Ronnie Scotts and Soho

it’s amazing how the simple things in life, like seeing a few friends, being able to sit in a cafe and hug your daughter have become so appreciated. But how lovely to be able to go and sit in Ronnie Scotts and see a live band. We did exactly that last Thursday and what a treat it was. Reuben James and his fellow artists wooed and entertained us reminding us how amazing it is to see someone in person and not just on a screen. The only advantage to the few rules that are left with the pandemic, is that you have more space around you, there is no crowding and everyone seems to be so patient with queuing and waiting around…… Seating was evenly spaced, so that the venue still looked full. If you get a chance then I would put Ronnie Scotts high on your list.

Afterwards, we walked through Soho, its streets lined with tables and chairs, and canopies to shield the rain and sun – so continental – it WAS busy, but it didnt feel chaotic. You can avoid the really busy streets if you still feel a bit aware. we ate in Wun’s tearoom, and managed to get a table inside without a booking – there are so many restaurants to choose from, you can take a chance and you can definitely get a table outside in most of the popular restaurants. We just felt a bit cold with that wind… and perhaps its just us getting older that we feel the cold more. we had never eaten in Wuns Tearoom, but we can recommend it as somewhere to get quick tasty food. Think Chinese Tapas….. and I loved what the waitresses wore, lovely striped cheongsam dresses with velvet jackets.

Let’s hope that everything remains open and that the weather gets better……

take a walk through london’s lovely parks

with nowhere to go except the park, i have started to walk into town – i am lucky enough to have regents park so close and it easily takes me through to the west end.  not only do i get to take in the wonderful views but it also gives me the much needed exercise – beats going to the gym.  its wonderful that london is filled with parks, you can get from one end of london to another by walking through all the parks;  start at hampstead, go through primrose hill,  then through regents park,  wander through hyde park and end up in green park and st james – not forgetting all the wonderful cafes you would have to stop at too.  I forgot how beautiful Hyde Park can be, these pics were taken only a few days ago on one of those rare beautiful sunny mornings.

Kenwood House is probably consistently the best for cakes, but also has great breakfast,  the Garden Cafe in Regents Park, situated in the middle of the lovely rose garden is another good stopping place,   have a drink at the Serpentine Cafe, and  the cafe  in St. James Park is a lovely setting for afternoon tea or dinner.   wonder if you can do this all in one day?


plums are in season at the moment and are a good source of vitamin C and although they taste sweet, apparently dont spike your sugar levels; if you are lucky enough to have a plum tree, then this is the time to make plum jam,  i just discovered that there is a plum tree at the end of my suffolk garden…..

Plum Jam

1.5 kilos plums
500 g   3:1 jam sugar (for 3 parts fruit to 1 part jam sugar)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 cloves
1 vanilla bean
1 glug lemon juice. (ie 2 tablespoons)

Wash the plums. Take stones out and cut. (I cut every half in 2-3 pieces)
Mix fruit, juice, sugar and spices (vanilla bean scratched out but adding the outside too).

Slowly bring to a boil. Boil heavily for 3 minutes (according to sugar package).

Fill into sterilized jars – discarding vanilla bean and other spices.  (an easy way is to wrap in muslin so making it easy to remove)


rye bread

maude had a go at making rye bread – she took the recipe from Paul Hollywood –  as with all bread its a long process and rye takes longer to rise, but is delicious.


500g rye flour, plus extra for dusting
1tsp salt
2 tsps yeast
20ml treacle (optional)
350ml cool water
olive oil for kneading

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the treacle if using and 3/4 of the water and turn around the mixture with your fingers. Continue to add the rest of the water a little at a time, until you have picked up all of the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all the water, or you may need to add a little more – you want dough that is soft but not soggy. Use the mixture to clean the inside of the bowl and keep going until the mixture forms a rough dough.
Coat the work surface with a little olive oil, then tip the dough onto it and begin to knewad. Keep kneading for 5-10 minutes. Work through the initial wet stage until the dough starts to form a soft skin. You will find the dough feels different from a conventional wheat flour dough – less smooth and stretchy.
Put the dough into a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size – about 4 hours.
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Fold it repeatedly in on itself until the air is knocked out. Form the dough into a smooth round cob by turning it on the surface and tucking the edges underneath until the top is smooth and tight. Generously dust the inside of a large round proving basket (I used the same mixing bowl) with rye or white flour. Put the dough into it with the smooth side down.
Leave to prove for 2-3 hours; the dough will double in size eventually but will take considerably longer than wheat flour breads. Meanwhile heat your oven to 220C and put a roasting tray in the bottom to heat up. Line a baking tray with parchment or silicone paper (I greased and floured a baking tray and it was fine).
When your loaf is risen, invert it carefully onto the prepared tray. Slash a deep crosshatch patter on the top with a sharp knife. Pour hot water into the roasting tray to create steam and put the bread into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. To test, tap the base of the loaf – it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.



