Thursday, 20 June 2019

The Crown and Cushion at Minley Review

I don’t get to go out for dinner a huge amount, but when we have a birthday in our family (which is a fair bit with so many of us!) we like to celebrate by all going out for a meal together. We’ve been to various places over the years, but for some reason had never visited The Crown and Cushion pub in Minley, despite living nearby. So, back in March, we decided to book a table to celebrate my brother and sister’s birthdays (they’re within two weeks of each other) with an evening meal there. We have actually since been back again more recently as we liked it so much, so I thought I would tell you a bit about it in case you’re nearby and fancy checking it out!

The pub dates back to around 1512 and was converted into an Ale House in 1596. Alongside the pub lies Meade Hall, which was built from the remains of two old barns from the Salisbury area. Some of the timbers in the barn’s structure are said to have come from ships defeated in the Spanish Armada, so there’s plenty of history to take in! Some believe that both Meade Hall and the pub are now haunted, and many local people have seen spirits over the years (although apparently they are friendly!) 

You enter into a traditional and cosy part of the pub, with discrete corners warmed by candles and gentle lighting. As you continue through though, you move from the typical pub layout into a larger dining area, which is light, airy and modern but still full of character. This is where we were seated for our meal, and despite it not looking as cosy as the pub areas, there was still a relaxed but lively atmosphere. 

As we were served our drinks, we had a chance to browse through the extensive menu. I was really impressed with the choice on their main menu, as well as a specials board that regularly changes and a comprehensive vegan menu. If you’re into your gins, they also have a huge selection to choose from, along with a variety of different tonic waters. Our orders were soon taken, and we sat chatting while we waited for our starters. 

I don’t tend to get a proper starter most of the time, but when I saw that they had Hot Garlic & Herb Dough Balls with garlic butter dip on the menu, I knew I needed to find someone to share them with! You can either get eight or sixteen (we went for eight) and they were the perfect thing to nibble on while we waited for our main meals. I didn’t find the dough too heavy, and the garlic butter was perfect for dipping the dough balls in. I could have happily eaten more if I didn’t have a main meal coming!

A few other people had starters too, including my Dad, who went for the Fresh Prawn & Crayfish Cocktail & Marie Rose sauce. I didn’t taste it, but from the reaction of my Dad, it sounds like it was equally as good as the dough balls.

Unfortunately, the first time we visited, the service was quite slow, so we ended up waiting quite a while for our mains to arrive (thankfully the second time we went, the service was a lot better, so they must have been having a bad night). But our main course was definitely worth waiting for. I had chosen the Mushroom & Herb Risotto with rocket and Parmesan, as risotto is one of my absolute favourites. You could add chicken if you wanted to, but I kept it as it was. It was such a good risotto – probably one of the best I’ve had (so good, that I ended up ordering it again when we went back recently!) The rice and mushrooms were creamy and flavoursome and the rocket gave a nice crunch, adding a slightly different texture to the dish. I couldn’t quite manage it all, as it was so filling, but it wasn’t for want of trying – it was so tasty!

One of my siblings opted for the 8oz Sirloin Steak with slow-roast tomato, field mushroom and chunky chips. The steak was melt in the mouth and really tender, and the chunky chips were crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle – just as they should be! My brother Richard went for Cumberland Sausages, creamy mashed potato and onion gravy – as the waiter brought them to our table you could hear everyone saying ‘wow’ because of how big the sausages were! But it didn’t take long for my brother to polish them off, and he seemed to really enjoy the creamy mash (my favourite!) with the onion gravy.

No meal out is complete without a bit of pudding (who else makes sure they save a bit of room for pudding at the end?!) so after a bit of a wait, our desserts were brought to our table. I didn’t have much room left after devouring my risotto, so chose a fairly light option of Jude’s Blood Orange Sorbet. I love Jude’s Ice Creams anyway, but had never tried their sorbet, so was excited to see what it was like. It came beautifully presented and was the perfect refreshing way to end my meal.

