Good option for entertaining the family in post-pandemic school holidays

Good option for entertaining the family in post-pandemic school holidays

AS we’re still getting to grips with the realities of a post-pandemic lifestyle – while the rest of the school holidays span ahead of us – there are now fewer ways that we’re comfortable in spending our family time.

So when Go Ape in Coventry recently reopened after lockdown it presented a tempting option in our ‘neck of the woods.’

Go Ape, Coombe Abbey Country Park, COVID-19, safety measures, Coventry

Set in 500 acres of historic woodlands at Coombe Abbey Country Park, there is no shortage of excitement – but also with a choice of courses for different thrill levels.

My teenage sons and three friends took on the Tree Top Challenge which is open to all experience levels (over 1.4 metres). But this doesn’t mean it’s a pushover for the more confident adventurers as there’s a mix of crossings cleverly designed to test everyone’s limits.

If you’re supervising someone younger, you’re not restricted to following in all their footsteps as the crossings do split off in various places offering different challenge levels while reuniting at the other end.

Go Ape, Coombe Abbey Country Park, COVID-19, safety measures, Coventry

And, despite traversing a few of Go Ape’s 35 courses over the years, the boys were delighted by Coombe’s new elements, such as a dual Tarzan swing and the exclusive Alpine zip-to-zip – a series of zip wires. Exclusive to Coventry, this feature soon has you swinging through trees with abandon, culminating in a 200m double zip course landing. Plummet – a vertical drop from a 12-metre-high platform is currently suspended but, from previous experience, I can report, is particularly exhilarating.

 

The zip to zip provides a thrilling finale to a course that, in my opinion, helps Coombe stand out from the others we’ve experienced.

For the younger ‘apes’ there is also The Tree Top Adventure (for all ages over 1 metre) and Tree Top Adventure + (for six plus and over 1.2 metres).

Compared to our first visit just after it opened last spring, the woodland area has matured and now and, more than ever, participants feel like they’re truly swinging in the trees.

But, in a new climate of cautiousness that’s been forced upon us, did we feel reassured by Go Ape’s COVID safety measures?

The equipment is regularly cleaned, there’s a hand sanitisation station, screens at the booking kiosk and distancing is encouraged between groups on the course. Instructors also wear visors.

Even the pens we borrow to sign the waiver form are deposited back into a separate container for wiping down once we’re finished.

But it’s the peace of mind of the open air and sensible, yet unobtrusive, safety measures that left us feeling comfortable on the day.

What better time than post lockdown to appreciate the freedom of the great outdoors – and from what better vantage point than the canopies of beautiful Coombe Abbey Country Park.

So swing on by, you won’t regret it.

Further details at: https://goape.co.uk/locations/coventry

Us & Everything Else: A book review by Amanda Chalmers

Us & Everything Else: A book review by Amanda Chalmers

A LIFE well travelled – and a journey of self-discovery are at the heart and soul of Francoise Hélène’s poignant new poetry collection Us & Everything Else.

This evocative book tackles just about everything, from the rawest of emotions of pain and heartache to the most euphoric of joys and celebrations.

Us and Everything Else, poetry, Francoise Helene

Whether it’s exploring the beauty and pain that inhabits our days, the desire to give hope through hopelessness or spread joy in moments of deep sorrow, this moving collection is penned by an author who clearly wants the leave their reader feeling truly inspired to live their ‘most authentic life.’

The poems resonate most deeply with clear and important messages around diversity, practising self love, relinquishing negativity and encouraging us to share the beauty of everyday lives.

Born in New Brunswick, Canada Françoise Hélène was always seeking inspiration in everything, and in school she learned English and fell in love with music and song lyrics from an early age.

Francoise’s travels took her across the world to Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia and South America but it was London, where she finally settled and fell in love with poetry, inspiring the prose to flow.

One of the delights of this collection is its ability to connect to every reader, regardless of gender, status or standpoint.

Whether a lover or a fighter, a parent or a friend, a stalwart or a lost soul, there’s something for all to relate to at various levels and stages of our lives.

And it’s not afraid to take us to some darker corners where we may even discover we’re facing up to some harsh realities about our own journeys.

But then we’ll turn the page and, almost without warning, feel the warmest of embraces with poetic words championing love and reassurance through such topics as inner strength, self-belief, self-preservation and determination. Some of the poems are an eye-opener to see light in the darkness.

The book is a mix of short and long poems with even a few short stories thrown in for good measure at the end. Francoise’s passions of music nature, art and philosophy become familiar themes throughout her pages – alongside broken hearts, inner truths, loneliness, sacrifice and healing – but she is also adept at using humour to successfully convey a more lightened mood.

Us and Everything Else, poetry, Francoise Helene
Francoise Hélène

Personally, I believe Us & Everything Else is best summed up by one of the author’s own poems. . .

