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Timeless Travels Winter Edition
(Christmas Gift Suggestion)
Look out for this outstanding travel and history magazine. It’s a unique
and quality publication that any traveler will love. A subscription
would be a wonderful gift.
In this issue:
Lahore, Akbar’s great city; discovering art treasures in
North Korea; art and history along the Danube from Passau to Vienna; a
12th century abbey re-opens in Leuven; spend a weekend in Doolin, Ireland;
and discover the woman who kept Florence as we know it today. Plus Rosita
Forbes, our intrepid traveller, book reviews, museum focus, traveller’s tale,
TT Loves and art and archaeological news and exhibitions – and a new feature
about travel inventions. So much to read and enjoy!
The Big Day approaches faster than a gang of reindeer.
Yes, it’s that gift-giving season and time is running out.
So, don’t even consider hitting the shops and heading towards the socks
aisle. Do some smart surfing and buy some delicious Italian food
pressies which will last into the New Year.
Nife is Life (‘Nice Italian Food Everyday’) have online shelves packed with traditional Italian
goodies. Ever since 1922, Veronese confectioner Ruggero Bauli has been
making the famous Pandoro. It’s a must-have at this festive time of
year. Almond Cookies from Tuscany called Cantuccini are crunchy and
ideal for dipping into coffee at the end of dinner. Di Gennaro's
classic Italian Nougat is perfect for Christmas. But most of the
products on this site are available all year round.
Nife is Life gained industry recognition after introducing its Buffalo
Mozzarella di Campania to London’s best restaurants. It became the
company’s best-selling product with customers keen to find other
quality Italian foods.
The company has increased its range and now offers Hams, Salamis,
Cheeses and more to celebrated chefs such as Giorgio Locatelli and Tom
Aikens. But now the general public can also enjoy these products, and
with home delivery too! With over 1500 items, Nife is Life is popular
with enthusiastic and discerning home cooks. This site is worth
considering at any time of year.
I am a lover of a chocolate. No, perhaps I should qualify
that statement. I am a lover of a good chocolate. Lily O’Brien’s offers
great chocolates all year round (read my review here) but they shine at
Christmas as bright as a well-polished tree ornament.
Lily O’Brien’s has a Christmas Collection, offering boxes to suit any
taste and pocket. Their packaging is attractive and thoughtful, making
every treat gift quality. My favourites are the Festive Crème Brulée
chocs … or perhaps the Creamy Caramels for a change … although the
beautiful box of Petit Indulgence is a stunner … but the larger Dessert
Collection is perfect for a crowd.
This Irish company has a website for ease of ordering. Shipping is free
if you live in Ireland or for orders over £30 in the UK. The chocolates
are excellent value for money and a little out of the ordinary. I’ll be
enjoying that big Dessert Collection but it’s likely I’ll be hiding the
box and keeping them just for me. Some things are just too good to even
consider sharing! OK, it’s the season for giving so I guess I’ll order
2 boxes … and an extra pack of caramels…
The British Museum and Google Arts and Culture bring ancient
Maya heritage to life
Objects from the Museum’s world-class collection available online
alongside VR tours and experiences
Today sees the launch of the
British Museum’s collaboration with Google Arts and Culture to digitise
and share the ancient Maya collection of Alfred Maudslay, a 19th
century explorer who brought the stories of the Maya to the world. This
important collection is made up of photographs, casts and other
scientific documents created during archaeological excavations and
research at Maya sites in the late 1800s. Now available to view online
for the first time, these objects are also part of new resources which
bring to life ancient Maya culture using the latest technology.
Through a new dedicated page on Google Arts and Culture,
interactive content focused on Maya sites in Guatemala has been
created, with a series of online exhibits introducing the project, its
activities and the British Museum’s Maya collections more broadly.
Alongside these, new immersive Google Street View tours are available,
transporting people from their own living rooms to Guatemala - using
Google Cardboard - to visit Quiriguá and Tikal, UNESCO World Heritage
sites and two of the ancient Maya’s most recognisable cities. A special
Google Expedition aimed at schools is also available through the Google
Expedition app, taking children on a virtual reality journey from the
British Museum to Quiriguá. Street View capture of the entire publicly
accessible area of these sites is also launched today as part of the
The objects that have been digitised were created and collected by
Alfred Maudslay, a technological pioneer who used the captured image to
engage the public in Maya cultural heritage. He travelled extensively
in Central America in the 1880s and 90s, often becoming the first
visitor to scientifically document now famous ancient Maya sites like
Tikal and Quiriguá using up-to-date recording techniques. The
collection consists of over 250 glass plate negatives from Guatemala,
and in excess of 1000 pages of archives, including Maudslay’s personal
diaries. All have been newly digitised to exceptional standards. It is
hoped that this could reveal never previously observed details.
Over a hundred casts have also been 3D scanned, allowing
for monuments to be re-assembled in digital form. These will represent
an outstanding resource for scholars who will be able to tilt, zoom and
manipulate the lighting of these models in order to achieve the best
conditions to read the hieroglyphic inscriptions. Many of these casts,
in Maudslay’s own words ‘survive the originals’, which have suffered
from environmental and human-induced damage in the intervening century
and a half. They are a 19th century time-capsule and are therefore an
invaluable resource for learning about this important civilisation.
Examples of the casts can be seen on display at the British Museum,
with the remaining casts forming part of the study collection at Blythe
This repository of casts, photographs, diaries and drawings is of
global significance for the study of the ancient Maya, a civilisation
that emerged in a geographical area encompassing Guatemala, Southern
Mexico, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Its apogee, known as the
Classic Maya period, began in around 250AD and lasted until c. 900AD,
and the culture’s most iconic ruined cities, like Tikal and Palenque,
date to this period. Thanks to this partnership and the new
technologies it brings with it, more people than ever before will have
the opportunity to engage with landscapes and monuments of this
Hartwig Fischer, Director of the British Museum says: “The British
Museum’s collection spans the globe, and I am delighted that through
our partnership with Google Arts and Culture, we can bring the story of
the ancient Maya to more people than ever before. Not only is it now
easier to enjoy these fascinating objects from our collection, they can
be experienced in new and exciting ways.”
Amit Sood, Director of Google Arts & Culture says: “We're excited
to work with the British Museum in supporting archaeological research
on the ancient Maya. Finding new ways to share academic research such
as digital preservation and sharing lost stories online are critical to
helping us connect the past to the present. We are delighted to have
this unique look into Maya heritage on Google Arts & Culture.”
John Glen MP, Minister of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism says:
“Our #CultureIsDigital project is all about promoting the use of
technology to increase the accessibility of our world-class cultural
organisations. This new collaboration between Google Arts and Culture
and the British Museum is a great example of the tech and heritage
sectors coming together to do exactly that.”
Jago Cooper, Curator: Africa Oceania and the Americas at the British
Museum says: “The Maudslay photographs and casts, transported back
across the Atlantic, brought with them a new understanding of a society
which had created some of the greatest cities in the world. They
demonstrated how successful the ancient Maya had been by creating a
unique approach to urbanism, food production, water management and
governance. By collaborating with Google the British Museum is
continuing Maudslay’s legacy of technological innovation, digitising
collections, making new discoveries and bringing exciting narratives to
a global audience.”
‘A Dog of Flanders’ is a novel by English-French
author Marie Louise de la Ramée and was published under her pseudonym
"Ouida" in 1872. It is about a Flemish boy named Nello and his dog
Patrasche, and is set in Antwerp, where there are numerous reminders of
this popular literary work.
I confess that I had heard of A Dog of Flanders but I wasn’t sure if it
was a canine breed, an opera or a painting. However, in Japan and Korea
the novel has been a children's classic for decades and has even been
adapted into several Japanese films and anime cartoons – and my
Japanese friends tell me they know it very well. Japanese tourists come
to Belgium especially to visit the cathedral in Antwerp where the story
ends. The book was popular among Japanese readers as far back as 1908,
when a Japanese diplomat in America read the New York Times’ obituary
for the author and sent a copy of A Dog of Flanders back to Japan. A
translation was made, and the resulting book became an instant success
with Japanese children, although the narrative is rather grim.
The story goes thus: In 19th century Belgium, a young boy called Nello
is orphaned at the age of two when his mother dies. His grandfather,
who lives in a small village near Antwerp, gives him a home. They find
a dog who was almost dead, and name him Patrasche. The dog recovers,
and becomes Nello’s constant companion. Patrasche helps Nello pull the
milk cart into town each morning.
Nello falls in love with Aloise, the daughter of
a wealthy man in the village. The relationship is frowned upon by the
rich man. Nello is illiterate and poor but he is a talented
artist. He enters a junior drawing contest in Antwerp, hoping to win
the cash prize. However, the jury awards this to somebody else (later
disqualified). Nello is accused of causing a fire, and his grandfather
dies. Having nowhere to live now, Nello heads to the Cathedral of
Antwerp. He has a fascination for Rubens’ The Elevation of the Cross
and The Descent from the Cross, but the exhibition is only for paying
customers. On the night of Christmas Eve, he and Patrasche go to
Antwerp and discover that the door to the Cathedral has been left open.
The next morning, Nello and his dog are found frozen to death in front
of the Rubens triptych which the boy so wanted to see. Those Japanese
visitors wonder at same Rubens paintings as Nello did in the final
There is a statue of Nello and
faithful friend at the Kapelstraat in the Antwerp suburb of Hoboken
where Nello lived, and outside the Cathedral there is a marble statue
of the boy and Patrasche snuggly covered by a cobblestone blanket,
created by the artist Batist Vermeulen. One can still see the Rubens
masterpiece in the Cathedral, along with other impressive paintings and
DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover to Calais,
offering up to 54 daily sailings, with prices from £39 each way. All
Dover-France ships feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an
additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding is also available
from £10 per car each way. For more information or to book visit
Photographers create stories with
their cameras. One can have the most expensive equipment but still
never rise to being anything more than a holiday snapper. The eye of
the photographer is the piece of kit which finds that illusive
evocative shot, and New Trends in Japanese Photography offers a
collection of pairs of eyes.
Do Japanese have a natural ability to find narratives and beauty
through photography? Well, perhaps they do. I have spent quite a bit of
time in Japan and it is indeed the most aesthetically stunning country
I have ever visited. Granted, these islands have natural assets which
are photogenic but the applied landscape, the manmade features, are
often remarkable, which leads one to wonder if there truly is that
The Japanese photographic scene is vibrant, with photographers
seemingly able to distance themselves from classic convention. Maiko
Haruki, Naoki Ishikawa, Tomoko Kikuchi, Toshiya Murakoshi, Yurie
Nagashima, Sohei Nishino, Koji Onaka, Yuki Onodera, Chino Otsuka,
Tomoko Sawada, Lieko Shiga, Risaku Suzuki, Ryoko Suzuki, and Chikako
Yamashiro are here offering examples of totally different styles,
genres and subject matter.
These photographers might not yet be very well-known in Europe, but
this volume acts as a visual introduction. The Biography section has a
profile of each of the included artists with information on their
individual achievements and awards, although the images themselves
offer more of an insight into these people.
Sohei Nishino is one of the most original photographers. His Diorama
Maps are truly stunning. He presents images in which one loses oneself.
They are black and white and all the better for it. One is forced to
notice form rather than being distracted by a tapestry of colour.
