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Grom Gelato, Piccadilly, London

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Travel Gourmet is always on the hunt for a good gelato and London has in recent years spawned a glorious collection of great gelaterias. I’ve been to Grom in Italy a few times, recently in Siena but also in Florence, Genoa and Turin. I’ve eaten Grom gelato in Nice. So when I came back from Siena a couple of weeks ago, fresh from enjoying Grom’s ice cream there, I wondered if they had yet reached UK. Searching the internet I discovered they had – but only just. Grom opened in London’s Piccadilly – at the Piccadilly Circus end – in May this year.

Grom was born in Turin in May 2003, founded by Guido Martinetti and Federico Grom. They were inspired to do so by Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement, which has a big festival in Turin each year. Petrini complained that the art of traditional ice cream making had disappeared and so Martinetti and Grom took up the challenge and opened their first gelateria in Turin serving ice cream and sorbets free of artificial additives, flavours and sweeteners and containing no stabilisers or thickeners. That commitment to producing pure, traditional gelato forms the backbone of the company. They’ve taken it to such a level that they have their own organic farm, Mura Mura, near Asti, about an hour’s drive from Turin. Here they have over 100 different varieties of fruit trees, finding the best fruit to make gelato but at the same time ‘respecting the rhythms of nature and the environment.’ The ice cream bases are made in their production laboratory in Turin and then carefully shipped to individual stores where the final preparation is done. In 2013 they extended production to include a bakery so they could make cones and biscuits ‘that met our standards … guided by the same spirit as when we make our gelato.’

I was meeting a friend at the Harold Pinter Theatre near Piccadilly Circus last night and so I couldn’t resist treating myself to an ice cream at Grom first.

It was busy – not surprisingly on a warm summer’s evening – but the store was well organised with a clear entry to queue, which went round a central counter. In Italian style you pay first and are given a ticket and then move on to where staff are serving the ice cream. Boards display the choices, which vary according to the seasons, and it was also clear which were dairy free and one notice said they were all gluten free.

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Prices for cones or cups are £3.90 (small), £4.90 (medium), £5.90 (large) and £7.90 (maxi cup). I always choose a cup and decided on a medium size and was told I could have 3 flavours. I couldn’t help remembering that I’d paid only €3.50 for my medium cup in Siena and was told I could have as many flavours as I liked! But the prices, while high compared to Italy, are pretty standard for central London.

   

As I moved round the counter I could see into the kitchen area where the gelato is made. They say that if they run out of a flavour you want they’ll make some more for you if you’re prepared to ‘just wait a few minutes’.

You can also buy tubs to take away.

   

And there are jars of Grom jams and marmalades (£6.50) and a selection of biscuits (about £8). Not particularly cheap but they did all look excellent quality so maybe a nice treat occasionally.

   

So what flavours should I choose! I went for Crema di Grom (well, you would, wouldn’t you! A mixture of custard, biscuit and chocolate pieces), Pistachio, and Caffe Espresso.

They were all very good and what particularly struck me about them was the creaminess of the texture. Grom is a great addition to the London gelateria scene but I have to say I don’t think it’s any better than the ones I named as my top five favourites recently and while I’d probably add it to my Top 10, it’s not knocking any of my Top 5 off their spot.

Grom Gelato, Piccadilly, London Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

5 Great Ice Creams & Sorbets for Hot Summer Days

As the UK continues this run of hot weather, then the best way to cool down can only be – ice cream! Gelato! Sorbet! Well … for this gelato-loving foodie who doesn’t even need a hot summer’s day to find an excuse to eat ice cream, it just has to be the season of ‘an ice cream a day’.

I love making ice cream and sorbets and the blog is full of recipes, so I’ve chosen some favourites here. I have to confess though that with the fabulous Gelateria Danieli within easy reach, my gelato addiction has been satisfied more often of late by going there to buy one rather than actually making it. But making your own opens lots of wonderful possibilities for experimentation and it’s great to have a tub of homemade ice cream in the freezer to pull out for a spontaneous treat with friends and family – or simply on your own sitting in the garden on a warm summer’s evening. I also love having some vanilla handy for affogato, one of my favourite summer treats, which fixes not only my ice cream addiction but my coffee one too! It works well with my second recipe below, adding just a kick of chocolate as well.

Here are some perfect ice cream and sorbet recipes for these hot summer days:

 

1. Pear Sorbet (click here for recipe)

I actually made this one during some bad weather earlier this year when I had a lot of ripe pears that needed using up quickly. But of course it’s fabulous as a cooling treat in the summer too and a firm favourite with my family.

 

2. Vanilla Ice Cream with Gianduioso Ripple (click here for recipe)

After discovering some wonderful chocolate and hazelnut spread in Turin at the famous Barratti & Milano cafe, I came up with this idea of enjoying it in a different way. I guess you could use Nutella but frankly it doesn’t compare and Nutella is actually full of pretty bad things while the one from Turin is full of just hazelnuts (45%) and chocolate. The spread works well as a ripple as it doesn’t harden in the same way that melted chocolate would – and really the combination with the vanilla ice cream is just heavenly!

 

3. Chocolate Semifreddo with Raspberry Coulis (click here for recipe)

I made this about three years ago and it seems strange to think now that with all my ice cream making over the years, I hadn’t made a semifreddo until this one. And gosh was I a major convert! Wow! It’s fabulous, but apart from the great taste, one of the best things about it is that it slices beautifully and is thus ideal for entertaining.

