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Roasted Celeriac Soup


I’ve posted other celeriac soup recipes on the blog, in fact very recently one including apple (click here – and for more information on celeriac). I’ve always known I like celeriac but clearly I like it more than I’d previously realised! This one came about through changed plans yesterday that meant a celeriac I’d bought wasn’t going to be used. And then there was the freshly made chicken stock. How could I not put them together?

I usually chop up the celeriac and do the whole thing in a big pan on top of the stove. But I decided to roast the celeriac instead. I like roasting vegetables for soup – Roast Tomato & Thyme, Roasted Cauliflower with Spices, Roast Squash & Tomato – and think it gives the soup a lovely deep flavour. Vegetables have a more intense flavour when roasted, and then you get gorgeous caramelised bits on some of the edges (though don’t let them burn). Make sure you scrape up any caramelised bits stuck to the pan when you’re blending at the end. As a method, it’s really much easier as you can just cut everything up and throw into an ovenproof dish and straight into the oven.


Roasted Celeriac Soup – Serves 4

  • 1 celeriac (about 800g)
  • 1 large potato
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
  • 750ml chicken (or vegetable) stock


Peel the celeriac. This is best done with a very sharp knife, cutting off the top and bottom first and then cutting downwards as you move the celeriac round. Cut into chunks – about 2½cm/1 inch cubes.

Then peel and chop the potato into similar sized chunks; then the celery and onion. Put them all into a large shallow ovenproof dish that can also go on the hob. Drizzle over a generous amount (about 3-4 tablespoons) olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter over the herbs. Now use your hands to carefully fold over and mix all together and coat the pieces of vegetables in oil. Put into a 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 oven for about 50 minutes. The time will vary slightly depending on the size of your chunks. Give it all a stir a couple of times during the cooking so the top pieces don’t get burnt and more pieces enjoy the caramelisation effect.

When everything is nicely golden brown and the vegetables cooked through (test with a sharp knife or fork), remove from the oven.

Spoon the vegetables into a large, deep pan. Then pour a little of the stock into the pan you cooked the vegetables in and put over a medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon, which you can use to scrape any caramelised bits that have caught on the bottom and sides (not burnt bits!). Tip it over the vegetables and add the rest of the stock. Bring up to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes for everything to amalgamate.


Now use a stick blender to blend it all to a lovely smooth and creamy soup.

I like this kind of soup to be quite thick but thin it to the consistency you prefer, if necessary, either with more hot stock or some boiling water. Check seasoning.

Serve with a dollop of cream or yoghurt, if you like, and garnish with some chopped parsley or even a few thyme leaves if you put fresh thyme in the soup. It also occurred to me as I was ladling the soup into the bowl that a garnish of crispy bacon would be nice too, for something more special, as bacon and celeriac go well together. However you eat it, the flavour of roasted celeriac is truly special.

Quick Apple Tartlets


Jonathan Swift used the phrase ‘life’s too short’ all the way back in 1711. Then Shirley Conran coined the phrase, ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’ in her 1975 book Superwoman, aimed at busy women; it was a transforming book that liberated women and made it OK to take shortcuts and not feel they had to be some kind of goddess in the home. In 2008, Janet Street-Porter wrote LIfe’s Too F****** Short: A guide to getting what YOU want out of life, without wasting time, effort or money. I love this book; it struck a chord with me. As I get older I’m less concerned with impressing – for example, friends and family know I can cook well so I don’t have to always aim for the Michelin star meal; I know now a simple meal can still be really good if made with best-quality ingredients – and a lot of love. I don’t want to keep putting effort into things and even relationships that don’t work well for me; I like to adopt a Taoist approach to life – don’t give up at the first hurdle, but if you, metaphorically speaking, keep ‘knocking on the door’ and don’t get the answer or result you hope for, then accept it’s not going to work. Walk away. And don’t beat yourself up about it. I relate to Janet’s view about positive thinking. And that means putting one’s effort, time, emotions and energy into positive things. I’ve always believed that you should put the most effort into the people and things that are most important to you. Some people believe a good relationship looks after itself and you shouldn’t have to work at it. But I don’t agree. If someone is really important to you – keep telling them; make loving, thoughtful gestures … cook them Sunday lunch.

Personally, I don’t agree that ‘life’s too short’ to stuff a mushroom because a mushroom stuffed with duxelles, showered in freshly grated Parmesan and browned under the grill, is a truly wonderful thing. But sometimes life is just too busy. Or, you’re really pleased the family are coming round for Sunday lunch but making flaky pastry from scratch for the apple tartlets is a step too far today. I do genuinely love cooking, even just for myself, but today was going to be a shortcut day. I wrote about making my own flaky pastry for apple tartlets last year (click here) and it is fun to do, immensely satisfying and, I think, the result a little better. But then while I was wandering the aisles of Waitrose gathering ingredients for lunch today, buying ready-made and rolled all-butter puff pastry for the apple tartlets seemed a good idea and the easy route far too tempting to resist.

Instead of spending more than an hour making and chilling and rolling the pastry, you can make the whole dessert, from start to finish, in about half an hour. Apart from being so easy, it’s also something that can be rustled up last-minute.


Quick Apple Tartlets – Makes 6

  • 1 x 320g pack of all-butter puff pastry
  • 3 eating apples
  • a little butter for greasing baking tray
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • icing sugar


I wasn’t sure how many pastry circles I’d get from the pack and only wanted 4 tartlets, so I cut the roll in half, thinking I’d freeze the second half. However, I could only get 3 from each long half, so I decided to cut the extra 2 circles and layer them with greaseproof paper and freeze them for another time. You couldn’t, of course, do this is you bought frozen pastry but mine was from a cold shelf so OK to freeze.


Use either a pastry cutter or mug to cut out 6 circles of 10cm (4 inches) diameter. Place them on a baking sheet that you’ve first greased with a little butter. Now use a sharp knife to mark a circle about 1cm from the edge. Don’t cut right through. This is just to allow the edge to puff up a bit more as it cooks.


