all about food and a bit of travel, lots of cookbook, restaurant and
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Contact Chrissie Walker
& Blacks 70% Dark Chocolate for Easter
It’s that time again. It seems to come around quicker and
quicker. These days Easter eggs are garnishing shop
shelves shortly after
Boxing Day. We have a great choice and the kids love them. Bright
packaging, novelty-filled, dubious chocolate that has more to do with
refined sugar than cocoa bean. But how about those with more
Real chocolate lovers are not forgotten, by Green & Blacks at
least. They present a delicious 70% dark chocolate egg weighing165g.
The thick shell offers that telling snap that the connoisseur will
expect. The packaging is in dark-blush with gold detail. It states that
this product is Best Before July – I laughed! This is likely to be
consumed in little shards long before hot cross buns disappear from the
A gift-quality egg for anyone who appreciates the delicious ethical
Learn more about Green & Blacks products here
Tamales at home –
it’s easier than you think
You will only find real tamales in authentic Mexican
restaurants. Many fast-food establishments offer creditable
wraps but a tamale has a flavour that will take one back to old Mexico
…or at least Texas.
For me it’s more about the dough than the salsa or the
filling. It’s worth seeking out Masa flour as, quite honestly,
there is no substitute. I have found an online grocer that specialises
in all things Mexican so one can have all the fixin’s delivered.
The prospect of making these savoury and airy morsels is
more fear-inducing than actually preparing them. The process
is simple and easily mastered but the end result is,
although I say it myself, rather impressive.
Traditionally they are stuffed with a spicy filling but here is a way
of presenting them as an un-filled side dish. If you
want to go the traditional route then use less masa dough and put the
filling down the middle of the tamale so that the
filling is surrounded by the dough when the tamale is
rolled. The cooking method is the same in each case.
3 cups approx.
|corn Masa flour
vegetable or chicken stock
In a large mixing bowl add the Masa Flour, salt, pepper, cumin, chilli,
paprika and baking powder. Add the stock and mix well.
Melt the lard in a bowl in the microwave set on low. Mix in to the
flour and spice mixture for several minutes to incorporate air into the
batter, which will give a light finish to the tamale. Leave the covered
mixture to cool.
Put your corn husks in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Leave
them to soften for about half an hour.
Place one of the corn husks on a flat surface. Spread a couple of
tablespoons of masa dough over the husk to within 1 inch of the edges,
but leave extra space at the pointed end. Bring the sides of the husk
up to encase the dough, and fold over the pointed end to make an
open-ended packet. Secure with kitchen string and place in a steamer
with the folded end down and steam for 90 minutes.
Serve as part of a Mexican meal, or as a side dish with other
casseroles and stews.
Visit Mexgrocer here
Click here to find some delicious recipes using
The East India Company products
I met young and enthusiastic
musicians Jonathan Sells and Meret Lüthi in Bern, and they told me
about their upcoming tour in March. It's a collaboration between Bern
and London, between their two baroque ensembles, 'Les Passions de
l'Ame' and 'Solomon's Knot baroque collective'. Details of the
concerts in Bern, London and Cambridge are below.
Strawberry Hill House –
Former grandeur restored
Strawberry Hill. Even the name conjures visions of
pastoral idylls, perhaps a water-colour of mature trees with the
promise of a gently-flowing river just over that grassy knoll. Well,
the reality isn’t that far from the pastel dream and there is a House
that is at the very centre of the quintessentially English scene.
Strawberry Hill House is commonly known as Strawberry Hill. It’s easily
accessible from Central London by train to Strawberry Hill Station in
West London. It was once owned by the writer, collector and historian
Horace Walpole, the youngest son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir
Robert Walpole. This magnificent castle, house, villa is classically
beautiful and architecturally noteworthy, and might easily have been
lost to the nation had it not been for the determination of local
enthusiasts over a couple of decades, and a healthy injection of cash
from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others.
The completion of the second stage of the award-winning restoration of
this Gothic villa was marked by the
opening to the public, in March 2015, of an additional five private
rooms which are on display for the first time since the 18th century.
It was the culmination of a project that utilised the skills of
craftsmen and women who painstakingly restored or reproduced wallpaper,
paint, hangings and mouldings. The end result of their labours is an
authentic insight into one man’s fancy, one writer’s vision.
The house was transformed into that which we see today, from a much
more modest building. Horace described it as a ‘little gothic castle’
which he opened to visitors – but only four per day and no children at
that time. He likely had a low opinion of humanity in general and once
wrote: ‘Nine-tenths of the people were created so you would want to be
with the other tenth’.
The original building, really just a couple of cottages by
all accounts, was called Chopp’d Straw Hall in 1747. It was one of the
last remaining sites available on the Thames in Twickenham, which was
considered a fashionable out-of-town address at the time. Walpole had a
dream and chose to create his own castle using the architecture of
Gothic cathedrals as his model. Chimney pieces mimic those found at
Hampton Court, fireplaces replicate cathedral altars, and other
features are taken from tombs and monuments. A visit to Strawberry Hill
offers a trip around some of the most renowned Gothic architecture in
Europe, and all in the space of a few rooms. This neo-Gothic
extravaganza started an architectural trend which continued into the
Victorian era. The rooms here are not, at least as yet, over-furnished
and so the visitor has the opportunity to drink in the fabric of the
The house was not only Walpole’s home but his literary inspiration.
It’s said that he woke from a dream and imagined a giant
armoured hand on the staircase near his bedroom and it was this vision
of horror that inspired what is considered to be the first classic
Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto. To strike a
topical note, in Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard
III (1768), Walpole defends King Richard III against the commonly-held
belief that he was responsible for the murder of the Princes in the
Tower. That aforementioned monarch has enjoyed renewed fame as the King
in the Car Park after his body was recently discovered in Leicester.
Strawberry Hill is Britain’s finest example of Georgian Gothic Revival
architecture. The newly restored rooms include Walpole’s private
apartment: his Bedchamber, the Plaid Bedchamber and Dressing Room, the
Breakfast Room and Green Closet, and the Red Bedchamber. Strawberry
Hill is one of the best-documented houses in Britain. Horace Walpole
was a prolific writer and justifiably proud of his home. He left not
only his Description of Strawberry Hill but constantly mentioned
Strawberry Hill in letters: “...the room where we always live, hung
with a blue and white paper in stripes adorned with festoons, and a
thousand plump chairs, couches and luxurious settees covered with linen
of the same pattern, and with a bow-window commanding the prospect, and
gloomed with limes that shade half each window, already darkened with
painted glass in chiaroscuro, set in deep blue glass.” Now one can see
the described paper and appreciate the stained glass at the windows.
Strawberry Hill is unique and marvellous. The restoration has been
thorough and sympathetic. Rooms have been taken back to their original
with hand-made wallpaper and paint with natural pigments. The rooms
portray both cosy domesticity and extravagant entertaining. The view to
the river is now blocked by 1930s housing, the
tranquillity of the grounds is periodically disturbed by over-flying
planes, but, with a little imagination, we are
transported to a gentler time. Strawberry Hill enchants and charms. “My
buildings, like my writings are of paper, and will blow
away ten years after I am dead” wrote Horace Walpole, The RT Hon. the
Earl of Orford. Both house and literature live on.
Strawberry Hill House
268 Waldegrave Road
Opening times and dates:
Saturday and Sunday 12:00 noon until 16:00
Monday – Wednesday 13:40-16:00
Re-opens 1 March 2015 until 1 November 2015
Tickets: £10.80; concessions £5.40.
Entry includes booklet.
For booking information please visit here
The Three Faces of
You couldn’t make it up! A story that, on the face of it,
sounds quite improbable. The King in the Car Park … indeed a sovereign
in the Social Services Car Park. Richard III, or at least his mortal
remains, were discovered on the site of Greyfriars Friary in Leicester,
where Richard was buried in the friary church. Following the friary's
dissolution in 1538 the tomb was lost and there were rumours that
Richard's bones had been thrown into the River Soar at the nearby Bow
But who was this king? Many a history buff will be able to position him
in the royal family tree perched on a branch adjoining that of his
nephews who, one might recall, became the unfortunate Princes in the
Tower. Richard was elected Protector of these two, one of whom became
King following his father Edward IV's death. But the young Edward V was
never crowned and his reign was cut short. Richard III has always been
suspected of ordering the dirty deed, but others would also have had
much to gain.
Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field which took place on
the morning of 22 August 1485 and was against Henry Tudor, the future
Henry VII. The death of Edward IV, the disappearance of the princes in
the Tower, and the shady succession of Richard III left Henry Tudor’s
slight claim to England's throne worth fighting for. There are many
stories of the battle including the suggestion that Richard lost his
horse. ‘A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!’ are famous lines
from Shakespeare’s play.
The loss of his mount cost Richard both his kingdom and his life. The
bones discovered hundreds of years later showed evidence of the blows
struck which were described by chroniclers of the time. It seems he was
killed by several sword cuts to the skull.
After the battle Richard’s body was brought back into Leicester across
the back of a horse. His body was
displayed for a few days, and then buried in the Greyfriars Franciscan
Abbey which stood close to St Martin’s Church, now the Cathedral. The
burial was carried out with little ceremony. And that’s where it
remained for the next 527 years until it was discovered in an
archaeological dig in September 2012.
In August 2012 Leicester City Council, the University of Leicester, and
the Richard III Society began a dig underneath a car park in order to
find King Richard III’s remains and the Greyfriars Church. Five months
later, the University confirmed that a skeleton found at the site was
likely to be Richard III. A call to fame of this monarch is spinal
curvature. It’s well documented and was a very visible clue that the
skeleton could be the lost king. The spinal deformity has been
attributed to Scoliosis which is a back condition that causes the spine
to curve to the left or right. Most cases develop in children between
the ages of 9 and 14. Richard’s condition was severe enough to be
noticeable and would likely have made his right shoulder higher than
the left. There was, however, no indication of the Shakespearian
withered arm that always gives Richard III a rather sneaking and
cringing appearance in classic plays.
After rigorous scientific examination, the University announced in
February 2013 that the skeleton found was indeed Richard III. Richard’s
remains will be laid in a lead ossuary (a receptacle for the bones of
the dead) which will be placed in a coffin made from English oak. The
coffin will be lowered into a brick-lined vault below the floor of the
Cathedral. He will be reinterred with a lot more dignity than his first
burial. His tomb has been designed by
the architects van Heningen and Haward who are also responsible for
other works at the Cathedral. The tomb is set between the newly created
Chapel of Christ the King at the east end of the Cathedral and the
sanctuary (the most holy place), under the tower.
Of course one can visit the Cathedral and it’s beautiful but you won’t
learn much there about the king who lies beneath. There is a new
eponymous exhibition centre just a few steps away and it’s dedicated to
Richard, his life, his death and unearthing. The King Richard III:
Dynasty, Death and Discovery Centre illustrates every facet of the
story using the latest technology. This isn’t dull and dusty history –
the animations introduce the visitor to Richard and the life of the
period, the Wars of the Roses and power struggles.
The Discovery section guides the visitor along the amazing path of
archaeology partnered with science and analysis which lead to the
discovery and eventual identification of the bones of Richard III. We
can see a model of his skeleton as well as facial reconstruction,
giving visitors the chance to see the man behind the legends. There are
various exhibits including a suit of armour, artefacts recovered from
the burial site, and replicas of historic objects connected to King
Leicester might not be the first destination that springs to mind when
thinking about away-days or touring but the discovery of Richard III
has created great interest and Leicester has risen to the task of
presenting the fallen king in an accessible and absorbing fashion.
Leicester is closer to London than one might think and both the centre
and the cathedral are near the station. This is an attraction that will
thrill the kids and engage history lovers. Well worth a visit.
King Richard III: Dynasty, Death and Discovery
4A St. Martins
Monday to Friday and Sunday: 10am - 4pm
Saturday and Bank Holidays: 10am - 5pm
Adult (16+ Years) £7.95
Child (5 -15 Years) £4.75
Family (2 adults and 2 children) £21.50
Senior Citizen, Student £7.00
Phone: 0300 300 0900
Visit the centre here
Flat Iron – Beak Street
The second Flat Iron opened last July. This could be the
start of something big, or at least lots of little somethings if the
size of the Beak Street branch is anything to go by.
Flat Iron fits perfectly into its environment. The area has long been
trendy, bohemian and edgy. Carnaby Street is just
around the corner and that was a magnet in the Sixties for anyone with
an eye for tie-dye or a passion for perfumed joss sticks. Those days
have gone and now the area boasts fashionable boutiques and some very
Flat Iron is a bijou restaurant set over three floors. This is one of
the few restaurants in London where one might need to queue. Once
invited in there is still the prospect of further waiting but at least
that time could be spent in the cosy bar.
The restaurant walls are bare brick. The lights are low and the lamps
over the tables look as if they might have enjoyed a previous
incarnation in Battersea Power Station, but it’s rumoured that they
once graced the ceiling of Smithfield Meat Market. This is tastefully
urban with hints of rustic. The menu is short and writ large on brown
paper and pinned to the wall. The tables are communal benches and the
wine glasses are the same as the water tumblers. There is a wine list
and that offers wine by the glass, carafe and bottle, and these are all
at very reasonable prices. The popcorn arrives unbidden in a large
Charlie Carroll is the founder and he evidently knows meat. He is bold
enough to have created a menu with just one main item. That’s the
eponymous Flat Iron steak that is underrated and seldom seen in other
restaurants. Flat iron steak is the American name for the cut known as
Butlers' Steak in the UK, although I have never some across that on my
local butcher’s slab. This cut of steak is from the shoulder blade of a
cow. It’s tender, juicy and flavourful.
The basic order of flat iron steak and the house salad costs only a
crisp tenner. There are few meals in the
capital that contain any discernible amount of beef that can be had for
that price. Not only is the cost low but the quality is high. The steak
is simply presented on a tile chopping board with a fork and a meat
cleaver. This cleaver is a miniature of that used by the butcher and
isn’t necessary cutlery, as the meat is already sliced into bite-size
Apart from the house salad there are several side dishes on offer like
dripping-cooked chips, creamed spinach and market greens, along with
several sauces – peppercorn, a secret house sauce and an outstanding
horseradish cream that will enhance the steak and clear the sinuses. I
guess that makes it a health food!
There is a dessert available. It’s a chocolate and caramel mousse that
is squirted before your very eyes, into a miniature mug. A pot of sea
salt for sprinkling is served alongside. Once again a no-frills item
but it works and was pronounced as moreish by my companion.
Flat Iron is accessible in every way. It might not be the choice for a
romantic night out but it’s perfect for a good-value meal with friends.
I am impressed by the food, friendly service and the concept. I’ll be
back for a steak, chips and a nice bottle of red. The good life.
17 Beak St
London W1F 9RW
Le Menar, Fitzrovia
Head Chef Vernon Samuels has high-end international
credentials covering a good number of ethnic cuisines in some
celebrated restaurants around the world. At Le Menar he paints with a
North African culinary palate. He adapts and teases but never offends.
The restaurant is everything I would want from a North African or
Middle Eastern venue. It’s a comforting melange of earth-tones,
traditional cushions, iconic brass-topped tables, banquettes and low
lights. There are areas appropriate for quick bites, others for social
lingering and private dining. The location is convenient, being just a
short stroll from Goodge Street Underground Station. It’s a restaurant
that seems to be hidden in plain view. It’s just around the corner from
a throng of potential diners who might never know that Le Menar is
warm, welcoming and open for business.
Le Menar is cosy when one snuggles in the Moorish rear part of the
restaurant. It sets the scene for the arrival of beautifully presented
dishes. These all have the authentic flavours of the Middle East but
often with a twist incorporated. My starter was Arayes which are
Lebanese pastries with marinated minced lamb, onion and tahini. The
salad garnish was drizzled with a remarkable pomegranate dressing.
Portions here are impressive and one could easily
construct a feast from just a few starters.
Tagines are ubiquitous in Morocco but here Chef Vernon
offers Beef Tagine, along with the more usual lamb. The word tagine in
fact refers to the distinctive casserole in which the food is cooked.
It has a unique conical lid which allows moisture to return to
the dish rather than evaporating. This particular tagine was made with
braised beef cheek that was falling-apart tender. It was cooked with
Chantenay carrots (short and sweet), chick peas and prunes, and served
with couscous. Fruit is a common addition to tagines in North Africa:
they lend a sweetness to sauces. A substantial dish at a very
Mini Bingne was our dessert. These were choux pastry buns filled with
mascarpone cream flavoured with rosewater, an ingredient used so much
for sweet confections across the Middle East. The puffs were garnished
with pistachio dust, those nuts being popular throughout the region.
Have this with a pot of mint tea and you will be wafted to warmer
Le Menar is a new restaurant. The menu is evolving and doubtless Head
Chef Vernon Samuels will have more surprises for diners in future. This
would seem at first glance to be a traditional eatery, but consider
this as more an evolving canvas, one which fits well in the
contemporary firmament of eclectic London restaurants. I will view with
interest the culinary developments to come.
Monday to Friday
11:30 to 15:00 for lunch
18:00 to 23:30 for dinner
(food served until 22:30)
18:00 to 23:30 for dinner
(food served until 22:30)
18:00 to 23:00 for dinner
(food served until 22:30)
55 Cleveland Street
Phone: 020 7436 8916
Visit Le Menar here
Bunny Chow Soho
The name might not entice the uninitiated across the
threshold, that’s true. One might suspect that it’s only salad on
offer: well, that’s chow for rabbits, isn’t it? But on the other hand
it could be a menu of dishes made out of bunnies with perhaps an
associated gift ship selling rabbitty memorabilia such as rabbit-foot
key rings and fur hats with actual rabbit ears. The reality is much
Although the forerunner was a food truck, Bunny Chow is now a casual
restaurant in vibrant Soho, London, and a casual meal from Durban in
South Africa. That city has a large community of people of Indian
origin. They were brought to South Africa to work on the numerous sugar
cane plantations. The food is thought to be a convenient take-away
dating from the days of apartheid in the 1940s. Indians and any other
non-whites were excluded from restaurants but owners found a way of
serving them via the back door.
Bunny Chow offers Londoners the chance to enjoy this unique food
presentation. In fact it’s the presentation that is intriguing,
whimsical and different. The Bunnies are either large buns or small
loaves depending on your perspective. These breads come in 3 varieties,
are hollowed and then stuffed with a choice of fillings. There are
several side dishes to add to the experience but a lone Bunny
constitutes a light meal and that meal could even be breakfast. Bunny
Chow was voted winner of ‘Most Innovative Breakfast UK’ during
Breakfast Week. That’s a rather nice accolade for a restaurant that’s
just off the starting blocks. The Full English Bunny doesn’t cut
corners. It has a hearty filling of sausage, home-cured bacon, button
mushrooms, bobotie spiced beans, tomato, black pudding, fried egg. I’ll
return for a brekkie soon.
Durban Bunny was my chosen dish on this particular evening, and it was
served in a camping tin. That sounds a bit edgy but
that presentation works with the wood-clad restaurant that has a
wholesome and rustic ambiance. The Durban-inspired curry was moderately
spiced and equal in quality to curry found in some restaurants with
plates! This was a slow-cooked tender mutton curry with mango chutney.
Piri Piri Pork Bunny was my guest’s supper. This was a bun filled with
8-hour pulled pork with Bunny Chow’s Piri Piri sauce – a flavourful
preparation rather than being searingly hot.
Bunny Chow has a selection of juice blends in attractive bottles. These
can be liberally laced with alcohol to produce some addictive
cocktails. I ordered Green Mamba – peppermint, Earl Grey tea and lemon
juice. The suggested booze was gin and the resulting mixed beverage
arrived in a hefty glass mug, in keeping with the fun and friendly
I didn’t know what to expect from Bunny Chow. I enjoyed the ambiance
and that perfectly fits the location. It’s a casual restaurant and the
owners have successfully developed the concept from the original roving
food truck to a static café. It works in every regard.
74 Wardour Street
Visit Bunny Chow here
We are blessed, if we live in London, with a wealth of
gastronomic opportunities. We can indulge in traditional high-end
Kaiseki Japanese dinners or humble bowls of ramen. There are
Michelin-starred Indian restaurants that even attract visitors from the
Subcontinent. Yes, we have plenty to tempt those looking for good food,
although it’s often difficult to pick a spot that offers authenticity –
we just don’t know.