 

4. Three Citrus & Gin Sorbet (click here for recipe)

This one came about after an invitation to a drinks event, after which I was sent some special Beefeater gin and asked to come up with a recipe. If you’re a fan of G&Ts then this is the sorbet for you! A glorious combination of tangy lemon, bitter-sweet red grapefruit, sweet orange – and gin! Can there be a better way to cool down?

 

5. Summer Sorbet (click here for recipe)

This is the sorbet I’m most proud of. I’ve always loved summer pudding and think it should only be made at this time of year – June and July – when you can get all the fruit needed to make a traditional summer pudding fresh. No frozen fruit will give you the same wonderful effect. It worked so well and I remember my son turning up just as I’d finished churning it and I gave him a taste without saying what it was. ‘That is amazing,’ he said. ‘It tastes like summer pudding.’

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I hope you’ll try some of these recipes to cool you down in the warm days ahead. You’ll find plenty more ice cream recipes on the blog, so maybe take a look – here.

Happy summer days!

Easy Suppers for Hot Summer Nights

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Even a dedicated foodie who loves cooking finds the prospect of standing in a hot kitchen cooking a meal too much to contemplate when the temperature is touching 30C in London. The question of supper can only be – What’s the most simple, but delicious, thing I can prepare for supper? Of course some people don’t understand this. Why cook at all? Why eat? Just throw some salad-y things together (awful memories of those awful British salads of old with just limp lettuce, chopped cucumber and tasteless tomatoes with perhaps some processed ham dumped on top!). No … a foodie always has to eat something nice. A foodie always has to feel just a frisson of excitement about what’s on the plate in front of them. And that can be from very easy to requiring just a little bit of effort (after all, there are only so many nights you want to eat ultra-simple).

Tonight was ultra-simple. I was eating early before going to my book group. I always eat something simple on these nights – often an omelette. This evening it was Insalata Tricolore (photo at top) but made with a perfectly ripe avocado, good quality vine tomatoes full of taste, a buffalo mozzarella, and basil leaves picked from the plant on my kitchen windowsill. Season with sea salt, a little freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle over a healthy amount of extra virgin olive oil. Serve if possible with a fresh Pugliese loaf from Your Bakery Whitton. Perfection!

Here’s a selection of recipes from the blog over recent years which are perfect suppers for these hot summer nights!

Insalata Caprese (click here for recipe)

 

Panzanella (click here for recipe)

 

Chicken Caesar Salad (click here for recipe)

 

Chicken Salad with Red Grapefruit, Pomegranate & Cashews (click here for recipe)

 

Fattoush (click here for recipe)

 

Warm Halloumi, Chicory & Peach Salad (click here for recipe)

 

Pan-fried Sea Bream with Griddled Radicchio, Courgette & Tomato (click here for recipe)

 

Prawn Salad with Avocado & Chilli Mango Salsa (click here for recipe)

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I hope these ‘revisits’ to some of my past recipes give you inspiration for preparing simple but fantastic summer meals.

Happy summer!

 

Chestnut Trofie with Pancetta, Mushrooms & Radicchio

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It may seem a strange and rather wintry dish for a day when the temperature has soared into the late 20s and everyone is seeking shade and a place to cool down. On the face of it chestnuts conjure up thoughts of Christmas and burning log fires. But to a certain extent, everyday suppers tend to be governed by how the day has gone (I’ve been working), and what’s lurking in the fridge or freezer of store cupboard. The trofie had been sitting looking at me from a bowl on my kitchen worktop since they flew back with me from Genoa in early May. I’d given half the packet to my son and had intended to make some pesto – a typical Genovese accompaniment – to stir into mine. But then Romina at Corto Deli talked to me about serving them at Christmas with pancetta … and since a packet of diced pancetta and some chestnut mushrooms nearing their last breath of life were lurking in my fridge, that seemed the way to go. I also had a freshly bought and gorgeous radicchio and I’ve seen plenty of risotto dishes mixing this with pancetta. So … all these things really did have to work together, didn’t they?

Trofie is not the most common of pastas but you can find it here. I’ve bought it in Carluccio’s and made a typical Genovese dish with potatoes, green beans and fresh pesto – which sounds a little weird (the potato bit) but works wonderfully, and I did see it on menus in Genoa. Chestnut trofie are not so common … indeed, I don’t think I can remember seeing them here but I’m guessing I may get them in Corto – at Christmas time!

Trofie are a typical Genovese pasta, small pieces of pasta shaped (originally by hand) into little twists. In the autumn and winter chestnut flour is added to the mixture. Chestnut trees abound in Liguria, of which Genoa is the capital, brought there by the Romans, and the chestnut season is October.

While many of the castagne – chestnuts – are eaten as fruit (nuts) many are ground down into chestnut flour. Some of this is used for the trofie, but some made into cakes (castagnaccio), small doughnut-like fritters (castagnole), or used to make a kind of polenta or for gnocchi. My friend Annette who lives on the Tuscan/Ligurian border has made castagnaccio with her local chestnut flour, which happily she’s brought back to London for her friends to taste!

 

Chestnut Trofie with Pancetta, Mushrooms & Radicchio – Serves 1

  • 75-100g chestnut trofie (or ordinary trofie)
  • 1 shallot
  • 70g diced pancetta
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large chestnut mushrooms, halved and thickly sliced
  • slug of white wine (if easily available but not essential)
  • ¼ round radicchio (about 50g), cut into roughly 1cm slices
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • Parmesan

 

Put the trofie on to start cooking – follow instructions on your pack but mine needed about 13 minutes.

