Celebrations are in order. We’ve been given another chance to appreciate the sunshine and relax a little with the arrival of this beautiful Indian summer. So don’t shelve the barely worn shorts and sandals just yet, there’s still plenty of alfresco dining, Champagne afternoon teas on the terrace and maybe the odd barbecue still to be had.
If you were a little disappointed with the summer and missed out on that holiday feeling, think of this as a stroke of good fortune. Steal a moment at lunch to sit in the warm air. Take the opportunity after work to dine alfresco with friends over a bottle of chilled sparkling wine recommended by the sommelier. Set your alarm clock a little earlier to catch the most stunning sunrise to inspire you for the day ahead and grab a coffee and some you-time before nine.
It’s not often we get a second chance, so let’s grab this one with both hands and have a most wonderful Indian summer. After all, autumn is just around the corner.
I was asked if I could choose my perfect bottle of wine and name any three people from history that I would like to share it with. Now, I’m not going to pretend my knowledge of wine is expansive, so the basis for my bottle of choice has been influenced mainly by my impending holiday to New Zealand. This is the ‘Roaring Meg’ Pinot Noir from Mount Difficulty, Central Otago. In the time I’ve been with Hotel du Vin I’ve been introduced to quite a lot of wines but this is one of the ones that has stood out. Now if I had more knowledge of wines I’d tell you how its varying levels of depth and flavours made me like it however the reality is altogether less exciting. I just find it really tasty, easy to drink, the bottle doesn’t cost the earth and most importantly I’m visiting the vineyard on my holidays.
PS. Did I mention I was going to New Zealand?
Ross Bootland. Head Chef at Hotel du Vin & Bistro Newcastle
Ross trained at the prestigious Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh for 2 years, winning Scottish Junior Seafood Chef of the Year, before moving down to London to add to his experience at the Manderin Oriental for a year. It was after this that he joined the Malmaison group in 1997 for 5 years – beginning in Edinburgh opening Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds and returning to Edinburgh.
He has also previously held position of Head Chef for Dakota Hotels in Glasgow and then for Forth Bridge Edinburgh achieving several awards in a short space of time including:
Hotel Restaurant of the Year 2008
Restaurant of the Year Scotland 2008
Seafood Restaurant of the Year 2008
and nominated as one of the top ten in Scotland.
Ross has been inspired over the years in particular by Keith Shearer, Executive Head Chef of Hotel du Vin and Malmaison and by award winning Roy Brett, Head Chef of Ondine Restaurant.
Ross is now Head Chef at Hotel du Vin Newcastle. Take a look at his favourite dishes and take part in the Northern Face-off on Facebook Hotel du Vin Newcastle.
You may have noticed the increased fan base of cycling these days. Whether it’s for recreation on a weekend, a cycling holiday like a tour of England’s vineyards with Love Velo at Tunbridge Wells or Henley-on-Thames, or commuting to and from work, there has been a visible climb in the use of two wheels rather than four. I must admit, the only bike I’ve ever owned was a little lilac girls number with stabilisers that i had when I was small. But even then I seemed to avoid passing my cycling proficiency test at school – does this mean I’m not road worthy?
On my daily work journey, a steady stream of cycles whizz past me in most weathers. Secure bike racks at train stations are now a regular fixture and fitting for cycling convenience. Tax free cycles for purchase and ‘cycle to work schemes’ are all the rage to encourage budding bikers to change their mode of transport to work in a cost effective manner. Benefits for the environment and health are both brilliant reasons to swap the bus for the bike. The recent flagship scheme sponsored by Barclays in London has already encouraged one million journeys and counting. Even the legendary Brompton folding bike is now up for hire in some stations.
For those who have a more keen interest in cycling as a sport, and this is where Britain is most successful in Olympic victory, we have one of our most heavily supported and sponsored teams taking part in Tour de France – Team Sky. This year beginning Saturday 2nd July until Sunday 24th July, the 98th Tour de France is made up of 21 stages with the official start taking place at Passage du Gois.
We’re also in the midst of Bike Week - a national celebration of cycling with events throughout the country all this week for any level of cyclist from novice to pro. If the thought of hitting the roads on two wheels is a little daunting, have no fear. There is a heavy social side with groups such as Breeze: British Cycling’s network of social bike rides, just for women on this one, but this is just one of the groups who make it seem ‘like a breeze’ – a fun and friendly social way to cycle on local, accessible routes in small groups. A great way to feel more comfortable on residential roads or in parks and even stop off for coffee and cake.
For any tips and advice check out the British Cycling website for some fantastic notes on coping with rain, where to ride, storing your bike and even avoiding getting ‘helmet hair’ (very important for arriving into work looking acceptably smart).
Bringing back the bike has sparked an interest for me. I’ll never be a Mark Cavendish, but I’m thinking of looking into the two wheeler as an alternative transport – sans stabilisers. Now when will Chanel do a cycle helmet?
I was checking out the festivals and outdoor events in the hope of continued light jacket weather, when I realised just how many great things are happening over the summer months. I haven’t got any holidays planned yet and time is ticking to get something booked in before all the good dates get snaffled from the work rota, so I’m thinking this might be a rather interesting way to chill out closer to home rather than panic into a last minute overseas package deal.
Here’s a few that I think look compelling:
1. Henley Royal Regatta. Regarded as one of the best regattas in the world. It’s a favourite of all oarsmen and fans of the sport. Famous for the great sporting occasion as well as the great buzz of the day and its competition. Spectators make a break of it enjoying Champagne, afternoon teas, sunshine (hopefully) and mingling with fellow fans at Hotel du Vin & Bistro Henley-on-Thames.
