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Italian food is without a doubt my favourite. When I was at primary school, I shared my class with a lot of Italian children and was lucky enough to be invited round to their houses for meals. Until then, the only spaghetti I had encountered came from a tin. Although we have some excellent and authentic Italian restaurants in the UK, it has been on my travels around Italy in the last five years that I've realised what I've been missing. Dining at the Casale le Torri in Ponsacco, Tuscany where there was no menu and no wine list. For three hours we were subjected to course after course of gastronomic delights, each course being explained to use by the owner whilst his wife and daughter cooked. The choice of wine was house red or white which came from the owner's own vine yard. Afterwards a trio played music whilst we drank brandy with the family and the rest of the diners until the early hours.
I posted a suggestion to dooyoo for Italian recipes as there wasn't one in the food category. My suggestion came back with the note "already suggested". I emailed dooyoo to say this wasn't so and the response I got read "We want to keep categories as broad as possible, for example we have categories for meat recipes, vegetarian, pasta etc. I am sure your delicious Sicilian recipes will fit under one of these". Well actually they didn't. I had previously contributed to veggie meals and as no meat featured in these, they didn't "fit" there either. The fact that my suggestion included a couple of dishes meant that the only category I could put them was under "speedy" as the recipes are quick and easy to make. I'm disappointed by this - there goes my suggestion for Greek recipes. So here goes for a quick Italian:-
My favourite pasta dish is also my signature pasta dish and takes me back to a little taverna on the beach at Milazzo in Sicily. Pasta alla Norma is very popular in Sicily and usually cooked with spaghetti although some restaurants choose different pasta. It is really easy to cook and I usually prepare the sauce a few hours before, which leaves only the pasta to cook when we are ready to eat. The recipe does involve aubergines which can be messy but don't worry because like Delia, I cheat.
Pasta alla Norma
This menu serves two as a main course or four as a starter.
500g small tomatoes or a 500 g can of a good quality.
1 small red onion chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic gloves
¼ teaspoon of chilli powder
A handful of fresh basil
A 100g of ricotta or gorgonzola cheese crumbled
Ground black pepper
400g of pasta
And for my cheat. 1 280g tin of cooked eggplants in oil. I buy Palirria. These can be bought at Tesco for £1.29 per tin.
Method for the sauce
1. Fry the onion in the oil
2. Add the chilli, garlic and tomatoes
3. Pour in the can of aubergines and chop whilst in the pan
5. Add the pepper and half of the cheese
6. Before serving add the basil
When preparing in advance, I stop at number 5. When I'm ready to cook the pasta, I heat the sauce at the same time. Once ready, drain the pasta and turn into bowls and cover with sauce. At this stage top with remaining cheese and a couple of basil leaves to decorate.
I particularly like this dish with gorgonzola as it gives it a subtle bite.
Bruschetta with a difference
Bruschetta is a great starter or served as a canapé and again is simple to make. The toasted bread which is often topped with chilled chopped tomatoes, onions, olives or pesto really gets the taste buds going. In the Tuscan restaurant I mentioned earlier, we were served bruschetta with fresh figs. It was wonderful and here is my version which serves four:-
You will need
4 thick slices of country bread
2 garlic cloves halved
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling and brushing
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
8 ripe figs
Shavings of Parmesan cheese
To make the bruschetta, grill, toast or pan grill the bread on both sides until lightly charred.
Rub the top side of each slice with the garlic.
Drizzle with oil and keep warm in a low oven.
Take the figs and make two cuts across each one, not quite quartering them and keeping it intact at the base. Ease open and brush with balsamic vinegar and oil.
Place the figs down side in a frying pan or grill pan and cook for around three minutes. Alternatively you can place them under a hot grill until they begin to brown.
Put two figs on each slice of toast, sprinkle with parmesan shavings. Drizzle with olive oil.
And finally for a simple dessert dish, Italian ice cream served with a tot of amaretto liquor on top. If you don't want the alcohol, serve with a couple of amareeto biscuits.
Lounge Ten is a restaurant in city centre Manchester. Its name doesn't suggest anything out of the ordinary. Although housed in a listed building in a Tib Lane, the red brick facade does not give anything away either. As the door was opened for us, we were in for a surprise. The person who greeted us asked for our names and took our coats, instead of the usual raffle ticket in exchange; we were given a playing card (the king of hearts). The interior is a mixture of bright red ceilings adorned with more playing cards, faux gilt and black velvet chairs. As we were shown to our table, I noticed the erotic artwork and the naughty candles.
Having arrived before our friends and feeling a little windswept, first stop for me was the ladies, except there were no "ladies" to speak of and the loos turned out to be unisex. The large double doors were open and inside a very spacious room with chairs and settees. On one of these was a magician shuffling a pack of cards and on another a lady with a sign on her table which read "Mary, clairvoyant" They both smiled and said hello before I went into one of the two cubicles. Thankfully there were no urinals. As I went to wash my hands, I met the person with the most boring job in the world. As I approached the sinks, a young woman turned the tap on for me and I discovered that this was indeed her job for the night. As I was washing my hands (I did this all by myself!), a fellow diner entered the room. This guy was obviously a regular because Mary knew him and asked "Hi Ashley, how are you doing?" I couldn't help but smile to myself, surely as a clairvoyant she should know. Returning to our table I passed the boudoir which is a private dining room and had to do a double take. The handle to the door was in the shape of a large penis and I wondered whether the term "door knob" had been misinterpreted. I was feeling a little giddy with my discoveries so far and I hadn't yet touched a drink!
When I returnes to the table, our friends had arrived and I related my findings. We ordered our food and I was happy to see that Spotted Dick didn't feature on the menu. A little later, the magician appeared at our table. He performed a couple of excellent card tricks and was about to start his third when our starters arrived. He said he would be quick but after a couple of minutes was still at it. I decided that my double baked goat's cheese soufflé with toasted almonds and parmesan cream required eating before it sank into a sloppy mess. He got the message, made it snappy (pardon the pun) and moved on.
All four of us enjoyed our food and we had all chosen different meals. The fare is described in the blurb as "stylish and indulgent" and I suppose this about sums it up. My soufflé was delicious and melted in the mouth and hubby enjoyed his salmon fish cakes. Starters and mains both had a selection of poultry, red meat, fish and vegetarian and a reasonable time was allowed between them. The courses were well presented and easy on the eye as well as the tum. Most of the puddings were nice and light. Starters averaged at around £6, mains £16 and puddings £6. Wine from £20. Sample menus can be found on the restaurant's website www.lounge10manchester.co.uk.
During the evening we enjoyed some pleasant vocals from a female jazz singer. She wandered around the different levels but never to the individual tables. Apart from several renditions of "Happy Birthday" Marilyn Monroe style, the music was subtle and provided background music rather than cabaret. After our meal we had another visit from the magician. This time his tricks involved small soft balls. Again they were excellent and he himself very entertaining and witty.
On my final visit to the toilets, the clairvoyant was reading a guy's palm. I don't know whether this service is free but I didn't see any signs regarding prices. Maybe she received "payment in lieu".
This is probably one restaurant review where the emphasis hasn't been on the menu. If you were to take away the entertainment I would have spent more time waxing lyrical about the food which was delicious. Lounge Ten however is very unusual; in fact it is quite unique. For all its red decor, plush velvet and erotica, it isn't at all seedy. Having said that I wouldn't take children although they are catered for with smaller portions and if I had any prudish friends (I don't) I wouldn't take them either. This is a great place for small groups; couples wanting a romantic evening may find the magician a little intrusive.
The service was excellent throughout our three hours, the lady on the tap duty however highly unnecessary. Maybe this was a subtle way of ensuring that everyone washed their hands. You know what they say about peanuts and crisps at the bar!
Highly recommended for a great night out.
The Drunken Duck is an Inn with rooms and is situated a couple of miles from Ambleside town centre in the Lake District. I had seen a report on the local news when a reporter stopped off for lunch and thought the place looked interesting. During the early May Bank Holiday, I decided to check it out. We are fortunate enough to live within an hour and a half's drive from the South Lakes and had chosen one of the few sunny days of the year. We parked up in Ambleside to check out the map. The place looked very remote, so we set our trusty sat nav. A fifteen minute drive along pretty, winding country lanes brought us to our destination. Now we hadn't seen one car on our journey and I was half expecting the place to be shut. I couldn't have been so wrong, the place was a hive of activity and we had difficulty parking even though the place has two car parks.
