Thames Valley Hospitality Awards

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Picture credit: Dijana Capan, DVision Images
Picture caption: Organisers Marc Allridge and Hilary Scott

 

Nominate your favourites for 2019 Thames Valley Hospitality Awards.

The 2019 Thames Valley Hospitality Awards are open for nominations celebrating excellence and outstanding staff in the sector. From hotels to B&Bs, bars to restaurants, it’s time to share who you think deserves to be honoured. 

In addition to last year’s categories, there are three new ones – Achiever of the Year, Wedding Venue of the Year and Outside Caterer of the Year. This is the second year of the awards and the organisers are delighted to be building on the success of last year. 

Co-organiser Marc Allridge of Cherubs Floral Design said they were very excited about the new categories. He added: “We would love people from managers to brides to nominate in the Wedding Venue of the Year category. And we want to hear form all those caterers who work away behind the scenes and often don’t get recognised for their efforts – winning Outside Caterer of the Year would fix that. 

“We also want to see lots of entries in Achiever of the Year – this is for a youngster who has overcome physical or mental issues to shine in the trade.” 

The gala awards dinner this year is being held at the De Vere Wokefield Estate on Sunday, 28th April and hosted by leading chef Daniel Galmiche. Fellow organiser Hilary Scott encouraged entries for this year, saying: “We had so many entries in our first year it was amazing. I hope that we can get more this year now we are a bit better known. And remember if you missed out last year you can enter again.” 

This year’s categories are: 

Hotel of the Year sponsored by TVHA 

Independent Hotel of Year sponsored by Newsquest Berkshire 

Bar of the Year  sponsor Matthew Clark 

​Restaurant of the Year 

Hotel Manager of the Year sponsored by Cream Design 

​Front of house star sponsored by H&D Food Solutions 

Back of house star sponsored by Cherubs Floral Design 

Warm welcome  

Best breakfast 

Apprentice of the Year 

Three new categories for 2019: 

Achiever of the Year – a youngster who has overcome physical or mental issues to shine 

​Wedding Venue of the Year – in a competitive market who stands out for their venue, service and professionalism 

Outside Caterer of the Year – in a growing market, we want to find the best 

  For full details and to nominate visit www.tvhawards.co.uk and don’t forget to share with us who you are nominating and why!

Marlow Archaeology Society

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Marlow Archaeology Society unearths the secrets of Reading Abbey.

A manuscript, music and a human hand are just some of the subjects to be discussed by Marlow Archaeology Society as they look at the founding of Reading Abbey.

Founded in 1121 by King Henry I to be his burial church, it was built and designed for both monks and pilgrims.

Speakers John and Lindsay Mullaney will use their research to show how Reading Abbey was founded and how Henry set about acquiring a collection of saintly relics that would attract pilgrims to it and increase the economy of the abbey and the town.

Newly discovered evidence by Dr Brian Kemp, dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries relating to the interior design of the abbey, gives a better understanding of where Henry was buried. Examples of music from the time which Dr Kemp’s research revealed were used on early anniversaries of Henry’s death in 1135, will also be used.

And a rare surviving manuscript reveals one of the ‘miracle stories’ about the town’s most famous relic, the ‘Hand of St James’ which possessed powerful healing properties, performing many miracles in the 12th century. Today the hand can be seen at the Roman Catholic Church in Marlow.

Reading Abbey has recently undergone a three-year conservation project, costing some £3.15million under the watchful eye of the restoration team, Friends of Reading Abbey.

Join the archaeology society at Liston Hall on Thursday, 24th January at 8pm to hear all these secrets and more. Members £3, visitors £4.50, pay at the door.

For more details go to www.marlowarchaeology.org

Hal Cruttenden: Middle ground

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

One of Britain’s top comedians, Hal Cruttenden brings his stand-up show to Maidenhead’s Norden Farm this month.

