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Bayeux – A stitch in time
It’s inevitable that the first thing people think of when
you mention Bayeux is the tapestry. Though it’s not actually a tapestry but a very fine embroidery. The Bayeux Tapestry is now on permanent display in a bespoke museum in the city of Bayeux in
Normandy, France. It’s unique and huge and merits a home of its own.
The ‘tapestry’ tells the story of the life of William the Conqueror and
the Battle of Hastings, and here comes another factual correction and
we are only at paragraph two! The Battle of Hastings was actually
fought at a place called Battle, although I suspect it was named only
after the Battle. It would have been too much of a coincidence
The tapestry tells of William and his passage from being just the
illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy (with ‘Bastard’ as the only
appendage to his name) to rising to having ‘King’ as his title. One can
see the preparations for invasion; the felling of trees and the
launching of boats, and then the battle. Many men are shown as
conclusively dead and the English King Harold can be seen being the
well-documented recipient of the arrow in the eye.
The bloody event was to have a huge impact on Medieval England and it’s
still exciting interest today. The tapestry is made out of eight narrow widths of linen sewn
together. It’s 270 feet long and about 20 inches wide. The
majority of stitches used are ‘stem’ and ‘laid-and-couched’, which will
only mean anything to devoted embroiderers.
There are eight colours of thread and the five main colours are
blue-green, terracotta, light-green, buff and grey-blue. Nothing too
vivid and all obviously made with natural dyes. There are also areas
where very dark blue, yellow and a dark green are still visible – this
hanging is in amazing condition considering its age.
It is assumed that the man who commissioned the tapestry was Bishop Odo
of Bayeux. He was William’s half-brother. It is probable that the
tapestry was made to celebrate both William’s victory at Hastings and
the completion of Odo’s cathedral in the city.
The tapestry was likely made by women in Canterbury, Kent, where there
was a celebrated embroidery school. They used stitches very
similar to those found on the tapestry. Another indication that this
was sewn on the English side of the Channel is that some of the names on
the tapestry are spelt in the English way and not in the French style.
The tapestry shows 50 different scenes and there are 632 people, 202
horses, 55 dogs, 505 other characters, 37 buildings, around 40 ships
and trees, and lots of Latin. Adults will be charmed by the handiwork
and younger members of the group will be thrilled by the brutality and
But there is more to this beautiful town than the tapestry. The large
Norman-Romanesque and Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux was
consecrated in 1077 by the aforementioned Bishop Odo. The lower part of
the building is Romanesque, and is probably original. The upper part is
in Gothic style making this an architect’s dream structure to study.
But look inside to really appreciate the magnificence of the cathedral.
Bayeux is only a short distance from the Normandy Beaches, which have
been attracting more visitors than ever over the last several years.
There are various associated museums and exhibitions in the area, as
well as war cemeteries, commemorating very much more recent battles
than that shown in the Tapestry.
Bayeux has a wealth of restaurants and specialist food shops. Many of
these are housed in historic half-timbered
buildings, so take your eyes off the cheese for a moment and you might
find some characterful wood carving. And along with the cidre and dairy
products there is a little shop that actually sells bits of the Bayeux
Tapestry. Well, newly embroidered authentic replicas of the historic
hanging anyway. You can buy finished cushions, you can buy kits as
souvenirs and you can even have lessons on the stitches used by those
Kentish damsels who made the original.
Bayeux is an accessible and walkable town. Photo opportunities abound,
eating opportunities are ever present and one can just people-watch
with a coffee and an apple pastry. It’s easy to get there from Caen by
train, which itself has fast shuttle links to and from its airport.
There are flights from the gem of an airport at Southend.
Learn more about making your own tapestry here
Visit Southend Airport here
Learn more about Bayeux here
Visit the Bayeux Tapestry Museum here
London for Foodies,
Gourmets and Gluttons
This thick, square tome is a veritable guide to all things
delicious in the capital. We are truly spoilt for choice so it’s handy
to have some pointers. Yes, it’s all a matter of taste but authors
David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters have presented a comprehensive
cross-section of suggestions. There are chapters devoted to restaurants
and others to various genres of food purveyors. Its style is chatty and
inclusive and the text doesn’t ramble.
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons isn’t a book just for those
with cash to splash. There is a section devoted
to Street Food which offers vibrant options that won’t demand a second
mortgage. Borough Market has become a magnet for food-lovers from
around the world. Plenty to see and taste and those foods are just as
diverse as the people trying them. This market does double duty as a
fresh food market and a Street Food arcade.
For a look at a colourful and thoroughly authentic market then head for
Leather Lane which has held markets for 400 years or so. It’s not
polished but it’s real London, with everything from fresh veg to big
knickers, along with those eclectic plates. This is absolutely Street
If you would actually like to sit while you sip then this book has a
wealth of tea and coffee houses. I am guessing that you are a food
lover and likely passionate about recipe books, and London for Foodies,
Gourmets and Gluttons presents Books for Cooks. It’s a celebrated
bookshop with food books of every kind. There is a café at the
back which doubles as a demonstration area for some of those cookbook
Persepolis is one of my personal favourite food shops in London, and
probably anywhere. The food is exotic and delicious and mostly Persian.
The owner, Sally Butcher, is almost always serving and entertaining
with her own brand of warm and hilarious humour. She is not only Mrs
Shopkeeper but she is the writer of some very engaging cookbooks. This
shop is a must-visit!
As I’ve said, it’s just a matter of taste, but the two authors have
coincidently chosen so many of my favourite haunts. It’s a pleasure to
leaf through the pages while making plans for the next market visit, or
to dine at that restaurant with the unique curry. This is gift quality
and should indeed be a gift for any lover of London and its food. Gone
are the days when we had such a (deservedly) bad reputation for food.
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons illustrates how far we have
come - and it’s only scratched the surface.
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons
Authors: David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters
Published by: Survival Books
Kettner’s, I used to feel, seemed somewhat out of
place in this corner of the great metropolis. It’s a genteel
establishment and that’s not for which this corner of town had once
been noted. This old Soho had evolved from a bolt-hole for
religious-refugee Huguenots to the haunt of far less noble sorts who
peddled X-rated films and associated iffy pleasures. But it has
changed. Restaurants are higher end and it’s now a hub of entertainment
for shoppers, drinkers and diners.
Originally Kettner’s was a terrace of four Georgian town houses. It was
opened in 1867 by Auguste Kettner who was once the personal chef to
Napoleon III. Napoleon went into exile in England, where he died in
1873. The restaurant became infamous as the rendezvous for such
luminaries as Oscar Wilde who dined here (although he couldn’t remember
the menu at his trial). He did, however, remark that it was ‘Kettner at
his best’. There is a legend that King Edward VII ordered a secret
tunnel to be built between Kettner’s and the Palace Theatre, where his
mistress Lillie Langtry trod the boards.
The Grade II listed building is a veritable maze of rooms. There is the
Brasserie, and then there is the Champagne Bar, and eight Private
Dining Rooms. Summer evenings find the brasserie bathed in gentle light.
Plenty of white linen, muted colours, mirrors, long-aproned waiters and
animated conversation. Kettner’s is undoubtedly smart but it’s far from
dusty. There is appropriate live music between Tuesday and
Saturday from 7pm: a white grand piano fills a corner, to add to the
expectation of some rather good food.
Lobster “Mac n Cheese” is a decadent and comforting dish much
appreciated by my guest. It might sound an unlikely combination but it
has actually become a contemporary classic. The ingredients work well
together when the shellfish is well flavoured and the cheese isn’t
overpowering. A great Kettner’s plate.
John Ross Traditional Oak Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche &
Cucumber Salad was my starter. That fish also has history: it’s smoked
over wood chippings in a red brick kiln dating back to 1857, just the
right time frame for
Kettner’s. The salmon was beautifully oily and rich.
Roast Sea Bass Fillet with Cucumber, Mussels and Tarragon Salad was my
dining partner’s main dish. The fish was flaky and moist and the salad
delicate. The Cabernet Sauvignon Dressing was a great pairing. A good
sized portion, too.
Beef Bourguignon with Creamed Parsley Mash was my nod to the French
origins of Chef Kettner. This was attractively presented in a copper
pot, giving a rustic air to this beef in red wine. This is a comforting
dish of rich gravy and meltingly tender meat and vegetables. It’s
served often in many restaurants but, to be honest, the Kettner’s
version is the only one I have really enjoyed in London for a long
while. The mash was perfect and smooth and just enough. Did I mention
the generous portion sizes at Kettner’s?
Glazed Lemon Tart is another classic dish served here. It looks simple,
and indeed it is but it’s also for which to die when done properly.
This was deliciously sharp with a thin pastry crust. My only complaint
is that I didn’t have more room.
Kettner’s is unique. It’s just a matter of taste but I loved the
décor, the ambiance and the food. It’s become an institution and
for good reason.
Brasserie opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday: noon – midnight
Thursday – Friday: noon – midnight
Saturday: noon – midnight
Sunday: noon – 22:00
Bank Holidays: noon – 22:00
29 Romilly St.
Phone: 020 7734 6112
Visit Kettner’s here
Late spring in Burgundy. The banks of the canal were
festooned with the
colours of wild flowers: the blue of cornflowers, the
blood red of poppies and the yellow of other blooms which were unknown
to this horticulturally-challenged city girl.
That’s the beauty of barge travel - it relaxes the mind and makes space
for civilized exercises such as the pursuit of good food and wine and
culture. The Abbey at Fontenay was just a little way away from the
canal run and the excursion was well worth the effort of dislodging
myself from floating luxury.
Bernard of Clairvaux, an abbot and the primary instigator of the
reformed Cistercian order, founded the Abbey of Fontenay in a Burgundy
valley in 1118 with strictly implemented austerity, which he felt had
become so lax in other monasteries. The monks moved to Fontenay Abbey
in 1130. Nine years later the Bishop of Norwich fled to Fontenay to
escape persecution, and he helped finance the construction of the
church which was consecrated in 1147 by Pope Eugene III.
By 1200 the monastic site was finished and housed as many as 300 monks,
and in 1259 the pious King Louis exempted the Abbey of Fontenay from
all taxes. In 1359 the Abbey was sacked by the armies of King Edward
III of England, and was damaged anew in the late 1500s. In 1745 the
refectory was destroyed, and by 1789 all of the monks had left the
abbey due to the terrors of the French Revolution.
Fontenay Abbey was sold by the revolutionary government
in 1820 as a national asset, and turned into a paper mill by the paper
maker Elie de Montgolfier, nephew of the balloon inventors. I dare say
that he took advantage of the abundant running water on the site
for his paper-making process. (Paper was one of the key components in
those celebrated balloons.) Marc Seguin, the inventor of suspension
bridges and French railways, was the owner of Fontenay from 1838.
The paper factory closed in 1905.
Edouard Aynard, a patron of the arts, married a Montgolfier and he
started the restoration. His descendants still live in part of the
abbey and work on the buildings continues. In 1981 the abbey became a
UNESCO World Heritage Site: it is the oldest preserved Cistercian abbey
in the world. The grounds have a classic and manicured garden which was
listed in 2004 as a "Remarkable Garden" by the National Council of
Parks and Gardens. The grounds cover over 1,200 hectares.
