Washington DC: Sushi Taro

This Christmas I had the brilliant idea of changing things up a bit. It seems as if I struggle each year to come up with a wish list as D-Day nears. Rather than request unnecessary ‘things’, I thought we could each choose a restaurant and host a foodie Christmas for three. First up was Sushi Taro, a longtime neighbourhood local go-to for Japanese food in downtown DC. Sushi Taro We opted for the Traditional Kaiseki menu – meaning a multi course Japanese dinner. Japanese cuisine purists look away now, as owner Nobu Yamazaki, who took over the restaurant from his father, has attempted to change things up a bit in terms of modern flair.Sushi Taro The evening started off with a sip of Champagne with yuzu and chrysanthemum. I kindly donated mine, but it looked beautiful and smelled citrusy.Sushi Taro This was followed by their signature dish, sesame tofu with urchin and wasabi, a thing of textural wonder. Each bite was soft, gummy and tender with a subtle, but spicy kick.Sushi Taro Isn’t this bowl beautiful? Every plate was so attractive that I considered finding a way to slip them into my bag. Don’t worry Sushi Taro, all your dish-ware are safely where they should be. (or are they?)
Yes. Yes, they definitely are. Sushi Taro Next was a long, zigzagged plate of perfectly cooked scallops with pickled mushrooms and egg sauce.  Sushi TaroFollowed by a little red pot, which revealed Spanish mackerel, kasu-jiru sake lees soup. Sushi Taro Fine cuts of yellowtail and tuna arrived with another enviable object. How cute is that soy sauce pot? Sushi Taro Sushi TaroA generous portion of sweetened miso marinated louvar fish was accompanied by a delicate monkfish liver fish mousse. I really enjoyed this, it was sweet and meaty, and just look at that plate! Sushi Taro Sushi Taro Fish & chips and ‘renkon’ dog was the only course I didn’t enjoy. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good, and the fried batter was too heavy this far into the meal. Sushi TaroNext to arrive was a selection of nigiri, including unagi, tamago yaki, raw scallop, octopus and salmon roe.  Sushi TaroSushi Taro Sushi TaroSushi TaroAnd a soft shell crab roll. All of which was delicious, but by now, we were sufficiently stuffed. The arrival of our final course brought on mixed emotions. A steaming, flaming, beautifully presented cast iron bowl of sukiyaki was placed in front of each of us. Within this bubbling cauldron of love, was fleshy chunks of tofu, tender onions and several types of Japanese mushroom.
Sushi Taro

I could’ve cried.
I was Christmas feast full. The kind of full where you’re not sure whether or not you’re going to be sick, explode or fall peacefully into a food coma. And yet, here sat this steaming bowl of deliciousness.
Sushi TaroTo make matters worse, or obviously better, slices of Australian kobe beef, a poached egg and udon noodles were served on the side to be dunked into the Japanese stew. Sushi Taro Sushi Taro Sushi Taro Sushi Taro

Fear not my fellow foodies, I persevered. I dunked that beef into my sukiyaki and slurped a big mouthful of noodles.

Sushi TaroSushi TaroAnd then I surrendered. This is the face of food failure. Happy to be filled with such good food, but behind those eyes lie disappointment in my inability to complete the final course. Sushi TaroDespite any level of fullness, there is always room in my dessert stomach. You know, the second stomach that is reserved for all sweet treats. Unfortunately, none of which were particularly worthy of further stuffing myself with. There was a coffee roll cake.
Sushi TaroA Hoji-cha pudding. Sushi TaroAnd although not amazing, my favourite of the three, matcha brûlée.

Sushi Taro is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Washington DC. Maybe give the desserts a miss, but the tasting menu is reasonably priced and the perfect option to try different styles of cooking. We truly enjoyed the entire experience and I would happily fulfil my Japanese cravings here again.

Now, before you scurry off to the kitchen for something to snack on, I’ll leave you with some wise words.
What did the sushi say to the bee?
………..

Wasabi!

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Barcelona: Day 5

The next morning we headed down to the terrace for breakfast. We nibbled away in the shade, enjoying the ocean breeze with a sadness hanging in the air. This was our last day in Barcelona before heading back to reality. We laid by the beach for a bit, soaking up our final rays of Spanish sunshine before packing our bags and making our way back to the apartment. However sad we were, I couldn’t help but giggle at this ice cream shop and their trolly. IMG_1171Eyescream and Friends puts googly eyes on your pile of ice cream and serves with a candy topping and sauce. So weird and so cute.

After making it back to the apartment, we gathered everything and ‘neatly’ shoved everything into our cases. In efforts to lighten the dark cloud following us around, I came up with a brilliant plan to cheer us up: food.
I found the perfect place around the corner, just past Camp Nou, the FC Barcelona football stadium. Taller de Tapas has several locations, but the Travessera restaurant is light and airy, with bottles of Spanish wine surrounding the room. We savoured the air conditioning and as our food arrived, the cloud began to drift away.

P1010618 We started with a fresh, light salad of rocket with slices of creamy goat’s cheese and toasted Marcona almonds. P1010621 Followed by comforting Ibérico croquettes. P1010622 Stunning shrimp with the most beautiful sauce of garlic, white wine, olive oil, chilis and parsley. P1010627 And a big batch of mussels steamed with lemon and Mediterranean herbs. Full of our final tapas, I had one last mission to complete. At the beginning of the trip, I had sworn I would not be getting on a plane home without first trying churros con chocolate.

To my sheer delight there was a Churreria around the corner. The place was almost completely empty, as this is typically consumed for breakfast. But the friendly staff were happy to make me a fresh batch.

P1010629Churros are fried choux pastry, which are churned out of a churrera with a star shaped nozzle. The ridged strips of dough drop fall into a vat of bubbling oil to be fried until crispy. The hot pastry is then removed from the vat and covered in a sprinkling of sugar. P1010631 P1010635As if they aren’t decadent enough, the churros are then dunked into what they refer to as hot chocolate. This is really like a thick, creamy chocolate pudding.
P1010637 P1010644 That is the face of a successful food mission. They were absolutely delicious, so decadent and well worth the tongue burning. A sweet end to such a satisfying trip! P1010646Barcelona was absolutely beautiful with stunning sites and seemingly endless amounts of delicious food. It should definitely be on your travel list and I couldn’t be more happy to cross it off mine.

Hasta luego & muchas gracias Barcelona!

Barcelona: Day 4

There’s nothing more exciting than room service.
Whoever invented room service should promptly receive a medal and deservedly, a massive hug.

Imagine them pitching the idea. You mean I can lounge in bed as you roll a cart of food into my room for me to consume in the comfort of my fluffy bath robe?
This is sort of what I imagine being Queen to be like.