farmers markets

trying to avoid the big supermarkets at the moment means trying out different local producers and smaller shops – its definitely more expensive than the big chains, but you do feel that you are supporting local independent growers and especially those who have made the effort to make their usual pitch.  this morning I walked through the park to Marylebone Market – usually I drive, but it was such a beautiful fresh morning that I just put on my trainers and headed there.   the market is well organised for social distancing, only allowing a small amount of people through at each moment – the queue looks big, but it takes about 10 – 15 mins which during this time seems like nothing.  I have taken to putting on my headphones and listening to my calm meditations…..

i love that there are farmers markets springing up everywhere – they seem to take place in all kinds of spaces.  check out the websites to see what is on near to you.

London has Borough Market from Weds to Saturday and has the most amazing array of food, drink and vegetables. Normally its a perfect day trip to buy your food and also have lunch at Borough – its probably one of the biggest farmers market and you will want to savour all the delights on sale. And of course there is Bermondsey market on a saturday. On Sunday there is a small farmers market in Marylebone, just behind Waitrose starting from Moxon Street selling cheese, bread, meat and vegetables. there is also the wonderful Broadway market on a Saturday, food, gifts just about everything.  apparently there is a good farmers market at Alexandra Palace, which I haven’t yet visited – on a Sunday. On sat from 10 – 2pm, there is a farmers market in the car park of William Ellis school just on Parliament Hill, which has a selection of essential produce – many of them coming from Borough Market, you can get great sausage sandwiches whilst you walk round, so get down there and support your local community farmers market.  Isnt it good to pay a bit extra for quality and keep that small company going, rather than shop at another tesco or sainsbury ?  there is also a farmers market on sat mornings in the playground of St Paul’s primary school in Primrose Hill, which is where my kids all went to school.

I have lived in camden over 25 years and now that we have our own independent green grocers on parkway it makes me so happy that I can just pop in and choose 2 courgettes, or 3 apples and 1 leek, without having to buy family size packets and during this time, you can email a list and they can either deliver or you can walk round and pick up the bag already packed with your requests.

In whitstable there is a fortnightly market in St Mary’s hall, which helps to support the local farmers, selling anything from the local kent berries to home made condiments. The Goods Shed in Canterbury is a daily farmers market with onsite restaurant too.  there is the wonderful altrincham market too, but check their websites for opening hours, as it can change.

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nature produces the best vibrant colours

I feel that its constant cooking, shopping and clearing up at the moment – in reality there are not always 4 people at home for 3 full meals a day.  its hard to stock up for a week, because things go out of date and I do think that we have all got a bit spoilt with choice and variety – personally I could live on brown rice and veg, but the rest of the family find that so boring.  I love going to the many street markets in london and especially seeing  the interesting array of vegetables from natoora and fern verrrow vegetables – their displays looked like art pieces – i have never seen so many beautiful shades of string beans.  check out tomorrow channel from Tom Dixon with daily recipes.   natoora also do home delivery.

