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Do you ever sometimes feel like just throwing the bare essentials in a bag and switching off for a few nights? Well, that’s exactly what I did back in April, when I headed done south for a bit of an English road trip. We packed up the car and went, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun it was. We saw a surprising number of attractions and got to explore some of England’s most beautiful countryside.

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One of the perks of all that exploring was finding fabulous hotels and inns, which we’re already planning return visits to. We had very kindly been taken care of by The Epicurean Club – a collection of inns and pubs which are chosen for their impeccably high standards.

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In Berkshire, we stayed at the Crab and Boar – a historic coaching inn which has been welcoming travellers for hundreds of years. It’s even said that Oliver Cromwell stayed here prior to the Battle of Newbury.

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Happily though, the Crab and Boar is more luxurious now than perhaps it once was in Cromwellian times – there are 14 rooms in total, and we were lucky enough to have a Luxury Room complete with hot tub! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t quite on our side, but getting to enjoy the hot bubbles when outside was so cold and miserable was heavenly!

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On such a grey evening, we were lucky enough to have reserved a table at the restaurant, and there was nowhere else we’d have rather been. The Crab and Boar is renowned for fabulous, local food, and the dining room itself couldn’t have been lovelier.

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We grabbed a table by the window and perused the menu and discussed our plans for the next day.

As we debated our options (the menu is that good), we started on some freshly baked bread – a wholewheat roll and freshly baked ciabattas were truly sublime. Rather incredibly, the Crab & Boar’s head chef previously headed up the kitchens in the Four Seasons Hampshire. The bread was feather-light and absolutely delicious!

The first of the starters we went for were the Pan Fried Scallops (£11). Brought in still dripping with seawater that morning, they were perfectly cooked, and served on the most beautiful clamshell. I loved the rich hollandaise sauce, and it was a real star dish.

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I couldn’t resist trying the Crab and Boar (£11), the inn’s signature dish. Hand-picked soft-shell crab cooked in a light tempura batter was placed on top of a slice of pork, garnished with handpicked crab and radishes. It was a fabulous mix of texture and flavours – and who couldn’t love the tie in with the name!?

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Mains were a similarly hard choice, but we first settled on theHimalayan Salt Aged Pork Cutlet (£22). This felt like the very best Sunday roast you can imagine – real comfort food with a gourmet edge. The pork was perfectly cooked, and the contrast between the rich meat and tart cabbage was absolutely divine! The smoked apple puree gave the dish a sweetness which was nicely offset with the rich gravy – and that crisp? Insanely good!

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There was no way I could resist the Lobster pasta, and honestly, this is one of the best dishes I may ever have tasted. Again, the lobster had been brought into the kitchens live that morning, so the freshness of the meat couldn’t have been better. And just take a look at that claw – it was monstrous!

The claw was placed on mounds on the most delicate freshly made pasta alongside a light tomato sauce. The pasta was absolutely divine – light and flavourful, it paired perfectly with the delicate lobster meat, and honestly, if I had to choose a last meal – this would most definitely be it!

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Even though were were completely stuffed – a look at the dessert menu soon had our mouths watering! As a disclaimer, I’m not usually a fan of a deconstructed dish – they’re usually odd and perhaps a bit lazy. But at the Boar and Crown? Genius.

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The Bread and Butter Pudding (£7) was incredible. Chunks of pudding – soft with vanilla custard were gloriously rich. The orange segments and marmalade really cut through the heaviness of the pudding, and the cinnamon ice cream was truly heavenly.

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The sound of Tiramisu’ C&B Style (£7) was also too good to resist. Tiramisu is such a guilty pleasure, so to see such a chic take on a classic was great fun. An indulgent mascarpone mousse sat atop a coffee sponge, whilst coffee ice cream crowns a pile of chocolate crumbs.

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The classic mix of flavours brought together in such innovative ways was just a joy. We savoured mouthful last into the night. It was a glorious end to an absolutely incredible meal!

You can find out more about the Crab and Boar here.

Neil Forbes - Scottish_Burger

When it comes to summer staples, you can’ get any more iconic than a burger. Whether you enjoy yours fresh off the bbq, or you’d rather enjoy something a little more gourmet, M&S has your back.

Edinburgh-based chef and owner of Cafe St Honore, Neil Forbes, was selected by M&S as one of eight finalists in a UK wide burger competition. This summer the retailer has launched its ‘Best Ever Burger’ and, to put it to the test, challenged top chefs across the country to create the ultimate burger topping recipe for their hometown, showcasing the very best regional flavours and produce.

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M&S’s Best Ever Burger features a mouth-watering combination of short rib, chuck steak and bone marrow for ultimate succulence, providing the base for Neil’s creation. Taking inspiration from the best of Scotland’s abundant produce, Neil’s recipe celebrates local flavours and ingredients, including Macsween haggis, Isle of Mull cheddar and Arran mustard.

