Empty nest syndrome, is it even a thing? And how do you deal with your strangely altered nest now the flock has flown and you sit bereft and disorientated like two turtle doves? Since veggie teen left for University, we’ve been getting used to doing things for two. Without even discussing it we’ve made a point of making sure we spend regular time together. One new routine, in our emptier house is to curl up on the sofas (KP, me and the dog) and catch up on a bit of telly a few nights a week. Poldark is shaping up nicely and while the plot is rather over-simplified and the acting a bit predictable, the costumes, sets, landscape and the smouldering Aiden Turner all look rather gorgeous. In this week’s episode the villagers down on the Cornish coast were all suffering from scurvy due to lack of vitamin C, until a generous (and beautiful) benefactor gave them a few crates of oranges.
The original gimlet cocktail was a tot of Navy ration gin with some lime cordial to prevent the sailors from being afflicted with the same disease.
While modern interpretations can include fresh lime juice, you can make a gimlet very easily by stirring together 50ml of gin, 10ml of lime cordial with lots of ice, then straining it into a coupe glass. Alternatively a 1928 description of the drink was: “gin, a spot of lime, and soda.”
Denzel, my bartender cocktail mentor, has devised rather cunning, if slightly more complicated, variation of a gimlet for this month. I challenge your mouth not to water as you read the description; it’s refreshing, sour with a touch of spice. The flavours are exotic, like the places the sailors might have visited, and contains plenty of scurvy-preventing fruit plus an aromatic herbal concoction that will make you feel like an alchemist of old.
So I can sit on my sofa sipping one of these, pretending to be Elizabeth Chenoweth or Caroline Penvenen in a gown and petticoats, glancing at swarthy KP quaffing a cider. Scurvy is prevented, the nest seems cosy, all is well. I’m not suggesting that turning to drink is the answer to missing your loved ones. Treating to yourself to something special and hanging out with your partner helps though.
Good health and sea-faring
Denzel’s inspiration for this months’ gin cocktail had roots in sea-faring and getting back to the land. The Caorunn gin he recommends is made with hand-foraged botanicals from rowanberries to blackthorn. As well as the aforemention navy gin rations, ginger beer originated in England in the 1700’s and was a fermented alcoholic beverage. Ginger beer even crossed the pond in the early days and antique stoneware bottles of Francis Drake Ginger Beer, which was made from 1867 to 1925 in New Glasgow Nova Scotia, are still around. Vice Admiral Francis Drake was born in Tavistock in Devon, where KP grew up and I spend part of every summer. We often visit Buckland Abbey, Francis Drake’s former home, where he may have plotted his navigation of the globe or his defence of the British Isles from the Spanish Armada.
You may have to plot making this in several stages but it’s totally worth it.
Yeghes da! (Good health in Cornish)
Sir Frances Drake Gimlet
45ml Caorunn gin
10ml coriander (cilantro) Bianco Vermouth*
30ml rhubarb and ginger cordial**
15ml fresh lime juice
15ml egg white
A coriander or flat parsley leaf to garnish (optional)
- Cocktail shaker
- Fine strainer
- Coupe glass
How to mix
Add all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously until ice cold. Then strain the cocktail using a ‘fine strainer’ or tea sift, into a chilled cocktail glass, to ensure a smooth and silky finish.
*To make the coriander (cilantro) Bianco Vermouth: add 25g of fresh coriander to 1/4 bottle (250ml) of Gancia Bianco Vermouth. Leave to macerate for 24 hours then strain. This will make more than the amount needed for one cocktail.
**For the rhubarb and ginger cordial: Dissolve 12 parts caster sugar in 12 parts rhubarb juice and 1 part ginger juice. Mix this with 0.5 parts of citric acid solution (i.e. 1 part of citric acid and 5 parts of water). If you can’t get citric acid (also known as lemon sugar in the Middle East) substitute lemon juice. The juice of one lemon is equal to one rounded teaspoon of citric acid. Alternatively there’s a recipe here (although I haven’t had Denzel’s approval on this one yet!)
What to do with your remaining coriander infused Martini Bianco? Make a herby Gin and French by mixing one part gin, one part martini and one part tonic water. Garnish with lime. You could also use it instead of white wine in a risotto. And the rhubarb and ginger cordial is an awesome addition to a glass of fizz.
What’s in your glass this month? Are there any other gripping series I should be watching? And how have you coped with a major life change? All tips appreciated.
Food tours are my favourite way to get to know a city and nowadays you can find them all over the world. Since my friend Arva dipped her toe into the food tour water here in Dubai, and then did the equivalent of swimming the Atlantic in setting up Frying Pan Adventures, the scene has grown and started to diversify. These three food tour companies show you what Dubai has to offer through an edible itinerary, in completely different ways. Book one, book all!
