Cheshire

Slattery's Patissier & Chocolatier

When you feel melancholic, have a bit of chocolate. When you feel a bit under pressure, have a bit of chocolate. When you feel happy, have chocolate. You must always, at all times, have chocolate in the cupboard. That is de rigueur.” - Raymond Blanc

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I always plan to spend these last few days leading up to Christmas relaxing at home with a cocktail, wrapping presents to put under the Christmas tree while watching some festive films. The reality is, I’m sat covered head to toe in sellotape after I unwisely requested my young niece and nephew help wrap last minute presents. What I'd hoped would be a cocktail may turn out to be the glass of sherry we've left out for 'Santa'.

This hysteria is a far cry from the chocolate making course I took earlier this month. I received the experience as an early Christmas present off my family.

As a self confessed chocoholic, it's probably the best gift someone could ever buy for me; receiving a voucher to Slattery's Patissier & Chocolatier is somewhat alike finding a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Slattery’s is a 3rd generation Chocolatier located near Manchester. A sweet heaven, housed in a large 3 storey building filled with handmade luxury cakes, ice creams and chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate. 

The ground floor of the building is the shop where you can buy treats to enjoy at home. On the first floor is The Masons dining room which serves items fresh from the onsite baker and afternoon tea. At the top of the building is where you can master the art chocolate making, Slattery’s school of excellence.

I’m sure all chocaholics will agree, even just the word ‘chocolate’ has a certain magic about it, so to have a whole day working with a professional chocolatier learning about it, making it and, more importantly, tasting it, was a real treat. 

I arrived just before the 9.30am start time and met with the rest of the group attending the course. Our tutor for the day, Julie, introduced us to the owner, John Slattery. John’s parents set up the business 44 years ago, he explained the history of Slattery’s and how four members of the family still work in the business today. 

Julie then set about teaching us, starting by telling us that chocolate grows in pods on trees (which in my mind makes it healthy) and grows in warm regions close to the equator, in what is nicknamed “the chocolate belt”. 

The cocoa beans are roasted and ground before being pressed in a hydraulic press to produce cocoa solid and cocoa butter. The two ingredients are then put back together in the proportions as to how it is to be made, i.e. dark chocolate, milk chocolate or white chocolate. 

Generally, most of the chocolate we buy in the shops today has had the cocoa butter replaced with vegetable oil, the cocoa butter is then sold on for use elsewhere, for example in beauty products. Chocolate with a high cocoa butter content is shinier and tastes much better (it melts in the mouth a lot quicker as the cocoa butter melts at our body temperature.)

We had a tasting of various types of chocolate. From white, which has no cocoa solids in it just cocoa butter, to dark chocolate with 95% cocoa content. Throughout the day you choose which type to work with. Slattery’s uses authentic couverture from Belgium. 

For the workshop, there are three machines which melt and temper the three different types of chocolate, meaning we could set about making our own chocolates straight away. 

We were each given an attractive hair net to wear and told to put on an apron. Most of the people on the class were smart enough to bring their own, I on the other hand was far too excited to be working with chocolate to consider such a thing. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my bright red plastic pinny. 

Undeterred, I began by filling the mould trays with my preferred milk chocolate. This coated the mould meaning that I could fill it with my choice of ganache once the chocolate had set. I opted for Champagne as well as salted caramel and plain chocolate fillings. 

Once our little chocolates were made, we moved onto making larger chocolate moulds (tortoises for me), delicious truffles, a chocolate bowl made using a balloon to hold all of our chocolates, as well as the pièce de résistance, a ganache covered chocolate cake with swirls on top. 

Julie made it all look very easy but us novices had chocolate spewing everywhere.

The downside of working with a professional chocolatier is that hygiene is key so you’re not allowed to lick up any of the spilt chocolate. Consequently we spent most of the day looking wistfully as our creations, desperate to taste them. 

The course was very fast paced and we had to work quickly to keep up. Julie was excellent and helped us all along the way. The aim behind the workshop is to equip you with the skills to be able to make the same chocolates at home, so it’s not too technical. 

