Friday, 27 October 2017

Friday Cocktail: Delicious spooky Halloween cocktails

With Halloween now just a few days away, I'm hoping you have some awesome gruesome party plans. Nothing says party like Halloween on a Tuesday.

Me? I'm hosting a halloween party with a healthy pinch of style. Fancy dress? Obviously. Toffee apples? Hell yes (and toffee apple martinis, too). Brilliant halloween-themed foods? Try and stop me.

But, me being me, the most important aspect of the whole night is the booze. Not just for the sake of getting tipsy with my nearest and dearest, but also the chance to experiment, and concoct something special to toast the night.

I've come up with three spooky Halloween cocktails, tried and tested, and screaming out to be shaken up good and proper. From the tropical-tasting Greener Colada, to the black and powerful Hell's Martini, to my personal favourite, the decadently floral Bloody Cham-pain.

The Greener Colada recipe


50ml Midori melon liqueur
30ml Malibu
25ml Lime cordial
50ml Water
Healthy squeeze lime juice

Shake it!

1. Pour the Midori and Malibu into a cocktail shaker.
2. In a glass, combine the lime cordial and water. Add it to the shaker.
3. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a couple of ice cubes.
4. Shake it like you're watching a horror movie. Strain into a brandy glass, and add some sort of novelty Halloween straw.

Bloody Cham-pain


50ml Pomegranate juice
30ml Elderflower liqueur
2-3 drops Rosewater
50ml dry rosé champagne
10ml Grenadine

Shake it!

1. Combine the pomegranate juice, elderflower liqueur, and rosewater in a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake it like a terrified child.
3. Pour into a flute, and top up with chilled pink champagne or prosecco.
4. Add a large dash of grenadine to enhance the blood-like colour and texture.

Hell's Martini


50ml Vodka
25ml Red vermouth
30ml Creme de Cassis
Squeeze Lemon juice

Shake it!

1. Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
2. Shake it like you've just seen a ghost. Strain into a glass.

Happy Halloween, my pretties! What scary sips and terrifying tipples have you got planned?

Friday, 20 October 2017

Friday Cocktail: Chestnut Royale

Photo: Arun Marsh

When winter strikes, some of our most-loved cocktails just don't seem as fun, with the daquiris, mojitos and coladas reminding us of warmer weather, long days by the pool and evenings sat in the garden.

But sometimes you just need to reinvent a cocktail a bit to make it more winter-friendly - and you often end up with a new favourite to enjoy for years to come.

This week, I've done just that, and my inspiration has been the bellinis/kir royales that are so perfect summer wedding/garden party drinks. But what if you substitute the fruit for an altogether more festive, warming flavour?

Chestnuts might be most popular for roasting over an open fire (or sprinkling over your brussels sprouts) but, as my post on 5 brilliant nut liqueurs proved, chestnut is also a super base for a liqueur. And I've recently realised that chestnut liqueur and Champagne should be best pals.

Now I know most of you probably won't have a bottle of this stuff in the cupboard already, but with Christmas parties a-plenty just around the corner (not to mention the Big Day itself) there is just enough time to grab a bottle of the notoriously tasty Briottet chestnut liqueur from Master of Malt. It's only £16.00, and I pretty much guarantee you'll love it so much it's all gone by January.

Chestnut Royale cocktail recipe (serves 4)


Shake it!

1. Pour 25ml (or one shot) of chestnut liqueur each into four champagne flutes.
2. Top up with sparkling wine
3. Grate a light sprinkling of nutmeg onto the top and then gently stir the drink (if you do this too quickly or roughly it will bubble up like mad!)

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

"Gin, Glorious Gin!" at the Catford Gin Festival

Gin has had quite a journey over the last ten years or so; from old person's drink, to trendy and exciting, to main-stay of the drinks scene. I am still amazed at the number of new companies and brands that are jumping up all over the place and breathing continued life into the gin revolution. This was reinforced for me last week when I went to the Catford Gin Festival, an exciting new collaboration between the Forest Hill Gin Club and Team Catford. The festival was held as a "pop-up" in an empty store in Catford Shopping Centre, which is a great idea as it allows an empty space to be used and generates some revenue and much needed kudos for the local area. We were there for the afternoon session and it was pleasingly full of people (lively with plenty of people milling around, but not so full that you couldn't navigate your way around...!). Props to the organisers for putting on such an excellent event.    

