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Pane di Natale: 7 Italian Breads for Christmas

As Christmas approaches I thought this post from December 2014 deserved another outing … all about gorgeous Italian Christmas breads!

Travel Gourmet

Christmas breads at Corto Italian Deli, Twickenham Christmas breads at Corto Italian Deli, Twickenham

The blog is a constant source of joy, not least because it’s led me to meet some lovely people: other bloggers, chefs and restaurateurs who have been willing to let me interview them (click here), owners of food shops and cafes, and today two other people who are as enthusiastic about Italy and Italian food as me. William Goodacre founded Tastes of Italy (click here) in 2000, specialising in cookery and wine tours; Dorcas Jamieson handles their PR. Dorcas got in touch to suggest we all meet, telling me that William was a ‘font of knowledge’ about Italy and Italian food. How better to spend nearly two hours on a Friday morning than talking about Italy and food, and especially Venice and Venetian food, over coffee. I had a great time and was surprised and so pleased when William gave…

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Tomato & Spinach Risotto (RIP Gary Rhodes)

If you’re superstitious and think that bad news (or perhaps sometimes good news?) comes in threes, then 27 November 2019 was a day to convince you of your belief. I was sat at my desk working on a publishing job for most of the day and first came the news – popping up on my computer – that Gary Rhodes had died suddenly. Gary Rhodes! This conjured up all kinds of memories for me – of watching his TV shows with my kids in the 90s; cooking his recipes; and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration at one of his restaurants in London. I hadn’t heard much of him in years, but I hadn’t forgotten him. And when I had a cull of my cookbooks a couple of years ago, all Gary’s remained; I wasn’t throwing any out.

Sat at my desk the news of Jonathan Miller’s death followed. One of my great heroes, such an extraordinary man whom I’d followed from the days of the brilliant Beyond the Fringe on TV in my teens; to seeing his version of La Traviata more than once at the Royal Opera House. I’d barely time to mourn and remember when news of Clive James’ death came – on the same day! Clive James! Another hero. I never knew him yet felt such affection for him. I remembered reading his columns in the Observer, buying his books, watching his TV shows, and only last year seeing him interviewed by Mary Beard on TV and talking of his way of dying. Diagnosed with terminal leukaemia in 2010, he wasn’t going to go quietly. Thank goodness for us! His glorious wit and humour survived. As he laughed with Mary, we saw that he wasn’t going in anger, but in celebration and thankfulness for his life. James wasn’t just a ‘funny man’, he was another – like Miller – polymath: good at everything. He translated Dante’s The Divine Comedy (2013) and wrote some wonderful poetry, most recently a glorious epic poem, The River in the Sky, which we discussed and lauded at my book club.

Back to Gary, one of our TV chef giants who showed us how great British cooking can be … at a time when many were in doubt. Back in the late 90s we often had au pairs to look after our kids while I worked part-time. Usually French, they came with dire warnings and anxiety that they would have to live on fish and chips. It was still imagined the Brits lived on fish and chips. But not in my house. They found, to their relief, that I could cook. And – all modesty aside – I could cook well.

Given my love of Italian cooking and Gary championing British cooking, it’s a rather weird fact that it was Gary who introduced me to risottos. I cook risotto so often (it is one of my favourite things), and do it with my thoughts firmly turned towards Italy, yet it was Gary’s spinach and tomato risotto in his Open Rhodes Around Britain book (published 1996) that started me on my addiction to this delightful rice dish. A risotto of some kind is cooked most weeks in my house – you’ll find a good selection here on the blog (click here).

The book accompanied Gary’s TV series. It was a Christmas gift from my son Jonathan, then aged 13, who wrote inside: ‘Perhaps we can make that delicious orange souffle’. I can’t remember if we did, but my son is one of the best home cooks I know, so I think Gary’s influence (and it has to be said, Jamie Oliver’s too) played its part.

Spinach and tomato risotto is one of those comfort foods we all have. Making and eating it just fills me with love for my family, even when, as now, I’m usually cooking it just for myself! I have to say that my version has veered slightly away from Gary’s instructions, but essentially it is his; I think of it as his. And here it is. It’s what I cooked tonight as I thought of the ‘cheeky chappy’ and all he did for British cooking (even if he did teach me to cook Italian!).

