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Puglia, part 2

Something you’ll see a lot of in Puglia is olive trees.  Everywhere.  Some really young, and some, revealed by their oversized, gnarled,  and intricately twisted trunks, really really old.  The oldest ones, clocking up some 3,000 years, are deemed archaeological monuments.  We passed a sign saying “olivari monumentali” (monumental olives) – I guessed some of those ones were there.  Anyhow, it turns out that Puglia is Italy’s biggest olive oil producer, cranking out some forty percent of the nation’s production, explaining their dominance in the landscape.

Something you’ll also see as you drive around Puglia is a multitude of towns you want to stop at or unusual buildings. “Stop the car!” I’d yell at the marito, which sometimes got a positive result, and sometimes didn’t.  Oh for more time.  So many more places to go back and see.  This little town, from a distance, looked like some kind of Disney fortress holding a princess.  Not as much close up, but I want to see what is behind those walls next time.

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Once we checked out of Don Ferrante in Monopoli, we had a few hours before we were due at our masseria, Critabianca.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to detour to Grottaglie, a town renowned for it’s ceramics.  The Fasano family, the best known studio, have been in operation since the 1700’s.  There was plenty to like as we wandered from studio to studio, a few little things we bought home and others we bookmarked with photos – they happily ship to Australia.  By the way they all shut down at 1pm for the afternoon siesta, so do come in the morning or after 5pm and stay for dinner.   After a wander we headed to Cutrofiano where our beautiful farmhouse awaited (post on that coming soon!).

The next morning we headed to Grotta Zinzalusa.  The photos here completely understate the magnificence of this rock formation.  You can go in the cave for a wander, or hire an umbrella and chair for a day, or just lay your town on rocks and some did and jump into the sea from there.

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But we were after a sandy beach and headed further to Baia dei Turchi (Bay of the Turks).  You park your car and then walk a few hundred meters through thickish foliage down a narrow path, eventually emerging to a large stretch of sandy beach with a bit of wave.  There are chairs and umbrellas for hire, but a large public stretch if you prefer not to.  Beautifully clean and very enjoyable.

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That night we headed to the nearby small town of Galatina.  Like almost every Italian town, there is a piazza of sorts.  This one has some pretty greenery and lots of benches, where armies of Nonnos were gathered for a post siesta chat.  I came here to try the pasticciotti at Pasticceria Ascalone, the supposed inventor of the treasured Puglian sweet, back in the 1700’s.  And the pasticceria has been owned by the same family all this time, handed down generation after generation.  And it was a damn fine pasticciotto, but my favourite was still the one at the Gran Forno Santa Caterina.

We asked the lady behind the counter where we could head for a pizza, and she sent us to a place nearby called Goji.  I was a little dubious with a name like that, but it was great food with an even better ebullient owner who made us feel so welcome.  The Small People demolished everything.   There were also some expert dough throwing skills on display.

One night we went for a wander in the town of Nardo’, where we ate at a pleasant trattoria who’s name escapes me (and there was a great gelato shop and pasticceria nearby too).  Here I had to have orecchiette with cime di rapa (chicory), a signature dish of the region.  But this one came with some beautiful silky burrata which balanced out the bitterness.

We stopped by Santa Maria di Leuca, the very bottom tip of Puglia.  It’s a pretty little town too with some luxe day beds to spend the day if you like.

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But we were headed to Pescoluse, a lovely stretch of coastline.  It’s a large sandy beach where you can walk and walk quite far out, the water remaining shallow.  We relaxed here quite happily.

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That evening we headed to Otranto, another seaside town.  There is a huge castle and some lovely churches, but the laneways were very crowded and it was the one place I found rather touristy with an overload of gift and food shops and spruikers out the front.  I’m sure there are some good places to eat here but I think you need to do your homework beforehand.

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So we hopped back in the car and headed to the town of Maglie where we stopped at Il Fusticino.  The Small People happily devoured pizza daily, whereas my standard order was whatever fresh seafood pasta was available, not yet over the fact that I could get a pasta with a generous amount of seafood for 10-12 euro.   After dinner we popped in at the pasticceria next door (completing my daily pasticciotto fix) and handed over an embarrassingly small sum of money for four sweets.

