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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

A Dog of Flanders in Antwerp

New Trends in Japanese Photography

Loving Vincent …and Tim

French Pâtisserie

Mexico: A Culinary Quest

Loving Vincent …and Tim

Classic Food of Northern Italy

Hot Pot – Chinatown

The Flavours of Andalucía

Port, Porto and culinary culture

Chino Latino

Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Chotto Matte

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

The Drift – Bishopsgate

The Test Kitchen

Arthur Hooper’s – Borough Market

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint

Blackhouse - The Grill on the Market at Smithfield

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Black Roe – Poke and more

Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier London – in conversation

Thai Square Fulham

Bōkan for Bottomless Prosecco Sunday Brunch

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

Trolley in the Lobby - Bar at One Aldwych

Taruzake – cedar difference

Recipe: Banana Bread

Champagne Taittinger at Luton Hoo

The Swan at the Globe

Hotel TerraVina Dining

Opium Cocktail and Dim Sum Parlour

Umami Kelp and Wasabi – an introduction


Remelluri Organic Winery

Mele e Pere for Vermouth with a Master

Markopoulo recommendations

Domaine Papagiannakos Winery

Maribor – wines, gastronomy, bikes and hikes

Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass

Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs

Rijsttafel in The Hague


The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

Umbria’s Autumn Gastronomy with Valentina Harris

Hisashi Taoka of Kiku – Fish aficionado

It’s all about travel and food - lots of international excursions, culture and history, hotel, destination and restaurant reviews.
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All restaurant, hotel and product reviews are sponsored; however, the resulting articles are unbiased and the opinions expressed are my own.

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Latest News!

Nife is Life at Christmas

Nife is life 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.

Learn more about Nife is Life here

food and travel reviews

Lily O’Brien’s for Christmas

OBriens Christmas 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…

Visit Lilly O’Brien’s and order your Christmas treats here

food and travel reviews

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.

Maya 1 british museum 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 collaboration.

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.

Maya 2 british museum 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 House.

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 fascinating culture.

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.”

Visit at:


A Dog of Flanders in Antwerp

a dog of flanders Antwerp ‘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.

a dog of flanders triptych 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 tragic scene.

a dog of flanders statue 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 lofty architecture.

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

Learn more about Antwerp here

food and travel reviews

New Trends in Japanese Photography

Japanese photography 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 natural talent!

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 outside Japan.

New Trends in Japanese Photography
Publisher: Skira
Price: £35.00
Language: English
ISBN-10: 8857232794
ISBN-13: 978-8857232799

food and travel reviews

Mostly Food & Travel Journal Baking Book of 2017

French Pâtisserie:

Master Recipes and Techniques from the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts

French baking I review many books during the year. The majority of them have great culinary merit and illustrate the passion of those who penned these volumes. They come in all sizes but sometimes they are just too big for the subject.

French Pâtisserie: Master Recipes and Techniques from the Ferrandi School of Culinary Arts is perhaps the largest cookbook I have ever been invited to review. I was somewhat dubious until I actually took time to turn the pages. Yes, the photographs are outstanding, and a book of some 656 pages does have a lot of stage presence, but I also discovered a treasure.

This book is a paper personification of a French patisserie course, as the title does indeed suggest. This must surely become a classic, and sought after by culinary students and domestic baking enthusiasts alike. One might feel a little daunted at the sheer complexity of some of the recipes but 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. Not all of the techniques are complicated: there are relatively simple recipes for 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 ingredients. The would-be chef is walked through every step, from basic methods to the presentation of Michelin-level baked goods. Ferrandi, an internationally-renowned professional culinary school, offers this intensive overview of the art of French baking. It’s written by the school’s teaching staff of qualified master pâtissiers.

This stunning book is fully illustrated with photographs of core techniques and full-page images of finished cakes, gateaux and sweet 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 to the more confident. Practical information is presented in tables, diagrams, and sidebars, and recipes are graded for level of difficulty, allowing readers to develop their skills. One could become an accomplished pâtissier by working through the recipes.

This 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
Price: £45.00
ISBN-10: 2080203185
ISBN-13: 978-2080203182

food and travel reviews

Loving Vincent …and Tim

The ‘Loving Vincent’ Exhibition of the Animated Film

loving vincent 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 historical perspective.

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 Museum.

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 and light.

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 photographer

Tim Walker 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 original.

