all about food and a bit of travel, lots of cookbook, restaurant and
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either not yet reviewed or did not like it.
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Contact Chrissie Walker
Holland isn’t perhaps the first place we think of for a
short break. If we do, then it’s likely we would consider Amsterdam –
but there is more to The Netherlands than that well-publicised city.
What do we want from a Dutch
holiday? Canals and cheese? Well, there are canals in Groningen, which
is a town that encapsulates iconic Dutch features in a compact and
beautiful package. It’s in the far north of The Netherlands but is said
to give a flavour of the whole of the country.
But what about that cheese? Yes, there is cheese here but there are
also marvellous restaurants and cafés all over the town. A good
proportion of the population are students from the universities, so not
only can one find good food but those dishes are liable to be at a good
price. There are automat food stations dotted around town, but although
they offer exceptionally cheap food, they can’t be recommended –
perhaps these should be reserved for extremely hard-up scholars or
brave drunken revellers. Thankfully, there are far more fine-dining
options and stunning hotels.
One of The Netherlands’ most striking hotels is in
Groningen and is a remarkable gem. It is, amazingly, only designated as
a 4* hotel but that can only be due to its lack of lift. It warrants 6*
in every other regard. The original building was constructed in 1436
(hence the absence of elevator provision) and was owned by the Brethren
of the Common Life. In 1569 it became the home of John Knijff, the
first Bishop of Groningen. Eventually it became the residence of the
Princes of Nassau which is the royal house from where the hotel’s name
The building has had many uses and many owners over the decades. It has
housed the National Court, a French military hospital, a barracks and
the HQ for a broadcaster. The building stood empty for almost seven
years but finally opened in August 2012 as the outstanding hotel we see
The Prinsenhof Hotel now consists of 7 historic buildings with 34
luxurious rooms and suites, a Grand Café in the former church
(retaining its high ceilings and many original features), and
restaurant Alacarte. There are still many of the ancient architectural
elements that make this a most characterful establishment. It’s that
combination of historic construction and state-of-the-art modern
facilities that makes Prinsenhof such a winner. Attention to detail and
the needs of its guests have given the hotel an enviable reputation.
Eiderdown quilts, high-end toiletries as well as memorable food put a
stay at the Prinsenhof at the top of any Netherlands bucket list.
9712 JH Groningen
Phone: +31-50 -317 6555
Visit Prinsenhof Hotel here
Flinders Café Noorderplantsoen in Groningen could well be
your refreshment stop before, during, or after a leisurely ramble or a
bike-ride around this beautiful park. The produce, and most of those
enjoying the food, will be local and many of them students. The menu
offers Dutch specialities like Mustard Soup as well as international
fare. Prices are very reasonable and the ambiance is welcoming and
friendly. A great spot for relaxing, refuelling and people-watching.
Flinders has a huge Dutch following, which appreciates its great food,
convenient locations and rustic elegance. Well worth a visit.
Flinders Café Groningen Noorderplantsoen -
Cross Singel 1-9712 XN Groningen - tel 050 312 3537
This fashionable restaurant is conveniently situated in
the heart of the town. It is stylish and chic and is open early enough
for a late breakfast and late enough for an even later dinner. It’s
open till 11pm so a great haunt for night birds – and Groningen is
blessed with many a venue in which to continue nocturnal adventures.
This is, after all, a student city.
Food here matches the interior. It’s refined, somewhat whimsical,
polished, well presented and memorable. There is an opportunity for al
fresco dining in the warmer months, giving 't Feithhuis Restaurant a
truly Continental charm. One can enjoy High Tea and feel thoroughly
pampered in classic fash
ion, and their coffee shop has been voted one of the best
in The Netherlands.
Open every day from 10:30 to 23:00
't Feithhuis Restaurant
For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here
Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte
We are spoilt for choice in London, and indeed in many
cities. We can chance a fishy Japanese breakfast, indulge in lavish
Italian lunches, feast at eventide on exotic Indian fare, and feed our
need for iffy kebabs in the wee small hours. Every restaurant, café and
street cart offers extensive menus showcasing its particular genre.
But ask many a dedicated food lover which dishes they crave, what their
elected last meal might be, and they will almost universally state that
it has to be unfussy and comforting, something like, say, steak and
chips. Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte is a small chain of restaurants
that provides that. Yes, just that and only that.
The concept might seem foreign to us but
consider… We wax lyrical about the food in France and the dish most
often remembered is Steak-Frites with a simple salad and a glass of
red. There was that favourite little bistro on the corner of Rue
Somethingorother and Boulevard Nameofafrenchphilosopher. The one with
the dark-wood sideboards, leather banquettes and paper tablecloths. No,
they can’t do that in London.
Well, we do that in London and we do that very well. Or more accurately
Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte does. The Canary Wharf branch (they have
three restaurants in London) is convincingly Parisienne, and the chairs
wouldn’t look out of place in a cheeky little establishment in the 5th
Arrondissement, even though the murals of Venice give a nod to the name
of the restaurant rather than the country of origin. But the food is
The menu is, well, short. It’s a green salad with dressing, some bread,
and steak and chips. If you only offer one menu item then expectations
of the quality of that dish will be high. Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte
did not disappoint in any regard. The plate arrived piping hot and
piled high. The fries were golden and crisp, but the streak was the
star. Cooked to order and sliced, it arrived bathed in the celebrated
‘secret sauce’. We have all been enticed by promises of special sauces
and they often fall far short of the mark. A commercial ketchup with
chilli or pineapple doesn’t do it for me and seldom enhances one’s
platter. But Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte has a sauce that really does
have impact. I have a clue as to what might be the key ingredients, but
my lips are sealed. One might deduce that it contains a good amount of
butter and green herbs, but the staff remain silent.
There are over a dozen desserts on offer here and if you are a
perpetually peckish rugby player there might be some chance of making
it through to the sweets. The main course is substantial so forgo the
offered second helpings if you have a yen for a pud. My guest ordered a
confection of light pastry, whipped cream and raspberries. He wasn’t
short-changed with the size of this dessert, either. It was the sort of
finale that one would find in a real French family-run
restaurant. No delicate garnishes, just a big plate of sweet comfort.
Perhaps that’s the ethos here. Keep it simple. It’s old-fashioned good
quality, good value food and memorably mouth-watering. We will return
soon and often.
Open every day including Sundays and bank holidays
Lunch: 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.00
Groningen isn’t the first destination in The Netherlands
of which one might think. It’s invariably Amsterdam that gets that accolade, and a very
fine city it is. But Groningen, in the north of this, one of my
favourite countries in Europe, is like an accessible snapshot of all
things Dutch. Groningen might be a distance from Amsterdam but it
couldn’t be easier to get to. There are direct flights from the new
Southend Airport, and travel from that portal is an uncrowded joy at
The first major settlement in Groningen has been traced back to the
third century AD. It became the regional centre of power of the
northern Netherlands, a semi-independent city-state and member of the
German Hanseatic League. This was, as I am sure you will remember from
your history books, a commercial and defensive confederation of
merchant guilds and their market towns, that controlled trade along the
coast of Northern Europe. The most influential period of the city was
the end of the 15th century, when the nearby province of Friesland was
administered from Groningen.
This vibrant and beautiful town is the main municipality as well as the
capital city of the eponymous province in the Netherlands. Yes, that’s
a mouthful but the stats are, simply, with a population of 190,000 it
is the largest city in the north of Holland. These days Groningen is
more known for education than trade. It’s a university town with 1 in
every 5 inhabitants being a student. It houses the University of
Groningen and the Hanze University of Applied Sciences.
The imposing Martinitoren (Martini Tower) was built in the 15th century
and it still dominates the city at around 100
metres tall. It was the highest building in Europe at the time. The
city's independence came to an end when it chose to join forces with
the Spanish during the Eighty Years' War in 1594. It later re-joined
the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.
The city did not escape the devastation of World War II in which The
Netherlands suffered so much. The main square, Grote Markt, was largely
destroyed in April 1945, during the Battle of Groningen. However, the
Martinitoren, its church the Goudkantoor, and the city hall remained
undamaged. The Germans agreed not to use Martinitoren and the advancing
Canadian troops agreed not to shell it, although there was a little
The Tower contains a brick spiral staircase of 260 steps, and the
carillon at the top of the tower contains 62 bells. It’s considered to
be one of the main tourist attractions of Groningen with a view over
the city and surrounding area if you can manage all those steps.
Groningen has been described as the "World Cycling City" because nearly
60% of journeys within the city are made by bicycle. As with most Dutch
cities, Groningen is well equipped to accommodate all those cyclists.
There is the usual large network of cycle paths to enable visitor and
local alike to reach the most interesting spots around town. There is a
good public transport service and a large pedestrianised precinct in
the city centre.
The city centre offers great retail therapy opportunities. This
is a university city so along with designer labels one can find more
‘eclectic’ fashion in markets as well as boutiques. The market square
is fringed with bars and restaurants which offer everything from fine
dining to fast food. Yes, The Netherlands does have food and it’s very
good. Don’t think just cheese but consider succulent seafood. More here
than pancakes so try some local specialities like the Mustard Soup. And
then there is fladderak. This is a drink which is named after a
tax collector from Groningen. The liqueur is distilled using a secret
recipe of the Hooghoudt family, developed at the end of the nineteenth
century and it’s flavoured with cloves. ‘Groninger koek’ is the local
spiced cake – delicious with a cup of coffee and a nice sit down.
Groningen has a celebrated nightlife as one would expect with such a
huge student population. Bars in the centre of town are allowed to stay
open 24 hours a day so it’s amazing any exams are ever passed. But
there is also culture aplenty. The Groningen Museum is considered
one of the most striking museums in the Netherlands. It sits on a
canal, in fact part of it is actually under water level. It’s
contemporary and reflects splendidly the arts held within. This is a
museum for those who think they don’t like museums.
OK, so the kids might take some persuading that a museum will be good
for their souls so there is a new and
striking 3D experience at the futuristic and equally noteworthy new
Infoversum building in Groningen. They will be offering visual events
on dates throughout the year so visit https://www.infoversum.nl to
learn more. The cinema facilities here are outstanding.
Groningen is a delightful introduction to Holland. It’s a gentle city
with plenty to do for visitors of all ages. For those who enjoy an
active break there are walks and bike rides. It’s a town with a young
population so those who are the hardest to please in the group, with
perpetual designer-bored expressions, will be distracted by edgy
fashion, trendy (is that still a word) shopping and vibrant
neighbourhoods. There is lots of more traditional culture for the rest
Groningen Airport Eelde
Machlaan 14a, 9761 KT Eelde
PO box 50,
9765 ZH Paterswolde
Phone: +31 (0)50-309 70 70 (Monday - Friday)
Find out more about flights to Groningen here
London Southend Airport Company Limited
Southend on Sea
For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here
Paramount Afternoon Tea
– Centre Point
Centre Point is iconic, at least for
Londoners. It’s an imposing concrete and glass office building in
central London and just above Tottenham Court Road Underground station.
It couldn’t be more convenient for those using London’s equally iconic
The area is something of a building sight just now – it’s the Crossrail
development – but that will be finished, and calm, as much as there
ever is, will be restored to this historic corner of London. Historic?
Yes, indeed, although there is scant evidence at street level. The site
was once occupied by a gallows.
Centre Point was one of the first skyscrapers in London but now there
are almost 30 buildings that can claim to be taller. In 1995 it was
given a grade II listed building designation for its striking use of
the crystalline concrete style that Richard Seifert developed. He is
widely recognised for having influenced 1960s and 1970s London
architecture, although that isn’t universally considered a positive
Ironically the 380-foot tower stood empty for five years after its
completion in 1967 and it’s that period for which it is often
remembered. It was held as a beacon of capitalism and was even used as
a squat. Those days are over and Centre Point is now pristine and
In autumn 2008 Paramount was opened at the top of Centre Point. It
initially operated as a private members club, but this policy was
changed in 2010 to allow Paramount to be accessible to everybody. The
three floors include an event space on the 31st floor,
bar and restaurant on 32nd, and a 360-degree viewing gallery on the
33rd floor – that’s the very summit of the building.
The Shard, the Cheese Grater and the Gherkin are all celebrated
buildings which now dominate the London skyline but, in fact, one gets
one of the best views of that impressive vista from Centre Point. It’s
not only those new structures that one can see: St Paul’s Cathedral,
Tower Bridge and the British Museum are all visible from one’s
afternoon tea table at Paramount.
The restaurant has a rather retro-chic interior which matches perfectly
the building at large. Plenty of light from the picture windows, dark
wood on tables, and a stunning custom-made copper bar create a space
that works from breakfast to dinner. I am sure the night city panorama
would be outstanding and a photographer’s dream.
Head Chef Krzysztof Zachwieja has developed a menu of modern European
dishes for lunch and dinner and whimsically presents an afternoon tea
to pander to the party person in us. Traditional Afternoon Tea is
available for those who want the more usual London experience but the
High Spirits Afternoon Tea is an event and will be adored by anyone
with a sweet tooth. And don’t worry – every table has an amazing view,
though you are advised to book in advance.
High Spirits Afternoon Tea is served with pots of tea or coffee for £28
or a Cocktail for £42. The edible goods arrive on the ubiquitous and
practical 3-tier stand and a couple of plates. Gaze with admiration at
the stand but start with the warm scones with rum-soaked dried fruit.
The Cointreau & Orange marmalade continues the tipsy theme that
makes its mark on every element here.
Yes, those sweet treats await, but the next course is the
savoury. Whisky Oak Smoked Ham with Wholegrain Mustard on Tomato
Bread, Gin and Orange Cured Salmon, Lemon Butter on Lemon Bread, Mature
Cheddar and Port Jelly on Rye Bread, Bloody Mary on Wholegrain Bread
were the array of sandwiches that all contained booze in some guise.
All good but the salmon sandwich was outstanding and the
use of lemon added so much.
Raspberry Cranachan is a Whisky Crème Fraiche,
Raspberry and Chambord Purée with a topping of crunchy oats – a real
nod to Scotland. Porn Star Martini was a triumph of tangy Passion Fruit
Bavarois, Lime Shortbread and a Prosecco Cloud which held up even after
a wait while we consumed the previous plates. Amaretto Sour was a
chocolate ‘vase’ of Amaretto Tiramisu and Lime Mascarpone. Coffee
Bailey’s is a Cream Bailey’s mousse that reminded me of the Christmas
drinks cabinet - Chocolate Mousse, Crunchy Caramel and Coffee Crumble
completed this confection. Brandy and Cherry Cola didn’t sound too
appealing but it really worked. It arrived after we had consumed the
rest of the sweets. It’s a rich Cherry and Brandy Compote, Cola Jelly,
Cola Granita and Sherbet.
The Paramount restaurant at Centre Point should be on the itinerary of
every tourist. The High Spirits Afternoon Tea is competitively priced
and it’s an occasion to sample a twist on the regular afternoon tea,
that is a must for any traveller to the UK. Come here and be stunned by
London laid out before you.
I am a West London girl (OK, more accurately, mature woman
of a certain age) and therefore ideally positioned for Heathrow. I have had reasonable travel experiences at
Gatwick and Stansted which are equally described as ‘London’ airports
even though the Oyster Card falls short of those marks. But Southend
sounded a long way off – I guess because it’s on the coast and kinda
Journey time from London Liverpool Street Station to Southend Airport
is in fact only 53 minutes. That makes it a contender even for those
from the Wild West. But there are a couple of considerable bonuses.
First, and this is a huge advantage, the railway station is actually at
the airport. No, not a ‘convenient and friendly’ shuttle-bus ride away,
but actually at the airport and an honest few yards from arriving or
The first train arrives at Southend Airport Railway Station at around
6.30am, with the last train departing at just past 11pm. There is the
X30 coach service which runs through the night and taxis are also
available. At peak times up to 8 trains an hour from Central London
arrive at Southend Airport. Average price for a single (off-peak)
ticket is £14.90 - discounts available for rail cards, travel cards and
The second advantage is you won’t need parking. Public transport can
often be the most economic mode of getting to an airport if you are a
lone traveller or if there are only two of you. No fuel to pay and no
parking fees incurred. There are, naturally, plenty of parking spaces
if that is more convenient for families.
Southend Airport is new and spacious. One can grab a snack, and in
future there will be more retail outlets. But it’s the lack of crowds
that is appealing. It takes only a couple of minutes from the check-in
and bag-drop to passport control and security. There was actually
no queueing for security on my visit and that was something of a
marvel. There seems to be the expectation of increased capacity so one
hopes that this outstandingly speedy service will continue, as it makes
such a positive difference to the travel experience of Southend Airport
visitors. The airlines have a target of 700,000 additional London
Southend passengers within three years.
Business and first-class passengers are not
forgotten. There is a private lounge with the expected polished
facilities of these retreats: hot drinks, soft drinks, alcohol, snacks
and comfy chairs. I suspect that this lounge will be sought less often
here than in other international airports due to the lack of crowds,
but it’s a necessary bolt-hole and appreciated by the discerning flyer.
So the airport is easy to get to and pleasant when one is there; but an
airport, however smart, is rarely the destination for a traveller.
Where might one be going from Southend Airport? Well, there’s a
surprisingly comprehensive menu of destinations in Europe and
throughout the UK. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and
Holland have flights from Southend. All the Flybe-branded routes are
operated by Stobart Air (yes, the lorry people) and over £120 million
has been invested by the Stobart Group since Southend Airport was
acquired in 2008. Aer Lingus also has three daily return services
between London Southend and Dublin, where travellers are able to take
advantage of transatlantic connections to Boston, Chicago, New York,
Orlando, San Francisco and Toronto. To anyone who has had to endure the
iffy ‘welcome’ by US passport and security staff on their home
territory, Dublin Airport’s own US Preclearance service might offer, at
least, a degree of ordinary civility.
Southend Airport might be small but it’s perfectly formed, and
conveniently located. The flights allow travellers direct access to
cities not served by other UK airports. Facilities are new and, at
present, not under pressure. It’s a model for other airports which
might like to strive to offer a better customer experience.
London Southend Airport Company Limited
Southend on Sea
For information on visits to The Netherlands visit here
Porky's BBQ at Bankside
I guess the name says it all. BBQ is what Porky's offers,
but this is the real thing rather than the chain variety, which has
more to do with fast food; the traditional (Memphis) barbecue on which
Porky's is modelled is rather on the slow side …like 18 hours slow.
Joy and Simon Brigg were inspired to open Porky's (there are now two
restaurants) after road trips around America. They opened the first
Porky in Camden and now there is a new restaurant at Bankside, and
that’s the one we visited for lunch. It’s tucked down a side street but
easy to find. It’s almost opposite Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and just
a few yards from the River Thames and the imposing Tate Modern art
Porky's isn’t over-themed. Simon explained that when they moved in
there were just the bare walls, which they have chosen to keep as
natural brick. This gave the team a blank canvas on which to work. The
design is simple and open, with an impressive bar at the entrance – the
chunky railway sleepers add character and rustic charm. There are
graphics that give a nod to the US and the music fits the style. But
there is nothing OTT. The illuminated pig is
whimsical but the food is serious.
BBQ Wings in a rich and tangy BBQ sauce was my starter and
it hinted at the copious plates that awaited. My advice
would be: prepare to tuck the napkin under your chin (note to smart
office workers in those crisp light-blue shirts) and don’t have
breakfast before you come to lunch …in fact don’t have breakfast or
lunch before coming to dinner. Yes, large portions, but thankfully
large portions of rather good-quality meat.
It’s not only meat on the menu though. My companion enjoyed some hearty
crab cakes, and there were cheesy corn hush puppies on offer but I am
saving those for the next visit. Porky's is just the kind of casual
restaurant that demands a second visit. One will notice dishes served
on other tables and will pencil in a try of those on one’s return.
My main was the 18-hour smoked pulled pork. The whopping serving of
shredded meat was presented with a slightly sweet brioche bun. The pork
still retained its natural flavour although the diner has the option of
adding the table sauces - BBQ or a vinegar mop which was tart and, to
my mind, an ideal condiment.
My companion ordered the Memphis Ribs and Tips with BBQ sauce, for
which Porky's has become justifiably celebrated. Now, dear peckish
reader, these are not the ribs with which you are likely familiar.
These are substantial and meaty. My usually-hollow-legged fellow diner
was unable to finish his plate even though he pronounced that these
were the most remarkable ribs he had ever tried, on either side of the
The striking bar that you doubtless noticed on your way in
offers a good selection of Porky's bespoke cocktails as well as
American beers and spirits. If you don’t fancy any of the drink menu
suggestions then the bar master will fix you a classic
cocktail. There is also root beer to which I am addicted, although I
admit that it’s something of an acquired taste. Porky's Iced Tea does
indeed contain tea …and lots of alcohol, so don’t order this for your
Aunty Lil who is dying for a cuppa.
Porky's Bankside offers great food and lots of it. The ambiance is
casual. The location is iconic. In short Porky's ticks boxes for
quality, for fun and for friendly. I will return to graze anew and I
might try a burger next time …with just a little pile of pulled pork on
Porky's BBQ Bankside
18 New Globe Walk
It’s not always that we want a designer label. More often
than not, we want something unique, something practical
that we can change at a whim. Not too many things in life tick all
And then there are gifts. There are those in your life with iPhones,
and perhaps those same folks present gift-giving problems. ‘Awww no,
Mum, it’s green and that was my favourite colour last week!’; ‘Nooo,
Mum. It’s got that band on it and nobody likes them anymore and I will
look an idiot at school if I take that in and everyone will hate me and
my life will be ruined.’ Yes, it’s a heavy burden to bear.
So here is the solution to your dilemma. An iPhone notecase that you
can personalise, wash and customise again – time and time again. Or
more accurately the lucky recipient of this for-once welcome gift will
be the sole designer of the masterpiece which will be ever-changing
(although you might still be the one who has to do the washing).
The Doodle notecase for iPhone features Doodle’s iconic notepaper
design – printed both sides. It looks like a little book of notepaper,
complete with printed paperclip and memo on the front. Plenty of space
for notes, names, numbers and reminders. It has an additional use as a
card-case or holder for yellow sticky notes, along with a pen or pencil.
It comes with 5 wash-out colour mini-pens, so notecases can be doodled,
washed at 30 degrees, then designed
again. The images can be changed as often as you like, and the only
limit is one’s imagination. Youngsters will love the opportunity for
self-expression, but even the more mature doodler will find scope for
artistic interpretation of shopping lists, appointments and important
Doodle notecase for iPhone has a spongy neoprene inner and an elastic
loop to keep your iPhone snug and protected, and a side-loop for your
Let’s be honest: most of us love the adrenalin-inducing
frantic pace of London life. We are
perhaps lucky if we can grab a plastic sandwich for lunch, and dinner
can often be something of a rush or a take-away. But there is always
Brunch can be a special time. A quiet time partnered with delicious
food. An occasion to meet friends who have that same hectic life
profile. It’s a few hours when we don’t need to hurry. Yes, Brunch
ticks so many boxes of relaxed conviviality.
