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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

Benares for dinner

Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass

Thai-inspired Slow Chicken Curry

Kurobuta Marble Arch for Sunday Brunch

Forty Dean Street

Donald Russell for a taste of the Med

Craft Spirits

The Mayfair Chippy

Bó Drake

Flavors from the French Mediterranean

Warm Friends and Al Fresco Pizza

The Balcon, London

Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte

Arabica Bar and Kitchen – Borough Market

Lotus – Charing Cross Road

Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses

Patara – Berners Street

Art Place Japan

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar

OXBO – Hilton Bankside

Ichiryu Hakata Udon House

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake

Afternoon Tea at Home

Classic Recipes of the Philippines

Dirty Bones Kensington for Brunch

Brunch at Balans Soho Society - Kensington

The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea

The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography

Darbaar by Abdul Yaseen

The Chalet Cookbook

Langkawi – more than beaches

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs

The Danna Langkawi Malaysia

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

Blauw - Rijsttafel in The Hague

Bel & The Dragon Godalming

The Strand Dining Rooms

The Strand Apple Apartments

Bird of Smithfield

Mango Tree for Regional Thai Cuisine

The Princess, the Palace and the Painter

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles

Grapes & Wines

The Rib Room - Knightsbridge

Warren House – Kingston

Côte – Dinner in Kingston

Le Garrick – Covent Garden

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

Swan Upping

Mele e Pere

Rennes – living with history


Gymkhana London

Memphis in London

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary

Gaylord in Mortimer Street

Bayeux – A stitch in time

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons

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Crazy Date and Cranberry Truffles

Crazy Date These are sweet bites with a pleasing hit of sour from the cranberries. They are simple to make, and there’s no need for cooking so the kids can get involved too.

100g Crazy Jack Soft Dates
40g cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
40g smooth peanut butter
30g Crazy Jack Desiccated Coconut, plus more for coating
20 - 30g Crazy Jack dried cranberries
20g Crazy Jack Ground Almonds
50 - 100ml water
Dry or fresh cranberries for garnish


Put the peanut butter, dates and 50ml of water (or enough to create a thick paste) in a processor and pulse till smooth.

Add the remaining ingredients and pulse again till well combined, adding more water if necessary.

Remove from the processor and form into small balls.

Roll the truffles in desiccated coconut and garnish with cranberries.

Chill before serving.

Visit Crazy Jack Organic here.



TRTL plans to increase foothold in US market with launch of Red Bull-style ad campaign

TRTL A Scottish firm has launched a Red-Bull-style ad campaign today in a bid to capture a bigger slice of the 100 million sales-a-year worldwide market for travel pillows.

The video – which features Red Bull-sponsored US cliff diver Andy Jones – was commissioned by Glasgow-headquartered TRTL (pronounced “turtle”).

The company – whose product now sells in 63 countries – manufactures the third-best-selling travel pillow on But Managing Director Michael Corrigan wants the top spot. “Today we’re launching an adventure-fuelled ad campaign to make us the number one choice for international travellers who want to arrive rested and ready for anything at their journey’s end.”

TRTL The five-figure “Up for the Moment” campaign follows the lives of three Trtl Pillow users – an adventure sports professional, a jewellery entrepreneur, and a fashion designer – as they criss-cross Europe on business. Filming took place in Berlin, London, and on the Amalfi coast in Italy. Drones and GoPro’s were used for action shots such as Andy Jones’ 27-metre cliff dive in Praiano, near Naples. Corrigan added: “Whether it’s Andy nailing his cliff dive or Moira negotiating the right price for some precious gemstones, everyone has to be alert when their moment arrives. That’s why we set up our company: to help people have adventures and live life to the full, whatever they’re into. Life’s about experiences, and if you sleep well you experience more.”

Cliff diver Andy Jones said: "My head used to bob around and wake me up constantly during flights. I think anyone can see why getting a decent sleep on a 14-hour flight the day before you jump from a 90-100 foot cliff is important. The Trtl Pillow helps me sleep more comfortably while I’m travelling so I am better rested when it’s time to go to work!"

TRTL Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, weight gain, lack of concentration and creativity. Studies show that most people need around 7.5 to eight hours’ sleep per day to feel fully rested. A university study has shown that the Trtl Pillow is more effective than a conventional u-shaped memory foam travel pillow. It packs down small, is easy to carry, and looks like a modern fleece scarf. Corrigan said: “Our design is different. There’s nothing like it on the market. No-one yet discovered an antidote for jetlag but we’re the next best thing.”

There were 3.5 billion flights in 2014 and this is set to double in the next 20 years. In the UK, 240 million flights were taken; around 60 million of them long haul. Worldwide, the number of people taking flights rose by 6.5 per cent in 2015 compared to the previous year.

Trtl’s co-founders – Michael Corrigan and David Kellock (both 28) – invented their Trtl Pillow in October 2013 after they met while studying engineering at Glasgow’s Strathclyde University. The pair sold around 3500 in 2014. This figure rose almost 1200 per cent in 2015 to 41,500. And the firm is predicting sales of more than 200,000 in 2016.

The Trtl Pillow costs £19.95. Find out more here


Mackerel with Spicy Yuzu Citrus and Pepper Paste

Grilled Mackerel with Spicy Yuzu Citrus and Pepper Paste

This is so simple that it’s hardly a recipe at all. But the end result of very little work will make this a favourite with outside-grillers in the summer and also with indoor-cooks for the other 11 and a half months.

Spicy Yuzu Citrus and Pepper Paste is a traditional Japanese condiment and ‘Yuzu Koshou’ is now available in the UK. This paste is made from the Japanese yuzu citrus and is from the southern Japanese island of Kyushu, but it doesn’t just lend itself to Japanese food - it works well with Western dishes that would be enhanced by robust citrus and a spike of heat.

It’s easy to use and a jar is enough for 4 large mackerel. Clean and gut the fish and pat them dry. Take half the contents of the jar and divide equally between the fish, spreading thoroughly on the inside. Grill for about 10-15 minutes or until done to your liking.

Place on a serving plate with the remaining Paste smeared over the fish, or alternatively mixed with some mayonnaise and presented in a separate bowl.

Visit Japan Centre here

Zingo to go!

Zingo The weather is warming up and making up its mind if it’s late spring or early summer. We will soon be stuck on underground trains, buses and hot stuffy cars and longing for a refreshing drink. Those beverages are not a faddy luxury, it’s important to remain hydrated.

Bottled water is everywhere. We buy a product which is only slightly different from the water we get from the tap at home, but at what an inflated price! Now we can save some money with no loss of quality. Make your own flavoured water at home and at a fraction of the price.

Zingo is an ingenious bottle that allows the thirsty traveller to infuse tap or filtered water with fresh citrus such as lemons, limes, oranges or clementines. It’s compact and lightweight and with an integral juicer which is key to the design. It’s made of a translucent BPA-free plastic and comes in a variety of colours. It’s leak-proof and dishwasher-safe so very practical and convenient to use.

One can customise each bottleful, add ice to the bottom compartment, and take advantage of tangy citrus fruit. Your Zingo will stay fresh for a couple of days if refrigerated, but your drink will be delicious all day without a fridge, so ideal for those on the go.

Zingo would be a great gift for sportsmen, event attenders, day trippers and commuters. No need to add to the world’s pile of used plastic bottles: this one is reusable over and over again.

Learn more about Zingo here

Chloe bag by Mia Tui from QVC

Chloe bag from Mia Tui Well, here it is. A modern classic. The active woman’s accessible must-have: the Chloe bag from Mia Tui and it’s a clean-cut gem.

Mia Tui was founded by Charlotte Jamme in 2010. She had spent three years living in Vietnam and that’s where the Mia Tui range of bags was created. Mia Tui actually means ‘my bags’ in Vietnamese so a very appropriate name for a fashion sack which is liable to become a prized possession.

I have spent years searching for that practical bag. It needed to have a cavernous space – yes, they exist but are heavy even when empty. It needed to have compartments – OK they are around but not with several large pockets. It needed to look good – lots of beautiful bags around but the stylish ones are either too small, too heavy or not at all practical. Chloe bag from Mia Tui is as well-designed and crafted as bags twice its price.

Mia Tui works perfectly for me. I am a food, drink and travel writer and I don’t need to be juggling multiple bags while negotiating my way through a crowded airport. And then there is the nightmare which is the budget airline departure gate. I need to take my handbag out of my overhead luggage, my document case out of my handbag and then have the ‘friendly’ staff member bark “Go and stand behind me and put all that in your cabin bag or you ain’t flying.” Yes, dear reader, those words were actually spoken to me on a recent trip. Now I scoff at the possibility. I have my boarding card and passport in my hand and everything else safely tucked away in my single budget-airline-friendly Chloe bag from Mia Tui. In fact the bag comes with a small clutch bag that’s just right for travel documents, as as well as a clear plastic pouch for those little 100ml bottles of liquids and gels that need to be separated from the rest of your goods. It’s a sturdy little item with a real zip so you can use it as a bathroom/makeup bag when you are away. This has obviously all been designed by a traveller.

Chloe bag from Mia Tui My perfect bag needs to contain my essentials: phone, pens, glasses, diary, Kindle, iPad, purse, notebook, keys on an elastic cord, travel documents and Oyster card. So that’s what’s held in just those compartments around the edges of the bag. Oh, and yes, I forgot to mention the insulated water bottle holder. Everything is stowed away and easily found.

But then there is the still-empty body of the bag! That holds a bottle of wine for tasting notes, hard-back book for review and my rolled up light rain mac as it’s Spring and you never know. All that is now quite a weight but the straps are robust and there is never a hint of strain showing on the stitches.

I guess it’s the quality workmanship that allows such inappropriate use of such a fine bag. The company has initiated ‘work from home’ and ‘basic skill development’ programmes for all Mia Tui craftsmen. The bag comes in many colours so it’s easy to be coordinated as the seasons change. Bag dimensions: 35cm x 53cm x 15cm (13.7" x 20.8" x 5.9")

Learn more and buy from QVC here

Thai-inspired Slow Chicken Curry

Thai-inspired Slow Chicken Curry Thai curry has a very particular flavour. It’s distinctive and aromatic and that taste comes from the Kaffir Lime leaf. That doesn’t seem to be as widely available as some spices but Absolute Spice offer this indispensable ingredient along with a good selection of other spices for many ethnic cuisines.

I have developed this recipe using their Kaffir Lime leaves and Star Anise along with ingredients easily found in supermarkets. Having a supply of good-quality spice is essential and Absolute Spice is a reputable and passionate company. Learn more here.


2-3 tbsp vegetable or other neutral oil
1kg de-boned chicken thighs
1 bunch of coriander
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and chopped as fine as you can manage
6 garlic cloves, chopped
4 green or red chillies, roughly chopped or to taste
2cm-piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
60ml rice wine vinegar
60ml fish sauce
2 tbsp light brown sugar
400g can coconut milk, or milk made from coconut milk powder
2 star anise (available from Absolute Spice)
8 kaffir lime leaves (available from Absolute Spice)
3 medium potatoes, par-boiled and preferably hot
1 tbsp cornflour (optional)
2 limes cut into quarters

Cooked Thai jasmine rice for serving


Turn the slow cooker to High.

In a food processor, chop half the coriander, the lemongrass, garlic, chillies and ginger with the oil, fish sauce and vinegar.

Heat the paste for a few minutes in the slow cooker. Add the chicken and all the rest of the ingredients, apart from the remaining coriander, the cornflour and the lime.

Cook for 2 to 3 hours or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the sauce. If the sauce is too thin then remove a little and mix with the cornflour. Heat the sauce to boiling in a separate pan, add the cornflour mix and cook till slightly thickened.

Put the chicken on a warm serving platter and pour over the sauce. Garnish with the remaining coriander and lime wedges, then season with more fish sauce or sugar if desired. Serve with rice.

British Museum announces Sicily: culture and conquest

In April of this year the British Museum will open the first exhibition in the UK to explore over 4000 years of history on the island of Sicily. Sponsored by Julius Baer, Sicily: culture and conquest will provide new insight into the vibrant past of the Italian island familiar to so many visitors today.

British Museum sicily Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and across time it has been shaped by the aspirations of many different peoples and cultures. Its perpetual allure lay in its fertile soil, fed by the volcanic dynamics of Mount Etna. Across time, people from as far and wide as the eastern Mediterranean and northern Europe settled on Sicily, forging a varied and sophisticated culture. The exhibition will focus on two major eras: first, the arrival of the Greeks from the latter half of the 7th century BC and their encounters with earlier settlers and with the Phoenicians, and second the extraordinary period of enlightenment under Norman rule, about AD 1100 – 1250. The exhibition will explore how an astonishingly rich material culture flourished in both of these periods.

Over 200 objects will be brought together to reveal the richness of the architectural, archaeological and artistic legacies of Sicily. When the Greeks made their first official colony at Naxos in around 735 BC, they brought new ideas and forged cultural and trading links with the earlier indigenous settlers. Sicily’s undemocratically elected rulers, known as ‘Tyrants’, and civic governing bodies displayed their wealth and power through the building of temples, sometimes of colossal dimensions, competing against the largest temples in Greece and the ancient Greek world.

British Museum sicily After a long series of wars involving Greek Sicilians, Carthaginians, and Romans, the island was eventually conquered by Rome. The exhibition will include a direct remnant of the final battle of that conquest which took place on 10 March 241 BC: a bronze battering ram that was fitted on the front of the Roman warships to sink enemy ships, and which was only recently excavated from the waters around the island. For Rome, Sicily’s primary role was to supply its population and its armies with grain; otherwise it cared little for the province. Following Rome’s ‘fall’, Christian Byzantines and Muslim Arabs competed for domination over Sicily, each ruling the island for several centuries. At the end of the 11th century, however, Norman mercenaries who had been settling and ruling in the south of Italy, in turn conquered the island, now inhabited by Byzantine Greek, Muslim, Jewish and Norman people. Under Kings Roger II, William I and William II, Sicily once again became one of the Mediterranean superpowers, easily rivaling the Byzantine Empire in the East, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt and the Papal States around Rome.

Through the coexistence of Norman, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on Sicily, Roger II created a climate of multicultural collaboration. Unique forms of art and architecture emerged from the mixture of influences. In 2015 nine buildings in the Arab-Norman style that emerged in Palermo and the surrounding area were elected as UNESCO world heritage. Coming on loan from several of these buildings are a twelfth-century Byzantine-style mosaic, and marble and wooden Islamic-influenced architectural decorations that will give visitors a sense of this extraordinary architectural style that emerged under Roger II. At the same time, the palace workshops produced beautiful objects, from ceremonial glassware and ivory, gold pendants and intricate enamel mosaics and cameos. Each object demonstrates the skills of the craftsmen and the variety of cultural influences that inspired their artistic production and experimentation.

Roger also welcomed scholars of all races and faiths to his court and took a direct interest in scientific innovation. The exhibition will display one of the oldest surviving copies of a new world map that Roger commissioned from al-Idrisi, an Arab cartographer, instructing him to base it on new research. The interest in innovation and scientific experiment was continued by Roger II’s grandson, Frederick II, who as Holy Roman Emperor ruled a large part of Europe, but based his court in Palermo. His desire to found a new Roman Empire was unfulfilled when he died heirless, and for the rest of its history, Sicily returned to being part of larger empires and states, rather than being its own master.

The British Museum has worked closely with the Sicilian Ministry of Culture since 2010 on several loans, both at the British Museum and in Sicily. This exhibition presents the next collaboration between curators of the British Museum and Sicily. Objects of outstanding cultural significance have been carefully selected through consultation with Sicilian specialists from different museums across the island. These objects will be displayed alongside loans from Italy, the US and the UK, as well as items from the British Museum collection. The exhibition will also be accompanied by an events program with contributions by Sicilian lecturers and artists.

Sicily: culture and conquest
21 April – 14 August 2016
Room 35
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

Tickets £10.00, children under 16 free
Group rates available
Booking fees apply online and by phone
+44 (0)20 7323 8181

Opening times
Saturday–Thursday 10.00–17.30
Friday 10.00–20.30
Last entry 80 minutes before closing time.


Warm Friends and Al Fresco Pizza

The weather changes and we look forward to those days in the garden, fresh air, and eating out. But not very ‘out’. Just over the threshold and with home-made food. There is no better way of spending time than enjoying a meal with friends. It slows down the pace of life in convivial and delicious fashion, and you might be lucky enough to be sitting around an outside stove from Direct Stoves.

Meals don’t have to be formal so pizza is an ideal food for a gathering. Kids can help to prepare the ingredients and pizza is flexible - loved by both carnivores and vegetarians alike.

I have friends who wouldn’t entertain the idea of a meal without meat. Others say they eat everything …apart from meat. So I have devised a pizza that keeps both culinary camps happy with one dish. It’s Pizza Duo with crispy bacon and onions for some guests and smoked salmon with a hint of chilli for the rest of us - both toppings resting on the same bread base and the same creamy foundation. Two different pizzas but not twice the work. Make your own pizza base or buy ready-made.
pizza comp


For the pizza bread for 1 large and impressive pie:
    500 g strong white bread flour
    ½ tsp salt
    1 tsp dried yeast
    2 tsp caster sugar
    320 ml lukewarm water

For the creamy layer:
   200g pack of cream cheese
   100g Crème Fraîche or sour cream

For bacon topping:
   7 smoked streaky bacon rashers, cut into small pieces
   ½ medium onion, very thinly sliced
   Chives for garnish (optional)

For Smoked Salmon topping:
   1 small pack of smoked salmon pieces (no point in buying the more costly slices as it’s going to be chopped)
   A light grating of frozen red chilli pepper for garnish (optional)


The day before the pizza party put a red chilli pepper in the freezer.

To make the dough: Put the flour and salt into a bowl, or the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook.
Add your yeast and sugar to the lukewarm water in a jug, stir and leave for a few minutes until it’s frothy.
Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix.
Knead the dough by hand or in the mixer for about 10 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let double in size. This will take about an hour in a warm room or alternatively put the dough in the fridge for 4 or 5 hours to prove more slowly. This takes some of the stress out of entertaining, when most of the work is done in advance.
When you are ready to use the dough roll it into the biggest disc you can manage. The larger the pizza the thinner the crust. Put on a pre-heated greased metal tray or pizza stone. Bake in an oven set at 220 degrees until lightly golden brown. This should take around 13 minutes but less time if you have a very thin crust. Remove from the oven.

Allow to cool while you fry the bacon till well-done and crispy.
Cut the smoked salmon into small pieces.

To assemble: Mix the cream cheese and crème fraîche together until smooth. Spread over the pizza.
Sprinkle the bacon over 2 quarters of the pizza and arrange the onion in a single layer over the crispy bacon.
Sprinkle the salmon over the remaining 2 quarters of the pizza and shower with red chilli pepper grated directly from the freezer.
Return the pizza to the oven for a couple of minutes till the salmon turns a paler pink colour, or put on the outside barbecue for a few minutes to pick up a delicious smoky flavour.

One pizza – many happy guests.

Tip: Divide the dough and make 2 pizzas if you don’t have large baking trays.

food and travel reviews

Benares for dinner

Benares for dinner Situated in the heart of Mayfair, Benares serves Michelin-starred modern Indian cuisine and is famed for doing that. This is fine dining and gives other such restaurants a run for their culinary money, and that’s restaurants of any gastronomic persuasion.

Named after India’s holy city, Benares, this restaurant offers only hints of its ethnicity in its decor. It is firstly a renowned restaurant that just happens to specialise in Indian food, but the most refined Indian food you will likely find anywhere.  There are exotic fabric-covered banquettes, murals, water features and, although buzzing with animated conversation, it’s a place of comfortable calm.

I met Executive Chef Brinder Narula a number of years ago when I was researching for Capital Spice. This book included Brinder at another restaurant and also Chef Atul Kochhar, restaurateur and television personality, who is one of the most critically acclaimed chefs in Britain and is responsible for the Michelin star awarded to Benares in 2007. It’s good to see that a worthy partnership has been created which does them both credit.

Benares for dinner Brinder Narula come from a family where food was very important, although when he left school he wanted to be an engineer; but his brother-in-law suggested he go into the hospitality industry, and he was accepted at the Institute of Hotel Management at Pusa, Delhi. At that time he didn’t particularly want to be a chef, and imagined he would be a hotel manager. He started enjoying the cooking course and discovered that baking was very methodical and scientific.  At the end of that course Brinder joined the chef training programme and chose to on go to the Oberoi School of Hotel Management, which is famous for its kitchen training. This is where all those famous chefs had started and that included Atul. Brinder trained there for 2 years, and then became a baker and confectioner. “I was at the Oberoi New Delhi for 7 or 8 years, and then they asked me to become a chef trainer, which I did for 3 years. I feel honoured and proud to be able to say that some of the now-famous chefs were my pupils.”

Benares for dinner Quality shines through every aspect of Benares. Brinder brings his enthusiasm and skill to this worthy platform. He has access to the best and most ethically-sourced ingredients and he uses them to great effect. Even the humble mackerel is showcased here in Rava Machli Rechado - Grilled Cornish Mackerel, Smoked Mackerel and Dill Raita, with a garnish of Lime Gel. This is a must-try whenever it’s on the menu. It’s not an overly fussy presentation and it’s all the better for that, but it’s a first class demonstration of balanced flavours and textures – showing an understanding of the tastes of Benares diners and of how to bring out the best in even the simplest ingredients.

Sarson Chooza - Tandoori Honey Mustard Poussin, Tomato Salad and Roast Garlic Mayonnaise - is another subtle stunner, as is Tandoori Macchi Aur Kekda - Chargrilled Scottish Salmon, Spiced Vermicelli, Crab Croquette and Moilee Sauce. That sauce would make a wellington boot deliciously appealing, it’s that good, and my only regret is that I didn’t unreasonably demand a bucketful to take home, and a reservation for tomorrow’s dinner.

Benares for dinner Hiran Ke Pasande - New Forest Venison and Biryani, Wild Garlic and Oyster Mushrooms, with Chocolate Curry - is the one for red-meat eaters. This game was meltingly tender and marvellously complemented by that sauce. Yes, it has chocolate but don’t start to imagine notes of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Here it’s used as a delicate ingredient to add richness and a slight dark-chocolate edge. This is innovation and not just for the sake of it. It really works.

Changezi Chaapein - Smoked Tandoori Lamb Cutlets, Spring Greens with Ginger and Cumin, and Rogan Jus - is another dish that is well worth a mention. These are perhaps the most flavourful and succulent chops you will find within Greater London. I know you’ll find it difficult, but save some space for some sweet treats from the excellent pastry chef here.

But there is a wine list here which any lover of food will also want to explore. Jeepson Lopes, Head Sommelier, offers the best expressions of classic grape varieties. Benares has very good vintages and diners can buy them by the glass. The Viognier from Clay Station, Lodi, California was outstanding.  This sommelier is knowledgeable and astute and his selections for our meal enhanced each course.

Benares for dinner It was a memorable evening at Benares. It gave us great pleasure to see our friend Brinder Narula, a celebrated chef, at home in Atul Kochhar’s flagship restaurant. It’s a place of excellence, polish and thoroughly good taste.

Bar: Open all day
Monday to Friday Lunch:
noon to 14.30 Dinner: 17.30 to 22.45

Saturday - Lunch:
noon to 15.00 Dinner: 17.30 to 22.45

Sunday - Dinner: 18.00 to 21.45

Benares Restaurant
12a Berkeley Square House

Phone: +44 (0)20 7629 8886  


Visit Benares here.

food and travel reviews

Sake Cups – or perhaps a glass

sake cups For those of us who love the delicious complexity of sake, the vessel from which we drink is often something of an afterthought. But it shouldn’t be.

A sake set is a generic term for the collection of items used for serving sake. It usually comprises a small flask and cups. Many sake sets are still made of ceramic, but they are increasingly made from natural wood, lacquered wood, glass or even plastic.

Let me liken a sake cup/glass/box to shoes. We have trainers for every day. On the other hand, we enjoy wearing high heels (if we are women, that is) as we know we move in a more elegant fashion. Perhaps the sakazuki, a flat saucer-like cup, can be likened to those classic shoes. So let’s consider the popular shapes and materials for sake cups both traditional and contemporary.

The oldest sake cup style, the wide saucer-like sakazuki, is more often seen at formal ceremonial events such as weddings these days. Shallow and refined, this cup is lifted to the lips with both hands: one to hold the bottom of the cup like a tray and the other to hold it on the rim. Sakazuki are available in a variety of sizes but typically they hold only a few sips. Sakazuki can be ornately decorated and are usually made from porcelain, earthenware or lacquer. These sakazuki are, in my opinion, the high heels of sake drinking accoutrements. Beautiful, elegant but not over-practical for a long night out.

sake cups A much more robust alternative is the ubiquitous wooden drinking box called masu. Traditionally these boxes have a volume of 180 ml. A 720 ml bottle of sake equals a serving of sake for 4 people! They were originally used to measure rations of rice. The masu can be filled to the rim as a sign of prosperity or a small glass can be put into the masu and filled to overflowing to symbolise abundance. Masu can be found in lacquerware but I prefer the pale wood of the traditional box. They are hard to break and able to hold a decent amount of sake, so have become the cup of choice for enjoying sake at festivals, cherry-blossom viewing (‘hanami’) and for me, picnics by the river. One can pretend it’s spring in Japan. Today, masu are often used at those iconic sake barrel-opening ceremonies called ‘kagami biraki’ and at traditional Japanese pubs (‘izakaya’). Some folks argue that the best masu for enjoying certain varieties of sake are those made from Japanese cypress, giving still more aroma and flavour from the natural material.

