Brew-ha-ha in the desert

Brew-ha-ha in the desert

                         Lancaster, LA County, California – who knew?

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Wall of Bravery, Bravery Brewing Company, West Lancaster.

If craft beer has come to the desert town of Lancaster in Antelope Valley, LA County (yes, the county covers 500 sq. miles (805km) of cities, beaches, snow-capped mountains, wild valleys and the Mojave Desert), the hipster world is turned on its ear!

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Have a sip, at Kinetic Brewing Company.

When I was invited to Lancaster I ignorantly thought: “mmm, Amish white cotton bonnets and horse and carriages.” Indeed I was a few states away from where I was going – how about across the other side of the country?  Lancaster was a two-hour drive out of Los Angeles, traffic on the great web of freeways and we were hitting the beginning of a bloody hot heat wave. Drink more water, drink more water . . .

The drive to Lancaster was amazing. The ruggedness of the surrounding nature was almost brutal in the shimmering heat-filled light. Every now and then I could see a cluster of pale houses, making every effort to look like a town comfortably waiting out the summer . . .

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We arrived in Lancaster and drove through a long stretched out town – certainly bigger than its boots! The main drag is a charmer (who knew?), the historic precinct of West Lancaster Boulevard, lined with trees that have grown to a size to gently fan a light breeze.

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Always up for a celebration, we happened to visit for the 40 year anniversary  of Lancaster becoming a city in 1977. The city was created around the United States Airforce base, aerospace and in March this year the Thunderbirds took to the skies at the LA County Air Show to honour the community’s achievement of cityhood!

First stop for us was at The Lemon Leaf for its famous iced lemonade. It hit the spot. The cafe was buzzing and the aromas lifted our flagging spirits.

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The cafe is owned by the ebullient Maria Elena Grado (pictured above) who is the product of Greek and Italian parentage which is DNA that makes for passion, food and creativity. Maria’s menu is influenced by what her mother and grandmother created in the kitchen, and some of the recipes, sweet (cakes) and savoury (pasta) are the family recipes. And despite the odd customer questioning her cakes as brought in  (how very dare they!) . . . the cafe is a welcoming hub for locals. (For the record, Maria bakes all the cakes that are served in The Lemon Leaf.)

And on the side of the angels, Maria is a tough (in a good way) employer. She insists that her young staff keep up their studies and school attendance while working for her – it’s a rule of employment.

And off the main drag in West Lancaster is our first brewery – Bravery Brewing Company that invites everyone over the legal age (21) for drinking into the tasting room to choose from an array of flavoursome beers.

Bravery Brewing is an indy microbrewery that has captured a faithful clientele of locals and the folks from the air force. The establishment is a committed supporter of patriots and veterans, and a rather splendid American flag on the wall made from timber has photographs surrounding it supplied by customers of fallen members from airforce, navy and army printed on the flag.

Independently owned, the craft brewery has up to 30 varieties on tap.

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The Bravery Brewing Company’s kegs, waiting to tapped and invited to the party.

Next stop is the Lancaster Museum of Art (MOAH), and this is an exciting find in what some might say is an out-of-the-way city. The architecture of the building is sleek and artful. Regular exhibitions are from noted artists from near and far and much of it reflects the beauty and tyranny of living in the desert. Downstairs in the museum is a large workshop for kids.where finds in the desert are put together as art pieces (Lost Angels) – yet again reiterating the value of ‘stuff’, and putting it to use as ‘art’ and as a reminder of what is thrown away and how it can still have value.

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At the Lancaster Museum of Art.

Time to mosey along to another brewery – down another block on the boulevard and the Kinetic Brewing Company is beckoning. Kyra and Steven Kinsey have made a great success of this company. The bar is a hip kinda exposed brick saloon – and filled with a crowd enjoying the brews and gastropub food. Not a man-bun to be seen that day!

A charcuterie platter is served up, plus house-made pretzels and their take on the pub classic – Scotch eggs.

