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You don't need to be a culinary professional to get a kick
out of this book. Caroline James, the author, does have that background
but it's her wry sense of humour that gives this book such wide appeal.
For those of us who are on nodding terms with chefs there is a layer
listening to Radio London pirate radio illicitly under the covers. I
could never get the transistor to quite tune in. When the ship’s
captain gave his broadcast to the Dutch families back home it almost
sounded like English. Well it's a bit like that with Caroline's book
So, You Think You're A Celebrity ...Chef? One feels that one knows that
chef to whom Caroline is referring …probably, with that name that
almost fits the real-life celeb. And that other character: is that the
obnoxious wannabe that is a fixture of every food event? And who is
that flamboyant agent? All the names are on the tip of one’s tongue …or
are they? This volume is another candidate for that disclaimer, ‘All
characters in this novel are fictitious. Any resemblance to anyone
living is coincidental. All names have been changed to protect the
The characters are writ large but probably no larger than their 3D
inspirations. There is a slew of what might be called 'product
placements' that adds still more to the sense of reality. Caroline
mentions restaurants, designer labels, London neighbourhoods and
sandwich fillings that paint a picture of life in a wacky segment of
the food industry.
So, You Think You're A Celebrity ...Chef? is a rollicking good read.
Caroline James has a quick wit and amusing turn of phrase. There are
laugh-out-loud moments, but dip into this light novel and you will be
wearing a smile, and sometimes a smirk, from the first page.
Author: Caroline James
Published by: ThornBerry Publishing
Yamal Alsham - Knightsbridge
Yamal Alsham is new to Knightsbridge but it’s joining its
established sister of the same name in Chelsea Harbour. It’s a
neighbourhood with its fair share of Middle Eastern eateries but they
are appealing not only to the host community but to the ex-pats who
long for a taste of home.
That’s the draw of the Lebanese- and Syrian-inspired menu. It offers
something for every diner with fresh salads, warm bread straight from
the oven, delicately char-grilled meats and filled pastries. Yes, there
are several dishes that are well-laced with vibrant spice, but still
more that are just well-seasoned and aromatic.
It’s approaching Valentine’s Day and if you have to look up the actual
date you will likely already be in trouble! Yamal Alsham would perhaps
be an ideal choice. For those with long-established partners you will
appreciate the practicalities of this stylish venue. Its location has
extensive transport links – by Underground via both Knightsbridge and
Hyde Park Corner, and by all those iconic double-deck buses!
But there are those other couples for whom this might be
the first Valentine’s
comfortable venue for those
who are still unsure about the tastes of their romantic-evening
companion. There is nothing too outlandish here, but dishes are well
presented and even vegetarians are well provided for. There is a good
selection of fish dishes but a meat eater will want to sample the
This restaurant, only opened recently, is light and bright with touches
of metallic opulence. The door handles and decorative medallions
welcome the diner with a hint of exotic glitz. There are more lustrous
touches of bronze on ornamental coving and friezes. The prices are,
however, more reasonable than the décor might suggest.
There are plenty of standard and expected dishes on the extensive menu
but they are done well and why would you be visiting a Lebanese and
Syrian inspired restaurant if you didn’t want to eat Lebanese and
Syrian inspired food? Hoummos is the celebrated and ubiquitous
pureé of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon and a drizzle
of olive oil. Use some of that aforementioned bread to scoop.
Falafels are deep-fried bean and herb croquettes served with lemon and
tahini dip, and are golden and crisp. We find them all over London but
they are often soggy and unappetising. Yamal Alsham offers a version
that is a cut above most.
We British love pies and they are here. OK, admittedly in
miniature and perfectly-formed
fillings that are somewhat more interesting
onions and sumac, which is a unique
spice blend of the region. Cheese sambousek will also please the
non-meat eater – deep-fried pastry parcels filled with cheese and herbs.
Kafta Orfaleas are spicy minced lamb skewers made with parsley, onion
and served with a grilled tomato. I think this should be a signature
dish. It is indeed spicy, but all the ingredients play a part in making
this meat kebab a memorable item. The lamb remains moist with just the
amount of grilled flavour to suggest its mode of cooking, but without
so much that one would have the impression that charcoal could be the
Yamal Alsham isn’t fusion, it’s not cutting edge, but both of those
concepts are rather over-rated. It’s just ‘right’. It delivers that for
which one would hope from this regional cuisine. Its prices won’t shock
and its service is friendly. Valentine’s Day dinner could well be
Cocktails! We tend to have a vision of summer evenings,
flowery dresses, sipping colourful libations in some place exotic. But
for those of us who live far from the equator those days of balmy bliss
only happen by during our short summer months, and even then there are
But we still crave mixed drinks with complex flavours and a richness
that’s appropriate for cooler weather, log fires
(if we are lucky) and old-fashioned conviviality. This book offers
suggestions for those cocktails that make a snow flurry a welcome sight
and an invitation to mull some wine.
Winter cocktails – mulled ciders, hot toddies, punches, pitchers and
cocktail party snacks, to give the full title, presents a wealth of
recipes that include the traditional steaming pans of spiced red wine
and the fluffy eggnog for Christmas. It has a collection of classic
cocktails that are served at room temperature or with ice. It’s not
just the temperature of the drink that makes it wintery, but the
balance of alcohols and mixers that create warmth.
As to that mulled wine: yes, it is here and rightly so, but there is
also a glinting white wine version with herbs and pear eau-de-vie.
There is the aforementioned traditional Eggnog, velvety and synonymous
with holiday, but Butterscotch Eggnog will shortly be putting in an
appearance chez nous. This has the added dimension of caramel notes,
and the garnish of sea salt makes this a thoroughly contemporary
Irish coffee is less often seen on restaurant menus, and Irish Coffee
glasses have gone the way of fondue sets – the back of that top kitchen
cupboard. But this became popular for a very good reason: it’s
delicious! Everyone will insist they know what constitutes an Irish
Coffee. ‘Well, it’s coffee and whisky isn’t it?’ No, it’s not. It’s
coffee and IRISH WHISKEY. The Irish spirit is spelt differently and has
a distinctive flavour. I dislike Scotch but I can savour a tot of Irish
– the difference is that marked. Do try this, even if you only have a
regular glass tumbler in which to serve it.
My pick-of-the-book is a Bloody Good Punch, which is indeed a bloody
good punch. This is potent with bourbon, amaretto and champagne along
with Blood Orange Sour Mix, the recipe for which is listed within these
pages. OK, the fact that this contains fruit might salve the
conscience, but the best policy is to just enjoy this for its taste,
and drink with moderation.
Winter Cocktails is a unique collection of stylish mixed drinks that
might help those long dark nights pass with a bit of a swing. A
delightful book that will be coveted by any budding Barista.
Author: Maria del Mar Sacasa
Published by: Quirk Books
Isn’t it a perennial problem? What to do for Valentine’s Day! When one
might possibly get away with socks for Christmas,
but they just don’t cut the mustard for Valentines. Jewellery is
predictable, and restaurants are always full to bursting with couples,
red roses and enough candle power to illuminate a small town.
If one is still in the first flush of a relationship then perhaps the
prospect of a Valentines getaway is even more enticing. One might want
to make an impression, and there could even be the chance of a
proposal. Yes, life can be sweet …as chocolate.
Chocolate is a traditional Valentines gift and is still welcomed, but
think of the impact a whole chocolate hotel would have. No, dear
gluttonous reader, the hotel isn’t exactly made from chocolate but is
stuffed with enough of that confection to warrant the title of
Chocohotel; and what’s more it’s in Italy and there are few more
romantic places than that.
Etruscan Chocohotel has 3 stars and what it lacks in glitter it makes
up for in themed fun. Perhaps another time you might even consider
bringing the kids, who will have eyes like organ stops before they even
reach their room. The chocolate extravaganza starts in the hotel lobby.
We have all seen them, those chocolate novelties. Something for the
tree at Christmas along with some coins. One might have some chocolate
initials for a birthday and then there are body parts – although
discussion of those will remain for another article (perhaps). But here
at the Chocohotel the chocolate goods are tasty and tasteful
been fabricated in chocolate, and -
this is Italy, after all - how about a chocolate pizza? All this and
At Etruscan Chocohotel, rooms are on three floors and each is,
unsurprisingly, dedicated to a style of chocolate. OK, so admittedly
the Etruscans were never big on chocolate, owing to the fact that the
stuff had not yet been discovered, but they would likely have
appreciated staying in any level of a hotel with motifs of milk
chocolate, dark chocolate and gianduja chocolate. For sheer delicious
decadence there is a Choco Sweet Suite that presents the visitor with
mounds of chocolate in each corner of the room, and you get to take
home any you can’t finish during your stay.
Some rooms are equipped with, well, equipment of the sporting variety.
A whimsical touch from the management of a hotel that dares the guest
to stick to that diet. The handles of the treadmill are handy for
hanging one’s suit …this is a relaxing vacation, not a gym boot-camp!
Breakfast offers temptations for those who are still
craving chocolate. Chocolate dip, hot chocolate in mugs, big jar of
Nutella, chocolate cakes and the like partner more conventional fare
for those with traditional morning needs.
The centre of Perugia is not far away, making this hotel an ideal
location for a short break or a romantic interlude. There are plenty of
activities, stunning architecture and restaurants just a few minutes’
drive from your chocolate heaven. All rooms are equipped with air
conditioning, satellite TV, minibar, telephone. Wi-Fi access, parking
and garage are free for Etruscan Chocohotel guests.
Etruscan Chocohotel is unashamedly themed. It’s a joyful and
light-hearted spot and ideal for those who are not looking for starchy
formality. It’s just right for families, but memories of a Valentine’s
Day for just two here will likely make you smile for years to come.
via Campo di Marte
134 - 06100 Perugia (PG)
with a molecule of romance in their hearts will have
considered a vacation in Italy. Any lover of good food and wine would
have mused on a visit to this land of culinary abundance. Every
traveller who prizes quality produce, striking accommodation and the
best of restaurants will want to stay in Norcia. Where? Yes, that is
the expected response from the untutored.
The historic town of Norcia is in the heart of the Valnerina, on the
edge of the Sibillini National Park in Umbria. That’s the region that
is sadly overlooked by those visiting Italy for the first time. One
passes through this region on the way from Tuscany to Rome, and it
seems the only variation on that programme is travellers choosing to
travel from Rome to Tuscany.
The pretty walled town of Norcia is just what one would hope to find in
Italy. It has retained much of that timeless quality and charm that is
so often swept away by modernisation. Norcia, traditionally known in
English by its Latin name of Nursia, is situated on a wide plain at the
foot of Monti Sibillini, a part of the Apennines with some of its
highest peaks. It’s an ideal base from which the hardy and
energetic sorts will set out for days of mountaineering and hiking.
The town's recorded history goes back as far as the 5th century BC,
when the Sabines settled here. It became an ally of ancient Rome in 205
BC, during the Second Punic War, but perhaps it is better known for its
later Christian inhabitant. St. Benedict, the founder of the
monasteries that bear his name, and his twin sister St. Scholastica,
were born here in 480. Monks came to Norcia in the 10th century, and
the Monastery of St. Benedict is built over the ruins of the house the
saint called home.
In the 6th century Norcia was conquered by the Lombards, becoming
was struck by a powerful earthquake and more
followed in the years 1763, 1859, 1979. After the earthquake of August
22, 1859 the Papal States, to which Norcia then belonged, imposed
strict building regulations forbidding structures of more than 3 floors
and requiring the use of particular materials and building techniques.
This edict has helped to give the town its architectural style, which
is one of its great assets.
Norcia’s celebrated main basilica is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to St.
Benedict and is connected to the Benedictine monastery. The building we
see today was erected in the 13th century on the remains of Roman
buildings assumed to be the house in which the twin saints were born.
There is much here to occupy the discerning tourist. Gothic facades,
narrow streets, striking views, shops and museums. But those
aforementioned shops will be the draw. There are the usual boutiques
selling stylish home goods but there are others that are more
memorable, and they are filled with the most delectable of local food
Lentils (Castelluccio variety) are big here, or more accurately, they
are small here. They are celebrated all over the country for their
distinctive flavour and their texture, and they are the traditional
Italian New Year accompaniment to Zampone di Modena, stuffed pigs
trotter. They are also presented as a rustic soup which will be
welcomed by those returning from mountain walks.
For a touch of luxury consider Norcia’s black truffle. There are
numerous shops here selling fresh truffles, and whole or sliced in
jars. They are fine quality with an aroma that will be mouth-watering
for any lover of these fungi. That earthy scent is eclipsed by the
flavour brought out by cooking, and it doesn’t take much to create a
decadent pasta or egg dish from some truffle shavings.
One look at the landscape and one realises that this must be pig
paradise. According to tradition, it was the Jews
who arrived after the destruction of Jerusalem who invented the
technique of preserving pork. Now, that sounds unlikely but as they
were unable to eat the meat themselves, they chose to preserve it in
order to use in trade.
From the 12th to the 17th century, processing techniques developed
along with the emergence of the “norcino” or dedicated pork butcher,
who set up guilds which in turn created new cured-meat products. Pope
Paul V, with a papal bull of 1615, recognized the Norcian guild
dedicated to the home-grown saints, and several years later Pope
Gregory XV promoted this association to the rank of Arch-confraternity
– which later became the university of the pork butchers of Norcia and
Cascia and of the Norcian empirical pork physicians. Yes, their knife
skills were appreciated more by people than pigs.
Cured hams, capocollo salami (made from pork neck and shoulder, and a
speciality of Norcia) as well as prosciutto crudo (uncooked, dry-cured
ham), spalletta (small cooked shoulder of pork), loins, bacon and
guanciale (unsmoked cured pig’s jowl) are all available from local
purveyors. Those products are generally made from regular pigs, but
Norcia is also widely known for good hunting, especially of wild boar,
and for the production of sausages and ham made that free-range pork.
Such products have been named after Norcia: in Italian, they are called
Norcia is worthwhile visiting any time of year but winter tempts with
crisp air, warm fires and the best of food. It’s a compact little city
that offers enough amusement to fill a short break; or consider it as a
base from which to wander.
Getting to Norcia:
By road, allow two hours from Rome, via Terni, and around two and a
half hours from Florence, via Perugia.
I am an enthusiastic home cook and a periodic professional
cook, but I hold my hands up and admit that I have
avoided using pumpkins and squashes, my excuse being that when I was
growing up we never saw such things apart from on Halloween, and even
that wasn’t a popular holiday/event till I was well into my teens.
Janet MacDonald has penned a volume that demystifies these vegetables
and presents a hundred or so recipes that are simple and, for the most
part, economic to prepare; that fact alone makes visiting the world of
all things squashy worthwhile.
The most common of squashes are courgettes and cucumbers, and they are
the most tender and easiest to prepare. It seems that every summer
provides a glut of these for every lucky veg garden tiller and every
(even-luckier) allotment holder. We slice cucumber for salad. We fry
courgettes with a little butter. We toss a fritter or two. And then we
are faced with several months of repetitive tedium. This book has a
host of alternatives including Cucumber, Mint & Cider Sorbet that
works well as a refreshing between-course course or, if sweetened, as a
light dessert. Smart and sophisticated and hardly any work at all if
one owns an ice-cream maker; and it’s possible to make a granita if one
only has a freezer.
Savoury Squash and Cheese Puffs are versatile, using any one of several
varieties of these vegetables. These bites are delicious as nibbles
with drinks or as a side dish in place of bread. This is a deliciously
sneaky way of getting some vegetables into children.
A rather stylish dish is that of Tiny Pumpkins Stuffed with Stilton
Cheese. This is posh dinner-party fare and looks cheffy enough to
impress even the in-laws. There is nothing too difficult to master in
the recipe but the result is more than the sum of its tasty parts. A
classy vegetarian main or memorable side dish.
Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes
is a must-have for any vegetable grower or for those of us who have
always been curious about these overlooked newcomers.
Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes
Author: Janet MacDonald
Published by: Grub Street
Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for
Baking is, thank goodness, enjoying something of a
revival. We are reconnecting with some old-fashioned culinary values – the
kitchen filled with tempting aromas, a cake on a glass stand, some
home-made chocolate treats. But much of the appeal of the candy is the
fact that it is also eye-candy. They look beautiful.
Perhaps these days the bar for presentation of desserts and sweets is
set a bit higher. We watch cooking programmes and admire those chef
creations; and unfortunately the rest of the world is also watching. So
how do we create visual stunners without going to culinary school?
Food manufacturers have taken advantage of baking trends and this time
they have filled the supermarket shelves with jars of colourful sugar
shapes, chocolate strands, jewelled jellies and metallic balls and
pearls. All that’s needed to achieve sweet delights is some
imagination, and this book, Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for
rainbowlicious desserts, supplies that.
This isn’t just a list of available decorations. You would, after all,
only have to take a stroll to your local baking aisle to discover that
for yourself. No, this is a comprehensive illustration of how to use
those garnishes in unique ways, and there are also full recipes for
sweet goods as carriers of those shimmers, glitters, colour-bursts and
pastel shades. There are even recipes for making your own sprinkles at
I have a few favourites from this volume: Fleur de Sel Caramels allows
the home cook to offer these trending toffees for very little money.
The scattering of chunky salty crystals elevates these into a
sophisticated adult indulgence.
Brazilian Chocolate Truffles are a bit different from the more common
chocolate truffle. They use the overlooked condensed milk along with
cocoa powder to create the truffle mix, which can be moulded and then
covered with all kinds of coloured strands or sugars. These are moreish
and an alternative for those who cannot eat quantities of regular
Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts offers you
those imaginative ideas and inspirations for striking presentation of
tempting treats, but more importantly decorating cakes and desserts can
be a fun introduction to cooking for kids. OK, clean-up might take a
while but those memories and photo opportunities will be priceless.
Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts
Author: Jackie Alpers
Published by: Quirk Books
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona.
The Port of Valencia is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and
the largest on the Mediterranean, and is these days something of a work
in progress. For those lucky enough to arrive by ship the impression is
of a sprawling building site. Perhaps visitors will remember the 2005
America's Cup yachting races which were held at Valencia and attracted
150,000 visitors to the port each day during the two weeks of events.
Valencia was founded by the Romans. Its historic centre is one of the
largest in Spain, with ancient monuments, views and cultural
attractions enough to gladden the heart of any history buff. During the
Muslim rule the city was called Medina at-Turab.
Most people might not recognise the name of the Castilian noble Rodrigo
Diaz de Vivar, but mention Charlton Heston and El Cid and one has an
epic picture of Valencia during a historic period of turmoil. Rodrigo
was intent on creating his own principality so, in command of a
combined Christian and Moorish army, he besieged the city
between 1092 and 1094, and ruled there till 1099. He was killed in true
movie fashion defending the city from an Almoravid siege (led by actor
Herbert Lom), leaving his wife Ximena Díaz to rule in his place
for another two years, when the Almoravids retook the city and restored
it to Muslim control.
The ancient winding and characterful streets of the Barrio del Carmen
near the market contain buildings dating back to Roman and Arabic eras.
The narrow streets remind one of North African souks. The
Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, is primarily of
Gothic style but contains elements of Baroque and Romanesque
architecture. Beside the Cathedral is the striking Gothic Basilica of
the Virgin (Basílica De La Virgen De Los Desamparados).
There was a catastrophic flood in 1949 with dozens of deaths, and again
in 1957 when the river Turia overflowed its
of the river
remains and is now a lush sunken park called the 'Garden of the Turia'
(Jardí del Túria or Jardín del
Turia). This green ribbon offers cyclists and pedestrians a chance to
cross much of the city without putting either a wheel or foot on roads.
This park is a jogger's paradise and traffic-free apart from bikes
carrying Lycra-clad enthusiasts. Followers of sports other than cycling
might like to know that Valencia is the only city in Spain to have two
American football teams in LNFA series A, the national first division:
Valencia Firebats and Valencia Giants.
Valencia is known internationally for paella valenciana, a rice
dish cooked in a distinctive wide, shallow pan. Its main ingredients
apart from the Spanish rice are saffron, seafood or meat, along with a
few vegetables. This dish is offered in many local restaurants, but
pick one that is frequented by residents rather than tourists.
Another good choice for gastronomic immersion are tapas or pinxos.
These are on offer in many small bars across town from lunchtime
onwards. There is something of a process for ordering these delicious
snacks. Well, in truth one does not usually order them at all but
rather select a few and pile onto your plate. The barman will note how
many tapas you have consumed and will present the bill at the end of
Apart from bread topped with the ubiquitous ham there
might also be some seafood, cheeses and of course the famous Spanish
omelette of onions and potatoes. Croquettes of various kinds should not
be missed: they are usually made with a rich white sauce flavoured with
ham, cheese or chicken.
The residents of Valencia are blessed with a city sporting
monuments to its historic past, but there is a living historic market
(Mercado Central) that is very much alive. One can learn much about a
country by taking a look at its produce market and
Valencia has one that is vibrant with colour, rich in diversity and
tempting at every turn. The Modernist facade is testament to the
importance of the produce market in the past - and even in the 21st
There are stalls that specialise in olives. Tubs of them flavoured with
herbs or spices vie for your attention between others mixed with red
peppers or stuffed with garlic. Another vendor displays the biggest
radishes you would have ever seen, alongside some surprisingly exotic
yams attesting to Spain's growing ethnic population. There are rows of
cured hams hanging like meaty fringes, and fish counters with
glistening prawns and shellfish. Take a break at the market cafe and
try some horchata which is a local speciality drink made with tiger
The largest plaza in Valencia is the Plaça de l'Ajuntament or
Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is found
here, and the central post office. The Plaça de la Mare de
Déu contains the Basilica of the Virgin and the Turia fountain.
Another beautiful photo opportunity…and there are so many in this
Valencia is a city with which one can quickly fall in love. It offers
spectacular historic buildings, rustic tapas bars, plenty of retail
therapy opportunities and much more. A day would give an introduction
but one would need to stay much longer to enjoy the full romance of
this Spanish gem.
Oriana - cruising
I am not, by Oriana standards, a seasoned
this was the first with
P&O. Some of my
fellow passengers had enjoyed up to 70 such trips and those with a
score of a dozen or more were numerous! This company is obviously doing
something, and probably a lot, right!