Anybody who has taken a sake course will have likely used a small, white, ceramic cylindrical vessel called ochoko or choko. These days ochoko is considered similar to guinomi which is the same shape, although ochoko are usually smaller than guinomi. Sake producers and tasters use a special large ochoko called kikichoko which has a circular blue and white design on the bottom of the inside of the cup. The blue hue and pattern are used in the evaluation of the sake's colour and clarity, and the cup's wide opening allows for the sake's subtleties of aroma to be appreciated.

sake cups Sake stemware is also available these days, with a sake cup being mounted on a wide base. Glass is now commonly used to serve chilled sake, where one can enjoy the dew forming on the outside of the vessel. A white or red wine glass with a wide mouth is suitable for enjoying the fragrant sake styles where aroma is most important. Sake is delicate and subtle so tasting from a wine glass instead of a small sake cup will heighten aromas and flavours. Crystal wine glasses are thinner than ceramic ware and can change the perception of sake’s body and complexity. Yes, sake can be served over ice and so sipping from a cut-glass whisky tumbler can be a pleasurable experience.

One is spoilt for choice when it comes to sake drinking vessels. If one is tasting professionally then there is a lot to be said for the traditional industry-standard ochoko or a glass with a wide mouth. But for me, I’ll be sticking to my cheap Daiso-bought sake set. It’s a traditional design which might not allow the character of the sake to burst forth, but I feel I am really immersing myself in sake culture when consuming it in such a way. So try all the options, make your choice, but do drink sake!

food and travel reviews

Sunday Brunch - Kurobuta Marble Arch

Kurobuta I confess, I had no idea what to expect. Yes, it was going to be Japanese. But a Sunday Brunch Buffet? How was that going to work? In my admittedly somewhat limited experience, Japanese food comes in two varieties: first – casual noodles; second – etiquette-riddled kaiseki cuisine. So how would a Sunday brunch buffet work then, between those two possible options?

Kurobuta the restaurant was a surprise. None of the minimalist and pale lines of so many Japanese restaurants in London. Think beach bar or a nightclub specialising in food, that just happens to have exceptionally good live music on Sundays. It’s urban and completely fitting the location and the local clientele. Think fun and young.

Every Saturday and Sunday, Kurobuta Marble Arch offers a Brunch Menu with Live Buffet. That doesn’t mean the food is still moving, only that it’s freshly cooked and that is, after all, the ethos of Japanese cuisine. The buffet starts at noon and last seating is at 4pm. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for a set price including wine and beer, with options to upgrade to unlimited prosecco. There are also items from the regular menu which one can order as extras, and there are a couple of those which I can recommend.

Kurobuta You will be welcomed with a glass of punch or a cocktail and be shown to your rustic table, and then it’s on to the food! First there is the Build your own Ramen station with small bowls of noodles awaiting their hot broth, and on this day it was either pork or miso with toppings and condiments on the side to personalise each portion. Yes, Japanese really do have soup with almost every meal and a good miso soup can be addictive – with or without noodles.

Kurobuta Fried Chicken is a winner. These crunchy nuggets are spiced to perfection. One can then grab a bowl of hot rice and top that with slivers of beer-grilled steak, with perhaps a garnish of finely chopped spring onions and some green chilli. That’s the charm of this style of dining – one can compose multiple taste and texture combinations.

Kurobuta Salmon Sashimi Pizza with Truffle Ponzu and Wasabi Tobiko is an absolute fusion star! The pizza base is actually thin and delicate fried pastry that holds the beautiful topping which is finished with striking tobiko. That’s flying fish roe, often used in some kinds of sushi. Sometimes tobiko is coloured, as in this case, with wasabi to make it green and spicy.

Tofu Wang-Taki is light bean curd, and the Sushi and Sashimi need no explanation. And then there was a bowl of Onsen Eggs. These are traditional Japanese low-temperature cooked eggs which were originally slow-cooked in the water of onsen or hot springs in Japan. The eggs have a soft texture, being poached inside the shell and they are often served with the shell removed in a small cup with a sauce of broth and soy sauce.

But there are also regular menu dishes. BBQ Pork Belly in Steamed Buns with Spicy Peanut Soy sauce is a signature dish here and it’s no surprise. The buns are first steamed and then torched, which gives a more rustic and hearty appearance. The meat is meltingly tender after hours of marinating and slow cooking. But that peanut sauce is for which to die!

Kurobuta Nasu Dengaku - Sticky Miso Grilled Aubergine with Candied Walnuts - is another dish not to miss. These well-presented chunks of butter-soft aubergines are glazed with a flavoursome sweet and savoury preparation and sprinkled with both black and white sesame seeds and topped with walnuts. I would pay for that recipe!

Mochi Ice Cream is on the regular menu and it’s one of my favourite Japanese desserts. It’s a combination of the chewy rice-cake wrapper filled with tangy Yuzu ice cream. A cool end to a delightful meal!

Kurobuta Marble Arch is unexpected but it works and I can see it’s the way forward as an informal introduction to often-intimidating Japanese food. It’s friendly and inclusive. There are no issues with a complicated sequence of courses. There is not the threat of an inelegant low table nor the pitying glares of waiters as one’s ineptly juggled sushi disintegrates in the soy sauce; and is it rude to eat noodles without slurping? I have had sleepless nights of remembered humiliation over such disasters. No, you are simply in for a good time with good food at Kurobuta.

Kurobuta Marble Arch
17-20 Kendal Street
Marble Arch
London W2 2AW

Monday to Sunday all day bookings from noon to 22.30

Reservations: 020 7920 6440

Visit Kurobuta Marble Arch here
food and travel reviews

Forty Dean Street

Forty Dean Street Dean Street is in the heart of Soho, central London. It runs from Oxford Street south to Shaftesbury Avenue and has a long and colourful history, as has much of this neighbourhood.  In 1764 the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart gave a recital at number 21. Admiral Nelson lodged here the day before setting sail for Trafalgar. He is said to have spent some time at a nearby undertakers choosing a coffin, which proved to be time well-spent as history will recall.

Soho, in general, has been famed for Chinese food, but there are great numbers of decent restaurants of other culinary persuasions these days. Forty Dean Street is the eponymous restaurant and it is Italian. I mean the sort of Italian that I remember from my childhood (and I am old enough to have the free bus pass). It’s the sort of Italian restaurant which one hopes to find and too often does not. It’s cosy, friendly, inclusive and positively comforting.

In typical Soho fashion, this restaurant is long and narrow but all of it buzzing with activity. The waiting staff here have that fluid movement of professionals - lots of confident multi-plate carrying and full-drink-tray hefting. One has a sense that this is an establishment that takes pride in both food and service.

Forty Dean Street The imposing walnut wood (I think) bar lends so much to the atmosphere of a classic Italian restaurant. This isn’t ‘Italian-themed’ but more accurately a restaurant of a type which one would likely find filled with locals in, say, Pisa or Sorrento. There is not a plastic gondola in sight but plenty to remind one that this is a transplanted corner of Italy. There is an ornate ice bucket on the aforementioned bar which makes quite a statement, and I hope the owners never consider moving it.

This is a family-run restaurant and it’s been around for 17 years with a focus on good quality and great value. The set menu offers fresh, seasonal dishes appealing to the regulars and there seem to be many of those. The à la carte menu has Italian classics and something for every taste. We started by nibbling what looked like Carasau bread which is impossibly thin and crispy, accompanying our glasses of Chianti and Valpolicella.

Starters were Bruschetta of chopped tomatoes, garlic, and basil with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, along with Crunchy Deep-fried Squid with tomato salsa and sweet chilli and garlic mayo. Both flavourful and light and perfect for this unseasonably warm spring evening. One could have been a million miles (or at least six hundred) from Shaftesbury Avenue, if it had not been for the clue of a restaurant filled with English speakers and a few Americans.

My guest ordered Spaghetti with King Prawns as his main course after much debate about the possibilities of trying the pizza, which looked striking (saving that for next visit). He was delighted with his pasta, however. It was colourful and full of prawns. He pronounced the spaghetti to be particularly fine and al dente. Simple yet authentically delicious to the last bite.

Forty Dean Street Chicken Saltimbocca was my choice of main dish. This was served with grilled asparagus which is particularly good just now, garlic mashed potatoes, a delicate hint of sage and butter sauce. Oh, deep joy! This was as far from nouvelle cuisine as one would wish to hurry. It was a well-presented plate of succulent meat on a base of potatoes for which to die.

Coffee macchiato and Profiteroles finished our memorable repast.  The dessert was attractively served with a jug of chocolate sauce on the side with two spoons as garnish. Another classic in a classic restaurant and a fitting end to a truly delightful evening in Forty Dean Street that has deservedly endured for almost a couple of decades.

Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday noon - 12pm

Forty Dean Street
London W1D 4PX

Restaurant Phone: 020 7734 1853

Office Phone: 020 7734 4492


Visit Forty Dean Street here

food and travel reviews

Donald Russell for a taste of the Med

I love cooking, I enjoy food, I salivate at the very prospect of a serving of delicious meat. Yes, I am an unashamed and practising carnivore - but I have standards.

All butchers are not created equal and I have learnt that to my cost over many decades of disappointing trial and expensive error. But then I hear of a company that provides meats and ready meals to the discerning – the very discerning.

Donald Russell Donald Russell is a Royal Warrant holder and Britain's leading mail-order meat supplier. That sounded like a recommendation. They are based in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and so have local access to some of the finest meat and fish from these isles. And they are online! Yes, meat has stepped into the 21st century.

I am not saying that a company with an online platform is automatically going to be good but Donald Russell is. I was first impressed by their site. It’s accessible and comprehensive and surprisingly broad in coverage. They obviously have meat as their foundation but that’s all types of meat. Beef, lamb, pork, poultry and game are all listed. There are steaks, joints and also those oft-overlooked cuts which make such flavoursome meals. There are fish aplenty, ranging from wild white fish to smoked fish and everything in between. There are also desserts, baked goods and even ready-meals, so a one-stop-shop!

Donald Russell Donald Russell isn’t a new kid on the culinary block. It’s been around, for trade customers at least, since 1974. They supplied gourmet meats to fine-dining restaurants and hotels worldwide. Some of those are places of polished repute such as Simpson's-in-the-Strand and Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Today they still supply many of their original customers along with Michelin-starred restaurants. You don’t have to visit a celebrity chef to try some of these excellent products, though: anyone can order.

I tried three of the new Mediterranean range. These are authentic Italian dishes, and indeed out of the hand-written family cookbook of ‘Nonna Dina’ who is the mother of Managing Director Tazio. She spent a couple of weeks working with Donald Russell’s kitchen to create dishes that taste home-made, at least if your home is in Italy!

Luganighetta Sausages were the first products I tried. These are the iconic spiral-shaped sausages and said to come originally from Lugano in Switzerland. Their natural casings are packed with both pork and beef, and seasoned with delicate cinnamon and coriander. These are dense and flavourful and can be cooked either on the BBQ or under a regular grill. They look impressive and they are gluten-free. Delicious when traditionally served with saffron risotto or with a green salad, crusty bread and a glass of red.

Donald Russell Pollo Ripieni is dinner-party fare and is a moist, boneless, stuffed free-range chicken roast. The birds are raised by the Loué farmers of France. The Northern Italian style stuffing contains lean turkey mince, creamy goat’s cheese, ceps and capers. That might sound a strange concoction but it’s outstanding. There is just enough cheese to season the lean mince and to give a slight tang. Turkey is often bland but the cheese, mushrooms and capers elevate this preparation. A truly Continental dish.

Those who would prefer a meat-free meal are not forgotten. Aubergine Parmigiana is a moreish dish of tender aubergine, layered with tomato sauce and creamy cheese sauce. The whole thing is finished with grated cheese and needs simply to be baked in the oven.  Nobody will feel short-changed when presented with this rich plateful. This is another dish that cries out for some good bread for dipping into those generous sauces. It’s quick to prepare, too, and can be on the table in just half an hour or so. You can finish up that bottle of red wine with this one.

Donald Russell has impeccable credentials. Quality and thoughtful preparation are the cornerstones of this company and I look forward to tasting more of their gastronomic innovations and fine meats.

Visit Donald Russell here

food and travel reviews

Craft Spirits

- Know the makers, infuse your own, create new cocktails

Craft Spirits Well, this is right on trend. Cocktails have become the cornerstone of every restaurant bar, and we want to try our hands at barista-ing at home. Most of the fixin’s are available to civilians and with little equipment some delicious and beautiful cocktails can be ours.

Craft Spirits is a comprehensive glossary of worldwide spirits and those are the foundations of cocktails. The book is divided into categories covering everything from Absinthe to Whisky and includes some beverage newcomers - at least they are new to the West.  Japanese Sake and Shochu, Chinese Baijiu, and Cachaças from Brazil are included as well.

We all have them, those bottles of spirits we picked up at the airport, but now we can actually do something with them, and Craft Spirits even shows us how they are made. We are introduced to Bitters and how to make a Simple Syrup.

There is glass etiquette associated with cocktail serving so there is a section devoted to glassware. There are indeed logical reasons why glasses are a particular shape - ideal for appreciating aromas, for drinks with lots of ice, etc. You will never present a martini in an Old-Fashioned glass again!

One can easily make infused spirits. Craft Spirits offers advice on how to produce these unique flavoured vodkas and gins, and I am considering an infusion of ginger which would be a winner on cold winter evenings. Citrus works well and so do berries.

If we are bar professionals we will likely appreciate the detailed descriptions of each bottle. There are paragraphs on the distillery, the philosophy, the spirit and the taste. But for us mortals we will be turning to the pages offering cocktail recipes. Pomegranate Gin Sling has me riveted. Blackberry Mint Julep will be a welcome cooler after a few hours’ fruit-picking on the common. I am a Gimlet enthusiast and the Grapefruit Vodka Gimlet is outstanding, with a decent amount of alcohol and a good hit of refreshing citrus.

Craft Spirits is a veritable bar handbook. It educates and tempts in equal measure and it’s great value for money.

Craft Spirits
Author: Eric Grossman
Publisher: DK Publishing
Price: £14.99
ISBN-10: 0241229685
ISBN-13: 978-0241229682

food and travel reviews

The Mayfair Chippy

The Mayfair Chippy Nothing better than traditional fish and chips. It’s nostalgic comfort food, at least if you are British. We all have memories of queueing up in a white-tiled shop with steamy windows, a high counter with glass jars of pickled gherkins and eggs, bottles of brown vinegar and salt shakers. For those who hail from beyond these shores that emporium of fried delights was called ‘the chippy’.

The smart neighbourhood of Mayfair in central London might seem an unlikely location for a chippy but The Mayfair Chippy fits right in.  The Mayfair area covers the historical estate of Grosvenor, along with the estates of Albemarle, Berkeley, Burlington, and Curzon, all of which give their names to the smart streets. It is bordered on the west by Park Lane, north by Oxford Street, east by Regent Street, and the south by Piccadilly. Mayfair is named after the annual fortnight-long May Fair that took place on the site that is now Shepherd Market from the latter part of the 1600s till the mid-1700s.

The Mayfair Chippy Located on the northern edge of this classy neighbourhood, the Mayfair Chippy is also handy for the shopping thoroughfare of Oxford Street with its many fashion outlets but few worthy restaurants. The Mayfair Chippy sports an AA Rosette and appears in the Michelin Guide 2016, so its culinary credentials are impeccable - and so is the restaurant.

The local chippy is a well-loved institution so I was curious to see how both the swep-up location and a demanding diner base would translate into a traditional restaurant that would be acceptable to the chippy purist. Well, they have managed it with flair and little compromise.

The Mayfair Chippy is a small restaurant and cosy. There are high stools, more intimate banquettes, some marble-topped tables and white tiles as a nod to its roots. It’s light and contemporary but with accents from a past era - a beautiful balance that works perfectly here. There are still bottles of vinegar and glass cruets to assure the prospective diner that continuity has not been displaced by the zest for short-lived designer trends.

The Mayfair Chippy Fish and chips is unsurprisingly the speciality at the Mayfair Chippy, but they also offer other traditional classic British dishes, some of which change with the seasons. They have a celebrated Shepherd’s Pie made with braised Lamb Shoulder, and a periodic Steak and Kidney Pudding, as well as Longhorn Rib Steak and Chips with Roast Garlic, Anchovy and Parsley butter.

There is a beer and wine list at The Mayfair Chippy but somehow a nice cuppa always fits the bill with fish and chips at lunchtime. They have an array of tempting starters and not all of them are piscatorial. Home-made Black Pudding Fritters with a side of Apple Sauce came highly recommended and they were delicious, with delicate seasoning and a bit of a crunch. This is a take on an old-fashioned favourite and well worth a try.

The Mayfair Chippy The Crab on Toast is a stunner and should be another signature dish here. Cornish Crab with avocado, spiced tomato and fennel cress is moreish, well-flavoured and a must-try. This with a glass of chilled white to start a dinner would be perfect.

But the main event was always going to be the Mayfair Classic: Fried cod or haddock, chips, mushy peas, pickle, tartare sauce and chip-shop curry sauce. All served on a wooden platter with the fish and chips in a metal frying-basket. The fish was moist, the batter light and not at all greasy - and then there were those condiments. Mushy peas made with pulled ham hock is absolutely right. Chip-shop Curry Sauce might sound strange but will be familiar to chippy-goers. It’s not like a sauce for an Indian curry but a sweet spicy gravy that has become popular over the past few decades.

The Mayfair Chippy There are other items on the menu which might alarm the untutored: Scraps (when available, it states) are those frilly crunchy bits of batter that float off when the fish is lowered into the oil. I think they are called scraps as they are worthy of being fought over.

Battered Wally will likely be a mystery to many. We won’t go into the naming of this exotic garnish but suffice to say it’s a whole pickle that has been battered and deep-fried. It’s for the connoisseur.

There is a decent selection of desserts here. The Warm Chocolate Pudding is striking, with a flow of molten chocolate pooling around Salted Caramel Ice Cream (which could be a dessert in its own right) with a generous sprinkle of Cinder Toffee – that’s the golden crunchy honeycomb of childhood memories.

The Mayfair Chippy The Mayfair Chippy has managed to present traditional and casual food with style. The restaurant is a pleasant place to be, the food is first class in every regard. Word is getting around so best to book in advance. That’s what I’ll be doing.

Monday - Saturday: 12:00 noon - 10:00pm (last orders 9:45pm)
Sunday: 12:00 noon - 9:00pm (last orders 8:45pm)

Take-away hours: 11am - 10:30pm

The Mayfair Chippy
14 North Audley Street

Phone: 020 7741 2233

Visit The Mayfair Chippy here.

food and travel reviews

Bó Drake – Greek Street

Bo Drake - Greek Street It’s a part of Soho that has been the haunt of those seeking dubious nocturnal delights down the centuries, but also those associated with the arts and literature. Greek Street, running from Shaftesbury Avenue to Soho Square, might take its name from the Greek Church (later St. Mary’s) built in 1677. The church was on the site formerly known as Hog Lane and it appears in Hogarth’s satirical ‘Noon’. No. 47 was the temporary lodgings for famed Venetian adventurer and philanderer Giacomo Casanova in 1764. No. 1 Greek Street is the House of St Barnabas, built in 1746; in 1811 it became the offices of the Westminster Commissioner for Works for Sewers and the offices of Chief Engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette who is celebrated for modernising London’s pipework.

True, it has had a colourful history but is now the neighbourhood of choice for those looking for good food and a rejuvenating cocktail, and Bó Drake provides both in unique fashion. It has a layout typical of restaurants in the area: a narrow frontage but sweeping back to provide more intimate tables away from the bar.

Bo Drake - Greek Street Bó Drake has an urban vibe with high stools at the bar, exposed brickwork and metal conduit. And it’s an impressive bar of around 10 metres with an iroko (African teak) wood counter. The shelves behind the bar give a hint to the cuisine (as if the restaurant name had not already). Bottles of Sake and Baijiu stand in exotic ranks. Baijiu is also known as shaojiu and is a Chinese alcoholic spirit made from grain and generally between 40 and 60% ABV. Think vodka and you will have the idea.

Cocktails are evidently popular here. Regulars, and there seem many, were ordering a cocktail or two along with a brace of small dishes. I ordered a Starman – strawberry or raspberry, soju and vodka with a garnish of basil. A blush pink confection with well-balanced flavours. Soju is Korea’s most popular alcoholic beverage with an ABV of between 7% and 45%.

My guest has a more masculine taste in cocktails and he chose Rye in the Tyne – rye whiskey, Antica Formula, Luxardo and camomile bitters. Antica Formula is a red vermouth made with white wine; Luxardo is an Italian fruit liqueur. It sounded like a doubtful preparation but in reality it was a pleasing, manly cocktail.

Bo Drake - Greek Street The menu here changes frequently with seasonality and availability. Dishes arrived as they came from the kitchen rather than being offered in Western style, by course. We started our grazing with Crispy Kimbab of Salmon, Stick Soy and Kewpie Mayo. Kewpie Mayonnaise is the most popular mayonnaise in Japan and is a yellower and richer mayonnaise than the majority of European ones, and made with rice vinegar. This was an outstanding dish and one which I can recommend as a must-try at Bó Drake!

Pork Belly Bao is classic, and ubiquitous across Chinese restaurants around the capital. This version of these Asian steamed buns at Bó Drake is perhaps the best I have had. It isn’t the cheapest but the substantial portion of meat makes it well worth the price. The pork was succulent and full of flavour. Order one serving of 2 buns to share, along with other small plates, or keep the whole thing to yourself as a decent lunch. The bun is garnished with pickled cucumber which cuts the richness of the meat marvellously. A winner, and moreish.

I love eating eel in Japanese restaurants so Unagi Japche - Smoked Eel, Pesto, Garlic Cream and Noodles - was a definite for me.  The noodles were green with herb, and glistening. The eel had a mahogany sheen like a savoury lacquer. A fusion showcasing both traditional and contemporary, and of both Eastern and Western ingredients.

Rice Cakes are typically Korean. These are not cakes of rice like Japanese onigiri but they are more like a savoury and sturdy motchi and in this case served with a syrup of honey and chilli. A bowl of these would be ideal nibbles with a side of chilled beer.

Bo Drake - Greek Street Other dishes on our menu for that evening included a mildly spiced Kimchee pancake, and a dessert of Yuzu tart which was tangy and light. The menu changes frequently so some of the above-mentioned might not be available. I guess that’s an excuse for a return visit.

Bó Drake is open for lunch and dinner
Monday – Thursday: Noon - 14:30 and 17:30 - 23:00
Friday: Noon - 14:30 and 17:30 - 24:00
Saturday: Noon - 24:00
Sunday: Noon - 21:00

Bó Drake
6 Greek Street
London W1D 4DE

Phone: 020 7439 9989
Visit Bó Drake here

food and travel reviews

Flavors from the French Mediterranean

It will soon be summer. We start to muse over al fresco dining and lighter fare. Ingredients with colour and freshness will take centre stage and we look toward the Mediterranean for inspiration, and perhaps to a French chef for some help.

Flavours from the French Mediterranean Three-star Michelin Chef Gérald Passedat was born in Marseilles on the French Mediterranean coast. It’s a region famed for its seafood, vegetables, fruits and herbs – everything one might need to conjure up vibrant recipes that just happen to be healthy.

This delightfully photographed book presents eighty tempting and easy-to-prepare recipes that showcase the culinary abundance of the south of France. They are not necessarily costly ingredients and all readily available, taking advantage of summer seasonality and freshness.

I could quite happily graze my way through the whole book, being enticed either by the ingredients or the pictures. Octopus and Jols Tempura: I had no idea that a jol is a small fish found near Marseilles – I am sure one could use whitebait as a substitute. This is a beautiful dish served in a newspaper – a French newspaper, obviously. Camargue Black Rice Paella is another dramatic dish using seafood – cuttlefish in this case. This would make a memorable centrepiece.

Skate-filled Zucchini is another stunner. Skate is a much-underrated fish, although once popular in traditional fish and chip shops. It has a unique texture which doesn’t flake like most other fish flesh, but has strands instead. It’s a well-flavoured fish and pairs deliciously with the courgettes which grow in such profusion even in the UK’s unpredictable weather.

Perhaps some of my favourites from this book are the classic and sumptuous desserts. There are three tarts that are remarkable and demonstrate the French flair for patisserie: one has a filling of figs which grow in such quantities in the south of France; a second of oranges that cover the trees in early autumn and top a tart that glistens like stained glass; the lemon tart has a tangy filling and is garnished with candied lemon slices for extra impact. Any of these would make a classy finish to even the most formal of dinner parties.

This is a recipe book for the accomplished cook but equally for those who would like to be. The photography is first class and shows the colourful face of Flavors from the French Mediterranean.

Flavors from the French Mediterranean
Author: Gérald Passedat
Published by: Flammarion
Price: £19.95
ISBN: 978-208020251-2

food and travel reviews

The Balcon, London – classic perfection

Balcon This truly memorable restaurant is set on Waterloo Place on the corner with Pall Mall. This wide thoroughfare is in fact an extension of Regent Street with all its smart shops. It’s a small area with a host of statues and monuments that honour heroes and statesmen of the British Empire and various wars.

Waterloo Place was created at the end of the 1820s as the final section of the Triumphal Way that connects Regent’s Park with Pall Mall, started in 1810 to a design by John Nash, the famed Regency-era architect. The magnificent neoclassical buildings around the square display ornamental friezes and columns, and still offer an air of grandeur.

Formerly the banking hall of Cox’s and King’s, this grade II listed building now houses Sofitel St James and The Balcon restaurant. The company has contrived to preserve original features but also showcases contemporary elements. The Balcon can be entered via the hotel foyer or directly from Pall Mall where the entrance is opposite The Institute of Directors, which also has imposing architecture. The restaurant has a double aspect onto both Pall Mall and Waterloo Place. If you ask for the table in the corner on the raised section then you can comfortably pivot your gaze between the two iconic views.

Balcon The chef, Matt Greenwood, is a new addition to the restaurant, joining Sofitel London St James in December 2015. He is a New Zealander and has worked in Melbourne, Sydney and Christchurch, before moving to London 9 years ago. He demonstrates his love of fusion on his menu but it’s not fusion for fusion’s sake. His flavour and textural combinations really work.