As temporary King & Queen of The W Barcelona, we greedily gorged on eggs, tomatoes, toast, jams, fresh fruit and yogurts whilst taking in stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. P1010495 P1010501 P1010503 IMG_1143 IMG_1146After an indulgent morning, we slipped on swimsuits and scurried down to the beach to get in a little last minute relaxation before spending the day tracking down Barcelona’s stunning architecture by the revered Antoni Gaudí. IMG_1147Over the past few days, we had seen people flying by on electric scooters, racing each other up and down the beach. As the day was incredibly hot, and we had quite a lot of ground to cover, we decided this would be the perfect way to get around. As we were traveling father afield than the beach, we were given electric bicycles. You still pedal, but the bike gives an automatic boost, taking away most of the effort.
IMG_1331We set off on our new set of wheels, racing each other through herds of tourists and around leisurely couples on a stroll, getting used to our rides. We soon found that they were occasionally unpredictable, giving sudden bursts of energy, zooming us forward unsuspectingly. Mine happened to have to no bell, which resulted in me frantically calling out DING DING every once and awhile.
P1010509We rode up through busy streets, pedalling furiously up hills as cars and buses whooshed past. I was constantly distracted by beautiful buildings and interesting sites, making him increasingly nervous as I rode in and out of traffic. But, I was on a mission, leading us towards the towering spikes piercing the skyline in the distance. 
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We finally arrived at Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s magnum opus. Antoni Guadí was a Spanish Catalan architect whose works, littered mostly around Barcelona, attract admiration from all over the world. His creations were largely influenced by architecture, nature and religion. After being commissioned in 1882, Gaudí soon took over the construction of this church with engineering style and design unlike any church in the world. His plans were so vast and extensive, that by the time of his death, only a quarter of the project was completed. P1010517 We sadly didn’t enter the building, but I obviously recommend a visit as it is truly unlike anything you’ll ever see.
We mounted our trusty bikes and continued uphill towards Park Güell. Huffing and puffing as we reached the top, having ridden for an hour in the blazing sun, we were more than ready for a rest. P1010519 Park Güell is a garden complex filled with architectural structures created and designed by Gaudí. There are unrestricted gardens with beautiful stone structures and stunning views, which anyone can access. But, the monumental zone with his mosaic and architectural creations is ticketed, only allowing a certain number of people per time slot. I was devastated to find that the time slot was full, so we were unable to reach the other buildings. But, the gardens and views themselves are absolutely stunning and we wandered round the peaceful pathways. P1010525 P1010526 P1010542 P1010547 P1010556 P1010562 This pink coloured building was where Gaudí and his family lived for 20 years. It has now been turned into the Gaudí-House Museum which you can visit to see some of his original works. P1010571 P1010572 P1010582 P1010586 P1010587 P1010588 IMG_1159 IMG_1161 Having explored as much of the park as we could, we returned to our bikes for an enjoyable downhill journey. We raced through traffic until arriving at Casa Batlló. P1010591 P1010594 The building was bought in 1900 by Josep Batlló, a wealthy textile industrialist. The building itself was undesirable to buyers because of its design, but the family decided to purchase it for its centralised location. In 1904, the family wanted to find someone to redesign the house, making it unlike any other in its creativity and appearance. Seeing the innovation used in Parc Güell, they decided Antoni Gaudí would be the one for the job. P1010596 The building is absolutely stunning, with a skeletal appearance, but be sure to book tickets ahead as there was a two hour wait to enter. P1010599Before leaving, we noticed the building next door, which is also beautifully designed. A door was open, so I snuck inside for a peak. P1010608 There were beautiful tiles, stain glass panels and the most amazing light fixtures. P1010613 We continued down La Rambla through swarms of tourists before make a quick stop at La Boqueria, my foodie heaven that I told you you about the other day. We sat in the shade and snacked on mushrooms and mussels escabeche. This traditional Spanish tapas is a thing of beauty. Perfectly cooked, canned mussels float around in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pimentón.  P1010616 We then returned our electric rides and crawled back to the W, absolutely exhausted. After a little lounging by the window, watching illuminated boats sail by on the black water, we went for a stroll in the warm, night air. We went into a restaurant packed with locals for a late night meal. As you can see, there are no pictures of its interior, no descriptions of what we ate and certainly no food porn. The food was not good, to say the least. I picked at my plate and settled with the idea of having churros con chocolate for dinner, a Spanish treat that I had been desperate to find the entire trip. We left in search of my much lusted after treat, with no such luck. IMG_1167Tired, but fulfilled from our day’s adventures, we returned to the big glass wave for some much deserved sleep.

Barcelona: Day 3

The next morning was a painful one. The kind where I understand you coffee addicts and your caffeine chasing lifestyles. I instead sought solace in the form of pastry.
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A croissant filled with Serrano ham and melted manchego cheese was a nice hug to my insides, whilst my body ached from all our days of nonstop action. In Barcelona, a popular grilled sandwich of ham and cheese is referred to as a bikini sandwich. Now what I’d like to know, is who on earth has buttery, melty sandwiches come to mind when preparing to squeeze into a bikini? Oh excuse me, more pastry has arrived.

P1010317 Long, flaky strips stuffed with chocolate and cream were the final kick needed to sugar rush us into gear. We packed a bag and headed for the beach. P1010318 P1010320 P1010323 P1010325 You know how in life there are usually a series of unfortunate events? Well, let’s put this down to a series of fortunate ones. We walked along the beach towards our destination, The W Hotel BarcelonaP1010337 A gleaming, glass wave at the end of the beach, sticking out of the marina. P1010346Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we made our way to Bravo 24 for our lunch reservation. Here, Chef Carles Abellan, who studied under the great Ferran Adrià of El Bulli for 12 years, brings typical dishes of Barcelona to life.
P1010350 We excitedly chattered over the menu as individual bags of chips (crisps) were placed before us. These had an earthy herb flavouring and we happily crunched away as more nibbles arrived.P1010352 Freshly baked bread, sea salt, two types of olive oil and the most incredible olives were next to sample as we placed our orders. P1010354

