Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Scottish Staycation - A Trip to The Stair Arms, Midlothian near Edinburgh


Readers, how are you?!  Surviving this rainy, windy and generally awful winter where we left the EU, then Coronavirus came, then we tried to avoid the multitude of storms that had names?  Sorry, I’ll stop.

On a cheerier note, this Glasgow travel (and food) blogger, headed off on a staycation with Mr What Claire Did last weekend, to The Stair Arms, a lovely family owned traditional coaching inn, at Pathhead, Midlothian (for those of you from further afield – nearish to Edinburgh). We were gifted a dinner, bed and breakfast stay at the hotel.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

The Stair Arms is family owned and we were greeted by some lovely members of the family during our stay – from the girl on reception when we arrived, to our waitress at dinner.

The hotel has recently undergone an intensive refurbishment programme, with the rooms and bathrooms being refurbished, followed by the bar and restaurant area in the main part of the hotel.  It’s modern Scottish – with touches of tartan – painted in hues of sage and light grey.  It feels cosy and welcoming, yet not twee.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

The hotel is on the main route to the borders – making for a great pit stop if you’re on a tour of Scotland, or for a quick lunch or takeaway coffee on a long drive.   We stayed in room 11, which had big windows and view of the garden, complete with picnic tables – a great summer beer garden, just sadly not to be visited during our visit, as the latest of the storms raged on outside The Stair Arms during our visit!

We arrived late afternoon and made ourselves a cuppa with the tea and coffee facilities in the room, then watched some tv from the comfort of our big, soft bed.  The room was clean and spacious, with modern décor and bedlinen.  There was a decent selection of biscuits…. 3 packets!  Although confession, we didn’t get around to eating them as we’d booked in for dinner.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did


The Stair Arms restaurant is popular with both residents and locals from the community.  It was busy when we arrived at 8pm on Saturday night, with couples and family groups celebrating special occasions.  The hotel had two menus – their regular menu with bar favourites and then the Steakhouse menu, which had a special 50% off deal.  The hotel run this regularly during the winter months – keep an eye out as it’s excellent value.   We had starters from the regular menu – I enjoyed the shredded beef, which came deep fried in batter and served with chilli sauce.  Mr What Claire Did had the chicken liver pate, served with oatcakes and a side salad.  Both were generous starter portions and arrived hot from the kitchen.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

With such a great deal on the steakhouse menu, we went for the venison chateaubriand for two at an amazing £25 FOR BOTH OF US. We honestly couldn’t believe it.  Perthshire venison, cooked medium to our liking (properly seared and rested before service) with tomatoes, mushrooms, onion rings and triple cooked chips.   We’ve never ordered chateaubriand before, for fear that there isn’t enough meat and you leave hungry, however, this was definitely not an issue at The Stair Arms.  Deal didn’t mean small portions!  There was plenty of food to go around us both and we definitely didn’t feel hungry.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

We spotted someone ordering the Tomahawk which was HUGE and at £33 as part of the deal, it was a total bargain.  A fillet steak with sides came in at £15 and all we watched a number of diners enjoying the special deal. It’s rare to see this on a Saturday night where we live, however, it clearly brought the locals out even in the worst of weather and it’s lovely to see the community supporting their local restaurant.

Feeling it would be rude not to take advantage of the desserts on offer to us, Mr What Claire did ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding (arriving as a slab!) and I went for an ice cream sundae with meringue. Both of us struggled to finish our desserts, but what we did manage was lovely.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

Full of food, we headed back to our room and enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep – it was so quiet – in our cozy room.  Despite the storm outside, with the thick curtains shut and the heating on, we were warm and comfortable.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

Breakfast was served in the restaurant where we’d been the night before, with a selection of small cereal boxes and orange juice to help yourself to, on the bar.    Toast was brought to our table and we were offered either tea or coffee.  Breakfast is included in the room rate, however, non residents can also pop by and enjoy the cooked menu, priced from £2.95 for a breakfast roll, to £9.95 for a full breakfast platter.

