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A Morning Walk Along the Thames

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Lyndsey and I thought it would be fun to take Freddie across the Thames at Marble Hill Park on the Hammerton’s Ferry. There’s been a ferry there since 1908. I’ve known of it since my late teens when I visited my friend Tina in Twickenham where she was at college. Later, when married with kids of 2 and 5 and we moved to the area, Marble Hill was our local park, just a short walk away, and we were there frequently. The ferry was a great way to cross the river to the Ham and Petersham side of the Thames, from which you can walk one way towards Richmond or the other way towards Kingston. But of course for kids, just getting in a boat was fun in itself!

The plan was to walk there and cross over then have morning coffee in Petersham Nurseries’ Tea House. We were the only ones to board the ferry, which arrived back from the Ham side with a full boat just as we arrived. We paid our £1 for each adult and 50p for Freddie and were soon on our way. Freddie wasn’t too keen to sit still because it was all too exciting.

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Once we’d got off, we watched the ferry heading back to the Twickenham side of the river, then walked along the towpath towards Richmond. The view along the river is wonderful, though the rather dull, cloudy morning didn’t allow such good photos as I’ve got before.

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I used to do this walk quite often but hadn’t for a while. We turned off by Petersham Meadows and Petersham Farm to cut through a narrow alleyway to the nursery.

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Petersham Nurseries are best known now for their restaurant (which is rather confusingly the ‘cafe’). Its heyday was a few years ago when now famous chef Skye Gyngell was head chef. I only ate there once (click here) when she was in charge of the kitchen, but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had – and also one of the most expensive! A more recent visit wasn’t so impressive but it still has a good reputation. The Tea House is the place for snacks.

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Coffee only comes in a cafetière and there were no croissants, only cake. The cakes are, of course, all made there and people rave about them. But I’ve never been so impressed (and I’m now thoroughly spoiled by being able to buy wonderful cakes at Your Bakery in Whitton).

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At £14.50 for two coffees and cake, we’re talking expensive. Sadly, I still wasn’t impressed. The coffee was merely OK, the cake disappointing. Mine on the right of the photo above was ‘Orange and Almond’ but instead of lovely moist ground almonds as a base, there were large chunks of almond running through it; the texture of the cake apart from big lumps of nuts, was almost uncooked rather than moist. Never mind, we weren’t just there for the cake … it was a whole morning’s outing. And it had been fun getting there.

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We took a slightly different route back to the ferry, going across Petersham Meadows where from a distance Freddie was able to see real cows for the first time (hot on his first boat experience!). He was keen to run after them but we didn’t think that was a good idea!

We caught the ferry just as it arrived on the Ham side and got on again. It’s just a couple of minutes crossing the river and then up a ramp and back onto the towpath on the Twickenham side.

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It was getting close to lunchtime by now and Lyndsey suggested we stop at Corto Italian Deli for lunch where we could enjoy one of their brilliant antipasti plates and Freddie’s could have the children’s pasta – a good size portion, with homemade tomato sauce, for £3.

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Freddie tucked in quite happily to his plate of pasta … until our antipasti arrived …

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He clearly thought we’d got the better deal. So we ended up sharing and asking them to pack the rest of his pasta up to bring home.

It was a lovely morning and we felt we’d been enjoying some of the best the local area has to offer.

 

One-Pot Roasted Italian Sausages & Vegetables

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There’s an Italian deli in Richmond where I often see a bake of sausages, peppers and onions in the window and I’ve been meaning to try something similar at home. I’m not sure it’s really Italian but I certainly used the very best Italian sausages, which I bought from the fabulous Corto Italian Deli in Twickenham. Freddie and I went down there this morning, and of course had to stop for me to have a cappuccino too. We shared a croissant and when Marco saw me spooning little bits of my cappuccino froth into (nearly) 17-month Freddie’s mouth, which brought a big smile to his face, he made him his very own – and very first! – babyccino. It was a great success. I’m not sure we’ll be able to go to Corto again without ordering Freddie a babyccino too.

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Corto have the very best of Italian produce to serve as meals in their deli or to buy to take away. These gorgeous sausages are over 94% pork … very meaty!

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They’re like no others I can buy – locally at any rate. They come from Sienna and I always choose the ones with fennel seeds for flavouring.

I decided to do it as a complete one-pot dinner for us and add not just onions and peppers, but potatoes and tomatoes too. And while I was at it, that nice bulb of fennel in the fridge would make a good addition as well, I thought. I parboiled the (new) potatoes first as I would do that with any kind of roasting of potatoes. The rest of the vegetables I added raw. So … I cut 2 red onions thickly, with the grain not against it. I cut 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper into thick slices. I cut the fennel into 8 pieces and 5 medium-large tomatoes in half. I cut my parboiled new potatoes in half too. I lay them all in a large ovenproof dish and drizzled over some extra virgin olive oil,  seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkled over some dried oregano.