We all know how I feel about nibbles. P1010366

The restaurant is large and beautifully decorated inside. But, we much preferred dining on the terrace with ocean views and a nice breeze. P1010360P1010403P1010367 A plate of saffron coloured calamari arrived. Knowing we hadn’t ordered this, I quickly snapped a picture before the embarrassed waiter shyly shuffled back over, muttering apologies and whisking away the pretty dish. P1010369 What we had ordered soon arrived. Delicate fritters of salt cod with a subtle hint of lemon and honey. P1010370 These were absolutely delicious. Perfect salty, sweet bites of comfort food. P1010373 Followed by chicken croquettes, with an incredibly rich flavouring. P1010375 Razor clams arrived on a stone grill with charcoal burning underneath. These were tender and smokey in a deliciously light sauce, which we sucked from the shells. P1010376 P1010377 P1010380 The ‘ugly’ tomato salad arrived on a beautifully warped plate. P1010381 Ripe chunks of fresh tomato and cooked, tender tuna belly lay on a bed of onion, olives and caper berries. P1010384 P1010389 Servers appeared table side with enviable copper pots to serve our final dish. P1010390 Suckling lamb shoulder roasted with 12 bulbs of garlic rested on a bed of tender apples and sweet onions. This was absolutely stunning and so rich with flavour. P1010392My date went for the English approach in ordering a cheese dessert. Mató is a type of Catalan cheese with no added salt. It’s often served with honey as dessert and here was paired honey foam and lychee sorbet. P1010397 I stuck true to form and went for little molten nuggets of delicious chocolate fritters. You stick the whole thing in your mouth and then crush them until they pop, oozing warm chocolate sauce. The waiter warned me when I placed my order that I would need to share. This was met with a grin and an eye roll. P1010398However, as delicious as they were, I soon surrendered and shoved the bowl across the table as I was ready to burst like the devilish chocolate fritters themselves. P1010400 A terracotta cup of green tea helped my overstuffed state and I heroically managed to gobble up the crunchy chocolate treats brought to soften the blow of the bill. P1010402Utterly food drunk and overexcited to see our room, we raced to the elevator. Here, I was momentarily distracted by a giant, shiny wall of sequins, before being ushered into the elevator.
P1010409 We exited the elevator to this. P1010413 P1010414With all the composure and elegance of a true lady, I ran down the hall giggling and threw open the door. Remember what I was saying about stuffing yourself with food and then slipping into a bikini? Forget about it. 
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After thoroughly exhausting our room exploration by jumping on the bed, opening all the cupboards, pressing every button, snooping through the drawers and dancing around the room, we decided a lounge by the pool was long overdue. IMG_1121 The pool area overlooks the beach, giving you all the joys of a beach day, minus the hassle of sand. We sprawled out on beds and soaked up the sun, wiggling toes to lounge music playing from speakers.

IMG_1122The sun slowly began to sink behind the mountains and the shade crept its way across the beds. Rested and ready for adventure, we went back to the room to shower and get ready to explore the city by night. P1010428 We walked for miles, up through different neighbourhoods, noticing the different areas and way the buildings, people and shops changed.
Ravished from all our walking, we couldn’t have been more delighted to find Els Sortidors del Parlament. They don’t have a website, but here is where you can find them.  P1010445 The interior was very cool and warehouse-like with products, wines and oils on display for sale. Tables in the front of the restaurant were barrels and stools, perfect for sipping cervezas and catching up with friends. We sat ourselves at a barrel and looked over the menu.

More than ready for some tapas, we started with another salad of tuna belly, but this time with fresh tomatoes, olives, peppers, pickles and a delicious sauce. P1010449A dish of raw cod with more vegetables was very fresh, but a bit chewy. P1010456However, we absolutely loved what arrived next. A slate of crunchy toasts to slather with foie gras, top with fig compote and sprinkle with sea salt.
P1010458To cut the richness, we enjoyed tangy bites of boquerones en vinagre. Fresh anchovies served in vinegar with garlic and parsley is a typical tapas of southern Spain.
P1010463 Last, but certainly not least, we tried tender ribs coated in a spicy, olive tapenade. The sauce was so flavourful and delicious, I could’ve happily slathered this on the toasts and consumed it on its own. P1010467 Having filled ourselves with more delicious food, we headed out into the thick night air. We walked until we came to Font Màgica of Montjuïc, just in time for the show. The Magic Fountain is one of Barcelona’s biggest tourist attractions, giving performances of light, water and music every night from Thursday to Sunday. P1010479 P1010480 P1010481 We watched the water dance to the music, with everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Oasis to Shakira, ending with an emotional version of Ave Maria. P1010482The perfect performance to end another stunning Spanish day.

Barcelona: Day 2

We awoke to glorious and much needed sunshine. Ready to stretch our legs, we wandered out to explore more of the stunning Spanish streets. P1010032 P1010040 P1010041 P1010044 P1010045 There must of been some sort of festival going on, because several streets were decorated with papier-mâché structures, streaming ribbons and had loud music playing. P1010050 P1010051Having skipped breakfast, we settled on a Spanish style brunch.
P1010054A buttery, soft croissant with ham and cheese was a delicious start. P1010056Followed by Spanish peppers stuffed with goat’s cheese.
P1010057I was told by our lovely server that I had to try the typical Catalan dish of Fideuà, which is made of fine noodles with tomato and seafood.P1010060We managed to finish off with even more carbs. Pan con tomate is typically served before or with each meal as Spain’s answer to bruschetta. It consists of soft, toasted bread with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt and smushed up insides of ripe tomatoes. We also tried a Spanish tortilla, stuffed with potatoes and peppers, but this was unfortunately a little overcooked, resulting in quite an aggressively thick brick of starch.P1010064As usual, the tapas left me full and happy, and we spent awhile people watching, soaking up the blazing sunshine before our long day of adventures ahead. We headed to our apartment to change and take note from our darling renters. Eduardo & Imma are the loveliest couple and they rent out their lofts and apartments to visitors from all over the world. The places are cosy and really nicely decorated with anything you could possibly need, including a kitchen and washing machine. They sat down with us drawing countless maps, told us where to go, what to see and gave excellent advice. One of the best being, when dining out, ask for the menu of the day, el menú del día. For around €10 you can have tomato bread, a starter, such as a soup or salad, a main course of whatever the special is, a dessert and a drink. If you’re visiting Barcelona, I couldn’t recommend staying with them enough. They’ll even drop you to and from the airport. If you want to find out more, look them and their lovely flats up here.
P1010067With instructions to purchase a T10 travel card, we took the metro to Las Ramblas. We walked down Rambla de Catalunya, a long street filled with designer shops and local restaurants until we came to Plaça de Catalunya. P1010072 P1010074 P1010075 How adorable is this store? Again, I wasn’t allowed photos, but snuck some for you anyways. P1010080 You take a medicine bottle and fill it with candy, because everyone knows those are happy pills! P1010081 P1010089 After Plaça de Catalunya, we came to La Rambla, one of Barcelona’s most famous tourist attractions. It’s essentially a long, outdoor shopping parade lined with trees. This was absolutely packed with people and only seemed to get more and more crowded. There were tourists ambling along, shopping for trinkets and dining in tourist traps. The street itself is beautiful, but the sheer volume of people with the addition of the heat and vendors selling these plastic mouth pieces that make strange, piercing screech sounds all became a bit much. P1010093 P1010096 P1010099 P1010101 I could not have been more happy to then come across La Boqueria. P1010103 We darted through the crowds and under the beautifully shining stain glass sign guarding the entrance to Barcelona’s best food market. P1010105P1010107 Imagine Borough Market, London’s best food market, flooded with Spanish delights and delicacies. I was in absolute heaven. P1010108P1010106P1010110 P1010111 P1010112Hotter than this pretty piggy, we got fresh fruit smoothies to cool off whilst checking out the offerings. I went for a kiwi banana mixture, which looked a little more radioactive than expected. This helped prevent my salivating over all the amazing ingredients on offer.
P1010113 P1010115 P1010116Within the rows of market stalls are several little pop up tapas bars. Sadly, these were completely crammed with tourists and locals alike, with a wall of hungry diners waiting to squeeze in to be next.
P1010117P1010123 We continued instead to peruse the endless amounts of food. P1010124P1010120How cute are these marzipan creations?
P1010125 P1010126 For some reason I’m particularly fond of the cauliflower. P1010127 Which are your favourites?P1010128 There were massive, ripe tomatoes. P1010131Rows of dried chillies. 
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Dates the size of my thumb.
P1010139And this. Now if you didn’t know it was tripe, you’d have to admit it looks pretty cool.
P1010142Oh, and the seafood selection was unbelievable. 
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Beautiful boiled octopus. P1010151 Glistening piles of salt cod. P1010155 Amazingly fresh fish of all shapes and sizes. P1010156 P1010157P1010167 P1010159 Wriggling lobsters and bunches of oysters. P1010161 P1010162And how cool do these look? I initially thought they were eel, but I think they’re silver scabbards. Those that aren’t a fan of their dinner looking back at them, scroll very quickly over the next few pictures. P1010163 P1010164 Those that don’t mind getting a little friendly with a fish, how cool looking are these?P1010166 P1010170 Then I found them.
Churros de miel. P1010171Little bite sized pieces of fried dough filled with a beautiful center of sweet honey. Texturally amazing and flavourfully orgasmic. I gobbled these up and days later went back for more, consuming an entire bag to myself. P1010174 We eventually gave up the endless viewing of food porn and left the market. P1010147Farther down La Rambla lies Plaça Reial, a hidden little oasis of palm trees, bars and hotels surrounding a fountain.