Keen to involve his family in the planning as well as being one of the subjects within the act, he asked his teenage daughters what he should call the tour. Hence “Chubster”, which also gives a clue as to other subjects – his battle with weight! Now Hal’s back on the 5:2 diet and onstage in a hilarious show that not only touches on his usual moans about being a middle-aged, middle class father of fat-shaming teenagers but also introduces us to new problems like his struggles with IQ tests, political zealots and the trauma of supporting the England rugby team.

So, who were the people who inspired Hal in his career that has often seen him nominated for awards? It seems those middle-class doubts needed satisfying as he says his inspirations were people like Eddie Izzard: “He convinced me that you could do stand-up successfully and be middle-class. I thought it was so impressive and it taught me that it was more the joke than the person telling it. I just so love Bill Connolly’s charisma, I just want to sit down and listen to him. Comedians like Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges, I think for me it is more a case of jealousy rather than inspiration.”

Having given his family the chance to name the show, do they also get a chance to see their dad in action? “Oh yes, they always see the shows. As to what they think of them, my children are now asking for a raise in their pocket money and calling it research costs!” Hal says. Speaking of research, how easy does he find the writing? Not, it would appear! “I am anything but disciplined, I am rubbish – if I did not have a deadline to work to I doubt I would get anything done. I have the upmost respect for Lee Mack, I have absolutely no idea how he writes all the comedy scripts and stand-up shows that he does.”

Having toured the world, it seems the bright lights of New York still beckon for Hal, he says: “I would really love to perform in New York, I really fancy doing Carnegie Hall or the Radio City Music Hall.” Your chance to see him at Norden Farm Arts Centre is on Friday, 11th and Saturday, 12th January.

  For more information go to norden.farm

Blackbeard’s Treasure at Escape Hunt

Cherry Butler

Buckinghamshire

Cherry Butler ends up all at sea in Reading’s newest escape room, Blackbeard’s Treasure at Escape Hunt.

It seems Reading residents can’t get enough of being locked in a room and trying to puzzle our way out against the clock, with numerous escape games popping up in town over the past few years. The fifth and latest, Escape Hunt, opened on 7th December.

Having assembled a crack team of sleuths – from escape room virgins to Crystal Maze Live veterans – we arrived at King’s Walk bright and early on a grey Saturday, ready to attempt to steal Blackbeard’s Treasure.

Themed on a pirate ship, the wood-clad room had been put together with great attention to detail, and was so involving that we quickly forgot that we were in a shopping centre. My “shipmates” and I had an hour to search for clues and solve the puzzles that would set us free. Sadly, our time ran out; in our defence there were a couple of technical teething issues! We left thoroughly flummoxed, but having had fun.

As well as pirates, players can channel Norse gods or outlaws in The Last Vikings and Escape From The Wild West rooms. Doctor Who fans will soon be able to immerse themselves in the first escape game officially based on the BBC series, coming to Reading in March.

A game costs £20-25 per person (£30-33 for Doctor Who) depending on the number of players (up to six in a team). They sell gift boxes, too, an alternative to giving more stuff.

Escape Hunt also has rooms in Oxford, Bristol and other cities around the UK and the world.

 You can find out more, check terms and conditions and book at escapehunt.com

Image courtesy of Escape Hunt

Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Your local theatres have a stockingful of pantomimes to delight family audiences. Liz Nicholls rounds up some star-studded highlights to enjoy at a theatre near you this winter…

Pantomime elicits some very strong feelings. But, love it or loathe it, the art form – a beanstalk-like offshoot of the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition – often represents youngsters’ first 
taste of theatre. And, here we are at the end of 2018, with theatres and stars near you preparing to give the year the happy ending this year needs.

