28 April 2016

New favourite London tapas bar: Duende

Seven friends enter a tapas bar, they stare at the menu and ponder the big question: how to chose, how many dishes each, who wants which dish, do we all like the same things? We don't have all day to make these big decisions. Then it came to us, there was an easy answer - order one of every dish on the menu!  Except no one likes oysters so we drop those 3 choices and wait in anticipation for everything else to arrive. 

We are in Duende, a new and rather chic tapas bar in Covent Garden from the co-founder of Bravas in St Katherine's Dock which I reviewed  in 2014 and still rates as one of my top tapas bars in London. Duende is small and beautifully designed yet big enough to house a table of seven and still have room for a couple more tables and bar and window counter space. A single room serves as restaurant, bar and kitchen so each dish arrives freshly cooked and carried just the few feet to your table.

Join me now for a tour of the menu, although the range of dishes on offer change so you may miss some of our favourites when you go. 

Our first dish was Galician Seaweed salad with avocado and piquillo pepper vinaigrette. Immediately we were feeling positive about the place with this beautiful and healthy dish packed full of flavour with and a riot of colours. 

 Grilled Aubergine and Goat's Cheese Croquettes with crystallised acacia honey had me slightly worried as I'm not always a fan of the aubergine but the mixing of the purple (yes a Prince reference!) veg and the cheese was a perfect blend topped decoratively with the lightest of crystallised honey. 

Pacharan Marinaded Salmon Rulada with crispy sweet potato, red onion escabeche and wasabi alioli came next. These had good texture and a long way from the standard salmon roulade, showing off the pacific fusion touches we found in other dishes here. 

Then we had Semi-cured Galician Beef Filet with pickled hon-shimeji mushrooms, roasted hazelnut and seasonal truffle and  mushroom vinaigrette. This was my least favourite but it seemed I was in a minority of one on this one so I perhaps I should not comment further!

Blistered Padron Peppers with aji amarillo and roasted garlic dip, and charcoal salt. was eagerly anticipated.  I've have tested many padron peppers all across London and can pronounce these among the best, with a great dip and plenty of crunchy salt.  The serving dishes were fun too, looking like paper but were solid china pieces. 

Poached Duck Egg with smoked potato, truffle and grilled bread was next. We needed more bread which was supplied without any question as the cooked just right egg demanded to be soaked up 

Roasted Quail with Iberian pancetta and Pedro Ximenez demi glace was a fun dish. It was the presentation that really caught our attention with quail brochettes sitting in a nest with the demi glace dipping sauce served in an egg sitting in the nest..

Crispy Tiger Prawns with kataifi, 'vi de panses' and tamari caramel and horseradish infused 'queso de Burgos' was our next treat. I had no idea what 'kataifa' was and it turns out to be the sort of shredded wheat type pastry you find on Greek deserts. This gave a good crunch to the prawns.  At the risk of sounding like a fussy eater, I have to own up to hating horseradish but those who love it really enjoyed the zing it gave the cheese. I also had to check what 'vi de panses' is and found it to be a sweet wine from Catalonia which was blended into the dish.

Lamb chops with rosemary and tarragon alioli  was a dish we had doubled the order for so fortunately we didn't have to fight over just 2 chops. I love lamb and particularly chops with a handle for ease of eating so this one was for me. The meat was great quality, soft and tasty and the simplicity of the cooking allowed this to come through with the delicate alioli accompaniment. 

And finally, Velvetted Turbot with cava and anchovy cream and morels.  This was definitely a favourite even though we were feeling pretty full up by now. The combination of good well structured turbot with an amazingly smooth sauce full of flavour to complement the fish resulted in a vote for this as our favourite dish of all. 

We squeezed in a share of the ice cream and almond caramel cookies but just a very small piece each! 

Even the bill was beautifully presented! It was also a very reasonable price,  coming out at £22 a head without drinks but with coffee. 

So, what was the overall verdict?  The room is lovely, the staff charming, the food outstanding and we were all checking our diaries to see when we were next anywhere nearby to engineer a return visit as soon as possible. I've not heard my group so enthusiastic about a restaurant for a very long time.  

Check out Duende's website for more information.

Bye for now,

Full disclosure:  myself and my 6 friends paid for ourselves.

