A Weekend in York

26.3.15

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Last weekend Laura and I packed our bags and headed down to York for a couple of days. We did a little bit of sightseeing, a lot of eating and drinking, and had a pretty lovely time exploring a new city. Less than three hours away from Edinburgh by train, it seemed far enough away that it felt like a proper holiday but close enough that it was easy to do in a weekend. Find out what we got up to...

Eat & Drink
Our first port of call after we got off the train was Winner Winner. Located right next to the river, this bar & grill serves up tasty American-style fayre like chicken wings, burgers, ribs and steaks. I went for the chef's speciality dish, the Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, which was crispy fried chicken served with waffles and maple syrup - it was weirdly delicious and I'd definitely recommend it if you fancy trying something different! Laura ordered the Sloppy Joe and we shared a huge basket of tasty little crispy fries. As well as good food, Winner Winner also do cocktails so we had to sample a few of these too. My favourite was a toffee popcorn concoction which came served with a side of actual popcorn!
On Saturday we swithered about going to Byron, but decided we'd rather go somewhere different instead of another burger place. After a quick scan through Yelp and TripAdvisor, we settled on The Blue Bicycle and I think we made an excellent choice. Previously a brothel in a former life, it's now a picturesque little restaurant overlooking a cobbled street and the River Foss. The food here was amaaaazing. It was on the more expensive side, but not extortionate and the food was definitely worth it. Everything was cooked and presented to perfection, from my scallop and black pudding starter to the sirloin steak main served with a Yorkshire pudding (when in Rome, right?). I'm glad we ended up going here as it was the perfect "special holiday treat" kind of restaurant.
As for drinks, we had Evil Eye Lounge and the House of the Trembling Madness marked out on our to-do list but both were very busy come Saturday afternoon/evening. After a long day wandering round York we decided to just go for the first place we came across which didn't look too busy, and that happened to be Kennedy's. It was a fairly standard modern bar, but perfectly nice and we even ventured out onto the roof terrace for a cider in the sunshine. I always try to avoid chain bars or restaurants if I'm exploring a new city, but I must admit we did have a few drinks in the Postern Gate Wetherspoons because it was right next to our hotel and really cheap.
If it's a fancy afternoon tea you're after, I'd recommend The Grand Hotel. It's right next to the station, so seemed like the perfect place for a spot of afternoon tea before we caught the train home. It's a 5-star hotel so pretty fancy (we discovered trainers weren't allowed in the dining room so had to do a quick change before anyone noticed!) but it was nice and relaxing and we had probably the nicest waiter of all time. Despite not having had breakfast or lunch, we struggled to finish the afternoon tea because there were so many cakes! As well as mini sandwiches, scones and tea loaf, there were lemon cupcakes, bannoffee cream, chocolate mousse delice, and rhubarb & custard meringue cones. There were plenty of teas to choose from too, and I opted for a rhubarb one.

See & Do
Saturday morning was spent at York Castle Museum. They do a special half price "Access Ticket" for people aged 17-24, so we were able to get in for just £5 each. This was a really interesting museum which had a bit of everything in it - from a Victorian street full of shops to a "Toy Stories" exhibit which had several toys I remember from my childhood in it (I think this means I am old now). There was also a section about the swinging Sixties and a bit about birth, life and death in York throughout the ages. My favourite part was the "1914: When the World Changed" exhibit which is currently on at York Castle Museum until 2018, as the First World War is kind of my specialist subject. It took us around 3 hours to get round the whole museum (plus a quick stop in the cafe for some cake!) which meant we still had plenty of time to fit in other things in the afternoon.
Rather than doing anything specific, we decided just to have a wander round York on Saturday afternoon. We headed to The Shambles and moseyed around the little alleyways and side streets, popping into a few shops as we went. We ended up at York Minster; it was a bit late in the day to bother going inside for a tour so we just admired it from outside instead.

Stay
Laura was offered a complimentary stay for two at York Central Travelodge so obviously I tagged along! It's around a 15-20 minute walk to the train station and within easy walking distance of all the main shopping areas, tourist attractions and lots of bars and restaurants. Our room was nice and clean with comfy twin beds and an en suite bathroom with bath and shower. Hairdryers were available on request from reception, and all the usual amenities like kettle, TV, towels etc were in the room. There was wifi, but it was only free for the first 30 minutes so I didn't even bother trying to connect - I think free wifi should just be standard in this day and age, but understandable for a budget hotel and it wouldn't put me off staying here again. The only downside was the fact that breakfast wasn't a sit-down cooked breakfast but just a breakfast picnic box. We weren't told about this in advance or even when checking in, and only discovered when we went down on Saturday morning and couldn't find the dining room! As there's a Wetherspoons right next door who do cheap cooked breakfasts, if I was staying there again I'd get room only and not bother with the breakfast boxes.

Have you been to York before? What are your top things to do?

Gillian x

Recipe: Bloody Mary Steak with BBQ Potato Wedges

23.3.15

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Is there anything better than a good steak? Probably not. I don't need much of an excuse to eat a steak, but when a giftset from The Great British Butcher arrived through my letterbox it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The giftset contains all four of their popular rubs and crumbs - Bloody Mary Rub, British BBQ Rub, Lemon & Mustard Crumb and Crunchy Curry Crumb - which come in cute little vintage style shaker tins. Using all-natural ingredients, these spice mixes are full of flavour and Bloody Mary seemed like it would be the perfect accompaniment to some delicious sirloin steaks, served along with BBQ potato wedges and a roasted garlic dip.

