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BEST OF 2016: MY FAVOURITES

January 1, 2017
City Turtle 2016

2016 was another busy year of travel.  I enjoyed a record number of European city breaks (Rome, Prague, Bologna, Istanbul, Marbella, Paris, Amsterdam) and a few brilliant longer trips to Miami, New York, Hvar, Andalucia and Mexico.  Hopefully all my blogs have been useful for those travelling to these destinations.

Here are my favourites of 2016:

Most Spectacular Hotel: Hotel Esencia, Mexico

I promise I’ll stop banging on about this hotel, but this boutique design hotel stands out for me as one of the best places I have ever stayed.  Its stretch of beach is so peaceful, the sand so white and the sea gloriously turquoise. The rooms are white washed, minimalist and super comfortable.  Morning yoga is the best way to start the day there, followed by a delicious healthy breakfast.  It’s no wonder Conde Nast voted it as one of 2016’s best hotels.

Esencia, Mexico

Runner up: Finca Cortesin (and I shockingly still have not written a blog about this place).  Hands down one of Europe’s most beautiful properties, high in the hills 30 minutes from Marbella, with sea and mountain views.  The interiors are so elegant, the swimming pools vast and the spa to die for.

Finca Cortesin, Spain

Favourite new discovery: South East Sicily

A week of exploring all the Baroque-rich towns and cities of South Eastern Sicily is such a treat.  Each of the towns, from Ragusa to Modica to Note are all so individual, with good restaurants, a few fun bars, and lots of pretty streets to explore.  Our seafood lunch at Taverna Cialoma in Marzamemi was one of the big highlights of our trip.  And we learnt that the very underestimated city Catania is also worth a stop.

Ragusa, Sicily

Favourite new London restaurant: Foley’s

With so many restaurant openings in London this year, it’s hard to pick a favourite.  But everything from the divine alfresco bar (with the best Espresso Martinis), to a menu where you literally want to eat every dish (and we did), to the friendly, helpful staff, meant that Foley’s wins the 2016 prize.  A place I know I’ll return to, again and again.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Runner up: The Ninth and Clipstone.  Both of these relatively new openings in London have a lot in common: excellent food, reasonable pricing and great atmosphere.  The Pain Perdu at the Ninth is the best pudding I’ve had this year.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

Favourite Bar – International: The Living Room, at the Faena, Miami

Wow, the new(ish) Faena hotel in Miami is a true showstopper, rich in colour and gold and opulence.  And walking into its main bar, The Living Room, is like stepping into Gatsby’s 1920s.  I loved every moment of being in this crazy, vibrant, colourful place, where you don’t know where to look or which cocktail to pick from their indulgent menu.  The Faena’s restaurant Pao was also a highlight of my visit.

Photo credit: https://luxuriavacations.com/destinations/usa/faena-hotel-miami-beach

Runner up:  The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel, New York. This hotel is so fantastically blingy, as of course you’d expect considering the owners.  It’s a stunning hotel (the rooms are far more toned down than the public areas), but the bar really stood out.  It’s always packed with very glamorous people, the cocktails are fantastic and the interiors are fabulous.

Photo credit Baccarat Hotels

Favourite English Countryside retreat: Foxhill Manor, the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is one of my favourite areas of England; the countryside is so breathtakingly beautiful here and the villages are all so picturesque, with so many pretty Cotswold stone cottages, lovely cafes and restaurants and fantastic country walks.  So staying at the exclusive five star Foxhill Manor (Dormy House’s sister property) was one of the highlights of 2016, the ultimate country house hotel.  The food was amazing here, our suite the size of my house in London, and the views of the Cotswolds out of this world.

Foxhill Manor, Cotswolds

Favourite Restaurant – International: Quintonil, Mexico City

Chosen not because it’s voted as the 12th best restaurant in the world, but purely because it was a magical experience, and I’ve never had Mexican food like it.  It’s incredible value for money, and the amuse bouches we had here were some of the best I’ve had.  That said, its Mexico City competitor Pujol deserves a mention too, also for its creative food and noteworthy tasting menu.

Quintonil, Mexico City

Runners up:  This is such a tough one, as I have eaten at some seriously wonderful restaurants this year.  Still, if I had to choose, I loved Marzapane in Rome because it is was so different, so modern and so un-Roman.  At the same time, Sansho’s tasting menu in Prague was exceptional, and fantastic value.  And last but not least, Dalmatino in Hvar, Croatia was unexpected and their squid ink truffle gnocchi mind-blowing.

