Skip to content

Nice 2019: Dinner at Olive et Artichaut

I’ve largely given up writing negative reviews. At home I have a personsal rule that I don’t write about disappointing meals unless they’re at some big name place – usually with a big name TV chef attached to it. I consider they’re not likely to suffer any significant loss of diner support because of me. But I don’t negatively attack local places and sometimes I’ve simply no interest in writing about a meal I haven’t enjoyed. After all, blogging is supposed to be fun – or it is when you’re writing about food and travel.

Perhaps it’s the downturn in the weather matching the downturn in food experience that makes me want to write. Yesterday’s hot and gloriously sunny weather turned grey, windy and wet as the hours passed this afternoon. And the glorious food I’ve enjoyed at Peixes, Bar des Oiseaux, and Lou Pistou on the first night (remembered from my 2015 visit) gave way to the most disappointing meal I’ve had in a while.

It didn’t start well even before I sat down. They tried to sit me in a miserable corner of the bar near the open front door where the bad weather was sweeping in. I have to say that in 8 years of blogging this is only the second time I’ve felt my solo woman dining status has been badly treated. And the other time was in France. My boss told me to sit you there, the waitress told me when I complained. And I had booked a week or two ago – this was not a random visit. No one asked me if I was happy to sit at the bar, I said. And I’m not sitting by the door. Well she could move me but I could only have the table for an hour … I chose to move. I was given a tall bar-type table in a kind of corridor between the front and a larger dining area at the back.

Fortunately they were serving their set menu at €33 for 3 courses, so I wasn’t bound to a more expensive a la carte. I think that’s what made me stay; I did consider walking out. And of course I remembered the amazing reviews I’d read, which had caused me to book there, so I thought my dinner should at least be good.

Some crisp bread – like Sardinian pane carasau – came with tapenade and some sparkling water, which I hadn’t ordered and was charged €1.50 for. I don’t mind paying if asked but have actually mostly been ordering – free! – tap water. The bread seemed slightly stale, not as crispy as it should be. I eat this a lot of my local Italian deli so am very familiar with it. The waitress recommended a local red wine, allowed me to taste before pouring a glass, and it was fine.

 

More bread came with my starter. The black bread was charcoal bread I was told and certainly had that flavour. Very fashionable at the moment, I know, but not particularly to my taste.

I chose the pissaladiere to start. It looked arty in a foodie way with lots of extra bits. However it was too far removed from the classic (which I enjoyed at Lou Pistou my first night), lacking that lovely sweet softness one looks for in the onions. And the pastry was so flaky it was almost impossible to gather some onto my fork.

The porc mignon was fine but the vegetables were over cooked. I know, how do you overcooked mash? But you over cook the potatoes before mashing. Or that’s what it tasted like. The carrot and courgettes lacked any bite. I left half my main course but no one questioned whether there’d been a problem.

I chose the rice dish to end. It was quite nice but a bit too rich in its creaminess.

The bill was €42; I didn’t leave a tip. After 48 hours of wonderful food in Nice wherever I’ve been, it was hugely disappointing. I’d booked there as it’s a Michelin Bib Gourmand and is consistently named as one of the best restaurants in Nice. Once back at my hotel I couldn’t really find a bad review. But this was my experience. I’ve eaten at many Bib Gourmands not to mention a few Michelin starred restaurants over the years. I could maybe have accepted ‘not quite up to Michelin standard’ but actually, it was really bad and the service in complete contrast to the friendly and brilliant service I’ve enjoyed elsewhere here.

Nice 2019: Musee Matisse & Lunch at Bar des Oiseaux

I last went to Musee Matisse in 2006 with my daughter, and as I love Matisse’s work so much, it was definitely time for a revisit. The museum is in Cimiez, about 3km north of Nice. The hotel were very helpful about how to get there, telling me I could take a No.5 bus from a stop just round the corner and giving me a printed copy of the route with the names of stops and timetable. The buses tend to stop only if you request them to so it’s useful to know when your stop is coming up. It was about a 20-minute ride.

It turned out entrance was free today (and at all of Nice’s museums for the weekend, due to some special anniversary).

Once inside there was a free guide and the route round was clearly marked.

The Museum is a 17th century Genoese residence, Villa des Arene, which has housed the museum since 1963. Matisse (1869-1954) discovered Nice in 1917 and created most of his major works here. He loved the city and said he couldn’t imagine leaving it.

Matisse opened an art school in Paris in 1908 and the museum has its own ‘Little Matisse Academy’. Some children were painting and the teacher in charge seemed happy for me to take a photo but first – and very responsibly – moved them out of my camera’s sight.

I really enjoyed going round the museum. It doesn’t have a huge collection of Matisse’s works but lots of other interesting things related to his life and work. I love his vibrancy and the zest for life that comes through.

Back outside I spied a cafe in the park area. It turned out to be excellent: a very good croissant and coffee that was even brought to my table.