Frying Pan Adventures
My mouth had to open wide to enclose the crisp shell, I was slightly panicked about choking as my teeth descended on the crisp shell and a flood of spicy, sweet, sour water drenched my tongue. There was no way to swallow as the crunchy sprouts needed to be fully munched so my teeth did their work while my eyes watered and taste buds exploded in shock and pleasure. This was my first experience of pani puri, on my first ever Frying Pan Tour; I’ve been introduced to so many varied and diverse foodstuffs since then. Full disclosure, I have lost count of the number of Frying Pan Food adventures I’ve been on (no joke). Arva has invited me on a fair few to beta-test or just to experience a new one. I’m such a fan that I try to sign up every visitor to Dubai who stays with me so I can witness their discovery of such a different side of the city, plus I get the excuse to come along too. From being greeted by Moroccan chefs who stuck their heads round the kitchen door and ullulated their welcome before cutting our pastilla with a ceremonial sword to being invited into a religious ceremony, to the best bread hot from the oven eaten on the street, every time has been special. I even spent a big birthday taking my friends on a private tour.
Even if you’ve done a trail once before there are always some surprises thrown in as the Frying Pan sisters are continually looking at ways to improve the experience. For visitors to Dubai, I would recommend the Middle East Food Pilgrimage first as it covers a whole range of food from the region as well as giving an insider view into a parts of the city well off the beaten track. North India on a Plate and The Indian Express trail opened my eyes to neighbourhoods and food from a culture which has played such a part in the history of making the UAE what it is today. If Local Flavors : Shop, Sizzle, Savour trail is running, book it immediately; you get to visit the fish market with a veteran local sea-captain (he’s quite a character) who then prepares and cooks it for you. Farida and Arva are self-confessed ‘unabashed food history nerds in the city’ with an insatiable appetite for tracking down irresistible but authentic dishes.
For keen photographers, look out for the food and photo trails which are held in conjunction with Gulf Photo Plus. The evenings I went out in Bur Dubai and Deira during Diwali and Ramadan are some of the most exhilarating and unique experiences I’ve had during 16 years in Dubai. And as the complete antithesis of the belly dancing camps, watch sunrise up close with nature in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve ending with a picnic brunch (provided by Baker & Spice). Absolute magic.
Book a Frying Pan Adventure here.
And don’t just take my word for it – read A Food Lover’s Tour of Old Dubai by The Travel Bunny (just one of hundreds of positive reviews). Read more about when I did a tour of North India, Middle Eastern and a food and photo tour of the Creek.
Tastecapade by bike
Banks of blue bikes started to appear around my neighbourhood of Umm Suqeim, but it took a food tour to make my vague intention to ride one into a reality. A group of us all wobbled off in a circuit, led by Mary our guide and the driving force behind this start-up, with various food stops on the way. We drank fresh juices in a very particular cocktail, we watched the sun go down on the beach while eating and discussing, we talked fished and ate in a harbour, we sat on the floor in a traditional way for a variety of meals and snacks. Our cycle-powered eating excursion was punctuated by little snippets of information not only about the specific course or foodstuff but also how it fitted into local culture and traditions, some old, some quite new. Mary steered us in a gentle and informal way and it was like going out with an old friend; the cycling was not at all arduous and great fun. As Mary and her sister have lived in Dubai all their lives they have a deep understanding and another interesting perspective on the food culture and traditions. All in all a really enjoyable experience and a great one for visitors and residents alike. I definitely learned some new things about the area that I’ve dwelt in for over 16 years and the people who live there, plus went home with a very full tummy and new friends.
Book a Tastecapade tour by bike here. I notice there is a farm trip and a walking tour of old Dubai now too – although I haven’t tried these.
Foodiva’s Dine Around Dubai
In complete contrast to the other two, Samantha Wood of Foodiva concentrates on luxury, high-end and fine dining. As there are around a hundred 5 star hotels in Dubai, all with several restaurants and many with celebrity chefs at their helm, this is as much a part of the food culture as eating cheese bread on the pavement in Deira. Each experience differs as the restaurant scene changes so rapidly in Dubai, plus it’s essential to retain the air of mystery. On every dine around there is always something new and unique to sample. The evening tour lasts for about four hours and starts with a glass of bubbly. At time of writing the latter is Ruinart Rosé Champagne, the bottles opened with a sword by Mathias Kahn, the Swedish National Champion of the Art of Sabrage, at a mystery Champagne bar. That’s guaranteed to set the tone for the evening. Walking is kept to a minimum as any ferrying between venues is chauffeur-driven – so you can do this tour in high heels. I’ve been on two tours in the past at the invite of Sam who is a friend. One was her regular Dine Around and was a trail of restaurants on The Palm Jumeirah, starting with canapé, cocktails and a fantastic view from the balcony near Social by Heinz Beck, ending with a flourish in Bushman’s Restaurant and Bar at Anantara The Palm with the most spectacular deconstructed Eton mess demo the size of a table. I loved the surprise element of not knowing where we were going next. Sam also arranges corporate tours and the second one was in conjunction with European cheeses i.e. total cheese and wine heaven.