 

Tomato & Spinach Risotto – For one

  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup risotto rice
  • a little white wine
  • 1 cup (or more) hot stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • 2 big handfuls of baby spinach leaves
  • about 10g butter
  • Parmesan
  • a few mini mozzarellas (optional)

 

   

Gently fry the shallot in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. When soft, add the rice and stir well to coat each grain. Cook for just a minute of two then add a good splash of white wine. Stir over a medium heat until most of the wine has evaporated and been absorbed. Then start adding the hot stock ladleful by ladleful. (I used chicken but for a veggie meal, use vegetable stock.) Carry on until all the stock is used and the rice is tender but still retains a slight bite – al dente. You may need more than a cup of stock; you can make up the amount with hot water.

   

While the rice is cooking, put the chopped tomato in a frying pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil (if you want to be more sophisticated, skin the tomatoes, but I took the lazy approach!). Cook this gently, stirring occasionally, until it breaks down into a mush and is soft.

   

Now add the spinach. Stir carefully to mix together and cook for a couple of minutes until the spinach has wilted down into the tomato. Season with salt and pepper.

   

Add the spinach and tomato to the rice and mix well.

Now add the butter and a little grated Parmesan. Pop a lid on the pan and leave (off the heat) for a minute or two for the butter to melt. Now beat in well. This is the manecato step which brings an extra creaminess to the risotto.

Transfer to a serving dish. You’ll notice my risotto is quite wet as I like it that way – much as I often like an arroz rather than paella in Spain. But cook to a drier consistency if you prefer.

Now the addition of some mini mozzarella balls was because I had a tub open in my fridge that needed using up. They are certainly not essential and in fact, in all the years I’ve been making this risotto, it was the first time I’ve used them. But they were very nice! And I liked the added creaminess and different texture they offered. You could also use a standard size mozzarella and just slice or break into pieces. Grate over a little more Parmesan and serve.

Thank you, Gary, for showing me how wonderful risotto can be – and all you did for great British cooking.

Rick Stein’s Rotisserie-style Chicken

I’m really enjoying watching Rick Stein’s Secret France on TV and couldn’t resist buying a copy of the accompanying book when I saw it on offer in Waitrose.

Neither could I resist trying his ‘Rotisserie-style chicken’ for the family Sunday meal yesterday. Rotisserie chicken brings back many happy memories of holidays in France when my kids were small. It was so easy to buy one from a butcher, charcuterie or a traiteur for a quick and easy meal and the chicken always tasted wonderful; like nothing you could reproduce at home – unless you had a rotisserie!

Actually my son does have a rotisserie option on his barbecue and oven, but we were eating at my place. And my place has a small kitchen with a basic single oven and no fancy extras! So Rick’s recipe seemed ideal.

The recipe simply coats the chicken generously in a spicy butter and slow-roasts it for 2-2½ hours, with some basting along the way. I have to say that what it produced didn’t really strike me as ‘rotisserie chicken’ but it was nevertheless very good indeed, absolutely delicious, and I’ll certainly do it this way again.

 

Rick Stein’s Rotisserie-style Chicken – Serves 4

  • 1 organic, free-range chicken (about 1.5kg)
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 clove garlic, bashed
  • 600g potatoes, cut into thick 2cm slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Spice rub

  • 40g butter (soft, not straight from the fridge)
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • good pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme

 

   

Make the spice rub first. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together.

   

Put the half lemon and bashed garlic clove into the cavity of the chicken and tie the legs together. Rub the spicy butter mix all over the chicken. At this point it can go straight into the oven, but I prepared mine earlier in the day so that it was ready to go into the oven when I started cooking, and kept it in the fridge.

When you want to begin roasting the chicken, prepare the potatoes. Peel them and slice into roughly 2cm-thick pieces. Lay some across the bottom of a roasting pan, sit the prepared chicken on top, then scatter the rest of the potato slices around the chicken. Drizzle the olive oil over the potatoes.