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Kyra and Steven Kinsey, proud parents of the Kinetic Brewing Company.

Before we make the next and last food and wine stop there’s something I found rather peculiar with the food and booze stars of the town, all the owners had previously been in the movie business, from grip, to stylist to writing . . . mmmmm.

Strolling down the centre of town and the sun was getting lower but the air still stung with heat, we entered a room that transported me to Paris or Rome or . . . anywhere but here. It was Friday night and there was live entertainment in Pour D’vino a restaurant/wine bar that exuded the aesthetic of a European city hideaway. There’s a vast collection of wines from all over the world and the menu is constructed to work well as wine and food pairings. The room bustled with good humour and a large golden retriever made its way though the bar – ostensibly looking for a friend but I think not – it was a very thirsty day!

Mother Jody Cherbonneaux and son Jason Brookins (pictured below) set this bar up a few years back and as there was not a wine bar in the city – they not only established themselves but have created the cuisine and ambience of an Italian restaurant that more than lives up to its reputation.

And to be served brilliant seared tuna in the middle of the desert . . .who knew?

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Pour D’vino is opposite the city’s pride, the Performing Arts Center and the movie house, where first releases are screened and contemporary plays and classical, rock and country music are performed regularly.

And although we could  not squeeze another morsel or beverage in . . .we had a quick look at the rather tasty looking bar, Zelda’s – a smooth operator of a place with an art decor edge and a cool vibe – what more could you want?

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Late afternoon at Zelda’s, Lancaster.

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And if anyone asks me about Lancaster in Antelope Valley, I’ll just say “who knew”.

And by the way, there are no antelopes here.

The writer Bev Malzard was a guest of Destination Lancaster and was most grateful to experience this wonderul city – and no, I can’t eat any more of Maria Elena Grado’s cakes. Stop it. OK, just one more slice please. 

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Visit: http://www.lemonleaf.com

Visit: http://www.Braverybrewing.com

Visit: http://www.pourdvino.com

Visit: http://www.destinationlancasterca.org

Visit: http://www.unitedairlines.com

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Beat the drum for Burma

Beat the drum for Burma

Rudyard Kipling once wrote: “This is Burma, it is quite unlike any land you know about”, from his Letters from the East, 1889. And now as Burma is Myanmar it still retains mystery.

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Burma was the backwater of the region, pressed between the Indian subcontinent and Indochina. The country, historically, had a romantic fascination with the past, sitting in oblivion until it came to the world’s notice when the charismatic Aung San Su Kyi began her struggle with the military regime. The country’s isolation from the rest of the world shielded it from outside influences and visitors were rare.

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Not so now. There appears to be a more democratic approach to government and Aung San Su Kyi is now a politician, diplomat and is the first and incumbent state counsellor and Leader of the National League for democracy. How things change.

River boats ply the rivers with eager tourists and the cities are no longer strangers to strangers!

There is a dignity to the local people here who are welcoming, shy and polite. They dress in a modest fashion with men and women wearing a form of long sarongs. And despite the heat the young people are adopting the fashion of jeans.

The first time I noticed a few folk with smears of cream swiped across their cheeks I suspected a skin problem of epidemic proportions. All Myanmar women love ‘thanakka’, the traditional make-up unique to Myanmar. It’s a yellowish-white coating wiped across the face to enhance the wearer’s beauty.

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As a woman wears thanakka her beauty is not affected by sweating in the heat, she is not sun blasted and the potion tightens pores and prevents wrinkles caused by the sun. Thanakka is obtained by grinding thanakka tree bark on a flat, smooth stone with a few drops of water. It is thought that this tradition of paste face painting began more than 2000 years ago.

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As you travel outside the city and indeed all over the country you’ll see smiling faces with thanakka stripes across their cheeks – basically saying, ‘take that Estee Lauder’.

There is so much to uncover and discover in Myanmar (or Burma), see it soon.