The Abbey welcomes 100,000 visitors each year so one needs to pick
one’s day and time to avoid following a bus-load of tourists. It’s
enjoyed at its best when the buses leave and tranquillity reigns. One
gets a sense of the spirituality of this spot that was used for worship
for so long.
The Entrance Lodge is the first building that you will visit. It
once marked the limits of the Abbey complex. There was a porter who
greeted visitors to the monastery - pilgrims and the poor for the most
part, one imagines.
Notice the round hole in the wall? That’s where you would get a
less-than-warm welcome from a guard dog: his accommodations were on the
other side of the wall.
Pass through that lodge and you will see a huge tree. It’s several
hundreds of years old and dominates the garden. It’s likely that these
lawns were vegetable plots when the monks were in residence. There is a
corner that once housed hunting dogs, too.
The cloister here is magnificent and has remained intact since the 12th
century. This must have once been a promenade of contemplation. One can
almost imagine one hears the soft padding of white-clad monks walking
in silence. Simple yet impressive architecture offers sheltered passage
to all the main monastery rooms.
Younger members of your party might not be interested in the finer
points of Romanesque architecture but they will be interested in the
hydraulic hammer which was reconstituted in 2008 as part of a European
project involving 7 technical schools. This hammer is a working replica
of hammers that would have actually been used by the monks in their
forge. There is a turning water-wheel which powers the hydraulic
hammer, causing it to be raised and then to fall under its own
considerable weight. This was used for refining metal coming from the
The monk’s dormitory is stunning. Raise your eyes and
find what looks like the skeleton of an upturned wooden boat with its
ribs as joists. The room is bare now, just as it would have been when
the dormitory was first built. After some time the monks were given
small partitions to afford at least some privacy. They slept on straw
mattresses and in the cold. There were prayers in the adjoining church
every few hours, and sanitation was primitive. Those must have been
exhausting and unhealthy days, but probably no worse here than out in
the broader world at that time.
Fontenay Abbey is one of the most impressive and most sympathetically
restored building complexes I have seen anywhere. It’s well worth a
visit. Walk the cloisters, admire the stonework but take time to sit
and enjoy the quiet.
Phone +33 (0)380 92 15 00
Visit the Abbey here
Learn more about luxury barging holidays in the region here
Read more about this trip here
For more images of La Belle Epoque visit Mostly Travel here
Gouda – a cheese for all seasons
We have many cheese choices in specialist shops and even
our local supermarket. Gouda can easily be overlooked. It seems to have
been with us forever and we don’t even notice it anymore. The first
mention of Gouda cheese dates from 1184, making it one of the oldest
recorded cheeses in the world still being made.
This round, yellow cheese takes its name from the Dutch town of Gouda,
just a short distance from Rotterdam. It’s the Netherlands’ most
popular cheese and, in fact, accounts for more than 60% of the cheese
produced in the country.
Gouda is a traditional hard cheese covered in a wax rind which is
usually yellow but does also come in other colours. The flavour is mild
and creamy but as the cheese ages the taste intensifies and becomes
more interesting. The cheese is dried for a few days before being
coated with a yellow waxy substance to prevent it from drying out
further. Cheeses of 18 months old or more are considered as Mature
Gouda and coated in black wax.
Gouda is pronounced "Hou-da" by the Dutch and is usually made from
pasteurised cow’s milk. There are seven recognised types of Gouda
cheese, listed by age. Graskaas (spring cheese) is young Gouda ready to
be consumed within 4 weeks of production. Other designations are Young,
matured 8 to 10 weeks, Matured – 16 to 18 weeks, Extra Matured – 7 to 8
months, Old Cheese – 10 to 12
months, and Very Old cheese – 1 year or more. There is also the
extra-aged, Overjarig cheese. Each cheese becomes firmer in texture and
more complex with the passage of time. As it ages the cheese develops a
caramel-like sweetness with crunchy crystals, making this the savoury
cheeseboard equivalent of the very trendy salted caramel. Aged Gouda is
perhaps my favourite hard-hard cheese.
Although the cheese is named after the Dutch city, the cheese isn’t
made there, but Gouda is the centre for trading, as in the Middle Ages
Dutch cities could be awarded total monopoly on certain goods – Gouda
acquired the right to hold a cheese market. Most Gouda these days is
produced in cheese factories but 300 or so farmers still produce
"Boerenkaas", or Farmer’s cheese. This is a protected form of Gouda
made in the traditional way using unpasteurized milk.
One can still visit that colourful market that is held one day each
week for several months of the year. Porters in jaunty hats, farmers in
blue traditional costume and noble wagon drivers all help to make this
a lively spectacular. There is much banter for the benefit of the
tourists, and handjeklap in which buyers and sellers slap each other's
hands and shout prices until they agree, and that’s when the slap
becomes a handshake. The porters carry the cheese to the weigh-house to
be weighed, tasted and taxed.
Gouda is available in large wheels, each weighing between 10 and 25
pounds although there are some producers who make 60lb cheeses. They
are mostly sold in smaller slices to the family shopper. It’s eaten in
sandwiches, it’s used in cooking and the more mature cheese is cubed
and nibbled along with a good glass of red or some beer.
Give Gouda a try. Find a good cheese shop and taste the unexpected
depth of some fine Dutch cheese. The Cheese Market in Gouda is great
fun. The town is beautiful with more to see and do when the market
finishes. You could visit a restaurant and ask for Gouda Fondue or
other dishes made from the town’s most celebrated product.
Museumhavencafé for cheese fondue
Open from 1 May
Thursday - Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00
Phone +31 6 44267175
Visit Museumhavencafé here
Read another article about Gouda here
See more images of Gouda here
Learn more about Gouda here
Visit Voyages SNCF here
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by history, carved in stone - Normandy and England
We share so much. Those Norsemen who pillaged the coast of
Britain and settled inland also did the same in France, and indeed in
such numbers that a region took their name – Normandy, populated by
Normans, a corruption of Norsemen!
Caen is the principal city in Normandy and is just 15 km from the
English Channel, or La Manche as it’s called in French. This beautiful
town is now linked to the south of England by the new route from the
increasingly popular Southend Airport. It takes less than an hour,
making this hop shorter than many people’s daily commute.
Caen is known as the city of William the Conqueror, and for its
historic stone buildings constructed during his reign. He rose from
obscurity to become a force on both sides of that aforementioned body
The man who was to become William I of England was born in the late
1020s and was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy. In 1035
William inherited the title of Duke of Normandy, a far more genteel one
than William the Bastard which was his other moniker.
In the 1050s and early 1060s William became a contender for the throne
of England, then held by Edward the Confessor, who had no children.
English earl Harold Godwinson was another candidate and it was he who
was named the next king by Edward as he lay on his deathbed in January
William was having none of that and mounted an invasion of England from
Normandy in September 1066. He
defeated and killed Harold, probably not personally, in the Battle of
Hastings - which was not actually fought in Hastings but a few miles
away in a place called, unimaginatively, Battle. In the wink of
an eye we had a new king. William was crowned King of England on
Christmas Day 1066.
Many castles in England were constructed during William’s reign, making
the statement ‘we are here to stay’. One of the most famous is The
White Tower which is the central keep of the Tower of London. This is
one of the city’s most iconic buildings and it’s made of stone from
The very best examples of Caen stone buildings are, unsurprisingly, in
Caen! This is a charming city and walkable. In fact a trip here from
the UK is easy without a car. There is a speedy and frequent link from
London Liverpool Street, and the train station is actually at Southend
Airport, and therefore convenient for foot passengers. There is a
regular shuttle bus from Caen Airport into the centre of town.
Once you are in central Caen you’ll find everything within a small
area. There are pedestrianised shopping streets
to tempt skilled retail enthusiasts, but don’t just look at goods in
shop windows, look at the shop itself. There are some striking
half-timbered buildings still standing even after the bombardment that
Caen suffered during the Second World War.
The Abbaye-aux-Hommes was founded by William the Conqueror in 1067 as
penance for marrying his cousin Matilda (who founded the Abbaye aux
Dames for the same reason). William was buried in his Abbey – a marble
slab in the choir marks the site of his tomb.
The Early Gothic choir replaced the original Romanesque sanctuary in
1202. This is the earliest example of Norman Gothic and became the
model for many future choirs both in France and England. The
Abbey is made from local Caen stone which was also used for Canterbury
Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and is a fine example of Norman
Romanesque. There are twin Romanesque towers topped with Gothic spires
that are 84m high, giving Caen the nickname "city of spires."
Caen doesn’t disappoint. It’s simple to get there, and decent hotels
can be found for under 100 Euro. One can indulge in café
culture, and enjoy the local cuisine. Buy a bottle of cidre, a baguette
and some fine local cheese, and relax with a picnic in a park. Go for a
unique calvados cocktail, and watch the sun set on ancient stones.
Learn more about Caen here
Visit Southend Airport here
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The British Museum in London is famed the world over for
its displays of artefacts and curios. Granted, there are some that feel
many of these objets d’art should be returned to their place of origin,
while others feel that they are safer where they are. That conundrum is
best left to wiser heads than mine.
There is a new display at the British Museum and it’s stunning and
eclectic, and very much built of one man’s passion for beauty,
stability and grandiose statement. In 1898 Baron Ferdinand Rothschild
bequeathed to the British Museum as the Waddesdon Bequest the contents
from his New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor. This collection didn’t
comprise racks of pipes and humidors but works of much more universal
Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire was built by Ferdinand Rothschild in
the 1870s in the style of a 16th-century French château. It is
now a National Trust property, open to the public and managed by the
Rothschild Foundation. It houses a celebrated collection of
18th-century French porcelain and furniture, as well as a noteworthy
collection of European paintings.
There are almost 300 items in the Waddesdon Bequest, which include
ornate and jewel-encrusted brooches, plate, enamel, carvings, glass and
maiolica - Italian tin-glazed pottery. The Holy Thorn Reliquary
probably dates back as far as the 1390s, but most of the collection is
from the late Renaissance period of the 16th century - although there
are a number of 19th-century fakes. There are also more mundane items
such as handles and a knocker, to contrast the sumptuous baubles, as
well as the most exquisite miniature wooden carvings.
The collection was started by Baron Ferdinand's father, Baron Anselm
von Rothschild, and may contain some works from earlier family
collections, as Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744–1812) had a thriving
business dealing in coins and other precious objects. The collection
was modelled on the regal European Schatzkammer, which is a German word
meaning Treasure Room. Nobility in Germany and Austria in the
16th century were avid collectors of priceless works of art.
Baron Ferdinand's bequest was specific in nature, and failure to
observe the conditions would render it void. The bequest stated that
the collection must be housed in a special room which should be called
the Waddesdon Bequest Room. Until late 2014 the collection was
displayed in a much smaller room. Its new home is a larger gallery on
the ground floor, close to the main entrance on Museum Street.