Dubai behind the scenes
If the alternative street life of Dubai appeals, the book Dubai: Behind the Scenes is a beautiful souvenir and record of a side of the city which many people never see and is starting to change. It’s a poignant and intimate look through the lens of photographer Jalal Abuthina at the areas of Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama and the many different cultures and communities inhabiting them. From street wrestling to ceremonies and everyday life it’s a really unique memento. See inside the book and find out more… You can order online or find a copy in Kinokuniya (Bookworld), Dubai Mall or Gulf Photo Plus, AlSerkal Avenue.
*I was an (enthusiastic) guest on several of these tours but only recommend things here on the blog that I’m 100% behind.
Have you been on a food tour? Did you eat anything extraordinary? Disclosure: I ate sheep’s brain and eyeball in Istanbul.
As the boat nears the shallow sandy shore my hands unclench and my shoulders relax. For the past forty minutes I’ve been watching every wave and how noticing how perilously close to the top of our shallow boat the water is. We have no life jackets. Ever practical, R has a plan ready for if we capsize – we all need to hold onto a towel so the three of us don’t get separated which increases our chance of rescue. The past few hours have been worthy of the most poetic description of any travel brochure for idyllic desert islands; snorkeling through glittering shoals of fish over expansive coral in warm, crystal clear waters with a picnic lunch on an empty white sand beach in the bay of one of the Daymaniyat islands. The rumoured tropical storm looked unlikely then, but all too real and threatening now. Refuelling in open water from a can plus the captain’s continually moving of people’s position in the boat to balance it are not reassuring. Most of the party seem oblivious.
So what brings us to this perilous situation? Two friends and I have joined a weekend trip away with a group from Dubai organised via the ‘Meet Up’ app, lured by the mountain ranges and broad coastline of Oman over a long weekend. It takes us about five hours to drive from Dubai to Al Sawadi Beach resort including the border crossing. We’re up super early for breakfast the next day as instructed by our group leader. Too bad the boat driver isn’t and the delay in setting off coupled with the inadequate size and power of the vessel has pushed us into the imminent bad weather.
Up to the Hajar mountains
Thankfully we do eventually reach dry land unscathed, nails bitten to the quick. Our next destination is Al Hamra up in the Hajar mountains, about two and half hours drive away, and we are eager to get there especially because of the storm. Indecision from the leader of the group means we set off late and into the maelstrom. Eight hours later, through torrents of water from the sky and burst rivers we’ve had to ford, we finally arrive – exhausted. We pass a car washed away in a river unaware that the deluge we’ve braved has swept at least six to their deaths. R is spent, having kept her nerve behind the wheel throughout the whole demanding journey. The water heater has not been switched on in our room so we crawl into our beds coated in sea salt and sand.
Next day, my companions slumber while my internal dog-walking alarm clock rouses me just after 6am. I creep out to gaze at the misty valleys below me from my mountain top, to the soundtrack of birds. I wander to higher ground and meet some other members of the group. The drivers for our next journey seem to have the same alarm clock as the boat owner so we wander around watching the sun come up, our perils of the previous day fading like the mist. A group of local guys who are brewing tea in a kettle on a fire offer to share some with us. It’s milky and infused with wild za’atar and ‘spice’ which we can’t find a common word for. It’s similar to karak chai but less sweet and, with the slightly medicinal flavour of the herbs, refreshing and addictive.
An hour later, with the sun streaming down into the valley our driver Zaher is navigating the rough road winding down at the edge of a precipitous drop. Although usually a nervous passenger, I feel so safe with his confident careful approach to the journey and we chat in pidgin English about his day job in Muscat and family here in the rural village. R is a geographer and explains how the rocks were formed, the striations and colours so clear and dramatic, literally showing the creation of the world. The swathes of rough green schist are particularly eye-catching. At the bottom of the path, three small boys are making the most of the recent rainfall taking turns to slide down a brilliant natural smooth helter skelter, running and giggling. It emphasises the simplicity of life that still hangs on a knife-edge in Oman.
Four of us decide to walk to the village. It looks as though the path leads to a mountain side but as we get nearer to a small oasis of palm trees the fissure through the rock is clear and we wind our way through, feeling dwarfed by the towering sides and cool depths. There is water to negotiate, unsurprising after last night storms and one deep puddle that we cannot find a way round so our feet get a dunking. After a while we are aware of a shadow following a little behind. A young local boy is taking the same path but stays at a distance. Finally he sits comfortably at the top of a rock, the perfect quiet spot to contemplate his mobile phone undisturbed, his dishdasha completely immaculate. His local knowledge has guided him better than us; his feet are dry.