Tim Walker is a photographer for British, American and Italian Vogue, has had solo exhibitions and has received numerous awards.

Het Noordbrabants Museum
Verwersstraat 41
The Netherlands

Phone +31(0)73-6877 877

Visit Het Noordbrabants Museum here

Visit Vincentre here

To learn more about The Netherlands visit here

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

food and travel reviews

Mexico: A Culinary Quest

MexicoThis 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 Wiseman.

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
Price: £45.00
ISBN-10: 0500970823
ISBN-13: 978-0500970829

food and travel reviews

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.

anna del conte The original 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 table.

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
Price: £25.00
ISBN-10: 1911595083
ISBN-13: 978-1911595083

food and travel reviews

Hot Pot – Chinatown

hot pot gyozaHot Pot 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.

hot pot hand 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 chillies;

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 noodles.

hot pot meat 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.

Opening times:
Monday to Thursday: Midday to 11.00pm
Friday to Sunday: Midday to 12.30am

Hot Pot
17 Wardour Street


Phone: 020 7287 8881

Visit Hot Pot here.

food and travel reviews

The Flavours of Andalucía

Flavours of Andalucia 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 beautiful book.

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 party table.

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 concentrated sauce.

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 Almeria.

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
Price: £18.99
ISBN-10: 1910690481
ISBN-13: 978-1910690482

food and travel reviews

Port, Porto and culinary culture

Portugal bridge 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 charm.

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 those days.

Sweet treats

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.

portugal custard tart 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 peel.

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 flavour.

portugal RIB Beef & Wine
Praça da Ribeira 1
4050-513 Porto

Phone: +351 22 340 2300

Opening Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 12:30pm-3pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm
Friday – Saturday 12:30pm-3pm, 7pm-11pm
Sunday 12:30pm-3pm, 7:30pm-10:30pm

Taste of the Sea

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 percebes.

portugal Fish resto 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.

Opening times
Noon to 15h30 for lunch
19h00 to midnight for dinner

Os Lusíadas
Rua Tomás Ribeiro,
257 4450-297 Matosinhos

Phone: +351 229 378 242
Fax: +351 229 375 641

Visit Os Lusíadas here

Not forgetting...

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.

portugal taylors barrel 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.

Taylor’s Port
Visitors’ Centre
Rua do Choupelo nº 250
4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia

Tel. +351 223 742 800
Fax. +351 223 742 899

Visit Taylor’s Port here

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 opportunities.

TAP Portugal flies direct from London Gatwick to Porto 13 times a week, prices start at £42 one way including all taxes and surcharges.

For further airline information, visit or call 0345 601 0932

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Chino Latino

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 English language).

Chino Latino reflection 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 then, too!

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.

Chino Latino rum-cocktail 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!

Chino Latino tempura 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 didn’t disappoint.

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.

Chino Latino
Park Plaza Riverbank
18 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7TJ

Phone: 020 7769 2500

Visit Chino Latino here

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Bratislava – sculpture and urban art

Bratislava Liszt 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 Slovak Republic.

Bratislava the watcher 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 restaurant.

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.

Bratislava soldier 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.

Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises

Read my articles on the AmaWaterways cruise here

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Porto – Harry Potter was born here

Yes, it’s true, dear reader! The boy with the lightning scar was conceived and born in Porto.

Lello Porto stairs 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 local dishes.

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 high!

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!

Lello Porto store 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 students.

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.

For further airline information, visit or call 0345 601 0932

For further destination information, visit

Visit Lello here

Livraria Lello
R. das Carmelitas 144
4050-161 Porto,

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Chotto Matte

Chotto Matte tostadita Chotto Matte is Japanese for ‘please wait a minute’. No, dear reader, don’t go thinking that this is a veiled threat of slow service. It’s surely more a statement that dishes are freshly prepared. It’s not a matter of waiting but more like allowing yourself a little time to anticipate. Having said that, Chotto Matte service is quicker and more efficient than many other restaurants.

The restaurant specialises in Nikkei Cuisine. Nikkei refers to the Japanese living outside Japan. This term has been expanded to include, in this case, the dishes that evolve when you marry traditional Peruvian 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 set up diplomatic relations with Japan and to invite immigrants from that country.