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its that time of year when we come to spain to open the house for the spring – and inspect all our renovations done over the winter;  so for a change we flew into malaga and booked a night in the old town.   malaga is a busy airport for commencing your  holiday on the costa del sol – you fly in, you drive out – i dont think that a lot of people actually stay in malaga.  we normally stay in the hotel Molina Lario, which is perfectly situated, in the old town, by the cathedral and near the sea – there is a little swimming pool on the roof terrace too, but this time we tried Palacio Solecio- a newly restored Palacio; all these hotels look pretty much the same,  quite corporate but the rooms are very clean, the beds comfortable and if you book in advance, you can get a good deal.  we also stayed in A.C. Hotel Malaga Palacio, which is near to the port too.  what i love about malaga is that it still has beautiful old shops and bars, including the wonderful antigua casa de guardia which is 175 years old that still serves its wine from the barrels and writes your tab in chalk on the bar.   eat lunch or dinner at restaurant los melizos,  very good seafood –  they have several restaurants in malaga as do el pimpi , who also have a lovely outdoor terrace area too just in front of the roman amphitheatre .  the bar at el pimpi is very atmospheric and you can just have tapas there.   walk around the amazing mercado central de atarazanas, with its beautiful stain glass window – its divided into 3 parts, fish fruit and meat, but you can find all the wonderful culinary delights of spain in there.  you must also find time to visit the museo picasso and  the house where he was born .  other museums worth visiting are Museo de Malaga, Museo Carmen Thyssen and the recent Centre Pompidou.   I would definitely choose malaga as a starting point to our holiday in vejer – not only is it authentically spanish and cultural, but only 2 and half hours from our house.   there is so much more to explore!

street markets

street markets have always existed, in roman civilisation the forum originated as an open market where tradesmen sold and swapped their wares;  markets are the heart and soul of any community- they were meeting places, the hub of trading – sadly towards the end of the last century, developers decided that we preferred closed shopping centres – huge malls filled with universal stores – but thankfully, our natural demand has harkened back to our roots and everybody loves a street market again.    even great cities like london and paris still hold street markets – selling the necessary basics from fruit and meat to luxuries such as chocolate and even cashmere.   i remember stumbling upon the open air market on president wilson, in paris,  with its beautiful displays of flowers, cheeses, chocolates – it was rows and rows of vendors bang in the middle of the main road.

venice fish and fruit market, open daily in the mornings is a thriving market, not just for the locals, but for the local restaurants that serve the many tourists that frequent venice.

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i cant believe that each time i go to  bermondsey it rains- again i went with my food gourmand neighbour Mick and it rained.  the produce is very high quality and definitely makes for a special meal.  dont think that anyone can afford to do all their daily shopping there.   i still think that borough market is a great mornings visit and its open more days now, but bermondsey is definitely the new place to visit and be excited by the different flavours .


you have to make space for the delicious home made ice cream from la grotta ices – the choice of flavours are delicious, but the dark chocolate choc ices are the ones that you should savour.  remember to bring an ice box to take some home.

bermondsey is  only open on a saturday morning. and as well as seeing inspiring and well produced food,  its also a great source for gifts – from beeswax candles and jars of honey,  bottles of olive oil,  and beautifully packaged tea in silk muslin. – perfect for that person who doesnt want any more clutter, but likes to savour quality foods.  i picked up some beautiful beets from natoora foods – it made my salad look impressive – grate finely to add colour and crunch and goodness ! the pomegranates and  clementines with leaves are exceptionally juicy too.

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its good to start off at spa terminus, with a coffee at monmouth coffee and eat your way through delicious croissants from little bread pedlar, – my favourite is the fruit danish and the wonderful mini bread and butter puddings and then seek out the london honeys,  the beautiful vegetables at natoora and cheeses and italian ham.


the railway arches make for  innovative displays for the massive array of interesting products to be bought.  in the week, all of the producers use the spaces to wholesale from and on a saturday they open to the public – you will recognise a lot of the brands, st john bread and wine, peyton and byrne, neale’s yard – but some of the newer smaller brands are a great discovery.   ropewalk is a good final stop for a sit down, a glass of wine and a visit to lassco – for great architectural salvage (though very expensive), but a good source of ideas.

there is everything from spanish tapas, salt beef, smoked salmon and cocktails.   its really fun and next time i go, i hope its not raining.

be warned, the prices are quite high, and although a few take credit cards they all seem to only take cash;  so come with your budget for the day and treat it as a culinary experience!


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love this video of petticoat lane from 1926.  notice that its mainly men in hats.

happy Chinese new year

its chinese new year today  the year of the rat;  check out what events are running because a lot of cities celebrate the new year in their china towns.

Optimistic and energetic, people born in the Rat year are likable by all. They are sensitive to other’s emotions but are stubborn with your opinion. Their personality is kind, but due to weak communication skills, their words may seem impolite and rude.On the financial side, they like saving and can be stingy. However, their love for hoarding will sometimes cause them to waste money on unnecessary things.  women born in the Rat year are usually traditional women. They love keeping things organized and place great value on the family. Everything is taken care of by them and there is no need for their husband to worry. Outside of home, they’re also someone with a sense of responsibility and ability.