Put into a preheated 150C/Fan 130/Gas 2 oven and roast for 2-2½ hours, basting a few times.

As the buttery coating blackened along the way, it became a little difficult to judge how well the chicken was cooking and I ended up turning the temperature up a bit towards the end (but that could just be my oven!). It wasn’t actually looking that pretty and I wasn’t sure it was going to be a success and I’d bother to blog it. But then we ate it.

The chicken was lifted out and placed on a carving board with foil over the top to keep it warm. I transferred the potatoes to another dish and returned them to the oven to brown a little more. Rick says to spoon the juices over the chicken when serving but I left son Jonathan to make a proper gravy, adding some of my home-made stock cubes and some Madeira wine.

I served it simply with some tenderstem broccoli and peas.

It really was wonderful. The chicken had taken up the flavours from the spicy butter and the meat was so moist and gorgeous. This really was an excellent way to cook the chicken (as long as you’re not one to worry about butter; and if you do, don’t! It’s healthy and natural). The potatoes, having cooked with the chicken, had taken up all the lovely flavours too and were fantastic. What a success!

We finished as we so often do with apple and blueberry crumble. My son seemed a little disappointed it wasn’t the lovely cobbler again from last week. He told me how he’d reheated the leftovers they’d taken home the next day and had it with cream – and he thought it was almost better the second time around. Well, it looks like I’ll be repeating the cobbler again soon … as well as this great chicken dish!

GPSmyCity Christmas Giveaway!

‘Tis the season to be merry … and think about some great travel in the coming year. To inspire you and help you celebrate the festive season, with the brilliant app GPSmyCity I’m offering a free upgrade on three of my favourite – and I hope most useful – articles from this year.

You can download any of the guides on GPSmyCity for free but an upgrade will give you all the great benefits of the app: you can read offline and you’ll get a city map with GPS directions to all the places mentioned in the article. It’s never been easier to find that restaurant, food shop or famous sight – it’s all on your smartphone or tablet.

Two of my very favourite cities are Nice and Turin and I’ve travelled to both this year. You can now download and upgrade for free guides to what to eat and where to eat in these fabulous cities. If you’re thinking about a city break next year, then these two should definitely be on your list!

And of course for this Londoner the very best city of all is my hometown. This year I’ve discovered some great new restaurants, which I love and have quickly become favourites. So why not download my guide to my top places to eat in London and celebrate Christmas and the New Year in style with some great food?

Upgrades to the following articles are free for a week from Monday 2 December:

 

The Food of Nice and Where to Eat

For the link to the free upgrade, click here.

 

Travel Gourmet’s Top Places to Eat in London

For a link to the free upgrade, click here.

 

Where to Eat and Drink in Turin

For a link to the free upgrade, click here.

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

I wish you a very happy Christmas and all best wishes for the coming year!

🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄

Plum & Apple Cobbler

Since starting the blog, many people think I’m cooking up a storm of Ottolenghi, Marcus Wareing and other great cooks in my kitchen on a regular basis. The truth is, like most people, most of the time I’m cooking old familiar favourites that I can put together pretty quickly and easily. I rarely ‘entertain’ these days and so am either cooking for myself (and I do cook – I don’t live on ready-made meals or scrambled eggs) or my family. I often cook for the family at weekends and love it. But I also have to confess that most of the time – unless I’m wanting to try a new recipe for the blog (and they’re always willing guinea pigs) or it’s a special occasion, like a birthday – it’s something well tried and tested. In fact, it’s most usually roast chicken followed by apple crumble – and you can’t get much more ordinary than that. Today I thought I’d try something slightly new – an apple (and plum) cobbler. I had a fancy to make one a couple of weeks ago but it didn’t turn out well, despite following a well-known TV chef’s recipe carefully (that’s another thing – I don’t blog my disasters and disappointment; but I do have them too, like every other cook). I told my son the plan this morning when we were organising when we’d eat. He asked, Can’t you make a crumble? Really, the cobbler a couple of weeks ago wasn’t that bad! No, I want to try the cobbler again, I said. So, Mum decided.

