Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Supporting Local – Why we do it and why you should to!

One of the things we are most proud of, is the fact that our menus are created using seasonality as the theme. Locally and ethically sourced produce also plays a big part and we are passionate about it.

Because of our passion for local, we like to visit those producers who supply us daily with all the wonderful ingredients that are used in our menus. Last Summer we took a trip to Brogdale with the team and just recently we have returned from visiting one of our other suppliers, Chegworth Valley.

Many of you will associate them to the award winning single variety and blended fruit juices they create – all of which are pressed on the farm using hand selected orchard ripe fruit, more often than not, within hours of being picked. The range includes pure apple and pear juices along with special blends using their own raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and rhubarb to name a few. These juices are all unique in flavour and are all lovingly pressed and gently pasteurised to retain the flavour and nutritional properties of the fruit.

There is another side to Chegworth however, one that tenderly nurtures the growth of all kinds of salad leaves, tomatoes, beetroot, cucumbers, aubergines, squash, peppers, runner beans, fennel and much more, not to mention the large selection of fruits, all of which are picked by hand and carefully sorted and bagged for selling at the various market stalls and farmers markets across the county and into London.

Chegworth Valley is a family owned and run fruit farm. It was established in 1983 when David and his wife decided to give up work and start a farm. The site had previously been a dairy farm forming part of the Leeds Castle Estate. In the beginning, apple and pear trees were planted, which were followed by strawberries, other soft fruits and eventually salads and vegetables.

In the very beginning, the farm supplied fruit to supermarkets and large wholesalers, but it was soon clear that their interest was in the shape and size of the fruit only, not in the way it had been grown it or how it smelt and tasted. David and his family are passionate about producing real fruit with the best possible taste and smell that isn't full of harmful chemicals. They also wanted to deal with customers directly who had a passion for real food and drink and would prefer to support smaller produces than the big food manufacturers and supermarkets who some feel have devalued the great produce available here in the UK.

Their passion for the produce they supply to us is something our Head Chef sets out to capture and echo in all of the menus he creates, whilst adding in his own passion for food and Kentish produce. Our Chefs work with the farms on a seasonal basis so we know we are getting the produce at its very best, where it has been grown in the best conditions and will have the best flavour.

If you are, as we can all be, guilty of the convenience of the supermarket, then we suggest you give your local farmers market a go. Use your local butcher and talk to them, find out exactly where your meat is coming from. Talk to the local fishmonger and make sure you are getting the best of the catch. Everyone of these specialists in local food will love nothing more than to talk to you about their passion – the produce they work with. Create your own passion for the produce grown and reared in Kent and off of the coast and cook with it, you will be amazed by the difference in quality and flavour. If you want to see for yourself, just how amazing this local produce is once it has been cooked, then come and visit us at The Fountain Restaurant and let our Chefs turn these wonderful, local, raw ingredients into an experience to be remembered.

To see more photos from our visit and learn a little more about the workings of the farm, come and find us on Facebook and have a look at our album Supplier Visit - Chegworth Valley

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

A Trip to the Tales

Canterbury is full of history and there are plenty of places in the city where you can learn more about it.One of these places is The Canterbury Tales, a visitor attraction based around the famous stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer.  

Widely referred to as the Father of English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer is considered to be the greatest English poet of the Middle AgesWhile he achieved fame during his lifetime as an author, philosopher, alchemist and astronomer, Chaucer also maintained an active career in the civil service as a bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat. Among his many works, he is best known today for The Canterbury Tales.

Over the centuries thousands have ventured on a pilgrimage to Canterbury and this is brought to life as your pilgrimage from London to our famous Cathedral City places you in the midst of a story-telling contest as five of Chaucer's most entertaining tales of love, romance, jealousy and trickery are brought vividly to life.

Your adventure will begin as mine did at the Tabard Inn where I met the first of the costumed guides who will prepare you for your pilgrimage. The first story on your journey is The Knights Tale. A chivalrous tale of two knights who fall in love with a fair lady. The two men begin to duel, but who will win her heart?

As you move on with your journey you will be told The Millers Tale, a story of a carpenter called John and his wife Alisoun and two clerks called Nicholas and Absolon. The two clerks fall in love with Alisoun and both try to win her affections and her bed. Each of them hatch a plan to try and get their wicked way... but will they get their just desserts instead?

Continuing on foot through this merry band of pilgrims you will hear of The Nun's Priest's Tale, a farmyard fable. A handsome cock called Chanticleer dreams of his death by a cunning old fox. He confides his fears with his favorite hen wife who tells him it is caused by indigestion and not to pay attention to silly dreams. His dreams however seem to have some truth to them. Will the cock outwit the cunning old fox or will he become his next meal?

