Skip to content

Genoa 2018: A Trip to Portofino & Aperitivo

It was the second day of my 3-day tour of Genoa and its art with Hotel Alphabet. While a visit to the Cinque Terre and Portofino didn’t strictly fit into the ‘art history’ theme, it was nevertheless a great thing to do. And happily, despite an unpromising weather forecast over the last few days, we were lucky to enjoy some glorious sunny weather.

A minibus had been arranged to take 8 of us to Portofino; an hour’s drive away. This pretty little fishing village on the Ligurian coast has been a favourite destination for the rich and famous for decades. Today it’s a major tourist attraction.

The minibus dropped us off at the top of the village as cars aren’t allowed to drive down. But it was only a very short walk to the bay and sea.

It was about 10.30 by now and not very busy; an hour later it would be packed with tourists.

Marie-Anne led us to the start of a steep, cobbled path which would take us up to the 16th century fortress, Castello Brown. The fortress played a major role in various wars, including during Napoleon’s Ligurian Republic, but later, in the early 19th century, was abandoned and fell into ruin. Then in 1867 the remains were bought by Montague Yeats-Brown (hence the ‘Brown’ name) who was the British consul in Genoa at the time. It was turned into a home and remained in the family until 1949. It was eventually sold to the city of Portofino in 1961.

The climb up may have been steep but the reward was fantastic views.

At the top you could see from the castle’s terrace how wonderful it must have been to live there, looking out across the village and along the coast of the Ligurian Sea.

I really loved visiting Portofino, having wanted to see it for a long time.  However, I wouldn’t want to stay there or even spend much time there for it’s now far too touristy.

We came back to Genoa by bus to Santa Marguerita, then a train to Genova-Nervi. Here we visited The Wolfsonian Museum with its focus on decorative Art Nouveau and Art Deco art and Rationalism.

A short walk took us to the Galleria D’Arte Moderna. There were no art gems there, it has to be said, so not worth a special visit, but still interesting to go as we were close and by chance a flower festival was on in the gardens which we could see too.

A final short train ride took us back into central Genoa. By now it was nearly 6pm. After a short time back at my hotel, I headed to Piazza Giacomo Matteotti and Cafe Douce where I’d gone for a drink last night. I hadn’t wanted to eat anything then as I’d a table booked at Osteria Ravecca but I’d seen some wonderful plates of snacks for aperitivo pass me by and I wanted to try them.

When I arrived in the piazza there was a small food market. The produce looked wonderful and a cheese stall offered me a tasting.

   

   

Then I found myself a seat outside the cafe. It was clouding over and I’d even felt a few raindrops in the air so I made sure I sat under one of the big umbrellas.

I ordered a glass of prosecco for €5 and for an extra €2 it was served with ‘finger food’. (Notice also in the photo the bottle of water with spray to ‘dissuade’ the pigeons!)

It was the most wonderful plate of food. And all for €2! It was almost a meal. Really, no one does aperitivo like the Italians. It’s quite common in Italy to have some food brought with an early evening drink. You don’t always pay depending on what is served but it’s worth paying €2 for this lovely selection of ‘finger food’.

I sat and enjoyed the drink and food, eating slowly and relaxing in the warm summer’s air, a gentle buzz of happy chatter around me, and a nice view of this lovely city of Genoa.

Genoa 2018: Dinner at Antica Osteria Ravecca

49C2651F-8314-48D0-8429-2FAFBC6B5273

I had a great first day with Hotel Alphabet and our intimate little group of art history lovers. Amazingly out of a group of six of us, I immediately recognised a couple as they arrived this morning at our meeting place. They come from Twickenham too and our daughters were at school together. What a small world it is!

I have done  a lot of walking over the past two days: 11 km yesterday and 9.8 km today. I’ve found this is quite typical on a city break. It may not be as obviously ‘healthy’ and ‘hearty’ as a walking or hiking holiday – but I do serious walking on my city holidays. And love it. What better way to get to know a city.

It may, however, not be quite so healthy to think that all this walking means I can indulge in good food and wine a little more! An aperitivo had definitely been earned, I decided. First I reserved a table at Antica Osteria Ravecca, which I’d seen on my first day walkabout yesterday and found it had good reviews. I ignored the ‘Closed’ sign on the door and went in, about 6.30, to ask if they had a table. They had if I was happy to sit in the small area near the entrance. I said yes and later saw I had managed to secure the last table as they really were fully booked. Typically here restaurants open at 7.30pm and so I said I’d be back in an hour.

