Hotel Du Vin’s new Bistro

‘Seafood was always my favorite food. I mean, lobster? Come on!’ – Adrian Peterson

If being a July birthday has taught me anything (and it hasn’t) it’s that dare to utter the word ‘barbeque’ and it’s guaranteed to rain. I swear every time I try and arrange a birthday cookout we end up popping bubbly in the conservatory and grilling all the meat in the oven.

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So imagine my delight when the day of Hotel Du Vin’s summer barbeque and launch of their new bistro, the weather gods were obviously looking favourably upon me for a change and the sun made a very welcome appearance!

Hotel Du Vin has always been one of those places that have been on my radar to visit for a lifetime but for one reason or another have never quite made it. The Ouseburn area has always been a favourite of mine; close enough to be walking distance from the Quayside but remote enough that it has a quirky laid back vibe of its own. So suffice to say I was honoured to be able to attend their Bistro launch with some of my favourite blogging girlies for a little mate date.  Katie and I arrived a little early so had and had a drink in bar, which is a fab mixture of classy and cosy with lots of stylish dark wood and comfy arm chairs to recline in whilst enjoying a chilled glass of wine.

Once out on the terrace we were treated to some summer cocktails (the strawberry margarita was a particular favourite of mine) and some live music whilst they fired up the BBQ.  As is a full bbq all with locally sourced Northumbrian meat there was a seafood market cart jam backed with dressed crab, crab claws and lobster as well as a fresh Lindisfarne Oyster boat. I mean, with Brexit just around the corner it’s reassuring to know that with these delicacies on our doorstep, we’ll probably be ok with locally sourced food!

Oysters is definite the marmite of the seafood world; you either love them or hate them however it’s well documented that I’m a huge lover of marmite so am equally a lover of oysters too!  Smothered in tabasco sauce I could have eaten me about a million and a half of those bad boys! I didn’t though – they’re not all that well known for their stomach lining properties after all!

 

Thanks to Katie from www.ladyfromatramp.co.uk so use of her pictures

I could go on and on about the juiciness of the prawns or the succulence of the meat but to be honest, it’s probably just best you head along and try out their new bistro menu for yourself. The currently do a particularly good value al fresco summer set menu for £17.95 for two courses or £20.95 for three. If you’re particularly lucky, and happen to pick the day that summer falls on this year, you may even be able to treat yourself to a seat outside!

Contact:

Allan House, City Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 2BE
Tel: 0191 389 8628

Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

‘Las Vegas is the boiling pot of entertainment’ – Don Rickles

I’m lucky that throughout my travels in my adult life I’ve been able to visit Las Vegas 4 times now so by all accounts you could safely say I’ve ‘done’ Vegas. However when Meagan and I found out the lifelong childhood heroes The Backstreet Boys were doing a residency there, I knew I’d be heading over to the strip indulge in the craziness once again.

In previous trips I’ve stayed at the (now defunct) Sahara and the Stratosphere, both at the north end of the strip, which you usually find is the cheaper end. We almost booked into Circus Circus which always comes up the cheapest of all the big hotels in the strip, however the Trip Advisor reviews were putting me off and as lady luck would have it, Booking.com had a 40% discount on some better options so we plumped for the Excalibur.

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Visually, Excalibur has always been my second favourite hotel on the strip after New York New York; cheesy and tacky and built to look like a Disney ye olde English castle and the red and blue turrets stick out a mile off, but it’s Vegas, and unless you’re a millionnaire or won big and can afford to stay in somewhere a little more classy like the Bellagio, then you need to embrace the tacky.

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We booked a queen room, which came with two free buffets, for 4 nights which came out at about £250 each. The day we arrived I was sent an email with the option to check in remotely, this helped a ton as we ended up getting slightly delayed getting there so when we eventually did arrive, we were all checked in and all we needed to do was collect our keys.

 

The room (26126); which faced south so you could see the majority of the strip, was a decent size with two large queen beds, a TV and separate bathroom with toiletries. It was basic (no fridge for one) however spotlessly clean and in all honesty, for the amount of time you’re going to stay there, what more do you really need? The room was serviced and cleaned every day and once you’re up in your room and away from the chaos of the casino and strip downstairs it’s like a different world – so quiet and peaceful!

Throughout our stay we visited some of the newer hotels like The Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood, whilst in comparison they did make Excalibur look a little old and tired, they were all a bit too shiny, glitzy and trendy for me. I loved Excalibur’s old school feel, with it’s 1970s carpets and brighter lighting. Let’s be honest, we’re not in out 20s anymore and weren’t going to be strutting around in skimpy dresses and heels. The Excalibur was exactly the kind of vibe we were going for.

