20
Nov 14

A foodie minibreak to Cork

Hayfield

Cork is Ireland’s second city situated on the Atlantic Coast in South East Ireland. At around an hour flight time from the UK, it’s so easy to get to and is a brilliant destination for a minibreak.

There are many reasons to recommend a trip to Cork. Not only is it easy to get to, but it’s an incredibly interesting city with lots going on, but is very manageable in size. The airport is just a couple of miles out of the city centre and it’s quick and cheap to get into town, either by taxi or bus. Cork is a very manageable, walkable city, too. Then there’s the unmistakable warmth and charm of the Irish, who are just so friendly, warm and welcoming, they make a visit so easy, relaxing and fun.

Cork is an interesting city set across two rivers. It’s home to the Cork Opera House, the Crawford Gallery, a delightful branch of Brown Thomas, Ireland’s leading top-end department store and the English Market, which is one of the best indoor food markets in Europe, which sells an array of wonderful Irish produce.

There is only one place to stay in Cork – and that’s Hayfield Manor Hotel. It’s described as Cork’s leading hotel, and is where anyone who’s anyone stays when in town, and in this case, it absolutely lives up to its reputation. Hayfield Manor is a medium sized hotel situated up a private drive at the edge of town, and is a haven of luxury and glamour in Cork city.

This is a hotel that really makes an impression when you arrive – especially so at night, when it’s just magical. As we approach Christmas, this hotel becomes even more enchanting as its decorations go up and the lights are switched on.

Rooms are large, extremely comfortable and well appointed with giant beds, every comfort taken care of and giant bathrooms to boot – mine had a traditional roll top bath and marble sinks.

Hayfield Manor is well set up for foodie visitors – it has two restaurants and a ground floor bar. This wood panelled, elegantly lit bar is the most glamorous spot in Cork and is an absolute must for a visit, either for an elegant cocktail or a Irish whiskey tasting experience. The more informal restaurant, Perretts, serves a delicious menu of favourite dishes. It’s a lovely choice for dinner as the food is delicious and freshly cooked, made using Irish produce and served in a lovely environment with the friendliest of service but at a very reasonable price, too. Orchids is the hotel’s fine dining restaurant which is open at the weekends and offers an even more glamorous experience. There’s a lovely pool and spa available to guests, so be sure not to forgot your swimming costume.

Staff at Hayfield Manor are the best in the business and proud to work at this hotel. They’ll look after you extremely well but with an extra bit of Irish charm and friendliness, which is one of the loveliest aspects of a visit to Ireland.

A minibreak to Cork City and Hayfield Manor really is a fabulous destination for a luxurious minibreak and comes most highly recommended.


14
Nov 14

Downtown Dubai

Rooftop pool

Downtown Dubai is arguably the most exciting part of town for anyone visiting this astonishing emirate. This area of Dubai has become the hub of the city for anyone interested in visiting the world’s top restaurants, art galleries, and of course, for its business centre and staggering shopping facilities. I recently paid a visit to check out what was going on for myself.

DIFC, or Dubai International Financial District is, as you would expect, the financial hub of Dubai, but it is an area increasingly appealing to tourists because of its downtown location. It is close to the Dubai Mall, which offers the biggest and best shopping experience in the UAE, the Burj Khalifa is just around the corner and it has its own vibrant and exciting nightlife and cultural scene.

There is only one place to stay in downtown Dubai – The Ritz-Carlton DIFC. This hotel manages to perfectly balance understated discretion and opulence – behind the limestone façade, guests will find a haven of luxury and elegance which manages to suit both leisure and business visitors. What makes this hotel particularly special is the service. The Ritz-Carlton service is second to none, which makes it a genuine pleasure to spend time in the hotel. What makes the difference is that staff are so highly trained, and the service is so slick and organised, you know that they know who you are, what your requirements are, and really will ensure your stay is a good one. In a city with a large number of 5-star hotels, it is this level of service that makes a truly great hotel stand out from the competition.

Rooms are, as you’d expect, spacious, luxuriously fitted out and deeply private. All beds are decked out with crisp, super high thread count sheets and thick, fluffy pillows, making the most comfy and luxurious environment for a good night’s sleep. Bathrooms are marble as standard, with oodles of space and generous quantities of Asprey toiletries replenished every day.

For guests looking for an extra degree of privacy and service, the Ritz-Carlton club service is worth opting for, providing exclusive access to a refined and private space in which to relax or work. There’s free Wifi, food and drink served throughout the day. Breakfast is taken in the club, and you can pop in for lunch, afternoon tea and an aperitif in the evening. The staff not only look after you very well, but provide a concierge service for guests, taking care of your every need.

