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.

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The Grove meets The 3 Brewers of St Albans

Co-founder of The 3 Brewers of St Albans, Mark Fanner, talks about turning real ale into real business, ahead of the Meet The Brewer event at The Grove on 22 October, which coincides with the launch of their craft beer on draught at The Stables next month.

As a lifelong real ale enthusiast, former marketer and St Albans’ boy Mark Fanner is no stranger to good beer. So, when the chance came to turn that passion into a local business opportunity with one of his closest friends, he was ready and willing to jump in with both feet.


“The idea to start a micro-brewery came to us back in 2012, when I was drinking with my friend Petar (Zivkovic),” he explains. “We were talking about what we wanted to do with our lives and we both knew we wanted to do something different and exciting- we just weren’t sure exactly what.” As it turned out, they were sipping the answer as they spoke. “After a while we floated the idea of making our own ale and started to do some research. Pete had a friend who had started his own brewery on a farm near Peterborough. Once we visited we knew exactly what we wanted to do and The 3 Brewers of St Albans was born.”

In his previous roles in marketing, Mark worked with several major food and beverage companies and knew exactly how the brand should look. “We wanted to launch a sustainable micro-brewery to provide excellent beer to locals in the area we’re from-St Albans,” he says.

While Mark had extensive knowledge of food and beverage compliance laws and good marketing practice, Pete had strong business skills- with experience setting up his own building company. “Pete is great at all the practical stuff and I have the F&B knowledge from my former roles,” says Mark. “Our skills really complement each other in that sense.”

Research and hard work

After extensive research, they chose to launch the brewery in a former potato store on a farm on the St Albans/Hatfield border, with their recently purchased second-hand brewing kit. Describing the process as a ‘steep learning curve’, Mark says that the early days of the business were especially challenging. “We needed to work out what we were doing from sorting out the drainage and pipes to the electricity. We also had to make major amendments to our kit to produce the products we wanted.” After all that hard work, the team spent four months experimenting with beers to ensure the product was exactly right before it went on sale. “We held taste tests with local publicans. They were the people we wanted to sell our beer to and we wanted their feedback,” he explains.  Before long the demand was up, and the boys hired Matt Sutton to join the team as head brewer.

Sustainability is a key USP for The 3 Brewers and both Mark and Pete wanted to create a high-quality product that could be enjoyed locally. “Part of the beauty of our set up is that everything we use to make the beer comes from nearby, even the water is from the farm’s borehole, just 100 feet underneath the brewery.” Thanks to their commitment to recycling all materials, they have developed excellent relationships with local farmers, who they provide with free fertiliser and cattle feed, made from waste materials and grains.

Working with the best

The 3 Brewers ensures that it works with local partners, choosing the best pubs and hotels in the region to sell their beer. “There’s two aspects to reputation; one is to have a great drinking experience and the other is the actual beer itself,” says Mark. “We choose places that we know can store and serve our products properly and will provide customers with a great experience.”

Of course, setting up your own brewery comes with its challenges. For Mark and Pete, consistency has been one of the most difficult things to get right. Due to the use of natural products, every harvest can yield different results- meaning recipes have to be carefully adapted to get the same flavour. “Things like temperature can also make a huge difference and getting a consistent quality product that tastes the same every time is an exact science.” From power cuts to frosts, Mark believes they’re over the hardest hump now and know how to face the problems they come up against.

As an avid fan of hiking, cycling and watching live bands, Mark’s lifestyle fits in perfectly with his new career- and he’s happy to end a long walk up a mountain with a pint of real ale. “We always wanted our core market to be local and produce beers that people in the St Albans area would really enjoy drinking. When I go to a pub I’ve always really admired and see someone drinking our brand, it feels fantastic. It’s been a long journey but 100% worth it.”

Join us at The Grove’s for our Meet The Brewer event hosted in the Players Lounge at The Stables on Sunday 22  October, 5 – 9pm.  This complimentary event celebrates the launch of craft beer on draught at The Stables, inviting guests to sample Mark and Pete’s best ales!

