Tag Archives: Restaurants

Imagery of Tirana (in the daytime…)

Participating in a conference in Tirana over the last few days has provided an opportunity to explore something of this fascinating city – a mixture of new constructions, communist era buildings, and a few much older medieval remnants.  I hope that the images below capture something of its wide diversity: Skanderberg Square hosting a World Cup fan zone just a few days after it won the European Award for Urban Public Space (2018); Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox religious building reflecting the diverse beliefs of its people; the communist era bunkers and surveillance museum reminding us of the past; superficially refurbished shops beneath crumbling old housing blocks; the nearby woodland park and lake; diverse restaurants serving unusual combinations of food, with delicious local beer and wine…  To these, though, need to be added the generous hospitality of our hosts!  Thanks to Endrit Kromidha, and all those who made this visit possible.

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Night life at Hauz Khas

One of the many pleasures of being at IIT Delhi over the last fortnight was its proximity to Hauz Khas “village”, with its many restaurants and sites to explore.  Originally, Hauz Khas was part of Siri, the second medieval city and fort of the Delhi Sultanate, dating mainly from the 14th century, and it was built alongside the royal water tank that gave it its name, Hauz meaning “water tank” and Khas meaning “royal”. Many buildings were constructed here by Firuz Shah, including a madrasa, a mosque, his own tomb, and domed pavilions, most of which were built soon after he became ruler in 1351.  After years of decay, the area was redeveloped in the 1980s, and efforts have been made to restore the lake and its surrounding deer park as a tourist attraction and commercial area.

Hauz Khas has developed rapidly over the last decade, and is now a popular area for eating and boutique shops. After long days of meetings and teaching at IIT Delhi, it was good to be able to relax and sample the restaurants.  One evening in the pouring monsoon rain we ate delicious south Indian food at Naivedyam (dosas, oothappam and idli), and on another it was good to catch up with Commonwealth Scholarship alumni at Rang de Basanti Urban Dhaba (for a wide range of traditional food typical of the roadside dhabas of India).  My last night in Delhi on this trip was to the very different night-club atmosphere of Hauz Khas Social, where I felt the oldest person there by far!  However, the food and drink were  good, and it was nice to relax with a view out towards the lake (although the loudness of the music did make conversation difficult!).

I hope that the pictures below capture some of the atmosphere of this colourful and vibrant part of modern Delhi.

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Thanks so much once again to Anushruti Vagrani for taking me to places I don’t think I would have been likely to venture by myself!

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Auberge du Cellier, Montner

Occasionally I come across amazing hidden away restaurants, where the skills of the chef turn a meal into something very special.  One such restaurant is the Auberge du Cellier in Montner, some 30 kms to the west of Perpignan in south-west France, where Pierre Louis Marin has created somewhere to enjoy the highest quality local produce, prepared and presented with great skill and panache. Everything about the restaurant is special, from the single green chair at each table, to the welcome of the staff, to the way in which the food is presented, to the excellent list of local wines, and above the the quality of the food.

We went there last night for a very special meal, and one of our party has an allergy to cow’s milk.  Instead of just showing the items on the menu that she could eat, the chef Pierre Louis Marin, discussed various options with her, and concocted beautiful dishes especially for her to enjoy.

As well as “La Carte” there were menus priced at €32, €46, €55 or €69, all of which represented really excellent value for the quality of the food.  We particularly enjoyed:

  • a wonderfully textured melon gazpacho, with crispy pieces of ham and seeds on top
  • rich and tasty Foie gras mi-cuit maison, herbes folles, huile de noisette, truffe tuber aestivum et parmesan
  • Un tiramisu de tomates, aux variétés anciennes, tomates séchées et mascarpone – perhaps with a touch too much mascarpone
  • Fine Filet d’agneau catalan, houmous, aubergine, jus corsé au romarin
  • Mignon de porc « tirabuixo », en croûte de pain aux noix, fenouil braisé et purée riche
  • beautifully prepared Saint Honoré aux fruits de saison

The wine list was quite extensive, focusing mainly on wines from the region, with a dominance of AOC Roussillon and Côtes Catalanes.  For an aperitif, we had a local Muscat and an amazingly rich, intense and well-balanced Grenache Noir doux from Domaine Victor in Maury – am determined to visit Maury and purchase some of this most unusual and delicious wine.  And then we were recommended to try the very reasonably priced Domaine Seguela Les Candalières 2012 – which was full of delicious ripe fruit (60% Carignan, 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache), soft tannins, and of good length and depth – perfect with the lamb and pork.