The food at The Ritz-Carlton DIFC is fantastic. Travellers with food intolerances are looked after very well. The gluten free bread served was so good, we found ourselves examining it closely to check if it actually was gluten free (it was). Usually, you can spot gluten free bread a mile off. There would always be food brought up especially for us from the kitchen and it was all exceptionally delicious. Café Belge is the hotel’s grand café (the first to open in the UAE) and is, frankly, much better than many you’ll find in Europe. It’s open to the public and worth visiting even if you’re not staying. The Wagyu burger is one of the very best I’ve ever had. The tuna tartare is sublime, and the apple and chicory salad so delicious, I was working how to recreate it at home after the first mouthful. The service is impeccable, and I’m planning a visit on a Tuesday night next time I’m in town to enjoy their jazz nights.

There’s a top-end steak house – Center Cut – in the hotel, which is very popular with locals and residents alike, No 5 Lounge and Bar where you can enjoy a delicious cocktail in elegant surroundings, and the Sunken Garden shisha garden which is open till the wee hours, so you’ll find plenty of lovely things to do on site. The newest addition is Cake – a ground floor patisserie and café which serves a breathtaking selection of superb cakes and breads. Gluten free cakes are available (and really delicious) alongside the exquisite must-try Ritz-Carlton chocolate and Grand Marnier cake – a work of art in itself.

The hotel has a lovely gym, indoor pool, top-floor rooftop pool (pictured) and a super-luxurious spa offering heavenly treatments for guests. A facial and massage are highly recommended – and as you’d expect, you’re expertly looked after by a highly-experienced team.

This is a hotel that will surprise and delight guests with its exceptional attention to customer service. It manages to be luxurious and opulent, yet feel homely. And there is plenty of interest, with a huge collection of art on loan to enjoy. I can’t recommend a visit highly enough.

With thanks to Ritz-Carlton DIFC for inviting me to stay.


29
Oct 14

A trip to Tuscany

Tuscany FFK

You don’t need me to tell you that Italy is one of the great culinary destinations in the world, but it is worth reiterating that there isn’t really such a thing as Italian food. Italy is a country made up of geographically diverse regions and as such, the food varies enormously from region to region, with ingredients dictated by the climate and landscape.

Tuscany is famous for its wine and olives, but also its use of other ingredients, such as boar, hare, duck and venison on the meat front, and also chestnuts and chickpeas, which are often milled into flour. Pork products also feature heavily on the menu, with sausages, and all sorts of salami and porchetta widely enjoyed.

Having spent a week eating my way around the region, I bring to you a selection of my top recommendations for a visit to Tuscany.

What to try

If you are a meat eater, a meat stew is a must. Try either a ragù, which may be made from boar, hare, duck or venison stirred through thick pasta such as pappardelle, or as a stew, served more often than not with polenta.  Tuscan salamis and cured meats are especially good. Casa Porciatti is a Tuscan institution and an absolute must for anyone visiting the Chianti region. Their salame toscano, porchetta, fresh sausages and soprassata are all must try ingredients. Lardo is widely available in Tuscany – both homemade and from Colonnata – so this is a good opportunity to try it if you are curious.  Ceci is a savoury Tuscan chickpea cake is really interesting – do try it if you can. And if you’re in Livorno, you can buy it in a sandwich, which is very, very good. Then, of course, there are a huge variety of olive oils and wines produced in the region. There are hundreds of producers throughout the region.

Interested to learn more about Chianti Classico – the wine of the region, I visited la Casanova di Ama vineyard in the heart of the Chianti region to help with the grape harvest and learn more about the wine they make. Their grape harvest is a true family affair. Visitors can come along to the vineyard for lunch and a wine tasting, which is a great opportunity to learn more about small-scale wine making in Chianti.

Cooking

If, like me, you find yourself a little unsettled after a few days away from the kitchen, you might want to consider self-catering. My base for the week was La Casanova, a cottage set on a hillside with commanding views across vineyards on the edge of Radda in Chianti – a small but interesting historic town. La Casanova is a cottage operated by To Tuscany, a small, local property rental company who offer excellent quality villas in the region. The villa provided a clean, comfortable and easy home from home for the week.

For keen cooks or anyone looking to learn more about Tuscan food, a visit to Jul’s Kitchen is very highly recommended. Giulia Scarpaleggia is a Tuscan food writer, blogger, who specializes in cooking and writing about Tuscan food. Juls runs small, personalized classes in her Tuscan kitchen which give visitors the opportunity to learn more about the ingredients of the region and to try and taste so many delicious local foods. The class starts with a visit to the market to source delicious ingredients to cook with and finishes with a sit down lunch with wine in Juls’ home. We made some excellent fresh gluten free pasta with her, too.

Gluten free

Italy is a great country to travel in if you’re gluten free. Italians just get it – even if you know no Italian, you should be fine – just remember to say ‘senza glutini’ if you are unsure.

