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28
Dec 13

Lisbon: A foodie’s guide

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Lisbon, Europe’s westernmost capital city is a brilliant destination for a city break. At just under three hours away from London by plane, it’s a beautiful, historic and characterful capital city, which is perhaps less well known for its food.

I recently paid a visit to discover the foodie delights of Lisbon, digging a bit deeper than salt cod and custard tarts, so here are my tried and tested top foodie picks from Lisbon.

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If you like fish, you are absolutely spoilt for choice in Lisbon. Can the Can in Praça do Comércio or Trade Square is a newly opened restaurant situated in the square, with plenty of outside seating with views across the square and of the river. Its menu, unusually, features a variety of canned fish, which is extremely popular in Portugal, as well as fresh fish, such as octopus and a rare find – Portuguese dry cured tuna, which is only made by one elderly gentleman in the country. A rare combination of great food served in a fantastic location.

La Tasca da Esquina is a small neighbourhood restaurant on Rua Domingos Sequeira. It has a great local feel, a warm, open kitchen and is a favourite of local residents.

5 Oceanos at the Doca de Santo Amaro is a particularly nice restaurant for lunch and dinner. The views from their outside seating area are stunning, and their fish is excellent. Try the seafood to start: the garlic prawns, fresh clams and crab in mayonnaise are all excellent. Try the whole baked sea bass for the main course. Simple but delicious.

If fine dining is more your thing, then Lisbon has some exceptional restaurants offering world-class dining. Portuguese celebrity chef José Avillez is one of the leading figures in food in Portugal. He owns four restaurants in Lisbon, with Belcanto his flagship venue. Situated in a very discreet building in upmarket Chiado, it is a must for any keen foodie, or if you are celebrating a special occasion.

Feitoria restaurant in the Altis Hotel is also exceptional. With one Michelin star, chef João Rodrigues cooks a blend of international and Portuguese flavours in his menus. The tasting menu is excellent and dining at Feitoria is a glamorous affair and feels like a really special occasion.

Visitors with a sweet tooth will be spoilt for choice in Lisbon. The Confeitaria Nacional is a famous Portuguese cake shop and tea room, founded in 1829 and is a fantastic centrally located spot to visit at any time of day. Popular choices are thick doorsteps of toast, or cinnamon French toast, served hot and buttered.

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The Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, founded in 1837, it is the home of the famous Pasteis de Belém. These Portuguese custard tarts are made to a top-secret recipe, as they have been for nearly 200 years. These little tarts are exceptional – so much better than any you’ll try elsewhere.

If you enjoy wines, then Portugal has some really lovely regional wines to try. Viniportugal in Praça do Comércio is a must. Choose as many or as few wines as you want as you pay per sample.

If you are able to get out of Lisbon, José Maria Da Fonseca in Azeitão wine makers offers a tour of their premises and a tasting to visitors. Their Moscatel is particularly special and is just 5 Euros a bottle. Azeitão is around 45 minutes in the car from Lisbon and is a lovely, quaint town to visit. Stop off at Casa das Tortas, opposite for delicious, authentic cakes and good coffee.

Where to stay

Hotel da Estrela is a great independent hotel, which was recently a school. It is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, and is a clean and comfortable base in a lovely part of the city.

How to get there

TAP Portugal operate a regular flight schedule from London Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

For more information, please visit the Turismo de Lisboa site. www.visitlisboa.com


28
Dec 13

Rivington Grill, Dubai

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Rivington Grill is a well-established London-based duo of restaurants that have recently expanded to Dubai, where they also operate from two locations: Souk Al Bahar and Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Rivington is famous for its simple, unfussy British cooking. It’s a mixture of simple, top quality ingredients cooked following traditional recipes, with a modern twist. The quality of ingredients and cooking are everything here. Plates are ungarnished, and the dining room is simple, as the food speaks volumes. There is just one thing though – the view. Both Rivington Grill restaurants are situated in prime Dubai locations and enjoy an absolutely sensational view. Sit outside to make the most of it, if you can.

