Hall & Co Event Design’s Home Entertaining Blogger Event – St Ives, Cambridgeshire (UK)

In February, Hall & Co Event Design hosted a Home Entertaining blogger event and I was delighted to be one of the four bloggers invited, along with Soph Hearts, Chloe Jo Bletsoe and Sophie Kate Blogs. Hall & Co are not only an award-winning bespoke wedding & events company they also own fantastic café Little Acre Kitchen and run Gather Grow Connect, a physical and digital space for creatives. All three places are in St Ives, in the same building or right next door. What a wonderful hub of beauty, deliciousness and creativity in this little corner of Cambridgeshire!

I’ve been to Little Acre Kitchen many times – it’s one of my favourite cafes. However, I didn’t know that Hall & Co Event Design’s showroom sits at the back of the building. The interior comprises of two rooms with original architectural features: the light-filled prop shop where they display their gorgeous furniture, tableware, signs, lighting, cushions, throws, mirrors etc for hire as well as an intimate, opulent dining room where clients sample their event menus.

The whole blogger event was impeccably organised, a testament to Hall & Co’s planning expertise and welcoming service. As soon as we stepped into the dining room, with its warm tones, ambient lighting, wooden table, fur throws and stunning fireplace, we were made to feel special. The place settings included our name card, personalised message, information pack and Hall & Co’s very own honeysuckle & elderflower scented candles in a little sack (a gift for us to take home).

The table was beautifully set with plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, candles and vases of fresh flowers. The whole room really reflected the essence of Hall & Co Event Design’s Home Entertaining Guide, which features useful sections on planning, hosting, drinks, cooking, flowers and styling – all ways to create warmth, thoughtfulness and an enticing event. We got a sneak peek at the guide but it’s now available to download.

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La Cucina Italiana: A Big Friendly Do – Burwell, Cambridgeshire (UK)

We live in delicious times! Pop ups and supper clubs have been keeping the foodie scene in Cambridgeshire fresh and La Cucina Italiana is a relatively recent contributor. Sally Bycroft, a hugely talented cook inspired by the flavours of Italy, launched La Cucina Italiana last year to cater private dinners and events. Sally has taken her culinary journey a step further by hosting A Big Friendly Do, an Italian style lunch where her guests gather around a table on a Sunday afternoon and sample the recipes she has collected on her travels. This immensely popular pop up (it sells out fast!) takes place every month or so at the Elk café in Burwell, the perfect cosy spot for a group of 20 to relax and enjoy an afternoon of wonderful food. I almost expected to look out the window and see the Tuscan slopes!

We were impressed by the whole experience. I attended with Paulo and our friends Peter and Jenni, who travel to Italy very often to visit family and explore the country. I’m from Italian parents so I knew the 4-course menu was a reflection of what Italian cuisine should be – simple, honest food expertly prepared with quality ingredients. Sally is not a formally trained chef but started helping out her mum with frequent dinner parties at an early age. Although Sally’s background is in PR and marketing, her travels ignited her love of cooking. Italy is Sally’s spiritual home and she lived in Tuscany for a while, giving her the opportunity to hone her Italian culinary skills. It’s clear she understands the flavours and traditions, not to mention the organisation and timing required to host such an event. There was also a great team in place and the venue was just lovely –we’ll definitely be going back to Elk café.

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Gourmet Brownie Valentine’s Launch at Poets House – Ely, Cambridgeshire (UK)

I’ve been a fan of Gourmet Brownie since I first discovered Kirstyn and Andrew’s delicious brownies several years ago at one of my local markets. I’ve been hooked on their chocolaty goodness, crisp crust and rich centre ever since. I can honestly say that some of the best brownies come from their kitchen in Ely, Cambridgeshire. They’re all hand-baked in small batches with no artificial flavourings, preservatives or colourings – just fresh, quality ingredients.

I’m pleased that their signature all-butter brownies are being stocked in an increasing number of establishments and can also be ordered online (keep reading to find out how to get 15% off all Gourmet Brownie orders for Valentine’s Day). It takes an incredible amount of hard work, business savvy and creativity to take a business from strength to strength – and this is precisely what Kirstyn and Andrew are doing, with the help of a small team. So I was elated to receive an invitation to Gourmet Brownie’s launch of their 2019 Valentine’s range. It was held at the fabulous Poets House in Ely, where a group of bloggers gathered at the bar for cocktails and mocktails before proceeding to a private function room.

I don’t think any of us expected to feast our eyes on such a stunning tablescape. We were all impressed by the grazing table of brownies, beautifully laid out on carved wooden boards. The glass vases with gorgeous flower arrangements by Farm Flowers, tall candle holders, crisp white napkins, vintage style cutlery and dyed linen ribbons added to the sumptuous ambience.

