A few weeks ago I was asked to film a video recipe for Vouchercodes.co.uk. They were looking for alternative ideas and twists for the Christmas day dinner. I made my mum Mamta’s Tandoori Leg of Lamb, which can be served with all the normal roast dinner trimmings, as we do in our house, or as the central dish to an Indian feast.
Here’s the shorter edit that Vouchercodes.co.uk are sharing. I have a longer version that I’ll share with you soon.
Mamta’s Tandoori Leg of Lamb
Ingredients Leg of lamb, approximately 2 kg
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and 2 halved
1.5 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons besan (gram) flour (leave out if not available)
1 tablespoon coriander powder
A few strands of saffron, soaked in a tablespoon of warm water
3-4 bay leaves
1 inch stick of cinnamon
6-7 black pepper corns
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 tablespoons good quality oil
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 small carton of creamy, natural yoghurt
Salt to taste
Note: You can replace the bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamoms, black pepper corns and cloves with1 tablespoon of good quality garam masala. Home made is best, as cheap ready made ones are bulked out with other, cheaper spices.
Make slits in the leg of lamb, insert a few halved cloves of garlic into a few of the slits, and set lamb aside.
Optional: Grind the whole spices (see Hints & Tips).
Place all ingredients except yoghurt into a blender and blitz until smooth.
Transfer paste to a bowl, add yoghurt and mix well.
Taste and adjust spices. Remember that the spice paste has to give enough flavour to 2 kg of meat, so it has to taste a little over-salted and over-spiced at this stage.
Spread the spice paste over the lamb, ensuring that some is worked into the slits.
Leave to marinade at least overnight. For best results, 24 to 36 hours.
Place on a baking tray and cover with aluminium foil.
Cook at 375 F, 190C for 1 1/2 hours for pink meat (or 2 hours for well-done meat).
Baste from time to time and leave uncovered for last half hour, so that the spices and meat turn brown.
Hints & Tips
Make sure you use full fat yoghurt for this recipe as low fat yoghurt often splits when heat is applied. Thick Greek-style yoghurt works well.
If using frozen lamb, defrost thoroughly and drain resulting liquids before applying marinade.
Instead of buying tiny jars of spices from the supermarket, it’s more economical to buy in slightly larger quantities from Asian grocery shops. However, spices fade over time, so if you don’t use them up quickly, they’ll lose their intensity of flavour. I’d recommend storing a small amount of each one in easy-to-access spice jars, keeping the rest in your freezer and replenishing as and when you need to.
Fresh ingredients such as ginger, coriander and other key ingredients for Indian cooking are also often cheaper in Asian and other ethnic grocery shops. If you don’t have an Indian or Pakistani shop near you, look in stores specialising in Chinese or Caribbean food, as there are many cross-over ingredients.
If your food processor or blender is not very powerful, grind the whole spices in a spice or coffee grinder first, before combining them with the other ingredients. If you have a powerful food processor or blender, add the whole spices with the other ingredients and grind in one step.
You can use this marinade recipe on any meat or fish from larger joints or whole chickens, to smaller cuts such as lamb shanks or individual portions of chicken. It also works well on whole fish, though will need far less marinating time.
We love this tandoori roast lamb with traditional British trimmings – roast potatoes and parsnips, carrot and swede mash, savoy cabbage and gravy. We serve it with either a mint raita or mint jelly. For Christmas, we add chipolatas and stuffing and brussel sprouts for my sister who adores them…
Of course, the lamb leg also works as the centrepiece for an extravagant Indian feast. I recommend my favourites such as chicken curry, stuffed aubergines, an additional vegetable dish such as cauliflower and potatoes, a daal or red kidney bean curry, some chapatis and rice on the side. To start, maybe pakoras or samosas and afterwards, a vermicelli kheer, similar to rice pudding but made with vermicelli pasta. Recipes for these dishes can be found on my mum’s site, Mamta’s Kitchen.
Use leftovers just as you would with those from a plain lamb roast – make shepherd’s pie, lamb hot pot, a simple lamb curry, lamb and potato cakes or enjoy it sliced cold in sandwiches or wraps, with some of the minted cucumber and onion raita.
The introductory segment was filmed right at the end and it was after 11 pm by then, so I’m blaming my odd bounciness in that bit on my tiredness, but the rest is not as cringe-worthy as I feared! In fact, although I’ve long felt I have a face for radio, I’m really happy with it! Really hoping I can work with Voucher Codes on more of these in the future.
Tools For Self Reliance Cymru collect old and unwanted hand tools, mostly those used by gardeners, and their volunteers clean, repair and sharpen them. They send their refurbished tool kits to grass roots community groups in Africa.
As they explain, "Tools mean work, and the chance to shape their future, just as important to a young person in Tanzania or Ghana today as it is in Britain."
In addition to sending tools to Africa, TFSR Cymru also buy tools and items made by blacksmiths in Africa, those they have supported in the past, and bring them back to the UK for sale.
TSFR Cymru also sell a large number of tools that they receive for refurbishment but which are not required by their African partners, either because they are easily made locally or are not needed there. These tools are also cleaned and sharpened, fitted with new handles where necessary and often have much more character than modern tools.
We encountered TSFR Cymru at this year’s Abergavenny Food Festival when their box of rakes, hoes, cultivators, dibbers caught our eye. When we saw how reasonable the prices were, Pete could not resist purchasing a cultivator, which shall be put to good work in the garden and allotment in coming months.
There were also some smaller gardening and other tools available which would be ideal for gardeners, or as gifts for gardening friends.
Tools For Self Reliance Cymru are an independent registered charity based in Crickhowell in South Wales, and they collect tools from across Wales.
For those outside Wales, if you have friends and family closer to TFSR Cymru or are planning a holiday, do look at whether you are able to contribute any old and unwanted tools for them to refurbish. TSFR Cymru have four groups in Wales as well as a network of collectors who also help them gather suitable tools.
Lee has kindly given this interview for Kavey Eats, and shares his recipe for Ray Wings in a Pepper Butter Sauce, below.
Can you give us a little potted bio of chef Lee Groves? How did you get into cooking? What path has your career taken? How did you get to where you are now? And I remember you telling me that your 2010 Masterchef experience was hugely important to you because it came at a time when you were reevaluating where you were at and where you wanted to be. Can you tell us more about the experience itself and how it shaped what came next?
I always wanted to be a chef, i remember telling a friend at infants school!
I never sat on my Gran’s knee podding peas, or fly fished with my Grandfather, no one else in my family is in the trade, just something I always wanted to do. After 2 years at college, my first job cooking(age 17) was in the local pub, at which I had been working on the bar. But, I knew scampi, gammon and frozen lasagne wasn’t me! Then I was lucky enough to land a job at The Walnut Tree, Abergavenny, under the highly acclaimed Franco Taruschio, one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was my building block. Three years later, after stints at Gidleigh Park and Gary Rhodes, I returned to Wales. It didn’t last long and at the age of 23 I landed my first Head Chef job in a busy seaside pub just outside Exeter, (I say landed, blagged morelike!).
