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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Le Garrick – Covent Garden

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

Swan Upping

Mele e Pere

Rennes – living with history


Gymkhana London

Memphis in London

Lambrusco - Another taste

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary

Parmigiano Reggiano – a cracking good cheese

Balsamic vinegar in Emilia Romagna

Gaylord in Mortimer Street

Bayeux – A stitch in time

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons

Iconic Kettner’s of Soho

Fontenay Abbey

Gouda – a cheese for all seasons

Bound by history, carved in stone - Normandy and England

Waddesdon Bequest

Jim De Jong

La Belle Epoque

Around Gouda

A Citrus History of Sicily

The Best of Jane Grigson

Wine & Spice Series 2015 at Cinnamon Club

Best Salads Ever

Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge

Counter Vauxhall Arches

Brooklands Hotel for Dinner

Brooklands Hotel Surrey

Alexander McQueen at The Kensington Hotel

Dishoom – Kings Cross


Bern – classic and chic

Adam Handling – Asian Accents

Champagne – a brief encounter

Strawberry Hill House

The Three Faces of Richard

Whittington’s Tea Emporium at Noodle House

Flat Iron – Beak Street

Le Menar, Fitzrovia

Bunny Chow Soho

Mestizo London

Famous Detective Falls in Switzerland!

Ramen Restaurant Ippudo opens in London

Southend Airport to Bern with SkyWork

François Geurds – unassuming genius

Sticky Fingers restaurant

The Taste of Belgium

Rotterdam buildings & gastronomic surprises

Party-Perfect Bites

Fresh Spice

Chocolate at Home

Southern Oregon

The Markthal - Rotterdam

Portland, Oregon – Colourful in every way

Groningen – Contemporary and Historic

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Ocado for Summer Cocktails

It’s summer and we take advantage of fine weather to see friends. Perhaps a garden party or a barbecue - and we need some light and refreshing drinks to set the event alive.

Ocado stocks everything necessary to present your guests with some simple but very different sparkling drinks. Prosecco and Aperol make a refreshing cocktail that’s just perfect on a summer’s evening: pour one-eighth of a glass of Aperol and top up will chilled Prosecco.

We celebrate long hot days, if we are lucky, and to mark the season why not use a little fresh blackberry purée in the bottom of a champagne flute, top up with chilled Prosecco and a few blackberries, and enjoy.

For those who want a richer and more distinct fruit flavour then start your glass of fizz with some cherry liqueur. Your cocktail will be impressive and memorable.

Visit Ocado for all you will need to help with your summer food and drink.


Enjoy a taste of il bel paese at the Southend Italian Festival
Saturday 5 September

Southend Italian Festival La dolce vita returns to celebrate the country that gave the world its cars, cooking and culture

Restaurant tables decked out with traditional red and white checked tablecloths, the unmistakeable aroma of espresso coffee in the air and the sound of lively conversation against a backdrop of opera. It could only be… Southend-on-Sea???

Si!!! Thanks to the Southend BID, the Italian Festival returns on Saturday 5 September, bringing the very best of Italian fare, flair and fun to the High Street.

Visitors to the town centre can expect a feast for the eyes and stomach, as a whole host of market stalls, displays and performers bring a flavour of Europe’s coolest country to Essex.

Southend Italian Festival Italia in Piazza is a genuine Italian market, offering a wide variety of authentic Italian food and produce, including bread, pasta, cheese and salumi.

Can’t get enough of cappuccinos, or simply love lattes? Make sure you’ve ‘bean there, drunk that’ by visiting the mobile Espresso bar. Here you can enjoy your favourite barista-made coffee at the distinctive Piaggio Ape 3-wheeled coffee bar.

And when it comes to gelati (ice creams) don’t miss Rossi’s and Tomassi’s – Southend’s very own Italian-heritage ice cream firms who will be offering tastings.

Car cognoscenti will love the display of stunning Italian sports and super cars, including classic Alfa Romeos. One highlight for petrol-heads will be an appearance by the Scuderia Ferrari team transporter, as featured in the movie Rush – about James Hunt’s thrilling fight with Niki Lauda for the 1976 Formula One World Championship title.

Southend Italian Festival Could the Prancing Horse’s next superstar be found on the electric karts? Suitable for children aged between 3 and 10 years old, mini Kimis and Sebastians can test their skills around a safe, inflatable track.

Of course, no celebration of Italian culture is complete without music and song. A tribute to the great Luciano Pavarotti will feature an incredible look- and soundalike, recreating some of the big man’s most famous arias, including every footie fan’s favourite, Nessun Dorma.

Southend Brass Band will play traditional Italian music, while choirs Funky Voices and The Big Sing will also entertain shoppers and day-trippers with a broad repertoire of songs. And to top off the celebrations there will be an Italian flag demonstration, including professional flag bearers wowing the crowds demonstrating the Italian flag-throwing tradition.

Inside the Royals and Victoria shopping centres there will be Italian-themed craft activity workshops to keep youngsters amused. From making pasta jewellery to learning a few words and phrases of Italian, making gondolas and Venetian masks, even designing a pizza hat, there’s ‘un sacco di divertimento per i bambini’.


East India Company
Click here to find some delicious recipes using
The East India Company products


Le Garrick – Covent Garden

Le Garrick restaurant and wine bar is conveniently located in the heart of Covent Garden in London’s West End. It’s a little gem and after just one visit has become my preferred restaurant, my dining establishment of choice and a place I am almost loathe to promote for fear I won’t get a table next time.

Le Garrick - Covent Garden Their beautiful website gives a little history. Brendon, who owned Le Garrick for 25 years, has moved on and passed the baton to Dominika and Charles and they seem to be doing a sterling job. Le Garrick is the sort of restaurant that one hopes will never change. It’s a bit like a favourite old uncle who is full of character and is very ‘individual’.

The ground floor restaurant is small but has the advantage of views of the bustling historic neighbourhood of Covent Garden. This is Theatreland and one might spot a famous face from one’s vantage point, and there is always the chance of having a brace of thespians on the neighbouring table. It’s that kind of restaurant.

But go downstairs to discover the real charm of Le Garrick. This space was evidently once a cellar and it still retains alcoves and nooks which create a restaurant which is, just like that favourite old uncle, pleasantly eccentric. The ambiance is intimate, the staff are naturally friendly and the food is simple yet for which to die – French food which is better here than some restaurants I have visited actually in La Belle France!

It’s unsurprisingly a traditional French menu with a host of classics to tempt carnivore and vegetarian alike. It’s the sort of bill of fare that has any Francophile salivating and any xenophobe admitting that those French do have a way with food. It’s the kind of menu that has one promising another visit just to try a little plate of this or a bowl of that.

Le Garrick - Covent Garden Escargots de Bourgogne was my starter. Six Burgundy snails (thankfully without shells which are always so fiddly) cooked in garlic and parsley butter. The menu says these are a ’must try!’ and they really are. Some snails can be rather earthy but these were sweet and moreish in a butter-dripping-off-chin kind of way.

Cassolette de calamar à la plancha au piment d’espelette was my guest’s starter. That’s pan-seared calamari Basque-style with a sprinkle of coriander, ginger, and the famous Espelette chilli. These peppers were introduced into the Basque region of France from the New World during the 16th century. They’ve got plenty of heat but rich flavour too. More butter with this dish but I was too busy mopping those juices to worry about weight-gain. This was memorable and just as much a ‘must try’ as the aforementioned snails.

Faux Filet with sauce au poivre was my main course. This was a fairly hefty chargrilled rare-breed rib-eye steak served with fries and peppercorn sauce. I ordered mine medium rare and it was pink and flavourful. This is a standard dish of steak and chips but it’s hard to beat when done well. The wine list here is solid and sensible. A great selection of wines by the glass, bottle or carafe. The Côtes du Rhône was just right, alongside my overflowing plate. Did I mention the generosity of servings here? Petit Pois Grand-Mère - peas with lardons and baby onions - was hardly necessary in addition, but those vegetables were fresh and light and made me feel a bit nobler.

Le Garrick - Covent Garden Authentique Cassoulet de Toulouse is the celebrated dish from south-west France. This was my guest’s choice for main course and appropriate for a cold and wet English evening. Lingot beans with duck confit, pork belly and garlicky Toulouse sausage made a substantial plateful which defeated my companion, who was all for asking for a doggy bag for the leftovers. Another spot-on dish.

Crème Brulée was our shared dessert but with a little Canelé by way of garnish. These sweets were the perfect end to an outstanding meal. Le Garrick is right in every regard. The service was professional yet fun, the décor added to the discreet ambiance. The evening is still being talked about and a return is certain in the very near future.

Le Garrick Restaurant
10-12 Garrick Street
Covent Garden

Phone: 020 7240 7649

Visit Le Garrick here.

food and travel reviews

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

roka Brunch is perhaps my favourite meal of the week. It isn’t a big, indigestible breakfast with the prospect of needing a nap by 10.30 (although I can be tempted by an English fry-up at almost any time). It’s not a dinner, when one might be exhausted from the exertions of the day and much prefer Marmite on toast, a cuppa and an early night. This is Sunday Brunch and it is perfectly timed, and something over which to linger.

Aldwych has the attraction of good restaurants and theatres. Its transport connections are excellent, being within a short distance of Covent Garden as well as Temple and Embankment Underground stations. It’s the ideal spot to start a Sunday of unique shopping opportunities, tourism and food.

ROKA Aldwych is the fourth ROKA to open in London and it marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the flagship of the restaurant group, on Charlotte Street. This restaurant shouts understated class. One is aware on arrival that this is going to be a rather impressive establishment. The swish of the two sets of automatic glass doors hints at exclusivity.

ROKA I have not, as yet, visited the other ROKAs but this one is striking. There is a central open kitchen with its usual counter seating but then there are regular tables with generous spacing between. Although there are no outside windows in the main restaurant, the height of the ceiling and the lighting create an airy and spacious dining room that is welcoming to parties as well as couples.

The grey timber walls offer a neutral and natural backdrop to the activity of this vibrant restaurant. It presents a very subtly Japanese note to this not overly-themed restaurant, but the food is indeed contemporary Japanese, based on tradition. ROKA takes the diner away from the ubiquitous sushi (although that’s on the menu) and into the broader realm of real Japanese food.

The word ROKA is the Japanese name for a meeting place where food and drinks are served to friends (ro) with heat and warmth (ka). The Sunday Brunch for me and my companion included both hot and cold dishes from the regular menu, and main dishes from the robata grill: this method originates from the fishermen of the northern coastal waters off Japan, who would cook the catch on their boats.

ROKA The Brunch menu is divided in two with all of the starters included, and then one has the choice of main courses, so we started our culinary adventure with edamame salad with ginger and soy dressing. These beans are light and just right as part of a starter selection, or even alone with drinks before a meal.

Otsukemono no Moriawase are an array vegetable pickles which are so popular in Japan, with each family having their own favourite recipes …when they don’t buy them from the store, that is.

Horenso no Ingin Salada was an absolute delight and I am stealing this simple idea for myself. It’s baby spinach leaves with a light sesame dressing made with tahini, dashi stock and sesame seeds.

Tempura Moriawase is assorted tempura in some of the best batter you will find in London. The seafood and vegetables were all cooked to perfection in a crunchy coating that was practically greaseless. Just a little spicy sauce was all that was needed by way of condiment.

Jagaimo to Tamago Salada was a real surprise and might fall into the category of Japanese comfort food. It was a mashed potato salad with bacon and egg and was moreish and, strangely, this did work with the more traditional starters that included beautifully presented sashimi, and sushi in the guise of the outstanding crispy prawn and avocado maki, and others. The Gyuniku to Goma no Gyoza are a Japanese take on Chinese dumplings. These were stuffed with beef and ginger and were tangy and fresh.

ROKA Hinadori no Miso Yaki was my guest’s choice of main course. This is grilled baby chicken with lemon, miso, garlic and soy. The chicken was served atop a traditional table-top grill although this wasn’t the cooking implement – the grilling had been done back in the kitchen. It did make a striking presentation for one of the best chicken dishes I have had in ages. It’s a must-try here.

Gyuhireniku no Pirikara Yakiniku is another worthy dish for meat-eaters. This was a considerable serving of tender beef sirloin with a little chilli and spring onions. Granted, it’s not overtly Japanese but it fitted admirably with all the other dishes.

Then there was dessert. It was the ROKA dessert platter. I have had dessert platters before so was just about getting my coat on when it arrived. There has got to be a better name than ROKA dessert platter. Yes, OK, it was dessert and it was served on a platter but this was an extraordinary sweet confection of chocolate, sorbet, ice cream …and some fruit to make the diner feel noble even after some outstanding truffles.

ROKA ticked all my previously pencilled-in boxes and added a few more. It’s a matter of taste, for sure, but ROKA was very much my taste. My taste for hot Japanese food. My taste for thoughtful design. My taste for relaxing afternoon ambiance. I can highly recommend this Brunch. It’s worth waiting six days for.

ROKA Aldwych
71 Aldwych

Phone: +44 (0) 20 7294 7636

Visit ROKA Aldwych here

food and travel reviews

Swan Upping

Swan Upping Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial event and an activity that has endured since the 12th century. The mute swans on part of the River Thames are caught, weighed, inspected, ringed, and then released. Centuries ago these birds were eaten and this exercise was game management!

Swans were regular food in the Tudor age, but legally these days mute swans are only allowed to be eaten by the Royal Family and by fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge on 25th June. Their quills were also used for writing although quills from geese were much more commonly used – but a swan's quill was said to last as long as 50 goose quills.

Traditionally, the British Monarch is the owner of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries in Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. There is a Royal Charter which Edward IV passed in 1482 preventing the claim of ownership of swans by common people. In 2012, because of flooding of the Thames, Swan Upping was cancelled between Sunbury-on-Thames and Windsor. It’s thought to be the first time in 900 years that the event couldn’t take place.

The Keeper of the King or Queen's Swans was an ancient office in the Royal Household and was previously called the King or Queen's Swanmaster, a position which dates from the 13th century. He was assisted by three swanherdsmen during Swan Upping. The title of Keeper was replaced by two new posts in 1993, Warden of the Swans and Marker of the Swans. Swan UppingThe Queen's Marker of the Swans still organises Swan Upping and he monitors the health of the local swan population. The Warden of the Swans works alongside the Marker of the Swans, a post presently held by David Barber, and together they conduct the event.

Swan Upping is a colourful occasion and is used as a swan census. It takes place annually during the third week of July when the Queen's ‘Worshipful Company of Vintners' and the ‘Worshipful Company of Dyers' provide Swan Uppers to row up the river in shallow boats called skiffs. The first documentary reference to the Vintners owning swans comes from 1509, when the Company's "Under-Swanherd" was paid 4 shillings (20p) at the time of the 'great frost' for 'upping the Master's swans'.

This ownership of the swans is shared between the Royal Household, the Vintners and the Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century. Swans caught by the Queen's Swan Uppers under the direction of the Marker of the Swans are not now marked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for Ornithology. Those caught by the Dyers and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of an extra ring on the other leg. Today, only swans with cygnets are caught and ringed. This gives a yearly overview of how swans are breeding. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would have been marked on the bill with identifiable notches.

Swan Upping Swan Upping is conducted over a week with different stretches of the river being covered each day. As they row past Windsor Castle, the Swan Uppers salute "Her Majesty the Queen, Seigneur of the Swans". The crews of the skiffs have ceremonial uniforms but for the working element of the job they are clad in blue, red or white polo shirts and white trousers rolled up over their ankles. Each boat flies the appropriate flag for its livery company. When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of "All up!" is given to signal that the boats should get into position for a quick capture.

At the completion of Swan Upping each year, The Queen's Marker of the Swans produces a report which provides information on the number of swans accounted for, including broods and cygnets. This enables the most appropriate conservation methods to be used to protect the swans. This ancient tradition has taken on a new mantle. The Swan Uppers are caring for swans, not as a source of food but as a beautiful part of the picturesque River Thames.

food and travel reviews

Mele e Pere

Mele e Pere This is a little cracker of a restaurant and I am almost reluctant to publicise it any further for fear that the prices will go up and the chances of me getting a table will go down!

This is an authentic northern Italian, casual dining restaurant smack in the middle of the very un-Italian Soho. Its ambiance, style, ethos, whatever you want to call it, works at this location. In fact I think it would work anywhere.

Mele e Pere is ranged over two floors with the main restaurant in the basement level. Its bar is impressive with copper cladding and a shelf of home-made vermouths enough to help launch any voyage of libation discovery. Vermouth here is a signature beverage and it would be a shame not to try one. You can try others on your return, for a return is almost guaranteed.

We sat at that bar for a while and ordered a bowl of olives to go along with citrus vermouth made in-house and Byrrh which wasn’t. That’s a classic vermouth in the traditional herby style of a wine-based apéritif made of red and fortified wines (mistelle), and quinine. That quinine might not sound appealing but it’s the key ingredient in tonic water. But back to the food! Our Ascolana olives were stuffed with spicy meat, breaded and deep fried. They look innocent but they pack a chilli punch and are addictive.