Below are a few of my favourites from the festival, which I would heartily recommend that you check out too!

Colonsay Gin  

This was a particularly impressive spirit for its cleanliness and freshness. It was served with a couple of small slices of chilli in it and this was really interesting as it enhanced a natural pepperiness in the spirit and gave it a gently-warming profile without being too insistent. A really refreshing drink with a lot of clarity and precision. A nice aperitif gin, methinks. Available for £36.47/bottle on Master of Malt.


Pothecary Gin

It was my wife who was drawn to this stand, she freely admitted that this was because she liked the look of their bottles. Proof that a good bottle design can go a long way in drawing in an audience! Fortunately the gin from Pothecary followed through with its visual promise and delivered a lovely gin. They use five botanicals to flavour their gin: Lavender from Provence; Juniper from Bulgaria; Mulberries from Turkey; Lemons from Sicily, the best lemons in the world; and Tilia, a type of flower, from Poland. A well-travelled gin indeed! The dominant flavours for me on this were the Lavender which gives an initial floral bloom to the taste, before the citrus of the lemons takes over to provide some freshness. Available for £39.95 for a 500ml bottle on Master of Malt.

Pothecary also had a nice limited edition "Sicilian Blend" premium gin that focussed more on the Sicilian lemons and put them more front and centre. This was another spectacular gin that would make for some great cocktails.

Turncoat Gin   

Turncoat Gin from Liverpool presented a really interesting selection of spirits with their London Dry Gin giving a pure and distinctive drink with a slightly nutty profile. I particularly enjoyed, however, their Cascade Gin which incorporates Cascade Hops into the distilling process which is a doff of the cap to the fact that their Head Distiller comes from a Craft Beer background. This gives the gin a really interesting and complex aroma and taste profile, that is part-fruity, part-spicy, part-perfumed and all very smooth. They also had some rather excellent bitters that you can dash into your GnTs to give them a slightly different flavour profile; I particularly liked their Orange Bitters.

Skully Gins  

From the Netherlands, Skully Gin presented probably the most different gin that I have ever tried - a Wasabi Gin, with botanicals of: Ginger, Mint, Juniper, Coriander, Licorice, Vanilla, Orris Root, Cardamom, Sweet Orange and... oh yes... Wasabi! As you'd expect the gin packs a bit of a punch, but is also remarkably smooth. They suggest that you have this with a Ginger Ale or a Ginger Beer, which makes for a rather lovely drink. Could this be an excellent gin match for sushi?? You can buy Skully Gins' other gins on Master of Malt for £44/bottle, but they don't seem to currently have the Wasabi one, shame..

There were other good gins on display too, but these were the ones that particularly stuck in the memory (also the ones that I bought!)

Here's hoping that the Catford Gin Festival becomes a regular fixture in the diary. It was a lot of fun and it was great to see the event so busy with happy punters and interesting exhibitors.    

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Ashdown Park hotel review: a classic country escape

It’s that time of year where Christmas still feels a bit too far away to get excited about, but you feel in need of a bit of a break. I always find this time the perfect time to escape to the country for a weekend away, and if it’s one that can involve good wine, even better.

I recently stayed at Ashdown Park hotel in Sussex after visiting Bluebell Vineyard down the road, right in the heart of Winnie the Pooh country.

Where is Ashdown Park hotel?

It’s in Hundred Acre Wood! Well, it’s in the heart of Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, which was the inspiration for A.A.Milne’s Winnie the Pooh spot. Ashdown Forest isn’t really a forest, more of a heathland, but there are some woods around so you won’t be disappointed. It’s around 40 miles outside of London – driving is easiest, but if you do want to train it there, East Grinstead station is a 15 minute taxi ride away from the hotel.

What’s Ashdown Park like?

Well, it’s definitely got the wow factor. The 19th century hotel is an impressive neo-gothic pile, set in 186 acres of landscaped parkland, with an interesting history. It’s been a hospital for injured Belgian soldiers, a convent, owned by an American university, and more recently, a training centre for Barclays Bank managers. It was sounding romantic until that point...