Pretty much every restaurant will cook their sauces without flour so they are gluten free, and generally gluten free penne or spaghetti is offered, which is served with your choice of sauce. The only things they don’t really do are gluten free filled pastas such as ravioli, gnocchi and fresh pastas. Gluten free bread or crackers is often available, as are gluten free desserts. Many restaurants offer dairy free options – some even have a naturally gluten free menu.

Where to eat

Food lovers will find many things of interest at the Mercato Central (central food market). There are some truly beautiful stalls in this indoor market selling some really lovely Tuscan produce. You’ll find plenty of places to buy a meal here too, as well as somewhere to sit and enjoy it.

Vivoli gelato near Piazza Santa Croce is reputed to sell the best gelato in Italy. Whether that is the case or not is another matter, but their chocolate and hazelnut ice creams are truly excellent. It may seem a bit of an unpromising location to get there, but it is easy to find, and a very short walk from the hustle and bustle.

Antica Macelleria Ceccini in Panzano in Chianti is probably one of the most crazy places I’ve ever eaten. At first, it appears to be a beautiful butcher’s shop, offering wine, Tuscan bread and salami to everyone who walks in the door and blasting ACDC on the speakers. But ask behind the counter, and you can book a table upstairs or out the back to enjoy a delicious, leisurely meal featuring celebrity chef Dario’s famous meat products. There are a number of set menus to choose from which are very good value, and other dishes a la carte too, such as bistecca a la Fiorentina. All the food on the menu is delicious and the meat is superb quality. The menu is naturally dairy free, with gluten free choices available.

Fattoria San Donato is somewhere anyone wanting to try artisanal Tuscan food should visit. It’s just a short drive from San Gimignano (somewhere we didn’t manage to find anything good to eat – even the ice cream was bad!). I wouldn’t hesitate making a special trip again, or to drive out from San Gimignano just for lunch. The restaurant is situated in a rustic stone building on a farm, and the whole site is still family owned by a delightful couple who really care about artisanal, organic food. Lunch is simply a table of delicious homemade cheeses; cured meets, homegrown spelt salads, their San Giovese grapes and Tuscan bread liberally drizzled in their own olive oil. Paired with their own delicious white and red wines, and Vin Santo and cantucci to finish, it is a truly authentic, delicious lunch – so good I’d almost consider flying back just to have it again.

Exploring the region

There is so much to see and do in Tuscany; it’s hard to know where to start.  If you don’t want to drive or are looking for some ideas for a visit, I’d highly recommend booking Giorgio Fronimos for the day. Giorgio runs bespoke tours of the region. We found his recommendations to be absolutely spot-on for our interests – he took us to places we probably wouldn’t have discovered without him – and being driven around by him is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the day.

Hire a car at Pisa airport using Car Rentals – they provide an excellent service and good-value insurance cover.

To Tuscany (www.to-tuscany.com; 0121 286 7782), invited me to visit the region as their guest. They offer more than 625 villas in the region. La Casanova, which sleeps two to three people and has a pool, and costs from £714 per week in 2015, villa only. Juls’ Kitchen is one of a number of cookery schools recommended by To Tuscany to guests and the Tuscan Country Cooking class I undertook costs €150pp for three hours, including food and wine, final lunch/dinner, an apron and a cookery book. Real Chianti offers tailor made private and group gourmet tours, €100-€150pp (depending on length of tour and number of participants).Wine tasting at Casanova di Ama costs from €25pp.


16
Oct 14

Cooking beef with Nigel Haworth

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Michelin starred chef Nigel Haworth is one of the leading stars of the food scene in the north west of England. As the head of his own foodie empire, he’s passionate about cooking with great ingredients and is a supporter of the Quality Standard Mark scheme.

I recently caught up with him to talk about it. When cooking with beef and lamb, one sure way of choosing meat that is succulent and tender is to look for a quality mark.  The Quality Standard Mark is one such mark and is an easy way to identify beef and lamb that has been produced to a high standard. The Quality Standard Mark scheme for beef and lamb provides customers with high levels of assurance about the meat you buy and is independently inspected right from the farms the meat comes from through to the shops and restaurants in which it is sold. For further information and great-tasting recipes from the Quality Standard Mark, head over to their website.

What do you believe it’s important to look for when buying beef?

I will only buy my beef from a quality assured butcher, which has the Quality Standard Mark (QSM). I prefer cuts with a good covering of fat and a degree of marbling that have been aged from three-four weeks minimum for taste. I believe in smaller portions of better quality!

How much importance do you attach to the provenance and quality of food you buy?

Everything! It’s incredibly important to know where you buy your products from, to know where it’s grown and to use locally grown ingredients. Not only for better tasting produce, but to also support the local community.

What are your favourite cuts of beef personally?

It really depends what I’m using them for and which part of the cow I’m using. For pies I like using skirt of beef, which is full of flavour and for braising I like blade of beef. From the hind quarter I like rump but I also love oxtail.