The new gallery has been funded by The Rothschild Foundation. Next to
Rooms 1 and 2, the Waddesdon Bequest Room now forms part of a series of
rooms which document the history of collecting and the growth of the
British Museum itself. One sees the glittering collection through open
doors as one approaches with mounting anticipation.
For more images of the Waddesdon Bequest visit Mostly Travel Facebook
Visit the Waddesdon Bequest at the British Museum here
Jim De Jong – Say it with
flowers …and cheese
Rotterdam is fast becoming known for food. It’s the
Netherlands and it might be a bit of a cliché, but, yes there is
cheese. Chef Jim De Jong was challenged to make a menu composed of
Holland’s most iconic staple, and his creations were stunning.
Jim has his culinary focus on seasonality, freshness, and vegetables,
with the addition of herbs and flowers. He grows as much as he can and
then buys local wherever possible. His menus are constantly changing
and evolving. He is influenced by French cuisine as well as traditional
We asked Jim to present six courses with the common factor being
cheese. Many a chef would be daunted by the prospect but Jim was
delighted at the very thought of creating a feast that would remain
engaging, exciting and intriguing right to the last bite. He presented
dishes that were beautiful, delicious and fun.
Restaurant De Jong is underneath the arches – railway
arches, that is. That might not sound a
classy address but this neighbourhood is being polished and preened and
is becoming a magnet for energetic chefs and bar owners.
It’s a light, bright and contemporary restaurant with an open kitchen.
It is tastefully understated, offering not a hint of the quality of
food awaiting its diners. The tables are well-spaced in this
restaurant, with ambiance that changes as the sun goes down.
Smoked quail’s egg with Hay-mayonnaise and mustard powder was our first
dish, or more accurately, bowl – the serving vessels are well
considered at Restaurant De Jong. The spice offered a sharp
counterpoint to the egg and the creamy mayonnaise.
White asparagus and Bergens Blonde cheese, samphire and buckwheat
followed. The cheese was soft with Brie notes but this is Dutch. The
white asparagus is much preferred in Europe to the green which is
ubiquitous in the UK.
Blauwklaver cheese with artichoke, lemon, flax seed and
oxalis was next. This ’blue clover’ is a soft blue cheese and one which
I shall be seeking on my next trip to the Netherlands. Oxalis was the
floral garnish and is a member of the wood-sorrel family.
Pickled onions and radish, Charmeur goat's cheese broth, and lovage
with radish flowers was my dish-of-the-meal. Those pickles had bite
that complemented the cheese. Reminded one of the very best cheese and
onion crisps one has ever tasted …in less crunchy form.
Green asparagus, old Texels sheep's cheese and mustard was next in
line. Texel is one of the Dutch Wadden Islands. This cheese is made
from raw sheep’s milk, and has been produced for more than 500 years on
the island. This is another cheese for the wish-list.
Dessert was rhubarb, lavender and yoghurt, giving a perfumed finale to
the meal which was inspiring, amusing, conversation-provoking and the
most marvellous showcase for Dutch cheese and dairy products. It’s a
shame that the Netherlands seems known
outside its borders only for Edam and Gouda. These are both fine
cheeses, but one could have quite a gastronomic adventure in Holland
just discovering the lesser-known local cheeses.
Chef Jim De Jong might not consider himself an ambassador but he proved
himself to be just that. He has passion and culinary vitality. His
support of local food is commendable and he offers both the Dutch and
visitors a glimpse of how good the food here can be. You might not get
a chance to eat these same dishes but perhaps this menu will give a few
ideas. It’s a sure bet that Chef Jim will have other memorable dishes
Restaurant De Jong
Boog 1/Raampoortstraat 38
3032 AH Rotterdam
Phone: 010 465 7955
Visit Restaurant De Jong here
See more images of Rotterdam here
Visit Voyages SNCF here
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La Belle Epoque – 5-star
floating through Burgundy
What a grand title for a barge! Luckily the lady lived up
to her name and our expectations, which she did actually
exceed in every way.
A barge, even a big one, presents the very real prospect of tight
accommodations, iffy facilities and, still worse, the likelihood of
mediocre food cooked by a well-meaning hobbyist chef on a gas burner at
the back end of the boat. La Belle Epoque was surprising, charming,
delicious, luxurious and relaxing, and those dreads soon evaporated.
We were met at our appointed hotel in Paris - the receptionist was
expecting us, and took charge of our luggage so we were able to have a
few hours in warm, sunny Paris. Just time enough for a meal of
steak-frites and a glass of something red and reviving, surrounded by
locals. The holiday had started and we hadn’t even seen our vessel.
Our minibus arrived, and not one of those U-Drive efforts hired for the
day, either. A smart blue 9-seater in the European Waterways livery
with the company emblem on the door. (In fact this bus was to follow us
along the route, and ferry us to various places of interest.) A smiling
couple introduced themselves to us and the other passengers, and loaded
the luggage. We were off.
A couple of hours of dozing found us alongside a beautifully painted
and substantial Dutch barge. This particular boat was built in the
1930s to carry cargo around the European rivers and canals in an era
when they still offered the fastest and most reliable travel options.
La Belle Epoque had been sympathetically converted to a floating hotel
but it still retains some features which made Dutch craftsmanship so
The trip started with a warm welcome from the assembled crew and a
glass of chilled champagne. Canapés were nibbled before we were
escorted to our cabins. The Belle Epoque has 6 guest cabins boasting
modern en-suite facilities, single or huge double bed, crisp linens,
brass portholes, dark wood, mineral water aplenty, turn-down service
every night, and even a chocolate on the pillow. In short – bijou
There is ample space in the saloon which acted as both lounge and
dining room. Two long sweeps of banquette tempted
voyagers to linger over apero and savouries in the evenings before
dinner or to unwind with a best-seller before a stroll along the
towpath: one can walk through idyllic French countryside between locks.
La Belle Epoque moves at a good walking pace so not much chance that
you’ll miss the boat. For anyone needing more speedy travel than
Shanks’s pony, there are bikes which allow for a mini Tour de France
into nearby historic villages before meeting the boat a few locks
But it’s not all about taking naps in dappled sunshine, hiking by the
canal or cycling through Burgundy. There are also guided excursions
every day. There might be a walk to a nearby chateau, a visit to a
village market, perhaps a wine tasting break ...well, this is Burgundy
and a famed wine-producing region after all!
Our first meal set the scene for the whole trip. This was,
surprisingly, not advertised as a culinary-themed adventure although we
had hoped for some interesting dishes. Chef Selby presented French food
to the highest standard. On our first evening we enjoyed crayfish
timbales wrapped in cucumber, duck with orange sauce, pears
poached in red wine and all expertly paired with both red and white
wines. He progressively ticked off all the classics – beef from the
pale Charolais cattle, coq au vin, frogs legs …and then there were the
cheeses! There were several of these after every meal. Chef Selby chose
regional cheeses, soft cheeses, blue cheeses and hard cheeses. All from
France and showing their diversity.
Our daily guided excursions took us to such beautiful villages as
Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where the film ‘Chocolat’ was set; Alesia, where
the last battle between the Gauls and Romans took place in 52 B.C. (and
a visit to the museum); the exquisite World Heritage UNESCO site of
Abbaye de Fontenay founded by St Bernard in 1118, which is unmissable;
the 16th century Château d’Ancy-le-Franc with the biggest
collection of Renaissance murals; and the vineyards and town of
Chablis, dating back to Roman times.
France is popular for barge cruises, but all cruises are not created
equal. Whilst it’s true that this was my first experience of such a
holiday, I would have to say that European Waterways, on La Belle
Epoque, have thought of everything. It’s a floating hotel with
almost-individual attention from the staff. There might not be room for
an Olympic pool
on deck but there is a hot tub. No, there isn’t a bespoke library but
there is a selection of books on the food and drink of the region, and
one might notice a copy of Rick Stein’s French Odyssey. That’s no
surprise as that book is associated with the eponymous TV series that
was partly shot on a European Waterways boat.
La Belle Epoque is polished, both metaphorically and actually. If this
is an example of the whole fleet then European Waterways deserve to be
proud. I wholeheartedly recommend this trip to any food, wine and
history lover …or lovers of doing nothing while the scenery drifts
Visit European Waterways here
Read about an excursion during this trip here
For more images of La Belle Epoque visit Mostly Travel here
Gouda is a city and municipality in the province of South
Holland. It’s an historic town which was granted city
status in 1272 by Floris V, Count of Holland. Most tourists will know
Gouda cheese but might not even realise that there really is a town of
the same name, which has more to offer the world than its delicious
In the Middle Ages a settlement was founded by the Van der Goude
family, who built a castle on the banks of the Gouwe River. This
low-lying area was originally marsh but has been drained. By 1225, a
canal was linked to the river and its estuary was made into a harbour.
Gouda is a strikingly beautiful town with easily walked streets. The
Old City Hall at the Markt square was finished in 1450 and is one of
the oldest Gothic city halls in the Netherlands. The Waag (weigh house)
was built in 1667 and is found just opposite. It is an imposing
structure with a marble frieze (the original of which can be seen
inside the building) depicting the process of weighing cheese and
noting the weight for taxes. It is now a national monument and
houses a cheese museum and souvenir shop.
The Gouda Cheese Market is held every Thursday morning from 2 April to
27 August. One can enjoy the traditional scene of farmers haggling over
the price of cheese with the traders. There is much hand-slapping
before the deal is finally sealed with a handshake, just as it has
always been. These days have a festive air with many of those farmers,
wagon drivers and cheese shifters wearing tradition costume. Yes, there
are plenty of clogs.
Grote or St. Jans Kerk (Great or Saint John Church) is the longest
church in the Netherlands. It’s dedicated to John the Baptist, the
patron saint of this town, and was built between the 15th and 16th
centuries. But it’s more famous for its stained glass windows which
were made between 1530 and 1603. The windows were made and installed
primarily by the brothers Dirk and Wouter Crabeth. I am no glass
specialist but these windows are the finest and most
numerous in one building that I have hitherto found in my travels. As
far back as the 17th century they were considered a tourist attraction.
In 1939, at the start of World War II, the stained glass was removed
for safe keeping; the windows were restored when peace once again
reigned. This must surely be one of the most impressive town churches
in Europe. The simple white walls are a perfect foil for the bright
illumination of the coloured glass.
A stroopwafel or syrup waffle is a classic Dutch confection and a
speciality of Gouda, its town of origin. These are addictive sweet
waffle biscuits which are deftly cut through to produce 2 discs which
are spread with a caramel sauce. They are made on waffle irons with
shallow indentations to produce a fine lattice. A firm dough rather
than a batter is made from flour, butter, brown sugar, yeast, milk, and
eggs. The sweet filling is made from boiling together molasses, brown
sugar, butter, and cinnamon.
The stroopwafel was first made around the late 18th century by a baker
using breadcrumbs and syrup. In the 19th century, there
were around 100 waffle makers in Gouda, which was, at that time, the
only city in which they were made. After 1870 they were also produced
in markets in other cities. In the 20th century factories started
making the popular biscuits, and several still exist, helping to stock
supermarkets around Holland and beyond.