The pub itself is very small and wonderfully traditional; however I didn't like the stuffed fox which was mounted on the wall. The pub boasts original 19th century beamed ceilings which are decorated with dried hops. The floor has the original stone slabs. The Duck has its own brewery, Barngate and attracts people from all over. The bar area and the pleasant outdoor seating area was busy with hotel guests and walkers who had stopped off to enjoy a Cat Nap bitter or a Westmorland Gold. The barman looked disappointed when I ordered a diet coke and half a Guinness for my hubby. The pub serves excellent pub grub. We enjoyed a wonderful ploughman's lunch made up with local cheeses, homemade bread and chutneys. They also prepare unusual packed lunches which appeared popular with the ramblers. There is also a dining room serving up a full range of meals and on this occasion all tables were booked.
After we had eaten, we called in at reception to enquire about rooms. We were looking for a place to stay for hubby's birthday and as this was my treat, I asked for the best room. I was advised this was "The Garden Room" and I booked it there and then. We were fortunate that hubby's birthday fell on a Monday because the hotel was booked up to November for most days. As we chatted to the receptionist, we learned that the Inn got its name in Victorian times. Apparently the landlady at the time found her ducks motionless outside the pub. Thinking they were dead she decided to cook them; she made up a pan of orange sauce and began to pluck the first one. This woke up the duck. Apparently not dead, but very drunk, the ducks had found a leaking beer barrel and had consumed its contents.
September 15 and we set off once again. Not so lucky with the weather this time, a grey day with a light drizzle. Rooms are available from 3pm and we arrived just after. We were shown to our room by the manager, back out of the building and through a courtyard. We entered a very light hall with lots of windows, shelves packed with books and board games, antiques and a large basket of fruit. Our room was up a flight of stairs. All rooms have their own distinct personality but I don't think any could have beaten the one we had. When we entered the garden room, I was instantly in awe. Floor to ceiling windows to the front of the room looked out on to rolling landscape and the Langdales. A further patio window at the side of our room lead on to our own private balcony. This overlooked the wonderful garden and large pond. I watched a field mouse as it ate from the windfall of an apple tree whilst a small rabbit feasted on a dandelion leaf. Well this is Beatrice Potter country and this was just like a drawing from one of her books. It just needed Jemima Puddleduck to complete the scene.
The price of a stay includes afternoon tea and guests can choose whether to take it in the residents' lounge, the garden by the pond (when it's not raining) or in their room. With such wonderful views, we decided to stay in our room. Afternoon tea consisted of tea or coffee of your choice and four warm homemade scones with jam and Cumbrian cream. Hubby chose Earl Grey and I, breakfast tea. All tea is loose leaf and therefore came with a strainer. The scones were delicious but we couldn't manage them all which was I shame. Next time we go, I'll pass on lunch.
Our very large room consisted of a king-sized bed with crisp white linen, an antique wardrobe, dressing table and floor to ceiling book shelf packed with novels and reference books particularly of the area. Personal touches included a fruit bowl, a jar of homemade biscuits and a large bottle of water. There are no tea making facilities, but drinks can be ordered at any time and are complimentary. A radio, TV and DVD player complete with a choice of over a hundred films to borrow took over a corner of the room.
The bathroom had a stand-alone bath and a shower cubicle big enough to fit an entire rugby team. In it was a very invigorating power shower. I noticed that the water in the loo looked a little yellow and wondered whether a previous guest had not flushed it. I learned however that the Duck has its own water supply which is housed in a large purpose built tarn on the fell side. By the time it reaches the bathroom, it has undergone various filtration and purification processes. It is pale peaty in colour and has no added chemicals or chlorine, however the odd bit of sediment might find its way through. Although a little worn looking, two bathrobes hung on the door and we had more than enough towels for our stay. The toiletries are supplied by Arran Aromatics; a family owned business and extra bottles and gift boxes can be bought at reception.
After a soak in water resembling a good malt, we dressed and went down to dinner. Large umbrellas are supplied throughout the hotel as the layout means that most guests have a short walk to the restaurant. There are a few rooms in the main building.
We had a pre dinner drink in the bar before being shown to our table. I was surprised to see how bust the place was for a Monday evening in the off peak season. The atmosphere was warm and merry, walkers enjoying a relaxing evening after a day out on the hills together with folk like us who had done no exercise whatsoever. We were served with a complimentary cup of cream of leek soup, I was glad I had not ordered soup as a starter. Most of the food is locally sourced and the bread is homemade. The menu is an adventurous take on tradition favourites and there is a decent selection for each course. Hubby's Morecambe Bay Shrimps came in a very large jar and were perhaps too much for one as a starter. We could have easily shared this course. I had an unusual but delicious starter of baked custard with figs and wholemeal shortbread. We both chose fish for mains which was beautifully presented. This we washed down with a bottle of champagne as we were celebrating his half century (birthday that is). Starters averaged at around £8 and mains £18. Our champagne cost us £37, wines started at around the £20 mark. The wine list is accompanied by in depth descriptions to help you choose. With no room for pudding or coffee, we returned to our room.
After a peaceful and extremely comfortable night's sleep, we showered and went to breakfast. The morning newspaper we had ordered when we arrived was waiting for us outside the door to the restaurant. We ordered our tea and were given the breakfast menu. The freshly squeezed orange and raspberry juice made for a refreshing change as did the granola, yoghurt and fruit coulis. There was a range of hearty options including the full Cumbrian breakfast and a comforting looking veggie option. For those who preferred fish, there was smoke salmon or kippers. To finish the toast and homemade preserves were delicious.
Rooms at the Duck start from £150; this includes breakfast and afternoon tea for two. Ours, the Garden Room cost £250, but then we were celebrating a special occasion. I would love to go back, but I would want the same room. I don't think that I have been wowed by such a view when staying in England. It doesn't matter what the weather is doing when looking out on England's green and pleasant land, whether it's covered in snow, rain or basking in sunlight, the view is atmospheric.
I thought the Duck catered very well for the area's inclement weather. Excellent reading material and board games together with the vast selection of DVDs, even those not in awe of the views could not be remotely bored. The food and accommodation were excellent. If I have one criticism it would be that I found the service to be a little cool by some members of staff and even a little brusque by one. When I asked for extra water with my breakfast tea and it didn't arrive, I asked again. The reply "I know, I haven't forgotten" was somewhat unwarranted. That aside, this is somewhere I would highly recommend.
A few hundred years ago sea captains and their crew lived in caves, places that had been cut into the rock face looking out on to the Caldera in Santorini. You can still see the remains of them if you visit the island today. The Hotel Mystique of Santorini bought 18 of these caves to convert to suites and several have been put to use in the running of the hotel. It was in one of these caves that I spent my week on Santorini.
Arriving at Santorini airport we were met by the hotel's driver, Andreas holding up a sign bearing "Mystique" After shaking our hands, he loaded our luggage on to a people carrier. Once inside he invited us to use the refreshing wipes and small bottles of water situated in the arm rests. From then on we began our half hour journey. Andreas explained the area as we went, telling us about the Santorini grapes, the black volcanic beach and so on. When we arrived we were met by Georges who took our luggage and showed us to reception which was down a couple of flights of steps built into the cliff. Here we experienced our first cave. Cream on the outside and snow white within, I couldn't help but be overawed by this place. We were greeting by Antonia, the hotel manager and given two glasses of champagne. Georges took the luggage to our room while Antonia gave us a guided tour of the hotel. Glasses in hand, we followed her down more steps until we were in the rock face and looking out on to the Caldera. It was just starting to get dark and the view was magnificent.
The alfresco dining area, the Charisma had tables in a prime positions looking out on to the volcano. Our breakfast which was included in the price would be served here. The restaurant was also open to hotel guests only for lunch and dinner at an extra cost. Behind the Charisma, we found the "secret" wine cave, a place to enjoy a pre dinner drink and where wine tasting sessions were held with the hotel's sommelier.