Neil said: “M&S’s Best Ever Burger is bursting with flavour and it’s been great to add my own twist to create the ultimate Scottish burger. The recipe I’ve crafted perfectly encapsulates some of the most famous flavours of Scotland which I love using in my own cooking. From smoked streaky bacon sourced from Ayrshire, to cheese from the Isle of Mull, this recipe showcases the breadth and depth of local produce across the region.”

Kirsty Adams, M&S’s Beef Product Developer and one of the creators of ‘Our Best Ever Burger’, added: “The burger is having a serious moment and we wanted to celebrate just how diverse and delicious it can be by partnering with some amazing chefs. It took a year to develop Our Best Ever Burger and it’s now our fastest selling summer product, which is a restaurant quality patty that can be enjoyed at home. We were excited to see how the chefs put their regional twist on it and we weren’t disappointed. Neil’s creation really captures a taste of Scotland – it’s definitely one to try at home!”

If you fancy giving it a go yourself, the recipe is below:

Ingredients – makes 2 burgers  Prep time 15 minutes; cooking time 15 to 20 minutes
2 M&S Our Best Ever Burgers
50g Isle of Mull Cheddar *2 slices unsmoked Ayrshire streaky bacon *

2 slices Macsween Haggis or similar

2tbl mayonnaise
1tbl grainy Arran mustard *
2 slices red beef tomato (1cm thick)
1 Baby Gem lettuce (4 leaves)
1 red onion (4 rings)
2 M&S Brioche Buns
1tbl cold-pressed rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Heat a griddle pan until hot but not scorching hot. Rub the burgers with half the rapeseed oil. Season both sides with a little salt and pepper and place burgers onto griddle. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes on each side, or until the centre of the burger is piping hot and the juices run clear.
  2. Place the slices of bacon on the same griddle pan and cook until crispy (5 – 10 minutes).
  3. To cook the haggis, either choose the pre-sliced microwavable variety and cook as per the instructions, or cut 1cm-thick slices from a pudding and pan-fry in the remaining rapeseed oil at a moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until a crisp outer crust is achieved.
  4. Mix 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise with the grainy Arran Mustard and set to one side.
  5. Remove the cooked burger and bacon from the griddle pan and keep somewhere warm for the meat to rest. Leave the griddle pan on a medium heat.
  6. Grate cheddar and top each burger with half. Halve brioche buns and lightly toast on griddle.
  7. Place the cheese-topped burger on bun base, add a slice of bacon, then the slice of crisp haggis. Next, add slices of red onion, then the lettuce and finally a slice of beef tomato. Season with salt and pepper, smear the mustard mayo on the underside of the bun lid top and place on top.

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When it comes to cooking at home, it’s something I try to do as regularly as possible. I’m not a bad cook, but I do have a tendency to circle through a handful of ‘old faithful’ recipes, which although delicious, can get a bit repetitive. So, when the opportunity came up to learn how to create a brand new dish with M&S, I absolutely jumped at the chance!

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Since we’re in the midst of summer, I thought it would be fun to try a dish which would pair well with a crunchy salad. M&S have developed a whole range of fabulous summer recipes, but I picked Japanese Sirloin Steaks – I’ve never been one to pass over wasabi.

It was also a great chance to enjoy a great steak – M&S is the only national retailer which can trace 100% of its beef back to the farm and individual cow. As a guilty carnivore, their dedication to humane and responsibility farming means I can enjoy my meal even more!

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The recipe was super easy to follow, and all the ingredients are available in bigger M&S stores – so grabbing them in one shop couldn’t be simpler! And the result? A supper which was relished outside, and the recipe has firmly joined the ranks of my most loved!

I’ve included the recipe below so you can try it for yourself!

INGREDIENTS – SERVES 2

  • 5 Pak choi leaves
  • 0.5 limes
  • 2 tsp wasabi peas
  • 5 tbsp mayonnaise (Kewpie mayonnaise is best)
  • 3 tbsp Japanese steak sauce (Hibachi is best)
  • 1 red chilli 1 pack Baby Pak choi
  • 1 tsp Japanese chilli powder
  • 1 sirloin steak
  • 2 tsp wasabi paste

PREPARATION

Halve the Baby Pak choi. Slice the red chillis. Juice the limes.

METHOD

  1. Crush wasabi peas in a pestle and mortar.
  2. Dust the steak with the chilli powder and set aside
  3. Stir the wasabi paste and lime juice into the mayonnaise and set aside in a service bowl
  4. Heat a frying pan over a high heat and brush the steak with a little oil
  5. Cook the steak to liking then remove and rest. Add the pak choi to the pan to gain a little colour, deglaze with the steak sauce, and drop in the chilli.
  6. Arrange the pak choi leaves on a long wooden board. Slice the beef then arrange the beef and baby pak choi on the board all with a nice drizzle of the glaze covering them.
  7. Serve with the wasabi mayonnaise and a sprinkle of the crushed wasabi peas.

You can find more M&S recipes here – I’ve already got my shopping list ready to try a few more!

