Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Gifts for Food Lovers 2015

from The Little Bread Pedlar

As usual my end of year gift choices for food lovers focuses on modestly priced gifts from small independent businesses plus one pushing-the-boat-out item.  Some are made by the seller, others are simply, carefully selacted, products for their customers.  As I live in London, all of these can be bought direct and, where possible, I've mentioned alternative sources that may be closer to you. In some cases you can also buy on-line.  These are things I buy for myself or for like-minded food lovers.  I hope it gives you some inspiration for gifts for the food lover in your life and makes you think about buying gifts from small businesses close to you.

Panettone  £15.00-£17.00

Why: Much as I like a slice of Christmas cake, a Panettone always comes home with me at Christmas.  I can never resist the Ulcigrai family panettone from Trieste.  It's available at Leila's Shop in Shoreditch and also sold at Monmouth Coffee's Covent Garden and Borough Market shops. 
This year The Little Bread Pedlar has a strong homemade challenger.

Where in London: Ulcigrai at Leila's Shop (E2) and Monmouth Coffee (WC2, & SE1); The Little Bread Pedlar (SE16 Saturdays)

Coedcanlas Delton Martins Ontario Maple Syrup   £7-£8.00

Why: This pure maple syrup has been added to the fantastic Coedcanlas range of honeys, marmalades and fruit jellies they make themselves.  The syrup is made by the Delton Martin family from the Mennonite community in Southern Ontario, Canada from sap collected from their own maple trees.  It's the best maple syrup I've ever tasted.  I know of only two sources in London for this, both of them keep a great range of food and drink.

Where in London: General Store; Jones of Brockley 

Hand-blended teas and wooden scoop
from My Cup of Tea

Hand-blended Tea & teaware  from £8.00

Why: A beautifully blended quality tea is always appreciated.  My favourite London-based tea blender has an aromatic Earl Grey which matches Chinese Keemun black tea with natural bergamot essential oil and cornflower and marigold petals (£8.00/100g); a Spicy Indian Chai, black tea with ginger, cloves, red peppercorns and cardamom (£12.00/100g); and a Chinese Osmanth d'Or Oolong, a lightly fermented  green tea with the aroma of Osmanthus flowers (£20/100g).  They also keep a beautiful range of handmade tea bowls, scoops, strainers and more.

Where in London: My Cup of Tea (Soho W1)

La Retorta Ewes' milk cheese  £6.95

Why: This unpasteurised ewes' milk cheese is sourced from Cáceres in Spain's Extremadura region.  Made with a rennet extracted from thistles, typical of the area, it's creamy and intense with a slight bitterness on the finish.  If you prefer British or French cheeses, Neals Yard Dairy and Mons Cheesemongers are among the best sources in London. 

Where in London: Brindisa (Borough Market SE1 and Brixton SW9); Neals Yard Dairy (WC2, SE1); Mons Cheesemongers (SE1, SE16)

Pump Street Chocolate Bars  from around £5.80 

Why: Pump Street Single Origin  'Bean to Bar' chocolate is still one of my favourites.  In particular a Madagascar Criolla 74% using beans from the Åkesson organic estate producing natural flavours of raspberry and membrillo.  Pump Street Bakery has quite a long list of stockists now so you shouldn't have too much trouble tracking some down but I've mentioned below where I know you can find a good selection of bars.

Where in London: Quality Chop House Shop; The General Store; Jones of Brockley

Microplane Cube Grater  £19.95

Why: There are any number of accessories to choose from at one of my favourite kitchen equipment shops but this Microplane Cube Grater caught my attention.  As I have learned, you really can't beat Microplane and the shape and design of this one is both stylish and practical.

Where in London: David Mellor (SW1W)

Josmeyer Le Fromanteau
from Dynamic Vines

A Bottle of Natural Wine  around  £25

Why: Which wine you choose depends, of course, on what you are going to eat with it but I would be very happy to receive this Josmeyer Le Fromanteau Pinot Gris from Alsace.  "Soft and sensual" it certainly is.  Suggested pairings are meat terrine, veal and mountain cheeses such as Vacherin and Reblochon.

Where in London: Dynamic Vines (SE16) Other good sources of natural wines in London are Gergovie Wines/40 Maltby Street (SE16), and Aubert & Mascoli (SE16).  Also, there's a limited selection at General Store and Leila's Shop.

