Cocktails

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The Plough, Alnwick

With its cool calming colour scheme and hunting lodge detailing, it’s hard not to feel relaxed and comfortable in the newly refurbished Plough in Alnwick.  With £150k ploughed in to the renovation (see what I did there?!) everything from the contemporary decor right down to the staff and their uniforms, has been carefully selected in order to create a real luxury boutique brand identity.

From its ample parking concealed behind a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ recessed archway, to the carefully planned bedrooms and suites, this boutique hotel is a thoughtful home away from home, and a real destination.  I whisked Sparky for a pre-birthday getaway in the gorgeous town of Alnwick and The Plough was to be our lodgings for the night - we arrived on a bright sunny day and after a brief stop off at fab bookstore Barter Books, we checked in and were shown to our hunting lodge themed room on the first floor.

The first thing that strikes you in each of the rooms at The Plough is the thoughtful home comforts, the standard of presentation and the cleanliness - A slate tray of brownies or cookies is laid out in each room on arrival, along with locally produced crisps, soft drinks and bottled water.  There’s a Nespresso coffee machine with a variety of coffee blends and a plug in fan just in case.  We’re also informed there’s an iron and ironing board should we need it (we don’t, I barely iron at home let alone when I’m on vacation).

Staff at The Plough are friendly, helpful and very pre-emptive.  Before I’ve even had the chance to verbalise my thoughts of dinner, I’ve been booked into the restaurant and I’m starting to wonder whether they might be trained in mind reading.  Uniforms take their cue from twenties era New York paperboys and it works, the shirt, tie and tweed waistcoat combo looks super cute.

Once we’re sorted we head down to the bar to sample some of the amazing drinks on offer, the back bar is a smorgasbord of gins and spirits and once we’re settled with a (locally distilled) gin and tonic and a beer, we chat to the barman who tells us stories about how The Plough has changed over the years and how he genuinely loves working there.

After a quick change, we head out to the first floor dining room for dinner where we spent far too much time cooing over the amazingly rich, decadent menu and being indecisive, the thought of local North East produce being a real draw.  Taking it’s cue from the hunting lodge theme, there’s something here to suit all tastes, from sea bass with pak choi to lamb with sautéed sweet breads and the presentation is divine, it’s almost too pretty to eat and near enough all of it is sourced in the glorious North East.

The food served at The Plough is soul food.  It’s a well put together menu and although we were left completely satisfied, we still found ourselves oohing and aahing over other peoples dishes.

Following in the vein of most boutique hotels, The Plough also offers a bar menu for casual dining, an Afternoon Tea menu (natch) and an a la carte menu. Interestingly, we discovered that there is also a huge and pretty well hidden room available for weddings and functions; as we were guided through the myriad of corridors we arrived at a huge, luminescent Aladdin’s Cave with a mezzanine floor and gallery staircase - a great alternative venue for parties.

After our evening meal we took a walk around Alnwick and were surprised to find just how close The Plough is to both Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Garden, with less than five minutes walk to each, The Plough is perfectly placed to facilitate a short break just miles out of the city centre of Newcastle.  There are also some quirky boutiques in the town centre, Hotspur 1364 menswear is a hidden gem and well worth a visit.

When it came to settling down for the evening, we sunk into a mass of pillows and feathers as we lay in the super comfortable (but a little short) bed and had sweet dreams until morning.  Breakfast is included with each stay at The Plough and it’s not to be missed - the cooked breakfast menu is supplemented with a selection of serve yourself cereals, fruit, yoghurts and juices and everything else is cooked to order.  I went for my all time favourite breakfast: Eggs Benedict (reminds me of my days in Miami) and Sparky chose a Full English, coupled with freshly prepared breakfast smoothies and coffee, what we ate made for the perfect breakfast.  Credit where it’s due, the Eggs Benedict at The Plough is without doubt the best I’ve ever eaten and I’ve lived in the States so that’s really saying something.

