#Top5 restaurants in #Hobart, Tasmania

The sleepy riverside city of Hobart is fast becoming a cultural destination. We visited in the late summer of 2014-5 and ate our way around the city. We weren’t disappointed, the only trouble was choosing a top 5.

#NVW15 #VeggieMyths Busted: @bao_london’s Daikon Bao is “just a radish sandwich”


The day I visited Bao London was an uncharacteristically hyped day for me. With a glamorous fellow food blogger on my side we queued at Bao, the latest critically acclaimed, “must try”, Taiwainese steamed bun joint. We tried to disguise our ogling of the dashing Times food critique, sat in prime window position, as we feverishly poured over hashtags to see what #foodporn we’d be competing with. Indeed, this day was unquestionably and perhaps quintessentially HYPED.

Bao is *so* on trend. Obviously, one orders by scratching numbers onto menu cards with disposable pencils. Obviously, the interior’s sleek, lined with raw timber and obviously you’re crammed onto benches with coats hung above your food. Obviously, darling, there are highly instagrammable desserts and obviously, you have to arrive at 11.30 in order to make the first lunch time sitting.But because this place is hyped, nobody cares about that. Obviously.

Highly instagrammable desserts. Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao, 4.

Highly instagrammable desserts. Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao, 4.

We ordered a range of meat (did I mentioned I was dining with an Italian?) and veg dishes. There was plenty of both, though the menu’s certainly got an offaly edge a la trotters and pigs blood not to mention a flock of guinea fowl. So if reading such delights turns your veggie innards, you may want to skip.

The aubergine with wonton crisp is a really special starter, popular with many meaty fellow foodies too.

Aubergine with Wonton Crisp, 3.5.

Aubergine with Wonton Crisp, 3.5.

I’d probably not go for the century egg again. The Turnip greens with Salted egg, was virtuous, if a little bland, still we managed to chomp away at it.

Turnip Greens, salted egg. 3.

Turnip Greens, salted egg. 3.

The main attraction are of course the Bao, and, sad to say, there’s only one veggie option at this stage of the menu, a crumbed and fried Daikon number. Not unlike a pan-asian chip buttie. And that dear reader is where I take a brief interlude into a rant, to bust a #VeggieMyth.

You see we couldn’t help but overhear our earlier mentioned food critique exclaiming loudly to his mate “What, you mean a radish sandwich?” in response to what I assume was a suggestion he try the Daikon Bao. Yes, it’s a vegetable focussed main. No, nothing died in order for you to devour it. Yes, the average cost per gram of what goes into this dish is probably less than comparable dishes on the menu. But are those reason enough to dismiss?

The Daikon Bao, as both my carnivorous friend and I supposed, was a highlight of the menu. Carb-loaded and satisfying, dressed with crispy pickle and lathered with a zingy coriander dressing and a decent squirt of something spicy, it’s a must try. As long as you’ve got nothing to prove.

The peanut milk. You gotta have the peanut milk. 1.5

The peanut milk. You gotta have the peanut milk. 1.5

So veggie friends, believe the hype. Go to Bao. Order the radish sandwich. Drink the creamy overnight soaked peanut drink. You wont be overloaded with veg choice, you may not make it a regular (we spent £40 on lunch with no booze), but you will be comforted in steamy pillows of deliciousness, dazzled by hype that actually has substance.

3.5 / 5

#VeggieMyths Busted: @bao_london’s Daikon Bao is “just a radish sandwich”

Bao London

3 Lexington Street, Carnaby, London London W1F 9AS
Web: http://www.baolondon.com/

Reviewer: Jared, April 25, 2015

Bao on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

#NVW15 #VeggieMyths Busted: Italian = meaty? @FelicitySpector reviews Cicchetti

Silky fava bean puree with toasted ciabatta

Now if you thought Italian food was nothing without a slow cooked beef shin ragu, slices of salami or packs of Parma ham: then think again. Think asparagus. Pumpkin. Aubergine and tomatoes. And truffles galore: all on the menu as Aldo Zilli bounded constantly up to our table, bearing a succession of dishes he’d designed for Vegetarian week. At one point, he decided to broadcast the lunch live on Periscope: Zilli is certainly not a man to hide shyly in the background.

Aldo Zilli is certainly not a man to hide shyly in the background.CREDIT: Stevie Thomas/The Amalgamate(s)

Aldo Zilli is certainly not a man to hide shyly in the background. Photo credit this and above: Stevie Thomas/The Amalgamate(s)

And neither is his food, judging from the preview we had at Covent Garden’s Cicchetti, a long narrow space tucked between the tourist spots of Wellington Street. It takes a lot for me to enjoy quinoa, but this version, cooked risotto style with baby asparagus and – I suspect – copious amounts of cheese, may have won me over.

