I was recently invited to visit a new area of the UK (Manchester) as part of a tour of the North that I was to enjoy throughout my 30th birthday celebrations. I was lucky enough to stay in some magnificent venues throughout my tour, all helping to ease the stress of this big celebration and I most certainly enjoyed my time in this new City, I really must say. This hotel is by far one of my most favourite stays since starting to review hotels and spas across the country and it made for the perfect romantic escape, even if I didn't know I needed it until I got there. I had arrived with no pre-conceptions and I am so glad of this, as it was by far much more than I ever expected from a City hotel. Setting The Scene: The Great John Street is a boutique townhouse hotel with a vintage feel, splashed with themes of the old Victorian school that it once was - pewter furniture, tastefully mixed with various artwork and decor to make it a warm and welcoming "home away from home". You don't feel as though you must keep your pinkies to yourself as you wander from room to room, staircase to landing, you are in fact welcomed to curl up and help yourself to everything on show...and you really can't help but do just that. With over 30 unique bedrooms and suites to choose from, every single bed and bathroom offers it's guest an individual and comfortable experience, no matter how long you intend to stay. The bedrooms and suites are offered in five luxurious styles - Baby Grand Bedroom, Boudoir Grand Bedroom, Classical Grand Junior Suite, Eclectic Grand Suite and Opus Grand Suite. Many of the rooms retain their old features from it's Victorian school days such as exposed steel beams, brickwork and wooden floors and are adorned with more modern features such as carpeted floors and white linens, goose down feather pillows, double pocket sprung handmade mattresses, walk in rain showers and cast iron roll-top baths, there really is no expense spared. The Welcome: We enjoyed a very warm welcome from Natalie on the front desk as we walked through the door, gawping at our surroundings like excitable children. She was very chatty, didn't even take our names, she knew who we were from the get go (fantastic and pleasing customer service, seamless from the moment we walked through the door) and she arranged for the valet to park our car in their underground car park for the duration of our stay. We were a little early for checking into our room, however, Natalie took our bags and would arrange for these to be taken up to our bedroom when it was ready. In the meantime, we had arranged for a celebratory champagne tea to enjoy, so we were promptly whisked away to settle in for some reclining and dining "Duchess Of Bedford" style, a glass of champagne in hand before we could even think about asking for it. We were presented with a stunning tier of handmade cakes and sweet bites, warm fruit scones with bowls of clotted cream and fresh raspberries, along with a slate piled high with perfectly symmetrical finger sandwiches holding various traditional fillings. These were delicious and fresh chunky finger sandwiches, including smoked salmon & cream cheese, beef & mustard, egg mayonnaise, ham & cheese and cucumber & cream cheese. We were in fact asked if we wanted more savoury, however, we had already moved onto our scones, piling them high with homemade strawberry jam, so politely declined between mouthfuls. The teapot that held our Darjeeling was a beautiful silver pourer, with the most beautiful spout I've ever had the pleasure of pouring from. If you are a "tea geek" you will know just how important a good pourer is to avoid splashing your linen tablecloth. The only downside to this particular vessel was that the handle got very hot, so we couldn't handle it past a certain temperature without scalding our pinkies. Lots of fresh fruit was provided to cut through the cake, it not only looked beautiful, but tasted as good as it looked, this was real value for money at just £21.50 for the "ladies afternoon tea" or £27.50 for the champagne tea. Or we learnt that you can opt for a "manlier" offering and pick the "Gentleman Jack" tea complete with a Jack Daniel's inspired cocktail, mini burger & fries, scotch egg, brownie with Bailey's ice cream and cheese & crackers... this sounds amazing. Glitter adorned the clotted cream and some of the delicate cakes and macarons, but as I am fairly girly, I rather liked this little touch of glitz. We weren't told what each of the treats were, but we deduced that there was a layered white chocolate & toffee opera cake, a chocolate Jaffa cake (my personal favourite), two types of macaron (a deep chocolate, almost like a truffle and one with a vanilla cream filling) and Baclava which was very unusual but didn't see us complaining. After all this food, we felt as though we might need to be rolled out of the hotel and onto the City streets to explore them. The Bedroom: Room 32 was an "Eclectic Grand" room and on first walking up to the door, our only issue was that the corridor outside was covered in dust sheets and paint tins where the decorators were painting the adjacent suite, music playing and loud "builder" style conversations going on to boot, this wasn't warned of in checking in and we felt a little uncomfortable at first... that was until we walked into our room. As we tiptoed into the large seating area (perfect for men to sit and wait for their gals to get ready of an evening, so we found) with a sizable flat screen LCD TV and stunning corseted mannequin that I couldn't keep my eyes off for most of our stay, we were greeted with classical music chiming out from the stereo speakers and the most "come to bed now" super king size bed I've ever clapped my eyes on, it was huge and the simplicity of the white headboard worked next to the dramatic floor-to-ceiling drapes covering the window. The bathroom was on a stunning raised mezzanine floor above the bedroom to give the feel of a New York loft apartment, we even discussed how it was most likely as big as our very first bungalow we rented together a few years ago, it was a spacious room to say the very least. Not only was the a double bath and large shower with built-in steam room for two, we were also greeted with "his and hers" sinks to brush our teeth in unison - this was one romantic boudoir. Temple SPA toiletries and fluffy white bathrobes draped over another wire shaped mannequin were waiting to be used, as well as large bath sheets warming on the heated towel rail, ready to be used, the little thoughts are really put in here. The suite was air conditioned, however until we woke up the next morning in a sweltering hot situation, we didn't need to adapt the ambience at all. There was a mini bar and butler tray with fresh milk - it was actually refreshing to not have to sip on tea made with UHT milk. We were provided with some freshly baked and prepared sweet treats as a welcome, which was a very thoughtful touch again - strawberry's dipped in chocolate with a happy birthday message piped onto the slate, as well as some melt-in-the-mouth homemade cookies and a chocolate tiffin- not that we could manage those until breakfast the next day! Room 32 overlooks the old "Coronation Street" set, we could see Rita's newsagents from our bedroom window, a real dream for any Corrie fan. We were sold, simply by looking out of the window we wanted to walk on those famous cobbles that evening, but at £16.50 for an adult, the tour doesn't come cheap. The Restaurant: We didn't dine here on the evening of our stay, as there were too many other temptations