The menu here offers a good amount of choice with plenty of daily specials to choose from, too. The wine menu is short, but offers some excellent selections and is fairly priced, particularly for Dubai, where alcohol is very expensive.

We visited the Souk Al Bahar restaurant on a busy Friday evening, and sat outside. We were warmly welcome and felt really looked after by our lovely Spanish waitress. With a glass of Prosecco in hand a menu to browse, we were served delicious warm bread and butter – both the standard bread and gluten free were excellent.

To start, we went for the steak tartare and the crab. The steak tartare was a stunning blend of minced steak, tomato and Worcestershire sauce and made with superb black Angus beef. The crab was a Devonshire dressed crab, with the white and brown meat served separately, but both had been mixed with homemade toasted brown breadcrumbs and lightly dressed. Both dishes can only be described as perfection.

Moving on to the mains, we went for the whole grilled Dover Sole, served with tomato and caper butter and the milk fed veal chop with smoked bone marrow and caramelised shallots. Both dishes were delicious and faultless – perfectly cooked and filleted fish and tender, richly flavoured veal. What could be better?

To finish, we shared a knickerbocker glory, expecting a rather retro concoction, but out came an enormous sundae glass filled to the brim with divine strawberry ice cream, whipped cream, strawberry slices and the most heavenly strawberry sauce, which just encapsulated the exquisite flavour of strawberries at their best. It could not have been a better end to the meal.

A visit to Rivington Grill is an absolute must. Staff are really friendly and helpful, and the open kitchen gives diners a chance to chat to the lovely chefs, too. I’m dreaming of returning already!


28
Dec 13

A visit to Raffles, Dubai

Dubai is renowned for its luxury hotels and service, which is viewed as the best in the world by many. Celebrities and royal families flock from all over the world to Dubai. Where do they stay? Raffles. Why? Quite simply, imagine the best hotel you can possibly think of. Raffles exceeds this in every way. It is quite an astonishing feat, but they manage it.

This is a seriously striking hotel that impresses from the moment you arrive. Built adjacent to Dubai’s Wafi Mall, it continues the Egyptian theme of the mall throughout the hotel. Yes, the hotel is shaped like a pyramid and has its own granite obelisk outside, but the decor is executed to the finest possible standard throughout. Many trips to Egypt were made in the design process. It must be the heaviest hotel in Dubai, as practically the entire interior is decked out in marble.

The lobby is seriously dramatic with breathtaking features which wow guests as they arrive, incorporating the four elements of life into the design, something that continues through the hotel. Guests are greeted extremely warmly – the service at Raffles is genuinely second to none at all points of contact with staff – from the Front Desk, to the Concierge and even to housekeeping – friendly and helpful, making you feel like a regular by remembering your name and offering to help in every possible way from the minute your stay begins.

The rooms are really large, from the smallest rooms to the suites, which are favoured by Middle Eastern dignitaries and royalty, who regularly book out an entire floor for their entourage. Suites automatically come with a butler who is available to help you at any time of the day and night.

The hotel has a gorgeous pool, complete with bar and a gilded water clock and a really lovely outdoor jacuzzi. There is plenty of room to sunbathe and enjoy the gardens featuring an exceptionally wide range of plants. Inside, there is a great gym, salon and spa, which offers heavenly treatments. The couples treatments are particularly special, such as the romantic retreat which offers a private Jacuzzi experience, followed by a couples’ massage, all in the comfort of your own private room. Bliss.

One thing’s for sure, your privacy is guaranteed here – it is an exceptionally private hotel – you need not leave your room if you wish. Balconies come with tables, chairs and your own sun loungers, and are absolutely not overlooked – they are just the perfect place to enjoy the sunset with a stunning view.