P1010175 P1010177 P1010180Attracted by the gleaming sign of theatre lights like greedy little mosquitos, we headed for Ocaña. Pronounced: Oh-than-ya.

P1010215P1010181 We lazily lounged in the shade, watching the goings ons of the plaça including an incredible performance of acrobatic street performers. P1010187Deciding his cerveza looked a little lonely, my date decided an Ibérico wrapped veal burger topped with foie gras was in order.
P1010201Can you blame him?

When I returned from a little venture around the restaurant, I took what is decidedly my favourite image from the entire trip. I just love the way the shadows of the lights are lined up on the pillars. There’s something sort of hauntingly beautiful about it, don’t ya think?
P1010213Are you still with me? We’ve got a bit more to explore. Grab a snack and we’ll keep going. We returned to our explorations in the golden sunlight of the afternoon.
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And I soon discovered a lion. Immediately wanting to mount it for a picture, I scurried up to the beast. Much bigger up close and surprisingly slippy, I tried to navigate my mount whilst in a little black dress. With the swarming crowds and lengthy drop to the concrete floor, I retired my efforts and instead posed next to Leonardo. My date, who initially dismissed my photo idea, had a sudden change of heart. He hoisted himself onto one of the fully standing lions, and to my bitter envy, now has an awesome photo of him atop a massive lion.P1010223 We reached La Barceloneta, a section of intertwining neighbourhoods with lovely alleyways, trendy bars and cool shops. This one in particular had origami bugs lining all the glass windows and cool toys, furniture and products inside.  P1010239 P1010240 P1010242 P1010243 P1010245 Another shop was selling 3D printed versions of yourself! You go in, and the unsure looking fella in the background makes a mini me, of you! Very odd, but such a cool idea. P1010253 P1010255 I spotted this elderly man reading a book in the warm shade of his balcony, ignoring the difficulties of life. And later came across this very mellow little square with friends chatting quietly over drinks, men perched on walls and clouds of certain illegal substances hovering in the air. The man in blue was strumming the guitar and loudly singing a beautiful Spanish serenade. We were only there momentarily as we passed through the square, but it was a beautiful bubble of utter peace and calm. P1010262 We explored more weird shops with more weird things. P1010276 P1010277P1010279 P1010280Passed through a cathedral.P1010281 P1010282 P1010283

And spotted this dog, begging in a brightly coloured alleyway. P1010288The evening ended the way all Spanish evenings should. P1010301 With paella. Pronounced: pah-eh-yah.P1010305 We sat by the beach in a buzzing restaurant, with waiters dancing around each other, balancing heavy, steel pans of cooking rice overhead. The cool, salty air mixed perfectly with each bite of fresh seafood and saffron rice. P1010306The perfect end to a thoroughly exhausting, but amazing day filled with delicious food and beautiful sights.

Barcelona: Day 1

Remember when we were discussing surprises?
I was telling you all about how difficult it was to surprise me, how I absolutely love being surprised, yet can’t help but fiercely play detective in efforts to put the clues together. However, had the amazing surprise of dining at the top of my beloved building earlier this month. Well, I was soon stumped again and left seriously doubting my Sherlock skills.

I was told we were going away for the Bank Holiday weekend and persisted relentlessly for clues until I was given five countries: France, Portugal, Turkey, Spain or Denmark. One by one, with deductive reasoning and a cleverly laid trail of breadcrumbs, which I foolishly lapped up, I cracked the case. We were going to Turkey. I was so pleased with how clever I had been, that I considered purchasing a shiny badge and maybe even a hat for the trip. I packed my bags at midnight with an early flight and settled in for another night of insomnia, this time riddled with excitement. But then, it was decided the surprise would be revealed. With the grin of a five year old completing a magic trick to an audience of knowing adults, I opened the tickets. This was immediately followed by a gasp, a look of disbelief and my shouting BARCELONA?! 

We left at the crack of dawn and sparing you the predictable travel details, we arrived in a moody, overcast Barcelona. After arriving at our place, we threw all our things in the room and quickly changed into something a little more comfortable for the incredibly muggy weather before setting out for a casual wander. P1000818Instantly distracted by delicious looking pastry shops, I decided the need for tapas was imminent. Those of you unfamiliar with tapas, wait, you’re unfamiliar with tapas? Let me sit down. That is just wrong. Inhumane, really. Tapas, and I don’t say this lightly, are the best. Their literal translation defines them as different snacks and appetisers ordered to share. This is my absolute ideal way of dining. I know you may think I eat a lot, okay I do eat a lot, but I love nothing more than little bites of lots of different things. And if these things happen to be amazing Spanish dishes, well then I may just consider never leaving.
P1000823 We soon stumbled upon Obarazal. A tapas bar in the front, lined with stone faced men gossiping over their cervezas, leading to a bigger restaurant in the back. P1000825 The bar was filled with a colourful array of traditional Spanish tapas, such as seafood salad, meats, cheeses, artichokes, tomatoes and more. Big legs of Jamón Ibérico hung overhead, dripping fat into their precisely placed cones. We took a seat ready for a feast and in true Spanish form, we were ignored whilst staff lazily danced around each other, making espressos, wiping glasses, chatting away. P1000830I eventually put on my best smile and flagged someone down. Shocking my Spanish skills into action, I began ordering plates to try, asking for recommendations and enquiring as to which dishes were his favourite. P1000840 We settled on delicious, spicy albóndigas with a tomato sauce. P1000843 Unattractive, but tasty Croquetas de bacalao or salt cod croquettes. P1000844A plate of Spanish gold, jamón Ibérico. P1000845And a bunch of baby octopus, grilled on the plancha and simply dressed with garlic, olive oil, salt, lemon and parsley. P1000847 Which made me very, very happy. P1000849 P1000855 Having gotten distracted so soon and now stuffed to the gills with tapas, we continued on our wander down to the marina. On the way, we discovered some of Barcelona’s infamous graffiti. P1000856 P1000857 P1000858 P1000859 P1000860 And some skate boarders trying to film their latest tricks before the sky opened up. P1000861 P1000863 We made it down to the marina and the sky grew ever more ominous, but the rain continued to hold off, making the air thick and salty as we neared the ocean. P1000872 P1000885 P1000891P1000898

