It’s almost two years since I first went to Brasserie Zédel (click here for review); a spontaneous stop one lunchtime because I’d heard great things about it. I loved it so much, I’m not sure sure why I haven’t been back; that is, until last night. Friend Angela asked me to join her supper group (the Zédels) that meets there about once a month and apart from the promise of meeting a great group of women, I was really pleased to be going back to the restaurant.
This wonderful Art Deco restaurant, once a ballroom in a 1930s hotel, is situated almost within sight of Piccadilly Circus so is in a great location and very easy to get to. It’s also a place that offers drink and food at any time of day – just like a Parisian brasserie. The Café at the entrance is somewhere you can go for morning coffee, a light snack or evening drink. The Bar Américain is the place to go for cocktails. Live at Zédel has cabarets and comedy. But it’s the grand – and I mean really grand – Brasserie in its wonderful, sumptuous surroundings that will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Paris for the evening.
The first time I went I had the Prix Fixe menu at a bargain £9.75 for 2 courses, £12.75 for 3 (there’s no choice of dishes but it’s available all day). Last night we went up a grade to the Formule menu at £19.75 which has no choice for starter or dessert, but a choice between meat or fish for main course, and also includes a glass of house wine, water and coffee. So that’s a great deal too.
The first course was Céleri Rémoulade – a gorgeous raw salad of grated celery root and a mustardy mayonnaise dressing. It’s one of my favourite things and this one was excellent. It came with some wonderful French bread and pots of French butter.
The service is everything you’d expect from a good French restaurant: very professional, attentive – but not over-the-top friendly – and efficient. This is what I like! There were linen napkins, nice plates with restaurant’s name on them; nice little touches of luxury.
Some of the group chose grilled sea trout for their main but three of us had the Boeuf Bourguignon, which was a hearty dish with velvety smooth mashed potato and nice large chunks of carrot. The beef was melting tender as it should be and there was plenty of the rich gravy. A classic dish well done.
Another great French classic came for the dessert: Ile Flottante – poached meringues ‘floating’ on a sea of crème Anglaise. It was gorgeous. I said to Angela that I don’t think I’d ever had it before; I’d never chosen it from a menu. So here was the great thing about no choice – now I’ve tried it and it’s delicious! My kids often chose it from menus when they were small and we holidayed in France a lot but I guess I thought it not grown-up enough for me. What a mistake!
It was a wonderful evening: great company and Brasserie Zédel once again lived up to all the good reviews and word on the street. It really is a fabulous place and I definitely mustn’t leave it another two years before I go back!
I haven’t written a My Week in Food post for a few weeks and thought it would be fun to do it for the week just ending as I’ve been out more than usual, but to old favourite places already written about on the blog. It’s nice to take the chance to highlight them again, plus revisit a couple of recipes too. Regular readers will know how much I love Italy and Italian food but this week has had a particularly strong Italian flavour – hence the adjustment to the title of the post this time!
Monday – Art & Risotto
I went to a talk on the Art Deco period at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the evening and decided to have an early supper at one of my favourite places, Orsini, which is conveniently situated opposite the museum. I chose a special of the day: a gorgeous risotto with courgettes, cherry tomatoes and baby prawns. It was delicious.
Tuesday – Pizza Lunch
My friend Elsa was coming from north London to Richmond in the morning and suggested we meet for lunch. She took a bus to Twickenham and we went to another favourite restaurant of mine, Masaniello in Church Street. Owner-chef Livio comes from Naples where his family ran a pizzeria so he knows a lot about making a good pizza. I chose a simple Margherita and it was fabulous and perfect for lunch.
Wednesday – All Round Italian
Well, Wednesday was so Italian I could have thought I was in Italy. Grandson Freddie and I headed to our usual and favourite café for morning coffee (well, not coffee for 20-month Freddie!), Your Bakery Whitton, where Italian baker Stefano produces the most wonderful breads, cakes and pastries. Freddie and I shared a croissant (one of the best I know) and as we were finishing, we were brought a plate with an arancino – a gift from Stefano who had been making them in the kitchen that morning; a new addition to the bakery products.