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Le Bistrot Clandestin (The Food of Réunion) by Gourmandises Académie – Cottenham, Cambridge (UK)

Award-winning pâtissière Corinne Payet of Gourmandises has been hosting supper clubs and pop-up restaurants for years but they had been put on the back burner whilst she set up Gourmandises Académie, her home studio for workshops and events. Le Bistrot Clandestin, inspired by the wonderfully simple bistros and cafés off the beaten tracks in rural France, was created by Corinne to share the cuisine of Réunion, the tropical island where she was born.

Réunion, an overseas department and region of France, sits in a remote spot in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius. It is a mosaic of cultures and culinary traditions, particularly from mainland Africa, Madagascar, China, India and France. In terms of flavours Reunionese cuisine can be described as a melting pot, where different foods and spices are blended to create flavourful dishes like their iconic cari. Réunion is also a mosaic – a combination of distinct elements coming together to create one beautiful picture. That is the spirit of Corinne’s Bistrot Clandestin.

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East Meets West Afternoon Tea by The Baking Jin – Cambridgeshire (UK)

On August 11, 2018 talented baker Jin Yee Chung of The Baking Jin hosted his very first pop up, titled East Meets West. I was delighted to experience Jin’s take on Afternoon Tea, along with a group of guests who were eager to try his bakes or have been long time fans. The pop up took place at Romano’s, the welcoming home of Paola Davies-Romano which is set up for her popular supper clubs and cookery classes. We all gathered around an inviting communal table on a Saturday afternoon.

Jin, who hails from Borneo, is a software engineer by day (that’s Dr Jin – he has a PhD) and a baker by night. After winning the Cambridge Bake Off in 2015 with his stunning DNA cake, Jin continued baking, experimenting and perfecting his cakes. He is known for his light and airy chiffon cakes and has a growing list of customers for private orders. He also supplies a few cafés and has been featured in The Cambridgeshire Cook Book (2015) and The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings (2018).

East Meets West was loosely based on the concept of Afternoon Tea with a sweet and savoury parade of fusion dishes from Jin’s native Malaysia and beyond, paired with two intriguing teas: Jiaogulan and Chrysanthemum.

We were welcomed with a gorgeous mocktail which Jin named Blue Purple, because it changed colour. A carafe of lime-honey liquid was poured into each glass of blue pea flower liquid, which changed the colour of the mocktail from blue to purple. The batch of blue pea flowers, grown in the garden of Jin’s late grandparents in Malaysia, was picked and dried by his aunties. How special is that? On a more local note the honey was from East Hatley, only 15 miles from Cambridge. A pandan leaf was placed into the mocktail for a hit of its sweet, vanilla-like aroma. We nibbled on lobster crackers and keropok (prawn crackers) before we took our seats.

Photo by Ozzy Beck

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The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings – Cambridge (UK)

The first Cambridgeshire Cook Book published in 2015 by Meze Publishing was a huge success and I wrote all about the launch of this great publication here. Now three years later, with the food and drink scene in the Cambridge region evolving at a rapid pace, it was only fitting to come back for more with The Cambridgeshire Cook Book: Second Helpings. A celebration of the amazing food and drink on our doorstep, the book features over 50 beloved recipes put together by some of the finest independent restaurants, cafés, delicatessens, pubs, farm shops, producers and suppliers of the region. The cook book is beautifully photographed, the recipes sound delicious and each contributor’s story is nicely conveyed.

The Cambridge Cook Book: Second Helpings is a collection of stories and recipes from a cross-section of independent businesses of all types and sizes. Some of my favourites are in the book but there are also places I discovered for the first time, particularly those further afield.

I saw some familiar faces and met new people at the cook book’s official launch held on 17 July at The Shack, a covered outdoor space at The Gog. It was good to meet some of the people at Meze Publishing who were instrumental in producing the book. Publishing manager Anna Tebble compiled the contributors and food journalist Katie Fisher authored their individual stories.

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Eat Cambridge 2018: The Main Event + Fringe Events – Cambridge (UK)

Sing it, “it’s the most wonderful tiiiiime of the year”! Eat Cambridge, a festival of local food and drink, made a welcome return after skipping 2017. Organised by Heidi White, the Main Event took place at The Guildhall on 19 May 2018 and kicked off two weeks of fantastic fringe events.

There were 40+ stallholders over two halls and 9 talks took place throughout the day in the Council Chamber. It was a full day of foodie fun and there was an excellent turnout despite sharing the date with the royal wedding.

I spent the day helping out so I was only able to briefly visit some of the stalls but I sent Paulo around with a shopping list! The photo below shows some of the products from our impressive haul. Yes, that is a 3-litre box of Pinkster gin!