Mestizo Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar is conveniently located near
Euston Station: not on the main Euston Road but the less-trodden
Hampstead Road. It’s a restaurant that has been cherished by those that
do know, and actually for the last 10 years. Those regulars are not
just locals but folks from the Mexican Embassy too, and I assume that
they know the real thing when it’s served.
Mestizo has Mexican owners, chefs and staff. This isn’t an overly
themed eatery: Mestizo has a few nods to its ethnic roots and the most
visible is the bar, which on closer inspection one finds is stocked
with the nation beverage, Tequila: 260 different bottles at last count
– the largest Tequila bar in the UK. There is a popular After Work
Tequila Club from Monday to Friday from 5pm - 7pm. But Mestizo has the
ambiance of a restaurant first, with serious attention to the best
Mexican food, in my opinion, in London.
The name Mestizo comes from ‘mescla’, which means ‘fusion’. It is the
result of many influences throughout
Mexican history. Mexican food is relatively new to us in the UK. We
don’t have a long political association, Mexico was never a colony and
we have never had a huge population of immigrant workers. Having said
that, we have actually enjoyed Mexican ingredients for hundreds of
years. The ubiquitous spud hails from the New World, as does the chilli
so prized in our beloved curry, and we think of the tomato as always
having been with us but that, too, is a recent introduction.
Mestizo showcases the best of Mexican foods. They present food
festivals throughout the year with a focus on particular dishes. There
is a Tamale Festival in February, an Enchilada Festival in March, a
Chilli Festival in June and a Margarita Festival over the month of
August; and finishing with the Mole Festival in November. 2015 is the
Year of Mexico in the UK and the Year of the UK in Mexico. One can be
transported for a few hours, by just ordering a meal here.
This restaurant never seems to put a food wrong. I recently enjoyed an
evening with Japanese friends at Mestizo. We had missed the celebrated
Tamale Festival but we could not come to Mestizo without trying them.
They are iconically Mexican and would be difficult to make at home. A
corn paste is spread on a corn husk and then one of several fillings is
added and the tamale is folded and steamed. This is a labour of love
but a labour for which I thank the chef heartily.
I ordered Chicken Enchiladas with red sauce for my main course and it
was flavourful and comforting. Portions are substantial and beautifully
presented. The triumph of visual theatre, however, was my guests’
Molcajete Mestizo. This pot of volcanic stone arrived bubbling with
meat, vegetables and sauce. It’s a signature dish here and it’s
deliciously memorable. With flour tortillas on the side, it was
sufficient to stuff two hungry friends who pronounced the food to be
the best Mexican fare they had ever sampled. It should be noted that
prices here are very reasonable.
I can recommend The Mexican Sunday Brunch with its ever-changing menu.
This event is always colourful and gives the
novice Mexican food diner the chance to see the dishes that will likely
have unfamiliar names. Some of the usual dishes include tamal, birria,
menudo and pozole – which is always on the menu. There are two sittings
for this popular brunch: noon till 2pm and 2pm till 4pm.
Mestizo is a favourite with me and I am somewhat reluctant to publicise
it too much: I fear that increased popularity will encourage expansion,
a possible move to Mayfair, and an associated hike in price. I think
it’s perfect just as it is.
Mestizo dates and times:
After Work Tequila Club Monday - Friday from 5pm - 7pm
Mexican Cocktails - from £5.00 - £7.00
Mexican Beer - £3.00
Bottle of House Wine - £12.00
PLUS Complimentary Mexican Tapas with your drink
Mestizo London, 2015 Yearly Events and Festivals
15th March: Mother’s Day (UK)
17th March: St. Patrick’s Day Also Mestizo 10th Anniversary
(Anniversary Party on Wednesday 18th March)
Tuesday 21st - Sunday 26th March: Enchilada Festival
Cinco De Mayo: 5th May
Sunday 10th May: Mexican Mother’s Day
Tuesday 9th – Sunday 14th: Chili Pepper Festival
Tuesday 16th June: Mexican Father’s Day
Sunday 21st June: Father’s Day (UK)
103 Hampstead Road
London NW1 3EL
Phone: 020 7387 4064
Fax: 020 7383 4984
Visit Mestizo here
Monday – Saturday: Noon - 11pm
Sundays: Brunch from noon - 4pm
Dinner from 5pm - 10.30pm
Famous Detective Falls
Now I have the attention of my dear, curious reader!
Always eager for some dramatic news. Did our hero trip over a
ski pole? Perhaps a slide on a fondue slick? Who is this unfortunate
sleuth, anyway? In truth, this is old news …over one hundred year-old
news, and the aforementioned detective is none other than Sherlock
His fall was documented in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Final Problem
which was published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893. The
magazine’s readers were so shocked by the untimely death of their
favourite fictional character that over 20,000 subscriptions were
cancelled and The Strand narrowly missed following Holmes into
premature oblivion. The Reichenbach Falls evidently made a great
impression on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was introduced to them on a
holiday to the area by his host, Sir Henry Lunn, who was the founder of
the Lunn Poly holiday travel empire.
In The Final Problem, Holmes comes up against Professor Moriarty, a
master of crime and his personal nemesis. Holmes is forced to flee to
the Continent with Moriarty in pursuit. ‘It was on the third of May
that we reached the little village of Meiringen, where we put up at the
Englischer Hof, then kept by Peter Steiler the Elder,’ writes Dr Watson, Holmes’s
These days the Reichenbach Falls are just a short drive away. The Falls
are also accessible by the Reichenbach Fall funicular. The lower
station is 20 minutes’ walk, or a 6 minute bus ride, from Meiringen
station. The actual ledge from which Moriarty and Holmes fell is
reached by climbing the path to the top of the Falls, crossing the
bridge and following the path down the hill. The ledge is marked by a
plaque reading: ‘At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished
Professor Moriarty, on 4 May 1891.’
The town of Meiringen, unlike the detective, does really exist, and is
believed to be the birthplace of the meringue that we know today. The
invention of meringue in 1720 is attributed to a Swiss pastry-cook
named Gasparini. The Guinness Book of Records lists the biggest
meringue as that produced 1985 in Meiringen. It was 2.5 metres long,
1.5 metres wide and 1 metre high. The usual-sized meringues are often
eaten as cases filled with fruit and cream, such as Pavlova. They are
still served with whipped cream in local cafés; one could hardly
visit this small town without trying one or two of these airy and sweet
But back to Sherlock standing by the Reichenbach Falls: ‘As I turned
away I saw Holmes, with his back against a rock and his arms folded, gazing
down at the rush of the waters. It was the last that I was ever
destined to see of him in this world.’ Dr Watson tells of the emotional
discovery of his friend’s assumed death: ‘There was Holmes's
Alpine-stick still leaning against the rock by which I had left him.
But there was no sign of him, and it was in vain that I shouted. My
only answer was my own voice reverberating in a rolling echo from the
cliffs around me.’
Meiringen has taken its fictitious visitor, Sherlock Holmes, to its
heart. There are hotels, bars and restaurants named after the detective
and the hotel which features in the book is still welcoming guests.
Park Hotel du Sauvage is conveniently situated next to the Sherlock
Holmes Museum which draws fans from around the world.
The museum opened in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of the death of
Sherlock Holmes, and in the presence of the Sherlock Holmes Society of
London and Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of the author. The museum is
found in the basement of the old English church in the centre of the
village. It’s a small museum but one of the most memorable I have
visited. The sitting room of the Victorian lodgings at 221b Baker
Street where Holmes and Dr. Watson lived has been thoughtfully
recreated in sufficient detail to please even the most dedicated Holmes
One can reach Meiringen via Bern with SkyWork Airlines who fly from
Southend Airport. From Bern travel time is 1 hr 31 minutes using the
celebrated Swiss train network with 1 change, going via Interlaken Ost.
Visit Sherlock Holmes Museum here
Visit Park Hotel du Sauvage here
Visit SkyWork Airlines here
Visit Southend Airport here
Les Passions de l’Ame -
Artistic Director: Meret Lüthi
Solomon’s Knot - Artistic Director: Jonathan Sells
The cantata cycle Die Tageszeiten (‘The Times of the Day’)
was written in 1757 in Hamburg, and is one of the finest of Telemann’s
late works. One symphony and four cantatas vividly describe the
course of the day from the awakening of nature through to sunset.
From a stylistic point of view, Telemann begins to leave the Baroque
behind him, and one senses a new spirit in this astonishing product of
‘old age’. The treatment of melody in particular already points
towards the oratorios of Joseph Haydn.
This unique late work by Telemann, positioned as it is between oratorio
and cantata cycle, will be brought to life in a collaboration between
Les Passions de l’Ame and the young, upcoming English baroque
collective Solomon’s Knot.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Orchestersuite Nr. 3 in D-Dur
Ouverture in D-Dur
Johann Sebastian Bach
Motette BWV 225
“Singet dem Herrn”
Georg Philipp Telemann
Die Tageszeiten, TWV 30:39
Text: Friedrich Willhelm Zachariae
18.03.2015, 7:30 p.m. Französische Kirche Bern
(concert series “Alte Musik? – Ganz neu!“)
19.03.2015, 7:00 p.m. St George’s, Hannover Square
(London Handel Festival)
21.03.2015, 7:30 p.m. Trinity College Chapel
(Cambridge Early Music Concerts)
Les Passions de l’Ame
Les Passions de l’Ame, Bern’s resident early music ensemble directed by
violinist Meret Lüthi, has been seeking to create fresh sounds
since 2008. Lively interpretations on historical instruments are the
trademark of this international orchestra that «brings fresh air
to the occasionally stuffy classical music business» (Berner
Highlights over the last six years have been concerts at the Festival
Oude Muziek Utrecht (2014), the Celebrations of Europes Cultural
Capital Riga (2014), the Bach Academy Brugge (2013), the Berlin Early
Music Days (2012), a concert with soprano Simone Kermes at the
Rheinfall Festival Schaffhausen (2012), and another with soprano
Carolyn Sampson at the opening concert of the Bern Music Festival
(2011). In 2011 Les Passions de l’Ame also contributed to the historic
Belgian early music festival «MAfestival Brugge», and to
the «Bach en Combrailles» festival in France.
The musicians of Les Passions de l’Ame are internationally renowned
specialists in early music and work as soloists, chamber and orchestral
musicians with ensembles such as the Freiburger Barockorchester and the
Belgian Baroque Orchestra Ghent B’Rock. They also teach at the Antwerp
Conservatoire and the Hochschule der Künste Bern.
This «top class baroque ensemble» (Schaffhauser Nachrichten
2012) aims to arouse curiosity for both known and unknown 17th- and
18th-century repertoire with its snappy and witty programs, such as
«Passion Attacks», «The Seven Deadly Sins», or
«Delirio Amoroso» in its successful concert series in Bern,
«Alte Musik? – Ganz neu!» (Ancient music? – Completely
The name of the orchestra refers to an essay written by René
Descartes in 1649, in which the philosopher speaks of the passion which
mediates between body and soul. The ensemble perceives music as having
precisely this mediative role, and aims to transmit «les
passions» with immediacy in concert.
Les Passions de l’Ame’s concerts are regularly broadcast on Swiss radio
SRF 2 Kultur. The ensemble’s first CD, “SPICY”, was released by SONY
Music Switzerland and was immediately awarded the Diapason d’Or.
Encouraged by enthusiastic reviews, the orchestra released its second
CD, “Bewitched”, in September 2014, featuring the bewitching soprano
Meret Lüthi/ Artistic
Swiss violinist Meret Lüthi is artistic director and concertmaster
of the baroque orchestra «Les Passions de l’Ame»,
which she co-founded in 2008. She is a guest musician with the
Freiburger Barockorchester and worked as a concertmaster in the Belgian
ensemble «B’Rock». She also taught at the Royal
Conservatoire Antwerp. She has participated in CD recordings, opera
productions, concert tours and radio and television broadcasts with
René Jacobs, Ivor Bolton, Adam Fischer and Gary Cooper, among
others. In addition, Meret Lüthi is deeply dedicated to
chamber music: at the «Young Artists in Concert» festival
in Davos, she was featured in a variety of programs; in 2010, she made
her debut at the Lucerne Festival.
Meret Lüthi completed her violin studies at the Bern University of
the Arts with distinction, having been taught by Monika Urbaniak-Lisik
and Eva Zurbrügg. She studied as a member of the Amaryllis Quartet
with Walter Levin before specializing in baroque violin under the
tutelage of Anton Steck at the State Academy of Music in Trossingen,
Germany. Her talent was recognized at master classes with Igor Ozim,
Christian Altenburger, Thomas Brandis, Ingolf Turban and Gerhard
Schulz. Meret Lüthi was a recipient of scholarships from the
Kiefer Halblitzel Foundation and the Kiwanis Club of Bern; in 2007 she
was a prizewinner in the German University Competition for Early Music.
As a specialist in historically-informed performance practice, Meret
Lüthi works as an orchestra coach and is regularly invited to
share her expertise in radio broadcasts produced by Swiss Radio SRF 2
Kultur. She is a lecturer of baroque violin at the Bern University of
Carmen Däschner/ Manager
Carmen Däschner studied musicology, cultural
management and Italian at the Franz Liszt University of Music in
Weimar as well as the University of Jena and the University of
Pavia. During her studies she worked at various theaters and in
the management of various orchestras. In 2008 she received an
invitation to the workshop “Music and cultural identity“ at the Mahidol
University in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2010, after conducting
research in Zurich and successfully completing her final exam, she was
hired by the Thuringian Ministry for Education, Science and Culture to
organize and execute ca. 50 events concerning that year’s cultural
theme „Franz Liszt: A European in Thuringia“. There Carmen
attended to such artists as Alfred Brendel, Arcadi Volodos and Valery
Afanassiev and she coordinated follow-up events in Lucerne (Lucerne
Festival) and Bayreuth. In 2011 she worked as the project
coordinator of the newly-founded “Young Philharmonic Orchestra
Jerusalem Weimar“, which had already completed its first successful
concert tour in Germany and Israel. Since July 2012, Carmen is manager
of both Les Passions de l’Ame and the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the
Bern Music Conservatory.
Solomon’s Knot collective was founded by Jonathan Sells in 2008.
We are a group of singers and players who are prepared to take risks in
order to communicate more directly with our audience. Our aim is
to remove the barriers between performer and spectator, to intensify
the performance experience. One way in which we do this is to
apply the principles of
chamber music to large-scale works, performing them with small forces,
without conductor, and often from memory. As one audience member
put it, “it almost felt as if one knew all the performers at the end.”
Our flexible structure enables us to explore our passion for a wide
range of repertoire. Thus far our focus has been on so-called
‘early’ music, from 16th-century Italian chamber music through the
French baroque to the grand 17th-century oratorios. In future we
aim to broaden our scope in order to examine more deeply the
relationship between the present and the past.
We are extremely honoured to have been selected for Aldeburgh Music’s
Open Space residency scheme for 2013-2016, which gives us the
opportunity to develop our artistic vision and explore possible
Through our links with the Klevis Kola Foundation and the London
Borough of Lewisham, we are excited to be able to bring the riches of
this music to young people who would not otherwise be able to
experience it live.
We were featured on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme in December
2014. Plans for 2015 include ‘Pour un tombeau d’Anatole’, a
multi-media performance of 17th-century French and English music at
Aldeburgh Music; a Telemann and Bach tour with Les Passions de l’Ame;
L’Ospedale, an undiscovered early Italian opera at Wilton’s Music Hall,
London; and ‘A Leipzig Christmas’ at St John’s Smith Square.
Jonathan Sells/ Artistic Director
Jonathan Sells graduated from the International Opera Studio at the
Zurich Opera House in 2012, after gaining distinctions
both at the University of Cambridge (Music and Musicology) and on the
opera course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he was
subsequently a Guildhall Artist Fellow. In 2009, he won the Rose
Bowl at the Guildhall Gold Medal, and was awarded the Prix Thierry
Mermod at the Verbier Festival Academy and the Worshipful Company of
Musicians’ Silver Medal. He was awarded the bronze Gottlob Frick
Medal in 2011.
Operatic roles include Bottom, Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Don Alfonso, Count
Almaviva, Leporello, Der König (Orff Die Kluge), and Rossini’s
Bartolo and Figaro, with companies including Opéra de Paris,
Opéra de Dijon, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Teatro Real, Madrid
and Opernhaus Zürich. In concert he works regularly with
John Eliot Gardiner and William Christie, and has recorded a number of
discs with I Fagiolini. Plans for the 2014/15 include the title
role in Lortzing’s Zar und Zimmermann in Switzerland, der Lautsprecher
in Der Kaiser von Atlantis by Victor Ullmann at the Opéra de
Dijon, staged Britten song in Zurich, a Monteverdi tour with Les Arts
Florissants and projects with his baroque collective, Solomon’s Knot.
Jonathan Sells studied French song with Malcolm Martineau on the
Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme and German Lieder with Graham
Johnson at the GSMD, and considers song performance a very important
part of his work. He gave his debut recital at Wigmore Hall in
2010, and his debut at the Liederstunden in Bern in 2013. He will
sing for ‘Liedrezital Zürich’ with Edward Rushton in the Tonhalle
in the 2015/16 season.
Tim Carroll is an award-winning opera and theatre director whose work
has been seen and acclaimed all over the world. Last year, his
productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III broke box-office records
on Broadway and received several awards, including two Tonys. Carroll
himself was nominated for a Best Director Tony, and won both the Drama
Desk Award and the Critics’ Circle awards for Best Director.
In Britain Tim Carroll’s work has been recognised with Olivier, Evening
Standard, Time Out and Whatsonstage awards and nominations. He has also
won Best Director awards in Canada (for Peter Pan at the Stratford
Festival) and Spain (for The Turn Of The Screw at Opera Oviedo), while
his productions have won awards or been selected for National Theatre
Festivals in Romania, Hungary and Portugal.
Carroll started his career with the English Shakespeare Company and has
continued to be associated with Shakespeare. He directed twelve
productions as Associate Director of Shakespeare’s Globe. He also
directed The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the
Royal Shakespeare Company. Outside Britain, he has produced Shakespeare
in Hungary, Romania, Portugal, Norway, Canada, and Australia.
He has also directed many modern and new plays, including the first
three new plays performed at the Globe, and two world premieres for
Hampstead Theatre, London. Other notable productions include Amadeus
for the National Theatre of Portugal, Peer Gynt at the Guthrie Theatre,
Minneapolis and a new version of The Odyssey for the National Theatre
Carroll was Artistic Director of Kent Opera from 1997 to 2004. His
productions included Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Handel’s Acis and Galatea,
Britten’s Albert Herring and Mozart’s il re pastore. Other favourite
opera productions include Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly and A
Midsummer Night’s Dream in Sydney Opera House.
Tim Carroll teaches acting and directing, for theatre and opera, in
Britain and around the world. He has given master classes in South
Africa, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary,
Romania, Poland, Croatia, Norway and Portugal. In Britain he has taught
at many conservatories including the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and
the Royal College of Music.
|Les Passions de
Airport to Bern with SkyWork
I have flown from London’s Southend Airport a
couple of times and I must admit that I first considered the prospect
to be something of a joke: Where was Southend, to start with? Isn’t it
somewhere near the edge? It sounded a long way off, but then I actually
tried it. Seems Essex isn’t that far away after all.
Southend Airport is a gem. One can speed from tarmac to baggage
carousel in less than 10 minutes. For those using public transport the
news gets better – the station is just outside the front door, with
frequent services to Liverpool Street which is just 53 minutes away. No
waiting for shuttle buses and no taxi needed.
Realistically there might be folks who arrive by car and they have
ample short- and long-term parking available and it’s just yards from
the terminal, so no confusion with pick-up points and ‘Red Zones’.
There is a Holiday Inn within 5 minutes’ walk; yes, that is an honest 5
minutes and not an estate agent’s ramble of a bracing couple of miles.
Southend Airport is compact and marvellously appointed. The airport has
been voted Best in Britain by readers of Which? Magazine for two years
running and has had more than £120 million invested
in it since the Stobart Group acquired it in 2008. More retail outlets
are now being added.