Tomoko Sawada is light-hearted and skilled. She looks at the
relationship of outward appearance and self. She is her own model and
amuses us with group school photographs …of her. A collection of ladies
in colourful kimonos, and all of those women are the photographer. A
very different concept.
Risaku Suzuki is probably one of the most conventional of the
photographers here. He has a focus on Nature but at a very specific
time, an instant, a moment. He creates an ambiance through his lens.
This unique catalogue will likely appeal to a broad audience that will
draw inspiration and create other trends and initiatives in countries
New Trends in Japanese Photography
Mostly Food &
Travel Journal Baking Book of 2017
Master Recipes and Techniques from the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts
I review many books during the year. The majority of them
have great culinary merit and illustrate the passion of those who
volumes. They come in all sizes but sometimes they are just too big for
French Pâtisserie: Master Recipes and Techniques from the
Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts is perhaps the largest cookbook I have
been invited to review. I was somewhat dubious until I actually took
turn the pages. Yes, the photographs are outstanding, and a book of
pages does have a lot of stage presence, but I also discovered a
This book is a paper personification of a French patisserie
course, as the title does indeed suggest. This must surely become a
and sought after by culinary students and domestic baking enthusiasts
might feel a little daunted at the sheer complexity of some of the
each of those can be deconstructed into its constituent elements.
Master each facet
and one can confection a dessert of which to be professionally proud.
of the techniques are complicated: there are relatively simple recipes
classic tarts, sponges, cookies and pastries.
French Pâtisserie offers those who can’t go to catering
college the chance to hone skills and learn about equipment and
The would-be chef is walked through every step, from basic methods to
presentation of Michelin-level baked goods. Ferrandi, an
internationally-renowned professional culinary school, offers this
of the art of French baking. It’s written by the school’s teaching
staff of qualified
This stunning book is fully illustrated with photographs of
core techniques and full-page images of finished cakes, gateaux and
treats. Yes, those colour plates add to the size of the book, but those
pictures will be such a support to the novice baker, and an inspiration
more confident. Practical information is presented in tables, diagrams,
sidebars, and recipes are graded for level of difficulty, allowing
develop their skills. One could become an accomplished pâtissier
through the recipes.
is the Mostly Food & Travel Journal Baking Book of 2017
French Pâtisserie: Master
Recipes and Techniques from the
Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts
Authors: École Ferrandi, Rina Nurra
Published by: Flammarion
Loving Vincent …and Tim
The ‘Loving Vincent’ Exhibition of the Animated Film
The Loving Vincent Exhibition is now open at the Noord
Brabant’s Museum in Den Bosch. This beautiful town
is just one hour from Amsterdam by train, too. The
exhibition runs until 28th January 2018 and displays
120 of the paintings from the film. The exhibition
shows how the film was made, and puts that in its
Loving Vincent is the first fully-painted animation
film ever made. Every single frame of the
hour-and-a-half movie was painstakingly painted by
hand. More than 65,000 pictures were produced. Each of
those stills is an oil painting on canvas and made
using the same technique as Van Gogh would have used.
They were masterfully created by a team of painters
who participated in this mammoth project, taking four
years over it. Dozens of the most striking stills
painted for the film can be viewed at Noord Brabant’s
The film producers employed classically-trained
painters instead of the usual animators. The narrative
for the work was inspired by paintings by Van Gogh and
by his life, and they were then modified for the big
screen. These adaptations consisted of simple
adjustments through to re-working to change ambiance
This museum is the only one in this region of the
Netherlands able to exhibit original works by Vincent
van Gogh. Ten of van Gogh’s works are currently
included in the museum’s permanent display. They
are all pieces that van Gogh painted in Nuenen, the
pretty village in Brabant where he spent most of his
life and developed as an artist. One can see sketches
and learn more about van Gogh and his family at The
Vincentre in Nuenen.
Tim Walker: The Garden of Earthly
Delights - Bosch through the eyes of a fashion
Till 25th February 2018,
Het Noordbrabants Museum is showing the complete
collection of 26 pigment prints on gesso-coated linen
entitled The Garden of Earthly Delights, by the
celebrated British fashion photographer Tim Walker. He
has a fascination for 15th century artist Hieronymus
Bosch, and he has now created his own version of that
artist’s triptych also called Garden of Earthly
Delights. The large and striking images are inspired
by this unique painting and were commissioned by The
Nicola Erni Collection in Switzerland. This is
the first time they have been shown in a museum. Tim
took a year to complete this series which presents
impressive photographic canvases which remind one of
those popular fantasy TV blockbusters with their
visual impact and medieval other-worldliness. These
photographs are edgy, compelling, dark and truly
Tim Walker is a photographer for British, American and
Italian Vogue, has had solo exhibitions and has
received numerous awards.
Het Noordbrabants Museum
DFDS operates services from Dover to Dunkirk and Dover
to Calais, offering up to 54 daily sailings, with
prices from £39 each way. All Dover-France ships
feature a Premium Lounge, which can be booked for an
additional £12 per person each way. Priority boarding
is also available from £10 per car each way. For more
information or to book visit www.dfds.co.uk.
Mexico: A Culinary Quest
is truly a gastronomic coffee-table book. More accurately I should say
that it’s a 600-page tome the size of a coffee table. Well, perhaps
that’s a bit of an exaggeration but it does have generous proportions
and considerable heft.
Mexico: A Culinary Quest introduces the reader to the real spirit of
Mexican food, its history and taste. It demonstrates a range of modern
cooking styles as well as traditional ones. There is a wealth of
specially commissioned photographs of both people and their homes and
workplaces. In fact, there are almost 900 gorgeous images by Adam
This isn’t a recipe book but more a collection of chef/cook profiles,
putting local ingredients and dishes into a geographic context. It’s a
food-biased travelogue and a must-read for any food-lover who has ever
visited Mexico or who plans to go. There are rustic views, verdant
vistas, seascapes and vibrant dishes. This is an overview of the
authentic Mexico: of colour, natural beauty and urban texture. It’s a
book of personal stories.
Mexico: A Culinary Quest is gift quality and impressive. One could leaf
through these pages for both culinary and photographic inspiration.
It’s a major work in every regard.
Mexico: A Culinary Quest
Authors: Hossein Amirsadeghi and Ana Paula Gerard
Photography by: Adam Wiseman
Published by: Thames and Hudson Ltd
Classic Food of Northern Italy
Anna Del Conte is, or so says The Times, ‘The queen of Italian cuisine’
and she is certainly an iconic writer.
edition (1996) of ‘Classic Food of Northern Italy’ won both The Guild
of Food Writers Book Award and the Orio Vergani prize of the Accademia
Italiana della Cucina. This is an updated edition in which Anna Del
Conte takes another look at classic dishes which illustrate the most
inspiring of northern Italian food. Her other books include Gastronomy
of Italy and Anna Del Conte on Pasta. In 1994 Anna won the prestigious
Premio Nazionale de Cultura Gastronomica Verdicchio d’Ora prize for
dissemination of knowledge about authentic Italian food, and has since
been awarded the Guild of Food Writers Lifetime Achievement Award. In
2016 Anna appeared on the BBC programme The Cook Who Changed Our Lives
with Nigella Lawson, which won ‘Programme of the Year’ at the Fortnum
and Mason Food and Drink Awards 2017.
This is a beautifully photographed volume of more than 150 recipes from
restaurants, home cooks, hostelries and country farms. There are lots
of dishes here that might not be familiar to the non-Italian but there
are also celebrated plates. This is a cook’s book rather than being a
cookbook. It’s one that will live on the kitchen shelf rather than on
the coffee table.
I do have favourites. Risotto Milanese is a classic but it’s also
old-fashioned comfort food. Master this recipe and all the other
risotto recipes in this book could be yours. You need skill to make a
good risotto but it’s worth the effort to learn how to make the best.
Breaded Calf Sweetbreads is another must-try in Classic Food of
Northern Italy. Yes, it’s offal but a good introduction to this
often-feared genre. There is nothing strong and challenging with
sweetbreads. They are soft, creamy and mild, and well worth a try.
Don’t tell guests what they are eating until the dessert is on the
Any Italian cookbook must have a pasta dish and Anna Del Conte presents
a very smart one in the guise of Linguine and Scallops Venetian Style.
This is dinner-party fare and with a hint of curry which is a surprise.
This could be a starter or main course.
Classic Food of Northern Italy is any food-lovers delight. Anna Del
Conte’s recipes are thoroughly researched and tested and form a
comprehensive overview of dishes from this region. It’s a book which
will likely be returned to time after time. The recipes are classic but
so is the author.
Classic Food of Northern Italy
Author: Anna Del Conte
Published by: Pavilion Books
Hot Pot – Chinatown
is a sociable activity that allows family and friends to gather
together around the pot to celebrate the tradition of sharing – the
tradition of Hot Pot.
With over 150 Hot Pot restaurants in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam,
this particular branch in London’s Chinatown has won me over after just
the first visit. It’s not on the main drag of Chinatown but around the
corner in Wardour Street. This 4,500 square foot eatery is set over two
floors with a sizable 148 covers. They cater for groups of 4 and 6 and
10, and there is a private dining room for 8.
The tables are a little different, being set with an electric hob.
That’s a clue to the style of cooking here. It’s a sumptuous DIY event
which offers quality, variety, great good taste and conviviality. The
food will be cooked to perfection – you will be doing it.
Order some starters and wait for your bowl
of broth to come to a rolling boil. It could be broths – plural. These
metal vessels come with dividers to allow for different tastes and
there are several of them. From China there is the spicy and fiery Mala
Sichuan broth. This is truly a taste of the region, with mouth-numbing
Sichuan pepper and dried chillies. This isn’t one for the faint-hearted
but will be the broth of choice for any lover of robust flavours. A
mild soup is rich Drunken Chicken which is clear and light. Or from
Thailand comes hot and sour Tom Yum broth.
This restaurant is a haven for any diner of the
picky sort. One not only chooses the cooking broth but also the goods
for poaching – and there are dozens of them. There are thinly cut meats
of every kind, shellfish for a taste of luxury, fresh and crunchy
vegetables, along with tofu, noodles and eggs. The quality of all these
ingredients is evident. They are raw and ready for the pot, but the
novice need not be embarrassed by lack of culinary skill – there are
cooking instructions for every item.
This meal is a simple step-by-step process:
1. Choose your broth;
2. Choose your ingredients to poach;
3. Prepare your bespoke sauce from the large selection at the sauce
station. If in doubt then I recommend the House sauce;
4. Choose ingredients with which to top your meal – such as peanuts and
5. Cook your ingredients;
6. Dip your cooked goods in your sauce;
7. Finish your now rich broth as soup, with some of those aforementioned
Hot Pot doesn’t offer classic fine dining but it does offer the best casual
dining, and it’s fine. It’s the most flexible and fun meal in town, and
it’s even better with a crowd. Come hungry and leave with a booking for
the next visit.
Monday to Thursday: Midday to 11.00pm
Friday to Sunday: Midday to 12.30am
This is a full-colour illustrated
cookbook but there isn’t a single photograph. This is The Flavours of
Andalucía by Elisabeth Luard and she is a European food expert
and an artist. Her work is displayed here in every element of this
Ms Luard has long been one of my favourite food writers. She is a poet
of the culinary world. She paints pictures with both brush and words.