Nearby, in Piazza Giacomo Matteotti, I’d earlier seen Caffe Douce, which my friend Tina – who was recently in Genoa – recommended, so I headed there. By now, earlier clouds had disappeared and it was a lovely warm, sunny evening. I sat outside and ordered a prosecco. The friendly waitress seemed concerned I should eat something too and offered to bring olives (which they didn’t charge for). Again, I found kindness, friendliness and a nice big smile in Genoa.

I was happy sitting there for almost an hour, with a book, before making the short walk back to the osteria.

I was pretty much the first to arrive but the restaurant soon filled up. The helpful waiter showed me the wine list and recommended a couple of white wines to have by the glass and I chose a local one.

   

When a plate of bread came I asked the waitress what the black one was and she said it was made with black sepia (cuttlefish) ink. It was really delicious, as was their focaccia. It was quite hard to resist eating all the lovely bread but I had to save room for my meal.

I simply had to have the homemade pasta with Genovese pesto made in house.

It was truly wonderful. It smelled wonderful as it was put before me; I was enjoying it before I’d even had a taste. And the taste was glorious.

I’d hesitated over my main choice. The fish of the day turned out to be ombrina, which I had last night – and also cooked with olives and tomatoes. I wanted fish and as my indecision lingered on, and I asked about another couple of fish dishes, the waiter assured me the special was really excellent. So, I went with it. It didn’t really matter is was similar to the night before, especially as I’d decided ombrina is a very tasty fish.

It was similar but slightly different and really, really gorgeous. It was served on a soft and creamy mash of potato. I was very glad I’d had it.

It was a fabulous meal. I had just an espresso to finish. The bill with food and wine came to €35.

Genoa 2018: Dinner at Osteria di Vico Palla

5DE102DB-41F8-44E3-B535-62986E46D508

Home to Christopher Columbus, the port city of Genoa, the 6th largest city in Italy, has a long and impressive maritime history. And down in the old port – Porto Antico – you will find many restaurants serving up traditional Ligurian food.

When I booked the trip and saw my hotel was close to Porto Antico, I had romantic imaginings of a pretty old harbour lined with ochre and pastel-coloured buildings and little old fishing boats bobbing on the water. In fact, Porto Antico is a large bustling area with rather brassy over-the-top constructions dominating all views. The area was remodelled in the early 1990s by the famous architect, Renzo Piano, of – if you’re a Londoner – The Shard (which I love) fame.

Pretty it is not. However, tucked away in the far corner amongst some old narrow roads and alleyways you will find Osteria Vico di Palla. The restaurant dates back to the 17th century and inside you can see that thankfully no modern architect has had their way with it. (Perhaps at this point I should say that in general I’m a big fan of modern architecture and don’t believe in preserving just for the sake of it.)

I arrived a little early, just as they were opening, but is was so cold and blustery outside it wasn’t an evening for sightseeing. The welcome was warm (Genoa does seem a wonderfully friendly city), it was remembered I’d booked by email and I was shown to my table in a little alcove by a window looking out onto the alleyway – vico Palla.

   

Only a few tables had people sitting at them but soon the restaurant filled up and I decided it was as well I’d booked. On the table stood a bottle of local olive oil, specially bottled for the restaurant and made from the area’s popular Taggiasca olives.

   

The menu was written on a board, presumably as it changes regularly according to season and what’s available. I understood quite a bit but food dishes rarely translate directly and a waiter helped me out.

   

While I waited for my food some very good bread and a glass of house fizz came. I’d wanted a small fizz to start but it was a reasonably sized glass so I stuck with that for the whole meal. It only cost me €2.

The restaurant is known for specialising in Cucina Povera – peasant food. I chose Minestrone alla Genovese to start. In UK we tend to have one idea of minestrone as a tomato based soup with beans and pasta in it but actually minestrone is just a thick soup made from available ingredients, which does often contain beans and pasta.

This one was so thick it was barely a soup but absolutely fabulous. Green vegetable based, the beans in it were fresh green and there were also peas, a little pasta and of course – because I’m in Liguria – pesto. I loved it. The flavour was deep and wonderful.

Staying ‘local’ I chose Filetto di Ombrina alla Genovese for my main.

