Scannabue is a caffe-ristorante in the buzzy, multicultural area of San Salvario, south of the city centre. I was in that area this morning and stopped by to take a look. I liked what I saw and went in. It wasn’t open but I managed to find someone to book a table.
It’s interesting considering the meaning of a name. When abroad, I know I often tend to just take in a name without thinking about what it means. So – my Italian didn’t stretch this far and I consulted my Italian dictionary app: scanna comes from the verb scannare meaning ‘to slaughter’ and bue means ‘ox’. This seems to sum up the Turinese cuisine well for they do like their meat and meat innards.
The decor is of a sophistcated cafe-bistro kind. They are listed in the Michelin Guide and it showed. I like to have a glass of fizz when I arrive and there was a choice of prosecco or Franciacorta from Lombardy, slightly more expensive at €5.50 a glass but described by the waiter as ‘more elegant’. It came with a good basket of bread so I was able to nibble on this and sip my delicious fizz while I waited for my food.
Then came the delightful surprise of an amuse bouche – a lovely cheese panna cotta with buttery breadcrumbs on top flavoured with Parmesan.
I decided to start with a pasta dish. There is no way I can follow the Italian traditional meal of antipasti, pasta or risotto, main course and dessert. It’s either antipasto or pasta for me and I realised I’d been in Italy since Friday and hadn’t had a single pasta dish. Squid ink pasta with baby calamari, tomato confit, Pantelleria capers and taggiasche olives (€13) sounded very good.
It was wonderful. I’ve eaten some very good food this trip, but this was exceptionally good. So too was my main course of Tender veal cheek slow cooked in Barbera wine served with potato purée (€16).
They rcommended a glass of Nebbiolo wine (€8) from the Piemonte region to go with it.
There were some good desserts to choose from. I went with a Hazelnut trio of ice cream, cake and zabaione covered in chopped hazelnuts (€8). Hazelnuts are grown in the area and used in many recipes.
What a lovely dessert for my last dinner this trip. I also ordered dessert wine (well Italian glasses of wine are quite small compared to those in London) and asked for the local Passito which I had on my first evening.
I finished with coffee. It came with a little cantuccini biscuit.
It was a fabulous meal; a great ending to my trip. I paid and then it was a gentle 15-minute walk back to my hotel.
In the historic quarter of Turin, Quadrolatero Romano, near the huge market at Porta Palatina, are two sibling restaurants – Tre Gallini, a restaurant and Tre Galli, a vineria, wine bar. They have good reputations but I thought the wine bar, a more laid-back and informal place was more my thing so booked a table there for tonight.
This area of Turin has undergone a facelift in recent years but there’s still a sense of stepping out of the now gentrified centre into somewhere less salubrious, especially at night in the dark and pouring rain, with the market closed up and having to negotiate narrow deserted alleyways. The arrival though was warm and welcoming.
Furnished with old tables, chairs and stools at the bar, the decor belies the sophistication of the food and wine sold. It’s truly excellent.
Water was brought and I ordered a glass of champagne (prosecco wasn’t on offer, though a couple of Italian sparkling wines were but one was a rose which I didn’t fancy. It wasn’t summery enough for rose!). The generous basket of bread contained some wonderful grissini that were so tasty I had to restrain myself from eating too many and filling myself up before the main food arrived. The menu was very meat based as is typical in Turin and I decided to give the calf’s head a miss. However there were other good things and I chose a homemade ricotta with seasonal vegetables to begin.
It looked amazing and tasted superb. Ricotta can be very bland but this was creamy and tasted wonderful – some of the best ricotta I’ve ever tasted.
I opted for the only fish choice as my main: Croaker fish, chickpeas cream and broccoli. It was really good. I asked if I’d need a side and there was some uncertainty so I ordered a salad.
As it happened I didn’t really need it and didn’t finish it (it was quite large). However, it was a good salad and contained some datterini tomatoes that were gloriously flavourful and the salad was almost worth having just for those.
The wine bar was quite full now and there was a good buzzy atmosphere. I hesitated over ordering dessert but finally went for it. I’m on holiday – and only here for three nights! Chocolate pie turned out to be chocolate fondant.
This is a dessert that is much abused but Tre Galli’s was excellent. Served hot, of course, the sponge slightly crisp on the edge but light and soft inside with a gorgeous gooey chocolate sauce in the middle that oozed across the plate.
I finished with espresso, paid my bill and slipped back out into the rain. It was raining so heavily I momentarily considered getting a taxi again, but decided a quarter of an hour walk after a large meal was a good idea. And Turin looks as beautiful in the night and rain as it does in the day and sun.
So I enjoyed the walk back to the hotel and managed anyway to find a route that allowed me to walk through the lovely arcades-gallerias where I could keep dry.
I arrived back in beautiful Turin yesterday and am staying at the lovely Grand Hotel Sitea again. As British Airways is still on a winter timetable I couldn’t get a flight until mid afternoon which meant arriving in Turin at 6.30pm. The taxi ride to the centre is about half an hour so I reckoned I wouldn’t reach the hotel until about 7.30. Thus a plan was needed for dinner; no wandering leisurely round trying to find somewhere. Especially since rain was forecast. A search on the internet led me to book a table at Dai Saletta, a simple trattoria serving typical Piemontese dishes. This was exactly the kind of place I wanted, what I like. And I wasn’t disappointed.