This volume considers the colourful dishes of a rather romantic corner
of Spain which was once part of the Moorish world, and where Elisabeth
lived for several years. This book was winner of the 1992 Glenfiddich
Award for Food Book of the Year.
Granada can still boast Moorish architecture and the Arabic culinary
heritage remains. The food here reflects necessary frugality tempered
with marvellous flavours, and a good deal of nose-to-tail eating; in
fact recipes that are perfect for these often difficult modern times.
Orange Salad combines juicy citrus fruit with tuna, anchovies and
vegetables. Light and delicious and fit to grace any summer dinner
Rabbit was once popular in the UK but somehow escaped from our pots
with the advent of myxomatosis and the penning of Watership Down. It’s
a succulent meat when cooked well. Here in the Granada chapter we have
Rabbit with Garlic and it’s a classic combination. Elisabeth’s
neighbours would have fattened and killed their own bunnies, but it’s
likely that your furry ingredient can be had from the local butcher.
Ham and Chicken Meatballs are economic, tasty and bound to become a
family favourite. It sounds like a humble dish but it has saffron,
garlic and herbs to create a moist and flavourful pile of meatballs
which would be traditionally eaten with local bread for mopping the
Vermicelli with Shellfish offers a taste of luxury. Soaked salt cod can
replace the prawns in this recipe, although that would give a more
robust-tasting dish perhaps more suited for cooler weather and family
meals. I am sure that spaghetti or fettuccini could replace the thin
vermicelli, although cooking times would vary. This recipe comes from
The Flavours of Andalucía is a cookbook laced with personal
narrative and charm. Elisabeth Luard is a literary writer’s writer who
has just happened to turn her talents to cookbooks. It’s a book that
will spend time in the kitchen but it’s also lyrical bedtime reading
for anyone who loves food and travel. One will dream of scented orange
groves and the kindness of neighbours.
The Flavours of Andalucía
Author: Elisabeth Luard
Published by: Grub Street Publishing
Port, Porto and culinary culture
You might have visited Porto in Portugal before but it’s worth another
look, and perhaps with food and drink in mind this time. There has been
more investment lately in this vibrant town, which exudes character and
During the 15th and 16th centuries Portugal was a leading European
power, ranking with England, France and its neighbour Spain. The
architecture here in Porto still reflects the grandeur and opulence of
But let us consider Portuguese food. There are many sweets and cakes in
Portugal but there is probably only one of which every tourist will
have heard. It’s ubiquitous across the country: it’s the Portuguese
Custard Tart or, to give its local name, pastéis de nata. It is
believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago by
monks at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of Santa Maria
de Belém, in Lisbon. They are rather rustic-looking with a
slightly burnt top, but they are addictive.
There are some other outstanding desserts, too, such as Portuguese rice
pudding. This is made with a short-grain rice such as arborio. It’s
slowly cooked and is creamy with egg yolks, and flavoured with lemon
Another favourite is a custard dessert called Leite Crème.
It’s made on the stove top rather than being baked and it’s finished
with a caramel crust made with a sprinkle of sugar and heat from a
grill or a traditional metal plate. It can be found in shops, but it’s
mostly made at home.
For the Carnivore
But what of restaurants in Porto? If one is looking for a meat fest and
the best location then go to RIB - Beef & Wine. It is exactly what
one would expect – a restaurant with both inside and outside seating,
and offering a variety of steaks and side dishes, and right by the
River Douro. Rib Eye is rich, marbled, juicy and with a good depth of
RIB Beef & Wine
Praça da Ribeira 1
Fish is big in Portugal and the country is full of speciality seafood
restaurants, many with extravagant counters of shrimp, oysters, and
crabs, along with white fish such as hake and the ugly barnacles called
An outstanding fish restaurant is Os Lusíadas. It has, along with
the seafood counter, a lobster tank from which one can choose one’s own
dinner, or perhaps take one home for a pet. This bright and airy
restaurant is popular with locals; this is real Porto and therefore it
provides traditional good-quality food rather than tourist fare. If you
want a burger then keep walking. Order a seafood platter with all those
fresh goods from the counter, and then perhaps move onto the
salt-crusted seabass. The restaurant is located in Matosinhos, next to
one of the major national fishing ports, so you know the ingredients
for your sumptuous meal will be the freshest.
Noon to 15h30 for lunch
19h00 to midnight for dinner
Rua Tomás Ribeiro,
257 4450-297 Matosinhos
But wait! There is something else apart from seafood for which Porto is
famous – and that’s the eponymous Port!
Portugal’s wine industry has a close relationship with the British,
dating back, in the case of Taylor’s Port, to the 1600s. Wines were
first shipped to England as far back as the 12th century and in 1386
the Portuguese and the English signed the Treaty of Windsor which
promoted close diplomatic ties between the two countries and opened the
door for further trade.
There are many theories regarding the origin of Port – one of the most
popular is the story of a visit in 1678 of English wine merchants to a
monastery on the banks of the Douro River. They were looking for wines
to ship back to England and they happened upon an abbot in Lamego who
was producing a wine that was totally new to the merchants. The Abbot
of Lamego was fortifying his wine during fermentation instead of after,
which was the practice for other wines. The abbot’s method killed off
the active yeast, leaving the wine with high levels of residual sugar.
This produced a potent wine with sweetness that was bound to be to the
17th century English taste.
Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in that specific Douro
region. These days there are robots that are used by some growers to
tread the grapes, but many producers prefer the traditional method of
treading the grapes by foot in a tank called lagares. The juice starts
its fermentation, and the wine produced is then fortified by the
addition of a grape brandy (although this is not your regular brandy
but a spirit distilled especially for the wine industry). It is added
in order to stop the fermentation, to allow sugar to remain in the
wine, and to increase the alcohol content.
Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding Port houses and perhaps
the best known. No visit to Portugal would be complete without a trip
to the Taylor’s Visitors’ Centre. It offers self-guided tours of the
cellars as well as a museum and tasting opportunities.
Rua do Choupelo nº 250
4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia
Porto is accessible for tourists who want to walk. The streets are
lined with traditional cafés, bars, restaurants as well as bread
and pastry shops. Every neighbourhood seems to offer gastronomic
TAP Portugal flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto 13 times a week,
prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.
To the untutored this location might not seem the best,
being on the ‘other side of the river’. However, it has great transport
links, being set between Waterloo and Vauxhall stations, with fleets of
convenient red buses running past the door – or they would do if Chino
Latino wasn’t on the 1st floor (that’s the 2nd floor if you are from
the US, but let’s not get into a discussion of the divisiveness of the
Chino Latino is part of the Park
Plaza Riverbank hotel complex on the Albert Embankment. This river
defence was built by celebrated engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette between
1866 and 1869. Albert Embankment was intended to protect low-lying
areas of Lambeth from flooding, while also providing a new road to
bypass local congested streets. Yes, there were traffic jams way back
Those strolling along the Albert Embankment, and the diners at the
front tables of Chino Latino, have the advantage of a stunning view.
Firstly there is the tree-fringed River Thames, but then also the
Houses of Parliament and several London bridges. The vista is reflected
on the mirror ceiling of the restaurant to create something of a moving
mural of avenue and water.
Chino Latino is a multi-award winning Pan-Asian restaurant with nods
towards South America. The restaurant is light and airy and furnished
with European techno flair. The winged armchairs are out of the Jetsons
(cartoon of the 1960s). The only hints to the ethnicity of the cuisine
are the sushi bar and chopsticks on the tables.
There is an impressive bar
serving a good selection of bespoke cocktails. I ordered a Cinnamon
Martini of delicate and aromatic home-infused cinnamon vodka, Grappa,
honey, fresh lime juice and orange bitters. Granted, this isn’t a
visual stunner but it’s a winner if one is looking for a hint of exotic
spice. Try the rum and Champagne cocktails too.
This style of Pan-Asian/South American food has become increasingly
popular of late and it’s easy to see why. It lacks the rigid formality
of Japanese meals, it’s lighter than many other Asian cuisines, and
it’s almost always attractive. It’s a fusion but it’s been around long
enough now to be considered a hybrid.
We chose the Rengin Tasting Menu as it offered a good overview on both
style and substance of the dishes offered here. The plates arrived in
pairs and each one was thoughtfully presented. Amarillo maki roll was
fresh and light, and served with the traditional condiments of ginger
and wasabi. Great taste but I would suggest that the plate could be
smaller or a couple of extra rolls could be added to give a more
generous-looking starter. The bright yellow sauce dotted with white
looked attractively 1950s retro and therefore rather trendy.
Seabass Tiradito was a ceviche-style fish dish and served on hand-made
pottery with a garnish of bright blue flowers. Refined and mild. Wagyu
beef Taquitos were crisp cones with a delicious meaty and well-seasoned
filling. Outstanding! Calamari was crunchy and bejewelled with cherry
tomato. Bacon-wrapped dates were decadent dim sum.
The main courses were substantial and moreish and should be signature
dishes here. Sirloin steak on hot rocks was bound to be a striking and
theatrical preparation, and it was. The rocks were indeed hot, and
sizzled with temptation when hit with the garlic sauce. The meat was
tender and moist and there was plenty of it, too!
Chilean sea bass was a chunky vision of lacquered white and flaky fish.
I am sure the able chef could have made a sports shoe into a culinary
triumph with his basting sauce. The fish looked enticing and the taste
But the highlight of the meal for
me was prawn tempura. This was the best tempura of any stripe I have
tasted in a good long while. Yes, I have been offered tempura in many a
quality Japanese restaurant in London but this tempura was really
memorable. The prawns were large, the batter was grease-free and
superbly crunchy, showing all the elements of a traditional tempura
batter! If I have time to eat only one dish here then it would have to
be the prawn tempura.
A dessert platter of fresh tropical fruits, sorbets, banana mousse,
fruit salad, and coconut cream for which to die, finished this meal
which had been a positive surprise in every regard.
To be honest I wasn’t expecting an amazing experience. Probably a good
one but nothing over which to coo. I was delighted with the food and
cocktails as well as the location, although perhaps I would not have
been quite so enthused if we hadn’t had a window table for the first
visit. I say ‘first visit’ as I suspect there will be more, and I won’t
care where I sit for the second one.
Park Plaza Riverbank
18 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7TJ
We have all heard of Bratislava but mostly with regard to
iffy stag do’s. They are thankfully drifting into the mists of a former
time, and there is so much more to this city than nightlife.
The first known permanent settlement here was around 5000 BC.
About 200 BC, the Celtic Boii tribe founded the first fortified town. The
Romans introduced grape growing and winemaking, which still continue today. Bratislava
was part of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 19th century and found
itself at the centre of major political events in this part of Europe.
Bratislava was occupied by German troops in 1944, bombed by
the Allies, and eventually taken by Soviet troops. After the Communists seized
power in 1948 the city became part of the Eastern Bloc.
Bratislava anticipated the fall of communism with the Candle
Demonstration in 1988, and the city became one of the foremost centres of the Velvet
Revolution the following year. In 1993 the city became the capital of the newly-formed
Many visitors arrive by river and they will be welcomed by a
significant 20th-century structure, the Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising,
which reaches across the Danube. It has a prominent UFO-like tower with a
There is a celebrated musical tradition in Bratislava.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Franz Liszt worked or lived here. One
can find references to them on buildings which might now be offices or shops.
The arts are evidently still alive in the guise of street sculpture found
around the Old Town.