After a couple of years, a new restaurant was looking for a Head Chef, in the same area…my first proper role in high end fine dining. Even though the accolades came in very soon, the restaurant wasn’t making enough money. That took me to Oxford, where I gained lots of recognition within prestigious guides, it was here I won my first Chef of the Year competition, and then I got the bug. After many competitions, and winning, I knew for definite the sky was the limit.
A few years later, and more accolades later, I found myself out of work, temping here and there was o.k., I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to continue cheffing and nearly left the industry, but I wanted to get my teeth into something. Then I watched Masterchef 2009, The Professionals, and thought to myself I can do that! So applied online, not knowing what to expect……Then the call came, I had been chosen for the last 36 to be filmed, (out of 10,000), and thought oh! here we go!
4 months later, after alot of blood, sweat, tears and overnight travelling, the fire was back! And I wanted to be better than ever.
Having found Scott & Julia on an advertising website, they were looking for a head chef in St. Ives, the rest as they say is history. After only being open for 18 months now we have won many accoldes and taken St. Ives by storm.
What is your cooking ethos and style?
My cooking ethos is use fresh, don’t accept rubbish ingredients, and half the battle is won. Alot of chefs mask the main ingredients with many sauces and flavours, yes be creative but have confidence in what you are using.
What’s your favourite comfort food or meal?
My favourite comfort food/meal, can vary, from a Fray Bentos pie, to a lovely roast dinner with all the trimmings, fish and chips or a good hot homemade curry.
And what would you cook for a special occasional meal, at home not in the restaurant?
At home I tend to experiment, but for a special meal, it would have to be game, in season, (can’t wait for my first Grouse next week, and the first Partridge in a couple of months time), or a piece of fresh Seabass.
I loved everything you showed us during our cookery classes. But as you know, I was particularly blown away by the ray wings in a pepper and brown butter sauce. Could you give me your recipe and any tips and tricks to achieve the best results?
There isn’t an exact recipe, it’s all about feeling and understanding the ingredients, flame control is very important too, as you don’t want that lovely buttery sauce to split.
So pan fry the freshest ray wing in hot olive oil, season, it should be golden brown, so about 4 minutes either side, add a spoonful of capers or soft mixed peppercorns, reduce the heat, add a good slug of balsamic vinegar, add 3 or 4 nuts of cold unsalted butter, and gently stir in and around the fish to form a glossy piquant dressing, the fish should still be slightly pink on the bone so it peels off into the lovely, meaty strands.
Our visit to Cornwall was part of a week-long South West Tour courtesy of The Food Travel Company (and Riverford Organic Farms). They are a new company offering specialist trips for food (and drink) lovers, with group departures and customised itineraries available.
Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Suzanne’s family emigrated to Canada when she was just 4, and started a new life there. Suzanne’s mother continued to create the Arabic dishes of the Middle East, and although Suzanne learned many other cuisines, it was Arabic cuisine she loved most strongly and which she has shared in her first book.
The book is filled with Suzanne’s versions of a range of traditional recipes, plus modern dishes with an Arabic twist. She conjures up the Middle East kitchen with ingredients that have, thankfully, become much easier for global cooks to find in their local shops – cardamom and rose, pistachios and dates, chickpeas and bulgur and many more.
She kindly gave me the interview below to share with my readers.
Firstly, congratulations on your beautiful book and thank you for giving this interview toKavey Eats.
You explain in your introduction that your family emigrated to Canada when you were veryyoung. Where did you emigrate from and do you have any memories of your birth country frombefore the move? Were there things you and your family particularly missed (other thanpeople)?
My parents were living in Kuwait at the time when we emigrated to Canada. My parentsare both of Palestinian origin. My parents decided to start a new life in a new country with 4small children. I was the eldest. I know my young mother was barely 24. Of course this movewas very exciting for us as children but it was most challenging for my mother. She left family,friends, and special memories. We arrived around Christmas time in Canada . The cold andsnow was quite a novelty for us but it made my mother even more homesick for the warmsurroundings she grew up in.
She always mentioned how much she missed certain fresh ingredients, typical Middle easternsupplies and after tasting many fruits declared that they were ‘tasteless’. She made the best ofthis situation and reconnected us with our roots by cooking the most amazing meals that alwaysbrought us comfort and joy on the coldest of days.
You mention that you found a way to make friends with curious classmates through theexotic (for them) foods that your mother made for your lunch box, and when they visited yourhome. Was it that easy, or was the food a way to open the avenues of communication, incontrast to some of the harder and crueller experiences of being an immigrant?
When I was taking my strange sandwiches to school I was about 7 years old. I think the factthat I was so young and innocent and really didn’t see what all the fuss was about…. So whenthey teased me about my food choices and made fun of my heritage it didn’t affect me as muchas it would of if I was older where you become truly sensitive to cruel remarks. I overcame allthat by inviting my class mates to my home often and bringing foods like Falafel to school toshare with them.
As a child , I didn’t realize or was aware how powerful the act of feeding people can be. Itdid indeed open the channels of communication for me. My classmates accepted me and mydifferences and understood this very profound message. Food is love. I have always and still dotake every opportunity to seek understanding by feeding my friends. It is the perfect recipe toforge new friendships and promote peace, love and understanding one plate at a time.
My parents came to the UK from India before I was born. Mum certainly cooked lots ofwonderful Indian food during our childhood, but also learned to make British classics, as well asinternational dishes from China, Greece, Italy, France… Did you have a similarly multi-facetedexposure to food, or did your mum tend to stick more closely to the cuisine of her home? Didyou always embrace Arabian cuisine, or did you find yourself drawn to it more as you got older?
My mother made her own Arabic/Pitta bread from scratch. She made Falafel when peoplestill didn’t know what it is. She would shop for the freshest fruits in season to make herown jam. Homemade yoghurt was a staple in our home. She delighted us with homemadetraditional Arabic desserts. She drew from her memory and made mostly Arabic inspired mealsthat she knew best. I fell in love with Arabic cuisine from day one. As I got older , I experimentedwith other foods but always was drawn to the familiar flavors of the Mediterranean and I wouldfind that in Italian, Greek and Southern French Food particularly.
Many immigrant families will be familiar with the challenge of recreating traditional disheswithout access to all the usual ingredients. How did your mum cope with this issue? Were theremany recipes she had to adapt during your childhood?
If she couldn’t find it she would improvise and make her own version of a dish and makeit as close to the original as possible. I think her godsend was discovering Italian and Indiansupermarkets that would carry herbs like basil, coriander and spices. She would make a trip tothe farmer’s markets that were frequented by the Italian community and find vegetables liketomatoes, lemons, parsley in abundance.
Of course there were items that she just couldn’t find and she would rely on new friendstraveling back to the Middle East to bring her some unique supplies.