Oriana is a big ship with a capacity of 1800 or so
passengers and around 800 crew. I was struck by
the lack of crowds, well, apart from meal times at the Conservatory,
when there tended to be a rush of eager diners at the start of each
Public spaces are, well, spacious. There seemed to be an abundance of
sun loungers, easy chairs and tables on the sun decks, and these decks
were littered with a creditable complement of swimming pools and hot
tubs. OK, so these are small but perfectly formed pools designed for
splashing rather than lapping, but were more than adequate for the
needs of the mature vacationers.
P&O have ships and itineraries designed with the older
and comfy home from home. Well, perhaps better
than home in some ways. There is a constant supply of ready-prepared
food and no washing up!
In fact food is a big part of the draw for Oriana cruises. There is
famously plenty of it and it's just the cuisine to appeal to older
folks who don't want anything too outlandish but rather good quality
ingredients that have not been over-fiddled with. But this particular
cruise (Christmas and New Year) lasts for almost 3 weeks so the chefs
have to be imaginative with their menus.
One is spoilt for choice. One might start the day with the lavish
Conservatory breakfast buffet that will gladden the heart of any Full
Monty lover but which also caters to those with more continental tastes
for fruits, yoghurt and pastries as well. If one prefers waiter
service then there is the Peninsular restaurant which offers a regular
menu of classic breakfast fare and some daily specials, so if devilled
kidneys float your metaphoric culinary boat then Friday morning should
see this as your venue of choice.
If one prefers a smaller and more intimate space then Al Fresco will
fit the bill. It's open all day for casual bites during
and outside usual meal-times. Breakfast starts at 7am and one could
graze all day and finish with a slice of pizza at 2am. Tiffany's also
offers light snacks in a convivial coffee bar at the Atrium. That is
where the addicted cruiser will find Costa Coffee.
Lunch can be taken at any of the aforementioned restaurants
trap of the 6-meal-a-day syndrome. Breakfast: it's the most important
meal of the day so one should have that. Elevenses are essential to
keep up one's strength after a trot around the deck to burn off the
breakfast calories (three and a half turns around the deck constitute a
mile). Lunch is a necessary break from relaxing; and then it's
afternoon tea because we are British after all. On Black Tie Dinner
evenings a platter of nibbles will be delivered to your door. This, one
assumes, is to set the scene for more food that awaits in either the
Peninsular or the Oriental restaurants.
There are other two dining options on board Oriana. Ocean Grill demands
a supplement of a few pounds per head but one should consider dining
here at least once during the voyage. It has the predicted wood panels
complemented by contemporary tapestries but the tables are more widely
spaced than one would find in either The Peninsular or the Oriental
restaurants. A meal here is a 5-star event.
Another independent restaurant is Sorrento. This has, unsurprisingly,
an Italian theme but in a more casual setting than Ocean Grill. In fact
Sorrento is born anew every day from one end of The Conservatory
restaurant. In the evening it is screened off, has waiter service and a
The Conservatory is a large and casual restaurant at night. It has
multiple choices of hot and cold dishes and themed
nights which present the guest with opportunities to try Country and
Western fare, Thai curries, carvery and, naturally, Indian dishes. This
seems to be a popular alternative for those who want choices of time
and seating arrangements, as both Peninsular and Oriental restaurants
have allocated seating on tables of 6.
But Oriana isn't a floating restaurant. There are always activities and
entertainment. Each day there is a film in the Chaplin
cinema, and the evening offers a show of some kind. There are talks
about the next port of call. Perhaps a lecture on diamonds or even
about the comedy greats. There are painting classes, exercise classes,
concerts and tips on photography. There is enough to keep both body and
Oriana boasts a fully equipped gym for those who want to achieve
independent body sculpting. There is a spa for those who want to look
beautiful via other peoples' efforts, and pools for those who want to
impress an audience. There are plenty of hot tubs for the less brave.
There are several bars serving drinks and music to those who are
drowning their sorrows after a few hours in the casino. There are slot
machines for amusement and roulette for confusion. There are some smart
shops in which to spend one's winnings. One can buy luxury goods as
well as tasteful souvenirs from that day's port.
Oriana's adult-only cruises have a dedicated following of those mature
passengers who want comfort and friendly service from a young and
enthusiastic crew. These regulars meet old friends in familiar
surroundings and, for many, that surely is the secret of a successful
To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies
There is a whole section of the British population that
lives to float. They are dedicated cruisers and remain faithful
The Americans have a term for those who fly south in winter to follow
the sun. They are called ‘Snowbirds’. Perhaps the British equivalent
term for those travellers who have time to voyage would be ‘Snowduck’.
I am a novice cruiser but I can understand the appeal it has,
especially for older folks who would otherwise be at home in a cold
house watching news about more impending fuel price hikes. P&O’s
Christmas and New Year cruise offers a gentle departure from the
inevitable tensions of Christmas catering and tree-trimming.
This particular package offered glimpses of some of the most celebrated
port cities on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.
La Coruña is the closest European port to New York,
and is the most northern destination on this list of ports of call. It
displays some of its charm even before the expectant tripper negotiates
the land-ward gangplank (there is probably a more correct nautical term
for the bit of wood that joins boat to land …and is it a boat or is it
a ship?) One has the advantage of the best view in town of, well, the
The architecture is striking. La Coruña is also known as the
Crystal City and that monika is well deserved: on
summer evenings the glass-covered balconies reflect dazzling light.
Even on dull grey days those buildings are imposing with thousands of
uniform windows looking out across the marina and harbour. A less
appealing fact about those balconies is that they once housed the
toilets for the homes behind the glassy facades. A loo was considered a
status symbol and was to be flaunted.
La Coruña is a mixture of old and new town with a couple of
miles of beaches. The colonnaded Maria Pita Square marks the centre of
the old town and boasts many shops, bars and restaurants. Another
attraction of La Coruña is its proximity to one of the world’s
great pilgrimage destinations: Santiago de Compostela. Even in these
fast-paced modern times there are still folks who walk long distances
just to visit this holy site. They carry the scallop shell which is a
centuries-old symbol of St James, the patron saint of the cathedral.
This is the city that every cruiser will want to visit.
One might be jaded through globe-trotting and have the air of ‘been
there – done that’ but Venice draws the traveller like a cultural
magnet. We have all seen pictures of St Marks Square and the Grand
Canal but now it’s accessible to the P&O passenger and it’s a sure
bet that the vessel will empty, with everyone wanting to enjoy the
romance of timeless Venice.
Cars are banned from the narrow cobbled streets
network, and feet. The best way to see the Grand
Canal is from the water. Catch a vaporetto, sit out the front and take
in the sights. Vaporetto lines 1, 3, 4, 82, and N go along the Canal. A
gondola ride is usually reserved for marriage proposals, ice-cream
advertising, or for those with more money than sense.
Places to visit: Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), St Mark's Basilica
(Basilica di San Marco), Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), Bridge of
Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). At the end of the year there are Christmas
markets in different parts of Venice, but the main one is in the Campo
San Stefano. It runs from early December through to Christmas Eve, and
you can enjoy music performances, shopping for Italian crafts, and
seasonal foods. There’s mulled wine and sweets, souvenirs and ornaments
for your tree next year.
It’s a city with a long history. Unfortunately it is now
most remembered for bloodshed during the Serbo-Croatian war. We all
witnessed the appalling sight of Serbian snipers targeting civilians as
they searched for food and water.
Dubrovnik is a beautiful 12th century walled city with an Old Town,
harbour, and towering stone walls. There is a 14th century Franciscan
Monastery, the 18th century Baroque Church of St Blaise, Dubrovnik’s
patron saint, and the world’s oldest pharmacy, dating back to 1391.
This isn’t a living museum, though. There is plenty to tempt those who
want to just relax and enjoy some local cuisine and a bit of retail
therapy. The side streets offer restaurants for a shore-side lunch, and
cafés to haunt when coffee and a sit-down are in order. There is
plenty of opportunity to spend some cash in small local shops – but all
transactions must be in Croatian currency, and not every shop will
accept a credit card.
Dominated by its iconic Gothic cathedral, Palma is the
capital of the autonomous region of the Balearic Islands. It is now a
sophisticated destination in the Mediterranean and has shaken off the
cheap and cheerful package tour image that has so blighted the rest of
the islands. The classy boutiques and fine restaurants attest to the
fact that Palma is open for business with the polished visitor.
Fanning out around the cathedral are side streets and alleys which hark
back to Majorca’s Moorish past. The Arabic Baths situated in the narrow
streets of the medieval quarter of the city is one of the few remaining
Moorish-built structures in Palma.
Other places of interest include the circular Castell de Bellver,
overlooking the bay to the west, and the Almudaina Palace opposite the
cathedral. The main shopping areas for high-end boutiques and designer
merchandise are Avinguda Jaume III and the Passeig des Born. The
pedestrian streets around Plaça Major are filled with small
specialist shops and stalls selling handicrafts on Monday, Friday and
Saturday mornings. There’s also a small shopping centre for any
additional souvenir needs.
Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city and is known for
its people-watching cafés, and paella, which is
considered the most delicious and authentic in Spain. But there is more
here than convivial coffee and rice. La Lonja de la Seda, a silk market
in Gothic style built between 1482 and 1548, is located at Plaza del
Mercado. Iglesia Major, the main cathedral of Valencia, dates from the
Any food lover will want to linger in the food market, with its
striking façade of Modernist architecture. Best buys are herbs
and spices, and pre-packed ham; also rice and saffron, to replicate an
authentic paella at home. Take time to have some tapas with the locals
and enjoy some of that delicious ham.
Cartagena was founded more than 2,200 years ago by the
Carthaginians and is now one of Spain’s busiest commercial centres. The
Caridad church is one of the most significant churches in the city, and
dedicated to the patron saint of Cartagena. Food here, as in the rest
of Spain, is important. The calderos (casseroles) with grey mullet,
monkfish, and grouper are made of rice cooked in fish stock and
accompanied by a garlic mayonnaise. There is plenty of choice for gifts
to take home from a host of boutiques as well as the usual high-street
names, including the El Corte Ingles chain of department stores, which
is a celebrated high-end emporium.
Cartagena has more than 12 museums to explore and some of them are
free! The Roman Theatre which was only discovered in 1987 is always
popular in this city that boasts so much of historic interest.
It’s a little bit of Britain transplanted in the Med.
There are pubs and shops on Main Street that will be familiar to
everyone from the UK. Gibraltar was handed over to the British by Spain
in the 18th century, and it has remained a bastion of Britishness ever
since. Spain has periodically flexed intimidating muscles to encourage
the population to accept Spain’s sovereignty but so far those efforts
seem only to have entrenched the Gibraltarians still further in the
belief that maintaining the status quo might be best.
Gibraltar is celebrated not just for convenient shopping but for its
Rock which is a mammoth boulder of limestone, home to the Barbary
macaques. It is said to be one of the ancient Pillars of Hercules, with
the other being found opposite in Morocco.
Other places of interest include Alameda Botanical Gardens, The Casino,
City Gates and Fortifications, The Convent, official residence of the
Governor of Gibraltar since 1728, and the Gibraltar Museum.
Some of the best views of this city, the Portuguese
capital, come from the Tagus River. On your journey upstream you pass
the Belem Tower and the impressive Monument to the Discoveries with its
statue of Henry the Navigator.
Lisbon is small for a capital city by European standards but what it
lacks in size it makes up for in character. Much of the area along the
river has been transformed over the past decades from rather edgy
neighbourhoods to areas of shops, restaurants and social activity.
It's a city of narrow streets lined with boutiques, shops offering
leather handbags and shoes, and cafes that tempt with fresh coffee and
traditional Portuguese pastries. These are as much a local obsession as
pasta might be in Italy. You have an excuse to sample some custard
tarts, as it's cultural research - and it would be rude not to!
To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies
Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo –
the food and drink of forgotten Portugal
We live life at a frantic pace and when we take a moment
to reflect we muse on the quiet life, the good life, of life filled
with gentler pursuits, and of time spent around the kitchen table. That
good life is still evident in the Alentejo region of Portugal.
Bread is an indispensible part of meals in Portugal. It’s there on
every table and for every meal. It’s even used as an ingredient in hearty dishes. Açorda Alentejana
is one of the most traditional soups in Portuguese cuisine and comes
from, as the name suggests, Alentejo. It’s a flavourful broth with
coriander, in which soak large cubes of bread. The creation is finished
with a topping of poached eggs.
The local bread is somewhat addictive with its open and slightly chewy
texture and substantial crust. This is just about as far from your
regular ‘white sliced’ as one could sprint, although that tasteless
entity is taking hold even in this neck of the woods. But Alentejo’s
traditional bread doesn’t make itself. It’s what one might describe as
artisanal, so there must be an artisan doing the work, and that work is
Joana Roque looks every inch a toddler’s dream grandmother. She has a
substantial lap and bosoms, and a character that is as warm and
welcoming as her wood-fuelled bread oven. Joana is in her mid-seventies
and is bent through decades of hard graft. Her hands are like shovels –
but gentle. She shapes the bread into rolls and loaves with a practised
movement, with no wasted effort of crimping, slashing or unnecessary
twiddles. This is daily bread.
These days, the oven output is around 3 dozen loaves per day. Even with
the aid of her daughter it’s still a lot of dough to measure and mix. A
few years ago Joana would make thousands of loaves per week but times
change and now the ready-sliced in plastic is gaining ground. It’s
ironic that those of us who have grown up on the spongy and tasteless
stuff crave this authentic bread with a bit of character. Joana wonders
what the future might bring.
Rua do Meirinho Velho, no 12
Phone: +351 284 085 029
Barrancarnes – Cassa do Porco Preto offers an insight into
another Alentejo product: its famous black pigs. These are special in
the same way as are Champagne and Stilton cheese: they are unique and
prized. The Alentejo breed is a descendent of the sus mediterraneus
wild boar from the south, that were domesticated to become modern
These pigs have not crossed with other breeds and therefore they retain
unique characteristics of meat and fat to produce a particular flavour,
aroma and texture. The marbling of fat throughout the meat is key.
One can see the pigs roaming freely under oak trees in fields near the
town. They live on the acorns and there is a mathematical formula to
calculate how many pigs can graze in any particular pasture. Each tree
is assumed to give so many kilos of acorns and each pig is assumed to
eat so many kilos per day, thus one knows how many pigs can be
sustained in the area.
This company was established in 1988 and deals exclusively with the
production of meats from the Black Pig of Alentejo breed. There are now
two factories in Barrancos, one for hams, pork loin, Paiola, Copita,
Paio, and the other for more traditional pork products.
If you want to know how to carve and taste authentic quality ham from
Alentejo then watch the video here.
The landscape of Alentejo speaks so much about its food. The
aforementioned pigs gather under oak trees; the cork
trees, found in abundance here, still provide the natural seal for
bottles of excellent local wine; and the vines provide that wine. And
then there are the groves of olive trees with their silver-grey leaves
and gnarled bark.
The Museu do Azeite (Olive Oil Museum) in Moura shows the methods
of extracting olive oil through the ages. It is evident that, in
general, olive oil is far more delicious these days than a century or
so ago. One can see large bins where local growers would deposit their
olive harvest. Those olives might have been collected over a period of
several days and might wait another day or so before being pressed.
This delay resulted in deterioration and the beginning of fermentation
of the olives, giving a rather disagreeable taste in the finished
These days the olive oil of the region is revered as some of the best
in Europe. It’s sampled and tasted by experts who sip from blue glass
so as not to be distracted by the colour of the oil, which can range
from gold to green. It is then designated as Extra Virgin, Virgin or
just olive oil.
To learn more about the olive oil of Alentejo visit the museum.
Olive Oil Museum
Rua São João de Deus,
Phone: +351 285 253 978
The vineyards and wines "Encostas de Estremoz" were founded by
José Castro Duarte and his wife, Joana Silva Lopes. It’s an
estate of 100 Ha where the couple work with leading Portuguese
winemaker, Miguel Reis Catarino.
This is one of the friendliest wine estates in the area. They contrive
to combine commercial production with warm hospitality. The tasting
salon is rather like a small sitting room with comfy chairs and even a
TV. One is educated in the ways of the local wines but without the
stiff formality of some other establishments.
All wines are produced at the Quinta da Esperança vineyards in
Estremoz, where new techniques of production are found next to
traditional methods. This domain’s wines were first presented in 2001
with Encostas de Estremoz Red, and Encostas de Estremoz White.
In 2002 another red wine was launched: Terras de Estremoz. This wine is
made from the Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira grapes. In
2004 the collection increased to showcase local grape varieties.
Encostas de Estremoz features not only the Touriga Nacional grape, but
Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta Barroca and Trincadeira.
In 2006 the estate presented their celebrated red wine called DJ
Encostas de Estremoz Reserva, and DJ Encostas de Estremoz Quinta da
My particular favourite is their Terras de Estremoz Rosé. This
is an ideal wine for those hot summer evenings, the chill of the wine
forming a dew on the glass, and the contents mirroring the blush of the
This estate is well worth a visit
Quinta da Esperança
Phone: +351 268 333 795
Fax: +351 268 333 754
The products here are simple, but that does not mean that they are
lacking in quality. They are full of flavour and deserve to be
recognised in the same way as produce from their richer European
The Hague –
Staying and Eating – Contemporary and Historic
The Hague is indeed a ‘Royal’ city. You might even come
across one of the ‘Oranges’, as they are considered perhaps the most
accessible royal family in Europe. The Hague has been home to the House
of Orange for more than four hundred years; first they were Stadholders
and later gained the title of monarchs. Prince Maurits was the first of
them to live in The Hague, in 1585, and the rest followed.
The Royal family had an entourage of nobles who also wanted to live in
The Hague and these quality folks demanded fine homes, fine furnishings
and the best of everything. The taste for the finer things in life is
still reflected in the shops, restaurants and architecture of this
masterpiece of a city. It retains the style of a very special historic
town but it has a contemporary ambiance and great vibrancy.
It’s not only the Royal family that are accessible. The
town is easily negotiated by the tourist via public transport. Bicycles
are everywhere and they can be hired to give a truly local adventure,
but the more conservative might prefer the all-weather comfort of buses
You can buy a ticket for unlimited travel on public transport
be purchased in advance, and are available
from most hotels, the Tourist Information Office (VVV) and at the HTM
customer service desk in the train stations. The HTM Day Ticket can be
purchased as a disposable paper ticket or as a plastic OV-chipcard and
then you then can choose a 1-day, 2-day or 3-day ticket.
The day ticket is easy to use. All you need to do is swipe the ticket
in and out at the tram or bus door when you get on and off. The day
ticket is valid from when it is first swiped until the end of service
that day, so it pays to start your adventure early to take best
The Hague has some striking and historic hotels and The Kurhaus is a
beautiful example. The history of the hotel dates back to 1818 when
Jacob Pronk opened a bathing house. No, that’s not a swimming pool but
water therapy. The wooden building had just four rooms, each fitted
with a bath tub which was filled with cold or heated seawater. This spa
was so successful that in 1826 it was rebuilt in stone and expanded to
include the hotel element, but was eventually torn down in 1884 to make
way for the building we see today.
The new hotel was built by the German architects Johann Friedrich
Henkenhaf and Friedrich Ebert but suffered serious fire damage so was
rebuilt between 1886 and 1887. The Kurhaus fell into disrepair and
closed in 1969, but was saved from demolition by being listed as a
historic building. It was completely renovated, and was reopened in
1979 by Princess Beatrix of The Netherlands.
The Kurhaus Gastbook reads like an historic ‘Who’s Who’ and contains
signatures of the great and the good who have enjoyed their stay in
this iconic hotel. It was signed for the first time by Dutch Queen
Wilhelmina in 1893, followed by Igor Stravinsky, Herbert von Karajan,
Marlène Dietrich, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, King Haakon of
Norway and Henry Kissinger.
Now known as the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel, it has
253 rooms and some of them have a sea view. The only thing separating
the hotel from the wide beach is the promenade. The hotel exudes a
timeless elegance which is evident even in the reception area, which
sports a striking stained-glass ceiling. The architectural pièce
de resistance is found just a short flight of stairs away, in the
Even a bed and breakfast stay is memorable at this hotel. The
restaurant is beautiful with painted ceilings and grand balconies. One
might be distracted from the outstanding breakfast buffet and that
would be a shame: graze in unhurried fashion and enjoy the classic
architecture and calming ambiance.
Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel
Gevers Deynootplein 30
2586 CK The Hague
Tel +31(0)70 416 2636
Fax +31(0)70 416 2646
Reservations: +31 (0)70 416 2630
Visit Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel here
The Hotel Des Indes for dinner will continue
1881 but was completely renovated by interior designer
Jacques Garcia in 2006 at a cost of a staggering €35 million. That is a
surprising fact, as one has the impression of entering a stylish,
tasteful and unaltered time-capsule.
The original building was the dream of Willem D.A.M. Baron van Brienen
van de Groote Lindt en Dortsmunde, who was chamberlain to King Willem
III and member of the Provincial States of South Holland. He wanted a
home in The Hague to host parties and private functions. Willem died in
1863, leaving the palace to his son Arnold who sold it to an hotelier
Hotel Des Indes, like The Kurhaus, has a guest book of which to boast.
The signatories include, amongst others, the former Empress
Eugénie of France, President Paul Kruger of Transvaal, Sheik
Feisal of Saudi Arabia, Mata Hari the celebrated First World War spy,
Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, and Josephine Baker the American
entertainer who defined an age. Apparently she had a separate room for
her pet monkey. Ballet dancer Anna Pavlova died in the hotel in 1931 of
pneumonia, after aiding fellow passengers following a rail accident.
During The Second World War the hotel was used both by the occupying
German forces and by the Jews in hiding. Long before the war started,
the hotel manager Mr Rey had built a pigeon house on the roof of the
hotel. The pigeon house later sheltered people in hiding. The war ended
and American troops moved into the hotel; General Eisenhower, Winston
Churchill and Field Marshal Montgomery also visited.
You might not be staying at Hotel Des Indes but you can enjoy a
delicious lunch or dinner at a surprisingly reasonable price. A
3-course dinner is €49.50, a 4-course dinner €54.50, and that includes
fresh local produce transformed into memorable dishes, and seamless
service. This is accessible luxury and not to be missed.
