“ Hearts Delight / Garden Centre And Restaurant. „
I have recently visited Hearts Delight Garden Centre to try their new Carvery which is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I must say that it was delicious! I had the roast beef carvery, though there was a choice of meats available, and it was really good! The meat was freshly roasted in the restaurant on the day, and was carved in front of me by a well skilled chef!
The vegetables that came with it were lovely as well, with a great selection of potatoes and fresh vegetables that made my mouth water by just looking at them! What was really good was that the food was piping hot and stayed hot whilst I was eating it. Usually when you go to carvery places the food tends to get cold quickly, but not here!
I must say I was very impressed, and will be sure to visit again soon! And an added bonus is that the garden centre itself is great! I have visited it on many occasions and it always has a fantastic range and selection of plants (bedding, shrubs and hardy perennials), along with a huge selection of garden furniture and sundries too!
They are also advertising a Royal Wedding street party there that, if it's as good as the carvery and garden centre always is, will truly be a great event and I am thoroughly looking forward to it!
Hearts Delight in Lawford near Manningtree is definitely worth a visit!
When we moved into our flat, way back in May, we were thrilled to find that we not only had a reasonably large back garden, but also had a fair sized front garden. Unfortunately the previous tenants had not been quite so thrilled with these gardens and when we inherited them, they were overgrown and full of weeds. Determined to rectify matters my partner and I have spent the last eight months, steadily filling the two gardens with plants most of which we have bought from Hearts Delight Garden Centre. But the Hearts Delight is not just a garden centre, it also incorporates a restaurant and in the run up to Christmas holds what is possibly the most magical Santa's grotto I have ever visited.
It's All About The Plants
First things first, and as our very first experiences of Hearts Delight was purely as a garden centre. I'm going to start with that aspect. Situated on the outskirts of Manningtree, in Lawford, Essex, Hearts Delight is actually the only garden centre in the area. It's easy enough to find being on the main road into the area (Long Road) and well marked with a large sign. There is a fairly large car park, that I've never seen completely filled (although it did come close in the run-up to Christmas) but there isn't a footpath up to the main entrance meaning that you need to walk along the road.
Before you even enter the shop itself, there is a large display of plants, pots and gardening sundries surrounding the entrance. It always surprises me that all these items are displayed like this, to me it seems as if they are simply tempting thieves, but it is situated in a very low crime area. The actual plants and sundries displayed obviously vary from season to season, but I must say it looks glorious in summer when there are multitude of flowers in bloom. On entering the shop itself, there is almost anything that you could imagine you would need to turn a patch of land into a garden or vegetable patch. From seeds and bulbs, to flowering plants, to herbs to trees and shrubs along with compost, fertilisers, pots and spades. There are a few things, however, that they don't stock. You won't find any fruit trees or some of the soft fruits, I know because I was looking raspberry canes and was told they didn't sell them. They do, however, sell strawberries, in both cultivated and 'wild' varieties. I can't say I've ever seen electric gardening equipment such as lawnmowers and strimmers either.
Now I'm not going to say this is the cheapest place to buy plants and other gardening essentials, because it isn't. What I have found though, is that is has a huge range of seeds, plants and garden ornaments and there are some very unusual items for sale. Over the last eight months we've bought many different plants, along with seeds and growing kits, many of which were at what I consider reasonable prices. For example, we bought several different varieties of lavender, that were being sold at half price (£2.50-£3), which we planted out as the growing/flowering season was ending and they've all survived the rather harsh winter, with one even retaining it's flowering spikes. We also bought lots of spring flowering bulbs, that were planted in the autumn and are just starting to poke through the soil now. I believe we paid £1.99 for a big bag of about 20 daffodils, which I felt was excellent value. One thing that has struck me about their gardening products is how many of them are eco-friendly, with there being a large range of bio-degradable pots and trays.