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I mixed it carefully with my hands. Then I cut the sausages in half at an angle.

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You can see how wonderfully meaty they are. I lay them on top of the vegetables.

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I put it into a 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 oven for about an hour, until all was nicely browned. I stirred just once, about halfway through. It’s quite a forgiving dish too and will keep on a low oven if necessary. I took it from the oven a little before we wanted to eat so the sizzling died down and it cooled slightly.

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We ate it in the garden just as it was, no extra vegetables or even a salad. Everything was there: meat, potatoes, vegetables – and a wonderful ‘juice’ from the cooking, which Jonathan decided to mop up with bread.

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Despite the heat of the day, there was now a cool breeze blowing through the air, which was very welcome. And despite the heat of the supper, its fresh summery and Mediterranean flavours were very welcome. We loved it. And it was a perfect midweek supper dish.

Chicken, Watercress & Red Grapefruit Salad with Tahini Dressing

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It’s been the hottest day of the year so far; seriously hot. I got into my car at one point and it registered 37C. I don’t think it was really that hot outside but close. I like the heat but even for me it was too much. So it was definitely a day for a salad supper: something cold and refreshing. The idea came together with a mesh of other things: the way citrus goes so well with peppery watercress; the lovely tahini dressing Jonathan makes for barbecued chicken.

We were eating en famille. Freddie would eat earlier: a slither of the cooling roasted chicken; a spoonful of the freekeh salad I made to go with it; a chopped fresh tomato. He liked it so much he wanted seconds. Even at 17 months minus 4 days you can have quite sophisticated tastes in food.

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I roasted the chicken early afternoon; very simply with just a coating of olive oil that I rubbed all over, a good grating of black pepper and sea salt; a dusting of dried oregano. Then I buttered a small piece of greaseproof paper to cover the top for the first half of cooking to keep it moist, removing it at the end to allow the chicken to brown. Once done, I left it to cool.

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Then I pulled the flesh from the carcass leaving large chunks for the salad. The carcass I put in a pan with water, carrot, onion, celery and seasoning to simmer for a couple of hours for stock for the freezer.

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I made the freekeh salad well in advance too (click here for instructions for similar salad). I have an addiction to freekeh, I just love the nutty flavour and texture. It also cooks very quickly as well as being good for you! I dressed it with the juice from half a pomegranate mixed with some pomegranate molasses and extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper; the seeds from the other half of the pomegranate; a small bunch of flat leaf parsley roughly chopped; about 5 spring onions finely sliced.

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Near to suppertime I got the ingredients for the chicken salad ready, wanting to put it altogether at the last minute so it was as fresh as possible. I roasted a good handful of pine nuts in a dry pan. I made a tahini sauce by mixing tahini with crushed garlic, sea salt, lemon juice, water and extra virgin olive oil. I cut segments from 2 red grapefruit.

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When ready to go, I scattered a good layer of watercress over a large serving plate. Then I lay the pieces of chicken over the top, followed by the grapefruit segment. Then I drizzled over the tahini dressing and scattered over the roasted pine nuts.

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We were able to sit in the garden, the cooling day a welcome relief. It alway seems such a treat in UK to be able to eat supper outside; there’s something holiday-ish about it. The salad was perfection: wonderfully tasty but so fresh with the grapefruit and tahini dressing and the peppery watercress. The roasted pine nuts added a nice little sweet crunch to it all. We all loved it so definitely a supper to be repeated.

A Weekend in Vienna

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I had a fantastic time in Vienna last weekend. It’s been a place I’ve wanted to visit for ages – I even mentioned this in a Bucket List blog post back in 2012, but it’s taken me four years to realise the dream. In the end it came about because my daughter was heading there for a work conference (she’s an academic) and invited me to spend the preceding weekend with her in the Airbnb she’d booked for her stay. I wrote a daily journal for the blog while there, but here’s my roundup of what’s great about Vienna and what to do there. Necessarily, it’s only a first glimpse at all Vienna has to offer. A weekend really isn’t nearly enough time to fit in even a large part of what one might want to do. But at least it’s a start and of course I’m really hoping it won’t be too long before I go back to do more.

 

Why go?

Vienna, Austria’s capital, has much to offer historically, artistically, intellectually and culturally.  In 2001 its old centre became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vienna was the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Habsburg dynasty and is full of vast imperial palaces that you can visit. Its architecture is impressive and bold, slightly pompous, more a symbol of its power, I think, than buildings designed for beauty. It’s a fairly small capital city and thus easily manageable for a weekend – although there’s so much to do you might well want to be there longer! This is the home of Sigmund Freud so one could say it’s where psychotherapy was born; composers such as Beethoven and Mozart lived here, and of course Strauss – all those Viennese waltzes we know so well. There’s a rich history of art too. Vienna’s most famous artist is Gustav Klimt and seeing his famous, ‘The Kiss’, painting is almost mandatory. But Egon Schiele and others lived and worked here too. Intellectuals, writers and political giants came too, like Trotsky and Lenin. Even Hitler hung out here.

