I’ve enjoyed some great trips abroad and fabulous food this year. I returned to well-loved destinations like Turin in March, Tuscany in June and Nice in September. These were places I already knew quite well but, as always, I sought out some new restaurants to try and new things to see as well as my favourite ones from previous trips.
Back in London I discovered some wonderful new restaurants, including a few more great places to eat with kids with grandson Freddie (now almost 5) as my co-reviewer. And in my kitchen I tried out new recipes from books like Ottolenghi’s Simple as well as attempting to recreate some of the dishes I’d enjoyed in restaurants.
Here are some of my foodie and travel highlights of 2019:
1. Best Meal London: Tredwells and Oystermen
Well this is a bit of a cheat because I really couldn’t choose between these two restaurants, so it will have to be a shared ‘award’. I went to Oystermen (photo above) in May after passing it one day while walking in Covent Garden and then suggesting it as a meeting place to my friend Annie. We went there in May and were blown away; it was absolutely fabulous (click here for review). Later in the year we weren’t surprised when it won Observer Food Monthly‘s Best Restaurant of the Year award. If you love eating fish then this is the place to go in London.
If you’re more of a meat eater (though fish is available here too), then Tredwells has to be on your list of restaurants to try. I’d passed this Marcus Wareing restaurant in St Martin’s Lane so often and kept meaning to try it. I’m so glad I eventually got round to it – again with Annie (click here for review). I loved everything about it – the decor, ambiance and – of course! – the food. I loved it so much I took my son there for his birthday treat.
2.Best Meal Abroad: Peixes (Nice)
There was no doubt of my choice for best meal abroad this year – it simply had to be the wonderful Peixes in Nice. I’d read about it before my trip and then by chance passed it on my first day, not far from my hotel. I couldn’t resist stopping there and then and going in for lunch … and lunch was so good, so incredible (click here for review), that I had to go back one evening for dinner (click here for review).
It’s fun in Nice to enjoy some of the traditional cuisine, like at La Merenda, but I was totally won over by the modern take on fish cookery at Peixes. It might even be a reason all on its own to return to Nice soon …
3. Best Lunch London: Honest Burgers
OK, Honest Burgers may not be fine dining so is perhaps a surprising choice, but it was one of my lunches with Freddie and a great place – this branch conveniently near the South Kensington museums – to take a small person for a lunch treat (click here for review). Their burgers are great and their famous rosemary chips wonderful. The photo above shows Freddie’s kids’ plate.
4. Best Lunch Abroad: Bar des Oiseaux (Nice)
Well it was very tempting to just write ‘Peixes’ again because of the lunch I had on my first day in Nice. But their sister restaurant Bar des Oiseaux was pretty spectacular too – witness the wonderful prawn risotto I had in photo above (click here for review).
5. Best Cafe London: Paul (Richmond)
Another surprising choice, perhaps. After all Paul is an international chain. However, the Richmond branch is where I’m most often found enjoying morning coffee over a paper. On Sundays I might add in one of their overnight oats pots. The friendly staff are everything you want from a local cafe – they smile in recognition, know what my usual order is and will chat away with me if it’s not too busy.
6. Best Cafe Abroad: Caffe Torino (Turin)
I’m always on the lookout for a great cafe, be it on holiday abroad or here in London. I’m a cafe person and am always thrilled by a special cafe like the historic ones in Turin (click here), Gilli in Florence (click here) and the ones in Vienna selling glorious cakes like Sachertore and Apple Strudel (click here). Turin’s Caffe Torino offers an all-day cafe experience, from morning coffee, lunch (click here), aperitivo (click here) and evening meals. You can go to eat or just to drink. You can sit inside or grab one of the tables outside for a view across the beautiful Piazza San Carlo. When in Turin a visit to Caffe Torino is a must.
7. Best Hotel: Hotel Sitea (Turin)
Still in Turin, I stayed at Hotel Sitea for the third time this year. It’s gloriously luxurious but as Turin is a less touristy place than say, Florence or Venice, it’s more reasonably priced than you might expect. To be honest, I can’t resist a bit of luxury from time to time! But it’s also a very friendly hotel where I feel welcomed and they serve one of the best buffet breakfasts I know. Its location is also perfect for a weekend in Turin, right in the centre but not noisy. It’s so wonderful, I’m already booked to go back next March (click here for review).
8. Best Views
I wrote recently about how I often find myself in cities where a long, steep climb is required for a great view. I was lucky to enjoy great weather when in Turin in March and headed up to Villa della Regina on the outskirts of the city where I was able to look back across the city (photo above). I could see the Mole Antonelliana rising high above the city and the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
In Florence in June I decided I had to climb up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the famous panoramic view across the city (click here). On the same morning I visited the Giardino Bardini, which also offered a fabulous view (photo below) across Florence.
And walking across the Ponte Vecchio may not involve a climb but the view must be one of the most famous and most wonderful in the world.
Moving on from Florence in June, I stayed in Lucca for a night and climbed to the top of the Torre Guigini, remembering the great view from a previous visit. It’s a long climb – there is no lift – but totally worth it (click here).
The final part of my week in Tuscany was spent with my friend Annette who lives in the Lunigiana region of the National Tuscan-Emilian Apennines Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The views from her village and the surrounding area were glorious.
My final trip of the year was to Nice and with the weather warm and sunny on my arrival, I decided to take a trip to nearby Eze, having read about the wonderful views. The walk up steep cobbled roads to the top was definitely rewarded when I looked back over the Mediterranean towards Nice (click here).
9. Best ‘home’ Recipe: Paccheri with Cod, Tomatoes, Olives, Capers, Hazelnuts & Pangrattato
Sometimes a restaurant dish is so good I can’t resist trying to recreate it back home in my own kitchen. This paccheri and fish dish was one I enjoyed when I first visited Bancone, which has become one of my favourite haunts in London (click here). Of course, trying to produce a restaurant dish isn’t always easy or successful, but in this case I was really pleased with the result. It’s truly fabulous – and always reminds me of that first great visit to Bancone.
10. Best Foodie Event: An Urban Beekeeping Workshop
It was a great honour and pleasure to be accepted into The Guild of Food Writers at the beginning of the year. They regularly organise events and one of the first I went on was to Bermondsey Bees in London. It was a fantastic day: I loved meeting some of the other Guild members and it was transformative as I learned so much about bees and honey, it’s completely changed what I buy and how I use honey (click here).
It’s been great fun to look back over the year and celebrate and share all my travel and foodie highlights. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and it may have inspired you to make a trip or try a new restaurant. Do please let me know about your food and travel highlights of the year.
Happy New Year – All Best Wishes for 2020!!