As it was raining and google maps reckoned it would take me 20 minutes to walk to the restaurant from the hotel, I discussed getting a taxi with the receptionist. He thought it was too far to walk. He was right. As I sat in the cab (€8.70) I was so pleased I hadn’t tried to walk.
The welcome as I went in was warm and friendly. I looked round and it was indeed just what I think of as a typical Italian trattoria. I ordered a prosecco and discussed the menu with the waiter. For a starter a mix of typical Piemontese antipasti was offered (€12). I asked him what it was and then said it sounded a lot. But no, the waiter said, it was just little tastes, so I went with that.
It turned out to be quite a lot but all wonderful and indeed all typical Piemontese dishes: vitello tonnato, Piemontese sweet peppers, carpaccio of veal with lemon and Parmesan, fresh cheese, Russian salad and veal tongue with green sauce. It was hard to know where to start and what last gorgeous mouthful to save until the end!
Having escaped into the cosy trattoria from the horrid weather outside, the typical Piemontese dish of Brasato al Barolo (€13) – braised beef with red wine – was very inviting, although there were other dishes I liked the look of too, especially roast veal with a hazelnut sauce. I had some seasonal vegetables with it and it was all delicious and perfect for my first evening. I had a glass of red wine too.
There was an appealing choice of desserts and I chose zabaione. When the waiter told me they served it cold, I almost changed my mind. I’m so glad I didn’t. It was wonderful; one of the best zabaione I’ve ever had. Rich, thick and creamy, served with gorgeous little homemade biscuits to dip into it. The waiter suggested a little glass of local dessert wine to go with it – Caluso Passito.
It was excellent, a lovely sweet wine but not too sweet. It’s made from Erbaluce grapes grown to the north of Turin. I’d never have thought to order it and am pleased the waiter suggested it. I finished with an espresso.
I always order espresso after an Italian evening meal but this definitely wouldn’t be a place to make the faux pas of ordering a cappuccino! (In Italy, cappuccino is only for the morning, up until about 11am.) I was surrounded by Italians in the restaurant, which was great. The only other English voices – American, I think – across the other side of the restaurant.
Dai Saletta was just the kind of place I like to eat: simple, honest food in simple traditional surroundings; friendly service and a relaxing and comfortable place to eat. It’s definitely on my list for a return visit sometime.
It was an Italian-themed afternoon and evening. I was meeting my friend Annette at the National Gallery to see their new major exhibition – Michelangelo & Sebastiano, which explores the friendship and later rivalry of the two artists.
Annette isn’t Italian but we did meet through the London Italian Language Meetup Group. I’d like to tell you we practised our Italian but have to confess we didn’t. We did however very much enjoy this exhibition of two famous Italian artists. Our viewing was interrupted for a time by a minor drama when an alarm went off in the gallery. Nearby security people looked baffled and we all stood for a minute or so, wondering what to do, before a loudspeaker announcement told us a fire had been detected in the gallery and it was being evacuated. We were guided out and everyone moved in an orderly fashion; there was no panic. I couldn’t help hoping though that we didn’t suddenly come face to face with fire. We didn’t. It was over half an hour before we were let back in. No one seemed to know whether or not there had been a fire.
When we emerged from the gallery at 6.00pm, we headed to the nearby Rosetta restaurant/café in William IV Street, which cuts across a corner from St Martin’s Lane to the Strand, and is thus very close to the gallery and Trafalgar Square.
Going to Rosetta had been Annette’s suggestion as she’d heard good things about it from a friend. Rosetta is more of a café-deli than a restaurant and is only open until 7.30pm, so not a place to head to for an evening meal. The decor is more café-like too; wooden floor, simple furniture but attractive and cosy.
The idea behind Rosetta is to offer Italian agri-cultural food – much of the produce comes from their farm in the Piacenza region of Italy: top quality cold meats and cheeses, organic fruit juices. Their wines come from small Italian producers and are specially chosen.
There are home-cooked hot dishes and desserts.
It’s a great place for an early evening supper either post-gallery, as we did, or pre-theatre. They actually close at 6.30 on Monday but there was no sense of hurrying us as we arrived at 6.00, nor as we passed the 6.30 mark. In fact we were in there until just gone 7 – as were a handful of others, including (good sign!) some Italians – and everything about the two guys in the café was friendly and helpful. It was so cold and blustery outside we both chose hot dishes. Annette chose a Melanzane Parmigiana and I had a vegetable lasagna.
I have to say they were served in a rather ‘rustic’ way; no carefully cut slices laid on the plates. But the important thing was the food was absolutely delicious and we enjoyed it. We both wanted a glass of red wine and the waiter was really helpful, suggesting a couple and telling us the difference. It was done in a nice way; no sommelier pomp. And the wine when it came was excellent.
We were by this time past the 6.30 ‘closing time’ but the waiter came and offered us the dessert menu – so how could we refuse. Especially since Annette had spied some gorgeous looking tiramisu on the way in. The waiter told us they were the best, so we ordered them and espressos.