If Alnwick is the heart of the Northumberland countryside, then The Plough is surely the heart of Alnwick - with friendly, proactive staff who are well learned in the products they’re serving, comfortable surroundings and a relaxed atmosphere, The Plough should be on your list of things to do this Summer.  Whether you pop in for dinner or afternoon tea or do as we did and have a sleepover, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed and this day and age that’s a rarity.  The Plough is a hidden gem that deserves to be discovered and once you do, you’ll be back again and again, this is one place that truly lives up to its admirable four star rating.

Pixie x

We stayed in Room 1 at The Plough, for more information and for hotel and restaurant bookings

The Plough, 24 Bondgate Without, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1PN

Tel: 01665 602395
Email: info@theploughalnwick.co.uk

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British Street Food Festival comes to Newcastle

The finest traders in Britain (and beyond) have been cooking up a storm to win the British Street Food Awards since 2010, but this year they’re being joined by live music curated by Universal Music, street food crazy golf, live reviews of the food pages from some of the best journalists in the country and the world’s first aroma DJ – at the British Street Food Festival. 

The British Street Food Festival will be setting up shop in some of the country’s most perfect ‘found’ places. Whether it’s under a circus tent in Cardiff, by a barge of fireworks on the docks in Leeds or a mystery location on the Cornish coast, they will all be spectacular parties, with food and live music at their heart.  The most exciting part is that this year the Food Festival will hit our very own Boiler Shop in Newcastle!  Already known for it’s monthly Steamer events which are often sold out, the Street Food festival will see the hottest culinary talents from the UK all under one (amazing) roof in the glorious North East.

2015 is proving to be an exciting year for British Street Food, as they continue to grow the movement - franchising street food brands for London’s Euston Station (opening this spring), as well as running the world’s first street food mall at Leeds’ Trinity Kitchen.  This year will also see organisers driving a street food roadshow across Scotland and the North of England with British Land, and later this year, taking over the country’s pub kitchens.

But the British Street Food Awards is where the exciting grass roots level stuff happens, it’s where we get to see new and  emerging talent in this constantly growing arena.  So, as well as new kids (like The Cake Doctor, who bakes and decorates his sponges in an ambulance, and a man who makes pizza on a bike), you can expect to see the very best from previous years.  Including the overall winners of British Street Food Awards from the past four years who are back this year in an attempt to reclaim their crown.

“Everything about this year is a step up. The music will fold around everything that we’re trying to do. There’s new holes on the street food crazy golf, and the entertainment – from a beer/food matching experience to a high-end food quiz – will blow your mind.” - Richard Johnson, British Street Food Founder

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If you’re not based in the North East then fear not, the British Street Food Festival will be touring the UK eventually stopping in London for the final in September.  Each location will be fed by the best street food traders from Britain and beyond, competing for the British Street Food Awards. The public will be able to buy sharing plates from each of them, and then vote for their favourites on the British Street Food app. (available now in the App Store and Google Play)

……. And if you are in Newcastle, I’ll see you in the line for The Rib Man!

British Street Food Festival Locations and Dates 2015:

CENTRAL AND EAST HEAT: Oxford 1-4 May

WALES AND THE WEST HEAT: Cardiff 5-7 June

NORTH AND SCOTLAND HEAT: Newcastle 18-19 July

SOUTH HEAT: Cornwall 28-31 August

THE FINAL: London 25-27 September

Pixie x

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Hard Hat Builders Lunch at the Crowne Plaza Newcastle

I was recently invited to take a VIP hard hat tour of the brand new, as yet unfinished, Crowne Plaza Hotel on Forth Street Newcastle.  The upmarket hotel is set to open its doors to the public later this year and is completely different to anything else currently available in the City.  A product of years of market research, the Crowne Plaza Newcastle is geared up for corporate clients, city breakers, day spa members and casual diners and has incorporated the needs of each type of client into its intensive planning and two year build project.

“We’re pushing all the time, trying to move the standards in the city forwards and matching the strengths in terms of location and brand.”