We started our evening with a glass of English fizz. No, don’t knock it! We have won prizes for our sparkling wines in international blind tastings. Balcon is a restaurant in which to linger: the high ceilings, those magnificent views and the ambiance encourage slower sipping and unwinding. Lots of time to pore over the menu.

The menu isn’t a mile long and neither is the wine list and that’s reassuring. It’s presentation of quality and freshness and attention to detail which elevate Balcon above some other restaurants which offer ‘fine dining’. There is a dish for every taste and a wine to accompany it, and that wine list presents the finest expressions of the main wine varieties - many can be sampled by the glass or carafe as well as by the bottle.

I started with Twice Baked Goat’s Cheese Soufflé with pine nuts, mint and apple sabayon. A light and flavourful dish with tang from the cheese and freshness from the fruit. A simple presentation and well worth ordering. Lots of folks think they don’t like goat’s cheese but this soufflé would be a wonderful introduction. Not too goaty.

My guest ordered Yuzu-Cured Salmon with Edamame Purée, Wakame Salad and Tobiko. He is a good eater and enjoys fish so this was bound to be a winner. Here we had Japanese ingredients presented in non-challenging fashion. Edamame are green beans often seen in bars as a snack with drinks. Wakame is a sea vegetable, or edible seaweed, with a sweet flavour and it’s good for you! Tobiko is glistening flying-fish roe. It’s a common topping for sushi and can be coloured with natural ingredients and in this case it was wasabi, Japanese horseradish. This was strikingly beautiful as well delicious, and even the crockery looked Japanese.

Lobster and Seafood Bouillabaisse with braised fennel and topped with rouille was my main course. This was truly a taste of opulence. Anything containing lobster is luxurious but this is a soup and really nothing to look at. But taste one spoonful and you will be smitten. It’s rich and almost meaty. It’s silky and comforting and thoroughly decadent. Indisputably French and fitting so well at Balcon with its accents of La Belle France.

Balcon My companion chose Rarebreed Beef Burger with Braised Oxtail, Roasted Garlic Aioli and a pot of fries on the side. This might seem an unlikely dish for such a classic restaurant so let’s consider why it works here. Firstly a burger is chopped meat and the quality of the burger is defined by that. The Balcon example is as far from fast-chain food as one could hurry. The topping of oxtail adds a meaty richness and almost creates a sauce. The bread bun was grilled and first rate, and the fries were exceptional …and French!

Profiterole with banana caramel, vanilla ice cream, hazelnuts and Frangelico ganache finished our meal. This was the very essence of banana and that always works with chocolate; well, everything works with chocolate. A classic recipe given a new lease of life.

Balcon is an attractive space, has classic good service, an outstanding location, a menu to suit anyone who has the slightest interest in good food, a wine list over which to drool, and is great value for money. Is there anything I didn’t like about the dinner? Yes, it ended too soon.

Balcon Breakfast:
Monday to Friday 6:30 AM – 11:00 AM
Saturday 7:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Sunday 7:00 AM – 12:30 PM

Afternoon Tea: Noon – 6:00 PM

Lunch and dinner:
Monday to Friday 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
Saturday 11:30 AM – 11:00 PM
Sunday 11:30 AM – 10:00 PM

The Balcon London
8 Pall Mall
London SW1Y 5NG

Phone: 020 7968 2900

Visit The Balcon here.

food and travel reviews

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 butRelais de Venise L’Entrecôte 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 draw.

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.

Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte Opening Times:
Open every day including Sundays and bank holidays
Lunch: 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.00

Tuesday – Thursday
Lunch: 12.00 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.30

Lunch: 11.45 - 14.30
Dinner: 18.00 - 22.30

Lunch: 12.30 - 15.30
Dinner: 18.30 - 22.00

Lunch: 12.30 - 15.30
Dinner: 18.30 - 21.00

Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte Canary Wharf
18-20 Mackenzie Walk
Canary Wharf
London E14 4PH

Tube: Canary Wharf Jubilee/DLR

Phone +44 (0)20 3475 3331

Visit Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte here

food and travel reviews

Arabica Bar and Kitchen – Borough Market

Arabica Borough has been known for its food markets since as far back as the 11th century. First the stallholders were trading on old London Bridge, but then in the 13th century they were moved to what became Borough High Street. A market has been here ever since.

Borough Market has grown to over 100 individual stalls. There are the traditional fruit, vegetables, bread and meat but these days the market reflects how cosmopolitan London eats. There are wine merchants, stalls selling olives, cheeses and spices. A jewel box of gastronomic delights.

We visited on Sunday when the market is closed. That was by choice as it gave the opportunity to really appreciate the Victorian architecture and even a brass plate set in the ground commemorating an association between the market, Switzerland and the Olympic games!

Arabica Sunday lunch was the next priority. Arabica Bar and Kitchen couldn’t be nearer to Borough Market. It’s a restaurant tucked away under the railway arches although I didn’t notice any distracting rumblings. The ceiling is arched, displaying the exposed brick of the original functional architecture. The urban theme continues with the use of school chairs and wooden tables. Harmonious design in natural materials and not over-themed. A great combination of old London bricks and accents of the gold of the Middle East.

This restaurant presents the dishes of the Levant but the cocktails were contemporary - although some giving a nod eastwards. Zarif Zehir was a delicate pink confection and didn’t taste overpoweringly alcoholic; this cocktail was served in a tea glass and looked quite innocent, but was probably dangerous in quantity. Made from vodka, sloe, lemon and sugar, with a finish of sumac and egg white, this was visually appealing and rather harked back to the days of Speak-Easys and prohibition.

Sassine Square was somewhat more traditional and with a soft bourbon flavour. Made with high-rye bourbon, date syrup and bitters, this was a smooth cocktail with plenty of citrus aroma from the ornate orange-rind garnish.

Arabica We started our Sunday feast with the ‘Selection of Mezze Classics to Share’ as it says on the simple menu. That spread included House Pickles of cucumber, carrots, cauliflower, turnip and chillies; a dish of traditional Hummus; Whipped Feta with charred Turkish chilli, toasted sunflower seeds and mint, which was tangy and light; and Beiruti Falafel made with broad beans, chickpeas, onions, peppers, green chilli, herbs, and spices was a winner with my guest, who is now addicted to these fried morsels. Grilled Halloumi Cheese was a particular highlight. Tabouleh with plenty of parsley, cucumber, tomato, spring onion, mint and cracked wheat, and all served in a lettuce leaf, was fresh and aromatic. An ideal starter selection to enjoy with a table of friends. It’s the kind of dining that demands a group for best effect.

Jordanian Style Lamb Mensaf and Spring Vegetable Freeke were our main courses, although there was also a fish dish on the menu. The lamb was a 7-hour slow-cooked shoulder, served with spiced rice which was good enough to be a dish on its own, and all garnished with toasted nuts and yogurt sauce. This is flavourful rather than being hot with spice.

Spring Vegetable Freeke was a melange of seasonal veggies cooked with grains and garnished with crispy onions, toasted nuts, herbs and minted lebneh, a soft natural cheese. I would say share both dishes for a comforting meal.

Arabica Jelly and Ice Cream sounds like old-fashioned nursery fare but this dessert is rather sophisticated: candied orange, rosewater, milk and honey jelly with mastica ice cream and a scattering of toasted Kadyfi pastry. The ice cream was lightly flavoured rather than giving a hit of piney resin. A pretty plateful.

Arabica Bar and Kitchen has a casual ambiance giving a real feel of the local area. The bar is an imposing feature which will doubtless be much appreciated in the evenings. And it’s liable to be Arabica’s small dishes that draw the crowds during the week. But Sunday is the day for relaxing with friends and sharing larger plates. I’ll be back.

Arabica Bar and Kitchen
3 Rochester Walk
Borough Market
London SE1 9AF

Monday - Wednesday 11am -11pm
Thursday 8.30am -11pm
Friday and Saturday 8.30am -11.30 pm
Sunday 11am - 4pm

Visit Arabica Bar and Kitchen here

food and travel reviews

Lotus – Fine Indian Dining

Lotus The Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square Underground Station has not been famed for quality Indian restaurants. I confess I had never heard of Lotus but I arrived with high expectations as I had done my homework.

This is a neat 65-cover contemporary restaurant in sophisticated grey tones. It’s in the heart of the West End’s Theatreland, with superb transport links, and it’s an area which is more famed for Chinese food than Indian fine dining. Lotus is a split-level dining space which allows for intimate corners. Tables are black with crisp linen runners and serviettes. Each table sports a lotus-shaped tealight. The restaurant is, in fact, named after this national flower of India, with all its associations of purity.

Bhaskar Banerjee, Chef and Manager of Lotus, has a noteworthy culinary pedigree. He comes from one of the most celebrated hospitality establishments, ITC Welcomgroup. They are famed in India for such restaurants as Bukhara, Dumpukth and Dakshin but they have produced award-winning chefs who now ply their trade around the entire world. Chef Banerjee has worked with international hotel chains such as the Intercontinental Hotels Group, Luxury Collection Hotels, Marriott, Sheraton, Le Meridien and The Taj Group of Hotels.

Lotus Lotus offers a melange of traditional and contemporary, with quality being the keynote here. We began with what could have been a banal assortment of poppadums with chutneys, but here they were a little different. Small rice, potato, and finger millet poppadums rather than the ubiquitous large round efforts made from gram flour. Finger millet is high in starch and is considered superior to wheat and a thoughtful addition. The condiments were vibrant and made in-house.

There is a good selection of wines by the glass and we enjoyed ours while waiting for starters.   Masala Prawn, Duck Eggs and Green Lentil Wrap was my choice. In fact the wrap was more like a folded crepe that one might find in northern France. Mild and delicious flavours from a truly original dish. Potato Chaat with Chickpea, Sev and Yoghurt is traditional and a mix of sweet, spicy and tangy, crisp and creamy. But here it is served with a degree of refinement, on individual plates.

My guest, a man of discerning palate, ordered a kebab of Red Snapper flavoured with mustard essence and served with what one might assume to be a very un-Indian dill and yogurt sauce. This was a triumph of perfectly prepared and flavourful fish with its cooling and herby accompaniment. Don’t miss this one.

Muntjac Lal Maas was our main dish and this was very much more refined than other similar dishes I have tried, usually made with lamb. Yes, the meat obviously made a difference but it was the sauce that was the star. It was silky and aromatic with much better balance than others which have been overpoweringly hot. One could enjoy the flavour of the deer and the subtle yet evident spices.

Lotus There is another dish here that should be highly commended. It’s Baghare Baigan Bharta, a side dish of roasted aubergine, tomato, spices, peanuts and herbs. I would have this for a light lunch along with some bread, and would be content. This is comfort food in every way. Delicious!

I am impressed. Lotus stands to cultivate a great and long-lasting reputation. Its location helps but it’s the quality of food that will ensure a loyal following. The talented chef and his team have made a creditable start and I wish them luck.

17 Charing Cross Road

Reservations +44 (0) 20 7839 8797


Visit Lotus here

food and travel reviews

Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses

It seems a bit early for pondering Christmas presents but, trust me, it’s not. If you have a passionate food lover in your near vicinity you might want to ditch the summer holiday brochures for half an hour and consider a masterclass.

cinnamon collection masterclass There is a compelling reason why your Christmas (or birthday / anniversary / graduation / retirement) gift shopping should start now when daffs are still fresh in the park: Cinnamon Collection masterclasses are popular and sell out fast. They offer classes for those interested in preparing vegetarian specialities; the Barbecues and Roasts days are bound to draw a crowd; Secrets from the Southern Indian kitchen will teach you how to make a stunning biryani; and November offers a game masterclass with Vivek Singh himself. Places are already limited for that one.

All masterclasses are not created equal. The Cinnamon Collection classes have the guests actually cooking. But the day starts in European fashion with coffee and croissants, some history of these outstanding restaurants, Health and Safety instructions, and allocation of aprons. Almost collectors’ items, these embroidered beauties are decorated with the company logo, making a fine souvenir of the event …and there will be more later.

The ratio of students to chefs will likely be just 2 to 3 guests with a chef or two looking after them. You won’t be expected to have professional skills and you won’t be rushed. There is no pressure and it’s fine if you just want to watch. For those who want to get stuck in then there is plenty of opportunity to chop, mix, fry, braise, crumble and sprinkle. You will come away with a pack of recipes that really work and which you will be confident enough to replicate at home.

cinnamon collection masterclass You have practised your new culinary arts all morning. The dishes are displayed. You have swelled with pride. So, now it’s time to relax with a glass of fizz in the kitchen.  The chefs would have prepared sufficient quantities of all the masterclass dishes and these are presented as a feast to be enjoyed by the whole group of guests around a table in the restaurant. Wine and conversation flow and there is nothing more to do, other than choose a complementary cookbook penned by Vivek who will be delighted to sign it. A final and lasting souvenir of a fun and memorable day.

The Cinnamon Collection Masterclasses are thoroughly engaging. The chefs have had plenty of experience of supporting novices. It’s a thrill to work in a professional kitchen and one becomes a far more confident cook. One might not feel that a tandoor would be a worthwhile addition to the remodelled kitchen, but Indian food will probably be on the menu more often chez vous.

14th May - Vegetarian Wedding Feast with Hari Nagaraj, who is an excellent chef and has been with the group since its early days. He’s not new to conducting these events, and has a knack for inspiring and comforting culinary beginners. The Vegetarian Wedding Feast Masterclass teaches participants how to use traditional and modern Indian cooking methods to prepare a range of vegetarian dishes, ideal for celebrations, festive occasions and sharing with friends and family.

cinnamon collection masterclass 16th July - Barbecues and Roasts with Rakesh Nair, who is a charming and able chef with the ability to put even raw beginners at their ease. The Barbecues and Roasts Masterclass is inspired by the British love of all such dishes, with recipes such as barbecued poussin with tomato fenugreek sauce, and whole roasted sea bream with green spices.

10th September - Secrets from the Southern Indian Kitchen with Chef Ramachandran Raju, who is a pleasure to work with and always has time to offer individual help. Learn how to make the iconic biryani of black-leg chicken, and South Indian rice pancakes with spicy sambar, a traditional lentil broth.

19th November - Game with Vivek Singh, who is a well-known celebrity chef but takes pleasure in introducing others to his cuisine. India has centuries-old hunting traditions and this class offers dishes such as chargrilled partridge with peanuts and dried mango, and green spiced pheasant with kedgeree.

For more information and to book any of the above classes visit here

food and travel reviews

Patara – Berners Street

Patara Berners Street Oxford Street is one of London’s retail arteries. It’s a ribbon of fashion outlets from the celebrated and well-established Selfridges to a flourishing number of stalls selling trashy T-shirts and even more dubious souvenirs. The world of both good and bad taste can be your oyster.

So you have perhaps enjoyed splashing the cash on that great colourful shopping street and you are looking for food. Or you might be a desk-bound local office worker who has been yearning for the end of the day and a delicious meal. Where to go? You are spoilt for choice but many restaurants here are to be avoided. They rely on passing trade and they know that that trade will likely only be passing once. They don’t have to try - they know you won’t be back whatever the quality of the meal.

But walk up the side road called Berners Street past the sandwich emporium and have a very fine dinner from the Thai culinary palette. This is Patara, and they are trying, and cultivating a loyal following. It’s part of a small chain of Thai restaurants with branches internationally and, interestingly, that includes Thailand.

Patara Berners Street I am no stranger to Patara. It’s my restaurant of choice when I want Thai food in Knightsbridge, but it was my first time at the Berners Street branch, and they had a hard act to follow. Granted, the décor is totally different, but they both have the same intimate ambiance. Berners Street is cool and contemporary with only a slight nod to Asia by way of the carved wall treatment. But the food and presentation is distinctly Thai.

The menu is extensive and they evidently take advantage not only of traditional Thai spicing but also of local produce. We chose for both taste and beauty, and it was a feast over which to linger. Starters were traditional Fishcakes with agreeable heat supplied from the sweet chilli dipping sauce. These patties are laced with red curry and perfumed with kaffir lime leaves, crushed roasted peanut, and coriander. Chor Muang are handcrafted lilac dumplings and are memorable for their delicacy and colour. They are filled with caramelised chicken and peanuts and garnished with coconut cream. Would love to see how these are made.

Patara Berners Street Chestnut Duck and Prawn - duck breast and king prawn sautéed with chestnut, cashews, bell pepper, and goji berries - was my guest’s choice of main dish. It was a vision of vegetables, meat and seafood, and seasoned to perfection. Almost too beautiful to eat …almost.

Lamb Shank Massaman - Coconut milk-braised lamb in a mild homemade curry of warm spices and garnished with almond and pickled onion - was my choice. This must surely be one of two signature dishes here, the first being the aforementioned prawn and duck dish. I can honestly say that this lamb shank is the best I have had in years. No, not just the best Thai lamb (I think it’s the first Thai lamb dish I have ever had, actually) but the best lamb shank of any culinary hue. The meat was falling off the bone, moist, flavourful and addictive. If you love lamb then this is the dish for you. Outstanding.

But even the side dishes are worth a mention here. We ordered aubergine with red chilli and pickled soya and this is interesting enough to have as a vegetarian main dish. And then there was the coconut shell filled with roasted Riceberry Rice with sweet coconut water. This is a new variety of rice that has been produced in Thailand. It’s nutty, hearty and quite unique.

Patara Berners Street Patara Berners Street has a great location and it’s well worth taking those few steps away from the throngs on Oxford Street. Could they improve anything? Well, yes. I would have a sign outside that’s is at least twice as big. Be proud, Patara, be very proud.

5 Berners Street

Phone: 020 7580 9923


Opening Times
Monday – Sunday: noon – 15.00

Sunday – Tuesday: 17.30 – 22.30
Wednesday – Saturday: 17.30 – 23.00

food and travel reviews

Art Place Japan:

The Echigo-Tsumari Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature by Fram Kitagawa

Every three years hundreds of square miles of countryside in north western Japan are transformed into a sprawling and many-faceted art installation. More than 150 of the world’s most-celebrated landscape artists, sculptors, and architects display their work in a couple of hundred villages, fields and rice paddies. It’s a liaison between art, people and nature and has become quite an event over the past 15 years.

Art Place Japan This book presents these new and striking art spaces in Japan. The works are not, for the most part, displayed indoors, in galleries and museums. These artworks are punctuating the countryside with contemporary anachronism and thought-provoking three-dimensional statements. They are free to view and are attracting half a million visitors each year, although most of those who come to enjoy the festival are still Japanese. The book has 300 or so pages with 46 mostly short pieces by Fram Kitagawa, over 230 colour photographs, and two more essays by contributors Adrian Favell and Lynne Breslin.

This art extravaganza started in 2000 and held its sixth instalment last year. It was founded by and is still directed by Fram Kitagawa. It has now become highly valued in Japan. The book is a companion to the exhibition, introduced in both words and photographs. It teases with its sometimes whimsical images, while the text is casual and conversational. One concludes that all these disparate and yet expressive works actually represent one immense art form, which is the exhibition in its entirety. It’s a philosophy, a dream, an interactive challenge which has engaged the local population, artists and viewers.

Art Place Japan: The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature
Author: Fram Kitagawa
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
Price: £21.99
ISBN-10: 1616894245
ISBN-13: 978-1616894245

food and travel reviews

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar, with Head Chef Gopal Krishnan

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar I first met Chef Gopalakrishnan when he was working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in London; a smart and charismatic young man who is known by his friends simply as Gopal. He was born in a small village called Sholingur in Tamil Nadu, 100km from Madras (now Chennai) into an orthodox Brahmin family who were vegetarian – and Gopal still is! His early childhood was spent in a town called Athur where his Dad had his own restaurant. “I think cooking runs in my blood – my Granddad had a wedding catering business, and my Dad used to run the restaurant. So we spent a lot of time in the kitchens after school. I was inspired by my Mum’s cooking – even now I think her cooking is the best! Whenever I go home I will ask her to cook something, anything, for me.”

Gopal wanted a career in catering and hotel management, and joined a 1-year course in Food Production at the Institute of Hotel Management and then moved to the Hotel Taj Connemara, and trained in the Chettinad speciality restaurant, the Raintree. “My experience at the Connemara helped me decide to become a chef, to enable me to focus more on the kitchen side.”

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar When the group opened a hotel in Chennai he was part of the pre-opening team, with the New Zealand chef Willie Wilson at the helm. “It was quite a learning experience – setting up the kitchen, installing all the equipment, finding suppliers for meat, fish, vegetables – which you might learn theoretically, but in practice it’s very different! I owe a great deal to Chef Willie, who really instilled a lot of interest and passion into what we did. He always impressed upon us that we must do our best the first time – consistency is the key to success. He would always get us to push our boundaries so we would never become complacent. I have had a very good culinary journey ever since.”

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar is the latest venture by the Michelin-starred chef of Benares. This is a cool and contemporary restaurant which fits its location in stylish fashion. It’s by the river. That’s not estate-agent speak for a restaurant that has distant views of water but only in winter when the leaves have fallen. No, the river is just outside the beautiful leaded windows. Low ceilings and a muted colour palette make this a cosy evening retreat, garnished with outstanding food.

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar This restaurant offers an array of menus: Tasting Menu - 5 Courses, Tasting Menu - 7 Courses, Vegetarian Tasting Menu and an A la Carte menu. There is something here for any occasion and for lunch or dinner. It’s a restaurant that offers a fine dining experience in a more accessible atmosphere. There are some familiar dishes alongside innovation, but all served with flair.

We were expecting good things from Gopal but he, in fact, presented excellent. Nandu Varuval - Crisp Soft Shell Crab with Squid Rings, was a contemporary and classy starter. But there is also more familiar fare here and I ordered Gilafi Seekh Kebab - Skewered Minced Lamb with Basil and Peppers and finished with a Mint Drizzle. These morsels were melting, flavourful and succulent. It’s this kind of dish that has helped make Indian cuisine one of the most popular in the UK. Traditional, without a doubt.

Kaalan Melagu Peratti - Wild Mushroom with Thellicherry Pepper in a Filo Wrap with Coconut Moilee Sauce was my guest’s choice. Tellicherry black peppercorns come from the Malabar Coast of India and are left on the vine longer so they can develop more complex flavour than regular black peppercorns. This was a fusion which was pronounced as outstanding by my guest. I tasted the sauce and I can confirm it is for which to die.

Sindhu by Atul Kochhar Murgh Makhan Palak - Tandoor Smoked Chicken in Creamy Tomato and Fenugreek Sauce is a departure from another familiar dish that has helped our love affair with Indian food. This was a comforting preparation that will gladden the heart of any lover of curry.

Mullanti Veppudu - Parsnip and Jerusalem Artichoke Tossed with Coconut and Spices is an unmissable side dish. I will be demanding the recipe which I will shamelessly use chez nous and likely pass off as my own. This is the first time I can recall having Jerusalem artichokes in anything other than a soup.

Head Chef Gopal Krishnan comes to Sindhu with impeccable credentials. The restaurant is evidently in safe hands.  I don’t doubt Gopal brings with him diners who will be delighted to follow his continuing culinary journey. It’s been a long and eventful one, which offers the promise of future inspiration and innovation.

Opening Hours:
Sunday: noon till 3:15pm
Monday - Saturday: noon till 2:45pm
Monday - Saturday: 6:00pm till 10:30pm
Sunday: 6:00pm till 10:00pm

Sindhu Restaurant
The Compleat Angler
Marlow Bridge
Marlow SL7 1RG

Phone: 01628 405 405
Visit Sindhu here

food and travel reviews

OXBO – Hilton Bankside

OXBOThe name intrigued me. It was either a reference to the bend in the River Thames at Bankside or an indication that this restaurant takes pride in its meat dishes. As it turned out it was both.

OXBO restaurant at the Hilton on Bankside has style. The foyer exuded character with contemporary furnishings that I covet. Nothing bland and chain-familiar here. The restaurant is nothing like any other hotel restaurant I have ever visited, either. This also had character but with a capital C and writ large.

There is a wall of hunting trophies, well, at first glance. But then one realises that they don’t make frogs that size – and then one takes a closer look at the others: well-executed, mercifully fake and humorously quirky animalesque heads. The ceiling is low creating a cosy ambiance. Wood-clad walls introduce rustic tones and judicious use of screens and floor finishes create more intimate spaces in this otherwise expansive restaurant.

OXBO We were here for Sunday lunch. In fact it was Mother’s Day so the place was buzzing with families enjoying the occasion. These groups included impeccably well-behaved children, which just goes to show that good manners are not a thing of the past.

The Sunday lunch format is a self-service buffet for both starters and desserts but with the main course being presented at the table. I noted that even with the restaurant running at full capacity the buffet stations never had queues of waiting diners. The more formal table service made the lunch an occasion. Staff here are friendly and attentive and there were plenty of them.

I first met Chef Paul Bates a number of years ago when he worked at ‘another place’. He has roved the ranges in Mayfair and other smart neighbourhoods and has impeccable culinary credentials. I had high expectations – OXBO didn’t disappoint, and it seems a great vehicle for this man’s talents. The open kitchen might even allow a few moments of chat with Chef Paul, although on this Sunday he was taking the spring air on the rugby field.

OXBO The menu for Sunday lunch isn’t long. People will be looking for traditional for this particular meal. The starter table held seafood aplenty and there were hints of Asia with Sashimi of Tuna, Salmon and Swordfish with associated Japanese condiments. For carnivores there was a spread of cold meats which included Smoked Duck Breast and Lychee Salsa. Gin and Lime Marinated Halibut was light and refreshing – colour and vibrant flavours to excite the taste buds.

