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My favourite restaurants of 2017

December 29, 2017
Le Dali, Le Meurice, Paris

This year blogging has taken a bit of a backseat as I’ve had to prioritise other things.  But below is a summary of all the restaurants I loved this year, from London to Stockholm to Marrakech:

LONDON

Neo Bistro ££

One of my top 2017 favourites is this slightly under the radar bistro, set up by the ex-Harwood Arms chef and the owner of Anglo. Ignore its slightly dodgy location right by Oxford Street as this cosy restaurant offers a fantastic tasting menu at great value: six courses for £45.

Neo Bistro, London

Serge et le Phoque, The Mandrake Hotel ££

Well this certainly was a bit of a showstopper.  Not just the restaurant, but the Mandrake Hotel itself.  It’s certainly ‘out there’ in terms of decor and design; fun, over the top and daring.  The restaurant is more toned down, with a real focus on the food.  Which is very good.  Also, the bathrooms are very cool.

Serge et le Phoque, Mandrake Hotel, London

Magpie £

Magpie is the new restaurant by the guys who opened the very popular (Michelin star) Pidgin in Hackney.  Its very central location on Heddon Street means no excuses not to go, and 100% worth it.  Fun vibes, with trolleys of small plates zipping by, ensuring you can try the full range of their delicious dishes.   The tartare in particular was excellent.

Magpie, London

CUT at 45 Park Lane £££

An oldie but a goodie.  You can’t go wrong with a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, but it’s been an age since I’ve had meat as good as it was here.  The perfect place for a spoiling dinner.

Wishlist: Southam Street, Clove Club, Lyle’s (yes, I know I’ve very behind)

 

UK COUNTRYSIDE

The Mash Inn, Buckinghamshire 

It’s only been open for a year or so but it’s gone from strength to strength.  This pub with rooms, less than a 30 minute train ride from Marylebone, is ideal for a quick London getaway.  Especially for foodies, their 9 course tasting menu (£65) is phenomenal.  And the homemade breakfast in bed is the best wake up ever.

The Mash Inn

The Bull Inn, Cotswolds

One of my favourite countryside getaways this year was at the adorable and beyond cosy Bull Inn, a beautiful pub with rooms in the charming village of Charlbury.  Every room is carefully designed with a lovely use of colour and different wallpaper, and it was close to impossible leaving their cosy fireplace.  Their restaurant offers well priced, hearty British dishes and the staff are wonderful.

The Bull Inn, Charlbury

 

ITALY

Piano Strada, Rome

A new favourite in a city which keeps on giving.  This restaurant, run by four blondes, ticks all the boxes. Great location, cool interiors, excellent food.  We’ve booked to return in January.

Piana Strade, Rome

Apollinare, Spoleto 

Should you find yourself in this quiet but very pretty Umbrian town, make sure you have lunch at this brilliant restaurant.  It was the first lunch we had of our holiday, but safe to say also the best.  Book a table on their terrace and eat pasta to your hearts content.

Apollinare, Spoleto

 

STOCKHOLM

Oaxen Slip

Our favourite restaurant in the city with a lot of good restaurants.  Charming service, lovely setting, and excellent food. Obviously go for the fish dishes, you are in Sweden after all.

Oaxen Slip, Stockholm

Rosendals Tradgard

The only place for a picnic lunch in Stockholm’s summer months.  No prettier place to be than in Rosendal Park, eating the cafe’s delicious sandwiches and cafes. Affordable too (for Stockholm).

Rosendals Tradgard, Stockholm

More recommendations for Stockholm can be found here.

 

MARRAKECH

La Famille

Like stepping into an oasis of calm and green, in the middle of Marrakech’s hectic medina.  If you need a break from tagines then La Famille is the answer, offering incredible salads and pastas and cakes in a beautiful, bohemian setting.

Le Famille, Marrakech

Wishlist: La Table du Marche

More tips for Morocco can be found here.

 

PARIS

Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athenee

The most sparkly, beautiful breakfast imaginable.  I can only imagine what dinner is like here.

Alain Ducasse at Plaza Athenee

Le Dali at Le Meurice

There are few more eye catching restaurants than Le Dali, in one of the most iconic hotels in Paris.  And *those* deserts! Not to be missed.

Le Dali, Le Meurice

Wishlist: Carbon, Balagan

 

AMSTERDAM

Entrepot

Located in up and coming East Amsterdam in the iconic Entrepot dock, this brand new restaurant is not only beautiful to look at, but the food is good too.  And not your standard fare either, often seasonal products are used, mostly cooked on an open fire.  I love the service here, who greet you with a handshake and were exceptionally friendly and helpful all evening.

Entrepot, Amsterdam

Bureau

Despite its odd location, just outside the city along a motorway, Restaurant Bureau is a unique restaurant with an incredible rooftop terrace and a well priced menu.  It’s not the place for first time Amsterdam visitors, but if you know the city well, this is the ideal place to try something different.

Bureau, Amsterdam

For more Amsterdam tips, click here.

Wishlist: Choux, Marius, Vinkeles (at the Dylan)

 

OMAN

The Japanese Restaurant, the Chedi

The most romantic setting for dinner, sitting at the candlelit Long Pool of this beautiful Muscat hotel.  Phenomenal Japanese food.  More tips on Oman can be found here.

