Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

15 May 2018

MAJORCA

Which is more tourist driven? The jam-packed high-rise sprawling Costa del Sol around Malaga, or the beautiful Mediterranean island of Majorca? We left the very crammed raffish Malaga airport to arrive in Majorca (equally raffish) to a sign proudly proclaiming 23 million passengers arrive each year and only 5% are locals. Oh dear. My heart sank.

Disclosure: We were in Majorca as my clever husband Murray had won a place in the Porsche World Cup golf finals. He’s not a great golfer, just lucky, so it was easy to grin quietly and give myself over to four days of generosity, hospitality and the sheer luxury provided by the German Porsche team. And that involved splendid dinners, staying in a luxury hotel, Castillo Son Vida, being driven around in brand new Porsches (they had shipped about thirty or forty brand new cars from Stuttgart for the event) If someone needed to accept playing companion during the tournament, I was happy to do that. Thanks Porsche!

But we did arrive a few days early to have our own exploratory adventures. It is indeed a beautiful island – we stayed in the centre of the main town, Palma, overlooking the ritzy marinas where the wealthy of Europe moor their palatial vessels, and enjoyed great views across to the magnificent cathedral, Le Seu, that dominates the waterfront. The local folk are as friendly as all the other Spanish we’d met on our travels and English is spoken everywhere. There’s great eating – tapas bars, markets, cafes and restaurants, and local fare and artisan food products are proudly embraced everywhere.

Palma has an elegant old centre, the Old Town, with narrow cobbled streets, some splendid shopping (I hate shopping actually) and comes alive at nights. It’s worth making the effort to venture out and explore the mountainous region that surrounds Palma to the north and west as the volcanic peaks and the roads carved through them are magnificent. Beware the roads are very narrow and winding, and filled with cyclists (the serious kind who wear lycra and cruise at such dangerous speeds that we were often overtaken, even while driving in a fancy little Porsche Boxter.)

And if you play golf, this is a great destination of golf courses, groomed to international standards. Towns not to miss visiting are the quaint Valldemossa village where Chopin famously lived with George Sand in a monk’s cell – it has a beautiful garden, Deia which is a small village in the most mountainous part, Soller and its port, which I would head back to in a heartbeat and stay at the Hotel Esplendido for a week, another western port, Adriano, and be sure to do lunch at the Porsche family owned Alcanar golf course at the most northern tip of Majorca, where you can overlook the pines and the old lighthouse.

Eating out tips: Quita Penas, Valldemossa was the closest thing I have experienced to passionate dedication to a local artisan driven menu. The place only seated eight people, served only a platter (that’s it in the pic)and for drinks offered a tumbler of refreshing red or white local wine, or water. That is all and that is perfect. And if you’re in Valldemossa pop into a bakery, Ca’n Molinas for their famous coca de patata.

In Palma eat at Ca’n Manolo for fish – a lovely neighbourhood restaurant that is simple and really friendly. Or go to Forn de St Joan in the Old Town for an eclectic menu of local specialties with some rather modern presentation. When your meals over pop into a lounge bar nearby, Abaco for a cocktail - you will swear you have arrived on set of a Fellini movie – the displays of fruit and decorations are completely over the top.

And best of all in Palma is a restaurant found in the hub of the Old Town and the shopping district, La Bodeguilla. I had the best croquetas to be found on my entire Spanish adventures and ate an absolutely stunning lunch of potatoes and octopus, followed by roast baby lamb with (more) potatoes and the freshest petite salade I have had in my entire life.

I am going to miss Spain.

12 May 2018

MALAGA

Often overlooked, Malaga is a truly lovely city in the south of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, probably only on many folk’s itineraries for the airport which is the gateway to the Costa del Sol. We drove on the Mediterranean Highway to reach the city from Granada and it was a notable drive. Notable for the spectacular tunnels and viaducts that were carved into and over the landscape, and even more notable for the sheer number of hideous highrise apartment blocks erected far from the sea. (We do not know how lucky we are in NZ!)

