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Picnics and Alfresco summer parties

Sam Bertram

12 May 2017

Summer is just around the corner (we hope!), so we spoke to Jane and Nick of Gastro Nicks at their Deli in Collingbourne Ducis to find out what they recommend stocking up on for all those picnics and alfresco summer parties. Which artisan products would you recommend for summer parties and picnics?  ‘We’ve got lots of new produce coming in for summer. At the moment we particularly love the trout paté and roulade from Mere Fish Farm. They are delicious and great for parties and easy to transport for picnics You can never go wrong with our Charcuterie range. The Fennel salami is absolutely delicious as is the Prosciutto, the slightly smoked Spec and Bresaola. Always good for a picnic or lunches in the garden. We can slice cured meats for our customers so you can make sure you’ve got enough to go round. Our extensive cheese range includes a lot more sheep and goats cheese this year. There’s always a bakery selection but if you’re planning on having any parties or picnics we can order in for you. We get our bread from Honesty Bakery near Newbury and it’s divine. They do lovely sheets of focaccia bread baked with olive oil. If you want to put on a real Mediterranean spread we stock it all. Olives, antipasti, oils and vinegars and we have some bruschetta mix from Sicily coming in. It’s in a jar and you spoon it out and put it straight on crusty bread. It’s so good.  We love the fact that summer dining can be more informal – loads laid out with so many different tasting opportunities.  Not forgetting something to drink! We love to complement our picnics with Greco do Tufo – an elegant white that’s fruity enough to drink on its own. Sparkling Rosé is always good and for red our customers love Valpolicella. We’ve visited most of the producers who we source our wine from.’  And for the sweeter tooth? ‘We’ve usually got something sweet for the end of the meal. We stock New Forest Chocolates although careful those don’t melt in the sun! Other favourites are the Italian nougat, panforte and Cantucinni biscuits (crispy with almond chocolate inside). Brutti e buoni is like Amaretti - meringue with chopped almonds inside.  The summer fruits are always fantastic.  Our milk and and clotted cream comes from Cornwall and you can taste the difference when the cows have been put out in the summer pastures.’ What’s your favourite thing to cook in summer? Making some lovely pasta salads with our Sicilian pasta. It’s egg free and made from durum wheat and it’s not just a texture but actually tastes of something! The Tricolore pasta even has a bit of chilli in it. It’s great to combine it with chunky Italian yellowfin tuna in olive oil or with anchovies.  Our Sicilian pine nuts, pecorino or parmesan make great ingredients for fresh pesto.  You just need fresh basil.  Have a go!’  http://www.gastronicks.co.uk/

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Picnics and Alfresco summer parties

Sam Bertram

12 May 2017

Summer is just around the corner (we hope!), so we spoke to Jane and Nick of Gastro Nicks at their Deli in Collingbourne Ducis to find out what they recommend stocking up on for all those picnics and alfresco summer parties. Which artisan products would you recommend for summer parties and picnics?  ‘We’ve got lots of new produce coming in for summer. At the moment we particularly love the trout paté and roulade from Mere Fish Farm. They are delicious and great for parties and easy to transport for picnics You can never go wrong with our Charcuterie range. The Fennel salami is absolutely delicious as is the Prosciutto, the slightly smoked Spec and Bresaola. Always good for a picnic or lunches in the garden. We can slice cured meats for our customers so you can make sure you’ve got enough to go round. Our extensive cheese range includes a lot more sheep and goats cheese this year. There’s always a bakery selection but if you’re planning on having any parties or picnics we can order in for you. We get our bread from Honesty Bakery near Newbury and it’s divine. They do lovely sheets of focaccia bread baked with olive oil. If you want to put on a real Mediterranean spread we stock it all. Olives, antipasti, oils and vinegars and we have some bruschetta mix from Sicily coming in. It’s in a jar and you spoon it out and put it straight on crusty bread. It’s so good.  We love the fact that summer dining can be more informal – loads laid out with so many different tasting opportunities.  Not forgetting something to drink! We love to complement our picnics with Greco do Tufo – an elegant white that’s fruity enough to drink on its own. Sparkling Rosé is always good and for red our customers love Valpolicella. We’ve visited most of the producers who we source our wine from.’  And for the sweeter tooth? ‘We’ve usually got something sweet for the end of the meal. We stock New Forest Chocolates although careful those don’t melt in the sun! Other favourites are the Italian nougat, panforte and Cantucinni biscuits (crispy with almond chocolate inside). Brutti e buoni is like Amaretti - meringue with chopped almonds inside.  The summer fruits are always fantastic.  Our milk and and clotted cream comes from Cornwall and you can taste the difference when the cows have been put out in the summer pastures.’ What’s your favourite thing to cook in summer? Making some lovely pasta salads with our Sicilian pasta. It’s egg free and made from durum wheat and it’s not just a texture but actually tastes of something! The Tricolore pasta even has a bit of chilli in it. It’s great to combine it with chunky Italian yellowfin tuna in olive oil or with anchovies.  Our Sicilian pine nuts, pecorino or parmesan make great ingredients for fresh pesto.  You just need fresh basil.  Have a go!’  http://www.gastronicks.co.uk/

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A lovely family run hotel & restaurant

