On Tour with Grape & Grain

With craft gin, English wine and British brewers having a resurgence in recent years we are blessed in The Surrey Hills not only to live in an area of natural outstanding beauty but to have great producers who are bringing lost industries back to life.

If your date nights involve wine tasting on the sofa, a pint of artisan beer or mixing your favourite local gin and tonic then Grape & Grain Tours could be right up your street.

Less of a day date and more a shared experience and passion, Grape & Grain Tours are the perfect tonic for parents wanting something a little different. A weekend treat that you can enjoy together, learn about local producers, taste drinks you might not ordinarily try and still be back home for the bedtime routine.

We recently spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Grape & Grain on a mini-tour to find out what it was all about.

With Little Diner safely being cared from we head to the meeting point at Guildford Station, where we were warmly greeted by Joel Eastman, Owner and Tour Guide for today. Merrily we board the booze bus and Joel explains a little about Grape & Grains and what we can expect.

Born out of years of drinks industry experience and a passion to champion local food and drink producers of the region. Joel explains that our first stop will be Greyfrairs Vineyard, the 50 acres vineyard located on the slopes of the Hogs Back. Like I suspect many of you, we’ve driven past this Vineyard on an almost daily basis and muttered the words “We must pop in the one day and take a look”. Well today was that day.

Now in November the vineyards are not looking their prettiest. Harvest has been completed and all 128 tonnes of grapes ready for blending into more award-winning sparkling wine. The vineyard itself is predominately three varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Greyfrairs use a unique blend to create a spectacular range of sparkling wine to rival any Champagne producer. We were lucky enough to taste five and all of them were delicious. Listening to owners Michael and Hilary Wagstaff you get a real sense of the dedication, love and vision to takes to understand the Surrey Hills climate to create fabulous wine.

After a tasty picnic lunch provided by The Godalming Food Company we head back onto the bus for a scenic drive to The Hogs Back Brewery.

Celebrating their 25th Anniversary, we’re met by Barrie who shows us around the brewery with such knowledge, generosity, and insight that I may well be convinced to start drinking real ale rather than wine. We learn about the ingredients it takes to create high-quality beer and lager plus the history of Hops in the local area.

The Farnham White Bine, was once the most sought after hop in the UK due it’s quality. The brewery is now reviving The Farnham White Bine in their 3.5 acre Hop Garden, the largest in Britain. Providing a sustainable source of ingredients but also keeping the British brewery legacy alive. As with all tours we end in the gift shop, which is a beer lovers paradise. With up 300 beers from some the UK best regional breweries and further afield. Moving swiftly onto the bus the for the final stop, I’m thankful we were on a schedule and not tempted to burn a hole in my purse. We’ll be back another day to visit the Shop.

Our final destination was Silent Pool Gin Distillery. Now if you’d have to living in a bubble not to have noticed Silent Pool Gin’s rise to fame in the past couple of years. They have been marketing aggressively and with good reason. We’re greeted by Tom the Distillery Manager who explains each part of the process. His down to earth enthusiasm is refreshingly in contrast to the perception I held.

 

He tells us legends of the pool, how the Distillery came to exist and their plans for the future. We sample some of the botanicals that give Silent Pool it’s distinctive flavour and learn about the machinery and processing by hand it takes to create each delicious bottle. Then obviously sample a view of the Distillery’s gins, including Silent Pool Gin, Albury Gin Cordials, English Rose Gin and any other that take our fancy.

Mr Diner and I are not wine buffs but we do know what we like. The tour was eye-opening, incredibly interesting and yummy. A great way to explore the local area and get away from the humdrum of family life. It was like we’d been on a mini-break.

Grape and Grain Tours officially launch March 2018. Unlike our whirlwind experience, you can expect a full day 10am – 5pm of exploring the Surrey Hills, tasting our local producer’s tipples and a gastro pub lunch. Priced at £99 this could make a perfect present for your partner (Gift Vouchers are available to buy now) or an alternative to a weekend away.