The No.5 bus runs about every 12 minutes so I didn’t have long to wait to head back to Nice. By now it was lunchtime. Although tempting, I decided not to return again to Peixes but instead try another of Armand Crespo’s restaurants – Bar des Oiseaux. Crespo is known as one of Nice’s most pioneering restaurateurs. Apart from Oiseaux and Peixes, he owns Le Bistrot d’Antoine and Le Comptoir du Marche.

Housed in what was once, in the 1960s, a nightclub it’s attractive inside – rather Art Deco – but also outside, where I chose to sit. I was lucky to get a table for many prospective diners came after me and were redirected to the Comptoir du Marche.

With a table booked for tonight, I didn’t want a huge meal and Oiseaux served many small plates like Peixes. I ordered the prawn risotto (€17) and a glass of white wine (€4). The wine came with the same gorgeous bread from Patisserie Chez Maitre Pierre (where I also had breakfast this morning). Also like Peixes, the service was both wonderfully efficient and very friendly.

 

When my risotto arrived a loud Wow! erupted in my head. It looked fabulous. It tasted wonderful. I WhatsApped to my son and daughter that these were possibly the best prawns I’ve ever had (perhaps an exaggeration given the good food I’ve enjoyed in my life, but certainly recently), and the risotto was cooked to creamy perfection. It was sublime cooking.

Given how good the risotto was, I just had to break my intention of eating just one small course for lunch. I had to have a dessert too. I chose Tart Tartin (€7). That it was freshly baked to order was apparent from the wait involved (but not too long) and its obvious warm freshness. It was superb.

I finished with an espresso and the bill was €30.

More traditional than Peixes, Bar des Oiseaux still offers a great modern touch to classic Nicoise cooking. Like other Crespo restaurants, it’s closed on Sundays and Mondays. I might have to come back to Nice just to eat at them all – but obviously avoid the ‘closed’ days next time! I knew I’d find good food here – a big part of my choosing to come to Nice – but it’s been exciting to find such inventive and brilliant cooking at reasonable prices.

***********

This article is now available on the GPSmyCity app together with lots of other great guides to Nice. Why not download it onto your smartphone or tablet now? Click here.

 

 

Nice 2019: Dinner at Peixes and A Beautiful Sunset

The day promised to be the best of my trip weather wise (rain and even thunderstorms forecast later), so I wanted to make the most of it. Hence the bus ride to Éze in the morning, which I wrote about last time, for magnificent views, then a return to Nice where I had an excellent salad for lunch in Bar de la Degustation (I’d discovered it as a great place for aperitif the night before).

I spent much of the afternoon walking along the Promenade des Anglais. I hadn’t been able to find any of Nice’s iconic blue chairs since my arrival but by walking further along today, at last they appeared and I sat down for a while to enjoy the sparkling azure blue of the Mediterranean and a warm full sun on my face.

After my wonderful lunch at Peixes the day I arrived, I knew I had to return. The cooking is sublime. I thought it would be a good choice for lunch on Monday – a final meal of the trip before I fly home in the evening. But I discovered they’re closed Sunday and Monday. With a table already booked for Saturday evening, it had to be Friday evening that I ate there again. You can’t book but it’s open all day from 12-10pm and I decided to turn up early to be sure of a table.

The staff were so friendly the first time, I’d got talking to a couple of waiters; had exchanged ‘bonjours’ when passing – and I have to pass it almost anytime I leave my hotel. I was welcomed back like an old friend; it was lovely. It was quiet still with most diners choosing to sit on the little terrace outside while I chose ‘my’ little table just at the entrance – almost outside but not quite. All the staff were gathering together into a group. Would I take a photo? of them, I was asked, as a phone was held out to me. It was someone’s birthday. I happily obliged and then took this with my own phone’s camera. For a solo traveller it was a delightful moment of inclusion.

My friendly waitress came and explained the menu to me and when she told me about the special ceviche of the day, my meal was decided. Fantastic bread came with anchovy butter, a glass of Tarn white wine (€4).

 

More diners slowly streamed in as I waited for my food. Then came my special ceviche: sea bream ‘cured’ in orange juice, lemongrass, chilli, pecan nuts, a gloriously smooth fennel mash (€14).

Oh my word, it was truly incredible; absolutely glorious. Sea bream is one of my favourite fish and I’ve had carpaccio of it before, but this was something different, quite thick pieces of almost raw fish but so tender and tasty. The accompanying ‘sauce’ perfect with its citrusy notes and little bursts of chilli heat.

All the dishes are ‘small plate’ size but this was enough for me with the bread and left room for dessert. I chose Financier (almond pastry), Greek Yoghurt, crisp honey (€7).

Given the small plates of the menu, I was somehow expecting something quite modest but actually it was a good-sized pud! And full of delightful surprises: moist almond sponge, a light cloud of yoghurt foam, gorgeous smooth yoghurt ice cream with a lovely tart edge, pieces of honeycomb, little drizzles of honey and a sprinkling of lavender.