While they’re cooking prepare the ‘sauce’. Finely slice the shallot and add it to a pan with the diced pancetta and about a tablespoon olive oil. Cook over a medium heat until colouring nicely. Now add the mushrooms.

Stir occasionally and when the mushrooms and everything has coloured nicely add a glug of white wine, if using (I had some open) and a good grating of black pepper (you probably won’t need salt because of the salty pancetta). If you have no wine, just add a little of the pasta water. Let cook down for a minute or two until the wine or water has been almost absorbed.

Slice the radicchio and add it with the cooked and drained trofie.

   

   

Mix all together and continue to cook as you carefully turn and mix well for another minute or so.

Transfer to a serving dish and grate over some Parmesan.

I served it with a green salad and sat in the garden, a glass of chilled white wine to hand. It was cooling off but still warm. However, that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this wonderful dish. The flavours were fantastic. I guess it would be nice in the winter but really it was pretty spectacular in blazing July!!

Four Nights in Siena: Eat, Drink, Do

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Why go?

I’ve been wanting to go to Siena for years and years and have just missed it a number of times for various reasons, even when quite close. A lot of people visit it as a day trip from places like Florence. I thought of doing that last year while spending five days in Florence, but then decided against a journey of an hour and a half each way for a quick glimpse of Siena. No, I thought, Siena needed to be seen properly; I needed to stay there for a few days. So, in January this year, I booked my trip!

Why have I been wanting to go? Well, as a self-confessed Italophile, I go to Italy once or twice a year and have seen much of the country, from Genoa, Milan, Turin and Venice in the north, to Rome and Naples further south, Puglia in the deep south, and – many years ago – Sicily. But Siena had escaped me. Siena, famed for its beauty, its incredibly well-preserved historic centre, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Italy, possibly the world. It really is like taking a step back in time and while there, sitting in the Campo one evening, I thought: Where else could I sit and be surrounded by medieval buildings without a modern building in sight? It was truly stunning and every bit as beautiful as I’d heard.

How did in manage to remain unscathed and untouched? Back in the 13th century it was a prosperous town making its money from banking. But it also had a big rival – nearby Florence, who defeated it in battle in 1270. This, combined with the Black Death in 1348, led to the city’s decline. Major building work was stopped (at the cathedral you can climb the Facciatone for a fabulous view, and this structure is the only remaining part of a big planned extension). Basically, Siena became too poor to thrive and build. The irony being that today its wealth comes from that very fact as tourists descend in their thousands to see it.

 

How to get there?

The nearest airport to Siena is Florence, but it’s a small airport and not many airlines fly there. The next best choice is to fly to Pisa and then there’s a 2-hour journey by train; from Rome, the third closest airport, it’s a 3-hour train journey. I flew to Pisa with British Airways but RyanAir and easyJet also fly there. From Pisa Airport, take a shuttle train – Pisamover – to Pisa Centrale station; a journey time of about 5 minutes. It’s well signed as you come out at Arrivals so easy to find. The fare is €2.70 and there are machines, but you need cash so make sure you have some coins on you – the machines don’t take notes or cards. From Pisa Centrale there is no direct train to Siena so you need to take a Florence train, changing at Empoli, and from there the train to Siena (total travel time is 1hr 42mins). The fare is €21.60 return. You can buy tickets in machines but it’s easier to buy online and have your ticket ready. If you buy a ticket from a machine or ticket office, do be sure to validate it in a special machine on the platform before you board the train; someone told me a friend had been fined €90 for not doing this. If you buy online, have your ticket printed out but you don’t need to validate it.

 

Where to stay?

I stayed in Antica Residenza Cicogna (click here) in Via delle Terme, a small (7 rooms) B&B in the historic centre. It was ideally located, only a 5-minute walk, if that, from the Piazza del Campo, and a friendly place. I like to be very central when on a short city break so everything is within easy walking distance – main sights, restaurants, etc. The historic centre is quite small so it’s very easy to do everything on foot, and anywhere you stay within its walls will be convenient. It’s also a traffic-free zone – or largely, for taxis can enter and motor scooters – and cars need a special licence to enter. This means if you’re driving, you need to sort out with your hotel – if it’s in the centre – where you can park.

 

Getting around the city

Well, getting round the historic centre of the city is easy – walk! It’s very small and nowhere is going to be far enough away to warrant taking a taxi. But, having said that, it can be quite hard going at times. Siena is built on hills and many of the roads are very steep; some are cobbled. I’m reasonably fit but sometimes I was out of breath having climbed a very steep street, while going down sometimes felt quite treacherous and I took it very slowly and carefully.

It’s such a beautiful city though, every street with its medieval buildings in earthy shades of ochre, and particularly stunning when sunlight falls on them, makes just simply walking and wandering a delight.

 

The main sights

It’s worth buying an Acropoli ticket from the ticket office near the Cathedral in Piazza del Duomo, which will take you into the main sights where there’s an entrance fee. There are a few choices but the cost is roughly €20. The one I bought lasted 3 days so you don’t have to rush everything in one go.

Piazza del Campo

Probably what most people have in mind when they want to see Siena is to see the famous Campo. This is the hub of the city, where all roads stem from and everyone comes back to; the beating heart of the city that’s full of life.

Beautiful by day and beautiful by night, it’s where you want to hang out. It seems to draw you to it. I surprised myself by how often I wanted to sit there, walk round it, stand and watch. Inevitably it’s full of people – all those day trippers (the city is quieter at night and early morning), tourists staying in the city like myself – but still it was where I felt happiest. Well, I was just awestruck – its beauty almost defying belief.