In the last few months the development has really started to take shape, no longer just a shell, the glass fronted hotel is a real showstopper and the planned landscaping for the front area will really highlight the trendy Stephenson Quarter as a destination.  I donned my work boots, hard hat and hi-vis jacket for a behind the scenes tour of the huge project.

The people behind the Crowne Plaza were adamant that during the design phase, they weren’t going to use a hotel designer for the interior planning.  They’re remained resolute and together with Simon Spiteri (Carluccio’s) onboard as interior designer,  they’ve created a real boutique hotel feel, despite the enormity of the towering Crowne Plaza - something very different for the corporate client.  Sourcing sustainable materials, and using modern finishing techniques, they’ve come up with a cool colour palette of steel blues and greys for the hotels 260+ bedrooms and suites using glass and exposed polished concrete pillars to up the fashion ante.  Room furniture will be walnut coloured with chrome accents bringing a modern vibe to the hotel.

The hotel will feature a huge glass atrium with an enormous crystal chandelier taking centre stage and each communal floor area will have a glass balcony overlooking this area adding a dimension of light and space.  Walking into the space as it is now, and seeing the projected images of the finished area, there’s no doubt that the Crowne Plaza will have the Wow Factor, and it’s less hotel-like than you might imagine, which is exactly what they’ve gone for.

The hotel is treating its main functional areas almost as separate businesses, meaning that they aren’t bound to keeping the same decor and theme in each zone of the hotel.  Breaking the mould, The Crowne Plaza Newcastle will have its very own Gin Bar at street level where residents and customers alike can choose from an initial selection of over 30 varieties of gin.  The Gin Bar will strip back cocktail drinking to its very core and focus on the Martini, a traditional cocktail of pure alcohol which requires great skill to get right, Food and Beverage Manager Paul Walker told me that a huge amount of research and planning has gone into getting The Gin Bar on point; from the distilling of their very own craft gin, right through to the New York paperboy style uniforms.  Even the furniture has been changed at the last-minute because it was felt the vibe wasn’t quite right.  The mood boards for The Gin Bar show a darker, slinkier, more relaxed lounge environment and just looking at the sumptuous colour schemes is getting me excited…..

Hawthorns, the in-house restaurant, will serve “good, wholesome, healthy food” to residents and diners alike.  The dining area has been well thought out and aims to integrate large corporate groups, single diners, couples and mobile office workers with a variety of different height seating areas, booths and benches maximising space and light.  It’s a more responsive environment which shuns the traditions of other restaurants allowing customers to select their own table and seats based on their needs.

The corporate and conferencing facilities in the Crowne Plaza are second to none, with a huge central conference room acting as a hub, it’s been planned with serious attention to detail.  from the acoustic ceiling and targeted lighting, to the coloured wash lighting which can be altered to fit a specific company’s requirements, every little detail has been considered at the planning stage.  The Crowne Plaza is banking on corporate business and it shows, in a big way.  With a number of function rooms, conference suites and break-out areas available, it’s clear that they’ve set their sights on being the best in their field.

Hotel car parking will be designated in the multi-storey carpark currently in development just behind the hotel, although the carpark operator is as yet unknown, the Crowne Plaza have reserved bays for the use of hotel and spa guests only.  The hotel will also benefit from super fast free WiFi Boost meaning that no matter where you are in the hotel there will be no black spots, in addition, each bedroom will also have infinity charging points which charge your gadgets fast and continue to do so after your key card is removed from its dock.  neat, huh?!  Rooms have been kitted out with the best quality bedding and there will designated Quiet Zones throughout the hotel for light sleepers, the Crowne Plaza have really gone all out to make sure your stay is a comfortable one.

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The Crowne Plaza suites, although currently just bare shells, look set to be a real draw for the hotel.  Situated on a corner of the structure looking out over Newcastle Central Station and beyond, the rooms are fully soundproof and feature floor to ceiling glass windows allowing undisturbed views of the city.  Our tour guide told us that since taking over the operation of the station, Network Rail have announced plans to landscape the area of the train station overlooked by the hotel and there are plans underway to build either a bridge or a tunnel to link hotel residents to the train station directly, fancy right?!