We’d had so much for dinner, we didn’t have a huge amount, however, both ordered a breakfast roll which was on a toasted scotch morning roll, with plenty of filling and plenty of sauce to set us up for the day.

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

I can’t fault the staff at the hotel – they were friendly, professional and nothing was too much bother.  We had a small issue with the hot water in our room which I mentioned on departure (old plumbing – we understand!) which was dealt with professionally by the lady at front of house on checkout.   The hotel is great value for those passing through the area, or perhaps attending a wedding or function at the hotel, with a double room including breakfast priced at £75.00 during peak season.  We’d consider this good value and have paid much more to stay at hotels not nearly as clean or well decorated.    It was lovely to have an overnight stay in an independently owned Scottish hotel, that didn’t feel like the sorts of soulless corporate hotels we keep finding across the country!

The Stair Arms by Travel Blogger What Claire Did

The Stair Arms serves food from 8am to 9pm and for more information and to book visit their website.    You can also follow the hotel on Facebook and Instagram.


Disclaimer - we were gifted an overnight stay at the hotel, including dinner. Any opinions expressed are my own. 



Saturday, 18 January 2020

Restaurant Review: Umi Japanese Cuisine, Stockbridge


Readers! Happy New Year to you all (can I still say it after midway through the month?) I’m back on the wagon again with some sort of routine, have quit chocolates for breakfast and am using my alarm again in the morning.

Last weekend, as a reward for his patience in visiting countless interior stores with me in the last few months, I took Mr WhatClaireDid as my plus one to a review of  Umi Japanese Cuisine in Stockbridge, Edinburgh.  For those of you not in the know, Stockbridge is a cool ‘hood in Edinburgh to wander around in – lots of independents stores, cafes, restaurant and a high quality charity shop or two, if you enjoy a rake around.
 
restaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire did
Interior of Umi Japanese Cuisine, Stockbridge, Edinburgh 
We were invited along to try out Umi’s menu and this is genuine – I loved the place.  My last meal on earth would probably be Asian cuisine of some description and I can’t remember the last time we went somewhere that the food was so fresh and delicious.

Umi is located on Deanhaugh Street in Stockbridge, in a basement – something I love, as you never know what you’re getting until you step through the front door. At Umi, Edinburgh, you’ll be greeted with lanterns, bench seating for groups, small tables for two or four and the delicious scent of a kitchen punching above it’s weight with Japanese food in Edinburgh.
restaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire did
Authentic interiors at Umi

We sat at a bench big enough for four (or in our case, just two… we ordered a lot of food to share).  The staff were really polite and helpful – making some recommendations to try, including the Octopus balls which are a favourite of diners at Umi Japanese Cuisine.  A little like a Spanish croquette, with octopus in the middle, deep fried.
restaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire did

After spending longer than we should have running through the menu, we started with a  few of Umi Japanese Cuisine’s small dishes priced between £4 and £10 for sharing.  Here, we enjoyed the Kara-age Fried Chicken, Chicken and Vegetable Gyoza Takoyaki (fried octopus dough balls).  Each of these three dishes was priced at under £5, which we felt was great value for the quality and the amount of food we received.




 We both felt it wasn’t great to come to Umi Japanese Cuisine in Edinburgh and not try their sushi which is hand rolled by their skilled chefs. We opted for a an 8 piece Crunch Soy Roll selection, which priced at £9.90, was filled with tempura prawn, avocado, a soy paper and topped with eel sauce, dill sauce and crispy fried onions.  The onions were great to give some crunch to the dish and I wasn’t shy in enjoying some soy sauce dipping with these – poured from the lovely Japanese soy teapots on the table!

restaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire didrestaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire did


Not content with just enjoying the smaller plates, we both opted to try the rice bowls, which were the standout dish of the visit – neither of us having a clue what was coming.   I will say that we probably could have ordered one less small plate, as we were starting to get full by this point, but carried on regardless!