Fern Verrow - a year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen
by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley

A Book: Fern Verrow - a year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen by Jane Scotter & Harry Astley  RRP £25.00

Why: Choosing just one book to recommend is very difficult.  I have 5 on my book stack this year but this book draws you in with its rhythmic prose and page after page of recipes for uncomplicated seasonal food that honours the ingredients. 

Where in London: All good independent book shops

Leach Pottery Porcelain
from Sunspel

Ceramics   £18-75

Why: I'm a sucker for ceramics and love the fact The Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall is still going strong almost 100 years after Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada set it up.  You can buy Leach ware direct from the Pottery but a collaboration with British brand Sunspel means you can buy this range of porcelain from Sunspel's London stores.  Prices range from £18 for a small creamer, mugs at £22-28, and various bowl sizes from £30-75.  Alternatively, if you want to commission a one-off piece there are plenty of potters working in London.  The Kiln Rooms is a very good place to start.

Where in London: Sunspel (W1, E2, SW1, W11) The Kiln Rooms (SE15)

Happy shopping.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Five Books for Food Lovers 2015

A page from Sally Clarke 30 Ingredients
(original photograph by Tessa Traeger)

Time for my annual food-book roundup.  This year I've limited myself to five, three of which I reviewed in full earlier in the year.  It has been a pretty good year for food books, so the choice wasn't easy.  As usual, I've included one book that wasn't newly published, but let's start with those that were.  The first is a story of adapting and living with the rhythms and cycles of the year and the delicious uncomplicated food that results; next comes a book that helped me to unlearn what I thought I knew and is constantly in my kitchen both for the recipes and the writing; there's a baking book stuffed with brilliant recipes and fine writing taking you into the life of a busy bakery and restaurant; next up is an offering of 30 favourite ingredients from one of my all time favourite chefs. My final choice delves into the culinary and social history of Sicily whilst taking a close look at 'Virgins' Breasts, Chancellor's Buttocks, and Other Convent Delicacies'

Fern Verrow - A year of recipes from a farm and its kitchen
by Jane Scotter and Harry Astley

Let me say from the outset that I know the authors of this book, in as much as I've bought produce grown on their farm ever since they started to load up a van and bring it down to London for sale most Saturdays.  Last Saturday they slipped some copies of the book on the back of the van so I was able to buy a copy a few days before publication date.  I grow some of my own fruit and veg so I know a little bit about where this book is coming from. I'm an enthusiast, but that's not the reason I found this book difficult to put down.   The Fern Verrow land is farmed  biodynamically, but this is not a book only for those of us who embrace the methods of Rudolf Steiner.  If you care about how your food is grown and how it's cooked you'll love how this book draws you in with its rhythmic prose and page after page of recipes for simple seasonal food that honours the ingredients.  This is food that you really want to eat. .......... Read more .....

Five Quarters - Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome
by Rachel Roddy

Five Quarters may seem a strange title but it's easily explained.  The number five recurs as the book goes along but Quinto Quarto (the Fifth Quarter) is the name of the distinctive style of cooking created by the workers at the Testaccio slaughterhouse towards the end of the 19th century.  Wages were partly paid in-kind with offal.  This being a quarter of the animals weight, it was known as the 'fifth quarter'.  The slaughterhouse is long gone and, no, this is not a book about offal, but it is firmly rooted in the Testaccio quarter of the city of Rome which this Englishwoman calls home.

The "notes" referred to in the sub-title are as delicious as the "recipes".  Arriving in Rome, almost by accident, the tourist decided to stay a while in a tiny flat above a bakery, next to the "coarse and chaotic" old food market.  As she began to get under the skin of this "straightforward, traditional, ordinary" part of Rome, a sense of guilt that she was part of the gentrification taking place in the area led her to resolve to buy local and truly embrace the life of this quarter and its "fierce sense of community". ........ Read more .....

Honey & Co - The Baking Book
by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich

"Our days are governed by the rhythm of the pastry .... ".  For Honey & Co, this tiny restaurant in a London backstreet, it's the pastry section that provides the essential underpinning to their busy days, from breakfast to end of dinner treats.  Here is the book that has been so anticipated since last year's publication of Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich's much loved debut Honey & Co Food from the Middle East.  I wrote about the 2014 book here.  Where the first book concentrated mostly on savoury Middle-Eastern food, The Baking Book offers recipes for sweet and savoury bakes, with the emphasis on the sweet ones. ....... Read more .....