I did really like Gallipoli (yes Italy has one too) a charming fishing village.   There was a seafood market here where the fish was so fresh that most of it was still alive.   Plenty of lanes and buildings to wander here, restaurants and cafes and market stalls. We stopped at a hole in the wall which was part deli and part bakery, where several locals were packed in buying stuff to take home for lunch.  We figured it had to be good and squeezed in to get some panzerotti.  So good.

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Lecce, often called “the Florence of the south” was also on our visit list.  Though our time here was shorter than we wanted with the GPS sending us around in dreadful circles.  Near the large piazza you’ll find some Roman style ruins, a castle or two (castles are du jour in Puglia, no town is complete without one), a lovely park, a good bit of shopping, and sweet shop after sweet shop!  The tools made from chocolate were very cool indeed.

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For dinner we went to Trattorie Le Zie.  This was one of those places where the simple appearance of the food totally belies it’s taste.   Absolutely delicious.    I finally ordered a “tiella” which is another local dish of baked mussels, rice and potatoes (I had tried to make thiss before our trip and failed miserably) which was just so flavoursome, I did email them and ask for the recipe but didn’t have any luck.  I must try and make this dish again.

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It was unfortunately at the end of our stay when we discovered the beautiful Melendugno coast.  The stretch here from Sant Andrea to San Foca is gorgeous, which beach after beach and stunning rock formations.   The area around Grotta della Poesia (Poetry Grotto) is particularly beautiful.

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Here you’ll see lots of mad Italians jumping off a cliff several stories high into the grottos (there is a smaller one for the less adventurous!).

More Puglia to come!

London

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Did I ever mention that I’m a bit of a rewards points junkie? I accumulate points every chance I can, hoarding them specifically for long haul travel every few years. And here we are, leaving the single digit Sydney winter morning temperatures behind, stepping into an unusual stretch of glorious twenty eight degree blue sky days in central London. “A heat wave” the UK press was calling it.

I hadn’t been to London for some years, and previous trips had been work related. I’d forgotten what the crowds are like. People think Sydney is getting crowded, we have nothing on these throngs. A friend I caught up with who had moved here from Sydney nine months earlier said that the crowds and congestion was one of the most difficult things to get used to.

With such lovely days we mostly walked rather than doing the underground, clocking up some 65km in four days. We saw, we shopped, we ate. But if you’re like The Marito and I, and need to start your day with a coffee, be prepared for some sticker shock. Coffee pricing was a bit of an anomaly. Our morning flat white was typically £4.50 (almost $9 Australian). Whereas you could get a pastry at Selfridges for £2, a takeaway sandwich at Marks and Spencer for as little at £1.30, a tasty ham and cheese baguette for £3.30 or two eggs on toast at a café for £6.50.

Sights and things to do

Tate Modern
One of the wonderful things about London is all the free museums, with a voluntary donation. Only special exhibitions require a paid ticket. I was really looking forward to the Tate Modern (there is also the Tate Britain) and with just cause. Walking around and seeing Dali, Warhol, Picasso, Magritte, Kandinsky and the like was a real privilege. We all loved it.

As is often the case with modern art, it can be controversial and prone to a few WTF moments. The Marito saw a white triangle hanging on the wall and thought it looked like something our builder had cut out at the reno site. And the smear of plaster looked courtesy of our gyprocker. A display on the floor of what looked like a series of poo perhaps was – when I read the description it said it was a reflection of “organic matter”.

It’s a fabulous art museum, don’t miss it.

The British Museum
This was hands down one of the most impressive history museums I have ever been to. Again, free entry. I had organised a “treasure hunt” through THAT Muse (Treasure Hunt At The Museum). The lovely Daisy met us at the entry and gave us a great museum overview and introduction, and then gave us the treasure hunt we had selected and the rules. It was really good fun finding the pieces on our hunt – we paired up in twos, and if there is another family on the hunt at the same time you can compete with them. It was an entertaining way to see the museum. They also do hunts at the V&A and the Louvre.

Hamleys
It’s sad that the iconic FAO Schwartz in New York closed down. Hamleys is the London version and great entertainment – multiple floors of fun, live product demos and cool displays. They have a lot of their own unique branded products as well as major brands. One of the Small People walked away with a giant BB8, who we hauled with us on the rest of our trip. He’s now safely esconced in Australia.

Kensington Gardens
We had a wander through the expansive Kensington Gardens, amused that many Brits not coping with the “heat wave” were lying in the park on towels with half their gear off. You pass all the cottages where the various royals and staff live before getting to Kensington Palace, where you can buy tickets to see a few rooms. On the day we were there it was Princess Diana’s birthday, and people had started putting flowers and tributes.

