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Zoran’s Delicatessen, St Margaret’s, Twickenham

It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to review Zoran’s on my blog. I say this because when I lived in St Margaret’s, I was there when Zoran first opened the cafe/deli and went in regularly (nearly every day!) to have coffee, eat, or buy some of his top-quality deli products. I’d chat to Zoran when I went in and watched with pleasure as his slow start to building up the business suddenly took off and Zoran’s is now a St Margaret’s institution. Everyone knows Zoran. Then 14 years ago I moved to the other side of Twickenham and since then have only been to Zoran’s occasionally. Back there today, as I sat with my lunch, Zoran came up from the little kitchen downstairs and thanked me for coming back. It was so nice to be remembered and really – I must go there more regularly again!

It seemed the obvious choice today as my friend Annette – on a short trip from Italy where she lives – was meeting me at St Margaret’s station late morning and we wanted an early lunch before visiting Turner’s House, which has recently undergone a major restoration. The great artist JMW Turner designed the house in St Margaret’s, which was built in 1813, and used it as a country retreat. It currently has an exhibition of five of his original oil sketches on show, loaned by the Tate.

It was all wonderfully familiar entering Zoran’s. As it was quite early we easily got seats on the ground level but there are many more downstairs. Immediately before you as you go in is a fabulous array of freshly made foods – salads, dishes like lasagna, and cakes. And above the counter a board offers a large selection of sandwiches, made with focaccia, baguettes or bagels. There’s also a breakfast menu.

Everything is made in a little kitchen at the bottom of the stairs as you head down to the sitting area below. It’s quite amazing how such gorgeous food is cooked in so tiny a space. But there was Zoran with an assistant chef, busy at work.

Annette and I only wanted a snack so chose one of the focaccia ‘sandwiches’ each; they were excellent.

But there’s also homemade soup, salads or cooked dishes. I’ve eaten more substantial dishes before and watched today as some came up from the kitchen. They looked so good it strengthened my resolve to return soon.

We chose some Bottle Green drinks to have with our focaccia and had coffee afterwards, which came with little amaretti biscuits on the side. (Bill for 2 lunches and drinks was £20.20.)

   

It was really good to be back and we took a rather long and leisurely time to enjoy our lunch and catch up before heading off to Turner’s House. Zoran’s is somewhere you’ll find the best home-cooked food and its deli shelves are filled with the best quality products. Nestled between Richmond and Twickenham, St Margaret’s isn’t an obvious go-to place unless you have a reason to go there. But now you have – go to Zoran’s!

Zoran's Delicatessen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tredwells’ Pre-Theatre Menu

I’d been looking forward to the evening for a long time. I bought tickets for the great Tom Stoppard’s new play, Leopoldstadt, months ago. I asked my son if he’d like to join me. I go to the theatre quite a bit and usually with friends but I was pretty certain that Jonathan would love any Tom Stoppard play. And because he was coming with me, I decided the absolute best place for a pre-theatre menu would be Marcus Wareing’s Tredwells. Not only because it has become one of my favourite restaurants, but also because it was ideally situated just round the corner from Wyndham’s Theatre.

I arrived first, having booked a table for 5.45pm, with a view that we should leave around 7. I was slightly surprised to be taken down to the basement area having only eaten upstairs before. Just as I was mentally saying to myself that next time I booked I must remember to ask to be seated upstairs, I saw that the basement was really attractive too.

Jonathan was slightly delayed – updating me by text – and sitting there by myself for a few minutes it became impossible to resist the temptation of ordering a Gunpowder Gimlet (£12). I’m not a great cocktail drinker but this one has come as part of a fixed menu a couple of times and I love it. A mix of Opihr Gin, Cardamon, Green Tea Syrup & Lime, it’s just the most delicious drink to start an evening. When Jonathan arrived he thought he’d like one too!

The pre-theatre menu is priced at £25 for 2 courses; £30 for 3. There was a choice of 4 dishes for each course.

I chose Chargrilled Prawns, Taramasalata, Focaccia & Jerusalem Artichoke to begin (£3 supplement). It was gorgeous; a nice chargrilled flavour to the prawns and bread without being overpowering; a deeply indulgent smooth taramasalata and little slivers of artichoke.

Jonathan chose Miso Glazed Cabbage, Cavolo Nero & Hazelnut. My dish had been gorgeous; this one was stunning. It was so good Jonathan wanted me to try it and I was seriously impressed!

For my main I had Cornish Hake, Yellow Split Peas, Crispy Kale & Salsa Verde. The hake was perfectly cooked so it was still beautifully moist.

Jonathan knew what he was having before we arrived – the same as last time! And second-time around didn’t disappoint. He had Chargrilled Hanger Steak, Braised Onion & Peppercorn Sauce (£5 supplement). They’d asked how he’d like his steak and it was as gorgeous as the last time; the sauce in a small jug on the side.

We both needed ‘sides’ with these dishes so ordered some Triple Cooked Chips (£5), which are fantastically crisp on the outside and gorgeously fluffy in the middle. We also both ordered glasses of wine to go with our mains: a white Spanish Albariño for me (£7.50) and a red Rioja for Jonathan(£9.50). We drank tap water and although a carafe wasn’t left on the table, it was regularly topped up without having to ask.

It was a fantastic meal – again! – at Tredwells. The staff had been very attentive to our need to be fairly quick. We were asked as we went in if we were going to the theatre and everyone seemed to know and I could see them keeping a close eye on how we were doing, then clearing our plates and bringing the next course, or ordered drinks, quickly. It was more expensive than my usual pre-theatre meals (especially because of adding in the Gimlets!), but Tredwells is truly something special.