It takes a lot for Felicity to enjoy Quinoa, but this one tipped her.

It takes a lot for Felicity to enjoy Quinoa. Credit: Stevie Thomas/The Amalgamate(s)

A courgette flower was crisply battered and stuffed with a mushroom risotto: there was a silky fava bean puree with toasted ciabatta, and a slice of grilled aubergine rolled around spaghetti and a tomato basil sauce, lifted by a pool of excellent aubergine ‘caviar’ beneath.

But for me, it was the pasta and rice dishes which really shone. My favourite dish: individual pumpkins, roasted off to a melting sweetness, and filled to the brim with pumpkin risotto, and a scattering of truffle.

Courgette flower stuffed into  a mushroom risotto

Pumpkin risotto in individual pumpkins

A platter of what I thought was polenta, with grilled asparagus, turned out to be chick pea fritters – crisp and soft at the same time, with plenty of flavour. Huge ravioli appeared, filled with Swiss chard and ricotta, and a trio of different cannelloni: I tried one filled with pumpkin puree.

Huge ravioli, filled with swiss chard and ricotta.

Huge ravioli, filled with swiss chard and ricotta.

Zilli has carved out a bit of a niche for himself with his vegetarian food – his latest book, Fresh and Green, has more than a hundred recipes: and if the dishes we tried are anything to go by, there’s no shortage of flavour or imagination.

Other restaurants are rolling out special menus for Vegetarian Week: Zaika of Kensington is promising an “unforgettable” evening of vegetable-based Indian delights, while Vivek Singh at Cinnamon Soho has dreamed up some irresistible sounding veggie desserts – including spring rolls stuffed with beetroot halwa and clove infused ice cream, or spiced pumpkin brulee – all available until the end of May. There can surely be no better way of getting your five a day.

Vegetarian week runs from 18th-24th May 2015. Foodstinct is busting #veggieMyths all week. Veg food isn’t what it used to be, and we think Felicity’s first post shows us that. Keep an eye out for more as #VeggieWeek progresses. 

3.5 / 5

#VeggieMyths Busted: Italian food is meaty food. @FelicitySpector reviews Cicchetti


30 Wellington Street London WC2E 7BD
Phone: 020 7240 6339
Web: http://www.sancarlocicchetti.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, May 14, 2015

Bird on Urbanspoon

Event: @momahobart Mindfulness meditation on #hunger 

Yup, I'll be in this teepee.

It’s great to be visiting my home town of Hobart. And it’s great to see increasing international attention that Tasmania’s pristine wine and produce, creative restaurants and edgy, self-confident art scene is getting. It seems Tassie is no longer apologising to its mainland counterparts, instead owning its position as a place of difference. In my mind this shift is in no small part down to the influence of the Museum of Old and New Art (MoNa), which has been making waves since 2011.

So when I was asked to do a workshop on my recent Masters dissertation topic at MoMa (the market at MoNa), I was delighted. Not least because one of the themes they’re running with is “#EatMyFriend” a call to think about and know about where the meat you’re eating comes from. Very me, innit.

Eat your Hunger, Yo
Ever noticed yourself eating when you’re not hungry? Over eaten but still felt empty? As well as thinking about what you eat, I want to get you thinking about why you’re eating it.

If you’re at MoMa Easter Sunday, April 5th, take a few minutes from the bustle of the market and the festivities on the river to visit the hunger teepee. The workshop will run from 1.30 to 2.30 in a teepee by the main stage, but you can drop in for one of the 5 minute sessions rather than stay for the whole hour, if you choose. The workshop will use mindfulness techniques, visual art practices and a variation of Edward Brown’s ‘potato chip meditation‘. You’ll get a chance to see your hunger from a different angle.

If you’re in town and can make it, I’d love to see you there.

Jared is visiting Tasmania from London, where he’s trained as a Psychotherapist. He completed a 2 years Masters study last year on the experience of feeling hungry.  Participants may opt for their feedback to be part of a qualitative study.

Felicity visits @birdrestaurant in #shoreditch and finds, serious #foodporn!


Wait. A fried chicken restaurant, on a vegetarian blog? Bird in Shoreditch, as the name suggests, is primarily there to flog chunks of poultry to the Shoreditch masses. Paul Hemmings, its Canadian founder, gave up a career in investment banking to pursue his culinary dream. “Fried chicken had a real image problem”, he says, gulping down his first coffee of the day from the ‘bottomless’ jug. “It’s become so popular – but most consumption has been economically driven. Really low end.” Across the Atlantic, though, it had suddenly become a trend. Even three star Michelin chef Thomas Keller produced his own twist on the deep fried bird. “Here, no-one treated it with much respect”, says Paul – and with a promise of free-range, affordable food, Bird Shoreditch was born.