Are there any tips you have for readers who might find it difficult to find some of thespecialist ingredients?
Really the ingredients that I have used throughout my book are easily found in anyone’ssupermarket. Now that Middle Eastern Grocers are common it’s not hard to find the onceconsidered exotic ingredients like Tahini, Pomegranate Molasses, Zaatar, Sumac, and Grape vineleaves.
Many items can be substituted like spinach instead of swiss chard for instance or if purslane isdifficult then watercress is a good choice.
I notice that both your father and yourself describe yourself as Arabian rather than from aspecific country? Is this because you don’t really identify with one country in particular, orbecause you prefer to rise above the divisions and differences of nationality in favour of widercultural and regional similarities?
My parents are both very proud of their Palestinian heritage which is a part of the largerArabian picture. When you refer to yourself as ‘Arabian’ means you share a language, a culture,the hospitality, a history, a story that is common to all people of Arabic origin regardless whichcountry they come from. The divisions are only on the map. We grew up in a household wheremy family showed us how to be proud of our Arabic heritage and celebrate it. We also grew uploving everyone regardless of their differences be it religion, color, or nationality. I will alwaysbe thankful for parents who instilled in their children such values.
I am proud to say that my dining table is not only laden with food but is always graced by thepresence of dear colorful friends from all corners of the world.
You explain that your recipes are not intended to be a “historical account of Arabic cooking”but a collection of recipes you grew up with, influenced by what you’ve learned during youryears of cooking and teaching since. How close are the recipes in Modern Flavours of Arabiato what one might find in the kitchens of the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa and theMiddle East? Would you describe them as fairly traditional or more of a personal and moderninterpretation of Arabic food?
All of my recipes are certainly Arabic in one way or another. I have all the traditional dishes thathave become common to all like Hummus, Tabbouli, Baba Ghanouje which are not my personalcreations. But I do add a little of this and a dab of that. I re introduce a traditional that’s beenmade one way forever and give it a makeover. In my modern interpretations I do try to maintainthe integrity of the dish. My aim is to respect it , be authentic and only change something if Ifeel it is complimentary. So as you must know by now , I’m not a fan of fusion food where youbring two opposing food cultures to collide to create or distort a dish for sake of being ‘new’.
My food represents mostly the flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean as it is the most varied andby shear history and geography has evolved into one of the most amazing cuisines of the world.That also includes North Africa, the Gulf and the neighboring countries of the Middle East whonaturally influenced this diverse and sophisticated food culture.
Was it hard to narrow down the recipes in your repertoire to the number you needed forthe book or did you know instinctively which ones must be included?
I had many more recipes to share but my publisher at the time advised me to cut back so thebook wouldn’t be too big. So I had to make the difficult choice of deciding which ones would make the cut for the time being. I am cooking up a second book now and a lot of those recipeswill make make an appearance.
Were there recipes you chose not to include because your audience might not appreciatethem, or because they might struggle to find the ingredients?
Not at all, all the recipes are accessible and have been tested on many good friends who loveto eat them and with their encouragement I decided to include them. When I’m cooking , I gothrough the same process as everyone else. I go to shop for my ingredients and get inspired tocook that way. I don’t have any secret location where I buy certain thing. It’s all home cookfriendly.
Which is your favourite recipe in the book, either because you love the dish, or have apersonal memory associated with it?
I love all of the recipes which is why they all made it to be part of my book. The coverphoto depicts my Arugula Salad with Roasted Aubergines and a Sweet and Sour PomegranateDressing. That is one of my favorites… The peppery Arugula leaves are complimented by thesweet buttery aubergine, the bite of the onions and the delightful crunch of the pine nuts. Thepomegranate dressing pulls it all together.
What is next for you? Another book, or another project? Can you tell us about it?
As I mentioned earlier I am working on a new book with a collection of new recipes.
I am working on a new special TV cooking show highlighting the beautiful Arabian cuisine that Iadore.
I have begun my cooking classes again to keen students wanting to unlock the mysteries ofMiddle Eastern cuisine.
This summer my ‘modern flavors of Arabia’ will be launched in Canada and the US. I am veryexcited to be on tour cooking , signing books and sharing my food and stories with everyone.
Sumac Eggs with Potato Rosti, cooked from Suzanne’s recipe
Kavey Eats received a review copy of Modern Flavours of Arabia.
Ever since Dom launched it, I’ve really enjoyed Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipes challenge, where he invites fellow bloggers to use various techniques of random selection to choose a recipe from their collection of cookbooks and blog it. It often results in some rather unusual recipes, the ones you probably wouldn’t choose to make if you were flicking through the book and choosing normally. It’s a crapshoot, and I love it!
But I’ve never managed to take part, not least because I often have a pile of books waiting to be reviewed in order, and when I have the time and inclination to try a new recipe, I turn to that pile.
So when he posted this month’s challenge – to share some photos of our cookery books – I knew it was time to participate.
I adore books and I particularly adore cookery books. “Food porn” is an overused term, but it’s still good shorthand to describe the almost visceral feeling of satisfaction to be found in flicking through page after page of recipes that make your mouth water with anticipation. Isn’t that pretty much what porn does?
Having amassed far too many cookery books already, a couple of years back I agreed a moratorium on buying any more for at least a year. Of course, this coincided with the (lovely) situation of having publishers offer me review copies via the blog. So the collection continues to expand at vastly increased rate. I did send two large boxes of cookery books to two charity fundraising projects last year, but it’s definitely time for another round of thinning the cookery book shelf!
So here are my cookery book shelves, nooks and crannies.
The main unit (above) has books two deep. I have no idea what’s in there any more…
That hideous cushion is one I found in a samples sale at previous job, when I needed something for my back. Hey, it’s ugly but it only cost me 50p! I love the chair though, with it’s corduroy cover. We inherited it with the house…
Plus I have two other small collections of more recent additions – the one on the right is the “to review” set – which were both piles on the floor until our recent spate of de-cluttering and tidying.
Are you a book addict? Which are the favourites in your collection?
I’ve always been happy in my North London suburban neighbourhood. But The Victoria in East Sheen is one of those places that seriously makes me dream about moving South.
This cosy neighbourhood pub and restaurant is located in an incredible peaceful suburban neighbourhood just a couple of minutes’ walk from Richmond Park. The exterior probably hasn’t changed much since it was built in the mid 19th century.
There’s a car park at the back, and plenty of street parking on the road, but I’m guessing most of the customers are locals, quietly giggling to themselves in glee at their bloody good fortune.
The current incarnation was taken on by restaurateur Gregg Bellamy and chef Paul Merrett in 2008 and the pair have created a gastropub with a warm welcome and an appealing food and drink menu.
Paul is a top level chef with an impressive CV. He trained under Gary Rhodes at The Greenhouse and Peter Kromberg at Le Soufflé. He gained an excellent reputation for his cooking at the Meridien Hotel in Piccadilly. Whilst at the Interlude, he was awarded his first Michelin star. After that he returned to The Greenhouse, where he earned another Michelin star.