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Down in the basement area, like many hotels, The Crowne Plaza Newcastle will house a spa area, named The Mineral Room in homage to the site’s heritage, equipped with a 10 metre pool, whirlpool, steamroom and sauna, as well as three large treatment rooms equipped to provide the latest state of the art beauty treatments.  There will also be a gym with the usual standard machines and free weights, but with the added benefit of 1:1 personal training for guests giving a far more bespoke service.

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The pool area feels very upmarket; it’s dark and decadent and benefits from super high windows at street level which act as a source of natural light without giving pedestrians a view into the spa.  The spa is a welcome addition to the hotel, and something the City has been clamouring for as it’s been starved of an upmarket hotel with really great spa facilities for so long.  For non hotel residents, there will be a membership programme for the hotel gym and pool with an as yet unknown monthly rate, which will also give members access to exclusive discounts across the hotel, Hawthorns and The Gin Bar.

There are some real nice touches in the Crowne Plaza Newcastle, the green credentials for example, there are two seed grass roof areas which provide a pretty view to guests on the Northern side of the hotel with South facing windows.  Also, the hotel have tried to stay true to North East heritage when planning the development, the menu will be Northern with food sourced in the North and the house gin will also be distilled in the North.

As the prospective opening date of September 2015 draws closer, it’s easy to see, even at this early stage, that the hotel is going to be a crowd pleaser.  With the Stephenson Quarter development gathering pace and new phases unveiled it could be that this becomes the new area to see and be seen, there’s talk of a micro-brewery popping up in the old JT Dove building and with the Royal Mail building now up for development who knows what could crop up next on this über trendy site.  A new residential development of executive apartments is in the pipeline further down Forth Banks which will bring a whole new clientele into the mix for the brand new Stephenson Quarter.

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I don’t know about you but I’m excited about this, it brings jobs to our glorious city and adds another pillar to our amazing skyline as well as opening up a whole new zone of the city which was relatively unexplored……….until now.  So if you’re around the Forth Street area on the Quayside approach, stop, take a look at the new Crowne Plaza building, it’s well on the way to looking like it does in the plans and you might just be looking at the next big thing in Newcastle when The Gin Bar opens its doors in August.

There’s just one thing I’m a little disappointed about….. I didn’t get to keep the hard hat.

Pixie x

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Tipples & Tunes at The Botanist Newcastle

When I was invited to try out the latest additions to the Cocktail and Food menus at one of newcastle’s newest bar offerings; Roof Garden off the back of that success, just in time for Summer.

If you’re not familiar with The Botanist, first of all, where have you been?! And secondly, it’s pretty hard to miss given the presence the chain commands on social media.  The bar / restaurant occupies the very top section of the old Monument Mall space at the Monument area of Newcastle and is visible from Dean Street.  Access is via a pretty understated entrance next door to Jamie’s Italian and begin your ascent up the darkened staircase.  Once at the top, the huge space opens out into what feels like a gigantic botanical garden.  The centrepiece for the bar is a gorgeous twisted old tree decorated with lights and hanging jars, the bar itself is actually built around the tree trunk.  It’s a real destination bar and well worth a visit for anyone who is visiting, or currently living in the glorious North East, even if just for the amazing photo opp.

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With the weather looking awful I abandoned my plan to wear a suede frock and threw on a Zara shirt and pants with a pair of classic Manolos and off I went.

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I was invited as part of an intimate Bloggers event, the Food, Cocktail and Ale menus have recently been overhauled and there are some new additions that required testing - all in the name of work of course!  A small but mighty four of us descended on The Botanist last night and were very well looked after by a hip young bar tender.  We were taken through the new menus and then the onslaught of fine food and drink began.