One cannot live by stroopwafel alone although many would
probably have tried. For those looking for Gouda’s
savoury dishes then visit the park near the Mallegat Luis at the
Schielands High Seawall. Here you will find the small but perfectly
formed Museumhavencafé in 'tIJsselmeer House. This building was
once the waiting room for skippers of vessels going through the locks.
These days it’s a café which serves such delights as cheese
fondue along with local beer and spirits. If you are lucky you might be
serenaded by an accordion player.
Holland is a small country with an exceptional transport
network connecting its cities and towns to each other as well as
European rail hubs. It’s now possible to reach Gouda
easily from London by train with just a couple of changes. Voyages SNCF
might be the first place to look for travel advice for any history-,
cheese- and cookie-loving tripper. They will help plan rail transport
to Gouda as well as other destinations in The Netherlands and the rest
Open from 1 May
Thursday - Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00
Phone +31 6 44267175
Visit Museumhavencafé here
Read another article about Gouda here
Learn more about Gouda here
Visit Voyages SNCF here
Learn more about other destinations in The
A Citrus History of
Sicily is a large island just off mainland Italy. It has a
variety of landscapes and the imposing Mount Etna which has donated volcanic soil to the fertile tapestry. It
boasts long and unspoilt beaches that are deserted even in the
pleasantly hot months of April and May, and if one is lucky one can
watch dolphins at play as the sun goes down.
The island is blessed with picturesque villages and small towns,
museums, shops, fresh air and food. There are subtropical areas growing
exotic prickly-pear cactus and there are citrus trees for which Sicily
is so famed. Lemons, oranges, blood oranges and mandarins all grow
within sight of Mount Etna.
People have known for thousands of years of the health benefits of
citrus fruit. Earliest cultivation of these fruits dates back at least
2500 years to Asia. According to various authorities the oldest
reference to oranges and lemons is in a Sanskrit text. Many
specialists in the subject believe that the fruit we know today
originated from a sour fruit found growing wild in China.
The lemon was also enjoyed in Roman times, as we know from
archaeological evidence that they were grown in Pompeii. Planting
continued across North Africa and then in southern Spain by the 8th or
9th century. By the 13th century planting had extended from Seville to
Granada and into Portugal and Sicily when North African migrant farmers
and botanists brought citrus to the island to grow in the emir’s
beautiful gardens. It was this citrus production that earned the hills
and valleys around Palermo the name "Conca d'Oro" (golden seashell) in
The modern English word orange, like the Italian arancia, probably
derives from the Arabic naranj. The capital of the Arab world at that
time was Palermo and the wealth of the city was said to rival that of
ancient Baghdad. The Jewish population flourished and was respected by
the resident Moslems in Sicily, and that mixed population enjoyed life
along with the increasing number of Christians. (Those were the days!)
All these diverse groups contributed to Sicily’s unique culinary
On a practical note James Lind, Fellow of the Royal Society, discovered
while he was serving as a naval surgeon in 1747 that citrus juice could
successfully treat scurvy, a disease that was the scourge of the
British navy at that time, and recommended taking this during long sea
voyages. Toward the end of the 18th century, Sicily began shipping
lemons and oranges throughout the world as their health-giving
properties became ever more widely recognized.
Blood oranges are so called for their red flesh and deep red juice.
When ripe, their skin may also have a reddish hue. In Sicily, the most
popular blood oranges are the Tarocco, the Moro and the Sanguigno.
Though used extensively in salads and desserts, blood oranges are
sought after for their striking red juice which is rich in
antioxidants. Mandarins, Valencias and navel oranges are also grown in
Sicily, but the blood orange is considered particularly Sicilian.
Citrus production begins in October with the Mapo. The Clementini,
which are also members of the tangerine
family but are seedless and sweet, ripen at that time, too. The
seedless Washington Navel orange is grown along the southern coast and
is popular between October and March.
Lemons growing around Siracusa continue to be a very important economic
staple. The Siracusa region is considered to be the centre for
production and processing of fresh lemons for both the Italian and
European markets. On 3 February 2011 the name Limone di Siracusa was
registered as having Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status.
This PGI-awarded fruit is characterised by a high juice content, the
amount of essential oils in the skin, and the high quality of those
oils, which are used in the cosmetics and other industries. The local
variety of lemon is called a femminello because of the fertility of the
plant, which has flowers throughout the year. It is quite unusual to
find a fruit tree that can have both blossom and mature fruit on its
branches at the same time, but here they are in Sicily.
This is an island of great natural beauty and historic charm. One can
enjoy modern city amenity but also seek out those shady orange and
lemon groves, smell the blossom and appreciate fruits that have shaped
the destiny of Sicily.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food
Grub Street publishes cookbooks and all manner of food-related tomes
but they have also taken on the mantle of preservers of our own
culinary heritage and characters. The Best of Jane Grigson – The
Enjoyment of Food is one of their latest classics.
A few decades ago we English had a deservedly poor reputation for
cooking – or lack thereof. But we did have
fine cooks, and fine cooks who wrote, and they were the cornerstones on
which our now more illustrious food fame was later to be built.
Talk to any celebrity chef (if you can get near enough) and they will
likely present such worthies as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson as a
couple of their culinary muses. Much has been made of Ms David’s
writing and quite rightly so. She was, in her day, an almost lone star
in a squid-ink-black firmament, and noteworthy for her lifestyle. But
there was also Jane Grigson who is possibly less well known by the
general public but who could also claim her own place. She was a happy
wife and mother, a sensible and practical woman who therefore tended to
Jane Grigson was born on 13th March 1928 and died too soon on 12 March
1990, just before her 62nd birthday. She was a food columnist with The
Observer from 1968 until her death. She won many awards for her cookery
books, including the accolade of having her Charcuterie and French Pork
Cookery (1967) actually translated into French - a unique honour.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food doesn’t have dozens of
colour images but it’s no worse for that. It’s that style of cookbook
that will likely start on the bedside table before migrating to the
kitchen where it will find a permanent home. It offers some
quintessentially English recipes in the At Home in England chapter.
Queen of Puddings uses simple ingredients to make a comforting and
traditional dessert which is hardly ever seen these days.
Ms Grigson didn’t, however, confine her interests to France and the UK.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food is a collection that
contains a surprisingly broad spectrum of international cuisines. There
is the very retro Fried Chicken Maryland with Corn Fritters. Jane
introduces this recipe with these words: ‘This dish has lost its charm
by over exposure in cheap restaurants.’ So went the way of many a good
dish. We can now recreate for ourselves this standard, and appreciate
why it became so popular in the first place.
I have many pick-of-the-book recipes. Jefferson Davis Tart is,
unsurprisingly, an historic American recipe and takes advantage of
light brown sugar and dried fruit to produce a truly sweet confection.
Old-fashioned and not exactly a health food, this falls into the ‘a
little of what you fancy’ category.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food evokes memories for
cooks of a certain age. It will surprise and enchant younger would-be
chefs. It’s a book to read, to use and to inspire. The food scene in
Britain has changed so much and for that I will be eternally grateful,
but this book allows us to walk along something of a time-line, and a
delicious one too.
The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food
Author: Jane Grigson
Publisher: Grub Street Publishing
Wine & Spice Series 2015 at Cinnamon Club
It’s without doubt one of the best Indian restaurants in
London. It’s housed in a historic grade II listed building
near Westminster Abbey. It was once a library and evidently a striking
one. Many original features have been retained, giving this unique
restaurant a calming and timeless ambiance.
Executive Chef and CEO Vivek Singh is introducing a new series of
exclusive wine dinners at both Cinnamon Club and its sister restaurant
Cinnamon Kitchen. Diners will be introduced to wines that truly do
address the very particular issues posed by pairing with Indian food.
In fact, doubt about the resulting marriage will evaporate when one
tastes the Indian dishes chosen to accompany some very fine European
We attended The Cinnamon Club’s Rhône Valley Wines evening which
was held in the Library. This is a delightfully intimate space and
perfect for such events. The walls are panelled in dark wood and, yes,
there really are books on shelves. It has the air of a private home
dining room, although I doubt there are many houses sporting such a bar
in the corner these days.
Wines for spicy foods need to be more powerful than the dishes and have
plenty of confident character. Indian food intended to be paired with
wines should be bold but never searingly overpowering. These dilemmas
were solved by Head Chef Rakesh Ravindran Nair and
Laurent Chaniac, Cinnamon Club’s wine consultant.
Chef Nair has been working with Vivek since 2003, although this was the
first time I had the pleasure
of meeting the man who had probably been the architect of many of my
previous meals at Cinnamon Club. He is not only a noteworthy chef but
he also has a Masters in Mathematics and is a qualified computer
professional. He is eloquent, passionate about food and a charming
ambassador for this high-end restaurant collection.
Laurent Chaniac is wine consultant to The Cinnamon Club and Kitchen,
and hosted our soirée. He has a rich French accent and an
evident appreciation of Indian cuisine. He has been described as the
sommelier who “has pioneered some revolutionary ideas on pairing wine
with the constantly evolving Indian flavours."
Our evening started with a glass or two of rose champagne paired with
Chef’s selection of canapés. These evenings offer small groups
of wine and Indian food enthusiasts the opportunity to relax and learn.
This is a more gentle experience than a formal masterclass. One learns
about a selection of creditable wines while enjoying delightful and
carefully chosen dishes in convivial company. Laurent gave information
on each bottle and Chef was on hand to discuss ingredients.
The first dish was Scallop and Salmon Ceviche with Pomegranate. This
was a culinary stunner with quite subtle and fresh flavours. It was
paired with Cote du Rhone Blanc Gigondan. This southern Rhone white
complemented the salad which was one of the most delicious I have
tasted in a restaurant of any culinary hue for a long while.
Tandoori Saddle of Romney Marsh Lamb with pickling sauce was paired
with Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert 2010.
I particularly enjoyed this bottle. You can have a taste of southern
Rhone at a very reasonable price. Look for this 2010 vintage which I
think is a winner and my wine pick of the event.
Char-grilled Loin of Oisin Red Deer with rock moss sauce and pilau rice
was a flavourful and aromatic dish and was offered with
the unmissable Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine Mathieu, 2011. Lots of red
berry notes that go so well with any kind of venison.
Pineapple Shrikhand with garam masala sablé biscuit was our
dessert, and presented with Coufis de Paille, M Chapoutier, which was
sweet but not cloyingly syrupy – real honey notes here. This amber
vintage was served in cut glass that reflected the subtle lighting of
I have been to many food and wine pairing evenings but this has been
one of the best. The attention to detail and warm personalities of both
Chef Nair and wine consultant Laurent Chaniac encouraged interaction
and conversation. And there are more opportunities to enjoy such
evenings in the near future. I recommend you book, come with an
appetite and an expectation of learning and having fun.