I couldn’t believe how much we made in the one day and left laden with bags full of chocolate delights. Most of the things made on the course can keep for up to 6 weeks, although my family demolished most of mine within seconds of me walking through the door.

You can find further information about the courses on the Slattery’s website: https://slattery.co.uk/courses

Cornichon at The Gunnery, Tarvin

Cornichon at The Gunnery is a family run bar and restaurant in the village of Tarvin, Cheshire. 

It is set in a grade II listed building which was once home to George Gunnery & Co, a grocery shop and corn merchants dating back to the Victorian times.

The old shop fittings still feature with many original pieces dotted around like weighing scales and vintage storage jars, a lovely reflection of what was once there previously.

The restaurant opened a few months ago having been completely refurbished by the Green family. There are four partners who own the restaurant, Ben Green and his wife Lisa, and Ben’s brother Edward and his wife Georgina. Ben is Chef and Lisa is General Manager. 

You enter Cornichon via the bar area which has the feel of stepping into an old French bistro. Pickled cornichons are stacked on wooden shelving, cornichon being minuscule French cucumbers. 

The decor is beautiful, dark colours have been used which give the rooms a lovely warmth.

Upstairs is a bit more quirky with paintings of actors such as Robin Williams, Tom Selleck and Christopher Walken on the walls as well as mismatched furniture.

You can tell that the owners have really put their hearts and souls into this place, it’s full of character. 

The quirkiest of all has to the the old “post room”, a small bar area just off from the main restaurant, complete with its own antique wooden post sorting cabinet. 

The French bistro theme spills over into the menu with Ben having over ten years experience of creating classic French dishes. The menu changes frequently making the most of what’s in season. 

Huge juicy marinated olives.

Chicken wings with hot sauce, pickled celery and blue cheese dip.

Cauliflower & stilton soup with chargrilled sourdough.

Mac & Cheese - this was actually a side dish that we shared. We all agreed it was the best Mac and cheese we’d ever had so I’d definitely recommend ordering this.

Deep fried Brie with raspberries and peaches - absolutely gorgeous and a perfect starter for summer!

Homemade pasta, grilled courgettes, heritage tomato salsa and basil pangritata (to save you googling like I did, pangritata is just like breadcrumbs)

Steak which came with garlic butter, crispy onion rings and a side of mac and cheese. 

Pan fried sea bass with chorizo, broad beans, spring greens and barley. 

Crème brûlée with homemade shortbread

Chocolate Brownie with miso ice cream and chocolate sauce

Chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream and fudge 

White chocolate parfait with toasted marshmallows and berries. 

Cornichon is a real find. We were fortunate when we went on Saturday that it was relatively quiet but it’s only a matter of time before people flock to this little gem. 

Quite often when you find an eatery which has had so much effort and focus on the decor, the food falls short. Not here. Our meals were beautiful, the dishes are unique but comforting and hearty at the same time. The desserts were absolutely delicious and, above all else, guaranteed a return visit. 


RHS Flower Show Tatton Park

The RHS Flower Show recently returned to Tatton Park for it’s 18th year. Held in the grounds of a stunning 1,000-acre deer park, the Flower Show is the biggest horticultural event in the region and one of the main attractions in Cheshire’s social calendar.

I was invited to go along by my mum and her friend who are keen gardeners. For someone who has little interest in gardening, I’ll admit I wasn’t overly excited to attend. However, upon arriving I spotted the Vineyard and realised everything was going to be just fine! The Vineyard is new to Tatton and is dedicated to wine tastings and teaching people how to grow their own vines. My kind of place!

We started the day by walking around the grounds to see the award winning gardens. There are 29 in total, each with a different theme. Many of the designers were present, still tending to their gardens while the public walked around inspecting the creations.

For almost a decade, Tatton Park has offered young gardeners the opportunity to design and build a show garden to help launch their horticultural careers. We chatted to RHS Young Designer 2016, Caitlin McLaughlin. Her ‘Nature & Nurture’ garden had two aspects. The outer edge featured wildflowers to represent the hectic lifestyle of people living in inner cities. The inner section was calm and serene with a pond in front of a relaxing seating area.