I was heading for Bern in Switzerland and flying with SkyWork Airlines.
They now run a twice-daily service between Southend and Bern during the
week, and one flight on Sundays. The airline moved its operation to
Southend from London City Airport and it’s proving to be a great
success for the airport, SkyWorks and travellers from across the South
East of England. The first flight leaves London Southend each day at
8.15am and arrives in Bern at 10.55am, with the return flight taking
off from Bern at 6.40pm and arriving in Southend at 7.30pm.
This was to be my first flight with SkyWork Airlines. The plane was a
Dornier 328s. That meant nothing to me but suffice it to say it’s a
31-seater with propellers. I am a poor traveller, a terrible admission
for a travel writer, but at least I have that in common with a good
percentage of the population. I was braced for an iffy, bumpy ride with
the possibility of disgracing myself before touchdown. In reality the
flight was as smooth as I have experienced with even the biggest
The seats were a cut above anything but business class with other
carriers, and the service was attentive. We were offered a drink and a
snack during even this short adventure of only one hour and 40 minutes.
Larger national companies
might take note of the quality of SkyWork Airlines. Inflight
entertainment was thoughtful. This company offers an iPad to its
passengers although by the time one has enjoyed a hot ‘beverage’ and a
cookie one will be approaching one’s destination, in this case the
beautiful city of Bern. (Article to follow shortly.) Bern city centre
is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has an impressive
medieval cathedral and an iconic clock tower. Bern is also close to
skiing resorts in the Jungfrau region, so ideal as part of a two venue
The partnership of SkyWork Airlines and Southend Airport offers both
business and holiday flyers a taste of polished travel. Speedy service,
comfort and the only thing missing is stress.
Visit SkyWork Airlines here
Visit Southend Airport here
Visit Bern here
François Geurds –
I have met François Geurds on a few occasions now.
A couple of times at his eponymous FG Restaurant and also at the newer Food Lab. For once,
the Michelin judges have awarded their coveted stars with logic and
But it wasn’t just the food that impressed me, it was also the man. I
know that Michelin judges are looking for ‘impressive’ in a juggernaut
kinda way, but François is impressive with warmth, sense of fun
and passion for his food. You can really imagine that this chap
actually has friends!
Although based in The Netherlands, François Geurds has travelled
the world honing his craft. He has worked in the New York kitchens of
three-Michelin star Per Se with Thomas Keller, at WD 50 with Chef Wiley
Dufresne, and at Le Bernardin. He moved to Italy to gain experience in
the two-star restaurant of Gualtiero Marchesi. I talked to
François about his life and travels.
What are this chef’s first memories of food? ‘I can remember when I was
8 years old, cooking with my mother. She would be cooking for a couple
of hours every day. I would cook with her, standing on a stool and I
made my first cake when I was a kid. I was fascinated when watching the
cake rise. It was like a living organism. I wanted to learn about what
was going on inside the cake. I am still interested in cooking from the
science point of view.
‘I only ever wanted to be a chef when I was growing up. When I was 12
years old I was working in a restaurant. I was still studying and
enjoying sport but, yes, cooking was my passion and it still is. Every
single day of the week I am thinking and reading about gastronomy. It’s
my life. I was 14 when I got a job at my first Michelin-star
restaurant. Over the years I have worked at many 1, 2 and 3-star
restaurants. I have worked in New York, Italy, Belgium. You have to
spread your wings and look around and see things outside your own
country. European chefs travel all over the world, French chefs to New
York, for example.
‘I like to travel. If you want to be a good chef you need to travel to
see what they are doing and what they are doing differently elsewhere.
I think it makes you more complete. I have lived away from home for
half my life: it’s made me the chef I am now.’
What are the culinary influences for this globe-trotting chef? ‘I like
Asian food and I like South American food. Most of all I like cooking
that comes from the heart. That’s what makes a good chef. Thai cuisine
I find to be quite pure. It has such a lot of ingredients. Beautiful
people, great food. They really have a passion for food. Last year I
visited Japan – Osaka and Tokyo. I was really interested in the respect
they pay to their ingredients. It was an amazing thing to see; you
don’t realise until you actually go there. It’s always good to travel
for a couple of weeks just to see such things. You realise there is
still a lot to learn.
‘I had an ambition to be a good chef, a successful chef, making good
food – it was that way with me. I am really glad to have achieved that
and am able to work with the best products one can find. It’s a
‘I opened my first restaurant over 5 years ago and within 6 months I
had my first Michelin star. In another 4 years we had the second star.
We are still working hard to serve the best dishes we can.’ Recently
François added another star to his growing firmament with one
for FG Food Lab.
François indulges his obsession with food and experimentation at
his two restaurants. They are distinctly different in ambiance. FG
Restaurant is conventional with a smart-casual character. It appeals to
discerning diners who appreciate culinary flair in accessible
surroundings. This isn’t a stiff, starchy and intimidating
establishment: it’s about good food and company without layers of
‘At the start of 2014 I opened my second restaurant, and it’s called
Food Lab. It’s called that as it’s a technical test kitchen. It has the
feeling of a San Sebastian tapas bar. We try and serve good food in a
relaxed atmosphere.’ The
Food Lab is unique. It’s actually under the railway arches in Rotterdam
and that might not sound too appealing but it’s at the very hub of this
posh and trendy city. François has constructed his own
gastronomic workshop. The restaurant is intimate and cosy with the
aforementioned arches creating a wine-cellarish scene. The open kitchen
allows virtually every guest the impression of sitting at the Chef’s
Table, or almost. I asked François why he wanted a food lab. ‘I
look for and find how things work in nature. I work to discover how we
might improve on the flavours, how we can improve the structure.’
This charming and natural chef has achieved so much in a
vibrant city that is sadly too often overlooked by food
tourists. But what next? ‘In future I want to combine more dishes from
the two restaurants. We are trying to explore that – crazy things. We
are always looking for ways to introduce a bit of humour. It’s a memory
of childhood – it gives you a cosy feeling.’ It sounds like
François Geurds has come full circle, but I don’t think so: this
chef is still very much on a journey, and a delicious one.
3024 EA Rotterdam
Phone: +31 (0) 10 425 0520
Tuesday - Thursday 12:00 noon to 14:00 pm - 6:30 p.m. to 21:00 pm
Friday and Saturday 12:00 noon to 14:00 pm - 19:00-21:00 pm
FG FOOD LABS
3032 AE Rotterdam
Phone: +31 (0) 10 425 0520
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Thursday / Monday – 11:00am to 15:00pm - 5:00pm to 22:00pm
Visit Food Lab here
Visit FG Restaurant here
For more pictures of Rotterdam, follow me here
Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands here
Kensington High Street is smart. There is the usual
complement of restaurants in the area and they range from the
expected Lebanese to the trendy European casual restaurants; but this
is a wealthy neighbourhood so there are eateries here that might demand
a second mortgage. One would expect to pay a premium for a meal in such
a swep-up neighbourhood, but there is a spot that will likely surprise
Perhaps you have to be over a ‘certain age’ for the name Bill Wyman to
mean much. But for those of us who are, we know him as the bassist for
the Rolling Stones and everyone surely knows who they are/were. He now
scores music for films and the like, but a new generation might know
him better as a restaurant owner.
Sticky Fingers Restaurant is just off Kensington High Street and is
aptly named after the eponymous album by the Stones. Their own sticky
fingers will probably be in the near future of most diners here. There
are quite a few dishes on the menu that will be best tackled with
digits rather than silverware.
This is an American-themed restaurant with a focus on ribs, burgers and
some rather fine steaks. There is a motorbike in the window which
around this time of year sports a Father Christmas! There are
red-upholstered booths which seem to be the most popular tables in the
place. Might be a good idea to book if one wants one of those, but this
is such a popular spot that it’s probably wise to book for any visit.
There is plenty of Stones memorabilia. Guitars even feature as door
furniture. Having said that, I found Sticky Fingers to have rather
tasteful décor. This and the music act as more of a reminder
than an overly retro smack in the face. In 1989 Bill Wyman opened just
the kind of restaurant he most liked to eat in, and it works today for
its loyal following.
Sticky Fingers is tucked away on a side street but it’s an iconic
establishment that woos the discerning away from the likes of The Hard
Rock Café. I am not sure if there are ever similar queues here
but this is Kensington so there might even be bylaws preventing such
unseemly gatherings. It is evidently a restaurant with caché and
history and that might be enough to elicit a first visit, but the menu
will ensure many happy returns.
The food was good. In fact it was very good. We started with cocktails
and they were traditional and sizable. A Margarita was my guest’s
choice - Sauza Hacienda tequila, fresh lime juice and Triple Sec served
on the rocks. He isn’t a man to be easily impressed by mixed drinks but
he was tempted by a second glass. Nothing frilly or posey. This was a
proper adult cocktail.
My Mojito – fresh mint, lime wedges crushed with brown sugar and Brugal
Añejo rum, topped with crushed ice and soda – was served in a
tall glass and was correct in every way. We arrived early in the
evening so those drinks were a remarkably reasonable £4 or so,
reduced from an equally striking £7 at full price!
We shared a plate of Rice Balls as a starter and that was a substantial
serving of pea, sweet corn and Monterey Jack cheese rice balls, with
smoked chilli aioli on the side. I think these could be presented in a
larger serving as a vegetarian main course. They were moreish.
An 8oz sirloin steak with fries, onion rings and Cajun butter was the
big event for me. I ordered the steak to be medium rare and it was
indeed just that. The meat was moist, pink and flavourful. This isn’t a
dedicated steak restaurant, more of a burger and rib bistro, and this
was one of the best steaks I have enjoyed in ages …even during my
recent trip to the US. Nothing fancy but perfectly cooked with
But what of those celebrated ribs? My guest ordered a half-rack of baby
back ribs and sweet potato fries, and even that diminutive portion was
a good size. One would have to have a lorry-driver’s appetite to have
three courses with a full rack here, but it was also the quality of
these ribs that made them noteworthy. The ribs were so well barbecued
that the bones were clean and white on the side of the plate at the end
of the feast. The glaze was sweet and mildly spiced and,
Apple pie with a delicate crust was the finale. It’s typically American
and a fitting end to a great meal that did exactly what it said on the
tin. Bill Wyman is thoroughly British but his company has hit the right
note with this American-esque culinary Sticky Fingers. The prices for
both food and drink are surprisingly accessible and the ambiance
encourages good times. I’ll return to try the fried Catfish …and
1A Phillimore Gardens
London W8 7QB
Phone: 020 7938 5338
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 12 noon-11 pm
Visit Sticky Fingers here
The Taste of Belgium
It’s so near, but almost totally overlooked from the
culinary perspective. Belgium is one of our closest neighbours but is
overshadowed by the gastronomic giant (the French believe their own
publicity) next door.
Let’s think logically. We wax lyrical about French food and will go to
the extent of crossing the Channel just for lunch – and a
boot-full of cheeky reds – but we assume that cooking flair ends at its
borders. Belgium has access to the same ingredients as northern France
and has a wealth of dishes that have been developed over generations.
Each recipe might, to the untutored, be heralded as French regional,
and with that accolade would come the misguided ‘Nobody does it like
the French.’ Well, dear reader, The Taste of Belgium will broaden your
horizons to the left of La Belle France and you will thank it.
Ruth Van Waerebeek is a well-travelled Belgian who has penned this
volume of traditional and family recipes. It’s a book filled with
proper food, beautiful photography by Regula Ysewijn, and stories of
grandmothers, mothers and local character. The Taste of Belgium is the
perfect cookbook for anyone living in the cold grey north of Europe.
This is very much a Belgian culinary presentation but there is a sense
of the familiar. Yes, I said that the pages are filled with ‘proper
food’, but that doesn’t translate as dull, flavourless or pedestrian.
We in the UK have ready access to all the ingredients and they won’t
demand a mortgage extension to acquire. We love the flavours and
vibrant colours of Mediterranean cuisine over the summer, but when the
weather turns chilly we look for comfort, seasonality and local.
Hothouse-grown toms like bullets, red peppers at inflated prices, are
hardly appealing when one wants warm, hearty and from here.
There are many recipes that would rank as ‘pick of the book’. There is,
in fact, nothing at which one would turn up a nose. Even the humble and
mostly (by me) vilified Brussels Sprout is elevated when made into a
Belgium’s other eponymous vegetable is endive. Many people say they
dislike the rather bitter taste of Belgian endive but cooked properly
it becomes a very different personality from its crunchy raw self.
Gratin of Belgian Endive will convert the most sceptical. One can make
this dish without the ham but I think the slight saltiness of the cured
meat adds a natural seasoning to the dish. The secret of success is
cooking the endive for that full 25 minutes before assembling the dish.
This isn’t the time for lightly steaming or a quick introduction to a
One of the stars of this firmament is the recipe for Poached Chicken
with Veal Dumplings and Rice. Although there are several elements to
this dish, it is, nevertheless, quite simple to make. This would be a
good substitute for the traditional Sunday roast and could easily be
scaled up in quantity to feed a crowd. A couple of bottles of wine and
some crusty bread and it’s likely that even the most dedicated
Francophile head would turn.
The Taste of Belgium is gift-quality and should be filling the
stockings of many a discerning cook. It’s attractive, practical,
accessible and full of recipes that one might really use, and some on a
regular basis. This isn’t a Celebrity Chef tome and it will be a shame
if it’s overlooked just because the author isn’t gracing our TVs. This
is a delightful book and is the ‘Mostly Food & Travel Journal
Cookbook of 2014’
The Taste of Belgium
Author: Ruth Van Waerebeek
Published by: Grub Street
Rotterdam – beds,
buildings and gastronomic surprises
It’s attracting lots of gastronomic and architectural
attention, and it does indeed offer a wealth of national and
international food outlets. The new Markthal is a traditional market
with piles of fresh vegetables, meat and fish and, yes, cheese as well;
but its attractive and striking environs are also garnished with a good
selection of restaurants. Rotterdammers love their food and it’s
evident in the rest of the city too.
Rotterdam is a tapestry of modern architectural projects that date back
to post-WWII. It was devastated by bombing although some remarkable
structures survived the war and remain iconic examples of their
particular architectural style. The Van Nelle Factory is now a Dutch
national monument and this year gained the status of UNESCO World
Heritage Site. One doesn’t have to be a building buff to appreciate the
ingenious simplicity of this building. It has covered walkways and
closed corridors that were once used to carry samples of the various
products from one area to the next. Van Nelle processed coffee, tea and
tobacco originally and there was always a risk of cross-contamination,
so this factory was designed with not only beauty but practicality in
Another noteworthy structure which now has a delicious food association
is the Hotel New York. It dates back to an era of trans-Atlantic
crossings, with boats laden with not only luxury passengers but those
poorer folk who were searching for a better life in the New World. The
building was, once upon a time, shipping offices.
The Hotel New York once again reminds us of the link between food and
architecture. Today one can enjoy one of the best Afternoon Teas that
Rotterdam can provide. Its restaurant is imposing and it still retains
its historic high ceilings and an aura of past times. It’s a must-visit
for any tourist. One can stay in the marvellously appointed hotel but
even a day-tripper can enjoy the food.
François Geurds (full interview here and on radio to follow) is
a young but already well-decorated chef in Rotterdam. He owns the
two-star FG Restaurant as well as the more casual Food Lab. It’s the
first culinary laboratory in the Netherlands and has been noticed. This
year it joined its sibling in Michelin, in recognition of its quality
and originality – and that goes for the venue itself, too, which is
This gastronomic playground is the brainchild of Chef Geurds who was
inspired by his mother’s cooking and still remembers those childhood
dishes. This isn’t a glitzy, white-linened, dinner-suited-waiter sort
of establishment. It’s literally underneath the arches of a railway
bridge. Granted, that might conjure visions of tyre-changing sheds and
panel-beating workshops but this little corner of trendy Rotterdam is
using this space as a showcase for modern culinary excellence.
Once inside the surprises continue. One has the sense of being perhaps
in a former wine cellar. It’s cosy and intimate with an open kitchen
that’s close to every guest. Almost every table become the Chef’s
Table. One can sit on high stools and watch the action …and other
diners. One is likely to meet the man himself as he is a
sociable sort who is passionate about his food and basks in the joy it
The food is a comforting mix of contemporary and traditional. Even the
bread basket isn’t mundane, with the basics having a twist to charm and
amuse. The dishes are numerous and entirely individual. At one moment
one will be tasting tender and melting meat and the next one
experiences melting of another sort with a do- it-yourself savoury ice
cream served with a hot savoury partner. He toys with techniques but
then returns to versions of more traditional fare, but always adding a
flourish. In short his menu is ever-changing with the common factor of
I have never been keen on molecular gastronomy as it often seems to
miss the intended mark but François Geurds (he was once a
sous-chef at The Fat Duck) teases the guest with that concept and
technology, but doesn’t ever punch one out of a familiar comfort zone.
He introduces and leads one on a deliciously new and inviting journey.
This is a Rotterdam highlight. You will be talking about dinner here
long after the ferry hits Harwich.
But you are unlikely to head for the ferry port immediately after that
sumptuous meal. You will need a room for the night. Consider the
architecturally dynamic area around the new market. This particular
building is, at first glance, a rather uninteresting hotel that looks
more like an office block, but it is stuffed full of contemporary
character. There is nothing Zen or minimalist at citizenM. Modern
indeed but with those old-fashioned virtues that make any travel
lodging bearable, and in the case of citizenM, they will likely
encourage you to extend your stay.
The rooms are, it’s true, not over-roomy but what they
lack in yardage they make up for in charming quirkiness. These are rooms
for the computer-savvy with an iPad as the technological hub for TV
tuning, light-dimming and blind-rolling. They say in
their publicity that they don’t offer twin beds, extra beds or cots,
but the beds that they do offer are
remarkable for their comfort. Once one prises oneself off the
aforementioned mattress the more spacious public spaces will beckon.
Breakfast at citizenM is continental but done lavishly. Juices, hot
drinks, cheeses, breads and pastries await and here food is available
24 hours a day. This is a hotel designed with the night-owl and the
jet-lagged in mind. There are shelves lined with books. There are sofas
on which to curl. There are nooks in which to disappear. In those
quieter moments one has to remind oneself that this is truly a hotel
and not the home of a well-travelled, fun-loving uncle with a taste for
Rotterdam is special. It has life, vibrancy, individuality and it’s not
far away. It has culture aplenty with museums and historic buildings.
The restaurants are, to the out-of-towner, surprisingly good. And a
visit won’t break the bank.
Visit Food Lab here
Visit Hotel New York here
Visit citizenM here
Learn more about the Van Nelle factory building here
For more pictures of Rotterdam, follow me here
Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands here
It’s that time of year again. We entertain in grand
fashion. There are crowds of folks to feed and we don’t, speaking for
myself, have a clue what to do. A nice plate of ham sandwiches will
likely impress and perhaps a plate of cheese sandwiches on brown bread
for vegetarians so they don’t feel short-changed. Catering sorted. But,
in truth it’s not that simple.
Milli Taylor is a young woman who has already carved out an enviable
catering career. She has delighted the great
(and some very great) and the good with her delicious preparations and
now she shares a few secrets with a wider audience via the medium of
this, her first book.
Party-Perfect Bites, delicious recipes for canapés, finger food
and party snacks – to give it the full title – does indeed offer all
the mentioned categories of food for company, but it has also given me
ideas for starters for regular dinner parties as well as desserts for
small gatherings. This book has many culinary facets.
Milli celebrates her Japanese family with a selection of dishes.
Okonomiyaki is traditional and comforting. In Japan this savoury
pancake is made in large portions by a chef or at a table hot-plate
with guests mixing and cooking ingredients themselves. It’s a batter
that coats cabbage, onion and bacon, with a decorative garnish of the
Okonomiyaki sauce (found in supermarkets these days), plus Japanese
mayo and bonito flakes. Milli’s canapé-size rounds are so
addictive that you will likely be driven to make the regular-size to
One of the most simple but equally one of the most luxurious recipes
here is that for Crushed Yellow Bean Prawns. Milli suggests Shaoxing
wine as one of the ingredients but I have tried substituting Japanese
sake and that also works, as would dry sherry. This makes 20
canapés but it would also be well received as an exotic starter
for a Chinese-themed dinner party. Yes, granted, its more costly than a
cube of cheddar and a tinned pineapple chunk, but your guests will love
you for your thoughtfulness and you will doubtless be basking in the
warm glow of compliments long after the visitors have left you with the
Party-Perfect Bites will have you drooling and planning. Milli Taylor
has penned a book to inspire. Her recipes are vibrant but accessible
for any home cook. This would be a great holiday gift but consider
giving it early. That prospective party-giver will thank you.
