A Taste of Spring at Verzon House

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I was absolutely delighted to be invited over to Verzon House in Herefordshire, to taste some of their new spring menu. Verzon House is a beautiful hotel, and they are not let down by their kitchen.

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Head Chef Callum McDonald is a absolute master of local produce. He has created a really wonderful menu, marrying magical flavours and filling tummies with delicious food, all sourced from within 30 miles of Verzon House (except for the fish!)

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The restaurant was comfortable and relaxed, I felt absolutely fine scoffing my way though everything that was put in front of me!

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I’ve done a lot of eating in my time, but I must say, this was some of the best food I have had in a very long time.

So, why don’t you sit down and join me as I work my way through enough food for both of us!

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Wye Valley Asparagus – Pheasant Egg, Golden Cross Goats Cheese

Mmmm. Delicious! The battered asparagus was salty (but not too salty), balancing beautifully with the non battered kind, and all being complimented by the rich, creamy goats cheese. I’ve never eaten a Pheasant egg before, I was surprised by how light in flavour it was. All together a delicious and light starter.

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Smoked Madgetts Duck – Confit Leg, Gingerbread, Rhubarb

The sharpness of the rhubarb and the richness of the duck balanced perfectly. The dish was sweet, but no overly so. The ‘gingerbread’ crust was soft, crunchy and enjoyable, I don’t think I tasted the ginger, but that may have been something to do with the speed in which I tucked in! This was definitely a more substantial starter that the asparagus, but so well balanced it left me wanting to try more flavourful foods from the menu.

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Huntland Farm Pork Loin – Black Pudding Rosti, Braised Cheek, Perry Jus

I had to be a little bit careful with this dish as I can’t really eat pears, so I worked my way around the jus, only tasting it a little! The braised cheek was soft, with a strong, deep flavour. Big sticky raisins sat in the Perry jus. The carrots, cooked perfectly and glazed in ale, had a hint of aniseed to them. The pork loin sat on top of a sharp and tangy apple sauce. The contrast of the rich cheek and the light loin really worked well. And, the Black Pudding Rosti was a thing to behold! Perfectly seasoned and delicious. This is meat, veg and spuds done to its utmost best! Simple ingredients working in unison. The colours were stunning too, the blackcurrant colour of the cheek against the bright carrot puree – beautiful!

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Cornish Plaice, Parsley & Lemon Crust – Samphire, Smoked Bacon & Cockle Butter

I don’t often eat seafood because it can sometimes make me pretty poorly – that’s if its not been prepared right (something to do with an enzyme or whatnot), but having seen behind the scenes and tasted the other fantastic dishes, I knew I could trust this kitchen.

The colours shouted ‘Spring!’ – delicate pale pink radishes, rich dark bacon lardons, pale pea greens and cool crisp white. An interior designer’s spring mood board! The very subtle flavour of the fish, encrusted in lemon and parsley, was enhanced by capers and cockles and samphire (my favourite green food of all time!). There was spinach, and beautiful crushed potatoes, with chives and garlic and cockle butter. Yum! Such a light but heartily filling dish. A proper treat.

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Sticky Ginger Pudding – Clotted Cream Ice Cream

Luckily, even after sampling those other gorgeous dishes, I’d left room in my pudding stomach for this weighty beauty. The pudding had a thick and sticky outer, which once broken into revealed a soft, dark sponge flecked with pieces of date. (Sounds like something a parrot would say!) This was surrounded by chunks of stem ginger and sticky sauce loveliness. Even though the icecream was rich, it was so in a different way to the pud. So the cool, thick, creamy ice cream met the warm, sticky gooey sweetness and got on just fine!

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After enjoying some truly excellent food I retreated to the decked area, in the sun, overlooking the fabulous countryside, and sampled some Chase Rose. This is the Chase Distillery’s first wine, beautifully presented in their signature-style bottle, it’s the prettiest Rose I have seen – the colour is just amazing. It tastes very nice too. It’s not in their shop yet, but it will be very soon.

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Later, in the bar, Tim made me a cocktail and for a moment I thought he was Tom Cruise. The Kiss Chase was delicious, sweet and summery.

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You want one, don’t you?

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Go on, you can make your own!

2 shots of vodka, 1 shot of elderflower liqueur, a squeeze of lemon, plenty of ice and a top-up of apple juice if required. Lovely job!

Thank you to Head Chef Callum and the team at Verzon House for a lovely afternoon and some excellent food and drink. Just let me know if you need me to eat anything else!

Fancy some incredibly good grub? Check out the Verzon House menus.

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship – MIRA (Round 4)

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Saturday was the 4th round of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship, this time hosted by the Bentley Drivers Club at the MIRA Proving Grounds, Nuneaton.

