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Updated July 2014

Books and Restaurants on this page:

10 Favourite things to do in St Kitts
La Mancha – Chiswick
The Netherlands – A Liberating Interlude
One Canada Square Restaurant
St Kitts – History and Tranquillity
The Phoenicia Hotel in Malta
Cheval Harrington Court
Caxton Grill
The Tomb of the Unknown Uncle
Chef Daniel Ayton of The Taj - London
A Phoenician Kitchen Garden
The War of Jan Loos
Cheval Three Quays
So, You Think You're A Celebrity ...Chef?
Yamal Alsham - Knightsbridge
Winter Cocktails
Sweet Valentines Etruscan Chocohotel Perugia
Norcia – Umbria, Italy
Pumpkins & Squashes
Sprinkles
Valencia
Oriana - cruising for adults
Oriana Christmas Cruise 2013
The Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo
The Hague Staying and Eating
Umbria’s Gastronomy with Valentina Harris
200 Years of The Netherlands
Alentejo – Open Fires and Warm Hospitality
The Nuns and Tarts of Alentejo, Portugal
Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined
Snackistan
Dukes Hotel Bar for Martini
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian
Hummus Bros
Penny Black for Dinner
Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill
Rose Petal Jam
Fusion Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner
La Porte des Indes Restaurant
European Festival Food
No-Oil Cooking
La Porte des Indes Cookbook
Dal and Kadhi
The Blue Elephant Cookbook
Royal Hyderabadi Cooking
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook



Some favourite publishers

Absolute Press
Alison Hodge Publishers
Anova Books
Apple Press
Appletree Press
Black and White Publishing
Bloomsbury Publishing
Book Guild Publishing
David and Charles Publishers
Dorling Kindersley
Duncan Baird Publishers
Footprint Books
Foulsham Publishing
Grub Street
Kyle Cathie Publishers
Lonely Planet
Reaktion Books
Rough Guides




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London restaurant reviews




10 Favourite things to do in St Kitts

st Kitts


This is a stunning little island that offers so much. There are hot golden beaches, cool and tranquil rain forests, history, food, adventure and entertainment.

It’s an ideal Caribbean location for those with children. It’s safe, with a relaxed pace of life. Some folks like days filled with activities and others want to occupy themselves with tanning. St Kitts has many facets.



1. Stay in a hotel on the beach

The Marriott has a perfect location, and it is indeed on a beach lapped by Atlantic waves. There is a huge free-form pool and a flock of sun beds both by that pool and on the sand. It’s a one-stop resort for guests who are content to enjoy the sun, frequent the hotel restaurants (the Italian one, La Cuchina, is outstanding) and have a few hours in the cool of the casino.

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/skbrb-st-kitts-marriott-resort-and-the-royal-beach-casino/


st Kitts


2. Visit the Rainforest

One might assume that a trek to the Amazon would be in order, if you want to visit a real tropical jungle. But St Kitts has its own and it’s even expanding. O’Neil Tours offers guided walks of various lengths with a guide (perhaps Mr. O’Neil himself) who will give an enchanting insight into the flora and fauna of these unspoilt forests. There are medicinal leaves, fruits, monkeys, streams and exotic plants aplenty.

Phone: +1 869.465.3107



3. Visit Wingfield Estate

Hire a car for a day and do a circuit of the island. St. Kitts is about 168 sq km (65 sq mi) and approximately 29 km (18 mi) long. There are lots of small villages around the coast as well as historic sites, churches, bars and stunning views.

St Kitts became celebrated initially for the cultivation of tobacco and then for the production of sugarcane. On your drive around you will find The Wingfield Estate, which offers a glimpse of life on a historic sugar plantation. One can still see architectural features; there’s lots of information on sugar refining and even rum distilling. The amateur engineers in the party will be in their element.

http://www.caribellebatikstkitts.com/wingfield.asp


st Kitts


4. Caribelle Batik

While the boys are musing on ancient stills and aqueducts the girls might like to learn about batik. This is a printing process that involves the often intricate application of wax to fabric and the use of various coloured dyes to produce beautiful and vibrant fabrics. The shop will tempt with shelves of multi-coloured cotton.

http://www.caribellebatikstkitts.com/



5. Lunch at El Fredo’s

This simple and rustic restaurant should be on the St Kitts bucket list of any serious food lover. It’s owned and run by Ken and Jasmine, who have been feeding both regulars and tourists for several years and they have garnered rave reviews. Jasmine is the chef and she had developed a menu that showcases local dishes from local ingredients. The conch is particularly good here.

https://www.facebook.com/ElFredosRestaurantandBar


st Kitts


6. Enjoy the Caribbean Coast

That sea is just as blue in real life as it is on postcards. One can walk from the Atlantic to the Caribbean in a matter of minutes: St Kitts is an island shaped like a paddle and it’s only a short trot across the handle to find the other water mass. The Caribbean is usually calmer than the Atlantic. One can enjoy truly warm water and perhaps go snorkelling or sailing. Cockleshell Beach might be a short drive from your hotel but this small strand can be your corner of paradise.



7. Enjoy a cocktail at Salt Plage

Visit Salt Plage, which is newly opened in Whitehouse Bay. The latest addition to Christophe Harbour offers a stunning bar from which to watch the setting sun. It’s sophisticated and stylish and offers the signature Salt Pond Jumbie. This is destined to be a must-be-seen-at jet-setters’ watering hole.

http://www.christopheharbour.com/blog/view/caribbeans-newest-beach-bar-salt-plage-set-to-open


st Kitts

8. Visit the capital of Basseterre

This is the main town but it isn’t overly touristic. One can enjoy a refreshing young coconut – drink the water and then scoop the delicious jelly flesh. Buy a pineapple – cut while you wait. Find a spot in the shade and admire the immaculately turned-out children in their crisp school uniforms. Take pictures of unique architecture.



9. Cooking class at Nirvana Fairview

A lasting souvenir of your St Kitts visit could be a recipe or two to take home. The Nirvana Fairview Estate offers cooking classes that will enable you to create a Caribbean feast. The grounds are filled with exotic fruit trees and plants so you can see where some ingredients are grown. They can also provide a celebrated afternoon tea to be enjoyed along with a dip in their own pool.

http://www.nirvanafairview.com/
st Kitts


10. High-wire adventure

If you are the sort that craves thrills then you will want to go zip lining. I am not overly courageous and I am a woman of a certain age but after two ‘flights’ I was addicted. For the untutored, this is a ride hooked to a cable. One flies above the rainforest canopy at great speed and with a sense of freedom. This is a must-do and will compensate the adolescents for behaving so well at lunch.

http://www.skysafaristkitts.com/aboutus.html








London restaurant reviews


La Mancha – Chiswick


The name La Mancha will be familiar to all in West London and many from further afield. It was a veritable culinary institution in Putney but it’s found a new home, and to my mind a better one.

La Mancha is, in fact, a history-rich region of central Spain, south of
La Mancha Madrid. Don Quixote was a quintessential Man of La Mancha, who travelled with his donkey-riding side-kick, Sancho Panza. Don Quixote was also a man of ideals and dreams and he is commemorated on the walls of the restaurant.

This is a smaller venue than the Putney original but it’s perfectly formed, more contemporary and with the advantage of a nice bit of al fresco space. One can sit, on those balmy evenings, and people-watch. Plenty of room inside though, and also a private dining room with its own bar, for functions and celebrations.

Chiswick has been recognised as a dining destination for decades. Yes, there are plenty of chain options but also lots of smart independent restaurants such as La Mancha, which is an easy fit with the neighbourhood and discerning locals.

It’s a testament to La Mancha that it seems to have carried its Putney customers with it. We noticed that thoseLa Mancha in the know had followed the restaurant and there seem to be new regulars too. There is plenty of choice along the high street but La Mancha has already made its mark.

The restaurant sports an awning which advertises Tapas and Cava. The menu offers classics but the specials are for which to die. We started with Rebanata De Pan Con Tomate which is grilled bread, chopped fresh tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Quantity along with quality seems to be the rule here. This simple preparation is perfect with either a glass of red (lots of choice of wines by the glass) or the iconic Cava, an under-rated fizz that I adore.

Berejenas Fritas - crispy aubergines with honey and Romesco sauce - must surely be a signature dish. I remember this from Putney. These crunchy discs are as light as a feather and addictive. Don’t order just one of these for the table: I promise that will never be enough. A plate would do for just two greedy diners. That’s a reflection of its moreish quality rather than size of portions, which are famously generous. That extra order will reduce the likelihood of unseemly fisticuffs.

Croquetas De Atun Y Pimientos are tuna and red pepper croquettes. One has to indulge in traditional croquettes when visiting a tapas restaurant. They have a crunchy exterior containing a creamy savoury filling and they are deep-fried. That seems to tick all the boxes. There are four croquettes per order.

Carrillera Estofada, Guisantes Y Patata Dauphinoise were on the specials list which is always worth a look. They were a substantial portion of slow-cooked Iberian beef cheeks served with Dauphinoise potatoes and peas. The meat was melting and flavourful with a rich gravy. The peas were a sweet garnish but those potatoes were the best of that genre I have ever had. New Head Chef Kike Moledo is already proving his worth.

Born in Galicia, Northwest Spain, Kike spent his childhood spare time helping in the kitchen at his grandmother'sLa Mancha restaurant. That’s where he came to love food and cooking. Galicia has great produce from both land and sea so the lad would have been exposed to the best. Salvatore Cricchio, owner of La Mancha, says "I am delighted to have Kike on board as part of our team. His expertise in Spanish cuisine comes from his passion for cooking and dedication to learning new recipes.”

La Mancha is a casual restaurant with a refined accent. The dishes are first class and substantial, there are classics and innovation. The staff are friendly and attentive. The prices are better than reasonable and allow for return visits. It’s a restaurant at which one would like to be a regular. There can be no better recommendation. I’ll be reserving my table – the one in the corner by the window.

La Mancha
142 Chiswick High Road
Chiswick
London W4 1PU

Phone: 020 8994 6816
Email: tapas@lamancha.co.uk
Opening Hours: 12:00 - 22:30 every day

Visit La Mancha here

London restaurant reviews


The Netherlands – A Liberating Interlude


I am, as regular readers will have noticed, an unapologetic supporter of The Netherlands. It’s a small country that not only welcomes the British tourist but embraces them. There are few language problems, yes the water is safe to drink, the little-known food is delicious, and there is history and landscape aplenty.

2014 is a year of commemoration of the start of Liberation across Europe at the end of the Second World War. The Netherlands has its portion of the Liberation Route which offers a new generation, and indeed several generations, a glimpse of those tragic days. There are fewer living eye-witnesses with every year that passes. The Netherlands has done a sterling job of the preservation of facts.

Liberation Route Europe is an ever-growing international remembrance trail, linking those significant events ofThe Netherlands Liberation modern European history. Liberation Route Europe connects the main regions along the way of the Western Allied Forces’ advance. The towns of Arnhem and Nijmegen played a great part in the story of the conflict. There are around 50 boulders at various locations throughout the region, the so-called Listening Locations, where you can learn about the people who lived and fought there during 1944 and 1945. The audio stories are available on the Liberation Route website and can be downloaded free.

One might assume that a Liberation Route tour would be strictly for enthusiasts of all things military – those who sport khaki sweaters all year round and probably boast a kitchen modelled on a NAAFI canteen. Not a bit of it. I am a woman of a certain age with not the ¬slightest interest in wars, apart from being an enthusiastic supporter of the notion that they are probably not a good idea. The Netherlands presents history wrapped in charm, excitement and even fun.

We met Bert Eikelenboom who runs Liberation Tour and owns an original World War 2 Dodge. For the untutored, and I certainly was, this is something like a big Jeep, so it’s a Beep. We snuggled in the back under fleeces and listened to Glenn Miller as we drove through, initially, streets and then into open countryside. Bert can lead you through the fields where the famous Market Garden parachute drop took place. He can also take you to the National Liberation Museum which will give all the background to the events before, during and after Liberation. It’s seldom one has the chance to interact with living history, but this unique tour is informative and gently thrilling.

Another site of battle at the time of Market Garden and at the end of the war is the town of Arnhem. The Information Centre for the Battle of Arnhem is at the foot of the John Frost Bridge. This small but animated museum will tell the story of bloodshed and heroism but without glorification. Both military and civilian stories are illustrated here, bringing events to life.

The Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ is a larger affair than the Arnhem centre. Its exhibits have their focus mostlyThe Netherlands Liberation on the British 1st Airborne Division. It was a hotel during WWII and for a short time became General Urquhart’s HQ during the ill-fated Market Garden landing. It was retaken by the Germans and one can still see a bullet hole in a handrail. The kids will love that! The gardens are delightful so plenty of chance for relaxed contemplation.

The small towns and villages are picturesque and it’s hard to believe that this area was at the epicentre of international hostilities 70 years ago. There are statues and poignant monuments that remind one of those times but this is not an area given over to mawkish sentiment. It’s a beautiful region with plenty to see and do, and some rather smart restaurants and hotels, too.

Landgoed Jachtslot de Mookerheide was built in 1903 and is any architecture-lover’s dream. It took advantage of the design trends of the era and is a veritable showcase of the Art Nouveau movement. Its original features include stained glass, tiles and sumptuous dark wood, and all with the classic organic lines of the period, reflecting the taste of the original owner who built this gem as a personal residence and hunting lodge. He was Baron Jan Jacob Luden and he commissioned brothers Oscan and Henry Leo Jr. to build Jachtslot Mookerheide. He lived there till 1910 when, to pay debts, the lodge was sold at a fraction of the cost of building.

During the Second World War both German and Canadian soldiers were stationed at Jactslot Mookerheide – but not at the same time. Remarkably the lodge survived the war without any damage, and in 1946 the property was purchased by the Dominican Nuns of Bethany to use as a convent. The Sisters remained until 1985, when the convent was sold to the Van Hout family and was converted into the hotel and restaurant that we see today. It’s now a national monument and worth a visit for lunch or an overnight stay. It’s close to Het Rijk Golf Club, National Liberation Museum, and Bijbels Openluchtmuseum.

Hotel Courage Sionshof is set in a forested area near Nijmegen and offers an attractive restaurant and a gardenThe Netherlands Liberation terrace. Nijmegen is an 8-minute drive away. Built in 1930 the Hotel Sionshof has cultivated a reputation for friendly hospitality. It played a part in World War II as it was the headquarters for the Germans for 4 years. On 17 September 1944 the hotel was re-taken by General Gavin and was used as headquarters for the Allies before the liberation of Nijmegen. There's a Liberation Route boulder next to the hotel which gives some background to that event.

The rooms here are spacious and my room sported a bathroom of generous proportions. It was comfortable and cosy and more like a domestic bedroom than a room at a commercial hotel. However, it’s the dining room that is the jewel in the hotel’s crown. It’s light and airy with Art Deco elements that set this room apart from many another hotel restaurant. The quality of the décor is matched by the food which is fresh and well-presented.

It’s always good to find a truly different hotel. There are those with striking historic features, others have memorable views …and then there are those which present the guest with an all-round different experience. That would be Hotel Papendal! It’s a Sport Hotel but don’t fear, dear inert reader, one is not forced into a track-suit or, for heaven’s sake, a leotard. It’s a hotel that offers outstanding facilities to sportsmen and women.

The setting is tranquil and the only clue that energetic sorts are courted are the groups of young and trim guests who are indeed wearing track-suits …or skateboard attire. The up-side that will no doubt balance your shame (“Will join the gym next week”) is that food here is great. Breakfast is memorable and truly the brekkie of champions with a choice that puts many 5-star hotels to shame. Rooms are contemporary and the location is both convenient and green. There are jogging and Nordic Walking routes and others for mountain biking in the hotel grounds.
The Netherlands Liberation
The Netherlands in general offers so much to the visitor. It has history, beauty, delicious and unpublicised food …and it’s accessible. The Liberation Route offers a look at a very particular time, and that picture is framed in charming fashion.

Visit Liberation Route Europe here

Visit the Airborne Museum Hartenstein here

Visit Liberation Tour here

Visit Mookerheide here

Visit Hotel Courage Sionshof here

Visit Hotel Papendal here

Visit Stenaline here



London restaurant reviews

One Canada Square Restaurant


Summer in London is a fleeting affair but we make the best of it. We seek sun traps, an impressive view, andOne Canada Square even a vantage point from which to watch our boys being knocked out of Wimbledon or, less frequently, the World Cup. We also need feeding and we want to do that in style. One Canada Square and its environs ticks boxes with grassy areas, perhaps a large TV screen, and a rather fine restaurant.

Canary Wharf is located on the former site of West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs. In Medieval times it was called Stepney Marsh and in the 13th Century was drained to create pastures for cattle and fields for fresh produce. The name Isle of Dogs is thought to have been adopted because there were royal kennels in the area. In the 1690s a dock was built at Rotherhithe. This location worked so well that further docks were constructed in the same area, including West India Dock and St Katherine Dock.

From 1802 the docks were considered some of the busiest in the world. By the 1930s the Port of London carried 35 million tons of cargo, worth approximately £700m. 100,000 dockers and associated workers were employed by the Port of London Authority, but the Second World War caused great devastation. It is estimated that the Germans dropped around 2,500 bombs over the docks and destroyed many of them, as well as the homes of the aforementioned dockers.

During the 1960s the port began to decline, leading to all the docks being closed by 1981. Many of us of a certain age will remember the dockers’ strikes as the introduction of containers and technology made their skills obsolete.
Canary Wharf itself takes its name from berth No. 32 of the Import Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of the celebrated Fred Olsen Lines, for the thriving Mediterranean and Canary Islands fruit trade. It was their suggestion that the quay and warehouse were given the new name of Canary Wharf.

London Docklands Development Corporation was created in 1981 and granted the Isle of Dogs Enterprise Zone status in 1982. Construction of the Canary Wharf complex began in 1988, the first buildings being completed in 1991 including One Canada Square (usually but incorrectly called Canary Wharf due to its location). It was the UK's tallest building from 1990 to 2010. Its 50 storeys still dominate the area but it was overtaken by The Shard which was completed in 2012 with more than 70 floors.

One Canada Square is primarily used for offices and is not open to the public. But the visitor will likely be moreOne Canada Square interested in the shops and restaurants at the base. The lobby is striking and rich, with lavish use made of both Italian and Guatemalan marble, and One Canada Square Restaurant continues that theme.
Diners enter the restaurant through the bar area. High stools and cut glass combine to offer an ambiance of retro calm. This isn’t a spot to down 6 pints and a pack of pork scratchings. Linger over a shaken martini and transport yourself to Manhattan for half an hour.

Those businessmen who grace the towering office space above are blessed. One Canada Square Restaurant oozes accessible charm. I would perhaps describe it as Art Deco with contemporary accents. That classy ethos continues at the table which offers traditional presentation of dishes as well as traditional polished service. Perhaps ‘traditional’ diminishes the description as such service is becoming rare. Unobtrusive yet attentive is a balance seldom aimed for and less often achieved.

It’s not the longest menu in East London but is no worse for that. It tempts with classics interwoven with contemporary innovation. Steak Tartare served with a hen's egg yolk was pronounced excellent by my discerning guest, the renowned Italian food writer and celebrity chef Valentina Harris. She is a lady who recognises quality. I chose Cornish Fish Soup with rouille and croutons. The soup was a delight although the rouille was not what I expected. Rouille is usually a sauce made of olive oil with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and chili peppers. The version here is a light lemon mayo.

My guest ordered Scallop and Shrimp Burger with kimchee and chips for her main course. A great success with aOne Canada Square mild interpretation of the famous Korean pickled vegetables. I opted for One Canada Square Pie which is a hearty offering, the filling of which changes daily. Call me old-fashioned if you like but a good pie is a culinary masterpiece and we do pies very well on these islands. My beefy preparation was well seasoned with a good quantity of tender and flavourful meat. The side dishes of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes matched perfectly. A simple main meal but it hit the epicurean spot.

Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream along with a pot of hot chocolate sauce was my dessert although, truth to tell, I was already at bursting point. I allowed my guest to sacrifice herself for my art at the altar of the Banoffee-Bocker Glory. It’s a decadent dessert to bring out the inner child in even the most sophisticated diner. A tall glass filled with the expected banoffee ingredients finished off the meal and my guest in fine fashion.

One Canada Square Restaurant has style. Its setting is 21st Century London but it gives a nod to Milan or Madrid and a gentler era.

One Canada Square
Canary Wharf
London E14 5AB
               
Reservations: 020 7559 5199                
Email: info@onecanadasquarerestaurant.com

Visit One Canada Square Restaurant here


London restaurant reviews


St Kitts – History and Tranquillity

St Kitts
I am no expert on the Caribbean. Truth to tell, this was my first visit to the islands. Friends had described their vacations to some other Caribbean islands with enthusiasm, but those things over which they so passionately enthused kinda left me thinking that I might stay home! Perhaps it’s an age thing. I wanted a holiday filled with calm and beauty, but punctuated with a reggae opportunity at a distance from my bedroom window, and perhaps just a hint of adventure – enough to give a thrill but not enough to increase the cost of the holiday insurance policy. I found St Kitts.

St Kitts isn’t over-developed by tourism. It retains many original features, to use estate agent ‘speak’. It’s a lush island made up of three groups of volcanic peaks, rainforest and a peninsula where sits the popular Marriott Hotel and its associated fine beach. It offers vacationers a high standard of both accommodation and food just yards from that sun-kissed strand. It’s on the Atlantic coast but any self-respecting tourist will want to also boast that they have toasted their toes on a beach that is lapped by more gentle Caribbean waves, and that other water mass is just a short walk away.

This island has a long and colourful history whichSt Kitts began with the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493. He spotted the island but sailed on past. The island is thought to be named after either that navigator or the patron saint of travellers, St. Christopher – Kitt is a diminutive of the name Christopher. Englishman Thomas Warner arrived with fourteen other settlers in 1624 to found the first English colony in the Caribbean. The island was already inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs.

A couple of years after the establishment of the
English settlement, Pierre Belain d'Esnambue landed with a small group of French settlers. He had the support of Cardinal Richelieu to establish French colonies in the Caribbean, and the cardinal became a shareholder in the Compagnie de Saint-Christophe. The new arrivals evidently changed the dynamic between colonists and the indigenous population: a massacre ensued which wiped out the original inhabitants.

The Europeans had the island to themselves but continued, in true Anglo-French fashion, to war against each other.  St. Kitts has a UN World Heritage Site designation for Brimstone Hill Fortress & National Park, for those who are interested in battles.
The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ceded the entire island of St Kitts to Great Britain and in 1727 Basseterre became the island's capital.
St Kitts
The colonists developed initially tobacco and later sugar plantations and brought African slaves to work the land. St Kitts soon became a leader in sugar production in the Caribbean. In 2005, due to falling profits, the Government closed both the cane fields and the sugar factory. The commercial industry has ceased but sugar cane can still be found growing in un-tended fields.

Wingfield Estate offers visitors a chance to take just a glimpse back in time to
see how a plantation worked. It was populated by owners and slaves but those workers not only cut the cane but had skills in the blacksmiths shop as well as the rum distillery. The first owner was Sam Jefferson and that name might sound somewhat familiar. He was the grandfather several times removed of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third president of the U.S.A. By 1775 the American Revolution was being fought and there were 68 sugar plantations on St. Kitts, which equates to one for every square mile.

The Wingfield estate followed the trends of the day and first grew tobacco
and indigo which gave the blue dye for clothes. The present owner says that tobacco still grows whenever the ground is disturbed. Sugar and rum were the next to be produced and that continued here till 1924. The aqueduct and buildings can still be seen, although the estate now boasts the lighter industry of batik printing. The great plantation houses of Golden Lemon and Rawlins might open in years to come but Ottley's is now a luxury hotel which caters for discerning independent guests.

