Thursday, 21 September 2017

A Trip to the Elphinstone Hotel, Biggar


Readers, we’re back from our vacation (you might have caught my last post on Bangkok) and we’ve been off on a staycation this week.

The lovely folks from the Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar invited me along for an overnight stay to experience the local hospitality and food at “The Elph” as it’s known locally.  This was my first trip to Biggar.  Mr WhatClaireDid and I decided to make a weekend of it, driving down on the Saturday afternoon.  We arrived around 4pm in Biggar (lesson learnt, it’s a small market town, where pretty much everything closes at 5pm, so if you’re looking for a wander – COME EARLIER).  The town’s got some lovely little gift, boutique and interior shops as well as a few cafes, which could pass a couple of hours on a decent day.     The rain was on and off on our drive down, but it cleared up about 5pm and we headed off for a walk around the area.  We took our little drone Busby (Instagram) and managed to get some lovely aerial photos of the town.
aerial photo biggar

The Elphinstone Biggar

The Elphinstone is a traditional coaching in with 11 bedrooms.  It serves food over lunch and dinner – mainly traditional pub grub – although it’s home-made (not a microwave job!) The menu is fairly extensive and we were delighted to be able to have dinner and breakfast during our stay.

On arrival we had a few issues trying to work out which door to go in… take note it’s the left one and there’s not a reception desk – check in is at the small bar.  You’ll find a bell on the left if nobody is around.  We were given a big spacious room at the back of the hotel that’s also suitable for a family – with bunk beds (and a second tv for any kids – saves fighting!)  We had a fairly modern en suite bathroom and the room was decorated neutrally. The hotel would be a great stop off point for a couple or family attending a wedding or event nearby – it’s affordable and has parking right outside the front door, if you have the car with you.  Our room was quiet, apart from a little noise from the singer downstairs in the bar which was to be expected on a Saturday night.  It didn’t bother us nor keep us up late.
The Elphinstone Biggar

“The Elph” clearly has a well established fan base locally – we dined in the restaurant at 7.30pm on the Saturday and it was really busy with a mix of small groups celebrating as well as couples.  The restaurant attracts an older crowd – we assumed mostly locals and was probably reflected by the population of Biggar.  Both of us enjoyed our meal.  The menu was extensive and had a wide range to suit all ages.  I went for the chilli and mango battered prawns to start which were really tasty and Mr WhatClaireDid tried the deep fried brie.   Service to our table was quick, even on a busy evening.   Special mention to the young staff who were incredibly busy and apologetic for the things they didn’t know… please don’t worry, we’ve all had a first job!
The Elphinstone Biggar

For mains we both went for traditional pub grub – Mr WhatClaireBaked always uses a lasagne as a benchmark for how good somewhere is – his arrived hot, melty and cheesy from the oven and it was wolfed down.  I had the scampi and chicken combo with chips and salad.
The Elphinstone Biggar

The highlight though has to go to the desserts – the sundaes at £4.95.  We’d been tipped off that these were brilliant and so much so we ordered one each. Mr WhatClaireDid had the banoffee one, whilst I had the Malteser Sundae… which was brilliant.  Portion sizes are hefty here, make sure you come hungry.

We did pop into the bar next door briefly, however, it was busy with locals and we decided to go out and explore instead – stopping for one drink at The Crown down the road. I feel I need to give it a mention here. As a gin drinker, they had an impressive range of craft gins from across Scotland and the botanicals to go with them. My type of pub!  We didn’t stay late, enjoying one drink before heading back to our big comfy bed.

Breakfast was served the next morning in the restaurant.  We went down around 9am as it was a Sunday and enjoyed a full cooked breakfast made to order, before checking out and heading back to city life!
The Elphinstone Biggar
The Elphinstone Biggar

The Elphinstone is located at 145 High Street, Biggar and has car parking outside for those driving to the area.  Rates start from £65 B&B.  Dinner for two (3 courses and an alcoholic drink each) around £50-£60.   For more information visit The Elphinstone’s website or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.


Disclaimer:  I was invited along to review the hotel.  Any opinions expressed are my own. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Hidden Bangkok - An Insiders Guide to the City


Readers, as you may have seen over on Instagram, I’m just back from Thailand. I first went as a backpacker when I was 22.  We island hopped, wore very printed textiles, carried backpacks and went to Full Moon.  7 years on, we had a much more refined couples affair.  I’m hoping to pop a few posts up from this trip, but I’ll start tonight with Hidden Bangkok.

Bangkok used to get a bit of a bad name as a seedy city, covered with neon lights and dodgy backstreet alleyways. Now, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, there are still some “interesting” streets and sights, but on the whole, it’s a bustling metropolitan city and a fusion of east meets west.  This was my third visit to Bangkok and this time, because I’d seen most of the main tourist sites, felt we could dig into the heart of the city a little further.

Today I’m featuring some great hidden spots in Bangkok that you might not fall over on the tourist trail…

A  Place To Lay Your Head

This time we stayed in Chinatown – it’s a bit off the transport links – nearest metro is about a 10 minute walk at Hua Lamphong and not near the Sky Train, but don’t let that put you off.  The cheapest “superior” room at the Shanghai Mansion is about £50 a night and for that you’ll get a big bed, decent en suite and a clean, Chinese themed hotel with a jazz bar in reception, good cocktails, an on site spa and some huge fish in pond.  It’s also right on the main street of Chinatown – with street food galore (see next point).

