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Chihuly at Kew Gardens

I have to confess to writing about Dale Chihuly’s exhibition of glass artworks at Kew Gardens rather late in the day. The show opened in April and closes at the end of next month (27 October), so time is running out if you want to see it.

I also have to confess that while Chihuly is one of the world’s most renowned and admired artists who has exhibited his work in major cities, museums and gardens worldwide … they’re not really ‘my thing’ … and this is probably why it’s taken me so long to get round to actually writing about the exhibition!

In the leaflet you’re given on entering the gardens, Chihuly is quoted as saying, ‘I want my work to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest, they might think it belonged there.‘ For me, the fact that they are so bright and loud and stand out so obviously as you walk round the gardens is what I find hard to like – how could you think they belonged there? They want to be noticed.

Kew Gardens has had some wonderful exhibitions of great artists over the years – artworks placed in the gardens to see as you walk round – but it is Henry Moore’s glorious sculptures in 2007 and David Nash’s extraordinary and lovely wood sculptures made from dead trees in 2012 that resonated strongly with me. They fitted in more organically and seemed to really belong there. As you walked through the gardens and came across them, sometimes by surprise, it seemed they’d always been there, that they were part of the gardens. I remember the huge Moore’s that you could touch, feel and the delight of children running through them. The Chihuly’s – understandably – are not for touching.

A friend who came round the gardens with me a couple of weeks’ ago didn’t agree and thought they fitted in well. Then four days ago I took 4½ year old grandson Freddie to the gardens. Not specially to see the Chihuly, but just for a walk and runabout in what are to us, local gardens (I have a season ticket so come in a lot). I didn’t even point the Chihuly’s out, but it was when a loud ‘Wow!!’ erupted from Freddie as he spotted Chihuly’s ‘Sapphire Star’ …

… that I thought I should look at the sculptures differently. Freddie was clearly in awe and loved them.

It’s turned autumnal in London over the past week with bitter winds making the cooler temperatures feel even more cold. But with the sun shining this morning and the winds gentler, and a quiet Sunday ahead of me, it seemed the ideal time to return to Kew and take a closer look at Chihuly. I timed my arrival for opening time (10am) so I could enjoy the gardens while they were a bit quieter. I took a leaflet with a map showing me where I’d find the 12 Chihuly artworks and purposefully set off. I went in my usual direction and soon realised I was following the route back to front – seeing No.12 first. But it doesn’t actually matter; they don’t need to be seen in any special order.

If ‘Summer Sun’, just outside the Palm House, standing by the edge of the pond, is one of the brightest artworks, it is, I think, also one of the most glorious, capturing the strong energy and vibrance of a full sun.

When I was in the gardens in March, I saw the artworks being installed. It was fascinating and I wondered how an earth anyone knew how to put them together properly.

 

Just round the pond a bit, you’ll find ‘Paintbrushes’.

Walking round the Palm House, the Waterlily House is on the right, with Chihuly’s ‘Red Reeds’ outside.

Inside is the ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’, a glass and steel installation; the glass water lilies rising boldly above the real things – beautiful water lilies in bloom in the pond.

Next I sought out the ‘Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower’. As you can see in the photo with people looking up from below, it’s an enormous structure.

In the Mediterranean Garden, fronting the Italian-style King William’s Temple (built in 1837 for Queen Victoria in memory of King William), are the ‘Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins’.

 

Approaching the Temperate House, ‘Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds’ line the path.

The Temperate House reopened last year after 5 years of major renovation. It’s a stunning and beautiful building that was first opened in 1862. It’s the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse.

Inside you can climb a steep spiral staircase and walk round a balcony to see the plants from above. Of course at the moment it also gives you a good view of the Chihuly artworks too.

I loved the ‘Opal and Gold Chandelier’ hanging from the centre. The artworks here were much ‘quieter’ and seemed much more a natural part of the Temperate House’s little world. Even the brighter ones seemed more in keeping with its exotic touch.

 

 

Back outside, I made my way to the Japanese area with the large wooden Japanese Gateway and the Great Pagoda.

This is always a peaceful and tranquil area with the Gateway fronted by raked gravel, typical of a Japanese garden. At the moment Chihuly’s large glass balls – ‘Niijima Floats’ – rest on the gravel.

I was now at the far western edge of the gardens and so turned back towards the main Victoria Gate entrance (though you can enter and exit here through the smaller Lion Gate).

Once through the Roman Arch and approaching the Marianne North Gallery, I saw ‘Lime Crystal Tower’ to my left.

There were more Chihuly exhibits in the gallery but as a notice warned you were only to take photos for personal use, I thought I wouldn’t risk putting them on the blog and upsetting anyone …

Now I was nearly back at the main gate and saw again the ‘Sapphire Star’ that so enthralled and delighted Freddie. It is perhaps one of my favourites too.

I’ve looked at the Chihuly’s on and off over the past months whenever I’ve visited Kew Gardens but I’ve never taken the time to have a proper look before. They’ve just been things I’ve noticed in passing. (Well, you couldn’t really miss them!) I’m really glad I’ve looked properly now; I like that Freddie was excited by them. I found that some I liked; some I wasn’t so keen on. I haven’t been completely converted (give me Henry Moore any day), but I’ve learned and I’ve thought and what I most like is that I live so close to Kew Gardens and they are fantastic at putting on great shows like this. It’s a real privilege and pleasure to have the gardens so close to where I live.