My brother David went for something a little more indulgent (and chocolatey!) – the Chocolate Cookie Sundae with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, fresh baked cookie and ‘pour your own’ hot chocolate fudge sauce. It certainly looked incredible and didn’t last long once it was put in front of David!

Last but not least, my sister, Rosiie, chose the dessert off the specials menu – a Strawberry Eton mess sundae with ice cream, coulis, meringue, white chocolate chips and grilled white chocolate. It looked very pretty and summery when it arrived, and Rosiie said it was light, refreshing and very fruity – just what you want on a warm spring evening (plus you can convince yourself you’re being healthy because it has fruit in it!) 

Overall, we all had a lovely celebration meal at The Crown and Cushion, so much so that we’ve already been back and plan to go again soon! Apart from the slow service the first time we went, the staff were attentive and friendly and made us feel really welcome. The food was incredibly delicious and we were all really impressed with the amount of choice there was. As the pub is only a few miles from our house, we will definitely be paying it more regular visits in the future and look forward to trying some other dishes from the menus.

Have you had a meal at The Crown and Cushion if you live nearby? Are there any other restaurants you would like to see me review?

Friday, 7 June 2019

Spring Blooms at RHS Wisley

Back in April, I took my Mum to RHS Garden Wisley as a belated Mother’s Day treat. I took quite a few photos, so I thought it would be nice to share my trip with you, in case you’re looking for inspiration for places to visit. RHS Wisley is a beautiful place near Woking in Surrey, full of picturesque gardens, colourful flowers, tranquil water features, bustling cafés, a shop and a huge garden centre. As someone who uses a wheelchair, it’s always nice to find places to go where I can access the outdoors in my chair without getting stuck in the mud or being tipped out due to uneven paths! And Wisley is one of those places that, on the whole, has brilliant disabled access.

My Mum and I arrived at Wisley mid-morning on a Monday, and the car park was already overflowing. We were worried we wouldn’t be able to find anywhere to park, but thankfully there were lots of empty disabled bays right near the entrance, so we parked up, got my power chair out and made our way in. After buying our tickets and having a quick look at the map, we headed right towards the Laboratory Building and Jellicoe Canal. It was a beautiful sunny day and this iconic Wisley view looked truly spectacular. The Laboratory building is surrounded by terraces with all sorts of plants and trees growing across them. And the canal, laid out by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe in the early 1970’s, gives beautiful reflections of the Laboratory as the fountain splashes calmly in the background.

From the canal, we walked into the adjoining Walled Gardens, which are separated into two areas. We mainly looked at the rear Walled Garden West, which shows the creative effects that can be created with foliage plants. It felt very peaceful and relaxing there, surrounded by greenery and still water. 

We made our way past the construction site, where a world-class, multi-million pound welcome building is being built to help sweep visitors through into the heart of the garden. It was looking pretty amazing when we were there, and is due to be opened by Alan Titchmarsh on 10th June 2019. I can’t wait to go back and see how it looks when it’s finished! Just past the new Welcome Building and Food Hall, we came across a whole collection of the most amazing blossom trees. We were obviously there just at the right time, because the blossom was all in full bloom and it was incredible seeing all the different shades of pink and white and they rained petals onto the ground. Of course, I had to stop and take a few photos!

Past the blossom trees, we carried on into The Pinetum, which boasts a collection of century-old trees, many of which are conifers. Apparently the best time to visit this area is in the autumn and winter, when many of the accompanying deciduous plants show their autumnal colours. But even though we were there in spring, it still looked pretty magnificent with the towering trees. You can also go down to the Riverside Garden, but the path didn’t look particularly wheelchair friendly unfortunately, so we gave that a miss.