Although I’m not a gardener, I do like flowers and loved the Floral Marquee where there are nearly 100 different flowers on display. I couldn’t pronounce half of the names but could definitely appreciate all of the gorgeous flowers on show.

One of the main attractions this year was Tatton Park’s own Big Friendly Giant, to tie in with the release of Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and to mark the 100th year since Roald Dahl’s birth.

For food and drink there was something for everyone, from cute vintage Champagne carts to crêpe and ice creams vans. For the very peckish, there was a sit-down restaurant, serving three course meals as well as Champagne Afternoon Teas.

However, we opted for a private talk over tea and biscuits with Gardening Guru Monty Don.

This was an opportunity to sit with Monty for an hour in a small group of 20 or so. He spoke about everything from how his career began to beekeeping, he certainly knows his stuff. I’ve never seen a room full of so many excited ladies, it appears Mr Don is the Mr Grey for a certain generation. He was an absolute gentleman and spent lots of time chatting with us.

All in all I really enjoyed our visit and would definitely recommend going along to one of the RHS Shows if you have the opportunity to. You can find a list of this years remaining shows using the link below. 

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is a charitable organisation dedicated to inspire a passion for gardening and horticulture among people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. Not only so we can all enjoy more beautiful spaces, but also so that people live healthier, greener lives by growing fresh food to eat as well as plants and trees to combat pollution. 

For someone who wasn’t previously interested in plants or gardening, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and support all that the RHS does. So much so I’m already planning a trip to the Chatsworth Flower Show next year. 

A handy tip, exhibitors traditionally sell most of the plants at knockdown prices during the last hour of the show, in what is known as the 'sell off’. Although it can often become a mad scramble, with people keen to grab a bargain. Not quite on the same scale as the Monty Don talk though!

The Royal Horticultural Society

Land Rover Experience, Peckforton Castle

There are few things which scream ‘Britishness’ quite as much as the iconic Land Rover Defender. Together with the original Mini and the Jaguar E Type, the Defender represents cool Britannia on four wheels.

A firm favourite of Her Majesty, the original Land Rover Series was released over 68 years ago. 2 million vehicles later, production finally ended in January this year when the last Defender rolled off the production line.

I was recently invited by Land Rover to take one of the final production Defender’s off-road around the stunning Peckforton Castle in leafy Cheshire.

The Land Rover Experience Drives provide you with the opportunity to sample from the driver’s seat just what their amazing vehicles are capable of as you’re guided around several obstacles, from gravity-defying muddy climbs, to sheer drops and water crossings. 

You’re provided with a choice of vehicles to use, from the luxurious Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, to the versatile Discovery and beautifully compact Discovery Sport. 

Exceptional as each of these vehicles undoubtedly are, I wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity to drive a British national treasure in its most natural habitat. There was only one choice for me - the trusty Defender, dutifully guarded by Perry the peacock.

The experiences are led by professional instructors who are at pains to ensure that you have an enjoyable and safe visit. Our instructor, Andy, began by giving us a briefing in the safety of the reception area. He wanted to learn more about us and asked what type of cars we drove, when I answered “a black one” I think he grasped just how limited my car knowledge is.

Andy took the wheel initially and drove us out of the Castle gates and on to the off-road track. He not only had an impressive knowledge of the car but was also able to navigate us around the beautiful Cheshire countryside we were exploring, stopping us at certain vantage points to look across to Liverpool and Wales. 

We wound our way up the bendy track into the wilderness, the landscape and scenery changing constantly as we climbed up to higher ground, with a sheer 200ft drop to our right. The Castle’s grounds are incredibly beautiful, especially at this time of year. A sea of vibrant greens meet your eye everywhere you look.

As we drove to the off-road course Andy explained why Land Rovers are so capable in tough conditions. The Defender has 12 forward gears and 2 reverse, equally divided between high-range (for road driving) and low-range (for off-road and more slippery terrain), and with a gutsy engine, permanent four-wheel drive and a high ground clearance the Defender can cover ground like very few vehicles.