Arancini come from Sicily. They’re rice balls with a filling of ragù, peas and mozzarella (or sometimes other fillings like prosciutto, mushroom, sausage), which are coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Unlike the similar supplì from Rome, which are bite-sized, arancini are quite large – somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball. Stefano’s were gorgeous; really excellent. Freddie loved it too and was determined to have his share. I bought two more to take home so Jonathan & Lyndsey could try them in the evening.
In the afternoon Fabio came and I spent an hour speaking bad Italian to my ever patient teacher. (You see, the Italian theme continues.) Fabio comes from Palermo so I told him about Stefano’s arancini. In the evening I met friends Lesley & Colin at another old favourite Italian restaurant, A Cena, where I hadn’t eaten for quite a while. It was nice to go back. I had a Sicilian starter of Panelle with a cauliflower Puttanesca.
I took a trip further north with my main course and had Fegato alla Veneziana – that gorgeous Venetian dish of fried calves’ liver and onions, served with polenta.
Thursday – A Home-made Risotto
I made a large risotto for Jonathan, Lyndsey and myself in the evening. One of our favourites – mushroom and chestnut – but with the addition of some pancetta this time and some dried porcini mushrooms as well as the fresh ones. I put the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms in – it makes a kind of mushroom stock – as well as my home-made chicken stock, so the risotto was full of flavour and a huge hit with the family.
Friday – One Can Never Have Too Much Good Pizza
Jonathan was working from home so they could make a quick escape down the M3 late afternoon for an early getaway to Cornwall where their half-term holiday was to begin. I suggested he needed a good lunch before a 4-5 hour drive so we went down the high street to Masaniello (I obviously can’t keep away) for a quick pizza. I had a different pizza from Tuesday, this time with artichokes, ham and olives; Jonathan chose one with spicy sausage. The pizza was great and we said ciao to Livio too, and it was very nice to see him.
Saturday – Lunch in Sevenoaks
I drove down to Kent in the morning to see my brother and family. I took my niece and nephew (Clara  & Leo ) out for lunch in Sevenoaks. The excellent Valentina‘s has become a default destination: it’s where we go now without question. We all love it. The food is very good and the service friendly and helpful. Leo and I both chose a lovely pasta dish with Tuscan sausage, baby spinach and a mascarpone sauce. Clara had a very good salad with large prawns and squid.
Sunday – Fallback Ragù
There’s always some Bolognese ragù in my freezer. I make a large amount and freeze individual portions. It means if I want to make something like lasagna – as I did this evening – then the bulk of the work is done and it’s really easy to make a little béchamel sauce, soften some lasagna sheets, and put it all together for a tasty, comforting supper.
I hope you enjoyed your week in food as much as I did mine!
It’s been a glorious Sunday morning here in SW London and a perfect day to head to Kew Gardens for a walk and to see the beautiful autumn colours as the trees and bushes turn from green to golds and reds. I walked round the gardens for about an hour and a half and took photos with my iPhone 6. Here are my favourites for this mainly photo post:
I was surprised to find that there was still lots of green around; many trees were only just turning to golds and reds. There were still some flowers to be found too and lots of autumn crocuses in many parts of the Gardens.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this photo ‘walk’ round Kew Gardens. For a bit more information on the Gardens, see this earlier post: click here.
There was a chocolate crisis in the house this morning. The pot of amazing chocolate & hazelnut cream I brought back from Baratti & Milano in Turin was empty.
A spatula was found and the last scrapings recovered before the pot was thrown away. Now, you might say, why don’t you just go and buy a pot of Nutella. And yes, Nutella also comes from Piedmont and is a chocolate and hazelnut spread. But I have to tell you, it’s not the same. The pot of chocolate cream I bought at Baratti & Milano was exceptional; it was wonderful. It’s almost worth a trip back to Turin just to get some more! But thinking Turin – and chocolate, of course! – I remembered a delicious dessert I’d had at Cianci Piola Caffe on the Sunday I was there.
It was so simple – a layer of crushed amaretti biscuits at the bottom, a layer of peach puree, topped with chocolate mousse – that I thought I should definitely make it back home. Today seemed the ideal day to make it. It might soothe our Turin chocolate cream withdrawal symptoms!