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In a little square nearby, a market of cool odds and ends were being sold. Everything from old cameras, to vintage jewels, to obsidian elephants, to rusted horse shoes and more. I kept being told off for taking pictures, so only managed to sneak a few for you.
P1000903P1000904P1000905This box is my absolute dream. If it weren’t for the baggage weight limit, I would’ve scooped up this entire collection of keys. I have a weird fondness for unusual keys as I like imagining what types of doors they open and what lies beyond them. Or maybe they open a chest filled with old photos, or letters or treasure. 
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We continued to explore the city, admiring sights, artwork, architecture and design. P1000909P1000937P1000943P1000945P1000948We arrived at the beach, watching cyclists being blown down the boardwalk and trees swaying in the wind. We decided to head back through the towering buildings in search of shelter and obviously, more food. P1000950We soon discovered Enrique Tomas, a jamóneria with walls of Ibérico ham. I could go on and on telling you about this beautiful cured meat. How the big, black pigs live in oak studded pastures, gobbling up acorns whilst being caressed by mountain air. How you can tell the difference between Ibérian and Serrano ham by the ‘pata negra’, or black hoof, which is left on during the curing process. And how this delicacy is hung to cure for at least 12 months and often more than 2 years. Instead I’ll tell you that we ate some, and it was glorious. London meat lovers will be excited to hear, they will soon be making their way to our city streets. Stay tuned to their website to find out when and where.P1000962P1000963P1000965We left with our bounty, scurrying down streets and ambling down alleyways until coming to this beautiful plaça. P1000985

Tucked in the corner was the darling Bastaix. So darling in fact, we decided we needed to stay awhile. P1000983

Which resulted in, you guessed it, more tapas.P1000998P1010001These Ibérico wrapped prawns were increible. P1010004Followed by a delicate, but beautiful plate of ceviche with mango. P1010006We nibbled until the sun went down and eventually decided to make a move in search of something sweet. Before we left however, I took one of my favourite pictures of the trip. There’s another one that I can’t wait to share with you, which is definitely a firm favourite, but this one seems pretty special, as well. There’s something about the way the little boy is stood there at the bottom looking up at this towering piece of metal holding a flame and I can only begin to imagine what grand, incomprehensible thoughts he’s pondering. P1010012Intoxicated by the thick, Spanish night air and a few too many tapas, I followed a ‘feeling’ I had about a particular passageway and have never been more pleased by my intuition. At the end of the street was a beacon of pastry. Bubó stood gleaming, its doors opening to a world of all things patisserie and sugar.
P1010020P1010021Including an impressive macaron case, of which we ordered one of each and greedily consumed until giggling and sugar high.P1010027I’d like to tell you that the evening ended shortly after, with us tucked up in bed, resting away the pains of travel in preparation for a long day ahead. Instead however, the weather had other ideas. We began our long and much needed walk back to our home away from home. With another half hour of walking to go, drops began to fall from the sky. This was amusing in our sugar infused state and somewhat welcome as the temperature finally began to cool. But as we continued walking, the sky opened up and water began bucketing down from above. The kind of rain that you expect to stop momentarily, because there’s no way that the sheer force of downpour could be sustainable. And yet, it went on and on and on until we took shelter in a glass box which led to an underground parking structure. After half an hour, I made it my mission to hail down a taxi. Standing on the side of the road, I waived my arms wildly at any car with a green light. After another half hour, completely soaked through, our saviour finally pulled over and rescued us from the rain.

The Country House Montali: Day 3 & 4

The third day began with another beautiful breakfast.
The daily, delicious meals were becoming habitual and routine. I had to remind myself that after tomorrow, I would no longer be feasting on such delights morning, noon and night.
But for now, breakfast was served!
The Country House Montali The Country House Montali After the usual spread of treats, warm, thin pancakes filled with fresh fruit arrived.
This time, I went out of my way to stuff myself with as I could as I would be needing the fuel for the day’s journey ahead.The Country House Montali We quickly changed, grabbed bottles of water, loaded up on sunblock and headed out for Lake Trasimeno.
The walk was 3miles through the forest-covered mountain, down past the olive groves, through the little lakeside town and out towards the lake.
Our only directions were to keep left at the fork in the road and to be back in time for dinner.
Alberto assured us that if we weren’t back in time, he would send Leo out to find us with a little bottle of wine strapped to his neck.

After about an hour of navigating rocky inclines and steep slopes, we could see our destination, Lake Trasimeno glistened off in the distance.

The Country House Montali We passed abandon summer homes. The Country House Montali We passed olive groves.The Country House MontaliAnd we passed vineyards.
The Country House Montali Until we arrived in the lakeside town of Sant’arcangelo.
This was a very sleepy town complete with washing hanging to dry on the line, dishes clattering in kitchens and of course three little old ladies gossiping from their chairs in the shade.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThe Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali At the bottom of the town, we passed an original food truck.
This man pulls up in his truck every day to sell big chunks of traditionally cooked porchetta.  I planned on trying this on our way back, but had already filled up on something else… something amazing.  The Country House MontaliNearing the lake, we stopped quickly at a little delicatessen and grabbed a few vital ingredients.
Then, finally arrived at Lake Trasimeno. The Country House Montali

We sat down on a patch of grass, looked out over the lake and watched two men battling it out for the bigger catch of the day.

It didn’t take long for hunger to take over and we pulled out our treasure of a picnic.
Fresh Mozzarealla di Bufala, salty strips of prosciutto, crunchy ciabatta and the real gem, salsa di tartuffo. The Country House Montali We picked at it with our hands, creating perfect bites combining all the delicious ingredients. Each mouthful was more delicious than the last.

I sat there gazing out over the water, feeling incredibly small and very grateful to be indulging in such a delicious meal. It was one that I know my late Italian grandfather would have loved to share. I’m sure, however, he would have somehow managed to get his hands on a bottle of Prosecco to wash it all down. The Country House Montali As we finished up the crumbs, I noticed we had attracted quite a gathering of hungry friends. The countless stray cats continued to appear out of nowhere, so I tossed a few pieces of prosciutto fat and fled the scene before the cat fight.The Country House MontaliFull of delicious food and reenergised from our rest, we lazily began our 3mile journey back up into the mountain. The sun was really shining now and we decided to pace ourselves as we climbed up and away from the lake.

Having finally reached our destination, I quickly stripped and ran down to relax poolside. Before long, my new furry friend arrived for some love and affection.