Speaking of beanstalks, Jack & The Beanstalk is the choice of pantomime at Newbury’s Corn Exchange – you could say a rather apt place considering its original use… Playing the comedy role of Billy Bumpkin, a favourite of Newbury and the panto there, Matthew Grace says: “I’m so excited to be back at the Corn Exchange for what will be my eighth pantomime. Jack & The Beanstalk is packed with hilarious jokes, brilliant songs and amazing dance routines – I dare anyone in the audience to find something they won’t absolutely love”. The pantomime runs until 6th January. Book at www.cornexchangenew.com

A trip, eastwards down the M4 to Reading and The Hexagon takes us on a magic carpet ride to the mystical east with Aladdin. Reading panto legends Paul Morse and CBBC’s Justin Fletcher are joined by David J Higgins as the dastardly Abanazar and Sophie Ayers as The Princess. Read our interview with Justin this month. Aladdin runs from 8th December to 6th January; www.readingarts.com

Whilst at Bracknell Ice Rink, Aladdin forsakes the carpet for ice skates. This is a real community event, performed entirely by a cast of talented young skaters drawn from Bracknell Ice Skating Club who will recreate all the magic of the East with flying jumps, dizzying spins and energetic dance routines. With colourful costumes and the creative choreography of show co-ordinator Jacqui Adams, this will be a visual extravaganza for all ages. The cast includes British Champion ice dancer Adam Bouaziz as Prince Nike and, as Wishee Washee, international gold medallist Max Hall, who had a skating role in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The festival runs 12th-16th December and will raise funds for Sebastian’s Action Trust. Visit www.jnlbracknell.co.uk

Immersion Theatre are producing the pantomime at Henley’s Kenton Theatre and this year it’s Dick Whittington. Though this is only the second time for Immersion, James Tobias, who plays the cat, has had many memorable shows here, including one year, during a run of Peter Pan when he proposed to his girlfriend on stage… and they are still living happily ever after! Dick Whittington, 15th-29th December, is followed by Aladdin, produced by Henley Children’s Theatre, 31st December to 5th January. Visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk
Over at Theatre Royal Windsor Dick Whittington will celebrate 80 years of traditional pantomime fun with the help of Anne Hegerty (AKA “The Governess” from The Chase), Basil Brush, DJ Mike Read and comic Kevin Cruise, along with resident dame Steven Blakeley who will don a frock for his 10th year! Catch Dick Whittington up until Sunday, 6th January; to book call 01753 853888 or visit www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The streets will be paved with gold on the way to Bracknell’s South Hill Park as their in-house panto is Dick Whittington & His Cat, written by Joyce Branagh (sister of Sir Kenneth) sees the return of Bracknell’s favourite Dame, Brad Clapson. From 30th November to 5th January; www.southhillpark.org.uk. Meanwhile, at the Alan Cornish Theatre in Woodley’s Oakwood Centre, Berzerk Productions present a new production of The Snow Queen, 12th-16th December. Visit www.berzerkproductions.com

And Princes Hall Theatre in Aldershot invite you to be their guest with Beauty & the Beast – their “most spectacular pantomime yet” – between Friday, 7th and Monday, 31st December; call 01252 329 155 or visit www.princeshall.com.

While Basingstoke’s Anvil Arts’ pantomime this year is Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs between Thursday, 13th December and Sunday, 6th January; call 01256 844244 or visit 
www.anvilarts.org.uk

Happy holidays!

A cut above: best Christmas roasts

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Turkey is a traditional favourite but there are so many choices of meat when it comes to the festive table, and many excellent local producers

What scene depicts Christmas more traditionally than a large cooked bird being brought out to the table and carved by the head of the household?

Turkey is, of course, the popular festive choice. Tom Copas Jnr says: “Turkey is what you’re meant to have! We’ve been rearing the best turkeys in Britain for over 60 years and nothing tastes better on Christmas Day, especially knowing all the care and attention that’s gone into their welfare.” Visit www.copasturkeys.co.uk.

Walters Turkeys is a family business running since 1911 on the Yattendon Estate in the Berkshire Downs. The team are passionate about animal welfare and expert in the best way to cook and store your bird for the perfect feast; call 01635 578 251 or visit www.waltersturkeys.co.uk. Tell your butcher how many guests you have (and how greedy!) to select a bird or joint of the perfect size.