As for the play, Leopoldstadt was special too, extraordinary, moving and very powerful. Jonathan said it was the best play he’d ever seen; that its complexity, layers and use of language warrants another viewing and he wants to go back with his wife.

Tredwells Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Brasserie Blanc Southbank

I used to go to Brasserie Blanc on London’s Southbank regularly years ago. I don’t think it lost favour for any particular reason; I just tried other places and moved on. But last night, I went back. And I’m so glad I did.

I’m a regular theatregoer. Of all the cultural things I enjoy, great theatre is what excites me most and many of the most memorable plays I’ve seen over the years have been at the National Theatre. Last night I was there again with friend Louise to see The Visit, starring the brilliant Lesley Manville. I was slightly alarmed when an email from the theatre a few days ago let me know the play was four hours long. Four hours! Not even Shakespeare goes the four hours’ length. But it appeared this revival of a 1956 play by Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt did. So, I suggested to Louise that we needed a good meal and glass of wine to set us up for the evening! And Brasserie Blanc came to mind. Apart from the restaurants actually in the theatre, you can’t get much closer, so it’s an ideal location.

You step down at the front entrance into a huge basement area, which has been well designed to create a sense of being in a sophisticated French brasserie. I was shown at first to a table close to the till where the staff were hurrying back and forth so asked to be moved. That was no problem and I was given a table a little further in. Louise arrived, menus were brought, and I let the waiter know that we were going to the National and the play had an early start – 7pm – so we only had an hour to eat. I have to say that their response to our timing was excellent; it couldn’t have been better. All the staff who came to our table seemed to know we were on a tight schedule and everything came quickly but without us feeling hurried in anyway. Of course, offering a pre-theatre menu so close to the theatre means they should be well practised at this but in my experience that doesn’t always play out as well as it did last night. Our main waitress nicely joked that she was sure we’d have time for dessert if we wanted it – and we did!

The Pre-Theatre Menu is served 4.00-6.30pm and offers 2 courses for £16.50; 3 for £20. There was a special offer of a non-alcoholic cocktail offered with it, which sounded very good, but we were definitely in the mood for a glass of totally alcoholic wine to set us up for the long evening ahead.

There was a choice of 3 starters and Louise had Potted Ham Hock Terrine, Apple & Prune Chutney, Garlic Croutons. It looked good; a nice chunky terrine and Louise enjoyed it.

I had Braised Beetroot, Pear & Winter Coleslaw Salad, Walnut & Balsamic Dressing. I like salad starters and this was wonderfully fresh tasting with a nice combination of crunchy coleslaw and sweet, tender braised beetroot. (It felt – in a good way – very healthy too!)

Louise’s main course was Smoked Haddock & Saffron Risotto, Poached Egg, Lemon Butter, Grana Cheese. It looked fantastic and she was very enthusiastic about how delicious it was. The poached egg was perfectly cooked and broke open to a gorgeously runny yolk in the middle.

I chose Spiced Lamb Meatballs in a Roast Tomato & Garlic Sauce, Sauté Potatoes, French Beans. I wouldn’t immediately think of matching spicy meatballs with sauté potatoes … yet it was all so delicious that it worked and I enjoyed the dish. The spicy tomato sauce had a nice hot kick to it and my only slight complaint was that I would have liked a little more of it.

Yes we did have time for dessert, just as the waitress had promised. Louise chose Blood Orange Posset, Crisp Vanilla Biscuit. She was very enthusiastic about this course too!

I couldn’t resist Chocolate & Almond Torte, Crème Anglaise. It was gorgeous. The torte was wonderfully light as well as chocolatey. I had an espresso with mine.

We drank house wine at £5.15 for a 175ml glass. The final bill, including wine, was just under £30 each, including service. We thought this very good value for the meal we’d had. It had been a thoroughly successful and enjoyable return to Brasserie Blanc on the Southbank. Good food, excellent service and great value. I won’t leave returning so long again!

As for the play, sadly we didn’t last the 4 hours … we found it too one-dimensional; painfully slow and laboured, and decided to head home at the 2nd interval.

Brasserie Blanc Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Food of Malaga and Where to Eat

Spain is a vast country and its geographic regions are so diverse that the foods you find in say, verdant Galicia in the north, compared to the dry, desert region of Almeria in south-eastern Spain, vary enormously and in harmony with their climate. The province of Andalucia in the south is particularly varied, with the mountainous range of the Sierras to the north, the fertile valley of the Guadalquivir River to the west, the dry deserts of Almeria and the Mediterranean coastline to the south and Atlantic Ocean to the west.

Malaga, in the far south of Andalucia, on the Costa del Sol, has a mild climate; even in January there is an average temperature of 17C and low rainfall. So it’s an ideal destination for a short winter getaway. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Founded by the Phoenicians around 2,800 years ago, it has been invaded by the Romans, Greeks and Moors. Malaga is often seen as a gateway between Spain and North Africa and the Moorish influence is much in evidence even today, not only in the city’s architecture and culture, but in its food.

The last Moorish stronghold – in Granada – fell in 1492, but by then the Moors had transformed the region’s culinary history. They brought citrus (orange, lemons and limes), apricots, mangoes and almonds; vegetables like aubergines, artichokes and carrots; they introduced durum wheat, and rice from Asia. Perhaps most importantly, they developed the region’s agriculture, introducing irrigation systems and ways of growing foods abundantly. It was the Phoenicians who brought olives to Spain in around 1,000BC but it was the Romans and then the Moors who cultivated them.