22 April 2016

The ever changing Notting Hill restaurant scene

Notting Hill is famous for the crazy annual carnival, Portobello market, posh houses, garden squares and of course that unforgettable film with its bookshop and blue door. As it's my own stomping ground, i have a special fondness for of the above but also love this area for its restaurant and bar scene. 

Notting Hill has everything from the 2 Michelin starred  and one of the top 10 restaurants in the world, The Ledbury  through to some great small cafes and the many and varied food stalls along Portobello 

One thing that is both a pleasure and a pain is how quickly places change due to the exorbitant rents charged around here. Some places last for ever but others come and go before you realise it. Old favourites like the First Floor have gone forever and I still miss El Pirata de Tapas but life moves on and it's moving very fast at the moment!

Here a couple of the latest additions:


A great casual dining experience with the unmissable hunger-inducing smell of rotisserie chicken as you enter.  This is their key main dish and they are keeping it simple which is a good think in my book - you know what you are going in there for and they do it very well. There are interesting large and small salads and sides and a tempting wine list. Chose half a chicken between 2 with some tasty potatoes, a bit of veg and a glass of red would be my recommendation. It's a good spot to drop in day or evening and is very reasonably priced. They have a 'healthy' label which is a bit of a thing round here and their chickens live good lives in France!

Check them out (slow responding site..)


Rather posher, this Italian menswear/restaurant combo serves top Italian food in classy surroundings with a bit of a price tag. I recommend a plate of Bigolo cacio e pepe and a coupe of prosecco, it's a very simple pasta dish which is tasty and satisfying and I do love a coupe!  The room is beautiful with a cool nautical look and I can't wait to see what they have done with their garden which was being prepared when we visited. This site saw Tom's deli and restaurant with its gorgeous hidden treasure of Mediterranean bohemian patio space but I'm guessing the new space will have a very different vibe. 

This clothes/restaurant combo is popular on this stretch of Westbourne Grove as we have 202 which is houses a Nicole Farhi boutique and one of my very favourite brunch spots in London. 202 offers top quality food in great surrounding with excellent staff but don't tell everyone as I need to be able to get a table whenever I want!

Chucs style 

Check them out. 

We have 2 new venues about to open which are next door to each other but couldn't sound more different. One is a super healthy plant based restaurant and bar with no expense spared in the fittings as it's owned by Camilla Al-Fayed. The other is offering takeaway and delivery of sushi so at least the healthy theme continues.  

Watch this space for reports of these and any other new openings. 

Bye for now,

11 April 2016

What's on in London this Spring

I send out a seasonal newsletter to subscribers but I wanted to share with with my blog readers too so here's the It's Your London Newsletter for Spring 2016. It's full of great listings for April, May and June so I hope you'll find some stuff you will enjoy: 


April Over 35,000 runners in the London Marathon take over the streets and the nation’s hearts as they struggle past the sights of London to raise incredible amounts for charity, keeping going long after the elite runners have reached the end on the Mall. The crowds are huge and it’s great fun to join in to cheer them on to the finish.
May The magnificent Chelsea Flower Show is the greatest flower show in the world and it gets us in the mood for gardening with all that fabulous colour and design. Let’s hope we get some London sunshine too.  Don’t miss the very British Canal Cavalcade when scores of brightly decorated canal boats gather in Little Venice for two days of fun.
June Our Queen has 2 birthdays, her real one in April and her official one in June and this year it’s her 90th so there will be all kinds of celebrations as well as the usual royal event called Trooping the Colour. You can see the royals ride past if you get to The Mall well ahead of the start and don’t forget to take your flag to wave at them. The end of June sees the start of Wimbledon when we all go tennis mad for 2 weeks and SW19 is the place to be.

April Lots of excitement about Sunset Boulevard coming to the Coliseum starring Glen Close and I have a ticket so let’s hope it lives up to the hype. Transferring to the West End at the Savoy is Funny Girl starring the excellent Sheridan Smith – I also have tickets for this so April is looking good.  Doctor Faustus at the Duke of York’s is also getting a lot of attention due to its star Kit Harington from Game of Thrones.  More musical fun from Show Boat from the great Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein at the New London Theatre.
May I was surprised to see that the version of Jekyll and Hyde opening at the Old Vic is a dance production, an intriguing option. At Shakespeare’s Globe you can catch Midsummer Night’s Dream and hopefully it will keep dry for those standing in the uncovered section, which is a lot of fun.  More Shakespeare at the Garrick where Romeo and Juliet has stars turns from Derek Jacobi and Lily James. The Print Room is staging Beckett’s novels in their festival Beckett in London bringing his prose to the stage.
June There is always a lot of Shakespeare on the London stage but this year it’s the 400th anniversary of his death so even more plays are being staged. The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park brings us Henry V with a female actor in the role of Henry, a nice twist from when the bard wrote his plays and all roles were played by men.  On a lighter note, Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Haymarket Theatre Royal stars Pixie Lott. Michael Crawford returns to the stage for the first time since 2011 to star in a musical version of The Go Between at the Apollo.  

