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Kushi- ya Japanese inspired pop-up

Kushi -ya is a monthly supper club that has been running in Nottingham since late last year, serving up Japanese inspired pub food. Each sitting is small, around 15 tickets are made available and they pretty much sell out within the hour. So the wider Nottingham fooderatti were more than a little excitable when Kushi-ya took over the Cottonmouth Cocktail Bar for two days this month.

Kushi-ya  is the product of a collaboration between Simon Carlin, head chef at Iberico World Tapas (most people’s ‘go to’ Tapas bar in town), and their former sous chef Tom Clay. And it was pretty marvellous.

The menu consisted of snacks, small plates, skewers (cooked on a traditional Japanese Konro grill) and a choice of 2 desserts. Between FWH and myself we ordered 11 dishes, but I could probably have got through the entire menu with a little more effort on my part and perhaps if I hadn’t filled up on a Pornstar Martini at The Alchemist first.

We had the “snacks” while we chose the mains – the pickle plate was lovely, delicate pickled veg and mushroom, really nice, refreshing and subtle, the crispy chicken skin with Szechwan pepper (probably the least exciting for me – was literally crispy skin). The Prawn and Shiso Spring Rolls with yuzu kosho though were superb. Possibly the best spring rolls I have eaten, not that I can make a claim to any kind of expertise in this field but they were hot, salty, crispy – just fabulous, 2 weren’t really enough (especially as FWH had the other one).


From the small plates we chose the Ox cheek with Shitake ketchup, this was pretty huge compared to the other small plates  – rich, dark, intense and falling off the bone, the sticky rice with furikake (“sprinkles” essentially, which I think were some kind of micro seed shoots and seaweed?) and the Tuna tataki with jalapeno ponzu. Not a massive fan of raw fish of any description (shellfish yes, but not fish) but the FWH is a huge fan and he loved the tuna (as did the couple on the table next to us…).

From the skewers I had the Beef with black garlic mustard (superb), aubergine with barley miso (also excellent) and the mackerel with fresh wasabi, (which I am told was also really good).

The desserts were intriguing I was torn between “Tira’miso’” or a Kinako Fried Waffle with matcha mousse. Needless to say,  I threw caution to the wind and went with the waffle. It isn’t just fried, though,  it is deep fried. I loved the taste but I think this was a deep-fry too far for me, and even for the Scottish FWH who, let’s be honest, will eat most anything if you deep fry it first. Very rich after the delicate flavours of the rest of the meal.

We kept up the cocktail theme – well at least I did with a Sakura cocktail with sake, gin, green tea and cucumber. FWH stuck with Japanese whisky (eye roll).

This food was so good, only 1 or 2 failed to hit the high mark for me,  and, for once, the portions were a great size too, to too large, meaning you could try most of what was on the menu (well probably all if you wanted to). Really hope these guys think about a more permanent presence, or at least more frequent pop-ups, we would definitely be up for return visit.

Arigatou gozaimasu


Truffle infused eggs & apple curd, simple pleasures at Crimson Tree.

Heading back to Nottingham’s Mansfield Road for breakfast found us in the recently relocated Crimson Tree. Mansfield Rd has got to be one of Nottingham’s ‘go to’ destinations for breakfast/brunch now, with the superb Bakehouse and Crimson Tree within spitting distance of each other and both offering some seriously great food.


You can’t miss the Crimson Tree’s stunningly decorated pillars which frame the door (I know, I know, crap photo 🙄) and on the bright and sunny Autumn morning we visited the sun shone through the large windows, creating a bright and cheery interior.


The walls of the Crimson Tree are covered from floor to ceiling with Arabic style tiles and with the great baked goods on display, the welcoming bar as you enter, the rustic furniture, and friendly staff, we’d found anther gem.



With daily specials, interesting and eclectic dishes with unusual combinations that make for something of an eating adventure and tea served in pretty vintage crockery, I’d struggle to fault this place, and, as you know, I’m a bit picky..