 

Where to stay

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Nicola and I stayed in an Airbnb near the university, in the north west corner of the city (in Kochgasse), so that it was convenient for her work. It might have looked a bit far from the old city centre on the  map but in reality it wasn’t far at all – maybe 20 minutes easy walk – and it was nice to be in a quieter, more residential area, away from the crowds. Vienna is quite a small city and you can easily get round it on foot, so in a way, where you choose to stay – geographically – doesn’t matter too much. There are trams and a metro but we didn’t feel a need to use them at any time.

 

Coffee Houses

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Steeped in tradition, Viennese coffee houses are an institution and it’s almost mandatory to seek them out while in the city. Coffee has played an important part in the story of Vienna since it arrived with the Turks in the late 17th century. But the coffee houses are about more than just being a good place to go for coffee and something to eat, they were once important venues for intellectuals and artists and writers of all kinds. These are places where important issues were debated.

Visiting a traditional coffee house was one of the things I was particularly looking forward to on my trip. Inevitably, being there for just a weekend meant I could only visit a few so I sought out the most famous. Of the ones I went to, Landtmann was my favourite (photo above). There was a calm, elegant feel to it, wonderful food, great coffee and friendly service. It was everything I hoped a Viennese coffee house would be. Of course one can’t go to Vienna and not go to the Sacher Hotel for their Sachertorte.

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It’s an institution in itself. Such places are too often touristy and impersonal, making you feel unwelcome. The Sacher Hotel wasn’t like this at all; it was a real pleasure to find such warmth in our welcome and the food was great too – not only the famous cake but a very good lunch as well. We also like Cafe Sperl a lot; rather more faded glamour but again wonderfully friendly service and a nice coffee and cake.

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I went into Café Central on the last morning.

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It was very grand and is one of the most famous. Trotsky apparently liked to play chess here. I had a Melange that was OK but not great; a nice brioche. But the service wasn’t friendly, very offhand; it wasn’t a place I wanted to hang out.

 

Coffee

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The standard white coffee in Vienna is a Melange. It’s similar to an Italian cappuccino (as in one you’d have in Italy – the real thing!). It’s always served in a smallish cup and has a thin layer of foam on top. Choosing a size of cup is not an option. I drank mostly Melange during the day and espresso in the evening. But Viennese coffee houses pride themselves on a large range of coffees. In Cafe Sperl we were given a little booklet explaining them all. Bear in mind that if you order a cappuccino it may come with the addition of whipped cream. All the cafés served coffee with a glass of water, which is a great idea that I liked a lot.

 

Cakes

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Cakes are the thing – along with the coffee of course – in Vienna. And you can’t possibly visit the city without trying some of the famous Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel (above). It was invented in 1632 by Franz Sacher for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. I had another Sachertorte on my last afternoon at Landtmann, which I slightly preferred – a bit moister and less apricot jam. The day before I’d had an apple strudel at Landtmann – said to bake the original. It was certainly wonderful and, like the Sachertorte, one of Vienna’s most famous cakes. It usually comes with vanilla cream (custard), whipped cream or just plain. Landtmann’s was fabulous: just as I believe a good apple strudel to be – not too sweet, the apple retaining a slight bite and noticeable layers of it, a hint of cinnamon and a fantastically light strudel pastry.

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There are other famous cakes like cheese strudel, gugelhupf, stollen, linzertorte and Mozart torte. Clearly I need to go back to try more!

 

Viennese food

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Veinnese food is – unsurprisingly – similar to German and that means lots of meat. When I say lots of meat, I mean lots of meat. And few vegetables. The Wiener Schnitzel – veal coated in breadcrumbs and fried – that I had on my last evening came in two pieces. It was delicious – light but crisp batter and perfectly cooked veal, but I couldn’t finish it. It explained why we often saw two people order one to share. Another famous dish is Goulash – perhaps because of Vienna’s proximity to Hungary?

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I had a small size goulash for lunch in Kaffe alt Wien. This was very much a bar but a good place for lunch.

I had no interest in trying Beuschel, a stew of veal lungs and heart – but its popularity gives you a good impression of what you’ll find.

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Their salads were unusual for this Londoner. The potato salad is hot potato marinated in beef stock with vinegar and sugar, so it goes gloopy from the heat of the stock mixing with the starch of the potato. Chopped red onion is also added. To me it didn’t taste good and was far too sweet. Their green salads were invariably swimming in a large amount of dressing – but that seemed normal, so obviously how the Viennese like them.