We stayed at the Parador de Golf Malaga, a 20 euro taxi trip from the city centre, and relaxed in sunshine, hail and fresh air (we were under the approach path to the airport but got used to that quickly.) The parador was almost halfway between Torremolinos and Malaga and it is an easy walk along the beachfront to some quaint fish restaurants and cafes on the beach. The golf course was excellent, as was the hotel restaurant.

Spanish hotel breakfasts are magnificent – everywhere hotel we stayed in had an extensive buffet of local specialities including jamon, cheeses, fruits, sausage and hot food, along with a huge selection of breads and the usual breakfast suspects like muesli and yogurt.

To explore Malaga, we took another Devour Spain walking tour. We met our guide, the knowledgeable Hannie, in the central Plaza Constitution and had her to ourselves for the Best of Malaga Foodie Feast & Cultural Tour. There was also a ‘free tour’ starting there with at least 100 people who had shown up for. Forget that! Like other Southern Spanish cities the buildings and culture dates back centuries with Romans, Moors and Christians successively stamping their mark on everything from architecture to food. Malaga however owes a lot to the Phoenicians who as far back as 800BC mined metal in the region, preserved fish in salt and brought grapes to plant here from Asia. The Romans brought the wine barrels and the Moors brought the almonds (yum), citrus fruits and spices that still predominate today.

Places to check out: Café Central where tourists eat outside and locals eat in. Great coffee and snacks. Don’t miss the Mercado Ataranzas where you can feast all day on wine, tapas and local specialties and buy all sorts of food from fish to vegies and spices. Pop into Antigua Casa de Guardia for a couple of glasses of wine served straight from the barrel and eat at Meson Mariano. The food is fabulous, no surprise as Mariano selects his ingredients daily at the market. If you like cars, don’t miss the Automotive Museum, (Museo Automovilistico) which combines some of the most collectible historic cars from 1900 to the eighties with fashion of those times.

Make sure you eat local specialties like the Moorish influenced albondigas in an almond and saffron sauce, and the fried custard (leche frito) with turo icecream.) I cannot emphasise enough how worthwhile and excellent those Devour Spain walking tours are. I learned so much about local food. The company was cofounded by James Blick, a kiwi who went to Law School in Auckland with my son. The tours are offered in San Sebastien, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Malaga. They are all culture and are very food-based and you must arrive hungry as they are truly generous.

www.devourtours.com

8 May 2018

GRANADA

If there's a city in the South of Spain not to be missed it's Granada.

The Alhambra! Magnificent in every way. Don't even think of wandering around without taking a guide, complete with commentary on history, art and gob-smacking treasure after treasure of architecture and design. Here is where every architect worth his salt must visit and so must every traveller. And those gardens - exquisitely tended to by a small army of gardeners. We visited on the 1st of May but my advice is to go about 3 to 4 weeks later in late May for viewing the most incredible planting of standard roses imaginable. We only saw healthy buds sprouting everywhere. Grrr.

Tours take about 3 to 4 hours and there's lots of walking.

At first glance the city is disappointing - endless blocks of nondescript apartment blocks but scratch away and you will find culinary delights and plenty of culture.

We attended a concert - in the Auditorio Manuel de Falla. Piano and violin with contemporary Spanish composition. So contemporary that we were completely baffled but good to experience the direction of Spanish music right now. I am not sure what Chopin would make of it. I did not buy the CD!

Afterward we visited composer Manuel de Falla's house perched high above the city. A tiny place immaculately preserved, right down to his piano, his bed and even the packets of cigarettes and the syringes for his drugs. He'd regularly held court with such folk as Picasso and Dali and some of their sketches and works hang on the walls.

This is a city to eat tapas and if you can find a truly local bar in the old city (such as BodegaCastanera or Bodega La Mancha) you will be given little plates of delicious tapas such as stewed mushrooms with ham or a plate of cheese to go with your drink. Otherwise head with all the city's visitors to Calle Navas and the surrounding streets for wall to wall tapas. The Taberna de Jam is the best bar I have found to enjoy a jamon tasting from Serrano through to Pate Negra jamon.