outside of the hotel, however we did enjoy some cheeky pre-dinner cocktails after noting the "school tuck shop" inspired cherry cola and sour apple themed creations that were calling our names. You can find a seat within many of the informal, sophisticated and more intimate communal areas within the hotel, all following the old school house theme throughout. We spent hours enjoying the peaceful surroundings of each area within this hotel and given more time, I would have curled up into many different nooks with a good book, which gives me the perfect excuse to come back to do just this for myself. Choose from the Oyster Bar with a cocktail in hand, The Library & Terrace, Roof Garden Playground (complete with sun decks and heated hot tub for a sun-drenched summer cocktail) & Rooftop Lounge as well as the Kitchen & Mezzanine where you can sit to eat and drink throughout your stay. The Breakfast: Breakfast was faultless, in fact, I have to say this may have been the very best hotel breakfast I have sampled so far. French toast was my hot choice of the day, it tasted heavily of cinnamon and vanilla, topped with a fresh berry compote which was tart enough to cut through the toast. The Mister opted for the Irish breakfast with the most delicious bacon, sausage and mushrooms to name but a few ingredients, all very simple components, but cooked perfectly. We were also provided with fresh toast and beautiful fruit platters as well as plenty of other choices at the continental bar including nuts, berries, yoghurts, muffins, mini croissants, cereals and freshly brewed loose leaf tea and filter coffee. Milk was placed on our breakfast table in cute glass bottles and the butter in the dinkiest cloche I've ever seen - it looked like a school bell and it made me smile as I watched my dining partner trying to ding it for attention, the wally. We weren't rushed and a leisurely breakfast helped set us up for the rest of the day, enjoying it at a fairly decent time also allowed us to go back to our suite and enjoy the steam shower and a relaxed packing ritual before we headed off to our next destination. If there was anything else we had wanted, a waitress was never far away and a refresh of our tea and coffee pots was no bother at all. Staff spoke quietly and professionally to each other and they all respected the guest around them I noted, no matter what time of day or night, the staff were always seen, but not heard as a guest and yet they were always there when you needed them, their team is fantastic. What To Do: I had a minor melt down on the eve of my 30th birthday (just me, being me), I hated my make up, was having a bad hair day and was feeling, well, generally, "old". So after a hissy fit in the privacy of our suite, as you do, we hit the streets of Manchester and picked a random restaurant with no frills or fuss for a relaxed and informal dinner. In fact, I even left my phone at the hotel to ensure I didn't snap my plates of food, just enjoyed them... and I really did. We enjoyed a cocktail and relaxed meal at Artisan Kitchen & Bar in Spinningfields and would go back again in a heart beat. It's made to look like a converted loft space, very much like our suite did at the hotel and the pizza base we had was cooked and then the filling piled high on top, instead of cooked on and flattened... best pizza we'd ever eaten we have agreed. We of course, enjoyed the Corrie tour opposite the Great John Street Hotel, with tours running all day, sometimes up to 7pm onwards, so you shouldn't need to miss it if you have a packed day ahead of you whilst visiting. Shopping by foot, we hopped over to the Arndale Shopping Centre, which just a ten minute walk from the hotel and we enjoyed a coffee in Annies, which is a cosy dining and tearoom owned by Jennie McAlpine, better known as Fizz from our favourite Northern soap... Parking & Getting There: We drove to Manchester, so took them up on the valet car parking option at £25 per night in their secure underground car park. You can park on the street adjacent to the hotel at the cost of £2.70 per hour between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday, with Bank holidays being free. There is also an NCP car park a 5 minute walk away from the hotel, all details and directions listed on their website, complete with a handy hand-drawn map to help you locate the hotel. Our Sat Nav doesn't go by postcode, only street (frustratingly), so this was super handy for our journey, not knowing Manchester at all on arriving. The Little Extras: There is a small gym here, windows will open to allow for a natural breeze to flow through as you sweat off some cocktails and cakes during your stay. It's equipped with a treadmill, exercise bike and weight machine for a varied session and a mat for stretching out. It's not huge, but it's perfect for a longer visit. We were left with a chilled bottle of water in the car once the valet had brought it to us on leaving, this was a nice little touch for our journey home. I loved the school theme throughout the hotel, it was lightly suggested, not rubbed into your eyes - the playground, the lounge, the kitchen, the boys & girls staircases, little coat hooks everywhere, trophies, books, original classroom photos, it's really tastefully done and you could sit and stare at it all for hours, it's fascinating. Everywhere you wandered, there was chilled out music playing and not just in the main rooms and restaurants, but even the corridors and reception - It really added to the experience. The Little Niggles: The builders were back to the room next door at 8:30am, sanding and talking loudly, which was slightly infuriating. We only knew to what extent the decoration and building work currently being taken on when a staff member chatted to us in the corridor that night and told us. We weren't advised on checking in, which should be done so as not to surprise their guests when they go to their rooms and the corridor is full of dust sheets and Dulux tins right up to their doorway. We did receive an apology for this on leaving, so all was forgiven, as to be fair, it didn't ruin our stay and we couldn't hear them once in our suite. On exploring our bedroom, we found a used, scrunched up tissue on the floor by the bed, this was a little extra surprise we hadn't anticipated. My guess is that our secretive valet, whoever they may have been, might have dropped it after popping up our cases as we dined. Either way, a quick check of the room before leaving would be advised to their team to ensure that nothing is left behind like this, as it's not nice to find, as stunning as the room may be. Our room got very warm overnight, which was a little shock to the old system when we woke up gasping for water, so do check the temperature on going to bed would be our advice when staying. As lovely as our bed was, the pillows were a real let down, quite literally. As soon as we laid our heads on the pillow, they flattened to the shape of a pancake and as a pair who love their thicker pillows, these were no good for a comfortable night's sleep personally. We couldn't access the wifi, as there was no mention of it in the welcome book, so we had to ask for the password when we went downstairs later on. It wasn't the end of the world, but this is a modern world, filled with Twitter addicts such as myself, ahem. Final Thoughts: Natalie at the reception desk was simply amazing, nothing was too much effort and she couldn't do enough to make our stay more enjoyable. She sounded worried that I might complain about her when I asked for her name, but quite the contrary. She