After the Moors defeat, when Spain became a Christian country, the country’s cuisine was influenced by the New World with the introduction of tomatoes, sweet peppers, potatoes, chilli and chocolate.

You will see all these influences when eating in Malaga but by far the most important and obvious influence is the sea. If you like seafood then Malaga will be like a gastronomic heaven for you. And absolutely one of the best places to enjoy eating it is at one of the bars in the Atarazanas market (open Mon-Sat).

Malaga has many attractions – its art (Picasso was born in the city and it has a number of art galleries); its culture and architecture; a warm climate and the wonderful combination of a great city and the sea. Yet for me, a highlight has to be its food and the joy of eating there.

On both my trips in the last 15 months, I ate in tapas bars all the time because this is where you’ll find great food and a lively setting. The best tapas bars are about finding exquisite food and excellent wine. Another great thing is that you can choose different sized dishes, from small tapas, to medium-sized media raciones or full portion raciones. This makes the dishes great for sharing but the solo traveller/diner has no problem either. Eating alone I either ordered a few tapas or maybe a tapas or two and a media racione (or two!). You can buy bottles of wine but there’s always a good range of wine by the glass and you can expect to enjoy a glass of good wine for around €3. You’ll also find that there’s not a distinction at many bars and cafes between morning, lunch and dinner in terms of eating and drinking. Although they may close for some of the day you can still grab just a drink or coffee; you don’t have to have a ‘proper’ meal. I saw people come into tapas bars and order just one or two tapas and a drink, then move on.

What follows are some highlights of what I ate while in Malaga recently: what food I was looking for and found, and where I enjoyed the best food. I started my day with a good breakfast at my hotel; stopped for a coffee mid-morning; ate a modest lunch and saved my appetite for a bigger meal in the evening. And of course I sometimes had to fit an ice cream or some churros in-between!

 

Breakfast & Morning Coffee

I was only in Malaga for 3 nights this last trip but I had coffee at Cafe Central, perhaps Malaga’s most famous coffeeshop – and on the last day in La Canasta, almost next door. It’s a bakery and cafe (there are other branches in the city). You can sit at a table outside or upstairs there are more tables with just three on a tiny balcony overlooking the Plaza de la Consticion – giving you one of the best views in Malaga over its beautiful main square (my coffee was €1.50).

On my previous visit I found El Ultimo Juice & Coffee in nearby Calle Sta. Maria, which served excellent coffee. I meant to go there again – it was still open – but didn’t make it. In all these places you can get coffee, fresh pastries and juice; or even something more substantial.

If you’re looking for a simple coffee, perhaps with a pastry or cake, then down in the marina you’ll find lots of coffee stalls, most with seating areas, and you can just sip at your coffee and enjoy looking out to the sea and at boats – in the sun, if it’s being cooperative!

 

Lunch

I like to eat my main meal in the evening, but when on holiday in cities I find I do lots of walking (I was averaging about 15km a day in Malaga) so want to sit down and have a proper – albeit light – meal.

On my first day, I’d arrived around midday after a very early start in London. I didn’t feel like being adventurous and, after checking into the hotel, headed straight to somewhere I knew and trusted I would find a good lunch – Cafe Central. It was raining so I wanted something warm and was delighted to see they sold paella by the single portion (often it’s a minimum of 2 people). I was in Malaga so the seafood paella (€13.50) was the obvious choice. With a small beer it was a perfect lunch. The Spanish tend to eat paella only at lunchtime – they believe eating rice in the evening isn’t good for the digestion – so it was also a perfect Spanish choice. I had to wait about 15-20 minutes as it’s freshly prepared. It was very delicious; an excellent paella. Paella is really a Valencian dish but it’s become one of Spain’s most famous, even iconic, dishes and you’ll find it pretty much anywhere in the country. What I liked about this Malaga version was it was quite moist – paella is often served quite dry – and although not an arroz, its ‘wetness’ made it all the more delicious to me.

The second day I went to Casa Lola for some tapas for lunch, after an early visit to the botanical gardens. The great thing about tapas bars is you can order just 1, 2 or 3 tapas – you don’t need to order a full meal. And the bars are quite happy to serve just one drink and one tapas and see you move on; you’re not ‘committed’ to stay there – many people bar hop (though not to the degree they do in San Sebastian). I ordered 3 tapas and a beer; it made a perfect light lunch. Casa Lola is very popular. I arrived at 12.30 as it opened and easily got a seat; by 12.50 it was full. When I left at about 1.15 there was a queue!

I ate Tortillitas de Gambas – a fritter with shrimps. I actually thought I was ordering tortilla – Spanish omelette – so was quite surprised when a fritter turned up! However, it was delicious, really good, and I’ve since discovered it’s a Malagan speciality.

I also had Aubergine Rolls Stuffed with Roasted Pepper (Berenjenas Rellenas are another local speciality). Another aubergine speciality is Berenjenas con Miel de caña – Deep-fried Aubergine Slices with Honey – or sugar cane syrup – drizzled over the top.

Smoked sardines (Espetos) are also popular. In cafes on the beach you’ll often see them on skewers being smoked over an open fire. In Casa Lola (photo above) they were served on toast with a mix of quail’s egg, pickles and mayonnaise.