My favorite tale and I think you will enjoy this one also is The Wife of Bath's Tale. A Knight in King Arthur's time raped a young maiden. He is captured and sentenced to death, however Queen Guinevere steps in and asks the King to allow her to pass judgement upon him. The Queen sets the Knight a task to discover what it is that women most desire. After a year of searching, the Knight who has struggled to find an answer that will please the Queen sees an old hag who promises to to give him the correct answer if he promises to grant her any favor she might ask of him in return.... Can she save his life, and if so, what will the old hag request as payment for it?

The final story on your journey is that of The Pardeners Tale set in Flanders. Rioters hear a bell to signal the burial of a friend who has been killed by a thief known as Death. The men set out to avenge him and kill Death. An old man they meet on their way tells them they can find Death at the foot of an oak tree. When they get there they find a large amount of gold coin but will their greed cause their downfall?

These five stories culminate with a second guide at the shrine of St Thomas Becket, who tells the true story of  the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in 1170 by command of the King.

I would highly recommend you visit The Canterbury Tales and hear the stories in all their splendor, this really is a great way to spend a couple of hours learning and living the stories and lives of days gone by.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Joys of Creating a Menu

Our Head Chef, William Britton has been working here at the Abbots Barton now for 7 months, and during this time he has created a new bar snack menu which offers a great selection of sandwiches and baguettes along with hot dishes such as slow cooked old spot Gloucester Ribs and a trio of mini burgers. You also have options of cheese or seafood platters which are great for sharing and much more.

William has also worked with his brigade to create our seasonal dinner menus, and has most recently been putting the finishing touches to the Spring menu. We thought it might be nice to give you an insight into the creation of one of the new dishes...

Pan seared King Scallops with curried cauliflower purée, crispy shallot rings and tomato salad.

Good start, needs work...
The whole process starts with William getting all the chefs together and sitting down with them to discuss ideas. He will give the team an insight into the types of meats and fish he would like to see on the menu, taking into account the season we are coming into. Ideas will be brainstormed over the course of a week and an outline of a menu will be formed. As with all these things, the ultimate decision of what gets trialled to go on the menu will be down to the Head Chef, but all ideas and suggestions from his team are considered. Where there is a good base for a dish, William will work with his team to develop the initial idea and turn it into something that they are confident our diners will enjoy.

As with any new idea, it's not always straight forward when it comes down to the cooking and plating of the dish. Like all things, sometimes what you see in your minds eye doesn't always transfer well in reality. William will work on the dish to make any changes to ingredients or presentation and experiment with different serving plates keeping the team involved during the whole process.

 This particular dish took 4 attempts and a lot of washing up before they got it just right.

Still missing something...
The scallops and the cauliflower curried purée went really well together and the tomato salad added texture, colour and a sweetness to the dish, however William and the team agreed something was missing. Just a little added extra was needed to bring the dish in flavour and presentation together. So after some thought another cauliflower was produced and William pickled some small florettes. A tiny addition they may be, but what a difference it made to the dish and saved Chef from going grey to soon!

Once this stage is reached, then comes the costing and writing of the menu. The aim is for the menu to explain clearly what each dish contains and what its local connections are, for instance it might contain local Ashmore Cheddar or be a cut of local lamb.

Once the Head Chef is happy with the menus and all the new dishes a copy is sent to the directors
for finalisation.

At long last, the launch day of the new menu arrives and the restaurant team, kitchen team and head of departments are gathered for a tasting of all dishes. This is such an important part of the final process as it's a chance for the whole team to see how each dish must be presented to ensure consistency. It is also key as staff need to know what they taste like, so when asked by a customer they can answer honestly and with confidence.

At long last the dish is complete!
I think you will appreciate that the process of creating a new menu can be time consuming and isn't just a case of throwing some ingredients together. William and his team strive to provide you with a delicious menu, serving local and ethically sourced produce wherever possible and their passion for food is unquestionable. We hope you will stop in and try the latest menu out for yourselves.

With thanks to Willam Britton, Head Chef, for his help in creating this post.

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Pet Friendly Hotel in Canterbury!

 We have seen many people walk through our doors over the years, mostly of the human variety, but over the years we have more and more people enquiring about bringing their pets with them, and being a pet friendly hotel, we do tend to favour our four legged friends! It's not just dogs that we cater for either, we have had cats, snakes, rabbits and parrots in the past so we are not new in appreciating the love you have for your animals. A fellow Best Western Hotel even agreed to give a pet pig a bed for the night!

Most of our staff have their own furry friends and it brightens their day when they see you bringing your pets on holiday with you. Our receptionist has a sausage dog called Bruce, Christine our General Manager in Canterbury has a cat called Princess Sophie and Daniel our director has a Cocker Spaniel called Monte and a King Charles Spaniel called Carlo. The General Manager of the York House Hotel even used to breed German Shepherds!