dealt (gallantly!) with the complaint in front of us about "the cacophony of sound" from a woman complaining about the noise the water pipes made in the building (what a moron, seriously?!) even though this was an old Victorian townhouse with a few creaks and shudders - she smiled and professionally "passed on" the information to ensure that it doesn't happen again... We loved her. It's intriguing to know that every suite within The Great John Street is unique, making me want to come back many times in the future to sample the different personalities they offer. The company that own this hotel, "Eclectic Hotels", have several properties in the area and I will very much be looking into visiting these in the future if The Great John Street is anything to go by. To view my full photo album of this stay, simply click here www.eclectichotels.co.uk Please note - This stay was complimentary (we simply paid for additional food, drinks and valet parking), following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The service team that work on the day or duration of my visit are not aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email: email@example.com All images © 2014 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Monday, 14 April 2014
As part of a tour of the north, I decided to visit some new cities within the UK on recommendation from other food lovers and Leeds was first on the list to hop on the train to. I haven't been to Leeds previously, but had heard a lot of great things about this exciting city, with it's independent shopping and varied food experiences and the friendliest people I've ever encountered, it truly didn't disappoint from the very moment I stepped off the train platform. Malmaison Leeds is part of the Malmaison group, said to be named after the Château de Malmaison on the outskirts of Paris and is the very same group behind the boutique "Hotel Du Vin" hotel chain within the UK. There are currently 13 Malmaison hotels within the UK in locations such as Aberdeen, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Oxford and Reading, all very different and unusual in their own ways, usually hosted within quirky buildings with interesting histories. Setting The Scene: Malmaison Leeds is located centrally, just a few minutes' walk from the train station within converted offices, which used to be the Leeds City Tramways Office. This office was once used as the regional transport headquarters until privatisation of the public transport system and it's now a very modern and high rising hotel overlooking the waterways of the City. With over 100 bedrooms and suites at The Mal, there are many different options to choose from within this Leeds hotel. Cosy double, standard double or twin, superior double or twin, deluxe double or superior suite, the options are endless and offer a luxurious and modern getaway for business or personal stays, no matter what your reason for visiting Leeds. The Welcome: On arrival, I was an hour early, however this wasn't a problem and the welcoming hotel team allowed me to check in a little earlier which was fantastic after traveling up by train in the wind and rain - I wasn't looking glam to say the very least, frizz-tastic. There were no frills on checking in, no help with my bags, simply pointed to the lift and advised as to where to go for my room on the fourth floor. The girls at the front desk were friendly and chatty, making me feel welcome from the very beginning, however no name badges meant I had no idea who I spoke with, which doesn't help to build a rapport with the team, so this was a bit of a shame. I was advised on where to go for breakfast and at what times each day, I was offered a wake up call and newspaper delivery each morning and I was told how I could gain a discounted parking voucher when my traveling companion joined me for the second night, all very helpful without even having to ask. The Bedroom: We were in room 407, a deluxe double for the duration of our stay. It was a large bedroom, with floor to ceiling windows to allow for perfect natural light, a waterside view and very clean and modern facilities within the room, including a Smart TV and individual air conditioning panel to control your own room temperature. The bathroom was a nice size, with a full size bath and built in non-slip safety mat and it was begging for me to use it for a bubble bath (I'm not usually a bath gal), of which I did on the first night. I adored the monochrome colouring throughout the room, even the tiling in the bathroom matched this theme, as did the black and white toiletries and coffee mugs within the bedroom, it was all very uniform, which I really liked. There were a total of 5 mirrors throughout the room, perfect for head-to-toe vanity and the bathroom tissues were folded into intricate toilet roll origami shapes of which pleased my inner geek hugely. The large wardrobe housed fluffy bathrobes, spare towels or varying sizes, a powerful hair dryer, ironing board and iron (a nice touch) and a mini bar filled with tempting beverages and naughty snacks galore (including "ProperCorn" popcorn and sweet treats from "The Grown Up Chocolate Company"). I also found the tea making facilities tucked away within the wardrobe which included wine glasses (and the wine should you fancy it!) and posh lemon curd or blackcurrant shortbread biscuits to dunk into a cuppa on arrival. The room housed a large king sized bed with plenty of pillows to sink into, but they were literally so fluffy that they simply sunk to the bed, I can only explain as laying on a whoppee cushion as soon as you set your head on them, it was a real let down - literally. On the second night, I had to ask for two more pillows to be brought up and even laying on three of these goose feather pillows, they still sunk and allowed for a pretty poor sleep. The bed itself was very firm, which I prefer and if it hadn't been for the pillows, it would have been a near perfect bed. Thick, heavy velvet curtains were brilliantly thought out, blocking out the city lights at night and allowing a snoozy lie in the next morning - if you like a darkened room, you'll love these curtains! There was plenty of seating, including arm chairs for reading the paper in, a chaise longue for reclining in front of the television and a comfortable chair and writing desk, we certainly weren't restricted to perching on the bed within this room. There was plenty of space to literally run around and carry out a circuit or two as a morning workout, of which I did with my iPad linked up to the wifi to sweat out to my favourite tunes online - I was a happy bunny! The power shower has different settings, but we learnt that it isn't made for anyone over 6ft and the bath runs fast, so don't leave the room to take a call, as the bathroom info advises - they certainly aren't fibbing. Towels are cosy and large enough to wrap around me... So will wrap around anyone perfectly and the heated towel rail means no cold, damp towels the next time you need them, it's a well thought out bathroom. The Restaurant: This hotel is home to a sophisticated cocktail bar and darkened, almost cavernous brasserie, perfect for intimate gatherings or a bite to eat alone. We didn't eat a main meal here, as there were too many other places to discover whilst visiting on this occasion, however, I saw their trademark MalBurger on several occasions whilst sat there enjoying a drink or two and they looked superb - noted for next time. They use local ingredients where possible and like to put modern twists on British classics, including their