“We’re not a gimmick”, he insists, brushing aside that uber-hipster stereotype which surrounds every new food venture in these parts. Even if the menu is full of Instagram-ready dishes like a giant chicken and waffle sandwich, and the decor is urban-chic diner style, with booths and bright wooden chairs and chicken themed graphics on the walls.

the decor is urban-chic diner style, with booths and bright wooden chairs

Instagram ready: Did someone say #donuts?

Now, though, there is more than chicken at Bird – which has just launched a new breakfast menu full of all-American favourites. We were invited along to test it out.

For non meat eaters – there’s a skillet of eggs cooked together with jalapeno cornbread, or the option of a breakfast bun, minus the sausage patty: a demi brioche stuffed with egg, cheese, and a hash brown. I bypassed that one in favour of the stack of pancakes with maple syrup, while my friend, who hails from Alabama and is made of sterner stuff, went for the full on bacon waffle with extra fried chicken on the side. Plus a glazed doughnut bacon sandwich which has been attracting widespread publicity.
Prices are very affordable, with nothing over a fiver – and coffee refills come as often as you like.

Stack of fresh griddled pancakes and Canadian maple syrup - £5

Stack of fresh griddled pancakes and Canadian maple syrup – £5

Our food arrived. The stack of five pancakes was enormous: I’d have preferred them hotter,  but the maple syrup was thick and intensely sweet, and even though I couldn’t finish everything, they happily boxed up the rest to take home.
My friend made short work of her chicken bacon waffle extravaganza – although she was forced to admit defeat about a third of the way through the bacon doughnut. Unsurprisingly, perhaps: portions are certainly generous.

It’s early days yet for the Bird breakfast. We enjoyed the variety and the pricing – and service was swift and friendly. If the food could come to the table consistently hot – they’d be on to a real winner. Breakfast, any time. Like liberty and the pursuit of happiness – it really is the American way of life.

Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) writes for a number of UK food blogs and, oh, Channel 4 news where her interest topics are food and US Politics. She is a guest blogger (and in this instance photographer) at foodstinct.

3 / 5

Is @birdrestaurant in #shoreditch ready-made #foodporn?

Bird Restaurant

42-44 Kingsland Road London E2 8DA
Phone: 0207 613 5168
Web: http://birdrestaurants.com/

Reviewer: Felicity, January 31, 2015

Bird on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Cooking in the Secret Garden of #Galatina, #Puglia


Cooking in Italy has a peculiar quality which I adore. It’s as if I’m possessed by the spirit of a long lost and greatly missed nonna, who spends hour upon hour in the kitchen, creating, tasting, serving and enjoying. In this magical place, food tastes richer and more satisfying. Cooking seems to have a more time honoured, ritualistic role in daily life. And the somewhat regimented timetabling of meals mean they are not just a passing moment to re-fuel, rather, they define the very structure of everyone’s day. When in Italy, I sense a deep respect for food and a delight in it’s enjoyment.

In late December I spent two weeks in a particularly joyful kitchen, in a villa in Galatina, a small town in the area of Salento, better known perhaps as the heel of Italy‘s boot and the southern most part of the region of Puglia. The ancient stone walled exterior of the aptly named Giardino Segreto disguises an enclosed garden, with lemon, lime, orange and pomegranate trees and beds of rosemary, sage, parsley and bay. The sunny roof terrace,  no doubt wonderful in summer, was still enjoyable in the relatively mild Puglian winter. Most of all, I was obsessed with the kitchen. Perhaps the best equipped holiday rental kitchen I’ve ever seen. I was in foodie heaven.

But living in this ancient town for a few weeks unlocked more treasures. The day after we arrived we went exploring, locating the necessities: a bakery, a supermarket and a local bar for coffee and pastries. By surprise we happened upon a string of men in trucks delivering fresh local veg to housewife occupied doorsteps throughout the town. We cornered one in an alleyway and were entertained and consumed as the local trader loaded us up with tomatoes, onions and fruits, and greens from the familiar (fennel, long stemmed brocolli) to the downright bizarre (more on that later). Laden with bags, and with a wallet that was only €10 lighter, we took our haul back to our villa.

We quite literally chased him down

We quite literally chased him down

I set about cooking. Not before a photo opportunity, of course.

The obligatory fresh veg spread.

The obligatory fresh veg spread.