Don’t miss seeing the fountain, the work of the greatest Sienese sculptor of all time, Jacopo della Quercia, who completed it in 1419.

The Campo is also where the famous Il Palio horserace happens each year (see below).

The Cathedral

Siena’s Cathedral – Duomo – is said to be one of Italy’s greatest Gothic churches. Building began in 1215 but wasn’t completed until the following century. Henry James wrote of it in Italian Hours in 1909: ‘Here I have sat a while every morning for a week, like a philosophic convalescent, watching the florid facade of the cathedral glitter against the deep blue sky … it is on the whole very lovely.’ It certainly is very lovely indeed, particularly the outside, as Charles Dickens observed: ‘wonderfully picturesque inside and out, especially the latter.’ Don’t miss the inside though with its dramatic black and white striped walls and beautiful floor panels.

And buy a ticket that includes the Porta del Cielo tour where you climb up onto the roof and dome and are rewarded with fantastic views across the city – even on a stormy day!

A ticket usually includes the Panaroma dal Facciatone, part of the unfinished extension, where you can also enjoy more incredible views – after a steep climb up spiral staircases!

Museo Civico

The Palazzo Pubblico, in which you’ll find the civic museum, dominates the Campo and inside it contains some wonderful medieval frescoes that make it worth a visit. You can’t take photos inside, but do go out onto the balcony terrace at the back for a fabulous view down onto Piazza del Mercato.

You can also of course climb the tower – Torre del Mangia – for a fantastic view across the city, though having already done a lot of climbing for views, I decided against it.

 

Il Palio

The Palio horserace in Siena is one of its most famed attractions. It dates from the Middle Ages and 10 of Siena’s 17 contrade – districts of the town – compete for the coveted Palio – silk banner. It’s held in the Piazza del Campo on 2 July and 16 August each year. It’s a very big thing and reflects the longstanding rivalry often found in Italian cities between the various districts (I’ve come across the same in Venice). Preparations had begun for the 2 July race during my visit. The outside ‘road’ of the Campo was being covered in sand, ready for the race; cafes, shops and restaurants were being boarded up and stands set up for the spectators; and each evening one contrade would march with banners and drums around the Campo and down streets.

It was fun to see the preparations but I think another time I’d either make sure I was there to actually see the race or avoid it altogether as it did mean I didn’t see the Campo in its full glory.

 

Food & Drink

Breakfast and morning coffee

Breakfast was included in my B&B price (click here) but I don’t like to eat a lot early and prefer to have a coffee and pastry a little later in a cafe. This is largely because I love cafes and (sad to say, perhaps) a good morning coffee and pastry are important parts of my day. Remember you pay a high premium to sit down and be served in an Italian cafe so generally I’m happy to stand at the bar – like the locals! The difference in price can be €1 for an espresso at the bar but €3 to be served at a table.

I found two cafes I liked a lot: Caffe Nannini on Bianchi di Sopra (above) and Caffe Fiorella on Via di Citta, backing onto the Campo. This last one is a ‘hole in the wall’ place with no seating, but full of locals early in the day and serving fantastic coffee and pastries.

You can get a freshly squeezed orange juice – made in front of you – with a cappuccino and delicious croissant for just €5. They also had some nice rolls and panini sandwiches and I bought a snack lunch to take away on the last morning for my train journey.

Lunch

The ‘thing’ to eat for a snack lunch is ciaccia – the Sienese version of focaccia. It’s very thin and I had a delicious one filled with Tuscan salami one day in Osteria Pretto in via Dei Termini. You can also buy to eat in or takeaway at Caffe Fiorella or Caffe Nannini (both mentioned above). Sometimes I’d been walking so much, I wanted to sit down. But if you don’t want to eat a lot (I prefer a main meal in the evening), just order an antipasti or a pasta dish – pasta dishes are Primi (starters), which come before the Secondi (the main course), so are usually quite small and ideal for a light lunch. I had a great Tortelli & Baccala pasta dish in Osteria da Trombicche in Via delle Terme one day. You’ll see lots of small osterias and bakeries and cafes and the quality is generally high, so just go with what you like the look of. But be careful of actually eating on the Campo itself as you’ll likely pay a lot more.

Aperitivo

Aperitivo is a wonderful Italian institution. Go for a drink early evening and a little snack will come with it. Sometimes this is quite big and you’ll be charged a bit extra for it, but sometimes it just comes without you asking (as I found in Caffe Nannini’s Campo branch, La Speranza).

This became my regular 6pm haunt. Yes it was touristy but how could I resist the view across the Campo. It was a friendly place and the little snack not too big to risk ruining my dinner to come. I paid €5 for my glass of prosecco, which always came with a delicious little snack.

Gelato

   

When in Italy eat gelato every day! Well, that’s my rule. Actually, surprisingly (for me) I didn’t, but I did a couple of days. I had one from Nannini‘s ‘hole in the wall’ gelateria by their cafe on the Campo. I paid €5 for a medium cup (it was less in the other branch), which was obviously a Campo price, but it was good, especially the Fruits of the Forest flavour. My favourite ice cream was at Grom (also on Banchi di Sopra) – €3.50 for a medium cup with 2 flavours and absolutely wonderful.

Dinner

I ate some great food while I was in Siena, and drank some terrific Chianti wine. I like to find osterias or trattorias serving traditional local food, which have a nice relaxed atmosphere, and my favourites were La Taverna di San Giuseppe (click here), Grotta Santa Caterina da Bagoga (click here), and Trattoria La Tellina (click here). But see ‘Lunch’ above for more ideas.