Marzapane, Rome

Favourite beach: Tulum, Mexico

Who knew Mexico’s Riviera Maya had such incredible beaches?  The beach at Tulum is possibly the most perfect beach I’ve been on.  Lined with palm trees and eco hotels (no building is higher than the tallest palm tree), white powdery sand and warm welcoming turquoise waves, it really is a paradise beach.  Plus, it stretches on and on, and makes for the best walk at sunset, Margarita in hand.  Especially the beach at Nomade (photo below) was phenomenal.

Tulum, Mexico

Runners up: Dubovica Beach on Hvar, Croatia and South Beach, Miami.  These two beaches couldn’t be more different, but each has it’s own bit of wow.  Dubovica beach is small, pebbled and one of the prettiest European beaches I’ve seen.  It has a lovely beach bar too and it’s generally not too full of tourists.  South Beach Miami is of course heaving with people, but that doesn’t stop it from being ‘wow’ in its own way.  It’s one of the most fun beaches I’ve been to, great for people watching, with so much going on.

Dubovica Beach, HvarMiami Beach

Favourite Afternoon tea: Petersham Nurseries

I don’t know how I only managed to visit this heavenly place until so recently, but I fell head over heals for Petersham Nurseries.  Even on a cold (but beautiful) winter afternoon the Cafe was so warm and cosy, the cakes so delicious and the selection of teas ideal.  I can’t wait to return in the spring and the summer.

Photo Credit: http://friendlynettle.com/day-petersham-nurseries-%E2%99%A5/

Favourite city break: Prague

People warned me that yes, the city is beautiful, but it’s touristy and the food isn’t good.  Well, yes, I’d agree that’s it’s busy, but it’s hard to avoid tourists these days.  And, after all, I’m one too.  But I’d disagree that you can’t eat well.  One of my favourite restaurants of the year, Sansho, was here.  Plus Field was excellent too, as was CottoCrudo at the Four Seasons.  There’s lots to do and see, and it’s incredibly affordable too.  Win win.

a-prague-top-ten-sights

Runner up was Bologna, with so much charm and beauty, and excellent Italian food and wine.  Our experience at Drogheria della Rosa was absolutely one of the most memorable of 2016.

Drogheria della Rossa, Bologna

And what has 2017 got in store for me?  Definitely more European city breaks, with Rome and Stockholm already booked, a trip back to Andalucia and Italy this summer for sure, and Mallorca in September.  I’d also really like to return to Vienna, explore Porto and maybe go to some of the Greek islands…  Let’s see where 2017 takes me!

Blog, Czech Republic, Prague

Tricafe, Prague

April 11, 2016
Tricafe, Prague

I never realised Prague was so into their coffee until I went.  I love a good coffee, but wasn’t sure whether the standard wouldn’t be up to scratch.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  They are real coffee specialists.

A lot of the great coffee bars in Prague are in the more residential areas, so not in the touristy central.  One we found (recommended by the brilliant Taste of Prague) was Tricafe.  It’s small, it’s cosy and it serves excellent coffee.  And amazing coconut passion fruit cake.

Tricafe, Prague

Because of its size it can fill up quickly, but we managed to grab some seats at the back.  Here there are nice touches like a book case in the corner selling books for 150 czk (£4).

Tricafe, Prague

It’s a great place to recover from a long day of sightseeing.  We escaped the rain and planned the rest of our weekend, with the help of Rough Guides and Taste of Prague (you can buy their Prague Foodie Map from the super cute boutique Kurator down the road from Tricafe).

Tricafe, Prague

The service is excellent; friendly and efficient.  One of the staff was horrified to find we weren’t brought a carafe of water with our coffees/teas and rushed to get us one.  We didn’t find the service in Prague outstanding on the whole, but we loved it here.

Tricafe

Anenská 3, 110 00 Prague

Blog, Czech Republic, Prague

The Farm Letna, Prague – EAT

March 26, 2016
The Farm Letna, Prague

Prague’s historical centre is very beautiful, there’s no denying that.  If you venture slightly out of the main hub you will also be ale to avoid the rubbish tourist traps, and find plenty of fantastic restaurants, like Sansho and Field, and great bars like Hemingway and L’Fleur.

But there are new up-and-coming areas of Prague which you should keep an eye out for.  Areas like Holešovice, across the river and North of the castle.  Letna is another area which is getting more and more air time.  It’s known for its park – the largest park in the city, high on a hill and overlooking Prague.  Perhaps not the most beautiful park perhaps, but there’s a great beer garden and it has brilliant views.  Walk a little further and you’ll find the Farm – it will seem like you’re in the middle of no where but then suddenly you’ll understand where everyone is: having brunch here.  I love it.