We were served light bites, perfect for sharing, including: Salt and Pepper Pork Crackling, Baked Camembert with Onion and Rosemary, Goats Cheese and Tomato Quiche, Onion Petals, Shrimp Cocktail and Sardines, served in a retro sardine tin, all of which were divine.  The Onion Petals - a more petite version of the original Ruby Tuesdays Blooming Onion, are to die for and you’ll be pleased to know that they’re cooked to perfection so there’s no unpleasant onion breath afterwards, perfect for date night!  The Quiche was amazing, I’m not usually a lover of quiche but this was perfection, and incredibly light too.

The Cocktail menu boasts four new cocktails; Pornstar Martini with champagne chaser, Watermelon and Sage Sling, Passion Fruit and Basil Crush and an Apricot and Ginger Sling.  Now you may think a cocktail is a cocktail and after a few they all taste the same but with The Botanist, things area little different.  The Team have added these based on the change in season and each is light and fresh, think Summer in a glass.  The Passion Fruit and Basil Crush is a taste sensation, packed to the rafters with flavour, it’s a Summer dream and an absolute must try.  Same goes for the Apricot and Ginger Sling, aesthetically gorgeous and packed with flavour, it’s a real Summer drink and is very moreish.  The Watermelon and Sage Sling is a long and dangerous drink, it’s so thirst quenching and it tastes alcohol free (it’s not) - beware!  The Pornstar Martini is a short drink served in a traditional martini glass, thick and creamy exactly as it should be and delicious.

Whilst we dined and chatted, we were treated to the soulful sounds of Hattie Murdoch, a singer / songwriter from the North East who played an acoustic cover set with some awesome and unexpected tracks thrown in.  I’d highly recommend you check her out at one of her many performances across Newcastle, she’s completely aces.

If you’re looking for a bar where you can settle in for the night, you’ve found it in The Botanist.  Take in a few light bites from the new menu, swig a few cocktails and absorb the sounds of the live music, what’s not to love?

So, huge thanks to The Botanist Newcastle for looking after us all night and to the amazing gals who also attended for making it such great fun, I’m game for Round Two if you are….?

Pixie x

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Cocktails at The River Bar

I was invited to the launch of the new cocktail menu at The River Bar in Washington this week and having fond memories of the place from back in my school days, I was keen to go along and see how it had changed.

Seeing as the launch day was pretty blinking gorgeous, I threw on a pale pink tulip wrap skirt (recently gifted to me by a rather fabulous designer), a Topshop tank, a simple Mulberry clutch and my worn to death (but still my favourite) KG by Kurt Geiger shoes.

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I rounded up Mama Tenenbaum and off we set.  The River Bar is in Fatfield Village in Washington and sits right at the side of the river Wear, when we arrive I’m amazed at how much the place has changed.  It’s a dual business venue (same owners) with The River Bar occupying the downstairs space and Fiume, an Italian restaurant, on the first floor.  The building itself has real presence, there’s a huge outdoor terrace area to the front and side, part of which is covered over and there are lots of exotic plants, first impressions are great.

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Once inside, we’re directed to a private function area where we’re handed a Gin Genie and a well presented, US inspired cocktail menu, we’re told to order whatever we want, in whatever quantities we want and to simply “get tasting!”  It has to be said that the cocktail menu is impressive, it houses the widest selection of cocktails I’ve seen under one roof since I was last in Miami, all US inspired and each with a description of what to expect and some great Deep South styling and photography.  The Gin Genie for example: A sophisticated mix of Gin and Cointreau, lengthened with apricot & mango juices.  Sounds pretty awesome right?!  Bingo!  It was every bit as good as it sounds and came topped with an edible flower and an Alice in Wonderland type straw, how’s that for presentation?!

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The interior of the River Bar is achingly cool, railway sleeper walls give it that real laid back modern feel and there are semi private booths on the left as you enter.  There’s a resident DJ who plays from here most nights and the chillout music is great, even Mama T approves and trust me, she’s hard to impress.  The bar is split level and there are several ‘zones’ throughout, it’s a pretty big place and we’re told that there’s a huge refurbishment planned for the outdoor area to bring the aesthetic in line with the speakeasy inspired interior.  The area that we’re in is roped off and there’s a huge table designed to look like the lid of a grand piano, above it is a huge light feature made from trumpets, it’s a real centrepiece and looks amazing.  From this area guests are able to walk out to the rear terraced area and as we look out, there are plenty of people sitting out in the sun enjoying cocktails and nibbles.  There are steps down to a smaller, more private bar area here, the front of which is decked out with wood to great effect and there’s a tiled area just around the bar area, i’m a sucker for eclectic tiles, especially in bars.