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Spend a day in Yangon walking among the temples and be dazzled by more than the religious aspects – this is Buddha territory with disco lights. The temple precincts are cleaned to an inch of their Karmic lives and animal statues and images look down upon you. Look up to the golden spires and look down to see the padding of countless bare-footed monks scurrying through this ‘temple town’.

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The mighty Shwedagon Paya (pagoda) gleams and beams across the city of Yangon. The light from Buddha and thousands of neon lights shine the path to enlightenment – in more ways than one.

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Writer Bev Malzard flew to Yangon with Vietnam Air from Ho Chi Minh city and wants to return after a six year absence to see what’s changed.

Visit: http://www.vietnamair.com.vn

TIPS

  • Spend money there – BUT – spend it with the street vendors and little individual stalls. That way some of the money will stay out of government hands.
  • You’ll need a Visa for Myanmar.

Painting the town red!

Painting the town red!

Toowoomba has amped up its street cred because of First Coat.

It’s not often you see someone painting the town red, or get the chance to look down laneways and see scaffolding supporting a young man or woman going to town with spray cans – and not in an illegal way. We are not looking at urban vandals here – we are seeing the artists of the 21st century.

Recently in the very tidy town of Toowoomba, in Queensland’s South East, the ‘First Coat’ festival was held for the fourth year in succession.

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From the first First Coat, the event has been a resounding triumph for the artists (local and invited interstate and international); art lovers and the town itself.

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Toowoomba for decades has had an impeccable reputation as an example of classic Federation buildings, wide-streets laced with charming old-school emporiums and chic boutiques, a respected university and gardens so fine that folk come for the garden festival and to immerse themselves in the beauty of the public and Japanese gardens every year. The town has a comfortable sense of success, honouring its benefactor – agriculture.

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And now Toowoomba has amped up its street cred because of First Coat. And judging by the ages of the people doing the weekend rounds of backstreets and lanes, everyone from young families to wannabe hipsters and wall art fans to the much older crowd who are lapping it up as happily as a flower show.

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This year’s festival got off to a damp start on the Friday – rain is not the wall artists’ friend. With damp air and paint on the run, the artists did as much as they could and headed for the launch party. And as the sun shone through on a beautiful Saturday – the walls of downtown Toowoomba came alive with more than 26 new murals emerging.

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From glorious plumed birds, to abstract, bold graphic images, social comment, lifelike and larger than life-size portraits, animals taking the centre spot on a wall and beautiful shapes emerging to be wolves, or bears or . . .who knows . . .the walls spoke.

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With the community fully behind First Coat ‘Choose Your Adventure’ this year, workshops, gatherings, talks, music and the wonderful world of wall art – the festival momentum in Toowoomba of an outdoor art gallery for everyone has excited the region and celebrates the spirit of creativity.

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Let the walls tell the story.

 

GETTING THERE

If you aren’t driving (and it’s a 90 minutes drive from Brisbane), best fly in. Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport is an architecturally snazzy regional airport and you can take flights between Toowooomba and Brisbane; Melbourne; Sydney and Cairns. So, mad if you don’t fly the easy way. Qantaslink flew the writer from Sydney to Toowoomba.

STAY AT

Potters Hotel, Toowoomba is quality accommodation with an excellent restaurant for breakfast and great evening dining. You are a stone’s throw from the newly refurbished Grand Central Shopping Centre, two minutes walk from the CBD and a 15-minutes drive to Wellcamp Airport.

Visit: www.pottershoteltoowoomba.com.au

EAT AT

Junk is the hotspot for brilliant Asian food.

www.junkboat.com.au

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The Bakers Duck for the most brilliant buttery pastries and superb bread. Get there early on a Saturday morning and soak up the aroma of butter and happiness.

www.bakersduck.com.au

For dinner, head to The Office for all things gourmet – fish, fowl, and meat with flair! And behind the office is a cool, tiny bar – The Chelsea for an exotic cocktail or two. And for something a little more casual – Artisan Pizza will fill the gap.