The Country House Montali I’m sure if you follow me on Instagram @alessandra_ldn, you’ve already seen what I indulged in next.

Starting to feel hungry before dinner, I snacked on some ripe figs straight from the tree.
As you can imagine, pure bliss. The Country House MontaliNearly time for dinner, I quickly changed and took a starlit walk to the main house lead by several of my furry friends.

Wondering if the day’s luck could truly continue, we were presented with yet another evening of fabulous food.

To start, a beautiful caramelised onion in puff pastry, with melted parmesan cheese ice cream.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali Followed by ginger and lemon risotto. The Country House Montali The Country House Montali Then the show stopper: a melange of zucchini and ricotta on a beetroot coulis with a parmesan crisp and fried carrots.
I was delighted to find that beetroot in Italian is barbabietole.
Isn’t that fun to say?
I’m now giggling imagining you sitting their sounding this out to yourself.
Bar-bah-bie-to-lay

The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThey say all good things come in threes – and when it comes to dessert, this rule always applies.
A trio of pear cupcake with white chocolate ganache, bitter chocolate & strawberry ice cream and a cocktail of banana & rum were the perfect way to end the night.
The Country House Montali

Day 4

Given our amazing day the day before, we weren’t necessarily prepared for today’s storm. It started in the night and continued relentlessly, becoming progressively worse throughout the day. But, I’ll tell you more about that later.

At least the day started with waffles.
This softened the blow that there would be no sunshine for the next 24 hours. But of course at this point, cutting into my fluffy, warm waffles, I was blissfully unaware that the sunshine would stop on my plate. The Country House Montali After a very drawn out breakfast trying to wait out the rain, we eventually ran for cover back to our rooms. Here we sat in silence, listening to the sky opening up overhead. This was the perfect time to write to you and catch up on reading.

Reading Mr. Bourdain’s book only succeeded in making me hungry. Which was perfect as it was now time for lunch.

Wrapped in a fluffy, white towel, we dodged raindrops down to lunch.

A beautiful bowl of fresh cauliflower pasta with olive oil and pink peppercorns was just the thing we needed.
The Country House Montali This was followed by a fresh salad with simple, but incredible tasting ingredients. The Country House Montali A winter melon and amarena compote was a delicious, light end to lunch. The Country House Montali We spent the afternoon chatting, playing Italian card games from my childhood and sitting outside watching the rain fall and lightning strike from the sky. Eventually we retreated back to our room, led by a very wet Piccolo and took shelter for the afternoon.  The Country House Montali The weather forced us to relax as we were trapped by one very angry mother nature. Water continued to bucket down from the sky, thunder and wind shook the windows and lightning struck the mountains. Luckily, The Country House Montali was not a target this time. Alberto entertained us with stories of previous disasters brought on by these storms and we considered ourselves lucky to only play witness the brilliant show. The Country House Montali Starving and stir crazy, we were more than excited, if not a little sad, for our final dinner at The Country House Montali.

To start, figs with roquefort cheese, toasted walnut and endive tempura.  The Country House Montali

Then, the ultimate comfort food.
Four cheese gnocchi with salsa di tartufo.
The Country House Montali A leek quiche with marinetti carrots and sweet & sour peppers followed.  The Country House Montali And a traditional cannolo alla Siciliana was our final treat for the evening. The Country House MontaliIn the morning we awoke to blue skies and Indian porridge.
The Country House Montali Sadly, we packed our bags into the taxi, said our goodbyes to our lovely hosts and The Country House Montali’s incredible staff and headed for the airport. The Country House MontaliMy four days at The Country House Montali were incredible.
The Italian hospitality makes you feel as if you are home, scenery is breathtaking and food is comprised of inventive dishes, each more delicious and exciting than the last.

They are now closed for the winter, but don’t worry! They open again in April of next year. I’ll post the website here for you to enquire more.

Promise me if you go, you’ll give a little cuddle to Leo & Piccolo for me!

The Country House Montali: Day 2

The first thing you notice having lived in a buzzy, bustling city for years once out in the remote Umbrian hills is the silence.

It’s the kind that leaves you alone with your thoughts and forces you to pay attention to smaller worlds living around you, such as those of the hundreds of different insects, creeping through the olive grove. It made me become incredibly conscious of sound and the peace that silence is capable of instilling.
Even though I have one of those minds that never stops talking.

We woke up early and tiptoed down the gravel path through the olive grove to breakfast. IMG_3415

A beautiful spread of fresh melon and fig jam, bread and butter, warm, apricot jam filled croissants and chocolate apple pastry decorated the table.

The Country House Montali

After picking through the pastries, a bowl of muesli with toasted oats, coconut, melon and apple was served. It was the perfect fuel for the long day ahead.The Country House MontaliWe hitched a ride with Alberto who was off to collect more guests at the airport.
We flew down the gravel roads leaving a trail of dust behind us. Our nerves slightly eased by Alberto’s endless arsenal of jokes as we overtook 18-wheeler trucks and little old ladies more concentrated on sharing the correct way to make pasta than the road.

We were left in the centre of Perugia and told to follow the escalators.
In the middle of this medieval city, the last thing you’d expect to find is a series of escalators.
But, there they were, and up we went.

The Country House MontaliWe headed towards the main strada, Corso Pietro Vannucci and ambled along as the sleepy, medieval town began to wake.

The Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAt the end of the strada lies Piazza IV Novembre. In the piazza is the Fontana Maggiore, a beautiful fountain built in the 13th century. The star of the piazza, however, is the divine Duomo towering over the square.  The Country House MontaliThe Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, also known as the Cathedral of Perguia, holds stunning intricacies present across many of Italy’s cathedrals. Endless detail in marble work, gilded frames and stain glass windows are truly breathtaking. Regardless of the building’s significance, it truly is an awe-inspiring masterpiece.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliWe left the cathedral and began to wander aimlessly around the town.
Up a road, down an alley and through beautifully constructed buildings, we came to the top and looked out over city. The Country House MontaliThe Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House MontaliThe Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliStunning views of rolling hills and terracotta tiles stretched as far as the eye could see. The Country House MontaliAfter a little more wandering and discovering, we headed back down towards the city centre.
The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAs you can imagine, my favourite thing about Italy is admittedly the food. I spotted a delicatessen and popped in to see what was on sale.

Just look at the size of these grapes!
They were like mini plums and had such a beautiful colour. The Country House Montali I’m positive their packaged Mozzarella di Buffala is nothing compared to that sold at home and desperately wanted to buy boxes of it to sneak into my suitcase.
But, I figured this wouldn’t go over too well in customs and moved onto the meat. The Country House MontaliBeautiful prosciuttos, salamis and homemade sausages lined the meat counter, taunting me. The Country House Montali We left the delicatessen and found a little market selling rows of leather bags, clothes and antiques. More impressive than anything being sold, was the breathtaking view beyond the stalls. IMG_3606The Country House Montali And, this little guy!
Just look at that little face.
He was free to a good home and again, I mentally negotiated the chances of slipping through customs with “special goods” in my bag.
I decided to give it a miss.
The Country House MontaliSufficiently starving having been surrounded by people snacking on piadinis and pastas, we popped into a literal hole in the wall for something to eat. The tiny store sold slices for about a Euro and was filled with business men, tourists and students alike, all wanting a warm snack.