The Chedi, Muscat

 

VIENNA

The Palmenhaus

The Palmenhaus has been around for years, and I still remembered it from my time of living in Vienna almost 20 years ago.  It’s a beautiful, airy, old tropical house, perfect for a coffee and an excellent cake, or for lunch or dinner, overlooking the Burggarten.  A special place.

Palmenhaus, Vienna

More recommendations for Vienna can be found here.

Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

The Test Kitchen, Cape Town – EAT

January 17, 2016
Test Kitchen, Cape Town

If there was one restaurant I was particularly excited about going to in South Africa, it was the Test Kitchen.  Almost everyone who had been to South Africa recommended it, even if they hadn’t manage to get a booking here themselves.  It was voted the best restaurant in Africa, let alone South Africa.  A big title.

Getting a booking is thus close to impossible, unless you book about 6 months in advance.  Or, if you get lucky.  We got ridiculously lucky as met the wonderful South African Jo in London during the summer, who knew one of the chefs there and managed to get us a table at 8:30 on a Saturday night. I think she surprised herself.

The Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Did it live up to expectations?  Yes.  Which was my favourite dish?  I can’t choose.  It’s easier for me to just show you photos of the ten-course tasting menu (more with the amuse bouche) than even try and describe it.

Test Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape TownTest Kitchen, Cape Town

Top tip?  Book seats at the kitchen bar rather than an actual table.  That way you get to see the chefs preparing the food.  The insight to ‘behind the scenes’ was perhaps the most priceless part of it all.

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Good news for Johannesburgers – the owner Dale-Roberts is set to launch a pop up restaurant at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg at the end of the month.  Get booking now!  And if you can’t get a table at the Test Kitchen then try the equally fabulous Pot Luck Club sister restaurant next door!

The Test Kitchen

Shop 105a

The Old Biscuit Mill

375 Albert Road

Woodstock

Cape Town

 

Blog, Date Spot, Eat, London

Perilla, East Dulwich – the pop-up to watch

December 7, 2015

I don’t usually go to pop-ups in London.  There are so many new restaurant openings that I’d rather go to a place that will be around for a while (one hopes) so that there’s a point in taking the time to write about it, without having to chuck it a month later.

There are however, always exceptions.  Perilla, which currently occupies Platform 1 on bustling East Dulwich Lordship Lane, is too good to miss.  Even if you hope that with their talent and generally truly excellent food they’ll find a permanent base soon.

Before I smother Perilla with compliments, a quick word about Platform 1, as I rather like the concept.   They call themselves a ‘permanent pop-up’, and it is quite literally a platform for new chefs and young culinary talent who can use the space for four months before passing the space on to the next.  As it’s a neighbourhood restaurant they’re keeping the front of house team constant, so you will recognise the staff (they’re very good).  It’s a nice touch.

But back to Perilla.  The guys behind it are super young.  23 (Ben) and 24 (Matt) years old to be precise.  Ben has been a chef at Noma (aka restaurant in Copenhagen voted the best restaurant in the world) and Claridges and Matt has managed both Polpo and Polpetto.  Not a bad team.

Perilla, Dulwich

They offer a five course tasting menu for £35 a head.  Or they have a (succinct) a la carte menu with too good to be true prices.  Bar snacks start at £1.50: the crisp chicken wings stuffed with mushrooms were possibly the best thing on the whole menu – and I don’t even like mushrooms.    Their flat bread with brown butter and rosemary was very moorish. Crisped Cavelo Nero was delicious too, their duck egg, mussels and parsley dish was wonderful, as was the (beautifully presented) scallop with horseradish, cucumber and radishes.

perilla, east Dulwichperilla, east Dulwich

Mains vary from £11 to £16 for the pork (which was especially popular with the boys).  The poached trout will set you back £13, and was the most delicately cooked fish with radish, yoghurt and sorrel.

perilla, east Dulwich

We drank a substantial amount of wine – they have a great, and quite original selection (everyone love their Pinot Noir), but the cocktails are also worth having (we had those instead of pudding).  We tried a selection of their home infused spirits, and I loved my cherry vodka with whiskey (yes, it was pretty punchy).

Perilla is around in Dulwich until the end of February.  And they take bookings.  So no excuses.

And if, like me, East Dulwich is very far away for you, then combine it with cocktails at Pedlar (blog to follow) or the Peckham Refreshment Rooms in Peckham Rye (around the corner) before or after, and you’ll have ticked at least two highly recommended foodie places in one go.

Perilla Dining

71 Lordship Lane

East Dulwich

Photo credit: mixture of Perilla’s own and mine

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Blog, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa: Best of

December 5, 2015
South Africa

VIEW – From the lovely winery Newton Johnson: of the Hemel en Aarde (meaning heaven and earth) vineyards, mountains and the sea.  Highly recommend it, and it’s only a 15 minute drive from Hermanus.  Shame the weather wasn’t a bit better!

Newton & Johnson, Hemel en AardeNewton & Johnson

SUNSET – From the top of Table Mountain.  Take the cable cart up, or, if you’re up for it, hike up (takes about 2 hours)!  But don’t underestimate how steep it is.  On a calm day it is still remarkably windy up on the mountain, but so worth it.  Watch the sun set and turn Cape Town a brilliant pink.