In our video interview (below), Paul tells us that, like many young and talented chefs, there was a time when cooking that style of food and winning Michelin stars was all he wanted. But after he settled down and had children, his goals in life changed. After helping launch Fulham gastropub The Farm, he yearned for a gastropub of his own. Before finding The Victoria, Paul took some time out to take on an allotment and he wrote about his experiences in his book, Using The Plot: Tales of an Allotment Chef.
Much of the Victoria is set up as a traditional pub. All are welcome, including families with children and locals with pet dogs. In the conservatory at one side is a slightly more formal dining space, though still relaxed and friendly with no stiff upper lips in sight.
Paul is committed to sourcing ethically and the back of the menu provides information about some of the pub’s suppliers.
Several of the menu starters appealed, as did the day’s special which Paul told us about earlier in the evening. When I asked our waiter whether he’d choose the Manouri cheese starter or the rabbit special, he immediately suggested we try the special as an extra course between starters and mains. You can imagine that this went down quite well with me!
I was very happy with my choice of Serrano ham with pan fried Manouri cheese, kalamata olives, thyme blossom honey and figs (£9). Having never encountered Manouri cheese before I was somewhat sidelined by the featherlight texture, having expected something more solid like halloumi or feta. But the light and mild cheese worked well with silky, salty Serrano ham, sharp olives, really peppery rocket, sweet ripe figs and that drizzle of honey. The bread deserves a mention too – again it was super light, with wonderful crunch and charred flavour from the toasting.
Pete’s new season green pea and potato soup, sheep’s cheese crostini (£6) was a summery delight. Struggling to describe it, Pete earnestly told me how “pea-y” it was. I tasted it. “You mean it tastes utterly of really fresh peas?”, I asked. “Yes, fresh! That’s what I meant!”, he exclaimed. He also made special mention of how well balanced the dish was in textures and tastes; in the soup a few peas were left whole and on top was that thin, light, crisp crostini topped with mild and creamy sheep’s cheese, more peas and micro salad. A simple dish but very, very well executed.
After our starters came a second shared starter, the daily special: rabbit loin and livers with charred long stem broccoli and morel mushrooms (£7). This is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in the last few years. So simple and yet, once again, every element in perfect balance. The loin was full of flavour and not at all tough, as rabbit can be when not cooked well. The livers, much larger than I imagined a rabbit’s to be, were like calves liver, and again, just right. Paul had described earlier how he’d be charring the broccoli and indeed, it worked beautifully – like vegetables cooked on the barbeque, the charring gave an additional flavour dimension. The generous helping of morel mushrooms were their usual familiar spongy texture, woody meaty in taste. Underneath all, a buttery chargrilled slice of toast. Over the top, oily meat juices. And the whole lot made to look more beautiful by vivid purple potato crisps. An absolutely exceptional dish!
Pete’s main of oak smoked trout risotto, new season peas and broadbeans, poached eggs and pea shoots (£13) was beautifully colourful, even more so when he broke open the Clarence Court egg and it’s orange yolk spilled out into the risotto. Every element of the dish contributed to flavours and textures, and again, everything was in perfect harmony. Superbly tasty and satisfying.
My 28 day aged 7 ox South Devon rib eye steak with thrice cooked chips & béarnaise sauce (£18) was, as I expected by this point in our meal, very good. Great meat, cooked as requested; enormous and fabulous triple cooked chips and a spot-on béarnaise.
I loved that Pete’s white chocolate panna cotta with English strawberries and shortbread (£5.50) was served in a Bonne Maman jar; much cuter than the contrived efforts of places that buy in brand new jam jars in which to serve drinks, all pristine and identical, rather than the mixed bag of genuinely recycled used ones. The panna cotta was soft and creamy, though the white chocolate was a little understated. The strawberries hadn’t been oversweetened but were at just the right stage of sweet and tart. The shortbread was very short and crumbly.
My pecan and walnut baklava with roasted plums and honey ice cream (£5.50) was probably my least favourite dish of the meal. The flavours of the baklava were good, but the filo was chewy and difficult to cut, rather than the light, crunchy texture it should have been. The plums were tart, so tart they caused my jaw muscles to tighten painfully against the acid and I left them uneaten. I wasn’t able to detect any honey flavour within the ice cream; though there were pretty lines drizzled over the top, they didn’t linger on the taste buds.
Coffee was served strong, and was good quality.
With the exception of my dessert, what struck us most strongly about our meal was the impressive balance Paul achieved in each dish, not just in terms of flavours but textures and colours too. Combined with a lovely pub in which to enjoy a drink before and after dinner, a warm welcome and good service from staff and very reasonable prices, you can see why I wish we had a place just like this as our local.
After dinner, Pete and I spent the night in one of The Victoria’s 7 bedrooms.
All are doubles, but 2 can be set up as twin / family rooms and all are ensuite. Prices start at £120 for single occupancy and £130 for double, with additional charges for cots and campbeds.
Our bed was extremely comfortable, with a new, good quality mattress. Instead of wasting space on a large wardrobe or chest of drawers, a clever shelf with hangers beneath was perfectly adequate and attractive too. I also appreciated the tea and coffee making facilities on a tray on the desk.
Our bathroom, with shower but no bath, was a little small though servicable. An extra light above the shower cubicle would be welcome, as I found it a little dark. I’d also appreciate a night light that could be left on during the night.
Best of all was the quiet – even with our window open to let in a cooling breeze, we were amazed at how silent the neighbourhood was during the night and into the morning. Much quieter than our suburban home address!
Room rates include a continental breakfast which is self service from a table laden with cereal, fruit, pastries, yoghurts and juices. A basket of bread sits by a toaster on the side board and coffee and tea are ordered on arrival.
We opted for two choices from the cooked breakfast menu. My eggs benedict royale (£7.50), had decadent slices of smoked salmon, poached Clarence Court eggs and another beautifully judged sauce in the Hollandaise. Pete’s croque madame (£6.50) might better be described as a ham and cheese grilled sandwich made from thick slices of the same lovely bread we enjoyed before our starters came out the previous evening. In a now familiar refrain, Pete commented admiringly on the perfect balance between the ham, cheese, egg and thick bread fried in butter.
The Victoria is a 15 minute walk from Mortlake train station, from which trains to Waterloo take 25 minutes. This is also a great place to stay for London visitors with a car, as parking is free and there are several spaces in the car park behind, and free parking on the street too.
Just over two years ago, I first met Katie Christoffers, just as she was planning the launch of her new business, Matcha Chocolat. I loved her gutsy packaging, her delicious tea-inspired chocolates, and her perfectionist attention to detail.
Yesterday, March 1st, was the 2nd anniversary for Matcha Chocolat. In just two years, Katie’s chocolates have won a slew of golds in the Great Taste Awards and a silver in the Academy of Chocolate ones.