The Mystique offers a selection of suites; we had chosen the smallest and therefore the cheapest, the vibrant suite. All suites have a king size bed and adjoining living space. Our cave was wonderfully furnished in white and cream and the use of driftwood. The open plan living space and bedroom consisted of a media centre cupboard which housed a large plasma screen TV and CD player. At the side of that a very well stocked mini bar. In front of the three seater cream settee were two white coffee tables in the shape of boulders. Cream lampshades with driftwood bases provided ample and soothing light. The headboard too was made of driftwood. Two double white wardrobes containing extra pillows, duvets, fluffy bathrobes, slippers and generous hanging space also house the safety deposit box.
The bathroom had twin sinks, large mirror and a hydro massage tub and power shower. As well as a large selection of the usual toiletries, there was a drawer containing shaving packs, sun creams, manicure and vanity sets, toothpaste and brushes. There were plenty of thick towels and a pair of bathroom scales.
By the time we had showered and unpacked, it was nearly 9pm. For our first night we decided to eat in the hotel. The hotel prides itself on its gourmet restaurant and the food was wonderful but very pricey. A two course meal with wine and water came to 150 Euros. The view however was priceless.
After a sound night's sleep, we went for breakfast. This became one of the highlights of the holiday for me. Breakfast was al la carte and you name it they had it. A range of home cooked bread, croissants, muffins and pastries, fresh fruit, wonderful muesli and pancakes. The hot food included delicious Greek omelettes and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and champagne. Every day we enjoyed fresh fruit smoothies and juices. Breakfast was served from 8am until 11am. I could easily have sat for the three hours sampling the goods whilst drinking in the view. The bathroom scales remained untouched for our duration! Throughout breakfast and the course of the day, we were served by Panos, the head waiter, Angelika, a young girl from northern Greece and Dora, a Polish lady from Krakow. I have to say that I have never come across such pleasant and obliging staff in all my travels. In degrees hitting the lowers forties, they worked extremely hard and their standards never faulted.
All the rooms have sitting areas and their own sun beds but these were covered overhead by awnings. Having had such a bad summer here in the UK, I wanted the sun and to feel the heat. We decided to sunbathe by the pool. This was the only disappointment; the infinity pool was only small and felt crowded with five or six people in it. There wasn't much space around the sun bed area either and the beds were too close for my liking. After a couple of hours, the couple on the next beds decided to put up their umbrella. The umbrellas were huge and covered the beds either side. We were soon in the shade. Later in the day, I called at reception and asked if our awning could be taken down and within half an hour it was. From then on we sunbathed on our own private terrace.
Because of its romantic setting, the majority of the guests in the hotel were honeymoon couples from North America. They chose the hotel because of its "exotic location" and they tended only to stay two or three nights, moving on to Athens and Crete. We on the other hand stayed a full week and by that time were very much at ease with our surroundings and felt we had known the staff a life time.
Check out time was 12 noon but this was easily extended another couple of hours to tie in with our flight home. There was no charge for this. When it was time to leave, we went to say our goodbyes to Panos, Angelika and Dora. I took their photographs to remind us of our wonderful stay, something I haven't done before. It was a sad farewell.
The cost of this holiday was not cheap. We had wanted to visit Santorini for years and when I saw this hotel in a brochure I thought it the ideal place to stay. It has the best view on the island and this holiday was a birthday present to my hubby who happens to be celebrating a big one this month. The hotel belongs to The Luxury Collection, but we travelled with Aegean Island Holidays. The cost of our cave for a week and flights came to just under £3,000 for the two of us. The picture at the top of the page doesn't do the hotel justice; please take a look at the website at www.mystique.gr or www.luxurycollection.com/mystique.
This was a unique holiday and one I will never forget.
Thanks for reading,
Fred and Wilma Flintstone
Update June 2009
Since writing my review, the hotel has bought more caves which have been turned into super bedrooms and work on the pool has made it much larger.
I have just spent a wonderful week on the Greek island of Santorini (known as Thira to the Greeks). The island is one of the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean. The first inhabitants arrived from what is now western Turkey around 6000 BC but history proper begins 3000 years later when an early Cycladic culture emerged. The islands came under the influence of Crete and Akotiri on the island of Strogole. Santorini became the most important cultural outpost of the advanced Minoan civilisation based on Crete. In 1600, the volcanic eruption devastated the outpost, leading many to believe that Santorini is in fact, the lost city of Atlantis. The Caldera is the volcano's summit and when it exploded, it created an 8 mile crater which was flooded by the sea. The effect is stunning. An earthquake in 1956 destroyed everything on the island.
Our base for the week was in the northern village of Oia (pronounced eeya). Oia is a fascinating place. Pristine white houses are built into the side of the cliffs and overlook the Caldera. Strict building regulations ensure that there is nothing unsightly to spoil the line of vision. Cars are not allowed into the centre which is fortunate because hoards of visitors fill the pedestrian thoroughfare by day. Most only depart after witnessing the mystical sun sets by the Venetian fortress which is situated at the end of the walk way. Walking here, you have stylish shops and galleries to the right and views of the Caldera to the left. If you are here around sun set, expect to be caught up in the nightly pilgrimage.
Dining out in Oia is expensive especially in restaurants with good views offering good seats to witness the sun sets. We only found a couple of traditional tavernas; the rest served more cosmopolitan food. Although the food was generally of a very high quality, a starter averaged around 18 Euros and mains 25 or 30 for fish. Most only sold Santorini wines and the cheapest we found was 26 Euros a bottle. Only in our hotel did we find other European wines and we didn't see retsina anywhere.
The island's capital, Fira is 8 miles away. A lot larger than Oia, this bustling place receives boat loads of people every day from Athens and neighbouring islands. Here you'll find a maze of cobbled streets selling local produce, oils, soaps and pottery together with dreadful tee shirts and tat. More art galleries and a splendid museum displaying Cycladic art and many finds from Akrotiri. Away from the town, there are some great coastal
Dining in Fira is cheaper than Oia. More moderately priced restaurants can be found in most streets serving good, wholesome food. Wines however remained expensive.
There are a couple of other resorts, one being Kamari which we passed through and which personally I would avoid. It has a black sandy beach and thousands of sun beds. With lots of bars night clubs and an open air cinema, it seemed far too noisy for me. Fortunately it hasn't succumbed to high rise hotels.
A "must do" whilst on Santorini is a boat trip around the Caldera. It is only when floating above the submerged volcano, that the uniqueness of the island makes itself felt. The trip takes on a kind on eeriness as the boat winds its way through the waters of the crater. Last year I walked on Etna and this year I floated in the Caldera, both completely different experiences. From the boat Fira and Oia looked splendid, magnificently perched on cliff tops.
The other hot spot I would recommend is the walk to ancient Thira. The uphill walk to this post eruption city that emerged in the 9th century BC took us about thirty minutes. Here you can see the results of excavations from the 1890's revealing an early settlement which survived for over a thousand years. A theatre, temple and the remains of a market place are the main attractions. The views from here highlight the barrenness of the island. A brown landscape with very few trees and little foliage surrounds the airport. The only interruptions to the dullness are the dots of blue provided by hotel swimming pools.
We usually hire a car when holidaying in Greece but from Oia we were only a short taxi ride to most places. We picked up a leaflet for a coach tour Santorini which included a whistle stop tour of the island and lunch. As we were reading the leaflet over cups of coffee, we were approached by Constaninos (Costa), a local man with a passion for Santorini. He offered to take us around the island the following day in his car for the same price as the tour company (40 Euros each). We shook on it and he arranged to pick us up at 10 am the following morning. This bulky, 6ft 3in man arrived ten minutes early in his new Nissan Micra. This day out was the highlight of the holiday. It was Costa, who said we should visit ancient Thira and he took us as far as his car would go, but he didn't accompany us on the walk, "I have bad knees" he said. He took us to small villages stopping off at a family member's house for iced tea; we visited monasteries where he knew the nuns personally. I admired their gardens and they gave me seeds to bring home and plant. A stop off for lunch at a family restaurant was just wonderful. The small fish which looked like whitebait had been caught by the owner's son that morning. The owner's wife grilled them in oil and lemon and served them up with tomato balls (an island special), stuffed aubergine and a Greek salad. She then presented us with fruits from her garden as a gift, water melon, grapes and apricots. From there he took us to a wine tasting session. Although closed for a couple of weeks, "I have contacts", we were given a private tasting and a tour of the place which still treads its grapes.