St Kitts has more than a quarter of its land devoted to a National Park with a rainforest that is increasing in size. One can walk in the cool quiet of lush vegetation with just the sound of a stream to add to the sense of uninterrupted tranquillity.  Vervet monkeys will likely be your only companions. For those with a yen for that
aforementioned hint of adventure then there is zip lining. For the untutored, that’s a few minutes of sliding down a cable with, mercifully, a harness between you and the forest canopy. I would counsel taking a couple of rides as you will likely have your eyes closed for the first one. It’s an exhilarating and fun experience that I can highly recommend and the nearest thing to flying possible without baggage restrictions or need for lipstick in a clear plastic bag. The in-flight movie is in HD and 3D.
St Kitts
This small but marvellously appointed island is, as yet, relatively unspoilt. It presents the visitor with calm and quiet. It has those vibrant reggae bars but they are not obtrusive. The beaches are stunning and the rainforest should not be missed. One can find good food everywhere, and a rum punch will never be far away. It’s an island that still retains visible history and charm in a beautiful setting. St Kitts offers something for everyone so take your dancing shoes, hiking boots and flippers, and enjoy some refined adventure.

The Marriott Hotel St Kitts

The Wingfield Estate 

St Kitts Tourist Board 



London restaurant reviews


The Phoenicia Hotel in Malta

What do we look for in a vacation? Some pampering – that probably isn’t like home. Sun is good – that’s differentThe Phoenicia Malta from home. Food – you won’t be doing the cooking as it’s not home. Language – mostly the same as home would be nice.  That adds up to the Phoenicia Hotel in Malta. Luxury, weather, ease of communication, and then there are memorable meals.

You can learn more about the delightful food at this 5-star hotel here. Suffice it to say – the choice of food is wide, the quality is unbeatable and the quantity is striking.

The hotel towers over the old town of Valetta. It’s imposing, confident and solid. It was commissioned by Lord and Lady Strickland and designed by architect A.M.B. Binnie. They wanted to build a hotel of distinction as would befit its location just outside Valletta’s Porta Reale. Building started in 1939 - just in time for the Second World War!

During those long years of conflict the construction was halted and the part-finished hotel was used by RAF personnel for R and R.  The left wing of the hotel near what is now the Pegasus Brasserie was hit by bombs, as was so much of this island – it was actually awarded its own medal for bravery. Alec Guinness, eventually Sir Alec Guinness, and Jeffrey Hunter were here when they were filming “The Malta Story” in October 1952. It’s a record of the hardships of the war years, the heroism of the islanders and servicemen, and the reasons the island
The Phoenicia Malta deserved its George Cross medal.

The Phoenicia Hotel was finally opened for regular guests in 1947 by Lady Margaret Strickland and Lord Francis Campbell, then Sir Francis, Governor of Malta. This was destined to become an icon of hospitality and provide facilities and services equal to that found in any mainland-European city.

In November 1949, Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip stayed in Malta. They visited the hotel on several occasions and danced in the Grand Ballroom. The royal association continued, as in November 2005, during HM Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to the island, the hotel was chosen as the venue for an official reception hosted by the Queen. The Phoenicia has welcomed many other distinguished guests over the last decades. The hotel also played important roles in historical events on the island. Celebrations marking the independence in September 1964 were held mainly at the Phoenicia.

In August 1966 Charles Forte, chairman of Trust House Forte, purchased the Phoenicia.  It was he who undertook a major programme of refurbishment at the hotel which was now a couple of decades old. These works took two years between 1968 and 1970. One of the major changes was roofing over the internal courtyard, which is now the beautiful Palm Court Lounge. In 1990 another refurbishment was initiated and that lasted three years. This upgraded public areas and bedrooms and added another floor. The hotel now offers 136 rooms and suites.

A well-intentioned refurbishment programme has been the kiss of death to many a good hotel, but the PhoeniciaThe Phoenicia Malta has balanced modern convenience with tradition. The public spaces still have the air of the 1930s but are light and luxurious. The bedrooms offer Art Deco furnishings along with flat-screen TVs. The hotel exudes a mellow charm that is impossible to find in new builds.

The Phoenicia remains a classic grand hotel but it boasts such conveniences as Wi-Fi, and it also has its popular pool – the Phoenicia was the first hotel in Malta to have a swimming pool. One doesn’t have to venture far to find culture: the hotel owns and displays the largest private collection of Edward Caruana Dingli paintings. One can view the permanent exhibition on the ground floor; he is considered to be one of Malta’s most significant portrait painters.

The hotel is set in 7.5 acres of mature gardens. There are corners for tranquil contemplation, for some comforting shade and for watching vegetables grow. The Phoenicia has a celebrated Kitchen Garden that will likely provide dinner later. Malta throngs with activity but these grounds provide an oasis away from the buzz of modern life, and just a step away from historic city gates. The Phoenicia Hotel is timeless.

Phoenicia Hotel
The Mall
Floriana – FRN1478
Malta

Tel: (+356) 21 225 241
Fax: (+356) 21 235 254
UK freephone number: 0800 8620025
Email: info@phoeniciamalta.com
Reservations Department
Tel: (+356) 2291 1023
Fax: (+356) 2125 0461
Email: res@phoeniciamalta.com

Visit The Phoenicia Hotel here


London restaurant reviews



Cheval Harrington Court – Apartment Hotel

Harrington Court



It’s summer in London! Sure, the weather might be unpredictable but there will be the guarantee of a throng of visitors who are looking for a diverse menu of accommodation options. From 4th June 2014 there is a well-appointed addition to those choices.


Cheval Harrington Court is a residential hotel or an aparthotel or a boutique hotel that feels like home …if your home happens to be luxurious, that is. Its location is unbeatable. Fleets of red London buses are just yards away and some apartments even have views of South Kensington station, or at least the Underground sign above the tube entrance. Some hotels boast ‘within walking distance’ of an Underground station, and for once, that statement is true. I would suggest it’s no more than a 2 minute stroll.


Cheval Residences recently opened another aparthotel at Tower Hill. I was struck by its quality and thoughtful design so I was expecting something similar at Cheval Harrington Court. I am beginning to see the company ethos. It seems to be about providing a real alternative to high-end hotels and offering something rather unique to those who want to stay for an extended period. Their guests expect the best and Cheval is providing a polished product.

Harrington Court
Yes, there are differences between these two aparthotels but there is a theme and it’s London. One obviously has the view from the sitting room window, and in the case of Harrington Court that could be of the upper part of the Natural History Museum which is only a couple of blocks away. The pictures on the walls of the public spaces are iconic black-and-white shots of the ‘Swinging Sixties’. There is kitchen linen sporting images of the London skyline. The globe-trotting traveller will never wake and wonder if he is in Brussels.


Our apartment was just like a regular flat. We had the impression that this truly could be a real home. The furniture was attractive and well-proportioned. The kitchen was for which to die. The bathrooms, for we had a 2-bed apartment with a brace of washing facilities, were contemporary and gleaming. Yes, it was as if we were just moving in and the only things left on the back of the van were books that one would likely never need, and those chachkies that collect dust: Auntie Win’s luminous green Art Deco vase and the half-dead potted palm, for instance. This is home, but improved.
Harrington Court

This building has been artfully transformed into a stylish collection of 33 short-let and 17 extended-stay serviced apartments (three-month minimum stay). The contemporary rooms still retain the Victorian-style sash-windows although guests will appreciate the air-conditioning. There is the necessary free Wi-Fi access, along with complimentary daily newspapers, flat-screen TV and access to music in every room.


 This is a real apartment with a kitchen and one is able to cook …or more likely plate-up a take-away. Guests are
welcomed with a tray of practical nibbles, both savoury and sweet, tea and coffee and fruit, along with muesli for breakfast the following day.  There is a 24-hour concierge available to assist guests with everything from laundry to restaurant table booking. There is a Monday-to-Friday daily maid service, twice-weekly bed linen and thrice-weekly towel change, as well as access to a local gym on Harrington Road. In short there is everything a hotel might offer but with the addition of freedom.


South Kensington is an ideal spot for a family holiday base. There is so much to do and it’s all within a short distance. There is the aforementioned Natural History Museum which is famed for both its architecture and its exhibits. There is the Science Museum for the boys and the celebrated Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) which has an outstanding collection of textiles and clothes – that might be the preferred destination for the ladies in the party. 

Harrington Court
The neighbourhood offers many dining opportunities and there will be something for every taste. One can indulge in Lebanese grilled meats, European classics or just relax and enjoy some of London’s café culture. Legendary hotels are within easy reach and they offer traditional afternoon tea.


If retail is what relaxes then Harrods is not far away. Designer shops abound as well as the usual high-street chains. There are theatres for which London is famed and river cruises that will give a different perspective to the City. South Kensington offers easy access to everything that a tourist or businessman/woman might need and it’s all only minutes away from your London home in Cheval Harrington Court.


For more information on Cheval Harrington Court visit here






London restaurant reviews


Caxton Grill – St Ermin’s Hotel

St Ermin’s has long been a favourite hotel although I have, in truth, never actually stayed there. One is impressedCaxton Grill by its charm before one even reaches the front door. The red brick, stonework and planting all contrive to create a vision from a more elegant era.

The hotel foyer is stunning with a sweeping staircase, ornamental plasterwork and glinting crystal. These are all authentic trappings of a space that could be a backdrop for a period drama. Add a few dapper chaps in frock coats and ladies in silks with bustles and the transformation would be complete.

But dinner at the adjoining Caxton Grill is a contemporary affair. One might expect overt formality but this restaurant balances classic service with an ambiance that is both calming and gently refined. There were not the starchy white table cloths that I had expected but the dark wood tables fitted the décor admirably. The soft furnishings provided texture, the room was bathed in evening light and the buzz of hushed conversation created a pleasant environment for an adult dinner.

The table linen was kept to crisp white serviettes but the food was fully Michelin-Star quality. Yes, admittedly, that’s just a matter of personal taste but these dishes by Head Chef Adam Handling each made me smile with pleasure and glow with realised expectations. This young man has flair and culinary daring but he doesn’t push his guests outside comfort zones. His cooking methods are inspired and his ingredient combinations are often whimsical, but they work.

We were tempted by the Nibbles menu and they would indeed have made delightful snacks with perhaps a chilled glass of fizz. The Crispy Pig and Marrow is a mini triumph and will be a winner with any carnivore who might have had fears that this high-end eatery would offer only things in jars that smoke and kipper-flavoured foam. This was proper meat in cubes.

Beetroot and More Beetroot sounded intriguing. It was a visual stunner and must have used a good number ofCaxton Grill very cheffy techniques to accomplish. Vibrant colour and delicate presentation made this savoury beautiful enough for the top tier of an afternoon-tea cake stand.

Duck with rabbit, cherries and pistachio, and Crab with avocado, watermelon and sweetcorn were our starters and they were both delicious and attractively arranged. They were appropriate for the season and whetted the appetite for the mains. Caxton Grill doesn’t offer the longest menu in town but it doesn’t need to. There are enough dishes here to please even the most sophisticated palates.

My guest is a man of discerning tastes but a man for all that and he couldn’t pass up on Ribeye steak. Although a simple plate it does rely on the quality of the showcased steak and a chef with a light hand at the grill. The substantial cut of meat was pronounced first class.

Cauliflower with coconut, sultanas, curry and almond was my choice. I am not a vegetarian but this non-meat option got my attention. How was the unprepossessing cauli going to be transformed from something of a culinary frog to an epicurean prince? It was a revelation, and I feel no shame in admitting that I will likely steal the idea
Caxton Grill for my own dinner party fare. Chef Adam Handling uses skill and imagination and did, in this case, wave the magic wand. Boiled, grilled and pureed cauli presented different flavour and texture with every bite. Granted, it might not convert a carnivore but at least that stubborn diner can be assured that he is missing out on a vegetable-based treat. Caxton Grill is a passionate follower of the ‘Field to Fork’ movement so you know that vegetable will not have travelled all the way from South America.

I am not a great one for sweets and so passed up the dessert menu. I can tell my dear reader that the evening could have ended in resentment: the Apricot, ginger, pannacotta and rhubarb with black pepper was my guest’s dessert, and was faultless. Perhaps that is something of an exaggeration: I would say that the dish might have been improved by the omission of the apricot. The other components worked so well together that the apricot was just a distraction. But this is a must-try pud. Luckily the waiter had the presence of mind to offer me a second spoon – otherwise there could have been a nasty scene.

Head Chef Adam Handling has a close relationship with his suppliers and a deep respect for ingredients. He contrives to amaze with his finesse while using the most humble of seasonal produce. Caxton Grill is well worth a visit and even in a city that spoils me with choice I can promise I will return.
Caxton Grill
Bar:
Mon-Sun 11:30am - 11:00pm

Grill:
Mon-Fri 12.00pm - 2.30pm
Mon-Sun 5.30pm - 10.30pm

Caxton Grill
2 Caxton Street
London
SW1H 0QW UK

Tel: 0800 652 1498

Visit Caxton Grill here




London restaurant reviews


The Tomb of the Unknown Uncle – Flowering of Liberation


2014 is a special year and after my recent visit to the Netherlands I am reminded that every year should beDutch liberation special. This year we remember the Liberation of parts of Europe, towards the end of the Second World War, and the heroism not only of servicemen but of civilians.

This was a bitter-sweet trip. I love Holland and I am there as often and for as long as possible. I have enjoyed its delicious and underpublicised food (there is much more to delight the palate than cheese). I have photographed modern and historic architecture and have appreciated the relaxed and vibrant lifestyles of those lucky enough to call the Netherlands home.

But I have a very personal connection with this friendly land. You might say that my family own a small part of it. My Uncle Bill rests there, and not by choice. He was killed over Holland in 1942 – yes, a couple of years before the start of the official Liberation Route, but that route could be said to have started back in 1939 when invasions and aggression made war inevitable.

So the tomb of my unknown soldier, for I never met my uncle, focused my mind. There is a formal Debt of Honour Register which states: In Memory of WILLIAM JOHN BARKER Sergeant 75 Squadron, Air Force Volunteer Reserve who died on Saturday 6 September 1941. Age 33.

This man didn’t have the blessing of a long life but he was a decade or so older than those others who died with him. Ironically I even know the name of the German pilot who shot down my uncle’s plane. One might suppose I would harbour ill-will and be heaping
curses upon that man’s house. But it’s the nature of war that people are obliged to kill and others are obliged to die. All these young men were just doing their jobs.

During this Liberation Route visit I had the privilege to interview Jan Loos who was just a teenager living near Arnhem in 1942. His country had been under occupation for years. He explained that there was a big difference between regular servicemen and the SS, for instance. He became friends with a German
Dutch liberation officer who had a son of Jan’s age. There are no winners in war: the Liberation Route serves not to revel in victory but to celebrate the freedom that cost so many so much.

The Liberation Route does truly exist. It’s not just a strategic process but a physical path that crosses The Netherlands with noteworthy stops along the way. It is a route that takes you to over 80 significant spots, each marked by a large stone and each one illustrating a particular event – stories of civilians and soldiers who lived or fought there between 1944 and 1945. The audio versions can be downloaded as MP3s from the Liberation Route website. They are historic milestones and they become more important as there are fewer and fewer eye-witnesses still alive.

Don’t expect a landscape scarred by warfare. Nature is gentle, forests are dense, and fields softly undulate. One listens to the whistle of birds rather than shells. One is refreshed by the perfume of dew-laden foliage rather than fuel and fire. There are poignant reminders: a shrapnel-pitted house wall, statues of evacuating women and children, monuments to the fallen.

But Holland is famed for flowers. Tulips provided food in the lean days at the end of the war, they have been immortalised in song, and those ubiquitous blooms are the icons for the tourist board – a far more beautiful logo than that of a ball of Edam or a bottle of gin. There can surely be no finer and no more apt celebration of Liberation than a brand new tulip.

Major (Retd) Kenneth George Mayhew RMWO, is the bearer of the highest Dutch military Medal of Valour. He was the guest of honour at the London Residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Ms Laetitia van den Assum. Major Mayhew is now 97 years old and was not only the guest of honour in word but honoured in deed, as worthy military men of a new generation respectfully saluted him. I am touched that Dutch people continue to demonstrate their care for those who contributed to Liberation and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Cemeteries are immaculate and often tended by school children who adopt a soldier or airman and look after his last resting place. It’s a source of comfort to us, the families of those servicemen.

Major Mayhew officially baptised the new LiberationDutch liberation tulip and wetted the ‘baby’s head’ in champagne. The striking red and yellow flower was cultivated by celebrated Dutch bulb-grower JUB Holland for this important and unique occasion, which marks the first step in commemorating the liberation of the Netherlands which started with the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in 1944. The tulip was presented on behalf of all Allied Forces who took part in the liberation. Distinguished representatives of Australian, British, Canadian, Polish, New Zealand, and US forces attended, along with Major General Hoitink for the Dutch Chief of Defence Staff.

Members of the general public will be able to see the new tulip next year as two flower mosaics will be planted in the autumn. Kew Gardens in London will have one display and the other will be in Lincolnshire, from where the RAF launched Operation Manna which was a relief initiative to feed civilians. The Liberation Route and the tulip are not about glory. They are about memories and future. They are about lessons learnt and hope, about partnership and new-forged alliances. They are about peace, and offer reminders of the fragility of that treasure.

Holland offers so much; but the prospect of a trip to mainland Europe has us musing on a little bistro in Paris, although Holland has an exciting contemporary dining culture. We crave the arts, so that must be Rome, even though Holland has the Dutch Masters. There are few language barriers in Holland and that, even for this world traveller, is a bonus. We British feel at home in The Netherlands and there is always a warm welcome. That’s nothing new: it started 70 years ago.
 
For more articles on The Netherlands visit here
Liberation Route Europe: www.liberationroute.com/
Keukenhof: www.keukenhof.nl/en/
JUB Holland: www.jubholland.nl/en/


Picture of Chrissie Walker by Farrukh Younus
London restaurant reviews


Chef Daniel Ayton of The Taj - London


This is a beautiful hotel just a few yards from St James’s Park Underground station. Its red brick and ornate terracotta friezes, its fountain and courtyard all offer the guest a chance to glimpse another era, far from the buzz of traffic.

Daniel Ayton is a striking figure. Already tall, the addition of his chef’s toque adds another foot to his loftyDaniel Ayton stature. This chef is one of the most decorated and respected within the industry but is strangely overlooked by those seeking the next celebrity. There are few chefs, however, who are so thoroughly immersed in the industry, and few who are better known by their peers.

We settled ourselves in a sumptuous private room and I asked Daniel about his background. ‘I was brought up in Torquay, down in Devon. My father owned and ran a restaurant for 20 years. I earned some pocket money by washing dishes and then progressed through the ranks to salad hand and then doing a bit of pastry work.’

Had Daniel ever considered another career? ‘I was asked by my careers teacher what I wanted to be and the first words that came out of my mouth were, “I want to be a chef.” I think there is something in my blood. As you grow up you always think about the options open to you, but deep down I couldn’t do much about it. It’s in my blood!’

How about formal culinary education? ‘I went to full-time study at South Devon College and then I moved to the lovely 5-star Imperial Hotel in Torquay. That’s part of the Trusthouse Forte group – they had a 2-year training programme. That took me all over the UK and a little bit in Europe. It was a very intense programme – you were in a different kitchen every two months. We also looked at airline catering, fine dining, and outdoor catering. It was a good training background and I wish there was still an equivalent in the UK, but the colleges here cover that shortfall these days.’

Daniel is proud of his kitchen at one of London’s finest hotels. It’s actually a duo of a 4- and a 5-star, which give guests a choice of culinary experiences. ‘I currently work for The Taj Group in London and have been here for a little over 7 years. The Taj Group has a programme for hotel management, not just for cooking but it covers every aspect of the hospitality industry. In this hotel quite a few staff members have been through the programme, including those on reception.

‘There are two hotels at this location: 51 Buckingham Gate and St James’ Court. They are beautiful and we have the celebrated Shakespearian Frieze in the courtyard. We have a great location between the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Taj is an Indian group but the guest profile is international. It’s a London hotel that just happens to be owned by an Indian company.

‘We have lots of tourists, as we have such a central location in London. There are many business travellers and we even have two luxury 2-bedroom suites. The hotel has old-style grandeur but with all the current technology. The butlers at the 5-star hotel welcome our guests, but the greeting at the 4-star hotel is just as warm. It’s all part of the ingrained hospitality ethos. The whole nature of Taj is to give that little bit extra. We don’t just offer the basic services: we can even go up to the suites and present cooking lessons!

‘Taj has Quillon, which serves Indian food and is a Michelin-star restaurant. There is also Bistrot 51 and that’s very eclectic. We have an Asian corner on the menu which offers classic Indian dishes. We also have steaks and a trio of duck which utilises some unusual ingredients such as Alan Coxon’s Alegar Vinegar. Another dish has Peruvian oil! My food has got to be educational. I like to put unique dishes on the menu so the guest will ask what they are and where they came from. That gives us the chance to interact and to make the dining experience so much more interesting. One can use all the senses and learn something!’

I asked Daniel if young chefs are aware of the life of a working chef. ‘These days young chefs are more aware, as they watch TV. The profile is a lot higher now than it was when I started out, and colleges are teaching what’s relevant to the workplace. The curriculum reflects reality.

‘There is something of a North-South divide when it comes to working hours. In Coventry, for instance, people will tend to work 40 hours per week just like car workers. In London it’s a bit different. The hours might be longer but young chefs know that, and they have dedication, and they realise that if you want to get on in any industry you have to work hard.

‘I work very closely with Westminster College and their curriculum is second to none. They send their students out into industry as well as to private functions as part of the course. These days it’s not just about teaching people to cook, it’s about dietetics and legislation as well.

‘It’s not always necessary to travel abroad and even qualifications shouldn’t be essential, as long as cooking is in your heart. My father ran a restaurant and he wasn’t qualified. As long as you understand about the hospitality industry and that it’s about giving the guest what he wants, there are still opportunities to just apply to a restaurant for work with no previous experience – but those openings are harder to find these days. There is more legislation and problems with insurance for working in a dangerous environment.’

Daniel Ayton is one of the finest chefs in the UK. He is likely one of the most academically qualified and he uses his experience to inspire and support others. He spreads the word of Taj excellence by his example, but his legacy will endure in many a professional kitchen with chefs who have benefited from his mentoring.

Taj 51 Buckingham Suites and Residences
51 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AF
United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 20 7769 7766
Facsimile: +44 20 7630 7587
Email: booktaj51.london@tajhotels.com
Visit The Taj here



London restaurant reviews


A Phoenician Kitchen Garden


In truth this isn’t an ancient plot cultivated and tended by legendary Mediterranean traders, but the land does A Phoenician Kitchen Gardenbelong to the celebrated Hotel Phoenicia in Malta.


All good chefs will agree that freshness is key to good dishes. That philosophy cuts across all ethnic culinary persuasions. Malta has a climate that any keen gardener would envy. It is typically Mediterranean, with weather that one would expect, the only passing problematic element being the windy season that only lasts a month or so. That breeze, strong at times, might cause worry to those tending plants, but it is refreshing to the sun-weary tourist.


Chef Saul Halevi hails from Italy but has worked all over the world. He is passionate about fresh produce and indeed local produce. It doesn’t come much more local that 100 metres from the kitchen of the Phoenicia Hotel. Guests can try to guess what might be on the menu as they watch the chefs pick vegetables at 5pm that will be gracing a plate at 7.


Any keen gardener would appreciate a tour of these terraces. There are citrus fruit trees with lemons still hanging from top branches even in late April. At this time of year the tomato seedlings have been planted out – at least the first rows. Saul is staggering the crop this year to avoid a glut. There are still plenty of broad beans with bursting pods of grey-green legumes. The plot offers the promise of pumpkins, courgettes and aubergines. Herbs are an essential ingredient and Saul is particularly proud of various types of mint, and a patch of the celebrated Sicilian oregano. 


Parts of the garden are quite new. Saul has acquired the expanded area by stealth. His original suggestion was for the incorporation of just a few square metres, but that has grown slowly over the months. He has been forbidden to go near the swimming pool that he would likely turn into a sunken herb garden.