Through the Pinetum, you then reach Howard’s Field and Heather Landscape. Wisley describes Howard’s Field as a quiet, contemplative clearing, home to some fine specimen trees. It also houses the National Heather Collection – one of the largest heather collections in the British Isles. There are around 25,000 heathers, including 900 cultivars – 162 of which are considered endangered. I can imagine this must look amazing when all the heathers are flowering, so I will definitely be going back throughout the year to see how the space changes. There were also some talented tree carvings and bee houses, and you can view a wildlife conservation area on the banks of the river Wey from the Field. 

We made our way right up to the Stone Pine Café at the very top of Howard’s Field, which looks like a beautiful place to get a bite to eat. It’s a very select eatery, with only 16 seats inside and around 30 outside. The Café is table service and serves freshly made salads, sandwiches and cream teas. It definitely looks like somewhere nice to go if you’re looking for somewhere a bit quieter to eat.

By this point, we were feeling pretty peckish ourselves, so we headed back the way we came towards the newly built Food Hall. Although it was quite noisy and busy inside, we didn’t have to queue long to get our food and we had no trouble finding a table. They actually had a selection of tables labelled with disabled signs, meaning they were easier for wheelchair users to access, which I thought was a brilliant idea. There were so many dishes to choose from including sandwiches, cakes, pastries, soups, homemade main meals like fish and chips, curries, lasagnes and even a roast dinner! In the end, I went for a cheese and pickle sandwich and some crisps, while my Mum chose the soup of the day with some crusty bread. It was all very nice and we soon had full tummies and were ready to get back out into the gardens again.

As we’d spent the morning looking round the right hand side of Wisley, we decided to head left out of the Food Hall and make our way over to Oakwood, formerly known as the Wild Garden, and the historic heart of Wisley. This is a beautifully peaceful part of the gardens and is packed full of so many different plants, trees and flowers. My particular favourites this time were the stunning Magnolia trees – I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like them! Their branches were crammed full of delicate pink and white petals, while others lay in a pink blanket on the floor. Amongst the Magnolias, there were also Camellias and Rhododendrons – everywhere you looked there were splashes of amazing colour. We even met an adorable duck, which waddled right up to my wheelchair, followed closely by his wife!

Coming out of the other end of Oakwood, we were greeted by The Glasshouse – a magnificent cathedral-like structure covering the area of 10 tennis courts. We decided not to go inside this time, as there were other things outside that we wanted to see. So instead, we doubled back on ourselves and walked down through the Alpine Meadow, which was scattered with Hoop Petticoat Daffodils that made the whole slope look a cheerful shade of yellow. Down towards the bottom of the water that runs alongside the meadow, was a stone carving of a bear catching a fish. It took us a while to realise it was more than just a rock, but it’s a lovely subtle design that fits perfectly with its surroundings.

We then went past Bowles Corner and over to the Cottage Garden. I think we were a bit early for any flowers, as there wasn’t much blooming yet, but it still looked really pretty and I can only imagine what it will look like when all the flowers start coming out.

We also went next door to The Exotic Garden, which showcases plants that have a tropical look and feel. Again, we were too early to see much colour, but I loved the water feature in the centre of the garden. I’ll be interested to go back in the summer to see how different it looks. 

As we made our way back through the Mixed Borders, we decided to go back to the Food Hall and treat ourselves to a cream tea. It was much quieter in there this time, but we each got ourselves a scone with clotted cream and jam, and I also had a hot chocolate, as it was a getting a bit chilly outside. It was such a lovely way to end a Mother’s Day treat and by the time we had finished, we were feeling full up, rather sleepy and ready to head home.

I loved my time at Wisley so much, that I decided to become an RHS member before I left. I personally felt the membership was incredibly reasonable considering all the different places it gives you access to, and because I have a disability, I am able to also bring two other people with me on my card, so it’s perfect for going out with my Mum and Dad. I’m already working out when we can head back to Wisley again to see all the new summer flowers. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing their Wisteria Walk and also the Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden when all the flowers come into bloom – from pictures I’ve seen of previous years, I’m expecting it to look amazing!

Are you enjoying everything that spring brings? Have you been to RHS Wisley or can you recommend other places I might like to visit?