Table Mountain, Cape TownTable Mountain, Cape Town

WILDLIFE SIGHTING – A leopard trying to kill an impala at Rattray’s in Sabi Sands.  Sadly she failed, but it was thrilling watching her pounce.

IMG_3768

TOWN – Franschoek.  I loved the Cape Dutch architecture here: the white-washed cottages and the pretty churches.  Franschoek is filled with charm and lots of cosy restaurants, cafes and bars.  Grab the wine tram and stop off at all the wonderful surrounding vineyards (Mont Rochelle, Maison Estate).  Stay just out of town (15 minutes) at Babylonstoren, the most wonderful farm with the most beautiful gardens.

Babylonstoren, Franschoek

CITYCape Town.  It simply has it all.  Incredible restaurants and bar (from Kloof Street to Bree Street), the most phenomenal setting (surrounded by white beaches, Table Mountain and Constantia’s beautiful vineyards), lovely people, amazing wildlife (seals at the Waterfront, penguins at Boulders Beach, dolphins in front of 12 Apostles), so many outward bound activities on offer (hiking, surfing, horse riding) and super affordable.

Cape Town

COCKTAIL – Thai Green Curry Martini at the Pot Luck Club.  After a fairly disappointing run of cocktails during our holiday, I regained my confidence in South African cocktails.  I also tried their rosemary and elderflower Martini (equally good).  If you’re looking for a more casual bar, then 210 on Bree Street makes a fab Whiskey Sour for £2.

Potluck Club, Cape Town

BREAKFAST 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa. A combination of fantastic views (dolphins and seals playing in the beautiful ocean in front of you) and an array of treats like oysters and champagne.  Not a bad way to start your day.

12 Apostles, Cape Town

EXPERIENCE – Chasing lightening at Rattray’s on Mala Mala in Sabi Sands.  Super thrilling as well as just a tiny bit frightening.  I’ve never seen a sunset quite like it or lightning quite so constant and brilliant.

Rattray's Mala Mala

RESTAURANT – A toss up between the 10 course tasting menu at the Test Kitchen (awarded the number one restaurant in South Africa 3 years in a row) and lunch at the beautiful, elegant La Colombe (second photo).  Both meals I will never forget.

Test Kitchen, Cape Town

La Colombe, Cape Town

AUTHENTIC MEAL – Lunch at Mariana’s, in the tiny town of Stanford, down the road from Hermanus, is as authentic as it gets. Peter and Mariana run a small restaurant at their home (the Owls Barn): Mariana cooks, Peter hosts. It is so unpretentious, such a warm experience, with lovely countryside views from their garden and truly excellent home cooking.

Mariana's, Stanford

BEACHPlettenberg Bay and the surrounding beaches.  Too stunning for words.

Plettenberg Bay
CITY BEACH – Camps Bay.  It does not get more glamorous or beautiful than Camps Bay.  And to think it’s basically a ‘city beach’, a 15 minute drive from downtown.  The combination of the deep blue sea, lovely white sandy beach and the mountains as the backdrop is magical.

Camps BayCamps Bay

CAFEFournil de Plett in Plettenberg Bay.  Sip a homemade lemonade in the shade of a tree in their leafy courtyard, and enjoy a healthy brunch.

Fournil de Plett, Plettenberg BayFournil de Plett, Plettenberg Bay

SEAFOOD – The Look Out Deck, Plettenberg Bay.  I thin we just hadn’t expected the food to be so good, as the setting is impressive enough (stunning views of the – empty – Look Out beach).  The Look Out is not a fancy restaurant, it’s down to earth and a great day hang out, and that’s why when our food arrived we were somewhat taken aback.  Rob’s tuna steak was perfectly cooked and so fresh, with wasabi and soya sauce.  You’d pay a fortune for that in London, but here it was £8.

The Look Out Deck, PLettenberg BayThe Look Out Deck, PLettenberg Bay

HIKE The Robberg Peninsula. Wow.  There are three hiking options, one is an hour hike, one 2 hours and one 3 – 5 hours.  We chose for the middle option.  The hiking is easy enough, but is still a bit of work out.  You will see a huge colony of seals from above (and smell them – less pleasant!), as well as lizards, snakes and beautiful birds.  The beach you come to is deserted and breathtaking.

Robberg Peninsula South AfricaRobberg Peninsula South Africa

HOTEL –  A really tough one because all the hotels we stayed at were fantastic.  But I think Hunter’s Country House wins this one because it is just one of the most charming, prettiest places.  The gardens were incredible, and I loved all the cottages scattered around the estate.  It is such a peaceful place.  You’re 10 minutes drive from Plettenberg Bay, so it’s the perfect location.  Their main sitting room with huge fireplace was so cosy, the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks.

Hunters

SPAThe Marine Hermanus.  A Relais & Chateaux which unsurprisingly gets its spa right.  We enjoyed a grey afternoon being pampered in the spa – they offer couple treatment rooms, so while I enjoyed a facial, Rob had a Swedish massage.  Later we enjoyed the steam room.  It’s about £26 for an hour’s massage.  Too good to be true!  The spa at the 12 Apostles was also brilliant.The Marine Hermanus

VINEYARDMaison Estate, Franschoek.  All the vineyards around Franschoek are incredible, but we especially loved Maison, which have a fantastic restaurant ‘Kitchen’ and beautiful views of their vineyard.  The interiors have a Scandi/minimalist feel to them. Apart from that another wine we kept seeing in top restaurant’s was Paul Cluver.  The vineyard is in the Elgin Valley, on the way from Hermanus to Franschoek and Stellenbosch, and is also meant to serve very good food to accompany top notch wines in a beautiful garden setting.