Given my shelves crammed full of cookbooks, it was surprisingly difficult to come by a traditional recipe but I found one eventually in my trusty The Times Cookery Book by Katie Stewart, which was published back in 1972 and is one of the first cookbooks I ever bought. It was once my ‘cookery bible’ and I could never give it away. And like today, it can be a great book to return to for a traditional recipe. However, I also looked online and while I pretty much followed Katie’s recipe, I substituted buttermilk for ordinary milk, as that was a common ingredient in newer recipes to gain a lighter topping. Many describe the topping as a biscuit dough but I think that comes from the US where their ‘biscuit’ is much like a UK’s ‘scone’. Katie was the only writer I found who actually used a cutter to create scone-shaped pieces of dough to go on the top, and I liked that so followed her instructions.

 

Apple & Plum Cobbler

  • 6 large plums, stoned and quartered
  • 2 dessertspoons caster sugar
  • 3 large eating apples (like Cox’s), cored and peeled
  • a little water

Cobbler topping

  • 225g plain (preferable spelt) flour
  • 1 level tablespoon baking powder
  • 75g cold butter
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons buttermilk
  • a little milk and demerara sugar to glaze

 

 

Prepare the plums and put in a saucepan with 1 dessertspoon sugar and a dash of water – just to cover the bottom and stop the plums sticking. Cook gently over a low heat while you prepare the apples.

   

Cut each peeled and cored apple into quarters, then halve the quarters again to give you 8 pieces per apple. Add to the plums with the other dessertspoon of sugar. Stir gently and often until the fruit is starting to soften but still retains its shape. It’s going to get more cooking in the final process and this initial cooking is just to ensure it’s cooked through. Transfer the fruit to a deep oven dish (approx. 20 x 25cm).

Now make the topping.

   

Many recipes did it all by hand to create lightness but I chose to do the initial mixing of the flour, baking powder and butter in my food processor and the rest by hand. Add them and process until you have a ‘breadcrumb’ mix. Then tip into a mixing bowl.

Add the sugar and stir.

Crack the egg into a measuring jug and add the buttermilk. Make up to 150ml (just over 4 tablespoons of buttermilk). Mix well with a fork then add to the flour mixture.

   

Mix until it comes together into a ball but be careful not to overwork the dough. Pat out on a floured surface and roll until the dough is about 1cm thick. Then cut out 12 ‘scone’ shapes.

   

Arrange the ‘scones’ on top of the fruit. Brush with a little milk and sprinkle over a small amount of demerara sugar.

Put into a preheated oven at 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 for 15 minutes. Then lower the heat to 190C/Fan 170/Gas 5 for another 15 minutes.

Remove and serve warm with cream, ice cream or custard – whatever your family’s preference.

My family’s preference is always custard – of the very traditional custard powder variety. I’d be happy with cream but of course only want to make them happy. They were very happy (and that wasn’t just down to the custard). The fruit had nicely softened without breaking down into a mush; the ‘scones’ were fantastic – so light and delicious. You could have eaten them as proper scones with cream and jam! My son Jonathan (having forgotten all about crumble) even had seconds; ‘even’ as he rarely has seconds of pudding. I kindly said – as mums do – that each ‘scone’ was more like half a scone so he’d only really had one. Well, that crumble is going to have to fight to retain its No.1 position at Sunday dinnertime; I think we may be having cobbler quite often from now on!

Cooking with Freddie: Making the Christmas Pudding

Cooking is a family affair for me: we talk food; we talk recipes; we cook together when we can. My parents introduced me to good food very early in life and my son started cooking at such a young age he had to stand on a stool to reach the worktop. Now he’s one of the best home cooks I know, as is my daughter. My son’s eldest son Freddie is a budding cook at 4¾. If he sees me cooking in the kitchen he’ll dash to get ‘his’ stool, bring it through, stand on it and ask what he can do.

When I picked Freddie up from school in the week, I told him I was planning to make the Christmas pudding at the weekend. He said he wanted to help. So I picked him up from his home this afternoon and brought him back to my house. ‘Where’s my stool?’ was his first query before rushing off to get it.