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Six ways to reconnect with your family at The Grove

The holidays are over, the leaves are falling and back to school fever has swept the UK. With your sun-soaked French villa now a distant memory, it’s time to swap those cocktails for a 6am alarm and spend your evenings organising PE kits and packed lunches. Getting back to the grind is great for routine (and paying the bills) but in all the hustle and bustle of the new term, it’s easy to forget to take time out with your family. If you’re ready for a break to catch up and reconnect, check out our six ideas for family time at The Grove.

Nature trails


There’s nothing like getting lost in the wilderness to create real bonding time. If your family is looking for an engaging way to enjoy the countryside, The Grove has a great selection of nature trails and cycling tours to explore. You can even add a new dimension to your walk by trying out geocaching – the high-tech treasure hunt that allows you to seek hidden containers through a global positioning system. The app can be downloaded onto a smart phone and used to make your outdoor adventures more exciting.  Alternatively, The Grove has also planned a more traditional treasure hunt during the half term break, where families can work together to solve clues as they wander around the hotel’s extensive grounds.

Knebworth House

Just 50 minutes from The Grove, is the original home of Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Knebworth House is now one of Hertfordshire’s top attractions for family days out. Set in acres of stunning grounds, the house is packed with stories and heirlooms to discover. The venue plays host to numerous concerts and events, including the upcoming ‘Pumpkin Trail & Treats’ over Halloween. Children (and adventurous adults) are invited to arrive in fancy dress before being given a ‘pumpkin passport’. Walking through the house’s beautiful grounds, they can collect stamps from spooky staff, which can be exchanged for a goody bag at the end of the tour. Families are encouraged to bring along readymade decorated pumpkins, with prizes available for the best ones. The Garden Terrace Tea Room is also open during the event for guests to warm up with some toasty drinks and snacks.

Afternoon tea

With the autumn nights closing in, it’s time to make the most of the days. For a fun family treat with a modern twist, try booking in for an afternoon tea at The Grove. Boasting spectacular views of the grounds, you and your family can indulge in fresh savoury sandwiches, along with all the traditional sweet treats- topped with Devonshire clotted cream. It might not be friendly for the waist line, but we can guarantee it’ll be a great afternoon for the whole family. Served in the lounge and library, the hotel can also provide a selection of board games to keep families entertained long past dinner time.

London day trip

It might be a peaceful country retreat, but The Grove is only half an hour from central London. Ideal for culture vultures, adventure junkies and foodies, the capital is home to hundreds of incredible restaurants, theatres, music venues, museums and shops – as well as quirky activities like cable cars and escape rooms. If you wanted to extend your stay in the city, you could also spend the night at our luxury sister property The Athenaeum Hotel & Residences in the heart of Mayfair. Centrally located, all of London’s hotspots will be on your doorstep. Whether you’d prefer to dose up on culture by wandering around some of the world’s most famous art galleries, check out a west end musical, or try out some of London’s street food venues, you won’t be short of things to do.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London- The making of Harry Potter

It’s been 20 years since JK Rowling released her first novel about a boy wizard, and since then ‘Harry Potter mania’ has swept the globe. For every child who’s ever fantasised about whizzing round the countryside on a flying broomstick, a visit to the nearby The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The making of Harry Potter is a must. The home of filming for all eight Harry Potter movies, the tour offers you the chance to immerse yourself in the wizarding world, wandering down the famous Diagon Alley and sipping butterbeer. As well as discovering the movie sets, original costumes and props, young Hogwarts hopefuls can even snag themselves their very own magic wand.

Movie night

Sometimes there’s nothing better than snuggling up with your family on the sofa for an old-fashioned movie night. With a wide range of films on offer at The Grove, there’ll be something to please everyone from the comfort of your bedroom. Whether you’d rather stock up on popcorn or order some treats from rooms service, staying in and getting away from it all can be the ultimate luxury. It’s time to swap your work suit for a dressing gown and get ready for some serious relaxation time.

