the Kitchen on the Kelvin

Recipes, news and reviews from my cubby-hole of a kitchen on banks of the River Kelvin, Glasgow


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Under the Tuscan Sun

Last month, I finally made it to Italy for the first time. I call this third time lucky, having failed on two previous attempts. Many years back, my sister and I came across a great deal to spend a weekend in Rome. Brimming with excitement – being a whole one sixteenth Italian, I’d always wanted to visit the homeland – we boarded our Ryanair flight at Prestwick airport. Fast forward three hours later and the plane remained on the same damp and drizzly Tarmac; we were informed that due to an Italian air traffic controller strike the flight was now cancelled. With no other flights available, instead of going to Rome, we had no choice but to head home. It might be overused, but the term anticlimax was created for moments like that one.

A couple of years later, two good friends and I planned a last minute getaway to Rimini to celebrate having finished our final degree exams. However, one of the two needed a new passport. True to form, the courier arrived at my friend’s door 10 minutes too late and we missed the flight. How could it have happened again?

Having shared these unfortunate tales with Craig’s family – this was my first family holiday with the Barclays – they were eyeing me with both suspicion and apprehension that this so-called “curse” might strike again as we arrived at Prestwick Airport one windy Wednesday afternoon. After Ryanair put me through 90 minutes of agitated déjà vu before our plane finally took off – again citing issues with Italian air traffic controllers which I really must look into – we arrived happily in the warm climes of Pisa.

We were staying in the lovely town of Montecatini Terme which sits just below Montecatini Alto, an ancient village built at the top of a hill and accessible via an equally ancient but lovely funicular railway. It was at Alto we first visited Casa Gala, a quirky and truly one-of-a-kind restaurant that sits on the romantic cobbled square at the centre of the village. Potted olive trees are scattered between the tables, with lemon yellow paintwork creating a rustic Mediterranean backdrop. Inside, a long table adorned with trinkets, ornaments and plants sits below a contemporary light fitting, bringing a gallery-style feel to the place. This unusual display was my first hint that Casa Gala is something more than just a restaurant.

Craig’s parents had eaten here a year previously and told us of their amusement as they witnessed the stereotypical Italian temperament come alive; a blazing argument between the staff concluded with a waitress walking out mid-shift. Half-expecting some Fawlty Towers-esque service, we were in the right state of mind for the place, although some of the other diners appeared less amused.

Bottega di Gala, the restaurant's adjoining shop and delicatessen

Bottega di Gala, the restaurant’s lovely adjoining gift shop and delicatessen

Our server certainly seemed to lack the urgency and attention one might expect when dining out. We could see the patience at other tables wearing thin as he chose to spend ten minutes chatting with the staff at a neighbouring restaurant rather than attending to customers. Appearances, however, can be deceiving; we soon realised that the waiter, Simone, was, in fact, the owner and creator of this curious place, and his apparent lackadaisical attitude couldn’t have been further from the truth. He spoke to us about his food with so much care and passion that we were certain we were in for something very special.

Recognising our burning enthusiasm (ie greed) for food, he treated us to a wonderful array of locally produced Toscana cuisine during our week in Italy, over which time we visited Casa Gala three times. On our second visit, whilst we were perusing the stunning menu, Simone offered to go off-piste and prepare us his own special meal. In a restaurant full of diners, this felt like a pretty special opportunity available only to our party, which, naturally, we grasped with both hands. Over the next couple of hours, Simone went back of house and cooked us a five-course meal to remember.

First, a deliciously juicy tiger prawn was served on toasted Italian bread with pancetta and sliced green apple that cut through the salty, oily flavour perfectly. As it was set down on the table in front of us, the visual impact alone, tendrils and all, was enough to tell us this dish was going to be nothing short of brilliant. The prawn was generously meaty and, once that was out of the way, the toasted bread mopped up the seafood juices and pork fat very nicely indeed.

A stunning start: Tiger prawn with pancetta and sliced green apple on toast

A stunning start: tiger prawn with pancetta and sliced green apple on toast

Next, fresh wide-ribbon pasta was served with clams, squid rings and some more modestly-sized shell-on prawns, with the broth providing a light, wonderfully savoury accompaniment. Simone let the ingredients do the talking again and, combined with his technical ability, the result was another course of a really high standard.

