The rise of Ali Miller London

When Ali Miller discovered her china had been featured on the BBC hit show Sherlock, the next year was a whirlwind of activity, and requests for products began to snowball.

“I started getting hundreds of orders, but I didn’t realise that my china had been used on the show for several months,” she explains. “I had to do a bit of detective work of my own to understand where the influx of interest had come from.” While being featured on the programme was a stroke of luck that shot the brand to fame amongst Sherlock fanatics, Ali had been quietly working on her art behind the scenes for many years.

Featured everywhere from hit TV shows to The Grove’s tea room, artist Ali Miller talks to us about the incredible success of her brand.


Growing up

As a child growing up with severe dyslexia and struggling with her school work, she found solace in art- a place where words weren’t necessary. After graduating from art school in 2003, Ali continued to follow her passion, working on her collages in the evenings alongside her day job in window display design. “I used to make collages from old books and magazines- anything that was around the house,” she explains. “I started decorating any objects I could find- covering furniture with my art.” While she admits her mother was less than impressed to see her chairs hijacked for painting, the project sparked an idea for Ali. “I studied screen painting and photography at night school and I realised that my art could be put on objects. I started experimenting with firing my designs on to china- and that’s how my first tea set was born.”

Describing her art as ‘quintessentially British’, Ali is heavily inspired by childhood books like Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland, as well as her hometown of London. “All of my inspiration basically comes from real life,” she says. “From my childhood in London reading my favourite books, right through to the events and emotions that have impacted my own life and the lives of friends.”


Turning point

After working for various department stores including Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Ikea, Ali’s father became seriously ill and she made the decision to leave her fulltime job. “Ikea was extremely understanding about my situation,” she says. “But in the end I knew I wanted to spend more time with my dad and couldn’t handle a fulltime job at that time. I decided to put all my efforts into art instead, which I could do from home. Sadly he eventually passed away and I channelled even more of my energy into art.”

Though she’d been exhibiting her work for years, it wasn’t until 2010 that framers John Jones invited her to run a major exhibition in their space. “I brought lots of pieces, tea towels, china- everything I had. It all sold out that evening and that was the moment Ali Miller London was born.” Realising that gifts, ornaments and china were a more affordable way for people to buy her art, Ali began to research how to expand her project.

While the original pieces she sold were vintage china, it made sense to work with a production company in Stoke in order to expand the business.

“The vintage pieces fit so well with the theme of my work- which is to tell stories about life that are passed down through generations,” she explains. “To make the business work, I needed to produce on a much bigger scale.”


The TV effect

She began to sell her products through a few stockists, then in 2012 her china was used in an episode of Sherlock and Ali found herself catapulted by overnight success. “I was so grateful for this opportunity- it really helped me to accelerate the brand. While it was a huge challenge to keep up with orders in the first year, I was incredibly lucky as it really put my brand on the map.” She has since visited Sherlock conventions to showcase more of her work, and even sent lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch a baby teapot after the birth of his son. “Fans of the show still love and buy my work- which is fantastic.”

Ali has watched her business grow organically and says her products have now gained an international fan base. While the past few years have been a little quieter after having two children, she is determined to continue developing the brand, with new ideas in the pipeline. “Most of the work I get at the moment is word of mouth- which is fantastic. I am hoping to launch some new products soon through, so it’s a case of ‘watch this space’.”

For Ali, launching the business has been a happy rollercoaster and learning on the job has been a key factor in her success. “I have learnt a huge amount in a short space of time which has been an amazing experience. Working in retail for so long means I understand the importance of keeping the brand fresh, updating my website and attracting new customers. While I am not a traditional designer with new stock every winter and spring, my art will continue to evolve. I want my pieces to tell stories that can be passed down for generations to come.”


You can check out the Ali Miller London collection during afternoon tea at The Grove, available all week from 1.30pm to 4.30pm in the lounges

The best of Hertfordshire

From luxury treatments at our five-star spa, golf on our championship course to our wide range of kids’ activities and acres of space to explore, you won’t be short of entertainment at The Grove. But if you’re staying with us for a few nights, you might fancy going further afield and exploring what Hertfordshire has to offer. Home to Roman ruins, year-round snow and even a few lions from the Serengeti, the county has an ever-growing selection of lively tourist attractions. There’s something for everyone in laidback Hertfordshire, and the region is well-equipped for fabulous family days out. After your day out, head back to relax, dine in one our restaurants and put up your feet to watch a movie in the luxury of your room.