A Phoenician Kitchen Garden
The guest at the Phoenicia will be spoilt for food and indeed styles of food. The large, beautiful and imposing
Phoenix restaurant boasts all the features of a classic hotel: high moulded ceilings, crisp linen, a regiment of waiting staff, and views. The food, at least from my experience of a short stay, is traditional and Mediterranean. The vegetables are fresh, as one would expect, and the selection of meat is wide, and cooked with thought and inspiration.


Chef Saul is mindful of the regulars who frequent the restaurant and wants to give them what they crave, which is usually good seasonal food and plenty of it. The desserts and baked goods here might not come from the garden but they are for which to die. Malta has a great baking tradition and it’s showcased in the sweet cakes, cookies and turnovers at this iconic hotel.


The intimate restaurant of which Chef Saul is so proud is called Pegasus. This small space has the air of a French bistro but the food offered is polished, refined, and presented with flair, taking advantage of that by now expected freshness of ingredients. The fish is special and comes from specific boats that supply Saul and just a few others. Chef Halevi can tell by the weather conditions if a particular fish will be available later.


The dishes here are unique. We were offered a veritable extravaganza of vegetables, steamed fish, and pasta. A Phoenician Kitchen GardenSaul is something of an evangelist for delicate steaming of fish rather than frying. The lobster ravioli was made with black squid ink which gave the dish great visual impact …almost as much as did the bread that was as black as coal and also made with that squid ink.


It has been said that Maltese restaurants have The Phoenicia as a benchmark for excellence. It has cultivated that reputation over decades and just as carefully as Chef Saul Halevi now tends its kitchen garden. It seems that quality never goes out of fashion.

Hotel Phoenicia
The Mall
Floriana – FRN1478
Malta

Tel: (+356) 21 225 241
Fax: (+356) 21 235 254
UK freephone number: 0800 8620025
Email: info@phoeniciamalta.com

Reservations Department
Tel: (+356) 2291 1023
Fax: (+356) 2125 0461

Email: res@phoeniciamalta.com

Visit the Phoenicia Hotel here
 
London restaurant reviews


The War of Jan Loos

The last year of World War II offered the hope of an end to hostilities, but they were, in fact, a long way from being over. France and Belgium were liberated and The Netherlands was the logical next step.

The terrain is divided by waterways running from east to west but Allied forces would be moving from south to north. Bridges would play a decisive part in the success, or otherwise, of the legendary Market Garden offensive.

Jan Loos was a schoolboy and living in Oosterbeek at the time of the ill-fated military campaign, and he told me about the lives of civilians at that time. They are the most vulnerable in any conflict and their stories are so often overlooked. There are fine museums filled with guns and uniforms but there are voices that need to be heard. It’s many years since the end of the Second World War and those voices are getting faint with age, and there are fewer of them. Jan Loose has made it his mission to present a different perspective on warfare.

I met Jan at the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek, and this is his story of a few long days of war:

‘Sunday 17th September was a sunny day. My mother, my sister and I went to church as usual that morning. My Dad had left on his bicycle to go to work in Arnhem. He worked for the Regional Food Distribution Authority which was responsible for rationing the little food that was available. His office was near Arnhem Bridge and he didn’t know what was going to hit him!

‘We saw the landing on that Sunday afternoon from
Oosterbeek Market Gardenour house as the weather was so beautiful. The whole sky was filled with aircraft and, for me as a junior pilot, it was like a festival. The first thing we saw were the bombers and they were so low it looked like they were flying at treetop level but they must have been at 500 – 600 feet. At high altitude we saw American bombers going into Germany. It was all very impressive.

‘What surprised us was that the low flying aircraft had a length of rope trailing behind and attached to the other end was a glider. We had never seen them before. We stood there in complete amazement. As we watched, the gliders disengaged and started to land just a couple of miles away from us. They disappeared behind the trees.

‘As soon as that landing had finished, still more aircraft flew in and all of a sudden the sky was filled with parachutes - there were more than 3000 paratroops who jumped, making a massive impression.

‘People in the streets started leaping up and down. They were out of their minds with joy. Finally we were being liberated! Flags came out and people were embracing each other. We were singing and we felt strong. We had watched the Allies land and we could not understand why they were not with us yet. All of that Sunday we didn’t see a single British soldier. They had been held up fighting the Germans.

‘There were no mobile phones and we didn’t know what was going on until my mother called Dad that evening. She said ‘I am going to tell Dad what we have seen today because he might like to know.’ There was one telephone in our area and that was at the butcher’s shop so she went there to call. When she returned she said, ‘Dad has already been liberated by the British soldiers in Arnhem who have taken over the office. They are holding the bridge.’ That night we went to sleep wondering when the others would arrive to liberate us.

‘The next morning I left the house and didn’t tell my mother I was going. During the night we had heard intermittent shooting. There were 9 dead Germans in the street. I had never seen a dead body before.
I felt no emotion, we had been under occupation for four years. The night before, the Germans had picked up three civilians in our area and had executed them because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

‘I was never afraid – I was 14! Once in a while one might be afraid of being shot. Boys play with guns and play Cowboys and Indians and now this was real. My mother worried but I didn’t.

‘We saw them come just like the day before. We saw the gliders. We saw the parachutes. We watched as the gliders were hit. They just fell apart and it’s not just jeeps that fall out, it’s the soldiers they were carrying too. They didn’t have parachutes. We saw these people falling from the planes and it was no time to feel happy.
‘We didn’t sleep in our beds on Monday night as there had been too much shooting in the area. There were fires in the distance and Arnhem was one red glow. That indicated that things were not going smoothly. So we slept on the kitchen floor close to the basement so we could find shelter if needed.

‘All of a sudden on Tuesday morning, the door opens and there is a group of British. They pull down the curtains,
they move the dresser, put a machine gun on top and pull up two chairs. That was an indication that they were expecting unwelcome visitors. My mother was in tears as they had ruined her beautiful furniture.

‘There was no more water, no more electricity, no
Oosterbeek Market Gardengas, and food was scarce. My mother talks to the neighbours and they decide to group together. So we move next door and prepare the basement. We pack a small bag each and while we do that we hear shells dropping nearby. We rushed to the basement and that’s where we spent Tuesday night.
‘My mother returned from phoning my father and said, “It’s bad news, Dad says the building is on fire and the Germans are back. He is leaving now and will try to get back to Oosterbeek.”

‘Wednesday was a day of sitting and waiting with the sound of battle getting nearer. The Germans were only 400 metres away from us. Most of the day we were in the basement. Oosterbeek started to look like a bomb site. You saw burning buildings and vehicles, and dead soldiers. On Thursday morning the ‘grown-ups’ decided that we should leave the town. The moment comes when we must go out into the open. We stumble along past our old house and try to make it out of town.

‘When we reached the main road I looked towards Arnhem and saw a tank. It fired in our direction. We saw the flash and heard the whoosh and an explosion. Some artillery shells landed around us. We lay flat on our faces waiting for it to be over. My mother yelled, “We go back.” Nobody argued. We didn’t move as a group this time but as a lot of individuals moving as fast as they could. So after an hour we were back in the basement again, without water or food.

‘We boys decided that we needed water. We picked up the buckets and made the trip to the pump a couple of streets away. We didn’t realise that the Germans were in the back yards of the houses surrounding the pump. Shells landed all around us and we would dive for cover, go on again and dive again.

‘We arrived at the pump and we pumped quickly! The buckets were full of water so what should we do? We walked! No running and diving for cover as all the water would have been lost. I remember very well the hair on the back of my neck stood up! The danger was behind us. We walked and tried not to think of what might happen. We were almost home when something hit my leg. I didn’t bother to look. I could still move so we walked on. It was nothing serious. I was lucky.

‘We sat all day Saturday just listening to shooting and wondering when this was all going to end. By Saturday night the Germans were just next door! A soldier tried to make it to our house but was hit. For four hours we listened to his cries of “Mum, help me, I’ve been hit!” We didn’t want to hear that. He was dying.

‘Early on Monday morning a German voice with authority asked, “Are there any civilians in the house?” It sounds threatening but we said, “Yes.” “Out in 2 minutes, hands up,” shouts the German. And then you have to make the decision. Do we come out or not? Knowing the British are in the house the Germans are right there and you have to go between them. I was sitting on the bottom step of the basement so I was the first one out. Just to the right of the door are the two British soldiers sitting on the floor. One of them is wounded. He looks at me and says, “Good luck.” I say “Good luck” and we shake hands.

Oosterbeek Market Garden‘The house is partially destroyed so we didn’t have a door to go through – we just walked out. We walk down the garden path and there is a German lying behind a wall and waving us along. “Quick. Go.” And then you step out into the line of fire! Not thinking, because you can’t think. You just follow someone’s instructions. He apparently knows what to do. The firing stops for 10 – 15 seconds and then we are through. Behind us, hell breaks loose again. And it must have been hell because when we came back after the war there was not a trace of that house.

‘We leave Oosterbeek with nothing. We are refugees. We don’t have anything apart from the clothes we have on. Not knowing where to go, not knowing where we would sleep that night or where we would get something to eat, and depending on others to survive.

‘We go through the forest until, after 2 or 3 hours of walking, we finally hit a paved road and on that road are thousands of people who have left Arnhem. We spent a while trying to decide whether to go with them or find a place to sleep. A woman came out of the crowd and recognised my mother. She said, “Your husband is looking for you. I have just been talking to him.” 200 metres away was my Dad. That was a pretty happy reunion, I can tell you! We stood there and just held each other, so happy to see each other all in one piece.
‘We finally ended up in a small farming village in the north of Holland where we spent the rest of the war – 10 months till June 1945. We didn’t know what we would find when we came back. When my mother saw what was left of her home and all the things inside she cried. Everything was smashed, there was not a single thing intact. The roof had gone so rain and snow had come in.

‘Slowly things started to function again. Amazingly, in a very short time the water was running again but we had to find pots and pans to put it in. You could find things to eat but you needed a stove to cook on. As soon as we were inside our house our cat arrived. It had survived 10 months on its own. My mother saw the cat and said, “OK, now we are home.”

‘I have frequently been asked what I feel about Germans all these years after the war. There was a big difference between the regular soldier and the SS or the security police. I became friends with a Staff Officer – he had a son of my age. When you listen to stories of German soldiers they are the same as the British. In 1952 Germany joined NATO and then they were our colleagues. I can understand the mood of Germans after the First World War. They had been humiliated as no other nation had been humiliated. You can never be sure there will not be another war. Peace talks might look useless, but let them talk – as long as they don’t fight.’


To learn more about the liberation of the Netherlands visit Liberation Route Europe here

Visit
the Airborne Museum ‘Hartenstein’ in Oosterbeek here

Stena Line (www.stenaline.co.uk; 08447 70 70 70) offers twice-daily return six-hour crossings between Harwich and the Hook of Holland. Fares start from £118 return for an adult and car. Additional adults cost from £24 and children (between four and 15 years old) from £12 return. Infants (under four years old) travel free of charge. Rail and sail tickets available from £68 per person return (www.dutchflyer.co.uk).

Picture of Jan Loos courtesy of Farrukh Younus http://implausibleblog.com

London restaurant reviews


Cheval Three Quays

Three
                  Quays

We travel and we spend time in hotels. Yes, but how often have we had extended time away from home and wished that we had a place to rest our heads that was a bit more like, well, home? A few more amenities would do the trick.

Cheval Three Quays is a truly striking collection of new luxury serviced apartments. But where exactly is Three Quays? It’s on the banks of the Thames and next to Sugar Quay which reminds us of the days when this river bristled with cargo ships bringing goods from an empire on which the sun never set. The other quays were called Tobacco and Rum, and collectively offered all those items that are now considered so bad for us – times change! But the other neighbour is the Tower of London, and that never seems to change.

This is an iconic corner of a city that boasts more than its fair share of architectural photo opportunities, monuments, historic sites and striking views. Tower Bridge is just a few yards away and that is numbered amongst the world’s most recognised structures. The Shard is just across the river, giving a nod to a London that moves forward but cherishes the past (sometimes).

This new aparthotel opened for business on 10th Three QuaysMarch and is 5* (or is it 6?) in every regard. That location is unbeatable and is well served by public transport, although it’s probable that a good proportion of guests staying here will have a car equipped with chauffeur.  The apartments offer a home from home for those with discerning tastes and whose homes are luxurious. There are 159 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and penthouses which provide accommodation for every size of party. There will be folks who want to have privacy and flexibility for just a night or so, and others who might like to stay for a year.

Undoubtedly the location is outstanding but visitor does not live by views alone. These are breathtaking, but one tends to take sights for granted after a while. It’s the architectural design by 3DReid and the interior design by Forme Design that have just as much impact. Rooms are individual, practical and breathtaking. Colours are restful, textures are thoughtfully incorporated, finishes are impeccable, and fixtures are for which to die. There’s a touch of whimsy, with a Monopoly set being provided in each apartment.

One-bed apartments are presented to just the same high standard Three Quaysas the penthouses. Size will differ and there might be a shower instead of a full bath but the same quality will be evident throughout. That aforementioned shower has sufficient acreage to satisfy any bathroom-lingerers. Kitchens have every appliance a small home might require, and avant-garde Gaggenau, so there will be no complaints even from food professionals.

There isn’t a restaurant as an integral part of Cheval Three Quays but there is a concierge, providing discreet and efficient service 24 hours a day. The team provide access to everything from tickets to the latest West End show to a table at one of the nearby celebrated restaurants – anything from a German eatery to the iconic Café Spice Namaste are within walking distance. Some of those restaurants can take bookings for meals to be bought in and enjoyed in the apartment. Local knowledge can add so much to a visit. Each one also has a dedicated maid for the duration of the guests’ stay, allowing a more personalised experience.

Both private and public spaces at Three Quays are light and spacious. Historic photographs of the working river remind the guest that this truly is London and not their usual home. And they might well need reminding. These apartments are stylish, but more importantly, they are cosy. Yes, they are sumptuous but remain welcoming for families. They certainly have a classy address, but that will shortly feel like your neighbourhood.


For more information visit Three Quays here


London restaurant reviews


So, You Think You're A Celebrity ...Chef?


You don't need to be a culinary professional to get a kick out of this book. Caroline James, the author, does have that background but it's her wry sense of humour that gives this book such wide appeal.

For those of us who are on nodding terms with chefs there is a
Caroline Jameslayer of reality that veneers the story line. I remember when I was a kid listening to Radio London pirate radio illicitly under the covers. I could never get the transistor to quite tune in. When the ship’s captain gave his broadcast to the Dutch families back home it almost sounded like English. Well it's a bit like that with Caroline's book So, You Think You're A Celebrity ...Chef? One feels that one knows that chef to whom Caroline is referring …probably, with that name that almost fits the real-life celeb. And that other character: is that the obnoxious wannabe that is a fixture of every food event? And who is that flamboyant agent? All the names are on the tip of one’s tongue …or are they? This volume is another candidate for that disclaimer, ‘All characters in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance to anyone living is coincidental. All names have been changed to protect the innocent.’

The characters are writ large but probably no larger than their 3D inspirations. There is a slew of what might be called 'product placements' that adds still more to the sense of reality. Caroline mentions restaurants, designer labels, London neighbourhoods and sandwich fillings that paint a picture of life in a wacky segment of the food industry.

So, You Think You're A Celebrity ...Chef? is a rollicking good read. Caroline James has a quick wit and amusing turn of phrase. There are laugh-out-loud moments, but dip into this light novel and you will be wearing a smile, and sometimes a smirk, from the first page.

Author: Caroline James
Published by: ThornBerry Publishing
ISBN 9781909734104


London restaurant reviews


Yamal Alsham - Knightsbridge

Yamal Alsham - Knightsbridge restaurant review
Yamal Alsham is new to Knightsbridge but it’s joining its established sister of the same name in Chelsea Harbour. It’s a neighbourhood with its fair share of Middle Eastern eateries but they are appealing not only to the host community but to the ex-pats who long for a taste of home.

That’s the draw of the Lebanese- and Syrian-inspired menu. It offers something for every diner with fresh salads, warm bread straight from the oven, delicately char-grilled meats and filled pastries. Yes, there are several dishes that are well-laced with vibrant spice, but still more that are just well-seasoned and aromatic.

It’s approaching Valentine’s Day and if you have to look up the actual date you will likely already be in trouble! Yamal Alsham would perhaps be an ideal choice. For those with long-established partners you will appreciate the practicalities of this stylish venue. Its location has extensive transport links – by Underground via both Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner, and by all those iconic double-deck buses!

But there are those other couples for whom this might be the first Yamal Alsham -
                  Knightsbridge restaurant reviewValentine’s outing. Yamal Alsham is a comfortable venue for those who are still unsure about the tastes of their romantic-evening companion. There is nothing too outlandish here, but dishes are well presented and even vegetarians are well provided for. There is a good selection of fish dishes but a meat eater will want to sample the grilled skewers.

This restaurant, only opened recently, is light and bright with touches of metallic opulence. The door handles and decorative medallions welcome the diner with a hint of exotic glitz. There are more lustrous touches of bronze on ornamental coving and friezes. The prices are, however, more reasonable than the décor might suggest.

There are plenty of standard and expected dishes on the extensive menu but they are done well and why would you be visiting a Lebanese and Syrian inspired restaurant if you didn’t want to eat Lebanese and Syrian inspired food? Hoummos is the celebrated and ubiquitous
pureé of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon and a drizzle of olive oil. Use some of that aforementioned bread to scoop.

Falafels are deep-fried bean and herb croquettes served with lemon and tahini dip, and are golden and crisp. We find them all over London but they are often soggy and unappetising. Yamal Alsham offers a version that is a cut above most.

We British love pies and they are here. OK, admittedly in miniature and Yamal Alsham
                  - Knightsbridge restaurant reviewperfectly-formed guise, but they have fillings that are somewhat more interesting than steak and kidney. Fatayers are vegetarian baked pastry triangles filled with baby spinach, spring onions and sumac, which is a unique spice blend of the region. Cheese sambousek will also please the non-meat eater – deep-fried pastry parcels filled with cheese and herbs.

Kafta Orfaleas are spicy minced lamb skewers made with parsley, onion and served with a grilled tomato. I think this should be a signature dish. It is indeed spicy, but all the ingredients play a part in making this meat kebab a memorable item. The lamb remains moist with just the amount of grilled flavour to suggest its mode of cooking, but without so much that one would have the impression that charcoal could be the indispensible additive.

Yamal Alsham isn’t fusion, it’s not cutting edge, but both of those concepts are rather over-rated. It’s just ‘right’. It delivers that for which one would hope from this regional cuisine. Its prices won’t shock and its service is friendly. Valentine’s Day dinner could well be sorted!


Yamal Alsham
48 Knightsbridge
London SW1X7JN


London restaurant reviews


Winter Cocktails

Cocktails! We tend to have a vision of summer evenings, flowery dresses, sipping colourful libations in some place exotic. But for those of us who live far from the equator those days of balmy bliss only happen by during our short summer months, and even then there are no guarantees!

But we still crave mixed drinks with complex flavours and a richness that’s appropriate for cooler weather, log cookbook reviewfires (if we are lucky) and old-fashioned conviviality. This book offers suggestions for those cocktails that make a snow flurry a welcome sight and an invitation to mull some wine.

Winter cocktails – mulled ciders, hot toddies, punches, pitchers and cocktail party snacks, to give the full title, presents a wealth of recipes that include the traditional steaming pans of spiced red wine and the fluffy eggnog for Christmas. It has a collection of classic cocktails that are served at room temperature or with ice. It’s not just the temperature of the drink that makes it wintery, but the balance of alcohols and mixers that create warmth.

As to that mulled wine: yes, it is here and rightly so, but there is also a glinting white wine version with herbs and pear eau-de-vie. There is the aforementioned traditional Eggnog, velvety and synonymous with holiday, but Butterscotch Eggnog will shortly be putting in an appearance chez nous. This has the added dimension of caramel notes, and the garnish of sea salt makes this a thoroughly contemporary beverage.

Irish coffee is less often seen on restaurant menus, and Irish Coffee glasses have gone the way of fondue sets – the back of that top kitchen cupboard. But this became popular for a very good reason: it’s delicious! Everyone will insist they know what constitutes an Irish Coffee. ‘Well, it’s coffee and whisky isn’t it?’ No, it’s not. It’s coffee and IRISH WHISKEY. The Irish spirit is spelt differently and has a distinctive flavour. I dislike Scotch but I can savour a tot of Irish – the difference is that marked. Do try this, even if you only have a regular glass tumbler in which to serve it.

My pick-of-the-book is a Bloody Good Punch, which is indeed a bloody good punch. This is potent with bourbon, amaretto and champagne along with Blood Orange Sour Mix, the recipe for which is listed within these pages. OK, the fact that this contains fruit might salve the conscience, but the best policy is to just enjoy this for its taste, and drink with moderation.

Winter Cocktails is a unique collection of stylish mixed drinks that might help those long dark nights pass with a bit of a swing. A delightful book that will be coveted by any budding Barista.

Winter Cocktails
Author: Maria del Mar Sacasa
Published by: Quirk Books
ISBN 978-1-59474-641-3



London restaurant reviews


Sweet Valentines - Etruscan Chocohotel – Perugia, Italy


Isn’t it a perennial problem? What to do for Valentine’s Day! When
Perugia Italyone has had the same partner for several decades one starts to run out of romantic options. You might possibly get away with socks for Christmas, but they just don’t cut the mustard for Valentines. Jewellery is predictable, and restaurants are always full to bursting with couples, red roses and enough candle power to illuminate a small town.


If one is still in the first flush of a relationship then perhaps the prospect of a Valentines getaway is even more enticing. One might want to make an impression, and there could even be the chance of a proposal. Yes, life can be sweet …as chocolate.


Chocolate is a traditional Valentines gift and is still welcomed, but think of the impact a whole chocolate hotel would have. No, dear gluttonous reader, the hotel isn’t exactly made from chocolate but is stuffed with enough of that confection to warrant the title of Chocohotel; and what’s more it’s in Italy and there are few more romantic places than that.


Etruscan Chocohotel has 3 stars and what it lacks in glitter it makes up for in themed fun. Perhaps another time you might even consider bringing the kids, who will have eyes like organ stops before they even reach their room. The chocolate extravaganza starts in the hotel lobby.


We have all seen them, those chocolate novelties. Something for the tree at Christmas along with some coins. One might have some chocolate initials for a birthday and then there are body parts – although discussion of those will remain for another article (perhaps). But here at the Chocohotel the chocolate goods are tasty and
Perugia Italytasteful and by Costruttori di Dolcezze and Eurochocolate. It seems that anything to do with a computer has been fabricated in chocolate, and - this is Italy, after all - how about a chocolate pizza? All this and much more!


At Etruscan Chocohotel, rooms are on three floors and each is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to a style of chocolate. OK, so admittedly the Etruscans were never big on chocolate, owing to the fact that the stuff had not yet been discovered, but they would likely have appreciated staying in any level of a hotel with motifs of milk chocolate, dark chocolate and gianduja chocolate. For sheer delicious decadence there is a Choco Sweet Suite that presents the visitor with mounds of chocolate in each corner of the room, and you get to take home any you can’t finish during your stay.


Some rooms are equipped with, well, equipment of the sporting variety. A whimsical touch from the management of a hotel that dares the guest to stick to that diet. The handles of the treadmill are handy for hanging one’s suit …this is a relaxing vacation, not a gym boot-camp!

Perugia Italy
Breakfast offers temptations for those who are still craving chocolate. Chocolate dip, hot chocolate in mugs, big jar of Nutella, chocolate cakes and the like partner more conventional fare for those with traditional morning needs.


The centre of Perugia is not far away, making this hotel an ideal location for a short break or a romantic interlude. There are plenty of activities, stunning architecture and restaurants just a few minutes’ drive from your chocolate heaven. All rooms are equipped with air conditioning, satellite TV, minibar, telephone. Wi-Fi access, parking and garage are free for Etruscan Chocohotel guests.


