June, 2014

Jun 14

Love your Lunchbox


Photo: By Martin Poole, from Love your Lunchbox

Photo: By Martin Poole, from Love your Lunchbox

I am not alone in my belief in the importance of a good lunch. A good lunch can lift your spirits, perk up a bad day and provide you with the nourishment you need for a productive afternoon. That said, it can be difficult when you are busy or travelling to ensure you have something good to eat at lunchtime. Most takeaway lunch options are not  good in terms of flavour, quality and nutrition, or even if they are, they have often been chilled so harshly, they don’t taste of anything at all. Food writer James Ramsden has just brought out his third recipe book, entitled Love your Lunchbox, which aims to get us enthused about packed lunches again. I am a great fan of the packed lunch, but I strongly believe that the most difficult elements to overcome when trying to prepare a packed lunch, despite good intentions, are ideas and planning.

This is a book packed full of interesting ideas for lunches – all of which are easily achievable, and I think it is a valuable addition to any kitchen as it contains so many lovely recipes, I defy anyone not to immediately start bookmarking recipes to cook over the coming days whilst leafing through its beautifully designed pages.

James and his team at Pavillion books have very kindly sent me a copy with permission to share this delicious recipe and images from the book (taken by Martin Poole) with you. For more details, please see here.

Griddled courgette and halloumi salad with toasted quinoa

Serves 2

Toasted quinoa is an excellent thing to have kicking about. Scattered over salads, tossed through pasta, or whatever, it adds a great nutty crunch to food. This particular recipe makes more than you need – it seemed to me that if you’re going to toast quinoa, you may as well do more than a single tablespoon. Store it in a jar.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Freezable? No

50g/1¾oz/⅓ cup quinoa

2 courgettes (zucchini), sliced thinly on the diagonal

2 tbsp olive oil

100g/3½oz halloumi cheese, cut into chunks

2 tbsp vegetable oil

salt and pepper

a good handful of rocket (arugula)

a few mint leaves, shredded

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

juice of ½ lemon


Boil the quinoa for 12 minutes, until tender. Drain and dry on kitchen paper as thoroughly as you can.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle or frying pan over a high heat. Toss the courgettes in 1 tbsp of the olive oil and griddle for a couple of minutes on each side. Remove the courgettes, add a little more olive oil and the halloumi, and cook for a minute on each side.

Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan or sauté pan over a medium–high heat. Add the quinoa and a pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden, crisp and toasty, which should take 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Toss together the courgettes, halloumi, rocket, mint, chilli and lemon juice, and add a handful of toasted quinoa. Store in Tupperware in the fridge for up to 2 days.


A portion of courgette and halloumi salad.



Photo: by Martin Poole

Photo: by Martin Poole

Jun 14

County Cork: A paradise for foodies

Photo: www.englishmarket.ie

Photo: www.englishmarket.ie

Over the last half century, County Cork in south eastern Ireland has been slowly establishing its place on the map as one of the most exciting foodie destinations in Europe.

The start of this boom is often credited to Mrytle Allen, the Michelin-star winning cook, who set up Ballymaloe country house hotel in County Cork 50 years ago. Mrs Allen changed the game when it came to eating out in Ireland at the time, by offering local, seasonal and sometimes foraged Irish food on her daily changing menu. People came in their droves to visit Ballymaloe, and still do to this day. What was especially remarkable is that people really came out of their way to get there, and it’s fair to say that the house is in a pretty remote, but beautiful location.

Cork city is a very interesting city for foodies, too. The English Market is one of the most famous food markets on the continent and is always a first-stop on the agenda for important visitors to Cork. A particularly special element of this market is that it offers superb quality local produce at a fair price to customers – something that can’t be said about all top food markets. If you can, take some time to visit, and pop upstairs for a coffee or some lunch. The food is very good and again, reasonably priced.

Cork city has some very interesting restaurants, which include Dennis Cotter’s Café Paradiso vegetarian restaurant, Nash 19 and Café Idaho.

Further afield, Fishy Fishy in Kinsale is a country-wide renowned fish restaurant, run by celebrity chef Martin Shanahan. Their warm seafood salads and top-notch fish and chips are especially delicious. West Cork very interesting. Too. It’s very beautiful in the summer months and the Island Cottage restaurant run by John Desmond is a must.