 

The entrance level is the extensive casino as you might expect along with a couple of bars, the front desk, guest services, Dicks Last Resort restaurant and Johnny Rockets burger joint (top tip: Johnny Rockets serves wine and beer which is a good couple of dollars cheaper tan the bars so if you want a drink to walk around with this might save you a few $$). Up one level is a food court which is where the buffet is as well and lots of other fast food type places, an Italian restaurant, Starbucks, Cinnabon etc. The level below the entrance level is where the Medieval tournament is held (this level is referred to as The Fun Dungeon – which just founds like a euphemism for something if you ask me!) and there’s also a Dairy Queen down there, just in case you haven’t have enough calories already!

 

Facilities wise, there’s everything you would expect. We were lucky with the weather and despite it being March, managed to spend an afternoon by the pool, which has plenty of facilitates for all; a kids pool with a water slide, and an adult only pool area (for an extra cost). Towels are free or you can use towels from your room. There’s a couple of pool bars where you can get wine, beer, spirits or cocktails in plastic cups (if you keep your cocktail cup you can get a refill for half price). There’s also a gym, which we did’t visit because you know we were on holiday but it looked a decent size and well equipped!

 

Location wise we couldn’t fault it, you’re right next door to some of the biggest hotels on the strip; New York New York is connected by a walk way and across the road is the MGM Grand which has a monorail station in if you wanted to go down to the other end of the strip without walking the 4 miles. To get to Planet Hollywood, where the concert was, it was about a 15 minute walk, but there’s so much going on along the way it really doesn’t feel like it. This means you’re an only 20 minute walk away from the fountain show at the Bellagio, which really is worth a watch!

I’m really struggling to find fault with anything about our stay, it was exactly what we needed for the perfect girls trip away, and I’d definitely go back, once I’ve paid off my massive Kate Spade credit card bill!

 

Ilford Road

Ilford Road is the 3rd station location in the Jesmond area of Newcastle and is served by both yellow and green lines. It’s predominantly residential and has relatively low passenger numbers compared to South Gosforth and West Jesmond which it’s sandwiched between.  It is however, handily located for the top end of Jesmond Dene but as such pub choices are poor.

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In fact, the only place to get a drink that’s remotely within walking distance is Jesmond Dene House. So Jesmond Dene House is where we went.  If you exit platform 1 and walk 350m to the road bridge then turn left and cross the tracks, you’ll be on Albury Road. Turn right here and walk down to Moorfield, which merges onto Jesmond Dene Road as you walk left. Stay on this road for 5 minutes and you’ll see a sign for Jesmond Dene House in a hedgerow. Follow that side street for a couple of minutes and the hotel will appear o your left.

JDH is a grade II listed building which was built in 1822 by John Dobson for Thomas Emerson Headlam who was a physician and Mayor of Newcastle between 1837 and 1845. In the past the building has been used as a college, a civil defence establishment, a seminary and a residential school, before it was fully restored in 2005 and becoming a 40 bedroom boutique, super swanky hotel to the rich and famous.

And rich and famous is what you need to be if you’re stopping by for a drink, well, certainly rich anyway. It is an absolutely beautiful building and the hotel bar, which you’re able to just walk into without being a hotel guest or dining in the restaurant is located immediately on the right as you walk past reception.

It’s small and intimate with low comfy seating and low lighting. It does however very much feel like a hotel bar and the clientele will undoubtedly be guests rather than walk ins like we were. The staff were great, you do feel very looked after despite not being a resident as it offers table service and your drinks are immediately placed on a tab for you (dangerous if you don’t look at the price list).  They also allowed you to sample different wines if you wanted (i didn’t – never found a bottle i didn’t like fnar, fnar) but i noticed others were, and they were generous with their samples, which is a good touch.

So our experience was overall positive and certainly felt a shift in quality and glamour compared to all the other pubs we’ve visited on our travels so far. However it was £12.49 for a bottle or corona and a small glass of wine, so not exactly a session bar. All that being said, for a treat, it was lovely and the chilled out relaxed atmosphere made me wish we were staying over because I could have sat there all night people watching and chatting with other guests.

Contact details:

Address: Jesmond Dene Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 2EY
Phone: 0191 212 3000

 

Ringwood Hall Hotel – Chesterfield

‘Sometimes you go to hotels and there are all these frames and pictures of people you don’t know, and you end up hiding everything in the drawer, and then housekeeping come and put it out again’ – Diane von Furstenberg

It had been on my mental bucketlist for as long as I can remember to visit Sherwood Forest but finally put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) earlier this year and made it all official in the hope that I would actually get some of it done. And get it done we did this year in May (you can read more about that here)

Of course Sherwood Forest isn’t exactly a hop skip and a jump away from Newcastle so we needed somewhere to hang our hats at the end of the day. Fortunately enough Ringwood Hall hotel in Brimington near Chesterfield popped up on our weekly Travelzoo email with an offer that seemed pretty sweet; a two night B&B stay for two people for £119.00 (extra £10 per person if you stay a Saturday night) plus a complimentary bottle of wine if you book into their restaurant one of the nights. I’d noticed that the hotel had the exact same deal on their website so I called them and booked direct with them rather than Travelzoo, purely to make sure they had availability for a weekend we could make it but also to avoid having to faff about with vouchers.