I went for a classic Pizza Margherita topped with fresh Mozzarella inspired by my craving from earlier. It was simple and delicious. The perfect mid-afternoon snack.

The Country House MontaliIn my opinion, no Italian meal is complete without creamy, sweet gelato.
We sought out Grom, a locally loved gelateria and I ordered my favourites: chocolate, stracciatella and pistachio.
The Country House MontaliThis was followed by another leisurely stroll down random passageways, killing time before our taxi was arranged to collect us.
The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliAfter being collected and dropped back to our temporary home at The Country House Montali, we had just enough time to shower, throw on a dress and scamper through the grove to arrive in time for dinner.

Our lovely hosts greeted us and showed us to the same table we sat at each night.

To start another delicious evening of food, we were served a quinoa & cherry tomato cocktail with pepper cream and bites of Mozzarella di Bufala.

The Country House MontaliNext, a little mixed vegetable roulade with a saffron sauce. Rotolo di CrespelleTo finish the savoury dishes, a Brazilian inspired potato stuffed pastry filled with tender aubergine. This was served with fresh pesto and cauliflower foam.

The Country House MontaliFor dessert, a beauifully presented tower of almond crunches layered with fresh pistachio cream and wild berries. I can assure you this tasted as delicious as it looked.

The Country House MontaliA delicious ending to another day in Perugia.

The Country House Montali: Day 1

So, this used to be a little something called a lifestyle blog. Call it passion, obsession or go ahead and throw out the word greed, but this has slowly spiralled out of control down the rabbit hole of food porn. Albeit a delicious hole, it is a hole of lies. As often goes with the love of food, I am constantly consumed by wanderlust.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen I did a little traveling last month and have wondered where I was or what I was doing, so I’ve decided to share it with you.

As we pull in below the clouds, the rolling hills and symmetrical rows of trees instantly reveal the essence of the Italian countryside. Having grown up visiting Tuscany and Veneto, Perugia felt familiar in the way memories from a once visited place cling to the back of your mind, but still maintain enough of a foreign element to feel like an adventure.

We left the slow chaos that only an Italian airport could manage to function with and crawled into our taxi. We drove away from busy streets filled with drivers indicating left, but veering right, old men bickering using one hand for their phone and the other waving about in the air, and wannabe Formula 1 racers speeding past slower cars into oncoming traffic to overtake on single lane roads.

After following several hidden signs and turning onto various unmarked roads, we asked the driver what the beautiful building perched on top of the mountain far off in the distance was. It was our destination, The Country House Montali, which sat at a seemingly unattainable height atop a forest-covered mountain with no visible path leading to it.

The road was made of gravel and wound up steep, perilous cliffs with any signs of modern civilisation disappearing below us. Eventually, each turn led to the assumption that we must finally be there, this must be it. But, we continued to climb to the very top, 500km above everything else before we saw it. A beautifully painted sign at the gates welcomed us to The Country House Montali, allowing a sigh of relief marking the end of our journey.

The Country House Montali

Leo, a longhaired dachshund barked incessantly, grumpily welcoming his new guests who only pass inspection once loving pats are given out. Although he thinks he runs the place, The Country House Montali is actually owned by the lovely Alberto & Malu who opened the hotel 25 years ago. The hotel is completely vegetarian and is comprised of a main house with the dining room and kitchen, a games room complete with a billiards table and past the stunning pool and through the olive grove are the hotel’s guest rooms.

The Country House Montali

Before being shown to our room, like all classic Italian hospitality, we were fed. Our cases were left by the door and we sat outside under a shaded canopy with Leo standing guard against the property’s many wild cats. Most of which he has undoubtedly marked as plotting, miscreants carrying out some sort of evil plan.

The Country House Montali

We grazed on freshly baked bread before a beautiful dish of warm, cheesy faro with fresh vegetables arrived. It was such a simple dish, but was so full of flavour and ended up being the perfect introduction to our vegetarian journey.

The Country House MontaliThis was then followed by a delicious coconut tapioca topped with fresh whipped cream.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali

As the chefs were busy making dishes for the hotel’s next cookbook, we were lucky enough to sample a few extra treats, including warm biscotti with almond, chocolate and orange zest. The Country House Montali

Having taken my fill of delicious food, I ran straight to the room, stripped into a bikini and headed for the pool. As autumn falls upon London, the California in me has begun to panic. Flashbacks of snow pouring from the sky and London’s “longest winter in 50 years” have me shivering already. A dose of Italian sun was exactly what I needed to at least attempt to tide me over until the sun next decides to shine over the gloomy city I’d soon return to.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali

Feeling the sun soak into my bones, I felt a smile spread across my face.
And then, I felt something else.
Something furry rubbing against my arm and then cuddling against my face.
One of Leo’s rivals, a grey tabby I decided to name Picolo for his stubby, little legs, perched himself at the head of the sunbed and waited for some loving.

The Country House MontaliHe purred away, grabbing onto my hand whenever I pulled away from stroking him. Finally deciding he had received enough affection, he took off into the olive grove chasing one of the black cats. The Country House Montali

Not being able to sit still for any longer, I decided I needed an adventure. We walked out to find a medieval castle I had spotted on our way up the mountain.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliOnce we arrived, we discovered Castello di Montali is now private property with a beautiful home built inside the walls. We ventured round, marveling the architecture rich with history, framed by a stunning view of the scenery below.

The Country House MontaliWe came to the castle’s gate with a ferocious barking guard dog, who quieted down after a few stokes and tummy rubs.

The Country House MontaliAt the end of the property, we stood and looked out over miles of land with trees, lakes and mountains in the distance.

The Country House Montali The Country House Montali The Country House MontaliHaving done enough exploring, we headed back as the sun set to get showered and ready for dinner, which begins promptly at 8pm each night.

The Country House Montali

There is no menu at The Country House Montali.
A series of four courses is presented each night and you are only expected to give everything a taste. This didn’t prove to be a problem as course after course never failed to please. Colourful, inventive, beautifully decorated plates arrived one after the other with all the attention and care from staff expected in a five star restaurant.

The Country House Montali

To start, pear and melon crudités with a balsamic reduction, slices of Piedmontese cheese, Prosecco jelly and a strawberry-grape jelly.

The Country House Montali

Next, homemade cannelloni of ricotta with salsa di pomodoro and lemon zest.

The Country House Montali

Then, puff pastry filled with spicy potato on pumpkin coulis served with sweet & sour shallots.

The Country House Montali

Last, but certainly not least, chocolate lava cake with fresh fig ice cream.