If you like seafood then you absolutely cannot go to Malaga without eating lunch in the Mercado Atarazanas. I’d remembered this as a highlight from my first visit to the city. The market was closed on my 2nd day (a Sunday) so it was a must for Monday’s lunch. I returned to the bar I ate at before. There are a few of them along one side of the market with tall bar tables and stools outside on the pavement. It’s all a little cramped but great fun; the first visit we were even entertained by a busking flamenco guitarist and singer. Waiters take the orders and serve you. Pesca’ito Frito is one of Malaga’s iconic dishes: a mix of the freshest fish in the market, lightly battered and quickly fried and straight to your table. What could be better!

My final day – Tuesday – I decided to go back to Cafe Central for the paella again. I wanted a ‘proper’ meal as I knew I’d be eating just a sandwich in the evening on the flight home.

 

Churros & Ice Cream

You’ll find churros all over Spain but they’re particularly popular in Madrid and Andalucia. I have to confess to not being – I thought! – a great fan. I’d only tried them once before and the idea of fried choux-type pastry doughnuts served with thick hot chocolate made me think they’d be too sweet. However, in the interest of my blog research, I decided I should try churros in Malaga; spurred on when I passed a churros cafe near my hotel and heard a food tour guide telling people this was the best place to eat them. I went back Casa Aranda after my lunch in the market. They close between 1.00 and 5.00, so it was only because it was close and I’d eaten early that I could make it.

Often churros are eaten for breakfast – or as a late night treat (much like gelato in Italy). It turned out I liked churros a lot – but even then, I don’t think I could manage many at one time and would only want them as an occasional treat – but do give them a try!

Ice cream in Spain isn’t the big thing it is in Italy but it’s still popular and you’ll find some excellent heladerias (ice cream shops). The most famous is Casa Mira. The original is in Calle Marques de Larios but I found a new branch in Calle Cister.

 

Aperitivo

I always like to find somewhere for aperitivo (aperitif) on holiday. It’s nice to sit down around 6pm with a drink (especially in the sun) and relax after a day of sightseeing before going for a meal. Many restaurants don’t open until 7.00 or even (at Taberna Uvedoble) 8.00. I seem to always find favourite places of the trip that I return to each evening (Caffe Torino in Turin; Bar de la Degustation in Nice) and this time in Malaga – Cafe Central. You’ll pay only about €3 for a glass of wine; €2 for a beer. On the last evening I opted for one of Cafe Central’s best wines and still only paid €5. Drinks always come with some kind of ‘nibble’ – usually olives, but maybe crisps or nuts. The olives (aceitunas) were quite special and probably local ones grown in Alora, a village north of the city. They were slightly crisper than I’m used to, cracked and marinated with citrus.

 

Dinner

The first two evenings I ate in traditional tapas bars – El Otro Tapeo de Cervantes and in another branch of the ‘de Cervantes’ the following evening (the previous trip my favourite place had been their Vineria, but that was closed for refurbishment). You may also want to try El Pimpi, perhaps Malaga’s most famous tapas bar, and Los Gatos is also very good.

The first evening of my recent trip I started with Porra Antequerana, Malaga’s version of gazpacho.

It’s much thicker than usual gazpacho: a soup of tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic and garnished with egg (quail’s egg in El Otro) and Iberian ham. It was stunning; absolutely wonderful. I ate another version in Taberna Uvedoble on my last night. You’ll also see Ajo Blanco – a chilled almond soup – which I’d hope to try but clearly just three dinners wasn’t enough to taste everything I’d hoped for! I also ate some fried calamares the first evening, a cod dish and fried mushrooms with asparagus and ham.

At El Meson de Cervantes I had Flamenquin – pork loin wrapped in Serrano ham and stuffed with spinach and cheese.

I also had Croquetas there – a popular Spanish tapas dish of ham, cheese or mushroom filling.

The most exciting meal I had was on the last evening at Taberna Uvedoble. It’s been gaining a great reputation and there are often long queues, so it’s worth booking ahead. In sharp contrast to the traditional bars of the first two nights, Uvedoble is a modern, minimalist place. Its food offers a modern twist on classic dishes. I had a selection of tapas dishes. I had smoked sardine again, and the gorgeous porra. I had a fabulous Roasted Scallop on Roasted Aubergine with Cumin – clearly a Moorish influence. I also had tuna, which is a popular fish, served on the creamiest, smoothest cauliflower emulsion, which was sensational.

  

Other dishes to look out for are Albondigas (meatballs served in tomato sauce), Gambas Pil-Pil (prawns fried in garlic oil), Ensalada Rusa (Russian salad but surprisingly a local speciality), Huevos a la Flamenca (egg baked in a tomato sauce with ham and cheese) and Queso de Manchego (hard sheeps’ cheese, usually served with quince jelly).

 

Wine

Malagan wines are predominantly sweet, made from moscatel and Pedro Ximenez grapes. I did though enjoy a ‘dry’ version in Cafe Central one evening: made from the grapes of old vines. It cost a little more than other wines (€5 a glass) but was delicious. I saw it in the airport on the way home but at €29 a bottle I couldn’t bring myself to buy it! Sherry and vermouth are also popular; you’ll often see people drinking sangria at aperitivo time; and I saw quite a lot of ‘craft beers’.

 

Food shopping

You’ll see lots of wonderful food shops – delis with large hams hung from the ceiling; bakeries, selling perhaps Malaga cake which is made from almonds; sweet shops selling turron (a nougat made from almonds and honey); street sellers roasting almonds. Andalucia is famous for its almond trees – people often visit specially to see them when they’re in blossom – and the largest concentration of almond trees are found in La Axarquia in the province of Malaga.