When we visited the “specials” included mushroom and tarragon soup, golden ale and cheddar Welsh rarebit, deep fried calamari and sweet chilli salad. But we had a lunch later in the day so stuck with plans for breakfast.



The FWH went with the Truffle and Feta infused scrambled eggs served with Proscuitto and Avocado on Toasted Sourdough. This was a) huge and b) so delicious – rich, earthy and very, very truffly (if I say it’s a word, its word 😉), the salty prosciutto and Sourdough toast cut through the richness perfectly.



I went with the Vanilla & Cinnamon French Toast with Maple Syrup and an Apple and Cinnamon curd. Oh. My. Word. This was so good, sweet and comforting. I cleared the plate. That curd!

If you needed another reason to head up the Mansfield Rd,  Crimson Tree is it. Loved it, can’t wait to go back, next time for dinner and a bit of drink.. 👍🏻


Oven Baked Dutch Baby Pancakes with roasted plums and cinnamon

I love a good pancake, in fact crêpes, drop scones, Yorkshire puddings, beignets, churros, doughnuts, I am partial to pretty much anything made from batter and to be fair, there isn’t much that can’t be improved by the addition of batter in one form or another. In fact, Nottinghamshire has a long tradition of batter puddings, so I like to think I am upholding the local culinary traditions…


In the course of looking for alternative Christmas desserts for an article, I came across these Dutch-style oven-baked pancakes – sort of a cross between a pancake and a Yorkshire pudding. With some seasonal roasted plums (I think rhubarb would work just as well) they make a perfect winter pudding. Serve with some good quality vanilla ice-cream.


Oven Baked Dutch Baby Pancakes with roasted Plums and Cinnamon

Serves 2

(You will need 2 small cast iron frying pans for this, I actually used a traditional blini pan, which worked perfectly)


• 20g butter
• 2 large eggs
• 100ml single cream
• 120ml milk
• 100g plain flour
• 30g golden caster sugar
• Half tablespoon cinnamon

Roast Plums
• 3 plums
• Juice of half an orange
• 2 tablespoons golden caster sugar


1. Preheat oven to 200C, heat up a baking sheet
2. Halve, destone and slice plums into wedges, place in a roasting tin, squeeze over the juice and toss them in the sugar. Roast for 20 mins until soft.
3. To make the batter, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk and flour until smooth
4. Melt butter in the cast iron frying pans, and then divide and pour in the batter. Place in the oven on the baking sheet and cook for 20 mins until golden brown and puffed up.
5. Serve sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon and plums



Breakfast at the Bakehouse

The Bakehouse on Nottingham’s Mansfield Road in Sherwood probably needs little introduction to local readers as in the year or so since they opened they have gone from strength to strength, nominated for, and winning, a variety of awards and winning plaudits from its customers and foodie types across the city and beyond.

The Bakehouse is an artisan bakery using traditional methods to create a range of delicious breads, cakes, biscuits and sweet and savoury bakes. The recipes focus on traditional techniques and ingredients.

It is the first solo venture of chef Craig Poynter and his wife Rosea –  a café during the day and a micro-pub and occasional supper club in the evening.

We visited for breakfast and it was so phenomenally good, I needed to share. By 9 am , it was already filling up but we managed to grab the last table for 2. The breakfast menu features the old favourites (full English – meat or veggie version, bacon or sausage sandwich – using local award winning butcher Johnny Pusztai, natch) as well as more unusual offerings such as Truffle Scrambled Eggs on Toast or Toasted Sourdough with Warm Berries. From 12, the lunch menu kicks in with the likes of Baked Camembert with Rosemary and Truffle Oil, Pan roasted Mushrooms with White Wine and Cream, cheese and meat platters, salads, sandwiches, and of course, cakes.  The menus have plenty of choice but are reassuring succinct – doing good things well is clearly the ethos and it works.

But I am really here to tell you about my breakfast… The FWH went for the healthy option of natural yoghurt topped with honey, mixed berries and seeds, which was excellent. The sort of thing you should probably eat every morning, enabling you to face the world with the holy glow that comes from a smugly nutritious breakfast.