Sally Clarke 30 Ingredients

by Sally Clarke

This second book by Sally Clarke comes 16 years after her first which was meant to be her only one: 'Sally Clarke's Book - recipes from a restaurant, shop and bakery'.  The latest is a celebration of 30 years of her eponymous, hugely influential, London Restaurant.  The principle is as simple and effective as the Chef's style of cooking - offering 30 favourite ingredients with a variety of ways to use them.  A glance at those 30 foods, from apricots and asparagus to sweetcorn and tomato, suggest a vegetarian focus and this is true in many, but not all, of the recipes.  For me, it's the way I want to eat - a little good meat and fish, and lots of fruit and vegetables.  The stated intent of the book is to "help to build confidence in the inexperienced cook and give guidance to others who simply need inspiration".  With Alice Waters as a friend, influence and mentor and 30+ years in kitchens, Sally Clarke is well qualified to to deliver on this aim.  The book is full of simple, effective suggestions like cracking the stones of apricots to extract the kernels to add another dimension to a a jam; how a generous seasoning of freshly made Gremolata can lift a meat or fish dish; how to make a classic Petits pois a la Francaise that truly celebrates the peas, lettuce and butter; and how to make perfect roasted potatoes. Uncomplicated recipes range from Scallop ceviche with landcress  lime and chilli; Salad of blood oranges, beetroot and pomegranate; Smoked haddock and leek pastiesQuince and rosemary Tarte Tatin; to Tomato salad with nectarines and feta.

I've long been a Sally Clarke fan, eating her delicious food countless times and reaching for her first book, particularly when I had some exceptional ingredient to do justice to.  Her philosophy of "the fewer ingredients on the list, the better the product" is one I share .  You'll never find Sally Clarke 'gussying-up' a plate of food unnecessarily.  I've only had this book a few weeks and am bookmarking recipes constantly.  It's also a beauty as photographs are by the fantastic Tessa Traeger.  

Sicilian Food - Recipes from Italy's Abundant Isle

by Mary Taylor Simeti

Mary Taylor Simeti's book was first published in 1989 as Pomp and Sustenance: Twenty-five Centuries of Sicilian Food.  I have never lived in, nor even visited, Sicily so whether this is "the definitive work on Sicilian cooking" the book notes claim, I cannot say.  I do know that Giorgio Locatelli admires Simeti's work and references her several times in his own excellent book Made in Sicily.  I enjoyed reading Simeti's writing for the culinary and social history it explores, taking us on an odyssey through the exotic tastes of conquering Greek, Roman, Arabic and Norman invaders to the cooking of more recent times, "those of hunger and faith, of pride and jealousy and joy". The book is peppered with quotes from Homer, Plato and Apicius as well as later travellers to the island who recorded their experiences there.  Recipes, collected from written sources, word of mouth and experimentation range from 'Strattu, the intensely flavoured dark red paste made by salting and sun-drying tomato puree; Tabcchiere di Melanzane (Aubergine Snuffboxes); the classic Cassata Siciliana (Sicilian Cassata Cake); to Granita di Limone (Lemon Granita), mentioning the delightful sounding habit of many bars in Sicily of dropping a scoop into a glass of iced tea.

I hope there is something in this list to inspire you.  

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Spiced apple and hazelnut upside-down cake

The Orchard at the end of October

When we first took our allotment the orchard always felt like it was off-limits.  There were the bees, of course.  Seven hives of industry standing sentinel-like, strategically located at the northern end of the old orchard.  Through spring, summer and autumn activity is intense, a constant stream of one-track-mind bees roaming the allotments.  Dispersed, we welcome them, waggling from raspberry to gooseberry blossom, borage to squash flower.  Where they come together, in the vicinity of the hives, we growers keep a respectful distance most of the year.  Undoubtedly they are the most effective guardians of the orchard.  But there was also the Committee.  The first year we took on our allotment nobody mentioned the orchard.  In the second year we were invited to gather up a few windfall apples.  It was five years before we were invited to pick some plums and pluck a few apples direct from the trees.  Finally, it seemed, we were accepted.