The town of Midleton may be small, but it an interesting foodie hub. With one of the most vibrant farmers markets in the county, its residents really care about the food they eat. Sage restaurant in the town has a sourcing policy that entails the careful selection of all their ingredients from a 12 mile radius. And Farm Gate is a very popular local haunt, again specializing in local, seasonal Irish food.

Cork is very easy to get to by air from the UK and beyond. Aer Lingus operate direct flights from London Heathrow to Cork. For more information on fares and schedules and to book log on to www.aerlingus.com.

Jun 14

Hakkasan, Abu Dhabi



Hakkasan in Abu Dhabi was the first branch of the famous London-based restaurant to open in the UAE, located in the truly spectacular five star Emirates Palace Hotel, where it’s been since it first opened in 2010.

Hakkasan is a world-renowned Michelin starred restaurant brand with a small number of restaurants in key international locations, which offer their own, unique interpretation of Chinese food.

A meal at Hakkasan is a complete experience in itself, with not only fantastic food, but magical surroundings that really make your meal here a special one. The restaurant is carefully divided into sections, using oriental screens to divide up the space, all with their own look and feel. Light is carefully focussed on the tables, creating interesting shadows and a real sense of intimacy.

It really is a must to start your evening at the bar. The long blue-lit bar is at the back of the restaurant, with the entire back wall decked out with the most astonishing array of drinks, from the familiar bottles to the more unusual, such as the Dalmore Candela single malt Scotch whisky, at 10,000 Dirhams a shot. The cocktails at Hakkasan are utterly sensational. Our favourite, was The Hakka, the restaurant’s signature cocktail, which is a perfectly balanced blend of Grey Goose vodka, sake, coconut milk, lychee juice and passion fruit seeds. It is totally exquisite, and makes for a great start to your visit. The lychee martini is a must-try too, and works extremely well with the food on the menu.

You don’t have to wait long for your food at Hakkasan, and when it arrived, it did not disappoint. We went for the crispy duck salad and the jasmine tea smoked Wagyu beef ribs to start. We had not expected both to be as outrageously good as they were, despite our high expectations. The salad was a complete triumph, with a salad of fresh micro leaves, pomelo flecks, pomegranate seeds, wafer-thin slices of shallot and toasted Italian pine nuts mixed with freshly shredded duck, which was done by the waiter on our table after it arrived. Every bite was scrumptious, with a perfect balance of meltingly soft flesh and crispy skinned duck, and the sweet and sour combination of component ingredients. The Wagyu beef ribs were amazing, too, with the most extraordinarily complex balance of flavours and supremely tender beef.

Moving on to the main course, we tried the whole chargrilled lobster with spicy butter, which was very, very good. We also went for the Wagyu beef egg-fried rice with XO sauce – again, delicious, with the most wonderfully addictive savoury notes that made us keep coming back for more.

There is a delicious selection of desserts on offer, but the sorbet was a real favourite for us – all flavours, the blood orange, mango and lemon flavours were equally wonderful, and made a refreshing end to what ended up being quite a substantial meal – with food this good, we didn’t want to waste a thing.

Food allergies are sensitively catered for with a special menu for gluten free diners available on request.

Having visited Hakkasan Abu Dhabi with high expectations, we were absolutely not disappointed. In fact, our experiences were much better than we had even dared anticipate and a visit is most highly recommended for a meal to remember.

Jun 14

Scott’s Abu Dhabi



Scott’s restaurant is world-renowned for its delicious fish and seafood as well as being a favourite celebrity haunt.

There is the original restaurant in London’s Mayfair and just one other in the world at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. Scott’s owners have been very careful in taking such a well-respected brand and opening it elsewhere. The hotel in which it is situated is one of the most glamorous and opulent in Abu Dhabi and Scott’s is located outside in a stylish nautical-like building jetting out into the Arabian Gulf. The restaurant itself has all the elegance and style you expect from such an iconic restaurant brand.

Before you even get started on the food and drink, there is one thing that really impresses here: the service. Scott’s is a class act when it comes to looking after its diners, and we were so well attended to by the supremely knowledgeable Jean-Benoit, who knows the menu and wine list inside out and was very helpful when choosing food and wine pairings.

If you have food intolerances, the good news is that if you eat fish and seafood, you can enjoy pretty much anything on the menu gluten free and many choices dairy free. Before we ordered, the Head Chef came out to see us and run through the menu, so we were completely confident we were in safe hands before we enjoyed our meal.

