If you’re living in London you’ve probably heard all about Padella, the hot young thing on the pasta scene. However, you may not have heard of Franzina Trattoria, which, in my opinion, is better.
Tucked away inside an old shipping container on the top level of POP Brixton it would be easy to miss, but god, you’d be sorry you did.The menu comes printed on a wooden board which we were thoroughly charmed by.There’s some seriously strong tile game going on here as well. It makes me want to run straight back to Italy and wander the sun dappled streets.
But anyway, down to the real reason you’re here. The food.Involtino di carne alla Palermitana was the first of our starters to touch down. Perfectly cooked pork loin wrapped around tuma cheese, pinenuts, raisins and breadcrumbs. Served with an Italian sweet and sour sauce called agrodolce it was rich and warming on a rainy evening.Next up and one of my faves was the arancina. Delicate risotto rice wrapped around a melting middle of beef ragu and all fried until golden and crisp.I think it’s safe to say that Sarah is addicted to aubergine. It all started with a melanzane parmigiana when we were little and she’s never looked back. As a result, everywhere we go, if there’s aubergine on the menu, we’ll be ordering it. This one’s incarnation was in a minty tomatoey sauce and was pretty good, a touch of red wine vinegar and a lick of salt could have made it great but it just wasn’t quite there.She was still pretty happy though.Next up it was the turn of the pastas.Linguine with pesto trapanese and linguine al ragu.Pesto trapanese is a pesto from Trapani in Sicily, much fresher than it’s genovese cousin it has pistachios (which Sicily is so famous for) along with chilli, basil, mint and lemon. Such a winner.The ragu was pretty hard to fault as well. Deep, rich flavour whilst not feeling heavy, the peas adding little pops of freshness as you go.They’ll ask you when you order if you’d like cheese on your pastas. I hope it goes without saying that the answer to this question is always yes.It’s also the correct answer when someone asks if you’d like tiramisu.This one was light and fluffy, not quite as good as my friend Andrea’s mother but not too far off.Not wanting them to feel left out, we also went for a portion of the Sfingette, little Sicilian doughnuts rolled in cinnamon and sugar with ricotta and chocolate.These were pretty scrumptious too but I would say I think someone was a little heavy handed with the salt. A little bit of salt in dessert is great, lifting the flavour but these were a touch on the salty side.If you’re planning a trip to Sicily (as Sarah is) then the lovely owner will give you wonderful recommendations. If not, you probably will be after coming here for dinner.
We woke up feeling a little less perky than we had done the morning before but luckily the weather was on our side, meaning an alfresco brunch was on the cards. Also just around the corner from our hotel was L’Gueuleton, the quaintest little French restaurant.
We grabbed a table outside and immediately ordered pots of tea. Brits to the core.Feeling much better in no timeBreakfast was our usual delicate affair and far more delicious than they were beautifulSpinach, Sweet Corn & Spring Onion Potato Cakes with Fried Green Tomatoes, Feta Cheese & Red Pepper Hummus for meFried Potato Hash with Shredded Ham Hock, Confit Onion, Fried Eggs, Relish & Salad for Sarah.Thoroughly sated we headed off in search of the Guinness Storehouse“Arthur Guinness started brewing ales in 1759 at the St. James’s Gate Brewery, Dublin. On 31 December 1759, he signed a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum for the unused brewery. Ten years later, on 19 May 1769, Guinness first exported his ale: he shipped six-and-a-half barrels to Great Britain.”