For the devoted foodie though, visiting the Mercado Atarazanas is a must. The name ‘Atarazanas’ comes from the arabic name for shipyard and in the time of the Moors’ rule, a shipyard stood at the same spot. The current building dates from 1876. As you enter you see a wonderful stained-glass window that dominates the main area. Here is the best place to find fresh foods of all kinds but also foods you could buy to take home. Don’t forget it’s also the best place to have a seafood lunch at one of the bars!

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Malaga is a sensory delight for the traveller who loves food – the sight, colours, and smell of fresh fish, spices, ripe tropical fruits, sweet wines and smooth chilled soups. There are so many wonderful things to try, being able to order small tapas plates is a real bonus – you can try lots of things in a short space of time!

Salles Hotel Malaga Centro

Some regular readers may have noticed that I don’t always write a post featuring the hotel where I’ve stayed on a trip. I’m really only interested in writing about ones that offer a little something extra and I would return to without hesitation and recommend to friends and blog followers. Others may be fine but not special, and I’ve stayed in some I’d not want to go to again. Where I stay is important to me, and my second stay at the 4* Salles Hotel Malaga Centro last week offered many of the things I’ve come to value and I will definitely stay there again next time I go to Malaga.

I booked it, as I often do, with BA at the same time as booking my flight. I’m not in the ‘top, expensive, luxury hotel’ league, but I do like to stay somewhere nice and comfortable, with maybe a little touch of luxury, at a reasonable price.

One of the reasons I chose the Salles hotel in Malaga initially was its central location. You just have to come out, turn left and walk 50m or so, cross the bridge Puente de la Aurora, and you are in the historic centre. When I’m on a short break staying centrally is important to me as I don’t want to have long walks or a need to catch buses or trams to get anywhere I want to go; I want to be able to walk to sights and restaurants easily and it be no trouble to go back to the hotel for a short break, or to drop off something I’ve bought. You can walk to the main plaza in Malaga – Plaza de la Constitution – in 5 minutes; the cathedral, Picasso and other art museums are similarly close. You can walk down to the stunning marina in about 20 minutes and on to the beach in another 5-10 minutes.

To reach the hotel, there are buses and trains from the airport or take a taxi – as I did (it cost €22 from the airport; €18 going back). My flight last week was early and so I landed at 11:25 and I was at the hotel a little after midday. I’d already contacted them about leaving my suitcase there until I could check in, but happily I found my room was ready and I could go to it straight away.

Salles hotels are a small Spanish chain. Arriving at the Malaga hotel you walk into a large, bright, modern reception area. The staff are friendly and helpful and there’s always someone around to ask for help or advice. Also in the reception area is a small bar where you can get a drink or coffee. There is also their Picasso Restaurant if you want to eat a meal in the hotel.

There are comfortable sitting areas and on my last day I sat in one near reception for about an hour before catching a taxi to the airport. I ordered a coffee and asked if I could plug my phone in to recharge, which they were happy for me to do.

The hotel had had a facelift since my last visit and my bedroom was very attractively decorated (I had a standard double room for single use). There was a large en-suite shower room, which was nicely decorated in a relaxing, warm light grey colour. There were all the usual facilities – TV, WiFi, minibar etc and also a kettle with mugs and some tea bags and coffee. I really like this extra as it makes a big difference to stay in a hotel when you can relax in your room and make a hot drink.

The first morning I made my way down to the basement breakfast room and was delighted to see how wonderfully it had been refurbished. It had been ‘OK’ before but now it was a very attractive area. So often I’ve found hotel breakfast rooms grim places, especially basement ones, but this was somewhere you wanted to start your day.

There was a huge array of drinks and foods; anything you could possibly want or think of. I’m not a hot breakfast person (I may be English but don’t ever try giving me a Full English Breakfast!). I like some juice, fruit, cereal and pastries and coffee. But there were plenty of hot dishes too; bowls of tomato pulp to make tostadas, the typical Spanish breakfast; Spanish hams and cheeses.

As well as pastries there were delicious cakes and the bottom one in the photo below became a favourite – a gorgeous almond cake, so light and not too sweet. There was a huge Nespresso machine with a choice of pods and flasks of hot milk at the side, as well as a more standard coffee machine where you just pressed a button for a cappuccino or whatever you wanted. All the trays and plates of food were constantly replaced as they emptied and there were helpful staff on hand if you needed anything.

 

   

There was a lot of rain on my first day but on the second the sun arrived and I took a lift up to the 6th floor where you can access the hotel’s rooftop terrace, which has a bar and a swimming pool.

Even in Malaga, January is not a month for swimming in an outdoor pool, but when I was there last time in October, many people were using it or sunbathing on the sun lounger chairs.

The views are fantastic and in the warmer October visit, I did go up sometimes for a coffee in the afternoon or aperitif early evening so I could enjoy the views across the city.

I think the hotel would be a good choice for anyone but as a frequent solo traveller I’m looking for particular things to make my stay happy. I choose to stay in hotels (rather than taking the popular apartment rental option) as living on my own and working from home with only the computer and the cat for company, I value staying somewhere with people who will say good morning with a smile, chat to me about my plans and give advice if I need it (e.g. the staff were helpful about my trip to the botanical gardens). I’ve stayed in a couple of nice B&Bs in the last couple of years, but they tend to be deserted during the day so you have the same problem as an apartment – there’s no one to talk to! I was only at the Salles for three nights but the staff got to know me, would talk to me, and it really makes a difference. I also like having someone to make my bed and get my breakfast. For me, that’s a treat!