I knew there wasn’t much chance of finding nice ripe peaches today, so I decided to use pears instead – pears and chocolate are a classic combination. And because they weren’t ripe enough to be crushed into a puree, I decided to cook them in a sugar syrup first.
Chocolate, Pear & Amaretti Dessert
- 3 pears
- 2 dessertspoons granulated or caster sugar
- Amaretti biscuits
For the chocolate mousse:
- 4 oz good quality (at least 70%) dark chocolate
- ½ oz butter
- 4 eggs
First of all, prepare the pears. Peel them, cut into 4 lengthwise and take out any core. Now make a sugar syrup by putting the sugar and about ¼ pint (150ml) water in the bottom of a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then allow to bubble for a couple of minutes so it starts to get a bit syrupy, before carefully adding the pear pieces. (I say carefully because you don’t want the syrup to splash up and burn you.) Let it all simmer away for 5-10 minutes, according to the ripeness of your pears, until they’re soft all the way through when tested with a small sharp knife. Drain them in a sieve. Transfer to a bowl and chop into small pieces.
Now make the chocolate mousse. I used a very old recipe, one I used to make a lot, from my copy of Katie Stewart’s Calendar Cookbook (once my cooking bible), published in 1976. Hence the Imperial measurements! But really, a basic, classic chocolate mousse recipe isn’t one that need change. Not when it’s so good!
Put the chocolate in a small bowl over a pan of simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted. Then add the butter and blend well. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the chocolate and mix well (it does get quite thick, but don’t worry). Remove from the heat.
Now beat the egg whites until stiff, then add them to the chocolate, a spoonful at a time, folding in carefully so the end mixture is light and airy.
Put about 8 Amaretti biscuits in a small freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin. Spoon some into the bottom of each of 4 dessert glasses. Top with some of the pear.
Now top the pear with the chocolate mousse. I had more mousse than I needed so I made another 2 small bowls of just chocolate mousse.
What a success! We all loved it. It’s a great chocolate mousse recipe – incredibly light but full of dark chocolatey flavour; truly gorgeous. But when you take your spoon down into the bottom of the glass and capture some of the pear and amaretti too … well, that is something else again. The flavours not only match each other perfectly but together, add such a lot to the overall taste. I think there may be a fight over the one remaining dessert tomorrow … watch this space!
I first came across fregola in the summer. My lovely local Italian restaurant, Masaniello, uses it to thicken their wonderful fish stew. When I asked what it was, the waiter described it as small pasta, a bit like large couscous. And once you eat it, you understand the description because it has a silky softness to it that ‘eats’ more like couscous than pasta. When I made my own version of head chef Livio’s fish stew, I couldn’t find fregola so used orzo instead (a small pasta that looks a little like rice grains). It was when I visited Mercato Metropolitano a few weeks ago that I finally found some fregola and it’s been sitting in my kitchen waiting for inspiration. I didn’t want to cook the fish stew again as my son – who is temporarily living with me with his family – doesn’t eat fish. So what could I do instead? Turning to Google, I found lots of salad recipes for fregola but that wasn’t what I was after. Then I found a Nigel Slater recipe for Sausage and Fregola with Harissa, and that was my inspiration for tonight’s supper. I didn’t quite follow Nigel’s recipe, but it’s certainly the basis for my own recipe.
You can see from the photo that fregola is the tiniest pasta pieces that are cut into little pellet shapes. Fregola comes from Sardinia and is sometimes called Sardinian couscous. The make I bought from Mercato Metropolitano is the toasted variety, which gives the pasta a lovely nutty flavour. The toasting also helps it keep its shape so the fregola can be used as an alternative for rice when making risotto, or used to thicken sauces (as I did tonight) or soups; and this is also why it works well as a salad base.
Ingredients (for 3)
- 9 sausages (plain or herb)
- olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 Romano pepper, halved, deseed and thinly sliced
- 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
- 1-2 tablespoons rose harissa
- small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
- salt & pepper
- 200g fregola
First of all, heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil in a large shallow pan, then fry the sausages until nicely browned; they don’t have to be cooked through as they’ll finish cooking in the sauce. Transfer the sausages to a plate and cut on a slant into three.