Author: Milli Taylor
Published by: Ryland Peters & Small
Fresh Spice -
Vibrant Recipes for Bringing Flavour, Depth and Colour to
We in northern Europe have had a long and delicious
relationship with spice. We tend to think it’s just been this modern
era of the local curry house that has developed our taste for food with
spice and colour. But consider those old recipes that predate the
high-street Taj Mahal, those that go back further than Dream of Bengal.
I apologise if restaurants with those names actually exist, but please
find joy in the unexpected plug.
Britain has a battery of recipes that have included nutmeg: no
self-respecting rice pud would be without a fresh grating. Saffron has
found its way into breads and cakes down the centuries. Cloves are
among those warming Christmas spices used in quantity. Yes, culinary
exotica has been commonplace.
But Arun Kapil has written a book that marvellously reflects not who we
were, but who we have become. His mixed Indian and Yorkshire heritage
has allowed him to wander through the traditional spice box without the
constraint of maintaining Indian authenticity. He has compiled a raft
of recipes that shout ‘dinner without borders’, dishes that ooze
vibrancy and that craved comfort, plates that please and tease.
These recipes are often twists on European favourites and they are easy
to accomplish, yet they are stylish. The dishes are, for the most part,
economic but offer real impact. They illustrate how we eat, or would
like to eat, and they are tempting in every regard.
Arun has chosen dishes that truly mirror his heritage and his
continuing story. Yes, his mum and dad have laid the cornerstone of his
culinary structure but his wife, Olive, and her homeland, Ireland, have
added more. There is unmistakable warmth and simplicity that has
elevated this book to the noteworthy. Cookbooks are for people who want
to cook. Fresh Spice will spend its time in the kitchen rather than on
the coffee table.
It’s taken me a while to review this book. It encourages a few hours at
the Aga (no, I don’t have one but that boast sounds good) rather than
just an admiring glance. I have so many must-trys from Fresh Spice that
it’s almost easier to advise a trip to the bookshop, but a few should
be listed as this week’s dinners. Coconut Mashed Roots could be part of
a posh supper spread or as veg for the family. Potted Pepper Pork will
have its place on several of my festive tables this year – as gift jars
and as starters chez nous. Cauliflower Cheese with Spiced Mornay Sauce
will likely be stolen and shamelessly presented as my own.
Fresh Spice is eclectic, accessible, whimsical and a good solid
cookbook. It’s not Indian. It’s not Irish. It’s not British. It’s Arun
Kapil at his well-seasoned best.
Author: Arun Kapil
Published by: Pavilion Books
Chocolate at Home –
step-by-step recipes to help you master the art of
I am biased, it’s true. This book was destined to have a good review on
two counts. Firstly I adore the author, Will Torrent; and chocolate
comes a close second to Will.
Will Torrent has worked with the best – with such culinary worthies as
Brian Turner CBE and Gary Rhodes. He is also a
consultant for Waitrose and is already known for his cakes and
desserts. Chocolate at Home follows his Patisserie at Home and is bound
to be equally popular.
I have always found chocolate a temperamental
substance to handle. I have had more bowls of grainy and unappetising
melted-yet-solid chocolate than I can wave a Mars Bar at. And while we
are on the subject of traditional confections I stand up and confess
that I also love those cheap but comforting shop-bought favourites from
time to time. But the recipes here provide treats that are decadent,
high-end, and addictive, and more than a cut above anything from the
My first choice of recipe might be something of a surprise. It’s a rice
pudding with white chocolate. Yes, I know. You are shouting that white
chocolate isn’t even real chocolate. Let us consider its
characteristics: it melts; it has a delightful mouth-feel; it’s sweet,
perhaps too sweet for a purist; it’s delicious. That ticks enough
pertinent boxes to be included in this book.
White Chocolate, Coconut Rice Pudding with Caramelized Mango is
memorable and rather smart. Mangoes and coconuts are common, Kaffir
lime leaves are available at Asian stores and pudding rice is something
you would likely not have eaten since school days. This is about as far
from that rice pud as one would want to get. It’s rich and exotic and
would make a striking end to any Asian meal or even to a regular Sunday
For those who want a hit of the dark stuff then Salted Caramel
Honeycomb & Chocolate Profiteroles will give you just enough to
have you begging for more. The profiteroles are made with the regular
choux pastry which is easier than you might think to make. The filling
is for which to die, containing both honeycomb and canned caramel. The
chocolate element is provided by the sauce which is glossy and
The teasing is over. Here is a recipe for Salted Brown Sugar Caramel
Truffles that will satisfy even the most dedicated chocoholic. This has
a standard truffle method of melting chocolate with hot cream but that
muscovado does add an adult flavour. In fact the only difficult parts
of this recipe are two of the later steps: ‘Chill the truffles in the
fridge for about 30 minutes to set firm’, and ‘transfer the coated
truffles to the lined baking sheet to set firm before serving’.
The chances of a full complement of truffles reaching the presentation
plate are slim.
Chocolate at Home offers a raft of tempting and accessible recipes from
a great talent. Will is a master of all things sweet. This would be a
great Christmas gift for any chocolate-lover but also an any-time gift
for the keen home cook who wants to add to his/her gastronomic battery.
I will be hanging on to my copy and using the recipes to produce
nibbles for the holidays.
Chocolate at Home
Author: Will Torrent
Published by: Ryland Peters & Small
Southern Oregon – sleep and eat
The average British tourist heading for the US on vacation
will likely have limited horizons. There is the Big Apple with the draw
of bright lights and a nice bit of shopping. Stores are full of
good-quality goods and they are affordable due to advantageous exchange
rates. Florida has long been a magnet for sun-starved Brits and Disney
offers stores filled with Micky Mouse ears. California in the opposite
corner has similar rodent paraphernalia and has a good reputation for
both food and wine.
But the US is a huge country. Surely there must be other locations to
stimulate, charm and fuel the globe-trotting traveller? Well, yes,
indeed. There is Oregon. I pause here to allow my dear reader to find
the Atlas and leaf through to find the double-page spread for North
America. Follow the left-hand coast up above San Francisco and there
you will find the long sea-fringed state of Oregon.
Southern Oregon is an ideal destination for a two-location trip. One
can spend time in San Francisco and enjoy all that unique city has to
offer, and then drive up to the ‘other Napa’ for some rest and
relaxation. Portland, in the North of Oregon, could also be a starting
point and it’s an eclectic and arty town and mostly overlooked.
Southern Oregon has history – all the components of a good
old-fashioned Western. Miners, settlers, Indians all play a part in
this tapestry. Gold discoveries in the Illinois River valley and the
Rogue River valley near Jacksonville in 1852, and the completion of a
wagon road connecting California to the south and Douglas County to the
north, led to the predictable arrival of new-comers. The name Rogue
River apparently began with French fur trappers who called the river La
Rivière aux Coquins because they regarded the natives as rogues
(coquins). Inevitable conflict between the miners and Native
Americans led to war in 1853 which lasted until the final defeat of the
indigenous tribes in 1856.
But aside from history, this region has much to offer. There is wine,
and therefore numerous wineries to visit. A
comprehensive list can be found here.
These are not just factories for making outstanding vintages, but they
offer tastings in delightful surroundings, food, space for events as
well as relaxing. One could plan a whole trip around wine and food in
Southern Oregon. There are artisanal cheese makers
, chocolatiers, bakers,
and farmers’ markets to tempt enthusiastic foodies. For those who
prefer a longer, cooler beverage then there are breweries nearby and
Stone Brewing Company will introduce you to some unique innovations
along with delicious food.
Medford is a city in Jackson County and the 4th largest metropolitan
area in Oregon. The city was named in 1883 by David Loring, civil
engineer for the Oregon and California Railroad, after his home of
Medford, Massachusetts, and refers to Medford’s position on the middle
ford of Bear Creek. James Sullivan Howard claimed to have erected the
town's first building in January 1884.
There are plenty of sights to see in Medford. It’s an ideal location
for a base from which to enjoy a Southern Oregon
vacation. There is a particularly delightful inn in Ashland which is
only a few miles away and an easy journey from the airport for those
arriving by plane. The
Winchester Inn is a stunner. It is, in fact a collection of
original Victorian houses, the main one being a former hospital that
was moved from a few streets away. It has been marvellously furnished
and decorated by the owners who have contrived to present a hotel that
has all the charm of an authentic 19th century home but isn’t in any
way a mock or a mockery of that ornate era. It’s the real thing but
with electricity and wifi.
The Winchester Inn is not only a superb lodging but is also known for
its food. The chef has flair and a love for local produce, and one
doesn’t have to stay here to enjoy the dining. There is a popular
Christmas event when the owner dresses as Santa and offers gifts to the
assembled merry-makers. This is the place to stay even if for only a
night or two.
Another unmissable inn but with an entirely different
character is The
Weasku Inn. This is located a few miles from
Medford but in the opposite direction from The Winchester Inn, making
this a practical partner for a holiday in this beautiful region.
The name at first glance would seem Native American but break it down
into syllables and one finds the wit – ‘we ask you in’. This B & B
comprises the original log cabin which was built in 1924 as a fishing
lodge on the banks of the famous Rogue River, and a collection of newer
cabins. They are all well-appointed and cosy but with that unmistakable
woodsy ambiance – lost in the woods with amenities. Travel and Leisure
Magazine named this historic landmark “one of the top 25 Lodges in the
United States”, and it is mentioned in 1,000 Places to See Before You
Die: A Traveller’s Life List. There are nice hospitality touches here
too – milk and cookies in the evening and a substantial continental
breakfast to start your day.
The Weasku Inn has long been a holiday retreat and has hosted the likes
of Clark Gable, Carol Lombard, Bing Crosby and Walt Disney. There are
pictures of these screen worthies in the main building along with
fishing paraphernalia, hunting artefacts, log fire and furniture that
echoes a different and gentler era.
Not far from Weasku is the Twisted
Cork restaurant. They have a creditable wine cellar and a menu
which, at the time I visited,
offered the best flank steak dish I have ever tasted. They have a lunch
menu and also a spread of tapas for some trendy bites.
A long-standing local institution is the Jacksonville Inn which is
found in a mid-1800s building. Built of locally quarried
sandstone with specks of gold still visible in the mortar, this is an
historic but living gem. Jacksonville is the first town in America to
be named a National Historic Landmark, and Jacksonville has preserved
its 19th Century quaintness. The Inn is a restaurant and a
B&B and is well worth a visit to eat or to stay. The lunch menu is
extensive and the Artisan Blue Cheese Crème Brulée is for
which to die!
Southern Oregon might not be your first choice for a holiday and that’s
a shame. It’s a region that will be appreciated by anyone seeking fine
food and drink surrounded by majestic scenery. The restaurants are
manned (or womanned) by skilled and imaginative chefs and produce is
local and fresh. It’s quieter than its neighbour, California, but that
road less trodden offers delicious surprises.
For more information on Oregon visit here
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The Markthal - Rotterdam
We are thinking about a pre-Christmas break, a
rejuvenating Spring get-away, a Summer city break, and there are the
familiar cries of ‘Let’s go to Rotterdam.’ OK, OK, so I am pulling the
leg of my dear reader. It’s a shame that we don’t have Rotterdam as our
first thought – and I can’t see why.
The Netherlands is easy to get to from the UK and all other European
countries. Rotterdam has great transport connections from airports, sea
ports and by rail. It is overlooked by travellers who think that
Holland only has one city and that’s called Amsterdam. That is indeed a
fine and iconic town, but Rotterdam is a shining yet undiscovered gem.
But why exactly would one go to Rotterdam? Ask any previous visitor and
they will all recommend a trip and likely all give different reasons.
It seems to be one of those cities that charms and captivates with
quirky good humour. The architecture is a big draw, not only for those
who study the subject, but for us mortals who just admire striking,
beautiful, historic or contemporary buildings. Rotterdam is compact
with great bus and tram networks, so it’s simple to visit the 100
year-old Town Hall as well as the Stilt Houses and the new Markthal.
Thankfully most Dutch people speak English but many words are similar,
such as ‘Market Hall’ and ‘Markthal’. And, yes, I truly am urging you
to visit a market …but a very special example of that genre and one
that will make an impression in every regard.
There has been a buzz around Rotterdam for quite a while
and I can understand why. This brand-new Markthal is an architectural
stunner that will raise a gasp even from folks who don’t know the
difference between a flying buttress and a Corinthian
cantilevered somethingorother. This is a market to rival any of the
celebrated markets across Europe. This
horseshoe-shaped building makes a statement at night as well as during
The Markthal is easily found in the middle of the lively Laurens
district right in the centre of Rotterdam and within walking distance
of Blaak station. There is still an outdoors market and that mostly
caters for non-food items – everything from big knickers to
tablecloths. The new hall is a showcase for local produce as well as
far-flung-fare. One can not only buy food to take home and enjoy but
one can also eat at the numerous on-site restaurants. One doesn’t have
to be a fanatical ‘foodie’ to enjoy the Markthal, but just have an
appetite for colour and taste. It’s all here and much more than the
expected cheese. Yes, there is plenty of it to buy, but also lots more
that will hopefully change your expectations of Dutch food. It’s
eclectic, international (remember, Holland also had colonies) and
One can actually live at the Markthal. That might conjure pictures of
poor vagrants sleeping under stalls but that couldn’t be further from
the truth. There are 228 stylish apartments for sale or rent in the
arch of the Markthal. Many have views across the market and some even
have views down on the market via windows set in the floors! An apartment here would be the
dream of any food writer, chef, gastronomist or glutton.
The Markthal is a showcase for fine Dutch foods, casual restaurants of
every ethnic hue, outstanding design that pushes the
envelope of the conventional. Perhaps that’s the reason that the
Markthal will be a magnet for those interested in food and
architecture, and those two words are seldom found in the same
paragraph. And it’s also an ambassador: I don’t think that too strong a
word. It will be an ambassador for the individuality of the Dutch. It
will represent the fun and freedom of this small but vibrant country.
It will shout that it’s been done well, differently and remarkably.
Visit the Markthal here
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Oregon – Colourful in every way
The Portland area was originally inhabited by two bands of
Upper Chinook Native Am ericans. The
Multnomah people settled on and around Sauvie Island,
and the Cascades Indians settled along the Columbia
and its tribes were first ‘discovered’ by the expedition of Lewis and
Clark in 1805-6.
The site of Portland was known to settlers in the first half of the
1800s as "The Clearing". In 1843, Tennessee pioneer
William Overton and
Boston lawyer Asa Lovejoy filed a 640 acres (260 ha) land claim that
encompassed that area and the nearby waterfront and forest. Portland is
located on the Willamette River (that Willamette is pronounced to rhyme
with ‘damn it’, by the way). In 1845 the new town was officially named
In 1850 the city's population was 821 and, in typical frontier fashion,
was predominantly male, consisting of 653 white men, 164 white women
and four "free coloured" people. It was already the largest settlement
in the Pacific Northwest. On February 8, 1851, the city was officially
recognised. It now has a population of around 600,000. Portland was the
largest port in the Pacific Northwest for most of the 19th century,
until the 1890s, when direct railway routes between the deep-water
harbour in Seattle and on eastward was built.
In 1905, Portland was the host to the Lewis and Clark Centennial
Exposition. This event proved so popular in promoting the city that it
doubled the population in 15 years; and during the dot-com boom of the
1990s Portland saw another increase in population. Opportunities in the
graphic design and new Internet companies offered good
jobs and lower housing costs. However, when the city fell victim to the
worldwide economic down-turn, the city found itself with
a large artistic workforce and fewer jobs. Evidence of that creative
pool can still be seen in independent boutiques, artisan foods and the
weekend craft market down by the river.
Portland, at least in my opinion, seems to be a cradle for
free-thinking entrepreneurs and those with unique ideas and
aspirations. It isn’t an intimidatingly over-prosperous city but it’s
warm and welcoming. There are shopping malls aplenty which offer
high-end international labels as well as cut-price national brands that
might well be of more interest to the tourist with good-value exchange
dollars burning a hole in soon-to-be-replaced trouser pockets.
That aforementioned Saturday and Sunday market might present some more
individual apparel and gifts; Portland is also home to perhaps the
world’s biggest bookshop, Powell’s, and one can spend a morning
browsing its shelves of new and pre-loved treasures.
This is an accessible city. The blocks are said to be half the size of
those found in New York, so things are liable to be closer than one
might imagine, and probably even walkable. There is a comprehensive
network of public transport so there should be no fear of blowing the
budget on cabs. Yes, there are plenty of those around, but why not
pretend to be a local for a while and buy a pass for buses and trams.
The cost is much more appealing than a taxi fare and the routes will
take you where, or near where, you want to be.
Plenty of alternative culture here. Striking wall murals, the
celebrated Voodoo Doughnuts (as seen on TV, one should say), gardens
and museums. Portland seems to have it all and in a relatively small
area. On a hot afternoon there can be nothing more mentally
rejuvenating than a few hours in the Japanese Garden. There are all the elements
here to give an authentic experience – a tea house, traditional
buildings, gently running water as well as iconic trees, plants and a
romantic wooden bridge. One finds an oasis of tranquillity in an area
of raked gravel and boulders which is designed to enhance contemplation.
The Portland Art Museum offers another kind of quiet. It isn’t a huge
and overbearing dusty pile but a well-appointed couple
of buildings that house small collections of art and objects. There is
a particularly good exhibit of Native American artefacts including
those of the Northwestern tribes. The beadwork is well worth lingering
over. But art isn’t confined to museums in Portland. One can find those
wall paintings but also bronze statues of animals. One waits for a tram
a few yards from a mother bear and her cubs, a couple of deer graze on
the crowded sidewalk, and birds perch by a bus stop; and if tattoos are
considered art, there are plenty of those, too.
Take a camera to Portland. There are picture-perfect sights everywhere.
No, not perhaps amazing sunsets but shots of life in the city.
Buildings sporting those iconically American metal fire-escapes,
intricately carved stonework, street scenes, food trucks for which
Portland is famed …and people. There is diversity here in nationality
and income. I have found some US cities to be rather bland, at least
the bits that are most frequented by visitors, but Portland, by
contrast, has huge personality. It has quirky charm. This is a city for
the adventurous and young at heart.
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Netherlands – Canals and Comfort
Holland isn’t perhaps the first place we think of for a
short break. If we do, then it’s likely we would consider Amsterdam –
but there is more to The Netherlands than that well-publicised city.
What do we want from a Dutch
holiday? Canals and cheese? Well, there are canals in Groningen, which
is a town that encapsulates iconic Dutch features in a compact and
beautiful package. It’s in the far north of The Netherlands but is said
to give a flavour of the whole of the country.
But what about that cheese? Yes, there is cheese here but there are
also marvellous restaurants and cafés all over the town. A good
proportion of the population are students from the universities, so not
only can one find good food but those dishes are liable to be at a good
price. There are automat food stations dotted around town, but although
they offer exceptionally cheap food, they can’t be recommended –
perhaps these should be reserved for extremely hard-up scholars or
brave drunken revellers. Thankfully, there are far more fine-dining
options and stunning hotels.
One of The Netherlands’ most striking hotels is in
Groningen and is a remarkable gem. It is, amazingly, only designated as
a 4* hotel but that can only be due to its lack of lift. It warrants 6*
in every other regard. The original building was constructed in 1436
(hence the absence of elevator provision) and was owned by the Brethren
of the Common Life. In 1569 it became the home of John Knijff, the
first Bishop of Groningen. Eventually it became the residence of the
Princes of Nassau which is the royal house from where the hotel’s name
The building has had many uses and many owners over the decades. It has
housed the National Court, a French military hospital, a barracks and
the HQ for a broadcaster. The building stood empty for almost seven
years but finally opened in August 2012 as the outstanding hotel we see
The Prinsenhof Hotel now consists of 7 historic buildings with 34
luxurious rooms and suites, a Grand Café in the former church
(retaining its high ceilings and many original features), and
restaurant Alacarte. There are still many of the ancient architectural
elements that make this a most characterful establishment. It’s that
combination of historic construction and state-of-the-art modern
facilities that makes Prinsenhof such a winner. Attention to detail and
the needs of its guests have given the hotel an enviable reputation.