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On the other side, in the main bar area, there’s one long bar (great for packed nights) and ample seating and standing room, there’s also a little snug area further through towards the restrooms and all of this looks out on to the river, it’s a pretty amazing setting actually and it’s easy to see why the place is so popular amongst all age ranges.  There’s also a US inspired food menu which was launched in February to great success and we’re treated to various different kinds of burgers throughout the night.  Personally I detest burgers but I ate three of these ones and would definitely go back for more so they must be out of this world if they passed the Pixie Test.

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Back to the cocktails.  When you see the menu, you’ll understand why we weren’t able to try every single cocktail on it, but we gave it a good shot and between us we sampled;

A Bubbleberry Daiquiri: Raspberry vodka, Chambord, raspberry puree and bubblegum syrup, topped with popping candy, we all agreed that this had a great crisp clean taste and was very easy to drink.

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The Twister One: Wow, this one is perfect for a warm Summer day, it’s exactly as it sounds, a Twister lolly turned into a boozy cocktail.  A mix of raspberry vodka, Midori liqueur, Kwai Feh lychee liqueur, lemon and raspberry, served in a jam jar with a mini Twister lolly on top!  This was gorgeous, it looked great and tasted better and once we ordered one, everyone else followed suit - yes, it’s that kind of drink.

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Rhubarb and Custard: Home made rhubarb syrup shaken with vodka, raspberry liqueur and cranberry juice topped with custard cream foam.  Named and flavoured after the childhood favourite sweetie, this tastes EXACTLY like it.  An absolute must try.

Cookie Monster: Chocolate cookie syrup mixed with vanilla vodka, Baileys and cream, topped with white chocolate flavoured whipped cream.  This arrives looking just like a traditional American Sundae and looks just like the picture in the menu.  If you’re a fan of Baileys, or Cadbury’s liqueur then this is definitely one for you but be warned, it barely tastes alcoholic despite being laced with the stuff!

Smoked Gingerbread Manhattan:  Now this is a real spectacle drink, Woodford Reserve, Martini Rosso and gingerbread syrup all smoked with whisky soaked woodchips.  Delivered to the table in a bottle with a kiln type lid, the amber coloured liquid sits in the bottom half while smoke swirls around the top half, I’m advised to leave it for a moment or two before pouring over a gigantic ball of ice in a hi-ball glass.  It looks awesome, it tastes divine.  I’m a fan of a smokey old-fashioned and for me, this was better.

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Texas Zombie: The clue is in the name, this one’s a killer!  Laced with rum, rum and even more rum, The River Bar Mixologists use their Secret Zombie Mix along with pineapple, cranberry and citrus juices to ensure this really packs a punch.  It arrives with a flaming passion fruit on top, yep, literally flaming.  It’s delicious but I advise Mama T to maybe give this one a miss, after all, she does have to go to work in the morning……

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Rum Runner: Santa Teresa Orange Rhum mixed with Passoa, watermelon and tropical juices, served in a half coconut mug and garnished with edible flowers.  A twist on the classic Pina Colada, this has the wow factor when delivered to the table and if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the waves lapping at the shore….

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Raspberry Mojito:  The old classic re-mixed for a new audience, fresh raspberries and Chambord are combined with Havana Club Rum, lime wedges, fresh mint and brown sugar to give a fruit cocktail bursting with fresh zinginess.  come Summer, this will be the staple diet of many a River Bar goer and rightfully so.