A good espresso finished my meal. The Michelin guide says Peixes (pronounced pesh and Portuguese for ‘fish’) is ‘the stuff of great memories’. I shall certainly remember eating here always. But will I resist coming back for lunch on Saturday before they close for the rest of my trip??

The total bill was just €27.

It was too early to go back to the hotel so I walked further up little rue de l’Opera towards the sea. The day of sun had faded gloriously into a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean.

I walked up to Quai Rauba Capeu and joined the crowds looking back over the lovely Baie des Anges. What a perfect end to a lovely day.

*************

This article is now available on the GPSmyCity app together with other great guides to Nice. Why now download it onto your smartphone or tablet now? Click here.

Nice 2019: A Trip to Eze

A visit to the medieval town of Éze has been on my ‘to visit’ list for 4 years – since my last trip to Nice. Then, the weather was cloudy so there seemed no point in making a trip to somewhere famous for its views across the Mediterranean. The weather forecast for this trip doesn’t look great for the latter part, so I thought I’d grab my chance today and go to Éze while the sun was shining gloriously and it was a warm 25C. I asked the hotel for directions and was told to take a No.1 tram from Place Massena to Vauban and then change to bus No.82 to Éze village. In theory it was only going to take me about half an hour; in practice it took over an hour. Finding the bus at Vauban wasn’t obvious; a local told me I had to take the tram back to a previous stop and I ended up asking the driver of another bus where I could get an 82 and he kindly told me to jump on his bus and at the next stop I could get the 82.

It turned out the 82 bus only ran once an hour, so I had a wait … when it finally turned up there was a huge crowd waiting to board it; mostly tourists like me heading to Éze village. I squeezed onto the bus but had to stand the whole way; I’m not at all sure everyone waiting managed to get on. So, be warned if you try to make this trip – check the bus times and get there early!

It had been a long time since breakfast so I stopped at a cafe right by the bus stop in Éze while I tried to get my bearings. The small and rather indifferent cafe au lait cost me €3.50. I then crossed a road and saw a sign to the tourist information office where I found a very helpful woman who gave me a map and pointed me in the direction of ‘the views’.

The original village was built on top of a rocky crag and first populated in 2000BC. It’s been described as an ‘eagle’s nest’ and became a prized stronghold of the Celts and Romans. In 1860 it was taken over by the House of Savoy – part of Nice’s history of being in Italy – and was then pretty much abandoned after an earthquake in 1887. Now restored, it’s a very manicured tourist attraction.

It wasn’t that hard to find my way from the new part of Éze to the medieval part for the crowds were thick. On the way up, a little market was set up selling local produce – lavender, olive oil, etc.

The narrow roads of the town were mostly filled with tour groups but I managed to get this photo below by just patiently waiting for a while! It certainly was very lovely and attractive so worth seeing.

The climb up cobbled and part-tiled walkways was steep but well maintained and I soon started glimpsing the wonderful views that had brought me there.

To get right to the top and the Jardin Exotique there’s a €6 charge, but it’s worth it. To be honest, I thought having climbed that far there was no way I wasn’t going to pay €6 and get to see the best views.

It really was stunning. At the top in the ruins of the old castle were some lovely sculptures – Earth Goddesses by Jean-Philippe Richard.

But it was the view back towards Nice and across the narrow peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat that really took my breath away and made the journey worthwhile.

I was really pleased to have made the trip to Éze at last and it was a perfect day for it. The views are magnificent. However, it was far too touristy for me to want to spend a lot of time there. There are lots of arts and crafts shops and many restaurants and cafes, but after that expensive coffee I decided to head back to Nice for lunch. The woman in the tourist office had given me a bus timetable so I arrived at the bus stop in plenty of time for the 12:10 bus to Nice. While waiting I got talking to a local woman who bemoaned the fact that more buses weren’t run for it was always busy. It turned out I could also take the 112 bus and happily I got a seat and was back to the centre of Nice in only about ¼ hour! So if you don’t get lost, getting to Éze from Nice is quick and easy and to be thoroughly recommended, although you won’t necessarily want to eat there.

************

This article is now available on the GPSmyCity app together with other great guides to Nice. Why not download it onto your smartphone or tablet now? Click here.

Nice 2019: Arrival and Lunch at Peixes

It’s a long weekend break: 4 nights. By travelling out to Nice early this morning, arriving in plenty of time for lunch, and flying home late on Monday, I effectively manage to make it a 5-day trip.

I flew British Airways from Heathrow and booked my hotel – Best Western Plus Hotel Massena – through them too. I knew the location, just off Place Massena, was central from previous trips making it an easy walk to Vieux Nice and the Promenade des Anglais and the sea. Since my last visit to Nice four years ago, there’s now a No.2 tram that runs from right outside the airport – both Terminals 1 and 2 – and brings you right into the city in about 20-30 minutes. Buy a ticket from the machine on the platform before you board; it’s only €1.50.