So, be sure that when you arrive, if you have your furry friend with you, all our staff will make as much fuss over them as they will over you!
We have specially designed rooms that are only allocated to guests bringing pets, and they are large enough for us to be able to provide them with a bed of their own and water bowl. We also offered over Christmas back in 2012 a Doggie Gourmet Christmas Dinner which consisted of Kobe Beef, (generally considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture) Fillet Mignon, (a tender steak cut of beef taken from the smaller end of the tenderloin) and Porterhouse, (cut from the rear end of the short loin and includes more tenderloin) now what other hotels can claim they will do that?!

We allow pets into most areas of the hotel, the only places we have limits is in the pool at our sister hotel, BEST WESTERN York House Hotel and in the restaurants, I am sure you can appreciate the reasons behind this, BUT we will set you up a table in the bar or lounge if you don't want room service and will happily serve you our restaurant menu there so you don't miss out.

We have invested in large vacuums that are specifically designed to cope with pet hairs to ensure the rooms and public areas appear as if we have never had an animal in the building and you can be assured that your rooms will be as clean as those that have never had a pet in them.

So you know, the last four legged friend we had in was a Guinea Pig called George who stayed

with us last week. His owner called to see if our pet charge of £10 per night would apply, it did of course and he slept in a pet tent in his owners room and had access to all the pet friendly areas of the hotel on his harness (he is small so this was just a precaution, we didn't want him getting stuck anywhere!) He even made friends with some of the other pets staying that week including the visiting Great Dane, Dolly!

Finally the latest addition to the Pet Friendly Service we offer at the Abbots Barton is the 5 new bird boxes we have had fitted around the garden for the local blue tits. We are hoping that come the Spring we have a few nesting with us.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Dealing with the Difficlut and Demanding!

Dealing with difficult and demanding guests after the initial thought of 'where is the cellar key!'
One of the many challenging roles of being a General Manager or indeed a Duty Manager of a hotel, and unfortunately or maybe fortunately in my case I/ we are not on duty 365 days 24/7 hours of the day, is dealing with the demanding.
You must also realise that in our industry we command little 'respect' amongst professionals however you must also understand that we do deal with humans, children, alcohol, families and a few other subjectives that may not be appropriate to mention – oh and by the way we have to be experts in the fields of nutrition, health and safety, sleep patterns, psychology and what colour the duvet needs to be!
I could tell you a story or two of 'professionals' when they are clocked off but I better not.
Thankfully they tend to be few and far between but there is always one or two.
A challenging guest could be a celebrity or a VIP, they could just be an ordinary person like you and me.
So, how do we deal with guests like this? Well, it helps to remember that challenging guests are easily stressed or have eclectic or unreasonable expectations. It is key to stay calm in such a situation and try to understand exactly what point the customer is trying to make so we can do our best to resolve the situation if we can. On the other hand however, the guest may take your calmness as an indication you don't care as much as they do, so serious people reading skills are required. Politicians note 'conflict resolution' come to us for advice! Ultimately you need to make them see and feel you are taking their issues seriously. By doing what you can to help, it will with any luck turn their unfriendly and challenging behaviour around and in turn their experience will become a more positive one. Sadly however the 'unhinged' guest sometimes just have to be put up with until they leave but look on the bright side it gives the staff something to bemoan instead of me! More often than not in our case they then continue to return, mumble and grumble, but still refuse to stay elsewhere even if we offer to assist them out!
We can occasionally be our own worst enemy and so it is important to manage our guests expectation where we can. People handling is not for the feint hearted and it is therefore possible that you misread. For example, we use the BRA theory (Best Room Available) which means, if we have a better room available when you check in, we will upgrade you automatically which should put you in a good mood. This goes down well and helps create advocates for us, however there are those that then expect it to happen on all future visits, and of course if we can't the guest can turn into a bit of a sulker. This is where the unrealistic bit steps in. We have in the past had an offer that the guest would be happy to let the situation drop if we turn their room in to a deluxe whilst they wait. Quite a serious suggestion that took us all by surprise!
All of our hotel managers and the staff will always do their best to accommodate and make your stay as pleasant, comfortable and enjoyable as they can and we do our best to rectify or find alternative solutions for you wherever possible. Ultimately we want all of our guests to leave us happy and planing their return visit! What is the point of us 'deliberately' going out of our way to annoy you? Sometimes contrary to suggestion we are not 'Basil'.

Friday, 14 June 2013

When In Canterbury...

What will you do? Even more importantly why should you visit us here and not go somewhere else? Well we can help answer that for you as we have a list of the 10 top attractions to visit whilst you are here, all perfectly suitable for couples, individuals, groups and families!
(This list I should point out has been voted for by you the public... the visitors who come to Canterbury and post their comments on Trip Advisor.)