It was an amazing venue, and there were some absolutely incredible cars there, including Bentleys, TVRs and Austin Healeys. In total there were 94 cars competing, and it was a real privilege to be a part of such a wonderful day of driving.

MIRA have a very strict rule on no photography, so strict that they took my camera off me at the gates and stuck a tamper-proof sticker over the lens of my iphone. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but when I drove into the paddock the only space free in the LOTRDC area had a rainbow painted on the tarmac! I PARKED ON A RAINBOW! I parked on a rainbow and was unable to document this for posterity!

The Bentley chaps had a proper big marque, the sort of thing you have at weddings, with proper chairs in it, and a really cool touch screen time machine that told you your times and all sorts. The portaloos were pretty impressive too, with their faux marble walls and faux walnut vanity, floral art and and 3 types of hand wash to choose from!

We had two practices and two timed runs, I managed to knock 10 seconds off my time and my first timed run was 66.97. I knew what I was doing wrong, and I knew what I wanted to correct (I can’t always control myself as much as I’d like to!) but on my second run I was annoyingly 2 seconds slower. The reason? I got cramp in my right foot – I know, it sounds like a really lame excuse!

I came 10th out of 10 in my class, just 1/2 a second behind the next driver apparently.  I don’t mind.  It was a good day. A chap called Hugh was celebrating his birthday and gave me a flapjack.

Overall I placed 67 out of 94, which I think is alright really.

Anyway, I can’t share any photos of the day, because I don’t have any, but what I can do is show you some random pictures of the cheap and cheerful, but not cheerful, hotel we stayed in the previous night!

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So, the Royal Court Hotel, hey? A country house built in 1874 by William Hillman (as in, Hillman Motor Company), sounds pretty nice, right? Ha ha ha!

From the reviews on Trip Advisor  that I’d read, I imagined it was going to be like staying in a hotel where the owners had died 30 years ago, but no one had noticed. It wasn’t even that fun!

Hillman’s beautiful residence has been eaten up by an ugly monster. The original ‘Keresley Hall’ is swallowed up by a kind of ‘Eastern Block’ extension of mammoth proportions.

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When we checked in we had to pay up front, not just a swipe of the card, but a full payment. I asked if this was because they’d had a lot of guests who’d not paid their bill? They said no, but I had my suspicions.

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Our room was a room, and it had a bed in it. We really only needed somewhere to kip for the night, so it was okay. I suppose. (It was only £52 for bed and breakfast for two).

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The restaurant only served carvery, I suppose I should have realised that the ‘Carver Restaurant’ was nothing to do with carver chairs. According to the hotel brochure, ‘The Stately and spacious Main hall is now the Carver restaurant and still maintains its original windows and front door. This is now situated behind the carvery unit.’ 

Carvery unit? We wondered if they had a condiment station too.

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Neither of use wanted to eat a carvery dinner. Apparently, if your not having carvery your not coming in the restaurant, so Adam and I ate our bad meat and chips dinners in the bar, at low tables. There were some women there on a ‘Groupon deal’ and they asked to have their photo taken with Adam. It was a strange evening and I was glad to get my Kit Kat pudding from the vending machine and go to bed.

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We got up at 7am and went for breakfast. It wasn’t carvery, but we were allowed in the restaurant. I felt sad for the house as I ate my coco pops. What a beautiful place, ruined. There were some woman in their dressing gowns eating sausages. One woman was wearing an Iron Man onesie, which was impressive.

According to another hotel brochure, and under the heading of Elegant Rooms –  ‘All 210 En-suite Bedrooms have been decorated to reflect our surroundings. All have Colour TV, Direct Dial Telephones, Hairdryer, Trouser Press and Complimentary Tray.’

Complimentary Tray?!

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I was glad to leave. The room was really awful. You could see where the door had been broken open, there was a big join in the carpet which didn’t quite meet, the old square TV (I wouldn’t mind, but when there were supposed to be 3 people on screen we could only see this middle one!) was plugged into a big blue coiled up extension lead and there was something brown on the mouthpiece of the vintage 1980‘s phone. Now, I’m not saying it was poo, but I don’t think it was chocolate!

Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship – Hethel (Round 3)

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I spent the entire weekend pretending to be a racing driver and it was absolutely awesome!

On Saturday Adam and I both took part in a track day organised by Lotus on Track Racing Drivers Club. It was at the Hethel Test Track in Norfolk, the home of Lotus Cars, and the ‘birthplace’ of our car, Steve.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the site, photographs weren’t allowed (possibly because they are busy developing too much awesomeness there!) I did manage to get this photo of the lovely chairs in the drivers lounge though, I sat on a yellow one and had a cheese and onion sandwich.

