A merry maritime in Greenwich

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 lift more in heavy seas so it was less likely waves would break over the stern, and over the helmsman at the wheel. The square bilge was carried forward through the centre of the ship.” Clear on that are we? Yes, thank you midshipman, clear as the waters of the Baltic.

Lazy good-for-nothing-but-strolling-and-lolling folk may might consider the rolling green hills and woodland of Greenwich Park, and once again – yes you guessed it, rich history, royal heritage, glorious open green spaces. Yet this is the Culinary World Tour, a website devoted to finding you the best of the best places in which to dine as well as inspiration for travel, so the question remains, where to sojourn for supper?

I had occasion to dine on a tasting menu at The Guildford Arms, and let me tell you, well, just let me tell you ok? The ethos of sourcing is bang on the money, being local and seasonal. Fish comes in from Billingsgate market every morning, meat is all British and mostly from the South East of England, herbs and vegetables come from New Covent Garden market as well as those they grow themselves in their spacious sunken garden. As I settled and downed a pint of Exmoor Gold which was their seasonal ale and one of my all time favourites, I looked around at the spacious interior designed by architect partner Jon Hallett, musing that their description of the building being a handsome Georgian gastropub was indeed accurate. I imagined moustached and bearded gentlemen of the Admiral’s fleet, sat stuffing pipes and puffing away here back in the day, exchanging tales of derring-do on the ocean wave and slapping each other across their broad shoulders as they’d throw down rum and gin and sing salacious songs.

It’s always refreshing when the food that arrives on your plate is as good or better as it reads on the menu, even when it does read well on the menu, and such was the case at the Guildford. Flavours were well balanced and overall I got the sense that the ingredients came first. It is that sort of mild-mannered respect for nature that typifies modern British gastronomy in my incredibly humble yet dashingly handsome opinion.

Pork and chorizo meatballs were soft and succulent, a tomato and marjoram salsa, silky smooth and subtly smoky in flavour. Tiger prawn and langoustine was the freshest I’ve had in some time, the langoustine so evocative of the sea that you could almost hear the clatter of buckets and spades and the waves lapping at the shore. A lively lime and Pernod dressing was the creative touch that gave the dish substance.




Fresh tagliatelle with broad beans and smoked pancetta came bathed in ricotta and wild garlic, lifted by lemon and sage oil. This may have been the winning dish for me as the smoky creaminess of the sauce was just perfect alongside the delicate crunch of beans that swam in amongst reeds of super fresh pasta.


Spiced coley with red lentil dhal didn’t have quite the same wow factor for me but was a perfectly acceptable and very healthy dish. In essence, a light and delicate piece of fish with some vegetable curry.

lamb steak

Marinated Kentish lamb chump was also something of a show stealer as the lamb simply hollered tenderness and had great depth of flavour. This was a lot to eat in the space of a couple of hours, but we all managed to save room for a delightful baked chocolate cheesecake which rounded things off nicely. I would definitely go back for more, and if you’re looking for a stunning garden in which to dine on such delights, The Guildford Arms is the place for you. Highly recommended!

The Guildford Arms

55 Guildford Grove,
SE10 8JY

020 8691 6293





King of King’s (Road) and Cadogan.

In which Philip King, 1st King of Streatham is reunited with an old Earl.

Many many moons ago, far far back in the distant past in the year of our Lord 1992, I ventured up to The King’s Road, Chelsea, with a crumpled tenner in my student duffle jacket pocket and high hopes of achieving a pleasant level of inebriation, perchance to impress one of the many damsels I had spotted earlier in the day as they shopped for designer threads amongst the many boutiques in this highly fashionable district. My partner in crime was a dashing fellow inebriate, and together we headed straight for a tavern by the name of The Cadogan Arms, as it had a right regal ring to it, what with having been a tavern since 1869 and named after the first Earl of Cadogan. Faded, jaded décor featured crimson flock wallpaper, wonky wall mounted lampshades with velveteen trim and plump little tassles, scrappy printed portraits of huntsmen and women on horseback gallivanting over hills and dales. It was very much of its time, in that the renaissance of pubs bars and restaurants had yet to take hold of London. To experience walking to the bar was akin to experiencing being a fly glued to fly paper as one’s feet stuck to the floor; meanwhile everything had a habit of creaking as though on the film set of a Hammer horror movie, but we didn’t care because the booze was cheap and the bands and the beat-up juke box made a vaguely pleasing racket as I recall. 

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Suffice it to say, this has all changed dramatically now, since the site was taken over and renovated some time ago by the same brains behind The Jugged Hare, a praiseworthy establishment over Barbican way. Whopping windows now provide a vista onto the ever busy King’s Road. Inside, the scheme evokes a sort of highland refectory, with woodiness abounding, a curious assortment of huntsman’s spoils adorning the walls and overall there is a feeling of everything being pared back. It’s unfussy, yet with enough touches to make it quaint and quirky. I took a pint of Jugged Hare IPA, brewed especially for the group by some indie craft ale brewery. It was delicious. Hoppy, aromatic, tangy and smooth, served at the perfect temperature. La Femme had one of the various guest gins on offer, which was served with a slice of orange to match the botanicals and she beamed graciously at the bouquet. 