Staying in a nice hotel where you feel welcomed and can relax really makes a holiday more special. Thanks to the Salles Hotel Malaga Centro for their welcome!

Malaga 2020: Last Morning Walk Photo Post

It’s my last day; I fly back to London this evening. I was up quite early and after breakfast went for a walk down to the marina and beach. It was such a lovely walk. A little windy down by the sea but a beautiful blue sky and fairly deserted as it was early. This is just a quick, almost just photos, post before I check out of the hotel.

   

The marina, which is such an attractive place, is full of green spaces and restaurants and cafes.

   

I walked right the way round to the far side where the beach is.

Then it was time to turn round and make my way back to the centre and hotel – up Marques de Larios to Plaza de la Constitucion.

At the Plaza I stopped at a cafe for a coffee. I’ve had coffee there before sitting at one of the tables outside but noticed yesterday there’s upstairs seating with a little balcony. So I ordered a coffee (€1.50) and took a table on the balcony – for one of the best views in Malaga, right across the plaza.

   

I’ve had a great time in Malaga and if you’ve never been here, then you should put it on your list – it’s beautiful and has everything: a lovely city, great food and wine, lots of art and culture, and the sea!

Malaga 2020: Aperitif, An Evening Walk & Dinner at Taberna Uvedoble

It was my last evening and I booked a table at Taberna Uvedoble, a restaurant recommended by a foodie friend, for dinner. A little research online told me it was a newish place which took a modern approach to classic tapas.

The evening began with an aperitif at Cafe Central. It’s always busy but I was pleased to be able to get a seat inside at the front, overlooking Plaze de la Constitucion.

I wanted to try some local Malaga wine which is made from the Moscatel grape. The moscatel is a sweet grape but there are dry white wines made from it, which is what I wanted. The waiter recommended Botani, made from old vines. The vineyards were originally planted in 700BC.

   

As before at Cafe Central, the waiter poured a little wine into a glass and asked me to taste, checking I liked it, before pouring the rest. Such a great touch! And yes, I did like it – very much. It had an underlying sweetness but was dry and refreshing too. I was in no hurry. The restaurant didn’t open until 8.00 and it was barely past 6.00. So I savoured my wine, ate some olives and read my book – stopping from time to time to people watch from the window and see the sky turn pink and darken. (Glass of wine including olives was €5.)

I set off around 7 and decided to head down to the marina via the main shopping street of Puerta de Larios.

On the way down I looked down narrow streets and alleyways leading off it.

   

The modern marina is very attractive and looked great lit up in the night.

At the far end the Malaga branch of Paris’s Pompidou Centre shone brightly.

Across the water the sky was still a little pink and a new moon hung in the sky.

I made my way back to the historic centre by cutting up near the cathedral. Always magnificent, it looked stunning lit up.

   

Soon I was at the restaurant (photo taken earlier in the day when I booked!).

I, and a few others, went in as the doors opened at 8.00. I was asked where I’d like to sit and chose a table in the front area.

 

The waiter brought a menu … saw me struggling with the Spanish and brought an English version. It was hard to choose. Everything sounded so good. I asked for a glass of red wine and water first. The wine was Ribera, actually a northern Spain wine rather than local, but very good.

I ordered all tapas sized dishes. I’d read that the Smoked Sardine on Focaccia was particularly good and so ordered that. It didn’t look particularly interesting but it tasted absolutely wonderful. And the bread in a little basket was without question by far the best I’d had in Malaga.

   

I love the thick gazpacho – porra – they serve here, with chopped egg and Iberian ham and this one was gorgeous. Then there was Roasted scallop with roasted aubergine and cumin. This was stunning.

   

The Red tuna with cauliflower emulsion was also sensational. The tuna was good but the smoothness and creaminess of the cauliflower was a revelation.

 

With the food this good, I couldn’t resist a dessert. I asked what there was. Cheesecake? the waiter asked. And the cheesecake came with cooked strawberries on top. After the smallish tapas, I was quite surprised to see a fairly large portion. But it was excellent and I managed it all – with an espresso.

 

It was a fantastic meal. It reminded me of finding Peixes in Nice last September and how much I’d enjoyed a modern take on classic traditional dishes. Uvedoble offered the same experience and I loved it. I’ve very much enjoyed the traditional food I’ve been eating for the past couple of days, but this modern cooking excites me more. Many thanks to Pippa for telling me about Uvedoble!

For such a great meal, the bill was an incredibly reasonable €23.70.

Feeling happy and delighted by my last evening’s food and drink experiences, I slowly made my way back to the hotel, inevitably crossing the Plaza de la Constitucion again, now in the dark but still beautiful.

Malaga 2020: Alcazaba Fortress, Atarazanas Market & Churros

I woke to another sunny day, which is such a treat and a glorious respite from the grey of London in January. I wanted to visit the Moorish Alcazaba Fortress again as I loved the walk to the top and views last time. And it seemed a perfect way to spend a sunny morning. I set off from the hotel after breakfast, passing through the lovely Plaza de la Constitucion, lit by the early morning sun and almost empty as it was early.

I bought a combined ticket for the Fortress and the nearby Gibralfaro Castle (€5.50/€2.50 concessions). I wasn’t sure I’d make both climbs today and I know from my last visit that the castle is a more demanding climb, but the woman in the ticket office said it was valid for 48 hours so I can do the castle tomorrow.