Mele e Pere The menu here is seasonal and ever-changing. There are plenty of regulars who will appreciate the new items throughout the year. Fresh is evidently important at Mele e Pere. I hadn’t realised at the time of my visit that they make bread, pasta, desserts and ice-creams in their own kitchen. That isn’t always a recommendation in other restaurants. The bread was outstanding here. Yes, it’s just a simple thing but it shows attention to detail. I am hoping the owners will open a bakery next.

We ordered several starters including that amazing bread and focaccia along with deep-fried squid rings with smoked aioli and parmesan. The squid was light and the mayo a delicious foil to the delicate flavour of the breading and the seafood. But the Parma ham and gnocchi fritti is a must-try here. The gnocchi fritti were in fact light puffs and perfect when paired with the savoury ham.

Fresh spaghetti with clams, garlic, chilli and courgettes was my guest’s main course. He ordered just a small portion, which was still substantial, and he had that delicious bread for mopping juices. This was a beautiful and light dish of a good amount of shellfish and that aforementioned home-made pasta. The strands were eggy yellow and rich. A green salad alongside was all that was needed.

On this evening the menu offered home-made sausage and courgette – another substantial plateful. The sausage was seasoned, grilled and glistening and the sort that wins prizes in butchery competitions. Yes, it was that good. The sausage was coiled and skewered, the courgette was split, grilled and garnished and the diner was salivating at every bite. Once again Mele e Pere showing that food need not be fussy to be impressive. It just has to be right.

Mele e Pere Wine at Mele e Pere is reasonably priced and can be ordered by the glass, carafe or bottle, and after a vermouth or two a small carafe might be in order. And there was still dessert to come. A couple of scoops of Amalfi Lemon sorbet was enough for the two of us. The attentive waiter had the presence of mind to lay two spoons. Tangy, light and full of citrus flavour. This was a perfect end to a hot night in Italy. Well, OK, London W1, but it was pretty near. Visit for a long, lingering lunch, or even try some pastries for breakfast.

Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street

Phone: 020 7096 2096

Visit Mele e Pere here

food and travel reviews

Rennes – living with history

Rennes history History is everywhere in Rennes but it’s actually considered by thoroughly modern folks to be one of the most liveable cities in France. That’s a hard juggling act.

Rennes had been in existence for centuries before the Romans and in 57 BC the local inhabitants joined the Gaulish coalition against Rome. That didn’t work and there followed Roman occupation. In 275, the threat of invasion by barbarians led to the erection of a brick wall around the town. In the 9th century Rennes became fully Breton and was to remain that way for many hundreds of years.

In 1491 the French army of Charles VIII unsuccessfully attacked Rennes. Brittany having already surrendered everywhere else, Rennes stood alone. Duchess Anne of Brittany chose to negotiate with the king, and the resulting Treaty of Rennes, including her marriage to Charles VIII, brought Brittany into the French kingdom. Tour Duchesne is an old tower dating from around that time, and is located near the Mordelaises gates. The tower is part of the original city walls, which date back to the 3rd century, although rebuilt in the mid-1400s.

Timber-framed houses were a popular form of construction as there were forests to supply the raw material. In 1720 a major fire destroyed all the wooden buildings in the northern part of the city. The inhabitants took the precaution of rebuilding in stone, on a grid plan with wider roads. This modernisation has given Rennes two distinctive architectural faces. There are those sweeping avenues, but the medieval-looking streets still remain. Carrefour de la Cathédrale has a maze of winding streets surrounding it and that’s where one finds most of the city’s remaining half-timbered houses, dating from the 16th century.

Lift your eyes and find exquisite carved wooden details on medieval buildings. Rennes historyThere are iron-studded doors, ancient shutters, cobbled streets and granite. This isn’t a city that’s known for its stonework as there are no local quarries. This problem has been solved by the use of whatever stone was available, along with brick, creating in some buildings something of a masonry patchwork.

Rennes Cathedral is solid and unmissable. It has a heavy, granite façade that lacks the refinement of other French cathedrals that have been built from softer honey-coloured stone which was more easily sculpted. This is, externally, a rather sombre church. But step inside and you will find one of the most impressive religious buildings in France. There is a remarkable 15th-century Gothic gilded wooden altarpiece flanked by some imposing candlesticks. The arched ceilings are richly decorated and low lights pick out gold embellishments. Don’t miss a few quiet moments here.

Rennes history Rennes is a beautiful and compact city with a wealth of restaurants, cafés and bars. It boasts a large and celebrated food market and thriving gastronomic culture. Place des Lices reminds one of the jousting lists for sporting knights once found here, although it’s now alive with shoppers every Saturday. There are many street names that give a nod to medieval times. One might notice a clock tower on the Place and even that has history. It marks the spot where prisoners were executed. There is even a medieval prison that is now a nightclub and restaurant. Rennes is home to two universities and more than 50,000 students. It’s not surprising that the city has a vibrant night life.

It also has open spaces aplenty and these are well-used by locals and tourists alike. One can find deckchairs from which one can enjoy jazz or classical music. Parc du Thabor is a public garden which was built in the 19th century on the site of the orchard of the Saint-Melaine abbey. It’s the largest park in Rennes and in the centre of the town. There is a museum of fine art and one covering Breton history, so something for all the family. If one wants to cover more ground then hire a bike for the day.

Rennes is just the sort of town which one hopes to find in France. Very French ambiance, French food, beautiful old buildings, cobbled streets, a market square and a glass or two of something reviving. Yes, we seek, but seldom find, a gem that ticks all those boxes. But here it is and just an easy hop across the Channel from Southend Airport.

Visit Southend Airport here

Learn more about Rennes here

food and travel reviews

Rennes – second capital of food (or is it third?)

Rennes food Rennes Market, in the Place des Lices, is there every Saturday, and is considered to be the second- or third-largest in France, depending on whom you are speaking to. It starts in the morning around 7.30 although there is not the full complement of nearly 300 stalls and vendors till an hour or so later. It’s usually the time-strapped locals who frequent the market so early. They are looking for the week’s fruit and veg and don’t want to be tripping over enthusiastic, iPhone-clicking tourists. 

This isn’t one of the new breed of Farmers’ Markets that have sprung up in the UK. This one has been doing it since 1622. The site has always been an open space since the time of knights and the courtly sport of jousting. The Place des Lices takes its name from the jousting ‘lists’ which was the arena where the tournaments took place.

Rennes food The covered markets contain honey, cider, baked goods, charcuterie and ready-prepared food, while outside there are avenues of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls.  In 1965 the halls were modernised to that which we see today. There are now two market halls although there were originally three: the missing one was used for the sale of fish but that was deemed to be too malodourous and was demolished. The fresh-fish vendors now occupy the same space, but in the open air. There is also a small flower market which is up the hill a few yards. Here you will find posies, exotic blooms, potted plants and a beautiful perfume.

The market attracts about 10,000 visitors every week. They come for the produce and to meet friends. This is part of the French lifestyle of which so many of us dream, and it’s here in Rennes. It’s a pleasure to browse the stalls, gathering ingredients for dinner. One might buy a loaf of warm bread and some local butter, perhaps a ready-grilled chicken and a scoop of potatoes cooked in the aforementioned bird’s juices. A bottle of cidre might be heading home with the soon-to-be-diner …and that cheese looks good!

One can build up an appetite long before a regular mealtime, but Breton galette stuffed with a sausage is on hand to take away those hunger pangs. This Rennes speciality seems to be eaten by everyone these days. It’s a savoury buckwheat-flour pancake which once served as bread in this region. There are several food carts at the market and regulars will have their favourite. If in doubt, join the longest line.

If you are one of those poor unfortunates who had a mum who told you it was unacceptable to eat on the street then you have my sympathy and a suggestion of a proper sit-down restaurant. Rennes foodCrêperie Saint-Georges will allow you to taste galettes filled with all manner of savoury ingredients, and there are light crepes for dessert, too. This is a striking restaurant with unique design and delicious food. I ordered Georges Bataille (strangely all the menu items are called George) – a galette filled with black pudding and apple, which was a sweet and savoury dish with all the flavours of the area.

Crêperie Saint-Georges
11 rue du Chapitre
35000 Rennes

Phone: 02 99 38 87 04

Visit Crêperie Saint-Georges here

Established early in 2013, TEA & TY is a specialist in, unsurprisingly, tea. It has a convenient central location and is just the place to sit down and enjoy a light bite and a reviving cuppa.

Rennes food This is a rather trendy tea room with not a hint of chintz. The walls are lined with huge tea canisters from which to choose one’s preferred brew and small gift-quality tea caddies for practical souvenirs. The tea is served from traditional Japanese iron pots and poured into contemporary bowls. One can enjoy a pastry or a cookie or a savoury tart of some sort, but it’s the tea that’s special here.

TEA & TY has a great selection of leaf teas from around the world. They carry both black and green teas and also the less-often available rooibos tea from South Africa, which isn’t a tea at all but has been used as an infusion for generations. I enjoyed a bowl of Japanese sencha tea and, keeping with the theme, a matcha cookie. No, not very French, but there is a polished and eclectic side to Rennes and I was doing just what the locals do, after all.

16, rue Victor Hugo
35000 Rennes

Phone: 02 23 20 75 96

Visit TEA & TY here 

Rennes food Located in the heart of the city centre of Rennes, opposite the Place de Bretagne, l’Amiral restaurant welcomes its guests with a nautical sweep of its terrace roof. It’s a large, contemporary and tastefully appointed restaurant which specialises in fish and seafood.

That terrace is the spot to grab on hot and sunny days. A lunch here is pleasure writ large. The menu offers every genre of seafood from lobster at the luxury end to the very reasonable Assiette de Fruits de Mer. The portions are substantial and beautifully presented. I was tempted by a bargain bowl of mussels which came with fries – a meal over which to linger with convivial company and a glass of local beer.

But meat-eaters, who will likely be here under protest, have nothing to fear. They will probably soon be heard to mutter ‘Well, I didn’t expect that’, ‘Shall we book a table for Wednesday?’ and even ‘I think that might be the best steak I have ever had’. Not bad for a piscatorial emporium!

1 rue de la Motte Picquet
35000 Rennes

Phone: 02 99 35 03 91

Visit l'Amiral here

Rennes was made for lovers of good food. One can dine at home on the best of local produce. There is authentic street food to enjoy. Healthful and smart tea shops beckon, and the most stylish of restaurants are all within walking distance of the centre of town.

Rennes is accessible these days with direct flights from Southend Airport. Do remember to book a piece of luggage for the hold as there will be plenty of bottles to bring back. The local version of Calvados is well worth seeking out. One doesn’t need a car for a short break as it’s a city to enjoy on foot. If the legs get weary then sit and people-watch for a while. Order a coffee or a traditional cup of cidre and wonder why you didn’t come here before.

Visit Southend Airport here

Learn more about Rennes here

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Gymkhana London

Gymkhana Gymkhana is an Indian word which originally referred to a meeting place. These days it tends to be an equestrian day event put on by posh pony clubs; but not in this case. Gymkhana in London does fit into the ‘meeting place’ category and it does have the feel of a nicely appointed casual club, but there won’t be the smell of horse or stable anywhere near.

Gymkhana on Albemarle Street in Mayfair is an Indian restaurant serving innovative food from the imagination of Group Executive Chef Rohit Ghai in a venue that has been thoughtfully presented by owner Karam Sethi, right down to the serving plates. Yes, it does indeed have a relaxed ambiance but the food is Michelin Star all the way.

This isn’t an overly-themed Indian restaurant. The name Gymkhana gives a hint to its ethnicity but the ground floor has marble table-tops and booths along with dark wood which really gives the air of that old-fashioned, much-sought-after French Bistro which one looks for but never finds in the back streets of Paris. It flaunts a very buzzy and energetic vibe.

The lower level must have originally been the cellar of an old Georgian house or shop. This has allowed for a couple of private dining spaces which still retain the curved ceilings that remind one of wine cellars in France or Italy.

Gymkhana The main basement restaurant again sports dark wood aplenty with old pictures from the days of the Raj, brass-edged tables and rattan chairs adding to the old Indian club reincarnation. The ceiling is low, giving a sense of calming intimacy. It’s much quieter here than above making this the very spot for romantic encounters, discreet business meetings or unwinding after a hard day at the coal face.

Gymkhana takes advantage of seasonal British ingredients so there will likely be something new with every visit. This isn’t your usual Indian restaurant menu at any time of year so even regulars will find not only quality but unique dishes.

Gol Guppas with Jaljeera, Potato, and Sprouting Moong arrived as pre-dinner nibbles. These are classic stuffed puffs but here they are served on the best of English cottage china, once again introducing a very Anglo element. But do try the Dosa here. It’s authentically crisp (I have found many to be flabby and doughy) and light, with a rich filling of Chettin Duck with traditional coconut chutney. This is a winner at any time of year.

Gymkhana Rajma fritters are a take on Indian comfort food. These are balls of kidney beans with a crunchy coating and they are moreish. But meat eaters are not forgotten: Lamb Nalli Barra served with lightly pickled onion were outstanding. The meat was glisteningly moist and meltingly tender. It’s a substantial dish and seasoned to perfection.

Wild Muntjac Biryani with Pomegranate and Mint Raita was the main dish, and there is innovation here even in the pastry crust which was crowned with seeds, giving it a wholesome and attractive appearance that was a shame to destroy. This is a dish over which to salivate while inhaling delicate aromas of spiced meat and rice. A hearty dish but lightened by the yoghurt and fruit.

Rose and Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was my guest’s dessert. He pronounced it to be excellent with flowery notes from the rose and just a touch of sharpness from the rhubarb. I always think of falooda as something along the lines of English trifle. It’s a sweet treat full of lots of different good things.

Gymkhana Queens Club Cocktail was my preferred finish to the meal. I hadn’t had wine with dinner so I could indulge in a little alcohol now. This hot after-dinner cocktail had me intrigued: it’s Ketel One Vodka, coriander seed and lemon zest syrup, clove and hot Darjeeling Earl Grey tea poured over a clove and apple jelly, and into a proper cup and saucer. Deliciously theatrical and a cocktail which I want to replicate at home …every evening.

Gymkhana will definitely appeal to those looking for uncommon food that’s predictably good, in a restaurant with character in a convenient location. Karam Sethi once again shows his flair for knowing what works.

42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

Phone: 020 3011 5900

Visit Gymkhana Restaurant here

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Memphis in London

The Shaftesbury Theatre is both beautiful and historic, and a worthy presenter of a show that is beautiful in a very different way.

Memphis is a musical and a memorable and striking one. It is set in an era of segregation, overt racism, poverty, and dreams. The story line is perennial and simple but with a sting – boy meets girl, boy loses girl. The main protagonists are Huey Calhoun and Felicia Farrell, racism and music. These add up to be more than the sum of their component parts.

Memphis in London Huey is a poor, white, ill-educated clown of a chap who has a passion for music – Black music. That’s not a claim to fame these days but we are talking 1950s USA, and the South at that! These were troubled times where even music had to know its place. He was on a mission to popularise R&B and bring it to a wider audience.

A Beale Street club offers Huey a chance to immerse himself, or almost, in black musical culture. And there was a young black singer called Felicia who stole his heart but also showed him the brutality and injustice of Memphis society. Huey could be musically black whenever he wanted, but she was black every moment, noted Felicia. There were realities to be faced.

Memphis is colourful, vibrant and a little shocking, particularly to younger members of the theatre audience who have never actually heard the N-word in such a public forum. There was an audible gasp from those who had not grasped the aforementioned realities of life for non-whites – a few gritty moments that were completely in context. There is a hard-hitting story here which supports some cracking good songs.

Beverley Knight captivates from the first moment. In my humble opinion, and I am no expert, she is the most polished and accomplished soul singer around. She has the voice, for sure, but she has charm, elegance and beauty. One warms to her character, Felicia, who has talent, humour and ambition.

From 6 July 2015 the role of Huey Calhoun is played by Matt Cardle.  He has built himself a solid reputation since his success with X-Factor. He brings sensitivity and credibility to his role along with his powerful voice, energy and nifty moves. A great choice for the part and for the partnership with Ms Knight, that makes Memphis so memorable.

There are other heroes in Memphis. The dancers are dazzling and the musicians are first-rate. Don’t rush off after the stars have taken their bows: stay until the music is really over and give those musicians some applause too. Some nice bits of sax playing in the last few minutes before the curtain falls.

Go to Memphis. I highly recommend this show for its social comment, its musical score and its originality. It’s a fun show dealing with serious issues and it’s a balance that it thoughtfully maintains. It’s a moving story with songs that have all the style of 50s R&B.