 We are famed for Sunday roasts in this country and I can recommend the beef. Roasted joint of Gloucestershire beef served with a puffed Yorkshire pudding taking centre stage, duck-fat roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables completing this very British Sunday lunch.  There is a Bottomless Sunday Roast on offer, which includes a three-course meal and unlimited Prosecco, but I chose a Malbec which, although young, displayed all the classic expressions of Argentina’s national grape variety.

Fish lovers are taken care of with the best of the catch. It might be hake, but on this occasion my guest chose a moist cod steak; and there is chicken, and a vegetarian alternative. Perhaps the younger members of the party might prefer to graze on the starters and the cheese platter and then dive into desserts.

OXBO Those sweets were perfectly-formed jewels. It seems they change on the artistic whim of the pastry chef, or on the availability of ingredients, but on our visit we were tempted with miniature chocolate and caramel tarts, raspberry mousses, sponges, trifles, cookies, candies and macarons.

OXBO would seem to have a sound future. It’s only been open a few months but it’s been praised for its quality of food and reasonable prices. It’s great value for money and it is, quite frankly, a splendid place for Sunday lunch. Its location makes it ideal not only for locals but for those who want lunch and then an afternoon on the river, on the Eye or shopping.

OXBO Restaurant
Hilton London Bankside
2-8 Great Suffolk Street
London SE1 0UG

Visit OXBO here

Phone: 020 7593 3900

Opening Times:
Monday – Wednesday: 06:30 - 11:00 and noon - 22:30
Thursday – Saturday: 06:30 - 11:00 and noon - 23:00
Sunday: 06:30 - 11:00 and noon - 22:30

food and travel reviews

Ichiryu Hakata Udon House

Ichiryu Ichiryu Hakata Udon House is from the same stable that brings you Japan Centre and the chain of Japanese restaurants, Shoryu. Ichiryu is a well-placed eatery on New Oxford Street, and even after just a couple of months it’s enjoying a loyal following of office workers, shoppers, and I hear it’s been discovered by a chef or two!

This is a light and contemporary restaurant and it pays creditable attention to detail. It’s the little things that one notices front of house that indicate how a restaurant is run. Chopsticks are uniformly parallel to the edge of the table. Serviettes are paper but they sport the company logo indicating an element of pride. The high bar table has handbag hooks which are a thoughtful touch; but there are more regular tables for those of us with no balance skills. Service is friendly and periodically animated with shouts of welcome and farewell punctuated by drum beats.

Tak Tokumine, who founded Japan Centre in 1976, has a passion for the food of his hometown of Hakata in Fukuoka prefecture. In fact this town is famed for noodles. As the name suggests, Ichiryu Hakata Udon House specialises in handmade noodles. Those noodles are indeed handmade as one can watch hands actually making them. Surely noodles don’t get fresher than that.

The noodles in question are Udon. These are celebrated for their chewy texture. All Udon are not created equal but of all those I have tasted recently, these are most to my taste. Well, perhaps the word taste isn’t quite correct: I really mean that they are to my texture with the preferred degree of bounce.

Ichiryu Ichiryu sells noodles but they do need to be floating in something, and in this case it’s a light and well-flavoured broth. Even this varies from restaurant to restaurant and from company to company. I have had delicious noodles that are coated by a much thicker white soup made from simmered bones and that’s wonderful, but the Ichiryo broth showcases the noodles and the garnishes rather than filling one with a soup as thick as sauce.

We started our meal with matcha tea to which I have become addicted over the past few years. Here presented in the largest tea bowls I have ever seen. This vibrant green liquid is becoming more popular worldwide as it offers greater health benefits than does regular leaf tea. One ingests the whole leaf rather than just drinking the liquor resulting from the traditional tea-brewing process.

Ichiryu My guest ordered Udon noodles with a garnish of Niku Beef. The marinated shaved meat was deliciously savoury and tender. Courgette tempura was our choice of side dish. It offered a light crunch from the batter enrobing the quarters of vegetable that still retained their form and natural flavour.

I grazed on Gyoza which are pot-sticker dumplings and well worth trying. There was the usual soy condiment, but this time with yuzu paste which was outstanding with deep citrus tang complementing the rich filling of the dumplings.

Hakata buns are here with various fillings. These, I believe, originated in Taiwan and are an Asian sandwich. The fluffy folded bread held, in our case, some fresh and flaky cod. One of these would make a substantial nibble with drinks but three would constitute a full meal. Chicken Cutlet is a simple dish which was elevated to the memorable by the associated spicy sauce. The coating was crunchy and the meat moist.

Ichiryu Dessert of mochi filled with ice cream is undoubtedly Japanese but is becoming popular internationally. It’s that agreeable combination of chewy ricecake surrounding an ice-cold filling. At Ichiryu the dessert arrives as a trio of sesame, matcha and yuzu-flavoured mochi. Kids will love this.

Ichiryu Hakata Udon House doesn’t put a foot wrong. The food is comforting, the ambiance relaxing, and it offers value for money.

Ichiryu Hakata Udon House
84 New Oxford St


Visit Ichiryu here

Opening hours
Mon - Sat: Noon - 22:30
Sun: Noon - 21:30

food and travel reviews

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake

Founded around 1720 in Takayama Hida in Japan, Oita Shuzo brewery has been producing sake ever since. This is a beautiful region with several noteworthy breweries. It comes alive in winter, which is the sake-brewing season in Japan.
Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake
In the Edo era sweet sake was more highly esteemed than the dry version. Many dry sakes produced in Japan were sarcastically nicknamed ‘Oni Koroshi’.  Oni is the Japanese word for demon and koroshi is slayer or killer. Locals said that even those monsters would die if they drank such dry sake. Now drier sake is more popular and is my favourite style, being crisp, light and more easily paired with Western food. Try a chilled glass with your preferred evening snacks.

Oita Shuzo is now in its 15th generation of family owners and is under the watchful eye of Hideo Oita, although they have moved from their original site in Takayama. Such family business continuity is not so unusual in Japan. The company produces 400kL of sake and shochu each year. They respect traditional methods but are happy to incorporate new technology and practices where they improve the process.

Honjozo is sake that has a small amount of brewer’s alcohol added to the fermenting sake mash after the yeast has completed converting the sugar in the rice. To be considered as a honjozo sake, the weight of the additional alcohol must be no more than 10% of the weight of the rice used.

This sake is available in convenient smaller-size bottles. Its reasonable price makes this a great entry-level sake.  Oita Shuzo of Hida produces this Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake with a slightly dry character, displaying an elegant smoothness and a hint of crispness, making this a versatile sake, and one that fits easily into a small sake carafe.

Onikoroshi Honjozo Sake is produced in 300 ml bottles
Alcohol Content: 15.5%.    
Rice polished to 68% (the % of rice remaining after the polishing process is complete)
The Japan Centre has an impressive selection of Sake. They are available online and from their shops.

Japan Centre Food Hall and Book Shop
19 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 7ED

Visit Japan Centre here
Phone: 020 3405 1246

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food and travel reviews

Afternoon Tea at Home - Deliciously indulgent recipes for sandwiches, savouries, scones, cakes and other fancies

I was expecting a great book from this well-respected chef, Will Torrent. I wasn’t expecting the volume to have that overwhelming feel-good factor. That comes from a reminder of traditional sweet treats in the recipes, bringing comforting memories. And contemporary innovations bringing the realisation of ‘I can do that’ dusted with a smug ‘won’t the mother-in-law be impressed’.

Afternoon Tea at home Will has written a book that will be inspiring for both the enthusiastic novice and the experienced home baker. Some of the recipes might seem daunting but read them through and realise that they are not over-taxing and really just a combination of smaller recipes that can be executed individually and then constructed into the finished impressive article.

Afternoon tea is a flexible light meal. It can be a cottagey affair with old-fashioned baked goods. These days it might be a smart event for the flowery dress and Ascot hat brigade. And then there are those fun spreads to celebrate a birthday. Will covers it all with suggestions for both sweet and savoury items and every type of occasion: tea menus for blokes, mums and dads, brides and even breakfast tea are all here.

A classic tea has a formula. There will likely be a 3-tier stand with savouries on the bottom plate and that’s where one starts. Then the middle level probably contains scones to be served with fixin’s of jam and cream. The final selection will have grabbed your attention as soon as the stand arrived. That’s where the small cakes and fancies rest, like confectionery gems. Will has recipes to fill each of these plates.

My picks of the book are numerous. Roast Beef Sandwiches are a must-try. Yes, slices of beef for sure, but a unique onion and garlic spread elevates this sarnie to a masterpiece. Another stunning savoury is the Chicken Liver Parfait with Thyme and Onion Confit and fluted brioche. It’s a metaphoric mouthful but break it down into its constituent parts and you have a rather versatile set. The parfait would be a spread for toast, the confit would work as a garnish for roast meats, and the brioche is a classic sweet bread with many uses.

Scones are usually sweet and Will offers those, but his Triple Cheese Scones with Whipped Mustard Butter have my name on them. Other tangy nibbles include Olive and Anchovy Whirls. Will is a realist so he suggests you use good quality shop-bought puff pastry because he knows you’d do that anyway, and this recipe could not be simpler.

Eccles Cakes are quintessentially English and show our traditional use of dried fruit. Will adds the rich and sweet sherry Pedro Ximénez in which to soak the currants and it makes a delightful difference. Keeping with the Spanish theme he serves the Eccles Cakes with Manchego cheese.

If I had to choose just one recipe, just one tempting morsel, only a single remarkable creation, then it would be Mince Pie Brownies. It’s a beautiful pile of three layers and each with its own distinct yet complementary character. This would be on my top tier of the Christmas tea stand, but I’d have this as a festive dessert and a lighter alternative to Christmas pudding (which I loathe with a passion known to few). It’s Mince Pie Brownies for me in future, to finish Christmas dinner.

I am an unashamed supporter of the author of Afternoon Tea at Home. Will Torrent is evidently a talented baker and maker of scrumptious desserts but he is also a chap with a warm and engaging personality. This book presents a paper version of Will: it’s charming, reflects great skill but above all, it’s encouraging. If Afternoon Tea at Home doesn’t entice you into the kitchen then sell the kitchen!

Afternoon Tea at Home
Author: Will Torrent
Price: £19.99
Published by: Ryland Peters & Small
ISBN-10: 184975702X
ISBN-13: 978-1849757027

food and travel reviews

Classic Recipes of the Philippines

This rather smart little book looks at the unique traditional food and cooking of the Philippines. But many of us know little of these islands and probably even less about its culinary heritage.

The Philippines are a cluster of islands with its nearest neighbours being Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Its geographic proximity to those culinary giants would guarantee some striking dishes, but then add Spain into the mix and one finds an extraordinary melting-pot.

Classic Philippines Classic Recipes of the Philippines offers 25 authentic dishes that cover some of the most celebrated foods in these islands. There are very few ingredients that would demand a trip to a specialist supermarket but a stock of 3 or 4 Filipino condiments will likely set you up for all of these recipes. There is a vibrant shrimp sauce but nothing much more challenging than that.

The book starts with a soup, Chicken and Ginger Broth with Papaya (Tinolang Manok). The Filipino staple ingredients of garlic and ginger are joined by chilli and green papaya to create a truly delicious and warming soup. It’s a simple dish to prepare but it’s impressive.

Chorizo is a definite influence from Spain, which governed these islands for a couple of hundred years. Here it’s found as part of a beef stew which also includes chickpeas and plantains which are available in most supermarkets these days. This is a hearty and exotic bowl with flavours of both East and West.

I have always thought of oxtail as being a thoroughly British cut of meat and one that seems rather old-fashioned here these days. It’s surprising to see this much-underrated meat included as a Filipino classic called Kare Kare and it’s prepared with the less than British peanuts, rice flour and banana hearts. It’s served with shrimp sauce and green mango on the side and is far more interesting than my Nan’s stew. Definitely one to try.

Adobo is the national dish in the Philippines and it comes via Mexico which was also a Spanish colony. Here it’s a memorable concoction with both pork and chicken, although it could be made with just one or other of these. Vinegar is the key ingredient in Adobo Manok, which is even better the next day.

Filipino cuisine is set to become the next international culinary trend. It has a flavour profile that is attractive to a broad audience and it’s interesting to note that there are now high-end Filipino restaurants opening in major cities to introduce us to the delicious yet unfamiliar flavours of these stunning islands.

Classic Recipes of the Philippines
Authors: Ghillie Basan and Vilma Laus
Published by: Lorenz Books
Price: £4.99
ISBN-10: 0754830497
ISBN-13: 978-0754830498

food and travel reviews

Dirty Bones Kensington for Brunch

Dirty Bones
It’s raining in Kensington and we are hungry for brunch. Yes, that convivial meal twixt brekkie and weekend dinner that allows for a broad menu over which to pore. Kensington is posh and I would venture to say that Dirty Bones has the only entrance in the area that resembles that of an iffy dive or old-fashioned speakeasy. It has a nocturnal persona as a buzzy bar, which accounts for this edgy urban façade.

The red-tiled staircase leads to something of a warren of bar and dining areas. It’s an eclectic mix of rustic tables, wood-clad walls, more tiles and enamel pitchers. It’s quirky but it works. There are banquettes for groups (and I am sure there are many of those during the evening service), as well as romantic tables for two. Low lights even for the weekend lunch crowd, but that did make for a cosy ambiance after the cold and grey of Kensington High Street.

Dirty Bones Dirty Bones cocktails are outstanding, so start your brunch with one. True, I have not sampled the whole mixology bill of fare but I can highly recommend at least a novice’s selection of two. Mezcal Old Fashioned is a drink over which to linger. Granted, there isn’t a roaring open fire down in the basement sanctuary but this smoky libation is right for just such a spot. Del Maguey Mezcal Vida was sweetened with Agave Syrup and lifted by a few shakes of both Angostura and Orange Bitters. At the risk of sounding sexist – this could be one for the boys.

Dirty Gimlet had my name on it. I have been a long-time lover of a gimlet of any hue. They are sweet and sour concoctions with a truly adult taste. The Dirty Bones Gimlet was one of the finest of the genre it has been my pleasure to try. The key is the Chilli-Infused Bombay Sapphire Gin which imparts delicious measured heat which has a counterpoint from the classic Rose’s Lime Juice and Celery Bitters. This is a must-try at any time of the day.

The dishes here are described as American comfort food and there is a lot that falls into that category. A brunch favourite at Dirty’s will likely be The Mac Daddy. A 6oz house burger is topped with pulled beef short rib, and that’s the secret to the success of this dish. That additional meat is tangy with a light BBQ sauce which elevates the patty into something extraordinary.  The Mac element is Mac and Cheese which was mild and creamy.

Dirty Bones Coffee and Donuts for dessert? That sounds improbable but it’s a cuppa Joe with a difference. It’s coffee gelato and served in a coffee glass with a hot donut alongside. I would love the recipe for this ice cream. It’s not over-sweet and with a flavour that reminded me of the Camp Coffee of my childhood. This was a delightful treat and a masterful presentation.

Dirty Bones Kensington is a great location for a weekend brunch. It might be a challenge to find the front door but the effort will be worth it.

Dirty Bones Kensington
20 Kensington Church Street
London W8 4EP

Visit Dirty Bones here

Opening hours
Tues - Thurs: 5pm - midnight
Fri: 5pm - 1am
Sat: noon - 1am
Sun: noon - 9pm

food and travel reviews

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington I am not naturally an early-morning person. I am not naturally a morning person of any time classification, but I do love breakfast – as long as I am not cooking it. If you are going to go to the trouble of sitting down to a meal at that time of the day then it had better be worth waking up for. Brunch at Balans Soho Society is good. Very good.

The motto is ‘Too much of a good thing is a good thing’ and it’s appropriate for an establishment such as Balans Soho Society. The restaurant is a casual and quirky bistro-style dining spot of character. Perhaps that should be Character with a capital C for its individual charm is noteworthy. Yes, it’s a matter of taste, but Balans Soho Society on Kensington High Street has my vote, both gastronomically and aesthetically.

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington
The bar is well stocked as one would expect and sports a brace of candlesticks of monumental proportions. Tables for breakfast and brunch (I can’t testify to other meals) were laid with crates of condiments. The napkins were of crisp white linen and the silverware heavy and embossed with the Balans Soho Society marks of keys and keyholes. Class in casual fashion writ large here.

A full English breakfast is always tempting: it’s on offer at Balans Soho Society and evidently popular. I noticed that the menu had a couple of less-than-traditional items that sounded intriguing, and, assuring myself that I could have the fry-up on the next visit, I ordered Eggs in Hell! The worst offence a restaurant can commit is to entice the prospective diner with the expectation of vibrant spice and then not deliver. This dish was pleasingly spicy with well-balanced heat from a tomato-based sauce. This bathed sautéed potatoes (Balans potatoes) which made a nest for two poached eggs and parmesan. A breakfast fit for any sluggish riser or lover of heat. Consider adding a slice of crusty bread for mopping.

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington
The High Society Eggs Benedict was my guest’s brunch of choice. He is a man of refined tastes and appreciative of the better things in life. The regular eggs beni has been a favourite since the dish was first invented in the US in the 1890s. The regular poached eggs, bacon, English muffin and hollandaise sauce has a couple of additions here - creamy avocado and lobster. The preparation was pronounced delicious and worthy as a weekend
treat for the discerning.

Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street is great value for money. The brunch menu caters for those with hearty appetites, those with more modest cravings and even those unfortunates who are looking for a morning-after-the-night-before reviver, who will likely benefit from those heavenly hellish eggs.Brunch at Balans Soho Society Kensington

Balans Soho Society
187 Kensington High Street
W8 6SH

Phone: 020 7376 0115

Visit Balans Soho Society Kensington High Street here

food and travel reviews

The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea

A few years ago our culinary ethnic horizons extended to a Friday night curry and perhaps the occasional Chinese dinner of sweet and sour pork. Often made at home from decent cookbooks, but not often pushing geographic food boundaries.

The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea These days we are exposed to many more restaurants and those encompass cuisines from every corner of the globe. There are exotic platters from Ethiopia, vibrant Caribbean dishes, and Polish dumplings in restaurants that are flourishing. We love eating out and then reproducing the flavours at home. We travel and bring back dining memories and cravings.

Japanese and Korean restaurants were almost unheard of a decade or so ago but now they are popular. Korean meals are often robust and spicy and just the kind of food appreciated by the British palate these days. Japanese dishes are refined and there is more to this cuisine than the ubiquitous sushi which is adored by so many. The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea is a substantial collection of 250 recipes that will enable you to replicate favourite plates and will introduce you to new ones.

I love this style of cookbook. There is a comprehensive glossary of Korean and Japanese foods and an overview of each cuisine, along with a shopping guide. It’s likely that you will have to buy a few store-cupboard ingredients to start with, but once you have that small battery of condiments and spices you will be able to tackle all of those 250 dishes.

There are 1500 illustrations and these are supportive when one is new to a particular ingredient or technique or don’t know what the finished product should look like. There is lots that might be unfamiliar but this book presents recipes that can be mastered even by the culinarily challenged. The recipes are well written with step-by-step instructions.

I have my favourites from both the Japanese and Korean delights offered here. Sweet Cinnamon Pancakes are a popular snack in Korea and would be great as part of an exotic afternoon tea spread. They are little stuffed turnovers with a peanut and cinnamon filling, and they are addictive.

Oyako Don is a simple and satisfying dinner that won’t break the bank. The name means parent and child: ‘parent’ refers to the chicken and ‘child’ to the egg. The egg is poured over the finished dish and cooks for just a minute or so. The result is a silky coating over the chicken and the two are served over steaming rice.

The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea is a practical book that will appeal to those of us who actually use cookbooks. It’s well-presented, deliciously informative and it’s a real page-turner for any dedicated food lover. I had forgotten how much I miss some of these dishes and I am tempted to make them again. There are others that are new to me and they are equally enticing.

There are two distinct cooking traditions here but so many dishes work well together. It’s a carnival of well-chosen recipes and under £12, which is great value for money.

The Food and Cooking of Japan and Korea
Authors: Emi Kazuko and Young Jin Song
Published by: Southwater
Price: £11.99
ISBN-10: 1780194250
ISBN-13: 978-1780194257

food and travel reviews

The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography

I have come to this medium quite late in life. I got a bit of confidence with my iPhone and some of those images were, although I say it as shouldn’t, spectacular. But somehow I knew there was more.

Guide to photography This book is a weighty tome at a very reasonable price. At under £12 one can have a fairly thorough overview of the craft of photography. It’s a step-by-step guide to the apparatus (your camera) as well as advice on improving the results of your labours.

There is more to good photography than lots of equipment. It isn’t just a matter of pointing and clicking, although there are plenty of cameras that will produce acceptable snaps by doing just that. There is a world of possibilities to be explored when one realises that those little buttons and dials dotted around the camera actually do something.

The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography explains depth of field, focal length, shutter speeds, focus and exposure, along with many other functions the use of which will enable you to produce really professional shots. This would be something of a bible for the beginner who will likely want this book as part of their photography kit. Its 1700 or so pictures are a great support to the text.

It’s not only the technical issues which are covered. Photographs are art and so the book devotes time to explaining how to get that elusive effect, how to pose a subject, as well as editing images, which is a crucial part of the craft these days. There are sections on emailing your images, printing them and even advice on entering photographic competitions. In fact there is everything a budding photographer might need to gain a bit of confidence and know-how.

The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography is a comprehensive introduction to a wonderful pastime that could develop into a career. It’s a perfect gift for a novice and as affordable as a pack of photographic paper.

The Complete Practical Guide to Digital and Classic Photography
Authors: Steve Luck and John Freeman
Published by: Southwater
Price: £11.99
ISBN-10: 1780194331
ISBN-13: 978-1780194332

food and travel reviews

Darbaar by Abdul Yaseen

Here is a man to follow and a restaurant to watch. This new venture, Darbaar with Abdul Yaseen at the helm, has pedigree and polish and it’s no surprise!

Darbaar by Abdul Yaseen Located in the heart of London’s City square mile, Darbaar is rather conveniently situated. Not far from the travel hub of Liverpool Street Station and with ample parking just yards away this restaurant has a huge catchment area. It’s already popular for lunch with local office workers and with those who want a bite after work, but I am expecting that trend will have the evening tables filled by discerning diners who will soon mark Darbaar as a destination Indian restaurant.

But what of this aforementioned pedigree? Abdul is already an award-winning chef who moved from Jaipur to London fifteen years ago and was part of the launch team of celebrated Cinnamon Club, which has now morphed into a small and well-respected chain. Abdul became Head Chef at Cinnamon Kitchen and Anise, enhancing the Cinnamon brand.

Abdul Yaseen now has his own establishment and, although very new, it is already a credit to him. The food at Darbaar is inspired by the banquets of the Indian Royal Courts. One might therefore expect a restaurant decorated with sofas, waiters in Rajasthani costume and a chap in the corner playing a sitar. Nothing like that here. There are small design vignettes giving a nod to the Sub-continent. There are only a few carved elephants here and there, and some sabres also appear on the crockery, but the food is totally Indian and very thoughtfully chosen.

Darbaar by Abdul Yaseen  Darbaar is an impressive 5,500 square feet in area and offers a 220-cover restaurant, and a cosy bar which also tempts with small plates for those strapped for time. The whole of Darbaar is a vision of dark wood and burnished metal with natural earth colours and mirror accents. Soft furnishings are in muted orange and each table sports a carved candle holder creating a calm and relaxed atmosphere.

The restaurant includes a grill-side seating area, open kitchen vista, tables for couples or groups and some banquettes. There is an attractive 20-cover private dining room with a striking wall of wine bottles. There is also a chef’s table for up to 12 people with a view to the open kitchen, with chefs serving dishes directly from the glass hatch. Service throughout is friendly, efficient and appropriate.

I could have safely predicted that the food here would be good but it was in fact superb. We started with King Scallops and Red Cabbage Porial served with Herb Moilee. Each sweet nugget was perfect with its associated relish. Royal Bengal-style Wild Madagascar Prawns arrived looking beautifully curled - a luxurious treat and well worth ordering, as is the Tandoori Salmon Tikka with Kokum Berries and Chilli, still glistening with its juices.

Darbaar by Abdul Yaseen A signature starter at Darbaar must surely be the Nanza which is an Indian pizza made in the wood-fired clay oven for maximum flavour. This Chilli, Chicken, Caramelised Onion and Cheddar cheese preparation is so good that I think it’s probably the best pizza I have ever had. That statement might leave my Italian friends blanching with shock but I would counsel trying this before you profess your nationalistic doubts.

Perhaps the star of the evening, beating stiff competition from those other dishes, was the Baked Leg of Rabbit which was cooked and served on the bone and with a Rajasthani Chilli and Corn Sauce. It’s a shame so many people have such reservations about eating bunny. It’s a delicious and mild meat with good texture and flavour and so versatile. This corn sauce is so good that I think it could be a dish in its own right. It had a rich texture and was moreish. Order some extra bread for dipping as you won’t want to leave any of this.

Whistling Duck Merlot was our wine for the evening and it can even be had by the glass. It’s at the top of the Red Wine List so won’t break the bank. It’s an Australian classic with hints of ripe plums and blackberries. It pairs particularly well with the delicately spiced foods at Darbaar with neither party competing with the other.

Yes, dear reader, I am impressed by Chef Yaseen, whom I already knew, and Darbaar, which I didn’t. This is Indian fine dining at its best. Granted, there are no crisp white tablecloths but here it’s all about the food and the guests who are sharing it. Bring friends and eat together. Talk in animated fashion and relax in an ambiance that can be enjoyed by working folks as well as maharajas. Darbaar is a winner of a restaurant which I fully expect to achieve culinary decorations in the near future.

Darbaar Restaurant
1 Snowden Street
Broadgate West

Phone: 020 7422 4100

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday - Lunch – 12noon to 2:45pm
Monday to Saturday - Dinner - 6pm to 10:45pm
Bar - 11.30am to 12 midnight (serving nibbles and small plates)
Closed on Sunday

food and travel reviews

The Chalet Cookbook

The Chalet Cookbook Yes, it’s that time of year again. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, etc. Our thoughts turn to cold-weather vacations and possibly (although not in my case) to sporty pursuits. There will be expectations of snowy vistas, the smell of pine and tables groaning with comforting food.