Excellent traditional alternatives to turkey include goose and duck, which are more expensive and do not give as much meat per size as a turkey. Cockerels (male chickens) clock in at about the 10lb in weight and are becoming a popular alternative to turkey. For more adventurous of home cooks there is also the three-bird roast, with a wide variety of bird breasts one inside another (such as turkey, pheasant and partridge). These have plenty of meat but need to be carefully cooked.

Hungerford butcher Christian Alba says: “In all the places I’ve worked, Christmas meat is usually turkey. But I grew up on a turkey farm, so I have beef fore rib.” Phil Currie, head chef at The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis says: “I like to use beef shin as the bone provides so much flavour which leaves you with a great sauce. For Christmas we serve it with classic bourguignon garnish and a twist with a blue cheese dumpling. It’s a great alternative to turkey.” Visit www.thegreyhoundletcombe.co.uk or call 01235 771969.

Jesse Smith Butcher & W.J Castle in Cirencester has a unique dry-aging process for its beef featuring a room lined with Himalayan salt bricks. The company, which goes back for several generations, are passionate about animal husbandry and welfare and also offer the very finest poultry, game, pork and lamb for the well-stocked Christmas larder; visit www.jessesmith.co.uk or call 01285 653352.

Recipe queen Lyn Deveson says: “I’ve always cooked turkey and a gammon; cold turkey, ham, turkey curried, stir fried, in sandwiches is a big part of the appeal. But I cooked a cockerel last Christmas and won’t go back to turkey – it has more flavour. I remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat but the French way is best; higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Good gravy makes all the difference, too!

“I also remember my mother cooking the turkey all night on a low heat, but the French way is best – higher heat and less time. People complain it can be dry but if cooked properly, it isn’t. Traditionally we cook turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, sausages wrapped in bacon etc. with the head male at the top of the table, carving! That’s the  picture we all have in our heads and everyone wearing paper hats and pulling crackers! Because turkey meat can be quite bland, you can go to town with the other flavours. A good gravy makes the difference and thanks to chefs such as Jamie Oliver, we are learning that Bisto is not the essential ingredient but I am shocked by the number of English who still use it! The trouble is we are so spoilt nowadays and can eat anything any time of the year, so Christmas lunch or dinner isn’t such a treat as it used to be.”

Enter our competition for a Christmas In A Box foodie hamper – including a 6kg turkey!

GINspiration

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Gin is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, with a wealth of interesting spirits produced right here on our doorstep. We chat to some of the enthusiastic local producers and offer up our favourite tipples!

History of gin

Gin may be one of the most popular liquors in the country, yet the colourless spirit has had to contend with a chequered history since it first landed on these shores more than 300 years ago.

Originally gin was sold as a medicine, distilled and supposedly capable of aiding kidney ailments, gallstones and gout after Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius created genever. Brits were first introduced to it when the English soldiers assisted the Dutch against the Spanish in Antwerp during the late 16th century during the Eighty Years’ War.

The armies were known to drink genever before heading into battle, and it’s thought to be the origin of the phrase “Dutch courage”. William of Orange then arrived here to rule in 1688 and promptly relaxed laws on making spirits. Gin, which starts with a base of juniper berries, gained in popularity – among all classes – with the upper classes drinking genever and the working classes making do with a new, cheaper “imitation” gin, substituting the costly ingredients with such things as turpentine and sulphuric acid.

Subsequently, gin’s reputation took a turn for the worse. In London alone, more than 7,000 “dram shops” sprang up with an estimated 10 million gallons being distilled annually by barbers, grocers and market stall holders. Gin became increasingly cheap to produce, easily accessible, little duty was paid on it and some workers were even given it as part of their wages. The 1736 Gin Act forced anyone wishing to sell distilled spirits to take out a licence costing £50.

Only three such licences were taken, but gin’s popularity did not wane as “mother’s ruin” remained hugely popular, before a second act was passed in 1751, which raised duty, and prohibited distillers, grocers, chandlers, jails and workhouses from selling the liquor.