Memphis in London Shaftesbury Theatre
210 Shaftesbury Avenue

Visit Shaftesbury Theatre here
For enquiries relating to the performance or general ticket enquiries email

For general enquiries email
Stage Door: Phone 020 7379 3345
Box Office: Phone 020 7379 5399
Fax: 020 7836 8181

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Lambrusco - Another taste

Lambrusco - Another taste If you are of a certain age then even the name ‘Lambrusco’ will likely raise a smirk. Once the smirker’s composure has been restored then he/she will probably deny ever having tasted the stuff. One has one’s oenological credibility to consider, after all! Wouldn’t be seen quaffing anything so viticulturally base!

Where exactly is Lambrusco, my dear geographically-challenged reader might ask. It’s not a place but just a wine. Emilia Romagna and Mantova are often referred to as being in the ‘Lambrusco region’ but that just describes the wine typical of the area. Lambrusco is the name of both a red wine grape and an Italian wine made principally from the grape. They originate from around Emilia-Romagna and the central provinces of Modena, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Mantua.

The grape isn’t a new variety but in fact has a long history, with archaeological findings showing that the Etruscans cultivated these same grapes. The Romans enjoyed Lambrusco and prized it for the high grape yield of its vines.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s that infamous sweet Lambrusco was one of biggest selling wines in the US and UK, and it was offered in both white and red. Both made with the same grapes but the must, or grape juice, for the white wine stayed in contact with the grape skins for less time than for the red.

It’s mostly sparkling wine but not usually made using the ‘Champagne method’ (metodo classico). It is typically made using the Charmat process (like prosecco) where a second fermentation is undertaken in a pressurized tank rather than in the bottle.

Lambrusco - Another taste Most Lambruscos are made from more than one Lambrusco variety and often mixed with a number of approved blending grapes. The grape itself is not particularly sweet but many of the commercial Lambrusco wines are sweetened by either partial fermentation or with the addition of concentrated grape must. There are different levels of dryness or sweetness; the wine is noted for high acidity and flavours of blackberries, strawberries and cherries.

Reggiano is the largest Lambrusco-producing region and the origin of the majority of the exports of that DOC-designated wine. The four Lambrusco grapes that can be used are Maestri, Marani, Montericco, and Salamino. Up to 15% of added Ancellotta grapes are allowed for this DOC, too.

It’s hardly surprising that these better quality Lambrusco wines differ from the cheap supermarket bottles with which we were afflicted a few decades ago. They’re more potent, having an alcoholic content of between 11 and 12 per cent, as opposed to four per cent for those over-sweet and half-hearted wines that gave Lambrusco such a bad name.

Lambrusco - Another taste These days Lambrusco is much drier, with a touch of tannin, and well balanced, being rich and juicy as well as displaying freshness and fruitiness. It still has that deep crimson colour that looked so delicious all those years ago, but now that expectation is more often realised. It’s still sparkling and offering those same pink bubbles when poured, but it’s often the best Lambrusco that’s now exported and enjoyed by people outside Italy.

Lambrusco is attractive, refreshing and goes well with so many foods. It’s best served chilled with canapés, light summer salads and even cheese. It’s well worth another look; but beware - there are still bottles out there that too closely fit the profile of those previous horrors! It’s not always a matter of ‘you get what you pay for’ so it’s perhaps worth going to a reputable wine merchant and even asking for a taste if you intend to buy a case or two.

‘A case or two?’ I can hear you cry with loud incredulity. Well, yes. A good Lambrusco is hard to beat when the sun shines, so set aside wine snobbery, buy some bottles and boast that you have discovered the next big wine trend.

Learn more about Reggio Emilia here

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Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary Bombay Brasserie and Bar, Gloucester Road, South Kensington has been an A-lister for the great and the good as well as the just famous and now it has adopted a new, cool ivory-coloured persona in place of the Rajesque opulence it once flaunted.

The restaurant has undergone a couple of transformations since it opened in 1982 as one of London’s first Indian fine-dining destinations. It has recently been refurbished and is now much lighter and more contemporary than its previous incarnation. There are still the famed sepia pictures of Maharajas gracing the walls of the bar and on a panel next to the piano in the restaurant, but now Bombay Brasserie is less fussy but just as classy as the old BB.

My guest remarked that Bombay Brasserie has perhaps the most generous table spacing of any London restaurant of any culinary persuasion. The restaurant evidently considers the comfort of its guests, and one truly does feel like a guest rather than a customer. The service, overseen by Operations Manager Mr. Shailesh Pandya, is, just like the man himself, professional and friendly yet unobtrusive.

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary The conservatory has been transformed with the removal of the central open kitchen. The walls are now covered with white-and-black Indian folk murals and there is an outside terrace to enjoy on warm summer evenings. But the new private dining area which seats about 18 is absolutely stunning. It’s a vision of dark wood, carved-back chairs and Indian good taste. It’s understated splendour.
Executive Chef Prahlad Hegde is modest, charming and softly spoken but heads an energetic and well-polished team. Chef Hegde is the hidden cornerstone in the kitchen and his skill as a chef has won him awards and deserved respect from his peers as well as those he feeds. It’s his food that entices the visitor to return …and often. He doesn’t court publicity but rather works quietly away to build a solid and creditable worldwide reputation for Bombay Brasserie.

We visited on a hot and sticky evening. Yes, it’s true, they are rare in London but when they arrive they are strength-sapping and tiresome. Alcohol didn’t appeal, even though we were luxuriating in Bombay Brasserie’s air-conditioning, but we were invited to try a couple of virgin cocktails and they hit the spot, to the extent that we ordered another round. Not exactly binge drinking and there was neither guilt nor hangover. Tamaringer was an addictive concoction of sharp and thirst-quenching tamarind spiked with chilli served with plenty of ice. My guest’s libation was the equally moreish Green Refresher which offers the much-publicised healthful properties of green tea along with pineapple, mint, ginger and lemon.

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary This restaurant is far from being a high-street curry house (although these are fewer in number they have long been well-loved institutions and it was they, after all, who gave us our appreciation of spice). Bombay Brasserie is famed for its accessible Indian fine-dining ambiance and menu. Chef Hegde has a light touch, a deft hand and a lot of passion for his craft. The menu has classics but also dishes that are unique to this restaurant.

Non-meat eaters are well catered for here with seafood aplenty as well as vegetable dishes such as the okra which shouldn’t be missed. The griddled prawns and scallops are for which to die. I would venture to say that those scallops are the best I have ever had in London, or anywhere else for that matter. They are translucent and succulent. Pan-fried Chilean sea bass on a base of spinach and mushroom is a fine example of why this fish has become so popular and it’s a flaky must-try on this menu.

Braised lamb shank should be the dinner of choice for any card-carrying carnivore. It arrived simply presented with a light gravy on the side. The meat was, and I know it’s a much-used cliché, ‘falling off the bone’. That’s a more literarily nifty phrase than ‘sufficiently tender as to be easily shredded with the blunt edge of a spoon or a sharp look’ which would be equally true.

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary Bombay Brasserie and Executive Chef Prahlad Hegde never disappoint. Its convenient location, its delicious food and impeccable service have kept this restaurant buzzing. It might have changed its décor, it hasn’t changed its name to Mumbai Somethingorother, and the high quality of its dishes and presentation remain the same. Any lover of good food will have this restaurant on their gastronomic Bucket List.

Bombay Brasserie
Courtfield Road

Phone +44 (0)20 7370 4040

Visit Bombay Brasserie here

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Parmigiano Reggiano – a cracking good cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano If we are sent on a mission to buy a flavourful hard cheese we will likely want to buy Parmigiano Reggiano. If we are looking for parmesan cheese its possible we won’t get Parmigiano Reggiano but an inferior cheese with an Italian flag on the packaging. It’s the same issue with balsamic vinegar and even wine, but imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, after all.

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese takes its name from the region where it is produced:  the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna (but only the area to the west of the river Reno), Modena, and Mantova in Lombardia (but only the area to the south of the River Po). Only cheese produced in these areas may be labelled "Parmigiano-Reggiano" and have those words imprinted on the rind.

The real Parmigiano Reggiano cheese has been around for 800 years or so and is made, broadly, in the same way in the same region and sometimes by the same families who have been making cheese for generations. During the Great Fire of London of 1666 diarist Samuel Pepys buried his cheese: "I did dig another hole, and put our wine in it; and my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things" to save them from the approaching inferno. The cheeses were used as prestigious gifts: in 1511 a Pope made a gift to Henry VIII of one hundred Parmesan cheeses, and in 1556 another Pope made gifts of "eight great Parmesan cheeses" to Queen Mary of England.

This king of cheeses is made with milk, non-vegetarian rennet, heat and the skill of the maker. There are around 450 small artisan dairies and nine thousand milk producers who have to work 365 days of the year, as cows don’t have holidays. Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay to produce the milk for this particular cheese.

Parmigiano Reggiano The whole unpasteurised milk of the morning milking is mixed with the skimmed milk of the previous evening's milking. This skimmed milk is made by resting milk in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate, resulting in a part-skimmed milk. This milk is pumped into copper-lined conical vats. Starter whey is added, and the temperature is raised to between 33 and 35°C. Rennet is added, and the mixture is left to naturally curdle for 10 minutes or so. The curd is then broken into small pieces. The temperature is raised to 55°C and the curd is left to settle for about an hour. The curd is scooped up in a large piece of muslin and hung to drain for a few minutes before being cut in half and placed in stainless steel moulds to drain still more. At this time each cheese weighs around 45 kg.

After a couple of days a plastic belt embossed with the words Parmigiano Reggiano, the producer’s identification number, and date of production is put around the cheese and buckled tight. After a day the wheel is removed from the embossing mould and is put into a brine bath to absorb salt. It stays there for 3 weeks and is turned frequently. After brining, the cheeses are moved to the aging room and left there to mature for at least a year. Each cheese is turned every week to allow for even maturation.

After one year, an independent assessor evaluates each wheel of cheese. He does this by tapping each one with a special hammer. The assessor listens for the change in sound indicating whether the cheese has aged properly. The cheeses are then branded with the distinctive oval Consorzio Tutela Parmigiano Reggiano certification mark. Those rare cheeses that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano. These days the rinds are usually removed altogether.

Parmigiano Reggiano The cheese tester also determines whether further aging is required for a particular wheel. Some are best eaten between 12 and 18 months. Most cheeses are aged to between 18 and 36 months, typically 24 months. Those labelled stravecchio have been aged three years, while stravecchiones are four or more years old. This extra aging allows the cheese to develop its fullest flavour. The younger Parmigiano has a hard texture with a slightly fruity and nutty flavour and a sharp finish. The older cheese has a more crumbly texture with crunchy crystals throughout. These are not flakes of salt but amino acid crystals and a natural and integral part of mature cheeses. The flavour is stronger and more complex than that of the younger cheeses.

The almond-shaped knife and various chisel-type wedges are the traditional tools for cutting a whole wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. In truth it’s not cut but cracked open to show its unique craggy surface. Sometimes it’s opened across the cheese to produce two huge half-moon shapes and on other occasions it’s opened around the edge to produce two identical and impressive discs. Using the tip of the knife, a line is drawn that divides the wheel in half across the diameter, down the sides and across the other side of the cheese; or around its circumference. The rind is cut into by the knife along that line to a depth of one or two centimetres. Parmigiano ReggianoThese knives act as wedges and the wheel splits open into two identical halves, with a bit of work. The half cheese is usually cut in half, and those wedges are cut in half again until manageable wedges are achieved for the buyer.

Parmigiano Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos, and eaten on its own with perhaps a little drizzle of real balsamic vinegar. Strips of the rind are sometimes simmered in soup, giving an added richness. The hollowed-out rind of a whole wheel of Parmigiano can be a spectacular serving vessel for large groups of guests, with the remaining cheese melting into hot food.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a classic cheese but it’s important to buy the best, to buy the authentic article. You will taste the difference and never again will you be tempted to use the imposters.

Learn more about Reggio Emilia here
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Balsamic vinegar in Emilia Romagna

Balsamic vinegar in Emilia Romagna
Balsamic vinegar, in Italian ‘aceto balsamico’, is a vinegar originating in Italy – the syrupy dark-brown condiment that one finds in Italian restaurants and gracing deli shelves. It doesn’t contain any balsam at all but the word balsamic refers to its supposed healthful qualities. It’s rather pricey, especially as, when found in your local supermarket, it’s likely not the best quality. The label to look for is one that says it’s traditional balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) – once tasted you will realise that it’s worth the price. It takes years to produce the best, and it has a story.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is made from a reduction of cooked white Trebbiano or Lambrusco grape juices and has been produced in Modena and Reggio Emilia in Emilia Romagna since the Middle Ages. But it has been enjoying international popularity over the last couple of decades. You would have seen bottles of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and this has a Protected Geographical Status label, and is usually used on restaurant tables and found in supermarkets; but it’s not the same as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.  ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena’ and ‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia’ are also protected by the designations Denominazione di Origine Protetta and the European Union's Protected Designation of Origin, just like wine and other products. They can be recognised by their approved bottle shapes.

Balsamic vinegar in Emilia Romagna Real Balsamic vinegar must be aged for a minimum of 12 years. This is done in a battery of 5 barrels of between 50 and 15 litres. It’s a tradition that a new baby girl is welcomed with a new flight of barrels, with the resulting vinegar being presented to her when she marries. The barrels are made of different woods such as oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry, ash or juniper. Each of these woods imparts a different flavour. Some producer’s largest barrels are those which have previously been used for making wine. This would also lend another flavour.

The process for making vinegar is different from that for making wine. First, all barrels are ¾-filled with the cooked grape juice or must. The barrels are not sealed and there is a hole in the top called a cocchiume. A piece of cloth lightly covers the hole but allows air to circulate. There is essential evaporation through this hole and through the staves of the barrels. Balsamic vinegar in Emilia RomagnaThese barrels are stored in the roof of a building and thus the must is exposed to extremes of temperature, something that will fill the heart of any winemaker with horror.

At the end of a year the wine from the 4th barrel is used to top up the 5th, smallest, barrel to the original ¾ mark again. The 3rd barrel tops up the 4th, the 2nd barrel tops up the 3rd and the 1st barrel tops up the 2nd. The 1st and largest barrel is topped up with new must.

True balsamic vinegar is rich and glossy and is as thick as crude oil. It has a dark mahogany brown colour and has a flavour that has the natural sweet and sour notes that make this such a complex and sought-after product.

In Reggio Emilia there are designations for the different ages of their balsamic vinegar. There are the easily recognisable round bottles with labels of different colours. A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label is reserved for the vinegar which has been aged for at least 18 years, and a gold label indicates that the vinegar has aged for 25 years or more.

The gold label Balsamic isn’t to be poured but rather slowly dropped, one lazy drip at a time, over Parmesan cheese or perhaps over some strawberries. It works well over a light and unflavoured ice cream. But take a non-metallic spoon and put just a little in the bowl. Take that black gold in your mouth and let it rest there to warm and to bathe your tongue and taste buds. That’s when you realise why Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia is so famed.

Learn  more about Reggio Emilia here

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Gaylord in Mortimer Street

gaylord This is one restaurant that I have visited and wondered why I had not done so long before now. Gaylord Restaurant was established in 1966 so I would have had plenty of time. Its location couldn’t be more convenient, being between two Underground stations and near shops and theatres. I guess that it has become an Indian restaurant institution and doesn’t get the publicity lavished on some newer kids on the block …or at least new kids on other London blocks.

I liked it. OK, so that phrase doesn’t have great wordy impact but it speaks volumes. It made a great impression on arrival. It’s cool and elegant in a very ‘international crisp white linen and ivory’ way but there were very Indian friezes by Prithvi Soni on the wall to give a nod to the ethnicity of the culinary offerings. For me, this is just the right balance of décor laced with exotica. I was comfortable.

The diners were an eclectic mix of American tourists and local Indian and European regulars. There were couples as well as families enjoying cooling drinks before their meal on this unusually hot and humid summer night, in a London that seemed to be emulating the sub-continent.

Gaylord in Mortimer Street Gaylord has a beautiful menu. That is to say the actual menu is beautifully presented with heavy card pages, muted colours, metallic details and a very practical landscape layout. It hinted at the quality of food to come, when such attention had been given before a morsel had even been ordered.

But we did order and started with non-alcoholic cocktails. I can recommend the Virgin Paan Mohitos made with rose petals, fresh mint, lime juice and buckets of ice. A thirst-quencher with a delicate perfume.

Gaylord remains faithful to its traditions that were started in India in the 1940s. There are dishes which are familiar and there are others that cross boundaries. I have never been keen on fusion dishes but the Tacos here are worth trying. They are an Indian version of the Mexican street food classic. The menu mentions soft tacos but ours were the crisp corn tacos with that very particular flavour …and it really worked with the filling of lamb seek kebab with a pile of garnishes. I am sure the soft taco shell would have been good but the crisp one has more flavour and is fun, although messy, to eat.

My guest ordered Mixed Vegetable Pakoras. Yes, a standard dish but that standard does vary from restaurant to restaurant. These were just for which I would hope. It’s all about the batter which coats those veggies, and this gram flour batter gave a light, crisp and oil-free pakora that was moreish.

