ASHDOWN PARK HOTEL, EAST SUSSEX

July 2021 signalled the start of the hospitality industry's reopening and with it the long-awaited moment when travel writing could find new inspiration. This article was first published in Trip Reporter . With Winnie The Pooh's 100th birthday celebrations, I thought I would share it with you too.
Asdown Park Hotel dinner 106

Nestled in the heart of East Sussex, about 35 miles from central London, the Ashdown Park Hotel has been home to nuns, gentry, fallen Belgian soldiers, corporations, though not all at the same time, since 1693. It’s a grand building with buckets of archaic charms, secret gardens, an enchanted forest, and grazing land where deer roam free.

Ashdown Forest is best known as the inspiration and setting for A.A. Milne beloved character, Winnie-the-Pooh. The honey pot-loving teddy bear first took shape on the 21st of August 1921, in the village of Hartfield where the author lived. Since then, this attractive corner of the country has celebrated its most famous fictional character with dozen of walking routes and the famous Pooh Sticks Bridge in Hartfield.

Hartfield pooh corner





















Winnie will turn 100 in 2021 to mark the occasion, we skipped to and hopped in the car, with the little bear’s words ringing in our ears:  “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” It was time to come out of lockdown and carefully go and meet people.

Asdown Park Hotel collage




















On arrival, a parking space had been reserved as if the staff knew that nothing warms my heart more than to see my name in big letters on an A-board. The hotel reception is discreetly set in a corner of the grand hallway. A massive stone fireplace and age-old archways lead to oak-panelled rooms that are decorated with heavy brocade and furnished with antique pieces. The Ashdown Park Hotel is popular for afternoon and morning teas served in cosy lounges or on the terrace.  A majestic staircase leads visitors to their bedrooms. To give you an idea of its magnitude, the hotel has 106 rooms. Not all of which are in the main wing, some are situated outside near the brasserie, these open on small patios, perfect for dog-owners.

afternoon tea



















The Ashdown Park Hotel is part of a small group called Elite hotels who have three others including Tylney Hall in Hampshire, Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, The Grand in Eastbourne. Luxury hotels can be slightly intimidating but The Ashdown Park Hotel is anything but. Here it’s the ‘human thing’ that matters. Joe Mc Ginn, the concierge expressed this perfectly, when asked what was the weirdest request he ever had, he beamed and told us the story of two octogenarians who were intent on playing Pooh sticks on Pooh bridge. As they mentioned their plan, they left the hotel with a bundle of kindlings in various shapes and sizes and….a tin of condensed milk. ‘You can’t play it any other way’ Joe tells us. And that is ‘the thing’ which makes the place what it is.

Asdown Park Hotel bedroom






















Our master bedroom was straight out of an episode of Downton Abbey. It was so spacious that it could have accommodated a small London flat. The impression of space is reinforced by the tall windows looking over the grounds, its lake and its fountain. Everything is opulent, one could easily disappear in the soft, comfortable bed, and sleep for 100 years, but perhaps not the best idea on a romantic weekend. TV, Espresso machine, QR code for the newspapers, digital billing are part of the mod-cons. Molton Brown toiletry, corner bath and jacuzzi bath to complete the well-being and well-looked-after feeling.

Asdown Park Hotel swimming pool 005















With my mind-eye on the evening menu, I headed for the sports and spa facilities in the nearby Country House building. Bring your golf clubs if you want to use the landscaped 18 hole that takes you through the forest. The gym is well equipped and the swimming pool is a good size. The addition of church carved stones on the pool sides helps when it comes to feeling virtuous enough….to enjoy a three-course meal and every amuse-bouche and palate cleanser in between.

Asdown Park Hotel dinner 002





















As expected, the ingredients are local, some are grown in the kitchen garden in one of the courtyards. The Anderida is a fine dining 2 AA-rosette restaurant, Chef Andrew Wilson the Head-Chef trained in a Michelin star kitchen so, expect a lot of skills and attention to detail. Curing, charring, jelly drops add a bit of excitement and provide a feast for the eyes.