The food is simply amazing at Raffles. Breakfasts are lovely – they can be taken inside or out, and the choice and quality of food available is superb. Fire and Ice, the hotel’s restaurant is one of the very best in Dubai, with a wide choice of exceptional meat and fish on the menu. The restaurant itself is highly atmospheric, with subtle lighting, dark wood panels and an open kitchen, and wide-reaching views across the city from the windows. The marinated feta with watermelon, aubergine caviar and peppers is a standout starter, and the Seafood Mix Grill is a sumptuous main. Excellent homemade gluten free bread is provided for guests, too.

Even here, in the middle of the desert, you can enjoy an excellent afternoon tea. Currently a fashion afternoon tea is offered for guests and non-residents in the ground-floor lounge, which is popular with locals returning from a shopping trip to the adjacent Wafi Mall. It was not a surprise to learn the Head Chef is English, such is the quality of the scones and fresh cream served. Raffles also offer roast dinners at weekends and sumptuous Christmas feasts for guests over the festive period.

If you are after exquisite luxury and the very finest service, you absolutely can’t beat Raffles.


24
Dec 13

Last minute Christmas gifts for foodies

If you still need to sort some Christmas gifts, here are some great ideas for any foodies in your life.

Knives. Good knives are just essential in the kitchen. They are expensive, but will last a lifetime. Start with a 10Ccm fruit and veg knife, a 16cm and 25cm knife and you’ll be well away. Wusthof makes my favourite knives.

Aprons. You can’t have enough aprons in my book. I love the designs by Sophie Allport.

Shoes. If you’re on your feet all day, you can’t do better than these for comfort and practicality from FitFlops

For the serious cook, Le Creuset is simply an investment – their casserole dishes will last you a lifetime.

Happy Christmas to you all!

 


23
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – The Christmas Table

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With Christmas nearly upon us, you might be thinking, as I am about how to decorate your Christmas table. I do not go in for fancy decorations, but do like the table to look just right.

 Here are my top tips for a lovely Christmas table:

1)   Ensure any table cloths and napkins are really well-ironed. I use a professional steam-generating iron to get them just right

2)   Make sure your cutlery and glasses are lovely and clean.

3)   Some form of table decoration is nice, but less is definitely more.  As the table is often rather full, a simple lit candle or two can be lovely, rather than flowers or festive decorations

4)   Choose some lovely china. I love this range by Sophie Conran.

As you never know who will be dropping in over Christmas, and where you are likely to go, here are some favourite recipes of mine, to make in industrial quantities over the next couple of days.

Happy Christmas!


23
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas drinks

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As Christmas approaches, I wanted to share some of my favourite drinks and homeware with you for the season. Be it to enjoy at home, with friends or at a party, these lovely drinks will instantly have you feeling in the festive mood.

Sparkling wine is just lovely to enjoy at this time of year. Although Champagne may be the first thing you think of when it comes to sparkling wine, I am increasingly choosing English sparkling wine over Champagne as it turns out, we’re getting rather good at making it now. I recently tried Knightor Brut NV which was very good indeed. Made in small quantities with an emphasis on quality, it is light, floral and immensely enjoyable.

Try making a Christmas cocktail by juicing fresh clementines and adding the juice of half a clementine to each flute, and topping up with English sparking wine.

My favourite cocktail of the season has to be a festive Behind the Sheets. Mix equal parts of brandy with white rum and triple sec. Stir well and serve. I make my own festive brandy in advance, using a simple recipe like this one,and use it in my cocktails. The brandy is also very nice served with lemonade as a mixer.

I love to make a big jug and to serve it in lovely Italian glasses from Luigi Bormioli at Denby. Be sure to make plenty to serve to your guests with some nibbles on a lovely big tray, such as this fantastic handmade oak tray from Make The Most Of – essential for festive entertaining.

For a festive non- alcoholic drink, try making a Christmas coffee or chocolate by adding 1 tsp sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a cardamom pod to a cup of freshly brewed coffee or hot chocolate. Add double cream instead of milk, or top with whipped cream. I love to a good festive mug at this time of year, and these from Susie Watson Designs are totally gorgeous and by far the best I’ve found this year.