Hotel Des Indes
Lange Voorhout 54-56
The Hague 2514 EG
Phone: +31 70 361 2345
Visit Hotel Des Indes here
So you have pampered yourself with two polished and historic hotels in
The Hague. But one might need a break for some delicious light food and
a nice cuppa during a day of walking and wondering at this delightful
city. The Organic Café Juni is the spot that fits the casual
Café Juni, or Café June in English, is reminiscent of
old-fashioned tea-rooms. It’s warm and cosy, or perhaps more accurately
warm, cosy and small, so be prepared to wait …but it will be worth it.
If the weather is cool then try the ever-changing Seasonal soup with
bread, and perhaps follow that with a Bagel BLT; but save room for some
cakes for which Juni is so famous. Walnut Mascarpone Tart with maple
syrup, Banana Cake, Carrot Cake are all served in substantial wedges –
and consider some hot chocolate, which comes highly recommended by
2513 BJ The Hague
Phone: 070 3608106
Visit Juni here
The Netherlands is celebrated for its cheese, tulips and
its fresh seafood. Catch Restaurant specialises, as its name suggests,
in fish and shellfish. It’s on the marina of Scheveningen and has
stunning views of both water and boats, as a backdrop to a meal of all
The restaurant is new and smart. It’s just the style of eatery enjoyed
by those stepping ashore from the neighbouring yachts. The décor
is impressive, with mellow wood rippling and waving, and light
reflecting from the marina. The food is simple and fresh. Even breaded
fillets of white fish will tempt the discerning diner with delicate
flavour. For those with cash to splash there are platters of oysters,
lobsters and prawns. A glass of champagne would be the ideal garnish
for such a celebratory meal.
Monday - Sunday: 10:00am - 1:00am
Dr. Lelykade 43
2583 CL Scheveningen
Visit Catch here
The Hague offers so much that it makes you wonder why you haven’t
visited before, but this will likely be the first of many trips –
there’s still that little Indonesian restaurant to investigate, and a
rather nice department store sporting the Royal insignia.
To find out more about visiting The Netherlands click here
Gastronomy with Valentina Harris
She is perhaps our most celebrated and prolific Italian
food writer, TV presenter and chef. Yes, the lady truly is Italian,
although one could be fooled into thinking she is an
Valentina Harris doesn’t have many free moments
cornered her on a return flight from a culinary tour
of Umbria. She
is an unashamed supporter of the country of her birth, and conducts
gastronomic adventures to Umbria and other regions.
I asked Valentina about her association with the beautiful
and mostly undiscovered Umbria. ‘I had never really
Umbria, because coming from Tuscany as I do, and having been to school
and then chefs’ school in Rome, Umbria was somewhere we just by-passed
on the way between the two.
‘But a few years ago, at La Dolce Vita in London, the big food and
lifestyle association, Umbria was the featured region. I met all these
people from Umbria and as a result I went to visit. That was the start
of my journey of discovery. Last year I was invited to give the opening
speech at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia (capital
of the region), which happens every May. I talked about what I do on my
culinary tours, and about how I try and lead those who are not ‘of the
place’ to understand, and come to love, Italy through eating the
delicious food that each region has to offer. For me it always comes
back to that: the reason that Italian food is so interesting, and what
makes it so endlessly fascinating, is the fact that there are so many
regions, so many different styles of cuisine, and the food, whilst it
remains so fundamental to all Italian life, cannot be described as just
‘Italian’ food – not by Italians nor anybody else – you have to look at
it on a regional basis.
‘By bringing people to individual regions, to stay and to cook and to
eat and to explore and to have a culinary adventure, they leave with a
greater understanding, I think, than if they had just wandered around
shopping and looking at churches and lying on a beach. The ‘menù
turistico’, the ubiquitous tourist menu, never has any regional basis,
and I’m worried that there are lots of people who come to Italy and
never experience the local cuisine. Through local dishes you can learn
all about the people, the sociology, the geography, the history, the
culinary traditions – all of those things are very revelatory, if you
just stop to think for a minute.
‘So I made this speech, and it obviously hit a lot of the right notes in
which this is the first one. It’s called an
‘educatour’. There is another one planned for carnival time in
February. I’ve worked with the tourist board and other authorities to
create a balance of food, wine, a little bit of culture, a little free
time; and of course on this one we all wanted to go Christmas shopping
– what an opportunity with just a couple of weeks to go. So many lovely
things to take home, from a fresh truffle to a bar of chocolate.
‘We witnessed for ourselves in Norcia (the black truffle and cured pork
capital of Umbria) the Benedictine monks, and their prayer schedule is
endless: they are up at 4.30 in the morning, still finding time to brew
beer, run a shop, and there’s only a handful of them. We were fortunate
enough to listen to the chanting, and to see a novice being inducted
into the order.
Umbrian food is very exciting in its own way, but it has a slightly
spartan quality about it. Look at the ingredients of the region: first
you have the lentil – which has never floated anyone’s boat, but this
is a particularly delicious lentil with a very fine skin, that cooks
quickly and is very digestible, and it is venerated. (I use that word
because that is how they talk about their food, in the same way that a
saint is venerated.) If you think that the lentil is all there is on
the ‘pulse’ front you’d be mistaken, because there is a vast range of
other beans and lentils and wild peas that are not common anywhere
else. It reflects a cuisine that is very humble and simple, but they
will take these legumes and pulses, cook them and serve them with their
unbelievably delicious olive oil, reputedly the very best olive oil in
We have the lentil and the olive oil; then we have two extraordinary
luxuries: chocolate and truffles – amazing in the middle of all this
low-key, no-frills cuisine! Perugia is the ‘other’ centre of chocolate
in Italy: Torino, Modica in Sicily, and then there is Perugia.
‘The other great ingredient of the region is pork: ham, salami,
sausages, coppa (cured meat from the neck of the pig), and guanciale
(bacon from the jowl). The pig that they favour is the little ‘cinta
senese’ or belted pig from Siena. The meat is very lean and fragrant,
and they run wild and eat acorns. Norcia is the centre of the
butchering and curing of this meat.
‘We haven’t mentioned the cheese: it’s not really a region of dairy
cows, and Italians generally, apart from down south, have a resistance
to eating lamb and mutton. The sheep that you see in the area are
mainly kept for their wool and for their milk to make pecorino cheese –
softer as a table cheese, turning harder and more granular as it ages
into a grating cheese. And of course it’s delicious with a bit of
‘Everywhere out in the country, far away from a ‘supply chain’,
mountainous and without flat areas on which to grow things, has a
tradition of foraging. You pick up wild mushrooms in the woodlands, and
also dandelions, bitter greens, nettles (a spinach substitute) – it’s
an old practice and a very relaxing thing to do, going out with your
basket and bringing home some food. Obviously you have to know what you
are doing, you don’t want to throw in a handful of deadly nightshade or
the like. But it seems to be something handed down from father to son.
‘I always take my groups on a truffle hunt. A very dear friend, Sergio,
now in his 70s, is one of the loveliest people
for the best. You wait six years, then suddenly you might notice
an intense garlic smell, and you will find a ‘signal’ truffle just
under the soil. This one isn’t really edible, but it tells you that the
truffle has taken root. You then have to wait another couple of
winters, and you start training your dog. You train them on garlic, so
they associate the smell with food. Of course the dog will try to eat
it, so you have to be right there and the dog has to answer your
command to leave it and sit until you pick it up. If a truffle has bite
marks on it, it isn’t going to sell as well as a nice smooth one! So we
visit Sergio and he is so ‘chuffed’ that his investment has paid off.
He now grows truffles around the year, supplies the local restaurants
and hotels, and it’s good fun – but it’s real life.’
I asked Valentina how many regions her tours might cover in future.
‘I think Umbria is a good one, particularly because I think that the
‘staying in a lovely house, eating on the balcony and doing a bit of
cooking’ has been done now. It’s lovely, I’m not saying that it’s not a
pleasant experience, but what I have in mind, and what I’m going to be
doing from now, is different. I have a link with the Università
dei Sapori (UDS) in Perugia, a state-run university dedicated to
catering and food, and in particular the food and wines of Umbria. I am
going to be offering a tour of Umbria, staying in beautiful places,
showing the romance of Umbria, the architecture, the countryside, then
putting it into practice, staying possibly on-campus (the accommodation
is at least 3-star if not 4) and using the kitchen facilities at UDS
which are extraordinary – as professional as you can get.
‘I am now an ambassador for UDS in the UK, and I want to bring students
who are studying professionally, but also keen amateurs, the
Masterchef-watchers, the foodie who wants the latest technique and
knife and exotic ingredient, and combine the two. Relaxing, wandering
round the vineyards, going out to fabulous lunches, going to the
markets – and then working with those ingredients for 2 or 3 days. It’s
a great joy to cook in a professional kitchen, if you’ve never
experienced it. It’s a bit like going back to kindergarten: you are
allowed to make as much mess as you like, spread out, everybody has
their own station, their own stove, there are lots of kitchen porters
to help you, and the ingredients are second-to-none. There is a
laboratory devoted entirely to Italian ice cream, and one could spend a
day playing with this fantastic kit making fabulous ice cream.
‘I am selling a unique and very special product, with all my love and
passion – 5-star without the fuss. I will do two
It’s as much about sitting around the
table, talking, the convivial thing, rather than eating while staring
at the TV screen, or standing up with your Blackberry in your hand.
They eat very little animal fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes,
carbohydrates, lots of fresh fish.
‘I’d like to do something by the sea, as a contrast to the mountainous
inland food – plenty of fresh fish, citrus fruits, salads, tomatoes. My
knowledge of all the regions of Italy is as a result of learning: I
wasn’t born with it, I’ve studied a lot, travelled a lot, talked to a
lot of people, read a lot of books, and I feel confident enough to take
people wherever they want to go. If someone said “Can you organise a
bespoke tour in, say, Rome or Venice?” I could do that. The point is
that you will leave with a greater appreciation, and hopefully a love
of Italy, and you’ll want to come back – and tell your friends about
Valentina’s success as a gastronomic tour organiser, leader, coach,
hand-holder is assured. A couple of days in her company show this lady
in action. She is blessed by being bi-lingual, sounding like a local in
both the UK and Italy. She has an easy rapport with owners of
vineyards, hotels, restaurants and cookery schools. She is a trained
chef and is equipped to answer food-related questions. She is Italian
and can give a first-hand insight into culture, custom and practice.
She is amusing, talented and will ensure that any tour will leave the
participants fulfilled …and feeling full.
To learn more about Valentina Harris and her gastronomic tours visit here.
200 Years of The
Our links with The Netherlands have been long-standing. We
shared a monarch in the guise of William III of England,
known as William II in Scotland. He might be better known, to all but
the most historically inclined, as the William of ‘William and Mary’
fame. The blood connection isn’t as strong now as then but the families
are still close, being in the same ‘business’, so to speak.
Baby William was born on 4 November 1650 in The Hague in Holland. He
would likely have been considered an unlucky infant; Charles Dickens
might, a couple of hundred years later, have described him as a
‘posthumous’ child. His father, William II Prince of Orange, had just
died of smallpox. His mother was Mary Princess Royal who was the eldest
daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland – it is he
who lost his head the previous year – and sister of King Charles II and
King James II & VII. William was born on his mother’s nineteenth
birthday with little celebration, and one would be still further
convinced that this lad was a Jonah when one learns that his mother
followed his father just 10 years later, on Christmas Eve 1660, on a
visit to England, when she too died of smallpox.
William was given the title Sovereign Prince of Orange from the moment
of his birth. Willem III van Oranje, in Dutch, ruled over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland,
and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic, and from 1689 he reigned as
William III over England and Ireland, William II over Scotland; he
would be the last direct male descendant of his great-grandfather
William the Silent, who was head of the Protestant Dutch of the United
Provinces of The Netherlands in their struggle for independence from
William, as was typical of regal arrangements of the time, married his
first cousin Mary Stuart, daughter of the future king James II of
England. In 1689 the couple were offered the throne by the Parliament
of England following William's successful invasion of England in 1688
in what became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’, an action that would
eventually overthrow King James (Mary's father and William's
uncle/father-in-law) and gain them the crowns of England, Scotland and
Ireland. He and his wife were crowned the King and Queen of England on
11 April 1689. With the accession to the thrones of the three kingdoms,
he became one of the most powerful sovereigns in Europe, and the only
one to defeat Louis XIV of France.
On his death the title ‘Prince of Orange’ passed to a cousin, John
William Friso, and his descendants reigned in Holland
the throne of Holland,
and, on the withdrawal of the French in 1813, was brought by HMS
Warrior to land on the beach at Scheveningen on 30 November that year.
He declared himself ‘sovereign prince’ and in 1815 became King William
I of The Netherlands. His landing marked the start of independence of
the Netherlands from the French and the beginning of the United Kingdom
of the Netherlands.
The British connection to the House of Orange continued via other
descendants of John William Friso (Jan Willem). His son William IV was
an ancestor of Princess May of Teck, who married King George V and
became Queen Mary.
The festivities for ‘200 Years of the Kingdom’ is a Dutch national
celebration with hundreds of people taking part in events including the
re-enactment of the celebrated landing of William of Orange on
Scheveningen beach. The new King Willem-Alexander and Queen
Máxima attended on a cold, windy and wet day.
This ‘Landing Day’ is commemorated every 25 years in
the role of Prince William. The crowd cheered and waved
orange flags as the ’king’ was carried shoulder-high through the angry
sea to his waiting carriage. He processed to the grandstand to pay his
respects to the authentic King and Queen, who acknowledged his
contribution to the nation.
There is no need to wait another quarter-century to visit The
Netherlands. It’s a country boasting a proud history, garnished with
arresting architecture, festivals, fine food and welcoming locals.
To find out more about visiting The Netherlands click here
Open Fires and Warm Hospitality – Where to stay
Pousadas de Portugal is a network of quality and
characterful hotels that give the guest a chance to
charm. The group was started in the 1940s and now has forty-three
properties. The network is mostly owned by the Portuguese government
but managed by a private group, Grupo Pestana Pousadas.
The first Pousada was opened in April 1942 in Elvas, in the Alentejo,
and this region still boasts the largest number of historic inns.
São Francisco de Beja
This hotel is a former Franciscan monastery. São
Francisco de Beja dates back to the thirteenth century. In November
1268 the monastery was started on the initiative of the Captain-General
of Beja, Lopo Esteves. The land where the monastery was built was
originally outside the city but now the houses and shops have grown to
join this striking building.
The building was started in the reign of King Afonso III, who died in
1279 but left a gift of fifty pounds to the convent. In 1302 King Dinis
build a chapel in honour of St. Louis. In 1834 Portugal abolished the
male religious orders and in 1850 it became the barracks for the army,
who set about ruining the work of generations.
The project to restore this Pousada was undertaken between 1993 and
1995 and now the Pousada de Beja, São Francisco, is a striking
hotel right in the centre of the city. It still shows the original
gothic architecture of the monastery with high ceilings, exposed
stonework and white walls, but the rooms are a lot more comfortable
than those used by the monks of old.
The monks’ cells have been remodelled into contemporary bedrooms with
tasteful hints of their ancient incarnations. Shutters on windows,
classic fabrics, the best of linen help to pamper the guest, who will
appreciate the most radical of refurbishments …the addition of a modern
and spacious bathroom!
The Pousada São Francisco de Beja has a total of 35 rooms: 30
standard rooms, 4 superior rooms and 1 suite. The public spaces are
imposing and act as a showcase for historic artwork and artefacts. The
dining room is in the old monastery refectory and has seats for 60 or
so diners. The tables are well-spaced, making this a convivial spot for
either families or just romantic meals for two. The menu entices with
contemporary plates and regional specialities.
Pousada de Beja, São Francisco
Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira
Phone:(+351) 284 313 580
Phone:(+351) 284 329 143
This is a stunner and in my opinion your unmissable
lodgings for at least a part of any tour of Alentejo. Évora,
classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is only one hour away from
Lisbon so it’s an easy hop from the airport to a most memorable hotel.
Convento do Espinheiro, or The Convent of Our Lady of the Thorn, is
located on the outskirts of the neighbourhood of Canaviais, just a couple of kilometres
from the historic centre of Évora. It dates back to the
fifteenth century and legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared in a
burning bush. In 1458 this place of pilgrimage established a monastery.
With the dissolution of monasteries the building was abandoned and
taken into Portuguese state ownership, to be sold to individuals for a
negligible sum. It was eventually purchased by Manuel Gabriel Lopes,
who undertook major restoration, making it habitable again. The chapel
of Garcia de Resende is now also supported by local notables and used
for celebrating religious festivals.
Currently reclassified as a five-star hotel, the former monastery
retains many original features. The old cellar has given way to a
restaurant; the ancient kitchen has been turned into a contemporary
piano bar. The most striking of transformations is that of the cistern,
or water storage tank, which has Gothic pillars and vaulted roofs. It
now houses a wine ‘cellar’ displaying some of the best vintages the
region has to offer along with a selection of fine wines from the rest
of the world. Visit Cisterna Wine Bar and enjoy this unique space.
Divinus Restaurant is found in the monastery’s former wine-cellar. The
columns and curved ceilings illuminated by gentle light create intimate
spaces for dinner. Browse a menu that celebrates fresh local produce –
it’s a sophisticated restaurant that still manages to remain cosy and
Convento do Espinheiro offers a total of 92 guest rooms, including 6
suites. One can choose between modern vibe – said to be inspired by the
colour and style of the ´50s – these rooms are in the new wing;
or one can enjoy a more classic room in the original 15th-century
monastery building. Both contemporary and classic rooms offer comfort
Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa ·
Phone: 351-266 788 200
The Alentejo is hot in summer so consider a spring or an
autumn tour for more gentle temperatures. The spring presents
vineyards bursting with pale-green buds and fresh leaves, while the
autumn offers crisp air, blue skies and the vibrant red of withering
vine leaves. Herdade do Sobroso Estate allows the visitor to relax and
enjoy nature during any season.
This is a working wine estate but your stay will be made memorable by
liberal application of not only fine wine but delicious local foods,
and log fires help to complete the picture of a rather high-end idyll.
Herdade do Sobroso Estate is typically Portuguese in many ways but the
owners have evidently travelled the globe and have very fine taste in
interior design, and in fact exterior design, as many of their more
exotic purchases now decorate the covered terrace outside the main
Casa da Quinta is the name of the main house, which offers public
spaces for enjoying a pre-dinner drink in front of the aforementioned
log fire, a dining room and some guest rooms, too. Each room is
different but all give the impression of home, granted an immaculately
decorated home, but more individual and unique than many a chain hotel
Casa da Cegonha is independent from the main house and away from common
areas. It’s popular with families as it offers cooking facilities so
mums don’t have to worry that young travellers won’t enjoy unfamiliar
restaurant food. They will be missing out on some rather special fare,
though – Alentejo dishes paired with Herdade do Sobroso wines.
Breakfast is also worth saving space for. Ignore the yoghurt and dive
for the Portuguese custard tarts and local cakes. One can burn off the
calories while walking around the 50 hectares of vineyard at Herdade do
Sobroso. There is also the winery where you can sample and purchase the
estate wines, olive oil, honey and jams.
This is a very individual boutique hotel in Alentejo, near
to Marvão, a medieval town in Serra S. Mamede Natural Park. It’s
not a rambling historic pile, but what it lacks in old grandeur it
makes up for in confident and quirky design.
It’s a small hotel as the name would suggest but it’s thoughtfully
presented and comfortably appointed. The 13 guest rooms and suite are
all different with varying colour schemes and configurations of beds.
It has the air of an intimate family-run establishment with friendly
staff who will likely know you by name after a day or two.
Evenings can be spent snuggled by the fire in the sitting room, after
enjoying a dinner of local lamb or fish. Breakfast is a buffet feast of
cheese, ham, cakes, fruit, the usual continental suspects, along with
some of the best bread to be found anywhere in the world. It’s tempting
to linger over such a spread …and why not?
Boutique Hotel o Poejo
Av. 25 de Abril, Nº 20
7330-251 Santo António das Areias,
Portugal is on the very edge of Europe and often
overlooked in favour of its more vocal neighbour, Spain. But this
country has so much to offer to the visitor. Striking landscapes
flatter the eye, generous hospitality warms the soul, and gastronomy
seems to be a well-exercised hobby practised by all.
The Alentejo is an unspoilt and relatively unknown region of Portugal
nestled next to the more celebrated Algarve. Its rolling hills,
boulder-strewn pastures, groves of cork and olive trees and vineyards
tempt one with the notion that good things to eat might not be far away.
In fact good food has been central to life in Portugal for thousands of
years and was brought to the height of refinement in the Middle Ages in
monasteries and convents. Arab and Jewish traders imported cinnamon
from the East; almonds have always been in abundance; sugar was often a
dowry paid when a novice entered the convent, as there was plenty of
sugar coming from the Portuguese colonies. Egg whites were used to
starch habits as well as for clearing wine, which left a surfeit of
yolks. All the ingredients were available to create delicious sweets.
One might conjure an idyllic vision of plump, elderly, black-habited
ladies with religious inclinations dividing their earthly hours between
their devotions and a nice bit o’ cookin’ – but it seems there were
other pursuits on the curriculum.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that young nuns and monks would look for
romantic liaisons. Many of them didn’t sign up for religious orders
following a spiritual awakening, seeing the heavenly light, or through
divine inspiration. It was more often due to practical necessity. What
does one do with the youngest son when big brothers have taken the land
and taken up arms – the military being the second best option to
staying home and swelling the ranks of the landed gentry? Send the boy
to a monastery. What will become of an unmarried daughter? Off to the
convent with her. There is a story about Sister Mariana Alceforado who
lived during the 16th century. It is said that Mariana fell in love
with a French army officer, Noël Bouton, and when he returned to
France she wrote love letters to him. Later the letters were found and
translated, and eventually became internationally published with the
title ‘Letters of the Portuguese Nun’.
But between passionate interludes, these nuns not only prayed but took
pleasure in devising ingenious ways of using
a loaf of rustic bread but it has an amusing history.
It was a speciality of the nuns of the Convento do Calvário in
Évora. The name and shape of this famous cake have royal
connections: King Sebastian visited the convent but, it being a poor
order, they could only offer him olives, water and ‘thin bread’
(pão de rala). These days this Pão is constructed of an
outer skin of almond-based paste with a filling of vibrant orange egg
yolks, sugar, almonds and pumpkin. The outside is dusted with flour and
browned to add an authentic-looking crust.