With ingredients like this there's no need for fuss: wide ribbons of fresh pasta bathed in a seafood broth with clams, squid and shell-on prawns

With ingredients like these there’s no need for fuss: wide ribbons of fresh pasta with clams, squid and shell-on prawns

After two fish courses, we knew something quite different had to be coming next, and we were right. Put before us was a real big player; gnocchi with stilton. Three courses in, I was feeling pretty intimidated. I tend to struggle with really heavy dishes of this kind and this one brought a batten-the-hatches punch of richness that was a lot for me to deal with. I was relieved to discover, however, that the gnocchi were delightful little cloud-like mouthfuls; like no other gnocchi I’d ever had before. I couldn’t completely polish off this course, a rarity for myself, but I did a pretty good job. For gnocchi enthusiasts, this was the dish of dreams.

Packing a punch: gnocchi with stilton

Packing a punch: gnocchi with stilton and crispy sage leaves

If I think back to that moment, I remember the overwhelming emotion was concern. How much more could I stomach? How many courses were still to come? How on earth could I possibly bow out of this once in a lifetime meal? And then came another daunting reveal. Course number four was a pancetta-stuffed pork fillet served on more delicious, oil-drizzled toasted bread. The cut had been sautéed in white wine and, in all its salty goodness, was a delight to devour despite suppressed protestations from my full-to-bursting stomach.

After dark: Pancetta-stuffed pork fillet sauteed in white wine

After dark: pancetta-stuffed pork fillet sauteed in white wine

It’s difficult to imagine how we did it, but dessert made five. A selection of sweets, from a scrumptious marmalade cheesecake to a gooey chocolate fondant, were somehow devoured by our party. We sat around the table, gazing dreamily at each other – admittedly wine had been consumed throughout – recounting our personal highlights of the meal and feeling very lucky indeed.

I could easily write ten or twelve blog posts – if I miraculously discovered the necessary willpower – about the incredible food we enjoyed on our Tuscan getaway. Every meal I had in the country was of an impressively high standard, but the famous five courser at Casa Gala is the one that’ll stick in my mind. Even more so because we later discovered that the eatery-cum-hotel is named after the family’s elderly pug, Gala, who shuffles around the restaurant doing her rounds with an completely adorable confused expression on her pudgy face.

Resident pug gala on patrol with no time for photos

Resident pug Gala on patrol with no time for photos

My lasting memory of Tuscany is ancient hilltop towns, cypress-lined impressionist landscapes, sunflowers as far as the eye can see and that meal of epic proportions at Montecatini Alto. Casa Gala, we love you!

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Home comforts: cheese scones

I can't think of a better way to describe these scones than 'scrummy'

I can’t think of a better word than ‘scrummy’ to describe these scones

There’s something so homely about cheese scones that I’m not sure anything can beat them on the comfort food front. I love making them on chilled out Saturday mornings, and my mum even makes them for us fresh on Christmas morning.

Her classic recipe from an old Bero cookbook is probably still my favourite, but a couple of years ago I came across an alternative, more substantial version by baking maestro Dan Lepard for the Guardian. This is what I’ve adapted below, exchanging the buttermilk for good old semi-skimmed (or whatever you have in the fridge) and the parsley for chives. With a hell of a lot of cheese in there, these certainly aren’t one for diet days but they make a perfect brunch dish when you’re not feeling quite so extravagant as pancakes and you don’t fancy eggs (as I never have and never will).

Ingredients:

75g jumbo rolled oats, plus a handful for sprinkling on top
150ml water
50ml milk (I use semi-skimmed but whatever you have in the fridge will do nicely)
1 large egg
50ml sunflower oil
A large handful of chopped chives
200g mature cheddar, coarsely grated
350g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

1. The first stage of this recipe sets it aside from any other scone recipe I’ve known; a porridge style mixture is made by combining the oats with the water in a saucepan and bringing to the boil. At this stage, pour the mixture into a large bowl, stir in the milk and leave to cool.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 220c/200c fan assisted/425F/gas mark 7.

3. Beat in the egg and oil until mixed well and stir through the cheese and chives. Next, add the flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until a soft dough forms.

3. Roll out the dough on a floured surface until around 4cm thick and use a round 6-8cm pastry cutter (I like the ribbed edge best) to form the scones before transferring them to a floured baking sheet. Place them a few centimetres apart to allow for a little spreading.

4. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle over a little grated cheese and some more oats for a rustic, homely finish.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the kitchen smells divine and they are risen and golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack.