The rice bowls were such a surprise – amazing value and a bit of theatre. I had the salmon fried rice whilst Mr WhatClaireDid opted for the chashu fried rice, which was servied with pork belly.

The dishes arrived in roasting hot stone bowls, we were presented with a smalls sauce bowl on the side and encouraged to pour this in, then use the cutlery to mix everything around. 

restaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire did

The heat from the bowls, combined with the liquid started to fry the rice and the meat/fish at the table.  We had no idea we’d be frying our own rice… was it great?  Absolutely.  It added an extra dimension to the experience and the bowls kept their heat, so by adding a little more soy, you could keep on cookin’ at the table.  

Again, these were great value – priced at £8.90 for the pork and £10.90 for the salmon. They are also really filling – so either order one between two, or perhaps go easy on the smaller plates.

restaurant review umi stockbridge by what claire did

 We were really delighted by our Umi Japanese Cuisine experience and would recommend it to both locals and tourists coming to Edinburgh.  All in, including drinks, lunch would have been around £50 for us both, which we felt was brilliant value for the amount of food we had and how delicious it was.  You could of course order less, if you’re on a budget and still leave satisfied.

Umi Japanese Cuisine is closed on Mondays and is open for dinner Tuesday to Thursday and lunch and dinner Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Find out more by visiting their Facebook and Instagram accounts.

Disclaimer – we were gifted lunch for two, in exchange for an honest review of our experience. Any opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Social Planning with Squaremeal


Readers… today I’m talking restaurant and venue booking!  Why? Not only is it currently the most wonderful time of the year, but, for anyone doing party planning it’s sometimes a struggle to work out where to book, how to book and find something that keeps everyone happy – be that friends, family or being handed the responsibility of the work Christmas social. Ahhhh.

square meal post venue finding Copyright what claire did

I’m a regular fan of eating out plus am a bit of an event organiser having done a series of big(ish) charity events, balls and fundraisers all requiring me to find a venue. Yes, there’s Google and you can do it yourself or you can find a platform like the Square Meal website, which will take some of the hassle out of venue sourcing for you.

Square Meal operates across London, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh and Birmingham and can help you with anything from finding a restaurant or a pub to sourcing your wedding venue (anyone who’s recently got married will understand how painful this research part is…)  There’s even a concierge service to help you with all those traumatic work jobs like finding a meeting room in a different city last minute or finding a private dining room for 20 people you’ve never met, that that your MD has decided must be taken out for dinner in 2 days’ time.

square meal post venue finding Copyright what claire did


Square Meal is all about making your life that little bit easier by taking some of the stress out finding a venue and giving you the time back to work on the parts of the organisation that really matter, you know, like finalising the cocktail menu.

In the spirit of it currently being the season of giving, today I thought I’d share with you, my top 5 tips for organising and planning a great event (I’ll even tell you that these are tips for life, not just for Christmas).

1.  Start Early

Venues book up quickly – especially wedding ones – some are booked 2 years ahead in peak season.  If you’ve got your heart set on somewhere, as soon as you have a date for your event, start researching venues and contacting your preferred choice(s).

square meal post venue finding Copyright what claire did


2.  Know Your Numbers

It’s impossible to predict exactly, however, most venues will want a final total 1-2 weeks before (depending on how big your event is).  Prepare for call offs, but also prepare for people to be so disorganised, they appear last minute and expect a seat at the table.

 

3.  Set Expectations

You’ll never get a 5* private dining room in Mayfair, for the price of a function room at your local pub.  Work with your team to set expectations about what is and isn’t achievable for their proposed per head budget.

square meal post venue finding Copyright what claire did

 4.  Don’t Forget Dietary Requirements

People are veggie, vegan, lactose free, coeliac, gluten free, have nut allergies and more… please don’t forget to ask your guests or party goers if they have any dietary requirements and make sure the venue knows – there’s nothing more disappointing than being presented with something you can’t eat.

square meal post venue finding Copyright what claire did

 5.  Check in A Few Days Before

Whether it’s the team Christmas lunch or a large-scale event, make sure you check in with your venue 48 hours before to confirm any last minute details, changes to plans or provide any information that can help your night run smoothly… once you’ve checked everything off your list, don’t forget that you’re there to enjoy yourself too!

square meal post venue finding Copyright what claire did





This post is a paid collaboration with Square Meal.