If you had to choose one final supper, what would it be?

It would have to be peppered sirloin steak with home-grown potato chips and an abundance of seasonal vegetables. Nigel has very kindly offered to share his delicious slow cooked blade of beef recipe, which I have adapted to better suit home cooks using a large casserole dish or a slow cooker. A blade of beef is a great cut of meat. It is best slow-cooked and produces wonderfully tasty results with a little care and attention. It’s very economical compared to other cuts of beef, too. Your butcher will be able to help you source this cut if you can’t find it.

Slow Cooked Blade of Beef

Serves 8

Ingredients

450g pieces of beef feather blade, cut into 1” chunks

4 shallots or baby onions, peeled

1 large clove garlic, roughly chopped

100g bacon, roughly chopped

2 juniper berries

2 dried bay leaves

1 star anise

1 strip of orange peel, finely sliced

Pinch of caster sugar

10 ml red wine vinegar

120g carrots, peeled and cut at an angle in 2 cm pieces

60g celery, cut into batons

80g leeks, cut into 2 cm pieces

300ml beef stock

300ml chicken stock

325 ml good quality red wine

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C Fan/Gas Mark 3 if you’re using the oven. Alternatively, use a 5L capacity slow cooker. Take a large frying pan and place over a moderate to high heat. Add a dash of oil and add the beef to the pan. Cook, turning regularly, until the meat is browned. This should take around 10 minutes. Once done, place the meat into the casserole dish or slow cooker. Then, take the onions, garlic and bacon and cook for around 10 minutes until the bacon is starting to brown lightly, and the onions and garlic are softened and fragrant. Add these to the casserole with the beef. Now, add the remaining ingredients. If you’re using a casserole, put it onto the hob and bring to the boil. Then, cover and bake for 2-3 hours. With a slow cooker, just add all the ingredients and set for 6 hours – you can’t really cook it for too long. Serve when the meat falls apart with mashed potatoes and green vegetables.

This dish features on “Autumn Comforts” at Northcote’s Cookery School.


26
Sep 14

A sourdough class with Vanessa Kimbell

Sourdough

I am slightly obsessed with sourdough bread at the moment. The fact that it is just a combination of flour, water and salt is something that continues to amaze me. Personally speaking, I am on a quest to eat more natural food – I know I’m not alone in this respect – and sourdough is particularly appealing to me as it is such a natural product. Sourdough bread is also well worth exploring for its health benefits. It’s also ideal for anyone who avoids yeast. Some people who can’t eat wheat or bread at all find that they can eat sourdough. This is something Vanessa explains on her website.

For some months now, I have been playing with making sourdough at home, but have been disappointed with the results, so I decided to visit Vanessa Kimbell’s sourdough cookery school in Northamptonshire to sort my sourdough out.

Vanessa is a food writer, BBC broadcaster and third generation baker, having learnt her trade through baking bread at a French boulangerie every summer for over 30 years. With a deep knowledge of sourdough and a real passion for exceptional quality bread, she makes a first-rate teacher.

Vanessa runs a number of sourdough classes, aimed at anyone with a passion for sourdough, from days for complete beginners to masterclasses with some of the world’s most highly respected bakers – Dan Lepard and Rose Prince are lined up for sessions over the next few months. As I had already started to make sourdough at home, I decided to attend a sourdough clinic class – a chance to bring my starter, bread and as many questions as I could think of to ask Vanessa.

Classes take place at Vanessa’s beautiful Victorian home, which is found in a rural village just a few miles out of Northampton. One of the most special factors about her home is the kitchen garden, and Rocky, her gardener, treated us to a tour during our morning coffee break.

Classes are small – my class had six participants – meaning there is plenty of opportunity to get to know everyone, have a go at everything yourself, and there is plenty of time to deal with questions.

In just six hours, we covered an awful lot of ground. Starting with some theory surrounding sourdough chemistry, which is very important to know for the best results, to practical aspects of preparing and looking after a starter, to shaping, proving, or fermenting, and baking.

One of the most unexpected but enjoyable elements of the day was being part of a small group of really interesting people with a real passion and interest for sourdough. Although there is a lot to cover in the day, there was time to sit down to a delicious lunch as a group and enjoy a glass of wine and a chat with Vanessa.

Leaving, I felt enthused about sourdough and with the knowledge I need to be able to bake really great bread at home.

A class with Vanessa is highly recommended for anyone interested in making their own delicious bread. Here are some of the things I learnt:

  • Use Organic flour and pure water
  • Use a tried and tested recipe from an experienced sourdough baker
  • Keep a notes from your baking
  • A whole host of ways to control the results, enabling you to make the best loaf you can
  • How to shape your loaf, with plenty of hands on practice
  • How to make sourdough pizza, bagels, rolls and muffins
  • How best to bake sourdough in a home oven using a La Cloche baking dome from Bakery Bits, for the crustiest, most evenly baked loaves every time.