6. Enjoy! These are best straight out of the oven with a generous serving of real butter. Later on, a gentle toasting brings them back to life and they freeze pretty well too.


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Winter weekends: A cold, culinary adventure in Dublin

Just a few months ago, my big sister announced she was moving away; not only from Glasgow, but leaving the UK altogether. Her boyfriend, Diarmuid, had been asked to transfer to Dublin where his employer was opening a new office. As a native Irishman, this meant going home; for Louise, however, it was a chance to discover a new and regularly raved about city.

Seven days after we said our tearful but happy goodbyes, my mum, Aunt Susan, Craig and myself set off for dreary Prestwick Airport at 5am, groggy but looking forward to a weekend in the celtic capital to celebrate Louise’s 30th birthday.

After a raucous flight shared with some lumbering rugby fanatics who were already tanked up for the impending Scotland v Ireland game the next day, we hopped into a taxi where stereotypes really lived up to their expectations; the saccharine lull of Stephen Gately and co was playing out over the radio. I thought things might have moved on since the last time I was in Ireland some 16 or so years ago, when I, along with millions of other confused young girls, was in the full throes of Boyzone mania. I was all too pleased to discover, however, that this was some sort of odd coincidence and we weren’t subjected to that kind of aural assault again.

A February weekend in Dublin was always going to be a cold one, but I hadn’t prepared for the unrelenting, biting wind which tore past us, freezing rain stinging our faces, as we explored the city. For 90 minutes of the open top bus experience – necessity had us sitting downstairs – the cold seeped deep into my bones with no plans of easing off anytime soon. It wasn’t until a new lot of tourists stepped on board, only 20 minutes left of the circuit for us, that the driver thought it wise to turn on the heaters. Having presumed there was no such facility on board, I was just a little bit fuming.

Queen of Tarts on Dublin's Cows Lane

Queen of Tarts on Dublin’s Cows Lane

The only thing that could lift my bleak body and mind at this stage was nature’s one and only cure-all: food. On the recommendation of Diarmuid’s sister, we headed to Queen of Tarts on the enjoyably titled ‘Cows Lane’. Stepping through the door, the intoxicating scent of home baking told me that this was exactly what I needed. I opted for the soup and sandwich combo to warm me through. Celeriac soup was served thick and piping hot, just as I hoped it would be. On the side, hearty roast pork loin with apple butter and homemade stuffing on focaccia was exactly the sort of belly-pleasing comfort food my body was craving, with the not-too-sweet but not-too-tart apple sauce ensuring it was moist as well as tender. Bones just about thawed – aside from my perpetually cold feet – we were prepared again to do some more exploring. The sun was even kind enough to kiss our faces for a little while as we strolled through Trinity College, down O’Connell St and along the River Liffey.

Cockle-warming fare: Roast loin of pork with apple butter and homemade stuffing

Cockle-warming fare: Roast loin of pork with apple butter and homemade stuffing on focaccia

After a hot shower back at the hotel which was only a couple of stops on the LUAS train, we were ready to head back out into Dublin. Thankfully, the winds had eased and conditions were a lot more pleasant for an evening out than I’d expected. Leaving plenty of time to have a couple of drinks before dinner, we stopped by The Dawson Lounge, Dublin’s smallest pub, which is essentially a dark, dare-I-say dingy room down a set of stairs through a doorway just off St Stephen’s Square. What it lacked in style and space, however, it made up for in charm. There we enjoyed obligatory pints – or half pints on my part – of Dublin’s most famous export. The last time I had Guinness was on St Patricks Day in Brisbane quite a few years ago and this hiatus was with good reason. However, I did actually quite enjoy it which I can only put down to the Dublin water. Feeling a little merrier, we made our way back to street level and headed for the main event: The Pig’s Ear.

This award-winning restaurant was what I’d really been waiting for all day. Diarmuid had been once before and Louise had also spotted it in Dublin’s Lonely Planet Guide. When she told me that was where she’d booked for her birthday meal, I – impatient as ever – started digging. As they put it themselves on the restaurant website, “At the Pig’s Ear, simplicity, hospitality and generosity are key elements for a warm friendly restaurant. We offer an informal approach, value for money and no frills satisfying seasonal Irish food.” Having retained a Michelin Bib Gourmand since 2009, I was amazed to discover that the Early Evening Menu was available for only €26.95, particularly given this place’s location in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

During our dreaded open top bus tour, I had managed to spot the restaurant as we passed its doorway on Nassau Street opposite the Trinity playing grounds. A glossy, hot pink wooden door was adorned with a large black ribbon tied into a bow, like a luxurious gift just waiting to be unwrapped. For me, quirky touches like this one really amp up the anticipation and I felt genuinely lucky to be visiting one of the city’s most hyped eateries that evening.