I caught up with Katie (and her chocolates) to find out what’s been happening:
Question: Last time we met, you were a couple of months out from launching Matcha Chocolat, full of nerves about what people would think of your chocolates, whether they would sell well, and whether your transition from biology researcher to self-taught chocolatier would prove successful. Now you are approaching your second anniversary, how would you sum up your first two years?
Immensely challenging is what comes to mind first. It’s been a good two years though. I’ve learned so much and it’s been personally very rewarding for me to have taken on the task of running an artisan chocolate business, especially as I don’t have a formal background in chocolate making. As you mention I trained as a scientist and actually now that I think about it, it’s quite fitting to say that the past two years as well as the lead up to launching Matcha Chocolat have been my most enjoyable and fruitful experiment to date. From creating my method for making artisan chocolates, to developing the idea for my business, to launching… and now two years in it’s been a real period of exploration and creativity and I hope that some of that excitement and passion has been translated through in the chocolates that I make.
Question: What have the greatest challenges been for you?
As I mentioned, the feeling I’ve carried with me across the last two years has certainly been one of excitement. It’s been a real change of course for my life to take up artisan chocolate making. The other side of the coin of taking up a new endeavour is, of course, finding your way through an entirely novel set of challenges.
Overall I would say that the greatest challenge for me, and I think this is the same for a lot of small business owners, is that you have to take on a wide variety of roles. For me that involves everything from making chocolates on a daily basis, packaging and posting them, to accounting, website administration, product development, PR, blogging, writing newsletters, and keeping up to date via Twitter and Facebook. There’s no one task that stands out as particularly challenging, it’s just finding the time for them all!
Question: And what about the highlights? I’m guessing that the awards from Great Taste and The Academy of Chocolate must be in there, am I right? And what else?
The awards were really exciting of course! For me though, it’s probably been seeing the business grow over the last two years that has been the highlight. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I launched, so to see it develop has been really exciting. It’s also been amazing getting to know so many people, from customers, to food bloggers, and to be able to share my passion for artisan chocolates.
Question: What are your plans for the coming year? I know you’ll be focusing on upcoming dates in the calendar such as mothers day and Easter, but do you have any broader game plans for taking the business forward?
I’ve created new selections for Mother’s day, Easter as well as Father’s day, so I will be busy making chocolates for holidays for most of the beginning of this year. After that, a lot of my time will be taken up with planning for Christmas. One thing that’s become apparent to me during these first two years is just how seasonal a chocolatier’s work is. The holidays are a flurry of activity but it can go a bit quiet for an online shop like mine during periods such as the summer, so it’s worth putting a lot of effort into planning for the holidays. Product development is high on my agenda as well as getting new photographs together for next Christmas’s selection.
Question: Of all your chocolates, classic and new, which is your personal favourite?
Well, I have to admit I’m a bit of a morning person and I have this habit I like to call ‘pre-breakfast chocolate’. I get up early in the morning and tip toe off to the kitchen to enjoy 3 or 4 chocolates in the peace and quiet of the early morning hours.
Your palette is so much more sensitive in the morning so I really look forward to the fist chocolates of the day and there are certainly a few chocolates that I find myself reaching for time and time again. In no particular order I would say my the top four on my list, for now at least, are Vietnamese Cinnamon, Matcha & Pistachio Truffle, Masala Chai Caramel, and Jasmine Pearls.
Question: What do you think is the next trend in artisan chocolate making?
I think people are much more open to creative pairings with chocolate and have even come to expect that there might be one or more challenger flavours found in a box of proper artisan chocolates. So overall I would say that innovative flavour combinations have become a familiar and established trend. With that in mind, particular flavours stand out. For instance over the past few years flavours like chilli, bacon, and sea salt, have emerged as innovative flavours that went on to became trendy and then eventually quite commonplace.
Yet, beyond these creative and unusual flavour combinations, I would say another trend that has been evolving within the world of fine chocolate is the exploration of food cultures through the medium of artisan chocolates. Having myself launched an artisan chocolate company inspired by the love of pairing Japanese ingredients, such as matcha tea with chocolate; I’ve been watching with keen interest the growing popularity of Japanese inspired flavours. Wasabi has clearly become a trendy flavour in the savoury market. Yet, I think the interest in Japanese ingredients, as well as Japanese design and aesthetic have been taken further in the world of fine chocolate.
Chocolate is such an amazing medium to work with and can accommodate so many flavours. So certainly from my perspective it’s the ideal medium to explore a diverse range of food cultures in new and inventive ways. In the future I presume that people will continue to push the boundaries out with innovative flavour combinations, but I think there will also be more focused and in depth explorations of specific countries’ cuisine and aesthetic as has been seen with the growing trend in Japanese inspired chocolates.
And now, a review of Katie’s current mixed collection:
Chestnut & Japanese Whisky
This chocolate uses a single origin chocolate from São Tomé, contains Yamazaki 10 year old single malt whisky and chestnut puree and is topped with toasted sesame seeds. It’s a delicious chocolate with a clear alcoholic note, but for me, neither the chestnut nor whisky flavours come through clearly enough.
This is what I consider to be a classic Matcha Chocolat product and I absolutely love it! There’s a fabulously strong kick of black tea taste with a lovely hint of bergamot, and the ganache is wonderfully smooth, as are all of Katie’s fillings. This is a winner!
Masala Chai Caramel
Another Matcha Chocolat classic, bringing the flavours of masala chai to chocolate, this is not only beautiful, with the blue and white swirls on a dome of dark chocolate, but also really tasty. The shell is dark but sweet, with a satisfying solidity and crack as one bites through. The caramel filling is silky and strongly flavoured with the chai spices. I love the hint of salt too.
Rosemary, Raisin & Walnut
This dark chocolate combines fresh rosemary, minced raisins and a little walnut oil – a classic in savoury dishes, but not something I’ve tried before in chocolate form. I can’t detect the walnut but I do love the robust flavour punch of the rosemary and raisins. My only negative about this chocolate is the strangely slimy texture of the rosemary leaves.
Matcha & Pistachio
The first time I tried one of Katie’s matcha chocolates, I didn’t think the matcha taste came through strongly enough. But this time, it’s loud and clear and absolutely delicious, and is such a perfect combination with its colour-matched pistachio. The tea comes through first, and then the pistachio on the finish. And the crunchy topping is a delightful contrast against the smooth filling. This is another exceptional chocolate!
Yuzu, an Asian citrus fruit with a distinct taste and aroma, is an ingredient that’s been growing in popularity in the West over the last decade. Katie uses it to great effect here, combining pureed fruit with dark chocolate to create a lovely balance between the bitter sweet chocolate and the refreshing zing of citrus. Unlike the more familiar orange, lime or lemon citrus that I’m more used to, this reminds me (oddly but pleasantly) of childhood sweets such as Opal Fruits and Refreshers!