The best way to kick off your meal here is with a glass of champagne and some divine Fine de Claire oysters whilst browsing the menu, which mixes classic fish dishes using fish from all over the world, including a number of locally sourced fish, such as the red mullet-like chargrilled Kingfish and Sultan Ibrahim.

To start, must-try dishes are the exquisite scallops (make sure you have some bread to mop up the juices (good gluten free available)), the dressed Cornish crab and the sensational ceviche.

And for the main course, you can’t beat the classic whole Dover Sole or sea bass, which are just so perfectly cooked and presented. There are a whole host of delicious sides to choose from, too, and I’d particularly recommend the delicious salads and chips. There’s an excellent choice of wines here – we went for the consistently wonderful Hugel Gewürztraminer 2011, which was the perfect accompaniment to our meal.

If you can manage pudding, there is a delicious selection of classic desserts on the menu, including a very good Bakewell tart and some particularly lovely sorbets. Dinner at Scott’s is an absolute must in Abu Dhabi for its fabulous food and glamorous surroundings.


Jun 14

Mezlai, Abu Dhabi


Foodies travelling to the United Arab Emirates will find a whole host of delicious foods to try from all over the world. You can find a good selection of restaurants serving regional food, particularly from Lebanon, but it is much harder to find a truly local meal. The UAE produces more food than you’d think. Smaller Emirates grow a surprising amount of fresh produce, and much of the dairy consumed is produced in the country. Although there are a good number of Emirati ingredients available to try, a true Emirati meal is harder to come across.

It was therefore with great excitement that I found out about Mezlai restaurant, which is located in the utterly spectacular Emirates Palace Hotel, serving authentic Emirati cuisine.

Mezlai has the look and feel of a regional restaurant, with local musicians playing and many Emirati families dining here of an evening. The menu offers an interesting selection of regional specialties – most of which we hadn’t come across before.

We started off with the Mezlai salad, which was a simple crunchy salad of lettuce, sliced apples and pomegranate seeds, which was very plain, but extremely refreshing in the hot climate, and, we found, exactly the kind of thing we fancied after a day in the sun. We also tried the excellent Rocca salad with lobster, which included delicious chunks of sweet, cool lobster and fresh spinach.

The restaurant is very helpful and accommodating when it comes to look after diners with food intolerances, but, if you can, do try the Rgag breads. I’ve not had anything quite like them before, and they were wonderful. They’re more like a crepe quesadilla than a bread: wafer thin, crisp rounds of pancake-like bread filled separately with za’atar, egg and cheese and utterly moreish. The za’atar and egg fillings were particularly successful.

Moving on to the main course, we shared the lamb medfoun, which is a traditional marinaded and roasted shoulder of milk-fed lamb. The lamb was exceptionally tender and served on the bone with some of its cooking juices and rice. The standout dish for us was the chicken with yoghurt, which was in fact pieces of chicken marinated in a yoghurt and dried lemon powder sauce and chargrilled. The chicken was exceptionally juicy and tender and the dried, ground lemon gave it the most intriguing flavour. It was served with some delicious roasted cauliflower.

Drinks are really interesting. There are a number of milk-based drinks flavoured with cardamom, dates and rosewater and the like along side a really delicious selection of juices.

There are some very tasty desserts on the menu, with the cardamom and rosewater milk pudding a favourite for us. Do finish, if you can with a

Chai caraic and an Arabic coffee, which is a white coffee flavoured with cardamom and rosewater to complete the Emirati experience.


Jun 14

Marco Pierre White, Abu Dhabi


Marco Pierre White’s restaurant in the Fairmont Hotel in Abu Dhabi is a firm favourite celebrity destination in the Middle East. Opened by HRH The Duke of York in 2009, it is the three Michelin starred chef Marco Pierre White’s first restaurant outside the UK, which offers a modern take on traditional English dishes. Speaking of his style of cooking, Marco says: “we are in an age of refinement, not invention; all the greatest dishes have been done, Mother Nature is the true artist and our job as cooks is to allow her to shine.”

We visited on a dry night, part of the religious calendar in the UAE, meaning that it was not possible to consume alcohol for 24 hours. Although Marco Pierre White’s offers a fantastic selection of carefully chosen wines to match the food, we actually didn’t find that the lack of wine detracted from the meal. In fact, we kicked things off with a delicious glass of Gold Emotion, which is a luxurious lightly sparkling apple juice containing 24 carat gold flecks and packaged in a champagne-style bottle that’s very popular in this part of the world. To whet our appetite, we nibbled on some particularly excellent gluten free bread with a selection of butters, including a sweet butter with dates, a sea salted butter and one flavoured with Pommery mustard.