The tiramisu was as gorgeous as it looked and the coffee very good too. We paid (£43 for the 2 of us before tip) and set off home. It had been a perfect, simple early evening supper. I’m sure I’ll be back and it’s great to now know it’s there in an area of London I visit a lot. During the day there’s a good choice of panini and soups as well as the hot dishes; or it’s a great place for morning coffee with perhaps some of their home-made cake. Every Thursday from 5.00pm they serve a traditional Italian aperitivo: a buffet of meats, cheeses, pickles, focaccia, polenta, and filled rolls, which are free – all you have to do is buy your drink, perhaps a typical Italian aperitif of Aperol or Campari spritz, Italian wine or beer. Sounds like a good plan! To find out more or book, visit their website.
It’s been a typical March week of weather that has roller-coastered from the hottest day of the year so far (17C in London) to the arrival of the last gasp of Storm Stella, which has crossed the Atlantic, to bring strong winds and rain this evening. Fortunately my week of food has been more reliable – old favourite restaurants out and old favourite recipes at home.
Saturday – Here Comes Summer
You know summer is coming when a long queue winds out of Gelateria Danieli in Richmond and along the narrow passageway of Brewer Lane, which conveniently leads out on to Richmond Green where, having bought your ice cream, you can find a bench to sit and enjoy it – and the view. The gelateria is known as one of the best in London (which actually now boasts are vast array of glorious ice cream parlours). For me it’s a regular summer treat and it was on the spur of the moment, walking through a warm and sunny Richmond last Saturday afternoon, that I decided to divert from the high street and treat myself to some gelato – dark chocolate sorbet and some frozen yoghurt with fruits of the forest.
Sunday – Barbecue & Birthday Cake
My brother Adam came over with Clara and Leo. Clara had turned 14 during the week so I made my lovely niece a birthday cake. It was the same chocolate and vanilla marble cake I’d made Freddie only a couple of weeks before but I thought some pretty rose decorations (that I bought in Waitrose – my creative skills in the kitchen don’t go as far as making flower decorations like this) would be more appropriate than the Paw Patrol ones I’d used for my 2-year-old grandson. But first we’d eaten a great barbecue of kofte and marinated chicken, all from Moro recipes, prepared by and cooked by son Jonathan. My savoury contribution was some labneh to go on the table with the meats and salads. I love making labneh because it’s fun to produce home-made cream cheese so easily and know it contains nothing more than good Greek yoghurt and a little sea salt.
I left it draining in the fridge overnight then served it simply, tipping it into a bowl and drizzling over a good amount of extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkling with za’atar. Sometimes I flavour it with spices or rolled into little balls and preserve in oil – click here for recipes.
Monday – Mushrooms & Cream
I had a little cream left over from making the chocolate ganache icing for the birthday cake and some mushrooms that needed using up. So I made a pasta sauce with them, plus some bacon from the freezer and parsley from the garden that remarkably has lasted all through the winter (click here for recipe).
Tuesday – Lost in Location
It was a rather manic day of rushing around, which included unexpectedly heading over to deliver Freddie to nursery very early as Jonathan called to say he was too ill to take him. I treated myself to one of Stefano’s croissants and some coffee in Your Bakery Whitton for breakfast before heading home. I then managed a couple of hours of work before heading into Richmond. I grabbed a quick little egg roll in Paul (almost like an old-fashioned bridge roll, filled with egg mayonnaise) then dashed into Richmond station to meet friend Elsa. She’d crossed London from Hackney in the morning for an appointment and suggested meeting on the train back into central London, knowing I’m currently doing a basic art history course at the National Gallery on Tuesday afternoons. We stopped for coffee and muffin at Waterloo station then went our separate ways. By the time I eventually got home I couldn’t summon the energy to head out again to book group, even though I love it, and took some aubergine & tomato sauce from the freezer to go with pasta and a glass of red wine!
Wednesday – Joe’s and Covent Garden
I headed into Covent Garden in the evening to meet my good friend Annie at our favourite and most frequented restaurant – Joe Allen. After about 20 years of going there it’s a bit like an alternative home and the welcome matches the feeling. We always meet in time for their early evening set menu that at £14.95 for 2 courses is one of the best and best value around. But that’s not why we’re there, though it’s a bonus – we’re there because we love Joe Allen.
Thursday – Raiding the Freezer Again
It was another busy – though very lovely – day of Freddie in the morning and a work meeting in the afternoon. Come evening I took some frozen kofte from my freezer and made a spicy tomato sauce with tinned tomatoes, sliced onion and red peppers and chilli. I browned the thawed kofte in oil then added them to the sauce and let it all simmer for about 15 minutes while I cooked some rice. Perfect and easy supper! Whenever I make kofte I make extra to freeze – either for the barbecue on another day, or to griddle, or to go into a sauce like this.
