The Harper Hotel, Norfolk

Norfolk is an area I had often heard good things about, but previously had not had a reason to visit. When an invite to stay at the new Harper Hotel popped up, I decided it was time to explore this unspoilt British county. The after-work weekday traffic meant a two and half hour car journey from London quickly turned into a four hour slog, but when we arrived the staff were relaxed and quick to check us in (something I am particularly appreciative of now I have a baby).

The Harper Hotel opened in May this year, a comfortable bolthole just outside Holt in North Norfolk. The 32 boutique rooms vary a lot in size and design, we were in one of the smaller rooms so sadly missed out on a four-poster bed, but still benefitted from a big bed topped with an award-winning Casper mattress and luxurious Buffy bedding.

There is plenty of colour everywhere at The Harper, wacky artwork and vibrant furniture means that no space is without character. The rooms all feature indulgent bathrooms, but only a few have a bathtub. I was delighted to find Irene Forte products in the bathroom, gentle products inspired by the Mediterranean, they all smelt and felt delicious.

There is a lazy feel about the hotel, guests are very much left to their own devices to explore and use the space as they wish. This unpretentious atmosphere allows all visitors to feel welcome, and I noticed quite a few young families, groups of friends, and older couples enjoying the Harper when we visited.

After months in lockdown in the confines of my own home, it was the swimming pool and spa at the Harper which made me most excited. I spent a blissful hour swimming then relaxing in the sauna, it was such a novel and lovely experience despite the spa being half shut due to Covid restrictions.

I was lucky enough to also try one of the Irene Forte signature facials, a calming treatment that used a range of these natural products to cleanse, tone and deeply moisturise my face and scalp. There was nothing ground-breaking about the facial, but it did really improve my skin’s appearance and feel for a few days afterwards.

The Harper have two food options. Stanley’s is the more upmarket restaurant, on the first floor, where they serve breakfast and dinner. The alternative is an all da- menu that’s available to enjoy anywhere in the hotel, so you can choose to dine in your room, out in the courtyard or even in the bar area.

After our unscheduled late arrival the team kindly arranged  a late-night dinner from Stanley’s. A lavish platter of local Norfolk estate ribeye steak (cooked to perfection on the Josper grill) was demolished in silence, accompanied with grilled seasonal vegetables and moreish chips.

The next day we tried a few classic dishes that came recommended from the all day menu – ‘brisket burger in a marmite bun’ and ‘Lobster mac & cheese’ sounded like the ultimate treats, but sadly this food fell a bit short. I’m hoping with a bit of fine tuning they can improve this menu, as the dishes all have a lot of promise.

There is lots to do in North Norfolk, from wandering round quaint towns to discovering independent bakeries and breweries… not to mention the expansive coastline and impressive historic National Trust properties.

The Harper is a welcome addition to the hotel scene here, and there is just about everything you need for a relaxing weekend away from the city.

I stayed as a guest of the hotel, more information about The Harper here.

Zebra Riding Club at Birch Community

Birch Community was finally able to open its doors last week after lock-down delayed the venue’s final renovation works. Situated in Cheshunt, just 30 minutes drive from North London, this multi-disciplinary space is an artistic hang-out for creatives urbanites needing a quick escape from the city. It provides a place to sleep, work, eat and explore, all whilst being surrounded by 55 acres of nature.

Birch Community

I was delighted to be asked to be a founding member, and spent 24 hours last weekend living the Birch way of life. Admittedly the hotel is not 100% ready yet, some finishing is a little rough around the edges, and the design and focus suggests they are still fine-tuning the place’s identity and purpose. However, everyone seemed to be having a great time trying out pottery and glass-blowing classes, relaxing in the music rooms and best of all, feasting on the superior Birch food offering.

Birch Community

The food is all overseen by the brilliant Robin Gill, of The Dairy and Darby’s (amongst others) fame. I have been finding solace throughout the pandemic at his Brentford bakery outpost, Rye by the Water, so was delighted to find a bakery onsite at Birch. Here, guests are invited to take part in the sourdough shaping and pastry preparations. In the morning we tried all the pastries on offer: rich and buttery delights accompanied by Caravan coffee from the Birch coffee shop.

Zebra Riding Club

The undoubted highlight of our stay at Birch was the meal we relished at Zebra Riding Cafe, the main restaurant on site. This impressive dining room feels more grand and luxurious than the other rooms, and I predict many will travel simply to try this eatery, even if they aren’t staying at Birch.

Zebra Riding Club

The restaurant’s philosophy and ever-changing menu is led by nature and seasonality, and much of the ingredients will be grown on site at Birch. There is little choice, instead a versatile set feasting menu caters for all with a comforting selection of Robin’s delicious inventions.

We began our lunch with cocktails from the succinct but tempting selection. Of the two the Birch Old Fashioned was our favourite, a smooth strong drink with a hint of herby birch sap.

Zebra Riding ClubZebra Riding Club

Service was attentive but discreet throughout our meal and I was incredibly impressed with their careful attention to detail when it came to our complicated dietary requirements. Rest assured vegetarians and vegans will not miss out here.

The meal kicked off with an assortment of bite-sized snacks… I particularly adored the fresh courgette tart, which was light, zingy and summery.