This is a magnificent chocolate! Katie’s talent lies in bringing the taste of both tea and jasmine to the forefront, and this is absolutely like drinking a cup of fragrant, high-quality, jasmine pearls tea and having a nibble of delicious chocolate, between sips. I love this and could happily eat a box full!
Cardamom & Banana
Cardamom and banana are two of my favourite ingredients, so I was very excited about this chocolate! The cardamom was wonderfully heady, aromatic and tasty as I expected. However, try as I might I just couldn’t detect the banana at all. I’m sure the pureed fruit gave its texture to the filling, but for me, the taste wasn’t there. I liked this chocolate, because of the cardamom, but had it also given me banana, I’m sure it would have been another favourite.
This was a lovely box of chocolates – beautiful to look at, intriguing flavour combinations, great textures and a pleasure to taste.
My three favourites are all classic Matcha Chocolat tea chocolates; they just blew my taste buds away!
Katie has kindly offered a Matcha Chocolat Mixed Selection box to one lucky reader of Kavey Eats.
How to enter
You can enter the competition in 2 ways.
Entry 1 – Answer the question Leave a comment below, answering the following question: If you could be a chocolatier for a day, what flavour chocolate would you create?
Entry 2 – Tweet Tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win a @Matcha_Chocolat Mixed Collection box from Kavey Eats! #KaveyMatchaChoc
Rules & Details
The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 9 March 2012.
One blog entry per person only. One twitter entry per person only. You do not have to enter both ways for your entries to be valid.
The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
The prize is a Mixed Selection box of chocolates from Matcha Chocolat and includes delivery to UK mainland addresses only.
The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
The prize is offered directly by Matcha Chocolat .
Valid entries must contain either an email address or twitter account, for contacting the winner. For those leaving a comment using their blogger/ Google ID, please make sure an email address is visible in your profile.
The winner will be notified by email or twitter. If no response is received by the end of Tuesday 13 March, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.
*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?
Kavey Eats received a complimentary sample box from Matcha Chocolat.
This competition is closed. Congratulations to winner goodfoodetc.
It was during Lebanon’s golden era in the 1950s and ’60s that Lebanese businessman Najib Salha decided to build a world class hotel on the shores of Beirut. With a group of like-minded investors, he founded La Société des Grands Hotels du Liban and invited American architect Edward Durell Stone to design his dream hotel.
The Phoenicia InterContinental opened its doors 8 years later in 1961.
It immediately became a firm favourite with the rich and famous jet set and was party central for royalty, world leaders, celebrities, businessmen not to mention wealthy Lebanese.
After years of closure due to the war, La Société des Grands Hotels du Liban decided to rebuild Beirut’s grand dame. After extensive refurbishment and extensions, it reopened in 2000.
In its new incarnation, it offers 446 rooms and suites plus a residential complex with serviced apartments. As well as its own range of restaurants, the larger complex also provides a home to a number of other stores and restaurants including the Beirut outpost of Gaucho.
This year The Phoenicia celebrates 50 years since its original opening.
Invited for a review visit, we were allocated a Club InterContinental room which comes with its own check-in and check-out area on the 6th floor, a club lounge area in which complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea and an evening finger food buffet are served during the day, access to a business centre and library plus use of the meeting room if required, WiFi in the room and public spaces (and high speed internet in the room), complimentary limousine transfers (though these only seem to be offered for pick up from the airport and not drop off back to it), a butler service to help with in-room or concierge needs and a complimentary 15 minute neck massage, plus discount on any further spa treatments.
Our room was lovely and spacious. The king size bed was comfortable, a usable desk working area with internet, TV and mini bar fridge, wardrobe space plus a handy storage for suitcases and bags, so they didn’t clutter up the room. I would have preferred a two-seater sofa or two arm chairs to the chaise-longue but that’s just me.
I liked our little balcony, with side views of the marina and coast. The windows were well sound-proofed against the constant buzz of traffic below.
And the bathroom was super lovely, with a large walk-in shower closet, a separate bath, gorgeous L’Occitane toiletries and a separate toilet area.
What we liked about our room is that it was a space we were happy to relax in, and felt positive about coming back to during the day and for the night. You might think this is a no-brainer but, believe me, our first night in Lebanon (after which we moved quick sharpish) made it strikingly clear that this is not always the case!
The only negative with our room was the number of times we were interrupted for house keeping services, turn down service and then, the one that really annoyed, a manager check that the turn down service had been provided or offered. This was not just for us because we were on a review visit, but repeated along the length of the club rooms corridor, I think. I felt like responding that if they didn’t trust their staff to perform the duties they were paid for, they should employ people they did!
As expected from a hotel of this stature, public spaces are enormous and sumptuously decorated, though they’ve been refurbished lately with a lighter, more modern touch, introducing sleeker silver check in desks, purples and greys in carpets and furnishings and less of the heavy gold and red that we were told used to be prevalent. At the same time, with all the gleaming marble, one doesn’t forget one’s in a traditional luxury hotel!
Outdoors is an attractive pool area with plenty of greenery, day beds, seating areas and the Amethyste bar area. We tried to enjoy a drink here one evening but a wedding party in a nearby building had their music turned up outrageously loud, not the fault of The Phoenicia. What made it worse was the hotel bar’s insistence on keeping their own loud music switched on – the clash between the two was unbearable and we gave up and retreated indoors to the Cascade lobby lounge. A shame as the seating areas around the pool are delightful; one of my favourite spaces in the hotel.
We didn’t make it into the outdoor pool during our May visit, as the weather wasn’t quite warm enough.
located via Google image search, no photographer information found
Instead we used the indoor pool within the spa area. This has been well designed. The separate mens’ and womens’ changing areas each have steam rooms and showers. A large shared jacuzzi is in the open area next to the pool. The pool has high ceilings and is just big enough to do lengths if you want to exercise a little. (There is a gym nearby, for those who really want to work out; I walked past without giving it a second glance). I particularly loved looking out while I was floating in the pool, through immense glass windows, onto a residential scene that summed up Beirut – a number of beautifully refurbished buildings and one windowless shell, pockmarked by sniper fire and bombs.
Next to the indoor pool and changing rooms is the spa reception, and, up on a mezzanine floor, the treatment rooms. We booked a massage each, Pete opting for a 50 minute hour Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage and me for an 80 minute therapeutic deep tissue massage. Pete couldn’t work out why the treatment was classified as Ayurvedic, since it had no Ayurvedic aspects to it. At all. None. Moreover, it was an average massage at best. Not bad per se, but not good.