All wrapped up: The Pig's Ear, Nassau St

All wrapped up: The Pig’s Ear, Nassau St

Gladly, I was not disappointed. We dined in the second floor ‘Mirror Room’ which was stylishly decorated with – you guessed it – lots of large mirrors and other interesting details. As a pre-theatre style menu, there were three choices per course and all of them were inventive. I’m sorry to have to say this again, but I couldn’t turn my back on the goats cheese starter. To be precise, this was “Whipped St Tola Goats Cheese, Roast Onions, Pine Nuts, Brown Bread”. Having never heard of St Tola before, we asked the waiter of its origins and were told it’s on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare and is made from 100% organic goat milk. As a veteran on the goats cheese starter front, I can say that this was certainly one of the strongest goats cheeses I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. Not for the faint hearted, it brought with it a punchy, intensely rich flavour – a little too pungent for Craig, as it turned out – with a delicious, velvety texture thanks to the whipping process. The chef’s decision to pair it with baby onions became clear at this point as they were able to stand up to the cheese very well, while the pine nuts added a necessary crunchy dimension to the dish. I realise that my photography skills let me down somewhat on this occasion – no thanks to the ‘dining in the dark’ lighting – and the picture below doesn’t look particularly lovely, but in reality this was a dish beautifully constructed with a taste experience to match.

Sorry, I did it again: Whipped St Tola Goats Cheese, Onion

Sorry, I did it again: Whipped St Tola goats cheese, roast onions, pine nuts, brown bread

For my main, I took the very rare decision to deviate from my usual carnivorous ways and opted for “Pan-fried Hake, Cauliflower, Smoked Haddock, Brown Shrimp, Samphire, Almond and Caper Butter”. I eat a lot of fish at home and, as a result, the meatier dishes I don’t so often cook for myself tend to catch my eye. However, I’m sure you’ll agree that the description poised fish as anything but boring and it was an easy choice to make. A beautifully cooked, chunky piece of hake was the star of the show – as it should be – and was deliciously complemented with tasty morsels of smoked haddock and brown shrimp. The toasted cauliflower provided a satisfying contrast in texture and samphire, which seems to me to be the green of the moment, gave the dish a real visual appeal. 

A beautifully executed fish dish: Pan-fried hake, cauliflower, smoked haddock, brown shrimp, samphire, almond and caper butter

A beautifully executed fish dish: Pan-fried hake, cauliflower, smoked haddock, brown shrimp, samphire, almond and caper butter

Having had a lighter main than I might normally have done, choosing a dessert wasn’t a struggle. I went for “The Pig’s Ear Vanilla Cheesecake, Berry Jam, Hob Nob Biscuits”. Served in a kitsch little jam jar with red and white gingham lid included, this was a cheesecake of the deconstructed variety. The crumbly biscuit base was, I’m sure, an oaty biscuit reminiscent of a Hob Nob, but, having had a pretty close relationship with the milk chocolate variety in my youth, I’m quite confident it wasn’t pulverised McVities. This would have been a cop-out on the part of the restaurant, of course, but there’s a reason why these branded biscuits are a mainstay of builders and grannies alike across the country. Believe it or not, 12 or so years ago, our house was burgled overnight while we slept and I woke to discover that one of the valuables plundered was my tub of McVities Milk Chocolate Hob Nobs. Naturally, I felt cheated as well as confused and completely furious. That’s one to talk through with my therapist, however, so back to the dessert at hand. The ‘cheese’ element of the dish was sweet and creamy as you would expect, while the berry jam was a lovely addition, offering enough sharpness to cut through the richness. Admittedly, this wasn’t the best cheesecake I’ve ever had, but it was a very pleasant end to an excellent dining experience in Dublin.

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Deconstructed desserts: The Pig’s Ear Cheesecake, Berry Jam, Hob Nob Biscuits

Should you find yourself spending a couple of days in this lively city, make a beeline for The Pig’s Ear. Not only was the food incredibly satisfying and interesting, but it provided us with a robust lining in our stomachs before moving on to explore many of Dublin’s best traditional pubs.