Čumil is a celebrity here. The literal translation of the
word Čumil is ‘the watcher’. There are a couple of explanations for the
name of this iconic brass sculpture and trip hazard. The first one is that he
is a communist-era worker who is not interested in the work he has been assigned so spends
his time people-watching. The second urban myth says he’s looking up
women’s skirts. He does have a somewhat dubious expression. He is the most
photographed person in Bratislava and can be found hanging out at the junction of
Laurinská and Panská Streets.
There is a life-sized and rather charming Napoleonic soldier
in the Main Square, near the Old Town Hall. He can be found leaning on
a bench which obviously will invite a line of selfie-takers who want a truly unique
souvenir of a trip to Bratislava. Napoleon was here in 1805; it’s said that the
soldier fell in love with a local girl. He stayed in the city and became a producer
of sparkling wine. His name was Hubert – which is also the name of
Slovakia’s most popular sparkling-wine brand. There is no way of knowing if that story
is true, but it is either delightfully romantic, or a very clever marketing ploy.
But Bratislava also has a reputation for welcoming another
kind of art: graffiti! This isn’t the nasty tags left in railway
sidings by pale and spotty losers. We find murals, colour, comment and ads. This
is urban art at its finest.
Bratislava is an architecturally beautiful and diverse city with
buildings from every era of its past. There is culture, cafés and something
fascinating on every corner. It’s a place well worth exploring.
Yes, it’s true, dear reader! The boy with the lightning
scar was conceived and born in Porto.
This city is also known as Oporto and is the
second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. In 2014 and 2017, Porto
was elected The Best European Destination by the Best European
Destinations Agency. It is an ideal city for a short break: one can
spend a day on the northern bank of the Douro River in the old town and
then the second day across the bridge in Vila Nova de Gaia.
One of Portugal’s internationally celebrated exports is fortified Port
wine. It is named, unsurprisingly, after Porto, since the town was
responsible for the bottling and export of this wine so prized by the
British. But along with Port there are very good wines from the Douro
valley, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafés offering
But what is the Harry Potter connection? In 1991 Harry’s mum, J. K.
Rowling, arrived in Portugal to work as an English teacher. It was in
the fascinating city of Porto that she wrote a chapter in the
Philosopher’s Stone, “The Mirror of Erised”. A walk around the old town
and one can be persuaded that Porto was the model for various elements
of the whole Harry Potter series.
Lello bookshop would be a must-visit store even if Harry had never seen
the light of day. It’s thought that J. K. was inspired by seeing this
architecturally unique bookshop, and plenty of other folks have been,
too, it seems – it’s been designated the third most beautiful bookshop
in the world by The Guardian and Lonely Planet. I would love to see
those that made it to first and second place: Lello sets the bar very
The staircase in the centre of the shop is said to have given the idea
for the Hogwarts staircase, and it certainly is sumptuous. Designed in
the distinctive Gothic Revival style, the shop is full of wooden
shelving and carved pointy Gothic arches. The ornate flight of stairs
has red-carpeted treads, the book-laden shelves create just the
ambiance of Harry’s school library. Such has the J.K. Rowling urban
myth flourished that these days there is an entrance fee for those just
wanting to have a look. Perhaps an Invisibility Cloak would be in
order. One can’t help but imagine that the locals who would just like
to buy a copy of The Concise Guide to Portuguese Politics (OK, I made
that up) must be quite put-out!
Outside Lello’s there are narrow streets that
will doubtless remind one of characterful Diagon Alley where Harry and
his friends purchased wands, books and owls. There are plenty of
mysterious characters around, wearing cloaks and wandering about in
groups. No, you haven’t been transported to another world: they are
university students, and between September and the end of May those
cloaks are their sartorially elegant uniforms. Harry and his fellows
also wore cloaks and J.K. may have taken her inspiration from the Porto
Tourists might visit Porto the first time for Harry Potter and Port
wine, but they will likely return to enjoy more of the vibrant river
front, architecture and café culture. It’s a city with more
faces than a three-headed dog called Fluffy.
TAP Portugal flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto 13 times a week,
prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.
R. das Carmelitas 144
Chotto Matte is Japanese for ‘please wait a minute’. No,
dear reader, don’t go thinking that this is a veiled threat of slow
surely more a statement that dishes are freshly prepared. It’s not a
waiting but more like allowing yourself a little time to anticipate.
said that, Chotto Matte service is quicker and more efficient than many
The restaurant specialises in Nikkei
Cuisine. Nikkei refers
to the Japanese living outside Japan. This term has been expanded to
in this case, the dishes that evolve when you marry traditional
ingredients and Japanese culinary practices.
Peru has the second largest Japanese
population in South
America, after Brazil. It was the first country in that continent to
diplomatic relations with Japan and to invite immigrants from that
In 1889, around 7,000 Japanese workers arrived in Peru with
the promise of work. They came to farm sugarcane and many workers
stay. They brought their own gastronomic tastes and philosophy with
the Nikkei concept is not news. This isn’t now a fusion cuisine but
more of a hybrid, an entity in its own right, and should be respected
This is a large restaurant over
several floors. We ate on
the ground floor where there is a rather impressive bar offering
beers, spirits and sake, which works particularly well with many of
dishes. There is a striking graffiti mural covering the longest wall,
this as graffiti doesn’t convey the quality of this Japanese urban
It is appropriate for the location and the fun ambiance at Chotto
restaurant also has some of the most comfortable dining chairs!
All ingredients at Chotto Matte are
responsibly sourced and
are free from MSG and GMO’s. Dishes are small and it’s recommended that
person order 4 or 5 dishes, and all are designed to be shared. For the
visit I recommend ordering one of the set menus, as we did.
Tostadita was our first sharing plate
of succulent beef
cubes, smoked aji panca (Peruvian red pepper), shiitake mushrooms,
peppers, and a dash of yuzu juice. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus and is
use of in this menu. These crunchy little blue corn discs were
Sea bass ceviche followed. It was prepared with sweet
potato, Peruvian corn, coriander, chive oil and citrus sauce, and
the South American and Japanese partnership. It was fresh and light,
colours from the chive oil. A great summer dish.
Nikkei gyoza was a hot plate of pork,
prawn and cassava
dumplings with aji Amarillo (yellow chilli) and sweet potato
purée. Cassava is
a South American starch and a common ingredient. These pot-stickers
perfectly textured with well-balanced flavour from the filling.
Nikkei sashimi sea bass garnished
with cherry tomatoes,
jalapeño peppers and coriander with yuzu truffle soy was a fish
dish. The jalapeño didn’t overpower the delicate fish and the
truffle was an
aromatic background adding a richness.
Pollo den miso – chicken miso, carrot, daikon, and yellow
chilli salsa – was one of the triumphs of this delightful meal. This
Tentaculos de pulpo – octopus with yuzu and purple potato purée.
If you only
have time for a couple of dishes and a flask of sake then these would
ones to choose. They were attractive and substantial plates and
Outstanding in every regard!
Inside-out sushi roll was our final
savoury and acted as something
of a palate cleanser, being mild with a spike of spice from a mound of
pickled ginger, both traditional sushi accompaniments.
Dessert was an attractive platter of
a selection of sweet
treats. Mochi ice cream was the most traditionally Japanese of the
is a chewy rice cake and can be presented as a savoury or a sweet. Here
was filled with mango and matcha green tea ice cream. Chocolate pot
with honeycomb and dulce de leche was an absolute winner. Passion fruit
with a garnish of pomegranate was a classic with a twist, and a classy
to the evening.
Chotto Matte is a contender for my best restaurant of the
year. Granted, it’s all a matter of taste but Chotto Matte ticked more
usual complement of boxes. The restaurant is well-designed. The
convenient. The dishes were well-executed and delicious. Is there a
Yes, the plates have left me with cravings that will only periodically
as I live off the end of the District line!
12 noon to 1.30 am Monday to Saturday
1pm to 12 noon Sunday
11-13 Frith Street
We have likely all heard of the Blue Danube, a waltz by the
Austrian composer Johann Strauss II. But this majestic river isn’t
actually blue, although it is beautiful and worthy of a nice tune.
AmaWaterways offers a trip that will cover all the famous sites between
Budapest in Hungary and Passau in Germany.
We were met at Budapest airport and then there was a relaxing coach
ride to join the glistening boat, the Amaviola. We were escorted to our
cosy cabin and then it was teatime. A nice cuppa and a slice or two of
cake was most welcome. (Learn more about my culinary experiences on
The romance of the whole trip started in earnest after dinner. We took
a trip through Budapest on the river. It was night and we had the best
views of the illuminated state buildings along the banks, as well as
beautifully lit bridges with their carved stone piers which would be
difficult to appreciate for their splendour from the road above. We
moored for the night.
The next day could be as full or relaxing as one might want. It would be a
crime to miss this wonderful city, however, so choose an excursion
which suits your preferred pace. Most ports of call offer a regular
walking tour, a gentle version, and then there are the options of hikes
and bikes for those with an unseemly desire for exercise. Perhaps we
should all have chosen the latter exertions, as the food with
AmaWaterways is really first class and tempting!
Budapest is one of the classic cities of Europe. It is refined and
cultured with many opportunities to enjoy its celebrated
café-and-cake culture. The walk will take you along shopping
streets, past architectural charm, but there is one place which will be
a magnet for any food lover: Central Market Hall!
This market is vast with a street level, an upper level, as well as a
basement. There are aisles of sausages, drinks, spice, fish, meat and
vegetables. This is the place for a foodie souvenir such as strings of
dried red peppers and garlic, the celebrated Hungarian salamis, and
other meat products. A bag of ground paprika would be a relatively
inexpensive gift. Don’t spend all your money here, as there are more
countries to follow.
Day 3 is Bratislava and it’s well worth taking time to visit. The walking
tour took us through tree-lined parks, booths selling local souvenirs
and decorations. There is more marvellous architecture, cafés
and shops selling local wines. Bratislava also has a taste for
sculpture. One can find Hans Christian Andersen, a brass sewer worker,
a Napoleonic soldier and many more metallic personages. Street
furniture at its finest.
Day 4 found us in Vienna and it’s a day not to be missed. The boat
moored a little way from the city centre so shuttle buses were on hand
to ferry passengers who wanted to return to the river once their
excursion was over, but also to allow others to spend a little
independent time in spectacular Vienna.
The sightseeing started before we even arrived at the drop-off point.
We passed the Opera House, government buildings, churches and parks,
and all with a running commentary. The walking tour showed us historic
backstreets, architectural curiosities and shopping streets. The
Viennese have good taste so designer labels abound. This is the reason
you saved that aforementioned cash. Reserve enough time for a little
people-watching, a cup of coffee and a slice of Esterhazy cake. A
foodie souvenir would be Manner Wafers. The company started in 1890;
originally the wafers were paper-wrapped and sold in tins. In the
1960s, the distinctive foil packaging was introduced, although the tins
are still available and make a great keepsake – they are iconically
Day 5 offered tours of Weissenkirchen or
Dürnstein – an excursion with wine tasting, or a Dürnstein
Fortress hike, or an Apricots and Sweets tasting, a historic Melk
Benedictine Abbey tour; or take free time to appreciate floating along
the scenic Danube. This might be the day to enjoy some leisure on this
splendid boat. There can be few better unwinding opportunities than
watching the world go by at an unhurried pace, mug of coffee in one
hand and a good book in the other – and perhaps a slice of gateau at
one’s elbow. This is your holiday so do it your way. I did, and the
batteries were fully recharged.