I think cooking with children has many benefits. I believe that if they become involved they’re more likely to want to eat the finished dish. They also learn to recognise different foods and ingredients; start to understand how a meal comes together. Today, as Freddie has recently started school, a certain amount of number recognition came into play as we weighed out ingredients: I pointed to the window displaying the amount on the scales and said things like, ‘We need to keep putting more in until we see the number four.’ When we moved from 4oz of sultanas, followed by 4oz of raisins to 10oz of currants, Freddie exclaimed, ‘That’s a lot!’ As our large mixing bowl filled with ingredients and Freddie noted that we were making a very big pudding, we counted off who was going to be eating Christmas dinner on our fingers. Cooking + numbers = fun!

I also got Freddie to smell some of the ingredients as we went, like the spices. He wasn’t impressed by the nutmeg but liked the cinnamon. He wanted to taste each of the dried fruit and noted the difference between sultanas, raisins and currants. Then he tasted the candied peel (and liked it) and the lemon zest. Putting the pudding together was like an exciting journey of discovery.

Freddie is still very young, of course, and needs supervision and a lot of help. Thus I always like to cook something with him that I’ve made before; I like to do it at a time when I won’t feel rushed so we can go slowly and I can let him do as much as he’s able. Of course, there are bits like chopping ingredients with sharp knives that I have to say I must do; safety is particularly important with a young one but just explain gently why you have to do this bit. As long as you think things through first and take your time, then it’s all quite easy really. And there’s so much joy to be gained from sharing a time like this with a precious child. A couple of years ago Freddie and I made gingerbread men together for Christmas for the first time and repeated it last year, so it’s about building family traditions too. And I can attest to the fact that cooking with my own children when they were young has paid off dividends – I now enjoy great meals they cook for me!

I chose to make Delia Smith’s Christmas pudding recipe this year. I’ve been making it for years but tried a different one last year and wasn’t so happy, so it’s back to Delia this year. Maybe it’s because it’s so traditional; but then Christmas is all about tradition. I used the recipe as it appears in Delia Smith’s Christmas, first published in 1990 and stuck to Imperial measurements rather than metric, but most scales have an Imperial option to switch to. I changed a couple of things, like rum to brandy but it’s pretty much as Delia makes it.

Christmas Pudding – Serves 8 – 10

  • 4oz shredded suet
  • 2oz self-raising flour
  • 4oz white breadcrumbs
  • 1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 8oz soft dark brown sugar
  • 4oz sultanas
  • 4oz raisins
  • 10oz currants
  • 1oz mixed candied peel
  • 1oz almonds, skinned and chopped
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped finely
  • zest of ½ large orange
  • zest of ½ large lemon
  • 150ml stout (dark ale)
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 2 eggs

You’ll need a 2-pint pudding basin.

 

I gathered all the ingredients together with a large mixing bowl before we began. Then we started weighing things out as they appeared in the recipe. [Add all the ingredients to the bowl except the eggs, stout and brandy.]

First we weighed the suet (I used a vegetable suet as one of my daughters-in-law is vegetarian) and I let Freddie tip it into the mixing bowl.

‘Can I stir?’ he asked, picking up the wooden spoon I’d got out. ‘Well, shall we put something else in first so you can mix them together?’ And we weighed the flour next.

  

When we got to the nutmeg we did it almost together, but then I was a bit worried about grated little fingers and persuaded Freddie to let me finish that bit. I let Freddie spoon the sugar from the packet into the bowl on the scales.

 

As we went on and the mixing bowl got fuller and fuller and the ingredients heavier and heavier to stir. Freddie told me you had to be strong to make Christmas pudding. So I told him it was a good job I had him to help me! Praise is important but I was truly thankful to be doing it with him – it made it all the more fun for me.