 

For more information on upcoming classes, please see here. Thank you to Vanessa for inviting me to join a class at the school.


25
Sep 14

Hotel du Vin, Birmingham

Hotel du Vin

When searching for a hotel, I always try and look for something a bit different. Unless you choose the most luxurious hotel groups, I often find mid-price hotels a bit, well, uninspiring. I want stay somewhere comfortable but interesting, and where I know I’ll get a delicious breakfast in the morning.

Hotel du Vin is a small chain of boutique hotels that aim to be a little different. The first site was founded in 1994, and the chain has since grown to 15 hotels, situated in major UK cities. Designed to be elegant and unpretentious, but offering convenient city centre locations, great service, excellent wines and delicious foods, I recently paid a visit to the Birmingham hotel to experience it for myself.

An attractive red-brick Victorian building in Castle Street provides the Birmingham home to Hotel du Vin. Walking in from the street, it was clear straight away that this wouldn’t be a run-of-the-mill hotel, with large marble columns and a double-sweep wrought iron staircase framing a glass-ceilinged atrium beyond.

Feeling stressed, I had booked a treatment in the hotel’s spa, and a sat-nav-related confusion meant that I was later to arrive than anticipated, so I just about had time to pop up to my room, before heading back down to the spa. First impressions of the room: very big, and very nicely equipped, with an enormous bathroom, complete with roll top bath and monsoon shower. I hardly wanted to leave.

Arriving at the spa, I was greeted by Cara, my therapist, who expertly ran me through everything I needed to know before getting started. I opted for a much-needed massage and facial using the spa’s signature ESPA products – a range I know and love. All I can say is that I could have stayed there all day. My treatments were deeply relaxing and enjoyable and I can honestly say that Cara was the most lovely therapist I’ve ever had. I’d go as far as saying it’s worth a trip to Birmingham to see her alone.

I could have stayed on to use the spa facilities, but I had a quick turnaround to get changed and go for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. There’s something really nice about being in a hotel and just popping downstairs for dinner. And the dinner at Hotel du Vin was really good. It was a cold and miserable night, so I opted for the Boeuf Bourgignon on the bone with a side of spinach, and I really enjoyed it. The food here is quite traditional French brasserie fare, offering a wide choice, food cooked with skill and served by well-trained staff. I think it’s fairly priced too, especially given that you’re in the heart of the city. The choice of wines is, as expected, very good, with a wide choice of wines by the glass, which is always a plus in my book.

Retiring to my room, I had a sound night’s sleep in a comfortable bed and a lovely monsoon shower in the morning. Breakfast, taken in the restaurant downstairs was also good, with plenty of choice, and made a great start to the day.

I left shortly after breakfast feeling relaxed, well-fed and pampered. It was a really enjoyable stay and I look forward to returning soon – this is a hotel that would be particularly special for a weekend break.

With thanks to Hotel du Vin for inviting me to stay for the night.


23
Sep 14

Copenhagen Cooking

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Over the last decade, much has changed on the Scandinavian food scene, and its influence really has reached across the world.

Copenhagen is now the epicentre of the food scene across Scandinavia and beyond. To celebrate, Copenhagen Cooking organise an annual festival of food with an agenda packed full of events to suit all ages and interests, and to celebrate all things foodie in Copenhagen and the wider area. I recently headed off to Copenhagen to see what was happening, and to bring to you a selection of recommendations for things to do and where to eat.

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Street food and markets

Torvehallerne is the largest food market in Copenhagen. Occupying two large halls with plenty of outside seating and street food in the surrounding areas, it is absolutely worth a visit, even for a look if you are not buying. It’s a real mix ingredients, food to go and food to enjoy in. A coffee at Coffee Collective is an absolute must, too.

Papirøen is also an essential stop for any foodie. Occupying the former newspaper storage warehouses down on the river near noma, it’s now an indoor street food destination, featuring lots of interesting independents who all sell food to go from inside the warehouse. There is a large choice of cuisines for every taste and plenty of seating both in and outside. With a strong focus on sustainability and recycling, the individual food stalls are made from reclaimed and upcycled materials, making it an unusual and eye catching destination.

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Fine dining

There is so much going on in the way of fine dining in Copenhagen at the moment. Most famously, there is noma – voted the best restaurant in the world in World’s Best Restaurants awards. Head chef René Redzepi is generally credited as being responsible for the revolution in Nordic cuisine, and it’s explosion throughout the world. If you can get in, you’re very lucky, and will have to book a couple of months in advance, but you can try for a last-minute cancellation on the website.