Me? I went with the insanely delicious toasted banana bread with salt caramel bananas and coconut. Oh my God. I am salivating just thinking about it. This was so, so good. Sweet, sticky, with a light sponge that had a reassuringly crispy outside and moist and airy interior, a wonderful salty sweet sauce and soft, melting banana combination that was frankly better than…… well you know….

This is going down as one of the best breakfast dishes I have ever eaten. There, I said it. This alone is worth visiting for, honestly.

Worm Noodles and Roast Crickets – Eating Insects.

A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to nip to London for BBC East Midlands’ Inside Out for the Great Food Club magazine. The offer was entomophagy (which, to you and I, is eating insects). How could I resist? Actually, I was intrigued, sounded like a blast, (I’m easy pleased…) so I didn’t need asking twice and this Sunday I headed down for tea.

On the serious side, the programme is considering whether or not we should increase our consumption of insects in an effort to feed the growing world population and reduce the negative environmental impacts of farming animals. Insects are highly nutritious, low in fat and high in protein and are, in fact, already eaten in many parts of the world, and have been for Millennia. The extent to which their value can be captured on an industrial scale to provide a protein source either on their own or as part of animal feed or human food production is not yet clear, but in the West, and Europe in particular, probably the single biggest reason why this cheap and nutritious protein is not used (apart from for entertainment, “I’m a Celebrity” style), is primarily the “disgust” factor. We, generally, find the idea of eating bugs pretty revolting.


So, with that happy thought in mind, I joined Mike Dilger (ecologist and TV presenter) at the critically acclaimed Farang restaurant in London’s Highbury Park for their pop-up “Eat Grub” event.  To be fair, I eat prawns, happily demolish crabs, love oysters and I taught my daughter to get a winkle out a shell with pin before she could walk, so rationally, surely, I could cope with a cricket? It’s just a question of the right frame of mind…


Farang Owner, Shami Radia, is determined to prove to people that, prepared well, using imaginative and exciting flavours, they will come to love eating insects. To that end, he has teamed up with the exceptionally talented chef Seb Holmes (the guy behind Smoking Goat, see my previous blog) who specialises in truly excellent Thai food.


The menu consisted of a variety of grasshoppers, crickets and worms, served in Thai Street Food style and accompanied by drinks with such additions as cricket powder and insect marmalade. We started with a salty snack of Pandan Crickets, and followed this with cricket flour Miang served in a Betel leaf (with fresh ginger, chilli, peanuts & coconut), tempura grasshoppers, a Som Tham salad with roast crickets and a vermicelli salad with meal and buffalo worms.


As we were filming, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I would have liked. But the Pandan cricket dish looked essentially like a bowl of salty dead insects with some green leaves, which indeed is what it was. It wasn’t unpleasant, might even be preferable to something like (always too salty), salted peanuts, certainly an improvement on the hideous “Bombay mix” . But still, there is an aftertaste of what I now think of as “insect” that is a little unexpected/odd,  a kind of earthy, maybe residual fungi aspect?. This is a new flavour for me and has greatly expanded my lexicon for describing food. I can now say, with some assurance, that food item X tastes “like insects”.


Next up the Miang. I really liked this,  I think possibly the chilli was my friend in this dish.  Although I’m not sure how elegant being asked by the producer to eat the, not insubstantial, serving in one go will look on screen (perhaps they won’t use that bit….). The salted cricket and smoked tomato Som Tam salad (no photo) was also really enjoyable.

The Tempura Grasshoppers  (no photo) had the added frisson of Mike explaining to me that the crunchy bit (think water chestnut) that came after the slightly dusty bit, was the “thorax, they have a big thorax”….thanks for that. Still there isn’t much that can’t be improved by being battered and dipped in sweet chilli sauce, and that goes for grasshoppers too.


Got to admit the worms were a bit more of a challenge. But I won’t give too much away (that just wouldn’t be cricket, lol) you’ll need to tune in to see how it went.