Pasteis de toucinho is another popular small cake. It’s made with pork
fat: that might at first sound rather strange until one remembers that
lard is often found in pastry partnered with butter. There is suet,
too, which is organ fat found in traditional Christmas minced meat.
Pasteis de toucinho has a richness from the lard, but fear not, my
dubious reader, these treats taste nothing like a bacon sandwich.
But let us consider Portuguese tarts. There are many tarts in Portugal
but there is only one that every tourist will crave – probably the only
tart to be included on a globetrotter’s bucket list. It’s ubiquitous
across Portugal and in every pastry shop around the world that might
advertise itself as ‘Portuguese’. It’s the Portuguese Custard Tart or,
to give its local name, pastéis de nata. These tarts are loved
on every continent and particularly where Portugal has had colonies or
trading interests, which include Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Goa in
India, Malacca in Malaysia, and Macau in China.
It is believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago
by monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of
Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. In fact in Portugal they are
sometimes also called Pastéis de Belém. Following the
closure of many of the convents and monasteries after the Liberal
Revolution of 1820, the production of pastéis de nata
transferred to what is now the Casa Pastéis de Belém
nearby. The former monks wanted to continue to produce the tarts and so
patented and registered the recipe, while contracting the Antiga
Confeiteira de Belém to produce them. The secret was given to
only five chefs, who guarded this original recipe under the Oficina do
Segredo (Office of Secrets).
At first glance these are quite rustic creations. The pastry is
somewhat free-form, the filling tends to look a little overcooked. But
it’s that combination of texture and taste that has assured the success
of this tart down the centuries. The case is a type of puff pastry that
retains a crunch when baked. The filling is rich with cream but light
and flavourful. It seems such a simple concept but it’s worth seeking
The Alentejo is accessible, charming and relatively unspoilt. It is
something of a culinary paradise, offering dishes that have remained
unchanged for generations. Its sweets are a reflection of its history
and culture, and are finding their place in the lexicon of European
Chef Paul Gayler is one of the food industry's gems. He is
a well respected man with years of worthy career behind him. He is
executive chef at London's celebrated Lanesborough Hotel and has a
shelf of cookbooks to his credit. This Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's
Collection is the latest one and it does him proud.
Paul Gayler writes cookbooks, yes, but they are a step beyond most of
that genre. Paul encourages, inspires and
tutors. There are more than 100 soup recipes here and they all have an
introduction from Paul to put them into culinary context. Paul reminds
us that soup is a cornerstone of many cuisines and is enjoying
something of a revival.
Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection works on several levels. It
offers some economic and hearty fare that won't break the bank -
comfort food for the whole family. Paul also suggests sophisticated
bowls of luxurious ingredients destined for appreciative dinner-party
guests. There is an array of soups from across the globe to tempt those
with a hankering for the exotic. This book is a veritable Masterclass
for all things soupy.
Sweetcorn soup with scallops and crispy bacon bits is simple to make
but has great impact. Anything with scallops is bound to get attention
and approval. It's that combination of crispy and meltingly tender, of
salty and sweet, that is always appreciated.
Carrot soup with seven spices is a blessing on cold winter evenings
when one is listening to the wind blowing and the pipes bursting.
Granted there is that list of spices but anyone who has cooked Indian
food at home will likely already have those to hand; and carrots, at
the time of writing this article, were still affordable. This is a
recipe with which to start a subcontinental meal, but just add a chunk
of crusty bread and one can call it supper or lunch.
Potato and leek soup is another comforting and silky dish that
showcases simple and common ingredients. I think, though, that this
traditional preparation works with Sunday lunch, mid-week dinner, or as
a sustaining winter snack. The cream gives it a luxurious quality and
is key to the success of the soup.
My pick-of-the-book is Crab Laksa. This soup is becoming more popular
as tourism to Malaysia has increased. It's a dish that changes by
region but Paul Gayler presents us with a version that gives the
authentic character of this national treasure. It's a meal in itself if
one serves it in a large Chinese bowl. It needs no additional
garnishes, and each of the ingredients brings texture or flavour to the
finished dish. It's vibrant and exotic.
Paul's charming personality shines through in this volume. One has the
sense of a conversation over the kitchen table. One feels supported by
a chef whose recipes we can trust. This is a sensible book that one
would actually use, and that surely is the best accolade one could
give. A gift-quality volume at a very reasonable price.
Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by: Jacqui Small LLP
Smashing Plates - Greek
The title alone would encourage a bookshelf browser to
reach for this volume. A humorous play on words conjuring visions of
exuberant Greek revellers ruining a restaurant's crockery budget, or of
polite Brits commenting on some jolly good food. Smashing Plates
- Greek flavours redefined does touch on both the passion of Greece and
the quality of some smashing food.
Maria Elia was brought up surrounded by food. Her dad was a Cypriot
chef so Maria had a childhood of total taste immersion. She dips into
her culinary heritage to offer dishes that range from the rustic to the
refined, but all have the same common denominator - good taste.
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined offers recipes for complete
dishes but also for those constituent parts such as goat's milk ricotta
and even homemade halloumi. The book would likely be popular just for
that recipe alone.
Sardine keftedes are store-cupboard gems. Maria elevates the humble and
much overlooked can of sardines to new culinary heights. They have had
a reputation of old-fashioned tea-time fare but this book presents
another face of that healthy fish as the key component in a cooked
patty served with salad or even as a filling for a crusty baguette.
A simple but must-try from Smashing Plates is Condensed Milk
Ice-cream. It's another one of those forgotten ingredients: condensed
milk is thick and rich with an unmistakable flavour. This is a simple
custard-style ice-cream and Maria suggests flavouring it with cardamom.
My pick-of-the-book is another sweet recipe and is that for Coffee
Custard Doughnuts with Fennel seed Sugar. This is a departure from
traditional Greek doughnuts which are soaked in a syrup after frying.
They are extremely sweet, although delicious, but Maria's alternative
offers a dessert that is less sticky to eat and retains its cake-like
properties. The custard filling is easy to make as it uses the
much-loved Bird's Custard Powder. Yes, it's retro and it works!
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined is unmistakably Greek, but
Maria's approach is contemporary and thoughtful. She has penned a
volume that is practical for the non-Greek home cook, and indeed one
that has never even had a Greek grandmother.
Chef Maria Elia has worked with the celebrated Ferran Adria and it's
his words that grace the front cover of this book: "...Maria Elia
shows us the magic of cooking." Endorsements don't come much more
worthy than that.
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined
Author: Maria Elia
Published by: Kyle Books
– Street fare, comfort food, meze
I am convinced that Sally Butcher could write a book about
paint drying and it would be a worthwhile read. Her books, and this is
the third, are Sally in paper form. Her energy, culinary knowledge and
laugh-out-loud humour will make this another best-seller.
Sally is known as an accomplished author but she is just as famed as
Mrs. Shopkeeper, and the shop in question is
Persepolis. This does give the lady something of an advantage in the
Middle-Eastern cooking stakes as she has access to some amazing
ingredients just outside the door of her flat. An Iranian husband, and
a mum-in-law with a wealth of recipes, also assure authenticity.
Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze: Informal eating in the
Middle East and beyond, to give the full title, is a big delicious
mouthful. It’s divided by food group but so many of the dishes are
mix-and-matchable and interchangeable to create either full meals or
grazing opportunities. It’s a creditable collection of recipes from
vaguely the middle of the East, and are real dishes that family cooks
have cooked for eons.
This book has Sally’s voice throughout. She is almost as funny and
engaging in print as in real life. One knows these recipes work ’cos a
nice lady like that wouldn’t steer you wrong. One has the sense that
all will be well, and even if one’s culinary inexperience results in an
iffy end product one knows that Sally will be whispering ‘It’s only
food and you will do fine next time.’
If one wants a picture of who these Snackistan citizens are, then they
will be a jolly bunch with rosy cheeks, a love of good company and
kebabs, and Sally would have been derelict in her duty as culinary
guide not to introduce them to us hungry tourists. Baluchi Chapli
Kebabs is a classic and easy-to-prepare dish that will become a
favourite with the whole family, who will love anything flavourful,
fried and in bread. What’s not to like? My pick-of-kebabs is an Afghan
Shami Kabob to which this writer will soon be addicted.
There are so many recipes here that in other tomes would be considered
signature dishes. Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze has a
tongue-in-cheek style but that’s only to keep the reader grounded. We
have here an accomplished cook and a remarkable writer who pens books
that are always a pleasure both to read and from which to cook.
Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze
Author: Sally Butcher
Published by: Pavilion Books
Culinary Comfort and Creativity
Holland might not be the first country springing to mind
when one contemplates a gastronomic break, a food adventure. No, we
muse on France, as their dishes are classic and the quality is
legendary (some legends owe more to fantasy than fact); then there is
New York with its perennial edgy vibe. Tempting, but one seems to spend
so much time airport-queuing; how’s about Asia? A good choice but no
good for a short trip.
So where does Holland figure in the delicious calculation?
country, and more than one might find in some.
My focus was Rotterdam and I had no idea what to expect. In fact there
are restaurants here to suit every taste and every pocket although even
the high-end eateries seem reasonably priced by London standards. Las
Palmas is a contemporary restaurant that is famed for its
seafood. It’s the domain of celebrity chef Herman den Blijker.
Guests might find this bear of a man circulating throughout his
restaurant, between tables that one would be advised to reserve. The
meat dishes here are also creditable but it’s a shame to miss such fine
fish. Dinner here is a casual yet memorable event.
3072 AR Rotterdam
Phone +31 10 213 2011
Visit Las Palmas here
Rotterdam neighbourhoods still boast historic buildings
attesting to its vibrant past, and one can enjoy a metaphoric taste of
those days at The New York Hotel. The menu is eclectic and modern but
the building was once a shipping office for a line that carried
emigrants to a better life in the New World. A visit here is a must for
anyone who wants to soak up some charming ambiance. Sunday brunch is
buzzy, and afternoon tea might be welcome after a boat tour of the
port. Plenty of ocean-liner memorabilia dotted around the public
spaces, and the guest rooms are stunning!
Hotel New York
3072 AD Rotterdam
Phone: +31 10 439 0500
visit Hotel New York here
Asia has long had a relationship with Holland. The Dutch East India
Company was active throughout the region of Malaysia and Indonesia, so
the Dutch have an historic appreciation of all good Asian food. Anyone
who wants to taste some of the best Chinese dishes in Rotterdam will
book lunch or dinner at Asian Glories, where owners Jenny Fan Loh and
chef S P Fan and family will invite you to experience an ever-changing
menu. Restaurant guide SpecialBite has named Asian Glories as one of
their top 10 restaurants in Rotterdam.
3011 AL Rotterdam
Phone: +31 10 411 7107
Visit Asian Glories here
Holland has long been famed for its chocolate and cocoa powder, which
is still sometimes referred to as ‘Dutch Processed’. In 1828 chemist
Coenraad van Houten invented a process for extracting cocoa butter from
raw cocoa, allowing the separation of cocoa powder. This gave chocolate
a more consistent texture, and made it less costly to produce. This
opened the door to chocolate bar manufacturers.
One can enjoy a chocolate masterclass at Chocoholic in Rotterdam. These
classes can be booked for small groups of 6 or more potential
chocolatiers. You will learn how to make your own hand-dipped
chocolates and how to decorate and present in a chocolate basket. If
your efforts are a bit misshapen then buy some professionally-made
treats in the shop adjoining the kitchen studio. A masterclass here
will be engaging fun for the whole family.
Phone: +31 10 218 3014
But I did mention cheese, and the Dutch are justifiably proud of their
products. De Kaashoeve is a shop to gladden the heart of every lover of
good cheese. Located at the Oude Binnenweg this dairy boutique is
hard to miss – it’s got a cow outside. No, not a real one but a
full-sized homage to the mother of milk. It’s not just local cheeses
that line the shelves here but those from other European countries too.
The staff are knowledgeable and can point you in the direction of a
suitable selection for an iconic cheeseboard, or some savoury wedges as
gifts. It’s not only cheese on show at De Kaashoeve but all those
things that act as garnishes for a spread of cheese. It’s a shop in
which to linger and nibble. Enjoy!
Oude Binnenweg 95a
Rotterdam has a world-renowned and celebrated fish
shop and a visit here should be on everyone’s list of must-dos.
famous landmarks, the Erasmus Bridge. It’s the Number One supplier to
the high-end restaurants in the Netherlands and you can taste their
goods here without a high-end price tag.
Schmidt has its own smoke-house for salmon and eels. They offer
marinated herring and a lesson on how to eat them. One can enjoy an
oyster on the half-shell while sipping a glass of something light,
white and refreshing. A visit here is an event!
But you will need a place to lay your travel-weary head at the end of a
full day in this exciting city. Quartier du Port is well located for
walking and taking the extensive metro system. It’s a boutique hotel of
both character and quality. It was once a shipping office and retains
so many original features. The bedrooms are comfortable, well
appointed, with acres of space. It’s your good fortune that as a guest
you will take advantage of a delicious breakfast, with baked goods from
the shop next door (which is in fact associated with the hotel). Don’t
miss the slices of freshly made cakes, as those Rotterdam attractions
beckon and one will need the energy for another full day.
Hotel Quartier du Port
Van Vollenhovenstraat 48-50
3016 BJ Rotterdam
Phone +31 10 240 0425
Visit Hotel Quartier du Port here
Rotterdam – building with
new energy, treasuring old charm
I had visited Holland once before. That was Amsterdam and
many years ago. I travelled by air and the flight was quick - Holland
is nearer than one might think. But a trip to Rotterdam via Stena Line
ferry from Harwich made that diverse and vibrant city even more
Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands and one of the
largest ports in the world. Starting as a dam
The New Waterway canal was dug between 1866 and 1872, creating a
transport route between the Maas River and the sea. The town of
Delfshaven became part of Rotterdam and is the birthplace of Pieter
Hein (1577 –1629) who was a Dutch naval officer and folk-hero during
the Eighty Years' War between the United Provinces and Spain. It’s also
the harbour where the Pilgrim Fathers set off for America, and that
practice of exodus from this port continued down the centuries.
The city has developed into a world port and is still the largest port
in Europe and one of the busiest ports in the world, surpassed only by
Shanghai. Rotterdam's commercial success owes much to its location near
the mouth of the Nieuwe Maas (New Meuse), in the delta formed by the
Rhine and Meuse flowing into the North Sea. These rivers lead directly
into the centre of Europe, opening markets along those wide shipping
Hotel Quartier du Port in Rotterdam is a smart 4-star boutique hotel
conveniently situated in the old maritime quarter in renovated 18th
century shipping offices. This neighbourhood still retains many classic
buildings that one thinks of as being ‘typically Dutch’ - solid brick
facades, tall and narrow. These streets give an impression of what
Rotterdam must have been like before the ravages of war.
The Witte Huis or White House is a building and National Heritage Site
in Rotterdam inspired by American skyscrapers, and built in 1898 in the
Art Nouveau style. Its 10 floors made this a ground-breaking structure
for its time.
Many Europeans sought a better life overseas and started their epic
journeys from Rotterdam. These emigrants often headed for North
America, just like those pilgrims, and in 1873 the Nederlandsch
Amerikaanse Stoomvaart Maatschappij company was founded, officially
renamed ‘Holland America Line’ in 1896. In 1971, after more than 100
years of transporting emigrants and pleasure seekers, the ship Nieuw
Amsterdam was the last of that line to leave Rotterdam.
In 1977 the Holland America Line’s head office moved to Seattle and in
1984 the building on Wilhelmina Pier was put up for sale. Known as ‘The
Grand Old Lady’, this office was built in the Jugendstil style in 1901
by the architects J. Muller, Droogleever Fortuin and C.B. van der Tak.
It’s now occupied by the Hotel New York, a remarkable hotel and
restaurant displaying many items of shipping memorabilia, and evocative
of the heyday of passenger liners.
During World War II, the German army invaded the Netherlands and
encountered fierce resistance, although the Dutch army was finally
forced to capitulate on May 15, 1940, following Hitler's bombing of
Rotterdam on May 14. The centre of Rotterdam was almost completely
destroyed by the blitz, which left 900 civilians dead and 80,000
homeless. A visit to the tourist office offers striking pictures of
Rotterdam before the bombing and the horrific destruction that it
Rotterdam has taken advantage of its tragic blank canvas and has built
striking bridges, apartments and public spaces, along with a reputation
for being a platform for architectural excellence. Rotterdam is
celebrated for its Kubuswoningen or cube houses built by architect Piet
Blom in 1984, as well as the iconic Erasmus Bridge designed by Ben van
Berkel and completed in 1996.
Along with Porto, Rotterdam was European Capital of Culture in 2001.
The city has its own orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic. There is an
exciting festival culture, with weeks promoting jazz, food and the arts
in general. It’s an easy city to navigate with a creditable metro and
tram system, and a train network for those who want to wander further.
Rotterdam is a living entity of multi-ethnic and multicultural
diversity. 47.7% of the population are of non-Dutch origin
or have at least one parent born outside the country. 173 nationalities
are represented here. One might liken the city to an evolved modern
family home: there is the old part of the house with many charming
original features and uniquely Dutch characteristics; there is the new
extension designed with innovation. It’s a place filled with
imagination and respect for heritage. It’s a home-city that reflects
the makeup of the current Rotterdammers, and they are a forward-looking
and vibrant bunch.
Hotel New York
3072 AD Rotterdam
Visit New York Hotel here
Hotel Quartier Du Pont
Van Vollenhovenstraat 48-50
3016 BJ Rotterdam
Visit Hotel Quartier Du Pont here
Find more information on Stena Line to Holland here
to the Hook of Holland
Well, here it was. My
travel nemesis had arrived …or more accurately I was travelling to meet
I have never been a good sailor and many ferry crossings
was going to be long!
Stena Line is one of the world’s biggest and most respected ferry
companies. I had always wondered what a stena
of the Stena Group, and in 1946 he bought his
first ferry and thus began Stena Line.
The next 30 years saw the company ferrying between Sweden and Denmark,
Germany and Norway. In 1982 the son of Stena's founder, Dan Sten
Olsson, became Stena's new Group CEO and in 1989, Stena Line acquired
the Dutch company SMZ, which operated the Hook of Holland - Harwich
route. In 1990 when Stena Line acquired Sealink British Ferries and two
more Dutch companies, it doubled in size. In 1996 Stena Line built the
world's first high-speed ferry. In 2006 Stena Line invested 400 million
Euros in two new Superferries for the Hook of Holland-Harwich route,
and it’s these ferries that I was to try.
The Stena Line experience owed more to flying than my past encounters
with ferries had done. The Harwich terminal was quiet for the Friday
evening crossing and even a group of Dutch students didn’t take up more
than a fraction of the space. Plenty of seating was also a novelty
after the throngs at airports.
The ship (or is it a boat?) was the size of a small cruise-liner and it
had more in common with those gleaming floating hotels than with the
utilitarian tubs plying routes across La Manche that I remembered from
the old days. I was greeted by spotless carpets, polished brass and a
lift, and there were plenty of staff on hand to give directions to
I found my Comfort Class cabin and that lived up to my, by now, higher
expectations. It was the standard of a land-locked hotel room, although
admittedly slightly smaller. The en-suite shower room had a full size
shower, basin and loo, and a pile of fluffy towels. This was a step up
from some economy hotels on land.
There were more creature comforts in the guise of beds. Yes, a brace of
beds garnished with puffy duvets and pillows
the rest of us there
is more predictable viewing. For those who are still on duty there is
Stena Line offers generous hospitality even in this class of cabin. The
bowl of fruit, the chilled white wine and the real glass glasses
invited the newly arrived voyager to linger to perhaps enjoy a reviving
‘cold beverage’ before seeking out the restaurant.
The Metropolitan restaurant was my eatery of choice and it truly gave
the impression of being a regular restaurant, with glass and
linen-draped tables along with attentive waiters and a chef who
evidently took a pride in his kitchen. This was far from the ‘chips
with everything’ ferry café with which I had been inflicted in
the past. The Metropolitan restaurant offers convivial dining with a
menu that presents European classics along with dishes inspired by more
distant continents. The prices are very reasonable considering they
have something of a captive audience. I guess one could always open a
box of homemade egg sandwiches in the privacy of one’s cabin, but you
won’t be pushing the metaphoric boat out dining at the Metropolitan.
Morning came around surprisingly fast and was heralded by
‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ over the PA system – a jolly tune
of the day; plenty of cold
cuts and cheese for others with refined Continental tastes; and the
Full Monty tempted the rest of us. There were Dutch specialities such
as pancakes, custard and sprinkles. Yes, dear reader, chocolate
sprinkles that one might more usually associate with cake decoration
are here considered a breakfast item for bread-garnishing. A few days
in Holland will likely find you addicted to those chocolate flecks.
Stena Line to The Hook of Holland isn’t a compromise, it’s perhaps the
most civilised way to travel to a host of Dutch cities. One arrives
refreshed and ready for adventure with a full day ahead. One has had a
good night’s sleep rather than a flight that one has viewed only as a
necessary evil. One floats with Stena Line, and the holiday starts at
Find more information on Stena Line to Holland here
Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous
Vila Vita Parc enchants the guest with its
exotic gardens; it
invigorates the visitor with its pools and spa; it tempts with
its food and
wine. Those last two delicious elements will likely be at the very
heart of your
stay and they are key to the success of the company here in Portugal.
This five-star resort boasts a 2-Michelin star restaurant so
one knows the food and presentation will be superb, and it’s no
equal attention is paid to the wines. Portugal has much to offer in
but it’s still overlooked. There is more to the viticulture here than
although I confess to having enjoyed a thoroughly chilled glass or two
of that on
Most fine restaurants will claim to have a ‘cellar’ although
this is, in truth, often a temperature-controlled closet off the
Vita Parc has a real wine cellar (or Cave de Vinhos). It is almost a
of an ancient wine cellar: one thinks of low lights, cool brick walls,
candles and long-undisturbed bottles, and that’s exactly the reality
even more impressive when one appreciates that these walls, although
old, have been transported here from Egypt, Austria and Greece.
bricks have been re-built in gothic style to present a cosy and
not only for learning about wine but also enjoying exceptional food
The Cave de Vinhos holds a stock of more than 11,000 bottles
of wine in perfect conditions. This is a wine cellar and not a museum,
these are available for purchase. The bottles portray the best
skills from across the globe and include a fine selection of Ports.
fortified wine is enjoying a resurgence of popularity and has shaken
dusty image of a too-sticky drink reserved for elderly relatives and
a funeral. People are taking a second look and finding it speaks very
favourably to a younger, contemporary palate.