 

Once everything was in except the wet ingredients, I found a measuring jug to measure out the stout. We added the brandy and eggs. Then with a small whisk, we mixed it together well. Although a little help was needed, Freddie managed most of this on his own. I then got him to pour the liquid in while I started mixing with the wooden spoon. The mixture was heavy by this time and I changed to a strong spatula to more easily mix it well and gather bits from the side of the bowl. Freddie wanted to go on mixing for some time! At this point I told him about how I used to make Christmas puddings with my own grandmother and that one had to make a wish – for something you wanted or wanted to happen – while you stirred. I explained it was a secret so he mustn’t tell me. Freddie’s eyes closed shut tightly and I could see his little face change into deep-thinking mode. He suddenly opened his eyes and told me he’d made his wish – but he wasn’t going to tell me what it was!

The bowl then had to be covered with some clingfilm (or a tea towel) and the mixture left to mature overnight before being transferred into a pudding basin.

The next morning (Freddie now back at his home), I transferred the mixture to a lightly greased 2-pint pudding basin.

   

Cover it in a double layer of greaseproof paper, then some foil. Tie it securely with string. Put the basin in a steamer with simmering water and steam for 6-8 hours. You’ll need to check the water regularly and top it up with boiling water from time to time.

When the steaming is finished, remove from the steamer and let the pudding get completely cold. Remove the foil and greaseproof paper and replace with fresh ones. Keep in a cool place until Christmas Day. Then steam again for 2¼ hours before serving. We traditionally serve our Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

Manicomio Cafe, Chelsea

I booked to go to the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery today. I missed the last one in 1972! And it’s said this is the final chance to see the treasures outside Egypt as a new museum is being built to house them permanently there.

Of course, for Travel Gourmet, a day out always means a chance to find a new place to eat. The Saatchi Gallery is in Duke of York’s Square in Chelsea, just off the King’s Road and thus in an area awash with eateries of all kinds – from posh to cheap and of course many chains. I’ve eaten at Polpo in the square a couple of times after visiting the Chelsea Flower Show but wanted to try somewhere different today. I also wanted to avoid the chains and so settled on an Italian cafe right next to Polpo – Manicomio. They have a restaurant and cafe side by side.

My Manicomio experience began with morning coffee as I’d arrived in plenty of time for my 11.30am entry to the exhibition. There were a few people sitting at tables on the terrace outside but it was far too cold for me so I went inside.

It was attractive inside and I received a warm and friendly welcome. A menu was soon put before me. Looking at the prices I was immediately reminded that going off-piste (i.e. eschewing the chains in favour of an independent) in a place like Chelsea meant that the prices were high. My flat white was £3.75 and a plain croissant £2.95. However, they were good – the coffee particularly excellent, though quite a small cup – and it was a great place to sit and relax for a while.

I read the i paper while I ate and there was a review of the exhibition. It wasn’t a particularly good one so I was a bit disappointed. However, I had a ticket and I’d just go and see. The gallery is almost next door to the cafe so wonderfully convenient. People were being strictly let in according to the time on their ticket so I joined a long queue for a while. Once inside I was soon awed by the beautiful treasures. I didn’t agree with the i paper at all! It was crowded but not as crowded as many big exhibitions I’ve been to so the timed entry was working. And people were polite and patient about waiting their turn to get close to an exhibit. I was so pleased I went and it was amazing to know these beautiful artefacts were over 3,000 years old.

I came out a little after 1pm and went back to Manicomio for lunch. I chose the cafe again rather than the more expensive restaurant because I only wanted a light lunch. I ended up at pretty much the same table as earlier! Again inside. There’s also a large conservatory at the back.

I thought I’d celebrate my ‘day out’ with a glass of prosecco (£8.50) and asked for some tap water too. That came in a carafe, which I always appreciate, rather than just a glass of water.

 

There were some tempting things on the menu: a swordfish burger, a ‘buttermilk chicken & truffle remoulade brioche’, lasagna (meat and vegetable), but I opted for ‘Smoked salmon, Avocado, Jalapeño, Coriander, Creme Fraiche & Tomato Piadina’ (£12.50).

A piadina is an Italian flatbread which is filled and rolled. Inside this one the avocado was mixed much like guacamole with the spices and herb; the smoked salmon and creme fraiche on top. It was very tasty and I enjoyed it.

I ordered a slice of Bakewell tart (£3.50) and a Macchiato (£2.75) to finish. The cake was nice, though not exceptional; the coffee was excellent – a perfect macchiato!