One Canada Square restaurant is a newly-found gem for this writer. I
recently enjoyed lunch so much that I wanted to visit for brunch. It’s
a small restaurant but beautifully appointed with Art Deco hints, green
Guatemalan marble, dark wood and classic service. Saturday brunch has
casually dressed guests rather than the flock of be-suited business
diners who populate it on weekdays. The ambiance is relaxed but the
attention to detail is still evident.
Brunch offers the best of both breakfast and lunch, and One Canada
Square invites you between 9am and 5pm every Saturday. If you arrive
around 1pm you will likely be welcomed by a pianist tickling the
ivories (it’s not really ivory, my dear ecologically-aware reader) of a
white baby-grand piano. This is old-fashioned charm even though the
music is a mixture of contemporary and high-brow pieces, and perhaps
some snatches from the musicals, too.
The menu is extensive and offers two selections.
There is the Full Brunch menu or the Bottomless Brunch menu, which is
slightly shorter but gives the appealing advantage of an endless supply
of fizz or Bloody Marys.
I do think that a good egg dish is important at any self-respecting
brunch. It’s the very eggy definition of that multi-faceted meal. Eggs
Benedict is ubiquitous and for very good reason. They do a classic Eggs
Benni here with a runny yolk that bathes the ham and is seasoned by the
Hollandaise Sauce. There is a luxurious version that sounds divine –
Soft-shell Crab Benedict with jalapeno hollandaise. There is also,
amongst many other items, an ‘OCS Breakfast’ that sounds as if it could
be the brekkie of choice for strapping rugby players - fried duck egg,
crisp pancetta, chorizo, morcilla (a kind of black pudding), hash
browns, and an English muffin.
There are salads for those with less capacity than hefty sportsmen. The
Heritage Tomato Salad with Feta was fresh and flavourful and a riot of
colours. Those little fruits (yes, a tom is a fruit) range from the
savoury to the sweet, the flesh from meaty to melting. It’s only
tomatoes but simple can sometimes be outstanding.
The menu changes often to reflect the best of produce but my Saturday
offered Crab Tagliatelle and it was outstanding. There was a decent
amount of seafood, a good-sized portion of pasta and plenty of flavour.
There are also steaks, burgers and chicken as well as vegetarian
If space allows, a dessert will be in order. Bitter
chocolate delice with salted caramel and burnt orange ice cream is a
sweet triumph. The delice was rich and dark and the caramel a
delightful garnish (they should serve this by the pot-full). But the
star was the ice cream!
Canada Square, the location, that is, sparkles with glass and metal – a
striking city landscape. But this cosy restaurant found in the corner
of the foyer of One Canada Square, the building, is a stylish step back
in time, and a very welcome one.
This is a stunning little island that offers so much.
There are hot golden beaches, cool and tranquil rain
forests, history, food, adventure and entertainment.
It’s an ideal Caribbean location for those with children. It’s safe,
with a relaxed pace of life. Some folks like days filled with
activities and others want to occupy themselves with tanning. St Kitts
has many facets.
1. Stay in a hotel on the beach
The Marriott has a perfect location, and it is indeed on a
beach lapped by Atlantic waves. There is a huge free-form pool and a
flock of sun beds both by that pool and on the sand. It’s a one-stop
resort for guests who are content to enjoy the sun, frequent the hotel
restaurants (the Italian one, La Cuchina, is outstanding) and have a
few hours in the cool of the casino.
One might assume that a trek to the Amazon would be in
order, if you want to visit a real tropical jungle. But St Kitts has
its own and it’s even expanding. O’Neil Tours offers guided walks of
various lengths with a guide (perhaps Mr. O’Neil himself) who will give
an enchanting insight into the flora and fauna of these unspoilt
forests. There are medicinal leaves, fruits, monkeys, streams and
exotic plants aplenty.
Phone: +1 869.465.3107
3. Visit Wingfield Estate
Hire a car for a day and do a circuit of the island. St.
Kitts is about 168 sq km (65 sq mi) and approximately 29 km (18 mi)
long. There are lots of small villages around the coast as well as
historic sites, churches, bars and stunning views.
St Kitts became celebrated initially for the cultivation of tobacco and
then for the production of sugarcane. On your drive around you will
find The Wingfield Estate, which offers a glimpse of life on a historic
sugar plantation. One can still see architectural features; there’s
lots of information on sugar refining and even rum distilling. The
amateur engineers in the party will be in their element.
While the boys are musing on ancient stills and aqueducts
the girls might like to learn about batik. This is a printing process
that involves the often intricate application of wax to fabric and the
use of various coloured dyes to produce beautiful and vibrant fabrics.
The shop will tempt with shelves of multi-coloured cotton.
This simple and rustic restaurant should be on the St
Kitts bucket list of any serious food lover. It’s owned and run by Ken
and Jasmine, who have been feeding both regulars and tourists for
several years and they have garnered rave reviews. Jasmine is the chef
and she had developed a menu that showcases local dishes from local
ingredients. The conch is particularly good here.
That sea is just as blue in real life as it is on
postcards. One can walk from the Atlantic to the Caribbean in a matter
of minutes: St Kitts is an island shaped like a paddle and it’s only a
short trot across the handle to find the other water mass. The
Caribbean is usually calmer than the Atlantic. One can enjoy truly warm
water and perhaps go snorkelling or sailing. Cockleshell Beach might be
a short drive from your hotel but this small strand can be your corner
7. Enjoy a cocktail at Salt Plage
Visit Salt Plage, which is newly opened in Whitehouse Bay.
The latest addition to Christophe Harbour offers a stunning bar from
which to watch the setting sun. It’s sophisticated and stylish and
offers the signature Salt Pond Jumbie. This is destined to be a
must-be-seen-at jet-setters’ watering hole.
This is the main town but it isn’t overly touristic. One
can enjoy a refreshing young coconut – drink the water and then scoop
the delicious jelly flesh. Buy a pineapple – cut while you wait. Find a
spot in the shade and admire the immaculately turned-out children in
their crisp school uniforms. Take pictures of unique architecture.
9. Cooking class at Nirvana Fairview
A lasting souvenir of your St Kitts visit could be a
recipe or two to take home. The Nirvana Fairview Estate offers cooking
classes that will enable you to create a Caribbean feast. The grounds
are filled with exotic fruit trees and plants so you can see where some
ingredients are grown. They can also provide a celebrated afternoon tea
to be enjoyed along with a dip in their own pool.
If you are the sort that craves thrills then you will want
to go zip lining. I am not overly courageous and I am a woman of a
certain age but after two ‘flights’ I was addicted. For the untutored,
this is a ride hooked to a cable. One flies above the rainforest canopy
at great speed and with a sense of freedom. This is a must-do and will
compensate the adolescents for behaving so well at lunch.
The name La Mancha will be familiar to all in West London
and many from further afield. It was a veritable culinary institution
in Putney but it’s found a new home, and to my mind a better one.
La Mancha is, in fact, a history-rich region of central Spain, south of
Madrid. Don Quixote was a quintessential Man of La Mancha, who
travelled with his donkey-riding side-kick, Sancho Panza. Don Quixote
was also a man of ideals and dreams and he is commemorated on the walls
of the restaurant.
This is a smaller venue than the Putney original but it’s perfectly
formed, more contemporary and with the advantage of a nice bit of al
fresco space. One can sit, on those balmy evenings, and people-watch.
Plenty of room inside though, and also a private dining room with its
own bar, for functions and celebrations.
Chiswick has been recognised as a dining destination for decades. Yes,
there are plenty of chain options but also lots of smart independent
restaurants such as La Mancha, which is an easy fit with the
neighbourhood and discerning locals.
It’s a testament to La Mancha that it seems to have carried its Putney
customers with it. We noticed that those in the
know had followed the restaurant and there seem to be new regulars too.
There is plenty of choice along the high street but La Mancha has
already made its mark.
The restaurant sports an awning which advertises Tapas and Cava. The
menu offers classics but the specials are for which to die. We started
with Rebanata De Pan Con Tomate which is grilled bread, chopped fresh
tomatoes, garlic and olive oil. Quantity along with quality seems to be
the rule here. This simple preparation is perfect with either a glass
of red (lots of choice of wines by the glass) or the iconic Cava, an
under-rated fizz that I adore.
Berejenas Fritas - crispy aubergines with honey and Romesco sauce -
must surely be a signature dish. I remember this from Putney. These
crunchy discs are as light as a feather and addictive. Don’t order just
one of these for the table: I promise that will never be enough. A
plate would do for just two greedy diners. That’s a reflection of its
moreish quality rather than size of portions, which are famously
generous. That extra order will reduce the likelihood of unseemly
Croquetas De Atun Y Pimientos are tuna and red pepper croquettes. One
has to indulge in traditional croquettes when visiting a tapas
restaurant. They have a crunchy exterior containing a creamy savoury
filling and they are deep-fried. That seems to tick all the boxes.
There are four croquettes per order.
Carrillera Estofada, Guisantes Y Patata Dauphinoise were on the
specials list which is always worth a look. They were a substantial
portion of slow-cooked Iberian beef cheeks served with Dauphinoise
potatoes and peas. The meat was melting and flavourful with a rich
gravy. The peas were a sweet garnish but those potatoes were the best
of that genre I have ever had. New Head Chef Kike Moledo is already
proving his worth.
Born in Galicia, Northwest Spain, Kike spent his childhood spare time
helping in the kitchen at his grandmother's
restaurant. That’s where he came to love food and cooking. Galicia has
great produce from both land and sea so the lad would have been exposed
to the best. Salvatore Cricchio, owner of La Mancha, says "I am
delighted to have Kike on board as part of our team. His expertise in
Spanish cuisine comes from his passion for cooking and dedication to
learning new recipes.”
La Mancha is a casual restaurant with a refined accent. The dishes are
first class and substantial, there are classics and innovation. The
staff are friendly and attentive. The prices are better than reasonable
and allow for return visits. It’s a restaurant at which one would like
to be a regular. There can be no better recommendation. I’ll be
reserving my table – the one in the corner by the window.
142 Chiswick High Road
London W4 1PU
Phone: 020 8994 6816
Opening Hours: 12:00 - 22:30 every day
Summer in London is a fleeting affair but we make the best
of it. We seek sun traps, an impressive view, and even a
vantage point from which to watch our boys being knocked out of
Wimbledon or, less frequently, the World Cup. We also need feeding and
we want to do that in style. One Canada Square and its environs ticks
boxes with grassy areas, perhaps a large TV screen, and a rather fine
Canary Wharf is located on the former site of West India Docks on the
Isle of Dogs. In Medieval times it was called Stepney Marsh and in the
13th Century was drained to create pastures for cattle and fields for
fresh produce. The name Isle of Dogs is thought to have been adopted
because there were royal kennels in the area. In the 1690s a dock was
built at Rotherhithe. This location worked so well that further docks
were constructed in the same area, including West India Dock and St
From 1802 the docks were considered some of the busiest in the world.
By the 1930s the Port of London carried 35 million tons of cargo, worth
approximately £700m. 100,000 dockers and associated workers were
employed by the Port of London Authority, but the Second World War
caused great devastation. It is estimated that the Germans dropped
around 2,500 bombs over the docks and destroyed many of them, as well
as the homes of the aforementioned dockers.
During the 1960s the port began to decline, leading to all the docks
being closed by 1981. Many of us of a certain age will remember the
dockers’ strikes as the introduction of containers and technology made
their skills obsolete.
Canary Wharf itself takes its name from berth No. 32 of the Import
Dock. This was built in 1936 for Fruit Lines Ltd, a subsidiary of the
celebrated Fred Olsen Lines, for the thriving Mediterranean and Canary
Islands fruit trade. It was their suggestion that the quay and
warehouse were given the new name of Canary Wharf.
London Docklands Development Corporation was created in 1981 and
granted the Isle of Dogs Enterprise Zone status in 1982. Construction
of the Canary Wharf complex began in 1988, the first buildings being
completed in 1991 including One Canada Square (usually but incorrectly
called Canary Wharf due to its location). It was the UK's tallest
building from 1990 to 2010. Its 50 storeys still dominate the area but
it was overtaken by The Shard which was completed in 2012 with more
than 70 floors.
One Canada Square is primarily used for offices and is not open to the
public. But the visitor will likely be more
interested in the shops and restaurants at the base. The lobby is
striking and rich, with lavish use made of both Italian and Guatemalan
marble, and One Canada Square Restaurant continues that theme.
Diners enter the restaurant through the bar area. High stools and cut
glass combine to offer an ambiance of retro calm. This isn’t a spot to
down 6 pints and a pack of pork scratchings. Linger over a shaken
martini and transport yourself to Manhattan for half an hour.
Those businessmen who grace the towering office space above are
blessed. One Canada Square Restaurant oozes accessible charm. I would
perhaps describe it as Art Deco with contemporary accents. That classy
ethos continues at the table which offers traditional presentation of
dishes as well as traditional polished service. Perhaps ‘traditional’
diminishes the description as such service is becoming rare.
Unobtrusive yet attentive is a balance seldom aimed for and less often
It’s not the longest menu in East London but is no worse for that. It
tempts with classics interwoven with contemporary innovation. Steak
Tartare served with a hen's egg yolk was pronounced excellent by my
discerning guest, the renowned Italian food writer and celebrity chef
Valentina Harris. She is a lady who recognises quality. I chose Cornish
Fish Soup with rouille and croutons. The soup was a delight although
the rouille was not what I expected. Rouille is usually a sauce made of
olive oil with breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and chili peppers. The
version here is a light lemon mayo.
My guest ordered Scallop and Shrimp Burger with kimchee and chips for
her main course. A great success with a mild
interpretation of the famous Korean pickled vegetables. I opted for One
Canada Square Pie which is a hearty offering, the filling of which
changes daily. Call me old-fashioned if you like but a good pie is a
culinary masterpiece and we do pies very well on these islands. My
beefy preparation was well seasoned with a good quantity of tender and
flavourful meat. The side dishes of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes
matched perfectly. A simple main meal but it hit the epicurean spot.
Salted Caramel Popcorn Ice Cream along with a pot of hot chocolate
sauce was my dessert although, truth to tell, I was already at bursting
point. I allowed my guest to sacrifice herself for my art at the altar
of the Banoffee-Bocker Glory. It’s a decadent dessert to bring out the
inner child in even the most sophisticated diner. A tall glass filled
with the expected banoffee ingredients finished off the meal and my
guest in fine fashion.
One Canada Square Restaurant has style. Its setting is 21st Century
London but it gives a nod to Milan or Madrid and a gentler era.
I am no expert on the Caribbean. Truth to tell, this was
my first visit to the islands. Friends had described their vacations to
some other Caribbean islands with enthusiasm, but those things over
which they so passionately enthused kinda left me thinking that I might
stay home! Perhaps it’s an age thing. I wanted a holiday filled with
calm and beauty, but punctuated with a reggae opportunity at a distance
from my bedroom window, and perhaps just a hint of adventure – enough
to give a thrill but not enough to increase the cost of the holiday
insurance policy. I found St Kitts.
St Kitts isn’t over-developed by tourism. It retains many original
features, to use estate agent ‘speak’. It’s a lush island made up of
three groups of volcanic peaks, rainforest and a peninsula where sits
the popular Marriott Hotel and its associated fine beach. It offers
vacationers a high standard of both accommodation and food just yards
from that sun-kissed strand. It’s on the Atlantic coast but any
self-respecting tourist will want to also boast that they have toasted
their toes on a beach that is lapped by more gentle Caribbean waves,
and that other water mass is just a short walk away.
This island has a long and colourful history which
began with the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493.
He spotted the island but sailed on past. The island is thought to be
named after either that navigator or the patron saint of travellers,
St. Christopher – Kitt is a diminutive of the name Christopher.
Englishman Thomas Warner arrived with fourteen other settlers in 1624
to found the first English colony in the Caribbean. The island
was already inhabited by Arawaks and Caribs.
A couple of years after the establishment of the English
settlement, Pierre Belain d'Esnambue landed with a small group of
French settlers. He had the support of Cardinal Richelieu to establish
French colonies in the Caribbean, and the cardinal became a shareholder
in the Compagnie de Saint-Christophe. The new arrivals evidently
changed the dynamic between colonists and the indigenous population: a
massacre ensued which wiped out the original inhabitants.
The Europeans had the island to themselves but continued, in true
Anglo-French fashion, to war against each other. St. Kitts has a
UN World Heritage Site designation for Brimstone Hill Fortress &
National Park, for those who are interested in battles.
The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 ceded the entire island of St
Kitts to Great Britain and in 1727 Basseterre became the island's
The colonists developed initially tobacco and
later sugar plantations and brought African slaves to work the land. St
Kitts soon became a leader in sugar production in the Caribbean. In
2005, due to falling profits, the Government closed both the cane
fields and the sugar factory. The commercial industry has ceased but
sugar cane can still be found growing in un-tended fields.
Wingfield Estate offers visitors a chance to take just a glimpse back
in time to see how a plantation worked. It
was populated by owners and slaves but those workers not only cut the
cane but had skills in the blacksmiths shop as well as the rum
distillery. The first owner was Sam Jefferson and that name might sound
somewhat familiar. He was the grandfather several times removed of
Thomas Jefferson, who was the third president of the U.S.A. By 1775 the
American Revolution was being fought and there were 68 sugar
plantations on St. Kitts, which equates to one for every square mile.
The Wingfield estate followed the trends of the day and first grew
tobacco and indigo which gave the blue dye for clothes.
The present owner says that tobacco still grows whenever the ground is
disturbed. Sugar and rum were the next to be produced and that
continued here till 1924. The aqueduct and buildings can still be seen,
although the estate now boasts the lighter industry of batik printing.
The great plantation houses of Golden Lemon and Rawlins might open in
years to come but Ottley's is now a luxury hotel which caters for
discerning independent guests.
St Kitts has more than a quarter of its land devoted to a National Park
with a rainforest that is increasing in size. One can walk in the cool
quiet of lush vegetation with just the sound of a stream to add to the
sense of uninterrupted tranquillity. Vervet monkeys will likely
be your only companions. For those with a yen for that
aforementioned hint of adventure then there is zip lining. For the
untutored, that’s a few minutes of sliding down a cable
with, mercifully, a harness between you and the forest canopy. I would
counsel taking a couple of rides as you will likely have
your eyes closed for the first one. It’s an exhilarating and fun
experience that I can highly recommend and the nearest thing to flying
possible without baggage restrictions or need for lipstick in a clear
plastic bag. The in-flight movie is in HD and 3D.
This small but marvellously appointed island is,
as yet, relatively unspoilt. It presents the visitor with calm and
quiet. It has those vibrant reggae bars but they are not obtrusive. The
beaches are stunning and the rainforest should not be missed. One can
find good food everywhere, and a rum punch will never be far away. It’s
an island that still retains visible history and charm in a beautiful
setting. St Kitts offers something for everyone so take your dancing
shoes, hiking boots and flippers, and enjoy some refined adventure.
What do we look for in a vacation? Some pampering – that
probably isn’t like home. Sun is good – that’s different
from home. Food – you won’t be doing the cooking as it’s not home.
Language – mostly the same as home would be nice. That adds up to
the Phoenicia Hotel in Malta. Luxury, weather, ease of communication,
and then there are memorable meals.
You can learn more about the delightful food at this 5-star hotel here.
Suffice it to say – the choice of food is wide, the quality is
unbeatable and the quantity is striking.
The hotel towers over the old town of Valetta. It’s imposing, confident
and solid. It was commissioned by Lord and Lady Strickland and designed
by architect A.M.B. Binnie. They wanted to build a hotel of distinction
as would befit its location just outside Valletta’s Porta Reale.
Building started in 1939 - just in time for the Second World War!
During those long years of conflict the construction was halted and the
part-finished hotel was used by RAF personnel for R and R. The
left wing of the hotel near what is now the Pegasus Brasserie was hit
by bombs, as was so much of this island – it was actually awarded its
own medal for bravery. Alec Guinness, eventually Sir Alec Guinness, and
Jeffrey Hunter were here when they were filming “The Malta Story” in
October 1952. It’s a record of the hardships of the war years, the
heroism of the islanders and servicemen, and the reasons the island
deserved its George Cross medal.
The Phoenicia Hotel was finally opened for regular guests in 1947 by
Lady Margaret Strickland and Lord Francis Campbell, then Sir Francis,
Governor of Malta. This was destined to become an icon of hospitality
and provide facilities and services equal to that found in any
In November 1949, Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth II, and
Prince Philip stayed in Malta. They visited the hotel on several
occasions and danced in the Grand Ballroom. The royal association
continued, as in November 2005, during HM Queen Elizabeth’s state visit
to the island, the hotel was chosen as the venue for an official
reception hosted by the Queen. The Phoenicia has welcomed many other
distinguished guests over the last decades. The hotel also played
important roles in historical events on the island. Celebrations
marking the independence in September 1964 were held mainly at the
In August 1966 Charles Forte, chairman of Trust House Forte, purchased
the Phoenicia. It was he who undertook a major programme of
refurbishment at the hotel which was now a couple of decades old. These
works took two years between 1968 and 1970. One of the major changes
was roofing over the internal courtyard, which is now the beautiful
Palm Court Lounge. In 1990 another refurbishment was initiated and that
lasted three years. This upgraded public areas and bedrooms and added
another floor. The hotel now offers 136 rooms and suites.
A well-intentioned refurbishment programme has been the kiss of death
to many a good hotel, but the Phoenicia has
balanced modern convenience with tradition. The public spaces still
have the air of the 1930s but are light and luxurious. The bedrooms
offer Art Deco furnishings along with flat-screen TVs. The hotel exudes
a mellow charm that is impossible to find in new builds.
The Phoenicia remains a classic grand hotel but it boasts such
conveniences as Wi-Fi, and it also has its popular pool – the Phoenicia
was the first hotel in Malta to have a swimming pool. One doesn’t have
to venture far to find culture: the hotel owns and displays the largest
private collection of Edward Caruana Dingli paintings. One can view the
permanent exhibition on the ground floor; he is considered to be one of
Malta’s most significant portrait painters.
The hotel is set in 7.5 acres of mature gardens. There are corners for
tranquil contemplation, for some comforting shade and for watching
vegetables grow. The Phoenicia has a celebrated Kitchen Garden that
will likely provide dinner later. Malta throngs with activity but these
grounds provide an oasis away from the buzz of modern life, and just a
step away from historic city gates. The Phoenicia Hotel is timeless.