Friday – Neopolitan Heaven
I suggested to my lovely friend Jane that we go to Masaniello for lunch. She’d read about it on my blog and was talking about the holidays she used to have south of Naples. Well Naples might be too far for lunch but Masaniello has to be the next best thing. As it was lunchtime and neither of us wanted anything too heavy, I suggested we ordered a couple of dishes and a salad to share – small plate style. I thought Jane couldn’t go away without having tried Livio’s wonderful Napoli pizza, so that was a definite choice. We had a Margherita, a gorgeous Melanzane Parmigiana and a Rocket & Parmesan salad. What a great end to the week.
It’s quite fun to do this occasional series and look back on my week in food. Or at least it is for this food blogger who has to confess she spends a lot of time thinking about where to eat or what to cook. It’s been another week of family favourites and also going back to a Thai restaurant I hadn’t been to for a time. Here’s how it went:
Saturday – Sunny Moussaka
Last Saturday was actually quite sunny but of a cool English springtime kind; the sun I was thinking of was in beautiful Greece, blazing from a cloudless azure blue sky, and sitting by the edge of the Ionian Sea with a plate of moussaka. Moussaka is one of my family’s favourite dishes and I’ve been using Claudia Roden’s recipe in her A Book of Middle Eastern Food, first published way back in 1968 (click here for recipe), for many years. When I make a big one for the family, I’ve recently taken to making a couple of small, individual ones at the same time, layering it all up in a small dish, and then freezing. It’s such a treat to be able to lift one out of the freezer on another day, let it defrost and then bake for the easiest of suppers.
Sunday – Lunch at Corto Deli
Jonathan was away on the ski slopes and so Lyndsey, Freddie and I headed off for a treat of our own – lunch at Corto Deli. I’ve written about it many times; it’s one of our very favourite places, from morning coffee where you’ll be served a very authentic Italian cappuccino (no US or Australian influences here); lunchtime salads, focaccia or ciabatta sandwiches or perhaps one of Romina and Marco’s home-cooked hot dishes like lasagna or melanzane parmigiana. We ordered Freddie a child’s portion of pasta with tomato sauce, which he loves, while Lyndsey and I chose to share one of the big antipasti plates, all the meats and cheeses cut freshly straight onto the large wooden board. There were bruschette, little treats of bresaola wrapped round fresh asparagus, and a basket of breads. We finished with home-made cake (they make the most gorgeous cakes) and coffee.
Monday – Aubergine & Tomato Pasta Sauce
I make this sauce quite often, usually freezing a portion for another day. I sometimes serve it with polenta (click here) but on Monday ate it with pasta. I made it early in the day because on Mondays I pick Freddie up from nursery in the afternoon and I decided to be organised and have something ready to warm up for supper when I got home.
Tuesday – A Surprise Visit
I was due to visit my daughter Nicola in Worcestershire this weekend but because the installation of their new kitchen was behind schedule, and would be only at the ripped out stage with not much chance of cooking going on, Nicola suggested coming down to London to visit me instead. It was a nice surprise to have her for Tuesday evening and we decided to walk down Twickenham high street to Masaniello in Church Street for a meal. Another favourite haunt, regular readers will remember I go there a lot! We shared some starters and then both chose paccheri (short, fat pasta tubes) with a seafood sauce for our main dish. It was gorgeous!
Wednesday – Thai Day
When I meet up with my friend Tina it’s usually in Guildford. She lives to the south of the town and I come from the north. It’s not exactly halfway but it’s the best place to meet, a lovely town and plenty of places to eat. She introduced me to Rumwong a few years back and we hadn’t been there for a time. I like Thai food but rarely cook it myself so it’s a treat to go to a good Thai restaurant.
Thursday – An Italian Day
When I look after Freddie on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, we always go to Your Bakery Whitton (less than 5 minutes from their house) for our morning elevenses … although generally because of my very early start it’s nearer 9! Foodwise, the bakery is one of the best things in my life. Stefano did his pastry chef training in Switzerland and so while there’s an Italian base, there’s a touch of French coming in too, especially with his pastries. The croissants are the best I know anywhere and are certainly more French than Italian; my flat white of course has an Antipodean background and is very good indeed. Freddie and I shared the croissant and he had a babyccino. Then it was time for the park! I buy my bread at the bakery, the cakes are glorious and at weekends there are invariably some extra treats to tempt you.
Still in Italian mode I made a mushroom risotto for my supper. I always use chestnut mushrooms for the nutty flavour; sometimes I actually add real chestnuts (click here). What I often like to do is add some dried mushrooms, soaking them for a while (at least 20 minutes) before cooking, and using the soaking liquid as a stock. I love cooking risottos. They’re the ultimate sophisticated comfort food but also I find it so relaxing to gently stir, adding stock slowly and doing it all properly. It’s a great way to wind down at the end of the day.
Friday – Bolognese Night
Well after my post earlier in the week about Mary Berry and the great Bolognese debate, I had to eat some Bolognese myself! Actually, when home on a Friday night, either alone or with company, it’s almost always Bolognese on the menu (click here). It’s a nostalgic hang-over from when I always made Bolognese on Fridays once my kids had hit their teens and were going out on a Friday evening. They could eat some early before they went out, leaving their parents to eat at a more sociable and less hurried hour later on; the ragù only had to be reheated. I had a portion of my ragù in the freezer last Friday night, so I only had to defrost and heat, but I bought some tagliatelle in the morning so I could eat it in Italian style with their preferred pasta!