Day 6 found us in Linz for a fascinating walking tour, although some
passengers chose a coach excursion to Salzburg, where I hear the hills
were alive with the sound of music. Other travellers visited Cesky
Krumlov or the Austrian Lake District.
We stayed in Linz and it didn’t disappoint. We
moored just a short walk from the old town. It has a striking main
square and religious buildings aplenty, but the guide will show you
some secluded alleys which one would be unlikely to find alone. They
show the style of homes that wealthy townsfolk would have enjoyed a
couple of hundred years ago. This is a city of hidden treasures.
We cruised into the German town
of Passau on day 7. This is stunning, with the best views being from
the river where one can take in the historic skyline of terracotta
house roofs and church spires, and all in magnificent rich tones of
reds, yellows, amber and pink.
Passau is accessible for gentle walking visitors or for hikers and
bikers who might want to take a look at the imposing Passau Castle.
This is a town in which to linger. There is stunning architecture,
churches with unique metal-encrusted doors, boutiques and bars. I
confess I had never heard of Passau but this is a must-visit on this
Our vacation ended in the little town of Vilshofen. We were not here
for castles, café culture or cathedrals but we had a fun
engagement. We were treated to our own private beer festival with the
locals. The band played traditional music wearing traditional costume,
everyone danced traditional dances, and local beer and pretzels were
This was the first AmaWaterways cruise for me but I am impressed. The
crew were friendly and efficient, the boat, The Amaviola, was smart and
comfortable. The food was outstanding in every regard, and the included
excursions were conducted by locals with inside knowledge. I can highly
recommend AmaWaterways, and the next cruise is already booked.
The Drift has an enviable location in a contemporary and noteworthy
building but in the heart of the historic City of London. Its address
is Bishopsgate but one finds the front door on Houndsditch.
Yes, dear reader, I was thinking the same thing – that perhaps the
owners, Drake and Morgan, didn’t like the shabby connotation of a
Ditch, preferring the more wistful name of Drift. And it’s true that
Houndsditch did once have an unsavoury reputation.
A ditch was dug outside Roman Londinium’s wall but this disappeared
with the passage of time. The Danes then dug a protective ditch around
the city. Refuse, in those days, was just as much an issue as now. It
was too convenient for the adjacent houses to dispose of rubbish and
that, it seems, included dead dogs. The name Houndsditch appears in the
13th century but before that time it was just known as ‘the ditch’. By
the turn of the 20th century, the street had become a celebrated
clothes market, at last shaking off its reputation as a canine cemetery.
Bishopsgate has a rather more classy history. The Bishop’s Gate was one of the
gates to Londinium. It was originally the entrance for those coming
from the northeast into the City, and crossing London Bridge, which was
the only bridge on the Thames in those days. In medieval times these
gates would be closed at night and opened again in the morning. First
mentioned in 1210, the gate was removed in 1775.
The Heron Tower is officially called 110 Bishopsgate. It’s the tallest
building in the Square Mile of the City of London financial district.
It’s an impressive and dominant glass structure, and near Liverpool
Street Station. The Drift is well placed for those travellers who are
looking for a quick bite before boarding their train, and for workers
from this building and those numerous offices in the surrounding City.
The Drift isn’t trying to impress passionate foodies who admire minuscule
portions on hand-made Japanese dishes. They are not seeking a
reputation as the spot for 28-day-aged exotic aardvark. This is about
sensible food, affordable prices and comfortable, casual yet smart
surroundings. It will tick a lot of boxes for a lot of diners.
The space is light, modern, well-designed and attractive. There are
well-spaced tables for couples, tables for small groups and benches for
larger parties. The open kitchen allows for a little culinary theatre,
and perhaps one might catch a whistled selection from ‘shows we have
loved’ from a young chef.
We started with cocktails. Whisky Sour on the rocks is a classic and a
favourite. This one was mixed from Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky,
lemon juice, sugar syrup, and bitters, and finished with shaken snowy
egg white. It has an adult taste rather than being a ‘dolly mixture
sweet’ style of cocktail.
My guest’s Mojitocolada was served in a highball glass and
was made with Koko Kanu rum, which is a blend of natural coconut
essence and white Jamaican rum. It was garnished with pineapple and
mint. Refreshing and fruity and deceptively alcoholic. Don’t ride your
bike home after a couple of these.
Gin drinkers will appreciate London Spritz served in a wine glass. This
was Tanqueray gin, cucumber, elderflower, apple, mint and topped off
with soda. This one is a real summer evening cocktail, and will likely
be enjoyed by those who want a Pimm’s but without the excessively herby
Tiki Punch is another dramatic cocktail for rum lovers. A copper cup
was filled with a summery libation of coconut-washed Venezuelan Pampero
rum, banana liqueur, more pineapple, lime and stout. I didn’t think
this one would work but all the ingredients sang in sweet harmony.
Grilled Asparagus topped with perfectly Poached Egg napped with Hollandaise
sauce was my companion’s starter, a simple dish that needed no
extravagant garnishes. The asparagus had great flavour from the char
and the sauce had plenty of refreshing lemon. Crab Bruschetta was my
starter, which comprised two slices of toasted bread with a mound of
flaky shellfish, bejewelled with chilli and spring onion – delicious
I had another little taste of luxury for my main course.
Crayfish-topped Flatbread with baby gem lettuce, cherry tomatoes and a
generous drizzle of the classic Marie Rose sauce. It looks impressive,
being a board-filling bread with plenty of the good stuff. A lovely
presentation and tempting at this time of year.
Buttermilk Chicken Burger was my guest’s substantial main dish. A
chicken burger makes a change from the ubiquitous beef but can often be
dry. This fried chicken was juicy and served with chipotle mayonnaise
and the usual fixin’s on a sweet brioche bun. Onion Rings came in a
chunky tower along with a pot of Cowboy Fries. The menu describes the
dressing as honey, chilli and garlic but it spoke to me more of a
barbeque sauce. A great combination.
The Drift offers something for everyone. Burgers were popular with
other guests but diners will be missing out if they don’t stray from
the old faithfuls. Food isn’t intimidating here, although the menu
offers both classics and more innovative plates, too.
Monday to Wednesday 7:30am till 11pm
Thursday and Friday: 7:30am till midnight
Saturday: 10am till midnight
Sunday: 11am till 6pm
I don’t often cover pop-ups. It’s not that I
regard them as any less worthy than an established restaurant but it’s
just that they are around for only a limited time. The Test Kitchen,
although a pop-up, will be around for a while and it’s the prequel to a
hopefully enduring restaurant in 2018.
The chef already has outstanding credentials, having honed his culinary
craft at the likes of Le Gavroche, The Halkin under Gualteiro Marchesi
and Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. Adam Simmonds has been looking for a
rather different format of dining experience where he could have
face-to-face interaction with the diner. The Test Kitchen provides just
such a platform where the guests are encouraged to ask questions and
even offer suggestions via a feedback form. And, yes, some of those
suggestions have been heeded. I think a few other restaurants could
take advantage of such forms! It’s part of the development process and
one does feel rather more involved and inspired.
It’s a small space, a couple of dozen covers with bar seating and an
open kitchen. It was an evening of gastronomic theatre, with food and
wine being the evident stars. Those young and bustling chefs produced
some of the most innovative and beautiful dishes to be had in this
capital. The ingredients were seasonal and fresh and served with flair.
We started with sourdough bread and a pat of homemade salted butter and
then we each chose 3 dishes from the menu divided into vegetables, fish
and meat. These are small dishes but each is thoughtfully constructed.
I ordered broad beans, girolle mushrooms in an onion and pine broth.
That’s where the bread came into play. I know dipping isn’t polite but
it seemed more genteel than licking the plate! Roasted pearl barley,
salt-baked celeriac and truffle was my guest’s veggie plate. The
truffle was aromatically evident, with great creamy texture from the
grain. This is high-end comfort food.
We continued with fish dishes and they didn’t disappoint. My smoked
eel, Granny Smith apple, veal and parsley was light and flavoursome. My
guest’s plate was somewhat larger but equally well constructed. Cod,
girolles, broad beans and summer flowers created a plate which was
pronounced first class. The fish was just cooked and melting. A
pleasure to eat.
I don’t, I confess, love all things offally but veal sweetbreads are a
favourite. They were cooked to creamy perfection and I hope Adam will
consider keeping them on any future menus. There is nothing to
challenge the diner with this dish …well, except their imaginations –
most people seem to think sweetbreads are dangly-bits, but in fact they
are thymus glands. The sweetbreads were garnished with lardo, girolles,
peas and lemon, which was a predominant flavour giving freshness to the
rich sweetbreads. 80 day-aged sirloin of beef, bone marrow, date, white
onion was my guest’s meaty choice. This was unsurprisingly succulent
beef with that marrow as a savoury accomplice. The extra aging allows
the meat to reach its full potential and it has a rewarding impact on
both taste and texture.
Lemon Posset, avocado, gooseberries, with shards of crisp yoghurt
meringue was my companion’s dessert. This was visually architectural
and tangy from the fruit. Matcha tea custard with poached English
cherries in red wine syrup was my finale and it had the delicate
flavour of Japanese tea laced with the more robust British stone fruit.
The Test Kitchen no longer needs to test. Adam Simmonds, this skilled
chef with the engaging smile, deserves to be proud of both the concept
and the execution at The Test Kitchen. His team have an audience but it
is, for the most part, an appreciative one. I can’t wait to taste
Adam’s future menus. He has already set himself a creditably high bar.
Monday - Closed
Tuesday to Friday: 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Saturday: 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch
5.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Sunday - Closed
The Test Kitchen
54 Frith Street
It’s a bright English summer day. A perfect time to enjoy
the delicious and colourful delights of the celebrated Borough Market.
first mentioned in 1276, although the market claims to have been around
in the 11th century, and possibly even before that. During
century it became one of London’s most important food markets due to
convenient location near the Thames. The present buildings were
1851, with additions in the 1860s and the 1930s.
surrounding streets have cobbled pavements and hints of
earlier times. Arthur Hooper’s is in the thick of this vibrant
its interior lends itself more to cool wine bar than Dickensian chop
has high tables and stools near the entrance, allowing views across the
to the market. There are quieter tables, and striking steel-caged,
bottle shelves and charcoal black walls which combine to create a soft
yet thoroughly contemporary, ambiance.
Arthur Hooper’s offers small European plates along with a
thoughtful and reasonably-priced wine list, with many of those bottles
available by the glass or carafe. We ordered a carafe of
Merlot/Grenache by Les
Vignes de L’Eglise in Languedoc in south-western France. It’s the first
the menu but in my opinion wines from that region are often great value
money, and this proved to be the case here. This had a light cherry-red
with plenty of juicy berry and plum. It has medium tannins, so perfect
pairing with diverse small dishes.
A Bloody Mary was my guest’s cocktail of choice. It comes
bereft of the usual garnishes but this Mary is no timid or shrinking
packs a punch from a generous hit of chilli. It was pronounced vibrant
worthy by a man who appreciates a good tomato-based libation.
food is the star here. It’s a restaurant which is
blessed by its enviable location. There is the best of produce just a
from the kitchen and Arthur Hooper’s takes advantage of that. The menu
with seasons and availability. We enjoyed cured and hot-smoked pork
glistening pink and white ribbons. This is a perfect sharing dish for
might only want a glass of red and a plat
pour deux. The flavourful fat was a perfect partner for my French
looking for a more substantial meal then Lovison Pork
Sausages with polenta and a dish of Sautéed rosemary new
potatoes must be a
contender. The sausages were dense, meaty and hearty, and were
the tenderness of those spuds.