The keen eyed amongst you might see we bought a load of bitter, over ripe orange tomatoes. Our grocer man had explained that these ought be cooked. Happy to oblige I set about roasting them in oil, salt and pepper, while I prepared the first of my many veg stocks for the trip. The tomatoes were to prove a valuable base for a tomato sauce which tasted quite unlike anything I’ve made from supermarket bought tomatoes. The bitterness was rounded out by the roasting, intensifying an intense fruitiness which underscored the other flavours in the sauce.

getting started in italian kitchen

Roasting tomatoes and caramelising onions.

At the same time I blackened some brown onions in a pan, then roast them alongside the tomatoes. I’ve got into the habit of preparing base flavour ingredients such as these, as well as a good veggie stock as soon as I arrive in a holiday kitchen. It speeds up later food preparation and gives “thrown together” meals a deeper flavour.

Everywhere you go there’s a new dish to try, often uniquely local and deeply connected to the land.

Collecting inspiration for dishes in Italy is easy. Everywhere you go there’s a new dish to try, often uniquely local and deeply connected to the land. Puglia is perhaps the finest example of this connection I’ve yet found in Italy. The food reflects the terrain. This sun-kissed, fertile region produce most of Italy’s olives and much of it’s pasta. Goats are ideally suited to the rocky farmlands hence many of the cheese are of goats milk. On cheese: Puglia’s pecorinos and ricottas are excellent and ubiquitous. As is the Burrata.

The Burrata in Puglia is second to none.

The Burrata in Puglia is second to none.

The dishes of the south are heavily influenced by the omnipresent sea. Seafood is pervasive, squid and prawns are on most menu’s. Often served simply crumbed and fried or in a risotto or pasta. But I was most impressed with the more earthy dishes, evidence of a practical and connected agricultural culture which  toiled the rocky fields. One which avoids waste: turnip greens or wild chicory stewed down to go with pasta. And one which makes use of dried and preserved ingredients like cheeses, olives and dried beans. A local classic is a fava bean pureé served with olive oil and steamed greens. Our local restaurant Anima e Cuore made a similar earthy dish from pumpkin pureé with the occasional salty black olive dolloped along the way.

love this part of the world

Pumpkin purée with steamed greens and black olives.

We found it somewhat difficult to find a lot of restaurants which catered to the vegetarians in our midst, but did discover a number of dishes which were tasty and meat free, and to my delight, which I could copy at home.

Panzerotti: Mint and Potato Croquettes

Panzerotti is a mint and potato fritter, rolled lengthways, covered in bread crumbs and fried. This dish is as Salento classic, served as antipasto or as a snack with drinks. I could imagine it came into being when potatoes needed to be used up, flavoured with local cheese and ubiquitous mint. We first tried them at our local restaurant…

2014-12-23 20.40.18

But I decided to make my own for New Years eve.


500g potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed (with a potato ricer, ideally)
50g plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt & pepper
good handful of mint, chopped finely
100g grated sharp cheese (we used pecorino, parmesan would do)
100g breadcrumbs
Olive oil for frying


  1. Mix mash potato, flour, eggs, mint and cheese, use your hands if you like.
  2. Season to taste with salt & pepper.
  3. Roll into strips on a board dusted in a little extra flour. You can cut them into 10cm or 5cm lengths, depending on preference. Coat well with breadcrumbs.
  4. Heat a small saucepan half filled with olive oil until hot.
  5. Add your panzerotti, 2 or 3 at a time and fry until brown.
  6. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot.

Tips: Don’t be tempted to overdo the cheese as it can mean you’ve explosive pockets close to the surface which can pop while frying and ruin the finish. A potato ricer is a must if you want a good consistency of potato mash. Make sure the oil is hot enough before you add your panzerotti. Test with an off-cut.

I don't deep fry that often, but on holiday it seems right.

I don’t deep fry that often, but on holiday it seems right.

These Panzerotti made a great antipasto on New Years Eve.

These Panzerotti made a great antipasto on New Years Eve. I was too heavy handed with the cheese so some exploded.

Galatina Chicory

It’s not often that a foodie is blown away at the site of an ingredient. I’d never seen anything like this massive veg. At first I thought it was a more lettuce like chicory, but upon closer inspection the base contained what looked like a family of alien sea creatures. These pods are what the locals focus on, so I removed the leaves and began to separate them. The classic dish is a salad, where the pods are sliced finely and served with a creamy dressing and anchoivies. I didn’t have the ingredients for this, so decided to improvise.

Galatina Chicory: anti-clockwise from bottom left: the alien like base, removing the pods, sliced lengthways.

Galatina Chicory: anti-clockwise from bottom left: the alien like base, removing the pods, sliced lengthways.

After a little quiet contemplation and plenty of tasting, I decided to char grill the halved pods. Some I marinated in olive oil and garlic to serve as antipasto. Some I stirred through with lentils to make a pasta sauce.