Asdown Park Hotel dinner 003





















Chef Wilson’s style is best described as ‘traditional English with flair’. Take the surf and turf dish served with herb -from the garden- pancakes. On the day, the surf part was monkfish, but it could have been any other catch of the day. Chef Wilson never orders, he works with the fishermen who brings him what they have fished on the day. This keeps the menu fresh, lively and doesn’t harm the ecosystem. Palate cleansers are lovely additions to the menu, we enjoyed a feta mousse with tapenade and a passion fruit sorbet. The restaurant rooms are very large and despite Covid distancing rules, it felt almost intimate.

 

Asdown Park breakfast 004






















Breakfast is also served in the Anderida restaurant: continental buffet, a selection of cooked-to-order dishes and traditional full- English. I’d recommend the smoked salmon. There is also a brasserie on the grounds. And last but not least, wine lovers be aware this corner of England has more vineyards than anywhere else in the UK.



Ashdown Park Hotel, Wych Cross, Nr Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5JR

E : enquiries@ashdownpark.com  T: +44 (0)1342 824988

Double rooms start at £240

10% off stays of two nights or longer, from £358 per double room for two nights (two sharing) including breakfast.

 

Partridge Saag - Are you Game for Game?

 Sponsored post

Game is often perceived as 'restaurant food', let's be honest who cooks partridge, venison, grouse, pigeon on a regular basis?. As a result, since the first lockdown, game consumption has declined by 80%. It shouldn't be that way, as there is a very strong case for eating game. 

Why should we eat for game? Sustainability. Ethically minded chefs and environmentalists have long been making the case for us to eat wild birds. Take partridge, smaller than pheasant, bigger than quails, these plumpy birds spend their lives in the wild. it's a healthy meat, high in vitamins B and a good source of potassium, with no nasty additives. 

wild bird recipe

What does it taste like? One of the arguments against eating game is that.....it tastes...gamy. That's very true, however if the meat is preserved well, the gamy taste should not be strong. Partridges don't taste as strong as pheasants, therefore recommended if you are starting your journey into the world of game-recipes

How to cook partridges? Few of us grew up in a family of game-hunters so cooking an unknown meat can be a challenge. First thing to know: partridge meat dries up very quickly. In fact from experience, the last couple of times, I ordered partridge in a restaurant, it was either as dry as an old shoe, or there was so very little meat that I was unable to appreciate the taste.

What to buy & Where to source it? Wild & Game is a Bristolian company that I have been following since their beginnings in 2017. They are very committed to the quality of their products. Most good butchers supply fresh partridge in season, otherwise it will be in their freezers. Make sure the bird is native to the UK and not an imported, ask for Grey Partridge also known as English Partridge, only because of their carbon footprint.

Recipe? Since you asked and bearing in mind that partridge breast fillets are better with a sauce, so they don't dry too much. Here is an unusual, tasty recipe that demonstrates how versatile and easy to cook partridge is.

Patridge recipe

Partridge Saag
INGREDIENTS
8 partridge filets dices
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1.5 tbsp garam masala
1.2 tsp chilli powder
1 tin chopped tomatoes
200g frozen spinach
1 large potato, diced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tsp mince garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
Vegetable oil
200ml water

METHOD
  • 10 minutes before making this dish, sprinkle the partridge with the bicarbonate of soda and leave for 10 minutes to tenderise, then wash and pat dry.
  • Heat a couple of glugs of oil and fry the partridge for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Add a bit more oil and cook the onion until soft.
  • Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the gram masala and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add the potatoes, tomatoes and 250 ml water, place the lid on the pan and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Add the spinach and cook for a further 10 minutes with the lid on.
  • Add the meat and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Once the potato is soft and the meat cooked through, serve with rice.
Disclaimer: Wild and Game launched a delivery box scheme either on a one off basis or a subscription, on this occasion I received their February box to review. Words are my own and I certainly was not told what to write. 

More Recipes:
Want to try Venison here is an excellent recipe that elevates the simple meatballs to the next level.
 


Turkey Melon aka Melon de Dinde -from the archives-

Why on earth do we cook turkey at Christmas to dismiss it the rest of the time? It doesn't make sense to struggle with something which we are totally unfamiliar with,  to serve on one of the most important family meal of the year.