 

My room is simple but pleasant with a Juliet balcony opening on to a little courtyard at the back of the hotel so it’s fairly quiet. And although a single room it has a nice big bed! There’s a kettle with cups and coffee and tea, which is always a bonus. The welcome was nice and friendly too.

Luckily, although it was only just past midday I was able to get into my room, but I headed out again fairly quickly in search of a view of the sea and some lunch. My walk took me through the attractive and very large Place Massena.

Place Massena is known as the heart of Nice. When I was there in 2006 it was being completely refurbished and now it’s a beautiful hub of Niçois life. It’s named for Andre Massena, a military commander in the days of Napoleon. The layout was designed by Joseph Vernier in 1843-4. The Italian-style architecture gives reference to the days when Nice was governed by the House of Savoy in Piedmont. It does remind me a little of Turin with its arcades. To one side is the Fontaine du Soleil and the ground is covered in a chequerboard of black and white tiles. It’s a great meeting place and there’s a famous carnival held there every year. Trams run round and across it so it’s likely to be the place you’ll need to find for a trip.

I cut down the road straight ahead of me on the other side of the place – rue de l’Opera – and by chance found myself passing Peixes restaurant. What luck for I’d read a lot about this fish restaurant. Lonely Planet describe it as a ‘chic modern seafood eatery’ and I’d found it recommended in lots of articles online as one of the best places to eat in Nice. It certainly looked inviting and the menu – on a blackboard at the front – very exciting. I couldn’t resist going in. Though busy I was pleased to find they had a table for me. You can’t book.

I was offered a stool at the bar looking over the open kitchen or a small table near the front. I took the table. I ordered a glass of white wine (€4) and it came with the most delicious bread and some anchovy butter. I looked around while I waited for my food and admired the nautical feel to the place; it was bright and sunny and a great place to sit for lunch.

 

With a table already booked for dinner tonight, I only wanted a light lunch. I chose Salmon Tataki, Ponzu Sauce, Homemade Kimchi, Edamame Beans (€13).

It was wonderful. The salmon merely seared and almost raw – just how I like it. With the kimchi, beans, peanuts and paper thin slices of fresh coconut, it was a perfect and very gorgeous lunch. Not too heavy but certainly plenty to keep me going until suppertime. The menu was so exciting I think I may be going back every day to try more things! And the service was great and friendly too.

Afterwards I walked down to Cours Saleya in the old town where there’s a market every day: food Tuesday-Sunday and a flea market on Mondays. I walked through it to the far end. It was busy and lively.

The huge house straight in front of you at the end is where Matisse rented an apartment for years and painted his famous works of looking at the Mediterranean through open windows.

There are a few archways where you can cut through to the seafront.

I walked eastwards as far as Quai Rauba Capeu for a view back along Nice’s bay – Baie des Anges.

Despite the cloudy sky it was warm and sunny and lovely to look across the town and feel glad to be back in this beautiful city.

**************

This article is now available on the GPSmyCity app together with other great guides to Nice. Why not download it onto your smartphone or tablet now? Click here.

Chihuly at Kew Gardens

I have to confess to writing about Dale Chihuly’s exhibition of glass artworks at Kew Gardens rather late in the day. The show opened in April and closes at the end of next month (27 October), so time is running out if you want to see it.

I also have to confess that while Chihuly is one of the world’s most renowned and admired artists who has exhibited his work in major cities, museums and gardens worldwide … they’re not really ‘my thing’ … and this is probably why it’s taken me so long to get round to actually writing about the exhibition!

In the leaflet you’re given on entering the gardens, Chihuly is quoted as saying, ‘I want my work to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest, they might think it belonged there.‘ For me, the fact that they are so bright and loud and stand out so obviously as you walk round the gardens is what I find hard to like – how could you think they belonged there? They want to be noticed.

Kew Gardens has had some wonderful exhibitions of great artists over the years – artworks placed in the gardens to see as you walk round – but it is Henry Moore’s glorious sculptures in 2007 and David Nash’s extraordinary and lovely wood sculptures made from dead trees in 2012 that resonated strongly with me. They fitted in more organically and seemed to really belong there. As you walked through the gardens and came across them, sometimes by surprise, it seemed they’d always been there, that they were part of the gardens. I remember the huge Moore’s that you could touch, feel and the delight of children running through them. The Chihuly’s – understandably – are not for touching.

A friend who came round the gardens with me a couple of weeks’ ago didn’t agree and thought they fitted in well. Then four days ago I took 4½ year old grandson Freddie to the gardens. Not specially to see the Chihuly, but just for a walk and runabout in what are to us, local gardens (I have a season ticket so come in a lot). I didn’t even point the Chihuly’s out, but it was when a loud ‘Wow!!’ erupted from Freddie as he spotted Chihuly’s ‘Sapphire Star’ …

… that I thought I should look at the sculptures differently. Freddie was clearly in awe and loved them.