Oh dear, Mary Berry. Since Mary offered her own version of Bolognese sauce a couple of nights ago in the second episode of her new BBC series, Mary Berry Everyday, it’s been less of a storm and more of a volcano erupting on Twitter, TV and in national newspapers with fiery, incensed remarks flying in her direction. I was a bit taken aback by Mary’s recipe myself (I even discussed it with my daughter Nicola while eating in a favourite local Italian restaurant last night), but in Mary’s defence – and even Giorgio Locatelli has risen to defend her with the same argument – there is no authentic recipe for a Bolognese sauce. Her mistake was to call it ‘Bolognese’ rather than ‘ragù’, or even, simply, a meat-based pasta sauce. What she did get right – again as Giorgio points out – is not serving it with spaghetti. She chose pappardelle, though the more popular Italian choice is tagliatelle. These are both ribbons of pasta and that’s the correct kind of pasta for a thick meat sauce so it can cling to the pasta.
I was less concerned about Mary adding white wine (which is common anyway) instead of red, than to see her put it in so late, after the tomatoes and passata, whereas I would say you have to add it after the meat has browned and allow it to be pretty much absorbed (for a full, rich flavour) before adding anything else. Another thing she got wrong – if she was claiming any Italian heritage to her dish – was just spooning it on top of her pasta. I have to confess that my own Bolognese ragù post from 2011, just a couple of months after starting the blog, shows me doing the same – hence photo above! (For which I apologise to all Italian friends, but especially Antonio who suggested I write about this.) Now, I would never plonk any kind of sauce on top of pasta but follow the Italian way of adding the sauce to the cooked pasta in a pan and stirring it through well before serving. But I’ve learned a lot in the last 6 years of food blogging! I also know that the Italians would put in much less sauce that we Brits traditionally do – it should be more pasta with some sauce rather than sauce with some pasta. This makes sense when you remember that simple traditional dishes like this were created as ways of making a little meat go a long way to feed a big family for little money.
Antonio Carluccio made a big fuss last year about the Brits ruining Spaghetti Bolognese. But then if the dish doesn’t exist as such, how can we ruin it! His grievance was the adding of herbs, but then other people get upset about which colour wine – red or white – is used or the addition of tomatoes (the northern Bolognese wouldn’t add tomato but further south they probably would). Ragù, a meat-based sauce, varies according to the part of Italy you live in or are eating in. Italian food is very regional and the Italians tend to be very passionate about their own regional version, for example, see my post on different kinds of focaccia (click here) or even pizza (click here). I wouldn’t claim my own version of Ragù Bolognese is authentic at all (click here), although I did do a fair amount of research when writing about it. What I do claim is, like Mary, I think of it as an ‘everyday dish’, something I cook frequently and think of as a favourite family meal. It’s turned out to be one of my 2-year-old grandson’s favourite things so whenever I make it, I freeze little portions for him. But I’d be rather wary of serving it to an Italian!
Life has been a bit full-on of late and so I’ve not had much time to write on the blog. Then a lingering cold led me to cancel a couple of visits to new restaurants that it would have been good to write about. The last week or so though has seen me returning to three Italian favourites; places I go to a lot and love. And each visit has its own little story that I thought it would be fun to share.
A Cena, East Twickenham
I written about A Cena many times; it’s an old favourite going back many years. But I haven’t written about it in a while; in fact, I haven’t been there a lot in a while. Now that’s nothing to do with the quality of the food and service and nor is it anything to do with the fact that original owner Tim Healy has moved into central London (to another old favourite, Joe Allen, and other restaurants). A Cena was bought – a couple of years ago or so – by the manager Justine Kemsley and the team are the same, including their wonderful head chef Nicola and waiter Bart, all of whom have been there for years. So really there’s no obvious difference.
I used to go to their regional dinners regularly with Jonathan and Lyndsey in pre-Freddie days but the arrival of my gorgeous grandson has meant we don’t go out so much. And there are other factors. But just before Christmas I suggested going there to some friends and we had a lovely meal, then about 10 days ago I suggested to a local friend we meet there. A bonus on Mondays to Wednesdays is that for locals with a Richmond Card you can get a 20% discount. The Richmond Card is a card given to locals by the council which gives parking discounts and some shops and restaurants offer discounts too. Anyway, Liz and I decided it would be good to go to A Cena. We both like it. It has a nice touch of sophistication, the food is great – and we can hear ourselves talk!
Homemade focaccia is always brought immediately. It’s really good and nice to nibble on with an aperitif while deciding what to choose from the menu. To start, Liz had buffalo mozzarella served with hot lentils, creme fraiche and basil oil, which was very good – she gave me a taste!
I chose Fritelle – radicchio, Parmesan and lemon fritters. They were wonderful.
Liz chose fish for her main course – some pan-fried sea bass with a chicory salad and olive oil mash.
It’s an upside down photo really as I took it from my seat! But she said it was delicious. I could have eaten anything off the menu but opted for pan roasted salt marsh lamb rump served with capers, mint and roasted cauliflower.