     

Thankfully this was the low point for gin and the spirit has rebuilt its once-tarnished reputation to become the UK’s most popular alcoholic drink. “We’re spoilt for choice with local gins here in the in Thames Valley” says Catriona Galbraith of The Greyhound in Letcombe Regis. “Our favourite is the TOAD Oxford Dry Gin, a delicious citrus and aromatic combination or the kaffir lime and lemongrass gin from Twisting Spirits, as exotic as it sounds with a hint of Asian spice notes. “We like to serve our gins simply, with either a favourite tonic from the Fevertree range and garnish such as lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, mint or basil or even neat over ice, to allow the real complex botanical flavours to come through.”

Hobbs of Henley

“There’s nothing more marvellous than a gin at 11 o’clock on the river to wake the spirits…” Indeed, back in 1870, Mr Harry Hobbs, founder of Hobbs and Sons (now Hobbs of Henley) and publican of The Ship Hotel was renowned for his flamboyant beard and nature, often seen in his punt sipping his home-distilled gin of a morning. Mr Hobbs threw parties along the riverbanks, hiring out his boats for shindigs. Now, 150 years later the family’s gin is made with local botanicals.

 

Cotswold Distillery

Cotswold Distillery uses local raw materials, traditional kit and techniques to create its handmade gin. There’s a 500-litre pot still, (only filled ¾ full to make sure the vapours get contact with the copper during distillation). Distilled with nine carefully considered botanicals, the Cotswolds Dry Gin has an aromatic twist of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, local lavender, bay leaf, hand-peeled fresh lime and pink grapefruit zest, cardamom and black peppercorn. The distillery building itself is a miniature version of what is usually an enormous plant and the shop and tasting rooms are more like a cosy Cotswolds cottage – you can sit by the wood burner to sip their outstanding natural spirits.

Foxdenton Estate

The use of British fruit combined with traditional recipes is what makes our fruit gin so quaffable,” says Nick Radclyffe of Foxdenton Estate. “There is nothing better as the nights draw in than the warming tipple of a fruit gin cocktail such as the Ping Pong.” Foxdenton Estate creates gin liqueurs with plums, sloes and damsons using recipes that date back several generations with father and son gin producers, Nick and Piers, choosing the traditional tipples they know and love. Sloe Gin, 70cl £24.50.

Young minds

Liz Nicholls

Buckinghamshire

Kevin Leivers of The Naked Pharmacy explains how parents can help boost children’s mental health to cope with their learning journey at school

September summons our youngsters back to school, college and university. Increased screen time, pressure to succeed and the inability to switch off can tip the nervous system into permanent “sympathetic nervous system” mode. This is the “fight or flight” mode the body originally evolved as a mechanism to protect us from imminent danger. The anxiety response in the brain causes a cascade of hormones with wide-ranging effects such as shortness of breath, a racing heart, paling or flushing of the face, sweaty hands… The list goes on and, if left unchecked, may lead to more regular and extreme symptoms.

Youngsters who suffer from anxiety may feel abnormal and isolated. Depression is deeply personal and masks itself in varied symptoms. Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that perhaps the most effective treatment is personal empowerment of the sufferer’s own treatment. This means that they can learn to recognise and manage their symptoms, assisted by their parents.

Finding the tools that work for the individual is key to success. A regular exercise routine is both physically and mentally beneficial for health, especially within a group or team which will help reduce isolation. Regular sleep and a bedtime routine is very important, so turn off all blue light-emitting devices, avoid late food or drink (give at least two hours to digest) and avoid caffeine and sugary drinks after 1pm. Encourage children to express themselves by drawing or writing; it’s such a beautiful tool as an outlet to release thoughts.

Correct breathing is also vital. The hormonal cascade during an anxiety response causes us to shallow breathe and suck in more air than we breathe out, making panic worse.

Tony Ulatowski has used “The Big Breath” with more than 400 students in London, from pre-schoolers to secondary students, for the last year and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents, teachers and pupils. He says: “One of the teachers told of a four-year-old girl with anger issues who’s learnt to take herself away, regulate her emotions and just two or three of the big breaths help her feel better.”

