Half term in October offered an opportunity for us to tick an item off our bucket list with a visit to Rome. It was everything we expected it to be and more. In any location the most interesting part to visit is often “The Old Town” but the whole of Rome feels like one giant Old Town with layers of history revealing themselves throughout the City. With ancient ruins, cobbled streets and lively squares the sights were breath-taking and the photo opportunities endless. It’s fair to say we fell head over heels in love with the Eternal City.
The local food was obviously an important part of our holiday; the trouble was we just didn’t have enough space in our stomachs to sample everything we wanted to. It seemed like around every corner there was something to tempt the taste buds: stalls selling freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice or roast chestnuts; pasticcerias (pastry shops) piled high with cannoli and other sweet pastries; fornos (bakeries) offering portions of pizzas or porchetta sandwiches; and of course the multitude of gelato shops with so many flavours to choose from. We came across various establishments with windows looking into their kitchens and we stopped to gaze longingly at a chef rolling out pasta for her pumpkin ravioli, a baker working dough for his focaccia or gelato being churned in industrial mixers.
The foodie delights were too numerous to mention so we’ll stick to the highlights. These included discovering Aperol Spritz (a refreshing drink made from an aperitif called Aperol mixed with white wine & sparkling water); sampling the traditional Roman deep-fried artichokes at Da Pancrazio on Piazza del Biscione; tasting the thickest crema I’ve ever seen on an espresso at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe on Piazza di Sant’Eustachio; and a daily visit to our local Gelato Shop I Caruso on Via Collina. Their chocolate gelato was rich and heavenly and their coffee flavour was as dark and intense as the espresso from Sant’Eustachio.
We felt like we barely scratched the surface on the restaurant front. Every meal we had was great but there were no doubt plenty more establishments that were even better. Having said that we had a lovely meal on the last night in a little local restaurant near where we were staying. It was nothing amazing and not worth a detour to visit but on the night it was just perfect. Rustic pizza from the wood-fired oven was washed down with a cold beer while at the other end of the restaurant there was a children’s birthday party. About a dozen 7 year olds were tucking into pizza & cake at 8.30pm on a school night – not something you’d see often at home but all part of the culture in Rome, adding to the ambience of the night and providing a fitting end to our holiday.
Informal weddings seem to have been the theme this summer with a number of our couples opting for BBQs for their main meal. We’ve also had a great deal of repeat business and bookings arising from recommendations. One of the nicest jobs we had was catering at the wedding of one of our former waitresses. She worked for us when she was a student and has since moved on to bigger and better things so we were so chuffed when she asked us to be part of her & her fiancé’s Big Day.
They wanted the food to reflect their love of travel so we designed a menu linking each dish to places they have visited. Their guests were taken from Whitstable (oysters) to South America (Coffee & caramel biscuits called Alfajores) via Italy (baskets of ciabatta & focaccia), Thailand (spicy fishcakes), and New York (baked cheesecake). Local Kentish berries accompanied the cheesecake so as much as they like to travel they did show that there’s no place like home!
After such a busy summer it was lovely to shut up shop for a couple of weeks and head over to Brittany for some rest & relaxation. Being foodies eating out is a big part of our holiday and we ate our fair share of baguettes, croissants, galettes, saucissons and cheese all washed down with lots of local cider. Two meals in particular stood out on our travels for their simplicity:
We came across Le Crapaud Rouge (the red frog) near Saint Quay Portrieux in the Cotes d’Armor region of Brittany. Perched on a little headland overlooking a tiny bay outside Tréveneuc the place was windswept even in summer. With only a few houses dotted around we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere yet the long wooden trestle tables were heaving. There’s no standing on ceremony here, you just squeeze in to your allocated place and place your order. They specialise in mussels served in various flavours and accompanied by your choice of fat chips or salad. Your pot of mussels is plonked in front of you along with a plastic child’s bucket for the empty shells (Disney princess for us). I chose moules à la crème and the small, sweet orange mussels swathed in creamy sauce were heavenly, made even better with the accompaniment of a Kir Breton which, we discovered, is cassis mixed with cider.
Still in Cotes d’Armor but inland from Tréveneuc is a little village called Plélo. We headed there for lunch one day at Le Char a Bancs. Set in beautiful gardens the restaurant is part of an old farm with a kitchen garden, play area, pony rides and an antiques/brocante shop. The old farmhouse is home to the restaurant which inside felt like an alpine chalet with a wooden interior and a massive log fire. The house speciality is the Potée de Plélo which is cooked in a huge cast iron pot over the fire. The Potée is a hearty stew of pork belly, saucissons, whole carrots, potatoes & cabbage. It is served to the table in an earthenware pot with mustard & gherkins on the side. The vegetables are home-grown and the pork comes from pigs raised on the farm and the result is a colourful bowl of heart-warming food. One can imagine that for generations people have been eating this same dish on the same spot, although they probably built up an appetite working the land rather than strolling around the gardens like us.
With our busy season over we’re now gearing up for Christmas events but bookings are already starting to roll in for next summer. If it’s as busy as this summer there may be yet another lull in posts on the Pumpkin News page.