 

Food shopping

Market 

Siena’s weekly market is held on a Wednesday off La Lizza, along Viale Maccari Cesare. This is slightly out of the historic centre but only took me about 10 minutes to walk to from the B&B. It’s one of Tuscany’s largest outdoor markets and has a wide range of clothing and household items as well as food (click here).

Shops

   

For the foodie there are a wealth of temptations in Siena. Not only do you find wonderful food everywhere, you constantly pass shops displaying fabulous foodstuffs. Of course when you’re staying in a hotel or B&B, you probably don’t want to make use of them. But they are a source of great things to take back home. As I was flying with just hand luggage I didn’t want to buy local Tuscan olive oil (despite its wonder) but bought some pici pasta from a delicatessen, which is a Sienese pasta and virtually the only one on offer on menus. I also brought home as gifts those wonderful Sienese sweet treats in the form of panforte, cantuccini, and ricciarelli. You’ll see them in so many shops and bakeries but I bought mine in Nannini’s.

   

Of course you’ll find other kinds of shops selling clothes, jewellery and many selling traditional Sienese pottery.

 

Away from the crowds

However much you love cities, sometimes you just feel in need of a little peace and quiet. You don’t have to walk far in Siena to find just that. I took a walk towards the Botanical Gardens one day and by chance came across a lovely little public park while walking along Via S. Pietro on the corner with Via Sant’Agata, from which there was a wonderful view. I went back a couple of time just to sit quietly.

I then moved on to the Botanical Gardens, just a few metres away. There’s a small entrance fee but it’s worth a couple of euros to go in. The gardens are part of the university. I had a lovely visit. They’re quite small, so it doesn’t take long to walk round, but it was still a nice peaceful haven for a short time (click here for more).

On the last day, and very close to the B&B, I found the church of Santa Caterina da Siena. It was turned into a Sanctuary in 1464. It was another peaceful place to get away from the crowds for a while.

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What a glorious city Siena is. Everything about it lived up to my years of expectations and I’m very glad I visited it properly. It’s worth more than a day trip – there’s so much to do, so much to enjoy and see but also, if you do have more time than I did, it’s a fantastic base to explore Tuscany and maybe visit a Chianti vineyard or two.

This article is now available to read on the GPSmyCity app. Why not download to your smartphone so you can read it offline? For a small fee you can upgrade and receive a city map with GPS directions to all places mentioned in the article. Click here for link.

Siena 2018: Antica Residenza Cicogna

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I had such a lovely time in Siena last week and my stay was enhanced by the warm welcome I received at Antica Residenza Cicogna. I often book a hotel through British Airways, as I usually fly with them, and invariably get a good deal. But they didn’t have a hotel that appealed on their list – they were either too far out of the centre of Siena or too expensive. If you’re only going for a short break, I think it’s nice to be as central as you can; to stay right in the heart of the city. A bit of online research led me to Antica Residenza Cicogna. It looked lovely and its location, just a short walk – barely 5 minutes – away from the Piazza del Campo, the main hub of the city, was perfect.

The Residenza is a B&B in a medieval house with 5 double rooms and 2 suites. It’s run by a family. Elisa is a descendent of the Cicogna family who owned the house for 200 years, until World War II. Then, after it went through years of various uses, Elisa decided to refurbish it and ‘bring it back to life’ as a B&B. The rooms were totally refurbished and have antique furniture and frescoes in some rooms. It opened in 2004.

Run on a small scale, the Reception is only open in the morning from 8.00am until 1.00pm. However, it’s easy to arrange arrival or departure at other times. I flew from London in the morning to Pisa and then took a train to Siena (1hr 42mins), so wasn’t due to arrive until mid-afternoon. I booked my train tickets online and so was able to give them my arrival time at the station. They recommended I took a taxi for about €10 to bring me to the door of the B&B in the centre, which was definitely the nice and easy option after a long journey. If you’re driving, it’s more of a problem as the Residenza is within a limited traffic area; the police need to be informed and there are parking areas, some requiring payment, but a little way from the B&B.

I had mobile numbers to call in case of a delay or problem on my journey, but it was an easy set-up and I was greeted on arrival, shown my room and everything was explained to me. I was also given a sheet of paper with useful information – emergency numbers to contact the family ‘out of hours’; password for the wifi; restaurant recommendations, ranging from ‘low’ to ‘medium-high’ prices. There were suggestions of what to see, what not to miss, and a recommendation that you buy an Acropoli Pass that will take you into the main sights at a discounted rate.

There are no ‘staff’ around at night either, but again there are numbers to call in case of an emergency and even a phone provided. It gave a sense of staying somewhere that was a cross between a hotel and a rented apartment and I liked that informal and relaxed feel. But of course there was the nice backup of the owners always being on easy call in you needed anything. I was given a code to get in and out of the front door and warned to always keep my room key with me.

The reception area immediately gives a sense of the place, with its warm colours and furnishings. My room was up a couple of flights of stairs – a short walk between the two. I was given the Corte Room – corte is courtyard – and it did indeed look down into a small courtyard. It wasn’t especially pretty but it was quiet. It was a fairly small room (possibly their smallest) and had a very small and narrow shower room, but it’s also difficult in these very old houses to fit in modern luxuries like bathrooms! But everything was clean and put together with care and thought and a nice personal touch. I paid just €78 a night for a double room for single use, including a buffet breakfast. I thought it was excellent value.

There was a ‘refreshment’ area where you could help yourself to complimentary tea or coffee, bottled water, biscuits, and even some vin santo, at any time.