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Watch this space for top tips for your Christmas table.


19
Dec 13

Eating out in Dubai – top tips

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Dubai is a great destination for foodies. Visitors are almost overwhelmed for choice in this truly international Emirate, as there really is something to suit everyone.

The good news is that food is safe, and food preparation standards are generally good, with the only thing to avoid without fail  is the local water – it’s not drinkable, so mineral water is the only way to go. It’s not expensive, and hotels generally offer a decent supply free of charge in guest rooms, which is replenished daily. So, salads, and seafood, and all the things one might avoid abroad are definitely on the menu here and worth trying.

Hotels generally offer breakfast and the choices tend to be very wide, catering for guests from all over the world. The choice often includes the usual suspects, such as cooked breakfasts, with omelettes being very popular, and fruit, yoghurt, cereal, pastries and charcuterie all available, extending to pancakes, curries, noodles and fish quite frequently. The only thing you might not find is bacon and sausages made from pork – chicken or beef sausages and turkey bacon are generally offered as an alternative. Pork bacon and sausages are sometimes available, but are served in a separate station.

Food allergies are readily catered for, and restaurants and hotels are aware of food allergies. It’s always good to phone or email ahead, but Dubai is very geared up to receiving visitors with special dietary requirements.

Despite the cuisine being very international, there is a surprising amount of local produce available. Much comes from more agricultural Emirates, such as Fujairah, and you can easily find local Gulf seafood, and dairy produce on offer. UAE milk and yoghurt is particularly nice.

In terms of regional cuisine, Lebanese and Iraqi food is popular in Dubai. Karam Beirut offers very nice regional dishes from the familiar, such as excellent fattoush, hummous and grilled halloumi, to some more unusual dishes, all served with piping hot, fresh pitta bread and a giant plate of delicious fresh vegetables, herbs and lemon.

For a really authentic Emirati experience, Bait Al Wakeel on the Dubai Creek is the oldest restaurant in Dubai, which is situated on a jetty on the creek, close to the Abra (water taxi) stop. Service and food isn’t the best, but it is an interesting experience for those wanting something a bit more local and informal.

In complete contrast, Dubai is home to some of the very best restaurants in the world which have opened up local branches.

Hakkasan is a great example of this, located in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel. It is slick, modern and gorgeously decorated, serving the most exquisite oriental food, wines and cocktails you can imagine. Dining, or even stopping here for a drink is an unforgettable experience and absolutely worth trying.

Rivington Grill is also an absolutely superb restaurant, situated in two gorgeous Dubai locations: Jumeirah Madinat Jumeirah  and  Souk Al Bahar. You may think it’s mad to go to a British restaurant in Dubai, but the food here is absolutely sensational – simple ingredients cooked fantastically well, and served with a great view. Unmissable.

Those looking for more informal dining will find plenty of choice in Dubai. As previously mentioned, there are a huge number of international chain restaurants in Dubai, some good, some more average, but offering lower cost options. Bear in mind though that food is not particularly cheap in Dubai – you won’t find much on offer at a lower cost than in the UK. Some cafes found on both sides of the Creek and surrounding areas are very popular with the locals, but offer less familiar foods in an environment where English is not spoken as widely – definitely for the more adventurous.

Alcohol is available in hotels and more international restaurants. The quality varies from very average to seriously good, as there are numerous limits imposed on imports, which affect the quality, and price of wine available. Those that get around this by paying a premium to import their own wines generally have a wonderful selection, but it is not cheap. Beer too can easily be £8 a pint or bottle.

If you’re looking for some foodie gifts to take home, the farmers market which takes place every Friday morning in the gardens of the Jumeirah Emirates Towers is worth a visit. Stock up on Yemeni Sidr honey and blocks of jaggery sugar for an alternative gift. Otherwise, food gifts are not that easy to find – there are a small number of little supermarkets peppered around the more central areas of Dubai – or there is a giant Carrefour supermarket located in the Mall of the Emirates.