Paulo also picked up a few things here and there for me to nibble on for lunch. I may have eaten all of the empanadas from La Latina Bustaurante – they were so good!

I offered to help out Alison Lusis of Ali’s Baltic Bakes who made her big comeback at Eat Cambridge, after having to take a break from making her delicious Pīrāgi, Latvian little yeast dough pies.

Photo by Jin Yee Chung

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Romano’s Paella Masterclass, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge – Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire (UK)

Romano’s Paella Masterclass, a fringe event for Eat Cambridge, took place on 24 May 2018 at the newly refurbished Black Horse café/pub in Dry Drayton. It was a great paella party! Our fun group learned to make this typical Spanish dish with Paola Davies-Romano, a fantastic teacher with an extensive culinary background. During the interactive class, we all helped out in the cooking of two big Valencian paellas, then enjoyed eating our delicious creation.

The Black Horse, run by Amanda and Colin O’Neill, was the perfect place for the event. The class was set up in the function room and the bar stocked a variety of drinks for participants to purchase, including a white wine from Spain (Torres Viña Sol 2017) just for the occasion. Amanda even made a Spanish orange and almond cake. The cosy pub atmosphere added to the success of the event and the group got to know each other over nibbles (provided by Romano’s) and drinks.

I helped out in the planning and promotion of the event and I assisted on the night. However, Paola had all the equipment and ingredients organised and it was easy to set up the room, with the cooking area at the front and tables for eating at the back. It was a big group so there were two paella stations. It was like being on a cookery show!

Paola, with decades of teaching experience, is a natural speaker and soon put the class at ease. No tedious talks. She gave tips and tricks to making good paella, a recipe handed down by her Spanish mum.

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Cambridge Cocktail Weekend 2017 – Cambridge (UK)

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend is back for a second year, taking place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange 25 to 27 August 2017. The event was founded by Muddle and Mint to highlight the cocktail offering in Cambridge. It features a selection of Cambridge cocktail bars showcasing a menu of classic, signature and cutting edge cocktails. Local spirit and liqueur producers as well as premium national brands are on board too, giving attendees the opportunity to discover what they can do with their products

Cambridge Cocktail Weekend also offers an educational and interactive experience through workshops, masterclasses, live music and the WFA World Championship Grand Slam Competition where the world’s best flair bartenders compete in the art of juggling bar equipment to entertain and make great cocktails. Cambridge has the honour of hosting the fifth of seven annual Grand Slams held across the world.

Paulo and I attended on Friday, the opening day. There were ten bars selling cocktails and Nanna Mexico served up a variety of dishes made with nachos.

The little booklet prepared by Cambridge Cocktail Weekend, called a compendium, was well put together and contained all the information required for the event. We could peruse each bar’s cocktail menu and take our pick. It was a difficult choice to make! Some of the bartenders were happy to talk us through their cocktails, which helped us decide. The compendium also listed the masterclasses and workshops. Belvedere vodka ran two very popular ones on Friday.

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Supper Club 22 “Un peu de soirée française” at The Plough – Shepreth, Cambridgeshire (UK)

The Plough in Shepreth, a lovely village in South Cambridgeshire that lies halfway between Cambridge and Royston, is one of those places that has something for everyone. Good food and drink, great people, fun events, live music, art exhibitions… the list goes on! It’s only a 5-minute walk from Shepreth railway station and easily accessible from Cambridge, so there’s no excuse not to visit!

Photo courtesy of The Plough

I’ve blogged about The Plough’s events and food, most recently about their Sunday Lunch, a partnership with catering company Boxed Events. For the past few months there’s been another collaboration between The Plough’s Nick Davis and Boxed Events’ owner/chef James Knight: Supper Club 22, a monthly dinner with 22 people gathered around two tables to share a themed menu and listen to live jazz. And at the price of £22 per person, it’s extremely good value!

Supper Club 22 is held in the Mandolin bar where there is a stage for local jazz musicians. The space is large enough to accommodate the 22 guests but small enough to encourage the communal experience of a supper club. The cosy and chilled out ambience is enhanced by the warm glow of sparkly gin bottles and the mellow sounds of live jazz piano and guitar.

I attended their inaugural supper club in March (a delicious Asian-inspired menu) and another called “Kilners, Verrines and Terrines” in May, serving terrines and other dishes in glasses and jars. I missed their “Starsky & Hutch” 70s retro dinner!

July’s Supper Club 22, titled “Un peu de soirée française”, featured a classic French menu. Before my francophone friends and family point out the dodgy français, rest assured I did mention to Nick that the correct French is “une petite soirée française”. We both had a giggle over it and I came to the conclusion that his version has charm… a bit of Del Boy French. C’est la crème de la menthe, n’est-ce pas? Ooh la la!

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