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Changing of the guard

It is one to tick off in London but it does move rather slowly and if you haven’t read up on how it works you have no idea what’s going on. We went up to the Victoria Monument to see it, which gave us freedom to move around and see the various troupes coming from various directions. I would have loved to have done a Buckingham Palace tour but it is only open for certain weeks of the year.

And here’s London’s nicest (camera shy) policeman – so incredibly polite, and also patient with the hoards of people that were asking him for directions.

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Borough Market
What a wonderful market! There’s a great variety of bread, pastries, fruit, meals to go, and lots of taste testing on offer. You could definitely come for breakfast our lunch. Some days of the week are only a “half market” so do try and catch the full market if you can.

I was really keen to go to Westminster Abbey, but the line was enormous.  If there is a “skip the line” ticket option, go that route.  We also wandered over to Big Ben but that was scaffolded for work, and Trafalgar Square was largely closed off too.  We had also planned a wander to Covent Garden but ran out of time.

The food halls
All the big department stores have food halls, usually in the basement or ground floor, where you can buy groceries but also sandwiches, salads, rotisserie items and ready meals. At the more “everyday” end is Marks and Spencer which we popped into quite a bit at lunch. The Small People, going through a teenage growth spurt, currently have hollow legs. They have almost reverted to newborn status, needing feeding every 2-3 hours, and we would regularly stop in for food on our walkabouts.

The next level up is Selfridges, who’s bakery and chocolate halls are impressive.

But the Harrods food hall is another level entirely, with luxe and incredible displays. At the caviar bar, where not a single seat was free, a quick menu scan showed prices starting at £44 and going up to £790.

Shopping
Oxford Street is a huge shopping strip, a good few kilometres on both sides to occupy you, same with Regent Street. You can also veer off into bits like Molton Lane which has some nice stores. There are all the big name brands you’d expect as well as some great British brands I’m partial to. Shops are generally open from 10am and close at 9pm, except for Sundays where it is more like 12pm to 6pm.

Breakfasts

Duck and Waffle
If you can’t be bothered queuing up for the London Eye, Duck and Waffle on level 40 of the Heron Tower in Bishopgate gives some sweeping views of London. Open 24/7 there is a pretty cool bar and a sit down restaurant, which we tried for breakfast. I had their signature duck & waffle dish and the confit of duck was delicious and indulgent. The Small People’s eggs were very good too, and they said that their first taste of “British sausage” hit the mark. It is a pricey breakfast with the view but also something different. Service was good.

45 Jermyn St
Next to Fortnum and Mason, I loved the interiors of this stylish bar and bistro and think it would be a fun dinner venue. The breakfast, while tasty, was very small and a bit frugal. My wild mushroom omelette was delicious, but came with no toast, and the small people got one small slice of bread each with their scrambled and fried eggs.

Dalloway Terrace
A stone’s throw from the British Museum, where we were headed that morning, Dalloway Terrace which I had heard good things about seemed like the ideal venue. We had a mixed bag experience. Service was all over the place and rather hopeless, but it was probably the best coffee we had. My shakshuka was incredibly delicious and I want to try and replicate it, but the Big Breakfast that the Small People ordered was dry and extremely unappealing, and not really that big for £16.

Daisy Green
Daisy Green is run by Aussies, as the Bondi Breakfast on the menu gives away. Daisy has a few siblings in other parts of London including Scarlett, Timmy and Darcey . It was a tasty and generous breakfast with some good creativity, we all really enjoyed it and certainly would have come back if it wasn’t our last day. We also had our first coffee under £4. Friendly staff.

Dinners

Unintentionally, we seemed to end up in the Soho area every night for dinner. I looked up various places before our trip and saw where I wanted to go, and they all just happened to be in the same area. Like New York’s Soho, there are plenty of choices clustered together.

Pastaio, Soho
I knew we’d be having plenty of pasta in Italy but I’d heard great things about Pastaio. And Steve Parle’s silky handmade strands certainly delivered, with a lovely simplicity that any nonna would approve of. There are also some great prosecco slushies, and my lemon one was very refreshing. It’s in a really fun laneway area, joining Kingly Lane where people were spilled onto sidewalks with a beer and lots of other venues to choose from. There are no bookings here.