Sunday lunches with locally-produced beef and homemade Yorkshire pudding.... Who could resist?! Their chefs also like to add French twists to their foods and match fine wines to each course, the finer details are thought of for a romantic meal for two, through to conference and event catering for larger groups, of which we saw taking place in their private dining lounges whilst visiting. The Breakfast: Now, this is something we did partake in, with mixed reviews thoroughout our stay. On the first morning, staying on my own, I had a delightful offering, opting for the deliciously fresh smoked salmon and scrambled eggs after enjoying some fresh fruit from the continental breakfast bar whilst I waited for my cooked food. Speaking to my chirpy waiter at breakfast, he advised me that they were full last night within the hotel, but I hadn't noticed one other person as I walked through to my room, I absolutely loved that seclusion, having thought at the time that I was the only person here. He also advised me that the next morning would be busy with conference delegates, so to enjoy a lie in and come down later to avoid the rush, brilliant advice it was too. He also offered me freshly made toast of various types, however the team on the second morning didn't offer us this at all, so inconsistency was noticeable, but different staff each morning I noticed. On the second morning we also went for the cooked breakfast, after my partner had asked for the waffles and was told he couldn't have them. We looked baffled and asked why he couldn't have them, to which our waiter advised the waffle iron had blown up six months back and still hadn't been replaced - It was still on the menu and we weren't impressed with the bizarre response to this order. I opted for the boiled eggs and soldiers, of which I asked for soft boiled. These were served hard boiled, without a spoon, of which I had to wander around the restaurant for quite some time to ask for and by the time I got into them, they were rock hard and I had to spoon out the dry yolks and dollop onto my cold toasted soldiers. The soldiers were wrapped in Malmaison packaging and it seemed more of a gimmicky breakfast than one of thought to the actual food within it. This was most disappointing and really let them down, as the rest of it was so good, including their varied selection of buffet breakfast options. What To Do: Leeds is a shopaholics paradise, said to be called "The Knightsbridge of the North", with Victorian arcades, historic buildings and Edwardian markets playing host to over 1,000 designer boutiques, shops and cafes. You could visit the Royal Armouries, Leeds City Art Gallery or The Henry Moore Institute. I enjoyed wandering around the Corn Exchange, where there are lots of indie clothes, jewellery and book shops amongst other treasures - Cambridge just doesn't have anything like this, it was a new and therapeutic shopping experience. The Trinity Centre is a new shopping centre with the Trinity Kitchen a perfect food lovers haven, it houses ever changing pop-up street food vans and stands and is somewhere I adored for an exciting vibe over a beer and some traditional Indian street food on this occasion, not something I would normally opt for. For a great Flat White, I enjoyed a visit to "Laynes Espresso" by the train station, a loose leaf peppermint tea at Le Chalet and a rooftop lunch at "Angelica" above the Trinity centre, with a rooftop view of Leeds to enjoy. I was lucky enough it have a personal tour guide in my friend, Lynn Hill of The Clandestine Cake Club, so I got to experience some truly amazing food and drink venues and meet lots of interesting people throughout my visit, so I can't thank her enough for the catch up. We also enjoyed a night out with dinner at Red's True Barbecue and got to sample their renowned "Donut Burger" followed by a beer at the BrewDog bar just round the corner - there are so many fantastic places to eat out, I will be coming back to try more! Should you find yourself with a hair emergency, I can also highly rate Karla at Russell Eaton Hair, just a hop up the road from the Malmaison. She was brilliant and fitted me in at 5pm on my first night there, she was a gem and I LOVE my new hair cut - I couldn't see my 30th birthday in with a shaggy mess, so I can't thank her enough for sorting me out at no notice. Parking & Getting There: The Malmaison website has a little route finder function within the website itself, which is fantastic and really helpful when it comes to planning your journey. There's no on-site parking, but the nearest car park is directly next to the hotel (Q Parking) and is charged at £3.00 between 5pm and 9am and £12.40 for 24 hours using the 10% discount voucher available from the hotel reception on checking out. If coming by train, this hotel is simply a 5 minute walk from the station and very easy to find on foot. Everywhere within town is walkable, I didn't need to use a taxi once, everything was very close by. The Little Extras: There is a "Gymtonic" gym within this hotel, although there was no mention of this on the website. It's air conditioned and superbly stocked with fresh towels and cold water and is host to various machines including treadmills, exercise bikes and a step machine as well as a rack of free weights and mats to stretch out on. Had I known this, I would have brought my trainers with me, so I was gutted I didn't get to make use of this. What I did love was that there is a little "running card" in the room with a suggested route to see the City by foot as you exercise, a great idea, not one I tried this time around, but I'm sure it's a fantastic way to do something a little different on the exercise front. A complimentary newspaper was delivered underneath our bedroom door each morning, regardless of the fact I hadn't asked for one. This was a nice touch and helped me to keep on track with recent news whilst avoiding the TV for a spell, I was impressed. Alongside the usual toiletries (of which are larger than average in this instance) there was also a fig & olive massage oil, which I really did think was a nice extra to be provided with, either to rub into your body after a hot bath or shower or to use with a partner, with the packaging reading "Gettin' jiggy wit' da figgy", it made us chuckle, but most importantly it smelled delicious and was the perfect solution for a foot rub after walking around the City all day. The Little Niggles: Hotel plugs in the walls by the bed for the lamps meant that you couldn't plug your phone in by the bed. This was a mild annoyance and we had to charge phones over on the desk overnight, hopping out to switch off the alarm - a suitable plug by the bed would be handy. There was no safe in our bedroom for valuables and no welcome pack or room information, just a "Leeds Guide Book" which was handy with a map etc, but no wifi information meant it was a little frustrating to know how to get on it, etc. There was a pencil and pad in our room, but no pen. I needed a pen to write a note, so I asked for one at reception, to which I was provided with a half chewed Barclays Bank pen on request - nice. I would say the one main irritation within the rooms and breakfast room was the "Malmaison" branded adverts and items everywhere you look: - Malmaison wine labels and bottles for sale within your room - Malmaison Sunday lunch signage under the television - Malmaison food adverts on dressing table and inside bedside table panes - Malmaison napkins rings and paper bags around my cold toast - Malmaison pencils with the pad... Give me a decent handbag pen any day They need to stop worrying so much about this branding and concentrate on the actual items they are providing, otherwise, it seems a little overkill to the guest. Final Thoughts: This is the perfect City hotel for a break away, I even felt safe here as a woman traveling alone, feeling completely safe walking around of an evening and everybody was friendly, everywhere I went, both within the hotel and outside of it. The hotel staff were friendly, even the housekeeping team smiled and greeted us every time we passed them, nobody ignored us, the staff were a credit to the hotel. For our room, the rate was £90 per night, bed and breakfast and was worth every penny. The room was clean, comfortable and a pleasure to spend time in, I would come back in a heartbeat. To view my full photo album of this stay, simply click here www.malmaison.com/leeds Please note - This stay was a mix of one night paid for by myself and one night complimentary, following a visit to view this venue and meet the team. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about their offerings, but I simply choose to share their offerings with my readers, should I enjoy the experience. The service team that work on the day or duration of my visit are not aware of my reasons for visiting, to enable a fair review. Any questions or to discuss a "Secret Stay" or review, please do email: firstname.lastname@example.org All images © 2014 Miss Sue Flay, these may not be used or reproduced without written permission from the owner, many thanks in advance.
Tuesday, 1 April 2014
It's no secret that for the past few months I have been working very hard on my body to lose some cakey weight and I'm not doing too badly at all, having lost over 2 stone since November 2013 - I'm pretty chuffed to say the very least. I recently shared a new motivation of mine, my "before and after" photos of which have been spurring me on when I hit days where I don't see the good work I'm doing in the mirror. After posting this blog, I was asked by several people about what I actually eat and drink now that I am working with a Personal Trainer. A very interesting question indeed, as I can (within reason) eat whatever I like, but there are a few rules of which I am trying to follow. You can read more about those in a different blog post I wrote a few weeks back. So what do I eat now that I am following a "Raw Food" diet plan? Well, it's all changed and evolved since week one, so I thought the best way to break this down is to show you how my diet has developed over the past few months... I've managed to re-train my taste buds (I am one fussy bugger, so it's taken some work to re-adjust) and certain foods that I used to hate, I now love and vice versa, it's been an education I can tell you! WEEK 1 & 2: This was really just a time of getting to grips with the healthy eating plan provided, detoxing my body after I had blasted it with many takeaways, nights out eating late meals (sometimes even as late as 10pm!) and upping my water intake as much as possible. Basically flushing out the bad stuff, using up my reserves of all the nasty stuff and getting to grips with good home cooked meals. Breakfasts included smoked salmon with poached or scrambled eggs, banana & cinnamon omelette (sweet omelets are DELICIOUS and a great filling option) and fruit and full fat natural yoghurt. Lunches included fresh salads with prawns, salmon fillet baked with a little butter, some herbs and a slice of lemon and leftovers from dinners the night before to help save time. Dinners included vegetable soups, homemade burgers with salad and sweet potato wedges, chili in lettuce wraps (so I didn't have to miss out on tortillas!), sweet jacket potato with chicken fajita mix and stir fry with homemade meatballs. I was eating a lot of fruit the first few weeks, this just went to show what a sweet tooth I had, it was scary, so this helped. My fave snack was fresh raspberries, a handful of dark chocolate chips and sprinkled with flaked almonds or cashews for a cinema snack, perfect to keep the fingers busy. WEEK 3 & 4: I was starting to be set mini food challenges by Sarah, such as introducing one new food a week into my diet. This would help me to vary what I was eating and not get bored over the coming weeks, such a great idea. Tuna steak was my favourite new food at that time (and I still love it marinated in lime juice, a little chili powder and some flavoured rapeseed oil overnight) and I simply grilled it for 60 seconds each side, providing me with a "meaty" option for a non fan of fish. Breakfasts still included a lot of eggs (you can eat as many as you desire, hurrah!) and smoked salmon or ham (ham makes the perfect holder for baked eggs in a cupcake tin, add salad and you have a quick and easy meal for in a rush. I also introduced fruit smoothies to the kitchen, which were perfect for a fast breakfast on the go or a post-workout snack. Lunches and dinners included steak and salad with wedges, king prawn stir fry, sloppy joe mix (without the bread rolls) and a sprinkling of cheese and soups a plenty. We got a little bored of the soups over those weeks! I tried to have 2 portions of fish as week and started to reduce my portion sizes ever so slightly. I tried introducing aubergines to my diet, but they made me feel as sick as I remembered as a kid, I really can't get my head around them, so that's out in future meals! Nuts were a great snack and I didn't (still don't!) go anywhere without a little Tupperware of mixed nuts to keep me out of trouble when I got hungry. "Nakd" bars are also a great handbag bar to have for emergencies, I think at this point, I need to buy shares in this company! WEEK 5 & 6: This was around the first time I ate out since starting my diet and I really enjoyed it as a treat, rather than as the "norm". We went to Rockers Steakhouse in Cambridge and I enjoyed the BEST steak I'd had in a long while, added vegetables and avoided alcohol (red wine only if you are going to go for something), opting for sparkling water instead. My exercise was increasing now, throwing kettle bells and medicine balls around, my interval training was making me tired, so my hunger was up hugely, I was ravenous. I ate a lot of meat over these few weeks and as somebody who didn't eat a lot previously, this took a little getting used to, but I couldn't get enough. I enjoyed a seared duck breast with salad and wild rice and I introduced duck eggs into my diet for something rich and creamy for my breakfasts, I love these so much! It was a tricky time, as it was Xmas and I had parties, get togethers and I was winding down for the holiday I had planned. I could basically eat what I wanted over this time, was told to worry about it afterwards and I really did enjoy it. I didn't mindlessly eat the Quality Street or pick at crisps or sweets, I enjoyed my main meals and exercised by walking the dog and getting out with my new gadgets and keep fit gear that santa brought me... this was a real first for me, I shocked myself! WEEK 7 & 8: I genuinely felt crap for just eating what I wanted over Xmas & New Year... I'd had a few days where I sucked in all my chocolate and had the odd takeaway, so the first weeks of January saw me detox again, but it wasn't as difficult as weeks 1 & 2, that's for sure! I went back to soups such as parsnip & apple, carrot & leek, Red Pepper and even made the odd sausage casserole or stir fry. Lots of fresh and colourful food got me on track very quickly and gave me the strength to start jogging between my circuit training. Breakfasts included gluten free porridge