Cassiobury Park | Distance: 2 miles | Journey time: 7 minutes by car or a 40 minute walk

Spanning 190 acres, Watford’s Cassiobury Park is a haven for nature fanatics and walkable from The Grove. More than 46 species of bird and seven species of bat live in the park’s nature reserve, which is managed by Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Designated trails run through the area, making it ideal for family walks and exploration. Alternatively, why not borrow some of our bikes and take your wheels for a spin? For those with children, the park has a bungee trampoline, miniature railway, bouncy castle and paddling pool playground, complete with swings, climbing frames and even its very own zip wire. There’s also a range of sport activities on offer, including free fishing on the River Gade. (You can apply for a licence online.)


The Snow Centre | Distance: 7 miles | Journey time: 15 minute drive

Britain’s newest indoor ski centre is based in Hemel Hempstead- just a short drive from The Grove. Whether you’re an experienced skier or a total beginner, the venue attracts sport fans from across the UK and offers a wide range of lessons. If you’re planning a skiing trip this year it’s an ideal place to stop during your stay at The Grove- to get some practice in early. But it’s also a fun family day out even when there’s no glamourous holidays planned. After all, who says you have to go all the way to the Alps to enjoy the slopes?


St Albans | Distance: 7 miles | Journey time: 15 minute drive

In recent years St Albans has gained popularity with former Londoners, and the town has become a hotspot for trendy cafes, real ale pubs and farmers’ markets. Home to numerous restaurants and an annual food and drink festival, the area is a foodie’s paradise- particularly for those who love local and organic produce. As well as indulging in great food, visitors should take a trip to the St Albans Cathedral and the medieval clock tower. Rich in history and heritage, the town is also famed for its Roman ruins, including the Theatre of Verulamium, built in 140AD. Formerly used for religious festivals and animal shows, it’s the only theatre of its kind in the UK.


Warner Bros. Studio Tour- The Making of Harry Potter | Distance: 2 miles | Journey time: 7 minute drive

For anyone who’s ever dreamed of getting a Hogwarts letter and trundling off to the famous school with their very own owl, a trip to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour- The Making of Harry Potter is an absolute must. A hop, skip and a jump from The Grove, it’s one of the most popular day trips for hotel visitors. Anyone who visits before 12 November will also get to experience a new special feature on the dark arts, where you can learn wand skills and take part in a live duel with Death Eaters. Over Halloween, the venue is hosting a series of Hogwarts After Dark events for adults, with cocktails, canapes, dinner, a studio tour and dinner in the Forbidden Forest.


Henry Moore Studios and Gardens | Distance: 37 miles | Journey time: 50 minute drive

A little further afield, the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens makes a unique day out. Accessible via the M25 in under an hour, it’s an excellent option for guests with a bit of time to spare. Originally the home of famed artist Henry Moore, the gardens are now an exhibition space for some of his iconic sculptures. Giving you the chance to go behind the scenes and understand more about how they were created, the venue hosts regular education sessions on his work.


Hatfield House | Distance: 14 miles | Journey time: 28 minute drive

Culture buffs should take the time to visit Hatfield House near Potters Bar, home of the 7th Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury and their family. Packed with art and traditional Jacobean features, the house has numerous rooms open to the public, where guests can wander around and explore the house’s rich history. If the British weather allows for it, you should also take a walk around the equally stunning gardens. Part of the largest private estate in Hertfordshire, there’s an expansive deer park and selection of woodland walks.


Natural History Museum Tring | Distance: 15.5 miles | Journey time: 22 minute drive

London may house one of the most famous natural history museums in the world, but guests staying at The Grove shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the Natural History Museum in Tring. A great location for family outings, the museum has several galleries packed with land and marine life from around the world. Until mid-November, the museum is also hosting the Animal Vision exhibition, which allows children to explore how different creatures see the world and discover a range of fascinating animals.


Paradise Wildlife Park | Distance: 22 miles | Journey time: 36 minute drive

Nature enthusiasts will love discovering the Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne for a day of animal activities and family fun. As on of the UK’s leading zoos, the park gives you the chance to see wild animals up close, including lions, cheetahs, zebras and snow leopards. As well as its diverse population of mammals and reptiles, the zoo offers animal experiences where you can meet meerkats, lemurs, sloths and tapirs. Families can also meet some of the zoo keepers and watch them feed the big cats and wolves – just make sure you keep your distance!