Eiderdown quilts, high-end toiletries as well as memorable food put a
stay at the Prinsenhof at the top of any Netherlands bucket list.
9712 JH Groningen
Phone: +31-50 -317 6555
Visit Prinsenhof Hotel here
Flinders Café Noorderplantsoen in Groningen could
your refreshment stop before, during, or after a leisurely ramble or a
bike-ride around this beautiful park. The produce, and most of those
enjoying the food, will be local and many of them students. The menu
offers Dutch specialities like Mustard Soup as well as international
fare. Prices are very reasonable and the ambiance is welcoming and
friendly. A great spot for relaxing, refuelling and people-watching.
Flinders has a huge Dutch following, which appreciates its great food,
convenient locations and rustic elegance. Well worth a visit.
Flinders Café Groningen Noorderplantsoen -
Cross Singel 1-9712 XN Groningen - tel 050 312 3537
Flinders Café Groningen Schuitendiep -
The Drove 2 / Schuitendiep 54 - tel. 050 7370242
Visit Flinders here
't Feithhuis Restaurant
This fashionable restaurant is conveniently situated in
the heart of the town. It is stylish and chic and is open early enough
for a late breakfast and late enough for an even later dinner. It’s
open till 11pm so a great haunt for night birds – and Groningen is
blessed with many a venue in which to continue nocturnal adventures.
This is, after all, a student city.
Food here matches the interior. It’s refined, somewhat whimsical,
polished, well presented and memorable. There is an opportunity for al
fresco dining in the warmer months, giving 't Feithhuis Restaurant a
truly Continental charm. One can enjoy High Tea and feel thoroughly
pampered in classic fash ion, and their coffee shop has
been voted one of the best
in The Netherlands.
Open every day from 10:30 to 23:00
't Feithhuis Restaurant
Visit 't Feithhuis Restaurant here
Travel to Groningen
Groningen Airport Eelde
Machlaan 14a, 9761 KT Eelde
PO box 50,
9765 ZH Paterswolde
Phone: +31 (0)50-309 70 70 (Monday - Friday)
Find out more about flights to Groningen here
London Southend Airport Company Limited
Southend on Sea
Tel: +44 (0) 1702 538500
Fax: +44 (0) 1702 538501
Car Park Enquiries
Visit Southend Airport here
For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here
Contemporary and Historic
Groningen isn’t the first destination in The Netherlands
of which one might think. It’s invariably Amsterdam that gets that accolade, and a very
fine city it is. But Groningen, in the north of this, one of my
favourite countries in Europe, is like an accessible snapshot of all
things Dutch. Groningen might be a distance from Amsterdam but it
couldn’t be easier to get to. There are direct flights from the new
Southend Airport, and travel from that portal is an uncrowded joy at
The first major settlement in Groningen has been traced back to the
third century AD. It became the regional centre of power of the
northern Netherlands, a semi-independent city-state and member of the
German Hanseatic League. This was, as I am sure you will remember from
your history books, a commercial and defensive confederation of
merchant guilds and their market towns, that controlled trade along the
coast of Northern Europe. The most influential period of the city was
the end of the 15th century, when the nearby province of Friesland was
administered from Groningen.
This vibrant and beautiful town is the main municipality as well as the
capital city of the eponymous province in the Netherlands. Yes, that’s
a mouthful but the stats are, simply, with a population of 190,000 it
is the largest city in the north of Holland. These days Groningen is
more known for education than trade. It’s a university town with 1 in
every 5 inhabitants being a student. It houses the University of
Groningen and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.
The imposing Martinitoren (Martini Tower) was built in the 15th century
and it still dominates the city at around 100
metres tall. It was the highest building in Europe at the time. The
city's independence came to an end when it chose to join forces with
the Spanish during the Eighty Years' War in 1594. It later re-joined
the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.
The city did not escape the devastation of World War II in which The
Netherlands suffered so much. The main square, Grote Markt, was largely
destroyed in April 1945, during the Battle of Groningen. However, the
Martinitoren, its church the Goudkantoor, and the city hall remained
undamaged. The Germans agreed not to use Martinitoren and the advancing
Canadian troops agreed not to shell it, although there was a little
The Tower contains a brick spiral staircase of 260 steps, and the
carillon at the top of the tower contains 62 bells. It’s considered to
be one of the main tourist attractions of Groningen with a view over
the city and surrounding area if you can manage all those steps.
Groningen has been described as the "World Cycling City" because nearly
60% of journeys within the city are made by bicycle. As with most Dutch
cities, Groningen is well equipped to accommodate all those cyclists.
There is the usual large network of cycle paths to enable visitor and
local alike to reach the most interesting spots around town. There is a
good public transport service and a large pedestrianised precinct in
the city centre.
The city centre offers great retail therapy opportunities. This
is a university city so along with designer labels one can find more
‘eclectic’ fashion in markets as well as boutiques. The market square
is fringed with bars and restaurants which offer everything from fine
dining to fast food. Yes, The Netherlands does have food and it’s very
good. Don’t think just cheese but consider succulent seafood. More here
than pancakes so try some local specialities like the Mustard Soup. And
then there is fladderak. This is a drink which is named after a
tax collector from Groningen. The liqueur is distilled using a secret
recipe of the Hooghoudt family, developed at the end of the nineteenth
century and it’s flavoured with cloves. ‘Groninger koek’ is the local
spiced cake – delicious with a cup of coffee and a nice sit down.
Groningen has a celebrated nightlife as one would expect with such a
huge student population. Bars in the centre of town are allowed to stay
open 24 hours a day so it’s amazing any exams are ever passed. But
there is also culture aplenty. The Groningen Museum is considered
one of the most striking museums in the Netherlands. It sits on a
canal, in fact part of it is actually under water level. It’s
contemporary and reflects splendidly the arts held within. This is a
museum for those who think they don’t like museums.
OK, so the kids might take some persuading that a museum will be good
for their souls so there is a new and
striking 3D experience at the futuristic and equally noteworthy new
Infoversum building in Groningen. They will be offering visual events
on dates throughout the year so visit https://www.infoversum.nl to
learn more. The cinema facilities here are outstanding.
Groningen is a delightful introduction to Holland. It’s a gentle city
with plenty to do for visitors of all ages. For those who enjoy an
active break there are walks and bike rides. It’s a town with a young
population so those who are the hardest to please in the group, with
perpetual designer-bored expressions, will be distracted by edgy
fashion, trendy (is that still a word) shopping and vibrant
neighbourhoods. There is lots of more traditional culture for the rest
Groningen Airport Eelde
Machlaan 14a, 9761 KT Eelde
PO box 50,
9765 ZH Paterswolde
Phone: +31 (0)50-309 70 70 (Monday - Friday)
Find out more about flights to Groningen here
London Southend Airport Company Limited
Southend on Sea
Tel: +44 (0) 1702 538500
Fax: +44 (0) 1702 538501
Car Park Enquiries
Visit Southend Airport here
For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here
Paramount Afternoon Tea
– Centre Point
Centre Point is iconic, at least for
Londoners. It’s an imposing concrete and glass office building in
central London and just above Tottenham Court Road Underground station.
It couldn’t be more convenient for those using London’s equally iconic
The area is something of a building sight just now – it’s the Crossrail
development – but that will be finished, and calm, as much as there
ever is, will be restored to this historic corner of London. Historic?
Yes, indeed, although there is scant evidence at street level. The site
was once occupied by a gallows.
Centre Point was one of the first skyscrapers in London but now there
are almost 30 buildings that can claim to be taller. In 1995 it was
given a grade II listed building designation for its striking use of
the crystalline concrete style that Richard Seifert developed. He is
widely recognised for having influenced 1960s and 1970s London
architecture, although that isn’t universally considered a positive
Ironically the 380-foot tower stood empty for five years after its
completion in 1967 and it’s that period for which it is often
remembered. It was held as a beacon of capitalism and was even used as
a squat. Those days are over and Centre Point is now pristine and
In autumn 2008 Paramount was opened at the top of Centre Point. It
initially operated as a private members club, but this policy was
changed in 2010 to allow Paramount to be accessible to everybody. The
three floors include an event space on the 31st floor,
bar and restaurant on 32nd, and a 360-degree viewing gallery on the
33rd floor – that’s the very summit of the building.
The Shard, the Cheese Grater and the Gherkin are all celebrated
buildings which now dominate the London skyline but, in fact, one gets
one of the best views of that impressive vista from Centre Point. It’s
not only those new structures that one can see: St Paul’s Cathedral,
Tower Bridge and the British Museum are all visible from one’s
afternoon tea table at Paramount.
The restaurant has a rather retro-chic interior which matches perfectly
the building at large. Plenty of light from the picture windows, dark
wood on tables, and a stunning custom-made copper bar create a space
that works from breakfast to dinner. I am sure the night city panorama
would be outstanding and a photographer’s dream.
Head Chef Krzysztof Zachwieja has developed a menu of modern European
dishes for lunch and dinner and whimsically presents an afternoon tea
to pander to the party person in us. Traditional Afternoon Tea is
available for those who want the more usual London experience but the
High Spirits Afternoon Tea is an event and will be adored by anyone
with a sweet tooth. And don’t worry – every table has an amazing view,
though you are advised to book in advance.
High Spirits Afternoon Tea is served with pots of tea or coffee for
or a Cocktail for £42. The edible goods arrive on the ubiquitous
practical 3-tier stand and a couple of plates. Gaze with admiration at
the stand but start with the warm scones with rum-soaked dried fruit.
The Cointreau & Orange marmalade continues the tipsy theme that
makes its mark on every element here.
Yes, those sweet treats await, but the next course is the
savoury. Whisky Oak Smoked Ham with Wholegrain Mustard on Tomato
Bread, Gin and Orange Cured Salmon, Lemon Butter on Lemon Bread, Mature
Cheddar and Port Jelly on Rye Bread, Bloody Mary on Wholegrain Bread
were the array of sandwiches that all contained booze in some guise.
All good but the salmon sandwich was outstanding and the
use of lemon added so much.
Raspberry Cranachan is a Whisky Crème Fraiche,
Raspberry and Chambord Purée with a topping of crunchy oats – a
nod to Scotland. Porn Star Martini was a triumph of tangy Passion Fruit
Bavarois, Lime Shortbread and a Prosecco Cloud which held up even after
a wait while we consumed the previous plates. Amaretto Sour was a
chocolate ‘vase’ of Amaretto Tiramisu and Lime Mascarpone. Coffee
Bailey’s is a Cream Bailey’s mousse that reminded me of the Christmas
drinks cabinet - Chocolate Mousse, Crunchy Caramel and Coffee Crumble
completed this confection. Brandy and Cherry Cola didn’t sound too
appealing but it really worked. It arrived after we had consumed the
rest of the sweets. It’s a rich Cherry and Brandy Compote, Cola Jelly,
Cola Granita and Sherbet.
The Paramount restaurant at Centre Point should be on the itinerary of
every tourist. The High Spirits Afternoon Tea is competitively priced
and it’s an occasion to sample a twist on the regular afternoon tea,
that is a must for any traveller to the UK. Come here and be stunned by
London laid out before you.
Mon - Wed: 7.00 am –1.30am
Thurs - Fri: 7.00am - 2.30am
Sat: noon - 2.30am
Sun: noon - 10.00pm
101-103 New Oxford Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7420 2900
Fax: +44 (0)20 7420 2919
Visit Paramount here
London Southend Airport
I am a West London girl (OK, more accurately, mature woman
of a certain age) and therefore ideally positioned for Heathrow. I have had reasonable travel experiences at
Gatwick and Stansted which are equally described as ‘London’ airports
even though the Oyster Card falls short of those marks. But Southend
sounded a long way off – I guess because it’s on the coast and kinda
Journey time from London Liverpool Street Station to Southend Airport
is in fact only 53 minutes. That makes it a contender even for those
from the Wild West. But there are a couple of considerable bonuses.
First, and this is a huge advantage, the railway station is actually at
the airport. No, not a ‘convenient and friendly’ shuttle-bus ride away,
but actually at the airport and an honest few yards from arriving or
The first train arrives at Southend Airport Railway Station at around
6.30am, with the last train departing at just past 11pm. There is the
X30 coach service which runs through the night and taxis are also
available. At peak times up to 8 trains an hour from Central London
arrive at Southend Airport. Average price for a single (off-peak)
ticket is £14.90 - discounts available for rail cards, travel
The second advantage is you won’t need parking. Public transport can
often be the most economic mode of getting to an airport if you are a
lone traveller or if there are only two of you. No fuel to pay and no
parking fees incurred. There are, naturally, plenty of parking spaces
if that is more convenient for families.
Southend Airport is new and spacious. One can grab a snack, and in
future there will be more retail outlets. But it’s the lack of crowds
that is appealing. It takes only a couple of minutes from the check-in
and bag-drop to passport control and security. There was actually
no queueing for security on my visit and that was something of a
marvel. There seems to be the expectation of increased capacity so one
hopes that this outstandingly speedy service will continue, as it makes
such a positive difference to the travel experience of Southend Airport
visitors. The airlines have a target of 700,000 additional London
Southend passengers within three years.
Business and first-class passengers are not
forgotten. There is a private lounge with the expected polished
facilities of these retreats: hot drinks, soft drinks, alcohol, snacks
and comfy chairs. I suspect that this lounge will be sought less often
here than in other international airports due to the lack of crowds,
but it’s a necessary bolt-hole and appreciated by the discerning flyer.
So the airport is easy to get to and pleasant when one is there; but an
airport, however smart, is rarely the destination for a traveller.
Where might one be going from Southend Airport? Well, there’s a
surprisingly comprehensive menu of destinations in Europe and
throughout the UK. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and
Holland have flights from Southend. All the Flybe-branded routes are
operated by Stobart Air (yes, the lorry people) and over £120
has been invested by the Stobart Group since Southend Airport was
acquired in 2008. Aer Lingus also has three daily return services
between London Southend and Dublin, where travellers are able to take
advantage of transatlantic connections to Boston, Chicago, New York,
Orlando, San Francisco and Toronto. To anyone who has had to endure the
iffy ‘welcome’ by US passport and security staff on their home
territory, Dublin Airport’s own US Preclearance service might offer, at
least, a degree of ordinary civility.
Southend Airport might be small but it’s perfectly formed, and
conveniently located. The flights allow travellers direct access to
cities not served by other UK airports. Facilities are new and, at
present, not under pressure. It’s a model for other airports which
might like to strive to offer a better customer experience.
London Southend Airport Company Limited
Southend on Sea
Tel: +44 (0) 1702 538500
Fax: +44 (0) 1702 538501
Car Park Enquiries
Visit Southend Airport here
For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here
Porky's BBQ at Bankside
I guess the name says it all. BBQ is what Porky's offers,
but this is the real thing rather than the chain variety, which has
more to do with fast food; the traditional (Memphis) barbecue on which
Porky's is modelled is rather on the slow side …like 18 hours slow.
Joy and Simon Brigg were inspired to open Porky's (there are now two
restaurants) after road trips around America. They opened the first
Porky in Camden and now there is a new restaurant at Bankside, and
that’s the one we visited for lunch. It’s tucked down a side street but
easy to find. It’s almost opposite Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and just
a few yards from the River Thames and the imposing Tate Modern art
Porky's isn’t over-themed. Simon explained that when they moved in
there were just the bare walls, which they have chosen to keep as
natural brick. This gave the team a blank canvas on which to work. The
design is simple and open, with an impressive bar at the entrance – the
chunky railway sleepers add character and rustic charm. There are
graphics that give a nod to the US and the music fits the style. But
there is nothing OTT. The illuminated pig is
whimsical but the food is serious.
BBQ Wings in a rich and tangy BBQ sauce was my starter and
it hinted at the copious plates that awaited. My advice
would be: prepare to tuck the napkin under your chin (note to smart
office workers in those crisp light-blue shirts) and don’t have
breakfast before you come to lunch …in fact don’t have breakfast or
lunch before coming to dinner. Yes, large portions, but thankfully
large portions of rather good-quality meat.
It’s not only meat on the menu though. My companion enjoyed some hearty
crab cakes, and there were cheesy corn hush puppies on offer but I am
saving those for the next visit. Porky's is just the kind of casual
restaurant that demands a second visit. One will notice dishes served
on other tables and will pencil in a try of those on one’s return.
My main was the 18-hour smoked pulled pork. The whopping serving of
shredded meat was presented with a slightly sweet brioche bun. The pork
still retained its natural flavour although the diner has the option of
adding the table sauces - BBQ or a vinegar mop which was tart and, to
my mind, an ideal condiment.
My companion ordered the Memphis Ribs and Tips with BBQ sauce, for
which Porky's has become justifiably celebrated. Now, dear peckish
reader, these are not the ribs with which you are likely familiar.
These are substantial and meaty. My usually-hollow-legged fellow diner
was unable to finish his plate even though he pronounced that these
were the most remarkable ribs he had ever tried, on either side of the
The striking bar that you doubtless noticed on your way in
offers a good selection of Porky's bespoke cocktails as well as
American beers and spirits. If you don’t fancy any of the drink menu
suggestions then the bar master will fix you a classic
cocktail. There is also root beer to which I am addicted, although I
admit that it’s something of an acquired taste. Porky's Iced Tea does
indeed contain tea …and lots of alcohol, so don’t order this for your
Aunty Lil who is dying for a cuppa.
Porky's Bankside offers great food and lots of it. The ambiance is
casual. The location is iconic. In short Porky's ticks boxes for
quality, for fun and for friendly. I will return to graze anew and I
might try a burger next time …with just a little pile of pulled pork on
Porky's BBQ Bankside
18 New Globe Walk
Phone: 020 8127 5120
Visit Porky's here
Canada Square for Saturday Brunch
Let’s be honest: most of us love the adrenalin-inducing
frantic pace of London life. We are
perhaps lucky if we can grab a plastic sandwich for lunch, and dinner
can often be something of a rush or a take-away. But there is always
Brunch can be a special time. A quiet time partnered with delicious
food. An occasion to meet friends who have that same hectic life
profile. It’s a few hours when we don’t need to hurry. Yes, Brunch
ticks so many boxes of relaxed conviviality.
One Canada Square restaurant is a newly-found gem for this writer. I
recently enjoyed lunch so much that I wanted to visit for brunch. It’s
a small restaurant but beautifully appointed with Art Deco hints, green
Guatemalan marble, dark wood and classic service. Saturday brunch has
casually dressed guests rather than the flock of be-suited business
diners who populate it on weekdays. The ambiance is relaxed but the
attention to detail is still evident.
Brunch offers the best of both breakfast and lunch, and One Canada
Square invites you between 9am and 5pm every Saturday. If you arrive
around 1pm you will likely be welcomed by a pianist tickling the
ivories (it’s not really ivory, my dear ecologically-aware reader) of a
white baby-grand piano. This is old-fashioned charm even though the
music is a mixture of contemporary and high-brow pieces, and perhaps
some snatches from the musicals, too.
The menu is extensive and offers two selections.
There is the Full Brunch menu or the Bottomless Brunch menu, which is
slightly shorter but gives the appealing advantage of an endless supply
of fizz or Bloody Marys.
I do think that a good egg dish is important at any self-respecting
brunch. It’s the very eggy definition of that multi-faceted meal. Eggs
Benedict is ubiquitous and for very good reason. They do a classic Eggs
Benni here with a runny yolk that bathes the ham and is seasoned by the
Hollandaise Sauce. There is a luxurious version that sounds divine –
Soft-shell Crab Benedict with jalapeno hollandaise. There is also,
amongst many other items, an ‘OCS Breakfast’ that sounds as if it could
be the brekkie of choice for strapping rugby players - fried duck egg,
crisp pancetta, chorizo, morcilla (a kind of black pudding), hash
browns, and an English muffin.