Monday, 30 September 2019

A Weekend Break to The Four Seasons Hotel, St Fillans


Readers, hello! We’ve been off on our travels again – last month we were in Mexico – more on that soon, but for now, I’m focussing on somewhere a little closer to home – Perthshire!

We were recently invited to enjoy an overnight stay at The Four Seasons Hotel, a 3 Star hotel in St Fillans, a small Scottish village located next to Loch Earn.

Outside The Four Seasons Hotel St Fillans photo by What Claire DidOutside The Four Seasons Hotel St Fillans photo by What Claire Did

The hotel was bought over two years ago by Sue, a lovely lady with a history of working in some of the big-name chain hotels who had a dream of buying a small independent place in the highlands of Scotland.

For those of you not familiar with St Fillans, it’s a small village, it sits right on the banks of Loch Earn (amazing views!) and enjoys a gorgeous vista over the hills and mountains beyond.   Around 200 people live in St Fillans and nearby you’ll find walking routes, golf, fishing and other water sports available to you.

The Four Seasons Hotel offers accommodation for all – providing a range of rooms and chalets for guests. A number of rooms are also dog friendly, which is great for those not wanting to leave their furry friend at home. We met a few friendly pups during our stay!

We arrived at the hotel late in the afternoon, having enjoyed a countryside drive up from Glasgow and a stop off at the antiques centre at Doune on the way.  We then went for a stroll around the village after checking in.  There was homemade shortbread waiting for us in our room and Sue had left a letter for us, with information about the local area, to make us feel welcome.  Our room (room 10) was located at the end of the corridor at the far end of the hotel and had spectacular views across the loch. 

The Four Seasons Hotel St Fillans photo by What Claire DidBedroom at The Four Seasons Hotel St Fillans photo by What Claire Did

It was roomy, had all the necessary amenities and the bath with a rubber duck waiting on the edge was a welcome addition.  There were bathrobes in the cupboard, fresh bottled water and a small TV, should you not wish to enjoy what’s outside the window!

Bathroom at The Four Seasons Hotel St Fillans photo by What Claire Did

As the weather was spectacular, we decided to sit at the outdoor seating area in front of the hotel, where several other guests had congregated to enjoy the views and a beer (or two) in the sunshine.  There are around 6 tables available for guests, each seating 2 to 4 people and bar food is also served outdoors during the good weather.   A few guests were enjoying the fish and chips when we were there, however having dinner booked in the restaurant later, we decided to hold back.  

A note to any guests – there isn’t a huge amount of facilities in the village itself, so it’s probably best to drive, or hire a car if you’re coming from overseas, to allow you to explore the surrounding area easily.  We brought our Uno cards with us, which provided hours of entertainment in the hotel bar, however we did spot a number of board games in the corner of the bar, so please don’t feel the need to pack your own!

We were booked in for dinner in the hotel’s Meall Reamhar restaurant where we were offered both the bar food menu and a more formal set menu.   We chose the bar menu, for its more varied selection, however the staff were kind enough to let me order the scallops from the set menu, so I could try them.  They were delicious and incredibly well cooked (there’s nothing worse than a chewy scallop).  Mr What Claire Did had the soup of the day to start with – a hearty portion served with fresh bread.

Starter at dinner at the four seasons hotel st fillans photo by what claire did


For mains, we both went for the fish – me, I had the fish and chips I’d spotted the other guests having earlier on.  2 small pieces, in a light and crispy batter, was just enough, plenty of chips and a side of minted crushed peas were very much enjoyable.  Swordfish was the dish chosen by Mr What Claire Did – which came with 4 different types of corn, including popcorn!  I didn’t try it, but he did comment that the fish had been well cooked.

main course Starter at dinner at the four seasons hotel st fillans photo by what claire did


The portions we had were generous, so two courses may well be enough for you, however, I’d been told the white chocolate tart with chocolate strawberries was a favourite and I felt it would be rude to not at least try it! Did I manage to finish it?  Not quite, but, I had also dipped into Mr What Claire Did’s bread and butter pudding by this point.  

dessert at Starter at dinner at the four seasons hotel st fillans photo by what claire did


The restaurant had 4 or 5 other tables in for dinner when we arrived, but the food arrived with us quickly and was hot and fresh.