April To celebrate the arrival of spring, a free exhibition at the National Gallery brings us Dutch Flowers, exploring Dutch painting from its beginnings in the early 17th century to its peak in the late 18th.  The Tate Britain has Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979, exploring this pivotal period in British art and its legacy. The Sony World Photography Awards Exhibition, the world’s largest photography exhibition, showcases over 500 of the winners and shortlisted photos across all categories from photojournalism through to fine art landscape.  Let’s not forget to mention the Saatchi Gallery’s blockbuster Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones sure to be the most visited in London this month.
May Painting with Light at the Tate Britain looks at art and photography, and the interplay between these forms, from the Pre-Raphaelites to the modern age, a wide sweep indeed. More photography at Somerset House when Photo London opens, bringing together 80 of the world’s leading galleries and offers specific exhibitions such as the war photographer Don McCullin.  Damien Hirst’s gallery Newport Street hosts a Jeff Koons exhibition called Now.
June At the Courtauld Gallery you can see paintings by Georgiana Houghton, a spiritualist medium whose abstract watercolours were ‘guided’ by artists including Renaissance masters – intriguing!  The National Portrait Gallery hosts the annual BP Portrait Award, the most prestigious international exhibition of contemporary portrait painting.  The National Gallery’s Painters Paintings has work from the collections of artists such as Matisse, Reynolds and Van Dyck, exploring the motivations for collecting and the influence of these works. 

April This year’s St George’s Day has a special Shakespeare theme to celebrate his 400th so look out for events across London offering food, fun and market stalls. Borough Market is one to head for as they will be going all out to celebrate.
May Carnaby Street’s Shopping Party promises to be the ‘ultimate shopping experience’ with restaurants and bars joining the array of cool boutiques and live music for their evening of retail therapy.
June  The Spirit of Summer Fair at Olympia exhibition centre has everything you never knew you needed for your home and garden and yourself. The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane hosts the 25th Annual Graduate Fashion Week so check out what the latest trends will be and spot some up and coming names.

April The British Museum’s new major exhibition is Sicily: Culture and Conquest, telling the fascinating stories of how the waves of invaders have shaped the cultural identity of this Mediterranean island.  The Victoria and Albert Museum will be expecting a lot of interest in their new exhibition Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear tracing developments from the 18th century to the present day.  
May Another big show from the British Museum is Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds with wonderful artefacts from two recently rediscovered sunken cities at the mouth of the Nile.  May sees the enjoyable Museums by Night event where a wide range of museums in London and across the country offer late specials over a 4 day period. This is a great opportunity to see some of the smaller museums out of hours.
June There is an Engineering Season at the Victoria and Albert Museum, highlighting the contribution and importance of engineering in our everyday lives. There will be a special garden installation in the courtyard, an exhibition looking at the life and work of Ove Arup and a gallery looking at London’s role as an engineering centre.  One museum to catch up with is the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising which has moved to new larger premises to give their displays more room to breathe.  It’s a nostalgia fest and fascinating to see how packaging has changed and yet stayed the same since Victorian times.