Rosa’s Thai, Soho
A relatively cheap and cheerful Thai chain, there are a handful of Rosa’s across parts of London. The marinated pork skewers and the stir fried egglant dish were particularly delicious.

Yuautcha, Soho
This modern Chinese diner with a splash of blue rather than traditional red ticked a lot of boxes. Truly excellent service and really tasty food. We loved every dish.

They also have a very pretty pastry counter which you can eat in or takeaway.

NOPI, Soho
I had to try and Ottolenghi restaurant while I was in London, and booked NOPI sometime in advance since it was a weekend. Loved the fit out of this place with all the brass, and checkout the “hall of mirrors” style bathrooms. The food was delicious, I would love to get my hands on that eggplant recipe which The Marito and I particularly liked. And the twice cooked roast chicken. The only dish we didn’t enjoy was the chickpeas, as the spice overpowered and drowned the ingredients.

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Baked chocolate ganache, plum soil Malt barley ice cream, date fudge and chocolate soil

Accommodation
I had a whole bunch of Hyatt points (refer paragraph 1) from years of staying at Hyatt hotels for work and cashed them in for a few nights at Hyatt Regency The Churchill (otherwise this place is pretty pricey). Fantastic location, a stone’s throw from Selfridges and the Oxford St shopping strip, and the Marble Arch tube station around the corner. Decent sized rooms for central London but tiny bathrooms, if one of us was in there it was already crowded.

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Thanks for having us London! A few shots from around town.  Next up, Puglia.

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Mama’s Buoi, Tramsheds

I’ve been to Tramsheds a number of times since it opened.  The variety of cuisines is good, parking is easy, and you can finish off any visit with a gelato from Messina!

I’ve been to Mama’s Buoi in Crows Nest, and enjoyed it. The menu at the three Sydney venues differs slightly and I liked the look of some of the Tramshed dishes (the Small People are also getting into Vietnamese), so off we went.

As you’d expect with Vietnamese there are lots of herbs, lots of vegetables, a bit of spice.  Service was efficient if not particularly friendly.  The pricing is also very reasonable for the serving size. My picks were the duck pancakes, the salt and pepper squid, and the fragrant beef with the greens.

Pulled Duck Pancake with pineapple, pickled carrots, mixed herbs & honey

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Vietnamese salt & pepper squid with Mama’s secret spices

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Marinated Chicken Skewers with pickled vegetables, lettuce cups & nước mắm sauc

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Crispy Fried Soft Shell Crab with a green papaya salad

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Mama’s Beef Stir Fry with lemongrass, Asian broccoli, chilli & oyster sauce

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Wok Tossed Seafood with lemongrass, tiger prawns, squid and ling

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Ginger chicken stir fry with onion, shiitake mushrooms, green shallots, sesame oil and oyster sauce

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Special Crab Fried Rice with onion, coriander, fried egg & lime dressing

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For other Tramsheds visits, have a look at Flour Eggs Water and Osaka Trading Co.

Mama’s Buoi, Tramsheds Ph 02 9952 1638
http://www.mamasbuoi.com.au

Toshiya, Cremorne

I’ve loved seeing the palate of the Small People develop over time.  With lots of exposure, and gentle encouragement, they have gotten more adventurous with their food.  While at home they usually like me to dish up the same Italian rustic favourites, when we eat out they enjoy all sorts of new flavours.  Chicken liver pate? That was interesting, mum.  Confit of duck, roast quail? Yes please.   And where a visit to Japanese once meant them ordering steamed rice and perhaps chicken karaage, now it’s miso tofu and kingfish with a ponzu dressing, and I’m lucky if they leave me a sliver of beef tataki.

So here we are at Toshiya on the busy Military Road strip, and I watch them planning to order at least half the menu; at the moment their legs seem hollow and the hunger is perpetual.   It’s a fairly standard family friendly neighbourhood Japanese, with bouts of inventiveness on the specials menu.  I watch other youngsters battling their parents for the last piece of salmon sushi.   The service is efficient, the prices reasonable and the produce fresh.  The highlight for me was the straight up sashimi, excellent quality; the lowlight duck dumplings, which didn’t taste at all like duck and were a bit meh.   The calamari was also very tasty.  A few pictures of some of what we ordered below.