 

Biesln

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Biesln (a biesl) are popular places to eat. They’re similar to gastro pubs – informal but offering good quality food. I ate in a couple – Amerlingbeisl and Glacis Beisl. I wasn’t hugely impressed by the first but we had a very good meal on the last evening at Glacis Beisl. You need to book – the first night we went it was full so we booked for our last night.

 

Non-Austrian Eating

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We found a great crêperie on the last day for lunch. Cafe der Provinz, near the university.

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We could see the crêpes being freshly made, they had great fillings, and it was almost like being in Normandy. The night before we’d had fantastic organic burgers at die Burgermacher.

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Another great non-Austrian find was an Italian gelateria, Gelateria La Romana, on my first afternoon, purely by chance. It was really fantastic gelato, but I didn’t manage to make my way back there again.

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Places to Visit

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There’s so much to see that we could only ‘do’ a small proportion of what there is to choose from. We liked St Stephen’s Cathedral, right in the heart of the Old Town. Going to the Belvedere to see the Klimts was a great trip in itself because of looking round the palace, walking through its gardens, and enjoying a wonderful view across the city from a high vantage point.

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We liked the art at the Albertina, much more central and near the Sacher Hotel.

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The famous Vienna Riding School is right in the heart of the city near the cathedral. There are tours available – but not on Monday when I went there!

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There’s so much else to do – concerts, opera, Viennese waltzes. Sigmund Freud has a whole museum to himself. There’s a lot of open greenery in Vienna; lots of nice parks and places to sit and take shade from the sun or have a rest. And although I didn’t do it, lots of people choose to take a leisurely ride in a horse-drawn carriage to view the city.

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The Danube runs through the city and is of course one of the world’s most famous rivers. Unfortunately the bit I came to when I made my way across the city wasn’t very pretty or romantic – so maybe you need to go out of the city a little more.

 

Market

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The biggest market is the Naschmarkt which dates back to 1786. There’s a daily market but an additional flea market on Saturdays. There’s a good selection of stalls for street food so a good place for lunch. And of course this means sausages too – wurst is found everywhere!

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Vienna’s alternative side

I was surprised by the number of vegetarian and vegan shops and restaurants we saw. And there was lots of alternative therapies on offer too. In this respect it reminded me a little of Amsterdam. It seemed slightly at odds with the traditional heavy food and beer houses typical of Austria. But certainly welcome.

 

Summary

Vienna is a wonderful place to visit and offers such a fantastic variety of things to do. You can do a lot in a weekend but really you’ll only touch the surface. I flew there direct from London Heathrow with British Airways. The airport is some way out. Our Airbnb arranged a taxi at a good rate (€27 rather than €50 or more at airport). It takes at least half an hour but more at busy times – maybe up to an hour. There are train connections too.

One of the nicest things was finding how friendly the locals were – nearly everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles and helpfulness. In July it was very hot – 35C on my last day! But of course in the winter it’s very cold and a popular time to go is at Christmas for their famous Christmas market.

 

Carluccio’s Christmas 2016 Press Show

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Oh I do love Carluccio’s. Their cafés are great places to drop into any time of day from breakfast to late evening, for just a coffee (a smooth Milano or a feistier Napoli), a snack or a good meal. I buy lots of produce in their shops, usually found in a corner of the cafés, from my favourite brand of my favourite pasta – orecchiette – to their lovely polenta, dried porcini mushrooms and moreish baci di dama biscuits that are a great accompaniment to an espresso. It’s a first port of call if I want to buy a foodie gift for someone – always beautifully packaged and always a treat. Thus it’s an enormous pleasure to be invited to their events and yesterday was the third time I’d been along to one of the Christmas press shows. I’m always given a really warm welcome as if they are genuinely pleased I’ve come. Soon I found myself being handed a glass of pomegranate Bellini.

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Then there’s always a fantastic array of food and I’ll be encouraged to have a plate. Well really, how could I resist? Thin slices of roast veal, little bruschette, seafood salad, an oozing perfect Gorgonzola, and lots more.

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And someone kindly put together a selection on a plate for me.

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This is all food you can enjoy anytime at a Carluccio’s Caffe. And I do often! But of course I wasn’t there just to enjoy all this lovely food but to take a good look at what they will have on offer this coming Christmas.

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From wonderful hampers to little gifts to go on your tree, it would be hard to fail to find an ideal gift for anyone who loves good Italian food. There is Umbrian extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, jars of great sauces that can top pasta or polenta like wild boar. And how about this terracotta salt pig filled with Sicilian sea salt?

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There were a lot of familiar things but wrapped with a bit of extra Christmasy glamour, like these Gianduiotti Grande Selezione.

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These gorgeous chocolate coated figs stuffed with walnuts are one of my favourites!

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This jar of Zabajone al Moscato with a packet of torcetti biscuits to dip into it was something I hadn’t seen before and sound delicious.