During our week's stay, we saw most of the island and it is well worth seeing. For sceptics who say that all Greek islands are the same, I defy them to visit Santorini. Its position looking out on to the Caldera makes it unique. Although Greek, it does things its own way. Locals promote Santorini wines and food. The island even has its own salad, the Santorini salad. This differs from the Greek version in that small cherry tomatoes are used along with feta, capers, anchovies, green leaves and topped with a caper dressing. Pomegranates also feature largely. The strange thing I notice was the lack of cicadas, although we saw a few, the island was quiet and almost uncanny. With few trees and little fauna there were fewer insects and I'm happy to say no mosquitoes. Not one bite from this holiday!
Having seen all those photographs of Santorini with its white churches with blue roofs, I now have my own. I took more photographs on this Greek holiday than I have on any other. Although it has its touristy bits, on the whole Santorini is breathtakingly beautiful and unashamedly sophisticated.
Santorini was the second Greek island I visited this year, the first Skopelos was completely different.
There are flights from most UK airports to Santorini and regular boat from Athens and other Greek islands. For more information contact Ionianisland holidays.co.uk
Cheese, it's just so versatile. Hot or cold and with numerous varieties, there must be thousands of cheese recipes. Starters, mains or a replacement to a pudding course, not to mention sandwiches and cheesy snacks. Unfortunately my favourites are the full fat ones. Brie and Camembert are just to die for. Where would we be without it? (A lot thinner probably!) Here are a couple of my favourites:-
Cheese and Lentil Loaf
This is delicious served hot or cold. It makes a very warming winter supper and is a refreshing option served cold and sliced on a summer salad.
175g red lentils
12 fl oz of water
110g Cheddar cheese
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 fist full of fresh parsley chopped
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 large egg
3 tablespoons of single cream
Salt and pepper
1 oz of butter
1. Rinse lentils thoroughly and cook in a tightly covered pan with the water for around 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes to see whether you need any more water. The mixture should look like a stiff puree.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the grated cheese, chopped onion, parsley, cayenne pepper and lemon juice. Season to taste.
3. In a separate bowl lightly beat the egg, stir in the cream and then pour over the lentils.
4. Grease a 1Ib loaf tin with the butter and press in the mixture.
5. Bake for around 45 minutes at gas mark 5, 375F (190C) until the top is golden brown and the mixture feels firm to touch.
If serving hot, let the loaf stand for 10 minutes in the tin before turning it out. Alternatively serve cold with a salad.
I find the perfect salad accompaniment for this dish is:-
Green Salad with three cheese dressing.
1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced lengthways
½ a cucumber sliced into rings
A bag of salad
A handful of water cress
1 tablespoon of chopped chives
Place all ingredients into a large salad bowl.
For the dressing
100g Stilton cheese
100g cream cheese
1 tablespoon of runny honey
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon French seed mustard. (I use Maille for this)
Ground black pepper
The easiest way to mix this is in a liquidizer, but I sometimes blend it by hand for a chunkier dressing.
Pour over the salad and toss well.
Other cheeses may be used, but for best results I would recommend that you use a blue. It works very well with Gorgonzola and Brie.
When hubby and I had to travel to Bridgwater in Somerset on a business trip, my first job was to check out hotels. Having googled the area, I came up with The Walnut Tree, a three star Best Western Hotel. Although there were several hotels in the area, this was the only one that met with our criteria of having a car park and somewhere to eat. I rang the hotel and was given the price of £127 for an Executive double room which included breakfast.
From the outside, the hotel resembles a large pub. Freshly painted and adorned with hanging baskets and pretty gardens, first impressions were good. We were checked in by two very pleasant receptionists who gave us there undivided attention. There are no lifts and to get to our room, we had to take a ramp and then a small flight of stairs. Everywhere looked newly carpeted. Our room was a large one with plenty of wardrobe and drawer space, ample lighting and appeared to be very clean. The usual tea making facilities (no fresh milk), TV, trouser press and hair dryer were there for our use. Our bed was a large double.
The bathroom was a little tired looking. Although recently tiled, the sky blue bath, basin and loo were all a bit dated. There was also a sign posted at the side of the bath advising guests not to use the "old shower". Although a new shower had been installed, the old box and controls remained of its predecessor? Adequate toiletries including a vanity pack were on display along with a selection of towels. No bathrobes or slippers here.
The hotel has two eateries, a bistro and a restaurant. To get to them, you have to cross a very pretty indoor courtyard containing a number of plants and water features. The walls leading to this display a number of old photographs of the hotel which make interesting viewing. There has been an Inn on this site since 1620, when it was called The King's Arms. In 1924, it was known as The New Inn. Various changes were made and in 1897 it was renamed The Clarence Inn, in honour of Queen Victoria's son, the Duke of Clarence. The photographs are fascinating and add to hotel's character. I hadn't realised at the time of booking just how old this place was. It was a pleasant find. Furthermore, the courtyard was where coaches and horses gained access and were used for funeral corteges by the beautiful church across the road. Walking through the hotel's corridors was like taking a step back in time, the place was steeped in history. After further extensive alterations, the 33 bed roomed inn was renamed the Walnut Tree Hotel in 1980.
We decided to dine at the bistro and were surprised to find that we were one of only two parties. The menu consisted of four choices per course. Excellent fare at an unbeatable price of £11.50 for 2 courses, another £2.50 for three. Wine started at around £12 per bottle and was also available in a couple of glass sizes.
It was only when we returned to our room that I realised there was no air conditioning. On a very humid night, I didn't sleep too well even with the window slightly ajar.
Breakfast was served in the very pleasing restaurant. The starters were self service. The choice consisted of individual packs of cereals, a bowl of fresh fruit salad, bowls of tinned prunes and grapefruit. There was also a bowl of fresh whole fruit, yoghurts and croissants. The main breakfast was cooked to order. The list to choose from was endless and included kippers and smoked salmon. I enjoyed two perfectly cooked poached eggs and hubby said the same of his boiled version. The toast was freshly done and hot. I hate cold toast when it's not meant to be.
Check out was smooth and by the same helpful staff who had check us in.
The AA has awarded this hotel three stars and I'm going to do the same. The hotel was adequate for our needs and judging by its corporate facilities would be good for businesses to use. I doubt that I would stay for leisure purposes because of its location. Although it is set in the semi rural area of North Petherton, there really isn't a lot to see or do either here or in Bridgwater. Taunton is only 8 miles away and with all its amenities, I feel that would be the better option. We were there on Sunday night and apart from a couple of other guests and Nick Knowles and his SOS DIY team, the hotel was very quiet. Maybe Nick could have done something to improve our bathroom too! I have to say though that the staff members were all extremely pleasant from checking in, dining and room servicing. So unless I need to go to Bridgwater on business again, I can't see me returning.
Comparing this to my recent stay in a London hotel, I don't think the room rate was value for money. There were no little extras and nothing special. For a little more in money terms, I got a lot more in a central London hotel.
Other information - the hotel is entirely no smoking. Notices in the rooms state that up to £100 will be added to the bill for anyone caught smoking. This is apparently to cover extra cleaning requirements.
A couple of years ago I spent two nights at the Crowne Plaza London St James. My husband was there on business and not being one to pass up on a freebie; I took a couple of days leave and tagged along. Because my husband had such a heavy schedule, he didn't appreciate just how good the hotel was overall but he did comment on the well appointed board rooms, the very good corporate lunch and the excellent staff service. I on the other hand was able to digest the lot. I was so impressed that I made a mental note to return on our next leisure trip to the city.
Last month, I checked out the hotel's website with a view to booking a room for a couple of nights. I was having difficulty with my computer and decided to ring the hotel direct. There is a central number for Crowne Plaza reservations but experience has taught me that if you can speak directly to hotel staff you get a better service. The receptionist was very helpful and her advice on types of rooms available very useful. I had requested a standard no smoking room, but she explained that that standard rooms were only allocated on arrival. The last time I spent a night in a smoking room, it stank of cigars as did the bed linen. Picking up on my vibes, the receptionist asked me to hold the line. A few seconds later, she informed me that she had upgraded my room and allocated me a no smoking superior room for the same price. My experience had paid off.
The hotel is a traditional 4 star deluxe and is situated in Westminster. On Saturday we arrived at the hotel by taxi. The door was immediately opened by the hotel's door man and a porter appeared from nowhere to take our luggage. The reception was a little busy and it we had a wait of around 15 minutes. Our Brazilian receptionist was very pleasant and informative and apologised for our wait. She gave us directions to our room and only then did we realise that our luggage had been taken ahead of us and was waiting for us when we got to our room.
Our room had a massive bed, big enough for four people. It came with eight pillows and on both nights, I lost hubby amongst the snow white linen. There was plenty of space to house the television, desk and chair, dining table and chair, mini bar and ample clothing space. There was internet access, ironing board with iron and a hairdryer. The bathroom was of a good size but the bath a little narrow. The usual toiletries and plenty of towels were neatly displayed. Notice that I said table and chair and desk and chair. This was my only niggle. Although the room was large, it appeared to only cater for one person. If we had wanted to dine in the room, one of us would have to use the desk chair and the other, the dining chair. We wouldn't have been sat at the same level -a bit like Peter Kay's house on Christmas Day! Add to that, there was only one bathrobe and one pair of bathroom slippers. Tea and coffee facilities did not include herbal or fruit teas and came with UHT milk. I did ask for fresh milk and this was brought immediately. I stored this in the mini bar and it kept for the two days of our stay. I do wish hotels would provide fresh milk as standard especially when a fridge or mini bar is to hand.
The hotel boasts three restaurants, Bistro 51, Quilon and Bank. There are two bars, Hamptons which also serves snacks throughout the day and the very chic Zander Bar. On our last stay, we dined at Bistro 51. This is a very pleasant room, decorated in lemon and blue. The menu is extensive and includes meat, fish and vegetarian. There is also a set menu, three courses for £21 with a choice of three per course. On Saturday evening we decided to eat at Bank Westminster. This is a light and airy restaurant set in the hotel's conservatory and overlooking the Victorian courtyard. We were very fortunate with the weather and on this sunny evening, tables were set in the courtyard too. Surrounded by colourful bushes and beautiful flowers, we thought we would make the most of it and plumped for alfresco dining. Again the menu is extensive with a modern British flavour. Starters range from £4 to £7 and mains from £9 to £20 plus. Char grilled prawns followed by chicken with coconut and sweet potatoes and washed down with a very cold bottle of Pinot Grigio proved to be an excellent choice. We sat out until around 11 and reflected on our recent Greek holiday, having to remind ourselves that this was indeed England.
On our last night, we booked a table at Quilon, a south Indian restaurant which is adjacent to the hotel. We had met with some vegetarian friends and having looked at the menu, this looked like a well chosen venue. When dining with veggie friends or family, we also eat vegetarian. Most dishes priced at around £9. I ordered steamed asparagus spears "tempered with olive oil, mustard leaves and fresh grated coconut". The other three all ordered the mini Masala dosa, thin rice and lentil pancakes "filled with tempered potatoes, served with sambar" For our mains we chose four dishes to share, potato and cauliflower with fresh fenugreek leaves, mixed vegetable green curry, chickpea masala and a mango curry. I have to admit that this is one of the best, tastiest and interesting meals I have had in a long time. The service was second to none. At the end of the meal, I completed the little questionnaire and had nothing negative to quote.
Breakfast is served in Bistro 51 and was delightful. There was the full range of everything possible for an English/American breakfast. However, I didn't feel the need for cooked food and plumped for the healthier option of fresh fruit including figs, prunes and apricots, Bircher muesli and fresh orange juice. Danish pastries, pan au chocolat and croissants were also available.
There are spa facilities in the hotel and a gym, but no pool. I didn't feel the need or have the energy for the gym and although a spa treatment would have been nice, I didn't have the time.
We used the express check out service when we left. Our bill had been put through the door on the morning of departure and everything was in order. I did however complete the hotel's feedback form "Let's serve you better" and left it with the receptionist. I think my filling in questionnaire forms comes from years of working in customer service. It's very rewarding receiving compliments and 99% of my feedback was positive. We paid £155 per night for a standard room and breakfast, but the superior room we were allocated would have cost another £40.
I have been to London many times and stayed in hotels in most districts. This hotel is a gem of a find. The location is wonderful in that it's a quiet little oasis and yet within walking distance to Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. The walk to and from the hotel along the mall or through St James's Park is literally a breath of fresh air. Being claustrophobic and with the fear of underground attacks, I haven't caught the tube for years. Where I can, I walk and if it's too far, I catch a cab. Having walked my socks off throughout the day, it is very convenient to be able to take a relaxing bath or shower and choose one of the excellent hotel restaurants or opt for the 24 hour room service. On both occasions I have found the staff to be charming and very helpful. Unless the service and standards drops, I shall be using this hotel for all my trips to London.
Just received my post and received a very nice letter from the hotel. The Rooms Division Manager states "the points you have raised have been shared with the team here at CP. We hope to have fresh milk in the mini bar by the time you visit us again" I've also received an email from Quilon thanking me for my comments and offering me 10% off my next visit - how's that for service?
When the directions to our villa included"pass a chicken coop and some turkeys on your right" and "watch out for goats round the following bend", I knew we were back in Greece!
The first of two Greek holidays this year was a fortnight's stay on the island of Skopelos. To get there we took a three and a half hour flight from Manchester to the neighbouring island of Skiathos. Depending on arrival time, the next part of the journey is by ferry or catamaran. We struck lucky and ten minutes after collecting our luggage we were on board the faster option, the catamaran. The ferry also docks at Alonissos and Volos on the mainland. After thirty minutes,first stop Skopleos and the approach by sea was the perfect introduction to the Sporades.
Skopelos is known locally as "the island of reefs", so called because of its many offshore islets and rocks. Its spectacular craggy coastline hides secluded bays, narrow inlets and beaches, fringed by pine forests that are one of Skopelos's defining features. Unfortunately major fires swept through the south of the island in March and destroyed large areas. Driving along the roads here, the sight of blackened trees takes on a sad and eerie atmosphere. Where the pine forests end, the olive groves and the orchards begin. Apparently every fruit tree can be found on Skopelos, but plums are the island's speciality.
The island's eponymous capital, Skopelos Town is a busy small port and harbour on the south and has a spectacular bay. This place has lots of character. The hustle and bustle of restaurants and cafes along the front are shaded by huge mulberry trees, behind these, narrow flower filled cobbled streets with classy boutiques and shops selling handmade jewellery. Add to that the wonderful pottery and local craft shops and galleries, it's a haven for shoppers. Unfortunately some of the shops do sell tat and statues of Greek Gods with erections abound everywhere. In complete contrast, there are over 120 Byzantine churches to explore. These can be mainly found in the old town which is a designated preservation area. White washed houses with trailing bougainvillea, pots of geraniums and sleeping cats make for an obvious camera shot.
Just beyond the town, Mount Poaliki is home to the Church of Evangelista, which clings to a rocky hillside. It boasts a huge, impressive gold plated altar originating from 14th century Constantinople. The island of Skopelos has over 360 churches and monasteries, nearly enough for one every day of the year, but this one is definitely worth a visit. Most of the relics from other churches have been stolen, are locked away or housed in museums in Athens. This monastery still houses all its original artefacts which are on show under the watchful eyes of two ninety year old nuns. Ninety they might be, but they gave us the hard sell. They make various items included Greek Delight, coasters and jewellery. The Greek Delight was delicious and we purchased a large bag. The monastery enjoys magnificent views over Skopelos Town. We were lucky enough to share the view as our house was on the same mountain.
Glossa is Skopelos's second town. It is the northernmost village on the island and sits proudly on a stunning position high over the sea. Ruins here date back to 400 BC alongside more recent remains. It has a selection of tavernas, a couple of churches, a bakery and a couple of shops. Glossa is a complete contrast to Skopelos Town; it doesn't have the hustle and bustle and is therefore ideal for those wanting a quieter base. It is completely unspoilt (no tat here), a picturesque village that simply oozes charm. Glossa is linked to the coast by the small harbour of Loutraki, five minutes away. This is a great place to stop for lunch. Here we enjoyed a Greek salad at Flisvos restaurant where the tables were only inches away from the sea.
Nearby Agios Taxiarchon is also well worth a visit as is the amazing Gourouni Cape at the most northern tip of the island. It is home to a very handsome lighthouse. Feeling a little hot in temperatures in the mid thirties we stopped for a dip at the beautiful and natural beach at Perivola. We were the only people on it.
The coastal drive from Skopelos Town to Glossa is a wonderful journey. The road is good and takes you through many little villages including Panormos which has one of the most beautiful beaches on the island, a peaceful village with waterside tavernas. , Agnondas too, with its beautiful bay and excellent fish restaurants.
***An Unwanted visitor***
There is an abundance of wildlife on Skopelos including three different types of lizard, stick insects, preying mantis and pine martens. I always made sure that our car was secure wherever we parked. On a second visit to Glossa, the air conditioning on our little Hyundai was hardly effective on a day that saw temperatures rise to 36 degrees. Hubby against my wishes decided that it was safe to leave the car windows open - there is little or no crime on the island. Returning to the car after lunch, I went to throw my bag on the back seat. Curled up underneath and sheltering from the mid day heat was a rather large snake. What to do now? It was sleeping, but not for long if we disturbed it. Sitting close by was an old man. I had noticed him when we parked up; he was drinking coffee and playing with his rosary beads. In broken English, he told us how he had seen the snake crawl into the car and had not seen it leave. He told us that it was a whip snake and that it was harmless. Carefully, with the use of a stick, he picked it up. With the snake still sleeping he placed it onto a grass verge. We couldn't thank the old man enough; he however had found the whole situation very amusing. Did he place the snake there I wonder? Needless to say the windows remained closed for the rest of the holiday - one to the wife!
***Walking on Skopelos***
Skopelos is a walker's paradise. There are many marked trails and routes. With its varied landscapes, it provides a perfect walking environment. The island is criss-crossed with mule tracks, some cobbled, goat tracks and dirt roads. You can spend hours without seeing a car. Guided tours are available and there is plenty of information in shops and information centres. We spent a couple of hours rambling through the abundance of olive groves and plum orchards that are strewn all over Skopelos's fertile land. The fruits are fundamental to the economy. Whilst idling away a pleasant afternoon, we came across some handsome old farmhouses known as "kaliva" We were given plums, figs and apricots by the locals. We also watched as they dried out plums to make prunes and were given a prune liqueur to help us on our way. Even if you haven't made a packed lunch you won't go hungry with all there is on offer. There are fresh water springs all over the place to fill up empty bottles so you won't go thirsty either.
A short drive from Glossa on the east coast brings you to the picture postcard monastery of Agios Ioannis. Perched high on rocks that jut out into the Aegean Sea, there are over one hundred steps to the church which overlooks a delightful small cove. This is the church used for the wedding in the film Mamma Mia. Skopelos was the main island featured in the film; other scenes were shot on Skiathos. The natural beach of Kastani also features a lot. A jetty was built to accommodate scenes for song and dance routine "Dancing Queen" To look at either locations; you wouldn't know that anyone had been there. Indeed at Agios, we were the only two people there. A lot of the locals were used as extras and are looking forward to its release next week.I subscribe to a Greek magazine and when I returned home the August edition featured Mamma Mia and Skopelos. I was surprised to read that three of my favourite restaurants, Annas, The Garden and Perivoli had all been frequented by Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep. During our two week stay we became very friendly with the proprietors at all three and never once did they mention their famous guests. This is typical of the Greeks; they enjoy the moment and then get back to normal. There were no photographs on display and no signs.
Skopelos was my first visit to the Sporades and did not disappoint. Ithaca, last year set a bench mark for Greek islands. Although not as beautiful as Kefalonia or idyllic as Ithaca, it is a very pretty island and it is very green. The vast pine forests were something that I had not encountered before on Greek islands. Although you could get a Greek Salad in all the restaurants, not all served moussaka or souvlaki. There was a more cosmopolitan theme to the food. Plums and other fruit featured greatly. Pork and chicken both stuffed with prunes and apricots or plums served with yoghurt for breakfast or pudding. The usual complimentary ouzo was replaced by free puddings. Never have I eaten so well in Greece. Accommodation ranges from rooms to small hotels. Everything is low key and there are no high rise buildings.
Because the runway is so short, the aircraft can only carry a little fuel. This means that a stop on the main land to refuel is required. Because we needed further clearance, this added another hour to our journey.
It might have taken a three and a half hour flight plus a ferry crossing but it was well worth it. I'm already looking at other islands in the Sporades for the future but I already have the next couple planned.
Next stop Santorini!
Having friends over for dinner, I had prepared a starter and a time consuming main course. Not knowing whether folk would have room for pudding, I decided to buy something ready made. I didn't want anything frozen and have to frantically defrost. Marks and Spencer have a range of wonderful fresh desserts and it was on one of their counters that I found Vanilla Cream and Wild Blueberry Tart. It had a good use by date and I knew that if it didn't get eaten after the meal, it would the following day or two.
The tart consists of three layers, pastry base, blueberry compote and finally vanilla cream. To look at, it resembled crème brulee in a pastry case. Although feeling full, when my guests saw it, they wanted it.
The pastry base is made with all butter. It was very short and crisp and reminded me of good quality shortbread. It melted in the mouth.
The filling of blueberry compote contained whole blueberries. It was of a delicate consistency and not that of processed jam, which you often find in many sweets. Although it contained sugar, it wasn't overly sweet and the addition of lemon juice gave it a nice contrast.
The topping was made from Madagascar vanilla cream, double cream, milk, free-range eggs and vanilla bean seeds. It was exceptionally creamy and had a wonderful natural vanilla flavour. It tasted like home made fresh custard made with fresh cream and the texture was perfectly smooth. Together with the caramelised syrup glaze, it could have been a dessert on its own.
Individually, the layers were all delicious but the combination of high quality pastry, succulent filling and a mouth-watering topping was orgasmic.
As it was nice and light, it made a perfect pudding course. I had bought cream to serve with it, but it didn't need it.
The 530-gram tart cost £4.29. This easily served six and I couldn't possibly have made it for that price. Although I cook and bake a lot, I am never able to get my pastry this short. It also saved me a lot of time.
The tart needs to be served chilled and preferably straight from the fridge. It isn't suitable for freezing. Not all the tart was eaten at once but it remained fresh for two days after first being cut into. I had expected the pastry to go soggy, but it didn't. I would definitely buy it again.
350 calories per 100g and 12.8 grams of saturated fat.
Although the Manchester branch of Gaucho's has won various awards including Manchester Food and Drink Festival Restaurant of the Year 2007, friends have given it mixed reviews. The feedback had been from one extreme to the other, some absolutely rave about it and are regular diners while others are not impressed and have not returned. I'm not a big red meat eater, preferring fish and white meat. The last time I ate a steak was well over a year ago but after reading larsbaby's excellent review on Gaucho's in the Netherlands, I thought it was time to pay a visit to Gaucho's Manchester.
Because this is a very popular restaurant and because I wanted a booking for a Saturday evening, I made my reservation some weeks ago. What I hadn't realise was this was the night of the Ricky Hatton fight and Manchester was heaving with large parties of blokes enjoying a pie and a pint before the event. We arrived at the restaurant at 7.15pm for our 7.30pm booking and checked in at the reception, which is in a foyer, away from the bar and restaurant. When I had made my booking I had been asked for my first name as well as my surname, which I thought was a little unusual. The very pleasant receptionist then asked a member of staff to "take Lorraine and her guest to the bar" and I though this was a nice touch.
I had seen photographs of the inside of the restaurant in local press articles. I remember thinking that this light and airy place was the kind of venue that I prefer. I was disappointed to find that the place had been recently decorated and the white walls replaced by dark brown to match the flooring. It was dimly lit and the only contrast came from the chairs, which were backed, in white and brown cowhide, a reminder of what was on the menu. If I had wanted to choose a drink from the menu I would have had to take it outside, as I couldn't read a thing. Fortunately I had studied the menu on line and keeping in touch with the Argentinian feel, decided on a pre dinner Margarita.
Fifteen minutes later we were shown to our table. The contrast in the dining area was very welcome and very light The small thin entrance corridor opens out to one of the most spectacular interiors in Manchester; a former church hall split into two levels and joined up with staircases and a wonderful stained glass roof.. The upper area is know as "the stage" and consists of individual tables. The lower level has individual tables to the centre and bench tables on its outer. My heart sank when hubby and I were shown to a bench table next to a party of eight very loud men. We hadn't planned on a romantic evening but I did want to hear ourselves speak. The topic of conversation was the boxing and what they were hoping to get out of it. Not very pleasant I have to say. When the waitress arrived to introduce herself, I pessimistically asked whether we could have another table. A few minutes later the head waitress came, having found us a table on this very busy evening. I was impressed and able to relax.
We were given the menus and an explanation on the food and how it was cooked and a complimentary course of Argentinian bread, cheese bread and a wonderful herb and oil dip. The cheese bread was delicious and looked similar to a small scone with warm cheese in the middle. I commented on how tasty they were and the waiter brought us a second helping. He then returned with a selection of cuts of meat and explained how they were cooked and the sizes they came in. Choices of rump, sirloin and fillet or the Churrasco de lomo, a marinated 300g spiral of grilled beef fillet, marinated for 48 hours in lime and herbs from Argentina. There are fish dishes, a variety of salads and a couple of vegetarian options, but I was here to have my yearly fix of meat and I plumped for the Churrasco at £19 and hubby a 300g fillet and £23.50. The steaks come with either chips or salad. Side dishes vary from £3 to £5.75 and sauces between £2 and £3. The waiter advised that my choice was best left alone, but hubby chose a blue cheese sauce with his. Having thoroughly enjoyed the bread and oil, and witnessed the size of the meat, we decided to forego a starter.
I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, although the lack of steak knives was a little unusual and would have made things easier. My medium steak was cooked to perfection and melted in the mouth. I couldn't manage it all and hubby helped me out after finishing off his "well done" fillet.
The wine list is really interesting to read - covering 140 Argentinian wines with a good explanation/ description to each one. Wines start at a little over £20 per bottle up to £40 plus. Three different kinds of Argentinian beer and a number of cocktails are on offer if you can see the menu to choose. We didn't finish our bottle of Terruno and were given the remainder as we left, stopper dutifully replaced.
There is a choice of around half a dozen sweets plus cheese but I only saw one table partaking. With wonderful bread and popular Desperate Dan sized 400g steaks leaving the kitchen, I would have been amazed if anyone had asked for anything else other than the bill.
At last I can tick off the Gaucho from my list of eateries. Would I go back? If a was a keen red meat eater, this is a place I would frequent, but as I'm not, I'll probably return in another 12 months for my annual fix. If I return before that it would be to try out either the Grilled Spatchcock Chicken marinated in lemon and lime chimichurri or the Patagonian Seabass with aubergine chutney.
Gaucho is a small chain, having a number of outlets in London. It has won awards for its impressive South American steaks. If you are a fan of great hunks of steaks slapped on to a charcoal grill and cooked to your liking, you'll be more than happy here. Despite being a chain, one thing that stood out at Manchester's Gaucho was the high level of service. From the very friendly meet and greet at the reception, the waiter we nearly had who arranged our table swap and the one we had. Despite being a very busy evening, the level never dropped. Members of staff were friendly, willing and worked their butts off.
The kitchen, which is on full view to its diners, appeared to be spotless, as were the loos. ( I inherited this from my mother!)
Open every day 12noon to midnight
Full disabled access.
I've given Gaucho's Manchester four out of five stars. I've dropped one star due of the lack of light in the bar area, which made the drinks menu impossible to read and was hard on the eyes and also for the lack of steak knives.
For menu, price and outlets visit www.gaucho-grill.com
Some years ago, I read a book by Ruth Rendell in which she mentioned that the main female character was wearing "Gardenia by Jo Malone". At the time I wasn't familiar with Jo Malone perfumes and so the next time I was in Manchester, I decided to check out the counter in Harvey Nichols. I discovered that the perfume is actually called Vintage Gardenia. It was a warm, sunny day and I was immediately lifted by the floral combination of gardenia and tuberose with cardamom, sandalwood and myrrh. This captivating blend was an instant winner and I bought a bottle there and then. I continued to wear this for special occasions over the summer months.
The following year a friend of mine bought me a bottle of Jo Malone's latest perfume, Pomegranate Noir for my birthday. This is a very sophisticated perfume and was inspired by a red silk dress and the intriguing character of pomegranate. It combines pomegranate with raspberry, plum, pink pepper and patchouli and frankincense to create a very sensuous and intoxicating scent. For me this was another winner from Jo Malone.
Now possessing two Jo Malone perfumes with the wow factor, I was curious to check out more and was overwhelmed by the range. The perfumes are divided into six categories: -
Light Green Floral
I didn't know here to start and then I noticed a Fragrance Combing Set, which consisted of six 9mil bottles of different colognes that can be used individually or combined together. The cost of this set £52, which I thought very reasonable and so I bought it. Combining perfumes was completely new to me but with my new purchase, I was ready to experiment. The combination set consisted of Amber and Lavender from the spicy range, Grapefruit and Lime Basil and Mandarin from the citrus range, Pomegranate Noir from the fruity range and Orange Blossom and Blue Agava and Cacao from the floral range. I have to say that all these perfumes smell wonderful on their own. Jo Malone does give some tips on combining, but really the buyer is encourage to find a mixture to suit them. In other words you can design very personal cologne not only to suit the individual, but also the occasion, the weather and the outfit. Grapefruit combined with Lime Basil is really refreshing and great to wear during the day. I've discovered that Pomegranate Noir together with another new purchase, White Jasmine and Mint is intoxicating and great for evenings. So far this is my favourite combination but my experimentation goes on.
Of the six categories, most contain three or four perfumes. At my last count there were nineteen perfumes and I am in possession of nine. I adore White Jasmine and Mint on its own too. It's clean and refreshing and very, very elegant. Each time I visit the store I make sure that I'm not wearing perfume in order that I can test and smell the ones I don't have. Red Roses is one that I think should be worn on its own. It does indeed small like a garden of fresh red roses.
The bottles come in two sizes, 30ml will cost you £30 and 100ml at a cost of £59. I don't think this is expensive and Jo Malone is in fact cheaper than some more popular and run of the mill perfumes. Jo Malone also has a range of body lotions, bath oils, and shower gels, shampoos and conditioners as well as luxury candles and home scents. The combination technique can be used by applying one kind of lotion or bath oil and then using a different perfume. Jo Malone provides a gift wrapping service and all items are wrapped in black tissue and come in matching bags and boxes. Jo Malone is only sold in some major cities. In Manchester there are counters in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges but all items can be bought online. For nearest stockists or to buy online go to www.jomalone.co.uk
I have never been so excited about a perfume collection. The ones I own and the ones I've tested all have the wow factor. My aim is to possess all nineteen. The perfume is long lasting too. I can spray in the morning and still smell it by evening when the scent is still fresh and not stale as some perfumes would be. Because I can design my own distinct fragrance I can't see myself buying anything more than Jo Malone for the foreseeable future especially as she is adding to her collection all the time with at least one new perfume a year.
I highly recommended Jo Malone perfumes, worn alone or combined, the number of combinations are endless and you can have lots of fun in the making. The candles are a little expensive but smell divine and last a long time. Enjoy!
We've been enjoying some lovely weather lately and that seems to have made a difference to peoples' moods. Folk are wearing shorts and summer clothing and there's a definite smell of barbecues in the air. Today I sat in my garden having lunch, I do enjoy dining alfresco. It reminds me that my long awaited Greek holiday is within sight. So with spirits lifted, I gave some thought as to what exactly makes me happy. Hear are a few in my little ode.
New born lambs
And the arrival of spring
Hearing the dawn chorus
And the blackbirds sing
Stepping off a plane
And feeling the heat
A walk on the beach
With sand at my feet
In a Tuscan sun
The sound of cicadas
When the day is done
Warm Greek seas
And skies bright blue
Sitting at a taverna
With an ouzo or two
A long hot bath
With pampering treats
Getting into a bed
With fresh clean sheets
The smell of coffee
The taste of tea
Hot buttered toast
With marmite for me
After cleaning my teeth
Check with a grin
To see that no spinach
Has been left within
Posing for a photograph
To the words "smile please"
We respond automatically
With another word "cheese"
More muscles are used
When we smile so they say
From one Cheshire cat
Have a nice day!