Discover our October Half Term offers here…

The Grove and Skinny Champagne

Champagne: The next generation


Amanda Thomson, Thomson & Scott

Amanda Thomson, the brainchild behind Skinny Champagne, talks to The Grove about the success of her sugar-free wine brand.

Seduced by the romance of Champagne, Amanda Thomson can pinpoint the exact moment she decided to leave her high-flying job as a BBC broadcaster to launch a selection of sugar-free wines. “I fell in love with the glamour of Champagne at events early on in my career and I even met my husband at the Cannes Film Festival,” she explains. “But in 2009 I had this real lightbulb moment where I realised that alcohol is one of the only things we consume without really knowing exactly what’s in it.”

As someone who grew up on a vegetarian diet and had sugar as ‘a rare treat’, Amanda understood the value of natural products long before clean eating made its way on to the UK’s foodie map. From the global avocado fetish to our passion for spiralised courgettes, there’s no doubt that people are more aware of their food choices than ever before. But while everyone knows how much salt is packed into a processed lasagne, they often have no idea how much sugar goes into the average bottle of wine. “I wanted to start my company Thomson & Scott to create a selection of wine and bubbly that tasted absolutely amazing, but was free from chemicals and added sugar,” says Amanda. “It’s not a health food product, because it still contains alcohol, but I do believe cutting out the additional sugar and chemicals is much better for you and it’s more transparent- people know what they’re drinking. It’s also vegan and that’s really important as more people become aware of veganism and want to support the movement.”


Thomson & Scott officially launched its range of Skinny Prosecco, Skinny Champagne and Skinny Wine in April 2016 and is now a top seller in major UK department stores- but it didn’t come without a slog.

After the lightbulb moment, Amanda decided to throw herself into the entrepreneurial journey feet first. On a quest to expand her knowledge, she and her family moved to Paris for three years in 2010, where she enrolled on a specialist wine course at the Cordon Bleu Cookery school. The first diploma of its kind, Amanda was able to learn about wine in a holistic sense, not just tasting but getting a wider understanding of the business through marketing, sales and vineyard visits. She describes the move as ‘a huge gamble’ as she had no back up plan if it failed. Thanks to several years of hard graft, endless phone calls and steely determination, the rewards are finally starting to show and the drinks brand is gaining a loyal following.

“Our consumers are around 70% female, but we do have a lot of male fans too,” she explains. “The age range varies hugely but our most visible clients are millennials. They are the ones who share pictures of products on Twitter and Instagram and they often attend our events at fashion launches and department store pop-ups.”


In terms of choosing partnerships, Amanda is very selective. “When I choose a partner to work with, I look at the customer and their journey and I work with a really wide range of companies and venues. The way I select people to work with is quite instinctive- I just get a feeling that it would be a good fit. Our customers might visit a five-star hotel one week, and then go to a trendy street food bar the next. Versatility and authenticity is really important.” This diversity is also represented in the brand’s events, which range from high-end dinners to product launches at vegan food festivals.

Inspiration and passion have been two of the driving forces behind the creation of the brand, something Amanda keeps in mind every day. From listening to Ted talks to gaining insight from motivational speakers like Simon Sinek, she is constantly searching for new ways to make the brand even more successful. “One of the things that Simon Sinek teaches about entrepreneurialism is to always think about ‘the why’. Why do you need to launch this product or start this brand? Having a very clear objective has been crucial to my company’s success- every brand needs a reason to exist.”

As a former arts correspondent and a fashion and food fanatic, Amanda also takes inspiration from London’s dynamic cultural scene. “There’s some hugely exciting things happening in London on the food scene right now,” she explains. “From street food to the amazing new chefs, it’s one of the best cities in the world right now.”