Ombrina – or sometimes Umbrina – is a white fish found in warm seas like the Mediterranean. It was a fine, firm and very delicious fish which I liked a lot. The sauce, with its baby tomatoes and Taggiasca olives had a good flavour and complemented it perfectly; not too overpowering.

I hesitated over dessert but it is nice to have a treat on holiday. However the apple cake was the only disappointment in an otherwise excellent meal. I thought the syrupy sauce drizzled over the top wasn’t a good sign and so it proved. So, dessert was OK but not great.

The meal overall however was great. I loved the restaurant. There was a good lively buzz, the staff were friendly and the main part of my meal was gorgeous and had been just the kind of local food I was looking for. The bill was €37.

Genoa 2018: Arrival & Getting My Bearings

I have to confess it was a little hard to leave London just as the recently absent sun was putting in an appearance for a few days while the forecast for Genoa promised only grey and rain. A prediction borne out on my arrival as we landed.

However, little can really dampen the excitement of arriving in a new city, especially for me an Italian one, and I’m looking forward to exploring and discovering some of what Genoa has to offer.

The decision to come to Genoa, capital of Liguria in the top north-eastern part of Italy, bordering France, was entirely based on wanting to do a 3-day art history course here with Hotel Alphabet (www.hotelalphabet.com). I’ve done some short courses in London with Marie-Anne and loved them so to sign on to a longer one – and in Italy! – was too tempting to resist. The course begins tomorrow and thus I needed to arrive today and I tagged on an extra couple of days at the end to explore food rather than art! For Genoa is an exciting place for the foodie: the home of pesto, made with the lighter Ligurian olive oil which doesn’t overpower the basil; and focaccia, and other gorgeous food to find and sample.

I booked flight + hotel as I often do with British Airways as it usually works out cheaper than booking a hotel separately. Best Western Hotel   Metropoli is a basic 3* hotel; nothing fancy but based right in the centre and only a short walk away from where I have to meet Anne-Marie in the mornings of the art course.

It may be simple but it has everything I need and the staff have been wonderfully helpful and friendly, even before my arrival in an exchange of emails, and then greeted me warmly today.

   

The window looks out over the small piazza of Fontane Marose.

I arrived too early to get the keys to my room – it was only about 11am. However, they said it would be ready if I came back about 1.00  I asked for a map and some advice about which direction to set off in and headed to Piazza De Ferrari. En route I went into a little bar for a cappuccino and mini croissant (€1.90). Breakfast had been a long time before!

   

Everywhere umbrellas hung from above.

   

I was intrigued and asked about them at the hotel, but they apparently have nothing to do with rain and the colours are to celebrate a flower festival here.

In the big piazza I found a small organic market with stalls selling some very tempting goods.

   

   

I looked at my map and saw I wasn’t far from Mercato Orientale, a large market I’d read about, so I headed down Via XX Settembre. I entered through an archway off the main road and found myself in a wonderful large local market; a place for real food shopping and not a touristy place.

   

   

   

This is when I feel it would be nice to rent an apartment some time and do some cooking. Though in reality, as someone who lives alone, I actually like staying in hotels and being looked after for a few days!

Shopping arcades seem to be a feature of northern Italian cities.  Genoa doesn’t appear to have as many as Bologna and Turin but I was reminded of them both. Though, lovely as it is, Genoa doesn’t have the prettiness of Bologna nor the grandeur and elegance of Turin.

   

Back along Via XX Settembre close to Piazza De Ferrari, I found a great cafe for lunch: Caffe Boasi.

My focaccia filled with ham, cheese, tomato and rocket was perfect and delicious. It was served – as always in Italy – very lightly toasted and warm, not burning hot as too often is in UK. Because I’m on holiday I had a small glass of local white wine to go with it.

   

I couldn’t resist a little cannoli to go with an espresso to finish. I noticed they had some Baratti & Milano chocolates from Turin, though sadly – as I asked in my best Italian – not their fabulous chocolate and hazelnut spread.

   

I’d had a great time starting my exploration of Genoa but now it was time to go back to the hotel and collect my room key. After a very early 4.30am start this morning I felt in need of a rest before going out again this evening.

 

Premier Inn London Gatwick Airport North Terminal

My flight to Genoa tomorrow morning leaves so early from Gatwick that getting here by train wasn’t an option. A mini cab would cost around £50 so paying £62 for a room at the Premier Inn right on the North Terminal site seemed an irresistible temptation – especially as it would buy me an extra hour in bed. There’s a big difference between getting up at 4.30am rather than 3.30am.