Maison Estate, FranschoekMaison Estate, Franschoek

POOL – The Rock Pool at 12 Apostles. While their other pool is heated and has the view of the ocean, I loved the originality of the Rock Pool, and you really feel completely in nature here.  There are a number of hiking trails you can take or you can just relax on a sun lounger in complete peace and quiet here.

12 apostles

HOLIDAY READI am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes.  You just can’t put it down, from the first page you’re gripped.  It’s ideal for lying on the beach, or waiting at the airport, or relaxing by the pool.  My problem was I was so into it that I forgot to put suncream on (not recommended)…

Blog, Eat, London

The 6 best affordable lunch places in Covent Garden

November 29, 2015

Having moved offices to the Strand fairly recently, I’ve fully embraced my new location as an opportunity to explore lunch options in Covent Garden (and Soho). There are so many excellent cafes and restaurants within a 15 minute walk from the Strand, whether it be sit in or take away for those in a rush which are affordable enough to justify lunch.

HERE ARE MY FAVOURITE CHOICES:

* LUNDENWIC

45 Aldwych

i
Anything Scandi always piques my interest, add a healthy angle and I’m there straight away. Right next to One Aldwych, this is a truly tiny establishment, which only adds to its cuteness. The design upholds it’s Scandi promise; a prominent use of wood and a minimalist finish. The bar is laden with plates of healthy salads and mouthwatering sandwiches. The first time I went I had an egg and mustard seed sandwich (£3.95) which was the size of my face (take away).  Last week I had their vegetable soup with sourdough bread (£4.50), which was delicious and warming on a cold day.   They do a good smashed avocado on sourdough toast too.  Breakfasts are also worth trying, they offer strong coffee and a hearty porridge.

Lundenwic, Covent GardenLundenwic, Covent Garden

 

* SESAME

23 Garrick Street

i
I’ve never met anyone with a bad thing to say about Ottolenghi – and his Middle-Eastern inspired food empire continues to grow.  Sesame is the newly(ish) opened ‘fast food’ version of his more sophisticated cafes in Notting Hill (and restaurant in East London). It’s accessible, fresh and flavoursome take-away or sit in Middle Eastern food. Expect lamb kebabs, tabbouleh salads and rices dishes, all at reasonable prices. I devoured the lamb shish in seconds, it was so delicious. It will be a success, like most of Ottolenghi’s ventures, and Ottolenghi fans will love it.

Sesame, Covent Garden

 

* CAFE MURANO – PASTIFICIO

36 Tavistock Street

It’s well known that Angela Hartnett has opened a sister property to her Mayfair Cafe Murano in Covent Garden. And I’m sure it’s worth booking for lunch or dinner. But what less people know about is the next door Pastificio (literal translation ‘pasta factory’), which is Cafe Murano’s charming little Deli. Offering all kinds of jams, wines and olive oils, as well as cured meats and delicious selections of cakes – you can also buy take away Italian (naturally) salads. And these are so good. Think butter bean and tuna, artichoke and basil, burrata and cherry tomato. That will certainly give you energy for the rest of the afternoon (or send you into a food coma).  And it’s much kinder on your wallet too.

cafe murano pastificio
* DISHOOM
12 Upper St Martin’s Ln

i
Dishoom has become London’s favourite Indian ‘Bombay-style’ Cafe. And for good reason. Instead of heavy, saucy curries of your local Indian they offer tandoor grilled meats, delicious fresh salads and wonderful naans.  While usually rolling out such restaurants into a chain can be a bit of a shame (like what’s happened with Polpo, in my opinion), as Dishoom expands it keeps its charm, style and standard high.  Because of its no booking policy, if you want dinner here be prepared to queue. An early lunch here could therefore be a way to avoid the wait (not guaranteed though). Or start your day here, their breakfasts are celebrated by all: their chai and bacon & egg naans are to die for.

Dishoom, Covent Garden
* BUNNY CHOW

74 Wardour Street

i
This is a new concept of food in London – straight from South Africa, where this stew in a hollowed out piece of bread is super popular (see photo below, photo credit Bunny Chow). Now London is offering it too, where you can choose from a number of stews (chicken/beef/pork) as well as different types of bread and garnishes. You can accompany this with one of their delicious juices (coconut, lemonade, ginger and lemongrass). This is the perfect place for a speedy and warming lunch as the weather gets colder. The stews are delicious and good value, and I can see why it’s been so popular since opening.  Technically Soho, but easy walking distance to the Strand.  Easy to take away.

Bunny Chow, Soho

 

* KOYA BAR

49 Frith Street

Technically this is Soho too, but it’s so easy to get to from the Strand I’m adding it anyway.  While the original Koya has shut its doors (and has recently opened as the Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers – also on my list, but very popular at lunch at dinner), Koya Bar next door is a wonderful alternative. Again, it’s a no booking place with a quick turnaround. Squeeze onto a stool at the bar and order one of their Udon dishes (hot or cold) or their Ten-Tojidon (rice in a bowl, with prawn tempura and egg). Served with a bowl of miso soup, the hearty and very filling Ten-Tojidon was so good I wanted another.  For veggies their Yasai Tendon (similar to the Ten-Tojidon, but with vegetable tempura instead of prawn), was equally delicious.  Also recommended for an affordable, quick dinner.