The series will continue on the following dates:
Cinnamon Kitchen: Wines of Loire
Valley - 10th June
The western winemaking region of France offers a huge variety of styles
due to its continental climate. Among the reds will be Chinon Domaine
du Puy Rigault 2011 and Saumur Champigny Domaine Du Fondis from the same
year. The meal will conclude with a glass of ultra-sweet Coteaux du
Layon, characteristic of the vineyard’s location on sunny south-facing
The Cinnamon Club: (topic to be
confirmed) - 10th July
Cinnamon Kitchen: (topic to be
confirmed) - 23rd September
The Cinnamon Club: Burgundy
Wines - 16th October
Rounding off the series with one of the most established and celebrated
winemaking regions in the world, a fantastic selection of red and white
Burgundies will be tasted, including 12 year-old Bourgogne Domaine de
la Galopiere and a 30 year-old Santenay premier
The Cinnamon Club
The Old Westminster Library
30-32 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BU
Phone: 020 7222 2555
Visit The Cinnamon Club here
9 Devonshire Square
London EC2M 4YL
Phone: 020 7626 5000
Visit Cinnamon Kitchen here
Best Salads Ever
It’s summer and so we eat salad. Yes, we eat it but often without enthusiasm. Carnivores often consider salad as the
green stuff left on the plate after the meal is finished, and those of us who eat everything get heartily sick of more lettuce, cucumber and
This particular book is Scandinavian and therefore has a slightly
different approach to salad. Those from the northernmost part of Europe
are famed for big spreads of magnificent salad. Perhaps it’s those long
winter nights that encourage cravings for colour, fresh tastes and
interesting textures. The Danish authors, Sonja Bock and Tina
Scheftelowitz, provide salads for every season.
A quick flick through these pages and you’ll consider salad in a
different light. There are ingredients here that I would never have
considered as salad contenders. Sprouts for example. Not bean but
Brussels! I am not a lover of the BS and I blame Christmas. Mum, always
a good manager, would start boiling sprouts in a timely fashion
(probably in early December) to have them cooked by Christmas. This has
left me with the impression that Brussels sprouts are almost liquid and
always beige. Best Salads Ever has them as key salad ingredients and
suggests a quick boil of just 5 minutes is sufficient to give a crunchy
and fresh-tasting vegetable. Brussels Sprouts with Red Salad Onion and
Feta is a triumph of texture and tang. There is a dressing of Balsamic
vinegar and olive oil which adds a richness to this simple dish.
Salads don’t have to be purely vegetarian. Chinese Duck Breast Salad
has plenty of punchy spice but it’s tempered with crisp cucumber and
sugar snap peas. Lots of black pepper and rice vinegar help to spike
the flavour. This would make a very smart starter or part of an Asian
The Dips and Salsas chapter offers quick fixes when you only have a few
veggies and some bread, or want a sauce to go with fish or meat.
Creative Creams and Brilliant Dressings suggests lots of flavoursome
and sophisticated lubricants for your salads. Everything from Lovely
summery Raspberry Vinaigrette to Chinese Sweet and Sour Dressing which
will work equally well with noodles and fish.
Best Salads Ever has advice for individual meals but it’s unique in
that it has menus for buffets. We are not talking curly ham sarnies nor
bake-from-frozen nasty sausage rolls. This is smart and light food with
enough variety to please even the fussiest of eaters. It’s the easiest
of casual entertaining.
Arabic Buffet has meatballs with Middle Eastern-inspired vegetable
salads and pita bread (there are recipes for every menu item in this
book, including bread and dessert), His and Hers Buffets with either
gutsy blokey meat and potato salads or light and fluffy salmon and
goats cheese dishes because women have naturally more appreciative
palates. There are Asian Buffets, Mediterranean Buffets, as well as one
for each season. It’s so easy to throw a bash with food that is
balanced, easy to make and stunning.
Best Salads Ever is a striking volume with food that is honestly
delicious and different. The salads are easy to mix and match for your
perfect combination and summer is the time to start practising. This
isn’t just a cookbook it’s about stress-free entertaining at any time.
I’d say this is one of the best salad books around.
Cookbook Review: Best Salads Ever (paperback)
Authors: Sonja Bock and Tina Scheftelowitz
Published by: Grub Street
Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge
There are few restaurants in Knightsbridge that don’t
exude some kind of classy charm. It’s that kind of area. High-end
residents and visitors looking for food to match.
Beauchamp Place is lined with good (and the occasional
not-so-good) restaurants. It’s just around the corner from
the celebrated Harrods so there are discerning diners
aplenty and they have choices.
Patara offers contemporary Thai cuisine. The restaurant
wafted, on the evening of our visit, a delightful perfume
of lemongrass to welcome the visitors. The serving staff
were traditionally dressed, there were orchids and carved
wood - all the expected trappings of Thai eateries. But
this is a beautifully designed restaurant that displays
its Thainess in subtle ways.
It’s a deceptively large restaurant. It’s long and narrow
so contrives to be cosy even when empty. The back half of
the restaurant is raised, introducing architectural
interest. The tables have dark toppers, adding to the
muted colour palate and creating a relaxing atmosphere. A
contrast to the dazzling vibrancy of the retail paradise
of the Brompton Road a few yards away.
The menu is extensive and sophisticated with hints of
European influences. The wine list is creditable with a
good selection of vintages available by the
glass. I chose Don David Reserve Malbec. Balanced tannins
with plenty of the characteristic concentrated jammy fruit
that I enjoy so much from this grape variety.
My guest ordered Miang Guaytiew - delicate rice paper
rolls with a variety of prawn, crabmeat and five-spice
duck filling. These cut-and-up-ended rolls were served
with a lime and chilli sauce which was a striking foil for
the sweetness of the seafood and duck. A substantial
I was intrigued by Kamon Bueng DIY - Do It Yourself tacos.
This was a Thai take on a Mexican classic. The ‘tacos’ in
this case were, I think, made from light rice flour. A
bowl of finely chopped chicken and prawn, with a cucumber
salsa on the side, completed the dish. This was a
delicious combination and fun, although rather messy to
eat. I would counsel breaking the tacos in half and
topping with the filling rather than filling with the
The main course for me had to be Kiew Wan Gai Ban -
free-range chicken curry - which is promoted by Patara as
“the best green curry in London”. That was a mighty boast.
Could it be that good? Well, actually, yes! I confess that
I am not a Thai food expert but this green curry was up
there on the list of the best curries I have ever eaten
...and that would include Indian curries as well. This is
well worth ordering.
A Euro-Thai cross-over was my companion’s Phed Tod
Sauce Makham - Spiced crispy duck leg confit in Patara’s
piquant tamarind sauce. The duck was served in a whole
piece on top of a slice of grilled pineapple. This was
another triumph. The succulent and melting meat was
contrasted with the crispness of the skin. The fruit was
sweet and made sweeter by the roasting but the tamarind
sauce brought all the elements together with its fresh
sharpness and warming ginger notes.
Our dessert was Kaoneow mamuang - sweet coconut rice
flavoured with pandan served in an expertly folded banana
leaf, with fragrant juicy Thai mango as a garnish.
Beautifully presented with Thai flair. Nothing more
needed, other than a pot of ginger tea for me and a pot of
lemongrass tea for him!
Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge is part of an
international group with several more branches in London
as well as others in Switzerland, Austria, Singapore and
of course Thailand. I was deliciously impressed by the
food, service and ambiance. I see visits to other Patara
restaurants in my near future.
Monday - Wednesday
Lunch: 12 noon - 14.30
Dinner: 6.00 - 22.30
Thursday and Friday
Lunch: 12 noon - 14.30
Dinner: 6.00 - 23.00
From 12 noon - 23.00
From 12 noon - 22.30
Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge
9 Beauchamp Place
London SW3 1NQ
Phone: 020 7581 8820
Fax: 020 7581 4923
Visit Patara here
So many of my reviews start with ‘Well, it was worth the
long journey’ and stoically ‘It’s a bit off the beaten track’. This
evening I had no need of such stoicism. Counter Vauxhall Arches is just by Vauxhall Station. That isn’t estate-agent
speak for a bracing march away, not a healthy hike away but really just
there. If one walks too fast then it’s probable one will miss the
It’s thought that the name Vauxhall takes its origin from the name of
Falkes de Breauté, the head of King John's mercenaries, who
owned a large house in the area, which was referred to as Faulke's
Hall. The area only became generally known by this name when the
celebrated Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened to the public in the 1740s.
Opened by the London and South Western Railway as "Vauxhall Bridge
Station" on 11 July 1848 this main line extended from Nine Elms to
Waterloo, which was called "Waterloo Bridge Station" at that time.
Vauxhall is on a viaduct with eight platforms. Interestingly there was
a connection with Russians even in those days! The Russian word for a
central railway station is вокзал (vokzal), pronounced pretty much as
"Vauxhall". It has long been suggested that a Russian delegation visited the
site to view the construction of the railway in 1840, and mistook the
name of the station for the generic name for a station.
Counter Vauxhall Arches is unmistakably
underneath the arches and it’s taken advantage of the ancient
architecture that was never designed for such refined entertaining.
These spots have, until recently, been the domain of panel beaters and
light engineering but such prime locations are now viewed with a bit
If this was a house in New Orleans it would be called a shotgun house.
That doesn’t refer to the use of firearms in the restaurant but more an
observation that if one shot a pistol at the front door it wouldn’t hit
a wall till it exited at the back. Counter Vauxhall Arches
must be one of the longest restaurants in London but it remains cosy
due to its narrow floor plan.
The arches might be old but the architect has introduced
contemporary fittings, fixtures and lighting. All those elements
complement the restaurant giving it a welcoming and classy air which
fits this location – which is definitely on the up and up with
embassies expected to move to Vauxhall in the near future. Mirrors and
grey booths reflect the past and the very vibrant present.
The menu is eclectic and well-chosen. I know it’s a matter of personal
taste but it ticked so many boxes for me. It’s ‘New York meets any
number of European cities’ kind of bill-of-fare. The portion sizes are
definitely giving a nod to the Big Apple, so come hungry.
Chicken and Tarragon Terrine served with a remarkable Apricot Chutney
was my guest’s starter. This terrine is destined to become the
signature dish here. Many such patés are made as afterthoughts
but this hearty and beautifully presented plate is made of chunky meat
divided by ribbons of red pepper and green leafy vegetables. Grilled
bread was the garnish and it was all pronounced first class by this man
who has a passion for just such preparations. Well worth trying.
Chili Blanco, Tortilla, with Avocado Salsa was my
comforting starter. This was a substantial and rib-sticking bowl of
white bean purée that had a chilli heat that grew rather than
exploded. It’s a non-meat chilli that might not look appealing to the
uninitiated but it truly was moreish and delicious.
Sea Trout, Courgettes and Samphire, served with Sauce Vierge, was my
guest’s healthy main course although he added a plate of Lyonnaise
Potatoes. The jewel-like veggies were a light foil to the richness of
the trout and it was a sizable fish with moist flesh and crisp skin.