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We’re not a couple that goes away for weekends all that often. We had a terrible experience staying at a hotel near Darlington for a night lot long after we got together which I think put us off, plus just two nights away plus ‘doing stuff’ and lunches and dinners etc can easily get costly, we’d rather have a full week away in the sun for the same price. So needless to say I was anxious about staying here. Hotels that have ‘special deals’ on concern me sometimes; good quality places often don’t need to bother as they’re always full by reputation.

Of course It’s not been unknown in the past for me to be wrong and I really needn’t have worried staying at Ringwood Hall. It was actually really nice! When I’d called to book I was asked if we were guests at the wedding they were holding that weekend, when I said no I was told we’d be put in of of the little lodges on site but away from the main hall so as not to be disrupted by wedding guests. This was a good start as I hate noisy hotels. We were in the Gardeners Cottage right at the bottom of the property which was a cute little lodge of 4 rooms (were were in the Thyme room). If I were to be a little picky I would say there’s almost too much furniture in the rooms to be able to maneuver around (the bed was a super king at least) but it was furnished to a high standard and immaculately cleaned. Plus we weren’t exactly going to be spending all weekend in there so the lack of space didn’t matter too much. Plus being away from the main hall meant we weren’t disturbed at all at night.

Pictures borrowed from the Ringwood Hall website but are a good representation of what our room looked like!

We booked into the restaurant for dinner the first night as we weren’t due to be arriving until about 7pm and wasn’t sure what was around as any other option. As there was a wedding on the main restaurant was already being used so dinner was in a smaller dining room upstairs in the main hall. For starters we had breaded brie wedges (me) and pulled pork quesadillas (Dave). For main Fish & Chips (me) and pork medallions (Dave) and pudding we both had chocolate cake. The whole experience was slightly underwhelming sadly. The free bottle of house wine (white) wasn’t particularly chilled for a start. There was nothing wrong with the food, it was all nice, we just weren’t blown away by anything, plus the fish and chips came with fries, which I thought a really odd combination. The cake for desert, although slices were plentiful and very tasty (always a good combination) it seemed everything on the menu was cake, like the type of cake you’d have with a cup of tea rather in the afternoon rather than a pudding, which again I thought odd.

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Breakfast, which was included on both mornings was a standard fayre of cooked and cold options and there was plenty of choice. They score extra points for having little portions or marmite to have with your toast, it’s surprising how few hotels stock it. The second mornings breakfast was marred slightly by the fact the toaster broke down and there seemed to be a right carry on getting a portable one plugged in. You don’t realise how important toast is to your breakfast until you can’t have any. Staff weren’t all that on the ball with refills of coffee and tea (a lot of them were young and seemed quite new) but were friendly enough when you asked for anything.

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The hotel and hall are set among lovely grounds which are really picturesque and well kept. You can see why someone would pick it as a wedding venue as there are loads of little courtyards and garden areas for pictures. After having spend most of the morning/early afternoon at Sherwood Forest we came back and took advantage of the gym and small pool for an hour or so. Facilities at the leisure centre (which you have free access to if you’re a hotel guest) are limited, there’s a sauna and a steam room but no hot tub but it’s a nice little extra to kill sometime before it’s drinking time again.

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We ventured out into nearby Brimington for the Saturday night which is a short 5 minute walk left out of the hotel grounds. It felt a bit like a local village for local people and the first pub we went into seemed to have a wedding reception in full swing so we didn’t stay there. We did however find the Red Lion, which, although not much to look at from the outside (or indeed the inside) it did real ale a pint and a glass of wine was only £4.80, that’s a pricing policy we can get on board with! We rounded off the night with a rather nice curry at Chutney Spice before merrily sauntering back to the hotel (the £4.80 round of drinks had a lot to answer for!)

All in all although Ringwood Hall had a few little niggly issues that prevented it from being 1st class, it has restored my faith in having a weekend away and not being so cautious on ‘special offers’ in the future. I loved that they have little lodges dotted around so you can still stay when there’s a wedding or an event on without feeling like you’re intruding and it’s driving distance from Sherwood Forest, Bakewell, and Chatsworth so there’s loads to do in the area.

