Last month Steve and I revisited the beautiful island of Crete. Here is a small selection of his wonderful photographs which capture the spirit and essence of this magical place. When I think of Crete I can always summon up memories of that incredible light, with endless days full of hot sunshine, the splendour of the mountains and the bluest of blue seascapes and skies, with vistas of outstanding scenic beauty, colour and historical interest around every corner.
We decided to base ourselves in the beautiful town Rethymnon with it’s picturesque Venetian port, primarily for it’s central location to tour the island. We stayed in an apartment in the Old Town within sight of the impressive ancient Fortress which dominates the landscape. On this trip we particularly wanted to explore the east side of Crete and in our second week we drove to Elounda, which is one of the loveliest and most popular resorts and stayed there for two nights so that we could take a ferry to the island of Spinalonga, a place that has long been on my bucket list to visit.
The joys of al fresco dining late into the warm evenings was a highlight for me. Eating out and the price of food and drink generally was less expensive than the UK, apart from sparkling water which is very costly here as in most European countries. We enjoyed frappes every morning which cost 2 euros at most places and a large beer was 3.5 euros.
After more than two years of renovation work costing £80 million, Cambridge’s most historic and iconic hotel re-opened last month and I couldn’t wait to visit to sample the food in PARKER’s Tavern restaurant. I had enjoyed a splendid lunch there within days of the hotel opening and returned this week to experience Afternoon Tea with a friend.
This Afternoon Tea is innovative and offers a whimsical take on the traditional and clearly a lot of thought has gone into the invention of it. Every sweet and savoury treat created by chef Tristan Welch was inspired by the city’s literary legacy which is explained in the interesting Afternoon Tea menu booklet.
On this occasion one or two things could have been better as the sandwiches were dry and appeared not to have been freshly made, also we weren’t very impressed with the fillings of Coronation Chicken, Spiced Beef and Smoked Trout. However the sausage roll and crayfish pastry boat were very enjoyable. The still-warm scones were light and fruity and we both loved the plum jam. The sweet treats were all delightful, being unusual and creative and there was plenty to enjoy. A choice of teas are available to accompany the food and fresh pots were offered throughout the meal which is always welcome. Service was polished and professional. I think this Afternoon Tea is over-priced as it’s more expensive than any other I have come across in Cambridge but if you are looking for somewhere impressive and indulgent to take a visitor or for a special occasion then PARKER’s Tavern would fit the bill.
Finally the hotel lavatories are well worth a visit as one can hear the dulcet tones of Alan Bennett reading from the ‘Wind in the Willows’ whilst using the facilities!
The PARKER’s Tavern Afternoon Tea is available by reservation only at least 24 hours in advance and costs £33 per person plus 12.5% service charge.
Lavenham is a very pretty historic village in Suffolk, England, noted for its 15th century church, half-timbered medieval cottages and a circular walk. It’s a popular day trip destination with tourists and yesterday I visited with a friend for the first time and I was astonished at the sheer number of teashops! We had already booked a table at theLavenham BlueVintage Tea Rooms because it had been highly recommended and we weren’t disappointed. Housed in a beautiful 15th century building we enjoyed a Traditional Afternoon Tea which included a selection of finger sandwiches, scones, strawberry jam and fresh strawberries, clotted cream, mini trifles, and cakes with a pot of tea or coffee and free refills. Freshly made food, prompt and friendly service, and great value at £16.50 pp (minimum two people) in delightful surroundings with a choice of eating inside or in the attractive cottage garden at the rear. Highly recommended.
Welcome to our latest spa resort experience at Champneys Tring. This month my daughter and I returned to one of our favourite places to celebrate her birthday with one aim, – to indulge in three days of relaxation and pampering and this is the perfect place to do just that!
We enjoyed sampling the new summer menu with the accent very much on healthy eating combined with the Champneys food philosophy of moderation, balance and variety. Dining here is always a pleasure with excellent service and beautifully presented dishes.