Next, is Relae and its sister restaurant Manfred & Vin. I only made it to Manfred & Vin, whose menu changes every day, depending on what is fresh and in season. Instead of ordering from a menu, diners are brought a succession of small but delicious dishes – six out of seven were vegetable-based. The food was fantastic – interesting and different. Flavours were fresh and vibrant. Standout dishes included large but thin slices of raw kohlrabi, topped with goat curd and black pepper. The lamb belly, cooked to perfection, served with chargrilled aubergine slices and topped with an anchovy sauce and dill was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time.

Tårnet is a newly opened restaurant housed in the tower of the Danish parliament building. Occupying a space that was, until very recently, completely unused, so the decision was taken by MPs to open the space up for everyone to enjoy. The results are quite remarkable, and a meal here is such a great experience. First, you must take the lift up to the viewing platform in the tower for one of the best views in the city. The menu is based around the best Danish produce, sourced from all over Denmark. Food is light, fresh and full of flavor. The wine list is interesting, too.

Coffee, cake and lunch 

The café in the Copenhagen National Museum is a wonderful place to stop for lunch. They have a bountiful buffet on offer every day, featuring a delicious selection of meats, fish and salad. They offered an interesting ‘Money Menu’ to celebrate Copenhagen cooking, with dishes inspired by the artefacts in the Museum featured on Danish Krone notes.

Claus Meyer is a founding partner of noma, and the head of his small eponymous chain of bakeries and cafes. The food and coffee is excellent, the coffee is seriously strong (and good), and the cafes sell a really interesting range of goodies to take away. An absolute must!

Lagkagehuset is another chain of bakeries found dotted around Copenhagen. They offer a good-value selection of lunch items and cakes – although I think the cakes are their strongest offering.

Fiskebar is also highly recommended for lunch – offering a lovely selection of fish, shellfish and fine wines. 

Beer and bars 

If you enjoy beers, then Viktoriagade is the place to go. Try Øl & Brød – owned by Mikkeler, who specialize in pairing bread and beer together. The beers are excellent, the food is exceptional (the pork scratching is something else!) and they even serve some really lovely – they even have the most extensive akvavit list in northern Europe!

Just a few steps away, you’ll find the Mikkeller bar – a place to go for a great selection of beers and a fun, relaxed atmosphere.

There are also some very interesting places in the meat packing district – allow yourself to wander and you’ll stumble across some very cool bars.

Where to stay

My hotel for the visit was the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, which is arguably the most famous hotel in Copengahen, as it was originally designed in its entirety by Arne Jacobsen – the designer best known for his swan and egg chairs, as featured in the Big Brother house. Anyone who’s anyone stays there when they’re in town. Although the rooms have been renovated and changed over the years, I would say the standard of accommodation is not at the level you’d find in 5* hotels elsewhere. It is a clean and comfortable hotel in a great location, right by the Central railway station, and is a must-see for design fans. Breakfast on the top floor is excellent, and offers some of the best views in the city.

How to get there and getting around 

Copenhagen is closer than you think, with a flight time of around an hour and a half from London. Norwegian Air offer good value flights from London’s Gatwick, and there are connections from airports all over the UK.

Once you arrive into Copenhagen, I recommend catching the train into the Central station. It’s easy to do, even without speaking Danish, and you’ll be transported into the city centre in around 10 minutes, for around £4 a way.

Copenhagen is an easy city to navigate – do take some comfy shoes as you can walk around the city centre with ease. Bikes are a popular method of transport and most hotels offer bike hire to guests. There is a good bus network too – for which a Copenhagen card is a good idea, making it easy to hop on and hop off throughout your visit. You can also use the card for the airport train service, too.

Thanks to VisitDenmark for inviting me to attend Copenhagen Cooking.


15
Sep 14

Cruising the Mediterranean

Cruise

I hadn’t really made up my mind about cruise holidays until recently. Having never experienced a cruise before, I wondered if I’d like the experience of being on a ship, and more importantly, what would the food be like?

So, last month, I set off on my first ever cruise – a trip around the Eastern Mediterranean with P&O Cruises, on board Ventura, to see what I made of it. We were to start in Venice and work our way around Kotor, in Montenegro, Corfu, Civitavecchia (the port for Rome, in Lazio), Ajaccio in Corsica finishing in Genoa, and flying home from Nice.

One of the most exciting elements about this cruise was that it was one of a number of foodie cruises organized by P&O. The Southampton-based company work with a number of celebrity chefs, including Michelin-starred Atul Kochhar and Marco Pierre White – all of whom have their own restaurants on board, and chefs come on board for selected cruises to join in the fun, cook for guests, hold masterclasses and run selected tours ashore. Atul Kochhar was to be our celebrity chef on board Ventura.

One of the main attractions of cruising to me was actually the places we’d visit en route. Being a fairly intrepid traveller, I liked the idea of visiting so many countries and cities in a week. The experience of cruising would be new to me, and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it.