Owning a hot brand in a rapidly evolving food and beverage market isn’t easy, and Amanda has no qualms talking about the challenges. From the early starts to the endless sales pitches and constant admin, it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. “Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted and I spend pretty much every waking moment thinking about and working on the brand. If you go into this game just to make money, that’s a really bad idea. You need a strong product that you’re incredibly passionate about that people will really want.”

While she’s the first to admit there’s no such thing as an easy ride in the world of business, Amanda wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s amazing to have come so far and have this incredible brand of delicious products that people want to buy. I think every entrepreneur needs to really enjoy the moments of success that make all the hard work worthwhile.”


Amanda will be hosting a Skinny Champagne and Prosecco dinner at Colette’s on Thursday 26 October. Join us and experience fine-dining together with the taste of delicious, organic Italian Champagne and Prosecco.
Click here to discover more and to book your place

Inside the ropes with John Glenn

John Glenn, a Qualified PGA Professional who has been part of the coaching team at The Grove since 2011, reflects on a week at the British Masters that he will never forget…

Players On Course - Justin Walters (1)Moments before he was due to tee off alongside Alex Noren and Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston on the first day of The 2016 British Masters, Danny Willett, the reigning Masters champion, was forced to pull out due to injury, which created a once-in-a-lifetime experience for stand-by caddy, John Glenn.

Four days after forming an unlikely partnership with European Tour professional Justin Walters, the pair had met only minutes before the South African’s first tee shot, John was able to reflect on a successful tournament, which saw the 35-year-old finish tied 33rd and secure his European Tour card for 2017.

“Having had some previous experience as a caddy, I was on the stand-by list at the start of the week, in case anyone dropped out, but not really expecting to be called up, especially once play had got underway.

“Then, while I was on the driving range on the Thursday, I was having a conversation with Justin’s agent Ally Mellor, who I had known previously, and he said there was a chance Justin may be playing in the afternoon and that he didn’t have a caddy, so I should go over and introduce myself.

“After a brief conversation, Justin simply told me to ‘get the bag’ and to follow him up onto the first tee, with neither of us sure at that point whether we were going to be teeing it up as we walked through the crowd.

Players On Course - Justin Walters (2)

“When it became clear that Danny Willett had pulled out and that Justin was going to be playing, we had a bit of a laugh on the first tee, as he wasn’t really sure where he was supposed to be going. Fortunately, I knew that he hit quite a long ball, so I handed him a 3-iron, told him where to aim and we were off.

“I remember that he pulled that first tee shot slightly, but he made a good par, before going birdie, birdie and we were underway in the tournament.

“We then got to the fourth hole and Alex Noren and Andrew Johnson both joked that this could be a bit like John Daly at the PGA Championship in 1991, with Justin unexpectedly playing in an event and doing well.”

“Although the end result wasn’t quite the same, when we were walking down the fairways we would often talk about what was a very surreal experience for us both. Finding ourselves in the marquee group, when three or four hours earlier Justin was shopping at Tesco and I was setting up the driving range, we just agreed that the key thing for the week was to really enjoy the experience and to make the most of the opportunity.

“Despite some occasionally tricky situations on the first day, as I was getting to know his game and it took a little time to get used to each other, I was able to keep him calm in certain situations and he had a really good round.

Players On Course - Justin Walters“Then, as the days went on, he became more comfortable with me and I felt more confident with giving him advice and by the end of the week we had developed a strong relationship.

“Caddying is quite similar to coaching, in that to get the best out of anyone, you need to be able to build a rapport with them, which is something that I am passionate about doing. This ability to quickly build a relationship definitely came in handy throughout the week and, I would like to think, helped contribute to Justin’s successful tournament.

“I will never forget the British Masters week, being inside the ropes and caddying for a top European Tour professional at my home course, it really was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


To book John, or another member of the caddying team, in order to make your experience at The Grove even more memorable, then contact the golf team on 01923 294266.