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Of course Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a panettone and Carluccio’s is one of the best I know, always beautifully moist and delicious.

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The bakers in Piedmont only make the panettone between September and December – so you can only buy it at Christmas time! New for this year is a Panettone alla Crema di Prosecco, which sounds like the most perfect combination of two fabulous things. Of course Christmas also wouldn’t be Christmas without clementines but Carluccio’s Calabrian clementines are put into sugar syrup straight from the tree and then covered in chocolate – twice!

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Advent calendars will be irresistible to adults as well as children as each window opens to a chocolate surprise.

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There were just so many gorgeous things: a Christmas marmalade made from blackberries, red currants, oranges and cranberries, spiced with cinnamon; a porcini mushroom box from Umbria with dried mushrooms and porcini oil plus 7 Antonio Carluccio recipes cards – Antonio is the king of mushrooms! You’ll find a food gift to please anyone.

Now I have to confess that the child in me absolutely loves that Carluccio’s, being the great party givers they are, always give us party bags as we leave.

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I’m not sure I’ll be able to wait until Christmas to enjoy these chocolate cups from Piemonte to fill with grappa. But I will share with family!

Many thanks to Carluccio’s for inviting me to the party. I’ll definitely be buying some of these gorgeous gifts come Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Vienna 2016: Last Day

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After our lovely weekend together, Nicola had to go to work on Monday, but I’d decided to fly back early evening and spend another ‘day’ in Vienna, exploring a little more on my own. First of all I headed down to the heart of the city, near the St Stephan’s cathedral. I wanted to go the Cafe Central where, I’d read, Trotsky liked to play chess. Vienna is full of wonderful cafes – coffee houses – where the famous, be they artists, composers, politicians, writers, philosophers or psychotherapists like Freud, would frequently go.

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For a Marxist revolutionary, Trotsky certainly liked opulent places.

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The cafe opened in 1876 and was a major venue for the intellectuals of the day. Freud, Lenin and even Hitler came there too. Until 1938 it was known as The Chess School as many people came to play chess. It closed at the end of World War II but was reopened in 1975 and completely renovated in 1986. I chose a melange again (the ‘standard’ Viennese white coffee) and a brioche.

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The cafe was wonderfully impressive with its marble interior and amazing display of cakes.

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However, it was the least friendly of what had turned out to be a remarkably friendly city. Even in that hotspot of tourist attractions, the Sacher Hotel, we’d found very friendly staff who made us feel welcome. In the Cafe Central I felt a little more like a tourist. The waiter wasn’t particularly friendly and didn’t even bother to bring a napkin to the table; he was rather perfunctory in his manner. The brioche was nice but not the best melange I’d had – too weak and milky. A melange is very much like the kind of cappuccino you get in Italy; none of that heavy-duty strong Antipodean coffee we’ve become used to in London. But sometimes – especially in Italy – it’s just right; and in Vienna the melange is just right.

I wandered on afterwards, wanting to make my way to the Danube, which I hadn’t yet seen. I passed the famous Vienna Riding School.

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I thought if I’d been with my friend Annie she would have definitely wanted to do a tour. But as it happened, it was closed to visitors on Monday. On I went towards the cathedral again. What an impressive sight.

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A line of horse-drawn carriages waited alongside. They are everywhere. It would be nice to take a ride sometime (most likely at an astronomical cost, much like hiring a gondola in Venice) but a weekend is limited time in a city like Vienna, so there are lots of things we didn’t have time for.

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Finally, with the help of my iPhone to find my way through the winding streets, I arrived at the Danube. Unfortunately it clearly wasn’t the most romantic part!

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Neither was it blue! But never mind. And it was very very hot. My phone told me 35 degrees. It was time to head back to the cool apartment.

Nicola was coming back to have lunch with me and also so that I could give her the keys to the studio. Neither of us fancied more Austrian food at lunchtime and so we went to a nearby cafe we’d passed the evening before that sold French crêpes! Cafe der Provinz turned out to be a very welcoming place and the crêpes were fabulous – just like being in Normandy.

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We even had our first salad that wasn’t over-dressed and very fresh.

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It was all organic. Vienna is a surprisingly ‘alternative’ city full of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, cafes and shops. There are lots of Ayuvedic shops, plenty of alternative therapies on offer. It’s a city of extremes – the heavy, meat-based food and the very healthy side.

Well, there’s only so much ‘healthy’ I want … especially on holiday in somewhere like Vienna! So we headed back to Cafe Landtmann, where we’d had the wonderful apple strudel, for coffee and cake. Their apple strudel had been so gorgeous, I wanted to try their Sachertorte. Cafe Landtmann was also happily for us the nearest ‘major’ coffee house near our apartment and convenient for us to return to in time for my cab to the airport. This time we decided to sit outside because it was so hot and they had small sprays of water adding some cool over the awnings.

