Saturday, 3 October 2015

Celebrating 50 years of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, London AND an exciting competition #RGHGoldenMoments

There's something special about cupcakes. Indulgent little treats which delight anyone with a sweet tooth and are generally gorgeous to look at too bringing an element of fun to any event.

For our 20th wedding anniversary celebrations a very lovely mum from my children's school offered to bake and decorate 150 cupcakes which was topped with one larger cake to create a wedding cake-type centre piece for the garden party which followed our vow renewal in church.

And recently the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington created an enormous "golden moments" celebration cupcake to kick off a year of celebrations organised for the 50th anniversary of the iconic hotel opening.
Royal Garden Hotel Kensington commemorative cupcake

Located in Kensington High Street on the doorstep of London's attractions, overlooking Hyde Park and with Kensington Palace next door the 5 star luxury Royal Garden Hotel boasts 394 rooms, some with spectacular views of the city skyline, 17 magnificent suites, car parking, award winning restaurants and prides itself on being family friendly.

They are currently offering a 50% discount for connecting rooms at weekends or you can have up to two adults and two children in one room (cots are available of course). They can arrange or advice on family activities, they offer a children's room service menu and an early dining option for guests with children. They offer toys for the rooms or nearby park and breakfast inclusive packages with free breakfast for young guests.

Anyway, back to the giant cupcake!

Created by award-winning Executive Head Chef Steve Munkley and Executive Pastry Chef Nicholas Hollands the culinary masterpiece brings to life golden moments from the hotel's half century including sporting and music highlights.

These include the time the Royal Garden Hotel hosted the winning 1966 world cup football team - it's a popular destination even today for many top footballers and also the hotel of choice for many teams from the world of rugby and cricket.

Other famous faces who have spent time at the hotel include Rod Steward, The Beatles and Justin Beiber. Bloggers know it as the luxurious venue where the Flea Enterprises MAD Blog Awards have been held in recent years.

The special cake also features a model of a commemorative book being filled with "golden moments" -memoirs from guests and staff alike- and a tiny branded London taxi just like the real one which has been commissioned to mark the milestone anniversary.
#RGHGoldenMoments taxi

Tempting as it is to sink your teeth into the giant cupcake you will not be able to as it is going to be used as part of a very exciting competition - more on that in a mo.

You will however be able to enjoy a smaller limited edition "50th cupcake" to be served with traditional afternoon tea until July 31 2016 along with the usual delectable selection of sandwiches and fancies. Is it just me that thinks booking this treat would make the absolute perfect 50th birthday present?
afternoon tea at the 5 star Royal Garden Hotel London

Now, back to that exciting competition I hinted about earlier. Throughout the year one lucky afternoon tea diner can to win an amazing prize every month and loyal fans can have a go at winning an afternoon tea experience through Facebook and Twitter competitions; all they have to do is guess the correct location of where the cupcake is hidden around Kensington.

Steve Munkley, Executive Head Chef at the Royal Garden Hotel, comments: “We are delighted to present the Golden Moments cupcake to mark what is promising to be a very exciting year for the hotel. We are taking the opportunity to celebrate our 50th anniversary and thank our guests over the course of the year with the introduction of a limited edition 50th cupcake”

Jonathan Lowrey, General Manager at the Royal Garden Hotel, adds: “We pride ourselves on offering friendly and intuitive five star service, and so to reach this milestone is a real achievement for the hotel and its staff. This, along with our stylish and luxurious rooms, restaurants, and of course great Kensington location, has all contributed to our success over the past fifty years.”

To book your afternoon tea with the limited edition 50th cupcake or for more information about the Royal Garden Hotel’s 50th celebrations visit and share your #RGHGoldenMoments on social media.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Life is what you make it- or is it?

Someone recently told me that a friend of theirs, trying to be helpful, had said to them: "life is what you make it."

It sounded like an implied criticism to my friend, especially as she is going through a particularly rough time where it seems nothing is going right.

We discussed this statement briefly and at the time I agreed that it had been a tactless thing to say to her.  Life is not always under our control, sometimes you can try as hard as you like to make it happy, successful, productive, lucrative, whatever and life just sticks two metaphorical fingers up in your face.

You can understand why I might feel like this, particularly this year. We joke (whilst sobbing inside) that if anything can go wrong, it will in my immediate family.

Precious holidays, our fragile savings and good health seem constantly hit with disaster after disaster. I feel doomed sometimes which is particularly hard when you are an active Christian believing in a God who loves us. More than once I have felt like stamping my feet and screaming: "It's not fair!"

Life is what you make it.

This would imply we don't work hard enough, are careless or thoughtless or reckless. That I somehow earned Fibromyalgia, or my husband could have avoided his freak accident which left him unable to work for six months.

But then.......

Then I started to think that maybe what my friend's (slightly tactless) friend was trying to say was not that the dark cloud of bad luck and failed plans were her fault, but that she must not let these disasters get her down.