I had an enjoyable time, and it is certainly true that insects can clearly be used in tasty dishes, as much of the rest of the world is already aware, and when you have a talented chef, who can use flavours like Seb Holmes you can be sure that you will be eating something pretty special.  You’ve got to applaud the vision of the team behind this pop-up and the message about sustainable food sources for the future is an important one.

I’m not entirely convinced, however, that I will be swapping my meat for bugs on a regular basis any time soon…

This feature will be shown on BBC East Midlands Inside Out and London Inside Out sometime before Christmas, I’ll let you know when!





Eating (and drinking) at Nottingham’s most anticipated new opening – Alex Bond’s Alchemilla

There has been much fevered anticipation of the opening of this new restaurant on Nottingham’s Derby Road over the last year. It has been a project of gargantuan proportions by Alex Bond and his backers. Alex (Chef Director) has been overseeing the complete renovation of a former carriage building and stables at the front of a what used to be the grand townhouse of a local lace merchant. The building has been unused and standing empty for around 200 years. I interviewed Alex last year for Great Food magazine and was astonished to the see the scale of his vision. The building was in a state of significant disrepair with tree roots growing through the roof and centuries (quite literally) of dirt, dust and damp to dig out.


And now he has done it. The former semi -derelict Coach House is now an amazing space, retaining the wonderful brick walls and archways, with new sky lights bringing lots of natural light in. Nottingham can probably boast one of the most architecturally interesting and atmospheric restaurants in England. From the unassuming, unbranded facade to the sweeping entrance that leads you directly into the open kitchen space before taking you through to the arches and alcoves that form the restaurant and bar area. With “living walls”, modern furnishing and a light, spacious feel (the tables haven’t been crammed in, thankfully, so you can whisper sweet nothings or even possibly have a hushed spat with your partner and not have the next table wincing in embarrassment).


The menus are tasting menus, 5 course (only at lunch), 7 and 10. We went fully intending to go with 7, until we saw the 10. It was probably inevitable that we would choose it in hindsight, the road to hell and all that. 10 courses (£60) with wine and beer pairings (£45).

I am going not going to make your ears bleed by reviewing every dish and wine pairing at length as I am pretty sure I will get bored even before you do. I could sum the whole thing up by saying it was “utterly brilliant”, and it was, but I should try a bit harder than that, so I have been a bit picky, but hopefully fairly brief and very fair, and I apologise for the dark photos, it didn’t seem right to be flashing away, (as it were).

I might do a separate blog on the wines (and cocktails and gin).

Bread was offered at the start of the meal, a superb, warm and yeasty sourdough, with a sturdy crust and lovely salted butter, how I miss proper, crunchy salted butter (we had 3 lots during the meal….bread, I mean, not just butter)


First up – smoked shiitake mushrooms with pork fat. Admittedly, probably not the prettiest dish you will ever see, to be fair. I’m going to leave it there and you can use your imagination. As for the taste though – fantastic. The pork fat sort of dissolved into the mushrooms, the combined flavours of pig and fungi were fabulous – if a little rich for some palates, I’d imagine,  (the FWD, though, who apparently “hates” mushrooms, and has, for many years refused to eat them, ate the lot).

I was looking forward to the crab, elderflower and rhubarb dish and it was indeed good, a neatly wrapped parcel of crab wrapped in raw  (pickled perhaps?) rhubarb, although I think the sourness of the rhubarb pretty much saw off the flavour of the delicate, sweet, white crab meat. Perhaps a bit of more of the robustness of brown crabmeat would help it to stand up against the rhubarb? Not as attractive though, I concede.

This fermented garlic, potato and buttermilk dish won all round accolades from the table, we pretty much picked up the fabulous oversized bowls to drink the last of the buttermilk.

The cauliflower dish came with a Belgian beer. The FWH is a bit knowledgeable about Belgian beer (as we lived there and he consumed vast quantities of it) and we had never thought of combining it with anything other than moules and frites. But this really worked – very clever. (Think that is right picture btw, had consumed rather a lot of achohol by this point – bear that in mind if you order the 10 courses!)