The Farm Letna, Prague

Be warned: during the weekend this place is heaving.  The staff look slightly harassed but remain friendly.  So it can take time to get served but they do their best.  They offer juices based on the vegetables and fruit they have in stock, mine was with carrot, ginger and celery.  Delicious.  Their waffles are meant to be incredible too.

The Farm Letna, Prague

Other foodie places worth visiting in Letna apparently are Bistro 8 and Bitcoin Coffee.

If you want to add something cultural to you visit, then you must include a visit to the National Museum (about 10 minutes walk from The Farm).  Here you’ll find some of the most unique paintings I’ve ever seen by Alphonse Mucha, a series of 20 canvases portraying the history of the slav people: the ‘Slav Epic’.  They are huge (the largest is 6 by 8 metres) and quite unforgettable.

Mucha Slav Epic

The Farm Letna

Korunova?ní 17, 170 00 Prague

Blog, Czech Republic, Prague

My Raw Cafe, Prague – HEALTHY

March 19, 2016

When I’m on holiday, my ‘healthy living’ goes out of the window.  I love my weekend breaks, and love my food, so won’t hold back on the eating front when in a new city.  But whichever destination I visit, I do try and find a healthy cafe.   Somewhere I can get a dose of greens and my quota of superfoods for the weekend.  I also find it interesting to see to what extent the health craze has taken hold in each city.

My Raw Cafe, Prague

Prague surprised me.  My Raw Cafe was the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon power juice, raw cheesecake and cashew milk coffee.  The only drawback about this place is that it’s in a shopping mall (well, Prague’s take on a mall), and that it doesn’t have much natural light, or views.  The mall was dead as we walked through it, and we were convinced it would be shut, but then we arrived and it was heaving.  This is clearly where the health-conscious locals come on the weekend.

My Raw Cafe, Prague

This is an ideal place for a weekend brunch, with a lot of great savoury options (all raw).  Or you can sink into one of their comfy armchairs, read the papers and enjoy a chilled afternoon.  It’s very laid back, the service is exceptionally friendly and – most importantly – the food is delicious.

We took down the raw blueberry cheesecake as if we hadn’t just had a huge lunch at Field (only about a 10 minute walk away).  They have a huge range of smoothies and cold-pressed juices, and any coffee you may wish, with the option of cashew/almond/soya milk.

My Raw Cafe, PragueMy Raw Cafe, Prague

So while I still most definitely recommend eating the six courses tasting menu at Sansho, and trying as many dishes as possible at Field, if you’re looking for something lighter, then brunch or a juice at My Raw Cafe will not go amiss.

If you want to go a little more off the beaten track, then I’d also highly recommend The Farm in the up and coming area of Letna, where they also do great brunches and juices.

My Raw Cafe

Dlouhá 39,

110 00 Praha 1-Staré M?sto

Blog, Czech Republic, Prague

Hemingway Bar, Prague – DRINK

March 19, 2016
Hemingway Bar, Prague

Prague seems to be quite good at cocktail bars, but there are a few which clearly stand out from the rest.  Hemingway is the most spoken about bar in the city, attracting tourists and locals alike.

I’m always curious to see whether the hype is justified.  It is interesting to read in reviews, for example, if you don’t have a table booked after 10pm, don’t bother coming.  This is a bar which books up completely on the weekends, and thus is only worth visiting, especially with a big group, if you’ve booked a table.

However, I broke the rules and turned up at 7pm on a Saturday without a reservation.  And without any fuss got a table.  But I was told I’d have to leave at 9pm (which was fine, as we had dinner at Sansho booked at 8).  So if you come early, getting a table shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  And actually, I think it’s most fun to sit at the bar.

Hemingway Bar, Prague

The interiors are fun, nothing too extraordinary.  But it’s cosy and especially the area around the bar is nice.  There are two bars, downstairs (where it is busiest) and upstairs (where it is quieter).  While initially disappointed to be sitting upstairs, we noticed we got served straight away, and our drinks came quickly.

Where this place really excels is in the talent behind the bar, and the standard and presentation of their cocktails. Hen ordered an ‘Eau de cocktail’ (for women), made with gin, hibiscus, verbena, cornflower cordial and lavender bitters.  The presentation was exceptional and it tasted good too.

Hemingway Bar, Prague

I put them to the test, like the annoying, high maintenance tourist that I am but but the cocktail shakers gladly took on the challenge to create a spicy, citrusy and not too sweet vodka cocktail.  They even managed to find some fresh chilli and the result was magnificent (and again, looked beautiful).  I called it ‘Golden Balls’.