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I chose the Sachertorte and a melange coffee; Nicola had a cold drink and small Gugelhopf.

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Wow! It really was wonderful. Nicola tasted the Sachertorte too and we decided – if one dare! – that we perhaps preferred it to the more famous one at the Sacher Hotel. It was a bit moister and had less apricot jam so the apricot flavour didn’t dominate so much. If I could have brought one home, I would have done. But it wasn’t going to fit in my hand luggage.

We got back to the apartment just before the hot weather and blue skies turned to dark clouds and a terrific storm. What a dramatic change in weather. But soon I was in the cab for the journey to the airport. It had been a wonderful weekend and I’m so glad I’ve visited Vienna at last!

Vienna 2026: Last Evening

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We went back to Glacis Beisl which had been full the night before and where we’d booked a table. Beisln are a kind of Viennese bistro pub where you can expect to find typical Viennese food. Glacis Beisl is an unremarkable place at first sight. To be frank, the entrance is quite tacky and you have to go down steps that feel more like the entrance to a multi storey car park than a good restaurant. However, once there it opens into a large terrace, with vines winding across the top, and was full of tables with people eating and waiters rushing back and forth.

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I decided it was time for fizz. I hadn’t had any yet on the trip and asked the waiter to suggest a local one.

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It was a deeper colour than prosecco or champagne and sweeter – although I’d been told this was the dry version. It was nice though and good to drink local wine. We chose soup starters. For Nicola a gazpacho (€4.70) which was very good.

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The dark delicious bread was the tastiest I’d been served all weekend – and typical of the city (the photo colour is a bit weird; I used my iPhone – so apologies).  My apple, celeriac,  Calvados and cream soup (€4.70) was fabulous. I’ll have to try making this at home.

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Nicola chose roast saddle of lamb with potato gratin, green beans and thyme jus (€23.90) and it was very good.

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I wanted to eat Wiener Schnitzel (€19.90) on my last evening. And I’d done well to wait for it because this one was excellent. Wonderfully light batter and tender veal. It was really really good.

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Wiener Schnitzel doesn’t come in small portions! It usually comes in two pieces and we’ve seen lots of people sharing it. A salad accompanied it. I commented on my first evening that my salad was soggy. I’ve since discovered that appears to be the way of serving salad in Vienna! Last night’s was literally swimming in dressing, which pooled at the bottom of the bowl. It was however tasty and included beetroot, pickled cucumber and potato.

Although it was so good it was too much for me and I left some. But I was really pleased we’d had such a good Austrian meal on my last evening. We lingered a bit longer while I had an espresso then walked slowly back to the studio. The air was warm and it was too humid to want to rush anywhere but really a perfectly lovely evening.

Vienna 2016: Klimt & Apple Strudel

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It’s my last full day and tomorrow morning Nicola has to go to work – attend the conference that’s brought her, and thus me, to Vienna. We wanted to go to the Belvedere together to see their Klimt paintings, most famously The Kiss so that was to be the highlight of our day.

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Last night we ended up eating burgers. The Austrian restaurant we decided to go to was full, so we booked for tonight and went instead to the nearby Die Burgermacher.

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It was a simple place but friendly and relaxed. They use all organic ingredients. I had a Mexican burger and Nicola chose vegetarian halloumi. They were great. The ‘frites’ especially were fantastic; some of the tastiest and best I’ve ever had.

This morning we checked the best route to the Belvedere and thought we’d stop en route at a cafe we liked the look of. It was quite a long walk and it took us most of the way to find somewhere open! A lot of places are closed on Sunday. Having found somewhere we settled on the best: the Grand Hotel Wien. It was very grand indeed, the coffee was expensive but good and beautifully served by a friendly waitress and their terrace was a quiet and peaceful place to stop for a while.

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It turned out that it was the perfect summer’s day to visit Schloss Belvedere, an 18th century palace and summer residence to Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736). Apart from going there to see Klimt’s paintings the palace is worth a visit itself and also offers a magnificent view over Vienna.

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The inside is magnificent, a statement of the power and glory of the age in which it was built.

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We loved the Klimts and looked at some other paintings but didn’t want to spend too long inside so went out into the botanical gardens. They weren’t so impressive – but then when one lives near Kew Gardens as I do, one’s standards are very high!

We’d seen somewhere in the guidebook we liked the look of for lunch but it was closed, so we moved on to Cafe Alt Wien.

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It was very hot outside so nice to move inside. Despite the heat I decided to have their goulash – I had to try this classic Viennese dish somewhere and theirs was said to be good. Fortunately they offered a ‘Klein’ version – small size – so perfect for lunch.

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I ordered a glass of local Gruner Veltliner White wine (€2.20). I’ve been drinking this a lot – partly because I like to drink local wine when away but also because Rick Stein waxed lyrical (and poetic Rick is often actually lyrical!) about it in his Long Weekend BBC TV series recently when he visited Vienna. It’s a mix of local wines; fresh with a full flavour. This was particularly good.