   

All the areas that you walked through were attractively – though quite simply – decorated and furnished, giving a sense of staying in a home rather than hotel.

   

Breakfast was served from 8.00am until 10.00am.

Elisa prepared the buffet herself.

There were bruschette, topped in traditional style with fresh tomato and dressed with their own olive oil, from their place in the country. There were fruit juices, cereals and typical biscuits from Siena.

   

There was fresh fruit –  apples, bananas, etc. – to help yourself to as well as a fresh fruit salad, prunes and melon slices.

There were fresh cakes and hard-boiled eggs.

There was cheese and ham and a basket of bread.

When you come down for breakfast you’re greeted – it was mainly Elisa – and asked if you wanted a cappuccino or espresso, though of course tea drinkers can have tea if they prefer.

It was a lovely, friendly place to stay and I found other residents, as well as the staff, would always say hello in passing or at breakfast. I think this was another advantage of it being so small; a kind of ‘family’ feel. It was also the most perfect location. You could easily walk to any of the sights, and were close to lots of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. And most of all it was just wonderful staying within the heart of a truly beautiful and special city.

Siena 2018: Dinner at Ristorante Grotta Santa Caterina da Bagoga

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It’s especially nice to have a good meal on the last evening of a holiday. Sometimes I go back to a place I’ve been to early on and liked a lot, but when you’re only staying somewhere for 4 nights that’s not so practical. And anyway, from my long list of possible places to eat, it seemed I definitely had to try one more new one.

Ristorante Grotta Santa Caterina da Bagoga was recommended by my B&B and in a Pocket Lonely Planet so it was worth a look, especially as it was very close to where I’m staying. I’ve talked of the steep streets in Siena but via Macina was exceptionally steep and I had to take it very carefully as I made my way down. It was however pretty and a nice quiet setting. The address for the restaurant is actually via Della Galluzza, which runs across the bottom, but Macina was my direct route and the entrance.

It was early in the day, too early even for lunch, but I looked in and called to someone that I’d like to book a table for the evening. Two or three people appeared and all were very friendly. And what was nice was that although they clearly speak English (confirmed this evening) they didn’t interrupt my slow Italian and answered me in Italian. It’s so nice when people show the patience to do this.

Now one of the interesting things about da Bagoga – apart from its traditional Senese food – is that the owner-chef was once a famous Palio jockey and thus the restaurant celebrates this with many photos and memorabilia from Siena’s famous horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo twice a year (next Monday, 2 July, being the first this year; the second on 16 August).

I arrived just before 7.30 and quite a few tables were taken but there were still many empty ones. However, a half an hour or so later the restaurant was full so booking seems essential.

It’s a very traditional Tuscan setting and cosy for it. The waiters were as friendly as earlier and I was made to feel welcome.

There was a good set menu for €40 of Senese dishes but I didn’t think I could manage so many courses. I instead chose Ribollita to begin from the main menu, a classic Tuscan soup made from bread, beans and whatever vegetables are in season. It’s really more of a winter dish but it was what I fancied! And good it was too; very thick, the bread soft and silky within it. The Tuscans make the most delicious bread but it doesn’t stay fresh long. They have therefore come up with some wonderful ways of using up the stale bread.

I considered one of the Mains but opted instead for another Primi. I’m snacking more in day than usual – though am also walking a lot off; 10km today) so don’t always feel like a big meal. And I did feel like having a ‘pici’ dish again. So I chose Pici al Cinghiale – pici pasta with wild boar ragu.

You see lots of pici dishes in all the restaurants in Siena and packets piled high in food shops. Pici is a kind of very thick spaghetti made by hand and quite special. The dish was gorgeous. In true Italian style a fairly small amount of sauce is carefully mixed into the cooked pasta. The sauce was gorgeous; very tasty and I was glad I’d chosen it.

There was quite a big choice of desserts and I chose ‘Il Misti di dolce Senesi con il Vin Santo’. I thought it would be a mix of desserts and the woman at a nearby table seemed to have that, but in fact it was a mix of Siena’s famous biscuits: panforte, cantuccini and ricciarelli.

I didn’t mind, it was nice to try them all, especially with the small glass of vin santo. They were delicious but I couldn’t finish them – I would have happily shared!

I ordered an espresso to finish.

My bill took me back to the Palio! What a great ‘bill’ it was and my own Palio souvenir.

I paid just €35 for food and drink (a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva and water).

It was a really nice place, good food, nice atmosphere and a great way to finish my trip to Siena.

 

Siena 2018: Market Day & A Senese Lunch

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As I’m only here in Siena for 4 days, I was pleased to discover that one of the days – Wednesday – is the weekly market day. Having walked around and looked over Piazza del Mercato behind the Campo so often, I assumed that’s where the market would be.

Fortunately, Elisa was sitting in Reception when I was going out and I told her my plan. Then I learned that the market is in fact in completely the opposite direction – off La Lizza along Viale Maccari Cesare. Elisa showed me where it was on the map and marked the route. It was only a short walk away – nowhere is far in this small city.

It’s one of those markets that sells everything – clothes, household goods, anything you can think of. Elisa had told me where the food section was so I made my way through to what turned out to be quite a small food market. It was though a very good one full of wonderful produce.

   

There was baccala and a fresh fish stall; a huge porchetta – pork roasted slowly over many hours, and a typical Tuscan dish.

There was wild boar salami, Tuscan fennel salami.

   

Local Pecorino cheese; some flavoured with black truffle

   

A few stalls displayed gorgeous fruit and vegetables; some fat little courgettes, as well as small long courgettes with their flowers still attached.