Rincon Bar Espanol, Richmond upon Thames

It’s a bank holiday weekend here in UK and remarkably – for we are renowned for our bad holiday weather – the temperatures have soared, there are no clouds for the sun to hide behind and in London (more specifically Richmond) yesterday we hit 32C. It was hot. On Richmond Green crowds squashed tightly into the shade of the trees around the edge.

My friend Elsa had come over from East London and we met at Kew Gardens. Here we headed towards clumps of trees and shade to walk, the full force of the sun in the open too much for long, but it was still lovely to enjoy these beautiful botanical gardens for a while. But the sun brought out a ‘need’ for ice cream. We had Gelateria Danieli in mind. We hopped on a 65 bus and were soon sitting with our gelato looking across Richmond Green before taking a stroll down to the very crowded riverside where a small stage was set up for a rock festival that’s been going on all weekend.

Then our Spanish evening began. I had tickets for us to see the new Pedro Almodóvar film, Pain and Glory, at Richmond Curzon. It was brilliant; such an enjoyable film with Antonio Banderas giving ‘the performance of a lifetime that … surely demands Oscar recognition’ (Mark Kermode, Observer), and the always fabulous Penelope Cruz. Carrying the Spanish of its subtitles with us, we walked the short distance to Rincòn Bar Español in Paradise Road for some Spanish food and wine.

It seemed a perfect choice. I’ve passed the bar so many times, situated as it is on a corner of Richmond’s one-way system where buses turn into the bus station. I’d first considered Don Fernando’s restaurant by Richmond train station but when I saw Rincón was a ‘sister’ and part of the same family, then it seemed like a great idea to try it. Rincón means ‘a nook or corner’ suggesting somewhere cosy and informal.

I’d booked and a very friendly waitress showed us to a table in the dining area at the back of the bar. Menus came and we ordered wine (a red Tempranillo [£5.95] for Elsa; a glass of white Rioja [£6.75] for me).

The menu is mainly tapas and the slightly larger raciones. We spent some time choosing plates to share. I was keen to try the ‘Rincón’s signature tapa’ of Single Fried Quail’s Egg with Chorizo, served on bread (£2.95). We ordered one each and these came first. They were wonderful; the egg perfectly cooked so the yolk ran as you cut into it and with the chorizo it made a glorious mouthful of food.

Next came our ‘Selection of Cheese – Mature Manchego (sheep’s milk), Asturian Blue Cheese (cows’ milk) and Queso al Vino (mild sheep’s milk cheese from Aragón, aged in red wine’ (£9.95). Served with small pieces of quince jelly, grapes and bread, this was a lovely selection of cheeses.

‘Tender Baby Squid’ came in a rich ink sauce (£8.50).

Elsa was keen to have the ‘Pimientos de Padron’ (£6.50) and I wasn’t quite so keen but went along with it. I’m so glad I did for they were really good and I definitely ate my share in the end.

There were three kinds of croquetas on the menu and the ‘Tabla de Croquetas’ (£8.75) offered two of each kind to share. There was ‘Jamon and chicken’, ‘Bacalao (cod)’ and ‘Mushroom’. Hot and oozingly soft in the middle with crunchy breadcrumbed casings, these were gorgeous and fun to have the different ones to try.

It’s always a little hard to know how much to order with tapas and little plates to share, but of course you can always order more along the way. However, we’d got it just about right and were very happy with what we’d eaten.

Soon after we’d started our meal the live music began. Rincón has live jazz or blues music every Sunday; on Thursday there’s Flamenco & Spanish guitar.

The music was great: there was Tim Whitehead, one of our foremost tenor saxophonists and Phil Harrison on keyboard (ex The Korgis who became famous for their hit ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime’ in 1980, which he played at the end). I love live jazz and listening to Tim play his saxophone up close was fantastic. I could have happily sat there all night listening to them but we’d had a busy day and Elsa had a long trip back across London, so we left while the music was still playing. But I can’t wait to go back – for great tapas, great music and some Flamenco. Rincón Bar Español is a great find in Richmond!

For more about Rincón Bar Español and their live music evenings, click here.

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

Sumac Salmon with Saffron & Preserved Lemon Yoghurt and Griddled Vegetables

Having opened a new jar of preserved lemons for the recent bulgur recipe and a new pack of saffron for the risotto the other day, I needed to use them; not allow them the moulder and grow old so I end up throwing them away, as has happened before. They’re not ‘everyday’ things – unless you’re Ottolenghi – but actually there’s something about warm summer days that calls for that middle eastern touch, so today seemed a good day to use more of them.

I’d bought the meal’s ingredients and had actually planned something completely different, but as suppertime grew close and the air temperature still hovered in the late twenties after a hot and sunny day, something close to barbecue – if not quite – seemed more appropriate. I never barbecue. I often prepare things to barbecue but I always leave the actual cooking to my son. This is not macho ‘man must barbecue’. I’ve always thought that crazy. You need a good cook to barbecue properly and well, not an inexperienced male cook playing with fire. And happily for me my son is an excellent cook; one of the best home cooks I know. But frankly I’m just too lazy to barbecue myself – too much hassle to prepare and too much mess to clear up afterwards!