Chotto Matte gyoza In 1889, around 7,000 Japanese workers arrived in Peru with the promise of work. They came to farm sugarcane and many workers decided to stay. They brought their own gastronomic tastes and philosophy with them, so the Nikkei concept is not news. This isn’t now a fusion cuisine but perhaps more of a hybrid, an entity in its own right, and should be respected as such.

This is a large restaurant over several floors. We ate on the ground floor where there is a rather impressive bar offering cocktails, beers, spirits and sake, which works particularly well with many of these dishes. There is a striking graffiti mural covering the longest wall, although describing this as graffiti doesn’t convey the quality of this Japanese urban street art. It is appropriate for the location and the fun ambiance at Chotto Matte. This 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 each person order 4 or 5 dishes, and all are designed to be shared. For the first 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, Spanish peppers, and a dash of yuzu juice. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus and is made good use of in this menu. These crunchy little blue corn discs were flavourful and beautifully presented.

Chotto Matte chicken Sea bass ceviche followed. It was prepared with sweet potato, Peruvian corn, coriander, chive oil and citrus sauce, and exemplified the South American and Japanese partnership. It was fresh and light, with vivid 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 were 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 lover’s dream dish. The jalapeño didn’t overpower the delicate fish and the truffle was an aromatic background adding a richness.

Chotto Matte dessert Pollo den miso – chicken miso, carrot, daikon, and yellow chilli salsa – was one of the triumphs of this delightful meal. This along with 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 be the ones to choose. They were attractive and substantial plates and memorable. 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 wasabi and 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 group. Mochi is a chewy rice cake and can be presented as a savoury or a sweet. Here the mochi was filled with mango and matcha green tea ice cream. Chocolate pot garnished with honeycomb and dulce de leche was an absolute winner. Passion fruit crème brulée with a garnish of pomegranate was a classic with a twist, and a classy finish to the evening.

Chotto Matte sake 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 than the usual complement of boxes. The restaurant is well-designed. The location is convenient. The dishes were well-executed and delicious. Is there a negative comment? Yes, the plates have left me with cravings that will only periodically be sated, as I live off the end of the District line!

Opening Hours:
12 noon to 1.30 am Monday to Saturday
1pm to 12 noon Sunday

Chotto Matte
11-13 Frith Street

Phone: 020 7042 7171


Visit Chotto Matte here

food and travel reviews

Melodies of the Danube – Budapest and beyond

AmaWaterways Budapest 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 board here.)

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.

AmaWaterways market 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.

AmaWaterways Bratislava 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 Viennese.

AmaWaterways Passau 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.

AmaWaterways beerfest 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 trip.

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 consumed.

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.

Visit here to learn more about AmaWaterways cruises

Read my article on the AmaWaterways cruise here

food and travel reviews

The Drift – Bishopsgate

The Drift cocktail 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.

The Drift asparagus 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 crab 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.

The Drift crayfish 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 finish.

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.

The Drift burger 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 and decadent.

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.

Opening Times:
Monday to Wednesday 7:30am till 11pm
Thursday and Friday: 7:30am till midnight
Saturday: 10am till midnight
Sunday: 11am till 6pm

The Drift
110 Bishopsgate

Phone: 0845 468 0103

Visit The Drift here

food and travel reviews

The Test Kitchen

Test Kitchen glass 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.

Test Kitchen bean 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.

Test Kitchen sweetbreads 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. Recommended!

Test Kitchen matcha 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

Phone: +44 (0)20 7734 8487

Visit The Test Kitchen here.

food and travel reviews

Arthur Hooper’s – Borough Market

arthur hoopers bacon It’s a bright English summer day. A perfect time to enjoy the delicious and colourful delights of the celebrated Borough Market. It was first mentioned in 1276, although the market claims to have been around since early in the 11th century, and possibly even before that. During the 19th century it became one of London’s most important food markets due to its convenient location near the Thames. The present buildings were designed in 1851, with additions in the 1860s and the 1930s.

The surrounding streets have cobbled pavements and hints of earlier times. Arthur Hooper’s is in the thick of this vibrant neighbourhood but its interior lends itself more to cool wine bar than Dickensian chop shop. It has high tables and stools near the entrance, allowing views across the street to the market. There are quieter tables, and striking steel-caged, back-lit bottle shelves and charcoal black walls which combine to create a soft and restful, 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 also 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 wine on the menu but in my opinion wines from that region are often great value for money, and this proved to be the case here. This had a light cherry-red hue with plenty of juicy berry and plum. It has medium tannins, so perfect for pairing with diverse small dishes.

arthur hoopers sausages 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 violet. It packs a punch from a generous hit of chilli. It was pronounced vibrant and worthy by a man who appreciates a good tomato-based libation.