P.S. I do live in Cheshire but I don't have a cat!
The weather forecast for bank holiday was not looking good. Time to get my thinking cap on and come up with somewhere to take our visiting friends that would not be affected by the inclement weather. Then I remembered a recommendation by my sister; Salts Mill in Shipley, Yorkshire, about an hour's drive away.
The mill is a thriving centre for art, industry and commerce and it all started with Jonathan Silver and the 1853 Gallery. The gallery so called because that was the year the Victorian Mill was originally opened for manufacturing fabrics. The mill closed down in 1986 and lay derelict for a year until bought by Silver. He opened the gallery to the public in the autumn of the same year. He wanted to create a permanent exhibition of pictures by his long-standing friend, local boy, David Hockney.
On arriving at Salts Mill we found ourselves drawn by the music into the 1853 Gallery on the ground floor. The music being opera which suited the mood of the surroundings. Having crossed an enormous doormat, with the words Illingworth Morris and Co stamped we were met by some of Hockney's early work. Dating back to art school, etchings such as the set of illustrations from Grimm's Fairy Tales. There are lithographs like portraits of many of his friends and photomontages of landscapes and people. I have to admit to not knowing a great deal about Hockney's work, but what I saw, I liked very much. Silver was also a collector of Burmantoft ceramics from the local pottery in Leeds and much of this is on display. Each floor has a shop and this floor sold a fabulous range of artists' materials, art books cards, and stationery.
The second floor houses Salts Bookshop, an enormous collection of art and travel books and a wonderful display of children's' books. There is a special area for Tin Tin fans, which pleased my husband, no end; a space rocket full of Herges adventures sent him into his second childhood. Copies of original books like The Secret Garden, Rupert and Enid Blyton's Famous Five all beautifully illustrated were my favourites. Exclusive to the bookshop is a range of over 100 David Hockney posters. Beautiful reproductions of Simon Palmer's Saltaire Paintings are also available; the originals are on display later in Gallery 2 on the same floor. Now carefully restored they have pride of place in the History of Saltaire Exhibition. Here you can learn about Sir Titus Salt's mill and model village from 1853 to the present day.
The third floor houses one of the mill's three eateries, Café in the Opera. Lovers of fish and seafood dishes can enjoy lunch here with a glass of wine or two. This is a very interesting and colourful place. The café walls are like a stage set and are designed by Hockney. Scenes from "The Magic Flute", "A Rake's Progress" and "La Rossignol" are wonderfully original and classic Hockney The lighting and wonderful flower displays by Opera Florist make this a magical place and the service was excellent too. Opera Florists sits next to the café and the wide selection of tropical and unusual flowers and displays are on sale to the public.
Other areas worth mentioning - Zebra in the basement stocks everything from uniquely designed hand made rugs, furnishings and colourful fabrics with an African feel. Home - sells luxurious, bizarre and expensive items for the home. Everything from bath oil, kitchenware and furniture. I needed a new ladle but I soon but it back on the shelf when I read the price of £62! There is also a small gallery selling hand made jewellery by Kath Libbert. If you want something a little unusual, you're sure to find it here, but again at a price.
I mentioned Café Opera where the price for a fish lunch will set you back around £10 plus drinks. There is also a diner serving pasta, pizza and meat. We grabbed a panini and coffee in the Expresso Bar which also served home made soup, cakes and pastries as well as traditionally brewed dandelion and burdock, ginger beer and lemonade.
When you come out of the mill, it's worth a stroll into the village of Saltaire. Although we had planned for a rainy day, it was warm and sunny and a walk through the pretty park and along the canal was very welcome.
There is no entrance charge to Salts Mill and parking is free. Disabled parking is right outside the gallery and there is a ramp up to the entrance and lifts on every floor. The mill even provides the loan of a wheelchair.
Salts Mill is a great place to visit especially on a rainy day. The art and book sections should interest most children but this isn't a hands on gallery and younger children may well be bored. It is however great for adults wanting something a little different. I can now recognised the work of Hockney and I think he's ok!
If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend you visit!
The Radio Times (RT) has been around a long time and has seen many changes. It was first published in 1920 and is so called because the nation only had radio at that time. It wasn't until 1936 that we saw our first TV broadcast, which saw the first change to the Radio Times in that TV listings were included. As there was no ITV or BBC2 until much later, listings only included BB1. That said, programmes only ran from 3pm until the final programme, which was the news at 10pm. 1955 saw the launch of ITV and subsequently, the TV Times, which covered all ITV listings.
It wasn't until 1991 that both magazines saw sense and decided to print TV listings for all the current channels. For several years before this I had my own home and was buying both magazines at a cost of 50 pence each. Time to ditch one of them and I chose to keep with Radio Times. I had several reasons for this but the main one being that I found it to be of much better quality than its rival in content and quality of paper. Well I'm still buying it and here are some of the reasons why.
The Radio Times comes out weekly on a Tuesday and lists programmes from the following Saturday to Friday. The cover is always eye catching and is based on a recommended programme for that week. For the past couple of issues, characters from Doctor Who have been featured. In its history, covers have included the Beatles and Elton John and have ranged from The Simpsons to the queen. The next couple of pages are really useful and consist of RT recommendations, all seven days highlighted with between four and six choices per day by the RT panel. These usual feature one off dramas, the return of old favourites, important sporting events and documentaries not to be missed.
Apart from TV listings special features often go behind the scenes of costume dramas, special effects as in the make up of Doctor Who and any of the gore that may go with it. This week's edition had a fascinating interview with Claire Tomalin, the biographer of Jane Austen concerning the adaptation of Jane's life shown on Sunday evening. This article gave great insight to Miss Austen and is typical of the excellent material found in RT. Although RT is still associated with the BBC, it remains unbiased in its coverage of ITV programmes, The Bill, Coronation Street and Pushing Daisies all feature heavily in the current issue. Each day's listings are preceded by several reviews and unlike the RT Recommends, these include negative reports as well as highlighting the use of strong language, sex and violence. All the programmes on terrestrial channels carry a brief description as do the films on all channels including Sky, digital and cable and all special sporting events whatever the channel .The latter part of the magazine is given to radio and any unusual programmes are highlighted. It covers all BBC radio stations as well as Virgin and local radio.
The last couple of pages contain one of my favourites. The RT has a fabulous crossword puzzle. I'm a bit of a crossword fanatic and the more cryptic they are the better. I find that it really gets the old brain cells working. Here are a couple of clues for you to have a go at: -
1. Circulator, one who used to like used to like farm vehicles? 9 and 3
2. Contemporary December 25th? 7 and 3
Answers at the end of this review!
The prize for winning the competition (first correct entry out of the bag) is usually a TV or portable DVD player or similar. I probably send off around one in three and am patiently waiting a win. Other puzzles include an enigma, general knowledge quiz and a super sudoku, sudoku being another of my favourites.
Other features include "Tips of the Week" with gardener Alan Titchmarsh. I read this each week and if any tips apply to my garden, I try to carry out what I think is great advice from Mr T. This week I went through my beds and borders, cutting back dead shoots in order to get plants ready for summer growth, others may need the advice he gave on gardens ponds, something I don't have. Next week I'll be tidying up the daffodils that finished some weeks ago. The last couple of articles include a readers' letters page, the best letter printed winning a digital radio. The final page, "One Final Question" is actually around ten questions put to someone currently in the limelight.
The cost of the Radio Times is £1.10, which I think is excellent value for money when you consider that in 1991 I was paying the same amount for both TV magazines. I find the quality of the paper superior to most of its competitors and the print easy on the eye. Recently I left it too late to buy a copy of RT and had to make do with an alternative. I don't wear reading glasses but I struggled to read the print and the colour game off on my hands, something that has never happened with RT. The Christmas bumper issue is always something I look forward to and this contains a full-page super crossword with a prize to match. I smile when I see colleagues returning to the office with this edition. They can be spotted on their breaks, highlighter pen in hand, marking off their not to missed TV. For some people this is the only time they contemplate buying RT. I on the other hand regard RT as not just a TV magazine but A very good read, providing lots of advice and the chance to get the brain working with its super puzzles. Talking of which, here are the answers to the crossword:-
1. Extractor Fan
2. Present Day