It was dark by the time we finished dinner, so we couldn’t enjoy the great views any longer. We did decide to have a drink in the small bar next to the dining room (the hotel has two bars; however, we didn’t visit the other) and play a few games of Uno before bed. 

sunset over loch earn taken from four seasons hotel st fillans photo by what claire did


The hotel is located in a quiet and picturesque location – despite being on the other side of the road from the loch, we weren’t bothered by any traffic noise from our room.

Our stay also included breakfast the next morning – there was a selection of cereals and juices, some pastries and a help yourself hot selection, however I didn’t try this. Toast and tea was brought to the table by the staff and each of the tables has a “reserved for X room” sign, so you can find your way to the table that designated for you at breakfast.

breakfast at the four seasons hotel st fillans photo by what claire didc four seasons hotel st fillans photo by what claire did


From chatting to the owner Sue before we left, it’s clear she’s keen to strike the balance between developing the hotel for future, but also not taking too many big steps that puts the local clientele and regular visitors off return visits.  The lounge area outside the restaurant has recently been redeveloped with modern furniture, is freshly painted and has some lovely plants that I’d happily have taken home with me! There are parts of the hotel that would benefit from development in the future, however, we can’t fault the cleanliness of our room when we arrived, which is always the first thing I look at.


The hotel offers several pet friendly rooms; however, these are clearly marked and not all rooms are available to pet owners.  The views from the rooms at the front of hotel also showcase Scotland’s scenery at its best.

A Saturday night stay in low season at The Four Seasons Hotel in St Fillans starts from £86 for a classic room (via booking.com) for 2 people including breakfast. 

For more information on the hotel, visit their Facebook and Instagram


Disclaimer: I was invited to enjoy a one-night stay at the hotel, on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis for 2 people.  Any opinions expressed are my own.




Friday, 30 August 2019

Mermaid Traybake Cake


Readers, I decided it was time for a recipe post again, as it’s been a while. I’ve been baking loads recently – a 60th birthday cake and various traybakes for the office too, which you've possible seen over on Instagram?

Just a short post tonight, but here’s a really simple recipe for you to try.  It only takes 4 ingredients, can be made in an hour or so and is great for kids birthday parties… AND... who doesn’t love mermaids?!

Leave me a comment if you manage to try this one out!

what claire did no bake mermaid traybake cake

Mermaid Themed Traybake Cake


Ingredients


50g unsalted butter
150g pink and white mini marshmallows
200g rice crispies (use more or less depending on how they mix up)
2 tbsp mermaid sprinkles


Method

  1. In a pan over a low heat, add the butter and marshmallows.  Heat until melted down to a liquid.  Use a lower heat and be patient.  Stir as you go. Be careful not to burn the mixture, or it won't keep the mermaids happy! 
    what claire did mermaid no bake traybake cake
    Melting butter and marshmallows
  2. Once melted down, remove from the heat and stir in the rice crispies until well coated.Transfer the mermaid cake mix to an 8x8in silicone baking pan and use a spatula to mould into the pan, ensuring it’s even and smooth on the top.
    what claire did mermaid no bake traybake cake
    Melted butter and marshmallows, ready to add rice crispies
  3. Cover the top in mermaid sprinkles and transfer the mermaid traybake to the fridge to set for a minimum of 1h. 
    what claire did mermaid no bake traybake cake
    Ready for the fridge
  4. Once set, bring back to room temperature before cutting into rectangles and serving.
  5. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.


what claire did no bake mermaid traybake cake