These plates of food are typical examples of the starter, main and dessert courses we enjoyed during our stay. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style with an enormous choice available, and dinner is a more formal three course meal from an a la carte menu.
The gardens and extensive grounds are beautifully kept and visiting in June we saw the resort at its best bathed in sunshine. We made the most of the outdoor seating and pool areas, and staying in a Ground Floor Garden room on this visit we also had our own patio with chairs, table and sun loungers.
The Mansion House is an elegant building at the heart of the resort with several lounge rooms designed for rest, relaxation and comfort which are tastefully furnished to a high standard.
Inspired by Rick Steins travels around Europe in ‘Long Weekends’ Steve and I recently enjoyed a lovely holiday in sunny Cadiz, which was one of his destinations. We had made a note of all the tapas bars and restaurants which Rick had recommended and made it our mission to see how many we could locate on our week long stay.
The classy interior of the 4* Senator Cadiz hotel which was very centrally located in the Old Town and close to the harbour, bars, restaurants and shops. It was exceptionally clean and had an excellent breakfast, a spa, rooftop pool and sunbathing area. Top tip if you have a hire car (as we did) avoid the hotel car park as alternative underground parking is available nearby which is less expensive.
On our first evening we dined at El Farorestaurant and tapas bar which was one of Rick’s recommendations and we weren’t disappointed. It’s considered one of the best places to eat fresh seafood in Andalucía for good reason and although formal it had a certain old school charm and elegance at a reasonable price for the quality. By Cadiz prices El Faro is considered to be expensive with mains starting at 15 Euros but our bill with drinks was considerably less than we would have paid in Cambridge UK for a similar meal.
Our next destination was to Taberna Casa Manteca which is a tiny and totally authentic tapas bar with a fabulous atmosphere and an interesting history. This busy bar is a must for anyone visiting Cadiz and we liked it so much we returned several times during our stay.
We came across this modern restaurant La Isleta de la Vina quite by chance and liked the look of it. The food was exceptional and very reasonably priced. This unassuming restaurant with a small but very interesting menu was like finding treasure. The chef here cooks amazing and inventive food which is lovely to look at and equally delicious to eat. Well worth seeking out in the heart of Cadiz Old Town and deservedly highly rated.
We took a bus ride to the Playa de la Victoria area of Cadiz and enjoyed lunch al fresco at La Despensa, a smart restaurant which serves traditional Spanish food with a modern twist in a beautiful setting overlooking white sandy beaches and panoramic sea views.
Apart from the exceptional restaurants and bars which are featured above we enjoyed beers and tapas at many other interesting places and none more so than Taberna LaBombilla in one of the roads which surround the fantastic fish market in central Cadiz. Steve relished the fresh oysters from a street vendor and I enjoyed platters of local ham and cheese with chips, Padron peppers and tomatoes.
Mercado Central de Cadiz (the Central Market) is outstanding for the abundance and variety of sea food on sale, plus the fruit, vegetable and tapas stalls around the outside with lots of benches to stop and sample the excellent produce and prepared food. Spacious, clean and well set-up the market is interesting architecturally as the new central building is combined with the original market.
A typical stall in the Fish Market
The Flower Market in Cadiz
Cádiz is a port in Andalucía, Southern Spain known as ‘the silver teacup’ and the oldest city in Europe. We found it delightful and full of quirky charm. The old town is virtually unspoilt and despite this being a stop for cruise ships it’s not a touristy place. I would make a return visit in a heartbeat because there is so much to see and do and we barely scratched the surface in a week. We located at least half the bars and restaurants which Rick Stein had recommended and found some of our own worth writing home about. It’s the ideal location for lovers of seafood with cheap beer, wonderful weather and uncrowded beaches – what’s not to love!
Instead of a dessert Steve completed his meal with a glass of Valveran 20 Manz, a sweet Spanish wine
This month Steve and I had a fabulous holiday in the stunningly beautiful city of Cadiz. We visited lots of bars, cafes and restaurants and enjoyed many tapas dishes but eating at Codigo de Barra was a truly memorable experience which deserves to be shared.