   

There were bright ripe apricots and some fresh porcini mushrooms.

   

I love going to a market even when I’m not staying somewhere I can cook. It’s always a delight to see some things I might not find at home and I think you can tell a lot about a place by seeing how people shop and this kind of market reflects the Italians’ passion for food.

By now it was mid-morning and I made my way back towards the Campo and Caffe Nannini on Via Banchi di Sopra. Here I stood at the bar with a spremuta – fresh orange, squeezed in front of me – a cappuccino and croissant (€5).

   

At the back of the shop you’ll find cantuccini sold by the kilogram, and Siena’s famous panforte, sold by slice and weight, and boxes of the city’s iconic biscuits – ricciarelli.

   

When it came to lunchtime I decided to try a little osteria and prosciutteria I’d passed a few times and was recommended by the B&B for simple Tuscan food.

I wanted just a snack and saw I could have a sandwich. Although not an ordinary ‘sandwich’ but ‘Ciaccia cotta a legna’ – wood oven baked flat oil bread. The local focaccia is very thin.

   

I chose one filled with Tuscan salami, fresh Pecorino cheese and sundried tomatoes (€7) and had a small beer to go with it (€2.50). It was wonderful, so tasty, the bread still warm as if freshly baked and with lots of filling.

Rather than have a coffee there, I walked the minute or so down the street to Caffe Fiorella, where I’d had a good coffee yesterday, and ordered a macchiato (€1). It was a perfect macchiato!

   

I wanted to have gelato too and headed towards a place I’d read sold some of the best ice cream in Siena. But then I was put off by seeing their pistachio was bright green, which can only mean colouring. Natural pistachio is a pale creamy brown with only the slightest hint of green. I went instead to Nannini’s gelato ‘hole in the wall’ on the Campo.

   

I was a little taken aback that the same size medium cup I had in Grom yesterday for €3.50 was €5 here. But that’s what you get for eating or drinking on the Campo! It was good gelato … although I actually prefer Grom.

My phone was telling me I’d walked 6.7km so I decided it was time to go back to the B&B for an afternoon siesta, but what a lovely morning it had been.

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Siena 2018: Dinner at La Taverna di San Giuseppe

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My waking thoughts are so much governed by food that for me to feel a holiday has truly been good, I have to find at least one exceptional restaurant that satisfies my passion for a great meal and a great eating experience.

Luckily Siena came up trumps tonight. It’s not that I’ve had bad meals; I’ve eaten well. But there’s been nowhere that’s been so exciting that I’ve felt it’s worth a trip back to the city just to eat there again. This is how I feel about De Reiger in Amsterdam; Osteria Santo Spirito in Florence. And tonight I discovered Taverna di San Giuseppe in Siena.

I discovered it while searching the Internet before I came. The Internet isn’t always reliable but enough articles raved about San Giuseppe for me to look at their website and then book a table.

I passed it on my walk this morning; it’s close to the university. It looks a little way out on the map but in reality Siena is so small that nowhere is far away – and I mean just 5 or 10 minutes from the Campo.

When I arrived my name was recognised; maybe the waiter I spoke to on the phone when making the booking. I was taken to a table set for one – none of that clearing the second place setting, so familar to the solo diner. And the table was very central, which I liked, no being hidden on the edge. Next to me was a British couple. We said hello and then talked a bit at the end, which was lovely.

The menu came and almost immediately my ‘welcome’ – an amuse bouche – of a warm pea soup in a little cup, which was delicious.

The restaurant is built on the site of a medieval house and has a very traditional feel that’s also cosy and welcoming.

The bread basket was one of the best I’ve had with traditional Tuscan bread, focaccia and fruit bread.

I said I only wanted a glass of wine, some local Chianti. I was given some to try and it was delicous so a glass was poured (€6). I also ordered water (€2).

   

The menu was so enticing, full of things I knew I’d love, it was hard to choose. But finally I settled on Bufala Ripiena con Pappa al Pomodoro – Buffalo mozzarella filled with bread and tomato soup with chilli pepper and Tuscan olive oil (€10.00).

It looked fabulous and tasted completely wonderful. It was such a fine example of the best of Italian cooking, taking high quality ingredients and preparing them in a simple way that’s true to their flavour. Though in this instance, the actual putting together and stuffing the mozzarella with the traditional Tuscan tomato and bread soup was a touch of genius.

When in Tuscany and near Florence, if you like steak – as I do – then you should have a Fiorentina Bistecca. Very often this is a dish for two and so the next best thing (when you’re alone) is a Tagliata – slices of steak.

Tagliata di Manzo is often – at least in UK and when I had it in Florence – served on a bed of rocket topped with wafer-thin slices of Parmesan. San Giuseppe’s was more simply served but just as wonderful – in fact, perhaps better as the flavour of the steak wasn’t compromised. It was instead enhanced by finely chopped fresh rosemary and extra virgin olive oil.

I chose a side of potatoes and onion. They were incredibly delicious and a perfect accompaniment.

Apparently there is always room for dessert, or so one of the waiters told me. There were four or so waiters that came with my food or to check what I wanted. I liked that; not having to attract the attention of ‘your’ waiter. And they were so friendly and full of advice and knowledge and passion for the food and wine they served. So, one convinced me I had to have a dessert and then another came and said it had to be the Tiramisu. Now I had Tiramisu a couple of nights ago and there were good alternatives but in the end, how could I not have the Tiramisu when I was assured theirs was special and particularly good. It came with a scattering of crushed hazelnut praline on top as well as the traditional cocoa. But first, the waiter who insisted I have it also brought a complimentary glass of a sweet wine which he told me went well with the dessert.