It’s summer in London! Sure, the weather might be
unpredictable but there will be the guarantee of a throng of visitors
who are looking for a diverse menu of accommodation options. From 4th
June 2014 there is a well-appointed addition to those choices.
Cheval Harrington Court is a residential hotel or an aparthotel or a
boutique hotel that feels like home …if your home happens to be
luxurious, that is. Its location is unbeatable. Fleets of red London
buses are just yards away and some apartments even have views of South
Kensington station, or at least the Underground sign above the tube
entrance. Some hotels boast ‘within walking distance’ of an Underground
station, and for once, that statement is true. I would suggest it’s no
more than a 2 minute stroll.
Cheval Residences recently opened another aparthotel at Tower Hill. I
was struck by its quality and thoughtful design so I was expecting
something similar at Cheval Harrington Court. I am beginning to see the
company ethos. It seems to be about providing a real alternative to
high-end hotels and offering something rather unique to those who want
to stay for an extended period. Their guests expect the best and Cheval
is providing a polished product.
Yes, there are differences between these two aparthotels
but there is a theme and it’s London. One obviously has
the view from the sitting room window, and in the case of Harrington
Court that could be of the upper part of the Natural History Museum
which is only a couple of blocks away. The pictures on the walls of the
public spaces are iconic black-and-white shots of the ‘Swinging
Sixties’. There is kitchen linen sporting images of the London skyline.
The globe-trotting traveller will never wake and wonder if he is in
Our apartment was just like a regular flat. We had
the impression that this truly could be a real home. The
furniture was attractive and well-proportioned. The kitchen was for
which to die. The bathrooms, for we had a 2-bed apartment with a brace
of washing facilities, were contemporary and gleaming. Yes, it was as
if we were just moving in and the only things left on the back of the
van were books that one would likely never need, and those chachkies
that collect dust: Auntie Win’s luminous green Art Deco vase and the
half-dead potted palm, for instance. This is home, but improved.
This building has been artfully transformed into a stylish
collection of 33 short-let and 17 extended-stay serviced apartments
(three-month minimum stay). The contemporary rooms still retain the
Victorian-style sash-windows although guests will appreciate the
air-conditioning. There is the necessary free Wi-Fi access, along with
complimentary daily newspapers, flat-screen TV and access to music in
This is a real apartment with a kitchen and one is able to cook
…or more likely plate-up a take-away. Guests are
welcomed with a tray of practical nibbles, both savoury and sweet, tea
and coffee and fruit, along with muesli for breakfast
the following day. There is a 24-hour concierge available to
assist guests with everything from laundry to restaurant table booking.
There is a Monday-to-Friday daily maid service, twice-weekly bed linen
and thrice-weekly towel change, as well as access to a local gym on
Harrington Road. In short there is everything a hotel might offer but
with the addition of freedom.
South Kensington is an ideal spot for a family holiday base. There is
so much to do and it’s all within a short distance. There is the
aforementioned Natural History Museum which is famed for both its
architecture and its exhibits. There is the Science Museum for the boys
and the celebrated Victoria and Albert Museum (the V&A) which has
an outstanding collection of textiles and clothes – that might be the
preferred destination for the ladies in the party.
The neighbourhood offers many dining opportunities and
there will be something for every taste. One can indulge in Lebanese
grilled meats, European classics or just relax and enjoy some of
London’s café culture. Legendary hotels are within easy reach and they
offer traditional afternoon tea.
If retail is what relaxes then Harrods is not far away. Designer shops
abound as well as the usual high-street chains. There are theatres for
which London is famed and river cruises that will give a different
perspective to the City. South Kensington offers easy access to
everything that a tourist or businessman/woman might need and it’s all
only minutes away from your London home in Cheval Harrington Court.
For more information on Cheval Harrington Court visit here
Caxton Grill – St Ermin’s Hotel
St Ermin’s has long been a favourite hotel although I
have, in truth, never actually stayed there. One is impressed by its
charm before one even reaches the front door. The red brick, stonework
and planting all contrive to create a vision from a more elegant era.
The hotel foyer is stunning with a sweeping staircase, ornamental
plasterwork and glinting crystal. These are all authentic trappings of
a space that could be a backdrop for a period drama. Add a few dapper
chaps in frock coats and ladies in silks with bustles and the
transformation would be complete.
But dinner at the adjoining Caxton Grill is a contemporary affair. One
might expect overt formality but this restaurant balances classic
service with an ambiance that is both calming and gently refined. There
were not the starchy white table cloths that I had expected but the
dark wood tables fitted the décor admirably. The soft furnishings
provided texture, the room was bathed in evening light and the buzz of
hushed conversation created a pleasant environment for an adult dinner.
The table linen was kept to crisp white serviettes but the food was
fully Michelin-Star quality. Yes, admittedly, that’s just a matter of
personal taste but these dishes by Head Chef Adam Handling each made me
smile with pleasure and glow with realised expectations. This young man
has flair and culinary daring but he doesn’t push his guests outside
comfort zones. His cooking methods are inspired and his ingredient
combinations are often whimsical, but they work.
We were tempted by the Nibbles menu and they would indeed have made
delightful snacks with perhaps a chilled glass of fizz. The Crispy Pig
and Marrow is a mini triumph and will be a winner with any carnivore
who might have had fears that this high-end eatery would offer only
things in jars that smoke and kipper-flavoured foam. This was proper
meat in cubes.
Beetroot and More Beetroot sounded intriguing. It was a visual stunner
and must have used a good number of
very cheffy techniques to accomplish. Vibrant colour and delicate
presentation made this savoury beautiful enough for the top tier of an
afternoon-tea cake stand.
Duck with rabbit, cherries and pistachio, and Crab with avocado,
watermelon and sweetcorn were our starters and they were both delicious
and attractively arranged. They were appropriate for the season and
whetted the appetite for the mains. Caxton Grill doesn’t offer the
longest menu in town but it doesn’t need to. There are enough dishes
here to please even the most sophisticated palates.
My guest is a man of discerning tastes but a man for all that and he
couldn’t pass up on Ribeye steak. Although a simple plate it does rely
on the quality of the showcased steak and a chef with a light hand at
the grill. The substantial cut of meat was pronounced first class.
Cauliflower with coconut, sultanas, curry and almond was my choice. I
am not a vegetarian but this non-meat option got my attention. How was
the unprepossessing cauli going to be transformed from something of a
culinary frog to an epicurean prince? It was a revelation, and I feel
no shame in admitting that I will likely steal the idea
for my own dinner party fare. Chef Adam Handling uses skill and
imagination and did, in this case, wave the magic wand.
Boiled, grilled and pureed cauli presented different flavour and
texture with every bite. Granted, it might not convert a
carnivore but at least that stubborn diner can be assured that he is
missing out on a vegetable-based treat. Caxton Grill is a passionate
follower of the ‘Field to Fork’ movement so you know that vegetable
will not have travelled all the way from South America.
I am not a great one for sweets and so passed up the dessert menu. I
can tell my dear reader that the evening could have ended in
resentment: the Apricot, ginger, pannacotta and rhubarb with black
pepper was my guest’s dessert, and was faultless. Perhaps that is
something of an exaggeration: I would say that the dish might have been
improved by the omission of the apricot. The other components worked so
well together that the apricot was just a distraction. But this is a
must-try pud. Luckily the waiter had the presence of mind to offer me a
second spoon – otherwise there could have been a nasty scene.
Head Chef Adam Handling has a close relationship with his suppliers and
a deep respect for ingredients. He contrives to amaze with his finesse
while using the most humble of seasonal produce. Caxton Grill is well
worth a visit and even in a city that spoils me with choice I can
promise I will return.
The Tomb of the
Unknown Uncle – Flowering of Liberation
2014 is a special year and after my recent visit to the
Netherlands I am reminded that every year should be special. This year we remember the Liberation of parts of
Europe, towards the end of the Second World War, and the heroism not
only of servicemen but of civilians.
This was a bitter-sweet trip. I love Holland and I am there as often
and for as long as possible. I have enjoyed its delicious and
underpublicised food (there is much more to delight the palate than
cheese). I have photographed modern and historic architecture and have
appreciated the relaxed and vibrant lifestyles of those lucky enough to
call the Netherlands home.
But I have a very personal connection with this friendly land. You
might say that my family own a small part of it. My Uncle Bill rests
there, and not by choice. He was killed over Holland in 1942 – yes, a
couple of years before the start of the official Liberation Route, but
that route could be said to have started back in 1939 when invasions
and aggression made war inevitable.
So the tomb of my unknown soldier, for I never met my uncle, focused my
mind. There is a formal Debt of Honour Register which states: In Memory
of WILLIAM JOHN BARKER Sergeant 75 Squadron, Air Force Volunteer
Reserve who died on Saturday 6 September 1941. Age 33.
This man didn’t have the blessing of a long life but he was a decade or
so older than those others who died with him. Ironically I even know
the name of the German pilot who shot down my uncle’s plane. One might
suppose I would harbour ill-will and be heaping curses
upon that man’s house. But it’s the nature of war that people are
obliged to kill and others are obliged to die. All these young men were
just doing their jobs.
During this Liberation Route visit I had the privilege to interview Jan
Loos who was just a teenager living near Arnhem in 1942. His
country had been under occupation for years. He explained that there
was a big difference between regular servicemen and the SS, for
instance. He became friends with a German
officer who had a son of Jan’s age. There are no winners in war: the
Liberation Route serves not to revel in victory but to celebrate the
freedom that cost so many so much.
The Liberation Route does truly exist. It’s not just a strategic
process but a physical path that crosses The Netherlands with
noteworthy stops along the way. It is a route that takes you to over 80
significant spots, each marked by a large stone and each one
illustrating a particular event – stories of civilians and soldiers who
lived or fought there between 1944 and 1945. The audio versions can be
downloaded as MP3s from the Liberation Route website. They are historic
milestones and they become more important as there are fewer and fewer
eye-witnesses still alive.
Don’t expect a landscape scarred by warfare. Nature is gentle, forests
are dense, and fields softly undulate. One listens to the whistle of
birds rather than shells. One is refreshed by the perfume of dew-laden
foliage rather than fuel and fire. There are poignant reminders: a
shrapnel-pitted house wall, statues of evacuating women and children,
monuments to the fallen.
But Holland is famed for flowers. Tulips provided food in the lean days
at the end of the war, they have been immortalised in song, and those
ubiquitous blooms are the icons for the tourist board – a far more
beautiful logo than that of a ball of Edam or a bottle of gin. There
can surely be no finer and no more apt celebration of Liberation than a
brand new tulip.
Major (Retd) Kenneth George Mayhew RMWO, is the bearer of the highest
Dutch military Medal of Valour. He was the guest of honour at the
London Residence of the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Ms Laetitia van
den Assum. Major Mayhew is now 97 years old and was not only the guest
of honour in word but honoured in deed, as worthy military men of a new
generation respectfully saluted him. I am touched that Dutch people
continue to demonstrate their care for those who contributed to
Liberation and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II.
Cemeteries are immaculate and often tended by school children who adopt
a soldier or airman and look after his last resting place. It’s a
source of comfort to us, the families of those servicemen.
Major Mayhew officially baptised the new Liberation
tulip and wetted the ‘baby’s head’ in champagne. The striking red and
yellow flower was cultivated by celebrated Dutch bulb-grower JUB
Holland for this important and unique occasion, which marks the first
step in commemorating the liberation of the Netherlands which started
with the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in 1944. The tulip was
presented on behalf of all Allied Forces who took part in the
liberation. Distinguished representatives of Australian, British,
Canadian, Polish, New Zealand, and US forces attended, along with Major
General Hoitink for the Dutch Chief of Defence Staff.
Members of the general public will be able to see the new tulip next
year as two flower mosaics will be planted in the autumn. Kew Gardens
in London will have one display and the other will be in Lincolnshire,
from where the RAF launched Operation Manna which was a relief
initiative to feed civilians. The Liberation Route and the tulip are
not about glory. They are about memories and future. They are about
lessons learnt and hope, about partnership and new-forged alliances.
They are about peace, and offer reminders of the fragility of that
Holland offers so much; but the prospect of a trip to mainland Europe
has us musing on a little bistro in Paris, although Holland has an
exciting contemporary dining culture. We crave the arts, so that must
be Rome, even though Holland has the Dutch Masters. There are few
language barriers in Holland and that, even for this world traveller,
is a bonus. We British feel at home in The Netherlands and there is
always a warm welcome. That’s nothing new: it started 70 years ago.
This is a beautiful hotel just a few yards from St James’s
Park Underground station. Its red brick and ornate terracotta friezes,
its fountain and courtyard all offer the guest a chance to glimpse
another era, far from the buzz of traffic.
Daniel Ayton is a striking figure. Already tall, the addition of his
chef’s toque adds another foot to his lofty stature.
This chef is one of the most decorated and respected within the
industry but is strangely overlooked by those seeking the next
celebrity. There are few chefs, however, who are so thoroughly immersed
in the industry, and few who are better known by their peers.
We settled ourselves in a sumptuous private room and I asked Daniel
about his background. ‘I was brought up in Torquay, down in Devon. My
father owned and ran a restaurant for 20 years. I earned some pocket
money by washing dishes and then progressed through the ranks to salad
hand and then doing a bit of pastry work.’
Had Daniel ever considered another career? ‘I was asked by my careers
teacher what I wanted to be and the first words that came out of my
mouth were, “I want to be a chef.” I think there is something in my
blood. As you grow up you always think about the options open to you,
but deep down I couldn’t do much about it. It’s in my blood!’
How about formal culinary education? ‘I went to full-time study at
South Devon College and then I moved to the lovely 5-star Imperial
Hotel in Torquay. That’s part of the Trusthouse Forte group – they had
a 2-year training programme. That took me all over the UK and a little
bit in Europe. It was a very intense programme – you were in a
different kitchen every two months. We also looked at airline catering,
fine dining, and outdoor catering. It was a good training background
and I wish there was still an equivalent in the UK, but the colleges
here cover that shortfall these days.’
Daniel is proud of his kitchen at one of London’s finest hotels. It’s
actually a duo of a 4- and a 5-star, which give guests a choice of
culinary experiences. ‘I currently work for The Taj Group in London and
have been here for a little over 7 years. The Taj Group has a programme
for hotel management, not just for cooking but it covers every aspect
of the hospitality industry. In this hotel quite a few staff members
have been through the programme, including those on reception.
‘There are two hotels at this location: 51 Buckingham Gate and St
James’ Court. They are beautiful and we have the celebrated
Shakespearian Frieze in the courtyard. We have a great location between
the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Taj is an Indian group
but the guest profile is international. It’s a London hotel that just
happens to be owned by an Indian company.
‘We have lots of tourists, as we have such a central location in
London. There are many business travellers and we even have two luxury
2-bedroom suites. The hotel has old-style grandeur but with all the
current technology. The butlers at the 5-star hotel welcome our guests,
but the greeting at the 4-star hotel is just as warm. It’s all part of
the ingrained hospitality ethos. The whole nature of Taj is to give
that little bit extra. We don’t just offer the basic services: we can
even go up to the suites and present cooking lessons!
‘Taj has Quillon, which serves Indian food and is a Michelin-star
restaurant. There is also Bistrot 51 and that’s very eclectic. We have
an Asian corner on the menu which offers classic Indian dishes. We also
have steaks and a trio of duck which utilises some unusual ingredients
such as Alan Coxon’s Alegar Vinegar. Another dish has Peruvian oil! My
food has got to be educational. I like to put unique dishes on the menu
so the guest will ask what they are and where they came from. That
gives us the chance to interact and to make the dining experience so
much more interesting. One can use all the senses and learn something!’
I asked Daniel if young chefs are aware of the life of a working chef.
‘These days young chefs are more aware, as they watch TV. The profile
is a lot higher now than it was when I started out, and colleges are
teaching what’s relevant to the workplace. The curriculum reflects
‘There is something of a North-South divide when it comes to working
hours. In Coventry, for instance, people will tend to work 40 hours per
week just like car workers. In London it’s a bit different. The hours
might be longer but young chefs know that, and they have dedication,
and they realise that if you want to get on in any industry you have to
‘I work very closely with Westminster College and their curriculum is
second to none. They send their students out into industry as well as
to private functions as part of the course. These days it’s not just
about teaching people to cook, it’s about dietetics and legislation as
‘It’s not always necessary to travel abroad and even qualifications
shouldn’t be essential, as long as cooking is in your heart. My father
ran a restaurant and he wasn’t qualified. As long as you understand
about the hospitality industry and that it’s about giving the guest
what he wants, there are still opportunities to just apply to a
restaurant for work with no previous experience – but those openings
are harder to find these days. There is more legislation and problems
with insurance for working in a dangerous environment.’
Daniel Ayton is one of the finest chefs in the UK. He is likely one of
the most academically qualified and he uses his experience to inspire
and support others. He spreads the word of Taj excellence by his
example, but his legacy will endure in many a professional kitchen with
chefs who have benefited from his mentoring.
Taj 51 Buckingham Suites and Residences
51 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AF
Telephone: +44 20 7769 7766
Facsimile: +44 20 7630 7587
Visit The Taj here
Phoenician Kitchen Garden
In truth this isn’t an ancient plot cultivated and tended by legendary
Mediterranean traders, but the land does belong to
the celebrated Hotel Phoenicia in Malta.
All good chefs will agree that freshness is key to good dishes. That
philosophy cuts across all ethnic culinary persuasions. Malta has a
climate that any keen gardener would envy. It is typically
Mediterranean, with weather that one would expect, the only passing
problematic element being the windy season that only lasts a month or
so. That breeze, strong at times, might cause worry to those tending
plants, but it is refreshing to the sun-weary tourist.
Chef Saul Halevi hails from Italy but has worked all over the world. He
is passionate about fresh produce and indeed local produce. It doesn’t
come much more local that 100 metres from the kitchen of the Phoenicia
Hotel. Guests can try to guess what might be on the menu as they watch
the chefs pick vegetables at 5pm that will be gracing a plate at 7.
Any keen gardener would appreciate a tour of these terraces. There are
citrus fruit trees with lemons still hanging from top branches even in
late April. At this time of year the tomato seedlings have been planted
out – at least the first rows. Saul is staggering the crop this year to
avoid a glut. There are still plenty of broad beans with bursting pods
of grey-green legumes. The plot offers the promise of pumpkins,
courgettes and aubergines. Herbs are an essential ingredient and Saul
is particularly proud of various types of mint, and a patch of the
celebrated Sicilian oregano.
Parts of the garden are quite new. Saul has acquired the expanded area
by stealth. His original suggestion was for the incorporation of just a
few square metres, but that has grown slowly over the months. He has
been forbidden to go near the swimming pool that he would likely turn
into a sunken herb garden.
The guest at the Phoenicia will be spoilt for food and indeed styles of
food. The large, beautiful and imposing Phoenix
restaurant boasts all the features of a classic hotel: high moulded
ceilings, crisp linen, a regiment of waiting staff, and views. The
food, at least from my experience of a short stay, is traditional and
Mediterranean. The vegetables are fresh, as one would expect, and the
selection of meat is wide, and cooked with thought and inspiration.
Chef Saul is mindful of the regulars who frequent the restaurant and
wants to give them what they crave, which is usually good seasonal food
and plenty of it. The desserts and baked goods here might not come from
the garden but they are for which to die. Malta has a great baking
tradition and it’s showcased in the sweet cakes, cookies and turnovers
at this iconic hotel.
The intimate restaurant of which Chef Saul is so proud is called
Pegasus. This small space has the air of a French bistro but the food
offered is polished, refined, and presented with flair, taking
advantage of that by now expected freshness of ingredients. The fish is
special and comes from specific boats that supply Saul and just a few
others. Chef Halevi can tell by the weather conditions if a particular
fish will be available later.
The dishes here are unique. We were offered a veritable extravaganza of
vegetables, steamed fish, and pasta. Saul is
something of an evangelist for delicate steaming of fish rather than
frying. The lobster ravioli was made with black squid ink which gave
the dish great visual impact …almost as much as did the bread that was
as black as coal and also made with that squid ink.
It has been said that Maltese restaurants have The Phoenicia as a
benchmark for excellence. It has cultivated that reputation over
decades and just as carefully as Chef Saul Halevi now tends its kitchen
garden. It seems that quality never goes out of fashion.
We travel and we spend time in hotels. Yes, but how
often have we had extended time away from home and wished that we had a
place to rest our heads that was a bit more like, well, home? A few
more amenities would do the trick.
Cheval Three Quays is a truly striking collection of new luxury
serviced apartments. But where exactly is Three Quays? It’s on the
banks of the Thames and next to Sugar Quay which reminds us of the days
when this river bristled with cargo ships bringing goods from an empire
on which the sun never set. The other quays were called Tobacco and
Rum, and collectively offered all those items that are now considered
so bad for us – times change! But the other neighbour is the Tower of
London, and that never seems to change.
This is an iconic corner of a city that boasts more than its fair share
of architectural photo opportunities, monuments, historic sites and
striking views. Tower Bridge is just a few yards away and that is
numbered amongst the world’s most recognised structures. The Shard is
just across the river, giving a nod to a London that moves forward but
cherishes the past (sometimes).
This new aparthotel opened for business on 10th March
and is 5* (or is it 6?) in every regard. That location is unbeatable
and is well served by public transport, although it’s probable that a
good proportion of guests staying here will have a car equipped with
chauffeur. The apartments offer a home from home for those with
discerning tastes and whose homes are luxurious. There are 159 studio,
one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and penthouses which provide
accommodation for every size of party. There will be folks who want to
have privacy and flexibility for just a night or so, and others who
might like to stay for a year.
Undoubtedly the location is outstanding but visitor does not live by
views alone. These are breathtaking, but one tends to take sights for
granted after a while. It’s the architectural design by 3DReid and the
interior design by Forme Design that have just as much impact. Rooms
are individual, practical and breathtaking. Colours are restful,
textures are thoughtfully incorporated, finishes are impeccable, and
fixtures are for which to die. There’s a touch of whimsy, with a
Monopoly set being provided in each apartment.
One-bed apartments are presented to just the same high
standard as the penthouses. Size will differ and there might
be a shower instead of a full bath but the same quality will be evident
throughout. That aforementioned shower has sufficient acreage to
satisfy any bathroom-lingerers. Kitchens have every appliance a small
home might require, and avant-garde Gaggenau, so there will be no
complaints even from food professionals.