Ingredients (Serves 2):
2 sirloin steaks
2 tbsp Great British Butcher Bloody Mary Rub*
3 medium potatoes
2 tbsp Great British Butcher BBQ Rub*
Olive oil
1 bag rocket/salad leaves
4-5 cloves roasted garlic
1 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp soured cream
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and prepare your garlic for roasting. Keeping the skin on, chop off the very top of the garlic cloves and drizzle them with olive oil on a baking tray. Roast for around 20 minutes, or until golden brown and soft in the middle.
2. Meanwhile, marinate your steaks in the Bloody Mary rub. Add the steaks to a dish along with the rub and a dash of olive oil, cover evenly with the rub and set aside. Don't put them back in the fridge as you want the steaks to be at room temperature when you cook them.
3. Prepare your potatoes by peeling them (or leave the skin on if you prefer) and chopping in half lengthways, then into quarters to make wedge shapes. Add to a pan of lightly salted water and par-boil for around 8 minutes.
4. Drain the potatoes and give them a good shake around to roughen up the edges. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the BBQ rub along with a little bit of olive oil and mix well to coat all the potatoes. Spread them evenly on a tray and cook in the oven for around 40 minutes.
5. Make the dip for the potato wedges by combining the mayonnaise, soured cream, lemon juice and Dijon mustard in a bowl. Peel and then finely chop/mash the roasted garlic and add it to the bowl, mixing well to combine all the ingredients.
6. Once your potato wedges are about 15 minutes away from being ready, cook your steak. Heat up a griddle pan until it's sizzling hot, then add your steaks - as there's already a little bit of oil on the steaks there's no need to oil the pan.
7. Depending on how you like your steak done and how thick your steaks are, cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Once cooked, remove from the pan and leave to rest for another 5 minutes.
8. Now it's time to assemble! Add your rocket to the plate (or board if we're pretending to be fancy) and dress with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and top with the rested steak. Dish up the potato wedges and drizzle with the roasted garlic dip.

And there you have it, a super easy and super delicious dinner. Because the Bloody Mary and BBQ rubs come ready mixed, this saves loads of time and means this recipe is pretty quick to make, even on a weeknight after work when you can't really be bothered cooking. The Great British Butcher mixes were really tasty and I can't wait to try the other flavours from the box!

What's your favourite way to eat steak?

Gillian x

Top 5: Things To Do in Edinburgh This Spring

18.3.15

top 5 things to do in edinburgh this spring

1. Scottish Ballet's A Streetcar Named Desire
Festival Theatre, 13-29 Nicolson Street, EH8 9FT; 18-21 March, book here.
Even if you're not usually a theatre-goer, I can't recommend Scottish Ballet's productions enough. They are always stunning and manage to transport you away to another world for a couple of hours - in this case it's the deep South for a retelling of Tenessee Williams' classic play, A Streetcar Named Desire. Scottish Ballet have kindly invited me along to tonight's performance and I can't wait as I missed the tour the first time round when it was produced in 2012. It's only on in Edinburgh for a couple of nights before heading down to London and across the USA, so book your tickets quick! A collaboration between theatre & film director Nancy Meckler and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ocha, along with the expertise of the Scottish Ballet dancers and crew, it's set to be a breathtaking performance.

2. Maison de Moggy Cat Cafe
26 Hamilton Place, EH3 5AU; open daily 10.45-6.30, book here.
I'm definitely much more of a dog person, but when I heard there was a cat cafe coming to Edinburgh I couldn't resist booking myself in for a visit. A cover charge of £7 (which helps to take care of the cats) gets you one hour of play time with the cafe's resident cats. There are lots of different types of cats - my favourites being the two cheeky little Bengals - with their own personalities, so whether you fancy playing, feeding them treats or snuggling down for a little snooze, you're sure to find a cat to suit you. If you don't/can't have pets of your own, this is a great way to get an hour or two of quailty animal time. There's also food and drink available to purchase, but you'll be too busy trying to cuddle the cats to worry about a cup of tea!

3. Edinburgh International Science Festival
Various venues; 4-19 April, book here.
Edinburgh's annual Science Festival is back this April with hundreds of events for all ages, abilities and interests. Whether you're looking for serious scientific discussions, fun experiments and exhibitions, or cool activities for kids, there's something to keep everyone happy. You can browse What's On on the website to plan what you'd like to see and do. I'm particularly looking forward to the Gastrofest events which explore the science of food & drink - look out for distilling classes with Edinburgh Gin, "Dining on the Wild Side" at the Botanic Gardens, a Mad Hatter's Tea Party or the LateLab Molecular Cocktail masterclass. I'll be heading along to a little preview evening next week to find out exactly what the Science Festival has to offer this year!

4. Game Masters at the National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF; until 20 April, book here.
Game Masters has already been here for a couple of months, but there's still plenty of time to head down to Chambers Street if you haven't been yet. This unique exhibition explores the history and development of videogames, going all the way from the arcade games of the late '70s to present day apps. And the best part? You can actually play all the games! Have a dance off with Dance Central, go old school with a game of Lemmings, try a classic arcade game of Space Invaders, or lose a couple of hours of your life building some houses on The Sims. You can see a full list of all the playable games here. And after you've finished at Game Masters, don't forget to have a wander round the rest of the museum too!

5. Six Nations Rugby
Murrayfield Stadium, EH12 5PJ; 21 March.
Tickets to the final Scotland v Ireland match of this year's Six Nations tournament are sold out, but even if you won't be at Murrayfield it's still a good excuse to head to the pub and watch the match with a pint in hand. It definitely looks like Scotland will be getting the wooden spoon this year, but at least we tried! There's always a great atmosphere in Edinburgh on Six Nations weekends; if you like to be in amongst the hustle and bustle head to the Grassmarket for a busy night out with lots of other rugby fans, or if you prefer to watch the game with a bit more peace and quiet try a local bar. If you're feeling particularly daring, join the Irish fans for a pint at Malone's!

What are you looking forward to this spring in Edinburgh?

Gillian x