On our last evening we were looking for somewhere special to eat and we just happened to discover Codigo de Barra, an exceptional fine dining restaurant which was located in a quiet square very close to where we were staying at the Senator Cadiz Spa Hotel.
Dutch Chef Leon Griffioen was full of surprises and his innovative dishes were worthy of a Michelin star for both sensational taste and artistic creativity. This restaurant most certainly had the wow factor!
Codiga de Barra has a modest unassuming frontage and is located in Plaza de Candelaria, Cadiz
The stylish interior of the restaurants minimalist dining room featured upstanding spoons in lumps of rock which was a quirky signature touch!
Steve’s starter of Langostinos Urium – garlic prawns with a dash of Jerez sherry was served in an attractive china bowl
My starter of Tortillitas de Camarones – Shrimp fritter sticks were presented in an unusual way which was typical of the house style.
Because we dined early we were lucky to get a table without a reservation. Our meal was a delight and surprisingly inexpensive for one of such outstanding quality. (The bill with drinks came to 80 Euros.) The service was excellent too and it’s not surprising to find that Codigo de Barra has been established for eight years and is a hugely popular and successful restaurant. It’s a must for all foodies if you are visiting Cadiz. Strongly recommended and next time I will be sure to order the taster menu because all the dishes coming out of this kitchen looked divine!
Last week we dined at highly acclaimed Restuarant 22 to celebrate Steve’s birthday. It has been taken over recently by new owners and I was keen to see what they had done to the place and to try the food after reading so many good things about it. We chose the 7-course tasting menu and were impressed from start to finish as the food and service were faultless. It was a memorable fine dining experience par excellence in a quiet intimate ambience which is perfect for a date night or a special celebration.
Elegant and stylish Restaurant 22 is located on Chesterton Road in Cambridge
Nocellara Olives to start the 7-course tasting feast
Cornish mackerel, English wasabi, and radish was the 2nd of three ‘snacks’
Truffle macaroni cheese. This was my dish of the night and we were only on appetisers!
Shallot brioche and cultured butter, Guinness bread with Guinness butter, were both served warm and utterly delicious!
The Amuse-bouche was a velouté of Broccoli, goats curd and lemon
This starter of Cambridgeshire asparagus, ricotta, and Hen of the Wood was most appetising
The attractive fish course of Cambridge Distillery Gin cured salmon, with burnt cucumber and sorrel was an exceptionally tasty dish
The main course of Aylesbury duck, kaffir lime, black garlic and gooseberry was so good that Steve finished mine off as well!
It came as no surprise that Steve chose the cheese board as an additional dish for a £12 supplement! He enjoyed Sparkenhoe Vintage Red Leicester, Montgomery’s Cheddar, Coulommiers Donge, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, and Innes Bosworth Ash Log served with smoked plum chutney, oatcakes and rye bread.
The pretty pre-dessert of sheep’s yoghurt, bitter orange and fennel was an interesting mix of taste and texture
An exquisite dessert of dark chocolate, hazelnut and brown butter completed our meal
22 is the epitome of elegance, charm and class with very friendly and knowledgeable staff. Small and intimate I would recommend this new fine dining restaurant as the perfect place for a date night or special occasion dining. (They have a private dining room upstairs as well.) We received a warm and inviting welcome and Steve thought the birthday card from the team was a nice personal touch which added to the occasion. The 7-course taster menu is reasonably priced and excellent value at £45 a head for food of this standard and quality which is beautifully presented on stylish crockery. The excellent service we considered to be faultless from start to finish. We would definitely return to 22, if only for the Guinness bread and the truffle macaroni cheese which made my night! Steve enjoyed the accompanying flight of wines at £45 which had some interesting choices and perfectly matched the dishes and a glass of port with his cheese course. To start we enjoyed a Cambridge Distillery Dry Gin and Tonic as an aperitif. It was an altogether memorable evening. This new venture certainly has the wow factor and deserves to do well. Booking is essential. Highly recommended, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
Restaurant 22 Cambridge
22 Chesterton Road, Cambridge, CB4 3AX
To make a reservation please call 01223 351880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tabla de Ibericos featured a tasty selection of Chorizo, Salchichon and Jamon
I loved this Ensalada de Queso de Cabra which included roasted goat’s cheese on raoman lettuce with walnuts, sultanas, cherry tomatoes with a honey and pomegranate dressing
This Patatas Bravas dish of triple cooked potato with a fiery brava chilli tomato sauce and aioli was excellent
Tabla de Quesos – the cheese board which we shared instead of dessert included four delicious and tasty Spanish cheeses, .Idiazabal, Manchego, Murciano and Azul Hojas
Tapas is a highly popular current foodie trend which has become well established in Cambridge with not one but two new authentic Spanish restaurants opening within a few weeks of each other. (See my last post for a review of Tabanco.) This week we enjoyed some traditional Spanish tapas at Tu Casa, where we drank Estrella Galicia on tap and Steve sampled an intense Spanish red wine Emilio Moro to accompany the cheese board which we shared.