Caesar Salad with Lemon Chicken, Whitebait, and Parmesan Crisp was my
‘light’ main course. The presentation was spectacular with more chicken
in chunky slices than I have seen in any one dish for a long while. The
meat was glisteningly moist, the croutons were crunchy and the
whitebait added seasoning. This truly is a dinner salad. Simple and
Mille Feuille, Vanilla and Rhubarb was my companion’s dessert. It was a
home-made confection of sweet custard with tangy rhubarb and thin
pastry wafers – just right for the season. The menu will change with
those seasons and will offer daily specials to tempt the many regulars.
Counter Vauxhall Arches is attractive. Its food fits the
location. It’s a casual restaurant that has already been
noticed and it stands to make a mark on this corner of the metropolis.
Monday – Thursday: 07:00 - 00:30
Friday: 07:00 - 01:30
Saturday: 08:00 - 01:30
Sunday: 08:00 - 00:30
Counter Vauxhall Arches
South Lambeth Place
Phone: 020 3693 9600
Visit Counter Vauxhall Arches here
Brooklands is rather unique. It straddles contemporary
design and the historic connections that its very name evokes. One
might not be familiar with Brooklands Hotel but almost everybody will
have heard of the Brooklands Racing Circuit.
The restaurant is called 1907 and that doesn’t refer to seven minutes
past seven in the evening. It’s the date when the Brooklands track was
first opened, and the associations with those days extends to the
décor of the restaurant. The designer has artfully incorporated
track memorabilia, and also gives a nod to Brooklands aviation heritage
The restaurant has cosy nooks for intimate meetings as well as more
open seating. There is a bank of stainless steel propeller replicas on
sentry duty in front of the impressive bar area. Picture windows bring
in morning light to energise breakfast-eating guests, and that vista
changes as the sun sets and the restaurant fills with dinner visitors.
1907 is a smart casual restaurant that works with the hotel client
base. Many people are here for a spin around the track and for the
Brooklands Museum a short walk away. There might not be drifts of white
linen tablecloths but the quality of the food here is as good as one
might find in many a more starchy establishment.
I was charmed by the menu. It’s of an appropriate length for the size
of the restaurant. It has a good collection of classics and some
innovation. Executive Head Chef Norman Farquharson is evidently a skilled
culinary professional who celebrates British fare with a flourish of
European je ne sais quoi.
Pan Fried Scallops and Glazed Pork Belly was my starter. A scallop
always seem luxurious. They are sweet and delicate and can be so easily
swamped by more robust flavours and textures. Here the partner was
meaty but not overpowering. Pork belly at its chin-dripping best.
Pressed Ham Hock and Pistachio with Celeriac Remoulade and Apple
Purée was my guest’s choice of starter. This had an
old-fashioned taste that reminded one of when ham really was a worthy
meal. The meat was well-flavoured and attractively presented on a
Pork featured large at this meal. It wasn’t by design but rather that
those porcine dishes were so tempting and
it’s traditional, so no apologises from my guest who was tempted by the
recommendation of a manly 340g Pork Cutlet. This was a quality slice of
pork-pink meat that was high on taste through its flesh and into the
River Exe Mussels Marinière cooked in white wine, garlic and
cream was my retro main course. This gem is also available as a starter
portion but it’s so moreish that that smaller potful might not be
enough. One raves about such dishes when visiting France and Belgium
and it’s proved to be just as memorable a few miles outside London.
Mussels can be iffy so I would counsel eating and enjoying them from
the hands of a careful chef, and then satisfaction will be assured.
Mussels Marinière appears to be a simple preparation and indeed
it is. It relies on freshness of the shellfish with a complementary
sauce. This Brooklands version was a winner and I think the only change
I would make would be to have extra bread along with the chips. Those
last juices cried out for a crusty baguette for dipping.
Breakfast at this same 1907 is a lavish affair. The food is chosen to
delight an international clientele. There are the fixin’s for the very
best of continental breakfasts. Cold meats, cheeses and pastries
overflow plates and platters. There are cereals and fruits and then
there are cooked-breakfast goods, for the rest of us who believe that a
weekend away should be punctuated with Full Montys. Everything that one
would want to set one up for a day of vintage MGs at the Brooklands
Museum or for that long-awaited turn around the celebrated Mercedes
Benz skid pan. Yes, this is for which weekends are made.
Brooklands has become a favourite with me. It’s a small resort. It’s a
relaxing idyll. It offers accessible indulgence. Well worth a visit.
Main Hotel Number: +44 (0) 1932 335700
Reservations: +44 (0) 1932 335710
Meeting & Events: +44 (0) 1932 335720
Visit Brooklands Hotel here
Brooklands Hotel Surrey
I live in West London but whenever I consider a weekend
break I turn right instead of left at the end of the road. That takes
me to central London with the thronging crowds, fuss and rush. Lots of
excitement, it’s true, but it hardly constitutes relaxation, and
perhaps if I turn left there could be something remarkably different.
Surrey’s stylish Brooklands Hotel is how management describe this
facility. Well, I have heard it all before and have so often been
disappointed and have come away from what should have been a calming
interlude with a mind full of self-doubt regarding my sense of good
taste. Hotels with contrived edginess or faux-Victorian charm have
never quite worked for me. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover
that Brooklands Hotel honestly was stylish and absolutely fit for
The hotel has contemporary class writ large. Its tapered columns and
sweeping lines remind me of the Bauhaus movement which actually fits
well with the era of the original Brooklands racing track and Art Deco.
Its entrance is lofty from a distance but acquiring more human
proportions close-up. It has recently added 11 new bedrooms and renamed
four of the hotel’s super suites, and those suites are huge and
Brooklands Hotel is closely associated with the iconic race track which
was opened in 1907. So closely associated that the window from my suite
overlooked the aforementioned circuit. A quartz and granite outline of
the original track runs through the reception and art-deco motifs have
been introduced. There is a striking Charlie Whinny
wood sculpture in the atrium which has been inspired by the curves of
the race track.
The suites are sumptuous at Brooklands and my wide terrace offered
uninterrupted views of the modern Mercedes-Benz World race track as
well as the famous bank of the original. The skid pan acted like a
slippery magnet for amateur thrill-seekers trying their hands (and
feet) at Brooklands and a completion of a round or two would indeed be
something of which to brag to the grandchildren! There are 131 bedrooms
here and the hotel can boast some of the largest rooms of any UK hotel.
Every guest can enjoy light and airy rooms with floor-to-ceiling
windows, many of the rooms offering panoramic views of the neighbouring
Mercedes-Benz World race track.
The ‘Selwyn Edge’ Suite was mine, for the night at least. It’s named
after a racing driver as are all the suites. In June 1907, Selwyn Edge
broke the 24-hour distance record, driving a 60 hp Napier Six, at
Brooklands. In 1922 he returned to Brooklands in a Spyker, setting a
new "Double 12" world record at an average speed of 74.27 mph for the
aggregate 24 hours.
This suite was furnished and decorated in muted tones and with
furniture that would have complemented any high-end 1930s apartment. A
propeller plane in shiny steel was just what one would see gracing the
desk of an industrial mogul in old
black-and-white movies. One decorative touch that completed the elegant
One might be tempted to linger on that balcony but the spa is waiting
with treatments aplenty, and loungers on which to, well, lounge. There
is a well-equipped gym for those with temple-like bodies and a
café for the rest of us. Brooklands is one of those hotels that
offers couples with diverse interests a unique escape. The men, and
lots of women too, will want a little time behind the wheel while
others will be content to unwind with some pampering and a good book.
Brooklands Hotel has excellent facilities including the AA
Rosette-winning ‘1907 Restaurant Bar & Grill’ headed up by
celebrated chef Norman Farquharson, making this hotel something of a
mini resort. Not only does Brooklands have easy access to the
Mercedes-Benz World race track but the Brooklands Museum is just a few
minutes’ walk away and that will likely be popular with everybody.
I am impressed by Brooklands Hotel. It has accessible charm, thoughtful
accents, beauty and great amenities. The food is outstanding and
service is friendly. One can truly step away from the cares of the
world here while glimpsing a corner of another age of fast living.
Main Hotel Number: +44 (0) 1932 335700
Reservations: +44 (0) 1932 335710
Meeting & Events: +44 (0) 1932 335720
Visit Brooklands Hotel here
McQueen at The Kensington Hotel
Well, perhaps not the man himself, but The Kensington
Hotel is presenting a delightful afternoon tea that is inspired by the
fashion designer who is the focus of an exhibition in London called
Savage Beauty. Alexander McQueen was born in London and was known for
having worked as chief designer at Givenchy between 1996 and 2001, and
for founding his own fashion house. He died in 2010 in Mayfair.
This part of Kensington is known as the Museum Quarter. It’s handy for
the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Science Museum, as well as the
beautifully ornate Natural History Museum. Kensington Gardens and Hyde
Park are just a short distance away. Kensington became a sought-after
location after the arrival of the Underground which came to South
Kensington in 1868. Until then it had been rural, green and leafy, and
in parts it still is.
The Kensington Hotel is a couple of blocks from South Kensington
Station at the corner of Queen's Gate and the Old Brompton Road. It has
a white façade and columns, typical of the style of homes
popular with the affluent in the 19th century.
The hotel is charming, displaying a mix of classic and contemporary
décor which works in harmony with the original architecture of
high ceilings and mouldings. The ground floor offers a collection of
interconnecting Drawing Rooms with welcoming sofas and comfy armchairs.
Open fires invite the visitor to linger on those often freezing winter
and spring afternoons.
The Kensington Hotel is now presenting a Fashion Forward Afternoon Tea
and will do so until August. I love afternoon tea but they are so often
spoiled by the ‘themed’ aspect. That has led many a chef to take the
easy option of too-sweet foams and mousses and concoctions that would
never have been seen gracing a Victorian cake stand. I
confess that I feared a tea with a ‘fashion’ theme would be a horror. I
had to eat my words …along with some delicious sweets and savouries.
The chef here is a thoughtful craftsman. He has eloquently translated
fabric into food and has kept to what, in my opinion, is the original
ethos of a traditional teatime spread. The afternoon tea needs, well,
tea! I chose a hibiscus blend which I can recommend as a
perfect sharp foil for the cakes to come.
But there is a method to eating an afternoon tea and that is to start
from the bottom and work up. Our table was laden with temptation which
included a platter of crust-off sandwiches to start, with fillings
hinting at McQueen’s Scottish inspirations The lowest plate of the
3-tier stand held the ubiquitous (or should be) scones. These were some
of the best I have tasted in the past couple of years. They were fresh,
the texture had just the right degree of crumble and they were served
with real clotted cream. There has been a tendency for restaurants to
substitute double cream but clotted cream is British and unique and the
marriage of that and strawberry jam is one made in heaven.
The middle tier was intriguing and contemporary: a silver horn of
plenty filled with foie gras, a crab and artichoke timbale in stainless
steel, and the trio was completed by a miniature nest of cress as a bed
for a quail egg in shiny gold. Great metallic visual impact.
The top tier had held our attention since it arrived. This contained an
iced cake in the form of one of Alexander McQueen's celebrated
handbags. There was a flamboyant Butterfly Chocolate cake and those
insects were also made of chocolate. A cookie with thick marzipan was
in the form of a McQueen gown. The macaroon disappeared in one bite,
and Pannacota with raspberry sauce helped to balance the array.
