTea is a vintage lover’s delight.
It’s not just a tea room/café. It’s a space for Art. A gallery where Artists can display their work and customers can buy. It’s a kitsch collection of paintings, drawings, arts and crafts goodies that make your eyes jump from place to place as you try and take it all in. It seems the perfect relationship.
Mismatched vintage teacups and saucers were already laid at the table when I sat down. I love vintage tea ware! Pretty floral patterns on delicate china cups and saucers. Whilst I ordered my English Breakfast tea I noticed the relaxing tones of 50’s classics quietly playing and felt myself relaxing into this cosy warm place.
Teapots of loose leaf tea wearing cute knitted tea cosies on their bodies proudly like winter jumpers were presented to the table (with strainers already inside – how convenient!)
Then immediately after a two tiered vintage cake stand filled with sandwiches appeared to join them.
Sandwiches were rustic and of various mismatched triangle shapes and kept their crusts on. White bread was used along with chunky granary/seeded bread. Feeling perfectly in keeping with the shabby chic vintage feel of the tea room.
The sandwiches were served with three different fillings:
Cheese and pickle
Ham and tomato
So, different from elegant slender finger sandwiches but quite satisfying all the same. Ham was a great quality, egg mayonnaise had that definite homemade taste to it and my favourite, the cheese and pickle was lip smackingly tasty.
Whilst I was tucking into the sandwiches a platter plate was brought to the table. A beautiful arrangement of scones, cakes, sweets and even fresh fruit was up next.
First scones. Two fruit scones for one happy girl. The scones were warm and clearly had come straight from the oven. You couldn’t have asked for fresher.Crisp exterior and warm, soft interior that is one of the best I’ve tasted this week.
Pots of clotted cream and jam were of a large generous size so there was no fear of running out. Strawberry jam was particularly fruity and yum.
Cakes/sweets came in three offerings:
Mini Victoria Sandwich
All the cakes are made in-house. The Victoria Sandwich was very moreish and reminded me of my star baker’s cakes (my mum). The lemon posset was a standout winner. Light, dreamy lemon flavours danced on my tongue with just the right amount of sweetness. I’d eat another, oh and another…
On the same platter as the scones and cakes, fresh fruit was arranged. Strawberries, grapes and kiwi fruit were a pleasant and refreshing way to end the meal. A unique touch from the other teas I’ve had this week but it works.
The Afternoon Tea at ARTea is for a minimum of two and costs £12.00 per person. It does require booking in advance. There is a luxury Afternoon Tea available where a glass of sparkling wine is added for only £3 more. Mmm.
Date of visit: 11.08.16
Wakefield Country Courtyard
01327 810 245
Yesterday was quite a different sort of day for me. I got up early and went to college…
Well, the Brasserie at Milton Keynes College Bletchley campus to be precise. It was time for the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards chef cook off 2016. A live cooking contest between local chefs from a whole range of local pubs and restaurants. A bit like Masterchef that you see on the TV and best of all, I was going to be a judge. Me!
There were eight chefs competing for the coveted title of Chef of the Year:
Jack Behjet – The Crooked Billet
Brendan Flynn – Bell & Bear
Grae Conyers – Nonna’s
Daniel Novak – Woburn Brasserie
Neil Grimble – The Black Horse, Woburn
Chris Doyle – Oliver’s Restaurant, The Woburn Hotel
Spencer Orlington – Bistro Live
Vikram Kumar Sharna – Maaya Indian Kitchen & Bar
All the chefs were to cook up three courses. A starter, main and dessert.
The starter was a mystery box challenge. Eight identical boxes of ingredients were given to each chef and they were given just one hour to discover the contents of the boxes, conceive an idea for a starter, cook and then present it to us. This was so interesting to watch and to observe the thought process of a chef creating a dish from scratch.
The main course was up to the chef. It was their chance to show off the very best dishes in their repertoire.
The dessert course was to present a trio of desserts. One, had to be a chocolate fondant. One, had to be a cheesecake, but the flavour was negotiable. The third part of the trio was to be chosen by the chef, a dessert that they felt complimented the other two parts.
It was not an easy task judging, but judge we must. All the chef’s worked exceptionally hard and turned out some stunning dishes on the day. Scores have been tallied and the Milton Keynes Food & Leisure Awards Chef of the Year 2016 will be announced at the glittering awards ceremony at Woburn Abbey on May 8.
Reckon you’re a good judge? There are still many categories that YOU can have your say in. Deadline for voting is 30 April 2016 and you can vote on their website http://www.mkfla.co.uk/
Special mention to The Brasserie who received an award in recognition of their talent and hard work from the High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire on the same day I was there. Congratulations!