Add a little more olive oil to the pan if there isn’t much left, then tip in the chopped onion. Let it soften for a couple of minutes then add the sliced pepper. Cook until both are softening but not well done. Tip in the sliced sausages.
Add the tins of tomatoes and stir well and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes. Now add the harissa (I found 1 tablespoon quite spicy but taste and add more if you like; it will depend how spicy you want it and on the harissa you’re using). Now tip in the chopped parsley, stir and cook for about another 5 minutes. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed – but you may not need a lot, depending on your harissa.
You can prepare the sauce a bit in advance, if you like, but the fregola needs to be cooked at the last minute. Measure out 200g and then add salt and boiling water and cook according to instructions on the packet – mine said 10 minutes, though I checked after 8 and it was done. Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Don’t overcook it and remember it will get a little extra cooking when you add it to the hot sauce.
Mix together carefully but thoroughly. I felt mine needed a little loosening so I added some of the cooking liquid until I had the consistency I wanted – still thick, but a soft kind of thickness rather than solid – similar to a risotto.
This is a fabulous all-in-one dish – your sauce and pasta all together. I served it with just a green salad on the side.
It was a lovely meal: so flavourful, a nice touch of heat from the harissa, and so comforting now the evenings are turning more wintry. The fregola is quite special as it’s so light; it makes it wonderful to eat. It was a great hit with the family and now we’ve discovered fregola, I’m sure we’re going to be using it a lot. I’ll just have to seek out a more local source to buy it!
I loved Rick Stein’s TV series earlier in the year, Rick Stein’s Long Weekends (click here for review), so was delighted to see a book accompanying the series has just been published, and of course I had to buy it. There are many things I love about this series but I suppose above all it appeals to me because I love going away for long weekends too – new cities, old favourites; somewhere vibrant with lots of things to see and do but of course great food as well. I’m never interested in visiting places that don’t have fabulous food!
Rick’s book contains over 100 new recipes, all dishes you will have seen in the series (plus the next 5 destinations to come in the autumn run). I like the way they’ve been presented in the book, not an obvious division by each city visited, but by some interesting ‘eating’ times: ‘Friday Night’, ‘Saturday Brunch & Lunch’, ‘Breads, Pastries & Afternoon Cakes’, ‘Saturday Night Nibbles & Starters’, ‘Saturday Night Mains’, Saturday Night Desserts’, ‘Sunday Lunch’ and ‘Sunday Night’. This fits so well with our lives, the way we actually eat, and the way we sometimes search for recipe ideas. Each ‘chapter’ has a great introduction by Rick. ‘Do you suffer from Sunday night blues?’ he asks in the final chapter, where he offers ideas for cheering us up at the end of the weekend with Monday morning looming, while Saturday night ‘is a night to let rip’ and perhaps the night we’re most likely to entertain so suggestions for nibbles and starters is perfect.
Rick is always an easy but interesting guy to watch in TV. He doesn’t just cook but – particularly in this series – gives us a background to where he is, what he’s cooking. The series – and thus the book too – is also about travel and I can promise you, if you haven’t been to some or any of Rick’s destinations, then he’ll make you want to go. Rick likes his poetry, history, meeting the locals, and so gives us a full background to where he is. But then of course there’s the food and he’ll make you want to eat it. The book has a great section of Travel Information at the end where he summarises the best things about each city: what you must do and see, where to stay, where to eat, where to shop. It’s a highly illustrated book with photos not only of the recipes but the cities he visits too.
When, many years ago, I was a cookery book editor, whenever a book looked interesting I would try out some recipes to see how they worked before recommending publication. Thus, before recommending Rick’s book to you, I thought I should try out some recipes. So, last night for supper I made a chicken recipe that Rick says is Sicilian-inspired. He spatchcocks the chicken and suggests finishing it on the barbecue but I decided to joint my chicken (click here for how to joint a chicken) before roasting it. The recipe is really simple but no less wonderful for that. A gorgeous sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, chilli flakes, chopped tomato, green olives, pine nuts, raisins, capers, oregano and salt & pepper is put over the roasted chicken right at the end, once the chicken is out of the oven. The chicken is then covered with foil and left for 5-10 minutes before serving so the sauce can warm and infuse the chicken a bit. It was really great, and had a nice freshness to it because the sauce wasn’t cooked, and we all loved it.