I’d imagine it’s probably a few more than that now.Converse/ Jeans/ Cosy Jumper (similar)/ Jacket (similar)(similar)The building is shaped like a giant pint glass and over the course of the tour you learn all about the history and production of Guinness.I can guess what you’re thinking. Probably something along the lines of “I’m not sure I’m that interested in it to be honest Elise”. Well I didn’t think I would be either but it’s so cleverly done. Guinness have clearly thrown the big bucks at this and it shows.The bubble display was one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever seen. I’d like one in my bedroom please.Hundreds of bubble lights flicker and glow, lulling you half to sleep.Of course you can’t do the visit justice without trying some Guinness yourself.Inside the tasting room you’ll find 4 basins, each with a different aroma floating out so you can identify the 4 main characteristics.You then grab yourself the cutest little glass and get ready to taste.For the record, the correct way to taste it is as follows:
Breathe in, take a drink, hold in your mouth for a couple of seconds, swallow, breathe out through your mouth.
This apparently lets you taste all the flavours individually. In can you’re worried that’s all you’re going to get, fear not. You can either go straight up to the bar for it or you can opt to pour your own. We obviously went for the latter.Now that’s pretty good looking GuinessSatisfied with our efforts we took our pints up to the top floor bar, which is also the highest pub in Ireland, to sip them overlooking the city.I’m not really a big beer drinker but I have to say, it really was rather good! Maybe it’s just my excellent pouring skills.On our walk back we passed a pub with a live band and couldn’t resist popping in for one last one before heading home (that’s our new pal Joe). Such a fun weekend, don’t you worry Dublin, we’ll be back.
My oldest friend and I have a tradition. Every year for her birthday we go and do something for our birthdays rather than buying each other presents. Over the years this has ranged from a trip to the SAW maze (utterly terrifying) to Sister Act with a live gospel choir (distinctly less so).
A couple of weeks ago she turned 30 and to celebrate we hopped on a flight to Dublin for a weekend of one on one time. Only a an hour from London it’s fantastically easy to pop over for a couple of nights.
After a quick dump of the bags we hot footed it over to Coppinger Row for dinner.Whilst we waited for a table, we settled in with a cocktail for a perusal of the menu. We very boringly both opted for the same cocktail, the De La Frontera. A mix of Whiskey, Jerez Vermut, ginger, lime and sugar it was a perfect way to kick off proceedings.Before long we were escorted inside and went about the important process of ordering the food. Kicking things off with the most delicious burrata bruschetta with artichokes and parma ham. This was the highlight of the meal, definitely one to order if you happen to find yourself here.For the mains we ordered the crispy pork belly with mustard mash, caramelised apples and black pudding. This was good, meltingly soft meat and crispy, crackly skin; the mustard mash packing enough of a punch to cut through the richness.
Our next order was a little less successful. The rib eye special with bone marrow, watercress and horseradish. Sadly the steak was a little tough and the bone marrow a little under cooked for our liking but the atmosphere is great, as are the cocktails. Next time I think i’d be tempted to pop in for drinks and starters rather than a full dinner as they were the definite stars of the show. After dinner we headed to bed, ready for a full day of exploring the next day.
Home for the weekend was Grafton Guesthouse. Located on Great South Georges Street, it’s smack bang in the middle of the action and the perfect base for exploring Dublin.
Lemon PjsI firmly believe that there are few better ways to start the day that sitting in bed with your bestie, waffling at each other and drinking tea. Although we eventually decided we should drag ourselves out of bed and go exploring.
Which is exactly what we did. For the whole 1 minute it took us to walk to San Lorenzo for brunch…..
Something of a Dublin institution it was packed to the rafters with families, friends and cosy couplesI’d definitely recommend booking a table
Despite the rather large menus, we made our decisions pretty snappily, 2 things jumping straight out at us. The breakfast tacos, because, well because why not.
Now I must admit, there was nothing particularly breakfasty about these tacos, other than the fact that we ate them at 11am. Nevertheless, the were bloody delicious.
As was our other choice of the crab cake eggs benedict with asparagus. Light, lemony hollandaise pairing so well with the sweet crab.
Full and happy, we set out to walk off breakfast and see some more of the city.
Flowers spill over the doorways of every pub you pass, making everything look lush and full of life, even on the gloomiest of days.