Mississippi Mud Pie:  Damn this is good!  Another one that looks like a classic Sundae, with crushed Oreo’s and whipped cream, vanilla vodka and Baileys are blended with vanilla ice cream to give a cross between a cocktail and a dessert.

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Obviously this is just a small selection of what’s on offer at The River Bar, and you may be surprised to learn that we did all of this without even a hint of a hangover, but then we’re seasoned professionals at the old cocktail drinking game and we do it all for you!  If you want to get in on the act, and why wouldn’t you?  The River Bar run Cocktail Club every Thursday where all cocktails are half price which is a great way to get in and work your way through the menu to choose your favourites! The launch itself was a pretty slick and well put together event with mixologists and bar staff on hand to make recommendations based on preferred tastes and guide you through the menu, and with service like this, there’s no doubt the place will be jam packed throughout Summer.

I know I’ll be back for more and next on my hit list to try list is the Hoochie Mama, according to staff it’s probably “the best drink we’ve ever created.”  sounds perfect, I’ll take two…..

Pixie x

This article was written by Pixie Tenenbaumfor La Di Da magazine, the North East’s premiere high society magazine.

To connect with The River Bar on social media, go to:

Facebook: The River Bar

Twitter: The River Bar

N.B. No Mama’s were harmed in the making of this feature.

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97 & Social Launch

I was invited to the launch of the newest premium nightspot in Jesmond, SoHe, the idea for the bar was borne out of SoHe clients with a desire to continue their drinking experience long after they’d finished their meal.

Primarily a bar with an extensive cocktail menu, 97 & Social also has a seasonal Street Food menu serving up simple and very reasonably priced bar classics.

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I threw on a red Moschino leather skirt with an Alexander McQueen Lenticular tank and took my newly blue hair along for the ride to Jesmond, just outside the city centre.

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The venue itself sits comfortably at no.97 Osborne road (obvs.) and has an adjoining door through to the Cairn Hotel.  It stands out amongst some of the more tired bars and restaurants of the famed Osborne Road and it’s simplicity has real kerb appeal.  Smooth green lawns (fake I think) are either side of the entrance and I’m greeted by two of the nicest door staff I’ve ever come across, seriously (apologies guys if that hurts your badass reputation).  I make my way into the bar which is surprisingly spacious, I’m told that not all of the furniture has arrived in time for the launch so it won’t actually be quite so free-flowing but first impressions of the bar are good.

It’s a far cry from the likes of the more modern bars we’ve seen cropping up in Newcastle recently, this has more of a Classic Deco vibe to it, possibly a little muddled with it’s themes it’s still aesthetically pleasing.  There are semi-private seating areas throughout the bar, some have a more contemporary feel with high back confessional style booths and modern style lighting and others are set to replicate a mini lounge with imitation low back Chesterfield style seating and cosy fireplaces.  The floor tiles around the bar area are beautifully mismatched, something my eye is drawn repeatedly to.

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In terms of the launch itself, it’s a little disjointed, there’s a large layout of Bellini’s which appear to be guarded by a member of the bar staff who isn’t approaching anyone and I hear people muttering and asking whether it’s ok to take one, I make my way over to ask and I’m told it’s a signature cocktail made with Jesmond Dene honey and although I then still have to ask for one, it’s pretty damn good.

There’s a diverse mix of people here for the launch, and that’s a good thing.  It’s never a good sign when a bar is personified by the crowd who drinks there but that’s not the case here so far.  I spot the team from Savalas Models bringing the beauty to celebrate their 1st birthday in a booth near the back and there are a lot of guys suited up for the evening (something I love to see).

I pause for a chat with the bar staff and I’m told that the bar will be open from 4pm until 11pm making it a great venue for after work drinks or a late supper, I’m certain the local businesses of Jesmond and the surrounding area will flock to this new venue.

As I leave I stop for another chat with the door staff who tell me how lovely I look (seriously guys, you’re making me blush) they also tell me that there are plans for a heated seating area on the (possibly fake) lawn area outside in time for the Summer which sounds amazing.  They pose for a quick photograph, and then re-pose after not being happy with the first one and with that I’m off chuckling to myself down Osborne road.