Etruscan Chocohotel is unashamedly themed. It’s a joyful and light-hearted spot and ideal for those who are not looking for starchy formality. It’s just right for families, but memories of a Valentine’s Day for just two here will likely make you smile for years to come.


Etruscan Chocohotel
via Campo di Marte
134 - 06100 Perugia (PG)
Italy

Phone: +39 075 5837314
Email: etruscan@chocohotel.it

Visit Etruscan Chocohotel here





London restaurant reviews


Norcia – Umbria, ItalyNorcia
                    italy

Anyone with a molecule of romance in their hearts will have considered a vacation in Italy. Any lover of good food and wine would have mused on a visit to this land of culinary abundance. Every traveller who prizes quality produce, striking accommodation and the best of restaurants will want to stay in Norcia. Where? Yes, that is the expected response from the untutored.

The historic town of Norcia is in the heart of the Valnerina, on the edge of the Sibillini National Park in Umbria. That’s the region that is sadly overlooked by those visiting Italy for the first time. One passes through this region on the way from Tuscany to Rome, and it seems the only variation on that programme is travellers choosing to travel from Rome to Tuscany.

The pretty walled town of Norcia is just what one would hope to find in Italy. It has retained much of that timeless quality and charm that is so often swept away by modernisation. Norcia, traditionally known in English by its Latin name of Nursia, is situated on a wide plain at the foot of Monti Sibillini, a part of the Apennines with some of its highest peaks.  It’s an ideal base from which the hardy and energetic sorts will set out for days of mountaineering and hiking.

The town's recorded history goes back as far as the 5th century BC, when the Sabines settled here. It became an ally of ancient Rome in 205 BC, during the Second Punic War, but perhaps it is better known for its later Christian inhabitant. St. Benedict, the founder of the monasteries that bear his name, and his twin sister St. Scholastica, were born here in 480. Monks came to Norcia in the 10th century, and the Monastery of St. Benedict is built over the ruins of the house the saint called home.

In the 6th century Norcia was conquered by the Lombards, Norcia italybecoming part of the Duchy of Spoleto. In the 9th century it was attacked by Saracens. In 1324 it was struck by a powerful earthquake and more followed in the years 1763, 1859, 1979. After the earthquake of August 22, 1859 the Papal States, to which Norcia then belonged, imposed strict building regulations forbidding structures of more than 3 floors and requiring the use of particular materials and building techniques. This edict has helped to give the town its architectural style, which is one of its great assets.

Norcia’s celebrated main basilica is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to St. Benedict and is connected to the Benedictine monastery. The building we see today was erected in the 13th century on the remains of Roman buildings assumed to be the house in which the twin saints were born.

There is much here to occupy the discerning tourist. Gothic facades, narrow streets, striking views, shops and museums. But those aforementioned shops will be the draw. There are the usual boutiques selling stylish home goods but there are others that are more memorable, and they are filled with the most delectable of local food delights.

Lentils (Castelluccio variety) are big here, or more accurately, they are small here. They are celebrated all over the country for their distinctive flavour and their texture, and they are the traditional Italian New Year accompaniment to Zampone di Modena, stuffed pigs trotter. They are also presented as a rustic soup which will be welcomed by those returning from mountain walks.

For a touch of luxury consider Norcia’s black truffle. There are numerous shops here selling fresh truffles, and whole or sliced in jars. They are fine quality with an aroma that will be mouth-watering for any lover of these fungi. That earthy scent is eclipsed by the flavour brought out by cooking, and it doesn’t take much to create a decadent pasta or egg dish from some truffle shavings.

One look at the landscape and one realises that this must be pig paradise. According to tradition, it was the Jews
norica italy who arrived after the destruction of Jerusalem who invented the technique of preserving pork. Now, that sounds unlikely but as they were unable to eat the meat themselves, they chose to preserve it in order to use in trade.

From the 12th to the 17th century, processing techniques developed along with the emergence of the “norcino” or dedicated pork butcher, who set up guilds which in turn created new cured-meat products. Pope Paul V, with a papal bull of 1615, recognized the Norcian guild dedicated to the home-grown saints, and several years later Pope Gregory XV promoted this association to the rank of Arch-confraternity – which later became the university of the pork butchers of Norcia and Cascia and of the Norcian empirical pork physicians. Yes, their knife skills were appreciated more by people than pigs.

Cured hams, capocollo salami (made from pork neck and shoulder, and a speciality of Norcia) as well as prosciutto crudo (uncooked, dry-cured ham), spalletta (small cooked shoulder of pork), loins, bacon and guanciale (unsmoked cured pig’s jowl) are all available from local purveyors. Those products are generally made from regular pigs, but Norcia is also widely known for good hunting, especially of wild boar, and for the production of sausages and ham made that free-range pork. Such products have been named after Norcia: in Italian, they are called norcineria.

Norcia is worthwhile visiting any time of year but winter tempts with crisp air, warm fires and the best of food. It’s a compact little city that offers enough amusement to fill a short break; or consider it as a base from which to wander.

Getting to Norcia:
By road, allow two hours from Rome, via Terni, and around two and a half hours from Florence, via Perugia.


London restaurant reviews


Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes

I am an enthusiastic home cook and a periodic professional cook, but I hold my hands up and admit that I havecookcook review avoided using pumpkins and squashes, my excuse being that when I was growing up we never saw such things apart from on Halloween, and even that wasn’t a popular holiday/event till I was well into my teens.

Janet MacDonald has penned a volume that demystifies these vegetables and presents a hundred or so recipes that are simple and, for the most part, economic to prepare; that fact alone makes visiting the world of all things squashy worthwhile.

The most common of squashes are courgettes and cucumbers, and they are the most tender and easiest to prepare. It seems that every summer provides a glut of these for every lucky veg garden tiller and every (even-luckier) allotment holder. We slice cucumber for salad. We fry courgettes with a little butter. We toss a fritter or two. And then we are faced with several months of repetitive tedium. This book has a host of alternatives including Cucumber, Mint & Cider Sorbet that works well as a refreshing between-course course or, if sweetened, as a light dessert. Smart and sophisticated and hardly any work at all if one owns an ice-cream maker; and it’s possible to make a granita if one only has a freezer.

Savoury Squash and Cheese Puffs are versatile, using any one of several varieties of these vegetables. These bites are delicious as nibbles with drinks or as a side dish in place of bread. This is a deliciously sneaky way of getting some vegetables into children.

A rather stylish dish is that of Tiny Pumpkins Stuffed with Stilton Cheese. This is posh dinner-party fare and looks cheffy enough to impress even the in-laws. There is nothing too difficult to master in the recipe but the result is more than the sum of its tasty parts. A classy vegetarian main or memorable side dish.

Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes is a must-have for any vegetable grower or for those of us who have always been curious about these overlooked newcomers.

Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes
Author: Janet MacDonald
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £12.99
ISBN-10: 1908117168
ISBN-13: 978-1908117168


London restaurant reviews


Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts

Baking is, thank goodness, enjoying something of a revival. We are reconnecting with some old-fashioned culinary cookbook reviewvalues – the kitchen filled with tempting aromas, a cake on a glass stand, some home-made chocolate treats. But much of the appeal of the candy is the fact that it is also eye-candy. They look beautiful.

Perhaps these days the bar for presentation of desserts and sweets is set a bit higher. We watch cooking programmes and admire those chef creations; and unfortunately the rest of the world is also watching. So how do we create visual stunners without going to culinary school?

Food manufacturers have taken advantage of baking trends and this time they have filled the supermarket shelves with jars of colourful sugar shapes, chocolate strands, jewelled jellies and metallic balls and pearls. All that’s needed to achieve sweet delights is some imagination, and this book, Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts, supplies that.

This isn’t just a list of available decorations. You would, after all, only have to take a stroll to your local baking aisle to discover that for yourself. No, this is a comprehensive illustration of how to use those garnishes in unique ways, and there are also full recipes for sweet goods as carriers of those shimmers, glitters, colour-bursts and pastel shades. There are even recipes for making your own sprinkles at home.

I have a few favourites from this volume: Fleur de Sel Caramels allows the home cook to offer these trending toffees for very little money. The scattering of chunky salty crystals elevates these into a sophisticated adult indulgence.

Brazilian Chocolate Truffles are a bit different from the more common chocolate truffle. They use the overlooked condensed milk along with cocoa powder to create the truffle mix, which can be moulded and then covered with all kinds of coloured strands or sugars. These are moreish and an alternative for those who cannot eat quantities of regular chocolate.

Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts offers you those imaginative ideas and inspirations for striking presentation of tempting treats, but more importantly decorating cakes and desserts can be a fun introduction to cooking for kids. OK, clean-up might take a while but those memories and photo opportunities will be priceless.

Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts
Author: Jackie Alpers
Published by: Quirk Books
Price: £14.99
ISBN-10: 1594746389
ISBN-13: 978-1594746383


London restaurant reviews


ValenciaValencia


Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. The Port of Valencia is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and the largest on the Mediterranean, and is these days something of a work in progress. For those lucky enough to arrive by ship the impression is of a sprawling building site. Perhaps visitors will remember the 2005 America's Cup yachting races which were held at Valencia and attracted 150,000 visitors to the port each day during the two weeks of events.


Valencia was founded by the Romans. Its historic centre is one of the largest in Spain, with ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions enough to gladden the heart of any history buff. During the Muslim rule the city was called Medina at-Turab.

Most people might not recognise the name of the Castilian noble Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, but mention Charlton Heston and El Cid and one has an epic picture of Valencia during a historic period of turmoil. Rodrigo was intent on creating his own principality so, in command of a combined Christian and Moorish army, he besieged the city
between 1092 and 1094, and ruled there till 1099. He was killed in true movie fashion defending the city from an Almoravid siege (led by actor Herbert Lom), leaving his wife Ximena Díaz to rule in his place for another two years, when the Almoravids retook the city and restored it to Muslim control.

The ancient winding and characterful streets of the Barrio del Carmen near the market contain buildings dating back to Roman and Arabic eras. The narrow streets remind one of North African  souks. The Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, is primarily of Gothic style but contains elements of Baroque and Romanesque architecture. Beside the Cathedral is the striking Gothic Basilica of the Virgin (Basílica De La Virgen De Los Desamparados).

There was a catastrophic flood in 1949 with dozens of deaths, and again in 1957 when the river Turia overflowed
Valenciaits banks, claiming more than eighty lives. To prevent another tragedy the river course was diverted in the 1960s. The original track of the river remains and is now a lush sunken park called the 'Garden of the Turia' (Jardí del Túria or Jardín del Turia). This green ribbon offers cyclists and pedestrians a chance to cross much of the city without putting either a wheel or foot on roads. This park is a jogger's paradise and traffic-free apart from bikes carrying Lycra-clad enthusiasts. Followers of sports other than cycling might like to know that Valencia is the only city in Spain to have two American football teams in LNFA series A, the national first division: Valencia Firebats and Valencia Giants.

Valencia is known internationally for paella valenciana,  a rice dish cooked in a distinctive wide, shallow pan. Its main ingredients apart from the Spanish rice are saffron, seafood or meat, along with a few vegetables. This dish is offered in many local restaurants, but pick one that is frequented by residents rather than tourists.

Another good choice for gastronomic immersion are tapas or pinxos. These are on offer in many small bars across town from lunchtime onwards. There is something of a process for ordering these delicious snacks. Well, in truth one does not usually order them at all but rather select a few and pile onto your plate. The barman will note how many tapas you have consumed and will present the bill at the end of your grazing.

Apart from bread topped with the ubiquitous ham
there might also be some seafood, cheeses and of course the famous Spanish omelette of onions and potatoes. Croquettes of various kinds should not be missed: they are usually made with a rich white sauce flavoured with ham, cheese or chicken.
Valencia
The residents of Valencia are blessed with a city sporting monuments to its historic past, but there is a living historic market (Mercado Central) that is very much alive. One can learn much about a country by taking a look at its produce market and Valencia has one that is vibrant with colour, rich in diversity and tempting at every turn. The Modernist facade is testament to the importance of the produce market in the past - and even in the 21st century.

There are stalls that specialise in olives. Tubs of them flavoured with herbs or spices vie for your attention between others mixed with red peppers or stuffed with garlic. Another vendor displays the biggest radishes you would have ever seen, alongside some surprisingly exotic yams attesting to Spain's growing ethnic population. There are rows of cured hams hanging like meaty fringes, and fish counters with glistening prawns and shellfish. Take a break at the market cafe and try some horchata which is a local speciality drink made with tiger nuts.

The largest plaza in Valencia is the Plaça de l'Ajuntament or Plaza del Ayuntamiento.  The City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is found here, and the central post office. The Plaça de la Mare de Déu contains the Basilica of the Virgin and the Turia fountain. Another beautiful photo opportunity…and there are so many in this vibrant city.

Valencia is a city with which one can quickly fall in love. It offers spectacular historic buildings, rustic tapas bars, plenty of retail therapy opportunities and much more. A day would give an introduction but one would need to stay much longer to enjoy the full romance of this Spanish gem.



London restaurant reviews


Oriana - cruising for adults

Oriana P&O Cruise

I am not, by Oriana standards, a seasoned cruiser. I have only had three floating holidays to date and this was the first with P&O. Some of my fellow passengers had enjoyed up to 70 such trips and those with a score of a dozen or more were numerous! This company is obviously doing something, and probably a lot, right!

Oriana is a big ship with a capacity of
1800 or so passengers and around 800 crew. I was struck by the lack of crowds, well, apart from meal times at the Conservatory, when there tended to be a rush of eager diners at the start of each service.

Public spaces are, well, spacious. There seemed to be an abundance of sun loungers, easy chairs and tables on the sun decks, and these decks were littered with a creditable complement of swimming pools and hot tubs. OK, so these are small but perfectly formed pools designed for splashing rather than lapping, but were more than adequate for the needs of the mature vacationers.

P&O have ships and itineraries designed with the Oriana P&O Cruiseolder traveller in mind. One doesn't find oneself dodging sprinting youngsters while queuing for a croissant. These regulars have the sense that this is a familiar and comfy home from home. Well, perhaps better than home in some ways. There is a constant supply of ready-prepared food and no washing up!

In fact food is a big part of the draw for Oriana cruises. There is famously plenty of it and it's just the cuisine to appeal to older folks who don't want anything too outlandish but rather good quality ingredients that have not been over-fiddled with. But this particular cruise (Christmas and New Year) lasts for almost 3 weeks so the chefs have to be imaginative with their menus.

One is spoilt for choice. One might start the day with the lavish Conservatory breakfast buffet that will gladden the heart of any Full Monty lover but which also caters to those with more continental tastes for fruits, yoghurt and pastries as well.  If one prefers waiter service then there is the Peninsular restaurant which offers a regular menu of classic breakfast fare and some daily specials, so if devilled kidneys float your metaphoric culinary boat then Friday morning should see this as your venue of choice.

If one prefers a smaller and more intimate space then Al Fresco will fit the bill. It's open all day for casual bites during and outside usual meal-times. Breakfast starts at 7am and one could graze all day and finish with a slice of pizza at 2am. Tiffany's also offers light snacks in a convivial coffee bar at the Atrium. That is where the addicted cruiser will find Costa Coffee.

Lunch can be taken at any of the aforementioned
Oriana
                  P&O Cruiserestaurants and the choice of dishes is ever-changing. It's a wise passenger who paces him/her self. Everything is tempting and it's too easy to fall into the trap of the 6-meal-a-day syndrome. Breakfast: it's the most important meal of the day so one should have that. Elevenses are essential to keep up one's strength after a trot around the deck to burn off the breakfast calories (three and a half turns around the deck constitute a mile). Lunch is a necessary break from relaxing; and then it's afternoon tea because we are British after all. On Black Tie Dinner evenings a platter of nibbles will be delivered to your door. This, one assumes, is to set the scene for more food that awaits in either the Peninsular or the Oriental restaurants.

There are other two dining options on board Oriana. Ocean Grill demands a supplement of a few pounds per head but one should consider dining here at least once during the voyage. It has the predicted wood panels complemented by contemporary tapestries but the tables are more widely spaced than one would find in either The Peninsular or the Oriental restaurants. A meal here is a 5-star event.

Another independent restaurant is Sorrento. This has, unsurprisingly, an Italian theme but in a more casual setting than Ocean Grill. In fact Sorrento is born anew every day from one end of The Conservatory restaurant. In the evening it is screened off, has waiter service and a bespoke menu.

The Conservatory is a large and casual restaurant at night. It has multiple choices of hot and cold dishes and
themed nights which present the guest with opportunities to try Country and Western fare, Thai curries, carvery and, naturally, Indian dishes. This seems to be a popular alternative for those who want choices of time and seating arrangements, as both Peninsular and Oriental restaurants have allocated Oriana P&O Cruiseseating on tables of 6.

But Oriana isn't a floating restaurant. There are always activities and entertainment. Each day there is a film in
the Chaplin cinema, and the evening offers a show of some kind. There are talks about the next port of call. Perhaps a lecture on diamonds or even about the comedy greats. There are painting classes, exercise classes, concerts and tips on photography. There is enough to keep both body and mind active.

Oriana boasts a fully equipped gym for those who want to achieve independent body sculpting. There is a spa for those who want to look beautiful via other peoples' efforts, and pools for those who want to impress an audience. There are plenty of hot tubs for the less brave.

There are several bars serving drinks and music to those who are drowning their sorrows after a few hours in the casino. There are slot machines for amusement and roulette for confusion. There are some smart shops in which to spend one's winnings. One can buy luxury goods as well as tasteful souvenirs from that day's port.

Oriana's adult-only cruises have a dedicated following of those mature passengers who want comfort and friendly service from a young and enthusiastic crew. These regulars meet old friends in familiar surroundings and, for many, that surely is the secret of a successful vacation.


To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies visit here

London restaurant reviews


Oriana Christmas Cruise 2013

There is a whole section of the British population that lives to float. They are dedicated cruisers and remain P&O Cruise Orianafaithful to their chosen line. P&O seems to have attracted many of those who have adopted cruising as part of their lifestyle.

The Americans have a term for those who fly south in winter to follow the sun. They are called ‘Snowbirds’. Perhaps the British equivalent term for those travellers who have time to voyage would be ‘Snowduck’.

I am a novice cruiser but I can understand the appeal it has, especially for older folks who would otherwise be at home in a cold house watching news about more impending fuel price hikes. P&O’s Christmas and New Year cruise offers a gentle departure from the inevitable tensions of Christmas catering and tree-trimming.

This particular package offered glimpses of some of the most celebrated port cities on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.


La Coruña    

La Coruña is the closest European port to New York, and is the most northern destination on this list of ports of call. It displays some of its charm even before the expectant tripper negotiates the land-ward gangplank (there is probably a more correct nautical term for the bit of wood that joins boat to land …and is it a boat or is it a ship?) One has the advantage of the best view in town of, well, the town.

The architecture is striking. La Coruña is also known as the Crystal
P&O cruise OrianaCity and that monika is well deserved: on summer evenings the glass-covered balconies reflect dazzling light. Even on dull grey days those buildings are imposing with thousands of uniform windows looking out across the marina and harbour. A less appealing fact about those balconies is that they once housed the toilets for the homes behind the glassy facades. A loo was considered a status symbol and was to be flaunted.

La Coruña is a mixture of old and new town with a couple of miles of beaches. The colonnaded Maria Pita Square marks the centre of the old town and boasts many shops, bars and restaurants. Another attraction of La Coruña is its proximity to one of the world’s great pilgrimage destinations: Santiago de Compostela. Even in these fast-paced modern times there are still folks who walk long distances just to visit this holy site. They carry the scallop shell which is a centuries-old symbol of St James, the patron saint of the cathedral.


Venice

This is the city that every cruiser will want to visit. One might be jaded through globe-trotting and have the air of ‘been there – done that’ but Venice draws the traveller like a cultural magnet. We have all seen pictures of St Marks Square and the Grand Canal but now it’s accessible to the P&O passenger and it’s a sure bet that the vessel will empty, with everyone wanting to enjoy the romance of timeless Venice.

Cars are banned from the narrow cobbled
P&O
                  cruise Orianastreets and 500 historic bridges of the city centre, so there are just two modes of transport available to both visitor and local alike: the vaporetto (water-bus) network, and feet. The best way to see the Grand Canal is from the water. Catch a vaporetto, sit out the front and take in the sights. Vaporetto lines 1, 3, 4, 82, and N go along the Canal. A gondola ride is usually reserved for marriage proposals, ice-cream advertising, or for those with more money than sense.

Places to visit: Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco), Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). At the end of the year there are Christmas markets in different parts of Venice, but the main one is in the Campo San Stefano. It runs from early December through to Christmas Eve, and you can enjoy music performances, shopping for Italian crafts, and seasonal foods. There’s mulled wine and sweets, souvenirs and ornaments for your tree next year.


Dubrovnik     P&O
                    cruise Oriana

It’s a city with a long history. Unfortunately it is now most remembered for bloodshed during the Serbo-Croatian war. We all witnessed the appalling sight of Serbian snipers targeting civilians as they searched for food and water.

Dubrovnik is a beautiful 12th century walled city with an Old Town, harbour, and towering stone walls. There is a 14th century Franciscan Monastery, the 18th century Baroque Church of St Blaise, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, and the world’s oldest pharmacy, dating back to 1391.

This isn’t a living museum, though. There is plenty to tempt those who want to just relax and enjoy some local cuisine and a bit of retail therapy. The side streets offer restaurants for a shore-side lunch, and cafés to haunt when coffee and a sit-down are in order. There is plenty of opportunity to spend some cash in small local shops – but all transactions must be in Croatian currency, and not every shop will accept a credit card.


Palma        P&O
                    cruise Oriana

Dominated by its iconic Gothic cathedral, Palma is the capital of the autonomous region of the Balearic Islands. It is now a sophisticated destination in the Mediterranean and has shaken off the cheap and cheerful package tour image that has so blighted the rest of the islands. The classy boutiques and fine restaurants attest to the fact that Palma is open for business with the polished visitor.

Fanning out around the cathedral are side streets and alleys which hark back to Majorca’s Moorish past. The Arabic Baths situated in the narrow streets of the medieval quarter of the city is one of the few remaining Moorish-built structures in Palma.

Other places of interest include the circular Castell de Bellver, overlooking the bay to the west, and the Almudaina Palace opposite the cathedral. The main shopping areas for high-end boutiques and designer merchandise are Avinguda Jaume III and the Passeig des Born.  The pedestrian streets around Plaça Major are filled with small specialist shops and stalls selling handicrafts on Monday, Friday and Saturday mornings. There’s also a small shopping centre for any additional souvenir needs.


Valenciavalencia

Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city and is known for its people-watching cafés, and paella, which is considered the most delicious and authentic in Spain. But there is more here than convivial coffee and rice. La Lonja de la Seda, a silk market in Gothic style built between 1482 and 1548, is located at Plaza del Mercado. Iglesia Major, the main cathedral of Valencia, dates from the 12th century.

Any food lover will want to linger in the food market, with its striking façade of Modernist architecture. Best buys are herbs and spices, and pre-packed ham; also rice and saffron, to replicate an authentic paella at home. Take time to have some tapas with the locals and enjoy some of that delicious ham.


Cartagena

Cartagena was founded more than 2,200 years ago by the Carthaginians and is now one of Spain’s busiest commercial centres. The Caridad church is one of the most significant churches in the city, and dedicated to the patron saint of Cartagena. Food here, as in the rest of Spain, is important. The calderos (casseroles) with grey mullet, monkfish, and grouper are made of rice cooked in fish stock and accompanied by a garlic mayonnaise. There is plenty of choice for gifts to take home from a host of boutiques as well as the usual high-street names, including the El Corte Ingles chain of department stores, which is a celebrated high-end emporium.

Cartagena has more than 12 museums to explore and some of them are free! The Roman Theatre which was only discovered in 1987 is always popular in this city that boasts so much of historic interest.