Chargrilled Galatina Chicory and Lentil Pasta

Chargrilled Galatina Chicory and Lentil Pasta


Another favourite dish for which Puglia is known is Orecchiette. An ear shaped pasta which many restaurants claims as home made, occasionally by the “hands of  maidens”. The texture is somewhat rough, as they’re rolled on breadboards with no flour. The shape of the pasta makes for a slightly denser bite while the convex shape ensures the accompanying sauce is well collected. Orecchiette comes with many sauces….

orecchiette alle cime di rapa - orecchiette with turnip greens

Orecchiette alle cime di rapa – orecchiette with turnip greens

Capturing the local tendency for practical food, turnip greens are used for a soupy, earthy sauce….

Oricchette with Spinach and Ricotta

Oricchette with Spinach and Ricotta

Or for a lighter taste, with Ricotta and spinach.

Oricchette with Wild Chicory, Chilli, Garlic

Oricchette with Wild Chicory, Chilli, Garlic

A classic, punchy dish calls for it to be served it with wild chicory and that’s been sautéed in chilli and garlic. Extra chilli and breadcrumbs for added texture.

Oricchette with Brocolli

As it was winter when we visited it felt like a soupy, warming sauce was the perfect accompaniment for our Oricchette. I had a large bunch of Brocolli from our grocer man and plenty of tasty veg stock. Although it took a few hours to fully simmer down, it was worth the wait.

2 medium sized white onions, finely diced
olive oil
1kg Longstem Brocolli, washed and chopped into 1cm pieces. Include any leaves.
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper
1 litre vegetable stock
500g Oricchette
Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley and parmesan to finish


  1. Heat a large saucepan or skillet with lid to a medium temperature
  2. Add a good splash of olive oil and the onion and a pinch of salt and caramelise the onion by reducing to a low heat and covering. Let this step take up to 20 minutes, ensuring you’ve a translucent onion and very minimal browning.
  3. Mince the garlic putting through a press and stir through the onion. Increase the heat slightly and deglaze the pan with the wine.
  4. Add the chopped brocolli and stir through for a few minutes, then add the stock. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer.
  6. After 20 minutes check the brocolli: if your lid is not well sealed you may need to add more stock.
  7. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add the Oricchette, stirring occassionally.
  8. Boil for approx 12-15 minutes until al dente. Drain, but reserve the water in case you need to add to the brocolli.
  9. Bring the heat up on the brocolli, when bubbling rapidly add the Oricchette and stir through, adding some of the reserved salted water if necessary to return to a slightly soupy consistency.
  10. Serve, dress with parmesan and flat leaf parsley, plus a little extra virgin olive oil.
Orecchiette with Brocolli

Orecchiette with Brocolli

Pasticciotto from Bar Leonardo

You can’t visit any town in Solento without trying the famous local pastry. Pasticciotto is like a custard pie; the best we found was at Bar Leonardo on Via di Solento, just a few minutes walk from the old town. They are served so piping hot that it’s best to bring them home to eat, giving them some time to cool down. These Pasticciotto are just delicious, filled with egg custard and a perfectly short pastry.

Baked fresh every morning, these delicious Pasticciotto are pure contenment. Short crust pastry with delicious crema filling.

Baked fresh every morning, these delicious Pasticciotto are pure contentment. Short crust pastry with delicious crema filling.

In the months since our Galatina escape I’ve often thought back to the villa. The garden, the terrace and especially the kitchen. I feel blessed to have spent a delicious two weeks there and I can’t wait to return.

We stayed as the guest of Giardino Segreto. Available year round and sleeping up to 6 adults in a three bedroom, two bathroom villa. More information at http://www.homeaway.co.uk/.

Review: Neighbourhood greek @exodusbar

Light and crisp: Courgette and fetta balls, £5.90.
So the Blackstock Road isn’t quite an Aegean beach, but the glowing lights of the Exodus wine bar were a little beacon of warmth on a freezing January night. And warmth is what you’ll get here, the warmest of welcomes in this neighbourhood Greek restaurant, family run and family style.
As we settled around a table, plates of lightly toasted homemade bread were whisked over with bowls of garlicky yogurt and grated carrot – the bread was almost focaccia like, made with mastic, which lent it a moreish stickiness. A good beginning – as were the selection of starters we shared. Best of the lot – some very light and crisp courgette and cheese fritters (above), and octopus braised soft with a touch of vinegar and a swirl of carrot purée. We scooped up a plate of beetroot and yoghurt with some toasted pitta – while the meat eaters enjoyed some meatballs in tomato sauce.
Feta Saganaki with beetroot sauce, £5.90.

Feta Saganaki with beetroot sauce, £5.90.