Once we reached safer ground it was my turn to get behind the wheel. The interior is simple yet practical, with an unexpected touch of luxury in the form of Alcantara headlining.

Originally intended for use by the army, it is like nothing I’ve driven before. Completely robust, the Defender gives you great confidence to tackle whatever lies in front of you. With the low ratio gears engaged, none of the obstacles stopped the car in its tracks.

First gear in low-range takes you to a speed not much quicker than walking pace. Over challenging terrain slow-but-steady is the name of the game; a message which I’m told was lost in translation when the Russian version of Top Gear visited (tracks designed to be driven at 20mph were driven at 70mph+).

All was going swimmingly until Andy requested that I turn left, off the track and directly into a lake. As we were approaching he explained to me that the water was at the absolute height that the Defender could wade through.

Clearly noting the worried expression on my face he told me to “just go for it, what’s the worst that can happen?!”.

I followed his instructions and dipped the car down into the pool of water, careful not to cause any ripples. Like a swan, the Defender glided calmly across the water, the mechanics working feverishly below the surface taking us to dry land. 

The old quarry is where things really got interesting; the steep inclines and descents pushed me to my boundaries.

Starting with Del’s Dip, which prompted me to shriek “Holy crap!!!” such is the drop. I was then taken to the part of the experience I was most looking forward to, a seesaw for grown ups.

Andy directed me to drive the car up the ramp until all four wheels were on, I then had to nudge carefully forward until the Defender pivoted in the centre. The weight of the vehicle gradually transferred and we dropped down on the other side.

I was then taken to Kings Drop, which had the steepest descent of the day, not for the faint-hearted!

By the end of the session, I’d stopped asking myself whether the Defender could do it and instead wondered whether I could do it. The experience takes you to your absolute limits, but nowhere near the car’s capabilities. 

The Land Rover Experience Drives are a hugely enjoyable way to spend a day. Even if you're not a car enthusiast you will enjoy the adventure.

I can’t imagine a way of having more fun driving without ever exceeding 5mph!

Land Rover Experience

Peckforton Castle, Stone House Lane, Peckforton, Tarporley, CW6 9TN

01829 260 930

Cocktail Saturdays was a guest of Jaguar Land Rover Limited.

Photography by mahon.photo

Fox and Barrel, Cotebrook

Pub grub. 

Steak and ale pie. Bangers and mash. Pasties. Pickled eggs. Pork scratchings. Pie and a pint... English pubs are not famed for their fine cuisine. 

Whole swathes of the country have to make do with bland theme pubs, whose culinary offering comes delivered on trucks microwave-ready.

Tarporley, like many parts of West Cheshire, is not one such location. The area is teeming with award winning restaurants and pubs.

They don’t come much finer than The Fox and Barrel. Located in Cotebrook, just a handful of miles from Delamere Forest, this country pub has bags of character. As soon as you arrive you’re met by a herd of horses galloping around the neighbouring field and a weathered but colourful tractor sat retired next to the car park.

Inside a cosy fireplace and snug bar offer a wonderful welcome. Low ceilings and wood-panelled walls all add to the country-pub experience.

But as beautiful as the building is, it’s the food we’re here for. The food at the Fox and Barrel is excellent. A regular in The Good Food Guide, the pub won the ‘Cheshire Life Dining Pub of the Year 2013’.

I started with an Appleby’s Cheshire cheese soufflé, with pear & walnut chutney (£7.50). 

My friend had the Crispy chicken wings, with lentil dahl, spiced onions, and yoghurt (£6.95).

When reviewing an eatery I like to sample all three courses; starter, main and dessert. Half way through the starter I knew I was to be defeated - as well as being delicious, the food is hugely filling!

For my main I had the Beetroot tarte tatin, with goat’s cheese, warm chicory & apple salad, and giant cous cous (£11.45).

My friend had the Salmon fishcakes, with tomato & spring onion salad, and dill mayonnaise (£11.45).

The fresh flavours shine through. It’s obvious that time and care has gone into creating well-balanced dishes which are extremely tasty, and the portions generous.

The Fox and Barrel is a family favourite of ours. It isn’t particularly cheap, but it offers excellent value for money!