Gin

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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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World Gin Day 2015

As it’s World Gin Day and I’m partial to a little Mother’s Ruin, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite Gin Joints.  As you know, blogging and writing takes me all over the world so I have a little collection in my widespread list of ‘Favourite Haunts’ and one of the criteria in order to make the grade, is a decent selection of gin and also bar staff who know how to handle them…..

Some of these places are outside of the UK but because they’re so amazing they’ve made the cut, I tend to find that France, London and New York have some of the most amazing Ginsmiths around but feel free to comment with recommendations, I’m always up for trying out new places, especially if they know their way around a Sipsmith and elderflower.  of course there a gazillion more gin joints in the world but these are just a few of my ultimate favourites:

1.  Barrio Central, 6 Poland Street, London.

Let’s start with London, Soho is a hotbed of trendy bars and nightspots who all want you to step inside and stay all night.  Just minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus on Poland Street, you’ll find Barrio Central; a basement bar / restaurant / club that takes it’s cue from New York and channels a hispanic street vibe.  The first thing that hits you is the  amazing use of colour…

Barrio Central’s neighbourhood is inclusive of anyone with a similar mindset rather than geographic locality. A love of music in all its worldly genres, an appreciation of upcoming musicians, artists and urban poets, combined with an appetite for food and drink sourced from all corners and served how they should be.  With a huge variety of gins, the Barrio Central Bar Wizards will be happy to whip you up a Barrio Club cocktail - a smooth concoction of gin, gin liqueur and fresh raspberries.  Definitely worth a visit next time you’re in the capital.

2. Pleased To Meet You (PTMY), High Bridge, Newcastle.

Marketed specifically as a gin bar, PTMY is nestled in uber cool High Bridge, a cobbled street tucked away from the main shopping area of Newcastle and home to numerous retro and vintage shops.  With a distinct deco-cool feel, the bar has exposed sandblasted brick walls and floor to ceiling bi-fold doors which open out on to the street extending the bar’s capacity during Summer.

With a selection of over 80 gins from around the world, the bar staff at PTMY will be happy to guide you towards something based on your tastes, in fact, there’s a whole menu dedicated to gin so left to your own devices, you could be there a while before you finally settle on something.

3. The Portobello Star, 171 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London.

The Portobello Star is a real gem, with it’s own ‘Ginstitute’ this bar’s dedication to gin knows no bounds.  With the aesthetics of a typical urban London bar, it’s set up for dining too and is rumoured to serve the best brownies in town.

The Gin Menu, crafted by Jake Burger, is based on barkeeps bible; The Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas and encourages customers to look at different ways to drink gin, rather than just with plain old tonic and ice.  This place is known as a bartender’s hang out (yes, it’s that good), it’s a little off the beaten track if you’re a tourist in London but well worth a visit.

4. PDT (Please Don’t Tell), Crif Hotdogs, Manhattan, New York.

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A good old fashioned speakeasy in the heart of the East Village, I was told about this place a long time ago and assumed it was an urban legend but sought it out during my downtime at New York Fashion Week last year.

Only accessible via a fake phone booth in Crif Hotdogs, PDT is very much a secret that all the cool kids are in on.  Once inside, the lounge is small and cosy with one of the most liqueur heavy drinks menu I’ve ever seen.  The added bonus here is that you can still order from the hotdog menu once you’ve made it through the secret entrance.

5. Mai Tai, Son Bou, Menorca.

The Mai Tai is a typical Spanish bar located in the heart of Son Bou, Menorca.  There’s a sign above the bar which claims that the worlds best gin and tonic is served here and when you see owner Leo in action, you’ll understand why it might just be true.

Order a gin and tonic here and you get table service from the Mai Tai Gin Cart, Leo makes each one himself and it’s like watching an artisan at work.  The resulting gin and tonic is served in a gigantic fishbowl glass (probably the equivalent of four gin and tonics in the UK) and is garnished with fruit and herbs.  A real spectacle and the hospitality here is amazing, if you find yourself on the island then it’s an absolute must visit.

6. Waynes Bar, Rue Prefecture, Ville Vieux, Nice, France.

Not strictly a gin bar, but the staff there know their way around the spirit.  Nestled in the busy Old Town of Nice you’ll find this amazing London themed bar, dedicated to music and entertainment, all the greats have performed here, including The Rolling Stones.  Think of it as the French Riviera’s answer to Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe.  definitely one of my favourite bars in the world, there’s live music here every night and some of the bands who play here regularly have a real cult following meaning that Waynes bar is without a doubt, the busiest bar in Nice and probably the Cote d’Azur.  In fact, regular performer David Zincke is one of my best discoveries since we started visiting Nice, his music is definitely worth checking out.

Come Happy Hour it’s gin cocktails all round at Waynes, with a concise menu of gin based cocktails people flock to the bar to order two and three of these at a time and they’re all awesome, trust me I’ve lapped the menu around 40 times now…

7. Nightjar, 129 City Road, London.

Quite possibly one of my favourite destination bars in London and consistently voted as one of the best bars in the world.  Nightjar is always busy however it seems that it’s still a bit of a cult secret in London.  Situated in the uber cool East End between Shoreditch and Old Street, Nightjar is a little slice of traditional old school glamour.  Set up as a speakeasy, every inch of detail pays tribute to the prohibition era from the styling to the uniforms and even the live swing music.

The cocktail list is endless and gin is the house specialty (obvs) with a huge selection on offer.  Drinks menus are divided in to ‘eras’ including Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition and Post War as well as having a dedicated menu for Nightjar Signatures.  Out in the far end of zone 2, if you live in London or have a few days there then make the visit, you can thank me later.

That’s my list (for now anyway), who knows I might just update it as I’m on my travels and I’m always happy to take recommendations, particularly on any amazing speakeasy style bars.  I’m off to pay tribute to World Gin Day with an invite to C.O.L.D London to not only drink gin but to distill my very own bottle, so whatever you get up to today, enjoy it and feel free to sink a gin on my behalf, I know I will….

Pixie x