The Auberge du Cellier is definitely to be recommended (1, rue de Saint-Eugénie, 66720 Montner – 04 68 29 09 78).

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Majeka House – a lovely place to stay near Stellenbosch

For anyone seeking a comfortable and relaxed place to stay while exploring the wineries of Cape Province in South Africa I can thoroughly recommend the Majeka House, just outside Stellenbosch.  Hidden away in a quiet residential area, the hotel provides a wonderful oasis of luxury in which to unwind at the end of a busy day of tasting!  With a warm welcome, beautifully hand-crafted rooms, great views, a relaxing pool, and the fine Makaron Restaurant (one of the top 20 in South Africa), it is a very special place to stay.

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Breakfasts are delicious, although I definitely preferred the anti-oxidant juice to the green revitaliser!  Also, beware the white pebbles in the birdcage at dinner – I dread to think of the teeth damage if someone bit hard on them!  As the above pictures illustrate, though, the food was innovatively presented, and of very high quality.  Make sure you book in advance, because the restaurant gets very full!


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Becker Vineyards Texas Iconoclast Cabernet Franc 1995

This has to be one of the most surprising wines I have tasted in recent years.  Back in 1997 I was attending the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers held in Texas, and spent some time afterwards in Austin and visiting wineries in the Texas Hill Country – among them was Becker Vineyards, established a few years previously in 1992 by Richard and Bunny Becker.  The first harvest was in 1995 and vintages are aged in either new French or American oak, and stored in the largest underground wine cellar in Texas. I remember being very surprised to find French varietals being cultivated in Texas, but also that the wines tasted surprisingly good.

The visit of two USAn friends on Friday, who had been forced to leave Egypt because of the ongoing political unrest there, and were on their way back to Houston, seemed an appropriate occasion to open this Texan Iconoclast.  I would not normally choose to drink a 15 year old Cabernet Franc – suspecting that it would be well past its best.  However, this wine was quite remarkable – and shows how ripe fruit and careful vinification can indeed produce surprising wines in very unusual circumstances.  It retained a mid-red colour, and had much less browning at the edges than I had expected.  The wine had the distinctive tobacco nose that I often associate with Cabernet Franc, but also retained a slightly woody aroma.  The flavour was delicious, with soft tannins, good depth, and a richness that I had not anticipated – very different from many of the often light, dry Cabernet Franc wines from the Loire that I am more used to. The hot Texan summers had clearly ripened the fruit fully, giving the wine a richness and depth of body that was delicious, retaining a good balance and structure, with flavours of red fruit and tobacco.

So, if you happen to be out visiting the Texan countryside, enjoy the blue bonnets, take a detour up to Stonewall, sample the Becker wines, and put a bottle in your luggage for drinking a decade later! Thanks to Bill Fleming for persuading me to explore Austin’s music scene when I was there! I also look forward to returning to Guero‘s Taco Bar on a future visit – hope it is as good now as it was then!

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Andalucia Field Course Day 3 – Valle Tropical

The third day of our undergraduate field course in Andalucia took us to the villages of Otivar and Jete in the Valle Tropical to the north of Almunécar.  It provided a vivid reminder that geography is about all of the senses:

  • sights: the mountains, valleys, diversity of crops (from chirimoyas and bananas to vines and beans), tourist apartments, hang gliders…
  • sounds: birds, goats, dogs, children at school, cars driving along the motorway cutting across the valley…
  • tastes: the local wine, solomillo de cerdo (in the great Buena Vista restaurant in Otivar), asparagus in vegetable broth with bits of ham
  • smells: wild lavender and fennel; burning rubbish…
  • touch: steering wheels, the roughness of the schist and avocado skins

Thanks Mike and Alex

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The surreal world of England’s railways

It was a grey, cold, miserable afternoon today – in case anyone hadn’t noticed…

We arrived at Huntingdon station soon after 16.00, only to discover that we had just missed the 15.59 train to King’s Cross!  Buoyed by a fine lunch (at The Old Bridge) and some strong coffee we prepared to sit out the wait until the next train at 16.33. But then something must have shifted in the planetary alignments, and we entered a world that even the best imaginations could scarcely conjure up.