The village of Balid Sayt is enclosed by mountains with fields and palm trees at its centre. There must be a way in by road but it’s not obvious. Everything is shimmeringly tranquil. Negotiating the narrow back streets, darkly shielded from the beating rays, some little girls see us, giggle and run inside. The whole place looks deserted under the mid-day sun from the vantage point of the old fort. We meet up with other members of our group under an ancient ghaf tree in the centre of the village. It’s a much better place for people watching and to escape the sun. Open backed trucks drive up and villagers lop off the odd branch or twigs for feeding to animals. We all decline the option of walking straight back up the mountain that was on our itinerary for early morning. All of us except one. C heads off at pace with the guide, who has already been up this vertical ascent once today. “See you at the top” we say, in admiration, with no regrets for taking the easy option back to base by road.
The path from our hotel across the top of the mountain is waymarked on the flat, fissured stones which are like beautiful paving slabs. The views are mesmerizing and vertiginous. R and I get into some meaty topics with new friend A, adding extra energy to our walk. Large rain drops dot the cream coloured rock but it comes to nothing, however we can see lightning storms flashing in the distance. A small wooden sign appears to point down a sheer drop to a village. You’d have to be barking mad to contemplate it. Would C appear? Then suddenly she does, striding across the plateau, hardly breaking a sweat after a two-hour hike straight up. She receives a hero’s welcome. We are tempted by our guides’ offers to go somewhere licensed for the evening (Oman is not dry but alcohol is usually only available in 5 star hotels), but not tempted enough for an hour’s drive.
On the next day, our drivers are bang on time. They are professional men who have good jobs in the city during the week; they’ve been friendly and genuinely welcoming. Back down the winding route into the valley and beyond into even more dramatic and slightly foreboding rocky scenery, we finally meet up with our canyoning leaders at the start of Snake Gorge. They are trained professionals in outdoor pursuits and the tone, leadership and organisation goes up a notch or two (or a hundred). We don helmets and buoyancy vests, our footwear is double checked, we are given safety instructions and warnings. It’s not alarmist – people enter these canyons unprepared and have lost their lives.
Cheap waterproof camera. Images not taken on a GoPro!
For the next couple of hours we are guided down smooth rocky slides, clamber from one canyon to another, swim through pools – some in caves – and even see a couple of small, elegant snakes that give the canyon its name. They are constrictors too small to be of danger to anything but very small mammals. The whole group leap off a rocky promontory into a deep pool below one by one; most with a degree of trepidation, especially me. I freeze with fear, blub uncontrollably then give silent assent to be pushed off. Apart from this blip, the whole hike is otherworldly, beautiful and exhilarating.
Zaher meets us at the end with a home-cooked lunch and we sit under the palm trees sharing chicken and rice mansaf cooked by his mother and sisters. It’s one of the most deliciously simple meals ever. Chatting over lunch is a better way to get to know some of our group – breaking bread together. Earlier, under duress, and inexperienced leadership, mostly we haven’t bonded which is is shame; perhaps under different circumstances….
We drive back by a different, faster and less populated route, the mountains flanking our right hand side most of the way. The border crossing takes a while but we zig zag back through leafy Al Ain and in no time the high-rise of Dubai’s skyline appears. Our Omani drivers Whatsapp emojis, friend us on Facebook and entreat us “When are you coming again?”, eager to show us more of their fascinating land. When indeed?
- Outdoor and adventure Meet-up groups in the UAE
- For the Daymaniyat Islands we stayed at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort which is now permanently closed. Hoping it will reopen sometime soon. Not luxurious but a great location plus there is a limited area for camping.
- Shorfet Al-Alamin Hotel – remote location, great views, comfortable rooms, terrible showers!
- Our snake canyon trip was arranged via the Muscat Diving and Adventure Centre and the ex-military guys who led us were brilliant. Another company to check is Absolute Adventure. Gulf for Good has charity challenges in the region (and beyond) and at time of writing there is one in the Mussandam, Oman during December 2016.
- And if you want a local driver and guide in that area of Oman email me or comment below for Zahed’s contact details.
Tips for planning your own adventure trip in Oman
- Check the weather forecast. Even the sunniest day can bely extreme conditions on the way.
- Make sure that you check the credentials of your trip leader, especially if doing any extreme or challenging activities. If in any doubt use professionals to arrange and guide your trip.
- Use a robust four-wheel drive vehicle and ensure the driver has experience in off-roading.
Click on an image to see full size
I’d love to hear about your adventures. What have you done that took you to a place out of your comfort zone or took your breath away?