Clams with nduja should be a signature dish here, although I
note that Hooper’s might periodically offer mussels cooked in the same
This is the dish that reminds the diner to order more bread! Nduja is a
spreadable pork salumi from Italy. Yes, it’s delicious on crackers but
used to melt into and season the shellfish and broth, which cries out
bread-dipping. A winner!
cheese is unpasteurised with ash coating, and
comes from Somerset’s Whitelake Dairy. It’s matured for 2 to 3 weeks
and has a
distinct yet not overly ‘goaty’ flavour with a beautiful firm texture.
serious cheese-lover should miss this, simply served with a little
some toasted bread.
butter beans with charred tenderstem, ricotta and
nigella seeds was another well-flavoured and textured dish. Tenderstem
member of the brassica family of veggies, a cross between broccoli and
kale. I think it originated in Japan. One can enjoy both florets and
which are, well, tender!
Cheesecake with cherries was my guest’s choice from
the ever-changing dessert menu. The savoury dishes were substantial but
is always room for a sweet somethingorother to go with an espresso at
of a delightful lunch.
Hooper’s isn’t about fine dining but it is
definitely the place for the best of foods, affordable wine, great
ambiance, and friendly staff. I can highly recommend them for the very
fun and casual dining. The diners might be casual but that food is as
as any restaurant sporting drifts of starchy tablecloths and equally
waiters. I’ll be back to make new culinary discoveries and to linger
another carafe of red.
Stagolee’s is an American restaurant and we have plenty of those in the UK,
ranging from dubious to excellent in quality. But Stagolee’s is unlike
all those other US-inspired eateries. This spot will introduce the
diner to a different face of American food but a truly authentic one,
and you’ll likely not find these vibrant dishes in any other place.
This is a Joint, a shack. It doesn’t
have padded banquettes, starched tablecloths and sniffy waiters. It
welcomes with smiles, scrubbed tables and benches, and memorable food
and cocktails. The bar is small but the shelves are stacked with
Moonshines, bourbons and spirits from across the Pond. This will be a
magnet for any lover of rye or for those who want to learn more about
that and other celebrated American drinks.
Chef Ashley James offers Londoners a taste of the South. No, not
Bournemouth but the southern states of the USA. This is home cooking
and comforting food made from grandmothers’ recipes – the grandmothers
in question being those of Ashley and her partner Jordan.
We started with Hot Spinach Dip with cheese and artichokes, and it’s a classic.
It’s light and flavourful served with tortilla chips, and it’s a
winner. Devilled Eggs are another standard and a deliciously piquant
take on stuffed eggs, a childhood favourite at Sunday teatime. Pimento
Cheese Spread is called the caviar of the South; I had heard of it but
never tried it. One taste and you will be on the road to culinary
addiction. It’s savoury, well textured and downright tasty. It’s a
Cornmeal Battered Fried Fish is already well loved by the increasing number of
regulars at Stagolee’s. The coating is perfectly seasoned and crunchy,
and there is a garnish of watermelon pickle which was another
revelation. I am hoping that Stagolee’s will consider selling this by
Hot Fried Chicken is the undoubted showpiece here. It truly is hot and
is the best fried chicken I have ever had. There is nothing timid about
this moist plateful. It packs a punch but that heat doesn’t mask
flavour. An order comprises a couple of sizable pieces of chicken, and
there are sides on offer too.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese is creamy
and piping hot. It’s a foil for the spice of the chicken.
Southern-style Greens with smoked ham works well with both the fish and
the chicken, and it’s not short of meaty taste and hearty bite.
Cornbread is a southern classic and it’s sweet and light at Stagolee’s,
and will doubtless have many an American tearfully reminiscing. It
almost had me in that condition and I have never been south of the
Mason Dixon Line.
But what is a meal without
dessert? Peach Cobbler was the dessert of the day and it’s another
Southern staple. This was fruity and moreish. The menu changes to take
advantage of the best produce, so perhaps the special will be apple pie
or key lime pie next time.
Ashley’s Hip made with Bulleit
Bourbon is named after Stagolee’s soon-to-be-famous chef. It’s sweet
and delicate but it’s undoubtedly alcoholic. But Mountain ’Rita will
likely become a signature cocktail here. This makes use of the same
spices around the rim as on the chicken, and the drink is spiked with
jalapeño chilli. This is a Margherita with attitude; it’s not
for the faint of heart and I can guarantee that one will never be
Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint is a couple of bus rides from
chez nous but I’ll be a regular there. Chef Ashley, Jordan and their
team deserve to be proud of this cosy corner of Fulham. It’s a welcome
and truly unique addition to London’s restaurant scene.
CLOSED Monday and Tuesday
Wednesday and Thursday: 5:30pm to 10pm
Friday: 5:30pm to 10:45pm
Saturday: 11am to 3pm for Brunch and 5:30pm to 10:45pm for Supper
Sun: 11am to 3pm for Brunch and 5:30pm to 10:00pm for Supper
Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint
453 North End Road
Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield
It’s not surprising that we were invited here to enjoy a
meal with meat as the showpiece. This was Smithfield, after all!
Smithfield’s meat market dates from the 10th century, and is
now London’s only remaining wholesale market in continuous use since
medieval times. It’s a bloody spot in other ways, too. Smithfield was the place
of many executions of religious non-conformists and political rebels, including
Scottish patriot William Wallace, made famous by the film Braveheart.
Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield is a
smart yet casual restaurant and bar. It has a rather masculine ambiance
with walls clad in natural wood, low lights and superbly cosy banquettes.
Yes, meat is the draw here and appetites will be whetted by the sight of
28-day-aged joints resting in the cabinet at the restaurant entrance.
But there is more to appreciate here than red meat. There is
a great selection of fish and shellfish and some veggies, too. The menu
offers innovation but also some retro favourites which are worthy inclusions.
The food was enticing but the service was equally memorable, and it was rather
We ordered our starters, main courses and cocktails from our
server, Paolo, who was just as characterful as the steak he was about
to display. No, not just a single steak but the whole length of, in this
case, rib-eye. This cut, in my opinion at least, has the best ratio of
flavourful fat and well-textured meat. Paolo sliced a modest portion as requested, and
then we were ready to enjoy our meal, now spiked with a degree of culinary
My first cocktail was a metal mug of Maple Loves Ginger,
which was Ketel One Citroen, stem ginger purée, and lemon, with
sweetness from both maple syrup and pineapple juice, the predominant flavour. The
dried pineapple slice was a tasty garnish and gave exotic flair to the copper goblet
My dear reader might be surprised by my choice of starter. Prawn
Cocktail is indeed a throwback dish which was ubiquitous on home and
restaurant menus a few decades ago. Strangely, it fell out of favour because it
was so popular. It was popular because it was good, and it still is. The
Blackhouse version was sumptuous with large prawns, plenty of the traditional
Marie Rose sauce, along with some delicate triangles of buttered bread.
Tommy’s Collins was my guest’s starter cocktail of El Jimador
Reposado, lime, agave, mint and ginger beer. El Jimador Reposado is a
100% agave tequila aged for 3 months before bottling. This partnered well
with Piri Piri Calamari with Saffron mayonnaise, which was another comfort dish
and a generous helping too!
Butterfly Perch was, as the cocktail bill of fare suggested,
“perfectly matched with seabass”, my companion’s main course. The
Seabass Fillet was wrapped in a lettuce leaf, stuffed with pearl barley
couscous and then oven-baked to slightly char the lettuce while allowing the fish to
remain moist. There was a garnish of choron sauce, which is a
tomato-bejewelled Béarnaise sauce that goes so well with fish.
But I was waiting for that steak which had looked red and
magnificent on Paolo’s chopping board. Steak Holder cocktail was my
“Perfectly Matched” libation. Bombay gin, black grapes, Plymouth Sloe gin, star
anise, maple syrup and blueberries combined to present a powder-purple delight
with fragrance from the spice.
The ribeye was from the Butcher’s Block selection. It was
dry-aged in Himalayan rock salt resulting in a tender and perfectly
seasoned cut. When ordering steak consider flavour over bulk. A steak falling
over the edges of a dinner plate might seem impressive but it usually indicates
a person who is in need of a good feed rather than one who wants to savour the
best. The Grill on the Market at Smithfield IS the best. If you have a huge
appetite then order one modest steak and if that isn’t enough then order perhaps a
different cut for the second instalment.
Coconut Bakewell Tart was our shared dessert. This was a
great balance between a good old-fashioned and familiar pud with a
little hint of distant climes with that coconut which works very well in this
typically-English baked tart. The smear of salted caramel sauce added perfect sweetness.
Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield ticked
all available boxes. The location was well served by public transport.
The décor was warm and inviting. The service was friendly and the staff were
passionate and knowledgeable. All dishes and drinks were first-class but the meat
will likely be the element which will assure many happy returns. I am
impressed and planning my next visit to try a burger, which I expect will be the
finest I would have ever eaten.
Monday to Wednesday: 12 noon - 12:00 midnight
Thursday to Saturday: 12 noon - 1:00am
Sunday - Closed
The Grill on the Market, Smithfield
2-3 West Smithfield
City of London
We Londoners are a cosmopolitan bunch. That isn’t a recent phenomenon: our
country has been built, over the centuries, on a diversity of cultures
and that has also added to our cuisine.
The British national dish is curry.
There is a curry house on every high street, with around 10,000 of
them, so this isn’t just a fad. Indian food has been popular here since
the days of Queen Victoria. She had her own Indian servants who would
prepare delicious and spicy dishes that were so much more vibrant than
the usual British fare of those times.
This two-and-a-half-hour journey
through London’s Brick Lane doesn’t show you classy and polished
London: it introduces the visitor to real London. It’s a neighbourhood
that has had a long history and there are still streets of iconic
Georgian buildings to attest to that fact. Some of those attic windows
once shed light on the work of Huguenot weavers. The Brick Lane Mosque
was once a Synagogue. It’s been an area that has welcomed those looking
for a better life and they have all left their mark. This neighbourhood
is called ‘Banglatown’ due to its high concentration of immigrants from
Bangladesh. The restaurants, cafés and shops reflect that
can visit any city as a tourist and we will be able to admire the
architecture. We might find an interesting shop in which to browse, and
restaurants abound. But even guide books can’t answer questions and
they usual only cover the well-trodden path. One really needs an actual
person with ‘insider’ knowledge, someone who is a regular in some
different shops and restaurants, and someone who can even point out the
very best of unique street art.
London Food Tours offer in-depth
insights into, in this case, Brick Lane and its surrounding streets.
One walks those streets, but that stroll is punctuated by bites of
authentic foods. One starts the tour with a glass of British-brewed
Indian beer, a plate of crispy poppadums and a selection of tangy
chutneys. A very traditional start to any Bangladeshi meal in the UK.
