I’ve had another great year of food and travel, with trips to Amsterdam in January, Turin in March, Florence in June, Burgundy in July and Granada in September. Both home and abroad, I’ve visited old favourite places to eat and found some exciting new ones. I’ve cooked up a storm of recipes in my kitchen and have started to teach my 2¾-year-old grandson Freddie to cook. I’ve been invited to some great food writers’ events, added to my already large cookbook collection and enjoyed some good foodie TV. My life, you will realise, revolves a lot around food and travel! But what’s been the best? This isn’t meant to be some kind of ‘awards’ post, merely a bit of fun; a way to look back on the year and celebrate the best of it. So, in no particular order …
1. Best London Meal: Ottolenghi, Islington
I’ve had some lovely meals this year, both at old favourites like Joe Allen, in their new location, and found some new places like Latium, Anima e Cuore, and Capricci. But what stands out as an exceptional meal was the one I had at Ottolenghi’s flagship restaurant in Islington, back in August (click here). It was Annie who suggested going there before a visit to the Almeida Theatre. I’d been to Ottolenghi before but not for years – even, pre-blog days! I remembered it being good but it turned out to be so much better than I recalled. I was blown away. Every one of the small plates I shared with friends Annie and Jerry was exceptional; such an exquisite layering of flavours; incredible creativity. I really, really need to go back again soon!
2. Best Meal Abroad: Osteria Santo Spirito, Florence
I’ve written fairly recently about what makes a good restaurant (click here), and for me it isn’t just about great food, excellent service and a good atmosphere, it’s about all these things coming together in harmony. So, while the food in Osteria Santo Spirito in Florence was very good, it was the bustling, lively atmosphere, the friendly service and the sheer delight of being in Florence that makes this meal stand out (click here). Well, actually I had two meals there!
3. Best ‘home’ recipe: Fegato all Veneziana
My travels are always an inspiration to me in the kitchen and I invariably come home and try to recreate something I ate while away. For as long as I’ve been going to Venice (and that’s a good many years!) I’ve always eaten Fegato alla Veneziana while there; it’s my favourite dish in Venice. Of course, I love seafood risotto, that’s such a classic there and particularly wonderful; I love the fabulous cicchetti one finds in bars for an early evening snack with a glass of prosecco, but what I always want above anything else is the fegato. And finally – finally after many years of thinking about it! – I got round to making it myself in November, serving it with polenta, just as it’s usually served in Venice. And it was very, very good! (click here for recipe)
4. Best lunch: Bar Casa Julio, Granada
Whether home or away, I’m not a big eater at lunchtime. I much prefer to eat my main meal in the evening when time is less rushed and I can relax. At home I relax in the kitchen, turning on some music and putting together a meal. When away, I love to plan where I’ll go for the main meal of the day, looking out for restaurants, seeking those I’ve read about. At home a lunch is as simple as a portion of homemade soup pulled from the freezer to some mashed avocado piled onto toast. But when on holiday, it’s nice if even a snack is something special. And there are few things more special than a couple of wonderful tapas, and they don’t come better than those served at Bar Casa Julio in Granada (click here). I might have had to stand up at the bar, but the people were so friendly, the atmosphere so lively, and the food utterly amazing, it was definitely my highlight lunch of the year!
5. Best Hotel: Hotel Cellai, Florence
It was a slightly difficult choice as I really like Hotel Grand Sitea in Turin, where I’ve now stayed twice – October 2016 and March this year – and I’d never dream of staying anywhere else in that city. And Hotel Carmen in Granada was a friendly hotel where I had a good stay, though a little more formal and ‘business’ like than I’d ideally choose. But I loved the slightly more informal boutique Hotel Cellai (click here) in Florence with a staff so friendly that a waitress carrying a plate of food to the breakfast buffet, a chambermaid pushing a trolley laden with clean bed linen and towels, would greet me with a big smile and ‘buongiorno‘. As did the people at reception as I came and went. It makes all the difference to feel so welcomed, especially if travelling on your own.
6. Best Views: Granada, Spain
Without doubt the most stunning views I’ve enjoyed this year were during my trip to Granada in September. Wherever you go, the famous La Alhambra will be visible. Part of the reason there are so many magnificent views to be enjoyed is that much of the city is high up and you need to be ready to climb up steep, cobbled streets much of the time – but at the top you are invariably rewarded with a view that will stop you in your tracks, such as the one above when I walked to Sacromonte.
It took another slow and steep climb for this viewpoint (above) from the old part of Granada across to La Alhambra, but it was certainly worth it.
The visit to La Alhambra itself was brilliant and situated as it is, high above the city, everywhere you look is an awe inspiring view, as the ones above and below.
7. Best Café Abroad: Baratti & Milano, Turin
Another challenging choice! How does one choose from Turin’s glorious historic cafes? (click here) I loved Caffè Torino for aperitivo and lunch; even supper last October. But then there was also the wonderful Caffè Gilli in Florence where I regularly went for my morning coffee, which I enjoyed with either a fabulous, flaky croissant or the Florentine favourite little morning cake, budino di riso.
What makes Baratti & Milano stand out is not just their great coffee and pastries but the fabulous chocolate and hazelnut spread I buy to bring home. I buy some for my family too and everyone jealously guards their share, it’s so special!
8. Best Café London: Pompi
Now, usually my café-recommending focus is on coffee. Where can one have the best coffee? There are a lot of wonderful artisan coffee houses throughout London (and UK) serving great coffee and I’ve mentioned a few on this blog over the years. But there’s only one Pompi! It was my friend Lucia who told me about this famous café from Rome coming to London. Then a Google search showed it hadn’t just come to London, it had come to my local Richmond Upon Thames! (click here) You don’t go to Pompi for coffee (in fact the coffee I had at the Richmond branch wasn’t good; though I had a great macchiato at the Shaftesbury Avenue branch a few nights ago – photo above). No, you go to Pompi for tiramisu; a tiramisu so good many will say it’s the best in the world. And, frankly, I’ve never tasted better. I’ve been to the original Pompi in Rome a number of times, but what a delight of 2017 that it’s come to London.
9. Best Gelato London: La Gelatiera
Just as London is now full of great coffee houses, there are some fabulous gelaterias serving ice cream just as good as you’ll find in Italy. My longstanding favourite is Gelupo, but a new addition to the ‘great Italian ice cream experience in London’ this year has been La Gelatiera in Covent Garden (click here). They have gorgeous, exciting flavours and it’s worth joining the frequent queue for a scoop or two of glorious gelato.
10. Best Foodie Event: Supper at Bocca di Lupo
People are often surprised that I give such a lot of time to the blog for love rather than money! But for me it’s a hobby; one for which I have a great passion and derive a huge amount of pleasure from. That in itself is enough, but sometimes I’m lucky enough to be invited to a great food event and this year the highlight was an evening to celebrate Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena at one of my favourite restaurants, Bocco di Lupo. A small group of food writers were invited to a meal specially prepared by the restaurant’s head chef Jake Simpson and one of Italy’s star chefs, Isa Mazzocchi. It was wonderful to enjoy the privilege of such a great meal but also to eat with other food writers who wanted to talk food all evening as much as me!
It’s been great fun looking back on some of the great food and travel highlights of my year. It’s reminded me of some fabulous times and I hope it might inspire you to follow some of these recommendations in 2018.