oats with a grated apple & cinnamon, poached eggs (trying to perfect this in a pan of water was my mission for weeks!) and blueberries, walnuts & full fat natural yoghurt in a rush. I enjoyed making up a savoury vegetable crumble (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) and stuffing chicken breasts with a soft herby cheese and wrapping it in bacon for a delicious and filling meal with roasted vegetables or salad. In fact it was such an economical dish, it lasted almost a week! WEEK 9 & 10: I was challenged to cut my caffeine intake, of which was rather large, opting for hot water with a slice of lemon or lime instead. It took some doing, but I slept better for this. I upped my water intake to 3-4 litres a day, as I was now exercising 6 days a week, working out in Sarah's gym twice a week with weights & cardio. It was New Year and Sarah advised that it takes a lot of motivation for people to get back into it at this time of the year, so it was normal to feel lethargic and emotional, it's dark, cold and a real come down from Xmas, so I wasn't doing too badly. I was back to my original weight before Xmas and I was HUNGRY! I ate a lot of nuts, cheese or boiled eggs as quick re-fuel snacks that snuggled in my handbag on the move and I was starting to take a few supplements such as fish oil and multivitamins as suggested by Sarah for my development. My smoothies evolved to more interesting flavours such as cinnamon, natural peanut butter & banana, it's like a dessert, delicious! One day I massively craved a fish finger sandwich, I couldn't get it out of my head, so I broke my "no bread" rule and went for it... I didn't regret it! WEEK 11 & 12: Sarah was trying to get me to eat savoury meals for my breakfast, the bigger and more protein filled the better, so basically she was asking me to eat Chili Con Carne for my 7am breakfasts.... this was something I just COULDN'T get my head around for a very long time! However, this week, I managed to enjoy a fish cake with salad for an early breakfast and it wasn't half bad... Since then I've also had chili con carne and sausage and mash with vegetables and red onion gravy for breakfast, it's really satisfying. I was missing fruit, as my taste for the sweet stuff had pretty much vanished, I re-introduced raspberries, strawberries and grapes and enjoyed a handful whenever I got peckish between meals. I was also making a habit of having a smoothie for my lunch most days of the week, as I now had a smoothie maker with takeaway cup, so a liquid lunch was the norm for me at this time. I didn't get too bored of it either, which was bizarre as I hated smoothies a few weeks prior. Not being much of a cheese monkey, I was also craving the stinky stuff, so I had the odd lump in place of a NAKD bar and I was also now adding a lot more vegetables to my plate. Green beans, asparagus and broccoli were added to most of my salads and I was enjoying toasting nuts to add to my salads to give them a crunch. I'd perfected my poached eggs and was eating lots of spinach with these as a new food challenge, I love this stuff now! I also discovered that "Quorn" is the devil, even though I thought it was healthy, I had been led into the thought process that most of us do... Hey, Mo Farrah was advertising it, so it HAD to be healthy right?! Wrong... If anything is made of ingredients you can't pronounce or don't know what it is, you probably don't want to be eating it on the "Raw Food" diet... WEEK 13 & 14: I didn't want to waste my money, so finished up my "quorn" goodies and spent most of this week reviewing hotels or spas, so I was enjoying plenty of exercise, relaxing and healthy eating. Somebody else was cooking for me, so I made great choices, did so much exercise, I needed a break after my spa visits and I felt great, energised even. I wasn't really eating puddings or sweets for the entirety of this plan and this wasn't changing... my sweet tooth really had disappeared. I found a delicious recipe called "Breton Chicken" for a naughty little meal, a cheesy chicken dish that lasted a good few meals for leftovers. I can't rate this dish highly enough, it's gorgeous and simply perfect served with some greens. My body was getting tired, I was ill with tonsillitis and flu and enough was enough for the next week or so, I had potentially hit a wall and I spent a few days recovering in bed, eating what I felt like (which wasn't much) and I was most proud of avoiding my usual "go to" sick meal.... chicken nuggets and supernoodles... yup, it has been a sick tradition for years and years... but I avoided it, much to Sarah's relief! WEEK 15 & 16: A full English breakfast didn't need to be forgotten when I fancied it, loading up my plate with mushrooms and onion fried in a little butter, bacon, scrambled eggs and a hot lemon & honey was the perfect remedy for a recovering girl. Trying to eat carbs on training days only, I was enjoying sweet jacket potatoes loaded with tuna and cheese and a side salad or a healthy version of fish and chips (baked cod) with sweet potato fries. I was introduced to Wensleydale cheese with cranberries (yum!) and a slither of that when I fancied something naughty was just the ticket. I was also being fairly naughty and back on my caffeine habit... tsk tsk. Sausages and chicken casseroles, turkey steak with stir fried vegetables and beef mince with onions, mushrooms and bacon all provided me with sustenance. Good quality dark chocolate (over 70% where possible) is always on hand for a quick fix sat on the sofa... I am very much an idol eater, so I do have snacks to hand just in case. I also stocked up on chocolate coated "Kallo" rice cakes, these are thin and crispy and a great replacement for popcorn or chocolate bars on those nights where you know you are going to cain a whole packet of something naughty. WEEK 17 & 18: Week 17 I didn't track, as I think I went downhill ever so slightly. I ate many a naughty thing... too many treats to mention and I think because I had denied myself for so long, all of a sudden, I couldn't stop myself. Chinese takeaway, milkshakes, cake, an entire packet of digestives, you name it, I ate it. I am a comfort eater, it's no secret, there's a reason I am a big girl, it's not rocket science. I'm in the middle of a revamp within my business, creating a new sideline and balancing so many acts at once, I simply get a little emotional. I shut myself away, cancel my commitments and I eat. I exercised too, which would be a REAL first... but I eat for England. I went to Sarah and as soon as I walked into the gym I burst into tears... I work hard, she works hard, I feel as though I have let her down... I haven't, I'm being so stupid I should be slapped around the face... I am only human. She works me hard and I soon get back to my goals and confidence... I am going to have the odd off day and I now know to be prepared for this and not beat myself up for it. Everything in moderation is true, it really is. If you deny yourself, you'll do it anyway... have you SEEN "Secret Eaters" on Channel 4?! After this blip I am craving a McDonalds (bleurgh) after a game of squash and I know it's only because I can't be bothered to cook when I get home. I ignore it, go home, whip up a soup and enjoy a bowl of orange segments with a sprinkle of chocolate drops and feel smug for resisting. It was actually a very hard thing to do as a food addict... I genuinely enjoyed my meal and knew I wouldn't enjoy the fast food. I am re-training my brain very slowly... Not everyone will understand this, they will think it's easy and it might be for them, but