To start out meal, we both tried the prawn carpaccio with a bloody mary sorbet, which was a particularly delicious combination temperatures and textures, with tiny quenelles of cold bloody mary sorbet placed on delicate slithers of prawn, topped with creamy avocado, crunchy prawn crisps and some teeny tiny sundried tomatoes.

We also tried a very tasty pan-fried scallop topped with a parmesan crisp on smoked haddock and cauliflower purée morel with bacon confit and sous vide egg yolk. Despite the lengthy description, it was a very delicately presented but deeply flavourful dish.

For the main course, we shared a board of steak. Marco Pierre White’s offers a fantastic selection of the most premium steaks money can buy served in small but perfectly-formed portions. There is a really interesting variety of top-of-the-range Wagyu beef steaks on offer on the menu – really the best of the best from Japan. Our absolute favourite was unanimously the rib-eye steak. Guests have a huge range of sides to try, too, with our top favourites being the cauliflower and broccoli cheese and the triple fried chips with truffle aioli – outrageous, but really delicious.

Marco Pierre White’s is famous in the UAE for its desserts, with the sticky toffee pudding and Banoffee pie being particularly popular. A delicious Cambridge cream was made for us as a gluten free option.

The service at Marco Pierre White’s is particularly friendly and efficient and a real effort is made to look after guests with food allergies.

If you’re after a delicious taste of home in sumptuous surroundings in Abu Dhabi, then a visit is a must.

Jun 14

Top 5 things to do in Abu Dhabi


There are so many things to see and do in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding areas, and here is a selection of my highlights. For more information on things to do in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding areas, please visit visitabudhabi.ae/.

1) Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi is a must for anyone wanting a fun day out. It offers a wide range of rides and flumes suitable for children and thrill-seekers alike. If you are not staying in a hotel with a swimming pool, then it’s also an excellent opportunity to swim and sunbathe, too.

2) Ferrari World Abu Dhabi will captivate car enthusiasts and speed junkies alike with over 20 exhilarating rides, attractions and historic cars to discover. Be prepared for strange expressions as you flex up to 100 facial muscles on Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster in the world! If you are interested in experiencing how it really feels to be behind the wheel of a Ferrari Formula 1 car, you can try the simulators used by drivers to train before a race.

3) Visit the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for its totally breathtaking architecture. The Mosque is set among beautiful reflective pools of water and boasts 82 domes, over 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. Ladies, cover up before you go. Do wear a long skirt or trousers and take a scarf with you. You may also have to borrow an abaya to wear for your visit (on loan on site).

4) In the heat of Abu Dhabi, a dip in the Arabian Gulf’s clean turquoise waters is a must. Head to Abu Dhabi’s pristine Corniche beachfront to take advantage of the glorious white sand, and the heavenly warm sea.

5) Experience afternoon tea to remember, by heading to the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel and enjoy a selection of delicious drinks and cakes. The iced coffees are particularly good. The Observation Deck at 300 is the highest vantage point in the whole city and shows off the spectacular 360° view across Abu Dhabi and the ocean.

Jun 14

The Tannery Restaurant, Dungarvan, Ireland


Paul Flynn is one of Ireland’s most respected and well-loved chefs. He regularly features on TV channel RTE’s food programmes, and was Head Chef at two Michelin starred restaurant Chez Nico in Battersea at the tender age of 23.

Back home on the Emerald Isle in 1997, Paul and his wife Máire set up the Tannery restaurant in the beautiful costal town of Dungarvan in County Waterford, South East Ireland. Such has been the success of the business, they have now expanded, and their foodie empire includes an elegant wine bar, cookery school, complete with its own kitchen garden and accommodation all within a few paces of each other in the town.

Paul is a regular feature at Irish foodie events and is a passionate advocate of good Irish food and ingredients. He’s also a thoroughly nice chap and is exceptionally friendly with a wicked sense of humour that really makes him so enjoyable to watch.

I recently paid a trip to The Tannery to try Paul’s cooking for myself. The Tannery is situated in an old building in the heart of Dungarvan town centre, which is just a few minutes detour from the main N25 road, which runs between Rosslare ferry port and Cork City, making it very easy to get to. Downstairs is an elegant and atmospherically lit wine bar, perfect for an evening drink, and upstairs is the bright, light and stylish dining room.