When the weather took a turn for the worse and began to pour we made a dash for Dublin’s answer to Harvey Nichols, Brown Thomas. Where we lost ourselves for a few hours before taking ourselves off the bar for a glass of champagne.With the weather showing no signs of letting up we did the only logical thingTea and cake in bed! And maybe a little nap – apparently we’re old now.
That did mean that a couple of hours later we were full of energy once more and ready to head to Sophie’s at The Dean for cocktails, pausing for the obligatory swing shots on the way in.
Managed more gracefully by some than by others…We sat and chatted whilst making our way through a Ting cocktail and admiring the Dublin skyline twinkling through the windows before taking ourselves over to Drury Buildings for a late supper, still busy and buzzing at 10pm.We ordered ourselves a bottle of wine – really good, order it if you spy it on a menuLaughed, chatted, made plans and generally just relaxed.Before too long our starter arrived. Heirloom tomato salad with mozarella and pesto, the last taste of the summer with plenty of juices left to mop up with bread.Followed by clamarata pasta with guanciale and pecorino for herAnd crab linguine for meGreat food and a lively atmosphere, it’s the perfect palace to go before hitting the town for a boogie, which is exactly what we did next.
After an incredible ten days in the Bahamas, watching two of my great friends get married, I landed back in London to torrential rain and was forced to swap my sundress for a massive jumper pretty sharpish. As you can probably imagine, this didn’t make me jump for joy.
So when my friend Sophie asked if I fancied a long weekend at her parents place in Spain I didn’t hesitate. Jumping on a plane after work on Friday meant we woke up happy as clams in the warm and quickly set off for the beach.
We’d decided on a beach in nearby Marbella so strolled along the promenade to Puerto Banus and hopped on the catamaran. You can easily drive there or cycle but if a boat is an option, it’s always going to be the one I pick.We commandeered a net at the back of the boat and made ourselves very much at home, kicking off our shoes and reclining, taking in every drop of sunshine.Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, the most delightful man came running over and asked if we’d care for a mojito for the journey. Three guesses what we said to that….We strongly considered just staying on the boat all day and travelling back and forth drinking mojitos but decided we should probably stick to the original plan.We spent the afternoon plonked, book in hand, only occasionally getting up when it got too hot and a dip was deemed necessary. Eventually though, tummies began to rumble and the call of the restaurant and the promise of a chilled glass of rosé became too strong to resist.Beetroot and quinoa salad and a club sandwich to share, obviously with a sneaky little portion of chips thrown in for good measure. We settled in for a few hours, chatting and people watching before making our way back to the beach with the last of the rosé for sunset.After a quick drink in the old town we headed home to see Sophie’s sisters who’d just arrived from London and wasted no time making watermelon martinis to drink on the terrace.
The next 2 days were more of the same, breakfast on the balcony followed by the beach or the pool.Sunday meant heading down to Mistral Beach for the day. Cocktails were drunk, backgammon was played and snoozes were had, with no one feeling the need to do anything even remotely strenuous.On Monday we didn’t even make it as far as the beach, ambling instead down to the pool and nipping up and down every time we needed a nibble, a coffee or a sangria.In short, it was utter bliss. If someone could take me back now, that’d be much appreciated.
Tucked down an unassuming street near Charing Cross station lies Tandoor Chop HouseDark, cosy and inviting, it’s a great place for an evening with the girls now that autumn’s drawing in and the nights of drinks on a terrace are coming to an end.
I always think places like this are best done in groups as it’s all about sharing and if you’re anything like me, you hate to miss out on anything.