Murg Gilafi seekh was my starter. Minced chicken had been lightly smoked, giving a moist and juicy kebab. Served on a sizzling platter with sliced onions, this was a winner. Golgappa shots were delicious and amusing and a must-try if there are a crowd of you. Tandoori prawns and chicken tikka are also good here, so order a few starters to share in tapas style.

Gaylord in Mortimer Street Gaylord Grill is a substantial platter of Tandoori Lamb Chop, Fish Tikka and Murg Malai Tikka. The chop was charred on the bone with meat that was cooked to pink perfection. The chicken and fish were both melting and well-seasoned.

Vegetable Jalfrezi was my vibrant mix for a main course. A medley of potatoes, green peas, peppers, button mushrooms, carrots were tossed with warming spices and fresh coriander. This was a hot dish that was both light and flavourful on an equally hot summer night. A dish for any Indian food aficionado. It needed nothing more alongside than some rice and Yellow Dal Tadka tempered with garlic, red onion, and cumin – a hearty dal for sharing.

Baingan Hyderabadi should be a signature side dish at Gaylord. Aubergine chunks, simmered in spicy masala gravy are truly addictive. I am tempted to pop in for a portion of this and some naan bread whenever I am passing.

Gaylord in Mortimer Street Gajar Ka halwa is a traditional homemade carrot pudding and here it is served hot with almond slivers and a great deal of style. It arrived in a silver jewel box which added to the general majestic ambiance of Gaylord.

This was a delightful meal and my only regret is that I didn’t visit sooner. I look forward to becoming a regular for lunch, dinner and a bite before going to the theatre. It will be a long time before I tire of the beautiful menu.

Gaylord London
79-81 Mortimer Street


Phone: 020 7580 3615 or 020 7636 0808

Visit Gaylord here

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Bayeux – A stitch in time

Bayeux It’s inevitable that the first thing people think of when you mention Bayeux is the tapestry. Though it’s not actually a tapestry but a very fine embroidery. The Bayeux Tapestry is now on permanent display in a bespoke museum in the city of Bayeux in Normandy, France. It’s unique and huge and merits a home of its own.

The ‘tapestry’ tells the story of the life of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, and here comes another factual correction and we are only at paragraph two! The Battle of Hastings was actually fought at a place called Battle, although I suspect it was named only after the Battle. It would have been too much of a coincidence otherwise.

The tapestry tells of William and his passage from being just the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy (with ‘Bastard’ as the only appendage to his name) to rising to having ‘King’ as his title. One can see the preparations for invasion; the felling of trees and the launching of boats, and then the battle. Many men are shown as conclusively dead and the English King Harold can be seen being the well-documented recipient of the arrow in the eye.

Bayeux The bloody event was to have a huge impact on Medieval England and it’s still exciting interest today. The tapestry is made out of eight narrow widths of linen sewn together.  It’s 270 feet long and about 20 inches wide. The majority of stitches used are ‘stem’ and ‘laid-and-couched’, which will only mean anything to devoted embroiderers.

There are eight colours of thread and the five main colours are blue-green, terracotta, light-green, buff and grey-blue. Nothing too vivid and all obviously made with natural dyes. There are also areas where very dark blue, yellow and a dark green are still visible – this hanging is in amazing condition considering its age.

It is assumed that the man who commissioned the tapestry was Bishop Odo of Bayeux. He was William’s half-brother. It is probable that the tapestry was made to celebrate both William’s victory at Hastings and the completion of Odo’s cathedral in the city.

The tapestry was likely made by women in Canterbury, Kent, where there was a celebrated embroidery school.  They used stitches very similar to those found on the tapestry. Another indication that this was sewn on the English side of the Channel is that some of the names on the tapestry are spelt in the English way and not in the French style.

Bayeux The tapestry shows 50 different scenes and there are 632 people, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 505 other characters, 37 buildings, around 40 ships and trees, and lots of Latin. Adults will be charmed by the handiwork and younger members of the group will be thrilled by the brutality and carnage!

But there is more to this beautiful town than the tapestry. The large Norman-Romanesque and Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux was consecrated in 1077 by the aforementioned Bishop Odo. The lower part of the building is Romanesque, and is probably original. The upper part is in Gothic style making this an architect’s dream structure to study. But look inside to really appreciate the magnificence of the cathedral.

Bayeux is only a short distance from the Normandy Beaches, which have been attracting more visitors than ever over the last several years. There are various associated museums and exhibitions in the area, as well as war cemeteries, commemorating very much more recent battles than that shown in the Tapestry.

Bayeux Bayeux has a wealth of restaurants and specialist food shops. Many of these are housed in historic half-timbered buildings, so take your eyes off the cheese for a moment and you might find some characterful wood carving. And along with the cidre and dairy products there is a little shop that actually sells bits of the Bayeux Tapestry. Well, newly embroidered authentic replicas of the historic hanging anyway. You can buy finished cushions, you can buy kits as souvenirs and you can even have lessons on the stitches used by those Kentish damsels who made the original.

Bayeux is an accessible and walkable town. Photo opportunities abound, eating opportunities are ever present and one can just people-watch with a coffee and an apple pastry. It’s easy to get there from Caen by train, which itself has fast shuttle links to and from its airport. There are flights from the gem of an airport at Southend.
Learn more about making your own tapestry here

Visit Southend Airport here

Learn more about Bayeux here

Visit the Bayeux Tapestry Museum here

food and travel reviews

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons

This thick, square tome is a veritable guide to all things delicious in the capital. We are truly spoilt for choice so it’s handy to have some pointers. Yes, it’s all a matter of taste but authors David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters have presented a comprehensive cross-section of suggestions. There are chapters devoted to restaurants and others to various genres of food purveyors. Its style is chatty and inclusive and the text doesn’t ramble.

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons isn’t a book just for those with cash to splash. There is a section devoted to Street Food which offers vibrant options that won’t demand a second mortgage. Borough Market has become a magnet for food-lovers from around the world. Plenty to see and taste and those foods are just as diverse as the people trying them. This market does double duty as a fresh food market and a Street Food arcade.

For a look at a colourful and thoroughly authentic market then head for Leather Lane which has held markets for 400 years or so. It’s not polished but it’s real London, with everything from fresh veg to big knickers, along with those eclectic plates. This is absolutely Street Food!

If you would actually like to sit while you sip then this book has a wealth of tea and coffee houses. I am guessing that you are a food lover and likely passionate about recipe books, and London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons presents Books for Cooks. It’s a celebrated bookshop with food books of every kind. There is a café at the back which doubles as a demonstration area for some of those cookbook authors.

Persepolis is one of my personal favourite food shops in London, and probably anywhere. The food is exotic and delicious and mostly Persian. The owner, Sally Butcher, is almost always serving and entertaining with her own brand of warm and hilarious humour. She is not only Mrs Shopkeeper but she is the writer of some very engaging cookbooks. This shop is a must-visit!

As I’ve said, it’s just a matter of taste, but the two authors have coincidently chosen so many of my favourite haunts. It’s a pleasure to leaf through the pages while making plans for the next market visit, or to dine at that restaurant with the unique curry. This is gift quality and should indeed be a gift for any lover of London and its food. Gone are the days when we had such a (deservedly) bad reputation for food. London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons illustrates how far we have come - and it’s only scratched the surface.

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons
Authors: David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters
Published by: Survival Books
Price: £11.95
ISBN-13: 978-1909282766

food and travel reviews

Iconic Kettner’s of Soho

Iconic Kettner's of Soho Kettner’s, I used to feel, seemed somewhat out of place in this corner of the great metropolis. It’s a genteel establishment and that’s not for which this corner of town had once been noted. This old Soho had evolved from a bolt-hole for religious-refugee Huguenots to the haunt of far less noble sorts who peddled X-rated films and associated iffy pleasures. But it has changed. Restaurants are higher end and it’s now a hub of entertainment for shoppers, drinkers and diners.

Originally Kettner’s was a terrace of four Georgian town houses. It was opened in 1867 by Auguste Kettner who was once the personal chef to Napoleon III. Napoleon went into exile in England, where he died in 1873.  The restaurant became infamous as the rendezvous for such luminaries as Oscar Wilde who dined here (although he couldn’t remember the menu at his trial). He did, however, remark that it was ‘Kettner at his best’. There is a legend that King Edward VII ordered a secret tunnel to be built between Kettner’s and the Palace Theatre, where his mistress Lillie Langtry trod the boards.

The Grade II listed building is a veritable maze of rooms. There is the Brasserie, and then there is the Champagne Bar, and eight Private Dining Rooms. Summer evenings find the brasserie bathed in gentle light.Iconic Kettner's of Soho Plenty of white linen, muted colours, mirrors, long-aproned waiters and animated conversation. Kettner’s is undoubtedly smart but it’s far from dusty.  There is appropriate live music between Tuesday and Saturday from 7pm: a white grand piano fills a corner, to add to the expectation of some rather good food.

Lobster “Mac n Cheese” is a decadent and comforting dish much appreciated by my guest. It might sound an unlikely combination but it has actually become a contemporary classic. The ingredients work well together when the shellfish is well flavoured and the cheese isn’t overpowering. A great Kettner’s plate.

Iconic Kettner's of Soho John Ross Traditional Oak Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche & Cucumber Salad was my starter. That fish also has history: it’s smoked over wood chippings in a red brick kiln dating back to 1857, just the right time frame for Kettner’s. The salmon was beautifully oily and rich.

Roast Sea Bass Fillet with Cucumber, Mussels and Tarragon Salad was my dining partner’s main dish. The fish was flaky and moist and the salad delicate. The Cabernet Sauvignon Dressing was a great pairing. A good sized portion, too.

Beef Bourguignon with Creamed Parsley Mash was my nod to the French origins of Chef Kettner. This was attractively presented in a copper pot, giving a rustic air to this beef in red wine. This is a comforting dish of rich gravy and meltingly tender meat and vegetables. It’s served often in many restaurants but, to be honest, the Kettner’s version is the only one I have really enjoyed in London for a long while. The mash was perfect and smooth and just enough. Did I mention the generous portion sizes at Kettner’s?

Glazed Lemon Tart is another classic dish served here. It looks simple, and indeed it is but it’s also for which to die when done properly. This was deliciously sharp with a thin pastry crust. My only complaint is that I didn’t have more room.
Iconic Kettner's of Soho
Kettner’s is unique. It’s just a matter of taste but I loved the décor, the ambiance and the food. It’s become an institution and for good reason.

Brasserie opening hours:
Monday – Wednesday: noon – midnight
Thursday – Friday: noon – midnight
Saturday: noon – midnight
Sunday: noon – 22:00
Bank Holidays: noon – 22:00

29 Romilly St.

Phone: 020 7734 6112

Visit Kettner’s here

food and travel reviews

Fontenay Abbey

Fontenay Abbey Late spring in Burgundy. The banks of the canal were festooned with the colours of wild flowers: the blue of cornflowers, the blood red of poppies and the yellow of other blooms which were unknown to this horticulturally-challenged city girl.

That’s the beauty of barge travel - it relaxes the mind and makes space for civilized exercises such as the pursuit of good food and wine and culture. The Abbey at Fontenay was just a little way away from the canal run and the excursion was well worth the effort of dislodging myself from floating luxury.

Bernard of Clairvaux, an abbot and the primary instigator of the reformed Cistercian order, founded the Abbey of Fontenay in a Burgundy valley in 1118 with strictly implemented austerity, which he felt had become so lax in other monasteries. The monks moved to Fontenay Abbey in 1130. Nine years later the Bishop of Norwich fled to Fontenay to escape persecution, and he helped finance the construction of the church which was consecrated in 1147 by Pope Eugene III.

By 1200 the monastic site was finished and housed as many as 300 monks, and in 1259 the pious King Louis exempted the Abbey of Fontenay from all taxes. In 1359 the Abbey was sacked by the armies of King Edward III of England, and was damaged anew in the late 1500s. In 1745 the refectory was destroyed, and by 1789 all of the monks had left the abbey due to the terrors of the French Revolution.

Fontenay Abbey was sold by the revolutionary government in 1820 as a national asset, and turned into a paper mill by the paper maker Elie de Montgolfier, nephew of the balloon inventors. I dare say that he took advantage of the abundant running water on the site for his paper-making process. Fontenay Abbey(Paper was one of the key components in those celebrated balloons.) Marc Seguin, the inventor of suspension bridges and French railways, was the owner of Fontenay from 1838.  The paper factory closed in 1905.

Edouard Aynard, a patron of the arts, married a Montgolfier and he started the restoration. His descendants still live in part of the abbey and work on the buildings continues. In 1981 the abbey became a UNESCO World Heritage Site: it is the oldest preserved Cistercian abbey in the world. The grounds have a classic and manicured garden which was listed in 2004 as a "Remarkable Garden" by the National Council of Parks and Gardens. The grounds cover over 1,200 hectares.

The Abbey welcomes 100,000 visitors each year so one needs to pick one’s day and time to avoid following a bus-load of tourists. It’s enjoyed at its best when the buses leave and tranquillity reigns. One gets a sense of the spirituality of this spot that was used for worship for so long.

The Entrance Lodge is the first building that you will visit.  It once marked the limits of the Abbey complex. There was a porter who greeted visitors to the monastery - pilgrims and the poor for the most part, one imagines.Fontenay Abbey Notice the round hole in the wall? That’s where you would get a less-than-warm welcome from a guard dog: his accommodations were on the other side of the wall.

Pass through that lodge and you will see a huge tree. It’s several hundreds of years old and dominates the garden. It’s likely that these lawns were vegetable plots when the monks were in residence. There is a corner that once housed hunting dogs, too.

The cloister here is magnificent and has remained intact since the 12th century. This must have once been a promenade of contemplation. One can almost imagine one hears the soft padding of white-clad monks walking in silence. Simple yet impressive architecture offers sheltered passage to all the main monastery rooms.

Younger members of your party might not be interested in the finer points of Romanesque architecture but they will be interested in the hydraulic hammer which was reconstituted in 2008 as part of a European project involving 7 technical schools. This hammer is a working replica of hammers that would have actually been used by the monks in their forge. There is a turning water-wheel which powers the hydraulic hammer, causing it to be raised and then to fall under its own considerable weight. This was used for refining metal coming from the furnace.

Fontenay Abbey The monk’s dormitory is stunning. Raise your eyes and find what looks like the skeleton of an upturned wooden boat with its ribs as joists. The room is bare now, just as it would have been when the dormitory was first built. After some time the monks were given small partitions to afford at least some privacy. They slept on straw mattresses and in the cold. There were prayers in the adjoining church every few hours, and sanitation was primitive. Those must have been exhausting and unhealthy days, but probably no worse here than out in the broader world at that time.

Fontenay Abbey is one of the most impressive and most sympathetically restored building complexes I have seen anywhere. It’s well worth a visit. Walk the cloisters, admire the stonework but take time to sit and enjoy the quiet.

Phone +33 (0)380 92 15 00
Visit the Abbey here

Learn more about luxury barging holidays in the region here

Read more about this trip here

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food and travel reviews

Gouda – a cheese for all seasons

Gouda – a cheese for all seasons We have many cheese choices in specialist shops and even our local supermarket. Gouda can easily be overlooked. It seems to have been with us forever and we don’t even notice it anymore. The first mention of Gouda cheese dates from 1184, making it one of the oldest recorded cheeses in the world still being made.

This round, yellow cheese takes its name from the Dutch town of Gouda, just a short distance from Rotterdam. It’s the Netherlands’ most popular cheese and, in fact, accounts for more than 60% of the cheese produced in the country.

Gouda is a traditional hard cheese covered in a wax rind which is usually yellow but does also come in other colours. The flavour is mild and creamy but as the cheese ages the taste intensifies and becomes more interesting. The cheese is dried for a few days before being coated with a yellow waxy substance to prevent it from drying out further. Cheeses of 18 months old or more are considered as Mature Gouda and coated in black wax.

Gouda is pronounced "Hou-da" by the Dutch and is usually made from pasteurised cow’s milk. There are seven recognised types of Gouda cheese, listed by age. Graskaas (spring cheese) is young Gouda ready to be consumed within 4 weeks of production. Other designations are Young, matured 8 to 10 weeks, Matured – 16 to 18 weeks, Extra Matured – 7 to 8 months, Old Cheese – 10 to 12 months, and Very Old cheese – 1 year or more.  There is also the extra-aged, Overjarig cheese. Gouda – a cheese for all seasonsEach cheese becomes firmer in texture and more complex with the passage of time. As it ages the cheese develops a caramel-like sweetness with crunchy crystals, making this the savoury cheeseboard equivalent of the very trendy salted caramel. Aged Gouda is perhaps my favourite hard-hard cheese.