Koya bar, Soho

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Matera, Puglia

September 6, 2015

Matera is a place like no other.  Of all the beautiful towns I visited in Puglia, this one had the biggest effect on me.  It is completely and utterly different to any of the Italy I know and am used to.

Matera is town built of ‘sassi’ (caves) built into the rock, which are Italy’s oldest continually inhabited dwellings.  Best described in Carlo Levi’s book ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’ (a pre-holiday must read), which gives a detailed account of its abject poverty, and of how thousands of peasants (and their livestock) lived in the caves, in terrible conditions.   Articles which write about Matera, like in the Telegraph, often quote Carlo Levi’s description (or his sister’s to be more accurate) of Matera:

“In these dark holes I saw a few pieces of miserable furniture, beds and some ragged clothes hanging up to dry. On the floor lay dogs, sheep, goats and pigs… Children appeared from everywhere, in the dust and heat, stark naked or in rags, eyelids red and swollen… and with the wizened faces of old men, yellow and worn with malaria, their bodies reduced by starvation to skeletons… I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty.”

Carlo Levi later visited Matera himself.

IMG_2342

It does not make it sound like a tempting destination.  But with the wiping out of malaria in the 1950s (staggeringly late) and the cleaning up of a lot of the houses, Matera has certainly changed from these descriptions.  But the dark holes still exist, especially across the gorge, and I still found them somewhat eerie to look at.

Matera

As the Lonely Planet rightly points out, Matera’s lack of development meant that it preserved its original state.  But its recent re-birth of kinds means that many Sassi are now elegant places to live (especially in the more developed Sassi Barisana), some of which have become boutique hotels, restaurants and bars.

MateraMateraMatera
For lunch with a view try the Tarrazzino (though the views are ten times better than the food).  If you’re in need of a gelato for your stroll through the town, go for the I Vizi Degli Angeli.

Terrazzino, Matera

Tarrazzino, MAtera

For somewhere local, I’d recommend the boutique hotel Corte San Pietro, which has been beautifully done up (room from about £150).  The top five star in the town is the Palazzo Gattini, with stunning interiors and a roof top pool with an incredible view (rooms from about £280 per night).

Hotel Palazzo Gattini

If you’re looking for a real wow place to stay near by then I’d recommend Francis Ford Coppopla’s Palazzo Margherita.  It’s a 40 minute drive away, and it’s not a cheap option, but it’s meant to be exceptional.  You’re a 15 minute drive from some beautiful beaches and it has a massive digital movie collection specialising in Italian Cinema (as would be expected).

Francis Ford Coppola Palazzo Margherita

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Martina Franca, Puglia

August 31, 2015
Martina Franca

The Queen of Valle D’Itria, this beautiful town is clearly a lot bigger and wealthier than its neighbouring towns.  It being our first outing in Puglia, we were not sure what to expect, and Martina Franca certainly exceeded expectations. On a Sunday it’s a hive of activity, locals going for early evening strolls, eating gelato, attending mass.  We watched the sun set and the light turn the sandstone buildings a warm yellow.

Martina Franca, PugliaMartina Franca, PugliaMartina Franca, PugliaMartina Franca, Puglia

There is plenty going on it Martina Franca.  Gelato seems to be especially popular here.  And wine bars.  It is far more buzzing than its neighbouring Locorotondo and Cisternino but still retains that charming, local feel.  Tourism has not really hit yet.

We found a newly opened wine bar, Cibando, on Piazza Roma and enjoyed trying the various types of Puglian wine (Nero di Troia was our favourite).  The staff were exceptionally friendly and enthusiastic, telling us about their home brewed beer, their favourite wines and advising which aperitivo to go for (their selection of local meats and cheeses were delicious).

Cibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina FrancaCibando, Martina Franca

They seem to be part of a group of other cool bars/restaurants in Martina France: L’Aperitivo, which serves fantastic cocktails, and Terra Terra, which is a well regarded Bistro (with a nice terrace and reasonable prices).  If they’re as good as Cibando, I recommend trying them too.

 

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Barcelona: An overview

August 29, 2015

Barcelona is not the prettiest city Europe has to offer.  If Gaudi doesn’t do it for you, then some of its architecture may not appeal, nor some of its main sights (i.e. the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell).  But – bold statement I know – it is perhaps one of Europe’s funnest cities.  So lively, so vibrant, so cosmopolitan.  And it may also have been one of the best foodie weekends I’ve had in a while (well, since Bordeaux!).

Barcelona

Here are my top tips for Spain’s favourite city (though I maintain that Madrid gives it a good run for its money), with more detailed blogs to follow:

TO DO

I’d been to Barcelona a few times before and covered the main sights then.  This time my weekend was spent largely hopping from cafe to bar to beach.  But here are the sights worth seeing if it’s new to you:

*The Sagrada Familia is not my favourite cathedral (read: not a fan of Gaudi), and think it looks a bit like a melted candle.  But it is still worth seeing, purely because it is so unique.  And some people love it!