Lots of people use the past as an excuse for giving up on the future. It's understandable but I believe that this clumsy phrase could act as a mantra, a reminder that every day is a new start and that we don't have to let our past mistakes or experiences define us in a negative way.

Even when life is frankly shit there is always a bright side, always someone worse off.

I am aware I am in danger of sounding like one of those inspirational cards, but to my friend, to those out there feeling like they have a raincloud of doom over their heads and to myself I say.

Life- what will you make of it?

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Authentic Italian Meals in minutes! Cheating with Asda's new tasty ready meals. Review

One of the questions I am most asked when people find out how many children I have is "How on earth do you manage? I have trouble with.... {insert number of children here}"

The answer is very simple. Sometimes I cheat.

So while I can make bread from scratch, create a meal from mince and not much else and have a 100 plus simple chicken recipes in my head, sometimes I just want to collapse in a heap and the kitchen is the last place I want to be.

 There are those nights where mum's taxi is fully booked, or the children have to be at three different events with a half an hour slot for dinner. Or it's Friday and you've been invited for supper at a friend's house and just can't be bothered to cook. Yes, I admitted it. Sometimes I just can't be bothered.

Largely I rely on pizza and fish fingers to fill the culinary gaps. I'm particularly keen on meals the older children can prepare for themselves and their siblings (and sometimes when a girl's night out is planned they cook for dad too since his signature dish is toast). After all if someone else is cooking your supper it's nice to have a night off from cooking completely isn't it?

I do occasionally stock up with ready meals. My teens especially like them but they will eat Pot Noodle so that kinda sums up their level of what is acceptable as food. I have to say on the whole I wouldn't eat them myself preferring toast or cereal as a fast filler when pushed for time.

However, last week I had the opportunity to try the newly redesigned Italian range of fresh ready meals from Asda and my eyes have been opened to the possibility of fast, convenient and most importantly tasty microwave meals!

Actually I say microwave but some of the Asda meals I tried did have the recommendation that they be cooked in an oven for full authenticity - but frankly it's no hardship to bung a pack or two in the oven is it?

Now bear in mind my tasting session came hot on the heels of a trip to River Cottage HQ where the food is fresh from the garden and the ultimate in quality. I joked with my friends that I was going from the sublime to the ridiculous (sorry Asda) but how wrong I was!

When I tried a succession of rich, gorgeous homestyle meals all made with authentic Italian ingredients created after intense research in various regions of the country I thought the PR team was cheating.

I thought the chef they had brought along was making our meals from scratch and the packaged meals in store would taste very different. Then they revealed that Chef had been microwaving the packets, just as you would at home, and just tipping the contents into nice bowls.

In fact the fancy kitchen in the venue they had hired for the tasting session had a big flaw in that no-one could work out how to light the gas hob so even if they had wanted to cheat they couldn't have!

Let me tell you- the giant meatball dish was divine - substantial but not solid pork sausage meatballs, delicately flavoured with a hint of fennel and a touch of heat with a robust sauce over lovely Bucatini pasta.

My husband loved the beef pappardelle made with marinaded beef in a rich ragu - with added red wine it was a meal I would not be embarrassed to pass off as homemade. For those less keen on red meats there are couple of  alternatives. We tried the chicken and mushroom trottole and a lovely roasted Med veg veggie option.

Accompanying our tasting plates was a variety of fresh breads. Now I usually make my own bread but after trying the Asda range might have to get some in for fast fancy lunches with friends or even to eat on their own as an evening treat.

My favourite was the caramelised red onion and mozzarella mini flat breads, like tangy little pizzas with a tasty hit of sweetness. The Tiger BBQ cheese bread came a close second but frankly I love anything Tiger bread-related!

The sun blush tomato and mozzarella flatbreads made a good team with all of the tomatoey meals which are all based on one "just like Mamma makes" base sauce created from Italian tomatoes. I learned the biggest change Asda made to their Italian meal range was to swap from tomatoes grown in Spain to genuine Italian tomatoes. A simple but very effective move.

I came home from the tasting session loaded down with bags of the new Italian range for my family to try and they proved so popular that my stash was wiped out within two days.

The meals will be stocked in the fresh section of Asda stores but most of them are suitable for freezing. In a highly unscientific experiment I froze one, allowed it to defrost as recommended before my husband microwaved it while I was out one evening.

He did say he didn't think the texture of the meat was quite as good as it was cooked from fresh but was still very nice. Feel free to conduct your own equally unscientific experiment and let me know what you think! The meals have quite a good shelf life though so mostly you would not need to freeze them.

On the whole I would give these meals a big thumbs up. The flavours were interesting enough for adults with a reasonable palate but subtle enough that even my 9-year-old daughter who is not keen on spicy or exotic foods enjoyed them.

Look out for them in Asda stores in the fresh counters - and watch out for offer periods when you will be able to pick them up in deals like 3 meals for £6.

Disclaimer: I was invited to a tasting sessions and received free samples of the meals and breads for the purposes of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.