I know I’ll be back, there’s something very calming about the place, it’s not frenetic like some bars on Osborne Road, the atmosphere is chilled and the music isn’t too loud.  I’ve no doubt the 97 & Social will be a success and if you’re a regular at SoHe you’re only a hop, skip and a jump away from this decadent new venue.  So go, stop for a chat with the door staff and order an Afternoon delight.  You won’t be disappointed.

Pixie x

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Unveiling the Basement Speak at Lola Jean’s Newcastle

I recently attended the launch of Basement Speak at Lola Jean’s in Newcastle.  For those of you who don’t know, the original Lola Jean’s bar in Tynemouth has been a cult hangout of über cool folk from the North East since it’s launch and naturally, building on the success of the first bar, a second was opened in the former GodFather restaurant site in central Newcastle and although the decor has the same eclectic feel to it inside, the venue is smaller and never quite received the same rave reviews as it’s sister bar in Tynemouth.

The bar prides itself on its extensive range of cocktails and the mixology expertise of its bar staff however, a quick look at most review websites will give you an indication of which Lola Jean’s bar is more highly regarded - you get where I’m going with this.  I’m not usually one to publish a negative review however I feel that this one is justified.  It’s not a review of the bar itself or the new Basement Speak as a venue, but more a review of the actual launch night.  Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t resist a speakeasy, in fact I seek them out and I love the secrecy that went into planning and running the original speakeasys of the prohibition era.  Now the speakeasy trend has been around for a while with some really cool venues and club nights popping up in and around London involving secret doors, secret passwords and even secret knocks, when it’s done right the effect is fantastic.  So, when I heard that Basement Speak was launching, it got my attention.

This was a launch I was excited about, I threw on a vintage denim button through skirt and a leopard print blouse with more than a subtle nod to the seventies and headed over to Lola Jean’s bar with ideas for this post already whirling though my head before I’d even set foot in the place.  As you head into the main bar area, there are set of steps down to the basement just to the left of the bar and this is how you enter the Basement Speak.  There’s an amazing (and huge) hand painted sign announcing your entry to the Basement Speak on the way down the staircase - not very covert at all but beautifully painted nonetheless.  At the bottom of the stairs, you head through a door that has a look of a confessional about it and then you’re in….

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The space is small and cosy and there’s exposed brick with alcoves for candles, it’s kind of like a secret cave where the cool kids hang out.  We were handed a lavender infused tequila shot which was completely amazing and I headed to the bar to find out whether, given the bar’s interest in mixology and infusions, this was infused on site or bought in.  I asked a barman who simply told me that “You would have been told the answer to that when you were given it”.  There were various cocky and rude comments, all from the same barman and we weren’t the only people to be a bit miffed about it.  It’s not the level of service you’d expect from an upmarket venue like Lola Jean’s, especially given the hype surrounding the Tynemouth bar (justified BTW), it’s this type of venue, the bar staff almost have an element of entertainment to their role, you want to see them putting their skills to use, you want the spectacle and ultimately, service is a huge part of that.  It’s kind of an unwritten rule that on launch night you put on a happy face whether you’re happy to be there or not, it’s opening night after all and you want people to be wowed and to want to come back for more, Basement speak at Lola Jean’s just didn’t manage to pull this off.

So that’s why this review is short and sweet; I didn’t stay for too long after that, put off by the rude comments and repeated eye rolls of one particular member of bar staff, despite the attempts of his colleagues to apologise for him, it really put me off and that’s a real shame.  I’m such a huge fan of the speakeasy scene and I wanted so bad for it to be good but it just wasn’t.  The price of the cocktails and the level of crap you’re given from seemingly entitled (in my case one specific) bar staff in there just don’t stack up and that’s why I won’t be back.

If you’re really into the speakeasy scene and want to find out what basement Speak is all about, then go check it out, you might just enjoy it, but if you don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Pixie x

To find out more about Lola Jean’s Newcastle visit their FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/lolajeansncl