This February half term, you can experience what Hertfordshire has to offer for less with our selection of offers. Click here to find out more.

A Guest Blog from Saira Hamilton

Saira is a chef, food presenter and author best remembered as a finalist in MasterChef 2013. She won high praise from judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace as well as Michellin-starred chef Atul Kochhar for her beautifully presented, flavour packed Bengali-inspired food. Saira uses the best of British, seasonal produce combined with the spices and cooking techniques of her Bengali heritage to create fresh-tasting Indian dishes with a modern twist. Leaving behind a 20 year career in law enforcement, Saira now cooks for private clients all over the country, hosts supper-clubs and Chef residencies as well as running cookery masterclasses at several UK based venues. 

Autumnal produce

So now we are into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. I obviously can’t express myself as beautifully as John Keats but autumn really is a special time of year. October marks the beginning of the autumn food season, and pretty much every chef I’ve ever met says autumn is their favourite time of year. It’s the sheer variety of ingredients that come into season during autumn that is the real boon for chefs. As well as game meats, which aren’t available fresh at any other time of year, there are also dozens more: apples, squash, celeriac, kale, wild mushrooms, chard, parsnips, cabbage, Brussel’s sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes and, of course, the chef’s black gold, truffles.

Halloween inspired dishes

And of course we also have Halloween to contend with in October – you can’t really avoid it. I hear a lot of oldies, and I include myself in that number, bemoaning the rise of Halloween as an event in the British calendar, but you have to say it really has caught the public’s imagination. The shops are full of Halloween paraphernalia and all the young people I know are particularly keen on the whole thing. Last year my daughter was on a school trip in Canada, and was bowled over by how huge Halloween is on the other side of the Atlantic. They were even taken to the pumpkin patch, picking out the best specimens for their carvings. I have been impressed by the massive choice of pumpkins on offer over here too. In fact, the amount of pumpkins I’ve seen over the last few weeks makes me think that every man, woman and child in Hertfordshire must be carving a jack-o-lantern this year.

And so if your jack-o’lantern is young enough to yield some edible flesh when you scoop out its innards (mmm, nice!) I thought I would give you a pumpkin curry recipe which is very easy to make and will help keep out the chill as the nights draw in. This recipe includes prawns which is quite a traditional combination in Bangladesh, but if you want to keep it vegan just leave them out. This works equally well with butternut squash if you just want to buy ingredients for cooking with rather than cutting into scary shapes. Happy Halloween everyone!


Inspired by the ‘mishti kumra’, or sweet gourd that is popular in Bangladesh, this is a delicious autumn recipe, perfect for using the abundence of pumpkin and butternut squash. Still delicious, this can be an entirely vegetarian dish by simply leaving out the prawns.
This recipe was first published in Saira’s cookbook ‘Kitchen Favourites with Saira: Garlic’


2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped in small dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
500-600g pumpkin or butternut squash cut into in 3cm chunks
240g large raw prawns (frozen is fine but defrost before using)
1 green chilli, sliced in half lengthways
Chopped fresh coriander to garnish


// In a medium-sized saucepan, fry the onions and garlic over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Cook until the onion is softened and an even golden-brown colour.

// While the onions are cooking, measure to all the spices out and mix together in a small bowl or jar. Once the onions are cooked, sprinkle in the spice blend and allow to cook gently for 30 seconds or so. Then add in the pumpkin pieces and chilli and stir well to coat the vegetables in the spiced oil.

// When the pan is back up to heat, add a splash of water (no more than 100ml) and put the lid on the pan. Cook on a medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Try not to stir too often as the pumpkin can break apart quite easily.

// Add in the defrosted prawns. Stir carefully to mix. Cover the pan again and cook for another 5 minutes until the pumpkin is cooked to your liking and the prawns are pink and cooked through.

// Garnish with some freshly chopped coriander and serve with plain rice or chapattis.

Saira Hamilton’s Pumpkin and Prawn Recipe (PDF 572kb)

Join us at The Grove to sample some of Saira’s best loved dishes in The Glasshouse from Monday 6 November – Friday 11 November.

Click here to discover more