It turned out that I really, really enjoyed the experience. Our home for the week was a Deluxe cabin on board Ventura, which was more than spacious enough for us, with a giant bed, sitting room area and balcony. One of the particularly appealing aspects of cruising was having one base throughout the week. For the first time in ages, I could take the time to unpack and settle in to the room – normally, it’s not worth unpacking for just a night or two when staying in a hotel – and there’s no other way you’d be able to do that and visit so many cities in a week. What was particularly nice was having the cabin available at any time of the day, again, which is a experience you don’t get in a hotel, meaning you have your own private base any time you want it. Guests do still enjoy luxuries such as twice-daily housekeeping, breakfast in bed, should you wish, and full room service, which help make the cruising experience even more relaxing.

The standout experience however, had to be waking up in a new place every day, and enjoying breathtaking surroundings from the comfort of your own cabin. Waking up and watching Ventura slowly enter Kotor, past tiny villages clinging to the waters’ edge, looking out over glorious pine-wooded islands and turquoise sea in Corfu and cruising through the Straight of Messina are memories that will stay with me for a long time.

I found the cruising experience incredibly relaxing – particularly the fact that you often travel at night, while you relax on board or sleep in the comfort of your cabin, and that there are periods of enforced relaxation – i.e. sea days. In the week-long cruise, we had two days at sea, and both of which were, in fact, perfectly timed, breaking up a few days of intensive sightseeing.  Being the kind of traveller who’s always on the go, trying to see as much as possible, this made an extremely enjoyable change, and provided a much-needed break.

Of course, there is so much to see and do on board, you could choose just to stay on board in port – and many guests do – with swimming pools, a spa, a theatre and a huge array of activities to choose from, you needn’t leave the ship for the duration of your holiday.

If you are a more enthusiastic traveller, like me, you’ll be able to leave the ship at your leisure and do your own thing, or participate in one of the organised tours ashore, which were hugely enjoyable, and of course, an easy way to enjoy the very best to see and do ashore.

Now, I mentioned earlier this was a foodie cruise with Michelin-starred celebrity chef Atul Kochhar on board. Atul’s restaurant on board Ventura is called East, where Atul and his team serve up an interesting and imaginative selection of dishes with origins from all over the East. The curries and lamb rendang were standout dishes for me – with complex flavours, slow cooking and beautiful presentation, a trip to East was one of the highlights on board.

We also visited Marco Pierre White’s restaurant on board, The White Room. Serving classic European dishes with a contemporary twist, and a large deck with outside seating at the back of the ship, this was a particularly lovely spot, serving top quality, perfectly-executed food, both at breakfast time and dinner.

Travellers with food allergies can rest assured that they are well-looked after. The kitchens are experienced at dealing with food allergies and intolerances, and make a heroic effort to cater for anyone with restrictions with the utmost care.

Wine lovers will adore the incredible selection of wines on board, offering a selection of really interesting wines from all over the world. From Canadian sparkling wine with an ice wine dosage, to Indian whites, Colombia valley Riesling – you name it – you can find it on board (at a very competitive price, too!).

A cruise on board Ventura is one that would appeal to couples and families alike – with plenty of activities and night-time venues for adults, and a day and night kid’s club, meaning that everyone in the family can have a good time, too.

After a week on board, I left Ventura feeling relaxed, refreshed and invigorated having seen and done so much in the last week. I left a cruise convert, already thinking about my next cruise. P&O are launching a new cruise ship, Britannia which launches in Spring 2015, and I fancy a trip around the Caribbean with cake maker extraordinaire Eric Lanlard on board.

Thank you to P&O Cruises for inviting me to experience a cruise on board Ventura. We travelled on an 7 night cruise around the Eastern Mediterranean on ship Ventura, which runs as a 7 or 14 night option.

 


06
Aug 14

Meeting Jo Wheatley, 2011 winner of the Great British Bake Off

Jo Wheatley (Martin Poole)

Jo Wheatley (Martin Poole)

Back in 2011, Essex-based mum of three won Series Two of the Great British Bake Off, a series in which Jo wowed the nation with her baking skills. Judge Mary Berry even described her cupcakes as ‘sublime’.

It’s fair to say life, post GBBO, has been completely transformed. Jo is the author of two hugely popular cookery books, and runs regular baking classes from her home. Jo’s famous for her delicious and practical family recipes, which she shares on her blog, Jo’s Blue Aga. Here is one of my favourites, her crab linguine.

I recently caught up with Jo to see how this new chapter in her life has unfolded. First of all, I asked Jo how life is right now. And this is what she said: “I love how winning GBBO gave me the confidence to set up my cookery school and have a belief in myself. Also when so many publishing houses approached me wanting me to write a book, it was amazing, but at the same time a little scary. Pre-Bake Off I’d actually only ever ordered the weekly shopping on the computer and a had a go at a bit of social networking, so then to be developing and writing a whole book was a little daunting, but actually turned out to be the most wonderful thing. Recipe developing and writing is one of my proudest achievements and something I enjoy, and to my delight find that it comes naturally.”