It was fabulous. The lamb was gorgeous, cooked to perfection: deep pink and wonderfully tender. And I loved the taste of the roasted cauliflower that came with it.
We were too full for dessert but had really enjoyed our meal; lingered for while with coffee for me and peppermint tea for Liz. I’ll definitely not be waiting too long before going back.
Masaniello and a Birthday Celebration
It was Freddie’s 2nd birthday last week. As his mum and dad were at work during the day, I suggested picking him up from nursery a little early and then we could all meet at Masaniello in Twickenham for an early evening birthday meal. My son Jonathan likes to say that the service at Masaniello is beyond excellent and they certainly proved this was true last week. I turned up with Freddie and explained the birthday and that Freddie’s mum and dad would soon be with us. The waiter Stefan offered to show Freddie the fish tank towards the back of the restaurant and let him feed the fish. This was such a delight to Freddie he kept wanting to go back to the fish – until the olives arrives; he loves olives. A child seat was brought, a plastic cup for his water. The waiter brought a pad and pen and drew a rabbit for Freddie. We discussed the menu. They don’t have a special children’s menu but can do things like pasta and pizza in a smaller version for little people. Now the first time we took Freddie to Masaniello his dad chose a plate of pasta with tomato sauce for him – our ‘go-to’ choice in restaurants for Freddie. Freddie was perfectly happy with his pasta – until he saw our pizzas! So, this time we ordered him a pizza. We all imagined a child-sized pizza would be … oh I don’t know … I suppose about 16-20cm in diameter. But no, really this pizza was HUGE (it cost £4.95).
The birthday boy was very excited by this and tucked in immediately. But even his enthusiastic appetite couldn’t manage to eat it all; there was about half left. But the waiter again stepped in kindly, offering to package it up to take home. We ordered desserts, chocolate fondant for Jonathan and Lyndsey, a fig tart with walnut ice cream for me. We thought we could all share with Freddie. Freddie who was starting to get a little restless was bribed into staying in his seat by the promise of cake. When my dessert came they’d put a candle in it and it was put in front of Freddie who surprised himself by actually blowing it out. Then came the sharing … a small plate was brought for him. Luckily for me the chocolate fondant was a bigger hit with the birthday boy than my fig tart. The Italians are always so great with kids; Masaniello is always great; but it all came together to make a memorable and lovely birthday for the two year old.
Orsini Ristorante, South Kensington
I’ve been going to Orsini for years, since friend Rona introduced me to it when we met at the Victoria & Albert Museum ages ago and she told me there was a lovely little Italian restaurant opposite where we could have lunch. I’ve been back many times, sometimes on my own, sometimes with family or friends; my daughter loves it and has been a number of times too. Yesterday I was meeting my friend Lucia at the French Institute in South Kensington at 6.30 to see two Italian films. Slightly surprisingly the French Institute has an Italian Film Festival at this time of the year and we’ve met there for it in previous years. Lucia was coming straight from work with no time to eat; the second film would finish late. I’d been snacking all through a busy day and decided food, real food, a proper meal, an Italian meal!, would be a necessity before sitting through three and a half hours of Italian film. And Orsini was in the perfect location. It was quiet of course as it was early and I immediately noticed it had had a makeover – new chairs and tables, freshly painted. It looked different but not too different; it looked good. And the food and service was as good as ever. I ordered a glass of prosecco to sip at while I waited for my order of a risotto to come. It was a special of the day with radicchio and Gorgonzola – a lovely combination of one of my favourite Italian cheeses which is rich and creamy with the slightly bitter red radicchio leaf. It was gorgeous.
Afterwards I had an espresso, talked a little to manager Francesco, and then slowly made my way back towards the Cine Lumiere. With a bit of time to spare I diverted into Snowflake, an excellent gelateria that I’ve been to before, right by South Kensington station. Well, I was being Italian … prosecco … risotto … espresso … and how could I miss out the gelato!!
Then it was on to the films and meeting my friend. And over the space of about 10 days I’d managed to revisit some of my favourite Italian haunts.
It’s half term week so it seemed a good time to head to Kent to visit my brother, niece and nephew. I arrived late morning and there was some debate about where we should go for a walk; where we should have lunch. In the end it was decided to go only to the neighbouring village of Chiddingstone for a walk round the castle and lunch in the tea rooms in the village.
It’s funny how one can get so used to a name that you don’t give much thought to its meaning. But after parking the car, it was suggested that I see the ‘Chiding Stone’ that is said by some to give the village its name.
We followed a footpath to a well-weathered sandstone boulder. Folklore tells of it being a place where wrong-doers were brought to be ‘chided’ – told off. Most particularly ‘nagging wives’ and ‘wilful daughters’, which, as you may imagine, rather offended my feminist principles. Presumably they were made to stand on top of the boulder and local villagers would tell them off from below! Clara and Leo rushed the top but there was no telling off needed. Other stories tell of it being either a boundary in Saxon times or a Druids’ altar. While another theory is that the village was named after a 12th century family, the Cidda’s, as it was recorded as Cidingstane at that time.
From here we walked through the small high street and into the castle grounds, crossing a bridge over the lake with the castle before us.