It’s also big. There are 105 rooms and suites squirreled down meandering corridors off the main house, at the centre of which is a majestic hallway complete with huge fireplace and baby grand piano which tinkles away 24/7 (sans pianist).

It’s quite easy to get lost, with staircases and doors all over the place, and it was a bit nippy down some of the corridors – although we later found out the heating had broken in our part of the hotel, so that may explain that – but it’s fun to explore, and you almost feel like you’ve got the whole place to yourself.

What are the rooms like?

Apparently none of the 105 rooms at Ashdown Park are the same, but naturally, I only saw one. My suite was huge, with a super comfy king sized bed, wood panelling, and dramatic stained-glass windows. There’s nothing particularly modern about the rooms – Nespresso machine, TV, bathroom, and Molten Brown toiletries aside – but I loved the classic, luxuriously plush furnishings. My kind of décor, and my kind of hotel: past grandeur with contemporary indulgence.

I was so blissfully happy lounging on the sofa in front of the window, looking out at the grounds, with my complimentary paper after a great night’s sleep and breakfast. The only reason I was happy to leave was to get out and explore.

Prices range from £199 for a deluxe room B&B, to £444 for a master suite B&B, and the hotel does have various offers on throughout the year.

What is there to do?

That depends on how active you’re feeling. Catching up on sleep, gazing lazily out of windows, or indulging in food and local sparkling wine is a good start.

I headed straight to the spa for a relaxing swim in the dimly lit, barn-like space, and a good soak in the hot tub. Golfers can make the most of the 18-hole par 3 course, or for enthusiastic amateurs, there’s a putting green nearer the main house – and the obligatory country house croquet lawn.

Mapped walks are available at reception if you want to explore the extensive grounds. Leaving the hotel, you walk through a stone arch and the grounds are just laid out in front of you. There’s a large chapel which can be booked for weddings, so much green, two fountains in the lake at the bottle of the hill, and paths off in all directions with different length walks.

Nearby, you can do a tour and tasting at Bluebell Vineyard, ride the Bluebell steam train, visit the llamas at the llama park, take off on one of the many nearby walking routes (Pooh Sticks bridge is ten minutes away!), or visit Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Always important, what’s the food and drink like?

Breakfast is excellent, with loads to choose from on the cold buffet (including some yummy local yogurt), and a great hot buffet with not one dodgy pink sausage in sight. A good English breakfast is a must at a hotel like this.

If you stay between April and September, you can order a picnic to enjoy on the grounds (traditional summer picnic £22.50, luxury hamper £29.50 per person, or a picnic version of the hotel’s afternoon tea for £24.50 per person/£45 per couple) (

Afternoon tea is a popular one at Ashdown, and even includes a Winnie the Pooh afternoon tea for children with hunny sandwiches and Kanga cakes. They should definitely do an adult version!

Dinner is quite a grand affair in the main dining room, with another ghost piano accompanying you throughout. The food was good overall – the highlight being my succulent and perfectly cooked lamb main course – but a little style over substance in places, including some soggy Rice Krispies making an appearance in the amuse bouche.

Service was friendly but could do with a bit of work. There was a struggle with understanding which wine we wanted, two separate waiters who had to disappear to ask the chef what specific things on the (short) menu were, and one who neglected to tell us the dessert we had both wanted had sold out until after we’d ordered it.

Also, our Hindleap wine from nearby Bluebell Vineyard (the restaurant has a decent selection of English sparkling wines on its list) was kept away from the table, but then not topped up. I don’t mind if the staff are attentive, but there were two occasions my partner had to get up and hunt down our wine. And no, before you ask, we weren’t drinking it especially quickly!

So overall...?

Oh I could already do with another weekend there. If you're looking for a classic country escape in beautiful surroundings, with plenty to see and do, and plenty of delicious local wine to drink, you will not be disappointed with Ashdown Park.

I stayed at Ashdown Park after visiting Bluebell Vineyard for a tour and tasting. Although the stay was complimentary, all my opinions are my own and not in any way influenced by delicious English sparkling wine.