Jo often gets asked what her favourite recipes are to make. She says, “the honest truth is it changes daily, but the thing I get most joy from is developing a new recipe. In my first book, A Passion For Baking, I made a coconut and cranberry pastry. I first tested it on my friends – they loved it and two and a half years later, they still say how good it was. That’s the wonderful thing about my job; it gives people joy, which in turn gives me great pleasure.”

And what about her family? “My Family all love different things, but I suppose the thing that they all really like are the cookies. I’ve been baking them since they were small, with three boys there were always a huge number of friends over. Sometimes we’d have nine boys running around the house so a batch of cookies would be gobbled up very quickly.”

Of all the recipes Jo’s written, the one she’s most proud of is her chocolate mud cake. “ I always say it’s like a little black dress, you can dress it up, you can dress it down, you can add to it, but it’s always there and never lets you down.”

Now, three years after her GBBO win, Jo’s books are stocked on shelves up and down the country. “It feels amazing” Jo tells me. “I remember my friend sending me a photo of my godsons standing by a big banner with me on it – their faces were hilarious.”

Despite all her success, Jo’s proudest achievement is her three boys. “I love them with all my heart, and when I see the men they have grown into it makes me feel proud. I think being a parent is the hardest job, you have your ups and your downs. It’s how you deal with them that’s important. Enjoy the ups and learn from the downs don’t let them define you. As a family be there for each other, I really hope my boys know that I’m always here for them.”

It’s so nice to have a job teaching something that I love” Jo tells me, when asked about her home cookery school. “I am also a real people person, and love chatting. When I was a child apparently if we went out as a family my brother Mark would fall asleep on the way home but I would speak non-stop for the whole journey. So to be chatting about something I love to a group of like-minded people is just fabulous, with the added bonus when they leave they have learnt to bake something they couldn’t bake before. Plus we actually laugh all day and as we know laughter is good for the soul.”

What’s next then for Jo, after the whirlwind adventure of the last few years? “More of the same, hopefully another book.” She says. “I recently hosted a column for a national paper which I thoroughly enjoyed doing. More of the food festivals and maybe some more TV.  I’m also I’m hoping to open a gastro pub in the not too distant future. I have been looking for premises but at the moment can’t find the perfect one. I go by gut instinct which drives my husband insane, I drag him round a zillion places that all look fab on paper but I just don’t get the right feeling!”

It would seem as though this is a start of an adventure that’s only just begun.

 


27
Jul 14

Boqueria, Battersea

Market0

There’s a smart new tapas restaurant in the heart of Battersea. Boquería recently launched its second London restaurant, opened by none other than the Spanish Ambassador. Being a fan of their existing site on Acre Lane, halfway between Clapham and Brixton, I jumped at the opportunity to see what was going on at their new restaurant.

Occupying a prominent corner position, Boquería makes a smart first impression, with plenty of outside seating and a glimpse through the windows into the already packed out dining room at 7:30pm on a Friday. Greeted with a warm welcome, we were seated at the back of the tastefully decorated dining room – a position from which we could observe the dining room for the evening. There was a steady stream of diners throughout the evening – all of whom were served in a very friendly manner by the super-efficient, hard working waiters.

Starting off with some Cava, we took a look at the menu, whilst nibbling on some delicious jamón – not just any jamón, but acorn-fed pata negra jamón Ibérico, and some truly wonderful tomato bread. The quality of the ingredients used in just these two dishes filled me with excitement for what was to come. When you’re serving dishes as simple as these, the quality of ingredients is key – and is what transforms a dish from being good to exceptional.

Everything we tried from here on in was also very good. The chorizo was fantastic, the croquetas are to die for, and there is a wonderful selection of truly authentic, well-cooked Spanish dishes on offer. What was particularly nice about the experience was hearing other tables talking about how much they were also enjoying their meal.

The wine list at Boquería is really good, and of course, the really authentic choice of drink to pair with tapas is sherry. There are some excellent sherries on the menu, with the standout, for me being the Solara 1847 Oloroso. If you prefer white, I would recommend trying the cava – the Castillo Perelada rose cava is lovely, and red drinkers can’t go wrong with the Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2009.

This is authentic Spanish cooking at its very best. In fact, I’d go as far as saying the food on offer at Boquería is actually better than a lot of food you’ll find in Spain. And I say that having spent some time living there.

Although it’s newly opened, Boquería has found its feet very quickly, producing great food, and serving it confidently and efficiently, in a way that seems to be keeping the people of Battersea, and me, coming back for more.

A hearty dinner for two with a few glasses of wine is around £75, Thank you to Boquería for inviting me along.

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