‘When the passion inside of you

Always burns for more

That is how you know

Not only it is part of you

But you were meant to be part of it.’

It is simply entitled Doing What You Love.

And there’s no doubting that Francoise’s deep adoration for her work is the secret to its success – she has already been recognised with an award.

This exciting poet lays everything bare between the covers of this book – and its raw honesty can’t fail but to empower its readers who will undoubtedly emerge from their own personal literary – and spiritual – journey of discovery.

A very interesting read.

You can find Us & Everything Else through the author’s website or here.

My post-lockdown first night dining experience

My post-lockdown first night dining experience

FIFTEEN weeks after being plunged into lockdown, one of the biggest freedoms we’ve been denied was this weekend re-gifted to us – and I wasted no time in taking advantage.

Whilst good food and drink have not been in short supply over recent months (my waistline will sadly vouch for that!), it’s the social setting and convivial atmosphere of the pub and restaurant experience that I’ve missed most.

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining

So, upon receiving an email invitation to book a table at one of my favourite local hostelries, there was no hesitation.

It was only on the lead up to our visit on Saturday night however, I started to question my (usually very sound) judgement. Social media – and headlines – were piling on the pressure to ‘stay at home.’ We were constantly reminded of ‘second spikes’ and ‘local lockdowns’ were very much in the news.

Was I being irresponsible in taking the family to step out into this brave – and as yet untested – new world? Should I, like most in my social circles, steer clear for a while longer to observe how things ‘pan out?’

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to cancel on more than one occasion last week. The overthinking mum and the logical fact-driven journalist were at odds.

But the favourably low local COVID statistics added much-needed perspective.

And as a PR professional who works with many small local businesses, I also felt compelled to lend them my support.

I had witnessed first-hand their struggles for survival throughout lockdown and had long told myself that the moment I could do my bit to help get their tills ringing again, I would.

And after all, I reasoned, my family were due some celebrations in lieu of three birthdays, a significant wedding anniversary, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and other assorted milestones. So, suitably reconciled, off we headed to The Globe in Warwick.

The restaurant, in Theatre Street, was very much in the spotlight for its ‘first night’ audience.

On researching their COVID-Security measures, I was satisfied this chic gastropub, part of the Oakman Inns stable, had customers’ safety at heart. These included restricted numbers, discrete screens between some tables, disposable menus, cutlery brought to the table, signs to keep traffic flowing one way, an abundance of hand sanitiser and the option of at-table ordering via an app.

Would this infringe on the restaurant dining experience I’d so sorely missed? Would first impressions of the ‘new normal’ have us rushing back for a repeat performance or re-joining the more cautious supporters of stay at home? After all, a meal for four at your average south Warwickshire gastropub comes at a not-insignificant price. Would it still be a price we were willing to pay?

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining
Discrete screens have been added to booth seating

I am delighted – and relieved – to report that, for us at least, the answer is yes. The overall dining experience was not that dissimilar to that of pre-lockdown. Considering this was reopening night, the team at The Globe handled their new regime with reassuring confidence and calm. Their genuine delight at being back on the front line of hospitality was clear to see. The servers we spoke to have missed the buzz of their restaurants as much as we have.

I was surprised to find a lack of face masks however. Whilst only optional for serving staff, it struck me that this may have offered an increased level of reassurance among more nervous diners, especially when they leaned over to collect plates and glasses from the table.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our long-anticipated family meal out and am pleased I didn’t talk myself into succumbing to that last-minute cancellation. In fact, buoyed on by this, we are heading out again next weekend, this time to Tasca Dali in High Street.

I am particularly pleased to support Tasca which has been much missed in the town. But it was a close call for this award-winning – but famously compact – Spanish restaurant which narrowly avoided hanging up the closed sign for good thanks to a recent change in the 2m distancing rule.

The restaurant can now accommodate double the number of diners than planned – although full capacity will still see a third fewer customers catered for on their busiest nights. There are still struggles ahead.

Whichever pub, restaurant or café you’re most looking forward to again frequenting, for that peace of mind it’s worth first checking up on their safety measures.

The Globe, Tasca Dali, COVID-19, lockdown, restaurants, pubs, dining
Signs and sanitiser are going to become familiar sights.

Make sure they are accredited as COVID-Secure and plan ahead such as downloading their apps. And don’t be shy to contact them with questions in advance of your booking. Businesses will be sympathetic to your nervousness to return through their doors and will work with you to offer as much reassurance as possible.

Many also offer outdoor dining which – on the finer days – can be a great compromise for those not ready to yet take the leap across their thresholds.

We are so lucky in south Warwickshire, to be surrounded by a fine choice of eateries and drinking holes and I, for one, am looking forward to reacquainting myself with most of them over the coming weeks and months.

