Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Center Parc Life

Seems like the kids have only just gone back to school after the Summer Holidays but already we have a long weekend.  The perfect opportunity to take a trip with friends to Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest.  We've been on four previous occasions so are seasoned parc life pros.  It's a four and a half hour trip from our neck of the woods so entailed a stop at motorway services.  Least said about the food offerings there the better.  

On our very first trip we booked the kids in for Pizza making at the Bella Italia restaurant on site however being thrifty Aberdonions we now opt for the DIY version in our lodge.
Although the kitchen was pretty well equipped there's no rolling pin so the traditional tried and tested wine bottle method was adopted.  At home I'd make the dough in the bread maker but we just used a packet mix. Toppings assembled and it was time for the kids (and adults) to get creative.
Some were more adventurous than others with their flavour combinations but as everyone made their own there could be no complaints.  I brought my trusty Pampered Chef stoneware from home but someone forgot to pack the pizza wheel.  Into the oven and time to uncork the rolling pin for a quick aperitif before our masterpieces were ready. 
Stuffed to the gunnels but still room for desert when my friend C produced a bag of the hugest marshmallows I have ever seen. Rocky Mountain Mega Marshmallows. The kids eyes popped out of their heads and the fire was lit as we prepared to toast them.
Alas it was a case of eyes bigger than belly syndrome as even the kids struggled to eat a whole one.  Fantastic idea but somewhat sickly.  You can have too much of a good thing.
A further foodie revelation contained in C's pre trip supermarket shop was a range of Jus-Rol ready to bake goodies. Over the weekend we had Croissants, Pain au Chocolat and a White Rustic Loaf. These were all super easy to make and produced "home baked" items with minimal effort and maximum yummy smells wafting round the kitchen.
The packaging is really clever. The fresh dough is contained under pressure in a kind of cardboard tube with metal ends.  You twist it and it pops out.  The croissants and pain au chocolat are perforated and you just shape and bake.  There are a couple of chocolate sticks to roll into your pain au chocolat and the loaf has semolina to sprinkle over the top.
They got the thumbs up from our taste test although our bake wasn't the most even due to a bit of a temperamental oven in the lodge.  The pastries were a bit well fired on the bottom but pale on the top whilst the bread was still a bit doughy in places.  Not sure Mr Hollywood would approve in any way, shape or form.
There are a large range of options on site for those who don't choose to self cater in their lodge.  We sampled Dining In takeaway, Hucks and The Pancake House.  Dining In is an interesting concept as its a takeaway which encompasses Indian, Chinese and Pizza.  Clearly trying to please the whole family but not quite succeeding.  We ordered food for the eight of us from across the menu and whilst most was reasonable the chicken and prawn kormas were bland, tasteless and reminiscent of baby food. Trying to be all things to all people doesn't always work.  Complaints were made and we received a discount voucher to use on site.

We had a much better experience at Huck's Bar and Grill. This is an American grill style restaurant new since our last visit so we were keen to try it.  The four small humans went for the kids buffet option and children's cocktails. The gents opted for Fajitas and Philly Cheese Steak whilst the ladies chose a selection from the snacks and appetizers menu.  The presentation was quirky with the fajitas on a cake stand style three tier platter, onion rings piled up high on a spike, prawns and chicken wings in small tin buckets and calamaris in a cone.  Really great dips and sauces to accompany too.  Alas no photographic evidence.

Lunch on our final day was in another new eatery since our last visit. The Pancake House. As big fans of Pannenkoek when on holiday in the Netherlands we were keen to see how this compared and it did not disappoint.  We were down to a party of four by this point and ordered two large sweet and two large savoury pancakes to share.  
The American
Cheese and Bacon with Maple Syrup (why the need for the parsley sprig?!)
Caramel Crunch
Caramel & Chocolate Ice Cream, Cream, toffee sauce & honeycomb pieces.
Service was swift and the pancakes were tasty with resulting empty plates all round.  And what gorgeous plates they were too.  The whole restaurant had a cute kawai theme running throughout the décor, menus, crockery and kids activity sheets.  
Fantastic weekend with friends, fun, food and new experiences.  The Center Parcs strapline is "Memories Start Here" and we certainly have some great ones from our most recent weekend.  Swimming, cycling, orienteering, spa, badminton, willow weaving, lawn bowls, aqua jetting and roller skating.  Its a wonder we had any time for food.

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