I also made German Apple Cake for dessert, which Rick recommends serving warm with whipped cream.
This was great too. Rick’s recipes are very accessible; they’re authentic and exciting but also simple to follow and prepare. Rick is the cook in the kitchen, more like us than a chef preparing something complicated that takes hours. I suppose they’re ‘laid back’ recipes, much like the man himself. There are lots more recipes I want to try – and I am very much looking forward to the next series on TV, which should be with us soon.
There are lots of good reasons to make Turin a city break destination. It’s a city rich in history (it was the first capital of a unified in Italy in 1861) with beautiful architecture, magnificent piazzas (squares) and 18km of lovely arcades lining the main streets. It is an important economic and industrial centre and is the base for such companies as Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lavazza and Martini. Turin also boasts many art galleries, palaces and museums and is home to the Shroud of Turin (although you can’t actually see it). As the capital of the Piemonte region, it also offers some of the finest food and wine to be found in Italy and is home to the Slow Food movement.
Where to stay
I like to be as central as possible when I go for a short break to a city so that I can walk to all the places I want to go. There are trams and a Metro in Turin but many of the sights and restaurants are easily accessible on foot. I booked through British Airways – a flight + hotel deal – and chose Grand Hotel Sitea, a 4* hotel in Via Carlo Alberto very close to the central squares of Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Castello.
It was a beautiful hotel, very sumptuous and lived up to its ‘grand’ name inside. The location was perfect.
It was friendly, the staff were helpful and on my arrival there was a welcoming note and complimentary box of little local biscuits in my room. My deal included breakfast which was a large buffet with pretty much anything you might want, including local specialities. The coffee was good too.
You can get there from the airport by train or airport bus, but as I was arriving late afternoon and wanted to get to the hotel as quickly as possible, I got a taxi (€30-35), which took about half an hour.
There are many historic and beautiful cafes in Turin – I managed to visit quite a few in my short stay! These are places where you can stop for coffee, eat a snack or lunch and some will be open in the evening for aperitivo or dinner.
I liked all those I visited so much, I think it would be impossible to claim a favourite, but here are the ones I recommend (click on each to link into separate blog post with more detail): Caffe Mulafsano, Baratti & Milano, Stratta, Caffe Torino and Caffe San Carlo. They are all very central, in or near Piazza San Carlo. Lots of the cafes serve Lavazza coffee as that is the local brand.
Top tip: If you’re buying a coffee – as in all Italy – it’s always cheaper to stand at the bar rather than sit at a table. You buy a ticket at the cash desk on the way in and then hand it to a barista at the bar, who will make you a coffee for a cost of about €1. However, if you choose to sit down and have waiter service, then a coffee can cost you €5. I did both … sometimes, because I walked so far each day, I was looking to sit down for a break so paying more was worth it.
A Royal Decree in 1678 authorised the production of chocolate and Turin is where the first chocolate houses appeared. Turin is home to chocolate like no other place and evidence of it is everywhere. Some of the cafes started as confectionary shops and making chocolates is still an important part of what they offer today. One of Turin’s signature drinks is bicerin – a mix of bitter cocoa, coffee and cream. Hot chocolate is offered everywhere and the most famous little chocolates are gianduiotti, a mix of chocolate and hazelnuts. They are definitely one of my favourite chocolates! Nutella also comes from Piemonte.
Top tip: if you want to buy some chocolate cream or spread to take home, bear in mind it’s not allowed in hand luggage. You’ll find Baratti & Milano goods in the airport duty free shop.
You will find aperitivo all over Italy but each region has its specialities. Aperitivo time is roughly between 6-9pm and drinks come with plates of ‘complimentary’ little sandwiches or savouries. You may well pay a premium for your drink if you go to one of the best cafe -bars, but the treat will be worth it. All the cafes mentioned above serve aperitivo but I went to Caffe Torino for my first one in the city, and then again the following day. I had a gorgeous Bellini the first time, made with Moet & Chandon champagne. The second time I chose their iconic Negroni – delicious but strong – and containing Martini Rosso, which comes from Turin.