The Chalet Cookbook by the Abinger Cookery School in association with Fish and Pips have produced a book that will be a perfect inspiration for winter foods at home or in that cabin in the mountains, which will hopefully have a well-stocked supermarket within easy sledging distance.

This book takes a step away from cheese fondue and presents dishes that work well on self-catering winter holidays, but there is not a hint of instant packet mixes or corner-cutting. This is a proper adult cookbook which offers suggestions on appropriate dishes to make every chalet meal a feast, but without the need for the primary chefs to miss out on sloping off.

The Chalet Cookbook is a combination of traditional and thoroughly contemporary creations that have an international flavour, reflecting how most of us actually eat these days – or would like to. The recipes are divided by course starting with breakfast and continuing with afternoon tea and then on to a full dinner spread. There is something here for every taste and indeed every level of cheffy skill.

The authors have been mindful of different eating habits, so provide wholesome and healthy items as well as those of a more hearty nature for people who have spent the day in open-air activities. Some dishes are fun and others rather avant garde but all will be appealing, not only to the chalet chef but also to those who are staying home. Some are for a crowd of 8 – 10 people and others are for 4 – 6 diners, making this a great cookbook for anyone who enjoys giving sizable dinner parties.

I wouldn’t pass up on eating any of the foods here but I do have favourites. Lemon Tart with Gin and Tonic Granita serves 8 to 10 people, or more likely four to five people twice, as second helpings are on the cards with this one. Yes, delicious when both the tart and granita are served together, but they could just as easily be enjoyed separately. That sorbet would be a refreshing palate-reviver between courses of a lavish dinner, and the tart as part of an afternoon tea spread. A timeless classic.

Slow-Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Crispy Polenta is a must-try and falls into the aforementioned category of comfort food. The lamb is spicy, rich and flavourful with a crunchy texture from the polenta, although I think this lamb would also work well with soft polenta or even a heaping bowl of old-fashioned mash. Talking of polenta, there is a to-die-for Lemon Polenta Cake which will become a staple chez nous.

This isn’t a hefty tome but it’s full of inspiration. The only slight criticism is that I would have liked a little background or explanation for each recipe. It’s a delightful book and will be well-received this Yuletide by any enthusiastic cook.

To learn to cook like a Chalet pro visit

food and travel reviews

Langkawi – more than beaches

Langkawi - more than beaches This tropical gem has a deserved reputation for iconic, palm-fringed beaches, dazzling white sand and sea warm enough to call a bath. Langkawi is an island that charms and intrigues, and its story can be discovered not far from your sun-lounger.

The sea is very much part of life here. It has provided a living for the islanders from fishing, and now it presents a luxurious diversion for tourists. Naam Cruises is perhaps the foremost leisure and watersports company on the island and it prides itself on its excellent reputation for both service and safety. The company specialises in nature adventures and high-end excursions including a popular dinner cruise which rocks the guest into a state of pampered calm while watching the sun set over tiny islands and slowly-reddening sea.

The staff are attentive and professional and the food offered on these evening cruises is excellent. There are wines and beers as well as refreshing non-alcoholic cocktails and soft drinks. The boat is spacious and luxurious and can be hired for private events. The crew will be able to tell you tales and legends of local princesses and warriors, and point out natural features and wildlife. This would be an ideal away-day for a group of family or friends who can have a trip especially tailored to their needs. The boat can be hired for overnight stays as it boasts several sumptuous en-suite cabins.

Visit Naam Cruises here

Langkawi - more than beaches Dayang Bunting is the second largest island in Langkawi’s archipelago of 100 or so islands. It has one of the region’s best-loved attractions and is visited by both locals and tourists alike. The meaning of the name Dayang Bunting is 'Island of Pregnant Lady'. But it’s the lake on the island that is the draw. It’s a large freshwater lake known as Lake Guillemard. It’s a hike to get to as it is surrounded by hills of dense rain forests.

Like all good islands this one has a legend. A man named Mat Teja fell in love with the Princess Mambang Sari when he met her by the lake. They eventually married and the princess gave birth to a son but he unfortunately died shortly after. They decided to lay their son in the lake to allow him a peaceful resting place. The grieving princess blessed all women having difficulty conceiving a child, praying that they would become fertile once they had immersed themselves in the magical waters of the lake. If one looks at the profile of the surrounding hills then one can see, exercising a little imagination, the silhouette of a reclining pregnant lady.

Visit here if you are reasonably fit and in no hurry. There are many steps so take your time and take some water. No alcohol is allowed and don’t take food as the ever-watchful monkeys will grab it along with your camera. This perhaps isn’t the excursion for the elderly or the very young as a baby buggy would never make it. But once there the cool waters will be refreshing. One can take a dip from the pontoon or can hire a pedalo and go exploring. This is a popular attraction but uncrowded, as there is plenty of space.
The lake and the surrounding area is part of the Dayang Bunting Marble Geoforest Park. This is one of the three geoparks of Langkawi with great limestone formations, marble outcrops and unique geological features. The park has several caves: in fact the lake itself has resulted from a large underwater cave, the roof of which collapsed and eventually filled with fresh water.
Learn more here

Langkawi - more than beaches There is a tour that I can highly recommend with one particular company, at least. Dev’s Adventure Tours with Naturalist Khirien Kamarudin are exceptional. Take the Mangrove boat trip and you will see another aspect of this tropical paradise. Khirien will conduct you through ancient caves and will talk about the bats, the snakes, lizards, fish and those ubiquitous monkeys. He has respect for the environment, which is sometimes lacking in his counterparts from less professional companies.

There is so much to see here. The running commentary is fascinating and the younger members of the party will enjoy bird-spotting. Those birds will doubtless include the local brown eagle which is thought to have given Langkawi its name – Island of the Brown Eagle in Malay. There are wild dogs running between the trees, snakes hanging from branches (out of reach of the boat) and more monkeys.

Dev’s Adventure Tours with Khirien Kamarudin should not be missed. Take just a morning away from the sun-kissed sand and take a look at another face of Langkawi. You will return home with more than a tan – you will have an understanding of the eco-system of a treasure of an island and the kids will be talking about it till your next trip – for a next trip there will surely be.

To learn more about Dev’s Adventure Tours visit here

I can highly recommend The Meritus Pelangi Beach Hotel and The Danna Hotel, as I have stayed in both. They offer the highest standards with service to match. Their locations are convenient and there is a host of trips to enjoy for those seeking a little gentle adventure, if you can tear yourself away from the pool or the sea.

Learn more about Meritus Pelangi Beach here

Langkawi - more than beaches Meritus Pelangi Beach Resort and Spa
Pantai Cenang
07000 Langkawi
Kedah Darul Aman
Phone: 60-4 952 8888
Fax: 60-4 952 8899
General Enquiries:

Learn more about The Danna here
The Danna Hotel
Telaga Harbour Park
 Pantai Kok
Phone: 604 959 3288

The Langkawi International Airport is one of 7 international airports in Malaysia and connects the island to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Penang and also Subang.

Singapore Airlines offers numerous flights and connections to Langkawi. Learn more here

food and travel reviews

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs

Reims Reims is a beautiful and historic city in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. It is only 130 km from Paris with easy access by train. Excursions to nearby Chalons are a must and there will be not only the delightfully ubiquitous champagne to taste but also the champagne truffles which are so celebrated here.

The city was founded by the Gauls and became a significant town during Roman times, but it’s also important to the story of French royalty as it is the town traditionally associated with the crowning of French kings. The cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and contains some stunning stained-glass windows and beautifully grand architecture as befits its status, although German hostilities during the First World War and a subsequent fire caused extensive damage to the cathedral.

Much of Reims has been rebuilt but I found it to be a feast for lovers of building design. One can find houses, shops and public buildings which show architectural styles from almost every era. There are still vestiges of the Roman occupation, as well as a palace, an opera house and the town hall which are all striking, and conveniently in the centre of the town.

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs Even the name of the region, Champagne-Ardenne, hints at its high-end eponymous produce and it can all be found in and around Reims. There are numerous speciality shops offering cheeses and wines, others offer tempting baked goods and chocolates; but you might notice a shop selling a curious pink biscuit. Biscuit Rose de Reims is a unique confection which is made by Maison Fossier, which was founded in 1756, although the biscuit is thought to have been invented in 1691.

Biscuits Rose de Reims are one of my top three gastronomic souvenirs of this area. They are associated with celebrations and convivial gatherings where they are dunked into glasses of champagne. Their crisp and dry texture allows for a dip without the fear of unsightly flopping. A delicious tradition. There are lots of recipes that incorporate the famous pink biscuit so it’s a souvenir that travels well.

One can visit the factory that makes Biscuits Rose de Reims and other fine regional cookies and cakes. There are guided tours by appointment and a shop in which to linger.

Magasin Fossier Reims Cathédrale
25 cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet,
51100 Reims

Visit the Maison Fossier factory here

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs That much-mentioned champagne is my next souvenir of Reims. There are numerous creditable champagne houses here but one of the most accessible is G.H. Mumm. Its champagnes are available worldwide but it’s a treat to be able to taste and buy at its place of birth.  Mumm has a long history, being founded in 1827, but is in modern times recognised as the champagne shaken and showered at the end of Grand Prix racing events – although I personally consider that wasteful exuberance to be almost sacrilegious. One can take an informative hour-long Mumm Champagne cellar tour (by appointment) to learn about the unique Champagne-making process and to hear the history of the House. The old and atmospheric cellars hold some 25 million bottles in constantly cool conditions.

Choose the ‘Cordon Rouge Experience’ tour with a tasting of the Champagne house’s signature Cordon Rouge Champagne, or the ‘G.H. Mumm Experience’ with the cellar tour and tasting of a brace of cuvées. For a truly outstanding experience there is the ‘En Noirs and Blancs’ tour where one samples the produce of two very different grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir.

Visit G.H. Mumm here

Reims - Tasteful Souvenirs Truffles! That’s my third gastronomic souvenir of the region. The most famous and most eagerly sought are the Champagne truffles. They don’t taste of champagne but the name refers to the colour which has more of an amber hue than that of the less interesting white truffles which are also found here.

Auberge des Moissons is an ideal spot to stay and enjoy this fungus. It’s a comfortable hotel with a truffle centre attached. One can buy truffles but also learn about them. There is even a chance to actually go truffle-hunting with Honey the truffle dog and her dad, the owner of the establishment.

Not only does the truffle centre present the story of truffles but there is also a cooking school where guests can learn how to prepare truffles. You will go away with some delicious recipes to make back home and bragging rights about how you actually witnessed the discovery of this Black Gold.

So you have hunted, and now it’s time to try truffles in every imaginable guise and prepared by a professional chef. Auberge des Moissons has its own restaurant in a converted barn. The menu offers nibbles, starters, soups, savouries, mains and even desserts that incorporate the noble truffle. Lots of fine champagnes available to complete your truffle feast.

Auberge des Moissons
Hôtel-Restaurant ***
RD3 - 8, Route Nationale
51510 Matougues

Phone: +33 (0) 3 26 70 99 17
Fax: +33 (0) 3 26 66 56 94

Visit Auberge des Moissons here

Rail fares from London to Reims or Chalons en Champagne start at £86 standard class return per person.

For bookings and more information, visit here or call 0844 848 5 848.

For other travel possibilities visit European Waterways here

Learn more about Reims and the region here

food and travel reviews

The Danna - beachside luxury - Langkawi Malaysia

The Danna Langkawi, or to give its official title, Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah – in Malay Langkawi Permata Kedah – Is a tropical paradise. Its beaches are legendary, its skies mostly blue, and the sea is mesmerising. Nothing needed apart from a rather smart hotel. Well, who wants to sleep on a beach, however beautiful?

Langkawi is not just one island but a string of them - an archipelago of more than 100 islands and all set in the Andaman Sea. The mainland is just 30 km away but you will not be thinking about that when you are here. Langkawi, or ‘Island of the reddish-brown eagle’ in Malay, is hypnotic.

Langkawi has several outstanding hotels but perhaps the most iconic is The Danna with its well-deserved 5 stars. It’s located on Telaga Harbour and not far away from Burau Bay (or Teluk Burau) on the west coast of Langkawi Island. The Danna is only 15 minutes (11 km) away from Langkawi International Airport so there isn’t the prospect of a nasty, long and hot ride to get there. Your vacation will start almost as soon as your baggage leaves the carousel.

The Danna The Danna stands right next to Telaga Harbour which was built in the style of a Mediterranean seafront town on gleaming boats that wouldn’t be out of place in St. Tropez or Nice.

The Danna is sparkling white and with an entrance canopy that would put the most celebrated London hotels to shame. Its crisply uniformed staff welcome the guest with cooling drinks and soothing towels, while they check in seated on sofas in the spacious reception area.

Everything about The Danna is roomy. Public areas have well-spaced easy chairs in colonial rattan, or cushioned banquettes on which to lounge. Corridors are wide and open to the warm air of the verdant central courtyard. There is a fish pond, and trees bring the lush vegetation of the hotel grounds actually into the building. One might be on the 3rd floor but there is the perception that one is staying in a bungalow, albeit a very large white bungalow.

The Danna The Danna is polished, pruned, and preened to the highest of standards. If there was a 6th star then The Danna would have it in its firmament. The facilities are first class and it boasts the largest pool on the island, with multiple levels for the enjoyment of both splashers and lappers. It’s an infinity pool that seems to flow into the sea just beyond.

The beach here is pristine with white-blond sand. The sea is as warm as a bath and tempting for a dip on hot afternoons. There are plenty of loungers and shady pods in which to snuggle with a tall drink and a good book. One will likely spend the first couple of days just listening to gentle waves and summoning the energy to turn the page.

The Danna Hotel boasts 125 guest rooms and suites and all of them are well appointed. They have rich fabrics, dark wood, excellent views of sea or harbour. There might be a hint of old colonial times but there is every item of technology that any modern guest might want. If work isn’t far away then there are three high-tech meeting centres, ideal for business gatherings of any size.

The Danna So you have relaxed in the sun and slept in a sumptuous room and now you will be ready for food. Planters is the largest of several restaurants at The Danna and is on the ground floor, overlooking the swimming pool. It’s open every morning for a legendary champagne breakfast which will have guests lingering over both Asian and European items such as Chinese noodle soups and American doughnuts.

The ambiance changes for dinner. Lights are low and the restaurant is calm with menus being pored over and conversation turning from the day’s activities, or lack thereof, to the dishes on offer.  The menu presents a wide array of both Malaysian and European specialities but I can highly recommend the local selection. Try the Malay Platter that will give a taste of this vibrant cuisine. Everything is fresh and of the best quality.

The Danna Yes, Planters is rather formal on most nights but each week there is a barbecue buffet with a huge spread of dishes, both Eastern and Western, on which to graze. Entertainment on those evenings is provided by the staff. These young men and women dress in national and regional costumes and perform traditional dances to the delight of enthusiastic and camera-toting crowds.

Strait’s & Co. is a small casual restaurant located on the ground floor and is totally different. It’s colonial but in brighter tones with a floor of, possibly, Portuguese tiles and the ambiance of a tearoom. That’s perfectly apt as they really do offer afternoon tea here as well as snacks and light meals. This is the place to find a reviving cuppa and a cake.

The Verandah is stunning. It’s actually a lounge with elegantly high ceilings, pillars and a proper bar. This is, without a doubt, the spot for a pre-dinner cocktail or a pre-beddybys nightcap. There is a list of house cocktails here that are unmissable and at extremely reasonable prices. A few of them contain fruit so at least you can feel noble while enjoying some of the best drinks on the island.

The Spa here is popular and offers a comprehensive menu of treatments and therapies. The massages include Traditional Malay Urut (soft-tissue manipulation), Aromatherapy Massage and Traditional Balinese Massage. There are The Body Scrub Treatments and The Body Wrap Treatments, a Romantic Bath or Cleopatra’s Milk Bath. There is Spa Care for Hands and Feet, along with Luxury Facial Treatments. All this isn’t just for the women of the party: there is also a Gentlemen’s Facial and kid’s spa treatments too.

The Danna is one of the best hotels in Asia. It lacks nothing but shows a contemporary take on the best of colonial design, the most refined of local cuisine and an opportunity to unwind in the most comfortable of surroundings. Every aspect of The Danna is generous and memorable.

The Danna The Langkawi International Airport is one of 7 international airports in Malaysia and connects the island to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Penang and also Subang.

Learn more about The Danna here

The Danna Hotel
Telaga Harbour Park
Pantai Kok

Phone: 604 959 3288


Singapore Airlines offers numerous flights and connections to Langkawi. Learn more here

food and travel reviews

The Sparkle of Vilmart & Cie

vilmart The Champagne house Vilmart & Cie was founded in 1890 by Désiré Vilmart and is considered by many an authority to be perhaps the leading producer of quality Champagne in the region of Northern France which bears the same name as this celebratory beverage. It’s an area of many fine bottles but some consider Vilmart to be the best and I am not arguing.

Time has passed since the Champagne house was founded. There has been a succession of family members who have taken care of this great Champagne company. The responsibility has passed to sons, and sons of sons, and to sons-in-law, with each generation adding something to the story. Laurent Champs is the present owner and Champagne Master. He received his Viticulture Professional Certificate, Oenology and Viticulture Technical Certificate, and Superior Certificate of Oenology and Viticulture at the University of Champagne in Avize. This man has impeccable pedigree and credentials.

Vilmart owns 11 hectares or so of vineyards in and near the village of Rilly-la-Montagne. The vineyards are planted with around 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. They do not call themselves organic but they have a commendable ethos and don’t use any chemical fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides. All vineyards that Vilmart sources from are of either Grand Cru or 1er Cru status.

The harvest takes place one hundred days after flowering, around the middle of September, and every bunch is picked by hand in order to ensure that only the best quality grapes are used and that damage is kept to a minimum. Pickers have roughly a three-week period in which to harvest the fruit as beyond that point the grapes will start to deteriorate on the vines. Sometimes as much as 40% of the crop is deemed unsuitable and sold on to other producers, such are the rigorous standards at Vilmart.

vilmart The next step is pressing the precious grapes and Vilmart continues its duty of care by using a cool and gentle process in a fairly old machine which extracts the juice in two steps. During this stage the must (the fresh grape juice) drips into small tanks. The juice is left to settle for a day to allow the solids and liquid to separate. The juices are then pumped into large oak barrels. Most of the barrels are already aged, but in some cases new barrels are used. The ranks of large and small barrels hint at the artisanal quality of the wine to come. With casks that look like mellow furniture the wine is bound to be good. It’s a testament to the attention paid to winemaking at every step. No corners are cut at Vilmart and it’s that dedication that has grown their enviable reputation.

Second alcoholic fermentation is what gives champagne its fizz. Natural yeasts transform sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (the bubbles in the glass) and this happens inside the bottle. Carbon dioxide is trapped, converting still wine into sparkling wine. After a week of resting, the sediment from the used yeast settles in the bottles. They are stacked in the riddling racks and turned twice a day by highly skilled men with strong wrists. This process slowly moves the sediment to the bottle neck.

Dégorgement is the dramatic art of getting the sediment out of the bottle while leaving as much wine as possible inside. The bottle necks are dunked in freezing brine. Turning the bottle upright and releasing the cork expels the sediment, and then a mixture of sugar and wine called "liqueur de dosage" is added to give each wine its "brut" (dry) or "demi-sec" (semi-dry) style. The bottles are then sealed with their traditional corks and metal cages. The bottles are then allowed to mature in the Vilmart cellars which are in themselves a thing of beauty: racks of bottles at different stages of maturation along with riddling racks full of wine and sediment still resting. Bottles wait here from 3 to 4 years for non-vintage wines and from to 5 to 7 years for vintage wines.vilmart

I don’t consider myself an expert in wine and definitely not an authority on Champagne but it will likely be evident to any visitor to Vilmart that the Champagnes produced here are of superior quality. Grapes are treated with respect and the end result speaks for itself.

Champagne Vilmart & Cie
BP4 - 5 rue des Gravières
51500 Rilly la Montagne

Phone: 33 3 26 03 40 01
Fax: 33 3 26 03 46 57

Opening hours
From Monday to Friday, 9am to 12am and 2pm to 5.30pm

Fares from London to Reims or Chalons en Champagne start at £86 standard class return per person.

For bookings and more information, visit here or call 0844 848 5 848.

For other travel possibilities visit European Waterways here

Learn more about Reims and the region here

food and travel reviews

Rijsttafel in The Hague

I love The Netherlands and am an unashamed supporter. It’s an oft-disregarded tourist destination even though it’s easy to get to from London. Short breaks are more usually taken in Paris or Berlin. That’s a shame as Dutch cities offer history, architectural charm and delicious food. Yes, dear reader, that statement isn’t an affectation of a rampant auto-correction error.

The Hague is a refined and beautiful city with a wealth of high-end dining options. One can eat relatively cheaply on local specialities but there is also a style of dining that one is unlikely to find elsewhere. I refer to the celebrated Rijsttafel which is hardly known outside The Netherlands, but it has nothing to do with cheese or herrings. This array of dishes has its birth in faraway Indonesia.

Rijsttafel in The Hague Dutch Indonesian cuisine has its roots in the former Dutch colonies of the East Indies which became Indonesia. It was brought back to the Netherlands by former colonials and exiled Indonesians after Indonesia gained its independence in 1945. The rijsttafel remained popular with those returning Dutch families. Ironically, when Indonesia became independent, nationalism increased and Dutch colonial traditions, including the rijsttafel, were largely swept away and it has almost entirely disappeared from Indonesia’s own restaurants.

Dutch cuisine, in general, has been much influenced by other cultures and their foods. Holland headed the lucrative international spice trade in the 17th century. This wasn’t just one-way traffic as the colonists also introduced coffee to Indonesia, and in fact Indonesia was the first country outside Arabia and Ethiopia to grow coffee.

The Dutch feast, the rijsttafel, is a marriage of Indonesian dishes and, if one believes some explanations, Dutch frugality. I was told by an Indonesian, although with a twinkle in his eye, that the spread of multiple dishes, the ‘rice table’, was a way of using up the leftovers from meals of previous days. I am not entirely convinced by that explanation as I would think the tropical heat and lack of a good fridge in those days would make eating lingering meaty plates a little dicey.

The Hague has many good Indonesian restaurants and one of those is Blauw, part of a small chain, which offers smart casual dining on a full menu of individual Indonesian dishes as well as the iconic rijsttafel, an extravaganza that is best shared with others, who should come with a sense of culinary adventure and big appetites. A feast at Blauw is memorable and spectacular. The dishes are varied, attractive and delicious giving a gastronomic overview of the food and spices of Indonesia.

The meat and fish selection consists of Chicken Satay which is an unmissable classic, Goat Satay, Turmeric Beef, Spicy Beef, Sweet Soy Pork, Meat-Potato Pastry, Spicy Fried Potatoes, Spicy Shrimp, Shrimp Satay, Fish Curry, Fish in Soy sauce, Steamed Fish, Vegetables with Peanut Sauce, Roasted Coconut, Sweet-Sour Cucumber, Fried Banana, Tofu in Soy Sauce, Egg in Sambal Sauce, Vegetables with Coconut Sauce. That should surely be enough to sate the healthiest of appetites. All the above are served with White Rice and Fried Rice which should be eaten with small portions of the spicy dishes. No need to pile your plate but rather choose a little of this and that, keeping the various curries and satays separate to enjoy their individual and distinctive flavours. Non-meat eaters are not forgotten at Blauw as there is also an equally-sizeable vegetarian option.

Discovering food and drink is such a big part of travel. It’s even more exciting when those discoveries are so unexpected and exotic. The Hague is home to embassies and head offices of international companies. The population of this grand city expect the best and it’s easy to find. Blauw offers the style of meal over which to linger along with discerning friends who will appreciate the rich tapestry of flavours and colours. Order the rijsttafel at Blauw for a meal that you will be talking about long after you return home.

Restaurant Blauw
Javastraat 13
2585 AB  ’s Gravenhage

Phone: 070-7200900

Visit Blauw here

Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands here

food and travel reviews

Bel & The Dragon Godalming

Bel Godalming The town of Godalming is situated in the countryside in southern England but not far from London. Its narrow streets are lined with many historic buildings. It’s a town with history.

The name means "of the clan of Godhelm", and the Saxon settlement of Godalming was first recorded in the will of King Alfred the Great of Wessex, in AD 899. William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book of 1086 mentions this as a sizable village with watermills which played an important part in the prosperity of the town. From medieval times Godalming became a centre for the manufacture of woollen cloth. The success of the industry reached its peak during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Bel & The Dragon, Godalming, is part of a high-end hospitality chain in this charming and historic county of Surrey. The name of this restaurant is taken from Bible and mythology, involving Daniel, the priests of a pagan god, and that dragon that seems to crop up frequently in European fairy-tales!

Bel Godalming The building is a strikingly beautiful former Congregational church built in the 1800s, and the imposing architecture has been tastefully restored and woven into the new and thoroughly harmonious design where appropriate – although the chef won’t be serving soup from the font. The upper floor has long refectory tables and the original stained glass windows still remain, creating a unique ambiance for group dining. The restaurant with its high ceilings and gallery presents a number of areas for both eating and drinking, and there is the possibility of barbecues on the terrace during the summer.

Group head chef Ronnie Kimbugwe has created a series of menus for regular visitors as well as those attending the popular Supper Clubs, which are held on the aforementioned gallery. It’s British cuisine here, with a focus on local and fresh produce. The open kitchen allows diners to watch the theatre of food preparation. It’s better than TV. Dining is smart/casual but the dishes remain thoughtful, delicious and often whimsical. The beef here is outstanding and the side dishes are vibrant using quality, sustainable ingredients.