they need to understand not everybody is as perfect. And we should make no apologies for this... WEEK 19 & 20: I have been told to plan a month ahead, rather than a week at a time, this way I can plan in any special occasion where I KNOW I won't be sticking to my diet, it's perfectly ok to enjoy your food and drink and not feel guilty for it. I was eating sushi (great food!), putting a side salad with my soup to get some more nutrients, having the odd fried egg and ham (fry off a little ham and it goes like bacon, yoink!) and replacing my coffees for herbal teas. I found that carrying lemon or lime slices around i shandy for visiting friends, just add to hot water and you don't go without a hot drink or use the odd splash of Fruitbroo to make your hot water more interesting. We popped off to the coast after a run one Sunday, so I packed lots of nuts, fruit, boiled eggs and some cheese to graze on over a mini car picnic... this avoided the doughnut or ice cream cravings and helped to fuel me for a good long dog walk along the beach, perfect. Carrots make brilliant "mash" too... perfect to use up a load of leftover carrots that I couldn't bare to make yet another soup with ; ) Chicken curry can be made with very little effort and when craving a roast, instead of spending near to £40 on a meal out for two, I bought some delicious organic sausages and grilled them, adding them to a plate of roasted vegetables and a homemade red onion gravy... just the job! MY TOP DIETING TIPS: I can honestly say I certainly don't go hungry, I can eat what I like, when I like and I'm eating more food than I EVER have in my life... It isn't a diet, just a re-education into what I'm putting in my body and what I'm doing to get rid of the lard hanging onto my limbs... I'm getting there slowly and that's the way I plan to do it, no "quick fix" here. I had a conversation with a friend the other day who quoted Boy George as saying "If the food is advertised, don't eat it!" ... I like this thought, it certainly gets you thinking! Go for colour, fill your fridge with fresh ingredients and plan, being organised is the key, however much of a pain it is to plan ahead, your body will thank you for it. And if you go off on a tangent, don't panic, tomorrow is another day, it really isn't as bad as you are making out. Drink plenty of water, starting your day by sipping a glass before you do anything else, the rest will follow fairly easily in my experience. And don't forget to keep drinking once you get home from work... I find it easy to drink throughout the day and sometimes forget myself past 6pm, so always keep a glass close by. Sarah says; " The more you move away from nature, the further you move away from health"... forget the calorie-restricted diets and processed foods, simply eat as nature intended. It's easy to look in the mirror and not see your progress, so take photos as you move through your own goals and use them to motivate and remind you of what you are doing and what you have achieved. This is 95% of my motivation, I never want to fit into my old clothes again, I've always been a big girl for as long as I can remember, so I don't have the luxury of "looking back" for my goals. Looking forward is VERY tricky when you are venturing to unknown goals, so the little victories, no matter how tiny they might be, will help you keep going. I hope that you find this interesting and if I can help anyone with their own goals, questions or worries, drop me a line. I know just how daunting/frustrating/infuriating/exciting/addictive/emotional weight loss and exercise can be to some, I really DO know, so if I can help or inspire anybody as I go along, I'm thrilled skinny to be of service. And if you want your very own guardian angel in the form of a Personal Trainer, drop Sarah Matthews at Primal Performance a line - she's fantastic, so inspiring and full of energy (even on a lacking day for me, she helps me to muster up the fuel to enjoy a great workout) and she knows her stuff! Even if you just need dietary advice, Sarah is your gal, I can't blow her trumpet enough, she's literally helped me to change my lifestyle into a positive and healthy one, I adore her. If you enjoyed this post and want to read more of my weight loss journey, you can find more posts here.
Vax Hard Floor Master Steam Cleaner: As a Private Household Manager (yes, I have various "hats" that I wear..) I was recently enjoying the simpler parts of my working life, such as polishing the bathroom taps until they were sparkling and hoovering the doormat until not a speck of dust could be found... yes, I do get rather geeky when it comes to these things, it really helps me to relax on a busy day. One of the more fun tasks very recently was to mop the hard floors, but I wasn't using any old household mop, I was "christening" the family's new Vax steam mop, the new toy within their household. I am still not sure who was more excited about this particular piece of equipment, myself or the owner of this shiny new gadget, but I got to use it first, a small victory haha. She had purchased the "Hard Floor Master Steam Cleaner" which was a basic steam mop, which helps to reduce a lot of work when it comes to mopping and scrubbing the floor. For it's size, it's a pretty powerful little thing and simply runs off water, no detergent container here, it's pretty eco friendly, if this is something that you like to consider when buying household gadgetry. You simply plug it in and go within 60 seconds, you just pull back the trigger and mop away. In fact, I found the steam came out pretty quickly and easily, so I pulsed my steam to avoid sopping wet floors. The water container isn't huge, but for a standard sized living room and conservatory, it cleaned the entire hardwood floor surface with the water I had placed inside it, needing a quick top up for the kitchen, hallway and downstairs bathroom.... not bad going at all. This particular model is made to steam clean many different surfaces including lino, tile, sealed laminate and wood flooring. Literally all you need to make this go is clean tap water (filtered water might work best if you can feed it this) and you can use the re-usable microfibre cloths that detach for washing when finished. This is sold at a RRP of £79.99 and it makes easy work of mopping the floor, I loved using this and it's so light, you can lift it easily in one hand, move it freely up and down stairs to other floors and it has a triangular shaped head that bends and flexes into the toughest of tight corners, a feature I loved, especially when it came to cleaning around the toilet and sinks in the bathrooms. Vax Steam Fresh Combi Multifunction 2-in-1 Steam Cleaner: After being so impressed with the Hard Floor Master, I tweeted @VaxUK to let them know how much I loved their mop, totally unaware that they would offer me another to sample and review as a result... if you are a cleaning nerd or Household Manager yourself, you might understand just how exciting a steam mop can be ; ) And so, a few weeks later, I was the very excited owner of the newest top of the range Vax steam mop, the all singing, all dancing multifunction steam cleaner, with detachable handheld cleaner to get to the really gritty places the mop itself might not be able to reach. This model comes with a huge selection of tools to use on different floors and surfaces, including the kitchen hob, tiles, taps, mirrors, hard floors and even windows. As before, this mop has some poke, so I pulsed my first trigger pulls on my small en suite bathroom floor and got to work after giving it a good