First up and one of my favourite dishes here is the beef keema naan with green chilli. Warmly spiced and borrowing some flavours from Mexico, I’ve never been here and not had to order a second.Chickpea chaat with tamarind chutney. Fresh, crunchy and delicious. if this was close to my office, I’d be popping in and grabbing this for lunch alllllll the time.Spice roasted duck and pomegranate naan, I loved this, the pop of the pomegranate providing little bursts of freshness against the rich duck.Next up was the lamb kebab naan which proved a little divisive, I thought was quite good but wasn’t wowed. Everyone else loved it however so I was totally out voted.Bhaji spiced onion rings. The batter was great, crisp and light but I thought the dipping sauce could have used a bit more of a punch, some citrus would have gone miles here.These lamb chops were heavenly, burnished and unctuous, they were perfectly cooked and came with a cracking little coriander sauce.A zippy little kachumber saladNow. I’m aware that what I’m about to say seems weird, I really do. But, the chicken was too moist. The texture wasn’t for me or my gals, all feeling that it was just a bit soft and weird. The flavour was good though, I’ll give them that.Bone marrow naan of dreams right here.
if when you go to Tandoor Chop House, you have to promise to do one very important thing.
First up, get yourself a portion of the black daal. Next you want to tear off a hunk of rich, buttery bone marrow naan. With me so far? Good, now dunk it right in. Repeat. So grab yourself some pals and book a table (yes, you can book, hurrah!), pop on some stretchy trousers and settle in for the evening.Find Tandoor Chop House here.
After a few days gallivanting around it was time for a slight change of pace.
A little bit of time to lie around and do nothing other than waffle at each other and drink cocktails.
We checked into Masseria San Martino, where I promptly jumped into the pool whilst H busied himself sorting out our room and commandeering a bottle of rosé. We had a lazy evening, popping into the local town for a pizza and a beer before hitting the hay.
The next morning we woke up early and had a leisurely breakfast in the beautiful old dining room
Where I had to be physically restrained from trying to put all of these glass bottles in my suitcase.
Before having a little potter around the grounds.
The veg patch was a dream, grapes, plums, tomatoes as well as row after row of basil plants. Absolute heaven and something I’d love to have myself one day.
I was squirmy and dying to get in the sea so we hopped in the car and headed for White Beach, where we promptly set up shop on one of the double sunbeds closest to the water, grabbed ourselves a cocktail and picked up our respective books.
As much as I’d like to say we had a wild day of adventures, we really didn’t. We barely moved off of the sunbed other than to jump in the sea or refresh our drinks, it was beyond blissful.
This bourbon and passion fruit cocktail was divine, definitely something I need to try and recreate at home.
A cocktail on a floral swing by the beach is officially the best thing ever, must remember to install one in my future beach house.
We stayed until the sun dipped low on the horizon, relishing the last of the rays and the peace of having the beach all to ourselves.
Eventually we headed home for a quick shower and change before heading to Il Cortiletto for dinner.
Cosy and full of locals we quickly realised we should have made a reservation but thankfully the lovely owner managed to squeeze us in. We were soon safely ensconced on a tabled and after the most cursory glance at the menu we promptly ignored all of it and went with the waiter’s suggestion of the antipasti. This essentially meant that a whole host of delicious dishes came trotting out of the kitchen to lots of oohs and ahhs.
Local cheese with preserves and walnuts
Crispy, fluffy potato puffs
Aubergine puree with peppers and tomatoes
The BEST melanzane parmagiana
A mini courgette fritatta, topped with courgette flowerAll washed down with a bottle of spumante.
The perfect end to a fantastic week.
From the first second I stepped out of the car I fell in love with La Peschiera. Seriously though, when it looks like that, how could I not?
A hotel and restaurant just outside of Monopoli, it’s truly breathtaking. The restaurant is built on a platform out over the water and is pretty much my dream location. I turn more into my mother every day as a result I’m never happier than when I’m by the sea.
In my excitement, I got us there a little early so we decided the best thing to do was to sit and have a bottle of the local spumante whilst admiring the view.
A little over zealous gesturing led to a minor breakage and some red faced apologies from me but the staff were lovely and quickly swapped it out for one they promised was a little sturdier.We set off to explore the rest of the property, trying not to get caught nosing into the hotel. Next time I think I’ll have to squeeze in a sleepover there, the rooms are right on the water, with nothing but a few rocks between you and the lapping waves. Perfect for a morning dip.