The Country House Montali Just look at that! The Country House Montali

We were the kind of full that makes you feel warm, tingly and happy inside. This is what I fondly refer to as food drunk. After some fresh mint tea and endless conversation, it was time for bed. We had been up and travelling since four in the morning and the 8.30am breakfast meant I was going to need at least a few hours sleep before the full day ahead.

THE PIG – in The New Forest

Recently I was invited on an adventure.
A train ride away from bustling streets and pushy Londoners, through rolling fields spotted with sheep, we eventually arrived in Brockenhurst.

Waiting for the group of bloggers and I were two Land Rover Defenders, each prominently marked with a golden pig. A short escort in the pig-mobiles down winding country lanes, past rolling New Forest ponies in fields and we had finally arrived at our destination.

A beautiful property with a great billowing tree welcomed us. The grand estate having once belonged to the Queen Mother’s Uncle was nothing less than breathtaking.

THE PIGTHE PIGWe entered the hotel, welcomed by gracious hosts handing out glasses of bubbling Prosecco to sip on our tour of the grounds.

Chef James Golding showed us through the darling, comfortable sitting rooms and out onto the rest of the property. Everything about The PIG exudes sustainability. The rustic wood oven blazing on the patio was created from a crumbling wall at the back of the hotel. To help with forest conservation, they fuel the oven with trees that have already died or have fallen in storms. I was incredibly impressed by each detail that has been taken into consideration for the sake of an ecological purpose.

THE PIG

He then excitedly led us to his very own smoke house with a gleam in his eye. Inside they smoke all their own products and even trade smoked salmon at the local Oak Mill in return for the smoke house’s fuel of Oak tree sawdust. THE PIGWe could smell the earthy smoke before Chef Golding even opened the door. Inside the little smoke filled room, pork belly was hanging to become a delicious dish on the menu and lavender was being smoked for an experimental cocktail. THE PIG THE PIGWe were then shown around the gardens where they grow ingredients that are put straight into their dishes. Chef Golding told us that during spring and summer months, most of their menu is comprised of ingredients that have been grown or raised on site.

THE PIG As we walked through the growth tunnels, he snapped off leaves, herbs and vegetables for us to smell and taste. The rocket was so peppery and fresh, I would’ve happily sat down and had my appetiser from the earth. THE PIG THE PIGTHE PIGWe then followed the rosemary and daffodil lined path past the converted stables which are now beautiful guest rooms of the hotel. Through a small gate was the rest of the vegetable garden. Here gardener Olli tends to the vegetables and ensures they grow properly to eventually become part of one of The PIG’s plates. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGAs we wandering past the daunting (charming) scarecrow, we came upon the tomato tunnel. Six different types of tomato are grown attached to strings to ensure the stalks grow vertically, which prevents any tomatoes from rotting in the soil. THE PIGA curious wall of flaps revealed hidden sea kale. A delicious, crunchy vegetable that tasted like a sweeter version of celery is grown in the dark to ensure its light white colouring. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGTucked into the back of the garden was a beautiful sage coloured greenhouse. Inside was an incredible assortment of herbs all in little, individual pots and trays. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIG

Tucked in the corner was a beautiful kaffir lime tree which gave off the most incredible verbena lime smell that filled the little glass house. These limes are used to make simple syrups and liqueurs for cocktails served in the restaurant.

THE PIGBehind the greenhouse was a cage where the darling looking quails lived. These quails produce fresh eggs each morning which become part of delicious dishes on the menu. 
THE PIGA tranquil spa treatment room is set off in the distance, which can only be reached by the bridge over the carp fish pond. I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful journey to receive a massage, although I don’t think I’d want to head back out into the elements covered in oil wrapped up in a robe. With the relaxed state of mind, I’d probably manage to end up going for a swim with the fish. THE PIGWe played with the piggies who came running like dogs ready for dinner. All ears flopping and noses oinking up to the gate for some love and affection. THE PIGTo our enjoyment, we watched Olli chase some chickens to show us their collection of six different breeds before he gave up and settled for a display of eggs. By now we had thoroughly worked up an appetite and decided to head up for lunch. THE PIGWe went past the Wellie lined hallway, available for those going on a foraging trip with The PIG’s very own forager, and into the breathtaking dining room. THE PIGThe room was so serene with doors open onto the patio, fresh herbs placed around tables and sunlight pouring in from the roof. It really was a nature haven perfect for digging into fresh ingredients from the grounds. THE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIGTHE PIG

We pored over the delicious looking menu, each excited to taste what Chef Golding would create from the many ingredients we had just seen growing organically.THE PIGA selection of cocktails were passed around the table with Kaffir lime syrup or home infused bog myrtle vodka.THE PIGTHE PIGThen came the piggy bits.
A selection of tasters from the menu made for sharing and sampling.
First to try, the most delectable scotch eggs with perfectly cooked quails eggs nestled inside tender pork.
THE PIGThen, crispy smoked pork belly, which had been marinated in spiced honey. This was absolutely divine and incredibly moreish. There was also long strips of crackling served with fresh applesauce, which everyone happily crunched whilst chatting about our adventure through the garden. THE PIGOur starters then arrived. I shared a delicious artichoke salad with greens from the garden. The artichokes were served warm and were perfectly tender and sweet, contrasting nicely with the fresh bites of lettuce and sharp cheese. THE PIGThen a sample of smoked salmon which had previously been smoked just outside in the smoke house. The salmon was delicious. Smokey flavours paired with a sweet honey mustard sauce and topped with the acidity of the lemon made for a delightful mouthful. The fish was garnished with edible flowers and paired with a pile of fresh leaves and pickled cucumber. THE PIGAnother diner had the most amazing smoked meat platter garnished with pickled radishes and soft quail eggs. Isn’t that beautiful? THE PIGThen came the main event.
The Bath Chap.
For the faint of heart and veggies out there, look away now!
There was only one left in the kitchen and I happened to be the one lucky enough to get it.
The waiter checked with me to ensure I was aware of just what Bath Chap consists of. I can only imagine the surprise on many a diner’s face when, well, a face arrives.

Although it appeared to be rather intimidating, behind the layer of crackling was delicious meat. It went well with the tangy applesauce and had a lovely salad of fresh greens and butternut squash to accompany it. It was incredibly different to anything I’ve ever had, but I’m always one for trying something new.

THE PIGAfter sampling all the delicious food, I was ready to go roll around in the mud like the stuffed piggy I had become. 
THE PIGThe grounds of The PIG in The New Forest are incredibly peaceful and comforting, leaving you with a sense of tranquility far removed from fast paced city life. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to escape the city for a weekend away or a week of pure bliss. If you’d like to book a room, of course you’d like to book a room, click here.

If you’re in the area and fancy a piggy bite, I can’t recommend stopping for lunch enough. Make sure you book in advance as the dining room is always packed with piggies. To book a table, click here.

If you’re in Hampshire and fancy staying in the wall – yes I said in the wall – you have the option of the lovely PIG in the wall hotel as well. And for those wanting to stick your piggies in the sand, a PIG in the beach location is opening in Dorset later this year.

I can’t wait to book a peaceful, piggy visit back to The PIG! Oink!