Tu Casa offers a casual dining experience in a lively environment, traditional Spanish cuisine style. The staff are friendly and enthusiastic giving customers a warm welcome and the service is good and prompt. We visited on a wet midweek evening and it was pretty full and therefore loud with a couple of large groups in. I noticed that it was family-friendly and had attracted a wide-ranging clientele. The menu includes typical Spanish tapas and small plate dishes, traditional charcuterie and cheeses, as well as Paella and seasonal main courses and a small menu of desserts. The wine list offers Spanish Regional wines, Sangria, and beer lovers like us will appreciate having Estrella Galicia Premium pale lager and 1906 Reserva Especial available on draught. I thought that prices were on the high side but the tapas portions are generous and meant to be shared. We paid £37 per head for our meal with drinks. Recommended for groups and a welcome addition to the eclectic Mill Road dining scene. Tu Casa is sure to be popular so booking is advisable at weekends.
I loved the interior which has an authentic Spanish feel and ambience
Sardinas ahumadas Smoked sardine fillets, red pepper purée
Brócoli con gremolata y manchego. This tapas was my favourite – al-dente sprouted broccoli drenched in peppery, fresh gremolata and feather-light shavings of Manchego.
Chorizo a la plancha con boniato (Grilled chorizo with sweet potato)
Carrilleras de cerdo Braised pork cheeks, mash, PX sauce and crispy shallots
We shared the mixed Charcuterie board and Olives as a starter with bread
On a previous night out, Steve and I had ventured into Tabanco for a nightcap as we were interested to check out both the place and the menu. I was immediately impressed with the layout, the decor and the ambience of this new indie restaurant which opened last month. This week on the first warm and sunny evening of this year we returned with two friends for a selection of tapas and we were not disappointed. It serves a selection of barrelled sherries, fine wines, delicious small-plates and larger rustic Spanish-inspired dishes. Tabanco is the Cambridge-based sister of the hugely successful Drakes Tabanco, located on Windmill Street in London’s Fitzrovia, so it has an excellent pedigree. Note – the name “Tabanco” translates as “hangout” – a relaxed place where guests can drop by for a quick bite or plan a larger, more elaborate meal.
It’s easy to get carried away with the menu of enticingly descriptive tapas dishes – as we did and we ended up ordering 17 plates of food between the four of us! The bill with drinks came to a whopping £160.00 without service, but when I worked it out later it was only a modest £22 per head for the food and £18 a head for drinks and we had 4 drinks each.
Finally some small gripes about Tabanco. The service is fairly indifferent but acceptable, the bread is over-priced at £2.50 for four small pieces and there’s only bottled beer available. On the two occasions when we visited (both midweek) I was surprised to see them turning away potential diners at 9.30pm saying the kitchen was closed. Apart from that, it’s a great place for authentic tapas with a good atmosphere which when the shutters are open almost makes you feel like you are on holiday in Spain! Recommended for large groups.