It’s turned autumnal in London over the past week with bitter winds making the cooler temperatures feel even more cold. But with the sun shining this morning and the winds gentler, and a quiet Sunday ahead of me, it seemed the ideal time to return to Kew and take a closer look at Chihuly. I timed my arrival for opening time (10am) so I could enjoy the gardens while they were a bit quieter. I took a leaflet with a map showing me where I’d find the 12 Chihuly artworks and purposefully set off. I went in my usual direction and soon realised I was following the route back to front – seeing No.12 first. But it doesn’t actually matter; they don’t need to be seen in any special order.

If ‘Summer Sun’, just outside the Palm House, standing by the edge of the pond, is one of the brightest artworks, it is, I think, also one of the most glorious, capturing the strong energy and vibrance of a full sun.

When I was in the gardens in March, I saw the artworks being installed. It was fascinating and I wondered how an earth anyone knew how to put them together properly.

 

Just round the pond a bit, you’ll find ‘Paintbrushes’.

Walking round the Palm House, the Waterlily House is on the right, with Chihuly’s ‘Red Reeds’ outside.

Inside is the ‘Ethereal White Persian Pond’, a glass and steel installation; the glass water lilies rising boldly above the real things – beautiful water lilies in bloom in the pond.

Next I sought out the ‘Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower’. As you can see in the photo with people looking up from below, it’s an enormous structure.

In the Mediterranean Garden, fronting the Italian-style King William’s Temple (built in 1837 for Queen Victoria in memory of King William), are the ‘Neodymium Reeds and Turquoise Marlins’.

 

Approaching the Temperate House, ‘Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds’ line the path.

The Temperate House reopened last year after 5 years of major renovation. It’s a stunning and beautiful building that was first opened in 1862. It’s the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse.

Inside you can climb a steep spiral staircase and walk round a balcony to see the plants from above. Of course at the moment it also gives you a good view of the Chihuly artworks too.

I loved the ‘Opal and Gold Chandelier’ hanging from the centre. The artworks here were much ‘quieter’ and seemed much more a natural part of the Temperate House’s little world. Even the brighter ones seemed more in keeping with its exotic touch.

 

 

Back outside, I made my way to the Japanese area with the large wooden Japanese Gateway and the Great Pagoda.

This is always a peaceful and tranquil area with the Gateway fronted by raked gravel, typical of a Japanese garden. At the moment Chihuly’s large glass balls – ‘Niijima Floats’ – rest on the gravel.

I was now at the far western edge of the gardens and so turned back towards the main Victoria Gate entrance (though you can enter and exit here through the smaller Lion Gate).

Once through the Roman Arch and approaching the Marianne North Gallery, I saw ‘Lime Crystal Tower’ to my left.

There were more Chihuly exhibits in the gallery but as a notice warned you were only to take photos for personal use, I thought I wouldn’t risk putting them on the blog and upsetting anyone …

Now I was nearly back at the main gate and saw again the ‘Sapphire Star’ that so enthralled and delighted Freddie. It is perhaps one of my favourites too.

I’ve looked at the Chihuly’s on and off over the past months whenever I’ve visited Kew Gardens but I’ve never taken the time to have a proper look before. They’ve just been things I’ve noticed in passing. (Well, you couldn’t really miss them!) I’m really glad I’ve looked properly now; I like that Freddie was excited by them. I found that some I liked; some I wasn’t so keen on. I haven’t been completely converted (give me Henry Moore any day), but I’ve learned and I’ve thought and what I most like is that I live so close to Kew Gardens and they are fantastic at putting on great shows like this. It’s a real privilege and pleasure to have the gardens so close to where I live.

Rincon Bar Espanol, Richmond upon Thames

It’s a bank holiday weekend here in UK and remarkably – for we are renowned for our bad holiday weather – the temperatures have soared, there are no clouds for the sun to hide behind and in London (more specifically Richmond) yesterday we hit 32C. It was hot. On Richmond Green crowds squashed tightly into the shade of the trees around the edge.

My friend Elsa had come over from East London and we met at Kew Gardens. Here we headed towards clumps of trees and shade to walk, the full force of the sun in the open too much for long, but it was still lovely to enjoy these beautiful botanical gardens for a while. But the sun brought out a ‘need’ for ice cream. We had Gelateria Danieli in mind. We hopped on a 65 bus and were soon sitting with our gelato looking across Richmond Green before taking a stroll down to the very crowded riverside where a small stage was set up for a rock festival that’s been going on all weekend.

Then our Spanish evening began. I had tickets for us to see the new Pedro Almodóvar film, Pain and Glory, at Richmond Curzon. It was brilliant; such an enjoyable film with Antonio Banderas giving ‘the performance of a lifetime that … surely demands Oscar recognition’ (Mark Kermode, Observer), and the always fabulous Penelope Cruz. Carrying the Spanish of its subtitles with us, we walked the short distance to Rincòn Bar Español in Paradise Road for some Spanish food and wine.

It seemed a perfect choice. I’ve passed the bar so many times, situated as it is on a corner of Richmond’s one-way system where buses turn into the bus station. I’d first considered Don Fernando’s restaurant by Richmond train station but when I saw Rincón was a ‘sister’ and part of the same family, then it seemed like a great idea to try it. Rincón means ‘a nook or corner’ suggesting somewhere cosy and informal.