We kicked off the evening with a couple of cocktails from the restaurant’s own cocktail menu. Well made and beautifully presented, they are a must try when you visit.

The food at the Tannery was excellent. Standout dishes were the mushroom pie – beautiful buttery and flaky pastry filled with rich, tender mushrooms, perfectly made and topped with fresh flowers. If only my homemade pies looked as good as this.

For the main course, beef lovers really must try the delectable short ribs. Cooked to perfection, the meat is richly flavoured and perfectly cooked with slightly crisp edges and meltingly tender, generously sized chunks of beef that just fall off the bone.

Paul’s cooking is just the sort of thing I find exciting at the moment. It is really all about moving away from fancy, elaborate dishes and cooking more simple food supremely well, with a focus on fresh and seasonal Irish ingredients. Anyone with a larger appetite won’t be disappointed by the portion sizes, too. This is generous cooking at its best. We were given mashed potato to accompany our main course, but we couldn’t manage it. And, regrettably, after a starter and a main, neither of us could manage another morsel, which was a great shame as the dessert menu looked very enticing indeed.

A two-course meal for two with drinks costs around £100, which I think is good value for such good food. There is also an excellent selection of wines available by the glass if a bottle is too much to manage, or, if like me, you like to match a glass of wine to each course. However, if you’re looking to spend less, there is an excellent value ‘Easy Evening’ menu on offer every day apart from Sunday at specific times, priced at just 30 Euros for three courses.

I wish there were more restaurants like the Tannery. A meal here is an opportunity to enjoy contemporary Irish cooking at its very best.

Jun 14

Shangri-La, Abu Dhabi


Shangri-la is a fictitious place synonymous with an earthly paradise, which was described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon, written by James Hamilton.

The Shangri-la hotel in Abu Dhabi is one of the most popular places to stay in the city and is part of the small, eponymously named hotel chain, so, with high expectations, I was very much looking forward to seeing what it was like for myself. As you might expect, the hotel is in a great location facing out onto the water, with plenty of outside seating and an infinity pool carefully positioned to make the most of its views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

The hotel is also interconnected to a modern souk by its own waterways. The hotel offers a free abra service around the site, which stops at the souk and will come and collect you when you have finished shopping, which is a very nice touch.

The entrance to the hotel is as grand as you would expect for a hotel in this area, and has plenty of very pleasant areas to sit and enjoy a drink, both inside and out near to the lobby. Rooms are very large and well-equipped with everything you need, and the staff really went out of their way to check we had everything we needed during our stay. Plenty of mineral water is provided free of charge to keep you hydrated in the intense heat in this part of the world during the summer months, and bathrooms are well-stocked with Bulgari and L’Occitane toiletries.

For travellers wanting a bit more luxury and service, an upgrade to the Horizon Club is an option. Selected food and drinks are offered throughout the day, and breakfast is also served in the club offering a good selection of food in a more private environment.

Breakfast can be taken in the main Sofra restaurant, with plenty of outside heating if you fancy some warmth. The choice of foods on offer is huge, and includes omelettes, fresh fruit, bread and pastries and many other types of international cuisine. Food allergies are catered for with notice, and if you’re taking breakfast at the Horizon club, you’d be advised to let them know in good time, so that they have everything you need.

Food lovers really should try the hotel’s French fine dining restaurant, Bord Eau, which has won many awards including Restaurant Chef of the Year 2013 and Restaurant of the Year in the BBC Good Food Awards, also in 2013. The tasting menus are highly recommended, as you get a real flavour for the Bord Eau signature dishes. The food is very good, the selection of wines is interesting and the restaurant itself is extremely elegant with lovely views over the canal for guests to enjoy. The quality of the cooking is excellent, and the slow-braised veal cheek is an excellent example of this, with its meltingly tender meat, served with a delicious infused jus, which is carefully made in an exacting three-day process. Allergies are catered for very well, and if you can, do try the truffled brie, which is home-made, by slicing brie in half and filling with a homemade truffle paste and is absolutely exquisite.

A stay at the Shangri-La hotel is a lovely experience, where you will be well-looked after in gorgeous, relaxed surroundings.

Featuring WPMU Bloglist Widget by YD WordPress Developer