 

AND  . . .

Take a tour of the architectural and historical Empire Theatre; stroll through Queens Park; try the various cafes along the main streets and now popping up in laneways – the coffee’s damn good in Toowoomba.

 

More information, visit: www.southernqueenslandcountrytourism.com.au

Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort

It’s not too far south of Sydney, about two hours’ drive, taking it easy along the way. It’s the beautiful region of the Southern Highlands – an area that is steeped in local history of farming, mining, commerce, bushrangers, Scottish heritage and some wonderful natural wonders of caves, tracks, ghost towns and rugged bushland.

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Mittagong is the door to the Southern Highlands and the town is half way between Sydney and Canberra. The gateway town is all business, it serves the surrounding villages, boutique wineries and Highlands’ population. Over many years Mittagong’s architectural heritage that was built up during prosperous times has been decimated by developers and 20th century bad taste. But the loveliest building to survive, be resuscitated back to life – well, given a new life is the old bank, now The Old Bank Boutique Hotel.

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The Old Bank Boutique Hotel’s hosts with the mosts! Barbara and Warwick Wainberg.

The historic building operated as the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney and it dates back to the 1880s. The bank has been lovingly restored, and I don’t say that in off-the-cuff real estate speak. One of the owners is Warwick Wainberg, a nuggety bloke who would look quite at home wrangling cattle in the wild. When we arrived at the hotel he was sitting quietly in a small room, listening to the radio and pressing pristine white sheets, “it’s my job and I enjoy ironing”. This rough diamond is the person who meticulously chose the fabrics for the curtains and soft furnishings, designed the bathrooms and slowly and rather extravagantly managed and oversaw several years of extensive restoration by local craftsmen who faithfully transformed the slate roof and stone wall building from a dilapidated pigeon coop in 2008 to a magnificent building today.

Painstaking is the appropriate word here!

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Is there a bear in there?

There are five accommodation rooms with en suite bathrooms, all with elegant decor and individual charm. We had a tiny balcony overlooking the back garden and the lake in the distance.

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There’s also a self-contained studio apartment and a free-standing sandstone cottage plus the original coach house has also been reinvented for the 21st century.

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Main lounge and see the vault door to the left.

I love winter here as the lovely lounge and library are just the places to disappear into and cosy up with a book. A quirky detail worth exploration is opening a 1000kg door cast in London in 1852 – from the lounge area which happens to lead to the original bank vault. The door secured the  is now the wine cellar – talk about keeping the bottle booty safe!

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Inside the vault – the gold has gone but the wine is cooling.

On arrival our host Barbara Wainberg bid us a happy welcome and sat us down to afternoon tea – and how fine those scones were too. and the Dundee cake was rather moreish!

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Breakfast was the full Monty – why not? Nothing like eggs and bacon, toast, tomato and coffee to ready us for a drive further into the Southern Highlands. Thanks Barbara and Warwick not only lovely to stay here, but a treat to meet you both.

 

Early History

A severe drought exacerbated by a caterpillar plague in the fledgling colony of Port Jackson and subsequent exploration for new grazing land beyond the Cumberland Basin led to the settlement of Mittagong in the 1820s. Early Land grants for cattle grazing were given to a William Chalker, one of the first pioneers of the district.

Gradually over the next 80 years Mittagong became the home to many industries including the Fitz Roy Iron Works which established this industry in Australia, the Mittagong Coal Mining company operating the Box Vale Colliery, kerosene shale from Joadja, the Fresh Food and Ice Company sending the first supply of fresh milk and butter to Sydney and The Maltings serving the major NSW brewing company, Tooth and Co.

Following the railway line’s completion from Sydney in 1867, Mittagong became a gateway to the southern areas and beyond leading to the development of a tourist trade which still thrives today. Inns, hotels, guest houses, livery stables and shops were built to service the influx of visitors with some of the establishments still standing.