And if you're after a great neighbourhood bar and restaurant serving fish, you cannot go past Puesto 43. The meal there was so good we returned the next night for another dinner.

Many thanks to the gastronomic expert Pablo Amate for his guidance and generosity.

8 May 2018

SEVILLE

It’s essential to find a hotel in the old part of Seville. (The same could be said about almost every southern Spanish city.) Narrow winding streets were built to keep the hot summer sun out and to protect folk in the chills of winter, and they make for intrigue, ease of walking and prevent any traffic apart and scooters. Seville’s heart heaves with bars, restaurants and spacious elegant squares and all the attractions you will want to see are close by.

Essentials on the tourist trail are the magnificent cathedral, which tells the tale of the successive domination of the city by Romans, Moors and Christians, and is worth queuing to visit. Near the cathedral is the Alcazar, an exquisite historic building where all the merchants and seafarers passed through on their way in and out of Spain. A word of advice: if you’re planning a circuit or journey through the south, try to go to Seville before Granada as the beauty of the Alcazar is somewhat overshadowed by the grandeur of Granada’s Alhambra.

Also not to be missed is the Metropole Parasol, the largest wooden building in the world. It is constructed over two blocks and from the top you get a stunning view over the old city. (Pic above)

And of course the Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza is worth a visit and you may even be lucky enough to score tickets to a bull fight in this oldest of bullrings in all of Spain.

But most importantly, Seville has a great tradition of flamenco. We took Devour Spain’s Tapas and Flamenco Tour and it was top rate. I had no idea that this traditional passionate dance arrived with gypsies who had traversed eastern Europe and had originated in India. That explains the very important hand movements of flamenco. We went to an intimate theatre and were transfixed or an hour. No tacky ‘get up and dance’ in this intense show performed by to dancers, a vocalist and a guitarist.

Maestro Marcelino was where our guide introduced us to vermut classic – it’s now my new favourite drink. Artisan red vermouth from the barrel, poured over plenty of ice with a slice of orange. That drink and platters of typical tasting tapas – cheese, chorizo and other cured meats, a generous montadito (sandwich) with pork loin. Nearby is the Ines Rosales store where you can buy the crisp thin orange flavoured wafer rounds that are one of the most moreish snacks to have in the pantry. Also look for Bar las Teresas and spot the concise collection of ham carving knives on display that have been worn thin over the past two decades. Perhaps the best of all is a taxi ride from the old city centre to Eslava, a modern tapas bar where you will queue but will be richly rewarded by the most amazing modern tapas imaginable.

2 May 2018

MADRID MAGNIFICENT

Madrid is exciting – a sophisticated, friendly city where everyone from elegant elderly folk to young families meet at cafes, hotel and bars for drinks, chatter, meals and relaxation. It’s vast yet the city centre is compact and walking is easy. You will find traditional fare, cutting edge cuisine and see that like everywhere else hamburgers are being replaced by bao (Asian buns.)

Here’s a brief outline of suggestions based on a three day experience:

• Visit the Mercado de la Paz to check out the fresh food and get a bead on Spanish fare. In that market do not miss the Casa Dani cafeteria within the market for the best tortilla de patatas you will find in Spain – light, fluffy, yet thick and tasty. The other market not to miss is Mercado de San Miguel, magnificently recently restored and offering snacks and tapas. (pic - quick fix of chorizo in a cone in the market)

• Nearby visit Lavinia, a superb wine shop that stocks stunning Spanish wines, offers tastings, wine tutorials and has an excellent tapas menu to relax over.

• If you want to buy Spanish cult wines, go to Latintoreria in Calle Gurtubay – a wine cave that sells to top oenophiles.