I’d booked and a very friendly waitress showed us to a table in the dining area at the back of the bar. Menus came and we ordered wine (a red Tempranillo [£5.95] for Elsa; a glass of white Rioja [£6.75] for me).

The menu is mainly tapas and the slightly larger raciones. We spent some time choosing plates to share. I was keen to try the ‘Rincón’s signature tapa’ of Single Fried Quail’s Egg with Chorizo, served on bread (£2.95). We ordered one each and these came first. They were wonderful; the egg perfectly cooked so the yolk ran as you cut into it and with the chorizo it made a glorious mouthful of food.

Next came our ‘Selection of Cheese – Mature Manchego (sheep’s milk), Asturian Blue Cheese (cows’ milk) and Queso al Vino (mild sheep’s milk cheese from Aragón, aged in red wine’ (£9.95). Served with small pieces of quince jelly, grapes and bread, this was a lovely selection of cheeses.

‘Tender Baby Squid’ came in a rich ink sauce (£8.50).

Elsa was keen to have the ‘Pimientos de Padron’ (£6.50) and I wasn’t quite so keen but went along with it. I’m so glad I did for they were really good and I definitely ate my share in the end.

There were three kinds of croquetas on the menu and the ‘Tabla de Croquetas’ (£8.75) offered two of each kind to share. There was ‘Jamon and chicken’, ‘Bacalao (cod)’ and ‘Mushroom’. Hot and oozingly soft in the middle with crunchy breadcrumbed casings, these were gorgeous and fun to have the different ones to try.

It’s always a little hard to know how much to order with tapas and little plates to share, but of course you can always order more along the way. However, we’d got it just about right and were very happy with what we’d eaten.

Soon after we’d started our meal the live music began. Rincón has live jazz or blues music every Sunday; on Thursday there’s Flamenco & Spanish guitar.

The music was great: there was Tim Whitehead, one of our foremost tenor saxophonists and Phil Harrison on keyboard (ex The Korgis who became famous for their hit ‘Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime’ in 1980, which he played at the end). I love live jazz and listening to Tim play his saxophone up close was fantastic. I could have happily sat there all night listening to them but we’d had a busy day and Elsa had a long trip back across London, so we left while the music was still playing. But I can’t wait to go back – for great tapas, great music and some Flamenco. Rincón Bar Español is a great find in Richmond!

For more about Rincón Bar Español and their live music evenings, click here.

Rincon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sumac Salmon with Saffron & Preserved Lemon Yoghurt and Griddled Vegetables

Having opened a new jar of preserved lemons for the recent bulgur recipe and a new pack of saffron for the risotto the other day, I needed to use them; not allow them the moulder and grow old so I end up throwing them away, as has happened before. They’re not ‘everyday’ things – unless you’re Ottolenghi – but actually there’s something about warm summer days that calls for that middle eastern touch, so today seemed a good day to use more of them.

I’d bought the meal’s ingredients and had actually planned something completely different, but as suppertime grew close and the air temperature still hovered in the late twenties after a hot and sunny day, something close to barbecue – if not quite – seemed more appropriate. I never barbecue. I often prepare things to barbecue but I always leave the actual cooking to my son. This is not macho ‘man must barbecue’. I’ve always thought that crazy. You need a good cook to barbecue properly and well, not an inexperienced male cook playing with fire. And happily for me my son is an excellent cook; one of the best home cooks I know. But frankly I’m just too lazy to barbecue myself – too much hassle to prepare and too much mess to clear up afterwards!

Son is in Cornwall, thus tonight a griddle would have to do. I’m a dab hand with a griddle and think you can still achieve a nice caramelised effect that’s maybe not quite the same as a charcoal barbecue, but pretty damn good.

There’s a preserved lemon yoghurt dressing in the bulgur recipe but I decided to add some saffron too. I made it first so that the yoghurt had time to take up the flavours. Then I griddled the vegetables, knowing they’d be better slightly cooled, and cooked the salmon last, adding a touch of that lovely middle eastern spice, with its hint of lemon, sumac.

 

Sumac Salmon with Saffron & Preserved Lemon Yoghurt and Griddled Vegetables

  • pinch of saffron in a little hot water
  • 100ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped preserved lemon (about ½ small lemon, pips removed)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a selection of vegetables to griddle: courgettes, large tomatoes, yellow pepper, red onion, cooked new potatoes
  • salmon (I cooked for 1 but there are enough ingredients for 2)
  • sumac

 

 

Mix the saffron, yoghurt and chopped preserved lemon together. Add the olive oil and some black pepper. Preserved lemon is quite salty so you probably won’t need salt. Stir together well and taste. Set aside while you cook the rest of the meal.

Slice the vegetables thickly. Brush with olive oil and cook in batches on a hot griddle.

 

Lay on a serving plate as each is ready.