 

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Whenever I find myself in Edinburgh with an hour or so to kill, I inevitably find myself in Harvey Nichols. I can waft around the racks of designer dresses and racks of sunglasses for hours, and after all that shopping, you need to somewhere to enjoy a bit of sustenance. Happily the Forth Floor houses the in-store Restaurant and Brasserie, so refuelling can be sone in Harvey Nichols signature glamour. Both also enjoy some of the best views in Edinburgh – something to think about if you’re visiting over the festival period, and want to enjoy some of the nightly fireworks!

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When we popped in, it was a bit of a soggy Wednesday, but our window seats, and glasses of Harvey Nichols Prosecco (a favourite of mine) £6 brightened things up immediately! The Brasserie has recently introduced a brand new all day dining menu – a joint effort of all of Harvey Nichols chefs across the country. Working together, they have created a selection of signature HN dishes, so no matter if you’re in Edinburgh or in London, you’ll be able to enjoy the same delicious menu. We kicked things off with a bowl of Marinated Gordal Olives (£4) which were an absolute delight. Pleasingly salty with a warming paprika kick, they paired well with our Prosecco.

Picking starters took a while, simply because every option sounded so good. In the spirit of the new menu, we decided first to order the Moroccan-spiced fishcake, served with pickled cucumber and red pepper salsa (£8). What came were two crispy puffs, gently spiced with sizeable hunks of fish in them. The red pepper salsa lent a touch of sweetness to the dish which was a wonderfully fresh, summery start to the meal.

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I opted for the Burrata, with grilled peach, raddichio, and honey dressing (£12), which sounded too good to miss. What arrived was a glistening pearl of cheese alongside sweet, charred peached and bitter endive – in short, it was divine.

Cutting into the cheese led to a delicious ooze of virgin cream, which paired beautifully with the sweet fruit and bitter leaves. It felt as if I was enjoying summer on a plate! It’s something I’m already planning on recreating at home, as it’s such a showstopper of a starter!

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Throughout Harvey Nichols Brasseries, the quality of ingredients is of paramount importance. After all, you can taste quality! So, when looking at the menu, we could resist ordering the Scottish Borders Sirloin Steak (£28).

Served with a jug of peppercorn sauce (you can also choose a béarnaise or a garlic butter) as well as watercress and a generous portion of fries, it made for a hearty lunch.

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The beef used by Harvey Nichols is sourced locally from Shaw’s Fine Meats based in Lauder,just 25 miles south of Edinburgh. It’s so lovely to be able to eat out and enjoy the very best produce which is available locally. Served up rare (with perfect charring, might I add), the steak melted in the mouth, and the fries were perfectly crisp.

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I opted for the comfort-food classic chicken club sandwich with tarragon mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce, tomato, smoked streaky bacon, cheddar cheese (£15). I don’t think I’ve ordered one of these for about 10 years, but this was incredible!

Layers of creamy avocado, crisp lettuce and moist chicken felt wonderfully indulgent, and the touch of tarragon in the mayonnaise lifted the sandwich to a whole other level.

Served with a portion of hand cooked potato chips and a lightly dressed salad, it felt like the perfect lunch order!

Alongside our mains, we couldn’t resist choosing a couple of the side dishes. The Rocket and Parmesan salad (£4) was wonderfully crisp and flavourful.

I couldn’t resist trying the Roasted Chantenay carrots with caraway seeds (£4). Sweet and delicately flavoured thanks to the seeds, they made a perfect accompaniment to the meal.

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After having a bit of a digestive ‘breather’, we couldn’t resist jumping into desserts. After some deliberation, we couldn’t resist trying the crispy coconut rice pudding, cardamom, apricot, mango sorbet (£6.5).

This was like no other rice pudding I’ve ever tried before – soft and comforting thanks to the coconut running through it, the pudding was which was perfectly balanced with a hint of cardamom. The bright and fruity sorbet offset the rice pudding perfectly, and the crunchy coconut exterior was a fun, unexpected touch.

I couldn’t resist the sound of the regional cheese selection, served with chutney and crackers (£10). A mix of an aged cheddar, brie and soft blue, it was a real celebration of all things savoury. I lingered over it, enjoying the last sips of prosecco alongside, and it was a gloriously indulgent way to enjoy an afternoon.

The cheeses all worked well together – and the generous portions were enjoyed with the mix of crackers (I was especially enamoured with the charcoal ones) and heaps of spiced chutney.

The new Brasserie Menu is available Sunday and Monday: 12pm – 5pm and Tuesday to Saturday: 12pm – 10pm.

 

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Despite what recent posts might suggest, I’m not the world’s biggest drinker. I usually end up as the designated driver on nights out – so you’re more likely to find me nursing a tonic water rather than anything harder. But if I am enjoying a drink, my choice usually tends to be gin and tonic. I love how refreshing they are – and there is nothing better to enjoy on balmy summer evenings! My newest tipple has been Tiger Premium Gin – a ‘Great British Gin’ with a smooth, slightly sweet finish. I’ve been mixing mine with icy cold tonic and a slice of orange – delicious!

Tiger Premium Gin is priced at £37 and is available here