Mine was a bit of a disaster. Firstly, my therapist sulked when I didn’t take him up on his determined offer to split my treatment time between massage and therapist-directed (power) jet shower. This came up twice more during the massage itself, too. Then, we started the treatment to the thunder of drilling work, the treatment room clearly just on the other side of the wall from the construction work on Mosaic restaurant. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I could feel the vibrations reverberating through my head. My therapist quickly worked out this wasn’t going to work and left me lying there as he went off, for a very long time indeed, to find an alternative. Of course, the spa were not to blame, having not known about it, but some internal communications in advance would have allowed the spa to avoid accepting bookings for those treatment rooms during the noisiest works. Eventually, he returned and said we’d use a free bedroom within the hotel, where a mobile massage table had been set up. I was not very comfortable following him through the hotel in a too-small bathrobe, but eventually we got into the room, only to find it didn’t have a massage table. Off he went again to get the key for the correct room, and then we had to wait again for the massage oils and towels to be delivered. The massage itself, sorry to say, was also not very good, with the therapist refusing to heed my requests about where on my body to focus his time, or to work more gently. Nor did it help that he sat down for so much of it, meaning he didn’t get a decent angle with which to reach my back muscles. He stopped to grab himself a drink from the minibar in the middle too! Near the end, he wanted to work on my neck. Immediately, I told him that I’ve had some issues with my neck, something I’d mentioned during our initial discussion, and to go very gently indeed. He ignored me once again, actually strong arming my resistance away, insisting he knew best. I’m just lucky he didn’t do any damage and I was not a happy bunny. Five minutes before the end of our allotted time, the spa reception called the room to check whether he’d finished; surely better to wait until he called them than risk interrupting the client’s treatment. And to cap it all, he then insisted on asking me in person, what I’d thought of the treatment. Alone in a bedroom with a therapist who had delivered a bullying treatment, I was too timid to say anything other than “time will tell” before escaping as quickly as I could and feeding back in detail to management shortly afterwards.
Offered a replacement massage, I was reluctant but agreed to give it ago. I was assigned to Imad who took genuine time to check my medical details and requirements, and gave me, in complete contrast, one of the best massages I’d had in my life, though marred a little by the bruising left from the first treatment. With his excellent massage training, not to mention diploma in osteopathy and further training in reflexology, Imad was a great therapist and he fixed a lot of the pain caused the previous day and helped with some of the aches I’d hoped to heal in the first place. He is one of the best therapists I’ve ever encountered, anywhere.
Were all the therapists at The Phoenicia of the same calibre, I would not hesitate to recommend that you book a treatment here. But our 1 out of 3 hit rate means I’m loathe to do so; it’s a hit and miss affair and the hotel needs to invest a lot more effort into hiring and training better therapists.
The hotel offers a number of dining options from casual to formal.
I met with the hotel’s executive chef Jacques Rossel and with Rabih Fouany, Eau de Vie’s head chef, ahead of our evening meal there. Here’s an interview.
Eau de Vie
The Eau de Vie is The Phoenicia’s flagship restaurant, situated on the eighth floor, with views out over the sea and the city and offering French and Mediterranean cuisine. It’s recently been refurbished and we all found it a calming space, in muted colours and simple, elegant lines. Window tables were each separated by chiffon curtained partition walls, giving welcome privacy. Live music was pleasant, but not too loud to preclude conversation. Service was helpful, friendly but not overly obsequious.
Foie gras was served in a generous slice though more brioche would not have gone amiss; rich and unctuous, as it should be.
Caesar salad was brought on a large trolley and assembled in front of the diner, with the dressing made fresh. The only question asked was whether the diner wanted anchovies and, disappointingly, these were not crushed and mixed into the dressing. The romaine leaves were very fresh and sweet, but the dressing was deemed so-so.
Cod croquettes were given the thumbs up.
The tomato tart with lobster salad was light and sweet from the small tomatoes. The lobster had a nice texture but didn’t have much flavour.
The wagyu burger was deemed excellent – cooked pink inside, as agreed on ordering, and decent moist meat.
Chicken chasseur was rich with the flavour of mushrooms and bacon in a thick sauce, and served without fussiness, befitting the nature of the dish.
I had been about to order a regular steak but was encouraged to try the wagyu version instead. All the beef, wagyu and regular, was from Australia, by the way. I gave in to the upsell and was pleasantly surprised. My steak had great flavour but was also far more tender than I would normally have expected from the cut (though which cut has slipped my mind, and I failed to note it down).
The stand out dish of the meal was seabass with mushroom sauce. The seabass was absolutely superbly cooked, if I’m pressing this point, it’s because it really was a perfect balance between firm, moist and tender. And, to our surprise, the robust and rich marsala mushroom sauce did not overwhelm the fish, the flavour of which came through very clearly. Vegetables were simple and cooked with a light touch. The odd pipette of extra sauce stuck into the croquette at a jaunty angle was an odd touch, an out of place nod to molecular cuisine, perhaps.
An assiette of chocolate desserts was decent, with mousses, a chocolate lychee shot and a macaron.
A chocolate praline (not pictured) was excellent, with great flavours and just the right crunchy texture.
The crème brûlée trio – vanilla, raspberry and sumac – was the winner for this course. Pete is very fussy about the texture of the crème custard and gave it top marks. Both the vanilla and the raspberry flavours were tasty. But, oh my, that sumac one was delicious, imparting a refreshing citrus flavour to the custard. I hadn’t thought it would work but everyone tried and really liked it.
With our meal we enjoyed a Ksara rosé Gris de Gris before and with the starters. With our mains, the restaurant General Manager, Nicki, recommended a Massaya red which she described as fruity and full but which would still work with the fish dish as well as the meat ones. She was right, the three red drinkers agreed!
After our meal we enjoyed a digestif each – two chose whiskies from the extensive whisky bar menu and two of us had a glass of dessert wine.
Coffees and teas came with a visit from the petits fours trolley, which is fun to choose from.
Our meal was on the house, but the bill would have been approximately $470 between four of us. That said, the red wine selected for us cost more than what we’d have selected on our own and both Pete and I were encouraged to have wagyu burgers and steak rather than regular. And we were invited to try the whisky bar too. You could dine for a fair bit less here, but you are still paying a premium for the view, the exclusive environment, the posh hotel level of service and the location within an expensive hotel.
That said, we did have a very enjoyable evening.
At the other end of the scale is Caffe Mondo, a casual Italian eatery that Bethany told us was a favourite hang out during her student days. The prices here were on par with many lower to middle range Beirut restaurants and we thought it great value and tasty too.
Most of the starters were intended for one but Pete’s caprese di bufala al pesto was enormous, easily enough for two and priced at similar point to my starter, labelled as for two. It was lovely good with moist, flavoursome mozzarella, decent tomatoes and a pleasant but not overpowering pesto.
I really really fancied the deep fried calamari rings (described on the menu as for two people) so ordered it anyway and stuck to my guns in not finishing it, so I’d have room left for my pizza! Fresh squid, a light batter, cooked for just the right amount of time, served hot with two dips, it was just the ticket.
The starters were on the pricey side, ranging from 15,000 to 30,000 Lebanese pounds (1,500 LP = $1).
Most mains were much more reasonable with pastas costing 12,500 to 19,000 Lebanese pounds and pizzas between 20,000 and 27,500 though fish and meat dishes ranged from 26,000 to a whopping 120,000 for a grilled wagyu sirloin.