Now cook the salmon. I grilled mine. I brushed some olive oil on the fillet of salmon and sprinkled over some sumac. I put under the grill and cooked until just done and still slightly pink in the middle.

I transferred the salmon to a serving plate and spooned over some of the yoghurt dressing.

 

I served with the griddled vegetables.

I was able to sit in the garden; the sun slipping down out of sight but still gloriously warm and a perfect setting for my meal. It was all really gorgeous. Salmon is quite a robust fish and can take strong flavours so was well matched by the preserved lemon and saffron dressing. The griddled vegetables retained their separate identity and the touch of caramelisation worked beautifully with the sumac salmon and yoghurt dressing.

I had plenty of vegetables and dressing left over so they went into the fridge. I’m out all day tomorrow but they’ll go well with some griddled chicken on Monday – so an almost 2 meals in 1 cook!

Saffron Risotto with Prawns & Radicchio

It’s been a slightly strange day with changed plans, though I did get to see my lovely friends Jane and Terry this morning, which is a sunshine way to start the day. Evening plans were postponed so I dug around in the freezer, throwing away some things I deemed far too old to risk. I’m not a great freezer user and I forget what’s there. I make things like Bolognese ragù, Boeuf Bourguignon and soup in bulk to freeze portions, and there are always some frozen peas … and gelato, of course – usually tubs of Grom from Waitrose. But I tend to buy things almost day to day and fresh, which is easy when you’re on your own, so forget odd things that have slipped further and further out of sight in the freezer.

The half pack of organic raw prawns, bought only about a month ago, were certainly OK but perhaps good to use them up. Out they came. Some packs of fairly recently homemade chicken stock sat in the bottom basket. Ummmm. Well a risotto would be good. I thought I could fold the prawns into the rice with some peas and fresh mint, as I’ve done many times, but then felt inspired to do something a little different.

In Wholefoods in Richmond I picked up a radicchio. For a long time I resisted Wholefoods on the basis that some of the stuff is very expensive, and I wasn’t happy that they were part of Amazon. It didn’t feel quite right for my food shop. But actually they have some wonderful, high quality produce that I can’t buy anywhere else – including radicchio! – so more and more I go in there and am often delighted by what I find.

I decided to experiment and thought a little mixture of the prawns and stir-fried radicchio on the top of the risotto – which I would flavour with saffron – would be lovely. And it was!

 

Saffron Risotto with Prawns & Radicchio – Serves one

  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • ¼ radicchio, finely sliced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • butter
  • ½ cup risotto rice
  • 300ml chicken or vegetable stock, hot
  • large pinch of saffron in a little hot water
  • salt and pepper
  • Parmesan
  • 75-100g raw king prawns
  • balsamic vinegar

 

 

Prepare the vegetables. Put the diced shallot into a pan (big enough to cook the risotto) with about a tablespoon of olive oil and a knob of butter. Cook gently until the shallot is softening. Add the risotto rice.

 

Stir to coat each grain of rice well and cook for a minute or two. Now start adding the hot stock ladleful by ladleful. After 1 or 2 spoons, add the soaked saffron.

Continue to add all the stock a little at a time, stirring continuously. This is the only way to get a nice creamy consistency to your risotto. Once you’ve used up the stock, check the rice is nicely cooked al dente (a slight bite left to it). If it’s not quite tender enough, add a little hot water. Check seasoning. I didn’t add any to near the end as the stock was salted. Turn off the heat.

Add another knob of butter and a little grating of Parmesan and leave to melt. Put the lid on to keep it warm while you prepare the prawns and radicchio.

Now! … before any Italians get upset about cheese with the coming prawns (Italians don’t normally serve Parmesan with fish dishes), I did give this some serious thought. I was making in effect a Risotto alla Milanese and this requires Parmesan. But also I recently saw in the Venice episode of Fred Sirieix’s Remarkable Places to Eat, Fred and Angela Hartnett visit one of her favourite restaurants on the island of Burano. It was particularly exciting as I’d been to Al Gatto Nero with my friend Annie a few years ago and remembered how wonderful it was. Here, Angela assured Fred, they would find the best seafood risotto anywhere. As we watched the chef make the risotto, Angela, Fred – and I! – were surprised to see him add Parmesan. To a fish risotto! Well … hopefully you’ll forgive me doing the same. Though actually my risotto wasn’t fish itself, only the topping.

 

Put a little olive oil in the medium-sized frying pan. Quickly fry the prawns, turning when the first side is pink. Remove to a plate.

Put in the sliced radicchio – with a little more olive oil, if necessary. Fry quickly for just a couple of minutes until the radicchio starts to wilt. Put the prawns back in and just a little balsamic vinegar for some sweetness. Stir. Turn off heat.

 

Remove the lid from the risotto. Beat in the melted butter and Parmesan. This step is called mantecato – basically beating, which makes the risotto nice and creamy.