It was really too hot to stay out at this time of day so we headed back towards our apartment. Nearing it we passed Cafe Landtmann, which we’d looked at yesterday and thought we’d go back to sometime. Founded in 1873, it was a favourite with Mahler, Sigmund Freud and Marlene Dietrich. It is also famous for its apple strudel and claims to be the home of the original Viennese apple strudel. Yes, you’re right, we couldn’t resist.

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It was glorious inside, everything I’d expected from a Vienna coffee house. Elegant, calm and with excellent service. The Apple Strudel was fabulous and lived up to its reputation. Just perfect. It came with a choice of vanilla sauce (custard!), whipped cream or plain. We chose vanilla sauce. I had a Melange coffee with it, a classic accompaniment. A lovely end to a brilliant half day but definitely now time for an afternoon siesta!

Vienna 2016: Saturday Market, Sachertorte & Vienna’s Old Town

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After breakfast, Nicola and I decided to visit the Naschmarkt, one of Vienna’s oldest markets dating back to 1786. There’s a market here each day but on Saturdays it incorporates a flea market too. It took us a leisurely half hour’s walk south to reach it. It’s an enormous market the stretches for almost a mile between Linke and Rechte Wienzeile streets. We came across the flea market first and this turned into a food market as we got further East towards the Old Town. Apart from stalls selling fresh vegetables and other foods, there were pop-up restaurants, not just Austrian but a lot of Asian and Turkish too. Inevitably there were many stalls selling sausages – hot dogs – which are so popular here.

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An hour or so later, we decided it was coffee time – well coffee for me and tea for Nicola. We consulted the map to see where we were and found we were close to Cafe Sperl, said to be one of the finest coffee houses.

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I’ve discovered the white coffee of choice here is Melange – similar to a cappuccino – so I ordered that and some apricot cake.

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Both were excellent and despite being on the tourist map it was a very friendly cafe. Our lovely waitress gave us a little booklet explaining the different coffees served and a bookmark with the cafe’s photo on it. After the busy and crowded market, it was nice to sit in such calm for a while. Afterwards we decided to head into the Old Town. We crossed the inner ring road into some gardens where we found a statue of Mozart and Franz Joseph, emperor during the Golden Age of the Habsburgs.

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We walked through the gardens and found ourselves at the Albertina museum, home to an acclaimed collection of Impressionist and early 20th century paintings. We’d been planning to go there so we decided to go in.image

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It was a wonderful collection and an impressive building. Once Imperial apartments for guests during the Habsburg era it breathed grandeur and power.

We decided to go further into the historic centre to find somewhere for lunch but then, realising we were very close to the Sacher Hotel, thought that would be an excellent choice to eat.

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There were various entrances but we found our way into the traditional cafe.

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Nicola chose fresh tagliatelle with pesto and tomato. I took a more Austrisn route and chose ham flavoured with truffle, quails’ eggs and pickled cucumber. I also chose a local white wine to go with it.

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The food was wonderful. My ham had a glorious amount of truffle in it and Nicola’s pasta was delicious (she gave me a taste!). Again, just as the previous cafe, the service was so good and friendly. There can’t be anywhere more touristy than the Sacher Hotel in Vienna and sometimes such places can feel unfriendly and like you’re in a conveyor belt. But here the waiters were nicely attentive and seemed to want us to enjoy being there. Now we had of course already eaten cake. But then we are in Vienna and Vienna = cake + coffee. And how could we NOT have Sachertorte in the Sacher Hotel! So we did – but we shared a slice.

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Happily it didn’t disappoint and was as gorgeous as we’d expected it to be. Round the corner in their shop as we left, we saw them in different sizes and it was tempting to take one home – but we did manage to resist that!

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We walked on right into the heart of the Old Town to Stephansdom – St Stephan’s Cathedral.

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Known as a Gothic masterpiece, a church has been on the site since the 12th century. It was completely remodelled in the 13th century and some of that building remains until this day.

By now it was mid afternoon. We’d done a lot in our half day – a really lovely half day. But we decided it was time to head back to the studio for a quiet time before going out in the evening.

 

Vienna 2016: Arrival & Reconnaisance

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Yes I know I’ve only just come back from Spain so this next break is a pretty fast turnaround. It’s come about because my daughter Nicola is at a conference in Vienna next week and she suggested I join her for the weekend before so we could have a little break together. She’d booked an Airbnb studio apartment for the week, so there was even somewhere to stay. Nicola had to be at work this morning so is flying out late from Birmingham via Frankfurt and won’t arrive until after midnight. I meanwhile took a morning flight from Heathrow and arrived early afternoon. My ‘job’ was to get the keys to apartment, get in some basic shopping and do some reconnaisance – check out the area we’re staying in and get a sense of the layout of the city, especially in relation to places we want to visit.