Son is in Cornwall, thus tonight a griddle would have to do. I’m a dab hand with a griddle and think you can still achieve a nice caramelised effect that’s maybe not quite the same as a charcoal barbecue, but pretty damn good.

There’s a preserved lemon yoghurt dressing in the bulgur recipe but I decided to add some saffron too. I made it first so that the yoghurt had time to take up the flavours. Then I griddled the vegetables, knowing they’d be better slightly cooled, and cooked the salmon last, adding a touch of that lovely middle eastern spice, with its hint of lemon, sumac.

 

Sumac Salmon with Saffron & Preserved Lemon Yoghurt and Griddled Vegetables

  • pinch of saffron in a little hot water
  • 100ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped preserved lemon (about ½ small lemon, pips removed)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a selection of vegetables to griddle: courgettes, large tomatoes, yellow pepper, red onion, cooked new potatoes
  • salmon (I cooked for 1 but there are enough ingredients for 2)
  • sumac

 

 

Mix the saffron, yoghurt and chopped preserved lemon together. Add the olive oil and some black pepper. Preserved lemon is quite salty so you probably won’t need salt. Stir together well and taste. Set aside while you cook the rest of the meal.

Slice the vegetables thickly. Brush with olive oil and cook in batches on a hot griddle.

 

Lay on a serving plate as each is ready.

Now cook the salmon. I grilled mine. I brushed some olive oil on the fillet of salmon and sprinkled over some sumac. I put under the grill and cooked until just done and still slightly pink in the middle.

I transferred the salmon to a serving plate and spooned over some of the yoghurt dressing.

 

I served with the griddled vegetables.

I was able to sit in the garden; the sun slipping down out of sight but still gloriously warm and a perfect setting for my meal. It was all really gorgeous. Salmon is quite a robust fish and can take strong flavours so was well matched by the preserved lemon and saffron dressing. The griddled vegetables retained their separate identity and the touch of caramelisation worked beautifully with the sumac salmon and yoghurt dressing.

I had plenty of vegetables and dressing left over so they went into the fridge. I’m out all day tomorrow but they’ll go well with some griddled chicken on Monday – so an almost 2 meals in 1 cook!

Saffron Risotto with Prawns & Radicchio

It’s been a slightly strange day with changed plans, though I did get to see my lovely friends Jane and Terry this morning, which is a sunshine way to start the day. Evening plans were postponed so I dug around in the freezer, throwing away some things I deemed far too old to risk. I’m not a great freezer user and I forget what’s there. I make things like Bolognese ragù, Boeuf Bourguignon and soup in bulk to freeze portions, and there are always some frozen peas … and gelato, of course – usually tubs of Grom from Waitrose. But I tend to buy things almost day to day and fresh, which is easy when you’re on your own, so forget odd things that have slipped further and further out of sight in the freezer.

The half pack of organic raw prawns, bought only about a month ago, were certainly OK but perhaps good to use them up. Out they came. Some packs of fairly recently homemade chicken stock sat in the bottom basket. Ummmm. Well a risotto would be good. I thought I could fold the prawns into the rice with some peas and fresh mint, as I’ve done many times, but then felt inspired to do something a little different.

In Wholefoods in Richmond I picked up a radicchio. For a long time I resisted Wholefoods on the basis that some of the stuff is very expensive, and I wasn’t happy that they were part of Amazon. It didn’t feel quite right for my food shop. But actually they have some wonderful, high quality produce that I can’t buy anywhere else – including radicchio! – so more and more I go in there and am often delighted by what I find.

I decided to experiment and thought a little mixture of the prawns and stir-fried radicchio on the top of the risotto – which I would flavour with saffron – would be lovely. And it was!

 

Saffron Risotto with Prawns & Radicchio – Serves one

  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • ¼ radicchio, finely sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • butter
  • ½ cup risotto rice
  • 300ml chicken or vegetable stock, hot
  • large pinch of saffron in a little hot water
  • salt and pepper
  • Parmesan
  • 75-100g raw king prawns
  • balsamic vinegar

 

 

Prepare the vegetables. Put the diced shallot into a pan (big enough to cook the risotto) with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a knob of butter. Cook gently until the shallot is softening. Add the risotto rice.

 

Stir to coat each grain of rice well and cook for a minute or two. Now start adding the hot stock ladleful by ladleful. After 1 or 2 spoons, add the soaked saffron.

Continue to add all the stock a little at a time, stirring continuously. This is the only way to get a nice creamy consistency to your risotto. Once you’ve used up the stock, check the rice is nicely cooked al dente (a slight bite left to it). If it’s not quite tender enough, add a little hot water. Check seasoning. I didn’t add any to near the end as the stock was salted. Turn off the heat.

Add another knob of butter and a little grating of Parmesan and leave to melt. Put the lid on to keep it warm while you prepare the prawns and radicchio.