Peel the apples, core and cut in two. Now cut into slices keeping the shape of the apple half as much as you can. My apples were quite big and I decided I didn’t need the entire half (so I ate the ends instead!).


Carefully lay the apple slices on top of the pastry, fanning out to separate the slices a bit, and leaving the edge uncovered. Brush beaten egg round the edge so the pastry will brown nicely.


Put the tartlets into a preheated 220C/200 Fan/Gas 7 oven for 20 minutes. The edges should puff up and the tartlets be a nice golden brown. Using a fine sieve, shower some icing sugar generously over the top of the cooked tartlets.


Put the tray under a hot grill to melt the sugar and caramelise the tartlets. This only takes a couple of minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

And now you have your ultra quick, homemade apple tartlets! Yes I know I said I didn’t need to impress … but, honestly, who isn’t going to be impressed by these!

I made these in advance but they’d be nice served warm too.

If you’re in French mode you’d eat these just as they are. But don’t feel you have to deny yourself a little extra in the form of some cream or ice cream or maybe a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt. We didn’t!

The Manor Arms, Abberley, Worcestershire


I’ve just been up to Worcestershire to see my daughter and new grandson. It’s quite a long journey from London – minimum 2½ hour drive each way – so I prefer to stay the night. However, as Nicola & Rachael’s house is deep in renovation and there’s no room for me to sleep in at the moment, not even a dust-free sofa, I decided to find somewhere nearby to stay. Nicola suggested The Manor Arms and as we had a great meal there last year, it was an attractive choice.

The Manor Arms is in Abberley, a beautiful village deep in rural Worcestershire. There’s been a village there since the 11th century and the parish of Abberley is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Manor Arms dates back to the 17th century and was first owned by the Lord of the Manor. It was smaller then and had its own brew house and, typically of pubs at the time, was a central meeting place for locals. It’s undergone major renovation in recent years and is now privately owned. Here are some photos I took this morning of the countryside surrounding the pub.




I drove up to my daughter’s early yesterday morning. In the afternoon we headed over to Abberley – a 17-minute drive according to Google Maps – so that I could check in. With a 7-week-old baby in the family, we weren’t planning on having supper there again, but I wanted to get settled in before arriving for the night much later in the evening.

There are just 6 en-suite bedrooms. We were shown up to the room, via a large and cosy landing with sofas and bookshelves.

I had the smallest room and it was in the eaves at the top of the building, but very comfortable.

There was a small shower room (larger rooms have baths). The shower room had Noble Isle luxury toiletries. This was a nice touch as they were really lovely and so often, even in big hotels, you find indifferent, hotel-label shower gels, etc. I was pleased to see a kettle provided with a great selection of good quality teas. There was also a small cafetière with packs of ground coffee. I thought this was great. (There was supposed to be some homemade biscuits but they hadn’t refilled the jar – another time I’d ask them to fill it but I didn’t notice straight away). The young woman who showed me to the room said there was long-life milk there but if I wanted fresh, just ask, and they’d bring some up, which was thoughtful service.


After I’d sorted my things out, Nicola and I (and baby) headed downstairs and I suggested we ask to have some tea before we headed back to Nicola’s house. The bar area was empty and all was quiet but there was no problem getting some tea brought to us. We found a cosy corner to sit in by the Inglenook fireplace and it was lovely to relax there and chat for a while.


That night I returned about 10.00pm. I hadn’t really drunk with supper because of the drive to The Manor Arms so I decided to get a glass of wine down in the bar and settled into the same comfortable chair to enjoy it. It was busier now but I was quite happy, even on my own, in the bar. Not all bars are comfortable places for a woman on her own late evening but this was just as cosy and welcoming as it had been earlier in the day.

My room rate (£80 per night) included breakfast. Breakfast is served 7.30-9.30am Mon-Fri and 8.00-9.30am Sat and Sun. Nicola suggested she and baby come over and join me for breakfast. The breakfast room – which is sometimes used as a private dining room for events like weddings – opens out on to a terrace with glorious views.

Breakfast was OK but slightly sloppy and fairly minimal. The ‘buffet’ was just a couple of loaves – no pastries or cakes – some juices and a couple of cereals (containers almost empty). There were pats of English butter and little jars of Tiptree jam (only Strawberry) or honey.


There were some nice bio-yoghurts in little pots with a choice of fruit compote at the bottom, and a choice of 4 things for cooked breakfast: The Full English; Scrambled Egg and Smoked Salmon; Spinach & Mushroom Omelette; and Kippers with Parsley Butter.


I never usually eat anything cooked for breakfast but decided to have the scrambled egg and smoked salmon (a Full English – many people’s delight, I know – would be many steps too far for me). There was a generous amount of smoked salmon but the egg was overcooked. Once it came, I had to get up and go over to the buffet table to toast bread and it would have been better if they’d brought toast with it. The coffee was very good and served in a large and generous cafetière; I did have to ask for milk, though. For the tea drinker there was a large selection of good teas.

The breakfast was, to be honest, disappointing, especially as the evening meal I had there a year ago was so splendid. It was a bit of a pattern – some really thoughtful touches, like the top quality tea in the room and nice toiletries but then just a few sloppy things. But I still liked The Manor Arms – the service was so friendly, and the atmosphere so cosy, it compensated a lot for the slight annoyances; everyone I encountered was very helpful and greeted me with a big smile, so I felt very welcomed. Not surprisingly, given the excellent restaurant and fabulous location, it gets very booked up and when I tried to book a room for 3 weeks’ time, it was already full. So … if you fancy a weekend in beautiful rural Worcestershire and some good food and a room in a nice pub … book well in advance! (Click here for The Manor Arms website.)

Vegetarian Suppers for Autumn Nights

I was alerted to the fact that today – I November – is World Vegan Day by the food writer Matthew Fort on his blog, Fort on Food. There’s a lot of vegan and vegetarian in my life at the moment: I’ve recently worked on a book about part-time vegans (which apparently is the ‘in’ thing – being vegan for part of the week but eating meat on other days), and cooking more vegetarian food for the family than usual. This is due to my daughter having recently had her first baby. She lives in Worcestershire in a beautiful (or it will be once they finish the renovation works) 16th century farmhouse with glorious views over the Worcestershire countryside. Despite being a firmly committed Londoner, it’s lovely to visit and especially at the moment to enjoy my new grandson. I’ve been taking meals with me or cooking there, to help in the early stages with the baby, and as my daughter’s wife is a vegetarian, vegetarian meals are called for … and that got me thinking about this post.