Dubai is a fantastic place for all foodies to visit – and there is somewhere and something new to try every time.


19
Dec 13

The Westin Mina Seyahi, Dubai

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Dubai is one of the world’s hottest holiday destinations right now. It’s also a great destination for families to visit due to the fantastic weather and extremely wide range of activities available. It’s also really not too difficult to get there, too – you get great weather but without a long-haul flight to get it.

The Westin Hotel Mina Seyahi is a top family-friendly hotel offering a brilliant combination of 5 star luxury with its own private beach. Rooms are spacious with large marble bathrooms, and ones with a sea-view look out over the Palm Jumeirah and the hotel’s manicured gardens and pools. The hotel operates a super-efficient concierge service from a Bedoin tent in the lobby, which is on hand to help you plan your perfect holiday in Dubai. The Westin is a favourite with Emirati high society and is an extremely popular place to meet for tea and evening drinks. The Arabian influence is felt from the moment you arrive, and are greeted with a delicious local drink of chilled apple juice with cinnamon and juicy fresh dates.

All bedrooms are spacious with large beds, bathrooms and all the facilities you might need to hand, including large televisions, Nespresso coffee machines and a small terrace with a table and chairs. There is an excellent choice of restaurants on site with Spice Emporium Thai restaurant a must for its delicious, authentic food and fun atmosphere, complete with authentic Thai dancing every night. The menu offers a wide selection of dishes which diners choose to share between the table, and then the portion size is adapted accordingly. The Thai coconut soup and Beef red curry are superb. Breakfast is a very extravagant affair with practically every type of International cuisine you can think of available for guests to enjoy and is served buffet style. There is an emphasis on superfoods, and the fresh, super-healthy juices are a definitely worth trying.

If you are in need of being pampered, then a trip to the Spa is a must. Treatments are highly relaxing, featuring unusual but very enjoyable Swedish massage techniques and gorgeous Aromatherapy Associates products.

The real draw of The Westin is the beach. The hotel has green gardens and a white sandy beach and safe, clear bathing area in the sea, looking out to the Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah. There are a good number of shaded sun loungers available, and a good choice of water sports available from the beach. There is a choice of lovely swimming pools in the hotel gardens, with a super shaded children’s pool available, and a Penguin Kid’s Club to give parents a rest.

Despite being an enormous hotel, the service is friendly, helpful and keen to please.

For more information on activities in Dubai, take a look here.

Getting there:

Dubai is around 7 hours away from London and there are regular flights running from all over the UK.

Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.co.uk / 0844 800 8624) offers 5 nights at the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi, including flights with Emirates Airlines and private transfers in resort.

Prices for 2014 from £1039* per person based on two sharing (*based on travel between 3-24 July 2014).

 


10
Dec 13

Festive entertaining – Christmas lunch

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Without wishing to pile on the pressure at this time of the year, Christmas lunch is probably the most important meal you’ll cook all year. If you are a meat eater, like me, choosing your meat can be very stressful. I want to ensure I choose the best meat that I know will cook perfectly and taste divine on the day.

So, here are my tried and tested top recommendations for Christmas lunch.

Starting with turkey, the obvious choice for Christmas meat, there is nothing better than a Copas turkey. Self-titled “very, very special turkeys”, these juicy, finely flavoured birds are reared to the most scrupulous standards, resulting in a superior Christmas turkey. These magnificent turkeys are delivered to your home with complete cooking instructions and a pop-up cooking timer which are really easy to use and ensure perfectly tender meat. All products in their range are excellent – I favour the turkey crown, which involves much less waste and mess than cooking a whole carcass. Worth every penny.