Turkey Melon aka Melon de Dinde
 
Granted, a Turkey is rather a large bird, perfect for an occasion may be less so on a evry basis. However well cooked, it is moist and succulent. We only need a recipe which allows us to make the most of this lean meat. 
 
That's when food bloggers come to the rescue. Personally, I think that a blog-post should at least engage and inspire. One which did exactly that, is David Lebovitz' Melon de Dinde. But the little tease bought his melon at the market.
 
After much hesitation, I recreated the recipe from his photographs. It seemed like a good idea at the time to do a step by step video. Please, click on the pink square to get it started.

 
If you are wondering about the tricky step, all you need to do is to cup your hands under the meat and to rotate it round, it does end up in a ball.
 
Turkey Melon
 
 
Serves 4 to 6 (or in our case, 3.5 satiated people)
Quick reminder of the ingredients you will need
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of grained mustard (any other mustard will do as long as it's smooth, you might want to try honey mustard, however Dijon willnot as it would be too strong).
  • 6 slices of turkey, tenderised them (with a meat hammer) if you can
  • About 8 bacon slices, the alternative is to use rashers in which case you will need less)
  • Salt, pepper, 2 tsp tarragon (optional an alternative is thyme)
  • 8 to 10 shallots peeled and left whole
  • 1 peppers, diced
  • a good glug of vegetable oil (about 2 tablespoons) or butter (10gr) if you prefer
  • half a pot of cream (about 200g)
and baking paper or cling film
 
 

Cooking Method:
Heat the oil in a casserole or large saucepan,(on medium heat) add the shallots and the diced pepper until slightly coloured.
Increase the heat, Add the turkey melon and brown it slightly all around, it should take 5 minutes, don't let it go too crispy.
Reduce the heat to low, season and add the herb, cover and simmer for  30 minutes.
Get the turkey melon and the vegetables out, keep them warm in the oven  while you finish the sauce. Turn the heat up add the cream, stirring all the time (about 5 minutes), lower the heat and return the shallots, peppers to the sauce.
Cut the melon, to serve the choice is yours, mine was spaghetti but rice or spinach would be good accompaniments too.
Turkey melon is delicious hot and it is equally good served cold too, a great idea for picnics. 

Cooking Guinea Fowl for Christmas FRENCH CHRISTMAS IN A BOX

 This year, I won't be going to France for Christmas and like many of you, it's going to be hard, not to see my loved ones. There was also the question of what to do for Christmas dinner? that's when Taste of France stepped in and offered us a French Christmas in a box.

The 'French Christmas in a Box' is a DIY recipe kits centred around using high-quality seasonal French produce to make impressive dishes. The meal kits promised to, 'Transform a dark December evening into a festive soirée for two in under an hour' 

My verdict:
Was it easy to prepare?
Not really, but only because there were many elements to the meal. Although all the ingredients to cook a three course meal for two and the step-by-step recipe guide were in the box, there was still a lot to do. Cooking took much longer than an hour.
Is it worth it?
Definitely, the starter of Pork Rillettes topped with pickle quince, and a side Pear Carpaccio with Roquefort and walnuts topping was dish I would not have done normally. The combinaison is divine.
The main a Guinea Fowl Supreme on Chestnut Puree with Candied Chestnuts, tought me how to cook game. And that is easy, so my recommendation is think Guinea Fowl if there is only a few of you around the table this Christmas.
The dessert was an Apple and Almond Galette, probably the less sucessful of the three but still a nice third course served with a Crémand de Loire.
Value for money
No doubt, there are 3 options -vegetarian, meat, fish- for £32 including 2 bottles of wine. Cheaper than a restaurant, same quality of produce and fun too.
Happy 25th December 2020 which ever way you celebrate.

Almond Cherry Muffins

In the UK, the cherry season is renowned to be short, from June till August, so grab a pound or two when you can and make these indulgent, moist, yogurt muffins filled with sweet cherries and topped with slivers of almonds.

Last year when we took hold of our allotment, there was very little but mature- trees, vines and grass, lots of overgrown grass. Among the trees, there was a pitiful cherry tree, producing maggots riddled fruits. After a lot of TLC, this year we harvested 2 kilos. Not leaving anything thing to chance or the birds, the harvest was done in one single go.