Is it Negroni o’clock where you are? I’m back in Dubai and although happy to be home, the pale skies and the steamy temperatures are a stark contrast to beautiful English countryside, dramatic clouds and a fresh breeze. I was pounding the pavements last night with Hazel panting beside me (my Border Terrier in case you’re wondering) with headphones in ears listening to the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme podcast. Diana Henry‘s very lyrical Irish tones were lulling me into a reverie about the rise of the l’aperitif or l’aperitivo trend in the UK. She looked back to her first taste at the age of fifteen on an exchange in France. The words Lillet, Suze and Dubbonet were incredibly exotic. Like me, she was brought up in a time when alcohol was advertised on TV with little regulation and thought the life that the Martini and Cinzano ads portrayed was just real life as a grown up. Turns out we were both impossible day dreamers then. Hands up anyone else who can sing along to ‘any time, any place, anywhere, there’s a wonderful world you can share‘.
Diana lays down two rules for the perfect l’aperitif – nothing too strong and nothing too sweet. To get the taste buds in peak anticipation, Professor Charles Spence recommends the classic combination of something sour or citrus, some carbonation (i.e. bubbles) and something aromatic to stimulate the appetite.
My three very favourite aperitif are a gin and tonic (no surprise there), a French 75 (gin, Champagne, lemon juice and sugar) and a Negroni, which just happens to be ultra-fashionable right now and deliciously bitter.
So coming back to the house at dusk, rather warm and a bit peckish, after being seduced for half an hour about the allure of pre-dinner cocktails you can guess what I was craving. Denzel’s special cocktail recipe for August fitted the bill as it’s a twist on the Negroni but slightly more elaborate.
Denzel Heath (of the MMI Bar Academy) uses Bloom gin here as it’s infused with botanicals such as chamomile, honeysuckle and pomelo capturing the essence of a country garden. Created by head distiller, Joanne Moore (still one of the few female master distillers in the world) soda is recommended as a partner for Bloom gin to set off the light, feminine flavours. The juniper is still an important element and in a gin and tonic Bloom suggests a strawberry as a garnish. St Germain is liqueur flavoured with elderflowers and is simply divine. Lillet is a refreshing citrus flavoured fortified wine which is lovely on its own over ice as an aperitif. If you really can’t find it try some bianco vermouth (sweet white) and maybe add a touch of Cointreau and Angostura orange bitters.
Country Garden Bitter Sorbet
- 30ml Bloom gin (or your gin of choice)
- 30ml Campari (Aperol will also do)
- 30ml Lillet Blanc
- 30ml strawberry purée*
- 60ml St Germain
- 30ml fresh pineapple juice
- 30ml egg white
- Sprinkles (optional)
- Cocktail shaker
- Old fashioned glass or something more frivolous (like an ice cream container)
How to mix
- Add the Bloom gin, Campari, Lillet and strawberry purée into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake vigorously until completely chilled. Strain the chilled liquid out of the shaker into an old-fashioned glass over fresh ice (discard the used ice from the shaker and wash it up).
- Make some St Germaine Foam: Fill a clean cocktail shaker with 60ml of St Germaine, 30ml of egg white and 30ml of pineapple juice. First shake these ingredients thoroughly without ice (this is known as a dry shake and is used to agitate the liquid and proteins). Add ice to the mixture and shake for a second time.
- Strain 30ml of the foam on top of the ‘negroni mix (use the rest for another cocktail).
*Strawberry puree is simply 4 parts fresh, hulled strawberries with 1 part caster sugar blitzed in a blender until very smooth. You’ll probably find it easier to make a larger amount than needed in the recipe.
While this is probably involves a few more processes than your usual homemade cocktail, just imagine serving it at a summer garden party with some summery nibbly things. Divine.
Emiko Davies explains more about Italian aperitivi here and find out why I adore Diana Henry’s writing here.
What’s your favourite l’aperitif or l’aperitivo?
Have you ever planned a day out around a meal? After seeing a friend’s Instagram pics from a restaurant, I knew that I had to eat there and planned to visit Bristol centred round it. Was it worth the journey? It turns out that Bristol is thriving hub of food and varied culture. Here’s how to get a taste in one day…
As I lifted my phone to take a picture inside Mud Dock cafe the waiter asked if I was playing Pokemon. Completely mystified I asked elder teen who filled me in – the new Pokemon Go app had launched that day. It explained the group of four young guys who were just behind us on our walk in from Bristol Temple Meads railway station. I’d assumed were all using Google maps to guide their way and couldn’t work out why they were all enjoying it so much.