The seasonal menu had some great choices and daily specials were also intriguing. I wanted to try the very first of the new season’s black headed gull’s egg, but in the end my penchant for merguez got the vote and gin-head took on braised lamb’s belly, glazed ribs, monk’s beard and pomegranate. I was dubious about the appearance of pomegranate in this dish but intrigued to see how it might work. The verdict on the slider was that it was a bloody marvel, a real treat. Caviar had that almost ethereal t, deliciously salty and slimy, well, it’s true! Caviar is slimy, but that’s ok because it tastes great and was balanced by the crisp crunch of breaded oyster and herbaceous monk’s beard. The lamb’s belly was less brilliant though; whilst presentation was great and the concept read well on the page, I found the lamb somewhat fluffy (funny that) and the overall flavour relatively bland, which is to say it was not unpleasant, but unremarkable. 

Mains were Grilled Cornish mackerel with butterbean cassoulet, chorizo, monk’s beard, charred cucumber and black olive crumb; also roast Iberico pork shoulder, almond purée, pickled plums and pork jus. Anybody will agree simply from reading those descriptions that both dishes sound very promising. I’m a huge fan of mackerel and always have been. The preparation and list of ingredients read well, and as for Iberico pork shoulder, I’d had (uncured) Iberico pork for the first time in Granada in August last year and was bowled over by the taste and texture so this excited me very much. Both dishes lived up to the hype, the pork shoulder perhaps more so than the mackerel as the tenderness and richness of the meat was quite sublime. Quite what inspired the chef to add plum to this dish I have no idea, but we were glad of it, as the resulting flavours were entirely satisfactory. Black olive crumb was the magic flourish that brought all the other constituent ingredients together with the mackerel, although the fish itself wasn’t bursting with flavour as mackerel usually does. Perhaps this has to do with the time of the year (I understand mackerel fishing season runs from June to September). Nonetheless it was a pleasing dish. Overall, presentation was well thought out, although the slider sat on a bed of rock salt that stuck to the ingredients as it fell apart which made it a bit messy.

Dessert wise, being quite full by this point. we opted to share home made ice cream as the flavours were so intriguing, choosing burnt honey and thyme, and salted caramel, accompanied by two fantastic dessert cocktails: A Popcorn Demode consisting of Popcorn infused Bullet Bourbon, Luxardo, Maraschino and Peychaud’s bitters. It was glorious, and reminded me of an amber sucking-sweet we had as kids called Spangles, crossed with an Old Fashioned. I was in heaven. Blondie took a tequila espresso martini made with Herradura Plata, Kahlua, espresso, pear, vanilla and Aztec chocolate bitters, and yes, it tastes every bit as sublime as it sounds. The Aussie chap who manages the bar and the floor has turned it around, and I can honestly say that it’s worth paying a trip here even if you don’t eat, just to savour some of this spirit-fuelled wizardry. The flavours and creativity presented in the cocktail list that was written to compliment their dessert menu, are truly remarkable. All in all, The Cadogan of today is a far, far cry from the Cadogan of yesteryear and all the better for it.

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Beef tartare with quail's eggs

Dan the apples n pears

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 grew in clusters on the woodland floor. Hand chopped beef tartare, Italian leaves and quail’s egg was perhaps my favourite, with the light, tender quality of the beef, oozing yolks and sprigs of herbs really came together. It struck me that careful consideration has been given when creating this menu, as the combination of dishes worked so well and the balance of flavours overall was a total success. Wine wise, it took a little while and several samples to get it just right, but we certainly got there in the end, with a white  from Trentino that displayed great minerals, chosen from their indigenous whites “hidden treasures” list and going by the glamorous name of Giuseppe Fanti. We signed off with a dessert of lemon custard, lychee ice cream and fresh marshmallow. In essence an Italian take on lemon meringue pie, sans pastry, this citrus bomb cloaked in a duvet of freshly toasted marshmallow was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. I did however turn a little green with envy when I saw the diner on the table behind us beam with glee as his T-Bone steak arrived, huge and darkly glistening in a cast iron skillet, so there we have it, as if it was even needed: an excuse to return and indulge once again. 









Mele e Pere

46 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 9TF



Brigade collage

Tootle on to Tooley Street

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). 

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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 that underpin the success of the establishment and enterprise. 


I piled into South Coast seafood cocktail topped with Cromer crab and Chase vodka sauce, which was nothing short of excellent. The seafood was exquisitely fresh and lightly shredded, layered on a base of smooth and light dressing with a subtle edge of creaminess. For the main I chose the 10 oz ribeye with watercress salad, baked tomato, meat glaze and Hermitage sauce. Not the most adventurous of dishes to choose, considering what else was on offer, but I had a craving and boy was I glad for that craving.