Over the loudspeaker an announcement came that northbound trains had been delayed at Sandy because of a trespasser on the tracks.  Oh well, the indicator board showed that the 16.33 was still scheduled, so that should be fine – or so we thought!  Unfortunately, a very helpful railway employee then told us that the train that would form the 16.33 from Peterborough was actually the train that was stuck at Sandy, still waiting to go north through Huntingdon on its way to Peterboroough.  It would be at least 40 minutes before we could catch it on its way back south, even once it had arrived at Huntingdon on its way north!

While looking if there were any alternative solutions, we heard another announcement over the speakers that the 16.33 would shortly be arriving.  So, through the ticket barriers and out onto the platform we went.  Imagine our surprise when the kindly railway employee came out and apologised that this was an automated message that bore no resemblance to the truth – or words to that effect.  He had no idea when a train might actually come.

Time for Plan B!  The thought of staying on Huntingdon station for what could be well over an hour did not fill us with excitement.  So, we decided to take a taxi south to Stevenage, where there were at least trains on different lines that could then take us on our way.  Taxi rides are always interesting – and this one was no exception with the driver waxing eloquent about the deficiencies of the potential Chancellors on the televised debate last night, Tottenham Hotspur’s current footballing success, and the UK’s social benefits system.

And then we arrived at Stevenage – to see a train pulling away as we rushed over the footbridge and onto the platform.  That’s where the adventure really began.  Fast – very fast – train after train rushed by on the tracks without stopping, and every time the indicator board suggested that a train might actually take us on to King’s Cross, it was either cancelled or the clock simply added minutes to its expected time of arrival as we watched.  The cold wind chilled us as we waited patiently on the platform.  Surely a train must come soon.   We put our hope in the 17.34, which somehow seemed to be likely – not least because its expected arrival time did not change.  Bang on 17.34 a train whisked past – without stopping!  Dismay!  But then, not long afterwards, a train did stop, and some of us eagerly boarded.  What could be wrong with this?  Imagine our dismay when we were told to get off the train because it was only dropping off passengers – and no one was allowed to get on!  But many of the other trains had been cancelled – and there were many of us waiting to get to King’s Cross!  Surely they would let us stay on board.  The train had after all stopped, and we had got on.  Some of us stood our ground.  The announcements over the train’s speakers got more aggressive; the train would not leave until we got off.  The anger on the faces of the other passengers was visibly rising.  Some of us stuck our ground.  But then most people left, and fearing we might be ‘shopped’ by the other, now really quite irritated,  passengers on the train we gave in and left the train.  This was not, though, to be the end.  We pleaded with the rail officials – but to no avail.  I pleaded with other travellers to take communal action and board the train – but no-one moved. They must have thought me a revolutionary firebrand! Eventually, after an unexpectedly long delay at Stevenage, that train departed.  Talking with the kind RMT official on duty at Stevenage afterwards, he told us that the conductor on the First Hull Trains train had simply refused to consider letting other delayed passengers on board, because this train was only meant to let passengers alight.

Back into the cold, damp, darkening environment of dismal Stevenage railway station. The 17.39 seemed the most promising new bet, but it was going to be at least 30 minutes delayed because of a faulty train at Royston.  The indicator’s kept us amused as trains were scheduled on time well after they should have left; others were cancelled.  One of the best messages was “Delayed due to earlier train running late”

    Eventually, a train did arrive to take us onwards – at 18.08.  Just beforehand, a kindly announcer stated that “The train may be full” and that another one was to follow on behind shortly.  Fortunately, we were all able to squeeze on board, and eventually arrived at King’s Cross by about 18.45.  To be fair, this was only an hour later than the time that the 16.33 from Huntingdon would have arrived in London, but our surreal experiences made it feel very much longer! Thanks Siobhan and Robin for the adventure!