One gnarled old apple tree hugs a hive, its weighted boughs bob invitingly in the breeze.  All through late summer we eye the tree, longing for the bees to calm down.  By the time the traffic to and from the hive slows to a lazy trickle, everyone else has filled their store and lost interest in the tree.  All except me.  Because this is the best variety in the orchard and this year the crop is spectacularly good - thank you bees.  Finally, right at the end of October, the bee activity began to slow down and we dared to approach the tree.  It was worth the wait.  Not that anyone knows what kind of apple it is.  Three varieties of plum and five apple of unknown variety in the orchard.  Each year there is a plan to find out what they are.  Each year this doesn't happen.  One day I will take on the task.

Late pickings in the Orchard

Apple trees thrive in wet and windy Britain.  The cultivation of over 2,000 dessert, cooker and 'inbetweener', in addition to several hundred cider apples is testament to our love for them.  Late July/early August sees the first apple harvests with Discovery, Gladstone, Laxton's Early Crimson, Beauty of Bath and Grenadier arriving at market.  Late summer brings Egremont Russet, James Grieve, Scarlet Permain and, in late September, a favourite of mine, the tiny but exquisite Oaken Pin.  Blenheim Orange, Falstaff,  Howgate Wonder and the cooking apple Bramley follow on through October, with Braeburn, Sturmer Pippin, Boiken and the cider apples like Herefordshire Redstreak bringing the season to an end by mid- to late November.

Spiced Apple and hazelnut upsidedown cake

I love an apple pie or crumble as much as the next person, but a good dessert apple cake recipe has eluded me up to now.  Having such a good crop this year, I've been able to experiment a bit and at last I have a recipe I will make again and again.  I knew I wanted a kind of apple upside-down cake, so I borrowed the creamed butter, muscovado sugar and honey mix from a Nigel Slater Honey Pear Cake recipe which I cut out of the Observer magazine a couple of years ago.  I wanted hazelnuts for flavour and for the oil they contain to keep the cake moist.  Personally if I'm buying nuts shelled I prefer skin-on.  I dry roast them in a frying pan until the skins loosen enough to, mostly, rub off.   I also wanted spice, particularly at this time of year, and went for plenty of cinnamon, a little vanilla and nutmeg.  I hope you like it too.

A helping of Spiced apple and hazelnut upside-down cake

Spiced apple and hazelnut Upside-down cake
(for an 18-20cm round cake tin)

50g (2oz) softened unsalted butter
65g (2½oz) muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mild honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 450g (16oz) eating apples
115g (4oz) softened unsalted butter
115g (4oz) raw cane caster sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
A little grated nutmeg (about a quarter of a whole one)
2 large eggs, lightly mixed
65g (2½oz) plain soft flour
50g (2oz) hazelnuts, dry roasted and ground medium fine
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp milk

Heat oven to 180oC/160oC fan/Gas 4.

Lightly butter your cake tin.
Cream together 50g butter, 65g sugar and 1 tbsp honey and mix in the cinnamon.   
Spread evenly over the base of the cake tin.  

Peel (or not if you prefer), core and slice the apples fairly thinly.  Arrange in a closely overlapping spiral on top of the mixture.

Sieve together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir in the ground hazelnuts and nutmeg.  

In a separate bowl, mix very well 115g butter with the 115g raw cane sugar until soft and fluffy.  Add the vanilla extract and gradually beat in the eggs, adding a little of your dry mixture if it looks like it might curdle.  Fold the dry mixture in gently, incorporating the tablespoon of milk at the end.  Smooth the mixture over the top of the apples.

Bake for about 45 minutes.  Rest for 15 minutes.  Place a plate on top of the tin, hold securely and turn over to release the cake upside-down.  Give the plate and tin a jiggle if it doesn't turn out straight away.

Best served warm, with our without cream but the cake does keep well for 2-3 days.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Spring the restaurant

Spring restaurant

There's a freshly-picked quince on the table. It's there because it's seasonal, its fragrance is exquisite and it is on the menu.  This is my second visit and it's a good start.