Now! … before any Italians get upset about cheese with the coming prawns (Italians don’t normally serve Parmesan with fish dishes), I did give this some serious thought. I was making in effect a Risotto alla Milanese and this requires Parmesan. But also I recently saw in the Venice episode of Fred Sirieix’s Remarkable Places to Eat, Fred and Angela Hartnett visit one of her favourite restaurants on the island of Burano. It was particularly exciting as I’d been to Al Gatto Nero with my friend Annie a few years ago and remembered how wonderful it was. Here, Angela assured Fred, they would find the best seafood risotto anywhere. As we watched the chef make the risotto, Angela, Fred – and I! – were surprised to see him add Parmesan. To a fish risotto! Well … hopefully you’ll forgive me doing the same. Though actually my risotto wasn’t fish itself, only the topping.

 

Put a little olive oil in the medium-sized frying pan. Quickly fry the prawns, turning when the first side is pink. Remove to a plate.

Put in the sliced radicchio – with a little more olive oil, if necessary. Fry quickly for just a couple of minutes until the radicchio starts to wilt. Put the prawns back in and just a little balsamic vinegar for some sweetness. Stir. Turn off heat.

 

Remove the lid from the risotto. Beat in the melted butter and Parmesan. This step is called mantecato – basically beating, which makes the risotto nice and creamy.

 

Spoon the risotto onto a serving plate. Then top with the radicchio and prawn mix. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and add a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley, if you have some. I didn’t add more Parmesan; I wanted my Italian friends to talk to me again 🙂

Oh wow! I was really pleased with my experiment. Such gorgeous flavours: the lovely creamy risotto with that distinct saffron flavour; the bitter radicchio and the sweet prawns with just a touch of added sweetness from the balsamic. It looked pretty good too!

 

Taramasalata

I was reading the other day that taramasalata (also taramosalata) has become the forgotten dip due to our recent love affair with hummus. It reminded me that I once made taramasalata a lot. It was always a dip I offered at parties or when friends came round. I can remember making it back in the late 1970s when I was first married and working full time as a book editor and commissioning and editing lots of cookbooks. Thus I dug out one of those cookbooks to look for a taramasalata recipe:

You do of course still see tubs of taramasalata on supermarket shelves but in the main they bear little resemblance to the real thing. For a start, they’re often coloured to make them pink (real taramasalata isn’t bright pink although it may have a pink hue). And they’ll likely have all kinds of things added to bulk them up into a pink froth.

The decline of taramasalata in my own home has come about for a couple of reasons: some family members’ dislike of fish; but mainly, I think, because I always have the ingredients for hummus in my cupboards while taramasalata requires a trip to the fishmonger. I have to confess I even forgot about taramasalata. Then I was reminded of it when I went to the wonderful Oystermen restaurant in May and had Whipped Smoked Cod’s Roe.

It was so amazing, so delicious, that I remember thinking I could just eat that; I didn’t need anything else (though the ‘anything else’ turned out to be very good too).

I was quite surprised at how difficult it was to find a recipe for taramasalata in my books, apart from the old book I’d edited long ago; another sign of its waning popularity? I looked in Rick Stein’s Venice to Istanbul where he travels through Greece; Jamie Oliver goes to Greece in Jamie Does; even Tonia Buxton in her Greek Kitchen didn’t offer a taramasalata recipe. Eventually I found one in Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean Cookery book, which was quite similar to my old book, and of course plenty on the Internet.

Since starting to write the blog, I take more interest in the contents of recipes; what’s ‘authentic’ and different methods and ingredients. Of course, things like taramasalata are dishes from long ago when ingredients were just thrown together with no measurements, each cook adding a little this or that depending on what was available, in season, or to satisfy their own taste. My little book told me that some people like to add a lot of onion, while others none at all. I’ve always added bread to give it bulk and form, but apparently some people add potato (I saw this on the Internet too). Occasionally egg yolks are added, or whipped egg whites to achieve a lighter consistency.

The main ingredient is tarama. Hence the name, and ‘salata’ being salad. Tarama is smoked fish roe. Traditionally the roe of grey mullet is used, but that’s very expensive now, and more usually cod’s roe is used.

What really struck me was the variation in the proportions of smoked cod’s roe to bread. While some cooks add just a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs, one recipe had about three times the weight of bread to tarama. My old book used about equal proportions.

So, finally, after a lot of promises to myself about making it again – in fact, since that lovely meal in May! – I got round to going to the local fishmonger and buying some smoked cod’s roe. I used my ‘old book’ recipe with a few slight adjustments.

 

Taramasalata

  • 110g smoked cod’s roe
  • 3 slices of white bread (about 100g)
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 200ml olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill (some fresh if you have it)
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

   

First of all soak the smoked cod’s roe in water. My recipe said just 5 minutes and as I’d bought roe described as ‘mildly smoked’, I did that. But you may need an hour’s soaking if it’s strongly smoked and salty – have a little taste. After soaking you’ll find the thin skin will peel off easily.

Cut the crusts from the bread. I had a 2-day old sourdough loaf and that was perfect. Break it into bits and put in a bowl and pour over about 50ml water. You need only leave it briefly before you squeeze out the water. Then put the bread straight into a food processor. Break the smoked cod’s roe over it.

 

Put the chopped shallot and lemon juice into the mix. Add the dill and some black pepper. You may not need salt, depending on how salty the cod’s roe is; taste at the end to check.

 

Pour in the olive oil and blitz in the food processor until smooth and creamy.