I was brought up at a time when it was thought that everyone should eat ‘meat and two veg’ a day. I guess this was a by-product of the war years when food was scarce and rationed. It took me a long time to get over this; this belief that if I hadn’t eaten meat and two veg in a day then I might starve, waste away, become ill. It sounds silly now but we are so deeply influenced by our childhood experiences and the beliefs our parents pass on to us that it can be quite a challenge to let go of them. Slowly over the years I’ve cooked more and more vegetarian meals. I’m far from being a vegetarian though and I can’t imagine ever embracing veganism, but I guess I’m a ‘part-time vegetarian’ and eat non-meat meals at least three times a week. Other nights I’ll have meat, and fish at least once. I rarely choose a vegetarian main meal when dining out though, and in truth I’m so far from being a real vegetarian that I have to confess to a deep love for an occasional very rare steak; I absolutely adore (very politically incorrect, I know!) foie gras; and have a passion for oysters – always raw and live rather than any cooked kind.

Eating less meat overall, I find I don’t really want to eat it every day. And I think my love of Italian food – so often cooking pasta dishes or risotto – means that I’ve come to appreciate the wonders of simple meals cooked with a few good ingredients, preferably very fresh and in season. A typical midweek supper will be some pasta with a simple sauce made from fresh tomatoes with maybe some spinach or tender stem broccoli added; or a risotto with mushrooms, or diced courgettes, or as simple as a handful of peas added with some fresh mint. Despite this vegetarian tendency, I’m always slightly thrown when I have to cook a vegetarian meal because I’m feeding a vegetarian! I guess that’s because when I think about entertaining and cooking for family and friends, I generally cook meat or fish dishes. However, there are lots of vegetarian dishes on the blog and here is a selection of ones that make a great warming and comforting meal as we head more deeply into autumn and long, dark nights and icy cold mornings.


Vegetable Lasagna with Aubergine, Courgette & Tomato

Lasagna is always a crowd pleaser and so comforting. It also has the advantage that it can be prepared ahead and cooked at the last minute, so especially good for entertaining. Vegetarian lasagna is every bit as good as the meat kind. Why not experiment with different vegetables but for my favourite mix, click here.

Vegetarian Moussaka

Moussaka is a big family favourite and I’ve been cooking it for as long as I’ve been cooking – going back to school days! However, having a vegetarian in the family meant I had to come up with a different version and it works so well with Puy lentils instead of meat – click here.

Grilled Cauliflower Steak on Creamy Mash with Tahini Sauce

Cauliflower ‘steak’ was popular a little while ago and is a fantastic way to cook cauliflower. It even has a kind of ‘steak’ feel when you eat it as a thick slice and really does make a good, substantial meal. Click here for my recipe.

Frittata with Potatoes, Courgettes & Parmesan

Well of course eggs are a great ingredient for the vegetarian (though not vegans, of course!) and while I sometimes love a simple French-style omelette, making a frittata with more ingredients seems more like a meal rather than a snack. For family I’ve made a huge one and cut it into slices and served with salad. Click here for recipe.

Polenta alla Cacciatora – Polenta Hunter’s Style

I’ve become very fond of polenta. I ‘cheat’ in the sense that I use a quick-cooking, instant kind that you can make in just a couple of minutes. It’s pretty bland on its own but season well and add some Parmesan and a big lump of butter and it’s absolutely glorious. It makes a good alternative to potato mash or pasta – especially for this mushroom dish – click here.

Polenta with Aubergine, Tomato & Pine Nut Sauce

And here’s another polenta topping that’s really good – click here.

Fried Polenta with Fresh Tomato, Garlic & Basil Sauce

It takes a little more time but try frying the polenta after you’ve made it the usual way. Allow it to rest and go solid, then cut into chip-sized pieces and shallow-fry in some extra virgin olive oil. It’s really delicious and needs only a simple tomato sauce to accompany the ‘chips’. Click here.

Mushroom and Chestnut Risotto

I make risotto a lot. I find it such a comforting dish to make and eat. If you’ve had a busy day, making a risotto is almost like mindfulness – you have to slow down and take things gently; be in the moment. But risotto is so versatile, working well with light, summery ingredients as well as rich, warming wintry ones like this mushroom and chestnut version – click here.

Basic Tomato Sauce for Pasta

Every cook will have a recipe for a simple tomato sauce. Nothing could be simpler than some freshly cooked pasta coated in a great tomato sauce with a generous dusting of Parmesan grated over the top. Click here for my recipe. Remember you can make more than you need and freeze some for an ‘instant’ meal another night.

Penne with Aubergine & Salted Ricotta

I do love aubergines so there are a lot of aubergine recipes on my blog. This is a version of the classic ‘Norma’ pasta from Sicily. Click here.

Easy Pasta Bake

Everyone loves a pasta bake and what could be more warming and cosy on a winter’s night? I used filled pasta in the recipe above but you don’t need to; plain pasta like penne will work well too. Click here for recipe.

Orecchiette with Sumac Roasted Yellow Courgette and Hazelnuts

I just love orecchiette pasta and this was a special way of eating it – click here.

One into Two: Butternut Squash & Tomato

Butternut squash is a family favourite and here I managed to enjoy two dishes from one squash – first with pasta and then as a soup! Click here.


Aubergine, Tomato & Chickpea Curry

It’s obvious to any regular reader of my blog that my main influence in the kitchen is Italy – I love Italy, Italian food, have Italian friends … But I also like Middle Eastern food and Indian too. This is a great curry dish – quite light and beautifully fragrant. Click here.

Aubergine & Tomato Tagine

Yes, here come the aubergines again! This is a different take on the aubergine and tomato combination with a gorgeous memory of Morocco. Click here.