Embrace The Street Food

As mentioned above, the heart of Chinatown is the perfect place to try some of Bangkok’s famous street food.  There were endless choices available on Th Yaowarat and a short walk down the street – out of the hotel, go right, cross the road, led us to the best Pad Thai we’d had all holiday.  I can only describe it by the family affair with some plastic chairs, where somebody makes the dumplings and next door the girl and guy are cooking up the pad thai at lightning speed.   If you manage to find it based on those instructions, I’ll be delighted.   I also had the best spring rolls of my life – about 8 fried beauties for 70p.  Now, even harder instructions – the spring roll lady is fairly elderly and her stall is down one of the side streets.  If you come out of Shanghai Mansion, go right, head down the road Th Yaowarat, it’s on that side, in one of the side streets off to the right. Again, if you find it, I’ll be delighted.
chinatown streetfood bangkok

Don’t be scared to embrace street eating – just take a safety first approach.  Look for vendors that are busy and are feeding locals as well as tourists.  If it’s roasting hot and there’s no signs of refrigeration, watch meats and seafood. Perhaps your first attempt at Oysters should be from a restaurant?! We were absolutely fine and ate street food many times during our stay in Thailand – everything from traditional dishes to fried potato with pizza seasoning, then dumplings, gyoza, waffles on a stick with sprinkles, spring rolls and ice cream.  For those on a budget, you’ll get fantastic cheap eats – our favourite pad thai was less than £5 for BOTH OF US and that included a couple of beers and a side portion of dumplings. Bargain.
pad thai streetfood bangkok


Visit a Sky Bar

With all the money you’ve saved on food, you can afford to splurge on one night out that’s a bit special. Bangkok has a number of great sky bars where you can buy a drink and sit out on the terrace admiring the skyscrapers and twinkling lights of the streets below you.  I can’t speak for them all, but we visited the Speakeasy at the Hotel Muse located on the 24th floor.  Uber is dirt cheap in Bangkok, so even if you are a bit away, it’s worth the journey.  Everything is dark wood, 1920s themed indoors – the cocktail bar is out on the terrace – and the music is good.  We went on a Friday night about 8.30pm and managed to get a table outdoors however, it had started to get pretty full as we left to go to dinner.
bangkok skyline
Views from Speakeasy on 24th Floor of Hotel Muse 

Beers by The Chaoporya

The famous river that runs through the city is a hotbed of water traffic – from commuter boats to neon lit dinner cruises.  If you fancy a beer off the beaten track (and some food if you are hungry) look no further than the Samsara bar.  It’s about a 5 minute walk from Th Yaowarat and not that far from the Hua Lamphong MRT Metro Station.  It’s literally a cabin type structure with about 6 tables – some of which are right on the water.  It’s a little difficult to find as it’s a bit of walking down an alleyway, searching for the right door, but this all adds to the fun.  There are a fair few cats living in the place – pets I presume.  The venue has a small handwritten menu and once they are out of something it’s scored off.  We didn’t eat dinner, but we did enjoy a beer by the river and some hot nuts whilst enjoying the view and watching the river cruises sail into the night. 

Wanderlust

A great spot attached to a hostel, Wanderlust is an Aussie style cafe with good coffees and has an epic brunch menu.  We were the only people in when we got there, but the brunch was amazing. It’s on the way to the Golden Budda, so if that’s on the list to visit, keep Wanderlust in mind.  They have craft sodas, free wifi, a bit of a hipster vibe and serve on wood and in skillets (sorry plate lovers) but the food is freshly cooked and is worth the wait.   See photo.
brunch at wanderlust bangkok



Monday, 11 September 2017

Jazz Apple Cinnamon Crumble

Readers. I've returned safely from my Thailand adventure (blog posts coming soon, promise) and for now have a lovely little easy recipe for you to try, in conjunction with Jazz Apples.

Have you tried them before?  They are a cross between a Braeburn and Royal Gala apple and are grown in the UK.  They are tangy, yet sweet and are perfect for both snacks and for cooking with. They can be kept in the fridge (meaning they will last around 4 weeks) and you'll find them available year round.

This very easy, 6 ingredient crumble is made without dairy, so suitable for a range of diets. It’s slightly lower in fat than a traditional buttery crumble, but makes for a tasty, filling and warming Autumn dessert.  This recipe will make between 4-6 individual crumbles, depending on how full you make each ramekin. 

jazz apple cinnamon crumble

Ingredients

6 medium Jazz apples (I found mine in Sainsbury’s)
3 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Crumble Topping
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
2 heaped tablespoons porridge oats
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 heaped tablespoon coconut oil (solidified)
Pinch of cinnamon

Method

  1. Peel, core and chop 6 Jazz apples and add to a medium sized saucepan with a lid.  Add the sugar, cinnamon and water.
  2. Heat the hob to medium and add the pan of Jazz apples, sugar, cinnamon and water to the hob.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for around 20 minutes. Keep the lid on the pan for the first half of cooking time, you can remove halfway through if the apples are looking a little watery.  Stir during cooking and remove from the hob once you have a soft fruit stew.  Allow to cool.  The mix should be fairly smooth and sweet.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180c (fan) and grease 4-6 ramekin dishes. Whilst the oven is heating, make your crumble topping.
  4. To make the crumble topping add the flour, oats, cinnamon and sugar to a bowl.  Mix together. 
  5. In a separate cup, melt the coconut oil in the microwave for approx. 40 seconds until melted and liquid. 
  6. Add the melted coconut oil to the dry mixture and stir to bring the crumble together. 
  7. Add even amounts of stewed apples to the ramekins, to between half and three quarters full.  Then, add the crumble mix on top.  Pat down until flat on top of the apple.
  8. Add the ramekins to a baking tray and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 20-25 minutes until golden on top.
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.   Serve with vanilla ice cream, or if keeping to dairy free, serve with raspberry sorbet.
jazz apple cinnamon crumble

This post is sponsored by Jazz Apples