 

If it’s too thick, add some water and blitz again. Check seasoning. Transfer to a bowl, cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour. You could, of course, serve straight away if this is a last-minute thing, but the texture and taste do improve from standing and chilling for a while. Covered, it will keep in the fridge for about three days.

When ready to serve, drizzle over a little olive oil and I garnished with a little paprika, but you might like to use chopped fresh dill if you have some, or some parsley.

I served it with some pitta bread and lovely Kalamata olives to add a little more flavour of Greece to my plate.

It was really good; a nice texture and good flavour. The fish flavour was strong but not overpowering and it wasn’t too salty either. It requires a bit more planning ahead to buy the cod’s roe rather than grabbing a tin of chickpeas from the cupboard to make hummus, but it is quite special and I think almost essential if you want to serve some Greek-style mezze.

Travel: Cities with a View … and a Long Climb!

It was while I was climbing a steep path up to the Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence in June that it occurred to me that I seem to make a habit of visiting cities where a long steep climb is required to get to an amazing view; a challenge I can’t resist.

I have friends who are serious walkers and hike along ancient roads, up mountains and across moors who don’t take my city walking seriously. But on the day I walked up to the piazzale for that iconic view across beautiful Florence, I walked 17.3km according to my iPhone, and much of that involved huff and puff up almost vertical inclines. Of course food is a big part of my holidays, as regular readers will know, and I eat more than I normally would at home. But I do walk it off! I build up an appetite during the day before I settle at a restaurant table in the evening, a glass of fizz before me as I study the menu and decide on what my gastronomic reward will be for achieving those 25,000 steps!

Walking in cities is about discovery, seeking out the famous sights as well as randomly taking a route down a pretty street or mystery alleyway just because you fancy it. I like to wander, not necessarily with a destination in mind, but towards what attracts me. That’s when you really get to see a city; unhindered by looking at a map or marching determinedly towards a particular sight, you look around; you look up, across and see what’s around you. And if you’re lucky, you may find a gem: an unexpected view; a delightful little cafe or restaurant tucked into a corner; a stunning building; or a beautiful square with some locals sitting on a bench under a tree chatting amiably.

But to see a city in its entirety, you have to climb. There’s no way out of it. Although sometimes you can ‘cheat’ and take a lift, as I did in Turin to go to the top of Mole Antonelliana and enjoy fantastic views across the city.

Often there’s no choice but to go on foot. When you’re in a beautiful city, though, it’s just glorious to celebrate your efforts as you take in a panoramic view at the end of a long climb; often a view beyond the confines of city walls, or maybe out to sea, depending on where you are. Cities aren’t all about museums, art galleries, historic buildings and restaurants. In most cities I’ve been to you can always find a quiet spot … and, as the following will show, very often a spectacular view.

When I left Florence in June, I moved on to Lucca. Here, the Torre Guigini that rises high into the sky in the centre of this beautiful medieval city, has no lift.

Walking up and up and up is the only way to get to the top. But the reward is spectacular.

Back to Turin earlier this year, I found some wonderful peaceful places to walk, like the Parco del Valentino which runs along the edge of the River Po. I also took a walk up a steep road to the Villa della Regina from which you can enjoy magnificent views across the city.

In Siena it’s worth buying a ticket for a tour of the Port del Cielo when you visit the cathedral. You will have to climb up two steep and very narrow spiral staircases but the view will make it all worthwhile. What better way to appreciate and see this incredible city and its famous campo?

Genoa is built on cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea so a lot of climbing of steep roads is involved just to get around the city. But take the funicular up to Righi, walk up another steep road, and you will find a great view over the city and out to sea.

San Sebastian is famous for the number of Michelin starred restaurants it has (more than Paris) but also its bars serving the most incredible pinxtos (tapas), which are not only delicious but little works of art. Set by the sea, it’s not somewhere that requires much climbing but it is worth taking a walk up to the summit of Monte Urgull for the fantastic views.

Down towards the south of Spain to Granada, this is another city that requires a lot of climbing of steep pathways just to get around. But the views are incredible and well worth any effort required to see them. Always, rising above you, there is the beautiful and magnificent Alhambra that seems to keep watch over the city.

You mustn’t miss a visit into the Alhambra (and this does require pre-booking, even months ahead), from which there are more amazing views.

From the centre of the city it’s well worth the effort of climbing a steep road out to Sacromonte. Here is the old gypsy area where people once lived in caves, and which was the heart of flamenco. Take a look back down towards the centre. It was one of the most incredible and wonderful views I’ve seen.

Further south still in Spain to Malaga. This is a beautiful city which offers both a strong cultural scene (it was where Picasso was born) and a beach. It’s well worth a walk up to the Gibralfaro Castle (14th century) and Moorish Alcazaba Fortress (parts dating back to 8th century) for views across the city and sea.

 

And let’s not forget Nice, also by the sea. Take a steep and long climb up to the 15th century Tour Bellanda at the top of Castle Hill for a fabulous view over the city.

When you take a holiday in a city it’s all too easy to get caught up in exploring the ground level but it’s always worth seeking out the views from above. Even if it does mean a steep climb on foot!