Chiddingstone Castle dates from the early 1500s, although the current building has only traces of the original. There have been many transformations but the castle we see today was rebuilt as a medieval castle in the mid 19th century.
At the back of the castle was a building that Adam thought had once been an orangery and more recently has been used as a stage for outdoor theatre productions.
It was lunchtime by now and we backtracked to head into the village again.
Chiddingstone Village has been almost entirely owned (except the castle, school and church) by the National Trust since 1939. It’s known as one of the oldest and most beautiful villages in Kent and is the best example of a Tudor village in the country, so has appeared in films and TV series.
We were heading to the Tulip Tree Tea Rooms. The attached gift shop, which dates back to 1453, is reputedly the oldest working shop in the UK. We went through a passageway at the side of the shop to the back. The tea rooms are housed in what was once a coach house.
It was cosy inside. We found a table by the window and decided what to eat.
We noticed that everything had a price tag – just in case you fancied taking it home with you!
We only wanted a snack lunch. Leo and I chose BLT – bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches that came with salad, coleslaw and ‘Kent” crisps. Adam had a sausage roll.
While Clara went all out and ordered a Ploughman’s – which was huge!
There were amazing cakes, and scones and homemade biscuits on offer …
But there was no way any of us had room for more. It was a good lunch, a nice place to stop. Afterwards we made a short trip into the gift shop, then back to the car and home. It was a lovely family time and so good to see how beautiful this part of Kent is.
Dutch cuisine doesn’t have a particularly good reputation, but just as there has been a phenomenal change for the better in British cuisine in the last decade or two, I think the Dutch also deserve some recognition for the great food that can now be found there. Well, certainly in Amsterdam.
Much as many non-Brits think we live on fish and chips and roast beef, a lot of people think the Dutch live on herrings and cheese. Certainly some of the traditional Dutch dishes like meat croquettes, deep-fried meatballs (bitterballen) and uninteresting toasties are not much to my taste, but the Dutch, like the Brits, have adopted a more cosmopolitan attitude to food now and you can find excellent food with modern twists and influences from other countries. That said, I think it’s nice to seek out some of the traditional dishes or at least know what kind of foods are typical of the region. There is a strong seafaring history, and the sea itself is rarely far away, even from Amsterdam, which means fish and seafood are popular – and some of the best you’ll find anywhere. There’s also a lot of Indonesian food – a by-product of the days of colonisation when the Dutch sailed East and brought back spices. If you want to go Dutch in your eating while in Amsterdam, then here’s what to look out for and some of the places I like best.
A typical Dutch breakfast will consist of thinly sliced cheese and hams to eat with bread. They love dark rye breads so you will usually find these with any selection of breads. You might also be offered a boiled egg. There’ll be butter, maybe jam, tea or coffee; often freshly squeezed juice. The Dutch love their dairy foods – think of all those Friesland cows! Hence there’s a strong tradition of drinking milk and you’ll even find special handle-less milk cups. You’ll also find excellent yogurt.
The Dutch have always made good coffee and to be served a bad one is rare. However, much like the rest of the world, they’ve upped their game with the recent fashion for artisan coffees and single estate coffees and you can find some exceptional coffee in a new breed of cafes. The best I had on my recent trip was at Caffe Il Momento (180 Singel), quite close to Central Station.
Another good find was Cafe Kobalt (2 Singel).
Lunch is where croquettes and toasties come into choices, but you’ll also find wonderful home-made soups on offer in bars and cafes. The description ‘bar’ or ‘cafe’ is almost interchangeable. A lot of places called ‘cafes’ are more like what I might define as a ‘bar’. But then you can go to them to just have a drink or something to eat – or both. These are the places you want to go for a typical Dutch lunch. The menu will probably be small and simple but apart from the toasties and bitterballen you’ll find glorious soups. The most famous is a thick Pea & Ham and for me the best place to enjoy this is Cafe ‘t Smalle on Egelantiersgracht, just off Prinsengracht.
Here it comes with rye bread and thin slices of ham. It really is a meal in itself, wonderfully warm and filling, especially if you’re there in winter as I was then I took the photo above. In warmer weather you can sit outside by the canal.
It’s become quite a tourist destination as it’s in all the guide books, but I don’t feel it’s been spoiled and it’s a fine example of a traditional Dutch cafe. You won’t be treated like a tourist and you’ll find some locals there too!
Most bars and cafes will sell soup and other snacks. But there’s a large number of vegan and vegetarian places too for salads and lighter fare. Despite all the dairy and meat, the Dutch have quite an alternative and healthy attitude to life and eating.
Pancakes and waffles are big things in Amsterdam – and I mean that both in terms of their popularity, with dedicated pancake houses – and the size of the things themselves. Most of us have heard of Dutch pancakes and basically they’re just very big and served on huge plates. For lunch they are popular served savoury style with things like cheese, bacon and ham but often with an addition of nuts and honey. You’ll always find sweet versions too. My favourite place to go for a pancake lunch is Roem (126 Prinsengracht).
In warm weather there are tables by the canal opposite with a great view of Westerkerk and the Anne Frank House but it’s cosy inside in the winter too.