As I started my visit it was immediately familiar yet that took nothing away from my delight at being in this beautiful place again.

   

As I passed through rows of orange trees, heavy with ripe fruit, I felt so pleased to be here at this time of year to see them. It was the Moors who brought orange trees from North Africa to Spain in the 7th century and planted them in Andalucia, so these Moorish ruins were a very appropriate place to celebrate them. The Moors began building the Fortress in the 8th century but most of it was built in the 11th century.

   

It’s a fairly steep climb but the paths are well maintained and you are rewarded with spectacular views. You get a brilliant view of the marina and port, and looking further round across the city.

The higher I climbed the more the Moorish history became evident: the arches, mosaics and water features; the beautiful courtyards.

Some rooms were mini museums with artefacts like ceramics and mosaics to view.

   

I saw a few other people on my way round but it was fairly deserted so going early had been a good idea. It’s the kind of place that benefits from peace and quiet to fully appreciate it.

Back at street level I decided to stop for a coffee (there is a cafe in the Alcazaba with a great view but sadly closed today). I sat down at a place with tables outside and a view across to the Fortress.

   

I knew I simply had to go to the awesome Mercato Atarazanas again and it’s just the best place to have lunch.

Even before midday people were sitting outside eating but I wanted to look around the market first. If you go through the arch at the front  you see before you the wonderful huge stained glass window at the far end.

There may be tourists like me taking photos rather than buying, food tours stopping in their groups, but this is also a vibrant market where the locals shop. And it’s full of top quality, fabulous foods. It’s open every day except Sunday.

 

   

I took a stool at a tall bar table just outside on the pavement at the same place I ate last time. I knew I wanted the mixed fried fish again – and really, if you like seafood, you can’t leave Malaga without trying one of its most famous dishes. And the market ensures you enjoy the best fresh fish.

I couldn’t resist ordering a small (tapas size) seafood paella (for just €2) as well as the fried fish (€10) and a small beer.

It was as wonderful as I’d remembered. And great fun to eat at the market in a crowded bar area.

I thought a perfect way to finish my Spanish lunch was with some churros and one of Malaga’s best places to eat them is at Casa Aranda, which has been in business since 1932.

I have to confess I’m not a churros fan and it was more out of interest that I thought I’d try them, especially as Malaga’s best were only about a 5 minute walk from my hotel. I’ve imagined they’d be too sweet for me. Such a novice was I that I didn’t know how to order them. How many should I order? And I didn’t know I had to order the chocolate separately. However, the waiter was helpful and friendly and I was soon sorted out (though the churros were so big I could really have managed with just one rather than two). It cost €2.80.

   

In the end, I was a big convert. They were wonderful. The ‘doughnut’ so light, slightly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle; the chocolate rich and delicious and not too sweet at all.

What a full and lovely morning it had been: glorious views and fabulous food. Now it was siesta time so I made my way back to the hotel.

Malaga 2020: Botanical Gardens, Catherdral & Tapas Lunch

I’m really enjoying being back in Malaga and today we have sun! It’s nice to revisit familiar places from last time but I always like to do some new things in a place I’ve been to before. And one of my top intentions was to visit the famous botanical gardens – Jardin Botanico La Concepcion – which are about 6km north of the city. I’d read you could take a No.2 bus from the centre but the hotel seemed a bit horrified, telling me yesterday when I asked that it was a long walk along a busy road from the bus stop. Taking the city’s tourist bus would be a better option as it would take me straight there.

I started the day with an excellent buffet breakfast in the hotel – Salles Hotel Malaga Centro. The basement eating area had been completely redone since my last visit and was very attractive with an excellent choice of foods. There was anything you could possibly want for breakfast!

Well fed, I consulted the bus times and saw the first wasn’t until 11am … and there were gaps of 1hr 15mins between them. Another helpful woman at reception suggested, Why not take a cab; it was only about €10. She also pointed out that with all the rain it would be very wet; the gardens were beautiful and perhaps I could go another day. But they’re closed on Mondays and I return home on Tuesday so I decided to just go today. There are taxis outside the hotel; it cost €9. However, when we arrived we could see flooding at the entrance. The driver asked some men if they were opening and they said yes, but there would be no entrance fee today.


I was there not long after the opening time of 9.30 and it was almost deserted. I just started walking and soon became entranced by the greenery. The gardens lie in 23 acres of land and are over 150 years old. Certainly many of the trees were so large I was sure they must be very old. Here are some photos of my walk:

 
   

   

   

I made my way up to a brilliant viewing point from where I could see across to Malaga. I was very pleased I’d made the trip and it’s certainly a worthwhile expedition out of the city.


I met a lovely young Danish woman a couple of times on my way round and we got talking. She’d also come by taxi and suggested we share one to get back to the city. We tried calling a number on a card she had without much luck but the helpful guys at reception called one for us. We could see there wouldn’t be a bus for over another hour so a taxi was a good option!

The cab dropped me near the marina and I walked down to the front and stopped for a coffee. There was a craft market along the edge which was fun to look at.

   

Further along I spied a ‘pirate ship’, which I knew would excite my little grandsons so I sent a photo home!

From the marina there are great views back across the city with the cathedral clearly visible and the old Moorish Alcazaba Fortress.

Making my way back into the town centre I passed the catherdral and decided I’d visit it after lunch.

I headed to Casa Lola for a simple lunch of tapas. I went to this bar-restaurant on my last trip and it’s a great and fun place to go.

I arrived quite early by Spanish standards at 12.30. By 12.50 it was full; when I left at around 1.15 there was a queue outside.