You almost certainly can’t tell from that picture but this is tomato and lovage, which was a great palate cleanser after the yeasty cauliflower. This was swiftly followed by the only meat dish on the menu – veal, gremolata and smoked cream.  Discover I love smoked cream, but have no idea how to recreate it at home? Reminded myself I can take or leave gremolata.

Apple, horseradish and dill. Yep, really liked the fresh flavours and dill is one of my favourite herbs, we don’t use it enough in England in my view. It is, admittedly, a bugger to grow. As for apple and horseradish, who knew?


Sweets were just an all round hit – the strawberry hay was perhaps more strawberry than hay, but this probably a good thing, the chocolate, miso, banana and lime was interesting and the cherries woodruff –  my favourite.

Alchemilla is something else, my nearest comparison of recent months would be Adam Handling’s Frog in Spitalfields, both exciting, young (by my standards, natch) chefs doing amazing things with new and innovative flavour pairings and textures. I am so glad that Alex’s vision for his restaurant was so bold and that he got the backing to deliver his dream. This place, will I am sure go from strength to strength and must be up for a Michelin star sometime in the future, surely?


And finally, even though Alchemilla was full, and rocking, by the time we came to desserts (and it was a Friday night) I just want to thank Alex for coming out of his busy kitchen to say hello (of course, I was much the worse for wear by that time….), but it was appreciated nonetheless.






A super lunch at the Staunton Arms, Vale of Belvoir.

Just had a fabulous pub lunch and felt the need to share the joy. This is a not a Sunday Lunch you understand – as that’s a whole other kettle of fish, as you know. In fact it was a Wednesday lunch and bloody good too.


We drove out to the delightful Staunton Arms in the beautiful Vale of Belvoir, we drove out because I can’t imagine there is really any other way to get there, I didn’t spot a bus, but one might exist. The Staunton Arms is certainly rural.

I was recommended to try this – always a risk I find – but I was not disappointed. It is a 200 year old pub in a listed building in a small, what would you call it? probably hamlet rather than village, surrounded by rolling countryside. The weather was kind to us and we sat outside. It was busy, we only just found a parking space so full was it and I am glad we made reservations as the place was bustling (in a good way, I hasten to add). There appeared to be only one guy front of house which made me think that perhaps they had experienced an unexpected rush of customers due the clement weather, but apparently not, when we asked our server if this was unusual for a Wednesday lunch, his reply was “standard”. Okaayy, we discovered as lunch went on, he was perfectly polite but he was a man of a few well chosen words…

The pub has several menus, “lite bites” and daily specials and an a la carte. From this I chose the Crab Croquette with samphire, chilli and a spring onion broth with micro coriander. It was very good indeed, great texture, great flavours and contrasts, just enough chilli but not too much to kill the delicate flavour of the crab. It was also huge, I was wondering if I would get through my mains.


FWH went with the Local Beetroot frittata, creamed goat’s cheese, textures of beetroot and pea shoots. I’m not a big beetroot fan (nor of goat’s cheese) it has to be said. As the FWH was raised, so he tells me (but he tells me all sorts) on beetroot sandwiches (I cannot imagine, frankly) he considers himself something of an expert and was very happy indeed with his starter.


For mains, I went with the crispy skinned chicken breast with charred baby gem, garlic crispbread, parmesan shavings, parmesan puree and tempura anchovy. This was so good, a pretty salty combination for those thinking blood pressure, but I loved it, I find so much food is under seasoned now in pursuit of the “healthy” (but tasteless) option. And deep fried anchovies – what a bloody revelation they were. Never had them before, loved them. Before I had known the size of the starter I asked what the chicken came with…. the server tells me “What is says on the menu” (perfectly politely) and I thought yeah, perhaps it was a bit of a stupid question, however, there were sides listed so I went with the salad (couldn’t possibly eat it and it would have added nothing to this great dish, so I took it home for supper).