Vienna is a city I’ve been longing to visit for ages. It was even in my bucket list of places I wanted to go to, which I published on the blog about three years ago. I’ve been to Austria before but not for ages. As a child I holidayed near Innsbruck a few times; when Nicola was a babe in arms, we had a skiing holiday in Lech. However, Vienna has evaded me. But now I’m here!

The Austrian capital has a wealth of cultural and historical attractions to offer. From the imperial grandeur of the Habsburgs to the birth of psychotherapy with Sigmund Freud who lived and worked here; the rich musical legacy of Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Brahms and many others. There’s the art of Klimt to be found at the Belvedere palace. And then, of course, there are the famous coffee houses. The playwright Bertolt Brecht described Vienna as ‘a small city built around a few coffee houses’. From the 18th century they attracted poets and musicians, artists and writers; radical thinkers like Freud and Trotsky would be found talking in groups in them. And you do actually drink coffee in them – and glorious cakes such as Sachertorte and apple strudel are to be found. One can only ask why it’s taken me so long to get here.

Mina, who owns the apartment, helpfully arranged a taxi to pick me up from the airport (€25) to bring me to Kochgasse in the Alsergrund & University District in the north east corner of the city.

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Mina met me with the key and showed me round. She took time to look at a map with me too to show me how to get to places we want to visit; she recommended areas for cafes and told me where I’d find shops. She assured me I could call at any time and made me feel so welcome. What a lovely start to our stay. The studio is simple and has an arty minimalist feel. I love it.

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It’s very quiet and cool (it was about 30C outside) and looks out on to a garden.

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Mina showed me a bowl of red gooseberries she’d picked for us – organically grown – from her garden.

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I followed her directions to a main road at the top of Kochgasse – not even 5 mins away. She’d told me about Denns, which is a kind of Austrian Wholefoods or Planet Organic store. I bought healthy almond milk, muesli, nuts, hummus and apple juice. I reckoned I was going to need some healthy input before finding my way to the coffee and cake houses! I didn’t buy water though as Mina told me the water from the tap was very pure and came from the local springs – it is healthier than the water in bottles.

After unloading it all back at the studio, I did indeed go in search of coffee and cake. However, I didn’t have much luck. I was obviously in the wrong part of town; I needed to study the guidebook more seriously. I was hungry though. A tiny roll on the BA flight for lunch wasn’t going to keep me going until supper time. Well, if you can’t find cake – eat ice cream. I was walking down Stiftgasse and saw a cafe overflowing with people. Always a good sign. But this cafe was actually an Italian gelateria – Gelateria La Romana.

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There wasn’t a free table outside so I went inside. I was so hungry I ordered a Sicilian style brioche with ice cream and a cappuccino.

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Oh my word! The ice cream was wonderful, really amazingly good. I was able to choose three flavours so had mascarpone, white tiramisu, and chocolate fondant. The coffee was good too and very much Italian style. A delightful find – even if my first ‘meal’ in Vienna hadn’t been very Austrian!

I took a look at a couple of places near the studio that Mina recommended for supper but decided to go further afield. I’d tried to book at one place that had a great review in my Lonely Planet and I liked when I went in – Schnattl – but they were closed for a party this evening. They don’t open over the weekend but I may go back for lunch on Monday before my flight home. I chose instead Amerlingbeisl, a kind of bistro pub, that had excellent reviews in Lonely Planet and on TripAdvisor. I liked the busy buzzing atmosphere in the courtyard and was given a friendly welcome.

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On such a warm and humid evening it was great to be outside. I chose a very Austrian dish of fried chicken with potato salad and also ordered a side of green salad to go with it.

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It was a very mediocre meal. The chicken a little dry, the salad swimming in too much dressing so soggy. As for the potato salad, in UK this would be potato in a mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing. The Austrians however make it completely differently. Cooked and still warm potato is marinated in hot beef broth, vinegar, oil (or butter) and sugar. Then diced red onion is mixed in. It’s left to marinate for a little while but served warm. The mixture thickens due to the release of the starch from the potato. It didn’t look very appetising but it was also far too sweet for me. I can see I’m going to struggle with typical Germanic cooking. I know you can get brilliant cooking in top restaurants (such as I’ve enjoyed in the far past) but the kind of simple, everyday Austrian-Germanic cooking isn’t really my thing. Though I’m hopeful of a good wiener schnitzel at some point. Meanwhile, I have yet to find that Sachertorte I’ve been looking forward to and I know that the Austrians make the most amazingly delicious cakes.

I slowly walked back to the studio in the dying light, passing attractive buildings and shops – including chocolate shops!

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I’ve had a lovely first half day and look forward to exploring further afield tomorrow with Nicola, finding some of the famous sights and maybe taking a look at the Danube.

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