Although the cheese is named after the Dutch city, the cheese isn’t made there, but Gouda is the centre for trading, as in the Middle Ages Dutch cities could be awarded total monopoly on certain goods – Gouda acquired the right to hold a cheese market. Most Gouda these days is produced in cheese factories but 300 or so farmers still produce "Boerenkaas", or Farmer’s cheese. This is a protected form of Gouda made in the traditional way using unpasteurized milk.

One can still visit that colourful market that is held one day each week for several months of the year. Porters in jaunty hats, farmers in blue traditional costume and noble wagon drivers all help to make this a lively spectacular. There is much banter for the benefit of the tourists, and handjeklap in which buyers and sellers slap each other's hands and shout prices until they agree, and that’s when the slap becomes a handshake. The porters carry the cheese to the weigh-house to be weighed, tasted and taxed.

Gouda is available in large wheels, each weighing between 10 and 25 pounds although there are some producers who make 60lb cheeses. They are mostly sold in smaller slices to the family shopper. It’s eaten in sandwiches, it’s used in cooking and the more mature cheese is cubed and nibbled along with a good glass of red or some beer.

Give Gouda a try. Find a good cheese shop and taste the unexpected depth of some fine Dutch cheese. The Cheese Market in Gouda is great fun. The town is beautiful with more to see and do when the market finishes. You could visit a restaurant and ask for Gouda Fondue or other dishes made from the town’s most celebrated product.
Gouda – a cheese for all seasons

Museumhavencafé for cheese fondue
Open from 1 May
Thursday - Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00
Phone    +31 6 44267175
Visit Museumhavencafé here

Read another article about Gouda here

See more images of Gouda here

Learn more about Gouda here

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food and travel reviews

Bound by history, carved in stone - Normandy and England

Caen We share so much. Those Norsemen who pillaged the coast of Britain and settled inland also did the same in France, and indeed in such numbers that a region took their name – Normandy, populated by Normans, a corruption of Norsemen!

Caen is the principal city in Normandy and is just 15 km from the English Channel, or La Manche as it’s called in French. This beautiful town is now linked to the south of England by the new route from the increasingly popular Southend Airport. It takes less than an hour, making this hop shorter than many people’s daily commute.

Caen is known as the city of William the Conqueror, and for its historic stone buildings constructed during his reign. He rose from obscurity to become a force on both sides of that aforementioned body of water.

The man who was to become William I of England was born in the late 1020s and was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy. In 1035 William inherited the title of Duke of Normandy, a far more genteel one than William the Bastard which was his other moniker.

In the 1050s and early 1060s William became a contender for the throne of England, then held by Edward the Confessor, who had no children. English earl Harold Godwinson was another candidate and it was he who was named the next king by Edward as he lay on his deathbed in January 1066.

Caen William was having none of that and mounted an invasion of England from Normandy in September 1066. He defeated and killed Harold, probably not personally, in the Battle of Hastings - which was not actually fought in Hastings but a few miles away in a place called, unimaginatively, Battle.  In the wink of an eye we had a new king. William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day 1066.

Many castles in England were constructed during William’s reign, making the statement ‘we are here to stay’. One of the most famous is The White Tower which is the central keep of the Tower of London. This is one of the city’s most iconic buildings and it’s made of stone from Caen.

The very best examples of Caen stone buildings are, unsurprisingly, in Caen! This is a charming city and walkable. In fact a trip here from the UK is easy without a car. There is a speedy and frequent link from London Liverpool Street, and the train station is actually at Southend Airport, and therefore convenient for foot passengers. There is a regular shuttle bus from Caen Airport into the centre of town.

Caen Once you are in central Caen you’ll find everything within a small area. There are pedestrianised shopping streets to tempt skilled retail enthusiasts, but don’t just look at goods in shop windows, look at the shop itself. There are some striking half-timbered buildings still standing even after the bombardment that Caen suffered during the Second World War.

The Abbaye-aux-Hommes was founded by William the Conqueror in 1067 as penance for marrying his cousin Matilda (who founded the Abbaye aux Dames for the same reason). William was buried in his Abbey – a marble slab in the choir marks the site of his tomb.

The Early Gothic choir replaced the original Romanesque sanctuary in 1202. This is the earliest example of Norman Gothic and became the model for many future choirs both in France and England.  The Abbey is made from local Caen stone which was also used for Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, and is a fine example of Norman Romanesque. There are twin Romanesque towers topped with Gothic spires that are 84m high, giving Caen the nickname "city of spires."

Caen doesn’t disappoint. It’s simple to get there, and decent hotels can be found for under 100 Euro. One can indulge in café culture, and enjoy the local cuisine. Buy a bottle of cidre, a baguette and some fine local cheese, and relax with a picnic in a park. Go for a unique calvados cocktail, and watch the sun set on ancient stones.

Learn more about Caen here

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food and travel reviews

Waddesdon Bequest

Waddesdon Bequest The British Museum in London is famed the world over for its displays of artefacts and curios. Granted, there are some that feel many of these objets d’art should be returned to their place of origin, while others feel that they are safer where they are. That conundrum is best left to wiser heads than mine.

There is a new display at the British Museum and it’s stunning and eclectic, and very much built of one man’s passion for beauty, stability and grandiose statement. In 1898 Baron Ferdinand Rothschild bequeathed to the British Museum as the Waddesdon Bequest the contents from his New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor. This collection didn’t comprise racks of pipes and humidors but works of much more universal appeal.

Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire was built by Ferdinand Rothschild in the 1870s in the style of a 16th-century French château. It is now a National Trust property, open to the public and managed by the Rothschild Foundation. It houses a celebrated collection of 18th-century French porcelain and furniture, as well as a noteworthy collection of European paintings.

There are almost 300 items in the Waddesdon Bequest, which include ornate and jewel-encrusted brooches, plate, enamel, carvings, glass and maiolica - Italian tin-glazed pottery. The Holy Thorn Reliquary probably dates back as far as the 1390s, but most of the collection is from the late Renaissance period of the 16th century - although there are a number of 19th-century fakes. Waddesdon BequestThere are also more mundane items such as handles and a knocker, to contrast the sumptuous baubles, as well as the most exquisite miniature wooden carvings.

The collection was started by Baron Ferdinand's father, Baron Anselm von Rothschild, and may contain some works from earlier family collections, as Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744–1812) had a thriving business dealing in coins and other precious objects. The collection was modelled on the regal European Schatzkammer, which is a German word meaning Treasure Room.  Nobility in Germany and Austria in the 16th century were avid collectors of priceless works of art.

Baron Ferdinand's bequest was specific in nature, and failure to observe the conditions would render it void. The bequest stated that the collection must be housed in a special room which should be called the Waddesdon Bequest Room. Until late 2014 the collection was displayed in a much smaller room. Its new home is a larger gallery on the ground floor, close to the main entrance on Museum Street.  The new gallery has been funded by The Rothschild Foundation. Next to Rooms 1 and 2, the Waddesdon Bequest Room now forms part of a series of rooms which document the history of collecting and the growth of the British Museum itself. One sees the glittering collection through open doors as one approaches with mounting anticipation.

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food and travel reviews

Jim De Jong – Say it with flowers …and cheese

De Jong Rotterdam is fast becoming known for food. It’s the Netherlands and it might be a bit of a cliché, but, yes there is cheese. Chef Jim De Jong was challenged to make a menu composed of Holland’s most iconic staple, and his creations were stunning.

Jim has his culinary focus on seasonality, freshness, and vegetables, with the addition of herbs and flowers. He grows as much as he can and then buys local wherever possible. His menus are constantly changing and evolving. He is influenced by French cuisine as well as traditional Dutch.

We asked Jim to present six courses with the common factor being cheese. Many a chef would be daunted by the prospect but Jim was delighted at the very thought of creating a feast that would remain engaging, exciting and intriguing right to the last bite. He presented dishes that were beautiful, delicious and fun.

Restaurant De Jong is underneath the arches – railway arches, that is. De JongThat might not sound a classy address but this neighbourhood is being polished and preened and is becoming a magnet for energetic chefs and bar owners.

It’s a light, bright and contemporary restaurant with an open kitchen. It is tastefully understated, offering not a hint of the quality of food awaiting its diners. The tables are well-spaced in this restaurant, with ambiance that changes as the sun goes down.

Smoked quail’s egg with Hay-mayonnaise and mustard powder was our first dish, or more accurately, bowl – the serving vessels are well considered at Restaurant De Jong. The spice offered a sharp counterpoint to the egg and the creamy mayonnaise.

White asparagus and Bergens Blonde cheese, samphire and buckwheat followed. The cheese was soft with Brie notes but this is Dutch. The white asparagus is much preferred in Europe to the green which is ubiquitous in the UK.
De Jong
Blauwklaver cheese with artichoke, lemon, flax seed and oxalis was next. This ’blue clover’ is a soft blue cheese and one which I shall be seeking on my next trip to the Netherlands. Oxalis was the floral garnish and is a member of the wood-sorrel family.

Pickled onions and radish, Charmeur goat's cheese broth, and lovage with radish flowers was my dish-of-the-meal. Those pickles had bite that complemented the cheese. Reminded one of the very best cheese and onion crisps one has ever tasted …in less crunchy form.

Green asparagus, old Texels sheep's cheese and mustard was next in line. Texel is one of the Dutch Wadden Islands. This cheese is made from raw sheep’s milk, and has been produced for more than 500 years on the island. This is another cheese for the wish-list.

Dessert was rhubarb, lavender and yoghurt, giving a perfumed finale to the meal which was inspiring, amusing, conversation-provoking and the most marvellous showcase for Dutch cheese and dairy products. De JongIt’s a shame that the Netherlands seems known outside its borders only for Edam and Gouda. These are both fine cheeses, but one could have quite a gastronomic adventure in Holland just discovering the lesser-known local cheeses.

Chef Jim De Jong might not consider himself an ambassador but he proved himself to be just that. He has passion and culinary vitality. His support of local food is commendable and he offers both the Dutch and visitors a glimpse of how good the food here can be. You might not get a chance to eat these same dishes but perhaps this menu will give a few ideas. It’s a sure bet that Chef Jim will have other memorable dishes for you.

Restaurant De Jong
Boog 1/Raampoortstraat 38
3032 AH Rotterdam

Phone: 010 465 7955

Visit Restaurant De Jong here

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food and travel reviews

La Belle Epoque – 5-star floating through Burgundy

What a grand title for a barge! Luckily the lady lived up to her name and our expectations, which she did actuallyLa belle Epoque exceed in every way.

A barge, even a big one, presents the very real prospect of tight accommodations, iffy facilities and, still worse, the likelihood of mediocre food cooked by a well-meaning hobbyist chef on a gas burner at the back end of the boat. La Belle Epoque was surprising, charming, delicious, luxurious and relaxing, and those dreads soon evaporated.

We were met at our appointed hotel in Paris - the receptionist was expecting us, and took charge of our luggage so we were able to have a few hours in warm, sunny Paris. Just time enough for a meal of steak-frites and a glass of something red and reviving, surrounded by locals. The holiday had started and we hadn’t even seen our vessel.

Our minibus arrived, and not one of those U-Drive efforts hired for the day, either. A smart blue 9-seater in the European Waterways livery with the company emblem on the door. (In fact this bus was to follow us along the route, and ferry us to various places of interest.) A smiling couple introduced themselves to us and the other passengers, and loaded the luggage. We were off.

A couple of hours of dozing found us alongside a beautifully painted and substantial Dutch barge. This particular boat was built in the 1930s to carry cargo around the European rivers and canals in an era when they still offered the fastest and most reliable travel options. La Belle Epoque had been sympathetically converted to a floating hotel but it still retains some features which made Dutch craftsmanship so valued.

The trip started with a warm welcome from the assembled crew and a glass of chilled champagne. Canapés were nibbled before we were escorted to our cabins. The Belle Epoque has 6 guest cabins boasting modern en-suite facilities, single or huge double bed, crisp linens, brass portholes, dark wood, mineral water aplenty, turn-down service every night, and even a chocolate on the pillow. In short – bijou floating comfort.

There is ample space in the saloon which acted as both lounge and dining room. Two long sweeps of banquetteLa belle Epoque tempted voyagers to linger over apero and savouries in the evenings before dinner or to unwind with a best-seller before a stroll along the towpath: one can walk through idyllic French countryside between locks. La Belle Epoque moves at a good walking pace so not much chance that you’ll miss the boat. For anyone needing more speedy travel than Shanks’s pony, there are bikes which allow for a mini Tour de France into nearby historic villages before meeting the boat a few locks further on.

But it’s not all about taking naps in dappled sunshine, hiking by the canal or cycling through Burgundy. There are also guided excursions every day. There might be a walk to a nearby chateau, a visit to a village market, perhaps a wine tasting break ...well, this is Burgundy and a famed wine-producing region after all!

Our first meal set the scene for the whole trip. This was, surprisingly, not advertised as a culinary-themed adventure although we had hoped for some interesting dishes. Chef Selby presented French food to the highest standard. On our first evening we enjoyed crayfish timbales wrapped in cucumber, duck with orange sauce, pearsLa belle Epoque poached in red wine and all expertly paired with both red and white wines. He progressively ticked off all the classics – beef from the pale Charolais cattle, coq au vin, frogs legs …and then there were the cheeses! There were several of these after every meal. Chef Selby chose regional cheeses, soft cheeses, blue cheeses and hard cheeses. All from France and showing their diversity.

Our daily guided excursions took us to such beautiful villages as Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, where the film ‘Chocolat’ was set; Alesia, where the last battle between the Gauls and Romans took place in 52 B.C. (and a visit to the museum); the exquisite World Heritage UNESCO site of Abbaye de Fontenay founded by St Bernard in 1118, which is unmissable; the 16th century Château d’Ancy-le-Franc with the biggest collection of Renaissance murals; and the vineyards and town of Chablis, dating back to Roman times.

France is popular for barge cruises, but all cruises are not created equal. Whilst it’s true that this was my first experience of such a holiday, I would have to say that European Waterways, on La Belle Epoque, have thought of everything. It’s a floating hotel with almost-individual attention from the staff. There might not be room for anLa belle Epoque Olympic pool on deck but there is a hot tub. No, there isn’t a bespoke library but there is a selection of books on the food and drink of the region, and one might notice a copy of Rick Stein’s French Odyssey. That’s no surprise as that book is associated with the eponymous TV series that was partly shot on a European Waterways boat.

La Belle Epoque is polished, both metaphorically and actually. If this is an example of the whole fleet then European Waterways deserve to be proud. I wholeheartedly recommend this trip to any food, wine and history lover …or lovers of doing nothing while the scenery drifts serenely by.

Visit European Waterways here

Read about an excursion during this trip here

For more images of La Belle Epoque visit Mostly Travel here

food and travel reviews

Around Gouda

Around gouda Gouda is a city and municipality in the province of South Holland. It’s an historic town which was granted city status in 1272 by Floris V, Count of Holland. Most tourists will know Gouda cheese but might not even realise that there really is a town of the same name, which has more to offer the world than its delicious namesake.

In the Middle Ages a settlement was founded by the Van der Goude family, who built a castle on the banks of the Gouwe River. This low-lying area was originally marsh but has been drained. By 1225, a canal was linked to the river and its estuary was made into a harbour.

Gouda is a strikingly beautiful town with easily walked streets. The Old City Hall at the Markt square was finished in 1450 and is one of the oldest Gothic city halls in the Netherlands. The Waag (weigh house) was built in 1667 and is found just opposite. It is an imposing structure with a marble frieze (the original of which can be seen inside the building) depicting the process of weighing cheese and noting the weight for taxes.  It is now a national monument and houses a cheese museum and souvenir shop.

The Gouda Cheese Market is held every Thursday morning from 2 April to 27 August. One can enjoy the traditional scene of farmers haggling over the price of cheese with the traders. There is much hand-slapping before the deal is finally sealed with a handshake, just as it has always been. These days have a festive air with many of those farmers, wagon drivers and cheese shifters wearing tradition costume. Yes, there are plenty of clogs.Around gouda

Grote or St. Jans Kerk (Great or Saint John Church) is the longest church in the Netherlands. It’s dedicated to John the Baptist, the patron saint of this town, and was built between the 15th and 16th centuries. But it’s more famous for its stained glass windows which were made between 1530 and 1603. The windows were made and installed primarily by the brothers Dirk and Wouter Crabeth. I am no glass specialist but these windows are the finest and most numerous in one building that I have hitherto found in my travels. As far back as the 17th century they were considered a tourist attraction. In 1939, at the start of World War II, the stained glass was removed for safe keeping; the windows were restored when peace once again reigned. This must surely be one of the most impressive town churches in Europe. The simple white walls are a perfect foil for the bright illumination of the coloured glass.

A stroopwafel or syrup waffle is a classic Dutch confection and a speciality of Gouda, its town of origin. These are addictive sweet waffle biscuits which are deftly cut through to produce 2 discs which are spread with a caramel sauce. They are made on waffle irons with shallow indentations to produce a fine lattice. A firm dough rather than a batter is made from flour, butter, brown sugar, yeast, milk, and eggs. The sweet filling is made from boiling together molasses, brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.