We would thoroughly recommend it. For more information check out www.grapeandgraintours.co.uk

 

 

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Bears at The Packhouse

When: July 2017

Where: Bears, Hewett’s Kilns, Tongham Road, Runfold, Farnham GU10 1PJ

The Bill (exc drinks and service): £35.00 with 40% off the food bill.

Memory: Delicious food, décor and price. Perfect for any occasion.

Normally I like to plan a night out with Mr Diner, but after a few stressful weeks at work, my parents suggested we go out for the evening. So while they bathed and read bedtime stories to Little Diner, I made for the shower and went to put on something a bit more ‘going out’ like. Thanking my lucky stars that my parents were visiting for a few days.

The sunshine was fading and I wanted a relaxed feel to our evening, so grabbed a pair of black jeans, a black camisole and my new favourite scarf (worn as a cover-up). Jumped in the car to pick-up Mr Diner from his London commute and headed down the A31 towards The Packhouse.

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Now if you haven’t visited the joy that is The Packhouse in Runfold for sometime, you may not have noticed that Café Fig has been transformed into Bears Restaurant.

In contrast to the 400 year old Grade II-listed building of The Packhouse, neighbouring Bears is modern and airy. Nestled amongst the vintage garden furniture displays Bears glistering glass frontage invites you take a seat in their industrial inspired dining room.

Bears

The restaurant was quiet, with only a few tables tucking into their meals. I’m sure on Friday or Saturday night the feel is more buzzy and gastro pub like but we where happy to have a more low key Thursday evening.

While Mr Diner looked through the menu my eyes were drawn to the restaurant’s quirky décor. The deep sea green cladded walls contrasting with the white and Moroccan style tiles. Rustic industrial tables with simple church style chairs immediately giving a sense of a no nonsense menu.

We decided to go for two courses, although I foolishly had noticed the Dark Chocolate Fondant on the Pudding’s list and it was all I could think about.

Perfectly timed, a cheerful waiter arrived to take our order. While the menu tempted with dishes such as Slow Cooked 12 Hour Pork Belly and 10oz Ribeye Steak, we wanted something a little more modest.

To start we choose Caramelised Red Onion & Goats Cheese Brushcetta and Chilli & Garlic Fresh Water Tiger Prawns. We wanted to try both and shared with the subtle plate swap half-way through.

Whilst still licking our lips and mopping up the Chilli & Garlic sauce with warm bread, we both agreed the Prawns were the better of the two. The Bruschetta just being a little too sweet for us even with the strong Goats cheese.

Mr Diner ordered a Bears Burger with all the trimmings but we were unfortunately told that the handmade burgers had all sold out. So after seeing the Beer Battered Cod being delivered to another diner’s table, he didn’t need to look at the menu for an alternative.

For me it was the Halloumi & Hummus Burger, with the best hand cut chips I’ve had in the long time. Generous portions meant the Chocolate Fondant I had my eye on initially wasn’t meant to be that night

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Lucky for us, we took advantage of a special offer where we received 40% off our food bill, so not only did we have a tasty dinner, we saved a few pennies. Thankfully The Packhouse is closed in the evenings otherwise I could have happily spent those savings next door!

We’ll be returning as a family with Little Diner who will definitely like the options on the Bear Cubs menu and for a Saturday night grown-up meal with friends. The food was delicious and great value. I’ll be back for you Chocolate Fondant!

To keep up to date with the latest offers from Bears, follow me on Facebook. Or to book directly www.bearsrestaurant.com

The Seahorse Guildford

When: July 2017

Where: The Street, Shalford, Guildford, GU4 8BU

The Bill: £40.80 (exc drinks and service)

Lasting Memory: A tasty and tipsy summer party in familiar surroundings with an unfamiliar atmosphere.