I worked in Bristol during the early 1990s. Mud Dock has been around for years but I first heard of it much later in a Sophie Grigson cookbook when she published one of their recipes. It’s part of an edgier side of the city which was expressed in music back then (Portishead, Massive Attack, Shara Nelson) rather than food. You climb up some wrought iron stairs past a bike shop to get to the top of the building and cafe. We sat on the outside terrace with immediate views of freight and a car park below but it also looks out on the wider dock area. It’s a splendid, quirky space. Strong winds and a violent rain shower sent us scurrying inside for our second excellent coffee. The day’s lunch menu was being written on the board with much to tempt but we reluctantly tore ourselves away to the M Shed.
On the Banksy trail
Needing to do something to entertain mind, body and soul in between eating trips, we decided to find a few Banksy artworks which are dotted around the city. You can book a guided tour or try to find them yourself – we did the latter using this as a guide.
First stop, after dodging the rain drops over the footbridge to the other side of the harbour, was M Shed. Among its eclectic display dedicated to Bristol is a very famous Banksy, The Grim Reaper, removed from the side of a boat for preservation. To be honest it’s in a strange place for viewing, in a hallway and behind glass. I nearly asked a couple of museum curators where it was – they were standing in front of it!
Strolling up along the harbour was very pleasant. We turned away from the water once we reached the SS Great Britain, ducked down the first alleyway on the right, turned right again and were soon outside the gates of Bristol Marina – very much a working place for boat repairs. A bit puzzled we turned round, spotted a burger van and then, tucked into a recess in the building, was Girl with the pierced eardrum. Under the gaze of the workmen munching fast food at picnic tables by the van, we took selfies with this witty take on a renowned masterpiece, under cloudy skies, beneath a fire escape!
The Olive Shed
Retracing our steps along the harbour, a decision for lunch was in order. The Olive Shed is really pretty from the outside, but I had a twinge of regret as we were led past a dark, rather ramshackle, open kitchen and up the stairs to a slight shabby room painted in ochre. The service was good however, and the simple, seasonal tapas-based menu served well. A bowl of excellent moules with frites and a glass of wine for me and x for F. The only disappointment was the rather fluffy bread inaccurately described as ciabatta with our olives and balsamic. We polished it off though. The brilliant view over the harbour and city beyond was unexpectedly interrupted when a huge naval ship, complete with armed officers, moored right in front of the restaurant causing much excitement down on the quay.
Shopping and Zerodegrees microbrewery
We hopped on a bus to get to the city centre for some retail distraction (Loot Vintage shop and the main central Cabot Circus shopping mall). The sun came out and we strolled back to the Christmas steps, a picturesque collection of little shops, including Weber & Tring’s an intriguing family-run independent wines and spirits retailer, Twentieth Century Flicks DVD rental shop (great podcast about them on the BBC Radio 4 Film Show) and a specialist woodwind dealer Trevor Jones (veggie teen’s clarinet bought there about 10 years ago). At the top we were gasping for refreshment so climbed a few more steps and sat on the balcony of Zerodegrees microbrewery with a brilliant view of the steps and surrounding streets. This is an enormous place and I’m not implying you should make a special journey. There seemed to be just one poor barman in the whole building, but it was a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
The next Banksy was about five minutes walk away on the side of a house. It’s interesting that we were the only people taking the time to stop and look at this dramatic artwork Well Hung Lover at the side of a busy street. Bristolians are inured to them now it seems. After that we walked to the top of Park Street and stopping for a few more vintage shops on the way was our downfall. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery had just closed for the day and it was impossible to see inside the lobby where Paint-Pot Angel is situated. Ah well. The outside of the nearby Bristol University Will Memorial Building is magnificent especially bathed in the gold of the evening light. A taxi stand was a few metres up and we hopped in one to Southville.
Southville is full of narrow streets of neat, terraced houses painted in pastel colours. We arrived a bit too early so strolled round the block counting the number little china sunflowers for the Bristol garden award. On first glance from outside, this could be an art gallery – white walls, huge bare windows, screenprints on the wall. Or a Scandinavian homeware shop given the name. The plain formica tables and a tiny Harlequin bar at the back give its restaurant status away. When we round the corner a few minutes after opening time, the sun is streaming through the windows with some tables already occupied. This former Victorian corner shop (with several reincarnations including an Indian) has been transformed into a modest but comfortable space for a few lucky diners, I guess 25 people max. Birch was set up by a couple of friends who cut their teeth by running supper clubs in Bristol, went on to hone their catering skills, worked in some notable Bristol restaurants before clocking up more experience in London, including St John which is famed for the provenance of its produce. The latter is key to Birch which issues a daily menu of a few courses based on what’s in season. The produce is local, some grown and gathered by Sam Leach and Beccy Massey from their own allotment. The wine list is eclectic and all organic. I want to eat and drink everything.