Even die-hard meat eaters generally like to eat some vegetarian meals these days, whether it be for health reasons or simply because we eat a much greater variety of foods than we used to, from all parts of the world. I hope this post has inspired you if you want – or need – to cook a vegetarian meal.

Tagliatelle with Slow-cooked Beef Ragu

This is a ‘bolognese’ sauce in essence, but of course we are better informed in 2018 and know we must never talk about ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’, especially to an Italian – and particularly one from Bologna! Certainly you will find meat ragù in Italy though and the first recorded version of a meat sauce served with pasta came from Imola, a city near Bologna, in the late 18th century. And the famous Italian cookery book writer, Pellegrino Artusi, who wrote La Scienza in cucina l’arte di mangiar bene (science in the kitchen and the art of eating well) in 1891, gave a recipe for a Maccheroni alla Bolognese.


In fact, the sauce we tend to call ‘bolognese’ is more akin to the Naples version of meat ragù – alla Napoletana – where tomatoes, popular in the south, are added. In the north – Bologna – there is much controversy about whether to add any tomatoes at all. My favourite local restaurant, Masaniello – where head chef Livio comes from Naples – serves the best version of meat ragù I’ve ever had – slow cooked and of the Naples kind. He uses braising meat rather than mince, which I’ve been meaning to try … but it was mince this evening. Mine makes no pretension to emulate his – its only claim is to be an Italian-style sauce I make a lot.

I’ve written about ‘bolognese’ before and it was one of the first recipes I wrote on the blog, back in 2011 (click here). I talked about it being a ‘Friday Night’ dish in my family as I always had a big pot simmering on the stove when my kids were old enough to start going out on their own on Friday night. They could have their supper early, leaving their dad and me to eat ours later – no spoilt meal, and everyone could eat when they wanted. I think it’s clearly nostalgia that makes it still a regular Friday night meal – either just for myself or with anyone else who happens to be here! I still make a big pot but nowadays freeze it in separate portions. In fact, it almost never happens that there is none at all in my freezer. When I get down to the last packet, I make more. My son has been known to raid my freezer, asking for a couple of packs of ‘your bolognese’ to take home with him, and grandson Freddie (3½) loves it too (though he possibly loves Livio’s more as he often chooses it rather than pizza in Masaniello). The mother in me – and indeed, the Nonna – likes having packs of comforting food in the freezer, ready to hand out to hungry family. If you love cooking, there are few things more wonderful than feeding those you love.

Rather inevitably, as I’ve been making this for so many years, the recipe changes slightly as time goes by. My current favourite way to cook the sauce is to add some diced pancetta and also to cook the sauce very slowly – hence, ‘slow-cooked’ – for a long, long time. Generally three hours. It really does make a difference to the flavour. In my original recipe I added mushrooms – I think a habit that came from following a recipe that I had from a cookery writer (Robin Howe), who lived in Italy, and I was working with many years ago when editing lots of cookery books. It’s not a usual ingredient but while looking through some ragù recipes today I saw some people added dried porcini mushrooms, so I decided to try that, knowing they’d bring a great deep flavour to the sauce.

As with all cooking, but particularly Italian, buy the best quality ingredients you can afford but especially the pasta. The difference between a good quality pasta rather than a cheap supermarket own make is enormous. And do eat meat ragù with tagliatelle rather than spaghetti. Italians like to match pasta to the kind of sauce they’re serving and meat ragù wraps itself round tagliatelle much better than it does spaghetti.


Tagliatelle with Slow-cooked Meat Ragù Makes enough for about 8 portions

  • 10g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 250ml warm water
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 77g diced pancetta
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 3 small-medium carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 800g extra lean minced beef
  • 200ml red wine
  • 500g passata
  • 1 x 450g tin tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • tagliatelle, about 70g per person



Put the dried porcini in a jug and pour over the warm water. Leave the mushrooms to soften and a lovely ‘stock’ form to go into the ragù.

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the diced pancetta, vegetables and garlic. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the pancetta has coloured and the vegetables are softening. This base is called a soffritto (though more often made without the pancetta) and it’s important to take the time to cook it properly before adding other ingredients as it gives a depth of flavour to the sauce.


Tip in the meat, turn the heat up a bit, and stir carefully, turning from time to time so the meat colours all over. You want the meat to cook fairly fast – to ‘fry’ rather than ‘steam’. When it’s nicely coloured, pour in the wine and mix well. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the wine has been absorbed (this also burns off the alcohol).


Remove the porcini from the jug and chop finely, then add with their ‘stock’ to the meat. Add the passata and tinned tomatoes. Sprinkle over the dried oregano and season with salt and pepper.


Stir everything together well and bring to the boil – just bubbles round the edge; not a ‘rolling’ boil. Then turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting and put a lid on the pot, leaving just the smallest gap for steam to escape. Leave to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 2½-3 hours, or until the liquid is almost totally absorbed and the mixture fairly dry.



Cook your tagliatelle according to the instructions on the packet – usually about 4 minutes. Drain. Tip back into the dry pan. Add a couple of large spoons of the ragù. Mix carefully but well over a low heat for just a minute or two. Italian never dump ragù on top of the pasta; it’s always carefully folded in. Now spoon on to a plate or shallow dish. Serve with a side green salad.

There’s something so wonderfully comforting about this dish. For me it’s full of memories – family meals, Italy – but it’s a dish everyone loves because it is so good. And I really do recommend making a big, big pot and freezing portions. It’s just great to grab one from the freezer for a quick meal … or to give to hungry sons.

Restaurant Review: The Ivy Tower Bridge


I’m trying very hard to like the Ivy Cafe chain; I want to like it. In theory it should be perfect: a famous, indeed iconic, name; the attraction of grand, sumptuous cafes of the Parisian kind serving great food. In practice, I never fail to be disappointed. Some of my friends love them and can’t understand my negativity; others hate them and even refuse to go on the basis they’re overpriced and the service is awful; there’s a polarised division much on the scale of Brexit. Jay Rayner of the Observer isn’t a fan, calling them ‘a clumsy branding racket’ but you’ll find plenty of enthusiastic reviews too.