The stroopwafel was first made around the late 18th century by a baker using breadcrumbs and syrup. In the 19th century, there were around 100 waffle makers in Gouda, which was, at that time, the only city in which they were made. After 1870 they were also produced in markets in other cities. In the 20th century factories started making the popular biscuits, and several still exist, helping to stock supermarkets around Holland and beyond.

Around gouda One cannot live by stroopwafel alone although many would probably have tried. For those looking for Gouda’s savoury dishes then visit the park near the Mallegat Luis at the Schielands High Seawall. Here you will find the small but perfectly formed Museumhavencafé in 'tIJsselmeer House. This building was once the waiting room for skippers of vessels going through the locks. These days it’s a café which serves such delights as cheese fondue along with local beer and spirits. If you are lucky you might be serenaded by an accordion player.

Holland is a small country with an exceptional transport network connecting its cities and towns to each other as well as European rail hubs. It’s now possible to reach Gouda easily from London by train with just a couple of changes. Voyages SNCF might be the first place to look for travel advice for any history-, cheese- and cookie-loving tripper. They will help plan rail transport to Gouda as well as other destinations in The Netherlands and the rest of Europe.

Open from 1 May
Thursday - Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00
Phone    +31 6 44267175
Visit Museumhavencafé here

Read another article about Gouda here

Learn more about Gouda here

Visit Voyages SNCF here

Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands here

food and travel reviews

A Citrus History of Sicily

Sicily is a large island just off mainland Italy. It has a variety of landscapes and the imposing Mount Etna which has donated volcanic soil to the fertile tapestry.Sicily citrus It boasts long and unspoilt beaches that are deserted even in the pleasantly hot months of April and May, and if one is lucky one can watch dolphins at play as the sun goes down.

The island is blessed with picturesque villages and small towns, museums, shops, fresh air and food. There are subtropical areas growing exotic prickly-pear cactus and there are citrus trees for which Sicily is so famed. Lemons, oranges, blood oranges and mandarins all grow within sight of Mount Etna.

People have known for thousands of years of the health benefits of citrus fruit. Earliest cultivation of these fruits dates back at least 2500 years to Asia. According to various authorities the oldest reference to oranges and lemons is in a Sanskrit text.  Many specialists in the subject believe that the fruit we know today originated from a sour fruit found growing wild in China.

The lemon was also enjoyed in Roman times, as we know from archaeological evidence that they were grown in Pompeii. Planting continued across North Africa and then in southern Spain by the 8th or 9th century. By the 13th century planting had extended from Seville to Granada and into Portugal and Sicily when North African migrant farmers and botanists brought citrus to the island to grow in the emir’s beautiful gardens. It was this citrus production that earned the hills and valleys around Palermo the name "Conca d'Oro" (golden seashell) in the Middle Ages.

Sicily citrus The modern English word orange, like the Italian arancia, probably derives from the Arabic naranj. The capital of the Arab world at that time was Palermo and the wealth of the city was said to rival that of ancient Baghdad. The Jewish population flourished and was respected by the resident Moslems in Sicily, and that mixed population enjoyed life along with the increasing number of Christians. (Those were the days!) All these diverse groups contributed to Sicily’s unique culinary heritage.

On a practical note James Lind, Fellow of the Royal Society, discovered while he was serving as a naval surgeon in 1747 that citrus juice could successfully treat scurvy, a disease that was the scourge of the British navy at that time, and recommended taking this during long sea voyages. Toward the end of the 18th century, Sicily began shipping lemons and oranges throughout the world as their health-giving properties became ever more widely recognized.

Blood oranges are so called for their red flesh and deep red juice. When ripe, their skin may also have a reddish hue. In Sicily, the most popular blood oranges are the Tarocco, the Moro and the Sanguigno. Though used extensively in salads and desserts, blood oranges are sought after for their striking red juice which is rich in antioxidants. Mandarins, Valencias and navel oranges are also grown in Sicily, but the blood orange is considered particularly Sicilian.

Citrus production begins in October with the Mapo. The Clementini, which are also members of the tangerine family but are seedless and sweet, ripen at that time, too.Sicily citrus The seedless Washington Navel orange is grown along the southern coast and is popular between October and March.

Lemons growing around Siracusa continue to be a very important economic staple. The Siracusa region is considered to be the centre for production and processing of fresh lemons for both the Italian and European markets. On 3 February 2011 the name Limone di Siracusa was registered as having Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. This PGI-awarded fruit is characterised by a high juice content, the amount of essential oils in the skin, and the high quality of those oils, which are used in the cosmetics and other industries. The local variety of lemon is called a femminello because of the fertility of the plant, which has flowers throughout the year. It is quite unusual to find a fruit tree that can have both blossom and mature fruit on its branches at the same time, but here they are in Sicily.

This is an island of great natural beauty and historic charm. One can enjoy modern city amenity but also seek out those shady orange and lemon groves, smell the blossom and appreciate fruits that have shaped the destiny of Sicily.

food and travel reviews

The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food

Grub Street publishes cookbooks and all manner of food-related tomes but they have also taken on the mantle of preservers of our own culinary heritage and characters. The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food is one of their latest classics.

The Best of Jane Grigson A few decades ago we English had a deservedly poor reputation for cooking – or lack thereof. But we did have fine cooks, and fine cooks who wrote, and they were the cornerstones on which our now more illustrious food fame was later to be built.

Talk to any celebrity chef (if you can get near enough) and they will likely present such worthies as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson as a couple of their culinary muses. Much has been made of Ms David’s writing and quite rightly so. She was, in her day, an almost lone star in a squid-ink-black firmament, and noteworthy for her lifestyle. But there was also Jane Grigson who is possibly less well known by the general public but who could also claim her own place. She was a happy wife and mother, a sensible and practical woman who therefore tended to be overlooked.

Jane Grigson was born on 13th March 1928 and died too soon on 12 March 1990, just before her 62nd birthday. She was a food columnist with The Observer from 1968 until her death. She won many awards for her cookery books, including the accolade of having her Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (1967) actually translated into French - a unique honour.

The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food doesn’t have dozens of colour images but it’s no worse for that. It’s that style of cookbook that will likely start on the bedside table before migrating to the kitchen where it will find a permanent home. It offers some quintessentially English recipes in the At Home in England chapter. Queen of Puddings uses simple ingredients to make a comforting and traditional dessert which is hardly ever seen these days.

Ms Grigson didn’t, however, confine her interests to France and the UK. The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food is a collection that contains a surprisingly broad spectrum of international cuisines. There is the very retro Fried Chicken Maryland with Corn Fritters. Jane introduces this recipe with these words: ‘This dish has lost its charm by over exposure in cheap restaurants.’ So went the way of many a good dish. We can now recreate for ourselves this standard, and appreciate why it became so popular in the first place.

I have many pick-of-the-book recipes. Jefferson Davis Tart is, unsurprisingly, an historic American recipe and takes advantage of light brown sugar and dried fruit to produce a truly sweet confection. Old-fashioned and not exactly a health food, this falls into the ‘a little of what you fancy’ category.

The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food evokes memories for cooks of a certain age. It will surprise and enchant younger would-be chefs. It’s a book to read, to use and to inspire. The food scene in Britain has changed so much and for that I will be eternally grateful, but this book allows us to walk along something of a time-line, and a delicious one too.

The Best of Jane Grigson – The Enjoyment of Food
Author: Jane Grigson
Price: £20
Publisher: Grub Street Publishing
ISBN-10: 1909808288
ISBN-13: 978-1909808287

food and travel reviews

Wine & Spice Series 2015 at Cinnamon Club

It’s without doubt one of the best Indian restaurants in London. It’s housed in a historic grade II listed building near Westminster Abbey.Cinnamon club It was once a library and evidently a striking one. Many original features have been retained, giving this unique restaurant a calming and timeless ambiance.

Executive Chef and CEO Vivek Singh is introducing a new series of exclusive wine dinners at both Cinnamon Club and its sister restaurant Cinnamon Kitchen. Diners will be introduced to wines that truly do address the very particular issues posed by pairing with Indian food. In fact, doubt about the resulting marriage will evaporate when one tastes the Indian dishes chosen to accompany some very fine European wines.

We attended The Cinnamon Club’s Rhône Valley Wines evening which was held in the Library. This is a delightfully intimate space and perfect for such events. The walls are panelled in dark wood and, yes, there really are books on shelves. It has the air of a private home dining room, although I doubt there are many houses sporting such a bar in the corner these days.

Wines for spicy foods need to be more powerful than the dishes and have plenty of confident character. Indian food intended to be paired with wines should be bold but never searingly overpowering. These dilemmas were solved by Head Chef Rakesh Ravindran Nair and Laurent Chaniac, Cinnamon Club’s wine consultant.

Chef Nair has been working with Vivek since 2003, although this was the first time I had the pleasure of meeting the man who had probably been the architect of many of my previous meals at Cinnamon Club.Cinnamon club He is not only a noteworthy chef but he also has a Masters in Mathematics and is a qualified computer professional. He is eloquent, passionate about food and a charming ambassador for this high-end restaurant collection.

Laurent Chaniac is wine consultant to The Cinnamon Club and Kitchen, and hosted our soirée. He has a rich French accent and an evident appreciation of Indian cuisine. He has been described as the sommelier who “has pioneered some revolutionary ideas on pairing wine with the constantly evolving Indian flavours."

Our evening started with a glass or two of rose champagne paired with Chef’s selection of canapés. These evenings offer small groups of wine and Indian food enthusiasts the opportunity to relax and learn. This is a more gentle experience than a formal masterclass. One learns about a selection of creditable wines while enjoying delightful and carefully chosen dishes in convivial company. Laurent gave information on each bottle and Chef was on hand to discuss ingredients.

The first dish was Scallop and Salmon Ceviche with Pomegranate. This was a culinary stunner with quite subtle and fresh flavours. It was paired with Cote du Rhone Blanc Gigondan. This southern Rhone white complemented the salad which was one of the most delicious I have tasted in a restaurant of any culinary hue for a long while.

Tandoori Saddle of Romney Marsh Lamb with pickling sauce was paired with Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert 2010.Cinnamon club I particularly enjoyed this bottle. You can have a taste of southern Rhone at a very reasonable price. Look for this 2010 vintage which I think is a winner and my wine pick of the event.

Char-grilled Loin of Oisin Red Deer with rock moss sauce and pilau rice was a flavourful and aromatic dish and was offered with the unmissable Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine Mathieu, 2011. Lots of red berry notes that go so well with any kind of venison.

Pineapple Shrikhand with garam masala sablé biscuit was our dessert, and presented with Coufis de Paille, M Chapoutier, which was sweet but not cloyingly syrupy – real honey notes here. This amber vintage was served in cut glass that reflected the subtle lighting of the library.

I have been to many food and wine pairing evenings but this has been one of the best. The attention to detail and warm personalities of both Chef Nair and wine consultant Laurent Chaniac encouraged interaction and conversation. And there are more opportunities to enjoy such evenings in the near future. I recommend you book, come with an appetite and an expectation of learning and having fun.

The series will continue on the following dates:
Cinnamon Kitchen: Wines of Loire Valley - 10th June  
The western winemaking region of France offers a huge variety of styles due to its continental climate. Among the reds will be Chinon Domaine du Puy Rigault 2011 and Saumur Champigny Domaine Du Fondis from the same year.Cinnamon club The meal will conclude with a glass of ultra-sweet Coteaux du Layon, characteristic of the vineyard’s location on sunny south-facing slopes.
The Cinnamon Club: (topic to be confirmed) - 10th July
Cinnamon Kitchen: (topic to be confirmed) - 23rd September
The Cinnamon Club: Burgundy Wines - 16th October 
Rounding off the series with one of the most established and celebrated winemaking regions in the world, a fantastic selection of red and white Burgundies will be tasted, including 12 year-old Bourgogne Domaine de la Galopiere and a 30 year-old Santenay premier cru.

The Cinnamon Club
The Old Westminster Library
30-32 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BU

Phone: 020 7222 2555
Visit The Cinnamon Club here

Cinnamon Kitchen
9 Devonshire Square
London EC2M 4YL

Phone: 020 7626 5000
Visit Cinnamon Kitchen here

food and travel reviews

Best Salads Ever

It’s summer and so we eat salad. Yes, we eat it but often without enthusiasm. Carnivores often consider salad as the green stuff left on the plate after the meal is finished, and those of us who eat everything get heartily sick of more lettuce, cucumber and tomato.
cookbook reviews Best Salads Ever
This particular book is Scandinavian and therefore has a slightly different approach to salad. Those from the northernmost part of Europe are famed for big spreads of magnificent salad. Perhaps it’s those long winter nights that encourage cravings for colour, fresh tastes and interesting textures. The Danish authors, Sonja Bock and Tina Scheftelowitz, provide salads for every season.

A quick flick through these pages and you’ll consider salad in a different light. There are ingredients here that I would never have considered as salad contenders. Sprouts for example. Not bean but Brussels! I am not a lover of the BS and I blame Christmas. Mum, always a good manager, would start boiling sprouts in a timely fashion (probably in early December) to have them cooked by Christmas. This has left me with the impression that Brussels sprouts are almost liquid and always beige. Best Salads Ever has them as key salad ingredients and suggests a quick boil of just 5 minutes is sufficient to give a crunchy and fresh-tasting vegetable. Brussels Sprouts with Red Salad Onion and Feta is a triumph of texture and tang. There is a dressing of Balsamic vinegar and olive oil which adds a richness to this simple dish.

Salads don’t have to be purely vegetarian. Chinese Duck Breast Salad has plenty of punchy spice but it’s tempered with crisp cucumber and sugar snap peas. Lots of black pepper and rice vinegar help to spike the flavour. This would make a very smart starter or part of an Asian meal.

The Dips and Salsas chapter offers quick fixes when you only have a few veggies and some bread, or want a sauce to go with fish or meat. Creative Creams and Brilliant Dressings suggests lots of flavoursome and sophisticated lubricants for your salads. Everything from Lovely summery Raspberry Vinaigrette to Chinese Sweet and Sour Dressing which will work equally well with noodles and fish.

Best Salads Ever has advice for individual meals but it’s unique in that it has menus for buffets. We are not talking curly ham sarnies nor bake-from-frozen nasty sausage rolls. This is smart and light food with enough variety to please even the fussiest of eaters. It’s the easiest of casual entertaining.

Arabic Buffet has meatballs with Middle Eastern-inspired vegetable salads and pita bread (there are recipes for every menu item in this book, including bread and dessert), His and Hers Buffets with either gutsy blokey meat and potato salads or light and fluffy salmon and goats cheese dishes because women have naturally more appreciative palates. There are Asian Buffets, Mediterranean Buffets, as well as one for each season. It’s so easy to throw a bash with food that is balanced, easy to make and stunning.

Best Salads Ever is a striking volume with food that is honestly delicious and different. The salads are easy to mix and match for your perfect combination and summer is the time to start practising. This isn’t just a cookbook it’s about stress-free entertaining at any time. I’d say this is one of the best salad books around.

Cookbook Review: Best Salads Ever (paperback)
Authors: Sonja Bock and Tina Scheftelowitz
Published by: Grub Street
Price: £14.99
ISBN 978-1-909808-33-1

food and travel reviews

Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge

There are few restaurants in Knightsbridge that don’t exude some kind of classy charm. It’s that kind of area. pataraHigh-end residents and visitors looking for food to match. Beauchamp Place is lined with good (and the occasional not-so-good) restaurants. It’s just around the corner from the celebrated Harrods so there are discerning diners aplenty and they have choices.

Patara offers contemporary Thai cuisine. The restaurant wafted, on the evening of our visit, a delightful perfume of lemongrass to welcome the visitors. The serving staff were traditionally dressed, there were orchids and carved wood - all the expected trappings of Thai eateries. But this is a beautifully designed restaurant that displays its Thainess in subtle ways.

It’s a deceptively large restaurant. It’s long and narrow so contrives to be cosy even when empty. The back half of the restaurant is raised, introducing architectural interest. The tables have dark toppers, adding to the muted colour palate and creating a relaxing atmosphere. A contrast to the dazzling vibrancy of the retail paradise of the Brompton Road a few yards away.

The menu is extensive and sophisticated with hints of European influences. The wine list is creditable with a good selection of vintages available by the glass.Patara I chose Don David Reserve Malbec. Balanced tannins with plenty of the characteristic concentrated jammy fruit that I enjoy so much from this grape variety.

My guest ordered Miang Guaytiew - delicate rice paper rolls with a variety of prawn, crabmeat and five-spice duck filling. These cut-and-up-ended rolls were served with a lime and chilli sauce which was a striking foil for the sweetness of the seafood and duck. A substantial plateful, too!