• For dinner try Atlantico for Gallician seafood specialties and fine wine. Or the superb Castelados, where the bar decorations are amazing and the food totally delicious in a modern but approachable style. Or push the boundaries and eat Angel Leon’s plankton cuisine at Glass – the décor is so over the top modern and edgy it almost spoils the equally edgy food.

• Go into the older area of the city near the Royal Palace, into the winding backstreets and find a modern sourdough bakery café with preserved city ruins are incorporated into the clever décor. Santa Eulalia serves wine, excellent coffee, juices, cakes and their magnificent sourdoughs.

• Bars. Essential in Madrid if you are going to get to know the city. El Mollete is in Calle de la Bola is tiny and friendly and can’t be too bad if it is Francis Ford Coppola’s haunt when he’s in Madrid. La Venencia is an ancient sherry bar where the Socialists hung out and plotted. And you absolutely have to go to Casa Labra which has been serving tapas and beer or wine since 1860. Only three tapas are served, battered bacalao, croquetas, and preserved tuna topped with tomato. Perfect with the small glasses of beer most locals seem to order.

With thanks to Gabriela Llamas, and Mark Godden for some of their local expertise.

19 March 2018

THE RYOKAN EXPERIENCE - JAPAN

No cuisine on this planet exhibits as much careful design, attention to detail, focus on the seasons and the finest ingredients as Japanese restaurant cuisine.

The chance to explore the food and eat around Tokyo with 12 clever chefs, the 2017 finalists and ambassadors from USA, Australia and New Zealand was not to be missed. There were myriad meals, lots of delicious Ōra King salmon, fun outings, a little exercise (mostly of the karaoke variety) and one hell of a lot of rain. I never stepped out without an umbrella over my head the whole week.

But the ultimate experience for me came at the end of the trip when our bus arrived at Mikawaya Ryokan in the misty mountainous Hakone region, after a lengthy journey from Tokyo via an exceptional visit to an organic soy, miso, tofu and pickle manufacturer Yamaki Jozo in Saitama where we were treated to an outstanding vegetable lunch with everything local.

Here’s the thing about Japan. There is so much history and culture, and every single person is highly respectful and embraces that with passion. No-one should ever visit Japan without staying in a ryokan for at least one night for an immersion into this exceptionally unique cultural experience. And like many other traditional ryokans, Mikawaya is at least 130 years old with a long history of genuine hospitality.

On arrival at the entrance, shoes are removed and given to the welcoming staff, generally older women who have trained all their life to look after the ryokan guests. Little slippers are handed out, travellers are greeted with a refreshing drink and the customs, rules and expectations of the ryokan explained. It’s then off to the rooms, along dark mysterious corridors, where those slippers are left at the door for guests must never step onto the tatami mats with footwear. Beds are made up nightly with mattresses on the floor.

I’d stayed in ryokans on previous trips to Japan, and so I knew that travellers usually share rooms. A group of six or eight might get a large suite, while four or less would share a smaller one. It was unusual for such a large group as ours (28 people) to arrive and book in together, so obviously and luckily there was not a room large enough for the whole party.

A special feature is the onsen - a hot bath - and every ryokan has large shared baths, while some have rooms with their own private smaller bath. There’s ritual and tradition for bathing too, as women and men are separated and no swimsuits or garments are worn. Extensive washing of the body must take place before you plunge into the bath. It is a heaven sent experience and I managed to fit in four hot baths in 36 hours.

Ryokans offer dinner and breakfast (never lunch) as part of the room charge and Mikawaya’s cuisine was exceptional - kaiseki dinner of multi courses with Japan’s finest fare. Sometimes meals in a ryokan are served in the room, but our party had dinner and breakfast set for us at a very long table in the dining hall. We’d all changed into yukatas, a garment not unlike a cotton bathrobe, topped with a heavy linen jacket that you wear around the ryokan, to the onsen and to dinner. It is comfortable, relaxing and really democratic as everyone looks the same, so you’d never know who usually wears Prada or who buys their gear at Uniqlo!