Thus it was with a little misgiving that I suggested to my friend Chris last night that we eat in The Ivy Tower Bridge. But as we were going to The Bridge Theatre to see A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Martin McDonagh’s play about Hans Christian Andersen, starring Jim Broadbent, and the theatre is bang next door to The Ivy, then why wouldn’t one eat there?

Both theatre and restaurant are right by Tower Bridge – hence their names – so there’s the promise of good views as you arrive. The location is a bit out of the way though compared to the West End (nearest Undergrounds a 12-minute walk to London Bridge or 13-minute walk to Tower Hill), but this area of London is undergoing major regeneration and more and more shops and restaurants are opening up.

The entrance lobby to the restaurant – which is actually huge inside – was quite small; my welcome tepid, which made me feel a bit annoyed even before I sat down. I was shown through to my table in a heaving part of the restaurant. I was struck by the loud and busy decor, which wasn’t as sophisticated as other Ivy cafes I’ve been to, and seemed designed to hype everyone up rather than calm anyone down. However, there was a great view out of large windows across to Tower Bridge, now lit up in the dark and looking splendid.

Despite the uncertain start, the service turned out to be excellent. Poor service at this chain has always been my major complaint (Covent Garden, Richmond), but I have to say that last night’s was efficient, attentive and friendly. So 10/10 for service. Then it went downhill.

The lunch and early evening fixed priced menu is £16.50 for 2 courses; £21.00 for 3. It’s available from 11.30am to 6.30pm daily. There were 3 starters and 4 mains to choose from, plus 3 desserts (though we didn’t have those). There was a small separate wine list as well as the main one, listing wines available by the glass. We both chose Côtes du Rhône (175ml for £8.50).

We also both chose the same food, beginning with Gravlax – cured salmon, dill-pickled cucumber, wholegrain mustard and dill dressing, granary toast.

Not quite what I was expecting as it was put before me. The toast was overgenerous – we thought the first rack was to share. The slices were too thick though and no butter came – which we had to ask for to make it edible; who wants to eat thick dry toast?

As for the salmon – when I order Gravlax (which is one of my favourite things, but so simple you wonder how anyone can get it wrong), I expect fairly thick slices of cured salmon and a nice thick, almost mayonnaise-like, mustard and dill sauce. The salmon was so thin it could have qualified as carpaccio – you could see through it; the barely cured cucumber slices so thick, it was totally inappropriate as an accompaniment. And what a lack of any kind of sophistication to put them on top in the way they did; it looked so amateur. The dressing was mild and thin; not that nice tangy sauce you usually get with gravlax. So … it was OK … just … but for a restaurant claiming the Ivy name, very poor indeed.

For mains we ordered Hoisin-glazed crispy duck leg with pak choi and coriander mashed potatoes, sesame seeds, steamed broccoli and red wine sauce.

It was OK. That’s really about the best I can say for it. Plenty of duck but a meagre helping of sauce and mash (and the pak choi addition might be stretching the description a bit); the broccoli didn’t qualify for an al dente description, it was so underdone I had trouble cutting through the stalk to eat it.

The bill came to £56 for the two of us, with wine, and including service. If the food had been great, that would have been a fair price but there are much better pre-theatre meals available for less.

The Ivy Tower Bridge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chicken with Orange, Chicory & Thyme


I had two organic chicken breasts and decided to cook them with oranges. I pondered a while over what else I might add and remembered that oranges go really well with chicory – I often make a salad with them – and so I reckoned that the flavours were bound to work in my chicken dish – and they did! I had a bunch of fresh thyme that I’d hung in the kitchen a few days ago to dry – so I guess it was semi-dried – and decided to add that too. It’s been a lovely sunny day but quite cold – well, it is the end of October. I thought the dish would be a good transition dish with its bright summery flavours but the warming aspect of braising it to give a gorgeous sauce, which could be mopped up with some smooth and buttery potato mash.

Chicken with Orange, Chicory & Thyme Serves 2

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • a little flour seasoned with salt & pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 77g diced pancetta
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 stick of celery, finely sliced
  • 1 large head chicory, quartered lengthwise
  • 2 oranges, juice of 1 and the other finely sliced
  • 100ml white wine
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • a good pinch of dried thyme or 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken breasts between 2 sheets of clingfilm. Carefully bash them out a little – but not too thin. This is to even out the thickness but also to tenderise. Cut each breast in half.


Put the 4 halves of chicken breast in the seasoned flour. Coat well and shake off excess.


Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Fry the chicken pieces on both sides until nicely browning (I seem to have forgotten to photograph that step!). Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon, reserving the oil in the pan.

Add the pancetta to the pan. Stir for a minute or two to colour evenly, then add the sliced shallots and celery. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring frequently, until softening and very slightly browning.


Move the onion and pancetta mixture to the side and put in the chicory and allow it to colour slightly, turning it a couple of times, to achieve a slightly caramelised effect. Move to the side and add the orange slices, allowing them to colour slightly, turning once to colour both sides.


Add the wine to the mixture. Stir and mix all together carefully. Once the mixture comes to the boil allow it to bubble for about 3 minutes to burn off the alcohol and concentrate the sauce a bit. Add the stock. Mix carefully. Then add the browned chicken pieces, pushing them between the fruit and vegetables. Bring it all to the boil and then turn down to a simmer, put a lid on the pan, and allow to cook gently for about 20 minutes.


At this stage you can either serve straight away or turn off the heat as I did, and reheat a bit later when you want to eat.

I served it with some buttery mash potatoes, sprinkling over just a little parsley at the end.

It was really delicious. The chicken was tender from fairly quick cooking and the initial browning. The sauce was slightly thickened from the flour which the chicken was tossed in. And then the gorgeous citrusy-sweet orange flavour marries so well with the bitter chicory, creating gorgeous flavours that go brilliantly with the chicken. It was a lovely dish with just a touch of ‘special’ for a Sunday evening’s supper. It would also make a perfect dish for entertaining as it can be prepared a little time ahead of eating and warmed through when it’s time to eat (if you’re making it a few hours in advance, cool and refrigerate).