P&O
                  cruise Oriana

Gibraltar

It’s a little bit of Britain transplanted in the Med. There are pubs and shops on Main Street that will be familiar to everyone from the UK. Gibraltar was handed over to the British by Spain in the 18th century, and it has remained a bastion of Britishness ever since. Spain has periodically flexed intimidating muscles to encourage the population to accept Spain’s sovereignty but so far those efforts seem only to have entrenched the Gibraltarians still further in the belief that maintaining the status quo might be best.
   
Gibraltar is celebrated not just for convenient shopping but for its Rock which is a mammoth boulder of limestone, home to the Barbary macaques. It is said to be one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules, with the other being found opposite in Morocco.

Other places of interest include Alameda Botanical Gardens, The Casino, City Gates and Fortifications, The Convent, official residence of the Governor of Gibraltar since 1728, and the Gibraltar Museum.

Lisbon    

Some of the best views of this city, the Portuguese capital, come from the Tagus River. On your journey upstream you pass the Belem Tower and the impressive Monument to the Discoveries with its statue of Henry the Navigator.

Lisbon is small for a capital city by European standards but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Much of the area along the river has been transformed over the past decades from rather edgy neighbourhoods to areas of shops, restaurants and social activity.

It's a city of narrow streets lined with boutiques, shops offering leather handbags and shoes, and cafes that tempt with fresh coffee and traditional Portuguese pastries. These are as much a local obsession as pasta might be in Italy. You have an excuse to sample some custard tarts, as it's cultural research - and it would be rude not to!

To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies visit here



London restaurant reviews


The Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo –
the food and drink of forgotten Portugal

We live life at a frantic pace and when we take a moment to reflect we muse on the quiet life, the good life, of life filled with gentler pursuits, and of time spent around the kitchen table. That good life is still evident in the Alentejo region of Portugal.

Bread is an indispensible part of meals in Portugal. It’s there on every table and for every meal. It’s even used asThe Alentejo an ingredient in hearty dishes. Açorda Alentejana is one of the most traditional soups in Portuguese cuisine and comes from, as the name suggests, Alentejo. It’s a flavourful broth with coriander, in which soak large cubes of bread. The creation is finished with a topping of poached eggs.

The local bread is somewhat addictive with its open and slightly chewy texture and substantial crust. This is just about as far from your regular ‘white sliced’ as one could sprint, although that tasteless entity is taking hold even in this neck of the woods. But Alentejo’s traditional bread doesn’t make itself. It’s what one might describe as artisanal, so there must be an artisan doing the work, and that work is tough.

Joana Roque looks every inch a toddler’s dream grandmother. She has a substantial lap and bosoms, and a character that is as warm and welcoming as her wood-fuelled bread oven. Joana is in her mid-seventies and is bent through decades of hard graft. Her hands are like shovels – but gentle. She shapes the bread into rolls and loaves with a practised movement, with no wasted effort of crimping, slashing or unnecessary twiddles. This is daily bread.

These days, the oven output is around 3 dozen loaves per day. Even with the aid of her daughter it’s still a lot of dough to measure and mix. A few years ago Joana would make thousands of loaves per week but times change and now the ready-sliced in plastic is gaining ground. It’s ironic that those of us who have grown up on the spongy and tasteless stuff crave this authentic bread with a bit of character. Joana wonders what the future might bring.

Joana Roque
Rua do Meirinho Velho, no 12
7960-264 Vidigueira
Portugal
Phone: +351 284 085 029

Alentejo portugal
Barrancarnes – Cassa do Porco Preto offers an insight into another Alentejo product: its famous black pigs. These are special in the same way as are Champagne and Stilton cheese: they are unique and prized. The Alentejo breed is a descendent of the sus mediterraneus wild boar from the south, that were domesticated to become modern Iberian pigs.

These pigs have not crossed with other breeds and therefore they retain unique characteristics of meat and fat to produce a particular flavour, aroma and texture. The marbling of fat throughout the meat is key.

One can see the pigs roaming freely under oak trees in fields near the town. They live on the acorns and there is a mathematical formula to calculate how many pigs can graze in any particular pasture. Each tree is assumed to give so many kilos of acorns and each pig is assumed to eat so many kilos per day, thus one knows how many pigs can be sustained in the area.

This company was established in 1988 and deals exclusively with the production of meats from the Black Pig of Alentejo breed. There are now two factories in Barrancos, one for hams, pork loin, Paiola, Copita, Paio, and the other for more traditional pork products.

If you want to know how to carve and taste authentic quality ham from Alentejo then watch the video here.



The landscape of Alentejo speaks so much about its food. The aforementioned pigs gather under oak trees; the alentejocork trees, found in abundance here, still provide the natural seal for bottles of excellent local wine; and the vines provide that wine. And then there are the groves of olive trees with their silver-grey leaves and gnarled bark.   

The Museu do Azeite (Olive Oil Museum)  in Moura shows the methods of extracting olive oil through the ages. It is evident that, in general, olive oil is far more delicious these days than a century or so ago. One can see large bins where local growers would deposit their olive harvest. Those olives might have been collected over a period of several days and might wait another day or so before being pressed. This delay resulted in deterioration and the beginning of fermentation of the olives, giving a rather disagreeable taste in the finished product.

These days the olive oil of the region is revered as some of the best in Europe. It’s sampled and tasted by experts who sip from blue glass so as not to be distracted by the colour of the oil, which can range from gold to green. It is then designated as Extra Virgin, Virgin or just olive oil.

To learn more about the olive oil of Alentejo visit the museum.

Olive Oil Museum
Rua São João de Deus,
Moura 7860-001
Portugal
Phone: +351 285 253 978



The vineyards and wines "Encostas de Estremoz" were founded by José Castro Duarte and his wife, Joana Silva Lopes. It’s an estate of 100 Ha where the couple  work with leading Portuguese winemaker, Miguel Reis Catarino.Alentejo

This is one of the friendliest wine estates in the area. They contrive to combine commercial production with warm hospitality. The tasting salon is rather like a small sitting room with comfy chairs and even a TV. One is educated in the ways of the local wines but without the stiff formality of some other establishments.

All wines are produced at the Quinta da Esperança vineyards in Estremoz, where new techniques of production are found next to traditional methods. This domain’s wines were first presented in 2001 with Encostas de Estremoz Red, and Encostas de Estremoz White.

In 2002 another red wine was launched: Terras de Estremoz. This wine is made from the Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira grapes. In 2004 the collection increased to showcase local grape varieties.  Encostas de Estremoz features not only the Touriga Nacional grape, but Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta Barroca and Trincadeira.

In 2006 the estate presented their celebrated red wine called DJ Encostas de Estremoz Reserva, and DJ Encostas de Estremoz Quinta da Esperança.

My particular favourite is their Terras de Estremoz Rosé. This is an ideal wine for those hot summer evenings, the chill of the wine forming a dew on the glass, and the contents mirroring the blush of the setting sun.

This estate is well worth a visit                                 

Quinta da Esperança
7100-145 Estremoz
Estremoz
Évora 7100-145
Portugal
Phone: +351 268 333 795
Fax: +351 268 333 754

The products here are simple, but that does not mean that they are lacking in quality. They are full of flavour and deserve to be recognised in the same way as produce from their richer European competitors.


For more information visit:
Sunvil Discovery 
Alentejo Promotion Office
and
TAP Portugal



London restaurant reviews


The Hague – Staying and Eating – Contemporary and Historic

The Hague is indeed a ‘Royal’ city. You might even come across one of the ‘Oranges’, as they are considered perhaps the most accessible royal family in Europe. The Hague has been home to the House of Orange for more than four hundred years; first they were Stadholders and later gained the title of monarchs. Prince Maurits was the first of them to live in The Hague, in 1585, and the rest followed.

The Royal family had an entourage of nobles who also wanted to live in The Hague and these quality folks demanded fine homes, fine furnishings and the best of everything. The taste for the finer things in life is still reflected in the shops, restaurants and architecture of this masterpiece of a city. It retains the style of a very special historic town but it has a contemporary ambiance and great vibrancy.

It’s not only the Royal family that are accessible.
The town is easily negotiated by the tourist via public transport. Bicycles are everywhere and they can be hired to give a truly local adventure, but the more conservative might prefer the all-weather comfort of buses and trams.

You can buy a ticket for unlimited travel on public
The haguetransport for the whole day. These tickets are valid on all public transport within The Hague as well as the neighbouring towns of Delft and Zoetermeer. Tickets may only be purchased in advance, and are available from most hotels, the Tourist Information Office (VVV) and at the HTM customer service desk in the train stations. The HTM Day Ticket can be purchased as a disposable paper ticket or as a plastic OV-chipcard and then you then can choose a 1-day, 2-day or 3-day ticket.

The day ticket is easy to use. All you need to do is swipe the ticket in and out at the tram or bus door when you get on and off. The day ticket is valid from when it is first swiped until the end of service that day, so it pays to start your adventure early to take best advantage.

The Hague has some striking and historic hotels and The Kurhaus is a beautiful example. The history of the hotel dates back to 1818 when Jacob Pronk opened a bathing house. No, that’s not a swimming pool but water therapy. The wooden building had just four rooms, each fitted with a bath tub which was filled with cold or heated seawater. This spa was so successful that in 1826 it was rebuilt in stone and expanded to include the hotel element, but was eventually torn down in 1884 to make way for the building we see today.

The new hotel was built by the German architects Johann Friedrich Henkenhaf and Friedrich Ebert but suffered serious fire damage so was rebuilt between 1886 and 1887. The Kurhaus fell into disrepair and closed in 1969, but was saved from demolition by being listed as a historic building. It was completely renovated, and was reopened in 1979 by Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands.

The Kurhaus Gastbook reads like an historic ‘Who’s Who’ and contains signatures of the great and the good who have enjoyed their stay in this iconic hotel. It was signed for the first time by Dutch Queen Wilhelmina in 1893, followed by Igor Stravinsky, Herbert von Karajan, Marlène Dietrich, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, King Haakon of Norway and Henry Kissinger.

Now known as the Steigenberger
Kurhaus Hotel, it has 253 rooms and some of them have a sea view. The only thing separating the hotel from the wide beach is the promenade. The hotel exudes a timeless elegance which is evident even in the reception area, which sports a striking stained-glass ceiling. The architectural pièce de resistance is found just a short flight of stairs away, in the restaurant.

Even a bed and breakfast stay is memorable at this hotel. The restaurant is beautiful with painted ceilings and grand balconies. One might be distracted from the outstanding breakfast buffet and that would be a shame: graze in unhurried fashion and enjoy the classic architecture and calming ambiance.

Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel
Gevers Deynootplein 30
2586 CK  The Hague
The Netherlands
Tel +31(0)70 416 2636
Fax +31(0)70 416 2646
E-mail: info@kurhaus.nl
Reservations: +31 (0)70 416 2630
Visit
Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel here



The Hotel Des Indes for dinner will
The haguecontinue the theme of historic-tinted luxury. It’s a celebrated building erected in 1858 and not originally as a hotel but as a city palace. It’s been a hotel since 1881 but was completely renovated by interior designer Jacques Garcia in 2006 at a cost of a staggering €35 million. That is a surprising fact, as one has the impression of entering a stylish, tasteful and unaltered time-capsule.

The original building was the dream of Willem D.A.M. Baron van Brienen van de Groote Lindt en Dortsmunde, who was chamberlain to King Willem III and member of the Provincial States of South Holland. He wanted a home in The Hague to host parties and private functions. Willem died in 1863, leaving the palace to his son Arnold who sold it to an hotelier named Paulez.

Hotel Des Indes, like The Kurhaus, has a guest book of which to boast. The signatories include, amongst others, the former Empress Eugénie of France, President Paul Kruger of Transvaal, Sheik Feisal of Saudi Arabia, Mata Hari the celebrated First World War spy, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and Josephine Baker the American entertainer who defined an age. Apparently she had a separate room for her pet monkey. Ballet dancer Anna Pavlova died in the hotel in 1931 of pneumonia, after aiding fellow passengers following a rail accident.

During The Second World War the hotel was used both by the occupying German forces and by the Jews in hiding. Long before the war started, the hotel manager Mr Rey had built a pigeon house on the roof of the hotel. The pigeon house later sheltered people in hiding. The war ended and American troops moved into the hotel; General Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery also visited.

You might not be staying at Hotel Des Indes but you can enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner at a surprisingly reasonable price. A 3-course dinner is €49.50, a 4-course dinner €54.50, and that includes fresh local produce transformed into memorable dishes, and seamless service. This is accessible luxury and not to be missed.

Hotel Des Indes
Lange Voorhout 54-56
The Hague 2514 EG 
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 70 361 2345
Visit Hotel Des Indes here



So you have pampered yourself with two polished and historic hotels in The Hague. But one might need a break for some delicious light food and a nice cuppa during a day of walking and wondering at this delightful city. The Organic Café Juni is the spot that fits the casual culinary bill.

Café Juni, or Café June in English, is reminiscent of old-fashioned tea-rooms. It’s warm and cosy, or perhaps more accurately warm, cosy and small, so be prepared to wait …but it will be worth it. If the weather is cool then try the ever-changing Seasonal soup with bread, and perhaps follow that with a Bagel BLT; but save room for some cakes for which Juni is so famous. Walnut Mascarpone Tart with maple syrup, Banana Cake, Carrot Cake are all served in substantial wedges – and consider some hot chocolate, which comes highly recommended by regulars.

Opening hours
Monday: closed
Tuesday - Friday: 9:00am - 4:30pm
Saturday: 10:00am-17:00pm
Sunday: 11.00am-17.00pm

Café Juni
Molenstraat 63
2513 BJ The Hague
Phone: 070 3608106
Email: info@junilekkernijen.nl
Visit Juni here

 
The hague
The Netherlands is celebrated for its cheese, tulips and its fresh seafood. Catch Restaurant specialises, as its name suggests, in fish and shellfish. It’s on the marina of Scheveningen and has stunning views of both water and boats, as a backdrop to a meal of all things piscatorial.

The restaurant is new and smart. It’s just the style of eatery enjoyed by those stepping ashore from the neighbouring yachts. The décor is impressive, with mellow wood rippling and waving, and light reflecting from the marina. The food is simple and fresh. Even breaded fillets of white fish will tempt the discerning diner with delicate flavour. For those with cash to splash there are platters of oysters, lobsters and prawns. A glass of champagne would be the ideal garnish for such a celebratory meal.

Opening hours   
Monday - Sunday: 10:00am - 1:00am

Catch
Dr. Lelykade 43
2583 CL  Scheveningen
The Netherlands
Phone: 070-3387609
Email: info@catchbysimonis.nl
Visit Catch here

The Hague offers so much that it makes you wonder why you haven’t visited before, but this will likely be the first of many trips – there’s still that little Indonesian restaurant to investigate, and a rather nice department store sporting the Royal insignia.


To find out more about visiting The Netherlands click here



London restaurant reviews



Umbria’s Autumn Gastronomy with Valentina Harris

She is perhaps our most celebrated and prolific Italian food writer, TV presenter and chef. Yes, the lady truly is Italian, although one could be fooled into thinking she is an authentically British blue-blood.
Valentina Harris doesn’t have many free moments but I cornered her on a return flight from a culinary tour of Umbria. She is an unashamed supporter of the country of her birth, and conducts gastronomic adventures to Umbria and other regions.

Umbria
                  Italy Food Tour


I asked Valentina about her association with the beautiful and mostly undiscovered Umbria. ‘I had never really known Umbria, because coming from Tuscany as I do, and having been to school and then chefs’ school in Rome, Umbria was somewhere we just by-passed on the way between the two.

‘But a few years ago, at La Dolce Vita in London, the big food and lifestyle association, Umbria was the featured region. I met all these people from Umbria and as a result I went to visit. That was the start of my journey of discovery. Last year I was invited to give the opening speech at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia (capital of the region), which happens every May. I talked about what I do on my culinary tours, and about how I try and lead those who are not ‘of the place’ to understand, and come to love, Italy through eating the delicious food that each region has to offer. For me it always comes back to that: the reason that Italian food is so interesting, and what makes it so endlessly fascinating, is the fact that there are so many regions, so many different styles of cuisine, and the food, whilst it remains so fundamental to all Italian life, cannot be described as just ‘Italian’ food – not by Italians nor anybody else – you have to look at it on a regional basis.

‘By bringing people to individual regions, to stay and to cook and to eat and to explore and to have a culinary adventure, they leave with a greater understanding, I think, than if they had just wandered around shopping and looking at churches and lying on a beach. The ‘menù turistico’, the ubiquitous tourist menu, never has any regional basis, and I’m worried that there are lots of people who come to Italy and never experience the local cuisine. Through local dishes you can learn all about the people, the sociology, the geography, the history, the culinary traditions – all of those things are very revelatory, if you just stop to think for a minute.

‘So I made this speech, and it obviously hit a lot of the right notes
Umbria Italy Food Tourin the tourist authorities, who are very keen to bring the British and others to discover more about Umbria, so they invited me to start running press trips, of which this is the first one. It’s called an ‘educatour’. There is another one planned for carnival time in February. I’ve worked with the tourist board and other authorities to create a balance of food, wine, a little bit of culture, a little free time; and of course on this one we all wanted to go Christmas shopping – what an opportunity with just a couple of weeks to go. So many lovely things to take home, from a fresh truffle to a bar of chocolate.

‘We witnessed for ourselves in Norcia (the black truffle and cured pork capital of Umbria) the Benedictine monks, and their prayer schedule is endless: they are up at 4.30 in the morning, still finding time to brew beer, run a shop, and there’s only a handful of them. We were fortunate enough to listen to the chanting, and to see a novice being inducted into the order.

Umbrian food is very exciting in its own way, but it has a slightly spartan quality about it. Look at the ingredients of the region: first you have the lentil – which has never floated anyone’s boat, but this is a particularly delicious lentil with a very fine skin, that cooks quickly and is very digestible, and it is venerated. (I use that word because that is how they talk about their food, in the same way that a saint is venerated.) If you think that the lentil is all there is on the ‘pulse’ front you’d be mistaken, because there is a vast range of other beans and lentils and wild peas that are not common anywhere else. It reflects a cuisine that is very humble and simple, but they will take these legumes and pulses, cook them and serve them with their unbelievably delicious olive oil, reputedly the very best olive oil in Italy.

We have the lentil and the olive oil; then we have two extraordinary luxuries: chocolate and truffles – amazing in the middle of all this low-key, no-frills cuisine! Perugia is the ‘other’ centre of chocolate in Italy: Torino, Modica in Sicily, and then there is Perugia.

‘The other great ingredient of the region is pork: ham, salami, sausages, coppa (cured meat from the neck of the pig), and guanciale (bacon from the jowl). The pig that they favour is the little ‘cinta senese’ or belted pig from Siena. The meat is very lean and fragrant, and they run wild and eat acorns. Norcia is the centre of the butchering and curing of this meat.

‘We haven’t mentioned the cheese: it’s not really a region of dairy cows, and Italians generally, apart from down south, have a resistance to eating lamb and mutton. The sheep that you see in the area are mainly kept for their wool and for their milk to make pecorino cheese – softer as a table cheese, turning harder and more granular as it ages into a grating cheese. And of course it’s delicious with a bit of truffle!

‘Everywhere out in the country, far away from a ‘supply chain’, mountainous and without flat areas on which to grow things, has a tradition of foraging. You pick up wild mushrooms in the woodlands, and also dandelions, bitter greens, nettles (a spinach substitute) – it’s an old practice and a very relaxing thing to do, going out with your basket and bringing home some food. Obviously you have to know what you are doing, you don’t want to throw in a handful of deadly nightshade or the like. But it seems to be something handed down from father to son.

‘I always take my groups on a truffle hunt. A very dear friend, Sergio, now in his 70s, is one of the loveliest
umbria food tour italypeople I have ever met. He invested in some truffle trees – a tree where the roots have been injected with truffle spores. You plant these trees and hope for the best. You wait six years, then suddenly you might notice an intense garlic smell, and you will find a ‘signal’ truffle just under the soil. This one isn’t really edible, but it tells you that the truffle has taken root. You then have to wait another couple of winters, and you start training your dog. You train them on garlic, so they associate the smell with food. Of course the dog will try to eat it, so you have to be right there and the dog has to answer your command to leave it and sit until you pick it up. If a truffle has bite marks on it, it isn’t going to sell as well as a nice smooth one! So we visit Sergio and he is so ‘chuffed’ that his investment has paid off. He now grows truffles around the year, supplies the local restaurants and hotels, and it’s good fun – but it’s real life.’

I asked Valentina how many regions her tours might cover in future.
‘I think Umbria is a good one, particularly because I think that the ‘staying in a lovely house, eating on the balcony and doing a bit of cooking’ has been done now. It’s lovely, I’m not saying that it’s not a pleasant experience, but what I have in mind, and what I’m going to be doing from now, is different. I have a link with the Università dei Sapori (UDS) in Perugia, a state-run university dedicated to catering and food, and in particular the food and wines of Umbria. I am going to be offering a tour of Umbria, staying in beautiful places, showing the romance of Umbria, the architecture, the countryside, then putting it into practice, staying possibly on-campus (the accommodation is at least 3-star if not 4) and using the kitchen facilities at UDS which are extraordinary – as professional as you can get.

‘I am now an ambassador for UDS in the UK, and I want to bring students who are studying professionally, but also keen amateurs, the Masterchef-watchers, the foodie who wants the latest technique and knife and exotic ingredient, and combine the two. Relaxing, wandering round the vineyards, going out to fabulous lunches, going to the markets – and then working with those ingredients for 2 or 3 days. It’s a great joy to cook in a professional kitchen, if you’ve never experienced it. It’s a bit like going back to kindergarten: you are allowed to make as much mess as you like, spread out, everybody has their own station, their own stove, there are lots of kitchen porters to help you, and the ingredients are second-to-none. There is a laboratory devoted entirely to Italian ice cream, and one could spend a day playing with this fantastic kit making fabulous ice cream.

‘I am selling a unique and very special product, with all my love and passion – 5-star without the fuss. I will do
umbria food tour italytwo spring/summer and two late summer/autumn tours in Umbria, then I’d like to revisit the south of Italy, because we need to remind people of the healthy ‘Mediterranean diet’. It’s as much about sitting around the table, talking, the convivial thing, rather than eating while staring at the TV screen, or standing up with your Blackberry in your hand. They eat very little animal fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes, carbohydrates, lots of fresh fish.

‘I’d like to do something by the sea, as a contrast to the mountainous inland food – plenty of fresh fish, citrus fruits, salads, tomatoes. My knowledge of all the regions of Italy is as a result of learning: I wasn’t born with it, I’ve studied a lot, travelled a lot, talked to a lot of people, read a lot of books, and I feel confident enough to take people wherever they want to go. If someone said “Can you organise a bespoke tour in, say, Rome or Venice?” I could do that. The point is that you will leave with a greater appreciation, and hopefully a love of Italy, and you’ll want to come back – and tell your friends about it.’

Valentina’s success as a gastronomic tour organiser, leader, coach, hand-holder is assured. A couple of days in her company show this lady in action. She is blessed by being bi-lingual, sounding like a local in both the UK and Italy. She has an easy rapport with owners of vineyards, hotels, restaurants and cookery schools. She is a trained chef and is equipped to answer food-related questions. She is Italian and can give a first-hand insight into culture, custom and practice. She is amusing, talented and will ensure that any tour will leave the participants fulfilled …and feeling full.

To learn more about Valentina Harris and her gastronomic tours visit here.


London restaurant reviews


200 Years of The Netherlands

Our links with The Netherlands have been long-standing. We shared a monarch in the guise of William III of The HagueEngland, known as William II in Scotland. He might be better known, to all but the most historically inclined, as the William of ‘William and Mary’ fame. The blood connection isn’t as strong now as then but the families are still close, being in the same ‘business’, so to speak.

Baby William was born on 4 November 1650 in The Hague in Holland. He would likely have been considered an unlucky infant; Charles Dickens might, a couple of hundred years later, have described him as a ‘posthumous’ child. His father, William II Prince of Orange, had just died of smallpox. His mother was Mary Princess Royal who was the eldest daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland – it is he who lost his head the previous year – and sister of King Charles II and King James II & VII. William was born on his mother’s nineteenth birthday with little celebration, and one would be still further convinced that this lad was a Jonah when one learns that his mother followed his father just 10 years later, on Christmas Eve 1660, on a visit to England, when she too died of smallpox.