 12xmas

In my house, we love beef for our Christmas lunch as it is simply our favourite roast of all.  The very best beef we have tried is from The Traditional Beef Company, who supply multi award-winning beef to your door. Based in Wiltshire, the cattle is grass fed, and the meat is hung for a whopping 4-6 weeks, then expertly butchered, resulting in the very finest meat. The beauty of this is that you’re buying your meat direct from the farmer, too. The two best cuts for a roast are the fore rib, with a deliciously rich flavour, and the super lean and tender sirloin joint.  This beef is melt-in-the-mouth tender with an exquisite flavour. The best money can buy.

For all the other bits and pieces for a perfect Christmas lunch, here are my favourite recipes:

Vegetarian lunch

Roast potatoes

Roasted vegetables

Sprouts

Cranberry sauce

Bread sauce and gravy

Next: Top Christmas drinks


10
Dec 13

Gastronomy of Italy, by Anna del Conte

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Gastronomy of Italy…a distillation of my personal reflections on the many recipes I have cooked, foods that I have tasted, books I have read and regions I have visited” Anna Del Conte.

Anna Del Conte is widely recognized as the leading authority on Italian food in the UK. Although not a household name like some celebrity chefs, she is the author of a number of cookery books which have been widely praised for their detail and authoritative voice on Italian cookery.  Over the years, she has won many awards, including the Premo Nazionale di Cultura Gastronomica Verdicchio d’Oro prize in 1994 for her contribution to the dissemination of knowledge around authentic Italian cooking, and in 2011 the Guild of Food Writers Lifetime Achievement Award.

Del Conte is also the muse for many celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, who describes her as “beyond doubt, the best writer on Italian food”.

Del Conte’s latest book, Gastronomy of Italy is an up-to-date definitive guide to regional Italian food, covering the regions in detail, ingredients and techniques, including the classics: pasta, polenta, gnocchi, risotto and pizza, and Anna’s versions of favourite Italian dishes, such as peperonata and osso buco. Gastronomy of Italy is a beautiful book featuring over 200 recipes with plenty of gorgeous photographs to accompany the recipes. It is a truly invaluable book for all those who enjoy Italian food, and would make a great Christmas gift for any keen cook. Read from cover to cover and take part in Mastermind.

I’m delighted to be able to share a wonderful recipe with you with kind permission from Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy, published by Pavilion. Photography by Laura Edwards.

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Milanese vegetable soup

You can add small tubular pasta to this soup instead of rice, although the classic Milanese minestrone is always made with rice.

Serves 6–8

150g/5½oz/¾ cup dried borlotti beans, soaked for about 12 hours in
cold water

50g/1¾oz/4 tbsp unsalted butter

50g/1¾oz pancetta, chopped

3 onions, sliced

4 carrots, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 courgettes, diced

100g/3½oz green beans, diced

100g/3½oz/2⁄3 cup shelled fresh peas

200g/7oz Savoy cabbage, shredded

1.5–2 litres/3–4 pints/1½–2 quarts meat stock (page 61) or chicken stock or 3 good-quality bouillon cubes dissolved in the same quantity of water

350g/12oz floury (starchy) potatoes, cut in half

225g/8oz ripe fresh tomatoes, blanched and peeled, or canned plum tomatoes, drained

salt and freshly ground black pepper

175g/6oz/scant 1 cup Italian rice, preferably Vialone Nano

75g/2¾oz Parmesan cheese, grated

 

Drain and rinse the beans.

Melt the butter in a large heavy pot, preferably earthenware, and add the pancetta and onions. Sauté gently for 5 minutes or so and then add the carrots and celery. After 2 or 3 minutes, add the borlotti beans. Sauté for a further 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the courgettes, green beans and peas. After 5 minutes or so, mix in the cabbage. Stir everything together for about 5 minutes to coat in the fat.

Add the stock, potatoes, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, cover the pan and simmer over a very low heat for about 3 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, lift out the potatoes, mash them with a fork, then return them to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the rice and cook for about 10 minutes, until al dente. Stir in 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan and serve the remaining cheese separately.

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