That dinner was exquisite enough to write a book about. Every course is beautifully plated up for each guest and our menu ran from an introductory hors d’oeuvres platter to a hot pot with the treat of seasonal matsutake mushrooms, a sashimi platter with beautiful sparkling slices of fresh fish, a ‘boiled pot’ sweet lobster stew, through to a grilled pot – sizzling abalone steaks which were delivered to the table still squirming in their shells and then cooked on individual hot plates with sake and a heartattack sized lump of butter for each.

At that point many would be groaning but not enthusiastic chefs! I learned they can eat and eat and eat. We were only half the way through, as next each of us was given a stunning decorated seasonal platter that contained grilled barracuda, grilled shrimp, boiled chestnuts, persimmon and pumpkin, and a deep fried fish ball. Then came another highlight, some very thin slices of wagyu beef and tongue to be cooked shabu shabu style in steaming broth – rich, tasty and meltingly tender. You know you’re almost at the end of a Japanese meal when the rice arrives alongside a little bowl of pickles and some wonderfully comforting miso broth. And the finally a platter each of dessert – seasonal fruits, cake and a chestnut flavoured bavarois. Needless to say, lovely sake flights, large bottles of Japanese beer and a few wines went down with our dinner too.

I am not even going to begin to describe the intricate breakfast next morning. Another sensation of Japanese thought and care. But a word of warning. It can take some fortitude to eat pickles, rice and preserved fish at 8am, but they are delicious. Unlike the Western style breakfast offered that we thought we wanted on our second morning. It included a rather weird ‘ham and eggs’ accompanied by crunchy green salad, tomato sauce and corn kernels. When in Japan, do as Japan does!

29 October 2017

A HANGI 25 YEARS AGO

(In 1992 the NZ Guild of Food Writers invited Gourmet magazine’s food writer, Fred Ferretti, to travel from New York to Auckland for a week of feasting. To welcome Fred and his wife, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo we invited them to join the committee for dinner. We dug a hāngi pit in my backyard with the help of a couple of mates. Fred wrote this story for the much loved but now defunct Gourmet magazine and it was published in early 1993.)

"If you do not have manuka wood to burn, if you cannot get stones from a river, then you might just as well forget about having a proper hangi," Ruben Oneroa was saying one afternoon in a backyard in Auckland, New Zealand, as he watched wisps of smoke seep through a large mound of freshly turned soil and up into the leaves of the lemon trees.

We were in the yard belonging to our friends Lauraine and Murray Jacobs, in the Remuera section of Auckland, on an incline of Mount Hobson. Ruben and the Ihaka brothers, Daga and Dave (all three are Maori) had dug up the earth so that we might experience a true hangi, a tradition of those Polynesian first settlers of New Zealand, an outdoor feast with which they mark salient events in their personal lives and their history.

The stones that Ruben was talking about — between swallows of beer (another ingredient absolutely necessary for an honest hangi) and occasional tastes of green-lipped mussels lifted from a nearby barbecue — were of lava. "And you cannot have stones that have been in salt water," he said. "They will crack and split when you warm them. They will sound like guns. You have to have proper stones from fresh water. And manuka." Manuka is an extremely hard wood from the tea tree that burns slowly and with great heat.

Ruben, Daga, and Dave had excavated a rectangular hole about four feet by two and almost three feet deep and piled in it logs of manuka, which they ignited and covered with lava rocks. After two hours the rocks and wood ashes were removed and the hot lava re-bedded in the hole. On top of the rocks the men placed a tray of open metalwork onto which were layered, in ascending order, slabs of fatty pork; whole chickens; racks of lamb; jacketed potatoes; chunks of kumara (pronounced CUE-mara), a marvellous yellow sweet potato; and slices of pumpkin. The loaded tray was covered with lengths of linen, the linen with bolts of thick sailcloth, the sailcloth with burlap, and the burlap with the pile of loose dirt left from digging the hole. The food for the hangi thus "steams" under the soil, Ruben said.