The menu was pretty heavy on cheese, and perhaps the slab of feta fried in a polenta crumb was a cheese too far, but it was crisp and just melting enough.
A trio of dips, £4.90.

A trio of dips, £4.90.

Of a selection of dips, the standout was a taramasalata, properly made without artificial colouring.
The main courses were perhaps less consistent: a bowl of jumbo prawns had us mopping up every drop of rich tomato sauce – and yes, more feta. Chicken breast stuffed with cheese on Greek orzo style pasta worked well, and a slow cooked shoulder of lamb was declared a triumph. A pork dish with very al dente carrots was a touch dry, as was a chicken in red wine, but choose well, and you’ll be happy.
Chicken stuffed with cheese and herbs, £11.90.

Chicken stuffed with cheese and herbs, £11.90.

We finished with a silky pannacotta and two little scoops of lime and chocolate mousse – authentically Greek? We weren’t sure. But they were a sweet end to a lovely night with friends, happily sharing dishes round a big table, passing plates and breaking bread. The sort of local place you’d gladly pop into on a cold night, for an evening of warmth, food and plenty of Greek hospitality.
Felicity Spector (@FelicitySpector) writes for a number of UK food blogs and is deputy programme editor at channel four news. She is a guest blogger at foodstinct.

3 / 5

Review: Neighbourhood greek @exodusbar

Exodus Greek

177a Blackstock Road, London N5 2LT
Phone: 020 7503 5466
Web: http://www.exodusbar.co.uk/

Reviewer: Felicity, January 10, 2015

Majestic #Matera and a stay @PalazzoGattini

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

We arrived in Matera on a chilly December night, entranced by Christmas light adorned streets that bustled with shoppers rushing between designer boutiques and cozy bars. It felt a far cry and from the ominous steel mill we’d encountered on the motorway passing nearby Trapani. But this is Italy, a land of contrasts. As we crossed from industrial zone to this celebrated historical town, we didn’t realise the extent of the sensory treat that Matera offered, yet right away we knew we were somewhere special.

Decorative lights at Christmas time give Matera’s town centre a truly magical feel.

Decorative lights at Christmas time give Matera’s town centre a truly magical feel.

In the arch of Italy’s boot, nestled in the mountains between Apulia and Basilicata lie the Sassi of Matera (translated as the  “Stones of Matera”). The ancient (some are 9000 years old) excavations are grouped into two Sassi, which are built into the side of a ravine formed by a river. All but abandoned after the second world war, their heritage potential was recognised in the late 1980’s and they were regenerated and achieved UNESCO status. This unique architecture grants Matera the status of one of the most popular destinations in this part of Italy. But coming in late December, as we did, meant although busy, the city had a much more local feel. And one, of a great winter celebration.

We stayed at Palazzo di Gattini, the restored mansion house of the Gattini family, the oldest noble family of Matera. When the family were ousted at the formation of the Italian republic, the hotel like the Sassi fell into disrepair. Skillfully regenerated, the hotel has just 20 rooms, each  decorated with unique artefacts and many having sweeping views over the chasmic Sassi.

It was a treat to awake after our first night to find that a generous smattering of snow had landed and that the roof terrace, used for  drinks parties in the summer had become a viewing platform for a winter wonderland.

Palazzo di Gattini’s terrace offers sweeping views over the Sassi.

Winter wonderland: Palazzo di Gattini’s terrace offers sweeping views over the Sassi.

A greater treat was the breakfast. A buffet served across three rooms: cheese and meats, fruit, yogurt and cereal, and  tempting cakes and pastries.

Cartellate: a typical breakfast biscuit, served in the Matera region but only at Christmas time. We doused with honey and ricotta, to find that traditionally, honey should suffice

Cartellate: a typical Materan breakfast biscuit but only at Christmas time. We doused with honey and ricotta (but were later told the ricotta was not a traditional accompaniment).

The hotel is home to Don Matteo ristorante, where a father and son team prepare traditional local dishes, from Purea di fave e palate, a fava and potato puree served with a poached egg and black truffle, or a asparagus fritter with smoked goats cheese. We caught Donato in the kitchen preparing a banquet, watching him effortless plate course after course was a dream.

Donato plates salmon with precision and more than a little theatre.

Donato plates salmon with precision and more than a little theatre.

The hugest vat of homemade Orecchiette, boiled quickly in salty water.

The hugest vat of homemade Orecchiette, boiled quickly in salty water.

And when you’re done exploring the historic cave houses in the Sassi, the towns beautiful cathedral and the picturesque views  you’ll have worked up an appetite. If you’re stepping out we recommend the delicious and Trattoria Lucana (Via Lucana, 48, www.trattorialucana.it) for home cooked pasta, antipasto and dessert. Oh and the dough balls. You must try the dough balls.