*Park Güell, right in the north of the city on Carmell Hill, and certainly a bit of a schlep up (there are escalators) is colourful and admittedly quite fun.  It’s a great place for photos of the city.  If you want the signature photos with the lizard then you need to pre-book tickets to get in.

Barcelona

*Apart from that I would enjoy walks through the older areas of Barcelona like Gothic and El Born, or Segway tours are also a very popular way of seeing the city.

*Lastly, the fact that Barcelona has a (very easily accessible) beach is of course a massive bonus.  Head to Barceloneta and soak up some rays, or grab a glass of rosé at one of the many beach bars (more on that later).  It does get very crowded in the summer, but that just means plenty entertaining people watching.

GETTING AROUND

The Metro is excellent (and quick), and, at 1 euro per journey, very cost effective.  It means that if you stay in slightly further afield areas like Gracia, you can be in the city centre within 10 minutes.  But, as the locals will tell you, Barcelona is a city of bicycles.  So renting a bike may well be worth it.  I walked a lot, and find you discover more of the city doing so.  But I appreciate that in 30 degree heat this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Barcelona

EAT

Once upon a time I was not a fan of Spanish food.  This changed a few years ago when I went to Madrid and tried ‘real’ tapas.  Barcelona has so many fantastic restaurants and cafes I found it hard to choose which ones to try, but I was very pleased with my selection.  Here are a few highlights:

BRUNCH/LUNCH:

*For the healthy ones amongst you, there is no better place to go than FLAX & KALE, a beauty of a ‘Flexitarian’ restaurant, with a mind-boggling array of cold-pressed juices, inventive salads and fantastic tuna/salmon burgers. I’m still craving their blueberry quinoa muffins, and need to go back for their raw cheesecake.

If you’re looking for other healthy options, try Mother and Press & Reset.

Flax & Kale, Barcelona

*For those of you looking for a more ‘classic’ brunch, then FEDERAL CAFE (in Gothic or Raval) is a must go.  From the beloved smashed avocado on rye bread with poached eggs and all the sides you can dream of, to their very popular (I can see why) French toast with pears, bacon and maple syrup – this is a brunch no-brainer.  Their design is cool, and you can expect huge open windows allowing light to stream in.  Service a bit offish.

Federal Cafe, Barcelona

*For something a bit more upmarket (though their service needs working on), CORNELIA & CO transports you straight to Manhattan.  This chic eatery serves delicious small plates perfect for sharing, and is also a good choice for dinner.  They serve breakfast too (but sadly not in August).  Their shop is worth a browse, it has some lovely bits and bobs (I loved their copper salad bowls).

Cornelia & Co, BarcelonaCornelia & Co, Barcelona

DINNER:

We didn’t really hold back when it came to dinner, and Llamber and Boca Grande may be two of my new favourite European restaurants.  Both serve tapas, but not like the greasy, oily, carby mess I once knew.  This is as sophisticated and inventive as tapas gets.

*LLAMBER is more laid back, a little edgier, and slap bam in the trendy El Born area.  Beautiful interiors with red brick walls and a nice terrace outside too. Our favourite dishes were the asparagus and prawn ‘sticks’ with fondu, and the cheese (some of which were very strong) and meat sharing plates.  I also loved their tomato bread.  After dinner head to Passeig del Born for a few more drinks to end the night.

Llamber, Barcelona

Llamber, Barcelona

*BOCA GRANDE is an assault on all your senses (but in a good way).  The smell, the noises, the beautiful people, the food.  I could people watch for hours, but it was more the incredible intricate interiors of the place that properly fascinated me, with countless mirrors, rows of colourful bottles and dim lighting.  As garish as this sounds, they’ve made it look very tasteful.  Their squid ink risotto with cuttlefish was delicious, as was their tuna and avocado tartar.  Their gazpacho was the best I’ve had.  This is the perfect Saturday night dinner date place.

Boca Grande, Barcelona

DRINK

*Barcelona nails its rooftop bars, and the TERRAZA DEL PULITZER was by far our favourite.  While you’re not here for the views (below average), this leafy, trendy bar is clearly a favourite amongst locals.  I absolutely loved its vibe.  By 9pm on a Friday people were dancing like it was 3am in a London club.  But the music is chilled rather than too pumping, so it’s perfect for a pre-dinner drink and catch up with friends. Other rooftop bars like La Terrassa at Hotel Villa Emilia and the Sky Bar are apparently also worth going to.

Pulitzer Terrace, Barcelona

*LA VINYA DEL SENYOR: known as Barcelona’s best wine bar.  Located right opposite El Born’s Santa Maria church, this is the place to come and try a number of their excellent (and very well-priced) Rioja’s, while enjoying a beautiful view.  They’re open until 1am, after which you can stumble on to one of the many bars that El Born has to offer.

La Vinya del Senyor, Barcelona

*As if dinner at Boca Grande wasn’t good enough, heading upstairs to their famous cocktails bar BOCA CHICA is a must-do.  Reminding me a little of London’s super fun Mr Fogg’s (if you have not been, go), this glamorous, extravagent bar is the ideal place to start – or end – your night. It is ludicrously expensive, but totally justifiable.  Oh and check out their loos: an experience in itself.