The arrival is undeniably grand.  The long stone-flagged corridor in the West Wing of Somerset House, which used to echo to the footfall of scuttling civil servants, now directs diners in their best shoes to the door of Spring.  High ceilings; graceful windows; white cornicing; and a perfect shade of duck egg blue on the walls.  The cool blue and white theme is enhanced by ethereal artworks composed of white porcelain petals.  The space, warmed by caramel-coloured chairs and a little smokey-hued glass here and there.  A single, unfussy but thrilling, seasonal flower vase sits in the perfect place to arrest the eye and stop you scanning the whole vast space of the room in one go.  There's plenty of time.  You don't come here just to grab lunch.

Salad of quince, celeriac, cobnuts with Fern Verrow leaves and tarragon dressing
at Spring restaurant

We're celebrating so, today we put aside the Set Lunch menu.  Agnolotti of buffalo ricotta, spinach and tomato with marjoram butter looks just like what it is, a plate of pasta.  Surely one of the most difficult of foods to arrange on a plate.  But the aromas and flavours of its ingredients are excellent and the pasta is perfectly cooked.  The seasonal quince makes its appearance baked to a caramelised softness in a Salad of quince, celeriac, cobnuts with Fern Verrow leaves and tarragon dressing.  Juicy, crunchy, aromatic, Autumn on a plate.

Wild halibut with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing
at Spring restaurant

That appetite piquing salad was the perfect lead-in to Wild halibut, spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing.  At £34 this dish was pushing the boat out, but worth every penny.  A thick tranche of succulent flaky, firm textured expertly cooked fish, vibrant vegetables, and the sweet/sour pep of the lemon dressing.  I only wish my photograph did it justice.  And how could you not be happy when someone puts a meltingly perfect Slow-cooked pork with girolles, datterini tomatoes and polenta in front of you on a blustery October day?

Slow cooked pork with girolles, datterini and polenta
at Spring restaurant

Again my photograph does not fully convey the meltingly tender 2 cuts of meat, the intense jus and the smoky girolles - this is my idea of comfort food. We finished on Buttermilk panna cotta with damson ice cream and wood sorrel. The panna cotta here formed the base of the dish, its richness cut by damsons served as both syrup and ice cream.  A few leaves of the freshest wood sorrel added a lemon note and a buttery biscuit gave texture. Given my own fig leaf ice cream experiments, the lure of Fig and spelt galette with roasted fig leaf ice cream hooked me.  Right at the end of the fig season, the fruit was a little jammy but suited the crunch of the spelt pastry, and the caramel running through the ice cream made for a lovely version.

Buttermilk panna cotta with damson ice cream and wood sorrel
at Spring restaurant

The front of house staff seem to effortlessly pull off a focussed yet relaxed attentiveness which produces just the right level of cosseting.  It's a well drilled team who can engage with diners who want to talk about the dishes.    

Spring is the creation of chef Skye Gyngell.  Her book 'Spring the cookbook' details what a labour of love it was.  I confess I never ate at the Petersham Nurseries Cafe where she made her name.  I know the Michelin star she was awarded there didn't sit comfortably on her shoulders and she has declared she'd rather never have another.  On both my visits here she has been in the kitchen and, judging by the cooking, I'd say she has cause to be very happy with what she is achieving.  The best ingredients, not necessarily the most expensive ingredients, are the foundation of her cooking.  For me the best chefs are those who maintain a link to the land and a feeling for the basics.  Gyngell sources from producers like biodynamic farmers Fern Verrow and shows an enthusiasm for making in-house breads, butters, yoghurt, ricotta, ferments and cordials.

This, I think, is a special occasion restaurant but there is a Set Lunch menu at £27.50 two course; £31.50 for three.  Portions are generous and it's good value for cooking at this level.  We could have chosen from Starters including a Fern Verrow salad, mains of Spatchcock quail or Onglet with a slice of Apple Tart to finish.  On a previous visit in June we ate from it very happily.  Including service, expect to pay around £75 per person a la carte with a couple of glasses of wine or £55 if eating from the set menu.

Fig and spelt galette with roasted fig leaf ice cream
at Spring restaurant

There is also a less formal, adjacent, Salon at Spring serving a simple menu and aimed particularly at those looking for a little something pre- or post-theatre.

For me, having sampled summer and autumn, roll on winter and spring for those set lunches - or maybe I can find another reason to celebrate.  