The little sandwiches that Caffe Torino serve are gorgeous. I often think in Italy you needn’t go to a restaurant at all in the evening, but just go from bar to bar and eat the snacks. Indeed, some bars serve apericena, which means there’s a buffet to choose from with your drink.
Where to eat
Turin is known as the Capital of Taste and you will find traditional Piemontese food as well as the modern Slow Food movement food, which has a healthier take. Traditional food is very much meat based with an emphasis on pork, beef, rabbit and ‘innards’ – they do like their internal organs! Finanziera is a local dish of ragù made with meat and offal. Fritto misto alla Piemontese is deep-fried pieces of meat, offal and vegetables. One of Piemonte’s most famous dishes is Vitello Tonnato – slices of veal served with a tuna sauce, and I saw this everywhere I went – in restaurants and food shops.
Trout – possibly from the nearby Po river? – is a popular fish. Grissini – breadsticks – were invented here so will always be on a table. I found all the bread I was served really good. If you don’t eat meat or don’t want to all the time, you will find great vegetarian options too (click here).
And of course with all that chocolate, there are sweet things too and wonderful cakes; panna cotta, zabaione and bônet (an egg custard enriched with amaretti biscuits, cocoa and rum are local specialities.
Some fabulous cheeses come from Piemonte: Fontina, Robiola and Toma. And the wines of Piemonte are some of the best anywhere, including Barolo and Barbaresco.
I asked in the hotel on Saturday morning where I’d find the main food market and was directed to Porto Palazzo in Piazza della Republica. I was told it was one of the largest in Europe and it’s certainly huge (click here for more detail). The following morning, Sunday, I found another market by chance in Piazza della Citta.
It was quite large and a wonderful food market selling local produce that seemed to be all organic. I was told it was only there on the first Sunday of each month, but there were other markets on other Sundays.
Taking in the sights
There’s so much to do in Turin that a weekend isn’t enough to do more than a small chunk of all there is to see. As a city, it is so beautiful that merely walking through piazzas like Piazza San Carlo is a delight in itself …
then along Via Roma with its gorgeous arcades lining both sides of the street, which are full of smart shops …
… and then you come into Piazza Castello.
At the far side is Piazza Reale and the Palazzo Reale – once a residence of the Savoy rulers – right in front of you.
While I was there, there was a magnificent display of buffalo sculptures by Davide Rivalta just outside. There are many palazzos to visit, each offering different things to view.
An absolute must (as I was told by my Italian friend who comes from Turin) was to see Mole Antonelliana. This tall, bold building is an iconic symbol of the city and at its completion in 1889, it was the tallest brick building in the world. For €7 you can take a lift for the panoramic view. Bear in mind it’s very popular so there can be a long wait to go up (click here for more details). The views are magnificent so it’s a great thing to do. There’s also a cinema museum inside and a branch of Eataly for food.
The duomo – the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista – is quite an austere building, but I quite like it. There’s a campanile too, so another option for a view across the city.
If you like visiting churches, don’t miss the two in Piazza San Carlo – the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo.
Of the many museums, I went to the Eygptian Museum, which houses the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities other than Cairo.
Take a walk down to the River Po, which is the longest river in Italy flowing from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. From Piazza Castello, walk through the arcades of Via Po, through Piazza Vittorio Veneto and on to the bridge over the Po.
On the far side is the 19th century church of Gran Madre di Dio which was built to imitate Rome’s Pantheon (click here for more).
If you feel like a tranquil walk and maybe to sit down and have a picnic, then visit the Giardini Reali, near the Piazzo Reale.
Top tip: Do remember when planning to visit any sights that many are closed on Mondays (as I found on the last day of my trip!). Shops are often closed on Monday mornings too and I found some of the cafes also closed.
Turin is a truly wonderful city with much to offer. I think it’s become one of my favourite cities so I’m sure to go back!
My flight wasn’t until late afternoon so I had all morning to see more of Turin and have some lunch before I left for the airport. It was lovely to wake to a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies. I thought I’d visit the Palazzo Reale which was a royal residence during the time of the House of Savoy in the 19th century and walk through its gardens. But morning coffee called first and I decided to try another cafe. Turin is full of wonderful cafes. There are so many good ones it would be hard to have a favourite but what a joy to have so many to try out. I decided to go to Caffe San Carlo in the beautiful Piazza San Carlo. This cafe dates from 1822 though has undergone major restoration since that time. Inside it’s very grand indeed.
The woman at the cash desk was really friendly – it makes all the difference. If you drink and eat at the bar you buy a ticket as you go in. This is much cheaper than sitting down, but I wanted to sit down and take my time. I ordered a cappuccino and croissant but it came with a complimentary little cake too.
It was all very delicious. I went back out into the sun and piazza and made my way up Via Roma with its beautiful arcades and smart shops to Piazza Castello, which leads into Piazza Reale.
What I’d failed to bear in mind is that many galleries and museums are closed on Mondays. As are many shops – or at least until lunchtime – and some cafes and restaurants too. Palazzo Reale was closed and so were a couple of others I looked at so I settled for taking a walk through the Giardini (gardens) Reali.
I was happy just wandering round this beautiful city and pleased to see it at last in full sunshine.
I had to go back to the hotel late morning to check out and then decided to go to Eataly for lunch. There’s a small branch of this well-known food emporium with cafe and restaurant in Via Lagrange, just round the corner from my hotel. The original large branch is further south and about half an hour’s walk away. Eataly offers some of the country’s best produce and wines and the original Turin branch opened in 2007. There are now 27 branches round the world, including New York.
I chose to eat at the restaurant tables outside rather than the cafe. Bags of two types of bread – plain sourdough in one and olive in the other – was put before me.
The bread was wonderful; probably the best I had all trip, though all bread served to me was of high quality I chose a starter of roasted peppers with a tuna sauce stuffing.
These were excellent too. I then had a very simple pasta dish of paccheri – large pasta tubes – with tomato and basil sauce and burrata. I wanted something reasonably light as it was lunchtime – but I also wanted a full lunch before the long journey home.
It may have been a simple dish but it was very good too. I chose a small plate of three bite-sized cakes for a dessert.
They were three mouthfuls of gorgeous wonder. It had been a lovely lunch; a great way to end my trip to Turin. Two slightly odd things about Eataly though: I had to pay for my food before it came to me, despite being in the restaurant part. The other thing was the restaurant didn’t serve coffee, people were being told to go to the adjacent cafe. I just ate my little cakes – but it would have been nice to be served an espresso with them!
All too soon I was heading back to the airport. But it had been a fabulous trip and I think Turin has become one of my favourite cities, so I’m sure to go back!
After a post-prandial rest and with my iPhone and I fully recharged, I set off back into the city late afternoon. I decided to visit the Egyptian museum which was close to the hotel. It houses the biggest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo.
I don’t think I was quite in the mood for serious culture and after being a bit freaked out by an early display of a curled up desiccated body from ancient Egyptian times, I sped round and came back out into the sun. Well, I decided, something more serious in the shape of a good aperitivo was needed so I headed back to Caffe Torino in Piazza San Carlo, which Antonio had introduced me to yesterday, and ordered a Negroni. Now, I don’t often drink cocktails, especially strong ones, but I’d read Negronis were a speciality of Caffe Torino and as it’s a bit of an ‘in’ drink that many of my Italian friends drink, it was definitely time to try one. And where better than here.
Usually made with red vermouth and Campari back in London, this version was red vermouth, rye whiskey and Angosturas bitters. Wow! It was strong but very good. It also came with delicious little snacks as it was aperitivo time. From my seat the Martini sign for the cafe was backwards – but as the photo proves that was nothing to do with the consumption of strong alcohol!
Martini comes from Turin, as does Lavazza coffee, which is the coffee of choice at Caffe Torino. So happily settled was I that as the light faded, I decided to stay put for dinner – though I did first have to pay my bar bill and then move into the restaurant section. Many restaurants are closed on Sunday evening so choice was more limited tonight. It was quiet everywhere but calm in the warm evening air, the sky above so clear it was like a dark navy wash of Prussian Blue had been brushed across the sky. It was really beautiful.
I chose Vitello Tonnato to begin. I’ve never tried this iconic Piemonte dish and have seen it all over Turin, so tonight I just had to have it as my starter.