Sam Bertram

22 July 2016

The summer holidays are kicking off and it’s time to get out and explore. We spoke to spoke to Alix Young at The Pear Tree Purton about their lovely family hotel. What sets a family hotel apart from other hotels? ‘The most important thing is continuity. My mum has been at the hotel for 29 years and we also have customers who’ve been coming since then. When they visit us they expect to, and always do, see my mum. We remember all our guests and the things they love – their dogs name or their favourite tea. Our hotel feels more like a home that we’re sharing with our guests. It’s not pretentious or stuffy and many of our customers feel like an extended part of our family. I had a baby boy, Charlie, in March and we were overwhelmed by how many of our regular customers have sent cards and presents and want to come and meet him. We often get business people from Swindon trying us for the first time because the chain hotel they regularly use is full. They are always surprised how good, friendly and adaptable we are. We also like to add our personal touch to the hotel rather than use professional advisers. We update and refresh the décor in the rooms ourselves. Together with mum we have the perspective of two generations so they’re not fuddy duddy or super contemporary but somewhere in between. We apply this same approach to our menus, wine lists and bar choices too. If something alienates either of us then it doesn’t happen. Having a baby has also made me more conscious of children’s needs – like having High Chairs and getting the kids order on the table ASAP! We often host family reunions and have had one family group coming for the last 7 years. One of their relatives left them some money to meet up every year with a rule that it can’t be in the same place twice. But they love coming to us as they have the whole hotel to themselves, and it feels like home, so they’ve discounted that rule for now!' Tell us a bit about your restaurant 'We’ve always said we wanted to be a great restaurant that just happens to have a hotel attached to it, rather than the other way round. We believe that if you get the food right everything else follows. The food is modern, British but at its essence it’s good, unpretentious, tasty food. Atmosphere is really important to us – we’ve created a really relaxed environment. Our restaurant aims to cater for those who just don’t fancy cooking and want to come out for just a main course, while also appealing to those looking for a special night out. We have 2 AA rosettes and a great team who really understand our customers. We’re also open for breakfast but non-residents just have to let us know before. Otherwise it’s lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Afternoon tea is sandwiches, cakes and scones and can be served in either the lounges or the garden.  Our restaurant overlooks the garden which is looking great at the moment with lots of catmint and wild flowers. We have a helipad so often get customers flying in to see a nearby location, and they normally stay for a bite to eat with us too.' What’s your favourites dish from the restaurant? 'At the moment I love the pan-fried Sea Bream with tiger prawns, panzanella style salad, orange and chilli dressing and shoestring potato. It’s really lovely and summery and light and perfect for a summer’s day. Our dinner menu changes every month but it’s been a bit tricky with this unpredictable summer. As our restaurant is in the conservatory you can’t ignore the weather, so we’ve been changing our menus more regularly to suit the ever changing climate!' Have you been busy with Weddings this year? 'Since Charlie was born we’ve done 11 weddings.  We can have weddings of up to 50 people and people love the fact that if they book 18 months in advance the same people they booked with will be running the occasion.  At the moment the ceremonies are held inside but we’re in the process of opening up a summer house for weddings which will be fantastic. We can’t wait.' www.peartreepurton.co.uk   

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Marlborough's historical treasure

Sam Bertram

17 June 2016

We visited The Merchant’s House, Marlborough to find out a bit more the house and how it all started. So why should people visit The Merchant’s House, Marlborough? ‘It is a fabulous example of how a rich merchant might have lived in the 17th Century and is incredibly unique - there are no roped off areas and you can look at and touch everything. You can even get into the bed if you so wish! It’s also a work in progress so someone might be doing restorative work on the furniture or walls as you walk around. Feedback from the tours is always extremely positive. They are very personalised and interactive – if you’re interested in needlework you can ask more about Mr and Mrs Bayly’s costumes, and conversely if art is your subject then you can ask about that too. What people don’t realise is you learn more than just the history of the house.  You get to understand all about the history behind the Marlborough area and its role in the civil war too.’ Tell us a bit about the merchant who lived in the house ‘Thomas Bayly described himself as a silk merchant which suggests his customers were from the upper echelons of society. As well as serving the local gentry Thomas also benefitted from Marlborough’s strategic position, serving passing trade between London and Bristol. There’s no doubt that Thomas was a prominent character in the town, he served as Mayor twice. He was also living in the house when the fire of 1653 burned down most of the High Street.  Marlborough were supporters of Cromwell so following the fire Cromwell rewarded their loyalty with a national collection to help re-build Marlborough. The Merchant’s House was given the second largest amount and, after it was re-built, Thomas lived there with his wife Katherine and their nine children until his death in 1670.’ When did the house come into trust? We’ve just celebrated 25 years of the trust and when you come on a tour you’ll learn all about it. It was started in 1991 when the tenants, WHSmith, were moving on.  A group of locals went to the town council to ask for support in turning it into an attraction for Marlborough. Many thought it would be a five or six year project but the house is still being restored and visitors are still coming and many of the original group are still involved as trustees today.  When the Trust first started restoring and uncovering the wall paintings and panels they found it was a far greater treasure than they originally thought. There are now over 100 volunteers working weekly as well as some part time staff. This year we’re doing some restorative work on some wall paintings in the top bedroom. The space above Clarks has also become available so we are discussing restoring that and establishing a Marlborough museum. You’ve got lots of events coming up in the summer – tell us more We’ve got lots in store for the summer with a talk by historian Michael Gray on 17th and 18th Century Oak furniture on 28th June.  Our annual lunch at Marlborough College during Summer School promises lots of family fun with the history of Punch & Judy followed by a show. We have a harp recital in August and an evening with Mr and Mrs Bayly in September. How do you generate fund for the trust? The Trust receives some rental income to help with the costs of running the charity. All profits from events and the shop go towards restoration.  So when you shop with The Merchant’s House you know your money is going towards restoring and keeping this national treasure. In the shop we have some great brands and try and stock local products when we can. There are some Marlborough branded gifts and we’ve got lots of appealing gifts for dads for father’s day so pop in. http://www.themerchantshouse.co.uk/

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