William was given the title Sovereign Prince of Orange from the moment of his birth. Willem III van Oranje, in The
                  HagueDutch, ruled over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic, and from 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland, William II over Scotland; he would be the last direct male descendant of his great-grandfather William the Silent, who was head of the Protestant Dutch of the United Provinces of The Netherlands in their struggle for independence from Spain.

William, as was typical of regal arrangements of the time, married his first cousin Mary Stuart, daughter of the future king James II of England. In 1689 the couple were offered the throne by the Parliament of England following William's successful invasion of England in 1688 in what became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’, an action that would eventually overthrow King James (Mary's father and William's uncle/father-in-law) and gain them the crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland. He and his wife were crowned the King and Queen of England on 11 April 1689. With the accession to the thrones of the three kingdoms, he became one of the most powerful sovereigns in Europe, and the only one to defeat Louis XIV of France.

On his death the title ‘Prince of Orange’ passed to a cousin, John William Friso, and his descendants reigned in The
                  HagueHolland until the French invasion in 1795. The then William V, Stadholder of The Netherlands, went into exile in England and Germany, and died in 1806. His son William was determined to regain the throne of Holland, and, on the withdrawal of the French in 1813, was brought by HMS Warrior to land on the beach at Scheveningen on 30 November that year. He declared himself ‘sovereign prince’ and in 1815 became King William I of The Netherlands. His landing marked the start of independence of the Netherlands from the French and the beginning of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The British connection to the House of Orange continued via other descendants of John William Friso (Jan Willem). His son William IV was an ancestor of Princess May of Teck, who married King George V and became Queen Mary.

The festivities for ‘200 Years of the Kingdom’ is a Dutch national celebration with hundreds of people taking part in events including the re-enactment of the celebrated landing of William of Orange on Scheveningen beach. The new King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima attended on a cold, windy and wet day.

This ‘Landing Day’ is commemorated every 25 years The Haguein Scheveningen but this year was a special anniversary. Yes, the weather was grey but the enthusiasm of the participants and the audience was undiminished. Hundreds of traditionally-clad locals welcomed actor Huub Stapel playing the role of Prince William. The crowd cheered and waved orange flags as the ’king’ was carried shoulder-high through the angry sea to his waiting carriage. He processed to the grandstand to pay his respects to the authentic King and Queen, who acknowledged his contribution to the nation.

There is no need to wait another quarter-century to visit The Netherlands. It’s a country boasting a proud history, garnished with arresting architecture, festivals, fine food and welcoming locals.

To find out more about visiting The Netherlands click here




London restaurant reviews

Alentejo – Open Fires and Warm Hospitality – Where to stay

Portugal restaurant review

Pousadas de Portugal is a network of quality and characterful hotels that give the guest a chance to experience unique charm. The group was started in the 1940s and now has forty-three properties. The network is mostly owned by the Portuguese government but managed by a private group, Grupo Pestana Pousadas.

The first Pousada was opened in April 1942 in Elvas, in the Alentejo, and this region still boasts the largest number of historic inns.

 

São Francisco de Beja

This hotel is a former Franciscan monastery. São Francisco de Beja dates back to the thirteenth century. In November 1268 the monastery was started on the initiative of the Captain-General of Beja, Lopo Esteves. The land where the monastery was built was originally outside the city but now the houses and shops have grown to join this striking building.

The building was started in the reign of King Afonso III, who died in 1279 but left a gift of fifty pounds to the convent. In 1302 King Dinis build a chapel in honour of St. Louis. In 1834 Portugal abolished the male religious orders and in 1850 it became the barracks for the army, who set about ruining the work of generations.

The project to restore this Pousada was undertaken ​​between 1993 and 1995 and now the Pousada de Beja, São Francisco, is a striking hotel right in the centre of the city. It still shows the original gothic architecture of the monastery with  high ceilings, exposed stonework and white walls, but the rooms are a lot more comfortable than those used by the monks of old.
Portugal restaurant review

The monks’ cells have been remodelled into contemporary bedrooms with tasteful hints of their ancient incarnations. Shutters on windows, classic fabrics, the best of linen help to pamper the guest, who will appreciate the most radical of refurbishments …the addition of a modern and spacious bathroom!

The Pousada São Francisco de Beja has a total of 35 rooms: 30 standard rooms, 4 superior rooms and 1 suite. The public spaces are imposing and act as a showcase for historic artwork and artefacts. The dining room is in the old monastery refectory and has seats for 60 or so diners. The tables are well-spaced, making this a convivial spot for either families or just romantic meals for two. The menu entices with contemporary plates and regional specialities.

Pousada de Beja, São Francisco
Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira
7801-901 Beja
Portugal
Phone:(+351) 284 313 580
Phone:(+351) 284 329 143
Email:guest@pousadas.pt

Visit
Pousada de Beja, São Francisco here
 

Convento do Espinheiro in Évora

This is a stunner and in my opinion your unmissable lodgings for at least a part of any tour of Alentejo. Évora, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is only one hour away from Lisbon so it’s an easy hop from the airport to a most memorable hotel.

Convento do Espinheiro, or The Convent of Our Lady of the Thorn, is located on the outskirts of the Portugal
                  restaurant reviewneighbourhood of Canaviais, just a couple of kilometres from the historic centre of Évora. It dates back to the fifteenth century and legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared in a burning bush. In 1458 this place of pilgrimage established a monastery.

With the dissolution of monasteries the building was abandoned and taken into Portuguese state ownership, to be sold to individuals for a negligible sum. It was eventually purchased by Manuel Gabriel Lopes, who undertook major restoration, making it habitable again. The chapel of Garcia de Resende is now also supported by local notables and used for celebrating religious festivals.

Currently reclassified as a five-star hotel, the former monastery retains many original features. The old cellar has given way to a restaurant; the ancient kitchen has been turned into a contemporary piano bar. The most striking of transformations is that of the cistern, or water storage tank, which has Gothic pillars and vaulted roofs. It now houses a wine ‘cellar’ displaying some of the best vintages the region has to offer along with a selection of fine wines from the rest of the world. Visit Cisterna Wine Bar and enjoy this unique space.

Divinus Restaurant is found in the monastery’s former wine-cellar. The columns and curved ceilings illuminated by gentle light create intimate spaces for dinner. Browse a menu that celebrates fresh local produce – it’s a sophisticated restaurant that still manages to remain cosy and welcoming.

Convento do Espinheiro offers a total of 92 guest rooms, including 6 suites. One can choose between modern vibe – said to be inspired by the colour and style of the ´50s – these rooms are in the new wing; or one can enjoy a more classic room in the original 15th-century monastery building. Both contemporary and classic rooms offer comfort and charm.

Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa ·
7002-502 Évora,
Portugal
Phone: 351-266 788 200

visit
Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa here
 

Herdade do Sobroso Estate

The Alentejo is hot in summer so consider a spring or an autumn tour for more gentle temperatures. The spring Portugal restaurant reviewpresents vineyards bursting with pale-green buds and fresh leaves, while the autumn offers crisp air, blue skies and the vibrant red of withering vine leaves. Herdade do Sobroso Estate allows the visitor to relax and enjoy nature during any season.

This is a working wine estate but your stay will be made memorable by liberal application of not only fine wine but delicious local foods, and log fires help to complete the picture of a rather high-end idyll.

Herdade do Sobroso Estate is typically Portuguese in many ways but the owners have evidently travelled the globe and have very fine taste in interior design, and in fact exterior design, as many of their more exotic purchases now decorate the covered terrace outside the main house.

Casa da Quinta is the name of the main house, which offers public spaces for enjoying a pre-dinner drink in front of the aforementioned log fire, a dining room and some guest rooms, too. Each room is different but all give the impression of home, granted an immaculately decorated home, but more individual and unique than many a chain hotel alternative.

Casa da Cegonha is independent from the main house and away from common areas. It’s popular with families as it offers cooking facilities so mums don’t have to worry that young travellers won’t enjoy unfamiliar restaurant food. They will be missing out on some rather special fare, though – Alentejo dishes paired with Herdade do Sobroso wines. Breakfast is also worth saving space for. Ignore the yoghurt and dive for the Portuguese custard tarts and local cakes. One can burn off the calories while walking around the 50 hectares of vineyard at Herdade do Sobroso. There is also the winery where you can sample and purchase the estate wines, olive oil, honey and jams.

Visit
Herdade do Sobroso Estate here


Boutique Hotel O Poejo – MarvãoPortugal
                    restaurant review

This is a very individual boutique hotel in Alentejo, near to Marvão, a medieval town in Serra S. Mamede Natural Park. It’s not a rambling historic pile, but what it lacks in old grandeur it makes up for in confident and quirky design.

It’s a small hotel as the name would suggest but it’s thoughtfully presented and comfortably appointed. The 13 guest rooms and suite are all different with varying colour schemes and configurations of beds. It has the air of an intimate family-run establishment with friendly staff who will likely know you by name after a day or two.

Evenings can be spent snuggled by the fire in the sitting room, after enjoying a dinner of local lamb or fish. Breakfast is a buffet feast of cheese, ham, cakes, fruit, the usual continental suspects, along with some of the best bread to be found anywhere in the world. It’s tempting to linger over such a spread …and why not?

Boutique Hotel o Poejo
Av. 25 de Abril, Nº 20
7330-251 Santo António das Areias,
Marvão,
Alentejo, Portugal

Phone: (+351) 245 992 640
Fax: (+351) 245 992 500 / (+351) 245 99 22 76
Cell Phone: (+351) 96 855 96 65 / (+351) 96 855 96 74

Visit
Boutique Hotel o Poejo here



For more information visit:
Sunvil Discovery 
Alentejo Promotion Office
and
TAP Portugal


 

London restaurant reviews


The Nuns and Tarts of Alentejo, Portugal

Portugal is on the very edge of Europe and often overlooked in favour of its more vocal neighbour, Spain. But this country has so much to offer to the visitor. Striking landscapes flatter the eye, generous hospitality warms the soul, and gastronomy seems to be a well-exercised hobby practised by all.Portugal restaurant
                  review

The Alentejo is an unspoilt and relatively unknown region of Portugal nestled next to the more celebrated Algarve. Its rolling hills, boulder-strewn pastures, groves of cork and olive trees and vineyards tempt one with the notion that good things to eat might not be far away.

In fact good food has been central to life in Portugal for thousands of years and was brought to the height of refinement in the Middle Ages in monasteries and convents. Arab and Jewish traders imported cinnamon from the East; almonds have always been in abundance; sugar was often a dowry paid when a novice entered the convent, as there was plenty of sugar coming from the Portuguese colonies. Egg whites were used to starch habits as well as for clearing wine, which left a surfeit of yolks. All the ingredients were available to create delicious sweets.

One might conjure an idyllic vision of plump, elderly, black-habited ladies with religious inclinations dividing their earthly hours between their devotions and a nice bit o’ cookin’ – but it seems there were other pursuits on the curriculum.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that young nuns and monks would look for romantic liaisons. Many of them didn’t sign up for religious orders following a spiritual awakening, seeing the heavenly light, or through divine inspiration. It was more often due to practical necessity. What does one do with the youngest son when big brothers have taken the land and taken up arms – the military being the second best option to staying home and swelling the ranks of the landed gentry? Send the boy to a monastery. What will become of an unmarried daughter? Off to the convent with her. There is a story about Sister Mariana Alceforado who lived during the 16th century. It is said that Mariana fell in love with a French army officer, Noël Bouton, and when he returned to France she wrote love letters to him. Later the letters were found and translated, and eventually became internationally published with the title ‘Letters of the Portuguese Nun’.

But between passionate interludes, these nuns not only prayed but took pleasure in devising ingenious ways of Portugal
                  restaurant reviewusing a relatively few basic ingredients to make signature desserts. Convents became famous for particular sweets that the nuns and monks sold as a means of supplementing their incomes. Pão de Rala looks like nothing more than a loaf of rustic bread but it has an amusing history. It was a speciality of the nuns of the Convento do Calvário in Évora. The name and shape of this famous cake have royal connections: King Sebastian visited the convent but, it being a poor order, they could only offer him olives, water and ‘thin bread’ (pão de rala). These days this Pão is constructed of an outer skin of almond-based paste with a filling of vibrant orange egg yolks, sugar, almonds and pumpkin. The outside is dusted with flour and browned to add an authentic-looking crust.

Pasteis de toucinho is another popular small cake. It’s made with pork fat: that might at first sound rather strange until one remembers that lard is often found in pastry partnered with butter. There is suet, too, which is organ fat found in traditional Christmas minced meat. Pasteis de toucinho has a richness from the lard, but fear not, my dubious reader, these treats taste nothing like a bacon sandwich.

But let us consider Portuguese tarts. There are many tarts in Portugal but there is only one that every tourist will crave – probably the only tart to be included on a globetrotter’s bucket list. It’s ubiquitous across Portugal and in every pastry shop around the world that might advertise itself as ‘Portuguese’. It’s the Portuguese Custard Tart or, to give its local name, pastéis de nata. These tarts are loved on every continent and particularly where Portugal has had colonies or trading interests, which include Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Goa in India, Malacca in Malaysia, and Macau in China.

It is believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago by monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the Portugal restaurant reviewparish of Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. In fact in Portugal they are sometimes also called Pastéis de Belém. Following the closure of many of the convents and monasteries after the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the production of pastéis de nata transferred to what is now the Casa Pastéis de Belém nearby. The former monks wanted to continue to produce the tarts and so patented and registered the recipe, while contracting the Antiga Confeiteira de Belém to produce them. The secret was given to only five chefs, who guarded this original recipe under the Oficina do Segredo (Office of Secrets).

At first glance these are quite rustic creations. The pastry is somewhat free-form, the filling tends to look a little overcooked. But it’s that combination of texture and taste that has assured the success of this tart down the centuries. The case is a type of puff pastry that retains a crunch when baked. The filling is rich with cream but light and flavourful. It seems such a simple concept but it’s worth seeking delicious authenticity.

The Alentejo is accessible, charming and relatively unspoilt. It is something of a culinary paradise, offering dishes that have remained unchanged for generations. Its sweets are a reflection of its history and culture, and are finding their place in the lexicon of European culinary treasures.


For more information visit:
Sunvil Discovery 
Alentejo Promotion Office
and
TAP Portugal


London restaurant reviews


Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection

Chef Paul Gayler is one of the food industry's gems. He is a well respected man with years of worthy career behind him. He is executive chef at London's celebrated Lanesborough Hotel and has a shelf of cookbooks to his credit. This Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection is the latest one and it does him proud.

Paul Gayler writes cookbooks, yes, but they are a step beyond most of that genre. Paul encourages, inspires andcookbook
                  review tutors. There are more than 100 soup recipes here and they all have an introduction from Paul to put them into culinary context. Paul reminds us that soup is a cornerstone of many cuisines and is enjoying something of a revival.

Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection works on several levels. It offers some economic and hearty fare that won't break the bank - comfort food for the whole family. Paul also suggests sophisticated bowls of luxurious ingredients destined for appreciative dinner-party guests. There is an array of soups from across the globe to tempt those with a hankering for the exotic. This book is a veritable Masterclass for all things soupy.

Sweetcorn soup with scallops and crispy bacon bits is simple to make but has great impact. Anything with scallops is bound to get attention and approval. It's that combination of crispy and meltingly tender, of salty and sweet, that is always appreciated.

Carrot soup with seven spices is a blessing on cold winter evenings when one is listening to the wind blowing and the pipes bursting. Granted there is that list of spices but anyone who has cooked Indian food at home will likely already have those to hand; and carrots, at the time of writing this article, were still affordable. This is a recipe with which to start a subcontinental meal, but just add a chunk of crusty bread and one can call it supper or lunch.

Potato and leek soup is another comforting and silky dish that showcases simple and common ingredients. I think, though, that this traditional preparation works with Sunday lunch, mid-week dinner, or as a sustaining winter snack. The cream gives it a luxurious quality and is key to the success of the soup.

My pick-of-the-book is Crab Laksa. This soup is becoming more popular as tourism to Malaysia has increased. It's a dish that changes by region but Paul Gayler presents us with a version that gives the authentic character of this national treasure. It's a meal in itself if one serves it in a large Chinese bowl. It needs no additional garnishes, and each of the ingredients brings texture or flavour to the finished dish. It's vibrant and exotic.

Paul's charming personality shines through in this volume. One has the sense of a conversation over the kitchen table. One feels supported by a chef whose recipes we can trust. This is a sensible book that one would actually use, and that surely is the best accolade one could give. A gift-quality volume at a very reasonable price.

Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by: Jacqui Small LLP
Price: £25.00
ISBN-10: 1909342238
ISBN-13: 978-1909342231

London restaurant reviews


Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined

The title alone would encourage a bookshelf browser to reach for this volume. A humorous play on words conjuring visions of exuberant Greek revellers ruining a restaurant's crockery budget, or of polite Brits commenting on some jolly good food.  Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined does touch on both the passion of Greececookbook review and the quality of some smashing food.

Maria Elia was brought up surrounded by food. Her dad was a Cypriot chef so Maria had a childhood of total taste immersion. She dips into her culinary heritage to offer dishes that range from the rustic to the refined, but all have the same common denominator - good taste.

Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined offers recipes for complete dishes but also for those constituent parts such as goat's milk ricotta and even homemade halloumi. The book would likely be popular just for that recipe alone.

Sardine keftedes are store-cupboard gems. Maria elevates the humble and much overlooked can of sardines to new culinary heights. They have had a reputation of old-fashioned tea-time fare but this book presents another face of that healthy fish as the key component in a cooked patty served with salad or even as a filling for a crusty baguette.

 A simple but must-try from Smashing Plates is Condensed Milk Ice-cream. It's another one of those forgotten ingredients: condensed milk is thick and rich with an unmistakable flavour. This is a simple custard-style ice-cream and Maria suggests flavouring it with cardamom.

My pick-of-the-book is another sweet recipe and is that for Coffee Custard Doughnuts with Fennel seed Sugar. This is a departure from traditional Greek doughnuts which are soaked in a syrup after frying. They are extremely sweet, although delicious, but Maria's alternative offers a dessert that is less sticky to eat and retains its cake-like properties. The custard filling is easy to make as it uses the much-loved Bird's Custard Powder. Yes, it's retro and it works!

Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined is unmistakably Greek, but Maria's approach is contemporary and thoughtful. She has penned a volume that is practical for the non-Greek home cook, and indeed one that has never even had a Greek grandmother.

Chef Maria Elia has worked with the celebrated Ferran Adria and it's his words that grace the front cover of this book:  "...Maria Elia shows us the magic of cooking."  Endorsements don't come much more worthy than that.

Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined
Author: Maria Elia
Published by: Kyle Books
Price: £19.99
ISBN-10: 0857831712
ISBN-13: 978-0857831712


London restaurant reviews


Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze

I am convinced that Sally Butcher could write a book about paint drying and it would be a worthwhile read. Her books, and this is the third, are Sally in paper form. Her energy, culinary knowledge and laugh-out-loud humour will make this another best-seller.

Sally is known as an accomplished author but she is just as famed as Mrs. Shopkeeper, and the shop in questioncookbook
                  review is Persepolis. This does give the lady something of an advantage in the Middle-Eastern cooking stakes as she has access to some amazing ingredients just outside the door of her flat. An Iranian husband, and a mum-in-law with a wealth of recipes, also assure authenticity.

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze: Informal eating in the Middle East and beyond, to give the full title, is a big delicious mouthful. It’s divided by food group but so many of the dishes are mix-and-matchable and interchangeable to create either full meals or grazing opportunities. It’s a creditable collection of recipes from vaguely the middle of the East, and are real dishes that family cooks have cooked for eons.

This book has Sally’s voice throughout. She is almost as funny and engaging in print as in real life. One knows these recipes work ’cos a nice lady like that wouldn’t steer you wrong. One has the sense that all will be well, and even if one’s culinary inexperience results in an iffy end product one knows that Sally will be whispering ‘It’s only food and you will do fine next time.’

If one wants a picture of who these Snackistan citizens are, then they will be a jolly bunch with rosy cheeks, a love of good company and kebabs, and Sally would have been derelict in her duty as culinary guide not to introduce them to us hungry tourists. Baluchi Chapli Kebabs is a classic and easy-to-prepare dish that will become a favourite with the whole family, who will love anything flavourful, fried and in bread. What’s not to like? My pick-of-kebabs is an Afghan Shami Kabob to which this writer will soon be addicted.

There are so many recipes here that in other tomes would be considered signature dishes. Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze has a tongue-in-cheek style but that’s only to keep the reader grounded. We have here an accomplished cook and a remarkable writer who pens books that are always a pleasure both to read and from which to cook.

Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze
Author: Sally Butcher
Published by: Pavilion Books
Price: £20.00
ISBN-10: 1909108308
ISBN-13: 978-1909108301



London restaurant reviews





Dukes Hotel Bar for Martini

     “The hotel bar which some say concocts one of the world’s best Martinis” - New York Times

london
                      restaurant review

There are many great hotels in London. There is a host of memorable boutique hotels in London. There are several with stylish bars in London. There is only one Dukes Bar in the whole world.

One finds Dukes Hotel tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet side street in St James’s. It has the best of addresses, nestled between St James’s Palace and Piccadilly. It’s a beauty in red brick. It’s an icon of period architecture, and even a first glimpse will encourage the visitor to expect something special within; they won’t be disappointed.

The doorman will usher you into a surprisingly small bar. One might expect a venue with such a reputation to be the size of an aircraft hanger, a well-appointed aircraft hanger, admittedly. No, Dukes Bar is bijou, intimate and timeless with dark wood and charcoal-grey upholstery. The bar is well-stocked but it’s the goods on that unique trolley that will focus the mind of all serious Martini aficionados.

One takes a seat (best to reserve) and peruses the extensive menu of classic cocktails, but it would be a gross London restaurant reviewoversight to order anything, at least on the inaugural visit, other than a Martini – and the tutored will want to try the Vesper Martini. Shortly you will be joined by a barman in a white linen jacket and if you are blessed it will be Alessandro Palazzi who, in his field, is as celebrated as the hotel itself.

This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny first drew breath at the stock exchange?  Was Dr No inspired by a dodgy practice in Harley Street?

Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request, 'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken. That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol! The aforementioned trolley will park next to your table and it’s a chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.

Those glasses are standard for this libation in all its delicious chilled guises. The distinctive design is said to have developed to allow the drinker to hold a stem rather than the bowl of the glass, keeping the beverage at the lowest temperature for the longest time. The cone is thought to give the optimum surface area to encourage the maximum bouquet from the spirits and to prevent the ingredients from separating as the drink rests; and this is a cocktail to be savoured rather than gulped.

Alessandro mixes several hundred martinis each night so he has a practised eye and a deft hand. A speciality is that signature ‘Vesper’. No, dear illiterate reader, that isn’t a reference to the nifty Italian motor scooter but obliquely to the time of day – it’s Latin for evening – and absolutely in homage to Vesper Lynd, a character featured in Ian Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale. The Vesper Martini gained popularity after the novel's publication, and gave rise to the famous ‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase immortalised in every James Bond film thereafter. The actual name for the drink, and the recipe, is mentioned on-screen for the first time in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale.

The Vesper is a heady melange of No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lillet Blanc, Angostura bitters, and Potocki vodka. This is a Polish vodka, in keeping with the Iron Curtain-swishing heroes of Fleming’s alter-universe. The dry vermouth is brewed exclusively for Duke’s by Sacred Microdistillery on a residential street in Highgate, a north London neighbourhood. Ian Fleming was evidently a skilled practitioner of the art of tippling and we are the lucky recipients of both his dedicated study and the charm of Alessandro Palazzi. (Interview to follow).