There isn’t a restaurant as an integral part of Cheval Three Quays but
there is a concierge, providing discreet and efficient service 24 hours
a day. The team provide access to everything from tickets to the latest
West End show to a table at one of the nearby celebrated restaurants –
anything from a German eatery to the iconic Café Spice Namaste are
within walking distance. Some of those restaurants can take bookings
for meals to be bought in and enjoyed in the apartment. Local knowledge
can add so much to a visit. Each one also has a dedicated maid for the
duration of the guests’ stay, allowing a more personalised experience.
Both private and public spaces at Three Quays are light and spacious.
Historic photographs of the working river remind the guest that this
truly is London and not their usual home. And they might well need
reminding. These apartments are stylish, but more importantly, they are
cosy. Yes, they are sumptuous but remain welcoming for families. They
certainly have a classy address, but that will shortly feel like your
Yamal Alsham is new to Knightsbridge but it’s joining its
established sister of the same name in Chelsea Harbour. It’s a
neighbourhood with its fair share of Middle Eastern eateries but they
are appealing not only to the host community but to the ex-pats who
long for a taste of home.
That’s the draw of the Lebanese- and Syrian-inspired menu. It offers
something for every diner with fresh salads, warm bread straight from
the oven, delicately char-grilled meats and filled pastries. Yes, there
are several dishes that are well-laced with vibrant spice, but still
more that are just well-seasoned and aromatic.
It’s approaching Valentine’s Day and if you have to look up the actual
date you will likely already be in trouble! Yamal Alsham would perhaps
be an ideal choice. For those with long-established partners you will
appreciate the practicalities of this stylish venue. Its location has
extensive transport links – by Underground via both Knightsbridge and
Hyde Park Corner, and by all those iconic double-deck buses!
But there are those other couples for whom this might be
the first Valentine’s
outing. Yamal Alsham is a comfortable venue for those
who are still unsure about the tastes of their romantic-evening
companion. There is nothing too outlandish here, but dishes are well
presented and even vegetarians are well provided for. There is a good
selection of fish dishes but a meat eater will want to sample the
This restaurant, only opened recently, is light and bright with touches
of metallic opulence. The door handles and decorative medallions
welcome the diner with a hint of exotic glitz. There are more lustrous
touches of bronze on ornamental coving and friezes. The prices are,
however, more reasonable than the décor might suggest.
There are plenty of standard and expected dishes on the extensive menu
but they are done well and why would you be visiting a Lebanese and
Syrian inspired restaurant if you didn’t want to eat Lebanese and
Syrian inspired food? Hoummos is the celebrated and ubiquitous
pureé of chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), lemon and a drizzle of olive
oil. Use some of that aforementioned bread to scoop.
Falafels are deep-fried bean and herb croquettes served with lemon and
tahini dip, and are golden and crisp. We find them all over London but
they are often soggy and unappetising. Yamal Alsham offers a version
that is a cut above most.
We British love pies and they are here. OK, admittedly in
miniature and perfectly-formed
have fillings that are somewhat more interesting
and sumac, which is a unique spice blend of the region. Cheese
sambousek will also please the non-meat eater – deep-fried pastry
parcels filled with cheese and herbs.
Kafta Orfaleas are spicy minced lamb skewers made with parsley, onion
and served with a grilled tomato. I think this should be a signature
dish. It is indeed spicy, but all the ingredients play a part in making
this meat kebab a memorable item. The lamb remains moist with just the
amount of grilled flavour to suggest its mode of cooking, but without
so much that one would have the impression that charcoal could be the
Yamal Alsham isn’t fusion, it’s not cutting edge, but both of those
concepts are rather over-rated. It’s just ‘right’. It delivers that for
which one would hope from this regional cuisine. Its prices won’t shock
and its service is friendly. Valentine’s Day dinner could well be
Cocktails! We tend to have a vision of summer evenings,
flowery dresses, sipping colourful libations in some place exotic. But
for those of us who live far from the equator those days of balmy bliss
only happen by during our short summer months, and even then there are
But we still crave mixed drinks with complex flavours and a richness
that’s appropriate for cooler weather, log fires
(if we are lucky) and old-fashioned conviviality. This book offers
suggestions for those cocktails that make a snow flurry a welcome sight
and an invitation to mull some wine.
Winter cocktails – mulled ciders, hot toddies, punches, pitchers and
cocktail party snacks, to give the full title, presents a wealth of
recipes that include the traditional steaming pans of spiced red wine
and the fluffy eggnog for Christmas. It has a collection of classic
cocktails that are served at room temperature or with ice. It’s not
just the temperature of the drink that makes it wintery, but the
balance of alcohols and mixers that create warmth.
As to that mulled wine: yes, it is here and rightly so, but there is
also a glinting white wine version with herbs and pear eau-de-vie.
There is the aforementioned traditional Eggnog, velvety and synonymous
with holiday, but Butterscotch Eggnog will shortly be putting in an
appearance chez nous. This has the added dimension of caramel notes,
and the garnish of sea salt makes this a thoroughly contemporary
Irish coffee is less often seen on restaurant menus, and Irish Coffee
glasses have gone the way of fondue sets – the back of that top kitchen
cupboard. But this became popular for a very good reason: it’s
delicious! Everyone will insist they know what constitutes an Irish
Coffee. ‘Well, it’s coffee and whisky isn’t it?’ No, it’s not. It’s
coffee and IRISH WHISKEY. The Irish spirit is spelt differently and has
a distinctive flavour. I dislike Scotch but I can savour a tot of Irish
– the difference is that marked. Do try this, even if you only have a
regular glass tumbler in which to serve it.
My pick-of-the-book is a Bloody Good Punch, which is indeed a bloody
good punch. This is potent with bourbon, amaretto and champagne along
with Blood Orange Sour Mix, the recipe for which is listed within these
pages. OK, the fact that this contains fruit might salve the
conscience, but the best policy is to just enjoy this for its taste,
and drink with moderation.
Winter Cocktails is a unique collection of stylish mixed drinks that
might help those long dark nights pass with a bit of a swing. A
delightful book that will be coveted by any budding Barista.
Author: Maria del Mar Sacasa
Published by: Quirk Books
Isn’t it a perennial problem? What to do for Valentine’s Day! When one
has had the same partner for several decades one starts to run out of
romantic options. You might possibly get away with socks for Christmas,
but they just don’t cut the mustard for Valentines. Jewellery is
predictable, and restaurants are always full to bursting with couples,
red roses and enough candle power to illuminate a small town.
If one is still in the first flush of a relationship then perhaps the
prospect of a Valentines getaway is even more enticing. One might want
to make an impression, and there could even be the chance of a
proposal. Yes, life can be sweet …as chocolate.
Chocolate is a traditional Valentines gift and is still welcomed, but
think of the impact a whole chocolate hotel would have. No, dear
gluttonous reader, the hotel isn’t exactly made from chocolate but is
stuffed with enough of that confection to warrant the title of
Chocohotel; and what’s more it’s in Italy and there are few more
romantic places than that.
Etruscan Chocohotel has 3 stars and what it lacks in glitter it makes
up for in themed fun. Perhaps another time you might even consider
bringing the kids, who will have eyes like organ stops before they even
reach their room. The chocolate extravaganza starts in the hotel lobby.
We have all seen them, those chocolate novelties. Something for the
tree at Christmas along with some coins. One might have some chocolate
initials for a birthday and then there are body parts – although
discussion of those will remain for another article (perhaps). But here
at the Chocohotel the chocolate goods are tasty and tasteful
and by Costruttori di Dolcezze and Eurochocolate. It seems that
anything to do with a computer has been fabricated in chocolate, and -
this is Italy, after all - how about a chocolate pizza? All this and
At Etruscan Chocohotel, rooms are on three floors and each is,
unsurprisingly, dedicated to a style of chocolate. OK, so admittedly
the Etruscans were never big on chocolate, owing to the fact that the
stuff had not yet been discovered, but they would likely have
appreciated staying in any level of a hotel with motifs of milk
chocolate, dark chocolate and gianduja chocolate. For sheer delicious
decadence there is a Choco Sweet Suite that presents the visitor with
mounds of chocolate in each corner of the room, and you get to take
home any you can’t finish during your stay.
Some rooms are equipped with, well, equipment of the sporting variety.
A whimsical touch from the management of a hotel that dares the guest
to stick to that diet. The handles of the treadmill are handy for
hanging one’s suit …this is a relaxing vacation, not a gym boot-camp!
Breakfast offers temptations for those who are still
craving chocolate. Chocolate dip, hot chocolate in mugs, big jar of
Nutella, chocolate cakes and the like partner more conventional fare
for those with traditional morning needs.
The centre of Perugia is not far away, making this hotel an ideal
location for a short break or a romantic interlude. There are plenty of
activities, stunning architecture and restaurants just a few minutes’
drive from your chocolate heaven. All rooms are equipped with air
conditioning, satellite TV, minibar, telephone. Wi-Fi access, parking
and garage are free for Etruscan Chocohotel guests.
Etruscan Chocohotel is unashamedly themed. It’s a joyful and
light-hearted spot and ideal for those who are not looking for starchy
formality. It’s just right for families, but memories of a Valentine’s
Day for just two here will likely make you smile for years to come.
via Campo di Marte
134 - 06100 Perugia (PG)
Anyone with a molecule of romance in their hearts will
have considered a vacation in Italy. Any lover of good food and wine
would have mused on a visit to this land of culinary abundance. Every
traveller who prizes quality produce, striking accommodation and the
best of restaurants will want to stay in Norcia. Where? Yes, that is
the expected response from the untutored.
The historic town of Norcia is in the heart of the Valnerina, on the
edge of the Sibillini National Park in Umbria. That’s the region that
is sadly overlooked by those visiting Italy for the first time. One
passes through this region on the way from Tuscany to Rome, and it
seems the only variation on that programme is travellers choosing to
travel from Rome to Tuscany.
The pretty walled town of Norcia is just what one would hope to find in
Italy. It has retained much of that timeless quality and charm that is
so often swept away by modernisation. Norcia, traditionally known in
English by its Latin name of Nursia, is situated on a wide plain at the
foot of Monti Sibillini, a part of the Apennines with some of its
highest peaks. It’s an ideal base from which the hardy and
energetic sorts will set out for days of mountaineering and hiking.
The town's recorded history goes back as far as the 5th century BC,
when the Sabines settled here. It became an ally of ancient Rome in 205
BC, during the Second Punic War, but perhaps it is better known for its
later Christian inhabitant. St. Benedict, the founder of the
monasteries that bear his name, and his twin sister St. Scholastica,
were born here in 480. Monks came to Norcia in the 10th century, and
the Monastery of St. Benedict is built over the ruins of the house the
saint called home.
In the 6th century Norcia was conquered by the Lombards, becoming
part of the Duchy of Spoleto. In the 9th century it was attacked by
Saracens. In 1324 it was struck by a powerful earthquake and more
followed in the years 1763, 1859, 1979. After the earthquake of August
22, 1859 the Papal States, to which Norcia then belonged, imposed
strict building regulations forbidding structures of more than 3 floors
and requiring the use of particular materials and building techniques.
This edict has helped to give the town its architectural style, which
is one of its great assets.
Norcia’s celebrated main basilica is, unsurprisingly, dedicated to St.
Benedict and is connected to the Benedictine monastery. The building we
see today was erected in the 13th century on the remains of Roman
buildings assumed to be the house in which the twin saints were born.
There is much here to occupy the discerning tourist. Gothic facades,
narrow streets, striking views, shops and museums. But those
aforementioned shops will be the draw. There are the usual boutiques
selling stylish home goods but there are others that are more
memorable, and they are filled with the most delectable of local food
Lentils (Castelluccio variety) are big here, or more accurately, they
are small here. They are celebrated all over the country for their
distinctive flavour and their texture, and they are the traditional
Italian New Year accompaniment to Zampone di Modena, stuffed pigs
trotter. They are also presented as a rustic soup which will be
welcomed by those returning from mountain walks.
For a touch of luxury consider Norcia’s black truffle. There are
numerous shops here selling fresh truffles, and whole or sliced in
jars. They are fine quality with an aroma that will be mouth-watering
for any lover of these fungi. That earthy scent is eclipsed by the
flavour brought out by cooking, and it doesn’t take much to create a
decadent pasta or egg dish from some truffle shavings.
One look at the landscape and one realises that this must be pig
paradise. According to tradition, it was the Jews
who arrived after the destruction of Jerusalem who invented the
technique of preserving pork. Now, that sounds unlikely but as they
were unable to eat the meat themselves, they chose to preserve it in
order to use in trade.
From the 12th to the 17th century, processing techniques developed
along with the emergence of the “norcino” or dedicated pork butcher,
who set up guilds which in turn created new cured-meat products. Pope
Paul V, with a papal bull of 1615, recognized the Norcian guild
dedicated to the home-grown saints, and several years later Pope
Gregory XV promoted this association to the rank of Arch-confraternity
– which later became the university of the pork butchers of Norcia and
Cascia and of the Norcian empirical pork physicians. Yes, their knife
skills were appreciated more by people than pigs.
Cured hams, capocollo salami (made from pork neck and shoulder, and a
speciality of Norcia) as well as prosciutto crudo (uncooked, dry-cured
ham), spalletta (small cooked shoulder of pork), loins, bacon and
guanciale (unsmoked cured pig’s jowl) are all available from local
purveyors. Those products are generally made from regular pigs, but
Norcia is also widely known for good hunting, especially of wild boar,
and for the production of sausages and ham made that free-range pork.
Such products have been named after Norcia: in Italian, they are called
Norcia is worthwhile visiting any time of year but winter tempts with
crisp air, warm fires and the best of food. It’s a compact little city
that offers enough amusement to fill a short break; or consider it as a
base from which to wander.
Getting to Norcia:
By road, allow two hours from Rome, via Terni, and around two and a
half hours from Florence, via Perugia.
I am an enthusiastic home cook and a periodic professional
cook, but I hold my hands up and admit that I have
avoided using pumpkins and squashes, my excuse being that when I was
growing up we never saw such things apart from on Halloween, and even
that wasn’t a popular holiday/event till I was well into my teens.
Janet MacDonald has penned a volume that demystifies these vegetables
and presents a hundred or so recipes that are simple and, for the most
part, economic to prepare; that fact alone makes visiting the world of
all things squashy worthwhile.
The most common of squashes are courgettes and cucumbers, and they are
the most tender and easiest to prepare. It seems that every summer
provides a glut of these for every lucky veg garden tiller and every
(even-luckier) allotment holder. We slice cucumber for salad. We fry
courgettes with a little butter. We toss a fritter or two. And then we
are faced with several months of repetitive tedium. This book has a
host of alternatives including Cucumber, Mint & Cider Sorbet that
works well as a refreshing between-course course or, if sweetened, as a
light dessert. Smart and sophisticated and hardly any work at all if
one owns an ice-cream maker; and it’s possible to make a granita if one
only has a freezer.
Savoury Squash and Cheese Puffs are versatile, using any one of several
varieties of these vegetables. These bites are delicious as nibbles
with drinks or as a side dish in place of bread. This is a deliciously
sneaky way of getting some vegetables into children.
A rather stylish dish is that of Tiny Pumpkins Stuffed with Stilton
Cheese. This is posh dinner-party fare and looks cheffy enough to
impress even the in-laws. There is nothing too difficult to master in
the recipe but the result is more than the sum of its tasty parts. A
classy vegetarian main or memorable side dish.
Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes
is a must-have for any vegetable grower or for those of us who have
always been curious about these overlooked newcomers.
Pumpkins & Squashes – Over 100 Sweet & Savoury Seasonal Recipes
Author: Janet MacDonald
Published by: Grub Street
Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for
Baking is, thank goodness, enjoying something of a
revival. We are reconnecting with some old-fashioned culinary values – the
kitchen filled with tempting aromas, a cake on a glass stand, some
home-made chocolate treats. But much of the appeal of the candy is the
fact that it is also eye-candy. They look beautiful.
Perhaps these days the bar for presentation of desserts and sweets is
set a bit higher. We watch cooking programmes and admire those chef
creations; and unfortunately the rest of the world is also watching. So
how do we create visual stunners without going to culinary school?
Food manufacturers have taken advantage of baking trends and this time
they have filled the supermarket shelves with jars of colourful sugar
shapes, chocolate strands, jewelled jellies and metallic balls and
pearls. All that’s needed to achieve sweet delights is some
imagination, and this book, Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for
rainbowlicious desserts, supplies that.
This isn’t just a list of available decorations. You would, after all,
only have to take a stroll to your local baking aisle to discover that
for yourself. No, this is a comprehensive illustration of how to use
those garnishes in unique ways, and there are also full recipes for
sweet goods as carriers of those shimmers, glitters, colour-bursts and
pastel shades. There are even recipes for making your own sprinkles at
I have a few favourites from this volume: Fleur de Sel Caramels allows
the home cook to offer these trending toffees for very little money.
The scattering of chunky salty crystals elevates these into a
sophisticated adult indulgence.
Brazilian Chocolate Truffles are a bit different from the more common
chocolate truffle. They use the overlooked condensed milk along with
cocoa powder to create the truffle mix, which can be moulded and then
covered with all kinds of coloured strands or sugars. These are moreish
and an alternative for those who cannot eat quantities of regular
Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts offers you
those imaginative ideas and inspirations for striking presentation of
tempting treats, but more importantly decorating cakes and desserts can
be a fun introduction to cooking for kids. OK, clean-up might take a
while but those memories and photo opportunities will be priceless.
Sprinkles – Recipes and ideas for rainbowlicious desserts
Author: Jackie Alpers
Published by: Quirk Books
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona.
The Port of Valencia is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and
the largest on the Mediterranean, and is these days something of a work
in progress. For those lucky enough to arrive by ship the impression is
of a sprawling building site. Perhaps visitors will remember the 2005
America's Cup yachting races which were held at Valencia and attracted
150,000 visitors to the port each day during the two weeks of events.
Valencia was founded by the Romans. Its historic centre is one of the
largest in Spain, with ancient monuments, views and cultural
attractions enough to gladden the heart of any history buff. During the
Muslim rule the city was called Medina at-Turab.
Most people might not recognise the name of the Castilian noble Rodrigo
Diaz de Vivar, but mention Charlton Heston and El Cid and one has an
epic picture of Valencia during a historic period of turmoil. Rodrigo
was intent on creating his own principality so, in command of a
combined Christian and Moorish army, he besieged the city
between 1092 and 1094, and ruled there till 1099. He was killed in true
movie fashion defending the city from an Almoravid siege (led by actor
Herbert Lom), leaving his wife Ximena Díaz to rule in his place for
another two years, when the Almoravids retook the city and restored it
to Muslim control.
The ancient winding and characterful streets of the Barrio del Carmen
near the market contain buildings dating back to Roman and Arabic eras.
The narrow streets remind one of North African souks. The
Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, is primarily of
Gothic style but contains elements of Baroque and Romanesque
architecture. Beside the Cathedral is the striking Gothic Basilica of
the Virgin (Basílica De La Virgen De Los Desamparados).
There was a catastrophic flood in 1949 with dozens of deaths, and again
in 1957 when the river Turia overflowed its
banks, claiming more than eighty lives. To prevent another tragedy the
river course was diverted in the 1960s. The original track of the river
remains and is now a lush sunken park called the 'Garden of the Turia'
(Jardí del Túria or Jardín del Turia). This green
ribbon offers cyclists and pedestrians a chance to cross much of the
city without putting either a wheel or foot on roads. This park is a
jogger's paradise and traffic-free apart from bikes carrying Lycra-clad
enthusiasts. Followers of sports other than cycling might like to know
that Valencia is the only city in Spain to have two American football
teams in LNFA series A, the national first division: Valencia Firebats
and Valencia Giants.
Valencia is known internationally for paella valenciana, a rice
dish cooked in a distinctive wide, shallow pan. Its main ingredients
apart from the Spanish rice are saffron, seafood or meat, along with a
few vegetables. This dish is offered in many local restaurants, but
pick one that is frequented by residents rather than tourists.
Another good choice for gastronomic immersion are tapas or pinxos.
These are on offer in many small bars across town from lunchtime
onwards. There is something of a process for ordering these delicious
snacks. Well, in truth one does not usually order them at all but
rather select a few and pile onto your plate. The barman will note how
many tapas you have consumed and will present the bill at the end of
Apart from bread topped with the ubiquitous ham there
might also be some seafood, cheeses and of course the famous Spanish
omelette of onions and potatoes. Croquettes of various kinds should not
be missed: they are usually made with a rich white sauce flavoured with
ham, cheese or chicken.
The residents of Valencia are blessed with a city sporting
monuments to its historic past, but there is a living historic market
(Mercado Central) that is very much alive. One can learn much about a
country by taking a look at its produce market and
Valencia has one that is vibrant with colour, rich in diversity and
tempting at every turn. The Modernist facade is testament to the
importance of the produce market in the past - and even in the 21st
There are stalls that specialise in olives. Tubs of them flavoured with
herbs or spices vie for your attention between others mixed with red
peppers or stuffed with garlic. Another vendor displays the biggest
radishes you would have ever seen, alongside some surprisingly exotic
yams attesting to Spain's growing ethnic population. There are rows of
cured hams hanging like meaty fringes, and fish counters with
glistening prawns and shellfish. Take a break at the market cafe and
try some horchata which is a local speciality drink made with tiger
The largest plaza in Valencia is the Plaça de l'Ajuntament or Plaza del
Ayuntamiento. The City Hall (Ayuntamiento) is found here, and the
central post office. The Plaça de la Mare de Déu contains the Basilica
of the Virgin and the Turia fountain. Another beautiful photo
opportunity…and there are so many in this vibrant city.
Valencia is a city with which one can quickly fall in love. It offers
spectacular historic buildings, rustic tapas bars, plenty of retail
therapy opportunities and much more. A day would give an introduction
but one would need to stay much longer to enjoy the full romance of
this Spanish gem.
Oriana - cruising
I am not, by Oriana standards, a seasoned
cruiser. I have only had three floating holidays to date and this
was the first with P&O. Some of my
fellow passengers had enjoyed up to 70 such trips and those with a
score of a dozen or more were numerous! This company is obviously doing
something, and probably a lot, right!
Oriana is a big ship with a capacity of 1800 or so
passengers and around 800 crew. I was struck by the lack of crowds,
well, apart from meal times at the Conservatory, when there tended to
be a rush of eager diners at the start of each service.
Public spaces are, well, spacious. There seemed to be an abundance of
sun loungers, easy chairs and tables on the sun decks, and these decks
were littered with a creditable complement of swimming pools and hot
tubs. OK, so these are small but perfectly formed pools designed for
splashing rather than lapping, but were more than adequate for the
needs of the mature vacationers.