This Alexander McQueen Afternoon Tea really does work. It’s a must-have
for anyone visiting the exhibition. It’s a must-have for locals who
enjoy afternoon tea but would appreciate something a little different.
It is most definitely themed but it retains all those traditional
qualities that made the archetypal afternoon tea so popular in the
£35.00 per person
This menu is available until 2nd August
Afternoon Tea: 12noon - 6pm
The Kensington Hotel
109 - 113 Queen's Gate
Visit The Kensington Hotel here
Dishoom – Kings Cross
The area now known as King’s Cross is approximately 2 km
north-west of the original Roman settlement of Londonium, and it’s
thought to have been the site of a crossing of the Fleet River. It is
also believed to be the location of the battle between Queen Boudicca
and the Romans. Monks arrived in Essex in AD 597 with the relics of
Saint Pancras and constructed a church where St Pancras Old Church
stands today, making it one of the oldest places of Christian worship
A map from the mid-1700s shows the area as open fields but with the
completion of the Regent’s Canal in 1820, King’s Cross was linked to
major industrial cities in the North and became a hub of activity. A
statue of King George IV was erected at the Battle Bridge crossroads in
1830. The statue was evidently not popular and was demolished in 1842,
but the new name ‘King’s Cross’ remained.
The area went into decline in the mid-20th century and many buildings
fell into disrepair after businesses closed. It’s not too long ago when
Kings Cross was an edgy, dirty neighbourhood where worse-for-wear
derelicts housed themselves in every cold doorway
and ladies of the night met their ‘customers’. Such was its unsavoury
reputation that decent folk would linger for only moments at the
station and if you were a female commuter you dare not slow down to
look at the departures board for fear of the inevitable proposition of
‘Have you got the time darlin’?’
The 67-acre King’s Cross site has recently undergone one of the largest
re-generation programmes in Europe and the area is fast becoming one of
the most desirable business and residential neighbourhoods in London.
It boasts high-end shops and restaurants of every culinary hue. It has
guarded the old industrial architecture, which remains a link to the
past and creates a unique environment for work and play.
Dishoom is the latest branch of the now well-established Old Irani
Cafés of Bombay. They were originally opened last century by
Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran to India. In fact they have almost all
disappeared from that city but have found new fame and followers in
London. This new Dishoom at King’s Cross opened on 20th November.
Regulars at the first Dishoom in Covent Garden will notice a few
signature design features. There are still old family photos,
marble-topped tables and a few banquettes alongside smaller tables. But
Kings Cross, at least in my opinion, is more striking with a more
exotic ambiance. The former stable takes advantage of bare bricks and
dark wood studded with Indian accents. Indian, yes, but this is as far
from a themed Indian Disney Land as one could get.
So one has admired the décor, and now one will want food. The
menu will be familiar to regulars – Dishoom, it seems, has become a
London institution. They have, obviously, lots of their famed breakfast
items but we wanted lunch. Okra Fries will convert anyone who insists
they hate these small green veggies. They are crunchy and slightly
spiced but served with chutney for added zing. Prawn Koliwada from the
fisherman’s district of Mumbai is a bowl of crispy fried seafood with
tamarind and date chutney alongside.
Ruby Murray is the Cockney rhyming slang for curry – as
this is London one must have a succulent Ruby from time
to time and in this case a flavourful Chicken Ruby.
Tender chicken in a rich creamy ‘makhani’ sauce needs rice or bread for
dipping in the generous gravy. The naans at Dishoom are always
outstanding and freshly made.
Dishes at Dishoom have flavour rather than overpowering heat but we
still wanted something refreshing with which to finish. Kala Khatta
Gola Ice is a must-try. It’s a confection that was new to me but one
for which I would like the recipe. Shaved ice is laced with kokum fruit
syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime, and white and black salt. This is
I had not visited the rejuvenated Kings Cross before and I am stunned
by the transformation. It’s vibrant and attractive but, to quote estate
agents, ‘retaining many original features’. Dishoom fits well into this
Dishoom Kings Cross
5 Stable Street
London N1C 4AB
Phone: 020 7420 9321
Visit Dishoom here
Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle)
I have wanted to visit for a while. No, this isn’t a
Michelin-starred restaurant. No, one isn’t dazzled by drifts of white
linen tablecloths or the shine of silverware. It’s a café, or at
least a café of the Japanese kind. Kanada-Ya is a ramen bar.
There is quite a bit of choice if one wants to slurp noodles in London.
Udon noodles compete with ramen for the attention of transplanted
Japanese as well as indigenous Londoners. This corner of the city is
blessed by two ramen establishments but one in particular, Kanada-Ya,
was intriguing me.
Kanada-Ya opened in September 2014 on St Giles High Street. This London
branch is the third, with others in Japan and Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Kazuhiro Kanada is the owner and a former bike courier who taught
himself to cook the most celebrated dish from his region, which is
Hakata tonkotsu ramen, and it’s this pork-bone ramen that Kanada-ya has
as its raison d’être.
There are so many restaurants of every culinary hue in London that
queueing is rare. If the restaurant is full one just goes next door.
But I had noted that even on cold winter nights Kanada-Ya had a line of
diners silhouetted against steamy windows. Such is the popularity of
this bijou eatery that we turned up after its dinner opening time of
5pm to find only a couple of seats vacant. We had arrived at 5.05pm!
There are two reasons for the queue. First is that it’s a very small
restaurant. It offers 20 or so places for customers and considering
that small number they seem to have a good complement of staff. I guess
a quick turnover is the order of the day. Its décor is simple:
pale wood, a mirror ceiling, vinyl table tops, an open kitchen and
ambiance provided by the buzz of conversation in both English and
The second reason is that the food here is simple. It’s ramen noodles.
Well, on the face of it it’s simple, but then one learns that the
noodles are made here and bear no resemblance to those frilly articles,
dry and with a ‘flavour’ sachet attached, found in your favourite
supermarket. Kanada-Ya offers the real thing and one can even choose
the texture of one’s noodles!
It’s the broth in which the noodles are suspended which is truly the
star. If you have tried noodles at other establishments then you would
likely have enjoyed these with a light stock made with dashi. It’s
delicious and full of savoury umami, but tonkotsu is far from
vegetarian and it’s hearty - and labour-intensive to produce.
Kanada-Ya's menu revolves around that rich, creamy pork-bone broth that
is tended for 18 hours every day. The bones are cleaned and the stock
is continually skimmed to create a distinctive soup with a clean taste
that is delicate rather than being over-porky. Yes, it’s still
evidently a porcine product but it’s not fatty. The texture is perfect
for coating noodles and also sipping as a soup.
I would suggest that a ramen virgin order the original bowl of that
18-hour-tended broth with chashu marinated pork, wood-ear fungus, nori
seaweed and spring onion. There are condiments on the table to add at
will, but there are also extras on the menu. A must-try is Hanjuku egg
(also called ni-tamago or ajitsuke tamago) which is a soft-boiled egg
with the white perfectly cooked through, but with the yolk remaining
slightly liquid and silky. The egg is marinated in a soy sauce.
Other versions of ramen are on offer: Moyashi Ramen - a lighter version
topped with blanched beansprouts, and Chashu-Men which is my favourite
and which is garnished with Chashu pork collar. Charred black garlic
sauce is an aromatic addition, and an extra sheet of nori always looks
so beautiful. One can order extra noodles to add to any remaining soup.
Kanada-Ya is popular for very good reason. The broth is outstanding,
comforting and flavourful. Yes, it is honestly just a matter of taste
but Kanada-Ya is very much to my taste.
64 St Giles High Street
Monday to Saturday
12pm-3pm and 5pm-10pm
Visit Kanada-Ya here
Bern – classic and chic
Bern might not be the first place one would think of for a
short city-break. In fact, Switzerland probably isn’t a country one would list first for
a quick holiday. It’s all Alps, chocolate, or chocolate in the shape of
Alps, isn’t it? Well, no! And it’s easier to get there than one might
Southend Airport is fast becoming my airport of choice …and I live on
the opposite side of London. It has easy connections from Liverpool
Street Station and the railway station is right at the Airport, not a
shuttle bus ride, not a taxi ride and not a healthy hike – it is
actually just a few steps from train to terminal. There is just one
thing missing – crowds of people. SkyWork operates convenient services
from Southend, which makes Bern more accessible than some other cities
in Europe. Read more here.
The Old City of Bern, founded in 1191, is the medieval heart of a more
modern town. “It is the most beautiful that we have ever seen,” wrote
Goethe in 1779. It is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site and has
been since 1983. It sits atop a hill skirted on three sides by the
River Aare. It’s easily walked and well defined following the lines of
its 12th to 15th-century constructions. There was a major fire in 1405
and much of the city was rebuilt but this
time the wooden homes and businesses were erected in stone. Despite
various changes the city has retained much of its original charm. Many
buildings in the Old City have been designated as Swiss Cultural
Properties of National Significance.
One can stroll through its 6 km of wide streets and along arcades which
now house contemporary boutiques offering chic fashion instead of
vegetables. There is plenty that reminds one of local history, culture
and legend. Every intersection seems to sport a fountain. In fact Bern
is famed for its Renaissance water features. There are over 100 public
fountains and eleven are crowned with iconic allegorical statues. The
statues were created during the 16th century and were originally built
to decorate conduits to supply fresh water to the general public.
The celebrated Clock Tower (Zytglogge) was Bern's first western city
gate but is now one of Bern's most visited attractions.
The name Zytglogge translates as "time bell" and this was one of the
earliest public clocks, one of the three oldest clocks in Switzerland.
The Zytglogge building was converted into a women's prison at one point
in its long life. It’s said to have been used to house Pfaddendirnen or
"priests' whores", ladies found guilty of having sex with clerics.
Nowhere is mention made of the punishment meted out to the lusty men of
The astronomical clock is indeed something of a mechanical wonder. It
achieved the state which we see today in 1530. In addition to the
clock, the Zytglogge features a group of amusing figures. At three
minutes before each hour the characters - a rooster, a fool, a knight,
a piper, a lion and bears, come to life: the animals chase each other,
the fool rings his bells and the chicken crows.
Albert Einstein lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905 and it is here that he
developed his Theory of Relativity. The Einstein House is small and
decorated for the period when the Einsteins were in residence. Not all
of the furniture was owned by Albert but there are plenty of
photographs on display and guides who, if you get a good one, will tell
stories of the great man’s life. One can learn some surprising facts
that might change your mind about Einstein.
The Granary (Kornhaus) is stunning but its unprepossessing entrance can
easily be missed. The Kornhaus is considered to be one of Bern's finest
examples of High Baroque architecture. As it was no longer serving as a
grain store, it was turned into a festival hall in 1893. The Kornhaus
is in the middle of Bern on Granary Square (Kornhausplatz) next to the
City Theatre. This cellar, now a restaurant, is one of Switzerland's
most impressive public spaces, astounding just for its size alone and
seeming more like a subterranean church than a dining room. Perhaps
‘church’ gives a misleading perspective: it’s a culinary cathedral and
a must-visit for the gastronomically-minded.