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    The Trout at Tadpole Bridge

    For those seeking a quiet and relaxed, hidden away pub with accommodation, fine food and an excellent wine list, look no further than the Trout at Tadpole Bridge.  Set on the river Thames at Buckland Marsh, just to the east of Faringdon and only 15 miles west of Oxford, this lovely pub is a great place to escape and enjoy fine English dining at its best.  The owners, Helen and Gareth Pugh offer a really warm  welcome, and they are supported by friendly and enthusiastic staff.

    The wine list is diverse, interesting and very reasonably priced.  Last weekend, we particularly enjoyed Simon Bize’s delicious Savigny-Les-Beaune, Auz Grands Liards, 2001, which went  especially well with the loin of venison! But alongside some classics from Burgundy (and Bordeaux) there is also a great selection of Italian and New World wines as well.

    There are six comfortable rooms, most set around a small courtyard at the back of the pub, and a hearty breakfast is served for all guests – the traditionally cooked poached eggs were excellent!

    It is not for nothing that the Trout gained the AA Pub of the Year award for 2009/10!

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    Sagrantino – Berlin

    The Sagrantino grape makes one of my favourite wines. It has strong tannins and tends to be low yielding, producing wines that are rich, dark, complex and long-lived. The classic area where it is grown is the small town of Montefalco in Umbria.  The Sagrantino di Montefalco denomination has a maximum yield of 48 hl/ha and needs to be aged for 30 months before being sold, 12 of which must  be in wood.  Traditionally it has been used to make a wonderful passito style wine, made from partly dried grapes, but in recent years a dry secco has been introduced.  The Sagrantino grape is also used in making a cheaper, lighter style of wine, dominated by the Sangiovese grape and usually blended with some Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, known as Rosso di Montefalco.

    Sagrantino smallSo, when I came across a small restaurant and wine bar called Sagrantino in Berlin in February this year, I was determined to return to see the extent to which it captured the essence of Umbria! Friday evening provided just the opportunity – and I was not disappointed.  Tucked away on Behrenstrasse, just to the south of Unter den Linden and to the east of Friedrichstraße, Sagrantino is certainly worth getting to know.  With several different Rosso di Montefalco wines, as well as the wonderful passito made by Arnaldo Caprai, it is a great place to chill out at the end of a day. Guess this might become one of my favourite places in Berlin!

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    Prague – a selection of restaurants

    Prague has to be one of my favourite cities in the world!  At any season, and despite the masses of tourists, it is possible to escape and find some wonderful hidden away places.  A short visit over the last couple of days provided the opportunity to explore some new restaurants that I would definitely recommend:

    • ProvenceLa Provence (Štupartská 9) – in the style of a French brasserie, serving really excellent food.  The salmon and steaks were delicious, but the desserts are indeed special: outstanding sorbet (beautifully presented) and fantastic Tarte tatin.  This restaurant is really worth searching out – and beneath the ground floor brasserie, there is a romantic cushioned dining room in the downstairs cellar.  An interesting wine list combines local Czech wines with fine French wines.
    • Mount Steak (Josefská 1) – a very different kind of restaurant from La Provence, and definitely not for vegetarians!  Mount Steak serves an enormously wide range of steaks from kangaroo to crocodile, but also has a good range of fulsome local Czech dishes with plenty of dumplings!  The pork and chicken were really good value and delicious.
    • Černý Slon (Týnská 1) – I first visited here almost a decade ago, and remember enjoying the traditional Czech food and wine.  Little has changed since then!  Hidden away near the Old Town Square, Černý Slon still serves good traditional Czech fare – the duck (with dumplings) is definitely worth trying as an example of old-style Czech cuisine.
    • Breakfast at the Hilton Old Town (V Celnici 7) also has to be one of the best international hotel starts to the day – with excellent friendly service and really fresh food.


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