In other amazing news, I had a driving lesson from ex F1 driver Martin Donnelly! How cool is that? I’m not sure Martin thought it was cool, as pretty much ever time he got hold of the wheel I let off the throttle! “Why are you taking your foot off the gas, Karen?” in his fabulous Northern Irish voice. “Because I’m finding it a bit hard to accelerate when I’m not in control of the wheel, Martin!” in my confused wimp voice!

On our way home I started reminiscing about the lovely Mallard we’d seen walking across the track whilst I was driving round, the lovely Mallard that I’d got excited about and exclaimed “Look at the beautiful Mallard!” Adam didn’t see a Mallard, he wasn’t there when the Mallard was there. Which can only mean one thing… poor Martin! I’m not used to having ex F1 drivers as passengers.

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Sunday was Round 3 of the Lotus Cup UK Speed Championship, at Hethel. I thought that doing the track day on Saturday would give me an advantage, but they changed the layout and everything felt different.

I struggled to get the line right on the first part of the track. I did a pretty slow first run, knocked a few seconds off my second run, and then on my third and final run I got that first part right and I was going really well. I felt pleased, this was good, hooray for Karen, and then, the red flag came out. Someone had gone off into the gravel and they had to clear the track.

I did get a re-run, but by now I was all flustered, I had to rejoin the queue, my head was really hot too! I tried to get it right, but it just wasn’t good enough, and then I braked too late for a chicane and punted the cones. I carried on, but that lap was disqualified because by hitting the cones I’d technically had an off. Disappointed – again!

I was stuck with my second run time of 169.55, which was an okay time in comparison to other people’s second runs, but over 5 seconds slower that the next person on the best timed runs.

And, to top it all, look what I did to my poor little car! Two nasty breaks in the front of it. I’m so sorry Steve!

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I’d best go and find the gaffer tape.

A Night at Willington Hall Hotel, Cheshire

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Set in very pretty grounds, with the most gloriously scented Rhododendrons, Willington Hall dates back to 1829. The country house has seen many changes and became a family run hotel in 1999.

Upon our arrival we were shown to our room. The front of house staff were charming and their attentiveness made it feel more like staying in a country house, rather than just a hotel.

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Our room was bright and glorious with two huge windows overlooking the grounds. On one side the walled garden contained a small pond and fountain, and on the other side the terraced gardens led down to the helipad and then allowed a stunning vista of the local countryside, cattle and all!

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There was even a huge window in the bathroom, beautifully draped with curtains. (I like curtains in bathrooms where thereÂ’s plenty of room). The bath was rather big with an amazing view from it. You could see for miles from the loo, too!

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The furnishings were attractive and the room felt spacious but not empty. Certainly not empty with three chairs, a sofa, coffee table, side table, triple wardrobe, small chest of drawers, ginormous chest of drawers, two bedside cabinets, an ottoman, four lamps, a pretty chandelier and a very large four poster bed which was marvellously soft and snuggly. Everything was very clean and well presented. The windows were a little worn in places, but thatÂ’s to be expected in a beautiful old listed house. If you donÂ’t like character then this certainly isnÂ’t the hotel for you. IÂ’d go back here in a flash though!

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We had a drink in the Study Bar and a walk around the grounds before having dinner in the hotelÂ’s Gainsborough Restaurant. (Named after the Gainsborough painting of James Tomkinson which hangs on its wall). IÂ’ve written about this here.

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The Hall was full of lovely furnishings that IÂ’d have liked to take home, including a lovely tapestry style sofa and some nice dark carved items. IÂ’d of had the collection of Champagne buckets too!

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The horse painting in the Study Bar, for some reason, reminded me of our chicken, Cheryl!

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IÂ’m rubbish at eating breakfast, especially cooked, savoury breakfasts. I had my first ever English breakfast last June at Sandie and JamesÂ’ wedding, and immediately had to eat a chunk of sticky sweet Baclava to balance things out! At Willington Hall I developed a tactical approach – I ate a bowl of Coco Pops, and then, with my sweet breakfast out of the way I was able to order Eggs Benedict. It was a huge portion which I couldnÂ’t eat all of, but what I did eat was delicious. AdamÂ’s Haddock and Poached Eggs was a much more manageable size, and tasty too.

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We had a lovely stay, a good nights sleep, good food and very friendly service – in a very beautiful and relaxed setting. IÂ’d definitely stay at the Willington Hall Hotel again, I hope I get the chance to… maybe I could move in?

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The room rate at Willington Hall Hotel is £175 for the Four Poster Room, including breakfast for two. It’s worth phoning the hotel directly, rather than booking through an agent, as they may have an offer on at the time.