Bel Godalming Bel & The Dragon Godalming is part of a chain but you would never guess. This restaurant has style, imagination and great individuality. The food admirably fits the location which works for those looking for great British cuisine as well as those dropping by for a drink. The management evidently prize unique buildings and are sympathetic in their refurbishing. This is a joy.

Restaurant opening hours

Monday – Saturday Lunch: 12 noon - 3pm
Dinner: 6pm - 10pm
Sunday: 10am - 9pm

Bel & The Dragon
Old Church
Bridge Street

Phone: 01483 527 333


Visit Bel & The Dragon Godalming here

food and travel reviews

The Strand Dining Rooms

The Strand Dining Rooms Located on Trafalgar Square in the centre of London, The Strand Dining Rooms offer all-day dining in smart and inviting fashion.  The dining rooms are open for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, pre-theatre dinner and dinner. They have a focus on British cuisine with a nod to Europe and even, periodically, the days of the Raj.

Trafalgar Square has long been a magnet for tourists from home and abroad. From the 14th to the late 17th century, much of the area was the courtyard of the Great Mews stabling, which served Whitehall Palace, but in the early 18th century the mews were demolished. In 1812 the architect John Nash designed an open square in the Kings Mews opposite Charing Cross. He wanted the square to be a cultural space, open to the public. In 1830 it was officially named Trafalgar Square after the victory of Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Work began on the National Gallery in 1832 and a decade or so later Nelson’s Column, designed by William Railton, was erected. In 1845 the fountains were built, based on designs thought to be by Sir Charles Barry. They are the target for New Year revellers who, in the past, would take a midnight dip. The granite statue of Nelson was sculpted by E. H. Baily, and stands on a bronze platform made from old guns from the Woolwich Arsenal Foundry.

The Strand Dining Rooms The Strand Dining Rooms are timeless and refined and present casual fine dining in a location that reeks of pomp and historic continuity. The décor takes its inspiration from the interior of a traditional Pullman train coach. It gleams with polished wood and architectural elements that waft one back a century or so, to a time when the pace of life was slower. This is, for me at least, a proper restaurant.

Wild mushrooms, and a generous portion of them, was my guest’s starter. It’s the season for them and they are a treat for those of us who like the delicate and savoury flavour.  These were simply served on toast and needed no other garnish.

Cornish fish soup, toast and garlic mayo was my silky and luxurious start. There is something decadent about a good fish soup. This one was a melange of mild fish and shellfish and presented in the fashion of a French bouillabaisse with its accompaniments.

My companion took advantage of the game season and ordered partridge. He pronounced this to be flavourful and moist but not over-gamey. Partridges are little birds and so often cooked to a texture of leather. The Strand Dining Rooms showed respect and culinary skill.

The Strand Dining Rooms Although the core of the menu is British there is a distinct nod to mainland Europe. Pork schnitzel served with a fried egg, capers and anchovies was my main plate of the evening. This might sound, to the untutored, a right strange mixture but each element is there for a reason, the total being more than the sum of the component parts, so to speak. The slice of breaded meat was big enough to overhang the edge of the plate and there was lemon to squeeze over. The pork was topped with an egg with still-runny yolk which bathed the meat like a sauce. The capers gave a briny note but the anchovies added a rich saltiness which was a foil to the fried fare. This is a must-try at The Strand Dining Rooms.

Figs garnished with ice cream was my guest’s simple yet seasonal dessert. These are abundant at this time of year so take advantage of them and, as at The Strand Dining Rooms, use in a delicious dessert, or bake with prosciutto.

The Strand Dining Rooms is perfect in its noteworthy location. The food showcases some of the best British dishes in the capital. Trafalgar Square might be a Mecca for visitors but the menu here offers authentic British fare, and there is something for every taste. We once had a deservedly bad reputation for our cooking but those days have passed and The Strand Dining Rooms holds its head high amongst London restaurants of any ethnic hue.

Lunch and Dinner times:
Monday – Saturday 12 noon – 11pm
Sunday 12 noon – 4pm

The Strand Dining Rooms
Grand Buildings - Trafalgar Square
1-3 Strand

Booking enquiries: 020 7930 8855

Visit The Strand Dining Rooms here

food and travel reviews

The Strand Apple Apartments

We love to travel, and a stay at a good hotel is always a treat but it’s hard to find that home-from-home feeling. We long for the flexibility of our own kitchen and a sense that we have our own front door. There is a solution for this dilemma, in the UK at least. You can have your very own apartment which still has the amenity of a hotel but with choices.

Apple Strand Apple Apartments has six properties across the UK and is continuing to grow nationally as well as internationally. They have staff who recognise the needs of their international clients and so they speak languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German, Mandarin Chinese, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Romanian. They have recently been awarded a 5-star rating for Apple Apartments Aberdeen by the Scottish Tourism Board, the only serviced apartments provider in the area to receive such an accolade.

One of Apple’s London apartment complexes is on the Strand in the centre of the city and that neighbourhood has a long history. The name Strand was first recorded in 1002 as Strondway. It is the Old English word meaning shore. It referred to the bank of the once much wider River Thames, before the construction of the Victoria Embankment which runs parallel to the road.

The Strand was the very centre of Victorian theatreland and nocturnal entertainment of every kind. But redevelopment of the East Strand and the construction of the Aldwych and Kingsway roads in the 1890s and early years of the 20th century finished many theatres.

The Strand was rebuilt and it became a sought-after location, with many writers and philosophers taking up residence. Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray were just two of them. These days the Strand is peppered with High Commissions and HQs. Australia House, Coutts – the bankers to nobility, the Royal Courts of Justice and Zimbabwe House are all here, along with Simpson’s-in-the-Strand which has been around since 1828 and Twinings’ tea room which goes even further back to 1706.

Apple Strand The Apple apartments are in the famous Marconi House, previously home to the original BBC radio studios. It’s from here that the BBC made its first radio broadcast in November 1922, using a transmitter actually built by Marconi.

The façade of the original building remains but gone are the dusty offices. The reception area is a vision of dark marble. The corridors are wide and each door has bespoke illumination. Crisp and smart design and contemporary.
These apartments offer open-plan living with everything for a short or long stay. The kitchen is small but is equipped with high-end appliances and a dishwasher. You might not want to cook your Christmas dinner here but it’s more than adequate for simple pasta and rice dishes and there is a dining area to tempt one into staying home for the evening.  There are bookshelves for those who might be here for a while, inviting the guest to customize the accommodation with their own possessions.

This apartment is not short on technology for work and play. The living room has a plasma television of a size appropriate for a small cinema. There is a touch pad control system with integrated Airplay, mood lighting and climate control. There is an iPod dock, Nexus Tablet device with browsing and integrated touch pad control system, and WiFi. This is perhaps better than a home from home.

The bathroom has an AquaVision shower television for morning stock market news and there is a 24-hour concierge. Round-the-clock room service is provided by ME Hotel for those who want to forego the pleasures of self-catering, and daily apartment servicing is included. Complimentary apples are a whimsical and healthy addition. The accommodation that we reviewed was a single-bedroom apartment. The soft furnishings are neutral and there is ample closet and drawer space and a washing machine discreetly tucked away. One unpacks with pleasure and the expectation of immersion in London city life flowing just outside the front door, with an Apple apartment as a handy bolt-hole.

Apple Strand The Apple apartments at the Strand are bijou and comfortable. The location is superb, being so near bus routes and Underground stations and a non-ending stream of black cabs. Nearby attractions include Covent Garden with its numerous restaurants, The Royal Opera House, Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The National Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery and the River Thames. This is an ideal business and tourist nest.

Apple Apartments - The Strand
335 Strand

Learn more about Apple Apartments here

food and travel reviews

Bird of Smithfield

Sounds like a family butchers which might have been trading for a brace of centuries. It is, in fact, a newish restaurant but right next to Smithfield Market, which has a much longer history.

Smithfield Market or, more officially, London Central Markets, is the largest wholesale meat market in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. It’s found within the Square Mile of the City of London and it’s housed in three imposing listed buildings not far from Barbican and St Paul’s Cathedral. There has been a livestock market on this site for over 800 years and it has remained in continuous operation since medieval times.

Bird of smithfield Since the late 1990s Smithfield has become more of a social hub and has developed a reputation with City types who frequent its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Bird of Smithfield joined the ranks of those local hospitality establishments a couple of years ago and is already a destination restaurant of character.

A Georgian-style townhouse has been transformed into Bird of Smithfield, Alan Bird’s restaurant featuring contemporary British cuisine. These labyrinthine premises boast two bars, a rooftop terrace, a private dining room and a restaurant, all this covering five floors.

Bird has eclectic design. There are still original features but the décor is a melange of tasteful retro with hints of earlier ages. The first-floor restaurant sports a mirrored ceiling which adds drama. Plenty of neutral colours on soft furnishings, with vibrancy from artwork.

The menu isn’t huge but I don’t think it needs to be. There are traditional dishes and some with a twist but all just right for this location. Guests seem to be after-hours city workers, although I dream of an early morning tour of the historic market followed by breakfast at Bird’s. Or perhaps a few hours wandering the uplifting environs of St Paul’s, with lunch at Bird’s.

Smoked Mackerel and Crab Paté garnished with boiled egg with creamy yolk was my starter, although in reality we had scoffed the small loaf of freshly baked bread and generous pat of butter as our pre-starter-starter. The crab was delicate and the associated salad was fresh and light.

Herb and London Gin-cured Salmon was my guest’s starter and it was a substantial portion of mild-cured fish. Salmon was once common in the Thames; gin has long been associated with London and was the downfall of many a citizen at a time when the water could kill you. This dish is a culinary archive and delicious too.

Traditional Cod and Chips with tartare sauce and mushy peas was my main dish. Yes, more fish, and just outside a meat market but it’s associated with Britain just as much as is roast beef. This plate defeated me: it was a considerable portion of well-battered fish that seemed more steamed in its crunchy casing than fried in oil. Golden and not at all greasy, this is a must-try, especially for tourists. I am a great supporter of the local fish and chip shop but they are few and far between these days and they are of variable quality, but Bird’s do this classic every bit as well as the white-tiled emporiums of yore. And those peas truly are meant to be that way and they are a comforting garnish to the perfect chips. Please don’t ask for ketchup - it just doesn’t work.

Bird of smithfield Alan’s Shepherd’s Pie was my guest’s main course and it’s a signature dish of the aforementioned chef/owner Alan Bird. This had a well-textured and flavourful lamb meat filling, with a decorative piped mashed potato topping. There was a small serving of peas but this hearty eater needed a side, and buttered spinach was a good choice. The only complaint was that the meat element could have been more generous. Perhaps that’s just an illustration of the degree of enjoyment expressed by the diner.

Plum and Sherry Trifle is another very English offering. This was an individual serving of fruit, jelly, custard and cream. Another hefty helping so if you are modest eaters you might want to split one. If you are a dessert aficionado then perhaps forego the loaf of bread on arrival.

Bird of Smithfield is unique. It offers authentic British food, well-presented and no distracting frills. I was impressed with my meal and also with the quality of the service, which had more in common with fine, rather than smart/casual, dining. Birds is a must if you work in the City or are visiting. If they keep an eye on standards then this could become an institution.

Opening times
8.00 am – 12 midnight Monday to Friday,
12 noon – 12 midnight Saturday
Closed on Sundays

Bird of Smithfield
26 Smithfield Street
London EC1A 9LB
Phone: 020 7559 5100
Visit Bird of Smithfield here

food and travel reviews

Mango Tree for Regional Thai Cuisine

The Mango Tree Thai restaurant is a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. A stone’s throw in this case isn’t estate agent speak for a couple of miles away. The Palace’s garden wall is just across the road and literally a stone’s throw away, although to do such a thing might likely result in the cartographic speculator being run in by the constabulary.

mango tree This is smart Belgravia. Most of the area was originally owned by Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquis of Westminster, who had it developed in the early 1800s. The area takes its name from one of the Duke of Westminster’s other titles, Viscount Belgrave. The village of Belgrave, Cheshire, is just a short distance from the Grosvenor family’s main country seat of Eaton Hall. Belgravia became one of London’s most expensive residential areas and is now home to many embassies. Any restaurant here would need to be noteworthy.

This wasn’t my first visit to Mango Tree. I have enjoyed numerous dinners and also a Sunday lunch or two here. It’s a large but airy restaurant with a cosy bar at the entrance. Exotic cocktails might entice the diner to linger but there are equally engaging treats in the restaurant, which has been designed with consideration of the theory of feng-shui.

But there is a very contemporary accolade for Mango Tree. It’s been immortalised by J.K. Rowling in her latest crime novel ‘Silkworm’. Two of the characters are discussing another restaurant and one of them, we assume with the more refined palate, says ‘It’s not the Mango Tree, but it’s all right.’

Thai cuisine often demonstrates more subtle spicing than many dishes of the sub-continent, but its land mass and geography has allowed Thai regions to develop their own culinary style, and Mango Tree has a new Regional Menu that allows diners to taste dishes with which they might be less familiar. It’s an inspired notion and a delicious education.

For the purposes of this special bill of fare, Thailand has been divided into North, North East, South and Central areas. A starter and a main dish from each region are available and they are as diverse as they are tempting. They are recognised as being rich and mild flavours from the North, spicy foods from the East, mild dishes influenced by Chinese cuisine from the Central region, and hot and robust plates from the South.

mango tree North Region Namprik Ong was the first of our starters. Minced prawn and chilli with sweet and sour ripened tomato sauce is served with fresh vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, iceberg lettuce, French beans, small Thai aubergines and crispy pork crackers. This classic, spicy dipping sauce confection is from the Chiang Mai area and is often included as part of the spread for celebrations. This is a build-your-own starter and ideal for sharing. The chilli is flavoursome rather than being overpowering.

Central Region Kiew Kai Tod was our second starter – deep-fried quail eggs wrapped in wonton sheet, served with spicy sweet chilli sauce were crispy morsels. That sauce is an essential part of the dish. These little egg kebabs would be a wonderful accompaniment to those aforementioned cocktails.

North Region Khao Soi was the first main dish to share - noodles cooked with coconut milk with legs of chicken, chilli oil, coriander, lime and red onion. This is a Burmese-influenced dish served widely in northern Laos and northern Thailand but with many variations. Mango Tree offers a refined soup with well-balanced flavour and light texture. If you like the more ubiquitous Massaman curry then you will love this.

North Eastern Region Sea Bass Moke was our other sharing plate - baked sea bass fillet with traditional North Eastern Thai herbs, lemongrass, galanga, garlic, lime leaf, fresh dill, sweet basil, and oyster and fish sauces. This is another luxurious celebratory dish and well worth ordering. The fish was succulent and beautifully presented, wrapped in leaves and wafting aromatic steam.

Mango Tree has never failed me. It continues to tick boxes for quality, freshness and elegance. The location is ideal for both locals and visitors alike. It’s near a host of tourist attractions but in a calmer spot. This is a restaurant which can boast regular diners as well as those who are newly intrigued by its literary celebrity. Those folks might initially come as it’s an evident favourite of Harry Potter’s mum, but they will return, as it will have become a favourite of theirs.

The traditional Taste of Thailand menu will run from 15th September until 15th November. To book email

Mango Tree
46 Grosvenor Place
Phone: 020 7823 1888
Fax: 020 7838 9275
Visit Mango Tree here

food and travel reviews

The Princess, the Palace and the Painter

Escher OK, so I have lied and we are only into the first paragraph! The Princess, the Palace and the Painter is an intriguing title with almost fairy-tale charm. All the characters are real, although the Painter was actually an Artist, but that didn’t begin with a ‘P’.

The story is set in The Hague in the Netherlands with a queen who was born in Germany. Emma was a princess of the principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont. The family was connected, as all European noble families seem to be, to the British monarchy and others. Her brother, Friedrich, was the last reigning Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont and her sister, Helena Frederica, became the wife of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Emma’s marriage in 1879 to the elderly William III, King of Holland, was considered a marriage of convenience as he was 40 or so years her senior.  William’s first wife had died two years before. He had a bad reputation as "the greatest debauché of the age" and had already been rejected by Emma’s sister Pauline and by Princess Thyra of Denmark.

William wished to be succeeded by a son. He had three with his first wife but they had passed away before their father. However, it was a daughter who arrived and eventually became Queen Wilhelmina. She was only ten years old when her father died, leaving Emma as Regent till Wilhelmina reached her majority.

Queen Emma became extremely popular, in contrast to her late husband. She is said to have saved the Dutch monarchy and been the cornerstone of its strength in modern times. She lived in many palaces but bought Lange Voorhout Palace in 1896 as her winter home.

In 1760, Pieter de Swarte had designed a house on the Lange Voorhout for the mayor of the Friesian town Sloten. The building was purchased in 1796 by Archibald Hope who was a financier of the European nobility. Queen Emma bought the building with the legacy from her brother-in-law Prince Hendrik. She evidently thought the old house needed updating as she had it extensively remodelled before, in 1901, taking up residence after the marriage of her daughter Queen Wilhelmina.

Escher These days the palace can be visited by anyone interested in architecture as well as art, for it is now also a gallery. We can see the celebrated staircase up to the first floor with its copper rail that in the time of Queen Emma had to be polished each week by Royal command. Only three people could use those ornate stairs: her majesty and her two most trusted ladies-in-waiting. The servants had to use the staircase that runs behind the walls and this is still used by visitors today. Queen Emma converted the garden room into a ballroom, she added stained glass and a bathroom with hot water.

This building was not only the Winter Palace of Queen Emma, but also the working palace for the Princesses Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix. There was a famous and much-photographed tradition of hand-waving by the Royal Family on the balcony at the front of the building. The family sold the building to the local authority of The Hague on condition that it would only be used for cultural activities – and that’s where the artist comes into view.

Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) is one of the world’s most famous graphic artists. His works are recognised by millions of people across the globe – one might not know his name but he created so-called impossible constructions, such as Ascending and Descending, Relativity, Transformation Prints, the Metamorphosis series, and many more works that intrigue and provoke thought.

Escher’s other works are less familiar but are, in my opinion, just as striking and they show a more traditional face of this multi-talented native of The Netherlands. He produced beautiful and much more realistic pieces when he lived and travelled in Italy. He made 448 lithographs, woodcuts and wood engravings and over 2000 drawings and sketches. He illustrated books, designed tapestries, murals and postage stamps.

Escher in Het Paleis (Escher at the Palace) is a permanent exhibition dedicated to this unique artist. It is the only public building in The Hague where the original royal ambience of a palace has been preserved, making this a must-see for any discerning visitor to the town. There are over 150 prints and a changing selection of graphic art and tessellations.  The centrepiece of the exhibition is the 7-meters long Metamorphosis III. The exhibits are displayed in rooms decorated in classic fashion with whimsical glass chandeliers which are in themselves noteworthy.

Escher Maurits Cornelis Escher would, I don’t doubt, approve of this home for his life’s work. The fabric of the building offers an insight into a bygone age of elegance and refinement, and Emma’s journey will fascinate those who follow European Royalty. The palace offers visitors art and history in a fashion that will be enjoyed by every member of the family, who will each take away something a little different from this delightful experience.

Learn more about Queen Emma, Maurits Cornelis Escher and the Palace here

Lange Voorhout 74
2514 EH Den Haag
Phone:+31 70 427 7730

Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

food and travel reviews

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond

Oz Clarke is always entertaining in a roguish kind of way. He has graced our TV screens and our airways for several decades and his books are a paper representation of his wine adventures.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles This is a man who has indeed enjoyed wine and that joie de vivre comes through in this book. Oz leads us on his personal odyssey through styles of wine, bottles of wine and memories of wine. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond is a collection of anecdotes with wine and its history at the core – and a fascinating story it is.

This is just the kind of book an enthusiastic wine lover would include on a wish-list for Christmas. It’s a tome with which to snuggle, perhaps in front of a yule-log fire. That aforementioned sipper will be charmed by Oz’s conversational style, but this man also educates in a most palatable fashion.

Wine snobbery has long been with us. It has served to alienate many of us who would like to know more. Granted, we might remember the name of a couple of favourite bottles but confront us with a stiff and starchy sommelier and the resolve to order with confidence evaporates like the angel’s share in a chilly cellar. This book might not direct you to a particular bottle, grape, or vintage but it will give reassurance and encourage a bit of conversation between you and the sommelier, whose mission should be to serve both you and the wine.

Oz has a broad love of all things viticultural and that includes such oddities as Retzina and wine boxes – they are mentioned under the date section 1965 in Oz’s chronological listings, to give historical context. Mateus is included, and dated 1942, although it was the wine of (very little) choice in the 1970s, being prized as much for its bottle shape as its contents.

Everything you ever wanted to know about wine labels, screw caps, prohibition, synthetic corks, marketing and bottling is all here. The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond is my bedtime companion and will remain so till I reach the last delicious sip, the last jolly quip and the last grapey musing. It’s a winner.

The History of Wine in 100 Bottles - From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond
Author: Oz Clarke
Published by: Pavilion Books
Price: £20
ISBN-10: 1909815497
ISBN-13: 978-1909815490

food and travel reviews

Grapes & Wines - A comprehensive guide to varieties and flavours

Grapes & Wines First published as Oz Clarke’s Encyclopaedia of Grapes, Oz Clarke’s new Grapes & Wines, with Margaret Rand, is revised and updated to present the wine lover with the best information on a comprehensive selection of grapes and the wines associated with them.

Oz Clarke has become a household name. He oft graces our TV screens and has written a shelf-load of books on wine. This particular volume might well act as an indispensable handbook for those of us who don’t know much about wine and don’t even know enough to ask about what we don’t know.

Seventeen classic grape varieties are covered in depth, with another fifteen major grapes also discussed in some detail. Oz touches upon more than three hundred grape varieties in total, categorized from Abouriou to Zinfandel.

This is a book that will help to demystify wine. Each section is a one-stop-shop for information on the specifics of each grape variety.  The chapters on the classic grape varieties are outstanding, with pages of historical context, terroir, taste profiles, countries growing particular grapes, and also notes on the most celebrated producers, as well as how to enjoy each wine at its best.

Grapes & Wines - A Comprehensive Guide to Varieties and Flavours is a book to give confidence to the beginner or non-professional wine enthusiast. It will be a must-have for anyone lucky enough to go on a wine tour, and gives the home wine buyer a few ideas for wines that will fit their personal taste. It’s great value for money and is bound to become a best-seller. It’s beautifully presented with illustrations, photographs, maps and diagrams, making this book truly gift-quality.

Book review:
Title: Grapes & Wines
Authors: Oz Clarke and Margaret Rand
Published by: Pavilion Books
Price: £25.00
ISBN-10: 190910862
ISBN-13: 978-1909108622

food and travel reviews

The Rib Room – for more than ribs

The Rib Room The food scene in London has changed so much over the past couple of decades. We have moved away from that shocking reality of poor quality, few interesting options and culinary apathy. We have some of the world’s best restaurants, the most vibrant international dishes and a huge panorama of choices.

A few years ago no self-respecting food-lover would ever admit to eating in a hotel – well, only if it was a smart one and then only for breakfast. We have moved on from that concept of hotels not trying with their gastronomic facilities. We all remember those lunches in dining areas that still had a whiff of a Full English about them. Gone are the days, mostly, when a dinner in one’s hotel was the last resort of the desperate.

The Rib Room is the dining room at Jumeirah Carlton Tower, not too far from Harrods. Yes, it’s on the ground floor of a newish hotel building but this is a classy and classic restaurant that shouts quality. It’s a polished and refined establishment which stops short of intimidating. The staff are friendly and helpful to a lunch crowd who are mostly Ladies Wot Lunch, with a scattering of businessmen. It’s a quiet and comfortable meeting place with the advantage of marvellous food at hand.

The Rib Room The dining room is bathed in dappled light from colonially-shuttered windows. There are well-spaced chairs and cosy banquettes. The tables are bedecked with crisp white linen and silverware in elegant fashion but the menu tempts with both the familiar and the unique. The Rib Room has its beefy signature dish but more.

The menu has seasonal changes which take advantage of abundant fresh produce. My visit was in August so a corn and crab broth was on the bill of fare. This was a light and creamy soup with fresh shellfish. A delightful presentation and appropriate for a day when the sun beamed through the windows looking over Cadogan Place. It’s the area which once was the haunt of the likes of Oscar Wilde (he was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel near here) and Lillie Langtry.

Summer vegetable salad, goat’s curd and summer truffle dressing was my guest’s starter. This was a sizable portion of baby vegetables at their best. There was evidence of real truffle along with tangy and fresh goat’s curd. Even non-vegetarians would be charmed by this simple and delicious plate.

The main courses offer vegetarian options that don’t seem like a chef’s afterthought. Bread-wrapped wild mushrooms, onion purée, baby carrots and garlic velouté sounded interesting and it was. The bread (or was it a pastry?) formed a crust supporting mushrooms which had the very essence of wild fungi flavour. The velouté was a delicious base, being flavourful rather than overpowering. A must-try here for anyone taking a break from meat.

The Rib Room But it’s roast rib of beef that gives its name to this restaurant and it’s a worthy signature dish. My guest is a son of Yorkshire and a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the eponymous pud; he considered his lunch to be ‘reet champion’ in every regard. The beef was a perfectly cooked 160g slice from a joint selected from Donald Russell, Royal warrant holder since 1984 and trusted supplier to H.M. The Queen. A very hearty eater could go for a 220g portion but I’d recommend that only for a rugby player or for dinner, when there is more time to savour. Do have the crispy and fluffy roast potatoes here as they are the traditional accompaniment to such a meal, along with the aforementioned Yorkshire Pudding.

Prices are very reasonable at The Rib Room at lunchtime. There are some wines by the glass, 2 courses for £28, 3 courses for £34, 3 courses and half a bottle of wine, water and coffee or tea for £42.00. One doesn’t have to break the bank to enjoy The Rib Room, and one feels rather pampered in this charming and timeless restaurant.