Somerset House
Lancaster Place
London WC2R 1LA
Tel: 020 3011 0115

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Autumn arrives on Plot 45

Seed saving - Sunflowers

Rays of late summer sun pierced the canopy of the tree.  The shady path curved gently right, its rough surface dancing with light and shade as a spirited wind whipped through the branches.  A handful of what looked like freckled limes littered the way stopping me in my tracks.  Walnuts, their fibrous, leathery casings showing signs of exploration by sharp-toothed or strong-beaked harvesters.  Swiftly I bagged them up.  In truth, my expectations were low - too early, too green, too fibrous perhaps.  On into early autumn, each walk down this path was accompanied by a nonchalant sweep of the ground for bounty.  Each time, taking the path that skirts the warm stone wall of the priory, I passed through the creaking gate into the sanctuary of the allotments.

Walnut harvest

Now we are really into autumn and each plot offers a little treasure as I pass by - a handful of lovage seeds to the right; the dried umbelliferae of fennel to the left; stiff sculptural poppy pods over there; and  decapitated heads of sunflowers atop a compost heap here.  On my own plot there are beans and pumpkin seeds to be saved, and I have my eye on a particularly beautiful nasturtium that has crept across from my neighbour.

Sunflower - Old Rusty

If I've learned anything since taking on this plot 9 years ago, it's that no two growing years are ever the same.  Just because something grew well one year does not mean it will thrive the next and the crop that did badly last year may well surprise you this.  In 2015 the stars have been the legumes and soft fruit, but leaves and beetroots have faired badly.  The herb bed is still looking fantastic, though for some reason parsley didn't thrive at all.  Yes, everything has gone if not yet to seed then certainly to flower, so goodbye to pungency.  And soon we'll be hit by frosts, meaning goodbye to the ritual of gathering bouquets as I leave the plot.  What's certain is however good a gardener you think you are, nature will always put you in your place.

Borlotti beans

So, you may as well take some chances, because you never know how things are going to turn out.  Which is why I've taken on the extra strip nobody seemed to want.  Unloved, uncultivated, dumped on and neglected, this hillocky patch of nettle infested ground is now mine.  Which is why, right now, I'm so often to be found chasing back nettle roots and levelling ground under this glorious autumn sun and praying for the weather to hold.

Herbs and Kabocha

I say it's mine but there are sitting tenants.  The field mice nesting low down in the base of the heaps.  Each time my hand hovers over a soft, furry bundle guilt overcomes me and I move on, leaving it to snuggle back down.  The squirrels treat it as a larder, their stash of walnuts far exceeding anything I managed to accumulate.  I'd like to take them home - the nuts I mean - but that guilt thing kicks-in and I carefully pile them up on one side of the plot like a helpful dinner lady.

Seed Saving - Poppies

But this beautifully prepared bed isn't for fruit or vegetables.  Maybe I'm mad, but I'm planning on roses.  Biodynamic roses.  Maybe, at last, I'll make rose petal jam.


Oh, and those walnuts?  Well worth amassing a stash.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Lisbon Autumn 2015

Rooftop view, Lisbon

Lisbon in the last week of September.  Four days of pure blue skies, daytime temperatures around 28C, balmy evenings.  Were we lucky?  I suspect this was just what we should have expected. Where to start? Walking shoes on - a must for tackling Lisbon's seven hills and wonky pavements - and let's find lunch.

Sardines and Tuna
at Sol e Pesca, Lisbon

Sol e Pesca is a former fishing tackle shop and as unpretentious a dining space as you could get.  Little changed from the its earlier incarnation, this tiny space which spills out onto the pedestrianised street is all about showcasing Portugal's fantastic tinned fish - sardines, tuna, mussels, scallops and more.  Make your choices.  The original cabinets now display the catch rather than the means to catch.  The fish is decanted onto plates with simple garnishes - a lemon quarter and a sprig of dill, perhaps - and served up with decent bread to mop up the excellent olive oil.  I recommend the Pinhais Petingas Picantes sardines (small and spicy) as well as the outstanding Atum Galha Á Ré ventresca tuna from the Azores in extra virgin olive oil.  A tumbler or two of good Vinho Verde makes it perfect.    Expect to pay around Euros 10-15 each. Sol e Pesca is a not-to-be-missed joy. 