Whilst I am clearly no scientist – and there is no such thing as zero risk – I am reassured that, if you choose wisely and follow the measures and advice in place, it is possible to once again enjoy our favourite restaurants and pubs safely, whilst also doing our bit to reignite the local economy.

Now I’ll definitely drink to that!

The Globe: www.theglobewarwick.co.uk

Tasca Dali: www.tascadali.com

Satisfying our appetites – until ‘normal’ service resumes (Review)

Satisfying our appetites – until ‘normal’ service resumes (Review)

AS we all come to terms with a new ‘normal,’ one of life’s treats we’re missing most is dining out at our favourite restaurants.

While hospitality businesses across the country are busily preparing to re-open their doors with appropriate COVID-19 safety measures in place, many are working hard to bring as much of the experience as possible into our homes instead.

My much-loved local of 20 years, The Hatton Arms is among them.

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, lockdown, deliveries, takeaways, review

This popular country pub on the edge of Warwick was sadly forced to hang up the closed sign soon after a much-trumpeted refurbishment and relaunch in February.

Four months on and now gradually re-emerging from lockdown, the Hatton Arms is still managing to hold firm to its principles of locally sourced fresh seasonal ingredients, with its recent unveiling of a reduced down version of the pub’s new lunch and dinner menus.

With hubby’s birthday at the weekend, I decided it was a good opportunity to put their meal delivery service to the test, so, with 24 hours’ notice, we booked a time slot and put in our food orders via email.

Delivery was very prompt and the food arrived piping hot.

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, deliveries, takeaways, review, Warwick

While more limited menu, the menu has been carefully considered to include a little something for all tastes, from pies and burgers to fish and chips and ribs and even Classic Caesar Salad. Vegetarians are also catered for

We took advantage of the keenly priced Burger Bundle – any two burgers and two desserts for £24.95, opting for the Double Stack BBQ Burger (double stacked chargrilled chuck steak burger with mature cheddar, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle and BBQ sauce on a ciabatta bun) and the Double Stack Buttermilk Chicken Burger (double stacked buttermilk chicken breast, mature cheddar, lettuce, tomato, dill pickle, garlic mayo and Hatton hot sauce on a ciabatta bun).

Other members of the family chose Fish and Chips (beer-battered haddock, chips, mushy peas and tartar sauce) and a dish called ‘BBQ Heaven.’

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, takeaways, deliveries, Warwick, review
Double Stack BBQ Burger

All were given a big thumbs up, although a word of warning about BBQ Heaven. With five lemon and thyme chicken wings, buttermilk chicken, rack of BBQ pork ribs and skinny fries, this meal is not one for the faint-hearted. In hindsight this could stretch to two people and, while at £19.95, it is the menu’s most expensive option, it actually represents excellent value.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page too for specials.

A small but tantalisingly tempting selection of desserts – chocolate brownie, white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake, fruit crumble or mini cinnamon doughnuts with chocolate dipping sauce – are all generous is portion size. From personal experience I can say the fruit crumble is among the tastiest I’ve had. (And I like to think of myself as a crumble aficionado I’ve indulged in that many!)

All in all we were agreed, this was a very satisfying birthday banquet. Now we’re eyeing up the mouth-watering Sunday Roasts for another weekend. I’ve read positive reviews about these too!

This country pub has established a reputation among locals and visitors for authentic dining and classic British cuisine made with the finest ingredients, often sourced direct from the Hatton Estate.

It is also known for its beautiful sweeping views of the idyllic Hatton Locks. And Hatton Walks has now been re-opened at weekends for guests of the Hatton Arms to enjoy from 9am onwards.

Double Stack BBQ Burger

There are three different circular walking routes that take in the Grand Union Canal, local public footpaths and some beautiful private paths across the Hatton Estate to Hatton Country World. Free walks guides are available to download online by searching for ‘Hatton Walks Warwick.’

While the team has been busy managing social distancing and limiting visitor numbers as well as tidying up litter from the canal towpath, manager Stephanie Ward is also keen that customers consuming their Hatton Arms breakfast baps and coffees, follow the countryside code when visiting the Hatton Locks area. Extra bins have also been provided to help with this.

She said: “We are desperately missing our loyal customers and can’t wait to be able to welcome you back inside our doors again soon. We are awaiting further guidance from the Government on when this can happen.

“In the meantime we’re delighted to be able to continue serving our menu and wish to thank everyone for their invaluable support.”