9 City Break Ideas: Eat, Drink, Do


Since starting to contribute some of my travel articles to the GPSmyCity app a couple of years ago, I’ve been a bit more organised about how I write up city breaks. It’s been a really positive step in helping me develop my writing and also great to know that some of it is published and reaching a wider audience.

I like to look at why you would choose a particular city to travel to for a short break. Apart from obvious sights to visit, for me, good travel is intrinsically linked to good food. Hence, the ‘series’ has become ‘Eat, Drink, Do’. Although I haven’t used that title for all the following guides, they’re all the same format giving you a lot of information about why to go, where to stay, what to do and where – of course! – to eat.

I’m listing the cities in order of the date the article was published – not an order of preference, as that would be too difficult as I love them all!



I went back to Nice for the first time in many years in September 2015. I hadn’t taken in before the close connection to Italy – I don’t mean in geographical terms as that’s more obvious, but the language and food as Nice was once part of Italy. It’s just a fabulous destination for great food and wine, climate, art and beauty. Click here to my full article.



As regular readers of the blog will know, it’s becoming a regular thing for me to go to Amsterdam in the spring – usually January. I know the city well, am not seeking sun (though it’s nice when I get some!), but simply to soak up the wonderful atmosphere in one of Europe’s most laid-back but culturally vibrant cities. Click here to read my guide.



Vienna had been on my ‘bucket list’ for some time but it was thanks to my daughter I made it to this great city. She was going there for work and invited me to join her for a weekend. It was great to see it with her and Vienna has so much to offer the traveller that a weekend wasn’t really long enough – so sometime I’ll have to go back to see more. Click here for my guide.



I’d been thinking of going to Turin for a while as my Italian teacher suggested I’d enjoy it because of its great gastronomic heritage. Some of the best food and wine in Italy comes from Piemonte, of which Turin is the capital. I fell in love with the city immediately, went back the following year and have a third trip booked for next spring. Click here for my guide.



When I went to Florence last June, it was the first time in many years, though I had been before a few times. I loved it all over again. Yes it gets very busy – so try to avoid July and August – but there’s so much to do and plenty of places to escape the crowds, like taking a bus up to Fiesole or going to the Boboli Gardens. Click here for my guide.



I’d been wanting to go to Granada for ages and when I finally got there last September it was everything and more than I’d hoped for. Of course you just have to visit the incredible Alhambra (make sure to book well in advance or you won’t get in) and the views from there and other hills are stunning. But I also loved the vibrancy of the city with Flamenco on the streets, gorgeous food in fabulous tapas bars and the Moorish heritage still evident throughout the city. Click here for my guide.



The least touristy of these city break suggestions and, it has to be said, not my favourite, but I did like it a lot. The non-touristy aspect has pros and cons but the pros are it’s a lived in city full of locals and not tourists. You will find some of Italy’s best food here and eating out is much cheaper than other popular cities. Everyone I met was wonderfully friendly and it’s also a great base to explore the beautiful Cinque Terre. Click here for my guide.



I’d been close to Siena so many times over very many years, but had never made it there – until June this year. And I’m so glad I finally got there for it is a beautiful city, quite extraordinary because of the preservation of its medieval historic centre. Many people go for a day’s visit but do stay for at least a night or two. It calms down a little in the evening and is just the most beautiful place to be. Click here for my guide.



I’ve only been back a few days and have just published my guide to this beautiful city but I certainly couldn’t leave it out of my suggestions for a great city break. It has everything you could want from a short holiday: a wonderful city with all that a great city has to offer and then the beach and marina. Even in the winter the weather is reasonably warm so it’s a city to head off to at any time of year. Click here for my guide.


If you’re thinking about where to escape to next for a great city break, then I hope this post has given you inspiration. And do please let me know your favourite place to go for a wonderful city break.


Five Nights in Malaga: Eat, Drink, Do



Why go?

It turned out there were lots of good reasons to go to Malaga. But I was attracted initially by a 2-day art tour there with Hotel Alphabet and as some friends had previously told me that Malaga is a great city and I would enjoy it, it seemed a good idea to take a chance to go. Thus I booked the art tour and added on another 3 days for relaxation and exploration.

I’m a summer person and like to seek a last dose of warm sun before winter takes hold and this makes Malaga an ideal destination in October when the average high is 24C. In fact, it’s never really cold; in the coldest months, December and January, you can expect highs of 17C and the lowest low is 8C.

Another great bonus for me is the combination of city and sea – all in one! You can enjoy all the benefits of a great city – museums, art galleries, historic sights, great restaurants – with long beaches and the blue Mediterranean glistening in the sun. And all of it within an easy walk.


How to get there and where to stay 

I booked my hotel, as I often do, with my flight. Generally – though not always – the deal with British Airways gives me a good saving on the hotel. I like to stay very central. If it’s just a short trip and you want to be in the city and see the sights, it’s nicer to be able to walk everywhere rather than rely on public transport to take you into the centre. My hotel – Hotel Salles Malaga Centro – was an ideal location. It was just outside the historic centre because it was situated the other side of a bridge from Puerta Nueva, but I only had to cross the bridge – Puente de la Aurora – to be in the old town. I could walk everywhere easily, even right across to the other side of the city where the port and beach were – about half an hour’s walk.

I flew British Airways to Malaga from Heathrow but plenty of airlines fly there and it’s Spain’s 4th busiest airport. It’s been very much a gateway to more popular resorts in southern Spain up until now but more and more is becoming a destination in its own right. It’s only a few kilometres from the centre and you can either take a taxi (about 20-minute journey for €20-25) or there are buses and trains.


Getting around the city 

It’s easy to walk everywhere, wherever you are in the centre. The heart and hub of the historic centre of Malaga is the beautiful square, Plaza de la Constitucion. It was just a 5-minute walk from my hotel and wherever I went, I had to walk through it, but often I wanted to stay, find a bench to sit on, and people watch and simply enjoy its beauty.

From the square a major pedestrianised street, Calle de Marques de Larios, with lots of shops and cafes, runs down to the port and beaches. And there are busy offshoots – more streets and alleyways running from it, also full of cafes and restaurants.