I happen to be the year of the rat, and strangely it reads quite true!

I know that some of you have followed my blog for quite a while, its now 10 years old, but as life is constantly changing, then so does the information that I have given you;  sometimes I re blog an older blog either to update the info or just to remind myself – so forgive me if I sometimes sound repetitive. I am constantly asked about dim sum restaurants and where I like to go with the family – so here is my list.

there are so many mediocre and over priced restaurants that it can put you off eating traditional chinese food.  there are of course the designer ones, Hakasan, Yuatcha, ping pong and A Wong, all very good quality food, slightly designer and very expensive, but tasty!  dinner at Hutong in the shard is an experience – its a fabulous view and the food delicious, though very spicy – you can ask for some of the dishes to be made not so hot;  there is definitely a wow factor when you see all the views of london lit up. I know that the viewing platform is higher, but if you are going to pay to just see the view, it may be worth just going for one course or a drink in the bar to experience it. I think that all the restaurants and drinks are pricey in these tall buildings, but you may as well eat and drink than just pay the £25 into the viewing platform.

we recently tried din tai fung, which was a busy and lively restaurant, you can see them making the wonderful dumplings as you pass through to your table.  Alice and I had actually been to one of their branches in Beijing and it really is great dim sum type food.   its very popular, but you can book beforehand – its a big restaurant, so not a quiet romantic style place.

my kids just love the traditional chinese barbecue roast pork, or char siu and roast duck, which is only sold in the more everyday style restaurants, so we frequent the following restaurants – royal china in baker street (always busy, so be prepared to queue), wing yip in cricklewood, a very big busy and noisy traditional restaurant, great value, and you can then do your food shopping in the vast supermarket adjoined to it, again very busy. imperial china restaurant on lisle street, actually its through a door and courtyard on lisle street, but very good and moderately priced and then there is the good earth in mill hill, which is a smart smaller restaurant, but perfect for taking grandmas to – robert’s mum loved this place and it was close to her house!   we visit the traditional phoenix palace near baker street, its consistently good ,similar in price and a good alternative if you hate queuing at Royal China.  And opposite royal china on baker street, there is bright courtyard –  quite up market –  high quality dim sum,.  pearl liang in paddington basin is also good quality, though Paddington Basin is a bit odd.

we visited the newly revamped chinese food centre in Colindale, Bang Bang – this used to be called the oriental plaza and we frequented this place with Robert’s mother many years ago, but sadly it closed to redevelop;  now its re opened and its busy, bigger and still self serve, basically one gigantic food court with over 20 different choices of asian food.

we tried a new very different restaurant recently A Wong – we had lunch, which is dim sum, but very designer, but not too expensive.  I was divided in opinion, some were good, some were over thought out, but Robert absolutely loved it!  dinner is a different experience apparently.

You need to check all the links and make sure that they are up to date as restaurants come and go.   Thats the problem with london, so fast changing,  You can put in Joy King Lau as a good option in chinatown, but  I don’t think it has the trolley dim sum – not sure any of the restaurants offer this, though I have seen some chinese restaurants walk around with a few of the chinese popular dim sum dishes offering them out.   Another one that we go to for dumplings is Dumplings Legend, which has nice freshly made dumplings, with the famous Shanghai soup dumplings, where the soup is in the dumpling!!!    Duck and Rice is more westernised and is leaning towards higher end pub style food, but does give you quite tasty food, but its pricey.

in manchester we take my mother to dim sum – tai pan, which is just outside of the city centre, but is easy to park and is consistently good standard;  i have found that parking in manchester has become very expensive, and even on a weekend you have to pay up to 8pm.   there are a lot of reasonable chinese restaurants in manchester – chinatown is a place that i frequented all through my childhood.  my mother was a waitress at the yang sing restaurant all through my childhood years, so dim sum was (and still is) a regular occurence and my kids still love it.