Boca Chica, Barcelona

boca g

*GALLITO – our favourite ‘Chiringuito‘.  Barceloneta’s beach bars cannot be missed, especially for day time drinking. We visited a number, some disappointed (MOMA – don’t bother) but one became our favourite hangout of the weekend (Gallito).  We checked out the newer nieghbouring Pez Vela, but found it more uptight, more expensive and less fun than Gallito.  Gallito just gets it right.  It’s not too touristy at all, and has a large shady terrace, though even sitting inside on their large loungy sofas is appealing.  Their house rosé (18 euros a bottle) is delicious, as are their sharing plates (though the nachos and guacamolo are a little on the small side).

Gallito, Barcelona

STAY

We stayed in an excellent Airbnb in Gracia, with a lovely outside terrace (perfect for pre-drinking).  Admittedly probably the best (and most central) areas to stay in are El Born/Gothic/Eixample.  If you prefer hotels to apartments, then I absolutely loved HOTEL BRUMMELL.  In the quieter Poble Sec neighbourhood, this brand new boutique design hotel has everything you need.  The rooms aren’t massive, but they use the space cleverly.  With super comfy beds and rain showers and the penthouses have large terraces, you’ll be very comfortable here.  I adored their small pool and sunbathing deck, as well as their courtyard terrace.  You have access to yoga classes at the next door Garage, and can rent bikes and buy souvenirs at their cool little boutique. Plus, from rooms starting from 100 euros a night, it’s ridiculous value for money.

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

Hotel Brummell, Barcelona

Other affordable hotels worth checking out are the Praktik hotel chain (Praktik Bakery being my favourite), or, if you want to splash out a bit, I’ve heard very good things about the stunning Cotton House Hotel.  You’re spoilt for choice.

Watch this space for more detailed blogs to come about my favourite Barcelona hangouts or check my instagram for more photos.

Barcelona, Blog, Spain

Flax & Kale, Barcelona – EAT

August 26, 2015
Flax & Kale, Barcelona

I thought London had nailed healthy restaurants; The Good Life Eatery, Tanya’s Cafe and Farm Girl are all favourites of mine.  Until I went to Flax & Kale in Barcelona’s Raval district.  This is healthy eating to the maximum, but with beautiful New York inspired interiors.  London really has nothing like it.  This is a place you could potentially drag boyfriends to who despise the idea of kale or chia or quinoa, because as healthy as the menu is, it is varied.  And options like a tuna steak burger can’t be that offensive to those anti the eat-clean craze.

Flax & Kale, Barcelona

Don’t get me wrong.  This restaurant, the first ‘Flexitarian’ restaurant I’ve been to (Flexitarian meaning: a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish), is most definitely not for those looking for a greasy fry up.  You almost feel lighter stepping inside the airy, high-ceilinged space, with a whole wall covered by a fridge full of cold-pressed juices (their ‘Vegan Vampire’ is fantastic, and is served with a chilled glass), baskets of fresh vegetables and fruit, and a counter full of spelt croissants and quinoa & blueberry muffins (after mine I am craving them).

Flax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, Barcelona

Admittedly, it is the ideal place for a girly brunch (minus the Bloody Marys).  Having said that, we saw children happily gobble up the salmon mini burgers (accompanied by sweet potato fries).  We enjoyed a range of salads (some more ‘out there’ than others), the presentation is original and colourful and while they don’t use refined sugar or much dairy the dishes were full of flavour.  I also tried the spelt ravioli with pumpkin puree which was so good (but with these things I always find the portions too small).

Flax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, BarcelonaFlax & Kale, Barcelona

Service is a bit hit and miss, but perhaps we were a fairly over-demanding group of English girls with bad (read: no) Spanish.  They also serve dinner (though no alcohol, apart from local beer), and weather permitting you can enjoy this on their lovely roof terrace.

Flax & Kale, Barcelona

Flax & Kale is the second restaurant in the Teresa Carles group, the first being a recommended vegetarian restaurant around the corner named after the owner Teresa Carles.  One on the list for next time.

Flax & Kale

Carrer dels Tallers 74

They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner (the latter two bookable).

Photos mostly mine

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Cisternino, Puglia

August 19, 2015
Cisternino

This was our ‘local’ town.  And how lucky we were to be just a 5 minute drive from this pretty white town in the Valle D’Itria (aka Trulli country).  It seems to have some of the best restaurants in the area (while lacking in bars, but nearby Locorotondo helps out there).  There are pots of plants and flowers everywhere: blood red geraniums spilling over windowsills, big green ferns in shady corners.  The pots of cacti on quiet stairwells serve as a reminder that you’re in the hot south.

CIsterninoCIsternino

IMG_2505CIsternino

We had dinner on the stylish roof terrace of La Capase. While from the inside I would have done the decor very differently, and I don’t think they used the space well (or the right colours), the roof terrace was unexpectedly lovely.  I had read good things about La Capase, but again had not expected the standard of food – or the presentation – to be so good.   Everything from the tuna tartare with miso froth, to the breaded lamb with liquorice and finally a seriously phenomenal array of puddings (the chocolate souflé won) left us more than impressed.  Best of all is that their prices are so reasonable – a dinner which would have cost about £80 per person in London cost about €40 here – which some how makes the food taste even better.

Le Capase, CisterninoLe Capase, CisterninoLe Capase, CisterninoLe Capase, Cisternino

Apart from La Capase, there are a number of other recommended restaurants in town.  We happened upon Enoteca Il Cucco, where my father bought a number of local wines (they have a great selection).  Most days it is also open for dinner, with a small but excellent menu, and obviously a very good choice of wine.  The restaurant was closed when we went, but the owner was very charming and you could tell she loves her job and is passionate (and knowledgeable) about wine.