hoovering first to pick up all the dust laying on the surface. The only issue I did find was when using one of the brush attachments, the steam managed to somehow melt the bristles of the brush after just one clean on this small floor, so I was a little baffled. After a discussion with the Vax Customer service team, they apologised profusely and sent me a replacement brush right away, great service and I will try again with this once it arrives. There are two different detachable compartments for your liquids, one for water (as above) and one also for the detergent, an optional extra to keep your floors as hygienic as possible and smelling fresh to boot. Vax state on their website that it is an environmentally-friendly detergent, containing no harmful chemicals. This comes in different scents including 'Spring Fresh' and 'Ocean Breeze,' both of which smell pleasant, but don't overwhelm the room. In using this particular mop at home, I've favoured simply using plain steam for a quick job and this does me proud in honesty. This machine is a little heavier, due to the handheld device attached, however, still isn't a beast, it's light to carry around the house and it fits snugly under the stairs next to the hoover, it doesn't need a huge space to store it which is a huge bonus. The mop head is a little larger than the first model, so as a result doesn't quite manage tiny spaces and gaps as well, which is a real shame. It's a little too big to whip behind the toilet, however, releasing the handheld steamer does the trick just as well, it just takes a little more effort to get down to the floor level to do so. I haven't yet used this attachment to do my oven or hob, but it's next on my list, such a great idea and should help to release any dried on areas should you ever have spillage as you cook. It does also have a built in scrubbing brush for the harder dirt and grime that you may have attached to your floor, I haven't needed to use this yet, but in the winter, I should imagine this is a godsend for dry mud and outside dirt. You can even refresh your carpets with this steam cleaner, as it has a floor guard to lift it off the floor just ever so slightly. I had in fact received a quote over the last few months to have my carpet steam cleaned, so this is going to save me a small fortune and done just once a month should help reduce any harmful germs as a household with a dog cohabiting. Whilst steam mopping, I work from the furthest corner of the room and work backwards, it seems like common sense, but the first time I did this, I "steamed myself in" and nearly slipped on the floor, so some slippers that grip are a wise idea in my advice. Saying that, the floors should dry in around 3 minutes after steaming, so if you do this, you won't be stuck there for long! The cord on this machine is very long too, so it covers a fair distance around the house before you need to find a closer plug and it's light blue in colour, so visible to avoid potential tripping hazards - it's a well thought out little beast. It's a little tricky to figure out when it comes to popping on the attachments and figuring out how to take off the handheld steamer, so unlike myself, take some time to read the instruction manual and get to grips with the mechanics before you unleash your fury and frustration on it (ahem... I don't do instruction manuals, I'm terrible, I know it's a problem, I'll get there one day!) as simple as that may seem. A 2 year guarantee is also included for most of these machines and if the customer service team I have dealt with already are anything to go by, you are in pretty good hands. I've never owned a Vax product before, but from what I've experiences recently, I'm super impressed and hope to be a keen owner of their household items for many years to come. My Top Tips For Mopping The Floors: And if that wasn't enough waffle from me today, I'm also going to share with you my top tips for perfect mopping... It's a real art don't you know!? Firstly, clear the room or space as best you can, it makes life so much easier to clean. Move the bin out of the room, try to clear the chairs, table, general clutter from the floor where you can, it'll save you a heap of time. Be very careful of marble and granite floors, as both are highly absorbent - go lightly on the water when mopping. If using a steam mop, you can use a very light setting to clean the floor gently or if in doubt, pulse your machine if using one until you have enough steam to cruise on through. Using a soft bristled brush, sweep the floor to remove any loose dirt, pet fur, etc. Using a Hoover could do the same job, however on harder surfaces, they can sometimes dent or scratch the floors or knock fittings or furniture, so be gentle if doing this - only YOU know your own floors. If you want to be stupidly clean when going at your floor, you can even "dust mop" your hard floors to remove any dusty bits before wet mopping - these are the bits that clog up and look like wool when mopping later on - not too pleasant to untangle from your microfibre if you are a bit queasy about these things! If going for a good old fashioned mop and bucket, firstly dunk the mop into the bucket and wring it out well. Start in a corner, pressing up against the skirting board and wiping from left to right, rather than just in a random circular motion. Move in a small square motion, overlapping each square as you go. Once your mop starts to show signs of soiling, pop it back in the bucket and repeat, alternating side of the mop each time you go back to clean, make use of both sides. Remember to start in the furthest corner or point within a room and work backwards... otherwise, you'll mop yourself into a corner yourself and will have to tip toe back across... it's so frustrating when this happens! For lino and tile floors, if you don't want to use detergents, you can use a healthy splash of vinegar to cooled tap water for an extra shine. Keep an eye on your water, once it starts to go a murky colour, it's time to empty it and get some fresh water, otherwise you are going to reapply all the dirt you've just picked up! If using reusable microfibre clothes on your mop or steam cleaner, pop them straight in the wash once you've finished with them, don't let them sit around and dry before washing or they will discolor much quicker, not forgetting making them unhygienic as they sit and fester... The less you mop your floors, the harder it will be when you do so. Ideally you should be aiming to mop your floors once a week and this is where a steam cleaner really does make easy work of proceedings. I literally pop it on once I'm done with my Sunday morning clean at home and give my floors a quick going over with my new toy. Get to know your floors... some surfaces are very porous, such as a hard wood floor, so pop the setting on a low one if using a steamer to avoid making the wood too wet. You just want to give a light coating and lift off any germs sitting on them, you don't want to be providing a makeshift home for the local ducks! Are you as geeky about these things as me? Are you the proud owner of a steam beast yourself? Or are you more "old school" in your approaches? I would love to hear from you in the comments below... Happy mopping! www.vax.co.uk Please note - This particular product was complimentary. I am in no means obliged to blog or write about this if I don't like it, but I simply choose to share my thoughts with my readers, should I enjoy the experience or product in question. Any questions, or to discuss a review of a product, please do email: email@example.com