There are salads for those with less capacity than hefty sportsmen. The
Heritage Tomato Salad with Feta was fresh and flavourful and a riot of
colours. Those little fruits (yes, a tom is a fruit) range from the
savoury to the sweet, the flesh from meaty to melting. It’s only
tomatoes but simple can sometimes be outstanding.
The menu changes often to reflect the best of produce but my Saturday
offered Crab Tagliatelle and it was outstanding. There was a decent
amount of seafood, a good-sized portion of pasta and plenty of flavour.
There are also steaks, burgers and chicken as well as vegetarian
If space allows, a dessert will be in order. Bitter
chocolate delice with salted caramel and burnt orange ice cream is a
sweet triumph. The delice was rich and dark and the caramel a
delightful garnish (they should serve this by the pot-full). But the
star was the ice cream!
Canada Square, the location, that is, sparkles with glass and metal – a
striking city landscape. But this cosy restaurant found in the corner
of the foyer of One Canada Square, the building, is a stylish step back
in time, and a very welcome one.
One Canada Square
London E14 5AB
Reservations: 020 7559
Visit One Canada Square Restaurant here
things to do in St Kitts
This is a stunning little island that offers so much.
There are hot golden beaches, cool and tranquil rain
forests, history, food, adventure and entertainment.
It’s an ideal Caribbean location for those with children. It’s safe,
with a relaxed pace of life. Some folks like days filled with
activities and others want to occupy themselves with tanning. St Kitts
has many facets.
1. Stay in a hotel on the beach
The Marriott has a perfect location, and it is indeed on a
beach lapped by Atlantic waves. There is a huge free-form pool and a
flock of sun beds both by that pool and on the sand. It’s a one-stop
resort for guests who are content to enjoy the sun, frequent the hotel
restaurants (the Italian one, La Cuchina, is outstanding) and have a
few hours in the cool of the casino.
2. Visit the Rainforest
One might assume that a trek to the Amazon would be in
order, if you want to visit a real tropical jungle. But St Kitts has
its own and it’s even expanding. O’Neil Tours offers guided walks of
various lengths with a guide (perhaps Mr. O’Neil himself) who will give
an enchanting insight into the flora and fauna of these unspoilt
forests. There are medicinal leaves, fruits, monkeys, streams and
exotic plants aplenty.
Phone: +1 869.465.3107
3. Visit Wingfield Estate
Hire a car for a day and do a circuit of the island. St.
Kitts is about 168 sq km (65 sq mi) and approximately 29 km (18 mi)
long. There are lots of small villages around the coast as well as
historic sites, churches, bars and stunning views.
St Kitts became celebrated initially for the cultivation of tobacco and
then for the production of sugarcane. On your drive around you will
find The Wingfield Estate, which offers a glimpse of life on a historic
sugar plantation. One can still see architectural features; there’s
lots of information on sugar refining and even rum distilling. The
amateur engineers in the party will be in their element.
4. Caribelle Batik
While the boys are musing on ancient stills and aqueducts
the girls might like to learn about batik. This is a printing process
that involves the often intricate application of wax to fabric and the
use of various coloured dyes to produce beautiful and vibrant fabrics.
The shop will tempt with shelves of multi-coloured cotton.
5. Lunch at El Fredo’s
This simple and rustic restaurant should be on the St
Kitts bucket list of any serious food lover. It’s owned and run by Ken
and Jasmine, who have been feeding both regulars and tourists for
several years and they have garnered rave reviews. Jasmine is the chef
and she had developed a menu that showcases local dishes from local
ingredients. The conch is particularly good here.
6. Enjoy the Caribbean Coast
That sea is just as blue in real life as it is on
postcards. One can walk from the Atlantic to the Caribbean in a matter
of minutes: St Kitts is an island shaped like a paddle and it’s only a
short trot across the handle to find the other water mass. The
Caribbean is usually calmer than the Atlantic. One can enjoy truly warm
water and perhaps go snorkelling or sailing. Cockleshell Beach might be
a short drive from your hotel but this small strand can be your corner
7. Enjoy a cocktail at Salt Plage
Visit Salt Plage, which is newly opened in Whitehouse Bay.
The latest addition to Christophe Harbour offers a stunning bar from
which to watch the setting sun. It’s sophisticated and stylish and
offers the signature Salt Pond Jumbie. This is destined to be a
must-be-seen-at jet-setters’ watering hole.
8. Visit the capital of Basseterre
This is the main town but it isn’t overly touristic. One
can enjoy a refreshing young coconut – drink the water and then scoop
the delicious jelly flesh. Buy a pineapple – cut while you wait. Find a
spot in the shade and admire the immaculately turned-out children in
their crisp school uniforms. Take pictures of unique architecture.
9. Cooking class at Nirvana Fairview
A lasting souvenir of your St Kitts visit could be a
recipe or two to take home. The Nirvana Fairview Estate offers cooking
classes that will enable you to create a Caribbean feast. The grounds
are filled with exotic fruit trees and plants so you can see where some
ingredients are grown. They can also provide a celebrated afternoon tea
to be enjoyed along with a dip in their own pool.
10. High-wire adventure
If you are the sort that craves thrills then you will want
to go zip lining. I am not overly courageous and I am a woman of a
certain age but after two ‘flights’ I was addicted. For the untutored,
this is a ride hooked to a cable. One flies above the rainforest canopy
at great speed and with a sense of freedom. This is a must-do and will
compensate the adolescents for behaving so well at lunch.
La Mancha – Chiswick
The name La Mancha will be familiar to all in West London
and many from further afield. It was a veritable culinary institution
in Putney but it’s found a new home, and to my mind a better one.
La Mancha is, in fact, a history-rich region of central Spain, south of
Madrid. Don Quixote was a quintessential Man of La Mancha, who
travelled with his donkey-riding side-kick, Sancho Panza. Don Quixote
was also a man of ideals and dreams and he is commemorated on the walls
of the restaurant.
This is a smaller venue than the Putney original but it’s perfectly
formed, more contemporary and with the advantage of a nice bit of al
fresco space. One can sit, on those balmy evenings, and people-watch.
Plenty of room inside though, and also a private dining room with its
own bar, for functions and celebrations.
Chiswick has been recognised as a dining destination for decades. Yes,
there are plenty of chain options but also lots of smart independent
restaurants such as La Mancha, which is an easy fit with the
neighbourhood and discerning locals.
It’s a testament to La Mancha that it seems to have carried its Putney
customers with it. We noticed that those in the
know had followed the restaurant and there seem to be new regulars too.
There is plenty of choice along the high street but La Mancha has
already made its mark.
The restaurant sports an awning which advertises Tapas and Cava. The
menu offers classics but the specials are for which to die. We started
with Rebanata De Pan Con Tomate which is grilled bread, chopped fresh
tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Quantity along with quality seems to be
the rule here. This simple preparation is perfect with either a glass
of red (lots of choice of wines by the glass) or the iconic Cava, an
under-rated fizz that I adore.
Berejenas Fritas - crispy aubergines with honey and Romesco sauce -
must surely be a signature dish. I remember this from Putney. These
crunchy discs are as light as a feather and addictive. Don’t order just
one of these for the table: I promise that will never be enough. A
plate would do for just two greedy diners. That’s a reflection of its
moreish quality rather than size of portions, which are famously
generous. That extra order will reduce the likelihood of unseemly
Croquetas De Atun Y Pimientos are tuna and red pepper croquettes. One
has to indulge in traditional croquettes when visiting a tapas
restaurant. They have a crunchy exterior containing a creamy savoury
filling and they are deep-fried. That seems to tick all the boxes.
There are four croquettes per order.
Carrillera Estofada, Guisantes Y Patata Dauphinoise were on the
specials list which is always worth a look. They were a substantial
portion of slow-cooked Iberian beef cheeks served with Dauphinoise
potatoes and peas. The meat was melting and flavourful with a rich
gravy. The peas were a sweet garnish but those potatoes were the best
of that genre I have ever had. New Head Chef Kike Moledo is already
proving his worth.
Born in Galicia, Northwest Spain, Kike spent his childhood spare time
helping in the kitchen at his grandmother's
restaurant. That’s where he came to love food and cooking. Galicia has
great produce from both land and sea so the lad would have been exposed
to the best. Salvatore Cricchio, owner of La Mancha, says "I am
delighted to have Kike on board as part of our team. His expertise in
Spanish cuisine comes from his passion for cooking and dedication to
learning new recipes.”
La Mancha is a casual restaurant with a refined accent. The dishes are
first class and substantial, there are classics and innovation. The
staff are friendly and attentive. The prices are better than reasonable
and allow for return visits. It’s a restaurant at which one would like
to be a regular. There can be no better recommendation. I’ll be
reserving my table – the one in the corner by the window.
142 Chiswick High Road
London W4 1PU
Phone: 020 8994 6816
Opening Hours: 12:00 - 22:30 every day
Visit La Mancha here
One Canada Square
Summer in London is a fleeting affair but we make the best
of it. We seek sun traps, an impressive view, and even a
vantage point from which to watch our boys being knocked out of
Wimbledon or, less frequently, the World Cup. We also need feeding and
we want to do that in style. One Canada Square and its environs ticks
boxes with grassy areas, perhaps a large TV screen, and a rather fine
Canary Wharf is located on the former site of West India Docks on the
Isle of Dogs. In Medieval times it was called Stepney Marsh and in the
13th Century was drained to create pastures for cattle and fields for
fresh produce. The name Isle of Dogs is thought to have been adopted
because there were royal kennels in the area. In the 1690s a dock was
built at Rotherhithe. This location worked so well that further docks
were constructed in the same area, including West India Dock and St
From 1802 the docks were considered some of the busiest in the world.
By the 1930s the Port of London carried 35 million tons of cargo, worth
approximately £700m. 100,000 dockers and associated workers were
employed by the Port of London Authority, but the Second World War
caused great devastation. It is estimated that the Germans dropped
around 2,500 bombs over the docks and destroyed many of them, as well
as the homes of the aforementioned dockers.
During the 1960s the port began to decline, leading to all the docks
being closed by 1981. Many of us of a certain age will remember the
dockers’ strikes as the introduction of containers and technology made
their skills obsolete.
Canary Wharf itself takes its name from berth No. 32 of the Import
Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of the
celebrated Fred Olsen Lines, for the thriving Mediterranean and Canary
Islands fruit trade. It was their suggestion that the quay and
warehouse were given the new name of Canary Wharf.
London Docklands Development Corporation was created in 1981 and
granted the Isle of Dogs Enterprise Zone status in 1982. Construction
of the Canary Wharf complex began in 1988, the first buildings being
completed in 1991 including One Canada Square (usually but incorrectly
called Canary Wharf due to its location). It was the UK's tallest
building from 1990 to 2010. Its 50 storeys still dominate the area but
it was overtaken by The Shard which was completed in 2012 with more
than 70 floors.
One Canada Square is primarily used for offices and is not open to the
public. But the visitor will likely be more
interested in the shops and restaurants at the base. The lobby is
striking and rich, with lavish use made of both Italian and Guatemalan
marble, and One Canada Square Restaurant continues that theme.
Diners enter the restaurant through the bar area. High stools and cut
glass combine to offer an ambiance of retro calm. This isn’t a spot to
down 6 pints and a pack of pork scratchings. Linger over a shaken
martini and transport yourself to Manhattan for half an hour.
Those businessmen who grace the towering office space above are
blessed. One Canada Square Restaurant oozes accessible charm. I would
perhaps describe it as Art Deco with contemporary accents. That classy
ethos continues at the table which offers traditional presentation of
dishes as well as traditional polished service. Perhaps ‘traditional’
diminishes the description as such service is becoming rare.
Unobtrusive yet attentive is a balance seldom aimed for and less often
It’s not the longest menu in East London but is no worse for that. It
tempts with classics interwoven with contemporary innovation. Steak
Tartare served with a hen's egg yolk was pronounced excellent by my
discerning guest, the renowned Italian food writer and celebrity chef
Valentina Harris. She is a lady who recognises quality. I chose Cornish
Fish Soup with rouille and croutons. The soup was a delight although
the rouille was not what I expected. Rouille is usually a sauce made of
olive oil with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and chili peppers. The
version here is a light lemon mayo.
My guest ordered Scallop and Shrimp Burger with kimchee and chips for
her main course. A great success with a mild
interpretation of the famous Korean pickled vegetables. I opted for One
Canada Square Pie which is a hearty offering, the filling of which
changes daily. Call me old-fashioned if you like but a good pie is a
culinary masterpiece and we do pies very well on these islands. My
beefy preparation was well seasoned with a good quantity of tender and
flavourful meat. The side dishes of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes
matched perfectly. A simple main meal but it hit the epicurean spot.
Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream along with a pot of hot chocolate
sauce was my dessert although, truth to tell, I was already at bursting
point. I allowed my guest to sacrifice herself for my art at the altar
of the Banoffee-Bocker Glory. It’s a decadent dessert to bring out the
inner child in even the most sophisticated diner. A tall glass filled
with the expected banoffee ingredients finished off the meal and my
guest in fine fashion.
One Canada Square Restaurant has style. Its setting is 21st Century
London but it gives a nod to Milan or Madrid and a gentler era.
One Canada Square
London E14 5AB
Reservations: 020 7559
Visit One Canada Square Restaurant here
St Kitts – History and Tranquillity
I am no expert on the Caribbean. Truth to tell, this was
my first visit to the islands. Friends had described their vacations to
some other Caribbean islands with enthusiasm, but those things over
which they so passionately enthused kinda left me thinking that I might
stay home! Perhaps it’s an age thing. I wanted a holiday filled with
calm and beauty, but punctuated with a reggae opportunity at a distance
from my bedroom window, and perhaps just a hint of adventure – enough
to give a thrill but not enough to increase the cost of the holiday
insurance policy. I found St Kitts.
St Kitts isn’t over-developed by tourism. It retains many original
features, to use estate agent ‘speak’. It’s a lush island made up of
three groups of volcanic peaks, rainforest and a peninsula where sits
the popular Marriott Hotel and its associated fine beach. It offers
vacationers a high standard of both accommodation and food just yards
from that sun-kissed strand. It’s on the Atlantic coast but any
self-respecting tourist will want to also boast that they have toasted
their toes on a beach that is lapped by more gentle Caribbean waves,
and that other water mass is just a short walk away.
This island has a long and colourful history which
began with the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493.
He spotted the island but sailed on past. The island is thought to be
named after either that navigator or the patron saint of travellers,
St. Christopher – Kitt is a diminutive of the name Christopher.
Englishman Thomas Warner arrived with fourteen other settlers in 1624
to found the first English colony in the Caribbean. The island
was already inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs.
A couple of years after the establishment of the English
settlement, Pierre Belain d'Esnambue landed with a small group of
French settlers. He had the support of Cardinal Richelieu to establish
French colonies in the Caribbean, and the cardinal became a shareholder
in the Compagnie de Saint-Christophe. The new arrivals evidently
changed the dynamic between colonists and the indigenous population: a
massacre ensued which wiped out the original inhabitants.
The Europeans had the island to themselves but continued, in true
Anglo-French fashion, to war against each other. St. Kitts has a
UN World Heritage Site designation for Brimstone Hill Fortress &
National Park, for those who are interested in battles.
The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ceded the entire island of St
Kitts to Great Britain and in 1727 Basseterre became the island's
The colonists developed initially tobacco and
later sugar plantations and brought African slaves to work the land. St
Kitts soon became a leader in sugar production in the Caribbean. In
2005, due to falling profits, the Government closed both the cane
fields and the sugar factory. The commercial industry has ceased but
sugar cane can still be found growing in un-tended fields.
Wingfield Estate offers visitors a chance to take just a glimpse back
in time to see how a plantation worked. It
was populated by owners and slaves but those workers not only cut the
cane but had skills in the blacksmiths shop as well as the rum
distillery. The first owner was Sam Jefferson and that name might sound
somewhat familiar. He was the grandfather several times removed of
Thomas Jefferson, who was the third president of the U.S.A. By 1775 the
American Revolution was being fought and there were 68 sugar
plantations on St. Kitts, which equates to one for every square mile.
The Wingfield estate followed the trends of the day and first grew
tobacco and indigo which gave the blue dye for clothes.
The present owner says that tobacco still grows whenever the ground is
disturbed. Sugar and rum were the next to be produced and that
continued here till 1924. The aqueduct and buildings can still be seen,
although the estate now boasts the lighter industry of batik printing.
The great plantation houses of Golden Lemon and Rawlins might open in
years to come but Ottley's is now a luxury hotel which caters for
discerning independent guests.
St Kitts has more than a quarter of its land devoted to a National Park
with a rainforest that is increasing in size. One can walk in the cool
quiet of lush vegetation with just the sound of a stream to add to the
sense of uninterrupted tranquillity. Vervet monkeys will likely
be your only companions. For those with a yen for that
aforementioned hint of adventure then there is zip lining. For the
untutored, that’s a few minutes of sliding down a cable
with, mercifully, a harness between you and the forest canopy. I would
counsel taking a couple of rides as you will likely have
your eyes closed for the first one. It’s an exhilarating and fun
experience that I can highly recommend and the nearest thing to flying
possible without baggage restrictions or need for lipstick in a clear
plastic bag. The in-flight movie is in HD and 3D.
This small but marvellously appointed island is,
as yet, relatively unspoilt. It presents the visitor with calm and
quiet. It has those vibrant reggae bars but they are not obtrusive. The
beaches are stunning and the rainforest should not be missed. One can
find good food everywhere, and a rum punch will never be far away. It’s
an island that still retains visible history and charm in a beautiful
setting. St Kitts offers something for everyone so take your dancing
shoes, hiking boots and flippers, and enjoy some refined adventure.
Marriott Hotel St Kitts
St Kitts Tourist Board
Hotel in Malta
What do we look for in a vacation? Some pampering – that
probably isn’t like home. Sun is good – that’s different
from home. Food – you won’t be doing the cooking as it’s not home.
Language – mostly the same as home would be nice. That adds up to
the Phoenicia Hotel in Malta. Luxury, weather, ease of communication,
and then there are memorable meals.
You can learn more about the delightful food at this 5-star hotel here.
Suffice it to say – the choice of food is wide, the quality is
unbeatable and the quantity is striking.
The hotel towers over the old town of Valetta. It’s imposing, confident
and solid. It was commissioned by Lord and Lady Strickland and designed
by architect A.M.B. Binnie. They wanted to build a hotel of distinction
as would befit its location just outside Valletta’s Porta Reale.
Building started in 1939 - just in time for the Second World War!
During those long years of conflict the construction was halted and the
part-finished hotel was used by RAF personnel for R and R. The
left wing of the hotel near what is now the Pegasus Brasserie was hit
by bombs, as was so much of this island – it was actually awarded its
own medal for bravery. Alec Guinness, eventually Sir Alec Guinness, and
Jeffrey Hunter were here when they were filming “The Malta Story” in
October 1952. It’s a record of the hardships of the war years, the
heroism of the islanders and servicemen, and the reasons the island
deserved its George Cross medal.
The Phoenicia Hotel was finally opened for regular guests in 1947 by
Lady Margaret Strickland and Lord Francis Campbell, then Sir Francis,
Governor of Malta. This was destined to become an icon of hospitality
and provide facilities and services equal to that found in any
In November 1949, Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and
Prince Philip stayed in Malta. They visited the hotel on several
occasions and danced in the Grand Ballroom. The royal association
continued, as in November 2005, during HM Queen Elizabeth’s state visit
to the island, the hotel was chosen as the venue for an official
reception hosted by the Queen. The Phoenicia has welcomed many other
distinguished guests over the last decades. The hotel also played
important roles in historical events on the island. Celebrations
marking the independence in September 1964 were held mainly at the
In August 1966 Charles Forte, chairman of Trust House Forte, purchased
the Phoenicia. It was he who undertook a major programme of
refurbishment at the hotel which was now a couple of decades old. These
works took two years between 1968 and 1970. One of the major changes
was roofing over the internal courtyard, which is now the beautiful
Palm Court Lounge. In 1990 another refurbishment was initiated and that
lasted three years. This upgraded public areas and bedrooms and added
another floor. The hotel now offers 136 rooms and suites.