Then came the nice conundrum, what do we do with so many cherries:
1: preserve...in vodka
2: jam
3: compote
4: pick and eat from the fruit-bowl
Eventually a little pile was left. It's when I remembered a Lemon Yogurt Muffin recipe which I recreated when I reviewed Lighten Up By Jill Dupleix Almond. Wouldn't Cherry Muffins be a good idea, then? And so it was 6 large muffins, Breakfast sorted.
                                          Almond Cherry Muffins
Ingredients
  • 250 grams plain flour
  •  2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  150 grams granulated sugar
  •  A pinch of salt
  •  1 large egg , slightly beaten
  •  250gr of yogurt
  •  5 Tbs/80ml vegetable oil
  •  1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  •  300 grams/11 ounces cherries pitted and halved
  • a couple of handful of toasted almond slivered plus extra non-toasted to sprinkle on top
  • Ingredients
  1. Preheat oven to 425F/220C. oil 6 muffin cups or line with liner papers.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl first, leave the almond and the cherries out for now
  3. Do the same with the yogurt, egg, oil, almond and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry one. The batter is ready and it is smooth, no lumps please, add the cherries and the non-toasted almond.
  4. Divide the mixture in the muffin cups, making sure that you fill them half way as thei are going to rise. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds
  5. Bake in preheated oven (220C for 4 minutes) then reduce to 190C for 12-17 minutes. As usual ready when the knife inserted come out clean.
  6. These muffins can be frozen for up to 2 months, so if you prefer smaller portions, this recipe will make 12 standard-size muffins.

Trebah Garden Cornwall - English Garden Chic -

The verdant beauty of Cornish gardens is famous the world over and far more accomplished writers than I have described it so much better than I'll ever do.... But I would like to give it a go. It would be nice to think that next time you spend some time in Cornwall you'll stop at Trebah Garden because this photo story has inspired you.

Founded in 1838 by Mr Fox, I am not making this up, Trebah contains many exotic specimens from around the globe. Trebah Garden has all the qualities of an English Garden.


Trebah is  Poetic,  as with every self-respecting English garden it has a lawn from which one can admire this sub-tropical paradise while having a picnic or a snooze...Well maybe not a snooze, or you would not be able to admire the garden's stunning coastal backdrop which is set within one of Cornwall's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

Cornwall, Trebah, Gardens

It pretends to be messy, it's as if plants landed there, welly nelly all by themselves. Areas are mapped skillfully, so that one area leads to the other seamlessly.

Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden view


There is a profusion of plants, some are rather stunning such as the Gunnera Manicata, also known as Giant Rhubarb, fast-growing with prickly stems. The plants reach about 3 m tall and the leaves up to 2.5 m across.


Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden viewCornwall, Trebah, English Garden view

pastel colours are enhanced by vibrant greens

Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden view

What is an English garden without a bit of water? Trebah has much more than a pond, though it has that too, Trebah is by the sea...and has its very own beach. It's from here that 7,500 men from the 29th US Infantry Division embarked on the 1st June 1944.

Cornwall, Trebah beach, WWII embarkment, Gardens

There are paths throughout the garden, leading to little marvels such as the Bamboozle, a walk through the home of 39 varieties of Bamboos. One of which can grow up to 30cm in height a day, another is the Mallard pond, Mr Monet eat your heart out.

Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden view

There is an amphitheatre which can be admired from Healey's Hill (Hey, it wouldn't be Cornwall without a hill). In the 60s, Sir Donald Healey, the famous car designer, lived in Trebah. His workshop was on the beach, it's now the ice cream parlour.

Trebah Garden is a multiple awards garden which is off the A39 about 15 minutes drive from Falmouth. Opened all year round, entry cost £10 for adults, £4 for children.

Disclaimer: This post is part of a series which I am currently writing for various media to promote Cornish Summer Time, #CST. Words are my own.

How to Make Homemade Feta Cheese

Let's face it, there is Feta and there is Feta. The solid white blocks store-bought bears little resemblance with the soft, crumbly and tasty cheese, one gets in Greece or in specialist shops. 