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Back to basics: fish and chips

A number of years ago, I spent a very happy, carefree semester in Brisbane, Australia, as part of my law degree. I lived in a traditional Queenslander house not far from the winding river named after the lovely city it meanders through.

When I first arrived, I couldn’t believe how great everyone looked. The lifestyle there is one of fresh air and fitness and the people seemed to be exposing their bronzed, taught bodies in a very breezy, relaxed fashion. Within seconds of arriving, I had resolved to become a part of this fresh-faced, glowing club. However, one delicious stumbling block stood firmly in my path, almost literally (in the true sense of the word).

At the end of sunny Heidelberg St, just a few steps from my front door, stood a sandwich board proudly boasting ‘Australia’s best fish and chips’. Down a few steps and across a small, unassuming car park was a chippy I can’t even remember the name of, but a chippy with a difference. More like a fishmonger, instead of ready-fried fish, sausages, pies and even pizzas languishing greasily in a heated cabinet, rows of snapper, salmon, barramundi, cod and calamari glistened appealingly on a bed of crushed ice, only to be fried once the lucky customer takes their pick. Albeit fantastic, this wasn’t enough to prove a vice in my pursuit of wholesomeness.

The beer battered chips, however, were another story. What I had previously known of ‘beer-battered’ was an airy and crisp coating on a piece of haddock or cod. These chips, however, had no such crust. What they did have was a slightly coarse, flavourful bite on the outside and a steaming hot, plump and fluffy character in the middle. The name itself might be a little misleading and what they’d done with them exactly was a mystery to me but, goodness, did they taste good.

Needless to say, I enjoyed those hot chips more often than was wise in bikini culture Brisbane. It wasn’t before long, though, that I moved home to the other side of the world, far away from such temptation. That was until Old Salty’s opened just down the road a few months ago.

I’m very lucky to live just a couple of minutes from what has become the trendiest hub in the city of Glasgow. Crabshakk, The Finnieston, Kelvingrove Cafe and The Gannet (which is wonderful, for the record)  have turned a slightly dogeared part of the west end into the place every scenester wants to spend their Saturday night – and Sunday morning for brunch, snatch. While dining out at any of these establishments comes at a cost, a new and affordable breed of fish and chip shop-cum-cafe has opened its doors right in the thick of it and I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker.

One wet and windy Friday night, Craig and I decided to give the place a test run after I ‘d spotted its opening a couple of days before. The curious name itself was enough to tempt me, not to mention the eclectic look of the place. While that classic chip shop counter remains, don’t expect to find any greasy plastic furniture here; traditional Victorian tiled walls are teamed up with tile-top tables laden with condiments, candles and a bottle of wine if you fancy (which, to little surprise, we did). Arriving at rush hour on a Friday night, particularly busy as you can also take away, we had a few minutes to wait but it wasn’t long until we were shown to a table by a woman, seemingly the owner or manager, with a lively attitude and a smile you couldn’t help but return. The place was certainly buzzing with the anticipation of the treat of a fish supper on a Friday night and it was clear to see that a real melting pot of people were excited about this new haunt.

Both of us were in the mood for a straight up classic of haddock and chips (a very reasonable £7.95 when sitting in) and waited with baited breath – sorry, these fish puns are impossible to avoid – while it was fried to order and delivered to our table piping hot. The chunky fish was beautifully fresh, the batter triumphantly light and crunchy and the chips – forget the triple cooked gourmet variety – were traditional chippy chips done well. My dad, veteran chippy connoisseur, has a real dislike for what he calls “burst chips” and I can safely say these weren’t anything of the sort. As his chippy protege, I’ve made it my mission to visit a few good fish and chips shops over the years (including the award winning one at Anstruther which I felt was a little overrated, especially after 30 minutes of queueing) and, in all honesty, this one, all too conveniently just a couple of minutes from my front door, is right up there with the best. So thank you and screw you for ruining my wholesome, health food ambitions Old Salty’s!

The best comfort food there is

The rarely disputed king of comfort food. Made even better with wine.

Sitting in or taking away, if you’re looking for a satisfying feed at a reasonable price with real atmosphere, Old Salty’s is a very delicious no brainer.


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Corfu, Part II: Corfu Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Every so often, one of those rare days comes along that I know will linger fondly in the memory for some time. Free from worry, pressure and expectation, our impromptu visit to Corfu Town was just that.

