About this time last year I wrote a post about the 10 bucket list new destinations I’d like to go to over the next couple of years or so. Well, I’ve only managed to tick off one this year – to Istanbul – but I’ve still had a fantastic year of travel and eating, and writing about it all on the blog definitely enhances my pleasure, as well as hopefully entertaining my steadily increasing band of followers. The blog has also made me more adventurous: trying out lots of new recipes, developing my own and visiting more new places to eat. I thought it would be fun to look back on the year and remember some of its highlights.
The year began brilliantly with me flying off to Switzerland on 2 January. It had been a fairly last-minute thing when over supper in December, Annie had invited me to join her and her family at their apartment in Les Diablerets at new year. It’s nice to have things booked in advance to look forward to but it’s also lovely to just take off sometimes. And where nicer to be than Switzerland in January with snow-covered mountains glistening in the sun against a clear blue sky. Under Annie’s guidance I learnt to make cheese fondue properly for the first time in my life and developed rather a liking for the local Les Diablerets bitters that I drank with tonic water and lots of ice.
I’ve had some great outings with the London Italian Language Meetup group this year and in February my friend Lucia introduced me to Princi: Milan’s favourite bakery had made it to Wardour Street in London’s Soho. Here, as in Italy, you can buy slices of wonderful pizza and filled focaccia, eat gorgeous cakes and drink good coffee or a glass of prosecco, depending on the time of day! All within the kind of stylish surroundings that make you believe for just a little while that you might really be in Italy.
I was invited to La Credenza food fair where I had a great time trying out all kinds of Italians foods and came home with a large tin of amazing Acquerello risotto rice. At the time it had just arrived in UK and you couldn’t buy it in shops. Now it’s used in some of the top Italian restaurants, like the wonderful Tinello, and I was delighted to recently find it on sale at one of Twickenham’s newest Italian cafes and delis, Sapori TW1. A few days later I headed to Birmingham on Mother’s Day where I had a great day out with my daughter Nicola and we made pitta bread together – our first time making pitta – to go with the fabulous meal she’d prepared for our supper – and champagne of course. Because she and I always like to have champagne.
April saw a big birthday – photo at top – when my lovely family cooked some fantastic food for all my closest friends. Even my 10-year-old niece Clara and 8-year-old nephew Leo were brought in to help at the end, carefully putting together some of the cichetti to be offered as people arrived. Days after, I headed off to my favourite hotel in one of my favourite places: Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo in Venice – just the most gorgeous place to be, especially with Sandro and Walter’s ever warm welcome.
May was a month of great interviews. I met with Joe Allen’s new owners – Lawrence Hartley and Tim Healy – for lunch at this iconic restaurant on the 1st and they told me of their plans for its future. I had a great lunch with them but more excitement was to come on 2 June when Jay Rayner linked my interview in his own online review of Joe Allen in the Observer bringing me my highest – and still unbeaten – number of viewings in a day. I even exchanged emails with the great man when I thanked him and have been meaning to frame them! But there were three more great interviews. On the 14th I interviewed the exciting young chef Shaun Dickens – who trained with Raymond Blanc and has worked at some amazing Michelin-starred restaurants – just after he opened his own restaurant in Henley upon Thames. On the 23rd I took a lift to the 32nd floor of The Shard in London to talk to young Belgian pastry chef Jurgen Willems about his Top Ten Cookery Books. We sat talking in Shard Oblix enjoying one of the best views over London and I sampled some of his wonderful pastries and cakes. And as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one month, May finished on a high when I interviewed Federico Sali at the wonderful Tinello, which has fast become one of my favourite restaurants.
On 8 June I set off to France in my car, crossed the Channel the old-fashioned way by ferry, and spent a week in the most lovely Art Nouveau studio apartment near the beach in Deauville-Trouville. The weather wasn’t that kind and it was very cold and grey for early June. But that didn’t take anything away from the gorgeousness of my little apartment and the fabulous seafood – oysters, mussels – and the pleasure of walking along wide sandy beaches stretching for miles. I reacquainted myself with Cafe Gourmands and took a trip into cider and Calvados country. I was only home for a couple of days before heading down to Dorset to stay with friends Lesley and Colin and enjoying a wonderful meal at Hix Oyster & Fish House in the beautiful Lyme Regis.
In July my friend Nina took me to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. It was the first time I’d been and I loved it. The weather was perfect and I found it a gentler kind of day out compared to the manic crush of the Chelsea Flower Show. I even found a few foodie things – like chilli plants to bring home and some lovely olive oil – but overall it was the wonderful display of plants and gardens and a relaxing day with my oldest (as in known longest!) friend that made it such a great day.
August saw me setting off to France again. This time by rail with EuroStar all the way down south to Aix-en-Provence. Although it wasn’t on my ‘bucket list’ I’d been wanting to visit this area for ages and so I was really excited to arrive and discover it as wonderful as I’d imagined. It’s such a beautiful town; it was nicely warm but not too hot, despite being the middle of summer. I loved the brilliant daily market, traced Cezanne’s steps and visited his studio, and found there was so much to do in Aix I’ll just have to go back again!
Linda, George and I had booked our holiday in Istanbul early in the year so had had months of growing excitement as the date drew near for us to go. I had high expectations of visiting this wonderful and extraordinary city and it was more wonderful and exciting than I could possibly have imagined. There was, of course, the gorgeous food, the old spice market, and Turkish delight served everywhere. But there was the beauty of the architecture, the magnificent Hagia Sofia; the glistening blue of the Bosphorus cutting a swathe between Europe and Asia which we crossed by either the Galata bridge or ferry. There was the wonderful night we saw the Whirling Dervishes and then a note of calm as we sat in a cliffside cafe on the Asia side one afternoon looking out to sea. We fitted so much into our three days and just loved it and I really, really hope that some day in the not-too-distant future I shall return.
One of the most exciting things for the Single Gourmet Traveller in 2013 has been the special menu for my followers at the brilliant Brula French brasserie in Twickenham. Its owner Lawrence Hartley and I teamed up to offer a brilliant menu available exclusively to followers of the blog. I went a couple of times myself and it was really special to be handed a menu saying The Single Gourmet Traveller. I got more followers during the month and Lawrence found it such a success he’s planning that we should do it again next summer.
Another exciting first for the blog was when the world-renowned Kew Gardens asked to use one of my photos in their Incredibles Festival that ran over the summer and into November. Large plots of the gardens were given over to growing vegetables and fruits and the photo from my Harlequin Squash recipe was used to show how you can cook them. With a photo credit to the blog on the plaque on which the photo appeared – by a large plot of harlequin squashes! – the show brought many extra visitors to the blog. But the real excitement for me was going into the Gardens and seeing my photo on show.
We’re only halfway through December but already there have been a couple of highlights: the wonderful Moro pop-up at Possessed N1’s Supper Club with Sam and Sam Clark cooking for just twenty of us. It was the most fabulous evening and definitely a highlight of the year, not just December. But there has also been my daughter Nicola’s birthday dinner for which I prepared a Turkish meal of lots of meze. The food turned out really well and I enjoyed cooking it, but best of all was the family being together to enjoy the occasion.