Restaurant Review:
The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant
Jumeirah Carlton Tower
One Cadogan Place

Phone: +44 (0) 20 7858 7250

Visit The Rib Room here

food and travel reviews

Warren House – Kingston

warren house We might be in London for a short holiday. We see the sights, monuments, museums. We shop till we drop and we are swept along by throngs of others looking for the same delights of retail therapy. But there is another vision of England. It’s that ‘green and pleasant land’ of manicured gardens, country houses and calm. There is just such an idyll and it’s only a short distance from central London.

A magnificent Victorian country house provides a step back in time to a gentler era where the sound of croquet balls being hit might likely be the only noise to remind one that there are other people about. Warren House has history, gentility and charm. Its fabric is original but there are modern amenities to pacify even the addicted iPhoner or business-oriented sort.

Warren House is set in landscaped gardens, with facilities for both commerce and leisure. But this area has been documented for hundreds of years. Since the Middle Ages the neighbourhood has been on the route from London to Portsmouth.  Kingston Hill was well established even before Charles I enclosed Richmond Park in 1637. Small estates were established during the late 18th and early 19th Century, and in 1837 His Royal Highness Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, grandson of George III, acquired the seat of the late Earl of Liverpool at Coombe. The improved road to London brought the City within an hour’s carriage ride, and the area began to attract the wealthy.

The original Warren House was built in 1860 for Hugh Hammersley on 16 acres of land leased from the Duke of Cambridge. Hammersley was a partner in the successful London firm Cox and Co, bankers to the British Army and they must have done very good business. The estate remained his country retreat until his death in 1882, when it was bequeathed to his wife Dulcibella, an ancestor of Sir Anthony Eden, a future Prime Minister.
George Grenfell Glynn, the second Baron Wolverton, purchased the house and land in 1884 and made additions to both. His wife, Lady Georgiana Wolverton, was great friends with Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, mother of the future Queen Mary, who lived at White Lodge in Richmond Park. Lady Georgiana continued to live at Warren House until her death in 1894.

warren house American heiress Lady Mary ‘Minnie’ Paget bought the freehold of the property in 1907 and regularly entertained the rich and the powerful at Warren House. Many of the noteworthy features of the House - the Ballroom, the Persian fireplace, the Italian-style Loggia and the Winter Garden and its Grotto - were added by the Pagets. Warren House passed to her daughter, Dame Leila Paget. She was the first British Dame, honoured for her work with the Red Cross in Serbia during First World War. She continued this charitable work during the Second World War when she converted Warren House into a military convalescent home.

The industrial giant ICI used Warren House as a Conference and Training Centre until 2000. Since 2005 Warren House has been in private family ownership, and continues as a fine conference and events facility, but it’s also an intimate hotel and just perfect for a short break. The hotel has 46 well-appointed bedrooms, a lounge, a bar, four inside dining spaces, a fully-equipped cardiovascular gym, a sauna and a heated indoor swimming pool. Outside is a garden chess set as well as the aforementioned croquet lawn.

warren house The hotel still sports many original features including a magnificent carved wooden staircase. One still has the sense of staying in a private stately home. The rooms have classic décor which works perfectly with the architecture. Bath/shower rooms are modern and the toiletries are covetable. Warren House is grand but comfortably accessible and timeless.

After a tough day sitting in the shade of a tree, playing garden games or reading a book, one will likely be starving and longing for dinner. The Persian Dining Room is stunningly beautiful with exotic Eastern mouldings and a striking fireplace that would be considered a centrepiece were it not for the fact that it’s in a corner.

The menu is interesting, well-balanced and tempting. My starter was a smoked haddock scotch egg. In fact there were 2 miniature scotch eggs, each containing a quail’s egg surrounded by delicately flavoured smoked fish. My guest’s starter was an equally light and innovative bowl of grilled courgettes, peas, ricotta mousse and Gremolata sauce. Both these dishes were flavoursome and very different. The chef was already showing his credentials.

warren house My companion’s main course sounded interesting and hearty. This was a substantial serving of confit duck leg with duck liver and pomegranate, served with spiced aubergine. The leg was cooked to perfection but those livers were like butter. I am not normally a lover of anything offally but these were savoury yet not overpowering in any way. This dish is a must-try for any meat-lover when they visit Warren House.

But vegetarians are not forgotten and I was intrigued by a cauliflower steak, cauliflower beignet and crispy couscous. This was a unique vegetable dish that turned the humble cauli into a triumph of design and flavour. The slice of vegetable had organic architectural elegance and the grilling gave additional flavour; the battered vegetables were moreish and airy. Yes, only a plate of veggies but it was satisfying and memorable.

My guest has ever been a man ready to sacrifice himself on the altar of dessert, so he ordered the banana mousse and glazed bananas. The presentation was attractive with short columns of banana topped with crunchy caramel, flanking the mousse which had concentrated flavour – once again the chef showing that simple ingredients can be elevated into something noble.

We spent just one night at the Warren House hotel but that has acted as an encouragement to return. The grounds are lush and leafy, the fountains romantic, the rooms are havens for the weary, and the food is sumptuous.

warren house Take a little time away from the capital on your next trip to London. Kingston has great public transport connections, and if it’s an hour away by horse-drawn carriage then you can bet it’s quicker by train (from Waterloo) or car. There is even a river boat for those who want extra adventure and have the lightest of luggage. Warren House is a world away from the usual London hotel chains, and won’t disappoint.

Hotel Review:
Warren House
Warren Road
Surrey KT2 7HY

Phone: +44 (0)20 8547 1777
Fax: +44 (0)20 8547 1175


Visit Warren House here

food and travel reviews

Côte – Dinner in Kingston

Côte – Dinner in Kingston This is a lovely spot on the River Thames and well patronised by shoppers during the day and socialisers in the evening. But despite its modern façade, Kingston has history.

It belonged to the king in Saxon times, as its name suggests, and was the earliest recorded royal borough. It was first mentioned in documents as far back as 838 and it lay on the boundary between the independent kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia. Kingston’s historic Market Place has been a centre of the community since around 1170. Over the past 800 years it’s been used for the punishment of criminals as well as the sale of food.

We wanted an evening by the river after a hot summer day. This stretch of water has inspired books, films and TV. It is where the Victorian novel Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome has its opening scenes. The area around Kingston Bridge is now a thriving café and restaurant neighbourhood, and that’s where we were heading.

Côte – Dinner in Kingston Côte’s Brasserie is a branch of a chain but let us not be sniffy about that. If one didn’t know then one would think that this restaurant, at least, was just a rather nice independently-run contemporary space selling French food. Its location would likely ensure its popularity for much of the year but the quality of the food will keep it full for most of the day and for all of the year.

Piquant Mixed Olives - spicy marinated olives with rose harissa, caper berries and cornichons - were our nibbles as we leafed through the wine list (many by the glass) and food menu. It’s not a huge bill of fare but it’s comprehensive and offers a real flavour of France – good traditional dishes that have had many pontificating with such phrases as ‘Well, nobody does it like the French’, even when we do!

The Charcuterie Board was my starter and proved to be a substantial spread of jambon de Savoie, smoked duck breast (outstanding), saucisson sec and duck rillettes with baby gem salad and chargrilled pain de campagne on the side. This would constitute a small lunch in some quarters! Beautifully presented meats.

My guest’s starter was Baked Crottin, traditional goat’s cheese from the Loire Valley, served warm atop a lamb’s lettuce and apple salad, walnuts, croutons and sultanas. This is a classic combination with the tang of the soft cheese contrasted with the sweet fruit.

Traditional Breton fish stew was my main course. Sea bass was arranged on top of a sizable portion of mussels, clams, prawns and squid with tomato, white wine and chilli. It was served with a bit of theatre as the domed lid was removed from the bowl. Under £14? A remarkable price. It was heavy on the fish element and has enough delicious broth to make some French bread an essential mopping-up side dish.

Côte – Dinner in Kingston Poulet ‘Breton’ is a speciality here. It’s corn-fed chicken reared in Brittany in the west of France. Half Chargrilled ‘Breton’ Chicken served with frites and wild mushroom sauce made with crème fraîche and thyme was my guest’s main course. Nothing fancy or too cheffy, just chicken and chips done right, with the quality of ingredients shining through. The sauce was a masterful touch and full of earthy flavour from real wild mushrooms.

Chocolate and praline crêpe with caramelised bananas and crème Chantilly was a shared dessert. This was a delicate finish to the meal. The pancake was light and the bananas were a delightful combination of crisp and soft. Very French but with a little exotica. This was worth waiting for, although the apple tart had sounded tempting, too.

Côte Kingston is both contemporary and traditional. Its food can be enjoyed by the whole family without breaking the bank. It’s great value for money but quality had not been sacrificed. Service is professional and the ambiance is vibrant. Well worth a visit.

Restaurant Review:
Côte Kingston
Unit 6, Riverside Walk
Kingston Upon Thames

Phone: 020 8546 9422


Visit Côte Kingston here

food and travel reviews

Le Garrick – Covent Garden

Le Garrick restaurant and wine bar is conveniently located in the heart of Covent Garden in London’s West End. It’s a little gem and after just one visit has become my preferred restaurant, my dining establishment of choice and a place I am almost loathe to promote for fear I won’t get a table next time.

Le Garrick - Covent Garden Their beautiful website gives a little history. Brendon, who owned Le Garrick for 25 years, has moved on and passed the baton to Dominika and Charles and they seem to be doing a sterling job. Le Garrick is the sort of restaurant that one hopes will never change. It’s a bit like a favourite old uncle who is full of character and is very ‘individual’.

The ground floor restaurant is small but has the advantage of views of the bustling historic neighbourhood of Covent Garden. This is Theatreland and one might spot a famous face from one’s vantage point, and there is always the chance of having a brace of thespians on the neighbouring table. It’s that kind of restaurant.

But go downstairs to discover the real charm of Le Garrick. This space was evidently once a cellar and it still retains alcoves and nooks which create a restaurant which is, just like that favourite old uncle, pleasantly eccentric. The ambiance is intimate, the staff are naturally friendly and the food is simple yet for which to die – French food which is better here than some restaurants I have visited actually in La Belle France!

It’s unsurprisingly a traditional French menu with a host of classics to tempt carnivore and vegetarian alike. It’s the sort of bill of fare that has any Francophile salivating and any xenophobe admitting that those French do have a way with food. It’s the kind of menu that has one promising another visit just to try a little plate of this or a bowl of that.

Le Garrick - Covent Garden Escargots de Bourgogne was my starter. Six Burgundy snails (thankfully without shells which are always so fiddly) cooked in garlic and parsley butter. The menu says these are a ’must try!’ and they really are. Some snails can be rather earthy but these were sweet and moreish in a butter-dripping-off-chin kind of way.

Cassolette de calamar à la plancha au piment d’espelette was my guest’s starter. That’s pan-seared calamari Basque-style with a sprinkle of coriander, ginger, and the famous Espelette chilli. These peppers were introduced into the Basque region of France from the New World during the 16th century. They’ve got plenty of heat but rich flavour too. More butter with this dish but I was too busy mopping those juices to worry about weight-gain. This was memorable and just as much a ‘must try’ as the aforementioned snails.

Faux Filet with sauce au poivre was my main course. This was a fairly hefty chargrilled rare-breed rib-eye steak served with fries and peppercorn sauce. I ordered mine medium rare and it was pink and flavourful. This is a standard dish of steak and chips but it’s hard to beat when done well. The wine list here is solid and sensible. A great selection of wines by the glass, bottle or carafe. The Côtes du Rhône was just right, alongside my overflowing plate. Did I mention the generosity of servings here? Petit Pois Grand-Mère - peas with lardons and baby onions - was hardly necessary in addition, but those vegetables were fresh and light and made me feel a bit nobler.

Le Garrick - Covent Garden Authentique Cassoulet de Toulouse is the celebrated dish from south-west France. This was my guest’s choice for main course and appropriate for a cold and wet English evening. Lingot beans with duck confit, pork belly and garlicky Toulouse sausage made a substantial plateful which defeated my companion, who was all for asking for a doggy bag for the leftovers. Another spot-on dish.

Crème Brulée was our shared dessert but with a little Canelé by way of garnish. These sweets were the perfect end to an outstanding meal. Le Garrick is right in every regard. The service was professional yet fun, the décor added to the discreet ambiance. The evening is still being talked about and a return is certain in the very near future.

Restaurant Review:
Le Garrick Restaurant
10-12 Garrick Street
Covent Garden

Phone: 020 7240 7649

Visit Le Garrick here.

food and travel reviews

Roka Brunch – Aldwych

roka Brunch is perhaps my favourite meal of the week. It isn’t a big, indigestible breakfast with the prospect of needing a nap by 10.30 (although I can be tempted by an English fry-up at almost any time). It’s not a dinner, when one might be exhausted from the exertions of the day and much prefer Marmite on toast, a cuppa and an early night. This is Sunday Brunch and it is perfectly timed, and something over which to linger.

Aldwych has the attraction of good restaurants and theatres. Its transport connections are excellent, being within a short distance of Covent Garden as well as Temple and Embankment Underground stations. It’s the ideal spot to start a Sunday of unique shopping opportunities, tourism and food.

ROKA Aldwych is the fourth ROKA to open in London and it marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the flagship of the restaurant group, on Charlotte Street. This restaurant shouts understated class. One is aware on arrival that this is going to be a rather impressive establishment. The swish of the two sets of automatic glass doors hints at exclusivity.

ROKA I have not, as yet, visited the other ROKAs but this one is striking. There is a central open kitchen with its usual counter seating but then there are regular tables with generous spacing between. Although there are no outside windows in the main restaurant, the height of the ceiling and the lighting create an airy and spacious dining room that is welcoming to parties as well as couples.

The grey timber walls offer a neutral and natural backdrop to the activity of this vibrant restaurant. It presents a very subtly Japanese note to this not overly-themed restaurant, but the food is indeed contemporary Japanese, based on tradition. ROKA takes the diner away from the ubiquitous sushi (although that’s on the menu) and into the broader realm of real Japanese food.

The word ROKA is the Japanese name for a meeting place where food and drinks are served to friends (ro) with heat and warmth (ka). The Sunday Brunch for me and my companion included both hot and cold dishes from the regular menu, and main dishes from the robata grill: this method originates from the fishermen of the northern coastal waters off Japan, who would cook the catch on their boats.

ROKA The Brunch menu is divided in two with all of the starters included, and then one has the choice of main courses, so we started our culinary adventure with edamame salad with ginger and soy dressing. These beans are light and just right as part of a starter selection, or even alone with drinks before a meal.

Otsukemono no Moriawase are an array vegetable pickles which are so popular in Japan, with each family having their own favourite recipes …when they don’t buy them from the store, that is.

Horenso no Ingin Salada was an absolute delight and I am stealing this simple idea for myself. It’s baby spinach leaves with a light sesame dressing made with tahini, dashi stock and sesame seeds.

Tempura Moriawase is assorted tempura in some of the best batter you will find in London. The seafood and vegetables were all cooked to perfection in a crunchy coating that was practically greaseless. Just a little spicy sauce was all that was needed by way of condiment.

Jagaimo to Tamago Salada was a real surprise and might fall into the category of Japanese comfort food. It was a mashed potato salad with bacon and egg and was moreish and, strangely, this did work with the more traditional starters that included beautifully presented sashimi, and sushi in the guise of the outstanding crispy prawn and avocado maki, and others. The Gyuniku to Goma no Gyoza are a Japanese take on Chinese dumplings. These were stuffed with beef and ginger and were tangy and fresh.

ROKA Hinadori no Miso Yaki was my guest’s choice of main course. This is grilled baby chicken with lemon, miso, garlic and soy. The chicken was served atop a traditional table-top grill although this wasn’t the cooking implement – the grilling had been done back in the kitchen. It did make a striking presentation for one of the best chicken dishes I have had in ages. It’s a must-try here.

Gyuhireniku no Pirikara Yakiniku is another worthy dish for meat-eaters. This was a considerable serving of tender beef sirloin with a little chilli and spring onions. Granted, it’s not overtly Japanese but it fitted admirably with all the other dishes.

Then there was dessert. It was the ROKA dessert platter. I have had dessert platters before so was just about getting my coat on when it arrived. There has got to be a better name than ROKA dessert platter. Yes, OK, it was dessert and it was served on a platter but this was an extraordinary sweet confection of chocolate, sorbet, ice cream …and some fruit to make the diner feel noble even after some outstanding truffles.

ROKA ticked all my previously pencilled-in boxes and added a few more. It’s a matter of taste, for sure, but ROKA was very much my taste. My taste for hot Japanese food. My taste for thoughtful design. My taste for relaxing afternoon ambiance. I can highly recommend this Brunch. It’s worth waiting six days for.

Restaurant Review:
ROKA Aldwych
71 Aldwych

Phone: +44 (0) 20 7294 7636

Visit ROKA Aldwych here

food and travel reviews

Swan Upping

Swan Upping Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial event and an activity that has endured since the 12th century. The mute swans on part of the River Thames are caught, weighed, inspected, ringed, and then released. Centuries ago these birds were eaten and this exercise was game management!

Swans were regular food in the Tudor age, but legally these days mute swans are only allowed to be eaten by the Royal Family and by fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge on 25th June. Their quills were also used for writing although quills from geese were much more commonly used – but a swan’s quill was said to last as long as 50 goose quills.

Traditionally, the British Monarch is the owner of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries in Middlesex, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. There is a Royal Charter which Edward IV passed in 1482 preventing the claim of ownership of swans by common people. In 2012, because of flooding of the Thames, Swan Upping was cancelled between Sunbury-on-Thames and Windsor. It’s thought to be the first time in 900 years that the event couldn’t take place.

The Keeper of the King or Queen’s Swans was an ancient office in the Royal Household and was previously called the King or Queen’s Swanmaster, a position which dates from the 13th century. He was assisted by three swanherdsmen during Swan Upping. The title of Keeper was replaced by two new posts in 1993, Warden of the Swans and Marker of the Swans. Swan UppingThe Queen’s Marker of the Swans still organises Swan Upping and he monitors the health of the local swan population. The Warden of the Swans works alongside the Marker of the Swans, a post presently held by David Barber, and together they conduct the event.

Swan Upping is a colourful occasion and is used as a swan census. It takes place annually during the third week of July when the Queen’s ‘Worshipful Company of Vintners’ and the ‘Worshipful Company of Dyers’ provide Swan Uppers to row up the river in shallow boats called skiffs. The first documentary reference to the Vintners owning swans comes from 1509, when the Company’s "Under-Swanherd" was paid 4 shillings (20p) at the time of the 'great frost' for 'upping the Master’s swans'.

This ownership of the swans is shared between the Royal Household, the Vintners and the Dyers, who were granted rights of ownership by the Crown in the fifteenth century. Swans caught by the Queen’s Swan Uppers under the direction of the Marker of the Swans are not now marked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for Ornithology. Those caught by the Dyers and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of an extra ring on the other leg. Today, only swans with cygnets are caught and ringed. This gives a yearly overview of how swans are breeding. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would have been marked on the bill with identifiable notches.

Swan Upping Swan Upping is conducted over a week with different stretches of the river being covered each day. As they row past Windsor Castle, the Swan Uppers salute "Her Majesty the Queen, Seigneur of the Swans". The crews of the skiffs have ceremonial uniforms but for the working element of the job they are clad in blue, red or white polo shirts and white trousers rolled up over their ankles. Each boat flies the appropriate flag for its livery company. When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of "All up!" is given to signal that the boats should get into position for a quick capture.

At the completion of Swan Upping each year, The Queen’s Marker of the Swans produces a report which provides information on the number of swans accounted for, including broods and cygnets. This enables the most appropriate conservation methods to be used to protect the swans. This ancient tradition has taken on a new mantle. The Swan Uppers are caring for swans, not as a source of food but as a beautiful part of the picturesque River Thames.

food and travel reviews

Mele e Pere

Mele e Pere This is a little cracker of a restaurant and I am almost reluctant to publicise it any further for fear that the prices will go up and the chances of me getting a table will go down!

This is an authentic northern Italian, casual dining restaurant smack in the middle of the very un-Italian Soho. Its ambiance, style, ethos, whatever you want to call it, works at this location. In fact I think it would work anywhere.

Mele e Pere is ranged over two floors with the main restaurant in the basement level. Its bar is impressive with copper cladding and a shelf of home-made vermouths enough to help launch any voyage of libation discovery. Vermouth here is a signature beverage and it would be a shame not to try one. You can try others on your return, for a return is almost guaranteed.

We sat at that bar for a while and ordered a bowl of olives to go along with citrus vermouth made in-house and Byrrh which wasn’t. That’s a classic vermouth in the traditional herby style of a wine-based apéritif made of red and fortified wines (mistelle), and quinine. That quinine might not sound appealing but it’s the key ingredient in tonic water. But back to the food! Our Ascolana olives were stuffed with spicy meat, breaded and deep fried. They look innocent but they pack a chilli punch and are addictive.

Mele e Pere The menu here is seasonal and ever-changing. There are plenty of regulars who will appreciate the new items throughout the year. Fresh is evidently important at Mele e Pere. I hadn’t realised at the time of my visit that they make bread, pasta, desserts and ice-creams in their own kitchen. That isn’t always a recommendation in other restaurants. The bread was outstanding here. Yes, it’s just a simple thing but it shows attention to detail. I am hoping the owners will open a bakery next.

We ordered several starters including that amazing bread and focaccia along with deep-fried squid rings with smoked aioli and parmesan. The squid was light and the mayo a delicious foil to the delicate flavour of the breading and the seafood. But the Parma ham and gnocchi fritti is a must-try here. The gnocchi fritti were in fact light puffs and perfect when paired with the savoury ham.

Fresh spaghetti with clams, garlic, chilli and courgettes was my guest’s main course. He ordered just a small portion, which was still substantial, and he had that delicious bread for mopping juices. This was a beautiful and light dish of a good amount of shellfish and that aforementioned home-made pasta. The strands were eggy yellow and rich. A green salad alongside was all that was needed.

On this evening the menu offered home-made sausage and courgette – another substantial plateful. The sausage was seasoned, grilled and glistening and the sort that wins prizes in butchery competitions. Yes, it was that good. The sausage was coiled and skewered, the courgette was split, grilled and garnished and the diner was salivating at every bite. Once again Mele e Pere showing that food need not be fussy to be impressive. It just has to be right.

Mele e Pere Wine at Mele e Pere is reasonably priced and can be ordered by the glass, carafe or bottle, and after a vermouth or two a small carafe might be in order. And there was still dessert to come. A couple of scoops of Amalfi Lemon sorbet was enough for the two of us. The attentive waiter had the presence of mind to lay two spoons. Tangy, light and full of citrus flavour. This was a perfect end to a hot night in Italy. Well, OK, London W1, but it was pretty near. Visit for a long, lingering lunch, or even try some pastries for breakfast.

Restaurant Review:
Mele e Pere
46 Brewer Street

Phone: 020 7096 2096

Visit Mele e Pere here

food and travel reviews

Rennes – living with history

Rennes history History is everywhere in Rennes but it’s actually considered by thoroughly modern folks to be one of the most liveable cities in France. That’s a hard juggling act.

Rennes had been in existence for centuries before the Romans and in 57 BC the local inhabitants joined the Gaulish coalition against Rome. That didn’t work and there followed Roman occupation. In 275, the threat of invasion by barbarians led to the erection of a brick wall around the town. In the 9th century Rennes became fully Breton and was to remain that way for many hundreds of years.

In 1491 the French army of Charles VIII unsuccessfully attacked Rennes. Brittany having already surrendered everywhere else, Rennes stood alone. Duchess Anne of Brittany chose to negotiate with the king, and the resulting Treaty of Rennes, including her marriage to Charles VIII, brought Brittany into the French kingdom. Tour Duchesne is an old tower dating from around that time, and is located near the Mordelaises gates. The tower is part of the original city walls, which date back to the 3rd century, although rebuilt in the mid-1400s.

Timber-framed houses were a popular form of construction as there were forests to supply the raw material. In 1720 a major fire destroyed all the wooden buildings in the northern part of the city. The inhabitants took the precaution of rebuilding in stone, on a grid plan with wider roads. This modernisation has given Rennes two distinctive architectural faces. There are those sweeping avenues, but the medieval-looking streets still remain. Carrefour de la Cathédrale has a maze of winding streets surrounding it and that’s where one finds most of the city’s remaining half-timbered houses, dating from the 16th century.

Lift your eyes and find exquisite carved wooden details on medieval buildings. Rennes historyThere are iron-studded doors, ancient shutters, cobbled streets and granite. This isn’t a city that’s known for its stonework as there are no local quarries. This problem has been solved by the use of whatever stone was available, along with brick, creating in some buildings something of a masonry patchwork.

Rennes Cathedral is solid and unmissable. It has a heavy, granite façade that lacks the refinement of other French cathedrals that have been built from softer honey-coloured stone which was more easily sculpted. This is, externally, a rather sombre church. But step inside and you will find one of the most impressive religious buildings in France. There is a remarkable 15th-century Gothic gilded wooden altarpiece flanked by some imposing candlesticks. The arched ceilings are richly decorated and low lights pick out gold embellishments. Don’t miss a few quiet moments here.

Rennes history Rennes is a beautiful and compact city with a wealth of restaurants, cafés and bars. It boasts a large and celebrated food market and thriving gastronomic culture. Place des Lices reminds one of the jousting lists for sporting knights once found here, although it’s now alive with shoppers every Saturday. There are many street names that give a nod to medieval times. One might notice a clock tower on the Place and even that has history. It marks the spot where prisoners were executed. There is even a medieval prison that is now a nightclub and restaurant. Rennes is home to two universities and more than 50,000 students. It’s not surprising that the city has a vibrant night life.