Travel and the Call of the Familiar

I’m a part-time adventurer when I travel in the sense that I like to go back to familiar, favourite places again and again rather than new all the time. My current ‘again and again’ place is probably Turin, where I went in March for the third time in as many years and can’t wait to go back to. But you can also throw Amsterdam and Venice into the pot of well-worn cities I’ve travelled to many times. I like to discover new places sometimes too, of course, which means that Turin only became a favourite after my first visit in October 2016 while Venice has been a fairly regular haunt since 2006 (and I’d been there a few times before that, going back as far as 1977!). And last year I ‘discovered’ Genoa, Siena and Malaga as well as returning to Amsterdam.

If it seems boring and unadventurous to keep going back to a particular city, then it’s only because I find myself feeling a little ‘at home’ there and want to know it better. I always make a point of doing or seeing something new each visit. And my love of a place is invariably informed by its food. I’m not interested in going anywhere with bad food! I’m a great cafe person and nowhere I’ve been to (even Vienna) can compete with the wonderful historic cafes of Turin and I don’t think I could ever tire of them, from the best croissants I’ve found anywhere (even Paris!) with great coffee in the morning, to the fantastic institution that is aperitivo early evening and nowhere I’ve been does it better. And well, they also invented chocolate (as we know it) so really that says it all!

Venice I love for its beauty and being on the water all the time, taking a vaporetto across the Lagoon to beautiful and peaceful Torcello or to the Lido for a walk on the beach. And food again – sitting early evening by the edge of the Grand Canal with a glass of prosecco and some delicious cichetti.

Amsterdam I love because it’s Amsterdam. Contrary to rumours about the Dutch and bad food, you can indeed find wonderful food there; one of my favourite restaurants anywhere is in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam – De Reiger. And where else but Amsterdam can you find apple pie to die for (figuratively speaking, of course), especially that found at Winkel.

And a day always has to end at the Jordaan’s oldest bar, Cafe Chris, for an oude genever digestif.

Of course my returning time and time again to the same city can seem a little boring to some people so I was intrigued and pleased when I went to a talk by my favourite contemporary artist, Barbara Rae, at the Royal Academy of Art a few months ago, when she talked about how she worked, and how she returned again and again to a place that caught her imagination, until she reached a point where she felt she’d got to the heart of what she was looking for and moved on to somewhere new. She’s famous for her paintings of Arizona, but more recently has been travelling the Northwest Passage – somewhere very different – and painting what she sees in the Arctic.

It’s great to go somewhere new and love it and there have been so many times I’ve come back from a new city and thought, I must go back soon … but then haven’t. Some cities have turned out to be one-stop wonders. But when a city captures your imagination then it’s wonderfully comforting to arrive somewhere you know: you know what you want to see; you know where you want to stay (both actual hotel and geographically). You know where you want to go for morning coffee; where to have a good evening meal. You know what sights you want to see again and those you missed last time but must see this time round. You don’t need to follow a map or keep asking Google how to get somewhere or even where you are; you know your way around. And if you go to the same hotel, you’re often warmly welcomed back, which is a great bonus when you travel alone, as I often do.

I’ve been ‘called back’ to Nice, and will spend a long weekend there next month. I look forward to quickly settling into a familiar city and returning to places I know while also researching new places to visit and eat at. It’s important to embrace the new but also to celebrate the old.

R & H Cafe Gallery, Richmond upon Thames

It was ages ago that my friend Jay told me about the Persian cafe on Richmond Hill and I was immediately keen to try it. Persian food really appealed. However, I rarely walk up Richmond Hill as it’s in the opposite direction to the centre of the town as I make my way in from Twickenham. I pass the cafe when I go to my book group on Tuesday evenings in The Roebuck at the top of Richmond Hill, but the cafe is only open during the day, Wednesdays to Sundays, so it wasn’t an option for an early supper on my way to talk books.

Then yesterday, heading into Richmond in the afternoon, I suddenly remembered R&H Cafe and got off the bus early and walked up the hill. And I’m so glad I did; what a fantastic find.

The inside of the cafe is simple but with attractive Persian (Iranian) touches with beautiful wall hangings and cushions on the wooden seats. Zahna runs the cafe in memory of her parents, Ruby and Hossein, who, she tells us, ‘enriched many people’s lives’ through their charity work and business in Iran and she wants ‘to continue their legacy’. This ambition carries through into the ambience and service, which almost makes you feel like a guest in someone’s home.

All food is prepared from scratch; the beans for the coffee come from a micro roastery in East London. There are also some good tea choices – ‘Fresh mint & Persian Lime’, ‘Cardamon & Black Tea’. Zahna says the food is ‘simple’ with ‘no sophistication’ but it seemed to me a glorious combination of ‘simple’ and ‘exotic’.

I wanted just a coffee and cake – it was mid afternoon and I’d already had lunch. There was an enticing display of homemade cakes on a table; huge watermelons, butternut squash, oranges and other fruit and veg lay underneath. I sat down and ordered a flat white (£3) and a purple carrot muffin (£5). I had to ask what the muffin was and once I was told it was ‘purple carrot’ couldn’t resist trying it.

 

 

Carrot cake can be a bit heavy but this was wonderfully light and tasted delicious; it was one of the best cakes of this kind I’ve had. It did taste different to an orange carrot. Purple carrots are known to be intensely sweet with a slight peppery taste. The cake however wasn’t too sweet and its lightness meant I didn’t feel ‘stuffed’ after eating it. The coffee was excellent too. I knew I’d have to return for lunch one day soon, but meanwhile settled for buying a pot of their carrot jam to take home.