A healthy diet including “live” foods, vegetables and fruits is hugely helpful; 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. A study from New Zealand in 2017 found depressed patients significantly improved on a modified Mediterranean diet. There are also some natural supplements which are safe, effective, non-addictive and adaptogenic that provide an evidence-based approach for mood imbalance and anxiety in children and teenagers. One of the most widely tested is the ancient spice saffron. Saffron targets the gut as well as the brain.

Dr Paul Clayton, Fellow at The Institute of Food, Brain and Behaviour, believes saffron should be considered in place of current therapies. He says: “By targeting core aspects of mood and anxiety, saffron works far more rapidly than the pharmaceuticals, which shoot at the wrong target. Saffron restores normal nerve function; if you have chronic inflammation, the “brakes” are put on a few key processes. Moreover, it acts very fast (hours, not weeks or months), has no withdrawal symptoms, no side effects, and is safe to use with children.”

Visit www.thenakedpharmacy.com or email info@thenakedpharmacy.com or call 01483 685630.

Did you know?

1 In the UK 16 million people experience mental illness.
2 Three out of four mental illnesses start before the age of 18.
3 10% of school children have a diagnosable mental illness.
4 Three out of four young people with mental illness are not receiving treatment.
5 The average wait for effective treatment is 10 years.
6 Suicide is still the biggest killer of young people in the UK.
7 People with severe mental illness die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.

Acting up

The Boost! School of Acting team believe taking part in drama-based group activities can help develop social skills and reduce anxiety. They offer Saturday morning lessons in Oxfordshire for 4-6-year-olds and 7-10-year olds in Clifton Hampden and Monday morning sessions for pre-schoolers in Didcot. They also want to start a new group for teenagers – parents and teens themselves who might be interested, please get in touch! Visit www.boost-drama.co.uk

Key Player

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will show audiences a different side of himself this month. He chats to Peter Anderson ahead of his Maidenhead piano show

Impressionist Alistair McGowan will showcase his love for classical piano music, motivated by his desire to open the genre up to the masses. Audience members can look forward to beautiful music (with the occasional mistake), some interesting stories and a sprinkling of his trademark impressions…

So where does Alistair’s love of classical piano come from? “I grew up with classical music,” he says. “I can remember the Peer Gynt Suite from when I was about five. Then when I was in my teens I heard some piano music on the radio; I asked my mother what it was and she told me Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. When I said I really liked it, she said she had a record of it and we listened to the whole concerto.

“With this concert, I hope to bring my love of classical piano music to a wider audience by playing about 18 short pieces and in between talking about the pieces and the composers who wrote them. There are many lovely composers for the piano whom not many people have heard of and I’d love to change that.

“One of the pieces I play is by John Field, one of the best Irish composers of classical music. During the show, there may be the occasional laugh, but this is me trying my best to play piano, not emulating Victor Borge or Les Dawson!”

I guess one of the scariest moments for an impressionist must be coming face-to-face with someone you impersonate? I wonder whether Alistair fancies meeting one of the classical composers… “Now there’s a question! I think some of the composers were a little terrifying. I think Tchaikovsky described Rachmaninov as 6 feet 6 inches of Russian gloom. John Field is someone I’ve studied and his music is good for beginners to learn. Then there’s Debussy and Grieg both of whom had a vast knowledge about piano playing.”

Alistair McGowan – Intoduction to Classical Piano is at Norden Farm in Maidenhead on Saturday, 11th August. For more information or to book please visit www.norden.farm/events or call 01628 788 997.

Drink quench marks

Round & About

Buckinghamshire

Our beautiful part of the world is full of fantastic food & drink producers. We uncork some of our favourites to enjoy this summer…

If summer joy could be encapsulated in a sound, surely it would be the “pop” of a perfectly chilled bottle? And when you’re uncorking the fruits of your own labours, success is sweet indeed…

“This land is a b***** to cultivate,” says Henry Laithwaite as he stands on the undulating Chiltern slopes alongside his wife Kaye. “It’s so flinty that the harrow kept breaking when we started working the soil, which inspired our name. But it is a very special spot.”

