24 OCT 2016:  An eclectic trip itinerary can be most stimulating I think. On a recent visit to Britain I combined such traditions as afternoon tea at the Langham and golf at Stoke Park, site of Bond’s epic golfing duel in the 007 movie ‘Goldfinger’, with dinner at a pop up in an emerging area of London and whisky tastings in Dufftown Scotland.

Our trip started on an unusually hot and sunny week in the UK at Stoke Park, set on 300 acres of parkland just a half hour from Heathrow airport. It’s both an exclusive members’ club and a hotel in the middle of gardens and golf. The parking lot was filled with Bentleys, Jaguars and Mercedes.

My husband and I stayed in the eighteenth-century Mansion in The Pennsylvania Suite, the very room that featured in Brigit Jones’ Diary (2001) when she took her famous mini-break with her boss. Our four poster bed was where Brigit (played by Renée Zellweger) shagged her boss (acted by Hugh Grant). The room was hot in more ways than one. As it was in a protected historic mansion there was no air conditioning.

Stoke Park has a close relationship to Pinewood Studios (six or so kilometres away) and the British film industry and a number of famous movies were filmed here. The golf contest between James Bond (Sean Connery) and Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) is considered to be among the most famous games of golf in cinematic history. The course designed by the acclaimed Harry Colt opened in 1909 and is one for golfers to put onto the bucket list for its history and more.

Humphrey’s, their modern British cuisine restaurant for fine dining was closed the days we stayed at Stoke Park, so it wasn’t until we hit London that we got our foodie fix. We stayed at The Ampersand in South Kensington and just loved the place from the rooms to the meals at Apéro, their laidback, totally cool, Mediterranean style eatery.

Tucked beneath the Victorian cellar arches of the hotel, the place had a fun vibe and their sharing style menu had delicious dishes such as wagyu meatballs, crab bonbons, seafood risotto, chicken cake and confit pork belly. The breakfast buffet at Apéro put most other hotel versions to shame.

The big gastro traveller surprise for me however was not in Kensington but in the emerging area of Brockley in south east London. It’s a friendly area, home to many artists and young couples with lots of local festivals and green spaces - Hilly Fields, Blythe Hill and Ladywell. Two friends in the food and wine import business went from selling in Borough Market and elsewhere to popping up a wine-tapas-shop called L’Oculto here about four years ago.

L’Oculto as an eatery “popped-up” in August of last year in their shop and enjoyed such success that the two ladies, Ana who is Spanish and Teresa a Londoner, decided by this August to commit to being a full time restaurant. The tapas are a delicious bargain but what really makes the place are the wines.

It took eight years of travelling in Spain to find the best, natural, organic and biodynamic wineries and sign them up. They now sell the wines online for delivery across London and in markets. In the restaurant they offer a great selection by the glass and bottle of these unique, small production, family vineyard wines. I couldn’t believe the quality of them at such reasonable prices. www.flavoursofspain.co.uk

We couldn’t leave London without heading to Langham’s Palm Court, famed as the place where the tradition of afternoon tea was born over 150 years ago. The Langham Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood collection, newly created by Executive Pastry Chef, Cherish Finden takes inspiration from Wedgwood collections. Beautiful works of delicate delectable art to eat. The ‘Butterfly Bloom’ for example features a buttery shortbread tower with salted caramel and two hand crafted butterflies at its peak. The Wedgwood Wild Strawberry is a wild strawberry ‘pâte de fruit’ and pistachio cream macaroon, replicating the ‘Wedgwood Wild Strawberry’ design.

Then it was off to Scotland for a visit to Glenfiddich in Dufftown. There we met up with Ian Millar, former Global Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich and now Prestige Whiskies Specialist for owner of the brand, William Grant & Sons. Glenfiddich “The Original” first launched in 1963 as a commercial product was the first single malt to promote itself as such. It started the avalanche of luxury single malts we see today.

Tours at Glenfiddich are highly popular and of course include tastings – the more expensive the tour – the older and better the whisky you’ll taste. I recommend the Pioneers Tour where you end up in warehouse number 12, home to the Malt Master’s Selection. It houses four casks specially chosen by the sixth Malt Master, Brian Kinsman. Here, you will be invited to fill a 20cl bottle from the cask of your choice to take home. Then you’ll then get a tutored tasting of five Glenfiddich whiskies including their 21-Year-Old.

Millar is a whisky barrel full of fun and we were royally entertained. After we checked into our lovely accommodations at the Malt Kiln House overlooking Glenfiddich Distillery, we had lunch in the Malt Barn, the distillery’s casual restaurant serving up local dishes such as Cullen skink, a thick Scottish soup. Then at night we went to the nearby village of Craigellachie for dinner at the Copper Dog, a popular pub serving Shetland mussels, Lochinver oysters, North Sea langoustines, Aberdeen Angus steaks and other famous Scottish produce.

No meal in Scotland is complete without a good dram or two. Above the pub in the Quaich bar at the Craigellachie Hotel is the world’s leading whisky bar, with over 900 whiskies lining its walls. We indulged to say the least. www.glenfiddich.com/ca/distillery

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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