Antipasto platter to end all platters. From top fave bean pure, stuffed red peppers, crumbed artichokes and courgette cakes plus pan fried mushrooms.

Antipasto platter to end all platters. From top fave bean pure, stuffed red peppers, crumbed artichokes and courgette cakes plus pan fried mushrooms.

Or, if you prefer, recline in your hotels’ luxurious spa, complete with steam room and aromatherapy suite.

Unwinding in the hydrotherapy pool.

Unwinding in the hydrotherapy pool.

Matera is entirely unique, retaining a magical sense of history and the opulence and amenity of a modern tourist hotspot. We think it’s a hit all year round.

Disclaimer: we were guests of Palazzo di Gattini – visit http://www.palazzogattini.it/en/home/ for more information.

Palermo #StreetFood Tour with @streatpalermo


From historical origins as a practical way to feed the working poor, Street food has enjoyed a renaissance of late. In markets and food truck lots from London to L.A., Portland to Philadelphia, the resurgence is truly global. But it seems no other city has as authentic a historical claim as the home of Street food than the northern Sicilian city of Palermo.

Street food vendors are dotted around Palermo’s bustling markets where grandma’s shop for fish and vegetables and in rowdy squares where young revelers gather late into the evening. Varied too is the food available, from pizza and Arancine to more meaty mouthfuls which tend emerge later in the day.

Streetfood has made it to every echelon of society. These snacks were served up at lunch at bagli di pianetto.

Street food has made it to every echelon of society. These snacks were served up at lunch at Bagli Di Pianetto.

Of course you can explore street food in Palermo on your own, but a local expert is great if you want to find hidden treasures, while keeping you from getting lost in Palermo’s maze like streets. Marco from Streat Palermo was our knowledgeable and multilingual guide, we met him on a sunny September morning, in Piazza Verdi. For about three hours (tours are slightly shorter in high summer due to the heat) we explored a range of bite sized treats.

Arancine; soft rice filled with tasty meat; crumbed and fried.

Arancine; there is much more to this soft centered, deep fried rice ball than meat’s (sic) the eye.

You’ve probably tried this filled rice, breaded and fried starter in your local Italian. Forget that. These Arancine are streets ahead. The richest, densest ragu filling surrounded with rice so sticky it’s creamy and holds together brilliantly. Surrounded in a crispy, bready outer. This Arancine has punch and crunch.

Arancine is a Sicilian institution, their name derives from the Italian word for orange (arancia) while arancina means “little orange”. The traditional recipe for Arancina includes saffron; hence the reference to orange. Sicilian recipes for Arancine don’t usually contain saffron, though in Palermo they are served as small balls. In eastern parts Arancine are traditionally conical. And this is the Arancine that most tourists are likely to come across: they are even the customary snack served at the base station of Mount Etna.

The distinctive, conical Arancine, with a side of fluffy clouds.

The distinctive, conical Arancine, with a side of deliberately in focus fluffy clouds.

Back to Palermo: Marco makes special provision for non-meat eaters. We were served up this truly delicious spinach Arancini. Nutty, crunch and with thick seams of spinach to make up for the lack of ragu.

Spinach Arancine

Spinach Arancine – just as tasty, if not more so. And not a meaty ragu in sight. And Allison Scola’s leg, no less.

Venturing through the markets and lanes, Marco made sure we were never hungry, even between the six designated street food stops there was always a snack. Like these incredible marinated olives.

These giant, rosemary marinated olives had apple like crunch.

These giant, rosemary marinated olives had apple like crunch.

The story of Panelle is one of particular historical interest and deserves some attention here. This chickpea flour based dish is believed to be Arabic in origin. A local myth, perhaps perpetuated by enthusiastic food bloggers, says that this dish helped residents of the city of Palermo survive a siege, as chick pea flour was blown from ships enforcing a naval blockade, which the residents collected and made in to Panelle.

Making panelle: chick pea fritters.

Making Panelle: chick pea fritters.

Prepared by mixing mashed potato and chick pea flower, then frying on a grill pan, Panelle were once drenched in vinegar to give peasants who couldn’t afford fish a similarly tasting, cheaper substitute. Nowadays Panelle are still eaten in vast quantities on Sicilian streets, but not as a fish replacement, rather as a breakfast snack.

Cake and eat it: Panelle on a small bun, complete with Arancine.

Cake and eat it: Panelle on a small bun, complete with Arancine.

My hands-down favourite dish on the street food tour was Sficione. A simple pizza served on a focaccia like dough, topped with a thin tomato topping and casciocavallo cheese. The bounce in the dough incredible, giving the pizza an airiness that was irresistible. The toppings just the icing on the cake.