Indeed, this beautiful Thames Valley terroir is one of the many magical ingredients (along with lots of hard work) which have helped conjure up the lush velvety blushing fizz we uncork and sample in Harrow & Hope’s adjoining state-of-the-art winery. This non-vintage brut rosé, made exclusively from pinot noir grapes, won a gold medal in the Sommelier Wine Awards. Produced using traditional methods and the precious fruit from these relatively young vines, Harrow & Hope’s sparkling wines are flying the flag for the Great British food and drink revolution. Visit www.harrowandhope.com

Here at Round & About Magazine we are passionate (not to mention greedy and thirsty) supporters of local pubs, restaurants and producers. After all, anyone working in the food & drink industry will know all too well that it takes a lot of hard graft to create the perfect recipe for punters to enjoy.

Chalgrove Gin

Gin has seen a surge in popularity and there are some interesting local producers in this spirited part of the world. Chalgrove Artisan Distillery use juniper berries, coriander seed, angelica root, cardamon and black peppercorns, honed in an alembic copper still, to create their OX44 Gin; visit www.chalgroveartisandistillery.com.

Did you know gin started out as a medicine (it was thought to cure gout and indigestion)? In the 18th century, alcohol was safer to drink than water and gin was cheaper than beer; it was untaxed until the government cottoned on, sparking hooch production. Much of the gin was drunk by women (with historians blaming it for child neglect and citing wet nurses giving gin to babies to quieten them), landing many in debtors’ prisons or the gallows, or driving them to madness, suicide and death (hence the term Mother’s Ruin). However, these days it’s a more joyful summer spirit, and can even be considered a beauty tonic…

Young In Spirit is the world’s first company which combines spirits with pure collagen. Oxford “gintrepreneurs” Camilla Brown and Liz Beswick have earned attention from Vogue and The Daily Mail, among others for their Collagin; www.collagin.co.uk.

The artisans at Toad in Oxford craft gin, absinthe, vodka and rye whiskey worth a shot – and there’s a new cocktail bar at Bicester village; www.spiritoftoad.com. And Mr Hobbs Gin, part of the Hobbs of Henley Experience, has launched two new fruit flavoured gin liqueurs; Rhubarb & Ginger and Raspberry & Elderflower www.mrhobbsgin.co.uk 

Is beer your tipple? Hoppy bunnies are spoilt for choice. For tours, tastings and hearty ales, check out Witney’s wondrous Wychwood Brewery (www.wychwood.co.uk). Cirencester’s Corinium Ales (www.coriniumales.co.uk), Chipping Norton’s Hook Norton Brewery www.hooky.co.uk. A passion for good beer and social justice fuel Botley’s Tap Social, where the team offer live music and street food every Friday and Saturday in August as well as the monthly comedy night and reggae night, www.tapsocialmovement.com. Ciderniks near Kintbury has been making natural ciders, pure apple juice and cider vinegar since 2003; www.ciderniks.com

Spice up your life…

Variety is the spice of life and there are so many restaurants to enjoy this summer. Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar (the father of Benares in London and Sindhu in Marlow) hosts Indian nights in August at his divine Hawkyns in Amersham; www.hawkynsrestaurant.co.uk. The Bottle & Glass Inn in Binfield has made a splash, gaining a nod from Harden’s Guide and a Michelin Plate; www.bottleandglassinn.com. For summer dining in style, check out The French Horn in Sonning (www.thefrenchhorn.co.uk), The Crooked Billet in Stoke Row (www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk) and The Nelson in Brightwell Baldwin www.thenelsonbrightwell.co.uk. Feast on fresh Lebanese and Middle Eastern delicacies (many vegan or veggie) including colourful salads and wraps at Comptoir Libanais in Oxford’s Westgate; www.comptoirlibanais.com
We also love the rustic summer vibes of The Highwayman (www.thehighwaymaninn-checkendon.co.uk). Cheers!

So, we’d like to know what’s your favourite pub or restaurant and why? Join in the conversation and comment below.