It also has open spaces aplenty and these are well-used by locals and tourists alike. One can find deckchairs from which one can enjoy jazz or classical music. Parc du Thabor is a public garden which was built in the 19th century on the site of the orchard of the Saint-Melaine abbey. It’s the largest park in Rennes and in the centre of the town. There is a museum of fine art and one covering Breton history, so something for all the family. If one wants to cover more ground then hire a bike for the day.

Rennes is just the sort of town which one hopes to find in France. Very French ambiance, French food, beautiful old buildings, cobbled streets, a market square and a glass or two of something reviving. Yes, we seek, but seldom find, a gem that ticks all those boxes. But here it is and just an easy hop across the Channel from Southend Airport.

Visit Southend Airport here

Learn more about Rennes here

food and travel reviews

Rennes – second capital of food (or is it third?)

Rennes food Rennes Market, in the Place des Lices, is there every Saturday, and is considered to be the second- or third-largest in France, depending on whom you are speaking to. It starts in the morning around 7.30 although there is not the full complement of nearly 300 stalls and vendors till an hour or so later. It’s usually the time-strapped locals who frequent the market so early. They are looking for the week’s fruit and veg and don’t want to be tripping over enthusiastic, iPhone-clicking tourists. 

This isn’t one of the new breed of Farmers’ Markets that have sprung up in the UK. This one has been doing it since 1622. The site has always been an open space since the time of knights and the courtly sport of jousting. The Place des Lices takes its name from the jousting ‘lists’ which was the arena where the tournaments took place.

Rennes food The covered markets contain honey, cider, baked goods, charcuterie and ready-prepared food, while outside there are avenues of fresh fruit and vegetable stalls.  In 1965 the halls were modernised to that which we see today. There are now two market halls although there were originally three: the missing one was used for the sale of fish but that was deemed to be too malodourous and was demolished. The fresh-fish vendors now occupy the same space, but in the open air. There is also a small flower market which is up the hill a few yards. Here you will find posies, exotic blooms, potted plants and a beautiful perfume.

The market attracts about 10,000 visitors every week. They come for the produce and to meet friends. This is part of the French lifestyle of which so many of us dream, and it’s here in Rennes. It’s a pleasure to browse the stalls, gathering ingredients for dinner. One might buy a loaf of warm bread and some local butter, perhaps a ready-grilled chicken and a scoop of potatoes cooked in the aforementioned bird’s juices. A bottle of cidre might be heading home with the soon-to-be-diner …and that cheese looks good!

One can build up an appetite long before a regular mealtime, but Breton galette stuffed with a sausage is on hand to take away those hunger pangs. This Rennes speciality seems to be eaten by everyone these days. It’s a savoury buckwheat-flour pancake which once served as bread in this region. There are several food carts at the market and regulars will have their favourite. If in doubt, join the longest line.

If you are one of those poor unfortunates who had a mum who told you it was unacceptable to eat on the street then you have my sympathy and a suggestion of a proper sit-down restaurant. Rennes foodCrêperie Saint-Georges will allow you to taste galettes filled with all manner of savoury ingredients, and there are light crepes for dessert, too. This is a striking restaurant with unique design and delicious food. I ordered Georges Bataille (strangely all the menu items are called George) – a galette filled with black pudding and apple, which was a sweet and savoury dish with all the flavours of the area.

Crêperie Saint-Georges
11 rue du Chapitre
35000 Rennes

Phone: 02 99 38 87 04

Visit Crêperie Saint-Georges here

Established early in 2013, TEA & TY is a specialist in, unsurprisingly, tea. It has a convenient central location and is just the place to sit down and enjoy a light bite and a reviving cuppa.

Rennes food This is a rather trendy tea room with not a hint of chintz. The walls are lined with huge tea canisters from which to choose one’s preferred brew and small gift-quality tea caddies for practical souvenirs. The tea is served from traditional Japanese iron pots and poured into contemporary bowls. One can enjoy a pastry or a cookie or a savoury tart of some sort, but it’s the tea that’s special here.

TEA & TY has a great selection of leaf teas from around the world. They carry both black and green teas and also the less-often available rooibos tea from South Africa, which isn’t a tea at all but has been used as an infusion for generations. I enjoyed a bowl of Japanese sencha tea and, keeping with the theme, a matcha cookie. No, not very French, but there is a polished and eclectic side to Rennes and I was doing just what the locals do, after all.

16, rue Victor Hugo
35000 Rennes

Phone: 02 23 20 75 96

Visit TEA & TY here 

Rennes food Located in the heart of the city centre of Rennes, opposite the Place de Bretagne, l’Amiral restaurant welcomes its guests with a nautical sweep of its terrace roof. It’s a large, contemporary and tastefully appointed restaurant which specialises in fish and seafood.

That terrace is the spot to grab on hot and sunny days. A lunch here is pleasure writ large. The menu offers every genre of seafood from lobster at the luxury end to the very reasonable Assiette de Fruits de Mer. The portions are substantial and beautifully presented. I was tempted by a bargain bowl of mussels which came with fries – a meal over which to linger with convivial company and a glass of local beer.

But meat-eaters, who will likely be here under protest, have nothing to fear. They will probably soon be heard to mutter ‘Well, I didn’t expect that’, ‘Shall we book a table for Wednesday?’ and even ‘I think that might be the best steak I have ever had’. Not bad for a piscatorial emporium!

1 rue de la Motte Picquet
35000 Rennes

Phone: 02 99 35 03 91

Visit l’Amiral here

Rennes was made for lovers of good food. One can dine at home on the best of local produce. There is authentic street food to enjoy. Healthful and smart tea shops beckon, and the most stylish of restaurants are all within walking distance of the centre of town.

Rennes is accessible these days with direct flights from Southend Airport. Do remember to book a piece of luggage for the hold as there will be plenty of bottles to bring back. The local version of Calvados is well worth seeking out. One doesn’t need a car for a short break as it’s a city to enjoy on foot. If the legs get weary then sit and people-watch for a while. Order a coffee or a traditional cup of cidre and wonder why you didn’t come here before.

Visit Southend Airport here

Learn more about Rennes here

food and travel reviews

Gymkhana London

Gymkhana Gymkhana is an Indian word which originally referred to a meeting place. These days it tends to be an equestrian day event put on by posh pony clubs; but not in this case. Gymkhana in London does fit into the ‘meeting place’ category and it does have the feel of a nicely appointed casual club, but there won’t be the smell of horse or stable anywhere near.

Gymkhana on Albemarle Street in Mayfair is an Indian restaurant serving innovative food from the imagination of Group Executive Chef Rohit Ghai in a venue that has been thoughtfully presented by owner Karam Sethi, right down to the serving plates. Yes, it does indeed have a relaxed ambiance but the food is Michelin Star all the way.

This isn’t an overly-themed Indian restaurant. The name Gymkhana gives a hint to its ethnicity but the ground floor has marble table-tops and booths along with dark wood which really gives the air of that old-fashioned, much-sought-after French Bistro which one looks for but never finds in the back streets of Paris. It flaunts a very buzzy and energetic vibe.

The lower level must have originally been the cellar of an old Georgian house or shop. This has allowed for a couple of private dining spaces which still retain the curved ceilings that remind one of wine cellars in France or Italy.

Gymkhana The main basement restaurant again sports dark wood aplenty with old pictures from the days of the Raj, brass-edged tables and rattan chairs adding to the old Indian club reincarnation. The ceiling is low, giving a sense of calming intimacy. It’s much quieter here than above making this the very spot for romantic encounters, discreet business meetings or unwinding after a hard day at the coal face.

Gymkhana takes advantage of seasonal British ingredients so there will likely be something new with every visit. This isn’t your usual Indian restaurant menu at any time of year so even regulars will find not only quality but unique dishes.

Gol Guppas with Jaljeera, Potato, and Sprouting Moong arrived as pre-dinner nibbles. These are classic stuffed puffs but here they are served on the best of English cottage china, once again introducing a very Anglo element. But do try the Dosa here. It’s authentically crisp (I have found many to be flabby and doughy) and light, with a rich filling of Chettin Duck with traditional coconut chutney. This is a winner at any time of year.

Gymkhana Rajma fritters are a take on Indian comfort food. These are balls of kidney beans with a crunchy coating and they are moreish. But meat eaters are not forgotten: Lamb Nalli Barra served with lightly pickled onion were outstanding. The meat was glisteningly moist and meltingly tender. It’s a substantial dish and seasoned to perfection.

Wild Muntjac Biryani with Pomegranate and Mint Raita was the main dish, and there is innovation here even in the pastry crust which was crowned with seeds, giving it a wholesome and attractive appearance that was a shame to destroy. This is a dish over which to salivate while inhaling delicate aromas of spiced meat and rice. A hearty dish but lightened by the yoghurt and fruit.

Rose and Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was my guest’s dessert. He pronounced it to be excellent with flowery notes from the rose and just a touch of sharpness from the rhubarb. I always think of falooda as something along the lines of English trifle. It’s a sweet treat full of lots of different good things.

Gymkhana Queens Club Cocktail was my preferred finish to the meal. I hadn’t had wine with dinner so I could indulge in a little alcohol now. This hot after-dinner cocktail had me intrigued: it’s Ketel One Vodka, coriander seed and lemon zest syrup, clove and hot Darjeeling Earl Grey tea poured over a clove and apple jelly, and into a proper cup and saucer. Deliciously theatrical and a cocktail which I want to replicate at home …every evening.

Gymkhana will definitely appeal to those looking for uncommon food that’s predictably good, in a restaurant with character in a convenient location. Karam Sethi once again shows his flair for knowing what works.

Restaurant Review:
42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

Phone: 020 3011 5900

Visit Gymkhana Restaurant here

food and travel reviews

Memphis in London

The Shaftesbury Theatre is both beautiful and historic, and a worthy presenter of a show that is beautiful in a very different way.

Memphis is a musical and a memorable and striking one. It is set in an era of segregation, overt racism, poverty, and dreams. The story line is perennial and simple but with a sting – boy meets girl, boy loses girl. The main protagonists are Huey Calhoun and Felicia Farrell, racism and music. These add up to be more than the sum of their component parts.

Memphis in London Huey is a poor, white, ill-educated clown of a chap who has a passion for music – Black music. That’s not a claim to fame these days but we are talking 1950s USA, and the South at that! These were troubled times where even music had to know its place. He was on a mission to popularise R&B and bring it to a wider audience.

A Beale Street club offers Huey a chance to immerse himself, or almost, in black musical culture. And there was a young black singer called Felicia who stole his heart but also showed him the brutality and injustice of Memphis society. Huey could be musically black whenever he wanted, but she was black every moment, noted Felicia. There were realities to be faced.

Memphis is colourful, vibrant and a little shocking, particularly to younger members of the theatre audience who have never actually heard the N-word in such a public forum. There was an audible gasp from those who had not grasped the aforementioned realities of life for non-whites – a few gritty moments that were completely in context. There is a hard-hitting story here which supports some cracking good songs.

Beverley Knight captivates from the first moment. In my humble opinion, and I am no expert, she is the most polished and accomplished soul singer around. She has the voice, for sure, but she has charm, elegance and beauty. One warms to her character, Felicia, who has talent, humour and ambition.

From 6 July 2015 the role of Huey Calhoun is played by Matt Cardle.  He has built himself a solid reputation since his success with X-Factor. He brings sensitivity and credibility to his role along with his powerful voice, energy and nifty moves. A great choice for the part and for the partnership with Ms Knight, that makes Memphis so memorable.

There are other heroes in Memphis. The dancers are dazzling and the musicians are first-rate. Don’t rush off after the stars have taken their bows: stay until the music is really over and give those musicians some applause too. Some nice bits of sax playing in the last few minutes before the curtain falls.

Go to Memphis. I highly recommend this show for its social comment, its musical score and its originality. It’s a fun show dealing with serious issues and it’s a balance that it thoughtfully maintains. It’s a moving story with songs that have all the style of 50s R&B.

Memphis in London Theatre Review:
Memphis at the Shaftesbury Theatre
210 Shaftesbury Avenue

Visit Shaftesbury Theatre here
For enquiries relating to the performance or general ticket enquiries email

For general enquiries email
Stage Door: Phone 020 7379 3345
Box Office: Phone 020 7379 5399
Fax: 020 7836 8181

food and travel reviews

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary Bombay Brasserie and Bar, Gloucester Road, South Kensington has been an A-lister for the great and the good as well as the just famous and now it has adopted a new, cool ivory-coloured persona in place of the Rajesque opulence it once flaunted.

The restaurant has undergone a couple of transformations since it opened in 1982 as one of London’s first Indian fine-dining destinations. It has recently been refurbished and is now much lighter and more contemporary than its previous incarnation. There are still the famed sepia pictures of Maharajas gracing the walls of the bar and on a panel next to the piano in the restaurant, but now Bombay Brasserie is less fussy but just as classy as the old BB.

My guest remarked that Bombay Brasserie has perhaps the most generous table spacing of any London restaurant of any culinary persuasion. The restaurant evidently considers the comfort of its guests, and one truly does feel like a guest rather than a customer. The service, overseen by Operations Manager Mr. Shailesh Pandya, is, just like the man himself, professional and friendly yet unobtrusive.

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary The conservatory has been transformed with the removal of the central open kitchen. The walls are now covered with white-and-black Indian folk murals and there is an outside terrace to enjoy on warm summer evenings. But the new private dining area which seats about 18 is absolutely stunning. It’s a vision of dark wood, carved-back chairs and Indian good taste. It’s understated splendour.
Executive Chef Prahlad Hegde is modest, charming and softly spoken but heads an energetic and well-polished team. Chef Hegde is the hidden cornerstone in the kitchen and his skill as a chef has won him awards and deserved respect from his peers as well as those he feeds. It’s his food that entices the visitor to return …and often. He doesn’t court publicity but rather works quietly away to build a solid and creditable worldwide reputation for Bombay Brasserie.

We visited on a hot and sticky evening. Yes, it’s true, they are rare in London but when they arrive they are strength-sapping and tiresome. Alcohol didn’t appeal, even though we were luxuriating in Bombay Brasserie’s air-conditioning, but we were invited to try a couple of virgin cocktails and they hit the spot, to the extent that we ordered another round. Not exactly binge drinking and there was neither guilt nor hangover. Tamaringer was an addictive concoction of sharp and thirst-quenching tamarind spiked with chilli served with plenty of ice. My guest’s libation was the equally moreish Green Refresher which offers the much-publicised healthful properties of green tea along with pineapple, mint, ginger and lemon.

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary This restaurant is far from being a high-street curry house (although these are fewer in number they have long been well-loved institutions and it was they, after all, who gave us our appreciation of spice). Bombay Brasserie is famed for its accessible Indian fine-dining ambiance and menu. Chef Hegde has a light touch, a deft hand and a lot of passion for his craft. The menu has classics but also dishes that are unique to this restaurant.

Non-meat eaters are well catered for here with seafood aplenty as well as vegetable dishes such as the okra which shouldn’t be missed. The griddled prawns and scallops are for which to die. I would venture to say that those scallops are the best I have ever had in London, or anywhere else for that matter. They are translucent and succulent. Pan-fried Chilean sea bass on a base of spinach and mushroom is a fine example of why this fish has become so popular and it’s a flaky must-try on this menu.

Braised lamb shank should be the dinner of choice for any card-carrying carnivore. It arrived simply presented with a light gravy on the side. The meat was, and I know it’s a much-used cliché, ‘falling off the bone’. That’s a more literarily nifty phrase than ‘sufficiently tender as to be easily shredded with the blunt edge of a spoon or a sharp look’ which would be equally true.

Bombay Brasserie – Cool and contemporary Bombay Brasserie and Executive Chef Prahlad Hegde never disappoint. Its convenient location, its delicious food and impeccable service have kept this restaurant buzzing. It might have changed its décor, it hasn’t changed its name to Mumbai Somethingorother, and the high quality of its dishes and presentation remain the same. Any lover of good food will have this restaurant on their gastronomic Bucket List.

Restaurant Review:
Bombay Brasserie
Courtfield Road

Phone +44 (0)20 7370 4040

Visit Bombay Brasserie here

food and travel reviews

Gaylord in Mortimer Street

gaylord This is one restaurant that I have visited and wondered why I had not done so long before now. Gaylord Restaurant was established in 1966 so I would have had plenty of time. Its location couldn’t be more convenient, being between two Underground stations and near shops and theatres. I guess that it has become an Indian restaurant institution and doesn’t get the publicity lavished on some newer kids on the block …or at least new kids on other London blocks.

I liked it. OK, so that phrase doesn’t have great wordy impact but it speaks volumes. It made a great impression on arrival. It’s cool and elegant in a very ‘international crisp white linen and ivory’ way but there were very Indian friezes by Prithvi Soni on the wall to give a nod to the ethnicity of the culinary offerings. For me, this is just the right balance of décor laced with exotica. I was comfortable.

The diners were an eclectic mix of American tourists and local Indian and European regulars. There were couples as well as families enjoying cooling drinks before their meal on this unusually hot and humid summer night, in a London that seemed to be emulating the sub-continent.

Gaylord in Mortimer Street Gaylord has a beautiful menu. That is to say the actual menu is beautifully presented with heavy card pages, muted colours, metallic details and a very practical landscape layout. It hinted at the quality of food to come, when such attention had been given before a morsel had even been ordered.

But we did order and started with non-alcoholic cocktails. I can recommend the Virgin Paan Mohitos made with rose petals, fresh mint, lime juice and buckets of ice. A thirst-quencher with a delicate perfume.

Gaylord remains faithful to its traditions that were started in India in the 1940s. There are dishes which are familiar and there are others that cross boundaries. I have never been keen on fusion dishes but the Tacos here are worth trying. They are an Indian version of the Mexican street food classic. The menu mentions soft tacos but ours were the crisp corn tacos with that very particular flavour …and it really worked with the filling of lamb seek kebab with a pile of garnishes. I am sure the soft taco shell would have been good but the crisp one has more flavour and is fun, although messy, to eat.

My guest ordered Mixed Vegetable Pakoras. Yes, a standard dish but that standard does vary from restaurant to restaurant. These were just for which I would hope. It’s all about the batter which coats those veggies, and this gram flour batter gave a light, crisp and oil-free pakora that was moreish.

Murg Gilafi seekh was my starter. Minced chicken had been lightly smoked, giving a moist and juicy kebab. Served on a sizzling platter with sliced onions, this was a winner. Golgappa shots were delicious and amusing and a must-try if there are a crowd of you. Tandoori prawns and chicken tikka are also good here, so order a few starters to share in tapas style.

Gaylord in Mortimer Street Gaylord Grill is a substantial platter of Tandoori Lamb Chop, Fish Tikka and Murg Malai Tikka. The chop was charred on the bone with meat that was cooked to pink perfection. The chicken and fish were both melting and well-seasoned.

Vegetable Jalfrezi was my vibrant mix for a main course. A medley of potatoes, green peas, peppers, button mushrooms, carrots were tossed with warming spices and fresh coriander. This was a hot dish that was both light and flavourful on an equally hot summer night. A dish for any Indian food aficionado. It needed nothing more alongside than some rice and Yellow Dal Tadka tempered with garlic, red onion, and cumin – a hearty dal for sharing.

Baingan Hyderabadi should be a signature side dish at Gaylord. Aubergine chunks, simmered in spicy masala gravy are truly addictive. I am tempted to pop in for a portion of this and some naan bread whenever I am passing.

Gaylord in Mortimer Street Gajar Ka halwa is a traditional homemade carrot pudding and here it is served hot with almond slivers and a great deal of style. It arrived in a silver jewel box which added to the general majestic ambiance of Gaylord.

This was a delightful meal and my only regret is that I didn’t visit sooner. I look forward to becoming a regular for lunch, dinner and a bite before going to the theatre. It will be a long time before I tire of the beautiful menu.

Restaurant Review:
Gaylord London
79-81 Mortimer Street


Phone: 020 7580 3615 or 020 7636 0808

Visit Gaylord here

food and travel reviews

Bayeux – A stitch in time

Bayeux It’s inevitable that the first thing people think of when you mention Bayeux is the tapestry. Though it’s not actually a tapestry but a very fine embroidery. The Bayeux Tapestry is now on permanent display in a bespoke museum in the city of Bayeux in Normandy, France. It’s unique and huge and merits a home of its own.

The ‘tapestry’ tells the story of the life of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, and here comes another factual correction and we are only at paragraph two! The Battle of Hastings was actually fought at a place called Battle, although I suspect it was named only after the Battle. It would have been too much of a coincidence otherwise.

The tapestry tells of William and his passage from being just the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy (with ‘Bastard’ as the only appendage to his name) to rising to having ‘King’ as his title. One can see the preparations for invasion; the felling of trees and the launching of boats, and then the battle. Many men are shown as conclusively dead and the English King Harold can be seen being the well-documented recipient of the arrow in the eye.

Bayeux The bloody event was to have a huge impact on Medieval England and it’s still exciting interest today. The tapestry is made out of eight narrow widths of linen sewn together.  It’s 270 feet long and about 20 inches wide. The majority of stitches used are ‘stem’ and ‘laid-and-couched’, which will only mean anything to devoted embroiderers.

There are eight colours of thread and the five main colours are blue-green, terracotta, light-green, buff and grey-blue. Nothing too vivid and all obviously made with natural dyes. There are also areas where very dark blue, yellow and a dark green are still visible – this hanging is in amazing condition considering its age.

It is assumed that the man who commissioned the tapestry was Bishop Odo of Bayeux. He was William’s half-brother. It is probable that the tapestry was made to celebrate both William’s victory at Hastings and the completion of Odo’s cathedral in the city.

The tapestry was likely made by women in Canterbury, Kent, where there was a celebrated embroidery school.  They used stitches very similar to those found on the tapestry. Another indication that this was sewn on the English side of the Channel is that some of the names on the tapestry are spelt in the English way and not in the French style.

Bayeux The tapestry shows 50 different scenes and there are 632 people, 202 horses, 55 dogs, 505 other characters, 37 buildings, around 40 ships and trees, and lots of Latin. Adults will be charmed by the handiwork and younger members of the group will be thrilled by the brutality and carnage!

But there is more to this beautiful town than the tapestry. The large Norman-Romanesque and Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux was consecrated in 1077 by the aforementioned Bishop Odo. The lower part of the building is Romanesque, and is probably original. The upper part is in Gothic style making this an architect’s dream structure to study. But look inside to really appreciate the magnificence of the cathedral.

Bayeux is only a short distance from the Normandy Beaches, which have been attracting more visitors than ever over the last several years. There are various associated museums and exhibitions in the area, as well as war cemeteries, commemorating very much more recent battles than that shown in the Tapestry.

Bayeux Bayeux has a wealth of restaurants and specialist food shops. Many of these are housed in historic half-timbered buildings, so take your eyes off the cheese for a moment and you might find some characterful wood carving. And along with the cidre and dairy products there is a little shop that actually sells bits of the Bayeux Tapestry. Well, newly embroidered authentic replicas of the historic hanging anyway. You can buy finished cushions, you can buy kits as souvenirs and you can even have lessons on the stitches used by those Kentish damsels who made the original.

Bayeux is an accessible and walkable town. Photo opportunities abound, eating opportunities are ever present and one can just people-watch with a coffee and an apple pastry. It’s easy to get there from Caen by train, which itself has fast shuttle links to and from its airport. There are flights from the gem of an airport at Southend.
Learn more about making your own tapestry here

Visit Southend Airport here

Learn more about Bayeux here

Visit the Bayeux Tapestry Museum here

food and travel reviews

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons

This thick, square tome is a veritable guide to all things delicious in the capital. We are truly spoilt for choice so it’s handy to have some pointers. Yes, it’s all a matter of taste but authors David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters have presented a comprehensive cross-section of suggestions. There are chapters devoted to restaurants and others to various genres of food purveyors. Its style is chatty and inclusive and the text doesn’t ramble.

London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons isn’t a book just for those with cash to splash. There is a section devoted to Street Food which offers vibrant options that won’t demand a second mortgage. Borough Market has become a magnet for food-lovers from around the world. Plenty to see and taste and those foods are just as diverse as the people trying them. This market does double duty as a fresh food market and a Street Food arcade.

For a look at a colourful and thoroughly authentic market then head for Leather Lane which has held markets for 400 years or so. It’s not polished but it’s real London, with everything from fresh veg to big knickers, along with those eclectic plates. This is absolutely Street Food!

If you would actually like to sit while you sip then this book has a wealth of tea and coffee houses. I am guessing that you are a food lover and likely passionate about recipe books, and London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons presents Books for Cooks. It’s a celebrated bookshop with food books of every kind. There is a café at the back which doubles as a demonstration area for some of those cookbook authors.

Persepolis is one of my personal favourite food shops in London, and probably anywhere. The food is exotic and delicious and mostly Persian. The owner, Sally Butcher, is almost always serving and entertaining with her own brand of warm and hilarious humour. She is not only Mrs Shopkeeper but she is the writer of some very engaging cookbooks. This shop is a must-visit!

As I’ve said, it’s just a matter of taste, but the two authors have coincidently chosen so many of my favourite haunts. It’s a pleasure to leaf through the pages while making plans for the next market visit, or to dine at that restaurant with the unique curry. This is gift quality and should indeed be a gift for any lover of London and its food. Gone are the days when we had such a (deservedly) bad reputation for food. London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons illustrates how far we have come - and it’s only scratched the surface.

Cookbook Review:
London for Foodies, Gourmets and Gluttons
Authors: David Hampshire and Graeme Chesters
Published by: Survival Books
Price: £11.95
ISBN-13: 978-1909282766

food and travel reviews


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Capital Spice - chefs, restaurants and recipes
By Chrissie Walker, foreword by Sanjeev Kapoor.
21 great London Indian chefs, over 100
stunning recipes.
Available from bookshops and Amazon.
ISBN: 9781906650728

Marks and Spencer wine