P&O have ships and itineraries designed with the older
traveller in mind. One doesn't find oneself dodging sprinting
youngsters while queuing for a croissant. These regulars have the sense
that this is a familiar and comfy home from home. Well, perhaps better
than home in some ways. There is a constant supply of ready-prepared
food and no washing up!
In fact food is a big part of the draw for Oriana cruises. There is
famously plenty of it and it's just the cuisine to appeal to older
folks who don't want anything too outlandish but rather good quality
ingredients that have not been over-fiddled with. But this particular
cruise (Christmas and New Year) lasts for almost 3 weeks so the chefs
have to be imaginative with their menus.
One is spoilt for choice. One might start the day with the lavish
Conservatory breakfast buffet that will gladden the heart of any Full
Monty lover but which also caters to those with more continental tastes
for fruits, yoghurt and pastries as well. If one prefers waiter
service then there is the Peninsular restaurant which offers a regular
menu of classic breakfast fare and some daily specials, so if devilled
kidneys float your metaphoric culinary boat then Friday morning should
see this as your venue of choice.
If one prefers a smaller and more intimate space then Al Fresco will
fit the bill. It's open all day for casual bites during and outside
usual meal-times. Breakfast starts at 7am and one could graze all day
and finish with a slice of pizza at 2am. Tiffany's also offers light
snacks in a convivial coffee bar at the Atrium. That is where the
addicted cruiser will find Costa Coffee.
Lunch can be taken at any of the aforementioned restaurants
trap of the 6-meal-a-day syndrome. Breakfast: it's the most important
meal of the day so one should have that. Elevenses are essential to
keep up one's strength after a trot around the deck to burn off the
breakfast calories (three and a half turns around the deck constitute a
mile). Lunch is a necessary break from relaxing; and then it's
afternoon tea because we are British after all. On Black Tie Dinner
evenings a platter of nibbles will be delivered to your door. This, one
assumes, is to set the scene for more food that awaits in either the
Peninsular or the Oriental restaurants.
There are other two dining options on board Oriana. Ocean Grill demands
a supplement of a few pounds per head but one should consider dining
here at least once during the voyage. It has the predicted wood panels
complemented by contemporary tapestries but the tables are more widely
spaced than one would find in either The Peninsular or the Oriental
restaurants. A meal here is a 5-star event.
Another independent restaurant is Sorrento. This has, unsurprisingly,
an Italian theme but in a more casual setting than Ocean Grill. In fact
Sorrento is born anew every day from one end of The Conservatory
restaurant. In the evening it is screened off, has waiter service and a
The Conservatory is a large and casual restaurant at night. It has
multiple choices of hot and cold dishes and themed
nights which present the guest with opportunities to try Country and
Western fare, Thai curries, carvery and, naturally, Indian dishes. This
seems to be a popular alternative for those who want choices of time
and seating arrangements, as both Peninsular and Oriental restaurants
have allocated seating on tables of 6.
But Oriana isn't a floating restaurant. There are always activities and
entertainment. Each day there is a film in the Chaplin
cinema, and the evening offers a show of some kind. There are talks
about the next port of call. Perhaps a lecture on diamonds or even
about the comedy greats. There are painting classes, exercise classes,
concerts and tips on photography. There is enough to keep both body and
Oriana boasts a fully equipped gym for those who want to achieve
independent body sculpting. There is a spa for those who want to look
beautiful via other peoples' efforts, and pools for those who want to
impress an audience. There are plenty of hot tubs for the less brave.
There are several bars serving drinks and music to those who are
drowning their sorrows after a few hours in the casino. There are slot
machines for amusement and roulette for confusion. There are some smart
shops in which to spend one's winnings. One can buy luxury goods as
well as tasteful souvenirs from that day's port.
Oriana's adult-only cruises have a dedicated following of those mature
passengers who want comfort and friendly service from a young and
enthusiastic crew. These regulars meet old friends in familiar
surroundings and, for many, that surely is the secret of a successful
To find out more about this and other P&O cruisies
Delicious Simplicity of Alentejo –
the food and drink of forgotten Portugal
We live life at a frantic pace and when we take a moment
to reflect we muse on the quiet life, the good life, of life filled
with gentler pursuits, and of time spent around the kitchen table. That
good life is still evident in the Alentejo region of Portugal.
Bread is an indispensible part of meals in Portugal. It’s there on
every table and for every meal. It’s even used as an ingredient in hearty dishes. Açorda Alentejana is one
of the most traditional soups in Portuguese cuisine and comes from, as
the name suggests, Alentejo. It’s a flavourful broth with coriander, in
which soak large cubes of bread. The creation is finished with a
topping of poached eggs.
The local bread is somewhat addictive with its open and slightly chewy
texture and substantial crust. This is just about as far from your
regular ‘white sliced’ as one could sprint, although that tasteless
entity is taking hold even in this neck of the woods. But Alentejo’s
traditional bread doesn’t make itself. It’s what one might describe as
artisanal, so there must be an artisan doing the work, and that work is
Joana Roque looks every inch a toddler’s dream grandmother. She has a
substantial lap and bosoms, and a character that is as warm and
welcoming as her wood-fuelled bread oven. Joana is in her mid-seventies
and is bent through decades of hard graft. Her hands are like shovels –
but gentle. She shapes the bread into rolls and loaves with a practised
movement, with no wasted effort of crimping, slashing or unnecessary
twiddles. This is daily bread.
These days, the oven output is around 3 dozen loaves per day. Even with
the aid of her daughter it’s still a lot of dough to measure and mix. A
few years ago Joana would make thousands of loaves per week but times
change and now the ready-sliced in plastic is gaining ground. It’s
ironic that those of us who have grown up on the spongy and tasteless
stuff crave this authentic bread with a bit of character. Joana wonders
what the future might bring.
Rua do Meirinho Velho, no 12
Phone: +351 284 085 029
Barrancarnes – Cassa do Porco Preto offers an insight into
another Alentejo product: its famous black pigs. These are special in
the same way as are Champagne and Stilton cheese: they are unique and
prized. The Alentejo breed is a descendent of the sus mediterraneus
wild boar from the south, that were domesticated to become modern
These pigs have not crossed with other breeds and therefore they retain
unique characteristics of meat and fat to produce a particular flavour,
aroma and texture. The marbling of fat throughout the meat is key.
One can see the pigs roaming freely under oak trees in fields near the
town. They live on the acorns and there is a mathematical formula to
calculate how many pigs can graze in any particular pasture. Each tree
is assumed to give so many kilos of acorns and each pig is assumed to
eat so many kilos per day, thus one knows how many pigs can be
sustained in the area.
This company was established in 1988 and deals exclusively with the
production of meats from the Black Pig of Alentejo breed. There are now
two factories in Barrancos, one for hams, pork loin, Paiola, Copita,
Paio, and the other for more traditional pork products.
If you want to know how to carve and taste authentic quality ham from
Alentejo then watch the video here.
The landscape of Alentejo speaks so much about its food. The
aforementioned pigs gather under oak trees; the cork
trees, found in abundance here, still provide the natural seal for
bottles of excellent local wine; and the vines provide that wine. And
then there are the groves of olive trees with their silver-grey leaves
and gnarled bark.
The Museu do Azeite (Olive Oil Museum) in Moura shows the methods
of extracting olive oil through the ages. It is evident that, in
general, olive oil is far more delicious these days than a century or
so ago. One can see large bins where local growers would deposit their
olive harvest. Those olives might have been collected over a period of
several days and might wait another day or so before being pressed.
This delay resulted in deterioration and the beginning of fermentation
of the olives, giving a rather disagreeable taste in the finished
These days the olive oil of the region is revered as some of the best
in Europe. It’s sampled and tasted by experts who sip from blue glass
so as not to be distracted by the colour of the oil, which can range
from gold to green. It is then designated as Extra Virgin, Virgin or
just olive oil.
To learn more about the olive oil of Alentejo visit the museum.
Olive Oil Museum
Rua São João de Deus,
Phone: +351 285 253 978
The vineyards and wines "Encostas de Estremoz" were founded by José
Castro Duarte and his wife, Joana Silva Lopes. It’s an estate of 100 Ha
where the couple work with leading Portuguese winemaker, Miguel
This is one of the friendliest wine estates in the area. They contrive
to combine commercial production with warm hospitality. The tasting
salon is rather like a small sitting room with comfy chairs and even a
TV. One is educated in the ways of the local wines but without the
stiff formality of some other establishments.
All wines are produced at the Quinta da Esperança vineyards in
Estremoz, where new techniques of production are found next to
traditional methods. This domain’s wines were first presented in 2001
with Encostas de Estremoz Red, and Encostas de Estremoz White.
In 2002 another red wine was launched: Terras de Estremoz. This wine is
made from the Aragonez, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira grapes. In
2004 the collection increased to showcase local grape varieties.
Encostas de Estremoz features not only the Touriga Nacional grape, but
Touriga Franca, Alicante Bouschet, Tinta Barroca and Trincadeira.
In 2006 the estate presented their celebrated red wine called DJ
Encostas de Estremoz Reserva, and DJ Encostas de Estremoz Quinta da
My particular favourite is their Terras de Estremoz Rosé. This is an
ideal wine for those hot summer evenings, the chill of the wine forming
a dew on the glass, and the contents mirroring the blush of the setting
This estate is well worth a visit
Quinta da Esperança
Phone: +351 268 333 795
Fax: +351 268 333 754
The products here are simple, but that does not mean that they are
lacking in quality. They are full of flavour and deserve to be
recognised in the same way as produce from their richer European
She is perhaps our most celebrated and prolific Italian
food writer, TV presenter and chef. Yes, the lady truly is Italian,
although one could be fooled into thinking she is an
authentically British blue-blood.
Valentina Harris doesn’t have many free moments
but I cornered her on a return flight from a culinary
tour of Umbria. She is an unashamed supporter of the country of her
birth, and conducts gastronomic adventures to Umbria and other regions.
I asked Valentina about her association with the beautiful
and mostly undiscovered Umbria. ‘I had never really
known Umbria, because coming from Tuscany as I do, and having been to
school and then chefs’ school in Rome, Umbria was somewhere we just
by-passed on the way between the two.
‘But a few years ago, at La Dolce Vita in London, the big food and
lifestyle association, Umbria was the featured region. I met all these
people from Umbria and as a result I went to visit. That was the start
of my journey of discovery. Last year I was invited to give the opening
speech at the International Festival of Journalism in Perugia (capital
of the region), which happens every May. I talked about what I do on my
culinary tours, and about how I try and lead those who are not ‘of the
place’ to understand, and come to love, Italy through eating the
delicious food that each region has to offer. For me it always comes
back to that: the reason that Italian food is so interesting, and what
makes it so endlessly fascinating, is the fact that there are so many
regions, so many different styles of cuisine, and the food, whilst it
remains so fundamental to all Italian life, cannot be described as just
‘Italian’ food – not by Italians nor anybody else – you have to look at
it on a regional basis.
‘By bringing people to individual regions, to stay and to cook and to
eat and to explore and to have a culinary adventure, they leave with a
greater understanding, I think, than if they had just wandered around
shopping and looking at churches and lying on a beach. The ‘menù
turistico’, the ubiquitous tourist menu, never has any regional basis,
and I’m worried that there are lots of people who come to Italy and
never experience the local cuisine. Through local dishes you can learn
all about the people, the sociology, the geography, the history, the
culinary traditions – all of those things are very revelatory, if you
just stop to think for a minute.
‘So I made this speech, and it obviously hit a lot of the right notes in
the tourist authorities, who are very keen to bring the British and
others to discover more about Umbria, so they invited me to start
running press trips, of which this is the first one. It’s called an
‘educatour’. There is another one planned for carnival time in
February. I’ve worked with the tourist board and other authorities to
create a balance of food, wine, a little bit of culture, a little free
time; and of course on this one we all wanted to go Christmas shopping
– what an opportunity with just a couple of weeks to go. So many lovely
things to take home, from a fresh truffle to a bar of chocolate.
‘We witnessed for ourselves in Norcia (the black truffle and cured pork
capital of Umbria) the Benedictine monks, and their prayer schedule is
endless: they are up at 4.30 in the morning, still finding time to brew
beer, run a shop, and there’s only a handful of them. We were fortunate
enough to listen to the chanting, and to see a novice being inducted
into the order.
Umbrian food is very exciting in its own way, but it has a slightly
spartan quality about it. Look at the ingredients of the region: first
you have the lentil – which has never floated anyone’s boat, but this
is a particularly delicious lentil with a very fine skin, that cooks
quickly and is very digestible, and it is venerated. (I use that word
because that is how they talk about their food, in the same way that a
saint is venerated.) If you think that the lentil is all there is on
the ‘pulse’ front you’d be mistaken, because there is a vast range of
other beans and lentils and wild peas that are not common anywhere
else. It reflects a cuisine that is very humble and simple, but they
will take these legumes and pulses, cook them and serve them with their
unbelievably delicious olive oil, reputedly the very best olive oil in
We have the lentil and the olive oil; then we have two extraordinary
luxuries: chocolate and truffles – amazing in the middle of all this
low-key, no-frills cuisine! Perugia is the ‘other’ centre of chocolate
in Italy: Torino, Modica in Sicily, and then there is Perugia.
‘The other great ingredient of the region is pork: ham, salami,
sausages, coppa (cured meat from the neck of the pig), and guanciale
(bacon from the jowl). The pig that they favour is the little ‘cinta
senese’ or belted pig from Siena. The meat is very lean and fragrant,
and they run wild and eat acorns. Norcia is the centre of the
butchering and curing of this meat.
‘We haven’t mentioned the cheese: it’s not really a region of dairy
cows, and Italians generally, apart from down south, have a resistance
to eating lamb and mutton. The sheep that you see in the area are
mainly kept for their wool and for their milk to make pecorino cheese –
softer as a table cheese, turning harder and more granular as it ages
into a grating cheese. And of course it’s delicious with a bit of
‘Everywhere out in the country, far away from a ‘supply chain’,
mountainous and without flat areas on which to grow things, has a
tradition of foraging. You pick up wild mushrooms in the woodlands, and
also dandelions, bitter greens, nettles (a spinach substitute) – it’s
an old practice and a very relaxing thing to do, going out with your
basket and bringing home some food. Obviously you have to know what you
are doing, you don’t want to throw in a handful of deadly nightshade or
the like. But it seems to be something handed down from father to son.
‘I always take my groups on a truffle hunt. A very dear friend, Sergio,
now in his 70s, is one of the loveliest people
I have ever met. He invested in some truffle trees – a tree where the
roots have been injected with truffle spores. You plant these trees and
hope for the best. You wait six years, then suddenly you might notice
an intense garlic smell, and you will find a ‘signal’ truffle just
under the soil. This one isn’t really edible, but it tells you that the
truffle has taken root. You then have to wait another couple of
winters, and you start training your dog. You train them on garlic, so
they associate the smell with food. Of course the dog will try to eat
it, so you have to be right there and the dog has to answer your
command to leave it and sit until you pick it up. If a truffle has bite
marks on it, it isn’t going to sell as well as a nice smooth one! So we
visit Sergio and he is so ‘chuffed’ that his investment has paid off.
He now grows truffles around the year, supplies the local restaurants
and hotels, and it’s good fun – but it’s real life.’
I asked Valentina how many regions her tours might cover in future.
‘I think Umbria is a good one, particularly because I think that the
‘staying in a lovely house, eating on the balcony and doing a bit of
cooking’ has been done now. It’s lovely, I’m not saying that it’s not a
pleasant experience, but what I have in mind, and what I’m going to be
doing from now, is different. I have a link with the Università dei
Sapori (UDS) in Perugia, a state-run university dedicated to catering
and food, and in particular the food and wines of Umbria. I am going to
be offering a tour of Umbria, staying in beautiful places, showing the
romance of Umbria, the architecture, the countryside, then putting it
into practice, staying possibly on-campus (the accommodation is at
least 3-star if not 4) and using the kitchen facilities at UDS which
are extraordinary – as professional as you can get.
‘I am now an ambassador for UDS in the UK, and I want to bring students
who are studying professionally, but also keen amateurs, the
Masterchef-watchers, the foodie who wants the latest technique and
knife and exotic ingredient, and combine the two. Relaxing, wandering
round the vineyards, going out to fabulous lunches, going to the
markets – and then working with those ingredients for 2 or 3 days. It’s
a great joy to cook in a professional kitchen, if you’ve never
experienced it. It’s a bit like going back to kindergarten: you are
allowed to make as much mess as you like, spread out, everybody has
their own station, their own stove, there are lots of kitchen porters
to help you, and the ingredients are second-to-none. There is a
laboratory devoted entirely to Italian ice cream, and one could spend a
day playing with this fantastic kit making fabulous ice cream.
‘I am selling a unique and very special product, with all my love and
passion – 5-star without the fuss. I will do two
spring/summer and two late summer/autumn tours in Umbria, then I’d like
to revisit the south of Italy, because we need to remind people of the
healthy ‘Mediterranean diet’. It’s as much about sitting around the
table, talking, the convivial thing, rather than eating while staring
at the TV screen, or standing up with your Blackberry in your hand.
They eat very little animal fat, lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes,
carbohydrates, lots of fresh fish.
‘I’d like to do something by the sea, as a contrast to the mountainous
inland food – plenty of fresh fish, citrus fruits, salads, tomatoes. My
knowledge of all the regions of Italy is as a result of learning: I
wasn’t born with it, I’ve studied a lot, travelled a lot, talked to a
lot of people, read a lot of books, and I feel confident enough to take
people wherever they want to go. If someone said “Can you organise a
bespoke tour in, say, Rome or Venice?” I could do that. The point is
that you will leave with a greater appreciation, and hopefully a love
of Italy, and you’ll want to come back – and tell your friends about
Valentina’s success as a gastronomic tour organiser, leader, coach,
hand-holder is assured. A couple of days in her company show this lady
in action. She is blessed by being bi-lingual, sounding like a local in
both the UK and Italy. She has an easy rapport with owners of
vineyards, hotels, restaurants and cookery schools. She is a trained
chef and is equipped to answer food-related questions. She is Italian
and can give a first-hand insight into culture, custom and practice.
She is amusing, talented and will ensure that any tour will leave the
participants fulfilled …and feeling full.
To learn more about Valentina Harris and her gastronomic tours visit here.
200 Years of The
Our links with The Netherlands have been long-standing. We
shared a monarch in the guise of William III of England,
known as William II in Scotland. He might be better known, to all but
the most historically inclined, as the William of ‘William and Mary’
fame. The blood connection isn’t as strong now as then but the families
are still close, being in the same ‘business’, so to speak.
Baby William was born on 4 November 1650 in The Hague in Holland. He
would likely have been considered an unlucky infant; Charles Dickens
might, a couple of hundred years later, have described him as a
‘posthumous’ child. His father, William II Prince of Orange, had just
died of smallpox. His mother was Mary Princess Royal who was the eldest
daughter of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland – it is he
who lost his head the previous year – and sister of King Charles II and
King James II & VII. William was born on his mother’s nineteenth
birthday with little celebration, and one would be still further
convinced that this lad was a Jonah when one learns that his mother
followed his father just 10 years later, on Christmas Eve 1660, on a
visit to England, when she too died of smallpox.
William was given the title Sovereign Prince of Orange from the moment
of his birth. Willem III van Oranje, in Dutch, ruled over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland,
and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic, and from 1689 he reigned as
William III over England and Ireland, William II over Scotland; he
would be the last direct male descendant of his great-grandfather
William the Silent, who was head of the Protestant Dutch of the United
Provinces of The Netherlands in their struggle for independence from
William, as was typical of regal arrangements of the time, married his
first cousin Mary Stuart, daughter of the future king James II of
England. In 1689 the couple were offered the throne by the Parliament
of England following William's successful invasion of England in 1688
in what became known as the ‘Glorious Revolution’, an action that would
eventually overthrow King James (Mary's father and William's
uncle/father-in-law) and gain them the crowns of England, Scotland and
Ireland. He and his wife were crowned the King and Queen of England on
11 April 1689. With the accession to the thrones of the three kingdoms,
he became one of the most powerful sovereigns in Europe, and the only
one to defeat Louis XIV of France.
On his death the title ‘Prince of Orange’ passed to a cousin, John
William Friso, and his descendants reigned in Holland
until the French invasion in 1795. The then William V, Stadholder of
The Netherlands, went into exile in England and Germany, and died in
1806. His son William was determined to regain the throne of Holland,
and, on the withdrawal of the French in 1813, was brought by HMS
Warrior to land on the beach at Scheveningen on 30 November that year.
He declared himself ‘sovereign prince’ and in 1815 became King William
I of The Netherlands. His landing marked the start of independence of
the Netherlands from the French and the beginning of the United Kingdom
of the Netherlands.
The British connection to the House of Orange continued via other
descendants of John William Friso (Jan Willem). His son William IV was
an ancestor of Princess May of Teck, who married King George V and
became Queen Mary.
The festivities for ‘200 Years of the Kingdom’ is a Dutch national
celebration with hundreds of people taking part in events including the
re-enactment of the celebrated landing of William of Orange on
Scheveningen beach. The new King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima
attended on a cold, windy and wet day.
This ‘Landing Day’ is commemorated every 25 years in
Scheveningen but this year was a special anniversary. Yes, the weather
was grey but the enthusiasm of the participants and the audience was
undiminished. Hundreds of traditionally-clad locals welcomed actor Huub
Stapel playing the role of Prince William. The crowd cheered and waved
orange flags as the ’king’ was carried shoulder-high through the angry
sea to his waiting carriage. He processed to the grandstand to pay his
respects to the authentic King and Queen, who acknowledged his
contribution to the nation.
There is no need to wait another quarter-century to visit The
Netherlands. It’s a country boasting a proud history, garnished with
arresting architecture, festivals, fine food and welcoming locals.
To find out more about visiting The Netherlands click here
Open Fires and Warm Hospitality – Where to stay
Pousadas de Portugal is a network of quality and
characterful hotels that give the guest a chance to
experience unique charm. The group was started in the 1940s and now has
forty-three properties. The network is mostly owned by the Portuguese
government but managed by a private group, Grupo Pestana Pousadas.
The first Pousada was opened in April 1942 in Elvas, in the Alentejo,
and this region still boasts the largest number of historic inns.
São Francisco de Beja
This hotel is a former Franciscan monastery. São Francisco
de Beja dates back to the thirteenth century. In November 1268 the
monastery was started on the initiative of the Captain-General of Beja,
Lopo Esteves. The land where the monastery was built was originally
outside the city but now the houses and shops have grown to join this
The building was started in the reign of King Afonso III, who died in
1279 but left a gift of fifty pounds to the convent. In 1302 King Dinis
build a chapel in honour of St. Louis. In 1834 Portugal abolished the
male religious orders and in 1850 it became the barracks for the army,
who set about ruining the work of generations.