I’ve never had carrot jam before! When my son popped round to my house later in the afternoon we had a tasting and thought it was good and somewhere between a ‘jam’ and ‘chutney’. Freddie (4½) wanted a taste too and liked it so much he wanted more!

Today’s been a serious gardening day. I decided to take a break and go back to the cafe for some lunch. The menu is an all encompassing breakfast/lunch affair. A lot of the dishes involve eggs on top of sauces, tomatoes, walnuts and feta cheese. A few dishes are served only after 1pm and I liked the sound of ‘Shishandaz’: roasted butternut squash, pomegranate molasses & walnut sauce, served with bread and flavoured yoghurt (£14). There were kofte served with split yellow peas, barberry, pistachio, dried plum in savour tomato sauce with bread and salad (£16.50). However, with the prospect of further gardening ahead of me, I decided I needed something quite light. It was also warm and humid outside, so I wanted something fresh too. I chose a salad of Watermelon, feta and walnuts (£12).

It was as simple as it sounds with black sesame seeds sprinkled over the top. There was nothing fancy about it but you could tell it really was freshly put together. The watermelon was delicious and great with the feta and walnuts. It was just the kind of lunch I wanted. It was also huge; I really couldn’t eat all that watermelon! But I was immediately offered a takeaway box so I could take the leftover melon home with me, which was a great touch. I think it would be a good dish to have with someone else and have another dish to share too.

I may have had my fill of watermelon (nice as it was) but decided I had room for a slice of their Orange Blossom Cake (£4) and a macchiato (£2.80).

Slightly heavier than the carrot cake of the day before, but beautifully moist with a sure but not overpowering taste of the orange blossom. It was really good. I can see I’ll have to exercise a terrific amount of willpower not to be heading up to R&H Cafe on a regular basis for cake!

I asked if the gallery was open and negotiated a very steep and narrow spiral staircase to the next floor. Here was an interesting display of Persian items to buy. There were just a few things; clearly carefully chosen, and was nice to have a look around, though I didn’t buy anything.

 

 

I really liked R&H Cafe and I’m sure it will become one of my regular haunts. In a town full of chain cafes and restaurants, it’s wonderfully unique with a special feel to it.

R&H Cafe is open Wednesday-Sunday from 9am to 5pm (6pm on Sat & Sun). It’s closed Monday and Tuesday.

R&H Cafe Gallery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Where to Eat with Kids: Honest Burgers, South Kensington

Freddie and I went on another expedition this morning. This time to South Kensington, home of London’s biggest and most popular museums (the Victoria & Albert, Natural History, and Science museums) and thus in peak holiday time, a very busy place. Hence we set off early and managed to arrive at 10.00am just as doors were opening.

We went first into the V&A who offer a wonderful programme of family events all through the summer holidays. There were lots of people around to offer advice and direct us to where we could pick up an Activity Backpack. There are backpacks for all ages and we chose (with help from an assistant) ‘An Adventure in China’, based on there being lots of animals and dragons in this particular ‘adventure’. The backpack was quite heavy but Freddie (4½) insisted on carrying it on his back. It contained six numbered drawstring bags with various activities on the relevant theme. We headed to the China room where we found some beautiful dragon robes in large glass cases and one of the numbered bags had a jigsaw of a robe, with a picture of it in the guidebook, that Freddie enjoyed putting together. The ‘backpack’ activity is free but I had to leave a credit card as a guarantee of return. There were lots of other free activities. We could have spent the whole day there but Freddie was keen to move on to the ‘Dinosaur House’, aka the Natural History Museum – just down the road.

 

The long queue we’d seen as we arrived in South Kensington at 10.00 had moved on with the opening of the museum and luckily we got in fairly quickly. It’s free to enter the museum and of course for little ones, the main attraction is the dinosaur room.

 

Well two hours of serious museum visiting is enough for any 4½ year old and his Nonna, despite the fun we’d had, and we were both ready for lunch. My plan was to go to Honest Burgers, which we’d passed on the way from South Kensington Tube Station. I’ve been to other Honest Burgers and think they’re great; the best of the chains I’ve sampled. They also have a good Kids’ Menu – and what kid can resist a good burger?

Despite the early lunch hour, just about midday, the restaurant already had lots of people sitting at tables, but we got a good one for 2 by the window at the front. A quarter of an hour later it was full and people were queuing.

A quiz and colouring sheet and crayons came quickly for Freddie, together with the menus. The service at all times was very friendly and efficient.

The kids’ deal is a Burger + chips + drink for £5.50. There was a choice of Free range chicken, 100% British beef or veggie burger. The drinks were homemade lemonade or fruit juice. Freddie chose a beef burger, that comes with their ‘famous’ rosemary and sea salt chips, and lemonade.

Honest Burgers have a different local Honest Burger for each restaurant, so I decided to have the South Ken burger: Beef, smoked raclette cheese (from La Cave à Fromage, a fantastic French cheese shop just down the road), grilled red onions, garlic and parsley mayo, tomato, rocket & pickles … and of course their wonderful rosemary chips (£12.50).