Zebra Riding ClubZebra Riding Club

The next two dishes were ideal for butter addicts like me… Heritage grains with Kentish corn, and a fresh egg from Birch’s rescued hens, was warming and soothing with a lovely texture and umami flavour profile. We sat in silence as we slurped it up. Next we were treated to Heritage King Oyster mushrooms swimming in a hot rich buttery jus spiked with rosemary, dulse and pickled kombu.

Zebra Riding ClubZebra Riding Club

The main event was an ode to Swaledale lamb, accompanied by tropea grilled onions, wood oven Cornish mid potatoes and green salad. It was a suite of loveliness, but for me, it was the succulent, salty lamb ragu with garden sorrel that won over my heart, and stomach. The sticky, sweet quality of the meat made it impossible not to finish, despite it being very rich.

Zebra Riding Club

The meal finale came in the form of a palate-cleansing Blackberry ripple ice-cream with diced white peach and rosemary sablé biscuit. A yummy pairing of flavours and the perfect end to the meal.

Zebra Riding Club

After months of confined eating at home it was a real treat to experience The Zebra Riding Club, another triumph for Robin Gill and a highlight of the Birch experience.

More information about Zebra Riding Club and book here.

I was a guest of Birch, as one of their Founding Members.

Bring the Bar Home with The Whisky Exchange

With restaurants and bars shut across the world it time to make the most of your home bar. The Whisky Exchange is on hand to help out, with ‘Bring the Bar Home’ cocktail kits, featuring everything you need to create some delicious drinks designed by some of London’s top bartenders. For each box sold a portion of the proceeds will go directly to the bar, helping them through this difficult time while they remain closed.

There are a few options to choose from, some of my favourites include a Banana Rum Old Fashioned, created by Sly Augustin from Trailer Happiness (this bundle includes a bottle of Appleton Estate Reserve Blend rum, Giffard Crème Banane, Monin Gomme syrup and Bob’s Chocolate Bitters), and the Norman Conquest cocktail, created by Kwant’s Erik Lorincz (which includes a bottle of Avallen Calvados, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Angostura bitters and Woodford Reserve bourbon).

The Whisky Exchange

Last weekend I tried out the American Apples kit from renowned bar, Artesian in London’s Langham Hotel. The American Apples cocktail, created by Artesian’s Anna Sebastian includes a bottle of Michter’s Small Batch bourbon, Monin Pomme Verte, Mancino Vermouth and Gamillard Les Riceys Champagne. Everything you need to create this delicious refreshing cocktail, just make sure you have ice and lemon at home. The sweet apple syrup combined with the rich bourbon and dry vermouth created a perfectly balanced cocktail, topped with some decadent champagne bubbles.

The Whisky Exchange

The best thing of all about these ready-made bar kits – once you have you’re your special cocktails you then have the remainder of the bottles to use to create and experiment with other recipes. After making a couple of American Apple cocktails this weekend I used the rest of the champagne to make Bellinis with excess fruit we had in the fridge, and the bourbon has been perfect for an evening old-fashioned. Choose and buy your ‘Bring the Bar Home’ cocktail kit here.

The Whisky Exchange

With more and more of us getting creative with our home tipples I caught up with the Whisky Exchange’s Head Buyer, Dawn Davies to ask her about her top tips for isolation drinks at home.

What drinks have been most popular from the Whisky Exchange website during this lock down period?

Wine has been flying off the shelves, but as the isolation period goes on people are investing in spirits to create their own mini bars at home. Red vermouth and Campari have been incredibly popular recently which suggests people are mixing up their own negronis at home. A cocktail that was once reserved for a night out is now being recreated at home to create the feeling of a special treat.

Tell me a bit more about the ‘Bring the Bar Home’ cocktail kits?

These unique collections are an easy way for people to try something different at home. All the ingredients you need are included and hopefully it will inspire people to try something a bit different. It has also been a great way for us to support some of our favourite London bars who are really suffering during this period.

What drinks trends are you seeing emerging from this unusual time?

People are getting more adventurous and buying more unique and interesting bottles to create their own drinks with. The Whisky Exchange has a range of cocktail tutorial videos online which are encouraging and helping people to make and mix their own creative cocktails at home. As the lock down goes on longer our customers seem to be investing in better bottles to keep on their bar and use for different drinks.

Cognac

What have you got coming up in the next few weeks?

As the Cognac Show this weekend had to be cancelled we are taking the tastings online. I’ll be hosting a few Cognac Show virtual tastings on our Facebook page, an introduction to this historic French spirit. I am also currently planning some Perfect Measure kits which will be available on the Whisky Exchange website soon. These kits will offer a selection of 6 carefully chosen whisky / gin varieties which you can taste neat or use for cocktail making at home. It’s a great way for fans to enjoy, educate and experiment with their favourite spirit.

If someone was keen to start an ‘essentials’ home bar what would you recommend they buy?

– Gin

– Vodka

– Rum

– Whisky

– Red Vermouth

– Bitters (choose your favourite, but angostura are probably the most versatile)

What drink have you been enjoying at home during the lockdown?

I missed having daiquiris out at my favourite bars, so have had to start making them at home!

How do you make your Daiquiris?

I use two different rums in mine for depth of flavour – this is my recipe:

45ml Black Tot Finest Caribbean Rum

15ml Clairin Sajous

20ml fresh squeezed lime juice

10ml simple sugar syrup

Shake, strain into a frozen glass and garnish with a lime

For more information head to The Whisky Exchange website here. And to take part in this weekend’s virtual Cognac tastings, sign up here.

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with The Whisky Exchange.