 

Spoon the risotto onto a serving plate. Then top with the radicchio and prawn mix. Drizzle over a little more olive oil and add a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley, if you have some. I didn’t add more Parmesan; I wanted my Italian friends to talk to me again 🙂

Oh wow! I was really pleased with my experiment. Such gorgeous flavours: the lovely creamy risotto with that distinct saffron flavour; the bitter radicchio and the sweet prawns with just a touch of added sweetness from the balsamic. It looked pretty good too!

 

Taramasalata

I was reading the other day that taramasalata (also taramosalata) has become the forgotten dip due to our recent love affair with hummus. It reminded me that I once made taramasalata a lot. It was always a dip I offered at parties or when friends came round. I can remember making it back in the late 1970s when I was first married and working full time as a book editor and commissioning and editing lots of cookbooks. Thus I dug out one of those cookbooks to look for a taramasalata recipe:

You do of course still see tubs of taramasalata on supermarket shelves but in the main they bear little resemblance to the real thing. For a start, they’re often coloured to make them pink (real taramasalata isn’t bright pink although it may have a pink hue). And they’ll likely have all kinds of things added to bulk them up into a pink froth.

The decline of taramasalata in my own home has come about for a couple of reasons: some family members’ dislike of fish; but mainly, I think, because I always have the ingredients for hummus in my cupboards while taramasalata requires a trip to the fishmonger. I have to confess I even forgot about taramasalata. Then I was reminded of it when I went to the wonderful Oystermen restaurant in May and had Whipped Smoked Cod’s Roe.

It was so amazing, so delicious, that I remember thinking I could just eat that; I didn’t need anything else (though the ‘anything else’ turned out to be very good too).

I was quite surprised at how difficult it was to find a recipe for taramasalata in my books, apart from the old book I’d edited long ago; another sign of its waning popularity? I looked in Rick Stein’s Venice to Istanbul where he travels through Greece; Jamie Oliver goes to Greece in Jamie Does; even Tonia Buxton in her Greek Kitchen didn’t offer a taramasalata recipe. Eventually I found one in Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean Cookery book, which was quite similar to my old book, and of course plenty on the Internet.

Since starting to write the blog, I take more interest in the contents of recipes; what’s ‘authentic’ and different methods and ingredients. Of course, things like taramasalata are dishes from long ago when ingredients were just thrown together with no measurements, each cook adding a little this or that depending on what was available, in season, or to satisfy their own taste. My little book told me that some people like to add a lot of onion, while others none at all. I’ve always added bread to give it bulk and form, but apparently some people add potato (I saw this on the Internet too). Occasionally egg yolks are added, or whipped egg whites to achieve a lighter consistency.

The main ingredient is tarama. Hence the name, and ‘salata’ being salad. Tarama is smoked fish roe. Traditionally the roe of grey mullet is used, but that’s very expensive now, and more usually cod’s roe is used.

What really struck me was the variation in the proportions of smoked cod’s roe to bread. While some cooks add just a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs, one recipe had about three times the weight of bread to tarama. My old book used about equal proportions.

So, finally, after a lot of promises to myself about making it again – in fact, since that lovely meal in May! – I got round to going to the local fishmonger and buying some smoked cod’s roe. I used my ‘old book’ recipe with a few slight adjustments.

 

Taramasalata

  • 110g smoked cod’s roe
  • 3 slices of white bread (about 100g)
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 200ml olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill (some fresh if you have it)
  • freshly ground black pepper

 

   

First of all soak the smoked cod’s roe in water. My recipe said just 5 minutes and as I’d bought roe described as ‘mildly smoked’, I did that. But you may need an hour’s soaking if it’s strongly smoked and salty – have a little taste. After soaking you’ll find the thin skin will peel off easily.

Cut the crusts from the bread. I had a 2-day old sourdough loaf and that was perfect. Break it into bits and put in a bowl and pour over about 50ml water. You need only leave it briefly before you squeeze out the water. Then put the bread straight into a food processor. Break the smoked cod’s roe over it.

 

Put the chopped shallot and lemon juice into the mix. Add the dill and some black pepper. You may not need salt, depending on how salty the cod’s roe is; taste at the end to check.

 

Pour in the olive oil and blitz in the food processor until smooth and creamy.

 

If it’s too thick, add some water and blitz again. Check seasoning. Transfer to a bowl, cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour. You could, of course, serve straight away if this is a last-minute thing, but the texture and taste do improve from standing and chilling for a while. Covered, it will keep in the fridge for about three days.

When ready to serve, drizzle over a little olive oil and I garnished with a little paprika, but you might like to use chopped fresh dill if you have some, or some parsley.

I served it with some pitta bread and lovely Kalamata olives to add a little more flavour of Greece to my plate.

It was really good; a nice texture and good flavour. The fish flavour was strong but not overpowering and it wasn’t too salty either. It requires a bit more planning ahead to buy the cod’s roe rather than grabbing a tin of chickpeas from the cupboard to make hummus, but it is quite special and I think almost essential if you want to serve some Greek-style mezze.