As I explained in my previous post, our days in Ermones had revolved around unadulterated sun worship, gorging on beautiful Corfiot seafood and quaffing a liberal quantity of cocktails by the pool. While too much of that can only be a good thing in my eyes, we would have been wasting an opportunity if we hadn’t taken a foray into the island’s capital, Corfu Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a 30 minute bus ride away.

Just a few weeks before, I’d been drawn in by some striking pictures of the old town on the Instagram account of my Greek school friend, Dimitra, who had spent her summer holidays there. As a native, I knew she’d be able to share with us the insider knowledge we craved: where do the locals eat?

The bus, which eventually picked us up from our hotel after deviating quite significantly from the timetable, reached its final destination on a scruffy plot of land operating as a depot. So far, so unimpressed; I was anticipating a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets brimming with a potent sense of the past. But with the help of some 21st century technology, we discovered the old town a few minutes later and got the eyeful of culture we were looking for.

The rich history of the island, which can be read about here, is clearly demonstrated by the formidable old fort which dominates the bustling port. Further into the meandering passages, shuttered windows and flowering balconies are reminiscent of Paris or Venice which is a direct result of four centuries of Venetian rule before the British, French and Greek governments made their own marks.

Back home in Britain, we’re fed emotive images of the great turmoil caused by the crippled Greek economy but there’s no sign of that here. Glossy boutiques exude opulence and indulgence, chic cafes buzz dynamically with expressive conversation and polished ladies laden with the exploits of their spending strut confidently through the winding streets, chichi toy dogs in tow.

After finding our bearings and absorbing the charm of the place, we were certainly ready for refreshments. Settling on a couple of high stools poised outside an elegant little bar-cum-cafe, we would spend the next three hours supping zingy margaritas and enjoying one of the best pastimes there is: people watching. From the bionic blonde whose plastic surgery portfolio could give those of The Real Housewives a run for their money, to the stream of giggling schoolgirls ordering chain-gulped iced coffees from the pretty Greek version of a 20-something Joaquin Phoenix (swoon), this was one of the foremost people watching experiences of my life. Somehow, TV and film can’t compare to the entertainment that comes from surveying the curious actions and conversations of human beings unknowingly going about their everyday lives.

Now for food. Our dinner venue had come highly recommended by my Greek informant, Dimitra. Entered via an inconspicuous passageway off one of the main shopping streets, I reckon Bellissima has to be Corfu Town’s best kept secret. Despite its Italian name, Bellissima serves traditional Greek fare from its charming situation on a romantic little square. Sat outside at tables with red check tablecloths, we devoured saganaki (king prawns with feta in a tomato sauce), spetzofai (spicy sausage with peppers), more seafood pasta (Craig’s true vice) and the ultimate Greek classic of chicken souvlaki.

This was a feast capable of feeding a large family with Grecian appetites so eventually we had to admit defeat with a dull ache of disappointment. The family which runs this place delivered everything we had hoped for from an authentic meal; the warmest hospitality was lovingly combined with food which was unpretentious, homely and bursting with flavour. And just to top it all off, a group of traditional singers, musicians and dancers performed in the square as we ate to make this an all-encompassing experience of Corfiot culture.

This day trip represented one major life lesson learned: never underestimate the value of taking in some culture. We could have so easily have spent our entire week languishing in luxury by the pool at our hotel but this little sojourn enriched our holiday far more than we could’ve imagined.


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Corfu, Part I: Ermones

First things first, I have to apologise for my summertime blogging hiatus. Since starting a busy new job at the beginning of July, I’ve neglected to put aside any time to tell you what I’ve been eating. I’m glad to say that the guilt has finally got the better of me and I’ve now promised myself I’ll get back into the habit of writing regularly.

The event which spurred this sluggish return to Wordpress was a late summer getaway to the lush Greek island of Corfu. Craig and I found ourselves whiling away the hot days and refreshingly cool nights in a very quiet corner of the island called Ermones. Situated on the west coast of the island but not too far from Corfu Town, we stayed at the Atlantica Grand Mediterraneo Resort which was one of only two hotels built into the cliffs around this picturesque little bay with a historical past; according to travel agency Thomson’s guidebook, Homer’s Odysseus washed up ashore here to find a bevy of maidens waiting for him. I suppose this would’ve been the perfect time to pick up this legendary tome, but that sort of a literary challenge doesn’t really pair well with a holiday for me.