This is a cultural tour as well as a
culinary one. Our charming and able guide described points of interest
in colourful detail as we made our way to the next venue, which was a
supermarket. This is a box of tasty treasures for any food lover, and
there was enough time to do a circuit and to carry away some
home-cooking essentials. One can find a selection of those
aforementioned poppadums to cook chez vous, as well as aisles of spices
Savoury snacks called ‘telebhuja’ are
popular and our next stop allowed us to try a couple. We learned about
the owner of the shop as well as a little more about the goods on sale.
Trays of filled and fried pastries tempted the group, who unanimously
pronounced these as flavourful and moreish. They actually constituted
our starter on this roving meal extravaganza.
The shop next door provided our dessert, which we reserved till the end of
the afternoon. Subcontinental sweets are made of copious amounts of
reduced milk, sugar and butter along with exotic flavours and even
decorations of real gold or silver leaf. I can highly recommend the
Then it was on to a refreshing glass
of a yoghurt-based drink called lassi. We enjoyed this along with a
brace of Bangladeshi fish curries accompanied by fluffy white rice. We
ate with our hands as do the locals, although cutlery was available for
The final stop was a short walk from
Brick Lane but to an iconic restaurant which has long been appreciated
by Londoners. Here we enjoyed a vegetarian and a lamb curry along with
light naan bread cooked in a tandoor for delicate flavour.
This is the only London Food Tours
excursion I have tried but I am impressed by their attention to detail,
and the professionalism and enthusiasm of our knowledgeable guide. I am
a Londoner but even I benefited from a tour rather than just an
independent visit, and the walk introduced me to experiences I would
otherwise have missed. I look forward to going along to other such
Monday to Sunday at 2:30pm. The food tour takes place in Brick Lane
which is in the East End, an 11-minute walk from Aldgate East station.
Meeting point and detailed directions are provided with your booking
confirmation. The food tour ends opposite Aldgate East station and the
guide can point you towards alternative public transport or call a taxi
From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177
Black Roe is tucked away in a side street in the heart of
Mayfair. It couldn’t be better located for transport and diners. This
is a neighbourhood with plenty of restaurants but it is making its mark, attracting
visitors who want quality food and something a little unique.
Pacific Rim cuisine is what’s offered here in this small but
marvellously formed restaurant. It’s been opened by Kurt Zdesar, owner
of Chotto Matte. It has seating for 60 with tables and banquettes. But
it’s the décor that impressed me. Huge black and white portraits line the walls to
great effect. The bar at the far end welcomes with warm amber light.
Black Roe’s key to culinary distinction is poke. That isn’t pronounced
as a dig in the ribs but rather po-kay with an accent on the ‘e’. It’s
basically is a raw fish salad, a deconstructed sushi with garnishes and dressing.
In the restaurant window there is a tapestry of poke fixin’s. It is served as
a starter in Hawaii and as a main course. A large proportion of those
islands’ populations are descended from Japanese so this is a Pacific Rim
fusion, and has already taken the West Coast of the US by storm.
We started with Prawn and Pork Pot Stickers with chives and ponzu,
a citrus-based sauce commonly used in Japanese dishes. These were
perfectly-made dumplings which are both steamed and fried. They had a beautiful crisp
bottom, and that delicate char gave flavour as well as texture.
A bowl of the celebrated poke was always on the cards. The
“Black Roe” Ahi and Yellowtail Poke with spicy yuzu salsa was our
choice from a selection of poke dishes. There was indeed some of the eponymous black
roe along with cubes of the abovementioned fresh fish. The ratio of topping
to rice was generous and the presentation was beautiful. Yuzu is a Japanese
citrus fruit and created a tangy dressing for both rice and fish. This is a
Octopus Aioli with chilli salsa and coriander was the best
dish of cephalopod I have had in ages. I would go as far as saying it’s
one of the best dishes of any style I have enjoyed in a while. The mollusc was
meaty and the sauce was outstanding. This is one of my ‘dishes of the year’ so
far. Yes, I know it’s just a matter of taste but I think it’s that good!
Executive Chef Jordan Sclare should be proud!
Whole Lobster “Mac ‘N’ Cheese” is at the opposite end of the
menu from the light and refreshing poke. This is a stunner and a real
‘celebration’ plate. It’s rich, flavourful, creamy with cheese and well-punctuated
with chunks of lobster. It’s a visually striking dish but you will likely
order it again, and not just for the picture on Instagram!
But I have pointed out that bar, and it serves some rather
decent cocktails. Cherry Pistachio Sour made with Buffalo Trace
bourbon, pistachio, lemon, egg white and cane syrup was deceptively mild, timid and
addictive. Remember, this is actually alcoholic.
Quiet Storm with coconut cream, passion fruit, lime, lychee and
apple juice with a garnish of mint was a non-alcoholic souvenir of
those characterful Tiki bars in California and Hawaii of a few decades ago.
This thirst-quencher was served in a bright green Tiki mug.
Black Roe is my cup of tea, it’s right up my alley …and a
bunch of other superlatives. The location is perfect and the menu for
both starters and main courses is an eclectic fusion that fits so well with
the vibrant London restaurant scene. I’ll be back for dessert and to
explore more of that cocktail menu.
Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier
London – in conversation
Les Dames d’Escoffier London are enjoying a vibrant
calendar of events and are welcoming new members who are eager to
participate in activities and raise funds for other women in
hospitality. President Jacqui Pickles is one of the Chapter’s founding
members and in 2015 took the helm from Valentina Harris, who did such a
fine job as the first London President.
Who is this calm and measured lady who manages to instil enthusiasm in
such a diverse cross-section of leading women in UK hospitality? She
has a successful catering company and has spent almost all her career
working in food and wine.
I asked how she first came to hear of Les Dames d’Escoffier. ‘I met
Valentina Harris in the early 90s. I was doing some work for an
importer of kitchen equipment, and met someone who wanted to set up
chef demonstrations. I put some programmes together for her, and got
some really good chefs who would go down to her kitchen shop. Valentina
was one of those chefs, and we hit it off. I helped her set up a
cookery school in France, and we built up a good relationship. It was
she who invited me to become one of the founding members of the London
Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.’
What are some of Jacqui’s early memories of food?
‘As a child I do remember it was simple food, Northern
food. It was my Grandma who taught me the importance of making
something taste good. She really only had three seasonings: salt,
pepper and butter. She was a natural cook, and couldn’t make pastry to
save her life, but she just knew how things should taste, and how to
put them together. My mother was a good cook, but she was much more
precise. She had been a nurse, and ran the household as if she was
running a ward – we had to scrub down before each meal! She worked as
hard at being a mother and housekeeper as she had as a nurse in the
‘My mother went to Cordon Bleu
evening classes once a week and so, suddenly, when I was about ten
years old, we were being given pork fillets stuffed with prunes and
anchovies, and stuffed peppers… We all embraced this, and these were
the days before anyone had seen an avocado pear!
‘My father had a small farm and he set up a market business selling
eggs and cheese. His first market stall was in Barnsley, which was odd
because we lived in Preston. In those days there was no motorway so he
had to get up very early, feed his pigs and whatever, then drive over
the Pennines, and clear the snow from Market Hill in Barnsley to set up
his stall. He built a successful business of about 30 shops in the end,
and it kept my grandfather, father, my uncle and my elder brother going
for 50 years.’
How did her career start?
‘I went into the family business. But there were too many
‘chiefs’ there, and one day I told Dad that I was handing in my notice.
A week later I left and headed south with no plan. Eventually I found
some work at Bourne & Hollingsworth. Then I went to the Cordon Bleu
school for a week (which was as much as I could afford), and my
interest was piqued.
‘I got a job as a secretary and actually my love of food started in
that company. One day my colleague, Mike, asked me to lunch, and took
me to the Connaught Grill. In those days it was all silver and waiters
in tails – the poshest place I had ever been. The parents of my
boyfriend Guy (now my husband) suggested that the next time he invited
me to lunch I was to ask to go to Le Gavroche. So we went to Le
Gavroche, and I still remember exactly what we had for lunch. We ate so
well, and what a performance, a ballet – so fantastic! After that, we
always went to Le Gavroche. I remember peeking at the bill, and in 1980
it was £78 for the two of us – quite a lot!
‘Guy and I would take our holidays in the South of France. Coming back
we would always stop at a little place called Le Cheval d’Or, which had
a great dining room. In1982 I said to Guy, “I really want to learn how
to cook!” So I handed in my notice, and left my job in January 1983. I
told Mike that I would look for a cookery course, and he took me for a
last meal at Le Gavroche. He said, “You never know, you might end up
working here.” I laughed, but by May 1984 I was working there!
‘Fate played a big part: I applied to the school at La Petite Cuisine
in Richmond and that was such a stroke of luck, because Lyn Hall was a
brilliant teacher, and knew every great chef in France. It was a
wonderful school and I fell in love with the whole thing. She was such
a hard taskmaster, but after just three months with her you could go
straight into a professional kitchen. From there I went to France, in
May 1983, to the Chateau de Montreuil, near Boulogne.
‘Then Lyn Hall came to visit, and asked me to come back to the school
and be the chef’s assistant. I did that, but within a month the chef
had left and I was chef! I did love teaching, and building
relationships with the students who came through. But I did miss the
‘Steven Docherty, the sous-chef at Le Gavroche, was asked to come and
give a lecture one evening, and I said to him that I would love to come
to the Gavroche kitchen sometime. He said, “Just visit one evening
after work, and just peel vegetables or whatever.” So I did that,
standing there with a crate of carrots, just watching everything that
was going on. So I thought, “I’ve got to get back in!” and one day I
asked Albert Roux for a job. He asked, “How serious are you? How long
are you going to cook for?” and I replied, “I’m going to cook for
life!” so he said, “OK, you can have a job!”
‘I started at Le Gavroche in mid-1984. That was the hardest job of my
life! Very tough, and I was the only woman in the kitchen. From Le
Gavroche I went into their outside catering business. Then Albert gave
me a job of looking after all the chefs in the contract side. When they
started to go for the big contracts I was brought into the meetings to
help them. I was with them until 1986.
‘I set up my own company, and my
first contract was with John Frieda, the up-market hairdresser, so I
called the company Head Chefs Ltd – we provided food for their clients
and we did his opening party in his Mayfair salon. The outside catering
work began then.
‘I travelled a lot. I saw the world in style – Japan, Canada, The
States, and all round Europe, and it was fabulous. The only place I
actually cooked was in Iceland: a merchant bank client used to take
their guests for a fishing trip and I cooked in a fishing lodge for a
week every July, and it was really hard work. We started at 6 in the
morning and finished at 2 in the morning, but it never got dark so you
didn’t notice how tired you were.’
Jacqui Pickles continues to be involved with catering and hospitality,
and organising international events. She is charismatic, quietly spoken
and persuasive. She has already encouraged many women to get involved
with the increasingly influential Les Dames d’Escoffier London Chapter.
Many of us have become interested in wine. Yes, drinking it
and pairing it. Remember the days when we in the UK drank just a few
different wines? It wasn’t that they were so good that they became popular; truth
to tell, it was all we had. Red or white from ‘various countries’. They
were not different bottles from various countries but often bottles made with a
blend of grapes from various countries. Rosé came in the guise of Mateus
Rosé in its distinctive flat bottle. OK, I admit it, I still have a taste for that
retro classic; I guess it’s familiarity.