What a lovely day out. Tutankhamun was stunning and wonderful. And Manicomio was a good find. The food was good though not exceptional enough to make a special journey to eat there (maybe the restaurant might be?) but I liked the ambiance, the friendly and very efficient service, and it’s definitely somewhere to return to when in the area.

Manicomio Poco Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Restaurant Review: Treviso, Richmond upon Thames

Richmond is one of the loveliest places to live in London with its leafy green parks and gardens, the Thames running through it, taking you one way into central London, the other south towards Hampton Court Palace and beyond. It’s easy to find nature and beauty and good places to walk; it’s not quite so easy to find a simple, cosy place to meet up with a friend for a bit of supper and a long chat. Richmond is full of chains: Côte, Carluccio’s, Pizza Express, Byron and even the more upmarket Ivy Cafe; they all have a place in a foodie world but their inevitable sameness, while letting you know exactly what you can expect, can be a little boring. Liz and I often opt for the wonderful independent Indian, Tangawizi, just across Richmond bridge into East Twickenham, but we like Italian too and decided to give Treviso ‘a go’ last night and see what it was like.

Situated on a corner on Kew Road, which takes you from Richmond up to the famous botanical gardens of Kew, it offers its own touch of greenery as you pass through its well-planted front and into the restaurant.

Inside it has a traditional trattoria feel and the menu offers Italian staples in the form of Primi, Pasta & Risotto and I Nostri Secondi.

It was empty when I arrived but a few tables gradually filled up through the evening; it was a Monday evening so fairly quiet. The welcome was warm and friendly. Where in Italy do you come from? I asked the waiter. Verona, he told me. And we discussed northern Italy for a while and a mutual love of Venice and Turin. Then Liz arrived and it was time for glasses of prosecco (£6.25) and deciding what to eat.

A basket of bread came with a dish of olive oil and balsamic.

The starter choices sounded good but quite substantial. We considered sharing one but then settled on having just a main dish each. However, as I often do in Italian restaurants I chose a pasta dish rather than a secondi. I dithered between a seafood risotto (£13.95) or having the pasta version which was a special of the day. I decided on pasta.

A plate of linguine wrapped round a gorgeous mix of mussels, clams and prawns with tomato and chilli was very delicious and I really enjoyed it.

Liz opted for tagliatelle with salmon, courgettes, tomatoes and cream (£10.95) which she also enjoyed.

We had just coffee to follow – a macchiato for me – and fresh mint tea (served nicely in a teapot) for Liz.

I usually like to have two or three courses when reviewing a restaurant for the blog, and we only had one. But we liked it a lot and when we came out, Liz remarked it was a place to return to. So we’ll definitely go again and count it as a great local find.

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

Restaurant Review: Nutshell

I’ve passed Nutshell a few times since it opened in August. Situated at the bottom end of St Martin’s Lane it’s right in the heart of Theatreland and as a regular theatregoer, I’m often in the area. It’s also very close to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s-in-the-Fields and the London Coliseum, so potentially a very useful find.

I love middle eastern food and the prospect of some good Iranian food was irresistibly tempting and thus when I unexpectedly found myself with a free day today due to a change of plans, I decided to head to the National Gallery to see the Gauguin exhibition that’s just opened, and take the opportunity to try out Nutshell. To make sure I got a table, I even booked!

Nutshell is owned by a husband and wife team – Mohammed Paknejad (who was born in Tehran) and Marwa Alkhalaf (formerly a chef at The Greenhouse). Head Chef is Jeremy Borrow, ex-The Palomar. So a fine pedigree!

I went in slightly early to escape the rain outside and received a warm welcome. A carafe of water came almost immediately with the menu. The decor was nicely intimate; simple but sophisticated with its soft colours.

I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Burgundy (£6 for 125ml), which was very good. (I only wanted a small glass at lunchtime so 125ml was fine, but there wasn’t a larger glass option; only bottles instead.)