But the food is the star here. It’s a restaurant which is blessed by its enviable location. There is the best of produce just a few yards from the kitchen and Arthur Hooper’s takes advantage of that. The menu changes with seasons and availability. We enjoyed cured and hot-smoked pork belly in glistening pink and white ribbons. This is a perfect sharing dish for those who might only want a glass of red and a plat pour deux. The flavourful fat was a perfect partner for my French wine.

For those 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 complemented by the tenderness of those spuds.

arthur hoopers clams Clams with nduja should be a signature dish here, although I note that Hooper’s might periodically offer mussels cooked in the same fashion. This is the dish that reminds the diner to order more bread! Nduja is a spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Italy. Yes, it’s delicious on crackers but here it’s used to melt into and season the shellfish and broth, which cries out for bread-dipping. A winner!

Tor goats’ 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. No serious cheese-lover should miss this, simply served with a little chutney and some toasted bread.

Harissa butter beans with charred tenderstem, ricotta and nigella seeds was another well-flavoured and textured dish. Tenderstem is a member of the brassica family of veggies, a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. I think it originated in Japan. One can enjoy both florets and stems which are, well, tender!

arthur hoopers coffee Ricotta Cheesecake with cherries was my guest’s choice from the ever-changing dessert menu. The savoury dishes were substantial but there is always room for a sweet somethingorother to go with an espresso at the end of a delightful lunch.

No, Arthur Hooper’s isn’t about fine dining but it is definitely the place for the best of foods, affordable wine, great location and ambiance, and friendly staff. I can highly recommend them for the very best of fun and casual dining. The diners might be casual but that food is as well-crafted as any restaurant sporting drifts of starchy tablecloths and equally starchy waiters. I’ll be back to make new culinary discoveries and to linger over another carafe of red.

Opening times:
Mon - Thu: 11am - 11pm
Fri - Sat: 11am - midnight
Sun: 11am - 5pm

Arthur Hooper’s
8 Stoney Street
Borough Market
London SE1 9AA

Phone:020 7940 0169

Visit Arthur Hooper’s here

food and travel reviews

Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint

stagolees 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.

stagolees 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 must-try here.

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 the jar!

stagolees 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.

stagolees 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 enough.

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.

Phone: (0)20 3092 1766

Opening times:
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

Visit Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint here.

food and travel reviews

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!

Blackhouse rib-eye 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 classy theatre.

Blackhouse shrimp 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 anticipation.

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 presentation.

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!

Blackhouse calamari 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.

Blackhouse steak 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.

Opening hours:
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

Phone: 020 7246 0900


Visit The Grill on the Market at Smithfield here.

food and travel reviews

Brick Lane – Flavours of India and Beyond

Brick lane poppadums 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 ethnicity.

Brick lane craneWe 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 and tableware.

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.

Brick lane banana 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 Pistachio Barfi!

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 timid.

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 guided tours.

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 for you.

From North America: 1 215 688 5571
From Australia: 03 9028 7131
From the UK: 01223 793177

Visit London Food Tours here

food and travel reviews

Black Roe – Poke and more

Black roe images 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.

Black roe poke 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 must-try here.

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!

Black roe octopus 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.

Opening times:
12:00noon - 4:30pm, 5:30pm - 10:45pm

Black Roe
4 Mill Street

Phone: 020 3794 8448


Visit Black Roe here.

food and travel reviews

Jacqui Pickles – President, Les Dames d’Escoffier London – in conversation

Jacqui Pickles les Dames logo 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 1950s.

Jacqui Pickles ‘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 restaurant.

‘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

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.

Learn more about Les Dames d’Escoffier here.

food and travel reviews

Best of England Vineyard Tours

Best of England 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.


Best of England 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 tastings.

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 traditional methods.

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.

Learn more about Best of England here.

food and travel reviews

Mark Hellyar at Chateau Civrac and Honest Grapes

civracWhat 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 the discerning.

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 Chateau 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.

civrac 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).

Learn more about Honest Grapes here

Learm more about Mark Hellyar and his wines here

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