It may be easy to walk everywhere in distance terms, but walking has its hazards. Yes, it’s mostly pedestrianised so you don’t have to worry about traffic, just the occasional taxi, but many of the streets are paved with marble. It looks beautiful but it’s also very slippery. It rained a bit while I was there, and also each morning when I went out I would see large trucks from which thick hoses were used to spray the streets clean. Despite taking great care, I slipped over a couple of times and took to wearing some walking-style sandals with a good grip.


The main sights

For the art lover

It was because of the art tour that I discovered how much Malaga has to offer anyone interested in art. There’s the CAC (Contemporary Art Centre), Picasso Museum, Museo Carmen Thyssen, State Russian Museum (a branch of the famous St Petersburg museum) and Centre Pompidou (a branch of the Paris one).

For all the fine art to see in Malaga, there’s no doubt that the real highlight for many will be the Picasso connection. Picasso was born in the city in 1881 and, although he left at the age of 19 to go to Paris and never returned, despite living to the grand old age of 91, the city makes the most of its favourite ‘son’. Apart from the Picasso Museum, you can visit his birthplace – the house, on a corner of Plaza de la Merced, is now a museum. I enjoyed the main Picasso Museum, which has over 200 of his works, though not the most famous, but the birthplace was disappointing, apart from a handful of lovely drawings on the ground floor, it had the feel of a fairly soulless museum rather than family home. Many restaurants and cafes are named after Picasso and there’s inevitably a lot of marketing in his name with souvenirs to buy.

The Cathedral

The cathedral is truly stunning, as much by night as by day. It took two and a half centuries to build, from 1528-1782, and like many churches in Spain, was built of the site of a former mosque due to the long rule of the Moors. I didn’t get to go inside – there were always long queues – but I just loved walking by it and frequently did as it’s in the heart of the historic centre and its tower can be seen from other places, like Plaza de la Constitucion.

The Moors

Like other parts of Andalucia in southern Spain, the Moors are in great evidence in Malaga. A nomadic north African people, they crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711AD and ruled until 1487 when they finally lost their last stronghold – Granada – to the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Although the Alcazaba Fortress, dating from the 8th and 11th centuries, is nowhere near so glorious as the wonderful Alhambra in Granada, it’s still worth seeing and costs only a couple of euros to enter (free on Sunday afternoons). Here you will get great views over the city and harbour and see those elements so typical of the Moors, the water features, courtyards, arches and mosaics, making it a peaceful and lovely place to spend some time.


For more dramatic views, go further up the hill to the Gibralfaro Castle, which dates from the 14th century. It’s a very steep and long climb – but definitely worth it to look across the harbour, the city and down to the fortress (click here for more info).

The port and beach


The Port of Malaga is one of the largest and oldest ports in the Mediterranean. The far western area is very industrial and you see large cruise ships coming in. To the east you’ll find the Marina and then round a peninsula, with a lighthouse visible at the end, there is the beach of La Malagueta.

This part of Malaga has undergone major renovation over the last 20 years and is a wonderfully attractive area to spend time with lots of cafes along the front and quiet green spaces to sit, with play areas for children.

At first glance it reminded me of Genoa with its modern architecture but while I didn’t much like Genoa’s harbour and seafront, I really loved Malaga’s and sometimes would just walk down and sit there for a while, either looking out to sea or in one of the green garden spaces.



Food & Drink

Breakfast & Morning Coffee

I love coffee and can’t go far into the day without some. I prefer it a bit later in the morning, after a simple breakfast, and I like to find a nice cafe when on holiday to enjoy a good coffee with a pastry. I have to say I didn’t find anywhere truly great – an excellent coffee + an excellent croissant – but then Spain isn’t renowned for its pastries in the way France is, and even in northern Italy I’ve enjoyed some of the best pastries anywhere. However, I did find a great coffee stop near the cathedral – El Ultimo Mono Juice & Coffee – in Calle Sta. Maria. It was a funky modern place and they really know their coffee. For something more traditional, go to Cafe Central in Plaza de la Constitucion, an historic cafe that prides itself on serving good coffee.

You’ll find lots of breakfast deals in cafes and need only pay somewhere between €3-5 for fresh orange juice + coffee + pastry.

Of course the thing to eat in Spain is churros – deep fried, choux-type pastry sticks which you dip into thick hot chocolate. You’ll find them on offer in most cafes and while popular for breakfast, you’ll see people eating them late at night too.

Tapas bars 

You need look no further than a good tapas bar to fit all your eating needs – lunch, snack or dinner. I didn’t go to any restaurants and just ate in tapas bars. Tapas are traditionally just a small snack to eat with an early evening drink; dinner is served late in Spain, maybe as late as 10.30pm. However, in all the tapas bars I ate in, there were three sizes of dishes on offer: tapas (small), raciones (half portion) and full portions. It’s therefore possible to order a large ‘starter’ and follow it with a ‘main course’. Some bars, like Vineria Cervantes, don’t sell the small tapas-size portion later evening. I found all sizes very generous throughout Malaga. You’ll find paella on offer in most restaurants and bars but it’s not actually a local dish and comes from further north, in Valencia. I enjoyed it a couple of times at lunch, but it was wetter than the traditional Valencian paella so while you might enjoy it, it’s not the ‘real thing’.

The places I ate in and liked are: Vineria Cervantes, El Pimpi, Los Gatos, Casa Lola and a stall in the market. Particularly look out for and try: Iberican ham; Manchego cheese; boquerones – anchovies; patas bravas – fried potatoes with spicy sauce; fried aubergine slices drizzled with honey; espartos de sardinas – skewered charcoal grilled sardines.

Ice cream, Almonds and Turron

Wherever I am, I like to find some good ice cream. I read about Casa Mira, one of Malaga’s best ice cream shops, a little before travelling and made a note of it and went there on my first full day. I also went to Freskitt, another with great reviews. I had good ice cream but then came to the conclusion that no one makes ice cream like the Italians! I therefore had my next couple of ice cream treats in the Italian Amorino, which I’d spotted in Calle Granada. Calle Granada, leading from Plaza de la Constitucion up through Plaza Carbon, all the way to Plaza de la Merced, is the best place to look for somewhere to eat. It’s full of restaurants and bars and cafes.