Hatton Arms, COVID-19, takeaways, deliveries, Hatton, review, Stephanie Ward
Stephanie Ward

Takeaways can be available for collection or delivery between 3-8pm on Fridays, 12 noon-8pm on Saturdays and 12 noon-6pm on Sundays. The full menu can be found at: https://hattonarms.com/takeaway-order-form/ Same day orders can be made from midday by calling 01926 492427. Pre-orders can be made by emailing enquiries@hattonarms.com

Generally speaking, while restaurant food deliveries are a deliciously welcome distraction from our own kitchens, I think we’d all agree they are no real alternative to the authentidc dining out experience. But keep supporting them so we can one day (soon) be back to enjoying the original mine host hospitality in a form that we know and love.

Giggling Squid leaves you with plenty to smile about

Giggling Squid leaves you with plenty to smile about

WHEN it comes to authentic Thai dining at a chain restaurant, it doesn’t, in my opinion, come much better than Giggling Squid.

So I didn’t need asking twice when I was invited to head down to their newest venue, in The Royal Priors in Leamington.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review

Bold flavours and exotic ingredients take their inspiration from the Thai traditions and legends and have their own personality and story to tell, celebrating the abundance of ingredients found across Thailand.

I was told: “Giggling Squid is all about how people eat their food and spend their mealtimes in Thailand. Generous food to share and celebrate together, whether you have more adventurous tastes or prefer something simple and satisfying; an all-involved, love of food, living for flavour, being together experience.”

I’d say, based on my experience, that sounds like a fair assessment.

Reason to celebrate then as locals can now enjoy in the vibrant Giggling Squid menu, which is cooked by expert Thai chefs and served with true Thai generosity.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review
The Sharing Platter

Our party kicked off this feast with Chicken Satay, Pork Dumplings and the Sharing Platter for two. (Don’t judge – there were four of us!)

While all were flavoursome, it was the platter which won the highest praise – and are definitely the dish of choice for the hungry diner!

With 18 dishes to choose from, I guarantee there’ll be something for even the fussier of diners – I know because we had one with us.

And if decision making isn’t your strong point, you’ll be challenged by the Mains menu which offers nearly 30 dishes – all equally tempting.

We opted for the Wholesome Cashew Stir Fry (with chicken); Sticky Chicken Stir Fry, Chubby Cheek Pork and Crying Beef. Be warned though this is served on the rare side despite not being asked your preference. I guess this is how they recommend it be taken. Regardless, rare may not be to everyone’s taste although, luckily, in this instance, it was still devoured.

Desserts here are all about quality over quantity which is fine by me. And those of us who left enough room were rewarded by the indulgence of Melting Heart Chocolate Dessert and Sweet Heavens Above Trio (a mini Salted Caramel Souffle, Melting Heart Chocolate Dessert and Pineapple and Coconut Finger.) Delicious.

Other options include Caramelised Mango Cake, Prosecco and Muddled Berry Cheesecake, Coconut Pudding with Berry Compote and a variety of exotic ice creams.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review

Other stand-outs on the creative evening include Samui Zingy Prawns (prawns with a fresh, citrusy sauce), Betel Leaf & Ginger Lime Salmon Morsels (salmon pieces nestled in lemongrass, lime cubes, ginger and roasted shredded coconut wrapped in betel leaf) and Pad Cha, a popular Thai seafood stir fry with a fiery flavour combination of pounded chilli, garlic, thinly sliced krachai and fresh peppercorns delivers a zingy punch of flavours.

Giggling Squid, Leamington Spa, review

A dedicated vegan menu and wine list is also available alongside a large selection of vegetarian dishes.

The popular tapas lunch menu offers an extensive selection of small plates and includes Giggling Squid favourite Salt & Pepper Squid alongside the fiery Som Tam Papaya Salad and the Big Flavour Mushroom Larb (a speciality salad from Isan Province with juicy, exotic mushrooms tossed in fresh mint, dried chilli flakes, ground toasted rice and shallots).

Wholesome Cashew Stir Fry (with chicken)
Wholesome Cashew Stir Fry (with chicken)

A welcome change from other high street offerings, families will be able to enjoy the ‘Little Tapas for Little People’ menu (£5.99 for two dishes) with the option to add a pudding for £1.99. Designed to encourage children to be more adventurous with their food choices, the menu features smaller versions of popular dishes including Chicken Satay, Pork Dumplings and Pad Thai.

Giggling Squid’s fresh and stylish interior, celebrates its ingredients from the sea and land while including a subtle hint of Thai. Hand-pressed flowers in vintage frames and hand-painted stencils combine with bold, floral wallpapers to add a subtle splash of colour. It really is one of the most stylish and comfortable High Street restaurants I’ve experienced.

Prices for main courses range from £10-£16.50 and in that sense, are perhaps not suited to all pockets. (A three-course meal for a family of four will carry a not insignificant price tag.) However, if it’s authentic tasty Thai food at its best that you’re craving, it’s worth every last penny.

www.gigglingsquid.com