FWH went with the soy and chilli glazed pork belly with Pak Choi, radish and spring greens, honey and hoisin dressing and sesame seeds. This was a beautiful, sweet and sticky dish with perfectly cooked meat. The side of home-cooked fries (yes, I did say to the FWH that chips didn’t belong with this dish at all, but they were cooked in beef dripping and he was blind to any culinary advice after that) also came home with us as they couldn’t be finished (and he fried them again for supper…).

IMG_8239  IMG_8240

We had no room for puddings but I can only assume they would have been as good as the rest of the meal. Reasonably priced and superb pub food are not phrases often seen in the same sentence but in this case it applies. Despite our server being rather succinct, he was nonetheless lovely – efficient and perfectly polite (We have now added the word “standard” to our lexicon eg “How was your day dear?” “Standard”) and he coped admirably and efficiently with the busy service.

The food was great, the setting very pleasant and all in all a really good experience. Fab pub.

On taking Mother to a very unlikely spot for Teppanyaki

Taking the FWM out for lunch is always a bit of a challenge as she lives in a village in Lincolnshire that is a virtual desert when it comes to local pubs (at least that sell decent food) and restaurants. In fact such a dearth is there that unless one is prepared to drive into Lincoln and take your chance on finding a parking space anywhere near where you want to be, or settle for a sandwich at the local garden centre, there is pretty much nowhere to go. So when I spotted a Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi bar existed on the Doddington Road  (the Lincoln Bypass, essentially) that also had parking, we decided to give it a go.


If one is to imagine a setting (or even a name – Ethan’s) that looks less likely to host a Japanese restaurant I can’t think you could conjure up anything quite as unlikely as this. It is essentially on a garage forecourt abutting the ring road located in a rather odd (or quirky if you prefer) circular building with exposed iron scaffolding on the roof, which it shares with a BBQ grill and cocktail bar called Damon’s.


The menus are extensive and the place runs a myriad of offers, reductions for students, the over 60s and other combinations. You can choose from any number of sushi dishes, starters, mains and sides.


FWM was a bit whelmed. I think, and went with the prawn tempura (which she then concluded was “too large” when it arrived). FWD and I went with the Teppanyaki set lunch offer.


This consisted of miso or beef broth, sushi, noodles and beansprouts, egg fried rice and then a choice of salmon, beef, chicken, scallops, prawns and pork. I scanned the menu for a price. (FWM muttered something about there can’t possibly be that much food for a set lunch). £9.95. Yep, £9.95 a head for lunch. Hard to comprehend. Must be small portions, we concluded.


The communal table around the teppanyaki plate was shared with another family and the usual performance of clanking knives, juggling eggs and setting fire to stuff that accompanies most teppanyaki cooking, began. FWM seemed mildly entertained, which is a result of not insignificant note.


My miso soup was perfectly nice, and FWD enjoyed most of her beef broth (think Bovril – but nicer). The sushi dish was good, and generous, and the veg and beansprouts were really well seasoned and very nice. Oh, yes, we also had a side salad, which was fresh and very pleasant (unlike the brown, tired thing I was served up at Ginza in Nottingham).


My steak was beautifully cooked and delicious, really tender and the FWD’s salmon was superb. Couldn’t fault any of the food, nor the Chef’s endeavours to entertain (although throwing egg fried rice from his spatula for customers catch in their mouth was perhaps a stunt too far and one I declined to take part in – FWM was mortified at that one, so it did have a good side….).


This food was as good, if not better, than anything I have had recently at Ginza in Nottingham, it was fresh and well cooked and the restaurant was smart and clean (if vaguely like a mix between a hotel lobby and a snooker hall). Service was good and there was so much food we couldn’t quite finish it all. And it was only £9.95 a head for lunch. I mean, you cannot complain at that, I am astonished they can make it work at that price, they must get very busy in the evenings, and that wouldn’t surprise me as this must be the only Japanese in Lincoln, certainly the only one on the ring road, and it was bloody good.