We eventually took our seats for lunch, the sun dappling through the shade above us and the waves lulling us into a state of utter bliss.
I had to be told multiple times not to jump off and go for a swim.Our menus arrived (with prices on his but not mine) along with a stunning table of fish caught that day.
We kicked things off with tuna carpaccio, and cruditesBefore sharing two of the fresh catches. The first was a paccheri pasta cooked with scorpion fish in a delicate tomato sauce and was absolutely delicious. Quite a firm fish and one i’d never had before, I’ll definitely be ordering it again if I spy it on a menu.Followed by a local bass served with tons of lemon and grilled local vegetables, perfect in its simplicity.
We sat for hours chatting and laughing, having a truly long lazy lunch until we had the restaurant to ourselves once again.
Before eventually succumbing to some pudding
Eventually I could resist no more and after a lightening quick change, it was time to dive headfirst into the waves. The rocks were a little more slippery than I was expecting so thankfully H was there to catch me as I skidded across them (clumsy as ever). Luckily it was worth every second of waiting and we happily splashed around in the cool water, ducking and diving to our hearts content.
I won’t pretend La Peschiera is cheap but I will say it’s one of the best afternoon’s you’ll spend anywhere. One for mums, best friends, boyfriends – i’d challenge you not to have a magical afternoon here.
Just remember to pack your swimmers for afterwards.
I almost didn’t include Grotto Palazzese as honestly, the food left a lot to be desired. The worst we had in Puglia and the most expensive by a country mile. There are few worst food crimes than taking great ingredients and over complicating them until you’re not quite sure what’s just happened on your plate. I won’t bore you with the food but I had to share the setting as it really is spectacular (and the main reason for our visit).
After waiting for our taxi for yonks we finally got collected by a little tuk tuk
You descend downstairs to the restaurant which is essentially on a ledge inside the cave.
The waves thunder and crash below you, making for a pretty unique dining experience.
As the sun sets you’re treated to spectacular sights and i just wish the service and food could have matched up. If there’s a chance of just popping in for a drink, I’d definitely go for it.
The next morning we hot footed it over to Alberobello to see the Trulli that Puglia is so famous for.
Now such an iconic symbol of Puglia, they were originally designed to be able to be put up and down quickly. That way, when the tax collector came to town they could be swiftly dismantled and therefore avoid the property tax. Once he’d moved along they’d pop back up again.
We were staying in a little one at the top of town, complete with outdoor shower
Our host was full of local information and recommended the restaurant we’d already booked for dinner which is always a good sign.
A ten minute stroll down the hill we came to L’Aratro
Where we wiled away the away the evening with course after course of delicious dishes and very little idea what we’d actually ordered. The chef’s selection of antipasti is a must and all I can say is that if you find yourself in Alberobello it’s definitely worth a visit.
Seeing as we were in Puglia, home to endless olive groves, we decided it was time to pay one a proper visit. We stopped in Masseria Brancati, just outside of Ostuni for a tour and a tasting and were lucky enough to have the place pretty much to ourselves.
When even the car park has stunners like this, you know you’re in for a treat.
Things kicked off with an amble around the groves where almost all the trees are at least 2,000 years old. Knarled, ancient giants that have stood the test of time and still produce canopies of leaves sheltering sweet and delicious olives.
Our guide was wonderful, so passionate about the production and history behind the making of olive oil. At the farm they romantically have names for the different trees, depending on faces and scenes they see twisted into the barks of the trees.
The grove is very Roman in design, with the trees forming neat straight lines, all a specific distance from each other to allow the roots plenty of room to sprawl in search of water underneath the parched earth.
The oldest tree on the farm dates back at least 3,500 years and is truly wizened, even the stones holding up the trunk are hundreds of years old. Whilst it may not be the most prolific, it still manages to produce enough olives for a few litres of oil.