As well as selling gardening products, Hearts Delight also has a gift section, selling a variety of gift for various occasions. There's a nice section for those celebrating the birth of a new baby, with gifts ranging in price from a couple of pound to well over twenty. Although many of the gifts carry quite high price tags, they appear to be good quality, and for those of us that live in the area it gives us a chance to buy something a little unusual. I have bought several gifts from here, both as Christmas and birthday presents, and they were appreciated by the recipients. Also within the gift section, you can find Yankee Candles, and while they don't stock the full range, there is a good variety of different scented candles in all the different sizes.
So what else does Hearts Delight sell? Well there is their range of garden furniture, that I haven't personally bought from as I do think that while they are good quality, they are also over-priced. They also sell coal and firewood for those with open fires, which seems reasonably priced. Even your pets aren't left out as there is a small, yet well stocked pet corner that sells toys and food for all manner of furry and feathered friends. And just in case the children think they've been forgotten there are some unusual but very expensive toys for them. I particularly like the look of the mini-gardener range, with child sized spades, trowels and other bits and pieces. These all look like they are excellent quality, and I can see myself buying some when my little man is old enough.
In the run-up to Christmas they also have a Christmas shop that sells one of the widest ranges of decorations I've ever seen. From the tacky musical snowmen to classy filigree tree decorations and everything in-between there's something to fit almost any budget. Although we already had more than enough tree decorations, we couldn't help but buy a few special extras from here, including a very sweet 'baby's first Christmas'.
There is also a small range of foodstuffs for sale, mostly local produce, that costs a little more than the supermarkets, but tastes so much better. They also sell ready made meals, but I must say that I've never tried these and so can't comment on the quality.
All of the staff are friendly, knowledgeable and only too willing to go out of their way to help you make the perfect purchase. When we were buying our seed potatoes we didn't know whether to buy a dedicated potato planter or not and were willing to pay the extra for one, only to be advised that we didn't need one. So there's no hard sell here. There are also wheelchairs available for those who are less mobile, and unlike supermarkets there are actually a good number of these. Although they're not very well signposted, the toilets are all spotlessly clean and well stocked with toilet paper. The disabled toilet also doubles up as a baby changing room, with a fold down changing table, that still has a safety strap attached.
Once you've chosen your purchases (and believe there's so many must-haves here that you didn't realise you needed) it's time to pay. Although rather unusually in this day and age the tills are of the manual variety, the till staff are friendly and various payment methods are accepted including debit and credit cards (not American Express). Hearts Delight also runs a loyalty card scheme, which gives 5% of purchases back in vouchers, and has a home delivery service. The home delivery service is a little expensive though at £10 for a local delivery.
It's All About The Food
As well as the garden centre, Hearts Delight also contains the Meadowview restaurant which is a delightful place to eat or relax with a cup of tea. The restaurant is a lovely bright place to have a cup of tea, salad or full meal. There are plenty of tables, with a variety different types of chair, from comfortable sofas to not so comfortable wicker chairs. The whole restaurant is always spotlessly clean and all the furniture appears to be in excellent repair. Rather than having waiter service, the Meadowview is run more like a canteen, where you queue up with a tray and are immediately served your food.
There is a fairly good range of different menu options available, but I've only ever had roast dinners here, so cannot comment on the other foods available, other than the fact that the portions seem very generous. As well as meals for meat-lovers there are also a number of vegetarian options available, even if they don't seem particularly adventurous. For example, today's soup of the day was Leek and Potato soup, while there were also baked potatoes with a variety of filling and cheese and onion flan. There is also a good range of freshly cooked, locally produced vegetables.