The hangi, a culinary treasure, exemplifies much that is good about New Zealand's cuisine: its simplicity and lack of adornment. In my visits to Auckland and to Wellington I ate lamb and venison, grilled and roasted; fat mullet, kingfish, snapper, trevally, salmon, and tuna (all just pulled from the water, fish that tasted as fish ought to, whether steamed, panfried, or smoked); and thick pea soups with ham. I also ate fine vegetables and fruits — leeks, small sweet tomatoes, parsnips, tangelos, Braeburn apples, and "drinking nuts," which is what coconuts are called in the Saturday Polynesian market at Otara, near Auckland.

As we waited Ruben showed me an old lithograph in Lauraine’s kitchen, of an 1844 hangi wherein the Maori baked nine thousand sharks, one hundred pigs, and eleven thousand baskets of potatoes in a celebration of amity with new English arrivals to their country. "It was a major hangi," he said, "the kind we usually have to observe an important event like the accession or funeral of a leader, any occasion when we would have a hui," or important discussion.

Would we have a hui at our hangi, I asked?

"We are having one," said Ruben. "Have a mussel."

For about three hours, the buried food cooked, and then Ruben bent over the pile of smoky dirt, sniffed, and pronounced the food done. He and Daga and Dave shoveled the earth away and asked me to help shift first the burlap, then the canvas, then the linen. Finally the four of us lifted the enormous metal tray up and onto a table, where the meat and vegetables were sliced and served.

Into the night we ate pork, chicken, and lamb; softened potatoes, kumaras, and pumpkin; and all manner of greens and salads that others had contributed to the hangi. Moist and sweetly aromatic with the flavour of the kumara, the meats, tubers, and roots had cooked through perfectly. A glorious introductory hangi it was.

"You have learned a lot today, have you not?" Ruben asked.

Indeed I had. In the course of my afternoon hui, as the foods steamed, I had learned about lava rocks from fresh water and manuka wood; about the need for fatty pork to be the foundation of a successful hangi; that a little smoke will not harm lemon leaves; that good beer is necessary for the orchestration of a hangi.

"Good," said Ruben. "Now the haka."

A haka, he explained, is a Maori dance that concludes every hangi. To participate, one waves one's arms about while jumping from one foot to the other, up and down, back and forth, scowling and sticking one's tongue out to ward off enemies and unfriendly vapours.

"I'll watch," I told Ruben.

13 September 2017

SYDNEY AND SOUTH IN THREE DAYS

An impromptu trip over the ditch brought a little relief from spring rain and delicious opportunities to check out what Australian restaurateurs were up to. We weren’t out to hit high-end places, preferring to check out places that had been on a wish list for a while.

For the birthday boy’s celebration, we made a three hour trip to Rick Stein’s at Bannisters. The hotel the eponymous restaurant is in is perched on a cliff with great views over the ocean. It is, as expected, a goodie with a seafood predominant menu that pays homage to Rick’s international culinary travels. Little scallops in their shells, sweet little mussels, and Indian influences in the fish. The fingerling potatoes, roasted were superb. (Hey, but charging $2 for water in a hotel room that costs $495 a night is a bit steep.)

Next day the spectacular drive from Mollymook Beach to Bowral wound, literally, over a tree clad mountain range with steep gullies and beautiful views at every twist and turn. Kangaroo Valley is simply gorgeous, a small picturesque town in the middle of nowhere.

I’d been curious and eager to eat at Biota Dining in Bowral since acquiring James Viles gorgeous restaurant book two years ago. It is filled with stories of his local suppliers. The dining room, I suspect, is probably stunning at night, but at lunchtime is dark and flat. The food was lovely but no-one took any time to tell us those stories of the ingredients or explain the chef’s inspiration. Regardless, we loved the crisp salty school prawns, a sublime albacore and ruby grapefruit dish that tangled with avocado in the hollowed-out fruit, and then we got our fingers and chins mucky devouring a very tasty kingfish head.