Venice in January

we have been to venice at least 5 times in the last 20 years and yet each time feels like we make a new discovery – by staying in different areas, it means that you explore new alleys and squares – of which there are so many in venice.   this time as we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary,  we stayed at Monaco and Grand Canal, just one block away from St Mark’s Square and close to the famous Harry’s Bar and  Danieli Hotel   we have never stayed at the Danielli, despite its wonderfully atmospheric entrance and reception –  as apparently the rooms are not so comfy and its very overpriced and you can always drop into have a drink at any time of day – its a great place to stop for a pre dinner drink.    we always book our Venice trip with Kirker Travel as they make the whole visit very easy, organising the hotel, the transportation to and from the hotel and at this time of year, you definitely get a better deal with rooms; I always used to think that rooms were just a place to stay in a city as long as they are comfortable, but in Venice its such a pleasure to wake up to an amazing view.   this hotel also has a lovely restaurant with views directly onto the Grand Canal where you have breakfast. All in all it was very romantic waking up to the sun rising over the gondolas.

I always recommend waking up early if you can and  take a walk to st marks square before breakfast,  nobody there, just the restaurateurs setting up their chairs and you feel that Venice is just yours.

one thing to note in venice is that a lot of the well known restaurants close on a sunday and monday, and also January is when they redecorate, especially if there has been high tides,  so it meant finding new places to eat.  we relied on our concierge, who last recommended  our favourite place for lunch  al paradiso – other good restaurants are corte sconta, vecia cavana and Anticho Carampane, difficult to find, but wonderful food and atmosphere.  generally i do think that the food in a lot of the smaller trattorias is decent and pretty much similar, but there are a few higher end restaurants where the food is a little more special, but you do seem to pay for that difference.  remember that the speciality in venice is seafood and of course home made fresh pasta.  we were really lucky with the weather for the first 2 days, so we were able to sit out in one of the many squares and enjoy coffee and I would definitely recommend the terrace of the Monaco and Grand Canal restaurant – siting on the water’s edge watching guests arrive in the water taxis at lunchtime, its a bit of glamour and very good food.  Da Forno is a very traditional restaurant, popular with Venetian locals, not cheap though.   Alle Testieri was recommended to us and in fact Robert booked this restaurant for our anniversary celebration meal – but then realised that he got the date wrong!  luckily we were there for our actual date,  but this really simple restaurant is very small, only about 8 tables,  only serves seafood and fish, but is very  clean and good food.   our last evening was at the Taverna la Fenice, which is right by the famous opera theatre La Fenice, and had a lovely atmosphere and very good food.  we noticed that you could also just have a drink there too.    its definitely hit and miss with restaurants in Venice – some are very expensive and over priced, but I guess you realise that Venice is like that –  a lot of the restaurants offer a lunch menu which is good value, or you can do what we did a lot, which was to share meals and then have pasta – nobody seems to care about this and in fact sometimes there is far too much food on your plate and restaurants like la Fenice offer half portions of most main dishes.

we never plan much in Venice, we decide on an area to make our destination and then twist and turn on the many canals and bridges to take in Venetian life;  naturally the further you escape from St Marks Square, the more you witness real locals living in the many squares – tourists do tend to stick to the main sites and 2 main bridges.  we popped into the Teatro Opera Fenice for a tour whilst there was no performance – definitely worth a visit – tickets for the  opera are very expensive;  there are so many wondrous churches to visit, most of them displaying famous paintings by Titian and other artists of the time.  our last day sadly was rain all day, which we knew was going to be, so we designated this as our gallery day;  we visited the Palazzo Cavelli Franchetti museum with my favourite Morandi still lives and the newly built Willmotte foundation, which as exhibiting black and white photographs from the 1950’s all of Venice.    a lot of things were closed but then this just makes you visit new things.  of course you must see Peggy Guggenheim, the Olivetti showroom  and the Fortuny collection;  my favourite part of galleries is seeing the amazing palazzos themselves, the scale of the interiors are just spectacular.

The Realto market is a must, only open until lunchtime, but its great to see the fish and the vegetable sellers.   I don’t know why, but Venice seems to be one of those places that you can visit over and over again and never get bored;  it never changes physically, and yet it intrigues you each time.   the light is so special, maybe its all the water and the fact that there are no straight roads or canals, so each walk takes on a different way – you can’t help but get lost, even with your google maps.  I definitely suggest not putting that on, unless you are absolutely frustrated or else you miss the wonderful colour and splendour of whats around you, rather than looking at your phone all the time…….