John Glenn 2


Estelle’s visit to Sequoia

BeFunky Collage

Ever wondered what it is like to work at The Grove, and experience the full introduction of what we have available? Our new Marketing Executive had a hard day in the office last week, trying out one of our luxurious Spa Day’s on offer, and here is what she got up to….

After starting work at The Grove just a week ago, I was told that as part of my induction and to see things from a customer’s perspective, I had to experience “…all The Grove had to offer” which as you can imagine was music to my ears. My first week ended on a high with a visit to the renowned Sequoia Spa. I had always been curious to discover what it was like there, I expected it to be amazing, and it didn’t disappoint!

On arrival to the bright and airy reception area I instantly felt a sense of calm prevail. The staff were welcoming and informative. I was given a Spa Consultation Form to complete and I received a personalised timetable listing my treatment and lunch times. I then had to choose my four course lunch (which was a difficult decision given the mouth-watering choices on offer).

I was given a short tour of the facilities so I could get my bearings, I was then left alone to explore my new surroundings. I headed straight to the Heat Rooms to spend some time in the sauna, just the ticket on a nail bitingly cold day. It felt like a quick blast on a sun-drenched beach. I cooled down in the powerful rain effect shower, which emulated a tropical rainstorm (minus the thunder)! Time for a quick go in the Steam Room to clear my lungs and leave me feeling revitalised.

The Vitality Pool, as the name would suggest was invigorating with a plethora of jets and bubbles!

As with most other areas during my visit, being mid-week I was lucky enough to have the area to myself. After trying this out, I then made my way up to the swimming pool which had a jacuzzi at one end. The pool makes a bold statement with its’ black tiles, offering something a little different to the predictable white tiles that you see everywhere else. Whilst I took a short but leisurely swim there was also an aqua aerobics class going on which brought some energy to the setting. Other guests were relaxing on the day beds catching up on the days’ news.


For my treatment I opted for the “Head to Toe Heaven” – 90 minutes of pure bliss and escapism. Ellie my therapist greeted me in The Relaxation Room and led me to a gently lit treatment room with soothing music playing in the background. I was left to discretely de-robe and make myself comfortable. The heated towel on the bed was a nice touch and made the experience even more relaxing. My treatment promised to “soothe fine lines and leave me looking wonderfully radiant”. This luxurious and effective treatment was also coupled with a Mediterranean style full body massage. As each minute passed I could feel myself drifting off and dreaming of far flung destinations. The intoxicating citrusy aroma of the Natura Bissé products only sought to enhance the overall experience.

And then I heard those dreaded words “That’s the end of your spa treatment”! I was enjoying it so much that it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. Feeling all warm and fuzzy I headed to the Juice Bar in seek of refreshment. I had never tried a vegetable based juice before, but I have to say the juice I ordered which contained beetroot, celery, ginger, apple and spinach was delicious and instantly boosted my feeling of well-being.

Now I would like to say that I had worked up and appetite, but a leisurely swim doesn’t really count as a calorie burner. Lunch was described as being in a “Bento Box”, I hadn’t heard of this before and I expected it to arrive in a cardboard box which folded out. However I was served a colourful and attractive square plate of food divided into neat little sections with a course in each. My preconceptions of spa food were simply a bit of lettuce and not a lot of substance, how wrong could I be? The food was incredibly satisfying, tasty and very healthy (apart from the very moreish Bailey’s Cheesecake accompanied by a bitter chocolate sauce).

Unfortunately it was now time to leave this tranquil space and head back to the reality of my desk… My experience was truly an assault on the senses in the most positive way. For anyone looking to re-energise and feel the stress and tension drain away, a day spa package at Sequoia is a must!


The birds and the bees gardens blog

In the south of England we have been enjoying a warm week and now it feels like we are in summer. The weather forecasters have told us that the weather should be warmer than normal for the next month at least.

With the sunrise the birds are singing their hearts out and seem to be chirping for most of the day. Then there’s the tap-tap-tap of the woodpeckers in Heath Wood and in the early morning and again in the evenings the occasional sound of an owl.

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