Before I start getting into a review of our evening at The Seahorse Guildford, I have a confession to make. This is not a new date night discovery, we have visited plenty of times since we become Guildfordian’s. But what tempted us to visit and not seek out a somewhere new, was the lure of their Summer Party and Silent Pool pop-up bar.

I was intrigued how this normally relaxed cosy pub with reliably good food, could turn itself in live music venue, serving the gin of the moment to it’s local community.

We arrived at 7.30pm, after getting little Diner settled in bed and the babysitter’s devices joined to the WIFI.

As we’ve done numerous times, we entered the Seahorse via the front doors to be welcomed by the front of house team asking if we had a reservation. The gentle hum of happy full tables tucking into their meals providing the background noise, but not a note of live music?

After Mr Diner explained our table was booked for later and we were hoping to tuck into the Gin bar first, we where asked to make our way to the garden for all the fun of the party.

As we left the pub’s warmly lite interior into the bright garden we were immediately struck by contrast. The band playing sing-a-long crowd pleasers such as The Killers, Bruno Mars and classics from Bryan Adams, groups of people enjoying the music, BBQ and of course the Silent Pool Gin.

We shimmied (well I did, not so much of a hip move from Mr Diner!) to the bar. Drinks were priced at £6 for a single and £7.50 for a double gin. Eek, will be just the one at those prices I thought. Putting my kill-joy thoughts away, we ordered one of each. The Silent Pool ambassadors encouraging us to help ourselves to botanical sprinkles and flavoured sprays, which we dutifully took advantage of. Though if I’m honest, I’m not really sure they added much to the drink. Perhaps we did it wrong. It was quite amusing watching Mr Diner trying to subtly take the cardamom pods out of his mouth after each sip.

After managing to bag a lone table we happily drunk our gin and listened to the band until our tummy rumblings were telling us to sit down for dinner. It was shame we didn’t arrive a bit earlier to enjoy the atmosphere outside but then again, it would have ended up a very expensive evening and me with a very large headache the next day.

Once seated at our table the attentive staff presented the menu’s and offered to take our drinks order while we made our dinner choices. With a Summer BBQ planned the following day ourselves we were staying away from dishes such as the Wagyu Burger or Fillet steak.

Instead Mr Diner, chose a light meaty starter of Lebanese-Style Beef Kabobs served with pine nut tabbouleh and harissa hummus. The almost bite size skewers cried out for sharing. The meat perfectly seasoned and moist with flavoursome accompaniments elevating the dish.

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For me the Thyme Roasted Portobello Mushrooms in Cropwell Bishop sauce with rustic toast were jumping off the menu. Delightful and the perfect size for me. However I think Mr Diner would have wanted more mushrooms.

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We both felt the starter choices we’d made where a delicious and left us eager for the mains to arrive. When they did, they didn’t disappoint. For me, I couldn’t wait for the Lobster and Crab Fishcakes to arrive. Two perfectly formed fishcakes resting on a pea and truffle velouté, topped with crispy seaweed and asparagus. They also arrived with a side order of fries, which I hadn’t actually asked for but were a welcome addition for nibbling alongside.

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Mr Diner opted for the Spit Roast Chicken with lemon and garlic confit, a sticky red wine jus, aioli and fries. His initial reaction of ‘Where’s the rest of it?’ quickly quashed once tucking in. Although he did eat most of my fries as well!

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After tidily emptying our plates, the waiting staff cleared the table and offered the dessert menu. We both felt full up but wanted to check out if there was anything that could convince us to loosen our belts. While there were some tempting choices such as Baked Sicilian Lemon Cheesecake or the exciting sounding Melting Golden Chocolate Bomb or The House Sharer. On this occasion we were happy to have a night cap and head home nicely full.

When we left the music as still banging but the Summer Party was slowing. Although it wasn’t a new discovery, we really enjoyed our evening and it was great to see this local pub trying something different to attract some different customers or encourage some back.

To find out more about The Seahorse Guildford, to book or check out their latest offers see www.theseahorseguildford.co.uk