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.

A Weekend in Herefordshire

Travel right now is not easy, I am craving it desperately, but for the foreseeable future will be concentrating on exploring the best of Britain. Herefordshire is a county that I knew very little about, sandwiched between Shropshire to the north, Worcestershire to the east, Gloucestershire to the south-east, and Wales to the west. So when I was invited to explore its burgeoning independent food and drink scene I was intrigued and excited.

Herefordshire

Despite the relentless rain we trundled down the motorway, just 4 hours even in rush hour Friday traffic. Visit Herefordshire arranged a great itinerary for me, ticking off key restaurants, pubs and artisan makers across the county.

Herefordshire

First stop was Hereford, a cathedral town in the heart of the region. We were staying at the Green Dragon Hotel, charming accommodation that was a quiet and comfortable place to spend the night. Breakfast next morning was served downstairs in the light and airy dining room, a range of fresh seasonal dishes, including delicious mushrooms on toast, and granola with homemade berry compote.

Herefordshire

There are quite a few eateries in Hereford worth trying, The Bookshop was one which everyone raved about, thanks to their great steaks and lively atmosphere. We had a great dinner here, the service was super friendly and the meat was noticeably of a high quality (you must try Hereford beef while visiting Herefordshire). We stopped by The Bookshop the next morning too for a coffee (they use the superior beans from local roastery, Method) and the brunch looked very tempting too.

Herefordshire

After a brief walk around town, seeing the iconic cathedral and stopping by a couple of foodie shops (I recommend Fodder for bread & pastries, Mousetrap for local cheeses, and Sensory & Rye for coffee or brunch), we were on our way to our next destination…

Pensons is the only restaurant in Herefordshire to hold a Michelin star, which it was proudly awarded last year, less than a year after opening. Head chef Chris Simpson previously worked for Nathan Outlaw, and brings skill and a lightness of touch to the dishes at Pensons. The restaurant benefits from being located on the Netherwood Estate, which is surrounded by green pastures. There is also a bountiful kitchen garden which grows many of the vegetables and fruit you’ll find on your plate at Pensons! We devoured the three course lunch menu, memorable dishes included perfectly cooked Plaice with cauliflower, watercress and crab sauce, and Duck with beetroot and blackcurrant.

Herefordshire

At Pensons we tried a delicious apple mocktail, and learnt a little about the incredible apples of the area. So it seemed fitting to visit Little Pomona next, craft cider makers who are producing some wonderfully refined drinks with the famous Herefordshire apples. Autumn is apple picking season and to celebrate Visit Herefordshire have created two great cider trails (The Cider Circuits) as part of their #madforapples initiative. The self-guided routes, both around 50 miles long, can be followed by bike or car and are named after two of the county’s apple varieties: The Newton Wonder heads north from Hereford, while The Redstreak heads south. Glorious Little Pomona features on the southern route.

Herefordshire

Herefordshire is known for its striking black and white architecture which we were lucky to spy in many of the towns we drove through… Bromyard was a great place to admire the monochrome houses, and whilst in the area Bringsty Vintage shop is worth a visit for retro homeware and trinkets.

Herefordshire

As the rain worsened we headed to Crumplebury, a lovely luxurious event space, with restaurant and rooms, surrounded by woodland, fields and animals.

Crumplebury has just reopened for the season and we were delighted to be one of the first to be back at this idyllic place. At the heart of the property is Green Cow Kitchens, the on site fine dining restaurant. We enjoyed a lavish dinner here before a very restful night’s sleep in The Oakley Suite, the most spacious and decadent suite Crumplebury offer. The room was decorated to a very high specification with modern amenities, a giant bed and a copper bathtub to ensure the most relaxing of stays.

Herefordshire

We also had a chance to see some of the beautiful event spaces and wholesome wildlife, which is used seasonally in the restaurant. Crumplebury is a brilliant option for weddings and work functions, an isolated countryside escape with a five star feel.

Herefordshire

Next morning we woke refreshed and revitalised, and after a quick but very tasty Crumplebury breakfast we headed off for a final morning of exploring.

We drove South towards Ross on Wye, for a hearty Sunday lunch at The Greenman, the celebrated pub in Fownhope. A generous roast awaited, with all the trimmings, the perfect sustenance before a local walk and the drive back home to London.

Herefordshire is the ideal weekend escape from London… an array of foodie spots are dotted amongst the verdant and gloriously green countryside, so you can both eat handsomely and get a breath of fresh air before returning to busy city life.

In collaboration with Visit Herefordshire.

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.