Vila Vita Parc owns its own farm and vineyard so has access
to some noteworthy local wines. The striking estate of Herdade dos
Grous, or Estate
of the Cranes, is found some miles away in Alentejo. The origin of its
literally translates to “Across the Tagus”. The region is separated
rest of Portugal by the river Tagus and the area is known as the bread
One will notice a change in the landscape as one travels
from the Algarve to Alentejo. There are gently undulating hills
well-spaced trees – these are often cork, which still represents the
choice for the wine industry, but it is being increasingly used in the
of goods that one would normally find made from leather.
Herdade dos Grous covers an impressive 1700 acres or so of this
fertile land. It has a sizable lake, vineyards and olive groves that
add to the
sense of natural calm but this isn’t a vista designed for the visitors,
a working farm and vineyard that produces some very creditable and
Alentejo is home to old grape varieties such as Trincadeira:
it has been chosen as one of the main varieties here as it suits
summers, but it has also had a long history in Douro where it is known
The establishment of the estate and the cultivation of the
vines began in 1987, with the extensive wine cellar being added in
Luis Duarte has a remarkable talent and has presented wines of great
Wines like Moon Harvest (a pure varietal Alicante Bouschet) and 23
(from Syrah and Touriga Nacional) are exceptional. Luis Duarte has been
the title Winemaker of the Year twice so far – the only winemaker in
to have achieved this.
There are plenty of horses on the farm and they are there
for the riding enjoyment of visitors rather than for culinary purposes,
there are lots of grazing animals that are destined for plates here and
Vita Parc. The cattle on this estate produce Carne Alentejana, a
appreciated quality of beef. The European Union recognises the meat as
Protected Designation of Origin brand. It’s a bit like authentic
coming from a particular area. There are also local sheep called Merino
Regional, pigs and some emus, but they seem to be more for decorative
Meat from Herdade dos Grous also fills the cool-room at the
traditional German restaurant located a couple of miles from the main
Parc (transport provided). Biergarten is a little bit of Germany
one might be surprised to find in the Algarve, but the owners of the
German and the food here showcases the produce of Herdade dos Grous
On the menu are handmade sausages, schnitzel and knuckle of
pork and if you are a local you can take advantage of the butcher and
shop, which offers prime cuts of meat in addition to those sausages.
This is a
spot for more souvenir hunting as they stock wine and food gifts from
estate. The gourmet shop is open
Vila Vita Parc and Herdade dos Grous offer two faces of hospitality
and culinary excellence. Each venue has its own style and will appeal
who appreciate attention to detail. Herdade dos Grous would make a
winter, spring or autumn break for those who want to take leisurely
through vines, go riding, or relax with a good book – and always with
prospect of an excellent meal. Vila Vita Parc has a host of facilities
the family and indeed all year round. Its selection of restaurants
offers a gastronomic
extravaganza for any traveller with a refined palate. Both offer the
which memories are made, and those memories will undoubtedly feature
rather good wines.
Lunch - Monday to Sunday 12:30 to 14:30
Dinner - Friday to Sunday 19:30 to 21:30
Herdade dos Grous
Phone: + 351 284 96 00 00
Visit Herdade dos Grous here
Vila Vita Parc
Rua Anneliese Pohl,
French Market Cookbook –
Vegetarian recipes from my Parisian kitchen
This is a unique and surprising book in so many ways. It’s
a Parisian cookbook but it’s a vegetarian recipe book. It’s undoubtedly
French but reflects the fresher dishes from the traditional repertoire.
It’s a Paris-market cookbook, but those markets offer produce from
across the country.
The author of French Market Cookbook – Vegetarian recipes from my
Parisian kitchen is reassuringly French and a successful food blogger.
Clotilde Dusoulier is one of the new breed of French food lovers who
are confident in their knowledge of traditional
The book is divided by season, making this ideal for those who want to
visit their own markets – which probably won’t be French. Have a
leaf through this book before shopping so you have an idea of
possibilities, and then look for what’s freshest, best value or just
takes your fancy.
The trees are turning golden and the summer has passed, and we crave
warm comforting foods after a morning in the garden. Butternut and
Celery Root Soup is a silky autumnal preparation that takes advantage
of squashes that are abundant as the weather gets colder, and celery
root which is more commonly known as celeriac. It is a dense root
vegetable but with a mild flavour of celery – a marvellous foil for the
sweetness of the butternut. Try this recipe with pumpkin when you have
hollowed out a lantern head for Hallowe’en.
Figs seem exotic and luxurious to us in these northern climes, but they
are at their cheapest and best in autumn. French Market Cookbook
offers us a delightful yet simple dessert of a tart with a base of
Breton shortbread (recipe provided) and quarters of figs arranged in an
artistic fashion. This is a must-try.
My pick of the book is a winter suggestion of Mushroom and Chive
Quiche. The author suggests an olive oil pastry crust but I am sure she
would forgive any home cook who wants to use their favourite pastry
dough: it’s the filling that’s the star here. True, this is a
vegetarian dish but there is nothing skimpy or overly noble about this.
The mushrooms are hearty and well-laced with cream. This is
dinner-party fare and would work as a starter or a main course that
would be enjoyed by even committed carnivores.
French Market Cookbook – Vegetarian recipes from my Parisian kitchen is
a volume of flavourful recipes that just don’t happen to contain meat.
It’s far from an exercise in beige and bland and it’s not a health-food
book. It’s about taste – and it tastes delicious.
French Market Cookbook – Vegetarian recipes from my Parisian kitchen
Author: Clotilde Dusoulier
Cruise – Silver Wind wining and dining
Food will likely be a big part of any holiday and may even
be the deciding factor. Food tourism is gaining in popularity
but even if we are not looking for a gastronomic trip garnished with
tastings, visits to local producers and a sprinkling of artisan bakers,
we still want good food when we return to our chosen accommodation.
Cruises have long been famed for providing meals at every hour of the
day, snacks at a whim, and drinks metaphorically or literally on tap.
Some of these cruises also have a reputation for quantity at the
sacrifice of quality, so it’s important to make informed decisions.
Silver Wind is one of the Silverseas vessels (are they ships or are
they boats?). It's not a floating juggernaut and only carries a couple
of hundred guests, in fact 296 when fully laden. That might sound a
sizeable complement to the untutored but many a boat carries thousands.
Think of a 5* hotel and then add a star. That extra sparkle comes from
personal butler service and it’s truly a pampering luxury. This
uniformed treasure will serve you toast at any time, will fill your
personal mini bar with your favourite gin (a full bottle rather than a
skimpy miniature). They will ensure that you have a choice of bathroom
toiletries, and, snacks aside, will offer you breakfast and any other
meal in your room; and it’s all at no extra charge.
It’s the nature of modern cruises to be all-inclusive but that
all-inclusiveness might include a bit more on Silversea’s ships than on
other lines. Even sophisticated travellers will be impressed. The
service isn't stiff and starchy but is discreet and impeccably timed.
Smiles are quick and warm from waiters who actually seem to enjoy their
work. The ratio of staff to guests is high ... or is that low? Suffice
it to say that there seem to be as many crew members as
guests – and that’s not far
from the truth: for less than 300 guests there are 222 crew members.
So there will be no shortage of willing servers, but what of the
restaurants? Will one be obliged to dress formally every evening? No.
Will there be place-cards seating you between the First Officer and a
90-year-old vet from Iowa? No (but he might have been a charming vet).
Seating is your choice and these cruises appeal to a much younger set.
This cruise is all about casual luxury with a few formal options for
those who enjoy black tie or sequins. It's a cruise, but your way.
La Terrazza is a culinary retreat that leads something of a double
life. It opens early in the morning with an extensive buffet-style
breakfast. That’s the advantage of a cruise with a multi-national guest
complement: there is always a vast array of dishes to tempt, and
breakfast is no exception. If one hails from mainland Europe then
cheese, cold meats and croissants might be the preferred morning plate.
For Scandinavians the addition of fish will make for a traditional start
to the day, and then North Americans and British will head for the
cooked goods, and there is a wide selection that would more than
constitute a Full English.
Lunch at La Terrazza has similarly generous proportions,
with selections of cold dishes as well as a truly eclectic spread of
hot dishes that range from comforting European slow-cooked favourites
to some Asian specialities. Lighter fare is found in the guise of sushi
and sashimi with authentic condiments and even chopsticks. It’s lunch
after all, so a selection of fruits and desserts are also on display;
but remember that afternoon tea and dinner will be putting in an
appearance in your near future.
And talking of dinner, La Terrazza makes its final transformation in
the evening to become an à la carte traditional Italian
restaurant. Pasta is made fresh on board, and risotto is highly
recommended. Save some space for the cheese selection as it is as good
as one would find in any Michelin-star restaurant.
One restaurant not to be missed is the Grill by the Pool. During the
day it serves those fast food classics like burgers, fries and pizza,
but there are evenings when the moon shines from a black velvet sky,
the lights shimmer on the now vacant pool and the sound of sizzling
replaces splashing. It's the hot rock speciality. Slabs of black
volcanic stone are heated to frying temperature and your choice of
steak, fish or shellfish is placed on top. The splattering starts with
the application of a drizzle of oil and that's when one realises the
necessity for those rather stylish bibs.
You will regret refusing such a thing for the sake of sartorial
elegance (but there is an onboard laundry).
The Panorama Lounge is a marvellous spot for quiet relaxation with a
book when one has had an elegant sufficiency of
lounging by the aforementioned pool. It’s designed to provide the best
view of the latest destination or romantic seascape. This is the spot
for a spot of afternoon tea at just the time of day when one is
comfortably over lunch and salivating at the prospect of dinner. A few
delicate sweets and savouries fill that fleeting gap. As evening
approaches the lounge changes persona and becomes a piano cocktail bar
offering a vantage point from which to watch the setting sun. Drinks
are mixed to order and canapés arrive with no order given.
Le Champagne is the smallest and most intimate of Silver Wind’s
restaurants and is the only Wine Restaurant by Relais &
Châteaux without an address on dry land. Le Champagne is an annex
of The Restaurant, and this bijou dining room has well-spaced tables,
low lights and romantically-inclined couples – although these change
with each voyage.
The formal dress code adds to the impression that Le Champagne is
special but the quality of food is the confirming factor. Relais &
Châteaux is an organisation built on culinary excellence. Their
restaurants guarantee outstanding dishes served with classic flair and
paired with the finest of wines. An evening here should be on every
The Restaurant is an animated salon with appropriate
seating not only for couples but larger groups as well. This is the
ideal restaurant for a family celebration accompanied by remarkable
main dishes, and memorable and sophisticated desserts.
Silver Wind offers educated palates the flavours of ports visited,
casual dining for those who prefer simple fare, hearty plates to
satisfy the most expansive of appetites, and there are swathes of
salads to tempt those who seek healthful and light dishes. Younger
travellers will rejoice in cakes, ice cream and pastries – and it would
be rude to force them to eat alone.
It’s a tradition, still, for many of us. We await the
arrival of blackberries, we collect elderflowers, we are entranced by
the perfume of wild garlic. If we were lucky enough to have had a
childhood spent roaming lanes, fields and forests then it’s likely that
some of our most vivid memories are of collecting food.
Foraging is more popular than ever. Perhaps it’s financial hard times
that have driven some folks to consider the outdoors as an
extension to the larder; for others it’s concern for food miles (air or
lorry); and there are those who have always loved gathering produce.
These pages offer ideas, advice and recipes to inspire anyone who wants
food for free.
Most of the ingredients considered in The Hedgerow Cookbook are easily
found on heaths, in hedges and even in more urban environs. There is
plenty to pick and gather and it’s all healthy produce, and almost
guaranteed to be free-range and organic.
Nettles are abundant and a good start. Yes, you will need to wear some
fetching rubber gloves but you are unlikely to be spotted by anyone who
cares. Nettles are versatile and can be made into vibrant soup and
fillings for pies. I am sure that once used in these recipes the reader
will find other uses, such as pasta sauces.
Rosehips are seldom used these days but they are a Superfood, being so
high in vitamins. When I was a child most homes had a supply of rosehip
syrup and I still enjoy it made into a steaming hot drink on cold
winter nights. The syrup keeps well for months, and will be fine for a
year if trouble is taken over bottling.
There can be nothing more evocative of a British summer than
strawberries. We think of Wimbledon and tennis with an afternoon tea of
scones, cream and big juicy strawberries, but we have wild strawberries
that are small, delicate and filled with the very essence of
strawberryness. This book offers a very smart alternative to a cream
tea with Pimm’s Jelly. This really does contain that summer tipple as a
cushion for those little red fruits. This is the kind of treat that
demands one wear a white cotton dress or a blazer and boater.
Crab apples seem seldom to be gathered these days and it’s a shame as
they make the most marvellous jelly, but The Hedgerow Cookbook has a
simple sorbet that will work as a light dessert or a refreshing
palate-cleanser between courses. An ice-cream maker is an advantage but
not an essential for this recipe. One can easily put the base
preparation in the freezer and periodically whisk the setting crystals
to give a granita-like texture which will be just as delicious as the
The pick-of-the-book is Blackberry and Apple Crumble Cake. It’s an
economic cake for teatime and takes advantage of regular apples and
those blackberries collected from bushes during the summer. This is a
little like a New York Crumb Cake but with the addition of succulent
fruit. It’s good on its own or with a garnish of some double cream.
The Hedgerow Cookbook is a beautifully presented tome that will appeal
to lovers of good food; and if that food is free, gratis and for
nothing that has to be a bonus.
The Hedgerow Cookbook
Author: Wild at Heart
Publisher: Pavilion Books
Chocolat by Eric
The world loves chocolate, and combine that with a dashing
chef with a rich French accent and recipes for goods that have graced
many a French patisserie window, and one has the makings of a
successful cookbook. Yes, it's true that one can’t actually hear Eric’s
Gallic tones but one can imagine.
Eric has impeccable culinary credentials having trained in France and
moved to London to run the patisserie side
of the business for the celebrated Roux brothers, Albert and Michel.
Eric now has his own enterprise called, unsurprisingly, Cake Boy, which
is a multi-functional cake shop, café and cookery school.
Chocolat is a book to tempt any home cook. The recipes are simple to
follow and include classics as well as family recipes. They range from
sophisticated milkshakes to romantic desserts, from timeless cakes to
whimsical truffles coated with popping candy. Everything contains
chocolate in some form, along with some imagination.
Harlequin is a striking layered confection of sponge with both white
and dark chocolate creams. Granted, the text for the recipe takes up a
whole page and that might at first be off-putting, but if one reads the
ingredients and the method for each element then it's evident that it's
easy going and just a matter of assembly to create an amazing and
A dessert that one finds in almost every French restaurant, bistro or
café is chocolate pots. It’s an unfussy preparation that appeals
to both adults and kids but Eric’s version has a little brandy so one
might want to leave that out if there are strong feelings about
children getting the taste for alcohol. I would personally leave in
this small volume as the kids won’t notice and it's hardly likely to
corrupt them. I am not suggesting that you give your 9-year-old a cigar
to follow, but an introduction to fine food can never come too early.
Indeed, an individual serving of anything always seems more special
than a slice of a communal dessert. The decoration remains pristine
till your own first bite and there is never an argument about who gets
the bit with the garnish or who gets the end with the most frosting -
it's democratic. Mini Red Velvet Cakes with White Chocolate Frosting
are snowy mountains capped with red. The interior is just as red as the
summit but this traditional American cake has been given a twist with
that addition of white chocolate frosting. That icing would work well
on chocolate cupcakes or as a topping to individual chocolate tarts.
My pick-of-the-book is a must-try recipe that one will want to use to
impress weekend visitors. It’s a make-ahead Hazelnut and Chocolate
Spread. Yes, one can buy jars of commercial spread but that won’t get
you praise from the in-laws. This morning treat contains the best of
ingredients and can be made and potted a couple of weeks before your
guests arrive, so all that’s needed are some large French bowls of hot
milky coffee, some crusty bread and a copy of Le Monde (or The Radio
Times for the linguistically challenged).
We have likely heard of it but if pinpointing this region
on a map was a capital offence then it’s probable few of us would
be hung; but mention San Sebastián and more people will say that
they know about it, and usually with regard to food.
It’s an attractive seaside city and municipality located in the Basque
Autonomous Community of Spain. There is no doubt when you are here that
this is physically within Spain's borders but culturally and
politically outside. The majority of flags flying here are Basque. It
lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay and just 20 km from the French
border, and that’s a country with which it has always had close ties.
It has long been one of the most celebrated tourist destinations in
Spain, even though San Sebastián is not a big town.
It's about food. San Sebastián is famed for it but there is so
much more here, and to make the best of it you should have a local
guide. A very enterprising one is making a career of creating bespoke
tours for the discerning traveller. Jose Macicior has deep roots
in this region and is well-placed to introduce visitors to everything
from hidden gems of local architecture that are not usually open to the
general public, to those iconic tapas bars – he has been patronising
them all his life and knows the specialities of each one.
I met Jose and his delightful wife Isabel at their apartment which is
part of Jose’s ancestral home. “In 2002 we were a group of friends
having dinner in London, and decided to arrange a gourmet tour in
Navarra, the Basque country, and Rioja. We organised it from arrival to
departure: we took care of the restaurants, hotels, land transport,
wine tasting, everything. It was a success and everyone had a good
time. Some of our friends recommended us to their friends and we have
been doing those tours once, sometimes twice, each year.”
Isabel is originally from the Philippines so that was the logical
spring-board to launch the company, Travels & Tapas. Jose explains,
”We launched the company in the Philippines last March because we had
many contacts there, but we would also like to concentrate in the UK
and some other countries, and little by little develop the clientele.”
Travels & Tapas is somewhat high-end, with fewer
numbers for their bespoke trips than one would find with group tours
with the usual travel operators, “but with outstanding service,” says
Jose. “We can be versatile, we can design anything the client wants, we
can be guides, we can accompany our visitors, we can be in contact by
phone with advice about what to do, where to go. We travel nationwide,
although the gastronomic interest is more concentrated in the north of
Spain and in south-west France.”
A group of friends can contact Jose and give him an idea of their
interests, then Jose arranges everything, from accommodation,
restaurant bookings, to entrance to sites and events, and can act as
personal guide for the group or provide them with the bespoke itinerary.
Jose and Isabel guided us around San Sebastián and the nearby
villages, and there is a lot to see within a small area. The beaches
are wide and golden and half-empty at the start of the summer. The
Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa fashion museum is a draw for anyone
inspired by the classical elegance of this celebrated designer, and the
sartorial retail opportunities are endless. But let's face it: your
days here will be punctuated with some of the best food to be found in
Tapas in San Sebastián are known as pintxos but it’s unlikely
you will have to call them anything at all. Pintxos bars are the ideal
grazing venues for the linguistically timid as one has no need to
consider incomprehensible menus. Simply pile your choice of pintxos on
your plate and keep count of how many you have had. The barman will
likely have a mental note, so no cheating. Boxes of paper serviettes
are provided and one is expected to screw these up and throw them on
the floor. That does give one a rather childish thrill.
The food is displayed in tempting ranks of vivid tomato-red, ham-pink,
crust-gold on overflowing platters and piled dishes. Jose will take you
here for tortilla, there for octopus, the bar around the corner for
garlic mushrooms. Yes, one could buy a guide book, but things change,
and only a local will be able to tell you what’s popular just now and
also be able to plan a pintxos ramble for you that will offer the
most-prized small plates, and some that are only available on that very
Pintxos bars are not the places where one might readily expect to find
haute cuisine but the food here is as haute as it gets. The
competition is fierce and that assures a high standard, and the variety
of tapas will provide even the pickiest of eaters with enough to
satisfy a gargantuan appetite. There will be slices of freshly cut and
glossy Iberica ham, sweet and explosive peppers, and hosts of more
elaborate savoury confections that will include each bar’s signature
This isn't a town that has just recently woken up to the idea of food
tourism. The snack-laden counters were not just invented for the
epicurean delights of visitors. The locals are passionate about their
food and that’s contagious. Jose says there have long been amateur
gastronomic sociedads, which have traditionally allowed only men as
members. These groups would meet at their own professionally-equipped
kitchens and dining rooms, and the members would take turns to cook for
the assembled company. It seems that these culinary brotherhoods have
spawned a breed of men that have higher culinary aspirations than the
weekend BBQers of other nations, although I hear that they remain
reluctant home cooks.
Spain is the place for the culinary high-flyers these days, and San
Sebastián is considered the most exciting place to eat in the
country. There are said to be more Michelin stars per head of
population here than anywhere else, and the curious may consider why
that might be. There is an abundance of good food from both sea and
land and so perhaps these lucky folk have higher gastronomic
expectations than most. Travels & Tapas tours can introduce the
food lover to not only the pleasures of pintxos but fine dining
restaurants as well, and Jose knows many owners of those Michelin stars
– one might even get to meet a celebrated chef or two.
What Jose offers is a unique insider’s view of food and culture in a
fascinating corner of Europe. “They say the North has stews, the Centre
has roasts, and the South rice, and this is true, generally speaking.
And of course all over Spain there is a lot of art and a lot of
extremely attractive stately homes that can be visited, and one can
even have lunch or dinner there.” Jose is a member of an organisation
of stately homeowners who don’t normally show their properties, but
Jose can open even those usually locked doors.
Jose and Isabel Macicior fill a rather classy niche. They provide
tailored packages to visitors who want to experience the best at their
own pace. They give support to tourists who want to tread the path less
travelled. They unroll a tapestry of culinary, architectural, historic
and cultural delights that are difficult or even impossible for the
lone visitor or the regular package-tourist to access.
d’Anglejan-Chatillon, DG of La Maison du Chocolat
It’s a very French company and has an equally Gallic
director general in the guise of the suave and genuinely charming
Geoffroy d’Anglejan-Chatillon. He has a lifetime of chocolate
appreciation, and has made that a delicious career for almost a couple
M. d’Anglejan-Chatillon explains in a rich accent that
‘I was born in Savoie, not far from Lyon, between there and Geneva, and
I’m from a big family – I am one of six brothers and sisters, and my
mother was one of twelve, so it was very important to share. My parents
loved to eat well, and that included chocolate.