The pizza chef worked at a counter open to the restaurant, so we could watch him tossing and stretching the dough, before adding toppings and cooking the pizzas in a proper pizza oven. They were both excellent and as good as my favourites in London and Italy.
Grazers also be interested in the lunch and dinner buffets which are extensive and varied, and I think priced at around $20. The buffet shelf features an integrated chiller unit that keeps the food cold. I have often found restaurant buffet selections disappointing but I’d have been happy to dine from this one.
Tiramisu (10,000) was pretty good. But hazelnut pannacotta (also 10,000) was awful, with about 10 times the amount of gelatine required, it was like spooning into solid rubber, and after a couple of bouncy bites, I gave up. A shame, as the flavour was decent.
Also in the hotel is Wok Wok offering pan Asian cuisine, Amethyste bar offering drinks and bar snacks and the Cascade Lobby Lounge serving drinks and light meals. The hotel’s all day dining restaurant, Mosaic, is currently undergoing major refurbishment, and is scheduled to reopen later in the year.
Service and Ambience
A friend had visited Beirut last year, accompanying her husband who was there on business. She had described The Phoenicia a little impersonal, and said that service (for their large business group) was a bit slow, so I’d been nervous about how we’d find it. To my relief, we genuinely enjoyed our stay, and were treated with courtesy and a helpful attitude by staff throughout the hotel. Of course, with over 400 rooms, there is a vast army of staff, most of whom will interact with any given guest only once, if at all. However, the staff in the Club lounge, who look after a smaller subset of guests, clearly made efforts to remember and interact personally with all their customers.
Certainly, The Phoenicia is a more traditional style of hotel than we naturally gravitate towards, but it’s attractive, comfortable and offers good service, albeit for a price (see below).
Additionally, my friend had commented on the views from the hotel out over derelict neighbouring buildings, finding them unappealing to look at. But I must confess, I found them a bittersweet reminder of Beirut’s war-ravaged history and often could not tear my eyes away from the contrast between new or refurbished buildings and derelict buildings standing cheek to cheek.
Even the Stop Solidere signs intrigued me, a political protest against state-approved but privately owned building projects that are erasing all trace of Lebanon’s conflict-ridden past. Returning Beirut to its pre-civil war appearance, argue the protestors, amounts to state-sponsored amnesia regarding a period that had such impact on Lebanese lives and culture. I’m not remotely qualified to hold an opinion, but find this debate fascinating, drawn as I am by the history those war-pocked shells evoke.
If you prefer modern style to traditional, my friend recommended the more intimate Le Gray, which has an excellent location in the heart of town, near the new souk shopping district, Place de l’Etoile, Martyrs’ Square and many other sites. The Phoenicia is about a kilometre or so further from these sites, so still well located for both business and tourist visitors.
The Phoenicia is not a budget option, by any stretch of the imagination. Standard rooms cost from $400 a night. Our Club rooms cost from $700 a night. (This is very comparable with other high end hotels in Beirut, including Le Gray).
Spa treatments are at the top end of what I’ve come across, even in hotel spas, with Pete’s 50 minute Ayurvedic massage priced at $110, my first (80 minute) massage priced at $133 and the replacement massage priced at $100.
The dining options range from very reasonable to pretty high. (We found eating out in Beirut was more expensive, generally, than we’d expected; on a par with London prices).
Extras are not cheap either; for example, we found the taxi service used by the concierge service was (literally) twice the price of the one we’d been using throughout the week, as recommended in our Taste Lebanon information pack.
views from the penthouse suite, an incredible and enormous space on the 22nd floor, yours for $9,000 a night…
For all that, you do get what you pay for. The Phoenicia of 2011 still reflects the opulence, tradition and service of i’s jet set hey day and offers what you’d expect from a hotel of its style and calibre.
Beirut is an expensive city, but one I am eager to get back to.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been paired with Jamie Theakston to keep an eye on the Talk & Fork category of the Tesco Real Food Challenge. I put some food and cooking questions to him recently and am happy to share my interview with you here!
Do you remember the first thing you cooked? What was it and how old were you? Chocolate refrigerator cake!! I remember my mum letting me clean the bowl – yum!
With a young family at home, what are your favourite family meals? The kids are 3 and 2 – they love sausages, pasta, and, oddly olives!! I couldn’t stand Olives when I was younger!!
Do you cook with the kids? If so, what do you love cooking together? They are still a bit too young, but they love their food, and I’m pretty sure they will grow up to be keen cooks!
What is your ultimate dish when cooking to impress? I like to cook seasonally – my fave at this time of the year is to zap some mint sauce and peas into a puree in the blender, spread onto griddled sourdough bread, put some Parma ham and asparagus on top, shaved parmesan, soft boiled egg and then glug of decent olive oil – buonissimo!
What kind of music do you like to cook to? Foo Fighters puts me in the right mood.
Who would be your 5 ideal dinner party guests – alive, dead or fictional? Billy Connolly Dorothy Parker Oscar Wilde Peter Sellers Seve Ballesteros
What’s the best veggie dish you’ve ever had? One of my top restaurants is called Babbo in NY – they do Asparagus ravioli with ricotta and spring onion butter – it’s wonderful…
What is your favourite comfort food? Burrata – with a little olive oil and aubergines Or try it with honey and oregano.
Have you discovered/ tried any new foods lately, that you’ve really liked or hated? I went to a gallery opening recently and they served frozen party food – it was terrible!
Ignoring health implications for a moment, if you could eat only one dish for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Burrata!!
What’s your favourite cuisine cooking at home and what’s your favourite cuisine eating out? Italian – we are going to Orvieto this summer on holiday, I can’t wait!
You’re based in London – can you recommend your favourite neighbourhood restaurant and your favourite for a special occasion? My top place to eat in London is Scott’s in London – best razor-clams in town! I live near La Trompette in Chiswick which is said to be very good. Also a friend of mine is opening a pub called the Devonshire very soon – I’m looking forward to eating there!!
Any plans to follow former your former colleague Jane Middlemiss on to Celebrity MasterChef? I’d love to! It looks a lot of fun!
What’s in your fridge right now? Asparagus, some left over lamb and some mackerel that needs eating! Some strawberries (the kids love them). And a left over pea and bean salad with chilli and goats cheese which I will zap in the blender and eat with the lamb.
What cookery book do you use more than any other? Nigel Slater is the best – probably ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ or even ‘Real Fast Food’. I also like Jane Grigsons ‘English Food’.
Do you have a food idol? If so who and why? Keith Floyd – as a TV presenter, his approach was completely unique!
If you could banish one ingredient from the face of the planet, what would it be? Andouillette sausage – eugh – you won’t find it sold over here for good reason – its pigs colon, and it tastes as bad as it sounds. If you do see it over here, you’ll know the French have invaded…
If you were a cheese, what would you be? Stilton – bit funny looking from the outside, bit smelly, very English and great with a bottle of Claret!