The beautiful Ermones Bay

The beautiful Ermones Bay

For the first time ever, we opted to go all-inclusive. This is something that I’ve been very hesitant to do in the past, but the quiet location and a number of positive reviews of the hotel’s cuisine on Tripadvisor gave us the confidence to take a gamble which I’m both pleased and relieved to say paid off.

One of our most weighty reasons for going all-inclusive was value for money. Craig and I admittedly like to enjoy a drink or two on holiday and have felt the room tab fear when settling our bill at the end of a couple of previous getaways. What could be more fitting with a holiday than not having to worry about a budget? The selection of drinks on offer was excellent with plenty of brand names and cocktails forming part of the package. In particular, our hats go off to barman Costas and his talent for mixing some very delicious mojitos which we enjoyed many a late afternoon by the pool.

Well and truly wound down

Well and truly wound down

Lunches and a couple of our dinners were had at the hotel’s Medusa restaurant. This was your standard buffet set-up with plenty of salads, fish, chicken and meat on offer at all times. I found this particularly good at lunch time when I could opt for a light meal, as stodge and a bikini make a beach body not. I was happy with a piece of fish or chicken alongside the ultimate classic of greek salad. At one point during the week, I feared I might have become about 90% feta cheese after devouring so much of the delightfully creamy stuff. Now, several weeks cold turkey, I think I’m back to the standard water:protein:fat:minerals ratio.

Sunset over Ermones Bay

Sunset over Ermones Bay

We spent our second evening at one of the hotel’s a la carte restaurants, Thalatta, which serves Corfiot seafood on the beach. As you can see from our photos, we arrived just on time to see the vibrant sun disappear over the horizon. The food on offer here was the best of Greek cuisine: simple and hyper-fresh with quality ingredients that speak for themselves. The starter comprised a meze of traditional dishes including greek salad with the most flavoursome tomatoes you couldn’t ever hope to find in the UK, tasty anchovy toasts, tzatziki, Corfiot codfish bianco (with garlic and lemon) and delicate fried squid which had to be straight from the sea that day. Already approaching full, we then enjoyed beautiful whole sea bream with grilled peppers, aubergine and courgette. The meal was concluded with a dainty selection of baklava; syrupy, sticky, sweet and nutty, this couldn’t be anything but a real treat.

Don't mess with the classics

Greek salad, tzatziki and olive bread: don’t mess with the classics

Beautiful fried sea bream with grilled med veg

Beautiful sea bream with grilled med veg

Another evening saw us visiting the hotel’s fine dining restaurant. Vertigo, perched high upon the cliffs, has an impressive view across the bay and serves Italian food of a sophisticated nature. With no pizza in sight, we started with a scrumptious ravioli appetiser, complements of the chef, which heightened our anticipation for what was to come next. I fear you’ll think I’m becoming a bore, but I just couldn’t let the goats cheese starter pass me by. Two overly generous wedges baked in a contrasting crunchy crumb were complemented with oozing figs, crispy prosciutto and a tangy balsalmic glaze. Safe to say, I had no goats cheese regrets yet again. Craig, always a sucker for shellfish, opted for fritto misto to begin and then a decadent seafood spaghetti overflowing with gargantuan king prawns. In a move controversial for myself, I ordered the veal fillet for my main on the recommendation of our server. While it’s not something I choose to eat regularly,  the meat was delicately sweet and tender and something really quite special.

Delicate fillet of veal with shredded tempura cabbage and carrots

Delicate fillet of veal with shredded tempura veg

The only meal which topped those described above was one we had in Corfu Town. So good, in fact, it deserves its own blog post which I resolve to write over the next few days. For now, I’ll leave you with this mystical shot of the valley beyond Ermones just after sunrise one morning. A little off the most beaten parts of the tourist trail, I’d visit this place again in a heartbeat.

A misty morning in the valley

A misty morning in the valley


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Home: the Isle of Arran

The beautiful Brodick Bay, Isle of Arran

I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most incredible places the world has to offer, but, no matter how I look at it, the Great Barrier Reef, New York City and Maya Bay just don’t quite compare to the humble Isle of Arran.