Bar opening times:
Monday to Saturday - 2pm to 11pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays - 4pm to 10.30pm

Dukes Hotel & Bar
St. James's Place
London SW1A 1NY

Phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)20 7493 1264
For further information and reservations phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Email: bookings@dukeshotel.com
Visit Dukes here


London restaurant reviews



Cookbook: Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian

It’s every inch a limited edition book. In fact there are a lot of inches, oozing quality, artistry, style and delicioussat bains food. Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian is a coffee-table book that is truly the size of a small coffee table, but will likely be more remarked upon than a four-legged piece of pine. This is the stuff of which cookbook heirlooms are made.

Satwant Singh ‘Sat’ Bains is chef-proprietor of the two Michelin star ‘Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms’ in Nottingham. He won, as so many fine chefs have, the prestigious Roux Scholarship in 1999 and was also one of the winners on the BBC show Great British Menu in 2007.

Chef Sat Bains doesn’t come from a family of restaurateurs or food writers, although you could say that his early career was associated with the printed word: he had a paper round. But by the age of 21, he signed up for a course at Derby College. It wasn’t what Sat would describe as a serious career move, as he says he only picked the catering course because it had lots of girls on it.

Chef Sat has worked for the best restaurants all over Europe and the experience has served him well. He became head chef at the Hotel des Clos in Nottingham, which was rebranded and relaunched as Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms in November 2002. It was awarded a Michelin star in 2003, and a second star was added to that culinary firmament in 2011.

This first edition of Too Many Chiefs Only One sat bainsIndian is limited to 10,000 numbered copies. It arrives packaged in a printed mailing box which encourages a degree of anticipation before one even gets a glimpse of the book. The book isn’t actually the next design statement – there is a striking slipcase that protects the soft, black and embossed linen cover of this unique and sizable tome. Face Publications always manage to present something daring and cutting-edge.

The large pages are a showcase for stunning photography by John Arandhara-Blackwell. It’s food but it’s also Sat's passion: he is a real person and a great character; he is easy to warm to and identify with. The recipes might be a little challenging but if you break them down into their constituent parts then you can cook remarkable food. It’s about practice and confidence. Sat presents seasonal produce with flair.

Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian offers the enticing opportunity of being able to order dishes featured in the book at Restaurant Sat Bains even when they’re not on the restaurant’s current menu – that might save you the trouble of investing in a Thermomix or a pint and a half of liquid nitrogen. You can actually taste the food that so marvellously decorates the pages of this book. I’ll be ordering Mutton, Onion Textures or perhaps Ham, Eggs, Peas ...or both. And then there is pud: I would go for Buckthorn with a chaser of Peach, Thyme, Gingerbread. A few visits are in order, and if Michelin were not disappointed then I know I won’t be.

I have been a cookbook reviewer for the past six years and I am always happy to suggest books to suit families, home bakers, those who want budget meals or a touch of the exotic from time to time. They will remain the cornerstone of my reviews but it’s refreshing periodically to have the joy of leafing through an exceptional book that won’t ever be propped up on the kitchen counter. Yes, it’s unashamedly cheffy and there is the odd gadget that you might not have in your domestic kitchen, and a few ingredients that aren’t available at the corner shop.
sat bains
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian is about inspiration and innovation but it’s not a dry and technical masterwork. Sat has a great sense of humour and the contemporary format is engaging. It’s gift quality and noteworthy, and stands a chance of becoming a gastronomic collectable ...I certainly won’t be giving my copy away. I might be getting a more substantial coffee table, though.

Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian
Author: Sat Bains
Published by: Face Publications
Dimensions: 360x270x40mm, boxed: 460x290x60mm
Price: £75.00
ISBN: 978-0955893025

Further information:
This book is only available through Face Publications and at Restaurant Sat Bains.
www.facepublications.com. For further information please contact Anthony Hodgson on +44 (0)113 203 7378 or anthony@facepublications.com


London restaurant reviews


London restaurant review: Hummus Bros – Fun family fare

An invitation to review Hummus Bros! Aren’t they a tailoring company? Posh morning coats for hire, wedding togs? Perhaps dinner jackets – it’s a restaurant review site, after all. No, dear sartorially inclined reader, Hummus Bros are a couple of lads (although not actually brothers) who have opened three rather unique casual restaurants with take-away counters.

london
                  restaurant review

Well, there are lots of casual eateries strewn across the length and breadth of London, so what makes Hummus Bros so noteworthy? It’s the food on offer. No sign of a cool-cabinet stuffed with under-stuffed iffy sarnies. No aroma of greasy burgery bits in buns, and the food here is a world away from dubious cheap ethnic lunches.

So what do Hummus Bros sell? Hummus! We have all bought little tubs of this from our local supermarkets where it’s presented as a delicate spread, an addition to a summer buffet table rather than any sort of main event. We just don’t quite know what to do with it but we buy it because it makes us look cosmopolitan.

This chickpea confection has not, until now, been part of the UK culinary tradition. Only a few of us have fond memories of the hummus our grandmothers used to make. But we would have said the same of Indian food a few years ago.

Hummus Bros presents the eponymous dish as a real meal and although that’s new to us here, it is very much a part of the Middle Eastern fashion of eating. It’s a food that ticks all the practical and epicurean boxes for me. It’s typical comfort food with a creamy texture and mild flavour. It’s natural and healthy and it’s easy to eat – in fact so easy that you don’t even need cutlery, although those nice brothers do provide ecologically sound wooden forks for the overly genteel.london
                  restauranr review

Hummus is converted from a snack into a meal by the addition of flavourful toppings. There are selections of standards that are advertised on the menu and there are weekly specials to keep the regulars engaged. For those who want to perk up the paste there are bottles of garlic and lemon to sprinkle. Mixed vegetable salad, tabouleh (bulgar wheat with finely chopped red peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, coriander, parsley and mint – authentic with lots of herbs), Greek salad, smoky barbecued aubergine, falafel salad are all offered as side dishes.

There are two sizes available: a small bowl of topped hummus constitutes a light lunch, and a regular portion is a dinner for the seriously peckish. The mushroom topping with caramelised onions is a sweet vegetarian option for those who want a hearty and flavourful meal. All bowls of hummus have brown fluffy pitta bread included: delicious, and acting as your edible scoop.

Committed carnivores will note that Hummus Bros is not a preachy, worthy, tie-dye, sandal- toting kinda place. The food isn’t about feeling noble it’s about feeling full, so chunky beef – a seasonal, slow cooked stew of tender meat – is one of the suggested toppings, and it’s truly melting. There is also chicken and that, along with guacamole, is the most popular of garnishes.

I am a collector of cookbooks so a 5,000-year old recipe was bound to grab my attention.  Fava beans with slow-cooked free-range egg is a popular breakfast dish in Egypt. I had heard about it but here was my chance to try it. Anything that’s been on the menu for that long has evidently got something going for it. After one bowl I am hooked. It’s a must-try signature dish of smooth hummus and rich, soft beans with slices of tinted eggs, the addition of which turns a sustaining meal into a feast. I agree it might not sound a stunner, but it will likely turn you away from those golden arches.

Talking of fast food outlets... nothing wrong with them, the problem rests with us, the buying public. If we eat those burgers in moderation then we have nothing to fear. They provide a meal on the trot and we have all enjoyed them from time to time when those hunger pangs kick in and a Mcwendyking is all that’s handy. But we want to encourage our kids to adopt good eating habits, healthy foods that they will be keen to eat. Hummus Bros could take the place of burger bars and huts of pizza. Hummus is kid friendly. The texture is appealing to even the fussiest of toddlers. The standard dish of hummus with a helping of chickpeas is fun to eat, with no strong seasonings. Tiny fingers will grab the peas and little hands will dip the pitta. No crusts to chew so that’s yet another hurdle out of the way. This food isn’t dumbed down for children but you will find that they will love to eat just the same dishes as mum and dad; and mum and dad will love that the kids are eating! Good for most folks with allergies, as well.

Hummus Bros is keen to stress its eco-friendly philosophy but you won’t become a regular here for that reason. You’ll return for the food.

Hummus Bros
88 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 0TJ
Phone: 020 7734 1311

Victoria House, 37-63 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4DA
Phone: 020 7404 7079

128 Cheapside, London EC2V 6BT
Phone: 020 7726 8011

Email: info@hbros.co.uk
Visit Hummus Bros here

London restaurant reviews

London restaurant review: Penny Black for Dinner

The Fulham Road isn’t my usual hunting ground, although it’s well served by public transport and easily accessible, but after my recent dining experience I may well become a habitué of that neighbourhood. Penny Black sits at number 212 as a tastefully understated icon of real British Food, and is unique in several regards.
The name comes from the stamp, or more accurately some prints of that philatelic classic. It wasn’t a long-lived symbol of Victorian communication but it was a trail-blazer, and the eponymous restaurant might well become just that for the culinary scene in this area. Tony Ho and his two partners have 3 life-times worth of experience in opening restaurants, so longevity can reasonably be assured.london restaurant review

The facade is in fact quite muted: a vision of charcoal grey and simple frosted windows. Those windows do hide the interior somewhat, but I rather favour the anonymity and those windows could become a trade-mark for future restaurants – well, I can imagine that anything this good is bound to become a small and classy chain. 

There were a couple of tables outside and those were already occupied by diners enjoying a glass of British fizz chosen from the quite remarkable wine list, in fact a chunky catalogue offering many noteworthy wines, almost all by the glass. Tony Ho has a passion for wine, and that’s proving to be an asset now that he has his own establishment.

One enters to find that mysterious interior is in fact contemporary and welcoming. A small lounge area has become popular for pre-meal drinks, and for leisurely coffees after what is sure to be a copious and full-on feed. Hospitality is generous here and one is bound to linger. Tony explained that they wanted to create a home-from-home for their guests – the foodie equivalent of the old-fashioned pub for the drinking fraternity. A place to bring the family for Sunday lunch (soon to be reviewed here).

The décor is tasteful and unfussy with aubergine and white walls which sport not only those Penny Blacks but other pop-art prints and a rather rude Salvador Dali. (Sit your granny under that and she will never notice, although she will wonder why everyone is smiling at her.) Crisp white linen reinforces the impression that this is probably going to be a fine dining restaurant – traditional food but a high-end experience.london
                  restaurant review

I would describe the menu as British, comforting, vibrant and inspiring.  It’s not retro but it is definitely traditional. The ingredients are fresh and seasonal, and showcase the best from these shores and inland as well. Favourite and simple dishes, and some innovations.

It was a hot evening so a salad was on the cards for this sticky reviewer. Ham, goat’s cheese and peaches garnished with mixed leaves was a substantial plateful. The ham was hand carved, moist and delicious, the cheese tangy and the peaches ripe, sweet and summery.  A flavourful introduction to the high standards of both presentation and style.

My guest chose Potted Devon shrimps, watercress, and wholemeal toast. The shrimps had the real taste of the sea. The recipient of this bounty was born and bred on the coast and he proclaimed this seafood dish to be as good as his childhood memories of Sunday teatime. A must-try whenever it’s on the menu.

Toad in the Hole was my main course. This isn’t a dish with which to be cheffy. Real toads and a batter made with crushed Mongolian
london restaurant review blue wheat flour isn’t the way to go when preparing such a British standard. The reality at Penny Black was just what you would hope to find: an individual pud with three well-seasoned and meaty bangers, a garnish of lightly cooked carrots and broccoli, and gravy on the side. I would describe this as “right” and that’s just how it should be.

The Beef Wellington here is already a signature dish and it’s easy to see why. This was a manly meal of tender and pink-tinged meat encased in flaky pastry. This is the posh face of standard British cuisine. It is, in my experience, a difficult dish to do well at home and one best left to the experts. Meat isn’t  cheap and you don’t want to ruin it so come to Penny Black instead. My guest was glowing with replete satisfaction... but he still had space for dessert.

What could be more comforting than Bread and Butter Pudding? It was a regular highlight for dinner at grandma’s.  It’s an economic dessert and a comforting stunner. It should be custardy and unctuous and piping hot; this one ticked all the boxes.

Penny Black will stick longer than the stamp ever did. One can try and analyse the reasons it will, but it’s probably enough to say that it’s quite simply everything  a good British restaurant should be. It has already attracted followers who first came out of curiosity, but who return because the food and the service will be predictably good.

Opening Hours
Tuesday to Saturday: 12 noon - 3pm Lunch, 6pm - 11pm Dinner
Sunday: 12 noon - 10:30pm Lunch and Dinner
Closed Mondays

London restaurant review: Penny Black  Restaurant
212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London SW10 9PJ
Phone: 0845 838 8998
Email: info@thepennyblack.com
Visit Penny Black here

London restaurant reviews

London restaurant review:

Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hilllondon
                    restaurant review

What can be more iconic than the Tower of London? Its imposing stones and gilded embellishments still have that wow factor. The building must have filled the local population with awe when first erected back in the early 1080s. William the Conqueror began to build a massive tower at the centre of his London home, and down the centuries successive kings have added to the complex.

So you have spent a day of leisure by the Thames. You have had a guided tour with a Yeoman. (Not to be missed: each of these gentlemen has had years of service in the army and has rafts of stories to tell.) You now need some food. A proper meal. Something hearty, reasonable price, not too exotic as Martha gets hiccoughs if she eats spice, and Abner likes a slice of meat that he can recognise.

Bavarian Beerhouse at Tower Hill (there is another branch at Old Street) opened in May 2010. It’s just 50 metres from Tower Hill Underground station and built under the railway bridge just to the right of the station exit. The previous tenants were Pitcher and Piano but it seems it was time for a change. It’s rumoured that the Bavarian Beerhouse tripled their predecessor’s revenue within the first month.

The Old Street venue was very much a party place but Tower Hill has loftier horizons... at least on the ground floor. This is a cool, contemporary restaurant space with Bavarian accents. There are some of the traditional benches and rustic touches but the ambiance, at least during the day and early evening, is of casual but calm dining.

The basement level boasts several adjoining rooms and has an atmosphere similar to that of the Old Street branch. This is more for the lads’ night out or for blokey gatherings to watch sports and the like. A stag-night london restaurant reviewfavourite, one would imagine. Those long benches again and low ceilings and its own bar. The basement is ideal for private functions.

We, an elderly and sedate couple, were seeking some food rather than a shot-drinking competition. I loved the food at Old Street and it’s just as good at Tower Hill. It’s a shame that German food is taken as something of a joke. These are  real and unfussy dishes, and I am a fan. There are sausages aplenty as one would expect, and pork shanks to satisfy the most robust of rugby players, but I love Jäger Schnitzel - pork escalope topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and served with a mound of thin fries. One needs to come hungry to take advantage of these large portions.

May has a ‘special’: White Asparagus from Germany (Weisser Deutscher Spargel aus Deutschland). It’s an annual festival of this unique vegetable, thicker than the usual green asparagus and with a delicate flavour. There are various dishes showcasing these creamy white and chunky spears: a soup, or simply served with sauce and boiled potatoes, or with Black Forest ham. My companion chose breaded pork escalope topped with white asparagus and Hollandaise sauce, garnished with fried potatoes. A substantial plateful which was pronounced a winner.
london restaurant review
Too full for a dessert we did succumb to shots. No, we didn’t down them in one gulp and we only tried one each, as a journey the length of the District Line beckoned. My guest ordered the Oktoberfest Pudding Schnapps which was berry-based, sweet and dark – almost Christmassy. I was taken by the Apple Schnapps (Apfelkorn) because I reasoned it would constitute one of my 5 a day. This was a stunner and I could happily have consumed several more had time allowed. Perhaps I have an excuse for a return visit.

Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill is bound to be popular. It’s evidently already the preferred staging post for local workers and couples heading West for evenings out. It’s a light, bright and friendly spot to enjoy good traditional fare. I wish it continued success.

London Restaurant review: Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill
The Arches, 9 Crutched Friars, London EC3N 2AU
Phone 0844 330 20 05
Email: info@bavarian-beerhouse.co.uk
Visit Bavarian Beerhouse here

Bavarian Beerhouse - Old Street
190 City Road, London EC1V 2QH

Opening Times
Mon - Thur 12pm - 11pm
Friday 12pm - 1am
Saturday 1pm - 1am
Sunday 12pm - 9pm

London restaurant reviews


Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam –
Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland

The very title ‘Rose Petal Jam’ evokes shimmering heat-hazed visions of meadows, trees, clear sky, and perfume wafting on a warm breeze. One could be anywhere: England on an August afternoon, perhaps Italy when the world is quiet after lunch. But this book concerns itself with Poland, and it is enticing.cookbook
                  review

Rose Petal Jam – Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland allows me to indulge my twin passions of food and travel. It masterfully charts a path between cookbook and travelogue, and is an illustration of how something can grow to be more than the sum of its parts.

Beata Zatorska had penned a cookbook, but wouldn’t it have been lacking something without those touching family stories? She has written a charming travel book about her beloved Poland, and food has always been central to the country, its culture and its heritage. Who could describe Poland and not mention a few of its celebrated dishes? Beata has achieved a balance that will enthral the home cook and have those with itchy feet reaching for the AA Big Road Atlas (now extended eastwards).

These are not just random Polish recipes. This book is an archive of Beata’s grandmother’s dishes. She was herself a chef and passed on her passion for food to her granddaughter. So many of the dishes included have a story – like the stuffed eggs that Beata’s grandmother served the anxious youngster on the day of her exams. Those exams allowed Beata eventually to become a doctor.

The Polish kitchen makes the very best of seasonal produce. There is nothing exotic here, but this book does present a raft of unique (to us in the UK, at least) ideas for using fruit, vegetables and meat. There are no extravagant ingredients. You will likely have everything you need already in your larder or at your local grocers. It won’t be necessary to buy ethnic kitchen gadgets imported from Warszawa.

Kisiel – Strawberry Fruit Pudding – is a good example of the style of practical, simple and economic recipes here. Few ingredients, and not a costly dish if one uses fruit at its summery best rather than making this for Boxing Day with southern-hemisphere strawberries.

The British climate allows us to take full advantage of wintery dishes for a full nine months of the year, so I have already pencilled in Potato Dumplings to garnish a rich and flavourful Polish Beef Goulash. This is a little different from the Hungarian version, which is traditionally more of a soup than a stew. A tablespoon of dill is the surprise ingredient here.

Pierogi are the Polish equivalent of ravioli and my favourites are those filled with potatoes and cheese. They are described as Russian Pierogi but they are ubiquitous at the Polish dinner table ...unless my Polish friends are really Russians. Serve with melted butter and a garnish of tangy sour cream or even crème fraîche.

We are becoming more familiar with Polish food in the UK. There are numerous supermarkets offering Polish delicacies in jar and tin, but we are finding more cafés and delis with shelves and counters laden with cakes and pastries and ready-made meals. I have not yet come across Rose Petal Jam but now I can make my own ...along with a few bottles of pepper vodka ...and perhaps a dish of sweet Angel Wings alongside. Buy two copies of this book: keep one on the book shelves as a travel guide for the food lover, and leave the other, soon to be butter-smeared, in the kitchen as a well-used cookbook and a reminder of the reasons you will want to visit Poland.

This is a sumptuous and heart-warming book with stunning photography by Beata’s husband, Simon Target. So this is a family food memoir that we are invited to borrow. The memories might not be ours but a trip to Poland will rectify that.

Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam – Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
Author: Beata Zatorska, Photography by Simon Target
Published by: Tabula Books
Price: £25.00
ISBN: 978-0-9566992-0-6

London restaurant reviews

Restaurant review: Fusion Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner

One can search for Italian food in all the famous towns that boast true Italian or Tuscan culinary heritage: Florence, Siena, Hawbridge, Pisa, Grosseto. We take advantage of fresh produce, delicious dressed pasta and desserts fit to ruin any diet. The tourist soaks up the history of those Italian... but... Hawbridge doesn’t sound very Italian. Well, it truly is a long way from Italy but it can still be described as a culinary hub, and in our own very accessible Worcestershire.

This transplantation is not due to continental drift. It’s just the restaurant reviewhome of Fusion Brasserie and it’s the showcase for celebrated Chef Felice Tocchini, who has had a surprisingly long career. He got his first job in the food and beverage industry at the tender age of six – his parents had a bar in a Tuscan village and it was Felice's job to make the coffee.

The experience at the espresso machine obviously inspired Felice. At fourteen, he embarked on a three-year
cookery course at the Ferdinando Martini Catering College in Montecatini Terme. He worked in hotel kitchens and ski resorts during his holidays. In 1988 he was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Theatre restaurants as a Commis Chef. Later, Felice became head chef at the Seymour House Hotel in Chipping Campden and eventually became Chef Manager, remaining there for over 15 years.

In 2004 Felice and his wife Fiorinda opened their own restaurant. Fusion opened originally in Alcester; eighteen months later they moved to a more suitable site and that was the Bird in Hand, Hawbridge, Stoulton, Worcestershire, where they’ve now settled.

Felice now owns two award-winning restaurants in Worcestershire - Fusion Brasserie and Fusion Too. His wife and son Daniel work with him, Fiorinda as front of house manager and Daniel as a chef. Felice is passionate about local ingredients and works with growers and producers to promote even the least-adored veggies like the humble sprout. The menu changes with the seasons so every visit will offer something new.
restaurant
                  review

We were looking forward to good food in a casual and contemporary restaurant. Contemporary, yes, but Fusion isn’t stark and minimalist. The walls are painted and unfussy, but the muted maroon and cream were thoughtful colours that helped to create a cosy ambiance in an open restaurant space. I was very much taken by the unique salt and pepper mills on each table. These and other food-related products can be yours with no need to resort to theft. Fusion has its own shop displaying the chef’s food products and local crafts.

We had earlier enjoyed a good lunch and arrived less than ravenous, so settled on what we thought would be moderate-sized dishes. But this truly was a little bit of Italy and we soon realised that we would go home stuffed and contented.

We started with breads and dips – Pane casereccio – artisan breads, served with sun-blush tomato and fusion hummus. This was a considerable display of the chef’s baking skills as well as a presentation of simple yet flavourful spreads. Some fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar wafted us back to a much less comfortable restaurant in southern Italy many years ago. No, the best Italian restaurants are not necessarily back in the old
restaurant reviewcountry. It has more to do with integrity of ingredients than geography.

My companion was tempted by the prospect of some beef - Filetto al Piatto. Thin slices of Aberdeen Angus placed on an extremely hot plate arrived sizzling and in theatrical fashion, aromatic with garlic and herbs. The chunky chips were indeed just that – chunky, crisp on the outside with fluffy interior.  My guest was delighted with his meal and pronounced the meat to be tender and full of flavour. A deceptively simple dish that once again relies on the quality of the key ingredient. This is a restaurant that has confidence in its suppliers.

I felt a pasta was in order. Fusion is, after all, an Italian restaurant. Just a modest bowl of oil- and garlic-dressed pasta with some sweet sprouting greens was what I expected and that’s what I got. Well, not a modest bowl – remember, this is transplanted Italy. The pasta was cooked, as one would expect, to perfection – al dente. Oil, but just enough, chilli sufficient to create a glow, and garlic just for pure rich flavour. A classic dish and enough to defeat a rugby player.

Fiorinda tempted us with a little taste of dessert. Six little culinary masterpieces arrived and proved the rule that states that however full one is there is always a little nook available for something sweet. We nibbled sponge pudding, savoured sorbet, treated ourselves to just another bite of tiramisu... The list seemed endless but we enjoyed those sweets so much that we were glad it was.

We had intended an early night but in true Italian fashion the
restaurant reviewconversation with our hosts flowed freely. This chef is generous. Yes, the portions are substantial but his generosity extends not only to plates but to people. His passion and pride are evident. His skill is unquestionable and his enthusiasm contagious. A warm evening of marvellous food and friendship.