April Let’s hope it’s a warm spring as Four Winters opens in Gloucester Road offering liquid nitrogen ice cream with its roots in Jordan.  Ex Nahm chef Andy Oliver opens a new Thai restaurant Som Saa in Spitalfields after successful temporary versions. Also moving on from temporary to permanent basis is Walter and Monty in the City, billed as ‘street food with Michelin expertise’ they offer charcoal grilled meat and fish with eastern flavours. A first London site for Mexican Cielo Blanco, inspired by the barbacoa markets of Oaxaca.
May Foleys in Fitzrovia, run by ex Palomar chef Mitz Vora, will be "experimenting with food from around the world with trade route twists and influences". Also branching out on his own is ex Bar Boulud maitre’d Paulo de Tarso, opening a rustic Italian restaurant in Covent Garden. A new Galvin opens at the revamped Athenaeum on Piccadilly.  New city wine bar called Humble Grape offers wine and small plates off Fleet Street.
June Listed for ‘late spring’ or ‘early summer’ are several new restaurants which are not committing themselves to an exact date, often the way….  Samarkand will be a new place in Charlotte Street offering Uzbeki cuisine in the old Fino location. Tandoor Chop House planned for Covent Garden from the team behind Hoxton Hotel and Egg Break looks interesting – and English chop house with a touch of Indian spices. Farang in Borough is part of the new development in Flat Iron Square where Seb Holmes will be offering Thai food at its best.

April The London Marathon starts and ends in royal parks – Greenwich and St James’s – so if you are watching the race, enjoy the parks as well. April sees the reopening of The Banqueting House after several months of restauration work so now’s a good time to admire its amazing painted ceiling by Rubens and hear of the role this room has played in dramatic historic events. Hampton Court Palace is celebrating 300 years of Capability Brown, the palace gardener (!) with a special exhibition of his drawings.
May  Richmond Park is a wonder and is home to a large herd of deer, in May you can take a guided walk to learn more about it. Kensington Gardens is hosting the Vogue Festival with shows and talks from leading international designers including Tom Ford and Donatella Versace.
June Regent’s Park is home to the annual foodie extravangza that is Taste London.  St James’s Park is where you will find the Trooping of the Colour, an extra special event this year as it marks the Queen’s 90th birthday.  A week before the main event they hold the rehearsal which offers a great chance to catch the pomp and circumstance with a closer view – no royals tho’.

April The big event in April is the London marathon with over 35,000 runners and thousands more lining the streets throughout the course to cheer on the brave souls who battle on to raise millions for charities. County Cricket is starting its season and the Harlem Globetrotters come to the 02 Arena to show off the basketball skills. Also at the 02 Arena is the mad world of American WWE Wrestling, although I’m not sure it really is a sport is it?
May It’s a big summer for football with the Euros next month but we have the small matter of the FA Cup at Wembley to round off the English season and the Football League play-offs.  Twickenham hosts the Rugby Union Premiership finals and the World Rugby Sevens Series is also in London .Golf’s PGA is at Wentworth, just outside London 
June England take on Sri Lanka at cricket at Lords in the 3rd Test, Men’s and women’s Hockey Champions Trophy take place in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. However, June is all about tennis as we are treated to 2 major events in London, Queens which is the warm up on grass for the main event, Wimbledon starting at the end of June.

April  Good to see Tinie Tempah is back with a new album and shows at the Brixton 02 Academy. The Vaccines are on a the Royal Albert Hall as part of the big annual Teenage Cancer Trust bash as are New Order, Everything Everything and Simply Red and Dave Gilmour. Bryan Ferry brings elegance to the London Palladium.  Adele brings her major to London’s 02 Arena as part of her major UK tour – tickets like gold! Brit award winner James Bay plays the Apollo and Muse’s well reviewed tour comes to the 02 Arena.
May Donovan Turns 70 tells you want you need to know about his show at the Palladium. Not quite as old but still been around a while is Bryan Adams playing at the 02 with his oddly named ‘Get Up Tour’! Talking of strange tour names, Iggy Pop has this nailed with his ‘Post Pop Depression Tour’ at the Royal Albert Hall. May is quite the month for older performers with Ralph McTell, Elvis Costello, OMD, Yes, Rita Coolidge to name but a few.
June.  The oldies theme continues as the festival season kicks into gear. One of my favourites is back: Bonnie Raitt at the Apollo where I saw her many years ago.  Check out this list of big names in town this month: Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, AC-DC, Tom Jones, Foreigner, Adam Ant, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Barry Manilow on his ‘Last Time’ tour and Art Garfunkel. 

Enjoy London!


30 March 2016

My African Adventure 2016

After 2 months of great adventures, of wonderful experiences in 2 African countries, armed 2800 photos I sat down to work out how to share all this. No one wants to see thousands of photos - well, just me - so I set myself the task of choosing just 5 pictures to sum it all up so here they are!