But I came to the chocolate business by chance, it was not a case of my
saying when I finished my studies, “Now I have to go into chocolate”,
no. I was in the real estate business, and we happened to be selling a
large house. It was bought by the owner of De Neuville, a producer of
mid-range chocolates in France, and when we met he asked me if I wanted
to be president of that company. It had a network of franchising, and I
was familiar with that from my job, so I accepted the position. I
learned all about chocolate during the five years I was there. Then I
met Robert Linxe, and joined Maison du Chocolat, and now it’s my
passion – I am sure I will finish my days in chocolate!
‘I have worked at Maison du Chocolat for 18 years now. When I arrived,
there were just three or four shops; Robert had an amazing talent, and
they were looking for somebody who could manage the company and expand
it. I think I was very lucky because I met somebody who was
exceptional: he is a creator, and has a real passion, and that’s the
idea behind Maison du Chocolat. When I started we had around 40 people
working for the company, and now we are more than 500. By the end of
the year we will have about 38 boutiques, located in Paris, Cannes,
London, New York, Tokyo, Osaka and Hong Kong. Each is our own shop, a
subsidiary, because we want to control the quality, the presentation,
‘Robert Linxe has found a great chef in Nicolas Cloiseau. He travelled
worldwide to find the best cocoa varieties, and combined them to give
to his chocolate a very specific taste. He has been with us for 16
years and in 2007 he was awarded Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the
highest distinction – since the beginning of the competition in 1920
there have only been 19 Meilleurs Ouvriers de France in chocolate: it’s
a very, very difficult field.’
I asked Geoffroy if he found
that having such an array of boutiques in such diverse
countries caused any difficulties with selection of chocolate.
Is there the same taste for chocolate in Japan as there is in France?
‘Of course we think about that, but, honestly, we have a worldwide
range. In the main range we have around 32 different tastes of
chocolate, and there is a good choice for everywhere. In Japan, they
prefer some chocolates over others; in New York, they love ginger, and
that’s not the case in France. In Japan we adapt the packaging because
the Japanese don’t tend to buy big boxes, they prefer little packs, so
we create small boxes for them, but we don’t change the recipes. Except
for Valentine’s Day, which is a busy period for our company in Japan –
it’s like our Christmas in Europe, and we create a new box and around 4
to 5 new recipes every year, adapted for that market. We have found
that if it works for Japan, it works for everywhere else, too.
‘Talking of Christmas, the most successful Christmas for us is in
France, so we choose our recipes with the French market in mind. But in
Hong Kong, for example, they don’t like sugar so much, so if we have a
pâte de fruit in the Christmas box, we don’t include that for the
Hong Kong market. We create a lot of different products and
combinations. We design around 40 different chocolates during the year,
for Christmas, Easter, or Summer – like the coffret (box) called
Île de Beauté, which has the taste of Corsica. Each time,
we create something new; we could just say, ‘Oh, last time we did this
recipe in a black cover, this time let’s do it in red.’ We never do
that; each time it’s something really different.
‘Creating some of our products is very difficult and takes 14 to 16
months to perfect the recipes. One thing that is very
particular to Maison du Chocolat is that when you taste the chocolate
you have three stages: first you have to taste the chocolate, then you
have the flavour, then you have to finish with the chocolate – that’s
very important for us. That profile has to last for the 4 or 5 weeks’
shelf-life of the product.’
How does La Maison du Chocolat
maintain consistent quality over their branches
across the globe?
‘When I arrived there were three challenges: First, to keep the high
quality of flavour – easy when you have 3 shops, difficult when you
have 38, and it will be more difficult when there are 60. Second is
about creation: Robert is in the luxury market, so like a chef, like a
directeur artistique, we need to be inventive: people want creation,
good innovation (not like chocolate and cheese, but nice combinations
with the right taste). Third, client experience: When you meet Robert
you will want to buy a lot, because he welcomes you so passionately.
Everyone in the company is so enthusiastic.
Our strategy is to produce all our products (except
our pastries, because the shelf-life is very short) in our atelier
in Nanterre, and to send them by plane; but we
ship the boxes by boat, because we consider environmental
sustainability. We prefer to make everything in Nanterre because in
production we can control quality. We could send the cocoa to New York
or to Tokyo and that would be easy, but then we use crème
fleurette which has a particular taste, and if the recipe contains mint
we use a very specific mint. To find that cream and that mint in Japan
or the USA may be possible, but they will never have the same taste. So
everything is hand-made in our laboratoire in Paris, and we have a lot
of savoir-faire. That way we can make everything in one place and
ensure the quality and consistency.’
Does the company continue to
look for innovation in
‘We look for ingredients that are familiar to our home market – France.
So for example when our Japanese customers taste our chocolates they
don’t want to have an experience with sake, let’s say, as a flavouring,
they want to be introduced to Bordeaux. When we create products we look
for French ingredients, and we select those that we think are best for
that market. We have a ganache with tea, for example, but we are not
going to create a specific range of ganache with tea just for the
Japanese market. It’s the same thing for Thanksgiving: we have a French
turkey,’ Geoffroy laughs, ‘it’s a turkey, but we adapt it with some
French decoration! We do that because the origin of La Maison du
Chocolat is France. Of course, for the couverture (coating), the cocoa,
we go where we can find the best.’
Recipes tend to evolve over the
years, so how much have things changed in the boutiques since Geoffroy
has been there?
'In the beginning, when Robert started the company, he created the 32
different recipes; today it’s exactly the same range. But 20 or 25
years ago the recipe sometimes contained some alcohol to make the taste
a little stronger; today, that’s not done, so Nicolas worked on the
recipes to achieve the same taste but without alcohol.’
So La Maison du Chocolat is
selling not just a package of fine chocolates but an experience?
‘Exactly: a philosophy, a culture of the company. For example, when you
have a ganache with lemon, the chocolate must be a bit stronger to
balance the lemon. And we explain to the customer that a ganache of
lemon is not simply a ganache of lemon but something very particular.’
Visiting La Maison du Chocolat is part of the experience. The personal
touch is evidently important to the company but is it difficult to
replicate that across both Europe and Asia? ‘We are working on the
customer experience: we have someone in the company who knows the
products very well, and the story of the company, and we organise staff
‘Our Japanese staff have a very different culture, very respectful of
the customer; but we have to have contact with the customer, so we have
to change the culture a little, we have to instil our passion. In Japan
they don’t create a link to the customer, but now we are training our
Japanese staff to interact. I believe our chocolate connects the two
cultures, I think it’s really important to make that connection ...and
it’s easy with chocolate!’
Where does Geoffroy think the
company will go next?
‘The target is to be stronger in Asia, and we would like
to be in China, but this is a very difficult market, and it will take
time. We have to go step-by-step – we could go everywhere but it would
be risky for the company. Our first goal is to be stronger where we are
presently established. We are in New York, and we will take time to be
stronger there, and then look at perhaps Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles,
and San Francisco. Similarly in Japan, here in the UK and in Hong Kong.
We have just signed an agreement for the Middle East, which is very
important to us.
‘We are launching a lot of shops in travel retail locations, such as in
airports. We have seven shops in Paris airports, and one in Hong Kong
airport, and we are looking at Heathrow. People are travelling a lot,
and it’s important to give them the opportunity to buy. Because of the
positioning of the brand we have to find the right location, the best
place, and that takes time. For instance in the Middle East, we decided
18 years ago to open our first shop, and we have just found the right
We were bound to end this
interview with this question: What’s your favourite?
‘I would say there are two: the first is a ganache natur called
Caracas, created by Robert 35 years ago, made with Venezuelan
chocolate, and it has a long, long taste; the second is Zagora, a very
small chocolate with mint. Honestly, when you taste that chocolate you
think you are biting into fresh mint!’
“The hotel bar
which some say concocts one of the world’s best Martinis” - New York
There are many great hotels in London. There is a host of memorable
boutique hotels in London. There are several with stylish bars in
London. There is only one Dukes Bar in the whole world.
One finds Dukes Hotel tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet side
street in St James’s. It has the best of addresses, nestled between St
James’s Palace and Piccadilly. It’s a beauty in red brick. It’s an icon
of period architecture, and even a first glimpse will encourage the
visitor to expect something special within; they won’t be disappointed.
The doorman will usher you into a surprisingly small bar. One might
expect a venue with such a reputation to be the size of an aircraft
hanger, a well-appointed aircraft hanger, admittedly. No, Dukes Bar is
bijou, intimate and timeless with dark wood and charcoal-grey
upholstery. The bar is well-stocked but it’s the goods on that unique
trolley that will focus the mind of all serious Martini aficionados.
One takes a seat (best to reserve) and peruses the extensive menu of
classic cocktails, but it would be a gross oversight
This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian
Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James
Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner
of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much
store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny
first drew breath at the stock exchange? Was Dr No inspired by a
dodgy practice in Harley Street?
Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request,
'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken.
That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol!
The aforementioned trolley will park next to your table and it’s a
chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and
frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.
Those glasses are standard for this libation in all its delicious
chilled guises. The distinctive design is said to have developed to
allow the drinker to hold a stem rather than the bowl of the glass,
keeping the beverage at the lowest temperature for the longest time.
The cone is thought to give the optimum surface area to encourage the
maximum bouquet from the spirits and to prevent the ingredients from
separating as the drink rests; and this is a cocktail to be savoured
rather than gulped.
Alessandro mixes several hundred martinis each night so he has a
practised eye and a deft hand. A speciality is that signature ‘Vesper’.
No, dear illiterate reader, that isn’t a reference to the nifty Italian
motor scooter but obliquely to the time of day – it’s Latin for evening
– and absolutely in homage to Vesper Lynd, a character featured in Ian
Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale. The Vesper Martini gained
popularity after the novel's publication, and gave rise to the famous
‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase immortalised in every James Bond film
thereafter. The actual name for the drink, and the recipe, is mentioned
on-screen for the first time in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale.
The Vesper is a heady melange of No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lillet Blanc,
Angostura bitters, and Potocki vodka. This is a Polish vodka, in
keeping with the Iron Curtain-swishing heroes of Fleming’s
alter-universe. The dry vermouth is brewed exclusively for Duke’s by
Sacred Microdistillery on a residential street in Highgate, a north
London neighbourhood. Ian Fleming was evidently a skilled practitioner
of the art of tippling and we are the lucky recipients of both his
dedicated study and the charm of Alessandro Palazzi. (Interview to
Bar opening times:
Monday to Saturday - 2pm to 11pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays - 4pm to 10.30pm
Dukes Hotel & Bar
St. James's Place
London SW1A 1NY
Phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)20 7493 1264
For further information and reservations phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Visit Dukes here
Chef Julian Ward
His restaurant is at JW Steakhouse at The Grosvenor House
Hotel. I posed the logical question: It’s ‘JW Steakhouse’
JW Steakhouse is an authentic American steakhouse. It’s not themed with
swathes of red, white and blue flags, there are no Davy Crockett hats
ahangin’ and one can’t find Southern State car number plates anywhere.
No, this is just, simply, the style of steakhouse that one can truly
find in, say, Manhattan. Julian looks every inch the appropriate chef
for such an establishment.
Chef Julian Ward gives an overview: ‘We have about 130 covers, and 170
with the outside terrace, which is poplar in the summer. It’s informal,
there is a buzz, it’s relaxed, there is a concept of sharing. We do a
special every day, a main, side and dessert, we ring the changes and
this helps to maintain the interest of the staff. I will ask the junior
chefs to come up with ideas for specials or sides. The English
asparagus season is just getting going, and we will be doing specials
with that, perhaps with a hollandaise or prosciutto or with beef
I asked Julian who was the most influential in his young life with
regard to food and eating. Were any of his family involved in catering?
‘My grandmothers on both sides were great cooks. My grandmother in
Trinidad used to have a bakery in Baltimore, and then brought it back
to Trinidad. My father also cooks, so the family were all involved,
especially when catering for weddings and functions. I had always loved
cooking, and I can see the same thing in my sons now: my youngest son
Jaden, aged 6, comes into the kitchen now. I remember at that age
cutting up tomatoes, peeling potatoes, having fun expressing myself on
the plate, and Jaden was the same last night, making dinner, putting
cocktail sticks in the burgers. That kind of finesse in understanding
food is in the blood. That’s the enjoyment of food, and when my two
youngest sons are in the kitchen it’s a beautiful thing to see that
they are driven to food in the same way I am.’
Were there any particular dishes that impressed Julian? ‘My
grandmother’s Macaroni Pie was probably the most memorable dish from my
childhood. She’s passed away now, but my Mum makes it in the same way,
and now my children love her macaroni pie. Mum makes home-made
ice-cream, too, so when the kids want ice-cream they will make it
together, just as I used to with my grandmother. It was never about
just going to the ice-cream van when it came around – it was “You want
ice-cream? OK, we’ll make ice-cream”, and we’d spend two hours churning
it in the pail!’
Was it Julian’s ambition to be a chef? ‘At school I
always wanted to be a chef and if not that, then something in
sports, but I had a great opportunity having a great teacher in Home
Economics and I was lucky, I had that drive to see it through and
finished with an ‘A’ in the subject. Then I had to decide where I went
from there, and my Head of Year teacher was great, he gave me a list of
people to apply to. I wrote to everyone – the Army, all the hotels in
London, small cafés, Claridges, the Dorchester, Simpsons – and
eventually I had an acceptance from the Savoy, so that was the decision
‘So I went straight from school to the Savoy, and
to you, all having that respect!”, and you
say, “Yes, this is where I want to be!”
‘So really this is where life began for me, giving me an understanding
of different cultures and foods – so much more than the cooking shows
on TV. It’s only when you have been in the industry for a few years
that you begin to appreciate what you are involved in. Only after I
left the hotel did I realise what a grounding I had, what an important
stepping-stone. Even today Anton continues to be a mentor to me – I
speak to him at least twice a week, and he had a great influence on my
coming here to Grosvenor House, as his first head-chef position had
been here. I look on him as a culinary father-figure. Anton has always
been looking over my shoulder, wherever I am in the world. He seems
always to have known where I was, what I was doing, and kept his eye on
me. I have phoned him for advice about job moves and when I talked
about coming here he said, “Go for it!” This is a place where I can
grow – there’s so much more I can do and learn, and working with Nigel
Boschetti, the Executive Chef, gives me a balance.
‘I spent four years at the Savoy, and then I went to Germany for a
year, cooking Bavarian food, Thai and Japanese, and worked at the
Mangostin in Munich. It was a great experience to be working away from
home at that age, and I decided that I wanted to go to America, but
knew that at only 20 years old there was no point, as there would be
few opportunities. I had the chance to work for Marco Pierre White at
Quo Vadis, and spent a year there. It was a tough time, and there was a
lot of pressure to retain the Michelin star, which, along with all his
other restaurant interests, took its toll on Marco and the rest of us.
‘I went to several London establishments, opened Sketch, DMD, Plateau,
Pierre Garnier, a boutique hotel outside London, came back to London
and had a great opportunity to open the restaurant at the Royal
Institution. In the meantime I had been to the USA and spent three
years there. I had an idea what to expect, having visited the States on
holiday, but I realised that they are very lucky not to have the same
seasonality as here – produce is available all year round because of
the diversity of climates around the continent. Although when I went to
Aspen, I really felt the difference, because it’s like being in a box.
When supplies came in, that’s what you had, and when it was gone, that
‘I learnt a lot in the US, and I still take note of developments and
new openings whenever I visit family there. I bring that experience to
JW Steakhouse, and so much thought and understanding of what a true
steakhouse is about has gone into the design of JW.
‘Most of the menu had been tested and trialled by Nigel before I
arrived, and we don’t change the core items, like
the steaks and the cheesecake dessert. We use great USDA beef as well
as British, and we do a ‘Steak of the Month’ where I bring my own
influences to bear, plus we do have daily specials and seasonal
changes, of course, such as for Christmas. For our lunchtime menu we
are just bringing on a BLT and a Reubens Sandwich, and a Mississippi
Mud Pie served with a Bourbon ice-cream – maybe not as big as the
cheesecake, but a nice slice!’ Julian laughs again, as that legendary
cheesecake is enough to defeat any but the most dedicated diner and is
quite a generous helping for a couple.
‘I enjoy using my food experiences to enhance the dishes. For the
Kentucky Derby we added a few twists to the Sunday Roast like the Grits
and Bacon, and Collard Greens, to make our American guests feel like
we’re celebrating the Kentucky Derby. It was nice to be able to show
our younger chefs these products for the first time. I think our
guests, of whatever nationality, come here for that ‘American
steakhouse’ experience, and are not intimidated by the style of the
Steak is the key ingredient at JW Steakhouse and they offer something
for every carnivore. ‘The Tomahawk is our signature steak – it’s a
bone-in rib-eye that we cut and prep and age for a further 15 days, in
sizes from 900 to 1400 grams. The ‘wet-aging’ process ensures a very
tender result – you can cut it with a fork. I came to work for the
quality and authenticity that this restaurant offers, and that’s so
important, and I’m learning about consistency as well as the different
cuts of meat, always finding something new to experiment with.’
Does Julian cook when he goes home and what does he enjoy eating? ‘I
have always loved my grandmother’s recipes: oxtail, curry goat. My
grandmother’s from Barbados, my dad from Trinidad, so meals were very
Caribbean based ...but Sunday was for our Sunday Roast. It was the
traditional English meal with all the family sitting down together. At
home, cooking is fun, and I teach my wife and the kids things that they
can cook quickly during the week. It’s about passing on the things that
I have learnt. Some people get so anxious about cooking, but I think if
you break it down into easy stages you can make it fun, as well as
simple and healthy.’
The restaurant is as big as the portions for which it is
famed. JW Steakhouse at Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane is
characterful. Those visiting for lunch will appreciate views over sunny
(if one is lucky) Hyde Park. Night brings a city ambiance of passing
headlights and restaurant low-lights.
It’s difficult to make a vast space seem intimate for dinner but the
designers of JW Steakhouse have achieved this by artful use of dark
wood, tiled floors and blackboards that serve both to decorate and
edify. The high ceiling which could have given the space all the charm
of an aircraft hanger has been used to advantage with impressive shaded
lights making quite a decor statement.
JW Steakhouse has the air of an authentic US steakhouse. The
rich-coloured carpentry, bar and well-spaced tables would not be out of
place in Manhattan, although there the ceiling would likely be lower
and clad in zinc. The menu at JW would be appreciated each side of the
Atlantic and beyond: steak as the main feature but lots of classic
American items as supporting cast.
Seafood is prized in the US and their Atlantic and Pacific coasts
provide the best of both fish and shellfish. Maryland Style Lump Crab
Cake was my choice of starter. This is a traditional dish from a region
famed for its crabs. These cakes are remarkable for their texture –
light and flaky and that is due to the amount of pure crab and merciful
lack of the bready filler that creates a much more dense and heavy
patty. This must surely be a signature starter here.
Americans take their beef seriously. It’s not just about quantity
(although JW caters for dedicated eaters) but quality
We tried one of the smaller cuts and it was striking. The Filet was
cooked to medium rare and was a cliché. You would doubtless have
heard the phrases ‘you could cut it with a spoon’ and ‘as soft as
butter’: well, we conducted a gastronomic experiment and, with very
little effort, cut through this steak with the side of a fork. This
meat needed nothing more than a little sauce (Béarnaise didn’t
mask the natural beef flavour) and a bowl of fries. The adventurous
Brit might also like to try Bourbon Sweet Potato Mash with a
marshmallow crust. This is probably the only spot in London that has
this unique and very sweet side dish.
Vegetarians are not forgotten. I can recommend the JW Chopped Salad
which is a classic preparation of vegetables (in this case a healthy
nine of them), feta cheese for tang, avocado for richness and
then a topping of crispy fried onions, all dressed with a citrus
Another pure vegetarian choice would be Butternut Squash Gnocchi filled
with porcini mushrooms, chicory and toasted hazelnuts. Fish lovers
could order Crispy Skinned Scottish Salmon, Seared Tuna Steak au
Poivre, or Grilled Jumbo Shrimps in garlic butter, which are bound to
So it’s dessert time, although if you ordered those marshmallowy sweet
potatoes you might feel you have eaten dessert with the steak. There is
the ubiquitous Warm Apple Pie but there are some other more adventurous
yet truly American options such as Whoopie Pies with Bailey's Milk
Shake, or Pecan Pie with Honey Bourbon Ice Cream, but a hotel staff
member had mentioned, with a glint in his eye, that we should try the
It’s proclaimed on one of those aforementioned blackboards as ‘The best
Cheesecake this side of the Pond’. If you investigate still further
then you will have the sense that this might be on the large side: ‘You
may not want to share but you should’ gives you the lie of the culinary
land – or just consider it as a warning.
We ordered just one portion of cheesecake which is in
At the end of the evening you will realise that those well-spaced
tables are not just a design feature but a consideration for diners’
comfort. Those folks will want to push chairs back and bless elastic
waistbands, and consider that booking a room for a doze at Grosvenor
House Hotel might have been a good idea.
Grosvenor House Hotel
JW Steakhouse London
86 Park Lane
London W1K 7TL
It’s every inch a limited edition book. In fact there are
a lot of inches, oozing quality, artistry, style and delicious
food. Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian is a coffee-table book that is
truly the size of a small coffee table, but will likely be more
remarked upon than a four-legged piece of pine. This is the stuff of
which cookbook heirlooms are made.
Satwant Singh ‘Sat’ Bains is chef-proprietor of the two Michelin star
‘Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms’ in Nottingham. He won, as so many
fine chefs have, the prestigious Roux Scholarship in 1999 and was also
one of the winners on the BBC show Great British Menu in 2007.
Chef Sat Bains doesn’t come from a family of restaurateurs or food
writers, although you could say that his early career was associated
with the printed word: he had a paper round. But by the age of 21, he
signed up for a course at Derby College. It wasn’t what Sat would
describe as a serious career move, as he says he only picked the
catering course because it had lots of girls on it.
Chef Sat has worked for the best restaurants all over Europe and the
experience has served him well. He became head chef at the Hotel des
Clos in Nottingham, which was rebranded and relaunched as Restaurant
Sat Bains with Rooms in November 2002. It was awarded a Michelin star
in 2003, and a second star was added to that culinary firmament in 2011.
This first edition of Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian
The large pages are a showcase for stunning photography by John
Arandhara-Blackwell. It’s food but it’s also Sat's passion: he is a
real person and a great character; he is easy to warm to and identify
with. The recipes might be a little challenging but if you break them
down into their constituent parts then you can cook remarkable food.
It’s about practice and confidence. Sat presents seasonal produce with
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian offers the enticing opportunity of
being able to order dishes featured in the book at Restaurant Sat Bains
even when they’re not on the restaurant’s current menu – that might
save you the trouble of investing in a Thermomix or a pint and a half
of liquid nitrogen. You can actually taste the food that so
marvellously decorates the pages of this book. I’ll be ordering Mutton,
Onion Textures or perhaps Ham, Eggs, Peas ...or both. And then there is
pud: I would go for Buckthorn with a chaser of Peach, Thyme,
Gingerbread. A few visits are in order, and if Michelin were not
disappointed then I know I won’t be.
I have been a cookbook reviewer for the past six years and I am always
happy to suggest books to suit families, home bakers, those who want
budget meals or a touch of the exotic from time to time. They will
remain the cornerstone of my reviews but it’s refreshing periodically
to have the joy of leafing through an exceptional book that won’t ever
be propped up on the kitchen counter. Yes, it’s unashamedly cheffy and
there is the odd gadget that you might not have in your domestic
kitchen, and a few ingredients that aren’t available at the corner shop.
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian is about inspiration and
innovation but it’s not a dry and technical masterwork. Sat has a great
sense of humour and the contemporary format is engaging. It’s gift
quality and noteworthy, and stands a chance of becoming a gastronomic
collectable ...I certainly won’t be giving my copy away. I might be
getting a more substantial coffee table, though.
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian
Author: Sat Bains
Published by: Face Publications
Dimensions: 360x270x40mm, boxed: 460x290x60mm
This book is only available through Face Publications and at Restaurant
Sat Bains. www.facepublications.com.
London restaurant review: Hummus
Bros – Fun family fare
An invitation to review Hummus Bros! Aren’t they a
tailoring company? Posh morning coats for hire, wedding togs? Perhaps
dinner jackets – it’s a restaurant review site, after all. No, dear
sartorially inclined reader, Hummus Bros are a couple of lads (although
not actually brothers) who have opened three rather unique casual
restaurants with take-away counters.
Well, there are lots of casual eateries strewn across the length and
breadth of London, so what makes Hummus Bros so noteworthy? It’s the
food on offer. No sign of a cool-cabinet stuffed with under-stuffed
iffy sarnies. No aroma of greasy burgery bits in buns, and the food
here is a world away from dubious cheap ethnic lunches.
So what do Hummus Bros sell? Hummus! We have all bought little tubs of
this from our local supermarkets where it’s presented as a delicate
spread, an addition to a summer buffet table rather than any sort of
main event. We just don’t quite know what to do with it but we buy it
because it makes us look cosmopolitan.
This chickpea confection has not, until now, been part of the UK
culinary tradition. Only a few of us have fond memories of the hummus
our grandmothers used to make. But we would have said the same of
Indian food a few years ago.
Hummus Bros presents the eponymous dish as a real meal and although
that’s new to us here, it is very much a part of the Middle Eastern
fashion of eating. It’s a food that ticks all the practical and
epicurean boxes for me. It’s typical comfort food with a creamy texture
and mild flavour. It’s natural and healthy and it’s easy to eat – in
fact so easy that you don’t even need cutlery, although those nice
brothers do provide ecologically sound wooden forks for the overly
Hummus is converted from a snack into a meal by the addition of
flavourful toppings. There are selections of standards that are
advertised on the menu and there are weekly specials to keep the
regulars engaged. For those who want to perk up the paste there are
bottles of garlic and lemon to sprinkle. Mixed vegetable salad,
tabouleh (bulgar wheat with finely chopped red peppers, tomatoes,
cucumbers, coriander, parsley and mint – authentic with lots of herbs),
Greek salad, smoky barbecued aubergine, falafel salad are all offered
as side dishes.
There are two sizes available: a small bowl of topped hummus
constitutes a light lunch, and a regular portion is a dinner for the
seriously peckish. The mushroom topping with caramelised onions is a
sweet vegetarian option for those who want a hearty and flavourful
meal. All bowls of hummus have brown fluffy pitta bread included:
delicious, and acting as your edible scoop.
Committed carnivores will note that Hummus Bros is not a preachy,
worthy, tie-dye, sandal- toting kinda place. The food isn’t about
feeling noble it’s about feeling full, so chunky beef – a seasonal,
slow cooked stew of tender meat – is one of the suggested toppings, and
it’s truly melting. There is also chicken and that, along with
guacamole, is the most popular of garnishes.
I am a collector of cookbooks so a 5,000-year old recipe was bound to
grab my attention. Fava beans with slow-cooked free-range egg is
a popular breakfast dish in Egypt. I had heard about it but here was my
chance to try it. Anything that’s been on the menu for that long has
evidently got something going for it. After one bowl I am hooked. It’s
a must-try signature dish of smooth hummus and rich, soft beans with
slices of tinted eggs, the addition of which turns a sustaining meal
into a feast. I agree it might not sound a stunner, but it will likely
turn you away from those golden arches.
Talking of fast food outlets... nothing wrong with them, the problem
rests with us, the buying public. If we eat those burgers in moderation
then we have nothing to fear. They provide a meal on the trot and we
have all enjoyed them from time to time when those hunger pangs kick in
and a Mcwendyking is all that’s handy. But we want to encourage our
kids to adopt good eating habits, healthy foods that they will be keen
to eat. Hummus Bros could take the place of burger bars and huts of
pizza. Hummus is kid friendly. The texture is appealing to even the
fussiest of toddlers. The standard dish of hummus with a helping of
chickpeas is fun to eat, with no strong seasonings. Tiny fingers will
grab the peas and little hands will dip the pitta. No crusts to chew so
that’s yet another hurdle out of the way. This food isn’t dumbed down
for children but you will find that they will love to eat just the same
dishes as mum and dad; and mum and dad will love that the kids are
eating! Good for most folks with allergies, as well.
Hummus Bros is keen to stress its eco-friendly philosophy but you won’t
become a regular here for that reason. You’ll return for the food.
The Fulham Road isn’t my usual hunting ground, although
it’s well served by public transport and easily accessible, but after
my recent dining experience I may well become a habitué of that
neighbourhood. Penny Black sits at number 212 as a tastefully
understated icon of real British Food, and is unique in several regards.
The name comes from the stamp, or more accurately some prints of that
philatelic classic. It wasn’t a long-lived symbol of Victorian
communication but it was a trail-blazer, and the eponymous restaurant
might well become just that for the culinary scene in this area. Tony
Ho and his two partners have 3 life-times worth of experience in
opening restaurants, so longevity can reasonably be assured.
The facade is in fact quite muted: a vision of charcoal grey and simple
frosted windows. Those windows do hide the interior somewhat, but I
rather favour the anonymity and those windows could become a trade-mark
for future restaurants – well, I can imagine that anything this good is
bound to become a small and classy chain.
There were a couple of tables outside and those were already occupied
by diners enjoying a glass of British fizz chosen from the quite
remarkable wine list, in fact a chunky catalogue offering many
noteworthy wines, almost all by the glass. Tony Ho has a passion for
wine, and that’s proving to be an asset now that he has his own
One enters to find that mysterious interior is in fact contemporary and
welcoming. A small lounge area has become popular for pre-meal drinks,
and for leisurely coffees after what is sure to be a copious and
full-on feed. Hospitality is generous here and one is bound to linger.
Tony explained that they wanted to create a home-from-home for their
guests – the foodie equivalent of the old-fashioned pub for the
drinking fraternity. A place to bring the family for Sunday lunch (soon
to be reviewed here).
The décor is tasteful and unfussy with aubergine and white walls
which sport not only those Penny Blacks but other pop-art prints and a
rather rude Salvador Dali. (Sit your granny under that and she will
never notice, although she will wonder why everyone is smiling at her.)
Crisp white linen reinforces the impression that this is probably going
to be a fine dining restaurant – traditional food but a high-end
I would describe the menu as British, comforting, vibrant and
inspiring. It’s not retro but it is definitely traditional. The
ingredients are fresh and seasonal, and showcase the best from these
shores and inland as well. Favourite and simple dishes, and some
It was a hot evening so a salad was on the cards for this sticky
reviewer. Ham, goat’s cheese and peaches garnished with mixed leaves
was a substantial plateful. The ham was hand carved, moist and
delicious, the cheese tangy and the peaches ripe, sweet and
summery. A flavourful introduction to the high standards of both
presentation and style.
My guest chose Potted Devon shrimps, watercress, and wholemeal toast.
The shrimps had the real taste of the sea. The recipient of this bounty
was born and bred on the coast and he proclaimed this seafood dish to
be as good as his childhood memories of Sunday teatime. A must-try
whenever it’s on the menu.
Toad in the Hole was my main course. This isn’t a dish with which to be
cheffy. Real toads and a batter made with crushed Mongolian
blue wheat flour isn’t the way to go when preparing such a British
standard. The reality at Penny Black was just what you would hope to
find: an individual pud with three well-seasoned and meaty bangers, a
garnish of lightly cooked carrots and broccoli, and gravy on the side.
I would describe this as “right” and that’s just how it should be.
The Beef Wellington here is already a signature dish and it’s easy to
see why. This was a manly meal of tender and pink-tinged meat encased
in flaky pastry. This is the posh face of standard British cuisine. It
is, in my experience, a difficult dish to do well at home and one best
left to the experts. Meat isn’t cheap and you don’t want to ruin
it so come to Penny Black instead. My guest was glowing with replete
satisfaction... but he still had space for dessert.
What could be more comforting than Bread and Butter Pudding? It was a
regular highlight for dinner at grandma’s. It’s an economic
dessert and a comforting stunner. It should be custardy and unctuous
and piping hot; this one ticked all the boxes.
Penny Black will stick longer than the stamp ever did. One can try and
analyse the reasons it will, but it’s probably enough to say that it’s
quite simply everything a good British restaurant should be. It
has already attracted followers who first came out of curiosity, but
who return because the food and the service will be predictably good.
London restaurant review: Penny Black Restaurant
212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London SW10 9PJ
Phone: 0845 838 8998
Visit Penny Black here
Beerhouse - Tower Hill
What can be more iconic than the Tower of London? Its
imposing stones and gilded embellishments still have
wow factor. The building must have filled the local population with awe
when first erected back in the early 1080s. William the Conqueror began
to build a massive tower at the centre of his London home, and down the
centuries successive kings have added to the complex.
So you have spent a day of leisure by the Thames. You have had a guided
tour with a Yeoman. (Not to be missed: each of these gentlemen has had
years of service in the army and has rafts of stories to tell.) You now
need some food. A proper meal. Something hearty, reasonable price, not
too exotic as Martha gets hiccoughs if she eats spice, and Abner likes
a slice of meat that he can recognise.
Bavarian Beerhouse at Tower Hill (there is another branch at Old
Street) opened in May 2010. It’s just 50 metres from Tower Hill
Underground station and built under the railway bridge just to the
right of the station exit. The previous tenants were Pitcher and Piano
but it seems it was time for a change. It’s rumoured that the Bavarian
Beerhouse tripled their predecessor’s revenue within the first month.
The Old Street venue was very much a party place but Tower Hill has
loftier horizons... at least on the ground floor. This is a cool,
contemporary restaurant space with Bavarian accents. There are some of
the traditional benches and rustic touches but the ambiance, at least
during the day and early evening, is of casual but calm dining.
The basement level boasts several adjoining rooms and has an atmosphere
similar to that of the Old Street branch. This is more for the lads’
night out or for blokey gatherings to watch sports and the like. A
stag-night favourite, one would imagine. Those long
benches again and low ceilings and its own bar. The basement is ideal
for private functions.
We, an elderly and sedate couple, were seeking some food rather than a
shot-drinking competition. I loved the food at Old Street and it’s just
as good at Tower Hill. It’s a shame that German food is taken as
something of a joke. These are real and unfussy dishes, and I am
a fan. There are sausages aplenty as one would expect, and pork shanks
to satisfy the most robust of rugby players, but I love Jäger
Schnitzel - pork escalope topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and
served with a mound of thin fries. One needs to come hungry to take
advantage of these large portions.
May has a ‘special’: White Asparagus from Germany (Weisser Deutscher
Spargel aus Deutschland). It’s an annual festival of this unique
vegetable, thicker than the usual green asparagus and with a delicate
flavour. There are various dishes showcasing these creamy white and
chunky spears: a soup, or simply served with sauce and boiled potatoes,
or with Black Forest ham. My companion chose breaded pork escalope
topped with white asparagus and Hollandaise sauce, garnished with fried
potatoes. A substantial plateful which was pronounced a winner.
Too full for a dessert we did succumb to shots. No, we
didn’t down them in one gulp and we only tried one each, as a journey
the length of the District Line beckoned. My guest ordered the
Oktoberfest Pudding Schnapps which was berry-based, sweet and dark –
almost Christmassy. I was taken by the Apple Schnapps (Apfelkorn)
because I reasoned it would constitute one of my 5 a day. This was a
stunner and I could happily have consumed several more had time
allowed. Perhaps I have an excuse for a return visit.
Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill is bound to be popular. It’s evidently
already the preferred staging post for local workers and couples
heading West for evenings out. It’s a light, bright and friendly spot
to enjoy good traditional fare. I wish it continued success.
London Restaurant review: Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill
The Arches, 9 Crutched Friars, London EC3N 2AU
Phone 0844 330 20 05
Visit Bavarian Beerhouse here
Bavarian Beerhouse - Old Street
190 City Road, London EC1V 2QH
Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam
Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
The very title ‘Rose Petal Jam’ evokes shimmering
heat-hazed visions of meadows, trees, clear sky, and perfume wafting on
a warm breeze. One could be anywhere: England on an August afternoon,
perhaps Italy when the world is quiet after lunch. But this book
concerns itself with Poland, and it is enticing.
Rose Petal Jam – Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland allows me
to indulge my twin passions of food and travel. It masterfully charts a
path between cookbook and travelogue, and is an illustration of how
something can grow to be more than the sum of its parts.
Beata Zatorska had penned a cookbook, but wouldn’t it have been lacking
something without those touching family stories? She has written a
charming travel book about her beloved Poland, and food has always been
central to the country, its culture and its heritage. Who could
describe Poland and not mention a few of its celebrated dishes? Beata
has achieved a balance that will enthral the home cook and have those
with itchy feet reaching for the AA Big Road Atlas (now extended
These are not just random Polish recipes. This book is an archive of
Beata’s grandmother’s dishes. She was herself a chef and passed on her
passion for food to her granddaughter. So many of the dishes included
have a story – like the stuffed eggs that Beata’s grandmother served
the anxious youngster on the day of her exams. Those exams allowed
Beata eventually to become a doctor.
The Polish kitchen makes the very best of seasonal produce. There is
nothing exotic here, but this book does present a raft of unique (to us
in the UK, at least) ideas for using fruit, vegetables and meat. There
are no extravagant ingredients. You will likely have everything you
need already in your larder or at your local grocers. It won’t be
necessary to buy ethnic kitchen gadgets imported from Warszawa.
Kisiel – Strawberry Fruit Pudding – is a good example of the style of
practical, simple and economic recipes here. Few ingredients, and not a
costly dish if one uses fruit at its summery best rather than making
this for Boxing Day with southern-hemisphere strawberries.
The British climate allows us to take full advantage of wintery dishes
for a full nine months of the year, so I have already pencilled in
Potato Dumplings to garnish a rich and flavourful Polish Beef Goulash.
This is a little different from the Hungarian version, which is
traditionally more of a soup than a stew. A tablespoon of dill is the
surprise ingredient here.
Pierogi are the Polish equivalent of ravioli and my favourites are
those filled with potatoes and cheese. They are described as Russian
Pierogi but they are ubiquitous at the Polish dinner table ...unless my
Polish friends are really Russians. Serve with melted butter and a
garnish of tangy sour cream or even crème fraîche.
We are becoming more familiar with Polish food in the UK. There are
numerous supermarkets offering Polish delicacies in jar and tin, but we
are finding more cafés and delis with shelves and counters laden
with cakes and pastries and ready-made meals. I have not yet come
across Rose Petal Jam but now I can make my own ...along with a few
bottles of pepper vodka ...and perhaps a dish of sweet Angel Wings
alongside. Buy two copies of this book: keep one on the book shelves as
a travel guide for the food lover, and leave the other, soon to be
butter-smeared, in the kitchen as a well-used cookbook and a reminder
of the reasons you will want to visit Poland.
This is a sumptuous and heart-warming book with stunning photography by
Beata’s husband, Simon Target. So this is a family food memoir that we
are invited to borrow. The memories might not be ours but a trip to
Poland will rectify that.
Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam – Recipes and Stories from a Summer in
Author: Beata Zatorska, Photography by Simon Target
Published by: Tabula Books
Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner
One can search for Italian food in all the famous towns
that boast true Italian or Tuscan culinary heritage: Florence, Siena,
Hawbridge, Pisa, Grosseto. We take advantage of fresh produce,
delicious dressed pasta and desserts fit to ruin any diet. The tourist
soaks up the history of those Italian... but... Hawbridge doesn’t sound
very Italian. Well, it truly is a long way from Italy but it can still
be described as a culinary hub, and in our own very accessible
This transplantation is not due to continental drift. It’s just the home
The experience at the espresso machine obviously inspired Felice. At
fourteen, he embarked on a three-year cookery course at
the Ferdinando Martini Catering College in Montecatini Terme. He worked
in hotel kitchens and ski resorts during his holidays. In 1988 he was
invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Theatre restaurants as a Commis
Chef. Later, Felice became head chef at the Seymour House Hotel in
Chipping Campden and eventually became Chef Manager, remaining there
for over 15 years.
In 2004 Felice and his wife Fiorinda opened their own restaurant.
Fusion opened originally in Alcester; eighteen months later they moved
to a more suitable site and that was the Bird in Hand, Hawbridge,
Stoulton, Worcestershire, where they’ve now settled.
Felice now owns two award-winning restaurants in Worcestershire -
Fusion Brasserie and Fusion Too. His wife and son Daniel work with him,
Fiorinda as front of house manager and Daniel as a chef. Felice is
passionate about local ingredients and works with growers and producers
to promote even the least-adored veggies like the humble sprout. The
menu changes with the seasons so every visit will offer something new.
We were looking forward to good food in a casual and contemporary
restaurant. Contemporary, yes, but Fusion isn’t stark and minimalist.
The walls are painted and unfussy, but the muted maroon and cream were
thoughtful colours that helped to create a cosy ambiance in an open
restaurant space. I was very much taken by the unique salt and pepper
mills on each table. These and other food-related products can be yours
with no need to resort to theft. Fusion has its own shop displaying the
chef’s food products and local crafts.
We had earlier enjoyed a good lunch and arrived less than ravenous, so
settled on what we thought would be moderate-sized dishes. But this
truly was a little bit of Italy and we soon realised that we would go
home stuffed and contented.
We started with breads and dips – Pane casereccio – artisan breads,
served with sun-blush tomato and fusion hummus. This was a considerable
display of the chef’s baking skills as well as a presentation of simple
yet flavourful spreads. Some fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar
wafted us back to a much less comfortable restaurant in southern Italy
many years ago. No, the best Italian restaurants are not necessarily
back in the old country.
My companion was tempted by the prospect of some beef - Filetto al
Piatto. Thin slices of Aberdeen Angus placed on an extremely hot plate
arrived sizzling and in theatrical fashion, aromatic with garlic and
herbs. The chunky chips were indeed just that – chunky, crisp on the
outside with fluffy interior. My guest was delighted with his
meal and pronounced the meat to be tender and full of flavour. A
deceptively simple dish that once again relies on the quality of the
key ingredient. This is a restaurant that has confidence in its
I felt a pasta was in order. Fusion is, after all, an Italian
restaurant. Just a modest bowl of oil- and garlic-dressed pasta with
some sweet sprouting greens was what I expected and that’s what I got.
Well, not a modest bowl – remember, this is transplanted Italy. The
pasta was cooked, as one would expect, to perfection – al dente. Oil,
but just enough, chilli sufficient to create a glow, and garlic just
for pure rich flavour. A classic dish and enough to defeat a rugby
Fiorinda tempted us with a little taste of dessert. Six little culinary
masterpieces arrived and proved the rule that states that however full
one is there is always a little nook available for something sweet. We
nibbled sponge pudding, savoured sorbet, treated ourselves to just
another bite of tiramisu... The list seemed endless but we enjoyed
those sweets so much that we were glad it was.
We had intended an early night but in true Italian fashion the conversation
Some restaurants are good, there are a few that are
noteworthy, there are others that have memorable food and more that
have striking decor but it’s rare to find a restaurant that can boast a
brace of exceptional attributes. La Porte des Indes is that almost
unique establishment, having both gorgeous food and stunning
surroundings. After just one year of business the restaurant was
nominated for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ by Carlton London Restaurant
Awards and was awarded ‘Best Indian’ and ‘Best UK’ Restaurant by the
Good Curry Guide.
But why “La Porte des Indes”? Yes, you are quite right, dear reader, it
is French. You might know of The Gateway to India which is a monumental
arch in Mumbai, and La Porte des Indes is French for very much the same
thing. The restaurant presents dishes from many regions of India and
draws on the culinary heritage of French India in particular.
The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in
three states of South India. It is also known as The French Riviera of
the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est) and was considered as part of
France from 1814 till 1954, the date at which it joined the rest of the
by now independent India. The French connection is still evident in
accent, food and architecture.
I was expecting something a bit special. I had done my homework and was
struck by the fact that nobody
that I had talked to had anything other than high
praise for this establishment. La Porte des Indes remains as an
example, in my opinion, of how to get it right. It’s not the cheapest
food around but it’s delicious, well presented and the ambiance is
Just a few minutes from Marble Arch station, La Porte des Indes
occupies a corner plot at a quiet intersection. It’s something of a
Tardis of a building having around 350 covers. Although looking smart
and like a French Cafe from the outside, the inside opens to the most
amazing scene. It’s a two storey former Edwardian ballroom. The ground
floor balcony restaurant opens onto a lower level with a 40-foot
waterfall and a sweeping marble staircase for good measure. Palms add
to the exotic décor which is strikingly Indian-colonial but it
is tasteful rather than kitsch. One’s eye is caught by a painting here,
a wood carving there, a Mogul mural or two, and a glass-domed roof.
Panelled walls and ornamental coving remind us of days when the British
building industry offered an alternative to mediocrity and stippled,
The Jungle Bar on the lower floor is well worth a visit. It has a
tradition of peanut shell-throwing started by some of its celeb
patrons. It has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere with a hunting theme
incorporating tiger-skin rugs and animal paintings recalling the days
when one would travel the Empire to shoot anything with fur or
feathers. There is a good selection of exotic cocktails here to start
your evening. Rain Forest is a non-alcoholic cocktail of freshly
squeezed apple juice, orange juice and root ginger. Refreshing with a
definite touch of the Orient.
La Porte des Indes has a menu that is out of the ordinary. Yes, there
is Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Biryani but take advantage of
your visit and try some less familiar fare. There are dishes here that
you won’t find anywhere else. Head Chef Mehernosh Mody and a battery of
other chefs execute regional specialities with flair. The presentation
of the food is nothing short of magnificent.
Large King Scallops in a Saffron Sauce are delicate and succulent. My
guest and I mopped the fragrant yellow juices with onion and garlic
naan. Roasted Chilli Seekh Kebab offered flavourful heat which was
tempered by Chard Pakoras and Paneer Kebabs. All were served with
chutneys designed to enhance the aromatic qualities of each starter.
The Roast Black Cod at La Porte des Indes is as good as you’ll find
anywhere. It’s marinated in fennel, chilli, mustard, honey, tamarind
and vinegar (an indication of a touch of Portuguese influence perhaps).
It’s wrapped in banana leaf before being flame-grilled giving an end
result which is meltingly moist.
Duck isn’t often seen on Indian restaurant menus but here it is at La
Porte des Indes, giving a nod to its French connection. Magret de
Canard Pulivaar are well-flavoured perfect-pink duck breast fillets
served with a tamarind sauce. It’s said to be unique to the Creole
community of Pondicherry so this will likely be your only chance to try
this dish outside India.
Lotus Root Jaipuri is crunchy and addictive and should be sold by the
bagful in Harrods’ food hall. Rougail d’Aubergine is another house
speciality. Smoked and crushed aubergine, chilli, ginger and fresh lime
combine to make a side dish that doesn’t have searing heat but is
nevertheless robust enough to work with the tamarind sauce coating the
Perhaps my favourite dish of the evening was Poulet Rouge. It’s one of
La Porte des Indes’ signature dishes and is moreish in the extreme.
Chicken is marinated in spices, grilled, shredded and presented in a
creamy and rich sauce. It isn’t a hot and fiery dish so it’s just right
as an introduction to the milder but nonetheless authentic face of
Desserts at Indian restaurants so often disappoint. La Porte des Indes,
however, offers a Pistachio and Rose Kulfi which is to die for. It’s
perfumed and exotic and perfectly matches this palace of a restaurant.
They have a good selection of sorbets as well; Rose and Lychee, Indian
Tamarind, Pomegranate and Imperial Passion Fruit, but they also do a
surprisingly good chocolate mousse served in a folded-leaf cup. The
mousse might hail from France but the presentation is pure subcontinent.
La Porte des Indes is like no other Asian restaurant you might visit. I
am very much taken with its food and exotic atmosphere. I can think of
nowhere better to spend a cold London night than basking in the colour
and warm vibrancy of the long-gone raj. I’ll be back for another
evening... or perhaps Sunday Brunch... or maybe a lunch.
London restaurant review: La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
TEL: +44 20 7224 0055
review: European Festival Food
This is a book that you’ll find on the shelf in the
cooking section of any good bookshop. You’ll flick though
the pages. Your shopping bag will then be placed neatly on the floor
between your feet. Next a glance around for one of those squidgy sofas
to rest for just a short while as you browse. You might be lucky enough
to have found a bookshop with a coffee shop. A wander through even just
a few pages and you’ll likely be addicted. I assure you, dear reader,
that if you are in any way a consummate foodie or a serious cookbook
collector then you will want to own this book.
Be warned, this is not a glossy coffee-table tome full of appealing
shots of delicious food. No moody or romantic stills of mist-enveloped
valleys nor toothless natives in national costume doing something
ethnic with a sheep’s bladder. This is cover-to-cover writing of the
Yes, European Festival Food is a cookbook, but Elisabeth Luard has
worked her usual magic. Winner of the Glenfiddich Award for Best
Cookery Writer and Winner of the Glenfiddich Trophy, she has long been
respected for attention to detail but also for her style. This is
literature, with food as its vehicle. It’s not a dry and worthy
textbook but a thoroughly accessible good read. A book for bedtime as
well as the kitchen.
Elisabeth is well placed to write of the food of Europe. She has lived
in a lot of it, and has learnt to cook traditional dishes in the
kitchens where those dishes have always always been cooked, from the
(mostly) women who have always cooked them. This book is a veritable
archive of culinary history but it’s also a social history describing
festivals that are less often celebrated.
The pages are awash with charming stories and legends that help to put
the foods into context. Christmas Eve offers Mince Pies if you are in
England. Records of these go back to the 16th century so it’s likely
they existed before that date. The mincemeat really did contain meat in
those days, but now only suet remains to remind us of the original
European Festival Food does not only catalogue religious feast days but
also other annual celebrations. The Glorious Twelfth is noted
throughout Britain as not only my father’s birthday but the first day
of the grouse season. No surprise that there is a recipe here for the
aforementioned bird, roasted, and with its accompanying bread sauce and
fried breadcrumbs. There is a cod festival in Lofoten, an island off
the coast of Norway, and pig-killing festivals seem to be popular in
every country that ever owned a pig. Whenever man has celebrated or
commemorated an event then food has played a major part.
This is another terrific book from Grub Street, one of my favourite
publishers. It’s a gem of a volume that offers seasonal recipes which
have stood the test of time. They are a marvellous collection,
presenting dishes from the cold wind-swept north of Europe with its
Viking heritage to the soft warmth of the south with its more exotic
influences. A masterwork.
Cookbook review: European Festival Food
Author: Elisabeth Luard
Published by: Grub Street
review: No-Oil Cooking
There are many of us now who are overweight and an
increasing number who are clinically obese. In some European countries that figure has
increased (no pun intended) to 25% of the population. That is a
We have more overweight people and the weight by which they are “over”
has also increased. The reasons for the rise in weight-related disease
are simple: modern lifestyle and eating habits. We drive more and walk
less. Our jobs often require little movement apart from fingers
sprinting across computer keys. We don’t think we have time to cook
healthy foods and we choose more and more fatty, pre-prepared foods or
Sanjeev Kapoor presents us with recipes that are both oil-free (that is
to say no added oil) and are still delicious and satisfying. He is
India’s most celebrated chef and food industry guru. Sanjeev is
increasingly recognised by a discerning overseas audience as an
authority on Indian food and his books and TV series Khana Khazana have
long been popular. No-Oil Cooking has his touch of exotica and common
sense which will be appealing to every nationality of reader.
Cooking with no added oil isn’t difficult... but it’s important to have
recipes that have that taste and mouth-feel that at the end of the meal
give us the sensation of having had “proper” food. It’s no good eating
an oil-free meal and then tucking into a huge box of chocolates because
you feel empty.
The chapters cover everything from drinks to main courses to sweets and
everything in between. The recipes listed don’t read like worthy, noble
and boring healthfood dishes. This is tasty food that just happens to
be good for you. The whole family will enjoy these offerings so you
won’t be confronted with the perennial problem of cooking one meal for
the health-conscious folk and a different one for those who just live
to eat. One meal fits all!
Garlic-Flavoured Rasam is my choice from the Beverages, Soups and
Salads chapter. This is comfort food that is, thankfully, good for you.
It is easy to prepare and that preparation only takes 10 minutes. The
cooking time is just 30 minutes, without constant attention.
Corn Bhel couldn’t be simpler and is the ultimate healthy snack.
Sanjeev uses Green Coriander Chutney and Date and Tamarind Chutney for
this delight and he gives both recipes so you’ll have no excuse not to
Vegetable Seekh Kebabs would be a great addition to any barbeque. They
would be welcomed by vegetarians who are so often overlooked on these
occasions but it’s also no-guilt munching for those who are looking for
a healthy option. These are so tempting that you’ll need to make enough
for the meat eaters as well.
No-Oil Cooking offers fast, no-fuss food that is full of flavour,
colour and texture. Your body will thank you and so will your family.
Cookbook review: No-Oil Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs 295
review: La Porte des Indes
Some of you, my dear readers, might be able to translate
that title with ease (education is a marvellous
thing). The Gateway to the Indies is my stab at it but why is it a
French title for a book of Indian food? The subtitle is The legacy of
France in Indian regional cuisine and, yes, there is indeed a region of
India that was a little piece of France ...till 1954.
I had already some idea about Pondicherry as my father had spent time
there in the 1940s (his friend, Taffy, being “deported” to India for
having a liaison with the daughter of a civil servant) but I had no
idea that the French food connection had lasted so long. It’s subtle
There are in fact deux Portes des Indes restaurants, one in London and
the other in Brussels, where it originated. Not probably the city with
the closest of Indian connections but evidently one which was open to
new culinary trends. La Porte des Indes is part of the Blue Elephant
empire and has the same sumptuous decor, that has become the trademark
of both restaurants.
The vibrant driving forces behind both the restaurant and the cookbook
are Mehernosh and Sherin Mody. The book has also benefited from the
skills of food and travel writer John Hellon and we have the gorgeous
results of their collaboration. It’s contemporary, bright and full of
amazing close-up shots by celebrated photographer Tony le Duc.
But the food is the star. There are familiar dishes but even these have
been given the La Porte twist. I hadn’t expected to see Chicken Tikka
Masala, which has become a cliché of Anglicised Indianish food.
This dish, however, is something a bit smart and has a sauce of
turmeric yellow. A cut above the original.
A signature dish of La Porte des Indes is Poulet Rouge (Chicken in a
Creamy Red Sauce) but it is easy for a home cook to make this dish.
It’s rich and stunning and just what you’ll cook if you want to impress
on a budget. Chicken thighs are economic and the other ingredients are
readily available in your local supermarket.
Duck is one of those archetypical French ingredients so here we have
Magret de Canard Pulivaar (Roasted Duck Breasts in a Spicy Tamarind
Sauce). The meat might make you think of romantic bistro meals in Paris
but the marinade and sauce are all Indian. Madame Lourdes Swamy of
Pondicherry is the originator of this recipe.
This is a restaurant cookbook so it has a chapter devoted to cocktails,
and just the names will transport you to the subcontinent. Monsoon
(Midori, melon vodka and champagne), Tamarind Martini (gin, limoncello
and tamarind puree) are just a couple and there are also some lovely
Indian restaurant desserts are often a disappointing bunch but La Porte
des Indes Cookbook has some unique and classy ones. Payasam (green
lentils and tender coconut pudding) is a stunner but it would demand a
visit to an Asian supermarket. Chocolate and Chikki Kulfi is Belgian
Chocolate and Praline Ice Cream and a true liaison of two of the
world’s classic culinary cultures.
La Porte des Indes Cookbook is something a bit special. It’s modern and
full of innovation but it cherishes its French/Indian roots which have
combined to create a cuisine with touches of both. A joy to read and to
Cookbook review: La Porte des Indes Cookbook
Authors: Mehernosh Mody, Sherin Mody and John Hellon
Published by: Pavilion
review: Dal and Kadhi
Sanjeev Kapoor is the Indian chef with the golden touch.
His acclaimed TV series, Khana Khazana, has
enjoyed a 15-year run, has won the Indian Television Academy “Best
Cookery Show” and the “Indian Telly” awards year after year, such is
the popularity of this man.
Dal and Kadhi presents regional comfort food at its best and the book
is as delightful as the food. Each recipe is accompanied by a
photograph by Bharat Bhirangi who has a talent for showing these dishes
in a mouth-watering fashion. You’ll be planning your next meal before
you leave the bookshop.
What could be better than a flavourful dal or kadhi to eat with rice or
roti? Your meal might be humble or you could add a dal to an array of
other dishes to make a sumptuous and satisfying spread. They range in
texture from the rich and substantial to the light and refreshing to
suit the season or the occasion. These are the dishes that people miss
when they leave home and crave when they are in far-off countries.
This book offers 45 recipes that you will want to add to your culinary
repertoire no matter what your home region. They are a broad-based
selection of recipes so there is sure to be something to please every
palate. Dal Makhni is perhaps the most celebrated both in India and
overseas where it has become a restaurant speciality, although seldom
cooked in an authentic style. Maharashtrian Kadhi is a traditional dish
and represents India’s culinary diversity in a most delicious way.
All these dals and kadhis are tempting but as with life in general
there are firsts among equals and I have picked a few that are
particularly tempting. Rajasthani Baati ki Dal is made with split green
gram (dhuli moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) and the resulting
dal is served with traditional baked balls of dough.
Bhindi ni Kadhi is bound to be on my list as I love ladies’ fingers
(bhinda/ bhindi). This is a soupy combination of yogurt and gram flour
(besan) flavoured with spices. The vegetables remain a little crisp
giving the kadhi an interesting texture.
Dal Hari Bhari contains spinach and fenugreek leaves, onions and
spices, and Sanjeev uses it to tempt those who would not normally enjoy
green vegetables. This would be an easy meal when served just with rice.
Dal and Kadhi is an Aladdin’s cave of ideas for quick, tasty and
healthy dishes. One expects lovely books from Sanjeev Kapoor and this
is another in that collection that never disappoints. You don’t have to
spend a lot of money to enjoy good food. This book will show you the
way in fine flavourful fashion.
Cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
review: The Blue Elephant
This must surely be the most celebrated of Thai restaurant
empires. It would be diminishing the class and
the quality of the group to describe them as a chain. This is far from
the KF Mac Hut of the Thai food world – think sumptuous and exotic and
The Blue Elephant has a fine reputation wherever you might find it. and
the cookbook now allows its followers to replicate its dishes in their
home kitchens. Those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Blue
Elephant will soon appreciate the attraction.
Thai food in general has gained worldwide popularity over the past
decade. More of us have the opportunity to travel to Thailand and also
to visit Thai restaurants in our home countries, and we want to try
those dishes for ourselves. The Blue Elephant Cookbook will offer you a
marvelous array of recipes that represent the very essence of Thai food
with all its vibrant flavours.
Blue Elephant recipes are authentic, attractive and tempting. They are
not over-taxing for the competent home cook, and the ingredients are
all availiable either from your favourite supermarket’s Asian food
aisle, from a specialist Thai food store or by mail order via the
internet. You’ll not only learn how to make soups, starters, salads,
main dishes and desserts but also curry pastes and sauces.
Thai Fish Cakes will be instantly recognised by travellers returning
from sun-kissed Thai resorts. They are delicately soft with a crunch
supplied by a garnish of peanuts and refreshing lettuce. Serve this
with Cucumber Sauce (recipe in this book) and you have a delicious
snack or light lunch, or combine with other dishes as part of a Thai
Stir-Fried Seafood with Garlic and Peppercorns (Seafood Krathiam Prik
Thai) is elegant and flavourful and would be an ideal “special” meal.
OK, the prawns, scallops and crab are not cheap but this recipe makes
the best of that seafood, and the finished result is stunning. The base
is Blue Elephant Special Sauce which you can easily make and freeze for
Tuk’s Duck Salad (Laab Ped) is a dish devised by the aforementioned Tuk
who is a chef at the Blue Elephant in London. The duck is grilled and
flavoured with a spice paste and garnished with fried shallots,
chillies, fresh coriander and salad. A simple dish to prepare but it
has great impact.
The Blue Elephant Cookbook is a jewel of a volume and definitely among
my favourite Thai cookbooks. It will be snapped up by lovers of classic
Thai food as well as those who are regular diners at The Blue Elephant
restaurants. A lovely book.
Cookbook review: The Blue Elephant Cookbook
Author: Chefs of Blue Elephant.
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
Cookbook review: Royal
This is a collaboration between two of India’s finest sons
of the culinary arts. If you have not heard of Sanjeev Kapoor (Sanjeev
is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting Khana
Khazana on India’s Zee TV) then
you must have been living under a rock with no access either to
cookbooks or the internet, for surely you would have read my previous
review of his work! Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is an expert on Hyderabadi
cuisine, and Sanjeev's respected friend and colleague.
But what is Hyderabadi cooking? It will be a mystery to most
Westerners, who are very unlikely to have encountered it, and it is
revered by Indians, who might also have trouble tracking down authentic
dishes. It’s truly courtly, special and grand but at least this volume
makes those dishes more accessible to the home cook... and what home
cooking that would be!
Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is an elegantly presented volume with stylish
photography by Bharat Bhirangi illustrating every recipe. The book has
a modern feel with the food being the rich focus in a minimalist
setting. Although the ingredients look a lengthy list for some dishes,
it’s mostly spices that are commonly found in the domestic larder.
Apart from being a striking cookbook, Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is also
something of an archive for a style of food preparation that is
disappearing. The authors have been lucky enough to recruit the
indispensible aid of two national culinary treasures who have lifetimes
of expertise. Begum Mumtaz Khan is considered a living legend and is a
member of the Jagirdhar families of the last Nizam, and has actually
tasted the food from the Royal kitchens. She has conducted cooking
classes and hosted Hyderabadi food festivals.
Ustad Habib Pasha has a passion for Hyderabadi food and a wealth of
experience. He has worked in Hyderabad’s most famous restaurants and
has been generous to our authors with his knowledge, revealing the
secrets of aromatic blends of herbs that help to give this cuisine its
There are so many striking recipes to discover here but I have a few
favourites. Murtabuk is a layered stack of chapattis with a filling of
minced chicken, eggs and spices and is served in wedges as you would a
savoury birthday cake. It was Begum Mumtaz Khan who taught the authors
how to cook this to perfection.
Thikri Ki Dal is a delicious and comforting dal which contains amongst
the spices, onions and ghee... 2 three-inch pieces of earthenware! The
thikri are heated till red hot and then plunged into the food. They are
removed before serving to avoid damage to either guest or crockery.
This method is said to impart a distinctive and earthy flavour. Truly
Double Ka Meetha is a sweet and syrupy dessert that would be a fitting
end to a Royal Hyderabadi meal. It’s a confection of bread, nuts, cream
and saffron and simple to make. I wouldn’t reserve this for just
Hyderabadi meals, this would be welcomed anytime by those with a sweet
The title suggests something sumptuous and rich and that is just what
this food is all about. Royal Hyderabadi Cooking presents recipes that
are regal and festive but accessible to the home cook. Amazing!
Cookbook review: Royal Hyderabadi Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor and Harpal Singh Sokhi
Published by: Popular Prakashan
review: Low Calorie
You should expect something special when you are presented
with a Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook. Low Calorie
Vegetarian really is something a bit different and this could start an
exotic diet trend.
Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting
Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV. It’s been airing since 1993 and its
600th episode is now just a memory. He has won several awards such as
the Best Executive Chef of India Award and the Mercury Gold Award at
Geneva, which has earned this man international as well as home-grown
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is just one of many cookbooks from this
charming, handsome and charismatic man. Each book is welcomed by an
adoring audience who have been impressed by the author’s skill on the
small screen. It’s said that Sanjeev never repeats a recipe and will
not need to for several decades; such is his volume of work.
Low calorie carnivorous and low calorie vegetarian recipes have often
seemed to fall into one of two categories: boring or boring with
vegetables. But Sanjeev’s book will strike the right chord with many
readers who want a low calorie diet that offers food with taste and
texture. If you don’t enjoy the food that does you good then you will
fall back into the same old unhealthy eating habits which got you into
your chubby mess to start with.
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is about flavour, and Sanjeev has a
collection of recipes that will tempt even those with no health or
weight issues. This is good food with intriguing combinations of spices
and fresh ingredients. There are Nutrition Information charts with each
recipe to enable the home cook to make the best choices to achieve a
The recipes are broad-based and you don’t have to be a lover of
traditional Indian food to appreciate the dishes. Sanjeev has French
onion soup but his version raises the bar with French Onion and Garlic
Soup. Spicy Pineapple Boat is light and refreshing but with a little
kick from green chillies. For those who want a cool and summery salad
then Minted Mushrooms should fit the bill. This is a dish of mushrooms,
tomato, cucumber, mint leaves and a dressing of low fat yogurt, and the
addition of lemon juice provides a tang.
However delicious the European-inspired dishes might be, most of us
will be looking for that unmistakable taste of the subcontinent and
it’s here in glorious profusion. Spinach and Cabbage Parantha is a
flatbread with aromatic cardamom and spicy red chilli powder to
complement the vegetables incorporated into the dough.
Desserts are not forgotten. Kesari Phirni is a lovely dessert of
Pistachio nuts perfumed with saffron and cardamom. The sweetness comes
from a sugar substitute such as Equal or Splenda so you can indulge
with no guilt.
Do I have a favourite recipe? Well, you know I do and its Mushroom Dum
Biryani. This is a rice dish made with the traditional method but have
no fear, it’s not difficult and the results will impress both Western
and Asian friends. I’ll make this dish often, not because I have a low
calorie diet (although perhaps I should) but because it’s delicious and
A Western cook will have no problem finding the spices in local
supermarkets or from one of the many online Asian stores. The cooking
techniques are not taxing and you don’t have to take a trip to Mumbai
to kit out your new Asian kitchen. This is a fascinating book with
recipes that will encourage you to make, eat and enjoy flavourful and
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is the first of Sanjeev Kapoor's books
that I have had the pleasure to review, and there are more to follow.
This volume is bound to be a success with readers from every continent.
Cookbook review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00, £11.69, $25.00US