My plan had been to have two or three mezze as a light lunch but then I wasn’t quite so sure once I looked at the menu, and with the inclement weather outside, my decision turned towards something hot as a main. I ordered some bread to have first – Bazaar Bread (£3.50) – instead of a starter. I’d read it was unmissable and comes freshly baked to order. The waitress suggested I ordered a dip to go with it and as it turned out, that was a good plan.

There are just a couple of dips to choose from and I had Caspian Olive Tapenade with rainbow radish, walnut and pomegranate (£4.50). When the bread and dip were put before me, it was a ‘wow’ moment for they looked really good.

The bread was hot as it was freshly baked, slightly crispy at its thinner centre, nicely doughy at the end. Scattered with black and white sesame seeds, it was a lovely thing to scoop up the tapenade with. This had a glorious topping of the radishes, walnuts, pomegranate seeds, mint and some pomegranate molasses.

If the starter was an impressive ‘wow’, the main was a rather disappointed ‘oh’. I’d ordered Kofte Tabrizi – lamb meatball, dried fruit, walnut (£12.50). Just one – albeit very large – kofta in the middle of a bowl wasn’t what I’d expected. It also didn’t look a lot of food for £12.50 and I was glad I still had some bread left to go with it.

I think of kofte as being delicious spicy, meaty morsels but this one contained a lot of fruit and nuts, making it a coarse mix. It was OK but a little bland.

I didn’t have dessert or coffee. In the end it was a mixed experience. I liked the ambiance, the service was excellent and friendly; my ‘starter’ was gorgeous … but my main was disappointing. I also thought it expensive for what I had. The final bill with a tip included was £29.81; not quite in line with the light lunch I’d planned – although it was light in terms of quantity. I liked Nutshell enough to feel I’ll give it another try sometime, especially given its location, but I won’t necessarily be rushing back. It’s certainly not in the same league as the wonderful Palomar.

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

GPSmyCity Travel App – Seasonal Giveaway

It’s time for another seasonal giveaway with GPSmyCity. This brilliant travel app has just published 4 more of my travel articles, this time from my trip to Tuscany in the summer. I’m excited to now have 54 articles published on the app from trips to Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, France, Austria, Greece and also guides in the UK.

GPSmyCity has been successfully publishing travel articles and self-guided tours since 2009. With more than 6,500 articles and tours exploring over 1,000 cities worldwide, the app allows you, as they say, ‘to lose yourself without getting lost’. It will act as your personal guide and you’ll always know where you are and how to get to where you want to go. It’s full of inspirational tips for what to do, where to eat and what to see in the city you’re visiting.

The beauty of GPSmyCity is that it allows you to go at your own pace and follow the route you want to take. All you have to do is search for articles on the city you’re travelling to and download them onto your smartphone or tablet and they’ll always be with you. No more carrying heavy guidebooks around or struggling to open out a map to find your way. Nor do you have to rely on WiFi or using valuable GPS data on your phone: you can download articles for free and read them offline – even on a plane or the beach.

On top of all this, GPSmyCity offers you the chance to upgrade for a small fee (US$1.99) and receive a city map and GPS navigation to all the sights and places mentioned in the article, which you can access offline. If you want to get the most out of your holiday or if you travel a lot, you might want to buy a subscription: US$12.99/year to access all travel articles for 900+ cities worldwide; US$18.99/year buys access to all travel articles + walking tours for 1,000+ cities worldwide. You will get the upgraded full benefit of GPS and city maps right across the app, in whichever city you’re visiting, for a whole year. Click here to find out more on their website.

To celebrate the publication of my 4 articles on Tuscany, a free upgrade is being offered on the firstTuscany: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo and Morefor a week. Why don’t you upload it onto your phone – especially if you’re planning a trip to Florence – and see how great the app is? Here are links to the 4 new articles on the app:

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Tuscany: An Old Pharmacy, Ferragamo Museo & Mercato Centrale in Florence

Click here for free upgrade.

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The following are also available to read and download:

Return to Florence

Click here for link.

 

24 Hours in Lucca

Click here for link.

 

A Walk Through Florence at Night

Click here for link.

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Next time you’re travelling to a city for a holiday or city break, why don’t you take a look at GPSmyCity and all it has to offer to make your trip great? Click here.