   

It was a lot of fun and, more importantly, the Tiramisu really was exceptionally good. One of the best I’ve had – and believe me, I am so fussy about Tiramisu that’s a very big compliment.

I finished with an espresso and by this time had started up a nice chat with my neighbours at the next table. I paid and said goodbye then headed for the door. I saw the ‘Tiramisu’ waiter and so I gave him one of my blog cards and said I’d write a good review as I’d loved the meal. I don’t really do this in UK but just add the restaurant into my Twitter and/or Facebook shares of the post, but when abroad this isn’t always so easy. And I did want them to know how much I’d enjoyed my meal. We got talking and then he said I should see their cellar so I was taken back through the dining tables and down some steps at the back into a cellar.

This, I was told, is where the cheese is kept. If you have cheese then you go there to make your choice. Apparently the cellar dates back to the Etruscan Age – pre Christ – and the restaurant was built on the site of an Etruscan house (and later a Medieval one). The cellar was only discovered in 1998. There had even once been a chapel or altar at the far end. I was told they’d tried to keep the salamis and hams there but it was too damp; the limestone walls are always wet. But it’s the perfect place to store and age cheese.

This extra experience at the end of my meal was so special. What a fantastic time I’d had – gorgeous, top quality food and wine, and such friendly people. I’m really going to have to come back to Siena to eat there again!

Final bill for food, drink and service was €53.90.

 

Siena 2018: A Morning Walk in the Botanical Gardens & Visiting the Duomo

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After the rain and thunderstorms yesterday, it was lovely to wake to sun and the promise of a fine day. I’m quite an early bird so I was out and ready to explore before 9. Siena is busy with large groups of tourists during the day as it’s a popular destination for a day trip from places like Florence. So to get out before the crowds descend is a real treat. I’d no particular plan other than to wander but first – having had just fruit and yoghurt in the B&B – I needed a coffee stop. I’d passed Caffe Fiorella near the Campo a few times and having read it served some of the best coffee in Siena, had – of course! – to try it.

It’s just a ‘hole in the wall’ place. Apart from a couple of stools it’s a stand-only setup. And because it was early I was definitely standing with locals and not tourists (though of course I am a tourist myself!).

I saw they had some of the wonderful budini di riso I discovered in Florence last year so I couldn’t resist ordering one to have with my cappuccino (€2.30 for both). They were both excellent.

Then I started wandering. First along the top edge of the Campo and up via di Citta towards the Duomo, but instead of turning into the Piazza del Duomo, I turned left instead into via S. Pietro. I eventually passed through an old city gate and found myself facing a small park. My phone told me I was in the university area.

Across the other side of the park was a great view (Siena is full of great views; everywhere there is some kind of amazing view).

I realised I must be near the Botanical Gardens, which are part of the university and I’d planned to visit. Indeed, it was just a short walk further on. And, as luck would have it, I’d arrived exactly on time for summer time opening at 9.30am.

   

I paid €2.50 to go in. The woman at the desk was so friendly and we chatted for a short time. Then I started walking.

   

I’d been given a laminated guide (to return at the end) but really I was just happy wandering slowly.

It was beautiful, with stunnning views in places of the countryside beyond the city. It was so peaceful; so tranquil and just a delight to be there. I passed only one other visitor in the whole time and we exchanged a short ‘hello’.

   

I wasn’t in there much more than half an hour though one could just sit on one of the benches and relax for some time if you liked. However, it was early in the day and there was plenty more to see and do so I decided to move on.

I made my way back to the Campo along Via Giovanni Dupre. All roads lead to beauty in Siena; these typical narrow streets are such a pleasure to walk through.

   

After a short time back at the B&B, I decided to visit the Museo Civico, which is the large building fronting the Campo with the tower.

The museum has some wonderful 14th century frescoes that I’d been told I must see. They are wonderful and very beautiful but photos aren’t allowed.

What I could photograph was the view from the top of the building, at the back, overlooking Piazza del Mercato.

It was just so gorgeous this view of the Tuscan countryside beyond the city. I stood there for quite a while just taking it in and enjoying the simple pleasure of being such a beautiful place.

I still hadn’t been inside the Duomo – the cathedral – said to be one of Italy’s greatest Gothic churches. I’d seen a little while waiting for the Porta del Cielo tour yesterday but my Acropoli ticket only allows one visit to each place so I decided to go back another time. There’s often a long queue to get in but it was midday and nearing lunchtime so I wondered if it might be quieter. And it was!

It is really stunning inside.

   

There are some wonderful floor panels, which are well worth seeing too.

When I emerged it was lunchtime. I’d thought about going back to the place I’d had morning coffee for one of their delicious looking rolls or sandwiches as I didn’t want to eat much, preferring to have a main meal in the evening. There are lots of bakeries and places selling snacks – focaccia, pizza and the local ciaccino, a kind of filled thin focaccia. But I’d walked too far to want to stand up to eat. I needed to sit down! So I headed to Caffe Nannini on the Campo where I’ve been for aperitivo. I ordered an antipasto dish and a small beer. It was perfect. But also left room for gelato. I couldn’t believe it was my third day in Siena and I hadn’t yet had a gelato.

I headed to Grom which I’d passed a few times. Originating from Turin, it’s an excellent chain. I had the special ‘mango torta’ and gianduiotti (chocolate & hazelnut) and it was superb.

   

Then it was definitely time for a rest and quiet time back at the B&B before the evening and supper.

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