Hemingway Bar, Prague

Prices are more than reasonable considering their skill, and I’d highly recommend Hemingways for a pre-dinner cocktail.

Other recommended bars are Cash Only Bar (owned by the same guys as Hemingways), L’Fleur and Black Angel.

Hemingway Bar

Karoliny Sv?tlé 279/26,

110 00 Praha 1-Staré M?sto

Blog, Czech Republic, Prague

Field, Prague – EAT

March 14, 2016

Sunday lunch at Field is a ridiculous treat.  Only in Prague, where the prices are still relatively low (despite tourism continuing to grow here), can you have a ‘casual’ lunch at a restaurant which in London would be saved for a very special occasion.

Field, PragueField, Prague

Field is a relative newcomer, and so far has been well received by most.  There are some who have criticised it though.  Not for the standard of the food, or the decor, or the service.  But for ‘mimicking’ other fine dining restaurants and top chefs, like Heston Blumenthal.  They have been branded, to some extent, as copycats.  But to be honest, if you serve food as good as they do, I don’t care if there are similarities to fine dining establishments where they charge £50 for a spoonful of seaweed foam. Or a bowl of snail porridge.

Field, Prague

The food here is exquisite, both in taste and presentation.  And it’s also the first (and, shamefully, only) Czech food we had.  Czech food with a twist.  The design of the restaurant is minimalist and veering towards my very favourite Scandi interiors, a mixture of simple furniture, light woods and big airy windows.  But there are touches which remind you why the restaurant is called Field: a hark, a spade, other farming appliances are carefully positioned throughout the restaurant.  Not gimmicky, just present enough for you to notice them.  The ceilings are quite extraordinary too, and I’m not quite sure what I thought of the light installation.  But it was certainly interesting.

Field, PragueField, Prague

So, you can either be stuck up and try and interpret Field as being unoriginal because they (sometimes) serve food with hints of recognisable dishes and techniques, or you can just appreciate it for what it is: a beautiful restaurant, with wonderful food and very fair pricing.  I chose the latter, and left very content.

Oh, and did I mention it was Michelin star?  I only just realised that myself…

Field

U Milosrdných 12,

110 00 Praha 1-Staré M?sto

Blog, Czech Republic, Prague

Sansho, Prague – EAT

February 28, 2016
Sansho, Prague

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the food scene in Prague. But then I came across the excellent Taste of Prague blog and felt a lot more confident.  One restaurant which was constantly mentioned (and praised) on a lot of Czech blogs was Sansho, a pan-Asian restaurant in the Jewish part of the Old Town.

So Saturday night we booked to go (pre-booking is recommended).  The interiors of the restaurant are simple and while its atmospheric, the focus is clearly on the food.  I totally get why people rave about this place. The food is out of this world.  Fresh, original, unpretentious.  For dinner they offer only the six course tasting menu.  Every course surprised us, and when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.

We had the salmon sashimi to start, which clearly they see as more of an amuse bouche.

Sansho, Prague

Followed by the clams for me, and the steak tartar for Hen as she didn’t like clams. Hen’s portion was as big as a main course.

Sansho, PragueSansho, Prague

Then came some pork dumplings.  I practically licked the plate.

Sansho, Prague

Followed by the most incredible slow cooked pork belly. Pork is big in the Czech Republic, but this was pork with a difference: Asian flavours, a pepper sauce and spicy broccoli. Even the fat was melt in your mouth good.

Sansho, Prague

By this point we were feeling pretty full, but one of their signature dishes was about to be served: soft shell crab sliders with wasabi mayonnaise.  Beautifully cooked and if you like Bao, you’ll love this.

As we had counted five courses we were now expecting desert. Except then the main course arrived.  A huge Malaysian curry selection, with a stunning jasmine tea infused trout Asian salad, lamb rendang, coconut roti, 24 hour slow cooked beef and pak choi. Incredible.  Despite bursting at the seam we still finished it all.

Sansho, Prague

Desert, we were told, were three mini portions.  Not so mini. There was a cheese cake, a chocolate biscuit with macha ice cream and a sticky toffee pudding. The sticky toffee pudding was hands down the best I have ever had. I later read that it is one of their most praised dishes.
Sansho, Prague

The whole meal came to £50 each, with a bottle of wine and coffees. Such a highlight to our weekend, the friendliest service and food that will make you want to go back the next day.

If you’re looking for a good cocktail bar for pre or post dinner, try L’Fleur, Cash Only, Hemingway or Black Angel, all about a 10 – 15 minute walk away.

Sansho

Petrská 1170/25,

110 00 Praha 1-Nové Mesto

 

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