Helmet Shopping at Demon Tweeks

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Did we really drive 180 miles to buy a helmet? Yes. Was it worth it? Most definitely! My head is important to me and I need it (I use it everyday!) It makes sense to put a little bit of effort in to make sure I look after my massive head and get a helmet that fits properly.

Demon Tweeks superstore in Wrexham is amazing… soooo much stuff! I donÂ’t think there is anywhere else in the UK that stocks such a wide range of helmets, race wear and hard parts. In the helmet department theyÂ’ve got everything from Arai, Bell and OMP to Sparco, Simpson and Stilo. And, prices to suit everyone too. Hooray!

I had a few criteria I needed to meet: the helmet had to be Snell 2010, it had to be full face, and it needed to fit comfortably. The good thing about Demon Tweeks is pretty much everyone there takes part in, or has a strong interest in, Motorsports. I was lucky to get fitting advice from Gareth Evans, heÂ’s the Sales Manager there, but also a karting expert, having run his own team and now working in places like Dubai with other teams.

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The first helmet I tried on was the Race Safety Pro (£179 ex / £214.80 inc VAT). I found it very similar to the Hedtec that I’d tried before, it just didn’t fit right. The Race Safety Pro had a nicer pad on the top of the head, but I found the back of the helmet too shallow, and even when it was done-up I could shift it up and down far too much. If you’ve got a short head (is that possible?) then you might find the Hedtec fits, it was certainly cheap at around £150 all in, but I am learning that price isn’t everything!

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Since I was about 10 years old IÂ’ve felt the ultimate helmet was the Simpson Bandit. A cross between something from Mad Max and The Predator, I couldnÂ’t wait to get my hands on one.

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What an incredible bit of terrifying design! I was convinced that this is what I needed, until I got it on and thought about how much I could see. After my wonky bog eyes affected my clay shooting ability (marvellous excuse!) I realised that I didn’t need anything else to stop me from focusing. Im easily distracted. Can you imagine the shame of crashing your car because you accidentally started looking at your helmet? Well, that’s something that isn’t going to happen to me! The Simpson Bandit (£403.08 ex / £483.70) is beautiful. Awesomeness, but, not for me.

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Gareth was a great help, he had a huge amount of knowledge and he really guided me well. He asked me questions which encouraged me to think sensibly and make the best decision to suit me. He didnÂ’t try to up-sell or get me to buy something that I didnÂ’t need, he was just really helpful, interested and informative. Top bloke!

The Bell KF3 Sport SV (£362.50 ex / £435) looked pretty cool in matt black. The little ‘duck bill’ lip around the bottom added to the styling, but more importantly adds a practical aspect for drivers of open top cars where the aerodynamics of the helmet help keep it held down (and on the head!)

Although I tried the largest size on for my big head, it just didnÂ’t fit right. I found it very tight on my face and after saying this out loud I found that I couldnÂ’t actually close my mouth – it was being squeezed from the sides and was stuck open! (I felt a bit like Barbara in Beetle Juice!)

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The Bell Sport 5 (£299 ex / £358.80) is a good entry level helmet. Well made and well padded inside. It fitted smoothly and comfortably. I had really good visibility and it didn’t feel awkward. This was the one for me!

Gareth suggested I add a balaclava, and although I was reluctant to put it on, it actually made helmet wearing far more comfortable. Even if I looked like a egg whilst wearing it… I totally did!

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I’m really pleased with my new helmet! I was so convinced that I would die of joy when I saw the Simpson, and I did behave like a bizarre child when I put it on, saying, “Look! I can see it on my face!” But after the initial excitement I realised that visibility is actually more important than looking menacing!

I canÂ’t stress enough how important it is to get a helmet that fits you, and if you are not sure then get help with fitting. If your helmet is at all loose, just imagine where it could go in an accident. If youÂ’re getting bashed about then really itÂ’d be better if your helmet stays on your head, rather than whizzing off!

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If youÂ’re looking for racewear (or possibly the best rain coat in existence!) and need advice itÂ’s well worth giving the team a call and having a chat. They can get stuff out to you for the next day if you need it. IÂ’d recommend a visit to the showroom in Wrexham though if you are after a few things or just want to get up close to lots of great kit.

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Thank you to Gareth, Dee and Matt from Demon Tweeks for all your help and niceness. (I took some Dee some eggs from Sandra and Cheryl – is that weird? I hope not!)

Find Demon Tweeks online here, or visit the super duper superstore at 75 Ash Rd South, Wrexham, North Wales.

Welcome to the World of Karen Harvey: photographer, writer, creative consultant… self proclaimed cat whisperer, chicken wrangler and chief cake taster!