I was intrigued by Kamon Bueng DIY - Do It Yourself tacos. This was a Thai take on a Mexican classic. The ‘tacos’ in this case were, I think, made from light rice flour. A bowl of finely chopped chicken and prawn, with a cucumber salsa on the side, completed the dish. This was a delicious combination and fun, although rather messy to eat. I would counsel breaking the tacos in half and topping with the filling rather than filling with the filling.

The main course for me had to be Kiew Wan Gai Ban - free-range chicken curry - which is promoted by Patara as “the best green curry in London”. That was a mighty boast. Could it be that good? Well, actually, yes! I confess that I am not a Thai food expert but this green curry was up there on the list of the best curries I have ever eaten ...and that would include Indian curries as well. This is well worth ordering.
A Euro-Thai cross-over was my companion’s Phed Tod Sauce Makham - Spiced crispy duck leg confit in Patara’s piquant tamarind sauce. The duck was served in a whole piece on top of a slice of grilled pineapple. This was another triumph. The succulent and melting meat was contrasted with the crispness of the skin. The fruit was sweet and made sweeter by the roasting but the tamarind sauce brought all the elements together with its fresh sharpness and warming ginger notes.

Our dessert was Kaoneow mamuang - sweet coconut rice flavoured with pandan served in an expertly folded banana leaf, with fragrant juicy Thai mango as a garnish. Beautifully presented with Thai flair. Nothing more needed, other than a pot of ginger tea for me and a pot of lemongrass tea for him!

Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge is part of an international group with several more branches in London as well as others in Switzerland, Austria, Singapore and of course Thailand. I was deliciously impressed by the food, service and ambiance. I see visits to other Patara restaurants in my near future.

PataraOpening hours
Monday - Wednesday
Lunch: 12 noon - 14.30
Dinner: 6.00 - 22.30
Thursday and Friday
Lunch: 12 noon - 14.30
Dinner: 6.00 - 23.00
From 12 noon - 23.00
From 12 noon - 22.30

Patara Thai Restaurant Knightsbridge
9 Beauchamp Place
London SW3 1NQ

Phone: 020 7581 8820
Fax: 020 7581 4923


Visit Patara here

food and travel reviews

Counter Vauxhall Arches

The Vauxhall Arches CounterSo many of my reviews start with ‘Well, it was worth the long journey’ and stoically ‘It’s a bit off the beaten track’. This evening I had no need of such stoicism. Counter Vauxhall Arches is just by Vauxhall Station. That isn’t estate-agent speak for a bracing march away, not a healthy hike away but really just there. If one walks too fast then it’s probable one will miss the entrance.

It’s thought that the name Vauxhall takes its origin from the name of Falkes de Breauté, the head of King John's mercenaries, who owned a large house in the area, which was referred to as Faulke's Hall. The area only became generally known by this name when the celebrated Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened to the public in the 1740s.

Opened by the London and South Western Railway as "Vauxhall Bridge Station" on 11 July 1848 this main line extended from Nine Elms to Waterloo, which was called "Waterloo Bridge Station" at that time. Vauxhall is on a viaduct with eight platforms. Interestingly there was a connection with Russians even in those days! The Russian word for a central railway station is вокзал (vokzal), pronounced pretty much as "Vauxhall".The Vauxhall Arches Counter It has long been suggested that a Russian delegation visited the site to view the construction of the railway in 1840, and mistook the name of the station for the generic name for a station.

Counter Vauxhall Arches is unmistakably underneath the arches and it’s taken advantage of the ancient architecture that was never designed for such refined entertaining. These spots have, until recently, been the domain of panel beaters and light engineering but such prime locations are now viewed with a bit more imagination.

If this was a house in New Orleans it would be called a shotgun house. That doesn’t refer to the use of firearms in the restaurant but more an observation that if one shot a pistol at the front door it wouldn’t hit a wall till it exited at the back. Counter Vauxhall Arches must be one of the longest restaurants in London but it remains cosy due to its narrow floor plan.
The Vauxhall Arches Counter
The arches might be old but the architect has introduced contemporary fittings, fixtures and lighting. All those elements complement the restaurant giving it a welcoming and classy air which fits this location – which is definitely on the up and up with embassies expected to move to Vauxhall in the near future. Mirrors and grey booths reflect the past and the very vibrant present.

The menu is eclectic and well-chosen. I know it’s a matter of personal taste but it ticked so many boxes for me. It’s ‘New York meets any number of European cities’ kind of bill-of-fare. The portion sizes are definitely giving a nod to the Big Apple, so come hungry.

Chicken and Tarragon Terrine served with a remarkable Apricot Chutney was my guest’s starter. This terrine is destined to become the signature dish here. Many such patés are made as afterthoughts but this hearty and beautifully presented plate is made of chunky meat divided by ribbons of red pepper and green leafy vegetables. Grilled bread was the garnish and it was all pronounced first class by this man who has a passion for just such preparations. Well worth trying.
The Vauxhall Arches Counter
Chili Blanco, Tortilla, with Avocado Salsa was my comforting starter. This was a substantial and rib-sticking bowl of white bean purée that had a chilli heat that grew rather than exploded. It’s a non-meat chilli that might not look appealing to the uninitiated but it truly was moreish and delicious.

Sea Trout, Courgettes and Samphire, served with Sauce Vierge, was my guest’s healthy main course although he added a plate of Lyonnaise Potatoes. The jewel-like veggies were a light foil to the richness of the trout and it was a sizable fish with moist flesh and crisp skin.

Caesar Salad with Lemon Chicken, Whitebait, and Parmesan Crisp was my ‘light’ main course. The presentation was spectacular with more chicken in chunky slices than I have seen in any one dish for a long while. The meat was glisteningly moist, the croutons were crunchy and the whitebait added seasoning. This truly is a dinner salad. Simple and perfect.

Mille Feuille, Vanilla and Rhubarb was my companion’s dessert. It was a home-made confection of sweet custard with tangy rhubarb and thin pastry wafers – just right for the season. The menu will change with those seasons and will offer daily specials to tempt the many regulars.
The Vauxhall Arches Counter
Counter Vauxhall Arches is attractive. Its food fits the location. It’s a casual restaurant that has already been noticed and it stands to make a mark on this corner of the metropolis.

Monday – Thursday: 07:00 - 00:30
Friday: 07:00 - 01:30
Saturday: 08:00 - 01:30
Sunday: 08:00 - 00:30

Counter Vauxhall Arches
Arch 50
South Lambeth Place

Phone: 020 3693 9600

Visit Counter Vauxhall Arches here

food and travel reviews

Brooklands Hotel for dinner

Brooklands is rather unique. It straddles contemporary design and the historic connections that its very name evokes. One might not be familiar with Brooklands Hotel but almost everybody will have heard of the Brooklands Racing Circuit.

The restaurant is called 1907 and that doesn’t refer to seven minutes past seven in the evening. It’s the date when the Brooklands track was first opened, and the associations with those days extends to the décor of the restaurant. The designer has artfully incorporated track memorabilia, and also gives a nod to Brooklands aviation heritage as well.

The restaurant has cosy nooks for intimate meetings as well as more open seating. There is a bank of stainless steel propeller replicas on sentry duty in front of the impressive bar area. Picture windows bring in morning light to energise breakfast-eating guests, and that vista changes as the sun sets and the restaurant fills with dinner visitors.

1907 is a smart casual restaurant that works with the hotel client base. Many people are here for a spin around the track and for the Brooklands Museum a short walk away. There might not be drifts of white linen tablecloths but the quality of the food here is as good as one might find in many a more starchy establishment.brooklands

I was charmed by the menu. It’s of an appropriate length for the size of the restaurant. It has a good collection of classics and some innovation. Executive Head Chef Norman Farquharson is evidently a skilled culinary professional who celebrates British fare with a flourish of European je ne sais quoi.

Pan Fried Scallops and Glazed Pork Belly was my starter. A scallop always seem luxurious. They are sweet and delicate and can be so easily swamped by more robust flavours and textures. Here the partner was meaty but not overpowering. Pork belly at its chin-dripping best.

Pressed Ham Hock and Pistachio with Celeriac Remoulade and Apple Purée was my guest’s choice of starter. This had an old-fashioned taste that reminded one of when ham really was a worthy meal. The meat was well-flavoured and attractively presented on a slate-black plate.

brooklands Pork featured large at this meal. It wasn’t by design but rather that those porcine dishes were so tempting and it’s traditional, so no apologises from my guest who was tempted by the recommendation of a manly 340g Pork Cutlet. This was a quality slice of pork-pink meat that was high on taste through its flesh and into the buttery fat.

River Exe Mussels Marinière cooked in white wine, garlic and cream was my retro main course. This gem is also available as a starter portion but it’s so moreish that that smaller potful might not be enough. One raves about such dishes when visiting France and Belgium and it’s proved to be just as memorable a few miles outside London. Mussels can be iffy so I would counsel eating and enjoying them from the hands of a careful chef, and then satisfaction will be assured.

Mussels Marinière appears to be a simple preparation and indeed it is. It relies on freshness of the shellfish with a complementary sauce. This Brooklands version was a winner and I think the only change I would make would be to have extra bread along with the chips. Those last juices cried out for a crusty baguette for dipping.

Breakfast at this same 1907 is a lavish affair. The food is chosen to delight an international clientele. There are the fixin’s for the very best of continental breakfasts. Cold meats, cheeses and pastries overflow plates and platters. There are cereals and fruits and then there are cooked-breakfast goods, for the rest of us who believe that a weekend away should be punctuated with Full Montys. Everything that one would want to set one up for a day of vintage MGs at the Brooklands Museum or for that long-awaited turn around the celebrated Mercedes Benz skid pan. Yes, this is for which weekends are made.

Brooklands has become a favourite with me. It’s a small resort. It’s a relaxing idyll. It offers accessible indulgence. Well worth a visit.

brooklands Brooklands Hotel
Brooklands Drive
KT13 0SL

Main Hotel Number: +44 (0) 1932 335700

Reservations: +44 (0) 1932 335710

Meeting & Events: +44 (0) 1932 335720

Visit Brooklands Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Brooklands Hotel Surrey

Brooklands Hotel Surrey I live in West London but whenever I consider a weekend break I turn right instead of left at the end of the road. That takes me to central London with the thronging crowds, fuss and rush. Lots of excitement, it’s true, but it hardly constitutes relaxation, and perhaps if I turn left there could be something remarkably different.

Surrey’s stylish Brooklands Hotel is how management describe this facility. Well, I have heard it all before and have so often been disappointed and have come away from what should have been a calming interlude with a mind full of self-doubt regarding my sense of good taste. Hotels with contrived edginess or faux-Victorian charm have never quite worked for me. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Brooklands Hotel honestly was stylish and absolutely fit for purpose.

The hotel has contemporary class writ large. Its tapered columns and sweeping lines remind me of the Bauhaus movement which actually fits well with the era of the original Brooklands racing track and Art Deco. Its entrance is lofty from a distance but acquiring more human proportions close-up. It has recently added 11 new bedrooms and renamed four of the hotel’s super suites, and those suites are huge and well-appointed.

Brooklands Hotel is closely associated with the iconic race track which was opened in 1907. So closely associated that the window from my suite overlooked the aforementioned circuit. A quartz and granite outline of the original track runs through the reception and art-deco motifs have been introduced. There is a striking Charlie Whinny wood sculpture in the atrium which has been inspired by the curves of the race track.Brooklands Hotel Surrey

The suites are sumptuous at Brooklands and my wide terrace offered uninterrupted views of the modern Mercedes-Benz World race track as well as the famous bank of the original. The skid pan acted like a slippery magnet for amateur thrill-seekers trying their hands (and feet) at Brooklands and a completion of a round or two would indeed be something of which to brag to the grandchildren! There are 131 bedrooms here and the hotel can boast some of the largest rooms of any UK hotel. Every guest can enjoy light and airy rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, many of the rooms offering panoramic views of the neighbouring Mercedes-Benz World race track.

The ‘Selwyn Edge’ Suite was mine, for the night at least. It’s named after a racing driver as are all the suites. In June 1907, Selwyn Edge broke the 24-hour distance record, driving a 60 hp Napier Six, at Brooklands. In 1922 he returned to Brooklands in a Spyker, setting a new "Double 12" world record at an average speed of 74.27 mph for the aggregate 24 hours.

This suite was furnished and decorated in muted tones and with furniture that would have complemented any high-end 1930s apartment.Brooklands Hotel Surrey A propeller plane in shiny steel was just what one would see gracing the desk of an industrial mogul in old black-and-white movies. One decorative touch that completed the elegant statement.

One might be tempted to linger on that balcony but the spa is waiting with treatments aplenty, and loungers on which to, well, lounge. There is a well-equipped gym for those with temple-like bodies and a café for the rest of us. Brooklands is one of those hotels that offers couples with diverse interests a unique escape. The men, and lots of women too, will want a little time behind the wheel while others will be content to unwind with some pampering and a good book.

Brooklands Hotel has excellent facilities including the AA Rosette-winning ‘1907 Restaurant Bar & Grill’ headed up by celebrated chef Norman Farquharson, making this hotel something of a mini resort. Not only does Brooklands have easy access to the Mercedes-Benz World race track but the Brooklands Museum is just a few minutes’ walk away and that will likely be popular with everybody.

I am impressed by Brooklands Hotel. It has accessible charm, thoughtful accents, beauty and great amenities. The food is outstanding and service is friendly. One can truly step away from the cares of the world here while glimpsing a corner of another age of fast living.

Brooklands Hotel Surrey Brooklands Hotel
Brooklands Drive
KT13 0SL

Main Hotel Number: +44 (0) 1932 335700

Reservations: +44 (0) 1932 335710

Meeting & Events: +44 (0) 1932 335720

Visit Brooklands Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Alexander McQueen at The Kensington Hotel

Alexander McQueen at The Kensington Hotel
Well, perhaps not the man himself, but The Kensington Hotel is presenting a delightful afternoon tea that is inspired by the fashion designer who is the focus of an exhibition in London called Savage Beauty. Alexander McQueen was born in London and was known for having worked as chief designer at Givenchy between 1996 and 2001, and for founding his own fashion house. He died in 2010 in Mayfair.

This part of Kensington is known as the Museum Quarter. It’s handy for the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Science Museum, as well as the beautifully ornate Natural History Museum. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are just a short distance away. Kensington became a sought-after location after the arrival of the Underground which came to South Kensington in 1868. Until then it had been rural, green and leafy, and in parts it still is.

The Kensington Hotel is a couple of blocks from South Kensington Station at the corner of Queen's Gate and the Old Brompton Road. It has a white façade and columns, typical of the style of homes popular with the affluent in the 19th century.

The hotel is charming, displaying a mix of classic and contemporary décor which works in harmony with the original architecture of high ceilings and mouldings. The ground floor offers a collection of interconnecting Drawing Rooms with welcoming sofas and comfy armchairs. Open fires invite the visitor to linger on those often freezing winter and spring afternoons.

The Kensington Hotel is now presenting a Fashion Forward Afternoon Tea and will do so until August. I love afternoon tea but they are so often spoiled by the ‘themed’ aspect. That has led many a chef to take the easy option of too-sweet foams and mousses and concoctions that would never have been seen gracing a Victorian cake stand.Alexander McQueen at The Kensington Hotel I confess that I feared a tea with a ‘fashion’ theme would be a horror. I had to eat my words …along with some delicious sweets and savouries.

The chef here is a thoughtful craftsman. He has eloquently translated fabric into food and has kept to what, in my opinion, is the original ethos of a traditional teatime spread. The afternoon tea needs, well, tea! I chose a hibiscus blend which I can recommend as a perfect sharp foil for the cakes to come.

But there is a method to eating an afternoon tea and that is to start from the bottom and work up. Our table was laden with temptation which included a platter of crust-off sandwiches to start, with fillings hinting at McQueen’s Scottish inspirations The lowest plate of the 3-tier stand held the ubiquitous (or should be) scones. These were some of the best I have tasted in the past couple of years. They were fresh, the texture had just the right degree of crumble and they were served with real clotted cream. There has been a tendency for restaurants to substitute double cream but clotted cream is British and unique and the marriage of that and strawberry jam is one made in heaven.

The middle tier was intriguing and contemporary: a silver horn of plenty filled with foie gras, a crab and artichoke timbale in stainless steel, and the trio was completed by a miniature nest of cress as a bed for a quail egg in shiny gold. Great metallic visual impact.
Alexander McQueen at The Kensington Hotel
The top tier had held our attention since it arrived. This contained an iced cake in the form of one of Alexander McQueen's celebrated handbags. There was a flamboyant Butterfly Chocolate cake and those insects were also made of chocolate. A cookie with thick marzipan was in the form of a McQueen gown. The macaroon disappeared in one bite, and Pannacota with raspberry sauce helped to balance the array.

This Alexander McQueen Afternoon Tea really does work. It’s a must-have for anyone visiting the exhibition. It’s a must-have for locals who enjoy afternoon tea but would appreciate something a little different. It is most definitely themed but it retains all those traditional qualities that made the archetypal afternoon tea so popular in the first place.