This was the juiciest slab of medium rare ribeye I’ve ever had the extreme pleasure to sink my carnivorous gnashers into. I shamelessly piled whole roasted “dirty carrots” with caraway on my now heaving plate, alongside a mountain of salted crisp and fluffy King Edward chips (I don’t even like chips!) all gleefully washed down with a stunning Argentinian Malbec. This was food heaven. My toes curled. My hair bristled. Conversation and wine flowed more copiously than the Seine and at one point I believe somebody asked me a question and I totally ignored them because, food. Sorry, whoever that was, but food. Gloriously good food.


Last but not least was the sweet spot: dandelion & burdock jelly, sherbet meringue, lime and star anise sorbet. This was a great idea, to resurrect a childhood drink (dandelion and burdock) as a jelly in this fashion. Flavours were divine and presentation made quite a statement. If I had one tiny criticism of the entire meal and experience it was simply that this dish was a little too sweet for my tooth and the jelly could have been more concentrated. So whoopee me, I wheedled out one minuscule flaw in an otherwise faultless experience. Only Allah is perfect. Oh and Monica Bellucci a very close second. 

NB: Event bookers and organisers and freelance chefs take note, there are open plan demo kitchens available for hire at Brigade, as well as private dining rooms and event spaces. Enquire with Brigade for further details. Please mention Culinary World Tour when calling.

Brigade Bar & Bistro

145 Tooley St, Southwark, London SE1 2HZ
0844 346 1225


Adios Mexico City


Map showing the layout of one section of Tenochtitlán as Mexico City was once known

The sun rose and shone characteristically brightly on our last day in Mexico City. It had been an epic four days, with so much to see and take in. With such a rich and fascinating history and so many different cultures and languages, I found it amusing to compare with my homeland of England, where we speak English, and English only. The presence and influence of the Spanish obviously can’t be ignored when you visit Mexico, but there is so much more to the country than the Spanish influence alone. The native Mexica peoples and their forebears essentially created what the Spanish then came and dominated. Spain came hungry for gold and land to conquer. They took what they could get and it was often a brutal and bloody process. Fortunately however, the legacy of the Mesoamerican civilization still survives in relics, ornate stonework, sculptures, friezes and frescos, costumery and even in some texts. If you’re visiting Mexico City and are interested in history, culture and art, then you should most certainly head to the National Anthropology Museum. It’s the most visited museum in all of Mexico, attracting footfall of two million people a year, and was designed by three architects, namely Pedro Ramírez VázquezJorge Campuzano and Rafael Mijares. Built from volcanic stone hewn from a nearby site, the expansiveness of the space is quite a spectacle in itself, and the artefacts housed inside create yet more marvel. 





The original Aztec stone of the sun, an emblematic mandala.

Street vendors selling fruit and sweets, frequently seen around tourist areas.



This incredible mural was designed by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s husband. It illustrates the history of Mexico and adorns the walls of the National Palace.


The motley crew of travel writers assembled to gaze at Rivera's masterpiece.

The motley crew of travel writers assembled to gaze at Rivera’s masterpiece.

We were fortunate enough to have a fantastic guide named Myrta, whose factual knowledge of detail was scholarly to say the least. Anything we wanted or needed to know, she was able to tell us or at least to find out. Contact me should you be planning a trip to Mexico City and I will gladly make the necessary introduction.

It only remains for me to thank Aeromexico for making this trip possible, the Mexico City tourist board for providing Myrta’s boundless energy and insight, and Starwood hotels for accomodating us in the Sheraton Maria Isabel.


Mexico City Day 3


From the hangar we headed to Plaza San Jacinto, to browse the plethora of stalls selling handicrafts made by the Nahua peoples indigenous to this region. Silver and leather jewellery abounds, and there are some beautiful designs, often based on classic Aztec patterns. There are also numerous delightful cafes and restaurants such as the one pictured above. Sadly we didn’t get time to eat here, but we did sample some of the fantastic mezcal. It’s a similar drink to tequila but with a smokier flavour, and has a delightfully mellowing effect. I also had a seriously rich and robust double espresso to boost energy and search out some of the earthy Latina flavours I’d been craving. Although there is no mescaline in mezcal, the combination of flavours and effects had me grinning like a Cheshire cat. This is an experience I would highly recommend.


The atmosphere inside this colonnaded square with the sun blazing down was hypnotic, and to a soundtrack of violins playing Mexican ditties and a visual feast of intense colours of fruits and flowers bathed in glorious sunlight, I sipped the last of the espresso to my complete satisfaction. Enraptured, steadfast, for the first time settled in this vast city, it struck me that even the world’s most densely populated zones have their zen spots.

IMAG1099Outside our next port of call, a delightful little family run restaurant by the name of Las Lupitas in the Coyoacan district which has some beautiful homes and architecture, we met this chap who was sat patiently waiting for his owner. Las Lupitas has been a restaurant for many many years, and it would seem the same personnel run it now that opened it back in the day. Service was extremely relaxed and very friendly. The food wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything to write about. However the atmosphere was pleasant and it really is a beautiful spot to lunch in.


IMAG1120At times it’s the little things you notice that remind you more than anything of where you are. A city’s inhabitants have their own unique foibles and quirks, and it is these as much as the historical and civic structures that evoke a sense of place.  That and the mezcal…collage_photocat_cerveza

….and the cerveza.

Our next port of call was La Casa Azul (The Blue House) Frida Kahlo’s former home, now a museum and homage to her life’s work and partnership with Diego Rivera, her twice husband. Yes; twice husband. These arty types, really. It seems he was something of a loud mouthed fellow, with quite a temper on him but I like his legacy because he was a gifted artist and any friend of Modigliani’s is a friend of mine. I’m sure he’ll rest peacefully in that knowledge.

An item of irrelevant interest: Back in 2002 I was working for Ticketmaster in Communications House, Leicester Square. As many of you will know, Leicester Square is London’s red carpet movie premier destination. I was working late one evening up on the second floor, when bursts of white flashing light came from the far corner of the office. Startled, I dashed across to investigate, thinking it may have been a fuse that had caught fire. This turned out to be flashlight coming from outside, bouncing off the walls of the cinema opposite. I peered over the desk to witness the incredibly stunning Salma Hayek in a figure-hugging dress, pouting on the red carpet for the premier of the movie Frida (in which she plays Frida), as a battalion of photographers clambered over one another in wide-eyed appreciation, popping shots at her buxom figure and glowing smile. A golden moment if ever there was one.

Coyoacán is a stunning district. There are 16 districts in Mexico City and from what I could tell, Coyoacán seems to be one of the prettiest. Urban planning is meticulous, houses are grand but not imposing, the streets are wide and clean and lined with all manner of beautiful trees. The district oozes history, which when you consider it pre-dates the Spanish invasion in the 1500’s, makes perfect sense.

Kahlo and Rivera’s home gives an in-depth insight into her life’s works, describing the hardships she endured as a result of a traumatic accident at the age of 18 and which influenced her art. She was also strongly influenced by native Mexican dress, and was something of a political figure, even going so far as to hide Leon Trotsky in her home. I think one can safely say that’s a political act.

Sat in the terraced cafe in Kahlo’s courtyard garden, taking a brief respite from the visual and mental exertion of viewing and absorbing all this wonderful city has to offer, my companions and I began discussing the notion of a doppelganger. It transpired each of us had discovered on our travels that such a person exists: an individual whose appearance is almost identical to that of ourselves. As we marvelled at the coincidence that the three of us had each discovered our own lookalike, storm clouds drew in and enveloped the skies in darkness, whilst the actress playing Kahlo vented on the terrace to an enraptured audience, audible raindrops punctuating the chatter as they landed on the vast tropical leaves spread throughout the garden.  A hummingbird made his own guest appearance, gliding in and out of trumpet flowers that climbed out of a pond thick with lilies. What had started as a smattering of raindrops escalated to a full scale downpour, sending the entire audience running for cover in the safety of the building as thunder roared with laughter overhead. It had finally happened: the moment that defines a trip, a seemingly random series of events that somehow fit together to create a distinct atmosphere and finely nuanced range of emotional responses. As we left, rain splashed and exhilarated, I felt sure that Kahlo and Rivera had been expecting us and had staged this drama simply to ensure their audience of travel writers might have some profound thing or other to say about La Casa Azul.


Back at the Sheraton Isabel Maria, we were treated to a meal prepared by the head chef and served in the penthouse apartment with a balcony overlooking The Angel Of Independence. Some sort of street parade was in motion, with all manner of souped-up cars parading along the Paseo de la Reforma, crazy music and fanfares blaring, occasional booty shakers popping out to work their stuff. There is distinct energy about Mexico City, and it’s addictive.


Mexico City day 2

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 the others as we gave our best (and worst) poses. Of course we had to make certain no crazy-ass pilot was going to suddenly flick the engine on just for a laugh.



ImageFor a group of travel writers, this was indeed a rare treat, and of course it’s highly doubtful that such activities would be permitted here on British soil where you can’t so much as clear your throat without receiving some kind of health and safety warning. The mood by now was jubilant, and as we crossed the great concrete Savannah to the newly unwrapped 787-8 Dreamliner, the hairs on the back of my neck were beginning to stand on end. A bit of pointless trivia here is that both my grandfathers were in the air force. My Father’s Father flew dangerous missions in Lancaster bombers (the missions were more dangerous for the Germans) and my Mother’s Father was a general in the US Air Force. That means he was scary and shouted a lot in a flat cap. Either way,it seemed slightly ironic and started to dawn on me that perhaps there is some sort of karmic thread to do with flight running through my blood or DNA or whatever it is karma runs through these days. Perhaps it’s simply airborne.



The Dreamliner is a very smart, compact, modern and attractive plane, and adds to their ever-expanding fleet. As Aeromexico operate over 600 daily flights globally, you can appreciate that quality aircraft are critical to the success of the operation. As well as destinations in the US and Latin America, you can also fly Aeromexico to and from Paris, Madrid and of course London. They also serve Tokyo, Shanghai and Montreal in Canada. What I found most intriguing however, was that Aeromexico offers flights to 47 destinations in Mexico, and no, I am not going to list them all. However, in terms of culinary world mapping, that is something one could seriously get one’s teeth in to.



As you can see from these pictures, the Clase Premier seats are very spacious, clean and comfortable. The colour hues are part of the lighting experience on board, and not the result of an erroneous filter on my camera. There is a light cast for almost any mood. Being as much a lighting snob as I am a food snob, I did find myself hoping they would keep the light as close to daylight as possible when serving food. Personally I find coloured light on food off-putting, however this could be a great feature if you happened to be planning a reception on board a flight.

ImageWho would have thought that a trip to an aircraft hangar could elicit such excitement? In terms of culinary adventures, Aeromexico certainly has a lot to offer the hungry traveller. We left beaming and headed on to explore San Jacinto marketplace. More of this to follow in the next instalment.


Mexico City, day 1: Teotihuacan


After a sound sleep on the flight, we arrived in Mexico City at our scheduled arrival time of 0600 and were met by our tour guide, the delightful Mirta, who escorted us to our home for the next  two nights, the Sheraton Maria Isabel hotel, situated in the heart of the city, immediately adjacent to the famous Angel of Independence monument, essentially Mexico’s equivalent of Nelson’s column. The column forms a centrepiece to a vast roundabout, encompassed by palms as tall as the 14 storey hotel itself. The immediate feeling was one of immensity; even though the city was just waking up, as were we, it had a gentle buzz to it. As early morning light cast hypnotic shadows through the dense foliage and settled in mottled patterns on glass and concrete of the urban landscape, I was immediately taken in.


Room with a view.

Our hosts greeted us as we sat down to breakfast, and although we had been on Mexican soil for just a couple of hours, it was already time for some culinary exploration. The breakfast options included English, American, continental and Mexican, so naturally I went for Mexican.  


In the centre is cactus, which I really enjoyed. When asked to describe it, the best explanation I could give was a sort of dense, bitter-sweet courgette (zuchini). At 1 o’clock is mole, at 6 a spiced maize cake steamed in banana leaf, at 9 a Mexican cheese and 11 is some sort of pounded pork pattie. A recurring theme on this trip was that I ate a lot of food I couldn’t identify, and when I asked for help in identifying it, the response was a little vague. However it didn’t stop me eating my way through mountains of the good stuff, and of course taking pictures of it.

Culture beckoned, so we drove over to the Basilica de Guadalupe. This is Catholicism’s answer to Mecca, with as many as 6.1 million people having made the pilgrimage here in 2009. The Basilica was designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, a notable Mexican architect.


There was a hushed reverie in spite of the vast crowds, all assembled to pray and find forgiveness. It’s an amazing building and like a lot of the structures in Mexico City, it is huge, with a capacity of 50,000 people, and I’d say it’s a safe bet they will have exceeded that capacity at times. The Basilica is a circular structure and whilst natural daylight streams through the glass segments in the centre of the roof, the lighting structure that hangs over the pulpit and front section of the nave is quite a spectacle.


Next stop Teotihuacan, but first a ramble outside the Basilica, where we stopped to look at the statue of the dark-skinned Virgin Mary who allegedly appeared to Juan Diego in 1551. I found myself watching people almost more than watching what they were watching. There is something quite captivating about seeing other people being captivated.



Mirta purchases a fortune from a caballero

IMAG0862Arriving at Teotihuacan was one of those breathtaking moments you experience when travelling, that are often more crucial and accentuated by the element of surprise. Nothing quite prepares you for the scale of this ancient site and the monuments that have been painstakingly recreated over the last half century or so. Again, the scale is staggering, especially considering how long ago the site was originally built. Standing on top of one of the pyramids, surveying the surrounding landscape, we paused to imagine what it must have been like around AD 450 when the city was at its peak in terms of population and activity, with human sacrifices a regular occurrence. It was an eerie and invigorating sensation conjuring up the atmosphere of intensity, imagining the hoards as they bayed for blood and the ritual sacrifice was made.

TeotihuacanOur lunch destination was chosen by our guide and seemed very touristic to me. It was basically a large refectory with a wide range of pre-cooked dishes kept warm in canteen servers. The food wasn’t bad in all, and there was certainly plenty of it. The highlight for me was eating a dish made with pork and worms, or grubs. I was a little scared of eating this at first, but felt it was my duty to experience something adventurous and that forms a part of the local cuisine, so I took one for the team. Let’s just say, it wasn’t an experience I’d rush back to repeat, but I’m glad I tried it, and although the grubs themselves were a little bitter and overpowering, the dish itself was flavoured well by their presence. I don’t know the name of the restaurant; but we shouldn’t worry too much about that.

On the way back to the hotel we gazed out at the vast sprawling district of favela-style houses (they’re not called favelas in Mexico, only in Brazil) and discussed among ourselves, the notion of painting each house a different primary colour, as the cement they’re made from is uniformly bland and bare. It was agreed that we ought to lobby a collective of brands with synergies based on bright and vivid colours, such as Converse, Dulux and Sony to donate the paint, and the entire process be filmed and distributed globally as an example of brands serving communities. You read it here first folks.



Food wise, the highlight of the day was this pork pibil dish ordered in an unassuming little restaurant near our hotel for the evening meal. Pibil is a dish of slow roasted pork with orange and achiote, which we had brought to our table in a terracotta brazier. My travel companion JP and I sat there taking forkful after forkful and piling it onto warm flour tortillas. This was proper comfort food and the ideal antidote to a long day of walking and sightseeing.

Next up: we visit Aeromexico’s new aircraft hangar and preview their fleet of new deluxe 787-8 planes, also Azul Historico for marketplace shopping and the museum of modern anthropology.


Mex tix

Mexico City

Mex tix

Way way back in 2010, having returned from a sojourn across South East Asia, I took stock of my career and direction, endeavouring to work out next moves. I was at a crossroads you see, a bit like Dorothy when she meets the scarecrow, only I didn’t meet any scarecrows, although I did once dance with a scarecrow who was drunk on scrumpy and smelt strongly of garlic, who in fact turned out to be Damon Albarn, in the Pig’s nose down by the coast at East Prawle  in Devon; but that’s another story.

The decision to start a blog about food and travel was born quite simply from a love food, travel, writing and photography. Culinary World Tour was the title of an advertorial feature I’d written for The Mirror’s entertainment supplement and included write-ups on world food restaurants in London. I never really knew exactly where it would take me, so naturally I was delighted when an offer came through in October last year to visit Mexico City on a press trip organised by the airline AeroMexico. Mexico City! The mind boggles at the mere mention of a city so vast, and as for the cuisine, well. Find me somebody who doesn’t love Mexican food and I will cure them, or at least shoot them a look of withering bewilderment. It should come as no surprise that in 2010, UNESCO recognised Mexican cuisine as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and having visited Tulum on the east coast of the Yucatan in 2000, I was more than keen.

The next few posts will detail this exciting trip, including such highlights as a visit to a brand new aircraft hangar, preview of a new fleet of 787-8 planes, cultural insight into the pre-Spanish indigenous Mexican people known as Mexica (Meh-hee-ka) and inspiration for culinary exploration of this exciting megalopolis. Thanks to careful planning by the marketing team at AeroMexico in collaboration with the Mexico City tourist board and Starwood hotels, there was quite literally never a dull moment, hence describing it is going to take several posts. You could hardly do an ancient city with a population of 21 million justice in a couple of paragraphs.

However before we elope to Mexico, let us begin the journey here in the UK, in Middlesex, home of Heathrow airport, and the Sky Team Lounge. As I generally fly economy class, it was a real insight and privilege to experience the upgrade to Premier Class, or Clase Premier as they have branded it. The lounge has been beautifully designed with smooth flowing lines and a living wall, creating a sense of harmony and relaxation that helps smooth the passage to the flight.



We were met with chilled champagne in a lounge space reserved for the occasion, and took the opportunity to get acquainted with one another over a fix of mentholated oxygen and a good rub down from a reclining massage chair.


The author taking a hit of cherry oxygen.

On board our flight we were greeted by the pilot, Captain Leonardo Sanchez Herrera, which made me smile as it was a little like being met by the chef when you go to a restaurant. I was half expecting him to offer us a slice of toast from the cockpit, but no. We did however get the opportunity to go in to the cockpit during the flight; always an exciting experience. Forgive the dreadful picture, it was late and I was a little drowsy.


It was an incredibly smooth and comfortable flight. Our every need was catered for, we all slept soundly in reclining chair beds and the ambient temperature was perfect.

In the next instalment you will read about the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, another UNESCO listed site, as well as some intriguing facts about the history of the city and it’s inhabitants. Until then, adiós damas y caballeros.

Check Aeromexico for flight times and prices from the UK to Mexico, the US, Canada and Asia.


In the lapland of luxury


“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” or so they say. “They” however weren’t bloggers. I jest of course. Writers, journos, bloggers, or anybody with the ability to generate publicity are often schmoozed in exchange for exposure (steady on) and there is nothing so criminal about that in itself. However it can prove tricky when you’re asked to experience and review something that falls well below what you might consider a reasonable standard. For my part I tend to pick a destination or press trip very carefully, vetting it for quality before attending, and quite simply if I don’t enjoy the experience I will tell my host and give them the opportunity to correct it or avoid publication. Harsh, but fair. However, occasionally you do strike gold, and end up having a fantastic experience, such as was the case in the run up to Christmas last year, when I headed along to the Ice Bar in London for a bash dedicated to all that is Northern Sweden’s Lapland, a destination I have long yearned to visit since reading AA Gill’s descriptions of riding across a starlit snowy tundra, downwind from a nitrate rich fug of husky guff, sleeping on blocks of ice wearing nothing but a reindeer pelt. Or was it a wolf skin?

Lapland is a wild and expansive destination in the far North of Sweden, known for a range of profoundly unique points of attraction, both natural and man made. Aside from the fact there is obvious beauty in the sub-zero crystallisation of swathes of wide open countryside, draped in a thick blanket of snow, there is also the breathtaking spectacle of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights; a natural phenomenon that occurs when magnetism created by solar flares, bounces off the earth’s outer atmosphere resulting in a celestial light show of swathes of luminescent refraction. Some clever people decided this would be an ideal spot to install a winter break destination so they built the Ice Hotel and yes, it is a hotel made entirely of ice. I’ve never been there, but a trip to The Ice Bar in London was the next best thing.




First off we were taught how to sculpt ice, which was great fun. As you can see, our polar bear was magnificent, and incredibly life like.


A slide show with factoids about Lapland was very informative, and helped along by the addition of some Einstok – a superbly lively, hoppy and fruity Icelandic beer, and these truly delicious canapes of venison with lingonberry – a bittersweet Scandinavian berry.

What I find most enticing about the prospect of visiting Lapland, is the sheer range of activities on offer. It seems to have something to cater for most tastes. There is adventure travel in the form of sled rides, snowmobile rides, cross-country skiing, horse trekking at day or night, and even ice driving for the complete adrenalin junkie. This is in fact exactly what it says on the fruit loop tin: driving a car around on a frozen lake. For those who prefer something more sedate, there are saunas, steam rooms, hotels, sightseeing tours, restaurants and bars.



The bar upstairs, made entirely of ice, including the walls and the glasses, is quite something to look at. Glacial striations running through the huge blocks of ice, put me in mind of Lake Baikal in Russia where you can if you wish take your skates and set out on a long quest of visual splendour.


After drinking a few cocktails served in vessels of ice, we headed back out to the real world. Many thanks to Cosmos for sponsoring what was considered by all to be a really enjoyable and educational event. All that remains now is to fly out there and experience the real thing.

Northall wine table

A Corinthian column

Shooting off this last set-piece in the Alexx in Londonland montage, I feel a twinge of nostalgic whimsy coupled with the sensation of watching a rolling epic grand narrative. Closing sequences of an elegiac movie play out whilst I lie, “beached in the offering of a private diary of deferred potential” as a puffed up tutor once put it in reference to a project I surfed around for some time before eventual completion in a series of water works; that is to say, writing based around the concept of water as a vehicle for expression. Those were heady days of cerebral, abstract and conceptual horseplay in the sticks of the shire of Devon and we were all young and helplessly hopeful, way way back in the mid to late nineties. We hop skip and prance our way from one scene to the next in the meandering story lines of our little lives. At best we can seek to determine the meter and stanza, leaving crucial aspects such as plot to divine or unseen forces. We can’t write the script because fate writes it for us; rather we might daub paint on the set, bash out a couple of rousing numbers, hoping with vainglory to get our names in the credits that flash past the viewer’s eyes at the end of it all.

Corinthia was the inspiration for this theatrically filmic musing, by virtue of the grand sweeps and ornate embellishments that characterize her interior, evoking vintage Hollywood stage-set glamour, which by the tiniest flick of a switch in the imagination can transform you from Dave and Sarah of Beckenham into Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, or Bogart and Bacall.

As with many of the places I am fortunate enough to muse about, one could easily argue such thoughts and expressions are essentially redundant, as accolades have already rolled in since their reopening as a luxury hotel in 2009. In spite of the pristine elegance it now displays, the restoration and improvements have been entirely sympathetic, in preserving the ornate fabric of the building as it was when originally built as the Metropole in 1885. The hotel became synonymous with high society living, hosting debutante balls and soirees that attracted many celebrities and eminent figures. However, on this occasion they let me in, to dine at The Northall, an exquisite restaurant space with a seasonal menu of British fare, impeccably sourced and prepared. It was a tough call initially when I was invited there, whether to dine at Massimo for Italian cuisine, The Lobby Lounge which serves an extensive selection of what are essentially bistro style dishes, or The Northall. Each option had distinct appeal, but in the end I chose The Northall, as I felt it would benefit my Canadian guest to sample the Epicurean delights of the British Isles. The menu also swayed me, as did reading the profile of the head chef, Garry Hollihead, who in his illustrious career has scooped as many as three Michelin stars.

Upon arrival, we were introduced to the sommelier, a dapper gent with a wry smile who didn’t once sneer at my oenological ineptitude (wine goofishness), and I certainly gave him enough chances. The Northall is a wine lover’s paradise, as they have an unique system of sealing each bottle to preserve it without oxidation occurring, meaning they are able to offer an extensive list of wines by the glass, coupled with the fact they offer tastings every Wednesday where they crack open the good stuff and spill the spoils of a hard day’s harvesting at a fraction of the usual cost. There are distinct advantages to having access to such a variety of wines, not least of all the ability to match specific wines to the dishes you’ve ordered. Furthermore, if a particular wine isn’t quite to your liking, they simply return it to the table and you move on to another.

Northall wine table

Sommelier’s choice: the Northall wine table.

As a serious devotee of the ocean and fruits thereof, I usually leap at the chance to eat fresh fish, hence the choice of Cornish sardines with smoked tomato sauce and soft herbs to start. Soft, subtle and rich at the same time, this dish had me from the off.


Slow-cooked concasse conveyed subtle garlic tones, matching the charred sardines to perfection, each mouthful evoking the sea, tempered with a fresh kick from the herbs, and perfectly matched with a Pouilly Fusse that cut right through the oiliness of the fish. We also shared a potted shrimp, accompanied by Macon Blanc; this wasn’t a stand-out dish for me but certainly put a smile on Alexandra’s lips.

The highlight for me was a this exquisite roast saddle of venison with poached pear.


This was seriously tender, gamey venison, dressed with a reduction that evoked the forest, our now familiar friend the mushroom once again putting in a guest appearance. I am now a fully fledged mycophile and proud of it too. It was a faultless dish, which our sommelier matched with a fine Chilean Pinot Noir.

This is as close to perfection as fine dining gets. Food is unfussy, yet prepared with finesse, and to exacting standards. Decor is immaculate, service flawless and the location inspiring. Although the hotel was kind enough to host me, I can certainly say I would recommend Corinthia without hesitation to anybody looking for affordable luxury, fine dining and one of the best examples of British produce and cuisine available in London.

Visit the Corinthia website.




Qbic positions itself as something of a revolutionary concept, grazing gently at the border where boutique hotel meets upmarket youth hostel, with a Dutch signature ethos centred around environmental awareness and community engagement. I had encountered their launch literature whilst searching for new and interesting places to stay, and thought it would be a nice idea to show my guest another part of town, as Whitechapel in the East End is somewhat more “real” than the City or Selsdon Park. In a bid to show London in it’s true colours yet without too much grit and grime, Qbic hit the mark. Our arrival happily coincided with one of various launch events which was attended by a stellar smattering of foodie press journos and bloggers, as well as entrepreneurs and luminaries from the food community including bagel and cake bakers and the gent responsible for launching Street Feast, East London’s pop-up answer to our equivalent of what the rest of the world calls street food. The event was branded “Future of Food” and as well as showcasing the venue, it also hosted food and drink from a range of producers and suppliers all within a fairly narrow radius of the hotel. I was particularly impressed by Pip & Nut’s warming honey cinnamon cashew nut butter and Sacred’s London gin with notes of cardamom: an excellent tipple.

To the right as you enter is a spacious lounge area with a quirky-cool retro-meets-modern feel to it: 50’s and 60’s Dutch furniture spread about to evoke a homely feel, an open fireplace, a vending machine that dispenses booze right around the clock (yes I did predictably get excited about this) and an open-plan kitchen and breakfast bar space, faced by a wall of windows onto Altab Ali park square opposite.


The panel discussion obviously focused on the future of food in London and at one point they were asked to consider which trends might surface in 2014. Further variations on the doughnut such as the cronut (hybrid of croissant and donut) and the dosant (a doughnut spliced with a croissant) were discussed. Blending foods seems a pretty hilarious method of evolving a culinary craft, but it made for playful chatter, adding a touch of jollity to the serious matter of launching a hotel. Why only yesterday, in this same spirit of blending two dishes to create one, I made a prawn and mushroom biryani omelette, which bizarrely, tasted great. What next? Caviar and chip surprise perhaps? Maybe a fruit salad kebab? Actually in Sweden of all places, I did have a meat pizza with curry sauce and banana on it, so perhaps we should all just hang up our fusion aprons and call it a day.

It was a fun event to attend, and the accommodation whilst relatively basic was perfectly acceptable, even including a wide screen tv at the foot of the bed, and a walk in shower, although, the floor leaked. The overall feel is that of modular, functional playfulness.

I would certainly recommend Qbic to anybody wishing to stay somewhere that is both trendy and economical, and only a short hop to some of the best attractions London has to offer, including hipsterville itself, Shoreditch and of course Brick Lane where you will find a plethora of Indian restaurants. The following morning, a breakfast bag containing a smoothie, cereal bar and an apple was hung on the button on the dado rail outside the room, giving us some sustenance for the day ahead, and we left feeling rested and rejuvenated. I am of the opinion that Qbic deserves the various high scores it has obtained on travel review sites since the launch.

Rooms at Qbic start at £59 per night; book here.