A lone almond tree stands amidst the olive trees and we had our first taste of fresh almonds, picked straight from the tree and cracked open on the old stone wall.
After we’d seen the growing process it was time to see how the olive oil has been produced throughout the centuries.
This would once have had a mule attached to it, turning the wheel to press out every last precious drop of olive oil.
The windows are a new addition, once it would have been dark, hot and cramped with men living down there for months at a time, working day and night to get the oil ready.
As production increased, more wells were built to collect and store the oil. Whilst it may not look particularly hygienic, for centuries the oil here was produced for fuel rather than food.
Luckily they realised how delicious the oil was a couple of hundred years ago and began producing it to eat, with the help of the newer machinery.
Now all part of the museum this machinery obviously no longer aides production but is still rather beautiful.
There are a couple of rooms if you want to stay onsite but no pool or restaurant as they want to keep the feel of the Masseria intact.I think these surroundings more than make up for that though, don’t you?
Called Ostuni Bianchi because of its sparkling whiteness, Ostuni is perched atop a hill with the most amazing views.
We were starving when we arrived so stopped for a quick lunch, and a bottle of wine of course, we were on holiday after all.
Before darting off to explore the ancient city.
It was my favourite city we visited in Puglia with twisting, winding streets revealing hidden restaurants, shops and little gaps in the building showing glimpses across the fields and down to the sea.
After an hour or so pootling around we made for our hotel, Hotel Park Novecento. Only five minutes from the centre of of the city was a little oasis of calm. Nestled in 17,000 sqm of parkland, the majestic villa dates back to 1840 (although I imagine the pool may be a more recent addition).
My plan was to lie by the pool for the afternoon but after about an hour I was forced to do a runner when the heavens unexpectedly opened.
So naturally we grabbed a bottle of bubbles and retired to the little sitting room.
Luckily the rain cleared up for the evening so after a quick toast we headed back into town.
For dinner we headed to Osteria del Tempo Perso, again on a friends recommendation and we weren’t disappointed. If you go, make sure you ask to be seated in the cave part of the restaurant as this is where all the charm is.
Carved out of the rock, the cave dates back to the 15th century as has been home to the restaurant since 1983.
We wasted no time settling in and grabbing menus to peruse
Excited face right there ↑
We started with stuffed courgette flowers
Before moving onto two different pastas.
As orecchiette is a local speciality of Puglia we had to order some but sadly this one was a little lacklustre (don’t worry, we persevered with the ordering throughout the week).
Luckily the ravioli with cream and truffle more than made up for it, although, to be fair, that’s a tough combination to beat.
The main event was a pork rib that I got talked into by H and our lovely waiter. I wasn’t overly keen as I thought it all sounded a little sweet but on this occasion, I was glad to be proved wrong. Meltingly tender pork with a perfectly balanced sauce. My only regret was not having left enough room to enjoy more of it.
Far too full for puds we settled for coffees and amaros, only just resisting the rest of the drinks we were sat next to.
After dinner we took a stroll down to a little bar we’d discovered earlier and arrived just in time to be serenaded by this gorgeous chap, I was even lucky enough to have a little dance with him.
We sat there for hours, worked our way through a bottle of red and tried not to get blown away- being on the top of a hill means Ostuni can get rather breezy. Eventually, in the early hours of the morning we figured we should probably tear ourselves away so jumped in a cab home to finish off the last of our bubbles before collapsing into bed.
The next morning was a lazy affair by the pool where I managed to thoroughly horrify my Brazilian boyfriend by having a cup of tea by the pool (full disclosure, I may have been a liiiiiiitle hungover).
By lunchtime H was officially bored of sunbathing and hungry, so I was unceremoniously dragged off my sunbed and into town for lunch and a beer (I really didn’t put up too much of a fight) before we headed off on the next leg of our adventure.