£35.00 per person

This menu is available until 2nd August

Afternoon Tea: 12noon - 6pm

The Kensington Hotel
109 - 113 Queen's Gate
South Kensington
United Kingdom

Visit The Kensington Hotel here

food and travel reviews

Dishoom – Kings Cross

The area now known as King’s Cross is approximately 2 km north-west of the original Roman settlement of Londonium, and it’s thought to have been the site of a crossing of the Fleet River. It is also believed to be the location of the battle between Queen Boudicca and the Romans. Monks arrived in Essex in AD 597 with the relics of Saint Pancras and constructed a church where St Pancras Old Church stands today, making it one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Europe.

A map from the mid-1700s shows the area as open fields but with the completion of the Regent’s Canal in 1820, King’s Cross was linked to major industrial cities in the North and became a hub of activity. A statue of King George IV was erected at the Battle Bridge crossroads in 1830. The statue was evidently not popular and was demolished in 1842, but the new name ‘King’s Cross’ remained.

The area went into decline in the mid-20th century and many buildings fell into disrepair after businesses closed. It’s not too long ago when Kings Cross was an edgy, dirty neighbourhood where worse-for-wear derelicts housed themselves in every cold doorway and ladies of the night met their ‘customers’.Dishoom Such was its unsavoury reputation that decent folk would linger for only moments at the station and if you were a female commuter you dare not slow down to look at the departures board for fear of the inevitable proposition of ‘Have you got the time darlin’?’

The 67-acre King’s Cross site has recently undergone one of the largest re-generation programmes in Europe and the area is fast becoming one of the most desirable business and residential neighbourhoods in London. It boasts high-end shops and restaurants of every culinary hue. It has guarded the old industrial architecture, which remains a link to the past and creates a unique environment for work and play.

Dishoom is the latest branch of the now well-established Old Irani Cafés of Bombay. They were originally opened last century by Zoroastrian immigrants from Iran to India. In fact they have almost all disappeared from that city but have found new fame and followers in London. This new Dishoom at King’s Cross opened on 20th November.
Regulars at the first Dishoom in Covent Garden will notice a few signature design features. There are still old family photos, marble-topped tables and a few banquettes alongside smaller tables. But Kings Cross, at least in my opinion, is more striking with a more exotic ambiance. The former stable takes advantage of bare bricks and dark wood studded with Indian accents. Indian, yes, but this is as far from a themed Indian Disney Land as one could get.

So one has admired the décor, and now one will want food. The menu will be familiar to regulars – Dishoom, it seems, has become a London institution. They have, obviously, lots of their famed breakfast items but we wanted lunch. Okra Fries will convert anyone who insists they hate these small green veggies. They are crunchy and slightly spiced but served with chutney for added zing. Prawn Koliwada from the fisherman’s district of Mumbai is a bowl of crispy fried seafood with tamarind and date chutney alongside.

Ruby Murray is the Cockney rhyming slang for curry – as this is London one must have a succulent Ruby from time to time and in this case a flavourful Chicken Ruby.Dishoom Tender chicken in a rich creamy ‘makhani’ sauce needs rice or bread for dipping in the generous gravy. The naans at Dishoom are always outstanding and freshly made.

Dishes at Dishoom have flavour rather than overpowering heat but we still wanted something refreshing with which to finish. Kala Khatta Gola Ice is a must-try. It’s a confection that was new to me but one for which I would like the recipe. Shaved ice is laced with kokum fruit syrup, blueberries, chilli, lime, and white and black salt. This is truly addictive.

I had not visited the rejuvenated Kings Cross before and I am stunned by the transformation. It’s vibrant and attractive but, to quote estate agents, ‘retaining many original features’. Dishoom fits well into this classy corner.

Dishoom Kings Cross
5 Stable Street
London N1C 4AB

Phone: 020 7420 9321

Visit Dishoom here

food and travel reviews

Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle)

Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle) I have wanted to visit for a while. No, this isn’t a Michelin-starred restaurant. No, one isn’t dazzled by drifts of white linen tablecloths or the shine of silverware. It’s a café, or at least a café of the Japanese kind. Kanada-Ya is a ramen bar.

There is quite a bit of choice if one wants to slurp noodles in London. Udon noodles compete with ramen for the attention of transplanted Japanese as well as indigenous Londoners. This corner of the city is blessed by two ramen establishments but one in particular, Kanada-Ya, was intriguing me.

Kanada-Ya opened in September 2014 on St Giles High Street. This London branch is the third, with others in Japan and Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Kazuhiro Kanada is the owner and a former bike courier who taught himself to cook the most celebrated dish from his region, which is Hakata tonkotsu ramen, and it’s this pork-bone ramen that Kanada-ya has as its raison d’être.

There are so many restaurants of every culinary hue in London that queueing is rare. If the restaurant is full one just goes next door. But I had noted that even on cold winter nights Kanada-Ya had a line of patient soon-to-be diners silhouetted against steamy windows.Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle) Such is the popularity of this bijou eatery that we turned up after its dinner opening time of 5pm to find only a couple of seats vacant. We had arrived at 5.05pm!

There are two reasons for the queue. First is that it’s a very small restaurant. It offers 20 or so places for customers and considering that small number they seem to have a good complement of staff. I guess a quick turnover is the order of the day. Its décor is simple: pale wood, a mirror ceiling, vinyl table tops, an open kitchen and ambiance provided by the buzz of conversation in both English and Japanese.

The second reason is that the food here is simple. It’s ramen noodles. Well, on the face of it it’s simple, but then one learns that the noodles are made here and bear no resemblance to those frilly articles, dry and with a ‘flavour’ sachet attached, found in your favourite supermarket. Kanada-Ya offers the real thing and one can even choose the texture of one’s noodles!

It’s the broth in which the noodles are suspended which is truly the star. If you have tried noodles at other establishments then you would likely have enjoyed these with a light stock made with dashi. It’s delicious and full of savoury umami, but tonkotsu is far from vegetarian and it’s hearty - and labour-intensive to produce. Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle)

Kanada-Ya's menu revolves around that rich, creamy pork-bone broth that is tended for 18 hours every day. The bones are cleaned and the stock is continually skimmed to create a distinctive soup with a clean taste that is delicate rather than being over-porky. Yes, it’s still evidently a porcine product but it’s not fatty. The texture is perfect for coating noodles and also sipping as a soup.

I would suggest that a ramen virgin order the original bowl of that 18-hour-tended broth with chashu marinated pork, wood-ear fungus, nori seaweed and spring onion. There are condiments on the table to add at will, but there are also extras on the menu. A must-try is Hanjuku egg (also called ni-tamago or ajitsuke tamago) which is a soft-boiled egg with the white perfectly cooked through, but with the yolk remaining slightly liquid and silky. The egg is marinated in a soy sauce.

Other versions of ramen are on offer: Moyashi Ramen - a lighter version topped with blanched beansprouts, and Chashu-Men which is my favourite and which is garnished with Chashu pork collar. Charred black garlic sauce is an aromatic addition, and an extra sheet of nori always looks so beautiful. One can order extra noodles to add to any remaining soup.

Kanada-Ya is popular for very good reason. The broth is outstanding, comforting and flavourful. Yes, it is honestly just a matter of taste but Kanada-Ya is very much to my taste.

Kanada-Ya (or how I found my noodle)
64 St Giles High Street

Opening times:
Monday to Saturday
12pm-3pm and 5pm-10pm

Visit Kanada-Ya here

food and travel reviews

Bern – classic and chic

Bern might not be the first place one would think of for a short city-break.Bern In fact, Switzerland probably isn’t a country one would list first for a quick holiday. It’s all Alps, chocolate, or chocolate in the shape of Alps, isn’t it? Well, no! And it’s easier to get there than one might expect.

Southend Airport is fast becoming my airport of choice …and I live on the opposite side of London. It has easy connections from Liverpool Street Station and the railway station is right at the Airport, not a shuttle bus ride, not a taxi ride and not a healthy hike – it is actually just a few steps from train to terminal. There is just one thing missing – crowds of people. SkyWork operates convenient services from Southend, which makes Bern more accessible than some other cities in Europe. Read more here.

The Old City of Bern, founded in 1191, is the medieval heart of a more modern town. “It is the most beautiful that we have ever seen,” wrote Goethe in 1779. It is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site and has been since 1983. It sits atop a hill skirted on three sides by the River Aare. It’s easily walked and well defined following the lines of its 12th to 15th-century constructions. There was a major fire in 1405 and much of the city was rebuilt but this time the wooden homes and businesses were erected in stone.bern Despite various changes the city has retained much of its original charm. Many buildings in the Old City have been designated as Swiss Cultural Properties of National Significance.

One can stroll through its 6 km of wide streets and along arcades which now house contemporary boutiques offering chic fashion instead of vegetables. There is plenty that reminds one of local history, culture and legend. Every intersection seems to sport a fountain. In fact Bern is famed for its Renaissance water features. There are over 100 public fountains and eleven are crowned with iconic allegorical statues. The statues were created during the 16th century and were originally built to decorate conduits to supply fresh water to the general public.
The celebrated Clock Tower (Zytglogge) was Bern's first western city gate but is now one of Bern's most visited attractions. The name Zytglogge translates as "time bell" and this was one of the earliest public clocks, one of the three oldest clocks in Switzerland. The Zytglogge building was converted into a women's prison at one point in its long life. It’s said to have been used to house Pfaddendirnen or "priests' whores", ladies found guilty of having sex with clerics. Nowhere is mention made of the punishment meted out to the lusty men of the cloth!

The astronomical clock is indeed something of a mechanical wonder. It achieved the state which we see today in 1530. In addition to the clock, the Zytglogge features a group of amusing figures. At three minutes before each hour the characters - a rooster, a fool, a knight, a piper, a lion and bears, come to life: the animals chase each other, the fool rings his bells and the chicken crows.

Albert Einstein lived in Bern from 1903 to 1905 and it is here that he developed his Theory of Relativity. The Einstein House is small and decorated for the period when the Einsteins were in residence. Not all of the furniture was owned by Albert but there are plenty of photographs on display and guides who, if you get a good one, will tell stories of the great man’s life. One can learn some surprising facts that might change your mind about Einstein.
Bern fountain
The Granary (Kornhaus) is stunning but its unprepossessing entrance can easily be missed. The Kornhaus is considered to be one of Bern's finest examples of High Baroque architecture. As it was no longer serving as a grain store, it was turned into a festival hall in 1893. The Kornhaus is in the middle of Bern on Granary Square (Kornhausplatz) next to the City Theatre. This cellar, now a restaurant, is one of Switzerland's most impressive public spaces, astounding just for its size alone and seeming more like a subterranean church than a dining room. Perhaps ‘church’ gives a misleading perspective: it’s a culinary cathedral and a must-visit for the gastronomically-minded.

Perhaps the most famous spot for a luxurious stay is The Hotel Schweizerhof. This was known as “Hotel Fetzer” or “Zähringerhof” in the 18th century but was given its current name in 1859. In 1911 the Hotel Schweizerhof was torn down, rebuilt and reopened in July 1913. A comprehensive, two-year renovation started in 2009 and it’s now open for business again. It has that appealing melange of contemporary and classic décor. Its restaurant is just what any visitor would want from a European eatery: dark wood, gleaming glass and impeccable service. If you go over winter and spring there might be a sumptuous afternoon tea on offer.

Bern has so much within a small area. The visitor won’t feel compelled to hire a car. Everything to fill a short vacation is within a few square kilometres. There is history at every turn, food to tempt and tease, and suites to pamper. Bern is classy and chic and worth exploring.

Visit Hotel Schweizerhof Bern here

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Visit Southend Airport here

Visit Bern here

food and travel reviews

Adam Handling – Asian Accents

Adam Handling – Asian Accents
Adam Handling has been crowned 2014 British Culinary Federation Chef of the Year. That’s no surprise. He is a young man who has already chalked up accolades and praise, and now he has his own name over a restaurant door – Adam Handling at Caxton.

St Ermins is a hotel of character just around the corner from Scotland Yard and St James’s Park Underground station. The hotel’s Caxton restaurant isn’t half celebrated enough. It’s hard to think of another restaurant with food of this quality that isn’t busting at the seams with folks who want to say they have been …or want to be seen there.

Adam has travelled and found his culinary inspiration, his gastronomic muse, in Asia. He hasn’t thrown away his traditional food lexicon but has introduced accents from the East. He has brought in complementary ingredients, some gorgeous crockery and has maintained his individual flair.

I am blessed by a wealth of dining opportunities every week. I am, to be honest, seldom disappointed. I enjoy fine dining with star-spangled chefs, I am energised by evenings of loud rock music garnished with juicy ribs, I have a passion for good curries. Yes, I have been spoilt but I am still thrilled by food, and Adam’s always shines, even against the best competition.

The first time I wrote about Adam’s food I described it as whimsical. He has changed much of his menu but I still stick by my initial observation. His bill of fare has become a tad more exotic but it displays great thought, balance and charm. It still makes me smile. A meal here is an accessible event. Granted, one will pay more than at one’s local pasta chain but Adam Handling at Caxton offers a meal that will remain memorable long after the ride home on the District Line.

Asian food is about flavour, freshness and texture. Japanese dishes are presented artistically, Korean dishes have the impact of spice.Adam Handling – Asian Accents Adam has access to the finest ingredients and he tends them slowly and lovingly or fast and furiously, as the dish demands. He allows the individuality of fish, meat and vegetables to impress, but enhances them with the less banal. He has a deft hand with seasoning.

We started our evening with sourdough bread (a whole little loaf), chicken butter and a pot of duck liver parfait. This isn’t at all Asian but falls under the heading of International Comfort. It’s moreish. Doughnuts with dressed crab is finger food and that trending concept of smart-casual pairing. Delightful partner to a flute of chilled prosecco.

Beetroot, Beetroot and more Beetroot is a signature dish here. This will convert even those who profess to hate that finger-staining, earthy-tasting vegetable. Adam has elevated this humble and shunned salad ingredient to cheffy heights. It’s architectural and multi-faceted.

Chicken and lobster, yellow curry with palm sugar was my guest’s starter. Each element complemented the others; unmistakable Asian spice but warming rather than searing. I chose beef tongue bulgogi broth: Korean accents here but subtle.Adam Handling – Asian Accents The prospect of tongue will likely strike fear into the uninitiated and that’s a shame. It’s a cut of meat that has good flavour and texture and was once a standard sandwich-filler for Sunday supper. Adam does it justice.

Goat with ragu and Japanese ponzu was hearty and rich. Slow-cooked meat in two guises and not tasting too goaty, this ticked all the boxes for my carnivore companion. But I had a yen for fish and chose Black Cod, miso, kohlrabi, and kimchi. The flesh flaked into moist shards complemented by the well-flavoured kimchi which was delicate rather than robust.

A meal at Adam Handling at Caxton is one over which to linger. It isn’t a white-linen tablecloth kinda place but it’s an attractive restaurant with cosy corners, comfy cushions and friendly service. The food answers for itself in eloquent fashion, making this a must-visit restaurant. I don’t know what’s next but I know it’s going to be exciting.

Opening hours
Mon-Sun 11:30am - 11:00pm
Mon-Fri for lunch: 12 noon - 2.30pm
Mon-Sun for dinner: 6.00pm - 10.30pm

Adam Handling at Caxton
2 Caxton Street

Phone: 0800 652 1498

Visit Adam Handling at Caxton here

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Southern Oregon The average British tourist heading for the US on vacation will likely have limited horizons. There is the Big Apple, Florida, California... But the US is a huge country. Surely there must be other locations to stimulate, charm and fuel the globe-trotting traveller? Well, yes, indeed. There is Oregon... Read More

The Markthal - Rotterdam

Markthal Rotterdam We are thinking about a pre-Christmas break, a rejuvenating Spring get-away, a Summer city break, and there are the familiar cries of ‘Let’s go to Rotterdam.’ OK, OK, so I am pulling the leg of my dear reader. It’s a shame that we don’t have Rotterdam as our first thought – and I can’t see why... Read More

Portland, Oregon – Colourful in every way

Portland, Oregon The Portland area was originally inhabited by two bands of Upper Chinook Native Americans. The Multnomah people settled on and around Sauvie Island, and the Cascades Indians settled along the Columbia Gorge. Oregon and its tribes were first ‘discovered’ by the expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1805-6... Read More

Groningen – Contemporary and Historic

Groningen - Contemporary and Historic Groningen isn’t the first destination in The Netherlands of which one might think. It’s invariably Amsterdam that gets that accolade, and a very fine city it is. But Groningen, in the north of this, one of my favourite countries in Europe, is like an accessible snapshot of all things Dutch... Read More
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Capital Spice - chefs, restaurants and recipes
By Chrissie Walker, foreword by Sanjeev Kapoor.
21 great London Indian chefs, over 100
stunning recipes.
Available from bookshops and Amazon.
ISBN: 9781906650728

Marks and Spencer wine