The project to restore this Pousada was undertaken between 1993 and
1995 and now the Pousada de Beja, São Francisco, is a striking hotel
right in the centre of the city. It still shows the original gothic
architecture of the monastery with high ceilings, exposed
stonework and white walls, but the rooms are a lot more comfortable
than those used by the monks of old.
The monks’ cells have been remodelled into contemporary bedrooms with
tasteful hints of their ancient incarnations. Shutters on windows,
classic fabrics, the best of linen help to pamper the guest, who will
appreciate the most radical of refurbishments …the addition of a modern
and spacious bathroom!
The Pousada São Francisco de Beja has a total of 35 rooms: 30 standard
rooms, 4 superior rooms and 1 suite. The public spaces are imposing and
act as a showcase for historic artwork and artefacts. The dining room
is in the old monastery refectory and has seats for 60 or so diners.
The tables are well-spaced, making this a convivial spot for either
families or just romantic meals for two. The menu entices with
contemporary plates and regional specialities.
Pousada de Beja, São Francisco
Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira
Phone:(+351) 284 313 580
Phone:(+351) 284 329 143
This is a stunner and in my opinion your unmissable
lodgings for at least a part of any tour of Alentejo. Évora, classified
as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is only one hour away from Lisbon so
it’s an easy hop from the airport to a most memorable hotel.
Convento do Espinheiro, or The Convent of Our Lady of the Thorn, is
located on the outskirts of the neighbourhood of Canaviais, just a couple of kilometres
from the historic centre of Évora. It dates back to the fifteenth
century and legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared in a burning
bush. In 1458 this place of pilgrimage established a monastery.
With the dissolution of monasteries the building was abandoned and
taken into Portuguese state ownership, to be sold to individuals for a
negligible sum. It was eventually purchased by Manuel Gabriel Lopes,
who undertook major restoration, making it habitable again. The chapel
of Garcia de Resende is now also supported by local notables and used
for celebrating religious festivals.
Currently reclassified as a five-star hotel, the former monastery
retains many original features. The old cellar has given way to a
restaurant; the ancient kitchen has been turned into a contemporary
piano bar. The most striking of transformations is that of the cistern,
or water storage tank, which has Gothic pillars and vaulted roofs. It
now houses a wine ‘cellar’ displaying some of the best vintages the
region has to offer along with a selection of fine wines from the rest
of the world. Visit Cisterna Wine Bar and enjoy this unique space.
Divinus Restaurant is found in the monastery’s former wine-cellar. The
columns and curved ceilings illuminated by gentle light create intimate
spaces for dinner. Browse a menu that celebrates fresh local produce –
it’s a sophisticated restaurant that still manages to remain cosy and
Convento do Espinheiro offers a total of 92 guest rooms, including 6
suites. One can choose between modern vibe – said to be inspired by the
colour and style of the ´50s – these rooms are in the new wing; or one
can enjoy a more classic room in the original 15th-century monastery
building. Both contemporary and classic rooms offer comfort and charm.
Convento do Espinheiro Hotel & Spa ·
Phone: 351-266 788 200
The Alentejo is hot in summer so consider a spring or an
autumn tour for more gentle temperatures. The spring presents
vineyards bursting with pale-green buds and fresh leaves, while the
autumn offers crisp air, blue skies and the vibrant red of withering
vine leaves. Herdade do Sobroso Estate allows the visitor to relax and
enjoy nature during any season.
This is a working wine estate but your stay will be made memorable by
liberal application of not only fine wine but delicious local foods,
and log fires help to complete the picture of a rather high-end idyll.
Herdade do Sobroso Estate is typically Portuguese in many ways but the
owners have evidently travelled the globe and have very fine taste in
interior design, and in fact exterior design, as many of their more
exotic purchases now decorate the covered terrace outside the main
Casa da Quinta is the name of the main house, which offers public
spaces for enjoying a pre-dinner drink in front of the aforementioned
log fire, a dining room and some guest rooms, too. Each room is
different but all give the impression of home, granted an immaculately
decorated home, but more individual and unique than many a chain hotel
Casa da Cegonha is independent from the main house and away from common
areas. It’s popular with families as it offers cooking facilities so
mums don’t have to worry that young travellers won’t enjoy unfamiliar
restaurant food. They will be missing out on some rather special fare,
though – Alentejo dishes paired with Herdade do Sobroso wines.
Breakfast is also worth saving space for. Ignore the yoghurt and dive
for the Portuguese custard tarts and local cakes. One can burn off the
calories while walking around the 50 hectares of vineyard at Herdade do
Sobroso. There is also the winery where you can sample and purchase the
estate wines, olive oil, honey and jams.
This is a very individual boutique hotel in Alentejo, near
to Marvão, a medieval town in Serra S. Mamede Natural Park. It’s not a
rambling historic pile, but what it lacks in old grandeur it makes up
for in confident and quirky design.
It’s a small hotel as the name would suggest but it’s thoughtfully
presented and comfortably appointed. The 13 guest rooms and suite are
all different with varying colour schemes and configurations of beds.
It has the air of an intimate family-run establishment with friendly
staff who will likely know you by name after a day or two.
Evenings can be spent snuggled by the fire in the sitting room, after
enjoying a dinner of local lamb or fish. Breakfast is a buffet feast of
cheese, ham, cakes, fruit, the usual continental suspects, along with
some of the best bread to be found anywhere in the world. It’s tempting
to linger over such a spread …and why not?
Boutique Hotel o Poejo
Av. 25 de Abril, Nº 20
7330-251 Santo António das Areias,
Portugal is on the very edge of Europe and often
overlooked in favour of its more vocal neighbour, Spain. But this
country has so much to offer to the visitor. Striking landscapes
flatter the eye, generous hospitality warms the soul, and gastronomy
seems to be a well-exercised hobby practised by all.
The Alentejo is an unspoilt and relatively unknown region of Portugal
nestled next to the more celebrated Algarve. Its rolling hills,
boulder-strewn pastures, groves of cork and olive trees and vineyards
tempt one with the notion that good things to eat might not be far away.
In fact good food has been central to life in Portugal for thousands of
years and was brought to the height of refinement in the Middle Ages in
monasteries and convents. Arab and Jewish traders imported cinnamon
from the East; almonds have always been in abundance; sugar was often a
dowry paid when a novice entered the convent, as there was plenty of
sugar coming from the Portuguese colonies. Egg whites were used to
starch habits as well as for clearing wine, which left a surfeit of
yolks. All the ingredients were available to create delicious sweets.
One might conjure an idyllic vision of plump, elderly, black-habited
ladies with religious inclinations dividing their earthly hours between
their devotions and a nice bit o’ cookin’ – but it seems there were
other pursuits on the curriculum.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that young nuns and monks would look for
romantic liaisons. Many of them didn’t sign up for religious orders
following a spiritual awakening, seeing the heavenly light, or through
divine inspiration. It was more often due to practical necessity. What
does one do with the youngest son when big brothers have taken the land
and taken up arms – the military being the second best option to
staying home and swelling the ranks of the landed gentry? Send the boy
to a monastery. What will become of an unmarried daughter? Off to the
convent with her. There is a story about Sister Mariana Alceforado who
lived during the 16th century. It is said that Mariana fell in love
with a French army officer, Noël Bouton, and when he returned to France
she wrote love letters to him. Later the letters were found and
translated, and eventually became internationally published with the
title ‘Letters of the Portuguese Nun’.
But between passionate interludes, these nuns not only prayed but took
pleasure in devising ingenious ways of using
a relatively few basic ingredients to make signature desserts. Convents
became famous for particular sweets that the nuns and monks sold as a
means of supplementing their incomes. Pão de Rala looks like nothing
more than a loaf of rustic bread but it has an amusing history. It was
a speciality of the nuns of the Convento do Calvário in Évora. The name
and shape of this famous cake have royal connections: King Sebastian
visited the convent but, it being a poor order, they could only offer
him olives, water and ‘thin bread’ (pão de rala). These days this Pão
is constructed of an outer skin of almond-based paste with a filling of
vibrant orange egg yolks, sugar, almonds and pumpkin. The outside is
dusted with flour and browned to add an authentic-looking crust.
Pasteis de toucinho is another popular small cake. It’s made with pork
fat: that might at first sound rather strange until one remembers that
lard is often found in pastry partnered with butter. There is suet,
too, which is organ fat found in traditional Christmas minced meat.
Pasteis de toucinho has a richness from the lard, but fear not, my
dubious reader, these treats taste nothing like a bacon sandwich.
But let us consider Portuguese tarts. There are many tarts in Portugal
but there is only one that every tourist will crave – probably the only
tart to be included on a globetrotter’s bucket list. It’s ubiquitous
across Portugal and in every pastry shop around the world that might
advertise itself as ‘Portuguese’. It’s the Portuguese Custard Tart or,
to give its local name, pastéis de nata. These tarts are loved on every
continent and particularly where Portugal has had colonies or trading
interests, which include Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Goa in India,
Malacca in Malaysia, and Macau in China.
It is believed that pastéis de nata were created centuries ago by monks
at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in the parish of
Santa Maria de Belém, in Lisbon. In fact in Portugal they are sometimes
also called Pastéis de Belém. Following the closure of many of the
convents and monasteries after the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the
production of pastéis de nata transferred to what is now the Casa
Pastéis de Belém nearby. The former monks wanted to continue to produce
the tarts and so patented and registered the recipe, while contracting
the Antiga Confeiteira de Belém to produce them. The secret was given
to only five chefs, who guarded this original recipe under the Oficina
do Segredo (Office of Secrets).
At first glance these are quite rustic creations. The pastry is
somewhat free-form, the filling tends to look a little overcooked. But
it’s that combination of texture and taste that has assured the success
of this tart down the centuries. The case is a type of puff pastry that
retains a crunch when baked. The filling is rich with cream but light
and flavourful. It seems such a simple concept but it’s worth seeking
The Alentejo is accessible, charming and relatively unspoilt. It is
something of a culinary paradise, offering dishes that have remained
unchanged for generations. Its sweets are a reflection of its history
and culture, and are finding their place in the lexicon of European
Chef Paul Gayler is one of the food industry's gems. He is
a well respected man with years of worthy career behind him. He is
executive chef at London's celebrated Lanesborough Hotel and has a
shelf of cookbooks to his credit. This Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's
Collection is the latest one and it does him proud.
Paul Gayler writes cookbooks, yes, but they are a step beyond most of
that genre. Paul encourages, inspires and tutors. There are more than 100
soup recipes here and they all have an introduction from Paul to put
them into culinary context. Paul reminds us that soup is a cornerstone
of many cuisines and is enjoying something of a revival.
Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection works on several levels. It
offers some economic and hearty fare that won't break the bank -
comfort food for the whole family. Paul also suggests sophisticated
bowls of luxurious ingredients destined for appreciative dinner-party
guests. There is an array of soups from across the globe to tempt those
with a hankering for the exotic. This book is a veritable Masterclass
for all things soupy.
Sweetcorn soup with scallops and crispy bacon bits is simple to make
but has great impact. Anything with scallops is bound to get attention
and approval. It's that combination of crispy and meltingly tender, of
salty and sweet, that is always appreciated.
Carrot soup with seven spices is a blessing on cold winter evenings
when one is listening to the wind blowing and the pipes bursting.
Granted there is that list of spices but anyone who has cooked Indian
food at home will likely already have those to hand; and carrots, at
the time of writing this article, were still affordable. This is a
recipe with which to start a subcontinental meal, but just add a chunk
of crusty bread and one can call it supper or lunch.
Potato and leek soup is another comforting and silky dish that
showcases simple and common ingredients. I think, though, that this
traditional preparation works with Sunday lunch, mid-week dinner, or as
a sustaining winter snack. The cream gives it a luxurious quality and
is key to the success of the soup.
My pick-of-the-book is Crab Laksa. This soup is becoming more popular
as tourism to Malaysia has increased. It's a dish that changes by
region but Paul Gayler presents us with a version that gives the
authentic character of this national treasure. It's a meal in itself if
one serves it in a large Chinese bowl. It needs no additional
garnishes, and each of the ingredients brings texture or flavour to the
finished dish. It's vibrant and exotic.
Paul's charming personality shines through in this volume. One has the
sense of a conversation over the kitchen table. One feels supported by
a chef whose recipes we can trust. This is a sensible book that one
would actually use, and that surely is the best accolade one could
give. A gift-quality volume at a very reasonable price.
Great Homemade Soups - A Cook's Collection
Author: Paul Gayler
Published by: Jacqui Small LLP
Smashing Plates - Greek
The title alone would encourage a bookshelf browser to
reach for this volume. A humorous play on words conjuring visions of
exuberant Greek revellers ruining a restaurant's crockery budget, or of
polite Brits commenting on some jolly good food. Smashing Plates
- Greek flavours redefined does touch on both the passion of Greece and
the quality of some smashing food.
Maria Elia was brought up surrounded by food. Her dad was a Cypriot
chef so Maria had a childhood of total taste immersion. She dips into
her culinary heritage to offer dishes that range from the rustic to the
refined, but all have the same common denominator - good taste.
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined offers recipes for complete
dishes but also for those constituent parts such as goat's milk ricotta
and even homemade halloumi. The book would likely be popular just for
that recipe alone.
Sardine keftedes are store-cupboard gems. Maria elevates the humble and
much overlooked can of sardines to new culinary heights. They have had
a reputation of old-fashioned tea-time fare but this book presents
another face of that healthy fish as the key component in a cooked
patty served with salad or even as a filling for a crusty baguette.
A simple but must-try from Smashing Plates is Condensed Milk
Ice-cream. It's another one of those forgotten ingredients: condensed
milk is thick and rich with an unmistakable flavour. This is a simple
custard-style ice-cream and Maria suggests flavouring it with cardamom.
My pick-of-the-book is another sweet recipe and is that for Coffee
Custard Doughnuts with Fennel seed Sugar. This is a departure from
traditional Greek doughnuts which are soaked in a syrup after frying.
They are extremely sweet, although delicious, but Maria's alternative
offers a dessert that is less sticky to eat and retains its cake-like
properties. The custard filling is easy to make as it uses the
much-loved Bird's Custard Powder. Yes, it's retro and it works!
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined is unmistakably Greek, but
Maria's approach is contemporary and thoughtful. She has penned a
volume that is practical for the non-Greek home cook, and indeed one
that has never even had a Greek grandmother.
Chef Maria Elia has worked with the celebrated Ferran Adria and it's
his words that grace the front cover of this book: "...Maria Elia
shows us the magic of cooking." Endorsements don't come much more
worthy than that.
Smashing Plates - Greek flavours redefined
Author: Maria Elia
Published by: Kyle Books
– Street fare, comfort food, meze
I am convinced that Sally Butcher could write a book about
paint drying and it would be a worthwhile read. Her books, and this is
the third, are Sally in paper form. Her energy, culinary knowledge and
laugh-out-loud humour will make this another best-seller.
Sally is known as an accomplished author but she is just as famed as
Mrs. Shopkeeper, and the shop in question is Persepolis. This does give the
lady something of an advantage in the Middle-Eastern cooking stakes as
she has access to some amazing ingredients just outside the door of her
flat. An Iranian husband, and a mum-in-law with a wealth of recipes,
also assure authenticity.
Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze: Informal eating in the
Middle East and beyond, to give the full title, is a big delicious
mouthful. It’s divided by food group but so many of the dishes are
mix-and-matchable and interchangeable to create either full meals or
grazing opportunities. It’s a creditable collection of recipes from
vaguely the middle of the East, and are real dishes that family cooks
have cooked for eons.
This book has Sally’s voice throughout. She is almost as funny and
engaging in print as in real life. One knows these recipes work ’cos a
nice lady like that wouldn’t steer you wrong. One has the sense that
all will be well, and even if one’s culinary inexperience results in an
iffy end product one knows that Sally will be whispering ‘It’s only
food and you will do fine next time.’
If one wants a picture of who these Snackistan citizens are, then they
will be a jolly bunch with rosy cheeks, a love of good company and
kebabs, and Sally would have been derelict in her duty as culinary
guide not to introduce them to us hungry tourists. Baluchi Chapli
Kebabs is a classic and easy-to-prepare dish that will become a
favourite with the whole family, who will love anything flavourful,
fried and in bread. What’s not to like? My pick-of-kebabs is an Afghan
Shami Kabob to which this writer will soon be addicted.
There are so many recipes here that in other tomes would be considered
signature dishes. Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze has a
tongue-in-cheek style but that’s only to keep the reader grounded. We
have here an accomplished cook and a remarkable writer who pens books
that are always a pleasure both to read and from which to cook.
Snackistan – Street fare, comfort food, meze
Author: Sally Butcher
Published by: Pavilion Books
Dukes Hotel Bar for
“The hotel bar
which some say concocts one of the world’s best Martinis” - New York
There are many great hotels in London. There is a host of memorable
boutique hotels in London. There are several with stylish bars in
London. There is only one Dukes Bar in the whole world.
One finds Dukes Hotel tucked away in a courtyard off a quiet side
street in St James’s. It has the best of addresses, nestled between St
James’s Palace and Piccadilly. It’s a beauty in red brick. It’s an icon
of period architecture, and even a first glimpse will encourage the
visitor to expect something special within; they won’t be disappointed.
The doorman will usher you into a surprisingly small bar. One might
expect a venue with such a reputation to be the size of an aircraft
hanger, a well-appointed aircraft hanger, admittedly. No, Dukes Bar is
bijou, intimate and timeless with dark wood and charcoal-grey
upholstery. The bar is well-stocked but it’s the goods on that unique
trolley that will focus the mind of all serious Martini aficionados.
One takes a seat (best to reserve) and peruses the extensive menu of
classic cocktails, but it would be a gross oversight
to order anything, at least on the inaugural visit, other than a
Martini – and the tutored will want to try the Vesper Martini. Shortly
you will be joined by a barman in a white linen jacket and if you are
blessed it will be Alessandro Palazzi who, in his field, is as
celebrated as the hotel itself.
This bar was once the favoured watering hole of famed author Ian
Fleming. He is most remembered for being the creator of dashing James
Bond. There is a rumour that his very name is derived from this corner
of the capital: near Bond Street and in St James’s. Not sure how much
store to set by that tale, but it leads me to wonder if Miss Moneypenny
first drew breath at the stock exchange? Was Dr No inspired by a
dodgy practice in Harley Street?
Dukes Bar is said to be the inspiration behind the classic request,
'shaken, not stirred', although a Martini here will never be shaken.
That would be far too brash and noisy …and it would dilute the alcohol!
The aforementioned trolley will park next to your table and it’s a
chariot laden with decanters, fruit, bottles of frozen spirits and
frosted glasses. The theatre of pouring begins.
Those glasses are standard for this libation in all its delicious
chilled guises. The distinctive design is said to have developed to
allow the drinker to hold a stem rather than the bowl of the glass,
keeping the beverage at the lowest temperature for the longest time.
The cone is thought to give the optimum surface area to encourage the
maximum bouquet from the spirits and to prevent the ingredients from
separating as the drink rests; and this is a cocktail to be savoured
rather than gulped.
Alessandro mixes several hundred martinis each night so he has a
practised eye and a deft hand. A speciality is that signature ‘Vesper’.
No, dear illiterate reader, that isn’t a reference to the nifty Italian
motor scooter but obliquely to the time of day – it’s Latin for evening
– and absolutely in homage to Vesper Lynd, a character featured in Ian
Fleming's James Bond novel Casino Royale. The Vesper Martini gained
popularity after the novel's publication, and gave rise to the famous
‘shaken, not stirred’ catchphrase immortalised in every James Bond film
thereafter. The actual name for the drink, and the recipe, is mentioned
on-screen for the first time in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale.
The Vesper is a heady melange of No. 3 London Dry Gin, Lillet Blanc,
Angostura bitters, and Potocki vodka. This is a Polish vodka, in
keeping with the Iron Curtain-swishing heroes of Fleming’s
alter-universe. The dry vermouth is brewed exclusively for Duke’s by
Sacred Microdistillery on a residential street in Highgate, a north
London neighbourhood. Ian Fleming was evidently a skilled practitioner
of the art of tippling and we are the lucky recipients of both his
dedicated study and the charm of Alessandro Palazzi. (Interview to
Bar opening times:
Monday to Saturday - 2pm to 11pm
Sunday and Bank Holidays - 4pm to 10.30pm
Dukes Hotel & Bar
St. James's Place
London SW1A 1NY
Phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Fax: +44 (0)20 7493 1264
For further information and reservations phone: +44 (0)20 7491 4840
Visit Dukes here
Many Chiefs Only One Indian
It’s every inch a limited edition book. In fact there are
a lot of inches, oozing quality, artistry, style and delicious
food. Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian is a coffee-table book that is
truly the size of a small coffee table, but will likely be more
remarked upon than a four-legged piece of pine. This is the stuff of
which cookbook heirlooms are made.
Satwant Singh ‘Sat’ Bains is chef-proprietor of the two Michelin star
‘Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms’ in Nottingham. He won, as so many
fine chefs have, the prestigious Roux Scholarship in 1999 and was also
one of the winners on the BBC show Great British Menu in 2007.
Chef Sat Bains doesn’t come from a family of restaurateurs or food
writers, although you could say that his early career was associated
with the printed word: he had a paper round. But by the age of 21, he
signed up for a course at Derby College. It wasn’t what Sat would
describe as a serious career move, as he says he only picked the
catering course because it had lots of girls on it.
Chef Sat has worked for the best restaurants all over Europe and the
experience has served him well. He became head chef at the Hotel des
Clos in Nottingham, which was rebranded and relaunched as Restaurant
Sat Bains with Rooms in November 2002. It was awarded a Michelin star
in 2003, and a second star was added to that culinary firmament in 2011.
This first edition of Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian
is limited to 10,000 numbered copies. It arrives packaged in a printed
mailing box which encourages a degree of anticipation before one even
gets a glimpse of the book. The book isn’t actually the next design
statement – there is a striking slipcase that protects the soft, black
and embossed linen cover of this unique and sizable tome. Face
Publications always manage to present something daring and cutting-edge.
The large pages are a showcase for stunning photography by John
Arandhara-Blackwell. It’s food but it’s also Sat's passion: he is a
real person and a great character; he is easy to warm to and identify
with. The recipes might be a little challenging but if you break them
down into their constituent parts then you can cook remarkable food.