And so to Sydney; no need to go into detail. Here are the recommendations after three days of judicious feasting:

• Saint Peter – in a simple Oxford St storefront, young chef/owner Josh Niland is showing Sydney (known forever for its seafood) just how to select, age and cook fish. Sit at a crammed table and eat sardines, tiny anchovies, just shucked icy oysters, or aged hapuka and perfectly cooked red emperor on a bed of buttery succotash, or any and everything else that comes from the sea. But fish and shellfish are only ever served if wild and sustainably caught. Only gripe was the really mean wine pour by the glass. I reckon they get about 15 pours from a bottle. So order a whole bottle!

• Fred’s – perfect. Yes perfect. A stunning room with a truly open kitchen, great wine list, and everything we tried was so damned delicious, obviously simple but cooked with thought. The snapper ceviche glowed with delicate marigold petals and herb tips, the lamb was amazing – rack and leg slices and the fish, a tranche of hapuka was perfectly cooked.

• Three Blue Ducks – always worth the trip to Bronte Beach. I have been before but the cooking is up a notch for this blatantly casual neighbourhood café. The special – a seafood plate- with spicy garnished oysters, delicate baked scallops in a radicchio leaf and a lovely marinated raw fish salad (pic above) made a perfect lunch. And we then ate a crisp chicken sandwich. If you go in daylight hours, take a walk around the corner to see the cemetery. It might be the most expensive piece of real estate on any coast given over to bones – you’d be dead lucky to end up in that resting area.

• Sydney Seafood Market – untidy, touristy, expensive but it’s not all bad. So much fun to see the many busloads of international visitors tucking into truly gargantuan seafood feasts, and to eat sparkling fresh oysters, delicious prawns and much more.

• Anason – the new area between Darling Harbour and the Bridge is known as Barangaroo and is filled with eating opportunities. This Turkish place serves up incredibly tasty food that’s cheap and delicious. The breads and dips (labne with burnt butter and chillies, a rich roasted hummus, etc) were moreish, the octopus oh so tender, the wild greens in filo and a cured salmon salad all lovely. And perfectly acceptable Turkish wine. The apple tea and baklava made perfect partners to end.

• Mr Wong – you can’t go wrong with their roast duck. At least 250 large ducks were drying at the back of the kitchen. We had a half portion with pancakes and I can see what the fuss is about. Deliciously crisp skin, flavourful duck. Also the dim sum are classy – try the crab and bamboo shoot crystal prawn dumplings in golden soup. It was the ultimate comfort food for the finale in this stunning magical place.

15 August 2017

LONDON

In all my years living and visiting London I tended to stick to areas I knew. My first flat was in Shepherd’s Bush, I had lived in West Hampstead and usually stay in hotels around the West End and Soho.

So it was timely when visiting the city that we branched out of our zone. A new hotel, The Ned, a much admired multi-million pound recent renovation of the old Midland Bank in the City of London was recommended so I jumped, thinking it would force me to venture into the East End. So glad I did.

The Ned is on Poultry (love the street names that hangover from the 16th century) and is a hotel of magnificence, filled with luxurious furnishings and action. The ground floor has restaurants and bars to suit all types and can only be described as a scene. Loved the Jewish deli and their matzo ball chicken soup at £3, drank cocktails at the bar with a live jazz performance, and the Sunday brunch in the foyer has to be seen to be believed. In fact you might not need to venture out. But we did.

Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant in Somerset House, Westminster has a daily changing, seasonal menu served in a beautifully restored light filled 19th-century drawing room within an old government building on the banks of the Thames. Her food is simple, fresh and clever. Loved her citrusy fish and great wine list.

We headed where I’d never been before to Typing Room, The Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, for Saturday lunch. The hotel is quirky, and the restaurant in the front serves a fantastic modern menu, which started with superb grainy IPA sourdough and Marmite butter! We ate our way through the degustation; my favourite dish was turbot, peas, green asparagus and lemon verbena.