Traditional door style

Traditional Portuguese food is generous in its portions.  The execution, I think, can be a bit unrefined but if you want to experience good soups like Caldo Verde or Sopa Alho Francês and you're happy with simply grilled fish served with plain boiled potatoes and greens (though to my taste invariably over-cooked ones) then O Pitéu could be for you.  This simple restaurant serves speedy lunches to business folk in the Graça district, a stone's throw from the high tourist-count area of Alfama.  Just such a lunch with a glass of house wine and a coffee came to Euros 20 each on our visit.  It's a genuine traditional Lisbon lunch spot and you certainly won't leave hungry.

Arcade life

If you'd like a more wide-ranging menu, try O Taloh, close to São Sebastião Metro station.  The restaurant is a mix of traditional and modern informed by the extensive travels of the chef.  The fact this restaurant has its own butcher's shop makes it clear that meat is the main thing here.  Expect steaks and burgers along with dishes such as pasta with oxtail and mushrooms or a take on lamb tandoori accompanied by naan and lentils (but I've got to say, green lentils will never make an acceptable substitute for a creamy dhal!).  For pudding there may be a Thai-influenced lemongrass parfait or an Argentinian Dulce de Leche "flan" served with a lovely peanut butter ice-cream.  There is an amount of 'deconstruction' on the plates here.  The restaurant is fairly formal but unstuffy with very good service and wines.  Expect to pay around Euros 25-30 each  The chef proprietor, Kiko, has also recently opened a cevicheria at Principe Real.

Vaulted brick ceiling
at Landeau, Rua das Flores, Lisbon

Landeau chocolate and coffee shop is housed in a beautiful room on the Rua das Flores 70.  All creamy-white walls and warm brick vaulted ceilings, unlike at Sol e Pesca, this space bears no hint of its former use (a Lisbon brothel).  About half way up one of the City's numerous steeply-sloping streets in the Chiado district, it's a welcome pit-stop for coffee, tea or a cup of chocolate.  It also serves up one of the most exquisite chocolate cakes I've ever eaten.  

Coffee & Chocolate Cake
at Landeau, Lisbon 

If you want choice, go somewhere else.  This place does what it does beautifully and I like that.  There is another Landeau shop in the *LX Factory complex in Alcântara. 

'Dragonfly Woman by Lalique
at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon

For me, the Museum Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian is not to be missed.  Close to SãSebastião Metro station, it has a very accessible wide-ranging collection including Eastern Islamic art, painting, sculpture and decorative arts plus a temporary exhibition space.  A separate building houses Modern Art.  The galleries exploit the beautiful setting with windows looking out into the surrounding park.

(taken at Mercado de Alvalade Norte), Lisbon

The Mercado da Ribeira (also known as Mercado 24 de Julio), just behind Cais do Sodré train station,  has been Lisbon's main food market since 1892.  The market still trades from 06.00-14.00 but now the draw seems to be Time Out Lisbon Magazine's development of the greater part of the building as a food (and drink) court.  Here you'll find "some of the city's most loved names in food and drink".  It's not really my kind of thing but it is open every day from 10.00 to at least midnight so it's a useful place to know about.

Espade Branco
at Mercado de Alvalade Norte, Lisbon

For a market that is less about immediate gratification and more about filling your food basket and feasting your eyes, I recommend a visit to Mercado de Alvalade Norte, close to Alvalade Metro station.  Here you'll find the freshest fish, bacalhau, meats and mainly local fruit and vegetables.  As is often found in Spain and Portugal, there is a supermarket attached to the main market for the other everyday necessities.

Tinned Sardines
at Loja Das conservas, Lisbon

If you were in any doubt how important tinned fish is to the Portuguese, a visit to Loja das Conservas  on Rua do Arsenal 130 in the Chiado district will make it clear.  The walls of this store are lined with a wholly Portuguese selection of the country's conservers of sardines, mussels, tuna and more.  There were no 'Pinhais' on my visit but these 'Millesimes' sardines came home with me.  If I hadn't shopped there, I'd probably have picked up a few tins of brand Tricana from Conserveira de Lisboa at Rua dos Bacalheiros.  The sardines are good, the package fabulous and the wrapping and tying is lovely to watch.