Held from Wednesday 29th June to Sunday 3rd July.
One for the ladylike tea dress, sunhat and Pimm’s I think. I might get a glimpse of the Queen, Prince Albert of Monaco or Dame Kelly Holmes at the prize giving.
2. Harrogate Festival Fringe. This menagerie of wonderful activities and events looks great fun. A mixture of performing arts, literature including hip hop, jazz, dance, crime writing, children’s festival, quartets and ‘The Building of a Global Iconic Brand – Kit Kat’. So many exciting elements not to miss, this will keep me entertained nicely.
Held from 1st July to 31st July.
If only I had a month off to do all of this. I shall need to choose wisely. This one is a must – 30th June is the Glitzy Gala Opening featuring the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra called ‘Putting on the Ritz’: A celebration of Fred Astaire and his leading ladies – this calls for a cocktail aperitif at Hotel du Vin Harrogate Bar beforehand in my glitzy frock.
3. Cambridge Summer in the City – A free weekend of rock, pop and blues music, entertainment, a French market, sports and fireworks – sounds like fun and is in the centre of this beautiful city. Handy for Hotel du Vin Cambridge for when I need to put my feet up with a large glass of Rioja after a day’s rocking out and exploring the French delicacies on the market.
Held from July 11th July to 13th July.
4. Winchester Hat Fair – Britain’s longest running festival of street theatre and outdoor arts with a great reputation for outdoor performances, unique shows and community arts. Street theatre at its best – the art of street entertainment. And it’s free throughout Winchester’s ancient streets.
Held from 1st July to 3rd July.
Look out for the Hat Fair iphone app to keep you informed. For up to date information about which artists are performing where and when, where to eat (I’m thinking an afternoon tea at Hotel du Vin & Bistro Winchester), and park, download this FREE.
These are just a few I’ve selected so far. I’m thinking of compiling some together and doing a little summer festival tour. A different way of spending my well overdue holidays which I’m really looking forward to. Any other suggestions very welcome to add to my list.
Thank you so much for all your comments, feedback and dinner party lists, we have really enjoyed the discussion of who to invite to the ultimate dinner party and had some excellent suggestions. Although there are no right or wrong answers, as promised there does have to be a winner. Congratulations Teresa Barnard you are our winner (your name was pulled out of the punchbowl first). We hope you enjoy your dinner party with whoever you choose to invite.
I’m organised for once. I’ve bought my card in advance. Isn’t this one of those dates to remember, that unlike Mother’s Day, often gets forgotten? I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the macho versus emotions thing. Well this year, I want to make sure it and he gets remembered. He deserves to be put on a pedestal. It’s the perfect opportunity (or excuse) to have a family get-together over dinner. I’m thinking of surprising him with a whisky tasting too. A bit of quality time over some quality drams. A little treat is the least I can do. He makes me laugh. He’s always in my corner on any of my battles and my biggest supporter in any of my achievements. He nurtures the most amazing plants with the greenest of fingers. Has the innate ability to fix a car over the telephone line. And he’s always made the most perfect boiled eggs with soldiers. And that just skims the surface of my appreciation. So here’s a little reminder for those who feel the same as me. June 19th let’s fly the flag for fathers and for all the loans, taxis, advice, laughs and dippy boiled eggs, take some time out to say thank you.
I should do this more often, Father’s Day or not.
I’ve been asked a few times over a glass or two of vino, who would be the top ten people on my invite list to a dinner party hosted by moi. The rules are: they need to be famous, well known or historical and can be from any time/any era.
Now most of these don’t take much pondering over – I have a list as long as my arm I’d like to invite, full of the people that intrigue or inspire. The key is collating the most cunning mix of characters that, to me, bring something to the table. Here’s my list and why (in no particular order):
1. My first invite goes to the iconic Marilyn Monroe. A classic beauty and with poise rarely seen these days. I imagine she has a fair few secrets to tell.
2. Bill Murray – the sense of humour to break the ice and of all the comedic guests – he’s one of my favourites.
3. I’ve always had a great respect for Richard Branson – his business mind mixed with daring ‘live life to the full’ attitude inspires that anything is possible.
4. Mark Zuckerberg – A lucky find or a stroke of genius – whatever the answer, he’s current and happening – I’ll FB him his invite.
5. Seth MacFarlane – I’m obsessed with the work of this master of many trades: animator, writer, comedian, producer, actor, singer, voice actor and director. He makes me laugh a lot.
6. Banksy – Graffiti art with substance, humour, meaning and summons a reaction – I’d be interested to hear the conversation between him and my next guest – how art movements differ.
7. Van Gogh – a different emotional impact with his work than Banksy, but a reaction nonetheless.
8. Stephen Fry – for more witty humour and topical discussions – and an avid tweeter – I can perhaps poach some tips to multiply my following.
9. Elvis – The King (hopefully he won’t be leaving the building).
10. Coco Chanel – Ultimate style and inspiration, whether she meant to become the icon she is or not. Her story is one I’d like to hear first hand – as well as a few fashion tips.
So, picture the scene. We meet in the bar for cocktails and canapés first, for introductions and some jovial quips from Bill and Seth. Coco, Marilyn and I are having a giggle over the fashion faux pas in the bar. Then to the private dining room, a large table beautifully set for dinner. I make sure I’m sat in the middle. And as the dishes are served and the Champagne and conversation flows, my ideal dinner party inspires me: I must have more.
However, just in case Banksy and Zuckerberg don’t show face – I’ve got a few on the reserve list.
(Mary Quant, CS Lewis, James Dean)