A well-intentioned refurbishment programme has been the kiss of death
to many a good hotel, but the Phoenicia has
balanced modern convenience with tradition. The public spaces still
have the air of the 1930s but are light and luxurious. The bedrooms
offer Art Deco furnishings along with flat-screen TVs. The hotel exudes
a mellow charm that is impossible to find in new builds.
The Phoenicia remains a classic grand hotel but it boasts such
conveniences as Wi-Fi, and it also has its popular pool – the Phoenicia
was the first hotel in Malta to have a swimming pool. One doesn’t have
to venture far to find culture: the hotel owns and displays the largest
private collection of Edward Caruana Dingli paintings. One can view the
permanent exhibition on the ground floor; he is considered to be one of
Malta’s most significant portrait painters.
The hotel is set in 7.5 acres of mature gardens. There are corners for
tranquil contemplation, for some comforting shade and for watching
vegetables grow. The Phoenicia has a celebrated Kitchen Garden that
will likely provide dinner later. Malta throngs with activity but these
grounds provide an oasis away from the buzz of modern life, and just a
step away from historic city gates. The Phoenicia Hotel is timeless.
Floriana – FRN1478
Tel: (+356) 21 225 241
Fax: (+356) 21 235 254
UK freephone number: 0800 8620025
Tel: (+356) 2291 1023
Fax: (+356) 2125 0461
Visit The Phoenicia Hotel here
Cheval Harrington Court
– Apartment Hotel
It’s summer in London! Sure, the weather might be
unpredictable but there will be the guarantee of a throng of visitors
who are looking for a diverse menu of accommodation options. From 4th
June 2014 there is a well-appointed addition to those choices.
Cheval Harrington Court is a residential hotel or an aparthotel or a
boutique hotel that feels like home …if your home happens to be
luxurious, that is. Its location is unbeatable. Fleets of red London
buses are just yards away and some apartments even have views of South
Kensington station, or at least the Underground sign above the tube
entrance. Some hotels boast ‘within walking distance’ of an Underground
station, and for once, that statement is true. I would suggest it’s no
more than a 2 minute stroll.
Cheval Residences recently opened another aparthotel at Tower Hill. I
was struck by its quality and thoughtful design so I was expecting
something similar at Cheval Harrington Court. I am beginning to see the
company ethos. It seems to be about providing a real alternative to
high-end hotels and offering something rather unique to those who want
to stay for an extended period. Their guests expect the best and Cheval
is providing a polished product.
Yes, there are differences between these two aparthotels
but there is a theme and it’s London. One obviously has
the view from the sitting room window, and in the case of Harrington
Court that could be of the upper part of the Natural History Museum
which is only a couple of blocks away. The pictures on the walls of the
public spaces are iconic black-and-white shots of the ‘Swinging
Sixties’. There is kitchen linen sporting images of the London skyline.
The globe-trotting traveller will never wake and wonder if he is in
Our apartment was just like a regular flat. We had
the impression that this truly could be a real home. The
furniture was attractive and well-proportioned. The kitchen was for
which to die. The bathrooms, for we had a 2-bed apartment with a brace
of washing facilities, were contemporary and gleaming. Yes, it was as
if we were just moving in and the only things left on the back of the
van were books that one would likely never need, and those chachkies
that collect dust: Auntie Win’s luminous green Art Deco vase and the
half-dead potted palm, for instance. This is home, but improved.
This building has been artfully transformed into a stylish
collection of 33 short-let and 17 extended-stay serviced apartments
(three-month minimum stay). The contemporary rooms still retain the
Victorian-style sash-windows although guests will appreciate the
air-conditioning. There is the necessary free Wi-Fi access, along with
complimentary daily newspapers, flat-screen TV and access to music in
This is a real apartment with a kitchen and one is able to cook
…or more likely plate-up a take-away. Guests are
welcomed with a tray of practical nibbles, both savoury and sweet, tea
and coffee and fruit, along with muesli for breakfast
the following day. There is a 24-hour concierge available to
assist guests with everything from laundry to restaurant table booking.
There is a Monday-to-Friday daily maid service, twice-weekly bed linen
and thrice-weekly towel change, as well as access to a local gym on
Harrington Road. In short there is everything a hotel might offer but
with the addition of freedom.
South Kensington is an ideal spot for a family holiday base. There is
so much to do and it’s all within a short distance. There is the
aforementioned Natural History Museum which is famed for both its
architecture and its exhibits. There is the Science Museum for the boys
and the celebrated Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) which has
an outstanding collection of textiles and clothes – that might be the
preferred destination for the ladies in the party.
The neighbourhood offers many dining opportunities and
there will be something for every taste. One can indulge in Lebanese
grilled meats, European classics or just relax and enjoy some of
London’s café culture. Legendary hotels are within easy reach
offer traditional afternoon tea.
If retail is what relaxes then Harrods is not far away. Designer shops
abound as well as the usual high-street chains. There are theatres for
which London is famed and river cruises that will give a different
perspective to the City. South Kensington offers easy access to
everything that a tourist or businessman/woman might need and it’s all
only minutes away from your London home in Cheval Harrington Court.
For more information on Cheval Harrington Court visit here
Caxton Grill – St Ermin’s Hotel
St Ermin’s has long been a favourite hotel although I
have, in truth, never actually stayed there. One is impressed by its
charm before one even reaches the front door. The red brick, stonework
and planting all contrive to create a vision from a more elegant era.
The hotel foyer is stunning with a sweeping staircase, ornamental
plasterwork and glinting crystal. These are all authentic trappings of
a space that could be a backdrop for a period drama. Add a few dapper
chaps in frock coats and ladies in silks with bustles and the
transformation would be complete.
But dinner at the adjoining Caxton Grill is a contemporary affair. One
might expect overt formality but this restaurant balances classic
service with an ambiance that is both calming and gently refined. There
were not the starchy white table cloths that I had expected but the
dark wood tables fitted the décor admirably. The soft
provided texture, the room was bathed in evening light and the buzz of
hushed conversation created a pleasant environment for an adult dinner.
The table linen was kept to crisp white serviettes but the food was
fully Michelin-Star quality. Yes, admittedly, that’s just a matter of
personal taste but these dishes by Head Chef Adam Handling each made me
smile with pleasure and glow with realised expectations. This young man
has flair and culinary daring but he doesn’t push his guests outside
comfort zones. His cooking methods are inspired and his ingredient
combinations are often whimsical, but they work.
We were tempted by the Nibbles menu and they would indeed have made
delightful snacks with perhaps a chilled glass of fizz. The Crispy Pig
and Marrow is a mini triumph and will be a winner with any carnivore
who might have had fears that this high-end eatery would offer only
things in jars that smoke and kipper-flavoured foam. This was proper
meat in cubes.
Beetroot and More Beetroot sounded intriguing. It was a visual stunner
and must have used a good number of
very cheffy techniques to accomplish. Vibrant colour and delicate
presentation made this savoury beautiful enough for the top tier of an
afternoon-tea cake stand.
Duck with rabbit, cherries and pistachio, and Crab with avocado,
watermelon and sweetcorn were our starters and they were both delicious
and attractively arranged. They were appropriate for the season and
whetted the appetite for the mains. Caxton Grill doesn’t offer the
longest menu in town but it doesn’t need to. There are enough dishes
here to please even the most sophisticated palates.
My guest is a man of discerning tastes but a man for all that and he
couldn’t pass up on Ribeye steak. Although a simple plate it does rely
on the quality of the showcased steak and a chef with a light hand at
the grill. The substantial cut of meat was pronounced first class.
Cauliflower with coconut, sultanas, curry and almond was my choice. I
am not a vegetarian but this non-meat option got my attention. How was
the unprepossessing cauli going to be transformed from something of a
culinary frog to an epicurean prince? It was a revelation, and I feel
no shame in admitting that I will likely steal the idea
for my own dinner party fare. Chef Adam Handling uses skill and
imagination and did, in this case, wave the magic wand.
Boiled, grilled and pureed cauli presented different flavour and
texture with every bite. Granted, it might not convert a
carnivore but at least that stubborn diner can be assured that he is
missing out on a vegetable-based treat. Caxton Grill is a passionate
follower of the ‘Field to Fork’ movement so you know that vegetable
will not have travelled all the way from South America.
I am not a great one for sweets and so passed up the dessert menu. I
can tell my dear reader that the evening could have ended in
resentment: the Apricot, ginger, pannacotta and rhubarb with black
pepper was my guest’s dessert, and was faultless. Perhaps that is
something of an exaggeration: I would say that the dish might have been
improved by the omission of the apricot. The other components worked so
well together that the apricot was just a distraction. But this is a
must-try pud. Luckily the waiter had the presence of mind to offer me a
second spoon – otherwise there could have been a nasty scene.
Head Chef Adam Handling has a close relationship with his suppliers and
a deep respect for ingredients. He contrives to amaze with his finesse
while using the most humble of seasonal produce. Caxton Grill is well
worth a visit and even in a city that spoils me with choice I can
promise I will return.
Mon-Sun 11:30am - 11:00pm
Mon-Fri 12.00pm - 2.30pm
Mon-Sun 5.30pm - 10.30pm
2 Caxton Street
SW1H 0QW UK
Tel: 0800 652 1498
Visit Caxton Grill here
The Tomb of the
Unknown Uncle – Flowering of Liberation
2014 is a special year and after my recent visit to the
Netherlands I am reminded that every year should be special. This year we remember the Liberation of parts of
Europe, towards the end of the Second World War, and the heroism not
only of servicemen but of civilians.
This was a bitter-sweet trip. I love Holland and I am there as often
and for as long as possible. I have enjoyed its delicious and
underpublicised food (there is much more to delight the palate than
cheese). I have photographed modern and historic architecture and have
appreciated the relaxed and vibrant lifestyles of those lucky enough to
call the Netherlands home.
But I have a very personal connection with this friendly land. You
might say that my family own a small part of it. My Uncle Bill rests
there, and not by choice. He was killed over Holland in 1942 – yes, a
couple of years before the start of the official Liberation Route, but
that route could be said to have started back in 1939 when invasions
and aggression made war inevitable.
So the tomb of my unknown soldier, for I never met my uncle, focused my
mind. There is a formal Debt of Honour Register which states: In Memory
of WILLIAM JOHN BARKER Sergeant 75 Squadron, Air Force Volunteer
Reserve who died on Saturday 6 September 1941. Age 33.
This man didn’t have the blessing of a long life but he was a decade or
so older than those others who died with him. Ironically I even know
the name of the German pilot who shot down my uncle’s plane. One might
suppose I would harbour ill-will and be heaping curses
upon that man’s house. But it’s the nature of war that people are
obliged to kill and others are obliged to die. All these young men were
just doing their jobs.
During this Liberation Route visit I had the privilege to interview Jan
Loos who was just a teenager living near Arnhem in 1942. His
country had been under occupation for years. He explained that there
was a big difference between regular servicemen and the SS, for
instance. He became friends with a German
officer who had a son of Jan’s age. There are no winners in war: the
Liberation Route serves not to revel in victory but to celebrate the
freedom that cost so many so much.
The Liberation Route does truly exist. It’s not just a strategic
process but a physical path that crosses The Netherlands with
noteworthy stops along the way. It is a route that takes you to over 80
significant spots, each marked by a large stone and each one
illustrating a particular event – stories of civilians and soldiers who
lived or fought there between 1944 and 1945. The audio versions can be
downloaded as MP3s from the Liberation Route website. They are historic
milestones and they become more important as there are fewer and fewer
eye-witnesses still alive.
Don’t expect a landscape scarred by warfare. Nature is gentle, forests
are dense, and fields softly undulate. One listens to the whistle of
birds rather than shells. One is refreshed by the perfume of dew-laden
foliage rather than fuel and fire. There are poignant reminders: a
shrapnel-pitted house wall, statues of evacuating women and children,
monuments to the fallen.
But Holland is famed for flowers. Tulips provided food in the lean days
at the end of the war, they have been immortalised in song, and those
ubiquitous blooms are the icons for the tourist board – a far more
beautiful logo than that of a ball of Edam or a bottle of gin. There
can surely be no finer and no more apt celebration of Liberation than a
brand new tulip.
Major (Retd) Kenneth George Mayhew RMWO, is the bearer of the highest
Dutch military Medal of Valour. He was the guest of honour at the
London Residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Ms Laetitia van
den Assum. Major Mayhew is now 97 years old and was not only the guest
of honour in word but honoured in deed, as worthy military men of a new
generation respectfully saluted him. I am touched that Dutch people
continue to demonstrate their care for those who contributed to
Liberation and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.
Cemeteries are immaculate and often tended by school children who adopt
a soldier or airman and look after his last resting place. It’s a
source of comfort to us, the families of those servicemen.
Major Mayhew officially baptised the new Liberation
tulip and wetted the ‘baby’s head’ in champagne. The striking red and
yellow flower was cultivated by celebrated Dutch bulb-grower JUB
Holland for this important and unique occasion, which marks the first
step in commemorating the liberation of the Netherlands which started
with the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in 1944. The tulip was
presented on behalf of all Allied Forces who took part in the
liberation. Distinguished representatives of Australian, British,
Canadian, Polish, New Zealand, and US forces attended, along with Major
General Hoitink for the Dutch Chief of Defence Staff.
Members of the general public will be able to see the new tulip next
year as two flower mosaics will be planted in the autumn. Kew Gardens
in London will have one display and the other will be in Lincolnshire,
from where the RAF launched Operation Manna which was a relief
initiative to feed civilians. The Liberation Route and the tulip are
not about glory. They are about memories and future. They are about
lessons learnt and hope, about partnership and new-forged alliances.
They are about peace, and offer reminders of the fragility of that
Holland offers so much; but the prospect of a trip to mainland Europe
has us musing on a little bistro in Paris, although Holland has an
exciting contemporary dining culture. We crave the arts, so that must
be Rome, even though Holland has the Dutch Masters. There are few
language barriers in Holland and that, even for this world traveller,
is a bonus. We British feel at home in The Netherlands and there is
always a warm welcome. That’s nothing new: it started 70 years ago.
For more articles on The Netherlands visit here
Liberation Route Europe: www.liberationroute.com/
JUB Holland: www.jubholland.nl/en/
Picture of Chrissie Walker by Farrukh Younus
Chef Daniel Ayton
of The Taj - London
This is a beautiful hotel just a few yards from St James’s
Park Underground station. Its red brick and ornate terracotta friezes,
its fountain and courtyard all offer the guest a chance to glimpse
another era, far from the buzz of traffic.
Daniel Ayton is a striking figure. Already tall, the addition of his
chef’s toque adds another foot to his lofty stature.
This chef is one of the most decorated and respected within the
industry but is strangely overlooked by those seeking the next
celebrity. There are few chefs, however, who are so thoroughly immersed
in the industry, and few who are better known by their peers.
We settled ourselves in a sumptuous private room and I asked Daniel
about his background. ‘I was brought up in Torquay, down in Devon. My
father owned and ran a restaurant for 20 years. I earned some pocket
money by washing dishes and then progressed through the ranks to salad
hand and then doing a bit of pastry work.’
Had Daniel ever considered another career? ‘I was asked by my careers
teacher what I wanted to be and the first words that came out of my
mouth were, “I want to be a chef.” I think there is something in my
blood. As you grow up you always think about the options open to you,
but deep down I couldn’t do much about it. It’s in my blood!’
How about formal culinary education? ‘I went to full-time study at
South Devon College and then I moved to the lovely 5-star Imperial
Hotel in Torquay. That’s part of the Trusthouse Forte group – they had
a 2-year training programme. That took me all over the UK and a little
bit in Europe. It was a very intense programme – you were in a
different kitchen every two months. We also looked at airline catering,
fine dining, and outdoor catering. It was a good training background
and I wish there was still an equivalent in the UK, but the colleges
here cover that shortfall these days.’
Daniel is proud of his kitchen at one of London’s finest hotels. It’s
actually a duo of a 4- and a 5-star, which give guests a choice of
culinary experiences. ‘I currently work for The Taj Group in London and
have been here for a little over 7 years. The Taj Group has a programme
for hotel management, not just for cooking but it covers every aspect
of the hospitality industry. In this hotel quite a few staff members
have been through the programme, including those on reception.
‘There are two hotels at this location: 51 Buckingham Gate and St
James’ Court. They are beautiful and we have the celebrated
Shakespearian Frieze in the courtyard. We have a great location between
the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Taj is an Indian group
but the guest profile is international. It’s a London hotel that just
happens to be owned by an Indian company.
‘We have lots of tourists, as we have such a central location in
London. There are many business travellers and we even have two luxury
2-bedroom suites. The hotel has old-style grandeur but with all the
current technology. The butlers at the 5-star hotel welcome our guests,
but the greeting at the 4-star hotel is just as warm. It’s all part of
the ingrained hospitality ethos. The whole nature of Taj is to give
that little bit extra. We don’t just offer the basic services: we can
even go up to the suites and present cooking lessons!
‘Taj has Quillon, which serves Indian food and is a Michelin-star
restaurant. There is also Bistrot 51 and that’s very eclectic. We have
an Asian corner on the menu which offers classic Indian dishes. We also
have steaks and a trio of duck which utilises some unusual ingredients
such as Alan Coxon’s Alegar Vinegar. Another dish has Peruvian oil! My
food has got to be educational. I like to put unique dishes on the menu
so the guest will ask what they are and where they came from. That
gives us the chance to interact and to make the dining experience so
much more interesting. One can use all the senses and learn something!’
I asked Daniel if young chefs are aware of the life of a working chef.
‘These days young chefs are more aware, as they watch TV. The profile
is a lot higher now than it was when I started out, and colleges are
teaching what’s relevant to the workplace. The curriculum reflects
‘There is something of a North-South divide when it comes to working
hours. In Coventry, for instance, people will tend to work 40 hours per
week just like car workers. In London it’s a bit different. The hours
might be longer but young chefs know that, and they have dedication,
and they realise that if you want to get on in any industry you have to
‘I work very closely with Westminster College and their curriculum is
second to none. They send their students out into industry as well as
to private functions as part of the course. These days it’s not just
about teaching people to cook, it’s about dietetics and legislation as
‘It’s not always necessary to travel abroad and even qualifications
shouldn’t be essential, as long as cooking is in your heart. My father
ran a restaurant and he wasn’t qualified. As long as you understand
about the hospitality industry and that it’s about giving the guest
what he wants, there are still opportunities to just apply to a
restaurant for work with no previous experience – but those openings
are harder to find these days. There is more legislation and problems
with insurance for working in a dangerous environment.’
Daniel Ayton is one of the finest chefs in the UK. He is likely one of
the most academically qualified and he uses his experience to inspire
and support others. He spreads the word of Taj excellence by his
example, but his legacy will endure in many a professional kitchen with
chefs who have benefited from his mentoring.
Taj 51 Buckingham Suites and Residences
51 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AF
Telephone: +44 20 7769 7766
Facsimile: +44 20 7630 7587
Visit The Taj here
Phoenician Kitchen Garden
In truth this isn’t an ancient plot cultivated and tended by legendary
Mediterranean traders, but the land does belong to
the celebrated Hotel Phoenicia in Malta.
All good chefs will agree that freshness is key to good dishes. That
philosophy cuts across all ethnic culinary persuasions. Malta has a
climate that any keen gardener would envy. It is typically
Mediterranean, with weather that one would expect, the only passing
problematic element being the windy season that only lasts a month or
so. That breeze, strong at times, might cause worry to those tending
plants, but it is refreshing to the sun-weary tourist.
Chef Saul Halevi hails from Italy but has worked all over the world. He
is passionate about fresh produce and indeed local produce. It doesn’t
come much more local that 100 metres from the kitchen of the Phoenicia
Hotel. Guests can try to guess what might be on the menu as they watch
the chefs pick vegetables at 5pm that will be gracing a plate at 7.
Any keen gardener would appreciate a tour of these terraces. There are
citrus fruit trees with lemons still hanging from top branches even in
late April. At this time of year the tomato seedlings have been planted
out – at least the first rows. Saul is staggering the crop this year to
avoid a glut. There are still plenty of broad beans with bursting pods
of grey-green legumes. The plot offers the promise of pumpkins,
courgettes and aubergines. Herbs are an essential ingredient and Saul
is particularly proud of various types of mint, and a patch of the
celebrated Sicilian oregano.