Why you should take Trip Advisor reviews with a pinch of salt

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth’ – Marcus Aurelius

Years and years ago back in the 80’s and 90’s, when you wanted to go on holiday the process was this: pootle along to Lunn Poly get a handful.of brochures, try to decipher the price grid at the bottom of the page, flick to the back and find out there are no flights from Newcastle to that resort, start search again, realise you’ve been looking at prices for 7 nights not 14 (you wondered why it was so cheap!). Pick a hotel you like that’s close to the beach (a rule of thumb is that if it’s 100m away then Linford Christie can get there in under 10 seconds). Then decide where you want to go based on the 3 professionally shot pictures available and hope for he best. And 9 times out of 10 it all worked out fine.

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Whilst the invention of Trip Advisor is on the whole a great thing, you can get honest reviews from past patrons on the things that the brochure wouldn’t tell you like how flirty the staff are or how often your loo roll gets replenished. I often contribute myself, especially if I’ve had a particularly good experience as people only tend to post reviews if they’re complaining.

Over the years though I’ve learnt that you really do have to take what you read with a pinch of salt because like everything, holiday and restaurant reviews are subjective and people’s yardsticks are different. A couple used to 5 star luxury aren’t going to rate the Red Lion in Benidorm very highly and the Chavingtons from Liverpool are probably going to want to go for chips after their 8 course meal in a Michelin Star restaurant.

I’ll give you some examples from some recent holidays we’ve been on. This one from a hotel we stayed at in Atlanta:

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The bit at the bottom about the breakfast? Well we stayed at that hotel a mere two months after this Joe Charlie and let me tell you that all they offered for breakfast was bagels, muffins, donuts, cereals, toast, jams, fruit, cooked eggs, grits, waffles, juices, milk, tea and coffee. What the hell kind of breakfast do you expect for £40 a night you greedy pelican?!

Or this one from our recent stay in Greece:

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Poor Anna (who can I add for clarification will be in her late 40’s at best so the ‘old lady’ comment is very harsh) We couldn’t have had a more different experience. When we arrived we were greeted warmly, she was full of ‘sweeties’ and ‘darlins’ and showed us to our room immediately, then invited us down to the bar for a (complementary) welcome drink and some lunch. Now, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the chirpiest person in the world at 5am so could possibly excuse her a little lax with the pleasantries however the opinion of this reviewer and mine differs so drastically it makes you wonder whether Anna has some kind of psychotic split personality. Or (more likely I suspect) one of us isn’t being honest/and or way too harsh on someone you’ve just gotten out of bed! All the stuff about the pool being dirty as well is rubbish, I watched it with my own eyes being cleaned every morning.

Some people just seem to expect something for nothing. It’s always the budget or bargain hotels that seem to get people nit picking because they ran out of coffee one morning or they had to wait 20 seconds to check in. If you want all that fuss and ‘Ah Mrs Newman we’ve been expecting you’ type stuff then (first of all go back to the 1950’s) you need to be prepared to pay for it. Obviously manners cost nothing, and as a basic rule everywhere should be welcoming and clean as a bare minimum.

I also think it’s important to note that (most) hotels or restaurants aren’t run by robots, so there’s inevitably going to be loads of room for human error. Can you honestly say hand on heart that you’ve never made a mistake or forgotten to do something at work? To me it’s not about the mistakes that are made, I imagine for example that housekeeping staff are under immense pressure to get the rooms turned around in double quick time, therefore from time to time you may end up in a room with the previous guests dirty towels still on the towel rail. You at least have to give the hotel chance to rectify the problem first.

On our second night in Greece I woke up at 1am in a massive pink sweaty heap of gyros and retsina because we had no air conditioning in the room. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting until the morning to speak to someone about it, I genuinely thought I may sweat to actual death if I stayed in there. So I woke up the hubs (much to his disgust – a full on Disney Parade with marching band could route through our bedroom and he wouldn’t wake up so a little heat was nothing), and we trotted down to the bar to ask if they had any mobile AC units or fans we could borrow. Less than 10 minutes later (and after a complimentary shot of Peach Schnapps while we waited) there was a massive electric fan waiting for us outside our room. So am I going to log on to trip advisor and complain about the fact the room had no air conditioning in 30 degree heat? No I’m not because the service we got despite the problem was great!

People love to complain at the end of the day so bear in mind what you’re reading is probably only half the story, the people who had a great time are less likely to post a review. We’ve had some of the best stays and service in places that didn’t score highly and some of the blandest meals from places with 5 stars and everything in between. Trust your own judgment, check the nationality of the person writing the review (this will tell you a lot about their standards) and read between the lines to see what it is they’re actually complaining about. If it’s that they had two pillows when they normally only sleep with one, is the hotel really going to be that much of a hole?!

If want some lols on some of Trip Advisors really bizarre reviews this site if worth a visit http://tripadvisaargh.tumblr.com/