It’s about practice and confidence. Sat presents seasonal produce with
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian offers the enticing opportunity of
being able to order dishes featured in the book at Restaurant Sat Bains
even when they’re not on the restaurant’s current menu – that might
save you the trouble of investing in a Thermomix or a pint and a half
of liquid nitrogen. You can actually taste the food that so
marvellously decorates the pages of this book. I’ll be ordering Mutton,
Onion Textures or perhaps Ham, Eggs, Peas ...or both. And then there is
pud: I would go for Buckthorn with a chaser of Peach, Thyme,
Gingerbread. A few visits are in order, and if Michelin were not
disappointed then I know I won’t be.
I have been a cookbook reviewer for the past six years and I am always
happy to suggest books to suit families, home bakers, those who want
budget meals or a touch of the exotic from time to time. They will
remain the cornerstone of my reviews but it’s refreshing periodically
to have the joy of leafing through an exceptional book that won’t ever
be propped up on the kitchen counter. Yes, it’s unashamedly cheffy and
there is the odd gadget that you might not have in your domestic
kitchen, and a few ingredients that aren’t available at the corner shop.
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian is about inspiration and
innovation but it’s not a dry and technical masterwork. Sat has a great
sense of humour and the contemporary format is engaging. It’s gift
quality and noteworthy, and stands a chance of becoming a gastronomic
collectable ...I certainly won’t be giving my copy away. I might be
getting a more substantial coffee table, though.
Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian
Author: Sat Bains
Published by: Face Publications
Dimensions: 360x270x40mm, boxed: 460x290x60mm
This book is only available through Face Publications and at Restaurant
Sat Bains. www.facepublications.com.
For further information please contact Anthony Hodgson on +44 (0)113
203 7378 or email@example.com
London restaurant review: Hummus
Bros – Fun family fare
An invitation to review Hummus Bros! Aren’t they a
tailoring company? Posh morning coats for hire, wedding togs? Perhaps
dinner jackets – it’s a restaurant review site, after all. No, dear
sartorially inclined reader, Hummus Bros are a couple of lads (although
not actually brothers) who have opened three rather unique casual
restaurants with take-away counters.
Well, there are lots of casual eateries strewn across the length and
breadth of London, so what makes Hummus Bros so noteworthy? It’s the
food on offer. No sign of a cool-cabinet stuffed with under-stuffed
iffy sarnies. No aroma of greasy burgery bits in buns, and the food
here is a world away from dubious cheap ethnic lunches.
So what do Hummus Bros sell? Hummus! We have all bought little tubs of
this from our local supermarkets where it’s presented as a delicate
spread, an addition to a summer buffet table rather than any sort of
main event. We just don’t quite know what to do with it but we buy it
because it makes us look cosmopolitan.
This chickpea confection has not, until now, been part of the UK
culinary tradition. Only a few of us have fond memories of the hummus
our grandmothers used to make. But we would have said the same of
Indian food a few years ago.
Hummus Bros presents the eponymous dish as a real meal and although
that’s new to us here, it is very much a part of the Middle Eastern
fashion of eating. It’s a food that ticks all the practical and
epicurean boxes for me. It’s typical comfort food with a creamy texture
and mild flavour. It’s natural and healthy and it’s easy to eat – in
fact so easy that you don’t even need cutlery, although those nice
brothers do provide ecologically sound wooden forks for the overly
Hummus is converted from a snack into a meal by the addition of
flavourful toppings. There are selections of standards that are
advertised on the menu and there are weekly specials to keep the
regulars engaged. For those who want to perk up the paste there are
bottles of garlic and lemon to sprinkle. Mixed vegetable salad,
tabouleh (bulgar wheat with finely chopped red peppers, tomatoes,
cucumbers, coriander, parsley and mint – authentic with lots of herbs),
Greek salad, smoky barbecued aubergine, falafel salad are all offered
as side dishes.
There are two sizes available: a small bowl of topped hummus
constitutes a light lunch, and a regular portion is a dinner for the
seriously peckish. The mushroom topping with caramelised onions is a
sweet vegetarian option for those who want a hearty and flavourful
meal. All bowls of hummus have brown fluffy pitta bread included:
delicious, and acting as your edible scoop.
Committed carnivores will note that Hummus Bros is not a preachy,
worthy, tie-dye, sandal- toting kinda place. The food isn’t about
feeling noble it’s about feeling full, so chunky beef – a seasonal,
slow cooked stew of tender meat – is one of the suggested toppings, and
it’s truly melting. There is also chicken and that, along with
guacamole, is the most popular of garnishes.
I am a collector of cookbooks so a 5,000-year old recipe was bound to
grab my attention. Fava beans with slow-cooked free-range egg is
a popular breakfast dish in Egypt. I had heard about it but here was my
chance to try it. Anything that’s been on the menu for that long has
evidently got something going for it. After one bowl I am hooked. It’s
a must-try signature dish of smooth hummus and rich, soft beans with
slices of tinted eggs, the addition of which turns a sustaining meal
into a feast. I agree it might not sound a stunner, but it will likely
turn you away from those golden arches.
Talking of fast food outlets... nothing wrong with them, the problem
rests with us, the buying public. If we eat those burgers in moderation
then we have nothing to fear. They provide a meal on the trot and we
have all enjoyed them from time to time when those hunger pangs kick in
and a Mcwendyking is all that’s handy. But we want to encourage our
kids to adopt good eating habits, healthy foods that they will be keen
to eat. Hummus Bros could take the place of burger bars and huts of
pizza. Hummus is kid friendly. The texture is appealing to even the
fussiest of toddlers. The standard dish of hummus with a helping of
chickpeas is fun to eat, with no strong seasonings. Tiny fingers will
grab the peas and little hands will dip the pitta. No crusts to chew so
that’s yet another hurdle out of the way. This food isn’t dumbed down
for children but you will find that they will love to eat just the same
dishes as mum and dad; and mum and dad will love that the kids are
eating! Good for most folks with allergies, as well.
Hummus Bros is keen to stress its eco-friendly philosophy but you won’t
become a regular here for that reason. You’ll return for the food.
The Fulham Road isn’t my usual hunting ground, although
it’s well served by public transport and easily accessible, but after
my recent dining experience I may well become a habitué of that
neighbourhood. Penny Black sits at number 212 as a tastefully
understated icon of real British Food, and is unique in several regards.
The name comes from the stamp, or more accurately some prints of that
philatelic classic. It wasn’t a long-lived symbol of Victorian
communication but it was a trail-blazer, and the eponymous restaurant
might well become just that for the culinary scene in this area. Tony
Ho and his two partners have 3 life-times worth of experience in
opening restaurants, so longevity can reasonably be assured.
The facade is in fact quite muted: a vision of charcoal grey and simple
frosted windows. Those windows do hide the interior somewhat, but I
rather favour the anonymity and those windows could become a trade-mark
for future restaurants – well, I can imagine that anything this good is
bound to become a small and classy chain.
There were a couple of tables outside and those were already occupied
by diners enjoying a glass of British fizz chosen from the quite
remarkable wine list, in fact a chunky catalogue offering many
noteworthy wines, almost all by the glass. Tony Ho has a passion for
wine, and that’s proving to be an asset now that he has his own
One enters to find that mysterious interior is in fact contemporary and
welcoming. A small lounge area has become popular for pre-meal drinks,
and for leisurely coffees after what is sure to be a copious and
full-on feed. Hospitality is generous here and one is bound to linger.
Tony explained that they wanted to create a home-from-home for their
guests – the foodie equivalent of the old-fashioned pub for the
drinking fraternity. A place to bring the family for Sunday lunch (soon
to be reviewed here).
The décor is tasteful and unfussy with aubergine and white walls which
sport not only those Penny Blacks but other pop-art prints and a rather
rude Salvador Dali. (Sit your granny under that and she will never
notice, although she will wonder why everyone is smiling at her.) Crisp
white linen reinforces the impression that this is probably going to be
a fine dining restaurant – traditional food but a high-end experience.
I would describe the menu as British, comforting, vibrant and
inspiring. It’s not retro but it is definitely traditional. The
ingredients are fresh and seasonal, and showcase the best from these
shores and inland as well. Favourite and simple dishes, and some
It was a hot evening so a salad was on the cards for this sticky
reviewer. Ham, goat’s cheese and peaches garnished with mixed leaves
was a substantial plateful. The ham was hand carved, moist and
delicious, the cheese tangy and the peaches ripe, sweet and
summery. A flavourful introduction to the high standards of both
presentation and style.
My guest chose Potted Devon shrimps, watercress, and wholemeal toast.
The shrimps had the real taste of the sea. The recipient of this bounty
was born and bred on the coast and he proclaimed this seafood dish to
be as good as his childhood memories of Sunday teatime. A must-try
whenever it’s on the menu.
Toad in the Hole was my main course. This isn’t a dish with which to be
cheffy. Real toads and a batter made with crushed Mongolian
blue wheat flour isn’t the way to go when preparing such a British
standard. The reality at Penny Black was just what you would hope to
find: an individual pud with three well-seasoned and meaty bangers, a
garnish of lightly cooked carrots and broccoli, and gravy on the side.
I would describe this as “right” and that’s just how it should be.
The Beef Wellington here is already a signature dish and it’s easy to
see why. This was a manly meal of tender and pink-tinged meat encased
in flaky pastry. This is the posh face of standard British cuisine. It
is, in my experience, a difficult dish to do well at home and one best
left to the experts. Meat isn’t cheap and you don’t want to ruin
it so come to Penny Black instead. My guest was glowing with replete
satisfaction... but he still had space for dessert.
What could be more comforting than Bread and Butter Pudding? It was a
regular highlight for dinner at grandma’s. It’s an economic
dessert and a comforting stunner. It should be custardy and unctuous
and piping hot; this one ticked all the boxes.
Penny Black will stick longer than the stamp ever did. One can try and
analyse the reasons it will, but it’s probably enough to say that it’s
quite simply everything a good British restaurant should be. It
has already attracted followers who first came out of curiosity, but
who return because the food and the service will be predictably good.
London restaurant review: Penny Black Restaurant
212 Fulham Road, Chelsea, London SW10 9PJ
Phone: 0845 838 8998
Visit Penny Black here
Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill
What can be more iconic than the Tower of London? Its
imposing stones and gilded embellishments still have
that wow factor. The building must have filled the local population
with awe when first erected back in the early 1080s. William the
Conqueror began to build a massive tower at the centre of his London
home, and down the centuries successive kings have added to the complex.
So you have spent a day of leisure by the Thames. You have had a guided
tour with a Yeoman. (Not to be missed: each of these gentlemen has had
years of service in the army and has rafts of stories to tell.) You now
need some food. A proper meal. Something hearty, reasonable price, not
too exotic as Martha gets hiccoughs if she eats spice, and Abner likes
a slice of meat that he can recognise.
Bavarian Beerhouse at Tower Hill (there is another branch at Old
Street) opened in May 2010. It’s just 50 metres from Tower Hill
Underground station and built under the railway bridge just to the
right of the station exit. The previous tenants were Pitcher and Piano
but it seems it was time for a change. It’s rumoured that the Bavarian
Beerhouse tripled their predecessor’s revenue within the first month.
The Old Street venue was very much a party place but Tower Hill has
loftier horizons... at least on the ground floor. This is a cool,
contemporary restaurant space with Bavarian accents. There are some of
the traditional benches and rustic touches but the ambiance, at least
during the day and early evening, is of casual but calm dining.
The basement level boasts several adjoining rooms and has an atmosphere
similar to that of the Old Street branch. This is more for the lads’
night out or for blokey gatherings to watch sports and the like. A
stag-night favourite, one would imagine. Those long benches
again and low ceilings and its own bar. The basement is ideal for
We, an elderly and sedate couple, were seeking some food rather than a
shot-drinking competition. I loved the food at Old Street and it’s just
as good at Tower Hill. It’s a shame that German food is taken as
something of a joke. These are real and unfussy dishes, and I am
a fan. There are sausages aplenty as one would expect, and pork shanks
to satisfy the most robust of rugby players, but I love Jäger Schnitzel
- pork escalope topped with a creamy mushroom sauce and served with a
mound of thin fries. One needs to come hungry to take advantage of
these large portions.
May has a ‘special’: White Asparagus from Germany (Weisser Deutscher
Spargel aus Deutschland). It’s an annual festival of this unique
vegetable, thicker than the usual green asparagus and with a delicate
flavour. There are various dishes showcasing these creamy white and
chunky spears: a soup, or simply served with sauce and boiled potatoes,
or with Black Forest ham. My companion chose breaded pork escalope
topped with white asparagus and Hollandaise sauce, garnished with fried
potatoes. A substantial plateful which was pronounced a winner.
Too full for a dessert we did succumb to shots. No, we
didn’t down them in one gulp and we only tried one each, as a journey
the length of the District Line beckoned. My guest ordered the
Oktoberfest Pudding Schnapps which was berry-based, sweet and dark –
almost Christmassy. I was taken by the Apple Schnapps (Apfelkorn)
because I reasoned it would constitute one of my 5 a day. This was a
stunner and I could happily have consumed several more had time
allowed. Perhaps I have an excuse for a return visit.
Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill is bound to be popular. It’s evidently
already the preferred staging post for local workers and couples
heading West for evenings out. It’s a light, bright and friendly spot
to enjoy good traditional fare. I wish it continued success.
London Restaurant review: Bavarian Beerhouse - Tower Hill
The Arches, 9 Crutched Friars, London EC3N 2AU
Phone 0844 330 20 05
Visit Bavarian Beerhouse here
Bavarian Beerhouse - Old Street
190 City Road, London EC1V 2QH
Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam
Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland
The very title ‘Rose Petal Jam’ evokes shimmering
heat-hazed visions of meadows, trees, clear sky, and perfume wafting on
a warm breeze. One could be anywhere: England on an August afternoon,
perhaps Italy when the world is quiet after lunch. But this book
concerns itself with Poland, and it is enticing.
Rose Petal Jam – Recipes and Stories from a Summer in Poland allows me
to indulge my twin passions of food and travel. It masterfully charts a
path between cookbook and travelogue, and is an illustration of how
something can grow to be more than the sum of its parts.
Beata Zatorska had penned a cookbook, but wouldn’t it have been lacking
something without those touching family stories? She has written a
charming travel book about her beloved Poland, and food has always been
central to the country, its culture and its heritage. Who could
describe Poland and not mention a few of its celebrated dishes? Beata
has achieved a balance that will enthral the home cook and have those
with itchy feet reaching for the AA Big Road Atlas (now extended
These are not just random Polish recipes. This book is an archive of
Beata’s grandmother’s dishes. She was herself a chef and passed on her
passion for food to her granddaughter. So many of the dishes included
have a story – like the stuffed eggs that Beata’s grandmother served
the anxious youngster on the day of her exams. Those exams allowed
Beata eventually to become a doctor.
The Polish kitchen makes the very best of seasonal produce. There is
nothing exotic here, but this book does present a raft of unique (to us
in the UK, at least) ideas for using fruit, vegetables and meat. There
are no extravagant ingredients. You will likely have everything you
need already in your larder or at your local grocers. It won’t be
necessary to buy ethnic kitchen gadgets imported from Warszawa.
Kisiel – Strawberry Fruit Pudding – is a good example of the style of
practical, simple and economic recipes here. Few ingredients, and not a
costly dish if one uses fruit at its summery best rather than making
this for Boxing Day with southern-hemisphere strawberries.
The British climate allows us to take full advantage of wintery dishes
for a full nine months of the year, so I have already pencilled in
Potato Dumplings to garnish a rich and flavourful Polish Beef Goulash.
This is a little different from the Hungarian version, which is
traditionally more of a soup than a stew. A tablespoon of dill is the
surprise ingredient here.
Pierogi are the Polish equivalent of ravioli and my favourites are
those filled with potatoes and cheese. They are described as Russian
Pierogi but they are ubiquitous at the Polish dinner table ...unless my
Polish friends are really Russians. Serve with melted butter and a
garnish of tangy sour cream or even crème fraîche.
We are becoming more familiar with Polish food in the UK. There are
numerous supermarkets offering Polish delicacies in jar and tin, but we
are finding more cafés and delis with shelves and counters laden with
cakes and pastries and ready-made meals. I have not yet come across
Rose Petal Jam but now I can make my own ...along with a few bottles of
pepper vodka ...and perhaps a dish of sweet Angel Wings alongside. Buy
two copies of this book: keep one on the book shelves as a travel guide
for the food lover, and leave the other, soon to be butter-smeared, in
the kitchen as a well-used cookbook and a reminder of the reasons you
will want to visit Poland.
This is a sumptuous and heart-warming book with stunning photography by
Beata’s husband, Simon Target. So this is a family food memoir that we
are invited to borrow. The memories might not be ours but a trip to
Poland will rectify that.
Cookbook review: Rose Petal Jam – Recipes and Stories from a Summer in
Author: Beata Zatorska, Photography by Simon Target
Published by: Tabula Books
review: Fusion Brasserie Worcestershire for dinner
One can search for Italian food in all the famous towns
that boast true Italian or Tuscan culinary heritage: Florence, Siena,
Hawbridge, Pisa, Grosseto. We take advantage of fresh produce,
delicious dressed pasta and desserts fit to ruin any diet. The tourist
soaks up the history of those Italian... but... Hawbridge doesn’t sound
very Italian. Well, it truly is a long way from Italy but it can still
be described as a culinary hub, and in our own very accessible
This transplantation is not due to continental drift. It’s just the home of
Fusion Brasserie and it’s the showcase for celebrated Chef Felice
Tocchini, who has had a surprisingly long career. He got his first job
in the food and beverage industry at the tender age of six – his
parents had a bar in a Tuscan village and it was Felice's job to make
The experience at the espresso machine obviously inspired Felice. At
fourteen, he embarked on a three-year cookery course at
the Ferdinando Martini Catering College in Montecatini Terme. He worked
in hotel kitchens and ski resorts during his holidays. In 1988 he was
invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Theatre restaurants as a Commis
Chef. Later, Felice became head chef at the Seymour House Hotel in
Chipping Campden and eventually became Chef Manager, remaining there
for over 15 years.
In 2004 Felice and his wife Fiorinda opened their own restaurant.
Fusion opened originally in Alcester; eighteen months later they moved
to a more suitable site and that was the Bird in Hand, Hawbridge,
Stoulton, Worcestershire, where they’ve now settled.
Felice now owns two award-winning restaurants in Worcestershire -
Fusion Brasserie and Fusion Too. His wife and son Daniel work with him,
Fiorinda as front of house manager and Daniel as a chef. Felice is
passionate about local ingredients and works with growers and producers
to promote even the least-adored veggies like the humble sprout. The
menu changes with the seasons so every visit will offer something new.
We were looking forward to good food in a casual and contemporary
restaurant. Contemporary, yes, but Fusion isn’t stark and minimalist.
The walls are painted and unfussy, but the muted maroon and cream were
thoughtful colours that helped to create a cosy ambiance in an open
restaurant space. I was very much taken by the unique salt and pepper
mills on each table. These and other food-related products can be yours
with no need to resort to theft. Fusion has its own shop displaying the
chef’s food products and local crafts.
We had earlier enjoyed a good lunch and arrived less than ravenous, so
settled on what we thought would be moderate-sized dishes. But this
truly was a little bit of Italy and we soon realised that we would go
home stuffed and contented.
We started with breads and dips – Pane casereccio – artisan breads,
served with sun-blush tomato and fusion hummus. This was a considerable
display of the chef’s baking skills as well as a presentation of simple
yet flavourful spreads. Some fruity olive oil and balsamic vinegar
wafted us back to a much less comfortable restaurant in southern Italy
many years ago. No, the best Italian restaurants are not necessarily
back in the old country.
It has more to do with integrity of ingredients than geography.
My companion was tempted by the prospect of some beef - Filetto al
Piatto. Thin slices of Aberdeen Angus placed on an extremely hot plate
arrived sizzling and in theatrical fashion, aromatic with garlic and
herbs. The chunky chips were indeed just that – chunky, crisp on the
outside with fluffy interior. My guest was delighted with his
meal and pronounced the meat to be tender and full of flavour. A
deceptively simple dish that once again relies on the quality of the
key ingredient. This is a restaurant that has confidence in its
I felt a pasta was in order. Fusion is, after all, an Italian
restaurant. Just a modest bowl of oil- and garlic-dressed pasta with
some sweet sprouting greens was what I expected and that’s what I got.
Well, not a modest bowl – remember, this is transplanted Italy. The
pasta was cooked, as one would expect, to perfection – al dente. Oil,
but just enough, chilli sufficient to create a glow, and garlic just
for pure rich flavour. A classic dish and enough to defeat a rugby
Fiorinda tempted us with a little taste of dessert. Six little culinary
masterpieces arrived and proved the rule that states that however full
one is there is always a little nook available for something sweet. We
nibbled sponge pudding, savoured sorbet, treated ourselves to just
another bite of tiramisu... The list seemed endless but we enjoyed
those sweets so much that we were glad it was.
We had intended an early night but in true Italian fashion the conversation
with our hosts flowed freely. This chef is generous. Yes, the portions
are substantial but his generosity extends not only to plates but to
people. His passion and pride are evident. His skill is unquestionable
and his enthusiasm contagious. A warm evening of marvellous food and
Some restaurants are good, there are a few that are
noteworthy, there are others that have memorable food and more that
have striking decor but it’s rare to find a restaurant that can boast a
brace of exceptional attributes. La Porte des Indes is that almost
unique establishment, having both gorgeous food and stunning
surroundings. After just one year of business the restaurant was
nominated for ‘Best Indian Restaurant’ by Carlton London Restaurant
Awards and was awarded ‘Best Indian’ and ‘Best UK’ Restaurant by the
Good Curry Guide.
But why “La Porte des Indes”? Yes, you are quite right, dear reader, it
is French. You might know of The Gateway to India which is a monumental
arch in Mumbai, and La Porte des Indes is French for very much the same
thing. The restaurant presents dishes from many regions of India and
draws on the culinary heritage of French India in particular.
The Union Territory of Pondicherry includes four enclaves located in
three states of South India. It is also known as The French Riviera of
the East (La Côte d'Azur de l'Est) and was considered as part of France
from 1814 till 1954, the date at which it joined the rest of the by now
independent India. The French connection is still evident in accent,
food and architecture.
I was expecting something a bit special. I had done my homework and was
struck by the fact that nobody
that I had talked to had anything other than high praise for this
establishment. La Porte des Indes remains as an example, in my opinion,
of how to get it right. It’s not the cheapest food around but it’s
delicious, well presented and the ambiance is truly remarkable.