Most of my trip was focused on volunteering and as usual I had signed up for a building project.  This year my challenge was to immerse myself in hut building for families affected by AIDS in rural west Zambia. When I say 'immerse' I really mean it as there is no way to avoid getting covered in termite mud and gloves don't work so it's a real hands-on experience.  

The huts are made of wood, mud with a metal roof and we used shovels, saws, hammers and people power as there is no electricity anywhere near the site. It's satisfying, hard work, especially when the villagers joined the volunteers and the local building crew to speed on the work. Sometimes it felt like it would take for ever to finish a house on a baking hot sun filled day but knowing about the people who will move into the houses makes it worth it as they are families who have taken in children orphaned by AIDS, currently living in very poor conditions. 

Here I am filling the wooden structure with mud balls:

After 5 weeks of building mud huts I was very fit and ready for some adventures so I set off for Livingstone to take on one of the more extreme ways to visit the Victoria Falls. 6 years ago we had explored the Falls from the Zimbabwe side and I had seen the microlights buzzing around  and decided I wanted to have a go only to discover that they fly on the Zambian side not the Zimbabwean. So, finding myself back in the area, a microlight flight was top of my list to sign up for. I was a bit nervous as we waited at the take off site for my turn to come round but as soon as I sat down I felt safe. The microlight itself was robust, the pilot was excellent and once you are in the air the sight of the Falls takes your breathe away.  It was just a 15 minute flight but well worth it and another one ticked off my bucket list. 

Photo 2 shows me in mid flight over Victoria Falls with Craig my excellent pilot.

Zambia is a big country and I was in danger of just seeing a small slice so I took a 6 hour bus ride to Lusaka - or rather seven and a half hours because the bus broke down and we had to wait for another to come along and squeeze us all in. I gained a better sense of the countryside, the typical village and the floods the suddenly swamp the roads in the rainy season. I was on my way to a safari in the little known South Luangwa National Park which is in the east part of Zambia and required a small plane ride to reach it to avoid an even longer bus ride.  

It was well worth the journey as in just 2 days I saw plenty of zebra, elephant, giraffe, even a leopard walking on the path and several lions as well as many small less 'glamorous' animals.  We watched one pride of lions being chased off a stretch of land by a large herd of deafening, trumpeting elephants and 3 lionesses sat by the road for over half an hour watching the elephants and watching us so I experienced the rare treat of making eye contact with a lioness who was just a few yards away. I was a little nervous, fearing her making a single leap into the open sided safari vehicle but she was not interested in me and went back to staring at the elephants. 

Here is that lioness!

My next destination was Sudan to join an organised tour and learn about this country which I knew very little about beyond Gordon, Kitchener, the Nile and Darfur. When I announced I had booked to go there, I was greeted with more then a few raised eyebrows and mostly asked 'is it safe?' Yes it is. There are very few tourists and once you venture beyond the banks of the Nile there are miles and miles of empty barren desert.  The people are very friendly once they got over the shock of seeing a foreigner and I was delighted to find their first words are invariably 'welcome' and I did truly feel welcomed.  

The children are particularly fascinated by a white woman with red hair and on one visit to some impressive ruins (at the wonderfully named Western Deffufa!) we were become the centre of attention for a group of excited schoolgirls who had huge fun posing for pictures with us. They were also pretty skilled photographers, somehow....

The school girls and the tourist:

Nubia is northern Sudan and our tour was centred here. The numerous ruins are impressive although often very ruined and little excavated. Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt and they shared the many dynasties of Pharaohs for centuries so the sculptures and carvings are of shared gods and symbols, except for the lion headed god which is only found in Sudan. What is not shared with many of Egypt's great sights are the crowds as we had most of the sites to ourselves which gives them a special magic. 

The busiest of the archaeological wonders were the pyramids of Meroe as there was a BBC America film crew installed, making a documentary of the area so watch out for programme coming out later in the year which should be aired in the UK as well.  Sadly they did not film me arriving at the pyramids on a camel but it was very Lawrence of Arabia I can assure you. 

Pyramids of Meroe, Sudan

I could write enough and post enough pictures to fill scores of blog posts but I have stuck to my discipline of just 5 photos to illustrate my African adventure of 2016 accompanied by some short text to give you a just flavour of it all. I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you ever want to hear more, do let me know!

Back to London based blogs next week...

Bye for now,