A silky, daisy-fresh Portland pearl oyster piqued cleverly with a fresh rhubarb dressing put a big smile on my face. Crusty sour dough with hand churned butter celebrates just how perfect simple food can be. Tender, tiny, bright green broad beans, only achievable if you grow your own, are scattered with soft tangy goats curd, fresh cherries and hazelnuts. A swirl of rich pigeon sausage with chard, split peas and the warm tang of mustard is comfort food for a summer’s evening. Beet tops are braised with barley, and steeped with blackcurrants and malty Old Ford stout. Yellow courgette is draped over the tender, pink saddle of kid like a savoury veil.
I order sorbet – this is unprecedented – it’s gooseberry and mint; fresh, gleaming loganberry jelly and mousse with a cylinder of brandy snap is like all your childhood favourites dressed up for the night. Blackcurrants, picked that morning, with a whey caramel, whipped yoghurt and almond cake takes me in a time capsule to tastes from the garden and my spoon keeps scraping across the dish long after there is anything remaining.
A taxi whisked us back to the sweeping arches of Brunel’s striking Bristol Temple Meads station in a little happy bubble. KP will tell you that I have not stopped talking about this food all summer. Sam and Beccy clearly take the greatest pleasure in finding and combining the very best produce. It leaves you with the feeling of going round a summer veg patch, tasting leaves, roots and fruits, combined with elegance and joy.
- Self-guided Banksy tour
- Banksy guided tour
- Bristol walking tour – from Blackbeard to Banksy
- Banksy Bristol tour app
- A street art guide to Bristol (there’s a lot!)
- M Shed
- Mud Dock – Cycle Shop and Cafe
- The Olive Shed
- Birch – booking essential
- Where Bristol Foodies Eat
Click on the images to enlarge
This was just one day out in Bristol. There’s a vibrant food and art scene. I definitely returning again next time I’m in the UK. Let me know your highlights and recommendations.
Strapping on our boots and ‘can-do’ attitude my sister and set off just before 9am down the crumbling earth steps to the cliff path swathed in a heavy sea fog. We were still in shock, having discovered the night before, over a plate of fish and chips in the pub, that our second day’s hike of 15.2 miles (24.5 km) was “the toughest part of the entire South West Coast Path and involves a long hard day of walking, with some very relentless and tiring ascents and descents”. Buoyed up by an excellent breakfast, we descended to the start of the rocky coastline with black corrugated spines of rock forming dramatic lines up the beach, inspiring awe even through the mistiness of the day.
The reason for the arduous yet splendid nature of the path are the river valleys that carve they way through the cliffs. We didn’t see a soul – excepting various breeds of sheep – as we trod carefully down steps in the crags, crossed the rivers on little wooden bridges and then paced doggedly up the other side.
Remote and other worldly, this is far from the image of gentle rolling countryside that thoughts of Devon usually inspire. An elegant waterfall at Spekes Mill Mouth, a long streak of teaming water thundering down black cliffs, caused us to stop to admire and catch a breath for a minute before forging on.
At one point we could look back and see right along the coast to Hartland Point but mostly concentrated on the winding path along the headland and tip toeing down the valleys and then puffing back up the other side. My strategy for tackling the hills was to do 50 steps at a time and then take a breather. This doesn’t sound like a lot but the gradient and distance was pretty tough.
Near the top of one steep-sided valley we found a hut with a welcome sign to enter. It was where the playwright and poet Ronald Duncan used to write and there were some pens and paper on a small table in case you were so inspired. It was still a bit misty but thankfully no rain as we crossed a little stream over yet another wooden footbridge at Marshland Mouth and crossed from Devon into Cornwall.
The wild flowers throughout the walk were a joy and wild thyme scented our journey as our boots crushed the leaves under foot. My sister, who had an ornithology book fixation as a child, identified a little bird in the hedgerow as a stone chat. Super impressed – I had never even heard of one. We marvelled constantly at the rock formations; the movement of the earth in prehistoric times and layers of rock evident in spectacular zigzag folds.
Vicarage cliff was another steep climb and we could see across to Morwenstow at the top, home of a fabled tea rooms. There was no time for us to stop though so we carried onto another little hut, made of driftwood, just off the path looking out over the Atlantic. Hawker’s Hut is the smallest property to be owned by the National Trust and the place where local vicar the Reverend Robert Hawker would write poetry under the influence of opium in the 1800s. Under the influence of big floury baps with ham, cheese and homemade runner bean chutney for our lunch (made by B&B landlady Anna) and the breeze on our feet, liberated from their booted confines, we were very soon restored and set off again at around 2.30pm.
We were not liberated from the hills and valleys however, some steep some a little more gentle, and needed to keep our spirits up. A flatter respite took us past the wire fence and huge dishes of a satellite tracking centre where the path was covered in little flowers. There were a few more people on this section of the track as it can be reached from inland paths to make circular walks. We stopped to chat to a young chap walking his way round the whole of the UK.