Pasteis de Nata
at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, Lisbon

You're bound to want a Pasteis de Nata, the irresistible Portuguese custard tart. For the best in town (and the first , apparently) take advantage of Lisbon's great transport system and head for Antiga Confeitaria de Belém.  You'll need a No. 15 tram which runs from Praca do Comercio to Mosteiros dos Jeronimos in the Belém district.  The tram drops yous right outside the Confeitaria.  My advice is to go as early as you can (they open at 08.00) as later in the day the tourists arrive en-masse.  Instead of enjoying a Nata and coffee at the bar with locals, you'll find yourself in a scrum for a take-away and no coffee to go with it - the only way they can cope with the demand.  Behind the bar is a warren of rooms where you can eat in all day long if you prefer but you may have to queue.  It's worth a wander inside to see the kitchen where the pasteis are made and also the azulejos are worth a look.

Padrão dos DescobrimentosBelém, Lisbon

While in Belém, I'd take in the Mosteiros do Jeronimos and Museo Coleção Berardo, and you won't be able to miss the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries honouring Portuguese explorers).

Mirador Principe Real

Lisbon, being built on seven hills, offers plenty of spectacular views.  There are numerous Miradors (viewing areas) dotted around the city.  My favourite is at Principe Real where there is also a decent cafe to get a cooling glass of orange juice after the walk up.

Azulejo, Lisbon

Although we didn't go on this visit, Museu Nacional do Azulejo and Museu de Design e Moda (MUDE) are both well worth visiting.  I talked about both in my 'Loving Lisbon' review in 2012 (link at the bottom of this page).

Bolo de Arroz
 Balcao do Marquês, Lisbon

While a visit to Belem for Pasteis de Nata is a must, it's important to find somewhere close to hand.  That little place on the corner that we always hope we'll find when we visit an unfamiliar city.  This time we struck lucky with Balcao do Marquês, a friendly bakery/bar/cafe a few steps from our hotel on Avenida Duque de Loulé and similarly close to Metro station Marquês de Pombal.  You'll get a decent Bica (espresso) or um Garoto (with a dash of milk, like a Piccolo) and a very good Pasteis de Nata or Bolo de Arroz while you watch the morning ritual of the locals buzzing in and out on their way to work, like bees around a honey pot.

Jardim do Botanico, Lisbon

There's something melancholy about so many botanical gardens.  Once important and valued institutions, these days their underfunding is often all too evident.  The Jardim do Botanico in Lisbon certainly has a melancholy air, despite the fact in 2010 it was considered important enough to be designated a National Monument.  The number of dilapidated buildings surrounding its perimeter add to the atmosphere.  Occupying some 10 acres in the Principe Real district, alongside the National Museum of Natural History and Science, it boasts 18,000 species of sub-tropical vegetation.  It's a fantastic place to wander under the cooling trees away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.  A dreamy interlude I always seek out.      

Aquifer, Lisbon

The Chafariz do Vinho Enoteca was intriguing.  The Chafariz da Mãe-de-Agua building it occupies sits at the bottom of two flights of steps leading up to Principe Real.  Through the building's vaulted galleries and stone aquaducts water once flowed, the street outside giving public access to the supply.  The restaurant is a useful place to choose from a list of 250 wines and enjoy a plate of above average Portuguese cheese and hams.  We were lucky to eat some of the last exceptionally sweet green "honey figs" served simply warmed with goats cheese and honey.  This place also has the advantage of being just moments from one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world, Hot Club Portugal.  The club is a welcoming place with entry a mere Euros 7.50 and very reasonable drinks prices.  On our visit, Quarteto de César Cardoso proved to be a top class Portuguese jazz group led by saxophonist César Cardoso performing 2 sets.

* LX Factory
My biggest failure on this visit was running out of time to get to the LX Factory complex in Alcântara, about half way to Belém.  A group of 19th century abandoned warehouses, is now a creative hub for artists, designers and photographers, as well as home to fashion, music and publishing businesses and open to the public for shopping, exhibitions, theatre, cinema, shopping and eating.  I'd love to know whether this lives up to its promise so if any of you get there, or know it, I'd love to hear about it.

There's plenty of hotel choice in Lisbon.  We stayed at the H10 Duque de Loulé, opened earlier in 2015.  A good-sized room, very comfortable, reasonably priced, quiet, great staff and a rooftop bar with a view down to the Tagus in the distance meant it suited us. That said, next time I'd be inclined to rent an apartment to take advantage of the beautiful produce I saw at Mercado de Alvalade Norte.   

Useful to check:  Spotted by Locals, Lisbon

Link to my 2012 posting:  Loving Lisbon