Things have changed. We are more discerning and we are
interested in not only what’s in the glass but where it came from. If
it’s delicious then we want to learn more, and one might discover that the
crisp sparkling white in our glass actually comes from England! It’s documented that
Christopher Merret used the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second
fermentation, 40 years before it was claimed that Benedictine monk Dom
Pérignon had invented the process which came to be called the Champagne method.
Best of England is a young and vibrant company which
publishes English county guides, and now they have tours to offer
visitors from the UK and across the globe. The company has quality at the heart of
both books and tours. They research so you don’t have to, and they offer
well-tailored trips to delight the novice wine buff as well as those with a more
professional wine interest.
An English vineyard tour with Best of England is a tasting
delight. One can opt for a short tour with afternoon tea, which might
sound like something of an oxymoron but what better backdrop for a classic
afternoon tea could there be than a lush vineyard …and a glass or two of
something chilled, sparkling and reviving!
For those who are looking for an intense 3-vineyard
experience then Best of England has a tour to satisfy that want. One
will see how these wines are made, from growing vines to corking and labelling
the final product. Visitors will meet the winemakers and hear their individual
stories, and there will be an opportunity (of course) to sample the wines.
Bolney have been making wine since 1972. Their wines are
well-regarded and can be enjoyed in this family-run winery. The estate
is 39 acres and has a café offering gourmet lunches, as well as
Ridgeview is another family-run vineyard, outside the
picturesque village of Ditchling. It has outstanding views over the
dramatic South Downs Ridge. They produce award-winning sparkling wines using
Rathfinny Wine Estate is found in the Cuckmere Valley and
three miles from the sea. The vineyard is 600 acres and over the past
three years they have planted 72 hectares of vines; by 2020, they will be one
of England’s largest vineyards. All the buildings here have been
constructed with locally sourced materials, using sustainable technologies such as
photovoltaic cells and wastewater recycling. Rathfinny Estate have worked with the
National Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority to open the
‘Rathfinny Trail’ so that visitors can arrive by foot or by bike.
All of these established and thriving wineries show different
philosophies of production and growing, giving an impression of the
progress made in English viticulture over the past decade.
Best of England make wine education fun and accessible,
whether you are novice or professional. They arrange everything for a
stress-free day of tasting in the most delicious fashion. Just turn up
at the railway station and leave the arrangements to this imaginative company.
a kind invitation! A food and wine pairing evening at impressive
Lutyens, off Fleet Street… and Cornish wine! Well, no, not really – the
wine is French and very good too. The maker is Cornish and that,
strangely, might give him some advantages: he has an appreciation of
the British wine palate.
Cornishman Mark Hellyar changed careers a few years ago to start
producing wine in Bordeaux. He is from Padstow where his family have
farmed for a couple of hundred years, so he does indeed have a
connection with land and cultivation. Cornishmen have long had a
reputation for being independent and rebellious, and with that genetic
sense of adventure Mark sold the software company he was running in
order to start a new phase of his life. Now the resulting wines are
found at celebrated Michelin-starred restaurants and in the cellars of
Mark Hellyar of Chateau Civrac is a Cornishman in Bordeaux. The wines
are contemporary and made with the British consumer in mind. Mark’s
wines are hand-made in small quantities thus giving the opportunity to
tailor wines for individual and complex character and ever-changing
nuances. There is nothing dull or banal from Chateau Civrac. Mark
wanted to make wines that were different from classic Bordeaux and his
wines have a New World quality about them, with more subtle tannins,
and which perhaps have more in common with those he discovered while
working in California and South Africa.
Civrac has developed a noteworthy Sauvignon Blanc called Wild White
which isn’t a hippy-inspired vintage as the name might suggest. The
‘wild’ element comes from the French Sauvage and Blanc for white – a
little linguistic toying. We tried this and several other outstanding
wines at the Honest Grape food and wine tasting, and everybody was
impressed by Mark’s offerings.
But what are Honest Grapes? It’s actually more of a bunch of who’s
rather than what’s. They are a group of wine enthusiasts, wine
professionals, and friends who have created something of a one-stop
wine site which offers suggestions and invitations to events. They hold
regular pairing dinners and single-variety tastings which will excite
anyone who enjoys good wine, and anyone wanting to learn more.
Honest Grapes supports independent growers, small producers and
importers, allowing their guests to taste wines that they won’t be able
to find easily elsewhere. There are wines for quaffing with Sunday
lunch and others suitable for celebrations and impressing the in-laws;
there might even be a cheeky bottle or two appropriate for an evening
in front of the television enjoying ‘The French Connection’ or ‘Julie
& Julia’. This is a marketplace for interesting bottles,
well-chosen vintages – and delicious diversion.
I am no
wine expert and I am not a chef but I really enjoyed this pairing
evening. Honest Grapes presents events that will appeal to food lovers
who will appreciate learning more about how wines not only accompany
dishes but actually enhance them. But any dinner party is just as much
about those folks sitting around the table as what’s on it. These
evenings are convivial. One might not know the others but everyone has
something in common – love of great food and excellent wine, as
furnished by Lutyens and, in this case, the charming Mark Hellyar (whom
I hope to interview in the near future).
Restaurant review: Yes, dear reader, this is a chain restaurant and I make no
apologies for reviewing a Thai Square. Why do chains become chains? Because
they become popular. And why are they popular? Because they’re good.
Thai Square has been around for a few years now and they have not dropped
their standards... Read More
Bōkan for Bottomless Prosecco Sunday Brunch
Restaurant review: It’s
in London’s vibrant Docklands – or more accurately high above that
sought-after neighbourhood. It’s up a depth at a considerable 37
floors! This is an elevated restaurant in every sense of the word. This area glistens with glass and polished
metal and exudes an air of sophistication... Read More
Trolley in the Lobby - Bar at One Aldwych
Bar review: One Aldwych and its Lobby Bar occupy one of the most
important Edwardian buildings in London. One doesn’t have to have a degree in
architecture to be impressed by this hotel. One might remark that it has a hint
of Paris about it and indeed it does... Read More
Taruzake – cedar difference
Drinks review: There is one variety of sake that has always intrigued me, one with a
very pronounced flavour – of wood. No, not the taste of knotty pine nor
the richness of mahogany (although I have never had a chew of either of
those). Here we are talking cedar... Read More
Recipe: This is
great for using up those quickly-browning bananas. The over-ripe ones
are perfect for this recipe as they are both soft and sweet. Throw in a
handful of nuts or dried fruit if you have them... (opens printable page)Read More
Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo
Hotel review: Luton Hoo is
arguably one of the finest examples of its genre. A stay laced with dinner and champagne was likely to be memorable, and
indeed it was. Luton Hoo offers several wine dinners every year and
they are understandably popular with regular visitors, those who are
celebrating, and others who are interested in learning more about the
best of wines... Read More
The Swan at the Globe
Restaurant review: The Swan fits perfectly with the area. The small windows
remind one of Dickensian homes, although I suspect this is all much newer. One
mounts the stairs to the contemporary restaurant which at 6pm was filled with
tourists... Read More
Hotel TerraVina Dining
Restaurant review: Hotel TerraVina is a gem. It’s a well-appointed house – well, it seems like someone’s home (read the accommodation review here). A line
of colourful wellies in the hall welcomes the arriving guests. The rooms are
individually designed and the beds... Read More
Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour
Restaurant review: This isn’t a bar for the feeble of limb. It has a staircase more associated with a lighthouse than a drinking hole. The deep red walls
and the perfume of incense sticks combine to present an expectation of
something truly exotic at the top of those stairs... Read More
Umami Kelp and Wasabi – an introduction
Japanese food review: We in the UK find the concept of umami to be somewhat elusive. We need educating in this element of flavour which can be recognised in all
manner of foodstuffs – even those common and definitely not Japanese,
such as Marmite... Read More
Rafute - Okinawan braised pork belly
Recipe: Rafute is
flavourful, tender and moreish. It’s a dish popular in Okinawa in the far (very
far) south-west of Japan. It’s traditionally made with two local staples – Awamori,
which is Okinawa’s celebrated spirit, and the island’s brown sugar, which is often
made into candy... Read More
Remelluri Organic Winery
Food & Drink review: In the 14th century, a
monastery was built that gave birth to this farm, producing cereal and
wine for the monks - La Granja Nuestra Senora de Remelluri (Our Lady of
Remelluri)... Read More
Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master
Food & Drink review: Vermouth has been ubiquitous in and on cocktail bars since
mixed drinks became popular more than a century ago, but many of us have no
idea what it actually is, apart from being the bottle that stands at the back
collecting dust... Read More
Markopoulo recommendations – Attica’s food, wine and welcome
Travel review: Most travellers to Greece seem to arrive in Athens with a
long journey still ahead. They are looking for small restaurants where the
locals eat, perhaps a secluded beach, no other foreign tourists in sight. Yes,
that must be a small island, and a boat ride away from the mainland. Well, all those elements are nearer than you think... Read More
Domaine Papagiannakos Winery
Winery review: A few years ago one might scoff at the prospect of a visit
to a Greek winery. The memory of old-school Retsina lingers on. That
wine had more in common, to non-Greek taste buds at least, with that in
which one might clean paint brushes. But those days are gone and now
Greek wineries are taken seriously... Read More
Maribor – wines, gastronomy, bikes and hikes
Slovenia travel review: Slovenia is a small country in Central Europe. Small it
might be but it has natural beauty, with mountains (Slovenia’s highest
mountain, the three-peaked Triglav, is depicted on the national flag),
vine-strewn hills, thick
forests, historic cities and a 46 km long coast on the Adriatic. It is,
in some regards, Europe in microcosm... Read More
Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass
Japanese culture review: For those of us who love the delicious complexity of sake,
the vessel from which we drink is often something of an afterthought.
But it shouldn’t be... Read More
Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses
Restaurant Masterclass review: It seems a bit early for pondering Christmas presents but, trust me, it’s not. If you have a passionate food lover in your near
vicinity you might want to ditch the summer holiday brochures for half
an hour and consider a masterclass... Read More
Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs
French travel review: Reims is a beautiful and historic city in the Champagne-Ardenne region
of France. It is only 130 km from Paris with easy
access by train. Excursions to nearby Chalons are a must and there will
be not only the delightfully ubiquitous champagne to taste but also... Read More
Rijsttafel in The Hague
Indonesian Food review: I love The Netherlands and am an unashamed
supporter. It’s an oft-disregarded tourist destination even though it’s
easy to get to from London. Short breaks are more usually taken in
Paris or Berlin. That’s a shame as Dutch cities offer history,
architectural charm and delicious food... Read More
Rennes – second capital of food
(or is it third?)
French travel review: Rennes Market is
considered to be the second- or third-largest in France, depending on whom you
are speaking to... Read More
The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie
Wine review: The Champagne house Vilmart & Cie was founded in 1890
by Désiré Vilmart and is considered by many an authority
to be perhaps the leading producer of quality Champagne in the region
of Northern France which bears the same name... Read More
Umbria’s Autumn Gastronomy with Valentina Harris
Chef interview: Valentina Harris doesn’t have many free moments
but I cornered her on a return flight from a culinary tour of Umbria. She
is an unashamed supporter of the country of her birth, and conducts
gastronomic adventures to Umbria and other regions... Read More
Hisashi Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado
Chef interview: Kiku was first established in Mayfair in 1978 and has gained a
reputation for serving authentic Japanese cuisine. The owners,
Mariko and Hisashi Taoka, are dedicated to presenting the freshest of
food in a calming cocoon of blond wood... Read More
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