If you’re a parent then I’d say it’s quite a safe assumption that you’ve heard of the Julia Donaldson book, The Gruffalo. With its catchy rhymes, colourful characters and good humour it is no wonder that it has captured the hearts and imaginations of children around the world. It was one of the very first books I bought when I knew I was expecting my little boy and we all fell under the story’s spell. The kid loves it when I do the voices of the different animals and although he can’t read yet, I know he appreciates the vivid illustrations from Axel Scheffler.
Now The Gruffalo Experience has arrived in Milton Keynes and when I was asked if our family would like to steal a sneak peek before it opened to the public, we of course, couldn’t say no.
All that I knew prior to arriving was that it is in Middleton Hall in the centre:mk and The Gruffalo Experience promises a walk through and interactive journey into the deep dark wood.
From the outside the space looks like a giant white inflatable bouncy castle but once inside, you get transformed into the pages of the storybook. The way they have used the space and effects used to create the feeling of you being in the story are fab but all totally in keeping with the original book. There’s no interpretations or disappointment, thankfully.
The staff are friendly and energetic as they take on the role as your guide through the wood. I think they engaged really well with children of all ages. I was a little worried that my son was going to be too young to appreciate the experience. At only 20 months he was the youngest there but that didn’t stop him from being captivated by the characters and the storytelling, so even if you’ve got children under the age of three I think this is a lovely thing to experience as a family and you can take a pushchair inside too. For older children there is lots of opportunity for participation and learning what it’s like to be one of the characters from the book.
The Gruffalo Experience is open at the centre:mk from 19 March – 10 April 2016.
This is definitely the must-do event for the Easter 2016 hols. Tickets are £7.95 per attendee (adult or child) and under two’s are free of charge. Check out the centre:mk’s website to find out how to book tickets:
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I am all for keeping things as local as possible, so when I heard that Frosts Garden Centre had a new range of locally brewed beers (and my husband and I had a thirst for the weekend) we decided to hop, skip and motor over to Frosts to sample whether local beer can be as tasty as your run-of-the-mill beverages.
We picked a selection of three local beers:
- Moonshine 5.2% from White Park Brewery in Cranfield
- Borrowers Bitter 3.6% from Leighton Buzzard Brewing Co in Leighton Buzzard
- Triple Goat Pale Ale 3.9% from Hornes Brewery in Bow Brickhill
Not to be confused with the crazy spirit. This beer from Cranfield was the highest in ABV at 5.2% but you really couldn’t tell from the taste and it went down very easily. Refreshing, zingy with peppery hops. The packaging is wonderful, I was really drawn in by the metallic moon and stars (I’m such a magpie).
A very traditional tasting bitter. Smooth, brewed with five different hops. This beer from Leighton Buzzard could easily be drunk all night. Great tasting and definitely will become a regular in our household.
Triple Goat’s Pale Ale.
A pale ale brewed with malted pale barley and whole flower hops. This was the heaviest of the three in consistency. A hearty, rich, sweet tasting beer which you can really experience the whole flower hops used to brew it. One for putting hairs on your chest!
This was just three of the many locally brewed beers available at Frosts Garden Centre. What an achievement for these local breweries to be turning out delicious tasting beers to suit different occasions. Next time you are in the supermarket and eyeing up beers that have spent more life travelling to the supermarket than being made, maybe consider looking a little closer to home. I will be.
I absolutely love to shop. Especially for things for my home. What girl doesn’t? But I don’t mean for things that you can find in department stores or most run-of-the-mill high street home stores. I, like most people nowadays are in the hunt for something more interesting, more unique and altogether more fun.
Now there’s a quirky, little independent shop on the main road through Wolverton called Shirley’s Thrift Shop which is an absolute treasure trove of ideas and things you can fill your home with. Opened in March 2014, it’s now firmly established as the go to place in Milton Keynes for a quirky mix of vintage, antiques and bric-a-brac.
Visiting this shop is an absolute pleasure. There’s so many items to see and lots to rummage around in and on bank holiday Monday my secret sources are telling me they are having a SALE so they can make room for more and more lovely stock. So even more reason to avoid the overpriced parking in the city. Shop local and see what treasures you could uncover at a great price. Take, for example this beautiful printer’s chest (below) that’s been marked down from £80 to £60!
I could imagine it given a new lease of life in a shabby chic kind of way and for that you’ll need PAINT. Shirley’s Thrift Shop have just become an official stockist of Everlong chalk paint, which requires no sanding or waxing – crazy! There’s a piece of furniture on show so you can see the hard-wearing finish and 20 shades to choose from so if restoring furniture and giving it a new lease of life is your thing – this could be your thing.
You’ll find Shirley’s Thrift Shop on Stratford Road in Wolverton. If you park in Tescos carpark (free parking) and leave by the stairs next to the entrance, you’ll find it right in front of you nestled between a takeaway and a beauty shop. Could not be easier to find but, if you do struggle there’s a handy map and contact details, as well as a whole ton of stock photos to get your imagination going on their website http://www.shirleysthriftshop.com/ –
Bank Holiday Monday Opening Hours 09:30 – 17:30