Sicilian Stories, sweat and bruschetta

Love Italy, love Italian food (except gnocchi – just cannot get that stuff) and have had some amazing food on some fabulous holidays. I think I have visited probably 10 times, from the lakes in the North, to Rome, Tuscany and Venice, to Sorrento, Capri and Positano in the South, but never yet ventured to Sicily. So this year’s holiday was a first.


Before Sicily though we have Birmingham airport, and I just wanted to share this gem with you. This beaut is a “sausage bloomer sandwich” and it cost £7. Yep. I will leave that with you….


Taormina is perched halfway up a cliff and is truly beautiful, a wonderful old town with meandering ginnels, alleyways and streets, with ancient artefacts (the odd 2000 year old amphitheatre or mosaic) around every corner, mingling with characterful old buildings and all human life, particularly Italians, for whom this is favourite holiday resort.


The streets are packed with shops, restaurants and bars and the views from the cliff side over the med are stunning. Alongside the smaller antiquities there is also a truly fabulous Greek amphitheatre which was pretty much behind our hotel (Ariston – great location, great hotel, definitely recommend) with the sea and hills as its backdrop, where we watched the best of Bellini’s operas on a glorious evening. And of course there is the magnificent Mount Etna, smoking away gently in the background.

Sicily is famous for its blood oranges and is a major producer of  lemons, mandarins, aubergines (for the signature aubergine parmigiana) tomatoes, prickly pears, almonds, capers and pistachios. There is an abundance of tuna, swordfish, sardines (locally served stuffed with herbs) and shellfish and, of course, ricotta, pecorino and honey. The island also produces a huge variety of superb wines, (at a price).



 I will however, tell you that this is not a cheap place, especially for food and wine (and given my main reason to travel anywhere at all is for food and wine, this is a bit of a bugger). The cheapest wine we found in the shops was around £9 a bottle, in restaurants the prices were eye-watering.

I have never had a bad meal in all my visits to Italy (actually I tell a lie,  I did get served some rotten shellfish in a restaurant in the godforsaken resort of Lido de Jesolo which we stayed in for a visit to Venice and the islands of Murano and Burano. That place is a memory I have tried hard to suppress, the only good thing about it was the ferry out).

But for me, eating in Sicily was something of a curate’s egg. Apart from the fact that much of the food is excoriatingly expensive for what it is, pretty much every restaurant whether it had magnificent views overlooking the sea or was tucked away in a back street charge much the same (very high) prices. One would hate to suggest that there is something of a cartel going on here with food and drink? But there are clearly some influential “families” in the region…

In any event, I wouldn’t have minded the prices so much if the food had been a bit special. But with a couple of exceptions it really wasn’t. Often not well presented (I don’t mind rustic but not when a place is supposed to be fine dining) and often not well cooked. See this grilled squid? Couldn’t get a knife through it.


I even, and I kid you not, had some badly cooked spaghetti (it wasn’t al dente it was crunchy), I ate the vongole and ditched the pasta. And this gnocchi (not that I get this mushy potato dish at the best of times) was, well, judge for yourself.


So there were some highlights, some great pizza served on tables clingy precariously to a narrow steep staircase,


 fabulous ice- cream (you might scoff, how can it be anything other than fabulous in Italy you ask? but believe me, I was taking nothing for granted by this stage)

great cannoli, a lovely meal at Mama Rosa’s (which was a recommendation) and finally a trip up the hill to the very top  (you need to have a head for heights here, with the hairpin bends and sheer drops – and I don’t, made worse by the fact I was largely sober as the booze was so bloody expensive) and the lovely Castelmola. The food here was superb and slightly less expensive, so frankly a ten minute bus ride (even with your eyes closed as in my case) is worth it for some really good food and more astonishing views.

I also had some of the best bruschetta ever in a tiny, family-run bar with a stunning view of Etna (who produced a lava flow for our entertainment while we had a few beers).