The only time I’ve stayed at Gatwick before it was at the Sofitel next door. But that was about 3 or 4 years ago and their price has gone up significantly and I didn’t want to pay a lot for just a convenient bed for the night. So, I’d heard good things about Premier Inns and it seemed a good opportunity to try one out.

This one is well geared up to make an overnight stop as easy as possible for travellers. I was able to check in online yesterday. When I arrived there were plenty of assistants to greet me and show me how to work the check-in machines and get my room key. It was also recommended that if I wanted to eat in the restaurant I should book; so I did.

The lift took me up to the 5th floor and I entered my room. It’s a functional but perfectly nice room.

   

There’s a sofa that can clearly be made up into an extra bed if maybe you were travelling with a child. I like that there’s a kettle with tea bags and milk, especially I won’t have time for breakfast as I need to be at security by 5. However, breakfast starts at 5.00am – clearly catering to earlier travellers – so useful for many. Meanwhile, I can at least have a cup of tea when I get up.

  

Some paintings brighten the room over a desk. Unsurprisingly the view isn’t up to much – but then I am on an airport! Downstairs by reception there’s a Costa Coffee to buy snacks and a decent coffee. Of all the chains, Costa is by far my preferred one. But then they’re owned by Whitbread who also own Premier Inns so it’s unsurprising that’s the choice.

   

As I settled into the room the phone rang. I’m so unused to a hotel room phone ringing I was a bit taken aback. But at the other end a friendly voice asked if I was happy with my room and said not to hesitate to call reception if there was anything I needed. Great service!

I’d booked to eat at 6.30. I’d tried for 7 but that wasn’t available (so booking was good advice) and with a very early start tomorrow, earlier seemed better than later. Around 6.00 I went down to have an aperitif in the bar. There was no ‘glass’ of prosecco on offer but a small 200ml bottle at £5.99. That was OK though it’s a bit hard to understand why they can’t offer glasses and as I wanted a glass of wine with my meal, and not to drink too much, I didn’t finish the small bottle. But it was a nice enough place to sit and relax and start to get into holiday mood.

I moved through to the dining area at 6.30. It’s a large area but split into more intimate smaller areas, which works well. I ordered a glass of Gavi di Gavi (getting into the Italian mood – £4.95) though chose an Asian curry dish to eat. There’s a huge choice from steaks and burgers, to pizza, salads, light meals and Mediterranean dishes. Something for everyone.

   

I didn’t want a big meal and ordered just a main course of ‘Chicken Katsu Curry’ – breaded chicken with mild curry sauce, ‘fluffy basmati rice’ and a crisp mixed side salad (£12.49).

It was OK though not great. The chicken was tender, the breaded coating crisp but the taste fairly dull. However its mediocrity was positively outweighed by exceptionally friendly and efficient service. For me, it’s definitely true that good food can be ruined by poor service but one is very forgiving of indifferent food when it’s served with a big smile and very efficiently.

Back in my room I’m able to make myself a mint tea (I’m travelling with a variety of tea bags as I know my hotel in Genoa also provides a kettle – one of my best ‘loves’ of hotels; a small gesture that goes a long way to making a happy stay). And I’m getting into one of my holiday books, Eric Newby’s A Small Place in Italy.

The brilliant Eric Newby (1919-2006) was one of our greatest ever travel writers. This book about his Italian home, I Castagni, on the Liguria/Tuscany border seemed like perfect reading for my trip to Liguria. And just three chapters in, I’m loving it.

 

Travel Gourmet’s Top 5 Pre-Theatre Menus in London

fullsizeoutput_1acc

One of the best things about living in London is the fantastic choice of theatre, from thought-provoking drama, to uplifting musicals and cutting-edge new works by up-and-coming writers. Live theatre is one of my greatest pleasures; little excites me more than watching a great play, and in London that often means performed by some of our finest actors. I go to the theatre often and usually I meet the friend I’m joining for a meal beforehand. I always prefer to eat early rather than late; even in my younger days I was never keen to eat late, but many pre-theatre menus are also available as post-theatre menus too.

Although I’ve given this post the title ‘pre-theatre menus’, I’m often on the lookout for a good place to eat pre-gallery talk, or pre-cinema. Another passion of mine is art and I go to quite a few talks and lectures at London art galleries. I’ve therefore included my favourite place near Tate Modern. And, it has to be confessed, I often take advantage of good pre-theatre offers just to meet up with a friend early evening and eat a reasonably priced meal.

What I’m looking for in a pre-theatre menu is good food at a good price. If it really is pre-theatre or pre-event, then the likelihood is that you’re going to want to eat in about an hour; not in a rush but no lingering over the meal. And if you’re not going to linger over the meal, then you don’t generally want to pay a lot. I always like to eat well though, so a miserable sandwich in a chain café doesn’t fit the bill for me. It also makes more of the evening to eat a nice meal first, have time to catch up with a friend you may not have seen for a little while, and then go to the theatre.

So, here are my top pre-theatre restaurants at the moment. I’m listing them according to location rather than in any order of preference.

 

COVENT GARDEN

Joe Allen

Well, I have to start with the restaurant that’s known as ‘theatreland’s canteen’! For over 40 years, Joe Allen has been a favourite haunt of actors, writers and producers – and my friend Annie and me! Though we’re not famous; just devotees, and I should emphasise that our loyalty only spans about 20 years not 40!

Recently transferred to Burleigh Street, just off The Strand, it offers one of the best pre-theatre menus going and is ideally located for not only the many theatres along The Strand and into The Aldwych, but also The Royal Opera House. I’ve eaten there before going to the National Theatre too, which is only a short walk across Waterloo Bridge from the restaurant. For more about Joe Allen, click here.

 

SHAFTESBURY AVENUE, Soho

Brasserie Zédel

Brasserie Zédel is hidden in a little complex of walkways just behind Piccadilly Circus, and off Shaftesbury Avenue. The food is great, the prices very reasonable and you can enjoy a lovely sense of being in an old Parisian brasserie while you eat. So many of the big London theatres are in Shaftesbury Avenue it’s a great location for pre-theatre, and it’s also close to The Haymarket, another theatre area. For more about Brasserie Zédel, click here.

Mele e Pere

Mele e Pere was a fairly recent find in Brewer Street in London’s Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue. I’d read enthusiastic reviews for some time before I went and am really glad I finally got there. It serves great Italian food and there’s a nice, lively atmosphere without it being too noisy. I went before a talk at the National Portrait Gallery (only about 8 minutes walk away) but of course it’s handy for all the nearby theatres, and the Curzon Soho cinema. For more about Mele e Pere, click here.

 

SOUTH BANK

Côte Brasserie

Yes, I know it’s a chain and chains aren’t usually amongst my list of favourite places, but my visit to this new branch of Côte right by the Royal Festival Hall only last month was a huge success. This was actually a post-art gallery dinner, but it’s wonderfully located for the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, the Royal Festival Hall and the Hayward Gallery – where I’d just been. We got in in time for the pre-theatre menu which is available until 7pm. It’s one of the best value early evening menus I know. Again, like Zédel above, you can enjoy being temporarily transported to Paris, should you feel sufficiently fanciful. Chains are inevitably slightly variable and I have been to a couple of Côtes I didn’t like much, but this one on the South Bank and my local Richmond one are great. There are a lot of restaurants on the South Bank but few inspiring ones, so I’m never quite certain where to go. But I’ll definitely be making Côte a regular haunt when I’m in the area. For more, click here.

 

BANKSIDE

Capricci

This is a fantastic location for Tate Modern and also The Globe Theatre. I’ve eaten at Capricci a couple of times early evening before talks at the gallery. There are places to eat inside Tate, though not always open in the evening to coincide with talks and lectures midweek. And while I used to love the Tate Modern Restaurant, my last visit was very disappointing so I haven’t wanted to go back. Capricci is set in a development right by the gallery and there are lots of chain restaurants and cafés, but Capricci offers something more exciting and individual. Their Italian food is great and there’s a deli where you can opt to sit at a counter and have a snack if you don’t want the full restaurant experience. There is no set menu but you can eat fairly cheaply and quickly and each time I’ve ordered pasta dishes as a main course, which both times were delicious. For more about Capricci, click here.

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

Of course London is full of restaurants offering pre-theatre menus and I’ve only sampled a very few, but I hope this list of my favourites, and in different parts of central London, will be helpful and offer you some inspiration next time you’re looking for a great and reasonably priced early evening meal.

 

Freekeh Salad with Aubergine, Feta & Pomegranate

15A09A00-184D-4879-BC56-C270502E6EC5

With Nicola & Rachael down from Worcestershire for the weekend to celebrate my birthday, we had a busy day planned for Saturday – which included High Tea at the famous Maids of Honour tea rooms in Kew. With uncertain timings and knowing we’d have more ‘tea’ than I usually do – in fact I don’t usually eat anything with my afternoon cuppa! – a selection of cold mezze and salads with some nice fresh bread from Paul bakery seemed an excellent plan. That way, whatever time we returned to my house, food would be ready; no preparation needed other than removing it from the fridge and laying the table!

Freekeh has become my favourite ‘grain’ over the last couple of years, since discovering it in my local Revital health food store. It has generally become more popular and is quite fashionable. What’s so great about it, apart from it being quick and easy to cook, is the wonderful, nutty flavour. Grains can be pretty boring but freekeh is delicious in its own right – though of course even more delicious with some well-chosen additions! It’s also wonderfully healthy and nutritious.

There are a couple of other freekeh recipes on the blog but I decided to put together this version because with the aubergine and feta, it makes a meal on its own, even though it can work as part of a selection of middle eastern mezze or a side with perhaps some grilled chicken.

Freekeh Salad with Aubergine, Feta & Pomegranate 

  • 120g freekeh
  • 1 aubergine, cut into roughly 1.5cm cubes
  • about 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ pomegranate
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 100g feta
  • small bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves roughly chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dressing

  • juice from the ½ pomegranate (see method below)
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

   

Put the freekeh into a small saucepan with twice the volume of water (120g freekeh is roughly 1 cup). Add some salt and bring to the boil, turn low and allow to simmer until the water is almost absorbed. Check whether it’s tender just before all the water has gone as I sometimes find it doesn’t need quite that amount – you want it cooked but to retain a bit of a bite. Drain and allow to cool.

While the freekeh is cooling, prepare the aubergine. Trim the ends off the aubergine and cut into smallish cubes. Put a couple of tablespoons of the oil into a large frying pan and fry the aubergine over a medium heat, turning frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add a little more oil if necessary as aubergines do soak up a lot of oil. You want the pieces nicely coated and cooked through but not browned. Once ready, leave to cool.

   

Cut a pomegranate in half. (The spare half can be added to salads, yoghurt or cereal.) Hold the half you’re using over a bowl with a sieve on it. Squeeze slightly and start to pull open, allowing the pomegranate seeds to collect in the sieve. Remove any bits of the white pith as they’re not pleasant to eat and keep any juice that collects in the bowl for the dressing.

I happened to have a mix of yellow and red cherry tomatoes but just red is fine. Cut about 12 in half.

   

   

I used just half my pack of feta but if you’re making this into a meal on its own (it will serve about 2), then you might like to add all the cheese.  Feta quite often comes in 200g packs.

Put the drained and cooled freekeh into a large bowl. Add the aubergine, spring onions, pomegranate seeds, tomato halves and parsley and crumble over the feta.

Make the dressing: mix any juice collected from the drained pomegranate seeds with the pomegranate molasses and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk with a fork and pour over the freekeh salad. Fold in with a spoon and mix thoroughly. Transfer to a serving dish.

You could eat this straight away but it’s quite nice to cover with cling film and leave for about an hour for all the flavours to come together. If you’re leaving it for more than an hour, put in the fridge.

I served it as a kind of mezze meal with hummus, bread, olives and cheeses. It really is so delicious and will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days.

The Original Maids of Honour

D196DCE0-9FF5-4A03-9D0A-1279CDDAB795

Once upon a time, about twenty-odd years ago, I used to pick my children up from school and for an occasional treat we would drive to Kew and have tea in The Original Maids of Honour tea rooms. Since I began the blog – nearly 7 years ago – we have been saying that ‘we must go back to The Maids of Honour’ for tea sometime. I’m not sure why it’s taken so long; we all regularly go to Kew Gardens just down the road from the tea rooms. It took a birthday. Nicola and Rachael were coming down from Worcestershire for the weekend to celebrate my birthday and amongst the discussion of ‘what we could do’, Nicola said she’d like to go for a walk in Kew Gardens and why didn’t we have tea at The Maids of Honour afterwards. Thus the plan was set.

The Maids of Honour is very traditionally British when it comes to tea. I hadn’t been there for about 20 years but it looked just the same. The same furniture; the same pink walls; the waiting staff dressed in traditional black and white dress. It boasts a wonderful history for it is said that the little Maids of Honour tarts – a speciality here – were loved by Henry VIII. Apparently he discovered these tarts when he met Anne Boleyn and the Maids of Honour attending the Queen were eating the tarts off a silver plate. He loved the melt-in-the-mouth sensation of eating them and – the story goes! – demanded the recipe which was then kept in a locked iron box at Richmond Palace. The recipe is still a secret!

   

It was a beautiful sunny day and after working up an appetite walking round Kew Gardens, we walked along Kew Road to the tea rooms. We were quite early for tea; lunch was just finishing but a friendly waiter told us they served tea anytime. We were shown to a table by a window and the menu brought.

   

There are a number of choices of set teas including High Tea (£15 per person), Savoury High Tea (£17pp), Champagne High Tea (variable according to number – from £50 for 1 to £110 for 4). We settled on High Tea:

 

Pot of Tea or filter coffee

Traditional Tea Sandwiches (5 quarters)

Two Scones Plain or Fruit

Clotted Cream (or English Butter) & Preserve

Your choice from Today’s Patisserie or Maids of Honour Tart

 

It was all beautifully presented on a stand; the little Maids of Honour tarts, which are always served warm from the oven, on a silver plate (just as Henry VIII enjoyed them). We all decided we had to have these as our cake choice. We asked about the sandwich fillings and our friendly waiter offered to swap ham for another non-meat choice.

The tea came first: a pot each and traditional Willow Pattern china. The little sandwiches were delicious. The crusts cut off, traditional style. There was smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise, cheese and – of course! – cucumber sandwiches. They tasted freshly made and we enjoyed them a lot.

Next we tucked into our scones. Two had sounded a lot but they were quite small; not as small as ‘bite sized’ but a perfect size – as Goldilocks might have said. There was a generous helping of clotted cream and jam. They were good scones: light and fluffy.

   

Then the Maids of Honour. We’d long been debating whether they were like Pasteis di Nata for they look similar.

The custard was in some flaky and very light pastry. The ‘custard’ isn’t as creamy as Pasteis di Nata and has a slight cheesy – cheesecake – flavour. They were served warm and were very tasty and delicious.

It was a lovely tea; eaten slowly at leisure, just as a traditional tea should be. The staff were so friendly and helpful too, which always makes a big difference to one’s enjoyment. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and a nice treat. On the way out we stopped to look at the bakery-shop at the front.

Rachael bought a few things to take back for her parents.

Meanwhile, as a local, I really mustn’t wait another 20 years to go back!

The Original Maids Of Honour Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Travel Gourmet’s Top 5 Gelaterie in London

With the weather warming up and the sun shining at last, we’re definitely moving into the ‘ice cream season’. Though in truth, I’ll eat ice cream at any time of the year. I confess to having a big addiction to ice cream; well, gelato. I’m an ice cream snob (I’ll own up so you don’t need to accuse me). I don’t buy those old British favourites that you find in your local newsagent, I seek out the many and growing number of wonderful Italian gelaterie in London. Thus this will probably turn into an ongoing post that needs frequent revision (and frequent tastings of gelato!) for I have sampled only a few, so there are many, many more to try. But of the ones I know, here are my favourites. And while I rarely stick my neck out on these pages and attribute rankings – I’m doing it here … and top of this list has to be my local and very wonderful …

1. Gelateria Danieli, Richmond upon Thames

Tucked down the pretty alleyway, Brewer’s Lane, off the centre of Richmond’s high street, you will find some of the very best gelato in London. Made in-house and overseen by owners Carlo, who comes from Sicily, and Bridget, a nutritionist, there’s a fabulous choice of flavours, and the gelato is to die for. Currently you can have a small cup for £2.50 with 2 flavours; a medium cup is £4. My favourite flavours are Crema Siciliana (oranges and lemons) and Dark Chocolate Sorbet. Their pistachio is heavenly too, made from the finest Bronte pistachios, which grow in the Mount Etna region of Sicily, and are thought by many to be the best in the world. They use organic and natural ingredients with no artificial flavourings or colourings. You can eat in or on a lovely summer’s day, walk to the end of the alleyway and sit on a bench on the edge of beautiful Richmond Green. Click here for more on Gelateria Danieli.

2. La Gelatiera, Covent Garden

I’d passed this gelateria many times in New Row, Covent Garden, before I tried it. I’d read great things about it but never seemed to be there at a good time to indulge in gelato. It was my friend Lucia who suggested meeting there one evening. And I’m so glad she did! Why had I taken such a long time to try it? The ice cream is fantastic and they have frequent changes of flavours and some really exciting ones. Their hand-crafted ice creams are made daily in small batches and contain only the finest ingredients, they offer flavours like ‘Honey, Rosemary & Orange Zest’ and ‘Basil & Chilli’, and ‘Watercress & Lime’. When I was there last summer, a medium cup with 3 flavours was £4.50. For more about La Gelatiera, click here.

3.  Gelupo, Soho

It was my Italian teacher Fabio who told me about Gelupo (part of Bocco di Lupo restaurant). I’ve been back many times since my first visit in 2014 and introduced it to my family. It’s always a temptation to pop in if I’m in the Shaftesbury Avenue/Piccadilly Circus area and last time I went was just before meeting friends at a nearby theatre; I was so close I couldn’t resist. They have some exciting flavours too – ‘Strawberry & Pink Pepper’, ‘Avocado Sorbet’ and ‘Lemon & Rosemary’. It really is exceptionally good artisan gelato. For more about Gelupo (and Bocca di Lupo) click here.

4. Amorino, Covent Garden

Amorino is a worldwide chain, but don’t let that put you off! The ice cream is wonderful. I’d eaten in Amorino in France and Italy but only finally got round to trying out one of the London branches last week, after a gelato conversation with Fabio, who told me how good it is. For more, click here.

5. Scoop, Covent Garden

Scoop was another recommendation from Lucia. You can see I’ve clearly been getting the right authentic Italian advice where gelato is concerned! Made daily, this fabulous artisan gelato can be found in Covent Garden, South Kensington and Harvey Nichols. For more about Scoop, click here.

With all this gelato excitement, I’ve introduced a new ‘Gelaterie – Ice Cream Shops’ category on the blog so you can quickly check out where to find the best ice cream: click here. And I think you may be sure that I will be adding to it over the coming summer months!

What’s your favourite gelateria in London? Do please let us know!

A Spring Morning Walk in Kew Gardens

9AE474C2-4893-49C8-864B-58DF746B28A8

This post is for my dear friend Jane – and she will know why.

Spring is very late coming this year. I know this particularly as it’s my birthday in a couple of days’ time and so I can recall birthdays when spring was further along, apple blossom on trees, a taste of summer in the air and even sun cream needed. However, the long wet winter and frequent strong cold winds have kept that March feeling going for far too long, so it’s been great over the last day or so to be blessed with some warm weather – and sun!!

With blue skies and the promise of the temperature hitting the early 20s, I couldn’t resist going to Kew Gardens this morning. You’ll find a lot of information about these world famous botanical gardens on the blog, so this is more of a photo post – to share my lovely walk. I entered the Gardens by the lower Lion Gate, rather than my usual main Victoria Gate. This is a quieter area, close to the Pagoda (that’s currently undergoing renovation so has some scaffolding on it) and a wooded area.

   

By the Japanese garden, cherry trees were in full blossom and looked so beautiful.

   

Cherry blossom and a very tall pine tree reaching up to catch the sun.

   

I found a huge and wonderful tree house that’s just been built. It won’t open until the summer but you can enjoy walking round this quiet woodland area, follow a log trail and see the badger sett.

I always love spending time by the lake and there are plenty of benches to sit and enjoy a moment of peace. Although there were some very noisy geese chasing around this morning, calling excitedly to one another.

   

   

In the main, trees and bushes were still fairly bare of blossom – apart from those wonderful cherry trees. Even the magnolias were hardlly showing signs of flowers. I guess I might have found camellias flowering, as my own in my garden are, but Kew Gardens is a huge place and I didn’t get round to the ‘camellia’ area today.

   

The area outside the Palm House is always well planted out, changing frequently with the seasons, and this was full of colour.

It was a lovely walk. It’s a privilege to live so close to these fabulous Gardens, and lucky that I can visit them early in the morning, and midweek, when it’s not as crowded as weekends. If you want to see more photos of Kew, or know more about the Gardens, take a look at my A Year in Kew Gardens series when I followed Kew through a whole year, recording the changes and highlights of each month.