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Monday, 23 May 2011

travel bite: Rome, Italy

I HAVE unfinished business in Rome. I came, I saw, but I did not conquer. There is a slice of Pizza Bianca in a renowned bakery on Campo dei Fiori, awaiting my return...

Within the first few hours of arrival in this city I quickly learnt that my travelling companion and I were of two very different breeds. I was there for the food, to sample the dizzying heights of Rome's pizza, ice-cream and regional specialties; whereas M had come for the ‘bricks’, a term coined in our family for those obsessed with the photography of their surroundings when abroad.

Luckily both of us were happy to meet in the middle. I would never have queued for an hour to enter the Vatican Museum (even if the Sistine Chapel was the prize jewel at the end) despite ultimately being very glad that I did. Whereas for M, it may have seemed a vast exaggeration when I claimed that I was on the brink of tears at missing the lunchtime opportunity to sample Rome’s ‘best’ Pizza Bianca al taglio, but she did offer to return later that day – in spite of it being completely out of our way.

Now, it is easy to become overwhelmed by Rome - a city steeped in things that many feel they ‘should’ see or do. As a result it’s been a struggle to summarise our obscenely jam packed weekend into a concise piece of prose that would not reduce you all to droopy eyed monsters before your computer screens.

Instead I will recommend going by instinct. Even by wandering casually through the city there is much to behold, especially as ancient sites seem to have a tendency to pop up on every street corner. But just for your information, here are what I considered to be the highlights:

Sunday, 22 May 2011

is it wrong...

...THAT I saw food before my eyes when I came upon this plump little chicken roaming free?

Perhaps that's why it ran off so quick.

Though I was only thinking of eggs. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Brunswick House

HIDDEN amongst the glass fronted urban jungle of Vauxhall is a beautiful Georgian Mansion, slightly dilapidated from within, but beaming proudly from its corner post on the busy Wandsworth Road.

Built in 1758 within 3 acres of riverside parkland and once home to the Dukes of Brunswick, this elegant building is now occupied by LASSCO: The London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company. Having restored Brunswick House from the brink of ruin LASSCO now uses it as one of its premises' from which to sell architectural antiques, salvage and curiosities.

This house is a marvel to walk around; an interior of exposed brickwork, floor to ceiling windows, creaky wooden floorboards, a winding stone staircase and a vaulted cellar contains within it an array of vintage pieces to dazzle and explore.

But, there is also another draw for visiting Brunswick House. And as you may have guessed: it does involve food...

At The Brunswick House Cafe diners find themselves seated upon, and in the midst of, LASSCO's antique wares. The daily menu is short - averaging around 10 items - but varied enough in its selection to allow for a satisfying choice. In addition to this there are items such as pastries that can also be picked out at the counter.

We visited on a Sunday afternoon, when a slightly more limited brunch menu is served. This did not mean that we were disappointed; if anything it made me certain that I would return at a later date to sample more of what they may have to offer on the ever changing menu. 

The spinach and goat's curd fritatta, drizzled with olive oil and cracked black pepper was delightfully delicate, the goat's curd that graced its top unnervingly light yet creamy. The dish did however feel lacking in a sweet / tangy note - in the way that goat's cheese dishes so often call for. 

The 'wow' dish of the day though was the rare topside beef served on dripping toast with green sauce, a bargain at only £7.20 (and this being the most expensive item on the menu). The deliciously rare mound of beef heaped upon a salty - but not too greasy - wedge of seed-speckled toast was complimented by a tangy, textured sauce (involving capers / parsley) whose sharp bite cut through the beef and dripping flavours perfectly.

We then settled on coffee and cakes for desert as the Eton mess on offer had sold out. An eccles cake was generously filled to the brim with currants; an almond and coconut tart with subtle frangipane filling was sweet yet tempered by the coconut addition, which seemed to influence texture more than flavour. And my Madeira cake arrived gently warmed, fluffy on the inside with a sugar-crisped exterior as its crowning glory: the ideal accompaniment to a bitter black coffee.

There were a few aspects that I would tweak if I could: food arrived at different times, plates were slow to be cleared, music could have been more appropriate and the wine list was cheekily priced. But, service was friendly and accommodating (if a little scatty), and their willingness to make adjustments - such as serving cream with the eccles cake - meant that some of the niggles could be forgiven. As with the house itself, the Brunswick House Cafe's imperfections are what gives it character - adjustments can always be made but the fundamental elements should never be changed.  

Monday, 16 May 2011

through rose tinted glasses

STUMBLING home at six in the morning, bleary eyed in the wake of the rising sun, does strange things to a person. Follow this with a fitful morning-to-afternoon sleep and you're bound to be seeing the world in a form of heightened sights and sounds - senses assaulted on all fronts.  

This was how I spent my Sunday afternoon. Meandering in a daze through the suburban streets of South West London. And there was one particular vision that kept recurring before me...

It appears to be rose season. From tight neat blooms to giant cabbage-like heads of petals, not a single rose bush that I passed was lacking in a beautiful blossom or two; or three, or four, or more. I was bedazzled by their beauty.

But most overwhelmingly (bear in mind here that I was in an extremely fragile state at the time) I was struck by the intensity of the perfume that they released. I was literally stopped dead in my tracks at the wonderful aroma that escaped from one particular specimen: a dense bundle of deep fuchsia petals whose smell was so strong and sweet I wouldn't have been surprised if a drop of rose essence had trickled directly from it. 

And so I suggest that we all don our rose tinted spectacles, and where possible bask in the rosy glow of the moment.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

most wanted: bicycles

THESE bikes became my babies during a recent trip to visit family in Poland. After the amount of force feeding I underwent over the Easter period whilst visiting an array of relatives both close and distant, my body was in need of health kick and these beautiful bicycles were to be my aid. 

(Not that I'm complaining about the taste sessions by the way, it's just that I would like to have a little bit of a say in quite how much actually enters my stomach before it bursts into smithereens!)

Both of these bikes were bought from markets in Poland for a fraction of the price of those on sale in London from those riding the 'I'd-like-to-ride-a-trendy-vintage-bike' wave. I would seriously consider shipping one of these over my way if it weren't for the fact that there is a very slim chance that they would see any use in my day-to-day life.

And it would be a shame to not use these magical rides. As soon as you sit upon the leather saddle, and grip on to the neat little handlebars, you feel your posture straighten and eyes look up to observe the scenery that you cycle past. You feel as though you have stepped back in time, to an era when leisurely bike rides through cobbled streets and luscious countryside were the order of a sunny day, made complete only when accompanied by a giant wicker picnic basket brimming with all the treats you could dream of.

The idyll may sound twee and a million miles away from the reality of city life, but still, I want one of these bicycles baaaaadddd......