This week I enjoyed lunch with a friend at the recently opened and ultra-stylish The Ivy Brasserie in Cambridge. I had been very keen to visit this new restaurant because it’s had many gushing and superlative reviews about the food and I’ve heard mixed ones about the service. My own experience was a curious one in several ways but nothing negative could be said about the food which we both agreed was excellent. We fully appreciated eating in this elegant and sophisticated restaurant which is a welcome addition to the Cambridge foodie scene. The rise of a new breed of gastro chains is a growing trend which has been led by The Ivy Collection group who have now rolled out 15 spin-off brasseries with more planned, including one which is due to open soon in Norwich.
The Ivy has own unique bright and vibrant style and the iconic ivy emblem is evident on everything from serviettes to sugar bowls! We observed exceptional attention to detail in the finish of this upmarket restaurant and clearly no expense has been spared. A special mention has to be given to the Cambridge-themed artwork which adorns the walls making it a visually stimulating environment of endless fascination.
The Ivy offers all-day casual dining and the restaurant is open 7 days a week for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, including set menus. We chose to eat from the set menu on this occasion which is available from 11.30am–6.30pm Monday to Friday at a very reasonably priced £16.50 for two courses or £21 for three courses. Booking is advisable but the restaurant also has a dedicated number of unreserved tables available throughout the day for walk-ins. It’s a surprisingly big space and there is a private dining area downstairs.
Our starter of Potted kiln-roast salmon with lemon, dill crème fraîche and granary toast was a savoury delight.
Our main course of Pea, asparagus and goat’s cheese risotto, with rocket and baby shoot salad was a surprisingly generous sized portion and we could only eat half of it. The melting goats cheese sitting atop the risotto was a lovely twist to this classic dish.Our dessert of Lemon posset with Poppyseed shortbread was absolutely divine!
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned drinks so far in my review because it was rather a fiasco trying to get a soft drink at all, so more on that saga to follow. First, there was confusion on arrival in the lobby area where I was greeted warmly by one member of staff who took my coat and gave me a cloakroom ticket. So far so good until another member of staff appeared who without any interaction took the ticket from my hand and proceeded to give me my coat back when I assumed she would be showing me to my table! Note to the staff – what is wrong with speaking and communication?
When I was eventually seated I was offered still or sparkling water so I asked for tap water whilst I waited for my friend to arrive. A carafe of water was delivered promptly to the table but it wasn’t chilled. After my friend’s arrival, we perused the menus which were on the table and chose a soft drink each. We had to ask a member of staff for the Lunch and Early Evening set menu though and we gave our food order. Despite the restaurant being less than half full (and there seemed to be a lot of smartly dressed staff walking about) I felt the need to complain because I had waited over 30 minutes for my soft drink although my friends Ginger Beer had arrived without delay. I asked our server where my drink was only to be told that some of the components of my drink (a Strawberries and Cream Soda) were unavailable. I ordered a Fever-Tree Elderflower tonic as an alternative. What followed is too long a saga to relate here but we encountered rudeness from a member of the bar staff who eventually brought my drink order when we pointed out politely that it was wrong. There was a curious incident when a small copper jug appeared on the table without any explanation. After asking a member of staff if it was sauce for the fish starter it transpired the jug contained Elderflower cordial for me! Again I say to the staff – where are your communication skills?
When it came to paying the bill we noticed that we hadn’t been charged for my soft drink or for the carafe of tap water which has been refilled on request. I objected to being asked to pay the whopping discretionary 12.5% service charge due to the poor customer service experience we had encountered. When I explained why to the member of staff who took my card payment we were offered an apology and complimentary coffee or tea to complete our meal as compensation.
Despite these small incidents, the food was exceptionally good so both my friend and I plan to return to eat at The Ivy, and we especially like the look of their very moderately priced Afternoon Tea.
Finally two more hints I would pass onto any would-be visitors, – make sure you don’t get charged for tap water as the people at the next table to us were astonished to be billed for it, and be warned that it’s an awful long way to the toilets which are located downstairs and seem like something of an afterthought for a venue of this size.