Between Christmas and Easter is usually a quieter time for us. A lot of our clients either seem to escape to warmer climes or hibernate until the cold weather passes. This gives us time to concentrate on quotes and paperwork but it also means we can sneak out now and again for a bit of R & R. Going out for a leisurely weekday lunch or brunch feels particularly decadent when others are slaving away in their offices.
19 Harbour Street, Whitstable, Kent CT5 1AQ
We stopped by Waltshaws in Whitstable for brunch on Valentines Day. Owners Becca & Libby refer to their eatery as a Kentish Pantry and they try to source as many local ingredients for their sandwiches and snacks as they can. Quality is the theme of their food and they don’t skimp on portions either. The tardis sausage roll that I tried was fresh out of the oven. It certainly lived up to its name, a huge roll of ground pork covered in buttery, flaky pastry, while John sampled an equally meaty salt beef sandwich. They only serve filter coffee (no fancy espresso machine here) but it is from a great local supplier who roast the beans themselves and the accompanying milk is served in the cutest little bottles.
Resident at The Coach & Horses, Oxford St., Whitstable, Kent, CT5 1DB
The original Burger Brothers is in Deal but they have expanded their operation to the Coach & Horses in Whitstable. An American-style diner they serve burgers, hot dogs, & sandwiches with brunch at the weekends. Red and white checked table cloths and little plastic serving baskets give an authentic feel to the place as do the bottles of sauces in a little wooden trug. We headed there one Sunday though when they serve their BBQ menu and shared a platter of beef short ribs; beef brisket and pulled pork. All the meat was juicy, tender and full of flavour. Sides of skin-on chips, home-made pickles and coleslaw completed the feast. Somehow we managed to fit in a New York cheesecake too – well it would have been rude not too!
The Plaza, Bluewater, Greenhithe, Kent DA9 9SG
We’re not usually big fans of chain restaurants but we make an exception for Wahaca in Bluewater with its funky VW camper vans and vivid pink & turquoise blue colour scheme. Serving Mexican street food it’s a little haven of chilli & spice on our occasional shopping trips to Bluewater. We like sharing lots of the small street food dishes and on our last trip particularly enjoyed tender pork pibil tacos; rich & creamy chorizo & potato quesadillas; sweet potato & feta taquitos adorned with a fiery salsa; and a side of tender stem broccoli cooked al dente and smothered in garlic, chilli & lime. More than anything I like the great selection of soft drinks and mocktails. The passion fruit & hibiscus cooler is particularly refreshing after some intense retail therapy.
116 High Sreet, Herne Bay, Kent
Bored by the incessant wet and windy weather in early Feb we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast out and headed over to The Wallflower Cafe in Herne Bay. Tucked away at the end of an old-fashioned shopping mall the Wallflower has a hippy feel to it with terracotta walls, bamboo blinds and earthenware jugs doubling up as flower vases. Although not a vegetarian cafe The Wallflower does market itself as vegan and vegetarian friendly and with bowls of colourful salads and trays of flapjacks in the display cabinet I almost felt I’d stepped back in time and had walked into a branch of Cranks in the 1980s.
The main menu is chalked up above the counter and the burgers, smoothies and specials did look very tempting. It was still early though, so we consulted the little printed breakfast menu on each table. I plumped for Bubble & Squeak with Poached Egg and although I’d describe it as more of a hash than a bubble it definitely hit the spot. Roughly chopped pieces of carrot added sweetness to the potato and cabbage mix while the eggs were perfectly poached with nice runny yolks. John went for the Big Brekkie, at £6 very good value for a full English with two huge doorsteps of white buttered toast.
The Wallflower is a lovely place to relax with decent coffee and plenty of papers & magazines to read. We’ll definitely return perhaps to sample their various burgers at lunchtime or to try out one of the special themed evenings that they host at regular intervals.
A lot of what we eat personally comes from whatever ingredients are left over from our various jobs. As we like to use a lot of fresh herbs in our dishes we frequently have half-eaten bunches of greenery knocking around and pestos are a great way of using up the herbs before they wilt away altogether.
Traditional pesto is basil-based but you can play around with any herbs and nuts. Good combinations we have tried include rocket & walnut; flat-leaf parsley & hazelnut; and parsley, mint & dill with a little finely grated lemon rind. We’ve also found rapeseed oil is a great substitute for the usual olive oil.
Pestos are very versatile and great for jazzing up a midweek supper: try mixing with freshly boiled peas as an accompaniment to fish, or mix with breadcrumbs and smear on a chicken breast or rack of lamb before roasting. One of our favourite combinations is roast pumpkin wedges drizzled with fresh basil pesto. Likewise hearty soups often benefit from a drizzle of pesto stirred in before serving.
As with many things in life, the original is often the best. Home-made basil pesto tossed into a bowl of pasta with freshly grated parmesan has to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. Here then is our standard pesto but feel free to adapt it to use up any herbs and nuts that are to hand.
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 small clove of garlic crushed
2 packs of basil
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
2 tbsp good quality olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper & salt
Heat the pine nuts in a small frying pan and toast until golden
Put the garlic, basil & parmesan into a small food processor & whizz to combine
With the motor still running pour in the olive oil until you have a thick wet paste (you may need more or less oil)
Season with the salt & pepper – add more parmesan if required.
If not using immediately pour into a tupperware and cover with a thin film of oil. Keep in the fridge for up to a week.