For a brief period in early the 1880’s the CBC occupied ‘Waratah Cottage’ at the junction of Old Main Southern Road, (now Range Road), and Main Street, (now Hume Highway). It then relocated to ‘Victoria House’ some 500m north of its present day site on the Old Hume Highway. By the late 1880’s the current CBC building had been constructed at a cost of 2840 pounds on land purchased from John Hilder for 373 pounds and opened it’s doors in 1891.

1908 saw the start of motorised, more reliable and comfortable transport and with it the Hume Highway via Razorback being completed in the 1920’s. The Highway travelled through Mittagong until the 1992 Southern by-pass was competed, taking heavy interstate traffic out of Mittagong and Berrima. Both towns have flourished since with holiday makers and day trippers enjoying the proliferation of cafes, restaurants, boutiques, antique shops and outdoor activities in the mountain air at some 600m.

Under private ownership the Old Bank is managed with love, kindness and attention to detail. A little gift on leaving (reluctantly) The Old Bank was a bottle of homemade kumquat jam – thank you so much.

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Homemade jam with seasonal fruit is on the menu.

For either shorter or longer visits to the Southern Highlands there are all manner of activities including golf, walking, hiking, riding, wine tasting, antique stores, galleries, gardens, arts and craft or just plain relaxing.

DON’T MISS THIS GREAT PACKAGE – HURRY!

Old Bank Boutique Hotel marks 125th birthday of property with new discounted package.

Book and stay by 30 June 2017, for cosy autumn and winter stays

The Old Bank Boutique Hotel in Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands is marking the 125th birthday of the grand, historic property with the release of a new, discounted package that allows guests to fully immerse themselves in the old-world splendour of the luxury hotel.

Ideal for cosy autumn and winter stays, the 125th birthday package includes two nights’ accommodation in one of the gracious suites, cooked, country breakfasts each morning and a delicious, three-course dinner for two at the hotel on one evening, including a bonus bottle of wine.

The package is available from $680 per couple on weekdays (or $170 per person per day, representing a 15 per cent discount,) and from $785.50 on weekends (12 per cent discount). The package is available for stays until 30 June 2017.

The property at 83 Main St, Mittagong, is situated close to the Southern Highlands’ well-known antique shops, boutiques, bookshops, cafes and gardens.

The 125th birthday package is available by direct booking only and conditions apply. Call 02 4872 4496 or visit www.oldbankhotel.com.au

Writer Bev Malzard stayed at The Old Bank Boutique Hotel and thoroughly enjoyed every moment there. More scones puleeeeze!

TIP

  • Drive to Berrima and do a little tour of the Berrima Courthouse.
  • Have lunch at Berkelouw’s Book Barn on the Bendooley Estate just outside Berrima.
  • For a rockabilly burger and fries, check out Bernie’s at Moss Vale – all red vinyl and chrome stools!

British food – no longer a scandal

British food – no longer a scandal

1. British pub holds two Michelin stars

Pub food at Michelin star level? SHOCKING. After we all saw the film Burnt starring Bradley Cooper, it gave us a glimpse into the immense amount of pressure that is involved in becoming a Michelin star restaurant. Britain’s gastropub The Sportsman located in Kent, Southeast England, has managed to achieve just that. The hyper-local ingredients take pride in provenance to a new level. With vegetables from the garden, and pork and lamb from the farms next door, you’d be crazy not to taste the finest quality pub food in history.

Visit: http://www.thesportsmaneasalter.co.uk

  1. Afternoon Tea was known as ‘Scandal Water’ 

‘Scandal Water’ was the 19th Century slang for tea and became the thing to do amongst the upper echelons of London Society, for whom work was unthinkable and consequently boredom was a very real issue. The empty hours of the afternoon, between the memory of lunch and the anticipation of dinner, became the perfect time to revive the spirits with a cup of afternoon tea and engage in the real focus of the afternoon – a solid couple of hours of salacious gossip! As time went on it was referred to as afternoon tea. What better way to catch up on the latest goss whilst sipping on a fragrant cuppa and nibbling on the daintiest little sweet treats. You can take a sip of ‘scandal water’ at super cool hotel The London EDITION,where the specialised tea pairs with different sweet or savoury dishes.