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Toshiya, 283 Military Road, Cremorne, Ph 02 8969 6989
http://www.toshiya.com.au

PaRi Pasticceria, Concord

PaRi Pasticceria, named after owners Paolo and Rita, opened just after the new year. For some time now, they have wanted to share with Sydney some of the sweets they grew up with in their home town in Sicily in Italy’s south. A pretty little spot with parquetry floors and marble tables on the Concord strip, the shelves at PaRi are laden with glistening deliciousness and service comes with a smile and authentic Italian accents.

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They particularly wanted to serve traditional Sicilian granita with brioche, something you’ll find many enjoying in the piazza in Taormina in Italy during the hot Summer for breakfast. I tried the refreshing espresso granita (it usually comes with cream on top if you choose) and it’s generous enough to share. There are a few flavours to choose from, among them strawberry, almond and pistachio. The texture of granita varies from place to place in Italy, with PaRi’s version being a smoother sorbet style.

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The Marito and I both loved the brioche with the ricotta and pear compote

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The baba was lovely, one of the better ones I’ve tried in Sydney, as was the ricotta cake.

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The (Not So) Small People rated their Nutella ciambella.

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You’ll also find plenty of other traditional Sicilian sweets such as cannoli and Minne di Sant’Agata (Saint Agatha’s breasts), a sweet with ricotta, chocolate and candied fruit. In the next few weeks you’ll find a traditional Pignolata Messinese, something hard to come by down under.

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If you’re not into sweet stuff, there are arancini with ragu and vegetarian arancini (I really liked the spinach filling, next time I will try pistachio which I’ve never had before) as well as focaccia. There’s a breakfast and brunch menu and a small selection for lunch.

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PaRi Pasticceria, 83 Majors Bay Road Concord, Ph 02 9743 425
http://www.paripasticceria.com.au

PaRi Pasticceria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shorties Bar & Dining, Lane Cove

Shorties has upped the bar ante in downtown Lane Cove.   With an experienced small bar crew behind it, the locals have breathed a sigh of relief.  Come for a drink and a snack, or settle in at a booth for a meal.   It has the pre-requisite small bar features – moody lighting, exposed brick, and cocktail names the bar man came up with while sampling too many.

So I gave their refreshing Nice Melons a whirl, though they are more than happy to mix up a classic if that’s what your after.  The staff were friendly and welcoming.shorties (10)

The menu has a good mix of dishes

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We started with the kingfish ceviche, simply done and lovely quality fish

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I also really enjoyed the scallops

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And I find it hard to go past a beef tartare

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The pork cheek was flavoursome but the octopus on the chewy side

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And the buttermilk fried chicken wings were juicy and tender, but unfortunately a little bland, they needed a little something to give them an edge

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Banana is not my thing but the girls rated the banana parfait with Nutella mousse

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The second desert, which I think was a mango ice cream and a cream, just blended, it really needed some texture and some separation to distinguish the components

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But for a venue just recently opened, they are ticking a lot of boxes.  Welcome to Lane Cove!

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Shorties Bar and Dining, 96 Longueville Rd, Lane Cove
http://www.shortieslanecove.com.au
Ph +61 2 9418 9780

Shorties Bar & Dining Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Boathouse, Shelly Beach

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The location of this light filled café – right on Shelley Beach – alone make it seductive during a Sydney Summer. Such a great spot to have a coffee, breakfast, and read the paper, alone or while the (not so) Small People busy themselves in the sand and sea.  With the plants, fresh flowers, framed prints and big lampshades, it’s a spot on beachside casual feel, and one that you wish was your own dining or living room to spend all day.

There aren’t any bookings so you do have to hover to get a table (and given the layout of the room this is ok, I found it extremely awkward at the narrow Balmoral Beach location and gave up), but on the couple of occasions I’ve been everyone is pretty chilled and happy to share on mostly larger communal tables.  It’s a counter order system, line up and pay and grab your number, so you do have to line up again each time you want another round of drinks or coffees.  The menu is very compact, so that they can turn the tables and appease the crowds, but the ingredients were fresh and what was there was well done. If it’s a bucket of prawns and some oysters you’re after, you’ll be very happy indeed with the Summer menu appropriately biased towards cold dishes and seafood.  There isn’t a specific kids menu, but they do the various dishes in smaller sizes. Staff were very friendly and quick to follow up when they noticed our meal seemed to be taking longer than usual and set about rectifying it and offering us some free drinks.

We’ll be back for breakfast.

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The Boathouse, 1 Marine Parade, Manly Ph +61 2 9974 5440 http://www.theboathousesb.com.au/

The Boathouse Shelly Beach Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato