London for Sugar Addicts

In this guest article, former pastry chef Andrea Duty takes us on a mouthwatering tour of the best deserts and sweet stuff in London – heaven for sugar addicts!

The torrid reputation of English food is infamous. Time and time again, foodie travelers pass on the UK’s bland traditions in favor of Vietnamese spice or French indulgence. And while it’s true that the culinary scene in London had an exceedingly long awkward phase, it’s since grown into a modern, dynamic contender as one of the best food cities in the world. I could talk for pages about the various curry houses, chippers, chaat shops and pubs throughout the city, but as a former pastry chef, I feel it my duty to bring you all things sugar, from the traditional to the internationally influenced. Thus, my list of absolute favorite desserts in London. Nothing bland about it.

Kouign amann from Parisian chef Philippe Conticini Photo: Andrea Duty

Kouign amann from Parisian chef Philippe Conticini

Kouign Amann

Renowned Parisian chef Philippe Conticini brings the signature bell jars display cases and geometric packaging of La Pâtisserie des Rêves to Marylebone, filling them with manicured renditions of French classics and updated British favorites. His kouign amann – a baton of caramelized croissant dough – negates the need for a trip to Paris on the Eurostar while his carrot cake has forever ruined me to my homemade version.

Merveilleux

Hot on Conticini’s heels is Frédéric Vaucamps, the master of meringues whose Aux Merveilleux de Fred just debuted South Kensington. His dainty “cakes” of crisped egg white, whipped cream and assorted toppings look like the dense cake balls du jour but wow with a cloud-like consistency. Flavors such as speculoos, praline and coffee compete as top sellers…and for space in my stomach.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred in South Kensington Photo: Andrea Duty

Aux Merveilleux de Fred in South Kensington

Sticky Toffee Pudding

All those who visit me in London are treated to a Sunday roast at The Spaniards Inn, a 16th century pub reportedly frequented by the likes of Dickens and Keats. My guests may think the aim here is to show them a bit of British history or give them a little culture, but my real motive is a slice of sticky toffee pudding. The version at The Spaniards is wickedly rich and is pushed over the edge with a dollop of clotted cream. Nab a seat by the fireplace and it’s pure heaven.

Sticky toffee pudding at the Spaniard's Inn in London Photo: Andrea Duty

Sticky toffee pudding at the Spaniard’s Inn in London

Bakewell Tart

Take a buttery tart shell, schmear it with jam, top with dense almond cake and you’ve got a classic Bakewell Tart. There are as many variations of this dessert as there are bakers in England, but my favorite slice so far is at Le Comptoir Gourmand. It may be commercially made, but it’s so rich and homey that I swear someone’s grandma must be running that kitchen.

Bakewell tart at Le Comptoir Gourmand Photo: Andrea Duty

Bakewell tart at Le Comptoir Gourmand

Pistachio/Ricotta & Sour Cherry Gelato

I recently spent two weeks in Italy where I consumed as much gelato as is humanly possible, but BUT (and I feel sacrilege even saying this) none of it was as good as the scoops at Gelupo. Here the flavors are spot on: fresh, not too rich, and not too sweet. They are just…perfect. Plus, there’s a dessert case full of frozen cupcakes, chocolate-dipped cones and a rotation of seasonal treats. Even when we are in the depths of winter, you can bet on finding me here.

Gelupo Gelateria in London Photo: Andrea Duty

Gelupo Gelateria in London

Andrea Duty is a former pastry chef from Austin, Texas living in London, England. She eats her way through other countries in attempt to discover cultural insight from cake and historical relevance through cookies…or something like that. You can follow her travels at This New View.

 

More London dining experiences:

Fine dining favourites at the top London Hotels
Five of the best kept secret eateries in London
An artistic lunch at the V & A – in London

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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A drive along the west coast of Sardinia – Flamingos, black rice and dancing candle men

November 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Europe, featured, Italy, Leisure, Museums, Sardinia, Sightseeing

In this article, our guest author, Astrid Ruffhead takes us on a drive along the west coast of Sardinia from the bustling capital Cagliari to the coastal resort of Alghero taking in the candle festival of Sassari.

Located on the southern coast of Sardinia, Cagliari has throughout history been a leading trading seaport in heart of the Mediterranean. The oldest part of this bustling capital is the Castello, perched like a crown on top of the hill in the town centre. Park the car outside the city walls and enter the city via the Porta Christina. Immediately to your left you find the former Arsenal, now housing the city’s most important museums; those of Archaeology, Oriental Art and the Municipal Art Gallery.

Entrance to Museum area in Cagliari

Entrance to Museum area in Cagliari

The grid-like layout of the city makes it easy to find your way around. Walk along the Via Martini and you will soon be standing outside the Town Hall. Inside is the helpful tourist office and on the first floor are the Sala Della Rappresentanza and Sala del Consiglio Comunale. On their walls hang numerous paintings of important events in Sardinian history. To me, it gave a visual aid to Sardinia and its relationship with mainland Italy, but what struck me most, being a paranoid and security-anxious Londoner, was the openness of the place, no security checks or guards anywhere.

Interior of Town Hall in Cagliari, Sardinia

Interior of Town Hall in Cagliari, Sardinia

The same street leads you down to the impressive Romanesque façade of the Cathedral on Piazza Palazzo, built by the Pisans in the 12th century. Dedicated to Santa Maria, this place of worship is extensively decorated in different types of marble in the Baroque style. I was there on a Sunday and the cathedral was packed full, so many locals and visitors chose to sit on the steps outside to listen to the ceremony and music in the glorious sunshine.

Cathedral facade in Cagliari

Cathedral facade in Cagliari

Antiques is one of my passions in life and I had months in advance planned to be in Cagliari on the second Sunday of the month so that I could fully indulge myself at the antique market on Piazza Carlo Alberto, an event which every website had assured me takes place every second Sunday of the month – the day I was there. Nobody though, had added the words ‘except for August’…Oh well, time for lunch instead. I found this lovely trattoria serving wonderful seafood in one of the many narrow alleyways within the Castello.

Prawn on black rice and honey sauce

Prawn on black rice and honey sauce

The coast road to Oristano

From Cagliari we took the motorway towards Oristano. From there on, the coastal road is one I will always remember, simply breathtakingly beautiful. Sandy beaches or rocky outlets are embraced by the clearest waters I have seen for a long time, colours ranging from dark ink and celestial blues to a soft shimmering turquoise. As cliffs get higher and the roads getting narrower, to my great surprise, long legged pink flamingos can be seen around the salt plains that are now vast nature reserves.

The coastal view at Oristano, Sardinia

The coastal view at Oristano, Sardinia

Continuing north, we made a stop at the pretty little town of Bosa on the river Temo. Here is a good market on a Wednesday morning selling fruit, cheese bread, a very good place for sampling delicious local produce. Get here early as market and everything else for that matter, closes at lunchtime. Boat trips are available on the river in the evenings and along the river you see the old tannery buildings from the turn of the last century.

Crispy bread puffs and fresh produce at the market

Crispy bread puffs and fresh produce at the market in Bosa

Arriving at Alghero

Closer to Alghero, the landscape changes again, becoming more fertile with many wine producing fields, including Sardinia’s favourite grape, the Vernaccia. Alghero has been a popular resort since the 1960s thanks to its long sandy beach but in the countryside south of Alghero you find may manifestations of the Nuraghi people, who lived on this island in the 10th-12th century BC.

In the countryside south of Alghero you find may manifestations of the Nuraghi people, who lived on this island in the 10th-12th century BC.

Evidence near Alghero of the Nuraghi people

Via Garibladi runs along the seafront and marina and its many bars and restaurants are filled with trendy people watchers. As always, I head for the oldest parts of town where I notice that this place has a very Spanish influence. Street names can be both in Italian and Catalan, going back to a time when the city was captured by the Aragonese. The San Francesco cloister from the 14th century is a reminder of this era and during summer months it becomes an atmospheric open air concert venue. In Via Calberto, you find many craftsmen selling local coral jewellery, much admired for its deep red colour.

Coral jewellery on sale in Alghero, Sardinia

Coral jewellery on sale in Alghero, Sardinia

As picturesque as Alghero is, particularly in the evening, it is the scenery outside the town that attracts me most. Do not miss the Capo Caccia peninsula. It appears like a huge sculpture before you, as you travel north of the city. In the air you might be lucky to see one of the few surviving Sardinian Griffon vultures or the more common peregrine falcons, who have masses of white cliffs to choose from as nesting grounds. But keep your eyes on the ground, particularly if you decide to take the 654 steps down the Escala Cabriol, (the goat’s steps) to Neptune’s Cave filled with remarkable stalactites and stalagmites. The only let-down is that you have to take all the steps back up again… It is easy to get out to Capo Caccia on a hop on – hop off sightseeing bus. The trip takes 2 hours and is the best value ever had for 18 Euros.

Capo Caccia

Capo Caccia

Sassari and the Giant Candles

Sassari is the second most important city in Sardinia. Municipal buildings in the Neo Classical style surround the large Piazza Italia. In its centre is a huge statue of Victor Emanuel ll (Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso) not only the first king of a united Italy, but also gives his name to the long main shopping street, Corso Vittorio Emanuel, which winds its way through the old town. My main reason for visiting Sassari though, was the annual festival of the Candelieri. This is an incredible day to be there, as from around lunchtime you can hear music and singing in the street, getting louder by the hour, as the Candelieri start practicing for the evening.

The Candelieri festival at Sassari

The Candelieri festival at Sassari

The event has its roots in the 13th century when the city was under Pisan domination and there was a tradition of offering a candle to the Madonna on the eve of the Assumption. In the 17th century and after numerous plagues had hit the town it took the form of religious thanks from the town guilds.

To this day nine guilds including blacksmiths, farmworkers, carpenters, tailors, greengrocers etc. parade through the city, each carrying a huge wooden column with coloured ribbons on top, representing a candle stick. It takes 8-10 men to carry this 100 kilo candle, at the same time walking, singing and dancing in a procession through the city. Everybody joins in with this fantastic celebration which ends in the evening when wooden candles are ceremoniously placed at the church of Santa Maria.

Astrid head shot copyMy thanks for this guest post to Astrid Ruffhead who after growing up in Sweden, arrived in London in the late 1970s, first working for the Swedish Tourist Board and later for VisitDenmark. She has also owned her own PR company, The Travel Gallery PR and a second passion is hotels. She lives in North London and is today working as a freelance travel and antiques blogger/dealer. Contact Astrid at: elegantforever2010@gmail.com or elegantforever2010.blogspot.com

More things to see in Sardinia

Bandits and Murals at Orgosolo in Sardinia
Swimming in river pools – near Gola Gorruppu in Sardinia
Sea caves and a boat trip – in Sardinia

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Athens is on the menu for 2015 – a taste of Greece with TBEX – video

“We want you to help the world dream about Greece”, the Minister of Tourism, Olga Kefalogianni told us at the opening night party for the TBEX travel bloggers conference in Athen. The city had opened its arms wide to welcome over 500 travel bloggers attending the conference so that we could help change perceptions about what Greece has to offer. In the opening speeches the Mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis told us “We felt that during the economic crisis we were treated unfairly by the mainstream media and so we wanted to invite you bloggers to see Athens for yourselves and tell the real stories of our city.”

Heather makes the obligatory trip up to the Acropolis Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather makes the obligatory trip up to the Acropolis

Greece has been through some tough times in the last couple of years fillng the newspapers with reports of strikes and public protests. During the crisis the government was forced to take drastic measures to balance the books and pensioners, students and families alike struggled to make ends meet. But in Athens last week we could feel a new energy as Greece leaves the worst behind and looks to the future. Local tourism businesses had come together to show us their best side and at the opening party restaurants and food businesses wow’ed us with a feast of Greek cuisine and enterprise.

Food at TBEX

Clockwise from top left: Proscutio from Stremmenos, Halva mousse from Aleria , Verve fruit juices from Farmer’s Republic, canapes from ManhManh

A showcase of Greek gastronomy at the TBEX opening night party

Arriving at the Technopolis cultural centre it took me a very, very long time to extract myself from the main hall where stands of food and drink producers tempted me with tastes from all the regions of Greece. From Stremmenos I tasted my way through the naturally matured proscutio and salamis from the pine forests of Central Greece, washed down with Verve natural juices in blends of apple, celery, melon and ginger from Farmer’s Republic. I sipped Greek wines from Papaioannou Wines and nibbled a plate of miniature hot dogs from local restaurant ManhManh who offer Greek regional dishes with a modern twist. Another local Athens restaurant Aleria was serving a creamy, nutty Halva mousse to die for and I was given a bag of traditional Loukoum sweets made by Nedim, perfumed with rosewater, coated with coconut and dripping with syrup. I took them back to my hotel room and looking for a late night snack I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t resist eating the whole bag.

During the day I had taken the Athens Food Tour with Big Olive City Walks, a new business run by young Athenian entrepreneurs including the founder, Yannis and architecture expert, Nikos who fed us historical snippets during our walk.

Greek pastries and yoghurt at Stani Dairy bar

The gastronomic walking tour started back to front with the deserts first, although of course the Greeks tend to eat their yoghurt and honey in the morning for breakfast and their cakes in the afternoon when guests come visiting. At Stani, a family run dairy cafe just off Omonia square, tubs of creamy Greek yoghurt were piled in the chiller cabinet and jars of honey stacked on the shelves of cream painted cabinets transported from some Greek grandmother’s kitchen.

Loukoumades are drizzled with honey at Stani Dairy Bar in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Loukoumades are drizzled with honey at Stani Dairy Bar in Athens

Plates of sweet treets were laid out for us to try, with crisp Loukoumades, miniature doughnuts drizzled with honey, a slice of Galaktobureko custard tart enclosed in syrupy filo pasty and Moustalevria a sweet jelly made from grape pulp left over from the wine pressing and scattered with nuts. And of course there was creamy Greek yoghurt made from sheep’s milk bathed with honey and scattered with walnuts. Stani: 10 M. Kotopouli str, Omonia square

Greek specialities at Stani dairy bar in Athens; Loukoumades, Galaktobureko and Moustalevria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Greek specialities at Stani dairy bar in Athens; Loukoumades, Galaktobureko and Moustalevria

A tasting of olives and LIA oil, the symbol of Athens

Our next stop took us to the Big Olive offices where we had a tasting of olives and olive oils with sweet, hard biscuits flavoured with orange and almond. These traditional Koulouraki biscuits would be hard baked to preserve them but then softened by dipping into olive oil. The LIA extra virgin oil from Messinia, beside the Ionian sea was poured into a cup to sip on its own and savour the green grass flavours. We tasted the small, salty, black Kalamata olives from the Pelleponese and the plump, fleshy Amphisa olives from central Greece, the Kalamata ones being the more expensive of the two.

The olive is seen as a symbol of peace and prosperity in Greece since the legend goes that the Greek Goddess Athena planted a tree on the Acropolis, so founding the city of Athens which was named after her. I thought perhaps that the Big Olive city walks had started from selling olives, but Yannis explained that it was a play on names like Big Apple for New York, but Big Olive for Athens since the olive is not only the symbol of the city but also of regeneration and will spring up and grow again after a forest fire.

Olive oil tasting on the Big Olive gastronomic tour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Olive oil tasting on the Big Olive gastronomic tour

With the fishes in the Athens Central Market

Our gastronomic tour now took us through the amazing Central market on Athinas Street known as the Varvakios agora where stand after stand of fish was laid out, with all the vendors keeping up a constant calling and exhorting us to buy their fish. Silver scaled and yellow striped fish stared up at me with dead eyes and open mouths from their bed of ice strewn with lemons while plump pink crayfish were standing ready to make a seafood supper.

At the farthest end of the fish section we reached the meat section where half carcasses of dead animals hung from the meat hooks. I winced as the butchers wielded their cleavers expertly on the chopping blocks and hoped that no fingers would be chopped off in the process.

Nikos the story teller told us how the market had originally been located within the archaeological area until this new one was built in the 1880s to allow the excavations to take place. The traders resisted moving into it since it was further away from the busy shopping areas, until a fire mysteriously broke out and burned down the original market, leaving them no choice.

Central market or Varvakios agora on Athinas Street in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Central market or Varvakios agora on Athinas Street in Athens

Flatbreads warm from the oven from Antiochia

Next stop on our gastronomic journey around the regional influences on Greek cuisine was Feyrouz Lahmajoun, another new family venture featuring the flatbreads of Antiochia. What is a Lahmajoun? It’s a Turkish or Armenian street-food that is somewhere between cross a pizza, pitta and a pie. The owner, Andreas explained how the shop was named for his mother Feyrouz who made all the doughs and fillings for the Lahmajoun and also for the much admired singer Fayrouz who was considered the queen of Lebanese music and whose portrait was hanging behind the counter. “She is the only Arabic singer who is loved by all religions and all nationalities” he told us.

Andreas and mother Feyrouz explain the different flavours of Lahmajoun Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Andreas and mother Feyrouz explain the different flavours of Lahmajoun

We could see the different flatbreads laid out behind the counter covered with minced meat or vegetables to which you could add humus or olive paste as an extra topping. The Peinirli or open top pies were laid out along the window counter for us to try, warm from the oven with toppings of cheese and tomato or cooked vegetables, with a glass of perfumed amber Turkish tea flavoured with cardoman and cloves. Each of these a bargain at around €3. Feyrouz: Karori 23 in Aiolou, Athens

Peinirli or open topped pie served at Feyrouz in Athens with Turkish tea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Peinirli or open topped pie served at Feyrouz in Athens with Turkish tea

Ham and charcuterie at Karamanlidika

Reluctantly our group moved out of Feyrouz, having devoured everything that had been laid out for us and headed through the side streets to another cafe/deli specialising in cheese and charcuterie called Karamanlidika. Strings of red sausages, bunches of garlic and chillis and whole hams were strung above the counter like Christmas decorations. With bare stone walls and simple wooden tables the place looked like a classy village taverna serving simple plates of cheeses and sliced charcuterie to appreciative diners.

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens

Many of the hams had a thick red coating of spices like pepper and fenugreek which once thinly sliced, made a ribbon edge of the meat, giving a zap of flavour as we greedily ate it with our fingers. Also on the menu were Meze like the stuffed vine leaves and matured cheese with plenty of jars and bottle full of oils and condiments to take home. Karamanlidika: Sokrates 1 & Evripides 52, Athens

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens

Coffee and a sweet spoon at the Museum of Gastronomy

Our final stop was the charming Museum of Greek Gastronomy, a private house that had been opened up with a restaurant upstairs, some specialist produce on sale and downstairs an exhibition about the foods and cultivation of the monks of Northern Greece. We sat in the small courtyard looking out towards the church next door and enjoyed a strong Greek coffee perfumed with rosewater and a “Sweet Spoon” which in this case was a miniature aubergine preserved in syrup like a crystallised fruit. Museum of Greek Gastronomy: 13, Agiou Dimitriou Street 10554, Athens.

gourmet museum

Now mid-afternoon and our Big Olive Gastronomic walking tour completed, it was time for a bit of tick-list sightseeing. Paris may have the Eiffel Tower, Rome the Colosseum, London the Elgin Marbles (don’t mention the Elgin, or should I say Parthenon Marbles to a Greek!) and of course when in Athens one must see the Acropolis.

The heavy rain that we had battled through in the morning had given way to warm sunshine and so with my new blogging friend Paula from Soothed in the city I headed up the hill towards the Parthenon. By pure chance we had chosen the perfect time to take photos of those famous monuments, at the golden hour of late afternoon when the sun bathes the golden stone of the Parthenon and those lovely ladies holding up the roof bask in the sunshine.  The Parthenon was something of a building site and seemed to be in a process of being dismantled and put back together with cranes and scaffolding everywhere. We walked around, took lots of photos and marvelled at the size and sprawl of Athens below us, stretching as far as the mountains in the distance.

The Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens

Sightseeing boxes ticked, we headed back down and wandered around the narrow streets filled with cafes and restaurants, stopping for a pistachio ice cream (me) and an enormous chocolate truffle (Paula) from Da Vinci, an artizan ice cream parlour that it seemed churlish to pass by without going inside to investigate the flavours on offer.

Ice Cream from Da Vinci in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ice Cream from Da Vinci in Athens

The next two days were taken up with the TBEX conference but our final Saturday night was spent at a street party put on for us by the local traders of Pandrossou Street. Emerging from Monastiriki Metro station and crossing the square I was half expecting that this narrow street nestling below the Acropolis hill would be full of tourist tat, but instead I found charming family businesses that were full of character, displaying Greek crafts and artizan goods. I stopped to watch the lady handpainting gorgeous vases at Pagani and stepped inside to find a treasure trove of painted gifts from all over Greece.

Hand painted Greek vases at Pagani on Pandrossou Street, Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hand painted Greek vases at Pagani on Pandrossou Street, Athens

Further along the street the shops were putting on demonstrations of their crafts, a shoemaker tooling traditional leather sandles that a fashionable Ancient Greek lady might have coveted and the bouzouki maker at the Pegasus musical instrument workshop. I tried a real Greek coffee outside the Mikro cafe, strong and sweet just how I like it, but beware drinking it down to the last drop or you’ll end up with coffee sludge between your teeth.

Left: Bouzouki maker at Pegasus musical instrument workshop Right: Greek Coffee Photos Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: Bouzouki maker at Pegasus musical instrument workshop Right: Greek Coffee at Mikro cafe

At the end of the street the bouzouki band were playing all the old favourites, those foot tapping, shoulder swaying tunes that demand to be danced to. Since my sister lives on the Greek island of Zakynthos, I’ve had the pleasure and fun of the Greek night that she puts on in her hotel each week for guests, and all the songs were familiar to me. This is the music of festivals and wedding celebrations, enjoyed by every age from the trendy young things to their black clothed grandmothers and believe me when the band strikes up, the Greeks don’t need much excuse for a dance.

I’d like to say that I joined the circle of dancers, a mixture of locals and bloggers and danced the night away in the streets of Athens, but I was too busy recording the music on video for you dear reader (please watch it below). “We invite you all to be Athenians” the major had told us, and on our final night in Athens, listening to the familiar songs we took that message to heart. Come to Greece was the message, come enjoy our ancient cuture and our modern spirit, come enjoy the sunshine and the music and the people. Come enjoy a glass of wine with new friends, come eat our traditional dishes reinvented in new ways, come feel the warmth and spirit of Athens and Greece. Come visit us in 2015.

The Bouzouki Band on Pandrossou Street Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Bouzouki Band on Pandrossou Street

I hope you enjoy the video below of Bouzouki music in Pandrossou Street Athens

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This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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