If food can be an institution, then Apple Pie is a Dutch institution. You will find it wherever you go; often blackboards outside bars and cafes will broadcast that they have their own version of the famous apple pie. It is glorious. Most European cuisines have some kind of apple dessert – Tarte Tatin in France, Apple Crumble in UK – but for me there is nothing like the Dutch apple pie. In fact, I have to eat it pretty much every day when I’m in Amsterdam! The most famous and said to be the best is at Winkel (in photo above), on Noordermarkt, at the top end of Prinsengracht.
Just a little further up the road at 2 Prinsengracht you’ll find Cafe ‘t Papeneiland.
It serves a slightly different version but also very good.
This cafe is famous because Bill Clinton once – when he was President of the US – stopped there for coffee and a slice of apple pie and liked it so much he bought a whole pie to take back to his hotel!
If you have a sweet tooth then you’ll want to try these amazing cookies at Van Staple Koekmarkerij (4 Heisteeg), in a little alleyway that runs from Singel through to Spuistraat.
I came across it by chance walking back to my hotel one day and was attracted by the sight of a long queue from a tiny shop. Looking inside, all I could see were chocolate cookies – nothing else! But I decided they must be good to attract such attention. I went back another time and bought one, still warm, a dark chocolate cookie filled with white chocolate. I took it back to my hotel and made a coffee (there was an Nespresso machine in my room at NH City Centre Hotel!) and it was very good, though a little too sweet for me. I find it intriguing that a shop – however good the product – can make such a success out of making just one cookie!
Fish & Seafood
You’ll find fabulous seafood in Amsterdam and one of the best places to go is Lucius on Spuistraat. Here you can have a wonderful seafood platter or an excellent fish dish.
Great favourites in Amsterdam are herring – you’ll see lots of places advertising them on their menu – and mussels served with frites. The Dutch also love smoked fish – salmon, of course, but another favourite is smoked eel.
Places to Enjoy Good Dutch Food
My favourite restaurant is Cafe De Reiger (34 Nieuwe Leliestraat). Despite the ‘cafe’ name, and seeming very much like a bar inside, the food is of the highest quality; more like fine dining and absolutely superb. Sadly I didn’t get there my recent trip as they were temporarily closed on Mondays – my last night. But it’s usually a must for me and I always go there (see this review).
A restaurant I did go to for the first time in over 20 years – it was once a great favourite when I spent a lot of time in Amsterdam – was Luden, close to my hotel on Spuistraat.
This is more like a brasserie and they serve food all day, from typical Dutch fare like smoked salmon and mussels to burgers and salads.
I also like Cafe Het Molenpad which I discovered last year (2016).
As I said above, Indonesian food has been very popular in Amsterdam since the days Indonesia was a Dutch colony. You’ll see lots of Indonesian restaurants but one of the best known and respected is Long Pura (46-48 Rozengracht). Many other restaurants will often introduce an Indonesian touch to their dishes, so popular are the flavours.
Cheese in Holland really means Gouda but don’t think this is boring. Go to the most amazing cheese shop Tromp at 27 Elandsgracht, just of Prinsengracht, and they’ll explain the difference between the young and old Gouda and let you taste them. The young cheese is mild and creamy; the older ones stronger tasting and more salty. Apart from Gouda, Tromp has a wonderful selection of many other cheeses, breads and wine. It’s just a fantastic shop and I always go there on my last day to bring some cheese home.
Of course a great thing to do if you’re staying in Amsterdam for a few days is to take a trip out to the town of Gouda itself (52 minutes on the train from Central Station). There’s a cheese market on Thursdays in the summer with a great display of cheeses and cheese sellers often in traditional dress. Edam – the town with another famous cheese – is smaller and very pretty, so a great day out. (The train journey is 50 minutes.)
The two most famous local beers in Amsterdam are Heineken and Amstel (the name of the river that runs through Amsterdam). You can visit the Heineken brewery but also look out for newer micro-breweries like Brouwerij ‘t IJ for a more exciting beer experience.
Genever – or jenever – is the predecessor to the kind of gin we know as London Dry Gin. Genever has more malt wine than ‘ordinary’ gin (the kind we’re used to for Gin and Tonics) giving it a note of flavour akin to whisky but retaining the herbal notes and juniper we’re used to finding in gin. Gin made in this traditional way in Holland is known as old or ‘oude’ genever. Young or ‘jonge’ genever, which has become a favourite with mixologists lately, has less malt and is lighter. I just love an oude genever last thing at night after a meal – a kind of digestif – and my absolute favourite bar to go to is Cafe Chris (24 Bloemstraat), the oldest bar in the Jordaan district, near Westerkerk, which opened its doors in 1624. The genever is served cold from the fridge and the barman will always fill the glass to the brim. Don’t try to pick it up! You’ll instantly show yourself to be a tourist. You must lean forward and take the first sip by leaning towards the glass.
Amsterdam is one of my very favourite places; I just love it and it is perhaps one of the only cities that I can imagine living in other than my home city of London. And I think I could only love a city that serves good food! Food is always an important part of my travels. If you go to Amsterdam and try any of the places I recommend I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
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