But the reason that we eat here is the Carvery that has recently opened. Up until early this year, the restaurant used to sell a delicious roast dinner, but at the beginning of January they started running a carvery on Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtime for £7.99 a head, and we really enjoy this. Every time we've been there's been a choice of either turkey, pork or both with all the trimmings. I always have a little of each meat, along with crackling, pig in blanket, stuffing and various vegetables. The pork, which incidentally is raised in neighbouring Suffolk, is always cooked to perfection and incredibly juicy and accompanied by a crunchy piece of crackling. The Norfolk turkey is always moist and full of flavour, with a delicious accompaniment of a piece of quality sausage wrapped in bacon. I don't personally like stuffing, but I'm reliably informed that the stuffing balls are also delightful.
There is a vast choice of different vegetables available, and while you are served the meat, it's up to you to put as many (or few) vegetables on your plate as you like. Among today's choice of vegetables were roast potatoes, that were cooked to perfection, with a crispy exterior hiding a the soft, fluffy and slightly sweet interior. There were also new potatoes that had been cooked in their skins, and were glistening in such an inviting way that I just had to take one or two and they tasted as good as they looked. Among the other vegetables available were carrots, peas, sweet corn, swede and cauliflower cheese, and the really nice thing was that apart from the peas and sweet corn these appeared to be freshly prepared vegetables. I really can't comment on the swede, because nobody in this family likes it, but the carrots were well cooked with just a touch of bite, as was the cauliflower. No roast dinner is complete without gravy, and there was not one, but two different gravies available both of which had been made using meat juices. I personally stuck to the turkey gravy, that was almost as good as I could make and full of flavour without being over-powering or salty.
Although alcoholic drinks were available, they were a little pricey and as it was lunch time we stuck to tea. A pot of tea for two cost £3, which was a very fair price seeing as we got three cups each out of it (six in total) and it was fair trade. The tea was actually really nicely presented, with a large, white china teapot and separate milk jug, rather quaint, but at the same time nice. Children's meals are also available, but as we visited with a nine month old baby, I can't really say that I looked at the prices for these. There is also a range of desserts available including some very yummy looking home made cakes, but sadly I was far too full to treat myself to one of these.
When we visit this restaurant we always have nine month old Freddy in tow, and rather than buying him a complete meal (or giving him a jar) we always take his plastic plate and give him food off our plates (before we've added salt). We've never had any funny comments or looks for doing this and have actually been encouraged to do so. There are highchairs available and they do have lap belts, but they have a rather wide seat and Freddy finds them uncomfortable. The highchairs also do not have trays, meaning that they need to be pulled right up to the table, which puts Freddy in range of our plates (and our dinners look so much nicer than his). So we don't tend to use the highchairs, but it's nice to know they're available.
Children are positively welcomed into this restaurant, there is even a small children's play area. It therefore surprises me that there aren't more families that eat here, perhaps they don't realise that their children would be welcomed. I've even sat in here and breastfed without any stares, funny looks or comments, and so have never felt that we're not welcome because we have a baby.
Along with the actual food, there is occasionally live music here. Today there was a singer/guitarist and while the music wasn't really to my taste (I remember brown-eyed girl was one song) Freddy loved it and was dancing and singing along. I did think it was quite a nice touch really.
Although I've never been to any of them there are also periodic live music events held here in the evening and there is an area that is available for functions.
It's All About Santa
I couldn't write this review without sharing our experiences of watching Santa arrive and then visiting him in his grotto, because this is something we will definitely be repeating next year. We bought tickets to visit Santa as soon as they went on sale and although the full price was £7.99, club card holders could buy them for £2.99 (which is what we did). Santa arrived at Hearts Delight on the 20th November and lots of excited children and their mummies and daddies were waiting for the Man himself on the terrace that overlooked the meadow. While we were waiting we were treated to a showing of the film Elf on a large screen which helped us all get into the Christmas spirit. As the Santa and his reindeer got closer and closer to Hearts Delight, the excitement grew and Santa's elves and helpers encouraged the children to shout out 'Santa' because he'd got a little lost and by shouting he'd be able to hear where we were.
