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San Miguel De Allende, part 2

San Miguel De Allende, part 2

By on Nov 3, 2014 in Adventure, Food, Interior design, Luxury, Mexican, Mexico, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

San Miguel De Allende is a vividly coloured historic town that sits approximately 270 km north of Mexico City, and has been made famous at various points throughout the last centuries for events such as being the birthplace of Ignacio Allende, a freedom fighter and national hero of the Mexican people, and by virtue of the fact that in 1810 the municipality of San Miguel was the first to be freed from Spanish rule by the Mexican army. San Miguel is steeped not only in history but also in creativity, and has been a hub for artists throughout the last eight decades. We were venturing there to experience the whole spectrum of sensations that such a site offers, and to admire the town’s UNESCO world listed heritage architecture. Our vehicle headed out at dawn, as the sun rose over the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt, a mountainous strata of land that sweeps east to west, featuring various snow-dusted peaks. As the jeep drew closer to San Miguel, a gap in the mountains revealed a cluster of hot air balloons floating peacefully eastwards. For those with an appetite for adventure travel, Mexico is a land of plenty. We rumbled off the main freeway and trundled into the steep winding cobbled streets of the main city, at which point the atmosphere changed almost instantly. High walls painted in shades of ochre and umbre create a maze framed all around by views out over surrounding hills and mountains. Bougainvillea and Wisteria grow bountifully in trellises and along the tops of walls, while the usual suspects aloe, cacti and various ornamental succulents pop up in terracotta pots that dot the door frames and flagstones about the town. It has distinct old world charm and a relaxed pace that feels at once homely. Our lodging, the Rosewood hotel, is a veritable palace that I was awestruck to learn has only been built, from scratch, in the last three years. Observing the fabric, and the style in which it has been constructed, you might justly suppose the building has been stood here for decades if not centuries. Stone has been quarried and timber felled locally. Fittings, fixtures and furniture are also from local craftsman and designers. This ethos of contextual and cultural awareness and empathy encapsulates the Rosewood...

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San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende

By on Oct 20, 2014 in Adventure, Drink, Food, Hotels, Luxury, Mexican, Mexico, Mezcal, Reviews, Travel | 1 comment

Food wise, Mexico has an incredible amount of variety to offer the gourmet traveller, and whilst Oaxaca is known as the culinary capital of Mexico, there are a number of distinct regions with their own unique dishes, celebrating native produce, forming a base of traditional Mexican recipes that have been handed down over generations. Whilst there are understandably some influences from America, notably in cuisines in the North of the country, as well as significant influences from the Spanish who of course infiltrated Mexico, bringing animal husbandry and butchery with them, in fact the majority of Mexican cuisine is just that: Mexican. Provenance of some of the more notorious dishes such as the burrito can be ambiguous and most Mexicans will tell you the burrito is an American invention, whereas the taco (perhaps surprisingly), is an entirely Mexican staple. Signature ingredients include chilli (of course), achiote, lime, coriander, rice, eggs, avocado, corn flour, maize flour, beef, pork and chicken. However, as I discovered on a recent trip to San Miguel De Allende via Mexico City, there are many more styles of preparation and ingredients to explore, ranging from the exotic to the frankly bizarre. Preparation of Mexican meals can often be a painstakingly slow labour of love, resulting in a table that groans under the weight of food, at which the entire family will sit to dine. I will never forget the first meal I saw taking place in Mexico, in a big old rustic diner in the Yucatan with a high vaulted ceiling, timber beams and wagon wheels bolted to its stone walls. I had just arrived in Mexico for the first time, with a couple of London lads and a Swedish girl. We were agog at the vast frozen Margaritas that were brought to our table, in glasses the size of hollowed out footballs and swimming with premium gold tequila. Although we were four young and excitable travellers, freshly arrived in this magical land of mountains and deserts, soft sand beaches and palm trees, Mariachi bands and Mezcal, it was in fact the table of twenty or so Mexicans opposite us who commanded the most attention. This was an entire family, out to dine and mingle on Saturday night,...

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A merry maritime in Greenwich

A merry maritime in Greenwich

By on Jul 1, 2014 in Commentary, Drink, English, Food, London, Real ale, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

Oh England. England, England, England, with your soggy summers and bitterly disappointing football scores, we do still love you. And what better way to remind ourselves of just how much we love you than to pay a visit to a royal borough to experience your heritage and parks in all their rich green lush splendidness, to seek out some hidden gem of gastronomic delight in a tavern where we might replenish our spirits by feasting on seasonal fare, slaking our thirsts with an extensive wine list and chugging down a selection of hand-pumped ales? No better way. For some inspiration on visiting Greenwich for a day out, one might consider taking the ferry boat from Westminster pier so as to soak in the sights along the way. It’s a great way to see parts of London you might not usually get to witness, and there is also a guide on board to talk you through some of the history and points of interest. Once at the historic naval heart of Britain that is Greenwich, there is a raft of things to see and do. You can visit the National Maritime museum and learn about England’s rich maritime past, or the Royal Observatory and planetarium to learn about star charting, and pop off on a voyage through the universe. I’m rather intrigued by the show “Back to the moon for good” which chronicles the efforts of teams to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, for which they must land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, navigate 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth. “This global competition is designed to spark imagination and inspire a renewed commitment to space exploration, not by governments or countries – but by the citizens of the world.” Of course there is the legendary Cutty Sark, a Grade 1 listed dry docked clipper vessel with a fascinating history. As wikipedia tells us: “Willis considered that the bow shape of Tweed was responsible for its notable performance, and this form seems to have been adopted for Cutty Sark. Linton, however, felt that the stern was too barrel-shaped and so gave Cutty Sark a squarer stern with less tumblehome. The broader stern increased the buoyancy of the rear of the ship, making it...