Almonds are a big thing in Andalucia with great expanses of almond trees across hillsides. The blossom in the spring is said to be so beautiful that people make special journeys to see it. Thus it’s not surprising that you will see almonds everywhere – in fact, whole shops selling them in a variety of ways, and stalls selling toasted almonds, almonds in savoury dishes and the famous turron – a kind of soft nougat made from almonds, honey, eggs and sugar. Casa Mira is famous for its version as well as their ice cream. I find it far too sweet but many people love it.



Atarazanas Market

This is Malaga’s biggest and most famous food market, open every day until 2.00pm, except Sundays. It’s a glorious place for anyone who loves food to wander about it, not just for the wonderful food but the delight of the great stained-glass window at one end.


I also had one of my best plates of food here at a bar with seating outside. Where better to eat the freshest seafood? Pescaito frito or Fritura Malaguena – mixed fried fish, is a speciality of the city.


To add to the perfection, a couple of guys playing Flamenco guitar and singing Flamenco came to entertain us.


Dancing and music in the streets


I loved the Flamenco playing and singing pair at the market, but it was quite common to find other Flamenco buskers in the streets, and on one evening I saw a couple with the woman dancing Flamenco and then another couple dancing Argentine Tango near the cathedral. Flamenco isn’t such a big tradition in Malaga as further north in cities like Granada and Seville, but it’s still fun to see and enjoy. Malaga is such a lively and exciting place by night.


Away from the crowds

The most obvious place to get away from the crowds is to head down to the beach. Yes, parts of it will be crowded but it’s just brilliant to take a walk along the front and enjoy the sea air and sit for a while in the sun. The sand is quite coarse and grey – not soft and golden! – but there were plenty of sun bathers and people stretched out on sun beds so you really can combine beach and city well.


On the way from the historic centre to the marina and beach you walk through gorgeous gardens – Paseo de Parque. I found them by chance on my first morning, heading to the Centre Pompidou. But also, as I said above, you’ll find nice green areas to sit by the marina. Malaga is a very green city and all the more beautiful for it.

There are botanical gardens 6km out of the city – Jardin Botanico La Concepcion. Bus line 2 will take you close and then a 15-minute walk. I didn’t have time to go there but they’re said to be some of the most beautiful tropical gardens in Europe so another time, it’s a must.

I’m really pleased to have discovered the delights of Malaga, from its beautiful historic centre, to the seafront, its Moorish sights with great views and, of course, its wonderful food. You could happily spend quite a lot of time there, as there’s so much to do, but it also makes an idea destination for a city break.

Malaga 2018: Malaga at Night & Return to Vineria Cervantes


If Malaga is beautiful by day then it’s no less so at night when it seems to come to life. The morning is quiet and calm with few people around, but through the day life unfolds and by night, there is even dancing on the streets – literally!

It was my last evening. I always like to eat at my favourite restaurant of the trip and end the holiday on a foodie high. So I decided to go back to Vineria Cervantes, where I ate on Friday. It’s closed at lunchtime so I turned up at 5pm when they open to book a table for about 7-8. ‘We’re full,’ the waiter told me. But he seemed to recognise me from two nights before and went to consult his booking list. After some consideration he said he could fit me in at 8.30 and so I thankfully said, yes please. Although I prefer to eat earlier, 8.30 isn’t late by Spain’s standards as they tend to eat very late, maybe 10.30, and I’ve even seen families with young children arrive at restaurants at that late time. However, tapas are eaten earlier for they are really more of a snack to go with an early evening drink, like cichetti in Venice, to keep you going until supper time. But I’m living on tapas here, preferring to eat informally in buzzing tapas bars, and because such a choice of great little tapas is a real treat. I guess that’s pretty touristy of me but in fact there’s always a choice of sizes so it’s possible to eat a ‘starter’ and ‘main’ if you like. And, because some bars, like Vineria Cervantes, don’t serve tapas size late evening, then that’s in effect what I did.

It gets dark here around 8pm at the moment. I left the hotel in plenty of time to wander and enjoy Malaga’s evening sights before eating. I walked to Plaza de la Constitucion – 5 minutes away – and down Calle de Marques de Larios to the port.

As the sun set, the sky was brushed with a wash of pink. Then I walked back up Larios to the square again.


I love the square; it’s so beautiful. I still had plenty of time before eating and sat on a bench for a while to enjoy the view.


The vineria is at the top of Calle de Cárcer and the Teatro Cervantes is easily visibly in front of you as you walk up. The 16th century writer Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, is widely regarded as Spain’s greatest writer.

What a welcoming sight the vineria was. It was busy; a queue was forming. The waiter I’d seen earlier saw me, ‘Hola, Una!’ he called – una being the female word for ‘one’ – and ushered me past the queue and inside.

There’s such a great atmosphere as well as good food. As before I ordered a ‘starter’ and ‘main’ – both raciones, half portions. I also had a glass of white wine followed by a glass of red with my ‘main’.

Marinated anchovies with guacamole and mango purée to begin.

Venison fillet with wild mushrooms and tomato chutney next.

And a dessert of apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

It was all excellent again. When I came out I was in no hurry to go back to the hotel and wanted to wander and make the most of my last evening.


I soon came across a couple dancing and playing flamenco – an older couple and he obviously disabled in a motorised scooter. It was wonderful and the woman had such energy dancing flamenco.

Then, a bit further on by the cathedral, a younger couple were dancing Argentine tango.


The cathedral is stunning by day but perhaps even more so by night. As one often finds in Spain, it was built on the former site of a mosque due to the Moors long reign. The cathedral took two and a half centuries to build, from 1528-1782.


From the front of the cathedral in Plaza Obispo I cut back through almost deserted alleyways to the busy centre.


Then back through Plaza de la Constitucion and into Calle Puerta Nueva.


It’s just a short walk from there across a bridge from the historic centre to my hotel. It was a lovely last night.