Enoteca Il Cucco, Cisternino

Finally, Osteria Sant’Anna is meant to be really good too.  Despite a nondescript exterior, it has a large dining room with vaulted ceilings as well as a terrace and the ambience, service and food is meant to be of an exceptional standard.

Forno Pronto is what we really should have tried: the local favourite where butchers allow you to choose your meat and they BBQ it for you on the spot.  There was one on nearly every street, and we saw locals as well as a few tourists enjoying it.

An excuse to return, not that I need it.

All photos are mine.

Blog, Eat, Healthy, London

Farm Girl Cafe, Notting Hill

August 17, 2015

London is (thankfully) not yet done with wonderful places to have a healthy but delicious brunch.

The Australia-inspired ‘Farm Girl’ cafe opened last month on Portobello Road in Notting Hill, by couple Rosie and Ant and their adorabe French Bull dog. A prime location but even better because it is set back from the touristy market road and even has its own little courtyard terrace. So it’s quiet. Tourists don’t really know it’s there, so it’s more a local thing.  Which is how I like it.

Farm Girl, Notting Hill

If healthy food isn’t really your thing then you probably won’t enjoy it here. Even the croissants are wholewheat.  They offer a club sandwich with bacon which actually isn’t bacon at all. It’s smoked coconut which tastes quite a lot like bacon. It’s their signature dish and it’s doing very well.

I went for the buckwheat berry and coconut pancakes. They are exactly what I try and make on the weekend and fail miserably at. These are so deliciously moorish I’d probably have them again and again.  Their salads are huge and zesty and their chicken dishes are very popular (when we went the chicken had run out).

Farm Girl, Notting Hill

Drinks are in the form of various juices, most of them with superfood powders like Lucama and Maca, or with almond butter and coconut. Or all mixed together: the Power smoothie.

Farm Girl, Notting Hill

I love the interiors of the place – the deep green and blue shiny tiles and wooden floors adding an elegance to the place. There is a large bar filled with plates of (healthy) pastries and bites.  Baskets of fruit hang from the walls.  There’s also a newspaper stand for those keen on reading the weekend papers.  This is my kind of place, and if you like Hally’s, the Good Life Eatery and Tanya’s Cafe, it may well be your kind of place too.

Farm Girl, Notting Hill

Farm Girl

59A Portobello Rd

Photos Farm Girl’s own

Blog, Italy, Puglia

Locorotondo, Puglia

August 16, 2015
Locorotondo

You can see the beautiful facade of this tiny white washed town from afar, a contrast to Cisternino’s and Martina Franco’s blander ‘new towns’ which surround their pretty ‘centro storico’.  Locorotondo does bars as well as Cisternino does restaurants, but it’s all on a very modest scale.  Walking around you can’t help but notice its subtle poverty, while the houses are pretty, look closely and you’ll see the windows and doors are plastic and its ‘palazzi’ are modest to say the least.  But the locals are so friendly, and you don’t need a map as you wander through there quiet, winding streets.   Keep an eye out for their street name signs – a lovely touch.

LocorotondoLocorotondoLocorotondoLocorotondoLocorotondo

DRINK

You don’t really expect a stylish bar like BBeP (Barba, Baffi e Pellicce) – which has a serious cocktail list – in a little place like this.  From about 7pm this place opens up and you can enjoy a range of cocktails, beers and wines on the cobbled pavement outside.  I love their interior design and branding.  Take a close look at their logo and google translate what ‘pellicce’ means.  You’ll see that these Italians have a good sense of humour.

BBep, Locorotondo

Barba, Baffi e Pellicce, LocorotondoBarba, Baffi e Pellicce, LocorotondoBarba, Baffi e Pellicce, Locorotondo

Dock 101 is even trendier, with its all white and wooden decor, live music and views of the valley (across a road though).  Next door you’ll find the very tempting looking Creperia and Yoghuteria Cre P’scrè.  The surprise just adds to the pleasure of an evening stroll in Locorotondo.

Dock 101, LocorotondoDock 101, LocorotondoDock 101, LocorotondoCre p'scre, Locorotondo

EAT

Bina is where it’s all at in Locorotondo.  While we sadly did not get to try this highly recommend restaurant, it’s a lovely restaurant to head to after a drink at BBeP.  The interiors are surprisingly elegant and stylish, cream furniture matching the whitewashed vaulted ceilings.  The food is cooked by Bina herself, most food typical of the Valle D’Itria.  The ‘primi’ plates are from €10, while the meat and fish dishes are around €15.  Apparently well worth ordering some aperitivo.   It’s on my list for when I return.

Bina, Locorotondo

STAY

Half an hour drive from Locorotondo you’ll find Masseria Cimino, owned by the same group who own the stunning but huge five star Borgo Egnazia (very close by).  Masseria Cimino has more gentle prices (from €90 per person per night, Half Board).  It only has 15 rooms, a stunning pool, access to a lovely golf course and bicycles to borrow.  And you’re very close to the beach of course.  We did not stay here but Conde Nast and other travel magazines highly recommend it.

Photos all mine, bar Bina’s. 

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