A winding very steep path to Duckpool beach had my sister’s heart palpitating as she hates precipitous views. We got to the bottom and I was very pleased to see… public toilets; a luxury as the first we had seen on our two days of walking on this remote and beautiful coastline. Another couple of steep up and downs brought us to Sandymouth where we just caught the cafe for a cup of tea as it was closing.
After making our way back up to the top of the cliffs we strolled along the wide path with expansive views over to Bude which got nearer and nearer. The multi-coloured beach huts offered the jolliest welcome and it was a real effort to move my feet onto pavements and into Bude to find our Bed and Breakfast. If I could have hailed a taxi then, I would have thrown myself in front of it. We cheered as, when given a friendly welcome by Joanne at Teeside (opposite Bude golf course), she told us that our room was on the ground floor. No more stairs to climb – hooray – and a really excellent hot shower.
Supper was at the Olive Tree sitting overlooking the canal. The inside dining room was fully booked but you can pitch up and order for the bar area and outside tables, and after looking inside we thought the latter was by far the best option. The menu was good, food delicious but, apart from one sweet waitress, the service was disinterested to the point of rude. However, this didn’t spoil our evening watching people drift past by water and on foot. We topped off with a cocktail in North Coast Wine Co as we called it a night and shored ourselves up for the next day walking from Bude to Crackington Haven. We were absolutely exhausted, aching all over, exhilarated from having conquered such a challenging leg of the journey and rather worried that our battered feet and legs would make the next day’s route. Did I mention it contains the steepest and longest descent and ascent of the entire path?
- More about the Hartland Quay to Bude route on the official website
- A detailed description of this section of the South West Coast path here too
- The spectacular geology around Bude and how it was formed
- Tee-side Guest House
- The Olive Tree in Bude
- North Coast Wine Co
Click on the images in the gallery below to enlarge
Our next (third) day’s hike was Bude to Crackington Haven (having hiked from Clovelly to Hartland Quay the previous day).
What’s the most spectacular coastline you’ve ever visited?
Can you imagine living somewhere that you never look at the weather forecast? You open your wardrobe and decide what you want to wear that day based on your mood or the occasion but never with a range of climatic changes in mind. That’s my life in Dubai and when I return to the UK getting to grips with the weather excites and slightly challenges me. I enjoy wrapping up warm and even whipping out my umbrella. We had a few days last week that made me feel right at home with temperatures soaring over 30 C (although I wouldn’t be in crazy Dubai’s summer temperatures of over 50 C right now).
My bartending mentor Denzel Heath created a cocktail just right for beating the heat. It’s perfect to sip on my Mum’s patio overlooking her beautiful flower border, listening to her complain about how hot it is and how all the plants are dying!
A few things we did on sunny days during July… (click on a pic to see the full image):
Inspired by The Queen’s Park Swizzle which was named after the Trinidadian hotel where it was first concocted in the 1920s, this is The St James’s Swizzle as, instead of the original rum, it uses No 3 gin. This is one of my favourite gins made by Berry Brothers and Rudd, a wine merchant which can trace the foundations of its family business back to a shop in No 3 James’s Street in London opened in 1698 and has been there ever since. Simple to make; long, cool and green – just like the bottle. Here’s to more beautiful English summer days – and good weather wherever you are.
St James's Swizzle
- Long glass such as a highball
- Swizzle or bar spoon
- fresh mint sprigs
- 60ml No. 3
- 15ml green Chartreuse * optional
- 1 sugar cube
- 30ml fresh lime juice
- crushed ice
- 2 drops Bittermen’s Orchard Street Celery Shrub**
- 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters**
- 2 dash Angostura Orange Bitters**
- Garnish: mint leaves, celery stick
How to mix
- Place torn mint leaves in the bottom of a glass and muddle gently (i.e bruise the leaves to release the aromatic oils – I use the end of a wooden spoon).
- Add the gin, Chartreuse, sugar cube and lime juice. Top up with crushed ice, and swizzle vigorously until the glass frosts (about 15 to 20 seconds).
- Add additional fresh crushed ice to mound the glass, and dash the bitters on top liberally.
*for depth and dimension
**if you don’t have the celery bitters you can substitute with 10ml of celery juice, for the 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters & 2 dash Angostura Orange Bitters – substitute with 4 dashes of either instead of both.
Read more about swizzling and swizzle sticks or watch a video by Jim Meehan famous founder of PDT New York on how to swizzle. Don’t worry – a bar spoon works fine too.
Of course as I press publish on this post, the English weather has gone back to its usual varied self. I’ll have to pour myself one of these and dream. How’s your summer going?