Parts of the garden are quite new. Saul has acquired the expanded area
by stealth. His original suggestion was for the incorporation of just a
few square metres, but that has grown slowly over the months. He has
been forbidden to go near the swimming pool that he would likely turn
into a sunken herb garden.
The guest at the Phoenicia will be spoilt for food and indeed styles of
food. The large, beautiful and imposing Phoenix
restaurant boasts all the features of a classic hotel: high moulded
ceilings, crisp linen, a regiment of waiting staff, and views. The
food, at least from my experience of a short stay, is traditional and
Mediterranean. The vegetables are fresh, as one would expect, and the
selection of meat is wide, and cooked with thought and inspiration.
Chef Saul is mindful of the regulars who frequent the restaurant and
wants to give them what they crave, which is usually good seasonal food
and plenty of it. The desserts and baked goods here might not come from
the garden but they are for which to die. Malta has a great baking
tradition and it’s showcased in the sweet cakes, cookies and turnovers
at this iconic hotel.
The intimate restaurant of which Chef Saul is so proud is called
Pegasus. This small space has the air of a French bistro but the food
offered is polished, refined, and presented with flair, taking
advantage of that by now expected freshness of ingredients. The fish is
special and comes from specific boats that supply Saul and just a few
others. Chef Halevi can tell by the weather conditions if a particular
fish will be available later.
The dishes here are unique. We were offered a veritable extravaganza of
vegetables, steamed fish, and pasta. Saul is
something of an evangelist for delicate steaming of fish rather than
frying. The lobster ravioli was made with black squid ink which gave
the dish great visual impact …almost as much as did the bread that was
as black as coal and also made with that squid ink.
It has been said that Maltese restaurants have The Phoenicia as a
benchmark for excellence. It has cultivated that reputation over
decades and just as carefully as Chef Saul Halevi now tends its kitchen
garden. It seems that quality never goes out of fashion.
Floriana – FRN1478
Tel: (+356) 21 225 241
Fax: (+356) 21 235 254
UK freephone number: 0800 8620025
Tel: (+356) 2291 1023
Fax: (+356) 2125 0461
Visit the Phoenicia Hotel here
Cheval Three Quays
We travel and we spend time in hotels. Yes, but how
often have we had extended time away from home and wished that we had a
place to rest our heads that was a bit more like, well, home? A few
more amenities would do the trick.
Cheval Three Quays is a truly striking collection of new luxury
serviced apartments. But where exactly is Three Quays? It’s on the
banks of the Thames and next to Sugar Quay which reminds us of the days
when this river bristled with cargo ships bringing goods from an empire
on which the sun never set. The other quays were called Tobacco and
Rum, and collectively offered all those items that are now considered
so bad for us – times change! But the other neighbour is the Tower of
London, and that never seems to change.
This is an iconic corner of a city that boasts more than its fair share
of architectural photo opportunities, monuments, historic sites and
striking views. Tower Bridge is just a few yards away and that is
numbered amongst the world’s most recognised structures. The Shard is
just across the river, giving a nod to a London that moves forward but
cherishes the past (sometimes).
This new aparthotel opened for business on 10th March
and is 5* (or is it 6?) in every regard. That location is unbeatable
and is well served by public transport, although it’s probable that a
good proportion of guests staying here will have a car equipped with
chauffeur. The apartments offer a home from home for those with
discerning tastes and whose homes are luxurious. There are 159 studio,
one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and penthouses which provide
accommodation for every size of party. There will be folks who want to
have privacy and flexibility for just a night or so, and others who
might like to stay for a year.
Undoubtedly the location is outstanding but visitor does not live by
views alone. These are breathtaking, but one tends to take sights for
granted after a while. It’s the architectural design by 3DReid and the
interior design by Forme Design that have just as much impact. Rooms
are individual, practical and breathtaking. Colours are restful,
textures are thoughtfully incorporated, finishes are impeccable, and
fixtures are for which to die. There’s a touch of whimsy, with a
Monopoly set being provided in each apartment.
One-bed apartments are presented to just the same high
standard as the penthouses. Size will differ and there might
be a shower instead of a full bath but the same quality will be evident
throughout. That aforementioned shower has sufficient acreage to
satisfy any bathroom-lingerers. Kitchens have every appliance a small
home might require, and avant-garde Gaggenau, so there will be no
complaints even from food professionals.
There isn’t a restaurant as an integral part of Cheval Three Quays but
there is a concierge, providing discreet and efficient service 24 hours
a day. The team provide access to everything from tickets to the latest
West End show to a table at one of the nearby celebrated restaurants –
anything from a German eatery to the iconic Café Spice Namaste
within walking distance. Some of those restaurants can take bookings
for meals to be bought in and enjoyed in the apartment. Local knowledge
can add so much to a visit. Each one also has a dedicated maid for the
duration of the guests’ stay, allowing a more personalised experience.
Both private and public spaces at Three Quays are light and spacious.
Historic photographs of the working river remind the guest that this
truly is London and not their usual home. And they might well need
reminding. These apartments are stylish, but more importantly, they are
cosy. Yes, they are sumptuous but remain welcoming for families. They
certainly have a classy address, but that will shortly feel like your
For more information visit Three Quays here
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
outing. Yamal Alsham is a comfortable venue for those
who are still unsure about the tastes of their romantic-evening
companion. There is nothing too outlandish here, but dishes are well
presented and even vegetarians are well provided for. There is a good
selection of fish dishes but a meat eater will want to sample the
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
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
have fillings that are somewhat more interesting
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
Sweet Valentines - Etruscan
Chocohotel – Perugia, Italy
Isn’t it a perennial problem? What to do for Valentine’s Day! When one
has had the same partner for several decades one starts to run out of
romantic options. You might possibly get away with socks for Christmas,
but they just don’t cut the mustard for Valentines. Jewellery is
predictable, and restaurants are always full to bursting with couples,
red roses and enough candle power to illuminate a small town.
If one is still in the first flush of a relationship then perhaps the
prospect of a Valentines getaway is even more enticing. One might want
to make an impression, and there could even be the chance of a
proposal. Yes, life can be sweet …as chocolate.
Chocolate is a traditional Valentines gift and is still welcomed, but
think of the impact a whole chocolate hotel would have. No, dear
gluttonous reader, the hotel isn’t exactly made from chocolate but is
stuffed with enough of that confection to warrant the title of
Chocohotel; and what’s more it’s in Italy and there are few more
romantic places than that.
Etruscan Chocohotel has 3 stars and what it lacks in glitter it makes
up for in themed fun. Perhaps another time you might even consider
bringing the kids, who will have eyes like organ stops before they even
reach their room. The chocolate extravaganza starts in the hotel lobby.
We have all seen them, those chocolate novelties. Something for the
tree at Christmas along with some coins. One might have some chocolate
initials for a birthday and then there are body parts – although
discussion of those will remain for another article (perhaps). But here
at the Chocohotel the chocolate goods are tasty and tasteful
and by Costruttori di Dolcezze and Eurochocolate. It seems that
anything to do with a computer has been fabricated in chocolate, and -
this is Italy, after all - how about a chocolate pizza? All this and
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)
Phone: +39 075 5837314
Visit Etruscan Chocohotel here
Norcia – Umbria, Italy
Anyone with a molecule of romance in their hearts will
have considered a vacation in Italy. Any lover of good food and wine
would have mused on a visit to this land of culinary abundance. Every
traveller who prizes quality produce, striking accommodation and the
best of restaurants will want to stay in Norcia. Where? Yes, that is
the expected response from the untutored.
The historic town of Norcia is in the heart of the Valnerina, on the
edge of the Sibillini National Park in Umbria. That’s the region that
is sadly overlooked by those visiting Italy for the first time. One
passes through this region on the way from Tuscany to Rome, and it
seems the only variation on that programme is travellers choosing to
travel from Rome to Tuscany.
The pretty walled town of Norcia is just what one would hope to find in
Italy. It has retained much of that timeless quality and charm that is
so often swept away by modernisation. Norcia, traditionally known in
English by its Latin name of Nursia, is situated on a wide plain at the
foot of Monti Sibillini, a part of the Apennines with some of its
highest peaks. It’s an ideal base from which the hardy and
energetic sorts will set out for days of mountaineering and hiking.
The town's recorded history goes back as far as the 5th century BC,
when the Sabines settled here. It became an ally of ancient Rome in 205
BC, during the Second Punic War, but perhaps it is better known for its
later Christian inhabitant. St. Benedict, the founder of the
monasteries that bear his name, and his twin sister St. Scholastica,
were born here in 480. Monks came to Norcia in the 10th century, and
the Monastery of St. Benedict is built over the ruins of the house the
saint called home.
In the 6th century Norcia was conquered by the Lombards, becoming
part of the Duchy of Spoleto. In the 9th century it was attacked by
Saracens. In 1324 it was struck by a powerful earthquake and more
followed in the years 1763, 1859, 1979. After the earthquake of August
22, 1859 the Papal States, to which Norcia then belonged, imposed
strict building regulations forbidding structures of more than 3 floors
and requiring the use of particular materials and building techniques.
This edict has helped to give the town its architectural style, which
is one of its great assets.
Norcia’s celebrated main basilica is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to St.
Benedict and is connected to the Benedictine monastery. The building we
see today was erected in the 13th century on the remains of Roman
buildings assumed to be the house in which the twin saints were born.
There is much here to occupy the discerning tourist. Gothic facades,
narrow streets, striking views, shops and museums. But those
aforementioned shops will be the draw. There are the usual boutiques
selling stylish home goods but there are others that are more
memorable, and they are filled with the most delectable of local food
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.
Pumpkins & Squashes –
Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes
I am an enthusiastic home cook and a periodic professional
cook, but I hold my hands up and admit that I 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
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
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
banks, claiming more than eighty lives. To prevent another tragedy the
river course was diverted in the 1960s. The original track of the river
remains and is now a lush sunken park called the 'Garden of the Turia'
(Jardí del Túria or Jardín del
Turia). This green
ribbon offers cyclists and pedestrians a chance to cross much of the
city without putting either a wheel or foot on roads. This park is a
jogger's paradise and traffic-free apart from bikes carrying Lycra-clad
enthusiasts. Followers of sports other than cycling might like to know
that Valencia is the only city in Spain to have two American football
teams in LNFA series A, the national first division: Valencia Firebats
and Valencia Giants.
Valencia is known internationally for paella valenciana, a rice
dish cooked in a distinctive wide, shallow pan. Its main ingredients
apart from the Spanish rice are saffron, seafood or meat, along with a
few vegetables. This dish is offered in many local restaurants, but
pick one that is frequented by residents rather than tourists.
Another good choice for gastronomic immersion are tapas or pinxos.
These are on offer in many small bars across town from lunchtime
onwards. There is something of a process for ordering these delicious
snacks. Well, in truth one does not usually order them at all but
rather select a few and pile onto your plate. The barman will note how
many tapas you have consumed and will present the bill at the end of
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
Ayuntamiento. The City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is found here, and the
central post office. The Plaça de la Mare de Déu contains
of the Virgin and the Turia fountain. Another beautiful photo
opportunity…and there are so many in this vibrant city.
Valencia is a city with which one can quickly fall in love. It offers
spectacular historic buildings, rustic tapas bars, plenty of retail
therapy opportunities and much more. A day would give an introduction
but one would need to stay much longer to enjoy the full romance of
this Spanish gem.
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.
Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo –the food and drink of forgotten
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
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
Castro Duarte and his wife, Joana Silva Lopes. It’s an estate of 100 Ha
where the couple work with leading Portuguese winemaker, Miguel
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
ideal wine for those hot summer evenings, the chill of the wine forming
a dew on the glass, and the contents mirroring the blush of the setting
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
For more information visit:
Alentejo Promotion Office
The Nuns and
Tarts of Alentejo, Portugal
Portugal is on the very edge of Europe and often
overlooked in favour of its more vocal neighbour, Spain. But this
country has so much to offer to the visitor. Striking landscapes
flatter the eye, generous hospitality warms the soul, and gastronomy
seems to be a well-exercised hobby practised by all.
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
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 relatively few basic ingredients to make signature desserts. Convents
became famous for particular sweets that the nuns and monks sold as a
means of supplementing their incomes. Pão de Rala looks like
more than a loaf of rustic bread but it has an amusing history. It was
a speciality of the nuns of the Convento do Calvário in
Évora. The name
and shape of this famous cake have royal connections: King Sebastian
visited the convent but, it being a poor order, they could only offer
him olives, water and ‘thin bread’ (pão de rala). These days
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
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
at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of
Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. In fact in Portugal they are
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
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
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
For more information visit:
Alentejo Promotion Office
Dukes Hotel Bar for
“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
to order anything, at least on the inaugural visit, other than a
Martini – and the tutored will want to try the Vesper Martini. Shortly
you will be joined by a barman in a white linen jacket and if you are
blessed it will be Alessandro Palazzi who, in his field, is as
celebrated as the hotel itself.
This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian
Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James
Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner
of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much
store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny
first drew breath at the stock exchange? Was Dr No inspired by a
dodgy practice in Harley Street?
Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request,
'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken.
That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol!
The aforementioned trolley will park next to your table and it’s a
chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and
frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.
Those glasses are standard for this libation in all its delicious
chilled guises. The distinctive design is said to have developed to
allow the drinker to hold a stem rather than the bowl of the glass,
keeping the beverage at the lowest temperature for the longest time.
The cone is thought to give the optimum surface area to encourage the
maximum bouquet from the spirits and to prevent the ingredients from
separating as the drink rests; and this is a cocktail to be savoured
rather than gulped.
Alessandro mixes several hundred martinis each night so he has a
practised eye and a deft hand. A speciality is that signature ‘Vesper’.
No, dear illiterate reader, that isn’t a reference to the nifty Italian
motor scooter but obliquely to the time of day – it’s Latin for evening
– and absolutely in homage to Vesper Lynd, a character featured in Ian
Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale. The Vesper Martini gained
popularity after the novel's publication, and gave rise to the famous
‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase immortalised in every James Bond film
thereafter. The actual name for the drink, and the recipe, is mentioned
on-screen for the first time in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale.
The Vesper is a heady melange of No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lillet Blanc,
Angostura bitters, and Potocki vodka. This is a Polish vodka, in
keeping with the Iron Curtain-swishing heroes of Fleming’s
alter-universe. The dry vermouth is brewed exclusively for Duke’s by
Sacred Microdistillery on a residential street in Highgate, a north
London neighbourhood. Ian Fleming was evidently a skilled practitioner
of the art of tippling and we are the lucky recipients of both his
dedicated study and the charm of Alessandro Palazzi. (Interview to
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
Many Chiefs Only One Indian
It’s every inch a limited edition book. In fact there are
a lot of inches, oozing quality, artistry, style and 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
is limited to 10,000 numbered copies. It arrives packaged in a printed
mailing box which encourages a degree of anticipation before one even
gets a glimpse of the book. The book isn’t actually the next design
statement – there is a striking slipcase that protects the soft, black
and embossed linen cover of this unique and sizable tome. Face
Publications always manage to present something daring and cutting-edge.
The large pages are a showcase for stunning photography by John
Arandhara-Blackwell. It’s food but it’s also Sat's passion: he is a
real person and a great character; he is easy to warm to and identify
with. The recipes might be a little challenging but if you break them
down into their constituent parts then you can cook remarkable food.
It’s about practice and confidence. Sat presents seasonal produce with
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
For further information please contact Anthony Hodgson on +44 (0)113
203 7378 or email@example.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.
88 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 0TJ
Phone: 020 7734 1311
Victoria House, 37-63 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4DA
Phone: 020 7404 7079
128 Cheapside, London EC2V 6BT
Phone: 020 7726 8011
Visit Hummus Bros here
review: Penny Black for Dinner
The Fulham Road isn’t my usual hunting ground, although
it’s well served by public transport and easily accessible, but after
my recent dining experience I may well become a habitué of that
neighbourhood. Penny Black sits at number 212 as a tastefully
understated icon of real British Food, and is unique in several regards.
The name comes from the stamp, or more accurately some prints of that
philatelic classic. It wasn’t a long-lived symbol of Victorian
communication but it was a trail-blazer, and the eponymous restaurant
might well become just that for the culinary scene in this area. Tony
Ho and his two partners have 3 life-times worth of experience in
opening restaurants, so longevity can reasonably be assured.
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
sport not only those Penny Blacks but other pop-art prints and a rather
rude Salvador Dali. (Sit your granny under that and she will never
notice, although she will wonder why everyone is smiling at her.) Crisp
white linen reinforces the impression that this is probably going to be
a fine dining restaurant – traditional food but a high-end experience.
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.
Tuesday to Saturday: 12 noon - 3pm Lunch, 6pm - 11pm Dinner
Sunday: 12 noon - 10:30pm Lunch and Dinner
London restaurant review: Penny Black Restaurant
212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London SW10 9PJ
Phone: 0845 838 8998
Visit Penny Black here
Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill
What can be more iconic than the Tower of London? Its
imposing stones and gilded embellishments still have
that wow factor. The building must have filled the local population
with awe when first erected back in the early 1080s. William the
Conqueror began to build a massive tower at the centre of his London
home, and down the centuries successive kings have added to the complex.
So you have spent a day of leisure by the Thames. You have had a guided
tour with a Yeoman. (Not to be missed: each of these gentlemen has had
years of service in the army and has rafts of stories to tell.) You now
need some food. A proper meal. Something hearty, reasonable price, not
too exotic as Martha gets hiccoughs if she eats spice, and Abner likes
a slice of meat that he can recognise.
Bavarian Beerhouse at Tower Hill (there is another branch at Old
Street) opened in May 2010. It’s just 50 metres from Tower Hill
Underground station and built under the railway bridge just to the
right of the station exit. The previous tenants were Pitcher and Piano
but it seems it was time for a change. It’s rumoured that the Bavarian
Beerhouse tripled their predecessor’s revenue within the first month.
The Old Street venue was very much a party place but Tower Hill has
loftier horizons... at least on the ground floor. This is a cool,
contemporary restaurant space with Bavarian accents. There are some of
the traditional benches and rustic touches but the ambiance, at least
during the day and early evening, is of casual but calm dining.
The basement level boasts several adjoining rooms and has an atmosphere
similar to that of the Old Street branch. This is more for the lads’
night out or for blokey gatherings to watch sports and the like. A
stag-night favourite, one would imagine. Those long benches
again and low ceilings and its own bar. The basement is ideal for
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
- 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
Mon - Thur 12pm - 11pm
Friday 12pm - 1am
Saturday 1pm - 1am
Sunday 12pm - 9pm
Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam
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.
Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
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
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
review: La Porte des Indes
Some restaurants are good, there are a few that are
noteworthy, there are others that have memorable food and more that
have striking decor but it’s rare to find a restaurant that can boast a
brace of exceptional attributes. La Porte des Indes is that almost
unique establishment, having both gorgeous food and stunning
surroundings. After just one year of business the restaurant was
nominated for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ by Carlton London Restaurant
Awards and was awarded ‘Best Indian’ and ‘Best UK’ Restaurant by the
Good Curry Guide.
But why “La Porte des Indes”? Yes, you are quite right, dear reader, it
is French. You might know of The Gateway to India which is a monumental
arch in Mumbai, and La Porte des Indes is French for very much the same
thing. The restaurant presents dishes from many regions of India and
draws on the culinary heritage of French India in particular.
The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in
three states of South India. It is also known as The French Riviera of
the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est) and was considered as part of
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 truly remarkable.
Just a few minutes from Marble Arch station, La Porte des Indes
occupies a corner plot at a quiet intersection. It’s something of a
Tardis of a building having around 350 covers. Although looking smart
and like a French Cafe from the outside, the inside opens to the most
amazing scene. It’s a two storey former Edwardian ballroom. The ground
floor balcony restaurant opens onto a lower level with a 40-foot
waterfall and a sweeping marble staircase for good measure. Palms add
to the exotic décor which is strikingly Indian-colonial but it
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.
Visit La Porte des Indes here.
London restaurant review: La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
TEL: +44 20 7224 0055
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
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 Vegetarian Cookbook
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
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