Opening Times Fusion Brasserie:
Lunch: Tues-Sat 11.30am-3.00pm (last orders 2.30pm)
Dinner: 5.30pm-close (last orders 9.30pm)
Sunday: 12.00 pm - 4.00 pm (last orders 2.30pm)  

Restaurant review: Fusion Brasserie
Hawbridge, Stoulton, Worcestershire WR7 4RJ.
Phone: +44 (0)1905 840647.
Email: enquiries@fusionbrasserie.com
Visit Fusion Brasserie here

London restaurant reviews



London restaurant review: La Porte des Indes

Some restaurants are good, there are a few that are noteworthy, there are others that have memorable food and more that have striking decor but it’s rare to find a restaurant that can boast a brace of exceptional attributes. La Porte des Indes is that almost unique establishment, having both gorgeous food and stunning surroundings. After just one year of business the restaurant was nominated for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ by Carlton London Restaurant Awards and was awarded ‘Best Indian’ and ‘Best UK’ Restaurant by the Good Curry Guide.

But why “La Porte des Indes”? Yes, you are quite right, dear reader, it is French. You might know of The Gateway to India which is a monumental arch in Mumbai, and La Porte des Indes is French for very much the same thing. The restaurant presents dishes from many regions of India and draws on the culinary heritage of French India in particular.

The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in three states of South India. It is also known as The French Riviera of the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est) and was considered as part of France from 1814 till 1954, the date at which it joined the rest of the by now independent India. The French connection is still evident in accent, food and architecture.

I was expecting something a bit special. I had done my homework and was struck by the fact that nobodyrestaurant
                review la porte des indes that I had talked to had anything other than high praise for this establishment. La Porte des Indes remains as an example, in my opinion, of how to get it right. It’s not the cheapest food around but it’s delicious, well presented and the ambiance is truly remarkable.

Just a few minutes from Marble Arch station, La Porte des Indes occupies a corner plot at a quiet intersection. It’s something of a Tardis of a building having around 350 covers. Although looking smart and like a French Cafe from the outside, the inside opens to the most amazing scene. It’s a two storey former Edwardian ballroom. The ground floor balcony restaurant opens onto a lower level with a 40-foot waterfall and a sweeping marble staircase for good measure. Palms add to the exotic décor which is strikingly Indian-colonial but it is tasteful rather than kitsch. One’s eye is caught by a painting here, a wood carving there, a Mogul mural or two, and a glass-domed roof. Panelled walls and ornamental coving remind us of days when the British building industry offered an alternative to mediocrity and stippled, artexed ceilings.

The Jungle Bar on the lower floor is well worth a visit. It has a tradition of peanut shell-throwing started by some of its celeb patrons. It has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere with a hunting theme incorporating tiger-skin rugs and animal paintings recalling the days when one would travel the Empire to shoot anything with fur or feathers. There is a good selection of exotic cocktails here to start your evening. Rain Forest is a non-alcoholic cocktail of freshly squeezed apple juice, orange juice and root ginger. Refreshing with a definite touch of the Orient.
 
La Porte des Indes has a menu that is out of the ordinary. Yes, there is Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Biryani but take advantage of your visit and try some less familiar fare. There are dishes here that you won’t find anywhere else. Head Chef Mehernosh Mody and a battery of other chefs execute regional specialities with flair. The presentation of the food is nothing short of magnificent.

Large King Scallops in a Saffron Sauce are delicate and succulent. My guest and I mopped the fragrant yellow juices with onion and garlic naan. Roasted Chilli Seekh Kebab offered flavourful heat which was tempered by Chard Pakoras and Paneer Kebabs. All were served with chutneys designed to enhance the aromatic qualities of each starter.

The Roast Black Cod at La Porte des Indes is as good as you’ll find anywhere. It’s marinated in fennel, chilli, mustard, honey, tamarind and vinegar (an indication of a touch of Portuguese influence perhaps). It’s wrapped in banana leaf before being flame-grilled giving an end result which is meltingly moist.

Duck isn’t often seen on Indian restaurant menus but here it is at La Porte des Indes, giving a nod to its French connection. Magret de Canard Pulivaar are well-flavoured perfect-pink duck breast fillets served with a tamarind sauce. It’s said to be unique to the Creole community of Pondicherry so this will likely be your only chance to try this dish outside India.

Lotus Root Jaipuri is crunchy and addictive and should be sold by the bagful in Harrods’ food hall. Rougail d’Aubergine is another house speciality. Smoked and crushed aubergine, chilli, ginger and fresh lime combine to make a side dish that doesn’t have searing heat but is nevertheless robust enough to work with the tamarind sauce coating the Barbary duck.

Perhaps my favourite dish of the evening was Poulet Rouge. It’s one of La Porte des Indes’ signature dishes and is moreish in the extreme. Chicken is marinated in spices, grilled, shredded and presented in a creamy and rich sauce. It isn’t a hot and fiery dish so it’s just right as an introduction to the milder but nonetheless authentic face of Indian cuisine.

Desserts at Indian restaurants so often disappoint. La Porte des Indes, however, offers a Pistachio and Rose Kulfi which is to die for. It’s perfumed and exotic and perfectly matches this palace of a restaurant. They have a good selection of sorbets as well; Rose and Lychee, Indian Tamarind, Pomegranate and Imperial Passion Fruit, but they also do a surprisingly good chocolate mousse served in a folded-leaf cup. The mousse might hail from France but the presentation is pure subcontinent.

La Porte des Indes is like no other Asian restaurant you might visit. I am very much taken with its food and exotic atmosphere. I can think of nowhere better to spend a cold London night than basking in the colour and warm vibrancy of the long-gone raj. I’ll be back for another evening... or perhaps Sunday Brunch... or maybe a lunch.

Visit La Porte des Indes here.

London restaurant review: La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
TEL: +44 20 7224 0055

London restaurant reviews

Cookbook review: European Festival Food

This is a book that you’ll find on the shelf in the cooking section of any good bookshop. You’ll flick thoughcookbook
                review European Festival Food the pages. Your shopping bag will then be placed neatly on the floor between your feet. Next a glance around for one of those squidgy sofas to rest for just a short while as you browse. You might be lucky enough to have found a bookshop with a coffee shop. A wander through even just a few pages and you’ll likely be addicted. I assure you, dear reader, that if you are in any way a consummate foodie or a serious cookbook collector then you will want to own this book.

Be warned, this is not a glossy coffee-table tome full of appealing shots of delicious food. No moody or romantic stills of mist-enveloped valleys nor toothless natives in national costume doing something ethnic with a sheep’s bladder. This is cover-to-cover writing of the finest sort.

Yes, European Festival Food is a cookbook, but Elisabeth Luard has worked her usual magic. Winner of the Glenfiddich Award for Best Cookery Writer and Winner of the Glenfiddich Trophy, she has long been respected for attention to detail but also for her style. This is literature, with food as its vehicle. It’s not a dry and worthy textbook but a thoroughly accessible good read. A book for bedtime as well as the kitchen.
 
Elisabeth is well placed to write of the food of Europe. She has lived in a lot of it, and has learnt to cook traditional dishes in the kitchens where those dishes have always always been cooked, from the (mostly) women who have always cooked them. This book is a veritable archive of culinary history but it’s also a social history describing festivals that are less often celebrated.

The pages are awash with charming stories and legends that help to put the foods into context. Christmas Eve offers Mince Pies if you are in England. Records of these go back to the 16th century so it’s likely they existed before that date. The mincemeat really did contain meat in those days, but now only suet remains to remind us of the original ingredients.

European Festival Food does not only catalogue religious feast days but also other annual celebrations. The Glorious Twelfth is noted throughout Britain as not only my father’s birthday but the first day of the grouse season. No surprise that there is a recipe here for the aforementioned bird, roasted, and with its accompanying bread sauce and fried breadcrumbs. There is a cod festival in Lofoten, an island off the coast of Norway, and pig-killing festivals seem to be popular in every country that ever owned a pig. Whenever man has celebrated or commemorated an event then food has played a major part.

This is another terrific book from Grub Street, one of my favourite publishers. It’s a gem of a volume that offers seasonal recipes which have stood the test of time. They are a marvellous collection, presenting dishes from the cold wind-swept north of Europe with its Viking heritage to the soft warmth of the south with its more exotic influences. A masterwork.


Cookbook review: European Festival Food
Author: Elisabeth Luard
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £20.00
ISBN 978-1-906502-45-4

London restaurant reviews


Cookbook review: No-Oil Cooking

There are many of us now who are overweight and an increasing number who are clinically obese. In some Europeancookbook reviews No-Oil Cooking countries that figure has increased (no pun intended) to 25% of the population. That is a staggering statistic.

We have more overweight people and the weight by which they are “over” has also increased. The reasons for the rise in weight-related disease are simple: modern lifestyle and eating habits. We drive more and walk less. Our jobs often require little movement apart from fingers sprinting across computer keys. We don’t think we have time to cook healthy foods and we choose more and more fatty, pre-prepared foods or takeaways (takeouts).

Sanjeev Kapoor presents us with recipes that are both oil-free (that is to say no added oil) and are still delicious and satisfying. He is India’s most celebrated chef and food industry guru. Sanjeev is increasingly recognised by a discerning overseas audience as an authority on Indian food and his books and TV series Khana Khazana have long been popular. No-Oil Cooking has his touch of exotica and common sense which will be appealing to every nationality of reader.

Cooking with no added oil isn’t difficult... but it’s important to have recipes that have that taste and mouth-feel that at the end of the meal give us the sensation of having had “proper” food. It’s no good eating an oil-free meal and then tucking into a huge box of chocolates because you feel empty.

The chapters cover everything from drinks to main courses to sweets and everything in between. The recipes listed don’t read like worthy, noble and boring healthfood dishes. This is tasty food that just happens to be good for you. The whole family will enjoy these offerings so you won’t be confronted with the perennial problem of cooking one meal for the health-conscious folk and a different one for those who just live to eat. One meal fits all!

Garlic-Flavoured Rasam is my choice from the Beverages, Soups and Salads chapter. This is comfort food that is, thankfully, good for you. It is easy to prepare and that preparation only takes 10 minutes. The cooking time is just 30 minutes, without constant attention.

Corn Bhel couldn’t be simpler and is the ultimate healthy snack. Sanjeev uses Green Coriander Chutney and Date and Tamarind Chutney for this delight and he gives both recipes so you’ll have no excuse not to make it.

Vegetable Seekh Kebabs would be a great addition to any barbeque. They would be welcomed by vegetarians who are so often overlooked on these occasions but it’s also no-guilt munching for those who are looking for a healthy option. These are so tempting that you’ll need to make enough for the meat eaters as well.

No-Oil Cooking offers fast, no-fuss food that is full of flavour, colour and texture. Your body will thank you and so will your family.


Cookbook review: No-Oil Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs 295
ISBN 81-7991-279-5

London restaurant reviews


Cookbook review: La Porte des Indes Cookbook

Some of you, my dear readers, might be able to translate that title with ease (education is a marvellouscookbook
                reviews La Porte des Indes Cookbook thing). The Gateway to the Indies is my stab at it but why is it a French title for a book of Indian food? The subtitle is The legacy of France in Indian regional cuisine and, yes, there is indeed a region of India that was a little piece of France ...till 1954.

I had already some idea about Pondicherry as my father had spent time there in the 1940s (his friend, Taffy, being “deported” to India for having a liaison with the daughter of a civil servant) but I had no idea that the French food connection had lasted so long. It’s subtle but unmistakable.

There are in fact deux Portes des Indes restaurants, one in London and the other in Brussels, where it originated. Not probably the city with the closest of Indian connections but evidently one which was open to new culinary trends. La Porte des Indes is part of the Blue Elephant empire and has the same sumptuous decor, that has become the trademark of both restaurants.

The vibrant driving forces behind both the restaurant and the cookbook are Mehernosh and Sherin Mody. The book has also benefited from the skills of food and travel writer John Hellon and we have the gorgeous results of their collaboration. It’s contemporary, bright and full of amazing close-up shots by celebrated photographer Tony le Duc.

But the food is the star. There are familiar dishes but even these have been given the La Porte twist. I hadn’t expected to see Chicken Tikka Masala, which has become a cliché of Anglicised Indianish food. This dish, however, is something a bit smart and has a sauce of turmeric yellow. A cut above the original.

A signature dish of La Porte des Indes is Poulet Rouge (Chicken in a Creamy Red Sauce) but it is easy for a home cook to make this dish. It’s rich and stunning and just what you’ll cook if you want to impress on a budget. Chicken thighs are economic and the other ingredients are readily available in your local supermarket.

Duck is one of those archetypical French ingredients so here we have Magret de Canard Pulivaar (Roasted Duck Breasts in a Spicy Tamarind Sauce). The meat might make you think of romantic bistro meals in Paris but the marinade and sauce are all Indian. Madame Lourdes Swamy of Pondicherry is the originator of this recipe.

This is a restaurant cookbook so it has a chapter devoted to cocktails, and just the names will transport you to the subcontinent. Monsoon (Midori, melon vodka and champagne), Tamarind Martini (gin, limoncello and tamarind puree) are just a couple and there are also some lovely desserts.

Indian restaurant desserts are often a disappointing bunch but La Porte des Indes Cookbook has some unique and classy ones. Payasam (green lentils and tender coconut pudding) is a stunner but it would demand a visit to an Asian supermarket. Chocolate and Chikki Kulfi is Belgian Chocolate and Praline Ice Cream and a true liaison of two of the world’s classic culinary cultures.

La Porte des Indes Cookbook is something a bit special. It’s modern and full of innovation but it cherishes its French/Indian roots which have combined to create a cuisine with touches of both. A joy to read and to cook from.


Cookbook review: La Porte des Indes Cookbook
Authors: Mehernosh Mody, Sherin Mody and John Hellon
Published by: Pavilion
Price: £20.00
ISBN 1-86205-643-9

London restaurant reviews

Cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi

Sanjeev Kapoor is the Indian chef with the golden touch. His acclaimed TV series, Khana Khazana, hascookbook
                reviews Dal and Kadhi enjoyed a 15-year run, has won the Indian Television Academy “Best Cookery Show” and the “Indian Telly” awards year after year, such is the popularity of this man.

Dal and Kadhi presents regional comfort food at its best and the book is as delightful as the food. Each recipe is accompanied by a photograph by Bharat Bhirangi who has a talent for showing these dishes in a mouth-watering fashion. You’ll be planning your next meal before you leave the bookshop.

What could be better than a flavourful dal or kadhi to eat with rice or roti? Your meal might be humble or you could add a dal to an array of other dishes to make a sumptuous and satisfying spread. They range in texture from the rich and substantial to the light and refreshing to suit the season or the occasion. These are the dishes that people miss when they leave home and crave when they are in far-off countries.

This book offers 45 recipes that you will want to add to your culinary repertoire no matter what your home region. They are a broad-based selection of recipes so there is sure to be something to please every palate. Dal Makhni is perhaps the most celebrated both in India and overseas where it has become a restaurant speciality, although seldom cooked in an authentic style. Maharashtrian Kadhi is a traditional dish and represents India’s culinary diversity in a most delicious way.

All these dals and kadhis are tempting but as with life in general there are firsts among equals and I have picked a few that are particularly tempting. Rajasthani Baati ki Dal is made with split green gram (dhuli moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) and the resulting dal is served with traditional baked balls of dough.

Bhindi ni Kadhi is bound to be on my list as I love ladies’ fingers (bhinda/ bhindi). This is a soupy combination of yogurt and gram flour (besan) flavoured with spices. The vegetables remain a little crisp giving the kadhi an interesting texture.

Dal Hari Bhari contains spinach and fenugreek leaves, onions and spices, and Sanjeev uses it to tempt those who would not normally enjoy green vegetables. This would be an easy meal when served just with rice.

Dal and Kadhi is an Aladdin’s cave of ideas for quick, tasty and healthy dishes. One expects lovely books from Sanjeev Kapoor and this is another in that collection that never disappoints. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy good food. This book will show you the way in fine flavourful fashion.


Cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00
ISBN 978-81-7991-415-1

London restaurant reviews

Cookbook review: The Blue Elephant Cookbook

This must surely be the most celebrated of Thai restaurant empires. It would be diminishing the class andcookbook
                reviews The Blue Elephant Cookbook the quality of the group to describe them as a chain. This is far from the KF Mac Hut of the Thai food world – think sumptuous and exotic and thoroughly impressive.

The Blue Elephant has a fine reputation wherever you might find it. and the cookbook now allows its followers to replicate its dishes in their home kitchens. Those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Blue Elephant will soon appreciate the attraction.

Thai food in general has gained worldwide popularity over the past decade. More of us have the opportunity to travel to Thailand and also to visit Thai restaurants in our home countries, and we want to try those dishes for ourselves. The Blue Elephant Cookbook will offer you a marvelous array of recipes that represent the very essence of Thai food with all its vibrant flavours.

Blue Elephant recipes are authentic, attractive and tempting. They are not over-taxing for the competent home cook, and the ingredients are all availiable either from your favourite supermarket’s Asian food aisle, from a specialist Thai food store or by mail order via the internet. You’ll not only learn how to make soups, starters, salads, main dishes and desserts but also curry pastes and sauces.

Thai Fish Cakes will be instantly recognised by travellers returning from sun-kissed Thai resorts. They are delicately soft with a crunch supplied by a garnish of peanuts and refreshing lettuce. Serve this with Cucumber Sauce (recipe in this book) and you have a delicious snack or light lunch, or combine with other dishes as part of a Thai buffet.

Stir-Fried Seafood with Garlic and Peppercorns (Seafood Krathiam Prik Thai) is elegant and flavourful and would be an ideal “special” meal. OK, the prawns, scallops and crab are not cheap but this recipe makes the best of that seafood, and the finished result is stunning. The base is Blue Elephant Special Sauce which you can easily make and freeze for future use.

Tuk’s Duck Salad (Laab Ped) is a dish devised by the aforementioned Tuk who is a chef at the Blue Elephant in London. The duck is grilled and flavoured with a spice paste and garnished with fried shallots, chillies, fresh coriander and salad. A simple dish to prepare but it has great impact.

The Blue Elephant Cookbook is a jewel of a volume and definitely among my favourite Thai cookbooks. It will be snapped up by lovers of classic Thai food as well as those who are regular diners at The Blue Elephant restaurants. A lovely book.


Cookbook review: The Blue Elephant Cookbook
Author: Chefs of Blue Elephant.
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-86205-303-8

London restaurant reviews


Cookbook review: Royal Hyderabadi Cooking

This is a collaboration between two of India’s finest sons of the culinary arts. If you have not heard ofcookbook
                reviews Royal Hyderabadi Cooking Sanjeev Kapoor (Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV) then you must have been living under a rock with no access either to cookbooks or the internet, for surely you would have read my previous review of his work! Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is an expert on Hyderabadi cuisine, and Sanjeev's respected friend and colleague.

But what is Hyderabadi cooking? It will be a mystery to most Westerners, who are very unlikely to have encountered it, and it is revered by Indians, who might also have trouble tracking down authentic dishes. It’s truly courtly, special and grand but at least this volume makes those dishes more accessible to the home cook... and what home cooking that would be!

Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is an elegantly presented volume with stylish photography by Bharat Bhirangi illustrating every recipe. The book has a modern feel with the food being the rich focus in a minimalist setting. Although the ingredients look a lengthy list for some dishes, it’s mostly spices that are commonly found in the domestic larder.

Apart from being a striking cookbook, Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is also something of an archive for a style of food preparation that is disappearing. The authors have been lucky enough to recruit the indispensible aid of two national culinary treasures who have lifetimes of expertise. Begum Mumtaz Khan is considered a living legend and is a member of the Jagirdhar families of the last Nizam, and has actually tasted the food from the Royal kitchens. She has conducted cooking classes and hosted Hyderabadi food festivals.

Ustad Habib Pasha has a passion for Hyderabadi food and a wealth of experience. He has worked in Hyderabad’s most famous restaurants and has been generous to our authors with his knowledge, revealing the secrets of aromatic blends of herbs that help to give this cuisine its distinctive flavour.

There are so many striking recipes to discover here but I have a few favourites. Murtabuk is a layered stack of chapattis with a filling of minced chicken, eggs and spices and is served in wedges as you would a savoury birthday cake. It was Begum Mumtaz Khan who taught the authors how to cook this to perfection.

Thikri Ki Dal is a delicious and comforting dal which contains amongst the spices, onions and ghee... 2 three-inch pieces of earthenware! The thikri are heated till red hot and then plunged into the food. They are removed before serving to avoid damage to either guest or crockery. This method is said to impart a distinctive and earthy flavour. Truly unique.

Double Ka Meetha is a sweet and syrupy dessert that would be a fitting end to a Royal Hyderabadi meal. It’s a confection of bread, nuts, cream and saffron and simple to make. I wouldn’t reserve this for just Hyderabadi meals, this would be welcomed anytime by those with a sweet tooth.

The title suggests something sumptuous and rich and that is just what this food is all about. Royal Hyderabadi Cooking presents recipes that are regal and festive but accessible to the home cook. Amazing!

Cookbook review: Royal Hyderabadi Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor and Harpal Singh Sokhi
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00
ISBN 978-81-7991-373-4

London restaurant reviews

Cookbook review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook

You should expect something special when you are presented with a Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook. Low Caloriecookbook
                reviews Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook Vegetarian really is something a bit different and this could start an exotic diet trend.

Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV. It’s been airing since 1993 and its 600th episode is now just a memory. He has won several awards such as the Best Executive Chef of India Award and the Mercury Gold Award at Geneva, which has earned this man international as well as home-grown respect.

Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is just one of many cookbooks from this charming, handsome and charismatic man. Each book is welcomed by an adoring audience who have been impressed by the author’s skill on the small screen. It’s said that Sanjeev never repeats a recipe and will not need to for several decades; such is his volume of work.

Low calorie carnivorous and low calorie vegetarian recipes have often seemed to fall into one of two categories: boring or boring with vegetables. But Sanjeev’s book will strike the right chord with many readers who want a low calorie diet that offers food with taste and texture. If you don’t enjoy the food that does you good then you will fall back into the same old unhealthy eating habits which got you into your chubby mess to start with.

Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is about flavour, and Sanjeev has a collection of recipes that will tempt even those with no health or weight issues. This is good food with intriguing combinations of spices and fresh ingredients. There are Nutrition Information charts with each recipe to enable the home cook to make the best choices to achieve a balanced diet.

The recipes are broad-based and you don’t have to be a lover of traditional Indian food to appreciate the dishes. Sanjeev has French onion soup but his version raises the bar with French Onion and Garlic Soup. Spicy Pineapple Boat is light and refreshing but with a little kick from green chillies. For those who want a cool and summery salad then Minted Mushrooms should fit the bill. This is a dish of mushrooms, tomato, cucumber, mint leaves and a dressing of low fat yogurt, and the addition of lemon juice provides a tang.

However delicious the European-inspired dishes might be, most of us will be looking for that unmistakable taste of the subcontinent and it’s here in glorious profusion. Spinach and Cabbage Parantha is a flatbread with aromatic cardamom and spicy red chilli powder to complement the vegetables incorporated into the dough.

Desserts are not forgotten. Kesari Phirni is a lovely dessert of Pistachio nuts perfumed with saffron and cardamom. The sweetness comes from a sugar substitute such as Equal or Splenda so you can indulge with no guilt.

Do I have a favourite recipe? Well, you know I do and its Mushroom Dum Biryani. This is a rice dish made with the traditional method but have no fear, it’s not difficult and the results will impress both Western and Asian friends. I’ll make this dish often, not because I have a low calorie diet (although perhaps I should) but because it’s delicious and simple.

A Western cook will have no problem finding the spices in local supermarkets or from one of the many online Asian stores. The cooking techniques are not taxing and you don’t have to take a trip to Mumbai to kit out your new Asian kitchen. This is a fascinating book with recipes that will encourage you to make, eat and enjoy flavourful and healthful meals.

Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is the first of Sanjeev Kapoor's books that I have had the pleasure to review, and there are more to follow. This volume is bound to be a success with readers from every continent.


Cookbook review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00, £11.69, $25.00US
ISBN 978-81-7154-888-0

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Capital Spice - chefs, restaurants and recipes
21 great London Indian chefs, over 100
stunning recipes.
Available from bookshops and Amazon.
ISBN: 978-1906650728


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