I didn’t want a big lunch and ordered three tapas and a small beer.

I had a gorgeous aubergine ‘cannelloni’ stuffed with roasted peppers and a green sauce. I also had smoked sardine with pickle, quail’s egg and mayonnaise.  My small shrimp omelette was surprisingly crispy but delicious. The food at Lola is excellent. With my beer, the bill was just €8.70.

   

It cost €6 to go into the cathedral. It’s a beautiful building that took more than two and a half centuries (1528-1782) to build. It very impressive inside and I was pleased I’d gone it. So many times I’d passed it on my last visit when there were long queues so it was great to be able to go straight in today.

   

   

Making my way back down to the marina and sea for a walk I passed a branch of Malaga’s most famous ice cream shop – Casa Mira. Well of course I had to go in!

   

I found a bench on the walk down to the seafront in a park area and sat beneath an orange tree, heavy with ripe fruit, and thought what a beautiful city Malaga is and how pleased I am I’ve come back.

I strolled along the front for a while enjoying the warm sun. Then it was time to head back to the hotel for a siesta before the evening began.

Malaga 2020: Arrival – Rain, Paella & Tapas

I decided to forgo my usual trip to Amsterdam this January and head instead to Malaga in Andalusia, southern Spain. I loved the city when I visited in October 2018 and remembered that it is one of the warmest and sunniest places in Continental Europe during January. There is therefore an irony in the fact that I’ve chosen to come when there’s been an unusual amount of rain. As the plane descended late morning, I saw considerable flooding across the land below and rain accompanied my journey from the airport to my hotel. Fortunately the weather forecast for the next three days that I’m here sees a return to warm, sunny days with highs of 18C and I can only hope they’re right!

I’ve returned to the Salles Hotel Malaga Centro. It’s a very nice central hotel; all I have to do is turn left as I come out of it, cross a bridge over a river, and I’m in the historic centre. It’s easy to walk anywhere I want to go. I arrived around midday and luckily could get into my room straight away. It’s an attractive, comfortable modern room.


I headed out again soon to get some lunch. It was raining and so I decided to go to Cafe Central, one of the city’s most famous cafes, in Plaza de la Constitucion, which I knew from my previous visit. The plaza is a beautiful square, the hub of the historic centre, and a fabulous place to ‘hang out’.

Even wet with rain, it’s beautiful. I didn’t feel it was a day to sit outside at the cafe, though some people were. I went in and found a table at the back. This area leads round to a tapas bar area, decorated in typical Moorish tiles and very attractive. However, I took a table in the main area and asked for a menu. Something hot and warming was on my mind!


It was the kind of menu that comes with photos and when I saw paella, I decided that was what I wanted. It’s quite difficult to find places serving it to one person; it’s usually a minimum of 2 people dish. The Spanish traditionally eat paella at lunchtime; eating rice in the evening isn’t thought to be good for the digestion. So, a paella lunch was perfect on my arrival.


I chose seafood paella and it was delicious; really good, with prawns, clams, mussels and squid. Malaga is famed for its seafood. Paella can be quite dry but this was nicely moist and I enjoyed it a lot. I ordered a small beer to go with it and an espresso at the end. The bill came to €18.70.

   

It was a great start to my stay. The food was good, the service friendly and efficient. I wandered round the city for a while afterwards but eventually decided to head back to the hotel rather than battle with the heavier rain.

The rain was relentless, but around 6.30 I decided to head out again and find somewhere for an aperitif. I had a table booked at a restaurant for 7.30. Going back to Cafe Central seemed the most sensible option if I wanted to sit inside. I entered via the bar but it was empty and a waiter indicated a table inside the main area.

   
I asked him to recommend a local dry white wine – which actually came from Cadiz. I liked that he poured a little and waited for me to try it and see if I liked it. He asked if I’d like some olives with it and I said, yes please, assuming I’d pay extra. But when the bill came it seemed the olives were complimentary – I paid just €3.30.

It wasn’t far to El Otro Tapeo de Cervantes (connected to El Tapeo de Cervantes, which was full when I tried to book and they recommended their new restaurant).

Inside it was a typical cosy Spanish tapas bar. I was warmly welcomed by Gabriel, who’d emailed me about the booking. Did I want a tall table with stool or a low table. I opted for the bar stool.


I was quite early but it filled up as I was eating. Gabriel suggested I order 2 raciones (half portions) and 2 tapas (small). I asked for a glass of local red wine – he recommended a wine from Ronda.

   

There was a blackboard full of specials as well as the main menu. I chose a tapas size of a ‘tomato dip’ which was really like salmorejo with quail’s egg and Iberian ham. Wow! It was amazing; wonderful.


Fried calamari is a popular option but this squid was perfectly cooked, tender and delicious.


The cod dish with leek purée was a ‘special’ and excellent.


My final choice was grilled mushrooms with asparagus and ham; also very good.

The food was fabulous (the bill for food + wine was €27.80). I thought as I ate about how wonderful the Spanish are at this kind of food. It reminded me of being in San Sebastián and the glorious pintxos I enjoyed there. Such dishes are truly works of art as well as being fantastic food.

The rain had stopped but it was still chilly and the air damp; deep puddles lay underfoot which required careful navigation to avoid a soaking. I slowly made my way back to the welcoming lights of the Salles Hotel.

I may not have found the sun I was looking for, but I found some great places to eat and drink, friendly locals and a city that’s still beautiful in the rain. A great first day.