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Visit: http://www.editionhotels.com/london

  1. Kate Moss makes an exception to her rule “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”… only because she’s in her hometown.

That’s right everyone, Kate Moss does eat! The English-born supermodel helped launch a fish and chip bar, with the help of good friends Anna Wintour and Lindsey Lohan. Sexy Fish, located in London provides a theatrical atmosphere, with interior best described as mid-century glamour and Europe’s largest Japanese Whiskey collection. Sexy Fish is just one of Britain’s many stylish and delicious Chinese and pan-Asian restaurants. For Michelin-starred Chinese try Hakkasan Hanway Place, you’d be crazy not to try its Peking duck with caviar, and grilled wagyu with king soy sauce.

Visit: http://www.sexyfish.com

  1. The Brits do eat more than Cornish Pastries.

From vegan to Halal, Britain has a wealth of restaurants, cafés and bars that cater for everyone. A common misconception made by many is that Britain is extremely limited in their cuisine options, however we have proven this to be incorrect. For your finest organic food being healthy, ethical and flavoursome try Kitch, Canterbury, southeast England. Those looking for a Vegetarian experience should make their way to Primrose Hill. While Primrose Hill hosts Britain’s largest selection of vegetarian restaurants, you can’t go past Manna, the capital city’s oldest Vegetarian restaurant. With a menu that has been fine-tuned over the years, dishes will take you on a round-the-world trip without having to leave your table (and for a slither of the price).

  1. Loving British cheese

Britain’s love of cheese is thought to date back to Roman times and was even mentioned in a book dated back to 1086, written for King William the Conqueror. According to The British Cheese Board,  (yes there’s a Board dedicated to cheese – where do I sign up?) today there are more than 700 different cheeses produced in the UK, including several varieties of Cheddar, Caerphilly, Double Gloucester plus all the delicious varieties. You’ll be rolling around Britain like a cheese wheel!

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  1. Love Oysters? There is an entire festival dedicated to the seafood itself.

If you’re after fresh fish Selsey and Shoreham in West Sussex are your go-to areas. With two of the few remaining fishing fleets on the south coast, you won’t get fresher fish anywhere! Lovers, you heard it here first – if you’re looking to shake things up and love oysters, you cannot go past the Whitstable Oyster Festival that takes place every summer and takes over the town…Did someone say “aphrodisiac”?

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  1. Combine chocolate and booze? #STOPIT

Chocolate is thought to have come to Britain from Europe in the 17th century and started being sold in London’s elite chocolate houses first as a luxury drink. Combining chocolate and alcohol – absolute genius! The British didn’t stop there, they took it one step further and have integrated it into a number of meals – to taste-test, head to Cocoa Ooze in Aberdeen and order a chocolate taco! How did we not think of this sooner?

  1. The smallest pub on the planet

The Signal Box Inn is a public house in the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. It was opened in August 2006 and is a contender for the smallest pub in the world. But you will be shocked at just HOW small The Signal Box Inn actually is. This tiny timber structure is a former railway signal box. As the ultimate mini-bar, it can seat just four customers plus two standing at an absolute squeeze. Despite the diminutive size, it serves a large choice of cask ales, lager, bitter, spirits, wine and cider. After a few drinks you’ll get very friendly with the other patrons, no doubt!

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Visit: http://www.cclr.co.uk/signalboxinn/

Thanks to STA for this excellent information. Yes, there’s a wealth of eating and drinking places in the UK that are ripe for a visit – and the food just gets better and better.

Writer Bev Malzard recommends you take a look at http://www.visitbritain.com for all things English, Scottish and Welsh.