Finally the curtains opened and there was Santa on his sleigh, but instead of being pulled by the reindeer he was pulled by a tractor (because the reindeer were very tired). Santa then did several circuits of the meadow meaning there was plenty of chances to take photos of him while he waved and shouted "Ho, ho, ho" (Even though some of the mummies and daddies were a little pushy and didn't seem to want to let the then seven month old Freddy see). Santa then retired to his grotto ready to meet all the boys and girls.
Having seen how many boys and girls had turned up to welcome Santa, we decided it was probably best to wait a little while before joining the queue, so we went and had a cup of tea in the restaurant. After a quick cuppa, we made our way to Santa's grotto, where we found the queue was actually quite short. There were actually two queues, one for ticket holders and one for those without. Now I really would recommend buying advance tickets, as not only are they cheaper, but the queue was much shorter.
Once our ticket was checked we had a short wait until we were ushered into the first part of the grotto, where we found Santa's reindeer. Freddy loved meeting the reindeer, and we were allowed to pet and stroke them. There were three reindeer and while one was a little shy the other two were extremely friendly (especially when there was food on offer). All three reindeer appeared to be very well cared for and had a good relationship with their keeper. For obvious reasons, numbers were strictly controlled in this area, but we weren't made to feel as if we needed to rush through and spent a good ten minutes in this area.
After we'd finished petting the reindeer, we moved on to the next section, which was the only area that we really had to queue in, but it was the actual queue to see Santa and so was full of excited children. Although I know that this area was little more than an advertisement for all the different decorations that Hearts Delight sold, it was beautifully decorated with hundreds of sparkling lights and decorations. Freddy loved this part almost as much as the reindeer and really didn't know where to look next as he was surrounded by so many beautiful decorations and lights.
As we slowly passed through this section we (mummy and daddy) were getting quite excited at Freddy's imminent first visit to Santa, even if Freddy himself was more interested in the sparkly lights. Once we got to the front of this queue one of the elves asked what Freddy's name was and then it was time to meet the big man. Santa looked just like he does on the Christmas cards and was extremely welcoming with a big smile. Even though the elf had, had to ask Freddy's name, Santa obviously remembered and he even knew that Freddy had been a good boy and deserved a present. Santa was so happy that Freddy had been good that he gave him a cuddle and let Mummy and Daddy take some photos, before promising him that he'd see him Christmas Eve and leave him some more presents.
Knowing that babies find it really hard to unwrap presents, the present he gave Freddy wasn't wrapped so he could play with it straight away. And Santa showed just how well he knew Freddy as he gave him a toy that Mummy and Daddy wouldn't have thought of but one that Freddy now won't sleep without. And that toy was a Taggies Sleepy time Cow (that sells for £9.99).
All in all the visit to Santa was fantastic, and the memories will stick with me forever, even though Freddy was perhaps a little young to fully appreciate it. It is definitely an experience that we will be repeating this year, as I swear this is the most impressive Santa's Grotto I've ever visited.
Hearts Delight is a lovely garden centre that I would advise anyone in the area to visit whatever their gardening needs. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and there is a vast range of gardening supplies and gifts including some rather unusual pieces. But why not make a day of it and have lunch in the restaurant, where they serve basic but delicious meals that not only taste good but also feature many local, organic or fair trade ingredients. But that's not all, in the scale of things this is quite an eco-friendly garden centre, as not only do they sell the seeds, bulbs and plants to allow us to grow our own vegetables, but they also sell a range of bio-degradable pots, trays and even garden refuse bags. Even the carrier bags they give out are biodegradable, rather than being made of the plastic that takes centuries (or longer) to degrade. And if you are in the area in the run up to Christmas and have children then the grotto is a truely magical experience. All in all I love visiting Hearts Delight and it's a trip we make on a weekly basis, enjoying a roast dinner without the hassle of cooking it ourselves (and it does taste home cooked) and always managing to buy something else for the garden. And so I'm giving Hearts Delight Garden Centre and Restaurant a magnificent five stars out of five as some things are always worth paying a little more for.