 

Freddie’s lemonade – of which I was given a taste – was excellent; grown-up good. I opted for a Lucky Saint, low alcohol (0.5%) unfiltered lager, that’s made in Germany (£4) and it was also excellent.

 

The food came quite quickly – always a good thing with a little one in tow once they’ve decided they’re hungry! Freddie’s mini burger was actually a good size and he had a huge pile of chips. It came on a special ‘smaller’ plate. There were bottles of tomato ketchup and mayonnaise on the side to help yourself to.

My burger was a great plate of food too.

Their beef is fabulous. They have their own butcher and all the beef comes from the Scottish Highlands. The potatoes for the chips come from a 5th generation potato farmer in West Sussex. Their care to acquiring the best produce shows. The burgers really are very good: meaty, tasty and tender. The chips are very special. I couldn’t manage all my large serving of them, but Freddie had most of his and liked his burger too.

You can add in an extra of vanilla or chocolate ice cream to the Kids’ Menu for £1.50 but we decided to make a move and go to a gelateria further down the road. I paid the bill (£22) and we moved on. Honest Burgers had been great though and lived up to what I’d hoped for given my previous good experiences at other branches. And such an excellent quality of food for kids at £5.50 is great value, especially in central London.

Snowflake Luxury Gelato make their gelato from organic Jersey milk and cream from a family run farm in Somerset. I’d been there before and knew it was good. We each had a small cup with two flavours. Freddie had chocolate & mango; I had watermelon & salted caramel. They have tables upstairs so we were able to sit in comfort and eat them leisurely.

 

What a lovely outing we had: dragons and dinosaurs; burgers and ice cream. I asked Freddie as we were heading home what his favourite thing had been. ‘Lunch,’ he replied. A true food writer’s grandson! 🙂

Honest Burgers - South Kensington Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Salmon with Celery, Pine Nut & Green Olive Salsa

I eat salmon about once a week; I love its flavour but also know it’s good for me, being rich in Omega-3s. Sadly a lot of farmed salmon lacks the health benefits and is pretty tasteless. So I always buy organic (which of course must be farmed but I’m counting on it being healthier) or, when in season (roughly April-Sept/Oct), I like to treat myself occasionally to some wild salmon from my local fishmonger. Wild salmon is expensive but if you’re a salmon fan, then it really is superb and very special.

I took a fillet of organic salmon from my freezer for supper today. Usually, to be honest, I don’t do anything very imaginative with it midweek but after the success of the gorgeous bulgur wheat recipe from Ottolenghi’s Simple book a few days ago, I thought it worth taking a look to see if there were any salmon recipes. And in the index I found just one recipe – and it did sound very good. Apparently it featured in one of the Bridget Jones films, but I wasn’t really interested in its glamorous film outing, only that it did indeed sound pretty simple and not too much of a challenge at the end of a busy day.

It’s simple in the sense that there’s nothing difficult about it, but there’s quite a bit of chopping to do and I think it’s essential to do that and have everything ready before you start the actual cooking. It can all be done pretty quickly though. I didn’t actually time myself but it couldn’t have taken more than half an hour from start to eating.

Ottolenghi’s recipe is for 4; he talks of halving it for 2; I roughly quartered it for just me! He also names it after Bridget … but I gave that a miss.

 

Salmon with Celery, Pine Nuts & Green Olive Salsa – Serves One

  • 25g currants, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water
  • 1 salmon fillet
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 celery stick, cut into small dices
  • 10g pine nuts, roughly chopped
  • 10g capers, plus 1 teaspoon of their brine
  • 10g large green olives, cut into small dices
  • 1 pinch saffron mixed with a little hot water
  • 5g parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon

 

   

Soak the currants in the hot water. Drizzle a little olive oil over the salmon fillet and rub gently with your fingers to cover. Sprinkle over a pinch of salt and grind over some pepper. Set aside while you make the salsa.

Add the celery and pine nuts to a frying pan with about 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes, watching and turning constantly so it doesn’t burn, until the nuts are turning a nice golden brown. Remove from the heat to a bowl.

Stir in the capers and their brine, olives, saffron and its water, the drained currants and parsley.

 

  

Finely grate in some lemon zest and a good squeeze of lemon juice. Mix all together. Taste. Ottolenghi adds some salt but if your capers and olives are quite salty, I don’t think you’ll need it; I didn’t. But check.

 

Set the salsa aside and cook the salmon. Heat about ½ tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over a medium-hot heat. Lay the salmon skin-side down in the hot oil and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the skin is brown and crisp. Turn over and cook for about 2-4 minutes or until the salmon is cooked as you prefer it – I like mine still slightly pink-rare in the middle. Timing will also depend on your salmon cut. Mine was a thick slice but a fillet from the tail end would be quite thin and need less cooking time.

 

When the salmon is ready, lay on a serving plate. Spoon the salsa over the top. (Despite making a quarter of the given ingredients there was still quite a lot; enough really for two and I have some left over despite a generous serving.)

I served the salmon with some lovely little new potatoes tossed in butter and a green salad. Oh … and a glass of chilled white wine! Well, it may be midweek but it did seem quite a special meal.

It was really gorgeous. I loved the salsa. It was quite a crunchy salsa but fabulous, fresh flavours that went perfectly with the fish. It was definitely worth just a little more effort than my usual midweek salmon supper and I’m sure I’ll be doing it again.