Just a few minutes from Marble Arch station, La Porte des Indes
occupies a corner plot at a quiet intersection. It’s something of a
Tardis of a building having around 350 covers. Although looking smart
and like a French Cafe from the outside, the inside opens to the most
amazing scene. It’s a two storey former Edwardian ballroom. The ground
floor balcony restaurant opens onto a lower level with a 40-foot
waterfall and a sweeping marble staircase for good measure. Palms add
to the exotic décor which is strikingly Indian-colonial but it is
tasteful rather than kitsch. One’s eye is caught by a painting here, a
wood carving there, a Mogul mural or two, and a glass-domed roof.
Panelled walls and ornamental coving remind us of days when the British
building industry offered an alternative to mediocrity and stippled,
The Jungle Bar on the lower floor is well worth a visit. It has a
tradition of peanut shell-throwing started by some of its celeb
patrons. It has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere with a hunting theme
incorporating tiger-skin rugs and animal paintings recalling the days
when one would travel the Empire to shoot anything with fur or
feathers. There is a good selection of exotic cocktails here to start
your evening. Rain Forest is a non-alcoholic cocktail of freshly
squeezed apple juice, orange juice and root ginger. Refreshing with a
definite touch of the Orient.
La Porte des Indes has a menu that is out of the ordinary. Yes, there
is Chicken Tikka Masala and Vegetable Biryani but take advantage of
your visit and try some less familiar fare. There are dishes here that
you won’t find anywhere else. Head Chef Mehernosh Mody and a battery of
other chefs execute regional specialities with flair. The presentation
of the food is nothing short of magnificent.
Large King Scallops in a Saffron Sauce are delicate and succulent. My
guest and I mopped the fragrant yellow juices with onion and garlic
naan. Roasted Chilli Seekh Kebab offered flavourful heat which was
tempered by Chard Pakoras and Paneer Kebabs. All were served with
chutneys designed to enhance the aromatic qualities of each starter.
The Roast Black Cod at La Porte des Indes is as good as you’ll find
anywhere. It’s marinated in fennel, chilli, mustard, honey, tamarind
and vinegar (an indication of a touch of Portuguese influence perhaps).
It’s wrapped in banana leaf before being flame-grilled giving an end
result which is meltingly moist.
Duck isn’t often seen on Indian restaurant menus but here it is at La
Porte des Indes, giving a nod to its French connection. Magret de
Canard Pulivaar are well-flavoured perfect-pink duck breast fillets
served with a tamarind sauce. It’s said to be unique to the Creole
community of Pondicherry so this will likely be your only chance to try
this dish outside India.
Lotus Root Jaipuri is crunchy and addictive and should be sold by the
bagful in Harrods’ food hall. Rougail d’Aubergine is another house
speciality. Smoked and crushed aubergine, chilli, ginger and fresh lime
combine to make a side dish that doesn’t have searing heat but is
nevertheless robust enough to work with the tamarind sauce coating the
Perhaps my favourite dish of the evening was Poulet Rouge. It’s one of
La Porte des Indes’ signature dishes and is moreish in the extreme.
Chicken is marinated in spices, grilled, shredded and presented in a
creamy and rich sauce. It isn’t a hot and fiery dish so it’s just right
as an introduction to the milder but nonetheless authentic face of
Desserts at Indian restaurants so often disappoint. La Porte des Indes,
however, offers a Pistachio and Rose Kulfi which is to die for. It’s
perfumed and exotic and perfectly matches this palace of a restaurant.
They have a good selection of sorbets as well; Rose and Lychee, Indian
Tamarind, Pomegranate and Imperial Passion Fruit, but they also do a
surprisingly good chocolate mousse served in a folded-leaf cup. The
mousse might hail from France but the presentation is pure subcontinent.
La Porte des Indes is like no other Asian restaurant you might visit. I
am very much taken with its food and exotic atmosphere. I can think of
nowhere better to spend a cold London night than basking in the colour
and warm vibrancy of the long-gone raj. I’ll be back for another
evening... or perhaps Sunday Brunch... or maybe a lunch.
London restaurant review: La Porte des Indes
32 Bryanston Street, London W1H 7EG
TEL: +44 20 7224 0055
European Festival Food
This is a book that you’ll find on the shelf in the
cooking section of any good bookshop. You’ll flick though the pages. Your shopping bag will then be placed neatly
on the floor between your feet. Next a glance around for one of those
squidgy sofas to rest for just a short while as you browse. You might
be lucky enough to have found a bookshop with a coffee shop. A wander
through even just a few pages and you’ll likely be addicted. I assure
you, dear reader, that if you are in any way a consummate foodie or a
serious cookbook collector then you will want to own this book.
Be warned, this is not a glossy coffee-table tome full of appealing
shots of delicious food. No moody or romantic stills of mist-enveloped
valleys nor toothless natives in national costume doing something
ethnic with a sheep’s bladder. This is cover-to-cover writing of the
Yes, European Festival Food is a cookbook, but Elisabeth Luard has
worked her usual magic. Winner of the Glenfiddich Award for Best
Cookery Writer and Winner of the Glenfiddich Trophy, she has long been
respected for attention to detail but also for her style. This is
literature, with food as its vehicle. It’s not a dry and worthy
textbook but a thoroughly accessible good read. A book for bedtime as
well as the kitchen.
Elisabeth is well placed to write of the food of Europe. She has lived
in a lot of it, and has learnt to cook traditional dishes in the
kitchens where those dishes have always always been cooked, from the
(mostly) women who have always cooked them. This book is a veritable
archive of culinary history but it’s also a social history describing
festivals that are less often celebrated.
The pages are awash with charming stories and legends that help to put
the foods into context. Christmas Eve offers Mince Pies if you are in
England. Records of these go back to the 16th century so it’s likely
they existed before that date. The mincemeat really did contain meat in
those days, but now only suet remains to remind us of the original
European Festival Food does not only catalogue religious feast days but
also other annual celebrations. The Glorious Twelfth is noted
throughout Britain as not only my father’s birthday but the first day
of the grouse season. No surprise that there is a recipe here for the
aforementioned bird, roasted, and with its accompanying bread sauce and
fried breadcrumbs. There is a cod festival in Lofoten, an island off
the coast of Norway, and pig-killing festivals seem to be popular in
every country that ever owned a pig. Whenever man has celebrated or
commemorated an event then food has played a major part.
This is another terrific book from Grub Street, one of my favourite
publishers. It’s a gem of a volume that offers seasonal recipes which
have stood the test of time. They are a marvellous collection,
presenting dishes from the cold wind-swept north of Europe with its
Viking heritage to the soft warmth of the south with its more exotic
influences. A masterwork.
Cookbook review: European Festival Food
Author: Elisabeth Luard
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review: No-Oil Cooking
There are many of us now who are overweight and an
increasing number who are clinically obese. In some European countries that figure has
increased (no pun intended) to 25% of the population. That is a
We have more overweight people and the weight by which they are “over”
has also increased. The reasons for the rise in weight-related disease
are simple: modern lifestyle and eating habits. We drive more and walk
less. Our jobs often require little movement apart from fingers
sprinting across computer keys. We don’t think we have time to cook
healthy foods and we choose more and more fatty, pre-prepared foods or
Sanjeev Kapoor presents us with recipes that are both oil-free (that is
to say no added oil) and are still delicious and satisfying. He is
India’s most celebrated chef and food industry guru. Sanjeev is
increasingly recognised by a discerning overseas audience as an
authority on Indian food and his books and TV series Khana Khazana have
long been popular. No-Oil Cooking has his touch of exotica and common
sense which will be appealing to every nationality of reader.
Cooking with no added oil isn’t difficult... but it’s important to have
recipes that have that taste and mouth-feel that at the end of the meal
give us the sensation of having had “proper” food. It’s no good eating
an oil-free meal and then tucking into a huge box of chocolates because
you feel empty.
The chapters cover everything from drinks to main courses to sweets and
everything in between. The recipes listed don’t read like worthy, noble
and boring healthfood dishes. This is tasty food that just happens to
be good for you. The whole family will enjoy these offerings so you
won’t be confronted with the perennial problem of cooking one meal for
the health-conscious folk and a different one for those who just live
to eat. One meal fits all!
Garlic-Flavoured Rasam is my choice from the Beverages, Soups and
Salads chapter. This is comfort food that is, thankfully, good for you.
It is easy to prepare and that preparation only takes 10 minutes. The
cooking time is just 30 minutes, without constant attention.
Corn Bhel couldn’t be simpler and is the ultimate healthy snack.
Sanjeev uses Green Coriander Chutney and Date and Tamarind Chutney for
this delight and he gives both recipes so you’ll have no excuse not to
Vegetable Seekh Kebabs would be a great addition to any barbeque. They
would be welcomed by vegetarians who are so often overlooked on these
occasions but it’s also no-guilt munching for those who are looking for
a healthy option. These are so tempting that you’ll need to make enough
for the meat eaters as well.
No-Oil Cooking offers fast, no-fuss food that is full of flavour,
colour and texture. Your body will thank you and so will your family.
Cookbook review: No-Oil Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs 295
Cookbook review: La
Porte des Indes Cookbook
Some of you, my dear readers, might be able to translate
that title with ease (education is a marvellous thing).
The Gateway to the Indies is my stab at it but why is it a French title
for a book of Indian food? The subtitle is The legacy of France in
Indian regional cuisine and, yes, there is indeed a region of India
that was a little piece of France ...till 1954.
I had already some idea about Pondicherry as my father had spent time
there in the 1940s (his friend, Taffy, being “deported” to India for
having a liaison with the daughter of a civil servant) but I had no
idea that the French food connection had lasted so long. It’s subtle
There are in fact deux Portes des Indes restaurants, one in London and
the other in Brussels, where it originated. Not probably the city with
the closest of Indian connections but evidently one which was open to
new culinary trends. La Porte des Indes is part of the Blue Elephant
empire and has the same sumptuous decor, that has become the trademark
of both restaurants.
The vibrant driving forces behind both the restaurant and the cookbook
are Mehernosh and Sherin Mody. The book has also benefited from the
skills of food and travel writer John Hellon and we have the gorgeous
results of their collaboration. It’s contemporary, bright and full of
amazing close-up shots by celebrated photographer Tony le Duc.
But the food is the star. There are familiar dishes but even these have
been given the La Porte twist. I hadn’t expected to see Chicken Tikka
Masala, which has become a cliché of Anglicised Indianish food. This
dish, however, is something a bit smart and has a sauce of turmeric
yellow. A cut above the original.
A signature dish of La Porte des Indes is Poulet Rouge (Chicken in a
Creamy Red Sauce) but it is easy for a home cook to make this dish.
It’s rich and stunning and just what you’ll cook if you want to impress
on a budget. Chicken thighs are economic and the other ingredients are
readily available in your local supermarket.
Duck is one of those archetypical French ingredients so here we have
Magret de Canard Pulivaar (Roasted Duck Breasts in a Spicy Tamarind
Sauce). The meat might make you think of romantic bistro meals in Paris
but the marinade and sauce are all Indian. Madame Lourdes Swamy of
Pondicherry is the originator of this recipe.
This is a restaurant cookbook so it has a chapter devoted to cocktails,
and just the names will transport you to the subcontinent. Monsoon
(Midori, melon vodka and champagne), Tamarind Martini (gin, limoncello
and tamarind puree) are just a couple and there are also some lovely
Indian restaurant desserts are often a disappointing bunch but La Porte
des Indes Cookbook has some unique and classy ones. Payasam (green
lentils and tender coconut pudding) is a stunner but it would demand a
visit to an Asian supermarket. Chocolate and Chikki Kulfi is Belgian
Chocolate and Praline Ice Cream and a true liaison of two of the
world’s classic culinary cultures.
La Porte des Indes Cookbook is something a bit special. It’s modern and
full of innovation but it cherishes its French/Indian roots which have
combined to create a cuisine with touches of both. A joy to read and to
Cookbook review: La Porte des Indes Cookbook
Authors: Mehernosh Mody, Sherin Mody and John Hellon
Published by: Pavilion
Cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi
Sanjeev Kapoor is the Indian chef with the golden touch.
His acclaimed TV series, Khana Khazana, has enjoyed a
15-year run, has won the Indian Television Academy “Best Cookery Show”
and the “Indian Telly” awards year after year, such is the popularity
of this man.
Dal and Kadhi presents regional comfort food at its best and the book
is as delightful as the food. Each recipe is accompanied by a
photograph by Bharat Bhirangi who has a talent for showing these dishes
in a mouth-watering fashion. You’ll be planning your next meal before
you leave the bookshop.
What could be better than a flavourful dal or kadhi to eat with rice or
roti? Your meal might be humble or you could add a dal to an array of
other dishes to make a sumptuous and satisfying spread. They range in
texture from the rich and substantial to the light and refreshing to
suit the season or the occasion. These are the dishes that people miss
when they leave home and crave when they are in far-off countries.
This book offers 45 recipes that you will want to add to your culinary
repertoire no matter what your home region. They are a broad-based
selection of recipes so there is sure to be something to please every
palate. Dal Makhni is perhaps the most celebrated both in India and
overseas where it has become a restaurant speciality, although seldom
cooked in an authentic style. Maharashtrian Kadhi is a traditional dish
and represents India’s culinary diversity in a most delicious way.
All these dals and kadhis are tempting but as with life in general
there are firsts among equals and I have picked a few that are
particularly tempting. Rajasthani Baati ki Dal is made with split green
gram (dhuli moong dal) and Bengal gram (chana dal) and the resulting
dal is served with traditional baked balls of dough.
Bhindi ni Kadhi is bound to be on my list as I love ladies’ fingers
(bhinda/ bhindi). This is a soupy combination of yogurt and gram flour
(besan) flavoured with spices. The vegetables remain a little crisp
giving the kadhi an interesting texture.
Dal Hari Bhari contains spinach and fenugreek leaves, onions and
spices, and Sanjeev uses it to tempt those who would not normally enjoy
green vegetables. This would be an easy meal when served just with rice.
Dal and Kadhi is an Aladdin’s cave of ideas for quick, tasty and
healthy dishes. One expects lovely books from Sanjeev Kapoor and this
is another in that collection that never disappoints. You don’t have to
spend a lot of money to enjoy good food. This book will show you the
way in fine flavourful fashion.
Cookbook review: Dal and Kadhi
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Cookbook review: The
Blue Elephant Cookbook
This must surely be the most celebrated of Thai restaurant
empires. It would be diminishing the class and the
quality of the group to describe them as a chain. This is far from the
KF Mac Hut of the Thai food world – think sumptuous and exotic and
The Blue Elephant has a fine reputation wherever you might find it. and
the cookbook now allows its followers to replicate its dishes in their
home kitchens. Those who have never had the pleasure of visiting a Blue
Elephant will soon appreciate the attraction.
Thai food in general has gained worldwide popularity over the past
decade. More of us have the opportunity to travel to Thailand and also
to visit Thai restaurants in our home countries, and we want to try
those dishes for ourselves. The Blue Elephant Cookbook will offer you a
marvelous array of recipes that represent the very essence of Thai food
with all its vibrant flavours.
Blue Elephant recipes are authentic, attractive and tempting. They are
not over-taxing for the competent home cook, and the ingredients are
all availiable either from your favourite supermarket’s Asian food
aisle, from a specialist Thai food store or by mail order via the
internet. You’ll not only learn how to make soups, starters, salads,
main dishes and desserts but also curry pastes and sauces.
Thai Fish Cakes will be instantly recognised by travellers returning
from sun-kissed Thai resorts. They are delicately soft with a crunch
supplied by a garnish of peanuts and refreshing lettuce. Serve this
with Cucumber Sauce (recipe in this book) and you have a delicious
snack or light lunch, or combine with other dishes as part of a Thai
Stir-Fried Seafood with Garlic and Peppercorns (Seafood Krathiam Prik
Thai) is elegant and flavourful and would be an ideal “special” meal.
OK, the prawns, scallops and crab are not cheap but this recipe makes
the best of that seafood, and the finished result is stunning. The base
is Blue Elephant Special Sauce which you can easily make and freeze for
Tuk’s Duck Salad (Laab Ped) is a dish devised by the aforementioned Tuk
who is a chef at the Blue Elephant in London. The duck is grilled and
flavoured with a spice paste and garnished with fried shallots,
chillies, fresh coriander and salad. A simple dish to prepare but it
has great impact.
The Blue Elephant Cookbook is a jewel of a volume and definitely among
my favourite Thai cookbooks. It will be snapped up by lovers of classic
Thai food as well as those who are regular diners at The Blue Elephant
restaurants. A lovely book.
Cookbook review: The Blue Elephant Cookbook
Author: Chefs of Blue Elephant.
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
Cookbook review: Royal
This is a collaboration between two of India’s finest sons
of the culinary arts. If you have not heard of Sanjeev
Kapoor (Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs,
presenting Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV) then you must have been
living under a rock with no access either to cookbooks or the internet,
for surely you would have read my previous review of his work! Chef
Harpal Singh Sokhi is an expert on Hyderabadi cuisine, and Sanjeev's
respected friend and colleague.
But what is Hyderabadi cooking? It will be a mystery to most
Westerners, who are very unlikely to have encountered it, and it is
revered by Indians, who might also have trouble tracking down authentic
dishes. It’s truly courtly, special and grand but at least this volume
makes those dishes more accessible to the home cook... and what home
cooking that would be!
Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is an elegantly presented volume with stylish
photography by Bharat Bhirangi illustrating every recipe. The book has
a modern feel with the food being the rich focus in a minimalist
setting. Although the ingredients look a lengthy list for some dishes,
it’s mostly spices that are commonly found in the domestic larder.
Apart from being a striking cookbook, Royal Hyderabadi Cooking is also
something of an archive for a style of food preparation that is
disappearing. The authors have been lucky enough to recruit the
indispensible aid of two national culinary treasures who have lifetimes
of expertise. Begum Mumtaz Khan is considered a living legend and is a
member of the Jagirdhar families of the last Nizam, and has actually
tasted the food from the Royal kitchens. She has conducted cooking
classes and hosted Hyderabadi food festivals.
Ustad Habib Pasha has a passion for Hyderabadi food and a wealth of
experience. He has worked in Hyderabad’s most famous restaurants and
has been generous to our authors with his knowledge, revealing the
secrets of aromatic blends of herbs that help to give this cuisine its
There are so many striking recipes to discover here but I have a few
favourites. Murtabuk is a layered stack of chapattis with a filling of
minced chicken, eggs and spices and is served in wedges as you would a
savoury birthday cake. It was Begum Mumtaz Khan who taught the authors
how to cook this to perfection.
Thikri Ki Dal is a delicious and comforting dal which contains amongst
the spices, onions and ghee... 2 three-inch pieces of earthenware! The
thikri are heated till red hot and then plunged into the food. They are
removed before serving to avoid damage to either guest or crockery.
This method is said to impart a distinctive and earthy flavour. Truly
Double Ka Meetha is a sweet and syrupy dessert that would be a fitting
end to a Royal Hyderabadi meal. It’s a confection of bread, nuts, cream
and saffron and simple to make. I wouldn’t reserve this for just
Hyderabadi meals, this would be welcomed anytime by those with a sweet
The title suggests something sumptuous and rich and that is just what
this food is all about. Royal Hyderabadi Cooking presents recipes that
are regal and festive but accessible to the home cook. Amazing!
Cookbook review: Royal Hyderabadi Cooking
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor and Harpal Singh Sokhi
Published by: Popular Prakashan
review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook
You should expect something special when you are presented
with a Sanjeev Kapoor cookbook. Low Calorie
Vegetarian really is something a bit different and this could start an
exotic diet trend.
Sanjeev is probably the most celebrated of Indian chefs, presenting
Khana Khazana on India’s Zee TV. It’s been airing since 1993 and its
600th episode is now just a memory. He has won several awards such as
the Best Executive Chef of India Award and the Mercury Gold Award at
Geneva, which has earned this man international as well as home-grown
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is just one of many cookbooks from this
charming, handsome and charismatic man. Each book is welcomed by an
adoring audience who have been impressed by the author’s skill on the
small screen. It’s said that Sanjeev never repeats a recipe and will
not need to for several decades; such is his volume of work.
Low calorie carnivorous and low calorie vegetarian recipes have often
seemed to fall into one of two categories: boring or boring with
vegetables. But Sanjeev’s book will strike the right chord with many
readers who want a low calorie diet that offers food with taste and
texture. If you don’t enjoy the food that does you good then you will
fall back into the same old unhealthy eating habits which got you into
your chubby mess to start with.
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is about flavour, and Sanjeev has a
collection of recipes that will tempt even those with no health or
weight issues. This is good food with intriguing combinations of spices
and fresh ingredients. There are Nutrition Information charts with each
recipe to enable the home cook to make the best choices to achieve a
The recipes are broad-based and you don’t have to be a lover of
traditional Indian food to appreciate the dishes. Sanjeev has French
onion soup but his version raises the bar with French Onion and Garlic
Soup. Spicy Pineapple Boat is light and refreshing but with a little
kick from green chillies. For those who want a cool and summery salad
then Minted Mushrooms should fit the bill. This is a dish of mushrooms,
tomato, cucumber, mint leaves and a dressing of low fat yogurt, and the
addition of lemon juice provides a tang.
However delicious the European-inspired dishes might be, most of us
will be looking for that unmistakable taste of the subcontinent and
it’s here in glorious profusion. Spinach and Cabbage Parantha is a
flatbread with aromatic cardamom and spicy red chilli powder to
complement the vegetables incorporated into the dough.
Desserts are not forgotten. Kesari Phirni is a lovely dessert of
Pistachio nuts perfumed with saffron and cardamom. The sweetness comes
from a sugar substitute such as Equal or Splenda so you can indulge
with no guilt.
Do I have a favourite recipe? Well, you know I do and its Mushroom Dum
Biryani. This is a rice dish made with the traditional method but have
no fear, it’s not difficult and the results will impress both Western
and Asian friends. I’ll make this dish often, not because I have a low
calorie diet (although perhaps I should) but because it’s delicious and
A Western cook will have no problem finding the spices in local
supermarkets or from one of the many online Asian stores. The cooking
techniques are not taxing and you don’t have to take a trip to Mumbai
to kit out your new Asian kitchen. This is a fascinating book with
recipes that will encourage you to make, eat and enjoy flavourful and
Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook is the first of Sanjeev Kapoor's books
that I have had the pleasure to review, and there are more to follow.
This volume is bound to be a success with readers from every continent.
Cookbook review: Low Calorie Vegetarian Cookbook
Author: Sanjeev Kapoor
Published by: Popular Prakashan
Price: Rs.250.00, £11.69, $25.00US