I think I’ve never been sure I’d like the combination of slices of cold veal dressed with a creamy tuna sauce, but fortunately it turned out I did. I chose a fish special of the day which the waiter was very enthusiastic about and indeed it was very good.
I couldn’t make out what fish it was, only that it was a firm white fish with good flavour that came from Sicily. The sauce of tomatoes, olives, anchovies and capers was full flavoured but didn’t overpower the fish. It was indeed a very good dish. In full flow as it’s my last evening, I decided to have dessert and asked for local specials. I decided on a peach, chocolate and Amaretto cake and was persuaded to have a red, slightly sparkling dessert wine with it made from Malvasia grapes. Clearly with all resistance crumbling and eating far more than usual, it’s a good job I’m only here for the weekend!
Both cake and wine were wonderful. The wine wasn’t too sweet for a dessert wine and had a full and delicious flavour. The waiter seeing me taking photos offered to take one of me. So here we are, a rare photo of Travel Gourmet.
It was a lovely end to a great day. Once I’d left the restaurant, I wandered for a bit as it was such a beautiful evening and so quiet and calm everywhere.
It turned out today was the Turin Marathon. Streets were closed and there were lots of people about. I began to think I’d made a bad choice in weekends but actually it was fun. The starting point was in Piazza San Carlo and as I’d decided to go to Caffe Stratta for my first coffee of the day I ended up virtually on the starting line. I saw Stratta on my first exploration of the city, straight of after checking into the hotel on Friday and then wandering off. I was drawn by its old traditional cafe style and the amazing cakes in the window.
The cafe opened as a chocolate and confectionary shop in 1836. It supplied sweet things to the royal Savoy family and still sells to the rich, famous, and powerful today. Inside it’s confectionary heaven: glorious cakes, pastries, chocolate and bonbons.
As it was fairly early in the morning, I stuck with the comparatively modest choice of a cappuccino and mini croissant – but I did choose a chocolate cream filling!
From here I made my way to Mole Antonelliana, a bold tall building that Antonio told me is an iconic symbol of the city. At its completion in 1889, it was the highest brick building in the world. So tall is it, and located in the grid of narrow streets, that it was impossible to photograph the entire building.
Even at a fairly early hour of 10am there was already a long queue with a sign saying it would take an hour to get the lift to the top and panoramic view. I dithered but Antonio had convinced me this couldn’t be missed. It did indeed take about an hour, but it was worth it for the spectacular views across the city.
The morning mist hadn’t burnt off yet and so the distant Alps were still shrouded in haze, which was a slight pity, but given the size of the queue by the time I got back down, it was a smart move to go early!
I decided it was time for another coffee and in my search for a cafe, I quite by chance came across a food market in Piazza della Citta.
It was a wonderful market to find by chance and very busy. Apparently it’s only there on the first Sunday of the month.
By now it was lunchtime and I headed to the nearby Cianci Piola Caffe in Largo IV Marzo.
It was such a pretty square to sit for lunch on a sunny Sunday. The cafe was only just opening and I could see most tables were reserved. Luckily there was one for me but I had to fill in a few minutes so decided to visit the Duomo, which was so close I could see it.
It was very simple inside and rather austere but I quite liked it. Back at the cafe there was an enormous queue. Most people had booked but many were sent away. I momentarily considered going as if everyone was seated at the same time – and it was a big seating area – I could have a long wait to get food.
I’m glad I stayed though. It was all amazingly well organised with a number of waiters moving fast. Bread – very gorgeous bread with a yellow tone suggesting some maize – was almost immediately put before me with a short menu on a little blackboard.
I didn’t want a huge meal at lunchtime and so chose a ‘primo’ dish: chicche (a kind of gnocchi) with sausage, broccoli, radicchio, and other lovely things.
It was quite a small dish but fabulous; so tasty and the little gnocchi incredibly light and tender. I decided to have dessert and chose Mousse Di Pesche – chocolate mousse on top of peach purée and crushed amaretti biscuits. Simple but lovely.
I had a glass of house wine with the meal, water and an espresso at the end. The bill came to €12.50 so a great value lunch. Afterwards I took a slow walk back to the hotel for a little rest and to charge my phone that seems to be losing power quite quickly today. It had been another lovely morning in Turin.