Homemade Feta Cheese
With the lockdown one thing is certain, our days of enjoying foreign food in situs have been put on hold. So at Pebble Soup HQ, we have decided to 're-create'. A couple of weeks back, I was pairing Portuguese wine. This week, I expanded my cheese-making repertoire.
Santorini stock picture

What is Feta and How Should it Look Like?
Feta is a cheese matured in brine (that's the technical term for very salty water). It's made from a mixture of sheep and goat milk. Unless you are in a 'sheep region', ewe milk is near impossible to get. Therefore either go all goat-milk or half-half goat and unhomogenised cow's milk, the choice is yours. Ideally, you'll want to achieve that grainy appearance, you see in Greek salads or in pastries such as Spanakopita. 
Homemade Feta

Is Feta Easy to Make?
Not exactly, only because making feta at home takes a long time. On the other hand, you don't have to be present, all of the time, so the 'doing bit' is easy,  the process less so. of course, there are easier options to choose from, such as Ricotta or Labne, but in my opinion, if you nail Feta, you are ready to make any other cheeses (within reason).

Feta in olive oil


What will you need?
Thermometer
Large slotted spoon
Large deep pan with lid
Plastic boards
Colander
Glass bowl
Long sharp knife 

Only 5 Ingredients
1 litre of unhomogenised cow's milk
1 litre of goat's milk
1 tablespoon of plain full-fat bio live yoghurt
1/4 rennet tablet
1 sterile cheesecloth or muslin 
2 teaspoons of salt

But around 15 steps so please read through before starting
  1. Boil 50 ml of water and dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet. Make sure it is fully dissolved so it will involve a bit of stirring.
  2. Mix the yoghurt with 50ml of cow's milk, leave this to rest on the kitchen top.
  3. In the saucepan, combine both milk and bring the temperature to 32C on medium heat.
  4. When the temperature has reached 32C, cover with the lead and leave to rest for an hour.
  5. After an hour, if the temperature has dropped, gently bring it back to 32C, then stir the rennet solution in, very slowly. Use up and down motion rather than round and round. Do so for only a couple of second
  6. Put the lid on and leave it to rest for 12 hours.
  7. Hold the knife at an angle and cut cubes of about 1.5 cms. Leave the curds to rest for 14 minutes
  8. Now, you are going to collect the cubes in the muslin. First, line the colander with the muslin, if you wish to keep the whey (great fertiliser for veggies) set the colander on the top of a large bowl. Very gently pour the curds and the lot in the colander
  9. Gather up the corners of the muslin to create a bag and let the whey drain over a sink or over a bowl for 36 hours
  10. Halfway through flip the curds.
  11. That's it, you are almost done. Open the bag and gently cut the large curds. 
  12. Sprinkle the salt making sure that it is distributed through.
  13. Now create a square parcel, place it on the board, place the other board over and place a heavy object on the top (a saucepan filled with water will do)
  14. Let this press in a cool place for 12 hours, open the muslin and cut the cheese into squares.
  15. You can eat the feta now or store it in the fridge in an airtight container for a couple of days.
  16. If you still have some after that time you can store your feta cubes in a jar submerged with olive oil and herbs.

 

Animus - Portuguese Wine - An Aldi Find

At Pebble Soup HQ, we are trying hard to smile but after seven weeks of lockdown, we are really missing our international freedom of movement. We dream of times when traveling will be possible again, but in the meantime we  also recreate the taste of a country from our home. So last week we 'went to' the north of Portugal.
The Douro Valley photo credit RRuiCunha courtesy of the Portuguese Consulat 
No prize for guessing the number one thing visitors bring back from the area around Porto: Port wine of course, a fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively in the Douro Valley.
Portuguese Wine, Aldi Animus


At Pebble Soup HQ, Port is not a favourite, but recently we tried Aldi Animus red wine. Animus is not fortified. Still, it is produced in the same area, the Douro Valley, with the same blend of grapes than Port, and let me tell you this wine tasting session was a success. We found Animus to be a great table wine, full bodied at the amazing price £4.99. Highly recommended.

Pairing AnimusWhat do Twitterers think: 



Stay safe, drink moderately and let me leave you with a quote from Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese author: “Life is whatever we make it. The traveler is the journey. What we see is not what we see but who we are.”

Disclaimer: this post is a review commissioned by Aldi in return for samples, no money was exchanged, words and opinions are my own
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