Sfincione, in all their bouncy dough like glory.

Sfincione, in all their bouncy doughy glory.

To top off the tour we were ushered into a tiny Sicilian boozer, which we’re told is popular amongst local youth in the evenings. During the day, it’s a slightly older crowd. But the local sweet, sticky wines are served chilled and flow freely. It’s quite the experience.

Sangue (L) and Zibbibo (R), two thick, sweet, Sicilian wines.

Sangue (L) and Zibbibo (R), two thick, sweet, Sicilian wines.

If you’re partial to street food, then you can’t go past Palermo. If, you’re simply looking for a well informed and entertaining tour of Palermo from a passionate Sicilian, then this tour provides a unique snapshot. Either way, I’m sure you’ll be as impressed (and sated) by Marco’s tour as we were.

Streat Palermo runs tours all year around. Info at http://www.streatpalermo.it/en or via email info.streatpalermo@gmail.com.

Top 5 #Christmas Treats in #London

The Sale Caremal Chocolate Tart at Said in Broadwick Street

London is pumping, Oxford Street’s amass with shoppers and dare I say it, it’s beginning to feel a bit like Christmas. Here’s a visual guide to some of the most happening veg friendly treats since at this time of year: you deserve it.

5. Said Chocolate’s Salt Caramel Chocolate Tart

Fend off the shopping induced hunger pangs with the ultimate tart: this salt caramel is super rich, the chocolate decadent and the base crispy (Pictured above). Long-established Roman chocolate store Said arrived in London last year, and they sure know good tart (and espresso!), plus it’s great location and ample table space makes it a great place to rest those weary shoppers legs. Open daily, 41 Broadwick St, London W1F 9QL.

4. Galaktoboureko at Mazi Notting Hill

Greek is great for veggies. And with an impressive selection of jar’d starters and meat-free mains, Mazi Notting Hill does an incredible take on this ancient cuisine, combining Mediterranean ingredients, Greek tradition and a distinctly London finish. If nothing else, go for the desserts. The custard pie (Galaktoboureko) is my dessert of the month. 14 Hillgate St, London W8 7SR. More info. Mazi on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

This custard pie should be illegal.

This custard pie should be illegal.

3. Hot Chocolate and Cider at Southbank Winterfest Market

There’s been a proliferation of markets in the capital, especially this time of year. Southbank Winterfest market (part of the #SCWinterFest) is a great location to end a work day or kick off a late night. With a mostly 29-something crowd, there’s plenty to drink (and eat), including Jaz and Jul’s artisan hot chocolate, one of the tastiest I’ve had in years. Plus, choose almond milk and it’s vegan. Every day till 9 or 10, until January 4. More info.

Jaz and Jul's artisan hot chocolate - mine was with Almond milk and a splash of Amaretto. After all, it is Christmas!

Jaz and Jul’s artisan hot chocolate – mine was with Almond milk and a splash of Amaretto. After all, it is Christmas!

Not far from Jaz and Jul’s you’ll find the Rekorderlig Cider lounge, a decidedly festive popup warmed by outdoor open fires and cozy skandi style cushions. Try the delicious cocktails, including the Winter Mojito, it’s delicious and destined to become the drink of the winter.

A Winter Mojito: apparently the drink of the winter.

A Winter Mojito: apparently the drink of the winter.

2. Breakfast at Mission E2

Mission E2 is the latest offering from the Michael and Charlotte Sager-Wilde, a wine bar styled on one of their favourite haunts in San Francisco. Aside from an incredible interior and magnificent coffee, they also serve breakfast. Pop in for one of these numbers:

Mission E2's breakfast: scrambled eggs and mushrooms on E5 Bakehouse Sourdough

Mission E2’s breakfast: scrambled eggs and mushrooms on E5 Bakehouse Sourdough

Anise and clove poached pears on Hackney Wild Sourdough with Ricotta and Granola

Anise and clove poached pears on Hackney Wild Sourdough with Ricotta and Granola

We might have tried one of their Bloody Mary’s or two, just for a taste of their later in the day service. It didn’t disappoint. MissionE2: 250 Paradise Row, E2 9LE More info.

Mission Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

1. The Honest Burgers Cauli Fritter

Veggies rejoice! No longer need you feel like a second class citizen when you’re out for burgers. The honest burger’s cauliflower fritter has all the hallmarks of great bun filling burger: crispy outer, succulent inner, and perfectly seasoned. The fritter is complemented by a cooling mint and yogurt dressing and served on a wonderful brioche. I’ve found my new favourite veg burger. Honest Burgers has eight locations around London More info.

My favourite veggie burger today. The honest burger Cauliflower fritter.

My favourite veggie burger today. The honest burger Cauliflower fritter.