Attraction Number 10 – Westgate Towers Museum. Already written about in a previous blog, myself and our general manager Christine Cooper went for a visit to this fabulous museum. Now open in the Summer months, it is certainly worth a visit. Find out about the lives of the jailers and the prisoners from way back when. Make sure you head to the top of the towers to take in the roof top view of Canterbury!

Attraction Number 9 – St Martins Church. This is the oldest church in the English speaking world and still has its doors open for worship. It was at this very church that St Augustine set up his mission to convert the English when he arrived from Rome in 597 AD.
Attraction Number 8 – Greyfriars Chapel and Franciscan Gardens. This chapel is the only building now remaining of the first English Franciscan Friary built in 1224. Entry to this attraction is free, however donations are appreciated to help with the up-keep of the building.
Attraction Number 7 – RSPB Reserve Blean Woods. This is a fabulous place to go for quiet walks in ancient woodland, with 5 trails up to eight miles long. In the summer keep your eyes peeled for damselflies, dragonflies and butterflies. If you are lucky you might spot the fritillary butterfly and perhaps some nightjars, woodpeckers and nightingales.

Attraction Number 6 – Gulbenkian Cinema. Located up at the University of Kent, this cinema offers a unique viewing experience. With a whole selection of films showing regularly, some in 3D, you can be sure there will be something on for everyone. We at the hotel can even offer you a reduced ticket price for certain films if you are staying with us, simply enquire at reception when you are checking in :)

Attraction Number 5 – Westgate Gardens. The gardens can be found close to the City centre, next to West Gate Tower. These 11 acres of public gardens provide an ideal setting for a stroll along the banks of the River Stour. If you would rather sit back and relax, there are plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by as well as take in the beauty of the garden and its wildlife. Look out for swans, ducks and the moorhens!

Attraction Number 4 – Canterbury Heritage Museum. This is a must visit attraction especially for the families! The museum has over 30 hands on activities including being able to write your name in Viking Ruins, sniff medieval poo, investigate like an archaeologist, try on Elizabethan costume and listen to wartime memories!

Attraction Number 3 – Howletts Wild Animal Park – Howletts is a 90 acre adventure located in ancient parkland, perfect for great days out with the whole family. Keep your eyes peeled for the Siberian Tiger, Snow Leopard, Sumatran Tiger, Elephants, Gorillas, Black Rhino, Brazilian tapir and much much more. (I can't possibly list them all, this blog will be far too long!)

Attraction Number 2 – Eastbridge Hospital. A hospital in the old sense of the word, a place of hospitality. Since its foundation in the 12th Century, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been the patron. The Eastbridge Hospital welcomes visitors and offers tours of the Chantry Chapel, the Undercroft with Gothic Arches, the Refectory with an early 13th Century mural and the Pilgrims Chapel.
Attraction Number 1 – It was only ever going to be Canterbury Cathedral! Pilgrims and visitors have made their way to the Cathedral since the Middle Ages and is still one of the most visited places in the country. Visitors are always welcome and a trip to this famous Cathedral is highly recommended!


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Lost Property

Managing lost property is an interesting one at a hotel. When something is found it is logged in our lost property book, with the date, time, where it was found and by whom. We will then wait for the phone call from the owner who has forgotten to pack or mislaid their item, be it keys, a phone charger (quite a lot of those), make-up, perfume and other such items. We then take a description, make sure it's definitely theirs and then we will arrange for the item to be returned...

Over the years we have had a lot of the usual suspects, some of which have already been mentioned, but I want to share with you some of the other, more 'unique' items should I say, that get left behind. Some of which get claimed and some that don't. As you can imagine, the items that remain lost are usually a bit too embarrassing to ring and ask for.

The normal lost property items...
Books, phones, laptops, chargers, house keys, clothing, radios, soft toys, suitcase, fancy dress costumes, photo albums, and toothbrushes.

The more memorable ones...
False teeth, glass eye, bicycle wheel, artificial limb, inflatable sheep, wig, toupee, underwear, handcuffs, rampant rabbits and other such cheeky items! Use your imaginations!

We have also discovered over the years...
Pet stick insects, a wedding dress, life size skeleton, a single shoe, and how about this one... A portable douche complete with rubber tube!

Having searched the internet for other hotels stories about lost property, here are a few more things that you managed to leave behind recently...
Breast implants, pilots manual, pet python, 200 Queen Elizabeth masks, Persian kitten, diamond encrusted dentures, £50k Rolex watch, £10k engagement ring, stamp collection worth £250k, winning Euro millions ticket, pop up spray tanning booth and keys to a Bugatti.

I would like to confirm that all of these items were returned to their rightful owners, but how on earth do you manage to leave this all behind? Perhaps it's because you are too busy squeezing our towels in to your suitcase?? ;o)