When we arrived the mamma welcomed us and the pappa…. well, let say, he was a large, sweaty man in a vest who quite clearly did not wish to be there baking his own ciabattas in a tiny hot kitchen and I am guessing that he is rarely deployed front of house, if you get my drift. We ordered beer and the order was yelled at him from the mamma and he growled back some apparent obscenity (we were all occupying a space of about 3 square metres here). When he brought out, clearly very reluctantly, the bruschetta (not ordered but Italians do not like to serve drinks without some kind of food/snack it seems) and kind of growled something as he pretty much threw it on the table, we did notice he was perspiring rather heavily and had distinctly grubby nails, he also, rather worryingly, had breadcrumbs and crushed tomatoes clinging to his chin and top lip.


We looked long and hard at that bruschetta, considering ever so slightly the hygiene implications and then thought, sod it. It was, by a country mile, the best bruschetta I have ever eaten, and makes almost all other attempts seem inadequate. And, of course, we came to no harm and, honestly, if we had had more time I would have come back and eaten there every day, despite the fact that I never once saw either proprietor or proprietess wash their hands and the loo was basically in the kitchen and the flush was broken. To pappa’s clear relief the son eventually turned up, a charming and jovial chap, who took over front of house…

Love Sicily, love Taormina and we had a wonderful time, but finding some really good food was more of a challenge that I imagined, so I will have to go back and try again….


One more gem to share, this time from the fight home. This item is a called a “ham and cheese melt”. A delayed flight (storms over France) meant I was starving and so I recklessly ordered this microwaved monstrosity. It is essentially wet bread with some kind of cheese -like product on top.

And with that, I will say arrivederci.



Eating out in London – random musings on the great, the okay and the rest

We had some fabulous food on our recent stay to London, Adam Handling’s The Frog in Spitalfields, Smoking Goat in Soho and the Oystermen in Covent Garden were the highlights. We had some pretty good sushi (I am no expert on this, has to be said) at Eat Tokyo in Camden and a fabulous pizza in Neal’s Yard. All these have their own posts on the blog if you have the time.

We had some not so good stuff – my taco at Greenwich Market was a particular low-light, soggy, gritty and taste free (see separate post).


 and I had a not unpleasant but distinctly underwhelming salt beef brioche in Convent Garden Market.


Popped to a couple of nearby café for breakfasts, I didn’t record the names for posterity and mostly I watched the rest of the FWF eat the food, but we had some decent fry-ups, and I discovered that a  “Liver Breakfast” is a thing. I think this is a fry-up with liver (I’m hazarding a guess here, but for sure most of the cafes in this bit of London served it, so it is clearly a thing).



We had a shockingly expensive croissant and a bowl of granola with yoghurt on High Holborn that could’ve fueled an army, and a bacon sandwich that was served on the thickest slice of bread I  think I have ever seen, imagine a loaf cut in half with bacon inserted (couldn’t manage all the bread, but no complaints about the bacon).

Some really good Chinese food at Canton Element in Camden. Way over-ordered, mind you, leaving us in pretty much a food induced coma at the end.

And a Korean BBQ, at Kimchi also on High Holborn. We just walked into this place on our first night and hadn’t planned it, it was very busy all evening (and every lunchtime and evening that we walked by).

It is clearly popular. But, although there was some great flavours, the meat was tough. I mean I had to give up on chewing the beef as I actually thought I would gag if I tried to swallow it and the pork belly wasn’t much better (both eaten served in lettuce leaves which I love) But how does this happen? Was I just really unlucky (on both dishes?) or am I a poor masticator? I don’t know, but clearly (and I think there were probably lots of repeat customers there) it didn’t seem to bother any one else. FWH loved the mackerel jorim.

It was enough that we wouldn’t return despite the fact that the service was fine, and the décor and presentation of the food was good but, no, just can’t get passed that meat.

And….just in case you are wondering, whilst the FWD was at work, myself and the FWH walked about 20 miles across town as the weather was so lovely so we, kind of, burned it all off..