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Dan the apples n pears

Dan the apples n pears

By on May 1, 2014 in Drink, Food, Italian, Restaurants, Reviews, Vermouth | 0 comments

You would be forgiven for walking straight past mele e pere whilst out and about in Soho scouting for a top notch watering hole and eaterie. Rest assured you’d be missing out, as beneath the elegantly simplistic upstairs bar facing onto Brewer Street, extends a spacious and welcoming basement, where the serious business of rustic Italian trattoria dining at its finest takes place. We sat upstairs in the goldfish bowl bar before dinner, sipping gin Martinis, absorbing the laid back vibe. Staff genially busied about the floor, a couple next to us shortly taking delivery of a profiterole dessert I was so impressed by that I rudely asked its recipient diners if I could snap the beast. They kindly obliged and in fact joined in the fun. Take a look at the beauteous objects and you’ll perhaps understand how such temptation took hold.  Mele e pere means apples and pears in Italian, or stairs in cockney rhyming slang, which is cute, as their extensive collection of blown glass apples and pears comprises the entire wall beside stairs you descend to get in amongst it in the basement, featuring a stunning copper topped bar stocking an assortment of vermouths blended by their team and bottled in beautifully ornate glassware. If you are so inclined you can join in the vermouth revival movement by attending monthly masterclasses hosted by head sommelier Ed Scothern, where you will learn how to blend different vermouths, and naturally, to drink them too. This is great value at only £15.00 which includes cicchetti (light bites such as olives, ham and squid). The meal was a culinary delight from start to finish. Rather than choosing mains, we selected a number of starting plates to share, so as to graze gently and savour the experience. Seirass ricotta, fresh peas, purple sprouting broccoli and smoked bacon proved an excellent medley of flavours and textures, creamy mild Piedmonte ricotta blending beautifully with tangy, salty bacon, freshened with lightly blanched greens. Salad of grilled octopus and calamari was cooked to tender perfection, fruity olive oil providing a gorgeous warmth to softened potato, dressed with fresh wild garlic leaves, the aroma and flavours of which had me reminiscing of walks in Devon where the good stuff...

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Tootle on to Tooley Street

Tootle on to Tooley Street

By on Apr 24, 2014 in Commentary, Food, London, Restaurants, Reviews, Travel | 0 comments

We in the West are privileged. Very much so. In global terms, it’s almost obscene how privileged many of us are. We have employment opportunities galore, good quality housing, sanitation, water and praise be, we have plenty of food. Or at least most of us do. There is of course a percentage of people who at some point in their lives will struggle to break even, and may reach as far down as rock bottom. No job, possibly no home to live in, and little prospect of finding housing or work. It’s a frightening thought, and one I’ve personally faced; however I was fortunate enough to have family who helped me to pick up the pieces. Not everybody is so fortunate. So what on earth does this have to do with a restaurant review? To put it simply, Brigade bar and bistro is a social enterprise which trains and supports jobless and homeless people, equipping them with kitchen skills, life skills and jobs in the exciting world of catering. So much more than just a place to eat; Brigade is an eaterie where one can take satisfaction in the knowledge that the proceeds from your dining experience are helping to drive social change and improve the lives of individuals less fortunate than ourselves, it’s a shining beacon in a sea of gratuitously self-satisfied gluttons who make it their business to simply gorge and waffle (I’m blushing by this point, being both gorger and waffler).  The food is outstanding too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the skills these apprentices are taught are somehow sub-standard, or that ingredients are processed to cut costs; this is certainly not the case. As bistros go, Brigade is what you might call high end, with a relaxed, casual feel, and a buzz that you won’t find in a formal restaurant, owed in part to the open plan theatre kitchen and a bar section that runs directly alongside the main space. I couldn’t find fault in any single aspect of the decor, the service, the menu, the food and drink or the prices. The group of fellow writers I dined with had similarly positive experiences with their dishes, and were also enamoured by the venue and principles...

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Mexico City day 2

Mexico City day 2

By on Mar 2, 2014 in Adventure, Airlines, Food, health, Hotels, Luxury, Mexican, Mexico, Reviews, Travel | 2 comments

Awaking at 7 am, I drew back the curtains with eager anticipation for the day that lay ahead. The previous day’s exploration had felt epic, and our platoon were all pretty whacked by nightfall. Of course it’s always good to start the day with exercise, so I took a swim in the rooftop pool at our hotel, The Sheraton Isabel Maria. It was a special feeling to be swimming in a heated pool with amazing views out over Mexico City, and I pushed myself in order to build an appetite for a big breakfast. Our group chose to eat in the lounge on the 20th floor so we could appreciate the urban cityscape as we tucked into another hearty meal, which on this particular morning consisted of fried plantain and tamales with salsa. I chose plantain not just because it was delicious but also a good slow release energy food for the day ahead. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and it certainly feels like it at the Sheraton Isabel Maria. Our hosts for this trip were various and as well as Starwood hotels, we were also accommodated by the Mexico City tourist agency and of course Aeromexico, who were naturally keen to show us seasoned travellers their new fleet of Boeing 787-8 planes which were awaiting inspection at their brand new hangar. In spite of the fact none of the group seemed too excited at the prospect, I was very keen, as it’s not often one gets to experience such unique aviation gold. Once we had cleared security we entered the hangar, and within a millisecond the group’s tune changed. It was quite breathtaking, to enter such a vast space, still gleaming in all it’s newness. The hangar is also used for events, including a mass (of course!) and opened out naturally onto the airfield and runways, where the planes stood waiting. We ventured out, cameras poised, and quite literally had a field day, snapping away at the inside of the turbines. Much to our surprise, we were given permission to pose inside the jet engines. This was a photo-opp not to be missed. Each of us took it in turns to shoot...

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