That evening, the array of mezze at Honey & Smoke delivered to our table was almost overwhelming. This place, as casual as can be, was on my all-time wish list (just as Spring was) for I am a huge admirer of Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s Honey& Co book. The place did not disappoint – fantastic tasty Israeli inspired food and after the mezze, superb meats, tasty octopus and whole fish from the open fire grill. 216 Great Portland St, Fitzrovia, London W1

Everyone visiting Britain needs to have a pub meal so we headed back by bus into the depths of the East End to The Marksman at 254 Hackney Rd, Hoxton/Shoreditch. It was Michelin Pub of the Year and the food was terrific – fresh, cooked to order and a far cry from the usual pub pies and sandwiches. It seemed a bit scruffy in its old brick building but very welcoming and we ate upstairs, away from the bar where it was breezy and interesting with a choice of indoor or the terrace. I loved my brill with samphire.

Finally two tips: Borough Market near London Bridge is a must for foodies. Loads of fresh food stands, intriguing bars and cafés and brilliant shops like the Neals Yard Cheese shop pictured above. Do not miss the opportunity to have some of the best oysters in Britain while you’re at the market. And if you want a quick fix while you’re trundling around, the fast food at Leon is great. It’s mainly takeout but there are always a few seats in most stores which are absolutely everywhere throughout London. I still hanker for their South Indian Fish on Rice with fresh lime which I ate twice during my four days there.

13 August 2017

COOMBESHEAD FARM IN CORNWALL

We drove along winding country lanes to find Coombeshead Farm where we were booked to spend a quiet night before heading on to Bristol, Bath and London.

This place is the stuff of dreams once you get there - a comfortable old stone farmhouse surrounded by kitchen gardens, farm land with chickens and grazing sheep and an award-winning Millenium Walk that weaves its way through a copse of very English woods and surrounding meadows. Tucked into the northern corner of Cornwall, not far from Launceston, it is owned by Tom Adams, (a London chef known for his barbecue) and April Bloomfield (of New York’s Spotted Pig fame), and is run as a boutique country hotel where up to five couples are hosted each night. Dinner and breakfast are included in for a very reasonable 160 to 180 GBP per night per couple.

The atmosphere is welcoming and easy. Relaxing before dinner at an outdoor table over a gin and tonic was a cool way to meet the other guests. Such is the reputation of this place after only a year in business that most of the others were chefs (and partners) or industry insiders. The food supervised by Tom Adams and his partner Lottie is based on the modern approach of curing, fermentation and outdoor cooking over fire. All around the kitchen and dining room, various ferments were evident – lovely fruits, pickled, juices and more doing their thing for future diners.

Outdoors that evening we were served some pre-dinner exceptional ham and lardo handmade on the farm, bread crisps with thyme, honey and whey, and one of the simplest, most effective starters in the history of cooking – two fresh crisp lettuce leaves, plucked from the garden mere minutes before being served, dusted with dried miso powder. Bold!

Moving indoors to the communal dinner table we munched on through Adam’s exciting menu while we chatted with our companions about the wonderful world of food. Truly exceptional sourdough – you can enrol in bread workshops at the Farm – was accompanied by a parade of equally exceptional vegetables such as peas and cream, beetroot, kefir and parsnip, artichoke and sunflower, turnips and blue cheese and some very fine duck with gooseberry and sorrel. Our main course was a small tranche tender beef and to finish we had a dessert of nettle curds with rhubarb and pineapple weed. A wide selection of fermented juices and natural wines were offered, and thankfully, some more conventional wines too.

Next morning’s breakfast table was set with fresh strawberries from the garden, honey from the hives, jams from the pantry and yet more of that wonderful bread made in the kitchen. There were also house-made sausage and rillettes, and some fabulous pastries, straight from the oven.

Be warned, book ages ahead. I had an email from Coombeshead Farm this week, advising all Saturdays for 2017 are booked out but there was availability for five nights only until October!

If you are in the area, call, as you never know, they just might fit you in for dinner. Coombeshead Farm, Lewannick, Launceston, Cornwall PL15 7QQ