Perhaps the most famous spot for a luxurious stay is The Hotel
Schweizerhof. This was known as “Hotel Fetzer” or “Zähringerhof”
in the 18th century but was given its current name in 1859. In 1911 the
Hotel Schweizerhof was torn down, rebuilt and reopened in July 1913. A
comprehensive, two-year renovation started in 2009 and it’s now open
for business again. It has that appealing melange of contemporary and
classic décor. Its restaurant is just what any visitor would
want from a European eatery: dark wood, gleaming glass and impeccable
service. If you go over winter and spring there might be a sumptuous
afternoon tea on offer.
Bern has so much within a small area. The visitor won’t feel compelled
to hire a car. Everything to fill a short vacation is within a few
square kilometres. There is history at every turn, food to tempt and
tease, and suites to pamper. Bern is classy and chic and worth
Visit Hotel Schweizerhof Bern here
Visit SkyWork Airlines here
Visit Southend Airport here
Visit Bern here
Adam Handling – Asian Accents
Adam Handling has been crowned 2014 British Culinary
Federation Chef of the Year. That’s no surprise. He is a young man who
has already chalked up accolades and praise, and now he has his own
name over a restaurant door – Adam Handling at Caxton.
St Ermins is a hotel of character just around the corner from Scotland
Yard and St James’s Park Underground station. The hotel’s Caxton
restaurant isn’t half celebrated enough. It’s hard to think of another
restaurant with food of this quality that isn’t busting at the seams
with folks who want to say they have been …or want to be seen there.
Adam has travelled and found his culinary inspiration, his gastronomic
muse, in Asia. He hasn’t thrown away his traditional food lexicon but
has introduced accents from the East. He has brought in complementary
ingredients, some gorgeous crockery and has maintained his individual
I am blessed by a wealth of dining opportunities every week. I am, to
be honest, seldom disappointed. I enjoy fine dining with star-spangled
chefs, I am energised by evenings of loud rock music garnished with
juicy ribs, I have a passion for good curries. Yes, I have been spoilt
but I am still thrilled by food, and Adam’s always shines, even against
the best competition.
The first time I wrote about Adam’s food I described it as whimsical.
He has changed much of his menu but I still stick by my initial
observation. His bill of fare has become a tad more exotic but it
displays great thought, balance and charm. It still makes me smile. A
meal here is an accessible event. Granted, one will pay more than at
one’s local pasta chain but Adam Handling at Caxton offers a meal that
will remain memorable long after the ride home on the District Line.
Asian food is about flavour, freshness and texture. Japanese dishes are
presented artistically, Korean dishes have the impact of spice. Adam has access to the
finest ingredients and he tends them slowly and lovingly or fast and
furiously, as the dish demands. He allows the individuality of fish,
meat and vegetables to impress, but enhances them with the less banal.
He has a deft hand with seasoning.
We started our evening with sourdough bread (a whole little loaf),
chicken butter and a pot of duck liver parfait. This isn’t at all Asian
but falls under the heading of International Comfort. It’s moreish.
Doughnuts with dressed crab is finger food and that trending concept of
smart-casual pairing. Delightful partner to a flute of chilled prosecco.
Beetroot, Beetroot and more Beetroot is a signature dish here. This
will convert even those who profess to hate that finger-staining,
earthy-tasting vegetable. Adam has elevated this humble and shunned
salad ingredient to cheffy heights. It’s architectural and
Chicken and lobster, yellow curry with palm sugar was my guest’s
starter. Each element complemented the others; unmistakable Asian spice
but warming rather than searing. I chose beef tongue bulgogi broth:
Korean accents here but subtle. The prospect of tongue
will likely strike fear into the uninitiated and that’s a shame. It’s a
cut of meat that has good flavour and texture and was once a standard
sandwich-filler for Sunday supper. Adam does it justice.
Goat with ragu and Japanese ponzu was hearty and rich. Slow-cooked meat
in two guises and not tasting too goaty, this ticked all the boxes for
my carnivore companion. But I had a yen for fish and chose Black Cod,
miso, kohlrabi, and kimchi. The flesh flaked into moist shards
complemented by the well-flavoured kimchi which was delicate rather
A meal at Adam Handling at Caxton is one over which to linger. It isn’t
a white-linen tablecloth kinda place but it’s an attractive restaurant
with cosy corners, comfy cushions and friendly service. The food
answers for itself in eloquent fashion, making this a must-visit
restaurant. I don’t know what’s next but I know it’s going to be
Mon-Sun 11:30am - 11:00pm
Mon-Fri for lunch: 12 noon - 2.30pm
Mon-Sun for dinner: 6.00pm - 10.30pm
Adam Handling at Caxton
2 Caxton Street
Phone: 0800 652 1498
Visit Adam Handling at Caxton here
Champagne – a brief encounter
The weather becomes warmer. We dream of those balmy days
and longer evenings with friends. The picture might include floral
frocks, a bowl of salad, a platter of salmon and, of course, a bottle
of champagne. It is, for those gatherings, the dot above the i, the
finishing stroke of a pastel watercolour... Read More
Strawberry Hill House –
Former grandeur restored
Strawberry Hill. Even the name conjures visions of
pastoral idylls, perhaps a water-colour of mature trees with the
promise of a gently-flowing river just over that grassy knoll. Well,
the reality isn’t that far from the pastel dream and there is a House
that is at the very centre of the quintessentially English scene... Read More
The Three Faces of
You couldn’t make it up! A story that, on the face of it, sounds quite improbable. The King in the Car Park … indeed a sovereign
in the Social Services Car Park. Richard III, or at least his mortal
remains, were discovered... Read More
Flat Iron – Beak Street
The second Flat Iron opened last July. This could be the start of something big, or at least lots of little somethings if the size of the Beak Street branch is anything to go by.
Flat Iron fits perfectly into its environment. The area has long been trendy, bohemian and edgy. Carnaby Street is just around the corner and that was... Read More
Tea Emporium at Noodle House
Kyle Whittington is a modern tea merchant. He imports the
finest of teas and he educates and amuses his audience. You could say
he teases with teas. Although the custom of tea drinking dates back
thousands of years in China, it was not until the 17th century that tea
first appeared in England. It has been overshadowed by coffee but it’s
now enjoying a revival... Read More
Le Menar, Fitzrovia
Head Chef Vernon Samuels has high-end international
credentials covering a good number of ethnic cuisines in some
celebrated restaurants around the world. At Le Menar he paints with a
North African culinary palate. He adapts and teases but never offends... Read More
Bunny Chow Soho
The name might not entice the uninitiated across the
threshold, that’s true. One might suspect that it’s only salad on
offer: well, that’s chow for rabbits, isn’t it? But on the other hand
it could be a menu of dishes made out of bunnies... Read More
Mestizo has Mexican owners, chefs and staff. This isn’t an overly
themed eatery: Mestizo has a few nods to its ethnic roots and the most
visible is the bar, which on closer inspection one finds is stocked
with the national beverage, Tequila: 260 different bottles at last count... Read More
Famous Detective Falls
Now I have the attention of my dear, curious reader!
Always eager for some dramatic news. Did our hero trip over a
ski pole? Perhaps a slide on a fondue slick? Who is this unfortunate
sleuth, anyway? In truth, this is old news …over one hundred year-old
news, and the aforementioned detective is none other than... Read More
Ramen Restaurant Ippudo opens in London
The original Ippudo was founded in the Kyushu region of Japan in a
district of the city of Fukuoka. It opened its doors in 1985, but this
latest establishment is designed to be the flagship European restaurant
of the group. Ippudo has over 120 restaurants serving... Read More
Airport to Bern with SkyWork
I have flown from London’s Southend Airport a couple of times and I must admit that I first considered the prospect
to be something of a joke: Where was Southend, to start with? Isn’t it
somewhere near the edge? It sounded a long way off, but then I actually
tried it... Read More
François Geurds –
I have met François Geurds on a few occasions now.
A couple of times at his eponymous FG Restaurant and also at the newer Food Lab. For once,
the Michelin judges have awarded their coveted stars with logic and
insight... Read More
Kensington High Street is smart. There is the usual
complement of restaurants in the area and they range from the
expected Lebanese to the trendy European casual restaurants; but this
is a wealthy neighbourhood so there are eateries here that might demand
a second mortgage. One would expect to pay a premium... Read More
The Taste of Belgium
It’s so near, but almost totally overlooked from the
culinary perspective. Belgium is one of our closest neighbours but is
overshadowed by the gastronomic giant (the French believe their own
publicity) next door... Read More
Rotterdam – beds,
buildings and gastronomic surprises
It’s attracting lots of gastronomic and architectural
attention, and it does indeed offer a wealth of national and
international food outlets. The new Markthal is a traditional market
with piles of fresh vegetables, meat and fish and, yes, cheese as well;
but its attractive and striking environs are also garnished with a good
selection of restaurants... Read More
There are crowds of folks to feed and we don’t, speaking for
myself, have a clue what to do. A nice plate of ham sandwiches will
likely impress and perhaps a plate of cheese sandwiches on brown bread
for vegetarians so they don’t feel short-changed. Catering sorted. But,
in truth it’s not that simple... Read More
We in northern Europe have had a long and delicious
relationship with spice. We tend to think it’s just been this modern
era of the local curry house that has developed our taste for food with
spice and colour. But consider those old recipes that predate the
high-street Taj Mahal... Read More
Chocolate at Home
I am biased, it’s true. This book was destined to have a good review on
two counts. Firstly I adore the author, Will Torrent; and chocolate
comes a close second to Will.
Will Torrent has worked with the best – with such culinary worthies as
Brian Turner CBE and Gary Rhodes... Read More
Southern Oregon – sleep and eat
The average British tourist heading for the US on vacation
will likely have limited horizons. There is the Big Apple, Florida, California...
But the US is a huge country. Surely there must be other locations to
stimulate, charm and fuel the globe-trotting traveller? Well, yes,
indeed. There is Oregon... Read More
The Markthal - Rotterdam
We are thinking about a pre-Christmas break, a
rejuvenating Spring get-away, a Summer city break, and there are the
familiar cries of ‘Let’s go to Rotterdam.’ OK, OK, so I am pulling the
leg of my dear reader. It’s a shame that we don’t have Rotterdam as our
first thought – and I can’t see why... Read More
Oregon – Colourful in every way
The Portland area was originally inhabited by two bands of
Upper Chinook Native Americans. The
Multnomah people settled on and around Sauvie Island,
and the Cascades Indians settled along the Columbia
Gorge. Oregon and its tribes were first ‘discovered’ by the expedition of Lewis and
Clark in 1805-6... Read More
Contemporary and Historic
Groningen isn’t the first destination in The Netherlands
of which one might think. It’s invariably Amsterdam that gets that accolade, and a very
fine city it is. But Groningen, in the north of this, one of my
favourite countries in Europe, is like an accessible snapshot of all
things Dutch... Read More