Situated off the west coast of Scotland, this island was the destination of almost every holiday I enjoyed during my childhood. Come rain or shine, I spent my days in and around ‘The Bungalow’ – my gran’s unique island abode – in Whiting Bay. Proudly elevated above Shore Road, the sandstone-fronted bungalow overlooking the beach had been extended several times over the years and became a residence of many elements: the front house (the luxury quarter where my gran lived); the back house (the self-contained, no-frills accommodation for family units on a fortnightly stay); the annexe (a small cupboard off the back house kitchen with a bed wedged in and no door – exclusively for the use of my unfortunate male cousins when beds were in short supply); and the penthouse (an unrenovated loft space with mattress for my even more unfortunate male cousins when the comparably opulent annexe was occupied). The bed policy was unashamedly sexist, but I wasn’t going to complain about it and risk spending a night in the penthouse with spiders the size of salad plates.

Unfortunately when my gran passed away some years ago, the house had to be sold and my heart was shattered into quite a few pieces. But thankfully I still get to spend a bit of time on Arran now that my family members have bought their own island boltholes.

Last December, however, I spent a couple of nights in a hotel on the island for the first time ever. I was enticed into this unprecedented move as a result of the no expense spared renovation of the iconic Douglas Hotel. Situated directly across from the pier in Brodick, this once-grand red sandstone pile had degenerated into an eyesore over the years but has been completely transformed into a luxury boutique hotel. Craig and I had a fantastic winter break and knew it wouldn’t be long until we returned.

A couple of weeks ago, thanks to a generous gift from Craig’s mum and dad, we spent another weekend at the wonderful Douglas and – once again – it did not disappoint. The decor, the atmosphere, the staff and the food make it the perfect balance of contemporary and traditional, of stylish yet relaxed.

After a wander during the day and a couple of G&Ts before dinner, we settled into the bistro for a delicious meal. To start, I opted for the beetroot, peppered goats cheese, cider poached pear and pumpkin seeds. I’m seldom able to pass over a goats cheese starter and this was one of the best I’ve had. Not only did it look stunning on the plate, but the goats cheese had the creamiest whipped texture which was cut through beautifully by the sweetness of the beetroot.

A work of art: beautiful goats cheese, beetroot, cider poached pear and pumpkin seed starter

Craig hit the foodie jackpot with his choice of Loch Fyne scallops, parma ham, confit duck and caper and lime sauce. The combination of scallops and duck struck me as a little unusual but it well and truly worked a treat. I only managed to snaffle a mouthful or two for myself but from that I can tell you it was excellently prepared and, should I get the chance to order this in future, I’ll be keeping every last mouthful for myself.

Sublime: Loch Fyne scallops, parma ham, confit duck and caper and lime dressing

Here I have to make a special mention to the hotel owner, Sean, who – by a series of bizarre coincidences – had met Craig in St Petersburg back in 2006 and showed him and a couple of his travelling companions a wild time over the space of a week. Sitting in the hotel bar mid-afternoon, Craig couldn’t quite believe his eyes when he recognised Sean and his wife as they passed our table, and it was even more to our surprise when we realised he also owns the place! After chatting before dinner and enjoying a couple of drinks with his family, Sean very generously sent us over a lovely bottle of champagne between our courses which we gratefully guzzled over the next couple of hours. He was a wonderful host and really has done a marvellous thing in bringing this decrepit hotel back to life with a resounding jolt, miles better than it ever was before.

A little too ‘distracted’ by the liquid offerings on the table, I didn’t manage to capture any more photos of our meal but I can tell you that the 28 day dry aged rib eye of beef, roast shitake mushrooms, white anchovy butter and chunky fries was a most satisfying feed. The beef was full of richness and the chips – served in kitsch mini frying basket – were top class and of the delicious crispy-on-the-outside, perfectly-fluffy-on-the-inside variety. Craig, meanwhile, had a hearty venison chasseur which I know he gobbled down gleefully. We couldn’t even manage a dessert to share, so full of delicious goats cheese, scallops, duck, steak, venison, chips and champagne we were. It was a veritable feast and one I wish I could relive right now.

I cannot recommend this place enough. Our room was beautifully decorated, very comfortable and not the slightest bit pretentious. The bar is relaxed, interesting and radiates a great, convivial atmosphere. The bistro, more formal as it should be, is stylish, spacious and bright. And finally, the entire staff is fantastic. Friendly, very happy to help and full of enthusiasm for the place, they make the Douglas Hotel what it is and ensure that we’ll be back time and time again. Check it out on Tripadvisor where you’ll read all you need to know.